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Authors: Judith Cutler

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BOOK: Staying Power
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The last indignity: death had relaxed his sphincters, evidence of his final frailty for all to see.

Dead. Yes, the police surgeon was by him now. A middle-aged man, tall and bulky enough to be an old-fashioned cop, was perched on a ladder someone had leaned precariously between the bank and the parapet.

‘Poor bastard's dead all right: get your well-oiled machine into action, Mr Harvey.' An exit line before pacing away. But for such a big man he had a very short stride, and the effect was comic.

In other circumstances.

Harvey called him back. ‘You're not waiting for the pathologist, Dr Blake?'

Blake hunched his shoulders: ‘Urgent house-call.'

He didn't even bother to infuse conviction into his voice.

Catching sight of her for the first time, Graham nodded and muttered. ‘OK, Kate – lights, camera, action.'

‘All three ready and waiting, Gaffer,' she replied, in the same false-perky tone. They were all professionals, after all. No time to be upset or sentimental or even angry. At least, not until the investigation was under way. ‘Gaffer, this is—'

His eyes shot past her. He straightened his shoulders. ‘Looks as if Neville's come down. Have you met the new Super yet, Kate?'

She shook her head. ‘Gaffer!'

But Harvey was already walking towards the newcomer, a sharply dressed man a couple of years younger than he.

‘Gaffer!' she said loudly enough to make him turn, in irritation.

‘I'll brief Neville and wait for the pathologist. You'll handle the press,' he said.

Her eyes widened. Someone had to, but preferably someone with vocal chords that produced more than a croak. ‘Sir!' It sounded like an objection.

His eyes froze her. ‘You've been trained to talk to the press, haven't you? And you're aware that it's the Service's policy for one of the officers closest to the case to do so.'

She stood her ground. ‘There's one thing you ought to know, Gaffer. I can ID this bloke.'

A flashlight went off, bringing the dead face into grotesque life. The last external rite had started.

‘What! Why the hell didn't you—?' He glanced at Neville, as if hoping he hadn't heard.

‘I recognised the sweater. And thought his features—' she gestured – ‘I can just about … He sat next to me on the plane back from Italy. His name's Alan Grafton, and I've got his business card on my dressing-table at home.'

She couldn't read Harvey's expression, not the bit that wasn't anger.

‘Not exactly quick with the information, Power. OK. Deal with the press and get someone to go and get the card.' Harvey turned towards Neville, who was talking to a woman operating a video camera. He spoke to Kate over his shoulder. ‘Tell you what, take them down towards Brindley Place. It's well away from us and all the stuff we've got to do.' As he spoke, his eyes ranged over her face.

She had a terrible fear that he was getting rid of her, protecting her from the ugliness of the pathologist's initial examination – nothing to the real thing, for goodness' sake, and she'd seen enough of those. But Neville was on the move again, and it would do neither of their careers any good to be seen bickering, particularly in these circumstances.

She nodded.

‘And that card – get it yourself. You won't want anyone to know your burglar alarm code. And you'd better get into dry clothes – you don't want to go down with pneumonia or something, not with the squad short-handed like this.' His voice had dropped, then became public and carrying.

She set off for Brindley Place, wondering how he knew about the alarm. She'd had the system fitted just the day before she left for Florence.

One of the uniformed lads, rain coursing down his yellow jacket, caught her eye, raised an eyebrow. ‘Always as cheerful and polite as that, is he?'

Her face found a smile. ‘You should see him on a bad day.' And then ashamed of her disloyalty, she said seriously, ‘He's OK, Harvey is. A really good cop.'

‘Guess he got out of the wrong side of bed today, then! Didn't even blink when you said you knew the guy.'

‘Probably that new Super pulling the strings a bit too tight. Anyway, we've got to sort out the ladies and gentlemen of the press.' She gestured down the towpath.

‘There are several places down there that serve a mean cup of coffee. Even at this hour. Or can be persuaded to.'

She nodded. ‘Good idea. Thanks.'

‘Tell you what, though – Kate, isn't it? I'm Cary Grant. You can tell from my typical English good looks!' Actually he was African-Caribbean, on the handsome side of good-looking. He grinned. ‘Hey, you'd better find a mirror or something.' He pointed to her eyes.

‘You're a star, Cary,' she managed.

As she burrowed in her pockets for a tissue, her hands too cold to make contact, he produced a large old-fashioned white linen square.

They both swore as the sound of a paparazzo's motor-drive alerted them. The bastard would have nice view of him leaning concernedly towards her as she mopped her make-up. Her kagoul hood had blown back to let the drizzle soak her hair. What little of her pride was left groaned.

‘All I bloody needed,' she said. ‘It'll be all over the
Evening Mail
, won't it? Hope your wife won't mind, Cary.'

‘She might if I had one. Tell you what, I'll phone you – maybe a jar after work one night?'

She probably sounded off-hand. ‘Fine.'

Time to stride down the towpath and talk to cameras and mikes. The cautious words were already framing themselves. Hell, all anyone knew was that a man had been found hanging. It wasn't down to her to give an ID. Someone from his family would have to do that, anyway, poor bugger, peering at the body on a slab if they were quick, a drawer if they weren't.

What would the press ask? Was it murder? Suicide? God knew. All she could do was mount a holding operation, with charm and promise of plenty of co-operation later. She gave them words they all knew only too well:
pathologist; post mortem examination; inquest; identification; help with inquiries
… No hint of an ID.

Given it was their job to prise information out of her, and hers to withhold it, it was an amicable enough session, made even better when another uniformed constable appeared with cups of tea and coffee. One of the reporters produced some more. She thought her dithering might be a result simply of the bitter weather – others too seemed to be having trouble guiding the cups to their lips, while they jiggled alarmingly if left on the saucers. Everyone's, not just hers. She produced earnest but wan smiles for the cameras, and broke up the gathering by descending into a bout of coughing.

‘Kate? Over here!' Colin emerged from the shelter of a pub doorway. ‘What the hell are you doing hanging around outside on a day like this?'

‘Acting on orders, Colin. As we all do. Tell you what, you wouldn't like to drop me off in Summer Row? My car's there, and the Gaffer wants me to nip off home and get something.'

‘I'll run you home. Yes! Come on. My car's had its heater working overtime this last hour – there was this diesel spillage out Oldbury way, and the traffic's tied up like a pervert in bondage. I suppose the esteemed gaffer noticed my absence,' he added, unlocking his car.

‘He didn't mention it.'

‘Too busy sounding off at you, was he? Come on, hop in. We'll be going against the flow of traffic back to Kings Heath and it should have cleared a bit by the time you've had a hot shower and steamed your head.' He did an illicit U-turn, escaping the still solid traffic into town, and heading for the Five Ways island.

‘I haven't got time to—'

‘Listen to me, little sister. That stiff's going to be a long time stiff. No need for you to join him before your time. What have I said?'

She gestured wildly, holding back the vomit as long as she could. He pulled in, leaned across her to fling open the door. She made it to a gutter grating.

It had been such a long time since anyone had smoothed back her hair like that. As if holding someone's forehead would make the spewing easier. Perhaps it did. It was certainly good to have Colin there to heave her to her feet and pass her a bunch of tissues.

‘Stomach still unruly,' he said, as they set off again.

‘Again rather than still. I knew the bloke, you see. The stiff.'

‘Jesus! And Harvey made you talk to the press!'

‘Who else could he have asked?'

‘He could have done it his bloody self, that's what. He could have made them wait until the path had finished poking things in orifices.'

But that would have meant Kate watching the body being cut down; the insertion of a thermometer. …

‘I said, how well did you know him?'

‘Hardly at all. I just sat next to him on the plane last Sunday afternoon. He was full of advice about my cold. We were going to do dinner sometime.'

‘Eligible bachelor, then?'

‘A bit older than me. Not much. Quite presentable. In business. He'd been doing a few deals in Florence.'

‘Oh, ho! Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Is this a Mafia job?'

Kate stared.

‘Come on, Kate. The Italian connection! And didn't they string that guy up under Tower Bridge or London Bridge or whatever?'

‘Alan Grafton wasn't an international banker and, nicely-proportioned as that little bridge is, it's scarcely your famous tourist site. I don't know, Colin. But I'd certainly like to find out.' It took longer than she'd liked to shower and dry her hair, but Colin wouldn't budge till she'd had a second breakfast. By the time they set out again, he'd even phoned the lads on the scene to stop her car being either clamped or towed away.

Harvey was waiting for them as they reached the office, and gestured Kate straight to his room. He pointed to the comfortable chair. ‘Sorry to have to spring this on you, Kate. But – when they went through his pockets they found your business card.'

If she got her mind in gear, perhaps she could keep her stomach under control. ‘We swapped them. We got talking on the plane – well, he did most of the talking – and … He was a decent enough guy.'

‘Attractive? Did you – like – him?'

She leant on the word slightly. ‘
Fancy
him, you mean? He was just a pleasant companion for a couple of hours. As I say, he did most of the talking, but I missed a lot of what he said because the changes in atmospheric pressure made me deaf. I'll write down everything I can remember – I've just gone through it with Colin, which helped me to remember odd snippets.'

He nodded.

‘Here's his card, by the way.' She passed it over, pathetically small in a polythene bag. ‘I wonder if he ran his business from home – look, the home telephone number and fax numbers are the same.'

‘How involved d'you want to be?' he asked abruptly.

‘He wans't anything more than a casual acquaintance.'

‘Odd he should have your card on him and nothing else.'

‘And
nothing else
?'

‘Nothing else. That makes life a bit more interesting, doesn't it?'

She welcomed the ironic glimmer in his smile.

‘Very much more interesting, I'd say. Graham—' she checked the door was still shut – ‘you remember a couple of months ago there were a few problems out there.' Her head jerked in the direction of the office. ‘Messages going adrift, that sort of thing.'

‘It hasn't bloody well started again, has it?' Graham was on his feet, thunderous.

‘Might have done. Too early to tell. All I know is that Fatima was going spare trying to find a message she'd taken for me. And never found it. We put a note on the white-board asking people to check if they'd picked it up by mistake.'

‘Why are you telling me now? Not that you're wrong to. I'm just interested in the context.'

‘This sounds crazy. It's just I've got this awful pit-of-the-stomach feeling it could have been Alan Grafton trying to phone me. No evidence at all. Just—' she shrugged.

‘We could check back through the in-coming calls. I suppose you never thought of that earlier?'

What was the matter with the man?

‘I believe Fatima did,' she said, cool to match his coldness. ‘Call box.'

‘Predictable, I suppose. OK.' He appeared to close the conversation. Then he seemed to think better of it – he opened his mouth – before changing his mind yet again.

Kate looked him in the eye. ‘The post mortem, Gaffer.'

He stiffened. ‘You won't want to be involved – I—'

‘I am involved, aren't I? May I accompany you to the post mortem?' she asked, correct as at an interview.

‘Are you sure about – I mean, it's not the most enjoyable thing even when you don't know the guy on the slab. Why push yourself? There isn't any real need. …'

It seemed as if the equal opportunities course he'd been on hadn't been a hundred per cent successful. He was trying to protect her, wasn't he? Quite definitely. Some might think it was as demeaning as being harassed. And there was no gainsaying the fact that to protect someone implied you were strong and they weak.

What she ought to do was explain about equality. Now. But Graham wasn't the sort of man to take kindly to a lecture – in this morning's fluctuating moods it could be counter-productive, in fact.

And they were supposed to be friends, after all.

She smiled. ‘I appreciate the thought, Graham.' Was that a mistake? His eyes flickered. ‘But you know as well as I do you have to take the rough with the rough in this job. The most intimate I got with the man was sucking his barely sugars. I can – forgive the pun – cope.' She pulled an apologetic face.

He shook his head, but produced the closest thing to a genuine smile she'd seen that morning. ‘OK. But there's time to change your mind. And it wouldn't be a sign of weakness if you did.'

BOOK: Staying Power
2.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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