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Authors: Reginald Hill

Exit Lines

BOOK: Exit Lines
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REGINALD HILL

Exit Lines

A Dalziel and Pascoe novel

See how the world its veterans rewards!

Pope:
Moral Essays, Epistle 2

Acknowledgements

My thanks to the following: Joseph Addison (Chapter 2), Julius Caesar (12), Charles II (14), Thomas Coryat (11), William Cowper (7), Elizabeth I (20), George V (15), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (16), William Hazlitt (8), O. Henry (13), Thomas Hobbes (26), James V of Scotland (27), Jehoram King of Judah (23), Somerset Maugham (9), Thomas More (24), Captain Oates (1), Lord Palmerston (3), William Pitt the Younger (6 and 10), Fran├žois Rabelais (19 and 29), Sir Walter Rayleigh (24), Philip Sidney (18), Sydney Smith (5), Lytton Strachey (22), Jonathan Swift (25), Lord Tennyson (21), James Thurber (17), the Emperor Vespasian (28), and Oscar Wilde (4).

Requiescant in pace.

Chapter 1

'I am just going outside and I may be some time.'

On a cold and storm-racked November night, while Peter and Ellie Pascoe were still celebrating with wine and wassail the first birthday which their daughter Rose had greeted with huge indifference, three old men, who felt far from indifferent, died.

Thomas Arthur Parrinder, 71, was aroused for the last time by a warm wetness amid the freezing rain which had been lashing his face for almost four hours. He opened one eye and saw above him, silhouetted vaguely against the dark sky, a long animal head with pricking ears, and he glimpsed also the gleam of tooth and inquisitive eye as the beast stooped down to lick at him once more. His mouth gaped and a rattle that may have been a laugh spilled out with it a single word. 'Polly!' No other word passed his lips, and precious little breath either, before an overworked hospital doctor pronounced him (not without some guilty relief) dead on arrival.

At just about the same time, Robert Deeks, 73, was being hooked back from a long slide to oblivion by the ringing of a distant bell. A little earlier another bell had rung for some considerable time, but that had eventually ceased. At last this new one stopped too. Then a door opened. A voice called out. Other doors. Opening and shutting. Footsteps below, hurrying, scurrying; a voice growing in volume and alarm; footsteps and voice together on the stairs, ascending. He took another lurch back to reality. He was in a bathroom, his own bathroom. To register this was quite a triumph and, thus encouraged, his mind took a further step. He was in the bath! He looked down at the russet-coloured water lapping his chest, grey and flimsy as a sodden newspaper blown against a picket fence. His mind suddenly broke through fact into feeling. It would be a shaming thing to be found in the bath, especially when he had made it so dirty. It was a special old people's bath with a non-slip bottom and padded grips to help him ease himself in and out. He reached for the grips now, but his nerveless and swollen-knuckled fingers could find no purchase, and even if they had, he knew there was no strength left in his arms to pull himself upright. He let his arms fall. Fact and feeling were beginning to retreat at an even pace. He felt himself slipping away with them. A cry of horror from the open door inhibited the process for one last moment. Slowly he turned his head and saw his daughter in the doorway, paralysed at the shock of seeing him bathed in his own diluted blood. He opened his toothless mouth and said, 'Charley.' The next bell to ring was the ambulance bell but he was moving beyond recall towards a more urgent summons by then.

Philip Cater Westerman (70) felt the rain bouncing off his plastic mac and the wind trying to get under it as he mounted his bicycle and rode out of the car park of The Duke of York. At least the wind was behind him as he turned left towards The Towers. That this narrow, country thoroughfare was called Paradise Road did not strike him yet as ironical. Then he saw lights coming towards him, making nothing of the wind, ripping through the curtain of rain with arrogant ease. The car must have covered a hundred yards in the time he took to cover ten, even with the wind at his back. And in the same instant as the thought, the lights were twisting and brakes screaming in an attempt at evasion both desperate and vain. He was facing the car when he and it almost simultaneously came to a halt. He saw the two front doors burst open and two figures come running towards him, one broad and bulky, the other as tall but thinner. The image remained in his mind, surprisingly powerful, indeed almost analgesic in its strength, as he was hurried to hospital. There, the same harassed houseman who had registered the first two septuagenarians d.o.a. saw that another mile in the ambulance would almost certainly have given him three in a row. As it was, this poor devil was hardly worth preparing for surgery, but the doctor was not yet so advanced in his profession as to be quite certain he was God's agent, and he set the wheels in motion. As if to confirm this decision, Philip Cater Weslerman opened his eyes and said, 'Hello.'

'Hello, old chap,' said the doctor. 'Take it easy. Have you right in no time.'

But no time was precisely what Philip Cater Westerman knew he had.

'Paradise,' he said reflectively. Then he added with great indignation, 'Paradise! Driver ... fat bastard . . . pissed!'

And died.

In the Pascoe household, the telephone rang.

Pascoe groaned, Ellie made a face and went to answer it. Pascoe listened at the open door for a moment but when he heard Ellie greet her father, his face relaxed and he returned to his celebratory Marks and Spencer Burgundy. He grinned at his wife on her return, inviting her to share his relief that it hadn't been the duty sergeant with the once flattering but now fearful message that yet again Mid-Yorkshire CID could not function without its favourite Detective-Inspector.

Ellie did not return his smile, so he returned her worried frown.

'Trouble?' he said.

'I'm not sure. It was Dad, ringing up to wish Rose a happy birthday.'

'So?'

'It's the second time. He came on the line when Mum rang this morning.'

'He's so proud of his granddaughter, he wants to do it twice,' said Pascoe. 'What's the problem?'

'I said it was nice of him to do it twice and he seemed puzzled. Then Mum came on.'

'And did she wish Rose happy birthday again too?'

'No,' said Ellie in exasperation. 'She just said to take no notice of Dad, he'd be forgetting his own head next!'

'Sensible woman, your mother,' said Pascoe.

"Tis distance lends approval to the view,' said Ellie ironically. 'But she sounded worried. Dad hasn't really been right since that bad turn he had two years ago. Mum didn't say anything, but I can tell. Peter, I think I ought to pop down there and check things out.'

Down there
was Orburn, a small market town south of Lincoln, about eighty miles away.

'Why not?' said Pascoe expansively. 'When?'

'Tomorrow would suit me,' said Ellie. 'If that's all right? They haven't seen Rose for a bit. It's been awkward for them since Dad gave up the car. I'd stay the night. It's too far there and back in a day with the baby. Would you mind?'

Pascoe sipped his wine reflectively and said, 'You know, if you really let yourself go and give it all you've got, you could easily shatter your own record for getting close to asking my permission! Now, that would be nice. But I'd need the request in writing, else who's going to believe it?'

'Bastard,' said Ellie. 'I'm merely consulting your convenience.'

'Let's keep Andy Dalziel out of this,' grinned Pascoe. 'Hadn't you better consult your mum's too?'

'Yes. I'll ring her back now,' said Ellie, retreating through the door.

'And this time, leave the phone off the hook,' called Pascoe after her. 'If I'm going to be deprived of my marital rights tomorrow, I claim double ration tonight.'

But before Ellie could reach the phone, it rang.

He heard Ellie give the number, there was a pause, then she said, 'All right, Sergeant Wield. I'll get him.'

'Oh shit,' said Pascoe. 'Shit, shit, shit!'

Chapter 2

'See in what peace a Christian can die.'

'Back door,' said Wield. 'Glass panel broken. Key in lock. Hand through. Open. Easy.'

Sergeant Wield was in fine telegraphic style. He also seemed to have been practising not moving his lips, so that the words came out of his slant and ugly face like a ritual chant through a primitive devil-mask.

Pascoe put the unkind thought aside as best he could, which was not very well. His resentment at being called out had not as yet been assuaged by explanation. Wield had been even more economic of words on the phone and when Pascoe had hinted a complaint shortly after his arrival at 25, Welfare Lane, in the middle of a Victorian terrace which even Betjeman might have hesitated to save, the Sergeant by the flicker of an eye inside the devil-mask had underlined the inhibiting presence of Constable Tony Hector.

PC Hector had been the first officer on the scene and was therefore a potential source of illuminating insights. Unfortunately he was to Pascoe the last person he would have wished first. His principal qualification for the police force seemed to be his height. He was fully six feet six inches upright, though at some stage in his growth he had reached a level of embarrassment which provoked him to shave off the six inches by curving his spine forward like a bent bow and sinking his head so far between his shoulders that he gave the impression that he was wearing a coat-hanger beneath his tunic. He was one of a trio of young constables whom Detective-Superintendent Dalziel had unkindly nicknamed on their arrival two months earlier Maggie's Morons, suggesting that their recruitment into the force was more the result of Mrs Thatcher's economic policies than a natural vocation. Twice already Pascoe had had occasion to see Hector in action and Dalziel's judgment had still to be refuted. But Pascoe was a kindly, sympathetic man and had not altogether given up on the youth.

'Tell me about it,' he now invited the constable.

'Sir?' - with a puzzled note.

'About what happened. Tell me what you found when you got here,' said Pascoe slowly and distinctly to make sure he was heard above the inappropriately loud din of a television set coming from the house next door.

'Oh, yes, sir,' said Hector, producing his notebook and coughing discreetly behind his hand. 'I came on duty at six
P.M
. on Friday, November . . .'

'No, no,' said Pascoe. It was, of course, Hector's fondness for the orotund constabulary style which had driven Wield so far towards telegraphese. 'From when you got here. And in your own words, please.'

'These are my own words, sir,' said Hector, brandishing his notebook with the beginnings of indignation.

'Yes, I know. But you're not in the witness-box. I mean, just
talk
to me as you'd talk to your ... to your . . .' Pascoe tailed away helplessly. Friends? Father? However he ended his sentence it was going to sound ridiculous.

'Self,' interposed Sergeant Wield. His eyes met Pascoe's and the Inspector had to resist an urge to giggle, an urge he quelled by recollecting that a particularly unpleasant murder had occurred a few feet above his head not very long before.

The thought also made him feel guilty about his sense of grievance at being called out.

Am I getting callous, or what? he wondered.

'Go on, son,' he said to Hector.

'Well, sir, when I got here, I found Mrs Frostick and a lot of other people . . .'

'Hold on. Who's Mrs Frostick?'

'Mrs Frostick is Mr Deeks's daughter, sir. Mr Deeks is the deceased, of this abode.'

Pascoe looked sharply at Hector, hoping to see the gleam of intelligent life in his eyes which would mean he was sending him up. But all was earnest blankness.

'And these other people? Who were they?'

'Neighbours mainly, I think, sir.'

'Think? You've got their names and addresses, haven't you?'

Hector's head sank a little further between his shoulders. Perhaps it was fully retractable, like a tortoise's.

'Some of them, sir,' he said. 'It was all a bit confused. A lot of people had come rushing in when Mrs Frostick called for help . . .'

'Called? You mean, literally, called?'

Again the blank yearning after understanding.

Wield said, 'There is a telephone, as you saw, sir. But Mrs Frostick seems to have been a bit hysterical and after she found her father she ran out into the street, yelling and banging at neighbours' doors.'

'Neighbours' doors?Several doors? So there would have been several neighbours? And also anyone casually strolling by who might have been attracted by the commotion?'

'It's a nasty night, sir,' said Wield. 'Not many pedestrians, I shouldn't think.'

'No. Well, all these people, some of whose names you have, what were they doing?'

'Some of them were upstairs with the deceased . . .'

'Was he, by then?'

'Sir?'

'Deceased.'

Another inch of retraction.

'He didn't look good, sir.'

'The murdered man did not look good,' murmured Pascoe, tasting the phrase with a kind of sad pleasure. 'So, some were upstairs. Some I presume were downstairs . . .'

'Yes, sir.Comforting Mrs Frostick, making her cups of tea, and that sort of thing, sir.'

'In the living-room, was that?'

'Mrs Frostick was in the living-room,' said Hector, screwing up his face in search of preciseness. 'The tea was being made in the kitchen. That's where the oven is, so they'd have to make it there. Mr Deeks was on his bed, in his bedroom. There's only one bedroom, at the front. The other bedroom's the bathroom. Converted.'

Keen to spot glimmers of hope, Pascoe said with the same approval as if he'd been talking about Castle Howard, 'You've got the geography of the house sorted, then.'

The head emerged a little and Hector said, 'Yes, sir. Well, it's just like my Auntie Sheila's in Parish Road round the corner, except that she had a bathroom extension built out over the wash-house in the yard.'

'An extension? Excellent!' approved Pascoe. 'To return to Welfare Lane, what did you do when you got here?'

'Well, I had a look around, sir, then I went outside to call for assistance.'

'I see. You had a look around. And what did you see? I presume you saw something?'

The blank was shot through with agony now, the agony of not asking, 'Like what?' Pascoe looked at him wriggling, wished he could unhook him and throw him back, sighed and said, 'You say you went
outside
to call assistance.'

'Yes, sir. I thought reception would be better and it were a bit crowded in the house with all them people,' complained Hector.

Pascoe gave up. It was clear that like the useless lamp-post he resembled, the young constable was not going to cast any useful light.

'Thanks, Hector,' he said. 'That'll do for now. Stop on the front door, will you, and help keep the sightseers away. Oh, and I'll want a list of everyone you found in the house when you arrived. Heads of families will do where you didn't have time to make a comprehensive census.'

Looking puzzled, relieved, and also slightly disappointed, Hector departed.

Wield and Pascoe exchanged glances.

'Well, at least he was pretty quickly on the scene,' defended Pascoe, compensating for his final sarcasm.

'Yes, sir,' said Wield stolidly. 'He was just in the next street when the call went out. Having a cup of tea at his auntie's, I suspect.'

'You'd better tell me everything, Sergeant.'

And with the look of one who had been expecting to do no less ever since he found PC Hector on the scene, Wield began.

Dorothy Frostick, now being treated for shock in the hospital to which she had accompanied her father's body, had become alarmed when her attempts to telephone the old man had been unanswered earlier in the evening. On arrival at the house, she had discovered him in his bath, bruised and bleeding. Unable to lift him out singlehanded, she had run outside, half hysterical, and roused the neighbours to help.

Principal among these, Wield had ascertained on arrival, was Mrs Tracey Spillings of No. 27, next door, where she was presently attending the Inspector's pleasure, and pursuing her own in the shape of
Dallas
from the sound of it.

'She says the old boy was alive, just, when they got him out of the bath, but reckons he was beyond recall by the time the ambulance got here. The hospital say he was dead on arrival. Mr Longbottom's been alerted to do the PM in the morning. I didn't think we need bother Dr Rackfell; the duty man at the City General should be able to give us all the preliminary details. Oh, and someone either rang the
Post
or Sam Ruddlesdin was listening in. He turned up shortly after I did. Asked a few questions, then set off for the hospital, I think.'

Longbottom was the Chief Pathologist at the City General, Rackfell was the police surgeon on call that night, and Ruddlesdin was the
Evening Post's
chief reporter.

'You've got everything sewn up so nicely, Sergeant, I don't see why you needed to bother me either,' said Pascoe rather grumpily. 'Now there's no one at home at No. 23, you say? Why didn't whoever it was try there, I wonder? Well, let's go and see your Mrs Spillings at 27 and let this lot have a bit of space to move in.'

This lot
were the forensic team and the photographer who were beginning to move methodically through the tiny house.

'Incidentally, why
did
you bother me?' wondered Pascoe as he led the way out of the front door, ignoring PC Hector's vain attempt to stand straight at attention. 'Mr Headingley busy, is he? And Mr Dalziel out of reach?'

George Headingley was the CID Inspector on duty that night. And Superintendent Andy Dalziel would certainly have expected to be informed instantly of any murder on his patch.

'I'm not sure what's going on, sir,' said Wield in a low voice as they walked towards No. 27. 'Something seems to have come up at the hospital.'

'Something to do with this case, you mean?'

'I don't think so, sir,' said Wield. 'What happened was, Hector buzzed in about this lot, said that the ambulance was just arriving to take Mr Deeks away. It sounded at the time as if the old fellow was still alive, so Mr Headingley said he'd go down to the hospital to see what was what and asked me to get things started down here.'

They'd covered the few yards to 27, but Wield did not offer to knock and the two men sheltered from the driving rain as best they could in the lee of a puce-glossed doorway.

'He contacted me about half an hour later, maybe more. Told me Deeks was dead and Mrs Frostick was under sedation. Then he said something had come up and it'd be best if I could get hold of you as he was going to be occupied with this other thing. I asked if he wanted me to try to get hold of Mr Dalziel too, but he said no, there was no need for that, no need at all. He was being very cagey, said he'd explain things to you later. Anyway, that's how I came to be disturbing your evening.'

'You could have told me this on the phone!' protested Pascoe. 'It might have made me a fraction less bad-tempered.'

'Thought you'd prefer to start off with a clear mind,' said Wield.

He was right, of course. Anything that could make a good, solid, down-to-earth copper like George Headingley slide out from under a murder inquiry must be serious. Already Pascoe's mind was spiralling off into the inane of speculation. He only hoped he could drag it back to earth and hold it there till he got this investigation properly under way.

He needn't have worried. Ballast was at hand.

The fluorescent door was flung open, revealing a brightly lit living-room where the full volume of a television set competed vainly with a clamorous wallpaper whose main motif was the display ritual of birds of paradise in a tropical jungle. Lowering his eyes, Pascoe met the glower of a short but enormously broad woman in a nylon overall which seemed to have been glossed from the same pot as the doorway.

'Are you buggers too shy to knock, or what?' she demanded. 'I didn't rudd that step just so's a pair of petrified coppers could stamp their hobnails on it. Are you coming in? I haven't got all bloody night, even if you have!'

The mysterious behaviour of George Headingley was quite forgotten. Meekly Pascoe followed Sergeant Wield into the house.

BOOK: Exit Lines
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