Policing Downshire in the Noughties – Changing Gardens, Against the Clock
Detective Constable Jenny Hack, refreshed and eager after a few days off, was keen to complete the missing persons inquiry as she only had two weeks to go before her maternity leave began.
That was why she was driving to Nettlefield to a prestige chauffeured car service.
Norma Dowie, a close friend of the missing woman, had intimated that there was some impropriety between her friend’s husband and his secretary.
With that in mind she was going to interview Abigail Evans, secretary to the missing woman’s husband Charles Herbert.
Jenny drove into the car park in front of Sapphire Luxury Limo’s office, which appeared to have been converted from an old pub.
The building was mock Tudor with “Olde Worlde” beams and bay windows with leaded glass picture windows.
After extricating herself from the car with all the elegance and grace she could muster, which was very little, she proceeded across the car park to the front door.
Once inside all similarities with a pub faded away, the whole feel of the place was traditional, all the furniture and fittings were antique or antique in style.
The walls were adorned with pictures of classic cars and on every available surface there were scale models of the same classics.
In the center of what presumably was once the lounge bar stood a large antique desk.
Behind the desk was a young woman, who stood up almost immediately as Jenny closed the door behind her.
The young woman was tall, slender, elegant and very blonde.
“I bet she dyes her roots black” Jenny thought to herself unkindly and smiled.
Some of her colleagues, particularly Boris, would have wondered if the collar and cuffs matched.
She was in her middle to late twenties and exuded an air of calm efficiency.
“Good Morning madam” The young woman said and smiled politely.
“Good morning” Jenny replied and presented her warrant card. “DC Hack, Abbottsford CID”
“Oh!” She said surprised.
“I would like to speak with an Abigail Evans”
“Oh!” More surprise, and Jenny was beginning to wonder if that was her entire vocabulary.
“Well I am Abigail Evans” She said and pointed towards an empty chair. “Please sit down.”
“Can I get you a drink?”
“Just water please” Jenny replied “Thank you”
After handing a glass of water to Jenny she slid effortlessly into her chair.
“How can I help?”
“It’s about Mrs. Mary Herbert” Jenny began.
“She’s been reported missing” Jenny said
“Yes, she went off with a man I believe, broke Mr. Herbert’s heart” Abigail replied.
“What is your relationship with Mr. Herbert?” she asked
“I work for him and that is the full extent of our relationship”
She said tartly.
“It has been said that you were having an affair” Jenny persisted.
“By whom?” She asked with the hint of a smile on her lips.
“That I can’t tell you” Replied Jenny. “Is it true?”
“Look, I like Charles very much, I’ve work for him for almost ten years now and he’s a sweetheart to work for, but I am neither sexually nor romantically attracted to him” She paused. “As for him he wouldn’t give me a second look”
And it was Jenny’s turn to show surprise.
“He loves his wife it’s as simple as that” she explained
“Any idea where she went?” Asked Jenny.
“I did hear someone mention Newcastle, but it may just have been gossip”
“Ok thanks for your help” Jenny said smiling. “Just one final thing, is Mr. Herbert in today?”
“No, he isn’t he’s at a society Golf day at…” She consulted the large leather-bound diary on the desk in front of her. “Highfinch”
“Ok thanks” Jenny said and began to stand, and it was as if seeing Jenny lumber to her feet made her feel sorry for the impregnated Detective.
“I have a contact number for him, I can call him if you’d like, it’s no trouble” She said her hand hovering over the handset. “I’m sure he won’t mind and it’s not too far out of your way”
“Thank you” Said Jenny. “That would be very helpful.”
After a brief telephone conversation between Abigail and her employer an appointment was arranged at the Golf course at twelve thirty, DC Hack thanked Ms. Evans politely and left.
When Jenny was in the car she checked the time.
Nettlefield to Highfinch was at most a forty-five-minute journey, which left her with two hours to kill.
She gave it some little thought and decided that the “Kingfisher’s shopping center in Nettlefield would kill some time, so off she went for a little nest feathering.
Having completed her shopping expedition in Nettlefield and feeling very pleased with herself, Jenny made the journey to the Lily Green Hollows Golf Club.
She parked her car and found her bearings then walked towards the clubhouse.
Finding no one at reception she followed the sound of loud conversation, which was coming from the bar.
The first person she found was a large boorish man monopolizing the conversation with three fellow members.
“I’ll tell you what a mixed feeling is” He started and took a quick drink of his beer.
“It’s when you see your mother-in-law backing over Beachy Head in your new Jaguar”
This was followed by raucous laughter; it was funny how jokes always seemed more amusing when the listener had been drinking.
She caught the eye of the bar steward.
“Yes Madam?” He said.
“I have an appointment with Charles Herbert” She said discreetly showing her warrant card.
“Yes Madam” He said and craned his neck and looked around the bar and then pointed across the room.
“He’s the small gentleman, on the terrace in the yellow sweater” he said
“Thanks” Jenny said with a smile.
Mr. Herbert was a short stocky man and was standing on the periphery of a group of Golfers on the terrace.
Jenny thought he appeared to be listening to the conversation rather than participating in it.
She also thought, perhaps a little unkindly, that being on the periphery of life was probably familiar territory for him.
“As she got closer to the group Charles spotted her, obviously briefed by his secretary on her condition, and broke away from the group virtually unnoticed and stepped forward to greet her.
“Are you looking for me?” He said and proffered a hand. “Charles Herbert”
“Detective Constable Hack” She replied. “Thank you for seeing me, is there somewhere quieter we can talk?”
“Yes indeed, we can use the function room” He said leading the way further along the terrace and though another set of doors into a large function room.
The room was decorated for a function and the tables were adorned with crisp white linen and silver service, and each table had a large floral centerpiece.
There were three or four staff flitting back and forth applying the finishing touches apart from that they had the room to themselves.
Charles led Jenny to a quiet corner and took two chairs off a stack and they sat down.
“It’s about your wife Mr. Herbert” Jenny said
“So, I understand” He responded
“She’s been reported missing” Jenny continued.
“Yes, but not by you” she explained
“No” he responded
“Why not?” Jenny asked.
“Firstly, because she isn’t missing” He said sadly. “She has left me, and secondly I was hoping she would come back after a couple of weeks”
He said nothing for a few moments but then explained.
“She said she didn’t love me anymore and that she wanted to experience and enjoy life and she couldn’t do that with me”
“Do you know where she went? Newcastle perhaps” Jenny asked
“Newcastle?” He said surprised. “No not that I know of although she does have friends in Newcastle, she didn’t say where she was going she just packed a couple of bags and went, and her bank statements are still coming to the house and there are cash withdrawals made in different parts of London and a few in the Oxford area”
“And you haven’t heard from her?” Jenny asked
“No phone calls?” she added
“No letters? Emails?” she persisted
“No, nothing at all” He said with finality. “I do expect to hear from her if only in regard to a divorce”
“You’ll let us know if you here from her?”
“Yes of course” He replied
“I still love her you know, and I’d have her back in a heartbeat”
Jenny smiled sympathetically and stood up.
“Well thank you for seeing me” Jenny shook his hand a turned towards the door. “Enjoy the Golf.”
The next day, Jenny was in the squad room sharing a joke with a group of officers when DCI Overend walked in.
“Morning Sir” Jenny said still laughing.
“Guv” Said the others.
“Morning flower” Bill said. “Gentlemen.”
“Sir? Do you hold hands with your wife in public?” Jenny asked.
“Yes, we always hold hands when we’re out” Bill answered and walked towards his office and added over his shoulder “Because if I let go for a second she starts shopping”
After he had deposited his briefcase and coat in the office, he quickly removed an envelope from his briefcase and then he returned to the group.
“I met a friend of yours last night flower.”
“Oh Yes?” She said suspiciously. “Who was that then?”
“Bizzie Lizzie” Overend said
But Lizzie wasn’t just a friend she was Jenny’s best friend.
“Really?” Said Jenny. “Where?”
“At the match”
“That figures she’s a big soccer fan” Jenny said.
This was greeted with sharp intakes of breath and the shaking of heads from the assembled group.
“What? What?” she asked puzzled
“You tell her Jimmy” Instructed Bill.
“There is no such game as soccer” Jimmy stated.
“It’s association football or sometimes affectionately referred to as footie but never, never ever call it soccer.”
“I stand corrected” Said Jenny pulling a face.
“We’ll make allowances as you’re pregnant” Bill said.
It was the end of the month and despite her best efforts over the previous four weeks Jenny had hit a brick wall with the Mary Herbert missing person inquiry and she had to reluctantly accept that the most likely conclusion was that Mary had left her husband to start a new life elsewhere, either on her own or with another and Jenny was going to have to go on maternity leave with the case unresolved.