We’ll admit it. Even more than the historical detail, even more than the celebrity cameos, even more than the mystery, what we love most about William Shaw’s series is the pair of sleuths at its heart: Detective Sergeant Breen and WPC Tozer. In the sequel to She’s Leaving Home, Breen and Tozer investigate the suspicious death of a man trapped when his house went up in flames. Join them as they walk through the ashes in this excerpt from chapter five.
‘You all right?’ Sergeant Breen asked Temporary Detective Constable Tozer, shouting above the noise of the siren.
‘Me? I’m fine,’ she shouted back. They were in Delta Mike Five, the old Wolesley radio car whose gearbox crunched every time Breen put it into second.
He hesitated before saying, ‘I meant to call you.’
‘Course you did,’ said Tozer.
She looked out of the window. Awkwardly thin, early twenties, in clothes that never seemed to fit quite right. Lank hair cut to a bob. ‘I wasn’t by the phone, waiting for it to ring, if that’s what you were wondering.’
‘Of course not.’
She dipped into her handbag. ‘I suppose you told all the lads,’ she said.
‘What do you take me for?’
‘That’s something, anyway,’ she said. ‘Want a fag?’
He shook his head.
‘Were you avoiding me?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘Busy, that’s all.’
‘Fair enough,’ she said. ‘I been busy too. Getting ready to go home.’
Tozer had handed in her notice. She was leaving too. She had joined CID from the Women’s Section as a probationer, hoping to do more than just interview women and children, or direct traffic, which was all you were supposed to do as a WPC. But it wasn’t much different in CID either.
‘I mean,’ said Tozer. ‘It was just a bit of fun, wasn’t it, you and me?’ Then, ‘Christ. Must have rattled a few windows.’
Breen had pulled up outside the house on Marlborough Place. Or what was left of it. A grand, three-storey Victorian mansion, half of it completely blown away.
The Gas Board were still not allowing people back into their houses. They crowded behind the line of policemen, craning necks. A couple of press men with twin-lens reflex cameras complained about the way they were being treated. Breen recognised one from the local Chronicle. ‘Oi, guv. What’s going on? Get us in there, can’t you?’
Things like this never happened around here. After the firemen had discovered the body news had spread fast.
‘I was expecting to see you last night,’ Breen said. ‘At Prosser’s leaving do.’
‘Didn’t fancy it much, be honest,’ Tozer said. ‘Don’t even know why Prosser’s leaving. Many there?’
‘Everyone,’ he said.
‘Rats from the sinking ship,’ she said.
Breen approached one of the three constables standing on the door. Two men, one woman. ‘They found a body, they said. Where is it?’
‘In the kitchen. What’s left of it.’
A fireman came out of the building. ‘Got a cigarette?’ he asked, brushing down his sleeves.
‘I said no bloody smoking,’ said the gas man.
‘Give it a rest. That guy’s smoking over there. ‘If he can, I can.’ He pointed to a press man hovering at the front gate.
Tozer pulled a packet out of her handbag and offered him one. ‘You a copper?’ asked the fireman.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘For the next four weeks.’ She wasn’t cut out for the force, they said. Breen wanted to tell her that he’d miss her, but he hadn’t found the right opportunity. Not yet, anyway.
‘Why isn’t you in uniform then?’ asked the fireman.
‘Didn’t match my nail varnish,’ Tozer said. The fireman looked down at her hand. She wasn’t wearing any.
‘Safe to go in?’ asked Breen.
‘Fire’s all extinguished. But, ask me, whole lot could go any sec,’ said the fireman. He took a long pull on the cigarette Tozer had given him.
‘We need to see the body before they pull the place down,’ said Breen.
‘I could tell you all you need to know,’ said the fireman. ‘Some bastard sliced him up like a Sunday roast. Sorry, miss,’ he said to Tozer.
‘Who knows about that?’ said Breen.
‘Just us firemen.’
‘Keep it to yourselves, OK? How do you know it wasn’t just the blast?’
‘During the war I seen all sorts of things happen in explosions. Never one skin a man, though.’ The fireman turned to Tozer. ‘What about after this, you and me and some of the lads—’
‘Skinned?’ said Breen.
‘Like a ruddy banana. Not all of him, mind. What about a coffee bar or something, love?’
‘Don’t really think so,’ Tozer said.
‘Pardon me,’ said the fireman. Then to Breen. ‘Only asking out of politeness. She’s got a face like bag of spanners, anyway.’
‘You haven’t been able to get the body out?’
‘Not our job, mate. Too risky in the circumstances.’
Breen said, ‘I want to see him for myself before anything else falls on him.’
‘Only I’m not supposed to let anyone in,’ said the fireman.
‘I’m a policeman,’ said Breen.
The fireman hesitated. ‘Your funeral, mate. They’re bringing a ’dozer to pull the lot down. It’ll be here any minute.’
‘Come on then,’ said Tozer.
‘Oi!’ said the fireman. ‘Go careful. Don’t want to be hoicking out three bodies.’
‘You don’t have to come,’ said Breen to Tozer.
‘I know,’ she said.
What he should have said was, ‘You’re not supposed to come.’ If she got hurt there would be a stink. But it would be good to have her there with him.