NOT DEAD ENOUGH
Also by Peter James
DEAD LETTER DROP
ATOM BOMB ANGEL
The Roy Grace Series
LOOKING GOOD DEAD
NOT DEAD ENOUGH
First published 2007 by Macmillan
First published in paperback 2007 by Pan Books
This electronic edition published 2008 by Pan Books
an imprint of Pan Macmillan Ltd
Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR
Basingstoke and Oxford
Associated companies throughout the world
ISBN 978-0-330-46256-3 in Adobe Reader format
ISBN 978-0-330-46255-6 in Adobe Digital Editions format
ISBN 978-0-330-46258-7 in Microsoft Reader format
ISBN 978-0-330-46257-0 in Mobipocket format
Copyright © Really Scary Books / Peter James 2007
The right of Peter James to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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TO BERTIE, SOOTY AND PHOEBE
The world of Sussex Police is central to my Roy Grace series of novels, and I am indebted to the many officers and support staff there who make me so welcome and give me so much help. At the top of the list is Chief Constable Joe Edwards for his very kind sanction. Totally indispensable is my wise, good friend, retired Chief Superintendent Dave Gaylor, who has been my mentor within Sussex Police for many years, as well as my inspiration for the character of Roy Grace. He is my chief researcher, a font of creative ideas, and has the patience of a saint, helping me in so many ways on this novel, as on the previous ones. It would have been a considerably lesser book without him.
To single out a few other names in particular – and please forgive omissions – Chief Superintendent Kevin Moore has been incredibly supportive, and High Tech Crime Investigator Ray Packham of the High Tech Crime Unit and his wife, Jen, have been brilliantly helpful and inventive with their ideas. I’ve had a quite exceptional amount of help in understanding the current state of Brighton’s lowlife – and the policing of it – from Constable Paul Grzegorzek of the Local Support Team. And also Sergeant Julian Clapp, who sent more than a few shivers through me when walking me through the custody process, and Inspector Mark Powles of the Sussex Police Force Identification Unit.
I want to thank Detective Inspector Roy Apps, Detective Inspector Paul Furnell, PC Matt Webster, Inspector Andy Parr, Sergeant Mark Baker, Chief Superintendent Peter Coll; Sergeant Phil Taylor, Head of the High Tech Crime Unit, and John Shaw, formerly of the High Tech Crime Unit, now at Control Risks Group; Julie Page of the PNC; Detective Sergeant Keith Hallet of the Sussex Police Holmes Unit; Brian Cook, Scientific Support Branch Manager; Detective Inspector William Warner; Senior Scenes of Crime Investigator Stuart Leonard; Senior Analyst Suzy Straughan; DS Jason Tingley; Family Liaison Officers DC Amanda Stroud and DS Louise Pye; and a very special mention to Senior Support Officer Tony Case of the HQ Criminal Investigation Department, who has been incredibly generous with his time, help and enthusiasm.
Huge thanks are also due to my fantastic Munich team of helpers: Kriminalhauptkommisar Walter Dufter, Ludwig Waldinger and Detlef ‘Ted’ Puchelt of Bayerisches Landeskriminalamt, Franz-Joseph Wilfling, Kriminaloberrat at Kriminalpolizeidirektion 1 München; Andy and Sabine from Krimifestival München; Anette Lippert for all her hard work with the Munich geography for me; and, of course, the Greatest Living German Actor, Hans Jürgen Stockeri, for his enduring patience in driving me to every landmark in Munich at least ten times in search of locations for scenes.
I’ve had great help from Essex Coroner Dr Peter Dean, consultant pathologist Dr Nigel Kirkham and Home Office Pathologist Dr Vesna Djurovic. And from Dr Robert Dorion, Director of Forensic Dentistry at the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale, Montreal, and author of the definitive ‘Bitemark Evidence’. And I owe a massive thanks to my wonderful friends at Brighton and Hove Mortuary, Elsie Sweetman, Victor Sinden and Sean Didcott, for their endless patience with me and their immense kindness and thoughtfulness.
Thanks also to Brian Ellis, Dr Andrew Davey, Dr Jonathan Pash, Tom Farrer, Pathology Technician, and Robert Frankis – one of the few people to have caught me out on cars . . . And thanks to Peter Bailey for his encyclopedic knowledge of Brighton modern and past, and the railway network. And I really owe a very special thank you to Post Adoption Counsellor Chrissie Franklin, who helped me energetically and enthusiastically in so many ways in very difficult terrain.
Thanks as ever to Chris Webb, who keeps my computer working and my back-ups safe, and a massive thanks for my unofficial editors, Imogen Lloyd-Webber, Anna-Lisa Lindeblad and Sue Ansell, who read the manuscript in varying stages and provided me with invaluable input. And thanks also to the hard work of the team at Midas Public Relations, Tony Mulliken, Margot Veale and Amelia Rowland.
I count my blessings to be represented by my fabulous book agent, Carole Blake – and I’m honoured that I help to keep her in a few of her three gazillion pairs of designer shoes! – and my film agent, Julian Friedmann. And I consider it a very great privilege to be published by Macmillan. To single out a few names, thank you Richard Charkin, David North, Geoff Duffield, Anna Stockbridge, Vivienne Nelson, Marie Slocombe, Michelle Taylor, Caitriona Row, Claire Byrne, Ali Muirden, Richard Evans, Chloe Brighton, Liz Cowen, my copyeditor Lesley Levene, and last, but most important of all, Stef Bierwerth – you just keep on getting more and more wonderful! And across the Channel I have to say again a massive Danke! to the team at my German publishers, Scherz, for their incredible support. Especially Peter Lohmann, Julia Schade, Andrea Engen, Cordelia Borchardt, Bruno Back, Indra Heinz and the quite awesome Andrea Diederichs, the Greatest Living German Editor!
Thank you as ever to my faithful hounds Bertie, Sooty and Phoebe for reminding me that there is a life beyond my study door.
And the penultimate but biggest thank you to my darling Helen – for believing that I could do it and never letting me consider there was any other option.
And lastly, once more, a very special thank you to all you readers of my books. Thank you for all your mail and all your kind words. They mean so much to me.
NOT DEAD ENOUGH
Darkness took a long time to arrive, but it was worth the wait. And besides, time was not a problem for him. Time, he had come to realize, was one of the things you have plenty of in life when you have little else. He was time-rich. Near on a time billionaire.
Shortly before midnight, the woman he was following turned off the dual carriageway and drove into the lonely glow of a BP filling-station forecourt. He halted his stolen van in the unlit slip road, fixating on her brake lights. They seemed to be getting brighter as he watched them. Glowing red for danger, red for luck, red for sex! Seventy one percent of murder victims were killed by someone they knew. The statistic was whizzing round and round inside his head, like a pinball looking for a slot. He collected statistics, squirrelled them carefully away, like nuts, to sustain him through that long hibernation of the mind that he knew, one day, would come to him.
The question was, How many of those 71 percent knew they were about to be murdered?
Do you, lady?
Headlights of vehicles flashed past, the slipstream of a lorry rocking the little blue Renault, making some of the plumbing implements behind him rattle. There were just two other cars standing by the pumps, a Toyota people-carrier that was about to drive off and a large Jaguar. Its owner, a plump man in an ill-fitting tuxedo, was heading back from the pay window, cramming his wallet into his jacket. A BP tanker was parked up, the driver in a boiler suit uncoiling a long hose, getting ready to refuel the filling-station tanks.
So far as he could ascertain in a careful sweep, there was just one CCTV camera scanning the forecourt. A problem, but he could deal with it.
She really could not have picked a better place to stop!
He blew her a silent kiss.
In the warm summer-night air, Katie Bishop tossed her untidy flame-red hair away from her face and yawned, feeling tired. Actually, beyond tired. Exhausted – but very, very nicely exhausted, thank you! She studied the petrol pump as if it was some extraterrestrial creature put on Planet Earth to intimidate her, which was how she felt about most petrol pumps. Her husband always had problems figuring out the instructions on the dishwasher and the washing machine, claiming they were written in some alien language called ‘Woman’. Well, so far as she was concerned, petrol pumps came with an equally alien language, the instructions on them were written in ‘Bloke’.
She struggled, as usual, to get the filler cap off her BMW, then stared at the words Premium and Super, trying to remember which one the car took, although it seemed to her she could never get it right. If she put in premium, Brian criticized her for putting in petrol that was too low-grade; if she filled up with super, he got annoyed with her for wasting money. But at this moment, nothing was going in at all. She held the nozzle in one hand, squeezing the trigger hard, and waved with the other, trying to attract the attention of the dozy night attendant behind the counter.
Brian irritated her increasingly. She was tired of the way he fussed about all kinds of stupid little things – like the position of his toothpaste on the bathroom shelf, and making sure all the chairs around the kitchen table were exactly the same distance apart. Talking inches, not feet. And he was becoming increasingly kinky, regularly bringing home carrier bags from sex shops filled with weird stuff that he insisted they try out. And that was really causing her problems.
She was so wrapped up in her thoughts, she didn’t even notice the pump jigging away until it stopped with an abrupt kerlunk. Breathing in the smell of petrol fumes, which she had always quite liked, she hung the nozzle of the pump back up, clicked the key fob to lock the car – Brian had warned her cars often got stolen on petrol station forecourts – and went to the booth to pay.
As she came out, she carefully folded her credit card receipt and tucked it into her purse. She unlocked the car, climbed in, then locked it from the inside, pulled on her seat belt and started the engine. The Il Divo CD started playing again. She thought for a moment about lowering the BMW’s roof, then decided against. It was past midnight; she would be vulnerable driving into Brighton at this hour with an open top. Better to stay enclosed and secure.
It was not until she had driven off the forecourt and was a good hundred yards down the dark slip road that she noticed something smelled different in the car. A scent that she knew well. Comme des Garçons. Then she saw something move in her mirror.
And she realized someone was inside her car.
Fear caught the inside of her throat like a fish hook; her hands froze on the wheel. She jammed her foot down hard on the brake pedal, screeching the car to a halt, scrabbling with her hand on the gear lever to find reverse, to back up to the safety of the forecourt. Then she felt the cold, sharp metal digging into her neck.
‘Just keep driving, Katie,’ he said. ‘You really haven’t been a very good girl, have you?’
Straining to see him in her rear-view mirror, she saw a sliver of light shear off the blade of the knife, like a spark.
And in that rear-view mirror he saw, reflected, the terror in her eyes.
Marlon did what he always did, which was to swim around and around his glass bowl, circumnavigating his world with the tireless determination of an explorer heading into yet another uncharted continent. His jaws opened and closed, mostly on water, just occasionally gulping down one of the microscopic pellets which, Roy Grace presumed from the amount they cost, were the goldfish equivalent of dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s.
Grace lay slouched in his recliner armchair in the living room of his home, which had been decorated by his long-vanished wife, Sandy, in black and white Zen minimalism, and which until recently had been filled with memorabilia of her. Now there were just a few funky 1950s pieces they had bought together – the one taking pride of place was a juke box they’d had restored – and just one photograph of her, in a silver frame, taken twelve years ago on holiday in Capri, her pretty, tanned face grinning her cheeky grin. She was standing against craggy rocks, with her long blonde hair flailing in the wind, bathed in sunlight, like the goddess she had been to him.
He gulped down some Glenfiddich on the rocks, his eyes rooted to the television screen, watching an old movie on DVD. It was one of the ten thousand his mate Glenn Branson just so totally could not believe that he had never seen.
And recently it hadn’t been a question of Branson’s oneupmanship getting the better of his competitive nature. Grace was on a mission to learn, to educate himself, to fill that vast cultural black hole inside his head. He had slowly come to the realization, during the past month, that his brain was a repository for pages and pages of police training manuals, rugby, football, motor-racing and cricketing facts, and not much else. And that needed to change. Quickly.
Because at long last he was dating – going out with – in lust with – totally smitten by – maybe even in love with – someone again. And he could not believe his luck. But she was a lot better educated than he was. It seemed at times that she’d read every book that had ever been written, seen every movie, been to every opera and was intellectually acquainted with the work of every artist of note, living or dead. And as if that wasn’t enough, she was halfway through an Open University course in philosophy.
Which explained the pile of philosophy books on the coffee table beside his chair. Most of them he had recently bought from City Books in Western Road, and the rest from a trawl of just about every other bookshop in the whole of Brighton and Hove.
Two supposedly accessible titles, The Consolations of Philosophy and Zeno and the Tortoise, were on the top of the pile. Books for the layman, which he could just about understand. Well, parts of them, anyhow. They gave him enough at least to bluff his way through discussions with Cleo about some of the stuff she was on about. And, quite surprisingly, he was finding himself genuinely interested. Socrates, in particular, he could connect with. A loner, ultimately sentenced to death for his thoughts and his teachings, who once said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’
And last week she had taken him to Glyndebourne, to see Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Some parts of the opera had dragged for him, but there had been moments of such intense beauty, in both the music and the spectacle, that he was moved almost to tears.
He was gripped by this black and white movie he was watching now, set in immediate post-war Vienna. In the current scene, Orson Welles, playing a black-marketeer called Harry Lime, was riding with Joseph Cotten in a gondola on a Ferris wheel in an amusement park. Cotten was chastising his old friend, Harry, for becoming corrupt. Welles retaliated, saying, ‘In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed – but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.’
Grace took another long swig of his whisky. Welles was playing a sympathetic character, but Grace had no sympathy for him. The man was a villain, and in the twenty years of his career to date, Grace had never met a villain who didn’t try to justify what he had done. In their warped minds, it was the world that was skewed wrong, not them.
He yawned, then rattled the ice cubes in his empty glass, thinking about tomorrow, Friday, and dinner with Cleo. He hadn’t seen her since last Friday – she had been away for the weekend, for a big family reunion in Surrey. It was her parents’ thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and he had felt a small pang of discomfort that she hadn’t invited him to go with her – as if she were keeping her distance, signalling that although they were dating, and making love, they weren’t actually an item. Then on Monday she’d gone away on a training course. Although they’d spoken every day, and texted and emailed each other, he was missing her like crazy.
And tomorrow he had an early meeting with his unpredictable boss, the alternatively sweet and sour Alison Vosper, Assistant Chief Constable of Sussex Police. Dog-tired suddenly, he was in the process of debating whether to pour himself another whisky and watch the rest of the movie or save it for his next night in when the doorbell rang.
Who the hell was visiting him at midnight?
The bell rang again. Followed by a sharp rapping sound. Then more rapping.
Puzzled and wary, he froze the DVD, stood up, a little unsteadily, and walked out into the hall. More rapping, insistent. Then the bell rang again.
Grace lived in a quiet, almost suburban neighbourhood, a street of semi-detached houses that went down to the Hove seafront. It was off the beaten track for the druggies and the general nocturnal flotsam of Brighton and Hove, but all the same, his guard was up.
Over the years he had crossed swords with – and pissed off – plenty of miscreants in this city because of his career. Most were just plain lowlife, but some were powerful players. Any number of people could find good reason to settle a score with him. Yet he’d never bothered to install a spy hole or a safety chain on his front door.
So, relying on his wits, somewhat addled by too much whisky, he yanked the door wide open. And found himself staring at the man he loved most in the world, Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson, six foot two inches tall, black, and bald as a meteorite. But instead of his usual cheery grin, the DS stood all crumpled up and was blubbing his eyes out.
The blade pressed harder against her neck. Cutting in. Hurting more and more with every bump in the road surface.
‘Don’t even think about whatever it is you are thinking about doing,’ he said, in a voice that was calm and filled with good humour.
Blood trickled down her neck; or maybe it was perspiration, or both. She didn’t know. She was trying, desperately trying, through her terror, to think calmly. She opened her mouth to speak, watching the oncoming headlights, gripping the wheel of her BMW with slippery hands, but the blade just cut in deeper still.
They were cresting a hill, the lights of Brighton and Hove to her left.
‘Move into the left-hand lane. Take the second exit at the roundabout.’
Katie obediently turned off, into the wide, two-lane Dyke Road Avenue. The orange glow of street lighting. Large houses on either side. She knew where they were heading and she knew she had to do something before they got there. And suddenly, her heart flipped with joy. On the other side of the road was a starburst of blue flashing lights. A police car! Pulling up in front of another car.
Her left hand moved from the wheel on to the flasher stalk. She pulled it towards her, hard. And the wipers screeched across the dry windscreen.
‘Why have you put the wipers on, Katie? It isn’t raining.’ She heard his voice from the back seat.
Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. Wrong fucking stalk!
And now they were past the police car. She saw the lights, like some vanishing oasis, in her mirrors. And she saw the silhouette of his bearded face, shadowed by his baseball cap and further obscured by dark glasses although it was night. The face of a stranger but at the same time a face – and a voice – that were uncomfortably familiar.
‘Left turn coming up, Katie. You should slow down. You know where we are, I hope.’
The sensor on the dash would automatically trigger the switch on the gates. In a few seconds they would start to open. In a few seconds she would turn into them, and then they would close behind her, and she would be in darkness, in private, out of sight of everyone but the man behind her.
No. She had to stop that from happening.
She could swerve the car, smash into a lamppost. Or smash into the headlights of a car that was coming towards them now. She tensed even more. Looked at the speedometer. Trying to work it out. If she braked hard, or smashed into something, he would be flung forward, the knife would be flung forward. That was the smart thing to do. Not smart. It was the only option.
Oh, Jesus, help me.
Something colder than ice churned in her stomach. Her mouth felt arid. Then, suddenly, her mobile phone, on the seat beside her, began to ring. The stupid tune her stepdaughter, Carly, who was just thirteen, had programmed in and left her stuck with. The bloody ‘Chicken Song’, which embarrassed the hell out of her every time it rang.
‘Don’t even think about answering it, Katie,’ he said.
She didn’t. Instead, meekly, she turned left, through the wrought-iron gates that had obligingly swung open, and up the short, dark tarmac driveway that was lined by huge, immaculately tended rhododendron bushes that Brian had bought, for an insane price, from an architectural garden centre. For privacy, he had said.
Yep. Right. Privacy.
The front of the house loomed in her headlights. When she had left, just a few hours earlier, it had been her home. Now, at this moment, it felt like something quite different. It felt like some alien, hostile edifice that was screaming at her to leave.
But the gates were closing behind her.
Roy Grace stared at Glenn Branson for some moments in shock. Usually sharply dressed, tonight the Detective Sergeant was wearing a blue beanie, a hooded grey tracksuit top over a sweatshirt, baggy trousers and trainers, and had several days’ growth of stubble on his face. Instead of the normal tang of his latest, macho cologne-of-the-month, he reeked of stale sweat. He looked more like a mugger than a cop.
Before Grace had a chance to say anything, the DS threw his arms around him, clutching him tightly, pressing his wet cheek against his friend’s face. ‘Roy, she’s thrown me out! Oh, God, man, she’s thrown me out!’
Somehow, Grace manhandled him into the house, into the living room and on to the sofa. Sitting beside him and putting an arm around his massive shoulders, he said lamely, ‘Ari?’
‘She’s thrown me out.’
‘Thrown you out? What do you mean?’
Glenn Branson leaned forward, elbows on the glass coffee table, and buried his face in his hands. ‘I can’t take this. Roy, you’ve got to help me. I can’t take this.’
‘Let me get you something. Whisky? Glass of wine? Coffee?’
‘I want Ari. I want Sammy. I want Remi.’ Then he lapsed into more deep, gulping sobs.
For a moment, Grace stared at his goldfish. He watched Marlon drifting, taking a rare break from his globetrotting, mouth opening and shutting vacantly. He found his own mouth opening and shutting also. Then he got up, went out of the room, cracked open a bottle of Courvoisier that had been gathering dust in the cupboard under the stairs for years, poured some into a tumbler and thrust it into Glenn’s meaty hands. ‘Drink some of that,’ he said.
The DS cradled the glass, peering into it in silence for some moments, as if searching for some message he was supposed to find written on the surface. Finally he took a small sip, followed immediately by a large gulp, then set the glass down, keeping his eyes gloomily fixed on it.
‘Talk to me,’ Grace said, staring at the motionless black and white image of Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten on the screen. ‘Tell me – tell me what’s happened?’
Branson looked up and stared at the screen too. Then he mumbled, ‘It’s about loyalty, yeah? Friendship. Love. Betrayal.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘That movie,’ he rambled. ‘The Third Man. Carol Reed directed. The music. The zither. Gets me every time. Orson Welles peaked early, couldn’t ever repeat his early success, that was his tragedy. Poor bastard. Made some of the greatest movies of all times. But what do most people remember him for? The fat man who did the sherry commercials.’
‘I’m not totally on your bus,’ Grace said.
‘Domecq, I think it was. Domecq sherry. Maybe. Who cares?’ Glenn picked up his glass and drained it. ‘I’m driving. Screw that.’
Grace waited patiently; there was no way he was letting Glenn drive anywhere. He’d never seen his friend in a state like this.
Glenn held the glass up, almost without realizing.
‘You want some more?’
Staring back down at the table, the DS replied, ‘Whatever.’
Grace poured him four fingers. Just over two months ago, Glenn had been shot during a raid which Grace had organized – and which Grace had felt guilty as hell about ever since. The .38 bullet that hit the DS had, miraculously, done relatively little damage. Half an inch to the right and it would have been a very different story.
Entering his abdomen low down beneath his ribcage, the low-velocity, round-nose bullet managed to just miss the spinal cord, the aorta, the inferior vena cava and ureters. It nicked part of his loops of bowel, which had needed to be surgically resected, and caused soft-tissue damage, mostly to his fat and muscle, which had also required surgery. He had been allowed home, after ten days in hospital, for a lengthy convalescence.
At some point during every single day or night in the following two months, Grace had replayed the events of that raid. Over and over and over. Despite all the planning and precautions, it had gone badly wrong. None of his superiors had criticized him over it, but in his heart Grace felt guilty because a man under his command had been shot. And the fact that Branson was his best friend made it worse for him.
What made it even worse still was that earlier, in the same operation, another of his officers, an extremely bright young DC called Emma-Jane Boutwood, had been badly injured by a van she was trying to stop, and was still in hospital.
One quotation from a philosopher he had come across recently had given him some solace, and had taken up permanent residence in his mind. It was from Søren Kierkegaard, who wrote, ‘Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backwards.’
‘Ari,’ Glenn said suddenly. ‘Jesus. I don’t get it.’
Grace knew that his friend had been having marital problems. It went with the territory. Police officers worked insane, irregular hours. Unless you were married to someone also in the force, who would understand, you were likely to have problems. Virtually every copper did, at some point. Maybe Sandy did too, and she never discussed it. Maybe that was why she had vanished. Had she simply had enough one day, upped sticks and left? It was just one of the many possibilities of what had happened to her that July night. On his thirtieth birthday.
Nine years ago, last Wednesday.
The Detective Sergeant drank some more brandy and then coughed violently. When he had finished he looked at Grace with large, baleful eyes. ‘What am I going to do?’
‘Tell me what’s happened?’
‘Ari’s had enough, like, that’s what’s happened.’
‘Enough of what?’
‘Me. Our life. I don’t know. I just don’t know,’ he said, staring ahead. ‘She’s been doing all these self-improvement courses. I told you she keeps buying me these books, Men Are from Mars,Women Are from Venus, yeah? Why Women Can’t Read Maps and Men Can’t Find Stuff in Fridges, or some crap like that. Right? Well, she’s been getting angrier and angrier that I keep coming home late and she misses her courses cos she’s stuck with the kids. Right?’
Grace got up and poured himself another whisky, then found himself, suddenly, craving a cigarette. ‘But I thought she’d encouraged you to join the police in the first place?’
‘Yeah. And that’s now one of the things pissing her off, the hours. You go figure a woman’s mind out.’
‘You’re smart, ambitious, making great progress. Does she understand that? Does she know what a high opinion your superiors have of you?’
‘I don’t think she gives a shit about any of that stuff.’
‘Get a grip, man! Glenn, you were working as a security guard in the daytime, and three nights a week as a bouncer. Where the hell were you heading? You told me that when your son was born you had some kind of an epiphany. That you didn’t want him having to tell his mates at school that his dad was a nightclub bouncer. That you wanted a career he would be proud of. Right?’
Branson stared lamely into his glass, which was suddenly empty again. ‘Yeah.’
‘I don’t understand—’
‘Join the club.’
Seeing that the drink was at least calming the man down, Grace took Branson’s glass, poured in a couple more fingers and returned it to his hands. He was thinking about his own experience as a beat copper, when he had done his share of domestics. All police hated getting called to domestic ‘situations’. It mostly meant turning up to a house where a couple were fighting hammer and tongs, usually one – or both – drunk, and the next thing you knew you were getting punched in the face or whacked with a chair for your troubles. But the training for these had given Grace some rudimentary knowledge of domestic law.
‘Have you ever been violent to Ari?’
‘You’re joking. Never. Never. No way,’ Glenn said emphatically.
Grace believed him; he did not think it was in Branson’s nature to be violent to anyone he loved. Inside that hulk was the sweetest, kindest, most gentle man. ‘You have a mortgage?’
‘Yeah, me and Ari jointly.’
Branson put down his glass and started crying again. After some minutes, faltering, he said, ‘Jesus. I’m wishing that bullet hadn’t missed everything. I wish it had taken my fucking heart out.’
‘Don’t say that.’
‘It’s true. It’s how I feel. I can’t fucking win. She was mad at me when I was working twenty-four/seven cos I was never home, now she’s fed up cos I’ve been at home for the past seven weeks. Says I’m getting under her feet.’
Grace thought for a moment. ‘It’s your house. It’s your home as much as Ari’s. She might be pissed off with you, but she can’t actually throw you out. You have rights.’
‘Yeah, and you’ve met Ari.’
Grace had. She was a very attractive, very strong-willed lady in her late twenties who had always made it abundantly clear who was boss in the Branson household. Glenn might have worn the trousers, but his face poked out through the fly buttons.
It was almost five in the morning when Grace pulled some sheets and a blanket out of the airing cupboard and made up the spare bed for his friend. The whisky bottle and the brandy bottle were both nearly empty, and there were several crumpled cigarette butts in the ashtray. He had almost stopped smoking completely – after recently being shown, in the mortuary, the blackened lungs of a man who had been a heavy smoker – but long drinking sessions like this clobbered his willpower.
It seemed it was only minutes later that his mobile phone was ringing. Then he looked at the digital clock beside his bed and saw, to his shock, that it was ten past nine.
Knowing almost certainly the call was from work, he let it ring a few times, trying to wake up properly so he didn’t sound groggy, his head feeling like it had a cheese-wire sawing through it. He was the duty Senior Investigating Officer for this week and really should have been in the office by eight thirty, to be prepared for any major incident that might occur. Finally, he pressed the answer button.
‘Roy Grace,’ he said.
It was a very serious-sounding young civilian dispatcher from the Control Room called Jim Walters, whom Grace had spoken to a few times but did not know. ‘Detective Superintendent, I’ve a request from a Brighton Central detective sergeant for you to attend a suspicious death at a house in Dyke Road Avenue, Hove.’
‘What details can you give me?’ Grace asked, now fully alert and reaching for his BlackBerry.
As soon as he had hung up, he pulled on his dressing gown, filled his toothbrush mug with water, took two paracetamols from the bathroom cabinet, downed them, then popped another two from their foil, padded into the spare room, which reeked of alcohol and body odour, and shook Glenn Branson awake. ‘Wakey-wakey, it’s your therapist from hell!’
One of Branson’s eyes opened, partway, like a whelk in the safety of its shell. ‘Whatthefucksupman?’ Then he put his hands to his head. ‘Shit, how much did I drink last night? My head is like—’
Grace held up the mug and the capsules. ‘Brought you breakfast in bed. You now have two minutes to shower, get dressed, swallow these and grab a bite from the kitchen. We’re going to work.’
‘Forget it. I’m on sick leave. Got another week!’
‘Not any more. Your therapist’s orders. No more sickies! You need to get back to work now, today, this instant. We’re going to see a dead body.’
Slowly, as if every moment was painful, Branson swung himself out of bed. Grace could see the round, discoloured mark on his six-pack, some inches above his belly button, where the bullet had entered. It seemed so tiny. Less than half an inch across. Terrifyingly tiny.
The DS took the pills, washing them down with the water, then stood up and tottered around in his boxer shorts for some moments, looking very disoriented, scratching his balls. ‘Shit, man, I got nothing here, just these stinky clothes. I can’t go see a body dressed in these.’
‘The body won’t mind,’ Grace assured him.
Skunk’s phone was ringing and vibrating. Preeep-preeep-bnnnzzzzz preeep-preeep-bnnnzzzzz. It was flashing, slithering around on the sink-top, where he had left it, like some large, crazed, wounded beetle.
After thirty seconds it succeeded in waking him. He sat up sharply and, as he did most mornings, hit his head on the low Luton roof of his clapped-out camper van.
The phone fell off the sink-top and thudded on to the narrow strip of carpeted floor, where it continued its fuck-awful noise. He’d taken it last night from a car he’d stolen, and the owner had not been thoughtful enough to leave the instruction manual with it, or the pin code. Skunk had been so wired he hadn’t been able to figure how to put it on silent, and hadn’t risked switching it off because he might need a pin code to switch it back on. He had calls to make before its owner realized it was missing and had it disconnected. Including one to his brother, Mick, who was living in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and kids. But Mick hadn’t been pleased to hear from him, told him it was four in the morning and hung up on him.
After one more round of shrieking and buzzing, the thing fell silent: spent. It was a cool phone, with a gleaming stainless-steel case, one of the latest-generation Motorolas. Retail price in the shops without any special deal would be around three hundred pounds. With luck, and probably after a bit of an argument, he’d get twenty-five quid for it later this morning.
He was shaking, he realized. And that black, undefined gloom was seeping through his veins, spreading to every cell in his body, as he lay on top of the sheets in his singlet and underpants, sweating one moment, then shivering. It was the same every morning, waking to the sensation that the world was a hostile cave that was about to collapse on him, entombing him. Forever.
A scorpion walked across his eyes.
‘FUCKSHITGETOFF!’ He sat up, whacked his head again and cried out in pain. It wasn’t a scorpion; it wasn’t anything. Just his mind jerking around with him. The way it was telling him now that maggots were eating his body. Thousands of them crawling over his skin, so tight together they were like a costume. ‘GERROFFFF!’ He squirmed, shook them off, swore at them again, even louder, then realized, like the scorpion, there was nothing there. Just his mind. Telling him something. Same way it did every day. Telling him he needed some brown – or some white. Oh, Jesus, anything.
Telling him he needed to get out of this stench of feet, rank clothes and sour milk. Had to get up, go to his office. Bethany liked that, the way he called it his office. She thought that was funny. She had a strange laugh, which kind of twisted her tiny mouth in on itself, so that the ring through her upper lip disappeared for a moment. And he could never tell whether she was laughing with him or at him.
But she cared for him. That much he could sense. He’d never known that feeling before. He’d seen characters talk about caring for each other in soaps on television, but had never known what it meant until he’d met her – picked her up – in the Escape-2 one Friday night some weeks – or maybe months – back.
Cared for him, in the sense that she looked in from time to time as if he was her favourite doll. She brought food, cleaned the place up, washed his clothes, dressed the sores he sometimes got and had clumsy sex with him before hurrying off again, into the day or the night.
He fumbled on the shelf behind his twice-bashed head, stretched out his thin arm, with a rope tattoo coiled all the way along it, and found the cigarette pack and the plastic lighter, and the tinfoil ashtray, lying beside the blade of his flick-knife, which he always kept open, at the ready.
The ashtray spilled several butts and a trail of ash as he swung it across and down on to the floor. Then he shook out a Camel, lit it, lay back against the lumpy pillow with the cigarette still in his mouth, dragged, inhaled deeply, then blew the smoke out slowly through his nostrils. Sweet, such an incredible, sweet taste! For a moment the gloom faded. He felt his heart beating stronger. Energy. He was coming alive.
It sounded busy out there in his office. A siren came and went. A bus rumbled past, roughing up the air all around it. Someone hooted impatiently. A motorbike blatted. He reached out for the remote, found it, stabbed it a few times until he hit the right button, and the television came on. That black girl, Trisha, he quite fancied, was interviewing a sobbing woman whose husband had just told her he was gay. The light below the screen said ten thirty-six.
Early. No one would be up. None of his associates would be in the office yet.
Another siren went past. The cigarette started him coughing. He crawled off his bed, made his way carefully over the sleeping body of a Scouse git, whose name he couldn’t remember, who had come back here with his mate sometime during the night, smoked some stuff and drunk a bottle of vodka one of them had nicked from an off-licence. Hopefully they’d fuck off when they woke up and discovered there was no food, drugs or booze left here.
He pulled open the fridge door and removed the only thing in it, a half-full bottle of warm Coca-Cola – the fridge hadn’t worked for as long as he’d had this van. There was a faint hiss as he unscrewed the top; the liquid tasted good. Magic.
Then he leaned over the kitchen sink, piled with plates that needed washing and cartons that needed chucking – when Bethany next came – and parted the orange speckled curtains. Bright sunlight hit him in the face like a hostile laser beam. He could feel it burning the backs of his retinas. Torching them.
The light woke up Al, his hamster. Even though one paw was in a splint, it did a sort of jump-hop into its treadmill and began running. Skunk peered in through the bars to check the creature had enough water and food pellets. It looked fine. Later he’d empty the droppings out of the cage. It was about the only housework he ever did.
Then he jerked the curtains back together. Drank some more Coke, picked the ashtray up off the floor and took a last drag on the cigarette, right down to the filter, then stubbed it out. He coughed again, that long racking cough he’d had for days. Maybe even weeks. Then, feeling giddy suddenly, holding on carefully to the sink, and then the edge of the wide dining-area seat, he made his way back to his bunk bed. Lay down. Let the sounds of the day swirl all around him. They were his sounds, his rhythms, the pulse and voices of his city. The place where he had been born and where, no doubt, would one day die.
This city that didn’t need him. This city of shops with stuff he could never afford, of arts and cultural stuff that were beyond him, of boats, of golf, of estate agents, lawyers, travel shops, day trippers, conference delegates, police. He saw everything as potential pickings for his survival. It didn’t matter to him who the people were, it never had. Them and me.
Them had possessions. Possessions meant cash.
And cash meant surviving another twenty-four hours.
Twenty quid from the phone would go on a bag of brown or white – heroin or crack, whatever was available. The other fiver, if he got it, would go towards food, drink, fags. And he would supplement that with whatever he could steal today.
It was promising to be that rarest of things, a sublime English summer’s day. Even high up on the Downs, there was not a hint of a breeze. At ten forty-five in the morning, the sun had already burned most of the dew off the swanky greens and fairways of the North Brighton Golf Club, leaving the ground dry and hard and the air heady with the scent of freshly mown grass, and money. The heat was so intense you could almost scrape it off your skin.
Expensive metal gleamed in the car park, and the only sounds, other than the intermittent parp-parp-parp of a rogue car alarm, were the hum of insects, the snick of titanium against dimpled polymer, the whirr of electric trolleys, the rapidly silenced ring tones of mobile phones and the occasional stifled cuss of a golfer who had hit a totally crap shot.
The views from up here made you feel you were almost standing on top of the world. To the south was the whole vista of the City of Brighton and Hove, the rooftops, the cluster of high-rises around the Brighton end of the seafront, the single chimney stack of Shoreham power station and the normally grey water of the English Channel beyond, looking as blue as the Med today.
Further to the south-east, you could make out the silhouette of the genteel seaside town of Worthing, fading away, like many of its elderly residents, into the long-distance haze. To the north stretched a view virtually unbroken, apart from a few pylons, of green Downland grass and fields of wheat. Some were freshly harvested, with square or cylindrical bales laid out like pieces in a vast board game; others were being criss-crossed at this moment by combine harvesters, looking as small as Dinky toys from here.
But most of the members out on the golf course this morning had seen all these views so often, they barely noticed them any more. The players comprised a mixture of the elite of Brighton and Hove’s professionals and business people (and those who liked to imagine they were a part of the elite), a fair showing of ladies for whom golf had become the fulcrum of their world and a large number of retired people, mostly rather lost-looking men who seemed to all but live here.
Bishop, on the ninth, perspiring like everyone else, focused his mind on the gleaming white Titleist he had just planted on the tee. He flexed his knees, swung his hips and tightened his grip on the handle of his driver, preparing for his practice swing. He only ever allowed himself one practice, it was a discipline; he believed in following disciplines. Tuning out the drone of a bumblebee, he glared at a ladybird which suddenly alighted on the ground right in front of him. As if settling in for the duration, it retracted its wings, closing its back-flaps after them.
There was something about ladybirds his mother had once told him that he was trying to recall. Some superstition about them bringing luck, or money, not that he was into superstition – no more than anyone else, at any rate. Conscious of his three partners waiting to drive off after him, and that the players behind them were already on the green, he knelt, picked the orange and black creature up gently with his gloved hand and tossed it to safety. Then he resumed his stance and his focus, ignored his shadow falling directly in front of him, ignored the bumblebee that was still hovering around somewhere and took his practice swing. Thwackkkk. ‘Yup!’ he exclaimed to himself.
Despite the fact that he had arrived at the clubhouse dog-tired this morning, he had been playing a blinder. Three under par on the first eight holes and neither his partner, nor his two opponents, could quite believe their eyes. OK, he was a reasonable-standard club player, with a handicap that had remained resolutely at eighteen for many years, but it seemed to them this morning he had swallowed some kind of a happy pill that had transformed both his normally intensely serious mood, and his golf. Instead of walking around with them moody and silent, immersed in his own inner world, he had cracked a couple of jokes and even slapped them on the back. It was as if some private demon that he normally carried in his soul had been banished. For this morning, at least.
All he needed to do was to stay out of trouble on this hole, to finish the first nine in great shape. There was a long cluster of trees over to the right, filled with dense undergrowth capable of swallowing a ball without trace. Plenty of open terrain to the left. Always safest to aim a little left on this hole. But today he felt so confident he was just going to shoot dead straight for the green. He stepped up to the ball, swung his Big Bertha and did it again. With the sweetest possible snick, the ball soared forward, dead straight, arcing through the cloudless, cobalt sky, and finally rolled to a halt just yards short of the green.
His close friend Glenn Mishon, whose mane of long brown hair made him look more like an ageing rock star than Brighton’s most successful estate agent, grinned at him, shaking his head. ‘Whatever you’re on, matey, I want some!’ he said.
Brian stepped aside, slotting his club back into his bag, and watched his partner line up for his shot. One of their opponents, a diminutive Irish dentist wearing plus fours and a tam-o’-shanter, was taking a swig from a leather hip flask – which he kept offering round, even though it was only ten fifty in the morning. The other, Ian Steel, a good player whom he had known for some years, wore expensive-looking Bermuda shorts and a Hilton Head Island embossed polo shirt.
None of their drives was a patch on his own.
Grabbing his trolley, he strode ahead, keeping his distance from the others, determined to maintain his concentration and not be distracted by small talk. If he could finish the first nine with just a chip and a single putt he would be an incredible four under. He could do it! He was that damn close to the green!
A tad over six foot tall, Bishop was a fit forty-one-year-old, with a lean, coldly handsome face beneath neat, slicked-back brown hair. People often remarked on his resemblance to the actor Clive Owen, which was fine by him. He rather liked that; it fed his not inconsiderable ego. Always correctly – if flashily – dressed for every occasion, this morning he was attired in a blue, open-throat Armani polo shirt, tartan trousers, impeccably polished two-tone golfing shoes and wrap-around Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses.
Ordinarily he would not have been able to spare the time to play golf on a weekday, but since recently being elected to the committee of this prestigious club – and with ambitions to become captain – it had been important for him to be seen participating in all the club’s events. The captaincy itself did not really mean a lot to him. It was the perceived kudos of the title he was after. The North Brighton was a good place for making local contacts and several of the investors in his business were members here. Equally – or perhaps even more importantly – it was about keeping Katie happy, by helping to further her local social ambitions – something she pushed for relentlessly.
It was as if Katie kept lists inside her head that she had obtained from some kind of social mountaineering handbook. Items that needed ticking off one after another. Join golf club, tick, get on committee, tick, join Rotary, tick, become president of Rotary branch, tick, get on NSPCC committee, tick, Rocking Horse Appeal, tick. And recently she had started a new list, planning a good decade ahead, telling him they should be cultivating the people who could one day get him elected High Sheriff or Lord Lieutenant of East or West Sussex.
He stopped a courteous distance behind the first of the four balls on the fairway, noticing with some smugness just how far in front of the others his own ball was. Now that he was closer he could see just how good his drive had been. It was lagged up less than ten feet from the green.
‘Great shot,’ said the Irishman, proffering the flask.
He waved it away. ‘Thanks, Matt. Too early for me.’
‘You know what Frank Sinatra said?’ the Irishman responded.
Distracted suddenly by the sight of the club secretary, a dapper former army officer, standing outside the clubhouse with two men, and pointing in their direction, Bishop said, ‘No – what?’
‘He said, “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink, because when they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as their day’s going to get.”’
‘Never been a Sinatra fan,’ Bishop commented, keeping a weather eye on the three men who were very definitely striding over towards them. ‘Frivolous schmaltz.’
‘You don’t have to be a Sinatra fan to enjoy drinking!’
Ignoring the hip flask, which the Irishman now offered him for the second time, he concentrated on the big decision of which club to take. The elegant way to go was his pitching wedge, then, hopefully, just a short putt. But years of hard experience at this game had taught him that when you were up, you should play the percentages. And on this arid August surface, a well-judged putt, even though he was off the green, would be a much safer bet. The immaculate green looked as if it had been shaved by a barber with a cutthroat razor rather than mown. It was like the baize of a billiards table. And all the greens were lethally fast this morning.
He watched the club secretary, in a blue blazer and grey flannels, stop on the far side of the green and point towards him. The two men flanking him, one a tall, bald black man in a sharp brown suit, the other an equally tall but very thin white man in an ill-fitting blue suit, nodded. They stood motionless, watching. He wondered who they were.
The Irishman bunkered with a loud curse. Ian Steel went next, hitting a perfectly judged nine iron, his ball rolling to a halt inches from the pin. Bishop’s partner, Glenn Mishon, struck his ball too high and it dropped a good twenty feet short of the green.
Bishop toyed with his putter, then decided he should put on a classier performance for the secretary, dropped it back in his bag and took out his pitching wedge.
He lined himself up, his tall gaunt shadow falling across the ball, took a practice swing, stepped forward and played his shot. The club head struck the ground too early, taking a huge divot out, and he watched in dismay as his ball sliced, at an almost perfect right angle to where he was standing, into a bunker.
In a shower of sand, he punched the ball out of the bunker, but it landed a good thirty feet from the pin. He managed a great putt that rolled the ball to less than three feet from the hole, and sank it for one over par.
They marked each other’s scorecards; he was still a creditable two under par for the front nine. But inwardly he cursed. If he had taken the safer option he could have finished a shattering four under.
Then, as he tugged his trolley around the edge of the green the tall, bald black man stepped into his path.
‘Mr Bishop?’ The voice was firm, deep and confident.
He halted, irritated. ‘Yes?’
The next thing he saw was a police warrant card.
‘I’m Detective Sergeant Branson of the Sussex CID. This is my colleague, DC Nicholl. Would it be possible to have a word with you?’
As if a massive shadow had fallen across the sky, he asked, ‘What about?’
‘I’m sorry, sir,’ the officer said, with what seemed a genuinely apologetic expression. ‘I’d rather not say – out here.’
Bishop glanced at his three fellow players. Stepping closer to Detective Sergeant Branson, keeping his voice low in the hope he could not be overheard, he said, ‘This is really not a good time – I’m halfway through a golf tournament. Could it wait until I’ve finished?’
‘I’m sorry, sir,’ Branson insisted. ‘It’s very important.’
The club secretary gave him a short, unreadable glance and then appeared to find something of intense interest to him in the relatively shaggy grass in which he was standing.
‘What is this about?’ Bishop asked.
‘We need to speak to you about your wife, sir. I’m afraid we have some rather bad news for you. I’d appreciate it if you could step into the clubhouse with us for a few minutes.’
The DS pointed towards the clubhouse. ‘We really need to speak in private, sir.’
Sophie Harrington did a quick mental count of the dead bodies. There were seven on this page. She flipped back. Eleven, four pages ago. Add those to four in a car bomb on page one, three blown away by a burst of Uzi fire on page nine, six on a private jet on page nineteen, fifty-two in a fire-bombed crack den in Willesden on page twenty-eight. And now these seven, drug runners on a hijacked yacht in the Caribbean. Eighty-three so far, and she was only on page forty-one of a 136-page screenplay.
Talk about a pile of poo!
Yet, according to the producer who had emailed it two days ago, Anthony Hopkins, Matt Damon and Laura Linney were attached, Keira Knightley was reading it, and the director Simon West, who had made Lara Croft, which she had thought was OK, and Con Air, which she had really liked, was, apparently, gagging to make it.
The tube train was pulling into a station. The spaced Rastafarian opposite her, earphones plugged in, continued to knock his raggedly clad knees together in tune with his jigging head. Beside him sat an elderly, wispy-haired man, asleep, his mouth gaping open. And beside him a young, pretty Asian girl reading a magazine with intense concentration.
At the far end of the carriage, sitting beneath a swinging grab-handle and an advertisement for an employment agency, was a creepy-looking shell-suited jerk in a hoodie and dark glasses, long-haired with a beard, face buried in one of those free newspapers they give out in the rush hour at tube station entrances, occasionally sucking the back of his right hand.
It had been Sophie’s habit, for some time now, to check out all the passengers for what she imagined the profile of a suicide bomber to be. It had become one more of her survival checks and balances, like looking both ways before crossing a road, that were part of the automatic routine of her life. And at this moment her routine was in slight disarray.
She was late, because she’d had to run an errand before coming into town. It was ten thirty and ordinarily she would have been in the office an hour ago. She saw the words Green Park sliding past; the advertisements on the wall turn from a blur into images and clear print. The doors hissed open. She turned back to the script, the second of two which she had intended to finish reading last night before she had been interrupted – but wow, what an interruption! God – even just thinking about it was making her dangerously horny!
She flipped the page, trying to concentrate, in the hot, stuffy carriage, in the few minutes she had left before the next stop, Piccadilly, her destination. When she got to the office she would have to type a script report.
The story so far . . . Squillionaire daddy, distraught after beautiful twenty-year-old daughter – and only child – dies from a heroin overdose, hires former mercenary turned hit man. Hit man is given unlimited budget to track down and kill every person in the chain, from the man who planted the poppy seed to the dealer who sold the fatal fix to his daughter.
The logline: Death Wish meets Traffic.
And now they were pulling into Piccadilly. Sophie crammed the script, with its classy bright red cover, into her rucksack, between her laptop, a copy of the chick-lit book, Alphabet Weekends, which she was halfway through, and a copy of the August edition of Harpers & Queen. It wasn’t her kind of magazine, but her beloved – her fella, as she discreetly referred to him to everyone but her two closest friends – was some years older than her, and a lot more sophisticated, so she tried to keep up to speed with the latest in fashion, in food, in pretty well everything, so that she could be the smart, hip girl-about-town that suited his planet-sized ego.
A few minutes later she was striding in the clammy heat down the shady side of Wardour Street. Someone had once told her Wardour Street was the only street in the world that was shady on both sides – a reference to its being the home of both the music and the film industries. Not entirely untrue, she always felt.
Twenty-seven years old, long brown hair swinging around her neck and an attractive face with a pert snub nose, she wasn’t beautiful in any classic adman’s sense, but there was something very sexy about her. She was dressed in a lightweight khaki jacket over a cream T-shirt, baggy grungy jeans and trainers, and was looking forward, as always, to her day in the office. Although today she felt a pang of longing for her fella, not sure quite when she would see him next, and an even deeper pang of jealousy that tonight he would be at his home, sleeping in a bed with his wife.
She knew the relationship wasn’t going anywhere, just could not see him giving up all that he had for her – even though he had ended a previous marriage, one from which he had two children. But that did not stop her adoring him. She just couldn’t bloody help that.
She totally adored him. Every inch of him. Everything about him. Even the clandestine nature of their relationship. She loved the way he looked furtively around when they entered a restaurant, months before they had actually started sleeping together, in case he spotted someone who knew him. The texts. The emails. The way he smelled. His humour. The way he had started, recently, to arrive unexpectedly in the middle of the night. Like last night. Always coming to her little flat in Brighton, which she thought was strange as he had a flat in London, where he lived alone during the week.
Oh shit, she thought, reaching the door to the office. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.
She stopped and tapped out a text:
Missing you! Totally adore you! Feeling dangerously horny! XXXX
She unlocked the door and was halfway up the narrow staircase when there were two sharp beeps on her phone. She stopped and looked at the incoming text.
To her disappointment it was from her best friend, Holly:
RU free 4 party 2morrow nite?
No, she thought. I don’t want to go to a party tomorrow night. Nor any night. I just want—
What the hell do I want?
On the door in front of her was a logo: a symbol of lightning made in the image of celluloid. Beneath it the words, in shadowed letters, Blinding Light Productions.
Then she entered the small, hip office suite. It was all Perspex furniture – Ghost chairs and tables, aquamarine carpets, and posters on the walls of movies the partners in the company had at some time been involved with. The Merchant of Venice, with the faces of Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. An early Charlize Theron movie that had gone straight to video. A vampire movie with Dougray Scott and Saffron Burrows.
There was a small reception area with her desk and an orange sofa, leading through to an open-plan office where sat Adam, Head of Business and Legal Affairs, shaven-headed, freckled, hunched in front of his computer, dressed in one of the most horrible shirts she had ever seen – at least since the one he wore yesterday – and Cristian, the Finance Director, staring at a coloured graph on his screen in deep concentration. He was dressed in one of his seemingly bottomless collection of fabulously expensive-looking silk shirts, this one in cream, and rather snazzy suede loafers. The black frame of his collapsed fold-up bike sat next to him.
‘Morning, guys!’ she said.
For a response, she received a brief wave of the hand from each.
Sophie was the company’s Head of Development. She was also the secretary, the tea-maker and, because the Polish cleaning lady was away having a baby, the office cleaner. And receptionist. And everything else.
‘I’ve just read a really crap script,’ she said. ‘Hand of Death. It’s dross.’
Neither of them took any notice.
‘Coffee, anyone? Tea?’
Now that did elicit an instant response. The usual for both of them. She went into the kitchenette, filled the kettle and plugged it in, checked the biscuit tin – which contained just a few crumbs, as usual. No matter how many times a day she filled it, the gannets emptied it. Tearing open a packet of chocolate digestives, she looked at her phone. No response.
She dialled his mobile.
Moments later he answered and her heart did a back-flip. It was so great just to hear his voice!
‘Hi, it’s me,’ she said.
‘Can’t talk. Call you back.’ Colder than stone.
The phone went dead.
It was as if she had just spoken to a total stranger. Not the man she had shared a bed with, and a whole lot more, just a few hours ago. She stared at her phone in shock, feeling a deep, undefined sense of dread.
Across the street from Sophie’s office was a Starbucks. The shell-suited jerk in the hoodie and dark glasses who had been sitting at the far end of the tube train carriage was standing at the counter, the freebie newspaper rolled up under his arm, ordering a skinny latte. A large one. He was in no hurry. He put his right hand to his mouth and sucked on it to try to relieve the mild, tingling pain like a nettle sting.
As if on cue, a Louis Armstrong song began to play. Maybe it was playing inside his head, maybe inside this café. He wasn’t sure. But it didn’t matter, he heard it, Louis was playing it just for him. His own private, favourite tune. His mantra. ‘We Have All the Time in the World’.
He hummed it as he collected his latte, picked up two biscotti, paid for them in cash and carried them over to a window seat. We have all the time in the world, he hummed again, to himself. And he did. Hell, the man who was near on a time billionaire had the whole damn day to kill, praise the Lord!
And he had a perfect view of the entrance to her office from here.
A black Ferrari drove along the road. A recent model, an F430 Spider. He stared at it unexcitedly as it halted in front of him, its path blocked by a taxi disgorging a passenger. Modern cars had never done it for him. Not in that way they did for so many people. Not in that must-have way. But he knew his way around them, all right. He knew all the models of just about every make of car on the planet, and carried most of their specifications and prices in his head. Another advantage of having plenty of time. Staring through the wheel spokes, he noticed this car had the Brembo brake upgrade, with 380mm ceramic discs with eight-pot callipers in front and four-pots at the rear. The weight saving was 20.5kg over steel.
The Ferrari passed from his line of vision. Sophie was up on the second floor, but he wasn’t sure which window. Didn’t matter; she was only ever going to go in and come out of this one door here, which he could see.
The song was still playing.
He hummed to himself happily.
The club secretary’s office at the North Brighton Golf Club had a military feel which reflected the secretary’s own background, as a retired army major who had managed to survive active service in the Falklands and Bosnia with his important bits – and most important of all, his golf handicap – intact.
There was a polished mahogany desk, piled with several orderly stacks of papers, as well as two small flags, one a Union Jack, the other sporting the green, blue and white logo of the club. On the walls were a number of framed photographs, some in sepia, of golfers and golf holes, and a collection of antique putters, crossed like duelling swords.
Bishop sat alone on a large leather sofa, staring up at Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson and Detective Constable Nick Nicholl in chairs facing him. Bishop, still wearing his golfing clothes and studded shoes, was sweating profusely, from the heat and from what he was hearing.
‘Mr Bishop,’ the tall, black Detective Sergeant said, ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your cleaning lady –’ he flipped back a couple of pages in his notepad – ‘Mrs Ayala, arrived at your house in Dyke Road Avenue, Hove, at eight thirty this morning to discover that your wife, Mrs Katherine Bishop –’ He paused expectantly, as if for confirmation that this was indeed her name.
Bishop stared blankly.
‘Um – Mrs Bishop did not appear to be breathing. An ambulance attended at eight fifty-two and the paramedics reported there were no responses to any of their checks for signs of life. A police surgeon attended at nine thirty and certified your wife dead, I’m afraid to say, sir.’
Bishop opened his mouth, his face quivering; his eyes seemed momentarily to have become disconnected and rolled around, as if not seeing anything, not locking on anything. A faint croak escaped from his throat: ‘No. Please tell me this isn’t true. Please.’ Then he slumped forward, cradling his face in his hands. ‘No. No. I don’t believe this! Please tell me it’s not true!’
There was a long silence, punctuated only by his sobs.
‘Please!’ he said. ‘It’s not true, is it? Not Katie? Not my darling – my darling Katie . . .’
The two police officers sat, motionless, in deep discomfort. Glenn Branson, his head pounding from his mighty hangover, was privately cursing for allowing himself to be bullied back to work early by Roy Grace, and being dumped into this situation. It had become normal for family liaison officers, trained in bereavement counselling, to break this kind of news, but it wasn’t the way his senior officer always operated. In a suspicious death, like this, Grace wanted either to do it himself or to have one of his close team members break the news and immediately observe the reactions. There would be time enough for the FLOs to do their job later.
Since waking up this morning at Roy’s house, Glenn’s day had been a nightmare. First he’d had to attend the scene of death. An attractive red-headed woman, in her thirties, naked in a bed, manacled with two neckties, a Second World War gas mask beside her, and a thin bruise line around her neck that could have been caused by a ligature. Probable cause of death was strangulation, but it was too early to tell. A sex game gone wrong, or murder? Only the Home Office pathologist, who would be arriving at the scene about now, would be able to establish the cause of death for certain.
The sodding bastard Grace, whom he totally idolized – but sometimes was not sure why – had ordered him to go home and change, and then break the news to the husband. He could have refused, he was still off sick; and he probably would have refused if it had been any other police officer. But not Grace. And in some ways, at the time, he had been quite grateful for the distraction from his woes.
So he had gone home, accompanied by DC Nick Nicholl, who kept blathering on about his newborn baby and the joys of fatherhood, and found to his relief that Ari was out. So now, shaved, suited and booted, he found himself in this establishment golf clubhouse, breaking the news and watching Bishop’s reactions like a hawk, trying to divorce emotion from the job he was here to do. Which was to assess the man.
It was a fact that around 70 percent of all murder victims in the UK were killed by someone they knew. And in this case, the husband was the first port of call.
‘Can I go to the house and see her? My darling. My—’
‘I’m afraid not to the house, sir, that’s not possible until forensics have finished. Your wife will be taken to the mortuary – probably later this morning. You will be able to see her there. And we will need you to identify her body, I’m afraid, sir.’
Branson and Nicholl watched in silence as Bishop sat, cradling his face in his hands, rocking backward and forward on the sofa.
‘Why can’t I go to the house? To my home? Our home!’ he suddenly blurted.
Branson looked at Nicholl, who was conveniently staring out of the wide window at four golfers putting out the ninth. What the hell was the tactful way of saying this? Staring back hard at Bishop, watching his face, in particular his eyes, he said, ‘We can’t go into detail, but we are treating your house as a crime scene.’
‘Crime scene?’ Bishop looked bewildered.
‘I’m afraid so, sir,’ Branson said.
‘What – what kind of a crime scene do you mean?’
Branson thought for some moments, really focusing his mind. There just wasn’t any easy way to say this. ‘There are some suspicious circumstances about your wife’s death, sir.’
‘Suspicious? What do you mean? What? In what way?’
‘I’m afraid I can’t say. We will have to wait for the pathologist’s report.’
‘Pathologist?’ Bishop shook his head slowly. ‘She’s my wife. Katie. My wife. You can’t tell me how she died? I’m – I’m her husband.’ His face dropped back into his hands. ‘She’s been murdered? Is that what you are saying?’
‘We can’t go into detail, sir, not at this moment.’
‘Yes, you can. You can go into detail. I’m her husband. I have a right to know.’
Branson stared back at him levelly. ‘You will know, sir, as soon as we do. What we would appreciate is for you to come to our headquarters in order that we can talk to you about what has happened.’
Bishop raised his hands. ‘I – I’m in the middle of a golf tournament. I . . .’
This time Branson made eye contact with his colleague and each clocked the other’s raised eyebrows. It was an odd priority. But in fairness, when in shock people often said strange things. It wasn’t necessarily worth reading anything into it. Besides, Branson was partially preoccupied with trying to remember how long it was since he had last swallowed any paracetamols. Whether it was safe to take a couple more now. Deciding it was OK, he surreptitiously dug his hand into his pocket, popped a couple of capsules from their foil wrapper and slung them into his mouth. Attempting to swallow them with just saliva, it felt as if they had lodged halfway down his throat.
‘I’ve explained the situation to your friends, sir. They are carrying on.’ He tried swallowing again.
Bishop shook his head. ‘I’ve screwed up their chances. They’ll be disqualified.’
‘I’m sorry about that, sir.’ He wanted to add, shit happens. But tactfully, he left it at that.
Blinding Light were in pre-production on a horror movie they were going to be shooting in Malibu and Los Angeles. It was about a group of young, rich kids in a house party in Malibu who get eaten by hostile micro-organisms from outer space. In her original script report, Sophie Harrington had written, ‘Alien meets The OC.’
Ever since watching The Wizard of Oz as a child, she had wanted, in some way, however small her role, to be involved with movies. Now she was in her dream job, working with a bunch of guys who between them had made dozens of movies, some of which she had seen, either on a cinema screen or on video or DVD, and some, in development, which she was sure were destined for, if not Oscars, at least some degree of commercial success.
She handed a mug of coffee, milky, with two sugars to Adam and a mug of jasmine tea, neat, to Cristian, then sat down at her desk with her own mug of builder’s tea (milk, two sugars), logged on and watched a whole bunch of emails invade her inbox.
All of them needed dealing with but – shit – there was only one priority. She pulled her mobile phone to her ear and dialled his number again.
It went straight to voicemail.
‘Call me,’ she said. ‘As soon as you can. I’m really worried.’
An hour later, she tried again. Still voicemail.
There were even more emails now. Her tea sat on her desk in reception, untouched. The script she had been reading on the tube was at the same page as when she had got off. So far this morning, she had achieved nothing. She had failed to get a lunch reservation at the Caprice for tomorrow for another one of her bosses, Luke Martin, and she had forgotten to tell Adam that his meeting this afternoon, with film accountant Harry Hicks, had been cancelled. In short, her whole day was a total mess.
Then her phone rang and it suddenly got a whole lot worse.
The woman had not yet started to smell, which indicated she hadn’t been dead for very long. The air conditioning in the Bishops’ bedroom helped, doing an effective job of keeping the corrosive August heat at bay.
The blowflies hadn’t arrived yet either, but they wouldn’t be long. Blowflies – or bluebottles, as they were more attractively named – could smell death from five miles away. About the same distance as newspaper reporters, of which species there was already one outside the gates, questioning the constable guarding the entrance and, from the reporter’s body language, not getting much from him.
Roy Grace, garbed in a hooded white sterile paper suit, rubber gloves and overshoes, watched him for some moments from the front window of the room. Kevin Spinella, a sharp-faced man in his early twenties, dressed in a grey suit with a badly knotted tie, notebook in hand and chewing gum. Grace had met him before. He worked for the local paper, the Argus, and seemed to be developing an uncanny ability to reach a crime scene hours before any formal police statement was issued. And from the speed – and accuracy – with which serious crimes had been hitting the national media recently, Grace reckoned someone in the police – or the Control Centre – had to be leaking information to him. But that was the least of his problems.
He walked across the room, keeping to the taped line across the carpet laid down by the SOCO team, making one call after another on his mobile phone. He was organizing office and desk space in the Major Incident Suite for the team of detectives, typists and indexers he was putting together, as well as arranging a meeting with an intelligence officer to plan the intelligence strategy for his policy book for this investigation. Every minute was precious at the moment, in the golden hour. What you did in that first hour of arriving at the scene of a suspicious death could greatly affect your likelihood of a successful arrest.
And in this chilly room, pungent with the smell of classy perfume, the thought presenting itself to him between each of his calls was, Is this death an accident? A night of kinky sex gone wrong?
In almost every murder, the chances were that the perpetrator was in a much more ragged frame of mind than yourself. Roy Grace had met his share of killers over the years and not many were able to keep cool, calm and collected, not at any rate in the immediate aftermath. Most would be in what was termed a red mist. Their adrenaline out of control, their thinking confused, their actions – and whatever plan they might have had – all muzzed up by the fact that they simply had not reckoned on the chain reaction of chemicals inside their brains.
He had seen a television documentary recently about human evolution failing to keep pace with the way humans had evolved socially. When confronted by the income tax inspector, people needed to stay cool and calm. Instead, instinctive primitive fight-or-flight reactions kicked in – those same reactions as if you had been confronted out on the savannah by a sabre-toothed tiger. You would be hit by a massive adrenaline surge that made you all shaky and clammy.
Given time, that surge would eventually calm down. So your best chance of a result was to grab your villains while they were still in that heightened phase.
The bedroom ran the entire width of the house – a house he knew, without any envy, that he could never afford. And even if he could, which would only happen if he won the lottery – unlikely, since most weeks he forgot to buy a ticket – he would not have bought this particular house. Maybe one of those mellow Georgian manors, with a lake and a few hundred rolling acres. Something with a bit of style, a bit of class. Yep. Squire Grace. He could see that. Somewhere in the wildest recesses of his mind.
But not this vulgar, faux-Tudor pile behind a forbidding whitewashed wall and electric wrought-iron gates, in Brighton and Hove’s most ostentatious residential street, Dyke Road Avenue. No way. The only good thing about it, so far as he could see at this moment, was a rather beautifully restored white 3.8 Jaguar Mk2 under a dustsheet in the garage, which showed that the Bishops had at least some taste, in his view.
The other two of the Bishops’ cars in the driveway didn’t impress him so much. One was a dark blue cabriolet BMW 3-series and the other a black Smart. Behind them, crammed into the circular, gravelled area in front of the house, was the square hulk of the mobile Major Incident Room vehicle, a marked police car and several other cars of members of the SOCO team. And shortly they would be joined by the yellow Saab convertible belonging to one of the Home Office pathologists, Nadiuska De Sancha, who was on her way.
On the far side of the room, to the left – and right – of the bed, the view from the windows was out over rooftops towards the sea, a mile or so away, and down on to a garden of terraced lawns, in the centre of which, and more prominent than the swimming pool beyond, was an ornamental fountain topped with a replica of the Mannequin Pis, the small, cherubic stone boy urinating away, and no doubt floodlit in some garish colours at night, Grace thought, as he made yet another call.
This one was to an old sweat of a detective, Norman Potting – not a popular man among the team, but one Grace had learned, from a previous successful investigation, was a workhorse he could trust. Seconding Potting to the case, he instructed him to coordinate the task of obtaining all CCTV footage from surveillance cameras within a two-mile radius of the murder scene, and on all routes in and out of Brighton. Next, he organized a uniformed house-to-house inquiry team for the immediate neighbourhood.
Then he turned his attention, once more, to the grim sight on the canopied, king-sized, two-poster bed. The motionless woman, arms splayed out, each strapped by a man’s necktie to one of the two posts, revealing freshly shaven armpits. Apart from a thin, gold necklace, with a tiny orange ladybird secured in a clasp, a gold wedding band and an engagement ring with a massive rock of a diamond, she was naked, her attractive face framed by a tangle of long, red hair, and a black rim around her eyes, probably caused by the Second World War gas mask that lay beside her, he surmised, thinking the words that had become a mantra to him at murder investigations over the years.
What is the body at the scene telling you?
Her toes were short and stubby, with chipped pink varnish. Her clothes were strewn on the floor, as if she had undressed in a hurry. An ancient teddy bear lay in their midst. Apart from an alabaster-white bikini line around her pubic area, she was tanned all over, from either the current hot English summer or an overseas holiday, or both. Just above the necklace, there was a crimson line around her neck, more than likely a ligature mark, indicating the probable cause of death, although Grace had learned, long ago, never to jump to conclusions.
And staring at the dead woman, he was struggling not to keep thinking about his missing wife, Sandy.
Could this be what happened to you, my darling?
At least the hysterical cleaning lady had been removed from the house. God alone knew how much she had already contaminated the crime scene, by ripping off the gas mask and running around like a headless chicken.
After he’d managed to calm her down, she’d provided him with some information. She knew that the dead woman’s husband, Brian Bishop, spent most of the week in London. And that this morning he was playing in a golf tournament at his club, the North Brighton – a club far too expensive for most police officers to afford, not that Grace was a golfer anyway.
The SOCO team had arrived a while ago and were hard at work. One officer was on his hands and knees on the carpet, searching for fibres; one was dusting the walls and every surface for fingerprints; and their forensic scene manager, Joe Tindall, was carrying out a room-to-room survey.
Tindall, who had recently been promoted from Scene of Crime Officer to Scientific Support Officer, which gave him responsibility for the management of several different crime scenes simultaneously if the need arose, appeared now out of the en-suite bathroom. He had recently left his wife for a much younger girl and had had a complete makeover. Grace never ceased to be amazed at the man’s transformation.
Only a few months ago, Tindall had resembled a mad scientist, with a paunch, wiry hair and bottle-lensed glasses. He now sported a completely shaven head, a six-pack, a quarter-inch-wide vertical strip of beard running from the centre of his lower lip down to the centre of his chin, and hip rectangular glasses with blue-tinted lenses. Grace, who was going out with a woman again for the first time in many years, had recently tried to sharpen up his own image. But, a tad enviously, he realized he was nowhere close to the hip, cooler-than-thou Tindall.
Every few moments the dead woman was suddenly, vividly, illuminated for a millisecond by the flash of a camera. The photographer, an irrepressibly cheerful silver-haired man in his late forties called Derek Gavin, used to have a portrait studio in Hove, before the world of home digital photography had dented his profits enough to make him pack it in. He joked, darkly, that he preferred crime-scene work, because he never had to worry about making corpses sit still or smile.
The best news of the morning, so far, was that his favourite Home Office pathologist had been assigned to this case. Spanish-born, of Russian aristocratic descent, Nadiuska De Sancha was fun, irreverent at times, but brilliant at her work.
He stepped carefully around the body of the woman, and there were moments when he felt the marks of the ligature around his own neck, then inside his gut. Everything inside him tightened. What goddamn sadist had done this? His eyes dropped to the tiny stain on the white sheet just below her vagina. Where semen had leaked out?
It was always a problem for him, whenever a young woman died. He wished desperately that someone else had been on duty today.
There was a phone on one of the gilded, reproduction Louis XIV bedside tables. Grace nearly picked it up, old habits dying hard. Under new Best Practice guidelines, police officers had recently been reminded that the best way to secure potential evidence from phones was for them to be recovered and forensically examined by an expert, rather than the old method of dialling 1471. He called out to a scene of crime officer in the next room and reminded him to ensure all the phones were collected up.
Then he did what he always liked to do at a potential crime scene, which was to wander around the area, immersed in his thoughts. His eye was caught, momentarily, by a striking modern painting on the wall. He peered at the artist’s name, Helen Steele, wondering if she was famous, and realizing again how little he knew about the art world. Then he went into the vast, en-suite bathroom and opened the glass door of a shower big enough to live in. He clocked the soap, the gels hanging on hooks, the shampoos. The mirrored cabinet door was open and he checked out the pills. Thinking all the time about the cleaning lady’s words.
Missa Bishop no here wik time. No here lass night. I know no here lass night, I have to make supper Missy Bishop. She jus salad. When Missa Bishop here, he like meat or fish. I make big food.
So if Brian Bishop wasn’t here last night, having kinky sex with his wife, who was?
And if he killed her – why?
The ligature mark shouted a very distinctive ‘No.’
As did his instinct.
Like many of the products of the early post-war building boom, Sussex House, a sleek, rectangular, two-storey building, was not ageing particularly well. The original architect had clearly been influenced by the Art Deco period and the place looked from some angles like the superstructure of a small, tired cruise liner.
Originally constructed in the early 1950s as a hospital for contagious diseases, at that time it had occupied a commanding, isolated position on a hill on the outskirts of Brighton, just beyond the suburb of Hollingbury, and the architect could no doubt have seen his vision in its full, stand-alone glory. But the ensuing years had not been kind. As the urban sprawl encroached, the area around the building became designated as an industrial estate. For reasons no one today was clear about, the hospital closed down and the building was bought by a firm that manufactured cash registers. Some years later it was sold to a freezer company, which subsequently sold it to American Express, which in turn, in the mid-1990s, sold it to the Sussex Police Authority.
Refurbished and modernized, it was opened in a blaze of publicity as the flagship, high-tech headquarters for Sussex CID, positioning the county’s force at the very cutting edge of modern British policing. More recently, it had been decided to move the custody centre and cell block out there also, so these were built on and annexed to the building. Now, despite the fact that Sussex House was bursting at the seams, some of the uniformed divisions were also being moved here. And with just ninety parking spaces for a workforce that had expanded to 430 people, not everyone found the place lived up to its original promise.
The Witness Interview Suite was a rather grand name for two small boxrooms, Glenn Branson thought. The smaller, which contained nothing but a monitor and a couple of chairs, was used for observation. The larger, in which he was now seated with DC Nick Nicholl and the very distressed Brian Bishop, had been decorated in a manner designed to put witnesses, and potential suspects, at their ease – despite two wall-mounted cameras pointing straight down at them.
It was brightly lit, with a hard, grey carpet and cream walls, a large south-facing window giving partial views of Brighton and Hove across the slab-like roof of an ASDA supermarket, three bucket-shaped chairs upholstered in cherry-red fabric, and a rather characterless coffee table with black legs and a fake pine top, which looked like it might have been the last item to go in a Conran shop sale.
The room smelled new, as if the carpet had just been laid minutes before and the paint on the walls was still drying, yet it had smelled like this for as long as Branson could remember. He had only been in here a few minutes and was perspiring already, as were DC Nicholl and Brian Bishop. That was the problem with this building: the air conditioning was crap and half the windows did not open.
Announcing the date and time, Branson activated the wall switch for the recording apparatus. He explained that this was standard procedure to Bishop, who responded with an acquiescent nod.
The man appeared totally wretched. Dressed in an expensive-looking tan jacket with silver buttons, pulled on untidily over his blue, open-throat Armani polo shirt, sunglasses sticking out of his top pocket, he sat all hunched up, broken. Away from the golf course, his tartan trousers and two-tone golfing shoes seemed a little ridiculous.
Branson couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. And try as he might, the DS could not get the image of Clive Owen in the movie Croupier out of his mind. In other circumstances he might have asked Bishop if they were related. And although it had no bearing on the task he was here to carry out, he could also not help wondering why golf clubs, which always seemed to him to have ludicrously formal and outdated dress codes, such as wearing ties in clubhouses, allowed their members to go out on the course looking like they were starring in a pantomime.
‘May I ask when you last saw your wife, Mr Bishop?’
He clocked the hesitation before the man answered.
‘Sunday evening, about eight o’clock.’ Bishop’s voice was suave, but deadpan, and totally classless, as if he had worked on it to lose whatever accent he might once have had. Impossible to tell whether he came from a privileged background or was self-made. The man’s dark red Bentley, which was still parked at his golf club, was the kind of flash motor Branson associated more with footballers than class.
The door opened and Eleanor Hodgson, Roy Grace’s prim, nervy, fifty-something Management Support Assistant, came in with a round tray containing three mugs of coffee and a cup of water. Bishop drained the water before she had left the room.
‘You hadn’t seen your wife since Sunday?’ Branson said, with an element of surprise in his voice.
‘No. I spend the weeks in London, at my flat. I go up to town Sunday evenings and normally come back Friday night.’ Bishop peered at his coffee and then stirred it carefully, with laboured precision, with the plastic stick Eleanor Hodgson had provided.
‘So you would only see each other at weekends?’
‘Depends if we had anything on in London. Katie would come up sometimes, for a dinner, or shopping. Or whatever.’
‘Theatre. Friends. Clients. She – liked coming up – but . . .’
There was a long silence.
Branson waited for him to go on, glancing at Nicholl but getting nothing from the younger detective. ‘But?’ he prompted.
‘She had her social life down here. Bridge, golf, her charity work.’
‘She’s involved – was – with several. The NSPCC mainly. One or two others. A local battered-wives charity. Katie was a giver. A good person.’ Brian Bishop closed his eyes and buried his face in his hands. ‘Shit. Oh, Christ. What’s happened? Please tell me?’
‘Do you have children, sir?’ Nick Nicholl asked suddenly.
‘Not together. I have two by my first marriage. My son, Max, is fifteen. And my daughter, Carly – she’s thirteen. Max is with a friend in the South of France. Carly’s staying with cousins in Canada.’
‘Is there anyone we need to contact for you?’ Nicholl continued.
Looking bewildered, Bishop shook his head.
‘We will be assigning you a family liaison officer to help you with everything. I’m afraid you won’t be able to return to your home for a few days. Is there anyone you could stay with?’
‘I have my flat in London.’
‘We’re going to need to talk to you again. It would be more convenient if you could stay down in the Brighton and Hove area for the next few days. Perhaps with some friends, or in a hotel?’
‘What about my clothes? I need my stuff – my things – wash kit . . .’
‘If you tell the family liaison officer what you need it will be brought to you.’
‘Please tell me what’s happened?’
‘How long have you been married, Mr Bishop?’
‘Five years – we had our anniversary in April.’
‘Would you describe your marriage as happy?’
Bishop leaned back and shook his head. ‘What the hell is this? Why are you interrogating me?’
‘We’re not interrogating you, sir. Just asking you a few background questions. Trying to understand a little more about you and your family. This can often really help in an investigation – it’s standard procedure, sir.’
‘I think I’ve told you enough. I want to see my – my darling. I want to see Katie. Please.’
The door opened and Bishop saw a man dressed in a crumpled blue suit, white shirt and blue and white striped tie come in. He was about five foot ten tall, pleasant-looking, with alert blue eyes, fair hair cropped short to little more than a fuzz, badly shaven, and a nose that had seen better days. He held out a strong, weathered hand, with well-trimmed nails, towards Bishop. ‘Detective Superintendent Grace,’ he said. ‘I’m the Senior Investigating Officer for this – situation. I’m extremely sorry, Mr Bishop.’
Bishop gave him a clammy grip back with long, bony fingers, one of which sported a crested signet ring. ‘Please tell me what’s happened.’
Roy Grace glanced at Branson, then at Nicholl. He had been watching for the past few minutes from the observation room, but was not about to reveal this. ‘Were you playing golf this morning, sir?’
Bishop’s eyes flicked, briefly, to the left. ‘Yes. Yes, I was.’
‘Can I ask when you last played?’
Bishop looked thrown by the question. Grace, watching like a hawk, saw his eyes flick right, then left, then very definitely left again. ‘Last Sunday.’
Now Grace would be able to get a handle on whether Bishop was lying or telling the truth. Watching eyes was an effective technique he had learned from his interest in neuro-linguistic programming. All people have two sides to their brains, one part that contains memory, the other that works the imagination – the creative side – and lying. The construct side. The sides on which these were located varied with each individual. To establish that, you asked a control question to which the person was unlikely to respond with a lie, such as the seemingly innocent question he had just asked Bishop. So in future, when he asked the man a question, if his eyes went to the left, he would be telling the truth, but if they went to the right, to the construct side, it would be an indicator that he was lying.
‘Where did you sleep last night, Mr Bishop?’
His eyes staring resolutely ahead, giving nothing away intentionally, or unintentionally, Bishop said, ‘In my flat in London.’
‘Could anyone vouch for that?’
Looking agitated, Bishop’s eyes shot to the left. To memory. ‘The concierge, Oliver, I suppose.’
‘When did you see him?’
‘Yesterday evening, about seven o’clock – when I came back from the office. And then again this morning.’
‘What time were you on the tee at the golf club this morning?’
‘Just after nine.’
‘And you drove down from London?’
‘What time would that have been?’
‘About half-six. Oliver helped me load my stuff into the car – my golf sticks.’
Grace thought for a moment. ‘Can anyone vouch for where you were between seven o’clock yesterday and half past six this morning?’
Bishop’s eyes shot back to the left, to memory mode, which indicated he was telling the truth. ‘I had dinner with my financial adviser at a restaurant in Piccadilly.’
‘And did your concierge see you leave and come back?’
‘No. He’s not usually around much after seven – until the morning.’
‘What time did your dinner finish?’
‘About half past ten. What is this, a witch hunt?’
‘No, sir. I’m sorry if I’m sounding a bit pedantic, but if we can eliminate you it will help us focus our inquiries. Would you mind telling me what happened after your dinner?’
‘I went to my flat and crashed out.’
Bishop, staring hard at him, then at Branson and Nick Nicholl in turn, frowned. ‘What? You think I drove to Brighton at midnight?’
‘It does seem a little unlikely, sir,’ Grace assured him. ‘Can you give us the phone numbers of your concierge and your financial adviser? And the name of the restaurant?’
Bishop obliged. Branson wrote them down.
‘Could I also have the number of your mobile phone, sir? And we need some recent photographs of your wife,’ Grace requested.
‘Yes, of course.’
Then Grace said, ‘Would you mind answering a very personal question, Mr Bishop? You are not under any obligation but it would help us.’
The man shrugged helplessly.
‘Did you and your wife indulge in any unusual sexual practices?’
Bishop stood up abruptly. ‘What the hell is this? My wife has been murdered! I want to know what’s happened, Detective – Super – Super whatever you said your name was.’
‘Detective Superintendent Grace.’
‘Why can’t you answer a simple question, Detective Superintendent Grace? Is it too much for anyone to answer one simple question?’ Getting increasingly hysterical, Bishop continued, his voice rising, ‘Is it? You’re telling me my wife died – are you now telling me I killed her? Is that what you’re trying to say?’
The man’s eyes were all over the place. Grace would need to let him settle. He stared down at him. Stared at the man’s ridiculous trousers, and at the shoes which reminded him of spats worn by 1930s gangsters. Grief affected everyone in a different way. He’d had enough damn experience of that in his career, and in his private life.
The fact that the man lived in a vulgar house and drove a flash car did not make him a killer. It did not even make him a less than totally honourable citizen. He had to dump all prejudices out of his mind. It was perfectly possible for a man to live in a house worth north of a couple of million and still be a thoroughly decent, law-abiding human being. Even if he did have a bedside cabinet full of sex toys and a book on sexual fetishes in his office, that didn’t necessarily mean he had jammed a gas mask over his wife’s face, then strangled her.
But it didn’t necessarily mean he hadn’t, either.
‘I’m afraid the questions are necessary, sir. We wouldn’t ask them if they weren’t. I realize it’s very difficult for you and you want to know what’s happened. I can assure you we’ll explain everything in due course. Please just bear with us for the time being. I really do understand how you must be feeling.’
‘You do? Really, Detective Superintendent? Do you have any idea what it is like to be told your wife is dead?’
Grace nearly replied, Yes, actually, I do, but he kept calm. Mentally he noted that Bishop had not demanded to see a solicitor, which was often a good indicator of guilt. And yet something did not feel right. He just couldn’t put a finger on it.
He left the room, went back to his office and called Linda Buckley, one of the two family liaison officers who were being assigned to look after Bishop. She was an extremely competent WPC with whom he had worked several times in the past.
‘I want you to keep a close eye on Bishop. Report back to me any odd behaviour. If necessary, I’ll get a surveillance team on to him,’ he briefed her.
Clyde Weevels, tall and serpentine, with little spikes of black hair and a tongue that rarely stopped wetting his lips, stood behind the counter, surveying his – at this moment empty – domain. His little retail emporium in Broadwick Street, just off Wardour Street in Soho, bore the same anonymous legend as a dozen other places like it sprinkled around the side – and not-so-side – streets of Soho: Private Shop.
In the drably lit interior, there were racks of dildos, lubricating oils and jellies, flavoured condoms, bondage kits, inflatable sex dolls, thongs, g-strings, whips, manacles, racks of porno magazines, soft-core DVDs, hardcore DVDs, and even harder stuff in the backroom for clients he knew well. There was everything in here for a great night in, for straights, gays, bis and for plain old saddo loners – which was what he was, not that he was ever going to admit that to himself, or to anyone else, no way, José. Just waiting for the right relationship to come along.
Except it wasn’t going to come along in this place.
She was out there somewhere, in one of those lonely-hearts columns, on one of those websites. Waiting for him. Gagging for him. Gagging for a tall, lean, great-dancer-dude who was also a mean kick boxer. Which he was practising now. Behind the counter, behind the bank of CCTV monitors that were the window on his shop and the outside world, he was practising. Roundhouse kick. Front kick. Side kick.
And he had a ten-inch dick.
And he could get you anything you wanted. You name it – I mean, like, you name it. What kind of porno you want? Toys? Drugs? Yeah.
Camera Four was the one he liked to watch most. It showed the street, outside the door. He liked watching the way they came into the shop, especially the men in suits. They sort of nonchalantly sidled past, as if they were en route to someplace else, then rocked back on their heels and shot in through the door, as if pulled by an invisible magnet that had just been switched on.
Like the pinstriped git in a pink tie who walked in now. They all gave him a sort of this-isn’t-really-me glance, followed by the kind of inane semi-grin you see in stroke victims, then they’d start fondling a dildo, or a pair of lace knickers, or a set of handcuffs, like sex had not yet been invented.
Another man was coming in. Lunch hour. Yeah. He was a bit different. A shell-suited jerk in a hoodie and dark glasses. Clyde lifted his eyes from the monitor and watched as he entered the shop. His type were the classic shoplifters, the hood shielding their face from the cameras. And this one was behaving really weirdly. He just stopped in his tracks, staring out through the opaque glass in the door for some moments, sucking his hand.
Then the man walked over to the counter and said, without making eye contact, ‘Do you sell gas masks?’
‘Rubber and leather,’ Clyde replied, pointing a finger towards the back of the store. A whole selection of masks and hoods hung there, between a range of doctor, nurse, air hostess and Playboy bunny uniforms, and a jokey Hung Like a Stallion pouch.
But instead of walking towards them, the man strode back towards the door and stared out again.
Across the road, the young woman called Sophie Harrington, whom he had followed from her office, was standing at the counter of an Italian deli, with a magazine under her arm, waiting for her ciabatta to be removed from the microwave, talking animatedly on her mobile phone.
He looked forward to trying the gas mask out on her.
‘Gets me every time, this place,’ Glenn Branson said, looking up from the silent gloom of his thoughts at the even gloomier view ahead. Roy Grace, indicating left, slowed his ageing maroon Alfa Romeo saloon and turned off the Lewes Road gyratory system, past a sign, in gold letters on a black ground, saying Brighton and Hove City Mortuary. ‘You ought to donate your rubbish music collection to it.’
As if out of respect for the place, Branson leaned forward and turned down the volume of the Katie Melua CD that was playing.
‘And anyhow,’ Grace said defensively, ‘I like Katie Melua.’
Branson shrugged. Then he shrugged again.
‘What?’ Grace said.
‘You should let me buy your music for you.’
‘I’m very happy with my music.’
‘You were very happy with your clothes, until I showed you what a sad old git you looked in them. You were happy with your haircut too. Now you’ve started listening to me, you look ten years younger – and you’ve got a woman, right? She’s well fit, she is!’
Ahead, through wrought-iron gates attached to brick pillars, was a long, single-storey, bungalow-like structure with grey pebbledash rendering on the walls that seemed to suck all the warmth out of the air, even on this blistering summer’s day. There was a covered drive-in one side, deep enough to take an ambulance – or more often, the coroner’s dark green van. On the other side, several cars were parked alongside a wall, including the yellow Saab, with its roof down, belonging to Nadiuska De Sancha and, of much more significance to Roy Grace, a small blue MG sports car, which meant that Cleo Morey was on duty today.
And despite all the horror that lay ahead, he felt a sense of elation. Wholly inappropriate, he knew, but he just could not help it.
For years, he had hated coming to this place. It was one of the rites of passage of becoming a police officer that you had to attend a post-mortem early in your training. But now the mortuary had a whole different significance to him. Turning to Branson, smiling, he retorted, ‘What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly.’
‘What?’ Branson responded flatly.
‘Chuang Tse,’ he said brightly, trying to share his joy with his companion, trying to cheer the poor man up.
‘A Chinese philosopher. Died in 275 bc.’ He didn’t reveal who had taught him this.
‘And he’s in the mortuary, is he?’
‘You’re a bloody philistine, aren’t you?’ Grace pulled the car up into a space and switched the engine off.
Perking just a little, again, Branson retorted, ‘Oh yeah? And since when did you get into philosophy, old-timer?’
References to Grace’s age always stung. He had just celebrated – if that was the right word – his thirty-ninth birthday, and did not like the idea that next year was going to be the big four-zero.
‘Ever see that movie The Last Emperor?’
‘Don’t remember it.’
‘Yeah, well, you wouldn’t,’ Glenn said sarcastically. ‘It only won nine Oscars. Well brilliant. You should get it out on DVD – except you’re probably too busy catching up on past episodes of Desperate Housewives. And,’ he added, nodding towards the mortuary, ‘are you still – you know – she still yanking your chain?’
‘None of your damn business!’
Although in reality it was Branson’s business, it was everyone’s business, because at this moment it was causing Grace’s focus to be elsewhere, in totally the wrong place from where it should have been. Fighting his urge to get out of the car and into the mortuary, to see Cleo, and changing the subject rapidly back to the business of the day, he said, ‘So – what do you think? Did he kill her?’
‘He didn’t ask for a lawyer,’ Branson replied.
‘You’re learning,’ Grace said, genuinely pleased.
It was a fact that the majority of criminals, when apprehended, submitted quietly. The ones that protested loudly often turned out to be innocent – of that particular crime, at any rate.
‘But did he kill his wife? I dunno, I can’t call it,’ Branson added.
‘What did his eyes tell you?’
‘I need to get him in a calmer situation. What was his reaction when you told him the news?’
‘He was devastated. It looked real enough.’
‘Successful businessman, right?’ They were in the shade here, alongside a flint wall, by a tall laurel bush. Air wafted in through the open sun-roof and windows. A tiny spider suddenly abseiled down its own thread from the interior mirror.
‘Yeah. Software systems of some kind,’ Branson said.
‘You know the best character trait to become a successful businessman?’
‘Whatever it is, I wasn’t born with it.’
‘It’s being a sociopath. Having no conscience, as ordinary people know it.’
Branson pressed the button, lowering his window further. ‘A sociopath is a psychopath, right?’ He cupped the spider in the massive palm of his hand and gently dropped it out of the window.
‘Same characteristics, one significant difference: sociopaths can keep themselves under control, psychopaths can’t.’
‘So,’ Branson said. ‘Bishop is a successful businessman, ergo he must be a sociopath, ergo he killed his wife. Bingo! Case closed. Let’s go and arrest him?’
Grace grinned. ‘Some drug dealers are tall, black, with shaven heads. You are tall, black, with a shaven head. Ergo you must be a drug dealer.’
Branson frowned then nodded. ‘Of course. Get you anything you want.’
Grace held out his hand. ‘Good. Let me have a couple of those little babies I gave you this morning – if you’ve got any left.’
Branson handed him two paracetamols. Grace popped them from their foil wrapper and washed them down with a swig of mineral water from a bottle in the glove locker. Then he climbed out of the car and walked swiftly, purposefully, over to the small blue front door with its frosted glass panel and pressed the bell.
Branson stood by his side, crowding him, and for a moment he wished the DS could just sod off for a few minutes and give him some privacy. After almost a week since seeing Cleo, he had a deep longing just to have a few private minutes with her. To know that she still felt the same about him as she had last week.
Moments later she opened the door, and Grace did exactly what he always did each time he saw her. He went into a kind of internal meltdown of joy.
In the new-speak devised by one of the political-correctness politburo that Grace detested, Cleo Morey’s official title had recently been changed to Senior Anatomical Pathology Technician. In the old-fashioned language that ordinary folk spoke and understood, she was the Chief Mortician.
Not that anyone who didn’t know her, who saw her walking down a street, would have guessed that in a gazillion years.
Five feet ten inches tall, in her late twenties, with long blonde hair, and brimming with confidence, she was, by any definition – and it was probably the wrong one for this particular place she worked in – drop-dead gorgeous. Standing in the tiny lobby of the mortuary, her hair scraped up, draped in a green surgical gown, with a heavy-duty apron over the top and white wellington boots, she looked more like some stunning actress playing a role than the real thing.
Despite the fact that the inquisitive, suspicious Glenn Branson was standing right beside him, Grace couldn’t help himself. Their eyes locked, for more than just a fleeting moment. Those stunning, amazing, wide, round, sky-blue eyes stared straight into his soul, found his heart and cradled it.
He wished Glenn Branson would vaporize. Instead the bastard continued standing beside him, looking at each of them in turn, grinning like an imbecile.
‘Hi!’ Grace said, a little tamely.
‘Detective Superintendent, Detective Sergeant Branson, how very nice to see you both!’
Grace desperately wanted to put his arms around her and kiss her. Instead, restraining himself, clicking back into professional mode, he just smiled back. Then, barely even noticing the sickly sweet reek of Trigene disinfectant that permeated the place, he followed her into the familiar small office that doubled as the reception room. It was an utterly impersonal room, yet he liked it because it was her space.
There was a fan humming on the floor, pink Artexed walls, a pink carpet, an L-shaped row of visitor chairs and a small metal desk on which sat three telephones, a stack of small brown envelopes printed with the words Personal Effects and a large green and red ledger bearing the legend Mortuary Register in gold block lettering.
A light box was fixed to one wall, as well as a row of framed Public Health and Hygiene certificates, and a larger one from the British Institute of Embalmers, with Cleo Morey’s name inscribed beneath. On another wall was a CCTV, which showed, in a continuous jerky sequence, views of the front, the back, then each side of the building, followed by a close-up on the entrance.
‘Cup of tea, gentlemen, or do you want to go straight in?’
‘Is Nadiuska ready to start?’
Cleo’s clear, bright eyes engaged with his for just a fraction longer than was necessary for the question. Smiling eyes. Incredibly warm eyes. ‘She’s just nipped out for a sandwich. Be starting in about ten minutes.’
Grace felt a dull ache in his stomach, remembering they hadn’t had anything to eat all morning. It was twenty past two. ‘I’d love a cup of tea. Do you have any biscuits?’
Pulling a tin out from under her desk, she prised off the lid. ‘Digestives. Kit-Kats. Marshmallows? Dark or plain chocolate Leibniz? Fig rolls?’ She offered the tin to him and Branson, who shook his head. ‘What kind of tea? English breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, China, camomile, peppermint, green leaf?’
He grinned. ‘I always forget. It’s a proper little Starbucks you run here.’
But it elicited no hint of a smile from Glenn Branson, who was sitting with his face buried in his hands, sunk back into depression suddenly. Cleo blew Grace a silent kiss. He took out a Kit-Kat and tore off the wrapper.
Finally, to Grace’s relief, Branson said suddenly, ‘I’ll go and get suited.’
He went out of the room and they were alone together. Cleo shut the door, threw her arms around Roy Grace and kissed him deeply. For a long time.
When their lips parted, still holding him tightly, she asked, ‘So how are you?’
‘I missed you,’ he said.
He held out his hands, about two feet apart.
Feigning indignation, she said, ‘Is that all?’
‘Did you miss me?’
‘I missed you, a lot. A lot, a lot.’
‘Good! How was the course?’
‘You don’t want to know.’
‘Try me?’ He kissed her again.
‘Tell you over dinner tonight.’
He loved that. Loved the way she took the initiative. Loved the impression she gave that she needed him.
He had never felt that with a woman before. Ever. He’d been married to Sandy for so many years, and they had loved each other deeply, but he’d never felt that she needed him. Not like this.
There was just one problem. He’d planned to create dinner at home tonight. Well, to buy stuff in from a deli, at any rate – he was useless at cooking. But Glenn Branson had put the kibosh on that. He could hardly have a romantic evening at home with Glenn moping around, blubbing his eyes out every ten seconds. But there was no way he could tell his friend to get lost for the night.
‘Where would you like to go?’ he said.
‘Bed. With a Chinese takeaway. Sound like a plan?’
‘A very good plan. But it will have to be at your place.’
‘So? You have a problem with that?’
‘No. Just a problem with my place. Tell you later.’
She kissed him again. ‘Don’t go away.’ She went out of the room and came back moments later, holding a green gown, blue overshoes, a face mask and white latex gloves, which she handed to him. ‘These are all the rage.’
‘I thought we’d save the dressing up for later,’ he said.
‘No, we undress later – or maybe after a week you’ve forgotten?’ She kissed him again. ‘What’s up with your friend Glenn? Looks like a sick puppy.’
‘He is. Domestic situation.’
‘So go and cheer him up.’
Then his mobile phone rang. Irritated by the distraction, he answered it. ‘Roy Grace.’
It was the family liaison officer, Linda Buckley. ‘Roy,’ she said, ‘I’m at the Hotel du Vin, where I checked Bishop into a room an hour ago. He’s disappeared.’
Sophie’s mother was Italian. She had always taught her daughter that food was the best cure for shock. And at this moment, standing at the counter of the Italian deli, unaware of the man in the hoodie and dark glasses watching her from behind the opaque window of the Private Shop across the road, Sophie was clutching her mobile phone to her ear, in deep shock.
She was a creature of habit, but her habits changed with her mood. For several months, day after day, she had taken an Itsu box of sushi back to her office for lunch, but then she had read an article about people getting worms from raw fish. Since then she had been hooked on a mozzarella, tomato and Parma ham ciabatta from this deli. A lot less healthy than sushi, but yummy. She’d had one for lunch almost every day for the past month – maybe even longer. And today, more than ever, she needed the comfort of familiarity.
‘Tell me,’ she said. ‘My darling, what’s happened? Please tell me?’
He was babbling, incoherent. ‘Golf . . . Dead . . . Won’t let me into the house . . . Police. Dead. Oh, Jesus Christ, dead.’
Suddenly the short, bald Italian behind the counter was thrusting the steaming sandwich, wrapped in paper, towards her.
She took it and, still holding her phone to her ear, stepped out into the street.
‘They think I did it. I mean . . . Oh, God. Oh, God.’
‘Darling, can I do something? Do you want me to come down?’
There was a long silence. ‘They were asking me – grilling me,’ Bishop blurted out. ‘They think I did it. They think I killed her. They kept asking me where I was last night.’
‘Well, that’s easy,’ she said. ‘You were with me.’
‘No. Thank you, but that’s not smart. We don’t need to lie.’
‘Lie?’ she replied, startled.
‘Christ,’ he said. ‘I feel so confused.’
‘What do you mean, We don’t need to lie ? Darling?’
A police car was roaring down the street, siren screeching. He said something, but his voice was drowned out. When the car had passed she said, ‘Sorry, I couldn’t hear. What did you say?’
‘I told them the truth. I had dinner with Phil Taylor, my financial adviser, then I went to bed.’ There was a long silence, then she heard him sobbing.
‘Darling, I think you missed something out. What you did after dinner with your financial adviser guy?’
‘No,’ he said, sounding a little surprised.
‘Hello! I know you are in shock. But you came down to my flat. Just after midnight. You spent the night with me – and you shot off about five in the morning, because you had to get your golf kit from your house.’
‘You’re very sweet,’ he said. ‘But I don’t want you to have to start lying.’
She froze in her tracks. A lorry rumbled past, followed by a taxi. ‘Lying? What do you mean? It’s the truth.’
‘Darling, I don’t need to invent an alibi. It’s better to tell the truth.’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, suddenly feeling confused. ‘I’m not with you at all. It is the truth. You came over, we slept together, then you went off. Surely that’s the best thing, to tell the truth?’
‘Yes. Absolutely. It is.’
‘So?’ he echoed.
‘So you came to my flat some time after midnight, we made love – pretty wildly – and you left just after five.’
‘Except that I didn’t,’ he said.
‘I didn’t come to your flat.’
She lifted the phone away from her ear for a moment, stared at it, then held it clamped to her ear again, wondering for a moment if she was going mad. Or if he was.
‘I – I don’t understand?’
‘I have to go,’ he said.
A small card, with a seductive photograph of an attractive-looking Oriental girl, was printed with the words ‘Pre-op transsexual’ and a phone number. Next to it was another card depicting a big-haired woman in leather, brandishing a whip. A stench of urine rose from a damp patch on the floor that Bishop had avoided standing in. It was the first time he had been in a public phone booth in years and this one didn’t exactly make him feel nostalgic. And apart from the smell, it felt like a sauna.
A chunk of the receiver had been smashed off, several of the glass panes were cracked and there was a chain with some fragments of paper attached, presumably belonging to the phone directory. A lorry had halted outside, its engine sounding like a thousand men hammering inside a tin shed. He looked at his watch. Two thirty-one p.m. It already felt like the longest day of his life.
What the hell was he going to say to his children? To Max and Carly. Would they actually care that they had lost their stepmother? That she had been murdered? They had been so poisoned against him and Katie by his ex-wife that they would probably not feel that much. And how, logistically, was he going to break the news? Over the phone? By flying to France to tell Max and Canada to tell Carly? They were going to have to come back early – the funeral – oh, Jesus. Or would they? Did they need to? Would they want to? Suddenly he realized how little he knew them himself.
Christ, there was so much to think about.
What had happened? Oh, my God, what had happened?
My darling Katie, what happened to you?
Who did this to you? Who? Why?
Why wouldn’t the damn police tell him anything? That up-his-own-backside tall black cop. And that Detective Inspector or Superintendent or whatever he was, Grace, staring at him as if he was the only suspect, as if he knew he had killed her.
His head spinning, he stepped out into the searing sunlight of Prince Albert Street, opposite the town hall, totally confused by the conversation he had just had, and wondering what he was going to do next. He had read a book in which it talked about just how much a mobile phone could give away about where you were, who you called and, for anyone who needed to know, what you said. Which was why, when he slipped out of the kitchen entrance of the Hotel du Vin, he had switched off his mobile and made for a public phone kiosk.
But the response he had got from Sophie was so utterly bizarre. Well, that’s crazy, you were with me . . . You came down to my flat, we slept together . . .
Except they hadn’t. He had parted with Phil Taylor outside the restaurant and the doorman had hailed him a cab, which he had taken back to his flat in Notting Hill, then collapsed, tired, straight into bed, wanting a decent night’s sleep before his golf game. He hadn’t gone anywhere, he was certain.
Was his memory playing tricks? Shock?
Was that it?
Then, like a massive, unseen wave, grief flooded up inside him and drew him down, into a void of darkness, as if there had been a sudden, instant, total eclipse of the sun and all the sounds of the city around him.
The post-mortem room at the mortuary was like nowhere else on earth that Roy Grace could imagine. It was a crucible in which human beings were deconstructed, back almost, it seemed sometimes, to their base elements. No matter how clean it might be, the smell of death hung in the air, clung to your skin and your clothes, and repeated on you wherever you were for hours after you had left.
Everything felt very grey in here, as if death leached away the colour from the surroundings, as well as from the cadavers themselves. The windows were an opaque grey, sealing the room off from prying eyes, the wall tiles were grey, as was the speckled tiled floor with the drain gully running all the way round. On occasions when he had been in here alone, with time to reflect, it even felt as if the light itself was an ethereal grey, tinged by the souls of the hundreds of victims of sudden or unexplained death who suffered the ultimate indignity here within these walls every year.
The room was dominated by two steel post-mortem tables, one fixed to the floor and the other, on which Katie Bishop lay – her face already paler than when he had seen her earlier – on castors. There was a blue hydraulic hoist and a row of steel-fronted fridges with floor-to-ceiling doors. Along one wall were sinks and a coiled yellow hose. Along another was a wide work surface, a metal cutting board and a macabre ‘trophy’ cabinet, a display case filled with grisly items – mostly pacemakers and replacement hip joints – removed from bodies. Next to it was a wall chart itemizing the name of each deceased, with columns for the weights of their brain, lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and spleen. All that was written on it so far was: Katherine Bishop. As if she was the lucky winner of a competition, Grace thought grimly.
Like an operating theatre, the room contained nothing that served any decorative purpose, nothing superfluous or frivolous, nothing to relieve the grimness of the work that took place in it. But at least in an operating theatre, people were driven by hope. In this room there was no hope, just clinical curiosity. A job that had to be done. The soulless machinery of the law at work.
The moment you died, you ceased to belong to your spouse, your partner, your parents, your siblings. You lost all your rights and became the custodial property of your local coroner, until he, or she, was satisfied that it was really you that was dead and that it was clear what had killed you. It didn’t matter that your loved one didn’t want your body eviscerated. It didn’t matter that your family might have to wait weeks, sometimes months before burying or cremating you. You were no longer you. You were a biology specimen. A mass of decomposing fluids, proteins, cells, fibres and tissues, any microscopic fragment of which might or might not have a story to tell about your death.
Despite his revulsion, Grace was fascinated. He always had to watch their seemingly tireless professionalism, and he was in awe of the painstaking care which these Home Office pathologists took. It wasn’t just the cause of death that would be established for certain on this slab; there were countless other clues the body might yield, such as the approximate time of death, the stomach contents, whether there had been a fight, sexual assault, rape. And with luck, perhaps in a scratch or in semen, the current holy grail of clues, the murderer’s DNA. Often, today, the post-mortem was really the place where a crime got solved.
Which was why Grace, as Senior Investigating Officer, had to be present, accompanied by another officer – Glenn Branson – in case for any reason he had to leave. Derek Gavin from the SOCO team was also there, recording every stage on camera, as well as the coroner’s officer, a grey-haired former policewoman in her mid-forties, so quiet and unobtrusive she almost blended into the background. Also present were Cleo Morey and her colleague Darren, the Assistant Anatomical Pathology Technician, a sharp, good-looking young man of twenty, with spiky black hair, who had started life appropriately enough, Grace thought, as a butcher’s apprentice.
Nadiuska De Sancha, the pathologist, and the two technicians wore heavy-duty green aprons over green pyjamas, rubber gloves and white gumboots. The rest of the people in the room were in protective green gowns and overshoes. Katie Bishop’s body was wrapped in white plastic sheeting, with a plastic bag secured by elastic bands over her hands and feet, to protect any evidence that might be trapped under her nails. At the moment, the pathologist was unwrapping the sheeting, scrutinizing it for any hairs, fibres, skin cells or any other matter, however small, that might turn out to have belonged to her assailant, which she might have missed when examining Katie’s body in her bedroom.
Then she turned away to dictate into her machine. Twenty years or so older than Cleo, Nadiuska was, in her own way, an equally striking-looking woman. Handsome and dignified, she had high cheekbones, clear green eyes that could be deadly serious one moment and sparkling with humour the next, beneath fiery red hair, at this moment pinned up neatly. She had an aristocratic bearing, befitting someone who was, reputedly, the daughter of a Russian duke, and wore a pair of small, heavy-rimmed glasses of the kind favoured by media intellectuals. She put the dictating machine back down near the sink and returned to the corpse, slowly unbagging Katie’s right hand.
When Katie’s body was, finally, completely naked, and she had taken and logged scrapings from under all the nails, Nadiuska turned her attention to the marks on the dead woman’s neck. After some minutes of examining them with a magnifying glass, she then studied her eyes before addressing Grace.
‘Roy, this is a superficial knife wound, with a ligature mark over the same place. Take a close look at the sclera – the whites of the eyes. You’ll see the haemorrhaging.’ She spoke in a voice just slightly tinged with a guttural mid-European inflection.
The Detective Superintendent, in his rustling green gown and clumsy overshoes, took a step closer to Katie Bishop and peered through the magnifying glass, first at her right eye, then at her left. Nadiuska was right. In the whites of each eye he could clearly see several bloodshot spots, each the size of a pinprick. As soon as he had seen enough he retreated a couple of paces.
Derek Gavin stepped forward and photographed each eye with a macro-lens.
‘The pressure on the veins in the neck was enough to compress them, but not the arteries,’ Nadiuska explained, more loudly now, as if for the benefit of both Roy and everyone else in the room. ‘The haemorrhaging is a good indication of strangulation or asphyxiation. What is strange is that there are no marks on her body – you would have thought if she had resisted her assailant there would be scratches or bruises, wouldn’t you? It would be normal.’
She was right. Grace had been thinking the same thing. ‘So it could be someone she knew? A sex game gone wrong?’ he asked.
‘With the knife wound?’ Glenn Branson chipped in dubiously.
‘I agree,’ Nadiuska said. ‘That doesn’t fit, necessarily.’
‘Good point,’ Grace conceded, startled at how he could have missed something so obvious – and putting it down to his tired brain.
Then the pathologist finally started the dissection. With a scalpel in one gloved hand, she lifted Katie’s tangled hair up and made an incision all the way around the back of the scalp, then peeled it forward, hair still attached, so that it hung down, inside out, over the dead woman’s face like a hideous, featureless mask. Then Darren, the assistant technician, walked across with the rotary band saw.
Grace braced himself, and caught the look in Glenn Branson’s eyes. This was one of the moments he most disliked – this and the cutting open of the stomach, which invariably released a smell that could send you retching. Darren clicked the start button and the machine whined, its sharp teeth spinning. Then that grinding sound that hit the pit of his stomach, and every nerve in his body, as the teeth tore into the top edge of Katie’s skull bone.
It was so bad, so particularly bad at this moment with his queasy stomach and pounding hangover, that Grace wanted to retreat into a corner and jam his fingers in his ears. But of course he couldn’t. He had to stick it out, as the young mortuary technician steadily worked the saw all the way round, bone fragments flying like sawdust, until finally he had finished. Then he lifted the skull cap clear, like a teapot lid, exposing the glistening brain beneath.
People always referred to it as grey matter. But to Grace, who had seen plenty, they were never actually grey – more a creamy brown colour. They turned grey later. Nadiuska stepped forward and he watched her studying the brain for some moments. Then Darren handed her a thin-bladed boning knife, a Sabatier that could have come from a kitchen cabinet. She dug inside the skull cavity, cutting the sinews and the optical nerves, then lifted the brain clear, like a trophy, and handed it to Cleo.
She carried it over to the scales, weighed it and chalked up the amount on the wall-mounted list: 1.6kg.
Nadiuska glanced at it. ‘Normal for her height, weight and age,’ she said.
Darren now placed a metal tray over Katie’s ankles, its legs standing on the table either side of her legs. Taking a long-bladed butcher’s knife, the pathologist prodded the brain in a number of places with her fingers, peering at it closely. Then, with the knife, she cut a thin slice off one end, as if she were carving a Sunday joint.
At that moment Grace’s mobile rang.
He stepped away to answer it. ‘Roy Grace,’ he said.
It was Linda Buckley again. ‘Hello, Roy,’ she said. ‘Brian Bishop’s just come back. I’ve phoned and called off the alert for him.’
‘Where the hell was he?’
‘He said he just went out for some air.’
Walking out of the room, into the corridor, Grace said, ‘Like hell he did. Get on to the CCTV team – see what they’ve picked up around that hotel in the last few hours.’
‘I will do, right away. When will you be ready for me to bring him down for the viewing?’
‘Be a while yet. A good three or four hours – I’ll call you.’
As he hung up, his phone immediately rang again. He didn’t recognize the number – a long string of digits starting with 49 that suggested it was from somewhere overseas. He answered it.
‘Roy!’ said a voice he instantly knew. It was his old friend and colleague Dick Pope. Once Dick and his wife, Lesley, had been his best friends. But Dick had been transferred to Hastings and since they had moved over there, Grace hadn’t seen so much of them.
‘Dick! Good to hear from you – where are you?’
There was a sudden hesitation in his friend’s voice. ‘Roy, we’re in Munich. We’re on a motoring holiday. Checking out the Bavarian beer!’
‘Sounds good to me!’ Grace said, uneasy at the hesitation, as if there was something his friend was holding back from saying.
‘Roy – look – this may be nothing. I don’t want to cause you any – you know, upset or anything. But Lesley and I think we may have just seen Sandy.’
Skunk’s phone was ringing again. He woke, shivering and sweating at the same time. Jesus, it was hot in here. His clothes – the ragged T-shirt and undershorts he was sleeping in – and his bedding were sodden. Water was guttering off him.
From somewhere in the fetid darkness down towards the rear of the camper, the Scouse voice shouted out, ‘Fokking thing. Turn the fokking thing off, for Chrissake, ’fore I throw it out the fokking window.’
It wasn’t the phone he had stolen last night, he realized suddenly. It was his pay-as-you-go phone. His business phone! Where in hell was it?
He stood up hurriedly and shouted back, ‘You don’t like it, get the fuck out of my van!’
Then he looked on the floor, found his shell-suit bottoms, dug his hands in the pocket and pulled the small green mobile out. ‘Yeah?’ he answered.
The next moment he was looking around for a pen and a scrap of paper. He had both in his top, wherever the hell that was. Then he realized he had been sleeping on it, using it as a sort of pillow. He pulled out a thin, crappy ballpoint with a cracked stem, and a torn, damp sheet of lined paper, and put it down on the work surface. With a hand shaking so much he could barely write, he managed to take down the details in spiky scrawl, and then hung up.
A good one. Money. Moolah! Mucho!
And his bowels felt OK today. None of the agonizing gripes followed by diarrhoea that had been plaguing him for days – not yet, at any rate. His mouth was parched; he was desperate for some water. Feeling light-headed and giddy, he made his way to the sink, then, steadying himself on the work surface, he turned on the tap. But it was already on, the contents of the water tank all run out. Shite.
‘Who left the fucking tap on all night? Hey? Who?’ he yelled.
‘Chill out, man!’ a voice replied.
‘I’ll fucking chill you out!’ He pulled open the curtains again, blinking at the sudden intrusion of the blinding, early-afternoon sunlight. Outside he saw a woman in the park, holding the hand of a toddler on a tricycle. A mangy-looking dog was running around, sniffing the scorched grass where a circus big-top had been until a couple of days ago. Then he looked along the camper. A third crashed-out body he hadn’t noticed before, stirred. Nothing he could do about either of them now, just hope the fuck they’d be gone when he came back. They usually were.
Then he heard an almost rhythmic squeak-squeak-squeak, and saw Al, his hamster, with his busted paw all bound up in a splint by the vet, still spinning the shiny chromium treadmill, his whiskers twitching away. ‘Man, don’t you ever get tired?’ he said, putting his face up close to the bars of the cage – but not too close – Al had bitten him once. Actually, twice.
He had first found the creature abandoned in its cage, which had been tossed by some callous bastard into a roadside skip. He had seen its paw was busted and tried to lift it out, and been bitten for his troubles. Then another time he had tried to stroke it through the bars and it had bitten him again. Yet other days he could open the cage door and it would scamper into the palm of his hand, and sit there happily, for an hour or more, only shitting on it occasionally.
He pulled on the grey Adidas shell-suit bottoms and hooded top, which he had stolen from the ASDA superstore at the Marina, and the brand-new blue and white Asics trainers he had tried on and run out with from a shop in Kemp Town, and grabbed a Waitrose carrier bag containing his tools, into which he dropped the mobile phone from the car he had stolen yesterday. He opened the door of the camper, shouted, ‘I want you all fucking gone when I come back,’ and stepped out into the searing, cloudless heat of The Level, the long, narrow strip of parkland in the centre of Brighton and Hove. The city that he jokingly – but not that jokingly – called his office.
Written on the damp sheet of paper he carried, safely folded and tucked into his zipped breast pocket, were an order, a delivery address and an agreed payment. A no-brainer. Suddenly, despite the shakes, life was looking up. He could make enough money today to last him an entire week.
He could even afford to play hardball in negotiations on the sale of the mobile phone.
My father is crying today. I’ve never seen him cry before. I’ve seen him drunk and angry, which is how he is most of the time, drunk and angry, slapping my mother or me, or punching one of us in the face, or maybe both of us depending on his mood. Sometimes he kicks the dog because it’s my dog and he doesn’t like dogs. The only person he doesn’t punch or slap or kick is Annie, my sister, who is ten. He does other things to her instead. We hear her crying out when he is in her room. And crying, sometimes, after he has left her room.
But today he is crying. My father. All twenty-two of his pigeons are dead. Including two that he has had for fifteen years. And his four Birmingham Rollers that could fly upside-down and do other kinds of aerobatics.
I gave them one large shot of insulin each from his diabetic kit. Those pigeons were his life. It is strange that he could love these noisy, smelly birds so much, yet hate us all. I never understood how they could have given us children to him and my mother in the first place. Sometimes there are as many as eight of us here. The others come and go. Just my sister and I are the constant ones. We suffer along with our mother.
But today, for once, he is suffering. He is hurting really badly.
Sophie’s ciabatta sat on her desk, going cold and making its paper wrapper soggy. She had no appetite. The copy of Harpers & Queen lay on her desk unopened.
She liked to ogle the dreamy clothes on the almost insanely beautiful models, the pictures of stunning resorts she sometimes dreamed that Brian might whisk her off to, and she loved to trawl through the diary photographs of the rich and famous, some of whom she recognized from film premieres she had attended for her company, or from a distance when she had walked along the Croisette or crashed parties at the Cannes Film Festival. It was a lifestyle so far from her own modest, rural upbringing.
She had never particularly sought glamour when she came to London to do a secretarial course – and she certainly had not found it when she’d got her first job with a firm of bailiffs, carrying out work seizing goods from the homes of people who had run into debt. She found the company cruel and much of its work heartbreaking. When she had decided to make a change, and began trawling the ads in the Evening Standard newspaper, she had never imagined that she would land up in quite such a different world as she was in now.
But at this moment her world had, suddenly, gone completely out of kilter. She was trying to get her head around the totally bizarre conversation she had just had with Brian on her mobile a short while ago, outside the café, when he’d told her his wife was dead and had denied that he had come over to her last night – or rather, early this morning – and made love to her.
The office phone rang.
‘Blinding Light Productions,’ she answered, half hoping it was Brian, her voice devoid of its usual enthusiasm.
But it was someone wanting to speak to the Head of Business and Legal Affairs, Adam Davies. She put them through. Then she returned to her thoughts.
OK, Brian was strange. In the six months since she had met him, when they had sat next to each other at a conference on tax incentives for investors in film financing, which she had been asked to attend by her bosses, she still felt she only knew just a very small part of him. He was an intensely private person and she found it hard to get him to talk about himself. She didn’t really understand what he did, or, more importantly, what it was he wanted from life – and from her.
He was kind and generous, and great company. And, she had only very recently discovered, the most amazing lover! Yet there was a part of him that he kept in a compartment from which she was excluded.
A part of him that could deny, absolutely, that he had come to her flat in the early hours of today.
She was desperate to know what had happened to his wife. The poor, darling man must be distraught. Deranged with grief. Denial. Was the answer as simple as that?
She wanted to hold him, to comfort him, to let him pour it all out to her. In her mind a plan was forming. It was vague – she was so shaken up she could not think it through properly – but it was better than just sitting here, not knowing, helpless.
Both the owners of the company, Tony Watts and James Samson, were away on their summer holidays. The office was quiet, no one would be that bothered if she left early today. At three o’clock she told Cristian and Adam that she wasn’t feeling that good, and they both suggested she went home.
Thanking them, she left the building, took the tube to Victoria, and made straight for the platform for Brighton.
As she boarded the train and settled into a seat in the stiflingly hot compartment, she was unaware of the shell-suited man, in the hoodie and dark glasses, who was entering the carriage directly behind hers. He gripped the red plastic bag containing his purchase from the Private Shop, and was quietly mouthing to himself the words of an old Louis Armstrong song, ‘We Have All the Time in the World’, which were being fed into his ears by his iPod.
When Roy Grace hung up he walked back into the post-mortem room in a daze. Cleo made eye contact, as if she had picked up a vibe that something was wrong. He signalled back lamely that all was fine.
His stomach felt as if wet cement was revolving inside it. He could barely focus his eyes on the scene unfolding in front of him, as Nadiuska De Sancha dissected Katie Bishop’s neck with a scalpel, layer of tissue by layer, looking for signs of internal bruising.
He did not want to be here right now. He wanted to be in a room on his own, sitting somewhere quiet, where he could think.
Was it possible?
Sandy, his wife, had disappeared off the face of the earth just over nine years ago, on the day of his thirtieth birthday. He could remember it vividly, as if it was yesterday.
Birthdays had always been very special days for them both. She had woken him with a tray on which was a tiny cake with a single candle, a glass of champagne and a very rude birthday card. He’d opened the presents she had given him, then they had made love.
He’d left the house later than usual, at nine fifteen, promising to be home early, to go out for a celebratory meal with Dick and Lesley Pope. But when he had arrived home almost two hours later than he had planned, because of problems with a murder case he had been investigating, there was no sign of Sandy.
At first he’d thought she was angry with him for being so late and was making a protest. The house was tidy, her car and handbag were gone, and there was nothing to suggest a struggle.
For years he had searched everywhere. Tried every possible avenue, distributed her photograph, through Interpol, around the world. And he had been to mediums – still went to them, every time he heard of a credible new one. But nothing. Not one of them had picked up anything to do with her. It was as if she had been teleported off the planet. Not one sign, not a single sighting by anyone.
Until this phone call now.
From Dick Pope. Saying he and Lesley had been on a boating lake in a beer garden in Munich. The Seehaus in the Englischer Garten. They had been out in a rowing boat, and both of them could have sworn they saw Sandy, sitting among the crowds at a table, singing away as a Bavarian band played.
Dick said they had rowed straight over to the edge of the lake, shouting to her. He’d scrambled out of the boat and run towards her, but she had gone. Melted away into the crowd. He said that he couldn’t be sure, of course. That neither he nor Lesley could be completely sure.
After all, it was nine years since they had seen Sandy. And Munich, in summer, like anywhere else, had countless dozens of attractive women with long, blonde hair. But, Dick had assured him, both he and Lesley thought the resemblance was uncanny. And the woman had stared at them, with what looked like clear recognition. So why had she left her table and fled?
Leaving three-quarters of a large glass of beer behind.
And the people sitting near her claimed never to have seen her before.
Sandy liked a glass of beer on a hot day. One of the million, billion, trillion, gazillion things Roy Grace had loved about her was her appetites in life. For food, wine, beer. And sex. Unlike so many women he had dated before her, Sandy was different. She went for everything. He had always put that down to the fact that she was not 100 percent British. Her grandmother, a great character, whom he had met – and really liked – many times before she had died, had been German. A Jewish refugee who had got out in 1938. Their family home had been in a small village in the countryside near Munich.
Jesus. The thought struck him now for the first time.
Could Sandy have gone back to her roots?
She had often talked about going to visit. She had even tried to persuade her grandmother to go with her, and show her where they had lived, but for the elderly lady the memories were too painful. One day, Grace had promised Sandy, they would go there together.
A sharp crunch, followed by a snap, brought him back to the present moment.
Katie Bishop’s breasts were inverted, beneath peeled-back flaps of skin, the ribs, muscles and organs of her midriff now exposed. The heart, lungs, kidneys and liver were all glistening. With her heart no longer pumping, only a trickle of blood slid, sluggishly, into the concave metal table on which she lay.
Nadiuska, holding what looked like a pair of gardening shears, began cutting through the dead woman’s ribs. Each grisly, bone-crunching snap brought Grace, and all the other observers in this room, to a strange kind of focused silence. It didn’t matter how many post-mortems you had attended, nothing prepared you for this sound, this awful reality. This was someone who had once been a living, breathing, loving human being reduced to the status of meat on a butcher’s hook.
And for the very first time in his career, it was more than Grace could take. With all kinds of confusion about Sandy swirling in his mind, he stepped back, as far away from the table as he could get without actually leaving the room.
He tried to focus his thoughts. This woman had been killed by someone, almost certainly murdered. She deserved more than a distracted cop, fixated on a possible sighting of his long-gone wife. For the moment he had to try and push the phone call from Dick Pope to the back of his mind and concentrate on the business here.
He thought about her husband, Brian. The way he had behaved in the witness interview room. Something had not felt right. And then he realized what, in his tired, addled state, he had totally forgotten to do.
Something that he had recently learned that would tell him, very convincingly, whether Brian Bishop had been telling the truth or not.
Sophie stepped off the train at Brighton station and walked along the platform. Using her season ticket at the barrier, she came out on to the polished concourse floor. High above her a lone pigeon flew beneath the vast glass roof. A tannoy announcement echoed around the building, a tired male voice reeling off a list of places some train was going to be stopping at.
Perspiring heavily in the clammy, airless heat, she was parched. She stopped at the news kiosk to buy a can of Coke, which she snapped open and drained in two draughts. She desperately, just desperately, wanted to see Brian.
Then, right in front of her nose, she saw the black scrawled letters on the white Argus news billboard: WOMAN FOUND DEAD IN MILLIONAIRE’S HOME.
She dropped the empty can in a bin and snatched up a copy of the newspaper from a pile on the stand.
Beneath the headline, with the same words, was a colour photograph of an imposing, mock-Tudor house, the driveway and street outside sealed with crime scene tape and cluttered with vehicles, including two marked police cars, several vans and the large square slab of a Major Incident vehicle. Much smaller, offset, was a black and white photograph showing Brian Bishop in a bow tie and an attractive woman with an elegant tangle of hair.
The copy beneath read:
The body of a woman was found at the Dyke Road Avenue mansion of wealthy businessman Brian Bishop, 41, and his wife, Katie, 35, early this morning. A Home Office pathologist was called to the house and a body was subsequently removed from the premises.
Sussex Police have launched an inquiry, headed by Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of Sussex CID.
Brighton-born Bishop, the Managing Director of International Rostering Solutions PLC, one of this year’s Sunday Times 100 fastest-growing UK companies, was unavailable for comment. His wife is on the committee of Brighton-based children’s charity the Rocking Horse Appeal and has raised money for many local causes.
A post-mortem was due to be carried out this afternoon.
Feeling sick in the pit of her stomach, Sophie stared at the page. She had never seen Katie Bishop’s picture before, had no idea what she looked like. God, the woman was beautiful. Way more attractive than she was – and could ever be. She looked so classy, so happy, so –
She dropped the newspaper back on the pile, in even more turmoil now. It had always been hard to get Brian to talk about his wife. And at the same time, although one part of her had had a burning curiosity to know everything about the woman, another part had tried to deny she existed. She had never had an affair with a married man before, never wanted to have one – she had always tried to live her life by a simple moral code. Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want someone to do to you.
All that had fallen over when she’d met Brian. He had, quite simply, blown her off her feet. Mesmerized her. Although it had started as an innocent friendship. And now, for the first time, she was looking at her rival. And Katie wasn’t the woman she had expected. Not that she had really known what to expect, Brian had never talked about her much. In her mind she had imagined some sour-faced biddy with her hair in a bun. Some ghastly old goat who had lured Brian into a loveless marriage. Not this quite stunning, confident and happy-looking beauty.
And suddenly she felt totally lost. And wondering what on earth she thought she was doing here. Half-heartedly, she pulled her mobile phone from her handbag – the cheap lemon-coloured canvas bag that she had bought at the start of summer because it was fashionable, but which was now looking embarrassingly grubby. Just like she was, she realized, catching sight of herself, and her grungy work clothes, in a photo-booth mirror.
She would need to go home and change, and freshen up. Brian liked her to look good. She remembered how disapproving he had seemed on one occasion when she’d been kept working late at the office and had turned up to meet him in a smart restaurant without having changed.
After some moments of hesitation, she called his number, held the phone to her ear, concentrating fiercely, still unaware of the man in the hoodie who was standing just a few feet from her, apparently browsing through a series of paperback books on a spinner at the kiosk.
As another tannoy announcement boomed and echoed around her, she glanced up at the massive, four-faced clock with its Roman numerals.
‘Hi,’ Brian said, his voice startling her, answering before she had even heard it ring.
‘You poor thing,’ she said. ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Yes.’ His voice was flat, porous. It seemed to absorb her own, like blotting paper.
There was a long, awkward silence. Finally, she broke it. ‘Where are you?’
‘I’m in a hotel. The bloody police won’t let me into my house. They won’t let me into my home. They won’t tell me what’s happened – can you believe it? They say it’s a crime scene and I can’t go in. I – Oh, Jesus, Sophie, what am I going to do?’ He started crying.
‘I’m in Brighton,’ she said quietly. ‘I came down early from work.’
‘I – I thought – I thought that maybe – I don’t know – I’m sorry – I thought maybe I could do something. You know. To help.’ Her voice tailed. She stared up at the ornate clock. At a pigeon that suddenly alighted on the top of it.
‘I can’t see you,’ he said. ‘It’s not possible.’
She felt foolish now for even suggesting it. What the hell had been going through her mind?
‘No,’ she said, the sudden harshness of his voice hurting her. ‘I understand. I just wanted to say, if there was anything I could do –’
‘There isn’t anything. It’s sweet of you to call. I – I have to go and identify her body. I haven’t even told the children yet. I . . .’
He fell silent. She waited patiently, trying to understand the kinds of emotions he must be going through, and realizing how very little she really knew about him, and quite what an outsider she was in his life.
Then, in a choking voice, he said, ‘I’ll call you later, OK?’
‘Any time. Absolutely any time, OK?’ she reassured him.
‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry – I – I’m sorry.’
After their conversation, Sophie called Holly, desperate to talk to someone. But all she got was Holly’s latest voicemail greeting, which was even more irritatingly jolly than her previous one. She left a message.
Then she wandered aimlessly around the station concourse for some minutes, before walking out into the bright sunlight. She didn’t feel like going to her flat – she didn’t really know what she wanted to do. A steady stream of sunburned people were heading up the street towards the station, many of them in T-shirts, singlets or gaudy shirts and shorts, lugging beach bags, looking like trippers who had spent the day here and were now heading home. A lanky man, in jeans cut off at the knees, swung a massive radio blaring out rap, his face and arms the colour of a broiled lobster. The city felt in holiday mood. It was about as far from her own mood as Jupiter.
Suddenly her phone rang again. For an instant, her spirits rose, hoping it was Brian. Then she saw Holly’s name on the display. She hit the answer button. ‘Hi.’
Holly’s voice was mostly drowned out by a continuous, banshee howl. She was in the hairdresser’s, she informed her friend, under the drier. After a couple of minutes trying to explain what had happened, Sophie gave up and suggested they speak later. Holly promised to call her back as soon as she was out of the salon.
The man in the hoodie was following her at a safe distance, holding his red plastic bag and sucking the back of his free hand. It was nice to be back down here at the seaside, out of the filthy air of London. He hoped Sophie would head down to the beach; it would be pleasant to sit there, maybe eat an ice cream. It would be a good way of passing the time, of spending a few of those millions of hours he had sitting on deposit in his bank.
As he walked, he thought about the purchase he had made at lunchtime today and jiggled it in his bag. In the zippered pockets of his top, in addition to his wallet and his mobile phone, he carried a roll of duct tape, a knife, chloroform, a vial of the knockout, so-called date rape drug, Rohypnol. And a few other bits and pieces – you could never tell when they might come in handy . . .
Tonight would be a very good night. Again.
Cleo’s skills really came into their own when, shortly after five p.m., Nadiuska De Sancha finally finished the post-mortem on Katie Bishop.
Using a large soup ladle, Cleo removed the blood that had drained into Katie’s midriff, spoonful by spoonful, pouring it into the gully below. The blood would run into a holding tank beneath the building, where chemicals would slowly break it down, before it passed into the city’s main drainage system.
After that, as Nadiuska leaned on the work surface, dictating her summary, then in turn filling in the Autopsy sheet, the Histology sheet and the Cause of Death sheet, Darren handed Cleo a plain white plastic bag containing all the vital organs that had been removed from the cadaver and weighed on the scales. Grace watched, with the same morbid fascination he had each time, as Cleo inserted the bag into Katie’s midriff, as if she were stuffing giblets into a chicken.
He watched with the shadow of the phone call about Sandy hanging heavily over him. Thinking. He needed to call Dick Pope back, quiz him more, about exactly when he had seen Sandy, which table she had been at, whether he had talked to the staff, whether she had been alone or with anyone.
Munich. The city had always had a resonance for him, partly because of Sandy’s family connections, and partly because it was a city that was constantly, in one way or another, in the world’s consciousness. The Oktoberfest, the World Cup football stadium, it was the home of BMW, and, he seemed to remember, Adolf Hitler had lived there, before Berlin. All he wanted to do at this moment was jump on a plane and fly there. And he could just imagine how well that would go down with his boss, Alison Vosper, who was looking for any opportunity, however small, to twist the knife she had already stuck into him, and get rid of him.
Darren then went out of the room and returned with a black garbage bag containing shredded council tax correspondence from Brighton and Hove City Council, removed a handful, and started to pack the paper into the dead woman’s empty skull cavity. Meanwhile, using a heavy-duty sailcloth needle and thread, Cleo began carefully but industrially to sew up the woman’s midriff.
When she had finished, she hosed Katie down to remove all the blood streaks, and then began the most sensitive part of the procedure. With the greatest care, she was putting on make-up, adding some colouring to the woman’s cheeks, tidying her hair, making her look as if she was just having a little nap.
At the same time, Darren began the process of cleaning up the post-mortem room around Katie Bishop’s trolley. He squirted lemon-scented disinfectant on to the floor, scrubbing that in, then bleach, then Trigene disinfectant and finally Autoclave.
An hour later, laid out beneath a purple shroud, with her arms crossed and a small bunch of fresh pink and white roses in her hand, Darren wheeled Katie Bishop into the viewing room, a small, narrow area with a long window, and just enough space for loved ones to stand around the corpse. It felt a little like a chapel, with dinky blue curtains, and instead of an altar, there was a small vase of plastic flowers.
Grace and Branson stood outside the room, observing through the glass window, as Brian Bishop was led in by WPC Linda Buckley, an alert, pleasant-looking woman in her mid-thirties, with short blonde hair, dressed in a sober dark blue two-piece and white blouse.
They watched him stare at the dead woman’s face, then rummage under the shroud, pull out her hand, kiss it, then grip it tightly. Tears streamed down Bishop’s face. Then he fell to his knees, totally overcome with grief.
It was at moments like this, and Grace had experienced far too many in his long career, that he wished he was anything but a police officer. One of his mates from school had gone into banking and was now a building society branch manager in Worthing, enjoying a good salary and a relaxed life. Another operated fishing trips from Brighton Marina, without an apparent care in the world.
Grace watched, unable to switch his emotions off, unable to stop himself feeling the man’s grief in every cell of his own body. It was all he could do to stop crying himself.
‘Shit, he’s hurting,’ Glenn said quietly to him.
Grace shrugged, the cop inside him speaking, rather than his heart. ‘Maybe.’
‘Jesus, you’re a hard bastard.’
‘Didn’t used to be,’ Grace said. ‘Wasn’t until I let you drive me. Needed to be a hard bastard to survive that.’
‘So did you pass your Advanced Police Driving test?’
‘I failed, right?’
‘Yeah. For driving too slowly. Can you believe that?’
‘Me, believe that?’
‘Jesus, you hack me off. You’re always the same. Every time I ask you a question you answer with a question. Can’t you ever stop being a bloody detective?’
‘It’s not funny. Yeah? I asked you a simple question, can you believe I got failed for driving too slowly?’
‘Nah.’ And he really could not! Grace remembered the last time Glenn had driven him, when his friend had been practising his high-speed driving for his test. When Grace had climbed out of the car with all his limbs intact – more by luck than by anything to do with driving skills – he had decided he would prefer to have his gall bladder removed without an anaesthetic than be driven in earnest by Glenn Branson again.
‘For real, man,’ Branson said.
‘Good to know there are still some sane people in the world.’
‘Know your problem, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace?’
‘Which particular problem?’
‘The one you have about my driving?’
‘In you or in God?’
‘God stopped that bullet from doing serious harm to me.’
‘You really believe that, don’t you?’
‘You have a better theory?’
Grace fell silent, thinking. He always found it easier to park his God questions safely away and to think about them only when it suited him. He wasn’t an atheist, not even really an agnostic. He did believe in something – or at least he wanted to believe in something – but he could never define exactly what. He always fell short of being able to openly accept the concept of God. And then immediately after that he would feel guilty. But ever since Sandy had disappeared, and all his prayers had gone unanswered, much of his faith had eroded.
As a policeman, a big part of his duty was to establish the truth. The facts. Like all his fellow officers, his beliefs were his own affair. He watched Brian Bishop, on the other side of the window. The man was totally grief-stricken.
Or putting on a great act.
He would soon know which.
Except, wrong though it was, because it was personal, Sandy had priority in his mind right now.
Skunk was tempted to call his dealer’s mobile on the phone he had stolen, because credit on his own one had just run out, but he decided it wasn’t worth risking the man’s wrath. Or worse, getting ditched as a customer, tight bastard though his dealer was. The man would not be impressed to have his number on the call list of a hot mobile – particularly one he would be selling on.
So he stepped into a payphone in front of a grimy Regency terrace on The Level and let the door swing shut against the din of the Friday afternoon traffic. It felt like an oven door closing on him, the heat was almost unbearable. He dialled, holding the door open with his foot. After two rings, the phone was answered with a curt, ‘Yeah?’
‘Wayne Rooney,’ Skunk said, giving him the password they had agreed last time. It changed each time they met.
The man spoke in an east London accent. ‘Yeah, all right then, your usual? Brown you want? Ten-pound bag or twenty?’
‘What you got? Cash?’
‘A Motorola Razor. T-Mobile.’
‘Up to my neck in ’em. Can only give you ten for that.’
‘Fuck you, man, I’m looking for thirty.’
‘Can’t help you then, mate. Sorry. Bye.’
In sudden panic, Skunk shouted urgently, ‘Hey, no, no. Don’t hang up.’
There was a brief silence. Then the man’s voice again. ‘I’m busy. Haven’t got time to waste. Street price is going up and there’s a shortage. Going to be short for two weeks.’
Skunk logged that comment. ‘I could take twenty.’
‘Ten’s best I can do.’
There were other dealers, but the last one he’d used had been busted and was now off the streets, in jail somewhere. Another, he was sure, had given him some crap stuff. There were a couple of buyers he could take the phone to, get a better price, but he was feeling increasingly strung out; he needed something now, needed to get his head together. He had a job to do today which was going to make him way more money than this. He would be able to buy some more later in the day.
‘Yeah, OK. Where do I meet you?’
The dealer, whom he knew only as Joe, gave him instructions.
Skunk stepped outside, feeling the sun searing down on his head, and dodged through the jammed lanes of traffic on Marlborough Place, just in front of a pub where he sometimes bought Ecstasy in the men’s toilet at night. He might even have the cash to buy some this evening, if all went well.
Then he turned right into North Road, a long, busy, one-way street that ran uphill, steeply. The lower end was skanky, but halfway up, just past a Starbucks, the trendiest part of Brighton started.
The North Laine district was a warren of narrow streets that sprawled across most of the hill running down east from the station. If you turned any corner you’d find yourself staring at a line of antique marble fireplaces out on the pavement, or racks of funky clothes, or a row of Victorian terraced cottages, originally built for railway workers in the nineteenth century and now trendy townhouses, or the sandblasted façade of an old factory now converted into chic urban loft dwellings.
As he walked a short distance up the hill, Skunk was finding the exertion hard. There used to be a time when he could run like the wind, when he could have snatched a bag, or goods from a shop, with confidence, but now he could only do something physical for a short time without getting exhausted, apart from during the hours immediately following a hit, or when he was on uppers. No one took any notice of him, apart from two plain-clothes policemen seated at a table in the packed Starbucks, with a clear view out through the window of the goings-on in the street.
Both of them, scruffily dressed, could have passed as students, eking out their coffees for as long as possible. One, shorter and burly, with a shaven head and goatee beard, wore a black T-shirt and ripped jeans; the other, taller, with lanky hair, in a baggy shirt hanging loose over military fatigues. They knew most of Brighton’s lowlife by sight, and Skunk’s mug-shot had been up on a wall in Brighton Central, along with forty or so other regular offenders, for as long as both of them had been in the force.
To most of the populace of Brighton and Hove, Skunk was all but invisible. Dressed the same way he had been dressing since his early teens, in his crumpled nylon hoodie over a ragged orange T-shirt, tracksuit bottoms and trainers, hands in his pockets, body slouched forward, he blended into the city like a chameleon. It was the uniform of his gang, the WBC – Well Big Crew – a rival gang to the long-established TMC – Team Massive Crew. They weren’t as vicious as the TMC, whose initiation rites were rumoured to involve either beating up a copper, raping a woman or stabbing an innocent stranger, but WBC liked to give off a menacing image. They hung around shopping areas, their hoods up, stealing anything that was readily to hand, mugging anyone who was stupid enough to get isolated, and they spent the money mostly on alcohol and drugs. He was too old for the gang now, they were mostly teenagers, but he still wore the clothes, liking the feeling of belonging to something.
Skunk’s head was shaven – by Bethany each time she came by – and there was a narrow, uneven stripe of hair running from below the centre of his lower lip to the base of his chin. Bethany liked it, told him it made him look mysterious, particularly with his purple sunglasses.
But he didn’t look in mirrors that much. He used to stare at himself for hours, as a small boy, trying not to be ugly, trying to convince himself that he wasn’t as ugly as his mother and his brother told him. Now he didn’t care any more. He’d done fine with the girls. Sometimes his face now scared him, it was so dry, blistered, emaciated. It looked like it had been shoehorned over the skull bones beneath.
His body was rotting – you didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. It wasn’t the drugs, it was the impurities crooked suppliers mixed with them that destroyed you. Most days his head swam as if he had flu, as if he was living in a permanent heat haze one moment and winter fog the next. His memory was crap; he wasn’t able to concentrate long enough to watch any film or TV show all the way through. Ulcers kept breaking out on his body. He couldn’t hold food down. He lost track of the time. Some days he couldn’t even remember how old he was.
Twenty-four, he thought; or thereabouts. He’d meant to ask his brother, when he phoned him in Australia last night, but that hadn’t worked out.
It was his brother, three years older and a foot taller, who had first called him Skunk, and he’d quite liked it. Skunks were mean, feral creatures. They slunk about, they had their defences. You didn’t mess with a skunk.
Cars had been his thing in his teens. He discovered, without really thinking about it, that he could steal cars, easily. And when word got out that he could nick any car anyone wanted, he suddenly found he had friends. He’d been arrested twice, the first time put on probation and banned from driving, even though he was too young to have a licence, and the second time, aggravated by an assault, he’d been sent to a young offenders’ institute for a year.
And now this afternoon, on that damp sheet of paper folded in his pocket, was an order for another car. A new-shape Audi A4 convertible, automatic, low mileage, metallic blue, silver or black.
He stopped to take a breath, and dark, undefined fear suddenly rolled through him, drawing all the heat of the day away from him, leaving him feeling as if he had suddenly walked into a deep-freeze. His skin crawled again, the way it had done earlier, as if a million termites were swarming over it.
He saw the phone booth. Needed that booth. Needed that hit to get his focus, his equilibrium. He stepped into it, and the effort of pulling the heavy door left him suddenly gasping for breath. Shit. He leaned against the wall of the booth, in the airless heat, feeling dizzy, his legs buckling under him. He grabbed the phone, steadying himself with one hand, dug a coin from his pocket and put it in the slot, then dialled Joe’s number.
‘It’s Wayne Rooney,’ he said, talking quietly as if someone might overhear him. ‘I’m here.’
‘Give me your number. I’m going to call you back.’
Skunk waited, getting nervous. After several minutes, it finally rang. A new set of instructions. Shit, Joe was getting more paranoid every day. Or had watched too many Bond movies.
He left the booth, walked about fifty yards up the street, then stopped and stared in the window of a shop that cut foam rubber to order, as he had been instructed.
The two police officers sipped their cold coffees. The shorter, burly one, whose name was Paul Packer, gripped his cup by looping his middle finger through the handle. Eight years ago, the top of his right-hand index finger had been bitten off below the first knuckle, in a scuffle, by Skunk.
This was the third deal they had witnessed in the past hour. And they knew that the same thing would be going on in half a dozen other hot spots around Brighton at this very moment. Every hour of the day and night. Trying to stop the drugs trade in a city like this was like trying to stop a glacier by throwing pebbles at it.
To feed a ten-pound-a-day drug habit, a user would commit three to five thousand pound’s worth of acquisitive crime a month. Not many users were on ten pounds a day – most were on twenty, fifty, one hundred and more. Some could be as high as three or four hundred a day. And a lot of middlemen took rake-offs on the way. There were rich pickings all along the chain. You busted a bunch of people, took them off the streets, and a few days later a whole load of new faces, with a fresh supply, would appear. Scousers. Bulgarians. Russians. All with one thing in common. They made a fat living off sad little bastards like Skunk.
But Paul Packer and his colleague, Trevor Sallis, had not paid fifty pounds out of police funds to an informer to help them find Skunk in order to bust him for drugs. He was too small a player there to bother with. It was an altogether different player, in a very different field, they were hoping he would lead them to.
After some moments, a short, fat kid of about twelve, with a round, freckled face and a brush cut, wearing a grubby South Park T-shirt, shorts and unlaced basketball shoes, and sweating profusely, sidled up to Skunk.
‘Wayne Rooney?’ the kid said, in a garbled, squeaky voice.
The kid popped a small cellophane-wrapped package from his mouth and handed it to Skunk, who in turn put it straight into his mouth and handed the kid the Motorola. Seconds later the kid was sprinting away, up the hill. And Skunk was heading back towards his camper.
And Paul Packer and Trevor Sallis were out of the Starbucks door and following him down the hill.
The Major Incident Suite at Sussex House occupied much of the first floor of the building. It was accessed by a door with a swipe pad at the end of a large, mostly open-plan area housing the force’s senior CID officers and their support staff.
Roy Grace felt there was always a completely different atmosphere in this part of the CID headquarters from elsewhere in the building – and indeed any of the other police buildings in and around Brighton and Hove. The corridors and offices of most police stations had a tired, institutional look and feel, but here everything always seemed new.
Too new, too modern, too clean, too damn tidy. Too – soulless. It could have been the offices of a chartered accountancy practice, or the admin area of a bank or insurance company.
Diagrams on white cards, which also looked brand new, were pinned to large, red-felt display boards at regular intervals along these walls. They charted all the procedural information that every detective should know by heart; but often at the start of an investigation Grace would take the time to read them again.
He had always been well aware of how easy it was to become complacent and forget things. And he had read an article recently which reinforced that view. According to the paper, most of the world’s worst air disasters during the past fifty years were due to pilot error. But in many cases it wasn’t an inexperienced junior, it was the senior pilot of the airline who had slipped up. The article went so far as to say that if you were sitting on an aeroplane and discovered your pilot was going to be the senior captain of the airline, then get off that plane at once!
Complacency. It was the same with medicine. Not long back, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon in Sussex had amputated the wrong leg of a male patient. Just a simple error. Caused, almost certainly, by complacency.
Which was why, at a few minutes to six p.m., Grace stopped in the hot, stuffy corridor at the entrance of the Major Incident Suite, his shirt clinging to his chest from the savage afternoon heat, the sighting of Sandy in Munich clinging to his mind. He nodded to Branson and pointed at the first diagram on the wall, just past the door of the HOLMES system manager’s office, which was headed Common Possible Motives.
‘What does maintain active lifestyle actually mean?’ Branson asked, reading off the diagram.
In an oval in the centre was a single word: motive. Arranged around it, at the end of spokes, were the words jealousy, racism, anger/fright, robbery, power/control, desire, gain, payment, homopho bia, hate, revenge, psychotic, sexual and maintain active lifestyle.
‘Killing to inherit someone’s money,’ Grace answered.
Glenn Branson yawned. ‘There’s one missing.’ Then he frowned. ‘Actually, two,’ he said gloomily.
‘Kicks. And kudos.’
‘Yeah. Those kids who set fire to an old bag lady in a bus shelter last year. Poured petrol over her while she was sleeping. They didn’t hate her, it was just something to do, right? Kicks.’
Grace nodded. His mind really wasn’t in gear. He was still thinking about Sandy. Munich. Christ, how was he going to get through this? All he wanted to do right now was to take a plane to Munich.
‘And kudos, right?’ Glenn said. ‘You join a gang, it’s one way to get street cred, right?’
Grace moved on to the next board. It was headed Developing Forensic Overview. He glanced down the list, the words a meaningless blur at this moment. Assess potential information, intelligence, witnesses. Reassess. Develop and implement forensic strategy. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a dapper, energetic-looking man in his early fifties, wearing smart fawn suit trousers, a beige shirt and a brown tie, striding up to them. Tony Case, the Senior Support Officer for this building.
‘Hi, Roy,’ he said cheerily. ‘I’ve got MIR One all set up for you, and the tape’s ready for you to rock and roll.’ Then he turned to the Detective Sergeant and shook his hand vigorously. ‘Glenn,’ he said. ‘Welcome back! I thought you weren’t going to be working for a while yet.’
‘Have to be careful when you drink now, do you? So it doesn’t come squirting out the holes in your belly?’
‘Yeah, something like that,’ responded Glenn, missing the joke, either deliberately or because his mind was elsewhere – Grace couldn’t tell which.
‘I’ll be around for a while,’ Case said breezily. ‘Anything you need, let me know.’ He tapped the mobile phone jammed in his shirt’s breast pocket.
‘A fresh-water dispenser? Going to need it with this heat,’ Grace said.
‘Already done that.’
‘Good man.’ He looked at his watch. Just over twenty minutes to the six-thirty pre-briefing he had called. There should be enough time. He led Glenn Branson along, past the SOCO evidence rooms and the Outside Inquiry Team rooms, then doglegged right towards the Witness Interview Suite, where they had been earlier this afternoon.
They went into the small, narrow viewing room, adjoining the main interview room. Two mismatched chairs were pulled up against a work surface, running the width of the room, on which sat the squat metal housing of the video recording machinery, and a colour monitor giving a permanent, dreary colour picture of the coffee table and three red chairs in the empty Witness Interview Room on the other side of the wall.
Grace wrinkled his nose. It smelled as if someone had been eating a curry in here, probably from the deli counter of the ASDA supermarket across the road. He peered in the wastepaper bin and saw the evidence, a pile of cartons. It always took him a while after leaving a post-mortem before he was comfortable at the thought of food, and at this moment, having just seen the remnants of what appeared to be a shrimp rogan josh among the contents of Katie Bishop’s stomach, the sickly reek of the curry in here was definitely not doing it for him.
Grace ducked down, picked up the bin and plonked it outside the door. The smell didn’t clear, but at least it made him feel a little better. Then he sat in front of the monitor, refamiliarized himself with the controls of the video machine and hit the play button.
Thinking. Thinking all the time. Sandy loved curries. Chicken korma. That was her favourite.
Brian Bishop’s interview from earlier began to play on the screen. Grace fast-forwarded, watching the dark-haired man in his tan designer jacket with its flashy silver buttons and his two-tone brown and white golfing shoes.
‘Look like spats, those shoes,’ Branson said, sitting down next to him. ‘You know, like those 1930s gangsters films. Ever see Some Like It Hot?’ His voice was flat, lacking its usual energy, but he seemed to be making a superhuman effort to be cheerful.
Grace realized this must be a difficult time of day for him. Early evening. Normally, if he were home, he’d be helping get his two children ready for bed. ‘That the one with Marilyn Monroe?’
‘Yeah, and Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft. Well brilliant. That scene, right, when they wheel the cake in and the man steps out from inside it with a machine gun and blows everyone away, and George Raft says, “There was summin’ in that cake that didn’t agree wid him!”’
‘A modern spin on the Trojan Horse,’ Grace said.
‘You mean it was a remake?’ Branson said, puzzled. ‘The Trojan Horse? Don’t remember it.’
Grace shook his head. ‘Not a movie, Glenn. What the Greeks did, in Troy!’
‘What did they do?’
Grace stared hard at his friend. ‘Did you get all your bloody education from watching movies? Didn’t you ever learn any history?’
Branson shrugged defensively. ‘Enough.’
Grace slowed the tape. On the screen Glenn Branson said, ‘May I ask when you last saw your wife, Mr Bishop?’
Grace paused the tape. ‘Now, I want you to concentrate on Bishop’s eyes. I want you to count his blinks. I want the number of blinks per minute. You got a second hand on that NASA control tower on your wrist?’
Branson peered down at his watch as if thrown by the question. It was a fashionably large Casio chronometer, one of the kind that had so many dials and buttons Grace wondered if his friend had any idea what half of them did. ‘Somewhere,’ he said.
‘OK, start timing now.’
Glenn messed it up a couple of times. Then, on the screen, Roy Grace entered the room and began questioning Bishop.
‘Where did you sleep last night, Mr Bishop?’
‘In my flat in London.’
‘Could anyone vouch for that?’
‘Twenty-four!’ Glenn Branson announced, his eyes switching from his watch, to the screen, then back again.
‘Good. Do it again.’
On the screen Grace asked Bishop, ‘What time were you on the tee at the golf club this morning?’
‘Just after nine.’
‘And you drove down from London?’
‘What time would that have been?’
Grace froze the tape. ‘Interesting,’ he said.
‘What exactly?’ Branson asked.
‘It’s an experiment. I’m trying out something I read the other day in a psychology newsletter I subscribe to. The writer said they’d established in a lab at a university – I think it was Edinburgh – that people blink more times a minute when they are telling the truth than when they are lying.’
‘They blink 23.6 times a minute when they are telling the truth and 18.5 times a minute when they are lying. It’s a fact that liars sit very still – they have to think harder than people telling the truth – and when we think harder we are stiller.’ He ran the tape on.
Brian Bishop seemed to be getting increasingly agitated, finally standing up and gesticulating.
‘A constant twenty-four,’ Branson said.
‘And his body language tallies,’ Grace said. ‘He looks like a man who is telling the truth.’
But, he knew only too well, it was only an indicator. He had misread someone’s body language before and been badly caught out.
The press called August the silly season. With Parliament in its summer recess and half the world on holiday, it tended to be a quiet news month. Papers often made major items out of minor stories which, at other times, might never have even reached their pages at all; and they liked nothing better than a serious crime, the grimmer and more horrific the better. The only people who didn’t seem to go on holiday, in the same way that they didn’t stick to conventional office hours, were criminals.
And himself, Roy Grace contemplated.
His last proper holiday had been over nine years ago, when he and Sandy had flown to Spain and stayed in a rented flat near Malaga. The flat had been cramped and, instead of the advertised sea view, it overlooked a multi-storey car park. And it rained for most of the week.
Unlike this current August heatwave here in Brighton, which brought even more holidaymakers and trippers flooding into the city than usual. The beaches were packed, as were all the bars and cafés. Brighton and Hove had a hundred thousand vertical drinking spaces, and Grace reckoned every single one of them was probably taken at this moment. It was a paradise for the street criminals. More like open season than silly season for them.
And he was well aware that, with the lack of news to go around, a murder inquiry such as the one he now had on his hands was going to be subject to even closer press scrutiny than normal. A rich woman found dead, a swanky house, possibly some kinky sex involved, a flash, good-looking husband. A slam-dunk for every editor looking to fill column inches.
From the getgo, he needed to plan the handling of the press and media with extra caution, and to try, as he always did, to make the coverage work for, rather than against, his investigation. Tomorrow morning he would be holding the first of what would become a regular series of press conferences. Before then, he had two briefing meetings with the team he was assembling, to get prepared.
And somehow, despite all that was going on, he had to find a space to get on a plane to Munich. Had to.
Absolutely had to.
So many thoughts swirled through his head about Sandy. Sitting in a beer garden. With a lover? With memory loss? Or was it just mistaken identity? If it had been anyone else who’d told him he would probably have dismissed it. But Dick Pope was a good detective, a thorough man, with a fine memory for faces.
A few minutes before six thirty, accompanied by Glenn Branson, Grace left the Witness Interview Suite viewing room, grabbed them both a coffee from the vending machine in the tiny kitchen area, and walked along the corridor to MIR One, which his investigation had been allocated by Tony Case. He passed a large red-felt board headed Operation Lisbon, beneath which was a photograph of a Chinese-looking man with a wispy beard, surrounded by several different photographs of the rocks at the bottom of the tall cliffs of local beauty spot Beachy Head, each with a red circle drawn around them.
Beachy Head, a dramatic and beautiful white chalk headland, had the unwelcome reputation as England’s most popular suicide spot. It offered jumpers a sheer, and grimly tantalizing, 570-foot plunge on to the shore of the English Channel. The list of people who had stepped, dived, rolled or driven over its grassy edge and survived was short.
This unfortunate, unidentified man had been found dead in May. At first he had been assumed to be just another jumper, until the post-mortem indicated that he’d probably had some assistance, on account of the fact he had been dead for some considerable while before he took his plunge. It was an ongoing investigation, but getting scaled down all the time as each successive line of inquiry hit a blank.
Every major incident was allocated a name thrown up at random by the Sussex Police computer. If any of the names had any bearing on the case to which they related, it was entirely coincidental. And they rarely did.
Unlike the workstations in the rest of Sussex House – and in all the other police stations in the county – there was no sign of anything personal on the desks here in MIR One. No pictures of families, or footballers, no fixture lists, no jokey cartoons. Everything in this room, apart from the furniture and the business hardware, related to the investigation. There wasn’t much banter either, just fierce concentration. The warble of phones, the clack of keyboards, the shuffle of paper ejecting from laser printers. The silence of concentration.
He surveyed his initial team with mixed feelings as he walked across the room. There were several familiar faces he was happy to see. Detective Sergeant Bella Moy, an attractive woman of thirty-five with hennaed brown hair, had, as ever, an open box of Maltesers, to which she was addicted, in front of her. Nick Nicholl, short-haired, tall as a beanpole, in an open-throat short-sleeved shirt, had the pasty-faced, worn-out look of the father of a six-week-old baby. The indexer, a young, plump woman with long brown hair called Susan Gradley, who was extremely hard-working and efficient. And the long-serving Norman Potting, whom he would need to keep an eye on.
Detective Sergeant Potting was fifty-three. Beneath a thinning comb-over he had a narrow, rather rubbery face criss-crossed with broken veins, protruding lips and tobacco-stained teeth. He was dressed in a crumpled fawn linen suit and a frayed yellow short-sleeved shirt, on which he appeared to be wearing most of his lunch. Unusually, he was sporting a serious suntan, which, Grace had to admit, did improve his looks. Because he was totally politically incorrect, and most women on the force found him offensive, Potting tended to get shunted around the county, filling in gaps when a division was desperately short of manpower.
The team member Grace was least happy about of all was DC Alfonso Zafferone. A sullen, arrogant man in his late twenties, with Latino good looks and gelled, mussed-about hair, he was slickly dressed in a black suit, black shirt and cream tie. The last time he had worked with him, Zafferone had proved to be sharp, but had had a serious attitude problem. It was partly due to lack of choice, because it was the holiday season, but equally from a desire to teach the runt a lesson in manners that Grace had pulled him on to his team.
As he greeted each person in turn, Grace thought about Katie Bishop on the bed in her house in Dyke Road Avenue this morning. He thought about her on the post-mortem slab this afternoon. He could feel her, as if he carried her spirit in his heart. The weight of responsibility. This lot here in this room, and the others who would be joining his team in the conference room shortly, had a huge responsibility.
Which was why he had to push all thoughts of Sandy into a separate compartment of his mind, and lock them in there, for the time being. Somehow.
Over the course of the following hours and days he would get to know more about Katie Bishop than anybody else on earth. More than her husband, her parents, her siblings, her best friends. They might think they knew her, but they would only have ever known what she let them know. Inevitably something would have been held back. Every human being did that.
And inevitably, for Roy Grace, it would become personal. It always did.
But he had no way of knowing, at this moment, quite how personal the case was going to become.
Skunk was feeling a whole lot stronger. The world was suddenly a much better place. The heroin was doing its stuff – he felt all kind of warm and fuzzy, everything was good, his body awash with endorphins. This was how life should feel; this was how he wanted to stay feeling forever.
Bethany had turned up, with a chicken and some potato salad and a tub of crème caramel she had taken from her mother’s fridge, and all the shit-heads had left his camper, and he’d boned her from behind, the way she liked it – and the way he liked it too, with her massive ass pushing into his stomach.
And now she was driving him along the seafront in her mother’s little Peugeot, and he lounged in the passenger seat, tilted back, staring out through his purple lenses at his office. Clocking each of the parked cars in turn. Every kind of car you could think of. All dusty and sun-baked. Their owners on the beach. He was looking for one that matched the make and model that were written on the damp, crumpled sheet of lined notepaper on his lap, his shopping list, which he had to keep looking back at because his memory was crap.
‘Have to get home soon. My mum needs the car. She’s going out to bridge tonight,’ Bethany said.
Every fucking make of car in the world was parked along the seafront this evening. Every fucking make except the one he was looking for. A new-shape Audi A4 convertible, automatic, low mileage, metallic blue, silver or black.
‘Head up to Shirley Drive,’ he said.
The clock on the dash read six fifteen p.m.
‘I really have to get home by seven. She needs the car – she’ll kill me if I’m late,’ Bethany replied.
Skunk looked at her for a moment appreciatively. She had short black hair and thick arms. Her breasts bulged out of the top of a baggy T-shirt and her plump brown thighs were scantily covered by a blue denim miniskirt. He kept one hand up under the elastic of her knickers, nestling in her soft, damp pubes, two fingers probing deep inside her.
‘Turn right,’ he instructed.
‘You’re making me horny again!’
He pushed his fingers even further up.
She gasped. ‘Skunk, stop it!’
He was feeling horny again too. She turned right at traffic lights, past a statue of Queen Victoria, then suddenly he shouted out. ‘Stop!’
‘There! There! There!’ He grabbed the wheel, forcing her over to the kerb, ignoring the squeal of brakes and the blast of the horn of the car behind them.
As she pulled the car up, Skunk extracted his fingers, then his hand. ‘Fucking brilliant! See ya!’
He opened the car door, stumbled out and was gone without even a backward glance.
There, halted at the traffic lights on the opposite side of the road was a dark metallic blue Audi A4 convertible. Skunk pulled a biro out of his pocket, wrote down the licence plate on his sheet of paper, then tugged his mobile phone out of his trouser pocket and dialled a number.
‘GU 06 LGJ,’ he read out. ‘Can you have them for me in an hour?’
He was so pleased he didn’t even see the Peugeot driving off, the wave of Bethany’s hand, nor hear her brief toot of the horn.
Brilliant! he thought. Yeah!
Nor did he see the small grey Ford, sitting at the kerb a couple of hundred yards behind him. It was one of a five-car surveillance team that had been tailing him for the past half-hour, since he had left his camper.
Brian Bishop sat on the edge of the large bed, his chin cupped in his hands, staring at the television in his hotel room. A cup of tea on a tray beside him had long gone cold, while the two biscuits in their cellophane wrapper remained untouched. He had turned the air conditioning off because it was too cold and now, still wearing his golfing clothes beneath his jacket, he was dripping with perspiration.
Outside, despite the double-glazing, he could hear the wail of a siren, the faint chunter of a lorry engine, the intermittent parp-parpparp of a car alarm. A world out there that he felt totally disconnected from as he stared at his house – his home – on bloody Sky News. It felt totally surreal. As if he had suddenly become a stranger in his own life. And not just a stranger. A pariah.
He’d felt something like this before, during his separation and then divorce from Zoë when his children, Carly and Max, had taken her side, after she had done a successful job of poisoning them against him, and refused to speak to him for nearly two years.
A mediagenic newscaster with perfect hair and great teeth was standing outside his house, in front of a strip of blue and white Police – Crime Scene – Do Not Cross – tape, brandishing a microphone. ‘A post-mortem was carried out this afternoon. We will be returning to this story in our seven o’clock news. I’m David Wiltshire, Sky News.’
Brian was feeling totally and utterly bewildered.
His mobile phone started ringing. Not recognizing the number, he let it ring on. Almost every call this afternoon had been from the press or media, who had picked up his mobile number off his company’s website, he presumed. Interestingly, other than Sophie, only two friends had phoned him, his mate, Glenn Mishon and Ian Steel, and his business partner, Simon Walton, had also called. Simon had sounded genuinely concerned for him, asked him if there was anything he could do, and told him not to worry about the business, he would take care of everything for as long as Brian needed.
Brian had spoken several times to Katie’s parents, who were in Alicante, in Spain, where Katie’s father was setting up yet another of his – almost certainly doomed – business ventures. They were flying back in the morning.
He wondered whether he should call his lawyer, but why? He didn’t have anything to be guilty about. He just did not know what to do, so he sat there, motionless and mesmerized, staring at the screen, vaguely taking in the cluster of police vehicles jamming his driveway and parked out on the street. A steady stream of cars crawled by, their drivers and passengers rubber-necking, every one of them. He had work to do. Calls to make, emails to answer and send. So damn much, but at this moment he was incapable of functioning.
Restless, he stood up, paced around the room for some moments, then he walked through into the gleaming, clean bathroom, stared at the towels, lifted the lavatory seat, wanting to pee. Nothing happened. He closed the lid. Stared at his face in the mirror above the basin. Then his eye was caught by a row of toiletries. Small, imitation-marble plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion. He moved them until they were evenly spaced out, but then he didn’t like their position on the shelf, and he moved them several inches to the right, carefully ensuring they were evenly spaced.
That made him feel a little better.
At ten o’clock this morning, he’d been feeling good, contented, enjoying this incredible summer weather. Playing one of the best rounds of golf of his life, on one of the most beautiful days of the year. Now, a mere eight and a half hours later, his life was in ruins. Katie was dead.
His darling, darling, darling Katie.
And the police quite clearly believed he was involved.
He’d just spent most of the afternoon with two policewomen who said they were acting as his family liaison officers. Nice ladies, they’d been very supportive, but he was worn out with their questions and needed this break.
And then sweet Sophie – what was all that about? What the hell did she mean that they’d spent the night together? They hadn’t. No way. Absolutely no which way.
Sure, he fancied her. But an affair? No way. His ex-wife, Zoë, had had an affair. He’d discovered that she had been cheating on him for three years, and the pain when he’d found out had been almost unbearable. He could never do that to anyone. And recently he’d felt things were not right between himself and Katie, and he’d been making a big effort with their relationship, or so he felt.
He enjoyed flirting with Sophie. He enjoyed her company. Hell, it was flattering to have a girl in her mid-twenties crazy about you. But that was as far as it went. Although, he realized, maybe he’d encouraged her too far. Quite why he’d ever invited her to lunch, after sitting next to her at the conference on tax relief on film investments he had been invited to, he didn’t know. All the danger flags had been up, but he’d gone right ahead. They’d seen each other again, several times. Exchanged emails sometimes two or three times a day – and hers, recently, had been getting increasingly suggestive. And in truth he had thought about her a couple of times, during the – increasingly rare, these days – act of making love to Katie.
But he’d never slept with her. Damn it, he’d never even kissed her on the lips.
Was he doing things and not remembering them? There were people who did things without realizing it. Stress could cause people mental problems, make the brain function in weird ways, and he’d been under plenty of stress lately, worrying about both his business and Katie.
His company, International Rostering Solutions, which he had founded nine years ago, was doing well – but almost too well. He needed to be in his office increasingly earlier every morning, just to clear all his emails from the previous day – as many as two hundred – but then the new lot would deluge in. And now that they had more offices opening up around the world – most recently in New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Sydney, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur – communications were twenty-four/seven. He had taken on a lot more staff, of course, but he had never been good at delegating. So increasingly he found himself working in the office until well into the evening, and then going home and continuing to work after supper – and, to Katie’s displeasure, over the weekends as well.
In addition, he sensed that all was not right in their marriage. Despite her charity and Rotary interests, Katie was resenting the increasing amount of time she was left alone. He had tried to tell her that he would not be working at this pace forever – within a couple of years they might float the business or sell out, with enough money never to have to work again. Then she reminded him he had said that two years ago. And a further two years before then.
She had told him very recently, and quite angrily, that he would always be a workaholic, because he didn’t really have any interests outside his business. Lamely, he had argued back that his baby, the 1962 Jaguar he had lovingly restored, was an interest. Until she had responded, scathingly, that she couldn’t recall the last time he had taken it out of the garage. And, he was forced to admit to himself, nor could he.
He remembered, during the break up of his marriage to Zoë, when he had found himself barely able to cope, his doctor had suggested he check into a psychiatric clinic for a couple of weeks. He’d rejected that, and somehow got through everything. But he had that same low and sometimes muddled feeling now that he’d had then. And he was picking up from Katie some of those same kinds of vibes he’d experienced with Zoë, before he’d discovered she was having an affair. Maybe it was just in his mind.
Maybe his mind just wasn’t working that well right now.
The camera panned slowly, and a little jerkily, around the Bishops’ bedroom at 97 Dyke Road Avenue. It stopped for some moments on the naked body of Katie Bishop, lying spread-eagled, her wrists tied to the rather fancy wooden bedposts, ligature mark on her neck, gas mask lying beside her.
‘The gas mask was on her face when she was found,’ Roy Grace said to his team, which had now increased to twenty, assembled in the conference room of the Major Incident Suite and watching the SOCO video of the crime scene.
The room could hold, at a pinch, twenty-five people seated on the hard, red chairs around the rectangular table, and another thirty, if necessary, standing. One of its uses was for major crime briefings for press conferences, and it was for this reason that there stood, at the far end opposite the video screen, a curved, two-tone blue board, six feet high and ten feet wide, boldly carrying the Sussex Police website address, plus the Crimestoppers legend and phone number. All press and media statements were given by officers against this backdrop.
‘Who removed it, Roy?’ Detective Inspector Kim Murphy asked, in an amiable but very direct voice.
Grace had worked with Kim before, on bringing a Brighton landlord to trial for conspiracy to murder, with a recently successful conclusion, and it had been a good experience. He had requested her for this inquiry as his deputy SIO. She was a sparky, ferociously intelligent DI in her mid-thirties and he liked her a lot. She was also very attractive, with neat, shoulder-length fair hair streaked with highlights, a wide, open face and an almost constant, beguiling smile, which masked, very effectively – to many a villain’s surprise and regret – a surprisingly tough, don’t-mess-with-me, streetwise character. Despite her senior rank, there was something of a tomboy about her. It was accentuated this evening by the sporty, quite butch beige linen jacket with epaulettes that she wore over a white T-shirt and trousers. Most days she turned up to work on a Harley-Davidson, which she maintained herself.
‘The cleaning lady,’ he said. ‘And God only knows what other evidence she trampled over.’
He was struggling this evening. Really struggling. He was supposed to be the Senior Investigating Officer on a murder inquiry, with all the responsibilities that entailed. But however much he tried to concentrate, part of him was in another place, another city, another investigation altogether. Sandy. And, he just realized, he’d completely forgotten to call Cleo, to tell her what time he thought he might be through tonight. He would try to sneak a text to her during this briefing.
He was feeling confused about his relationship with Cleo suddenly. What if Sandy really was in Munich? What would happen if he met her?
There were just too many imponderables. Here at this moment, seated at the workstation in the real world of MIR One, expectant faces were staring at him. Was it his imagination or were they looking at him strangely?
Pull yourself together!
‘The time is six thirty, Friday 4 August,’ he read out from his briefing notes. He had removed his suit jacket, pulled his tie to half-mast and popped open his top two shirt buttons against the sweltering heat.
‘This is our first briefing of Operation Chameleon,’ he went on. ‘The investigation into the murder of a thirty-five-year-old female person identified as Mrs Katherine Margaret Bishop – known as Katie – of 97 Dyke Road Avenue, Hove, East Sussex, conducted on day one following the discovery of her body at eight thirty this morning. I will now summarize the incident.’
For some minutes, Grace reviewed the events leading up to the discovery of Katie’s body. When he got to the gas mask, true to form, Norman Potting interrupted him.
‘Maybe he had chronic wind, Roy. Gave her the gas mask out of kindness.’ Potting looked around with a grin. But no one smiled.
Inwardly, Grace groaned. ‘Thank you, Norman,’ he said. ‘We’ve got a lot to get through. We can do without the humour.’
Potting continued to look around, grinning irrepressibly at his audience, unfazed by their blank faces.
‘We can also do without the gas mask being leaked anywhere,’ Grace added. ‘I want absolute silence on that. Understood, everyone?’
It was common practice to withhold key pieces of information discovered at a crime scene from the public. This way, if anyone rang in and mentioned a gas mask, the investigating team would know immediately that the caller was almost certainly for real.
Grace began reviewing the tasks for each person. Katie Bishop’s family tree needed to be established, the names of all the people she associated with, plus backgrounds on them. This was being worked on by the FLOs, and he had assigned supervision of the task to Bella Moy earlier in the day.
Bella read from a printout of notes in front of her. ‘I don’t have much so far,’ she said. ‘Katie Bishop was born Katherine Margaret Denton, the only child of parents living in Brighton. She married Brian Bishop five years ago – her third marriage, his second. No children.’
‘Any idea why not?’ Grace asked.
‘No.’ Bella seemed a little surprised by the question. ‘Bishop has two by his first marriage.’
Grace made a note on his pad. ‘OK.’
‘She spends her weeks mostly in Brighton – usually goes up to London for one night. Brian Bishop has a flat in London, where he stays Monday to Fridays.’
‘His knocking shop?’ ventured Norman Potting.
Grace didn’t respond. But Potting had a point. No children after five years of marriage, and substantially separate lives, did not indicate a particularly close relationship. Although he and Sandy had been married nine years, and they hadn’t had children – but there were reasons for that. Medical ones. He made another note.
Alfonso Zafferone, chewing gum, with his usual insolent expression, had been detailed to work with the HOLMES analyst to plot the sequence of events, list the suspects – in this case, one so far, her husband. A full time-line needed to be run on Brian Bishop to establish if he could have been present within the period that Katie was murdered. Were there any similar murders in this county, or in others, recently? Anything involving a gas mask? Zafferone leaned back in his chair; he had shoulders so massive he must have worked on them, Grace thought. And like all the men in the room, he had removed his jacket. Flashy rhinestone cufflinks and gold armbands glinted on the sleeves of his sharp, black shirt.
Another action Grace had assigned to Norman Potting was to obtain plans of the Bishops’ house, an aerial photograph of the property and surrounding area, and to ensure all routes by which someone could have got to the house were carefully searched. He also wanted from Potting, and then separately from the forensic scene manager, a detailed assessment of the crime scene, including reports from the house-to-house search of the neighbourhood, which had been started early that afternoon.
Potting reported that two computers in the house had already been taken to the High Tech Crime Unit for analysis; the house landline records for the past twelve months had been requisitioned from British Telecom, as had the mobile phone records for both the Bishops.
‘I had the mobile phone that was found in her car checked by the Telecoms Unit, Roy,’ Potting said. There was one message timed at eleven ten yesterday morning, a male voice.’ Potting looked down at his notepad. ‘It said, See you later.’
‘That was all?’ Grace asked.
‘They tried a call-back but the number was withheld.’
‘We need to find out who that was.’
‘I’ve been on to the phone company,’ Potting replied. ‘But I’m not going to be able to get the records until after the start of office hours on Monday.’
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays were the worst days for starting a murder inquiry, Grace thought. Labs were shut and so were admin offices. Just at the very moment you needed information quickly, you could lose two or three vital days, waiting. ‘Get me a tape of it. We’ll ask Brian Bishop if he recognizes the voice. It might be his.’
‘No, I checked that already,’ Potting said. ‘The gardener turned up, so I played it to him.’
‘He on your suspect list?’
‘He’s about eighty and a bit frail. I’d put him a long way down it.’
That did elicit a smile from everyone.
‘By my calculations,’ Grace said, ‘that places him at the bottom of a list of two.’
He paused to drink some coffee, then some water. ‘Right, resourcing. At the moment all divisions are relatively quiet. I want you each to work out what assistance you need drafted in to supplement our own people. In the absence of many other major news stories, we’re likely to have the pleasure of the full attention of the press, so I want us to look good and get a fast result. We want a full dog-and-pony show.’ And it wasn’t just about pleasing the public, Grace knew but did not say. It was about, again, demonstrating his credibility to his acerbic boss, the Assistant Chief Constable Alison Vosper, who was longing for him to make another slip-up.
Any day soon, the man she had drafted in from the Met, and had promoted to the same rank as himself, the slimeball Detective Superintendent Cassian Pewe – her new golden boy – would finish his period of convalescence after a car accident and be taking up office here at Sussex House. With the unspoken goal of eating Roy Grace’s lunch and having him transferred sideways to the back of beyond.
It was when he turned to forensics that he could sense everyone concentrate just a little bit harder. Ignoring Nadiuska De Sancha’s pages of elaborate, technical details, he cut to the chase. ‘Katie Bishop died from strangulation from a ligature around her neck, either thin cord or wire. Tissue from her neck has been sent to the laboratory for further analysis, which may reveal the murder weapon,’ he announced. He took another mouthful of coffee. ‘A significant quantity of semen was found in her vagina, indicating sexual intercourse had taken place at some point close to death.’
‘She was a dead good shag,’ Norman Potting muttered.
Bella Moy turned to face Potting. ‘You are so gross!’
Bristling with anger, Grace said, ‘Norman, that’s enough from you. I want a word after this meeting. None of us are in any mood for your bad-taste jokes. Understand?’
Potting dropped his eyes like a chided schoolboy. ‘No offence meant, Roy.’
Shooting him daggers, Grace continued, ‘The semen has been sent to the laboratory for fast-track analysis.’
‘When do you expect to have the results back?’ Nick Nicholl asked.
‘Monday by the very earliest.’
‘We’ll need a swab from Brian Bishop,’ Zafferone said.
‘We got that this afternoon,’ Grace said, smug at being ahead of the DC on this.
He looked down at Glenn Branson for confirmation. The DS gave him a gloomy nod and Grace felt a sudden tug in his heart. Poor Glenn seemed close to tears. Maybe it had been a mistake pulling him back to work early. To be going through the trauma of a marriage bust-up, on top of not feeling physically at his best, and with a hangover that still had not gone away to boot, was not a great place to be. But too late for that now.
Potting raised a hand. ‘Er, Roy – the presence of semen – can we assume there is a sexual element to the victim’s death – that she’d been raped?’
‘Norman,’ he said sharply, ‘assumptions are the mother and father of all fuck-ups. OK?’ Grace drank some water, then went on. ‘Two family liaison officers have been appointed,’ he said. ‘WPC Linda Buckley and WPC Maggie Campbell—’
He was interrupted by the loud ring-tone of Nick Nicholl’s mobile phone. Giving Roy Grace an apologetic look, the young DC stood up, bent almost double, as if somehow reducing his height would reduce the volume of his phone, and stepped a few paces away from his workstation.
‘DC Nicholl,’ he said.
Taking advantage of the interruption, Zafferone peered at Potting’s face. ‘Been away, Norman, have you?’
‘Thailand,’ Potting answered. He smiled at the ladies, as if imagining they would be impressed by such an exotic traveller.
‘Brought yourself back a nice suntan, didn’t yer?’
‘Brought myself back more than that,’ Potting said, beaming now. He held up his hand, then raised his third finger, which sported a plain gold wedding band.
‘Bloody hell,’ Zafferone said. ‘A wife?’
Bella popped a half-melted Malteser into her mouth. She spoke with a voice that Grace liked a lot. It was soft but always very direct. Despite looking, beneath her tangle of hair, like she was sometimes in another world, Bella was very sharp indeed. She never missed anything. ‘So that’s your fourth wife now, isn’t it?’
‘That’s right,’ he said, still beaming, as if it were an achievement to be proud of.
‘Thought you weren’t going to get married again, Norman,’ Grace said.
‘Well, you know what they say, Roy. It’s a woman’s prerogative to change a man’s mind.’
Bella smiled at him with more compassion than humour, as if he were some curious but slightly grotesque exhibit in a zoo.
‘So where did you meet her?’ Zafferone asked. ‘In a bar? A club? A massage parlour?’
Looking coy suddenly, Potting replied, ‘Actually, through an agency.’
And for a moment, Grace saw a rare flash of humility in the man’s face. A shadow of sadness. Of loneliness.
‘OK,’ Nick Nicholl said, sitting back down at the workstation and putting his phone back in his pocket. ‘We have something of interest.’ He put his notepad on the surface in front of him.
Everyone looked at him with intensity.
‘Gatwick airport’s on security alert. ANPR cameras have been installed on the approach bridges either side of the M23. A Bentley Continental car, registered to Brian Bishop, was picked up by one at eleven forty-seven last night. He was on the south-bound carriageway, heading towards Brighton. There was a technical problem with the north-bound camera, so there is no record of him returning to London – if he did.’
ANPR was the automatic number plate recognition system increasingly used by the police and security services to scan vehicles entering a particular area.
Glenn Branson looked at Grace. ‘Seems like he failed your blink test, Roy. He told us a porky. He said he was tucked up in bed in London at that time.’
But Grace wasn’t upset about this. Suddenly his spirits lifted. If they could force a confession out of Brian Bishop, tonight perhaps, then with luck the investigation would be over almost before it had begun. And he could go straight to Munich – perhaps as early as tomorrow. Another option would be to leave Kim Murphy running the inquiry, but that wasn’t the way he operated. He liked to be fully hands on, in charge of everything, overseeing every detail. It was when you had someone working with you, at almost your level, that mistakes happened. Important things could easily fall between the cracks.
‘Let’s go and have a word with the FLOs,’ he said. ‘See if we can find out more about his car. See if we can jog Bishop’s memory for him.’
At a quarter past seven, the sun was finally starting to quit the Sussex coast. The Time Billionaire sat at a table at a crowded outdoor café, sipping his third Coke Zero and occasionally scraping out more remains of pecan ice cream from the glass in front of him, to help pass the time. Spending some of his time dollars, his time pounds, his time euros. Might as well spend it, you couldn’t take it with you.
He brought his right hand up to his mouth and sucked for some moments. That stinging pain was still there and, he wasn’t sure if it was his imagination, the row of tiny red marks, surrounded by faint bruising the colour of a nicotine stain, seemed to be looking steadily more livid.
A steel band was playing a short distance away. ‘Island in the Sun’.
He’d been going to go to an island in the sun once. Everything had been all set and then the thing had happened. Life had pissed on him from a great height. Well, not life exactly, no, no, no.
Just one of its inhabitants.
The air tasted salty. It smelled of rope, rust, boat varnish and, every few minutes, a sudden faint but distinct reek of urine. Some time after the sun had gone, the moon would rise tonight. Men had pissed on that too.
The receipt for his bill, already paid, lay pinned under the ashtray, flapping like a dying butterfly in the light sea breeze. He was always prepared, always ready for his next move. Could never predict what that would be. Unlike the sun.
He wondered where that ochre disc of dumb, broiling gases was heading next and tried to calculate some of the world time zones in his head. Right now, thirteen and a half thousand miles away, it would be a crimson ball, slowly creeping up towards the horizon in Sydney. It would still be blisteringly bright, high in the afternoon sky in Rio de Janeiro. No matter where it was, it never had any sense of its power. Of the power it gave to people. Not like the way he could feel the power in himself.
The power of life and death.
Perspective. Everything was about perspective. One man’s darkness was another man’s daylight. How come so many people did not realize that?
Did that dumb girl, sitting on the beach just yards in front of him, staring across the bodies laid out on the beach, at the flat, shifting mass of ocean? Staring at the slack sails of dinghies and windsurfers? At the distant grey smudge of tankers and container ships sitting, motionless, high up on the horizon, like toys on a shelf? At late, stupid bathers splashing about in the filthy lavatory they imagined to be pure, clean seawater?
Did Sophie Harrington know it was the last time she would see any of this?
The last time she would smell tarred rope, boat paint or the urine of strangers?
The whole damn beach was a sewer of bare flesh. Bodies in skimpy clothing. White, red, brown, black. Flaunting themselves. Some of the women topless, bitch whores. He watched one waddling around, straggly ginger hair down to her shoulders, tits down to her stomach, stomach down to her pelvis, swigging a bottle of beer or lager – too far away to tell which – fat arse sticking out of a skein of electric blue nylon, thighs dimpled with cellulite. Wondered what she’d look like in his gas mask with her straggly ginger pubes jammed against his face. Wondered what it would smell like down there. Oysters?
Then he switched his attention back to the stupid girl who’d been sitting on the beach for the past two hours. She was standing up now, stepping over the pebbles, holding her shoes in her hands, wincing with every step she took. Why, he wondered, didn’t she just put her shoes on? Was she really that dim-witted?
He would ask her that question later, when he was alone in her bedroom with her, and she had the gas mask on her face, and her voice would come at him all mumbled and indistinct.
Not that he cared about the answer.
All he cared about was what he had written in the blank section for notes at the back of his blue Letts schoolboy’s diary, when he was twelve years old. That diary was one of the few possessions he still had from his childhood. It was in a small metal box where he kept the things that were of sentimental value to him. The box was in a lock-up garage, quite near here, which he rented by the month. He had learned as a small child the importance of finding a space in this world, however small, that is your own. Where you can keep your things. Sit and have your thoughts.
It was in a private space he had found, when he was twelve years old, that the words he wrote in his diary first came to him.
If you want to really hurt someone, don’t kill them, that only hurts for a short time. It’s much better to kill the thing they love. Because that will hurt them forever.
He repeated those words over and over like a mantra, as he followed Sophie Harrington, as ever keeping a safe distance. She stopped and put her shoes on, then made her way along the seafront promenade, past the shops in the red-brick-faced Arches on Brighton seafront, one a gallery of local artists, past a seafood restaurant, the steel band, an old Second World War mine that had been washed up and was now mounted on a plinth, and a shop that sold beach hats, buckets and spades and rotating windmills on sticks.
He followed her through the carefree, sunburnt masses, up the ramp towards busy Kings Road, where she turned left, heading west, past the Royal Albion hotel, the Old Ship, the Odeon Kingswest, the Thistle Hotel, the Grand, the Metropole.
He was getting more aroused by the minute.
The breeze tugged at the sides of his hood and for one anxious moment it nearly blew back. He snatched it down hard over his forehead, then tugged his mobile phone from his pocket. He had an important business call to make.
He waited for a police car, siren wailing, to go past before dialling, continuing to stride along, fifty yards behind her. He wondered whether she would walk the whole way to her flat, or take a bus, or a taxi. He really did not mind. He knew where she lived. He had his own key.
And he had all the time in the world.
Then, with a sudden stab of panic, he realized he had left the plastic carrier bag containing the gas mask back in the café.
Linda Buckley had positioned herself intelligently in a leather armchair in the large, smart and comfortable foyer of the Hotel du Vin, Grace thought, as he entered the building with Glenn Branson. She was close enough to hear anyone asking for Brian Bishop at the reception desk and had a good view of people entering and leaving the hotel.
The family liaison officer reluctantly put down the book she was reading, The Plimsoll Sensation, a history of the Plimsoll Line by Nicolette Jones, which she had heard serialized on the radio, and stood up.
‘Hi, Linda,’ Grace said. ‘Good book?’
‘Fascinating!’ she replied. ‘Stephen, my husband, was in the Merchant Navy, so I know a bit about ships.’
‘Is our guest in his room?’
‘Yes. I spoke to him about half an hour ago, to see how he was doing. Maggie’s gone off to make some phone calls. We’re giving him a break – it’s been fairly intensive this afternoon, particularly up at the mortuary, when he identified his wife.’
Grace looked around the busy area. All the stools at the stainless steel bar, on the far side of the room, were taken, as were all the sofas and chairs. A group of men in dinner jackets and women in evening dresses were clustered together, as if about to head off to a ball. He didn’t spot any journalists.
‘No press yet?’
‘So far, so good,’ she said. ‘I checked him in under a false name – Mr Steven Brown.’
Grace smiled. ‘Good girl!’
‘It might buy us a day,’ she said. ‘But they’ll be here soon.’
And with luck, Brian Bishop will be in a custody cell by then, he thought to himself.
Grace headed towards the stairs, then stopped. Branson was staring dreamily at four very attractive girls in their late teens, who were drinking cocktails on a huge leather sofa. He waved a hand to distract his colleague. Glenn walked over to him pensively.
‘I was just thinking . . .’ the Detective Sergeant said.
‘About long legs?’
From his baffled look, Roy realized his friend hadn’t been looking at the girls at all; he hadn’t even clocked them. He had just been staring into space. He put an avuncular arm around Branson’s waist. Lean, and rock hard from weight training, it felt like a sturdy young tree inside his jacket, not a human midriff. ‘You’re going to be OK, mate,’ he said.
‘I feel like I’m in someone else’s life – know what I mean, man?’ Branson said, as they climbed the first flight of stairs. ‘Like I’ve stepped out of my life and into someone else’s by mistake.’
Bishop’s room was on the second floor. Grace rapped on the door. There was no answer. He rapped again, louder. Then, leaving Branson waiting in the corridor, he went downstairs and came up with the duty manager, a smartly suited man in his early thirties, who opened the room with a pass key.
It was empty. Stifling hot and empty. Closely followed by Branson, Grace strode across and opened the bathroom door. It looked pristine, untouched, apart from the fact that the lavatory seat had been raised.
‘This is the right room?’ Grace asked.
‘Mr Steven Brown’s room, absolutely, sir,’ the duty manager said.
The only clues that anyone had been in here during the past few hours were a deep indent in the purple bedcover, close to the foot of the bed, and a silver tray containing a stone-cold cup of tea, a teapot, a jug of milk and two biscuits in an unopened pack, in the centre of the bed.
As she walked along the teeming, wide, promenade pavement of Kings Road, Sophie was trying to remember what she had in the fridge or the freezer to make some supper. Or what tins were in her store-cupboard. Not that she had much appetite, but she knew she must eat something. A cyclist pedalled past on the track in his crash helmet and Lycra. Two youths clattered by on skateboards.
In a novel some while ago she had read a phrase that had stuck in her mind: Bad things happen on beautiful days.
9/11 had happened on a beautiful day. It was one of the things that had most struck her about all the images, that the impact of those planes striking the towers might not have had quite the strength of emotional resonance if the sky had been grey and drizzly. You kind of expected shit to happen on grey days.
Today had been a double-shit or maybe even a triple-shit day. First the news of Brian’s wife’s death, then his coldness to her when she had phoned to try to comfort him. And now the realization that all her weekend plans were down the khazi.
She stopped, walked through a gap in the row of deckchairs and rested her elbows on the turquoise metal railings overlooking the beach. Directly below her, several children were lobbing brightly coloured balls in a gravel play area that had once been a boating pond. Parents chatted a few yards away, keeping a watchful eye. She wanted to be a parent too, wanted to see her own children playing with their friends. She had always reckoned she would be a good mother. Her own parents had been good to her.
They were nice, decent people, still in love with each other after thirty years of marriage; they still held hands whenever they walked together. They had a small business, importing handmade lace doilies, napkins and tablecloths from France and from China, and selling them at craft fairs. They ran the business from their little cottage on their smallholding near Orford in Suffolk, using a barn as a warehouse. She could take the train up to see them tomorrow. They were always happy for her to come home for a weekend, but she wasn’t sure she wanted that kind of weekend.
She wasn’t sure at all what she wanted at this moment. Surprisingly, she just knew, for the first time since she had met him, that it wasn’t Brian. He was right not to see her today. And there was no way she could sit in the wings like a vulture, waiting for the funeral and a decent period of mourning. Yes, she liked him. Really liked him, actually. In fact, adored him. He excited her – in part, OK, it was the flattery of having this older, immensely attractive and successful man doting on her – but he was also an incredible lover, if a little bit kinky. Absolutely the best ever in her, admittedly limited, experience.
One thing she could just not get her head around was his denial that they had slept together last night. Was he worried that his phone was bugged? Was he in denial because of his grief? She guessed she was learning, as she grew older, that men were very strange creatures sometimes. Maybe always.
Sophie looked up, beyond the play area at the beach. It seemed filled with couples. Lovers kissing, nuzzling, walking arm in arm, hand in hand, laughing, relaxing, looking forward to the weekend. There were still plenty of boats out. Twenty past seven; it would be light for a while yet. Light evenings for a few more weeks, before the steady drawing in of the winter darkness.
Suddenly, for no reason, she shivered.
She walked on, past the remains of the West Pier. For so long she had thought it a hideous eyesore, but now she was starting to quite like it. It no longer looked like a building that had collapsed. Instead, to her the fire-blackened skeleton resembled the ribcage of a monster that had risen from the deep. One day people would gasp in shock as the whole of the sea in front of Brighton filled with these creatures, she thought for a moment.
Weird, the notions that sometimes came into her head. Maybe it was from reading too many horror scripts. Maybe it was her conscience punishing her for the bad thing she was doing. Sleeping with a married man. Yes, absolutely, totally and utterly, it was wrong.
When she’d confided to her best friend, Holly’s first reaction had been one of excitement. Conspiratorial glee. The best secret in the world. But then, as always happened with Holly – a practical person who liked to think things through – all the negatives came out.
Somewhere, in between buying a ripe avocado, some organic tomatoes and a tub of ready-made Atlantic prawn cocktail, and reaching her front door, she had made her mind up, very definitely, that she would end her relationship with Brian Bishop.
She would just have to wait for a more tactful time. Meanwhile, she remembered the text she’d had this morning from Holly, telling her about a party tomorrow night. That would be the sensible thing. Go to the party and hang out with some people her own age.
Her flat was on the third floor of a rather tired Victorian terrace, just north of the busy shopping street of Church Road. The lock on the front door had worked so loose in its rotting surround that anyone could have opened it with just a sharp push to shear the screws out of the wood. Her landlord, a friendly, diminutive Iranian, was forever promising to get it fixed, the same way he kept promising to have the drip in the loo cistern fixed, and never did.
She opened the door and was greeted by the smell of damp carpets, a faint aroma of Chinese takeaway and a strong whiff of dope. From the other side of the door leading into the ground-floor flat came a frenetic pounding, rhythmic, bass beat. The post lay spread out on the threadbare hall carpet, untouched from where it had fallen this morning. She knelt and checked it. The usual decimated rainforest-worth of pizza menus, summer sale offers, fliers for concerts, home insurance and a whole ton of other junk, with a few personal letters and bills interspersed.
Naturally tidy, Sophie scooped it up into two piles, one comprising rubbish mail, one the proper post, and put them both on the shelf. Then she eased herself past two bicycles, which were blocking most of the passageway, and up the balding treads of the staircases. On the first-floor landing, she heard the sound of Mrs Harsent’s television. Raucous studio laughter. Mrs Harsent was a sweet old lady of eighty-five who, fortunately for her, with the noisy students she had underneath, was deaf as a post.
Sophie loved her top-floor flat, which although small was light and airy, and had been nicely modernized by the landlord with beige fitted carpets, creamy white walls and smart cream linen curtains and blinds. She had decorated it with framed posters of some of the films from Blinding Light Productions and with large, moody black and white sketches of the faces of some of her favourite stars. There was one of Johnny Depp, one of George Clooney, one of Brad Pitt, and her favourite, Heath Ledger, which had pride of place on the wall facing her bed.
She switched on her television, channel-hopped, and found American Idol, a show she really liked. With the volume up loud, partly to drown out the sound of Mrs Harsent’s television and partly so she could hear it in her kitchenette, she took a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon from her fridge, opened it and poured herself a glass. Then she cut open the avocado, removed the stone and dropped it in her waste bin, before squeezing some lemon over the avocado.
Half an hour later, having had a refreshing bath, she sat propped on her bed, wearing just a baggy white T-shirt, with her avocado and prawn salad, and her third glass of wine on the tray on her lap, watching a geeky-looking man in huge glasses reach sixty-four thousand pounds on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, which she had recorded earlier in the week. And finally, with the sky gradually darkening outside her window, her day was starting to improve.
She did not hear the key turning in the lock of her front door.
Roy Grace stood in the empty hotel room and dialled Brian Bishop’s mobile phone number. It went straight to voicemail. ‘Mr Bishop,’ he said. ‘This is Detective Superintendent Grace. Please call as soon as you get this message.’ He left his number. Then he rang Linda Buckley down in the lobby. ‘Did our friend have any luggage?’
‘Yes, Roy. An overnight bag and a briefcase – a laptop bag.’
Grace and Branson checked all the drawers and cupboards. There was nothing. Whatever he had brought here, Bishop had taken away with him. Grace turned to the duty manager. ‘Where’s the nearest fire escape?’
The man, who wore a name tag which said Roland Wright – Duty Manager, led them along a corridor to the fire escape door. Grace opened it and stared down the metal steps into a courtyard filled mostly with wheelie bins. A strong aroma of cooking rose up. He closed the door, thinking hard. Why the hell had Bishop left again? And where had he gone to?
‘Mr Wright,’ he said, ‘I need to check if our guest, Steven Brown, made or received any phone calls while he was here.’
‘No problem – we can go down to my office.’
Ten minutes later, Grace and Branson sat down in the lobby of the hotel with Linda Buckley. ‘OK,’ Grace said. ‘Brian Bishop received a phone call at five twenty.’ He checked his own watch. ‘Approximately two and a half hours ago. But we have no information who it was from. He made no outgoing calls from the hotel phone. Maybe he used his mobile – but we won’t know that until we get his records – which will be Monday at the earliest, from past experience with the phone companies. He’s slunk out, with his luggage, probably down the fire escape, deliberately avoiding you. Why?’
‘Not exactly the actions of an innocent man,’ Glenn Branson said.
Grace, deep in thought, acknowledged the somewhat obvious comment with a faint nod. ‘He has two bags with him. So did he walk somewhere or take a taxi?’
‘Depends where he was going,’ Branson said.
Grace stared at his colleague with the kind of look he normally reserved for imbeciles. ‘So where was he going, Glenn?’
‘Home?’ Linda Buckley said, trying to be helpful.
‘Linda, I want you to get on to the local taxi companies. Call all of them. See if anyone picked up a man matching Bishop’s description in the vicinity of this hotel some time around five twenty, five thirty this afternoon. See if anyone called a cab to come here. Glenn, check the staff. Ask if anyone saw Bishop get into a taxi.’
Then he dialled Nick Nicholl. ‘What are you doing?’
The young DC sounded in something of a state. ‘I’m – er – changing my son’s nappy.’
How fucking great is that? Grace thought but restrained himself from saying. ‘I hate to drag you from your domestic bliss,’ he said.
‘It would be a relief, Roy, believe me.’
‘Let’s not run it by your wife,’ Grace said. ‘I need you to get down to Brighton station. Brian Bishop’s done another disappearing act on us. I want you to check the CCTVs there – see if he turns up on the concourse or any platforms.’
‘Right away!’ Nick Nicholl could not have sounded more cheerful if he had just won the Lottery.
Ten minutes later, terrified out of his wits, Roy Grace sat belted into the passenger seat of the unmarked police Ford Mondeo.
Having recently failed his Advanced Police Driving course – which would have enabled him to take part in high-speed chases – Glenn was now preparing to take it again. And although his head was full of the words of wisdom his driving instructor had imparted, Grace did not think that they had permeated his brain. As the speedometer needle reached the 100-mph mark on the approach to a gentle left-hander, on the road out of Brighton towards the North Brighton Golf Club, Grace was thinking ruefully, What am I doing, letting this maniac drive me again? This tired, hung-over, deeply depressed maniac who has no life and is suicidal?
Flies spattered on the windscreen, like red-blooded snowdrops. Oncoming cars, each of which he was convinced would wipe them out in an explosion of metal and pulped human flesh, somehow flashed past. Hedgerows unspooled on each side at the speed of light. Vaguely, out of the furthest reach of his retina, he discerned people brandishing golf clubs.
And finally, in defiance of all the laws of physics that Grace knew and understood, they somehow arrived in the car park of the North Brighton, intact.
And among the cars still sitting there was Brian Bishop’s dark red Bentley.
Grace climbed out of the Mondeo, which reeked of burning oil and was pinging like a badly tuned piano, and called the mobile of Detective Inspector William Warner at Gatwick airport.
Bill Warner answered on the second ring. He had gone home for the night, but assured Grace he would put an alert out for sightings of Brian Bishop at the airport immediately.
Next Grace rang the police station at Eastbourne, as it was responsible for patrolling Beachy Head, and Brian Bishop could now be considered a possible suicide risk. Then he called Cleo Morey, to apologize for having to blow out their date tonight, which he had been looking forward to all week. She understood, and asked him over for a late drink when he was finished instead, if he wasn’t exhausted.
Finally he got one of the assistants in the office to ring each of his team, in turn, telling them that because of Brian Bishop’s disappearance, he needed them all back at the conference room at eleven p.m. Following that, he rang CG99, the call sign for the duty inspector in charge of the division, in order to update him and get extra resources. He advised that the scene guard at the Bishops’ home in Dyke Road Avenue should be vigilant, in case Bishop attempted to break in.
As he returned to the Mondeo, he figured his next plan of action was to call the list of friends that Brian Bishop had been playing golf with that morning, to see if any had been contacted by him. But just as he was thinking about that, his phone rang.
It was the controller from one of the local taxi companies. She told him a driver of theirs had picked up Brian Bishop from a street close to the Hotel du Vin an hour and a half ago.
Chris Tarrant cradled his chin in his hand. The audience fell silent. Harsh television studio lights flared off the unfashionably large glasses of the studious, geeky-looking man in the chair. The stakes had risen rapidly. The man was going to spend the money he won – if he won – on a bungalow for his disabled wife, and was popping beads of sweat on his high forehead.
Chris Tarrant repeated the question. ‘John, you have sixty-four thousand pounds.’ He paused and held the cheque in the air for all to see. Then he put it down again. ‘For one hundred and twenty-five thousand pounds, where is the resort of Monastir? Is it a) Tunisia, b) Kenya, c) Egypt or d) Morocco?’
The camera cut to the contestant’s wife, sitting in her wheelchair among the studio audience, looking as if someone was about to hit her with a cricket bat.
‘Well,’ the man said. ‘I don’t think it’s Kenya.’
On her bed watching the television, Sophie took a sip of her Sauvignon. ‘It’s not Morocco,’ she said out aloud. Her knowledge of geography wasn’t that great, but she had been on holiday to Marrakech once, for a week, and had learned a fair amount about the country before going. Monastir rang no bells there.
Her window was wide open. The evening air was still warm and sticky, but at least there was a steady breeze. She’d left the bedroom door and the windows in the sitting room and kitchen open to create a through-draught. A faint, irritating boom-boom-boom-boom of dance music shook the quiet of the night out in the street. Maybe her neighbours below, maybe somewhere else.
‘You still have two lifelines,’ Chris Tarrant said.
‘I think I’m going to phone a friend.’
Was it her imagination, or did she just see a shadow move past the bedroom door? She waited for a moment, only one ear on the television now, watching the doorway, a faint prickle of anxiety crawling up her back. The man had decided to phone a friend called Ron. She heard the ring tone.
Nothing there. Just her imagination. She put her glass down, picked up her fork, skewered a prawn and a chunk of avocado and put them in her mouth.
‘Hi, Ron! It’s Chris Tarrant here!’
‘Hi, Chris. How you doing?’
Just as she swallowed, she saw the shadow again. Definitely not her imagination this time. A figure was moving towards the door. She heard a rustle of clothes or plastic. Outside a motorcycle blattered down the street.
‘Who’s there?’ she called out, her voice a tight, anxious squeak.
‘Ron, I’ve got your mate John here. He’s just won sixty-four thousand pounds and he’s now going for one hundred and twenty-five thousand. How’s your geography?’
‘Yeah, well, all right.’
‘OK, Ron, you have thirty seconds, starting from now. For one hundred and twenty-five thousand pounds, where is the resort of Monastir? Is it—’
Sophie’s gullet tightened. She grabbed the remote and muted the show. Her eyes sprang to the doorway again, then to her handbag containing her mobile phone, well out of reach on her dressing table.
The shadow was moving. Jigging. Someone out there, motionless, but not able to stand without swaying a fraction.
She gripped her tray for an instant. It was the only weapon she had, apart from her small fork. ‘Who’s there?’ she said. ‘Who is that?’
Then he came into the room and all her fear evaporated.
‘It’s you!’ she said. ‘Jesus Christ, you gave me a fright!’
‘I wasn’t sure whether you’d be pleased to see me.’
‘Of course I am. I – I’m really pleased,’ she said. ‘I so wanted to talk to you, to see you. How are you? I – I didn’t think—’
‘I’ve brought you a present.’
When he was a child growing up here, Brighton and Hove had been two separate towns, each of them shabby in their own very different way. They were joined at the hip by a virtual border so erratic and illogical it might have been created by a drunken goat. Or more likely, in Grace’s view, by a committee of sober town planners, which would have contained, collectively, less wisdom than the goat.
Now the two towns were enshrined together, forever, as the City of Brighton and Hove. Having spent most of the last half-century screwing up Brighton’s traffic system and ruining the fabled Regency elegance of its seafront, the moronic planners were now turning their ineptness on Hove. Every time he drove along the seafront, and passed the hideous edifices of the Thistle Hotel, the Kingswest, with its ghastly gold-foil roof, and the Brighton Centre, which had all the architectural grace of a maximum-security prison, he had to resist a desire to drive to the Town Hall, seize a couple of planning officers and shake their fillings out.
Not that Roy Grace was against modern architecture – far from it. There were many modern buildings that he admired, the most recent one being the so-called Gherkin, in London. What he hated was seeing his home city, which he so loved, being permanently blighted by whatever mediocrity went on behind the walls of that planning department.
To the casual visitor, Brighton became Hove at the only part of the border that was actually marked, by a rather fine statue on the promenade of a winged angel holding an orb in one hand and an olive branch in the other: the Peace Statue. Grace, in the passenger seat of the Ford Mondeo, stared at it over to his left, out of the window, silhouetted against the steadily darkening sky.
On the opposite side of the road, two lines of traffic streamed into Brighton. With the windows down, he could hear every car. The blam-blam of show-off exhausts, the boom-boom-boom of in-car woofers, the stuttering rasp of tuc-tuc tricycle taxis. Hell was Friday night in central Brighton. Over the coming hours, the city would explode into life, and the police would be out in force, mostly down West Street – Brighton’s answer to the Las Vegas strip – doing their best, as they did every Friday night, to stop the place turning into a drug-fuelled war zone.
From memories of his own time as a beat copper here, he did not envy the uniform crews out tonight one bit.
The light changed to green. Branson put the car in gear and moved forward in the slow stream of traffic. Regency Square was passing by on their right. Grace peered past Branson’s bulk at the fine square of cream-painted eighteenth-century façades, with gardens in the middle, marred by signs for an underground car park and various letting agencies. Then Norfolk Square, a cheap-rent area. Students. Transients. Hookers. And the impoverished elderly. On Grace’s left now was coming up a part of this city he loved the most, the Hove Lawns, a large expanse of neatly mown grass behind the seafront promenade, with its green shelters and, a short distance further on, its beach huts.
In daytime you could spot the old codgers out in force. Men in blue blazers, suede brogues, cravats, taking their constitutionals, some steadied by their walking sticks or Zimmer frames. Blue-rinse dowagers with chalky faces and ruby lips, exercising their Pekinese, holding their leads in white-gloved hands. Stooped figures in white flannels, moving in slow motion around the bowling greens. And nearby, ignoring them as if they were all already long dead, were the clusters of iPodded kids who now owned the promenade on the far side of the railings, with their roller blades and skateboards, and games of volleyball, and their sheer, raw youth.
He wondered, sometimes, if he would make old bones. And what it would be like. To be retired, hobbling along, confused by the past, bewildered by the present and with the future mostly irrelevant. Or being pushed along in a wheelchair, with a blanket over his knees, another one over his mind.
Sandy and he used to joke about it sometimes. Promise me you’ll never drool, Grace, no matter how gaga you get? she used to say. But it had been a comfortable joke, the kind of banter engaged in by two people content together, happy at the prospect of growing old as long as they are able to make that journey together. Another reason he just could not fathom her disappearance.
He had to go. Somehow, he had to go there, and quickly. He desperately wanted to get on a plane tomorrow, but he couldn’t. He had responsibilities to this case, and the first twenty-four hours were crucial. And with Alison Vosper breathing down his neck . . . Perhaps, if things went well tomorrow, he could go over there on Sunday. Over and back in one day. He might be able to get away with that.
There was just one more problem: what was he going to say to Cleo?
Glenn Branson was holding his mobile phone to his ear, despite the fact that he was driving. Suddenly, glumly, he switched it off and placed it back in his top pocket. ‘Ari’s not picking up,’ he said, raising his voice above the music that was playing on the car’s stereo. ‘I just want to say goodnight to the kids. What do you think I should do?’
The Detective Sergeant had selected a local pop station, Surf, on Grace’s car radio, shunning his own music collection. A God-awful rap song from some group Grace had never heard of was belting out, far more loudly than was comfortable for him. ‘You could turn the bloody music down for starters!’
Branson turned it down. ‘Do you think I should go round there – after we’re done, I mean?’
‘Jesus,’ Grace said. ‘I’m the last person on the planet to ask about marital advice. Look at the fuck-up of my life.’
‘Well, it’s different. I mean, like, I could go home, yeah?’
‘It’s your legal right.’
‘I don’t want a scene in front of the kids.’
‘I think you should give her space. Leave it a couple of days, see if she calls.’
‘You sure you’re OK about me crashing with you? I’m not cramping your style or anything? You’re cool about it?’
‘Totally,’ Grace said, through gritted teeth.
Branson, picking up on the absence of enthusiasm in his voice, said, ‘I could check into a hotel or something, if you’d rather?’
‘You’re my mate,’ Grace said. ‘Mates look after each other.’
Branson turned right into a wide, elegant street, lined on both sides with once-grand Regency terraced houses. He slowed down, then pulled over in front of the triple-fronted portals of the Lansdowne Place Hotel and killed the engine, mercifully, thought Grace, silencing the music. Then he switched off the lights.
Not long back, the place had been a tired old two-star dump, inhabited by a handful of geriatric resident guests and a spattering of drab trippers on budget seaside package tours. Now it had been transformed into one of the city’s latest hip hotels.
They climbed out of the car and went inside, to a riot of purple velour, chrome and gilded kitsch, and walked up to the front desk. A female receptionist, tall and statuesque in a black tunic and a Bettie Page black fringe, greeted them with an efficient smile. Her gold lapel badge read Greta.
Grace showed her his police warrant card. ‘Detective Superintendent Grace of the Sussex CID. My colleague and I would like to have a word with a guest who checked in a short while ago – Mr Brian Bishop.’
Her smile assumed the motions of a deflating balloon, as she looked down at her computer screen and tapped on her keyboard. ‘Mr Brian Bishop?’
‘One moment, gentlemen.’ She picked up a phone and pressed a couple of buttons. After half a minute or so, she replaced the receiver. ‘I’m sorry, he doesn’t seem to be picking up.’
‘We are concerned about this person. Could we go up to his room?’
Looking totally thrown now, she said, ‘I need to speak to the manager.’
‘That’s fine,’ Grace replied.
And five minutes later, for the second time in the past hour, he found himself entering an empty hotel bedroom.
Skunk was always in his office on Friday nights, when the richest pickings of the week were up for grabs. People out for a good time were carefree – and careless. By eight o’clock, the city centre car parks were filling to near capacity. Locals and visitors jostled along Brighton’s old, narrow streets, packing the pubs, bars and restaurants, and later on, the younger ones, high and drunk, would be starting to queue outside the clubs.
A large Tesco carrier bag swung from his arm as he progressed slowly through the teeming throng, squeezing his way at times past packed outdoor tables. The warm downtown air was laced with a thousand scents. Colognes, perfumes, cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, olive oil and spices searing on cooking pans, and always the tang of salt in the air. His mind elsewhere, he tuned out the chatter, the laughter, the clack-clack-clack of high heels tripping along on paving stones, the boom of music from open doors and windows. Tonight he only vaguely clocked the Rolex watches on tanned wrists, the diamond brooches, necklaces and rings, the tell-tale bulges in men’s jackets where a plump wallet sat for the taking.
Tonight he had bigger fish to fry.
Heading down East Street, he felt like he was pushing through an incoming tide. Forking right, past the Latin in the Lane restaurant, behind the Thistle Hotel, he then turned right along the seafront, stepping around a teenage girl having a screaming, tearful row with a spiky-haired boy, and made his way past the Old Ship, the Brighton Centre, the smart Grand and Metropole hotels – neither of which he had ever been inside. Finally, sticky with sweat, he reached Regency Square.
Avoiding the exit/entrance, where an NCP attendant sat, he walked up to the top of the square, then down concrete steps which stank of urine, into the centre of the second level of the car park. With the cash he was going to get from this job, he would buy himself another bag of brown, and then anything else that might come his way later on tonight at one of the clubs. All he had to do was find a car that matched the one on the shopping list folded in his trouser pocket.
Inside his carrier bag was a set of number plates, copied from the model he had seen earlier. When he found the right car, a new-shape Audi A4 convertible, automatic, low mileage, metallic blue, silver or black, he would simply put those plates on it. That way, if the owner reported it stolen, the police would be looking for a car with different plates.
There was almost bound to be something suitable here. If not, he’d try another car park. And if the worst came to the worst, he’d find one on the street. It was a rich bitch’s car, and there was no shortage of rich, peroxided, nip-and-tucked bitches in this city. He wouldn’t mind an Audi convertible himself. He could see himself, in some parallel universe, driving Bethany along the seafront, on a warm Friday night, the music up loud, the heater on his feet and the smell of new leather all around him.
One day, things would be different.
He found a car within minutes, at the back of the third level. A dark shade of opalescent blue or green – it was hard to tell in the shitty light down here – with a black roof and cream leather seats. Its licence plate indicated it was less than six months old, but when he reached the car and noticed the smell of freshly burnt oil rising from it, he realized, to his joy, it was brand new. Not a mark on it!
And the owner had very conveniently parked it nose in, close to a pillar.
Checking carefully there was no one around, he walked up the side of the car and put his hand on the bonnet. It felt hot. Good. That meant it must have just recently been driven in here; so, with luck, it would be some hours before its owner returned. But just as a precaution he still removed the two sets of licence plates from his carrier bag and stuck them, with double-sided tape, over the originals.
Then from his bag he removed what would look, to any police officer who stopped him, like a Sky TV remote control. He aimed it, through the driver’s window, at the dash panel, punched in the code he had been given and then the green button.
He tried again. The red light showed on the remote but nothing else happened.
Shit. He looked around again, more nervously now, then went up to the front of the car and knelt by the right headlamp. Shielded by the car and the pillar, he relaxed a little. It was easy. He’d done this before; at least a dozen Audis. A five-minute job, max.
Removing a screwdriver from the plastic bag, he began unscrewing the front right headlight-restraining rim. When he had finished, he eased out the sealed headlamp unit and let it dangle on its flex. Then, taking a pair of pliers, he reached his arm through the empty headlight socket, felt around until he found the wire to the horn and cut it. Next he groped about, cursing suddenly as he accidentally touched the hot engine casing, burning his knuckles, until he located the auto locking mechanism. Then he cut through the wires, disabling it.
He replaced the headlamp, then opened the driver’s door, setting off the headlamp flashers – all that the crippled alarm system now had left in its armoury. Moments later he plucked the fuse for the flashers out of the box and dropped it into his bag. Then he popped the bonnet and bridged the solenoid and the starter motor. Instantly, the engine roared sweetly into life.
He slipped into the driver’s seat and gave the steering wheel a hard wrench, snapping the lock. Then he saw to his joy that he was going to make himself a little bonus tonight. The owner had graciously left the car-park ticket on the passenger seat. And Barry Spiker, the tight bastard he did these jobs for, who had given him twenty-seven quid to cover the all-day parking charge penalty to get the car out of the NCP, would be none the wiser!
Two minutes later, having forked out just two pounds to the attendant, he drove the car gleefully up the ramp, already twenty-five pounds in profit. He was in such a good mood that he stopped at the top of the ramp, turned the music up loud, and lowered the roof.
It was not a smart move.
‘How are you?’ Sophie asked imploringly. ‘What’s happened? How—?’
‘Try it on,’ he said sharply, putting the package on the tray, ignoring her questions.
Out in the falling dusk, a siren wailed, momentarily drowning out the faint, low, four-beat boom-boom-boom-boom of dance music that was getting increasingly tiresome.
Sophie, astonished – and uneasy at his behaviour – meekly untied the bow, then peered into the gift box. All she could see for the moment was tissue paper.
Out of the corner of her eye, on the television screen, she saw Chris Tarrant mouth the words, ‘Final answer?’
The geeky-looking guy in big glasses nodded.
A yellow flashing light encircled the name Morocco.
Moments later, on the screen, a flashing green light encircled Tunisia.
Chris Tarrant’s eyebrows shot several inches up his forehead.
The lady in the wheelchair, who had looked earlier as if she was about to be hit by a cricket bat, now looked as if she had been hit by a sledgehammer. Meanwhile, her husband seemed to shrink in his seat.
Sophie lipread Tarrant saying, ‘John, you had sixty-four thousand pounds . . .’
‘You want to watch television or open the gift I’ve bought you?’ he said.
Swinging her tray of food on to her bedside table, she said, ‘The gift, of course! But I want to know how you are. I want to know about—’
‘I don’t want to talk about it. Open it!’ he said in a tone suddenly so aggressive it startled her.
‘OK,’ she said.
‘What are you watching that crap for?’
Her eyes still flicked back to the screen. ‘I like it,’ she said, trying to calm him. ‘Poor guy. His wife’s in a wheelchair. He’s just blown the hundred and twenty-five thousand pound question.’
‘The whole show’s a con,’ he said.
‘No, it isn’t!’
‘Life’s a con. Haven’t you figured that one out yet?’
Now it was his turn to point at the screen. ‘I don’t know who he is, nor did the rest of the world. A few minutes ago he sat in that chair and had nothing. Now he’s going to walk away with thirty-two thousand pounds and feel dissatisfied, when he should be rip-roaring with joy. You’re going to tell me that’s not a con?’
‘It’s a matter of perspective. I mean – from his point—’ ‘Turn the fucking thing off!’
Sophie was still shocked by the aggression in his voice, but at the same time a defiant streak made her reply, ‘No. I’m enjoying it.’
‘Want me to go, so you can watch your fucking sad little programme?’
She was already regretting what she had said. Despite her earlier resolve to end it with Brian, seeing him in the flesh made her realize she would a million times rather that he was here, with her, tonight than watch this show – or any show. And God, what the poor man must be going through . . . She punched the remote, turning it off. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said.
He was staring at her in a way she’d never seen before. As if blinds had come down behind his eyes.
‘I’m really sorry, OK? I’m just surprised you’re here.’
‘So you’re not pleased to see me?’
She sat up and threw her arms around his neck and kissed him on the lips. His breath was rancid and he smelled sweaty, but she didn’t care. They were manly smells, his smells. She breathed them in as though they were the most intoxicating scents on the planet. ‘I’m more than pleased,’ she said. ‘I’m just . . .’ She looked into those hazel eyes she adored so much. ‘I’m just so surprised, you know – after what you said earlier when we spoke. Tell me. Please tell me what’s happened. Please tell me everything.’
‘Open it!’ he said, his voice rising.
She pulled away some of the tissue, but, like a Chinese box, there was another layer beneath, and then another again. Trying to bring him back down from whatever was angering him, she said, ‘OK, I’m trying to guess what this is. And I’m guessing that it’s a—’
Suddenly his face was inches in front of hers, so close their noses were almost touching.
‘Open it!’ he screeched. ‘Open it, you fucking bitch.’
Skunk, driving along in falling, purple-tinted darkness, clocked the bright headlights again in his mirror. They had appeared from nowhere moments after he left the Regency Square car park. Now they were accelerating past the line of traffic and cutting in behind a blacked-out BMW that was right on his tail.
It wasn’t necessarily anything to worry about, he thought. But as he reached the two solid lines of vehicles backed up at the roundabout in front of Brighton Pier, in his mirror he caught a fleeting glimpse of the face of the man in the passenger seat, flashlit under the neon glare of the street lighting, and began to panic.
He couldn’t be completely sure, but it looked too fucking much like that young plain-clothes cop called Paul Packer, whose finger he’d bitten off after a run-in over a stolen car, for which he had been banged up in a young offenders’ institute.
At full volume on the car’s radio, Lindsay Lohan was singing ‘Confessions of a Broken Heart’, but he barely heard the words; he was looking at the traffic flow in and out of the roundabout, trying to decide which exit to take. The car behind hooted. Skunk gave him the bird. There was a choice of four exits. One would take him towards the town centre and clogged-up traffic. Too risky, he could easily get trapped there. The second was Marine Parade, a wide street with plenty of side roads, plus fast open road beyond it. The third would take him along the seafront, but the danger there was, with just one exit at either end, he could get blocked in easily. The fourth would take him back in the direction he had just come from. But there were roadworks and heavy traffic.
He made his decision, pressing the pedal all the way down to the metal. The Audi shot forward, across the bows of a white van. Fiercely concentrating, Skunk continued accelerating along Marine Parade, past shops, then the flash Van Alen building. He checked in the mirror. No sign of the Vectra. Good. Must be stuck at the roundabout.
Traffic lights ahead were red. He braked, then cursed. In his mirrors he saw the Vectra again, overtaking on the wrong side, making up ground, driving like a maniac. The car pulled up behind him. Right behind him. Like, one inch from his rear bumper. All shiny clean. Radio aerial on the roof. Two men in the front seats. And now, lit up in the glare of his own brake lights, there really was no mistaking one of them.
In the mirror he saw Packer’s eyes, remembered them from before, big, calm eyes, that sort of locked on you like lasers. He remembered even when he’d bitten the fucker’s finger off, his eyes kept fixed on him, no surprise, no look of pain. Sort of weird, smiley eyes – almost like the man had been mocking him. And it was as if he was doing that again now, sitting there, neither cop making any move to get out of their car.
Why the fuck aren’t you arresting me?
His nerves were jumping about inside him, like there was some crazed animal on a trampoline inside his stomach. He nodded his head to the music. But he was jangling. Needed something. Needed another hit. The mean amount he’d taken was wearing off fast. Tried to think of the best route.
Tried to think why the cops weren’t getting out of their car.
The lights changed to green. He stamped on the pedal, accelerated halfway across the junction, then jerked the wheel hard left and slewed into Lower Rock Gardens, narrowly missing an oncoming taxi. In his mirror he saw, to his relief, the Vectra shoot over the junction.
He accelerated flat out up the Victorian terraced street, which was lined on both sides with cheap bed and breakfasts and bedsits. As he halted at another red light at the top, he saw the Vectra approaching quickly. And any last shred of doubt he might have had that he was being followed was now gone.
Checking both directions, he saw two buses were coming from his left, nose to tail. Waiting until the last possible moment, he accelerated, shooting across the front of the first bus, driving like the wind. He raced up Egremont Place, through a sharp S-bend, overtaking a dawdling Nissan on the wrong side, on a blind corner, but fortune was with him and nothing was coming from the other direction.
Then he waited anxiously at the junction with busy Elm Grove for a gap in the traffic. Two headlights suddenly pricked the darkness a long way back. Forgetting about a break in the traffic, he turned right, across it, ignoring squeals of brakes, blaring horns and flashing lights, laying a trail of rubber, up past Brighton racecourse, then down through the suburb of Woodingdean.
He debated about stopping to change the licence plate and revert back to the car’s original ones, as it almost certainly had not yet been reported stolen, but he didn’t want to take the risk of the Vectra catching him up again. So he pressed on, ignoring the flash of a speed camera with a wry smile.
Ten minutes later on a country road two miles inland from the Channel port of Newhaven, with his mirrors black and empty, and his windscreen spattered with dead insects, he slowed down and made a right turn at a sign which read Meades Farm.
He drove through a gap in a tall, ragged hedgerow on to a metalled, single-track farm road, following it through fields of corn overdue for harvesting, for half a mile, several kamikaze rabbits darting in and out of his path. He passed the massive derelict sheds that once housed battery hens, and an open-sided barn on his right contained a few shadowy pieces of long-disused and rusting farm machinery. Then, directly ahead, his headlights picked up the wall of a vast, steel-sided, enclosed barn.
He stopped the car. No light came from the building and there were no vehicles parked outside. Nothing at all to reveal that an active business was being carried on in here at this moment.
Pulling his mobile phone from his pocket, he called a number he knew by heart. ‘Outside,’ he said when it was answered.
Electronic doors slid open just wide enough to allow him to drive in, revealing a brightly lit, cavernous space, then began closing behind him instantly. Inside he saw about twenty cars, most of them the latest model, top-end luxury machines. He clocked two Ferraris, an Aston Martin DB9, a Bentley Continental, two Range Rovers, a Cayenne, as well as some less exotic cars, including a Golf GTI, a Mazda XR2, a classic yellow Triumph Stag and a new-looking MG TF. Some of the cars appeared to be intact, while others were in various stages of dismemberment. Despite the lateness of the hour, four boiler-suited mechanics were working on vehicles – two beneath open bonnets, one on his back under a jacked-up Lexus sports car, the fourth fitting a body panel to a Range Rover Sport.
Skunk switched off the engine and with that his music fell silent. Instead some cheesy old Gene Pitney song crackled out from a cheap radio somewhere in the building. A drill whined.
Barry Spiker stepped out of his glass-windowed office over on the far side, talking into a mobile, and walked towards him. A short, wiry, former regional champion flyweight boxer with close-cropped hair, he had a face hard enough to carve ice with. He was dressed in a blue boiler suit over a string vest, and flip-flops, and he reeked of a sickly sweet aftershave. A medallion hung from a gold chain around his neck. Without acknowledging Skunk, he walked all the way around the car, still talking on his phone, arguing, looking in a foul mood.
As Skunk got out of the car, Spiker ended his call, then, brandishing his phone like a dagger, walked up to him. ‘What the fuck’s this piece of shit? I wanted a three-point-two V6. This is a two-litre piss-pot. No use to me. Hope you’re not expecting me to buy it!’
Skunk’s heart sank. ‘You – you didn’t . . .’ He dug the crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, on which he had taken down the instructions this morning, and showed it to Spiker. On it was written, in his shaky handwriting, New-shape Audi A4 convertible, automatic, low mileage, metallic blue, silver or black.
‘You never specified the motor size,’ Skunk said.
‘So which fucking tree did you fall out of? People who buy nice cars happen to like nice engines to go with them.’
‘This goes like hot shit,’ Skunk said defensively.
Spiker shrugged, looked at the car again pensively. ‘Nah, not for me.’ His phone started ringing. ‘Don’t like the colour much either.’ He checked the display, brought the phone to his ear and said abruptly, ‘I’m busy. Call you back,’ then he hung up. ‘Sixty quid.’
‘What?’ Skunk had been expecting two hundred.
‘Take it or leave it.’
Skunk glared at him. The bastard always found some way to screw him. Either there was a mark on the paintwork, or the tyres were knackered, or it needed a new exhaust. Something. But at least he was making a secret profit on the car park, getting back at the man in his own small – but satisfying – way.
‘Where did you get it from?’
Spiker nodded. He was checking the interior carefully, and Skunk knew why. He was looking for any mark or scratch he could use to beat the price down lower. Then Spiker’s eyes alighted greedily on something in the passenger footwell. He opened the door, ducked down, then stood up, holding a small piece of paper, like a trophy, which he inspected carefully. ‘Brilliant!’ he said. ‘Nice one!’
‘Parking receipt from Regency Square. Twenty minutes ago. Just two quid! Top man, Skunk! So you owe me twenty-five quid back from that float I gave you.’
Skunk cursed his own stupidity.
His words shook her. Scared her. His eyes were glazed and bloodshot. Had he been drinking? Taken some drug?
‘Open it!’ he said again. ‘Open it, bitch!’
She was tempted to tell him to go to hell, and how dare he speak to her like that? But, knowing how much stress he must be under, she tried to humour him, to calm him down and bring him back from whatever place or space he was in. She removed another layer of tissue. This was one weird game. First we shout and swear at you, then we give you a present, right?
She removed another layer, balled it and dropped it on the bed beside her, but there was no thaw in his demeanour. Instead, he was worsening, quivering with anger.
‘Come on, bitch! Why are you taking so long?’
A shiver of anxiety wormed through her. Suddenly she did not want to be here, trapped in her room with him. She had no idea what she was going to find in the gift box. He’d never bought her a gift before, except some flowers a couple of times recently when he’d come over to her flat. But whatever it was, nothing felt right; it was as if the world was suddenly skewed on its axis.
And with every layer she removed she was starting to have a really bad feeling about what was in the box.
But then she got down to the last layer of tissue paper. She felt something that was part hard, part soft and yielding, as if it was made of leather, and she realized what it might be. And she relaxed. Smiled at him. The sod was teasing her, it was all a wind-up! ‘A handbag!’ she said with a squeal. ‘It’s a handbag, isn’t it? You darling! How did you know I desperately need a new bag? Did I tell you?’
But he wasn’t smiling back. ‘Just open it,’ he said again, coldly.
And that brief moment of good feeling evaporated as her world skewed again. There was not one shred of warmth coming back from his expression or his words. Her fear deepened. And just how strange was it that he was giving her a present on the day his wife was found dead? Then, finally, she removed the last layer of tissue.
And stared down in shock at the object that was revealed.
It wasn’t a handbag at all, but something strange and sinister-looking, a helmet of some kind, grey, with bug-eyed glass lenses and a strap, and a ribbed tube hanging down with some kind of filter on the end. A gas mask, she realized with dismay, the kind she’d seen on soldiers’ faces out in Iraq, or maybe it was older. It had a musty, rubbery smell.
She looked up at him in surprise. ‘Are we about to be invaded or something?’
‘Put it on.’
‘You want me to wear this?’
‘Put it on.’
She held it to her face and instantly lowered it, wrinkling her nose. ‘You really want me to wear this? You want to make love with me wearing it?’ She grinned, a little stupefied, her fear subsiding. ‘Is that going to turn you on or something?’
For an answer, he ripped it out of her hands, jammed it against her face, then pulled the strap over the back of her head, trapping some of her hair painfully. The strap was so tight it hurt.
For a moment, she was completely disoriented. The lenses were grimy, smeared and heavily tinted. She could only see him, and the room, partially, in a green haze. When she turned her head, he disappeared for a moment and she had to swivel her head back to see him again. She heard the sound of her own breathing, hollow exhalations like the roar of the sea in her ears.
‘I can’t breathe,’ she said, panicking, claustrophobia gripping her, her voice muffled.
‘Of course you can fucking breathe.’ His voice was muzzy, distorted.
In panic she tried to pull the mask off. But his hands gripped hers, forcing them away from the strap, gripping them so hard they were hurting. ‘Stop being a stupid bitch,’ he said.
She was whimpering. ‘Brian, I don’t like this game.’
Almost instantly she felt herself pushed down on her back, on the bed. As the walls, then the ceiling scudded past her eyes, her panic worsened. ‘Nooo!’ She lashed out with her feet, felt her right foot strike something hard. Heard him roar in pain. Then she broke free from his hands, rolled away, and suddenly she was falling. She crashed painfully on to the carpeted floor.
Struggling to get to her knees, she put her hands up to the mask, tugged at the strap, then felt an agonizing, crunching blow in her stomach which belted all the wind out of her. She doubled up in pain, shocked at the realization of what had happened.
He had hit her.
And suddenly she sensed that the stakes had changed. He had gone insane.
He hurled her on to the bed and the backs of her legs struck the edge painfully. She screamed out at him, but her voice remained trapped inside the mask.
Have to get away from him, she realized. Have to get out of here.
She felt her T-shirt being torn off. For a moment, she stopped resisting, thinking, trying to make a plan. The booming of her breathing was deafening. Have to get the damn mask off. Her heart was thudding painfully. Have to get to the door, downstairs, to the guys downstairs. They will help me.
She snapped her head right, then left, checking what was on her bedside tables that she could use as a weapon. ‘Brian, please, Brian—’
She felt his hand, hard as a hammer, strike the side of the mask, jarring her neck.
There was a book, a thick hardback Bill Bryson tome on science she had been given for Christmas and dipped into from time to time. She rolled over, fast, grabbed it and swung it at his head, striking him side on, flat. She heard him grunt in pain and surprise, and go down, over the side of the bed.
Instantly she was on her feet, running out of the bedroom, along the short hall, leaving the mask on, not wanting to waste precious time. She got to the front door, grabbed the Yale knob, turned and pulled.
The door opened a few inches and then halted, abruptly, with a sharp, metallic clank.
Brian had put the safety chain on.
A burst water main of icy fear exploded inside her. She grabbed at the chain, pushing the door shut again, tugging at it, trying to pull it free, but it was stuck, the damn thing was stuck! How could it be stuck? She was shaking, screaming, muffled echoing screams. ‘Help! Help me! Help me! Oh, please, HELP ME!’
Then, right behind her, she heard a grinding, metallic whine.
She whipped round her head. And saw what he was holding in his hands.
Her mouth opened, silently this time, fear freezing her gullet. She stood, whimpering in terror. Her whole body felt as if it was collapsing in on itself. Unable to prevent herself, she began urinating.
I have read that devastating news has a strange impact on the human brain. It freezes time and place together, indelibly. Perhaps it is part of the way we humans are wired, to give us a warning signal marking a dangerous place in our lives or in the world.
I wasn’t born then, so I cannot vouch for this, but people say they can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news, on 22 November 1963, that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated by a gunman in Dallas.
I can remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news, on 8 December 1980, that John Lennon had been shot dead. I can also remember, very clearly, that I was sitting at my desk in my den, searching on the internet for the wiring loom for a 1962 Mark II Jaguar 3.8 saloon, on the morning of Sunday 31 August 1997, when I heard the news that Diana, Princess of Wales, had been killed in a car crash in a tunnel in Paris.
Above all I can remember where I was and exactly what I was doing on that July morning, eleven months later, when I received the letter that ruined my life.
Roy Grace sat at his desk in his small, airless office in Sussex House, waiting for any news of Brian Bishop and filling in time before the eleven o’clock briefing. He was staring gloomily at the equally gloomy face of the seven-pound, six-ounce brown trout, stuffed and mounted in a glass case fixed to a wall in his office. It was positioned just beneath a round wooden clock that had been a prop in the fictitious police station in the The Bill, which Sandy bought for him in happier times in an auction.
He had bought the fish on a whim some years back, from a stall in the Portobello Road. He referred to it occasionally when briefing young, fresh-faced detectives, making an increasingly tired joke about patience and big fish.
On his desk in front of him was a pile of documents he needed to go through carefully, part of the preparations for the trial, some months ahead, of a man called Carl Venner, one of the most odious creeps he had ever encountered in his career. Hopefully, if he didn’t screw up on the preparations, Venner would be looking at the wrong end of several concurrent life sentences. But you could never be sure with some of the barmy judges that were around.
His evening meal, which he had chosen a few minutes ago from the ASDA superstore, also lay on his desk. A tuna sandwich still in its clear plastic box, stickered in yellow with the word Reduced!, an apple, a Twix chocolate bar and a can of Diet Coke.
He spent several minutes scanning the waterfall of emails, answering a few and deleting a load. It didn’t seem to matter how quickly he dealt with them, more poured in, and the number of unanswered ones in his inbox was rising towards the two hundred mark. Fortunately, Eleanor would deal with most of them herself. And she had already cleared his diary – an automatic process whenever he began a major crime investigation.
All she had left in was Sunday lunch with his sister, Jodie, whom he had not seen in over a month, and a reminder to buy a card and birthday present for his goddaughter, Jaye Somers, who would be nine next week. He wondered what to buy her – and decided that Jodie, who had three children either side of that age, would know. He also made a mental note that he would have to cancel the lunch if he went to Munich.
Over fifteen emails related to the police rugby team, which he had been made president of for this coming autumn. They were a sharp reminder that although it was gloriously warm today, in less than four weeks it would be September. Summer was coming to an end. Already the days were getting noticeably shorter.
He clicked on his keyboard to bring up the Vantage software for the force’s internal computer system and checked the latest incident reports log to see what had happened during the past couple of hours. Scanning down the orange lettering, there was nothing that particularly caught his eye. It was still too early – later there would be fights, assaults and muggings galore. An RTA on the London Road coming into Brighton. A bag-snatch. A shoplifter in the Boundary Road Tesco branch. A stolen car found abandoned at a petrol station. A runaway horse reported on the A27.
Then his phone rang. It was Detective Sergeant Guy Batchelor, a new recruit to his inquiry team, whom he had dispatched to talk to Brian Bishop’s golfing partners from this morning.
Grace liked Batchelor. He always thought that if you asked a casting agency to provide a middle-aged police officer for a scene in a film, the man they sent would look like Batchelor. He was tall and burly, with a rugger-ball-shaped head, thinning hair and a genial but businesslike demeanour. Although not huge, he had an air of the gentle giant about him – more in his nature than his physical mass.
‘Roy, I’ve seen all three people Bishop played golf with today. Just something I thought might be of interest – they all said he seemed in an exceptionally good mood, and that he was playing a blinder – better than any of them had ever seen him play.’
‘Did he give them any explanation?’
‘No, he’s quite a loner apparently, unlike his wife, who was very gregarious, they say. He doesn’t have any really close friends, normally doesn’t say much. But he was cracking jokes today. One of the men, a Mr Mishon, who seems to know him quite well, said it was as if he had taken a happy pill.’
Grace was thinking hard. Dead wife, big weight off his mind?
‘Not the sort of reaction of man who’s just killed his wife, is it, Roy?’
‘Depends how good an actor he is.’
After Batchelor had finished his report, adding little further, Grace thanked him and said he would see him at the eleven p.m. briefing. Then, thinking hard about what Batchelor had just said, he tore away the film covering of the sandwich, levered it out and took a bite. Instantly, he wrinkled his nose at the taste; it was some new exotic kind of bread he’d never tried before – and regretted trying now. It had a strong caraway flavour he did not like. He’d have been much happier with an egg and bacon all-day-breakfast sandwich, but Cleo had been trying to wean him on to a healthier diet by getting him to eat more fish – despite his regaling her with a detailed account of an article he’d read earlier in the year, in the Daily Mail, about the dangerous mercury levels in fish.
He exited Vantage, launched the website of expedia.com and entered a search for flights to Munich on Sunday, wondering whether it was possible to get out there and back on the same day. He had to go, no matter how slender the information from Dick Pope. Had to go and see for himself.
It was all he could do to stop himself from getting the next possible plane. Instead, he glanced at his watch. It was nine fifty. Ten fifty in Germany. But hell, Dick Pope would be up and about, he was on holiday. Sitting in some café or bar in Bavaria with a beer in his hand. He dialled Pope’s mobile, but it went straight to voicemail.
‘Dick,’ he said. ‘Roy again. Sorry to be a pest, but I just want to ask you a few more details about the beer garden where you think you saw Sandy. Call me when you can.’
He hung up and stared for a moment at his prize collection of three dozen vintage cigarette lighters, hunched together on the ledge between the front of his desk and the window, with its view down on the parking area and the cell block. They reflected how much Sandy loved trawling antiques markets, bric-à-brac shops and car-boot sales. Something he still did, when he had the time, but it had never been the same. Part of the fun had always been seeing Sandy’s reaction to something he picked up. Whether she would like it too, in which case they would haggle the price, or whether she would reject it with a single, disapproving scrunch of her face.
Most of the space was occupied by a television and video player, a circular table, four chairs and piles of loose paperwork, his leather go-bag containing his crime-scene kit, and ever-growing small towers of files. Sometimes he wondered if they bred at night, on their own, while he was away from the office.
Each file on the floor stood for an unsolved murder. Murder files never closed until there was a conviction. There would come a point in every murder inquiry when every lead, every avenue, had been exhausted. But that did not mean the police gave up. Years after the incident room was shut down and the inquiry team disbanded, the case would remain open, the evidence stored in boxes, so long as there was a chance that the parties connected to it might still be alive.
He took a swig from his Coke. He’d read on a website that all lowcarb drinks were full of all kinds of chemicals hostile to your body, but he didn’t care at this moment. It seemed that everything you ate or drank was more likely to kill you than provide you with nutrients. Maybe, he pondered, the next food fad would be pre-digested food. You would just buy it and then throw it straight down the lavatory, without needing to eat it.
He clicked his keyboard. There was a British Airways flight out of Heathrow at seven a.m. on Sunday morning. It would get him into Munich at nine fifty. He decided to call the police officer he knew there, Kriminalhauptkommisar Marcel Kullen, to see if he would be free.
Marcel had been seconded here in Sussex a few years back, on a six-month exchange, and they’d become good friends during this period. The officer had extended an open invitation for Grace to come and stay with him and his family at any time. He looked at his watch. Nine fifty-five. Munich was one hour ahead, so it really was late to be calling, but there was a good chance of catching him in.
As he reached out to pick up the phone, it rang.
‘Roy Grace,’ he answered.
It was Brian Bishop.
Grace noted that Bishop had changed out of the golfing clothes he had been wearing earlier. He now had on an expensive-looking black blouson jacket over a white shirt, blue trousers and tan loafers, without socks. He looked more like a playboy on a night out than a man in mourning, he thought.
As if reading Grace’s mind as he sat down uneasily on the red armchair in the cramped Witness Interview Suite, Bishop said, ‘My outfit was selected from my wardrobe by your family liaison officer, Linda Buckley. Not quite my choice for the circumstances. Can you tell me when I will be allowed back in my house?’
‘As soon as possible, Mr Bishop. In a couple of days, I hope,’ Grace replied.
Bishop sat bolt upright, furious. ‘What? This is ridiculous!’
Grace looked at a rather livid graze on the man’s right hand. Branson came in with three beakers of water, set them down on the table and closed the door, remaining standing.
Gently, Grace said, ‘It’s a crime scene, Mr Bishop. Police practice these days is to preserve a scene like this as much as possible. Please understand it’s in all our interests, to help catch the perpetrator.’
‘Do you have a suspect?’ Bishop asked.
‘Before I come on to that, would you mind if we record this interview? It will be quicker than if we have to write down notes.’
Bishop gave a thin, wintry smile. ‘Does that mean I’m a suspect?’
‘Not at all,’ Grace assured him.
Bishop signalled his assent with his hand.
Glenn Branson switched on the audio and video recorders, announcing clearly, as he sat down, ‘It is ten twenty p.m., Friday 4 August. Detective Superintendent Grace and Detective Sergeant Branson interviewing Mr Brian Bishop.’
‘Do – do you have a suspect?’ Bishop asked again.
‘Not yet,’ Grace replied. ‘Is there anyone you can think of who might have done this?’
Bishop gave a half-laugh, as if the question was just too ridiculous. His eyes shot to the left. ‘No. No, I don’t.’
Grace watched his eyes, remembering from earlier. To the left was truth mode. Bishop had answered just a little too quickly, and almost a little too good-humouredly for a bereaved man. He’d seen this kind of behaviour before, the cool, slick, rehearsed answer to the questions; the lack of emotion. Bishop was displaying the classic signs of a man who had committed a murder. But that did not mean he had. That laughter could equally well have been from nerves.
Then his eyes dropped to the man’s right hand. To the abrasion on the back of it, just in from his thumb; it looked recent. ‘You’ve hurt your hand,’ he said.
Bishop glanced at his hand, then gave a dismissive shrug. ‘I – er – bashed it getting into a taxi.’
‘Would that be the taxi you took from the Hotel du Vin to the Lansdowne Place Hotel?’
‘Yes, I – I was putting a bag in the boot.’
‘Nasty,’ Grace said, making a mental note to get the taxi driver to verify that. He also noted that Bishop’s eyes darted to the right. To construct mode. Which indicated he was lying.
‘It looks quite a bad graze. What did the driver say?’ Grace glanced at Branson, who nodded.
‘Did he give you any first aid or anything?’ Branson asked.
Bishop looked at each of them in turn. ‘What is it with you guys? It’s like the bloody Inquisition. I want to help you. What the hell’s a graze on my hand got to do with anything?’
‘Mr Bishop, in our work we ask an awful lot of questions. I’m afraid it’s what we do. It’s in our nature. I’ve had a long day, and so has DS Branson, and I’m sure you must be exhausted. Please bear with us and answer our questions, and we’ll all be able to leave here quicker. The more you can help us, the sooner we’ll be able to catch your wife’s killer.’ Grace took a gulp of water, then said gently, ‘We’re a little curious as to why you checked out of the Hotel du Vin and went to the Lansdowne Place. Could you explain your reasons?’
Bishop’s eyes moved as if he was tracking the path of an insect across the carpet. Grace followed his line of sight but could see nothing.
‘Why?’ Bishop suddenly looked up, staring at him intently. ‘What do you mean? I was told to move there.’
Now it was Grace’s turn to frown. ‘By whom?’
‘Well – by the police. By you, I presume.’
‘I’m not with you.’
Bishop opened his arms expansively. He gave a good impression of sounding genuinely surprised. ‘I was called in my room. The officer said that the Hotel du Vin was being staked out by the press and you were moving me.’
‘What was the name of the officer?’
‘I – I don’t remember. Umm – it may have been Canning? DS Canning?’
Grace looked at Branson. ‘Know anything about this?’
‘Nothing,’ Branson replied.
‘Was it a male or female officer?’ Grace asked.
‘DS Canning was his name? Are you sure?’
‘Yes. Canning. DS Canning. I think it was DS. Definitely Canning.’
‘What exactly did this man say to you?’ Grace watched his eyes intently. They darted left again.
‘That you’d booked me a room at the Lansdowne Place. A cab would be outside the rear entrance, by the staff door at the rear of the kitchens. That I should take the fire escape stairs down there.’
Grace wrote down the name DS Canning on his pad. ‘Did this officer call you on your mobile or on the hotel phone?’
‘On the room phone,’ Bishop said after some moments’ thought.
Grace cursed silently. That would make it harder to verify or trace. The hotel’s switchboard could log the time of incoming calls, but not their numbers. ‘What time was this?’
‘About five thirty.’
‘You checked into the Lansdowne Place and then went out. Where did you go?’
‘I went for a walk along the seafront.’ Bishop pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed his eyes. ‘Katie and I used to love it down there. She loved going on the beach. She was a keen swimmer.’ He paused and took a sip of water. ‘I needed to call my kids – they’re both abroad, on holiday. I . . .’ He lapsed into silence.
So did Roy Grace. There was no police officer called Canning on his team.
Excusing himself, the Detective Superintendent slipped out of the room and walked down the corridor to MIR One. It took him just a few clicks on a workstation keyboard to establish that there was no officer of that name in the entire Sussex police force.
Shortly before midnight, Cleo opened her front door wearing an unlaced black silk camisole. It covered the top two inches of her pale, slender thighs and little else. In her outstretched hand was a tumbler of Glenfiddich on the rocks, filled to the brim. The only other things she had on were a tantalizing, deep, musky perfume and the dirtiest grin Roy Grace had ever seen on a woman’s face.
‘Wow! Now that’s what I call a—’ he started to say, when she kicked the door shut behind him, the camisole falling even further open over her large, firm breasts. And that was as far as he got as, still holding the glass, she put both arms around his neck and pressed her moist lips against his. Moments later a whisky-flavoured ice cube was sliding into his mouth.
Her eyes, blurry, smiling, danced in front of his own.
Tilting her head just far enough back that he still could only see her in blurred focus, she said, ‘You’ve got far too many clothes on!’ Then, placing the glass in his hand, she began, ravenously, to unbutton his shirt, kissing his nipples, then his chest, then pressing another ice cube, with her mouth, deep against his belly button. She looked up at him with eyes that seemed to burn into him with happiness, eyes the colour of sunlight on ice. ‘You are so gorgeous, Roy. God, you are so, so gorgeous.’
Gasping, and crunching the remains of the ice cube, he said, ‘You’re sort of OK yourself.’
‘Just sort of OK?’ she echoed, distractedly tugging at his belt buckle as if the world’s survival depended on it, then jerking his trousers and boxer shorts sharply down over his shoes.
‘In the sense of being the most beautiful, incredible, gorgeous woman on this planet.’
‘So there are more beautiful women than me on other planets?’ In one deft movement, Cleo dug her fingers into the glass, popped another ice cube in her mouth, then scooped more ice from the glass and pressed it against his balls.
For a reply, raw air shot out of Grace’s throat. Pleasure burned in his stomach, so intense it hurt. He pulled the silky garment off her shoulders and buried his mouth into her soft neck, as she took him in her lips, deeply, all the way down the shaft, burying her face in his tangled pubic hairs.
Grace stood, intoxicated with the heat of the night, the smell of her perfume, the touch of her skin, wishing, somewhere in a recess of his brain, that he could freeze this moment, this incredible moment of sheer, utter joy, bliss, freeze it forever, stay here, with her gripping him in her icy lips, that smile in her eyes, that sheer joy dancing in his soul.
Somewhere, just inches away, a shadow hovered. Munich. He pushed it away. A ghost, that was all. Just a ghost.
He wanted this woman, Cleo, so much. Not just now, this moment, but wanted her in his life. He adored her to bits. He felt more in love at this moment than he could imagine any man on the planet had ever been before. More in love than he had ever dared to think could happen to him again, after these nine long wilderness years.
Forcing his hands through her long, silky hair, his words gasped breathlessly. ‘God, Cleo, you are so –
– incredible –
– so amazing –
Then, with his suit jacket still on, his trousers and striped boxer shorts around his ankles, half in and half out of his shirt, he was lying on top of her, on a thick, white pile rug on her polished oak floor, deep, so incredibly deep inside her, holding her in his arms, kissing this wild, writhing beast of so many contrasts.
He gripped her head tightly, pulling her mouth hard against his. Feeling her silky skin entwined around his. Feeling her insanely beautiful, lithe body. Sometimes she felt like a stunning, pedigree racehorse. Sometimes – now – as she suddenly broke her mouth away and stared at him in tense concentration, he saw a vulnerable little girl.
‘You won’t ever hurt me, will you, Roy?’ she asked plaintively.
‘You’re incredible, you know that?’
‘You’re more incredible.’ He kissed her again.
She gripped the back of his head, pressing her fingers in so hard they hurt. ‘I want you to come staring into my eyes,’ she whispered intently.
Some time later he woke up, his right arm hurting like hell, and blinked, disoriented, unable to figure out for a moment where he was. Music was playing. A Dido song he recognized. He was staring up at a square glass tank. A solitary goldfish was swimming through what looked like the remains of a submerged miniature Greek temple.
But it wasn’t his fish tank. He tried to move his arm, but it was dead, like a big lump of jelly. He shook it. It wobbled. Then a tangled fuzz of blonde pubic hairs filled his eye-line. The view was replaced by a glass of whisky.
‘Sustenance?’ Cleo said, standing naked over him.
He took the glass in his good hand and sipped. God, it tasted good. He put it down and kissed her bare ankle. Then she lay down and snuggled up beside him. ‘OK, sleepyhead?’
Some life was returning to his arm. Enough to put it around her. They kissed. ‘Wassertime?’ he asked.
‘I’m sorry. I – I didn’t – didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.’
She kissed each of his eyes in turn, very slowly. ‘You didn’t.’
He saw her beautiful face, and her blonde hair, in soft focus. Breathed in sweet scents of sweat and sex. Saw the goldfish again, swimming around, oblivious of them, having whatever kind of a good time a goldfish had. He saw candles burning. Plants. Funky abstract paintings on the walls. A wall-to-ceiling row of crammed bookshelves.
‘Want to go up to bed?’
‘Good plan,’ he said.
He tried to stand up, and it was then that he realized he was still half-dressed.
Shedding everything, holding Cleo’s hand in one hand and his tumbler in the other, he climbed, leadenly, up two flights of steep, narrow wooden stairs, then flopped on to a massive bed, with the softest sheets he had ever felt in his life, and Dido music still pumping out.
Cleo wrapped herself around him. Her hand slid down his stomach and wrapped around his genitals. ‘Is Big Boy sleepy?’
She held the whisky to his lips. He sipped like a baby.
‘So, how was your day? Or would you like to sleep?’
He was trying to put his thoughts together. It was a good question. How the hell was his day?
It was coming back. Bit by bit. The eleven o’clock emergency briefing. No one had anything significant to report, except for himself. Brian Bishop’s move from the Hotel du Vin to the Lansdowne Place – and the strange explanation he had given.
‘Complicated,’ he said, nuzzling up against her right breast, taking her nipple in his mouth and then kissing it. ‘You are the most beautiful woman in the world. Did anyone ever tell you?’
‘You.’ She grinned. ‘Only you.’
‘Goes to show. No other man on this planet has any taste.’
She kissed his forehead. ‘Actually, this may come as a surprise from a slapper like me, but I haven’t tried them all.’
He grinned back. ‘Now you don’t need to.’