The Burning

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Authors: M. R. Hall
confined. ‘I’ll be the one in the pink anorak.’
    ‘I remember what you look like – I saw you at the house.’
    Jenny hesitated for a moment before answering. ‘Good. I’ll see you at twelve.’
    Setting down the receiver, she tried to remember seeing Kelly catch sight of her face, but couldn’t. She’d seen her with the female officer and watched her climb into the car and
drive away. But as far as she could recall, Kelly had been staring at the ground or straight ahead. Memory could be fickle, though – you only had to spend a day in court and hear five
different witnesses give an account of the same event to be left in no doubt of that.
    Jenny turned back to the papers on her desk and searched out the map of BP filling stations. With a little luck she might recover CCTV footage of Ed Morgan buying the diesel he used to start the
blaze. There were three of them within a twenty-minute drive of Blackstone Ley. The closest was six miles away, at a service station on the M5 motorway. Seven miles to the west there was another at
the south end of the Severn Bridge. The next closest was more than ten miles distant on Gloucester Road in the north of Bristol.
    Her flow of concentration was interrupted by the sound of the front door opening and closing. In the silence of the empty building she could hear footsteps in the passageway making their way to
her office. She recognized them at once – Alison’s.
    ‘I’m back,’ Alison called out brightly as she stepped through the door into reception. ‘Passed my driving test. All legal again.’ She was dressed in her best navy
suit and snow boots and was carrying a carton of milk. She took it through to the kitchenette. ‘I didn’t think you’d remember. Am I right?’
    ‘Yes,’ Jenny said, trying to hide her surprise. She had been so absorbed in her case and with Michael that somehow she had managed to forget Alison’s threat to return to work
this morning.
    ‘No wonder you’ve kept your coat on. It’s arctic in here.’
    ‘I haven’t been in for a week.’
    ‘I can see that,’ Alison said, bustling over to her desk. ‘I’ve never seen it so tidy. I don’t know how you’ve managed that, we’re usually rushed off
our feet this time of year.’ She settled in her chair and adjusted its height. ‘You’ve had a temp in? I hope she hasn’t interfered with my things.’ She opened and
closed the drawers in her desk, checking her belongings.
    ‘The last one was a man, actually.’
    ‘Oh yes? Young and good-looking, I hope.’
    ‘Not bad.’
    ‘No condoms or girly mags. He must have been vaguely civilized.’ Satisfied that her space had not been violated, Alison looked up expectantly. ‘What would you like me to get on
    For a moment Jenny allowed herself to believe she was looking at the Alison she had always known, but then she couldn’t help notice the deep scar across her temple that was only partially
hidden beneath her dyed blond fringe. Her eyes had altered subtly, too: they were slightly misaligned and seemed to stare intently and demandingly, the damage to her brain having dulled the
subconscious reflex that keeps healthy eyes making constant tiny movements. Jenny realized she had no choice but to confront the issue head-on.
    ‘I appreciate you want to get back to work,’ Jenny said, ‘but didn’t we agree that you’d be declared fit by your consultant first?’
    ‘I still know how to wipe my own bum, Mrs Cooper.’
    Jenny ignored the uncharacteristic crudeness of the remark. ‘What if it all proves too much for you?’
    ‘You’ll be able to tell, won’t you? Far better than any doctor would.’
    ‘You may not appreciate my honesty.’
    ‘I think I might have lost the part of my brain that gives a damn about dressing things up. Shoot from the hip, Mrs Cooper, I can take it.’
    The phone on Alison’s desk started to ring before Jenny could reply.
    ‘Severn Vale District Coroner’s Office,’ Alison answered

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