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Death at St Sebastian's

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It did not bode well for the rest of the day, thought Morse, when he was summoned to Superintendent Strange’s office first thing in the morning. When he entered, he said “Sir,” with a certain degree of apprehension, although Strange didn’t give any indication that there was anything particularly wrong.

“Ah, Morse, sit down,” he said as usual, picking up a file from his desk.
“I have had a request for assistance from another station, and I would like you to take this on. The body of a young woman was found at St Sebastian’s – the school, do you know it?”

“St Sebastian’s? But that’s down in Berkshire! Wouldn’t someone from Reading be better placed to...”

“Ah, no, this is where the request comes in. One of the Reading DCIs was investigating, but one of his cases has come to trial, and he will be needed in court, possibly for several days. They are rather shorthanded down there at the moment, so they have asked if someone from Oxford could take care of it – just until their man is free to resume the investigation. You are at a bit of a loose end at the moment, aren’t you?”

“I wouldn’t put it like that, sir.”

“You’ve just wound your case up, haven’t you? Good work, by the way. But that gives you ample time to look into this. Here is what they’ve got so far” - he handed the folder to Morse - “see what you make of it. Go down there and have a look. Take Lewis with you – I’m sure he’ll appreciate such an improving environment.”

“Yes, sir”, said Morse, who was sure that Lewis would not appreciate being patronised by a bunch of underage upper-class twits. Neither would he, for that matter. He suspected that Strange owed someone at Reading a favour. With a vague feeling of being a pawn in a game he hadn’t started, he entered his own office.

Lewis was sitting at his desk, slurping a mug of tea, and looking curiously at the file in Morse’s hands.

“Lewis,” said Morse, “we have been rerouted to Berkshire.” He slapped the file onto his desk, sat down, and briefly explained what Strange wanted from them.

“St Sebastian’s? That’s that posh boys’ school, isn’t it? So how did a girl’s body get there?”

“I don’t know yet, Lewis, seeing as I haven’t had the time to read the file. Why don’t you make a start on it while I get myself some tea?”

There wasn’t much in the file yet. In the end they each took some of the contents and then filled the other one in on what they’d read. There was the medical examiner’s report: the body was that of an 18-year-old girl, identified as a staff member at the school. Found inside a shed at the edge of the cricket ground, strangled. Time of death between 10 o’clock in the evening and midnight. She had been found with her dress pushed up and her underpants missing, but no indication of sexual assault. Forensics hadn’t turned up anything useful. No fingerprints, but a variety of footprints in the wet ground, although since the scene of the crime was on a playing field, anyone at the school could have made them. The shed wasn’t kept locked, it only held a few bits of equipment and the numbers for the score board, so that couldn’t point them to particular suspects either. Statements had been taken so far from the girl’s mother, who was also a staff member, the headmaster, and the head of housekeeping. The investigating officer hadn’t got round to questioning the inhabitants of those bedrooms overlooking the cricket ground, which, he suggested in a note addressed to whoever would take this case on, should be the next job.

After expressing his dissatisfaction with the scarcity of material in the file, Morse decided that they really needed to take a look for themselves.
While Lewis drove, Morse stared morosely out of the window. He had investigated at a public school before, and it had not been a pleasant experience. Not that he expected a lot of pleasure from a murder investigation, but he recalled pupils with sense of entitlement a mile wide, relentless bullying of those who didn’t fit in, and a general atmosphere of oppression. Likely schools had changed in the meantime, but he doubted that it was for the better.
He glanced at the file again.

“This girl,” he said to Lewis, “didn’t you say she was one of the cleaners? Bit unusual for a cleaner to be living in.”

“Her mother lives in – she’s a cook. They don’t usually live in either, but since she was needed to provide several meals a day, I suppose it was handy to have her there. Besides, I think they wanted to show some charity after her husband died.”

“Ah, yes. Never let it be said that we don’t have a social conscience. Nothing better to show it than a bit of patrician generosity.”

“If you say so, sir. She probably appreciated it, though.”

Morse lapsed into silence again until they arrived at the school.

They had some difficulty finding the entrance, since it was not very well signposted. They drove up a long driveway, between playing fields and a wooded area, and past a chapel, until a group of buildings came into view. These were mainly the sort of two- or three-storey neo-Gothic brick constructions which were to be expected, but there were also some more modern, flat-roofed buildings. Several of them appeared to have parking spaces in front of them. They parked the car in front of what they took to be the main entrance. They had guessed correctly: there was a porter’s lodge, whose occupant asked their names and their business, which he relayed to the headmaster’s secretary by internal telephone.
The secretary took them up to the headmaster’s office, where she explained that although the man was extremely busy, he had graciously condescended to give the police a few more minutes of his precious time, if they were good enough to wait until he would be free.

“Very well,” said Morse, “we will wait. My main purpose in coming here, however, is to speak to those pupils who have the bedrooms overlooking the cricket ground. If I could have a list of the names, please, I would like to conduct the interviews today. With the headmaster’s permission, of course.”

The secretary promised to do what she could and vanished.

“Might have offered us a cuppa,” Lewis observed.

“We’re not worthy,” Morse replied. “For these people we are merely intruders from an outside world which is normally beneath their notice. These are the engines of privilege, Lewis, and they drive a universe which is completely separate from that inhabited by you and me.”

“Well, looks like something has gatecrashed their little universe, though – a murder.”

“Quite so, and they are not best pleased, so you can’t expect to be welcome here.”

“Makes you wonder what the kids are like. I mean, they’re only young when they come here. Are they just boys, or are they stuck up little toe-rags from the start?”

“With any luck you will find out, if they let us speak to some of them.”

The headmaster arrived after 20 minutes, giving every impression of a harassed man in a hurry. Morse put him at ease by reassuring him that he needn’t repeat the statement he had already given to his colleague.

“We are trying to get a bit more background on the victim,” he explained. “You must have known her, I gather she and her mother have been living here for years.”

“Can’t say I did,” said the headmaster. “I don’t really have anything to do with the staff – that sort of staff anyway. Non-teaching staff I mean. That is the remit of the housekeeper.”

“Yes, we might have to speak to her again as well. But mainly I wanted to interview the boys whose rooms overlook the cricket ground. I have asked your secretary for a list - “

As if on cue the secretary entered the room and handed the headmaster a piece of paper.

He glanced at the short list of names.

“It’s the short end of the wing which overlooks the cricket ground,” he said, “not many bedrooms there. What do you hope to get from interviewing these boys?”

“I just need to speak to them in case someone has seen something. I realise that it was night, and that it is not very likely, but in our pursuit of the perpetrator we must leave no stone unturned,” Morse concluded rather sententiously. “Perhaps you can tell us something about these boys? Are they all the same age?”

“Well, let me see. The bedrooms are usually shared between two boys. Christopher Pearce and Andrew Olliffe, Lower Sixth. Rugby players, both of them, on the school team. Jonas Campbell and Hugh Cox – they’re in year 9. So are the next two, Ben Edwards and Peter Collard. They’re quite high-spirited youngsters, like to play pranks on their classmates, but all harmless. Matthew Selkirk-Harris and Louis Chang, year 10 – oh, I see that Louis is in the infirmary at the moment, caught the ‘flu. And James Hathaway, Upper Sixth. He’s on his own at the moment as well, the other boy had to go home, a family emergency. He’s Head Boy this year. Very responsible, takes his duties seriously. And that’s it. The last bedroom on that side is currently unoccupied.”

“I would like to speak to all of these boys, if possible,” said Morse.

“Well, I suppose you have to. Fine. Can you collect them and arrange a room, please?”

This last was directed at the secretary.

“Of course. Gentlemen, if you would follow me...”

Morse and Lewis took their leave of the headmaster, who was doubtless glad to see the back of them, and followed the secretary to an empty classroom.

“I will send the boys in,” she said, handing the list of names to Morse. “I think the headmaster would prefer it if I was present, though, at least for the younger boys.”

Morse didn’t object, and they settled at one of the desks, Lewis with his notebook at the ready to take down the boys’ statements.
As they had suspected, however, there wasn’t much any of them could tell them. At the time in question they had been asleep, or at least in their beds with the curtains drawn. At this time of year it was dark at 7 pm anyway, and consequently none of them had seen anything. Lewis at least got his opportunity to find out what the boys were like, and he didn’t like any of them much. The older ones seemed to resent being questioned by their social inferiors and slouched in their chairs affecting boredom. The younger ones exhibited a ghoulish curiosity and clearly hoped to hear some gory details from the police officers, in which however they were disappointed. All in all, the exercise had proved to be both futile and annoying.
The last of the boys entered the room now, without the secretary. Tall, with longish blond hair which fell in waves into his face, he was at that gangly stage where the teenage body had shot up in length but its other dimensions hadn’t caught up yet.
As the boy sat down opposite them, Morse looked at the list:

“James Hathaway?”

“Yes, sir. Sergeant?”

This last with an inflection as if he was asking whether this was the correct form of address.
Lewis nodded. He was relieved to see that so far this boy exhibited neither condescension nor ghoulishness. In fact, there was nothing but polite attention on his face.
Morse started on the questions.

“As you probably gathered, we are asking everyone whose window overlooks the cricket ground, whether they noticed anything on the night in question. That would have been two nights ago. I realise that it was night and most people were asleep, but perhaps you happened to wake up?”

“Yes, I did,” said the boy.

Morse raised his eyebrows. None of the others had answered this question in the affirmative.

“You did? Do you remember when?”

“About half past eleven.”

“Any idea why you woke up?”

“No. It might have been the moon. It was almost full, and at that time it shone right into my window.”

“Did you not draw the curtains?”

“Yes, but they are not very thick.”

“So you woke up because of the moon. Did you look out of the window at all?”

“Yes, I did.”

“You did? And did you see anything?”

“The moon.”

“This is not the time to be facetious.”

“I’m not. I woke up. It seemed to be very bright outside. I went to the window to see if it was the moon. It was. I went back to bed and fell asleep again.”

“And you didn’t see anything else, apart from the moon? You didn’t see anyone moving around outside, for example?”

“No.”

Here, however, the boy seemed to hesitate with his answer. He looked down at his hands as he gave it, and Morse had the distinct impression that he wasn’t being quite truthful. He looked at the boy’s face, but it gave nothing away. He doubted whether any more forceful questioning would pierce through the quiet reserve, so he changed the subject for the moment.

“The dead girl – did you know her at all?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Why of course? No one else has said that they know her.”

“She has been here for as long as I have been at the school. When she was younger, she would always come to her mother when she had finished school and help out a bit in the kitchen. For the past two years, she’s been the cleaner on this wing. How could I not know her?”

“So, did you know her well?”

“No. I chatted to her for a bit when I met her, that’s all. She and her mother come to mass as well. Her name was Agnes.”

“Unusual name for an 18-year-old girl nowadays.”

“It was Agnieszka really. Her mother is Polish. But she always went by Agnes. I don’t think she spoke any Polish herself.”

Morse glanced at Lewis to confirm that he was making notes, which he was. He turned back to the boy.

“Agnes has been described to me variously as 'a retard', 'a moron' and 'a slag'. Would you say that?”

“No.”

“Well, how would you describe her?”

James thought for a moment.

“I suppose she was disabled in some way. She was eighteen, but she seemed much younger. Childlike, naive. Very trusting, I think. She was slow to learn things, and she couldn’t cope with anything complicated. But she could do her job perfectly well.”

He paused again before continuing:

“She was nice. Friendly, cheerful. Most of the time anyway. People teased her, and that made her angry. But if you were nice to her, she treated you like a friend.”

Interesting, thought Morse. Particularly that last statement, which suggested another line of questioning to him.

“So, if people were nice to her, or pretended to be nice to her, would that induce her to, let’s say, bestow any favours? Would she be easily seduced? Particularly if she might not have comprehended what she was doing?”

James nodded.

“She might have done. But she would never, you know, go all the way.”

He blushed as he said this.

“She was a good Catholic. She knew that much. She would never...”

He broke off, embarrassed. Strange to see in a teenage boy these days, thought Morse.
Aloud he said:

“To get back to the night in question: you are absolutely sure that you didn’t see anything? Anything at all.”

The boy shook his head.

“There is nothing I can tell you. Sorry.”

“Very well. That’s it for now. Thank you.”

When James had closed the door behind him, Morse looked at his sergeant.

“Well, what do you make of him?”

Lewis grinned.

“He should be a detective. We could use a sharp young man like that.”

“Yes, he is more observant than the others put together. But he also lied to us. And I wonder why.”

“Are you sure? You think he has seen something?

“Yes, I do. He might even be involved in some way. We need to find out more about him, and then talk to him again. But not today. Let’s see if we can find the mother. There are some new questions I need to ask her.”

***

The next day was a Saturday, and there would be no lessons at the school, but Morse was determined to get a second interview with that boy James. Lewis wasn’t sure why his boss was so fixated on finding out what the boy might have seen – perhaps it was something, perhaps not. He wasn’t even sure that James had lied to them, and anyway, none of the others had been able to tell them anything. But Morse was convinced that the boy knew more than he had let on, and until they knew what that was, they wouldn’t be able to judge whether it was important or not.
This time they didn’t announce themselves to the headmaster or even the secretary. Instead, they had asked the first boy they encountered where they might find James Hathaway. The boy had smirked and told them:

“He’ll be either at the chapel or practising the piano. That’s what he does most of the time anyway.”

So Morse had sent Lewis off to find the music room while he himself made his way across the grounds to the chapel. The door was unlocked, and he entered. He had forgotten it for a moment, but the cloying smell of incense reminded him that this was not the sort of school chapel he remembered from his own school days, but a Catholic one. As he looked around, he noticed all the trappings of 19th century piety: the stained glass windows depicting various saints; the blood-drenched crucifix above the altar; the equally horrifying statue of St Sebastian, who had given the school his name. As he stared in mild disgust at the martyr’s anguished face, a priest came out of the confessional, closed the door and approached him with a smile. Morse readied himself to disclaim that he had come in search of spiritual sustenance, but the priest only asked:

“Can I help you?”

“I was looking for James Hathaway.”

“Ah, he was here half an hour ago, but he left. He’s probably playing the piano, in one of the music rooms. Unless he’s running.”

“On the track?”

“No, through the woods. Cross-country.”

The priest looked at him shrewdly.

“Are you investigating Agnes’ death?”

Morse took out his warrant card.

“Chief Inspector Morse, Thames Valley Police. How did you know?”

“Part deduction, part guess. You don’t belong to the school, and there are no parents visiting. And after a murder, a police presence is only to be expected. What do you want from James?”

“His bedroom overlooks the crime scene. I need to speak to him about what he might have seen. Do you know him well?”

The priest shrugged.

“As well as anyone can know him, I suppose.”

He gestured towards the door.

“I have to lock up. Do you mind if we go outside?”

Morse followed him to the door and watched as the priest switched off the lights and locked up behind them. Perhaps this man was worth talking to, he considered. At the very least, he might shed some light on what sort of person this mysterious boy James really was. He decided to be upfront with the priest.

“I have interviewed James before, and asked him if he had seen anything. He said no. I believe he’s lying.”

“That surprises me. James isn’t given to lying.”

“Well, he’s certainly given to not telling the truth. If he has said anything to you...”

“You know about confession, no doubt – I couldn’t tell you if he had.”

“Outside of confession then. If he has mentioned anything...”

The priest shook his head.

“I can tell something’s troubling him. But no, he hasn’t said anything to me.

Morse sighed.

“I know he’s lying, but what I can’t figure out is why. Is he involved somehow? Or has he seen someone he’s trying to protect? He’s the only potential witness to the crime that we have, so you can see how important it is that he tells us what he knows.”

They had been walking a few steps down the path, but now the priest stopped and gestured to a stone bench which stood near the church. Morse didn’t much fancy sitting out in the cold, but at least the priest was prepared to tell him something. At this point, he would listen to pretty much anything anybody volunteered.
They sat down. From a pocket hidden in the folds of his cassock the priest drew a pack of cigarettes.

“Do you mind?”

Morse shook his head, and after offering the pack to him, which he declined, the priest lit up.

After thinking for a minute or so, the priest spoke again.

“The trouble with James is that he feels everything very deeply. And he thinks about everything very deeply. And the two don’t always pull him in the same direction. All I can tell you is that somehow he has decided that the right thing to do is not to tell you...whatever it is. He would have agonised about the decision before, during and after, but you will need very good reasons to persuade him to change his mind.”

“Isn’t murder reason enough?”

“Maybe, maybe not. Unless we know what it is, we can’t tell.”

“That is precisely my problem, Father.”

The priest smiled.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have any answers for you. I just don’t want you to get the wrong impression of James.”

After a pause he added:

“He’s very young, you know.”

“He’s eighteen, or not far off, isn’t he? If he’s doing A-levels.”

The priest shook his head.

“He turned seventeen last month. Skipped a year in primary school. He’s always had the problem which gifted children often have, that intellectually they’re mature beyond their years, so people tend to think of them as little adults. They forget that emotionally they’re still children. Or teenagers.”

“That sounds a bit like special pleading to me, Father.”

“Oh no, I just don’t want...”

“...us to get the wrong impression. I know.”

Another pause. Then Morse asked:

“The headmaster told us he is Head Boy. Is he very popular then? Lots of friends?”

“No, I wouldn’t say that. One or two maybe. The point is that he hasn’t got any enemies. He doesn’t belong to any particular groups, and he doesn’t take sides. So nobody has anything against him, even if they don’t actually like him. And that’s not a bad position to be in as Head Boy.”

“The headmaster also said that he takes his duties seriously. If you see him, perhaps you could tell him that his duty is to tell us what he knows. He’s not doing himself any favours.”

The priest smiled at him as Morse got up to leave.

“No, he never is. Good luck with your investigation.”

***

Meanwhile, Lewis went in search of the music room. The place was like a bloody maze, he thought. Every time he turned a corner, he was somewhere he had never been before. Eventually he got hold of a younger boy, who took him right to the door of the largest music room, while pointing out the others. Trust a place like this to have several music rooms. Clearly no expense had been spared on facilities for the pupils.
He could hear sounds coming from the room, so he opened the door quietly. James was sitting at a grand piano, lost in the music he was playing and not noticing him. Lewis closed the door behind him and waited. Years of working with Morse had given him some appreciation for classical music, although he approached most of it like he approached art: he didn’t know much about it, but he knew what he liked. And he liked the piece he was hearing now. The melody moved him strangely. It was underpinned by rippling chords, full of sadness and longing, sometimes even coming close to expressing despair. Now the mood changed, as if a happier memory was surfacing, but then melancholy took over again, and it ended on a note of sadness and quiet resignation.
When the piece had finished, he stepped forward, and the boy looked round at him.

“That was nice,” said Lewis, rather inadequately.

“Do you like music?” James asked.

“Classical? Goes over me head, mostly. But that was beautiful. Bit sad though.”

“It’s by Chopin. I think he had a lot to be sad about.”

James turned on the piano stool away from the keyboard, a silent invitation to come to the purpose of Lewis’ visit.
Lewis pulled up a chair and sat down.

“I was wondering if you had thought of anything else you might want to tell us,” he began.

Like before, the boy sat very still, closed down, no expression on his face.

 

“No,” he said.

“Look,” Lewis tried, “you’ve told us you were awake. You’ve admitted that you looked out of the window. Now I’m pretty certain that you saw something which you are not telling us. It’s important that you do, though.”

No reaction from James, who looked down at his hands which he had folded in his lap.

“Perhaps you are trying to protect someone. I get it. You don’t want to get them into trouble. But it will be far worse, for you and for them, if you keep something important from us. For God’s sake, we’re hunting a murderer here!”

Had he hit on something? The boy was definitely tense now, pressing his hands together, not looking at him, but still he shook his head.

“There is nothing I want to tell you.”

“Don’t want? Or can’t?”

“It’s what you asked.”

What? Oh, yes, Lewis had used the words “want to tell us”. Was the boy really using semantics now to avoid answering the question?

“Come on now. If there is anything, anything at all, you have to tell me.”

James shook his head again.

“There is nothing. Sorry.”

Lewis didn’t believe a word of it. He couldn’t get a read on this boy, but now that he had spent more time with him, he agreed with Morse that he was hiding something, he was sure of it. But short of shaking it out of him, there was nothing he could do to force it out.
He stood up with a sigh.

“Alright. We haven’t finished our investigation, so no doubt we will talk again.”

James nodded, but didn’t say or do anything except watch Lewis leave.

Damn the boy, Lewis thought. The result (or rather non-result) of the interview was profoundly unsatisfactory, but there really wasn’t much he could do against a wall of silence. Let Morse have another go at him, perhaps he could come up with a clever way of subverting James’ defences. For now he would have to report that he hadn’t got anywhere.

***

“I think what happened is this,” said Morse the next day, “one of the boys tried it on with the girl – she had probably encouraged him, led him on, then refused, the boy got angry and strangled her. Perhaps he just wanted to keep her quiet. But I think that is the direction we need to look in.”

Lewis looked doubtful.

“It’s possible. But what do you want to do? Are you proposing that we question every single boy in that place?”

“If we have to. At least the older ones. Lean on the lot of them. You don’t know what it’s like in places like that, Lewis. All those teenage boys, shut up together, hormones raging, and no outlet for…well, you know. And then there’s a girl, easily led, and that boy James practically told us she was a tease – “

That’s not how Lewis had heard it, but he didn’t say anything.

“It might well have been James himself,” Morse continued.

“A lad who spends his time in church and blushes at the mere mention of sex? Not likely, is it?”

“Those are often the worst,” Morse said cryptically. “Anyway, it’s time to stop pussyfooting around. Those privileged boys who are used to getting everything they want, they will react badly if something doesn’t go their way. So when a girl like that suddenly says no, they probably wouldn’t think twice about punishing her. I think it was one of them, and I’m determined to find out which one.”

But before Morse could convert his determination into action, the phone rang.
Lewis watched his facial expression change from initial shock to concern and then something like annoyance and waited with apprehension. Clearly it was not good news.
Morse put the receiver down and turned to his sergeant.

“There’s been another murder at the school,” he said. “One of the pupils this time. Let’s go.”

The school was still in a state of uproar when they arrived. The headmaster was at the end of his tether. The first death had been worrying enough, but now that the victim was one of the pupils, he was concerned about the safety of the other boys. And the parents would be concerned, too, when they heard. The headmaster was so distracted by visions of having to close the school and being sued, that he could hardly tell the police officers what he knew about the dead boy.
The body had been found in the morning behind a shrubbery at the edge of the school grounds, not strangled this time but stabbed. As before, the murder had been committed during the night, but nobody knew what the boy had been doing outside, fully dressed, at that time. The boy’s name was Edward Sanders, 15 years old, working towards his GSCEs. He had only come to the school the year before, and the staff had been slightly concerned about him, since he didn’t seem to make any friends. He seemed to be bright enough academically, but didn’t perform well in exams. He had been told off before for being outside at night, and the headmaster had to tell him that he would be sent down if he persisted with these forbidden activities.
Further questioning turned up two interesting facts. First, Edward had an altercation with the games master the day before. Edward had had the misfortune of being entirely unfitted for any sport in a school that set great store by athleticism and “gamesmanship” (a nebulous concept which Lewis had heard of before but could never quite grasp). He was clumsy and uncoordinated, always the last to be picked for any team, and frequently humiliated by Mr Oliver. Yesterday he had been shouted at again for some horrendous mistake during rugby practice, but although he usually took his punishments meekly, this time he had shouted back: “I’ll tell! I’ll tell!” before running off in tears. What he was going to tell wasn’t quite clear. Mr Oliver assumed that he was going to complain to the headmaster about his treatment, which, in Mr Oliver’s view, was entirely justified.
Second, and perhaps more intriguingly, Edward had been seen talking to James Hathaway. Obviously that made it even more urgent to talk to James again. But in this endeavour the detectives were thwarted. James was in the infirmary with an upset stomach and in no state to answer questions.

“He’s been sick all morning,” the matron cheerfully informed them. “I hope he’ll sleep it off now. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.”

They questioned some of the staff, and Edward’s classmates, but nobody could tell them anything. Even his room-mate hadn’t noticed him going out during the night. When the various reports came in, they were no more helpful than in the first case. The murder weapon would have been a knife with a relatively short blade – a kitchen knife maybe, or a switchblade. The victim had been stabbed several times and bled out, mostly internally. No weapon had been found, though, no usable footprints, no other physical evidence. It was quite possible that the murderer got away with very little or no blood on his own clothes, since it would have taken time to soak through the victim’s multiple layers of clothing. Time of death was during the hours around midnight.
And there they were. A second case with just as little to go on, in the same location, but with no obvious connection to the first one. Unless:

“What if Edward saw something during that first night?” said Morse. “That could be the connection. We never thought to ask him. But if he was out during that night as well…”

“We don’t know that, do we? Are we now trying to find a third person who has seen Edward?”

“Don’t forget that Edward shouted at the games master ‘I’ll tell’ – what if he saw Oliver murder the girl? And then Oliver had to prevent him from telling?”

“Possible,” Lewis conceded. “But what if Mr Oliver is right and all Edward wanted to tell was how mean the teacher had been to him? And tell who, anyway?”

“’Whom’”, said Morse, at which Lewis rolled his eyes. “What about James? Edward was seen talking to him. What if he told James what he has observed?”

“Well, if that’s the case, then James might be in danger now, if the murderer is set on eliminating everyone who might know something. We’d better get back there and talk to him. Hope he’s feeling better now.”

“Unless of course James is our murderer, and has now killed Edward because he has realised that he’s been observed.”

“You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“I don’t know what to believe. On the face of it it doesn’t seem likely, but there are hidden depths in that boy. He could have deceived us from start to finish.”

Lewis shook his head. True, he couldn’t really figure the boy out either, but whatever was troubling him, he didn’t think it was a guilty conscience. He might be secretive, stubborn, difficult – but a murderer? No, all his instincts told him otherwise.

“I think we won’t get anywhere by questioning this or that person,” Morse went on. “Let’s go in with a show of force, round up at least the Upper and Lower Sixth and lean on the lot of them. As it is, we are picking up a few breadcrumbs here and there, but we haven’t got anything to work with. And while we’re at it, let the technicians have a second look at the crime scenes. There must be something somewhere.”

Lewis sighed.

“They won’t be happy with that, sir. I’ll have another look at the reports they sent. Oh, and I’ll talk to Dr Hobson. Perhaps there is some detail she hasn’t told us.”

He promptly left to do just that and left Morse to turn the case over in his mind.

***

The next morning Morse was still determined to go through with his interrogation offensive towards the population of St Sebastian’s, although his request for a secondary sweep by crime scene technicians had been denied. He had managed to recruit a couple of DCs from Reading, whom they were picking up before driving to the school. As they were coming up the driveway past the chapel, Morse stopped the car.

“Let’s have another go at that priest while we are at it,” he said. He and Lewis got out of the car, while the two DCs were to continue to the main building and set up an interview room. Before they had even started the car again, however, the door of the chapel opened, and James was stumbling towards them. He would have fallen headlong to the ground if Lewis hadn’t caught him and lowered him gently down. James was clutching his midriff, where a red stain was spreading on his shirt. He looked at Lewis and said urgently:

“Oliver...side door...”

Morse was the first to react.

“He’s gone out the side door – catch him! You’re looking for a man in his forties, medium height, short brown hair...”

James said something, but so low that only Lewis could hear it.

“Wearing a dark blue tracksuit!” Lewis called out.

The two constables started to run.

“I’ll get an ambulance. Stay here with him,” Morse directed, got into the car and sped off.

Lewis was left kneeling on the ground, with the boy more or less in his arms. He tried to see what the damage was, but then thought it would probably be better to leave the boy’s hands where they were.
James looked at him.

“Evidence...in the chapel...” he said.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get it. What did he do to you?”

“Stabbed me.”

He took a ragged breath.

“Edward...it’s my fault...I’m so sorry, sir...”

“Ssh, don’t worry about that now. I’m sure it wasn’t your fault. And anyway, you don’t have to call me sir, I’m only a sergeant.”

James frowned at him.

“But...”

He closed his eyes as the pain overwhelmed him and lost track of what he was going to say. Then something else occurred to him:

“ ’m sorry about your suit...”

Lewis’ trousers were fairly soaked by now, but that was the least of his concerns. He knew it was probably a good thing to keep the boy conscious and talking, or at least listening, if he could, so he said:

“Hey, I know it’s good to talk, but couldn’t you say something without apologising?”

“No. Sorry.”

The ghost of a cheeky grin flitted over the boy’s face. Lewis could not help but grin back. He was relieved. If the lad could make jokes, he probably wasn’t at death’s door.
And now an ambulance was speeding up the driveway. The paramedics jumped out, made a brief examination, lifted James onto a stretcher and took him away. The last that Lewis saw of him was his eyes closing and his body going slack, as if he had only held on for Lewis’ sake.

***

Once they had Mr Oliver in custody, the case practically hurtled towards its conclusion. Oliver made no attempt to deny what he had done. He almost seemed relieved that it was all over, and he told them what had happened from start to finish.

It all started when Oliver’s wife had left him six months ago. He couldn’t give them any reason, but he was clearly still aggrieved about this, calling her an “ungrateful cow” and intimating that she hadn’t done her “duty” as a wife. Lewis thought that his reaction was probably a clue as to why she had left, but he kept that to himself. It wasn’t really relevant at the moment. What was relevant was that Oliver was left without an outlet for his sexual energy. And that’s when Agnes suddenly presented herself to him as a temporary solution. He wouldn’t normally try it on with someone mentally defective, he said, but she had a cunt all the same, didn’t she? And if she didn’t know how to use it, he would teach her soon enough. Of course he wasn’t going to force her – he wasn’t that kind of guy. He first secured her affection with compliments and little presents, then tried a little kiss here and there, a bit of a cuddle, all of which she accepted willingly. He had forbidden her to tell anyone, and she had complied – had liked having a secret, he thought, made her feel all grown up. So a few days ago he had decided it was time to show her what he really wanted from her. He had thought that she was ready, and he was certainly more than ready, when he asked her to meet him that night in the shed. As long as it was just more kisses and embraces, she was with him all the way. But when he lifted her dress and pulled down her panties, she suddenly changed her mind. She struggled to get away from him, and when she started to shout, well, he had to shut her up, didn’t he? He hadn’t meant to kill her, not really. He just wanted her to be quiet. And also to punish her, for leading him on and then suddenly pulling back, leaving him hanging.
“Don’t know if she was just too stupid or if she did it on purpose, but anyway, that’s no way to treat a man,” Oliver said petulantly. Either way, he had his hands round her windpipe and left them there until she stopped struggling. And there he suddenly was, with a dead body on his hands, on the school grounds, in the open on a moonlit night. He panicked, and the best thing he could think of was to creep away and hope he hadn’t left any evidence behind. The panties, which had fallen to the ground, he took with him. He made sure he hadn’t dropped anything else and planned to make his way to his rooms unobserved. And that’s when he spotted Edward.

“That idiot should never have been there,” he said. “The boys are not allowed out of their rooms at night. I knew he had been sneaking around before, goodness knows why. But I never thought…”

“Did he see you?” asked Morse, speaking for the first time since the start of the interview.

“I don’t know. At first I thought he didn’t. He certainly hadn’t said anything. But when he shouted at me ‘I’ll tell’, I thought that’s it. He has seen me, and he’ll tell the headmaster, or you – by this time you were sniffing around – so I panicked. I thought I’d better shut him up.”

He didn’t have to wait long for the opportunity. He spotted Edward “sneaking around” again only two nights later, followed him and stabbed him with a kitchen knife. Again, despite the panic, he had the presence of mind to take the bloody knife away with him and make sure he hadn’t left any evidence.

“And James?”

Well, he hadn’t really thought about James. What he had thought about was getting rid of the evidence, the panties and the knife. And that’s when he had the idea to hide them in the chapel.

“The chapel has nothing to do with me, so there wouldn’t be a connection. And I thought maybe you’d find it and suspect the priest. They’re all paedos anyway, aren’t they? So I went in and was going to tuck it away in a corner when that stupid boy suddenly stood there. And he had seen what I was doing. And then I suddenly remembered that I had seen him talking to Edward. Don’t know if Edward told him anything, but I could see on his face that when he spotted me, he put two and two together. He knew. So I took the knife and went for him. Couldn’t really get him, he fought me off, and then I heard the car pull up outside, and voices, so I thought I’d better go.”

He shrugged.

“You know the rest.”

They did indeed. The evidence, which James had pointed them towards, had been easily found, and Mr Oliver’s fingerprints as well as Edward’s blood on the knife told their own story. The case was over.

“You’d better hope that the boy survives,” Morse told their suspect, barely disguising the disgust which both he and Lewis felt. “Otherwise we’ll indict you for a triple murder.”

Oliver only shrugged. He had been calm and subdued all through the interview and only briefly roused himself to anger now.

“It’s all her fault, the bitch,” he said. “If she hadn’t left me, if she had been a proper wife, none of this would have happened.”

Well, that was certainly one way of looking at it. Neither Morse nor Lewis had anything more say, though, so they terminated the interview and left the suspect to wait until a written statement was prepared for him to sign.

***

Morse waited until the next day before he went to the hospital to get a statement from James Hathaway. He spoke briefly to a doctor, who assured him that James would be fine.

“No major internal damage,” he said, “the loss of blood was the worst of it. He can probably go home tomorrow.”

James was half sitting up in bed but with his eyes closed, looking very pale. He wasn’t asleep though, and opened his eyes as Morse entered.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine.”

“Define ‘fine’.”

The boy smiled.

“I’d rather not.”

Morse pulled up a chair, sat down and picked up the book that was lying on the bedside table.

“’Paradise Lost’. Not exactly light reading, is it?”

“I’m doing it for A-level. I had someone bring me the book, but I can’t really concentrate.”

“I don’t blame you.”

He took out his notebook and pencil.

“You’ve probably guessed that this is not really a social visit. I need to take your statement.”

The boy dropped his gaze and nervously started to pinch the blanket with his fingers.

“Sir,” he said very quietly, “it’s my fault that Edward died. If I had talked to you before, he probably wouldn’t…it’s my fault. I’m so, so sorry.”

He seemed to be close to tears, but Morse had to ask.

“I think you’d better finally tell us what you saw that night, don’t you?”

James nodded.

“I saw Edward. That’s all, really, he was outside that night, in the grounds, and I saw him coming from the direction of the playing field, passing underneath my window. And I didn’t want to say anything, because if it had become known that he was outside at night, he would have been expelled. He’d done it before, and he had been warned about it. But Edward – you see, nobody liked him. Everybody thought he was weird, he didn’t have any friends at all. He was completely isolated. But his big passion was for wildlife, insects in particular. Moths. He would go out at night to observe them. It’s the one thing that gave him any joy. It’s all he had. And I knew about it, but I didn’t want to take that away from him. And I didn’t want him to be expelled because of that.”

“It’s February. There are no moths flying now.”

“No, I think he was looking for hedgehogs this time. Or badgers. One sometimes appears on the edge of the grounds.”

“So you saw him coming from the shed. Did it not occur to you that he might have something to do with the girl’s death?”

James stared at him.

“Edward? No, never. I was absolutely certain about that. But I think if I’d told you I’d seen him, then you would have known that maybe he had seen something, you would have been able to protect him. I didn’t want to betray him because it would have meant the end of the one thing that made him happy, but my silence put him danger, and now he’s dead, and it’s my fault!”

Morse looked with some sympathy at the boy, who was clearly very distressed by this.

Nevertheless:

“It would have been better if you had told us what you knew from the start. But I don’t think you need to blame yourself for Edward’s death. Think about it: if you had mentioned that you had seen him, we would have asked him. Chances are, he would have denied everything, we wouldn’t have been any the wiser, and Oliver would have come after him anyway. Perhaps we would have solved the case quicker if you had been open with us. But whether it would have changed the course of events materially? I doubt it.”

James didn’t look convinced, but he calmed down enough for Morse to continue his questioning:

“You didn’t see anything else that night? No movement around the shed, nothing of Mr Oliver or the girl?”

“No, only Edward. That’s why I thought it wouldn’t be too bad if I didn’t tell you. I really hadn’t seen anything connected to Agnes’ murder. I asked Edward about it, but he didn’t really answer. I still don’t know if he saw anything or not.”

“Well, Oliver clearly assumed he did. And what about you? Did you suspect him? Did you go after him yesterday?”

James shook his head.

“It was pure coincidence. I happened to be in the chapel, and I happened to see what Mr Oliver was trying to hide. And it was only then that I realised it was him. But by then it was too late to tell you.”

“You had the presence of mind to tell us what he was wearing when the two constables went after him. And you told us about the evidence in the chapel. My sergeant was very impressed, you know.”

James looked embarrassed.

“Sergeant…Lewis, is it? He was very kind to me. He…it helped me to have him there. Can you thank him from me, please? And I’m really sorry about his suit.”

“Don’t worry about the suit. He can have it cleaned on Thames Valley Police expenses. You’ll have to sign a written statement at some point, but I think that’s all for now.”

Morse leaned back, crossed his legs and picked up the book again.

“Did you choose this, or did they make you do it?”

“There wasn’t much to choose from, but I did choose it, yes. I like it.”

“And what will you do after school? University, I expect.”

James nodded.

“I’ve got a place at Cambridge.”

“What subject?”

“Theology.”

“Theology? Are you planning to be a priest?”

“Maybe, I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.”

He seemed to be uncomfortable discussing his future, so Morse took his leave.

He hadn’t lied to the boy, he really thought that the case wouldn’t have unfolded very differently if James had talked from the start. But not knowing what it was that he was holding back had caused them some difficulty, and had, in Morse’s mind at least, thrown some suspicion on James himself. He might have had noble intentions, but “the road to hell”, etcetera…

“How is the lad?” asked Lewis when Morse returned to the office.

“He’ll be fine. He finally told everything. Turns out all he had seen was that other boy, Edward.”

He gave Lewis a brief recap of the conversation.

“He told me to thank you for looking after him, and says sorry about your suit.”

“Yeah, he kept apologising for that. Well, I’m glad he’ll be alright.”

Morse smiled at his sergeant.

“You liked him, didn’t you?”

“I still think he should be detective. He’s a natural!”

“You’ll be disappointed. He told me he’s off to Cambridge.”

“He could be one of those fast-tracked graduates, couldn’t he?”

“A policeman with a degree in theology?”

Lewis shrugged.

“Stranger things have happened.”

Morse tossed him his notebook.

“Why don’t you type up his statement, and take it for him to sign, then you can ask him yourself.”

“I might just do that, you know.”

But in reality, Lewis thought regretfully, it would likely be one of the Reading DCs who took the statement to James, and he would never see that boy again.