Extract 5 from Chapter 9
Valentine was first from the police vehicle; he strode round the front of the car and nodded to the young man. The detective watched the youth dig his hands into his pockets and raise his shoulders awkwardly. He didn’t make eye contact, but Valentine was close enough to see the pitted declivities that bordered his hairline in a sad echo of once-rampant acne.
‘Hello, I’m Detective Inspector Bob Valentine and this is my colleague Detective Constable McAlister.’
The pair were greeted with a nod but no introduction.
Valentine resisted the usual politesse in favour of a more direct approach. ‘And you would be?’
‘Adrian.’ He removed his hands from his pockets and brought them together across his chest, pressing a thumb into the flat of his palm.
He nodded. ‘My mum’s inside.’
Valentine raised a hand towards the door and started to walk. The wind was picking up and thin, dark rain clouds scythed the sky.
The home was airy; some muddy footprints that looked like they had come from Wellington boots covered the floor, but everywhere else was neat and tidy. Adrian ushered the police officers through to the lounge and directed them towards his mother, who was sitting next to a ruddy-cheeked man with his arm around her shoulder. As the officers were introduced to the man called Ronnie, he removed his arm and leaned back in the sofa.
Valentine approached the pair, which prompted Ronnie to distance himself further. ‘I’ll leave you be,’ he said, rising and turning to face Mrs Urquhart. ‘I’ll drop in again later. Just to see how you are.’
She nodded and sucked in her lower lip.
Valentine kept his eyes on Ronnie; he thought about engaging with him but decided it wasn’t the time or place. As the neighbour hurried out the door, Mrs Urquhart made to stand, but her balance didn’t seem to be functioning – she flounced on to the sofa’s arm and Adrian ran to her side to support her.
‘It’s OK, there’s no need to get up, Mrs Urquhart,’ said Valentine.
He watched her steady herself on the couch once more: her face was saturnine, the droop of heavy eyelids accentuated by dark hollows above the cheekbones.
A prominent white crease dissected her brow with almost clinical precision and then erased itself as black irises gave way to an expanse of white, rimmed in red.
As she took in Valentine, he felt her searching stare: it was a look that spoke to you without words; it was such a knowing look that Valentine wondered if his own thoughts were as discernible as the pages of a book to her.
He shifted himself sideways, sat down on the adjacent seat and crossed his legs. ‘Hello, Mrs Urquhart.’
‘Hello . . .’ She had the look of someone whose life had been a trial of hurts: not broken, or ever defeated, but a woman who had known considerable miseries and had grown to live with secrets.
‘I believe you called the station . . .’
She nodded. ‘Yes.’
‘Can you tell me when you first became aware that your husband was missing?’
Adrian squeezed his mother’s hand. ‘I think it must have been sometime yesterday afternoon.’
‘I take it Mr Urquhart has never been missing like this before?’
Valentine cast a glance at McAlister, who was walking around the room. ‘You will be aware of the television news bulletin.’
Mrs Urquhart nodded again, she scrunched up her eyes as she spoke. ‘Yes.’
Valentine shuffled uneasily on the chair, the woman was in no fit state for questioning, but it was one of those moments where the demands of the job overrode etiquette.
He lowered his voice. ‘I have to ask you, are you capable of making an identification?’
She looked towards her son and buried her head in his chest.
Adrian spoke. ‘Can I do that?’
Valentine’s mouth widened, but he didn’t have time to answer.
‘No. No. I’ll do it, detective,’ said Mrs Urquhart.
Valentine rose from the chair and beckoned to McAlister. It was pointless pressing her: very little of any value could be obtained from someone in such a profound state of mourning.
There was a prominent thought impressing itself upon Valentine’s mind, though: most murder victims knew their killers. She might indeed be in shock, but her gut reactions would be difficult to fake.
‘Mrs Urquhart, if I may ask just one question before we progress . . .’ The DI paused for a moment. ‘Can you think of anyone who would have a cause to harm your husband?’
Mrs Urquhart looked to her son and then turned on the detectives with steel in her eyes. ‘No, no one.’ Her cut-glass vowels seemed even sharper now. ‘Why . . . why would anyone want to do such a thing?’
Artefacts of the Dead by Tony Black, £7.99 paperback, Black & White Publishing.