CHAPTER ONE

‘Suspected wife- killer, line two.’

Jay Wells looked up from the papers covering her desk, surprised that Vikki, her trusty and irreverent assistant, had come into the office to announce a call, when she usually buzzed through or even shouted from her desk which was right outside in the senior partner’s reception area.

‘Detective Inspector Ken Bright,’ Vikki elaborated. ‘Not that he’s offed his Mrs, you understand. He’s arrested someone who has, and apparently they’re asking for you.’

Jay sank back into her capacious leather chair and shifted her thoughts from intense to receptive. Tall, long- legged, with wavy blonde hair halfway down her back and, according to her husband, Tom, the most indecently come- to- bed blue eyes, she wasn’t a typical- looking criminal defence solicitor, but there again, who was? At forty- two she was joint head of the law firm, Bamfield and Forster, that her father, now deceased, had started in these very offices at the heart of Bristol’s legal district some thirty years ago. Her partner and life- long close friend, Perry Forster, handled all their family law cases, while she and her team dealt exclusively in crime. Since she’d earned herself an impressive reputation under her father’s tuition, it wasn’t unusual for a detainee to request her by name.

Vikki, with her plump, cherry cheeks and mauve hair was saying, ‘I’ve taken all the details so I’ll log it with the DSCC while you speak to everyone’s favourite DI.’

Jay nodded and, draining what was left of her coffee, she reached for the phone. ‘Ken, how are you?’ she asked cheerily when he answered. She had a lot of time for this detective in spite of all the rings they’d run around one another over the years. He was good at his job, thorough, direct, possessed a very low tolerance for BS and treated her with more respect than many of his colleagues managed to summon for females in general, lawyers in particular.

‘I’m good,’ he replied. ‘I hope you are too. I guess Vikki’s told you why I’m calling. Has she given you the lowdown yet?’

‘She’s allowing you the pleasure.’

‘OK. Suspect’s name is Edward Blake; thirty- nine; arrested at his home in South Gloucestershire about an hour ago on suspicion of killing his wife. We’re holding him at Keynsham custody.’

Opening her calendar, Jay was thinking it was lucky for Mr Blake that she wasn’t in court today, or at a prison, or briefing a barrister, or too tied up with one of the hundred or more other demands on her time that would prevent her from going to his aid. ‘OK, looking at my schedule,’ she said, ‘I can probably move a couple of things around and be over there by three, four at the latest. How does that sound?’

‘It’ll work, if it’s the best you can do.’

‘Before you go, why not fill me in on the victim, how she died, when it happened, why you think he did it?’

‘I’ve given it all to Vikki, but in brief: Vanessa Blake, aged thirty- eight. Bound to a bed and suffocated with a pillow at her home last night.’

‘Any other suspects?’

‘None so far.’

‘Any in mind?’

‘It’s ongoing.’

Ringing off, Jay looked up as Vikki returned to the doorway. ‘OK, tell me what you’ve managed to find out about this Edward Blake,’ she said, knowing that Vikki would have gone straight to Google the instant she put DI Bright through, only detouring for a moment to call the duty solicitor’s call centre to obtain the necessary case reference number.

‘Well, he doesn’t seem to be your typical slasher, shooter or stabber. Or suffocator, come to that.’

Vikki had a way with words.

‘And you’ve reached that conclusion, because?’

‘He’s an architect/property developer with nothing suspicious about him that I could find. He’s only on Instagram as far as I can tell, none of the others, and his feed comprises mainly before- and- after pics of the old barns and farm-houses that he’s renovated or converted. Much the same for the wife, in that their accounts are more professional than personal. She’s . . . I guess you’d call her a promoter, or agent, for photographers and artists, and her posts are mainly of her clients’ work. A couple of her with hubby and various friends. They both have a hundred or so followers each, and it’s been a few weeks since either of them uploaded anything. She has a gallery called Picture This in Chipping Sodbury, same address as her husband’s office. Oh, and she’s also the daughter of some distant cousin of the Beauforts – as in dukes of. I’ll send it all over before you leave.’

‘OK,’ Jay responded thoughtfully. Then, circling back to where she’d been before Bright’s call, said, ‘Let me know when Perry’s out of his meeting, will you? And can you dig out the toxicology report on the Felix Sanders debacle and send it to my inbox. I don’t seem to have it.’

As Vikki saluted and returned to her desk, Jay texted her eighteen- year- old daughter, Livvy, and husband Tom to let them know there was a chance she’d be late home this evening – murder interrogations often went on into the night. And indeed for many days after that. She’d already sent the message before remembering that Tom – a Queen’s Counsel and joint head of Brunel Chambers, not a stone’s throw from her office – was at Plymouth Crown Court today. This meant he probably wouldn’t be back much before seven himself. Still, there was plenty in the fridge for Livvy to snack on when she came in from school, or dance class, or wherever she was today – and with A levels on a close horizon she’d no doubt spend most of the evening revising.

Finally, armed with what she needed for the interview at Keynsham custody, Jay left the office and headed for The Grand Hotel on Broad Street where she, Perry and Tom had use of the secure parking. On the way she passed by Tom’s chambers, where she waved out to Ron who manned the street- level reception, and greeted a number of other advocates going to and from the Crown Court on Small Street. It was a dry though dull day, with no random spurts of sunshine to brighten the cobbled alley-ways that linked the narrow streets, although the entire district, from the ancient city wall to the landmark Corn Exchange, was as resplendent as ever in its proud and dubious history.

Once in the car she took the Bath Road out of town, busying herself on the phone as she went, needing to stay on top of her workload, especially with a Lexcel audit coming up at the end of the week. And if she was about to acquire an alleged murderer as a client, it might not leave her with as much time for other cases as she’d like to give – murders rarely did. Unless Edward Blake was going to plead guilty, of course, but that certainly hadn’t been the impression either she or Vikki had got so far. If he didn’t, and the case looked as though it might prove time- consuming and complicated, there were two other fully qualified solicitors on her crime team with excellent backup of their own, so it would only be a matter of briefing them to take over her other cases where and when it might prove necessary.

By the time she’d got held up in traffic on Brislington Hill – always to be relied upon – and reached the end of the Keynsham bypass, she was just about ready to give full attention to her new client. A murder of this sort – domestic, landed gentry (according to Vikki), no known history (as yet) of violence – was rare and might make a welcome change to the desperate and often dangerous individuals she usually dealt with.

As she came to a stop at the Police Centre her phone was ringing and, seeing it was Tom, she clicked on.

‘Did you finish early?’ she asked.

‘No, a juror’s just chucked up, would you believe? It’s a gory case. How come you’re going to be late home?’

‘Thirty- nine- year- old male accused of killing his wife.’

‘Habitual abuser?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Drugs?’

‘No mention of them yet. Have you heard from Charlie today?’ She was referring to their twenty- one- year- old son, who was about to sit his finals at Exeter.

‘No. Was I supposed to?’

‘Just wondered if he’d finished ribbing you about your spectacular defeat on the rugby field yesterday.’

‘OK, I don’t need you both rubbing it in,’ he groaned, although she knew how much he loved the ‘dads and lads’ games at the university sports ground, win or lose. ‘Do you want me to make you some supper?’

‘That would be lovely.’ There was a time when she’d have added, and I’ll find a special way to repay you. And he’d probably say, Well, we both know how I love your special ways. Or something equally as corny, and maybe one of these days they’d return to that easy flirtation.

After he’d rung off, she sat for a moment, taking a breath to steady herself past the wretched memories that had suddenly left- sided her; memories that could abso-lutely not be allowed to distract her over the next few hours. Affairs, she’d learned the hard way, never really went away, any more than trust ever truly came back, and they had a treacherous habit of wrongfooting a person at the worst possible moments.

Two years, he’d been involved with another woman before Jay had found out.

Two years.

That wasn’t just cheating, it was sustained betrayal. He’d given his mistress up as soon as the relationship came to light, but though Jay had worked hard on trying to forgive him, as much for the children’s sake as her own, she knew that no amount of time was ever going to allow her to forget.

A further three years had passed since that terrible low in their marriage, and still not a day went by when she didn’t think about it and ask herself if she’d done the right thing in allowing him to stay. Worse were the times when she wondered if he regretted his decision to put his family first? He’d sworn he’d never intended to leave them but, even if that were true, Jay felt certain the other woman had expected it, or must surely, at the very least, dreamt of it.

Her name was Ellen Tyler. She was a public relations executive of some sort whom Tom had met during a trial at Southwark Crown Court, and apparently she was married too. Jay had no idea where she lived, although presumed it was London, and nor did she know if Mr Tyler had ever found out about the affair. She only hoped that if he had it hadn’t devastated him as much as it had her. Maybe he didn’t care enough to have let it bother him, or maybe he’d walked out on the marriage leaving Mrs Tyler to conduct as many affairs as she pleased – or even to try and pick up again with Tom.

Jay had no way of knowing for certain if Tom had been in touch with Ellen Tyler since he’d broken things off, although he swore he hadn’t been. Jay had decided to believe him because if she didn’t there wouldn’t be any point in trying to save their marriage.

Oh Tom, she sighed silently to herself, it might have been so much easier if I’d only found a way to stop loving you.

Checking to see who was trying to call her, she quickly connected to DI Ken Bright. ‘Hi, I just got here,’ she told him, asserting her professionalism front and centre. ‘Great,’ he responded. ‘Lacey Hamble is going to fill you in. I’ve had to come back into town, but I’ll be with you by five at the latest. I think you’ll find your new client . . .’ he took a moment to summon the word, ‘interesting.’

‘In what way?’

‘You’ll see,’ and he was gone.

I Have Something To Tell You is available to order now. Out 16th September 2021.

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