Read Half Moon Chambers Online

Authors: Fox Harper

Half Moon Chambers (5 page)

* * *

It made sense for me to finish my shift with
this
job. The Langring Art Gallery was on my way
home
, a couple of hundred yards down the road
from
the tower block where I kept my eyrie. I was
all
about making sense at the moment
--
regular
meals
and routines, sensible hours. Early to bed,
and
if I then lay wide-eyed and aching till dawn, I
had
been assured that this was normal, shock
working
through me in the form of insomnia. It
would
pass.

I loved the gallery. I'd been a man of action,
but
I wasn't an absolute Philistine. I'd brought my
niece
and nephews here often to mess around in the
children
's rooms, then taken them upstairs to
admire
the Victorian watercolours on permanent
display
and the enormous technicolour Biblical
dreamscapes
by our local nineteenth-century
visionary
, John Martin. They were nice kids, full
of
bounce but never any trouble. On our last visit
,
Lily had forgotten her new instructions with regard
to
Uncle Vince and come running to leap into my
arms
, and...

There was a bench in the courtyard a few feet
away
. I made it there and sat down, dismayed at
the
tide of dizzy nausea rushing through me.
Maybe
Bill had been right and I should have taken that
cab
. No other reason for this weakness
--
Lily had
been
fine. I'd gone down with her rather than let
her
fall, and we'd measured our length among the
serene
Grecian statues, much to her amusement and
that
of the wardens. I'd made a joke of it. But I'd
also
noticed for the first time all the vertiginous
staircases
in the building, the balconies, the
slippery
floors. Outside, the roar of the traffic had
hit
me and I'd seen, as if in a Martinesque vision,
how
narrow were the pavements, how fast a
running
child could get across them. Of course a
second
round of surgery would fix all that. Or not,
but
then at least the kids would know the score,
and
maybe they'd pop back during their university
holidays
and give Uncle Vince a shove in his
wheelchair
for old times' sake... I'd taken Lily and
her
siblings home that night and explained to my
sister
that my work hours were increasing, and the
visits
would probably stop for a while.

The early winter dusk was coming down.

Lowering sunlight suddenly caught the courtyard
pavement
, and a million small indigo lights
sparkled
up beneath the feet of the shoppers and
homebound
passers-by. Living round the corner
as
I did, I hadn't thought much of the gallery's new
paving
when it was getting laid out
--
just ordinary
biscuit
-coloured slabs, until one morning at
dawn
I'd seen the day's first sunshine hit the galaxy of
blue
-glass chips embedded in the concrete. The
designer
had underplayed his creation
--
except at
sunrise
and twilight it did look ordinary, and
vandals
and skater kids treated it as such. You had
to
know when to look.

I got up. I was better now. Just hungry,
probably
, and although I dutifully took my regular
meals
from my fridge and the Mansion Street
canteen
, six times out of ten I would sit staring at
them
until they went cold. I made my way into the
foyer
, and asked at the desk for Rowan Clyde.

The girl behind the cash register gave me an
apprehensive
onceover. I wondered if I'd forgotten
to
shave or to brush my hair. These details did
sometimes
pass me by these days, and in
combination
with my plainclothes apparel,
probably
gave me a disreputable air. One of the
city
's sinners rather than its law-enforcement
saints
... I showed the girl my badge, which made
her
look unhappier still. "What's wrong?" I asked
her
, as gently as I could. Bill had told me to be
nice
. "Isn't he here?"

"I... Yes, he is. Give me a second and I'll call
him
down for you."

Briefly I considered this. There was a phone
on
the desk, but it was far enough away that if she
whispered
to Rowan Clyde to leg it out the back
rather
than come down and meet nice DS Carr, I
wouldn
't be any the wiser. "It's okay," I said. "I'll
go
to him. Where does he work?"

"In the restoration rooms behind the
glassware
exhibition. Just up those stairs and
through
there."

Wherever I went in public these days, it
always
seemed to be
just up those stairs
. There
was
a lift to the upper floors, but I had to be able
to
manage one flight without becoming an
exhibition
myself. The physiotherapy ogre made
me
do that and worse every time he clapped eyes
on
me. I nodded my thanks and walked away
briskly
--
took a brisk, casual jog at the steps. And
yes
, I managed fine. But in my head I scratched
out
Bill Hodges' review date for my police-driving
capabilities
--
the decision to lose the painkillers
had
been mine, not my doctor's, and I had just
fucking
well changed my mind. Oh God, yes. There
wasn
't enough aspirin in the world, and if I gritted
my
teeth harder my fucking jaws would break.

Briskly, casually, I got to the top and kept walking.

The doors to the restoration rooms lay at the
far
end of the gallery. Normally I'd have taken a
glance
en route at the outrageous collection
of
Victorian glass monstrosities shimmering in their
cabinets
--
they were Lily's delight, and it would
take
an eight year old to love them
--
and the stark
modern
portrait works beyond them. Today,
though
, focus was essential, and I blinked the red
mist
and tears from my eyes and made out the
lettering
over the doors
--
Staff only. No public
access
.
That was just too bad. I might have
tumbled
out of special-ops heaven but I wasn't a
member
of the public, a punter, an ordinary Joe on
the
street, not yet. The doors weren't locked. They
opened
in dignified silence when I pushed, and fell
back
discreetly on their air-cushioned hinges
when
I let go.

The room was dark. For a moment I thought
the
girl downstairs had decided to make that call,
in
which case she'd better have vanished too. Then
my
eyes adjusted, and I saw a young man at the
gallery
's furthest reach, standing by a frame
-
propped
canvas in a pool of light.

I didn't announce myself. You could
sometimes
learn more from a witness in the ten
unguarded
seconds before they knew you were
there
than in hours spent with them afterwards. Out
of
habit, I began to make my observations. The
first
thing I saw was that the surveillance picture
hadn
't been that good after all. Maybe
Rowan
Clyde was nothing special in the street, but here,
intent
upon his work, he sent a strange pang
through
me. I'd only experienced anything like it
when
scaling Scafell Pike in the Lakes
--
my little
glass
mountain
--
and I'd reached the top, and
turned
to look back the way I'd come, and I'd
understood
that I would never see the world this
way
again, never again quite like this, rich with
sunlight
and stitched together by the shadow of
ravens
' wings. I couldn't work out the connection.

He was just a man in his mid-twenties, a nicely cut
profile
against bright light, lips pursed in
concentration
.

He was also just a job. I pushed my reaction
aside
. I glanced at the long bench beside him, from
which
he was now rapidly selecting delicate
brushes
and tools. At his other elbow was a huge
ceramic palette
,
daubed in every colour imaginable
. I couldn't make out the subject on the
canvas
in front of him, but as I watched, he drew
one
tiny brush-head half an inch across it, and a
wound
I hadn't realised was there healed itself, a
broken
line reconnected. I tried not to be
impressed
. That had to be finicky work. Better than
safe
-cracking or picking pockets, but not much use
in
the grand scheme of things. Men like him
annoyed
me on principle. Fully grown, but locked
away
in ivory towers doing jobs better suited to
graduate
students. Hiding away from the world. No
matter
how talented he was, I doubted the work
paid
much, and I filled in his background with
some
neat brushwork of my own
--
wealthy,
indulgent
parents, paying for his training and
probably
still supporting him now. Few worries,
and
still fewer principles, if he wasn't prepared to
come
forward as witness to one of the city's most
savage
killings in decades. An effete dilettante, too
dreamy
to notice a bloody great policeman
walking
up behind him...

No. After that one stroke of the brush, he had
gone
still. His expression didn't change. All I
could
see of him was that beautiful profile, limned
in
light, but he was watching me. All right. Game
over
. I stopped a few yards short of him. "
Rowan
Clyde?"

He exploded into movement. The easel and
his
palette went flying. In five years of chasing
villains
round the city streets I'd never seen anyone
shift
so fast
--
he was on the far side of the room
before
I could draw breath, shouldering open a fire
exit
. The door slammed behind him and he was
gone
.

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