DETECTIVE INSPECTOR Christy Kennedy was prowling up and down the hallway like a bear with a thorn in his paw. Bear-like, he used the back of his hand to knock on the door of the ground-floor flat. There was a sickly-sweet smell wafting around the hallway, even though the hall door was wide open and the cold winter wind was blowing through. The wind could send a shiver down your spine; chill you to your very bone, but it didn’t seem able to remove the smell of gas from the house.
The house of death.
‘The next-door neighbour, Mrs Mason, says he’s still indoors, sir,’ Detective Sergeant James Irvine began. ‘She says he’s regular as clockwork. Says he, Edward Higgins, wakes up at seven-thirty, turns on the radio, Radio Four. She claims she can hear it clearly through their adjoining wall. He leaves the house at eight; goes up to Primrose Hill; buys a copy of the Telegraph and picks up a cappuccino and a toasted poppy-seed bagel on the way back. He returns home, reads his paper, drinks his cappuccino, eats his bagel and continues to listen to the radio until ten, at which time…’
‘Okay, okay, I get the picture, sergeant,’ Kennedy cut in. He was being uncharacteristically short with his trusted bagman, but having seen the scene upstairs, well… he just ‘wasn’t himself’, as his mother might have put it. ‘If he’s in here let’s make a racket until he hears us,’ Kennedy said, proceeding to bang on the door with his fist and kick it on every third beat.
Perhaps he was trying to use the noise to dispel the scene he’d witnessed twenty minutes earlier, when he’d walked into the first floor maisonette.
An incident had been reported at 123 Fitzroy Road, literally a two-minute walk from Primrose Hill. Just before 8.00am, the children’s nanny, Judy Dillon, had been about to let herself into the first and second-floor maisonette, when she smelled gas. She immediately called the police on her mobile phone. Four minutes later a patrol car pulled up, followed within seconds by a gas company van. The gasman immediately turned off the supply to the entire house. The children’s nanny led the police into the flat, automatically opening the first door on the left. As soon as she had looked into the kitchen she screamed like a banshee and immediately collapsed with an almighty thud on to the floor.
Her employer, Esther Bluewood, lay on the kitchen floor.
The first constable on the scene, PC Allaway, felt Esther’s throat for a pulse. He evaluated no signs of life and granted the gasman access to the property. The gasman appeared very cool under the circumstances, tugging on a pair of polythene gloves, turning off the gas supply to the cooker before opening all the windows in the flat. Meanwhile, Constable Allaway called in the incident to North Bridge House and about three minutes later the back-up team, including Irvine, began to arrive at the scene.
By the time Kennedy arrived, ten minutes after Irvine, the team was so busy, silently going about their business, they’d failed to notice two children standing outside the kitchen door, staring at their mother’s body. Kennedy knew he would never forget the scene for as long as he lived. The boy stood to the right. He wore white pyjama bottoms and a Wallace & Gromit sweatshirt. His long, curly, blonde hair was dishevelled from his recent adventures in dreamland. He was holding, very tightly it appeared, the hand of his sister. She also had a head of blonde, curly hair, was about two-thirds the height of her brother, and dressed in a pair of Winnie the Pooh pyjamas. She was holding her scruffy teddy by its arm. The well-loved and battle-bruised bear was dangling in the air, as lifeless as the body of the woman on the kitchen floor.
As Kennedy climbed the darkened stairwell, the sadness of the silhouette of the two children and the teddy bear hit him with such power that he was momentarily overwhelmed. Images of wasted lives, happy families, laughter-filled rooms, unfulfilled dreams, and broken promises filled his head. He felt his eyes well up and he had to fight back the tears.
Kennedy took a second to compose himself before he proceeded up the stairs, placing a gentle hand on to each of the children’s backs. As they turned towards each other and looked over their shoulders at the new presence, the detective said, ‘Let’s go and find a room of our own.’
The wee girl asked, ‘What’s wrong with our Mummy?’
The boy asked, ‘Why is she sleeping on the floor?’
Kennedy gently broke their clasped hands apart. He had to use a little force, as the boy didn’t seem to want to let go of his sister’s hand. Kennedy took each of the recently freed little hands and led them up the hallway and away from the death scene. As he did, he nodded to WDC Anne Coles to follow him.
They discovered that the living room too was packed with SoC (‘Scene of Crime’) investigators. Kennedy noticed a door that seemed to lead to another flat. He took the children through it and up the stairs that led straight to the children’s bedroom. The wee girl and boy simultaneously broke free from the detective and sat together on the nearest bed. The boy put his arm around his sister’s shoulder and the wee girl hung on to her teddy as if her life depended on it.
She smiled at Kennedy.
Kennedy tried to smile back. He found himself trying to compose what he imagined would look like a smile but because he was so self-conscious of the exercise he felt the grin on his face probably looked hideous.
The boy looked more warily at the policeman.
‘Is Mummy sleeping now because she cries at night?’ the wee girl asked plaintively.
‘No, no,’ the boy answered, wiping the sleep from his eyes, ‘I told you: she cries because Daddy has found a new Mummy.’
Click to visit the ‘Hissing of the Silent Lonely Room’ page
Also by Paul Charles:
I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass
Last Boat to Camden Town
Fountain of Sorrow
Ballad of Sean & Wilko
First of the True Believers
ve Heard the Banshee Sing
About Paul Charles