Morning Frost, страница 1
About the Book
5 October 1982. It’s been one of the worst days of Detective Sergeant Jack Frost’s life. He has buried his wife Mary, and must now endure the wake, attended by all of Denton’s finest.
All, that is, apart from DC Sue Clark, who spends the night pursuing a bogus tip-off, before being summoned to the discovery of a human hand. And things get worse. Local entrepreneur Harry Baskin is shot outside his club and a famous painting goes missing.
As the week goes on, a cyclist is found dead in suspicious circumstances. Frost is on the case, but another disaster – one he is entirely unprepared for – is about to strike . . .
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About the Book
About the Author
Also by James Henry
She shoved the pushbike behind the hedgerow, checking to make sure it wasn’t visible from the road. She felt hot, despite the damp autumn air, and her heart thumped rapidly beneath her sweater, but this was solely due to the exertion of pedalling uphill, and nothing to do with the job she had to carry out.
A narrow, winding lane fifty yards down the hill led to the club, and was the only way to reach the place by car, but on foot there was a track that peeled off from a public footpath through woodland that backed on to the building. Despite it being early November, the trees still had an abundance of brightly coloured foliage. A morning mist hung in the air as she made her way through the autumn mulch.
The rucksack felt heavy, but within ten minutes she had reached the clearing at the back of the club; she made a dash to the rear of the building and hid behind a stack of empty beer crates. Briskly she swapped her damp canvas Dunlops for a pair of red heels from the rucksack – not too grand, just a couple of inches for effect – and whipped off her baggy sweater, revealing a tiny white top that left little to the imagination. After deftly pinning back her auburn hair she produced from the bag a platinum-blonde wig. She used a small compact mirror to check it was straight; satisfied, she snapped it shut and slipped it back inside a red, sequin-studded handbag, next to a Beretta automatic pistol and a lipstick.
Having wedged the rucksack tightly between the stacked crates she slid silently round to the front of the building. Nobody was about. Now it was showtime. She confidently rapped on the door. She made an effort to focus her mind on the job in hand, but really this was a trifle, for the money only, and if anything, her mind was on her next task, something more personal, something she simply had to do before her final bunk to Spain. That detective. When so many of her own had died or been maimed – all thanks to him – it was unacceptable for him to still live. She knew he was looking for her, determined to bring in the last of the gang, but it wasn’t fear of capture that fuelled her desire to exterminate him, it was revenge, pure and simple. Yes, there was only one way for her to find peace of mind: she had to kill Jack Frost.
The door was opened by a goofy young lad of little more than eighteen. He squinted at the bright morning light, but once his eyes had adjusted they goggled at the sight of her provocative appearance.
‘’Ello, can I ’elp?’
‘I’m sure you can, love,’ she purred, seductively. ‘I’m here to see Harry.’
There was a freshness to the early November morning, and drizzle hung in the air, but a tepid sun was starting to peek through the vast bank of grey and allow the wet headstones to glisten. Stanley Mullett, the superintendent of the Denton police division at Eagle Lane, shifted his weight uneasily in the wet grass. There was no denying it, he felt uncomfortable standing by the graveside of a woman he didn’t know. It didn’t help that she was the wife of a detective sergeant he could hardly bear to be in the same room with, and would willingly dismiss at the drop of a hat if he could. But duty was duty.
Mullett glanced surreptitiously at the Rolex his wife had given him last month for his fiftieth birthday. Eleven thirty. The church had been cold and draughty, and now the moisture from the sodden grass was starting to penetrate the leather of his highly polished Loakes, but Mullett knew that his discomfort and inconvenience was far from over. There was the wake to follow. Yes, he thought, almost the whole day will be given up to Mary Frost. The vicar’s voice floated over the remaining mist, a suitably ethereal backdrop to the ample crowd of mourners at the graveside. The deceased’s immediate family stood solemnly beside the casket: elegant mother, respectable-looking father, well-dressed sister and new husband. And to the side, a pace removed, the widower, Detective Sergeant William ‘Jack’ Frost.
Frost was barely recognizable in his smart attire of black tie and heavy overcoat, and though it hadn’t occurred to him to shave, his unruly, sandy-coloured hair for once had a side-parting chiselled into it. These superficial fineries of mourning served to heighten the changes in Frost that even Mullett had noticed develop towards the end of his wife’s illness – the weight loss, the sunken eyes, the greyish complexion. Mullet sniffed contemptuously; though not wholly unsympathetic, he couldn’t help but think that Frost had contributed to his own bad luck.
Alongside the DS were his Eagle Lane chums: the overweight DC Hanlon, Frost’s pal of many years who knew the region inside out, though in reality added little to the department beyond acting as Frost’s driver; and next to him, good old Desk Sergeant Bill Wells, always dependable but failing the CID entrance exams with stoic consistency. Mullett observed how Frost appeared closer to these oddballs than to his own in-laws; it seemed that along with the other CID rabble, Waters, Clarke and Simms, they formed Frost’s real family. The superintendent reflected sadly that sacrificing family ties for the sake of the job hadn’t done much to make Frost a better policeman. Or perhaps it wasn’t such a sacrifice. Mullett shivered as Frost suddenly caught his eye with a look suggesting he could read his mind.
The vicar finished his prayer and the casket was lowered slowly into the ground, as gracefully as was possible. Mullett glanced again at Mary’s relatives; the two women, now in tears, huddled together, whereas the father remained stiff and resolute. A white-haired man in his late sixties, he suddenly appeared familiar. Where had Mullett seen him before?
Behind the front row o
The alarm clock sounded, but Detective Constable Sue Clarke was only half asleep anyway. After a nocturnal stake-out she only ever managed to doze. She reached to shut off the buzzer then realized it wasn’t the alarm but the electronic telephone. Christ, she felt groggy. It was hardly surprising; having returned to her poky flat just before 7 a.m., she had made the mistake of pouring herself a large glass of Blue Nun. The bottle was a birthday present from her mother and had sat there unopened for over a month, but having just spent eight hours lying in a field of stinging nettles she’d been desperate for something to numb the itch. Clarke thought the whole operation a waste of time; she had spent three nights on the look-out for stolen electrical goods being shunted through an old warehouse out at Rainham, in the back of beyond. The station was understaffed, and those who opted for extra shifts were paid overtime, so she’d been fairly amenable – until now. DS Waters, who was looking to move out of police digs, had done the same and had been on a similarly unrewarding stake-out. The wine had seemed to help, but halfway through a second glass she was struck by a powerful wave of nausea and rushed to the bathroom to throw up.
It was now getting on for midday. Clarke picked up the telephone.
‘Hello?’ she croaked, reaching for a glass of water and not finding one.
‘Didn’t wake you, did I, love?’ It was the tired but kindly voice of Night Sergeant Johnny Johnson.
‘It’s all right, Johnny, I was just dozing. What’s up?’
‘It’s just you’re the only one …’
Everyone else from CID was at Mary Frost’s funeral. In the meantime the station was being manned by a skeleton staff including Johnson, who’d accepted a double shift.
‘It’s fine, honestly.’ She scratched beneath the covers at a nettle sting. ‘What’s up?’
‘Nev Sanderson, the old farmer, found something unpleasant while out on his tractor.’
Fields again. Hell, no. The last thing she wanted to do right now was tramp across a farmer’s field.
‘I’m sorry?’ She yawned, fearing she’d not taken in a word he’d said. ‘What was it he found?’
‘A foot. He found a human foot.’
Harry Baskin smelt bad, he knew it. He stank so bad that no amount of cigar smoke would mask it, although he was giving it his best try. He grunted behind the desk, and poured himself half a tumbler of Scotch. The little card game he’d run through the night was a brilliant wheeze, although he knew that having it on a Wednesday, with the busiest nights of the week still in front of him, would take its toll. But times were hard, he mused to himself, and recession meant you had to work all the harder, to squeeze out every penny from the punters, and get them in beyond the usual Friday and Saturday, even if it meant the hassle of staying up all night, and at his age too. He grunted to himself. Who was he kidding? He might tell the wife it was a hardship, and an economic necessity, but in truth it was a just an excuse to stay out gambling and boozing with his pals. He looked down at the pile of banknotes and sniggered again.
Suddenly a sharp knock on the door disturbed him from his thoughts. ‘Come!’ he rasped. The jug-eared youth poked his head in. ‘The girl’s here, boss.’
‘Which girl, Cecil?’ Baskin scratched his expansive midriff. The pain in his lower gut had started to niggle again.
‘The stripper, boss.’ Stripper? He couldn’t recall fixing to see a stripper. Reaching inside his tonic-suit jacket he yanked out another wad of notes, which flopped with a soft sigh on to the desk. Grinning smugly at the sight, he leaned down to open the safe beneath the desk; best not to leave all this cash lying around.
‘Remind me, son, what’s she like, this bird?’
‘Cracker, boss, huge bristols.’ The lad puffed out his cheeks.
‘Cecil, sunshine, there’s more to women than tits. It shouldn’t be the first thing you think of,’ he admonished with a wagging finger. The boy looked forlorn. ‘Never mind, never mind. Where is she?’
‘Right here, boss.’
‘Well, show her in.’
His words coincided with a deafening blast. Cecil careered across the room. Baskin had barely taken in the sight of the boy sliding down the filing cabinet, blood seeping from his chest, when the pistol swung before him and fired. The big gangster keeled over, banknotes flying through the air like confetti. As he lay slumped on the floor, he thought that Cecil was right; the girl was racked; then everything went black.
Frost stood in the grand entrance hall of George and Beryl Simpson’s luxurious Rimmington home and felt as much connection with his in-laws as would a stranger. Should there not be more of a bond, after the experience they’d shared? He paused for a moment; everyone was here for Mary, his Mary. Theirs had not been the perfect marriage by any stretch, but in his way he knew he had loved her; he couldn’t give a monkey’s what anyone else thought. At the end he was with her night and day, and he felt they were reconciled; she even teased him about not being able to dress himself without her there. He smiled sadly at the memory.
Now she was gone, and he was rattling around in that house on his own. What would he do? Hell, what did it matter. He felt … how did he feel? Empty. He went through the open doorway of a large reception room and walked straight to where the drinks were laid out, at the far end of a buffet table, nodding vaguely to one or two guests as he did so. Seizing a cut-glass tumbler he poured three fingers of Scotch and drank swiftly. A sigh escaped his lips.
The last few guests had now arrived and a quiet throng hovered around the finger buffet. Mourners drifted past Frost towards the lounge; he was keen not to engage, affecting a distracted demeanour and avoiding their eye by focusing on The Horse, an impressive painting on the far wall at the foot of the staircase.
His reverie was short-lived.
‘You might’ve shaved, William.’ Frost could feel the scornful gaze of his mother-in-law upon him. She put particular emphasis on the first name he avoided using.
He chose to ignore the rebuke. ‘Popular girl, our Mary,’ he replied instead, but the word ‘our’ jarred uncomfortably. He surveyed the bustle of guests, of whom only a fraction were familiar.
‘Yes, there were plenty who loved her.’ Beryl Simpson observed him with cold eyes and exhaled cigarette smoke. ‘What will you do now?’ she asked, the remark carrying as much concern as if she were enquiring which entrée he’d chosen.
‘Oh, I’ll be fine.’ He said it to himself as much as in response to her question. His attention had already wandered. Who was that chatting to his brother-in-law, Mary’s sister’s husband, Julian? Some strange, swaggering, foreign type who stood out a mile among the ordinary Joes gathered here. Nobody from Denton wore a cravat. Apart from Julian Brazier himself, of course, but then he was a used-car salesman. Together they looked a right pair of Noddies …
Beryl Simpson sighed. ‘Of course you will.’ Abruptly she turned, and with a steadfast clip-clop of heels across the chequered marble floor she made off towards the drinks, leaving a cloud of smoke and a faint trace of perfume in her wake.
‘Suit yourself,’ Frost muttered, patting himself down for cigarettes. Then he remembered that the pockets didn’t work on this cheap black Marks ’n’ Sparks suit. He’d only worn it once before, at his mother’s funeral less than a year ago. And now Mary was gone. He was truly alone in the world – quite a depressing state of affairs if he stopped to think about it. So he wouldn’t. End of. He went in pursuit of his mother-in-law to cadge a cigarette.
Superintendent Mullett, sipping his sherry, watched the exc
‘Superintendent Mullett?’ The departed’s father had unexpectedly sidled up.
‘Yes, indeed,’ Mullett said stiffly. ‘Very sorry for your loss.’
The old fellow sighed through a neatly trimmed, whitening moustache. ‘Yes, yes.’
Mullett was struck again by the sense of familiarity. Where the blazes had he seen him before? Wait, was it …
‘Yes, I thought it was you,’ said Simpson in a low voice. ‘Although, we haven’t seen you square …’
‘Square?’ Of course, the Lodge. George Simpson was a Freemason. That would explain the score of town dignitaries at the funeral. Having made the link, Mullett was anxious to ingratiate himself further, but before he had the chance the crimson face of Desk Sergeant Bill Wells appeared at his shoulder. Damn. To Mullett’s extreme vexation the Master slipped away.
‘Fine woman, Mary Frost,’ Wells said as the superintendent watched Simpson top up the drinks of various guests, all of whom seemed to give him a knowing glance.
‘I can’t say I knew her,’ Mullett remarked. ‘I thought they …’ he began but then curbed his intended comment on the state of the Frosts’ marriage, sensing it might seem inappropriate, and instead said, ‘She was clearly well loved – there’s quite a few here.’