Read Half Moon Chambers Online

Authors: Fox Harper

Half Moon Chambers (6 page)

I raised my eyes to the ceiling. "Oh, for fuck's
sake
," I whispered. This must be a nice peaceful
place
to work. I could hear pigeons and doves
prooking
about in the roofspace. There were rain
-
smeared
skylights, seagulls wheeling above them. I
could
let this go
--
pull out the stool from under the
bench
and sit down. My back was killing me
already
, and I didn't stand a chance
--
Clyde would
know
every corridor and broom closet.

But I was here on a last-chance assignment
from
my boss. Bill hadn't put it to me that way,
but
I knew. If I screwed up a simple witness
interview
, how long could I expect to keep my
fragile
foothold at Mansion Street? As for
alternatives
--
my arse. I was a one-trick pony, a
round
peg hammered so tight into its round hole
that
I'd never fit properly anywhere else again.

And last time I'd looked, I'd still been a copper.

So I ran. I tossed aside the ogre's warnings
about
caution and starting from cold, and I just
took
off the way I had used to, full throttle. I
shoved
the fire door open and pelted down the
corridor
beyond it. No doors, no turnings. My
quarry
had to be here somewhere, and he hadn't got
that
much of a head start. I dashed down twenty
yards
or so of lino-covered floor, and for all but
one
of them I managed to outrun my damage and
pain
. On the twentieth, I had to slow to make a
corner
, and there it all caught up with me. I
crashed
to a halt, clutching at the wall, fingers
scrabbling
. Christ, it was like being stabbed
--
no,
worse
; I'd taken a knife during a pub fight and not
been
as royally fucked up as this. I doubled over,
bracing
one hand on my knee. It had been for
nothing
, too. I'd run into a storage unit, a bloody
dead
end. Clyde must have peeled off through a
door
I hadn't seen. I'd lost him.

Well, at least I was alone. That was a
blessing
--
alone, I could unleash the pain and
frustration
in a brief explosive roar. "Ah, fuck it!

Fuck!"

"Who the hell are you?"

I jolted upright. My balance was screwed
and
I fell back against the wall in my effort to spin
round
. My hand flailed for a weapon I hadn't
carried
in six months. "Police officer," I managed.

"You
--
Rowan Clyde
--
stay right where you are."

That wouldn't work, though
--
I couldn't see the
bastard
. "On second thoughts, step out and show
yourself
. Slowly."

A set of tall cabinets had cast a deep shadow.

After a moment, a random patchwork of light and
shade
stirred and became a human shape. Clyde
emerged
, as slowly as I could have wished. He
was
sheet white, and one side of his face
--
the
profile
I hadn't seen
--
was a mass of bruising. Not
quite
the pussy I'd taken him for
--
plainly he was
terrified
, but his spine was straight, the set of his
shoulders
defiant. "You're from the police?"

"Yeah. Who did you think?"

"I don't know. You don't look like a cop.
Show me your ID."

Swallowing hard, trying to get hold of my
breath
, I pulled out my badge. I held it at arm's
length
for him. Maybe I needed to clean up my act
a
bit. A plain-clothes brief didn't extend to
resembling
a thug. Maybe I needed a more
reassuring
, employable face to show to the public.

"All right," I said. "I'm sorry I scared you. Are you
okay
?"

Clyde took a good look at my badge, then a
better
one at me. After a moment he nodded. "Yes.
I'm
all right."

"Well, I am too. So can we go back to your
workroom
and start over?"

I let him lead the way. That gave me the
whole
length of the corridor to grimace and limp
and
wipe the cold sweat off my brow. By the time
we
reached the gallery I had everything more or
less
under control again. I could even envy Clyde
the
easy grace with which he hitched himself onto
the
draughtsman's stool. He was too thin, but nicely
built
, more on the lines of a dancer than an
academic
. He gestured at another stool nearby, but
that
was a chance I couldn't take. Instead I assumed
what
I hoped was an official-looking posture,
propping
myself discreetly against the wall. "So
,"
I began. "Who did that to you?"

"No idea. But it happened the day after your
guys
started tagging me around, so I'd guess it's
connected
to what happened in my building the
other
night, and the crack baron who got pulled in
for
it." A faint smile flickered, poignant against the
bruising
. "Any chance you can call off your dogs?"

"The baron was called Goran Maric. What do
you
know about him?"

"Just what I saw on the news."

"And you think this happened to you..."

"Because I had two great big flat-footed
bobbies
making me conspicuous, yes. And it hurts,
so
I'd really appreciate being left alone."

"Have you had it seen to?"

"No. The guys who did it said the fewer
people
I talked to, the less likely I was to end up in
the
Tyne with a concrete block tied round my
neck
." That was probably why the kid on
reception
--
his girlfriend?
--
had looked so scared. "I know
what
you've come to ask me, Detective
Sergeant
Carr. And the answer's no."

"It's Vincent."

"What?"

"Vincent, not DS Carr. Vince."

He had dark, finely marked brows. One of
them
lifted a bit. "You can call me Rowan. It's still
no
."

"Can I have a look at your face? I take your
point
about the concrete block, but you're already
talking
to me."

"So things couldn't get any worse?"

Something in the dry little query almost made
me
laugh. "You might have a cracked cheekbone, a
fractured
skull. Let's see."

He
sat impassively under my brief examination
. I kept it arm's length, impersonal. His
skin
was warm against my chilly fingertips but I
set
that observation aside, pressing gently at the
edge
of his eye socket, the corner of his jaw where
the
bruising was worst. "Okay. Nothing broken.
Get yourself some arnica. Why did they only mark
you
up on one side?"

"Oh, I'm sure they would've done both. That
was
the bit they were thumping off the wall when a
car
came up the alley, that's all."

"I wasn't accusing them of inefficiency." I
stepped
back from him. So far
--
more or less
--
I'd
been
the friendly, sympathetic cop, tried my
clumsy
public-relations trick of offering him my
first
name, not that he'd fallen for that. "You
reckon
they were warning you off?"

"What else? I wasn't mugged. They left me
my
wallet with fifty quid cash in it."

"But they were wasting their time. Because
you
live up on the top floor of Half
Moon
Chambers, and you didn't see a thing."

For the first time, his wary gaze flickered. He
noticed
the mess on the floor, and I didn't stop him
when
he bent to pick up the canvas. I almost asked
if
it was damaged, but I was bad cop now, who
wouldn
't care.

"That's right. Nothing."

"And you were nowhere near the crime scene
that
night?"

He righted the easel and set the canvas back
on
it. He was a decent professional, I had to admit,
assessing
the piece even while his fists clenched
with
nerves. "No. Nowhere near."

"Then why did Maric's thugs target you? How
would
they even know?"

He swung to face me. I tensed a little
--
maybe
I'd misread that clench of the hands. "I've seen you
around
here before, haven't I? With your kids."

It was harsh, sudden, almost a demand. I
thought
about giving him some awful old line
--
I'll
ask
the questions around here, sonny
--
but even
as
bad cop, I didn't want to alienate him. If I gave a
bit
, maybe he would. "Not my kids. My sister's.
But yeah, we come here a lot."

"And your other half. The northeast's answer
to
Brad Pitt."

That was far enough. I didn't have an
other
half
. I never had, even when Jack Monroe had still
been
with me, large as life and twice as dangerous.

Men with other halves were screwed, if the other
half
detached itself and left. Were half-men. "
Mr
Clyde, this will be quicker for both of us if you
could
just answer my questions."

"Not
Rowan
now, then." He was picking up
his
scattered brushes and I couldn't see his face,
but
there had been the faintest edge of teasing in
his
tone, as if I were a man who could be laughed
at
, played with. Well, I had been. Not any more.

"No, not any more. Listen to me. Two weeks
ago
, someone broke into a basement flat in your
building
. There were two Chinese students living
there
. They were mixed up to their arses in this
city
's crack trade, but they didn't deserve to be
shot
. They were nineteen. One was a girl. Look me
in
the face right now and tell me you didn't see
anything
, and I'll piss off and leave you alone."

He obeyed as far as the look. Again I felt that
weird
pang. I wished for an instant that we hadn't
met
on the battlefield
--
that I might have bumped
into
him in a club, bought him a drink and maybe
encountered
that look in the alley outside. Half
-
yielding
, half-protesting. Hot and full of promise.

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