[Read part one of this short story here]
Trostlose Frau – Two
Police Constable Atkinson drove her patrol car in no particular hurry along the ambling A457. The country road was popular with motorcyclists on dry days due to its sweeping cambered corners, technical chicanes, and many opportunities for full-throttle hair-raising recreation. She thought about her own bike, the mighty Ducati Monster, gathering dust in the garage. Now rare were the days when the stars aligned and she could get out for a ride and a Sunday half pint with the guys and gals of the East Wickington Motorcycle Club. Those were the good old days indeed. A sharp babble from the radio jerked her from her daydream. Emergency response required for traffic incident on the B6385 north of Marbury. Not her jurisdiction at the moment – she had been summoned for other purposes. When was the last time she had got on the bike? A year ago? Two? Steve would remember. She emerged from the deep shade of an alley of beech trees into dazzling summer sunshine and there, on the right, was the boundary wall of Worthing estate. At the entrance, some 800 metres of brick wall later, she slowed to a stop and waited for a gap in the oncoming traffic. Drivers raced round the bend far too quickly then braked hard upon seeing her latent vehicle. She wore her best stern police officer face, internally amused by their panicked faces and flimsy and obvious attempts to appear law-abiding. Eyes forward. Nothing to see here.
Her patrol car trundled along the never-ending driveway. Well-fenced green fields extended either side into infinity and tall, ancient trees towered above, patiently lining the gravel track. After minutes of driving a large stately home edged into view. It reminded her of the National Trust properties she and Steve had visited together, before they were married and work took over her life. Watson’s patrol car was already parked near the grand stone steps that led up to the main door. A navy blue Bentley rested nobly just beyond. Watson probably had things taken care of already. Presumably she was just there to be a friendly face. Reassurance. Don’t worry, sir, we have things under control. She shut off the engine and levered herself out of the car. The afternoon was quiet and her shoes on the deep gravel seemed disproportionately loud. She reached the door and tapped the golden door knocker. It was that loud, certain, police knock that became intuitive once she put on her uniform in the morning. Standing back a step or two, she looked up at the face of the house. Creeper plants crawled their way skyward, gripping the cream stone wall, green leaves bobbing and waving in the gentle breeze. A rattle and an unlatching from within; the heavy door opened a little and a woman peered through the gap.
“Good afternoon madam, my name’s PC Atkinson. I’m just here to assist with the ongoing investigation and ask a few questions of those who have given statements.”
It was the voice she used for such formal work situations; soothing yet self-assured, like a telesales pitch or a weather forecaster. The woman behind the door hesitated.
“Please come in.” She said in a distinctly Eastern European accent. Romanian perhaps. PC Atkinson stepped inside the grand house, blinking hard to clear the green tinge left in her vision from the bright day outside. It wasn’t as musty-smelling as the old National Trust houses she remembered and somewhere nearby was the faint chiming of clocks. The Eastern European maid led the way, through the entrance hall which contained a magnificent staircase and a great many closed doors. The dark wooden floor was scattered with ornate rugs and unnecessary furniture – a single chair and desk; a glass-fronted cabinet; a cushioned Chippendale sofa. They reached almost the end of the hall before stopping at an anonymous door and the woman opened it inwards. There stood Watson – all assertive, rugby player, six foot three of him – making notes. He looked up and nodded in acknowledgement. It was a library. She, of course, was expecting a library, from the statements and the notes, but seeing it in the flesh really was impressive. It had dark wooden shelves dominating, standing floor to ceiling and filled with burgundy and green cloth-bound volumes. There was a writing desk, a huge fireplace, and several paintings hanging, dignified, on patches of wall not filled with bookshelves.
“If you had any questions for Mr Berne, he will be awake from his sleep in a moment.” The maid explained to Atkinson, clearly to get her up to speed with the proceedings, hands politely folded at her stomach.
“Thank you, Mrs Serban, we’ll wait.” Watson replied, apparently in control of things. They waited for the maid to leave the room. All the staff at the estate had already given statements, Atkinson had learned in the briefing earlier that day. What sparse evidence remained at the scene had already been collected. The two officers looked at each other. Both knew this insurance claim thing had no legs, but they were there to probe. The truth was, that they had nothing.