It was a completely unexplained killing. There was absolutely no reason why Sarah Parks should have been so brutally battered. The police were baffled.
At first it had been assumed that she had wandered on to the tracks and then been struck by an oncoming train, but the coroner’s report had already ruled that out. When I visited the station to collect the CCTV footage, I asked to see the platform where Sarah was last seen. As soon as I saw the safety barrier at the end of the platform, I was convinced that she’d been pushed. I kept my thoughts to myself for a couple of days, but Boyle brought a few pictures to show me over dinner at my flat.
“She had cotton fibre under her fingernails that didn’t match anything she was wearing. Where would that have come from?”
“You could be breaking a hundred different rules by just asking me that question; in fact, I’m sure of it. I can’t interfere or even offer an opinion on a case unless requested to do so by a senior officer.”
Boyle pretended to be indignant. “I am a senior officer,” he said. “Besides, we gather our facts from several different sources as a matter of routine.”
“But you now have to report all your sources to your reporting officer before engaging them in your investigation. Failure to do so could result in severe disciplinary action. And you know what that means.”
“Yeah, she’s going to roast my meatballs on a spit and have them with spaghetti.” Boyle drained the last of his wine. “Remember when I said we were like two sides of the same coin? We look at a situation from different sides, but we invariably see the same thing. What are you seeing here?”
I stared into my glass and swirled the remaining rioja slowly. “I see Sarah being pushed over the barrier by someone wearing clothing of cotton fibre who then followed her on to the tracks to finish her off.”
“Then we agree. But by whom?”
I had no answer. I could only confirm what the station staff had told me. Sarah was alive and visible on the security screens at 10.35 on that Monday night. She turned around and appeared to speak to someone out of view of the camera. The next train to stop at that station was the 10.50 to Hertford and that was when the alarm was raised.
“That’s a pretty tight window,” I commented. “Fifteen minutes to kill someone; it’s pretty brief.”
“But still perfectly possible.” Boyle gathered the notes scattered across my dining table. “The coroner suggested that the killer felt extreme rage; at least half a dozen of the blows were inflicted post mortem.”
I held up my hand and averted my gaze from the sheath of photographs. “Please don’t give me any further details. I’ll go back to the train company in the morning and check the footage again. What about her husband? Aren’t they usually first suspect?”
“Not this guy,” said Boyle. “His alibi is solid. I spoke to him myself yesterday. The poor man’s in bits.”
I gathered together the dirty dishes and wine glasses. “Coffee?”
“Please.” Boyle looked thoughtful for a moment. “Liz, when would you leave your handbag unattended?” He held up a picture.
I ignored it on my way to the kitchen. “Well, these days, I’d like to say never, but there must be times when I do.” I had already noticed what had caught his eye. When Sarah had turned to talk to the invisible fellow passenger, she had left her handbag on the platform bench. I scooped coffee into a cafetiere and closed my eyes as I inhaled the aroma. It failed to calm my nerves.
“You know what this suggests, don’t you?” Boyle came in holding the photograph and leaned against my counter top to look at me.
I nodded reluctantly. “We’re looking for someone she knew and trusted.”
Boyle’s phone jangled and he pulled a face as he looked at the display. I knew it was his boss and couldn’t resist a smile.
“Does your mother know you’re here?” Even having dinner together was now a reportable event.
“I’m going to speak to Sarah’s employer tomorrow,” said Boyle, when he ended the call. “And my boss was wondering if you’d like to join us?”
“Good God! As assistance or a suspect?”
Boyle laughed. “I think she just wants to see you for herself. She wants to know what you think.”
“I’d better iron a blouse, then.”
The following morning I took a copy of one of Boyle’s photographs back to the train station and spoke to the bored young man behind the glass whose shirt tag said his name was Justin. He wasn’t on duty at the time of the incident and was relieved about that.
“They didn’t let old Jim go until nearly midnight,” he said. “I’d have buggered off regardless. Would have been on my sixth pint by eleven.”
I showed him the photograph of Sarah moving back towards the entrance of the platform with her handbag behind her on the bench. “Who else would have been here at 10.35?” I asked.
“Well, Pat does the earlier shift,” he said scratching at the stubble under his chin. “Jim gets in before the 18.12. There would only have been a handful of passengers about at that time of night, plus a few stragglers from 22.11.”
I pointed to the time stamp on the picture. “It says 10.35, here. But the next train was at 10.50, not twenty to eleven.”
Justin laughed and handed over a timetable. He tapped the surface of his digital watch and then pointed to my traditional looking timepiece. “Things have moved on a bit since then,” he chuckled. It’s 22.11.” he separated the two numbers between his hands as if weighing grapefruit. “As in twenty-two hours and eleven minutes. Any passengers hanging around at the time you’re talking about had probably missed their train. There’s a phone number on there, too.”
I thanked Justin and called Boyle as I left.
“Gloria and I questioned the staff. They all say that Sarah was popular and hard working. Everyone was shocked when they heard the news.”
“What time do you want me there?”
“We’re questioning her closer colleagues after lunch. You better get here by 1 o’clock. “
I loved the way he said that.
“Ms Philips, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” DCI Gloria Hancock extended her hand and shook mine in grip that was assertive and kind in equal measure. Gloria was dressed like a business woman for whom the eighties had ended too soon. Her formal, padded jacket and tailored skirt gave her a stern and authoritative air. “We now know that Sarah Parks worked for Ray Seymour as a junior secretary for the last six months having been promoted from another department. Mr Seymour’s wife confirms he was at home with her from 9.30 onwards; he often works a later shift.”
“Here he comes now,” said Boyle. “And he has company.”
Ray Seymour walked into his office with a young lady of about Sarah’s age. “This is Kate; she’s my PA. I thought you might like to start with her.”
“Actually, Mr Seymour,” I interrupted, “I’d like to start with you.” Ray was in his early forties and carried with him an arrogance that he seemed to assume as part of his job description. “Your wife says you were at home with her by 9.30 on the night Sarah died.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“So what time did you leave here? I’m told you often work late.”
Ray glanced at his PA. “Well I guess it was probably between 8.45 and 9pm. It usually takes between 30 and 45 minutes to get home from here.”
“Probably? You can’t be more sure than that?”
Ray frowned impatiently. “No, the traffic on the main road out of town often gets blocked even at night. The time can vary.”
“Of course it can,” I agreed, trying to sound reassuring. “But if you are claiming alternative or extra hours at work, you’d need to know what time you left to be sure you got paid the shift rate. Even senior managers have to report their hours. Don’t they?”
“It was 9pm,” stated Kate, confidently. “We were both working on the same project and left about the same time.”
“What project is that?” asked Boyle.
Ray reached over to his desk and handed Boyle a file. “This one; the whole team is involved. It’s for the American market so we’re keeping to US time.”
“And what was your opinion of Sarah?” asked Gloria.
“I liked her,” responded Kate. “She was smart, too. Really nice.”
I turned to Gloria as soon as they had left. “Apart from the fact that they’re hiding an affair, do you believe what they’re saying?”
Gloria hooked a finger over her chin as she stared after them. “Not a single word of it.”
I turned to Boyle. “What’s in the file?”
“It looks like a protective IT back up system. Hmm, that’s interesting. The original notes were compiled by Mrs Seymour.”
“Ray’s wife? Did she work here?”
Gloria answered my question. “Yes, she was Ray’s PA a few years ago. He divorced his first wife to marry her.”
“Is she your next port of call?” I asked hopefully.
“Boyle, you go. We better make it official. The team and I can continue here.”
I smiled my thanks at Gloria as we left.
“I like your boss,” I said to Boyle on our way out.
“She likes you too,” he replied. “Look, I’m still breathing.”
Kathy Seymour was a lot younger than I expected. She was pretty, in her early thirties, I guessed.
“I really don’t have the time for this,” she complained. “I have a nail appointment in less than an hour.”
“I understand that you used to work with your husband before you were married.” I said. “When did you leave?”
“I gave up working after we married two years ago. Ray was doing well and I wanted to start a family.”
“But you compiled the notes for the new system they’re working on.”
Kathy shrugged. “Many projects can take years to get made. And I had previous experience in IT systems. I’m sure that most of the secretaries there now think that IT was what their grandmas used to have at four o’clock.”
“Ray was working late again that night,” said Boyle. “What time did he get back home?”
“By nine thirty. We’ve been over this before and I’ve already made my statement.”
“But that’s not right, is it? End of business in the US would be about 10pm here. Something else happened that night. What was it, Kathy?”
Kathy pressed her lips together and looked at her shoes. “He called me Kate,” she said. “He tried to cover up, but it was just something that slipped out. And that’s when I knew. It was happening again.”
“Ray cheated on his first wife with you,” I prompted. “Is that how it started?”
Kathy nodded, but couldn’t meet my eyes. “I knew another secretary had been promoted and figured that must be her.”
“What did you do?” asked Boyle.
“I knew she took the train home, so when Ray called and told me he was staying late again, I drove to the station.”
“What time was this?”
“And then nothing. She wasn’t there. I asked the guy behind the desk what time the train was due and I’d missed it.”
“Which train was that?”
“Eleven after ten. The next train was at ten to eleven.”
Boyle and I sat in my car, just a few doors away from Kathy Seymour’s house. I closed my eyes and let out a breath. “All of this time comparison is making my head spin.”
Boyle frowned as a thought seemed to come to him. “Do you have a timetable?” I handed it over.
“Look; all the times listed are in 24 hour clock. I’m willing to bet that if you call the helpline number, the voice tells you the time of the next train in 24 hour clock too. Gloria had Sarah’s phone inspected. She called the helpline at 9.40 that evening. That means that she must have left the office between 9.40 and 10pm. She must have thought that she had plenty of time to get to the station, not realising that she’d missed her train.”
“But even in 24 hour clock, Kathy’s timeline doesn’t match with Sarah’s. Sarah would have had to walk to the train station and Kathy took her car. She had probably already been and gone by the time Sarah got there and we know Sarah must have arrived after 10.15.”
Boyle nodded. “Kathy spoke to a member of the station staff. They’ll verify what time she was there. So we know she didn’t do it.”
“What about Kate? She says that she and Ray left the office about the same time; 9pm. She would have been too early to meet Sarah at the station.”
“Unless she didn’t leave,” suggested Boyle. “She may have stayed until 10pm with Ray and no one would have thought that was unusual or strange. And if Sarah made her call when we think she did, she was probably still at the office.”
I looked up to see Kathy hurrying down her driveway to her sporty looking car. “That looks new,” I commented. “This lady really does like the good things in life, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah, none of which come cheap. Where do you think she’s going?”
I started the engine and got ready to follow. “I don’t know, but it won’t be the nail salon.”
I kept a safe distance from Kathy and obeyed Boyle’s instructions. She led us back to the office, but this time parked in a residential road nearby.
“She’s going back to straighten out her story with her husband.”
Boyle pointed to another car on the opposite side of the road. “You’re not the only person who thinks so.”
DCI Hancock waited for Kathy to turn towards the office building before getting out of her car. If she was surprised to see us there, she didn’t show it.
Boyle marched towards Ray’s office and demanded he remain seated, but Gloria and I met outside the ladies room. Kathy and Kate’s voices screamed from within.
Gloria pushed the door and jerked her head back towards the office. “I think it’s time we had another little chat.”
Back in Ray’s office I saw the colour drain from his face as soon as Kathy walked in.
“Oh, man up, Ray,” she sneered. “You’re a lousy liar. I was there the first time, remember?”
Gloria fixed Kathy with a stern stare. “You lied yourself when you said Ray had come home at 9.30.”
Kathy glared at her husband. “It was 10.30. Why did you follow Sarah to the station, Ray? Were you sleeping with her too?”
“I wasn’t sleeping with her.” Ray nodded towards Kate. “She said Sarah knew something. I had to find out what. I only wanted to talk to her.”
Boyle snorted. “I’ve heard that one before.”
“But I didn’t!” Kate’s voice was shaking and so were her hands.
“You did. You said she knew all about us and what we did here. I overheard you talking to the others in the office.”
Kate pointed a trembling finger towards Kathy. “I was talking about her. She was the one who had initiated the current project.”
Kathy suddenly threw her head back and laughed. “So she’s the one you’ve been screwing behind my back.”
“But you’d always said you’d divorce me if I had an affair.”
“I was going to divorce you anyway, you twat! Do I look like a stay at home mother to you? You pushed Sarah over for nothing!”
Ray rose from his seat and marched towards his wife, his face in a contorted snarl. “Don’t you get it? I pushed her over for us. You spend money like running water. Sarah went over the spreadsheets and found your overspending in the new software. I couldn’t afford the Americans finding out and I can’t afford another divorce! Why do you think I had to take the American contracts in the first place?”
Gloria stepped in between the two and held up a hand. She pinched the bridge of her nose and looked like she was getting a headache. “All three of you were at the train station that night and all three of you played a part in Sarah’s death.”
“That’s ridiculous,” retorted Kathy. “I didn’t even see her.”
“That’s just the point,” I said. “What would you have done if you did? Push her over yourself? You could have gone looking for your husband.”
“But I was here,” said Ray, panicking. “Ask Kate.”
We all turned our attention to the quietest person in the room who was also the closest to the door.
“He asked where Sarah was,” she said. “I told him that she had already left to catch her train.”
“You made the same mistake as Sarah.” Gloria walked towards Ray forcing him to move backwards towards his chair. “You heard that the train was at 22:11 and assumed that meant twenty minutes before eleven o’clock.”
Ray bounced into his seat. “But she was alive when I left her, I swear it.” He swallowed, looking from Gloria to Boyle and back again. “You have to believe me.”
“I do believe you,” said Boyle. “That’s what makes this so inexcusable. Sarah had a sprained ankle. She couldn’t get up. If you had helped her and made good on your actions, she’d still be alive.”
I looked back at Kate, who was pulling on a pair of soft gloves. “But someone else was there, someone who realised what the mistake with the time really was. Someone who saw what happened and then climbed down onto the track. Who told you that the next train was at 22:11, Ray?”
The office was suddenly very quiet. Kate stared at Ray with hateful eyes. “We all know how you can’t resist a new face.”
“But I wasn’t sleeping with her!”
“That’s what she said.”
Gloria put a hand to her chest. “Oh dear God. She must have thought you were going to rescue her. And instead you gripped her coat and smashed her head against the rail again and again and again.”
Kate simply moved her eyes from Ray to Gloria. “I want a solicitor.”
When I shook Gloria’s hand later, I knew I had made a new friend. “You’re very perceptive, Ms Philips,” she said. “You’d have made a good police officer.”
“Nah,” I shook my head. “You’d have me suspended in a week.” Gloria smiled but didn’t disagree.
“Do you think she’s forgiven me yet for almost turning you to the dark side?” I asked as I drove back.
Boyle laughed. “Sure. It’s me she’s watching like a hawk.” He looked at his watch. “Do you fancy getting a takeaway tonight? Chinese?”
“Absolutely,” I agreed. “Guess my two favourite numbers.”