Authors: Judith Cutler
Table of Contents
The Sophie Rivers Mysteries
DYING TO WRITE
DYING ON PRINCIPLE
DYING FOR MILLIONS
DYING FOR POWER
DYING TO SCORE
DYING BY DEGREES
DYING BY THE BOOK
DYING IN DISCORD
DYING TO DECEIVE
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First published in Great Britain in 1995
by Judy Piatkus (Publishers) Ltd of
5 Windmill Street, London W1
This eBook first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Ltd.
Copyright Â© 1995 by Judith Cutler
The right of Judith Cutler to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4483-0106-5 (ePub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
I would like to thank for their help and inspiration: the students and staff of Matthew Boulton College, Birmingham, especially the A level and Computing sections; the musicians of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; the staff of Symphony Hall, Birmingham; West Midlands Police, especially the men and women of Rose Road Police Station, Harborne. Any mistakes are mine, not theirs.
The events of this novel are fiction: if there is a passing resemblance between some of the locations in it and similar ones in Birmingham, that is purely in the interests of verisimilitude.
To my family and friends â none of whom is picture within
âIf music be the food of love, play on:
And give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! It had a dying fall â¦
â¦ Enough! No more:
âTis not so sweet now as it was before â¦'
, Act One, Scene i.
Seven-thirty on a Tuesday night. The wind's slashing rain across the ill-fitting windows and rocking the whole tower block.
I have a rotten day at college. I stay late for my evening class and to finish a tedious batch of marking. And I get into a lift to escape and find I'm sharing it with a body.
I didn't notice, of course, till I'd pressed the pad for down and was plunging fifteen floors.
The boy â he looked eighteen, maybe a young nineteen â was slumped in the corner furthest from the control panel, leaning against the lift wall. His face was half turned from me. His left hand rested loosely on a ring file marked
WAJID AKHTAR: INORGANIC
I thought he'd passed out: I'd better help.
I tipped him forward â to put his head between his knees. Then I saw five inches of polished wood sticking out from the back of his leather jacket.
Round the knife there was no blood to speak of.
But an ugly splattering told me there was blood elsewhere. It poured from his nose and mouth, flooding across the worn lino floor, lapping towards my shoes.
At last the lift doors opened. But when I opened my mouth to call for help, no sound emerged. Fortunately Winston, one of the college porters, happened to look up from his desk and see me. I pointed, trying to hold the doors open so that the lift wouldn't carry us relentlessly up and down the building.
Winston reached behind his desk.
âIt's OK, Sophie,' he said, âI've immobilised the lift. What's the trouble? Jesus!' he said, as he looked.
I forced myself to touch Wajid's neck. He was still warm but there was no pulse. Winston was stripping off his jacket, as if to wrap the boy in it.
âNo,' I said. âThere's no point. Just call the police, Winston. I'll stay here with him.'
At last the police came. Just a couple of kids in a panda at first: I'd taught them both, as it happens, but they were too busy trying to be professionally insouciant to notice me. Then more cars, with men and women in plain clothes.
A middle-aged man singled me out. Detective Sergeant Dale, his ID said. But he introduced himself as Ian, and mentioned other officers by their first names. The team was working like a machine, cordoning off the area and taking pictures of what lay within it. He left them to it, ushering me gently outside.
The night air smelt very good.
âLook,' I said, âI can't just walk away. Someone's got to tell his parents. And I ought to tell my boss. And Winston's only a kid. You can't leave him in there.'
âNo one's going to leave him in there. But if you could tell us who's in charge it'd help.'
I shrugged helplessly. Who'd want that sort of responsibility?
âMaybe you ought to contact the Principal,' I said eventually. âBut God knows how you'll find him. He's bound to be ex-directory.'
âIf you can give us his name â'
âJames Worral,' I said. âAnd I think he lives somewhere in Four Oaks. But what about Wajid? Who'll tell his parents?'
âOur people are trained to do that,' he said. âI'll just get one of my colleagues to take care of the Principal, and then we'll take you off to make a statement.'
When he got back I was being sick in the gutter. He didn't say anything â just passed me a packet of extra strong mints after I'd finished.
âD'you want one of my colleagues to take your car back to the station?' he asked, opening his passenger door for me.
I shook my head.
âNo car? That's unusual these days.'
âUsed to have. They worked their way through two sets of hubcaps, then started on the wheels. Came out at nine one night to find the poor thing sitting on four neat piles of bricks. So I cycle or catch the bus, depending on the weather. And today,' I added, raising my voice against the wind, âit was the bus.'
The college is on Birmingham's inner ring road, five minutes away from Ladywood police station. But Dale turned the car through Edgbaston and followed my daily route towards Harborne.
âI thought you said something about a statement?'
âThat's right. At Rose Road nick. We've got all the facilities there. You can have a bit of a wash and brush-up, and maybe a cup of tea, and then we'll sort out your statement.'
I sat back and let myself be taken. Suddenly I couldn't stop shaking, and every time I let myself think about Wajid I wanted to vomit again.
The room they showed me into was functional but clean and not unpleasant. Ian Dale organised some coffee for me, and spooned extra sugar into it. He might have been a favourite uncle, in his worn sports jacket with archetypal leather patches. Then another man appeared, younger and altogether brisker.
âDCI Chris Groom,' he said, shaking hands with me. âAnd you must be Sophie Rivers.'
Nothing seemed to be as I'd expected it. The relaxed atmosphere, for example, informal but courteous; all these first names, not an old-fashioned âMiss' in earshot. Perhaps I'd been reading too much pulp detective fiction. At least they left some mistakes on my statement for me to correct; I certainly wasn't going to put my name to a document which accused a lift of being stationery. But they'd got everything else right: I'd been working on my own in a big, communal office. I'd heard nothing unusual â there'd been the noise of the lifts at the far end of the corridor, but that had mostly been drowned by the wind and the rain. Colleagues had popped in briefly to collect their belongings at the end of their classes or to make coffee. No one had reported seeing anything unusual. They'd all looked tired and strained, as you'd expect halfway through the winter term when flu was decimating the staff and we were all having to take on extra work. No one looked as if they'd just committed a murder. âMost of us would like to from time to time,' I said, looking up. Everyone grinned politely.
No, I'd never taught Wajid.
âI know him by reputation, that's all,' I said. â
âWhat sort of reputation?' asked the DCI, delicately.
âIt's only hearsay. And I don't like to speak ill of the dead.'
âIf speaking ill will help us find his killer â?'
I shook my head. âIt's not that easy, is it? You know what the college is like â ten thousand students use it, all from different backgrounds. Class, culture, race â I don't want to say anything that'll spark off friction.'
Perhaps I was being disingenuous. There had been an ugly incident only this afternoon, when a gang of white lads from Meat Three â trainee butchers â had hurled plates from the canteen windows at a group of Asian girls. I'd had the job of sorting out the ringleaders.
âThere'll be more friction if we don't find the killer,' Dale added.
âCould you talk to us off the record, as it were?' asked the DCI.
âOK. But I'd like to use the loo first. All this coffee â¦'
The interview became a conversation. We moved to Groom's office, an unnaturally tidy room with a Monet print on the wall. What kind of policeman has a Monet, for goodness' sake? The sort that has hand-sewn Barker shoes, no doubt, and whose books include the
Shorter Oxford Dictionary
There was more coffee, in cups with a back-up supply in a Thermos jug, on his desk, and some film-wrapped sandwiches.
âNice to see you're looking a bit better,' said Dale, passing me a plate.
âThanks,' I said to both. I was beginning to feel myself again.
Groom smiled. âI can have my colleagues swarm all over William Murdock College for the rest of the week and they'll pick up nothing. Oh, lots of facts, I don't doubt that, but I want nuances. Like the rumours you hinted at about Wajid.'
Ian Dale nodded agreement, and flicked open his notebook.
I looked at it. So did Groom. Dale flicked it shut again.
âLook, a lot of our kids are deprived. They come from rough backgrounds. Inner-city estates, inner-city schools. A lot are poor. They can't get grants, and there's no point saying they should go and get a decent job because there aren't any decent jobs. So some dabble where they shouldn't.'