For LA producer Larry Brooker, this is the movie that could bring the fortune that has so long eluded him…For rock superstar, Gaia, desperate to be taken seriously as an actor, this is the role that could get her an Oscar nomination For the City of Brighton and Hove, the publicity value of a major Hollywood movie being filmed on location, about the city's greatest love story between King George 1Vth and Maria Fitzherbert – is incalculable. For Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of Sussex CID, it is a nightmare unfolding in front of his eyes. An obsessed stalker is after Gaia. One attempt on her life is made days before she leaves her Bel Air home to fly to Brighton. Now, he has been warned, the stalker may be at large in his city, waiting, watching, planning.
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Not Dead Yet
The eighth book in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, 2012
For GEOFF DUFFIELD
You believed in me and you made it happen
I am warning you, and I won’t repeat this warning. Don’t take the part. You’d better believe me. Take the part and you are dead. Bitch.
Gaia Lafayette was unaware of the man out in the dark, in the station wagon, who had come to kill her. And she was unaware of the email he had sent. She got hate mail all the time, mostly from religious nutters or folk upset by her swearing or her pro; vocative costumes in some of her stage acts and music videos. Those emails were screened and kept from bothering her by her trusted head of security, Detroit-born Andrew Gulli, a tough ex-cop who’d spent most of his career on close protection work for vulnerable political figures.
He knew when to be worried enough to tell his boss, and this piece of trash that had come in, on an anonymous Hotmail account, was not something he figured had any substance. His employer got a dozen like this every week.
It was 10 p.m. and Gaia was trying to focus on the script she was reading, but she couldn’t concentrate. She was focused even more on the fact that she had run out of cigarettes. The sweet, but oh so dim-witted Pratap, who did all her shopping, and who she hadn’t the heart to fire because his wife had a brain tumour, had bought the wrong brand. She had her limit of four cigarettes a day, and didn’t actually need any more, but old habits die hard. She used to mainline the damned things, claiming they were essential for her famed gravelly voice. Not so many years back she’d have one before she got out of bed, followed by one burning in the ashtray while she showered. Every action accompanied by a cigarette. Now she was kicking free, but she had to know they were in the house. Just in case she needed them.
Like so much else she needed in life. Starting with her adoring public. Checking the count of Twitter followers and Facebook likes. Both were substantially up again today, each nearly a million up in the past month alone, still keeping her well ahead of both the performers she viewed as her rivals, Madonna and Lady Gaga. And she now had nearly ten million subscribers to her monthly e-newsletter. And then there were her seven homes, of which this copy of a Tuscan palazzo, built five years ago to her specification on a three-acre lot, was the largest.
The walls, mirrored full length floor-to-ceiling to create the illusion of infinite space, were decorated with Aztec art interspersed with larger-than-life posters of herself. The house, like all her others, was a catalogue of her different incarnations. Gaia had reinvented herself constantly throughout her career as a rock star, and more recently, two years ago at thirty-five, had started reinventing herself again, this time as a movie actor.
Above her head was a huge, framed monochrome signed photo of herself in a black negligee, titled WORLD TOUR GAIA SAVING THE PLANET. Another, with her wearing a tank top and leather jeans, was captioned, GAIA REVELATIONS TOUR. Above the fireplace, in dramatic green was a close-up of her lips, nose and eyes – GAIA UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL.
Her agent and her manager phoned her daily, both men reassuring her just how much the world needed her. Just the way that her growing social networking base – all outsourced by her management company – reassured her, too. And at this moment, the one person in the world she cared about most – Roan, her six-year-old son – needed her just as much. He padded barefoot across the marble floor, in his Armani Junior pyjamas, his brown hair all mussed up, his face scrunched in a frown, and tapped her on the arm as she lay on the white sofa, propped against the purple velvet cushions. ‘Mama, you didn’t come and read me a story.’
She stretched out a hand and mussed up his hair some more. Then she put down the script and took him in her arms, hugging him. ‘I’m sorry, sweetie. It’s late, way past your bedtime, and Mama’s really busy tonight, learning her lines. She has a really big part – see? Mama’s playing Maria Fitzherbert, the mistress of an English king! King George the Fourth.’
Maria Fitzherbert was the diva of her day, in Regency England. Just like she herself was the diva of her day now, and they had something profound in common. Maria Fitzherbert spent most of her life in Brighton, in England. And she, Gaia, had been born in Brighton! She felt a connection to this woman, across time. She was born to play this role!
Her agent said this was the new King’s Speech. An Oscar role, no question. And she wanted an Oscar oh so badly. The first two movies she had made were okay, but had not set the world on fire. In hindsight, she realized, it was because she hadn’t chosen well and the scripts were – frankly – weak. This movie now could give her the critical acclaim she craved. She’d fought hard for this role. And she’d succeeded.
Hell, you had to fight in life. Fortune favoured the brave. Some people were born with silver spoons so far up their assholes they stuck in their gullets, and some, like herself, were born on the wrong side of the tracks. It had been a long journey to here, through her early days of waiting tables, and two husbands, to the place she was now at, and where she felt comfortable. Just herself, Roan and Todd, the fitness instructor who gave her great sex when she needed it and kept out of her face when she didn’t, and her trusted entourage, Team Gaia.
She picked up the script and showed him the white and the blue pages. ‘Mama has to learn all this before she flies to England.’
‘Didn’t Steffie read to you tonight?’ Steffie was the nanny.
He looked forlorn. ‘You read better. I like it when you read.’
She looked at her watch. ‘It’s after ten o’clock. Way past your bedtime!’
‘I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep unless you read to me, Mama.’
She tossed the script on to the glass coffee table, lifted him down and stood up. ‘Okay, one quick story. Okay?’
His face brightened. He nodded vigorously.
‘Marla!’ she shouted. ‘Marla!’
Her assistant came into the room, cellphone pressed to her ear, arguing furiously with someone about what sounded like the seating arrangements on a plane. The one extravagance Gaia refused to have was a private jet, because of her concerns over her carbon footprint.
Marla was shouting. Didn’t the fuckwit airline know who Gaia was? That she could fucking make or break them? She was wearing glittery Versace jeans tucked into black alligator boots, a thin black roll-neck and a gold neck chain carrying the flat gold globe engraved Planet Gaia. It was exactly the same way her boss was dressed tonight. Her hair mirrored her boss’s, too: blonde, shoulder length, layered in a sharp razor cut with a carefully spaced and waxed fringe.
Gaia Lafayette insisted that all her staff had to dress the same way – following the daily emailed instructions of what she would be wearing, how her hair would be. They had, at all times, to be an inferior copy of herself.
Marla ended the call. ‘Sorted!’ she said. ‘They’ve agreed to bump some people off the flight.’ She gave Gaia an angelic smile. ‘Because it’s you!’
‘I need cigarettes,’ Gaia said. ‘Wanna be an angel and go get me some?’
Marla shot a surreptitious glance at her watch. She had a date tonight and was already two hours late for him, thanks to Gaia’s demands – nothing unusual. No previous personal assistant had lasted more than eighteen months before being fired, yet, amazingly, she was entering her third year. It was hard work and long hours, and the pay wasn’t great, but the work experience was to die for, and although her boss was tough, she was kind. One day she’d be free of the chains, but not yet. ‘Sure, no problem,’ she said.
‘Take the Merc.’
It was a balmy hot night. Gaia was smart enough to understand the small perks that went a long way.
‘Cool! I’ll be right back. Anything else?’
Gaia shook her head. ‘You can keep the car for the night.’
‘Sure, I’m not going anywhere.’
Marla coveted the silver SL55 AMG. She looked forward to driving the fast bends along Sunset to the convenience store. Then to picking up Jay in it afterwards. Who knew how the night might turn out? Every day working for Gaia was an adventure. Just as every night recently, since she had met Jay, was too! He was a budding actor, and she was determined to find a way, through her connection with Gaia, to help him get a break.
She did not know it, but as she walked out to the Mercedes, she was making a grave mistake.
Thirty minutes earlier, the valium had started kicking in as he set off from Santa Monica, calming him. The coke he had snorted in a brief pit stop in the grounds of UCLA in Brentwood, fifteen minutes ago, was giving him energy, and the swig of tequila he took now, from the bottle on the passenger seat beside him, gave him an extra boost of courage.
The ’97 Chevy was a rust bucket, and he drove slowly because the muffler, which he couldn’t afford to fix, was shot, and he didn’t want to draw attention to himself with its rumbling blatter. In the darkness, with its freshly sprayed coat of paint, which he had applied last night in the lot of the deserted auto wash where he worked, no one would see quite how much of a wreck the car was, he figured.
The tyres were totally bald in parts, and he could barely afford the gas to get across town. Not that the rich folk around here, in Bel Air, would have any concept of what it meant or felt like to be poor. Behind the high hedges and electric gates were huge mansions, sitting way back, surrounded by manicured lawns and all the garden toys of the rich and successful. The haves of LA. Some contrast with the have-nots, like the decrepit rented bungalow in the skanky part of Santa Monica he shared with Dana. But that was about to change. Soon she was going to get the recognition she had long deserved. Then they might be rich enough to buy a place like the ones around here.
The occupants of half the homes he passed by were named on the copy of the Star Maps, so it was easy to figure out who was who. It sat, crumpled and well-thumbed, beside him, beneath the half-empty tequila bottle. And there was one sure way to cruise the streets of Bel Air without drawing attention to yourself from the infestation of police and private security patrols. Hey, he was an actor, and actors were chameleons, blending into their roles. Which was why he was dressed in a security guard uniform, driving right along the outside perimeter of Gaia Lafayette’s estate, passing the dark, fortress-like gates in a gleaming Chevy station-wagon emblazoned with large blue and red letters: BEL-AIR-BEVERLY PRIVATE SECURITY SERVICES – ARMED RESPONSE. He had applied the wording, from decals, himself.
The arrogant bitch had totally ignored his email. It had been announced in all the Hollywood trade papers last week that she had boarded the project. She was going to be playing Maria Fitzherbert – or Mrs Fitzherbert as the woman had been known to the world – mistress of the Prince of Wales of England and secretly married to him. The marriage was never formally approved because she was a Catholic, and had the marriage been ratified, then her husband could never have become King George IV.
It was one of the greatest love stories in the British monarchy. And in the opinion of the showbiz gossip websites, one of the greatest screen roles ever to have been offered.
Every actress in the world, of the right age, was after it. It had Oscar potential written all over it. And Gaia was so not suitable, she would make a total screw-up. She was just a rock star, for God’s sake! She wasn’t an actress. She hadn’t been to drama school. She hadn’t struggled for years to get an agent, to get noticed by the players in this city who mattered. All she had done was sing second-rate songs, peel off her clothes, flaunt her body, and sleep with the right people. Suddenly she decides she’s an actress!
In taking this part, she had screwed a lot of genuinely talented actresses out of one of the best roles of the past decade.
Like Dana Lonsdale.
And she just did not have any right to do that. Gaia didn’t need the money. She didn’t need to be any more famous than she already was. All she was doing now was feeding her greed and vanity. Taking bread out of everyone else’s mouth to do that. Someone had to stop her.
He patted the pistol jammed in his pocket, uneasily. He’d never fired a gun in his life. The goddamn things made him nervous. But sometimes you had to do what you believed was right.
It was his pop’s gun. He’d found it beneath the bed in the old man’s trailer, after he had died. A Glock. He didn’t even know the calibre, but had managed to identify it, from comparisons on the internet, as a.38. It had a loaded magazine of eight bullets, and on the floor beside the gun he had found a small carton containing more.
At first, he had planned to try to sell the thing, or even just throw it away. And right now he wished he had binned it. But he couldn’t. It was there, in his home, like an ever-present reminder from his father. That the only way to stop injustices was to do something about them.
And tonight the time had come. He was intending to stop a big injustice.
Like many farmers, early morning was Keith Winter’s favourite time of the day. He liked to be up before the rest of the world, and he particularly loved this time of year, early June, when the sun rose before 5 a.m.
Although, on this particular day, he walked out of his house with a heavy heart, and crossed the short distance to the chicken shed with leaden steps.
He considered Lohmann Browns to be the best layers, which was the reason he had 32,000 of this particular breed of hens. By looking after them and nurturing them carefully, free range, during their short lives, the way he did here at Stonery Farm, he could get their eggs to taste consistently better than any of his rivals.
He kept the birds in humane, healthy surroundings, gave them all the space they needed, and fed them on his secret diet of wheat, oil, soya, calcium, sodium and a programme of vitamins. Despite the fact that his hens were aggressive in nature, and cannibals if given the chance, he was fond of them in the way that all good farmers cared for the animals that gave them their livelihood.
He housed them in a dry, clean, modern single-storey building, with a large outdoor run, that stretched out for over one hundred yards across the remote East Sussex hilltop property. Alongside were shiny steel silos containing the grain feed. At the far end were two lorries that had arrived a short while ago, at this early hour. A tractor was parked near by and sundry agricultural equipment, a rusting shipping container, pallets and sections of railing lay haphazardly around. His Jack Russell bounded around in search of an early rabbit.
Despite the strong breeze coming in off the English Channel, five miles to the south, Keith could feel the approach of summer in the air. He could smell it in the dry grass and dusty soil and the pollen that gave him hay fever. But although he loved the summer months, the advent of June was always a time of mixed emotions for him, because all his cherished hens would be gone, to end up in markets, with their final destinations being as nuggets, or soup, or ready-to-eat chicken dishes.
Most farmer acquaintances he talked to considered their hens to be nothing more than egg-laying machines, and in truth his wife Linda thought he was a little nuts the way he became so fond of these dumb creatures. But he couldn’t help it; he was a perfectionist, obsessive about the quality of his eggs and his birds, constantly experimenting with their diet and supplements, and forever working on their accommodation to make it as conducive as possible for laying. Some eggs were trundling out of the conveyor belt into the grading machine, as he entered. He picked one large sample up, checked it for blemishes and colour consistency, tapped the shell for thickness and set it down again, satisfied. It trundled on past a stack of empty egg-cartons and out of sight.
A tall, solidly built sixty-three-year-old, with the youthful face of a man who has retained all his enthusiasm for life, Keith Winter was dressed in an old white T-shirt, blue shorts, and stout shoes with grey socks. The airy interior of the shed was partitioned into two sections. He entered the right-hand section now, into an echoing cacophony of noise, like the incoherent babble of a thousand simultaneous cocktail parties. He had long got used to, and barely even noticed, the almost overpowering reek of ammonia from the hen droppings, which fell through slats in the gridded metal floor into the deep sump below.
As one particularly aggressive hen pecked, painfully, at the hairs on his leg, he stared along the length of the shed, at the sea of brown and white creatures with their red crests, all strutting around in a busy manner, as if they had important engagements awaiting them. The shed was already starting to thin out, and large areas of the gridding were visible. The catchers had started early this morning, nine workers from Eastern Europe, mostly Latvian and Lithuanian, in their protective clothing and face masks, grabbing the hens, carrying them out through the doors at the far end and placing them in specially designed cages in the lorries.
The process would take all day, at the end of which the shed would be empty, leaving just the bare grid. A team from a specialist company would then come in to lift up the grid slats and remove the year’s four-foot-deep collection of droppings with a mechanical bobcat.
Suddenly, he heard a shout from the far end, and saw one of the workers running towards him, dodging through the hens, his face mask removed. ‘Mr Boss!’ he shouted urgently at Keith, in broken English, with a look of panic on his face. ‘Mr Boss, sir! Something not right. Not good. Please you come have look!’
The electric gates were opening!
He was so not expecting this. He was jumpy, his thoughts all over the place. And he remembered he had forgotten to take his medication today; the one that kept the insides of his head all cohesive. Who was coming out? Probably a change of security guards, he thought, but this was too good an opportunity to miss. Just in case it was the bitch herself! She was known to like going out on her own. Although most of the time when she went jogging, according to the press, she had more security guards around her than the President of the USA.
He braked hard, switched off the Chevy’s engine and pulled the gun out of the front pocket of his pants. He stared at the gates. At the blazing headlights of a car at the bottom of a winding drive, waiting for the gap to be big enough to drive through and out into the street.
He sprinted across the road and in through the gates. He saw the Mercedes halted, waiting. Smelled its exhaust mingled with the scent of freshly mown grass. Music pounded from its stereo, a Gaia song!
How sweet was that! Listening to her own music in her last few moments of life! She would die listening to it! How poetic was that?
The roof was down. Gaia was driving! She was alone!
I warned you, bitch.
The big Mercedes engine rumbled away, a steady, musical boom-boom-boom. A gleaming metal beast waiting for the driver to press the pedal and thunder forward into the night. The gates continued opening, jerkily, the right-hand one faster than the left.
In a clumsy, fumbling movement, despite all his rehearsals, he flipped off the safety catch of the Glock. Then he stepped forward. ‘I warned you, bitch!’ he said. He said it loud, so she could hear. He saw her stare at him out of the shadows of the cockpit, like she was full of questions.
He had the answer in his shaking hand.
He saw the expression of fear on her face as he came closer.
But this was not right, he knew. He should turn away, forget it, run. Run home? Run home a failure?
He pulled the trigger and there was a much louder explosion than he had imagined. The gun jerked as if trying to break free of his hand, and he heard a thud, as if the bullet had hit something in the distance. She was staring at him wide-eyed in terror. Not a scratch on her. He had missed.
He aimed again, pointing the gun closer at her. She raised her hands in front of her face as he fired again. This time a piece of something flew off the back of her head and some of her hair stood up, in a row of spikes. He fired again, straight into her forehead and a small, dark hole appeared in the centre. She slumped back, quivering like a landed fish that had been hit several times with a hammer, her eyes still staring at him. Dark liquid leaked from the hole and ran down and along the bridge of her nose. ‘You should have listened,’ he said. ‘You should have obeyed me.’
Then he turned and ran away, back to his car, in a daze.
Gaia was coming to Brighton! The icon coming back to the city where she was born. Brighton’s most famous living star was returning home to play Brighton’s most famous historical female. It was a match made in heaven. A dream for Gaia.
And an even bigger dream for Anna Galicia. Her biggest fan.
Her number one fan!
Only Anna knew the real reason why Gaia was coming here. It was to be with her! The signals had all been very clear.
‘She’s arriving next week, Diva, what do you think of that?’
The cat stared at her without any expression she could read.
The star of stars was arriving next week. Anna would be there at the hotel to greet her in person. Finally, after years of adoring her, and of communicating with each other from afar, she would have the chance to meet her. Perhaps touch her hand. Even, if things went really well, she might be invited into her suite, to drink cocktails with her – and then?
Of course you could never tell whether Gaia was into men or women at any given time. She flaunted each new relationship openly. Going through lover after lover, in search of – the one! She had been married twice, to men, but that was a long time ago. Anna followed her life online, on television, in newspapers and magazines. And she and Gaia had been flirting secretly with each other for years in code. Their own secret code that Gaia used as her emblem on all her merchandise. A tiny, furtive fox.
Gaia had been sending more and more signals to her in recent weeks. Anna had the evidence stacked in neat piles of newspapers and magazines neatly laid out, each individually protected in a cellophane folder, on the table in front of her.
She had rehearsed that moment when they would finally meet a million times over, in her mind. Struggled with her doubts. Maybe start with asking for her autograph to break the ice? This wouldn’t be too much to ask for her number one fan, would it?
Of course not.
Gaia was famed for adoring her fans. And none was as devoted as herself. She had spent her entire inheritance of her late mother’s house, and on top of that, almost every penny she had ever earned collecting her memorabilia.
Anna had always bought the best seats at Gaia’s concerts when she had performed in England. She had made sure she was first in line, either in person, or on the internet. She had secured a front row ticket for every single night Gaia had performed in her smash hit West End musical, Sainted! – the life of Mother Teresa.
And of course she always sent Gaia an apologetic email if she was going to be unable to attend because she had not been able to secure tickets. Wishing her well. Hoping the evening would be fine without her. And of course, the sign.
Anna sat, dreamily, in the upstairs room of her little house in Peacehaven, close to Brighton. In her shrine. The Gaia Museum! If she breathed deeply – really deeply – ignoring the smells of dried-out cardboard and paper and plastic and polish, she believed she could still detect Gaia’s perspiration and perfume from the costumes her idol had worn at concerts, which she had bought at charity auctions.
Every inch of wall space was covered in images and souvenirs of Gaia. Autographed posters, glass cabinets, shelving stacked with her CDs, a silver balloon which she kept continually inflated, printed with the words GAIA INNER SECRETS TOUR which she had bought two months ago when the singer had last been in the UK. Framed tickets of every Gaia concert around the world she had ever attended, concert tour schedules, bottles of her health-giving mineral water, and a treasured collection of her personalized monogrammed coat hangers.
Several headless mannequins stood around the room, each wearing a Gaia dress she had bought at online auctions, and encased in transparent covers to protect them – and above all, to preserve the scent and bodily smells of the icon, who had once worn them on stage. More items of Gaia’s clothing lay, in labelled boxes, wrapped in acid-free tissue paper.
There was also a treasured fly-fishing rod that Gaia had been photographed using for one of her GREAT OUTDOORS GAL posters, that Anna had lovingly framed, with the rod beside it. The rod reminded Anna of her father, who used to take her fishing when she was very young. Before he’d abandoned her and her mother.
She sat, sipping from a Martini glass the Gaia special cocktail she had lovingly mixed from the recipe Gaia had published – a mojito, with loganberries added for health-giving properties and guarana for energy – while listening to her idol’s greatest hit playing at full blast, ‘Here To Save The Planet Together!’
She raised the glass in a toast to one of her favourite images of all, the close-up of the icon’s lips, nose and eyes, titled GAIA UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL.
Diva, her small Burmese cat, walked away from her, back arched as if in anger. Sometimes Anna wondered if she was jealous of Gaia. Then she turned back to the cuttings on the table and stared at one, the Spotted section of Heat magazine. It was a photo of Gaia, in black jeans and top, shopping in Beverly Hills, in Rodeo Drive. Beneath was the caption:
Gaia shopping for new movie role?
She smiled excitedly. Black! Gaia had put that colour on just for her!
I love you, Gaia, she thought. I love you so much. I know you already know that! And of course, soon I will tell you in person, face to face here in Brighton. Next week. Just five days’ time.
Please be wearing black then, too.
The partially complete skeleton lay on the steel table, bathed in the glare of the overhead lights of the post-mortem room. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace stared down at the skull, its creepy rictus grin like a final Parthian shot of mockery. Goodbye cruel world, you can’t hurt me any more! I’m gone! I’m out of here!
Grace was eight weeks shy of his fortieth birthday, and in his twenty-first year with Sussex Police. Just under five feet eleven inches tall, he kept his figure in shape by relentless exercise. His fair hair was cut short and gelled, thanks to his styling guru, Glenn Branson, and his nose, squashed and kinked after being broken in a scrap when he’d been a beat copper, gave him the air, on first acquaintance, of a retired prize fighter. His wife, Sandy, now missing for almost a decade, once told him he had eyes like Paul Newman. He’d liked that a lot, but had never quite believed it. He just considered himself a regular guy, unexceptional, doing a job he loved. Although, despite his years working on homicides, human skulls always spooked him.
Most police officers claimed they got used to dead bodies, in any form, and that nothing bothered them, except for children. But every body he encountered still bothered Grace, even after all his years in this job. Because every corpse was once a person loved by their family, their friends, their lover, however fleetingly for some tragic people that might have been.
At the start of his career he had promised himself that he would never turn cynical. Yet for some of his colleagues, becoming a cynic, alongside gallows humour, was their emotional carapace. Their way of staying sane in this job.
All the dead man’s component parts that they’d recovered so far had been neatly and precisely laid out by the forensic archaeologist, Joan Major. It was like a flat-packed piece of furniture that had arrived from a DIY store with some key bits missing, he thought, suddenly and irreverently.
Operation Violin, on which he was the Senior Investigating Officer, was winding down. It was the investigation into two revenge murders and an abduction. Their prime suspect, who had been identified by New York detectives as a known Mafia contract killer, had disappeared. It was possible he had drowned attempting to avoid arrest, but equally likely, in Grace’s view, he had left the country and could now be anywhere in the world, under one of the host of aliases he was known to use – or, more probably, a new one.
Nearly four weeks on from the suspect’s disappearance, Operation Violin had moved into slow time. Back on the roster as Duty SIO for this week, Roy Grace had stood down most of his team, retaining just a small workforce to liaise with the US. But there was one more element to the operation that remained – and lay in front of him now. And time didn’t get much slower than for fully decomposed, and picked clean, skeletal remains. It had taken the best part of a week for the Specialist Search Unit’s team to cover every inch of the massive tunnel and surrounding inspection shafts, and to recover the remains, some of which had been scattered over a wide area by rodents.
The Home Office pathologist, Dr Frazer Theobald, had done much of his painstaking post-mortem in situ, before the remains were brought here last night, without being able to come to any conclusions as to the cause of death. He had departed a few minutes ago. Without any flesh or body fluids, with the absence of any signs of damage to either the skull or the bones, such as from a heavy instrument or a knife or a bullet, the chances of finding the cause of death were slim.
Several members of the investigating team remained in the room, gowned up like himself in green pyjamas. Cleo Morey, Grace’s fiancée, thirty-two weeks pregnant, was the Senior Anatomical Pathology Technician, as the Chief Mortician was officially termed. Her green PVC apron lay draped over the bulge of their baby, as she slid a body wrapped in white plastic sheeting out of a door in the floor-to-ceiling bank of refrigerators, eased it on to a trolley and wheeled it through into another section of the room, to prepare it for a post-mortem.
Philip Keay, the Coroner’s Officer, a tall, lean man, with swarthy good looks beneath short dark hair and bushy eyebrows, remained dutifully present, although engrossed at this moment with his BlackBerry.
This stage of the investigation, which was focused on trying to establish the identity of the dead man, was being led by Joan Major, a pleasant-looking woman, with long brown hair and fashionably modern glasses, who had a quietly efficient manner. Grace had worked with her several times in the past, and he was always impressed by her skills. Even to his experienced eye, all skeletons looked much the same. But to Joan Major, each was as individual as a fingerprint.
She dictated into her machine, quietly but clearly enough so that anyone who wanted to listen, could. She began with the skull.
‘Prominent brow ridges. Sloping forehead. Rounded superior orbit. Large mastoid process. Extended posterior zygomatic arch. Prominent nuchal crest.’
Then she moved on to the pelvis. ‘Narrow sciatic notch. Oval obturator foramen. Pubic bone shorter. Narrow subpubic angle. Subpubic concavity absent. Sacrum curved.’
Roy Grace listened intently, although much of what she said was too technical for him to grasp. He was tired and stifled a yawn, glancing at his watch. It was 11.45 a.m., and he could do with another coffee. He’d been up late last night, playing in his weekly boys’ poker game – where he’d ended forty pounds up. It had been an exhausting few weeks, and he was looking forward to having a curry with Cleo tonight, and kicking back, watching some Friday night junk television, ending, as they usually did, falling asleep watching their favourite talk show host, Graham Norton. And, glorious thought, they had no plans for the weekend. He was particularly looking forward to some time alone with Cleo, enjoying those precious last few weeks before, as he had been warned by his colleague Nick Nicholl who had recently become a father, their lives changed for ever. Originally, they had hoped to have their wedding before the baby was born, but the process for having Sandy declared legally dead, and work, had got in the way of that. Now they had to make new plans.
He also needed the breathing space, after the past hectic weeks, to focus on the vast bundle of trial documents of a snuff movie murder case involving a particularly nasty specimen of humanity he’d arrested, Carl Venner, whose trial was listed to come up at the Old Bailey in the next couple of weeks.
He turned his focus back to the forensic archaeologist. But within a few minutes, although he tried not to be, inevitably he was distracted by Cleo. A few weeks ago she’d been in hospital with internal bleeding. She had been warned not to do any heavy lifting, and it worried him to see her now, removing the body and rolling it on the trolley. Working in a mortuary, it was inevitable you would have to lift things. He was scared for her, because he loved her so much. Scared, because as the consultant had warned, with a second bleed her life could be in jeopardy as much as their baby’s.
He watched her stop the trolley alongside the naked cadaver of an elderly woman she had just finished preparing. The skull cap had been removed, and her brain lay on a Formica tray above her chest. On the white wall chart above there were blank spaces for the dimensions and weight of the dead woman’s internal organs. At the top, the name Claire Elford was handwritten in black marker pen.
It was a grim place to work and the job was tough. He could never fully understand its appeal to Cleo. She was a statuesque beauty, her long blonde hair clipped up, hygienically; she would have looked more at home in a smart London advertising agency or art gallery or magazine publisher – but she truly loved her job. He still could not believe his luck, that after almost ten years of hell, following Sandy’s disappearance, he had found love again. And with someone so gorgeous and such fun to be with.
He used to consider that Sandy was his soulmate, despite their constant arguments. But since beginning his relationship with Cleo, the word soulmate had taken on a whole new meaning. He would die for Cleo, he truly would.
Then turning his focus back to the forensic archaeologist, he asked, ‘Joan, can you give us any indication of his age?’
‘I can’t be too precise yet, Roy,’ she said, moving back to the skull and pointing. ‘The presence of a third molar suggests adult. The medial clavicle fused suggests he is older than thirty.’ Then she pointed at the pelvis. ‘The auricual surface is phase six, which would put him between forty-five and forty-nine. The pubic symphysis is phase five – less precise, I’m afraid – which could put him anywhere from twenty-seven to sixty-six. The wear in his teeth indicates towards the upper end of this age spectrum.’
She pointed at parts of the spine. ‘There are some osteophytic growths which again are suggestive of an older individual. In terms of race, the skull measurements suggest Caucasian, European – or European region – origin, but it’s difficult to be more precise. As a general observation, pronounced muscle attachments, particularly noticeable in the humerus, suggest a strong, active individual.’
Grace nodded. The skeletal remains, along with a pair of partially gnawed sea boots, UK size nine, had been discovered by chance in a disused tunnel deep beneath the city’s principal harbour, Shoreham. He already had a pretty good idea who this man was, and all that Joan Major had said was helping confirm this.
Six years earlier, an Estonian Merchant Navy sea captain called Andrus Kangur had disappeared after berthing his container ship loaded with timber. Kangur had been under observation by Europol for some years on suspicion of drugs trafficking. The man wasn’t necessarily a great loss to the world, but that wasn’t for Roy Grace to judge. He did know there was a probable motive. According to information from the Divisional Intelligence Unit, which, following a tip-off, had had the ship under surveillance from the time it entered the port, Kangur had tried to double-cross whoever was behind this cargo, and had not been too smart in his choice of whom he had screwed: a high-profile New York crime family.
From the evidence so far gathered, and from what Grace knew about the likely assailant, the unfortunate captain had been chained up in what amounted to an underground dungeon, and left to starve to death or be eaten by rats. When they had found him, all of his flesh and almost all of the sinews and his hair had gone. Most of his bones had fallen in on each other, or on to the floor, except for one set of arm bones and an intact skeletal hand, which hung from a metal pipe above him, held in place by a padlocked chain.
Suddenly, Roy’s phone rang.
It was a cheery and very efficient Detective Sergeant from Eastbourne CID, Simon Bates. ‘Roy, you’re the Duty SIO?’
Immediately Grace’s heart sank. Calls like this were never good news.
There were four Senior Investigating Officers in the Sussex CID Major Crime Branch, taking it in turns to be the Duty SIO, one week on, three weeks off. His shift was due to end at 6 a.m. on Monday. Shit.
‘Yes I am, Simon,’ he said, about as enthusiastically as a dental patient agreeing to root canal work. He suddenly heard a strange clicking sound, which lasted for a few seconds; interference from somewhere.
‘We have a suspicious death at a farm in East Sussex.’
‘What information can you give me?’
The clicking stopped. He listened to Bates, his heart sinking, his weekend down the khazi hours before it even begun. He exchanged a glance with Cleo, and could see, instantly, that she understood what was going on. She gave him a wan smile.
‘I’m on my way,’ he said.
He hung up and immediately dialled the Chief Constable’s Staff Officer, Trevor Bowles, informing him that it sounded like there was another murder in the county, and that he would report back with more details later. It was important to keep the CC informed of a potential major incident, as well as the Deputy Chief Constable and the Assistant Chief Constables, to avoid the risk of their being in the embarrassing position of hearing the news third hand from the media.
Next he dialled his colleague and friend, Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson.
‘Yo, old timer, what’s popping?’ Branson answered.
Grace grinned at his use of rap language, a recent affectation that he had picked up from a movie. ‘I’ll tell you what’s about to be popping – your ears. We’re going up a hill.’
I made a mistake, bitch. You were lucky. But that changes nothing. Next time I’ll be the lucky one. I will get you anywhere in the world that you go.
In the stop-go rush hour traffic heading down into the Valley, Larry Brooker sat in his black Porsche cabriolet. It was a 911 Carrera 4-S, he told anyone who would listen. He needed to make sure people knew he’d bought the 4-S, and not the less expensive 2-S, and that it had the $25k ceramic brake upgrade. Details. He was a detail guy. It wasn’t just the Devil that was in the detail. The gods of success were, too. People needed to know you were one of life’s winners; players in this business had no time for losers.
He was on his cellphone, his veneered teeth flashing brightly in the strong morning sunlight. His eyes, raw from a sleepless night, were shielded by his Ray-Bans, and his shaved dome gleamed with a healthy California tan. He was fifty, short and lean and spoke in a rapid, staccato manner; he was like a video on permanent fast-forward.
To the occupants of other vehicles crawling alongside him, he looked every inch an archetypal successful LA entertainment industry mover and shaker. But inside the plush leather cocoon of the Porsche’s cockpit it was very different. He was squirming in his ripped jeans. The sun might be shining on Ventura Boulevard, and on his exposed dome, but it sure as hell was shady in his heart right now, and sweat was trickling down his neck, sticking his black John Varvatos shirt to the seat-back. Not yet 9 a.m. and he was already perspiring. It was going to be a clammy day – in more ways than one.
Folks called this city Tinseltown because so much here was a glittery illusion where, like the facelifts of fading stars, nothing was permanent. And sure as hell there wasn’t anything permanent in Larry Brooker’s life right now.
He remained in deep conversation on the phone all the way along Universal Boulevard, and continued talking as he reached the security gate at the studios. Even though the guard had seen him a thousand times before, the surly old stalwart still stared at him like he was some dog turd that had floated downstream on the morning tide – which was about how he felt today. The guard went through the ritual of asking his name then checking down his list, before giving him a more respectful nod, and opening the barrier.
Larry pulled up into one of the allotted spaces marked Reserved for Brooker Brody Productions.
As any producer who had free offices on a studio lot knew, you were as good as your last few productions, and unless you had the stature of Spielberg, you had zero assurance of permanent tenure.
He hung up and mouthed the words, Oh fuck! The call had been from a Californian internet billionaire, Aaron Zvotnik – who had funded his last three productions – giving him the reasons why he was not going to continue beyond the current one. That was some start to a day, to have lost a revolving fund of $100 million.
But he could hardly blame Zvotnik. They’d delivered three movies in a row that had tanked. Blood Kiss at a time when vampire movies had peaked. Genesis Factor when the world had become bored with Da Vinci Code follow-ups. And more recently their massively over-budget sci-fi flop, Omega-3-2-1.
Three previous expensive divorces had taken their toll on his finances. The bank owned most of his house. His vehicle finance company was closing in on his Porsche. His fourth wife’s divorce lawyer was closing in on the kids.
Twenty years back, after his first mega hit, Beach Baby, every door in this city swung open before he’d even reached it. Now, in Hollywood parlance, he’d struggle to get arrested. This was an unforgiving place. There was the old adage, be nice to people when you’re on your way up… because you never know who you’re going to need on the way down.
But there was no need to bother with that here. When you were on your way down in Tinseltown it didn’t matter how nice you once were. You became Dick Shit. You became an unreturned phone call. A scrawled name on a Post-it note that got flicked into the trash can. You became air.
Movie producers like himself were gamblers. And every gambler believed their luck was going to change on the next throw of the dice or spin of the wheel. Larry Brooker didn’t just believe it right now – he knew. The King’s Speech had been a global phenomenon. The King’s Lover would be, too. The very title sent shivers of excitement down him. Let alone the script, which was awesome!
The damned thing had to work.
King George IV. Gorgeous Brighton, England, locations. Sex, intrigue, scandal. This was a no-brainer. They’d negotiated with Bill Nicholson, who wrote Gladiators, to do a polish on the screenplay. Nicholson’s dialogue was smart. Everything about this project was smart. George IV lived life high on the hog, was a friend of dandy socialite Beau Brummell. He was a king who was vain but also very human. He enjoyed going to prize fights and cock fights, and was comfortable mingling with low-lifes – he was a true man of the people – at least in the script, he was.
Suckered into an arranged marriage, George IV’s first words to his best friend, when he saw his betrothed, were, ‘For God’s sake, man, give me a glass of brandy!’
They were already in pre-production, but the entire project was in danger of falling over for the same reason so many productions never got the crucial green light. Cast.
Brooker entered the suite of offices on the first floor of the tired-looking low-rise block. His secretary, Courtney, was bent over the coffee machine like an Anglepoise lamp, with her skirt riding high up her slender legs, revealing her panties. It gave him an instant prick of lust despite his woes. He’d hired her because he fancied her like hell, but so far had got nowhere with her, thanks to the fact she had a hunk of a boyfriend who, like almost everyone in this town, was an actor in search of a break.
He greeted her with a cheery, ‘Hi, babe, could murder a coffee,’ and walked through into his office, which was a large square box with a fusty smell, decorated with a full-size BP petrol pump, a pinball machine, several wilting pot plants, and framed posters of his movies. The window looked out on the parking lot.
He slung his black Armani jacket on a chair and stood at his desk for some minutes, checking his emails and the stack of messages on Post-it notes simultaneously. He was in the Last-Chance Saloon, but what a big chance they had right now! They had their female star but lacked the male lead to complement her. That was all that mattered right now, finding that man, and it was a big problem. They’d had A-lister Matt Duke all lined up and ready to sign, but two nights ago, high on coke, he’d trashed his car on Mulholland Drive and would be spending months in hospital with multiple fractures and internal injuries. Goddamn dickhead!
Now they were in a panic to replace him. Their female lead, Gaia, had a reputation for being difficult and demanding, and a lot of people did not want to work with her. If they didn’t start shooting in three weeks they would lose Gaia’s window and have to wait another ten months for her. That was not an option; they didn’t have the cash to survive ten months.
He sat down just as his partner, Maxim Brody, slouched into the room, reeking as ever of cigar smoke. He looked hung over and was clutching a Starbucks coffee in a container the size of a fire bucket. While Larry Brooker could pass for a decade younger than his fifty years, Brody, who was sixty-two, looked all of ten years older than that. A former lawyer, with thinning hair, watery eyes and a jowly face like a big, droopy bloodhound, he had the air of a man who perpetually carried the troubles of the world on his shoulders.
Dressed in a pink polo shirt, baggy jeans and worn trainers, Maxim peered around suspiciously, in his usual manner, as if he didn’t trust anything or anyone, sat down on the sofa in the middle of the room, and yawned.
‘Tally tiring you out?’ Brooker said, unable to resist the barb.
Brody was on his fifth wife, a twenty-two-year-old with gargantuan breasts and a brain smaller than her nipples, a wannabe actress he’d met waiting tables in a café on Sunset.
‘Do you think she could play George’s real wife?’
‘George’s real wife was a dog.’
‘Get real, Max.’
‘Just a thought.’
‘Right now we need our male lead. We need goddamn King George.’
‘Yuh. Are you with us? On planet earth?’
Brody nodded. ‘I’ve been giving it thought.’
Brody fell into one of his habitual silences. They infuriated Brooker because he could never tell whether his partner was thinking, or had momentarily, in his drug-addled brain, lost the plot. Without their male lead the whole shooting match was in danger of crashing and burning around their ears. At the period of their movie, George IV was in his late twenties, with Maria Fitzherbert six years older. So Gaia was perfect, if a little thin. To get a major male star in the right age range who either was English or who could pass as English, was proving even harder than they had anticipated, and they were running out of options. In desperation, they’d cast their net wide. They weren’t making a biopic, for God’s sake, this was a movie, fiction, George IV could be any damned age or nationality they chose. Besides, weren’t all those Brit royals foreign?
Tom Cruise wasn’t available. Colin Firth had passed, so had Johnny Depp, Bruce Willis and George Clooney. They’d even tried a different tack and put an offer out to Anthony Hopkins, which had come back with a curt no from his agent. That completed the most bankable names on their sales agent’s list. Now, focusing on Brits, they were looking at a wider roster of stars. Ewan McGregor did not want to work outside LA while his kids were growing up. Clive Owen was unavailable. So was Guy Pearce.
‘Gaia Lafayette is screwing some hunk. What about him?’ Brody said, suddenly.
‘Can he act?’
Brody shrugged. ‘How about Judd Halpern?’
‘He’s a drunk.’
‘So? Listen, we got all the presales we need on Gaia’s name – does it matter who plays fucking George?’
‘Actually, Maxim, it does. We need someone who can act.’
‘Halpern’s a great actor – we just have to keep him off the juice.’
Larry’s phone rang. He picked up the receiver. ‘I have Drayton Wheeler on the line for you,’ Courtney said. ‘It’s the fifth time he’s called.’
‘I’m in a meeting. Who is he?’
‘Says it’s very urgent, to do with The King’s Lover.’
He covered the mouthpiece and turned to his partner. ‘You know a Drayton Wheeler?’
Brody shook his head, preoccupied with removing the lid of his coffee bucket.
‘Put him through.’
Moments later a voice at the other end of the phone, the tone aggressive and nasty, said, ‘Mr Brooker, do you have a problem reading emails?’
‘Who am I talking to?’
‘The writer who sent you the idea for The King’s Lover.’
Larry Brooker frowned. ‘You did?’
‘Three years ago. I sent you a treatment. Told you it was one of the greatest untold love stories of the world. According to Variety and the Hollywood Reporter you’re going into production. With a script based on my treatment that you stole from me.’
‘I don’t think so, Mr Wheeler.’
‘This is my story.’
‘Look, have your agent call me.’
‘I don’t have a fucking agent. That’s why I’m calling you.’
This was all Larry needed today. Some jerk trying to cash in on the production. ‘In that case, have your lawyer call me.’
‘I’m calling you. I don’t need to pay a lawyer. Just listen to me good. You’ve stolen my story. I want paying.’
‘Sue me,’ Brooker said, and hung up.
Eric Whiteley was remembering every second, as clearly as if it were yesterday. It all came back every time he saw a news story about bullying, and his face felt flushed and hot now. Those ten boys sitting on the wall chanting, ‘Ubu! Ubu! Ubu!’ at him as he walked by. The same ten boys who had been on that low brick wall every evening since the start of his second term at the school he hated so much, some thirty-seven years ago. Most of them had been fourteen – a year older than him – but a couple, the smuggest of them all, were his age and in his class.
He remembered the paper pellet striking him on the back of his head, which he had ignored, and just carried on walking towards his boarding house, clutching his set of maths and chemistry books which he’d needed for his afternoon classes. Then a pebble hitting him really hard, stinging his ear, and one of them, Spedding Junior it had sounded like, shouting out, ‘Great shot!’ It was followed by laughter.
He had walked on, the pain agonizing, but determined to get out of their sight before he rubbed his ear. It felt like it was cut open.
‘Ubu’s stoned!’ one of them shouted and there had been more laughter.
‘Hey Ubu, you shouldn’t walk around stoned, you could get into all kinds of trouble!’ another of them had shouted and there were even more guffaws and jeers.
He could still remember biting his lip against the pain, fighting off tears as he carried on along the tree-lined avenue, warm blood trickling down the side of his neck. The main school grounds, with the classrooms and playing fields, were behind him. Along this road were ugly boarding houses, big Victorian mansion blocks, accommodating sixty to ninety pupils, some in dormitories, some in single or shared rooms. His own house, called Hartwellian, was just ahead.
He could remember turning into it, walking past the grand front entrance, which was the housemaster’s, and around the side. Fortunately there had been no boys hanging around to see him crying. Not that he really cared. He knew he was no good, useless, and that people didn’t like him.
Ugly. Boring. Useless.
The other kids had spent all of the previous term – his first in this school – telling him that. John Monroe, who had the desk right behind him in Geography, had kept prodding him with a ruler. ‘You know your problem, Whiteley?’ he said, each word emphasized with a prod.
Whenever he’d turned around he got the same answer. ‘You’re so fucking ugly and you’ve no personality. No girl’s ever going to fancy you. None, ever, you realize?’ He remembered how Monroe’s horsey face would then break out into a snide grin.
After a while, he had stopped turning round. But Monroe used to keep on prodding, until Mr Leask, the teacher, spotted him and told him to stop. Five minutes later, when the teacher began drawing a diagram of soil substrates on the blackboard, Monroe’s prodding started again.
Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson was struggling to insert his thirty-three-year-old, six-foot-two, nightclub bouncer’s frame into a white protective paper suit. ‘What is it with you and weekends, boss?’ he said. ‘How come you always manage to screw them up for both of us?’
Roy Grace, perched alongside him on the rear tailgate of the unmarked silver Ford Focus estate car, was struggling equally hard to get his protective suit up over his clothes. He turned to his protégé who was dressed in a shiny brown jacket, even shinier white shirt, a dazzling tie and tassled brown loafers. ‘Lucky you never chose farming as a career option, Glenn,’ he said. ‘Wouldn’t have been your style.’
‘Yeah, well, my ancestors were cotton pickers,’ Branson retorted with a broad grin.
Glenn was right about the weekend, Roy thought ruefully. It seemed that every damned murder he had to deal with came in just when he had his weekend all sorted out.
‘What did you have planned, matey?’
‘The kids. One of the few weekends Ari is letting me have them. I was going to take them to Legoland. Now she’ll have something else to use against me.’
Glenn was going through a bitter divorce. His wife, Ari, who had once encouraged him so hard to join the police, was now using the unpredictability of his hours as part of her argument for not agreeing contact arrangements for the children to see him. Grace felt a sharp twinge of guilt. Perhaps he shouldn’t have requested Glenn join him. But he knew his marriage was doomed, whatever happened. The best favour he could do his friend was to ensure his career came out of it intact. ‘You think taking the weekend off would help save your marriage?’
Grace grinned. ‘So?’
‘You ever see that movie, Chicken Run?’
He shook his head.
‘You’ve lived a sheltered life.’
‘Lot of sex in it, was there?’ Grace retorted.
They put on face masks, raised their hoods and snapped on protective gloves. Then the pair of them signed in on the scene guard’s pad, and ducked under the blue and white police crime scene tape. It was a fine, blustery day. They were high up on the ridge of a hill, with open farmland stretching for miles in all directions, and the glinting blue water of the English Channel visible on the horizon to the south, beyond the Downs.
They walked towards a long, single-storey shed with clapboard walls and a row of roof vents that stretched away into the distance, two tall steel silos standing beside it. Grace pushed the door open. They went inside to the glare of artificial lighting, to the sour stench of confined animals, and the din of thousands of protesting hens.
‘Had eggs for breakfast, old timer?’ Branson asked.
‘Actually, I had porridge.’
‘Guess at your age, cholesterol matters. Low fat milk?’
‘Cleo’s put me on soya.’
‘You’re under her thumb.’
‘She has pretty thumbs.’
‘That’s how every relationship starts. Pretty face, pretty thumbs, pretty damned everything. You love every inch of her body and she loves every inch of yours. Ten years on, you’re struggling to remember one damned thing about each other that you once liked.’ Branson patted him on the shoulder. ‘But hey, enjoy the ride.’
Roy Grace stopped and Branson stopped beside him. ‘Matey, don’t become a cynic. You’re too good for that.’
‘I’m just a realist.’
Grace shook his head.
‘Your wife vanished on your thirtieth birthday – after you’d been together several years, right?’ said Branson.
‘Uh huh. Getting on for ten years.’
‘You still loved her?’
‘As much as the day I met her. More.’
‘Maybe you’re an exception.’
Grace looked at him. ‘I hope not.’
Branson stared at him, his face full of pain. ‘Yeah, I hope not too. But it hurts. I think of Ari and the kids constantly, and it hurts so much.’
Grace stared down the length of the shed, with its gridded steel floor, a section of which, towards the far end, had been lifted. He could see, suited up, the stocky Crime Scene Manager David Green; three SOCOs including the burly, intensely serious Crime Scene Photographer James Gartrell; DS Simon Bates; the Duty Inspector Roy Apps, and the Coroner’s Officer Philip Keay.
‘Let’s rock and roll.’ Grace stepped on to the grid.
‘Not sure I feel much like dancing,’ Glenn Branson said.
‘So, you and the dead body have something in common.’
The dead body was very definitely not dancing. Partly on account of the fact that it was embedded in several feet of chicken excrement, partly because its legs were missing, and partly because it had no hands or head, either. Which would have made co-ordination difficult. A cluster of blowflies buzzed around, and the stench of ammonia was almost overpowering.
Glenn, close to retching, turned away. Grace stared down. Whoever had done this had little forensic awareness, and even less finesse. The headless, limbless torso, with desiccated flesh missing in patches, covered in excrement and crawling with flies and maggots, was barely recognizable as human. The skin, which appeared acid-scorched in the patches where it was visible, was a dark, leathery brown, giving it the air of a shop-window dummy that had been salvaged from a bonfire. The rank stench of a decaying body, all too familiar to Grace, rose all around him, making the air feel heavy and cloying. It was a smell that always accompanied you home, in your hair, on your clothes, in every pore of your skin. You could scrub yourself raw, but you’d still smell it again the next morning.
The only person he never noticed it on was Cleo. But maybe Glenn was right, and in ten years’ time he would. He hoped not.
‘Coq au vin for dinner, Roy?’ the Crime Scene Manager greeted him, dressed in a white protective suit, with breathing apparatus, his mask temporarily raised.
‘Not if it does that to you, thanks!’
Both men stared down into the space, four foot below the grid, at the torso. The first thought in Roy Grace’s mind was whether this was some kind of gangland killing. ‘So, what do we have so far?’
In answer to his SIO, David Green picked up a sealed polythene evidence bag from the floor, with an air of pride, and held it up with a gloved hand.
Grace peered inside. It contained two jagged pieces of badly soiled fabric, with an ochre checked pattern just visible. What looked like parts of a man’s suit.
‘Where did you find these?’ Grace asked.
‘Close to the body. Looks like it might have been something he was wearing – for some reason the only parts that didn’t decompose or get taken by rats for a nest. Maybe we’ll find more when we start our fingertip search.’
‘One of the few bits that weren’t cut off, chief, if you get my drift.’
Grace nodded, uncomfortably getting his drift.
‘Must have been a made-to-measure suit,’ Glenn Branson said.
Grace and Green looked at him. ‘Can you tell that from the cut of the cloth?’ Grace asked.
‘No, chief.’ Branson nodded down at the remains and said, drily, ‘I’m imagining they would have had a bit of a problem finding something off-the-peg to fit him.’
Inside the house, just like all Gaia’s homes, the floors looked like Italian marble. Just like the stone that had been imported slab by slab from the Fantiscritti quarry in Carrara that, historically, had supplied the Medicis with the marble for their palaces, and in more recent years, one of the Los Angeles landmarks, Hernando Courtright’s Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
The walls were hung with Aztec artefacts and stage shots of Gaia. In pride of place, on the wall facing the sofa, was the signed monochrome photo of her with wild, just-out-of-bed hair, wearing a black negligee to promote her world tour. To the left, above one of the armchairs of the white leather three-piece suite, which was a clone of her one in LA, was another tour poster, also signed. In it she wore a green tank top and leather jeans. Gaia would have felt totally at home here! Okay, so maybe the rear aspect wasn’t as fine as in some of her residences. Gaia probably had a better view from her kitchen window than this one, an old woman’s smalls hanging on a washing line, and a disused breeze-block garage.
Above the fireplace, with fake electric coals burning, was a blowup of her idol’s lips, nose and eyes in green monochrome, captioned GAIA UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL. Again, personally signed.
One of her favourite items!
She had fought a fierce bidding war on eBay for it. Securing it with just five seconds to spare for £1,750. Money she could not afford. But she had to have it.
Like everything else in this small semi, with the irritating street light outside that shone an amber glow every damned night into her bedroom.
Anna had bought the house in daytime, six years ago. It had never occurred to her that street lights might be a problem. Gaia would not have to put up with street lights keeping her awake, that was for sure.
Anna had written to the council, written to the Argus, the West Sussex Gazette, the Sussex Express, the Mid Sussex Times, but no one had replied, no one had done a single damned thing about that street light. So she bought an air rifle, and shot the bulb out in the middle of the night. Two bloody workmen from the bloody council replaced it two bloody days later.
But none of that mattered right now. All forgotten for the moment, because Gaia was coming to Brighton! And Anna had now found out where she was going to be staying. In the Presidential Suite of The Grand Hotel. Where else? They should have had an Empress Suite for her. She was the greatest, the queen of rock, the queen of the silver screen, the greatest star of all time. She was an empress! A truly Grand Empress! Returning to the city where she was born. Coming home to her roots. Coming to meet her number one fan!
And Anna really was her number one fan. Everyone conceded that. Gaia herself had! One of her assistants had replied to one of her emails saying, Dear No 1 fan! And of course, all of the other Gaia fans like herself, who shared snippets of information on chatlines, by email, by Facebook and sometimes Twitter, yet who became deadly enemies in bidding wars on eBay, all of them conceded that, as of this moment in time, Anna had them beat. She had the biggest collection, by far.
And the secret signals from Gaia confirming their special relationship.
Gaia had millions of adoring fans. But how many owned one of just six Call Me Your Baby vinyls in the world? How many fans had paid £1,000 for the signed single, ‘Shady Babe’? How many fans had paid £2,500 for a single roll of her acid-free toilet paper? How many had gone to £16,000 against every other damned Gaia fan for a signed jacket Gaia had worn and thrown into the audience during the last night of her world tour?
She had already been offered, and rejected, £25,000 for it.
The world was full of Gaia fans. But just twenty-three of them, like herself, were hardcore, bidding on all and everything that came up. How many were willing to pay everything they had for the smallest trophy? Like the limited edition Corgi Mini car labelled Gaia World Tour Courtesy Car, which she had secured for a mere £500! Or the Gaia health tonic miniature Martini, a bargain at £375. And how many others did Gaia communicate with via coded signals? None, that was how many!
She had spent over £275,000. That might be the equivalent of the earnings from one appearance by Gaia, but it was every penny she had in the world, and every penny she earned went towards this collection.
She was Gaia’s number one fan, no question.
That was why Gaia communicated with her. Their secret!
Anna could barely contain her excitement. She was not only ticking off the days, she was ticking off the hours, minutes, and sometimes, when she got really excited, the seconds!
‘I love you, Gaia,’ she said. ‘I love you to death.’
Roy Grace, followed by Glenn Branson, stepped out of the stench and din of the birds in the chicken shed, into the blustery sunshine, and breathed in the fresh air with relief.
‘Shit,’ Glenn said.
Glenn lowered his mask. ‘Foul play, I’d say.’
Grace groaned. ‘That’s truly terrible, even by your standards.’
‘I’d like you to be my deputy SIO on this. I’m going to get you sanctioned as a temporary Detective Inspector. Does that appeal?’
‘What’s the catch?’
Grace grinned. ‘I have my reasons.’
‘Yeah, well, they’d better be good.’
Grace patted him on the shoulder. ‘I know I can rely on you – you’ve done a good job on Operation Violin. ACC Rigg has noticed that.’
Glenn’s face lit up. ‘He has?’
‘Yes – and I bigged you up on it. I have a feeling this case now could be a runner. Handle this well and it could count a lot in your promotion boards.’
Branson had all the qualities for promotion to the rank of Inspector, and Grace was determined to help his friend up the ladder. With his ongoing marriage problems that had been dragging him down for months, promotion, he was certain, would be the fillip that could really lift Glenn out of his increasingly frequent bouts of depression.
Grace remembered, a few years back, when he’d got that crucial promotion to Detective Inspector, how everything had changed for him. Starting with the surly uniform stores manager, whose whole demeanour had altered the day he had gone in requesting an Inspector’s tunic with the two pips instead of stripes, and that coveted cap with its band of black braid. When you became an Inspector you truly felt you had become officer class, and everyone’s attitude in the police – and public, too – towards you changed.
‘I want you to handle the media on this one,’ Grace said.
‘Media – I don’t – don’t have much experience. You mean I’ll have to deal with that toerag Spinella?’
Kevin Spinella was the senior crime reporter on the local newspaper, the Argus, who always managed to find out about any crime long before anyone else. He had an informant inside the police somewhere, and it had long been one of Grace’s ambitions to find and nail that person, and he was working on it. ‘Spinella and everyone else. You can do your first press conference later today.’
‘Thanks,’ Glenn said doubtfully.
‘I’ll help you,’ Grace said. ‘I’ll hold your hand.’
Branson nodded, staring around. ‘So where do I start here?’
‘By clearing the ground beneath your feet. Okay? First thing, get a POLSA up here and a team from the Specialist Search Unit to do a fingertip search beneath the gridding and above. Second, we need to know all the access roads in the surrounding area, and we need to start a house-to-house in all the villages. You have to inform the Divisional Commander for East Sussex Division, and tell him you’ll need some help from uniform and local PCSOs, and maybe the Specials. Contact the local MP and the Police Authority member. Tell them it looks neat and tidy to you, at the moment, and that you feel there is minimal community impact.’
‘Anything else, boss?’
‘Think of a holding statement for the media. Start planning about your communications strategy for public reassurance. Get the names of everyone who has access to this place – who delivers the mail, the milk, the newspapers, the animal feed, the heating oil or Calor gas – everyone who could have been here in recent months – every visitor. I’d suggest setting a parameter of one year back. Find out if there is any CCTV.’
As with every major crime investigation that he ran, Grace needed to establish a range of parameters for all aspects, and to plan out the immediate steps in his Policy Book. One of the first problems he needed to address was the business of this farm. The owner, Keith Winter, would want the minimum disruption to his livelihood.
His immediate impression was that, unlike some farms he had visited, everything here looked clean and modern. The long, single-storey shed. The shiny silos. The handsome farmhouse that looked newly built. The gleaming Range Rover, its registration plate indicating it was less than a year old. The Subaru Impreza, two years old according to its index, signalling someone who liked fast cars. The good things in life.
Someone who would kill for such things?
There was a smart electric gate at the start of the mile-long driveway up here. Okay, people were security conscious these days, but how many farmers had security gates? Hiding something? Or a precaution against travellers?
Going through his mind right now were potential suspects, or those he needed to know more about. The first notes he made on his pad were to get intelligence on the owner of this place. Who was Keith Winter? What was his background? How long had he owned Stonery Farm? What was his financial situation? Did he have partners? When had that grid last been cleared? Who did he employ here? Each of his employees, current and past, would need to be identified and questioned. Would Winter really have put a murder victim in his chicken shed? Perhaps he thought it would be completely dissolved. Certainly it was a known fact that the Italian Mafia used pig farms as an effective means of disposing of bodies, and there had been a case in the UK a few years back. But pigs were omnivores.
He shared his thoughts with Glenn Branson.
‘Ever see that Pasolini film, Porcile?’ the DS replied.
‘No, never heard of it.’
‘It’s a classic. A bloke gets eaten by a pig in that.’
‘Think I’ll give it a miss,’ Grace said.
‘You already have missed it, it came out in 1969.’ Then Branson frowned. ‘I know someone who might be able to tell us a bit about the cloth, if we’re right about it being suit fabric.’
‘A tailor in Brighton, works at Gresham Blake.’
Gresham Blake was Brighton’s society tailor. ‘That where you get your clothes made these days?’ Grace looked at him quizzically.
‘I wish. I met him a few years ago when his flat was burgled. Gresham Blake’s where you should go though, on your Big Cheese salary.’
There was no certainty, Grace thought, that the clothing fabric was even connected to the victim, but it was an important line of enquiry. Most murder investigations began with a missing person and until that person was identified, it was hard to make real progress. One of the key things he needed to establish at this moment was the age of the body, and how long it had been here. He pulled out his phone and called forensic archaeologist Joan Major, asking her if she could come here as soon as she was finished at the mortuary. She told him her work on the skeletal remains was almost completed.
It was possible they could get DNA from the victim, which might help identification. Failing that, if the age, or at least the age range, of the victim could be established, they could make a start by looking at the county and region’s missing persons list.
He stared around again. There were some farm buildings beyond the shed, and another, smaller dwelling. One immediate decision he needed to make was whether to treat just the chicken shed as the crime scene, or the entire farm including the farmhouse. He did not feel he had enough to justify that draconian measure, which would have meant Winter and his family having to move out into temporary accommodation. His view was to treat the farmer as a person of interest to his enquiry for now, but not a suspect.
Despite his wariness of the danger in making assumptions, Roy Grace always made hypotheses at every crime scene. And the first one he made here was that money might be involved. A dead man in expensive clothes. A business partner? A blackmailer? Winter’s wife’s lover? Winter’s own lover? A creditor? A business rival? Or was it someone totally unconnected with Winter, who had merely used this place as a dump site?
‘Glenn,’ he said. ‘Early in my career I had a very wise Super in Major Crime. He said to me, there is no case colder than one in which the victim is unidentified. Remember that. Identifying the victim is always the first priority.’
Sending Branson back inside with his head spinning, Grace walked over to the car, sat in the driver’s seat and closed the door for some privacy. He started to jot down the names of the enquiry team he wanted to put together, hoping that some of his regulars, recently stood down from Operation Violin, would be available. After a quiet start to this year, everything had kicked off in May. Sussex had an average of eighteen murders a year. So far in these first five months, there had been sixteen already. A statistical blip, or a sign of the times?
He stared through the windscreen at the expensive Range Rover and the Impreza – a rich man’s toys – and the architect-designed farmhouse. Maybe there was money to be made in farming chickens?
But, as experience had long taught him, wherever there was money to be made, there was killing to be done, too.
‘We’re fucked!’ Maxim Brody’s gloomy voice said.
Larry Brooker, in his First Class seat, held the cellphone to his ear. ‘Why? What do you mean, Max?’
‘I just came off the phone with Gaia’s agent. She’s walking.’
‘Whaddya mean she’s walking?’
‘The insurance company won’t let her go to England,’ said Brody, sounding even more defeatist than ever.
‘So, okay, worst case scenario, we shoot everything here in LA!’
‘Sir,’ the stewardess insisted, ‘you have to turn that off.’
‘Yeah, right, Larry,’ Brody replied. ‘We’re gonna build a replica of the Brighton Royal Pavilion here on the Universal lot? On our budget? Rebuild the whole goddamn city of Brighton, England, here?’
‘I’m flying to New York right now to meet with our broker, Peter Marshall, at DeWitt Stern – he’s gonna-’
The grumpy stewardess reached out her hand, imperiously.
‘Sir, I’m sorry, I’m going to have to take your cellphone for the duration of the flight if you don’t switch it off.’
‘Do you know who I am?’ he shouted at her.
She frowned. ‘Having memory problems are you, sir?’ She glanced down at the list she was holding in her free hand. ‘Seat 2B? You’re Mr Larry Brooker! Does that help you, sir?’
He balled his fists in frustration. ‘Jesus!’
‘God delusions. I’m sure we can find a chaplain to assist you.’
Larry Brooker drained the remains of his glass of champagne before the bitch seized that, too.
Then he sat, in silent fury, as the plane jerked and bumped along its taxi path, his thoughts veering between ritually disembowelling the harridan, and the prospects of salvaging his rapidly collapsing film production. They had Gaia, one of the world’s most bankable stars. They now had their leading man, Judd Halpern, a senior B-lister to replace that coked-up shithead A-lister, Matt Duke, who’d trashed himself in a car wreck. They had their director, ageing Jack Jordan, a two-times Academy Award nominee, a prima donna who had a reputation for being impossible, but who was hungry for this project because he saw it as possibly his last chance to bag an Oscar.
They were not going to get shafted by a goddamn insurance company wimping out. No way.
No fucking way, baby.
He ordered a Bloody Mary as soon as the drinks started after take-off. Then another. Followed by another. Then some wine with his meal, until he finally reclined his seat and fell into a stupor.
At eight o’clock the next morning he staggered off the plane, clutching his overnight bag in one hand and a bottle of water, understanding, as he did each time he made this domestic journey, why they called it the Red Eye Special. His mouth was parched and his head felt like it had a heavyweight title fight going on inside it.
An hour later he climbed out of the limousine, clutching another complimentary bottle of mineral water, and entered the front door of 420 Lexington Avenue, the headquarters of the insurance company DeWitt Stern. He’d worked with one of its principals, Peter Marshall, on several previous productions. Marshall was a good guy, who had never let him down. His mission today was to persuade the insurance broker not to be put off by a little thing like an attempt on Gaia Lafayette’s life. They were going to be in England. The UK, for fuck’s sake. The safest goddamn place on earth. If someone was seriously out to kill Gaia, then where better for her to be? A country that had no guns.
Marshall would agree. He was smart, he would get it.
Larry popped a sugar-free mint gum into his mouth to mask the alcohol on his breath. Then he stepped out of the elevator and walked up towards the reception desk with a big, warm smile on his face.
His winning smile.
Roy Grace was smiling.
‘You look so happy, my love,’ Cleo said in greeting as he let himself in at the front door of her home. It was twenty to midnight. Her hair was pinned up and she was wearing a slinky, powder-blue nightdress beneath her bathrobe. Humphrey, their young rescue dog – a Labrador-Border Collie cross – barked enthusiastically, jumping up at his suit trousers, wanting attention too, his high-pitched yip-yap-yips echoing around the cobbles of the gated townhouse development.
‘You make me happy,’ he said and kissed her, then tugged Humphrey’s ears. The dog immediately rolled on his back. Grace knelt and rubbed his belly. ‘How was your evening?’
‘Apart from crawling around in chicken shit, it was fine!’ she replied. ‘Yours?’
‘You went there? Yourself?’
‘With Darren.’ She shrugged. ‘We’re short staffed. And hey, I like free-range cadavers.’
He shook his head. Then as he stood up, Cleo thrust an ice-cold vodka Martini, with four olives on a cocktail stick, into his hand. ‘Thought you might be in need of sustenance!’ She gently fended off Humphrey, who was jumping up again.
‘You’re amazing!’ Grace sipped the drink gratefully, put the glass down on a shelf and kissed her again, putting his arms around her white towelling bathrobe, holding her firmly but gently, feeling the bulge of their baby against his stomach, smelling her freshly shampooed hair, then took the glass and drank another slug of it. The dog lay on his back, paws in the air again. ‘Okay, jealous one!’ He knelt and rubbed his belly once more.
‘I know!’ she said. ‘I am amazing! Totally amazing. Never forget that, will you, Detective Superintendent Grace?’
He grinned, standing up again. ‘Why would I want to?’
He looked into her clear blue eyes, feeling so incredibly happy. Happier than he had any right to be. He loved her. He loved being here in her home, especially this living room, with the lights dimmed, candles burning all around.
A City Books carrier bag lay on the floor – their favourite bookshop in Brighton. On the table lay a copy of The World According To Joan, held open by a solid glass paperweight.
He’d long been a Joan Collins admirer, and he loved that Cleo had actually made the effort to get the book in order to try to understand why.
For all these past years now since Sandy had gone, he had never believed it would be possible to feel happy – or even at peace – ever again. Cleo had changed that, and he felt almost guilty to be so happy again. Guilty because in all these years he had never stopped looking for Sandy. Her disappearance had been so sudden, so completely unexpected, without the remotest hint of any foreshadowing. One moment they had been totally happy together, and the next she was gone. On the morning of his thirtieth birthday they’d made love, as they always had done on each other’s birthdays. He’d gone to work, and when he had arrived home, looking forward to a celebratory dinner with Sandy and another couple, their closest friends, she had vanished. There was no note. All her belongings were still in the house, except for her handbag.
Twenty-four hours later, her elderly black VW Golf was found in the short-stay car park at Gatwick Airport. There were two small transactions on her credit card on the morning of her disappearance, one from Boots, and one from Tesco. She had taken no clothes, and no other belongings of any kind. Her credit card was never used again.
In all the years since there had not been a single night, even when lying in Cleo’s arms, when he hadn’t fallen asleep wondering what had happened to her. Had she run off with a lover? That was possible, of course – how much did anyone really know about their partner? Had she decided, for whatever reason, to disappear and totally reinvent herself in a new life? People did that. But, when she had never given any hint that she was unhappy, why would she have? Another possibility was that she’d had an accident. But that didn’t fit with her car being at Gatwick.
More likely, he thought, she had been abducted, and whoever had taken her had left her car at the airport to throw pursuers off the scent. The grim reality was that in most abductions the person taken was killed within hours. Then again, there had been cases of abductees being held against their will for years.
For a long time now his friends and his sister had been urging him to move on, to accept that Sandy was gone and that he had to live his life in the present, not the past. He was trying so hard to do that, and Cleo made it easier than he could ever have imagined. He loved her, totally, utterly, madly. Yet there was still something that he could not quite let go of.
The nightmare that would wake him, screaming, every few months. Sandy down the bottom of a well shaft, like the abducted senator’s daughter in Silence Of The Lambs.
And the guilt that followed in those sleepless hours listening to the dawn chorus – that he had not done enough to find her – that there was one key, something blindingly obvious, staring him in the face, that he had overlooked.
His eyes fell on the copy of Autocar that was lying on the coffee table. He had bought it because it had a road test of the Alfa Giulietta. Ever since his own beloved, ageing Alfa had been written off following a chase last summer, he had hankered after another. They were cars that, in his view, had soul. At least, the only ones within his price range that did. There had been months of wrangling with the insurance company who had been trying to wriggle out of responsibility because, they argued, he should not have been using it on a police pursuit. But they had finally caved in.
He’d fallen in love with one of their models, a two-seater, but with the baby on the way, that was completely impractical. A couple of friends, including Glenn Branson, had advised him that a people carrier would be the sensible option, with all the paraphernalia he would have to carry around once the baby was born. He’d looked at a few but they did not appeal. Now he had seen on a Tates garage forecourt a two-year-old Giulietta, and was totally smitten. It was a hatchback, big enough to take a pushchair.
‘What’s troubling you, my love?’ Cleo asked as she sat beside him on the huge red sofa. On the television on the wall opposite, with the sound muted, chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was demonstrating how to fillet a mackerel.
‘Cars!’ he said.
‘Go with your heart.’
‘I need to be practical.’
She shrugged. ‘You know what? I have so many friends whose lives have been totally changed by their children. They don’t have time for each other any more. They hardly ever make love any more. Their lives are consumed by their kids. I don’t want that to happen to us. Surely we can be good parents, but still find the time for each other? Get the car you want, not the one that you think will be most practical. We can adapt. Bump will have to learn to fit in with us!’
He smiled again and drank some more of the Martini. On an empty, caffeine fuelled stomach it was hitting the spot, making him more relaxed by the second. It suddenly occurred to him how incredibly understanding Cleo was. If he’d arrived home to Sandy at midnight on a Friday, with the knowledge that he was going to have to work over the weekend, she would have been sound asleep, and extremely bolshie when he’d disturbed her, leaving for work at dawn the next morning. But there was total understanding from Cleo, who was herself liable to be called out in the middle of any night, weekday or weekend.
‘You know, the other thing that’s troubling me is…’ he paused as Humphrey jumped up on the sofa beside them and then rolled on his back in his favourite position, belly up, expecting his tummy to be rubbed yet again. Grace obliged.
‘What’s troubling me is – ’ he kissed Cleo’s soft cheek – ‘I love you so much,’ he said.
‘Oh, is that what’s troubling you?’
‘Uh huh, maybe.’ He kissed her again. Then again, feeling increasingly pleasantly woozy as he drank some more of the massive Martini. ‘I love you and I can’t get enough of you.’
‘You never read what it said on the tin,’ she said, smiling. ‘Use Cleo sparingly with caution.’
‘I’m a bloke, I don’t read instructions.’
He stared into her eyes for some moments, then at the rest of her face. It was true, what he had read, that women could blossom in pregnancy. She looked even lovelier than ever.
‘Yep, well, I’m a female, so I read instructions and warning labels. But luckily for you I missed the one that said, Engaging with Detective Superintendent Roy Grace could make you dangerously horny.’
‘I think I must have missed a similar one about you.’
‘So?’ she leaned across, kissed him on the lips, then lowered her hands between his legs, and pressed, provocatively. ‘What are you going to do about it?’
‘I thought – you know – that we weren’t meant to-?’
‘We’re not, Detective Superintendent,’ she said. Then she grinned. ‘Well, not really. Are you hungry?’
‘No, just horny.’
She kissed him again. Then after a moment, she said, ‘Tell me something.’
‘What?’ he murmured.
‘When you made love to Sandy, what did you think of? I mean – who did you think of?’
‘Was it always her – her naked body that aroused you? Or did you think of other women?’
‘It was a long time ago,’ he said.
She kissed each of his eyes. ‘Don’t be evasive, I’m interested.’
He shrugged. ‘I guess in the early days it was her. But later on, probably other women, too.’
‘I don’t recall.’
‘Movie stars? Models?’
‘And when we make love? It can’t be attractive to make love to a plump woman with blue veins all over her breasts. Who do you fantasize about now?’
‘You,’ he said. ‘You are a complete and utter turn-on for me.’
‘You’re lying, Grace.’
‘Yeah? Prove it?’
He gently lowered her right hand down his body. Her eyes widened in surprise and she smiled seductively.
‘I rest my case,’ he said.
She kissed him again. ‘Not sure I want you having any rest, not for a little while, my love!’
He was angry.
Not many people knew more about anger than he did. That world-class superbitch, formerly known as his wife, and once upon a time – incredibly – his blushing bride, had made him go on an anger management course.
There were all kinds of anger. Like the frustration you got at a damned parking machine that took your coin and didn’t give you a ticket back. Like the silent fury you felt when you saw a lout toss litter from a car window. Like the neighbour below you throwing a party that went on playing loud music into the night.
But nothing he had learned on that course taught him how to deal with the rage that burned inside him now. The anger of being screwed, right royally, totally and utterly. Of having the one big break in your life taken away from you.
People couldn’t do that and get away with it.
But the thing was, they did, all the time.
When that happened some people shrugged their shoulders in defeat. Some went to lawyers, and all that happened then was they got more broke and the lawyers got more rich. He didn’t have that kind of money. Maybe it was the kind of case that a lawyer might take pro bono.
But he didn’t have the time.
He wasn’t going to sit back and accept it and let them get away with it. He wasn’t going to bend over and hold out a pot of Vaseline to them. He was going to do something about it. He didn’t know what yet. Nor how.
Don’t get angry, get even.
He had made a start. He’d bought a plane ticket.
He was going to make the bastards regret this.
They taught him an old Chinese proverb at the anger management course. Before you seek revenge, first dig two graves.
He’d dig as many graves as he needed. If one was for himself, that was fine by him. Shovels were easy to buy. And he was going to need it anyway, he didn’t have long to live.
At 8 a.m. Roy Grace sat in his office, with his Policy Book open in front of him. Every Senior Investigating Officer kept one, and if at any point they were required to account for their actions on a major crime investigation, by any subsequent review of their case, they could refer back to it.
An important part of the entries into Grace’s Policy Book was his hypothesis for the motives of any murder and how the victim came to meet his or her death.
His first note today was:
1. No arms, no legs/head. Organized crime? Killed by unknown person.
2. Drugs deal reprisal?
3. Person known to police – get rid of identity?
There was a whole raft of other motives, but in his view, none that led to this kind of mutilation of a corpse.
When he had finished, he just had time to make himself a coffee, then hurry through to the morning briefing.
‘The time is 8.30 a.m., Saturday, June the fourth,’ Roy Grace read out from his typed notes. ‘This is the second briefing of Operation Icon, the enquiry into the death of an unknown man whose headless, armless and legless torso was discovered at Stonery Farm, Berwick, East Sussex, yesterday.’
‘Legless, chief?’ interrupted Norman Potting. ‘Was he pissed?’
There was a titter of laughter, which Grace silenced with a glare. His good mood from last night remained with him this morning, and Potting wasn’t going to spoil that. He’d got up early, done a five-mile run along Brighton seafront in glorious early morning sunshine, with Humphrey loping happily alongside him, and had arrived in his office in the CID HQ, on the edge of the city, an hour ago.
From his early days as a Senior Investigating Officer, Roy Grace had learned the value of cultivating the friendship of the Senior Support Officer Tony Case, who allocated the Major Incident Suites – of which, since the budget cuts, there were now only two in this county and two in neighbouring Surrey – to the enquiry teams. Case knew that Grace favoured this one in Brighton, MIR-1, in the same building as his office, and had managed, yet again, to secure it for him.
The two Major Incident Rooms at Sussex House, MIR-1 and MIR-2 were the nerve centres for major crime enquiries. Despite opaque windows too high to see out of, MIR-1 had an airy feel, good light, good vibes. Grace always felt energized here.
Already some wit – Glenn Branson he suspected – had stuck a cartoon on the inside of the door. It was an image from the film Chicken Run.
Seated attentively at the curved desks around him were the twenty members of his team he had assembled since leaving the farm shortly after midday yesterday. The regulars he had present were Detective Sergeant Bella Moy, in her mid-thirties and still living with her mother; even at this early hour she was busily attacking the inevitable red box of Maltesers in front of her; Detective Constable Nick Nicholl, beanpole tall, yawning as usual after yet another sleepless night with his baby son; Glenn Branson, in a cream suit and a pistachio coloured tie; and Norman Potting, who had joined the police relatively late in life, a curmudgeonly but very effective Detective Sergeant, who had a string of failed marriages behind him.
Normally shabbily dressed, with a greasy comb-over and reeking of pipe tobacco, Potting looked different today, both younger and smarter. His grey hair had turned dark brown. He was wearing a smart blue suit with a cream shirt and a tie that, for once, had not been decorated with his breakfast. And he exuded a reek of not unpleasant cologne. Someone had given the man a very thorough and effective makeover. Yet another new woman?
The only one of his regulars absent today was attractive, young DC Emma-Jane Boutwood, who was away on honeymoon. Among the rest of the team were several more detectives, including two DCs he had worked with previously, Emma Reeves and Jon Exton, a detective Grace was keeping his eye on because he thought him exceptionally bright; David Green, the Crime Scene Manager; a crime analyst; an indexer and Sue Fleet, the press officer.
On the work surface in front of Grace lay his agenda and his Policy Book. ‘DS Branson has been appointed, temporarily, Acting Detective Inspector,’ he announced. ‘He will be my deputy SIO and will be doing much of the running of this case, as I’m still very involved with Operation Violin.’ He turned to his colleague, seated next to him, and could see he looked nervous. ‘What do you have to report?’
Glenn Branson studied his notes for a moment, then, choosing his words carefully, and being uncharacteristically pedantic, said, ‘Home Office pathologist Nadiuska De Sancha attended at 4.20 p.m. yesterday. I had no news from her to report at our evening briefing yesterday. She completed her in situ investigations at 7 p.m., after which the body was recovered to the mortuary. The pathologist is due to return at midday today to continue with the post-mortem. As yet we are unable to put an age on the victim, although the pathologist estimates him to have been between thirty and fifty years old. Forensic archaeologist Joan Major will also be continuing her work and I’m hoping she may be able to give us a more specific age range.’
He checked his notes carefully then added. ‘One fact of possible significance from the pathologist’s findings pertains to the dismemberment of the body. It would appear to be an amateur job, clumsily done – not by someone with surgical skills.’
Grace made a note, then looked at his protégé proudly. So far, Glenn was doing fine. He had a presence and natural air of calm authority that inspired confidence and made people take him seriously – despite, at times, his garish clothes.
‘A search of the void beneath the gridding was carried out until midnight, and has started again this morning, under the supervision of a POLSA, Sergeant Lorna Dennison-Wilkins from the Specialist Search Unit. As yet no more body parts have been found, nor any further items of clothing. The fabric will be sent for DNA testing, but I’m first going to try to find out about its provenance.’ He pointed at four colour blow-up photographs of the fabric segments that had been tacked to a board, two showing the entirety of the samples, two showing details of the loud yellow ochre colour and check pattern.
‘Like it, do you, Glenn?’ Norman Potting asked. ‘Want to get yourself a new whistle?’
Glaring at Potting, with whom she had long sparred, Bella Moy asked, ‘What’s a whistle?’
‘You’ve led a sheltered life, haven’t you, doll?’ Potting said patronizingly. ‘It’s Cockney rhyming slang. Whistle and flute – suit. Get it?’
As a response, she huffily scooped another Malteser out of the box and crunched it noisily in her mouth.
‘I like that noise you make,’ Potting said. ‘Nothing sexier than a bolshie young lady.’
‘Thank you, Norman,’ Grace cautioned, then raised a hand to stop Bella from commenting.
Looking back at his notes, Glenn soldiered on. ‘Local East Division officers are conducting a house-to-house on all roads in the vicinity, within an initial parameter of two miles, that I have set. All farm workers, regular and itinerant, are being interviewed.’ He paused, then added, ‘This is an unusual location, situated one mile up a private driveway, because the property is not visible from any public road, so no ordinary passing member of the public would be aware of it. In my opinion, whoever used this as their dump site had prior knowledge of the location. We’re working on a list of everyone who has visited or had access to the property in the past twelve months.’
‘Have you considered someone over-flying in a light aircraft or helicopter, boss?’ asked DC Jon Exton. ‘And seeing it as a possible deposition site because of its remoteness?’
‘That is another possibility,’ conceded Branson. ‘According to what I’ve been able to ascertain so far, in a very limited time frame, the farmer is a popular man, no one local has a bad word to say about him. One hypothesis I’m working on is that this could be an enemy of Keith Winter – a business rival trying to set him up – but I don’t at this point know enough about the world of chicken farming to make that fly – no pun intended. My other hypothesis is that someone familiar with the farm felt this would be a good place to dispose of a body.’
‘What about mispers?’ Bella Moy asked. ‘Shouldn’t that be an immediate line of enquiry for us?’
Branson shook his head. ‘That will be an important one. We have carried out an immediate local check, but it didn’t produce anything. First I need an estimate on how long this person has been dead, before we can proceed too far down that route. I’m hoping to get this either from the pathologist or from the forensic archaeologist tomorrow. Until I get that information, I don’t know what parameters to set for looking at missing person reports.’
Roy Grace smiled, watching the indexer making notes. It was the answer he would have given. He made a note himself, for either Glenn or himself to write in the Policy Book.
‘In terms of media strategy, I have some welcome news to give out!’ Branson went on. ‘Our friend Kevin Spinella from the Argus is on holiday.’
There was a muted cheer. Glenn grinned. ‘I’m calling a second press conference for five-thirty this afternoon, by which time I hope to be able to give out information that may generate some response from the public. I will of course keep enough back to enable us to weed out crank calls.’
It was normal in any major crime enquiry to withhold key information that would be known only to the perpetrator. That way time wasters could be quickly eliminated.
At that moment, Grace’s new phone, which he had switched to silent, vibrated. He glanced at the display, fully expecting it to be Spinella. But the display said BLOCKED NUMBER. He answered it, as quietly as he could, and heard the voice of the Chief Constable’s Staff Officer, DCI Trevor Bowles.
‘Roy,’ he said. ‘The Chief needs to see you as soon as possible. Are you free this morning?’
Grace frowned. The Chief Constable, and the other brass, tended to keep to office hours and their weekends free. For Tom Martinson to want to see him on a Saturday, there had to be an important reason.
‘I could be with him in half an hour.’
Grace ended the call, worried. As soon as the briefing finished, he agreed to meet Glenn Branson at the tailor at 11 a.m., then hurried out to his car, in his precious reserved space at the front of the CID HQ building.
It was love at first sight. The first time Eric Whiteley saw Brighto