Under Cover Of Darkness – Episode 03

The local constable met them at the gate of Thistle Cottage and conducted them round the back.

“It looks as though she fell and hit her head, sir,” he said. “It’s almost certainly an unfortunate accident, but I thought you should see it.”

Detective Inspector Owens looked at him steadily.

“Yes, constable, indeed I should. Let’s not make any assumptions about cause of death, shall we? Now, who reported it?”

“A neighbour, sir. A Mrs ” he consulted his notebook “ Tomkins. She’s waiting for you in her kitchen.”

“OK. Let’s see the body first. Do we have a name for her?”

“Simpson. Marcia Simpson. Owner-occupier of Thistle Cottage.”

Although joking about juicy murders was part of the language of the police, Jim Owens was always struck by the sadness of these events. Whoever she was, whatever kind of person she had been, there was nothing of her now. Her personality, like her body, was lifeless. She was just a bundle of flesh and bones, all vibrancy gone.

He could see that Karen was equally affected, and was glad of it. It didn’t do to get hardened to this kind of thing. Compassion must always be felt, and a sense of outrage. If this was indeed more than an unfortunate accident, then whoever caused it should pay for it. It was the least this woman deserved.

Marcia Simpson was lying at the foot of the steps up to her back door, her head against the hard concrete. It was difficult to see exactly where the wound was, but it did look quite straightforward. He looked about him at the ground, which was damp and a little slippery after rain in the night. She could easily just have fallen.

D.I. Owens took out his mobile and dialled up the station for extra officers and a photographer. He also phoned the pathology lab, from where he was rerouted to Steve Knox’s home.

“Sorry, Steve,” Jim said. “An unexplained death. Looks straightforward, but we’ve only just got here and I haven’t had a chance to look further. Either way, we’ll need your expertise.”

While waiting for the pathologist, Jim and Karen went round to the neighbour’s house to get a bit more detail. Mrs Tomkins was waiting with a coffee jug and a plate of chocolate digestives. Expecting an elderly village worthy, Jim was surprised by the young fit woman who poured the coffee.

“We work in Bremston, but my husband and I both like country life.”

“So tell us what happened here? When did you find Miss Simpson?”

“Mrs, I believe, though I think she’s a divorcee. No surprise there.”

Karen looked up sharply.

“What makes you say that?”

Mrs Tomkins had the grace to blush.

“I’m sorry. The poor woman is dead, after all. But I have to say, she was not the most popular person in the village.”

“You mean, she had enemies? Someone who might want to harm her?”

“Oh, I don’t mean anyone would try to kill her. Good heavens, this is Peterford, after all. Anyway, didn’t she just fall?”

“What did you see, Mrs Tomkins?”

“Nothing at all, really. I came out the back door about an hour ago and noticed that Marcia’s back door was open and the kitchen light was on. So was the outside light that lit up the steps and most of the garden. I looked more closely, and that was when I saw her lying there. I ran round to her house, thinking she might be injured. But she was dead.” She took a sudden shocked breath. “I’ve never seen a dead body before.”

“It’s not a common thing,” Karen said. “So is that when you called us?”

The woman nodded, and took an absent-minded bite of her biscuit.

“So,” Jim said, “would you say she was a difficult person?”

Mrs Tomkins nodded again, and spoke through the crumbs.

“There’s no way of softening it. She was she could be quite malicious. Just the way she spoke about people. She always implied that she knew bad things about people and could ruin them if she put her mind to it. I’ve no idea how much truth was in that, but that’s what she was like.” She paused. “Mind you, I’d have helped her if I’d known she was there. Poor woman. I feel bad about that.”

They thanked her for the coffee and returned to Thistle Cottage. Steve Knox had still to arrive, so they used the time to have a look inside from the back door. The kitchen carpet tiles had traces of dried mud and leaves on them, leading up to a wood-burning stove of Swedish design.

“Don’t step on the mud,” D.I. Owens said. “Just in case there’s a footprint. Though it doesn’t look as if that floor will help.”

They looked briefly around from the doorway, and then heard the arrival of the pathologist.


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