“Every man who holds a sword in his hand, holds murder in his heart.”
― James Islington, The Shadow of What Was Lost
Jack Richards was sitting at his home office desk, sweating profusely. He had the plan. He had the accomplice. The time and date were fixed. He was too nervous. “I need to calm down,” he kept telling himself. He took another swig of his favourite Oban 14 year single malt while he was scouring the fine print of his wife’s life insurance policy. He knew that most insurance companies were reluctant to pay for a suspicious death, but some do. He had been sure, somewhere in the back of his mind that this one did, but needed to be certain.
“Yes,” he suddenly exclaimed. “I knew it.”
He read the paragraph out loud, “and usually the beneficiary can claim and receive the policy benefit if they were not involved in the suspicious death. Otherwise, if the police investigation proves they participated in the act, they have no right to the death benefit “
Sonia Richards stepped into her knickers. She caught the reflection in the mirror as she straightened up. She smiled. At forty four she still had that same figure. She sat down on the bed to slide the satin touch, 15 denier stockings onto her smooth silky legs. She knew Bob was watching her. She took her time, taunting him, basking in the knowledge that he would do anything for her. She finally stood, stepped into her high heels and picked up her Louis Vuitton black leather shoulder bag. As she slipped it over her left shoulder, she winked at Bob and left the room, leaving him with the confident words, “see you next week, my darling,” trailing behind her.
Sonia lived in the fast lane. Although men were her main passion in life, she was a dedicated private accountant to some of the top firms in the city. She lived hard, played hard and had more than one ‘Bob’ in her life. Her only real problem is that she became bored with them too quickly. She liked the newness of a relationship, the exploring, and the excitement of that first time. Within a few months she was always ready to move on.
She also felt lucky. Her husband, Jack, was twenty years her senior and didn’t hold her back. Their sex life had long since ended. She saw her husband as a man who was more comfortable at the golf club or on the bowling green, than he was in the bedroom. And so, Sonia Richards lived a life of freedom, passion felt no guilt or remorse at her lifestyle and the way it might affect Jack.
The following day, Sonia had arranged to meet an old girlfriend after work.
“I won’t be back until late tonight Jack, so don’t feel you need to wait up,” she informed him over breakfast.
“Oh right,” he replied, “anyone interesting that you see?”
“Yes, I’m meeting Janet Wenders. You remember, the girl I studied with at Uni. We haven’t seen each other for over ten years. It will be nice to catch up. She has four children now, you know.”
“Have a nice evening. It fits well to my plans as Peter asked me round this evening to discuss the proposal for the new fountain in Blendow. If we can complete the offer in time, it should be a real money-spinner. We will probably go out for a drink afterwards.”
“Good, then see you tomorrow morning for breakfast, same time, same place as they say.”
Sonia looked relaxed and happy, whereas Jack had a hundred knots fighting for space in his stomach. With great effort he gave her a loose smile as she left the house.
It was almost eleven o’clock. Sonia walked back along a well-lit road until she came to her turning. It was a cul-de-sac but half a mile long and quite windy. In the car of course one would have to take the road, but in two places there was a pedestrian walkway between the houses, shortening the route considerably. She took the first jitty. It was dark, so dark that she thought about using her smartphone torch, but then decided that she wouldn’t need to after all. As she passed by a side alley into one of the houses she moved more quickly, sensing the first flutter of vulnerable nervousness. She had not taken more than two steps past the alley when oblivion hit her in an instant. She never woke. A loud scream was heard nearly an hour later, coming from a local barmaid, who was returning home after a long evening.
Chief Inspector Brad Bishop grunted loudly.
“What is it?” asked his sergeant.
“What is it? What is it? I’ll tell you what it is. It is six bloody weeks of nothing. Six week of the media screaming down our necks. Six weeks of the Super hauling me over the coals for coming up with nothing.”
Bishop was at the crematorium. The coroner had finally had to release the body for cremation. Bishop was cold, stamping his feet to keep warm on this frosty morning. He was hoping to see something, get some remote clue, but his expectations were low.
It all fitted into place. The affairs, the motive and the life insurance policy. He had been sure that it must have been Jack Richards. He would be the beneficiary, and it stopped his wife from embarrassing him at every opportunity. There were two things that protected Jack. First was his iron clad alibi. He had been with a colleague all evening. They had worked until ten o’clock, then gone to the Lion for a couple of beers, and finally back to work at Peter Simpson’s home until the early hours, to finish the proposal for a bloody fountain. Secondly, Bishop thought that no-one in their right mind would kill their own wife in their own street. Anyone could have seen him.
As Bishop watched all of the friends and relatives filing out of the service, he watched each face intently for some expression or clue that might provide him with a lead. His sergeant discreetly had the camera running.
They saw nothing unusual. Jack was clearly very tearful, being consoled as one would expect. The mood was typically sombre. Bishop was drawing a blank.
Jack had arranged a wake at a nearby hotel. Everyone drove off leaving just Bishop and his sergeant alone on the car park.
“Let’s get some lunch and I’ll meet you back at the office at four o’clock sharp. There are a couple of things I need to see to,” Bishop said as he drove off.
He followed the procession of cars to the Dorchester and found a very discreet parking spot. The lunch went on for hours. He was cold and miserable, wondering what the hell he was doing. He watched them leave in dribs and drabs, and waited until the last people were leaving.
There were three men standing outside, the last three from the wake. Bishop was too far away to hear, but their body language was clear. They were laughing and joking. One of them was Jack and the other Peter, his colleague and witness to his alibi. The third person was not known to Bishop. He took a couple of quick pictures, but from too far away. After some minutes, they shook hands and each went to their own cars. Bishop got the number of the unknown car.
A week later sergeant Faraday was sitting at his desk.
“Anything about our third man yet? “asked Bishop.
“Sorry Boss,” he replied. “Nothing yet except his name and occupation. He is Steven Bird, works in a bar over in Fitton Street. He has no form and seems like a normal run-of-the-mill guy. He enjoys amateur dramatics apparently.”
“What about his relationship to Jack Shepherd?”
The sergeant looked up puzzled. “He said there is none. He only came to the cremation because he knew Sonia Shepherd for many years before. Jack said he hardly knew the guy.”
“Well, it didn’t look like that when they stood outside the Dorchester last week.” Bishop walked off, thumbing his chin in thought, which reminded him to get a shave soon.
Something was running around in Bishop’s brain, but he just couldn’t pin it down. After thirty years on the job, he could sense the feeling of being near to a breakthrough, but needed to grasp it.
Bishop decided to have a relaxing evening with his wife. He had hardly seen her since the brutal killing. He called her. They arranged a nice duck stir fry, a nice bottle of red and a good film. He needed the break.
“Hey Rose, you haven’t ever come across a guy called Steven Bird have you? Apparently he is into amateur dramatics and there can’t be many drama companies around Blendow.” Despite the good food and wine, Bishop couldn’t completely switch off from his work.
“No, sorry Luv. I could ask around tomorrow night when I go to the cub if you like. Why? Is it to do with the murder? she replied.
“Probably not. Just a loose end I wanted to close off.”
They settled down to watch Cry Macho and Rose smiled and stroked her husband’s head as she watched with one eye on him and the other on the western. Within ten minutes into the film he was fast asleep and purring like a baby.
It was two days later, while they were having breakfast together that Rose remembered about Steven Bird.
“Oh, by the way,” she said, “a couple of people from the club knew this Steven Bird fellow. They said he wasn’t a very popular guy, tends to keep himself to himself most of the time. The only thing of any importance was that he has made a bit of a name for himself.”
Bishop looked up from his paper, “in what way?” he asked.
“Well, they say he has an amazing knack with makeup. His acting leaves a lot to be desired, but he is often called on by stage companies to help them with their makeup. They say he is a master of disguise.”
Back in the station the next morning, Bishop called his sergeant into the office.
Bishop began. “Right! It goes like this. Jack Shepherd was tired of living a life as the husband of a tart. People were beginning to talk. He needed it to stop. She also had a huge life insurance policy. Shepherd decided to kill her, but with a solid alibi. He organised it with his colleague and friend Peter Simpson and they hatched a plan together. What better alibi than a pub where they would be seen by a dozen or so other people. They needed a third person. That’s where Steven Bird came in. They needed a look-a-like, a master-of-disguise.
Jack Shepherd never was at Peter Simpson’s house on that evening. Bird was. Shepherd was skulking in a dark alley, waiting to club his wife to death.”
His sergeant didn’t know what to say. He found it all a bit far-fetched but knew better than to suggest that to Bishop. “I dunno Boss, what do you suggest we do now?”
I want all video footage, all CCTV film and the film you took from the cremation. There must be something we are missing.
That afternoon, Bishop was excited. The two of them worked well into the night, checking every bit of footage, frame by frame. They came up with nothing. At ten o’clock they call it a day and decide to have a nightcap in the pub. As they get out of Bishop’s car, his sergeant bends down to re-tie his shoe lace.
“That’s it’ That’s it. Get back in quick,” Bishop orders.
They race back to the office. Within minutes they are looking at the CCTV of Simpson and Shepherd entering the Lion, at 10.36pm. Just as they were leaving Shepherd bent down to tie his shoe lace. The time is clearly seen on the film, 11.52pm.
“There it is. We have him.” Bishop said, looking very self-satisfied with himself.
The sergeant was quiet. He had no idea what his boss was on about. Finally he plucked up the courage to ask. “Have what?” he asked nervously.
“Don’t you see?” Bishop could hardly contain himself. “He is lacing up his shoes. Shepherd always wears slip-ons. When we searched the house almost all of Shepherd’s shoes were slip-ons except for his trainers and some casual walking boots.”
They were able to reuse the previous search warrant and drove immediately to the home of Jack Shepherd. Luckily he was at home.
“Mr. Shepherd, we need to ask you a few more questions regarding the night of your wife’s murder.” Bishop stated firmly but politely.
“Of course. Anything that might help find the murderer is fine with me.” Jack was becoming quite efficient at appearing relaxed on the outside, while he was very anxious on the inside.
Bishop began. “On the night in question you said that you were wearing a fawn overcoat, dark brown scarf and brown cap. You were also wearing a pair of light blue Levis, and brown shoes. These are the items that you showed the sergeant on the day after the murder. We have confirmed the appearance of this attire on a number of CCTV films, which seemed to corroborate your statement. Can you please bring these items to us again?”
Jack’s smile disappeared. Yes, of course, but why?”
“Please, just do as we ask.” Bishop replied, maybe a little top eagerly.
Jack Shepherd returned with the said items.
Bishop took one look at the brown slip-on shoes, glanced over at his sergeant, and was already removing the handcuffs from his jacket pocket as he said, “You are under arrest on suspicion of the murder of your wife, Sonia Shepherd. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defense if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
Bishop and his sergeant frog-marched Shepherd to the car. It was clear already that Jack Shepherd would be found guilty. He didn’t try to object to the arrest. He just looked beaten and broken. His two accomplices would be rounded up within the hour.
On the way back to the station, the sergeant was mostly quiet. He was needing to digest the last few hours, understand and learn from his mentor, Brad Bishop. Finally he spoke.
“How did you know Boss? You knew on the day of the funeral that Jack Shepherd had killed his wife, without any evidence pointing you in that direction. How?”
Bishop grinned. He could now relax and bask in the glory of yet another crime solved.
“John,” he answered, using his sergeant’s first name for the first time in their long acquaintance, “it is the small things we need to focus on. Those are the things that give the game away.”
“Do you mean the shoe laces? But that came later. How did you know at the funeral?”
“It was easy. I saw as he walked to his car, after leaving the Dorchester on the day of the funeral, Jack Shepherd had far too much spring in his step”
Jack Shepherd had killed his wife because of the undignified way she had treated him. He knew of all of her lovers and affairs. He also knew of her five hundred thousand pound life insurance policy. Peter Simpson had been one of her lovers. At first, Jack hated him for it, but after some time found some sympathy. She had dumped Peter after a few months, threatening him with harassment charges if he didn’t back off. Peter then hated her as much as he did, therefore agreed to the murder plan, and they would share the insurance pay out, except for fifty grand which would go to Steven Bird for his part.
All three are now serving long prison sentences.