On the cracked stone steps of the large run-down Victorian house in Richmond Park Road, DC Wyn James’s persistent hammering on the door and random pressing of the bell buttons brought a delayed response from one of the occupants. A scruffy middle-aged man with long greasy hair thinning on top, wearing soiled green tracksuit bottoms, flip-flops and a sweaty-looking blue tee-shirt stood in the open doorway staring blankly at the police officer. After introducing himself, James demanded to know the man’s identity.
‘Ivor Fenton,’ he said softly.
‘D’you live here?’ barked James.
‘I’m the landlord,’ he replied proudly.
‘You’re just the bloke I need.’
James produced a photograph of a Hayley Osbourne, and practically shoved it into Fenton’s face.
‘Hayley Osbourne, does she still live here?’
Fenton looked at the picture and smiled in recognition.
‘That’s Hayley all right, and you're the second bloke whose been round looking for her. Some old military geezer was here not long ago.'
'Yes, I know about him, Mr Fenton.'
‘Hayley rents the ground-floor annexe round the back,’ he explained. ‘When this place was still operating as a hotel, the owners built a little self-contained chalet in the back garden to live in. So after I bought the place I decided let it out. Every little helps as they say.’
‘Can you show me?’ James replied. ‘And you'd better bring your spare keys with you.’
Fenton looked at James and stroked the grey stubble on his chin.
‘She’s not in any trouble is she?’ he said softly. ‘I mean, she’s not on the game or anything like that?’
‘What makes you say that?’
‘You never know these days,’ he replied with a shrug of the shoulders. ‘Hayley’s quite a piece, and she doesn’t always close her curtains either. When I’ve been tidying up the garden I’ve seen her a few through the windows with barely a stitch on.’
‘Tidying the garden, eh,’ said James with a sneer. ‘What with, a pair of binoculars?’
‘’Ere, what are you suggesting?’ he said, looking hurt.
‘Judging from the state of it you’re not exactly Alan Titchmarsh are you?’
‘Bloody cheek,’ Fenton replied gruffly. ‘It’s not my fault if she chooses to walk around in the nuddie in full view. What would you do, close your eyes I suppose?’
‘Just get those keys and be quick about it,’ said James impatiently.
Fenton turned away and shuffled over to a metal key cabinet mounted on the wall in the hallway. He retrieved a small bunch of keys from his pocket and fumbled with them until he’d found the correct one for the lock. He retrieved his master keys from the cabinet, and James followed him out of the house across the off road parking spaces towards the overgrown rear garden of the property.
‘When was the last time you saw Hayley, Mr Fenton?’ asked James. ‘To talk to I mean, not gawping at her tits.’
‘We don’t see each other much because works shifts,’ he said. ‘But about three weeks ago she was outside tinkering with her bicycle, so I put a drop of 3-in-1 on the chain for her.’
‘But you haven’t seen her since.’
‘Not at all.’
‘What about collecting her rent?’
‘She pays by Direct Debit straight into my business account, so I don’t need to collect cash from her or any of the tenants. She pays her own utility bills too, and she’s well tucked away in there.’
Fenton led James into a small paved area and to the front door of the annexe. He rang the bell several times before hammering with the door knocker.
‘Does Hayley own a car, Mr Fenton?’ James asked, reaching for his handkerchief.
‘No, just the bicycle which she keeps inside; it wouldn’t last five minutes with the thieving bastards we’ve got in Charminster.’
James tried hammering the door with his fist before crouching down to look through the letterbox.
‘The old fellow who came round said he was her boss and she hadn't been into work,’ said Fenton. ‘So are you going to tell me what this is all about?’
‘No,’ James snapped. ‘Can you unlock this door?’
‘Is this legal, constable?’ he asked. ‘I don’t want to get into any trouble.’
Fenton found the correct key and James snatched it from him and inserted it into the Yale lock. He gently pushed open the door before removing the key, and put his arm across the open doorframe to stop Fenton from entering behind him.
‘Just wait here if you’d be so kind, Mr Fenton.’
James walked into a small hallway and trod on several deliveries of mail, takeaway menus and free newspapers scattered across the doormat and floor. The annexe smelled of dampness and neglect, and he wondered how people like Fenton got away with renting out such rat-holes.
He squeezed passed Hayley Osbourne’s bicycle leaning against an electric radiator, and stopped dead as he heard low voices coming from the room at the end of the passage. Pushing open the door gently, he gazed into the gloom of the open-plan living-room and kitchen area. The television was switched on and the curtains drawn tightly closed. He felt along the wall and flicked on the light-switch before walking slowly across the room towards an open door on the opposite wall. This lead into the flat’s only bedroom, which was also shrouded in darkness.
After switching on the light James spotted a bedside lamp with a broken glass shade lying across the unmade double bed. The threadbare fitted carpet was littered with cosmetics, make-up brushes, bottles of perfume and items of jewellery; almost as if they’d been swept them from the top of the 1930s dressing-table.
As James stepped carefully across the floor towards another door, the cocktail of richly-scented fragrances in the air barely disguised the putrid smell which worked its way into his nostrils. Beads of cold sweat formed on his forehead as he held his breath and covered the door knob with end of his jacket sleeve, turning it slowly. After pushing open the door a few inches he looked across at the grubby bathroom tiling and began to shake. Pulling the door shut again he slowly backed away, carefully retracing his steps through the bedroom. He rushed through the living-room and into the hall where an anxious Fenton was waiting.
‘I told you to keep out of here,’ said James irritably. ‘Now, leave.’
‘I just want to know if she’s done a bunk,’ said Fenton, trying to peer around James’s broad shoulders. ‘If she has then I’ll need to get the place re-let as soon as possible.’
‘It’s a crime scene,’ barked the detective constable, leading Fenton outside. ‘Now piss off or I’ll do you for obstruction.’
‘Is she dead then, Hayley, is she in there, dead?’ said Fenton pushing against the policeman.
‘Do yourself a favour and disappear back into that rat hole you call home.’
‘Come on,’ shrieked Fenton, ‘I’ve a right to know, this is my property.’
‘All in good time, ‘said James, sounding a little calmer. ‘We’ll get a statement off you later, so don’t plan on going anywhere.’
‘You can’t treat me like this,’ argued Fenton. ‘I’ve been nothing but co-operative with you.’
‘You have,’ said James. ‘So keep up the good work and let me do my job.’
‘Was she in the nude?’ said Fenton, a hopeful smile spreading along his scabby lips. ‘The newspapers are bound to ask and could you tell if she’d been interfered with, you know sexually?’
‘I’ll interfere with you in a minute, Fenton,’ said James angrily. ‘Now fuck off.’
Fenton turned and hurried back towards the main house, looking over his shoulder and muttering under his breath. James retrieved his mobile phone and telephoned Bournemouth Police Headquarters.
Twenty minutes later PC Rollins pulled on to the drive in a patrol car, and a a tired-looking DS Trent struggled to out of the passenger seat. A shame-faced James shame-faced as guided him towards the annexe and out of earshot from the uniformed constable .
‘Hayley Osbourne’s dead in the bathroom I just know it, sarge,’ he said quietly. ‘I could smell, you know, that smell.’
‘So, you’ve seen this sort of thing before, we all have.’
‘I know, but she looked so beautiful and happy in the pictures her boss gave me, and I just couldn’t face seeing her dead.’
He handed Trent the two photographs from Maynard-Cripps and lit up a cigarette. Trent patted him gently on the shoulder.
‘Don’t worry your little head over it,’ said Trent, shaking his head slowly. ‘I’ll go in there and have your nightmares for you shall I?’
‘Forget it,’ snapped James, ‘I’ll go back inside myself.’
Trent grabbed James’s sleeve as he tried to walk away.
‘No, you don’t’ Trent replied sternly. ‘I want you to get a detailed statement from the landlord, I’ll check the bathroom.’
‘Thanks, sarge,’ James replied.
‘Don’t thank me yet,’ said Trent. ‘If it turns out to be a dead cat in there you’ll be having it on toast for your dinner.’
Trent put on some disposable gloves and stopped Rollins from following him inside the annexe.
‘You’d better stay out here, PC Rollins,’ he instructed the youngster. ‘No point in ruining your sleep for the next twenty years for the sake of it.’
Trent limped through the living-room and into the bedroom, his nose twitching as he caught the same mixture of smells James had described. He gently pushed open the bathroom door and reached inside and grabbed the pull cord to switch on the light.
The white-enamelled bath was half-full of sea-green water with matching colour of mould growing in the grouting of the greasy white-tiled walls. Trent peered around the open door towards the toilet and saw a crumpled figure on the worn linoleum-covered floor. Wearing a blood-stained white silk dressing gown, the body lay on its front in a stain of dried blood and had the same ash-blonde hair as Hayley Osbourne in the photographs.
As Trent moved closer he could see that the back of her head was heavily caked in the stuff, as was the edge of the white porcelain toilet bowl. Generous specks had spattered on to the adjacent tiled walls, the white painted skirting board and the pine tongue-and-groove bath panel.
He crouched down in the confined space before gently moving the matted hair away from the woman’s face with the tip of his gloved finger, crying out as her dull staring eyes met his gaze.
Outside in the fresh air, DC James was directing operations as SOCO team’s vehicle pulled-up.
‘Thanks for doing that, sarge,’ he said. ‘I really appreciate it.’
‘Good, so I’ll leave you to tell Westbrook and get everything cleared-up.’
Trent started to make his way to the patrol car, and PC Rollins rushed to open the passenger door for him.
‘If Westbrook asks where you are, what shall I tell him?’ said James.
‘The truth,’ he replied, easing himself into the car. ‘I’ll be tucked up in bed at home and if no-one disturbs me I’ll be back in the office first thing.’