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Authors: David Hodges

Slice

BOOK: Slice
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Slice

David Hodges

 

  

This book is dedicated to my wife, Elizabeth, for all her love, patience and support over so many wonderful years

HE FOUND THE
lump on his left testicle while he was taking a bath. There was no pain when he examined himself, no sense of discomfort. It was just a lump, hard and irregular, and it scared the hell out of him. He didn’t get out of the bath immediately. What was the point? The lump would still be there, wouldn’t it? Furthermore, after the surgical removal of his right testicle three years ago, he had no illusions as to the likely outcome this time. So he lay there in the heat and the suds and reflected on his life and all that he had not achieved, instinctively knowing that what remained of it could now be measured in months at most.

He was a bit of a non-person really. No striking qualities to make people sit up and take notice. Not a man to stand out in a crowd. Just an anybody. The world was full of people like him. Ordinary, feature less, characterless. When the cancer finally spread to his liver and the rest, as he knew it must, there would only be the nurses at the hospice to briefly mourn his passing. Few others knew him that well and those who did would hardly care anyway. He hadn’t made an impact on anything, that was the trouble, so there was nothing to distinguish him from millions of others. He was Mister Nobody.

He cried at first, there among the suds, cried for himself and the awful fate that awaited him; cried at the prospect of his life being snatched away before he had managed to do anything with it. Then the bitterness took him, years of it silently eating away at him like another form of cancer, and now surfacing in a cold all-consuming rage.

OK, so he was not entirely the poor, hard-done-by innocent. There were things he had done in his life that he could never be proud of and one terrible transgression in particular had haunted him for more years than he could remember. In fact, he was probably being punished for it right now. But why should he be the only one singled out for retribution? What about the others who had been involved? Those arrogant self-seeking arseholes who were even more to blame for what had happened than he was. Why should they go on living their lives of deceit and lies, enjoying a success, status and wealth they were not entitled to, while he had nothing to look forward to but an early grave? It just wasn’t fair.

He had thought about punishing them before, of course – oh yes, it had been one of his fantasies day in, day out for years, but the risk of being caught had always seemed too great. Now though, what did it matter? He was likely to be dead in a matter of months (maybe even weeks) anyway.

He clenched his fists so tightly beneath the water that he almost locked the muscles in one arm. Yes, the time had come for a reckoning; for wrongs to be redressed and the arrogant humbled. And he would be the instrument for that; a sort of Nemesis, who would impose his own brand of justice on those who needed to be punished, one by one, which was good, because then he would become known at last, notorious perhaps, but at least a
somebody
.

As he dried himself and emptied the bath, he studied the face staring at him from the clouded mirror. Strange how a terminal illness could concentrate the mind and make a person see things so much more clearly. It was just like a revelation, as if something that had lain dormant for so long in his subconscious had suddenly blasted to the surface – ignited like a fuse by the shock of his own terrible discovery. And its impact on his senses was almost orgasmic. Every part of him tingled with excitement, an acute sensitivity that cried out to be satisfied, and it was all he could do to hold himself in check. But he knew he had to be strong. It was no good rushing into things before he was ready. Good planning and proper preparation were both essential. He could not afford to be sloppy or he would ruin everything. And the first thing he had to do was to confirm his own diagnosis.

The lady doctor saw him straight away and subjected him to a detailed examination. She was moderately pretty and if the circumstances had been different he would have enjoyed the experience, but not now: there was too much at stake. The usual tests and the trip to the oncology unit at the local hospital followed, and the results came back within seven days. Big C. ‘Quite advanced, we think,’ the lady doctor said. ‘Frankly, it could have spread to other organs. We’ll need to investigate more fully.’ He nodded, pleased in a rather ironic way that his own diagnosis had actually proved to be right. No, he wouldn’t have any more investigations or the humiliating amputation and chemo that he knew from past experience would automatically follow. Being a non-person was bad enough, but there was no way he could face the indignity of total emasculation. Better to be dead! Before that awful day, though, there was a lot of work to be done and he was determined to start right away; not tomorrow or the next day, but that very afternoon.

As he left the surgery the image of an old barn from his childhood flashed through his mind. The fading light and strange smell of the place stimulated the excitement of the hide-and-seek game. Then there were the words, racing down the years, echoing through the spooky gloom: ‘Coming, ready or not.’ Making his way to the medical centre’s hilltop car park, he stopped to look at the small town spread out below him. ‘Coming, ready or not,’ he murmured and he laughed out loud as he climbed into his car and drove away.

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDENT
Jack Fulton was not a happy man and he was determined to make sure everyone else knew it. Abandoning, rather than parking his Volvo in the lane outside the small recreation ground, he stomped through the gateway with the belligerence of a grizzly awakened from hibernation. Ignoring the respectful ‘good morning, sir,’ from the uniformed police constable manning the entrance, he headed across the frost-hard ground with his head thrust forward aggressively and his hands buried in the pockets of his overcoat.

Detective Inspector Ben Morrison stepped forward to meet him. ‘Nice to see you, guv,’ he said as he chewed on a piece of gum.

‘Balls!’ Fulton rasped with characteristic politeness and, pausing just outside the blue-and-white tape securing the floodlit murder scene like an outdoor boxing ring, he stared in disgust at the naked corpse tied to one of the swings a short distance inside the barrier.

Abbey Lee, the Home Office pathologist, glanced up quickly from her crouched position beside the body. ‘We prefer to call them testicles in the medical profession, Mr Fulton,’ she said drily. ‘The problem is, this man hasn’t got any!’

The policeman grunted and leaned over the tape to peer more closely at the corpse, his breathing, usually ragged from years of heavy smoking, labouring even more with the exertion.

‘They appear to have been lopped off, either before or after his throat was cut,’ the pathologist continued. She smiled grimly, adding: ‘I just hope he was dead
before
they were removed.’

Morrison, now hovering at Fulton’s elbow, winced and closed his legs in an involuntary gesture.

Fulton scowled again. ‘And he was found just like this – completely starkers and tied to the swing?’

The DI cleared his throat with nervous anticipation. ‘Yes, guv,’ he said, then continued in the familiar clipped staccato manner he had inherited from his days as a frontline marine. ‘No sign of rest of his clothes anywhere’ – he rubbed the side of his nose with one finger uncomfortably – ‘nor his important bits neither.’

‘You’re forgetting the wig,’ Abbey cut in.

Fulton tensed. ‘Wig?’

‘Yes, the sort judges and barristers wear. It fell off when I started to examine him, I’m afraid. I left it under the swing where it fell – thought it best not to touch it under the circumstances.’

Fulton nodded. ‘Killer obviously had a warped sense of humour.’

‘In what way? Are you saying the dead man actually was a member of the legal profession?’

‘Oh he was that all right. Colonel Herbert Benjamin Lyall, formerly known as Mr Justice Lyall.’

Morrison slid a brief glance towards his boss. ‘Recognized him soon as I got here,’ he explained. ‘Belled guv’nor to tell him before he arrived.’

Abbey’s tone was icy. ‘Well, thanks for telling
me
that.’

The DI rubbed the side of his nose again, but made no effort to apologize. ‘Rec named after him,’ he continued. ‘Lyall’s Fields, they calls it, after he bought the land so local kids had somewhere to go.’

Fulton grunted. ‘Well, someone wasn’t very appreciative by the look of things,’ he observed. ‘Any ideas on the murder weapon?’

Abbey straightened up. ‘Something like a cut-throat razor might be a good place to start,’ she said.

Fulton turned back to Morrison. ‘But nothing found?’

The DI shook his head. ‘Not yet, but I’ve arranged search of rec by ops team soon as it’s light.’

‘So who discovered the body?’

‘Local plod – John Derringer – 01.15 hours. Lot of nicked cars get dumped here and he was checking place out.’

Fulton gave a disparaging snort. ‘That makes a change,’ he retorted. ‘I didn’t think the plods went out after dark any more.’

The DI coughed loudly to conceal the beginnings of a chortle. ‘Yes, guv. Anyway, he’s now back at Saddler Street nick. I said you’d want a word with him before he went off duty.’

Fulton glanced around him. ‘Damned right I will – but more important than that, where’s my forensic team? They should be here by now.’

Morrison looked even more uncomfortable. ‘On their way, guv. SOCO had manpower problems. Traffic loaned us floodlights until they could get here and—’

‘Until they could get here?’ Fulton blazed, rounding on him. ‘What do they think this is – a bloody neighbourhood watch meeting? They should have been on site
before
the pathologist, not after, and this scene needs to be protected or we could lose every scrap of evidence there is. Get on to control and tell them I want SOCO here
now
!’

‘You really have got out of bed on the wrong side this morning, haven’t you?’ Abbey observed as the DI moved away, speaking rapidly into his personal radio.

Fulton grunted. ‘And you must have been up all night to have got here so damned quick,’ he snapped back. ‘You suffering from insomnia or something?’

Abbey gestured to another plainclothes officer that she had finished her preliminary examination. ‘
Actually
I haven’t been to bed yet,’ she said. ‘I had just attended another job at Duttoncote when the call came through and as your little murder here at Maddington was only a few miles away, I said I’d deal with it. Now, is that OK with you?’

Fulton ignored her sarcasm. ‘So why would our killer want to mutilate his victim and stick him on a kiddie’s swing?’ he growled, following her slim athletic figure as she ducked under the security tape and headed towards the lane, exchanging the floodlights for the pale opalescence of the moon.

‘You’re the detective, Jack,’ she parried, dropping the professional formalities. ‘Maybe it was a disgruntled lover, though that seems a bit unlikely as he must be well into his seventies.’

‘A woman scorned, you mean?’

Abbey shrugged. ‘Or man,’ she suggested. ‘We live in enlightened times.’

Fulton frowned, his gaze roving round the moonlit recreation ground and fastening briefly on a small copse near the entrance. ‘So why dump him here stark naked like some bloody exhibit?’

‘I’m a pathologist, not a forensic psychologist. Maybe he was meant to be an exhibit. It could have been a sort of humiliation thing.’

‘And was the job done here, do you think?’

Abbey turned to face him. ‘Going by the condition of the corpse – blood loss and so forth – my guess is not. But your forensics team should be able to help you a lot more in that respect once they’ve had a chance to look around in daylight.’

‘And the time of death?’

Abbey pursed her lips. ‘I’d say he’s been dead about four hours.’

Fulton consulted the luminous dial of his wristwatch. ‘So, around 23.00 hours last night?’

‘Perhaps, yes.’

Abbey had stopped in the lane by her silver Honda four-by-four and now leaned on the rear bumper to pull off the plastic booties she had been wearing at the scene. She opened the boot door wide, deposited them inside, then began shrugging herself out of her protective one-piece nylon suit.

‘So, where’s your faithful sidekick this morning?’

Fulton produced a filter-tip cigarette from somewhere and lit up, but her question failed to register with him for a second or two.

It was her turn to frown and she paused in the act of kicking herself free of the nylon suit. ‘Hello?’ she said. ‘Anyone in there?’

He started and surfaced from wherever it was he had disappeared to. ‘Sorry, Ab, miles away. What did you say?’

‘Phil Gilham – your detective chief inspector. Remember him?’

He gave her an old-fashioned look, which was wasted in the moonlit shadows. ‘Due back from leave tomorrow … ’ He consulted his watch again. ‘I mean today. DI Morrison’s been doing an unofficial acting job while he was away sunning himself.’

She tossed the nylon suit into the car after the booties and slammed the door shut. ‘You look awful – even in the dark,’ she observed. ‘It’s about time you gave up that damned weed, I keep telling you.’

‘People keep telling me a lot of things, Ab: stop smoking, lose weight, get more exercise. It’s the same long-playing record.’

‘You should start listening to it then.’

He took a long pull on his cigarette, his breathing like a leaking steam valve. ‘If I did that, I might as well be in a nursing home.’

Her mouth tightened in the darkness. ‘You’re likely to be in an early grave if you don’t – especially as you seem to think you have to be at work every damned hour God made.’

He peered at her strangely. ‘What’s brought all this on, Ab? Starting to fancy me at last?’

She gave a short humourless laugh. ‘You have to be joking. In your condition? If you even thought about sex, you’d probably have an aneurism.’

A responding chuckle in the gloom. ‘I’m prepared to take the risk if you are.’

She was grateful for the shadows that concealed the flush spreading over her face. ‘Why don’t you get Phil to take some of the load off, eh?’ she went on, changing the subject. ‘You need a holiday.’

He snorted. ‘A holiday? Wouldn’t know what to do with myself on one of those any more.’

She hesitated. ‘I can understand why,’ she said quietly, ‘and I
am
very sorry to hear about Janet.’

He muttered something under his breath. ‘So you know about that already, do you?’ he retorted. ‘News certainly travels fast in this bloody force.’

She leaned back against the car, studying him in the moonlight. ‘Any idea where she is now?’

He took another pull on his cigarette. ‘Nope and I really don’t care. She walked out on me and, as far as I’m concerned, she can stay out.’

‘Must have had a reason though.’

He threw her a keen glance. ‘My business, Ab,’ he censured. ‘So leave it there, will you?’

‘Word is you were knocking her about.’


I
was knocking
her
about? More likely the other way round. She’s psychotic.’

‘Your drink problem all over then, is it?’

He glared at her. ‘What is this? Some kind of interrogation?’

She shrugged. ‘Just curious, that’s all.’

‘Well, don’t be. Just stick to your pathology bit, OK? Leave the marriage counselling to social services.’

She tossed her head, the black shoulder-length hair gleaming in the moonlight. ‘Suit yourself.’

‘I always do.’

She jerked open the driver’s door of the car and climbed behind the wheel. ‘You are such an arsehole.’

Another laugh. ‘Thanks for the compliment, Ab.’ He slammed the door shut. ‘At least they’re useful.’

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