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Authors: Reginald Hill

A Pinch of Snuff

BOOK: A Pinch of Snuff
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A Dalziel and Pascoe novel






'If you find you hate the idea of getting out of bed in the morning, think of it this way - it's a man's work I'm getting up to do.'





Chapter 1


All right.
All right!
gasped Pascoe in his agony. It's June the sixth and it's Normandy. The British Second Army under Montgomery will make its beach-heads between Arromanches and Ouistreham while the Yanks hit the Cotentin peninsula. Then . . .

'That'll do. Rinse. Just the filling to go in now. Thank you, Alison.'

He took the grey paste his assistant had prepared and began to fill the cavity. There wasn't much, Pascoe observed gloomily. The drilling couldn't have taken more than half a minute.

'What did I get this time?' asked Shorter, when he'd finished.

'The lot. You could have had the key to Monty's thunderbox if I'd got it.'

'I obviously missed my calling,' said Shorter. 'Still, it's nice to share at least one of my patients' fantasies. I often wonder what's going on behind the blank stares. Alison, you can push off to lunch now, love. Back sharp at two, though. It's crazy afternoon.

‘What’s that?' asked Pascoe, standing up and fastening his shirt collar which he had always undone surreptitiously till he got on more familiar terms with Shorter.

'Kids,' said Shorter. 'All ages. With mum and without. I don't know which is worse. Peter, can you spare a moment?'

Pascoe glanced at his watch.

'As long as you're not going to tell me I've got pyorrhoea.'

'It's all those dirty words you use,' said Shorter. 'Come into the office and have a mouthwash.'

Pascoe followed him across the vestibule of the old terraced house which had been converted into a surgery. The spring sunshine still had to pass through a stained-glass panel on the front door and it threw warm gules like bloodstains on to the cracked tiled floor.

There were three of them in the practice: MacCrystal, the senior partner, so senior he was almost invisible; Ms Lacewing, early twenties, newly qualified, an advanced thinker; and Shorter himself. He was in his late thirties but it didn't show except at the neck. His hair was thick and black and he was as lean and muscular as a fit twenty- year-old. Pascoe who was a handful of years younger indulged his resentment at the other man's youthfulness by never mentioning it. Over the long period during which he had been a patient, a pleasant first name relationship had developed between the men. They had shared their fantasy fears about each other's professions and Pascoe's revelation of his Gestapo-torture confessions under the drill had given them a running joke, though it had not yet run them closer together than sharing a table if they met in a pub or restaurant.

Perhaps, thought Pascoe as he watched Shorter pouring a stiff gin and tonic, perhaps he's going to invite me and Ellie to his twenty-first party. Or sell us a ticket to the dentists' ball. Or ask me to fix a parking ticket.

And then the afterthought: what a lovely friend I make!

He took his drink and waited before sipping it, as though that would commit him to something.

'You ever go to see blue films?' asked Shorter.

'Ah,' said Pascoe, taken aback. 'Yes. I've seen some. But officially.'

'What? Oh, I get you. No, I don't mean the real hard porn stuff that breaks the law. Above the counter porn's what I mean. Rugby club night out stuff.'

'The Naughty Vicar of Wakefield.
That kind of thing?'

'That's it, sort of.'

'No, I can't say I'm an enthusiast. My wife's always moaning they seem to show nothing else nowadays. Stops her going to see the good cultural stuff like
Deep Throat.'

'I know. Well, I'm not an enthusiast either, you understand, but the other night, well, I was having a drink with a couple of friends and one of them's a member of the Calliope Club...’

'Hang on,' said Pascoe, frowning. 'I know the Calli. That's not quite the same as your local Gaumont, is it? You've got to be a member and they show stuff there which is a bit more controversial than your
Naughty Vicars
or your
Danish Dentists.

'Yes,' agreed Shorter. 'But it's legal, isn't it?'

'Oh yes. As long as they don't overstep the mark. But without knowing what you're going to tell me, Jack, you ought to know there's a lot of pressure to close the place. Well, you will know that anyway if you read the local rag. So have a think before you tell me anything that could involve your mates or even you.'

Which just about defines the bounds of our friendship, thought Pascoe. Someone who was closer, I might listen to and keep it to myself; someone not so close, I'd listen and act. Shorter gets the warning. So now it's up to him.

'No,' said Shorter. 'It's nothing to do with the Club or its members, not really. Look, we went along to the show. There were two films, one a straightforward orgy job and the other, well, it was one of these sex and violence things.
Droit de Seigneur
they called it. Nice simple story line. Beautiful girl kidnapped on wedding night by local loony squire. Lots of nasty things done to her in a dungeon, ending with her being beaten almost to death just before hubbie arrives with rescue party. The squire then gets a taste of his own medicine. Happy ending.'

'Nice,' said Pascoe. 'Then it's off for a curry and chips?'

'Something like that. Only, well, it's daft, and I hardly like to bother anyone. But it's been bothering me.'

Pascoe looked at his watch again and finished his drink.

'You think it went too far?' he said. 'One for the vice squad. Well, I'll mention it, Jack. Thanks for the drink, and the tooth.'

'No,' said Shorter. 'I've seen worse. Only in this one, I think the girl really did get beaten up.'

'I'm sorry?'

'In the dungeon. The squire goes berserk. He's got these metal gauntlets on, from a suit of armour. And a helmet too. Nothing else. It was quite funny for a bit. Then he starts beating her. I forget the exact sequence but in the end it goes into slow motion; they always do, this fist hammers into her face, her mouth's open - she's screaming, naturally - and you see her teeth break. One thing I know about is teeth. I could swear those teeth really

'Good God!' said Pascoe. 'I'd better have another of these. You're saying that ... I mean, for God's sake, a mailed fist! How'd she look at the end of the film? I've heard that the show must go on, but this is ridiculous!'

'She looked fine,' said Shorter. 'But they don’t need to take the shots in the order you see them, do they?'

'Just testing you,' said Pascoe. 'But you must admit it seems daft! I mean, you've no doubt the rest of the nastiness was all faked?'

'Not much. Not that they don't do sword wounds and whip lashes very well. But I've never seen a real sword wound or whip lash! Teeth I know. Let me explain. The usual thing in a film would be, someone flings a punch to the jaw, head jerks back, punch misses of course, on the sound track someone hammers a mallet into a cabbage, the guy on the screen spits out a mouthful of plastic teeth, shakes his head, and wades back into the fight.'

'And that's unrealistic?'

'I'll say,' said Shorter. 'With a bare fist it's unrealistic, with a metal glove it's impossible. No, what would really happen would be dislocation, probably fracture of the jaw. The lips and cheeks would splatter and the teeth be pushed through. A fine haze of blood and saliva would issue from the mouth and nose. You could mock it up, I suppose, but you'd need an actress with a double-jointed face.'

'And this is what you say happened in this film.'

'It was a flash,' said Shorter. 'Just a couple of seconds.'

'Anybody else say anything?'

'No,' admitted Shorter. 'Not that I heard.'

'I see,' said Pascoe, frowning. 'Now, why are you telling me this?'

'Why?' Shorter sounded surprised. 'Isn't it obvious? Look, as far as I'm concerned they can mock up anything they like in the film studios. If they can find an audience, let them have it. I'll watch cowboys being shot and nuns being raped, and rubber sharks biting off rubber legs, and I'll blame only myself for paying the ticket money. No, I'll go further though I know our Ms Lacewing would pump my balls full of novocaine if she could hear me! It doesn't all have to be fake. If some poor scrubber finds the best way to pay the rent is to let herself be screwed in front of the cameras, then I won't lose much sleep over that. But this was something else. This was assault. In fact the way her head jerked sideways, I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up as murder.'

'Well, there's a thing,' murmured Pascoe. 'Would you stake your professional reputation?'

Shorter, who had been looking very serious, suddenly grinned.

'Not me,' he said. 'I really
convinced that John Wayne died at the Alamo, But it's bothered me a bit. And you're the only detective-inspector I know, so now it can bother you while I get back to teeth.'

'Not mine,' said Pascoe smugly. 'Not for six months.'

'That's right. But don't forget you're due to have the barnacles scraped off. Monday, I think.

‘I've fixed you up with our Ms Lacewing. She's a specialist in hygiene, would you believe?'

'I also gather that she too doesn't care what goes on at the Calliope Kinema Club,' said Pascoe.

'What? Oh, of course, you'd know about that. The picketing, you mean. She's tried to get my wife interested in that lot but no joy there, I'm glad to say. No, if I were you I'd keep off the Calli while she's got you in the chair. On the other hand I'm sure she'd be fascinated by any plans Bevin might have for harnessing female labour in the war effort.'


'Shorter,' said Detective-Superintendent Andrew Dalziel reflectively. 'Does your fillings in a shabby mac and a big hat, does he?'

'Pardon?' said Pascoe.

'The blue film brigade,' said Dalziel, scratching his gut.

'I managed to grasp the reference to the shabby mac,' said Pascoe.

'Clever boy. Well, they need the big hats to hold on their laps.'

'Ah,' said Pascoe.

'Of course it's a dead giveaway when they stand up. Jesus, my guts are bad!'

Scatophagous crapulence, diagnosed Pascoe, but he kept an expression of studied indifference on his face. On his bad days Dalziel was quite unpredictable and it was hard for his inferiors to steer a path between overt and silent insolence.

‘I reckon it's an ulcer,’ said Dalziel. 'It's this bloody diet. I'm starving the thing and it's fighting back.'

He thumped his paunch viciously. There was certainly less of it than there had been a couple of years earlier when the diet had first begun. But the path of righteousness is steep and there had been much backsliding and strait is the gate and it would still be a tight squeeze for Dalziel to get through.

'Shorter,' reminded Pascoe. 'My dentist.'

'Not one for us. Mention it to Sergeant Wield, though. How's he shaping?'

'All right, I think.'

'Shown his face at the Calli, has he? That's why I picked him, that face. He'll never be a master of disguise, but, Christ, he'll frighten the horses!'

This was a reference to (a) Sergeant Wield's startling ugliness and (b) the Superintendent's subtle tactic for satisfying both parties to a complaint. The Calliope Kinema Club had opened eighteen months earlier and after an uneasy period as a sort of art house it had finally settled for a level of cine-porn a couple of steps beyond what was available at Gaumonts, ABCs and on children's television. All might have been well had the Calli known its place, wherever that was. But wherever it was, it certainly wasn't in Wilkinson Square. Unlike most centrally situated monuments to the Regency, Wilkinson Square had not relaxed and enjoyed the rape of developers and commerce.

Even the subtler advances of doctors' surgeries, solicitors' chambers and civil servants' offices had been resisted. It was true that some of the larger houses had become flats and one had even been turned into a private school which for smartness of uniform and eccentricity of curriculum was not easily matched, but a large proportion of the fifteen houses which comprised the Square remained in private occupation. Even the school was forgiven as a necessary antidote to the creeping greyness of post-war education based on proletarian envy and Marxist subversion. No parent of sense with a lad aged six to eleven could be blamed for supporting this symbol of a nation's freedoms, whatever the price. The price included learning to add in pounds, shillings and pence and being subjected to Dr Haggard's interesting theories on corporal punishment, but it was little to pay for the social kudos of having a Wilkinson House certificate.

What inefficiency and paedophobia could not achieve, inflation and a broken economy did, and in the mid-seventies so many parents had a change of educational conscience that the school finally closed. The inhabitants of Wilkinson Square watched the house with interest and suspicion. The best they could hope for was expensive flats, the worst they feared was NALGO offices.

BOOK: A Pinch of Snuff
13.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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