Authors: Hania Allen
Tags: #Mystery, #Detective, #Woman Sleuth, #Crime
First published April 2014
49-53 Virginia Street
Glasgow, G1 1TS
Copyright © Hania Allen
The moral right of Hania Allen to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system, without either prior permission in writing from the publisher or by licence, permitting restricted copying. In the United Kingdom such licences are issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1P 0LP.
All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental
A CIP catalogue reference for this book is available from the British Library
Typeset by Freight in Garamond
Printed and bound by Bell and Bain, Glasgow
I would like to thank the following people for reading the manuscript, and suggesting ways in which the novel could be improved: Andrea Bremner, Jenny Brown, Jonathan Cameron, Liz Cole-Hamilton, Dorothy Graham, Jane Greaves, Gaitee Hussain, Moira Jardine, Caroline McAdam, Anne McCreanor, Michael Pollak, Key Proudlock, Val Smith, Krystyna Szawelski, Annette Zimmermann, and Sarah Ames.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Allan Guthrie for his editorial help and advice. Heartfelt thanks also go to my agent, Jenny Brown, for all the support she has given me, and to Adrian Searle and everyone at Freight Books for taking on the publishing of this novel.
This is a work of fiction and any similarity to persons, living or dead, is purely co-incidental.
Dave was taking his time. Not like some of the others, the ones who couldn’t get it over with quickly enough. Manny’d had to get things started, moving his hips till the guy got the hang of it. An amateur. The Iron Duke seemed to attract them. Manny’d seen him there before, laughing and drinking with the Irish lads. The regulars said he worked in the theatre. But that was probably a lie
Manny had spotted him, a young guy sitting alone at the bar, nursing his vodka tonic. He had one of those plastic Jack in the Box bags that the whole of London seemed to be carrying. Manny smiled shyly, and he smiled back. His eyes were what Manny noticed first. Large, with long lashes, and soft, like a spaniel’s. He shifted, turning his athletic body round. An invitation? Manny ambled over with his shandy, wary in case he’d misread the signal. He still had the scar from when he’d got it very wrong. But at this time of night, the only people left in the bar were the punters who wanted a boy
His instincts were correct: the guy pushed a stool in his direction. They chatted. Exchanged names (fake, of course – this was the third ‘Dave’ he’d met that month). Had a couple of drinks, no rush. Then they left
Preliminaries over, Dave’s behaviour changed. He clutched Manny’s arm, walking him briskly up Dean Street and across Oxford Street. Good. He’d be out cruising for another punter
before the end of the night
They went to Manny’s place, an abandoned warehouse backing onto the shops on Tottenham Court Road. Convenient for his punters, even though it meant a climb over the gate. He’d made a living space in one corner behind a stack of cardboard boxes. Hauled a mattress from the skip, clean enough apart from one or two suspicious-looking stains. He’d had difficulty getting the full-length mirror in. The wooden frame had slipped from his hands and the glass cracked near the bottom. He’d propped it up by the window where the beam from the street lamp cast an amber light over the glass. The razor he’d filched from the barber’s was lying open next to it. He’d shaved before coming out. Always did. The punters liked his skin smooth. Some asked him to wear make-up, lipstick mainly. But he didn’t need to steal that. They brought it themselves
Dave looked round, frowning. Fuck. If he didn’t want to do it here, they’d have to go to the gents down the road, the one with the iffy lock. Some punters preferred the gents as the stench wasn’t as bad as in here. But he seemed satisfied. He dragged the mattress over, then lifted the mirror and placed it against the wall. Manny had seen this before: sometimes they liked to watch themselves, or him. He’d kept his gloves on. They were nice gloves, black leather, like his jacket. Perhaps he’d take them off, and forget and leave them behind…
He removed Manny’s anorak, and started to unzip his jeans
‘I don’t do it without a johnny,’ Manny said quickly
Dave slid a condom from his pocket. He was nervous, fumbling with it before getting it on. His cock stood against his belly, an enormous dark thing. He’d shaved down there, but then some of them did that to make their cock look longer. He pulled Manny’s trousers and pants down, then positioned him so he faced the mirror, and shoved him onto his hands and knees
Manny waited. Dave removed the Jack in the Box from the bag
and turned it over in his hands. This was something new, using the toy. Manny knew what the clown inside would look like, he’d seen so many. Bright green clothes, and a grinning face with glass eyes. They gave him the jitters. But Dave didn’t pop the box, just set it carefully on the mattress. Then he knelt and, with a steadying hand on Manny’s back, forced his cock in. Manny gritted his teeth, trying not to flinch
He rocked backwards and forwards rhythmically, watching in the mirror. Dave’s eyelids were flickering, his lips slightly apart. His grunts grew louder. He leant forward and buried his fingers in Manny’s hair, pulling his head back. Jesus, the guy was strong. Manny stared at Dave’s reflection, neck muscles straining against the pull, eyes locked on his. The thrusts became faster and deeper until, with a cry that was more of a howl, Dave came like a train
The surges lessened. He released his hold and Manny’s head fell forward. It hadn’t been too bad this time, he’d been able to relax. But, God Almighty, his neck hurt. He’d have to be more careful. One of these days, what had happened to Gilly and the others would happen to him. He couldn’t complain, though. Full-on sex paid the best. And he’d be out on the street again in a few minutes
Dave withdrew his cock. Manny watched as he peeled off the condom and wrapped it carefully in a handkerchief before putting it in his pocket. That was a first, a punter who tidied up after himself. He began to get to his feet, but felt a firm push on his shoulder. What the fuck was this? He stared into the mirror. Dave was leaning over him, a length of string in his hands. He looped it over Manny’s neck and yanked it tight. Manny struggled, clawing frantically at his throat, unable to tear his gaze from the reflection. In desperation, he tried to reach behind him to grab Dave’s wrists. His vision clouded, his struggles became weaker, and his arms dropped to his sides
A second later, pain seared his eyes, and he felt the ooze of hot liquid down his cheeks. He had time to think, ‘I’m dying’, before
he slumped onto the mattress. As blackness closed over him, the last sound he heard was the doll’s hideous cry: ‘Jack-jack! Jack-jack!’
‘The Chief Super wants to see you, ma’am.’
Von Valenti glanced up from the desk. ‘What sort of mood is he in?’
A muscle in the constable’s cheek twitched. ‘He only has one mood, ma’am.’
She left the office, bracing herself for the meeting. She could guess what this was about. Chief Superintendent Richard Quincey was going to give her a new case. He wouldn’t bother asking how many she had already. She could refuse, but he’d hold it against her, even make a note of it in her file. Either that, or she was going to get another bollocking because of the glacial pace of her existing cases.
She’d been at Clerkenwell CID for nearly five years, the last three under Richard Quincey, but she and Quincey had never developed the same easy relationship she’d had with her old governor. Quincey was a mystery to her and to the other officers, who resented and feared his hanging-judge demeanor. He’d made his name years before in the drugs squad, but left it to run Clerkenwell. Although she’d asked around – she liked to know what sort of a man she was working for – she’d discovered nothing solid about his private life. Rumour had it he’d married money, was a member of an expensive London club, and owned a racehorse. But she put little stock in rumours. She’d heard what the men said about her, after all. And continued to say. Although her skin had thickened, she still had scars in tender
The Chief Super’s door was open. She knocked with her customary loudness, a habit formed after she’d once walked in on a couple of officers with their buttons undone.
‘You asked to see me, sir.’
‘Come in, Yvonne.’
Richard Quincey was standing staring out of the window. A well-built man, he held himself as if constantly on inspection. Although in his fifties, he’d kept his head of dark hair with just a touch of silver at the temples. A female junior had once described him as handsome in a conventional sort of way. Von studied his back. The junior could think what she wanted, she’d never seen him wither his subordinates with a look. He turned then, and she was shocked to see his face drained of colour, his pale eyes, dull. He seemed to be growing old in front of her.
He motioned to her to sit, and lowered himself heavily into his chair.
‘You’ve a new case,’ he said. ‘This one’s different.’ He pushed a file in her direction, then swivelled round to gaze out of the window again. ‘We haven’t much, I’m afraid, but we know the identity of the victim.’
There was one page. She didn’t have to read far to see it. ‘Max Quincey?’
‘I’m sorry, sir,’ she said, conscious of the slight tremor in her voice.
‘Please spare me your sympathy.’ He turned his strongly-boned face to hers. ‘How many cases are you running?’
‘I’ll reassign them, I want all your efforts on this.’
She tried to suppress her excitement. ‘Yes, sir.’ So she was back on the murder squad…
She couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t wanted
to be a detective. As a girl growing up in the streets of Whitechapel, her favourite game was cops and robbers. Her two older brothers, who adored her, indulged her role-playing, particularly her little murder mysteries, and always made sure they were well and truly nicked at the end. The three of them left school early, the boys to start up their garage and she to join the Metropolitan Police. Her parents, recognising she was more talented than her brothers, were unhappy she hadn’t stayed on to sixth form, but they soon came to accept her choice of career, and nearly burst with pride when she passed her exams. Her mother was constantly telling the neighbours that her daughter was ‘an important police inspector in the Met’.
The Chief Super was looking at her coolly. ‘Assemble your team, Yvonne, and draft in whoever you need. And take DI English.’
Her curiosity got the better of her. ‘Why me, sir? There are any number of officers you could have picked.’
‘Last month’s enquiry seemed to suggest that the’ – his mouth twisted – ‘fiasco you were embroiled in may not have been entirely your fault. I’ve decided to give you another chance. But it’s your last. I can’t afford any more mistakes.’
Bastard. He takes every opportunity to remind me
. ‘I understand,’ she said.
He spoke in clipped tones, the accent he worked so hard to disguise betraying his working-class roots. ‘Something useful came out of that incident. It seems you’re not overly interested in what your colleagues think of you. Some may view that as a weakness, but in my opinion it’s a strength. A strength which I wish you to harness in this investigation.’
He stopped her at the door. ‘I want a quick, clean result, Yvonne. I don’t need to tell you why.’
The Toyota was pulling out of the station.
‘A quick, clean result,’ Von said, staring at Steve. ‘What the hell does he mean?’
‘No idea, boss. But I can tell you one thing. If you get this wrong, he’ll ask you to fall on your sword.’
‘Makes a change from being stabbed in the back.’
‘You think there’s a difference? It never feels that way.’
She was surprised at the bitterness in his voice.
Steve English had been her number two for a little over a year. He was a couple of years younger than her. Tall and lean, with brown hair as thick as fudge, he was popular with both the men and the women in the force. They’d worked together on her first big case when they were still detective sergeants. He was not long down from Scotland where, rumour had it, he’d had a bust-up with his superior officer. Their paths had crossed several times until they both found themselves posted to Clerkenwell. He’d finished his Inspector’s course and she’d been made a DCI. At five foot two, she had to work hard to be taken seriously. She’d met them all: men who tolerated her presence, those who were openly hostile, and ones who actively tried to undermine her. Steve had congratulated her on her promotion, pumping her hand, sincerity shining from his eyes. She was relieved he would be working this case with her, her first murder case in nearly a year.
‘It’s good to see you, Steve.’
He said nothing but she caught his smile.
They turned into Farringdon Road and headed north. Steve switched on the radio, and they caught the tail end of the news. The main item for September 14th was the ongoing fuel protest, which had reached such a level that many petrol stations were reported to be empty. The NHS had been placed on red alert and supermarkets were rationing food.
‘Brilliant,’ Von said, tapping the arm rest. ‘If Tony Blair
doesn’t pull his finger out, we’ll soon be walking to the scene of the crime.’
‘I hear it’ll all be different tomorrow,’ Steve said smoothly.
‘And the same in a hundred years.’
As they waited at the traffic lights, he said, ‘You thought about the team?’
‘We’ll use the ones you had on your last murder case.’
‘They’ve had the benefit of working with you. You got anything against youth?’
‘No, boss, I’m fighting to get mine back.’
They swung off King’s Cross Road into a long terrace of identical four-storeyed houses.
‘So what do we know about Max Quincey?’ he said.
‘Worked in the theatre, started out as an actor but gave it up to run a rep company, the Quincey Players. They’ve finished touring and now they’re playing in London. The strange thing is that I met him only last Saturday, at some arty farty do at the National Gallery.’
‘Didn’t know art was your scene.’
‘I went with Kenny. He pointed out I’m always dragging him to police functions.’ At the mention of Kenny’s name, she felt rather than saw Steve bristle. Steve and Kenny had never got on. Fortunately, their paths seldom crossed. ‘The Chief Super was introducing his brother to everyone,’ she said.
‘What was he like?’
‘He had a nice way with words.’
And a patronising manner
. As they’d talked, his eyes had wandered round the room, as though he were searching for someone more interesting. ‘Clothes-wise, he was exactly my image of an actor. Velvet jacket and silk cravat.’
‘And he lived here?’ Steve was staring at the houses. The upper walls had been left in their original red brick but the
ground-floor façades were plastered in white, most of them dirty and chipped with age. ‘Rather down market for a velvet jacket. Looks like Coronation Street but with iron railings and window boxes.’
‘This area’s full of guest houses. Lots of touring actors bunk in this street.’
They stopped outside number fifteen. The sun had risen into a pink sky, shot through with threads of cloud. A nearby road was being resurfaced and acrid smoke, brought in on a light wind, stung Von’s eyes.
She studied the building. The curtains on the top floor were drawn.
A short flight of steps led to the front door. They showed their warrant cards to the policeman, who stepped aside to let them pass.
In the narrow hallway, she consulted her file. ‘There are six rooms. Max Quincey’s is—’
A door opened suddenly to her right and a rake-thin woman emerged. She was joined by an elderly man, who slipped a protective arm round her shoulders.
‘Who are you?’ the woman said, in a tone so harsh it was almost a shriek. She clutched at the man, her huge eyes darting from Von to Steve.
‘Police officers,’ Von said quickly. ‘We’re with the Metropolitan Police.’
The man frowned. ‘My sister’s had a terrible shock. Must you do this today?’
‘Are you Mrs Deacon?’ Von said, addressing the woman.
She nodded, her wrinkled lips trembling so violently that Von could see the slight gap between her front teeth.
‘We’ll need to speak to you, Mrs Deacon.’ Seeing the look on her face, she added gently, ‘But we don’t need to do it now.’
The man seemed relieved. ‘Come on, Mavis,’ he said, guiding
her back into the room. ‘It’s on the top floor,’ he whispered to Von. ‘You can’t miss it. It’s the only room on the landing.’
‘It was the landlady who found the body,’ Von said, after he’d closed the door. ‘She became suspicious when she saw Quincey’s curtains closed all day yesterday.’
Steve frowned. ‘So he’s been dead for a day?’
‘Gee, I just love it when that happens.’
The narrow staircase was covered in a patterned carpet, threadbare where it curved over the steps. Several stair rods were loose.
‘Three flights, Steve.’ She peered up. ‘Gee, I just love it when that happens.’
At the top of the house, a second policeman stood outside a door that was closed and taped off. He nodded at Von. ‘The room’s as we found it, ma’am. The door was closed.’
‘I’m afraid so, ma’am.’
‘Just our bloody luck,’ she muttered.
It meant that, for at least a day, anyone could have come into the room. It was what detectives dreaded most: a contaminated crime scene. In the hands of an experienced defence pathologist, any evidence painstakingly gathered could be rendered useless in court. Von had had a case like this blown wide open, and she was determined to avoid a repeat.
She ripped the cellophane packaging from the box in the corridor and removed white suits, latex gloves, and overshoes.
‘Shouldn’t we wait for Forensics, boss?’ Steve said, pulling on gloves.
‘We’ll be careful.’ She knew what would happen once Forensics arrived: the place would be like Piccadilly Circus. What she needed was that first impression of the crime scene which could give her a leg up in the investigation. Her old
governor used to call it quality time with the corpse.
She opened the door and ducked under the tape.
The curtains were so thin, she had no difficulty distinguishing the objects in the room. Someone had made a bad job of erecting a partition to create an en-suite bathroom. A lacquered wardrobe towered in the corner, the doors hanging wide. Beside it was a matching chest. Its surface was littered with books and papers, the top drawer open, ties trailing from it like multi-coloured tongues. A cluttered table flanked by two armchairs stood against the opposite wall. The bedside cabinet and brass-framed double bed took up what space was left, and behind them hung the only picture in the room: a reproduction of one of the scenes from Hogarth’s ‘A Harlot’s Progress’.
Something pricked her nostrils: the unmistakable stench of death. But overlaid with another odour. ‘Can you smell tobacco, Steve?’
‘Too sweet for cigarettes. Weed, perhaps?’
‘Not a smell you’d forget, is it?’
She skirted the foot of the bed. With a rapid movement, she drew back the curtains.
Morning light streamed in, illuminating the body of Max Quincey.
He was lying on the bed, legs apart, naked except for the school tie. It was pulled tight, the knot half-hidden in the folds of flesh under his chin. His wrists were secured to the bed frame, hands bent forwards, fingers slightly curled. His lips and the tongue protruding from his mouth were pale blue. A trickle of blood from his left nostril had solidified into a black line that stopped at his upper lip. His chest hair was dark and tangled, and so profuse that the tie seemed to float above his body. The sheet between his legs was stained brown.
Von had worked on enough murder cases not to flinch when she saw a corpse. Nor did she behave like some of her
male colleagues, whose insensitivity degenerated sometimes into gallows humour, masking their true feelings. Her initial reaction was, inexplicably, one of shame and she approached a corpse with respect bordering on reverence.
‘He’s been hit, Steve. See here? The swelling above the temple?’ She flattened the hair with a fingertip and examined the cracked discoloured skin. ‘But not hard enough to kill him.’
Steve motioned to the clothes scattered across the room. ‘He undressed in a hurry. Or someone did it for him. Could it have been a sex romp that went wrong?’
‘Erotic asphyxia? If it was, then I can understand what the Chief Super was trying to tell me. The press will have a field day with this.’
‘I thought you said he wore cravats, boss. I’ve counted four ties round his wrists.’
‘Maybe people who wear cravats also wear ties.’ She jerked her head at the door. ‘Any sign of forced entry?’