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By Leigh Russell
Oldcastle BooksCopyright © 2015 Leigh Russell
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Geraldine went to bed early but she couldn't sleep. For years she had dedicated herself to her career as a police detective. While her personal life was unfulfilling, her track record on murder investigations was excellent. Nothing had ever interfered with her focus on her work. Until now. With the murder of a close colleague, she had discovered that years spent observing the bereaved had not prepared her to deal with grief of her own. She wondered if she would ever feel ready to investigate another murder, or if every corpse from now on would take her back to that one unbearable death. Rigid with misery, she sat at her kitchen table considering whether she ought to resign. At last she went back to bed.
She must have fallen into a deep sleep because when her phone rang, she reached out to switch off her alarm. A few seconds later, it rang again and she realised it was her phone. Cursing, she reached out to answer the call. It was ten to nine. Hearing the curt voice on the line, she was instantly awake, automatically registering the details and dressing hurriedly. Passing through the hall she grabbed a waterproof jacket. She had no idea what the weather was like. Her phone rang again as she opened her front door, car keys in hand.
'I'm on my way.'
A body had been found in Central London, in a narrow cul-de-sac north of Oxford Street, halfway between Oxford Street station and Tottenham Court Road station. Geraldine drove straight to the location. It was not far in terms of distance, but the morning London traffic was heavy. As she drove, she listened to the report that had been sent. It gave only the basics. In a way she was relieved because that made it easier to process the information while she was driving. By the time she arrived at Wells Street she knew that a middle-aged man had been shot, once, in the chest. He had no wallet on him, suggesting he had been mugged. So far they were assuming the victim's name was David Lester, the owner of the Oyster card found in his pocket, although his identity had yet to be confirmed.
The doctor had left by the time Geraldine arrived. The cul-de-sac where the dead man had been found was cordoned off. Several uniformed officers were standing at the end of the close, stopping any pedestrians from viewing the site. A scene of crime officer filled Geraldine in on the details. The body had been discovered by someone using the back entrance to one of the office blocks. The man who had reported the body had given a brief statement. Geraldine glanced through it before turning her attention to the victim.
'What can you tell me?'
The scene of crime officer could add little to what Geraldine already knew.
'The doctor placed time of death an hour or two before midnight last night. She couldn't be more precise than that because he's been lying here all night. She estimated he's in his early to mid-fifties.'
Geraldine nodded. That tied in with the date of birth on the Oyster card, according to which the victim was fifty-two. Although the body was partly sheltered by an external fire escape, it had been exposed to rain which confused the evidence. Geraldine turned her attention to the victim, lying on his back, brilliantly illuminated inside the forensic tent. Apart from the dark patch on his chest, his blankly staring eyes and ghastly pallor proclaimed him dead. White-clad scene of crime officers were busily examining every inch of the scene, scraping and collecting traces of evidence. She drew closer and crouched down beside the body.
Behind her a familiar voice said, 'Great start to the day.'
Geraldine turned to greet her sergeant. Sam grinned. Her short, spiky blonde hair gave her an elfin look despite her stocky build.
'The body was moved post mortem,' a scene of crime officer said.
'In order to rob him?'
The other woman shrugged. 'That's for you to work out. It's not my job to draw conclusions from the evidence, just to gather it.'
'Yeah, yeah,' Sam chimed in. 'We know that. But what do you think?'
The white-clad officer blinked at Sam in surprise, then laughed. 'I think he was moved so he could be robbed, because he has no money and no plastic on him, just a set of keys and an Oyster card. Most likely he had a wallet or at least loose cash on him, although we don't know that. But he's well dressed. Why would he be here, in Central London, with no money on him at all? I think he was moved shortly after he was killed, by whoever it was mugged him.'
Sam nodded. 'Makes sense.'
'That doesn't mean it's necessarily true,' Geraldine said quietly. 'Now, he was killed an hour or two before midnight. There must have been people around at that time on a Monday night. Someone might have heard the shot.'
'In Central London? With all this traffic?' Sam said. 'You are joking.' The scene of crime officer agreed with Sam. 'And in any case, how are you going to trace all the people who were in the vicinity? I'm sorry,' she added, seeing Geraldine's expression, 'that's not my job. What do I know about it?'
She turned away as one of her colleagues called out.
'We've got another one.'
'What have you found?' Geraldine asked her.
The officer turned back. 'So far we've got three bullets, apart from the one that hit the victim.'
'Were they all fired from the same gun?'
'They'll need to be examined properly to confirm that.'
'But what's the chance there were two guns fired?'
'Almost zero, I'd say. I may be sticking my neck out here, but the bullets have all got an irregularity on one side, visible with the naked eye, so it looks very much as though they were all fired from the same handgun.'
'What do you mean an irregularity?'
'A tiny ridge, or dent down the side, more like a scratch, where the barrel's damaged.'
'And all the bullets were aimed at the victim?'
'That's difficult to say really.'
'Depends on how good his aim was,' another scene of crime officer added, overhearing Geraldine's question. 'He might have missed, he could have been firing around to scare the victim, or more likely he was so out of it he didn't know who or what he was trying to hit.'
All they could tell for certain was that more than one bullet had been fired, probably from the same gun.
'So we know he was fifty-two.' Geraldine paused, staring down at the body. 'What was he doing here at night?'
'Going home from work, perhaps?' Sam suggested.
'The guy finishes work at eight, eight thirty, goes for something to eat, a few drinks, then he's on his way home at ten thirty, eleven, to catch the last train — perhaps there was a drinks do if someone was leaving from his office — or maybe he had a romantic tryst after work — there's any number of reasons why he might have been on his way home at that time.'
'Sam, you're not being helpful.'
'All I'm saying is there's nothing out of the ordinary about him being here in the evening.'
'You're right. In any case it's far too early to start speculating like this. Let's get back to the station and see what else we can find out about David Lester.'
'We don't know that's who he is,' Sam muttered. 'Now who's speculating?'CHAPTER 2
When they had finished talking to the scene of crime officers it was nearly time for the morning briefing, so they went to the police station. There was nothing more to learn from the crime scene. Geraldine was keen to be on time for her first meeting with her new detective chief inspector, her previous senior investigating officer having taken early retirement. The traffic lights were with her and she reached the police station with time to stop off at the canteen for a quick breakfast.
'Mind if I join you?' Sam asked as she plonked a tray down on Geraldine's table.
It was a rhetorical question.
Geraldine looked at Sam's plate. 'Are you sure you've got enough there? I'd hate to see you go hungry.'
'Best to stock up while we can. You never know when we might have an opportunity to eat again.'
'Bloody hell, Sam. You must use that excuse at least three times a day. We're not explorers crossing the Arctic!'
Sam grinned as she tucked in to a plate piled with fried eggs, toast, sausages and beans.
'How can you survive on that anaemic muck?' she asked, with a nod at Geraldine's bowl.
'Porridge is very healthy.'
Neither of them had met the new detective chief inspector before. As she ate, Sam related the gossip she had heard about him. Adam Eastwood had been working as a detective inspector in South London before his recent promotion.
'And,' she went on, spooning beans on to her toast and cutting a dripping square, 'he recently got divorced, which might explain all the fuss some of the other girls are making, because apparently he's drop dead gorgeous. If you like that sort of thing.'
'By that sort of thing you mean men?'
Sam wrinkled her nose, her mouth full.
'What else have you heard?'
Sam shook her head. With a last gulp of coffee, Geraldine stood up. Sam remonstrated, gesturing at her plate.
'I'll see you there then,' Geraldine said. 'Don't be late.'
Geraldine had to concede that Sam's praise was justified. Detective Chief Inspector Adam Eastwood was certainly an attractive man. Tall and slender, everything about him gave an impression of neatness, from his cropped, dark hair to his navy fitted jacket and polished shoes. He was clean shaven and his features were well proportioned. Although his voice was soft, his diction was so precise it was possible to distinguish every word as he ran through what they knew of the victim.
'You know what to do, so let's get going,' he concluded, gazing round the team before they split up to carry out their allotted tasks. 'You might want to double-check with the duty sergeant before you start. We're not going to have any cock-ups.'
Scowling at a couple of female constables who muttered crudely about fancying a cock-up from their detective chief inspector, Geraldine hurried away. Her first task was to question Andy Hilton, the man who had reported the body to the police. Concerned that he had probably already forgotten most of what he had seen, she was keen to speak to him as soon as possible. Sam was put in charge of organising a team of constables to watch film from CCTV cameras in the streets surrounding Wells Mews. There were cameras along Oxford Street, but none in the little cul-de-sac itself. It was a huge job involving many hours of work, but vitally important.
Andy lived in a converted Victorian terraced house along the Caledonian Road. In his twenties, he had sandy-coloured hair and a very long nose that dominated his pinched face.
'Are you the police? They said you'd be coming.'
'Yes, I spoke to you on the phone.'
He barely glanced at her warrant card.
'Well, come in.'
Sitting opposite her in his small kitchen, he launched into an account of how he had discovered the body, adding little to what she already knew. He had been out drinking with his work colleagues on Monday evening, celebrating someone's birthday.
'I'm not a great drinker,' he added apologetically, as though it was a shameful admission. 'But I was a bit pissed, because we'd been drinking, you know? Anyway,' he gave an embarrassed laugh, 'I went along Wells Mews —'
'Why did you go there?'
His cheeks flushed as he shrugged without answering.
'This is a murder investigation,' Geraldine said firmly. 'It would be criminal as well as foolish to conceal anything.'
'It's a quiet dead end. I was desperate for a pee. We'd been drinking.'
'So, you needed to urinate and went into Wells Mews.'
'Yes. That's not illegal is it?'
'I'm conducting a murder investigation. Let's focus on that, shall we?'
'Yes, yes. Of course. Well, I went to the end of the mews and was taking a piss, when I saw this bloke lying there. Actually, I kicked him, by mistake. He didn't budge. I can't remember much else but I must have called the police and next thing I knew there were police everywhere and I was being asked all these questions and that's all there is to it, really. I told them what had happened, that I'd seen this body lying there.'
'How did you know he was dead?'
'I didn't know if he was dead or out cold, not at first. Then I saw his eyes were open and he was just staring, not blinking. When I saw the blood on his clothes, that's when I put two and two together and called the police.'
'Well?' Sam asked when Geraldine returned to the police station and went to check on her progress with the CCTV.
'What do you think of our new DCI?'
'What do you think?'
'He looks like Ken.'
Sam rolled her eyes. 'Didn't you have Barbie dolls? No, I guess they were after your time.'
'No, they weren't after my time. And in any case, I do have a niece.'
'Please tell me you haven't bought her a Barbie doll.'
'Of course. She's got all sorts of frilly pink outfits, and high-heeled shoes, and —'
'Oh shut up. Anyway, what's your impression of him?'
Geraldine considered. 'I think he speaks very clearly.'
'Let's hope he thinks clearly.'CHAPTER 3
Lenny woke with a pounding headache. At first he thought he was still in the nick. He turned and bashed his head on the seat in front of him. Hearing a noise, he looked up. A line of people was filing past his face. The stench made him feel sick. Coming to, he realised he was lying across the seat of a bus. The rough fabric felt damp against his cheek. He hoped it was just wet with his dribble. Someone shook his arm.
'Oy, wake up!'
Travelling on the night bus had been unpleasant. For hours he'd sat hunched in a seat, face to the window, trying to shut out the raucous bursts of laughter from kids who were intoxicated, high, and volatile; a pathetic collection of riotous clubbers and despondent, neglected youngsters who had spent a few hours together sheltering from the night.
Daylight was just beginning to break as he made his way home, approaching from the opposite direction to Central London and the quiet corner where he had stumbled across a bit of luck. No one had seen him in the mews. He had been clever enough to distance himself from the stiff and, to cap it all, he was a hundred quid better off. Gina would never know he had blown his official dosh. It was all working out just fine, which was fair enough. A bloke couldn't be dogged by bad luck all the time. Sooner or later he had to have a break, although to be fair he'd made his own luck by having the wit to nick the stiff's wallet when he had the chance. That cash would save him getting it in the neck from Gina, at least for a while. He couldn't have coped with one of her flare ups just then. On top of a foul hangover, he had slept fitfully and had woken with a sharp pain in his neck from lying with his head twisted round in an awkward position. All he wanted to do was get home to his own bed.
He hoped she'd be out when he got there, but no such luck. Her grating voice cut through him as soon as he opened the door.
'Where the hell have you been?'
Some homecoming. He didn't even bother to answer. She knew perfectly well where he'd been for the past eighteen months. He slipped past her into the hall muttering that he just wanted to go to sleep, and a cup of tea wouldn't go amiss. She spun round, slamming the front door. Her mousy hair was a mess. In a face pitted with acne scars, her eyes shone blue and beautiful.
'Lenny, I'm talking to you.'
'I can hear you.'
'I asked where you been?'
'You know bloody well where I been.'
'Why would I be asking where you been, if I knew where you been?'
'I been in the nick. You can't have forgotten.'
'Course I know you was in the nick. I seen you there. And I know you was out Monday. And I want to know where you been since then.'
'What, since Monday you mean?'
'Yeah, since Monday. I been waiting here for you to come home.'
It was only Tuesday. He had been out less than twenty-four hours, meeting up with some mates. At first he couldn't be bothered to answer but she kept on and on at him until he lost his temper. It was always the same with her. She could never leave it alone.
'I suppose you been at your mum's, and she took all your pay off you what should've come to me.'
'I haven't spoke to my mum.'
He reached into his pocket for the wallet. In the daylight he could see it must have cost a fair bit, real leather by the looks of it. He drew out a handful of notes. That shut her up. Eyes fixed on the dosh, she took a step forward and snatched at it. He let her have it. Poor cow, it must've been a struggle for her while he'd been inside.
Excerpted from Murder Ring by Leigh Russell. Copyright © 2015 Leigh Russell. Excerpted by permission of Oldcastle Books.
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