Guleed always claimed that she’d joined the police on a dare. ‘My sister bet me I wouldn’t send off the application,’ she’d told me when we’d been doing the thing with the haunted BMWs, ‘but I didn’t think I’d be accepted.’ When I’d asked about the mandatory interview, she said she’d had nothing better to do that day. ‘What did your parents think?’ I’d said.
‘They thought the starting salary was a bit on the low side.’
‘What about your friends?’ I’d asked, and Guleed had changed the subject.
Guleed was one of Seawoll’s favoured few, one of his Valkyries. And he was determined to push her up the fast track. Sending her off to handle a tricky interview like the one with Olivia McAllister-Thames was part test, part toughening exercise, and part vote of confidence.
Tyburn lived a kilometre east of One Hyde Park, just off the Shepherd’s Market, in a five storey Georgian terrace whose elegant proportions would have caused the most hardened Canadian property developer’s soul to weep to see such beauty – just prior to having the place gutted and filled with the latest in personality-free interior design. I couldn’t see Tyburn doing that – she wanted the connection with the past, with the old institutions and traditions of the city. She saw it as her birthright.
I rang the doorbell and as we waited me and Guleed intoned the Londoner’s lament.
‘Look at this place,’ said Guleed.
‘How much do you reckon?’
‘Eight million,’ I said. ‘Last time I looked.’
‘Alright for some,’ said Guleed, to which my ritual response would have been ‘isn’t it just’? But right then the front door opened and Lady Ty stood there looking at us if we’d turned up with some colourful pamphlets and an evangelical zeal to get her to change her energy supplier.
I let Guleed do all the talking – I’m good that way with my colleagues.
When Lady Ty led us into the kitchen, Olivia wrinkled her nose and shot an inquiring look at her mother who cut her off with a glare.
Olivia McAllister-Thames was pale, much lighter than me, with brown hair that fell into the sort of natural ringlets that my mum would have sacrificed her first born to possess. She’d retained her mother’s eyes though, a deep brown colour and pinked up at the corners like a cat’s. She wore an oversized amber rugby jersey that fell almost to her knees, jeans and purple flip-flops. Sitting next to Olivia was a white middle aged man who Lady Ty introduced as her solicitor. He got up politely as we entered and shook our hands – Olivia did not. We all sat down at the kitchen table.
Outside London, modern policing leans towards table-free interviews on the basis that it’s easier to read someone’s body language, and record it on CCTV, if there isn’t a cigarette scarred stretch of laminated chipboard in the way. I wondered if Lady Ty knew that, which was why we weren’t doing this in the living room – or if she just didn’t want me rifling through her Blu-ray collection.
Guleed passed me the statement form, so I had to hunt around in my pockets for a decent pen. Most statements are taken by hand, and it pays to picky about your writing implements and cultivate an easy flowing style – I use a Mitsubishi uni-ball, in case you were wondering.
We started with caution plus two, which involves us scaring the interviewee to death with the normal caution – ‘You do not have to say anything, etcetera, etcetera . . .’– and then right when they’re sure we’re going to march them off to the cells we throw in ‘but you are not under arrest at this time and are free to leave if you want to’ at the end. The solicitor nodded sagely as Guleed reeled it off, Olivia stared at the table and Lady Ty gave me a sour smile at ‘free to leave’.
Guleed warmed up by asking where Olivia went to school. St Paul’s, which was a hideously expensive private school in Hammersmith, although because she was a day student it probably only cost the equivalent of a police constable’s starting salary. She was hoping to go to Cambridge, but first there was the gap year – Olivia pronounced it ‘gap yar’ – when she planned to do good somewhere in the third world.
‘Teaching English,’ she said. ‘Or building orphanages – I haven’t decided which.’
‘Somalia perhaps,’ said Lady Ty. And then, to me, ‘or Sierra Leone.’
‘Mrs Thames,’ said Guleed, ‘I’d be grateful if you could allow your daughter to answer the questions on her own.’
I saw a flash of anger on Lady Ty’s face followed by a hint of amusement and respect.
Guleed asked where Olivia lived, whether this was her only address and other questions she already knew the answers to but which allowed her to circle around to where Olivia had been last night. I clocked the brief – he looked a bit complacent to me, but there was a sheen of sweat on his lip. Family solicitor, I decided, more used to conveyancing and moving Lady Ty’s wealth around than to police interviews.
‘Was your mum here last night?’ asked Guleed.
Olivia hesitated and her eyes flicked towards her mum, who stared fixedly at Guleed.
‘Yes,’ said Olivia, ‘as far as I know.’
‘Was your father at home too?’ asked Guleed.
‘He’s out of the country,’ said Lady Ty.
Guleed asked where he might be.
‘Is this relevant?’ asked the lawyer.
‘Just establishing a timeline,’ said Guleed.
‘He’s in Dubai,’ said Lady Ty. ‘On a contract.’
‘Really,’ said Guleed. ‘What kind of contract?’
‘He’s a civil engineer,’ said Lady Ty and then, staring directly at me, said, ‘He specialises in hydrology, water management systems, that sort of thing.’ She looked back to Guleed. ‘He’s the top man in his field.’
Me and Guleed knew all this, of course, because not only had we asked for an IIP check before we’d arrived, and not only do I, as a matter of routine, keep dossiers on all the Rivers these days, but also because Beverley had got pissed a couple of weeks previously and spent all night bending my ear about Lady Ty and her ‘perfect bloody husband’. According to Bev there were only two things that could improve George McAllister-Thames in her mum’s eyes, one was a medical degree and the other was a bit more of a sun tan.
‘And what do you do?’ asked Guleed.
‘Detective,’ said the lawyer, staring at her. ‘Really?’
‘I’m curious,’ said Guleed.
‘Hasn’t the starling told you?’ asked Lady Ty.
Lady Ty tilted her head in my direction.
‘Your colleague,’ she said.
‘She sits on a bunch of quangos,’ said Olivia, staring at a point on the table midway between us. ‘And is a director on like a gazillion boards.’
‘Five,’ said Lady Ty. ‘I’m a non-executive director for five firms.’
‘So not the Goddess of the River Tyburn then?’ asked Guleed.
I winced and Olivia rolled her eyes, but fortunately Lady Ty was in a whimsical mood.
‘That’s not precisely a job, now is it?’ she asked. ‘And rather beside the point.’
The lawyer opened his mouth to speak, but Guleed quickly turned to Olivia and asked how many people had been in the flat.
‘Don’t know,’ said Olivia.
‘I see,’ said Guleed. ‘Why don’t we start with the people you do know were there.’
Olivia squirmed in her seat like a five year old – this is why your brief tells you to keep your mouth shut during an interview. She made Guleed work for it, but in the end she confirmed that she along with several others had been in the flat. She hadn’t known the dead girl, Christina Chorley, and she didn’t know how the party had gained access to One Hyde Park.
‘We went through the hotel next door,’ she said. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel provided a complete package of services for the denizens of One Hyde Park, ranging from cleaning and catering to dog walking and aromatherapy, and there was an underground tunnel from the hotel to the estate. From there, the kids travelled up the segregated service core and into the flat.
‘I was just following everyone else,’ she said and claimed to have been a bit squiffy. One of the guys might have known the codes to the security doors – she thought his name was James, but she didn’t know his surname. So it could have been James Murray, the unfortunate Christina’s boyfriend, but you can’t afford to make assumptions like that. She did know the names of Albertina Pryce, a fellow student at St Paul’s, and her boyfriend Alasdair somebody or other who was at Westminster, Maureen who was someone’s older sister and Rod, whatever that was short for, Crawfish or something like that – definitely Scottish.
‘He had one of those posh Scottish accents,’ said Olivia.
Guleed circled around the names and the timeline for twenty minutes, twenty minutes being about the amount of time it takes your average suspect – sorry, I mean witness – to forget the details of the lies they’ve just told you, before asking about the drugs.
‘What drugs?’ asked Olivia, her eyes flicking towards the walnut reproduction French farmhouse cupboard with, I was pleased to note, one shelf that displayed a 1977 Jubilee commemoration plate along with two more plates with photographs custom printed on them – one each for Olivia and her brother from at least three years ago. Judging by the pained expressions, formal pose and school uniforms they’d been reproduced from school photographs. My mum has a shelf like that in the living room with, amongst others, a Lady Diana commemorative plate set and my Hendon graduation photo.
‘These,’ said Guleed and showed Olivia a picture on her tablet – a spray of small pink pills lay across a sheet of white paper. Each one was marked with a smiling elephant’s head – Magic Babas.
Olivia glanced at the picture, then sideways at her mother, and I saw her make the wrong decision. But, before I could say anything, she opened her mouth and stuck her future in it.
‘Yeah, I bought those,’ she said. ‘What about it?’
Available to buy here and in all good book shops and most of the bad ones as well.