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Authors: Sharon Bolton

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BOOK: Daisy in Chains
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There is neither bell nor knocker on the red-varnished door, just an old-fashioned brass bell that he swings to produce a deep, sonorous
clanging. He waits, for thirty seconds, maybe a minute, until he hears the sound of a chain being removed, of a lock being turned.

Warm air wafts out as the door opens and a woman is standing directly in front of him, the raised step bringing her face on to a level with his.

‘Miss Rose? Maggie Rose?’

He feels that momentary loss of control at being taken by surprise. Every copper in the land has heard of Maggie Rose: defence barrister, true-crime author, pain-in-the-police-force’s-collective-arse, but few have met her. She doesn’t do interviews, has never released a photograph.

She is probably the right side of forty and slim enough to look fragile, even in the oversized white woollen sweater that reaches almost to her thighs. She has small features in a sharp, very pale face. Her eyes are blue.

So is her hair.

‘What can I do for you, Detective?’ she says.

Not just the blue rinse of a genteel elderly lady. Not just the half-hearted blue streaks that are sometimes seen amongst the crowds at the Glastonbury Festival. This is bright, turquoise-blue, waving gently to a little below her chin.

He has no idea how she knows that he’s with the police.

‘Detective Sergeant Pete Weston.’ He holds up his warrant card. ‘I was hoping to have a few minutes of your time.’

‘Come inside for a moment.’

He follows her down a pale green corridor, past panelled doors that are firmly closed. The kitchen they enter is large, painted shades of cream and pale gold.

While he’s been looking round – he’s a copper, he can’t help himself – Rose has curled into an armchair close to an Aga. Her slippers are enormous, furry boots. Blue, like her hair.

‘Have a seat.’

He sneaks a glance at the laptop on the central table as he pulls out a chair, but the screensaver has kicked in to show constantly changing scenes of Arctic wastelands: massive snowdrifts, ice formations, blue ice.

‘Can I just confirm that you are Maggie Rose?’

‘I am. Will this take long? And does politeness demand that I offer you coffee?’

‘That’s your call, Miss Rose. I’m here because I understand you had a visit from Sandra Wolfe yesterday.’

She nods her head as she speaks. ‘She came here first, from what I understand, but didn’t make herself known. By her own admission she followed me to the beach and spoke to me there.’

Maggie Rose has a measured way of speaking, of choosing each word carefully, as though addressing an audience.

‘Can I ask what was the nature of the conversation?’

‘I expect you can guess.’

‘Indulge me.’

‘She wants me to take on her son’s case, to get her beloved child – in whose innocence she genuinely believes, by the way – out of prison.’

‘What did you tell her?’

Rose blinks. Her eyelashes are dark, but he can’t see the clogging gloop of mascara. ‘May I ask you a question first?’

‘Shoot.’

‘How did you know she and I had met?’

‘We monitor the website she and a few of her friends run. There’s a chat room that’s publicly accessible. She – Sandra Wolfe, I’m talking about now – was telling another member of the group that she’d met you.’

‘Then you probably already know the answer I gave her.’

Well, she had him there. ‘She’ll try again,’ he says. ‘Sandra Wolfe is not a woman who gives up easily. Next time, she might not bother waiting on the beach, she might knock on your door. She might bring some of her friends with her. She’s a woman grieving, Miss Rose. She believes her son has been stitched up and women like that aren’t always stable.’

Rose wriggles in the armchair, pulling her heels back against her bottom. ‘So you’re here out of concern for me?’

‘I’m here because while this group of people – who, frankly, I’d like to refer to as nutters and misfits, but that’s a bit judgemental and not very PC so I’ll just call them misguided individuals – can do whatever they like in their own time, I don’t want them bothering or even frightening ordinary members of the public.’

She holds eye contact. ‘I wasn’t frightened.’

‘No, I don’t expect you were.’

‘And you’re lying to me.’

He gives an exaggerated start. ‘Come again?’

‘You’re not here out of concern. You’re here because you don’t want me to take on Hamish Wolfe. You don’t want me digging up old details, finding your mistakes, holding you to account. Putting Hamish Wolfe away was the greatest success of your career – it was you, wasn’t it? I remember your name in the newspapers – and you can’t bear the thought of someone overturning that conviction.’

Pete feels his heartbeat starting to race. ‘We didn’t make mistakes. Hamish Wolfe is guilty.’

‘Everyone makes mistakes. Even Hamish Wolfe. That’s why you caught him. And for what it’s worth, I agree with you. I have no plans to take on his case.’

She moves again, lowering her feet to the floor. ‘But let me be very clear, Detective,’ she says. ‘If I were to decide to do so, no amount of pressure on your part would put me off.’

He stands before she has a chance to. ‘Would you mind if I used your toilet? Cold day, too much coffee, I’m afraid.’

She nods towards a door behind him. ‘That will take you into the rear hall. The door immediately opposite is the downstairs cloakroom.’

‘Thanks.’ He leaves the room, conscious of her eyes following him. To his right is the back door of the house and through its glass he can see a double garage. The downstairs loo is a small room, plain and functional. To his left is another door.

The sound of voices, low-pitched but unmistakable, comes from the kitchen he’s just left.

When he returns to the kitchen, Maggie Rose is leaning over the table, staring at her laptop. She is alone. She closes down the screen, but not before he’s spotted his own name on it.

‘Thank you,’ he says. ‘I suppose I’ve taken enough of your time.’

She says nothing, but slips back into the armchair, this time tucking her legs inside the sweater. There is something very childlike about the way she sits. Were it not for the tiny lines on her face, she might even look like a child.

He takes one step towards the door. ‘I’m sorry Sandra Wolfe approached you. I’m sorry you’ve been pestered with letters from Wolfe himself. We found that out on the website as well. I wish I could offer to do something about the inconvenience and disturbance that must have caused, but I can’t, I’m afraid. These people are free to do what they like within the law.’

‘I understand the law well enough, thank you.’

‘But what I can do is advise. And I advise you to have nothing to do with Sandra Wolfe, or the Wolfe Pack, or whatever that bunch of idiots are calling themselves this week. And I certainly advise you to have nothing to do – ever – with Hamish Wolfe.’

‘If you’re advising me, Detective, why am I feeling threatened?’

She hasn’t moved. She’s still curled up like a cat in the large armchair. He can’t imagine anyone looking less threatened.

On a sudden whim, Pete moves to the window. The garden is huge and the few colours visible through the frost are dull and muted. The lawn that stretches out from the back door is the opaque white of chalk and the high brick walls, the line of mature trees, the dense shrubs all seem to conspire to keep out sunlight.

‘Do you live here alone, Miss Rose?’

There is movement in the glass’s reflection as Maggie Rose gets to her feet behind him. Her weird hair and pale face materialize behind his shoulder.

‘That feeling of being threatened has not gone away,’ she says.

‘I apologize. Really not my intention.’ He turns to face her. ‘Before her son was arrested, Sandra Wolfe was probably a perfectly nice, middle-class Somerset lady, working part-time, having friends round for dinner, eating at the golf club on Saturday evenings. But we all know what female animals are capable of when their young are threatened.’

‘I just thought her very unhappy, but I’ll bear in mind what you say.’

She turns and he has little choice but to follow her from the room. In the hall, he looks around for signs of someone else in the house, but the doors are all still closed.

‘The pressure group are another story,’ he says. ‘None of them were ever normal, in my view. Several have either a minor criminal record or a history of psychiatric problems. Most are unemployed, or under
employed. They have very little in their lives so, to fill the gap, they give themselves a cause. And having got one, they’re pursuing it with a great deal of conviction. Individually, they might not be too much of a problem, but they wind each other up and egg each other on.’

At the front door she turns to face him. ‘I’m familiar with the idea. It’s called group-think.’

‘Yeah, well it’s at work here. So, I’d advise you to review your security arrangements. Make sure the locks are solid, fit a few security lights, if you haven’t got them already, and keep a chain on your door. These people know where you live.’

There is a softening in her face that makes him think, for a second, that she might be about to smile. ‘I’ll bear that in mind.’

He takes the opportunity to glance up the stairs. No one on the landing. ‘Please do,’ he says. ‘But above all, don’t be tempted to have anything to do with Hamish Wolfe. I’ve looked into that man’s eyes, and trust me, there isn’t anything human there. Wolfe isn’t a man, Miss Rose. He’s a monster.’

She smiles. Properly this time. Her mouth is wider than he’d realized, her pale lips fuller. She has neat, small white teeth. ‘I’ve heard he’s quite the ladies’ man.’

‘They often are. That’s why they manage to kill so many.’

‘Do you know what, that does interest me. Not the fact that he was popular before he was arrested. He’s a good-looking man, there’s nothing remarkable in that. What fascinates me is the number of women who, by all accounts, write to him in prison. Why would they do that, do you think?’

‘All notorious killers have a fan club,’ he says.

‘Fascinating.’ She’s still smiling as she reaches for the lock. ‘That would, actually, make a very interesting book. If I had the time, which I don’t.’

‘Wolfe wouldn’t be interested in you, I’m afraid,’ Pete says.

They swap places in the doorway and he catches a whiff of the odd, chemical smell of her hair.

‘Why’s that?’

He makes a point of looking her up and down. ‘You’re about four stone short of his preferred body weight. Thank you for your time.’

The door closes before he’s taken three steps down the path. He doesn’t look back, doesn’t pause, even though his phone starts ringing when he reaches the gate. He climbs into his car, shuts out the cold, and checks his phone. It is one of his detective constables, thirty-four-year-old Liz Nuttall. He presses Accept. ‘Talk to me, Nutty.’

‘You made it out, then?’ she says. ‘How’d it go?’

‘She’s not what I was expecting, that’s for sure. Seems to be pretty cool on the Wolfe front. No real interest in engaging with Sandra Wolfe further.’

‘Could she be faking it? By the way, Latimer’s been asking for you. I told him you were at a meeting at County Hall about the schools’ drugs outreach programme.’

‘Nice one.’ Their boss, DCI Latimer, will expect no feedback from a meeting at County Hall. He makes no secret of the fact that bureaucracy bores him.

‘Listen, Nuts, do me a favour, will you? Run a check on The Rectory.’ He glances sideways at the big old house he’s just left. ‘Electoral roll, utilities, you know the sort of thing. Rose was talking to someone while I was in there but did a good job of keeping whoever it was out of sight. As though she really didn’t want me to know she wasn’t on her own.’

‘I’m not getting anything,’ says Liz, after a few moments. ‘No record of her having a partner or a lodger. No, nothing.’

Pete is still looking at the house. The windows are blank and empty. ‘There’s someone else in there,’ he says. ‘I’m sure of it.’

Chapter 4

www.CommonplaceSexism.com

HOW FAT BECAME A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH

Posted 5 October 2014, by Beth Tweedy, regular contributor and self-confessed ‘bigger-than-average girl’

Zoe Sykes, Jessie Tout, Chloe Wood and Myrtle Reid were killed because they were fat. That is a fact.

Zoe, Jessie, Chloe and Myrtle were targeted on the strength of their dress size and then murdered. We still don’t know exactly how, but you can bet your life it wasn’t pleasant. Their bodies were dumped in wet, dark, underground places, from which they were never supposed to be recovered. Zoe’s still hasn’t been. This happened to these women because we’ve become a society in which body size is the last remaining bastion of prejudice. Because fatness has become so despised, we can tolerate the annihilation of it.

Hostility towards those who don’t conform to our body-image ideal has been growing steadily in the last couple of decades. Oh, I know, girls in plus-sized school tunics have always been catcalled in the street. Fatties, fat women in particular, have long been the (big) butt of comedians’ jokes, but in recent years, this fat-ism has taken a much darker turn.

We’ve seen larger women attacked in pubs and on the streets, by assailants of both sexes. Dental hygienist Tracey Keith, 22 stone, was left shaken and badly bruised by the verbal and physical attack launched upon her as she travelled home by train one night last June. Her offence? Taking up too much room on the seats. Many women tell similar tales. Fat women get refused entry into nightclubs, they’re abused in doctor’s surgeries, because, of course, their
ailments have to be directly related to their body size and consequently their own fault. Fat people don’t get jobs, they don’t get interviews for jobs, they can’t even get cabs, half the time, as though their excess body weight might prove too much for the seat springs.

And all this is being condoned by those in authority.

It’s OK now, for influential bullies, like the vile Ron Carter writing for
The Spectator
, to talk about the ‘horribly fat woman’ in the Tesco queue, accompanied by her ‘wobbly kids’ and to joke about sending them all to starvation boot camp. When educated, intelligent opinion-formers talk in such ways, what hope is there for the jabbering Twitter underclass?

BOOK: Daisy in Chains
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