Read We Are the Hanged Man Online

Authors: Douglas Lindsay

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Thrillers, #Suspense

We Are the Hanged Man (8 page)

BOOK: We Are the Hanged Man
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'You mean, everywhere? Countrywide?'

Jericho breathed out. Took another bite of sandwich. Allowed himself to think about it for a while. Haynes, well used to the long gaps in his conversations with Jericho, similarly ate his sandwich and waited.

'Let's ignore the Tarot stuff for a second. The concept of a hanged man in general suggests death, someone who's been hanged. In the regular Tarot concept it means something completely different, but then these cards are also subverting that concept by implying death.'

'So we go with death.'

'Yes. For the moment. Start around here, the whole of the West Country, although I think we'd have heard about it if there'd been anything too weird. Then check out my old patch in London, and then the rest of the country. Fuck, there must have been several hundred people died in Britain in the last few days, it's what happens. Just find out the unusual ones, the ones the police are looking into.'

'And I won't know what I'm looking for until I find it.'

'Exactamundo,' said Jericho, which was a word he only usually used when he was in a good mood and feeling positive enough to say something stupid. Instead, he had one of those moments when the words coming out of his mouth sounded ridiculous, and so he took a bite from his sandwich and lowered himself slightly further down into the bench. He'd said everything that needed to be said.

12

There were six contestants remaining on the new TV reality show,
Britain's Got Justice
. Cher, Lol, Gaz, Ando, Muzza and Xav. That, at least, was how their names had been abbreviated for tabloid usage. Of the six, only Cherie Mansfield had previously used her tabloid moniker in real life, but the people at
BGJ
had helpfully supplied the newspapers on whom they depended with the relevant nicknames, to remove the possibility of confusion.

Originally something in the region of nine thousand people had applied for the show, a disappointing number in itself. Ever since, the producers felt, they had been fighting a rearguard action in trying to retain the interest of the public. By the time they got to the live broadcast stage, there were fifteen, and since Christmas nine had been eliminated by a combination of physical exercises, examination and the ever-versatile telephone vote.

Mostly, anyone who remotely looked like a thuggish police officer and a shoo-in for the title had been removed. They didn't want forty-year-old brutal ex-Army thugs on the show, they wanted attractive nineteen-year-old girls and men in their mid-twenties who shaved their chests. They wanted to do crime prevention for the YouTube/Facebook generation. Their perfect police officer was to be some weird combination of Justin Beiber and Gemma Arterton, not Ray Winstone and John Thaw.

The only one of the six to slip through the net was Gary Templeton, thirty-six and a former Royal Marine. He looked like a police officer; he came top in virtually all the tests; he was attractive enough to satisfy the girls and the media. When he smiled he had dimples. The Mirror had implied that he had been involved in a variety of top secret operations; the idea had stuck, and now whenever he was mentioned it was implied that he was some kind of superspy figure. The producers just didn't want someone that old winning the title, and so it was beholden on them to come up with a way for him to lose. Some said that he was in line to be the next James Bond, even though the current James Bond didn't seem to be on the point of going anywhere.

The other five, who for the most part fitted the bill that the producers, advertisers and audience demanded, were Cherie Mansfield, a twenty-year-old media studies student from Burton-on-Trent, Lorraine Allison, nineteen, reading Greek history at Magdelen College Oxford, (she hated being known as Lol, just as much as she hated being called the posh one because she was at Oxford), Andrew Payne, a Scottish teenage building apprentice, who claimed to already have bedded four hundred women, Murray Forsyth, who was unemployed and termed himself a performance artist having put three short films about himself on YouTube, and Xavier Yateras, a twenty-year-old hairdresser from Putney. He'd been getting the gay and lesbian vote – despite being neither – as well as the votes of those who hated the very idea of the show and wanted to subvert it by voting for the least likely police officer in the competition.

Cher, Lol, Gaz, Ando, Muzza and Xav. The producers had picked their final six before the first show had aired, and had managed to get five out of the six they'd been looking for. They intended no such slip-ups when it came to the final three.

Stories about the six had been getting leaked to the media for some weeks, the stories themselves getting more and more desperate and outlandish as it became apparent that the interest of the public was waning. Cher: drugs and an incredible amount of sex; Lol: posh, a one-off instance of a mass student orgy, and possibly related to the Royal family; Gaz: previously a murder suspect, three ex-wives, caring father, heart of gold; Ando: all those women, although regularly he couldn't get it up because of his drug habit; Muzza: the twenty-two year-old virgin who had almost been adopted by Madonna; and Xav: arrested four times on Gay Pride marches, and who had once had a threesome with two fellows out of Take That.

All of the stories were made up by a group of people sitting around a desk in an office, but it wasn't as if there was a newspaper out there who would take the time to check the facts. It was, as their Svengali producer had noted to the team, like shooting into an empty net.

Why then, they had been left to wonder, as the series had drifted dangerously into the nation's disinterest, were they currently 5-0 down?

Things were about to change, however, and it wasn't just because the producers had roped in reluctant detective Robert Jericho. One of the dull and uninteresting six, about whom they had made up so many fibs and exaggerations, was about to disappear for a while, before dying a rather unpleasant, painful and brutal death.

13

Friday morning. Jericho awoke with an uncomfortable feeling in his gut, something he quickly attributed to the impending doom of the upcoming weekend. He wasn't going to have a part in choosing the three final participants in the show, but he had been instructed to attend the Saturday and Sunday night two-hour TV shows to sit with the judges and to pronounce on how the finalists handled the various trials and questions that were sent their way. In a further act of ratings desperation, each of the contestants had been told to sing a song on the basis that at some point in their police enforcement careers they might have to go undercover and sing karaoke.

Having been determined to mentally close down and block out the upcoming week, Jericho was beginning to wonder if maybe he would be better off resigning and finding a way to live with the decision. Model airplanes. Jigsaws. Walks on the Somerset levels looking for cranes.

He couldn't eat anything for breakfast. He looked across the fields and drank coffee and watched the grey light creep across the land, and thought about how he hated the media in Britain; but he also thought that the media were just giving the people what they wanted, so shouldn't he also hate the people? And he thought that in fact, yes, he did hate the people. So what was the point in being a police officer and serving them, serving the course of natural justice?

He thought all those things, but still, when he got into the office forty minutes later than normal – and he was normally later than everyone else – he did not type out a resignation latter.

*

Haynes was leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees, a notebook open in front of him. He liked the feel of a notebook, even though some of his peers thought him dreadfully old-fashioned, or worse, trying to mimic the old-fashioned ways of Jericho. Jericho was leaning back in his chair, a dead cup of coffee sitting on the desk in front of him.

'So, I guess the question is, if the cards are some messenger of death, then were you getting them as a warning before the deaths happened, or as a kind of calling card, letting you know that something had been done. In the name of the Hanged Man. Like the Pink Panther, or that Milk Tray dude you used to get in the old adverts.'

'Talk us through what we've got,' said Jericho.

'So we have, in the last six days or so around the country, seventeen deaths that the police are currently looking into as unexplained, potentially suspicious or at the very least, not obviously due to natural causes. Can't rule out the possibility that we're dealing with someone in a position to murder someone so that it looks like natural causes, but that's obviously going to open up another enormous can of shit, so you know…'

'What have we got?' said Jericho again. 'Start with the West Country.'

Haynes looked down at his notebook. He'd already organised the deaths geographically.

'There's a forty-three-year-old died of a heart attack in his bed on Saturday night. Outskirts of Bath.'

'What did the investigating officer think?'

'They're looking into it because it's kind of weird, and there has to be a post mortem 'cause the fellow wasn't in the heart attack demographic and he seemed healthy enough, but…… ultimately he thinks it was just a freak event. One of those weird medical things that crops up. He'll let me know if anything comes up.'

'Who was the guy?'

'Stuart Westlake, plumber. Didn't seem to work much.'

'Part-time plumber?'

'Part-time plumber. Married, separated, no kids. Played football on a Sunday morning.'

'OK, better keep on top of that one. Could be the kind of thing we're looking for. What's next?'

'Fight on Saturday night in the middle of Bristol.'

'There was a fight on Saturday night in the middle of Bristol?' said Jericho, a rare excursion into dry humour.

'Witnessed by a couple of officers. Couple of drunks, one of them smashed a bottle and chibbed the other bloke. Got him in the neck. Bled to death before the ambulance arrived.'

'And the attacker?'

'Legged it.'

And would never be found. Jericho hadn't even seen the murder mentioned on the local news; which was because it just wasn't news any more. Society has come to expect fights in city centres in the middle of the night, once the bars and clubs have spewed forth their detritus of the evening. It was no one's news.

'Who was the victim?'

Another glance at the notebook.

'Oliver Davis, early twenties. Last year of studying history at Bristol. No immediate family, but has distant relatives… they seem reasonably wealthy. Just got back to Bristol having spent Christmas with them in London.'

'How's that one looking?'

'Bit early to say case closed, but, you know…. Two drunks fighting after a night on the piss. The guys in Bristol, you know, they're not getting anywhere. Where is there to go?'

'Isn't there CCTV?'

'It was a guy in a hood. Seems to have kept his face covered the whole time.'

Haynes looked into Jericho's eyes, hesitated. Jericho raised his eyebrows.

'A guy takes the time to make sure his face is covered, presumably even before he got in a fight. And he was drunk? That doesn't strike you as odd?'

'Now that you say it.'

'Check that one out, we need more detail. What else?'

'Car crash in Cornwall, a couple of teenagers died.'

Jericho nodded. He'd heard that one on the news.

'That's it for around here?'

'Next closest is a car crash in Hampshire. Family of four.'

Jericho nodded. He'd seen that one too. Car crash deaths make the news. They are everyman deaths. There's not one of us doesn't go in a car on a regular basis; car crashes could affect us all. Drunks fighting at two in the morning, however, was the territory of the young and the hot-headed, the foolish and under-educated, not the middle class who watched the Ten O'Clock News.

'That one was a little odd,' said Haynes. 'The car burned up.'

BOOK: We Are the Hanged Man
9.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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