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Authors: Geraldine Evans

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BOOK: The Hanging Tree
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Rafferty, who always tried to avoid thinking about the more upsetting
details of death, made to interrupt, but Sam was well into his stride and not
to be put off.

'No, not a pleasant death. Many executions were botched jobs, of course.
Some poor souls lingered for ages, slowly strangling to death. Ghastly
business. Though, I suppose that was the whole point; make it as ghastly a
spectacle as possible and you'll keep far more of the populace on the straight and
narrow.' He rubbed his hand round his short neck feelingly and grinned. 'It
would certainly have kept me a Simon pure.'

'You were never a Simon pure,' Rafferty told him gruffly.

'How little you know of your sainted man of medicine.' Sam's smile was benign,
his tongue anything but, as he continued in the same sadistic vein. 'Sometimes,
if the executioner was unusually kind or the family had the wisdom to bribe him
well, he'd allow a member of the condemned’s family to pull on the victim's
legs to hasten the end. Not very popular with the crowd, that, of course,
they'd come to be entertained. Must have got their money’s-worth when the poor
blighters were hanged, drawn and quartered.' His smile twisted slightly as he
went on. 'I remember this chap told us of one particular execution where—'

'Thank you, Sam.' Rafferty broke in forcefully before Sam launched into
some other grisly anecdote. 'I think I've learned all I want to know about
hanging for one day.' In his opinion, the sainted man of medicine was as much
of a ghoul as the treasurer of the Historical Society. 'Anyway, according to
you, this chap almost certainly didn't die by hanging. So—'

'What's that got to do with it?' Sam demanded. 'You were the one who
dragged executions into the conversation. And as the murderer seems to share
your strange interest in hanging, I merely filled you in from my own extensive
knowledge.'

'Very good of you, I'm sure.'

Thankfully, the corpse, now wrapped in his temporary modern winding
sheet, was ready for the off. Rafferty spoke to the warden who had found the
body, but as he seemed more concerned with sounding off about poachers and
could tell them little more than when he'd found the cadaver, after thanking
him, Rafferty, who had suffered more than enough lectures for one day, got in
his car and bumped his way behind the Coroner's van back down the narrow lane.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

 

"Another triumph for British justice", the yellowing editorial
of the
Elmhurst Echo
that had appeared the day after Smith's trial
proclaimed on the front page, outrage from the previous day, understandably
undiminished. Because Maurice Smith, self-confessed multiple rapist, had been
freed on a legal technicality, in spite of his confession, in spite of
testimony from his young victims, in spite of months’ of police work.

How could it happen? everyone had asked. The victims' families, their
MP's, all demanded an enquiry. But no matter how many voices were raised in a
clamour for justice, this case was over. Maurice Smith was free to rape again.

'And now he's dead, murdered.' Rafferty flung the yellowing newspaper he
had brought from Smith's flat onto the table in the newly set-up Incident Room,
and sat down heavily. 'And he had to die on our patch.'

Lilley's identification had been correct, any doubt had soon been
banished with the fingerprint evidence, which, as Smith had been in trouble
before the failed rape trial, were still on file.

Thank God we weren't the officers to make a botch of Smith's confession,
Rafferty thought, as he stared at the expectant faces in front of him. His mind
turned back to that morning, when Maurice Smith's body had been discovered for
the second time and he had to force it back, force himself to concentrate on
the here and now.

It was some time
later, with the team briefed and most dismissed to their house-to-house
investigations, that Rafferty studied the remaining faces, before handing Hanks
the list which he'd obtained from the police at Maurice Smith's old stamping
ground of Burleigh.

'These are the names and addresses of Smith's victims and their
families. It's ten years old, so there may be divorces, house moves,
remarriages. I want you to check out their current whereabouts.  But be
discreet. When you've confirmed their current addresses come back here. I don't
want them questioned yet. Have you got that?' Hanks nodded and left the office.

Rafferty turned his attention to Lilley and Lizzie Green. 'I want you
two to go and ask around Smith's present neighbourhood. See if there've been
any strangers hanging around, anything, in fact, that's out of the ordinary. His
landlady was out that night. She was too upset when I broke the news to her
earlier to be able to tell me much, so speak to her as well. She might have
remembered something more now she's had a little time to get over the shock of
Smith's death.'

He handed over the plastic-enclosed envelope with its stencilled
address. 'We know Maurice Smith was sent an 'outing' letter and according to
Mrs Penny, Smith's landlady, the postman brought this envelope on the Wednesday
morning before he died. She was able to identify the envelope and, as whoever
sent it went to the extraordinary trouble of stencilling the address, it seems
a likely supposition that it contained the 'outing' letter.'

'But I thought Mrs Penny and Smith had separate letterboxes,' said
Lilley. 'At least, that's what Smales-'

'They do. But she said she generally waited for the postman.' Milkman,
baker and candlestick maker, too, probably, Rafferty added silently to himself
as he remembered how, on their first visit, she had continued to press more tea
and buns on them in an attempt to extend their stay. 'She told me she took the
post for both of them most days and was able to tell us that Smith never
received handwritten letters - the hate mail ceased long ago, as we know from
the postmarks. All he ever received were bills or official, typed letters from
one government department or another. Anyway, on Wednesday, when she took the
letter into her flat with her own post, she said she forgot all about it till
Smith came in some time after eight that evening.'

Smales grinned. 'That's her story and she's sticking to it, hey, guv? Bet
she tried to steam the envelope open.'

'That's what you'd do, is it?' Rafferty enquired dryly. 'What a pity for
the investigation that not everyone shares your lack of scruples, Smales. And
for your information, an envelope that's been steamed open has a bumpy, bubbly
look to it when you reseal it and this one hasn't.'

Thankfully, Smales didn't think to enquire how Rafferty had come by such
knowledge and he hurried on before it occurred to him to do so. 'You might also
ask Mrs Penny's near neighbours if they know when her back gate was damaged. Mrs
Penny herself has no idea and, as it seems likely the damage could be tied to
Smith's murder, I'd like to know for sure. Right, that's enough for you to make
a start. Off you go.'

Once the room had cleared, Rafferty turned to Llewellyn. 'As for you and
me, we're going to see Smith's family.'

In view of what they had already learned concerning their relationship
with Smith, even Llewellyn, who abhorred the job of breaking news of death,
approached the meeting with little trepidation. He had told Rafferty that he
doubted Smith's relatives would be too heartbroken.

It wasn't as if they were even what most people would regard as family
proper, as Smith's father and mother had divorced when he was two, his father
had disappeared into the wide blue yonder, and his mother had married again
when Smith was four, producing a half-brother of the marriage eighteen months
later. The mother had died shortly before the rape case had come to court, and
now the only 'family' Maurice Smith had left was his stepfather and
half-brother.

The Bullocks, father and son, lived in a flat near the bus station, in
conditions of squalor only too typical of all-male household; discarded chip
wrappings and other takeaway containers sharing the decorative honours with
crushed lager cans and choked ashtrays. According to what Llewellyn had
discovered during his last conversation with them, neither of them had a job.

The television was on, the over-excited voice of a race commentator
screamed at them. Rafferty asked for it to be turned off, and without awaiting
permission, pressed the on-off button, and the maniacal voice was thankfully
silenced. The son scowled at this interference, but Bullock said nothing, and
simply sat back in his well-squashed armchair and awaited developments.

Jes Bullock was a well-built man of fifty-seven and suited his name. His
youthful muscles had turned to fat and now overhung his trousers. A thin veneer
of politeness covered his natural aggression but it failed to mask the bully
beneath. Rafferty took against him on sight; the thick sensual lips, the
fingers like pork sausages, the slow, unhurried movements, all spoke of a man
with tastes more physical than intellectual. Strangely, when Rafferty broke the
news of his stepson's death, he seemed over-anxious to lay claim to a grief
Rafferty judged him unlikely to be capable of.

According to Smith's newspaper collection of that time, after the trial
Bullock's voice had frequently been raised against his stepson, sprinkled
through the anger had been the resentment that he was being blamed for the
inadequacies of another man's son, insisting that Smith was 'no blood of mine'.
It was obviously a grievance he still felt, but the circumstances and his own
claim to the role of grief-stricken stepfather appeared to inhibit his previous
free expression of it.

He had little to say when Rafferty told him his stepson had died in less
than natural circumstances. It was almost as if, beyond the insincere mouthings
of loss, he was keeping a guard on his tongue. Rafferty wondered why he should
feel it necessary.

'Mr Bullock, you told my sergeant here that your stepson didn't visit
regularly and that you last saw him on the Wednesday before his death.' He
paused for Bullock's nod. It was slow in coming. 'I gather you didn't seem very
sure of the times involved in your stepson's last visit and I wondered if you'd
thought any more about these?'

Jes Bullock licked his plump lips and darted a glance at his son. 'What
do you reckon, Kevin?'

Kevin didn't have the winning personality of his father. He was sullen,
and, unlike his father, made no attempt to pretend to a grief he didn't feel. Clearly
he had resented his half-brother. Although he didn't utter the words, his
curled lip said 'good riddance' as clearly as words. Rafferty found this lack
of hypocrisy more refreshing than his father's pretence. It was understandable,
too. He and his father must have gone through many difficult times because of
Smith, who had still been living at home at the time of his arrest. His family
would have drawn nearly as much bile as Smith himself. It must have been
especially hard on his younger brother who could only have been in his early
teens at the time. Such experiences would hardly endear Smith to either man.

Kevin's mouth was a thin, tight line, as though he was reluctant to tell
them anything. But finally, he admitted, 'He was here for only half an hour on
Wednesday. Left around seven-fifteen. That's the last we saw of him.'

His father gave a quick nod. Rafferty thought he seemed relieved, as
though uncertain his son would answer their questions at all, and as he spoke,
his voice grew increasingly confident. 'Kevin's right. I remember now. We'd
been out since lunchtime, celebrating my birthday and we left the pub when the
chippie opened around five.'

Llewellyn broke in to enquire which pub he meant and with an evident
reluctance Jes Bullock told them it had been the one on the corner, the Pig and
Whistle. 'We'd hired a couple of videos for the evening and Maurice arrived
partway through the first one.'

'Yeah,' Kevin chipped in. 'Right when it was getting exciting.'

His father shrugged his meaty shoulders as if to say, what else could
you expect? 'He brought my birthday present over.'

Rafferty found it hard to believe that unloved and unloving loner,
Maurice Smith, would waste a chunk of his giro on buying such a stepfather
birthday presents. However, he made no comment.

Although he chose not to question him further about times at the moment,
Rafferty was surprised also that Kevin should be so precise. He would have
thought the earlier birthday celebrations likely to render time-keeping
uncertain. But, for the moment, he didn't challenge this statement either, but
turned to another matter. 'You must remember the hate mail and threats he
received after the trial. Were you aware of any more recent threats?  Serious
threats?'

Kevin shook his head. 'No. Occasionally the lads around the flats here
would chase him and rough him up a bit, but that's been going on for ages and
was only because he was such a dipstick. Nothing to do with the court case, if
that's what you think - nobody around here knows anything about that.' He
scowled as he remembered the murder. 'Bloody well will now, though, won't they?
Sod Maurice. If we have to bloody move again..'

Rafferty turned to his father. 'What about you, Mr Bullock?'

Jes Bullock shook his heavy head ponderously. 'He never said nothing to
me.'

'And you're quite sure you've not seen him since Wednesday evening?'

'That's right.' Kevin glowered, as if challenging them to make something
of it. His father chipped in.

'Not one for visiting, wasn't Maurice. We'd see him half-a-dozen times a
year, at most. Kept himself to himself.'

'So you definitely didn't see him the next evening? The Thursday?'

'Haven't I just said?' Kevin demanded, the heavy jaw that was so like his
father's thrust forward. 'We went out the next night. Up the pub. Maurice
wasn't invited.'

'Not a pub man, Maurice wasn't, Inspector,' Jes Bullock informed them
cryptically, as if trying to imply that if he had been, he, as his stepfather,
would have been the first to extend an invitation.

They left soon after. The Bullocks lived on the second floor, and as
they reached the car, Rafferty glanced up to see Jes Bullock watching them from
the balcony. As he caught Rafferty's eye, he backed away and re-entered his
flat.

Rafferty again had the impression that Jes had something on his mind. And
he was willing to bet a month's salary that it wasn't grief. The man reminded
him of someone, he realized. He wrinkled his brow, but he couldn't remember
who. He was certain it was no one connected with the case and knew it would
drive him mad till he remembered.

As they got in the car, he mentioned his suspicions to Llewellyn. 'The
Bullocks have every reason to dislike Smith. Every reason to wish him dead. Think
they could have done it?'

Llewellyn considered it unlikely. 'Why would they wait till now to kill
him? Unlike the families of the victims, or whoever sent that 'outing' letter,
they've known where to find him all the time. Besides, if their alibis check
out, they were in the public house all evening, presumably with plenty of
witnesses.'

Rafferty started the car. 'Maybe they're trusting in their bereaved
status and imagine their story won't be checked out.'

However, Llewellyn was right about one thing; they had known where Smith
lived and, as far as they had yet discovered, they had less reason to wish to
be rid of him now than they'd had ten years ago when the fury over the case was
at its height.

'But Jes Bullock's worried about something,' Rafferty insisted. 'I
intend to find out what it is. Kevin's information was very precise — too
precise for my liking. Get on the radio and get Hanks — no, he's busy — Andrews
then — to ask around the flats. Tell him to find out if anyone saw Smith arrive
and leave. They said they went to the pub on the Thursday night. Get him to ask
the landlord what time the Bullocks' got there that night and if anyone saw
Smith pay a second visit to his family on the Thursday night.'

While Llewellyn contacted the station, Rafferty consulted his watch. It
was nearly time for the post-mortem. 'We've just got time to grab a sandwich if
you want one.' Rafferty's stomach rumbled, but he ignored it; there'd be no
lunch for him. 'I hope Sam can narrow the time down, as I've got a feeling time
might be very important in this case.'

BOOK: The Hanging Tree
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