20 September 1996
I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to feel.
Is this normal? He’s an adult. He’s twice my age.
There’s no way… No. There’s no way. But OH GOD.
I wish there was.
I think I’m in love with my English teacher.
DC Rose Pelham kneels down; she can see something behind the kitchen door, just in front of the bin. For a minute she thinks it’s a bloodstained twist of tissue, maybe, or an old bandage. Then she thinks perhaps it is a dead flower. But as she looks at it more closely she can see that it’s a tassel. A red suede tassel. The sort that might once have been attached to a handbag, or to a boot.
It sits just on top of a small puddle of blood, strongly suggesting that it had fallen there in the aftermath of the murder. She photographs it in situ from many angles and then, with her gloved fingers, she plucks the tassel from the floor and drops it into an evidence bag which she seals.
She stands up and turns to survey the scene of the crime: a scruffy kitchen, old-fashioned pine units, a green Aga piled with pots and pans, a large wooden table piled with table mats and exercise books and newspapers and folded washing, a small extension to the rear with a cheap timber glazed roof, double doors to the garden, a study area with a laptop, a printer, a shredder, a table lamp.
It’s an innocuous room; bland even. A kitchen like a million other kitchens all across the country. A kitchen for drinking coffee in, for doing homework and eating breakfast and reading newspapers in. Not a kitchen for dark secrets or crimes of passion. Not a kitchen for murdering someone in.
But there, on the floor, is a body, splayed face down inside a large, vaguely kidney-shaped pool of blood. The knife that had been used is in the kitchen sink, thoroughly washed down with a soapy sponge. The attack on the victim had been frenzied: at least twenty knife wounds to the neck, back and shoulders. But little in the way of blood has spread to other areas of the kitchen – no handprints, no smears, no spatters – leading Rose to the conclusion that the attack had been unexpected, fast and efficient and that the victim had had little chance to put up a fight.
Rose takes a marker pen from her jacket pocket and writes on the bag containing the red suede tassel.
Description: ‘Red suede/suedette tassel.’
Location: ‘In front of fridge, just inside door from hallway.’
Date and time of collection: ‘Friday 24 March 2017, 11.48 p.m.’
It’s probably nothing, she muses, just a thing fallen from a fancy handbag. But nothing was often everything in forensics.
Nothing could often be the answer to the whole bloody thing.
Joey Mullen laid the flowers against the gravestone and ran her fingertip across the words engraved into the pink-veined granite.
SARAH JANE MULLEN
BELOVED MOTHER OF JACK AND JOSEPHINE
‘Happy new year, Mum,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t come to see you yesterday. Alfie and I had shocking hangovers. We went to a party over in Frenchay, at Candy’s new flat. Remember Candy? Candy Boyd? She was in my year at school, she had all that long blond hair that she could sit on? You really liked her because she always said hello to you if she passed you on the street? Anyway, she’s doing really well, she’s a physiotherapist. Or… a chiropractor? Anyway, something like that. She cried when I told her you were dead. Everyone cries when I tell them. Everyone loved you so much, Mum. Everyone wished you were their mum. I was so lucky to have a mum like you. I wish I hadn’t stayed away for so long now. If I’d known what was going to happen, I would never have gone away at all. And I’m sorry you never got to meet Alfie. He’s adorable. He’s working at a wine bar in town at the moment, but he wants to be a painter-decorator. He’s at his mum’s now, actually, painting her kitchen. Or at least, he’s supposed to be! She’s probably made him sit down and watch TV with her, knowing her. And him. He’s a bit of a procrastinator. Takes him a while to get going. But you’d love him, Mum. He’s the cutest, sweetest, nicest guy and he’s so in love with me and he treats me so well and I know how much of a worry I was to you when I was younger. I know what I put you through and I’m so, so sorry. But I wish you could see me now. I’m growing up, Mum. I’m finally growing up!’
‘Anyway, I’d better go now. It’ll be getting dark soon and then I’ll get really scared. I love you, Mum. I miss you. I wish you weren’t dead. I wish I could go to your house and have a cup of tea with you, have a good gossip, have a bitch about Jack and Rebecca. I could tell you about the gold taps. Or maybe I could tell you about the gold taps now? No, I’ll tell you about the gold taps next time. Give you something to look forward to.
‘Sleep tight, Mum. I love you.’
Joey climbed the steep lane from Lower Melville to the parade of houses above. Even in the sodium gloom of a January afternoon, the houses of Melville Heights popped like a row of children’s building blocks: red, yellow, turquoise, purple, lime, sage, fuchsia, red again. They sat atop a terraced embankment looking down on to the small streets of Lower Melville like guests at a private party that no one else was invited to.
Iconic was the word that people used to describe this row of twenty-seven Victorian villas: the iconic painted houses of Melville Heights. Joey had seen them from a distance for most of her life. They were the sign that they were less than twenty minutes from home on long car journeys of her childhood. They followed her to work; they guided her home again. She’d been to a party once, in the pink house, when she was a student. Split crudely into flats and bedsits, smelling of damp and cooked mince, it hadn’t felt bright pink on the inside. But the views from up there were breathtaking: the River Avon pausing to arc picturesquely on its mile-long journey to the city, the patchwork fields beyond, the bulge of the landscape on the horizon into a plump hill crowned with trees that blossomed every spring into puffballs of hopeful green.
She’d dreamed of living up here as a child, oscillated between which house would be hers: the lilac or the pink. And as she grew older, the sky blue or the sage. And now, at twenty-six, she found herself living in the cobalt-blue house. Number 14. Not a sign of a lifetime of hard work and rich rewards, but a fringe benefit of her older brother’s lifetime of hard work and rich rewards.
Jack was ten years older than Joey and a consultant heart surgeon at Bristol General Hospital, one of the youngest in the county’s history. Two years ago he’d married a woman called Rebecca. Rebecca was nice, but brittle and rather humourless. Joey had always thought her lovely brother would end up with a fun-loving, no‑nonsense nurse or maybe a jolly children’s doctor. But for some reason he’d chosen a strait-laced systems analyst from Staffordshire.
They’d bought their cobalt house ten months ago, when Joey was still farting about in the Balearics hosting foam parties. She hadn’t even realised it was one of the painted houses until Jack had taken her to see it when she moved back to Bristol three months ago.
‘You bought a painted house,’ she’d said, her hand against her heart. ‘You bought a painted house and you didn’t tell me.’
‘You didn’t ask,’ he’d responded. ‘And anyway, it wasn’t my idea. It was Rebecca’s. She virtually bribed the old lady who was living here to sell up. Said it was literally the only house in Bristol she wanted to live in.’
‘It’s beautiful,’ she’d said, her eyes roaming over the tasteful interior of taupe and teal and copper and grey. ‘The most beautiful house I’ve ever seen.’
‘I’m glad you like it,’ Jack had said, ‘because Rebecca and I were wondering if you two would like to live here for a while. Just until you get yourselves sorted out.’
‘Oh my God,’ she’d said, her hands at her mouth. ‘Are you serious? Are you sure?’
‘Of course I’m sure,’ he’d replied, taking her by the hand. ‘Come and see the attic room. It’s completely self-contained – perfect for a pair of newlyweds.’ He’d nudged her and grinned at her.
Joey had grinned back. No one was more surprised than she was that she had come back from Ibiza with a husband.
His name was Alfie Butter and he was very good-looking. Far too good-looking for her. Or at least, so she’d thought in the aqua haze of Ibizan nights. In the gunmetal gloom of a Bristol winter the blue, blue eyes were just blue, the Titian hair was just red, the golden tan was just sun-damage. Alfie was just a regular guy.
They’d married barefoot on the beach. Joey had worn a pink chiffon slip dress and carried a posy of pink and peridot Lantanas. Alfie had worn a white T‑shirt and pink shorts, and white bougainvillea blossom in his hair. Their marriage had been witnessed by the managers of the hotel where they both worked. Afterwards they’d had dinner on a terrace with a few friends, taken a few pills, danced until the sun came up, spent the next day in bed and then and only then did they phone their families to tell them what they’d done.
She would have had a proper wedding if her mother had still been alive. But she was dead and Joey’s dad was not really a wedding kind of a man, nor a flying-out‑to‑Ibiza kind of a man, and Joey’s parents had themselves married secretly at Gretna Green when her mum was four months pregnant with Jack.
‘Ah, well,’ her father said, with a note of relief. ‘I suppose it’s a family tradition.’
‘Hi,’ she called out in the hallway, testing for the presence of her sister‑in‑law.
Rebecca made a lot of noise about how delighted she was to be housing a pair of twenty-something lovebirds in her immaculate, brand-new guest suite – ‘It’s just so brilliant that we had the space for you! Really, it’s just brilliant having you here. Totally brilliant’ – but her demeanour told a different story. She hid from them. All the time. In fact, she was hiding from Joey right now, pretending to be arranging things in their huge walk‑in pantry.
‘Oh, hi!’ she said, turning disingenuously at Joey’s greeting, a jar of horseradish in her hand. ‘I didn’t hear you come in!’
Joey smiled brightly. She’d totally heard her coming in. There was a mug of freshly made tea still steaming on the kitchen table, a newspaper half read, a half-eaten packet of supermarket sushi. Joey pictured Rebecca Mullen twitching at the sound of Joey’s key in the lock, looking for her escape, scurrying into the pantry and randomly picking up a jar of horseradish.
‘Sorry, I did shout out hello.’
‘It’s fine. It’s fine. I’m just…’ She waved the jar of horseradish in a vague arc around the pantry.
‘Yes!’ said Rebecca. ‘Yes. I am. Nest-building. Exactly.’
Both their eyes fell to Rebecca’s rounded stomach. Her first baby was due in four months. It was a girl baby who would, on or around 1 May, become Joey’s niece. One of the reasons, Joey imagined, that Rebecca had agreed to let her and Alfie have their guest suite was that Joey was a trained nursery nurse. Not that she’d touched a baby since she was eighteen. But still, she had all the skills. She could, in theory, change a nappy in forty-eight seconds flat.
There was a stained-glass window halfway up the oak staircase that ran up the front of the house. Joey often stopped here to press her nose to the clear parts of the design, enjoying being able to see out with anyone seeing in. It was early afternoon, almost dusk at this time of the year; the trees on the hills on the other side of the river were bare and slightly awkward.
She watched a shiny black car turn from the main road in the village below and begin its ascent up the escarpment towards the terrace. The only cars that came up here were those of residents and visitors. She waited for a while longer to see who it might be. The car parked on the other side of the street and she watched a woman get out of the passenger side, a boyish, thirty-something woman with jaw-length, light brown hair wearing a hoodie and jeans. She stood by the back door while a young boy climbed out, about fourteen years old, the spitting image of her. Then a rather handsome older man got out of the driver’s side, tall and leggy in a crumpled sky-blue polo shirt and dark jeans, short dark hair, white at the temples. He went to the boot of the car and pulled out two medium-sized suitcases, with a certain appealing effortlessness. He handed one to his son, passed a pile of coats and a carrier bag to his wife and then they crossed the road and let themselves into the yellow house.
Joey carried on up the stairs, the image of the attractive older man returning from his family Christmas break already fading from her consciousness.
Location: Trinity Road Police Station, Bristol BS2 0NW
Conducted by: Officers from Somerset & Avon Police
POLICE: This interview is being tape-recorded. I am Detective Inspector Rose Pelham and I’m based at Trinity Road Police Station. I work with the serious crime team. Could you please give us your full name?
JM: Josephine Louise Mullen.
POLICE: And your address?
JM: 14 Melville Heights, Bristol BS12 2GG.
POLICE: Thank you. And can you tell us about your relationship with Tom Fitzwilliam?
JM: He lives two doors down. He gave me a lift into work sometimes. We chatted if we bumped into each other on the street. He knew my brother and my sister‑in‑law.
POLICE: Thank you. And could you now tell us where you were last night between approximately 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
JM: I was at the Bristol Harbour Hotel.
POLICE: And were you there alone?
POLICE: Mostly? Who else was there with you?
POLICE: Ms Mullen? Please could you tell us who else was there? At the Bristol Harbour Hotel?
JM: But he was only there for a few minutes. Nothing happened.
It was just…
POLICE: Ms Mullen. The name of this person. Please.
JM: It was… it was Tom Fitzwilliam.