Steve Knox was a tall, thin man, with brown hair that permanently needed trimmed. As if to compensate for a naturally lugubrious expression, he had a wide and lovely smile that people automatically responded to. Karen had often thought he was a gem in disguise.
The three of them stood and looked at the body, and then at the surrounding scene. While Steve squatted down and made a closer examination, Jim and Karen looked at the garden. It was small but compact. There was a woodpile at one side, a herbaceous border, a bird bath, all the usual stuff of a cottage garden. And the house appeared to back on to a small wood. No wonder no-one saw her when she fell.
“The garden’s quite secluded, isn’t it?” Karen observed.
“Not at the front,” Jim said. They walked round the side of the house and looked at the layout of that part of Peterford. There was a small garden at the front, but from there the vista of the village was completely open. Only the church was near, not quite straight across. The shops were off to the left, and the pub was at the far end.
Steve Knox had finished his examination by the time they returned. He was packing up his equipment.
“It doesn’t look like an accident to me, I’m afraid. For a start, she’s been moved. Her head is right up against the concrete step, but if you look closer, the wound shows traces of wood. I would say she’s been hit by one of those logs, maybe, and her body moved to the step to make it look accidental. I’ll know more when I get her on the table, but it looks as though she had a particularly fragile skull. So she’s been unlucky.”
“Hasn’t she just,” Karen said. “You go out for logs for your stove, and you don’t make it back.”
“Mmm.” Jim looked thoughtfully at the back door. “Maybe she’d made one or two trips already. That might be why there’s a trace of mud and leaves on the floor. She’s got some on her shoes as well, hasn’t she?”
“Well, I’ll leave you to do the detective stuff,” Steve said. “If you’ve seen all you need, I’ll get her moved.”
Jim Owens nodded.
“I think you can take her away. Can you give an idea of time of death?”
“I’ll be more exact later, but for now I’d say between ten and midnight last night.”
Karen wrote that down, and smiled at Steve as he set off. He smiled in return, which was half the reason for her doing it.
“OK,” D.I. Owens said, “let’s see if we can find that weapon. A chunk of wood. Well, how hard is that going to be?”
He looked round the garden, at the log pile and the small wood behind the house, and sighed deeply.
“It’s a case of the purloined letter, isn’t it, sir?” Karen said. “Sherlock Holmes, I think. The villain hid the incriminating letter among all the other correspondence and no-one thought to look there.”
“Marvellous.” Jim sighed again. He instructed the local constables to look in the woodpile for anything bloodstained, and realised it was probably a lost cause. What killer would stop long enough to put a log back? But he might have tossed it into the herbaceous border, or over the wall into the wood, so they would have to keep looking.
“Tell you what,” Karen said. “Those could be his tracks in the kitchen instead of hers. Much safer to burn the weapon rather than just throw it away or put it among the other logs. Don’t you think?”
Jim raised his brows.
“Yes, I do think. Well done, sergeant. But the boys will have to have a good look anyway, just in case. Whoever it was, he would be panicking. He might think about the stove, but he might not.” He surveyed the scene for a moment. “If she really has been murdered, we’ll have to take a look inside, I’m afraid. See if we can find anything that will give us a clue.”
They set off up the back steps, to be stopped by the sound of Mrs Tomkins calling to them over the hedge.
“I’ve just thought of something,” she said, as Karen approached. “Marcia did mention that she kept a little black book, with lots of people’s names in it. I honestly think she was joking, in a macabre kind of way. I’m sure she wasn’t into blackmail. She just liked talking big.”
“A little black book. Well, thanks, Mrs Tomkins. I’ll keep that in mind.”
She wrote it down. Karen was nothing if not methodical.