Read Half Moon Chambers Online

Authors: Fox Harper

Half Moon Chambers (7 page)

"I got beaten up," he said slowly, "because some
of
your lot decided I knew something. They went
after
me, and Maric's heavies smelled blood in the
water
."

"But my lot were wrong? You're not a
witness
in this case?"

For a moment I thought he would break. Find
his
balls or his spine, deliver on the promise in his
eyes
. We both stood and listened to the pigeons
and
the seagulls for a while. Then he turned away
from
me. "No."

I gave it up. We had the witnesses we needed.

I wasn't sure why I'd even pushed it this far. "All
right
," I said. "Goran Maric's in custody, but let's
leave
his army roaming around on the loose,
making
examples of teenage kids and selling crack
outside
school yards. I don't believe you,
Mr
Clyde, but you're not worth any more of my time."

I took a card out of my coat's inner pocket. "If by
any
chance you decide to grow a pair and have
another
crack at this bastard, call me. You'll be
given
protection." I dropped the card into the
middle
of his rainbow-daubed palette. He didn't
move
to take it. When I reached the gallery doors
he
was standing just where I had found him,
motionless
, his undamaged profile picked out in
light
.

Chapter Four

T
he ogre had said that if I allowed myself to
limp
, I would damage muscles on the other side of
my
spine. I should keep using the aluminium stick
until
the weakness had passed. Since I'd left the
stick
twenty floors up in a tower block, the
weakness
wasn't really an option, and I left the
gallery
foyer with my head high and as steady a
gait
as I could manage. The girl on reception
darted
out from behind her desk as soon as I was
through
the glass doors, and disappeared in the
direction
of the restoration rooms. Rowan Clyde
hadn
't struck me as the girlfriend type, but you
never
could tell.

My route home was a three-minute walk
through
the twilight zone. Rowan's gallery and my
flat
lay on opposite sides of an abyss of
redevelopment
that had cracked the city apart in
the
1970s. If I looked behind me to the Langring
--
which
I couldn't, not unless I wanted to fall face
-
down
into the gutter
--
I would see
Edwardian
England, baroque civic architecture at its finest,
octagonal
cupola and a frieze of Grecian ladies
dancing
beneath. Ahead of me was my own tower
block
, the only residential one in the city. It soared
up
through eighty metres of concrete and steel,
bisecting
the tender night sky. Some called
it
Bauhaus, others Brutalist. For myself, I had found
it
exciting to move into a flat poised high above the
city
where I'd struggled in the dirt for so long. I'd
paid
my first month's rent with my first police pay
packet
, and the two things were bound tight to one
another
in my mind
--
an upward leap, a chance to
see
the world as the ravens saw it on Scafell Pike.

It had taken me a while to notice
--
weirdly,
because
it was so obvious
--
that my citadel was
built
on thin air. A four-lane road ran right beneath
it
. The block was lodged on vast concrete piers
that
protruded out over the entrance, blocking
daylight
and attracting drunks and deadbeats.
Once
I'd moved in, I'd learned other things about it
--
that
its
planner and architect had ended up in prison for
grand
-scale corruption in forcing development
permissions
through, that it would have been
demolished
years ago if not for the forest of radio
and
cellphone transmitters that had sprung up on its
roof
, the highest point for miles around. I hadn't
minded
. Its hollow base had struck me more as a
wonder
than a threat, and anyway I was scarcely
ever
there. I'd used its forty flights of stairs as a
training
run. Sometimes I even climbed them now.

No matter how grim a mood I was in when I got
home
, by the time I'd dragged myself up to my own
front
door, I would be in so much pain that
everything
else would drop away from me. Admin
tasks
, interviews, a life that revolved around
paperclips
instead of guns and swift-footed
justice
--
my mind would go blank on the lot, and often I
could
knock back my pills with a tumbler of scotch
and
hit my bed unconscious.

No chance of that today. I'd overdone it
spectacularly
chasing bloody Rowan Clyde, and
would
have to take the steel coffin of a lift, which
always
smelled of cat pee despite my conviction
that
no self-respecting cat would come near the
place
. I'd be lucky if I made it that far. I stumbled
on
the steps beneath the forbidding monster pier,
and
I wondered if this was it, if I'd dislodged the
bullet
and was about to collapse like overcooked
pasta
right here, numb from the waist down
forever
. No
--
I took another step and then another,
and
then a dozen more, and I hit the button for the
lift
and nothing happened.

Nothing at all.

"Shit," I told the tight-closed doors in front of
me
, pressing my palms and my brow onto their
smug
unyielding steel. "Fuck. Shit. Fuck."

"Vincent!"

I jerked my head up. One other person did
call
me that
--
Mrs Dixon, my neighbour from the
second
floor, resplendent in blue rinse and floral
raincoat
. Four flights of stairs could inconvenience
her
as badly as my forty, and I'd carried her
groceries
up a dozen times when the lift was out of
order
. I could have carried
her
. "Sorry,
Mrs
Dixon."

"Is that thing not working again? It's a blessed
nuisance
--
but such language, dear!"

"Yes. I didn't know you were there."

"Well, it'll be the end of me, and then I shall
sue
them," she informed me cryptically. "Where
there
's a blame there's a claim, you know. I shall
have
to go to Elsie's for my tea."

"All right. Your purse is right on top of your
bag
, Mrs D."

She peered into her Co-op grocery bag and
poked
the purse further down. "So it is. You're a
good
boy, Vincent."

She turned and waddled off. She expected the
door
to be opened for her, so I went and did it. I
followed
her through, then sank down onto the top
step
beside one of the regular drunks, who saluted
me
kindly enough with a paper-bagged bottle.

I almost envied him. He, presumably, had
reached
the end of his fall. Pathetically, I
envied
Mrs Dixon and her tea at Elsie's. No sleet would
be
falling in Elsie's living room. I thought about
getting
up and going back inside, but there was
nowhere
to sit.

This was a new low for me. Of course it
wasn
't rock bottom. Unlike my neighbour tramp, I
had
a phone in my pocket, friends who would
come
and help me.
Officer in distress...
Bill
Hodges would send out a car. Nevertheless, just
for
now, I was trapped on the steps of my own
building
, unable to go further or go home. I
propped
my elbows on my knees, let my brow rest
in
my hands. I would get my head up, sort this
situation
out, in just a minute. The sleet began a
cold
-footed dance on the back of my neck.

"DS Carr?"

I jumped so hard I made the tramp jump too.

Rowan Clyde was standing over me, the collar of
his
jacket turned up, his hands in his pockets. His
hair
was longer than the fortnight-old surveillance
shot
had shown, and the wind was blowing damp
strands
of it over his brow. His eyes were a rich
agate
brown, somehow catching warm gold lights
in
the bitter dusk. Half a dozen stupid ideas
occurred
to me, and one fell out of my mouth. "Did
you
follow me?"

Again, a lift of one dark eyebrow. A look that
said
plainer than words,
don't flatter yourself
.

"No. This is my route home." He took one step
back
and looked up at the sheer concrete cliff
above
us. I watched him, hope stirring in spite of
myself
. Maybe he'd changed his mind about
helping
me out. Maybe I'd have something decent
to
take back to Bill after all.

"I've got a mate who lives in there. He says
the
lift never works."

"It works sometimes."

"Not today, though."

"Er... no. Not today."

A silence fell, more awkward somehow than
the
ones that had punctuated my clumsy
interrogation
in the gallery. The tramp cracked it
for
us, waving his bottle again to greet the new
arrival
. "Bonny lad," he declared, then looked
closer
. "One half, anyway. Other half looks like
fookin
' mincemeat." He tipped his head back and
loosed
a cackle of delight at his own wit.

"Sorry," I said, calmly as I could. "You
haven
't been introduced. This is the rat-arsed guy
who
lives on my steps, and I won't bother telling
him
your name because I tell him mine every time I
see
him, and it doesn't make any difference. Does
it
?"

"Aye, our Vernon. That's right."

Rowan nodded. He didn't seem fazed by the
mincemeat
gag. He looked tougher in daylight than
he
had beneath the gallery's lamps, and as if he
might
have been called worse. He extended a hand
to
me. I took it on reflex, only realising then the
clammy
chill of my own. As soon as I was on my
feet
, I let him go. I wasn't even sure why he'd
thought
I needed his help.

"Were you on your way in?"

"Er, yeah. But..."

"Come on, then. This is turning to snow."

So it was. I put a pound coin into the tramp's
grubby
outstretched palm
--
he seemed to expect it,
and
it was one less bit of shrapnel to lug up those
bloody
stairs. And of course he was nowhere near
having
reached the end of his fall, not on a night
like
this. He and I both could go infinitely further
down
. Rowan was holding the door for me. I got
past
him awkwardly, and we stood in the hallway's
grey
shadows. It was a place where the wind
seemed
to moan even on a calm day. It was dank
and
grim. I'd never noticed. Who cared? It was
like
a railway platform or a bus depot, a means of
getting
somewhere else.

"Are you all right?"

"Yes."
Why wouldn't I be
, I wanted to
demand
. But there I was, standing beached and lost
between
the worlds, arms folded over my chest to
hold
back shivers. "I'm fine."

"I'll try the lift again." He pushed buttons,
listened
for a moment to the unresponsive silence
behind
the doors. "No. Sorry, nothing."

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