A Bill Slider Mystery - When ex-BBC correspondent Ed Stonax is found dead, the last thing Detective Inspector Slider needs to complicate his life is the reappearance of an old enemy issuing death threats. Trevor Bates, aka The Needle, is on the loose and trying to kill him, and with a high-profile murder to solve, Slider must try to find a spare moment to marry Joanna before their baby is born and stay alive long enough to do it . . .
About the Author
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles was born and educated in Shepherd's Bush, London and had a variety of jobs in the commercial world, starting as a junior cashier at Woolworth's and working her way down to Pensions Officer at the BBC. She won the Young Writer's Award in 1973, and became a full-time writer in 1978. She is the author of sixty successful novels to date, including the twenty-five volumes of the Morland Dynasty series.
Read an Excerpt
A Bill Slider Mystery
By Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Severn House Publishers LtdCopyright © 2008 Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
All rights reserved.
Fame Shrewdly Gored
The habits learned in childhood tend to become ingrained, so that they operate on an involuntary level. With Detective Inspector Bill Slider, observation was second nature. His countryman father had taken him out to watch badgers' setts at dusk, to wait for deer to come down to the stream at dawn, to know by a flattened patch of grass, a scrap of hair snagged on a hedge, a broken spider's web, fallen feathers, or the crusty bits of a mouse left by a path-side, who had passed by, and when, and why. He noticed things often without immediately knowing he had done so.
So on his way to a call-out it was the second sighting of the black Ford Focus that impinged on him. Focuses were plentiful in West London and black had lately replaced silver as the most popular car colour, so there was nothing remarkable about it, except that it had tinted windows, and he was inherently suspicious of anyone trying to hide their face, and that there had been a black Focus parked just down the road from the back door of the police station the day before. It had had the same ding-and-scrape on the nearside rear quarter, but a different number plate. Slider's interest prickled. The traffic halted him along the Goldhawk Road, just after the car had passed him, and he whipped out his notebook and jotted down its registration while he remembered it. He didn't remember the number of the earlier car except that it had begun with LN, while this began with LR. It was probably nothing, of course, but he had noticed it, and the fact of noticing made him uneasy. If he was being followed, it was following of a professional order, to have bothered to change the plates. But anyone who had been in the Job as long as he had was bound to accumulate enemies, and he had had his share of high-profile cases.
The traffic was no better than crawling now, so he cut off to the right as soon as a gap opened and made his way through the back streets to his destination. Valancy House, Riverene Road was a handsome Edwardian block of flats: red-brick work, white stone trim, noble windows and an impressive door and entrance hall. It was an annoying address to Slider, replete with those names beloved of the Edwardians, which sounded almost but not quite like real words (its sister blocks were called Croftdene and Endsleigh), but it was not a cheap one. With the new rich of London moving ever westwards, these big, high-ceilinged flats were going for a million and upwards now – even in Riverene Road, a turning off King Street that pined under the shadow of the Great West Road flyover. The noise of it would be like a waterfall – a constant roaring driving out all else. But triple glazing took care of most of that, and it was still a tree-lined road that ran down to the river. The trees, he noted, were limes. In July the piercing sweetness of their blossom would overpower even the exhaust reek from the traffic above.
Riverene Road was closed now to traffic, and a uniformed constable, whose name Slider annoyingly couldn't remember, moved the barrier and let him through. Before the building, a further barrier of blue and white tape kept the spectators away from the entrance. Word had got out, he thought, noting the number of press hounds. Someone in the building who couldn't wait to be famous must have blabbed. The reporters shouted questions at him as he went up the shallow steps to the front door, but he did not distinguish what they were saying. He hated his enforced contacts with the news media, and blanked them out from his consciousness as much as possible.
Atherton, his bagman and friend, was waiting for him in the lobby: tall, elegant, fair-haired, incongruous in these surroundings, he lounged with his hands in his pockets like displaced minor royalty, or a refugee from Gatsby's circle. He offered the important information first. 'Mackay's gone for coffee. There's a Starbucks round the corner in King Street.'
'There's always a Starbucks round the corner,' Slider complained. He rarely drank coffee, and tea from places like that was never any good. 'Good job I had breakfast before the shout came in.'
'That was early.'
'Joanna's gone down to see her parents. She wanted to get away before the traffic got bad, so we made an early start.'
The brown smell of old-fashioned polish in the hall went with the brown of the panelling and the dim brown light: penny-pinching low wattage bulbs did little to mitigate the loss of daylight to the flyover. There was a printed notice, hanging by a string loop on the lift door: OUT OF ORDER.
'The security door's not working either,' Atherton said.
'Oh?' Slider queried.
'Could be,' Atherton answered elliptically. 'But these old lifts work on prayer and chewing gum anyway.'
'Thanks for that comforting thought.' They trod up the stairs. 'What've we got, anyway? I was just told a dead male, no name.'
'We've identified him,' Atherton said. 'It's the owner of the flat – Edward, otherwise Ed, Stonax. Lovely Viking sort of name, that: stone axe. It's got a swish to it.'
Slider frowned. 'I know the name. Why do I know the name?'
'You've seen him on the telly,' Atherton suggested. 'He was a BBC correspondent.' He paused on a landing, assumed the posture and the voice, and intoned to camera, 'This is Ed Stonax. For the BBC. In Basra.'
'Oh, is that what it was?' Slider digested this, and then asked, 'Wasn't he in some kind of trouble a while back? Some kind of scandal?'
'You're improving,' said Atherton. Crowded though life was, he could never understand a grown man who didn't keep abreast of the news. Slider said he didn't have time to read newspapers, and the television was all propaganda anyway, and relied on Atherton to keep him up to speed. But then, he had a woman to keep him warm at night. Atherton was currently without a female attachment, something unusual enough to keep him awake at night – whereas in the past it had been the female attachments, plural, which had – etcetera, etcetera.
'Stonax left broadcasting a couple of years back and joined the civil service. Unusual to do it that way round – poacher turned gamekeeper kind of thing. Became one of the new army of "special advisers" at the Department of Trade and Industry. Had to walk the plank in December last year after a sex scandal. Headlines in all the tabloids, Minister's Three-In-A-Bed High Jinks – that sort of thing. Stonax and Sid Andrew, the Trade and Industry Secretary, were caught sharing a nubile junior press officer from Andrew's department after some drinky-do at Industry House. Stonax and the girl got sacked, Andrew got kicked upstairs.'
'Oh,' said Slider blankly.
'How can you not remember that?' Atherton said affectionately.
'Three-in-a-bed high jinks tend to slip under my radar,' Slider admitted. 'Give me credit that I remembered he was in trouble.'
'Well, he's not in trouble any more,' Atherton said.
They paused in the corridor outside the flat while Gallon, the PC on duty, put them in the book.
'Who called it in?' Slider asked him.
'His daughter, sir, apparently. Emily Stonax. Asher took her back to the station.'
The neighbours on one side, an elderly couple, were standing outside their door being helpful to Tony Hart, one of Slider's DCs, who was looking extremely cute this morning in a grey trouser suit, her hair subdued, for once, in a reverse plait. She flung him a welcoming grin, and the neighbours looked to see who she was looking at. Out of the corner of his eye he saw them yearn towards him, surmising he was the greater authority, wanting their moment of glory to go to the best audience. He stepped hastily inside.
The flat was a scene of orderly forensic activity. The front door opened on to a vestibule with a large open archway into the drawing-room and Slider stood there and looked. On the far side of the room – as Bob Bailey, the local SOCO manager came across and explained – another door gave on to a branching passageway that led to the kitchen and dining-room one way and the three bedrooms and bathroom the other.
'Three beds? The man must have been raking it in,' Slider commented. 'Is it all as tidy as this?'
'Looks that way,' said Bailey. 'We haven't done much yet. Didn't get here much before you.'
'Has the doctor been? Prawalha only lives round the corner, doesn't he?'
'He's on holiday,' said Bailey. 'It'll be Wasim from Ealing.'
'He'll be hours, then,' said Atherton. 'The traffic's murder coming in that way.'
'I know,' said Slider, who had just done it himself.
'It looks like robbery from the person, anyway,' said Bailey helpfully. 'Pockets emptied, and his watch is missing. You can see the mark where he wore it.'
The drawing-room was of the brown furniture and agreeable paintings order: tasteful, comfortable, unremarkable – and, Slider felt instinctively, a bachelor's place. It had the air of a gentleman's club, antiques and leather, dim old Turkish carpet, a couple of bronzes, a few bits of jade and ivory and ancient figurines that might have been Roman – objets that were evidently more valuable and interesting than decorative. There were no pot plants or scatter cushions, no half-read books or other signs of human occupation. It was the room of a person whose important life was led in a different place, either physical or mental, who needed of his dwelling only that it did not offend the senses. Women, however busy they were in their public lives, were never so indifferent to their domestic surroundings. They nested.
'Was he married?' he asked of no-one in particular.
It was Atherton who answered. He always seemed to know the background of any figure in the political arena. 'Divorced, a good long time ago. And his wife was killed about a year back, if I remember rightly.'
'Helicopter crash, trying to land at the multimillion pound mansion belonging to the new husband. She married Feyderman, the commodities millionaire – he was killed too.'
'So Stonax lived here alone?'
'Dunno,' Atherton was forced to admit. 'I can't remember if he was connected with any other woman.'
'You don't know?' Slider bated him. 'You know so much about him I thought you were going to give me the brand of his underpants.'
'I knew about the wife being killed because I knew about Feyderman. But if you're really interested in his Ys—'
'Thank you, I'll pass. It doesn't look as though there's a female resident,' Slider said.
'Only one of the bedrooms seems to be occupied,' Bailey supplied. 'One's made up like a spare room and the other's a study.'
Slider nodded, and looked at last at the body. He had remembered Stonax in context now, a tall, lanky figure often to be seen wearing a flak jacket against a background of baked earth and battered cement houses in some Middle-Eastern hot spot. Or in a suit before the White House; a view so familiar it always looked two-dimensional, like a movie flat.
Though his accent had been neutrally English, he'd had the thick, unruly black hair and very white skin of a certain kind of Scot. He'd had brown eyes, it turned out: Slider couldn't have said from seeing him on television. They were staring now, fixed and expressionless, like those of a very superior stuffed toy. Some people in death continue to look like real people, but Stonax, perhaps because he had been famous, looked like a model of himself, a waxwork. In the white expressionless face the lines of humour and character seemed oddly irrelevant, as though they had been marked in the wax with an orange stick after death. His skull had been smashed at the left temple by a tremendous blow, but because he was lying supine the blood had run backwards into his hair, leaving his face unsullied, but gluing the back of his head to the carpet.
He was fully dressed in business suit, shirt, tie, socks and shiny shoes, as if he'd just got back from work.
'Robbery?' Slider said thoughtfully.
They were joined in the doorway by Jerry Fathom, who had just arrived. He was a new DC sent to them to replace Tony Anderson – away on secondment so long he had been seconded right out of their world and up to the SO firmament. Fathom was young and keen, a tall, meaty lad with fidgety eyes and a rather petulant mouth. He was so new Slider hadn't yet found out what he was good for. This was the first murder since he'd joined the firm, and as he stood at Slider's shoulder, Slider could hear his breathing. He hoped he wasn't going to throw up, or Slider would get it right down the ear.
But it seemed it was excitement rather than nausea that was making Fathom's heart pound. 'Looks straightforward to me,' he said in the sort of voice that's meant to impress someone. Slider could imagine him in a pub telling girls about his job. 'Some crackhead doing the place over, looking for cash or something to flog. Householder comes home and surprises him. Bosh.'
'Felonius interruptus?' said Atherton.
'Wallop,' Fathom agreed importantly.
'Very tidy crackhead,' Atherton pointed out. 'Nothing seems to have been disturbed.'
'Well, maybe he'd only just started,' Fathom offered generously.
Slider turned his head, though not his eyes, to the new boy. 'Look at the door,' he said. 'No sign of forced entry.'
Fathom was not put off. 'Chummy could've stolen the keys. Or the vic could've lost 'em.'
Slider winced at the abbreviation 'vic' which the younger officers all picked up from American cop shows. They so desperately longed to be cool, but it was hard without a gun at your hip.
'Or maybe he picked the lock,' Fathom concluded.
'A very tidy crazed crackhead with unusual skills, then?' Atherton suggested.
'Well, it didn't have to be a crackhead,' Fathom conceded at last. 'Could have been any sort of burglar. Do we know what's missing?'
Atherton winced at the 'we'. 'There's plenty of door-to-door to be getting on with. Every flat in the block will have to be canvassed, for starters. Hart will tell you where to go.' Fathom removed himself reluctantly and by inches.
'He's right, of course,' Slider said when he'd gone. 'The lack of door-forcing doesn't rule out burglary. There's any number of possibilities. Chummy could have followed Stonax into the building and caught up with him before he'd closed the door. Or he could have rung the doorbell and pushed his way in.'
'No sign of a struggle,' Atherton said.
'Quite. I think he was let in,' said Slider.
'You think Stonax knew him?'
'Or had a reason to let him in – meter reader or something. But there's more to it than that.'
'The way he's lying, supine. He was struck from the front. If he'd let the man in it would be natural for him to be walking away and be struck from behind.'
'Perhaps he was struck as soon as he opened the door,' said Atherton, though the answer to that presented itself to him as soon as he said it.
'But then he'd be lying closer to the door. No, he walked away, and then turned back. Why? And why was nothing taken but what was in his pockets? If it was straightforward robbery, why not take more?'
Atherton looked round the room and shrugged. 'Your basic thief doesn't want to be burdened with objay dee. And we don't know yet that nothing else was taken.'
'True,' said Slider.
'One thing,' said Atherton, 'the place is so tidy it ought to be easy to spot any gaps.'
'Yes,' said Slider. There was something about the economy of despatch that made him feel uneasily that it was a professional hit. It would have been extremely lucky for an opportunist amateur to have found the precise spot on the skull where a single blow would kill. And if it was professional, what was he after? A stolen-to-order painting or other artefact? Or was it something like bonds or valuable documents? 'Do we know if he had a safe?' he asked.
By the time Slider had inspected the rest of the building, to get the lay of the land and to look for access, exits, security cameras etc, the doctor had arrived and was on his knees beside the body. It was not Wasim, however, but his old friend Freddie Cameron, the original Dapper Doctor. Cameron was the forensic pathologist, but was not averse to a bit of police surgeon work, especially when it was a case that was going to come to him anyway. He liked to see the body in situ and to get to it before anyone else fouled the pitch.
'Ah,' he said, looking up with satisfaction as Slider appeared in the doorway, 'the old firm, back at the usual stand.'
'Hello, Freddie. How's tricks?'
'All serene, old boy. How's Joanna? Are you a father yet?'
'No, seven weeks to go yet. And she's fine, or as fine as you can be in those circumstances.' It seemed odd to Slider to be discussing cheerful life in this place of death, with Stonax still lying where he had fallen, still dead. 'She says it's like being a ventriloquist's dummy, only you've got the whole ventriloquist inside, not just his hand.'
'I'm still waiting to be invited to the wedding,' Freddie said sternly. 'I hope you're not going to be adding to the statistics.'
'I've been trying to get married,' Slider said, wounded. 'Arranging a wedding between a policeman and a musician is like trying to push a balloon into a milk bottle.'
'Well, stop trying to arrange it and just do it,' Freddie suggested helpfully. 'You know who this is, don't you?'
'Ed Stonax, the TV bloke.'
'Bingo. Strange how different a body looks when you've seen it on the telly in life.'
'I was thinking the same thing. Anything to tell me? I assume it was the blow that killed him?'
'It certainly looks that way. The bones of the skull are crushed here. It was a very violent blow, with something small but heavy, and rounded in profile, like a nice old-fashioned lead cosh. With a good right arm behind it, it could have been something small enough to conceal in a pocket.'
'And given that it's to the left temple, it looks like a right-handed blow?'
'Unless the murderer's a tennis ace,' said Freddie. 'Possible, but unlikely. Professionals don't generally swipe their victims backhand.'
'You think it's professional, then?'
'Either that, or a lucky guess.' He stood up. 'I've bagged the hands, but I don't think they'll yield anything. There's no sign of a struggle or any defensive wounds. Eyes open. I think he was taken by surprise and felled before he even knew it was coming. The why of it, I leave to you.'
Excerpted from Game Over by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Copyright © 2008 Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsOne: Fame Shrewdly Gored,
Two: No Folk Without Mire,
Three: So Long Succour,
Four: Widow of Opportunity,
Five: To Err is Divine ...,
Six: Voi Che Sapete,
Seven: Into the Valley of Debt Flowed the 500,
Eight: Outrageous Fortune,
Nine: Green Unpleasant Land,
Ten: Trapped Nerd,
Eleven: Fainting in Coils,
Thirteen: 'Orrible Merger,
Fourteen: A Legend in His Own Lunchtime,
Fifteen: A Tale of Two Kitties,
Sixteen: Armageddon Too Old For This,
Seventeen: No Tern Unstoned,
Eighteen: The Ego Has Landed,
Nineteen: Down and Out,
Twenty: Time Wounds All Heels,