Terminal Five at London Heathrow Airport was never less than busy, even first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Now, at nearly one o’clock in the afternoon, it was chaotic; people rushing from one gate to another, arguing with staff at the check-in desks, pulling luggage trolleys loaded with baggage and racing crying children to the baby-change areas.
Kate Redman had hoped to have some sort of romantic farewell with her boyfriend Tin before he got on his plane to New York that afternoon. As they stood by the departure gates, she realised she’d been being a bit naive. In all the tumult, she could scarcely hear herself think, let alone exchange meaningful and heartfelt last words before they had to say goodbye.
“God, this is hell,” said Tin, yanking his carry-on bag out of the way of a large woman pushing past him, who gave him a glare and a tut for his trouble.
“I know. You’ll be happy to get on the plane, just to get a bit of peace.”
“Look, let’s move. How about we have a drink at the champagne bar? One last treat before I have to go?”
Kate agreed, not because she had much of a liking for champagne but more so she could sit somewhere without being buffeted on all sides by stressed humanity. They waded their way through the crowds to the relative peace of the champagne bar and seized the first seats they could find. Kate took one look at the prices of the drinks and nearly fainted.
“It’s all right,” said Tin, noticing her bog-eyed look. “My treat. It’s the least I can do seeing as I’m flying out just before Valentine’s Day.”
Kate tried to smile. She’d bought Tin a gift and a card and tucked it away in the inner pocket of his suitcase. Should she mention it now or leave it to be a surprise? But then he might not discover it until much later and he’d think she hadn’t got him anything…
The glasses of champagne were placed before them, on top of black paper napkins. Kate watched the bubbles rise in the golden liquid as if hypnotised.
“So – cheers, then,” Tin said, clinking his glass gently against hers.
“Cheers.” All of a sudden, Kate’s throat was aching. Don’t cry. She stared at her champagne glass, watching the bubbles rise, blinking hard.
“Hey,” said Tin, gently. “It’s okay. It’s not for ever.”
“I know.” She didn’t say anymore because she didn’t trust her voice.
“I fully expect to see you out there with me in a few month’s time.”
“I know.” She managed a smile and to look him in the eye. That was the biggie, the pachyederm in the room. Would she join Tin permanently in New York? She went from thinking it would be a great opportunity and she should really just go for it, to thinking that it would be the death of her career and the worst decision she’d ever made in the world, often holding these two opposing viewpoints in a matter of minutes.
They finished their champagne and then Tin looked at his watch.
“God, I’m really going to have to go.”
Kate tried to smile encouragingly. She could tell that they were reaching the stage of goodbyes where everything had been said and the traveller was wanting to just go, just get the journey started. “Go on, then. You don’t want to miss your plane.”
“I’ll call you as soon as I land,” said Tin. He pulled her into an embrace and hugged her very tightly. “I won’t say goodbye, I hate goodbyes. I’ll say au revoir instead.”
“Au revoir, then. Have a good flight.” Kate’s voice betrayed her.
“Hey, now.” Tin kissed her and then let her go. “I’ll see you soon.”
Kate blinked back tears and forced a smile. She waved him off, watching him disappear through the departure gates. She couldn’t wait to get back to her car so she could have a proper cry. Head on the steering wheel, tissue in hand, let it all out for a few minutes and then it would be back on with the stiff-upper-lip and giving herself a stern talking too as she drove back to her home in the West Country. Pull yourself together woman. It’s not as if you’ll never see him again. But first, one good hard sob, Kate told herself and as she reached the escalator that led up to the car park level, she could feel her eyes beginning to brim.
Back in Abbeyford, the pretty market town that stood on the banks of the River Avon, Sergeant Paul Boulton was taking his shift in manning the front desk at the police station. He’d already dealt with a teenage runaway, two elderly gentlemen who had almost come to blows over a parking infraction and the now almost weekly arrest of local drug dealer Jason North (Paul was beginning to suspect that Jason was allowing himself to get caught because of some as yet unascertained reason. Although as every time Jason was collared he requested the same duty solicitor, a very pretty, glamorous young lawyer, Paul was pretty certain that Jason was getting careless because he’d fallen for his brief and this was the only way he had of spending time with her. The idiot).
Shaking his head at the stupidity of youth, Paul straightened the paperwork littering the desk, returned an errant pencil to a pot and looked up at a blast of wintry air as the main station door opened. He suppressed a sigh, bracing himself for more trouble. But the woman who walked in through the door didn’t, he had to admit, look like she’d be here to report anything more startling than a lost dog. She was in her early forties, with a carefully shaped mane of glossy brown hair, careful and discreet make-up, diamond earrings sparkling under the harsh striplights above. She was carrying in her hands a cardboard box displaying the logo of a very expensive and exclusive patisserie shop in Abbeyford’s town centre. Paul Boulton brightened up. She was clearly just delivering a cake. Was it for him? It’s not my birthday, he thought, before he switched on a smile and asked if he could help her.
“I’m so sorry, I wasn’t sure whether to call someone out or not. I mean, you hear all the time about the immense pressure the police are under. I didn’t want to, well, be a nuisance caller or something like that. So I thought perhaps I’d better just come here myself.” Her voice matched her appearance – well-bred accent, softly spoken. “I’m Mrs Houghton, Valerie Houghton.”
“You have something to report, Mrs Houghton?” Paul Boulton was conscious of a little stab of disappointment at getting no cake and inwardly chastised himself. How old did he think he was, five?
“Yes, I’m afraid I have,” said the woman, almost apologetically. She placed the cake box directly on the desk before him. “I found this on my doorstep this morning.”
She raised the brown and blue lid of the cake box. Paul Boulton leant forward a little to see what was inside it and recoiled sharply, just about managing to stifle a cry of shock.
“I’m sorry,” said the woman. “But you can see why I thought you might want to know about it.”
The cake box contained two objects, both incongruous against the luxurious packaging. The first was a lump of viscera, a bloody object of about four inches in diameter that Paul’s disbelieving gaze identified after a moment as a heart. An actual heart. It was pierced through the centre by the other object, a thin, metal-tipped arrow.
“Good God,” he said, on his feet now to look at it more closely. Was it human? Dear God, if it was, this was a damn sight more serious than he’d first thought. He looked up at the woman. “You found it on your doorstep like this? In the box?”
“Oh no. No, I thought I’d better put it in something and this was the only box I had. It was just lying there the doorstep in a puddle of blood. Disgusting.”
There was a set of footsteps heard and an exclamation from Detective Inspector Mark Olbeck, who had just walked through the door. “What the hell have you got there, Paul?”
The woman turned and gave a cry of recognition. “Why, Mark – it is Mark, isn’t it?”
Olbeck was smiling in response to her greeting. “Hello Valerie. What on Earth brings you here?”
This was an added complication that Paul Boulton could have done without. “Do you two know each other?”
“Her husband works with my husband,” explained Olbeck. “How is John, Valerie? Haven’t seen you both for ages.”
“Oh, he’s fine. Very busy, you know. Well I’m sure you do, it must be the same for Jeff—“
They were carrying on as if they’d both forgotten there was a bloody body part lying on the desk in front of them. “Excuse me?” demanded Paul Boulton. “DI Olbeck? What am I to do with this? Should I have forensics check it out?” He drew Olbeck to one side, out of earshot of Valerie and murmured, “What if it’s human?”
Sergeant Bill Osbourne had come up to both of them unnoticed. “It’s not,” he announced, peering over at what was in the cake box.
They both turned to face him. “How do you know?” asked Olbeck.
“My dad was a butcher. This is a pig’s heart or a cow’s heart, maybe. It’s definitely not human.”
“You sure, Bill?”
“Aye. As sure as I can be. Our dad used to bring them home sometimes for the dog.”
Paul and Olbeck exchanged looks of relief. “Well, that’s something,” said Olbeck. “Tell you what, Paul, shall I do Valerie’s statement? It shouldn’t take long. It’s probably just some malicious prank, youngsters making trouble. That sort of thing.”
Paul felt a little troubled by this. Detective Inspectors didn’t normally do the routine statements but if Olbeck was happy to do so, then that was one less thing he had to worry about…. “That would be great, thanks,” he said and returned to his station at the desk, watching with relief as Olbeck ushered Valerie Houghton into one of the interview rooms and bore the cake box away with him.