Authors: Maureen Carter
Which was a pain; right now she could eat her own hand. She gave a lopsided smile, loosened her bun, felt the hair fall almost to her waist. The notion had brought to mind one of her mother's favourite sayings. How did it go? Something like, I'm so hungry my stomach thinks my throat's cut. The smile vanished. Given the night's events, it wasn't a thought to hold. Every time Sarah closed her eyes, the victim was in her head. And the uneasy thought that his murder had been a disappointment.
Right place, right time. Wrong man.
lways get your man, don't you, Caz? You're a regular Canadian Mountie.'
Caroline King lay back full length on top of her king-size bed and gave a lazy grin. The observation on her powers of persuasion had been made years back by one of the reporter's first editors. Recalling it now, she wished someone had mentioned it to Jas Ram. She'd just asked him for an interview and was getting short shrift. Even holding her smart phone at arm's length, she could hear the guy pissing himself. No worries. At least he hadn't hung up on her. She raised a leg in the air, admired the calf muscle, waited patiently for the guffaws to abate.
âYou have so got to be joking, love,' he eventually responded. âWhy'd I talk to a reporter? You're all devious shits.'
âThat's hardly fair, Mr Ram. You don't know me from Adam.' She pursed her lips, reckoned the red polish on a couple of toenails needed a retouch.
âYou're a journo, aren't you?' Loud sniff. Like that said it all.
âMeaning?' Like she hadn't heard it all before. Punter opinion was bad enough before the phone hacking scandal but the whole
News of the World/
Leveson debacle had turned press-bashing into an Olympic sport. No sweat. She was at the top of her game; Ram wouldn't know what hit him. Assuming she could persuade him to play. Obviously he wasn't aware of her ground rules yet.
âMeaning you'd sell your granny to screw some poor sod over.'
An ethics lecture from a fucking pimp? The snort erupted before she could stem it. She quickly turned it into a cough, swung her legs over the side of the bed and sat up straight. It might be wiser to give the guy her full attention. âI assure you I don't deal in dirt, Mr Ram. And for the record . . .' She forced an ingratiating smile into her voice. âI don't have a granny.'
âYeah yeah. Hold on a tick, love. I've got a call on the other line.'
Take your time, mate.
Still in her short scarlet nightdress, she pulled the duvet over her shoulders. No sense freezing her butt off. She was happy to wait if she got what she wanted and that was something rare, rarer than veal at a vegan barbecue: an in-depth chat with an on-street groomer. The missing component of her work-in-progress. She already had interviews in the bag with a couple of London victims; cops and social services were usually happy to put their case. Caroline had feelers out, and few worries about gaining similar access. But no one had nailed the elusive exclusive: the perp's viewpoint.
She pursed her lips; no one in her league anyway.
So where was he? If this was a wind-up, she'd hit the sodding . . . Ears pricked, she pressed the phone closer, relieved to hear noises off.
Thank you, God.
Bastard was probably doing business with a grooming crony.
Catching sight of her reflection in the cheval glass, she grimaced. The dark circles looked like she'd missed the lids with her eye shadow. The late night drinks sessions with lodger Nathan weren't doing her any favours. Strictly speaking Nat Hardy was lodger-stroke-tenant, depending whether Caroline was in Birmingham. She'd inherited the Selly Oak terrace after her mother died two years ago. On the market ever since, there'd been no takers, little interest. The reporter's main base was her flat in Fulham, so when Nat had said he needed a place to rent, she'd jumped at the deal. It suited her to have someone she knew, as opposed to putative squatters, living in a property that would otherwise be mostly empty. The fact that Nat was easy on the eye, knew his way around a kitchen and was a fellow journo, had nothing to do with the arrangement. Well, not much.
âRight where were we, love? Oh yeah. The screw bit.' Ram's snigger made her flesh creep. âYou never mentioned if you were into screwing?'
âI'll pretend I didn't hear that.' She curled a lip. Thank God she hadn't showered yet. She itched to puncture the sleaze ball's bubble, but provoking him would get her nowhere. âAs I say, Mr Ram, I'd really like to help. I think you have the makings of a case against the police.'
Like hell she did. King had no doubt the guy was guilty as sin. She'd followed the case, talked to some of the players, watched him swagger out of court yesterday, and registered the shock on Sarah Quinn's face. Why the hell Caroline hadn't grabbed him then she'd never know. Except she did. First off, she'd been so keen on delivering her perfectly staged piece to camera, by the time she'd finished, Ram was getting into the back of a black cab. And second, she wanted to keep a discreet distance from the guy until her time of choosing.
âAnd I'd care what you think because . . .?' She pictured him nail gazing. Arrogant twat. She shed the duvet, rose from the bed, padded to the sash window that looked out onto the street. If she wanted to secure the scoop, she needed to sharpen her act.
âBecause I know what I'm doing.' Authoritative, unequivocal. âWhat you said about suing the police makes sense. And I have experience in the field.' Not. Her only motive was to elicit from Ram what made him tick, what drove him â apart from great wads of cash â to isolate, alienate and rape girls young enough to be his daughter, then pass them round like slabs of meat. What did he see when he looked in the mirror?
As for the cops, it wasn't often Caroline felt sorry for the Ice Queen â way too much bad blood under the bridge for that â but Sarah Quinn had clearly been gutted when Ram walked.
âI didn't say I'd sue, dumbo. I said I'd be seeking legal advice.'
Don't split hairs, dipshit.
âIt's a fine line, Mr Ram.'
âYeah and you're crossing it. Christ, if you cock up simple facts like that, you'll probably get your own name wrong, never mind mine.'
Future tense there. Crap grammar or good sign? At least he might be thinking about it. She hoped so; Ram was clearly no Einstein but neither was he thick as pig-shit. It augured well. Caroline wasn't in the market for a meaningless quote or a twenty-second sound bite. Not when she'd signed a lucrative book deal. Doodling distractedly in the condensation on the window, she focussed on her quarry, went in for the metaphorical kill. âI'm a professional, Mr Ram. I don't make mistakes. Why don't we meet for an off-the-record chat? No strings. No commitment. If you like what you hear, you can decide then about going ahead with the interview.' Up-beat, engaging. Like it was an offer he couldn't refuse.
âOr not.' Intransigent. The guy was no pushover.
She tightened her mouth, so regretted making the move on the phone. The reporter had no problem using body language and sex appeal to get what she wanted, if you had the looks and the nous it was stupid not to. She had both in abundance and had heard that when Ram wasn't molesting under-age kids, he fancied himself as a ladies' man. She'd be right down his street, as it were. Except she was on the end of a line. On the other hand, never say die. âHow about weâ?'
âWhat's in it for me?'
The genuine opportunity to put his side of the story, however unpalatable. âLunch? Dinner?' She smiled.
And that's just for starters, mate.
âLook, love. I don't know who you are.' Shit. She was losing him. âAnd I don't know what two-bit rag you work forâ'
âI don't.' This approach was off her own bat and she'd almost certainly keep the material under wraps until she needed it to promote the book. Ram so didn't need to know that. âI'm a TV journalist.'
âReally?' Upward inflection, then a telling pause. âWhy didn't you say so before, love?'
Two minutes later, she ended the call, ran her tongue over her top lip. Lunch it was then.
Registering the doodle, she turned her mouth down. It looked like a ram with horns, cloven hooves. And a knife through its neck. âWhoops,' she murmured. But then, her aim had been to make a killing.
âBitch must think I was born yesterday.' Snarling, Ram tucked his iPhone into a breast pocket. His wife's pocket as it happened; she'd just crossed his path on the way to the kitchen. âPut it on charge, will you, love.'
Nadia nodded. âWhich bitch is that, Jas?' As if he ran kennels as a sideline.
âMind it.' He tapped his nose with a finger. Shrugging, she walked out, careful to ensure her back was to him before pulling a face. âAnd keep the bloody kids quiet, will you?' His petulant shout was almost an afterthought. Ram's thinking was on more pressing matters than his six-year-old twin daughters bickering somewhere overhead. The noise and clutter was a reminder why he spent so little time at the two-up-two-down in Small Heath.
He snatched a pack of Marlboro from the coffee table, lit one and released smoke trails through flared nostrils. Pacing in front of the tiled fireplace, his black silk dressing gown flapped open revealing black satin boxer shorts. Seething didn't come close. To think some white slag imagined she could play him. Jas Ram didn't do fiddle.
He'd realised early on it was Caroline King on the phone, recognised the stuck-up vowels as much as registering the name. What he didn't know was what the cheeky bint wanted. His eyes creased as he took a deep drag, flicked ash in the direction of an open fire.
All that guff about the cops? Ram didn't believe a word of it. He'd only told her to hang on so he could check her out on Wikipedia. Know thine enemy and all that. Having read the entry, he was sure as eggs the reporter would have an â as yet â unwritten agenda. He'd agreed to meet because he needed to know what it was, where she intended going with it, and if he could allow it. Not that Ram didn't have a damn good idea. Pound to a penny she was after dirt on his so-called grooming activities. He'd been good to those girls, bunch of ingrates, if you asked him. The judge had released him fair and square â Ram had no intention of going back or of being hounded by a hack.
He chucked the butt into the flames, then sank down into a brown leather settee, tapped a mouse on the table alongside his laptop. The page reappeared on the screen and he reread it. âCaroline King, born in Birmingham, moved to London after graduating from Warwick with a 2:1 in English. King entered the industry in 2002, and after stints on national newspapers and radio, has worked variously for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News.'
Ram scowled. âKing made her name covering a string of high-profile crime stories and has won a clutch of awards including three Sonys. Now an investigative journalist, King is thirty-two and single.'
He stroked his chin. Didn't like the job title. Sounded more like posh for nosy bastard. Mind, if she still looked anything like her picture, she was serious tottie. He liked women with dark hair and the jaw-length bob framed a classy heart-shaped face. What with the big eyes and full lips, Ram reckoned he could quite fancy doing a bit of journalist investigating himself. However it panned out, he'd be gaining an Italian and she'd be picking up the bill.
Who said there's no such thing as a free lunch?
Ram blew an ironic kiss at the screen before closing the lid. Either way he was bound to get more mileage out of King than he had last night with Ruby Wells. He'd left the station with Ruby after giving the filth a urine sample. She'd refused him a lift and â he could see her now â threw back her head and laughed in his face when he asked for a date. Fists unwittingly clenched, he took a deep calming breath. Next time she'd show a bit of respect, or she'd be laughing the other side of her face.
he girl studied her face in the mirror on the dressing table. Small-ish brown eyes, mousy hair, snub nose, OK mouth, nothing striking. She saw little to write home about. Not that she had a home. Glancing round, she dropped the knee-jerk scowl but, really, you could hardly call this place home. Her reflection grew as she leaned in, took a closer look. OK, she'd taken a pair of kitchen scissors to her hair, hacked most of it off. But even so, she couldn't see why her dad used to call her a pretty little thing. And it wasn't as though she could ask him. He'd been knocked down by a bus, died two weeks later in hospital â on her ninth birthday. That was six years ago. Her ma had struggled on for eighteen months or so. The girl liked to think the overdose that killed her wasn't deliberate. If she'd done it on purpose, the pain would be almost too much for the girl to bear, given the back-breaking baggage already bowing her thin frame. The bottom line either way was that nothing would bring them back.
She opened a drawer, took out a creased and dog-eared photograph. Her smile was unwitting and mirrored her parents'. She'd kissed their faces so often some of the colour had leeched but it was all she had left of a life that had once been happy and normal. It wasn't as though she wanted the world â she'd settle for average. Not the foster home from hell. The last placement had been bad, but this . . .
Last term, she'd had to read a poem at school. Something along the lines: âit was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.' Utter crap. Even now the sentiment made her spit.
Knowing what love was really like made her current life intolerable. The woman was bad enough but at least she didn't expect to be called mum. No way was the girl going to call the
man dad. Over her dead body. Dads ruffled your hair, chucked your chin, tucked you up in bed. Not got in with you and . . .