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Authors: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

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‘They couldn’t make it stick,’ Slider said. ‘They’ve no evidence. Everyone here—’

‘—will be invited to an official enquiry. Statements will be required. Names taken for future reference, absences noted, apologies not accepted. If you’re not a friend you’re an enemy. Remember that’

‘I’ll pick my own friends,’ Slider said angrily.

‘Don’t be a bloody fool,’ Dickson said, quite kindly really. ‘They’ll take you down with me if you don’t co-operate. You’re a marked man already, don’t forget’

‘I don’t care about that—’

‘You should care! Christ, this isn’t the bloody Boy Scouts! You’re here to do a job. I happen to think it’s an important job, and what good will it do anyone if you chuck your career away? No, listen to me! If they want a statement, give them a bloody statement. And if I do leave, take your promotion and get out. Go to another station as DCI and do the job you’ve been trained for.’ He forestalled another protest with an irritable gesture of one meaty hand. ‘If nothing else, you should be thinking about your pension now. You’re not bloody Peter Pan.’

‘Sir,’ Slider said stubbornly.

Dickson looked suddenly tired. ‘All right,’ he said, with a gesture of dismissal. ‘Suit yourself.’

Slider left him, not without apprehension. The old man would fight – must fight – could not and would not let Them get away with branding him a sot and a failure. Yet there was something detached about him, as though he had already let go; as though the effort of caring about things had become too great.

Slider lived through three days of strange, nervous limbo,
waiting for the official notification that there was to be an enquiry, which would be the sign that Dickson had refused the posting to computers. But on the fourth day Dickson had collapsed at his desk, refusing either to be captured or shot, but launching himself instead Butch-Cassidy-style over the precipice where none could follow him.

Slider had sometimes wondered what he would feel in the event of Dickson’s departure for that Ground from which no man returns. He had supposed it might be sorrow, though the old man had not been one to court affection or even liking; he had expected a sense of loss. He had not been prepared for this anger and depression; but then he had not expected Dickson to be assassinated. The only small comfort was that Dickson had left the Job and the world with a stainless record after all. Dead hero. Slider reflected that it must have taken the most delicate of footwork for such a nonconformist man thus to avoid the falling fertiliser for thirty years.

At the end of the corridor Slider heard his telephone ringing, but before he reached his door it stopped. He shrugged and went over to his desk to see what had arrived since he had left it half an hour ago. The usual old rubbish. There were periods like this from time to time when nothing much seemed to happen, and his duties became almost completely supervisory and sedentary. He picked up a circulating file he had been putting off reading for days, and felt nothing but gratitude for the interruption of a knock on the door.

Jablowski put her head round. She always wore her hair short and spiky, but when she had just recently had it cut it looked almost painful. Her little pointed ears stood out from the stubble like leverets in a cornfield, exposed and vulnerable with the loss of their habitat.

‘Oh! You are there, sir.’

‘So it seems. Problem?’

‘I’ve just had Mr Barrington on the line, asking where you were. He said as soon as I found you to ask you to go and see him. He’s been ringing your phone.’

‘I’ve only just got back to my desk. Where was he ringing from?’

‘Here, sir. I mean, Mr Dickson’s office.’

‘Already? I thought he wasn’t due until Monday.’

Jablowski wrinkled her nose. ‘Dead men’s shoes. Maybe he’s trying to catch us out. Maurice McLaren was saying—’

‘I think we ought to try to start without prejudices,’ Slider checked her. ‘Give the man a fair chance.’

‘Yes Guv. If you say so,’ Jablowski said with profound disagreement.

It was unnerving to tap on Dickson’s door and hear a strange voice answer.

‘Come!’

Slider’s heart sank. He felt that someone too busy to get to the end of a sentence as short as ‘Come in’ would not prove to be a restful companion. He entered, and true to his principles searched around for a friendly and cheerful expression as he presented himself for inspection.

‘Slider, sir. You wanted to see me?’

Barrington was standing beside the desk, his back turned to the door, staring out of the window. His hands were down at his side, and the fingers of his right hand were drumming on the desk top. His bulk, coming between the window and the door, darkened the room, for he was both tall and heavily built. It was a solid, hard bulk – muscle, not fat – but he dressed well, so that he gave an impression of being at ease with his size. Slider thought of Atherton’s lounging grace which always made him seem apologetic about his height. Still, Atherton would approve of the suit at least. Even Slider, who was a sartorial ignoramus, could see the quality of it. And a quick glance at the shoes – Slider believed shoes were a useful indicator of character – revealed them to be heavy and expensive black Oxfords, polished to that deeply glassy shine that only soldiers ever really master. So far so bad, he thought.

When Barrington turned, it was impossible to look anywhere but at his face. It was a big face, big enough for that huge body, and made bigger by the thick wiry black hair
which Slider could see would defy any barber’s efforts to make it lie down quietly. It was a big face which might have been strikingly handsome if nature had left it alone, but which in its ruin was simply spectacular. Slider blenched at the thought of what the ravages must have looked like which could have left such scars: Barrington ‘s naturally swarthy skin was gouged and pocked and runnelled like the surface of a space-wandering meteor.

And set in the ruin, under thick black brows, were intelligent hazel eyes, black-fringed; almost feral in their beauty. With an unwilling access of pity, Slider imagined those eyes as they must have looked out in adolescence from amidst the fresh eruptions; imagined him as a boy carrying his pustular, volcanic face before him into a world which turned from him in helpless distaste. Christ, Barrington, Slider thought, reverting in the depth of his pity to police jargon, ain’t life a bitch! He was ready to forgive him even for saying ‘Come!’

‘Ah yes, Slider,’ Barrington said coldly, surveying him minutely. His voice was big, too, resonant and full. It would carry – had carried, perhaps – across a windy northern parade ground. ‘We haven’t met before, I think. Bill, isn’t it?’ he asked, having apparently filed Slider’s essential features in some mental system of his own. ‘Relax. I’m not officially here yet. I thought we might just have a friendly chat, get to know each other.’

‘Sir,’ said Slider neutrally. The offer to relax was as enticing as a barbed-wire hammock.

Barrington ‘s mouth smiled, but nothing else in the pitted moonscape moved. ‘Well. So this is Shepherd’s Bush. Bob Dickson’s ground – which he made peculiarly his own.’

The last bit did not sound complimentary. ‘Did you know him, sir?’

‘Oh yes.’ There was no telling whether it had been a pleasure or not. ‘We were at Notting Hill at the same time. Some years ago now.’

‘I didn’t know he’d been at Notting Hill,’ Slider said. He felt it was time to nail his colours to the mast. ‘His death was a great shock, sir. We’ll all miss him.’

‘He was a remarkable man,’ Barrington said enigmatically. The effort of being nice seemed to be proving a strain. The
fingers drummed again. ‘Doesn’t anyone ever clean the windows here?’ he barked abruptly. ‘This one’s practically opaque.’

‘They haven’t been done since I’ve been here, sir,’ Slider said.

‘Then we’ll have them done. A lick of paint here and there wouldn’t come amiss, either; and a few pot-plants. I’m surprised the typists haven’t brought in pot-plants. The two usually go together.’

‘We’ve always been short of civilian staff here, sir,’ Slider said neutrally.

‘I want the place brightened up,’ Barrington rode over the objection. ‘Can’t expect people to behave smartly if their surroundings are dingy.’

He paused to let Slider agree or disagree, but Slider let the trap yawn unstepped-in. The bright eyes grew harder.

‘I was ringing your office for quite a while, trying to reach you. You weren’t at your desk.’

‘No, sir,’ Slider agreed, looking back steadily. Now was definitely the moment to get a few ground rules clear.

After a moment it was Barrington who looked away. ‘Things are pretty quiet at the moment,’ he said, moving round the desk and pulling out the chair as if he meant to sit down.

‘We’re always busy, sir. But there’s nothing special on at the moment.’

‘Good. Then it’s the right time to do some reorganising.’ He changed his mind about sitting down, and leaned on the chair back instead. Slider thought he was like an actor during a long speech, finding bits of stage business to occupy his body. Organisation is the first essential – of people as well as the place. I want to find out what everybody’s good for.’

‘We’ve got a good team, sir,’ Slider said. ‘I’ve worked with them for some time now—’

Barrington made a small movement, like a cat in the grass spotting a bird landing nearby. ‘You refused your promotion to Chief Inspector I understand. Why was that?’

‘I wanted to stay operational, sir.’ Slider had been prepared for that question, at least. ‘I’ve never been fond of desk work and meetings.’

‘None of us are,’ Barrington said firmly. ‘But it has to be done. Someone has to do it.’ To which Slider’s inward answers were – Not true, So what? and As long as it’s not me. ‘I expect everyone in my team to pull his full weight. No freeloaders. No weak links.’ There seemed to be nothing to say to that, so Slider said it. ‘We’ve got the chance for a new start here. Bob Dickson had his own ways of doing things, and sometimes they paid off. But his ways are not my ways. He’s gone now, and you’ve got me to answer to. I expect
absolute loyalty.
And I think you can tell the men that in return they will get absolute loyalty from me.’

‘I’ll tell them that, sir.’

Barrington studied the answer for a moment and seemed to find it short on fervour. ‘Some things are going to have to change around here,’ he went on. ‘Things have been let go. I’m not blaming anyone. It happens. But not when I’m in charge. I like to run a smart outfit. People are happier when they know what’s expected of them.’

‘Sir,’ Slider said. He was puzzled. The man was talking like a complete arse, and yet he got the feeling of real menace. It was as if the worn cliches were a crude code used by a being from a superior species who thought they were good enough for poor old dumb
homo sapiens,
Barrington ‘s higher thought processes were deemed to be too subtle for Slider to understand. And why had he not liked Dickson? Was it merely a spit and polish man’s irritation with the effective slob, or was there something else behind it? It must have been a fairly steep sort of annoyance for him to let it show like this.

Slider had evidently had his allotted time. Barrington came back round the desk and held out his hand. ‘Glad we’ve had this little chat.’

Slider’s hand was gripped, wrung and let go all in one movement, and Barrington was opening the door for him and ushering him out with the sheer force of his physical size. Norma, approaching along the corridor, stopped on seeing Slider, and then somehow stopped again from a stationary position on seeing Barrington. He smiled at her with his automatic, unmoving smile, his eyes photographing and filing her.

‘I don’t think we’ve met,’ he said. ‘Barrington.’

‘Swilley,’ she responded, mesmerised.

‘WDC Swilley—’ Slider began to explain, but Barrington cut him off.

‘Fine. I’ll get to know you all in due course,’ he said, and popped back through his trap door like the Demon King.

Norma turned open-mouthed to Slider, who shook his head and walked away along the corridor. He wouldn’t put it past Barrington to be standing just by the door to hear what they said about him.

When they had turned the corner and were safe she burst out in a low gasp, ‘Who is that extraordinary,
sexy
man?’

‘Sexy?’ Slider said, wounded. ‘With those acne scars?’

‘I can’t help it,’ she said in a baffled voice. ‘I know he oughtn’t to be, but, God! He made my knees go weak.’

‘He’s the new DS. Stepped into Dickson’s shoes. At Kensington they called him Mad Ivan.’

‘I bet they did! He’s breathtaking!’

‘You’re dribbling,’ Slider told her coldly. ‘What did you want, anyway?’

‘I was looking for you, Guv. A call’s just come in from Dave’s Fish Bar in Uxbridge Road – chip shop, corner of Adelaide Grove—’

‘Yes, I know it’

‘A customer just bought a thirty pee portion of chips and found a finger in it’

‘A finger of what?’ Slider asked absently.

‘A human finger.’

He wrinkled his nose. ‘Someone else can deal with it, surely? I’m not a public health inspector.’

Norma looked offended. ‘I thought you’d find it amusing, that’s all. There’s so little to do around here. Atherton’s gone,’ she added cunningly.

‘You’re quite right, of course. Anything’s better than going back and reading circulation files.’

‘You never know,’ she said encouragingly, following him down the corridor. You might find die rest of the body attached to it.’

‘I’m never that lucky,’ he said.

CHAPTER 2
A Finger in Every Pie

CHERYL MAKEPEACE, AGED FIFTEEN, HAD
been on her way to school – Hammersmith County, at the far end of Bloemfontein Road. She’d been to the doctor that morning, to consult about what her mother referred to with breathless Jamaican delicacy as
Ladies’ Problems,
and since her appointment had been for ten forty-five she’d decided happily it wasn’t worth going into school beforehand. Coming out of the surgery in Becklow Road and seeing the sunshine, she thought she might as well make the whole thing last out until lunchtime.

BOOK: Necrocrip
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