Authors: Angela Dracup
|The Killing Club|
|Robert Hale (2011)|
No one knows what was happening in Christian Hartwell's life in the days before his corpse was found bruised and scarred at the foot of Fellbeck Crag in Yorkshire. Was he in trouble he couldn't get out of? Was his death a suicide? Or was it something much more sinister? These are the questions that DCI Ed Swift and his colleague DI Cat Fallon must determine before a major murder investigation is mounted... but finding convincing evidence is problematic. Ruth Hartwell, the victim's adoptive mother, is unable to shed any light on her son's final days, while her daughter Harriet has a strange tale from the past to tell Swift...but one without clear links to her brother's death. Then Ruth receives a threatening visit from a man calling himself Mac the Knife and she and her family find themselves in real danger. Swift knows that it is vital for him to get to the truth- and fast. But in doing so, he risks not only his job but also his life...
For Roger Mayo – friend, fellow dog-walker and deer-spotter,
literary critic extraordinaire. I miss you.
Christian Hartwell started to climb the hundred and four steps which would bring him to the head of the crag. The steps were crazily uneven, having been roughly hollowed and shaped by the relentless tramp of feet over the centuries, then in more recent times purposefully hacked out of the steep flank of the crag with pickaxes and spades. He began to puff as he made his ascent. He had put on some weight recently and he knew he was out of condition for a man still in his thirties. He resolved to cut down on the beer and the high-fat diet and to take more walks.
He had a special love of the countryside, having spent his early life in a cramped flat near the railway station in Leeds, a setting which had always seemed to him a world away from the grandeur of the windswept lonely hills of the Pennines which he had glimpsed from time to time in the summer holidays. His early childhood had been unsettled and miserable and it was not until he was free of the moods and indifference of his mother that his personal development had begun to flower. A career in journalism had brought him a degree of success. But it was with the forthcoming publication of his first book that things had really begun to hot up. His editor had said more than once that the book would ‘touch a nerve in the public imagination’. Already there had been offers of publication from the States, Germany and Japan. His agent had phoned him with the news and taken him out to dinner. The warm camaraderie of the evening still clung to him. A book was something tangible, something to put on your shelves and finger if your confidence ran low, far better than a pile of yellowed newspaper clippings in a cardboard box. Just the thought of it made him smile.
This was the third morning he had done this particular walk and as he approached the summit of the crag he considered choosing an alternative descent to the one he had used before. He decided against it, anticipating the moment when he stepped around a holly bush dangerously perched on the edge of the rock and reached a point where the drop was vertiginous and the view across to the distant hills simply too good to miss.
He paused to take a breath. The earth beneath his feet was dry and so well trodden that it was like the sand on a beach. As he moved forward each step felt springy and joyous. He stopped when he reached the viewpoint. Green farmland below him, dotted with cows. Above, in a vast sky, the rising September sun was huge and veiled, its colour that of the flesh of a watermelon. And across to the west a frail silver moon was in the gentle process of vanishing. He drew in a long breath of sweet early morning air, relishing the silence, drinking in the picture before him.
The intermittent drone of anxiety which had overshadowed the past few days was beginning to ease. He had always been sceptical of some of the tales and warnings people shared with him and, whilst the recent cautionary tales had troubled him more than most, now that he was back on his own territory he was beginning to see them for what they were – the stuff of fantasy.
He was aware of footsteps coming up behind him. He turned, preparing to smile at a fellow walker who had passed him and exchanged greetings on previous mornings. There was a sudden sharp slam on the curve of one shoulder, just enough to send him hurtling down the side of the crag. Then blackness as he hit solid rock.
The fellow early riser looked down and saw the eager rush of blood from the head as the body landed far below, having been buffeted from one ledge to the next. There were some moments of frozen stillness, and then all there was left to do was simply walk away.
The summer breeze tickled the grass on which the body had fallen. In a tree beside the pathway where the dead man had walked a few minutes before, a small brown bird rose up with a high-pitched scream, circling away towards the stream at the base of the valley.
The blood which had seeped from the head of the corpse formed a pear-shaped pool which glinted in the strengthening rays of the sun. The muscles of the body were becoming soft, ready to melt back into the earth if they were left for any length of time.
The world carried on.
Detective Chief Inspector Ed Swift took a glass of champagne from the silver tray offered to him by a young waitress with an unmistakably flirtatious manner and decided that this birthday party was the most ostentatious bash he’d been to for a long time. He wondered if the birthday boy had rolled out the red carpet for the big five O milestone. It was hard to tell; Jeremy Howard could have been anything from forty-five to fifty-five. Swift had only met him briefly a couple of times but he hadn’t struck him as the kind of guy he would have expected his colleague and friend Cat Fallon to be knocking around with. Cat’s many credentials included being a perceptive, down-to-earth operator who was a shrewd judge of character. She was also warm, funny and attractive in both looks and personality. What did she see in Jeremy? He recognized a sharp tinge of envy and resentment in his feelings and instantly squashed them.
Taking a sip of his champagne, he looked around him, assessing the venue and its ambience – an expensive but somewhat soulless hotel on the outskirts of Leeds, Michelin star food, unlimited Bollinger, fabulous flowers, women in what looked like seriously pricey dresses wearing tiny scraps of feathery nonsense on their expensively cut hair. He had been taking mental notes from the word go, partly from simple curiosity and habit, but also in order to provide his daughter, Naomi, with an answer to the barrage of questions she would undoubtedly subject him to when they next made phone contact.
Seeing Cat coming towards him, he smiled and raised his glass. She reached up and kissed him lightly on the lips. She was wearing a deep-red gown which curved very pleasingly around her figure. Her shoes were dark red too and skyscraper high. Around her neck was a flashing collar of diamonds which looked as though they might have cost as much as the average semi-detached house, and must surely have been given to her by Jeremy. The sort of present, he thought uneasily, which some rich men might give to their girlfriend as a symbol of control and patronage rather than love.
He recalled his initial disquiet on learning about Cat’s having suddenly fallen for Jeremy Howard, ten years her senior and, from what he had heard, a multimillionaire. A chain of restaurants had done the trick, apparently. Not her type, he had thought, wincing at his own prejudice. Who was he to make judgements about her ‘type’? He supposed the truth was he had once considered that he, himself, might be her type.
He tilted his head and smiled at her. You look beautiful, he thought, wishing he could say it out loud. But she was a colleague, such remarks would be inappropriate. And, of course, now there was Jeremy in the picture. ‘You’re looking well,’ he said.
She smiled back, reached out for his glass, took a sip from it and returned it to him. ‘Thanks. And you?’
‘How’s life in Bradford Central?’
He sensed an undertone of brittleness in their conversation. Everything seemed to be so different from a couple of years back when they had almost got together and become an item. Cat had been working as a DI with the drug squad in Durham and had been extremely helpful and supportive when his daughter had become entangled with the drugs squad there whilst she was a student at Durham University. There had been a frisson of feeling between him and Cat during the fraught two days they had worked together to ensure that Naomi didn’t fall foul of the law because of something her racy boyfriend had done. And Naomi had made it clear that she would be only too pleased if her lonely widower father and the likeable Cat became more than just good friends, maybe even going as far as marriage.
Around that time, Cat been virtually headhunted for a DCI job in Bradford Central but at the final interview had been passed over in favour of a bright young Oxbridge graduate. He knew that her disappointment had been keen, not just from being denied a promotion but also because she was eager to get away from the difficult, possibly bent, DCI heading up her team in Durham. When the interview panel offered her the chance to transfer to Bradford Central as a DI in their Homicide and Major Enquiry section she had decided to accept it. She had moved to live in a village on the west side of Bradford and soon settled in. She and Swift had had several dinners out together and things had been going rather nicely. And then Jeremy came along.
‘Actually,’ she said, her voice low and confiding, ‘I have been thinking of giving up the job.’ She paused. ‘Only thinking!’ She curved a strand of hair behind one ear and shot him a swift glance to assess his reaction.
Pressure from Jeremy, Swift wondered, instantly reminding himself that Cat had always been perfectly capable of making her own decisions.
‘Is your superintendent party to this thought yet?’ Swift asked, picturing her superintendent’s habitually grim expression on the reception of any news whatsoever, good or bad.
Cat grinned. ‘Not yet. But if I did decide to go, he’d probably be glad to get rid of me. Mouthy, stroppy cows aren’t his favourite thing.’
Swift spotted the silver-haired Jeremy gliding up, as smooth as silk, and with all the subtle resilience of that luxury fabric. He placed his arm around Cat and pulled her against him. She smiled up into his eyes and Swift could feel the sexual electricity sparking between them. He was reminded of the day he and Kate had married, the sensations of disbelief that he could have persuaded the most exciting woman in the world to marry him. And he hadn’t been disappointed.
‘I’ve picked myself a peach,’ Jeremy told Swift. ‘Isn’t she just the most gorgeous creature imaginable?’
Cat shook her head in despair. ‘I’m training him up to stop making comments like that. Just give me a few more months.’
A tall blond man with a lazy aristocratic air strolled up and tapped Jeremy on the shoulder. ‘Hullo there. Sorry to interrupt.’
‘No, no, Julian, no problem at all.’ Jeremy held up his hands and laughed. ‘We were just having a little shop talk. Let me introduce you to Ed, who is one of Cat’s old friends and a Detective Chief Inspector, no less.’
The blond man nodded to Swift and chuckled. ‘Better steer clear,’ he drawled, grinning from Cat to Swift. ‘Jeremy, some new guests have just arrived. Your presence and that of your lovely lady are required.’
Jeremy gave Cat a little pinch on the end of her nose. ‘Time to be circulating, darling.’ He smiled at Swift. ‘I do hope you’re enjoying yourself, Ed. There’ll be a light supper served later on in the blue room. We’ll catch up with you again then, no doubt.’
The two of them and Jeremy’s friend moved off into the throng. A string quartet had assembled on a raised platform at the far end of the room. They began to play one of Haydn’s quartets. One or two guests moved forward to listen. Others simply carried on drinking and chatting.
Swift decided not to be available to be caught up with later. He moved with leisurely steps towards the door, having long ago mastered the art of slipping away unobtrusively when such behaviour was required.
Later that evening he poured himself a glass of red and thought about the renovation work he was about to start in his kitchen the next day. Physical work was invariably helpful in pulling him out of the sadness which occasionally seized him when some current event reminded him of the past: of the happiness he and Kate had shared, of the terrible loss when she had been killed in a train crash, of the crushing grief that had followed. As far as he could judge, time didn’t heal, it merely kept the wound in a state where it could be kept in check.
His phone bleeped.
He smiled. ‘Offspring! How are you?’
‘Maybe that’s not for me to say.’
‘You sound fine to me. Perhaps your young charges could enlighten me further.’ His daughter Naomi was in the States, working with Camp America, and having a poke around the terrain.
‘I seem to have the knack of keeping them amused. I’m absolutely whacked at the end of the day.’
‘Good for you.’
‘I could take that two ways.’
‘What have you been up to?’
‘Attending a very posh birthday bash.’
‘Hey, cool. Whose?’
‘Cat Fallon’s new boyfriend.’
‘Oh!’ There was a pause. ‘I had hopes for you there, Dad.’
‘How was it I never guessed?’
‘So who is this guy who got there before you?’
‘One Jeremy Howard. Single. Eminently eligible.’
‘So, what makes him any better catch than you?’
‘I’m at a loss to guess.’
He could tell she was thrown and disappointed with the news. She really liked Cat.
A few moments and then she rallied. ‘Hey, Dad. Gotta go. Kids waking up from after lunch kip. Keep busy, keep happy.’
‘Love you,’ she murmured, then was gone.
He sat for a while, poured another glass of red.
Bertrand Morrison was a widower, a father, and a grandfather. He was a man who felt happy to wake up and know that there was some shape to the day which stretched out before him. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays were grandson-minding days. Saturdays and Sundays were for newspaper reading, gardening and having a frame or two of snooker at the local pub with his friends. Thursdays were for supermarket shopping, which left Tuesday as a flexible day for fitting in whatever else needed to be done.
On this particular Tuesday he had had an appointment with the practice nurse at his GP surgery for a check-up on his blood pressure and cholesterol level in the morning and a session of swimming in the afternoon. By 5.30 he was feeling in good shape and decided he would take his dog for a walk before he started to think about supper. Arriving at the entrance to the woods in which he regularly walked, he had to wait whilst council vehicles bearing nodding branches of lopped oak and sycamore trees made their way through the five-bar wooden gate.
‘You’re OK, sir,’ one of the drivers called out. ‘We’re all done now.’ He revved up the engine, adding, ‘Thank goodness, we started at 8.00 sharp this morning.’