By Jim Reeve
The north wind whipped across Fairfield Reservoir, battering itself against the white tent that covered the remains of the body. Inside, Detective Chief Inspector Ramage stared down at the covered corpse and for a moment paused to gather his thoughts , not knowing what horrors lay beneath . Although this was one of the many murdered victims he had dealt with throughout his career, he always felt apprehensive, you never knew what lay beneath the sheet.
Gritting his teeth and with one swift movement, he pulled back the cover; It couldn’t be; it was Kate! Involuntarily, he dropped the white sheet and stepped back, praying it was not her. The empty eye sockets stared back, making him think for a brief second he was wrong. Then he saw the faded butterfly tattoo on her hip, and all doubt vanished. It was her! She was naked, except for the tight, weed-covered rope round her neck and down her back, securing her arms and legs. The rope had tightened in the water, cutting into her flesh and turning it into purple lumps.
Gazing over her bloated body, he could not believe that this was the woman that he had made love to until the first light of dawn prompted him to slip out of the warmth of her bed after all, he could not afford to meet her husband. He had been straight out of Hendon Police Training School when he first met her. He had been tall, blond and ambitious. He might have spread a little since then and his hair had streaks of grey but he still had a fire that burned with ambition to catch crooks.
Looking down now at Kate’s worm- eaten body he cursed himself . He could have helped her but he hadn’t. Her pleading voice still resounded in his ears “He’s going to kill me!”
Ramage nodded and mumbled “I know who she is. She’s Kate, Kate Jackson. He husband taught me beats, years ago.”
He glanced down again at the body and cursed himself, she had asked for help and he had let her down. He felt he had to get out and think. Wrenching the tent flap open, he stepped outside straight into an old oak tree. He punched out in temper striking the trunk. He felt no pain. ‘I’ll get the bastard. I owe her that much. I should have helped her’ he thought.
“Be careful Ramage, you should know better than contaminate the site” said a voice behind him. It was all he needed, bloody Superintendent Acton.
It was no secret they hated one another and had done so since their days as sergeants at Colchester when Ramage had stolen Margaret from him, and what made it worse for Acton, he married her.
“You all right Ramage? You should be used to these things after all this time. Anyone would think you’ve seen a ghost.”
Ramage was just about to admit he knew Kate, then thought better of it. Acton would take him off the case and that was the last thing he wanted. Acton leaned forward and whispered “You’re going soft, Ramage! Don’t know how the hell you made Detective Chief Inspector. I’m off. Report to me later.”
Under his breath Ramage whispered “Fuck off you fat bastard!” and smiled when he saw Acton stumble. It was then that he became aware of his throbbing hand.
Polinsky, the young Polish pathologist, came out of the tent, struggling to take off his latex gloves. He was closely followed by Clarkson. “By the state of the body, I’d say she’s been in the water for some time. Did you know her well?”
At first Ramage did not answer, thinking of the long nights that he and Kate had spent locked in each other’s arms. He shook his head. “Her husband taught me beats in Hackney. I had a couple of meals at their house.”
“I know it’s not my place to say so but should you be taking the case, seeing as you knew her?” asked Polinsky.
“I didn’t know her that well.”
Glancing over to the water he noticed PC Watson and a WPC he did not know. Both were standing with their backs to the wind, staring straight athim. Fastening his jacket, he walked slowly towards them, followed by Clarkson. Looking at the WPC’s face, he suspected it mirrored his own. “You OK ?”
“I’m fine Sir, my first dead’un.”
“You wont see much worse than this. Never a pretty sight when they come out of the water, especially after a few days.” Then he realized he was talking about Kate.
Glancing back through the open flap of the tent, he saw a member of the forensic team videoing her naked body.
“You’re new here, aren’t you?” he asked.
“PC Holder. Just learning beats.”
“Baptism of fire, take it from me you never get used to it. We put up a front! I’m sure I’ve no need to tell you; don’t let anybody touch anything. We’ll be over the Fishing Lodge if anybody wants us.” He had no need to commit the scene to memory, it would live with him forever.
Clarkson and Ramage walked side by side in silence towards the Fishing Lodge, both deep in thought, each trying to cope with their emotions. The grass was still wet from the morning dew and soaked their feet. Ramage glanced at the windswept water as it spread out into the distance and then turned his head, where a herd of cows stood, munching the cud on the other side of a barbed wire fence. Somehow, Kate lying back there dead, seemed unreal. Finally, Clarkson broke the silence “Your hand all right? I see you’ve wrapped your handkerchief round it. I’ll do it up properly when we get to the car.”
At the mention of his hand it made him realize how much it hurt.
“What a stupid thing to do. Don’t know what came over me. We’ll keep this to ourselves about me knowing the woman.”
“I don’t think he’ll say anything if you ask him not to!”
Clarkson’s face flushed. “Didn’t think you knew”
Ramage half smiled “ I’ve heard rumors.”
He was not surprised when she changed the subject. “Sorry about ruining your day off Gov.”
“It’s not you, it’s that bastard that committed the murder. Anyway, you should be apologizing to Shorty, my dog. You’ve done him out of his walk. We were in the woods when you phoned. He’s looking after the car.”
“I’ll get him a drink when we reach the Lodge. By the way, I’ve spoken to the fishery officer and he’s made his office available. I’ve also asked him for a list of the staff and the people who have fished here over the past two months. I’ve arranged for today’s fishermen to be in the restaurant.”
Ramage nodded “You’ve been busy. They know they can’t go until we’ve seen them?”
“Of course. An old couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sanderson discovered the body. They were out in a boat and apparently, Mr. hooked it.”
“Must have shaken them!” said Ramage.
He could not bring himself to believe it was Kate. He could be mistaken, after all it had been years since he’d seen her but could two women havethe same tattoo? Looking back at the tent he set his jaw as the vision of Kate’s body came flooding back. It was personal!