THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ZENA SAXBY Part 2/3

CHAPTER SEVEN

Corky found more fifth year students around than she expected although none added anything significant about Zena’s whereabouts of the previous fortnight.

Jane Phillips had said Zena hadn’t been out recently. She had been revising for her GCSEs, particularly Home Economics and Biology as she intended to either go into either a catering or veterinary career. She still wasn’t sure which yet.

Mark Wilkinson said Zena had been quite ratty the last time he saw her, but then they rarely used to get on anyway.

“She was a snob in a funny sort of way – nothing to do with her mother’s money,” he said. “She’s one of those people who likes or hates someone on first meeting. The colour of someone’s hair could make her hate them for life. I got my own back by being sarky about her skin-head hair cut last year. I think that was why she grew it collar length again. Zena did like animals though. Any sort. That was the only thing we really had in common.”

Corky interviewed Marlene Tansey, Dennis Evans and several people who knew or had known Zena, but discovered nothing of interest.

Walking along the main corridor she saw James Riverdean coming towards her. She felt goose pimples forming all over.

James had an unruly mop of dark hair and lively brown eyes. His openhearted smile was irresistible and always made Corky want to fling her arms round him.

“Hello Corky. How are you!”

Gulp! She suddenly felt as if all her clothes were inside out, every button was in the wrong hole, and all her mascara was running away. He hadn’t talked to her for a year!

“What are you doing around school then? As if I didn’t know.”

“I’ve just come in to find a few friends,” she said awkwardly.

She had been out with him at a party a year ago and had a great time, but afterwards he’d been cool. He had rarely acknowledged her. It had depressed her for months. She had bored Maddy sick with it.

They were a threesome suddenly. Mr. Oxforth, the headmaster had arrived, and had taken James by the sleeve.

“Come to my office, James. We have Munich on the phone. They want to talk to you about the sixth form visit over the holidays.”

James frowned. “Will you be round later?” he asked Corky.

“I’ll be in the canteen at 12.0,” she said, remembering her arrangement with Julie.

“Brill. See you later,” he said as the headmaster led him away.

Corky felt her body floating down the school corridor. She wanted to run, laugh, jump, and shout all at once. Surely he wasn’t interested in her after all this time? She was going to see him later! Incredible!

After Corky had calmed down she resumed her journey to the science block. On arrival she asked the weary Mr. Bean, the Biology teacher, if he knew where Anthea Statham was. “Her brother might know where she is,” he said indifferently, pointing at the boy on the back bench of the laboratory. “He’s over there.”

She found both Paul Statham and an oily haired boy secretly reading comics. Her question produced such an unusual response from them both she clicked on the tape machine after only a few moments.

“What do you want my sister for?” snapped the fourth former.

“Just to ask her some questions.”

“We don’t know anything about Zena Saxby,” said Paul.

Corky hadn’t assumed they had.

“You know that I’m asking questions about Zena Saxby?”

The oily haired boy, whose jumper gave clues as to what he had eaten for breakfast, said, “Look, leave us alone. We don’t want you snooping about the school.”

“We don’t know anything.”

They evidently did.

“Do you know Nigel Swain?”

The sleepy look in Paul Statham’s face was replaced by one of alarm. Then, as if he were about to cry, he wimpered, “I-I-I don’t want no trouble with the Ni- “

“Shut up!” snapped his friend.

Corky hadn’t caught the last word. It had sounded like ‘nights’.

“What did you say?”

Oily hair had swung round on his stool and rasped into Statham’s ear: “Shut up! Don’t speak! Don’t say a word!” He looked up at Corky. “Go away. Just push off!”

As Corky continued to remain where she was, Oily hair stood up and left the classroom taking Paul Statham with him. Mr. Bean didn’t take any notice. Corky was so surprised she didn’t move for minutes. There was something going on there.

“Corky, I can’t carry on!” said Julie Kotengo, sitting down with a coffee and leaning forward and screwing up her face. She had arrived in the canteen with James just a few minutes after Corky. “I’ve just been telling James here our play is a farce and its supposed to be a tragedy! And the leading actor…..well, what can I say? How can anyone cast someone like Mr. Bean to play Hamlet? Mr. Camperbell is getting so ratty that all he does is shout. On top of this I can’t remember any of my lines.”.

James laughed at Julie; he said she always got like this when she was in a production.

“Have you found out anything about Zena then?” Julie asked a minute later.

“I’m amazed. News travels very fast round here.”

“It certainly does,” said James, “Everyone knows why you’re here.”

Corky explained that Maddy had promoted her to information-gatherer.

“If you want to know about Zena, let me tell you,” interjected Julie with a grin on her face. “I’ll tell you about her with pleasure: if she lived in India she’d be sacred. I didn’t like her at all. She was a self-centred, moody, pain-in-the-bum.”

“She was okay,” said James.

“Do you know anyone who really disliked her? Or where she could have gone?” Corky asked Julie.

“Yes, I really disliked her. I don’t know where she’s gone but I could make some suggestions as to where she could go,” she Julie.

Corky told them about her meeting with Paul Statham and his friend. She mentioned the sentence that had caused all the commotion.

“And you didn’t catch the last word.?”

“He said he didn’t want any trouble with the ‘nights’ or something. It’s okay though. I’ve got it all on tape.”

She showed them the tape recorder.

“Her disappearance is really peculiar,” She continued, “None of it fits. No one seems to know much about Zena and yet everyone seems to have noticed something out of the ordinary.” She gave the example of the broken locker.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” said Julie. “Keep me in touch with developments. I’ve got to go back to the hall. I’ll send you some free tickets.”

When Julie had gone, James explained why the head had taken him away. A party of German students were coming over in August. He was to be their guide when they arrived.

“That sounds good,” said Corky.

“It’s not as exciting as chasing missing girls, though,” said James. “I knew Zena quite well. She was okay. We got on because we shared the same crazy sense of humour. Julie’s right though, she wasn’t over-popular. I don’t think anyone I know of anyone who disliked her enough to do her any damage though. “

Corky tried to remember if he’d been out with Zena. She couldn’t remember.

“She sometimes had a short fuse,” he was saying, “Likely to lose her rag a bit when she was wound up. But she had a spark about her. Hey, I’d like to help you, Corky. I could do. I’ll go and find Paul Statham and his friend. I’ll find out what they’re hiding from you.”

“That would be great.”

“Corky, I’d like to.. Could I….”

You can ask me out, she thought.

“Everyone knows you and Maddy are trying to find Zena. Nigel came along to help out as well, didn’t he?”

This isn’t quite the way you ask a girl out.

“Now he’s in hospital. Do you see what I’m getting at?”

No.

“Well….I’d quite like to play detective as well. I have plenty of contacts and would really like to help.”

So that’s what he wanted. She tried to disguise the disappointment on her face.

Still, spending a lot of time with him was better than nothing.

“That’s sounds okay to me. Although I can’t see what all the attraction is about: the police are bound to solve it first. You can help if Maddy agrees.”

“Great! I’ll start with Paul Statham. I’ll get him to tell me what he was on about this afternoon. Then we’ll all get together and discuss plans…..well, that’s assuming your friend agrees, of course.”

“Yes, it’s only right I ask her.”

“When?”

“When what?”

“When can we meet?”

“Tomorrow should be okay. Come round to Maddy’s at ten and we’ll see if its okay.” She gave him the address. “I’d better be off,” she said.

“How’s Nigel?”

“He’s still comatose. He’s been hurt bad.”

“I’ll go and see him. ‘Bye Corky. I’ll see you in the morning.”

He watched her depart through the swing doors.

Before searching for Paul Statham James decided to tidy up the last details of organising the Munich sixth formers. Little did he realise that forthcoming events over the next five days would prevent him ever meeting them.

TUESDAY

A considerable development was reported in Tuesday newspapers. Mrs. Saxby had received a letter from Zena. In Zena’s own shaky handwriting she explained her kidnappers demanded £50,000 for her safe return. Mrs. Saxby had until the 17th July to amass the money, she would then receive a further communication explaining the hand-over procedure. Zena was presently unharmed but terrified and begged her mother to do all she could to find the money.

As Corky was reading the news report Maddy lay back on the settee, cuddled up under her blanket, and looked at the exercise books from Zena’s locker.

The doctor had given Maddy a course of antibiotics for a flu virus. She still felt tired, wobbly on her feet, but much better than she had.

“We’ll wait until James arrives before playing back the tape,” she said.

Corky was grateful that Maddy had agreed to let James help. “I don’t mind – providing you don’t bore me with your romantic aspirations,” was all she had said.

James arrived at ten. He said he hadn’t managed to track down Paul Statham. He’d look again that afternoon.

All three semi-circled around the tape recorder listening like discerning music critics. Periodically Maddy would rewind the tape and replay a section of it. Corky got mad when the interview between herself and Paul Statham was played back because the missing word was barely audible. It sounded like nights or knives or….

“Nibes,” said Corky.

“Or knives,” rejoined James.

Maddy rewound the tape and turned the volume up full. She played it again. She put her ear closer to the speaker.

“‘Nibes’ is certainly what it sounds like.”

They played it through another three times until they all agreed it was ‘nibes’.

James was doubtful. “But what the hell is ‘nibes’?”

“I don’t want any trouble with the nibes is what he’s saying. It’s not only a question of what. It may also be a question of who.”

“They could be those men on motorbikes,” suggested Corky.

“Nibes,” said James to himself slowly, “I’ll find out when I find Statham. I’ll get it out of him one way or another.”

A loud knocking from the front door suddenly interrupted the discussion. “It could be someone complaining about the noise,” said Maddy, getting up slowly.

Detective Inspector Hanson stood behind the front door, his sweaty face boiling with sweat, his hands thrust deep in his trouser pockets.

“Madeline Quebric, you have been doing things I’ve expressly told you not to.”

“What?”

“Have you read this morning’s papers?”

“Yes.”

“The articles about the ransom letters?”

“Yes.”

“Then how do you explain the press getting all this information, eh? The police have not mentioned any of this to the press. And you honestly expect me to believe that you’re not mixed up in this somehow?”

His flushed face looked minutes away from a heart attack.

“Of course I’m not.”

She looked him squarely in the eyes, pleased for once to be able to tell him the truth.

“I’ve been ill for the past few days. The first I heard about this letter was what I read this morning. She paused. “Have you seen Zena’s letter?”

“Yes.”

“Is it genuine?”

“It has been verified by people who were familiar with her writing.”

“Look, I am being honest with you. I didn’t know anything about this. Surely the papers themselves can help you. Go and ask them how they found out about it.”

“The press have already been seen and we have both editors on the rack. They both claim that they both received a phone call from a man who stated he was an interested party. He then read out a short statement – identical it seems in both cases – about Mrs. Saxby receiving a letter from the kidnappers. The papers rang Mrs. saxby to check the truth of the statement. And stupidly she said it was and so it went to print. They only withhold information we tell them to withhold. They notably didn’t ask us about this.”

“But if a man rang them why come and suspect me?”

“Because I’m at my wits end. I thought you might have set it up, or know something. After all, who could know about it – apart from Mrs. Saxby and the kidnappers. And neither Mrs. Saxby nor the kidnappers would find it in their interest to deliberately inform the press. I’m still convinced that you know more than you say.

“I’ve told you what I know.”

“I’m not so sure about that. So watch yourself!” he shouted as he walked off.

Forty minutes later Maddy had another visitor.

Nigel’s sister, Leslie Swain, arrived. Her father had insisted she came round because Leslie had also seen Zena before she had disappeared. Zena had accompanied her to the station to wave her off on holiday.

Leslie was touchy and somewhat nervous. She was dressed in a oversize black jacket and trendy jeans and wore her blond hair short.

“I arrived home on Tuesday about six,” she said. “I knew Zena would be there because I had told her at school I would be catching the train at seven. She said she’d come and see me off. She was sitting on the settee when I got home. Nigel had let her in but had gone out -“

” – Nigel had let her in?” interrupted Maddy

“Yes.”

“He couldn’t have done,” said Maddy.

“Yes he did.”

“How do you know he did?” asked Maddy.

“Zena told me.”

“But Nigel never mentioned that to us.”

“Nigel must have let her in. Nobody else could have done. Mum over was in Great Yarmouth waiting for me to arrive and dad was out at a political meeting. Does it mean anything?”

Corky and Maddy pulled faces of bewilderment at each other.

“Carry on,” said Maddy.

“Well, I made her a cup of tea. I packed a few more things, although I had packed most of the things I needed earlier. I went out to the shop to buy some shampoo. She read the paper and looked at my books. She asked if she could look at Nigel’s books in his room. She returned with a couple of his books and asked if she could borrow them. I said she’d better leave a note to tell Nigel. She wrote him a note, left it in the hall by the telephone and put the books in her shoulder bag.”

“Books?” queried Maddy. “She also looked through my books. What books?”

“The books? Oh. One was about animals – don’t know about the other one. I wasn’t really paying much attention.”

“Try to remember.”

“Leslie’s eyes glazed over for several seconds.

“One had a drawing on the front. It had a blue cover. I just can’t remember the other.”

“If you remember let us know.”

“Perhaps the titles are on the note to Nigel,” ventured Corky.

“Good thinking, Batman. Yes, we’ll check that later. Carry on.”

“When I had packed everything we left the house. She said she’d walk me to the station and see me off. I thought that was nice of her.”

“What did she talk about?”

“Oh, Just everyday things. I was talking about my holiday. She said she’d been to Great Yarmouth although she hadn’t enjoyed it much. Her dad had been drunk or something. We walked along to the station. She bought a platform ticket and waved me off. I really can’t understand what all the fuss is about? The poor girl’s been kidnapped and Nigel’s been beaten half to death by some Hell’s Angels. What are you trying to get me to say?”

“We’re just trying to do is get to the bottom of this,” said Maddy.

“Yes, but you’re almost implying that Zena was up to something.”

“Perhaps she was, and it all went wrong, and she got kidnapped.”

“Well, if she was, I’m sure I would have known about it.”

“Why have you waited until now to tell us Zena saw you off?” James asked.

Leslie explained that on Tuesday she caught the train and went to meet her mum in Great Yarmouth. Leslie only found about the kidnapping when her dad rang to say that Nigel had been attacked and was in hospital.”

“Until then we didn’t know Zena had disappeared. I should have come round on Sunday, or yesterday to tell you about Zena coming to the station with me, but I’ve been putting it off, I suppose. My dad says I’ve got to got to go to the police next.”

“When you do, please don’t tell them anything about this conversation,” said Maddy.

“I’ll try not to, but I always say the wrong thing. I don’t think I’ll go for a few days.”

Periods of silence and other chat prevailed for a while. Maddy passed Zena’s exercise books over to James for his examination. Corky made coffee and once more joined in the discussion.

James found it difficult to grasp all the facts: there were too many to remember, let alone make sense of. They went through the girl’s disappearance from the moment the police arrived at Maddy’s. They considered Mr. and Mrs. Saxby, the ticket to London, the kidnap note inside the bed, the unidentified man in the canal, the oddity of Zena buying a platform ticket but not using it when she had seen her dad. Maddy turned to Leslie.

“You said Zena bought a platform ticket when she came to the station with you, didn’t you? And she came on to the platform?”

“That’s what you normally do, isn’t it? Of course she did. She waved me off.”

“I see.”

“Oh…I’ve just remembered something that did happen though. It’s only just come to me.”

“Yes?”

“When we walked in the station we passed the confectionery kiosk. The girl serving waved and shouted ‘hello’. Well, I know she wasn’t talking to me ’cause – well – I didn’t know her. Zena, who was the close to her and must have heard her, just ignored her. She didn’t even give the girl a curious glance. The girl in the kiosk might have mistaken her for someone else, or Zena might have been daydreaming but…I don’t really know. The girl did look put out when Zena didn’t say hello back.”

“Hmm…perhaps a visit to the station could be useful,” said Maddy. “Something seems to be going on down there.”

CHAPTER EIGHT

Later, alone, Maddy lay on the settee thinking hard. “What are the main facts around which all the others revolve?” she asked herself. Zena had got herself into trouble and run away? Inconsistent. She’d been murdered and the note received by her mother was a fake? Seemingly not, but one couldn’t ignore that there were skillful handwriting forgers around. Zena had been kidnapped by a gang of Rastafarians? It seemed the obvious conclusion, but it didn’t somehow: Rastafarians were reputedly peace loving people for all their unusual beliefs.

Why put the kidnap note in the bed? Who was this man who rang up the press? She still needed more pieces. She always needed more pieces.

Maddy stared at one of the circles in the carpet as if the key to the puzzle lay within it. She noticed the exercise books on the floor, those which she’d passed to James earlier. She stretched for them and carefully examined them page after page. It proved to be of little use: she found nothing of interest. They were simply exercise books.

But there was something. Something about them that she couldn’t quite understand. And it was nothing to do with their contents. She lay back on the settee and began to think again……

Brrrr! Brrrr!

Maddy grabbed the handset.

“Hello.” It was Kandy.

“Urghh…Hello…I’ve just woken up….I must have fallen off…I’ll be okay in a moment.”

“You sound ropy. Didn’t you get any sleep last night?”

“Yes. But I could sleep for a week.”

“Hey listen! I can’t stay on the phone for long. I’ve been snooping around for you.”

“And….?”

“I haven’t found out much,” said Kandy in her rich drawl. “The police have been around the black community and are making everyone jittery. No one I’ve met knows anything about the girl, although she’s gossip item of the month because of all the police pressure. There’s a pair of notable black villains who aren’t around at the moment. They’re called the Marlin brothers. They left around the same time as Zena disappeared. They’re so bent you couldn’t hang your clothes on them – but even they wouldn’t stoop to this, I’m told. They’ve gone to London.

“I tell you, Maddy, whoever has done this is not popular. The police are breathing heavily down everyone’s neck. I’ve been told that several bruisers are looking out for these kidnappers to rearrange their limbs for them.”

“Sounds nasty.”

“It is.”

“Anything else?”

“The police have been checking up blacks who have recently rented new bed-sits or flats in the last five weeks in Leicester. Everybody who has new bed-sits and flats have been, or are about to be, visited by the police.”

That disappointed Maddy. She had intended to do a check on rented accommodation in Leicester’s estate agents and the police had got there first.

“And they’ve found nothing?”

“Not as yet.” Kandy added: “And as far as my info is concerned they won’t. These villains appear to be sprayed in invisible paint – and even then I’d know. If they’re anywhere they must be outside the city, on the outskirts, or in accommodation that hasn’t recently changed hands.”

“I see.”

“Anyway must go. I’ll phone back if I hear anything else.”

“Thanks.”

Later, as previously arranged, James came to collect the girls in his father’s Rover. Corky slid in the front seat beside him and they started off.

There was optimism in the air as they drove along in evening sunshine but their high spirits were dampened at the hospital. Nigel’s coma still held him. Nigel’s father – who had arrived earlier with his wife – said the doctors now feared possible brain damage. Maddy thought Mr. Swain looked older that the last time she met him.

When visiting time was over James gave the girls a lift home and arranged to collect Maddy in the morning; Corky would get a lift with her dad and meet them at the railway station.

WEDNESDAY

“I collared Paul Statham,” said James on Wednesday morning as he drove Maddy along Victoria Road towards Leicester Station.

“And?”

“It’s all pretty useless. He said we had it all wrong. He said ‘Nibes’ was his nickname for the police. It was a hip-word they used they had got from some American comic.”

Maddy grimaced. “If that’s all it was why did his friend tell him to shut up so emphatically then?”

“Exactly – just what I asked. They had something to hide: it was him and Karl Snell, his friend, who tore the tore the door off Zena’s locker,” said James, manoeuvring into a car park off Conduit Street.

He pulled on the handbrake.

“Zena teased them a lot so they decided to play a nasty joke on her,” he continued. “Last Tuesday afternoon they tore off her locker door and stole four of her text books which they defaced. They were then going to return them but when she went missing they became frightened and burnt all the books. Statham pleaded with me not to tell the police. I said I’d think about it. When I left he was shaking so much he looked like he’d been electrified.”

“That’s three leads swallowed up: the locker, Paul Statham’s nervousness and this thing about the ‘Nibes’. His explanation of that sounds daft.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “You think they know something, but to be quite honest, I don’t think so. The more I questioned them the less it appeared like that.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m never sure.”

They met Corky outside the station as planned. “You brought the photograph?” she asked Maddy.

Maddy quickly exhibited the school photograph of Zena that Mrs. Saxby had given her.

They entered through the wrought iron gates into the station forecourt and crossed the cobbled surface. Red girders of the roof stretched above them. Passing through a triangular, cheese-portion shaped foyer they came out into the central booking office area.

An eight-faced ticket office was in the centre dominating the floor space. On each face, below hanging baskets of flowers, was a glass screen separating ticket sellers from ticket buyers. To the teenager’s right, a man served in a W.H. Smith kiosk; to the left, a young girl served in a red and yellow Railbar.

“That must be her,” said Corky.

The girl had drooped down into a chair to varnish her nails as they arrived at the counter. She exuded an air of exacting boredom.

“I wonder if you can help us?” asked Maddy, “We’re looking for a friend. Have you ever seen this girl?”

Keeping her two glistening green nails away from her clothes the girl studied the photo.

“Oh Yes,” she said in between blowing on her nails, “I don’t know her to talk to, but she seemed quite nice. I often used to say hello to her. I think it’s the same girl. Yes it is. She was down here quite often”

“When?”

“At the weekends, I think.”

“Was she alone?” asked Maddy.

“Mostly. I don’t know really. I can’t remember. I saw her down here with a girl once I think.”

“A girl?”

A man who wanted an apple pie and a can of Diet Coke held up questioning for several minutes.

She couldn’t remember what the other girl looked like. Maddy described Leslie. Was it her? It could have been.” She looked bored and sat down again and began to colour the nails on her other hand.

“Thanks. We might be back later,” said Maddy.

“What a div, ” said James, when they had all backed away.

“Musn’t give up,” sighed Corky, sounding like she already had.

Leaving James and Corky amongst themselves Maddy went over to the newspaper kiosk. She showed the photograph to a fifty year old man whose brown hair had been swept over his scalp to cover his baldness. Maddy thought his head looked a lot like a potato.

“Yes,” he said cheerfully. “I’ve seen her down here often.” He looked up from the colour print. “She a friend of yours, ducks?”

“Sort of.” Then she said, “When did you see her?”

“She’d probably come down once a week, possibly weekends. She used to go to that luggage locker over there with another girl.”

Maddy’s eyes widened in surprise.

“I remember the locker,” he continued, “because its different to the others. Its that big one.” He pointed. “Pretty girl, aint she?” He was looking at the photo again.

“And who was this other girl?”

“Oh, different. Long black hair, long black coat. A bit scruffy for my taste.”

“Anything else you can remember about her?”

“No. Oh yes. She wore glasses. Yes, she did.”

“How old was she?”

“The younger one? This one here in the photo should be living with her mum, I reckon.”

“Why?”

“She’s not old enough to live on her own is she?”

“How old was the other girl? The one with the dark hair?”

“About eighteen. And this one,” he held up the photo, about fifteen, I’d say.”

He’s wrong about Zena’s age so he’s probably wrong about the age of the other girl, thought Maddy. He echoed her thought.

“I could be wrong about that, but the dark haired girl was an inch taller or more. Have they done something wrong, these two girls?”

“No,” said Maddy.

“That’s not what I thought you know,” he said with a wicked smile. “Its drugs, isn’t it? I wondered what they kept putting into that locker. One would come and put something in and the other would come and take something out.”

Maddy couldn’t believe it. After such a prolonged drought of information floodgates had opened.

“And what did they keep putting in and taking out of the locker?”

“When the door swings open it obscures the view: you can’t see what’s being put in or taken out from here.”

“Oh I see what you mean.”

“But I know, you know. You seem to be very excited about all this,” he said. “I’m not so sure what you’re up to but I’ll tell you. I found it quite fascinating.” He grinned, exposing his tobacco stained teeth to her.”

“It was a brown bag, a travelling bag. I saw it once or twice.”

“The girls put it in the locker?”

“That’s right. I wondered what was in it.” He glared at her as if he was slightly mad. “Drugs is it?”

“Do you know at what time the girls used to arrive?”

“I’ve got my wits about me, right enough, but its busy here sometimes. I’d see them at weekends. Saturdays. And I think I saw this girl during last week, only she was with someone else then.”

Maddy described Leslie to him but he wasn’t sure. All he could say was that she didn’t have black hair.

“Thank you,” she said and walked off.

Once past the black telephone boxes she moved up to the luggage lockers.

Most were of the coin-operated type: for 40p an article could be left in the box for twenty four hours. The four larger maroon lockers were not coin operated and four months was the maximum that an article could be left inside. This information was stickered on the front, together with the instructions for their use.

Maddy queued up at the ticket office. While she was waiting to be served she noticed that the lockers couldn’t be seen from this vantage point either.

“Can I ask you some questions about the larger luggage lockers that you can leave things in for a long while?”

“Certainly,” said the young girl behind the glass.

“As far as I understand, if I pay five pounds I can leave any luggage in there for up to four months.”

“That’s right.”

“Can you tell me who had locker number two?”

“I suppose so. Yes, here it is on the list. Julia Robinson.”

“Julia Robinson.”

“Yes. She’s still hiring it. She’s been using it since the 7th of May, which means she can use it up to the 7th September.”

“Do you have her address?”

“Um…” she looked at Maddy suspiciously, “I shouldn’t give addresses.”

“I’m a friend of hers.”

“Well…7 Barncombe Avenue.”

“Do you have a key for them.”

“Yes. You take one key, we keep a spare.”

Maddy thought quickly. It was worth a try.

“I’m checking which is her locker. As I say I’m a friend of hers. As she’s not very well she asked me to come down and retrieve what’s been left in her locker. She couldn’t give me the key – she’s lost it.”

“I’m sorry we can’t open the locker for anyone except the police, who sometimes spot-check the lockers. If the girl has lost her key she will have to pay a fine before we open the locker.”

“I’m prepared to pay the – “

“No. I can’t hand over the key. Julia Robinson will have to come and see us when she’s better.”

“Okay, thanks for your help.” said Maddy.

Wow!

CHAPTER NINE

Maddy lowered herself on the bench between James and Corky and related what she’d been told. James stared at the cut away diamonds in his leather sandals; Corky sunk her chin into her palm, her fingers fanned out and her chocolate-drop eyes stared into space.

“We have to get that locker open. And I know how to do it,” said James.

“How?”

“I’ve got a mate, Johnathan Ball. He’s a magician with fixing locks. He’s got car keys, padlock keys, skeleton keys. You name it, he’s got it.”

“Its against the law,” said Corky.

“We won’t get into trouble if we’re not caught,” said James with excitement in his eyes.

Maddy wasn’t sure. But if they didn’t open the locker, they would never get to know what was in it if the police were brought in.

“We can hire a locker next to the one the two girls used. Then while my mate, Jonathan, is opening the locker we crowd round him while he unlocks the other locker. No one will see us.”

“I’ve already made it obvious I want to look inside the locker,” said Maddy. “They’re bound to think something suspicious is going on.”

“You said the girl in the ticket office can’t see the lockers from where she’s positioned. All we have to worry about is the bloke in the kiosk. Perhaps we can work out some diversive tactics for him while we open the locker.”

“That’s an idea….”

“Right,” said James, “Let’s do it.”

James reappeared fifty minutes later with Jonathan Ball and found the girls on the platform snack bar.

“So you’re a safe breaker?” said Maddy, smiling.

“I like locks,” said Johnathan, pointing to a badge on the lapel of his stripey blazer of a white key hole in a black circle.

“Very subtle,” said Maddy.

“Lets move quickly,” said James, “there won’t be any need for us to plan diversive tactics; the chap in the kiosk has gone and a woman’s taken his place. Let’s do it now in case he comes back.”

They went over what they had to do.

They climbed the platform stairs and ascended more steps to the central booking area. Johnathon walked up to the ticket office; the others went out into the lobby as planned. Johnathon, giving a fake address, hired locker number three for seven days. The girl exchanged his fee for the locker key. From the lobby only Corky could see what was going on. Maddy and James stood behind two arches separating the booking area from the entrance. Corky was positioned to keep them informed.

Johnathon walked away from the ticket-office window towards the lockers and out of Corky’s view.

“He’s in position,” whispered Corky.

“Give him a minute,” said James. It had been planned to give Johnathon enough time to unlock locker number three so that he could inspect the type of lock before attempting locker number two.

Unknown to Maddy, James nor Corky, the green door at the far end of the lobby opened. They were too preoccupied to realise a man was approaching from behind.

“Still here are you?” he shouted heartily.

Maddy turned. Oh no – it was the potato man from the kiosk!

“Still trying to find those drugs, eh? I can tell you three are up to something.” He released bad breath all over Maddy.

“Ah…there you are, sir,” said Maddy, thinking quickly, “could you spare me a little more of your time?”

“What do you mean? More questions?”

Maddy turned to James and Corky, “I’ll see you later then,” she said, and grabbed the arm of the shabby man and virtually pulled him out into the station forecourt. She flicked her head back to see if James and Corky had gone. They had.

“I ought to tell you what’s going on,” she said as she led the man into the noisiest of places to have a quiet conversation.

“She’s an addict, you know,” she began.

Maddy wove a fabulous story about the blonde haired girl. Her father was an actor who had inherited millions of pounds and part of the Longleat Estate from his grandmother. The complexities and irrelevances she brought into the tale where so great in number that as her story developed she began to forget what she had said. She wasn’t the only one getting confused.

“What’s all this got to do with the girls? I don’t understand.”

“Well, its obvious,” said Maddy, waving her arms around, realising that very soon he would know she was talking gibberish. “He couldn’t have been an actor if he hadn’t have had the lions.”

“Oh?” He scratched his dandruff-topped scalp. “But who is this man anyway?”

Maddy’s imagination was becoming full of ridiculous images. Had Johnathon opened the locker yet?

“What do you mean?”

“This actor. What’s his name?”

Maddy just couldn’t think of an actor; her mind seemed full of monsters. She couldn’t hesitate any longer.

“David Octopus,” she said.

“David who?”

The man thrust his hands in his pockets, and laughed scornfully. “Why are you interested in that locker? If you don’t give me a straight answer I’m going to phone the police. I’m thinking I was right. There’s something dodgy about all this.”

“Listen. I know it sounds crazy but listen. You see the girls were dealing in heroin. One would collect from London and stash it in the locker and the other would collect it.”

“I’d better phone the police anyway.”

“No!” She grabbed his sleeve again, and spoke into his ear, quietly, conspiratorially. “That’s why I couldn’t tell you the truth before. That’s why they’ve sent me down, so as not to raise too many suspicions.”

“You working for the police then?”

“Yes, I’m working for the police.”

“Show me your identity card.”

It struck Maddy she was breaking the law by impersonating a police officer.

“No,” she said, thinking quickly again, “I’m not a policewoman. You misunderstood. I’m the daughter of the Superintendent.”

“And your name is?”

“I can’t give my name.”

“Right! That’s enough.” He started to move off.

“Wait!” She shouted running after him, but once inside the station lobby he quickly turned right into the olive green door he’d originally come out of.

She raced through the archway into the booking hall and fought her way through crowds and queues of disembarking passengers.

James and Johnathon were fiddling with the lock of locker number two. Corky stood away dejectedly contemplating her own feet.

“The police are coming! We’ve all got to get out.” Maddy was panting. “Have you got the bag?” She couldn’t see it anywhere.

“Have a quick look at what we found,” said James. He let go of the door handle. It swung open to give her a complete view of the inside contents.

“Oh god! Lock it and let’s get out of here,” she said.

“Can’t. It’s broken.”

“Let’s just get out of here.”

Corky had gone. Maddy, James and Johnathon pushed their way past bodies and sped through the lobby without meeting the kiosk man. Minutes later, slamming doors, they fell into the Rover; James hit the accelerator and sped up to the junction where Conduit Street meets London Road. Frustratingly there was a traffic jam. A march was going by.

A British Empire Party rally, demonstrating about ethnic minorities in Leicester, was passing and blocked the road for twenty minutes.

“As they waited on edge for the rally to pass no one spoke except Johnathon.

He was apologetic.

“I’m afraid I sometimes break a lock which I don’t have a key for,” he was saying. He felt that everyone’s disappointment was in some way due to him.

But it wasn’t. The locker had been empty.

They dropped off Johnathan near his home in Filbert Street. Maddy scribbled down his address and phone number in her penguin notebook. “Sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for,” he shouted, as he waved them off.

They went to Corky’s home in Oakthrope Avenue. It was out of the way of the police and she had a map of Leicester there Maddy wanted to consult.

Oakthorpe Avenue was misnamed. It had no trees upon its wide pavements only military-green lamp posts. Near Corky’s front gate a king telegraph pole collected wire from every roof as if knitting from twenty balls of wool at once.

Inside number thirty two, Corky’s mum was preparing a salad which they refused but coffee won group approval. They held committee in the lounge and spread out a map of Leicester’s streets over the large oak table in the centre of the room. Corky tried to find Julia Robinson’s address in the map index.

“7 Barncombe Avenue, it was,” said Maddy.

“Its not there is it?” said Maddy a moment later, and she gazed despondently out the window across the street.

“Don’t say that,” said James.

“I’ll try a different spelling,” said Corky quietly. “All I can find is Barnby Avenue and Barnes Close.”

“No. Nothing,” sighed Corky a moment later.

“Its a false address,” said Maddy.

“That’s just brilliant,” James sighed. “The luggage locker led us nowhere and now the address leads us nowhere.” He turned to Maddy, “I thought you were supposed to be clever.”

Corky’s mum came in with a tray of coffee and biscuits a moment later. “You all look like you’ve found a penny and lost a friend,” she said, smirked and left the room.

“I’m sorry, Maddy,” said James a moment later, “I’m just getting ratty.”

Maddy told him to go and boil his head.

Corky, leaning over the map, began thinking out loud, “Whoever broke into Zena’s probably came from the playing fields. I was trying to work out from which direction he or she had come so as to get onto the canal towpath. They either came from the north, Middleton Street, or on the canal from the south, which means they would have had to walk a long way – the nearest connection being Gilmoreton Avenue.”

Maddy considered the map.

“Its no good, Corky, I’m afraid,” said Maddy. “The person who came from the canal could have come from anywhere: north, south, east or west. We know as much about where he or she came form as where he or she is now.”

She scratched her head and thought.

“What we need to do is to work out what happened when this character arrived at Zena’s window.”

“It was already open,” suggested Corky.

“Why?”

“I bet it wasn’t,” said James.

“Because the person who came round from the front had opened it already for the person who came later.”

“That’s an interesting idea.”

“What do you mean?” asked James.

“The important question is: which of the trails of footprints arrived first, or did they arrive simultaneously?”

“And what’s the answer?”

“I’m just speculating. Let’s throw around some ideas.”

“They break open the window,” suggested James.

“No need. The window wasn’t locked.” Corky’s turn.

“Zena opens the window for them,” suggested Maddy.

“That’s weird, but original,” quipped James.

“Think about it. It’s possible. Zena allows the visitor in, perhaps not realising that she is going to be kidnapped.”

“You mean it was someone she knew?”

“It could have been.”

“But why the ranson note, the medallion?”

“I don’t know.”

“Perhaps it was the second visitor who caused the mess, or kidnapped Zena. Perhaps the first person came in the window and the second person caused havoc and kidnapped two people.”

“But who was the person with such large feet?” asked James. “No one we know wears heavy soled boots like those.”

“Mr. Saxby, perhaps, or the dead man in the canal, although he was wearing the wrong tread, or – like you say – someone we don’t know.”

“Okay,” said Corky, “Try this. Peter Saxby arrives in the garden and taps on the window. She lets him in, perhaps because he’s come up from the canal and its closer than the side or the front door. He climbs in the window and they sit and talk. Then a rastafarian comes in the window and takes them out of the front door…..no…..no….oh, its sounds stupid, doesn’t it?”

“What about this: supposing it was her friend, or possibly her enemy Julia Robinson. They had an argument about this brown bag in the locker at the station. She came round the back to steal it, or to take some revenge,” said Maddy.

“Hey, didn’t Hanson mention some hair on the window catch? What colour was it? Black wasn’t it?”

“Exactly,” said Maddy.

“Ah…..”

“The fact that she had black hair and there’s black hair on the window catch may be circumstantial; it may be a man’s hair; after all, how many people do you know with dark, or black hair. Although I agree it’s a bit coincidental.”

“Couldn’t Julia could have taken Zena out of the window?” asked Corky.

“There’s no sign of Zena’s footprints,” said James.

“Julia Robinson could have thrown her over her shoulder as she retraced her footprints back around the drive.”

“I see what you mean, said Maddy, but why go out the back to get round to the front. Unless she thought her mother was in? No. It doesn’t fit. In fact, her arriving at all doesn’t fit to me.”

She dropped her jaw into her cupped hand. Sun rays beamed through the window high-lighting particles of dust. Long shadows were cast across the table top.

“Nigel’s been worrying me, you know.”

“Yes,” said James, “I’ve been thinking Nigel’s got some explaining to do. People don’t just beat you up for no reason.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” muttered Corky.

“It seems more than a loss of memory to me that Nigel should fail to tell us that he’d let Zena into the house on Tuesday.”

“Perhaps Zena let herself in,” suggested James.

“Hello Corky, hello everyone.” Diane Taylor, the schoolteacher, had suddenly appeared in the room with Corky’s mum. “I knew I’d be passing this way and I thought I’d deliver those screen printing inks I promised you,” she said cheerily. “Goodness, what’s wrong with you all. You seem very subdued. What’s wrong? Haven’t you solved the crime yet?” She giggled.

“We’re marvellous at theories,” said James, “but everything we find turns out to be useless.”

“Its an uphill struggle but we’re determined to get there,” contradicted Maddy.

“You must be Madeline Quebric. I’ve heard about you. At least you’ve got a positive attitude. I’m surprised at you, James.” She looked across at him. “You sound defeated.”

“I’m not at school now, don’t give me lectures……”

After Diane had departed, James offered Maddy a lift back to Meadvale in his dad’s car but she declined: “I’m not going home. I’m going to pay a call on a black crow.”

“A black crow?” James gave her a puzzled look.

“I’ll tell you about it later,” she said.

CHAPTER TEN

Maddy had gone to Heathcote Street to see the black crow: Dorothy Brent.

Dorothy’s wavy jet black hair fell away from a centre parting, cascaded down her pretty face and kissed her neck. Her thin-line striped shirt, stone washed Kiku jeans with turnups, black shoes with white socks fitted her sunny personality perfectly.

“I can’t tell you anything about Zena,” Dorothy warned her in the first few minutes, “The police have been here twice and left me limp with questioning. I met her walking from school and asked if I could have some essays back. I told her I was going to see you and she invited herself along.”

“What essays?” enquired Maddy.

“I lent her some history notes on the third world. She had copied them up and said she would return them some time.”

“Has she?”

“Of course not. It would be a bit difficult to slip away from your kidnappers to return some history notes, wouldn’t it.

Maddy took Dorothy through fifteen minutes of intensive questioning but none of the answers provided any fresh information.

As Maddy started walking away from the house she had an idea.

She returned to the gate. Dorothy was turned away from her going into the kitchen door.

“Julia Robinson!” Maddy called loudly.

Dorothy turned round, her eyes wide. She emerged from the half open door into the sunlight.

“Who?”

“Julia Robinson?”

“Who’s she?”

“Beats me actually, have you heard of her?”

“It sounds a sort of familiar. Hmm. I can’t put a face to it.”

“Okay. Don’t mention it to anyone. I’ll keep in touch.”

“Alright. ‘Bye.”

Maddy walked towards the city centre in search of a girl’s name. Regardless that it would take days, weeks or even months to cover all the estate agents it had to be done, although she knew the effort might once again prove to be valueless.

Deep down though she really believed that dogged effort gets results. And in this case she was right.

At Corky’s James was reclining on the settee ill at ease about Maddy’s secretiveness. No doubt Maddy would explain melodramatically about the black crow when it suited her. Whatever had happened to her sense of cooperation? He said so to Corky after both Maddy and Diane had left. Corky just shrugged her shoulders and said Maddy was a law unto herself.

James had meant to leave at the same time as Diane to go home and get changed but Corky had a better idea.

James dropped the carrier bag containing fresh strawberries, plain yogurt, grape juice, bread, brie and cheddar and a pound of Granny Smiths onto the back seat of the car. He then climbed in next to Corky, into the glasshouse heat of its interior. Minutes later he was driving to Bradgate park.

Passing factories thinned out into housing estates and then into isolated dwellings as the car sped along the country lane. Soon the buildings gave way to trees; the habitats of wildlife taking over from those of humans.

Twenty minutes later they had arrived. Around them stretched rolling grass hills studied with Charnwood oaks and wandering red deer. The sound of wind, birds, and the gentle rushing of clear water gave Corky a delightful feeling of freedom. She watched her feet sink slightly into the soft ground as she walked. The smell of meadows cooked in the breeze.

“You know Corky, Maddy’s bugging me,” said James.

“Why?”

“This lack of team spirit.”

She looked blankly at him.

“I think Maddy knows something and she’s not telling us.”

“I don’t think so. She doesn’t have that air of confidence that she had last year. When she was investigating the school fire she made a few guesses which the police thought stupid but which eventually proved to be right. She’s not like that now; she’s floundering a lot. She may have a few ideas, but she has pride and she’s probably dubious about telling us in case they’re wrong. She doesn’t want to discover she isn’t as good as she thinks she is – which you can understand. I hope this whole affair doesn’t hurt her too much.”

“Don’t you think she’s capable of finding Zena?”

Corky looked sideways, wistfully. “I don’t know. I love Maddy. She’s a real friend, but I’ve a horrible feeling that she’ll get depressed when this is all over. I think she’s taken on something too big.”

“It sounds as if you’re losing confidence in her.”

“Perhaps I’m losing sight of what’s going on. I never wanted to be involved in this Zena Saxby thing anyway; whereas that case last year it was interesting. Perhaps it’s not that I’m losing faith in Maddy, it’s just that I’m finding you more interesting.”

Corky couldn’t quite believe what she was saying; admitting it so blatantly.

James didn’t respond.

“I think she looks awful,” he said.

“She can’t help it. There’s not a lot she can do about her features.”

“She could diet.”

Corky lay back on her elbows feeling the warming effects of the sun.”

I do like you,” said James.

“Do you?”

“Yes. I don’t know why. I don’t know you very well. You’re not the most beautiful girl in the world.”

“Thanks very much,” she laughed.

“No, sorry. I think you’re pretty, but I wouldn’t put you in the Miss World stakes.”

“It’s alright, you don’t have to qualify it. I know I’m Miss Average.”

“I think you make me feel easy. You know, relaxed, somehow.”

“I’ve fancied you for ages.”

“Have you.” It wasn’t a question. “Yes, I suppose I knew. Come here.”

The heat of the sun burnt down on their skins. Occasionally there was a gentle breeze.

Later they talked about Zena again.

“Do you think there were drugs in that bag?” he asked.

“No….I think it was…something of value but not illegal,” she suddenly said.

“What?”

“Something like er….coins, stamps, antiques.”

“I’ve got it!” She suddenly sat up, “Blackmail. I haven’t followed it through in my mind, but it feels right. Photos or letters.”

He gave her a supercilious look

“You mean one of the girls was blackmailing the other?” He thought about it for a moment.

“Yes. Let’s imagine Zena was blackmailing Julia. She gradually passed on something in the bag and Julia brought the bag back with money installments in it. Finally all the blackmail material is in Julia’s possession and the blackmail stopped. Then Julia sought revenge. She decided to get Zena back.”

“Um..um. Maybe.”

“And she devises this plan to kidnap Zena leaving lots of red herrings all over the place to confuse the police, and gets all her money back, and more, by demanding ransom money.”

“Zoink! What a brilliant theory!”

Corky ignored his sarcasm. She was pleased with the idea. “We ought to tell Maddy.”

James held out his hand to pull her up.

“No wait. There’s one problem with that idea. If Zena was blackmailing this Julia Robinson how come they were seen together. They could have simply handed the bag over, so why the locker?”

“Were they seen together?” queried James.

“I think Maddy said they were.”

“I don’t remember.”

“Frankly, nor do I.”

After visiting eight estate agents around the centre of Leicester Maddy was on her her way to the ninth. So far, searching for a dubious needle in countless haystacks had proved fruitless; all it had done was tire her.

The chances of the Julia Robinson renting a flat or bedsit was remote but not impossible. It was possible she had used another name. It was possible that Maddy would simply not go to the right estate agent or flat agency – there were so many things to cover.

The ninth estate agent had no Julia Robinson on their files either.

At six, Maddy sitting next to her dad on the settee, avidly made scribbles about possible connections in the Zena Saxby case.

“You have used seventy per cent of my stationery this week,”complained her father, “What are you trying to do – Rewrite the bible? No? That’s just as well, because they used sentences – not boxes, circles and arrows.”

She ignored him.

Corky phoned at seven from Woodbridge hospital. She sounded happy. She had had a lovely day with James picnicking at Bradgate park.

“Good,” said Maddy.

“We came up with a great idea in the park about Zena.”

“Fire away.”

“Well you know the brown bag in the station locker? I reckon that photos or letters were in it. You see, Zena was blackmailing this Julia and the money was being passed in the bag as the blackmail material was passed back. Julia, having got all the blackmail material back kidnaps Zena and expects to make a huge amount of money.”

“What about the footprints, the ransom note, the ticket to London, ecetera?”

“Red herrings to confuse the police!”

“And the dead body?”

“I’ll pass on that one. I’ll leave you to work that out.”

“You give me the easy ones.”

“There is one problem. Did Julia and Zena meet together or collect the bag separately? If they collected it separately the theory holds, but if they collected it together what would be the point in hiring a locker? They could have handed over the contents to each other without coming to the station.”

Maddy considered for a moment and then said, “The man at the kiosk said they were both there on Saturdays, and I assumed he meant together, but he didn’t actually say that. I can’t really go back and ask him.”

“Hang on a mo, Maddy, James is calling.”

“Good news Maddy,” said Corky half a minute later, “James had been talking to one of the doctors. Nigel is recovering. He’s coming out of his coma and is making noises. Unfortunately he still can’t talk because of his sore jaw, but he should be on the road to recovery by the weekend. His mum, dad and sister are over the moon. They’re praying he doesn’t have brain damage – its still too early to say yet – “

“Can he answer questions?”

“No. He’s not recognised anyone yet. I’ll go there now, visiting time will be over soon. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

THURSDAY

On Thursday morning Maddy tried to track down Zena’s Youth club by phoning the Social Services.

“You want Nicola Chamberlain. She’s in charge of St.Anne’s. She should be at home for the next two days, she’s just moved house,” she was told. Her landline hadn’t been connected yet so Maddy wrote down her address: 27 Aberdale Road.

Thirty minutes later she called on her.

Nicola Chamberlain was dark, slim-waisted, and grinned like a street urchin. She was about thirty.

“The youth club runs every Tuesday night,” said Nicola, after Maddy had introduced herself. “Its got the usual things: discos, table tennis, badminton, board games and a few extra: dancing classes and a guitar club. It has something magical about it that the kids like. Zena’s been coming since about last November – about eight months. She wasn’t a great mixer. She was a quiet girl. I remember she liked the dancing classes that we arranged; she supposed to have had quite a potential. She came regularly every week. She stopped coming just over two months ago.”

“Do you know why she stopped?” asked Maddy.

“Yes, I do. We were chatting one Tuesday and she complained about having so much work to do. She said she would probably not come for a while due to the pressure of her GCSEs.” Nicola leaned back on the white garden chair.

“I see, What did she do down the youth club?”

“She used to knock about with a girl called Leslie, who came down sometimes, although not as often as Zena. They used to get on well. Very flash parents you know.”

“Leslie Swain? Yes, we’ve met. Anyone else?” asked Maddy.

“John Edmunds used to thrash her at table tennis. She used to get quite angry about it.”

“I don’t know him. Do you have his address or telephone number?”

“No, but phone me on when I’m at work on Monday and I can give you the contacts for all of Zena’s youth club friends. If you like I’ll make a list out for you on Monday. “

“That would be great. Thanks.”

“Anything to help the poor girl.”

“Were there any girls down at the youth club who wore glasses, had long black hair – about five feet ten, about your height I’d say.”

“Yes. A few fitted that description.”

“Anyone called Julia Robinson?”

Maddy watched but Nicola answered without any change of expression.

“I don’t remember that name. I’ll have to ask the other staff. They might know. If she did attend I’ll put her name and address on the list I draw up for you.”

“Thanks.”

“No problem. I’d be glad to be of help. I still can’t believe any of this. It sounds bizarre. How are her family coping?”

“Mrs. Saxby was depressed when we saw her on Thursday. And that was before she was asked for ransom money. And Peter Saxby, Zena’s dad is drunk all the time.”

“Is he?” Nicola sounded surprised. “I can’t imagine him drinking at all.”

“Why?”

“He seemed too dignified to be a heavy drinker. You can never tell, can you?”

“Mr. Saxby?”

“Yes.”

“Mr. Saxby?” asked Maddy again, her eyes widening.

“Yes, Why do you look so surprised?”

“I don’t understand. I can’t imagine how Peter Saxby could ever give that impression.”

“Well he…wait a minute…unless….”

“Unless what?”

“Perhaps it wasn’t Peter Saxby. I just assumed it was. What colour hair does Mr. Saxby have?”

“blonde, Straw coloured.”

“Oh. Is he fat, does he wear a suit?”

He’s thin as a rake. He might wear a suit. I’ve never seen him in one.”

“That’d weird. It couldn’t have been Mr. Saxby.”

“What couldn’t?”

“A man used to pick Zena up from the youth club. I assumed it was her dad. Far too old to be her boyfriend. He was about fifty, or fifty five.”

“Her dad’s younger than that.”

“Now I think about it,” said Nicola, “he only came to pick her up shortly before she stopped coming. He had short black hair. Let me think. He was thick set, square jawed and wore a blue, expensive suit. He was very polite – but on reflection – perhaps too polite. I assumed he was her father.

“The first time I saw her I followed him into the youth club. He turned and asked me if Zena was around so I directed him to the table tennis room where she usually hung out. He found her and they went outside to have a chat in the yard. I’ve no idea what about. He left and she returned to her table tennis. He picked her up when the club folded up, at around ten. He didn’t come in, he was waiting by the gate. I remember wishing that all fathers would come and pick their daughters up in this frightening city. He was there for the next two weeks waiting at the gate. He never came in again.”

“So you saw them three times together?”

“Yes. I think it was three.”

“Was there physical contact between them?”

“Oh, I see what you mean. No. They didn’t hold hands or anything. I only saw them together properly the first time when he came inside. I saw him wait for her, and go off with her on other occasions, but from a distance. I didn’t take much notice. It just seemed like a dad and his daughter to me.”

“Did they get into a car?”

“I don’t think so. No.”

“So they walked somewhere?”

“Presumably, unless a car was parked around the corner.”

“After three weeks of this man coming Zena stopped attending the youth club.”

“Yes. It sounds frightening, doesn’t it.”

“It would sound logical if she’d been abducted, or even murdered on the last night of the youth club, particularly as this man met her afterwards, but no. Everything carries on as normal and she was abducted, perhaps murdered three months later.”

“You don’t really think she’s dead, do you?” asked Nicola.

Dead?

The image of a dead body floated up out of Maddy’s memory, up from the Grand Union canal.

“About fifty you said?” she said quickly.

“That’s right.”

That afternoon Maddy went back into the city but still Julia Robinson could not be found on any estate agents book. When she got home her father told her that Detective Inspector Hanson had called and was coming back at seven.

Maddy was relieved that the inspector hadn’t been angry when he had called, but not about him returning at seven. She would have to postpone her visit to the hospital to see Nigel which was particularly important now that he was recovering. Fortunately James and Corky were going so they could question him instead – assuming he was in any fit state to answer.

Maddy found the evening paper interesting again. Next to the major headline – which concerned more rubbish about Tuesday’s forthcoming election – was the following article, accompanied by a photograph of a familiar white bridge:

MYSTERY CORPSE NAMED

The police have identified the body of the middle-aged man found last Thursday in the Grand Union canal. He is Mr. Patrick Geoffrey Woebin and has been registerd with several local welfare and charity services. The pathology report stated his body contained a high level of alcohol (120 mg per 100 ml of blood) but no fractures or bruises were concomitant with the time of his death. The police suspect the cause of his death to be accidental but Detective Inspector Hanson claimed this morning that the possibility of foul play has not been completely ruled out.

Mr. Woebin’s former wife had been notified. She has been separated from her husband for twelve years although they were never divorced. She will travel from Sussex at a later date to attend the coroner’s inquest which is being delayed for a short while at the request of the police.

“So he was an alcoholic,” said Corky reading it after she had arrived.

“I think if you read between the lines it means he was a tramp, probably a meths drinker,” said Maddy.

“I see what you mean.” Corky reclined on the spongy back rest of the settee. “Perhaps he was a drunk who simply fell into the canal by accident. Zena’s kidnapper may have walked past completely unaware of him floating in the water.”

“Could be.”

“Yuk!”

Maddy explained that she wouldn’t be coming to see Nigel as Hanson was calling at seven.

“You and James go and see Nigel. See if he can talk yet. Ask him if he let Zena in. Ask him who beat him up. Ask him what books were borrowed, okay.”

“Yeh, but I doubt if we’ll get much out of him – he’s still very ill, although he’s out of danger. He’s not spoken yet. I’m sure he wanted to tell me something before he passed out.”

“I’d like to know what. Just do what you can.”

“I saw James this morning,” Corky said, “We went round to the Swain household. We looked everywhere for that note that Zena wrote to Nigel but we found nothing. Nothing at all. The only conclusion we can come to is that it was chucked away.”

“Perhaps Nigel picked it up and it’s in one of his pockets.”

“James checked all his clothes. There was plenty of rubbish in his pockets but no note.”

“Then check his clothes at the hospital.”

“That’s an idea.”

When James arrived Maddy explained that she had to stay behind to see the police.

“Up to your secrets again are you, you cunning old fox?”

“No.”

“What about all these brilliant hunches you’re supposed to have. You’re keeping those quiet, aren’t you?”

“Not at all. I’ll tell you about my ideas when I can make them fit.” she said sourly.

“I didn’t mean to get you going,” said James, pulling funny faces.

Despite James’s irritating comments Maddy told them about her visit to Dorothy Brent. She mentioned trekking around the estate agents.”

“That’s a mammoth task,” said James. “Julia Robinson may have rented somewhere privately, or have rented one from the accommodation columns in the local papers. And she may have used a false name. It’s not surprising you’ve been unsuccessful.”

“True. And she may not have rented, or bought anywhere anyway. She may not live anywhere near Leicester,” said Maddy, sighing, “but this sort of checking is virtually all we have left.” She told them about her discussion with Nicola Chamberlain and about man who had collected Zena from the youth club.

“That’s got to be the man in the canal,” said Corky.

“I’m going to check that tomorrow,” said Maddy. “Apart from that I want to take another visit up to Rowley Hill’s school and wander about.”

“Why?” asked Corky. “You’ll hardly find anyone up there. It’s the last day of term tomorrow.”

“No particular reason,” said Maddy, “Just curious about people like Diane Taylor and Paul Statham and many others up there.

“You surely don’t suspect the art teacher?” laughed Corky.

“I didn’t say suspect, I said curious.”

“I’m not being secretive,” continued Maddy after a short pause, “I just felt I’d like to visit the school myself and nosy about.”

James looked at his watch. “We ought to be going,” he said.

Maddy grabbed the Leicester Mercury off the settee. “Get Corky to read you this as you drive to the hospital. It’s about the corpse in the canal.”

He took the newspaper. “Will do.”

Maddy was glad that both her parents had gone out to evening class when Hanson arrived. She didn’t want him to start winding them up or vice-versa. She sat him down on the hessian sofa in the front room and and he accepted a black coffee.

He was abrupt but less so than usual.

“Now, young lady, no points awarded for guessing what I want to talk about. This Zena Saxby case is a difficult one. I’m getting pressure from the Chief Super about it, and – to be honest – my imagination is not performing like it should be. I want you to tell me all the answers.”

“There’s nothing I haven’t already told you.”

“Leslie Swain has visited us and informed us that you know a great deal.”

“All I know is what I read in the papers. I read today that the man in the canal was a tramp.”

“How do you know that? It didn’t say that.”

“He was drunk, old and his clothes were tatty.”

“Ah. Yes. Simple deduction. An educated guess. In fact you’re right. But you could have been wrong. In fact you’re correct. I don’t mind giving you some information if you give me some back in return.” His voice evened out. “Let’s go back to the beginning.”

“I’ve told you all I know.”

“Come on, come on. If you do us a favour maybe we’ll do you one or two.”

She wasn’t going to tell him anything.

“I was interested in the case but you told me to leave it alone – so I’ve kept out of it.”

“Ah, so you won’t tell me what you know because of hurt pride.”

“I’m sorry, Detective Hanson, I just can’t help you.”

“Leslie said you weren’t the last person to see Zena in the afternoon.”

“No, Zena went with Leslie to the station. She told me that. The last person to see her was that political canvasser chap.”

“Yes, but Leslie told us you knew a lot. Didn’t say exactly what. Something about platform tickets she said. What exactly?”

She’d have to say something now.

“Oh that.” She told him about Peter Saxby finding Zena buying a platform ticket, and then leaving the station.

“Now that’s interesting. A few strange things have been happening down at the station. I have been informed by a sister department that only recently three kids had been hanging around trying to break into a luggage locker. They vandalised it and ran off. One of them, a girl, kept a man, who worked near the locker outside talking to him, while the other two broke into the locker.

“The man gave a very good description of this girl. He said she was fat, ugly and dumpy.”

Maddy wore her surprised mask as best as she could. She knew he was being deliberately horrid. She waited for him to pounce on her.

“Interesting, isn’t it? And now this,” he said. “Being seen down the station and getting a platform ticket for no apparent purpose. I was going to mosey down the station tomorrow afternoon anyway, but with all this activity down there I’ll go first thing.” He appeared to forget Maddy’s presence and be talking to himself. “What with the ticket to London, her visit to the station with Leslie Swain, this platform ticket business, and this ransacking of a locker, I’m bound to find something out.”

“It sounds as if you’re getting somewhere.”

He sighed.

“Does it? ….Not really, I’m afraid. Its all dead ends. I think I might lose my reputation through this case. I accept that, but I’m genuinely concerned for the well being of the girl. Mrs. Saxby is in a state about her daughter. If you thought she was distraught before, she’s worse now. A social worker and a police psychiatrist are on call all the time. She is very fraught.”

“Will she hand over the money?”

“If it’s the only way of catching the villains.”

“Won’t that be dangerous to Zena?”

“We’ll have to see. Mrs. Saxby has to hand over the money on the 17th – a week on Sunday. The bank have agreed to raise the money against her bungalow.”

He sat up again.

“Now come on. Let’s hear the full story. I know there’s more you have to tell us.”

Should she? She wasn’t sure. Later. Not now. She had nothing definite anyway.

“I haven’t been working on the case since you told me to lay off.”

“And when exactly did you stop?”

A trick question. How much did he know she knew?

“The last thing I did was visit Mrs. Saxby with Caroline Oughton and Nigel Swain last Thursday.”

His face was a wall of disbelief but it showed no anger. He kept his arms folded and sat quietly staring at Maddy for over a minute. She felt uncomfortable. Would he like another coffee. He sighed. No, he was going.

After he had gone she wondered why he had been so calm. Should she have told him what she knew. Julia Robinson for instance?

She had a phone call from Corky at 9.30. Had Hanson booked them for breaking into left luggage lockers? Had he said anything useful? Nigel was still unable to speak. James was fantastic.

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