Bill Rowse cursed as he got out of his car. Bloody kids! Why did they always set the alarm off on a Friday night? Jangling his keys furiously as he walked to the main entrance of the school, he wondered how many goals he had missed. As a Darlington supporter, he didn’t have the luxury of being able to watch his team on Sky TV every weekend. Darlington were lucky to have a match televised once a year. Tonight was their chance to shine and tonight was the night he was called in to the bloody school because the bloody kids had set off the bloody alarm.
He unlocked the door, walked into the reception area and listened. Silence. He decided try the Art room first. He walked past the library and switched on the corridor light. The Art room was in darkness, but he thought he had better check. Unlocking the door, he flicked on the light and scanned the room. Untouched. Everything was just as he had left it when he had locked up earlier. He decided to try the Science labs.
His footsteps echoed as he walked across the empty dining room and when he pushed open the doors into the Science corridor, the creak reminded him that he should have oiled the hinges a couple of days ago. He didn’t need to switch on the light, he could already see the lab at end of the corridor shining out brightly in the darkness rather like a lighthouse lamp. Mr Fenner!
His footsteps marched down the corridor, keeping pace with his temper. Bloody teachers! Fenner knew about the bloody alarm and he still hadn’t bothered to switch it off. Arrogant sod! He threw open the lab door.
“Mr Fenner. You forgot to…..” Bill Rowse’s anger dropped into his boots as he tried to take in the scene in front of him. “You poor bloody sod!”
Life did not get any better than this. Vaughan Williams was playing softly in the background, Fi was stretched out on the sofa with her head resting on my knee and I was trying to read Shakespeare’s sonnets to her, teasing her with some of the best love poetry ever written. Unfortunately, Fi was oblivious to Shakespeare’s wondrous words, she was too engrossed in her latest crime novel. Crime! Was I never going to escape from it?
In fact, at the moment, life was pretty damn perfect. With the death of Max Kitchener a couple of months ago, life had returned to normal. I didn’t need to keep half an eye looking over my shoulder anymore. Max Kitchener and his vendetta had been the reason why the Met had given me a new identity and had moved me to this little Lincolnshire market town. He had ripped my life in London apart and destroyed everything that had been precious to me. When I had arrived in this little town, I had been broken, but it had wrapped itself around me and healed me. The townspeople, many of whom I now considered to be friends, had taken me under their wing and on top of that I had found a soulmate – Dr Fiona Davies. I had also, sort of, taken on a new family. My Detective Sergeant, Alan Shepherd, was like a son to me, and his fiancée, Cat, the daughter I had always wished for.
After the inquest into the circumstances surrounding Kitchener’s death had been completed, Fi and I had even had chance to escape to Derbyshire for a couple of days to recharge our batteries. After all, with Shepherd’s wedding to Cat looming, and the stag-do tomorrow night, I needed to be fully charged up.
The buzzing of my phone interrupted my reading of the sonnet, much, I expect, to Fi’s relief. I reached down and scooped the phone off the floor.
“Evening, Sir, it’s Grayson.”
I sighed, this could only mean one thing. “What is it, Grayson?”
“A dead body at Eastwood Academy, Sir.”
“Ok, let Shepherd know that I’ll pick him up in about ten minutes.”
The call ended and Fi looked up at me. “I suppose this means that I have just lost my pillow?” she smiled.
“Sorry.” I planted a kiss on the top of her head. “I might be very late. A body has been found at Eastwood Academy.”
“Teacher killed by pupil or pupil killed by teacher?”
“Just read your book.”
When Shepherd and I pulled up in the school car-park, I could see a figure sitting inside a red Nissan Micra, smoking. Upon our approach, he poured himself out of it, crushed his cigarette under his shoe and stood towering over the little car, waiting. I had assumed that he would walk over to our car. He didn’t. He waited for us to walk over to him.
“Detective Inspector Mike Malone. This is Detective Sergeant Alan Shepherd.” I held out my hand which he shook quickly, looking at us from under his mop of dark curly hair.
“Bill Rowse. I’m the caretaker here.” The gravel in his voice revealed a lifetime of smoking.
“So, where is the body?”
“In the Science lab. It’s Mr Fenner.”
I looked at Shepherd but he just shook his head. The name meant nothing to him.
“And Mr Fenner is?”
“Head of Science.”
“Is it normal for Mr Fenner to be in school at,” I looked at my watch, “at nine-thirty on a Friday night?”
“Sometimes, especially when it gets near the end of term. There’s always lots of reports and stuff to do, I think.”
“Ok, lead the way, please.”
As he unlocked the main door and let us through, Shepherd nudged me. “When I was here, my dream was to break in one night and create all sorts of mayhem. I never did though.”
“It’s a good job you didn’t, or you might not have been standing here now. I never had you down as a trouble-maker, lad.”
“I wasn’t,” Shepherd whispered hurriedly, “it was just a dream, especially after double Maths with Mrs Peacock. Now she was a horror. Anyone who forgot their homework had to spend their lunchtime cleaning desks.”
I smiled. Shepherd might have thought bad deeds, but I wasn’t going to reveal that I had actually done them. Walking through the empty dining room, I remembered not only that memorable day when the teachers’ instant coffee had been replaced by gravy browning, but also that famous day when Mr Pegg had been super-glued to his chair. I might have been suspected by many, but nothing was ever proved. There was not a single stain on my school record.
Bill Rowse stopped a couple of feet away from the Science lab door. “I don’t have to go in again, do I?”
“No, that’s ok, Mr Rowse. I’ll need another word with you when I’ve finished, though. Why don’t you sit in the car and wait for us?”
Muttering under his breath something about bloody Sky TV, he marched off down the corridor without a word.
“What was that about?” I watched the corridor doors swinging violently as Bill Rowse disappeared through them.
Shepherd shrugged his shoulders and proceeded to pull on his latex gloves. He opened the door and we went in.
The fluorescent lights in the lab hid nothing from our eyes. There, stretched out on the floor, was the body. It was that of a man that I guessed was a few years older than me, with an ample stomach; he had evidently enjoyed his food. His wrists and feet had been tied together with plastic ties and his face was unrecognisable. This was partly because it was covered with angry burns and partly because it was hidden by the large glass funnel that had been forced into his mouth. I went closer and crouched down. Blood stained vomit had trickled from Fenner’s mouth and onto his blue shirt. I could also see vomit pooled at the bottom of the funnel.
“Looks as if he may have choked, lad.”
“I’m not so sure, Sir.”
I looked up. Shepherd was holding a large glass jug. From the remnants at the bottom of it, it looked as if it might have contained orange squash. As I watched him, he spread out a paper towel and tipped the glass jug to release a few drops of the orange liquid. As it hit the paper, the liquid started to bubble.
“That’s not orange squash, lad.”
“I think it’s some sort of acid, Sir.”
I looked from the jug to Fenner and an image of what could have happened in this lab hit me with the force of a locomotive.
“Bloody hell!” I pulled a lab-stool to me and sat down. “If you’re right, lad, then I think our Mr Fenner was forced to drink acid. That would explain the burns all over his face, the acid would have splashed onto his skin as he struggled. It also explains the vomit, it would have burnt away his insides as it travelled down to his stomach.”
“He would have been in agony,” Shepherd gasped.
“Too right. He wouldn’t have died straight away, either.” I shook my head to try to dislodge the picture of Fenner’s torture. “Even if we had found him sooner and got some liquid inside him to try and dilute the acid, he probably wouldn’t have been able to swallow again – that’s if he had managed to live. That acid would have eaten away at every thing it touched.”
“Poor man.” Shepherd got down onto his knees and, taking care to avoid the splashes of acid, he started to conduct his fingertip search.
After I had phoned the team to come and collect the body, I left Shepherd to continue his work undisturbed and went to find Bill Rowse.
It was nearly eleven o’clock and it didn’t look as if I would be going home just yet. I had placed the picture of Fenner in the centre of my desk.
“So, what do we know about Fenner, lad?” I sat down ready to listen.
“Dave Fenner, aged fifty-one. Unmarried. Has only been working at Eastwood since September last year.”
“I spoke to Rose Lester, the Principal of Eastwood, and she doesn’t think that he was in a relationship. She described him as amiable and said that he seemed to get on with the other members of staff. The kids, however, hadn’t really taken to him. They thought that he was a bit heavy handed with the discipline.”
“But a kid isn’t going to tie him up and kill him just because he gave a detention, is he?”
“So maybe we need to find out a bit about his private life. Where was he before he came here? Why did he decide to come and work here? What did he get up to after school?”
“Did the team find anything?”
“Fingerprints, Sir, hundreds of them.”
“What about on the glass funnel or jug?”
Shepherd shook his head. “And the ties seem to have come from a drawer in the teacher’s desk, Sir.”
I rubbed my temples. “What about the school security cameras?”
“They show Fenner going into the school through the main doors at eight thirty-seven, then nothing until Rowse arrives.”
“Ok. I’m going home. We’ll go and see some of Fenner’s colleagues in the morning.”
With one more glance at the photograph before I shut it in my drawer, I grabbed my keys ready to head for home. Now for the difficult job of telling Fi that I would not be able to go shopping with her in the morning.