Authors: Maureen Carter
Table of Contents
The Bev Morriss Mysteries
The Sarah Quinn Mysteries
A QUESTION OF DESPAIR *
MOTHER LOVE *
DYING BAD *
*available from Severn House
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2012 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9-15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright Â© 2012 by Maureen Carter.
This eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
The right of Maureen Carter to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & patents Act 1988
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
1. Quinn, Sarah (Fictitious character)âFiction. 2. Women detectivesâEnglandâBirminghamâFiction. 3. Women journalistsâEnglandâBirminghamâFiction. 4. Assault and batteryâFiction. 5. Detective and mystery stories.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-362-4 (epub)
ISBN-13: 978-1-7802-9036-2 (cased)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
Typeset by Palimpsest Book Production Ltd.,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
he Moon's soft glow, just perceptible behind the cotton blind, barely penetrated the stark space. The girl lay on her back, stick-thin arms clamped tight to the sides of her slight body. Though her eyes were open, she saw little in the near darkness, and too much when they were closed. Picturing her surroundings was no problem anyway: the cheap wardrobe, flimsy three-drawer chest, worn carpet, blank walls.
For nine months her bedroom at Heath House had passed for what some people called home. It was the longest she'd stayed under one roof since being taken into care. Care. What a laugh. Hysterical, that was. There'd been countless short-term placements. As for foster families â was it three? No, four. Heath House was no better, no worse than any other second-best substitute. The windows weren't barred, the doors weren't locked 24/7, most of the staff were indifferent and as for the other kids? Who cared? Precisely. The girl had one or two mates, but mostly everyone kept to themselves. Maybe she was sick of running, too cowed to escape. Difficult anyway, with clipped wings.
Wincing, she shifted slightly, turned her head to one side. She could just make out the familiar silhouette of a teddy bear sprawled on the floor under the window. Alfie was one of the few belongings she'd hung on to from her mum's place. BC, she thought of it. Before she lost her childhood; before Christ had it in for her. She gave a resigned sigh. She adored Alfie, treasured his thinning fur; knew every inch of his squashy old body. Like the bloke now pinning her down, the cold hand pawing her boob, the mean fingers probing between her thighs. Her shudder was involuntary.
He'd been doing her more or less since she got here. The shit-for-brains probably thought she didn't know who he was. Strangers in the night. Like hell. Sneaking in while she was in the bathroom, taking the bulb from the bedside lamp was as good as an early warning system. The girl knew what would happen when she got into bed. She'd lie waiting, listening out for the soft footfalls that stopped at her door, the creak as he turned the handle. She knew who it was even in the dark. The reek of BO laced with onions was pretty distinctive. At least he didn't hurt her as bad as the others.
âHey, girlie, what's up?' A whisper; warm breath against her neck. âYou know you like it, don't you?' Menacing now. âTell me you like it.' It wasn't a request.
âI like it.' Listless. Experience had taught her it was easier and usually quicker to comply. She'd heard the threats before, knew them by heart. If she didn't do what he said, he'd feed her piece by piece to his dogs.
âCourse you do, babe.' He forced open her thighs. She clamped her mouth shut, just wanted it over. In her mind's eye, she was drinking cocktails in a bar in New York. In her mind's eye she was swimming with dolphins in clear warm water. In her mind's eye, she was an A-lister swanning down the red carpet, pausing now and then to let the snappers get a decent pic. It was anytime, anyplace, anywhere in her mind's eye. Frigging Martini girl, she was.
When he thrust into her, shuddering, rasping her name, she tensed, terrified her spine would snap, scared it would never end. Last time, she'd sworn she'd never cry again, only realised she'd broken the promise when cooling tears trickled into her ears. She counted thirty, forty seconds until he got his breath back. Then, as usual, he straddled her, forced her hands over her head and hissed the same old question.
âWhy'd you make me do it, babe?'
She knew her line. â'Cause I'm bad.'
Sweat dripped off his face, stung her eyes, tasted salty on her lips. She flinched as he stroked a finger along her jaw. âHow bad?'
heer Up, love. It may never 'appen.' The landlord of the Queen's Head gave a cheesy wink as he pulled a pint, blissfully unaware how close he was to getting it in the neck. DI Sarah Quinn tapped a tetchy index finger on the tacky bar, itching to lash out with the verbal equivalent of a good slapping. As far as she was concerned
had happened, and as for the
â not even her nearest and dearest got away with the endearment let alone some nerd who happened to run the squad's local.
âPlay nicely now, Quinn.' A bulky presence had sidled over and mouthed a gentle warning in her ear with all the subtlety of a ventriloquist's dummy. Without looking she knew who it was. Though the chief was more accustomed to throwing his weight than his basso profundo. Detective Chief Superintendent Fred Baker was the only officer at Lloyd House nick â senior or not â with the brass neck to address her habitually as Quinn. The aftershave was a clue, too. The chief doused himself during the day with Paco Rabanne, even now it was coming off him in waves. Glimpsing that butter-wouldn't-melt big face in the mottled mirror at the back of the bar was the clincher.
The DI's finger stalled. âI never openedâ'
âYou were about to bite, Quinn.' Talking out of the corner of his mouth was not a good look. He could've walked a gurning contest.
âWith you in a tick, Mr B.' Len shuffled off ferrying two pint glasses, grey slacks straining across his bum.
Baker toasted the landlord's back with what was left of his bitter. âNo sense taking it out on other bods, Quinn. Besides . . .' He drained the dregs, then wiped a meaty hand across moist lips. â. . . pissing off Laughing Len is not a good move.'
He had a point: the pub was less than a five-minute walk from the nick and the saloon bar was second home to some cops. Len was a more than genial host. Lock-ins being a speciality. Shrugging, the DI muttered âmy mouth' desultorily under her breath. Just as well. Baker wasn't listening, he was finger-combing his hair in the mirror. After six years working under him, so to speak, she was inured to his idiosyncrasies. His default mode was sexist git and ordinarily it was water off a duck's back. Ordinarily.
Stifling a sigh, she caught sight of her reflection alongside his, surprised in a way that the afternoon's debacle didn't show in her face.
Come on, woman. Don't play the drama queen.
Any impact, if or when it hit, would harden her attitude, not her appearance. And she had enough cynicism, thanks. Station clowns called her the Snow Queen, the Ice Maiden, the Arctic Cop, you get the drift. The names weren't entirely down to her Nordic colouring, tight bun, piercing grey eyes. They were more indicative of an emotional detachment that bordered on aloof, the cool exterior designed to keep feelings â and people â at arm's length. It was a persona she was happy to play on.
So how come she was so frigging worked up?
And what was taking Len so long? She was gasping for a drink though she'd only dropped by in the hope company would be a distraction. Like that was happening. The chief was currently fiddling with his phone, checking emails, messages, whatever. He'd been spitting razor blades along with everyone else earlier. But Baker didn't seem to dwell long on anything, especially cock-ups. Clocking him in the mirror again, she had a bird's-eye view of the top of his head. Apart from a white streak down one side â like a badger with an off-centre parting â the hair was too dark for a man pushing sixty. Not that he'd own up to it. Six-four and chunky, the chief must've shed around a stone since his wife took off. Mind there were still several boulders to shift. Sarah gave the ghost of a smile then pursed her lips. Had to admit, he wasn't a bad looking guy.
Ramming the phone in his pocket, his glance met hers in the glass. âAdmiring the view, Quinn?'
âOh, how they laughed.' She overdid the simper. As for laugh, it was more than the squad had. âI just can't believeâ'
âNo sense harping on.' Baker was signalling for a refill with an imaginary glass. âWe'll nail the bastard.'
The DI's jaw slackened. For an insensitive sod, the chief could be amazingly intuitive. He read her mind so well she reckoned he'd mentored Derren Brown.
âIt may have escaped your attention . . . we'd already nailed the bastard. How the hell they couldâ'
âLife's too short. Let it go, Quinn.' Jingling coins in his pocket, he was more interested in trying to catch Len's eye.