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The Outcast Dead(9)

By:Elly Griffiths



 

Four.

And you met Aliona when?

Bob hesitates. Well, I already knew her.

I see.

Nelson can see Clough looking at him and knows that he sounds too disapproving. With an effort, he says in a more neutral voice, Did you keep in touch with Liz and David?

Of course, says Bob. I saw David every week.

When did you last see him before he died?

The day before, says Bob. Tears begin to roll down his cheeks but he makes no attempt to check them. I saw him just the day before. He looked so well and happy. He was just starting to crawl.

And Liz? How did she seem?

I didnt see Liz. The babysitter was with David when I picked him up.

So, far from the break-up being amicable, Liz Donaldson couldnt bear even to see her husband on his access visits. That must be the explanation, surely?

The babysitter?

Justine Thomas. A lovely girl.

Shes next on the list, thinks Nelson.

How long had Justine looked after David? he asks.

Since he was born. She looked after Samuel and Isaac too.

Great names, your boys, says Clough.

Bob looked surprised. Oh, thank you.

From the Bible, arent they?

I think so, yes. To be honest they were Lizs choices. I prefer simple names for boys.

Was Liz religious?

No. Shed turned her back on all that stuff.

What stuff?

She was brought up a Seventh Day Adventist, says Bob.

Nelson doesnt know anything about Seventh Day Adventists but the name stirs memories of another case involving a baby. In Australia, wasnt it? Something about Ayres Rock and a dingo. Hell look it up after the interview.

So she had no strong religious beliefs?

No. Bob sits up and rubs his hand over his eyes. Look, what are you getting at? Liz wasnt a religious maniac, she wasnt depressed, she wasnt mad. She didnt kill David. Youve got no evidence that says she did.

Nelson pauses to straighten the papers on his desk before replying. The autopsy suggests he may have been suffocated, he says.





CHAPTER 8


Justine Thomas agrees to see them but says that she is working.

But you can come here. My boss wont mind.

What does she do? asks Clough as they head out of town, Nelson at the wheel, Clough eating a bacon sandwich.

Shes a nanny. Works full time for a family in Chapel Road.

Clough whistles. Not easy with a mouthful of bacon. They must have a bob or two.

Chapel Road is known locally as Millionaires Row and its not hard to see why. Its a leafy area next door to the Sandringham Estate and some of the houses look fit, if not for a queen, at least for a member of minor royalty. The Rectory, inhabited by the family who employ Justine Thomas, is a sturdy Victorian house set back from the road and surrounded by trees. Nelson thinks that it could be the setting for one of those God-awful costume dramas the girls like to watch. Even Clough chews more respectfully.

Justine, who meets them at the door, is a small woman (both Nelson and Clough think of her as a girl) with short hair and a sensible manner. She is carrying a baby and another child clings to her legs.

There are three children she explains, as she leads them into what she refers to as the playroom, but the eldest is at school. As far as Nelson can see the playroom is bigger than his entire house, a huge sunny space with French windows leading out onto the garden. Justine puts the baby into a playpen and gets the older child playing with some bricks.

Hope you dont mind, she says, but its easier in here because they can entertain themselves.

As the room contains more toys than Hamleys, Nelson can believe this. But after a few minutes the little boy abandons the bricks and starts trying to climb on Justines lap.

Hes a bit clingy, she says. Hell settle down in a bit.

Strange to cling to the nanny rather than your mother, thinks Nelson. Clough is probably thinking the same thing because he says, Theyre pretty young to be left with a nanny, arent they?

Poppys just over a year, she says, indicating the baby. Scooter here is nearly three. Bailey, hes the one at school, is five. Ive looked after them since Bailey was a baby.

Clough leans over to shake a rattle at Poppy. Nelson still cant get over the names. Scooter. What were the parents thinking? They give their poor kids outlandish names and then push off and leave them to be brought up by a girl that looks younger than his daughters.

Im twenty-two, says Justine, in answer to his question. I became a nanny straight from school. I love it.

And you looked after all Liz Donaldsons children?

I wasnt their nanny but I babysat sometimes. Her face clouds as she gently disentangles Scooter and puts him back on the floor. I cant believe that youve arrested Liz.

New evidence has come to light, says Nelson. I cant say more at present.

You cant believe that she killed those babies. Its impossible.

Were trying to build up a picture of Liz, says Nelson. What can you tell us about her?

Shes lovely, says Justine. Shes been through so much. Samuel and Isaac dying, Bob leaving her. I dont know how anyone could stand it.

Maybe she didnt stand it, thinks Nelson. Maybe she cracked and, for whatever reason, killed her last surviving child. Or did she kill all three of them, this lovely woman admired by all.

When was the last time that you saw David? he asks.

The day before he died. Justines eyes, like Bobs earlier, fill with tears. Bob was coming round and Liz didnt want to see him so I went and waited with David. It was my day off.

Was Liz still upset about her old man leaving? asks Clough.

Justines eyes flash and, for a second, she looks like a completely different person. What do you think? He left her for a girl who was barely out of school. Aliona. She says the name with a mock Russian accent. Shes younger than me. Did you know that? He left Liz alone with a young baby and he knew what shed suffered. Ill never forgive him for that.

Had Liz forgiven him? asks Nelson.

She never criticised him, not even to me, but I think she was still pretty sore about it. She said it hurt too much to see him with David. Thats why she went out that day.

How did David seem? asks Clough. Was he under the weather at all?

No, says Justine. He was his usual smiley self. She brushes away tears with the back of her hand. He was such a lovely baby.

Nelson thinks that the one person who is hardly ever discussed is David Donaldson. Yet he was eight months old. He knows from his own children that by eight months they have powerful personalities. He has seen pictures of David  –  a blond blue-eyed moppet straight out of central casting  –  but he has never really thought about his character. Was he cheerful? Serious? Did he like cars or teddies? Did he have a passion for Thomas the Tank Engine? He asks now.
 
 

 

Oh, he was a sweetie, says Justine. Not a grizzler like Scooter here. But then he had his mummy at home with him. He had nothing to grizzle about.

Was he healthy? asks Nelson. A good eater?

Liz sometimes used to worry that he wasnt gaining weight, says Justine. But he was pretty healthy. He had a few colds and sniffles, nothing serious.

Nelson knows that David had visited the doctor several times, always for minor ailments. But he had never been admitted to hospital. Surely, if Liz Donaldson was suffering from Munchausens by Proxy, she would have taken him to A&E a few times?

And how was Liz with him? Loving? Patient?

Yes. Justine looks at him defiantly over the head of Scooter, who has climbed back onto her lap. She was a perfect mother. And Ill say that in court.

On the way out, Clough asks what Justines employers do. Must have plenty of cash by the look of this place. Justine says that they run a toy company.

So, what do you think, Boss? asks Clough as they make their way back through the leafy streets. Did Liz Donaldson do it?

I dont know, says Nelson, speaking slowly and driving quickly. Too quickly. A speed bump jerks them both out of their seats.

Jesus, Boss, says Clough. Are you trying to kill us? Its usually the junior officer who drives and Clough wishes he had insisted on this protocol.

Nelson puts on the brakes. They take the next bump at thirty and almost miss the mini-roundabout altogether.

Have you got enough to charge her? asks Clough, holding on to the safety handle.

I dont know, says Nelson again. Chris Stephenson thought the autopsy definitely pointed to asphyxiation. But David could have suffocated by rolling on to his front. Remember, Bob said that he was just starting to crawl? He would have been mobile enough. There were fibres in his mouth but no bruises on his face. Its all too ambiguous. And Liz Donaldson doesnt have any record of mental instability.

There was the depression, Clough reminds him.

Weve only got the husbands word for that. And wouldnt it be enough to make you depressed, your husband going off with some foreign bimbo?

She could be a religious nutter. What was that about the Seventh Day Whathaveyous?

Seventh Day Adventists. Nelson had looked them up after the interview with Bob. They believe in observing the Sabbath and preparing for the second coming.

They all do that. Even your lot.

Nelson ignores this reference to the Roman Catholic Church. There was that case in Australia, he says, where a baby disappeared in the outback. The mother claimed that the baby was taken by a dingo but she was charged with murder. They were Seventh Day Adventists and there was a lot of guff in the press about the church believing in infant sacrifice. The baby was called Azaria and there was some talk that it meant "sacrifice in the wilderness". All rubbish as far as I can make out. The woman was acquitted later.

Shame, says Clough. We could do with something that links Liz Donaldson to a bunch of child sacrificers.

Instead she seems to be a perfectly normal woman. No-ones got a bad word to say about her.

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