Authors: Barry Maitland
Tags: #Mystery, #FIC050000
Praise for Barry Maitland’s Brock and Kolla series
‘There is no doubt about it, if you are a serious lover of crime fiction, ensure Maitland’s Brock and Kolla series takes pride of place in your collection.’
‘Maitland is a consummate plotter, steadily complicating an already complex narrative while artfully managing the relationships of his characters.’
‘Comparable to the psychological crime novelists, such as Ruth Rendell . . . tight plots, great dialogue, very atmospheric.’
Sydney Morning Herald
‘Perfect for a night at home severing red herrings from clues, sorting outright lies from half-truths and separating suspicious felons from felonious suspects.’
‘Maitland stacks his characters in interesting piles, and lets his mystery burn busily and bright.’
‘A leading practitioner of the detective writers craft.’
‘Forget the stamps, start collecting Maitlands now.’
‘As a literary architect of murder, Maitland is peerless in Australia,and right up there with the best internationally.’
Also by Barry Maitland
The Marx Sisters
All My Enemies
The Chalon Heads
The Verge Practice
The characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
This edition published in 2007
First published in 2004
Copyright © Barry Maitland 2004
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
National Library of Australia
1. Brock, David (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Kolla, Kathy (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 3. Kidnapping—Fiction. 4. Artists—Fiction. I. Title.
Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Margaret, and with thanks to
Sam, Scott and Philip for inspiration
child’s cry jolted Brock from sleep. He blinked awake, wondering if it had been a dream. He held his breath, listening, then heard the almost human bark of the fox that lived in the railway cutting beyond the lane. That’s all, he realised, only that. He heard the answering mournful horn of an approaching train. There must be fog on the line, autumn arriving in earnest at last.
Now he was aware of other sounds, the clicking of the central heating pipes as they warmed, so it must be after five, which was when the timer switched on. He turned his head to read the illuminated numbers of the bedside clock. Five-fifteen. He would have preferred to lie for a while in the dark, sensing the day approach, taking time to think about one or two things. But there was so much to do, too much. He put on the light, pulled on his dressing-gown and slippers, and padded down to the kitchen to put the kettle on.
Brock carried the mug of tea through to the living room and lit the gas fire. On the table in front of him were three documents, all urgent. He slipped on his reading glasses and heaved the first, a thick report, onto his lap. Its title was
Stage 3 Restructuring of the Metropolitan Police Service: Discussion Paper
, and the words
were stamped across the top. The accompanying memo had urged its importance, while his secretary Dot had heard from friends working at 10 Broadway, headquarters of New Scotland Yard, that Commander Sharpe was apoplectic over it. Brock took a sip of tea and opened it reluctantly, scanning the index, then turning to the summary. Not much wiser, he skipped through ‘Chapter 1: Cost and performance criteria for alternative models of decentralisation’.
He sighed and his attention strayed to the second item on the table, a letter, neat blue words on cream paper. He set the senior management report aside, picked up the letter and began to read it once again.
I have to put this in writing, because I haven’t been able to find the words to say aloud . . .
He reached the end and sat lost in thought, feeling the drag of sadness inside him, the weight of time and loss. As if to emphasise this, his eyes moved to a small framed picture on the wall in front of him, a shabby little thing, a gift from a murderer. He remembered his first glimpse of it, long ago, above the mantelpiece of a house in Stepney as he kneeled on the floor with the body of Emily Crab, trying in vain to stop the flow of blood from her throat. Emily had ruined his suit but established his reputation on his first big murder case. Later, interviewing her husband, he had asked about the little picture, saying that it had looked to him like the work of the German artist Kurt Schwitters, whom he greatly admired.Walter Crab had been surprised and gratified by this recognition. He told Brock that during the war his mother had taken in a refugee, a man who had been hunted by the Gestapo from Germany to Norway, before escaping to London. The man was penniless, and Walter’s mother had accepted the picture in lieu of a month’s rent and board. When her friends saw it—an old bus ticket, a scrap of a newspaper headline and other fragments glued to a piece of cardboard—they laughed and told her she’d been had, and Walter had been mortified on his mother’s account. Brock was the first person who had ever admired it, and yes, on the back was the signature
, and the title,
Merz 598a, London, 1943
. Then Walter confessed to Brock that he had murdered Emily and that the alibi provided by his sister was false. On the day that Crab was sentenced, Brock received a brown-paper parcel in the mail containing the Schwitters and a carefully written note from Walter, gifting him the picture in compensation for Brock’s ruined suit. Ever since, Brock had regarded the little collage as an icon, a condensed statement of his own calling, gathering the discarded residue of people’s lives and making out of it some kind of pattern and sense.
Brock folded the letter and tucked it into the management report to mark the place he’d reached, then turned his attention to the third document on the table, every page of which he’d memorised over the weekend. It was a file marked
Metropolitan Police, Case File Summary: Abductions of Aimee Jennifer Prentice and Lee Celine Hammond
. He turned to the pictures of the missing girls, although they were already imprinted in his mind; Aimee with a cheeky lopsided grin and Lee, dreamy and pensive, as if she could sense the onset of puberty inside her slight body.
Pinned to the cover of the report was the memo confirming the formation of a Major Enquiry Team, headed by Detective Chief Inspector David Brock, which would take control of the case as from 0800 hours on Monday October 13. Brock checked his watch. Two hours. Time to go.
athy drove slowly down the clogged artery of Kingsland Road in Shoreditch, part of the stream of sullen Monday morning traffic splashing cold puddles over the legs of huddled bus queues. She could hear the howl of a police siren somewhere up ahead, and on the radio she picked up the first news reports of another missing girl, the third child abducted from her home in east London in recent weeks.
She made a turn into Lazarus Street and found herself hemmed between the dark brick walls of warehouses under conversion to offices, studio flats and uncertain investment opportunities. Two small girls burst out of a side alley, school bags bouncing on their shoulders, black faces bright with glee, and Kathy stopped to let them pass.
She was impatient. The call had come half an hour before, cancelling the first scheduled meeting of the new Major Enquiry Team and diverting personnel to Shoreditch, and she felt the anticipation itching inside her at the beginning of a new case. She checked the mirror to make sure the girls were clear of the back of the car and caught her own reflection. Serious eyes, official eyes. This is how you get to look in your thirties when you take your job too seriously, she thought. Her hair, very pale in the gloom of the dark street, fell almost to her eyes, and she remembered that she’d booked for a cut that afternoon. She’d have to cancel.
As she moved on she passed the end of a narrow service lane and saw two uniformed police examining a row of dustbins. Ahead she spotted a pulsing blue light at the point where the street opened into a square. The patrol car was parked outside a sandwich shop, Mahmed’s Café, with two cops stooped talking to the driver, leaning against the car roof to ease the weight of their protective vests and loaded belts.
Kathy slowed and called across to them. ‘Hi, DS Kolla, SO1. Northcote Square?’
‘This is it.’ The man, registering the initials of the Serious Crime Group unit, peered across at her. ‘Better park down here, Sarge. The north end’s chocker.’
As she rolled forward she saw what he meant, a jam of vehicles blocking the far end of the square. She hadn’t been here before,and she had the impression of a rather forbidding place hidden away among the tangle of streets. The square was surrounded by buildings of mixed age and use, mostly in dark red brick, all severe and square-profiled against the grey sky. They overlooked at hickly treed central garden fenced by iron railings. Kathy pulled up beneath a no stopping sign and placed her Metropolitan Police Emergency notice on the dash. One of the uniforms came over to her.