While Kolla and Brock start looking for answers in London’s Arab community, rivalries within the university point in another direction, and Springer’s colleague, a professor of medical genetics, becomes involved. Is he as troubling a figure as he seems? Meanwhile, why would somebody leak information about this critical investigation to the media, risking an explosion in the streets? In this taut and satisfying mystery, Barry Maitland proves once again that he is one of the masters of police procedural writing today.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Detective Sergeant Kathy Kolla felt a great weariness overwhelm her. She didn't want to appear obstructive, but the room was warm and she hadn't slept for so long.
'It's all in my report. You've read that? I really can't add
I've read it, yes,' the other woman said gently. It's very objective. It must have been extremely difficult to write. But it doesn't tell me how you felt, how you feel now.'
I feel now that my body is made of lead, she thought, heavy, dumb, grey. But she said, 'I felt mainly helpless.'
'Was that the most terrible thing about it? That you felt helpless?'
'Maybe. Towards the end.'
'That would be the time of the rape, would it?' Such a gentle, supportive voice.
'He didn't rape me.'
'No, you said that. You said he was stopped. You're quite sure about that?'
'Christ, I should know.' A little buzz of shock made Kathy sit up straight. Did they not believe her?
'Yes, of course. So the worst thing was the feeling of helplessness.'
A silence. The woman was good at silences, Kathy thought, but she had sat through enough interviews at the side of Brock, the master of the unbearable silence, to know how they worked.
Eventually the woman broke it herself. 'And feeling abandoned?' she prompted. 'Did you feel let down by your colleagues for not getting you out of there?'
'No, I'd got myself into the situation. It was my mistake.'
'All the same ... You didn't feel the least bit angry? With DCI Brock, perhaps?'
'You've been in a number of difficult situations before, as a member of his team, haven't you?'
'But this one was different?'
'Because ... this time I really believed I was going to die.'
The woman seemed about to pursue this, then studied Kathy for a moment and appeared to change her mind. 'Yes, it must have been awful,' she murmured. 'We might come back to that later, if you like. Tell me a little more about yourself, will you? You've lost both your parents, I understand. Do you have any other close family?'
'I have an uncle and aunt in Sheffield, and a cousin and her family in Canada. They're the closest.'
'No brothers or sisters?'
'The people I work with.'
'I mean, anyone special, a partner?'
'Not at the moment.' Kathy was aware that she was making the woman work, but she couldn't help herself.
Kathy didn't answer, staring at the carpet, a neutral soft grey. But this time the woman wasn't going to give up. Finally Kathy said. 'I was living with a man in the latter part of last year. We split up just before Christmas.'
The woman gave her a careful look. 'Immediately before this happened?'
'Do you want to talk about that?'
'No. It's got nothing to do with it.'
'You're quite sure?'
Another little buzz of shock. She hadn't even considered that possibility, blanking it out. 'Quite sure.'
The woman could barely disguise her disappointment. 'Well ... Is he a policeman?'
Another extended silence.
'What about girlfriends? Do you have a close friend you can confide in?'
'I have a few friends, but no one particularly close.'
'Outside of the force?'
The woman checked her watch. 'Our hour is up, Kathy,' she said, with a little frown of concern. 'The next time we meet I'd like to explore a bit more thoroughly your feelings in that room, if you're up to it. Between now and then, you might like to think about how those feelings relate to the rest of your life.'
'I don't understand.'
'I mean, can we isolate what happened in that room and deal with it on its own, or do we need to consider other aspects of your life in coming to terms with it?'
She caught the look on Kathy's face and quickly added with a smile, 'Don't worry, it's just a thought.'
A bitter January east wind was blowing in the street outside. Kathy stood a moment on the front steps breathing it in as if it could scour away the sense of numbness that had weighed her down during the session. The street was crowded with people hurrying towards the evening trains and buses that would carry them back to their homes in the suburbs, and she fell in with them, glad to walk before facing the next trial.
Half an hour later she stood outside the door of the pub where the team was meeting to celebrate Bren Gurney's promotion to detective inspector. Just a quiet do, Dot the secretary had said, a couple of drinks after work. Almost three weeks had passed since the events of Christmas Eve and this was the first time Kathy had seen them all together. She wanted to let them see that it was behind her now, that she was ready to rejoin the living.
She spotted them as soon as she stepped inside, a small group clustered at one end of the bar, indistinguishable from the other knots of office workers catching a quick one before heading home. Bren was at their centre, the largest figure of the group, eyes alight, eyebrows climbing up his prematurely balding brow as he recounted some story. It was said of him that he had refused to go for this promotion, long overdue, because he had been told that it would mean his transfer to another unit. But persistence was Bren's strength, and now his patience had been rewarded. Kathy was glad for him. After Brock he was the rock of the group, the steady, soft-spoken west countryman you'd want at your side when things started going badly wrong.
Brock was sitting on a bar stool, slightly apart, contemplating his pint, and looked up as she moved forward through the crowd, as if he could sense her approach. For a moment before he spotted her she felt a tremor of panic and almost ducked and ran, but then it passed and he was beaming, waving her over, saying something to the others who turned and gave a cheer. She grinned and stuck up her chin, accepted the hugs and handshakes, and gave her congratulations to Bren.
She was pleased to see a couple of other women in the group, Dot, chuckling much more freely than usual, and Bren's wife Deanne. They were going up west for a celebration dinner, Deanne explained, their two girls in the care of a baby-sitter.
'And you, Kathy, are you really fit again? Bren told me what happened and I couldn't believe it, the things that happen to you!'
The phrase made her sound like a freak, she thought, as if she collected trouble like an eccentric hobby. 'I'm fine,' she said brightly, taking a large scotch. 'All patched up and ready to go again. No problems. And how are the girls?'
While she half listened she was aware of Brock examining her. Later he drew her aside and asked how her afternoon session had gone.
It's a waste of time,' she said, forcing confidence into her voice. 'I've got over the shock and there's not a lot you can really say, is there? The shoulder's OK. I've been swimming and going to the gym. I'm ready to come back, Brock.'
He tilted his head, doubtful. 'Sleeping all right?'
'Yes, fine,' she lied, and wondered if it showed. Deanne had done a strange little double take when she'd first caught sight of her, as if surprised at Kathy's appearance. 'And I'm going spare sitting around at home.'
'Suzanne wanted you to stay longer in Battle, you know.'
'She was very kind.' More than that. After the hospital had released her Brock had taken her to stay with his friend Suzanne Chambers near the Sussex coast, and for a week between Christmas and New Year she had rested there, cocooned in medication and domesticity, distracted by Suzanne's two young grandchildren who lived with her. Apart from anything else, it was an extraordinary gesture on Brock's part, since he had managed to keep his mysterious woman friend private from his work colleagues until then.
After another whisky Kathy began to relax. The laughter was getting louder, the jokes about Bren's new status more facetious. He stood with his arm round his wife's shoulder complacently recounting one last joke before they had to leave. He reached the punch line, which was received with more hilarity than it really deserved, and then Deanne said that he had something else to announce, and nudged him in the ribs when he became coy. Someone called out, 'Come on, Bren! Tell us yer secret,' and he blushed happily and confessed that Deanne was expecting again, their third, another girl according to the tests. Everyone clapped, Brock at his most avuncular as he shook Bren's hand and kissed Deanne's cheek. Kathy cheered with the rest of them, and thought of how Bren had managed to hold all the parts of his life together and how empty her flat was now that Leon was gone.
As the party began to break up, Kathy headed for the toilets. A sign warned her of building work beyond the door. She opened it and found herself in a corridor of bare concrete block walls and harsh fluorescent lighting. The door banged shut behind her and the world of laughter and raised voices was abruptly cut off. The air was pungent with the smells of raw concrete and urine. Suddenly she was in that other room again. Panic, uncontrollable panic, choked her as the walls began to close in around her, crushing, and she knew that he was close and soon would come for her again.
Kathy began to stumble towards the door at the far end of the corridor, concentrating on the Fire Exit notice. She threw herself against it and it gave. She heard a cry behind her and stumbled on, out into a yard. The air was cold here but the smells just as strong inside her head. An intensely bright light shone into her eyes across the darkness. She blinked blindly at it and then it was broken by a shape, a dark silhouette, striding into the light. Her breath caught in her throat as the dark shape filled her vision.
Is she all right?'
She heard the words dimly, then blinked open her eyes. She was on the ground, two people bending over her, their breath steaming in the cold air.
'Kathy?' Dot's voice roused her. 'Kathy?'
The black sea heaved and crashed against the piles of the old pier as if aware that the structure had been abandoned, its great days gone, its stability in doubt, its entrance sealed by order of the borough engineer. Kathy turned away from the rail and continued her walk, the collar of her coat up against the north wind at her back, her short blonde hair whipping about her cheeks. There was a bright shimmer out on the eastern horizon, as if the sun were shining on the French coast and might, perhaps, edge its way towards England. Little chance of that, she decided, looking up at the weight of dark cloud looming overhead.
She came to a pedestrian crossing controlled by traffic lights. An elderly couple, faces barely visible between hats and scarves, was waiting patiently at the opposite kerb for the signal to turn green. The road was deserted, not a vehicle in sight. The sight struck Kathy as very sad. She put her head down and marched across the street, aware of the disapproving stare from the old man.
She reached the café and stepped in out of the wind. The place was empty, and she collected a cup of tea from the counter and took a seat at the front window, easing out of her coat. Someone had left a newspaper at the next table, and she reached across to pick it up and glanced idly at the front page, then looked again, transfixed. A picture of a man in a bulky black coat, cropped grey hair and beard, the familiar face staring sombrely at something away to his left, other men in black crowding round him. Brock and the team. The caption read, ÉDCI Brock of Scotland Yard's élite Serious Crimes Branch, who leads the hunt for the killer'.
Kathy's eye went across to the headline, which filled most of the remainder of the page, leaving room only for the opening words of the story:
One of Britain's most respected academics was gunned down on the steps of his university yesterday in an execution-style killing. Philosophy Professor Max Springer, 66, was shot dead
(continued page 4)
Shot dead. And suddenly Kathy could taste the fumes at the back of her throat and feel the bile rise. She looked quickly away out of the window, fixing her attention on the bright patch of sky on the horizon. Take your time, take your time. She breathed deeply, clammy with sweat, until the panic passed.
When she turned round, she saw Suzanne standing at the counter. She went over to join her.
'Oh, Kathy, hello. I thought that was you. How was your walk?' Suzanne looked more closely at her. Brisk and to the point as always, she said, 'Doesn't seem to have done much for your colour. You look terrible. Are you feeling all right?'
As they approached the table by the window, Kathy saw a look of consternation pass very briefly across Suzanne's face as she noticed the newspaper lying by Kathy's cup. It struck her that Suzanne had already seen the story, the picture of Brock, and also that she had deliberately kept it from her. Now she came to think about it, there had been no papers at breakfast that morning. She wondered what Suzanne would do now. They sat facing one another across the table, the newspaper lying between them. Kathy said nothing.
Suzanne sipped her coffee, then placed the cup carefully in its saucer and said, 'Not a very good picture of him, is it?'
'You've seen this already, have you?' Kathy didn't like the interrogator's tone in her voice, but couldn't help herself.
'David phoned last night and told me about it.' Suzanne was the only one who called Brock David, and sometimes it seemed to Kathy as if they were talking about two different men, Suzanne's younger and more in need of guidance than the other. 'I think he was preparing the ground in case he has to cancel this weekend. Sounds as if this may be a big case. Do you think?'
Kathy thought she detected relief in Suzanne's voice, and realised that it wouldn't have been her style to deceive her. Brock then - he must have asked her to do it. She wondered again whether coming back to stay with Suzanne had been such a good idea, although at the time she'd been in little shape to argue with Brock.
'I don't know. I only just picked the paper up from the next table. I didn't get past the front page. Is it someone famous?' Her mind began to run along familiar lines - a stalker, a Yardie killing, a breakaway Irish group.
'Well, they say he was, but I've never heard of him. A philosopher, for goodness' sake, and I don't think he's ever been on TV. To be honest, if someone asked me to name a famous living philosopher, I'd be hard put to get past a couple of French names, wouldn't you?'
'Why did Brock not want me to see it?'
'Why do you think? I told him he was daft. He just wants you to forget about work while you're on leave.'
'Does he think I'm that fragile?' Kathy found herself curiously alarmed by the idea that Brock would think it necessary to hide newspapers from her.
Suzanne considered this. 'I don't think it's that, exactly. More that he thought you might be tempted to go rushing back to London and try to get involved, when you should be having a complete break.'
'No,' Kathy shook her head firmly, trying to sound as if she meant it. It was the first time she'd had to say this aloud, and her words sounded false. 'I'm not tempted.'
Kathy felt Suzanne's questioning eyes on her and felt compelled to say more. 'In fact, I'm beginning to think that I may not go back at all.'
'What ... leave the police?' Suzanne frowned doubtfully.
Suzanne hesitated, then spoke quietly. 'David only gave me an outline of what happened to you on Christmas Eve. But I know he's concerned that you must have enough time to get over it. Don't you think you should wait before you make any decisions?'
'Starting a new case, like Brock's doing at the moment, it's like ...' Kathy struggled for the image that was in the back of her mind, like standing on the edge of a deep, dark pool, having to dive in, and knowing that beneath the surface is this awful mess, everything tangled up, everything tied to everything else with lies and fear and greed, and it's your job to untangle it and sort it all out. I mean, why would you want to bother?'
'Well, if you feel like that, no, I suppose you wouldn't ... Is there something else you'd rather do?'
I've been thinking about that. I've been thinking how nice it must be to do something that isn't so ... so claustrophobic and intense. Something that brightens people's lives, where they're pleased to see you instead of looking guilty or belligerent when they find out what you do. Something light and cheerful.'
'And well paid, of course. And with lots of opportunities to meet eligible members of the opposite sex in friendly and relaxed settings.'
'Yes,' Kathy grinned ruefully. 'That too. Definitely that.'
'Well, go on then. I'm all ears. What is it?'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Babel"
Copyright © 2011 Barry Maitland.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.