Authors: R D Ronald
Copyright © 2010 R. D. Ronald
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
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Typeset in 11pt Sabon by Troubador Publishing Ltd, Leicester, UK
is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd
Thanks for encouragement and critique at vital times during the writing of
The Elephant Tree
go to the following: Debbie Marsh, Robert Brand, George Elliott and Gemma Davison.
Also for acts of kindness and dedication at a very difficult time, I’d like to thank: Rose Mullins, Robyn Bancroft, Betty and Alan Thornton, Sarah and David Bullerwell, David Anderson and again George Elliott.
he call came in at 01:48 on Saturday morning as Detective Mark Fallon was catching up on his paperwork at the station. A shooting at Aura nightclub, one of the more luxurious establishments in Garden Heights.
Fallon’s partner Alan Bryson pulled their green Volvo up behind some squad cars already outside the club. Officers on the scene were taking statements. A few clubbers had been detained for questioning; others hung around hoping something interesting would happen.
Fallon stepped over empty beer bottles and discarded Chinese food cartons that lay on the pavement. An empty pizza box lid opened and closed like the mouth of a mute in the cold night breeze.
‘Wait out here Alan,’ Fallon said. ‘Talk to this lot, get some impressions.’
The Aura manager was hovering in the entrance.
‘Nick Baker,’ he said, giving Fallon a tremulous handshake.
Baker wore a sharp-fitting fashionable suit, or it would have been if he was ten years younger and a few inches narrower in the waist. Fallon guessed he was forty-five. He looked distressed, probably because the victim was his brother.
‘How is he doing?’ Detective Fallon asked.
‘Fred, he’s stable, thanks for asking. The Doctors say he was lucky, no arteries or organs were hit in the attack, just tissue damage and blood loss.’
‘Do you have any reason to suspect your brother was targeted?’ he asked, and flipped open his notebook.
‘No, not at all,’ the manager replied, perhaps a little too quickly, Fallon thought. His eyes darted around the room as he spoke, never settling on anything for more than a second before they took flight again. ‘Surely it was just a random act of aggression.’
‘A random act of aggression outside the club, perhaps. Maybe a fist-fight inside. But a shooting in a prestigious venue like this one would appear to be anything other than random, Mr Baker. Especially considering the security measures you have in place,’ Fallon said, and tapped the metal detector archway they stood beside at the club’s entrance. ‘I’m presuming everyone has to walk through here when they come in, no exceptions?’
‘Yes, I mean no – no exceptions,’ the manager confirmed.
Fallon nodded and paused as if in thought, but really just watched Baker as he grew more and more uncomfortable under what had been pretty soft questioning. ‘Is there anything else you would like to tell me at this time?’
‘No, I’d really just like to go see Fred.’
‘OK,’ Fallon said, handing him his card. ‘Go check on your brother, Mr Baker, I’m gonna have a look around.’
Nick Baker nodded and took the detective’s card. ‘Any other questions you can ask my assistant, Stephanie Hutton.’
Fallon surveyed the subtle placement of security cameras as he walked along the corridor and through the double glass doors into the main room of the now eerily quiet but brightly lit nightclub. An attractive brunette in a masculine grey business suit walked confidently up to him.
‘Hi, are you from the police?’
Fallon flashed his credentials.
‘Detective Mark Fallon.’
‘Stephanie Hutton, Mr Baker’s PA. He’s very upset.’ She
was below average height but stood square shouldered looking him directly in the eye.
‘I have a lot to deal with right now, but if you have any questions...’
‘OK how about you show me the exact spot of the attack.’
Stephanie led him to a curved chrome staircase. Bright red blood drops marked the polished floor like scattered berries. ‘We have a staircase on either side of the main doors that lead to the balcony and two other rooms above. The right hand staircase is covered by one of the main cameras above the bar over there,’ she said, pointing.
‘Do you mean this area here isn’t monitored by any of the other cameras?’
‘As far as I know it’s the only black-spot in the club.’
‘Who else other than yourself and the manager would know this?’
‘The security staff would know, they had hands on input regarding placement after our last refit a few months back.’
Fallon had taken out his notebook and pen when Stephanie was talking and eagerly wrote down the information. Stephanie had stopped talking by the time he finished and Fallon looked at her to see if there was anything else she could offer. The confident gaze she had initially confronted him with had been replaced by one more guarded and wary. She still looked him in the eye, but it now seemed forced and uncomfortable.
‘Who is in charge of security at the club, Miss Hutton?’
‘That would be Paul McBlane.’
‘Right, of course he is,’ Fallon said, writing down the name; the same name that had cropped up more and more frequently in recent months. McBlane had been a small time gangster years ago, but these days turned his talents to running a security firm that seemed to be associated with most of the city’s prestigious venues, a lot of which had found themselves on the receiving end of a spate of vicious attacks targeting patrons, staff and owners. Not all of the incidents that Fallon had investigated had occurred at the bars and clubs, but McBlane’s involvement in the industry definitely appeared to be the common denominator.
‘Is there anything else you can tell me that might help with the investigation, Stephanie?’ Fallon asked, softening his voice and holding her gaze.
She instinctively looked away, but then forced herself to again look him in the eye. ‘There’s nothing I can think of right now.’ Her voice was flat and expressionless. Fallon sensed there was something she was holding back but left it alone. Pressing her further now might make her clam up even more.
‘OK Stephanie,’ he said, handing out another card. ‘Thanks for your help. I’m sure we’ll speak again soon.’ That was a given. If she hadn’t contacted him within a couple of days Fallon would go and see her, and next time he would press a lot harder.
Back outside and Bryson was finishing up talking to a mountainous tuxedo-clad doorman.
‘You done for now?’ Fallon asked his partner.
‘Yeah got accounts from the on duty door-staff and tapes from all the cameras are already on their way to the station.
* * *
Scott was the last person to leave the office. At 18:44 on a Saturday evening that wasn’t particularly unusual. He clicked to send his last design through to the main office computer, went to the bathroom and ran his head under the tap before wringing out his shoulder-length brown hair and tying it back in a pony tail. He wiped his face and stared at his reflection in the mirror for a few seconds, stretching out the skin where dark circles ringed beneath his eyes. The mirror didn’t reflect the image of a reasonably fit twenty-four-year-old. Scott grabbed his jacket, left the office and locked up after himself.
His phone had been set to silent, but undoubtedly would have a host of texts and voicemails from Neil wondering where the hell he was already. ‘A Friday night is a terrible thing to waste, Scott, but a Saturday night is unforgiveable,’ was the last text he saw from Neil as he flicked through the phone. He fastened up his coat as he walked down the deserted stairwell and deleted the messages.
The city centre was still crawling with Christmas shoppers looking to add to their already burgeoning piles of gifts. To Scott they were like ants at a picnic, teeming from store to store trailing oversized carrier bags and infants behind them as they went. Scott felt alien in this environment; pulling up his hood he hurried through the crowds, dodging pushchairs, lit cigarettes and charity collection tins.
Jam was a dimly lit bar situated underground in the heart of Garden Heights. Giving a cursory nod to the doormen as he walked in, Scott went down the flight of stairs. The rumble of music grew louder as he descended and the harsh glare from the streetlights outside was replaced by a soft glow of wall lamps, with spotlights illuminating the optics behind the bar. Saturday night was well underway and the bar was already full.
Scott lit a cigarette and looked around the room for his friend. Neil was sitting on a stool at the far end of the room, unsurprisingly chatting to an attractive barmaid. His unkempt dirty blonde hair hung down loosely and spilled just over his broad shoulders. His trademark crooked smile and reasonably well maintained physique ensured that Neil was pretty popular with the ladies, and judging by the coy smile he prised from the barmaid as Scott walked up, looked like he was again onto a winner.
‘Hey dude, sorry I’m late,’ Scott said, propping up the bar next to Neil.
‘I’m used to it by now, don’t worry. This is Emma,’ he said, nodding at the blonde.
‘It’s Gemma,’ she corrected.
‘Hey Gemma,’ Scott said without much interest, and turned back towards Neil.
‘Did you bring everything?’ Neil asked him after Gemma moved away to serve a customer.
Scott patted one of the bulky pockets in his faded green cargo pants. ‘I fetched the whole lot to work this morning in case there wasn’t time to make the trip back home.’
‘Fuck, Jack would blow up if he knew you’d taken all that into the office. You know how pissed he is that you even do this shit anyway.’
‘Yeah well, working for your brother can be a royal pain in the ass at times but he’s hardly likely to fire me. Besides he wasn’t in the office today at all, so it wasn’t a problem.’
Neil ordered drinks for him and Scott after Gemma returned. Scott scanned the interior for familiar faces, made a mental note of who he saw and their locations as he casually withdrew a handful of small plastic baggies from his pocket without glancing downwards, and placed them in Neil’s open palm beneath the bar.
‘There been many requests so far?’
‘Yep. Pretty much what you’d expect for a Saturday. I guess this lot have already finished their Christmas shopping,’ Neil said, grinning. ‘By the way you look like shit.’
‘Thanks a lot,’ Scott said, and self-consciously ran a hand over his stress-taut forehead.
All the tables in Jam were themed to various rock bands. Under the thick glass surfaces were CDs, posters and other memorabilia depicting the featured artists. At quieter times people would flock around the table of their favourite performers, making locating them a much simpler job for Scott and Neil. You know their favourite band, you know where they’d be sitting. At this time on a weekend though, people just got served and squeezed into a space wherever they could find one.
Neil moved off into the crowd, casually wandering through the smoke, loud music and laughter. He stopped off for a minute or two at a time to exchange words and more with various members of the Saturday night faithful, who were looking for more than just happy hour at the bar. Scott sat down on the freshly vacated stool and began stashing his remaining bags into custom-made inner pockets of his army surplus cargo pants. Thanks to current fashion trends, virtually everyone else in the bars and clubs they frequented wore them too. His movements were slow but efficient, unseen in the crowd.