Authors: Deborah Crombie
“That might make a bit more sense of Malik being found in the park.” Following Cullen’s directions, Kincaid pulled up in front of an undistinguished building in a side street off Warner Place. It was the second house in a rather grimy terrace. Gray-brown brick, blue door and blue trim work. Lettering over the ground-floor windows read
MALIK & PHILLIPS, SOLICITORS
, and to one side, a little more discreetly, there was a phone number.
Kincaid pulled into the curb and got out. Studying the shop front while waiting for Cullen to come round the car, he peered through a gap in the miniblinds, but saw nothing but shadows. He pressed the buzzer, and after a moment the door released. He pushed it open and entered a small hallway, Cullen close on his heels. To their left, an open door led into the reception area he’d glimpsed through the blinds.
The room was empty, but it looked more inviting from the inside than it had from the window. Comfortably worn brown leather chairs and sofa, a serviceable desk, an industrial-grade Berber carpet, but the room was clean, and the freshly painted cream walls held imaginatively hung canvas reproductions of Banksy street art. An interesting choice for a solicitor, Kincaid thought, the ultimate outlaw artist.
A female voice called from upstairs. “Naz, you forget your keys
again? Why the hell didn’t you ring me—” A woman peered down at them from the first-floor landing. “Sorry. I thought you were my partner. He’s late, and the receptionist isn’t in today. Can I help you? We usually see clients by appointment.” The tone was slightly disapproving. She started down the stairs, and as she came into the light cast by the glass transom in the front door, Kincaid saw that she was dark skinned, and West Indian rather than Asian. She was a little too thin, and wore a navy business suit with a plain white blouse. Her dark hair looked as if it had been straightened, and was pulled back in an unflattering knot. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, he caught the reek of stale cigarette smoke.
“You’re Louise Phillips?” He held out his warrant card. “Superintendent Kincaid. Sergeant Cullen. Scotland Yard.”
“Scotland Yard?” She stared at him. “If this is about Azad, you know I can’t talk to you. Unless”—she took a sharp little breath and her eyes widened—“is it Sandra? Are you here about Sandra?”
So she didn’t yet know what had happened. Naz Malik’s death had made a paragraph that morning in one of the tabloids, but it was probably not the sort of paper Louise Phillips read, and Naz’s death hadn’t been violent enough to get more mention. “Mrs. Phillips, is there somewhere we could talk?” he asked.
.,” she corrected. “I’m not married. Not that my marital status should be anyone’s business.” The little speech seemed rote, tossed off while she gathered her thoughts. She glanced into the reception area, then shook her head, rejecting it although it looked the obvious spot. “Come upstairs, then. I suppose we can talk in my office.”
Turning, she led them up the stairs. The cigarette smell intensified as they climbed, and as they entered the first-floor office, Kincaid saw why. A plastic pub ashtray held place of honor on the cluttered desk. It was filled with cigarette ends, and one lipstick-smeared specimen had burned to ash in the slotted edge. The room was not much more attractive. Scuffed and untidy, it lacked any of the reception area’s charm, and in spite of the heat, its two windows were shut.
Louise Phillips waved an ineffective hand at the fug in the air. “Naz is always getting on at me, but it’s
office and I don’t know why I should have to be politically correct.”
Kincaid managed a smile, wondering how much exposure to secondhand smoke it took to contract lung cancer, and sat in one of the metal and faux-leather chairs that fought to occupy space between boxes stuffed with files. Cullen freed another chair, and Phillips sank down behind her desk with the apparent relief of one returning to charted territory, or at least escaping from a smoke-free zone.
“Are you sure you don’t want to wait and talk to Naz?” she said. “Whatever it is—I can’t imagine why he’s late. He’s never late—”
“Ms. Phillips,” Kincaid broke in. It was always better to get it over with quickly. “We can’t talk to your partner. I’m sorry, but Naz Malik is dead.”
“What?” Phillips stared at him, and her dark skin seemed to go slightly gray. “You’re joking.” She swallowed, pressing her fingers to her lips as she shook her head. “No. You said ‘police.’ You don’t joke. But I don’t understand. When? How? Was it an accident?”
“We think not.”
“But—” Reaching for a packet of Silk Cut on her desk, Phillips fumbled a cigarette free and lit it with a cheap plastic lighter. Through an exhaled stream of smoke, she squinted at him. “No, it wouldn’t be, not if you’re Scotland Yard. And you said you were a superintendent. Major crimes unit, I should think.”
Kincaid fought the impulse to cough as the smoke reached him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Cullen, who had got out his notebook, glance at the window. Giving Cullen an infinitesimal shake of the head, he said, “Ms. Phillips, when did you last talk to your partner?”
“Friday. Friday afternoon. We’ve been working on a case that goes to trial next week. We had a meeting with the barrister in his chambers. Naz was—” Her voice wavered. “I can’t believe it.” She ground out the barely smoked cigarette, then lit another. “I’d been
trying to ring him since yesterday. Couldn’t figure out why his phone was turned off—it went straight to voice mail. I left him a message this morning. I couldn’t believe he was late.” She looked at them in appeal. “What’s happened to him?”
“We’re not sure, Ms. Phillips,” Kincaid answered. “Do you know of any reason why your partner would have been in Haggerston Park?”
“Haggerston? No. Except Naz and Sandra used to take Charlotte to the farm sometimes, or for walks…”
“Did the park have any special significance for them?”
“No, not that I know of. They often had family outings to places in the area. But Naz isn’t really the nature type on his own…” Louise Phillips stood and began to pace in the small space behind her desk. “Look, you’re absolutely sure it’s Naz? There could be a mistake—”
“Detective Inspector Weller, who investigated Sandra Gilles’s disappearance, identified the body.”
“Weller.” Phillips grimaced. “Yes, he would know Naz. But why are you asking about Haggerston? Is that where he was…found? What happened to him? You still haven’t told me.”
Patiently, Kincaid said, “Mr. Malik left his daughter with her nanny on Saturday afternoon, saying he would be back shortly. His friend Tim Cavendish reported him missing when both he and the daughter’s nanny began to worry. Mr. Malik’s body was found by a passerby in Haggerston Park yesterday morning. The pathologist has not made a ruling on the cause of death.”
“Yesterday?” Louise Phillips whispered. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“I believe you’re ex-directory, Ms. Phillips? Unless DI Weller had your home number?” Kincaid remembered Gemma telling him she’d tried without success to find Phillips’s home number.
“Oh, no. Weller never asked. It never occurred to me that he’d need it. And I—I never imagined…I never imagined anything happening to Naz…”
“Did your partner seem particularly upset about anything the last time you spoke?”
She hesitated. “I wouldn’t say
. We’d been…It’s this case.” Phillips sat down again and lit another Silk Cut. With an apologetic glance at Kincaid, Cullen set his notebook on a file case and went to the window.
“Do you mind?” he asked Phillips.
“Stuck shut,” she answered. “Naz was…Naz nagged at me to get it fixed, but I—I didn’t want—I don’t know why I was so bloody-minded about it.” She stubbed out the cigarette, and Cullen retreated to his chair, having scored at least a minor victory.
“The case?” Kincaid prompted.
“We’re representing a Bangladeshi restaurant owner named Ahmed Azad. He owns a curry house just off Brick Lane. He’s accused of importing young people and forcing them to work without pay in his home and restaurant.”
“House slaves?” Cullen looked surprised.
“Well, the home charge will be harder for the prosecution to prove. He’s sponsored these young men and women—they would have to testify that he’s forcing them to work without pay, and not allowing them to seek employment elsewhere.”
“But they won’t?” guessed Kincaid.
Phillips rolled her eyes. “It’s
that he threatened to rescind his sponsorship, which would result in their deportation. And it’s
that if they seek other employment, he threatens to harm their relatives back in Sylhet. Of course, they’re not going to talk.”
“But somebody did.”
“A couple of ex-employees from the restaurant. They seem to have a grudge against him over some back wages. And there was a young man, a second cousin, I think, who was working as a dishwasher. He agreed to testify that Azad refused to pay him, and had threatened them. But he seems to have, um, disappeared, so the prosecution’s case is looking a bit weak.”
“The man sounds an obvious crook,” said Cullen.
,” corrected Phillips wearily. “If we only represented model citizens, we’d soon be out of business.”
“A witness disappeared, Ms. Phillips?” Kincaid asked sharply. “When?”
“Two weeks ago. We only learned about it when Customs and Immigration questioned Azad. They’d been keeping this boy, the cousin or nephew or whatever he was, under wraps.”
“Apparently with good reason.”
Phillips shrugged. “He probably just decided that getting his own back against Azad wasn’t worth deportation.”
“And you don’t think that Customs and Immigration will have offered him a deal?”
“We’re not privy to that information,” Phillips said rather primly. “But…Naz wasn’t happy. It was too close to home, the disappearance. We’d had—Things had been a bit tense in the office lately. Friday…”
Leaning forwards, Kincaid schooled his face into a sympathetic expression, concealing his interest. “You had a row?”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it a row.” She reached for the cigarettes, then stopped, as if making an effort to control the urge. Kincaid wondered how much of her smoking was due to nicotine addiction and how much was nervous habit, merely something to do with her hands. Without the easy prop, she resorted to twisting the ring she wore on her right hand. Her nails were short, the cuticles ragged, as if she bit them. “A disagreement, if that. It was just—Naz wasn’t sure he wanted to go on representing Azad. I told him that was bollocks. We were committed, and we needed the money. We couldn’t afford his scruples. He—” She clamped her lips tight, hands suddenly still.
“He what, Ms. Phillips?” Kincaid tone was firm.
“It’s just that, since Sandra disappeared, Naz has been…different. Well, naturally you’d expect that, but…We’ve known
each other since law school. We’ve been partners for ten years. We were good together. But lately…Naz had been something of a liability. He couldn’t concentrate. Anything would send him off on a tangent, get his hopes up about Sandra. Or make him unreasonable, like this business with Azad. But I thought he’d adjust, somehow…”
“You thought he’d adjust to the loss of his wife? You didn’t think she’d come back?”
“No.” Phillips’s answer was flat. “Sandra Gilles wasn’t the type to walk away from everything she’d worked for. We had
in common, Sandra and I.”
“Not even if she’d had an affair?” Kincaid asked.
“An affair? No.” Phillips shook her head. “There was speculation, of course, when she disappeared, that she’d run off with a man, but I never believed it. Sandra was no saint, and I’m sure she and Naz had their differences over the years, but she’d never have left—Oh, God.” She stared at Kincaid, wide-eyed. “Charlotte. What’s happened to Charlotte?”
Gemma popped a CD of Handel anthems in the little player she kept in her office, hoping the music would propel her through the Monday-morning deluge of reports on her screen. But as the voices soared, she closed her eyes, mouse in hand, and let the music wash over her.
It made her think of Winnie, and of the small and perfect wedding she’d imagined, with Winnie officiating, and for a moment she indulged in the daydream. Then she opened her eyes and turned down the volume, chastising herself for her selfishness in putting her wishes over concern for Winnie’s health. She would ring Glastonbury this evening and check up on her, and that, she realized reluctantly, meant she’d have to tell Winnie and Jack about her mum as well.
She’d rung her mum at the hospital last night and first thing that
morning, getting the chipper
I’m just fine, dearie
speech both times. She’d just made up her mind that as soon as she could decently duck out of the office, she was going to see for herself, when there was a tap on her door and Melody Talbot came in. They’d spoken only in passing at the department briefing that morning, a busy one, as intense heat always seemed to increase their caseload, and the buzz of excitement over the approaching carnival had added to the ferment.
“Boss,” said Melody, closing the door, “got a minute?”
Gemma glanced down at the report she’d been reading. A boy had been knifed near the Ladbroke Grove tube station on Saturday night, and although he’d survived, he was refusing to name his attackers. She sighed, sympathizing with the investigating officers’ frustration, and with a click reassigned the case to a team who were working two similar incidents. They might very well be connected.
Then she smiled at Melody, blanked the computer screen, and switched off the CD. “I’m all yours. What’s up?”
“Um.” Melody hesitated, unusual for an officer who was usually the model of efficiency. Curious, Gemma nodded towards a chair. Melody sat, looking deceptively demure in her navy skirt and white blouse. She’d already shed her suit jacket. Not even Melody could keep up her standards of crispness in this heat. “It’s about Saturday night,” she said, still not meeting Gemma’s eyes.
“Melody, what on earth are you talking about?” asked Gemma, baffled.