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Authors: Deborah Crombie

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BOOK: Necessary as Blood
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Although Wesley was taking evening classes at university towards a business degree, he earned his keep working at Otto’s café and helping out with Toby and Kit. But his true love was photography, and he was getting more and more of what he called bread-and-butter jobs—weddings, birthdays, family portraits—through word of mouth in the neighborhood. He had a particular gift for capturing children, and had given Gemma a beautiful candid portrait of Toby for her birthday.

Charlotte stirred, disturbed perhaps by the sound of their voices, although they had kept them close to a whisper. Pushing the cloth from her face, she blinked and rubbed her eyes, starting to whimper. Then she caught sight of Gemma and held out her arms.

Gemma knelt, gathering Charlotte’s small, warm body into her arms, and it felt to her as if she had always held this child. “Hello, pet,” she whispered. “Did you have a good sleep?”

Charlotte rubbed her nose against Gemma’s shoulder, an indeterminate answer, but at least a response. Gemma eased herself into a sitting position with her back against the sofa, cradling Charlotte in her lap. “I’ll bet you’re hungry.” Tim had told her that Charlotte had barely touched her food last night or that morning. Looking up at Betty, Gemma said, “Something smells fabulous. What are you cooking?”

“Pork roast with achiote rub, black beans and rice. Not anything special.”

“It would be at my house.” Gemma chuckled and ran a soothing hand through Charlotte’s curls, saying meditatively, “I wonder if Charlotte likes beans and rice?” Again the nose rub, but this time
more of a nod than a shake. “I’ll take that as a yes. Betty’s the best cook in the whole world,” she stage-whispered in Charlotte’s ear, “but don’t tell her I said so.”

Charlotte turned her head just enough to peek at Betty.

“The roast is about done,” Betty said. “And I might just have some mango rice pudding. Why don’t I go and see?”

Gemma nodded and Betty left the room. After a moment there came the comforting sound of Betty moving about in the kitchen, and her soft voice singing. Shifting her position a bit, so that Charlotte could see more of the room, she said, “Betty has some pretty things, don’t you think?” She pulled a box of thread spools closer with her free hand.

Lifting the top, she began to rummage through them, pulling spools out for inspection. “There’s blue, and red, and lime green, and a very pretty yellow. What about this one?” She held up a deep pink spool. “What color is this?”

“Magenta,” whispered Charlotte, reaching for it with fingers that were still toddler chubby.

“Magenta? What a clever girl you are.”

Charlotte slid from Gemma’s lap and knelt by the box. “My mummy has threads.” She began to take spools out and stack them, sorting by color. “Reds together, blues together, greens together.”

“Where does the pink go, then?”

“Between the reds and the blues.” Charlotte looked up at her, frowning, as if the answer were obvious. “They’re families. Reds are mummies, blues are daddies, and the pinks can be the little children.” She had the slightest lisp, but her diction was remarkably clear for not quite three. This was a child who had spent much time in the company of adults.

“Yes, that sounds a good idea.” Impeccable color-wheel logic, thought Gemma. “Does your mummy let you play with her thread?” she asked, having noted Charlotte’s usage of the present tense.

“I help. I’m her best helper.” The red spools toppled, and Charlotte
gathered them up with studied patience. “They shouldn’t run away. That’s naughty. My daddy says families belong together.”

Present tense for Daddy, too. Treading very carefully, but wanting to get an idea of just how much Charlotte understood, Gemma said, “But your daddy’s not here now, is he?”

Charlotte pushed her stacks of spools a bit closer together and shook her head. “No,” she said, as matter-of-factly as if Gemma had asked about the weather. “Daddy’s gone to look for Mummy.”

 

Weller always felt there was a persistent hum to a hospital. Even in nether regions like the basement, you could sense the unseen activity, a working hive.

Unfair to compare Rashid to a bee, however—there was no mindless industry here, in this room of tile and steel and precision instruments. And there was definitely no smell of honey.

“You getting soft, old man?” said Rashid, glancing up from the table. “You’re looking a bit green.” He’d finished the postmortem on Naz Malik and had sent his assistant off, preferring to do the close himself. He liked, as he had told Weller often enough, the sense of closure. And then he’d flashed his wicked pathologist’s grin at the bad pun.

“Still suffering from the ravages of too much wedding champagne,” Weller said, rubbing his temples. “Cheap stuff, too, although I can’t say I blame the bride’s family, considering everything else they had to shell out.”

“Sorry I couldn’t make it. One of the pathologists on the rota, Dr. Ling, had a family emergency. So duty called and all that. Give Sean my regrets.”

Weller’s son and Rashid were the same age, and had become friends over the years. “You were well out of it, although you might have had a good laugh,” Weller told him. Rashid didn’t drink, and Weller imagined that a hotel ballroom full of thoroughly pissed
guests would get a bit wearing after a while if you didn’t share their rather skewed perspective.

His tie felt too tight, even in the cold room. Pulling at the knot, Weller repositioned himself against the tile wall so that Kaleem’s body half blocked his view of the table. “Look, Rashid, I appreciate you moving this one up.” Weller didn’t like to call in favors, but he was feeling less and less comfortable about this case. He’d gone back to Bethnal Green, gone over the notes on the Sandra Gilles case, wondering what he might have missed besides this man Ritchie. Tim Cavendish had had no further information on Ritchie or his club, so Weller had put Sergeant Singh on to a search.

Nothing had come in on Naz Malik. It was too soon to expect any results from the techies, and so far no good citizen had reported seeing Malik in the park last night or yesterday afternoon. Where had Malik been in those hours between the time he left his house in Fournier Street and the time Rashid estimated he had died in the park?

“Interesting, the DI from Notting Hill getting herself involved,” commented Rashid, as if guilty of mind reading.

“Interesting, or interested?” teased Weller. “She’s a looker.”

“She looks
attached
. I can spot it from a mile away. I’ve got radar about these things. And you’re prevaricating.”

“Ooh, they teach you big words in medical school,” Weller retorted, but he knew Rashid was right. “So, you still convinced this guy didn’t top himself?”

Rashid shot him a look. “We’ll see what comes back on the tox. But I still think he was heavily sedated when he died. And if he was that trashed, how did he get himself to the park and onto the trail? He didn’t take anything when he got there—not unless he had a handful of loose pills in his pocket and swallowed them without liquid. I went through his clothes. No pill bottles, no syringes, and the techs didn’t find a drink or a water bottle near the body.”

“I had the SOCOS bag the rubbish in the bin at the park entrance,” said Weller. “We’ll check it for his prints.”

“Well, I suppose he might have got that far,” Kaleem said, going on with his stitching, “but I think you’re reaching for it. If it was a suicide, why dispose of the evidence?”

“Because he didn’t want his daughter to grow up knowing he’d killed himself?”

“He’d have known the drugs would show up on a tox screen, so what would be the point?” asked Kaleem.

“Maybe he thought we’d assume he dropped dead of a heart attack.”

“You said this guy was a lawyer. Give him a bit of credit.”

Weller tried one more time. “You’re sure he didn’t croak from natural causes?”

“No. He was still breathing when he fell. I found bits of dirt and leaf mold in his nostrils. No sign of stroke or aneurysm. A bit thin, as I said earlier, but not enough to cause him any problems. Other than that, your Mr. Malik was healthy as a horse. Except, of course, for the unfortunate fact that he’s dead.” Rashid finished closing the Y incision with a neat knot. He unfolded a sheet over the body, then stripped off his gloves. “I’ll send you the transcribed copy of my report. And you can have the techs pick up the personal effects. I’ve already sent the hair and fiber I gathered off to the lab.”

He glanced at the evidence bag on the cart by the door and frowned. “Could have sworn I put the phone in first.” There was a slim mobile phone near the top of the bag. Rashid shrugged. “Double shift. Too much coffee, not enough sleep.” He fixed Weller with the penetrating stare he usually reserved for the nonresponsive. “So what’s up with you, old man? It’s more than champagne hangover. Why are you so determined to prove this wasn’t murder?”

Weller straightened up, sighed. “Because if Naz Malik was murdered, I suspect it means I screwed up. Big-time. And that means this case is out of my hands.”

CHAPTER TEN

…the land which is now Bangladesh was part of India until the partition in 1947, then it was East Pakistan from 1947 until the 1971 war of liberation, which saw the birth of Bangladesh as an independent nation.

—Geoff Dench, Kate Gavron, Michael Young,
The New East End: Kinship, Race and Conflict

Another weekend spent finding excuses to come in to work. Worse still, Doug Cullen had even managed to get his guv’nor in on a Sunday afternoon, which hadn’t earned him any scout points. Sitting at his desk in his office at the Yard, Kincaid had pushed the printouts aside, steepled his fingers, given him a look worthy of the chief super, and said, “Just how bored are you, Doug?”

“Don’t know what you mean, guv,” Cullen had said, but he’d colored, knowing full well.

“This report could have waited until tomorrow morning.”

“But I thought if the chief had it first thing…” He’d sounded lame even to himself.

“Get a hobby, Doug. Check out the joys of Facebook or something.” Kincaid stood and stretched. He’d come to the office in T-shirt and jeans, hair rumpled. “I’m going home. And the next time you call me in on a Sunday, it had better be life or death.”

Cullen had stayed for a bit in the empty office, but not even the Yard’s air-conditioning had kept up with the heat of the afternoon. The room was stuffy, and the building had that stale, dregs-of-the-week feel that came with Sunday afternoons. When the janitors came through, he’d switched off the computer and left them to it.

The guv was right, he thought as he rode the stifling tube back to Euston Road. Since his break-up with his ex-girlfriend, she of the hyphenate, Stella Fairchild-Priestly, he’d become a mole. Cullen had always been focused on work—one of the reasons behind the failure of the relationship—but lately he’d become obsessive, and he’d read enough pop psychology to know such single-mindedness wasn’t healthy. Not to mention the fact that he wanted above all to succeed at his job, and pissing off the boss was not the way forward.

But nothing else seemed to motivate him. Social networking was not his cup of tea, although he’d lurked on Internet sites. It was an easy habit to acquire when part of your job was finding out things about other people, but that made him even less likely to want to put information about himself in the public domain.

As the train lurched into Euston Square station, he waited, sweating, as he listened to the carriage creak and groan. He hated the tube, even when it wasn’t sweltering. It occurred to him that he could buy a car and avoid public transport altogether—that would be something new to occupy him for a bit. But then parking near his flat would be a nightmare, and as he often had access to transport pool cars during an investigation, it seemed a pointless expenditure.

He climbed the stairs to the street and walked east, his steps slowing as he neared his building. He hated his flat, a boring gray cube in
a boring gray building near Euston Station. Stella had liked to say that he lived on the edge of Bloomsbury, but that was stretching it, in terms of style as well as geography. She’d always wanted to make him sound cooler than he was. Hell, that was an understatement—she’d always wanted to
make
him cooler than he was.

As part of her “fix Dougie” mission, she’d done the flat up for him in a trendy minimalist style that he’d hated from the first minute. But he’d not wanted to hurt her feelings, and since they’d split, he’d never found the energy or the imagination to change it. He’d bought some nice audio equipment, but Stella had made fun of his music collection so often that he was reluctant to share it with anyone else, and in truth he listened to his iPod most of the time.

And then, after Stella, there had been Maura Bell, the prickly detective from Southwark, and that little interlude had put paid to any remaining self-confidence. He tried not to think about that disaster.

Entering his building, he took the elevator to his floor and unlocked the door. The place was tidy, at least, but roasting. He pulled open the sitting room window as far as it would go, letting in a faint current of exhaust-scented air, then looked round the flat in increasing dismay.

Why
did
he stay? His lease was coming up for renewal next month, he realized, and he hadn’t yet signed the papers. The flat had been the best he could afford before he’d been promoted to sergeant, but he’d had several pay rises since then. He even had some money in the bank—aside from splashing out on electronics and decent clothes for work, he didn’t spend much, and he’d paid off all his university debt.

An exhilarating sense of freedom swept through him. He could go…anywhere. Someplace nearer work. Someplace near the river, maybe. Kincaid was right, he needed a hobby. He’d rowed at school, and it had been the only athletic thing he’d ever been halfway decent at. Maybe he could find a flat in Fulham or Putney, near the rowing club.

He booted up his computer, then checked the fridge. One beer, but that would do for now. He sat down again and typed in “Flats to Let.”

 

The next morning Cullen went in to work early, excusing his further zealousness on the grounds that he wanted to take some time off at lunch. He’d not slept much, lying awake with visions of flats dancing in his head, knowing it was unlikely any would live up to their adverts, but unable to resist the siren lure of fitted kitchens, power showers, and hardwood floors. One flat even claimed to have a view of the river, and although he knew that probably meant standing on a box in a room the size of a postage stamp, he’d put it first on his list.

Schooling himself to take care of business before calling estate agents, he shut himself in Kincaid’s office with the assistance requests that had come in overnight for the murder investigation teams. He’d make a start on assignments, then Kincaid could check them when he came in.

He was happily humming something by Abba when he stopped dead, staring at the monitor with wide eyes.

 

“Gemma’s name on an incoming-case file?” Kincaid asked, frowning. He loosened his tie, which he never managed to keep properly knotted once he got in his office, and took the printout from Cullen, scanning for essentials.

He recognized the name of the victim, Nasir Malik, found dead in Haggerston Park, and tried to remember what Gemma had told him about yesterday’s events. She and the boys had come in after he’d got home from the Yard, and the evening had passed quickly with the Sunday family routine: dinner, discussing the boys’ plans for the week, finishing up the laundry, weekend chores.

In a lull during the washing-up after the meal, when the boys were out of earshot, they had talked about Gemma’s mum. And then Gemma had told him a little about her day. Tim Cavendish’s friend had been found dead, and she’d been called to the scene by the investigating officer. Afterwards, she said, she’d managed to have the victim’s little girl placed in foster care with Betty Howard. She’d talked about the child with such concern that Kincaid had wondered if she was displacing her worry over her mother.

But before he’d had a chance to ask her more about the case, Toby had come in wanting a story, and by the time the boys were tucked up, they had fallen into bed themselves, exhausted, and he had given it no more thought.

Now, pulling out his mobile, he rang her. “Didn’t you say the pathologist thought Tim’s friend’s death was suspicious?” he asked.

“Yes, that was my impression,” she said. “But there was no sign of trauma, and they won’t have the tox results yet. Why?”

“Tox results or not, the DI in charge”—he peered at the page, wondering if he was going to have to give in to reading glasses—“Neal Weller, his name is, has sent us the case. You said you met the pathologist. Any good?”

“He seemed very thorough. But Weller, he’s a bit of a bulldog. I’d not have thought he’d hand it off so easily. He argued with Dr. Kaleem.”

“Well, it looks like something’s spooked Weller. What’s your gut feeling on this?”

He waited, listening to the hum of activity on Gemma’s end of the line.

“I’m in the CID room. Give me a sec.” Then he heard a door shut and the background sound vanished as if a switch had been flipped. “Um, I think I’m inclined to agree with the pathologist,” Gemma said from the sanctity of her office. “Something didn’t feel right.”

“But on Saturday, you said Tim was worried about his friend. I gathered he thought he might be suicidal.”

“Tim was worried, but he’s adamant that Naz didn’t kill himself.” She paused, and Kincaid heard the tap of a pencil on her desk, her habit when she was thinking. After a moment, she said, “It’s a dodgy case, any way you look at it. And Weller was the one who investigated the wife’s disappearance.”

Kincaid picked up a pencil himself and doodled interlocking circles. “Then Weller’s treading on eggshells now, I would guess. Afraid he missed something. Could be a right balls-up, and he’s getting out while the getting’s good.”

“I’d guess he’s close to retirement,” said Gemma. “He wouldn’t want to finish his career on a black mark. So…” She hesitated, and Kincaid grinned at her restraint. “So, if you think the case merits reassignment, will you take it yourself?”

“Would you kill me if I didn’t?”

“Oh, worse than that. Much worse,” Gemma answered, and he heard the smile in her voice.

“And where would you start?” he asked. “If it were your case.”

“You’ll want to see Weller, of course. And Tim. And the pathologist. But if it were me, I think I’d start with Naz Malik’s law partner. She’s bound to know more about Naz and his wife than anyone else.”

Kincaid flipped through the case notes, saw the name and address of Naz Malik’s firm.

“You’ll keep me in the loop?” added Gemma.

“Have you ever known me to overlook a valuable resource?” he asked, and smiled as he clicked off. Cullen was staring at him, his lips pursed as if he’d just eaten a lemon.

“We’re going to take this one?” Cullen repeated Gemma’s question, but with much less anticipation.

Kincaid’s sergeant tended to be territorial, and wouldn’t care for Gemma’s involvement in the case. That alone was enough to make Kincaid want to stir the pot. “You have any objection?”

“I—I was going to look at flats at lunchtime,” Cullen said, and
Kincaid had the distinct impression he’d been about to say something else.

“Good for you,” Kincaid told him with cheerful bonhomie. “About time you made a change, Doug. But I think you’ll have to do it another day.”

 

After a more thorough look through the case file, Kincaid had rung DI Neal Weller. A brusque message on Weller’s voice mail informed him that Weller was in court and would return calls as soon as possible.

“Court,” Kincaid said to Cullen, who grimaced.

“That might take him out all day. Or longer.”

“Might not be a bad thing.” Kincaid didn’t mind gathering his own impressions of the case before he discussed it with Weller, starting with the crime scene. Not that he expected to find evidence that the SOCOs had missed, but he always liked to see where a death had taken place, even if he was coming into a case after the fact. It helped him organize his mental landscape.

“We’ll start with Haggerston Park,” he told Cullen. “Call down for a car, and I’ll clear things with the guv’nor.”

“Will your personal connection cause any conflict of interest?” his chief superintendent, Denis Childs, had asked when Kincaid was shown into his office.

“Not unless our friend Tim Cavendish starts to look like a suspect,” Kincaid had answered. In fact, the personal connection might give Kincaid an advantage denied another detective. “I’ll let you know if I think there’s a problem,” he’d assured Childs.

Once he’d finished his meeting with Childs and found the car ready, he had Cullen drive them east, skirting round the top of the City, through Shoreditch and into Bethnal Green.

Haggerston Park looked benign, if a little faded by the August heat. Young Asian parents strolled with babies in push chairs; a
passing jogger swigged from a water bottle; an elderly white couple walked arm in arm, soaking up the sun.

As they drove past Hackney City Farm, Kincaid caught the unmistakable whiff of manure. The smell, etched into the sensory circuits of his childhood, triggered a spasm of longing for the dairy fields of Cheshire. And then the thought of home led him to wonder what he would tell his mother the next time she asked about plans for the wedding.

Gemma had been more and more evasive on the subject, not to mention prickly in general, and now there was the business with her mother…Not that he wasn’t concerned about Vi, but it worried him deeply that family stresses seemed to make Gemma pull away from him, rather than drawing her closer. At least she’d been voluble enough in talking to him about this case. Perhaps the investigation would give him an opportunity to get her to open up about whatever was bothering her. If formalizing their relationship was going to change things between them, he’d rather go on as they were.

Checking the map against the case report, he directed Cullen into Audrey Street, where they parked and got out. The scene had been cleared. A strip of crime scene tape hung limply from the iron gate at the park entrance, and a placard to one side held the previous day’s date and asked that anyone having seen suspicious activity at that location report it to the police help line.

Kincaid followed the path, taking in the details, until he reached the section of broken fence still marked off-limits by tape—not that a strip of tape would keep kids and curiosity seekers at bay.

“A good spot for a rape or a mugging, at least after dark,” said Cullen, studying the terrain. “Or a drug deal gone wrong, a gang knifing. But odd for a suicide.”

“Or a murder.” Kincaid walked farther along, until the trees thinned and he could see the land curving away towards Hackney City Farm. He then went back and examined the taped area, think
ing about the scene photos included in the file. “What was this guy doing here?” he mused. “Meeting someone?”

“And then he just dropped dead?” Cullen tested the fence a few feet outside the taped area. “I don’t think the weight of a body falling would have broken the fence.”

“Unless it was already damaged. We’ll have to check with the groundskeepers. And I want to talk to the pathologist myself. But first let’s have a word with Mr. Malik’s partner.”

 

“It’s not far,” said Cullen, having taken over navigation while Kincaid drove. “Just this side of Bethnal Green Road.”

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