The Cutting Place (Maeve Kerrigan #9) - Jane Casey
For a few moments, it was the quietest place in London. The area under the footbridge was as hushed as a chapel while the black mortuary van was pulling away. A little group of us had gathered there to show our respects, photograph-still: uniformed officers, forensic investigators, a team from the Marine Police unit in their wetsuits, a pair of detectives and a small grey-haired woman in waterproofs and rubber boots standing to one side, her arms folded. Then the van disappeared from view and the picture dissolved into movement. Back to work. Life goes on.
The woman in waterproofs turned to me.
‘Is that it, then? Can I go?’
‘Not yet, if you don’t mind. I need to hear your account of what happened.’
Kim Weldon gave a deep, testy sigh. ‘I’ve been here for hours. I’ve told you everything I know already.’
She hadn’t told me, because I’d only been there for a few minutes, but I decided not to point that out. I was used to arriving at a crime scene last of all, the detective sergeant coming in with a notebook and a pen and an endless list of questions when everyone just wanted to go home. ‘I know it’s frustrating, Mrs Weldon, but we’ll try not to keep you for much longer. Do you need to let someone know you’re running late?’
She shook her head. ‘I live alone since my husband died. No one’s waiting for me. But I got here at five this morning and I’m tired.’
‘Early start.’ The comment came from over my shoulder, where DI Josh Derwent had apparently decided to take an interest in the conversation. ‘That’s keen.’
‘Of course. It’s the best time to be here. Before all of … this.’ She gestured at the footbridge over our heads, where the tide of commuters heading to work in the City formed a second river, flowing as ceaselessly as the Thames towards the great dome of St Paul’s. ‘It’s so busy now. I can’t even think.’
It seemed quiet enough to me, but Derwent nodded. ‘Let’s find somewhere more peaceful where we can talk. A café, or—’
‘The best place to talk around here is down there.’ She gestured over the wall to the foreshore, a strip of shingle a few metres wide that extended to the left and right along the river bank. ‘I can show you where I was. Easier than having to describe it all.’
‘How do we get down there?’ I asked.
‘There are steps.’ She set off towards them, moving briskly, and we followed her obediently. ‘But you’ll have to come down one at a time and mind how you go. It’s steep and it gets slippery.’
The steps were concrete and more like a ladder than stairs. The treads were so narrow I had to step sideways, juggling my bag and clipboard awkwardly, off balance. My long coat threatened to trip me up at every step. Kim Weldon was short and had a low centre of gravity, unlike me, so that explained why she had found it easy. On the other hand, Derwent was taller than me – just – and he had rattled down in no time, as light on his feet as a boxer despite his broad-shouldered build. He stood at the foot of the thirty or so steps and watched my progress, which didn’t help.
‘You could come down backwards.’
‘This is fine.’
‘Do you need a hand?’
‘I can manage.’
‘Only we all have other places to be.’
‘I know,’ I said through gritted teeth, concentrating on placing my feet carefully. The shingle below shimmered in the morning light, out of focus and dizzy-making.
‘Like a cat coming down a tree. I can call the fire brigade out to rescue you if you like. It’s not as if Trumpton have anything better to do.’
‘I’m fine,’ I snapped, and ignored the hand he reached up to help me down the last few steps. He stuck it back in his coat pocket with a grin that I also ignored as I made it to the shingle at last. Kim Weldon was watching us with interest. Considering I spent so much time assessing witnesses it shouldn’t have surprised me to remember it was a two-way process. I tried to see us as she might: officialdom in dark trouser-suits and polished shoes, Derwent’s hair cropped close to his head in a way that hinted at a military background, broodingly handsome. I was younger than him as well as junior in rank and aimed to be as neat, though my hair was already beginning to