In Westbrook’s office the mood was tense as the big DCS tried to separate Trent and James in their verbal fisticuffs over Lenny Porter.
‘Now George Davis has matched the older paint from the damaged boat to traces found on the roof Gillian Porter’s Jeep’s, and DNA samples in the load bay prove that Cindy had been in there,’ said Westbrook, ‘old fashioned logic suggests to me that it was Gillian Porter who killed Cindy Banks, she had motive enough. But all we can be sure of is that her car was definitely used to dispose of the body.’
‘That’s just it,’ James said, ‘Lucy had access to the car as well, and the shed and the golf clubs.’
‘It belonged to Gillian, and as I said before, Wyn, how could Lucy Hunter have known about the yacht club slipway?’ Trent replied. ‘It’s not exactly public knowledge.’
‘Well as I tried to tell you before we came in here, Sarge, I can help you with that if you’ll both let me get a word in,’ said James, ‘I went for a drive yesterday up the M3 to Basingstoke to see Lucy’s parents, and got a few more photos of her.’
‘That’s a bit above and beyond, DC James, sacrificing a day off to go to Basingstoke of all places,’ said Westbrook, looking concerned, ‘I can’t pay you any overtime you know.’
‘I didn’t do it for the overtime, Sir,’ James replied with a hint of irritability in his tone, ‘look Lucy Hunter’s still on a Missing Persons Report and I felt that we needed to reassure her folks that we’re doing all we can to find her.’
‘I don’t suppose she’s been in touch with them has she,’ Westbrook asked hopefully.
‘No, I’d have said if she had,’ James replied, even more irritably, ‘but I did find out that the reason she came down here in the first place was because her parents used to bring her here right from when she was a kid and she still loves Bournemouth. They used to own a small cabin cruiser which was racked up and stored, guess where?’
‘The yacht club at Sandbanks by any chance?’ Trent replied, hoping that it wasn’t.
James nodded his head slowly, ‘I checked with that secretary bloke when I got back and the Hunters had been members right up until 2006 when they sold the boat.’
‘Good for you, James,’ Westbrook replied, ‘the trouble is, it still doesn’t prove anything, three people had access to Gillian Porter’s car.’
Trent agreed, ‘Exactly, and as far as I’m concerned Gillian Porter murdered the two girls, possibly three if Lucy’s body ever turns up. Then, as I keep saying Wyn, Lenny must have killed his missus after he found out. She may even have taunted him with it who knows?’
‘Why don’t you both listen to Common Sense for once? I’m telling you Lenny is innocent,’ James pleaded, ‘it’s Lucy Hunter we should be questioning.’
‘So you keep saying, Constable,’ Westbrook replied, using the mention of James’s lowly rank to put him in his place, ‘but until we find the elusive Ms Hunter, dead or alive, it’s just not going to happen.’
‘Don’t forget Gillian Porter denied knowing Cindy from the photograph we showed her when we first went to talk to Lenny,’ Trent said, ‘she made up some excuse about not having her reading specs on.’
‘Gillian thought the world of Lenny, she wouldn’t say anything that could get him into trouble,’ replied James, ‘besides would you want anyone to find out your husband had been caught in bed with an attractive young bird? She may have lied but she was only trying to protect Lenny and her self-respect.’
‘Have you been reading psychology books, James? I’d stick to The Beano if I was you, much more your style,’ said Westbrook unkindly.
James was angry at the put down and was just about to give his boss the verbal battering he deserved when Trent cut in.
‘I thought you’d come up with something the other day, Wyn, Wareham wasn’t it?’
‘Not really, one of the locals up there thought a girl matching Lucy’s description had just started work in The Bull Hotel, but he was only a Constable so I don’t know why I bothered taking him seriously,’ James replied tetchily, ‘needless to say it wasn’t her.’
‘Well you’d be wasting your time in Wareham anyway,’ replied Trent, ‘you said her parents told you it was Bournemouth she loved, so why would she want to go to Wareham? If she’s anywhere mate it’ll be here, probably working in another B&B or hotel.’
‘Makes sense I suppose,’ agreed James, ‘it’ll take a bloody long time to find her though, do you know how many hotels and guest houses there are?’
Westbrook smiled, ‘If we make a start now you should have them all covered by the autumn.’
‘Why not just publish her photograph in The Echo,’ suggested James, ‘someone’s bound to recognise her and come forward.’
‘No, we can’t take that chance,’ Trent replied, ‘if she saw it she’d just do a runner. At least we know there’s a good chance she’s still in town somewhere, and she might stick around for a while. She’s bound to turn up sooner or later.’
‘Well for Lenny’s sake sooner would be better,’ said James, ‘he’s still trying to get over Gillian’s death and being locked in a cell won’t help the grieving process will it? He may even top himself given half the chance.’
‘Don’t say that for Heaven’s sake,’ Westbrook said, ‘I was the one who had him prematurely retired, I don’t want his suicide on my conscience as well.’
‘If Lucy’s still got feelings for Lenny why not let him flush her out for us?’ said James, smiling at his own idea, ‘she was still holding a candle for him, amongst other things, at The Martham Court the other night.’
‘What if she smells a rat,’ argued Westbrook, ‘after all the bloke’s wife has just been murdered; not exactly an ideal time to rekindle the dying flames of a clandestine love affair is it?'
'Thankfully with all the press interest in Ricky Parr, Lenny has been kept out of the newspapers so far,’ replied Trent enthusiastically, ‘there was a report on Gillian’s murder but Lenny didn’t get much of a mention. So if we back Wyn’s theory about Lucy Hunter we may as well let Lenny go and just keep tabs on him in case she meets up with him.’
‘We’d be better off getting him in here helping us, Sarge,’ replied James, ‘I’m sure he’s as anxious as we are to find Gillian’s killer and clear his name, which had got to be better than sitting around brooding all day on his own, the poor sod.’
The Blue Lamp seemed eerily silent without the omnipresent Gillian Porter flitting from room to room keeping a watchful eye on things. On the night of her murder the guests had been moved to other Bed and Breakfast establishments, and the house now felt as cold and lifeless as its former landlady.
‘I can't stay here,’ said Lenny staring at the closed door to the lounge, ‘it’s no good I'll have to stop somewhere else.’
‘No chance, Lenny,’ said Trent, ‘if we want to find Lucy Hunter we need you here. I know it's difficult but it's only down to Wyn that you're not off to the Magistrates Court to be put on remand. If Wyn’s right we need to catch this bloody woman as soon as possible.’
‘Well I'm not staying here on my own,’ Lenny said looking round, ‘I keep hearing Gillian moving about, and I half expect her to come down the stairs any minute to tell me off for something.’
‘Don't worry, Lenny, me and Wyn will be here,’ Trent replied reassuringly, ‘you can stay in one of the guest rooms if you’d prefer.’
‘No thank you, have you seen our guest rooms?’ Lenny replied, ‘I'll stick to our bedroom; my bedroom as it is now. I’ll have to get used to it sooner or later, although I may put the place on the market. I mean what do I know about running a B&B?’
After Forensics had finished the murder scene in the lounge had been cleaned up by specialist contractors used by the police, but the end pieces of blue and white police tape still adhered to each side of the door frame, creating a psychological barrier which none of the three men wanted to cross.
In the kitchen Trent made tea whilst James stood outside the back door smoking. Lenny punched the buttons on his mobile to create a text message. He selected Lucy Hunter's number from his contacts list and pressed ‘Send’, staring at the ‘phone, optimistically expecting an immediate reply.
After spending the rest of the day sorting through his wife’s personal effects, Lenny suggested that the three of them head into town for a meal and a few drinks.
In the newly opened Bar Salona the three men sat around a corner table in the former furniture store.
‘That sushi was lovely, Wyn, you should have had some instead of that boring old steak and chips,’ said Lenny burping loudly, ‘you ought to be a bit more adventurous, step out of the 1970s for a change.’
‘I’ve had it before and it doesn’t agree with me, Lenny, it gives me the trots,’ James replied, and sang, ‘if you knew sushi like I know sushi.’
Both men laughed before draining their glasses, and Trent stood up to go to the bar for another round. As he stood waiting with his twenty pound note in his outstretched hand trying to catch the myopic barmaid’s eye, he felt a jab in the back. He turned and looked down into the playful eyes of an attractive young woman smiling up at him, and although there was a spark of recognition in his face he couldn't quite place her.
‘Hello you,’ she said, studying his puzzled expression.
The penny suddenly dropped as he recognized Tara English, and he couldn't help but grin with delight.
‘Ms Tara English, what brings you here?’ Trent said happily, as if bumping into a long lost friend
‘I was stood up by a workmate so I was just about to get a taxi home, when I spotted you and your giggling mate with that other bloke over there,’ she explained, 'I'd read in the 'paper that you'd caught Stuart Lunde's killers, so I just wanted to check with you that me and Kate have been crossed off the list of prime suspects.’
‘Yes,’ Trent replied nodding sadly, ‘I wanted to bring you in for further questioning, but unfortunately we caught the culprits before I had the chance.’
' I see, so what sort of questions had you in mind?’
Trent thought for a moment, ‘Well to start with, what would you like to drink?’
‘Orange juice, no ice,’ she said coolly.
Trent finally coaxed the barmaid over by waving the twenty pound note around like a flag on The Queen’s Jubilee, ordered the drinks and turned eagerly back to look at Tara.
'So what line of work are you in, Tara?'
'I'm PA to the Finance Director at the Yank Bank.'
'And your workmate, what does he do?'
'He's a she, and does pretty much the same as me for another director,' she replied, smiling 'and to save you the bother of fishing any deeper, Detective Sergeant, no I don't have a boyfriend at the moment.'
'I am surprised', Trent said, returning the smile, 'that's a crime in itself.
'That's nice of you to say so,' Tara said, blushing, 'but if you knew me better you'd know how difficult I am to please.'
'Well if you're throwing down a challenge what are you doing on Saturday evening around eight?’
She put the long pearlescent manicured nail of her forefinger to her mouth, moving her bottom lip up and down teasingly with the squared off tip.
‘I don't know if I can answer that question, Sergeant. I don't think I'll have an alibi, but you'll have to allow me to make my 'phone call?’
‘Oh,’ Trent said, failing to conceal a look of disappointment.
‘Well give me your number then?’ she said laughing, ‘I'm out with the BIMBOS on Saturday so I'm not sure what time we'll be back so I'll have to call you.’
‘ The Bimbos?’ replied Trent, taking out a Biro and hastily scribbling his mobile number on the back of a cigarette paper and handing it to her.
‘Bournemouth Italian Motorcycle Bitches Organization, we're an all woman biker club and we're off for a track day at the Thruxton circuit on Saturday morning,’ she explained, copying his number into her mobile.
‘You've got a motorbike?’ replied an enthusiastic Trent.
‘It would be pointless joining a biker’s club without one, Mr Detective. I have a Ducati 916,’ she replied matter of factly, ‘if you know what one is.’
‘Fantastic, of course I do,’ said Trent sounding awestruck, ‘I've got a Fireblade.’
‘Really?’ her pencil point thin eyebrows rose briefly in surprise, before her eyes crinkled slightly, radiating even more warmth from her gaze as the beginning of a smirk appeared from the corner of her inviting mouth, ‘well let me know when you decide to buy a proper bike and perhaps we could go out for a ride together some time.’
Trent's mobile rang for a few seconds but he ignored it.
‘Do you want to write your number down for me?’ Trent asked hopefully, offering her the pen.
'Get in the twenty first century DS Trent, that noise you just heard was me sending it to you. Now all you have to do is save it in your contacts folder, you know what that is, under the name 'Tara', that's T-A-R-A.'
'Sorry, you must think I'm a right old duffer, I'm not really into modern day technology.'
'I realised that when you told me you had a Fireblade,' she laughed, her eyes burning so brightly that Trent knew that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
Trent carried the drinks over to the table and Tara followed him. After introducing her to Lenny, James nodded at her sheepishly, recalling Tara’s wicked taste in underwear when he'd sneakily searched her bedroom. The four chatted about anything other than police work and Gillian Porter, and as Lenny had been drinking heavily since before dinner he soon switched into lounge lizard mode and tried to chat up Tara. Trent's mobile rang and he stood up and walked away to take the call, it was Sergeant Cripps.
‘Are you never off duty?’ said Trent.
‘I need all the overtime I can get,’ replied Sergeant Cripps, ‘it’s difficult maintaining a lower middle-class lifestyle on working class wages, not like you young single fellows, money to burn. Anyway I’ve just had a sighting of this Lucy Hunter bird come in. One of our mountain bike patrols saw someone very like her coming out of the Weynor Gardens Hotel in Chine Road.’
‘Okay, when was this?’ replied Trent.
‘About twenty minutes ago, they were keeping tabs on her but she jumped on a bus heading into town. They’ve gone back to the hotel to see if they can find out if it is her, and whether she’s a guest or staff.’
‘Okay thanks, put me and Wyn down on this and we’ll go and see if she gets off in town. What’s the bus number?’
‘Twenty four, it’s a yellow one,’ Cripps replied, ‘you should see it pull up by The Square if you hurry, unless she jumps off before of course.’
Trent tapped James on the shoulder, made their excuses to Tara and Lenny and rushed from the bar. They hurried down Old Christchurch Road and through the pedestrian precinct at the bottom leading to Bournemouth Square. The bus stops were grouped together on a dedicated buses and taxis only road, and Trent went to the right side closest to The Gardens and sat on a bench. James loitered in a shop doorway smoking and looking shifty, bursting for a pee.
As each bus arrived they looked at its number, but checked the disembarking passengers regardless. After twenty minutes the number twenty four pulled up and they nodded across to each other. James stood near the rear of the vehicle and Trent at the front., joining the end of the short queue of passengers waiting to board. As the last passenger stepped down on to the pavement Trent walked to the front of the queue and showed his warrant card to the driver along with a photograph of Lucy Hunter.
‘No mate, there were lots of pretty young girls just got off though; hen party at The Royal Exeter's wine bar, two stops back.’
A young woman sat at an empty table a few feet behind Lenny and Tara's table, sipping a glass of white wine. She watched the two of them chatting and laughing with each other.
Tara soon tired of Lenny Porter’s lewd remarks and dirty jokes, and ten minutes later she made her excuses to leave. He offered to escort her to the taxi rank at the top of the road and reluctantly she agreed, just to shut him up.
The young woman followed them out of the bar, and Lenny and Tara walked arm in arm up the hill. Lenny was swaying from side to side, bursting into snippets of romantic songs like a drunken uncle at a wedding reception. The streets were almost deserted and a solitary yellow cab waited at the rank with its engine running and Tara opened the rear door.
‘Winton please,’ she said to the driver, ‘eighty seven Weybourne Road.’
Lenny put his arm around her waist, pulling her close to him, whispering in her ear. She pushed him away gently, laughing at his remark and he lurched forwards and tried to kiss her on the lips.
‘Let's go home now, Lenny,’ she suggested kindly, ‘time for bed.’
She held his playful hands at bay like a scuba-diver fending off a curious octopus, pecking him on the cheek before hastily climbing into the rear seat of the car and closing the door. As the taxi started to draw away from the kerb, Lenny pulled the door open and clambered in beside her.
‘I love you, Tara,’ he said, ‘my lovely new friend Tara, but as much as I love you I need to go home, I don't feel at all well.'
'Can we drop my friend off on the way please Mr Driver? Where is it you live, Lenny?'
'The Blue Lamp, luxurious hotel up the West Cliff. Opulence anyone can afford at just seventeen quid a night, bring your own bath plug.'
Lenny had a fit of the giggles for a few moments before drifting off to sleep in Tara's arms, his head rolling backwards. A slur of dribble ran from the corner of his mouth and rested in the grey stubble on his chin
The young woman stood waiting at the empty taxi rank, stamping her feet impatiently on the pavement. It was several minutes before a dirty yellow Peugeot 406 taxi pulled alongside.
‘Where to, love?’ the driver enquired through the open window of the front passenger door.
‘Winton,’ she replied, ‘eighty seven Weybourne Road.’