There was an unpleasant smell in the storm drain that had not been here yesterday. A putrefying animal, probably a rodent. Roy had noticed it when he first arrived, shortly before 9 a.m., and now, an hour later, he wrinkled his nose as he re-entered the drain, holding two bulging carrier bags of hot drinks foraged from a nearby Costa by a young, eager-to-please Police Community Support Officer.
The rain drummed down relentlessly, turning the ground outside into more and more of a quagmire, but, Grace realized, there was still no rise in the water level here. He wondered how much rain that would take. From his memory of the body of a young man found in the Brighton sewer network some years ago, he knew that all the drains connected into a trunk sewer that flowed out into the sea at Portobello near Peacehaven. If this drain had flooded, then it was likely that much of the evidence, in particular the victim’s clothes, would have been washed away long back.
Ignoring a couple of sarcastic comments about his new role as tea boy, his nerves ragged from his disturbed night and troubled thoughts about the skeleton, Roy began distributing the teas and coffees to the team, as if by way of apology – or atonement – for ruining their weekend.
The storm drain was a hive of activity. Ned Morgan, the POLSA, several search-trained officers and SOCOs, all in white suits, were dispersed along the tunnel. They were searching inch by inch through the mulch for shoes, clothes, items of jewellery, any shred or scrap, however small, that might have been on the victim when she had been put down here. Leather and synthetics would have the best chance of surviving in this damp environment.
On their hands and knees in the gloomy brick drain, in the chiaroscuro of shadows and brightness thrown by the lights that had been rigged up at intervals, the team made an eerie sight.
Joan Major, the forensic archaeologist, who was also encased from head to foot in a white suit, was working in silent concentration. If this ever came to trial, she would have to present to the court an accurate 3-D model of the skeleton in situ. She had just finished darting in and out, struggling with the lack of signal for the hand-held GPS device she was using to pinpoint and log the coordinates of the remains, and was now sketching the exact position of the skeleton in relation to the drain and the silt. Every few moments the flash from a SOCO photographer’s camera strobed.
‘Thanks, Roy,’ she said almost absently, taking the large latte he handed her and setting it down on a wooden box full of her equipment that she had placed on a tripod structure to keep dry.
Grace had decided he would make do with a light team over the weekend and then gear up on Monday morning. To Glenn Branson’s immense relief, Grace had given him the weekend off. They were working in ‘slow time’; there wasn’t the urgency that would apply if the death had been more recent – days, weeks, months or even a couple of years. Monday morning would be soon enough for the first press conference.
Maybe he and Cleo could still make their dinner reservation in London tonight and salvage something of the romantic weekend he had planned if – and it was a huge if - Joan got through her mapping and recovery process and the Home Office pathologist was able to do his post-mortem quickly. Some hope, he knew, with Frazer Theobald – and actually, where the hell was he? He should have been here an hour ago.
As if on cue, clad in white like everyone else in the drain, Dr Frazer Theobald made his entrance, warily, furtively, like a mouse scenting cheese. A stocky little man just under five feet two, he sported an untidy threadbare thatch of wiry hair and a thick Adolf Hitler moustache beneath a Concorde-shaped hooter of a nose. Glenn Branson had once said that all he needed was a fat cigar to be a dead ringer for Groucho Marx.
Muttering apologies about his wife’s car not starting and having had to take his daughter to a clarinet lesson, the pathologist scurried around the skeleton, giving it a wide berth and a suspicious glare, as if challenging it to declare itself friend or foe.
‘Yes,’ he said to no one in particular. ‘Ah, right.’ Then he turned to Roy and pointed at the skeleton. ‘This is the body?’
Grace had always found Theobald a little peculiar, but never more so than at this moment. ‘Yes,’ he said, somewhat dumbfounded by the question.
‘You’re looking brown, Roy,’ the pathologist remarked, then took a step closer to the skeleton, so close he could have been asking it the question. ‘Been away?’
‘New Orleans,’ Grace replied, levering the top off his own latte and wishing he was still there now. ‘I was at the International Homicide Investigators’ Association Symposium.’
‘How’s the rebuilding going there?’ Theobald asked.
‘Still much damage from the flood?’
‘Many people playing the clarinet?’
‘The clarinet? Yes. Went to a few concerts. Saw Ellis Marsalis.’
Theobald gave him a rare beam of pleasure. ‘The father!’ he said approvingly. ‘Yes, indeed. You were lucky to hear him!’ Then he turned back to the skeleton. ‘So what do we have?’
Grace brought him up to speed. Then Theobald and Joan Major entered into a debate about whether the body should be removed intact, a lengthy and elaborate process, or taken away in segments. They decided that, because it had been found intact, it would be better to keep it that way.
For a moment, Grace watched the rain teeming steadily in through the broken section of the drain, a short distance away. The individual drops looked like elongated dust motes in the shaft of light. New Orleans, he thought, blowing steam from his coffee and sipping it tentatively, trying to avoid frizzing his tongue on the hot liquid. Cleo had come with him and they’d taken a week’s holiday straight after the conference, staying on, enjoying the city and each other.
It seemed that everything had been much easier between them then, away from Brighton. From Sandy. They just chilled, enjoyed the heat, took a tour around the areas devastated by the flooding that had not yet been restored. They ate gumbo, jambalaya, crab cakes and oysters Rockefeller, drank margaritas, mojitos and Cali-fornian and Oregon wines, and listened to jazz in Snug Harbor and other clubs each night. And Grace fell even more in love with her.
He was proud of the way Cleo coped at the conference. As a beautiful woman who did a very unglamorous job, she was on the receiving end of a fair bit of ribbing, curiosity and some truly appalling chat-up lines from five hundred of the world’s top, toughest and mostly male detectives in party mode. Always, she gave back as good as she got, and she made eyeballs pop out by dressing her five-feet eleven-inch leggy frame in her usual eccentric, sexy way.
‘You asked me about her age last night, Roy,’ the forensic archaeologist said, interrupting his thoughts.
‘Yes?’ Instantly, he was fully focused as he stared at the skull.
Pointing at the jaw, she said, ‘The presence of the wisdom teeth tells us she is over seventeen. There is evidence of some dental work, white fillings – which tend to have been more common during the past two decades, and more expensive. Could be she went to a private dentist, which might narrow it down. And there’s a cap on one maxillary incisor.’ She pointed to a top-left tooth.
Grace’s nerves began jangling. Sandy had chipped a front left tooth on one of their first dates, biting into a fragment of bone in a steak tartare, and had later had it capped.
‘What else?’ he asked.
‘I would say from the general condition and colouring that the teeth indicate her age to be consistent with my estimated range yesterday – somewhere between twenty-five and forty.’ She looked at Frazer Theobald, who gave her a deadpan nod, as if he was sympathetic to her findings but not necessarily in wholehearted agreement.
Then she pointed at the arm. ‘The long bone grows in three parts – two epiphyses and the shaft. The process by which they join together is called epiphyseal fusion and it is usually complete by the mid-thirties. This is not quite complete yet.’ She pointed at the collar bone. ‘The same applies with the clavicle – you can see the fusion line on the medial clavicle. It fuses at around thirty. I should be able to give you a more accurate estimate when we get to the PM room.’
‘So she was about thirty, you are fairly sure?’ Grace said.
‘Yes. And my hunch is not much more than that. Could even be younger.’
Roy remained silent. Sandy was two years younger than him. She had disappeared on his thirtieth birthday, when she was just twenty-eight. The same hair. A capped tooth.
‘Are you OK, Roy?’ Joan Major asked him suddenly.
At first, lost in thought, he heard her voice only as a distant, disembodied echo.
‘Roy? Are you OK?’
He snapped his focus back to her. ‘Yes, yes. Fine, thanks.’
‘You look as if you’ve just seen a ghost.’