Ashley Burford has killed three women. The previous evening he had ‘dumped’ the body of his latest victim in a ditch beside Birdholme Lane.

Early morning, with a dank mist still clinging to the grass. Matthew Owen, well wrapped, wearing gloves, pedalling along Birdholme Lane again. The night before he had been going in the opposite direction, to Toby Stead’s house. Toby was an army brat. He was nineteen. His father, a senior NCO, was somewhere far away; his mother was staying with a friend that night.
Matthew and Toby had both left school the previous summer. Toby had gone to Leeds University, Matthew had taken a year out. Toby, Matthew and a couple of mates had settled down to a night of dope, lager and poker: a common occurrence.
 Becky, Toby’s fourteen year old sister, had stayed in her room, chatting on the ‘net.
This morning, pedalling slowly, with an inane smile on his face at the size of his winnings, he was on autopilot. Ashley’s plastic sheeting had been lifted by the wind or an animal and was flapping. It was about to blow into the road.
Matthew stopped.
He didn’t need to pull the sheeting back. The wind moved it for him. He could see what was lying there. He was accustomed to death, animal death: his mother worked with horses. He took out his mobile phone. He dialled 999, and asked for the police. They asked him to wait there. He shrugged; he told them he wasn’t in any hurry. Matthew wondered whether the driver of the Renault Megane he had noticed the night before had anything to do with the body. He had assumed the driver had been stopping for a piss.
Within an hour of his phone call, the ‘scene of crime’ people had transformed the site. The ditch had red and white ribbons tied around it, and the police had erected a white tent over the ditch where the body lay. There were four police cars and an ambulance. Matthew couldn’t think why they needed an ambulance, his mother’s truck would do the same job; did they have so many ambulances that they could afford to have one waiting by the body for a couple of hours? They hadn’t questioned him yet, so he hadn’t told them about the Megane, yet.
He was lucky; he always carried a book with him, wherever he went. It had started to rain so they let him sit in the back of one of the police cars. He was reading ‘The First Season’, John Eisenberg’s description of how Vince Lombardi took The Green Bay Packers from bottom of the NFL to the very top. Matthew read it as a lesson in mass psychology.
A plain clothes policeman - at least, Matthew assumed he was a policeman - slid into the front seat and took out his notebook. Matthew closed his own book. The detective, Sergeant Will Irving, took down his name and address; Matthew Owen, Gatehouse Cottage, Swithamly Stud, Bradstock, and then the details regarding his finding of the body.  Matthew told him the simple facts. Irving asked him what he had been doing, and he told the Sergeant that he had stayed the night at a friend’s house and had been cycling home - that his mother had one of the tied houses that belonged to the stud, a mile down the road.
“Who was your friend?”
“Do I have to say?” Matthew asked. He had this image of the Police blundering into Toby’s house with all the detritus of the previous evening lying around. The detective sergeant gazed at him. “Did you ride down the lane last night when you went to your friend’s house?”
“Yes. It was a little after seven. I’d been watching a programme on the Tele.”
“And you stayed at this friend’s house overnight?”
“Whose house?” He asked again.
“Toby Stead,” Matthew replied. The detective asked him for Toby’s address which Matthew gave him. Matthew told himself that he must phone Toby and explain why the men in blue would come knocking at his door.
“You can’t think I had anything to do with it?” Matthew said.
“Did you touch the body once you found it?” Will Irving asked him.
“You immediately phoned the police?” Will asked.
Matthew nodded.
“Nobody else came near the body after you found it?”
“Did you notice anything strange?”
“I saw a woman’s body, and she was dead.”
“What do you do for a living?”
 “I’m not exactly working at the moment.” Matthew answered.
“You’re on the dole I take it.”
“Yes I am,” Matthew said. “Do you think that was where she was killed?“ he continued.
“We don’t know yet,” Will told him.  “When you rode down the lane, yesterday evening, was the body there then?” He continued
 “If it was there I didn’t see it. It was dark and cloudy.”
“You are certain?”
“I have no lights on my bike, so, no, I can’t be absolutely certain.” The boy looked at the detective with wonder in his eyes. “But If I had seen it I would have told you yesterday, surely?”
“There’s no surely about it. You might have been in a hurry.”
“She was surely murdered.”
“Girls don’t drop dead on Birdholme Lane wrapped in plastic sheeting.”  Matthew thought the copper was becoming pissed off.
“When you spotted the body, this morning, was there anything odd that caught your eye?”
“I sort of concentrated on the body lying in the ditch.”
 “Was there anything unusual?”
Matthew thought for a moment, then decided to end his charade, decided to tell them what he knew.
“I did see a car, stopped near here, last night.”
“Where the body was found?”
“I couldn’t swear, but certainly close.”
“What make was it?”
“Megane, oldish one.”
“Registration number?”
“It was too dark.”
“The driver?”
“Again, it was dark.”
“How are you sure it was a Megane?”
“My father used to have one.”
The detective looked up sharply. “Where does your father live?”
“London. It wasn’t his.”
“How do you know?”
“Colour of the car. It wasn’t his.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Matthew shrugged.
“What colour was it?”
“Blue, maybe grey, maybe black; it was dark you know.”
The detective got out of the car. Matthew started to ask him if he could go, but the man, all thick set vigour and certainty, walked away too quickly. He shrugged and started to read his book again.
The detective sergeant returned with an older man, a man with an air of authority about him. Matthew watched them as they moved round the car. The Boss wore a formal suit, white collar and tie. ‘Android uniform,’ Matthew called it, and yet the man still managed, to Matthew’s eye, to affect an air of fluid power. Matthew thought the guy had probably been a good rugby player when he was younger, he had that sense of balance that sportsmen need. Matthew hadn’t been a good player, he couldn’t catch, but he earned a reputation as a kamikaze tackler. That was probably why he had thought of playing American Football. Toby his friend had described him as fearless, a total head case.
“I’m Detective Inspector Paul Morris.” The man introduced himself. “Tell me about the car please.” The DI asked.
Matthew told him. “It was a blue Renault Megane.”
“Can you be sure of the colour?”
“No, I just have a feeling it was blue, bluish.”
 “Where were you going?”
“The boy told him.”
”When did you leave?”
“About seven.”
 “And you came straight here, observed the body; didn’t touch it. Phoned straight away?”
“Okay that will be all for the time being.”

Within ten minutes he was telling his mother the details of his ‘arrest’ and questioning.
“Where was Toby’s mother?”
 “At her friend’s house.” Matthew winked at her.
“I hope the house will be cleaned up before the Police get there,” Elizabeth said.
“Why?” Matthew asked, all innocence.
“Let’ say I will be more than satisfied when you eventually go to University. You can blend in with the masses there,” Elizabeth told him, ignoring his question. “Get back into a rhythm.  All this flitting between here and Bradford is doing you no good at all.”
“You’ll miss me when I’m gone; nobody to do all your housework.”
She flicked a tea towel at him. He ran out of the kitchen and bounded up the stairs.

Mel Wibberley

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