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Authors: Clare Curzon

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BOOK: A Meeting of Minds
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‘There's a loft, isn't there?'
‘Yes. It's got a hinged panel. There are black marks where it's been prodded shut. I'll see where the pole is for opening up.'
The DS waited while further thumps announced that PC Dennis was investigating the small hot cupboard on the landing. Eventually a cry of success and the metallic slithering of an aluminium ladder descending; then the scrape of constabulary boots on bouncing rungs.
‘Gawd,' came the reverential voice at last. ‘It's like Santa's grotto up here. Never seen insulation like it. Everything's
covered in shiny aluminium foil; the walls, the roof, everything. And the space is huge; goes over the whole of the house.'
‘What about the floor?'
‘Bare boards, fresh-scrubbed. Hang on, though. It looks as if – '
There came the sound of a heavy object being dragged across wooden planks, then an excited, ‘Yeah, I thought so. There's a loose one here. I'll get it up and see what's underneath.'
Beaumont waited, continuing to sip the anonymous brown liquid. Then the constable came on again, his glee barely disguised. ‘There's a space about eighteen inches deep, with a sort of guttering fitted. And there's all sorts of junk down there besides. I'm going after a large cardboard box. Nearly got it. Wait a mo.'
There followed muffled thumps and slidings, then a ripping noise as the treasure was broken open. Silence, followed by a disappointed, ‘Thought we'd really got something there. It's just more rolls of kitchen foil. Rolls and rolls of the stuff. With these he could roast enough turkeys for a whole town. What you laughing at, sarge?'
‘Not poultry, you wally. His line's horticulture. Only he hasn't got the project up and running yet. We're a tad too early. Think man: a well-heated loft in a cottage out in the sticks, the walls and roof insulated with foil, and no doubt a sprinkler system ready to be fitted. Heat, light, moisture and secrecy: everything needed to produce a good crop.'
Light at last broke on Constable Dennis. ‘Gawd. You mean cannabis? He's set it up to grow his own grass indoors!'
‘Wouldn't be the first time. But not just for himself. He must have access to wholesale seed supply. And who's in a better position to find a market for the finished product? Keep your hands in your pockets from now on. I'll send the fingerprint lads out to you. I want dabs off everything, with it all photographed as found.'
Beaumont made the necessary arrangements and decided he'd need to play it canny from now on. More particularly so since there was a new gaffer aboard in the person of DI Salmon, who could seize on the discovery as his own. A call now to the Boss wouldn't come amiss. He'd report progress in the shape of a request for advice on present handling of the suspect.
First he used his mobile to call Salmon and managed a couple of sentences before running his fingers along the teeth of his pocket comb and complaining in staccato bursts of interrupted speech that contact was breaking up. He left the DI alerted to action but uninformed on any detail.
Next he called Yeadings who, having passed Dr Fenner on to DI Salmon, was about to clear his desk and make for home. Beaumont succinctly explained his actions regarding Sheila Winter's manager and the discoveries at the man's home address.
‘Thought I'd keep him here overnight for questioning,' he said, and waited for the superintendent's comment.
‘With what charge in mind?'
‘There's always theft of the dead woman's laptop computer.'
‘Yes,' Yeadings agreed. ‘That should do for a start. If you do decide to charge him clear it with your DI.'
Yeadings made a note of the call in his daybook and reached for his coat. He wasn't dissatisfied with the way things were going, but it seemed he wasn't finished with dead bodies for the day. Cruising past Chesham Bois his fog lights picked out an ominous shape huddled in mid-road. Sighing aloud, he pulled up, got out and went forward, torch in hand.
It was a young deer, male, dead, but still warm to the hand. The throat showed bloody lacerations where some vehicle had struck it. He stowed the torch in a capacious pocket, took the beast by its back legs and gently dragged it to the grass verge. Then he pulled out his mobile phone and settled to advising the appropriate authority.
The local nick informed him that since he'd already removed it from the highway they were exonerated: the responsibility now lay with the District Council. A sleepy voice there offered to connect him with Environmental Health; who in turn passed him to Waste Disposal.
Poor little creature, sweetly pretty, even in death. What a way to end. He'd have done better to drop it off at some wayside pub with outbuildings, where it could hang for a couple of weeks, then feature as venison on the menu. That way someone could have pleasure of it.
A souring end to an otherwise encouraging day. Now the fog, which had thickened again, seemed to creep inside the collar of his waxed jacket, extending cold fingers down his spine.
He switched on the car radio. A forecaster was predicting that misty conditions would continue for another two days, with the addition of ground frost overnight. He climbed back into the warmth of the car, and sighed.
In the open-air pool back in Madeira, he could still have been swimming.
Neil Raynes zapped down the TV's volume, padded to the door and listened. The car had purred past. From the landing window he caught only stabs of its headlights between the trees screening the row of lock-up garages. All six made the same indistinguishable clang on closing. Impossible to know whose it was.
He went to sit on the third stair down, waiting, ready to vanish when he recognised the top of Marty's head. A lingering smell of roast pork reached him from one of the downstairs apartments. He guessed that would have been Beattie Weyman going the whole hog with parmesan parsnips and baked potatoes. She never did anything by halves, and now she'd taken on Samaritan duties for Milady Winter.
Seconds went by, then a key in the lock and the back door opening. It wasn't Marty. Just that owl Wormsley, glancing up with his crooked grin to catch him watching. Neil grunted, stood and retreated upstairs.
He roamed the apartment, uneasy. Sign after sign had suggested Marty was considering a new commission. It was like recognising a fatal disease where each dreaded symptom emerged one after another to create a dead certainty. There had been suspicious phone calls, with the door firmly closed between the two of them; sealed packages in the safe; spare reading-specs left permanently by the computer work-station. (Marty despised surfing the net unless it was to wise up for some specific job.) Everything indicated he could be away again in a matter of days. Neil knew it was too soon: he wasn't ready.
Marty had been late returning from London for three nights now, with an extra 576 miles on the car's clock since four days back. Neil scorned to divide by six to make guesses where he'd been heading. In any case, over that period he
might have made only two return trips, suggesting a venue just some hundred and forty odd miles distant. Which could mean anywhere in North Wales, Lancashire or Humberside.
Not that it mattered where the jobs originated. The shit bit was where he would be sent. Seven times out of ten it was the fucking Middle East, or Pakistan, even once Indochina. With hellholes like that, if the opposition got wind of him, Marty could end down a well shaft or with a knife between his shoulder blades; simply disappear, or be clapped in some fetid prison without trial; and the fucking Foreign Office not bothered because he wasn't officially there and they took him for some useless bum meddling in things he didn't understand.
The US or Europe, Neil thought, wasn't so bad. There, if Marty went overdue, he might at least be traceable.
Whatever happened, he, Neil, was expected to stay stumm, instantly switch to the discipline phase, stick it out alone. This time he wasn't sure he could make it. Marty being on hand allowed him to be himself, go wild a bit. Nearby, as safety net, Marty was Batman to his own quirky Robin. If things went right off the rails Marty would always see him right.
But, alone too long, having to act the hero that he wasn't, he got this shitty fear that the past might catch up and swallow him. Marty had to be close in case that happened.
This new place, being among strangers and with a job of his own, had made him relax, so maybe he'd gone over the top a bit. Now he might have to face any outcome. And there'd been mistakes at work: all those drugs around, and locks that wouldn't challenge a two-month old. So he'd joined the others to horse about. No real harm done yet, but it left him exposed. Play the
idiot savant
and they'd expect him to go further, just when he needed to cut his losses and clam up.
And now a further hazard: this house was crawling with police because of the Sheila Winter thing. He was already paranoid, feeling that the residents had begun to regard him sideways. Beattie Weyman – little, bright-eyed, red squirrel – was
no dozer, and her girl, Rosemary, had an amused way of glancing at you as though a guy was transparent. He'd told Marty that, as a sort of joke, and he'd laughed. He'd accused him of hot flushes because she was a doll and he lusted after her. Maybe he did too, in a way.
Whatever, it was another complication he didn't need right now. Added to all the rest, it made it no moment for Marty to walk out on him.
He turned from the window and made for the other's dressing-room, rolled open the wardrobe doors and ran his hands along the rails of hangers. There were no obvious additions or subtractions. The lightweight stuff was still there, but it didn't mean Marty hadn't bought more. He kicked at the stack of travel cases and they yielded with an empty feel. He would have checked inside the gun cabinet but he didn't know where the keys were hidden.
When Marty did, almost silently, materialise, Neil was still waiting. It was past 2am and he was offered no apology.
The man unlaced his shoes on the stairs and carried them in. ‘Still up? What shift are you on this week?'
‘Earlies. But what's that to you?'
Chisholm gave him the one-eyebrow response, coolly detached.
The boy swallowed hard. ‘You're setting something up.' It came out as accusation.
‘As you said yourself, “What's that to you?”. We're not married, Neil. Lighten up.' He walked almost wearily across to an armchair, dropping shoes and backpack at his feet as he sat. ‘Remember we have to eat. So there's no choice, unless you want to become main breadwinner.'
‘That's bloody cheap.' Neil knew he wouldn't have reminded him he was the charity boy if he hadn't been half-dead on his feet. He dug himself out of the nest he'd made and straightened. ‘Had anything to eat?'
‘I stopped off on the way for a hot dog and coffee made from fag ends. Is there any real food?'
‘I did chicken supremes with char-grilled peppers and shallots. You want it reheated?'
‘That would be good. A tray in bed? I'll take a shower first.'
Neil stomped off to the kitchen. So he'd been right. It was out in the open now. Or as open as it ever got. The brush-off meant only one thing: a new job. That was the sum total of what he'd be told, unless there was a minor part in it for him back at base. It was a shitty way to be treated, but what else was on offer?
He fixed the meal, covered it and took it through; folded Marty's dropped underclothes ready for the linen basket. The contents of his pockets were already laid out on the bedside table and gave no clue to where he'd been.
Sardonically Neil turned back the bed's duvet in a precise triangle. Might as well do the whole Abigail act. Then he went off to his own room and partly shut the door. Eventually he heard the shower cut off and the susurration of Marty's cord dressing-gown in the corridor outside. He had paused to knock but didn't come in. “Night, Neil. Thanks. See you in the morning.'
bloody morning. The boy stayed silent, then relented sullenly. ‘I'm asleep!' There was an answering laugh. ‘Right, kiddo!' A door quietly closed.
Neil Raynes beat his pillow. So he sounded childish. Well, wasn't that how the universal hero always saw him? Shit, shit! Later he'd phone in sick, take the day off and get thoroughly pissed. Let Marty see how he wasn't ready to be left yet.
By the first light of Tuesday, Rosemary watched cars leaving under her front window. First came Wormsley's sand-coloured Peugeot, followed a few minutes later by Chisholm's blue Saab, each with a single occupant. Then the ‘corporal' arrived on his Vespa, left it at the rear and collected Major Phillips in his yellow Triumph. Last, at 8.37am, Miss Barnes drove off to school.
That left only young Raynes, Beattie, Vanessa Winter and herself in the house until the two cleaners turned up at nine, after off-loading their children at the village school. Her instructions were to extract what information on the dead woman she could while still appearing to be a neighbour with a free day off work. She'd few enough residents to work on.
When 8.50am brought a familiar pick-up truck with Frank Perrin's teaky elbow protruding from the driver's open window Z struck Beattie off the list for a couple of hours at least. Since Vanessa was no early riser, that left no choice but the Raynes boy. She looked around for something breakable to qualify her for a helpless-little-woman appeal.
Neil was in pyjamas when he opened the door to her ring. ‘Sorry to visit so early,' she said, smiling, ‘but I've really come on the scrounge.'
He took in her casual clothes and assumed that, like him, she was skiving. ‘What do you need?' It sounded abrupt, which made him more conscious of his own unwashed, unshaven state.
‘It's not urgent. Just something I'm not sure how to tackle. It takes a man, I guess.' Mentally she crossed her fingers behind her back, hoping he wouldn't pick up a false note.
He'd caught on to the implication and was flattered. ‘I'll do what I can. Come in while I fling some gear on.'
‘I could come back. As I said, there's no hurry.' She didn't offer to wait on her own ground for him. That would have prevented a good recce round the Chisholm flat. Fortunately for her he was being expansive, seeming almost grateful for her arrival. ‘I'll put some coffee on, then you can slurp it while I take a shower, OK?'
‘Sounds fine to me. Why don't you leave me to do the kitchen thing?'
He ran a hand through his tousled hair and gave a boyish grin. ‘Espresso machine's in full view. Likewise the grinder. Coffee beans – left upper cupboard. Choose whatever brand's to your taste.'
Very nice indeed, she thought. This is a set-up the Boss would appreciate: Belgian-roasted, Columbian or Italian. She opted for an opened package resealed with Sellotape and used the roaring of the grinder to cover her quick tour of the other rooms.
No comfort spared, she decided. Basically the flat was on a par with her own, but a lot more money had gone into the furnishing. Yet it wasn't over-decorative; quite masculine in fact. Or pleasantly androgynous – if you could describe material possessions so.
When Neil reappeared she was seated in an armchair in the lounge with a tray on the coffee table before her. The young man, shiny from steam and tangy after-shave, bounced into a matching chair opposite. Now, for the first time in daylight and at near view, she could take a really good look at him.
The survey was mutual. ‘Will I do?' he demanded puckishly
She made him wait for the answer, tilting her head and appearing to examine him minutely. He was really rather a poppet; not what she expected of a man exactly, but well on the way there. His hair, which had been lank and sun-dried when he first arrived at the house, now sleekly capped a rounded head with neat ears, straight nose and fine eyebrows strictly at right angles to it. His mouth was neither tight nor loose, the centre line curving firmly to end in small, deeply cut brackets that made him appear to smile most of the time. But the eyes – she stared at them. They were large and set unusually far apart, which should have given an appearance of frankness. Instead, it made her think of a frog. Or perhaps Toad, the mad motorist and prison-escapee who whooped and boasted while Ratty, Mole and Badger routed the weasels from his riverside mansion.
The eyes themselves? – the eyes were
And had no depth. She felt her gaze reflected in the periwinkle blue edged with starburst, curling lashes, black as the sleek, neat-edged cap of hair. Her own eyes edged away, seeking distraction.
‘Quite presentable,' she told him.
‘I suppose you think that deserves flattery in return.'
‘I'm not bothered really.'
The tease was that she meant it. Perhaps it was age that gave her such confidence. Some seven or eight years older than himself, he guessed. And females matured more quickly. She could have tired already of easy compliments. All the same he wanted her to know he was attracted.
‘Max not at home?' he asked, making a connection.
‘He is, but his home's not here. He lives in Pimlico.'
‘So sometimes he just stays over?'
‘That sort of thing, yes. How about you? Have you been a long time with Martin?'
The directness shook him for an instant, then he grinned. ‘Since he picked me out of the gutter, a squalling, unwanted babe.'
She leaned forward to pour coffee for him, then handed it across. ‘But, seriously,
you adopted? Don't you have family of your own?'
‘Do we need to be serious?'
‘Not if you'd rather not, but I'm interested.'
He considered for a moment. It was no business of hers; of anyone's really. But he felt expansive. Intimacies bred intimacy, so why not go with the flow?
‘My mother died when I was born. My dad made a hash of making up for it. We never got on, so he sent me away to school.'
He hadn't meant to give quite so much away, but the wide gaze of her warm brown eyes disarmed him. He was a believer in Fate, and she'd happened along so opportunely. He sensed in her a strength he might find a use for, might sometime need; and by then the words had started of themselves, each half-revelation leading to the need to explain a little more. But he knew when to stop. He didn't want her pity.
BOOK: A Meeting of Minds
6.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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