Read Necessary as Blood Online
Authors: Deborah Crombie
“I missed your call, and I never rang you back. It was a family dinner. I had my phone turned off, and then didn’t think to check messages.”
“Oh, that. I’d completely forgotten.” Gemma realized she was sweating and shrugged out of her light cotton cardigan. “You weren’t on duty, Melody. There’s no need to apologize. You have a right to personal time.”
“But if you’d needed me…”
“As it turned out, I don’t think there was anything you could have
done.” She told Melody about Tim’s call and what had followed, but even as she reassured Melody, she felt a flicker of doubt. If Naz Malik had still been alive when she’d rung Melody, was there some way they might have found him in time? She shook her head, telling herself that was useless speculation, and finished her story.
“You got the little girl placed with Wesley’s mum?” said Melody. She was sitting forward, on the edge of her chair now, interest apparently having banished her momentary awkwardness. “Brilliant. How’s she doing?”
“As well as you could expect, I think. Although I’m not sure what you
expect.” Gemma thought of Charlotte as she’d left her yesterday afternoon, sobbing in Betty’s arms, and remembered how she had hated to let the child go. “She’ll be all right,” Betty had reassured her. “It’s just she’s had a long day, and she feels safe with you.”
“I’ll come see you tomorrow,” Gemma had promised Charlotte, kissing her damp, sticky cheek.
“I’ve promised to visit her again today,” she told Melody. “And I’ve got to check on my mum. She’s in hospital since yesterday.”
“I’m sorry, boss,” Melody said quickly. “Anything I can do?”
The flash of concern in Melody’s eyes made her feel a surge of panic. “No. No, it’s nothing major,” she said. “She has a little low-grade infection. Her immune system’s depressed from the chemo. And they’re putting in a port for the treatments—” She stopped, aware that she was rattling on to reassure herself rather than Melody. “I’m sure she’ll be fi—”
Her mobile rang, rescuing her. But when she saw Betty Howard’s name on the caller ID, she excused herself, feeling the same instant prickle of worry she got when one of boys’ schools rang. “Betty, hi,” she answered quickly. “Is everything all right?”
She listened for a moment, frowning, tapping a pen on her desk, then said, “Let me check into it. I’ll ring you back.”
“Is something wrong?” asked Melody when Gemma ended the call.
“I don’t know.” Gemma frowned. “Betty says she got a call from the social worker, Janice Silverman. Silverman said she contacted Charlotte’s grandmother, who told her she wanted nothing to do with Charlotte. But later this morning, Sandra’s sister, a woman named Donna Woods, rang her up. She says she wants to take Charlotte.”
“But surely that’s a good thing,” said Melody. “The child should be with family.”
“Yes, well, maybe,” Gemma said slowly. “But it depends on the family.” It occurred to her that the idea of Toby and Kit in her own sister’s care horrified her—although they wouldn’t be mistreated, they wouldn’t be cared for the way she would look after them. And a blood relationship was certainly no guarantee of love, as Kit’s experience with his grandmother had taught them all too painfully. “According to Tim, Naz and Sandra were adamant about not wanting Charlotte to have any contact with Sandra’s family,” she continued. “And we don’t know anything about this sister.”
“We?” Melody looked at her quizzically.
“The police. Social services. You know what I mean,” she added, a little exasperated.
Melody scrutinized her a bit longer, as if debating, then said, “Well, what it sounds like to me is that
don’t want to let Charlotte Malik out of your sight.”
The British Bangladeshi population has therefore described itself in several different ways during the last sixty years: Indian, Pakistani, Bengali, Bangladeshi. Nowadays the last two terms are used interchangeably. In addition, many use the term “sylheti” to describe themselves, this being the part of Bangladesh from which most British Bangladeshi families originate.
—Geoff Dench, Kate Gavron, Michael Young,
The New East End
Kincaid didn’t like not having his own team on the ground from the beginning of an investigation, but as Bethnal Green had got in first, it made sense to run the incident room from Bethnal Green Police Station. And he wanted Weller whether Weller wanted him or not, so once the DI was out of court he’d have to put up with a new SIO on his patch.
He’d set up in a conference room with a computer terminal and a whiteboard, assigning an officer to man the public phone line and
another to correlate the statements taken from witnesses in the park. Then he’d had the very attractive DS Singh bring him every bit of information on file regarding Naz Malik and Sandra Gilles.
He handed the Malik files to Cullen and started in on the disappearance of Sandra Gilles himself, reading with interest. People did simply vanish, of course; one only had to read the missing persons files. But in most cases, enough digging would unearth a trigger—a row, depression, financial problems—or a witness would report some small thing that gave credence to a theory of violence. But Sandra Gilles, successful artist, devoted wife, and adoring mother, just seemed to have been swallowed by the earth on that bright Sunday afternoon in May. There must have been something more.
He read through the e-mail Gemma had sent him, describing in detail the events of the weekend. Then he compared Gemma’s notes with the brief report DI Weller had filed. There was no mention in Weller’s report of Tim Cavendish’s comments about Sandra Gilles’s alleged affair with a man named Lucas Ritchie. Why?
Tim had referred to Ritchie as a club owner, but if he had mentioned its name, Gemma hadn’t caught it. Kincaid dialed Tim Cavendish on his mobile, heard the surprise in Tim’s voice when he said he had questions about the case. “Yes, I’ve got my fingers in the pie now,” he told Tim, but didn’t elaborate. “Tim, about this Lucas Ritchie bloke—did Naz tell you anything else? The name of the club?”
“No. Look, I shouldn’t have said—”
“Don’t be daft, man,” Kincaid interrupted. “You should have told Gemma on Saturday. I’ll ring you back.”
He called in Sergeant Singh. “Does the name Lucas Ritchie mean anything to you? Owns an exclusive private club in the area?”
She shook her head, but her brown eyes were alert, her expression interested. “No, sir. But I can run a search of local business records.”
He gave her a friendly smile. “Do that, why don’t you, Sergeant. And get straight back to me with the results.” He was treading care
fully here. It wasn’t a good idea to openly criticize Weller to his staff, but he didn’t want any failures of communication.
“Yes, sir,” Singh answered, a slight frown creasing her smooth forehead. Pondering the implications, Kincaid thought. A bright girl. “Oh, but, sir,” she added, “I was just coming in to tell you. Dr. Kaleem, the pathologist, rang. He wanted to speak to DI Weller, but since he’s not available at the moment—”
“Sergeant,” Kincaid interrupted her firmly. “I know it’s a bit awkward for you, but I’m in charge of the Malik investigation now, so anything comes directly to me. I’m sure DI Weller will have a chance to make that clear when he comes in. Now, where would I find Dr. Kaleem?”
“At the London, sir.”
“I want you to set up the team in charge of going over the Maliks’ house,” Kincaid told Cullen as they drove the short distance to the Royal London. “I want our lads, not Bethnal Green. And I want them to go through everything with a fine-tooth comb, including any records of Sandra Gilles’s business transactions. The one thing we do know about this Ritchie is that he was one of Sandra Gilles’s clients.”
Glancing at his watch as the bulk of the hospital came into view, Kincaid added, “Oh, and, Doug, drop me at the front and I’ll meet you at the mortuary in about ten minutes.”
Cullen glanced at him for an instant, then shifted his gaze back to the road. “Right, guv.”
“It will probably take you that long to park in this warren,” Kincaid said, but didn’t offer any further explanation. He wasn’t in the mood to discuss Gemma’s personal business with Doug, especially considering Cullen’s pouting over Gemma’s involvement in the case.
He jumped out of the car as Cullen stopped on the double yellows in front of the main building. Admittedly, the hospital’s venerable
original building was quite hideous, but looking at the disparate styles of the mushrooming annexes, Kincaid couldn’t help but think the planners would have been better served by sticking with uniform ugliness.
A quick query at the main information desk sent him outside again, and a brisk walk took him to the building that housed Vi Walters’s ward. He found her alone, and dozing, but when he came in she opened her eyes and gave him a delighted smile. “Duncan! What are you doing here? Did you come all this way to see me?”
He kissed her cheek. “I was in the neighborhood. A new case,” he said. “But I couldn’t pass up a chance to check on you and make sure you were behaving yourself. I can’t stay long.” He was waffling, he knew, covering his shock. She seemed to have shrunk since he’d last seen her, and her skin was almost translucent. Her left arm was neatly bandaged.
“Sit, then,” she said. “You look wilted as an old lettuce. Is it hot?”
He stayed beside the bed, hand on the rail. “Broiling.” Thank God the wards had air-conditioning.
“You’d never know it in here.” Vi gave a shiver, and he realized that her bed was heaped with blankets. “Always did like a touch of the sun,” she added, a little wistfully.
“Well, you should be home soon, and you can toast yourself to your heart’s content.”
Vi started to lift her bandaged arm, then seemed to think better of it and waggled her fingers at him instead. “Maybe tomorrow. I’ve got my own personal plug, as of this morning. No more sticking me black and blue with needles.”
Gemma had told him about the chemo port, and he wasn’t at all sure that was a good sign. “You’re brilliant,” he said. “A regular bionic woman. Gemma’s coming in to admire the handiwork a bit later, I think.”
“She shouldn’t come all this way.” Vi sounded a little fretful. “I’ve told her a dozen times.”
“I’m glad she listens to you,” he tossed back, grinning.
“Oh, go on with you.” Vi shook her head, but her smile was back. “Give us another kiss, then, and go on about your business.”
When he leaned down and touched his cheek to hers, it was cool. At least she no longer had a fever. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Duncan.” She touched his hand as he straightened up. “About Gemma. You know she’s been stubborn as a mule since she was in nappies. Don’t let her balk.”
Kincaid gave her a gentle squeeze in return. “And you know as well as I do that no one can
Gemma do anything.”
If it had been cold on Vi’s ward, it was arctic in the hallway leading to the mortuary. Kincaid pulled up the knot of his tie and shrugged the lapels of his jacket a little closer together, wondering if the denizens of these depths lived in thermal underwear. But a consultant wearing a coat and tie walked briskly towards him, showing no evidence of Eskimo bundling. The man gave a curt nod as they passed, shoulders almost brushing, but Kincaid stopped. “Dr. Kaleem?”
“What?” The consultant looked startled.
“Can you tell me where to find Dr. Kaleem?”
“Oh. Office just down the hall. No one could miss it.” The tone was impatient, as if implying that no one sensible would have had to ask.
“Thanks,” Kincaid said, shrugging as he went on. Suddenly, he caught the distinctive smell that had been masked by the cold, decay compounded with chemicals, and he heard Cullen’s voice. Then, when he reached the office, he saw that the passing consultant might have been referring to the office itself rather than Kincaid’s navigational abilities.
Books covered the shelves, made towers on the floor, and overflowed the surface of the desk, where a computer monitor looked as if it were fighting for its life. File boxes were interspersed with the
books, and the only visible spot on the wall was covered with an intricate bit of graffiti art. There were no chairs other than the one behind the desk.
Louise Phillips’s office sprang to Kincaid’s mind, but while Phillips’s clutter had seemed indicative of carelessness, this room somehow conveyed enthusiasm, as if its occupant’s interests had overruled the limits of the physical space.
The voice he’d heard responding to Cullen’s was male, with a cut-glass accent, and now seemed to be coming from beneath the desk. “Bloody printer’s jammed.” There was a thump, then a whir, followed by an exclamation of satisfaction. “Kicking it sometimes helps. I love technology.”
A man emerged, holding a sheaf of papers victoriously aloft. Kincaid grinned. No wonder Coat-and-Tie had radiated disapproval. For if this was Dr. Kaleem, the pathologist was at the very least a sartorial nonconformist. He wore a faded, rock band T-shirt and tattered jeans, and his blue-black hair was gelled into spikes. He was also, as Gemma had curiously failed to mention, extraordinarily good-looking.
“Rashid Kaleem,” he confirmed, transferring the papers to his left hand and reaching across the desk to shake Kincaid’s right. “You must be Superintendent Kincaid. Sergeant Cullen here has been telling me you’re taking over from DI Weller.” He glanced round, as if thinking of asking them to sit, then propped himself on a corner of his desk, pushing a stack of books precariously aside as he did so.
“I was telling Sergeant Cullen,” Kaleem continued, “that I managed to rush the tox scans. I was curious about this case.” He tapped a page. “Your victim was loaded with Valium, which was not too surprising.”
“Then he did commit suicide,” said Cullen, sounding almost disappointed.
“No, wait.” Kaleem waved the papers at them. “That’s not all. I found ketamine as well, and while the high concentration of the two drugs could certainly prove fatal, it’s an unlikely suicide cocktail.”
Kincaid stared at him. “What the hell was Naz Malik doing with ketamine in his system?” The veterinary tranquilizer was cheap and popular as a street drug, and made veterinary clinics obvious targets for robbery.
“It’s possible he might have taken the Valium, valid prescription or not, and bought the ketamine off a street dealer to boost the high. In which case, he might have died from an accidental overdose,” said Kaleem.
“But you don’t think so.”
“No. This guy would have been out of it. It’s like I told the old—It’s like I told DI Weller. I don’t believe the victim could have got himself into the park in his condition, and there was no evidence indicating that he took pills or used a needle on the site. Nor did I find any puncture marks on the body. So my guess is that somebody walked him, or half carried him, to the spot where he was found. And then there’s the head.”
Kincaid frowned. “What about it? There was no evidence of trauma.”
“I explained to the DI from Notting Hill—” Kaleem paused, a little smile turning up the corners of his mouth, as if he was remembering something pleasant. “People don’t just fall with their noses in the dirt.” All trace of amusement vanished, and Kaleem’s handsome face hardened. “I think he was helpless. I think someone held his head in that position, with his breathing compromised, and waited for him to suffocate. And that is very, very nasty indeed.”
“Why haven’t I met you before?” Kincaid asked when they had gone over the rest of the report with Kaleem.
“I worked the Midlands for almost eight years. I’ve only been back in London about ten months, although I grew up here, in Bethnal Green. The prodigal returns, and all that.”
The pathologist must be older than he looked, Kincaid surmised.
But he was, as Gemma had been, impressed with Rashid Kaleem. Glancing up at the spray-painted wall, he asked, “That yours?”
“Have to keep my skills up,” Kaleem said with a grin.
“Nobody comes down here voluntarily. Look.” He stopped them as they turned to leave. “About Weller. He did the right thing turning this over to you. He’s a good copper, but this—I think this is something that’s out of his league. Just watch yourselves.”
Gemma sat through what seemed another interminable staff meeting, fighting post-lunch dullness as she listened to Sergeant Talley trying to micromanage everyone else’s cases. She’d had trouble with the career sergeant repeatedly, and she supposed it was time to have another little talk. But it was better done privately, in her office.
She wondered, not for the first time, why Melody Talbot, who was much more competent than most of the department’s sergeants, was content to stay a detective constable. Gemma had broached the subject of promotion a few times, telling Melody she’d be glad to make a recommendation, but Melody had merely smiled, said she’d think about it, and never raised the subject again. It seemed odd, as everything else about Melody’s performance and character marked her as a highflier.
Gemma had decided she was going to have to interrupt the longwinded sergeant when her phone clattered and scooted across the conference table like a crab, then beeped stridently. So much for the inconspicuous Vibrate option. Aware of all eyes on her, Gemma grabbed the mobile and read the text message from Kincaid, a succinct
“I’ll have to take this,” she said, escaping gladly into the corridor.
“You’ve just rescued me from staffing hell,” she said when he answered. “What’s up?”
“And I’ve just had a meeting with your pathologist,” Kincaid said.
pathologist?” Gemma decided to ignore the teasing note. “Dr. Kaleem? What did he say?”
“Naz Malik was pumped full of Valium and ketamine.”
“Ketamine? You think it was suicide, then,” said Gemma, “or accidental overdose.” She felt an odd stab of regret. Not of course that she wanted Naz Malik to have been murdered—that was unthinkable—but she hated the idea that he could have willingly abandoned Charlotte to an unknown fate.
Kincaid interrupted her thoughts. “No, actually, Kaleem doesn’t believe the drugs were self-administered.” He went on to detail the pathologist’s reasoning. “Kaleem’s adamant. And if he’s right, it means that we not only have a murder that was premeditated, we have a murderer who was willing to bide his time and watch Naz Malik die.”