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Grounds for Appeal

Grounds for Appeal


Bernard Knight Grounds for Appeal

ONE

    November 1955
    The bog was in its autumn colours, with reds, browns and yellows stretching across the billiard-table flatness that lay between the sea and the line of hills that bordered the mountainous heart of Wales. Today, the weather was being kind to the two figures squelching across the eastern fringe of the largest raised bogland in Britain. A Mecca for wetland naturalists, Borth Bog attracted a steady stream of biologists, many from the university in Aberystwyth, a few miles to the south. A pair of these had been working their way across the marsh for the past few days, following a line drawn on their large-scale map, lugging their equipment between points separated by hundred-yard intervals.
    ‘Come on, Geraint, give those binoculars a rest and help me with the kit!’
    Louise Palmer was a rather bossy young woman, concerned only with getting more data for her doctoral thesis. Her assistant, a first-year student, seemed more interested in watching the profuse bird-life around them. Sheepishly, Geraint Williams dragged his attention back to their work and unstrapped a bundle of tubes and various bits of metal and wood, while Louise once again groped amongst the contents of a large haversack. A roll of tinfoil, a spatula, glass jars, two notebooks, a bundle of labels and some indelible pencils were her passport to eventual academic promotion.
    She was a clever, single-minded woman of twenty-four, rather plain with wiry brown hair and a figure that was ideal for tramping around swamps and mountains, though perhaps not for ballet dancing — especially in the heavy walking boots she wore over thick woollen socks. Dressed for business in a thick brown jumper and denim trousers, she looked very much the no-nonsense academic.
    As they went through their much-practised routine at every hundred-yard site, Geraint looked at the area ahead that they had not yet covered.
    ‘Another three cores and we’ll be almost at the edge of the bog,’ he observed, as he screwed together two sections of metal tube about the thickness of a walking stick.
    Louise looked up and nodded. ‘We’ll pack it in then and after we’ve checked the results from this lot, see if the professor thinks that would be enough.’
    They were engaged on a study designed to see how the bog’s vegetation had changed over past centuries and relate this to its topography and the climatic variation. Taking samples of the underlying peat from different depths, an analysis of pollen grains and plant remnants should reveal the sequential history of Cors Fachno, the true Welsh name for Borth Bog. The samples were retrieved with the simple coring apparatus that they were now assembling.
    ‘I’ll soon be doing this in my sleep,’ grumbled Geraint, a thin, tousle-headed youth, dressed in a tweed sports jacket with frayed cuffs, over a purple pullover and corduroy trousers.
    He jammed the sharp bottom end of the long tube into the ground and pushed it down hard so that it stuck in securely without support. Reaching up, he screwed the central socket of a wooden cross-arm on to the top of the tube. As he pulled down again on this, his wellington boots sank a couple of inches into the waterlogged heather and spongy moss. The three-foot wooden bar, now making a spindly T-shape with the tube, came just within reach of Louise’s hands and she reached up to grab one side, with Geraint on the other.
    ‘Right, let’s pull!’ she commanded and they both added their weight to the contraption to drive it deep into the soft marsh. The object was to force a narrow cylinder of soil up the inside of the tube and, normally, they could get down to the full length of six feet with steady pressure. However, this time the tube went down as far as the joint at the three-foot level and stopped abruptly.
    Louise muttered an unladylike curse. ‘Bugger it! Another stone, I expect.’
    Geraint gave a couple of futile wiggles to the upper part of the tube, but further pressure made no impression on the penetration.
    ‘It’s no good, we’ll have to haul it out and try again a couple of feet away,’ ordered his senior companion. The crossbar was now at waist height and the student hauled it upwards, then grasped the tube and pulled the rest of it out of the soggy ground.
    ‘D’you want to keep the core that’s in it?’ he asked and got a scathing look in response.
    ‘No, of course not! Every sample has to be from the same depth range. Push the damned thing out!’
    With hands on hips, she watched as her slave laid the tube on the ground and, with a narrower tube with a blanked-off end, forced out a cylinder of black peat, which had the consistency of a Christmas pudding. Except that, unexpectedly, the bottom two inches of the core was almost white, instead of black.
    ‘What the devil’s that?’ he asked, crouching down for a closer look.
    Louise did the same, then reached to her side to take a small metal spatula from the haversack. Prodding the core with it, she separated the white material from the peat and rolled it on to the back of a notebook.
    ‘This looks like some sort of animal material, not vegetation,’ she announced.
    ‘Maybe we’ve speared a dead sheep,’ volunteered the student. ‘There are plenty of those about here and some must die and end up in the bog.’
    Louise peered more closely at the greyish-white cylinder, half the length of her little finger and about the same thickness. ‘It seems to be some sort of fatty wax,’ she declared.
    Geraint shrugged and began to get to his feet.
    ‘Some sort of long-dead animal,’ he said dismissively. ‘We’d better get on and finish these holes. I could do with my lunch.’
    The woman ignored him and continued to prod at the lump of material. ‘There seems to be a tough dark layer on top, almost like a skin.’
    ‘Well, sheep have skin, don’t they?’
    Instead of answering, Louise took a pair of tweezers from her bag and picked something from the bottom end of the peat core, from where she had taken the white substance. She held it up towards her reluctant assistant.
    ‘But sheep don’t have bits of twine on them, do they!’
    Geraint looked at her blankly. ‘What are you trying to say?’
    Louise took one of her small bottles from the haversack and carefully slid the white material inside, together with an inch of what appeared to be frayed cord.
    ‘I think there may be a human body under there!’
    The young man looked at her as if she had suddenly gone off her head. ‘Why on earth d’you say that? Far more likely to be a sheep — if in fact it is animal tissue and not some fungus or something.’
    ‘Nonsense! I’ve been reading about these bog bodies they’ve been finding in Denmark recently. This could be one of those.’
    Geraint Williams showed that he was not so ignorant as he appeared.
    ‘You mean like that Tollund Man they found a few years ago. But they were prehistoric, surely?’
    ‘Well, Iron Age anyway,’ she replied, excitement breaking through her usual cool nature. ‘It would be great if this was another one! I’d get my doctorate just for being famous!’
    ‘Much more likely to be a sheep,’ muttered her student. ‘Why should it be an ancient corpse?’
    Louise held up her jar for a closer look. ‘That skin has gone dark, just like the Danish people described. It’s due to staining from the tannins in the peat.’
    ‘And what about that bit of cord? What’s that got to do with it?’ persisted Geraint, a Jonah determined to bring her down to earth.
    ‘That’s what made me think of it,’ she snapped. ‘Some of these bog bodies were found with cords around their necks, probably ritual strangulation.’
    Geraint’s eyebrows rose at this. ‘Strangulation! You’re reading a hell of a lot into finding a bit of something half the size of a cocktail sausage!’
    Louise rose to her feet and started to repack her haversack.
    ‘Whatever it is, we’ll have to tell someone about it straight away,’ she said with typical decisiveness. ‘I suppose it had better be the local police, not that they’ll be all that interested in a two-thousand-year-old murder!’
    The bog was bounded on the seaward side by the dead-straight railway and road that ran a stone’s throw from the two miles of beach. At the southern end was the small town of Borth, a popular holiday resort. A one-street ribbon settlement, it suddenly rose at the end of the beach on to the hill of Upper Borth, from where the road carried on southwards to Aberystwyth. The two researchers had trudged across the marshland to reach the road and now walked downwards to the line of shops and boarding houses.
    ‘I wonder where the police station is?’ said Louise. ‘I presume they’ve got coppers in a place like this.’
    Geraint stopped a man coming towards them to ask directions, but he was obviously a late holidaymaker, as he replied in a strong Cockney accent that he hadn’t the faintest idea.
    ‘Better luck next time,’ waspishly muttered Louise.
    A little further on, they saw a young woman brushing the path in front of a three-storied house. A very pretty brunette, Letitia Matthews was a nurse, home on leave from her training in Cardiff. Trusting that she was a native and not another Londoner, Geraint spoke to her in Welsh and received a brilliant smile and exact directions in the same language. Smitten, as he often was by attractive girls, he would have lingered, but Louise prodded him in the back and, reluctantly, he began lugging his bundle of pipes further into the town.
    ‘Well, did she tell you where The Law was to be found?’ demanded his companion.
    ‘In Upper Borth, apparently, so we’ll have to walk on a fair way yet.’
    Louise groaned. ‘It’s even difficult to report a murder in this place.’
    Ten minutes later, after Geraint’s longing glances into a fish-and-chip shop were ignored, they reached Borth’s answer to Scotland Yard. This was a small annexe built on to the side of a police house, where a sergeant and a constable of the Cardiganshire Constabulary sat at a table behind a wooden counter.
    Sergeant Edwards, a large man with a bushy moustache, left his cup of Nescafe and came to attend to them. Louise dumped her haversack on the counter and explained who she was, ignoring Geraint, who was content to sit on a hard chair near the door to listen to the rumbles of his empty stomach. After listening to the botanist’s story about her unexpected find, the officer regarded her gravely. She seemed a sensible sort of young woman, he thought, not one given to making up fairy stories.
    ‘Have you got this specimen with you, miss?’
    Louise fished in the bag and took out the small bottle containing the lower part of the core.
    ‘This is it. There’s a piece of cord in there as well. I’ve read about a number of these bog bodies. They’ve been found mainly in Denmark and Germany in recent years, but there have been reports of them for centuries, some in Britain.’
    The constable, a fresh-faced young man with big ears, ambled over to the counter to look at the sample. ‘Yes, sarge, I’ve read about those. There was an article in Reader’s Digest some time ago. Some horrible pictures of them, all shrivelled up and looking like leather.’
    Sergeant Edwards ran his fingers across his moustache as an aid to thought. If even his constable had heard of this phenomenon, then he could hardly dismiss it out of hand.
    ‘You found this just by drilling a hole in the ground?’
    Louise Palmer nodded impatiently. ‘We’ve taken about forty cores from the bog this last week. This was the only time we found anything unusual.’
    ‘Can you find the spot again?’ asked the constable.
    Geraint answered this from his chair. ‘Our coring plan tells us where it is to within a couple of feet — and I stuck a gorse branch in the hole to mark the exact place.’
    Edwards pondered again and after Louise had again dismissed the obvious explanation that it might be a dead sheep, he turned the tube over his fingers and made his decision.
    ‘I’ll have to talk to my superiors in Aberystwyth, Miss Palmer. They may want to send this off to Cardiff to see if it really could be human.’
    ‘That’ll take ages, surely?’ objected the young woman, who was anxious to claim the glory for finding a Welsh bog body.
    The sergeant shrugged. ‘If it’s as you say and the body has been there for centuries, then a few days or even a week or two won’t matter much, will it? If they decide it’s worth investigating, we’ll need you back up here to show us exactly where you found it.’
    And with that, Louise had to be content, while Geraint was more concerned with calling at the fish-and-chip shop on their way back to the railway station.

TWO

    Fortunately, Doctor Richard Pryor liked women and was very comfortable in their company. It was just as well, as there were already three attractive ladies in Garth House and a fourth was expected later that day. At the moment, he was hidden away in his study at the back of the detached Edwardian house, which sat on the western slope of the Wye Valley, with a great view across the river to the English side.
    In the laboratory, which had been converted from the large dining room at the front, Priscilla Chambers sat at her bench facing a series of racks which held the day’s quota of paternity tests. Across the room behind her, technician Sian Lloyd was handing some alcohol results to Moira Davison, their housekeeper-cum-secretary, for her to type in the adjacent office.
    ‘It’ll be great to have Doctor Bray back,’ enthused Sian.
    It was becoming difficult for her to know what titles to give the various members of the Garth House team, as when alone, the secretary and technician would refer to their two employers as ‘Richard’ and ‘Angela’, but to their faces called them ‘doctor’. During the past few weeks, matters had become more complicated by the arrival of Priscilla, who although possessing a PhD like Angela Bray, insisted on being called by her Christian name.
    ‘Angela was afraid she would be away for at least month,’ agreed Moira, a neat dark-haired woman of about thirty. ‘I’m so glad her mother’s stroke wasn’t as serious as they feared.’
    ‘So am I, though it means I might be out of a job sooner than I thought!’ contributed Priscilla from her workbench. When Angela Bray had hurried home to Berkshire to look after her stricken mother, she had agreed to stand in as a locum to cope with the forensic serology and biology that was Angela’s preserve. They had once been colleagues in the Metropolitan Police Laboratory in London, until Priscilla had emigrated to Australia several years earlier. This hadn’t worked out and, since her return a few months earlier, she was existing on various locum jobs until something more permanent turned up.
    Moira, though a good-natured woman who got on well with Priscilla, was secretly pleased that the very attractive redhead was not going to be a long-term fixture at Garth House. Though the young widow would hardly admit it even to herself, Moira was very much attracted to Richard Pryor and already had enough competition in the shapely form of Doctor Angela Bray, as well as the pretty and vivacious blonde technician, though realistically, Sian was too young to be a serious challenge.
    Angela had left the ‘Met Lab’ earlier that year to go into partnership with Richard Pryor when they founded this private forensic consultancy. Moira, who lived alone in the next house down the valley, had impulsively taken on the job of part-time housekeeper and rapidly slid into being their typist as well, reviving her spirits from the loneliness that followed the death of her husband in an industrial accident.
    ‘I’m sure they won’t turf you out into the street tonight, Priscilla!’ said Sian. ‘Perhaps you can stay with us for good?’
    Moira managed to suppress a frown as she went through to her office next door. Apart from the fact that there was not enough work for two biologists, the prospect of both Angela and Priscilla living in Garth House under the same roof as Richard was not one that appealed to her. She would have been reassured to hear the conversation that continued after she left the laboratory, for Priscilla, as she continued to pipette sera into her banks of little tubes, replied to the suggestion that she stayed on in the Wye Valley.
    ‘It’s great here, Sian, you’ve all been so kind to me. But I don’t want to stay in forensic science permanently. I’d like to get back to my first love, anthropology. That’s why I’ve been dithering around lately, waiting for a vacancy to turn up somewhere.’
    The technician loved a good gossip and this was a chance to delve some more. ‘I’m not quite clear what you did before this,’ she asked.
    Priscilla filled her last tube, then swung around on her swivel chair, her long auburn hair swirling above the collar of her white coat.
    ‘I did a degree in physical anthropology in London, then my doctorate on blood types in different ethnic groups. After that, I went to the Natural History Museum in Kensington for a while, then moved to the police laboratory in New Scotland Yard, doing this sort of work.’ She waved a manicured hand at the tubes and bottles on her bench top.
    Sian listened avidly to this recital of achievement. ‘And then to Australia and back!’ she said enviously. ‘You’ve never been married?’
    Priscilla shook her head. ‘Never seemed to have time — or stayed long enough in one place. Plenty of chaps, though!’ she added with a smile.
    ‘My life has been deadly dull compared with yours,’ sighed Sian regretfully. ‘I left school soon after the war to work in a hospital lab in Newport and stayed there until I had the chance to come here. I love this forensic work so much that I’m doing an external degree in biochemistry now.’
    ‘What about chaps, though?’ called Priscilla over her shoulder, as she swung back to get on with her work.
    ‘Nothing serious yet, though there’s a fellow on my day-release course that I get on with very well.’
    Their tete-a-tete was interrupted by the door into the hall opening to admit Richard Glanville Pryor, the founder of the Garth House venture. Tall and wiry, he wore a rather crumpled suit of fawn linen, with button-down pockets and a half-belt at the back. It was one of those he had brought back from Singapore, which the ladies claimed made him look like a big-game hunter. Under a bush of brown hair, his lean face, which usually creased so easily into a grin, was looking serious for once.
    ‘Just had a phone call from the police. Curious business! Sounds as if it might be right up your street, Priscilla.’
    Moira came back in through the office door, clutching some unnecessary papers as an excuse to hear what was going on.
    ‘Why me, Richard?’ asked the glamorous serologist.
    The doctor squatted on the corner of the big table that filled the large bay window. ‘There’s some suggestion that it might be a bog body, though I doubt it very much.’
    Priscilla’s hazel eyes lit up at the mention of these curiosities.
    ‘A bog body! It would be a first in Wales, then. I’ve read a great deal about them. I even met Professor Glob once, at a congress.’
    At Sian’s insistence, she had to explain briefly about these ancient corpses, found mainly in Northern Europe, assumed to be sacrificial victims who were dumped in marshes, where their tissues were preserved for centuries by the tannins of the peat and the acid bog water. Professor Glob was the doyen on the subject, a Danish archaeologist who had studied a number found in his homeland.
    ‘As I said, it sounds highly unlikely to me,’ continued Richard. ‘But the cops in Aberystwyth want an opinion. The forensic lab in Cardiff suggested me, as I’m now on their Home Office list.’
    He told them the story, such as it was. ‘So far, the only evidence is a bit of tissue accidentally recovered by a botanist. The police sent it to Cardiff, mainly to check whether it came from a dead sheep. But it seems that a precipitation test showed that it was human.’
    ‘So what’s going to happen next?’ asked Moira, as intrigued as the rest of them with such an unusual story.
    ‘I agreed that we’d do what we could for them, but we wanted to look at the sample ourselves first. The police are bringing it up from Cardiff in the morning. If it’s definitely human, then I suspect they’ll ask us to look at the body, if they can find it.’
    ‘What do you want me to do?’ asked Priscilla. ‘Angela will be back at work tomorrow, so she may want to deal with it, especially as now I may soon be moving on.’
    Richard laid a hand on her shoulder, raising another covert frown on Moira’s face.
    ‘She’ll want a day or two to settle in, I expect. Then we’ll decide how to play it. If our own tests on the sample show it to be a sheep or something, that’s the end of it, but the Home Office lads in Cardiff are unlikely to have got it wrong.’
    The matter was left in abeyance and was soon overshadowed by the sound of Angela’s little Renault coming up the steep slope of the drive from the main road below. They all trooped down the corridor past the kitchen to the back door, to greet her as she stopped in the yard behind and then reversed into the open garages beneath the coach house.
    She stepped out, as elegant as her friend Priscilla, both of whom were classy dressers. A few years older than Priscilla, Doctor Bray was tall, slim and had a mane of light brown hair in place of the striking auburn of her friend. Handsome rather than pretty, she had the features of what the somewhat socialistic Sian thought of as a typical English ‘hunting, shooting and fishing’ aristocrat. This didn’t stop the technician impulsively running forward to give her boss a welcoming hug.
    ‘Great to have you back, doctor! We’ve all missed you.’
    Priscilla gave her a more restrained peck on the check, being careful of their make-up, and Moira went to squeeze her hand in both of hers and enquire after her mother.
    Richard let the women do their thing, before going over and putting a welcoming arm around her shoulders.
    ‘Time for a cup of tea before you get back to work, Angela!’ he joked and steered her towards the back door. There was one more greeting to be offered en route, this time from the edge of the four acres that lay behind the house. Their handyman, gardener and occasional chauffeur was Jimmy Jenkins, a middle-aged scruff whom Richard had inherited along with the large house after the death of his aged aunt.
    ‘Good to see you back, Doc,’ he called, half a Woodbine bobbing on his lip as he spoke. ‘Hope your mam is better! I’ll bring your luggage in from the car.’
    Angela smiled as she gave him a wave. She was glad to be back amongst her good friends, even though she loved the comforts of her family home, a large stud farm in Berkshire where her father was a successful breeder of racehorses. Their first stop was the big kitchen at the back of the house, where Moira bustled about making tea so that they could hear Angela’s news and bring her up to date with events at Garth House.
    Eventually, the three doctors adjourned to Angela’s study-cum-sitting room, on the other side of the front hall from the laboratory. It had a matching bay window looking out over the valley, with the little-used front door between.
    Priscilla came directly to the point. ‘Now that you’re back, I feel redundant,’ she said. ‘I’d better start making plans to move out.’
    Richard Pryor shook his head. ‘Angela and I discussed this on the phone the other night. We were fortunate in getting you to stand in when she had to go away, and we thought it would be for much longer than this. Thankfully, it wasn’t, but we can’t chuck you out so soon. Business is building up quite well, so will you stay for a bit longer? In fact, until you get fixed up with something else.’
    Priscilla looked from one to the other. ‘I’d love to — but I really think I should get back to London and keep looking for a job in archaeology. That’s where most opportunities are likely to arise.’
    She had been lodging in a bed and breakfast in the village half a mile away and, though it was quite comfortable, she missed the bustle of the metropolis, unlike Richard and Angela, who had settled happily into these beautiful rural surroundings.
    Since they first moved in the previous May, they had lived together in the big house, no doubt giving ammunition for the village tongue-waggers in Tintern Parva, just down the valley. However, the arrangement had remained professional and platonic, though there had been a couple of occasions when the conventions had been a little strained.
    Angela and Richard were equal partners in the venture, as when they had set up their partnership earlier that year, Richard contributed both his golden handshake from Singapore University, where he had been Professor of Forensic Medicine, as well as the house he had been left by his aunt. On her part, Angela had put the proceeds of the sale of her London flat into the pot and with the added help of a modest mortgage, they had raised the capital needed to make some alterations to the rooms and equip the laboratory.
    ‘Then stay until the end of this month, at least,’ suggested Angela and, without more persuasion, her friend agreed to remain for a couple more weeks.
    When their business discussions were done, Richard told Angela of current cases and especially the odd request he had had from Cardiganshire about the alleged ‘bog body’. Like Priscilla, his partner knew quite a lot about the finds reported in Denmark and elsewhere, which were obviously of considerable interest to all forensic biologists.
    ‘Let’s see tomorrow whether it’s a sheep or King Arthur!’ said Angela, happy to be back in harness herself.
    The tests next day confirmed that it was not a sheep and, at a stretch, it could be King Arthur, for at least it was human.
    At about ten o’clock next morning, a Triumph motorcycle roared up to the house and a helmeted police officer handed over a small package in return for a signature on his exhibit docket. Richard was due to go down to Chepstow to carry out a couple of routine post-mortems for the coroner at the public mortuary there, but he could not resist waiting to have a look at the specimen. The others crowded around, even Moira, who left her typewriter to have a look at such a curious sample.
    Richard took the small glass bottle from the plywood box that protected it and found a sheet of paper wrapped around it. It was a note on Home Office letter-heading from Philip Rees, one of the forensic scientists at the Cardiff laboratory, whom they had met in a case a month or so earlier.
    ‘It just says that they did a precipitin test and it was unequivocally human tissue,’ he announced. ‘He also says there’s a small piece of cord as well, but they did nothing with that, as they were only asked to carry out a species identification.’
    He peered into the bottle, then handed it to Angela, who diplomatically gave it to Priscilla to deal with. With the others watching, she carefully slid the contents out into a shallow glass dish. A greyish cylinder sat there, with a leathery cap. A short length of thin cord lay alongside it.
    ‘Not very exciting, is it?’ said Sian. ‘Looks like a lump of dirty candle grease.’
    Richard picked up the dish and held it to his nose. ‘Adipocere, as I suspected from the story.’
    He then had to explain to Sian and Moira. ‘When body fat is left for a long time in moist surroundings, it’s often converted into a kind of soap, which can persist for centuries. But bog bodies are usually around two thousand years since death and I just don’t know if adipocere would last that long.’
    ‘What about the scrap of string?’ asked Priscilla.
    Richard shrugged. ‘I’ll leave that to you clever ladies. If we confirm it is human — and I’ve no reason to doubt Cardiff — then there’ll have to be an exhumation. Maybe then the reason for the string will become clear.’
    ‘What about that dark bit on top of the fatty stuff?’ asked Priscilla.
    ‘Could be skin, I suppose. Can you snip a bit off one edge and give it to Sian to process for histology? We can have a look under the microscope then, see what the structure is like.’
    He looked at his watch and hurriedly left for his post-mortem session. Angela, not wanting to appear as if she was supervising her friend, left to do her unpacking upstairs and Moira drifted back to the office before starting on lunch, as her duties included making a light meal for the doctors at midday and something more substantial in the evening. Cleaning, washing and bed-making were now the province of the appropriately-named Mrs Daley, from the village.
    Sian began processing the skin fragment by dropping it into formalin, then had some spare time. She wandered over to Priscilla and watched her deft fingers manipulating small pipettes and a rack of narrow tubes. Sian marvelled at how she could keep her long red-varnished nails so perfect when handling glassware and chemicals.
    ‘What exactly is this test?’ she asked. ‘I’ve heard of it, but I’m not quite sure how it works.’
    ‘It’s been around for ages,’ answered the biologist, always happy to instruct. She pointed to a rack of labelled vials, taken from the refrigerator. ‘These are made from the blood of rabbits immunized with sera from different animals, including humans. A small quantity is injected, which doesn’t hurt the rabbit, but stimulates the production of antibodies specific for the proteins of that particular beast.’
    Sian nodded, she knew about antigen-antibody reactions from her time in the hospital laboratory.
    ‘How do you get a result, then?’
    ‘Basically, an extract is made from the test sample and layered on top of each specific serum in a tube. If an antigen for a particular species is present, then a white line appears at the junction between the two fluids, due to protein being precipitated.’
    She added small amounts of the fluids into a series of tubes as she talked. ‘In this case, I’ll have to get rid of all this fat first and get a clear solution. Let it incubate for a few hours and see what happens. Naturally, we have to set up controls and blanks to make sure the result is genuine.’
    It was the afternoon before all this was done and Priscilla was able to confirm that the substance was definitely human in origin by the time they assembled for tea in the ‘staff room’, between the kitchen and the staircase that went up from the centre of the hall.
    ‘I’d better confirm to the cops in Aberystwyth that they’ve probably got an unexplained body on their patch,’ said Richard. ‘They’ll have to inform the coroner first of all.’
    ‘Could it be an accident or a natural death?’ asked Moira, pouring Brooke Bond into the cups from a large brown pot.
    ‘Could be, I suppose. But when, that’s the question? It was about three feet down and it takes a long time for that thickness of peat to accumulate if the deceased just fell on to the surface.’
    ‘Someone would have seen him then,’ objected the ever-practical Sian. ‘Someone must have dug a hole to put him in.’
    Priscilla looked doubtful. She had plenty of experience of holes in the ground from her work as an archaeologist.
    ‘You can’t be certain about that. Bogs change all the time and there may have been a pool there at the time he was dumped, which would have put him in deeper.’
    ‘We’re saying “he”,’ said Angela. ‘It could be a woman.’
    ‘True enough, replied Richard, taking one of Moira’s Welsh cakes. ‘But what about this bit of string, Priscilla?’
    She had been cast as the expert on ancient bodies, with her qualifications as an anthropologist.
    ‘Some of the other bog people were found either with their throats cut or with a ligature, presumably having been strangled,’ she replied. ‘But I think Richard’s right, we won’t know until it’s dug up!

THREE

    After he had the phone call from Garth House, Meirion Thomas knew he was in for a busy time. He was a detective inspector in Aberystwyth, the only one that the rural county police force possessed. It effectively made him the head of the CID, commanding a couple of sergeants and a few detective constables.
    Though covering a large area, it was sparsely populated, except in the summer, when holidaymakers flocked to the beautiful coast and mountains. Meirion’s usual diet of criminal investigations consisted of housebreaking, theft of outboard motors and sheep stealing. To have a buried corpse was indeed a novelty.
    As Richard Pryor had anticipated, Meirion’s first task was to notify the coroner, a local solicitor in the town. This gentleman was a little hesitant about taking official notice of the matter, as he felt that so far, the evidence of a corpse buried near Borth was a little flimsy. He recalled reading about a fellow coroner in London, who some years ago had declined to hold an inquest on a decayed foot found inside a shoe. It had been washed up on the banks of the Thames, but that coroner had decided that he had no proof that the owner of the foot was necessarily dead!
    Cautiously, his Aberystwyth counterpart asked the detective to keep him informed of any developments and Meirion went off to arrange for the two young botanists from the university to revisit the scene next day.
    Early in the afternoon, he picked them up from Penglais, the hill overlooking the town where many of the college buildings stood, and took Louise Palmer and her student away in a black Wolseley driven by his sergeant, Gwyn Parry. A small van followed them, containing a couple of uniformed constables and some scene equipment. They drove north up the main A487 road through Bow Street, then turned left on to a minor road that looped down towards Borth. After Louise’s description of where in the bog they had made their discovery, the DI parked just beyond the hamlet of Llancynfelyn and they walked across sloping fields down to the level plain of the bog. Geraint Williams soon found the spot where his ragged piece of gorse was still sticking up from the bore hole.
    ‘Here we are, the spot marked “X”!’ he said with almost proprietorial satisfaction. ‘The ground has dried out a bit since then.’
    The detective inspector stared at the mottled browns and greens of the soggy marsh without enthusiasm. He was a stocky, red-faced man of about forty-five, looking more like a farmer than a police officer. This image was enhanced by the long, belted brown raincoat and the flat cap whose peak was pulled down over his forehead. He had a hunch that they were all wasting their time and that a dead sheep lay under the coarse grass and sphagnum moss at their feet. But his immediate superior, a superintendent who was also the Deputy Chief Constable, had said that both the forensic boys in Cardiff and this new Home Office chap in Tintern had declared the stuff that these students had found was human, so they had no choice but to investigate.
    His detective sergeant, though younger and thinner, was another officer of agricultural appearance. Both of them were from farming families and spent a lot of time at night crouched under hedges or in the back of plain vans, waiting in a usually futile attempt to ambush the gangs of Midlands rustlers who invaded Mid-Wales in the small hours. Not unnaturally, sheep were very familiar to them and Gwyn Parry had similar thoughts as his DI about this patch of bog probably hiding a four-legged victim.
    ‘What do you want to do about it, Meirion?’ he asked in Welsh. The inspector pointed behind him to where two constables were approaching, carrying bundles of stakes and a coil of rope.
    ‘Can’t start any digging until the doctor comes tomorrow,’ he replied, using English for Louise’s benefit. ‘We’ll have to organize some muscle from the uniformed boys to do that. Just get our lads to put a cordon around this patch of ground. Though if this young lady is right and what’s down there is a couple of thousand years old, I can’t see that fencing it off for a night is going to matter much!’
    Moira took the call from Aberystwyth later that afternoon and went to find Richard, who was up with Jimmy Jenkins on the sloping field behind the house. They were discussing the two long rows of young vines that they had recently planted, the first stage in Richard’s almost obsessive desire to start a vineyard at Garth House.
    He came in to speak to Meirion Thomas, who confirmed the arrangements for digging into the bog next day. Having already discussed it with Priscilla, he suggested to the detective that it would be wise to have someone else there who had experience of archaeological excavations, either an academic or the county archaeologist, if there was one. Confirming that they would be at the police headquarters by eleven o’clock, Richard went off to talk to the rest of the team.
    ‘Who’s coming with me tomorrow?’ was his first question, as he entered the laboratory. Angela pre-empted any discussion by nominating Priscilla.
    ‘She’s the obvious person for this one, with her anthropology and museum experience,’ she declared. ‘Anyway, someone has to look after the shop and I’m still settling in after being away for weeks.’
    Richard suspected that she was being diplomatic in not wanting her friend to feel as if she was being sidelined, now that she herself was back in harness, but it did seem sensible to take someone who had the most appropriate knowledge.
    ‘An early start, then,’ he said briskly. ‘If it proves to be more than a dead sheep, we may have to stay the night, so throw your toothbrush into a case. It’s at least three hours’ drive from here to Aber, so wagons roll soon after seven o’clock.’
    Next day, the autumn dawn had grown into a red sky over the eastern rim of the valley as the black Humber Hawk set off northwards. Richard Pryor had bought it second-hand when he came home from Singapore almost a year before and, like his vines, it was his pride and joy. The car purred its way towards Monmouth and he settled back for the long ride, feeling contented at doing a job he relished, in spite of its often morbid and sometimes distasteful nature. He was glad to be back in his native Wales after fourteen years in the Far East — and glad also to be sitting alongside such an attractive and vivacious woman as Priscilla Chambers. Today she was dressed in gear suitable for digging corpses from a swamp, but still managed to look elegant. She wore a military-looking raincoat over a green roll-neck sweater and grey trousers. If necessary, her ‘sensible’ shoes could be replaced by a pair of wellingtons carried in the car boot.
    Although Priscilla had been working at Garth House for the past three weeks, he had not learned much about her personal affairs, though he did not doubt that Sian and Moira had already extracted every detail of her life story. However, on the long journey across the centre of Wales, there was plenty of time to talk and Richard soon learned that Priscilla was born in Gibraltar of a military family, her father being a retired major in the Intelligence Corps. He was now teaching mathematics in an Oxford school, where her mother ran a small secretarial agency.
    Priscilla had spent most of the war years in a boarding school in Gloucestershire, then in 1944 went to university on a scholarship. Some mental arithmetic told him that she must be just over thirty years of age, a decade younger than himself.
    For her part, the drive gave Priscilla the chance to fill in the gaps in her knowledge of Richard. From laboratory gossip, she knew some of the facts, but by the time they reached Cardiganshire, she knew that he was the son of a retired family doctor in Merthyr Tydfil, where he had been brought up. Grammar school was followed by medical college in Cardiff before the war, then a couple of years’ pathology training before being called up. He spent the war as an RAMC officer in military hospitals in Egypt and Ceylon before being finally posted to Singapore, when it was reclaimed from the Japanese. Taking local release with the rank of major there in 1946, he stayed on as a civilian pathologist in the General Hospital, doing coroner’s and police work. This came with a part-time teaching post in the university and he ended his nine-year’s service with a professorship in forensic medicine. A very generous redundancy payment had coincided with his aunt’s bequest of Garth House and he had returned at the beginning of the year to set up his private forensic consultant practice with Angela. They had hatched his idea after meeting at a forensic congress the previous year. Angela was disillusioned with her job at the Metropolitan Police Laboratory, where there was little prospect of further promotion, so she threw in her lot with Richard and moved to the Wye Valley. That was six months ago and after a hesitant start, they were now becoming well established, gathering work from coroners, solicitors and the police, as well as Richard’s part-time contract as a lecturer at the medical school in Bristol.
    The roads were quiet and the journey passed pleasantly, Priscilla being enthralled by the lovely countryside and then the lonely hills beyond Rhyader. Like Angela, she was a Thames Valley girl and the Cambrian mountains were a surprise to her.
    They rolled into Aberystwyth before eleven o’clock and found the police station on the elegant promenade, housed in a large granite building which used to be the Queen’s Hotel. The detective inspector met them and took them to his tiny office in the Victorian building, where they were obliged to have a cup of police tea, almost strong enough to hold a spoon upright.
    ‘My sergeant and few uniformed officers have gone up there already,’ he explained. ‘We’ve also asked a lady from the archaeology department of the college to attend, as she seemed very keen to be there.’
    As they went down to the cars in the back yard, Priscilla thought that local archaeologists would be over the moon if an Iron Age bog body was found on their patch, but Richard still maintained that whatever it was, the presence of adipocere was probably too recent for that. They followed the police car in the Humber and, half an hour later, pulled up behind two vans and a pre-war Hillman Minx parked on the road between Llancynfelyn and Ynys Las, the nearest point to where a group of distant figures were congregated on the bog.
    Taking Meirion Thomas’s advice, the two from Tintern took their rubber boots from the back of the car and pulled them on, then followed him across the fields. Richard carried his square black ‘murder bag’ with his instruments, while Priscilla had a bag with a camera and specimen jars.
    Gwyn Parry, the detective sergeant, introduced himself and Doctor Eva Boross, the archaeologist. She was a cheerful, rotund woman of about sixty, with wild grey hair and fingers stained brown from a lifetime of heavy smoking. Wearing a plaid lumberjacket and a pair of riding breeches, she was quite unlike Richard’s mental image of a Hungarian, but her accent was still strong after twenty years in Britain. With their similar professional backgrounds, Priscilla took to her immediately.
    ‘We started digging already,’ announced Eva. ‘The core sample was obtained from three feet down, so with care, nothing will be lost until we get near that depth.’
    The posts and ropes had been moved further out and Doctor Boross had marked out a ten-foot square with pegs and white tape, centred on the borehole. Inside this, a couple of brawny policemen had dug out a deep hole four feet across. A portable pump, borrowed from the Fire Service, was chugging away nearby, discharging coffee-brown water from the hole into a pond fifty yards away. The diggers were putting the black peat into wheelbarrows, which another two constables were wheeling away to be placed carefully on a large tarpaulin laid well outside the working area.
    ‘That’s in case we need to go back to it and look through it in detail,’ Eva Boross explained. ‘Though trying to sieve this wet, fibrous stuff would be a nightmare!’
    She retired to a safe distance to light a cigarette and meticulously dropped her ash back into the packet, though Richard thought this was a little overcautious. Even if the remains below were not all that ancient, he doubted whether a little fag ash on the surface would hinder any investigation.
    ‘How far down have they got?’ asked Richard, moving nearer the edge of the hole to take a look.
    ‘Most of the way, but keeping the bottom in sight is the problem, with the water oozing in all the time,’ said Gwyn Parry.
    Shovelling more carefully now, the constables went down another six inches, then came up for a breather. Plastered up to their knees in black peat, they had a rest, then took over the wheelbarrows, while the other pair went down the hole.
    For almost another hour, Priscilla and Richard waited patiently as relays of constables slid into the excavation, eventually using bricklayer’s trowels rather than spades. The lady from the university used a long measuring stick at intervals, to check the distance from the surface to the bottom of the pit.
    ‘Must be very near now,’ she muttered. ‘Those botany people were quite clear about the depth of their borehole.’
    She had hardly spoken before one digger, almost doubled up in the hole, gave a muffled shout.
    ‘I can feel something here! It’s hard, like a stone.’ His pal decided to clamber up to the surface, to give the other man more room. Everyone came nearer, craning their heads to see down the pit, but the policeman’s large body and the muddy water defeated them.
    ‘Be careful the pump doesn’t suck anything out except water,’ cautioned Richard, imagining vital trace evidence vanishing down the pipe.
    ‘Easier said than done, sir! But I’ll dig a sump well away to one side and put the nozzle in that.’
    A few moments later, he reported that the suction was gaining on the seeping water table and that when he momentarily swept the water away with his hand, he could see a blackened mound alongside a hard whitish thing.
    Doctor Boross looked at Richard.
    ‘I think one of us should take over the digging now, doctor. Perhaps you should have a look first, to see what you can make of it?’
    Thankfully, the constable climbed out of the excavation and Richard took his place. He wore a pair of old army jungle-green trousers inside his wellingtons and an even older leather jacket that he had had since his student days.
    Immediately he was up to his ankles in water, but the powerful pump was more than holding its own, so that the level was slowly dropping back to the deep hole that the constable had dug in one corner. He could see a bulge in the bottom mud and pulled on a pair of thick rubber gloves that he had in his jacket pocket.
    Feeling the lump, his fingers slid over a rounded mass and then, beneath the remaining water, encountered a hard structure, as unyielding as iron. Returning to the mound, he pressed into it and felt a slight indentation form under his fingers. More exploring under the surface gave him some idea of what was lurking beneath.
    ‘It’s a body alright,’ he reported. ‘I can feel bone — and from the shape, it’s certainly no sheep!’
    There was a buzz of excitement from the watchers gathered around the excavation. ‘Is it human, d’you think?’ asked Eva Boross.
    ‘Can’t tell yet. We need to get more water out and a lot more peat.’
    Richard asked for a trowel and when one was handed down, he began carefully digging around the sides of the bulge, as the pump continued to gurgle the opaque water from the sump. After a few minutes, he managed to free both sides of the protrusion, before again feeling around whatever was being exposed.
    ‘I’m sure this is a buttock!’ he proclaimed. ‘I can feel a small hole on top that I can get my finger into. It must be where their drill punched into it.’
    ‘So what shape is the hard stuff?’ demanded Priscilla, leaning over the edge of the cavity. Like the Hungarian lady, she was itching to get down there and use her archaeological talents.
    Richard slid his hand lower, now getting the impression that the axis of the body was diagonally across the excavation. ‘I can feel a thick shaft of bone — and, yes, that must be a femoral head!’
    This was the large knob on the top of thigh bone, where it fits into the hip joint. He straightened up, his back aching. Waving the trowel at the detective inspector, he sounded almost exultant as he confirmed that now the police had something definite to report to the coroner.
    ‘It’s certainly a human corpse — though God knows how long it’s been here!’
    He clambered back out of the excavation, his old trousers plastered with black mud, for a discussion on how they should proceed.
    ‘I suppose now it must be treated as a crime scene, doctor,’ suggested Meirion Thomas. ‘Just in case it’s not a historical find.’
    ‘And if it is ancient, it needs an equally meticulous procedure,’ countered Doctor Boross firmly. ‘Perhaps Doctor Chambers and I should take over from here; we know how it needs to be done.’
    They compromised on a combined operation and while both a police officer and Priscilla took some photographs of the first appearance of the cadaver, the remorseless action of the pump took yet more water from the hole, so that the mound that Richard thought was someone’s backside came more clearly into view.
    It was now well past lunchtime and the DI called a halt, while a constable went back to the vans and returned with a large box of sandwiches, small pork pies and four Thermos flasks of tea.
    ‘We’re certainly not going to finish this tonight,’ said Richard Pryor. ‘We can’t just drag this out of the ground piecemeal. It will have to be removed as intact as we can manage.’
    Priscilla and her new-found friend Eva agreed. ‘It will have to be moved on to some form of support. Perhaps a door or some planks would do,’ suggested the older archaeologist.
    ‘That means the hole will have to be enlarged to make more room,’ said Priscilla. ‘If it’s human, we need well over six feet clearance.’
    Sergeant Parry gave some instructions to a constable who was driving one of the vans and he hurried off, with instructions to return to Aberystwyth and come back with a couple more men and some equipment suitable for moving the body.
    Then, eating and drinking finished, they went back to the excavation, where the pump had now almost dried out the area around the remains.
    ‘We’ll have a go at it for a bit,’ declared Eva Boross and with Priscilla on the other side, they began carefully trowelling away peat into buckets, gradually exposing the corpse. Richard watched intently from above and saw the outline of a body slowly appear. It was obviously lying on its front, the buttocks and back exposed first.
    When the slimy peat was wiped away with a hand, the wrinkled skin appeared almost black, though splits here and there allowed greyish adipocere to show through.
    There was a circular hole in one buttock, where the botanist’s coring tube had penetrated, before hitting the underlying bone of the pelvis.
    ‘The legs are in a bad state, Richard!’ Priscilla called up, after another hour’s work. She was concentrating on the lower end of the body, while Doctor Boross was freeing the shoulders. ‘They are fraying off below thigh level, just bones and some tendon.’
    ‘Best leave them alone for now,’ he advised, peering down at what she was doing. ‘We’ll have to leave them in a block of peat and slide the whole thing on to whatever they bring as a support.’
    A couple of feet away, Eva Boross was also having problems. ‘The skin is very friable, like wet paper,’ she reported. ‘The arms must be tucked under the body. And so far, I haven’t located the head, though I’ve cleared the peat almost to the neck.’
    The photographer was taking pictures every few minutes to record the progress of the exposure of the tattered corpse. The light was now fading as the afternoon wore on, so at intervals the scene was illuminated by the artificial lightning of a flashgun.
    When the two women came up for a rest, two policemen enlarged the edges of the hole to make more room for removing the remains. The van came back with the top of a trestle table and some planks, together with a couple more muscular PCs.
    When Doctor Boross went back down the hole after a quick smoke, she soon discovered two disturbing facts.
    ‘Doctor Pryor, there’s some thin rope here, coming round from the front, it seems. Very frayed, and seems fixed underneath.’
    Richard looked down at a ragged end that she held up.
    ‘There was a tiny strand of what could have come from that, caught up in the botanist’s sample,’ he said.
    ‘Some of the foreign bog bodies were strangled with a cord ligature,’ she said hopefully. ‘I’ll try to expose the neck area. I’m almost up to it.’
    A few moments later, she made another more grisly discovery.
    ‘There’s no head here! I’ve probed up beyond the neck and there’s nothing there except soft peat.’
    Priscilla squelched up from her end and after feeling around, confirmed Eva’s finding. ‘Nothing there, Richard! Unless it’s buried some distance away, it’s certainly not attached to the body. I can feel the ends of the lower neck vertebrae with my fingers.’
    With light rapidly fading under a leaden sky, it was obvious that they could do little more that day except secure the site, so after a discussion, they turned the pump off and laid planks across the hole, with the trestle holding down a large tarpaulin.
    ‘I’ll leave an officer on watch all night,’ said Meirion Thomas. ‘He can sit in a van up on the road and keep an eye out, just in case anyone comes nosing around.’
    The sergeant and his constable from Borth had been around all day, keeping a few curious spectators away from the operation. Now the local PC was deputed for the night watch while the other uniformed men went back to Aberystwyth.
    ‘We’ll have to stay somewhere overnight, Inspector,’ said Richard. ‘It’s impossible to go back to Monmouthshire and then return by morning.’
    ‘I’d love to put you up myself,’ said Eva Boross. ‘But I’ve only got a two-roomed flat near the university.’
    ‘Don’t worry, we can find you somewhere here in Borth,’ said the detective inspector. ‘A lot of bed and breakfasts will be shut in the off season, but I’m sure Sergeant Edwards here knows someone who can put you up. I’ll have to go back to Aber now to report to the chief and notify the coroner.’
    The sergeant, who knew every soul in the little seaside town, had no difficulty in finding them lodgings and after dumping their muddy boots into the back of the Humber, he drove back with them to a line of tall boarding houses facing the sea across the main road. Edwards went into one, part of a three-storey terrace, and conferred with the lady who answered the door.
    Within minutes, they were receiving a warm welcome from Mrs Gwenllian Evans, a genial lady of ample proportions, who showed them to a pair of rooms on the first floor, which had a superb view of the twilit sea just across the road.
    ‘I’ve only got a couple of commercial gentlemen staying tonight,’ she explained. ‘So there’ll be plenty of hot water for a good bath — you look as if you could do with one, with all that old peat on you!’
    She was obviously bursting to know what was going on up on Cors Fachno, the news of which was all over Borth within an hour of the arrival of the police that morning. Taking pity on her, after Priscilla had taken her small case into her room, Richard gave Mrs Evans a short, discreet version, suggesting that it might be a historical burial and that an archaeologist from the university was there with them. He spoke to her in Welsh and was pleased to discover that after years of disuse, he was still reasonably fluent. Both his parents came from Lower Brynaman in Carmarthenshire and at home in Merthyr he had spoken his native language until he left for medical school.
    After he had hauled a decent pair of trousers, pyjamas and dressing gown from his case in the room, he followed the landlady’s instructions to one of the bathrooms down the corridor. Here he washed off the smears of Borth Bog and soaked away the slight aches from even his limited efforts of digging in a cramped hole in the ground.
    He heard the door of Priscilla’s room next door being closed after she returned from her own ablutions and, after a decent interval, went out and tapped on it.
    It opened a short way and he got a glimpse of a silk petticoat and bare feet.
    ‘Sorry, I thought you might be decent by now!’
    She grinned at him. ‘Don’t worry, we’re both doctors, of a sort!’ she joked.
    ‘I wondered if you fancied a walk along the prom and a drink at the nearest pub?’ he offered. ‘The landlady said that supper won’t be until half-past seven.’
    ‘Good idea! Give me ten minutes and I’ll be with you.’
    The walk along the prom turned out to be a trudge in the dark along the top of the two-mile embankment that kept the sea from inundating Borth. Richard entertained Priscilla with the ancient legend of Cantref Gwaelod, the sunken land directly out at sea, flooded when Seithenyn, the drunken custodian of the sluice gates, allowed the sea to inundate it. She listened intently and he realized that part of her undoubted attractiveness was the fact that she made everyone she met feel that they had her undivided attention.
    After a quarter of a mile, they turned around and walked back to the town. Richard had an unerring instinct for good pubs and soon found a cosy snug in the Victoria Inn. In front of an open fire, Priscilla had a gin and tonic and Richard a pint of Felinfoel ale from the famous brewery in Llanelli, the first he had enjoyed for fifteen years.
    She had changed into a different jumper and a flared green skirt, a camel-hair coat thrown over her shoulders. They sat in comfortable companionship, discussing first the events of the day and the prospects for tomorrow.
    Richard felt utterly relaxed in the company of this stunning woman, though little niggles of guilt assailed him from time to time. By the middle of his second pint, he was feeling vaguely disloyal to Angela for being so contented, whilst she was sitting alone in an empty house a hundred miles away. The two women were totally different, he thought. Angela was very good-looking and exceptionally well dressed, but was a rather quiet, reserved woman. When Richard had first met her at that conference, he had thought her something of an ice maiden, though better acquaintance proved that she had considerable warmth under her protective aloofness.
    In spite of living in such close proximity for months, their relationship had never strayed from the strictly platonic, though on a recent visit to London when they went up for a case, the glimmerings of romance had arisen, to be quickly suppressed for the sake of their professional relationship.
    Priscilla, so very attractive in a more overt way, was a talkative, gregarious extrovert, spontaneous in the expression of her feelings. In Singapore, he had had several affairs with expatriates since his divorce, but that had all ended more than a year ago and being with Priscilla now revived feelings that had lain dormant all that time.
    He thought ruefully that perhaps it was just as well that she was not a permanent fixture in Garth House — and that they were not living under the same roof, as he was with Angela. Reluctantly, he looked at his watch.
    ‘Another quarter of an hour and we’d better get back to Mrs Evans,’ he said. ‘Mustn’t miss her meat and two veg after all that digging we’ve done today.’
    Priscilla used the time to discover more about his marital history. Though she had had an outline from Sian, she openly fished for more details and learned that he had met his former wife Miriam in the military hospital in Ceylon where he had been a medical officer during the war.
    ‘She was a civilian radiographer and British girls were in short supply there,’ he explained. ‘We got married Army style, dress uniforms, arcade of swords, the whole works!’
    Priscilla’s big eyes gleamed at the thought of a tropical wedding with all the trimmings. ‘But it didn’t last?’ she asked.
    ‘It was fine for a few years. Then I was posted to Singapore and she came over when things settled down and I got a job in the teaching hospital. But we had no children and she got bored, I suppose. An expat society like that is not the best place for an attractive woman with too much time on her hands.’
    Priscilla took his meaning and smiled sadly. Getting up, she shrugged her coat back over her shoulders and held out a hand to pull him from his chair.
    ‘Come on, professor or major or whatever you are. Time for that meat and veg!’
    As they walked back along the main street in the dark, she slipped her arm easily through his, as the waves hissed and sighed on the shingle beach nearby.
    That night, as he lay on his bed, he was very conscious of the fact that Priscilla was lying only a couple of feet away on the other side of the wall.

FOUR

    After a hearty Welsh breakfast at seven o’clock, they said goodbye to the amiable Mrs Evans, and in their working clothes once more, set off in the Humber, which had been parked all night in the road outside. When they reached the scene, all the players from the previous day were there, with the addition of the deputy chief constable, who in such a small police force as Cardiganshire, only held the rank of superintendent. David John Jones was a tall, dark man with the deep-set eyes of an Iberian Celt and though he was perfectly civil to them, Richard had the feeling that he was rather suspicious of outsiders from Monmouthshire on his patch. However, when the pathologist spoke to him in his native language, he loosened up and informed Richard that if this turned out to be a suspicious death, Scotland Yard may have to be called in, as their minuscule CID was not manned or equipped to run a murder investigation. This was a standing arrangement made by the Home Office to assist smaller constabularies.
    They moved across to the excavation, where some officers had removed the coverings. Underneath, the hole was still partly full of water, though as the body had already been in a waterlogged swamp for an unknown number of years, another night’s soaking should make no difference. The pump had been started and the level was dropping quickly. As they waited, Richard asked what facilities were available for him once they had got the body out of the marsh.
    ‘There’s a decent mortuary at Aberystwyth General Hospital,’ replied Meirion Thomas. ‘The whole place was rebuilt just before the outbreak of war. That’s where the coroner’s cases are sent.’
    ‘You’ve told the coroner, Meirion?’ demanded David Jones.
    ‘Yes, sir, last night. He said to keep him informed about what we find today.’
    Soon the pump had sucked the water down to the level of the sump and the remains were once again exposed. Richard courteously invited Eva Boross to be first in the hole, as she had the most experience of digging artefacts from the ground.
    ‘Looks much the same as we left it, but some of the peat underneath has washed away while under the water,’ she reported. ‘Best plan is to clear all around now, then undercut the peat until we can slide the whole thing on to that door.’
    It took an hour to carefully isolate the long rectangle of peat supporting the body, Priscilla and Richard taking turns to relieve Eva of the back-breaking task. Then a couple of PCs manoeuvred the door alongside and gently, the block of peat and its macabre cargo were slid across on to its firm support.
    As the door was manhandled to the surface and laid on the large tarpaulin, the Deputy Chief stared at the body with a frown on his saturnine features. ‘It’s a very dark colour! D’you think he’s black?’
    ‘All those foreign bog bodies were like that,’ said the archaeologist. ‘It’s the tannin in the peat that does it.’
    The detective sergeant was whispering something to his inspector and Meirion turned around to look. Up on the road, there was now a small crowd of onlookers and he saw one with a camera.
    ‘We’ve got an audience already! I’ll bet the Cambrian News has got wind of it by now.’
    The DCC scowled. ‘Damned nuisance, they are! I’ll bet if you found a body in the middle of the Sahara, there’d be people popping up from behind rocks inside half an hour.’
    ‘I can’t examine him properly here, especially with those folks watching, even though they’re a good distance away,’ said Richard Pryor. ‘Better cover him up until we can move him.’
    The edges of the tarpaulin were lifted up and folded over the remains, then secured with cord. Two brawny constables then carried it away like stretcher-bearers to the larger of the two police vans parked up on the road.
    As soon as they had left, Richard stood with Priscilla and Eva Boross, looking down into the now-vacant hole in the peat.
    ‘Definitely no head, unless it’s still buried in the peat well away from the rest of the body,’ he said.
    The archaeologist agreed. ‘To be on the safe side, I feel we should ask the police to clear the peat away for a few feet all around where the body was, even if it means making the hole a lot bigger. You never know what you might find.’
    They collected their kit together and walked back to the cars, where, as David Jones had suspected, a young reporter from the local paper was with the dozen onlookers, ready with his camera and notebook. The detective inspector went over to him and had a few words, which seemed to satisfy him. Wellingtons came off again and Richard was glad that he had lined the floor of his car boot with old newspapers, which caught the worst of the mess.
    They followed the police van back to Aberystwyth where its cargo was taken to the mortuary behind the hospital in North Road. The porter who acted as part-time mortuary assistant looked askance at the peat-stained bundle that was carried in to his clean post-mortem room, though at least it didn’t smell, like some of the drowned bodies belatedly recovered from the sea or the river.
    Sergeant Parry, with that facility that policemen have for cadging from local institutions, took the three scientists off to the doctor’s dining room, where they were served with tea and sandwiches. Home-cured ham and fresh salmon were very welcome, especially at a time when the austerity of post-war rationing was only just disappearing.
    By the time they got back to the mortuary, the porter and two policemen had unwrapped the body, and now the door lay on a slab, already shedding black peat on to the surrounding floor.
    ‘Sorry about the mess,’ apologized Richard, but the porter, a fat man with a shining bald head, had become philosophical about the debris. ‘Don’t worry, doctor, I’ll hose it all down when you’re finished.’
    Richard took a long red-rubber apron from a hook on the wall and hung it from his neck by a chain, another chain hooking it around his waist. Priscilla gave him some rubber gloves from his case and stood by with their camera, to add their own record to those taken by the police photographer. Meirion Thomas, Gwyn Parry and Eva Boross formed the audience, plus a couple of policemen who stood with white enamel mugs at the back of the room, drinking tea made by the mortuary man.
    ‘Right, let’s get on with it,’ said Richard, advancing on the body. He had a bucket of water and a sponge and began by gently cleaning the back surface of the trunk. Wrinkled and almost black, the skin was leathery down to the lower part of the buttocks, where it frayed off to expose the bones of the thighs. The lower parts of the legs and feet were still embedded in peat and when he removed it, they virtually fell apart into a collection of loose bones, ligaments and tendons, all stained brownish yellow. At the other end, removal of more peat revealed the bare end of the spine at mid-neck level, with two loose vertebrae not connected to anything.
    While more photographs were being taken, Eva asked if he thought it was male or female.
    ‘We keep calling it “him”,’ replied Richard. ‘It’s so distorted that it’s hard to tell yet, until we can turn him — or her — over.’
    The piece of cord was hanging loose and Priscilla used a pair of forceps to pick up the end for a closer look.
    ‘That bit we had with the core sample must be a single strand of this — there are three, twisted in a loose spiral.’ The DI, true to his farming origins, said that it looked like binder twine, a hemp or sisal cord used to tie up bales of hay.
    The archaeologist’s main concern was the date of the remains, though she had more or less given up hope of it being very ancient. ‘Anything to suggest its age?’ she asked hopefully.
    Richard shook his head as he carried on digging away at surplus peat. ‘Nothing yet, but the problem is I don’t know how much being buried in an acidic bog full of tannin affects the rate of decay.’
    ‘How long would a body last in ordinary soil?’ asked Eva, who professionally had never had to deal with anything but ancient deaths.
    ‘Depends on many factors, like the type of soil, especially acidity, wetness and temperature,’ he replied, as he continued to ferret away at the encroaching peat. ‘Left on the surface, there’s often not much left after a year except bones, but animal predators like rats, foxes and insects are responsible for much of that. Buried, the corpse will last much longer, but again depending on whether or not it’s in a sound coffin.’
    ‘A couple of cases I saw when I was with the Met, still had cartilage on the joints and some tendons after a year,’ offered Priscilla.
    ‘Sure, but five years certainly sees off all the soft tissues, if they’re not buried. Doctor Boross, do you know what the old bog bodies were like internally after all that time?’
    The archaeologist, virtually a chain smoker, tapped the ash from her latest Gold Flake into the big porcelain sink.
    ‘Quite good organ preservation in some, I recall. Even the stomach contents were identifiable, but some had very pliable bones, due to the acid water decalcifying them.’
    Richard tapped the exposed thigh bone with a wide knife that he was using to dig out the peat. ‘These are exceptionally hard, I must say! So again that’s against our friend here being from the dawn of history.’
    It was when he started sponging down the shoulders and upper arms that this speculation was abruptly confirmed. The arms were still tucked under the body, but on wiping the slimy coating from just below the right shoulder, Richard stopped and bent to peer more closely at the dark grey, wrinkled skin.
    ‘What the hell’s this? Priscilla, there’s a torch in that case, can you bring it, please.’
    They all clustered round as she aimed the beam at where his finger was pointing. Very faintly, there were darker marks under the surface and when he smoothed out the wrinkles between a finger and thumb, they saw the blurred outlines of a tattoo.
    ‘I don’t think Batman was around in the Iron Age!’ he said, with a tinge of disappointment.
    After their session in the mortuary, they adjourned to the DCC’s office in the old police building on the promenade. It was now late afternoon and Richard and Priscilla had a long journey ahead of them back to the Wye Valley, but they needed to take stock of what they had learned so far.
    David John Jones sat behind his DI’s desk as they drank the inevitable cups of tea. The two from Tintern had been offered a meal in a local hotel, but as Richard decided that they would stop somewhere on the way home, they held their discussion straight away.
    ‘So we’ve got a murder on our hands,’ said the senior officer, with a sigh of resignation. ‘We’ll have to get the Yard in straight away. This is beyond us. I’ve only got one ranking CID officer for the whole of Cardiganshire — and we’ve already got a clutch of burglaries and two sheep-stealings to cope with.’
    Richard nodded his understanding. ‘We’ll do all we can to help with the forensic pathology side, though of course, the Home Office lab in Cardiff must look at any physical evidence, like that cord that was used to strangle the fellow.’
    The post-mortem had not been all that helpful, with such an incomplete and decayed body to work with, but there seemed little doubt that the ligature that had been wound twice around the neck was the cause of death. A length of similar cord had tied both wrists together in front of the body, even though the underlying skin and bones had disintegrated inside it.
    ‘First thing is, we need to know who the bugger was!’ said Meirion Thomas in his forthright manner. ‘No fingerprints, as he had no fingers left. All we’ve got so far is a flaming tattoo!’
    ‘What’s this Batman business?’ demanded the DCC, who was hardly up to date with modern trends.
    ‘Apparently he’s a character in Yankee comics and films, sir,’ said Gwyn Parry.
    ‘At least it can give us an earliest date for this chap,’ declared Richard. ‘Though how you discover when the Batman character was first published, I’ve no idea.’
    Their earlier doubts of the sex of the body had been solved by the pathologist’s brief study of the pelvic bones, which were largely exposed in the collapsing corpse. The front of the cadaver was in a far worse state than the back, with hardly any skin left and all the organs degenerated, including the genitals. With no head, sexing it was down to an interpretation of the bones, but both Richard and Priscilla were in no doubt of its maleness — added to which was the fact that women rarely went in for tattoos.
    ‘Have we any idea of his height, doctor?’ asked the detective inspector.
    ‘Looks about average from his bones, but Doctor Chambers here is the real expert. No doubt she’ll need to take some accurate measurements of the leg bones when we get back to base.’ Privately, he knew he could have done it equally well himself, but he wanted to give Priscilla as big a role as possible.
    Superintendent David Jones looked quizzically at his two CID staff.
    ‘Any outstanding missing persons in the last few years?’ he demanded.
    ‘Problem is, sir, we don’t know how many years are involved,’ replied Meirion. ‘No one comes to mind from this part of the county, but I’ll have to go through the records.’
    ‘And you can’t even hazard a guess as to the time this fellow died, doctor?’ persisted the deputy chief.
    Richard shook his head. ‘I wouldn’t want to mislead you by picking a figure out of the air. I’m sure he’s been in that bog more than a few years — but it could be ten or even twenty, perhaps much more.’
    He turned to Eva Boross, who had the inevitable cigarette in her fingers. ‘Any possibility of the depth it was buried in the ground being helpful — or something to do with the vegetation at that depth?’
    The Hungarian also shook her head despondently. ‘I doubt it, but it might be worth me asking the botany people at the university. The body could never have sunk that deep from the surface in a few years, so it must have either been put into a hole dug in the peat — or there may have been a pool there then. The bog changes all the time, according to rainfall and changes in underground water.’
    They talked around the apparently insoluble problems for a little longer, then the meeting broke up.
    ‘I’ll have to go and tell the Chief Constable what’s happening,’ muttered David Jones. ‘I’ve no doubt he’ll contact Scotland Yard tomorrow. Meirion, you can let the coroner know what’s going on.’
    With mutual thanks and promises to keep closely in touch, Richard and Priscilla made their escape, saying goodbye to the archaeologist, with whom Priscilla already seemed to have made firm friends. It was beginning to get dusk as they drove up into the hills on their way home across Mid-Wales, with some of the unknown body’s bones wrapped in newspaper in a margarine box in the boot.
    ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m starving,’ complained Richard. ‘Sandwiches and endless cups of police tea are fine in their way, but I could do with a square meal.’
    They found a hotel in Builth Wells able to satisfy their pangs of hunger. It was an old-fashioned hostelry in the main street, a gloomy place with everything varnished a dark brown, but it had a dining room and quite an extensive menu. The food turned out to be surprisingly good, even though they seemed to be the only patrons that evening. Once again, Priscilla marvelled at the quality and choice on offer, considering that wartime food rationing had only ended the previous year. Over oxtail soup, roast beef and apple tart with fresh cream, they went over the events of the past thirty-six hours.
    ‘I’ve really enjoyed it, Richard, thanks so much for letting me come,’ enthused Priscilla. ‘I thought mysterious strangled and beheaded bodies were only found in London and the big cities, not in a little place out in the sticks like Borth! What on earth can it be all about?’
    Richard grinned at her. ‘You English people, you think you have a monopoly on violent crime! There’s as much intrigue and vendettas in rural areas as in any city, we’re just better at concealing it.’
    They went into the adjacent lounge for coffee and Richard ordered a couple of brandies to go with it.
    ‘So what happens next?’ asked the auburn-haired biologist. ‘There seems little more we can do to help identify this fellow.’
    ‘We urgently need the head, though God knows what state it would be in. At least we had a bit of bog tanning to preserve the trunk. We’d not have seen that tattoo but for that.’
    ‘There’s no doubt about him being strangled, I suppose?’
    Richard warmed the brandy glass in his hand. ‘There was that double ligature tied in a knot and what was left of the larynx had a crack through the cricoid cartilage. Of course, he might have been shot through the head as well, but as we haven’t got it, we can’t tell!’
    ‘And the poor chap’s hands were tied together,’ said Priscilla, with a shudder. ‘A nasty, sadistic sort of case.’
    ‘More like some gangland killing,’ agreed Richard. ‘But there are not many gangsters in sleepy Cardiganshire.’
    Eventually, they reluctantly dragged themselves away from the fire in the lounge and Richard went to find the landlord to settle the bill. Priscilla offered to pay her share, but Richard waved it aside.
    ‘Like last night at Mrs Evans’, we can legitimately charge it to the partnership as expenses. The police or the coroner will foot the bill eventually.’
    Before they left, Richard used the coin telephone in the hotel corridor to ring Garth House. When he pressed Button A, he was strangely happy to hear Angela’s calm tones, reassuring him that all was well and that she was looking forward to seeing them arrive home.
    ‘It’s not a bog body, but it’s a murder, though heaven knows when it happened,’ he told her. ‘We’ll tell you all about it in about an hour and a half.’
    The rest of the journey seemed to take longer than that, as he peered down the tunnel cut by the headlights through the dark countryside. After her good meal and a brandy, Priscilla soon dozed off and only woke when the Humber revved up the driveway to the house. Angela had tea and biscuits ready for them and they sat in her lounge for a while, giving her a detailed account of their activities in Cardiganshire.
    ‘So you’ve no idea who he was or when he was killed?’ she asked at the end.
    Priscilla raised her hands in mock despair. ‘Not a clue, Angela! At least the only one is that he had this Batman tattoo. Have you any idea when that idiotic business began?’
    The other woman shook her head. ‘I’ve just about heard of it. Isn’t it an American comic strip or something? Perhaps the dead man was a Yank?’
    ‘Well, that’s not our problem,’ said Richard, yawning mightily. ‘Let the police follow it up — probably your pals from Scotland Yard.’
    He immediately felt that he might have said the wrong thing, for Angela was still bitter about the defection of her former fiance in favour of another woman — and he was a detective superintendent from that same famous institution. However, she made no sign that it had registered, though he knew that Angela was adept at concealing her feelings.
    ‘Time for bed, folks,’ suggested Priscilla and soon Richard drove her the short distance to Tintern Parva, where she had comfortable lodgings in a bed and breakfast establishment used mostly by summer walkers and holidaymakers.
    Angela waited up until he returned, then they both made for the stairs. ‘Did you enjoy your night away with our glamour girl, Richard?’ she said without a trace of sarcasm. ‘I think Moira was afraid that you’d be led off the path of righteousness!’
    He gave her one of his famous grins. ‘Yes, we had a romantic drink in the local pub and then a passionate meat and two veg in Mrs Evans’ den of sin!’
    ‘No, somehow I don’t see you as a lecherous seducer, Richard,’ she said, as she left him at the upper landing.
    As he went towards his own room, he wondered if he detected a hint of disappointment in her voice.

FIVE

    Next day, they got down to the job of examining the material they had brought back from Aberystwyth.
    The bones were laid out on a large sheet of brown paper on the big table in the laboratory and everyone, including Moira, was keen to see what could be discovered. They all stood around expectantly, the morning sun lighting the exhibits through the wide bay window.
    ‘We’ve got a right femur, a tibia and half the pelvis,’ pointed out Richard, who had put on a white coat and a pair of rubber gloves. ‘And there are three vertebrae from the neck, as well as some soft tissues.’
    Priscilla, similarly attired, had their osteometry board ready on the side of the table. This was a varnished board a couple of feet long with a long ruler screwed along one edge and a fixed ledge sticking up at the bottom.
    ‘The police were keen to get his height, so shall I start with that?’ she said. At Richard’s nod, she put the long thigh bone, stained brown by the peat, on to the board, so that the knee end was against the ledge. Then she moved a sliding bar down from the top until it touched the upper knob of bone which would have fitted into the hip joint.
    Adjusting the lie of the bone so that the maximum length was being measured, she read off the number of centimetres on the scale, which she wrote on a sheet of paper, then did the same for the tibia, the bone from the lower leg.
    Turning to an open textbook and couple of loose dog-eared papers, she ran her finger down some columns of figures and scribbled some calculations on the sheet.
    ‘According to Trotter and Gleser, he should be between five-foot eight and five-ten. Using the old Pearson formula, he’s five-seven and five-nine.’
    ‘How do you make that out?’ demanded Sian, always thirsty for knowledge.
    Priscilla laid a hand on the book and the reprints.
    ‘Anatomists have published several surveys of bone length from bodies where they already knew the height. Pearson did that at the end of the last century, but Krogman wrote a guide for the FBI in 1939 and only a few years ago, Trotter and Gleser did another big survey on war casualties, including many from Korea.’
    ‘So why do you get different answers?’ persisted their technician, a valid query which Richard answered.
    ‘These surveys were done on different populations, including different ethnic groups. And there’s always an error zone of at least an inch and a half.’
    Angela, her arms folded, looked down at the bones on the table. ‘So the likelihood is that he was between five-feet eight and five-feet nine?’
    ‘That’s about the best we can do,’ replied Priscilla. ‘Certainly not very tall or very short. In fact, he was like most men in Britain, which doesn’t help the police much!’
    ‘Anything else you can tell us?’ asked Richard hopefully. ‘What about race, for instance?’
    Their tame anthropologist picked up the thigh bone again and turned it over in her hands, sighting along the shaft.
    ‘Nothing significant without a skull, but the only racial variation in leg bones is in the length of the femur in Negroid ethnic groups. This one’s certainly not that.’
    ‘What about the colour of that skin?’ asked Sian, pointing to a glass pot in which a scrap of loose skin was immersed in fixing fluid. ‘It’s even darker than that little bit we got from the borehole.’
    ‘Years of being soaked in black peat can account for that,’ said Richard. ‘But you’ll have to process the bits for the microscope, just to check for melanin and exclude any racial marker.’
    This was getting a little complicated for Moira who, with a sigh, went back to her office. She felt a little depressed that the other three women seemed so much at home with these technical matters and wished that she had better skills than just hitting typewriter keys.
    However, Angela also felt she was contributing little to this latest case, as her expertise in serology seemed unlikely to assist in identifying ‘Mr Bog’, as Sian had started to call the victim.
    ‘I suppose I had better do a blood group on the remains, though I can’t see that an ABO and Rhesus are going to help much,’ she said.
    Richard immediately picked up on the fact that his partner was feeling left out of this investigation and hastened to draw her in.
    ‘Of course you should; we must have as much information as we can, Angela. You never know, we might need to exclude someone the cops turn up, even if we can’t get a positive match.’
    Priscilla was carefully replacing the thigh bone back on the table, after finishing with the measuring device. As she did so, she weighed it up and down in her hand before laying it back on the brown paper.
    ‘I know I’m more used to handling frail archaeological skeletons, but don’t you think these are unusually heavy?’ she commented, looking at Richard with a slight frown.
    ‘Yes, I noticed that in the mortuary yesterday,’ he agreed, taking the bone from her and hefting it a few times himself. He looked across at Sian. ‘Can you decalcify a piece, if I saw it out for you?’
    Their technician nodded. ‘But it’ll take a week before I can cut sections,’ she warned. To get a thin slice of bone suitable for looking at under the microscope required that the chalky calcium part must be dissolved out in weak acid.
    Richard tapped the long bone against the edge of the table and felt it as unyielding as a rod of iron.
    ‘I’d like to get this X-rayed, too,’ he said. ‘I’ll take it up to Hereford Hospital; they’ll do it for me. I’ve got a coroner’s case there on Thursday, one of these operating theatre deaths.’
    ‘What are you looking for, Richard?’ asked Angela.
    ‘I’ve got an idea brewing in the back of my mind — and an X-ray may also give some indication of the age of this chap. The internal structure alters with advancing age, though admittedly it’s most useful when they are over fifty or sixty.’
    He set about sawing a narrow slice from the shaft of the bone with a stainless-steel implement from his autopsy kit. Though the slice was only a quarter of an inch wide and went less than halfway through the bone, it took him five minutes and left him with an aching arm.
    ‘My God, that’s like flint!’ he complained, as he handed over the sliver of bone to Sian to put in a pot of formalin.
    ‘What else can we do?’ asked Priscilla, waving a gloved hand at the debris on the table.
    ‘This is where Angela comes in,’ he replied, eager to involve her in the examination. ‘I had a quick look at the vertebrae in the mortuary, but the light was not at all good in the late afternoon. See what you make of them, Angela.’
    Though primarily a forensic biologist, the handsome brunette had had many years’ general experience in the ‘Met Lab’, as everyone called it, and could turn her hand to most aspects of forensic science. She pulled on some gloves and carefully arranged the three spinal vertebrae so that they interlocked in the proper anatomical position.
    ‘That’s all there was left of the neck?’
    He nodded. ‘Just the lower three of the seven vertebrae. The upper ones must have gone with the head, as there was no sign of them anywhere in the adjacent peat.’
    Angela picked up the top one, and looked at the central part with the hole for the spinal cord and the long spine at the back, between the two shorter wings that stuck out each side.
    ‘It’s had a bit of a bashing! Must have been chopped from the back.’ She took a lens from the pocket of her white coat and studied the upper surface intently.
    ‘There are deep cut marks, one almost going right through the left transverse process. And another that’s split the back of the vertebral body.’
    ‘Yes, I saw those. But what do you think caused them? A knife or something heavier?’
    Angela took her time in replying, as she peered again through her lens. ‘Heavier, definitely. The edges are crushed, rather than sliced. I would think something like a cleaver or one of those agricultural billhooks.’
    ‘Not an axe?’
    ‘It would have to be a very sharp one, if it was. I’d prefer something with a thinner blade.’
    Sian was looking at the small bone with fascination, visions of Mary Queen of Scots with her head on the block filling her mind. ‘But you’re sure he had his head chopped off, then?’
    Richard stepped in, afraid that the girl might have nightmares about this. ‘Almost certainly after he was dead, Sian. He was strangled, remember?’
    ‘Why would they do that, Doctor Pryor?’ she asked, wide-eyed.
    ‘Almost certainly to stop us identifying him — and they seem to have succeeded, so far!’ he replied wryly.
    ‘You think it was a “we”, rather than a single killer?’ asked Priscilla.
    ‘Seems more likely, given he was tied up, throttled, beheaded and then buried out in a marsh,’ replied Richard. ‘Though it’s always risky to be dogmatic in this business.’
    ‘Nothing in the way of old injuries or scars, I suppose?’ asked Angela.
    ‘Unfortunately not. Almost the only surviving skin was on the back, so the abdominal area was missing, which might have had operation scars. All we have is that tattoo.’
    ‘Well, let’s hope the police have some luck with Batman!’ said Angela, pulling off her gloves.
    Two days later and a hundred miles away, they were not having much luck with anything. The police house in Upper Borth was far too small for an incident room, so one had been set up in a disused hut about half a mile from the place where the body was exhumed. An army camp had been built during the war for some undisclosed purpose on the sand dunes at Ynys Las, near the top end of Borth’s great beach. Though it had been closed some years earlier, several of the long timber huts were still intact and with the power and phone reconnected, the police had installed the essentials they needed — trestle tables, chairs and the vital kettle and teapot.
    As predicted, the chief constable had sought the help of the Metropolitan Police and late that afternoon, a detective superintendent and a sergeant arrived from New Scotland Yard, after an arduous train journey to Aberystwyth via Shrewsbury. Meirion Thomas picked them up at the station and took them to the Headquarters on the seafront to meet the chief and his deputy.
    ‘We’ve put you up in a hotel here in town for tonight, then comfortable digs in Borth from tomorrow,’ explained the local DI.
    In the chief constable’s office, over coffee and biscuits, the London man, Paul Vickers and his assistant, DS Howard Squires, were given an account of the case, though so far, it was not very much. Paul Vickers listened impassively, leaving his questions until the end. He was not all that pleased at being sent down to a remote part of Wales at such short notice, especially as he had promised to take his fiance to the opera at Covent Garden on Wednesday and had already bought expensive tickets. But his name was next on the rota of senior detectives to be farmed out to the provinces and having an eye on promotion to chief superintendent, he could not afford to be difficult about it.
    When Meirion Thomas had finished and the DCC had added a few more words, the London man laid his hand on the thin file that he had been given, which contained a summary of the investigation.
    ‘So what have you managed to do so far?’ he asked, trying to keep any condescension from his voice.
    ‘All the usual preliminary stuff, without getting a whiff of a result,’ replied the local CID man. ‘House to house in Borth and the nearby villages, though without a photograph or any sort of physical description of the chap or even his clothing, it was a waste of time.’
    ‘The only thing we have is that Batman tattoo,’ added Gwyn Price. ‘But it didn’t ring a bell with anyone — though of course, being up near the shoulder, it would never have been visible unless he was stripped or in bathing trunks.’
    ‘What about missing persons in the area?’ ventured Squires. David Jones jumped back into the discussion, anxious to assert his rank.
    ‘Trouble is, what area? And what time frame? We’ve got a few people reported missing in the county over the past ten years, but with a large summer tourist influx, the population is very fluid.’
    Paul Vickers, a large, heavily handsome man of thirty-nine, with black hair and an expensive suit, pondered the answers.
    ‘So what have you got on his body and time of death?’ he demanded of Meirion.
    ‘The pathologist says it’s impossible to tell when he died to within a good many years, because of the preservative effect of the bog. But the tattoo must put some limit on it, when we can get some more information about this damned cartoon character.’
    ‘What about physical description?’
    ‘You’ll see tomorrow that he was little more than bones and some skin, as well as being minus his head, so the pathologist can only estimate that he was around five-feet eight in height, give or take a couple of inches, which is not a lot of use. No other distinguishing marks, he said.’
    ‘Who is this pathologist? Is he used to this sort of case?’ asked the sergeant, in a tone that suggested that civilization petered out west of Reading.
    Meirion Thomas jumped to defend Richard Pryor.
    ‘He’s a Home Office pathologist and, in fact, was a professor of forensic pathology. Not only that, but he had another lady scientist with him, who used to work in your laboratory in London.’
    Vickers sat up in his chair and looked intently at the detective inspector. ‘What was her name? Was it Doctor Bray?’
    His voice was suddenly tense, but Meirion shook his head. ‘No, it was Chambers; she said she specialized in anthropology.’
    Sergeant Squires nodded. ‘I saw her at a scene in Battersea once. A very attractive lady indeed!’
    Vickers seemed to relax. ‘The pathologist must have been Richard Pryor, the one that came back from Singapore. I met him briefly in a shooting near Gloucester some months ago.’
    The social chat over, there was little else to be done except arrange for the two London men to be picked up at their hotel in the morning and taken to the incident room at Borth. The local DI and sergeant dropped them off at the Bellevue Hotel, just along the seafront from the police headquarters, then went to the nearest pub for a pint before going wearily to their own homes.
    ‘That pair think we are still in the colonies,’ grumbled Gwyn Parry. ‘Condescending couple of bastards!’
    Antipathy between county police and the Metropolitan Police was traditional. Some forces felt it was an admission of inferiority to have to ‘call in the Yard’, but Meirion Thomas took a more phlegmatic view of the situation.
    ‘It’s no good getting uptight about them, Gwyn. There’s no way we can carry on with this on our own. This fellow could have been brought to Borth from anywhere and dumped in that bog. We can’t go looking all over Great Britain for him!’
    Next morning, while Vickers and his sergeant were travelling towards Borth in the back seat of a police car, Richard Pryor was sitting in his office in Garth House. He was holding up a large X-ray film to the window, so that Angela and Priscilla could see it against the daylight outside. They all looked intently at the dense white image of the thigh bone, which contrasted sharply with the black of the surrounding celluloid.
    ‘What d’you make of that, ladies?’ he asked chirpily. Angela could tell that he was pleased with what he had discovered, but she was not going to give in easily.
    ‘I suppose the radiologist in Hereford told you what it was, clever-sticks!’ she chided.
    Richard pretended to be affronted. ‘He only confirmed what I already suspected! Ever heard of Albers-Schonberg?’
    ‘Sounds like an Austrian composer or a psychiatrist,’ suggested Priscilla, facetiously. Richard grinned and waggled the film in his hand.
    ‘No, he was a German radiologist, who described this disease in 1904. It’s better known as “Marble Bone Disease”, for obvious reasons.’
    ‘It’s not obvious to me,’ said Angela, stoutly. ‘Pris and I are proper doctors, not physicians!’
    Richard became serious and pointed to the dense white shaft of the bone.
    ‘We thought the femur was very heavy and with good reason. This is a quite rare genetic defect in which the bone becomes extraordinarily dense and thickened. Look, there’s hardly any marrow cavity down the middle of the bone. It’s all overgrown and as hard as a rock — in fact, the modern name for the disease is “osteopetrosis”, meaning rock-like bones.’
    ‘So what makes you so excited about this, apart from your academic interest?’ asked Priscilla. Richard dropped the film on to his desk.
    ‘Well, because it’s so rare. Maybe there’s a medical record somewhere of this chap, if he was ever seen in a hospital. Although the bone is so hard, it’s brittle, so they get a lot of fractures. And it seriously affects the skull as well, so if they ever find a spare head somewhere, we could match it to this fellow.’
    The two scientists were quite impressed after all.
    ‘Quite a unique pair of identifying features, Richard,’ said Angela. ‘Albers-Schonberg disease and a Batman tattoo!’
    ‘Better than nothing, which is what we had when we dug him up,’ said Richard defensively. ‘Something useful to tell the cops, anyway.’
    Angela hauled herself off the corner of his desk, ready to go back to her work in the laboratory.
    ‘You said something about possibly telling the age of the body from his bone X-rays… any joy there?
    ‘Not really, according to the radiologist,’ he replied.
    ‘The presence of this great thickening obscures the details of the internal structure, especially as the marrow cavity is partly obliterated. Normally, the internal architecture of weight-bearing bones is modified as people get older. But he said there was no positive evidence of advanced age, for what that’s worth.’
    As the two women went out, he reached for the phone and dialled Aberystwyth, to leave a message for Meirion Thomas to contact him.
    The investigators in Borth had just left the hut, to go over to the site of the excavation to show it to the London men. There was nothing really to see, apart from a hole in the ground surrounded by posts and tape, but Meirion Thomas felt that Vickers and his assistant should get a feel for the whole case. Howard Squires was very taken by the panoramic view, which included the huge bog, the sea and the surrounding hills, but his senior officer seemed distracted. He was thinking of a woman, in fact his former fiancee, Angela Bray. Engaged to her for over a year, he had suddenly become infatuated with a younger woman and broken it off. He was well aware how hard Angela had taken it and knew that it was a factor in her decision to leave London and team up with this Welsh pathologist, Richard Pryor. Some months earlier, he had been called to Gloucester to identify a murdered South London criminal, shot in a gang dispute. The pathologist was Richard Pryor and with him had been Angela Bray, which led to an embarrassing confrontation in the mortuary. Now history was in danger of repeating itself and he would have to be careful to avoid meeting her again, as ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’.
    ‘Guv, have you seen enough here?’ His sergeant’s voice brought him back to earth.
    ‘Er, yes, I think so.’ With an effort, he focused his attention again and looked around. ‘How would they have brought a body here? The same way as we came?’ he asked the locals.
    ‘Probably, it’s only a few hundred yards from the road,’ answered the DI. ‘We assume that there were more than one and presumably they had some sort of transport. He was only of average height, but I doubt one person would have struggled here with the corpse.’
    ‘Unless he was killed right here?’ objected Squires.
    Meirion gave a doubtful shrug. ‘Possible, but it seems unlikely that they would cut off his head here and take it away.’
    ‘The whole damned case seems unlikely!’ muttered Vickers, as he took a last look around.
    They went back to the police car and drove back to the headquarters in Aberystwyth, where an office had been put at the disposal of the Scotland Yard men. Vickers said that he would have to make a lot of telephone calls to get things moving, before going back to Borth after lunch.
    In Meirion’s own office, a message relayed from the incident room asked him to ring Doctor Richard Pryor and when he got through, the doctor told him of the confirmation of the rare bone disease discovered in the corpse. It took a few minutes for Richard to explain about Albers-Schonberg disease, but the detective quickly grasped its significance.
    ‘So we’ve got to find a guy somewhere in Britain who had this disease — and find a skull somewhere which also suffered from it?’
    ‘That’s about it, Inspector! I’ll see if I can find if there is any kind of central medical register of patients who have been diagnosed with marble bone disease. I doubt it, as it’s so uncommon, but there may be some orthopaedic surgeons who have an interest in it.’ He thought for a moment, then went on. ‘It’s a pity that I didn’t find any old fractures in the skeleton. They are quite common in Albers-Schonberg, as the bones are brittle. They could have been matched with the X-rays of patients who had had multiple breaks, but we’re out of luck on that score.’
    ‘So we’ve got to find a head somewhere?’ repeated the detective.
    ‘That’s about it — as well as someone with a Batman tattoo!’ agreed Richard. ‘Any progress on discovering when that character became popular?’
    ‘The chaps from the Yard are looking into that. They’re more likely to have people in London who would know.’
    ‘Who have they sent down to you?’
    When the DI gave the names, he heard a low whistle coming down the phone. ‘Paul Vickers, eh? That’s a coincidence, as I met him not long ago.’
    He avoided mentioning that Doctor Bray knew him even better and soon they finished their conversation and rang off. Richard pondered for a moment, then went in search of his business partner. He found her in her room on the other side of the hall, at her desk writing up some paternity results for Moira to type.
    ‘Got a minute, Angela?’
    She looked up and saw that he seemed to have lost some of his usual light-hearted manner.
    ‘Why so serious? Have you just had our latest bank statement?’
    He dropped on to the chair opposite her. ‘Just a word of caution. The police in this bog case have had to call in the Yard to help — and the help they’ve been sent is Paul Vickers. It’s none of my business, but after that incident in Gloucester, I thought I’d better tell you, so that it doesn’t come as a surprise.’
    She put down her pen and looked at him fondly.
    ‘Thanks, Richard. You are a nice chap, aren’t you? But it’s OK, really, I’m rapidly putting all that behind me, thanks to Garth House and all this Wye Valley tranquillity.’
    Relieved, his cheerful grin returned. ‘Fine, but perhaps we’d better keep you away from Aberystwyth for the time being.’
    Angela reached out a hand and laid it on his arm.
    ‘Thanks again! But perhaps it would better to keep Priscilla away from him, rather than me. Attractive women act like a magnet on Paul Vickers!’
    His duty done, Richard went back to the laboratory to see if Sian had started to decalcify the scrap of bone from the skeleton, so that he could confirm his diagnosis under the microscope, but he had time to hope that the Yard man would have no reason to come down to Garth House.

SIX

    A week later, the only development that was made in the ‘Mystery of Borth Bog’, as the Press now called it, was some clarification about the Batman tattoo. Paul Vickers had phoned several of his colleagues in Scotland Yard and asked them to canvas any contacts they had in the newspaper and magazine business in London.
    Several days later, he had a call from a detective sergeant who had been sent to lurk in the pubs around Fleet Street, an area which he knew well from other somewhat dubious assignments. He found it a salubrious assignment, as after a few pints of beer and the odd gin and tonic, he learned from men who worked in various publications that Batman was the creation of a couple of American cartoon writers in 1939, who had sold the idea to Detective Comics and it had taken off from there in the United States.
    ‘Very popular over there, sir, all through the war and now increasingly so. But virtually unknown here in Britain until recent years.’
    Vickers had known that, according to the pathologist, it was unlikely that the body had been killed less than a decade ago, which took the murder back to at least the last year of the war.
    ‘So do you think anyone over here, that long ago, would been keen enough on Batman to have it as a tattoo?’ he asked, though he realized that the sergeant would have no better guess to make than himself.
    ‘Well, he could have seen comic books about him brought over by Yank servicemen, I suppose. He could even have been a GI himself, comes to that. God knows there were enough of them knocking about here before D-Day.’
    There was nothing else useful that he could tell him and they rang off. Vickers was becoming increasingly frustrated by being stuck in the back of beyond, as he thought of Cardiganshire. He had given up going to the incident room in Borth, as it seemed entirely futile. His sergeant, Howard Squires, stayed there for the sake of appearances, but absolutely no progress was being made. They could not even blame the lack of it on the ‘local yokels’, as Squires called them, as everything that could have been done, had been done. Nothing had come of extensive interviews with the community in Borth and a trawl of the hotels and boarding houses over the wider area had been equally unrewarding. Revisiting all the missing persons enquiries over the past few years again drew a blank. It was difficult to see how it could be otherwise, given that the dates were vague to within a number of years and they had no physical description of the deceased man.
    Paul had spoken to his senior officer in London and told him that he felt they were wasting both their time and the Home Office’s money, in keeping them down here.
    ‘I feel sure this body was dumped a long way from where he was killed, sir,’ he complained. ‘That could have been anywhere in Britain and the investigation could just as well be run from London, as there’s damn-all to be learned down here.’
    The chief superintendent sounded sympathetic, but told Vickers to hang on for a few more days.
    ‘But I’ve got to come back next week for a trial at the Old Bailey, sir,’ protested Paul. ‘I don’t see much point in waiting. You could leave Squires here if you think it necessary.’
    After getting a non-committal answer, Vickers went to find the local DI to tell him the little he had gained from London. Irritably, he repeated the sergeant’s scanty information.
    ‘He made the suggestion that perhaps the fellow was American, as this Batman was certainly not well known here in the time frame that we’re thinking of. Were there any US army personnel in this area during the war?’
    Meirion Thomas pensively rubbed the stubble on his chin.
    ‘Yanks? I can’t recall many, but I was a PC in Tregaron when the war ended. I’d just joined, having been on the farm before that, so I wouldn’t have seen many strangers.’
    ‘The incident room in Borth is in what used to be an army camp, I’m told. Were there any Americans there?’
    Meirion Thomas shook his head slowly.
    ‘Not that I know of. It was a purely British establishment, so I’m told. No one seemed to know what it was for. It was a bit hush-hush.’
    Vickers gave up in disgust, as every lead seemed to peter out. He went back to his cubbyhole of an office and began making more phone calls to London, trying to keep in touch with other cases he had been forced to leave behind when he was sent into exile.
    At Garth House, they settled back into their usual routine after the brief excitement of the headless corpse.
    A police car had collected the bones he had brought back from Aberystwyth and returned them to the mortuary there, to be reunited with the rest of the mortal remains of the unknown victim. They would be kept in the refrigerator until the coroner decided what should be done with them. Richard explained to the mystified Moira that they could not be buried for a considerable time — and never cremated — in case someone was arrested and charged with murder, as the defence lawyers would then have the right to require an independent opinion from another pathologist. The coroner had decided to delay an inquest until, hopefully, some useful evidence was turned up, as there seemed little point in holding a useless enquiry.
    It was now nearing the end of November and the days were becoming very short. The autumn colours had almost gone and even the Wye Valley looked sombre, as its trees became bare. Most days, Richard Pryor went off to local mortuaries to perform post-mortems on coroners’ cases, which was the mainstay of his contribution to the partnership’s budget.
    He had been fortunate in that the coroner who served the area was an old classmate of his in the Welsh National School of Medicine, where they had qualified before the war. Brian Meredith had become a family doctor in Monmouth, but had also obtained the job of coroner for a wide area of the county. The old retired doctor who had previously provided him with a post-mortem service had died and Brian was happy to give his old friend a welcome start in his new venture as a freelance. So at the small public mortuaries at Chepstow and Monmouth, together with locums at the big hospital at Newport and sometimes Hereford, Richard had a few days’ regular work each week. During the university terms, he gave lectures on forensic medicine to the undergraduates at the medical school in Bristol, travelling there across the Severn estuary on the ferry between Beachley and Aust. All this, together with occasional work for the police in his role as an accredited Home Office pathologist and some civil and defence work for lawyers over a wide area, allowed the Garth House consultancy to thrive. The rest of the income came from Angela’s serology work, mostly blood-group testing in disputed paternity cases, and Sian’s chemical analyses, mainly for alcohol in drunk-driving cases and a variety of drugs from coroners’ post-mortems.
    This peaceful routine was given an injection of new activity by a phone call taken by Moira Davison late one morning. Richard Pryor had just returned from Monmouth and was talking to Jimmy Jenkins in the backyard, inevitably about his precious vines, which appeared to have become leafless and possibly lifeless, as the winter approached.
    ‘Should ’ave waited until the spring, doctor!’ growled Jimmy. ‘Or planted strawberries instead, like I told you.’
    The neat brunette appeared at the back door to break up this oft-repeated argument.
    ‘Doctor Pryor, there’s a call for you in the office. A solicitor from Bristol.’
    Leaving Jimmy to attach yet another Woodbine to his lower lip, Richard followed Moira back indoors and up the corridor to her office.
    ‘I think he said it’s about a murder Appeal,’ she whispered excitedly, as she opened the door. She had recently sat in Gloucester Assize Court to listen to her boss giving evidence for the defence in the trial of a veterinary surgeon accused of poisoning his wife and ever since she had been hooked on reading about real-life crimes. As Richard took the receiver, she busied herself with papers at the other side of the room, but her ears were flapping as he spoke. What she heard was not very exciting, just a brief agreement to visit the lawyer in his office next day, but afterwards, Richard took pity on her.
    ‘That was a solicitor from St Paul’s in Bristol. He wants a conference with me about an Appeal that’s coming up, for a woman who was convicted of murder a year ago.’
    Moira looked at him with admiration in her eyes. She had more than a soft spot for her employer; it was verging on hero worship.
    ‘St Paul’s? That’s a pretty run-down area of Bristol, isn’t it? Not far from the city centre.’
    Richard gave her one of his impish grins. ‘So probably plenty of criminal work for lawyers there! Though for all I know, the appellant might live in a grand mansion on Clifton Down.’
    Her brow furrowed in thought. ‘Appellant? That’s what they call the person who wants to appeal, is it?’
    ‘Yes, though very few succeed. In most cases, the Appeal is made on the grounds that there was some procedural fault in the original trial or investigation. It’s rare for the actual evidence to be challenged at this late stage, but it must be something to do with that or they wouldn’t be asking me to look at it.’
    ‘Will the Appeal be in Bristol?’ asked Moira hopefully, thinking of another chance to tag along to listen.
    He shook his head. ‘No, they’re all heard in London, at the Court of Criminal Appeal. That’s in the Royal Courts of Justice, in the Strand.’
    As Richard left the room, she sighed wistfully, aware that there was no chance of going to London with him. That was something reserved for Angela Bray, who had recently accompanied him there in connection with a War Office case that they had been involved in. She went back to the kitchen to wash a salad for the doctors’ lunch, feeling vaguely dissatisfied with the way her life was passing so quickly. Though she was eternally grateful for Garth House having lifted her from her chronic depression after the death of her husband, she felt that though having passed thirty, there was still plenty she could achieve — but she had no idea in what direction, though since coming here to work, her interest in the workings of the legal system had increased.
    Meanwhile, Richard had gone off to look at the microscope slides made by Sian from the sliver of bone he had taken from the Borth Body. They had taken longer than usual to prepare, as his technician had reported that the ‘marble bone’ had been very reluctant to soften up sufficiently for it to be cut on her microtome, a device like a very accurate bacon-slicer that could deliver transparently-thin wafers of tissue.
    A few glances at the pink slivers on glass slides, together with a quick check in a pathology manual, were enough to confirm that it was indeed Albers-Schonberg disease, with its dense overgrowth of calcium and alteration of the cells in the bone. He made a note about it in the file that they kept on every one of their cases, then leaned back in his chair and pondered what might be the reason for the lawyer from Middleton, Bailey and Bailey wanting to talk to him next day. Then his wandering thoughts drifted to the West Wales coast, as he wondered if any progress was being made with the murder investigation — and whether he would ever hear any more about it.
    In Borth that day, the incident room was being closed down, as no one could find any more work for it to do.
    In the two weeks since the body was discovered, virtually every house for five miles around had been visited by the police, a substantial task for so few officers. Absolutely nothing had come of these enquiries, which was hardly surprising given the years that had elapsed — especially as the actual number of those years was unknown, other than a vague guess by Richard Pryor that a decade might be a reasonable time-span. Added to this was the lack of any physical description, other than that the victim was of average height and had a tattoo on his right upper arm. Detective Superintendent Paul Vickers had already returned to ‘The Smoke’, rejoicing at his escape from deepest Cardiganshire and his sergeant was itching to follow him.
    ‘It’s a waste of time, I’m afraid,’ he said to Meirion, as they gathered up the last of their notes and made for the Wolseley that would take them back to police HQ in Aberystwyth. ‘There’s nothing I can do here that you can’t do better, with local knowledge. I agree with my guv’nor that the answer to this one is miles away from here — not that I think you’re ever going to know after all this time.’
    As they drove through the rain-soaked countryside, the local DI had to agree with him.
    ‘My gut feeling is that this is a wartime job. All sorts of damn queer things went on then — and in the couple of years after it finished. Lots of blokes knocking about the country in the army, plenty of black-market fiddles and other rackets.’
    Howard Squires, happy to be getting back to his home and family in Tooting, was inclined to agree. ‘We’ll keep in touch and if anything turns up at this end, we can come straight back. But I doubt you’ll strike lucky having drawn a total blank so far.’
    He was wrong, but it would be some time before this became apparent.
    Richard did two post-mortems at the dingy mortuary in the council yard at Chepstow, before going on to Bristol.
    One was a sudden death from coronary heart disease, the other more unusual, in that it was a fatal accident on a farm near Caldicot. Farms were dangerous places, mainly due to overturned tractors and falls from barns and hayricks, but this was unusual in that a worker had crawled into the outlet of a grain silo to clear a blockage, when tons of barley had suddenly fallen and suffocated him. Richard drove pensively the couple of miles to the ferry ramp at Beachley, thinking of how death could descend so abruptly even on a peaceful farm, just as harshly as on a battlefield. He never allowed such tragedies that he saw virtually every day to weigh too heavily on his mind, otherwise he would be unable to function. However, he tried to avoid the brashness of some of his colleagues who treated corpses with a boisterous nonchalance that he felt was an overreaction to a gruesome profession. Richard had noticed the same attitude in some mortuary attendants, policemen and even undertakers, who tended to refer to ‘stiffs’ and ‘meat wagons’, and talk and laugh with nervous exuberance to compensate for the macabre surroundings.
    His pensive mood was lightened by the short voyage across the swirling stretch of the River Severn to Aust, the scenery bright in the mid-morning air, now that last night’s rain had stopped. By contrast, as he drove the last few miles into Bristol, he saw again the rapid building activity that was both extending the city’s limits and restoring the gaps left by the extensive wartime bomb damage. Some of the new structures were ugly, unimaginative boxes, thrown up quickly and cheaply from designs apparently created by architects who could only draw rectangles with their pencil and ruler.
    Richard’s destination was St Paul’s, an old run-down residential area to the north of the city centre. Last evening’s study of a map in his AA road atlas had given him a general idea of where he was headed and a final enquiry through his driver’s window of a Jamaican lady pushing a pram, directed him to Grosvenor Road.
    Cruising along a row of shops gave him the street numbers and he soon spotted the names of the solicitors in gold paint on the windows above a building-society office. Finding a parking space a few yards further on, he locked the Humber and walked back to a door alongside the shop, where a brass plate declared it to be Middleton, Bailey and Bailey.
    The narrow stairs took him to a small reception office, where a cheerful middle-aged woman took him along a corridor to a door which predictably had ‘D.G. Bailey LLB’ written on it.
    Douglas Bailey was unlike many of the rather desiccated, elderly lawyers that Richard had met in market towns in Wales and the West Country. He was what his father might have termed a ‘city slicker’, a slim man of about forty in a blue pinstripe suit which Richard suspected had shoulder pads. His dark hair was Brylcreemed flat on his head and he had a small Errol Flynn moustache.
    However, in spite of this unpromising appearance, Bailey proved to be well spoken, well informed and very much ‘on the ball’.
    After the usual courtesies and a cup of tea provided by the matronly secretary, they sat each side of a cluttered desk and got down to business.
    ‘I’ll just give you an outline of the problem, Doctor Pryor, then let you take the file away to study at your convenience. If then you feel you can assist us, we’ll meet again with Counsel to discuss the details.’
    When Richard nodded his assent, Douglas Bailey leaned forward on his elbows to tell his tale.
    ‘Our client is a woman, Millicent Wilson, though she went under the surname of her late partner, Arthur Shaw. I say “late”, as he’s the one who she was convicted of killing.’
    ‘I presume when you say “partner”, you mean it in the conjugal sense, rather than a business partner?’ asked Richard, thinking of his own relationship with Angela Bray.
    ‘Indeed I do. They lived here in St Paul’s — just down the road, in fact — but were not married. She is twenty-seven; he was thirty-nine at the time of his death. They lived in an old terrace house which was divided into a number of flats, though that’s a rather grand description for a scruffy collection of rented rooms and bedsits with a communal bathroom and kitchen.’
    He gently diverged a finger and thumb across his moustache, as if encouraging it to grow a little more.
    ‘Not to put too fine a point on it, this household was hardly genteel or sophisticated. A couple of the occupants, including Arthur Shaw, were well known to the police and some had done time in prison, mostly for theft, assault and general petty crime.’
    ‘Did that apply to your client as well?’ asked Richard.
    ‘She certainly had no convictions, but she may have worked the streets at one time, though not recently. Anyway, this charming character Arthur Shaw used to knock her about regularly, usually when drunk, which again is not all that uncommon in this part of Bristol.’
    He paused to drink down the rest of his cup of tea.
    ‘As I said, I won’t go into the details until you’ve read the papers, but in essence, Shaw had knocked her about a bit one evening, then she had gone with a friend to the cinema. He was at home, playing poker with some of the other men in the house. After she came home at about eleven thirty, sounds of a heated quarrel were heard from their rooms upstairs, but that was nothing unusual. She is seen to run out about midnight with a fresh black eye and cut lip, and goes to stay with her sister in the next street. In the morning, Arthur Shaw is found dead in their bedroom with a knife wound in his chest and a kitchen knife on the floor.’
    Bailey handed the file across the desk to Richard Pryor.
    ‘She denied killing him, but the prosecution medical evidence claimed that the time of death corresponded to her return to the house. The knife had her fingerprints on it, amongst others, though that meant very little as it was from the communal kitchen. But there were spots of his blood on her sleeve, though she maintained that it got there earlier when she had hit him on the nose with a milk bottle when he was assaulting her.’
    Richard tucked the file into his briefcase alongside his chair. ‘So she was convicted on mainly circumstantial evidence?’
    ‘Yes, convicted of murder, though the defence tried getting a manslaughter verdict. Not that it’s made that much difference, as the judge didn’t hand down a death sentence, but commuted it to life imprisonment. I think that was mainly because of all this current political discussion about abolition, though the defence tried to claim that it was because of their mitigation plea of severe provocation by an abusive partner.’
    Bailey sniffed to convey his opinion of the previous defence team.
    ‘I have to say that their efforts were not all that energetic. That’s why Millie Wilson changed solicitors for this Appeal. I hope we can do a better job for her, though trying to get the Court of Criminal Appeal to overrule one of their precious judges is an uphill struggle. Often, they even refuse to hear new evidence.’
    Richard tapped the side of his briefcase containing the file. ‘I gather the main issue as far as I’m concerned is the time of death?’
    ‘Yes, she’s got a cast-iron alibi when she was in the cinema and another when she got back to her sister’s place. It’s the half-hour interval in between that’s the problem.’
    He gave his moustache another few encouraging strokes.
    ‘Also, if there’s any mileage in disputing these blood stains, that would be useful.’
    ‘My colleague is very experienced in that area,’ Richard assured him. ‘She was a senior biologist in the Metropolitan Police Laboratory, so if there’s anything to be found, she’s the one to find it.’
    They spoke for a while longer, the solicitor telling him that the Appeal date had yet to be finalized but would probably be early in the New Year. Promising to send a preliminary report within a week, Richard took his leave and was back in Garth House a couple of hours later, having just missed a ferry at Aust.
    Far too late for his lunch, Moira had kept it warm in the Aga and he sat in the kitchen in solitary state to eat his steak-and-kidney pie with mashed potato, followed by apple tart and custard. He had been abroad throughout all the difficult post-war years, so did not fully appreciate the recent improvement in living standards, following a decade of shortages that in some ways had been as severe as the war years themselves. He had missed most of the rationing, the spartan clothing bought on coupons with their E41 economy labels, unbranded ‘Pool’ petrol and books printed on thin, coarse paper.
    As soon as he had finished, Angela, Priscilla and Sian came in to share the coffee that Moira was making and to hear what had happened in Bristol. He gave them a quick rundown of the case as he knew it so far, which was rather sketchy until he had read the case papers. ‘So basically, it’s an alibi problem. They say she did, she says she didn’t!’
    Sian, whose left-wing views ran in her family, was always a fiery advocate for the underdog, especially if they were female.
    ‘Typical Establishment stitch-up!’ she snapped. ‘Some poor woman gets regularly beaten up by some drunken thug and when she cracks and sticks a knife in him, she gets life imprisonment and probably told she’s lucky not to have been hanged!’
    Richard smiled at her predictably feisty reaction. ‘But she says she didn’t do it, Sian,’ he protested mildly. ‘And we’re being hired to see if we can prove she didn’t.’
    Moira put down her coffee percolator. ‘I thought the prosecution had to prove guilt, not the defence prove innocence?’ she objected.
    Angela looked at Richard and both their eyebrows rose.
    ‘We’ve got a budding lawyer in the house, folks! And you’re absolutely right, Moira. But in practice, the two things are not all that distinct, especially in an Appeal. The appellant’s lawyers try to torpedo the prosecution’s case.’
    Priscilla was listening with interest to this dialogue.
    ‘I had a barrister boyfriend a couple of years ago and he used to say that evidence didn’t matter much in the Appeal Courts — they were more interested in procedural errors. If the trial judge put a foot wrong, that offered a better chance of succeeding with the Appeal than picking holes in the factual evidence.’
    Moira listened intently as the three doctors bandied experiences and hearsay about the rigid legal system. When there was a pause, she declared her fascination with the law. ‘I used to be a typist in a solicitor’s office, but it’s only since I came to Garth House that it seemed to come alive for me. Thank goodness this poor woman in Bristol didn’t hang, as she might well have done. I suppose it’s all this fuss about Timothy Evans and John Christie that has made them reluctant to carry out the death penalty?’
    ‘Evans came from my home town of Merthyr, poor chap,’ said Richard, soberly. ‘I see there’s a strong movement again to get him a retrospective pardon this year.’
    ‘And push forward the political campaign for abolition of hanging,’ said Sian robustly. Timothy Evans had been hanged five years previously for murdering his wife and baby, but John Christie, the serial killer of Rillington Place in Notting Hill, had then confessed to the murders two years ago and caused a national furore about miscarriages of justice. Several major newspaper editors were trying to get the issue raised once again in Parliament, the campaign having been stimulated by the hanging of a woman, Ruth Ellis, earlier in the year.
    Richard rose and started back to his office to read the file. ‘Better start seeing if we can do anything to help this unfortunate lady — though of course, she might be guilty anyway. We mustn’t prejudge these things.’
    He winked at Sian as he left.

SEVEN

    On the following Saturday afternoon, when Sian had gone home to Chepstow and Moira had returned to her house and little dog just down the road, the three doctors assembled in Angela’s sitting room in the front of the house. It was a typical Welsh autumn day outside, a cold drizzle under grey skies, so Richard had no urge to go out and play with his embryonic vineyard on the hillside behind the house.
    Instead, he sat with Angela and Priscilla on the old but comfortable three-piece suite that had been Aunt Gladys’s pride and joy, to talk about the case that he had brought from Bristol. The main issue was medical, but there was the matter of the blood stains to consider and, in any case, he valued the general forensic acumen of the two women, who between them had a good many years’ experience.
    Though Priscilla said she would be leaving them at the end of the month to return to London and look for a job, she was happy to join in the discussion. Her digs in Tintern Parva were comfortable enough but she didn’t particularly fancy spending a wet Saturday afternoon alone there. Richard had talked about getting a television set for Garth House, but so far nothing had materialized. They had agreed to go up to Monmouth that evening for a meal in one of the hotels, but for now, kicking around a forensic problem seemed the best option.
    ‘I’ve read through all that file,’ he said, pointing at the thick cardboard folder that lay on the low table in front of them. ‘Most of it is circumstantial stuff and umpteen witness statements, all of no real interest to us, apart from timings. You’re welcome to dredge though it, but the only two aspects that seem relevant to us are the time of death and these blood spots on Millie’s sleeve.’
    ‘Were the convicted woman and the dead man of different blood groups?’ asked Angela.
    ‘Yes, she was A-Rhesus positive, Shaw was O-positive, both very common groups. The Home Office lab in Bristol did the tests, so I doubt we can fault them.’
    ‘How good is the prosecution medical evidence on the time of death?’ asked Priscilla, cutting to the core of the matter.
    ‘In one word, lousy! It’s the old story of doctors who think they are Sherlock Holmes, instead of sticking to what can be proven. Their pathologist gives the time of death to within limits of one hour — which conveniently is the same hour in which Millicent Shaw’s alibi fails.’
    ‘Who was he, this doctor?’ queried Angela, snug on the settee with her elegant legs curled under her.
    ‘Anthony Claridge, a hospital pathologist from Gloucester. He was standing in for the regular chap in Bristol, who was on holiday.’
    ‘Never heard of him,’ said Angela. ‘Do you know him, Richard?’
    ‘I’ve met him in passing at a meeting of the Forensic Medicine Society. An old chap, must be about retiring age, I would think. Seemed a bit full of his own importance.’
    He opened the file and took out a couple of pages covered in his own writing, notes he had made while reading through all the evidence.
    ‘Doctor Claridge wheels out all the old traditional stuff about estimating the time since death, most of which is incapable of proof. But with little better to put in its place, lawyers and judges are happy to go along with what’s in the old textbooks, most of which just copy from other books and previous editions, without any critical evaluation of its accuracy.’
    Angela smiled at him, rather fondly.
    ‘You always get hot under the collar over this, don’t you, Richard?’ she teased. ‘I’ve heard you thumping the table before. Next, I suppose, you’ll be blaming Spilsbury and the other old fossils in your profession!’
    Her partner had the grace to look a little sheepish.
    ‘Sorry, but it riles me to hear these chaps pontificate as if what they are claiming is the gospel truth, when it’s really only speculation. My motto is, if you can’t prove it, don’t claim it, especially when someone’s neck is at risk!’
    ‘So what have we got as a baseline of fact?’ asked Priscilla, still firmly identifying herself as a member of the team even though she was only with them for a short time. Richard tapped his papers with a forefinger.
    ‘Millie Wilson had one of her frequent quarrels with Shaw in the early evening of a Saturday in June last year. Then she cleared off to the pictures with a woman friend at about seven o’clock. Plenty of other witnesses, as well as the friend, to prove where she was until ten thirty, when she arrived back home.’
    ‘Presumably, Arthur Shaw was known to be alive during that time?’ asked Angela.
    ‘Absolutely! He was gambling in the kitchen all evening with three others who lived in the house. They all saw her come home at half-past ten. She came into the back room where they were playing poker and said something insulting to Shaw, about the bruising he had earlier caused to her face. They had a short slanging match and she went upstairs to their so-called flat.’
    ‘What happened to the poor woman then?’ demanded Priscilla, who, like Sian, was quick to sympathize with another female who was being ill-treated by some aggressive lout.
    ‘Shaw, who had been drinking as usual, became angry and left the game to go upstairs, saying that she needed to be taught a lesson. There was a devil of a rumpus for a time, but as usual, the residents took little notice. Then Millicent came down with a swollen eye and a bleeding cut on her lip. She screamed some abuse back up the stairs and shouted that she was going to her sister’s and was never coming back, then ran out of the house. This was at about eleven o’clock, give or take a few minutes, as the other occupants were also probably half-drunk and not too bothered about noticing the exact time.’
    ‘And he was found dead in the morning?’ concluded Angela.
    ‘Yes, at seven thirty, by one of the other men in the house, Don O’Leary. He and Arthur both worked in a car-breaker’s yard a few streets away. When Shaw didn’t appear at their usual time to go to work, O’Leary went up to wake him, as he knew that Millie wasn’t there. He got no answer, but found the door unlocked and Arthur Shaw lying dead on the floor, with a knife wound in his chest. So the times are pretty well established to within minutes.’
    ‘Are there any photographs?’ said Priscilla.
    Richard went to the back of the file and pulled out two police albums, containing half-plate black and white glossy prints stapled between cardboard covers.
    ‘One is of the scene, the other the post-mortem. Not the greatest pictures, but they give the general idea.’
    The two women took an album each, then swapped when they had looked at each photograph.
    ‘Stabbed almost in the middle of the chest,’ observed Angela. Richard nodded. ‘Got him straight through the right ventricle of the heart.’
    ‘Not much blood about,’ said Priscilla, holding up a picture of the victim lying on the floor of an untidy living room.
    ‘It’s often the case with a single chest wound, especially if the body lies on its back afterwards. He bled internally, filling the bag around the heart so that it couldn’t fill properly.’
    ‘That’s what you call a cardiac tamponade, isn’t it?’ said Angela, showing off some of the knowledge she’d accumulated from many years’ experience in London.
    ‘Yes, it wouldn’t cause immediate death, but he would have been rapidly disabled and could die within a few minutes.’
    ‘What about this blood on her sleeve?’ asked Angela. ‘Is this the picture?’ She held up the last photograph in the scene album. It was of a pale bolero type jacket, laid out on a table.
    ‘Yes, you can see a few small spots on the outside of the right sleeve, just above the cuff.
    The two biologists looked at the photographs again, spending most time on the pictures of the scene, especially ones of the dead man lying on his back on the linoleum in the rather squalid living room, whose sagging furniture was decorated with empty beer bottles and overflowing ashtrays.
    ‘Any blood elsewhere in the flat?’ queried Angela.
    ‘Nothing mentioned in the statements. It looks as if he was stabbed at or near the point where he fell. The only other room is the adjacent bedroom and there was nothing of interest found in there. The police searched the rest of the house, but again nothing significant turned up.’
    ‘So how did the pathologist arrive at such a tight estimate of the time of death?’ demanded Priscilla.
    Richard shrugged. ‘Using the old routine — temperature of the body, rigor mortis, post-mortem lividity, amount and state of the stomach contents… the same old mumbo-jumbo. Pick some figures from the air, then take away the number you first thought of!’
    Angela smiled to herself at his forceful tone. She had heard this particular tirade several times, as time of death was one of Richard’s hobby horses.
    ‘So you think you can challenge that for the Appeal?’ asked Priscilla.
    ‘Damn right I can — and I will, given the chance!’
    The Borth Bog investigation had run completely out of steam by the middle of the following week. There were only a few days left before the December page appeared on Detective Inspector Meirion Thomas’s calender, a rather racy one from a local garage, depicting a fluffy blonde wearing more eyeshadow than clothes, sitting provocatively on the bonnet of the new Ford Zephyr Zodiac.
    He looked at the dates glumly, thinking that his only murder investigation for the last five years had run into the sand and that its pathetically thin file would soon end up at the back of the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet.
    Though he knew it was traditional in detective novels for senior officers and the Chief Constable to come breathing fire down the neck of the failing investigating officer, he had to admit that the two men above him in their small police force had accepted the dead-end philosophically. They had seemed relieved that the two rather supercilious men from Scotland Yard had gone home and that the Press, after a brief frenzy, seemed to have forgotten all about the case. But being a conscientious man, Meirion would have liked to have nailed someone for such a nasty crime. Failing that, it would have at least been satisfying to have identified the body.
    With a sigh, he pulled a wad of papers towards him and settled down to devising night-observation rotas for the painfully few men he had available. Sheep rustling had become fashionable again and several irate farmers near Tregaron were demanding some action from the police, backed up by their insurance companies. This issue was of far greater concern to the inhabitants of Cardiganshire than one solitary, if bizarre death that probably occurred long ago.
    Yet as he pulled out his Parker 51 pen, the previous year’s Christmas present from his wife, the strange force of serendipity was working on someone he knew well, a hundred miles away in Birmingham.
    ‘Not a bad pint, this!’ said Gwyn Parry, studying the amber liquid in his glass, pulled from a barrel of Atkinson’s Bitter. He was sitting in the snug of the Red Lion in Moseley, a southern suburb of Birmingham. He had been taken there for a pre-lunch drink by his wife’s brother-in-law, Tony Cooper. The detective sergeant from Aberystwyth was spending two days’ leave in the Midlands, bringing his wife to stay with her sister, who had just come out of hospital after an operation on some obscure part of her female anatomy. He was leaving Bethan there for a couple of weeks to help look after her, as Tony had to work shifts, being a sergeant in the Birmingham City Police. He was not in the CID like Gwyn, but was a custody officer in one of the central police stations.
    Their talk was the usual mix of topics always voiced by off-duty policemen — complaints about pay, pensions and conditions of service, mixed with anecdotes of unusual cases they had encountered. They had been joined in the pub by an elderly friend of Tony’s who lived nearby, a chain-smoking man in his late sixties with horn-rimmed glasses with lenses like bottle bottoms. Oscar Stanton was a retired journalist from a city newspaper and had a large fund of stories, ranging from the hilarious to the horrific.
    Gwyn looked at the bar clock and reckoned that they had time for another round before going back home, where Bethan was making a meal. After that, he was driving back to Wales, to join in the fight against the sheep rustlers. When the drinks were in, their conversation continued and the detective got around to telling them of the curious case of the body in the bog, which seemed to have come to a dead end.
    ‘So we haven’t a clue who the fellow is,’ he concluded. ‘All we’ve got is a tattoo and a vague guess that he died sometime around ten years ago.’
    ‘Strangled and his head taken off?’ said his brother-in-law, shaking his head in disbelief. ‘So certainly not some domestic squabble. It sounds like some gangster execution, but you couldn’t get one of those in peaceful West Wales, surely!’
    Oscar Stanton was looking thoughtful, slowly rubbing his bristly chin. ‘Rings a bell, this does,’ he said ruminatively. ‘I’ve got this dim recollection of some rumour going around amongst the lads on the paper, way back around the time the war ended.’
    The two policemen stared at him. ‘What rumour?’ asked Tony.
    ‘I can’t remember any details. It was a long time ago. But one of the older reporters who covered crime in those days had this yarn about a pub somewhere, where the landlord claimed to have a pickled head in his beer cellar.’
    Gwyn Parry looked dubious. ‘It could be a wind-up — or maybe some practical joke. I remember hearing about a shrivelled hand being found on the upper deck of a Cardiff bus. Turned out that a medical student had taken it from the college dissecting room.’
    Tony was not so sceptical. Maybe after twenty years of policing a big, bad city, he was ready to believe anything. ‘Have you any idea if the chap who was telling the story is still around, Oscar?’
    ‘He died a couple of years ago, I’m afraid. But I still have a drink now and then with some of my old mates from the paper. I could ask around and see if anyone remembers the story.’
    The Aberystwyth sergeant nodded his thanks. ‘We’ve got damn all to go on at present, so any lead is better than none. Could you let Tony here know if you dig up anything?’
    With this appropriate plea, they moved on to Aston Villa’s chances at the coming weekend.
    Richard Pryor, after a few hours poring over his collection of textbooks and journals, had written a considered appreciation of the possible forensic medical avenues that might assist Millie Wilson’s lawyers. He was used to calling them ‘the defence’, but this was not strictly accurate in this instance, as she was ‘the appellant’. The time for defending her was in the past, at the trial held at Bristol Assizes more than a year ago.
    His report was carefully typed by Moira Anderson and sent off to the suave Mr Bailey. A couple of days later, he had a phone call asking him to attend a preliminary conference with their junior counsel, Miss Penelope Forbes, in Bristol on the last day of November.
    ‘I think you should come with me, Angela,’ he said to his partner. ‘These blood spots on the coat are more in your territory than mine.’
    This was only partly true, as the interpretation of blood splashes had always been the province of a pathologist, but latterly, the rapid advance of forensic science was burrowing ever more deeply into what formerly had been medical territory. Earlier in the century, there was no separate forensic science worth mentioning, but it rapidly grew away from the grip of the medical men until the tail was wagging the dog.
    The thirtieth of November was a Thursday and it saw the black Humber again crossing the river from Beachley aboard the Severn Queen, with Angela Bray in the front passenger seat. She had never made this journey before, always travelling eastwards on the A48 through Gloucester to reach her parent’s home in Berkshire. She found the short voyage across the dangerously turbulent currents of the estuary fascinating and Richard promised to take her up river one day, to see the famous Severn Bore when there was a high spring tide.
    After bumping off the ramp at Aust on the southern bank, they set off for Bristol in the unseasonable November sunshine. Angela was dressed in what she called her ‘Old Bailey outfit’, a smart, rather severe grey suit with a fashionably long skirt and waist-nipping jacket over a white blouse. Richard, who had only a vague notion about A-lines and H-lines, thought she looked remarkably attractive, with her thick hair marshalled under a small saucer-shaped hat.
    As he drove towards the city, his mind idly compared the four women in Garth House. There was Sian, the lively young blonde, full of bustle and energy, quite a contrast to the quiet neatness of Moira Anderson, to whom he often applied the old adage ‘still waters run deep’.
    Then there was Priscilla, who was undoubtedly gorgeous in a more flamboyant way, with a racier line in clothes and make-up, compared to the restrained elegance of Angela.
    He sighed to himself, feeling a little like a boy in a sweet shop without a penny in his pocket. It was just not prudent to start any romantic or ardent relationship within their little forensic family, but it was a long time since he had had any romantic or amorous outlet — in fact, none since leaving Singapore a year earlier. Though his divorce was finalized not all that long before he left, he had been separated from his wayward wife for some time and had not wanted for female company amongst the expatriate community in the Colony.
    Before his wandering thoughts developed into fantasies, he found that they were already in the suburbs of Bristol and had to concentrate on navigating through the big city to reach the centre. Most barristers had their chambers in or around Short Street, an aptly named lane in the oldest part of the city, near the remnants of the medieval town wall. The Assize Courts were halfway along the street, providing lawyers with the minimum of exercise to get to their trials. Richard had no chance of parking in Short Street, but eventually found a space not too far away.
    ‘Traffic is becoming impossible in this country,’ he grumbled, as he manoeuvred the bulky car into a narrow space. ‘I can’t imagine what it will be like in fifty years’ time!’
    ‘I read that Winston Churchill wanted to pave over Horse Guards Parade and The Mall for parking places,’ said Angela, as they got of the car. ‘But there is some scheme to fit coin-operated parking clocks in London in the next couple of years.’
    They followed the directions given by Douglas Bailey and found the chambers in a narrow alley alongside the court buildings. In the rather dingy entrance, a long hand-painted plaque on the wall gave the names of the resident barristers in pecking order of seniority. A third of the way up, they saw the name of Miss Penelope Forbes, the only woman on the list.
    Inside, a stoop-shouldered clerk took them upstairs and along a corridor to a small room, where Miss Forbes had her office. She rose to meet them from behind a paper-strewn desk which filled almost half the room. Douglas Bailey was already there and he pulled forward two hard chairs for them. After introductions and hand shakes, they all sat down, giving Richard time to look at the barrister who would appear for Millie when she assisted her leader, a Queen’s Counsel.
    Penelope Forbes was a tall, thin woman of about forty-five, with rimless spectacles and prematurely greying hair pulled back into a severe bun on the back of her head. Angela thought she looked very tired, but had a pleasant smile and a pair of sharp blue eyes. She began by thanking Richard for his report, of which she had a copy in front of her, as did the solicitor.
    ‘I’ve discussed it over the phone to Paul Marchmont, our leading counsel, who said it sounded promising. We’ll have to have another conference soon with Paul, of course, but I thought I’d just go through the main points with you today.’
    Before they began, Richard explained Angela’s presence, as a senior forensic biologist with years of experience at the Metropolitan Police Laboratory.
    ‘Doctor Bray feels that the claim that the blood present on the sleeve came from the stabbing can also be contested.’
    The barrister smiled at Angela. ‘I look forward to hearing your opinion, Doctor Bray. Before that, perhaps you, Doctor Pryor, could run through a summary of what you feel about the vital time-of-death issue.’
    Richard ran his finger through his hair, in a rather nervous gesture that was unusual for him. Angela suspected that he was not used to displaying his professional expertise to a woman, even though he already had a virtual harem back at Garth House.
    He was given a respite by the appearance of a secretary bearing a tray of coffee in a motley collection of cups and saucers. While they drank the rather insipid brew, the conversation became more general.
    ‘It’s the old story of doctors sticking rigidly to the rules of thumb that they have been taught since they were students,’ began Richard. ‘I’m not blaming them for having poor methods to work with, for I’m in the same boat. But the problem lies in the dogmatism and stubbornness which many doctors have. I’ve got no better methods myself, but at least I am always willing to qualify the results with an acknowledgement that they are very approximate and prone to large errors.’
    Penelope Forbes smiled again, a habit which seemed to come easily to her.
    ‘Do I detect an allusion to the great Sir Bernard Spilsbury there? But I agree, I often come across such witnesses. Do you feel it’s a fault especially with the older experts? The one in this case is certainly getting on in years.’
    Richard agreed, with reservations. ‘It’s not just because they’re old, in the sense of being doddery old fools. I think it’s more because with years of practice behind them, they feel too sure of themselves — the “I’ve seen it all before” syndrome.’
    Angela joined in the discussion for the first time. ‘Doctor Pryor is right, I’ve seen experts steamrolling their way through their evidence, stubbornly refusing to accept any sensible contrary opinion.’
    Richard hid a grin, as he detected a trace of bitterness in his partner’s voice. He felt that in the past, she must have had a couple of frustrating contests with other experts.
    ‘Yes, the harder they are challenged, the harder they dig their heels in and refuse to admit that they could be wrong,’ he confirmed. ‘It’s often a matter of professional pride, and I’m afraid forensic medicine tends to attract the prima donnas of the profession, those who like to see their names in the newspapers.’
    Having finished his rather insipid cup of Maxwell House, Richard got back to business.
    ‘With the time-of-death issue, there are four aspects to consider — and, indeed, challenge. The first is rigor mortis, so beloved of crime novelists. Then there’s post-mortem lividity, the discoloration of the skin after death. The next is stomach contents and the last, the only one with any hope of giving a decent estimate, is the body temperature.’
    The solicitor asked the first question. ‘How many of those can you challenge, doctor?’
    ‘All of them, I hope. At least, what I can challenge is Doctor Claridge’s interpretation of them. His confidence in his accuracy is completely unfounded and I suspect it was coloured by what the police told him of the circumstances.’
    He began going through the items, one by one, keeping the explanation rather superficial, as he knew he would have to do it all again in more detail when they met the ‘silk’ — a lawyer’s name for a Queen’s Counsel, because of the gown he wore.
    ‘The easiest one to contradict is post-mortem lividity, or “death staining” as it used to be called. In fact, the modern name is hypostasis, not that a new name makes it any more useful.’
    ‘I see Claridge doesn’t actually claim that this lividity points to the one-hour time window that’s relevant?’ Miss Forbes pointed out.
    ‘No, he just says it’s consistent with that time of death. What he doesn’t say — and the defence didn’t ask him — was that it would also be consistent with death far outside that time bracket. And that’s the situation with the other criteria. They could all be correct, but they could also be hopelessly wrong.’
    Miss Forbes seemed intent on being a devil’s advocate, as well as one for Millie Wilson — which was quite right, as the opposition would be asking the same questions of Doctor Pryor.
    ‘But Doctor Claridge said in his evidence that he took all those criteria into account together, in coming to his conclusion as to the time of death.’
    Richard’s laugh was a sardonic bark. ‘Adding four lousy methods together still makes one lousy conclusion,’ he replied. ‘The answer doesn’t get better by its multiplicity.’
    ‘So that applies to rigor mortis as well, I presume?’ asked the solicitor.
    ‘Rigor is marginally better than lividity, but that’s not saying much. Claridge saw the body in the mortuary; he wasn’t even called to the scene. It had been dead since sometime the previous night when he examined it at two o’clock in the afternoon. There’s no chance of pinning the time of death to within an hour after that delay.’
    ‘You said that temperature is the best means of timing the death, doctor,’ said Penelope Forbes. ‘The pathologist here seemed to rely most heavily on that.’
    Richard Pryor shrugged in dismissal. ‘It could have helped a lot more, but the whole examination was poorly carried out. No one thought of taking the temperature at the scene, when the body was found. It was almost another seven hours before the temperature of the body was measured. The body was never weighed in the mortuary, so we don’t know what his body mass was, which affects the cooling rate.’
    Angela smiled at her partner, who was getting more voluble as he argued his case, gesturing with his hands, his unruly brown hair tossing about.
    ‘So you’ve rubbished three of his criteria! What about the state of his stomach contents?’
    Richard subsided a little, but shook his head dismissively. ‘Another fairy tale, if you’re looking for accuracy. There are so many variables, there’s not a chance of settling on the true time many hours later. When I was in Singapore, I did a little research on this, in cases where it was known what time the dead person last ate. Comparing that time with what was in the stomach was too random to be of any use in evidence — and certainly not beyond reasonable doubt!’
    For another half-hour they bandied the matter around, Richard giving his reasons why he felt it impossible to restrict the time of death to the time when Millie was back in the house in St Paul’s.
    ‘Of course she could have killed him in that half-hour, there’s no denying that,’ he said in conclusion. ‘But equally, he could have died in the many hours after she left the house — and this medical evidence is so nebulous that it can’t exclude that possibility.’
    The junior counsel nodded her understanding of his argument and repeated what Moira had said back in Tintern.
    ‘Of course, it’s not up to the defence to prove that a person didn’t commit an offence. The onus is on the prosecution to prove they did!’ She sighed. ‘But often it doesn’t seem to work that way with juries. Especially when there’s such a poor defence effort — they didn’t even call any medical witness to try to challenge what Doctor Claridge was saying. I think they felt this was such an obvious case that it wasn’t worth putting themselves to much trouble.’
    Miss Forbes turned over a few pages in her file.
    ‘It’s fortunate that the plea in mitigation impressed the judge, over the assaults which Millie suffered from Arthur Shaw, especially during that fateful hour — otherwise she would have been hanged by now, instead of getting life imprisonment.’
    She turned to Angela. ‘Now, Doctor Bray, tell me about these bloodstains.’

EIGHT

    Oscar Stanton turned into the Crown Hotel, on the corner of Station Street in central Birmingham. It was near New Street Station and was convenient for those of his friends who travelled in from the suburbs for their regular dose of nostalgia. About eight retired reporters met for a few pints on the last Friday of the month, chewing over old times and reporting who amongst the newspaper fraternity of the city was sick or dead since the last session. They used an alcove off the main lounge, where a large table was covered in their glasses, half-eaten ham rolls, overflowing ashtrays and packets of crisps. Around their fourth pint or double Scotch, Oscar turned his pebble lenses on to the man sitting next to him.
    ‘Brian, I was talking to a chap the other day, he’s a CID man from Wales. He was telling me about some old corpse they’d dug up there recently, one without a head. It reminded me of that yarn that Piggy Donovan used to trot out years ago, about some pub that was alleged to have a bloke’s head hidden in a pot.’
    The old reporter, ten years senior to Oscar, took a long swallow from his tankard before answering.
    ‘I vaguely remember something about it, soon after the war. But Piggy was such a lush, you couldn’t depend on half he said — or what he wrote in his copy!’
    ‘He’s been dead these past five years, has Piggy,’ said Oscar. ‘Anybody else who might recall anything about it?’
    Brian used a slight lull in the conversation around the big table to call across to a member on the other side.
    ‘Duncan, you’re the last one here to cover crime on the Post. Ever hear a yarn about some preserved head kept in one of the pubs?’
    Duncan MacKenzie was a few years younger and only recently retired from the Birmingham Post, the city’s major newspaper. A thin man with an aristocratic goatee sticking out from his chin like a spike, he was a hard drinker, his lined face displaying many prominent veins, even more marked on his nose. He considered the question carefully, before replying.
    ‘That story was going the rounds many years ago, I remember. Some connection with the gangs up in Winson Green. The coppers looked into it, but nothing more came of it.’
    Another man, well into his seventies, spoke up from Oscar’s left. ‘I remember that, too. Piggy Donovan was carrying on about it. He said he was going to write a piece as a feature, then he suddenly went quiet. I think he’d been got at by someone.’
    ‘You reckon it was up in Winson Green?’ asked Oscar, hopefully. To his surprise, the old man nodded.
    ‘Yes, he reckoned it was in the cellar of the Barley Mow, near Black Patch Park. A tough area, especially in those days.’
    ‘It’s pretty tough still,’ said Duncan MacKenzie. ‘But the Barley Mow has long gone. They demolished that part a few years back — and not before time.’
    Oscar felt let down, as it had looked hopeful when some of the others had confirmed the rumour. ‘Any idea what it was all about? Did anyone you know actually see this thing?’
    There were grimaces and shaking of heads, but no hard information.
    ‘Something to do with the gangs in that area,’ ventured MacKenzie. ‘During the war, there was all sorts of graft going on there, apart from the usual robbery and violence. Black-market dealing, mainly, on a wholesale basis. And plenty of bribery and corruption — the police and the council were accused of it every now and then.’
    It was soon obvious that no one had any better information about a shrivelled head. It was just part of the city’s underworld lore that came the way of newspaper men.
    That evening, when he got home to Moseley, Oscar phoned his friend Tony Cooper and told him the little he had learned about the fabled head.
    ‘The only possible lead was that the Barley Mow in Winson Green seems to be the place where the story originated. But that pub’s been demolished long since.’
    Sergeant Cooper was more impressed than Oscar had expected.
    ‘Winson Green! That’s the sort of place you might expect something like this. I’ll mention it to our CID boys, but they might need an armoured car to go asking questions up there!’
    There were a number of very tough places in and around the great city of Birmingham, but Winson Green was up there near the top of the list and had been even worse ten years earlier, at the end of the war. Birmingham’s huge prison was in Winson Green and it was a stock joke that it was built there so that all the local villains did not have so far to travel when they were banged up.
    After Oscar had rung off, Tony decided that before making enquiries through his own Force contacts, he had better speak to Gwyn Parry. He was due to come up for a day at the end of the week to collect his wife, Bethan, who had done a splendid job in getting his own wife back on her feet. However, he decided to give him a ring and a few moments later was put through to Gwyn at his home at Temple Bar, just outside Aberystwyth.
    Bethan came in at the same time and he surrendered the phone to her for a few minutes. When she had finished her anxious enquiries about the children, who were enjoying themselves at their grandmother’s house, Tony gave Gwyn the few scraps of information he had picked up that day from his newspaper cronies.
    ‘There seems to be some substance in that rumour about a head,’ he told him. ‘Even down to where it was supposed to be kept, though the place has since been pulled down. Though why it should be linked in any way to your headless corpse, I can’t imagine!’
    He could almost hear Gwyn’s brain working at the other end of the line. ‘You say your pals suggested this might be linked to possible gang squabbles up there?’
    ‘That area is one of the places where there used to be a lot of that sort of trouble. Still is, comes to that.’
    ‘I’m not surprised,’ retorted Gwyn with feeling. ‘These bloody sheep rustlers and a lot of organized country-house burglaries are down to your Midland villains.’
    ‘Do you want me to have a word with our CID, to see if they can make a few enquiries?’ asked Tony.
    Gwyn chewed it over in his mind for a moment.
    ‘I’d better talk to my DI first and see whether he thinks it’s worth bothering your lot with it. We’ve still got the Yard involved, though they got fed up and buggered off back to London. I’ll let you know when I come to fetch Bethan on Saturday.’
    As December had arrived, Priscilla’s time was up as Angela’s locum and she was leaving on Sunday to go back to London to look for a job. Richard Pryor would have liked to have kept her on at Garth House, but they both knew that there was not sufficient work there for two biologists. She was going back to stay with a friend again until something turned up.
    ‘Farewell party on Saturday evening, then!’ Richard had declared. He treated them all, including Moira and Jimmy Jenkins, to a meal at the large hotel in Tintern Parva, opposite the ruins of the huge Cistercian abbey. Afterwards they came back to the house and sat until midnight in the staff room, with the table well supplied with Lutomer Riesling, Mateus Rose, whisky, gin, beer and cider for Jimmy.
    Well fed and relaxed, the conversation roamed over a variety of topics from growing vines to headless corpses.
    The Borth Body was naturally prominent in their gossip, especially as it was the one case where Priscilla had been so useful in confirming the physical dimensions from the bones.
    ‘The investigation seems to have come to a dead end,’ said Richard. ‘I had a call from the DI this week, saying that unless something turns up, the coroner wants to hold an inquest to get the paperwork tidied up.’
    ‘I hear the Yard have gone back to the big city,’ added Angela, with a tinge of relief in her voice. Richard guessed she was afraid that Paul Vickers might have shown his face here if the investigation had proceeded any further.
    ‘A pity we’ll never know how it got there,’ said Priscilla pensively. ‘I wonder how many bodies there are knocking about the countryside which will never be found?’
    ‘You archaeologists dig up far more than we pathologists ever see,’ chided Richard. ‘Are you still keen on going back to your digging, rather than forensic work?’
    The glamorous redhead nodded. ‘I had enough of that in Australia. Those couple of short digs I went on before I came here made me realize that was what I really wanted to do.’ She looked despondent. ‘But when — or even whether — I’ll get the chance again, I just don’t know.’
    ‘Something will turn up!’ said Angela reassuringly. ‘You’re too good a scientist to go to waste.’
    Moira, who had had three glasses of wine, had shed some of her usual reserve. ‘You’re bound to be fine, Doctor Chambers! A couple of college degrees and bags of experience. I only wish I had had the chance to go to university, instead of just a secretarial college!’
    ‘It’s never too late, Moira,’ said Angela encouragingly. ‘These days there are part-time courses and grants for mature students.’
    ‘Hey, hang on!’ called Richard, in mock outrage. ‘That’s our wonderful secretary and chef you’re trying to get rid of!’
    Moira smiled a little sadly. ‘Just a pipe dream, Doctor Pryor.’
    He shook his head vehemently. ‘Nonsense! We’ll make some enquiries next week and see what part-time courses are around. You could have day release in the week like Sian here, then maybe later you’ll want to go full-time.’
    Jimmy stepped in to lighten the mood. Though he still wore his old poke cap, tonight he was wearing a baggy tweed jacket and a stringy tie for the occasion.
    ‘I ain’t going to no college, doctor!’ he said stoutly. ‘I already done fifty years in the university of life! And learned a lot about growing strawberries, not them old grapes!’
    Richard was the constant butt of good-natured teasing about his desire for a vineyard on the acres behind Garth House. Though Jimmy, an inveterate cynic, was always scornful of the project, he had still worked hard to get the vines planted and now seemed resigned to ‘the doctor’ making a success of it.
    ‘You wants some proper advice about it, doctor,’ he proclaimed, over his third pint of local cider. ‘Otherwise you’ll fall flat on your face.’
    And where am I going to get that, Jimmy?’enquired his boss. ‘I’ve read umpteen books on viniculture, what more do I need?’
    ‘You can read a dozen books on riding a bicycle, but that don’t help you when you first gets on one!’ retorted the grizzled old gardener. ‘A pal o’ mine down in Cowbridge does some hedgin’ and ditchin’ for a fellow nearby who has got about five acres of vines and has been making booze there for a couple of years. I reckon he’d let you go down there and have a look round and a chat if you got in touch.’
    ‘Don’t encourage him, Jimmy!’ complained Angela. ‘Or he’ll end up closing our forensic business and going bankrupt trying to market Chateau Merthyr Tydfil or something!’
    Her partner made a face at her and went into a huddle with Jimmy to get more details of this alcoholic Garden of Eden down in the Vale of Glamorgan. The time went on and eventually the party broke up, Richard taking the Humber down the valley to drop off Moira at her house and Priscilla at her lodgings, before taking Sian the five miles down to Chepstow, as the last bus had long gone.
    When he got back, Angela had just finished washing up glasses in the kitchen and was on her way to bed.
    ‘Thanks for the celebration, Richard,’ she said warmly, as they walked up the corridor. ‘It was good of you to give Priscilla a nice send-off. I know she’s worried about her job prospects. She says she’s got some savings tucked away, but they won’t last long in London.’
    ‘Perhaps she ought to look for a temporary place in one of the forensic departments there, even though she says she wants to go back to digging holes in the ground. I could have a word with someone in Guy’s, or St George’s or The London Hospital.’
    Angela smiled affectionately at him as she moved to the foot of the stairs.
    ‘You’re a real Good Samaritan, aren’t you? You’ve fixed up Sian to become a biochemist, you’re encouraging Moira to become a lawyer and now you’re going to get a job for Priscilla! What are you going to do for me, eh?’
    She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and hurried up the stairs, leaving him thoughtfully touching his face as he contemplated the possible answers to her question.

NINE

    Gwyn Parry sat in his detective inspector’s office upstairs in the police headquarters on the promenade in Aberystwyth. Though a small room, its one window had a striking view across the beach and Cardigan Bay, from which sometimes Gwyn imagined he could see the Wicklow Mountains across the Irish Sea.
    He was waiting for Meirion Thomas to finish his phone call, which he had made after the sergeant had told him what he had heard from Birmingham. The DI seemed more impressed with the rumour than he had expected, but being a cautious man, he kept to the old police principle of keeping his backside covered in case it was kicked by his senior officers. He had phoned the Deputy Chief and was speaking to him now.
    From the rapid-fire conversation in Welsh, Gwyn gathered that the DCC was in favour of pursuing the matter and this was confirmed when Meirion put the phone down and picked up his 1953 Coronation mug of strong tea.
    ‘Davy John says to go ahead with it, at least as far as asking the Birmingham City Police to see if there is any substance in this yarn. He suggests going through your brother-in-law to find out who is the best person to approach, then if it firms up, we’ll have to make an official request for help.’
    The detective sergeant nodded as he cradled his own dose of Typhoo Tips, in a cup inscribed ‘A Present from Tenby’.
    ‘Do you think there could be a connection?’ he grunted. ‘It sounds damned far-fetched to me. It’s a hundred miles between Borth and Birmingham — and the trail would have been cold for at least ten years.’
    Meirion shrugged as he looked out of the window at a lobster boat half a mile out at sea.
    ‘We’ve got nothing else, boy! If B’rum will have a sniff around for us, we’ve got nothing to lose.’
    ‘What about those two clever dicks from the Met?’ muttered Gwyn. ‘Will they have to come back in on the act?’
    ‘Now fair play, Gwyn!’ replied the DI placatingly. ‘They did what they could, even if it was damn-all. Let’s just wait and see if anything turns up, shall we?’
    On Monday, Tony Cooper was on an early shift at the police station in Steelhouse Lane in the central part of the city, near the courts and hospitals. His wife’s brother-in-law had come up over the weekend and told him of the blessing that the Cardiganshire Force had given to a discreet snoop around to see if there was any credibility in the legend of the mysterious head.
    When his next refreshment break came, he went up to the canteen and, after a plate of bacon, egg and baked beans, took his tea over to another table where a detective sergeant he had known for years was sitting. He told him the story and asked him if he had any ideas about how to take this forward.
    ‘If there’s even a sniff of truth in this, then it’ll become official,’ he explained. ‘But the Welsh chaps don’t want to raise a fuss if there’s nothing in it.’
    His colleague had never heard anything of a trophy head, but offered to enquire amongst other CID men, once again lengthening the chain of investigation.
    ‘I’ve always been either in the city or out east,’ he admitted. ‘But someone up in the Winson Green or Handsworth Manors might know something.’
    He was as good as his word and next day, several plain-clothes officers in the older suburbs to the north-west of the city centre were asking questions of both their older colleagues and some members of the public. They were not going far from their normal routine to do this, but a natural curiosity, plus the not-unwelcome task of going into a few more pubs than usual, helped to spread the word quite effectively.
    One of the older constables in Handsworth claimed that he had heard the same rumour many years before, probably soon after VE Day in 1945, but could recall none of the details nor whether it had ever been followed up. A day later, the best information came through a detective sergeant in the same area, who had occasion to meet one of his grasses, a local petty thief who in return for a few pounds and a relaxed attitude to some minor offences supplied him with snippets of news about local burglaries and the activities of worse villains than himself.
    They met in a greasy spoon cafe at the end of one of the long streets of terraced houses, some of which still carried gaps like missing teeth, where Luftwaffe bomb damage had yet to be repaired. After the furtive-looking man in a stained war-surplus greatcoat had passed on this week’s trivial criminal intelligence, the DS casually broached the subject of pickled heads.
    ‘Ever heard of anything like that, Sweeny?’ he asked innocently. The unshaven man opposite looked at him suspiciously, as he took a bent cigarette from a battered tin.
    ‘What you wanna’ know that fer? Going back donkey’s years, that is!’
    ‘Just some rumour going round the station that one of the old fellers claimed he’d heard. Said it was supposed to be in some pub around here.’
    Sweeny, whose nickname inevitably came from his surname of Todd, looked uneasily around the single room of the cafe, empty but for the fat woman dozing behind the counter.
    ‘Any money in it for the info?’ he muttered.
    ‘Ach, come on, man!’ retorted the detective. ‘This is a bit of local history, not jail bait.’
    Sweeny pushed aside a dribbling bottle of HP sauce and leaned across the oilcloth on the table.
    ‘I never saw it meself, but there’s no doubt there were one in the Barley Mow, down Winson way. Years ago, that was, when Olly Franklin were the landlord.’
    ‘If you never saw it, how d’you know it was there?’ objected the detective.
    ‘Anybody who knocked about with the gangs knew that!’ replied Sweeny, scornfully. ‘That’s why the bloody thing was kept, wann’ it?’
    ‘I don’t follow you,’ said the sergeant. ‘Are you having me on?’
    The sallow face looked at him pityingly. ‘It was a frightener, wann’ it? I wasn’t long out of the army then, but I soon learned that there were different gangs around here, real nasty bastards they were, too. I dunno who this bloke was, but he musta’ done something that really pissed off Mickey Doyle, ’cause he had him wasted and then kept his head as a warning to others.’
    Sweeny suddenly seemed to realize that he had said too much and stood up abruptly.
    ‘You didn’t hear nothing of this from me, mind!’ he warned. ‘I don’t want to get mixed up with Doyle and end up with my own head in a bloody bucket!’
    With that, he slouched off to the door and vanished into the street.
    When Sweeny’s information went back along the chain of police officers to reach Aberystwyth, David John Jones had no hesitation in rapidly turning it around again.
    He phoned the Assistant Chief Constable (Crime) in Birmingham and explained the situation, being careful to take responsibility for initiating the informal snooping, to avoid making problems for the Birmingham officers.
    ‘I thought the whole scenario was so unlikely that I didn’t want to waste your time with a lot of nonsense,’ he said with all the cunning of a Cardiganshire man. ‘But now that we have heard several different mentions of this damned head, I thought we might put it on an official footing.’
    He went on to tell his opposite number that the Yard were also involved and got the usual reaction.
    ‘Let’s make some more enquiries up here before we wheel them back in,’ suggested the ACC. ‘This man you mentioned, Micky Doyle, is well known to us. A villain of the first water, though he somehow manages to keep out of jail.’
    ‘What could possibly be the connection between a body hidden down here and the rest of him being up there with you?’ asked Davy John. ‘Is this suggested gang connection feasible?’
    ‘I came down here from Manchester, so I’ll believe anything about gang warfare,’ said the Birmingham officer. ‘Anyway, I’ll get some men on to it and get back to you.’
    With a promise to mail the whole file on the ‘Body in the Bog’ to him, David Jones rang off and sat back to ponder on when — or even, whether — to tell New Scotland Yard about this potential new development.

TEN

    Garth House seemed emptier without the colourful and vivacious figure of Priscilla Chambers decorating it. Even Moira, who originally viewed her arrival with more than a tinge of jealousy, missed her attractive personality and cheerful manner.
    ‘Let’s hope Priscilla gets a job she likes pretty soon,’ she said to Sian, as the technician brought in some results for typing. ‘She seemed so keen on going back to her old bones.’
    ‘I thought that perhaps she and Richard might have got something going between them,’ said the ever-romantic Sian. ‘Especially as nothing of the sort seems to be developing elsewhere!’
    She said the last part in a stage whisper, though Richard was at Hereford mortuary and Angela was in her front sitting-room, reading a newly arrived copy of the Journal of Forensic Sciences from America.
    Moira failed to respond to Sian’s comment, as although she knew it was a ridiculous fantasy, she had her own dreams about Richard Glanville Pryor. To change the subject, she told Sian about a phone message she had just received.
    ‘They want another conference in Bristol over this Appeal,’ she announced. ‘The QC is coming down from London for it, so Richard and Angela will have to make another trip across the river.’ She sighed heavily. ‘I wish I knew more about the law. The more I see of it here, the more I want to learn. It seems far more interesting from this angle than all that dull stuff about probate and conveyancing that I used to type when I worked in a solicitor’s office.’
    Sian was upbeat about Moira’s ambition. ‘I’m sure Richard will help you. He promised he would and he never breaks his word. In fact, I heard him telling Angela only yesterday that he would have a word with his friend the Monmouth coroner, as his brother is a barrister.’
    Encouraged by this, Moira began banging her typewriter with new enthusiasm, contented that her hero was still thinking of her well-being.
    Christmas was now only a few weeks away and Angela was planning to have a few days at home over the holiday. She was still concerned about her mother, though she was recovering well from her slight stroke. Angela drove back to see her at their stud farm every weekend, just as Richard went quite often to visit his parents in Merthyr Tydfil. He could rely on being well fed there, instead of staying in lonely isolation at Garth House. Moira always made lunch for him on Saturdays, but Sunday was down to his own efforts, unless he went out somewhere to eat.
    The message about the case conference with leading counsel also carried the news that the Appeal had been listed for early January, so Richard had resolved to go soon to the libraries of the medical schools in Bristol and Cardiff. He wanted to check that he had read everything available about the estimation of the time of death, so that he could not be wrong-footed if it came to a contest in court. He had just read an important article that had been published earlier in the year, originating from Ceylon, but wanted to make sure that nothing even more recent had slipped past his notice. Richard knew that Doctor Angus Mackintyre was one of the dogmatic old school of ‘It is so, because I say so’ philosophy, but he did not want the opposition to find even one chink in his own argument. Even if not relevant to the issue, he knew that once an expert witness is shown to have a weakness, it can be used to denigrate the rest of his evidence.
    However, he was distracted a little when, the next day, he was waylaid by Jimmy in the backyard, who told him that his crony who sometimes worked in the Glamorgan vineyard had spoken to his boss there about Richard’s interest in establishing a similar project. The owner, Mr Louis Dumas, said that he would be happy to show Doctor Pryor around his estate and Jimmy had brought a crumpled piece of paper with a telephone number and an invitation to arrange a meeting. Richard was delighted, as his volatile imagination saw him soon being admitted into the arcane brotherhood of vintners. He phoned that evening and made an appointment to go down to visit Monsieur Dumas on Saturday of the following week — he already mentally applied the French title to him, after hearing the slight but definite Gallic accent over the telephone. When he told Angela later, she could not resist teasing him in her quiet way.
    ‘Monsieur Dumas, no less! I suppose we’ll end up having to call you the Count of Monte Cristo!’
    She was not to know that this new contact was to lead to something more complicated than just growing grapes.
    After the ACC in Birmingham had spoken to David Jones and agreed to launch an investigation into the missing head, he discussed it with his Head of CID, a chief superintendent, who next day called the DCI for the Division in which Winson Green and Handsworth were situated. The order trickled down this chain of command until it reached those officers who would actually have to do the work.
    A copy of the slim file on the headless body arrived from Aberystwyth and eventually landed on the desk of a harassed inspector at the police station in Foundry Road.
    Trevor Hartnell was an experienced detective, but had only been in this division for about three years and had never heard of this elusive head. However, the name Micky Doyle was well known to him as one of the local gangsters who was slippery enough never to have been successfully prosecuted.
    Hartnell called his sergeant and four detective constables into his cubicle in the dreary CID room and explained the situation to them.
    ‘The brass in headquarters want us either to find this bloody cranium or prove it’s all a fairy story. The best lead we’ve got is what this snout in Handsworth said, about it being in the old Barley Mow.’
    His sergeant, a burly bruiser named Tom Rickman, stroked the jowls under his chin.
    ‘That’s long gone, for a start. The Co-op have built a shop on it now.’
    ‘Have you ever heard of this yarn, Tom?’ asked the DI.
    Rickman was dismissive. ‘Yeah, but it’s just a bit of the daft gossip that gets dredged up now and then, when folks have a few too many pints.’
    One of the younger DCs had been scanning a copy of the file, updated with local information. ‘That grass over in Handsworth mentioned the landlord of that pub, guv’nor. That seems fairly definite, doesn’t it?’
    The inspector nodded.
    ‘That’s what you lot have got to follow up. Find this landlord, if he’s still around. Ask anyone you can think of, if they’ve any knowledge of this whole business. The chief super is keen to get this sorted, as he says he’s got the ACC on his back.’
    After a few more minutes discussing shift rotas and other bits of housekeeping, the team broke up and went their various ways, Tom Rickman heading straight for the place where the demolished pub had once stood.
    His tall, broad figure strode along the depressing streets of the area, where rows of shabby red-brick houses were interspersed with small workshops and warehouses. Many of the faces he passed were West Indian, who were coming in increasing numbers to work in the factories.
    A few Asians were beginning to appear as well and Rickman, born and bred in Birmingham, wondered what it would be like here in thirty years’ time.
    He strode on, his creased fawn raincoat belted tightly around his beer belly, a brown trilby pulled down to his prominent ears. On a corner just ahead, he saw the magic word ‘Co-op’ in large letters above the door of a shop. On each side, running up for fifty yards into each side street, were some new utilitarian maisonettes, the whole development built on ground once occupied by the old public house.
    The detective sergeant stood on the opposite corner for a few moments, looking across as if he was looking into the past when the Barley Mow was still there. He remembered it as it was five years earlier, though by then it was well past its prime. He recalled its windows being boarded up before the bulldozers came to flatten it, together with an acre of adjacent terraced houses, making way for this cheap and nasty new development. No doubt a few brown envelopes had changed hands to ease planning permission, he thought cynically.
    Crossing the road, narrowly being missed by an almost silent electric milk-float that came around the corner, he went into the shop, which was one of the new breed of self-service places that were springing up. A Caribbean girl was stacking bottles of Camp Coffee on a shelf and he asked her where he could find the manager. She pointed to a raised cubicle with glass windows looking down on the single till, where another girl was checking items produced from a wire basket by a customer.
    Rickman went up a couple of steps and after tapping perfunctorily on the door he went in to find a middle-aged man in a brown warehouse coat peering suspiciously down at the transaction at the till down below.
    ‘Got to keep an eye on them,’ he muttered obscurely, as he turned to meet the visitor. The sergeant identified himself, but made no effort to show his warrant card, his usual practice unless challenged.
    ‘Have you been here since this place opened, sir?’ he asked. Like many people questioned by a policeman, the manager looked anxious, wondering which of his minor indiscretions was being probed. However, after he had admitted to being there since the place opened two years earlier, he was relieved to hear that the sergeant’s interest was in the previous building.
    ‘I remember the Barley Mow well,’ he admitted. ‘A damned rough place. I never drank there, even though I’ve lived within half a mile of it all my life. What’s all this about, Officer?’
    ‘Just routine enquiries, sir. Tell me, what happened to the cellars of the old pub? Are they still under the shop?’
    The man shook his bald head. ‘No, they filled them in with all the rubble they had from knocking it down. This is the only floor we’ve got, as there’s a new storeroom built on behind.’
    That’s one line of enquiry knocked on the head, thought Rickman, recalling the mention of the elusive head being kept in the cellar. ‘What about the last landlord, is he still around — or even still alive?’ he asked.
    This time, the manager’s head wagged up and down.
    ‘Olly Franklin? The brewery gave him another tenancy when he lost this one. I don’t know where he went. It’s a wonder he got another pub, though.’
    ‘Why d’you say that?’
    The man shrugged and made a face. ‘It was such a dodgy place, the Mow! Some right nasty bastards used to drink there. Everyone knew they were fencing stolen goods — and in the war, a lot of black-market stuff used to be handled there. I don’t remember that far back, I only got demobbed in ’forty-seven. But Olly had a bad reputation, as he was hand in glove with the gangs.’
    The detective pondered this. If the pub had had such a bad reputation, it must have been well known to the police at that time. There should be records of what went on there, but Rickman was cautious, as if there was any signs of ‘the blind-eye act’ being operated by the police, he didn’t want to be the one to open that particular can of worms.
    He left the Co-op and went about his other business for the day, as there was plenty of crime to occupy him. At the end of his shift, he went to the DI’s cubbyhole and found him still there, wading through the inevitable paperwork.
    ‘Nothing at all left of the pub, guv’nor. The cellars are filled in, so there’ll be no head to find, unless it’s buried. And you’ll have to demolish the Co-op for that!’
    Trevor Hartnell sighed; he had enough work on his plate already.
    ‘This landlord, Olly Franklin. Nothing known about his whereabouts, is there?’
    The grizzled sergeant turned up his palms. ‘Nothing, but I suppose a search of the electoral roll or the licensing authority might flush him out.’
    He hesitated, but then took the plunge. ‘What about our own records from a few years ago? I got the impression that the Barley Mow was a hang-out for real villains, so surely this station must have some dealings with it?’
    Trevor Hartnell thought he caught a wink from Rickman’s eye and he knew what was being suggested. Both of them were in other Divisions until a few years ago and were clear of any dubious goings-on before then.
    ‘I’ll get someone to go through Records to see if the place crops up. I doubt any pocketbooks will have survived from the end of the war, but you never know.’
    Two days later, the DI held another morning briefing with his men. The youngest — and brightest — detective constable had been to police headquarters and trawled through the records for their Division for the latter years of the war and the first few after VE Day.
    ‘Nothing very serious involving the Barley Mow, sir,’ he reported. ‘Quite a few attendances for drunk and disorderly conduct and a couple for riotous behaviour in the pub. A few people were nicked for possessing stolen property and some black-market prosecutions as well — but they weren’t actually offences in the Barley Mow, they were folk who claimed that they had bought the stuff there, but no evidence brought to substantiate it.’
    ‘Any sign of the ex-landlord, this Olly Franklin?’ asked the inspector.
    Another constable put his hand up. ‘I found an address, sir. I checked with the licensing people first. Franklin went from the Barley Mow to the White Rose in Smethwick for a bit, but it looks as if the brewery that owned them gave him marching orders about two years ago.’
    ‘So where is he now?
    ‘He’s not listed as a licensee any more. I went to the electoral roll and the Rating Authority and found he’s registered as residing at 186 Markby Road.’
    ‘That’s right in Winson Green,’ said Rickman. ‘D’you want me to pay him a call, guv?’
    ‘I think we’d both better go, Tom,’ replied the DI.

ELEVEN

    The weather had turned very cold by the time Richard Pryor and Angela were due to go to Bristol for another conference about Millicent Wilson. As they drove down the lower part of the deep Wye Valley to Chepstow, the leafless trees looked black, except for a rime of frost on the upper branches. Richard was glad of an efficient heater in the Humber, which was still a novelty for him, as his Austin A70 in Singapore would have needed a heater like the proverbial hole in the head.
    Under a grey sky which threatened snow, they made the now familiar ferry crossing over the Severn on a choppy tide the colour of lead, then across a frozen countryside towards Bristol. This was the first really cold weather Richard had experienced since returning from the Far East, and he was glad that the women in his life had recently persuaded him to buy an overcoat. He had returned from Singapore with a selection of locally-made linen suits, which Angela, Sian and Moira had privately decided made him look like Stewart Granger in one of his safari films. They had browbeaten him into getting a couple of more sober suits, better adapted to the British climate, for which he was now grateful.
    This morning, Angela was even better equipped for the frost, as over her slimline business suit she wore a dark beaver lamb coat, with a matching fur hat. As she sat snugly in the passenger seat beside him, Richard thought she looked cuddly, an image which sustained him for the rest of the drive into St Paul’s.
    When they arrived at the unprepossessing offices of Middleton, Bailey and Bailey, they found Penelope Forbes and Douglas Bailey already there, together with their ‘silk’, Paul Marchmont. He was younger than Richard had expected, probably just a couple of years older than himself. Instead of the portly, silver-haired orator that was the stage concept of a QC, Marchmont was tall and wiry, with an unruly mane of black hair which he kept flinging aside with a hand in an almost theatrical gesture. Richard guessed that he was bit of a showman, like many successful barristers.
    After introductions were made, Marchmont got down to essentials, as his time was money — lots of it!
    ‘Miss Forbes, Mr Bailey and myself have spent an hour going over the legal aspects of the case and reviewing the circumstantial evidence,’ he began. ‘This Appeal stands or falls upon a defence of alibi, which is really the only issue we can use, so the medical contribution is vital.’
    He turned a ten-kilowatt smile on Angela, making her decide that he could either be a charming advocate or a deadly adversary.
    ‘That includes you of course, Doctor Bray. Your opinion about the blood stains is very important. Perhaps we could lead off with that aspect first.’
    Angela, a battle-hardened expert witness, had no hesitation in launching into a clear and succinct account of the significance of the blood found on the sleeve of Millie Wilson’s coat. She had her sketches and an album of police photographs on her lap as she spoke.
    ‘There seems no dispute that Millie hit Shaw twice on the nose with a pint milk bottle in retaliation for his assault on her late that evening. The post-mortem recorded a bruised and broken nose which accords with several heavy blows. Neither is there any doubt about the blood on her coat having coming from Shaw, as the forensic lab in Bristol clearly showed that it is of a group and subgroups consistent with him and quite unlike Millie’s own blood.’
    Paul Marchmont listened intently, then nodded and, having brushed back his hair, came to the heart of the matter.
    ‘The Crown claims that it came from the fatal wound in the chest. You can dispute that?’
    ‘Yes, and I fail to see why it wasn’t challenged at the trial. The transcript of evidence shows that their pathologist agreed that it was “entirely possible” when it was put to him, but he wasn’t pressed about it. There was no contrary evidence led by the defence on that point.’
    ‘And you have some?’ queried the Queen’s Counsel.
    ‘Part of this is more in Doctor Pryor’s province, and I’m sure he can answer for himself. But from the forensic biology point of view, these blood “stains” are really blood “spots”, having travelled through the air and landed on the sleeve of the coat, rather than being smears. I also found, from trawling through all the evidence, that she was left-handed and this was the left sleeve. That point was never raised at the trial.’
    ‘But why could not the same spots have come from the chest wound?’ demanded Marchmont. ‘Her hand, whether left or right, would be virtually touching the chest if she stuck the knife in it.’
    Angela shook her head and proffered the photograph album, opened at a page showing a close-up of the woman’s jacket sleeve.
    ‘These are a shower of tiny spots, quite well spaced. They are not contact smears; they are from a fine spray striking the cuff area.’ She held out her left arm and indicated the outside of her own sleeve, just above the wrist.
    ‘I think Doctor Pryor will bear me out in my opinion that a single stab wound through clothing in the chest, which did not penetrate any substantial arterial blood-vessels, would not produce any spray, as virtually all of the fatal bleeding was internal, within the chest organs.’
    Though she needed little support, Richard came in here to confirm what she was saying.
    ‘You can see from the photographs of the body at the scene that there was hardly any bleeding externally. He was wearing a vest, shirt and waistcoat and all that is visible is a stain soaked into the cloth around the narrow slit where the knife went in.’
    ‘Could this spray not have come off the knife when it was pulled out?’ asked Douglas Bailey. ‘I’ve been involved in cases where there’s blood all over the room — even on the ceiling — from spatter off a weapon.’
    ‘Sure, that happens, usually with blunt instruments or things like axes. But almost always, the weapon has been applied to surfaces that are already bloody from previous blows. Usually, a single blow causes a momentary contraction of blood vessels and it’s a few seconds before enough blood flows for the second or third blow to pick enough liquid to throw around the place.’
    ‘And Millie hit him at least twice on the nose with her bottle,’ concluded Angela. ‘So she could have caused a splash with her second impact, throwing a local spray back on to her sleeve.’
    ‘The other thing is that when the knife was found on the floor, only a close inspection could tell it had been used,’ said Richard, with a quickening fluency of which his grandfather, a Welsh Methodist preacher, would have approved. ‘There were some faint dried blood smears on the blade, but it took proper examination in the laboratory to confirm it. So there was very little blood on it, certainly not enough to cause a shower of spots. When a knife is pulled out cleanly from a wound, the muscle contraction can close the edges tightly against the blade and wipe it. And then of course there were three layers of clothing to give it an additional wipe.’
    The QC nodded. ‘You’ve convinced me, doctors, but we have to convince three sceptical Lords of Appeal. Now what about the time of death? That’s where we will win or lose.’
    Coffee appeared, giving Richard time mentally to gird his loins before setting off on a much more detailed argument.
    ‘Let me make it clear, Mr Marchmont,’ he began after they had settled down again. ‘I cannot deny that Arthur Shaw might well have died at around eleven or twelve o’clock that night, as the prosecution claimed. But what I can do is show that, because of the uncertainty of the methods their pathologist relied on, he could have died several hours either side of that claim. Obviously, that could not have been on the earlier side, as a number of the people in the house saw him alive until he went upstairs to assault Millie. But the hours after that time are certainly in contention.’
    ‘This is where we need a detailed argument, Doctor Pryor,’ said Paul Marchmont. ‘You are directly at odds with their expert on this.’
    ‘Right, let’s take the easy ones first,’ said Richard. ‘Their Doctor Mackintyre said that he relied on a concurrence of post-mortem lividity, rigor mortis, stomach contents and temperature to arrive at his conclusion that death had occurred between eleven and twelve o’clock. That is utter nonsense, as any medical man who, from an imperfect examination fourteen hours later, puts a time of death within a one-hour bracket is either ignorant or foolish!’
    ‘Strong words, doctor!’ said the QC.
    ‘If he had said “consistent with those times”, I would agree with him, but that then fails to destroy Millie’s alibi, as someone else could have done the deed outside the very short time bracket.’
    Marchmont once again tossed his hair back. ‘Carry on, please, doctor.’
    ‘First, lividity, or “livor mortis” as it was probably called in Doctor Mackintyre’s day. Completely useless as a timer of death. It can even occur in deep coma, such as barbiturate overdose. But the time it takes to appear due to gravitational settling of the red blood cells is extremely variable. To use that to pin down a time to an hour, when seen half a day later, is little short of ludicrous.’
    Penelope Forbes, who had been very quiet in the presence of her leader, came in with a query that showed that she had researched the case in depth.
    ‘Haven’t I read that this lividity becomes fixed after a certain number of hours, which can be used in timing?’
    ‘That is certainly in all the textbooks, but in practice it is very variable and often doesn’t occur at all,’ was the firm reply. ‘I’ve experimented myself and found it to be totally unreliable.’
    Douglas Bailey was getting out of his depth here. ‘Can you explain that, Doctor Pryor?’
    ‘When the blood cells settle, they are still inside the veins under the skin, so that the dark reddish-purple colour is visible. The delay for this to happen is very variable — in fact, in some old or anaemic people, it is never visible. Now if the body is moved after death, such as being turned over, the blood may or may not reposition itself towards the new lowest areas. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. For years, pathologists and police surgeons have tried to put a timeline on when it stops moving and becomes fixed. But even when fixation does occur, it’s so random in its timing as to be useless. I’ve copied out the opinions given for this and for timing rigor mortis from almost a dozen textbooks of forensic medicine and you will see that the range of disagreement runs to many hours, so it’s of virtually no value!’
    He passed around a few carbon copies of Moira’s typing and waited until the three lawyers had scanned them.
    ‘So what about rigor mortis? That’s always held up in detective novels to be the bee’s knees for timing death,’ said Paul Marchmont.
    ‘Much the same criticism as with hypostasis,’ replied Richard. ‘There are generalizations, which are not at all accurate — and so many exceptions to the generalizations that no useful rules remain.’
    ‘Can you expand on that a little, doctor? asked Penelope Forbes. Angela watched her partner and recognized him getting into lecture mode. She knew he was good at it and wondered if his students in Bristol University appreciated him.
    ‘Rigor is stiffening of all the muscles of the body after death, due to a chemical reaction affecting their proteins. The problem is that there are a number of factors which affect the speed and intensity of this stiffening. For example, strenuous activity shortly before death hastens it appreciably, which is why battle casualties often have a rapid onset of rigor. The same happens after electric shock. Then temperature also accelerates it and cold delays it. I’ve seen a body dead in the snow for some days with no rigor, but as soon as it was brought into the mortuary, it stiffened up.’
    ‘It was a very hot period when Arthur Shaw died in June last year,’ interjected the solicitor. ‘It was virtually a heatwave.’
    ‘I realized that, Mr Bailey, which was why I phoned the weather people at Bristol Airport the other day. Their records showed that the temperature, even at midnight, was much higher than usual for that date, so there’s another factor to use in the argument.’
    ‘What effect would that have had?’ asked the QC.
    ‘Rigor could have come on faster, giving the impression that death had occurred earlier than it really did. The trouble with that argument is that the accuracy of back-calculating is so poor that trying to adjust for temperature is not much use.’
    ‘So the old formulae given in the books I’ve seen for calculating from rigor is just not correct?’ persisted Miss Forbes.
    Richard shook his head. ‘It’s the old story of the bell-shaped curve, which pervades much of biology. There’s a high point on the graph where most of the cases lie where, say, rigor comes on in three to six hours or so. But on each side of the peak, there’s a slope where the other cases lie, either earlier or later. If the bell is high and narrow, then accuracy is better, but if, as with rigor, the bell is low and flat, then there’s no chance of accuracy.’
    He cleared his throat. ‘And that’s just for the onset of rigor. It increases in strength, then eventually passes off, called resolution, but the time when that happens is even more unpredictable. Unfortunately, many of the textbooks stick to the myth of a reliable timescale and copy it from edition to edition, because there’s nothing better to replace it with.’
    ‘You sound a bit of cynic, doctor,’ observed Paul Marchmont with a smile.
    ‘I prefer to think of myself as a realist,’ replied Richard. ‘The younger generation of pathologists are hopefully more critical of these sacred ideas of the older, dogmatic school. I met a German pathologist at a meeting last year, who is combing all the medical literature for over a century to list the variations in opinions about hypostasis and rigor.’
    ‘We’ve got stomach contents next; are you just as pessimistic about those?’ asked the senior barrister.
    Richard rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. ‘Even worse! The old legend about stomach contents emptying in about two and half hours is again the top of the biological bell, but there are even more variable factors. The type of food, amount of liquid in it, amount of starch, personal variation and even variations in the same person. You can measure the speed of emptying in Bill Smith one day, then give him the same food another day and get a different answer! Fear, injury, coma, pain and emotional upset all modify the speed of digestion and emptying. To use it to calculate a time of death to within an hour is frankly ridiculous!’
    ‘Is examining the stomach contents of no use whatsoever, then?’ asked Douglas Bailey.
    ‘Only in the very broadest terms, insufficient to use as probative evidence. It might tell you what the last meal was and therefore you’d know that death occurred after the time it was eaten. For instance, if a man ate a curry one evening and was found dead two days later with a stomach full of curry, you’d know he hadn’t lived long enough to have his usual ham and eggs for breakfast next day.’
    Angela came back here, as this was partly her province.
    ‘Even that’s not easy, unless digestion had not proceeded very far. We can often identify certain foods under the microscope, like meat fibres and some vegetables — but we’re not like the sleuths in crime novels, who can discover that the deceased had consumed a salmon sandwich and a cup of Earl Grey tea three hours before death!’
    Marchmont held up his hands in mock surrender. ‘I get the point. Now what about temperature, which you said was the best method?’
    ‘Well, I said the least inaccurate,’ amended Richard. ‘Doctors have been trying since about 1840 to devise a formula to calculate time of death from the obvious drop in temperature after death — unless, of course, you happen to die in some parts of the tropics, where the post-mortem temperature actually increases!’
    ‘I don’t think Bristol comes into that category,’ said Douglas Bailey wryly.
    ‘No, but the temperature at the scene is very important, and we know that Shaw was killed during a Bristol heatwave,’ countered the pathologist. ‘The problem is that the investigation was poorly carried out, as no one took the room temperature nor the body temperature when the scene was visited. Doctor Mackintyre didn’t attend the scene and didn’t even see the body until the afternoon, over six hours after it was found, when he eventually put a thermometer in the rectum.’
    ‘And that matters in calculating the interval?’ asked Marchmont.
    ‘It’s vital, as for at least six hours, the body was cooling in the mortuary, no doubt much colder than the flat in St Paul’s, which distorts the cooling curve. We should really find out whether the place was air-conditioned, as some big city mortuaries are, which would increase the cooling even more. I’ve actually heard of a case where the body was put in the refrigerator for some hours until the post-mortem and then the pathologist took a temperature!’
    ‘So you can castigate any attempt at arriving at an accurate result?’ asked Penelope.
    ‘Certainly, I can! Even when the best procedures have been followed, the accuracy is poor and cannot be narrowed down to less than a couple of hours either side of the calculated time. It’s traditional to use a rule of thumb that a body cools at about one and half degrees Fahrenheit per hour, but all one can say about that is that if the answer turns out to be correct, it must be sheer luck!’
    He paused for breath and then carried on.
    ‘The size of the body, the amount of fat insulation under the skin, amount of clothing, fever, hypothermia, the environmental temperature, draughts, humidity and other factors make this little better than guesswork.’
    Paul Marchmont leaned back in his chair. ‘So you can confidently go into the witness box and declare that at the trial, the pathologist had been in error when he claimed that Arthur Shaw must have died between eleven and twelve o’clock that night?’
    ‘Absolutely. I’m sure he was just agreeing with the prosecution who were maintaining that the man was killed during that short window of opportunity when Millie Wilson was alone with the deceased.’
    ‘If he had been challenged on that, do you think he would have admitted that death could have been outside those tight limits?’
    Richard Pryor shrugged and turned up his hands in a Gallic gesture.
    ‘It’s not for me to say that, but I would have hoped that Docto