Time of Death, страница 1часть #8 серии Inspector Carlyle
Time of Death
Also by James Craig
About the Author
About the Publisher
Finding himself once again locked out of the Parker House hostel, Walter Poonoosamy, the drunk known as ‘Dog’, walked round the corner, into Drury Lane and headed north. His destination was the warren of streets around the British Museum. A tourist magnet, the area boasted plenty of all-you-can-eat restaurants, so the pickings were usually good.
Big Ben could just be heard chiming one o’clock as Dog turned into Great Russell Street. At this time of night the street was empty, just the way he liked it. He eyed the black refuse sacks that had been left out on the pavement, waiting for collection by Camden’s heroic bin men. The morning’s first collection truck would be along at around 7 a.m.; by then, most of the sacks would have been opened, and the rubbish strewn up and down the street. Dog knew from bitter experience that it was the early dosser that got the leftovers. Hunger was poking through his inebriation and he had to get in quick before the competition for the street buffet – the dossers from Tottenham Court Road and Russell Square – turned up. Now was the prime time to forage for leftover food, clothes and whatever other useful bits and pieces the locals had thrown away.
After considering various options, Dog stepped up to a collection of refuse sacks piled by a street lamp on the east side of the street, outside an Indian restaurant called Sitaaray. Pulling a Stanley knife out of his jacket pocket, he bent down and carefully slit open the nearest bag. A couple of minutes of careful rummaging yielded some decent leftovers: lamb shaami and chicken masala, as well as a couple of peshwari naan. As a meal, it was better than anything that he would have got at the hostel, and would go perfectly with the remains of the two-litre bottle of Diamond White cider that he had saved from earlier in the day. Checking up and down the road to make sure that no one had spied upon his good fortune, Dog gave a silent prayer of thanks for the city’s endless bounty before retreating into the darkness of a nearby alleyway at the rear of a huge block of mansion flats to set about his feast.
Still dressed, unable to sleep, Agatha Mills stood at her living-room window and gazed out at the floodlit splendour of the British Museum. The view was the best thing about the flat, especially at night; she often spent time contemplating its Ionic columns and the sculptures on the pediment over the main entrance, depicting The Progress of Civilisation.
Progress indeed, Agatha thought sadly, shaking her head.
This view had been the thing that had made her fall in love with the flat when they had first seen it, almost forty years ago. She had badgered Henry to pay the asking price immediately, even though they couldn’t afford it. He had been very grumpy about it at the time, something that still made her smile, even now. Over the years, however, as it became clear that the flat was the one sound financial investment they’d made in their entire lives, her husband had relented and graciously accepted that she had been right.
For Agatha, however, their joy in Great Russell Street had always been tinged with sadness. From that first visit, she had dreamed of taking her own children down the stairs, across the road and into the Museum. She had daydreamed of picnics in the courtyard, lost afternoons spent among the Egyptian mummies or the Roman treasures. If, at the time, she had known that there would be no children, she would have felt utterly crushed. Even now, there was a sharp stab of regret that she knew would never go away.
However, a stoical pragmatism ruled the Mills household: you have to live with your regrets – and they had done so. Life went on. They had found other things to occupy their time and their emotions. Sometimes she wondered if Henry was as disappointed as she was – being a man, after all – but ultimately that didn’t matter. They weren’t having some kind of competition to see who could wear more of their heart on their sleeve.
She thought of him now, asleep in their double bed and smiled. He was a good man who had taken on her struggles and made them his own. Over the years she had realised that he was a truly remarkable companion and she was lucky to have him.
A movement in the street below caught her eye. Stepping closer to the window, she gazed down on a tramp going through the rubbish, looking for something to eat, or maybe some discarded clothing. For Agatha, at her window at this time of night, it was a fairly common sight and no longer elicited much of a response other than the gentle voyeuristic thrill of spying on another human being going about their business. Having spent much of her life working in poorer countries, she was used to human scavenging. Indeed, she had seen much worse than London had to offer. Here, however, Agatha had found that she was less sympathetic to the plight of others. Maybe it was just that she was getting older, but she wondered if it was the city making her harder.
Like the other residents of Ridgemount Mansions, Agatha was infuriated by the rubbish that was strewn across the pavement most mornings, once their carefully sorted and bagged waste had been methodically dissected by the homeless ghosts who stalked the empty streets in the middle of the night. Occasionally, someone would call the police but it was a complete waste of time; if they ever turned up at all, the officers invariably failed to hide their disinterest in such a minor matter and made only the most perfunctory attempts to move the miscreants on.
She watched as the man collected a selection of items from one of the bags put out by the restaurant situated a couple of doors down the street, before disappearing into the shadows to enjoy his meal. A gust of wind sent some empty foil containers spinning into the road. Otherwise, nothing moved on the street below.
Stepping away from the window, Agatha heard a noise from the kitchen. Henry was clearly having trouble sleeping again. Until recently, it had been unusual for him to get up in the night but now, it was an increasingly frequent occurrence. As he got older, he was becoming more restless.
‘Henry?’ She padded out of the living room and peered along the hall. The kitchen light was on. ‘Are you all right?’ The noise in the kitchen stopped, but there was no reply. He’s becoming deafer by the day, she reflected. We’re both getting on. That was another thing about not having kids: who would look after them when things got too much? Agatha’s mother had ended up in a home; not much of a home, more a kind of modern-day bedlam. For Agatha the guilt and the shame of leaving her there was bad enough, but it was as nothing compared to her steely determination that the same thing would not happen to herself, nor to her husband. Her father had keeled over from a heart attack while out buying a loaf of bread one day. At the time, it had been a terrible shock but, on reflection, that was a far better w
‘Henry?’ she repeated sharply, annoyed by her own morbid musings. ‘What are you doing? It’s really rather late.’ Agatha stepped into the kitchen and frowned. There was no one there. Sighing, she turned for the light switch, before catching a movement out of the corner of her eye.
‘What the devil?’
The first blow caught her on the shoulder rather than on the head, but it was enough to send her crashing to the floor.
‘Henry!’ Agatha whimpered, trying to use a nearby chair to pull herself up. She had just managed to get herself into a kneeling position, when the second blow came. This time it did catch her squarely on the back of the head, sending her down for good.
Police in Chile have arrested a dancer who performed a series of striptease dances on the Santiago underground, the metro. Montserrat Morilles has been dubbed ‘La Diosa del Metro’, the Metro Goddess. She told reporters: ‘Chile is still a pretty timid country. People aren’t very extroverted and we want to take aim at that and make Chile a happier country.’
Carlyle stuck his head out from under the duvet and switched off the clock radio. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and watched his wife get dressed. Standing at the bottom of the bed, with her back to him, Helen tossed her T-shirt on to the floor and reached over for a pearl bra that had been left hanging on a nearby chair. She slipped it on casually and checked herself in the wardrobe mirror. Carlyle watched her buttocks twitch and felt a twitch of his own.
One of the many things he loved about his wife was her beautiful arse. It was a very fine arse; pert, smooth and not quite symmetrical. A wave of enthusiasm crept over him; he wanted to jump out of bed and grab it. Another twitch. He gave himself a vigorous scratch in order to confirm what he already knew – his morning erection was quite spectacular.
How much time did they have? He heard the television spring into life in the living room. Alice would be grabbing fifteen minutes of crap while eating her breakfast, before going to school. That would be more than enough time. First, however, he needed to piss. He was just about to swing his feet out of the bed when Helen turned to him and gave him one of her worrying smiles. Apart from the bra, which showed a generous amount of areola, she was still naked. Apparently oblivious to her provocative appearance, she asked casually, ‘Did you ever accept a freebie?’
‘Good morning to you too.’ Carlyle shrank back inside the duvet. The last thing he wanted to do now was to resume the previous night’s conversation. Helen had picked up on a story in one of the Sunday newspapers about an inspector from the Harrow station who had been arrested on a raid in a local brothel. The paper had speculated that the officer had provided security for the establishment, known as Auntie Jayne’s, in return for payments of cash and services. This had led Helen to loudly speculate about the inability of police officers to resist the temptations that The Job had to offer. Rather than keeping his own counsel, Carlyle had foolishly attempted to mount a defence of both his colleagues and, by extension, himself.
Glancing in the direction of his crotch, she raised her eyebrows. ‘Well?’
‘You know,’ Helen put her hands on her hips, provocatively challenging him, teasing him. ‘Did you ever go with a . . . whore?’
Whore. The word was carefully chosen: both derogatory and accusing.
Carlyle blinked twice and stared at the ceiling. His erection was beginning to wane. What a way to start a Monday morning, being quizzed by his wife on his sexual history and his ethical standards. It was like being at work: you didn’t have to be guilty to feel guilty.
He gave his situation as much thought as he could, knowing that he didn’t have much time. Sitting up in bed, he put on his most dispassionate expression, which proved not to be too difficult at that time of the morning.
Helen stepped into a pair of faded panties that did not match the bra. ‘Are you sure? Most men have, you know. It’s not a big deal.’
Carlyle didn’t believe that last comment for a second. He knew a ‘big deal’ when he saw one. Scratching his head, he faked a yawn, playing for time. A light touch was needed here. Discarding dispassionate, he stuck on his face the most relaxed grin he could manage and ploughed on. ‘Which do you mean? Could I have forgotten banging a hooker? Or am I telling you the truth?’
‘Either.’ Helen pulled a light brown jumper over her head and picked up a pair of black jeans. ‘Both.’
Deciding that attack was the best form of defence, Carlyle tossed aside the duvet with a flourish and slid out of bed. He had nothing to declare but his semi-erection. Scratching his balls, he stepped forward and gently kissed his wife on the forehead. ‘I don’t think so . . . I mean, I would have remembered.’
Stepping away from him, Helen quickly buttoned up her jeans. Involuntarily, Carlyle grabbed his cock and squeezed it gently before giving his balls another pleasurable scratch. Now he really needed to piss, but he couldn’t duck out of the bedroom too quickly, it would look like he was running away.
‘So you’re sure?’
Yesterday’s boxers lay on the floor next to his own jeans. He picked them up and gave them a quick sniff – not too bad . . . they would do for another day. ‘Look,’ he said, struggling into the underpants, careful to revert to her choice of language, ‘there are whores and there are whores. Your average crackhead is not, in my experience, much like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.’
Helen looked him up and down, reminding him – not that he needed reminding – that married life really was a continuous assessment. ‘So, if they had been prettier, or cleaner . . .’
There was no going back now. He tried another grin. ‘Julia Roberts isn’t really my type anyway.’
‘But what if they looked like, I don’t know – the girl in that Bond film – Eva Green?’
Eva Green? ‘They don’t.’
Helen started brushing her hair. ‘But if they did? And if all you had to do was hand over the money?’
This time he did grin. ‘Policemen don’t have to pay. We get freebies, remember? Which is just as well, given the cash – or rather the lack of cash – in my pocket.’
Helen now smiled her checkmate smile. ‘So you would? Or you did?’
So much for humour. Carlyle’s grin vanished, as his heart sank. ‘I need to piss,’ he said quietly.
The inspector sat outside Il Buffone, enjoying the gentle morning sunshine. The tiny 1950s-style Italian café sat just across the road from his flat on Macklin Street, on the corner of Drury Lane in the north-east section of Covent Garden. Inside, there was just enough room for the counter and two tattered booths, each of which could seat four people, or six at a squeeze. It was a case of risk a random dining companion inside or take one of the small tables outside on the street, where you were more likely to be left alone. Besides, the exhaust fumes were free.
Although he didn’t appreciate any company at breakfast, Carlyle’s preference was to eat inside where he could sit under the poster of the 1984 Juventus scudetto-winning squad. The poster was torn and faded, curling at the edges and held together with Sellotape. Marcello had tried to replace it several times, most recently with the Italian World Cup-winning team of 2006. Always, however, the protests of Carlyle, and a few other regulars who knew their football, forced him to return the team of Trapattoni and Platini to their rightful place.
Today, however, Carlyle had hit the morning rush-hour and both inside booths were full. Sticking his head through the door, Carlyle didn’t spot anyone who seemed like they were about to leave. Hovering in the doorway, he looked pleadingly at Marcello, the owner, who just nodded and said: ‘I’ll bring it out.’
The inspector had barely sat down when Marcello appeared at his table, dropping a double macchiato in front of him, along with an extremely impressive-looking cherry Danish that positively begged to be eaten. Carlyle looked down at the pastry and felt the d
‘I thought you’d like that,’ Marcello grinned, already heading back inside. ‘See? It’s gonna be a great day.’
Carlyle took a sip of the macchiato, letting it scald his throat, finishing his coffee before taking a knife and carefully cutting the pastry into quarters. Picking up the largest piece, he closed his eyes and contemplated the imminent sugar rush.
The first slice of Danish was just about to reach his mouth when he heard the blast of a horn, followed by the screech of brakes. A woman started to scream. Looking up, he saw an old man in a cream raincoat on the ground in front of a white fruit-and-veg delivery van, by the zebra crossing in front of the Sun pub on Drury Lane, less than twenty yards away. Carlyle looked at the slice sadly and dropped it back on his plate. Ignoring the growling of his stomach, he got up from his table and strolled towards the scene of the accident while signalling to Marcello – who showed no interest at all in the mini-drama unfolding outside his door – that he would be needing another coffee.
Drury Lane was a relatively uncongested single-lane, one-way street, heading south to north. It could get you all the way from the Aldwych to High Holborn while avoiding the busier streets nearby. In order to get to the traffic lights at the north end that little bit quicker, drivers of all descriptions liked to put their foot to the floor and race up the thoroughfare as quickly as possible. The whole exercise was completely pointless since average traffic speeds in Central London remained a stately ten miles an hour, essentially the same as for the horse-drawn carriages more than a century earlier. Carlyle, who didn’t own a car, could never understand the common urge to hurtle 200 yards only to spend longer at the next stop. Maybe it was a genetic condition; more likely these drivers were just tossers. Either way, it was a miracle that there weren’t more accidents.
In this case, the front wheels of the van had stopped on the zebra crossing itself but it wasn’t clear if it had actually hit the old man. Leaning out of his window, the van driver was remonstrating with the woman bystander who had now stopped screaming.