The man stood in the trees, huddled into his coat which was doing little to keep out the cold November night. He shifted restlessly in the darkness, his eyes fixed on the upstairs window of the Police House across which the curtains were drawn. The light – a bedroom light? – was on. He continued to watch. And wait.
In the Police House Nick Rowan was in bed. He was half dozing. Kate had been out on a call and was just getting ready for bed herself. She came into the bedroom in her nightwear shivering. "This house is so cold! Have you left the window open Nick?"
"No," Nick mumbled not opening his eyes.
"I bet you have. And you're not asleep either." Kate stalked across to the window and yanked back the curtain to investigate where the chill she was convinced she could feel was coming from.
Nick shot out of bed all pretence at sleep forgotten. "A man – out there – watching the house!" Kate gasped.
He didn't ask if she was sure. Kate wasn't given to hysterics and if she said she'd seen something she had seen it.
He bounded down the stairs kicked on his shoes and went out into the night. As he fumbled the door open and got outside he saw a figure jump over the wall from the Police House garden into the lane. Nick ran in that direction but by the time he got there a car engine was already starting up. The car had gone out of sight as he got out into the lane.
He went back towards the house shivering slightly – he was in shorts and t shirt after all and it was a cold night. Kate was at the door of the house.
"Don't know love. Whoever it was got in a car. I just heard it drive off. Didn't even get a look…"
"You're freezing. Come on, I'll make us a hot drink."
She watched him as he very carefully locked the door behind them. They looked at each other.
"I'll mention it to Blaketon in the morning," Nick said lightly. "Probably nothing to worry about."
"All right." She turned to fill the kettle saying, "Go on upstairs I'll bring these up in a minute."
"Hey." He took the kettle from her. "I'll do that. You go and get yourself in bed. I won't be long."
She nodded and went past him to go upstairs. She turned back as if to say something then changed her mind and carried on upstairs.
Nick went to the kitchen window and stared out into the darkness. He was more anxious than he was letting on to Kate. Why would a stranger be standing outside the Police House, watching in the dead of night. It could be something and nothing but Nick's instincts were telling him quite strongly something was not quite right.
Nick relayed the story in the duty room at Ashfordly Police Station next morning.
"Did you get a look at him Nick?" Alf Ventress was gripped enough by Nick's story to stop investigating the contents of his lunchbox.
"No he was over the wall and gone," Nick replied.
"Neither of yer get a decent look at him?" Blaketon was leaning against the public counter varying between giving disgusted looks at Alf Ventress' grazing habits and then switching keenly back to the story his Constable was relaying.
"'Fraid not, Sarge. I didn't even get a look at the car," Nick said.
From his desk, Phil said, "Could it be someone you've had a run in with Nick? Wants to get you going a bit?"
"Can't think of anyone off hand," Nick said. "No one likes getting grief off a copper do they but round here they tell you if they're not happy with you. They wouldn't be hanging round the house on a cold night."
"Aye, that's true," Blaketon said.
"What if it were someone you'd upset before?" Phil suggested. "You know when you were in London."
"Phil, we've been here nearly two years," Nick said. "And supposing it was someone from London, well, they wouldn't know where to find me would they?"
"Take no notice. He's been reading a new thriller," Alf said. "Look I think its summat and nowt. I really do. I wouldn't worry about it Nick."
"Much as it pains me ter say this," Blaketon remarked witheringly, "I agree with Ventress for once. Keep an eye out Rowan but I reckon now you've chased off your prowler that'll be an end to it."
Nick popped into the surgery in Aidensfield to relay this to Kate.
"And that's it?" she demanded
"Come on love, what else can we do? To be honest though I reckon Alf and Blaketon are right. It was just someone wanting to give us a bit of a scare for some reason."
"Well it worked." She took a sip from the cup of tea on her desk. "Oh you're probably right. I just didn't like the thought of someone hanging around out there.."
"I know love. Come on lets talk about something else. In fact why don't we go and have some lunch, you've finished surgery haven't you?"
"Yes but I was going to – " she stopped. "Do you know what it'll wait. Come on."
They left the surgery together and headed for the Aidensfield Arms for lunch.
In the car opposite the man sat and watched them. Hand in hand, smiling, talking. He gripped the wheel waiting for the rage boiling up in him to subside. He had to wait, had to act cool to bring his plans to fruition. He had nearly blown it the other night. He was not going to make that mistake again. A cool head. That was what was needed.
Things passed quietly for a day or two and if they didn't quite forget the incident it did go to the back of Nick and Kate's minds until the following week.
Kate had had a fairly busy day but managed to get home for four thirty by means of simply working without any lunch. She was tired and hungry when she got home but glad her day was over.
Of course it was dark. She got out of the car and walked up the path using the door into the kitchen rather than the front door.
It was open. There were no lights on in the house but the door was open. She hesitated, thinking. Nick wasn't home – no motorbike outside.
The more she thought about it the more uneasy she felt and she decided even if she ended up looking a bit foolish she was going to seek some assistance.
So she got back in the car and drove to the village. She walked into the pub. It was very quiet the only ones in were predictably, Claude Greengrass at the bar and a few locals. Gina was polishing glasses behind the bar. She looked up and smiled at Kate.
"Hallo Dr Rowan. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I need to use the phone Gina if I can. I think the Police House has been broken into."
Claude gave a snort of laughter. "By heck that's a good 'un that. The bobby's house being broken into."
"Claude!" Gina nodded at Kate. "Dr Rowan needs some help. Of course you can use the phone, Kate."
Claude got the message. "Sorry, Dr Rowan," he said contritely. "Do yer want me to go up there with yer after yer've used the phone, like." Under his breath he prayed that she would refuse his offer.
"Its all right Claude, thanks," Kate managed a smile. "I'll just wait for Nick and whoever else comes over from Ashfordly. I might be wrong but I came home and, well, the door's wide open. I didn't like to go in."
"You've done the right thing. You go and make your call and let me know if there's anything I can do," Gina said gently.
So an hour later Nick, Oscar Blaketon and Alf Ventress were checking over the Police House. Kate was with them."
"So, owt stolen that yer can see?" Blaketon asked them.
"It's a bit strange, Sarge," Nick said slowly.
"Its more that things have been moved around than taken. Like," Kate suppressed a shiver, "whoever it was looked at things and then put them back but not as they were. Photos, things like that. How did they get in by the way?"
"Window in the office," Alf said. "Pane of glass smashed, lifted the catch and in."
"Everything all right in there?" Blaketon asked sharply.
Nick came in from the office as he spoke. "Yeah, everything's locked away anyway and its still secure. The only thing is…well, we had a set of spare keys in this drawer in the kitchen and, they're not here now."
"What else is on the key ring?" demanded Blaketon.
"Just house keys," Kate said. "The surgery ones are here in my pocket with my car keys, look, and I don't have a spare set here." She ran a hand through her hair. "I've had a look in the bedroom and whoever it was has looked through drawers and things. But not taken anything. No jewellery missing or anything like that."
"They might have been looking fer summat – here to look not ter steal?" Blaketon suggested
"If it was police information none of the cabinets have been touched or the old records in the spare room," Nick pointed out. "And the place would have been turned over anyway if they were searching. But it hasn't been. Its almost like…" he stopped
"Whoever it was just wanted us to know they had been in here," Kate said quietly.
"Right. Well we'll get this place finger printed and Ventress lets see about changing those locks," Blaketon said.
Alf nodded and went off to use the car radio.
"We'll ask some questions at the houses further down the lane, see if anyone noticed owt," Blaketon went on.
Kate and Nick looked at each other. "Nick," Kate began.
He read her mind. "I know it's a coincidence love but we don't have any proof to link this to the prowler."
"Your husband's right, Dr Rowan," Blaketon said. "This could be entirely unrelated."
"Do you honestly believe that?" demanded Kate.
Blaketon and Nick looked at each other then both shook their heads.
"Look, love," Nick said, "If you like perhaps you could go and stay with James in Whitby for a bit? Until we get to the bottom of this?" He referred of course to Kate's partner in the surgery, Dr Radcliffe.
As he thought she would, she shook her head. "No. I'm not leaving you here alone Nick." She looked at Blaketon. "What else can we do?"
"We'll have a look back through the files Rowan and at your arrests. See if there is anyone in particular who might have cause to be particularly upset with yer." He paused. "Might ask London as well. I know we thought young Bellamy's idea were a bit off the wall, but.."
Nick shook his head. "You'll get a list as long as your arm."
"Aye." Blaketon looked at Kate. "Try not to worry Dr Rowan. We will get to the bottom of this."
"Come here." Nick took her in his arms. He felt just as worried and confused as she did.
General enquiries around the village drew a blank. Looking through past case files gave them a long list which was joined with an even longer list from London. There were some names which might have been promising but they all seemed to have watertight alibis – most of them in fact were still doing time. Or were dead.
Sitting at his desk at the station a few days later Nick looked at the remaining names and threw the list away from him in exasperation. Alf and Phil looked up then at each other.
"All right lad?" Alf asked.
"Yeah. Its just – these names we have. I know we're still checking them but the ones I remember, what's been happening just isn't their style."
"Well no harm to check, lad," said Alf.
"We haven't much else ter go on," Phil pointed out.
"That's true." Nick got up dejectedly. He was off shift now for a day or two.
"Hey. Want to go for a drink later?" Phil asked him.
"No, not in the mood really to be honest. I think we'll just have a quiet night in."
Phil and Alf exchanged glances again.
"What about if I come round later," Phil asked. "I don't want ter intrude Nick but if you and Kate fancy a bit of company.."
Nick thought a minute then said, "Well yeah. It would probably do us both good. All right. Come round in about an hour?"
"All right. See yer later."
Alf shook his head as Nick left. "We need ter get ter the bottom of this," he said exasperated. "Send over that list again Phil."
"Want a hand?"
"No. You go on – you're off shift now any road. Go and keep Nick and Kate company they could probably do wi' it."
Phil nodded. "I'll just do a couple of errands and then I'll go over to Aidensfield." He nodded at the list."Good luck wi' that."
Kate had arrived home just about this time. She went into the house. Her normal routine now was to lock it immediately behind her. But as she went in, the phone rang and she hastened to answer leaving the door open behind her. As she went across the room she pulled off her coat draping it over the dining chair.
It was a patient wanting some advice. She spent some minutes on the phone, then hung up. As she did so she had that peculiar feeling you get when you know you are not alone in a room.
She turned slowly. A man had come in through the door she had left open. He had shut it behind him and he was stood watching her. He was carrying a handgun. Other than that he looked rather respectable. He was in his late thirties maybe early forties, casually but perfectly presentably dressed. He also familiar and she couldn't think why.
"Please don't scream or shout Dr Rowan," he said conversationally. "Or I will have to use this." He nodded at the gun.
"Who – who are you? What do you want?"
"Oh dear. You don't even recognise me do you?"
"You seem familiar, I just can't.." Then she got it.. "Oh God. Lydia Russell."
"Yes. My daughter. Who you killed. Through your negligence."
"No Mr Russell. I was cleared. You know this." She stared at him. "Was it you? Watching the house the other night?"
"The break in?"
He nodded again.
"Oh God, all along, we thought it was …."
"Someone your husband had encountered in his line of work? Yes I was counting on you thinking that."
"How did you find me?"
"No. We'll talk later Dr Rowan. We are going on a little trip first. Please don't be silly and shout and scream. Otherwise I will hurt you. You do understand that?"
Nick got home and was surprised to see that although Kate's car was outside the house was in darkness. He wondered if she had gone off on foot somewhere.
He did not know his wife was tied up, and gagged, in the boot of her car. And she had heard his bike and was trying to make a noise, to warn him but was unable to do so.