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Authors: Natasha Cooper

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BOOK: A Place of Safety
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‘We need to talk,’ Ben went on. ‘Your secretary will be leaving any minute now, unless she’s changed the habit of a lifetime. As soon as she’s gone, I want you to come and meet me at the corner of Bread Street and Cheapside. OK? I’ll be waiting there in fifteen minutes’ time.’
There was no chance to say anything before Ben cut the connection. Toby tried to breathe, stretching upwards to rid his stomach of the scourer. Every movement set up a new pain somewhere else in his body. He listened to Jo packing up and going downstairs.
Once, she would have called out a perky ‘good night’, but these days she was too sulky for that. He heard the front door bang, then rang Margaret on the internal phone to say he had to go out for half an hour or so but would be back well before half past six. She didn’t sound surprised, or even very interested.
Outside the front door, he looked both ways, like a child fresh from his first lessons in road-crossing. No one was paying any attention, still less spying on him. Huddling himself into his coat, which had been far too expensive even in the sales but at least made him look like the director of an important art gallery, he walked to the rendezvous.
The streets were so full of people struggling to get home from work that he understood why Ben had waited until now to summon him. No one would notice them or bother to eavesdrop in all these crowds.
‘You’re late,’ Ben said when Toby reached the corner. ‘Let’s walk.’
They set off in the direction of Moorgate, heads down against the cold like everyone else.
‘OK, Tobe. There’s a Hieronymus Bosch in next week’s old master sale at Goode & Floore’s. We want you to buy it. It’s
lot number 50, the only Bosch in the catalogue, so there can’t be any confusion.’
Toby had already been sent the catalogue and had noticed the Bosch. They didn’t come up very often. But he hadn’t paid much attention because it was only a dull religious panel, not one of the complex allegories.
‘Did you hear what I said?’ Ben demanded.
‘I heard. But I can’t do it.’ Toby couldn’t believe what he’d just said. He’d had no intention of rebelling when he’d left the house. Muscles in his legs twitched and he put down a hand to hold over the worst one in his thigh. Where on earth had his subconscious found this terrifying courage?
‘Either I’m not hearing you properly,’ Ben said quite calmly. ‘Or you’ve forgotten who you’re talking to.’
‘No, I haven’t. I should have told you to publish and be damned in the first place. But I’m doing it now. You can tell my board of trustees and every bloody newspaper in the country the truth about the Clouet drawings, if you want. I don’t care. But I am
not
going to buy or sell any more of your fakes. OK?’
Ben laughed. Toby had his freezing hands behind his back now. They were already painful, but he dug the nails of the right hand into the palm of the left to keep his courage up. He felt Ben’s hand tucking itself cosily into the crook of his elbow. His resolution slipped, along with his grip on his own hands, and he asked himself what he thought he was doing.
‘My boss keeps wanting me to give you one of his demonstrations,’ Ben said in the easy voice an old friend might use about his plans for a children’s party, ‘but up till now I’ve managed to persuade him that you’ll do what he wants without anything like that. You will, won’t you, Tobe?’
‘No. I know I’ll lose my reputation, my job, my home, and most of my friends, but so be it. Anything would be better than helping you flood the market with fakes.’
‘I doubt that,’ Ben said. ‘Not that it matters now. You see, the stakes have risen a bit. I didn’t want to have to tell you, but I see I’ve got to. It’s not just your reputation you’re risking. Not any more. My boss hasn’t decided yet which one of your boys he’ll go for, but it’s usually the youngest. He’s found that’s the quickest way to make any parent do what he wants. Could you bear to watch your young Meredith screaming as first his arms are broken, and then his legs, and then God knows what else is done to him?’
Ben spoke so casually that it was a moment before Toby understood what he’d heard.
‘You
bastard.’
Toby wanted to grab Ben’s neck and throttle him, but there were too many people around, and Ben was bigger and stronger than he was, and he was a hopeless coward anyway.
‘Now, now. There’s no need to be offensive,’ Ben said. ‘Do as you’re told and you’ll be safe. So will your sons. Rebel again, and they will be hurt.’
Where exactly was Peter in all this? Toby asked himself. Did he know what Ben was threatening now? Had he sent him to do it? Could anyone have changed that much, even in eighteen years?
Ben reached across the narrow space between them to flick his fingers against Toby’s cheek. The patch of skin stung.
‘Concentrate,’ he said. ‘And remember that it usually takes only one child killed to make anyone toe the line.’
‘Christ! You’re unreal.’
‘You wish. Don’t forget, Toby, I’m all that stands between you and my boss. If you screw up, or if you so much as breathe a word of this to the police or anyone else, he’ll pick up one of your boys straight away and take him to pieces in front of you.’
Toby shut his eyes. He could feel the helpless, humiliating tears seeping out through his lashes. This couldn’t be happening
to him. He’d made mistakes, been a fool – worse than a fool when he’d faked the Clouet drawings with Peter – but he hadn’t done anything nearly bad enough to warrant this.
‘Oh, don’t be so pathetic.’
When Toby opened his eyes again Ben had gone. But he’d left behind a kind of miasma. Toby had never felt anything like it. He wanted to rush home and scrub his whole body under the shower to get rid of every trace of it before it could contaminate him.
When Trish reached the Carfields’ huge penthouse flat at ten past eight, she found that she was the first of the guests to arrive. She handed over her present – a beautiful glazed jar of red Camargue rice, and left her coat on what was obviously the spare bed, an uncomfortable-looking brushed-steel platform covered in pristine pale-grey suede. That didn’t do anything for her, but the amazing living room made her writhe with envy.
It was nearly twice the size of hers and furnished with the kind of perfect simplicity that must have cost nearly as much as the flat itself. She was glad she was wearing her one plain black designer dress this evening, instead of her usual trousers, and had even put on some mascara.
Standing at one of the enormous, uncurtained windows beside her host a few minutes later, she looked out at the inky river, and the jewel-like lights strung on garlands along the edge.
‘God, London’s gorgeous.’
‘Isn’t it?’ Jeremy Carfield sounded warmly approving. ‘Angelique yearns for Paris. She’s always on at me to move there, but I couldn’t bear to leave all this.’
‘It may look pretty,’ his wife said in charmingly accented English, ‘but it is violent beyond belief. The sooner we leave, the better.’
‘Oh, nonsense, Angelique. London’s as safe as any European city. Now, Trish, champagne or a margarita?’
‘Champagne, please,’ Trish said. She loved margaritas and might have found it difficult to pace herself safely if she’d started on them. Champagne didn’t do nearly as much for her and she could usually make a single glass last all evening.
She hoped George would arrive soon. It wasn’t that she needed his support or would let herself talk to him for more than about two seconds at someone else’s dinner, but these were his clients and she knew nothing about them. It would be all too easy to pick a tactless subject if she had no guide.
‘Of course, London is more violent than Paris,’ Angelique said, with a stubbornness that belied her delicate prettiness and breathy voice. ‘Only this morning they have found a body in the river, just by the bank there. With a bullet in its head.’
‘You’re not serious,’ Trish said.
‘But yes,’ Angelique said. ‘They picked it out at seven-thirty this morning. I heard the police boats coming, so I watched them to see what was happening.’ She waved to a beautiful antique brass telescope, which provided the only ornament on a deep window seat that ran under the windows. ‘I couldn’t see anything, but later I heard it on the news.’
‘I saw the boats myself,’ Trish admitted, thinking so much had happened since this morning’s walk with David that it could have taken place a week ago. ‘But that was later. About half-past eight. If they’d already found the body, what were they looking for then?’
Angelique shrugged. ‘Evidence to identify it – it was naked, you see – and for the gun.’
‘I wish I’d had time to listen to the radio this evening.’ Trish thought of everything she knew about the shortage of police officers and about all the incident rooms that were dealing with three or four murders at once. How could they have spared all those officers and boats and divers to look for something to
identify a single body? They must believe this death was part of something much bigger than that.
She saw both Carfields looking at her in surprise, so she quickly said: ‘How awful!’
‘Except that if they were searching for a gun it sounds much more like suicide than murder,’ Carfield said, returning with a glass of champagne for Trish. ‘No killer would throw away a useful weapon.’
‘How could it possibly have been suicide?’ Trish said without thinking about the effect of her sharp question on George’s client. ‘No one’s going to be able to walk naked through London to shoot himself on the edge of a bridge without being stopped – or at least seen on a security camera. No, no. This is murder. It has to be.’
Her imagination sent pictures of what might have happened flashing through her brain. Even the least brutal of them was so shocking it made Toby Fullwell’s reported fear over his five-million-pound sale seem ludicrously trivial. As Buxford had said, that was only money. At the very least, this story of the naked body must have involved real terror. The thought of it turned the residual taste of champagne nauseatingly metallic on Trish’s tongue.
‘It
must
have been suicide,’ Carfield said with an edge that told her to keep quiet. ‘So none of us needs worry. The mad and miserable have always used rivers for release, in Paris just as much as London. There’s the bell, Angelique darling. Why don’t you let the others in?’ When his wife had gone, he turned back to Trish. ‘You must be local if you were crossing the bridge this morning.’
She told him obediently where she lived, gazing out at the ravishing black-and-gold spectacle in front of them and trying to deal with the fact that someone had committed murder within ten minutes of her front door. A barge pushed its way up river, thrusting the water away from the bows in
two fans that looked brilliantly white against the blackness of the river.
‘Was the body male or female?’ she asked.
‘Male,’ Carfield said, watching her over the rim of his champagne glass. ‘Why?’
‘I was thinking of the suicide figures,’ she said at random. ‘Statistics show that far more men than women kill themselves these days.’
Carfield said coldly that he supposed she must come across that kind of information in her work. Remembering her duty to him as George’s client, Trish forced the thought of the body to the back of her mind and tried to ask intelligent questions about the future of software until Angelique introduced her to the new guests.
They were a couple who owned a company that made pop videos. Their whippy bodies told Trish that they must spend a long time in the gym, and their superconfident aura that their company was successful. It wasn’t their fault that they didn’t share her horror of the story about the body, but she found their imperviousness unpleasant.
Failing to find any points of contact with them, Trish soon abandoned the idea of a real conversation and asked about their skiing plans. She had already forgotten their names and thought of them as the He-producer and the She-producer. Luckily they were flying off just after Christmas and had an elaborate programme of off-piste skiing already arranged. Telling her about it lasted right through George’s appearance and the much later arrival of the last two guests. At last, Angelique announced that dinner was ready.
The food was good, and conversation soon became less laboured. No one said anything more about the body in the river, although Trish thought, looking from one face to the next, that she wasn’t the only one who found it hard to forget.
Carfield talked well, and eventually Trish made everyone
laugh with an account of one of her more eccentric cases. The main-course plates had just been collected when the front-door bell rang.
‘Who’s that?’ Carfield asked sharply, as though his wife had X-ray vision.
She shrugged elegantly and turned away to consult one of the two young Asian women who were distributing pudding plates among her guests. Trish noticed that the video producers were exchanging complicit glances.
‘It should be our contribution to the evening,’ the She-producer said. ‘I knew we mustn’t bring flowers because of Angelique’s hay fever, and chocolates are so suburban. One of us had better answer the door or they won’t make the delivery.’
‘How very generous of you,’ Carfield said. ‘Go ahead. Hold the pudding Angelique.’ He went to a concealed cupboard below the window seat and took out a small stack of mirrored-glass squares.
Trish understood the video producers’ sly smiles and felt more uncomfortable than ever. How was she going to get out of this without offending George’s client? Inspiration struck her as she remembered the last dinner she had given, when three of the guests had refused to eat one or other course because of their allergies and food intolerances.
‘Not for me, Jeremy,’ she said, fixing him with the same kind of sadly accusing stare she’d seen on their faces. ‘The awful thing is I’m allergic. I just can’t take cocaine.’
‘You can’t be,’ said the He-producer, laughing at her. ‘You’re probably just inexperienced and afraid. Have a go. I’ll talk you through the process. You’ll enjoy it, believe me.’
Trish smiled at him and saw even more complacency in his pale eyes, and enough arrogance and contempt to make her hate him.
‘No, thank you,’ she said sweetly. ‘I’ve met too many of the
mules who have to swallow the stuff before they smuggle it in. If you thought about how they excrete it and then pick it out of their own shit, you might be allergic, too.’
The She-producer looked at Trish with as much disgust as though she had just expelled a fart. Trish turned in apology to her host.
‘I don’t want to be a party-pooper,’ she said, ‘but I’ve got to get into chambers early tomorrow, so I should probably leave you to it.’
George was getting to his feet, too. Trish frowned at him, slightly shaking her head. He ignored the gesture, thanked Angelique for a superb evening and made his own excuses.
‘You didn’t have to do that,’ Trish said as they reached the marble and glass atrium at the foot of the building. ‘I’d hate to cause trouble with one of your best clients.’
‘Don’t worry. I’ve said worse things to Jeremy in my time, and I was glad of the excuse to get out.’ He put his arm around her shoulders. ‘I’ve had a hell of a day. What about you?’
This was clearly not the moment to tell him about David’s fight. She didn’t think she’d bother him with Buxford’s peculiar little enquiry either. Not yet anyway.
‘Not too bad. I must say I was amused by the delivery,’ she said, leaning against him. ‘I thought that was a kind of urban myth.’
‘Or a wish-fulfilment fantasy.’ He sounded more like himself. ‘I’m sorry it had to happen when you were there. I know how strongly you feel about coke.’
‘Only because of the number of people whose whole lives have been wrecked in order to produce a momentary pleasure for self-indulgent tossers like that.’ Trish shook herself like a wet dog. ‘You know, I hate the snobbishness of cool almost more than the sort that comes from owning the same five thousand acres for four hundred years.’
‘I know you do. It’s one of the reasons I love you. May I stay tonight?’
They’d reached the glass doors out into the street. A uniformed doorman let them out. The cold was like a fist punching into their faces. Trish revelled in it, breathing so deeply that she had a moment of dizziness and had to lean against him.
‘Of course. It would be mad to go back to Fulham now.’
‘Yes, and David will be asleep.’
 
Next morning, she had a difficult time with David at breakfast, dealing with more questions about what the divers had really been doing in the river. It turned out that he’d known all about the naked body when they were walking home yesterday, and about the bullet, because he’d heard about them at school. Now all he wanted to know was when the murderer would be caught.
His voice wobbled on the word ‘murderer’. Aching for him, trying to make him feel even a little safer, Trish talked gently about the way the police ran their investigations, and the kind of evidence they would be trying to find now. She wished she had some facts she could use to reassure him and did her best with generalities.
It didn’t work, and he soon stopped talking altogether. The walk to school felt twice as long as usual. Today he kept to the very edge of the pavement, even when lorries thundered past, as though he was afraid to get anywhere near the parapet or look over at the river.
When they reached the school gates, he ran straight in, and didn’t even produce his usual wave when he reached the door into the juniors’ part of the building. Trish decided to phone his godmother, Caro Lyalt, who was an inspector in the Met, as soon as soon as she got to chambers. If anyone could help now, it would be Caro.
But she found Robert Anstey blocking her way. He smiled at
her with an expression of such self-satisfaction that he looked like a camel. She knew he wanted her to ask what he was looking so pleased about, so she smiled at him and kept her mouth shut. Clearly disappointed, he sauntered into Antony’s room and shut the door behind him.
Trish went straight to the clerks’ room to find out what was going on.
‘Nothing to worry you,’ Steve said, pursing his mouth to show that he was going to tell no secrets.
‘Come on. It’s obviously a big case. Tell me about it.’
‘It’s crime.’ He bared his teeth in what might have passed for a smile. ‘And you keep telling me you don’t do crime any more, so it can’t be of any interest to you.’
‘What sort of crime?’
‘A solicitor’s been charged with laundering money for a client,’ Steve said, casually shuffling some papers on his desk. ‘We’re for the defence.’
‘That doesn’t sound like Antony,’ Trish said, remembering the disdain with which he had once talked about the lower end of the legal and accountancy professions, where he’d claimed money-laundering was rife. ‘Who’s the solicitor?’
‘Monica Carrell, the youngest partner at Flyte Wilson. They only made her an equity partner last year. Must be regretting it now, mustn’t they?’
That explained it. Flyte Wilson was a huge international firm with a great reputation and a vast list of commercial clients. But it didn’t explain why Antony had picked Robert to be his junior.
Trish thought furiously of the hours she’d put in on Antony’s cases over the past year, sacrificing huge amounts of time she could have spent with her family to do it. They hadn’t lost a single one of those cases and yet Antony had still dumped her for Robert. Presumably he’d had this planned when he’d thrown her Henry Buxford’s trivial little job as a kind of sop. Bastard!
Hating him and Robert, and Buxford too, Trish stomped off to her own room to get hold of Caro. The phone rang for nearly a minute before she answered, sounding breathless and harassed.
BOOK: A Place of Safety
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