Strange Tide

Strange Tide by Christopher Fowler Read Free Book Online

Book: Strange Tide by Christopher Fowler Read Free Book Online
Authors: Christopher Fowler
The only other way you can access the old beach is by passing through one of the corporate reception areas and subjecting yourself to a grilling by a headset-chimp.’
    â€˜High and low tides must vary a lot at this time of the year,’ said May, squinting up. A few rags of mist were still clinging to the pier stanchions. ‘They should give you a rough time of death. What was holding her in place?’
    â€˜Well, this is weird,’ said Banbury, digging the sand away. ‘Come a bit closer.’ May found himself looking at the stone stump, about a foot in diameter, into which a rusty iron ring was embedded. ‘It’s the top of an old stanchion, probably used to tie up boats, late 1940s, early 1950s.’
    â€˜How can you tell the period?’ May asked.
    â€˜Post-war concrete.’ The CSM held up a fragment of wet cement and rubbed it in his fingers, watching it dissolve. ‘The good stuff was in short supply so they bulked it up with pebbles and shale. You don’t think she was chained here alive, do you?’
    â€˜God, I hope not. I wouldn’t want to die by ingesting this stuff.’
    â€˜Our noble Mayor says the Thames is clean now.’
    â€˜I think it’s safe to say that drowning in it would still be a fairly unpleasant experience. What a lonely, miserable death.’ May frowned. The ghost of an idea had formed.
    Banbury fought the breeze and erected the tent. ‘If I get this logged in the next half-hour you can whip her straight over to Giles and he can run tests on her lungs.’
    â€˜Punishment.’
    â€˜Sorry?’
    â€˜Isn’t that what it feels like to you?’ May pointed at the position of the body. ‘Chaining someone to a post in a public place and letting them die? It’s almost a tradition in this part of the city. Smithfield is just behind us. Thousands died there. Like putting someone in the stocks.’
    â€˜You’re talking about centuries ago,’ said Banbury. ‘Don’t start sounding like Mr Bryant.’
    â€˜Somebody has to, now that he’s not around.’ May rose unsteadily to his feet and stretched his tight spine. The November air was damp and cruel to older bones. ‘If she was still alive when she was chained up, why didn’t she cry out? You’d think somebody might have heard her.’
    â€˜Why would they?’ Banbury wrestled with a telescopic leg. ‘It’s deserted around here after midnight, and if you go back a bit there’s the noise of all-night traffic on the A3211. Maybe she did scream and there was nobody to hear her.’ As if on cue, a shriek of laughter came from somewhere on the walkway – the sound of children was rare in this part of the city.
    â€˜A good spot for a murder, if you can reach it.’ May studied the few boats that traversed the greenish-brown expanse ahead of him. ‘I don’t suppose there’s any CCTV on the river itself, or the foreshores. But there must be on Lower Thames Street and at the entrances to the underpasses. Know what I’d do if I wanted to kill someone here? Strangle them in the middle of the subway, out of the sight of cameras, lift the body over that steel gate – causing the contusion on the back of the head – then drag them down to the beach.’
    â€˜Then you wouldn’t make a very good murderer,’ said Banbury. ‘Why not leave her in the subway? And you’re going to toss a dead weight over an eight-foot gate? Why go out of your way to make things complicated?’
    May shrugged. ‘You’re right, we’re missing something. After I’ve got her off to St Pancras, see what you can turn up in the way of video footage. Can you make—’ He stopped and turned. ‘Wait, that’s no good.’
    â€˜What?’ Banbury rose and followed May’s eyeline.
    â€˜I was going to say can you make casts, but there shouldn’t be anything to

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