‘There was no accident,’ said Caroline, ‘no argument with the couple in the Mercedes.’
Sergeant Thomas smiled. She was taller and wider than Caroline who stood no more than five foot four inches. Sergeant Thomas had decided to question Caroline at her own workstation. The sergeant faced her PC. Caroline sat at the side of the desk.
‘I gave them a look because they were staring at me like I was an idiot,’ said Caroline. ‘I reversed into the space next to them.’
‘They said you backed in at a dangerous speed.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Caroline. ‘They had a new car and they were being precious, as if my little Ford Fiesta and me had no right to be there. So I gave them a look.’
‘You didn’t say…” Sergeant Thomas read out loud the list of obscene insults. Her pronunciation was precise, unaffected by emotion.
‘I didn’t say anything at all,’ said Caroline.
‘The couple stated you were angry because you crashed your car into the wall.’
‘I barely touched the wall with the Fiesta. I doubt if there is even a scratch on my car. I’m not very good at parking. The wall was not easy to see.’
‘Well,’ said Sergeant Thomas, ‘you know what they say about women and parking It’s a long drive here from London. Why not stay in the hotel and rest after driving and working?’
‘What I do is intense. By the time you’ve finished, they’ve had enough of you. They don’t need me around to spoil their dinner.’
‘Were there men at this meeting?’
‘There are always more men than women.’
Sergeant Thomas leaned an arm on her chair. Her face was close to Caroline. For a large woman she had a kind smile.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘the men would have been disappointed, I reckon.’
Caroline had noticed that Sergeant Thomas spoke little to her colleagues, had ignored the courtesies the half dozen detectives sitting elsewhere warranted. On the walls of the large room, there were lots of black and white photographs but also some reproductions of newspaper headlines. The clock on the wall ticked loudly. The police station occupied four floors of a large government building that had been nicknamed ‘the Castle’ by the locals.
Sergeant Thomas read the screen on her PC.
‘You work as a management consultant?’
‘I was attending a conference at the hotel. I provide advice and support for organisations on how to cope with reduced budgets.’’
‘You help companies to sack people.’
‘Sometimes that has to happen,’ said Caroline.
‘We have to reduce by 20% this year. The bosses might ask you to help.’
‘I think I’ll pass that on to someone else.’
‘Caroline, I’m talking to you here. I didn’t take you down to the interview rooms. I’ve done everything I can so you don’t feel like a criminal.’
‘I’m not a criminal. I am being detained against my will.’
‘You failed a breathalyzer test and there was a serious accident. Is that why you left the hotel, so you could drink unobserved?’
‘I had one glass of wine with my evening meal. I didn’t actually order any wine. I was given a free glass and I didn’t like to say no.’
‘That restaurant never gives away free alcohol.’
‘The waiter tried to impress me.’
‘Yes, men would do that,’ said Sergeant Thomas.
‘Wine or not, I barely touched the wall.’
‘I was thinking more about Constable Wood.’
‘I did not hurt the constable.’
‘He says you did. Right now he is in the hospital claiming he’s in pain.’
‘I barely touched the wall,’ said Caroline. ‘The couple in the black car gave me a filthy look and then, just as I was thinking about straightening the Fiesta, the constable appears and slams his hand on my car.’
‘Constable Wood says that you accelerated the car, that the bumper hit him on the knees and he held on to the car to stop being dragged across the car park.’
‘These are lies. He is working some kind of compensation claim.’
‘Well, the doctors are in no rush to decide. You can stay here for a couple of days. A break from the alcohol will do you no harm.’
‘I am not an alcoholic. I drank a free glass of wine given to me by a waiter that was trying to be charming.’
‘Did you flirt with him, Caroline?’
‘I may have done. He was charming.’
‘And quite a bit younger.’
‘Well, just the thing for stress, eh?’
‘I am not suffering from stress.’
‘It doesn’t bother you taking away people’s livelihoods?’
‘I don’t make those decisions. I talk about business efficiency. I’m an analyst and a theorist.’
‘I bet you are,’ said Sergeant Thomas.
The sergeant looked around the almost empty room.
‘We’ve got too many desks as it is. God knows what it will be like after more cuts.’
‘You rationalize your estate and make savings from your assets.’
‘Do we now,’ said Sergeant Thomas.
One detective left the room and Caroline watched him walk away. She listened to the noise in the large room. The footsteps echoed while the clock ticked loudly. Sergeant Thomas read the PC screen.
‘It says here that you’ve suffered from depression.’
‘I had one spell after I left University. I got over it, like most people do. Where do you get that information?’
‘It’s amazing what you can Google.’
‘You’ve got some kind of file on me.’
‘We all have files, Caroline.’
‘I don’t want to stay here. I don’t think you can keep me here for days against my will.’
‘I actually think I can, Caroline. I’m trying to look after you. You won’t go in the cells. You can sleep in the first aid room. There is extra space where you can work and read. The bed is lovely and you can shower in private every morning. You will be very comfortable.’
‘I want to speak to a solicitor.’
‘You will, when you are charged with an offence. Let’s see if we can have you a bit more robust, first.’
That night Caroline slept in the first aid room. She kept all her things and even used her mobile phone to tell her friends not to worry. Caroline thought about asking for help but she was not sure what her friends could do. She decided against ringing for a solicitor because that might inspire Sergeant Thomas to lock her in one of the cells. On the next day she read and relaxed in an armchair. She was provided with meals and with cups of coffee and tea. Caroline spoke to Sergeant Thomas but this time she asked the questions. Sergeant Thomas told her that they we were waiting for reports. After the second night in the first aid room, she had another refreshing shower and a satisfying breakfast. Caroline spoke to Sergeant Thomas again.
‘I think we should look at my car,’ said Caroline.
Sergeant Thomas agreed and they caught the lift to the garage in the basement. Caroline led the sergeant to the back of the vehicle. The bumper was badly buckled and the back looked as if it had been hit a couple of times by a sledgehammer. They walked to the front of the car. Sergeant Thomas pointed to the small patches of dried blood.
‘This is a set up,’ said Caroline. She walked to the back of the car again. ‘Look, a wall couldn’t have done that.’
‘I think it did.’
The two of them returned in the lift. Caroline sat at the same desk with Sergeant Thomas. She listened to the clock and more footsteps, conscious of how familiar they now sounded. Sergeant Thomas interrupted her daydreaming.
‘Would you like me to play back the tape?’ said Sergeant Thomas.
‘Of the conversation we’ve just had.’
‘We’ve just sat down,’ said Caroline.
‘No, I’ve just interviewed you about the damage to the car and the blood stains.’
‘We’ve just sat down.’
Sergeant Thomas played the tape of the interview and afterwards Caroline cried but she was too embarrassed to be hysterical.
‘I’m so sorry,’ said Sergeant Thomas.
‘Somebody has to be, I suppose.’
Caroline returned to the first aid room. The sergeant visited while she was reading.
‘I’m comfortable here,’ said Caroline. ‘Promise me that I won’t have to spend any nights in a cell.’
‘You can use the first aid room as long as you like,’ said Sergeant Thomas. ‘This one has been spare since the last time we lost staff.’
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