Collins was on to his second cup of coffee when Terry French walked in his office.
“Found the parents,” volunteered French, “or at least one lot. Eric and Helen Brand, they live in Harold Wood. Found nothing to connect to Tina. Andrew worked at Ford’s Dagenham, Tina was a hairdresser in Rainham shopping centre.”
“Good work,” Collins said, rising from his desk. “Now, I’m away to get a couple of hours kip. You should do the same; we’ ll piece this together later.”
Terry French had just finished dressing when his mobile rang, it was Collins.
“Can you meet me at the morgue?”
“I was just about to leave home,” said French. “OK, I’ll see you there.”
Steven Maesbury was bent over a microscope when the two detectives walked in. He rose to greet them. The naked bodies of Tina and Andrew Brand lay on slabs in the centre of the laboratory. French wrinkled his nose, he could never get used to the smell of death in this place.
“Hope you have got something for us, Steven? We’ve got little to go on at the
moment,” said Collins.
“What I can tell you is this, Inspector,” and he motioned them to move closer to the bodies
“They were both killed between a quarter to twelve and midnight. The male took two heavy blows to the head.” He pointed out the depressions in the man’s skull.
“The weapon was probably a heavy flat steel bar. He also sustained severe facial injuries – as you can see, broken nose, lacerated lips and two missing teeth. The teeth were found at the crime scene, probably hit in the face by a knuckle duster to have caused these injuries. He was alive when the paramedics first attended him and pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. The woman also suffered two fatal blows to the head, probably with the same or a similar weapon that killed the man, as you can
see here.” And he pointed to heavy dark bruises under the armpits and around the breasts. “And also here and there,” Maesbury indicated bruising around the ankles and knees.
“She was being held at these points probably while she was being raped. From the amount of semen in her body, I would say she was raped at least five or maybe six times. She was also hit in the face, most likely with a clenched fist. What is maybe most helpful to you is that a piece of skin was found lodged between her front teeth. I’ m conducting tests on it now but am absolutely sure she bit someone in her desperate fight to save herself.”
“So,” said French, “as I see it, this gang of possibly six or seven, or maybe more, took out the man first. A fist in the face to stun him, then blows to the head to finish him off. They could then have their way with the woman. I suggest they were waiting to break in to the club rooms. After closing up the club rooms, the Brands probably looked easy pickings. One or more of the assailants, in haste, got anxious and tripped the car alarm. They then panicked and bolted. I think this mob are juveniles – sixteen, seventeen… maybe younger.”
Collins moved to leave, he turned to Maesbury. “I’ll beanxious to hear the results on that skin sample, Steven,”said Collins.
“I’ll be on to you as soon as I know, Inspector.”
Eric Brand awoke to the sound of rain. He turned to study the bedside clock, it was 7.50. It was 7.50 on a cold, rainy Sunday morning. He lay in the warmth of the bed, not
wanting to get up and think about the chores he had to do. Helen, his wife, stirred beside him. That’s it, he had better make a move. He shrugged into his dressing gown and
moved to open the curtains. Rain was pelting onto the window pane preventing Eric from clearly seeing out into the street. Who would want to be out in this shitty weather,
“It’s pissing with rain, love. Don’t think we’ll go to the beach today. Could get covered in rust.”
Moving to the bed, he gazed down at his wife, totally covered by the quilt. Taking hold, he slowly drew the quilt back, revealing Helen and a fragile bony hand covering her
“Oh Eric, don’t. I’m cold.”
She pulled the quilt close around her face. It was a deathly white face, a face etched with lines of pain. Helen, at sixty-six years of age, had been fighting constant ill health
for the last twenty years. She was a shadow of the once vibrant, attractive, fun loving woman who had married Eric over forty years ago. Gently, Eric took his wife’s hand.
“I’ll bring yer a hot water bottle with yer tea, love.”
Eric descended the stairs and entered the kitchen. Poor love, she’s always bloody cold, he thought, but he knew it was the illness; his Helen was wasting away from him.
“Bloody nice and warm in here,” he mumbled to himself as he moved into the kitchen. What would they do without the Aga? Eric busied himself making the tea. He snapped on the kettle and fetched from a cupboard a hot water bottle. Perhaps he should be making two for her, no, he would wait to see if Helen needed it. Switching on the radio, he dialed in his favorite classical program. Should he do toast, maybe just the one, she probably wouldn’t eat it. Eric moved through into the lounge and drew the curtains. He looked out through the window and noted the rain, if anything, was getting heavier. He fired up his computer – he liked to go through all the football results on a Sunday morning. He had been a West Ham supporter for over forty years but was increasingly disillusioned with the way the club was being run. Back in the kitchen he poured water into the teapot and filled Helen’s hot water bottle, then buttered the single piece of toast. He arranged a cup and the plate of toast on a small tray and left the tea to brew while he moved back to check on the computer. Scanning the headlines, he saw
Chelsea and Man United were both jostling for the lead of the Premiership. He returned to the kitchen and poured Helen’s tea, then grasping tray and hot water bottle, he slowly climbed the stairs to the bedroom.
“Here’s yer tea, sweetie,” he said, “now let’s get yer sitting up.”
He lowered the tray on to the bedside table and grabbing two extra pillows to support her, he gently pulled her up to a sitting position. Bending forward, he tenderly kissed her forehead. She grabbed at his arm with a fierce grip, surprising in one so weak.
“My darling Eric, what would I do without you?”
“Now now, don’ t you worry, my love, you just relax.”
Lifting the quilt, he placed the hot water bottle close to Helen and then positioned the tray in front of her. Eric sank into an armchair close by. Picking up a remote control, he
switched on the TV.
“Wonder what shit they got on this thing, Helen. Probably songs of friggin’ praise, seeing it’s Sunday.”
“Whatcha goin to ‘ave for brekky, Eric?”
“Not too sure love could be scrambled eggs or I might have scrambled eggs…on the other hand, I could go for something entirely different and ‘ave scrambled egg.”
“It’s a lovely cup of tea love,” said Helen, her eyes lit up at his humour.
“In that case, I’ll go and get mine if mod-ham will give me leave to go,” mocked Eric.
Getting up from the chair, he bent over and kissed Helen’s cheek.
Smiling up at him, she said, “Off yer go, yer cheeky bugger.”
Eric was analyzing the football results and league positions on the internet. The Hammers had lost another home game – an all too familiar scenario. Eric moved into
the kitchen. I know what I’ll have, he thought. Scrambled eggs. Taking a mixing jug, he broke three eggs into it, added a generous amount of thick cream and began to whisk.
Placing a pan on the Aga hob, he added a knob of butter and then popped two slices of bread in the toaster. Another whisk of the eggs and he poured the contents into the pan.
Adding a small amount of grated cheese, he gently started to fold the eggs with a wooden spoon to prevent them sticking. Having buttered the toast, he then spooned on the cooked eggs. Cracked black pepper and his favorite Maldon salt completed his meal. After breakfast, Eric went into the bathroom to get the shower ready for Helen. After checking towels, he adjusted the taps till the hot water came through, then he walked into the bedroom.
“Showers ready, luv.”
Helen was standing by the bed in her dressing gown, fussing with her hair.
“You haven’t touched your toast,” said Eric, eying the breakfast tray, “you got to eat somefink girl, you’ re wasting away.”
Helen looked sheepishly at Eric. “Perhaps I might try some soup after my shower luv,” she murmured.
Eric knew he would have to force food into her, she hadn’t eaten anything substantial for days.
“In the shower with you, girl,” and he gave her a playful pat on her bottom.
After dressing, Eric made the bed and was generally tidying up when the front door bell rang. He looked out of the bedroom window. The rain had stopped and a sleek new
Rover was parked in front of the house. He hurried down the stairs and opened the front door. Two well-dressed men confronted him, holding out their ID cards.
The older man said, “Are you Eric Brand, sir?” Eric nodded. “I’m Detective Inspector Collins, and this is Detective Sergeant French. Could we have a word with you,
Eric was bemused. What was the bill doing here? “Yes, of course, come in,” he said, pointing the way. He shut the front door and followed them into the lounge.
“Mr Brand, I’m afraid we have some bad news for you,” said Collins.
Eric eyed Collins. He was a good looking man in his late fifties, early sixties, hair greying at the temples and a neat grey mustache. He looked a policeman. “I really can’t think
Inspector….why you’d be here.”
“Mr Brand, I regret to tell you your son and his wife were killed late last night.”
Eric stared at Collins. His jaw dropped opened but no words came out. What the fuck. He couldn’t talk, he just stared blankly ahead.
“Do you understand Eric? I’ m sorry to tell you your son Andrew and Tina, his wife, were murdered last night,” said Collins.
Oh no.. no no no, this can’t be true, thought Eric, Andy my Andy, my baby, dead. He looked appealingly at Collins, shaking his head in disbelief. “Surely there’s a mistake, not
my Andy.” Tears rolled down his cheeks and his shoulders started to heave.
Collins hated this part of the job, witnessing grief. He moved close to Eric and put a consoling arm across his shoulders.
“Eric, I’m truly sorry. We will need you to identify the bodies, when you’re able. Just take your time. I think you had better sit down.”
Eric turned to Collins appealingly. “My wife’s upstairs. I don’t know how I can tell her. She’s very sick. This will do for her, I know it will.”
“It will be all right, Eric, we’ll sort it all out,” said Collins.
He turned to Terry French, “Look after this lad, Terry, see if you can find him a stiff drink. I’ll check his wife”
Collins moved to the hall stairs and called up. “Mrs Brand, are you
Helen gingerly peeped over the top banister rail on hearing the strange voices. “Who the hell are you then?” she said indignantly.
“It’s all right, Mrs Brand. I’m Detective Inspector Collins. Can you come down and join your husband?”
“I’ve just got out the shower. I’ll have to put some clothes on.”
“That’s quite all right, Mrs Brand. You take your time… we can wait.”
Collins looked in at the lounge and saw French had fixed Eric a stiff whiskey. The poor man was slumped in the armchair, tears streaming down his face. Turning back to
the hall, he saw Helen Brand slowly descending the stairs. He saw how frail she was, her face a pasty white with sunken cheeks and black rings encircling her eyes. Collins
extended a hand towards her.
“Let me help you, Mrs Brand.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “What’s this all about then?” Collins took her hand and gently guided her into the lounge. Helen saw Eric slumped in the chair, tears running down his cheeks.
“Eric! Eric! What have you done to my Eric?” she said, turning to Collins.
Collins moved close to Helen. “I deeply regret being the bearer of bad news, but I have to inform you that your son Andrew and his wife Tina were killed last night.”
Helen stared ahead with a fixed gaze for several moments. Collins watched her intently as she tried to comprehend this terrible news. A tremor suddenly shook
her body before her eyes rolled up in her head and she pitched forward. Collins caught her deftly before she hit the floor.
“I’ll call an ambulance,” urged French, who had been watching Helen closely.
Collins gently laid Helen on the couch. My word, she was as light as a feather. He felt for a pulse and had difficulty finding one.
“Ambulance on the way boss,” said French. “How is she?”
“I don’t think she’s too good Terry, and by the look of Eric, he’s in no fit state to identify the bodies. You had better line up someone to stay here for the next twenty four
hours, and while you’re at it, how about rustling us up a cup of coffee.”
French, mobile glued to his ear, moved off into the kitchen.