Richard and Grace Thomas had not heard from their son Miles for several weeks. Whilst this was not unusual for the majority of young people at university, bearing in mind their busy social lives, for him it was completely out of character. He was one of life's spendthrifts and constantly short of money for a variety of reasons. The telephone calls for emergency funds were regular and consistent, and despite their best attempts to rein in his extravagance, Miles invariably took no notice and they always capitulated to his demands. He was their only child and doted upon by his mother, much to the chagrin of Richard Thomas whose reaction, gone unchecked, would have been to cut his son off and make him stand on his own two feet. That he never reached this point was down to the love he bore for his wife, a devotion which found its seed in 1970 and grew with each succeeding year. They had married after a brief engagement and their son was born eighteen months later. Everything possible had been done to ensure that the boy received the best that they could provide, and he had drifted into further education at Reading University. There he obtained an Upper Second in Chemistry, a postgraduate Masters Degree and further progress into studying for a PhD.
He was 28 years old and living alone in a privately maintained set of flats near the centre of Reading - of this much his parents were certain. Beyond that their knowledge was sketchy as Miles had limited contact to the use of his mobile phone and had always been evasive about the address. All of their proposed visits had been discouraged, and on a couple of occasions actually forbidden. Calls to the university revealed that he had not been seen on the campus for some weeks, but that this was not unusual for PhD students who tended to research and work alone, only making appearances for appointments with their professors as and when they were needed. Nevertheless Grace Thomas' concerns were deep enough for her to contact the local police to file a missing persons report and two uniformed officers were sent to the university to obtain Miles' address.
Arriving at the location of Miles' home on Wolseley Street, they were accompanied to Flat 7 by Grant Thornton the house manager. When their repeated knocking on the door received no response, master keys were used in an attempt to gain entry. When these failed and it became clear that the lock had been changed, the house manager authorised the breaking down of the door. What they found inside resulted in the apartment being sealed off and a call put through to CID for a senior officer to attend. Dennis Marks arrived within half an hour to assurances from the two PCs that no-one had entered or left the building since they had gained access to the flat. The scene was one of chaos, with furniture overturned and broken items all over the floor. It was clear that some sort of feverish search had also taken place, and when he noticed the blood stain on the lounge floor, Marks called in the forensics team immediately. A statement had already been taken from Grant Thornton and Marks went through it with him. He had heard and seen nothing untoward but the detective felt that something was being concealed, and he asked the man for a list of tenants, telling him not to leave the premises. Peter Spencer, Marks' DS, arrived shortly afterwards.
"Anything for me, boss?"
"Not really until Groves' team arrive, but you could keep an eye on Thornton for me. He's hiding something, I'm certain of it. Get him to write out a list of tenants and we'll start on a door to door. Ask him what he thinks about all of them, you never know he might let something slip."
DS Spencer disappeared down the stairway to the Manager's flat as George Groves was arriving at the entrance to the block. They exchanged greetings and the pathologist was pointed in the direction of the first floor where Marks was waiting. He smiled as Groves laboured up the final few steps.
"Age catching up on you, old man?"
"Less of that Dennis, I'll take you on at squash anytime. Pulled a calf muscle yesterday evening and it's giving me hell."
"Need to see a doctor then."
"Very funny. What's the score with this?" He nodded at the forced entry.
"Missing persons report, and the lock to the apartment had been changed, presumably by the tenant (he consulted his notebook) one Miles Thomas. The inside is a mess and there's blood on the floor, although no sign of a body. I'm the only one who's been inside, and before you ask, no I haven't touched anything."
Groves smiled, this was always the first interplay at the start of any case and Marks had learned to get his retaliation in first. He was right though; there was broken furniture, clear signs of a struggle and blood near the settee, but no sign of forced entry apart from the action taken by the police. He gave instructions to his team of three who had just arrived, and they went over the scene with a fine toothed comb. Marks hovered in the background, as was his habit, taking care to keep out of the way. He and Groves had been colleagues for some years, but the man could be very testy with anyone hampering progress, and he had witnessed first hand the effect of reprimands meted out to the unlucky ones falling foul of forensics' routines. Peter Spencer appeared at the door with a sheet of paper in his hand; he gave it to Marks.
"There are nine tenants including the missing guy, but Thornton was very tight lipped about any of them. It'll be a case of questioning the lot if we're going to find anything out about Mr Thomas. I see what you mean about him hiding something though. I get the distinct impression that it's not all sweetness and light in this place."
They went back into the flat to find George Groves crouching over the pool of blood, busily cutting that section out of the carpet whilst the rest of the team were collecting other evidence. He stood up at their approach.
"We're going to be a few hours yet, and this lot will take some sorting through. I'll call you when there's anything definite."
Marks nodded and they went back out on to the first floor landing, where a uniformed officer was approaching from the access stairway to the roof. Marks looked at Peter Spencer.
"I sent them up there to check the area out. Thomas has to be somewhere and that seemed to be the obvious place. Looks like they may have found something."
"Sir, you need to come up to the roof - there's a body up there."
From the description given by the house manager, this was almost certainly Miles Thomas. Marks sent for George Groves, but from initial observations it looked like the young man had taken a severe beating before being clubbed. Groves confirmed the cause of death and also reported that Thomas had been 'knee-capped', probably with the same weapon. This was not just murder - it was an execution and someone must have heard something. The body was transferred to the mortuary where Groves himself would carry out the post mortem, but the pathologist's preliminary examination revealed an approximate time of death of between twenty-four and forty-eight hours. It was now crucial that all of the tenants were interviewed without delay - one or more of them would be holding vital information and may even have seen the killer or killers. From the list of tenants, Roger Preston in Flat 8 and Jeremy and Alice Masterson in Flat 6 would be first to be seen - they were Miles Thomas' immediate neighbours. If anyone witnessed anything it was likely to be them.