PC Duncan Troutt felt a little less self-conscious this morning, his second day as a fully fledged police officer. And he was rather hoping for more action than yesterday, when he had spent most of his time giving directions to foreign students and introducing himself to some of the businesses on his beat, in particular to the manager of an Indian takeaway who had been beaten up recently, in an attack that had been filmed on a mobile phone camera and ended up on YouTube.
Turning into Lower Arundel Terrace shortly after 9 o’clock, he decided he would pay Katherine Jennings another visit in the hope of catching her in. He’d read on the log before setting out this morning that a fellow officer on the evening shift had tried her twice, at 7 p.m. and again at 10 p.m., with no luck. A call to Directory Enquiries had not yielded any phone number for someone of that name at that address, listed or unlisted.
As he walked down the pavement, observing each of the houses in turn and checking each of the parked cars for signs of break-ins or vandalism, two seagulls screeched above him. He glanced up at them and then stared for a moment at the dark, threatening sky. The streets were still glossy from last night’s rain and it looked as if it might start again at any moment.
Shortly before reaching the front entrance of number 29 he noticed, on the opposite side of the road, a grey Ford Focus that had been clamped. The car rang a bell from yesterday. He recalled seeing it there with a ticket on the windscreen. He crossed over, lifted the ticket from under the wiper blade, shook raindrops off its wet cellophane wrapper and read the date and time on it. It had been issued at 10.03 a.m. yesterday. Which meant it had been here for over twenty-four hours.
There could be all kind of innocent explanations. Someone who hadn’t realized these streets required residents’ parking permits was the most likely. It could possibly be an abandoned stolen car. The biggest significance to him was its location, close to the flat of the woman he had been asked to check up on, who had seemingly disappeared, if only temporarily.
He radioed in for a PNC check on the car, then crossed back over and rang Katherine Jennings’s doorbell. As before, there was no answer.
Then, deciding he would try again later, he continued on with his patrol, down to Marine Parade, where he turned left. After a few minutes, his radio crackled into life. The Ford Focus was registered to Avis, the car rental company. He thanked the operator and considered this new information carefully. People who rented cars often flouted traffic regulations. Maybe whoever had rented this one couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of getting it unclam-ped. Or hadn’t had the time.
But there still just might be a link to Katherine Jennings, however small the odds. As the first spots of rain fell, he radioed his immediate superior, Sergeant Ian Brown from the East Brighton District crime desk, and reported his concerns about the vehicle, asking if someone could contact Avis and find who the renter was.
‘It’s probably nothing, sir,’ he added, concerned not to make a fool of himself.
‘You’re quite right to check like this,’ the Sergeant reassured him. ‘A lot of good police work comes from the smallest details. No one’s going to chew you out for being over-observant. Miss something that matters and that’s a whole different story!’
Troutt thanked him and continued on his way. Thirty minutes later the Sergeant radioed him back. ‘The car’s been rented by an Australian called Chad Skeggs. Lives in Melbourne, Australian licence.’
Troutt ducked into a porch to shelter his notebook from the rain and dutifully wrote the name down on his pad, spelling it back for him.
‘Does the name mean anything to you?’ the Sergeant asked him.’
All the same, Sergeant Brown decided to log it on the serial. Just in case.