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Authors: Faith Martin

A Narrow Margin of Error

BOOK: A Narrow Margin of Error

A Narrow Margin of Error

Faith Martin

illary Greene lay staring up at the bright, water-dapple patterns that were cavorting across her ceiling. The dawn light streaming in through her narrowboat’s windows was
becoming stronger now that late April was threatening to give way to early May. She sighed as she turned over on her single bed, and squinted at the tiny travelling clock on the shelf just underneath the porthole.

It was barely 6.30. She could sleep in for another hour at least. Or even two, if she felt so inclined. Now that she didn’t have to get in to work until dead on nine o’clock, such luxuries were becoming commonplace for her.

Since retiring from the police force over a year ago, she’d
England’s canal system for a while, before going back to work as a civilian consultant to Thames Valley’s Crime Review Team. CRT handled cold cases, something that had become popular with the public since the advent of several television crime series that showcased their work. Reality was rather different, of course, with the bulk of the CRT’s work being done in the forensics field, which tended to generate a lot of paperwork and deskwork, neither of which were her favourite pastimes.

Although she missed her days as a DI with the privileges that it brought, she was gradually becoming used to some of the bonuses that came with being a civilian again – no unpaid
being one of them. And although she still sometimes felt herself to be neither fish nor fowl, since she had no powers of
arrest, she enjoyed being back in the saddle to the extent that she was working murder cases again.

Albeit ones that were years old and as cold as yesterday’s
rice pudding.

Her phone buzzed and she frowned at the inoffensive ceiling again. It couldn’t be work-related – the corpses that now had first call on her time had all been dead for many years. And working in CRT meant that nothing could ever be that pressing – her current caseload simply didn’t carry the same sort of urgency that breaking cases carried with them as a matter of course.

And the call couldn’t be related to her private life either: she didn’t have one. So it couldn’t be a friend, calling to ask her to meet up for lunch, or an over-eager lover keen to meet up and do a bit of smooching. Besides, at this time in the morning, who the hell would have the energy? Since hitting the big five-oh just recently, Hillary Greene did not consider herself to be a spring chicken anymore.

Which meant it could only be
: her friendly neighbourhood stalker.

Just what she needed.

She sighed and reached for her mobile, flipping it open and checking the highlighted box. Yep – number withheld. It was him all right.

Since he only texted, she hit the appropriate button and watched the words light up her screen.


Hillary’s arm flopped back down on the bed, the phone still held listlessly in her hand. She’d have to save this latest message and show it to Steven Crayle, the detective superintendent who ran a small team within the CRT, and was her immediate boss.

It was Crayle who got to make the arrests and bask in the glory. Not that she minded the basking part – he was welcome to handle the press and be patted on the back by the top brass. Being in the limelight had never felt like her natural habitat, although she’d been forced into it from time to time during her career, which had always been – technically at least – widely successful.

So when she’d made the decision to return to work, her old boss at the Thames Valley Police HQ, Commander Marcus Donleavy, had been only too pleased to welcome her back. Moreover, she suspected that he had ordered Crayle to give her only the cold cases that covered murder and the more serious crimes.

She’d solved the very first murder case he’d given her just a few weeks ago, but, unfortunately, she’d somehow managed to pick up an ‘admirer’ in the process. Both she and Crayle were inclined to think that it was someone at the station. Whether a working officer, or a member of the civilian staff, they weren’t yet sure.

It had started off with flowers mysteriously appearing on her desk, then Valentine cards, then written messages that were left, creepily, on her narrowboat,
The Mollern

The texting was relatively new, and had only started last week, but she was becoming bombarded with them.

He was upping his campaign.

With any chance of going back to sleep now thoroughly shot to hell, Hillary rose and took a rapid two-minute shower in the tiny cubicle that comprised practically all of her minute bathroom, then slipped into her underwear and stood before her wardrobe, thinking.

Should she wear something colourful or not?

On the one hand, the thought of pandering to the creep made her flesh crawl. But his messages were getting bolder and the one this morning had more or less openly admitted that he’d be seeing her some time today – presumably at ‘the office’. And whilst the HQ at Kidlington was vast, with potentially hundreds
of male suspects, there was just the chance that if she did wear something bright, she might just catch some male eye giving her more notice than was strictly necessary.

But did she really want to feed his fantasies? Already her stalker seemed to think they were engaged in some sort of secret, romantic affair. Which meant that he was a fantasist as well and, possibly, even seriously mentally ill. If she showed up dressed to the nines, did she really want to reinforce his sick fixation on her?

She donned a black skirt and black tights, and pulled out a matching black jacket. Her hand lingered over her choice of blouse. She could wear a brightly coloured one – which might or might not be construed as a message.

Or she could go monochrome with something in white, which would send a message of a far different sort. But on the other hand, did she really want to antagonize him? Or would going for the white option make him angry enough to react in some way, thus broadening their chances of catching him?

Decisions, decisions, she thought, her lips grimacing wryly. Come what may, she had the feeling that no matter what she did, her choice wouldn’t please Steven Crayle.

As she stood there in the early morning light, the sunlight catching her long, bell-shaped cap of dark-red hair, Hillary Greene contemplated the thought of Steven Crayle with
mixed emotions.

Then, angry at herself for all this dithering, she reached inside the wardrobe for a faux-silk blouse in emerald green and slipped it on. Then she donned the jacket and went aft to her small galley kitchen in search of a meagre breakfast.

Since retiring and taking to the canals, she’d lost nearly a stone in weight, and didn’t want to put it back on. Although she still retained a rather curvy, hour-glass figure that made most men look at her with more than a passing interest anyway, she had no desire to become even more curvaceous.

Again she found herself contemplating Steven Crayle. Did he like his women to be fashionably thin? Or not?

She scowled down at her brown-bread toast, spread with that tasteless stuff that was supposed to have the sort of fat in it that was actually good for your cholesterol levels, and found herself silently cursing all men. Be they stalkers, or handsome, younger, detective superintendents.


In his office, Steven Crayle glanced up from his chair behind his desk as there came a sharp tap at his door. A moment later it opened to reveal a young woman with long, lushly curling brown hair and a pair of big pansy-brown eyes to match.

‘Vivienne,’ Steven said briefly. He’d given up telling the girl she was supposed to wait to be summoned before barging into his office, and hoped against hope that when she applied to be accepted for formal training next month, she was turned down.

In this age of cut-backs and stringent budget restrictions, the CRT was manned by very few serving, fully paid-up members of the force, such as himself. Instead, his own small team-within-
down here in the bowels of the station consisted mostly of retired officers working to a strict timetable of hours, and young wannabes like Vivienne Tyrell, who worked part-time, got paid a pittance, and were supposed to be getting on-the-job-training for their pains. Which was, in turn, supposed to help them secure a job in the police service, when they could actually afford to get around to recruiting new, young officers.

Vivienne, who was now twenty, and still had no idea what she wanted to be when she grew up, handed over a folder and made sure she leant down over the superintendent’s desk to do so. Obligingly, her low-cut V-neck sweater in fluffy apricot wool revealed a deep, creamy cleavage. Her brown eyes fixed firmly to his face as she watched him open and read the contents of the file, willing him to look up at her.

She knew he was forty-one years old, because her friend who worked in personnel had looked him up for her. And she knew from the usual hot-bed of station-house gossip that he was divorced, and currently available.

But not for much longer, if she could help it. The problem was breaking through that sexy cold reserve of his.

Vivienne liked her men older. And gorgeous. And Steven Crayle, at six feet tall, and with to-die-for thick, dark, floppy brown hair and dark-brown eyes, was so gorgeous he actually made her mouth water whenever she looked at him.

‘Thank you, Vivienne, that looks like you’ve done a good job. Be sure Jimmy gets it before he sets out to interview the parents.’

Vivienne nodded. Jimmy Jessop was the old man of their team, and he’d been working on some old rape cases for the last few weeks. It seemed all she did was boring computer searches,
research and scut work. But if it kept her in Steven Crayle’s orbit all day, she wasn’t going to complain. Now, if only she could just get him to notice her!

It was so frustrating – he was so her type. He always dressed in these cool, expensive suits and silky ties, and was a class act through and through. His watch was as slim as an After Eight mint, and the expensive cologne he used smelt so good it should carry a government health warning. He was one of those men who was so effortlessly elegant that all her friends would die of envy if she could just hook him.

Her eyes dropped to his hands on the folder, now reaching out to hand it back to her. He had long, sensitive fingers – what her mum would call a musician’s hands. And he could play a concerto on her any time he wanted.

‘Was there anything else?’ Steven asked, an expression of mixed amusement and annoyance on his face as he caught her mooning down at him.

‘Hmm? Oh, no, sir.’

Steven nodded, then sighed as there came another tap at the door. ‘Come in.’

Vivienne saw Steven Crayle’s face become utterly
, and she turned quickly to see Hillary Greene standing in the doorway. ‘Do you have a moment, sir?’

‘Of course,’ Steven said, then turned back to the younger woman. ‘Vivienne, don’t forget to give the file to Jimmy.’

Vivienne flushed with resentment. Hadn’t he just told her that? She wasn’t likely to forget, was she? There was nothing wrong with
memory – she wasn’t one of his wrinklies, after all, like Jimmy Jessop or Hillary Greene, who had to be forty if she was a day.

Shooting Hillary a smirk as she swept by, she gave an extra toss of her head for good measure, sending her luxuriant curls flying.

Hillary watched her go, biting back a grin. Everyone in the station knew that Vivienne was trying to seduce Crayle, without much success. Someone really should tell her that the
was too ambitious to ever be caught out doing the sexual tango with such a younger woman, and a member of his staff at that.

Steven Crayle sighed. ‘Shut the door, Hillary. Come on in and have a seat.’


Hillary did as she was bid, then slid into the chair in front of his desk. Wordlessly, she brought out her phone, scrolled down the screen to the saved message, and handed it over.

Steven read it with a grim, tight expression on his face. Briefly, his eyes flicked to her jewel-bright green blouse, then back to the screen again.

As she’d come to expect from her new boss, he didn’t miss a trick. But he didn’t comment on her choice of dress either. Instead he said flatly, ‘He’s getting more confident.’

‘Yes. But that could be a good thing,’ Hillary agreed cautiously.

Steven nodded. ‘He almost as much as admits to being a work colleague here,’ he mused, tapping the mobile phone thoughtfully.

‘Yes, I noticed that too.’

‘You decided to play along, then? With the green blouse?’

Hillary shrugged. ‘I didn’t see that I had much to lose.’

Steven followed her reasoning effortlessly. ‘I doubt he’s going to be so obvious as to make some comment on it.’

‘No, but I might catch someone ogling me.’

Steven’s lips twitched. In his opinion, practically every man at the station probably ogled her – and some of the women too, for that matter.

‘You want to try and actively flush him out?’ he asked, after a few moments’ thought.

Since she’d first brought the problem of her stalker to his
, they’d tried several things to identify him, including setting up a hidden camera at her locker. In the past, he’d left her ‘gifts’ there, but he’d been too wily to be caught on film. Neither could their combined surveillance catch anyone out following her, and he was canny enough with modern technology to leave no visible trace of his activities.

They were both now of the opinion that he must be a seasoned stalker, since he had it all down too pat for Hillary to be his first victim.

‘Nothing else seems to be working,’ Hillary said, with
frustration. Knowing you were being watched was a war of attrition that played havoc with your nerves, no matter how calm you were under fire. ‘You got any ideas?’ she asked curiously.

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