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The Fish Kisser

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THE FISH KISSER
THE FISH KISSER

James Hawkins

A Castle Street Mystery

Copyright © James Hawkins, 2001

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except for brief passages for purposes of review) without the prior permission of Dundurn Press. Permission to photocopy should be requested from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency.

Editor: Barry Jowett

Copy-Editor: Natalie Barrington

Design: Bruna Brunelli

Printer: Webcom

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

Hawkins, D. James (Derek James), 1947–

The fish kisser

“A Castle Street Mystery.”

ISBN 0-88882-240-5

I. Title.

PS8565.A848F58 2001   C813.'6   C2001-902372-3   PR9199.4.H38F58 2001

1  2  3  4  5   05  04  03  02  01

We acknowledge the support of the
Canada Council for the Arts
and the
Ontario Arts Council
for our publishing program. We also acknowledge the financial support of the
Government of Canada
through the
Book Publishing Industry Development Program
and
The Association for the Export of Canadian Books,
and the
Government of Ontario
through the
Ontario Book Publishers Tax Credit
program.

Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in this book. The author and the publisher welcome any information enabling them to rectify any references or credit in subsequent editions.

J. Kirk Howard, President

Printed and bound in Canada.

Printed on recycled paper.

Dundurn Press
8 Market Street
Suite 200
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5E 1M6

Dundurn Press
73 Lime Walk
Headington, Oxford,
England
OX3 7AD

Dundurn Press
2250 Military Road
Tonawanda NY
U.S.A. 14150

Terrorism will be the warfare of the twenty-first century, and cyber-weaponry will form a major armament.

This book is dedicated to all victims of terrorism (especially those who succumbed to the New York attack, September 11, 2001), and to all members of the world's security services who have given their lives in pursuit of individuals and organisations who wage this insidious war.

— James Hawkins
September 12, 2001

chapter one

The giant ship was evaporating. Twinkling lights from the Calypso Bar, in the aft, were still clearly visible, but the remainder of the vessel was slowly being sucked into the black hole of night. Roger LeClarc strained to see through the mist, telling himself he was dreaming.

“Shit!” He was not.

“Bastards,” he screamed after the ship. “You bastards.”

With a soft but firm hand the wake of the propeller's wash lifted him above the surrounding sea, offering a tantalizingly clear view of the departing ship. He considered waving, even did briefly, but self-consciously dropped his arm as the swell gently let him down. Was he trying to summon help or simply waving a final goodbye?

“God, the water's cold.”

An uncontrollable spate of shivering attacked him—presaging the turmoil headed his way. Gasping
frantically, forcing mouthfuls of chilly moist air into his constricted lungs, he retched as the salt-laden ozone stung the back of his throat. “Come back,” he yelled. “Come back.” But the waves swallowed his voice.

Like the closing shot from an old tearjerker movie, the increasing distance gradually washed the colour from the ship's lights and they faded to grey in the gloom, leaving Roger pondering his chances of being rescued. “Nil,” he figured, but then his analytical mind cut in and offered hope. It's the North Sea not the Pacific. Twenty miles to land at most. Plenty of coastal shipping. I'm still alive so I must have some chance. Start swimming …

Which way?

Home …

But where is home?

Treading water, he slowly spun, seeking land, lights, life. Finding none, he returned for a last glimpse of the giant passenger ferry, now barely a smudge of radiance in a sea of black, and paddled, half-heartedly, after it.

Céline Dion crooning “My heart will go on” provided an inappropriate reminder of the Titanic to the few unperturbed passengers still clustered in the Calypso Bar, despite the late hour. Few were sufficiently sober, or sufficiently interested, to listen. But Len, the barman, a veteran of a thousand similar crossings, couldn't resist mumbling along with the tune, and three die-hards on capstan chairs at the end of the bar mockingly joined in, then exploded in laughter when he caught on and gave them a nasty look.

“Bloody cops,” he breathed, sizing them up with a bad taste in his mouth. Three tall, self-confident men travelling together. Too smart for truck drivers: One grey suit; two blue blazers; hair by Anton or Antoinette; decent cologne—not Price-Right. Not holidaymakers
either—too relaxed. Salesmen perhaps? But he shook his head. “Cops—definitely.” It was the way they kept constant surveillance, controlled everyone with an inquisitive stare, and sustained a bubble of hostile space around them that kept most at bay during the evening, observing the invisible warning sign: “Dangerous animals—keep back.”

“Cops,” he breathed again. Not that he cared. His petty pilfering wouldn't attract the attention of a loss prevention officer in a condom factory, let alone a sizeable undercover squad. If he could get rid of them, and the other stragglers whom he knew from bitter experience would keep him up all night, he'd sleep away most of the voyage to Holland.

“Another round, gentlemen?” he inquired as the laughter subsided. Could he push them into admitting they'd had enough?

“Good idea,” shouted one, to his chagrin, and they squabbled over whose turn it was to pay.

Thwarted, Len substituted a 1940s Vera Lynn for Cé line Dion; The White Cliffs of Dover for Titanic. They'll hate this. They loved it.
“There'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover,”
they caroused, then exploded in laughter at the dismay on his face.

As Len sullenly pulled the drinks, Vera romanticized about a country which the three London policemen had little knowledge. Shepherds tending sheep and valleys in bloom were not part of their daily landscape. A barren desert of concrete, glass, and steel was nearer the mark; urban chasms of grey flat-fronted buildings, made interesting only by the accidental and unlawful activities of others—at least graffiti and garbage added colour, shape, and dimension.

“Serg, we've got a problem,” an out-of-breath, forty-ish, fourth member was saying as he joined the group.

His statement, intended for the leader, Detective Sergeant Barry Jones, was pounced on by one of the others, who mumbled into his beer, “You've always got a problem.”

A look of warning from the sergeant straightened him up. “Sorry, Sir,” he said, pulling himself together with a fixed smile.

“But why not give it a rest. Relax and have a drink. It's your round anyway.”

“Sergeant, it's urgent,” the newcomer implored, shutting out the other two, his mouth taut with earnestness, his blue eyes wide—pleading to be taken seriously.

“O.K., Inspector Bliss, shoot. What's your problem?”

The others spluttered into stupid laughter, “Problems, problems.”

“In private,” he added, catching the sergeant's sleeve.

Sergeant Jones shook him off and puckered his lips for a drink. “Oh come on, Sir. Spit it out, I haven't got all night. We've got serious work to do.”

Bliss hesitated, pivoting around, checking for eavesdroppers. Len had made himself scarce, washing glasses further along the bar, hoping they'd get the message. No one else was close, though two men arguing at a small table set into an alcove caught his eye. Instinct and twenty years experience alerted his senses. When he'd wandered through the bar earlier the alcove tables, with room for two or three at a squeeze, had been the preserve of courting couples, some, he assumed by the tartness of the women, being paid for their services. Now, as he watched, the two men huddled together, quarrelling face to face. Putting it down to a lover's tiff, he turned back to the sergeant with a sobering stare. “I've lost him,” he said forcefully.

Sergeant Jones critically examined the clarity of his beer against an ornamental bar lamp—an art nouveau
knock-off masquerading as Lalique—then shrugged. “So what. We're on a ship, aren't we? He couldn't get off … unless he's decided to swim to Amsterdam.”

The other two roared.

“Have a drink Guv'nor and stop worrying,” continued the sergeant, drawing the barman toward him with a crook of a finger.

“No, thank you, Sergeant. I'm on duty,” Bliss countered pointedly, and stood in silence for a second as he contemplated pulling rank. Then, realizing the men would be of little use, decided to let it go. “I'm going to look for him myself,” he said, moving toward the door.

“Miserable git,” mumbled one of the others. “No wonder yer missus left yer.”

“She didn't leave …” he turned defensively, annoyed that he was still defined by a relationship that had sunk years ago; then decided not to waste his breath, not to salt his own wounds. Anyway, there had been others.

The argument between the two “lovers” in the alcove was briefly put on hold as Bliss passed. The second he was out of the way, Billy Motsom, a stubby, forty-something, professional enforcer, slinking behind the manicured facade of a mutual fund salesman, stabbed a finger at the other man, spitting, “The Arab wants this guy's head on a plate. You'd better deliver, or it'll be your f'kin head.”

The other, Nosmo King, taller and decidedly unmanicured, rose determinedly, seeking a way out when Motsom slammed his fist on the table. “You lost him, so you'd better stop this ship and get him picked up damn quick. Understand?” King mopped his forehead with his sleeve desperate to gain thinking time, but Motsom's stare pierced painfully into his skull.

BOOK: The Fish Kisser
3.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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