Scared to Live
Hitchens sighed. 'So what's the alternative?' Kessen joined him at the window. 'There's only one other possibility. That there never was an intruder in this house. The victim was shot from outside.' Hitchens stared. 'From the garden?'
    'No, look - the angle is completely wrong. The shots must have come from the field.' 'But the window - why was it open?' 'Wayne said there were no prints on the outside. What about the inside?' 'Just the victim's.' 'So that's pretty clear, isn't it?' said Kessen. 'The victim opened the bedroom window herself. And someone waiting in the field shot her.' 'Jesus,' said Hitchens. Kessen turned back and addressed the room in general. 'Close off that road up there, seal the gateway, and get the SOCOs and the search teams into the field. That's where our gunman was.' Before the action moved outside, Cooper took a chance to study the interior of the house. One of the first things that had struck him was the amount of dust. Of course, there had been no cleaner. And Miss Shepherd had only done the minimum amount of housework herself, by the looks of it. A bit of attention to the sitting room, the kitchen, the bathroom, and her bedroom. But there were other rooms that seemed to have lain untouched. Opening the door into a guest bedroom set balls of dust rolling across the carpet, spiders scurrying away from the movement. The curtains were closed in here, so Cooper switched on the light. Fine particles of dust hung in the air, swirling in the draught from the landing. Most people had no idea where the dust in their homes came from. As far as the average householder was concerned, it might as well come from the Moon, floating down from the sky every night and settling on available surfaces like drifting snow. An inconvenience, perhaps, but something natural and inert that was just part of the atmosphere, like oxygen. But Cooper knew different. It was one of those facts that he'd learned as a teenager and never forgot. He knew that all
    human beings in the world shed thousands of dead skin cells every hour, an entire layer of skin over three days. That was what hung in the air and danced in a shaft of sunlight from the window. That was what lay on the shelves and gathered in restless clumps under the bed, or shrouded the junk in the attic. Ninety per cent of the dust in any house consisted of dead human skin. Also, the decor in the sitting room struck him as odd. Off white and charcoal grey, almost no colour. It seemed a bit modern for a house of this age, let alone for the sort of woman that Rose Shepherd seemed to have been. As far as anyone could tell, anyway. Hitchens stuck his head round the door. 'Ben, we've brought the postman back to the scene. Go and get a statement from him, will you? He's fretting about getting back on his rounds.' 'Right, sir.' Cooper took a last look at the charcoal grey wallpaper around the fireplace. It showed up the dust badly, and it was undisturbed by finger marks. And then he remembered another fact he'd learned about house dust. Each speck of it carried tens of thousands of dust mites. Right at this moment, they were busy feeding on those dead skin cells.
    'Years ago, I used to work on a delivery round out Leek way,' said Bernie Wilding when Cooper found him sitting in his red mail van. 'I saw those wallabies out there about as often as I saw Miss Shepherd in Foxlow.' 'The wallabies?' Cooper laughed. Most rumours of exotic animals surviving in unlikely parts of the country were rubbish. But sometimes the creatures turned out to be real, like the scorpions on the London Underground - or the wallabies of the Roaches. 'Did you really see the wallabies?' he asked. 'Only as an odd shape in the distance once or twice. I was never quite sure whether I was looking at a wallaby or a hare, really. But I always told everybody I'd seen the wallabies. Well, you do, don't you?' 'Yes, I would too.' It was one of Cooper's genuine regrets that he'd never seen a wallaby, despite his thirty

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