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Authors: David Lawrence

Cold Kill

BOOK: Cold Kill
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Cold Kill

By the Same Author

The Dead Sit Round in a Ring
Nothing Like the Night

Cold Kill

DAVID LAWRENCE

MICHAEL JOSEPH

an imprint of

PENGUIN BOOKS

MICHAEL JOSEPH

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London
WC2R 0RL
, England

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

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First published 2005

1

Copyright © David Lawrence, 2005

The moral right of the author has been asserted

All rights reserved.

Without limiting the rights under copyright

reserved above, no part of this publication may be

reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,

or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical,

photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior

written permission of both the copyright owner and

the above publisher of this book

EISBN 978–0–141–90239–5

To Stephen Kovacevich

 

1

The sky is darkening but not yet dark; it shows a vibrant, unbroken blue, so deep that if you stare at it long you might take it to be the onset of blindness…

It's the moment in a wilderness when all birdsong suddenly stops. The moment when you're out on a four-lane highway with your thumb cocked, fifty miles from anywhere, and you know that the cars won't pull over now, and the big trucks are hammering through, already lit up against the failing of the light.

It's the moment when the creatures of the night shift in their sleep, then wake and sniff the air.

The time between the dog and the wolf.

There were starlings roosting in the Holland Park woodland, their feathers fluffed because there was frost in the wind. In among the trees, the scene of crime team had pitched a four-sided blue PVC screen, and halogen lamps were sending up a cold, white glow that flooded the interior and rose in a broad beam to cut the half-light. When the wind caught the edge of the screen, it furled and slapped; the starlings rose in a little cloud, then settled again, softly. A crowd of hard-edged shadows moved on the blue backdrop.

The shadows were a forensics team, a scene of crime officer, a police doctor, a stills photographer, a video man and two officers from the AMIP-5 murder squad. DI Mike Sorley and DS Stella Mooney were the shadows on the far
side of the screen – either keeping their own counsel or staying out of the way.

Valerie Blake was also there, but you couldn't see her shadow because she was lying in it.

Everyone was wearing white coveralls, almost disappearing when they moved through the crossbeams of the fierce halogen glow. The tented area enclosed a single silver birch. As the workers in that space passed and re-passed its pale, slender bole, it seemed the only one of them given over to patience and thoughtfulness. The doctor had a fleece-lined climber's jacket under his coverall, with a woollen beanie beneath the hood; his fingers were white to the knuckle. He got off his knees and moved to join Sorley and Stella, shoving his hands into his armpits for warmth.

‘Difficult to say how long she's been dead. Taking the ambient temperature and the wind chill into account, I'd say more than three hours, less than ten.'

‘That's a big window,' Sorley observed.

‘You'll get more from the pathologist. Sorry, it really is a tough call. She's very cold.'

Stella looked at Valerie where she lay. Of course she was cold; it was no weather to be out wearing nothing but a DKNY T-shirt and a pair of cross-trainers. The search team had already found the rest fifty feet away: underwear, matching grey sweats and a hoodie for extra warmth. Her door key and mobile phone were in a zipper pocket. They bagged the phone separately and handed it to Stella, who would take it back to the AMIP-5 incident room and rifle the address book for the names of people who didn't yet know that they were ‘relatives of the deceased' or ‘grieving friends'.

Or ‘suspects'.

In the same way, Stella didn't yet know the dead woman as Valerie Blake, but that wouldn't take long.

The doctor was running down a checklist of notes. ‘Female, mid to late twenties, largely unclothed, dead at the scene, secondary trauma to the head, almost certainly the result of a blow with a blunt instrument, though the cause of death is clearly strangulation.' Despite the thin rime of frost coating her skin, the mark of the ligature lay on her throat like an amethyst necklace. ‘Possibility of sexual assault.' He amended that: ‘Likelihood.'

The wind had risen with the encroaching darkness: raw-edged, carrying the sort of chill that settles and seeps in. A bird had flown into the tented space and couldn't find its way out, despite the lack of a roof. It cannoned back and forth, just above head level, flapping against the plastic, twisting in the air, sometimes rising on the brilliant columns of halogen light as if they were thermals, but then dropping down again, unequipped for night flight. As Stella watched, the wind shook the lamps and the light shifted crazily. The bird grew more frantic, wings whirring as it flew past her face.

Sorley said, ‘Let's leave them to it.'

Their shadows slid on the screen, then they emerged and, despite their overall whites, were almost lost to darkness, though the man watching from cover was sufficiently sharp-eyed to pick them out from the backdrop of trees; just enough light left in the sky, just enough backwash of light from the tent.

The watcher was standing close to a plane tree, any silhouette of his own absorbed by the tree's bulk. The leafless branches thrashed above his head. He was motionless, barely breathing, though his eyes were wide and
unblinking. A smile on his lips. He was trying to picture the scene on the inside: all that lively activity round a still, lifeless centre; the quick and the dead.

The watcher saw the two of them, a man and a woman, he guessed, talking a moment, their heads close together; then the man turned, moving out of the treeline and starting across the open grassy space towards Kensington High Street. The headlights of cars shone like markers on the park road. As he watched, a gust of wind toppled one of the lamps and a shout went up. Shadows scattered, then swarmed towards the hotspot on the screen where the lamp had fallen.

Stella went back in. Two forensic officers were righting the lamp, while another attended to the doctor, who sat with his back to the birch tree, knees raised, head down, blood showing blackly on his forehead and also on his wrist where he'd raised an arm to block the worst of the impact.

Stella said, ‘Get him out of here.' The scene of crime officer was DC Andy Greegan and he was already on the case, nudging the forensics man aside, getting the doctor to his feet. What worried Stella was also worrying Greegan: corruption of the scene; the doctor's blood and DNA as compromising evidence. Greegan hustled the doctor out of the tent while a forensics man taped off the small area where he'd fallen.

When Stella re-emerged, the watcher was still in place. He saw her strip off the white coveralls and ball them up; saw her start down towards her car; saw her drive away. She was only of passing interest. His real attention was to the tent and the picture in his mind's eye of Valerie Blake as she lay sprawled on her back, her skin paper-white, dark hair tied back in a pony-tail, the blue-black line of the ligature across her throat. The picture was satisfying to him, even
though it was incomplete: her face was blurred, her physical build difficult to determine.

He stood there a long time, watching them work, watching the shifting shadows, never feeling the cold.

2

Area Major Investigation Pool 5's incident room had been set up in a police overspill property off Ladbroke Grove, close to the admin centre and holding facility of Notting Hill police station. AMIP-5 was a fluid affair, just like all AMIP groups: cops are pulled off this job or that when a detective inspector requests them. The DI would have been appointed in turn by the Senior Investigating Officer managing the case: in this instance the SIO's choice had been DI Mike Sorley.

Sorley had asked for DS Mooney; Stella had asked for DC Andy Greegan, DC Susan Chapman and DC Pete Harriman. Greegan was the best scene of crime officer Stella knew and Sue Chapman's coordination skills included an eye for detail that, in the past, had often meant time saved. There would also be an exhibitions officer and two other street cops; they were taking a little time to find because a flu virus was taking its toll of available officers. The exhibitions man wasn't an issue, Stella considered, as long as he was anally retentive; someone who shaved twice a day and lived with his mother would be just fine.

One of the street cops she asked for – one of her opposite numbers, in effect – was DC Maxine Hewitt. Stella had worked with Maxine before, and knew her to have the kind of instinct that bypasses the ordinary. But the other street cop, Pete Harriman, was her first choice. He and Stella had worked a number of cases together and they understood one another. It was the kind of understanding that proceeds from having shared danger and shared laughter.

Extra officers might be drafted in if needed, and local uniformed help could be asked for, but Sorley and Stella had got the people they wanted: their core team; their murder squad.

Stella copied the names and numbers from Valerie Blake's mobile phone, rebagged it and put it in the exhibitions room, ready to go for forensics testing along with the other items from the scene of crime. That was the easy part. She looked at the list and knew there was only one first choice.

‘Home.' That was the tough part.

It was almost six thirty. Greegan was still at the scene; Sorley was on the phone to the SIO with his initial report. The other members of the squad wouldn't arrive till next morning. Stella made a call, but it wasn't the one she ought to have made. When John Delaney picked up, Stella could tell from his preoccupied tone that he was working.

She said, ‘I'll be late.' It was what people involved with cops often heard. Delaney didn't mind. Freelance journalists have their own time-tables.

He said, ‘If you were to join me for a curry, what time would I get to the restaurant?'

‘Make it ten o'clock.'

‘Perfect.'

She could hear the rattle of his fingers on the keyboard.

‘How easy is this?' she asked. ‘A girl is murdered. Young woman. You don't know who she is, but you've got a list of contacts for her. One says ‘“Home”. You make the call. Someone lifts the phone and says, “Hello.”'

‘The problem being...?'

‘The problem being what to say next.'

‘How many times have you done this?'

‘Surprisingly few.'

‘Say what you said the last time.'

‘Last time I didn't get it right.'

He laughed. ‘Right? How in hell would you ever get it
right
?'

‘Exactly.'

‘Which restaurant?' he asked. He lived in Notting Hill Gate and there was no shortage of curry houses.

‘The one you can get into. Give me a call.'

‘There's nothing you can say that can make a difference: nothing right.'

‘I know.'

She hung up and called Pete Harriman on his mobile. When he answered, she could hear the voice of a commentator rising above a background din. She said, ‘You're in the pub.'

‘Big screen,' he advised her. ‘Big game.' She told him about the phone list and he said, ‘Only one choice, Boss.'

‘You're right. But I could phone, or I could take a less direct route: get BT to trace the address from the number and go round there.'

‘It would be kinder.'

‘It would. Not only that, we'd be there to gauge the response.'

Harriman laughed. He'd picked up on ‘we'.

Stella said, ‘Strictly speaking, you're not on the strength until tomorrow morning.'

‘I know,' Harriman said, ‘but look at it this way: we're two-nil down, and the bastards are all over us like a rash.'

‘Home' could have been husband and kids, but it was parents. As when people say, ‘I'm going home this weekend.' The house you grew up in; the streets you played in; the place you could always go back to, but not the place where
you wanted to live when you were in your mid to late twenties. Which is why, when Valerie Blake's father opened the door, he didn't look worried; not for a second or two anyway; then he saw the expression on Stella's face, and realized who she was and why she might be there. He took a step back and said something, but no one quite knew what it was: less a word than a little cry of fear. He sat down heavily in the hallway, suddenly and without knowing it was going to happen, driving the breath from his lungs. In the same moment, his wife emerged from the kitchen to find Stella and Harriman at the door and her husband bolt upright on the hall carpet, his mouth gaping, his ribs heaving with effort.

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