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Authors: Pauline Rowson

Deadly Waters

BOOK: Deadly Waters
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DEADLY WATERS
Pauline Rowson

 In memory of

Enid (Anne) Rowson

Author’s Note

This novel is set in Portsmouth, Hampshire, on the south coast of England. Residents and visitors of Portsmouth must forgive the author for using her imagination and poetic licence in changing the names of places, streets and locations. This novel is entirely a work of fiction.

My grateful thanks to Amy Myers for her support, practical help and encouragement; to Cailah Leask of Fast Track Sailing for her expertise; and to Bob for putting up with me.

One

Friday: 5.45 a.m.

‘Thought you might like this,’Sergeant Cantelli said,placing a brown plastic beaker on Horton’s desk.

Horton stared at the frothy liquid that resembled dirty washing-up water and said, ‘Are you trying to poison me?’

‘It might help keep you awake.’

‘Doesn’t seem to be doing the trick with you.’ Horton thought Cantelli looked like something they’d exhumed from Milton Cemetery. ‘Sit down before you fall down.’

‘My bones ache, my head’s thumping and I think I’ve caught a cold.’ Cantelli sneezed just to prove it.

‘That’s about all we did catch,’ Horton replied with bitterness. All they had to show for over ninety minutes of surveillance, crouched in a fishing boat at Portsmouth’s Town Camber in the pouring rain, was a bag full of stolen antiques and Mickey Johnson, who had conveniently lost his voice.

‘Any joy finding out who Johnson’s victims are?’ Horton asked, spinning round in his chair and plucking his socks and trainers off the radiator where he had left them to dry after interviewing Mickey.

‘Nothing. We won’t know who he’s turned over until they report it or Mickey decides to confide in us.’

‘I could wring his scrawny neck.’ Horton slipped on his trainers and straightened up with a groan. Cantelli wasn’t the only one whose bones were protesting. ‘What about the boat?’

It certainly wasn’t Johnson’s unless social security benefit had just got a hell of a lot better. If it hadn’t been for that blessed drunk stumbling on to it by mistake then Horton would have caught both of their antiques thieves and not just Johnson.

He recalled with a stab of shame how he’d been poleaxed with cramp during the chase across the cathedral green after Johnson’s young accomplice. He’d given Uniform a description but it wasn’t much to go on. It had been too dark and the lad had been wearing a hoodie.

Cantelli said, ‘There was nothing on it to give us an ID.

Sergeant Elkins says he’ll try the Town Camber offices when they’re open.’

‘What bugs me is that antiques aren’t usually Mickey’s thing. DVDs, televisions, computers, jewellery and money, yes. But paintings? Mickey couldn’t tell a valuable painting from a picture postcard and yet he stole some by William Wylie on that first job.’

‘Perhaps the runaway youth is the brains behind the operation,’ Cantelli ventured, yawning widely.

Somehow Horton couldn’t see it. Pulling his sailing jacket off the radiator and draping it over the coat stand next to his leather bikers’ jacket, he said, ‘What else has come in?’

Clearly with an effort, Cantelli stirred himself to reply.

‘There’s been a break-in at the ex-forces club in Landport, and another at the Sir Wilberforce Cutler School. The steward at the club went to Accident and Emergency, but it was just a surface head wound. Some cigarettes and booze were stolen.’

‘And the school?’

‘Building material.’

‘I’ll send someone round in the morning.’

It
was
morning, almost six o’clock. He was ready for his bed and Cantelli looked as though he was about to fall asleep in the chair. He told Cantelli to get off home. He would do the same after putting the finishing touches to his report, but he had hardly got started when his phone rang. It was Sergeant Elkins of the marine unit.

‘The Langstone harbour master’s just radioed us, Inspector.

A fisherman has reported seeing something on the mulberry and he thinks we should take a look.’

For a moment Horton couldn’t think what the mulberry was, then his brain clicked into gear. He recalled that it had started life in the Second World War when it had been built as part of a floating harbour for the D-Day landings. Whilst it was being towed out of Langstone Harbour it had developed a fatal crack and was now listed on the charts as a concrete structure nestling on the edge of Sinah Sands.

Horton frowned, puzzled. Elkins was quite capable of investigating this himself, so why call him? ‘Any idea what it is?’

He was thinking of bed and a long sleep.

‘No, but Ray was very insistent that I call
you
.’

Horton sat up at that. He’d known the harbour master for several years. Ray Tomsett was a practical man not given to flights of fancy or hysterics, so what had rattled him?

‘I’ll meet you at the landing stage, Portsmouth side, in ten minutes.’ Horton consoled himself with the fact that Langstone was a stone’s throw from his home, which was a boat in Southsea Marina, and if this turned out to be nothing he would be in his bunk in less than an hour.

The streets were quiet as he rode through them on the Harley; the rush hour hadn’t begun and the late October sun had yet to rise. Horton’s mind went back to the antiques robberies. Perhaps he was missing something crucial.

There had been four burglaries in as many weeks. All the burgled houses had alarm systems, which had been expertly disabled. They’d checked out the security companies that had supplied the alarms and there didn’t seem to be any common factor between them. They weren’t even installed by the same company, and no security firm in its right mind would employ Johnson. So how had Johnson and his mate known that the owners would be away or out for the night? On the previous robberies there had been no physical signs of breaking and entering, which meant that a key had been used. No key had been found on Johnson, so the youth must still have it. Damn his cramp and damn Mickey Johnson.

Horton turned on to the blustery seafront and headed east.

A heavy drizzle was falling as he sped past his marina. He glanced at his boat, yearning for a hot shower, some breakfast and his bunk, and thought enviously of Cantelli who was probably already under a warm duvet.

The car park was deserted as he swung into it at the end of the road and, staring across the dark expanse of swirling sea, he picked out the black humped-back shape of the mulberry. He could see the harbour master’s rib the other side of it and by the time Horton had locked his helmet on the Harley and ran down the pontoon, the police launch was coming along side. He leapt on board without Elkins having to moor up and, as PC Ripley pulled away, once again Horton’s thoughts turned to Cantelli. The sergeant had had a lucky escape; he got seasick on a paddleboat. It had taken all Horton’s persuasive skills to get him on that fishing boat in the Camber.

‘What have you found, Ray?’ Horton shouted, as the police launch drew up in front of the mulberry.

‘Not sure, Andy. I thought it best to leave it to you.’

Horton heard the wariness in the harbour master’s voice and knew by the uncharacteristic grimness of his expression that whatever it was on the mulberry Ray Tomsett didn’t much care for it. Horton was filled with foreboding. It was more than the chill of the morning that caused him to shiver. After eighteen years on the force he could smell trouble from a mile away and this was beginning to stink to high heaven. A cold creep of dread fingered its way up his spine and with it came the adrenaline surge that pre-heralded the possibility of a high-level incident. All his fatigue sloughed off him. Now he was wide-awake.

At first glance though, he could see nothing unusual. The seaweed-strewn lower slopes were covered with buoys, lobster pots, fishing nets, rusting anchor chains and a pile of crates.

A couple of seagulls, which were perched on the top of the mulberry, turned north-west into the wind and glided away, squealing.

With a quickening heartbeat, he donned a life jacket and climbed off the police launch on to the mulberry. Sergeant Elkins followed whilst Ripley stayed at the helm. It was then that Horton saw what must have caught the fisherman’s eye and what Ray had spotted: protruding from a bundle of dark ochre fishing nets was a pair of legs clothed in black trousers.

His heart thudded against his chest. This wasn’t some poor unfortunate fisherman who’d suffered a heart attack, not unless he’d taken to wearing high-heeled black court shoes.

‘Torch,’ he commanded. Sunrise was still about an hour away and the overcast weather was making it darker than usual, and yet that fisherman had seen this. How? Had he motored so close to the mulberry that he was able to discern the pair of legs without a torch or light from his boat? Horton doubted it. Or had he collected some of his fishing para-phernalia from the mulberry, spotted this and scampered away, not wanting to get involved? Losing a day’s fishing meant losing a day’s wage. That was more like it.

He steeled himself and switched on the powerful beam. The seagulls wheeled overhead, diving low over them, cawing loudly. Horton could hear the drone of the traffic from the dual carriageway to the north of the harbour.

He clicked his fingers, ‘Gloves.’

Elkins handed him a pair and Horton stretched his fingers inside the tight latex, as Elkins did the same with his gloves.

‘Ready?’

Elkins nodded, breathing heavily.

Slowly and carefully Horton lifted the fisherman’s nets. A hundred tiny crabs shot out.

‘Jesus!’ Elkins exclaimed, jumping back and almost slipping over.

‘Get a grip, Sergeant.’

‘Sorry. Never did like the little buggers, not even in a sandwich.’

Horton’s heart was beating rapidly. ‘Give me a hand.’

Together they slowly peeled back the netting until the bright beam fell on a face. Elkins retched. Horton dashed his head away, took a deep breath and slowly let it out counting to ten.

Then, steeling himself, his stomach clenched, he turned back to stare at the body.

It was a woman. Her shoulder-length black hair was curled on to her forehead and what remained of her cheeks. She was wearing an emerald green blouse, black trousers and enough gold jewellery to sell from a suitcase in the market, he thought.

Robbery couldn’t have been the motive. Tiny crabs covered her face; they were crawling in her mouth and over her eyes, over the soft rotting flesh. The right-hand side of her temple was a mess of dried blood, bone and sea life. Thank God the nets had covered her face, Horton thought, or the seagulls would have pecked at her eyes. He felt sick and very angry that someone could have killed her and just dumped her here, like rubbish.

Who was she? How had she got here? Who could have killed her and why? He wanted to be in on this investigation.

He wanted to find out what kind of sick bastard could do such a thing, and why. And he wanted to bring that person to justice.

That was if Detective Superintendent Uckfield appointed him to his newly formed major crime team. There was no reason he shouldn’t. After all, hadn’t Uckfield promised him that just before going before the promotion board? It had been right after their last major murder case together:
‘If I get the job,
Andy, you’ll be on my team.’
And yet, so far, there had been nothing from Uckfield, just an ominous silence.

Horton climbed back on to the police launch and took out his mobile. Uckfield would be at his desk by now. Horton could see the first set of early commuters queuing for the Hayling Ferry. Usually it was a short journey of a few minutes from one side of the harbour to the other, unless the ferry was picking up any fishermen, then it would come close to the mulberry, and Horton didn’t want any sightseers.

Leaning over the side of the police launch he addressed the harbour master. ‘Tell the ferryman to keep well away from here.’ Ray nodded, grim-faced, and sped off. ‘Steve, it’s Andy,’

Horton said, as Uckfield grunted a response. ‘We’ve got a body, on the mulberry, in Langstone Harbour. Female, Caucasian. I’m there now with Sergeant Elkins.’

‘I’m on my way. I’ll notify Dr Price, you call in SOCO.’

Horton made a second call and by the time he came off the phone the harbour master had returned.

‘The ferryman says it’s just a straight crossing this morning.

Wanted to know what was going on. I said I wasn’t sure.’

‘Did you see anyone in the harbour last night?’

‘In that weather you must be joking.’

‘What about the dredgers?’

Horton peered northwards through the grey morning.

Beyond the small islands, which were nature reserves with restricted access, he could see the lights on the cranes at Bedhampton Wharf. His eyes flicked to the west. There was also Kendall’s Wharf. Both supported a busy trade in sea-dredged aggregates.

‘No, nothing went out.’

Horton asked Ray to collect the scene of crime team from the Portsmouth side of the harbour and then clambered back on to the mulberry where Elkins had recovered his equilib-rium.

‘She must have been killed and left here at high tide last night,’ Elkins said.

BOOK: Deadly Waters
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