“Not unless they want to make off with several hundredweight of rubbish.” White reached for the sitting room door handle. “That's odd.”
“The dog's stopped barking.”
“I haven't heard it bark since we first came in, actually.”
“You're right.” White opened the door, momentarily blinded by the dark room after the relative brightness behind him. The dog woofed once and appeared from the gloom, nuzzling his hand. “Hello, boy.” White stroke his head and stepped back a pace into the light. “Toby?”
The dog, a long-haired border collie, pricked up its ears and jumped up.
“Well, you're a friendly one, aren't you?” White gave him a fuss. He liked dogs but didn't have the time to look after one himself. He's always promised himself he'd got one when he retired. If he ever did.
“Who's a good boy.” Peters scritched the dog's head. “He's in remarkably good condition isn't he? I mean, considering...” Peters indicated the state of the house. “I'd as expecting him to be mistreated, filthy, flea ridden...”
“I'm pleasantly surprised, too.” White turned back to the room and clicked his torch back on. “Oh!” He took a step inward toward the woman he'd just spotted, sitting silently with her back to him.
White ignored him. “Sorry, madam, I didn't realise there was anyone at home. Detective-inspector White, Laverstone police.” When she didn't reply he glanced at the floor to check his footing and advanced. Was she real? He wouldn't put id past the old man to have a mannequin for companionship, or one of those hideous blow-up dolls.
“Who is it, sir?”
“I'm just looking...” White reached her had put a hand on her shoulder. It was dry and hard. A mannequin, then, her hand placed loosely in her lap. He leaned forward, moving the torch to see her face and almost lost both torch and breakfast, such was the shock. “Dear god.”
Peters called from the hall. “What is it, sir?”
“Call for back-up, sergeant, and the coroner. I've just found Mrs Cotman, and she's been dead a very long time.”