Read Half Moon Chambers Online

Authors: Fox Harper

Half Moon Chambers (9 page)

"Yeah, my sane sister. I've got a nutcase
brother
somewhere too, although..." I shut up. My
memories
from my time in hospital were patchy,
and
sometimes I got them the wrong way round.

First Phil had gone missing, and
then
Chrissy had
come
and told me about the Tyne, and the fish
-
eaten
remains. He wasn't somewhere out there. No
longer
missing at all.

I bent to put the mugs on a coffee table by the
sofa
. It was a perfectly ordinary move and I
couldn
't understand what had gone wrong with it
--
I missed by inches and fell to my knees, thudding
down
into the spilled tea. "Ow. Fuck!"

Rowan darted over. He prised away the mug I
was
still clutching. "What is it?"

"Just get me..." A howl of pain was
clambering
up my throat. Swallowing, I gestured
frantically
in the direction of the shelf where I'd
left
my painkillers and the anaesthetic scotch.

"Those. Please."

"Okay." He ran to get them. He handed me the
pills
, managing the childproof top far more deftly
than
I ever did. "These what you need?"

"Yeah. And..."

He glanced assessingly at me, then at the
bottle
. "And this is what you don't. I'll get you
some
water."

I couldn't believe his bloody nerve. He'd put
the
scotch on the far end of the table, well out of
my
reach. Before I could think of what to call him
he
was back, pressing a glass of water into my
hands
. "Just try it this way this time," he said.

"Look, what does it matter? I'll be going in a
minute
, then you can get pissed if you want."

That was true enough. I just had to hold out
till
the bastard left. I knocked a double dose of the
painkillers
back with the water. "Not gonna take
the
... bottle away with you?"

He snorted. "From a grown man? A copper in
his
mid-thirties? You only get that kind of service
in
rehab, DS Carr."

"Vince," I said automatically, not knowing
why
. I didn't want intimacy
--
I wanted him gone. I
was
losing it. A grown man, as he said, on his
knees
in a pool of cooling tea, unable to get up...

Thank God the flooring was only cheap laminate.

I'd used to have nice rugs, but after I'd tripped on
one
and had to call a bloody ambulance, they had
gone
too. Something else he'd said struck me. "I...I'm twenty nine."

He gave a grunt that could have been
sympathy
or amusement. "Sorry. Rough paper
round
, was it? Come on, let's get you up."

"Just help me to the sofa. I'll be fine."

"Your bed would be better. Er... you
have
a
bed
, right?"

I did. It had been the scene of what I now
looked
back on as quite fantastically athletic sex. I
had
used to be able to hoist Jack up almost
vertically
when he put his legs over my shoulders
for
that kind of fuck. I'd thought nothing of it. It had
simply
been my young man's birthright of
unreflecting
strength. I stifled a groan as Rowan
half
-lifted me onto my feet. "Yes. It's through
here
."

He deposited me carefully on the edge of the
bed
. I saw his downward glance and forestalled
him
, kicking off my shoes. He gave my shoulder a
little
push, as if I didn't know the routine, and I
subsided
, losing a breath of relief at being
horizontal
. The drugs were beginning to kick in,
the
edges of the pain dissolving in white mist.

"Thanks," I said hoarsely. "Make yourself some
tea
, will you? Then please... Then just go."

"Your jeans are wet. Do you want me to
--
"

I coughed on unexpected laughter. "What?
No, stupid. It's fine."

"What happened to you, Vince?"

"Nothing. Just an accident at work." I closed
my
eyes. If he would let me be, I stood a chance,
although
I never slept for long. More likely I'd
surface
, twitching convulsively, visions of a
glittering
river and my brother's face and Jack's
retreating
back fighting for control of my
nightmares
. I was drifting now, though. I wasn't
even
cold any more, and I realised the duvet had
been
folded over me, the half I wasn't lying on
tucked
kindly round me. Still, it was stupid of me
to
fall asleep with a total stranger in my flat. I'd
delivered
a safe-living course at the YMCA about
that
kind of thing, another of Bill Hodges' make
-
work
exercises for me.
Don't let a stranger mix
your
drinks. No condom? No way.
I chuckled,
rolling
onto my side. The kids' faces were crystal
clear
to me now, as they'd stared in disbelief
at
Mansion Street's least convincing outreach worker.

Probably I'd wake to find my identity stolen. That
actually
sounded great to me right now.
Take it
,
Rowan, please. You're more than welcome.

Chapter Five

B
ill Hodges was away for the next three
days
. When he appeared by my table in the
canteen
, I thought his first task upon his return must
have
been to look at my interview notes on
Rowan
Clyde. They didn't make for impressive reading. I
gestured
to him to sit down with a chill in my gut.

What kind of copper was I, if I couldn't get such a
soft
-target witness as Clyde to cooperate? He was
only
a curator at a gallery. I'd taken the wrong
approach
with him from the start. I'd told the story
honestly
in my notes, and Bill's face was serious
enough
to suggest I might have screwed up my final
assignment
at Mansion Street. "Got some bad
news
, Vince."

If he'd come to sack me, I might as well make
it
easy for him. He was pale, his grey eyes tired,
cropped
hair ruffled as if he'd been running his
hands
through it. "Right. Yes, sir. What is it?"

"A bit of a bloody disaster. Our two
witnesses
did a flit last night."

I set down my coffee. "In the Maric case? The
neighbours
?"

"Yeah.
They
had Northern
Cypriot
connections
, and it looks like they used them. They
got
on a flight for Nicosia late last night."

"Shit. Can we get them back?"

"Yeah, after a couple of years and a legal
battle
. There's no extradition treaty."

"Without those two, won't we be lucky to take
this
to trial at all?"

Bill picked up my polystyrene coffee cup and
distractedly
drank from it. He pulled a face at the
sugar
. "Oh. Sorry, Vince. Yeah, I've just had
Chief
Inspector Walsh on the phone asking me the same
thing
. I saw your report on Rowan Clyde. On a
scale
of one to ten, how determined was he not to
help
us out?"

"If ten's an outright no
--
I'd say about twenty.
He's scared shitless. Maybe with reason. But I
didn
't help much, sir."

"Trouble is, without his testimony, Maric
will
probably walk. You're convinced he did see
something
?"

"Yeah. He's good at clamming up, but not
much
of a liar."

"Do you think taking another crack at him
might
help?"

"What
--
me? Are you kidding?"

"The uniform boys I sent after him didn't get
near
him at all. At least he talked to you, after a
fashion
."

What happened to you, Vince?

Of course my interview notes had terminated
with
my exit from the gallery. Everything after that
was
oddly dreamlike in my memory. I'd slept from
the
moment my head hit the pillow until six o'clock
the
next morning, a record for me even before the
shooting
. I'd woken to find the flat peaceful and
orderly
, the tea stains mopped up from the floor,
the
mugs washed and dried. I had to struggle for
recall
of everything between the steps outside my
flat
and my stiff, zoned-out waking, but I did
remember
that question of Rowan's
--
the sudden
unguarded
kindness in it, and his first use of my
name
. "I'll go and see him again if you like. He's
frightened
, though, and I don't blame him.
If
Maric's lads did beat him up, they gave him a
good
working over."

"As our sole remaining witness, he'd be
looked
after. I'd recommend to Walsh that we take
him
into protective custody. You could tell him
that
." Bill looked up at me. He was a
philosophical
soul as a rule, holding to the win
-
some
, lose-some attitude that a good senior officer
needed
to keep himself sane. He was shadowed
with
anxiety now. "We need to keep Maric locked
away
, Vince. If we can't, a hundred others just like
him
will spring up around this town. Our powers
of
enforcement are being eroded all the time
--
and
apart
from any of that, I'd hate to see the bastard
who
shot down one of my best men walking around
free
on the streets."

It took me a moment to realise he meant me.

"Okay," I said awkwardly, not wanting him to see
how
I'd been touched. "I'll try again."

"Good lad. I tell you what, though
--
wait till
tonight
, and see if you can catch him at home. I had
a
little note
--
very civil, mind
--
from
the
Langring's director. I think you might have trodden
a
bit of an Old Master into his parquet floor."

* * *

Half Moon Chambers. I wasn't sure who'd
built
it, or decided to decorate its wrought-iron
balconies
with plaques depicting enigmatic
crescent
moons. Commercial rather than private, I
thought
, and clearly the Edwardians had
entertained
different, more decorative ideas when
it
came to business premises than we did today.

The building had shadowed the Bigg Market for
over
a century now, a rococo ship in full sail,
indifferent
to the raucous life below, the daytime
stalls
and the rowdy nightclubs. I'd never been
inside
, though the fantastical Art Nouveau exterior
had
often caught my eye, and I entered carefully
now
, automatically keeping off towards the edge of
the
steps so as not to block the path of anyone
better
equipped than I was to get up or down them
in
a hurry.

Beyond the columns and fanlights, the inside
of
the place was shabby and decayed. Some of its
original
beauties were intact - that lift, for
instance
, which I was pretty certain never broke
down
. It didn't even look as though it ran on
electricity
--
a team of dray horses patiently turning
a
treadmill up on the roof, maybe. It was a big
cage
with wrought-iron doors. I stopped to admire
them
for a moment. Heavy black orchids flourished
around
their bars, and a startling display of blue
and
green tiles ran up and over the hallway's
arched
ceiling. After that, it was a bit of
disappointment
to find a 1950s drab cement floor
underfoot
, but I knew that many of the flats were
let
out to students and starving artists, a shifting
population
that didn't attract big restoration grants.

The Chinese kids who'd lived in the basement had
been
typical. Demi-monde people, disengaged
from
society, conducting their affairs
--
illegal and
otherwise
--
quietly enough, until one of them had
crossed
one of Goran Maric's invisible lines, and
unleashed
all hell behind the enigmatic crescent
moons
that decorated the building's facade.

I took up a casual position at the top of the
stairs
that led down to the basement. One aspect of
police
work I had always been good at
--
maybe
better
now than ever
--
was going unnoticed, and I
just
wanted to let the early evening foot traffic pass
by
me in the corridor, and see what could be seen
from
here. Yes
--
there was a line of sight down to
flat
12. Police tape now marked off the door, but if
that
door had been open, anyone crossing this part
of
the hall would have been able to see straight
through
the doorway. I glanced at the lift, and the
angle
from it to the main doors. You couldn't really
avoid
looking down at any commotion in
number
12, if you lived upstairs and happened to be
entering
or leaving the building. No special effort
would
be needed. I was a pretty good judge of
character
, and I didn't buy Rowan's denial of
seeing
anything at all. He'd held my eyes with
steady
defiance till I'd asked him the question
outright
. And paranoid and tightly strung as he
was
, there'd been something more there than
nerves
once he'd committed himself to the lie.

I made one last check of the lobby to see that
no
-one was taking an undue interest in my presence
there
. The back of my neck had prickled a couple
of
times as I'd made my way down from
Mansion
Street, but I hadn't been able to see that I'd picked
up
a tail. I'd try to get Bill to offer Clyde some
kind
of protection anyway, even if he didn't talk for
us
--
Maric's men had already taken one pop at him,
and
our two prime witnesses had been scared
enough
to run. I let myself into the huge cage lift,
struggling
a bit with the doors. This was better. If
it
jammed for any reason
--
if the horses up top
went
on strike
--
a man could walk around a bit,
and
even lie down in comfort until help came.

Upstairs I found myself in a blue-mosaiced
maze
. The building, foursquare from the outside,
here
on its top storey dissolved into curves and
odd
diagonals I couldn't make fit with its facade.

The floors had escaped renovation this high up and
there
were black-and-white geometric fantasies
beneath
my feet as well as the swirls of turquoise
tiling
on the walls. I shook my head, blinking. This
could
drive you crazy after a while. My own
building
took bleak to a far extreme, but I could
see
how that style had sprung out of this, the desire
for
clean straight lines. Rowan's flat was number
seventeen
. On my left the odd-numbered doors
were
counting down in one direction, and on my
right
the evens were headed the other way. I
followed
the odds and found they stopped at
fifteen
, then picked up again at twenty one. Clearly
the
place had been designed by a lunatic...

Retracing my steps, I saw a corridor off from the
main
hall, narrow and almost pitch dark. It was on
the
wrong side to lead to the missing flats, but I
took
it. I'd lost my bearings. This weirdly angled
passageway
must lead to one of the turrets, the
rounded
corner rooms under their domed, fish
-
scale
tiled roofs. I'd thought those must be for
decoration
only. From outside they'd looked
almost
derelict, paint peeling from the window
frames
. Still, there in front of me, terminating the
corridor
, were two doors. Nineteen was
numbered
, the other just a forbidding dark-wood
rectangle
.

It didn't take a genius. I hesitated, then
remembered
I was a policeman in pursuit of a
witness
and gave it a solid thump. A heavy silence
descended
. All sounds from the street were
muffled
up here. There was a sense of unreality, of
displacement
from the world. This was
Rowan
Clyde's hideaway. Suddenly I saw it as Rowan
might
. God knew who he thought had tracked him
down
in his lair. I leaned my hands on the door
frame
. "Rowan? It's Vince Carr."

The door opened straight away. The first
thing
to hit me was a rich smell of turpentine, and
then
the warmth. Rowan was standing in front of
me
, and to my surprise that uncertain smile was
back
. He was wearing an old, paint-stained shirt.

We stood for a moment in silence. If I was
sizing
him up, he was definitely doing the same to
me
. "Hi," I said. I needed a moment longer, a
chance
to get a feel for him. "I never thanked you.

For hoisting my arse up all those stairs, I mean,
and
clearing up my flat."

It was a lame effort at a hedge, but he didn't
seem
to mind. He wiped his hands on a cloth and
then
extended one to me. "Hi. We didn't do this
last
time."

I took his proffered grip. "No, we didn't. That
was
my fault."

"If you give me a ring before you visit, I
won
't be so slow about answering the door."

"Okay." Bill Hodges had specifically told me
not
to do that, to try and take him by surprise. I'd
enjoyed
that idea. I'd used to like every weapon in
my
arsenal, from the guns to the pysch techniques
for
rattling witnesses, wrong-footing them and
getting
round their guard. Rowan Clyde's bruises
looked
bad in the dim-lit hallway. Maybe it was
the
effect of my own injuries, but these days the
tricks
I'd learned lay heavy on me, like tools in a
bag
I was being forced to lug around. "I won't kid
you
it's a social call," I said. "I did want to thank
you
, but... there's something I need to talk to you
about
. Have you got a few minutes?"

"Yes, sure. Come in."

He closed the door behind me, and the
warmth
wrapped me round. "Crikey," I said
awkwardly
, following him down the hall. "I
wouldn
't fancy your heating bills. Are you growing
marijuana
in here?"

It was a poor joke in the circumstances, but
he
shot me a wry glance over his shoulder. "You'd
be
the last person I'd tell, wouldn't you? Take your
coat
off. I don't like the cold."

No. He didn't look as if he did. A proper little
hothouse
flower, I'd have labelled him, if this had
been
our first meeting and I hadn't encountered his
strength
. His shirt was tucked into soft, tight-fitting
jeans
that revealed his fine-made dancer's hips. He
had
the rich ivory skin which sometimes goes with
dark
hair and eyes. I couldn't imagine him ever
taking
a tan. Then, I wasn't in love with the
remorseless
bitter winter that gripped my city
from
November to late March myself, and I was glad
enough
to shrug off my heavy coat. Rowan took it,
grinned
at my gesture of fanning myself. I hesitated,
then
stripped out of my sweater as well. "Ta," I
said
. "I don't normally rip half my kit off before
starting
an interview."

"I'm glad to hear it." He hung my coat, more
carefully
than it deserved, off a brass hook in the
wall
. "Is that what this is, then? Another
interview
?"

"I'm afraid so." I rubbed my arms. It was nice
to
feel the warm air on them, to be able to stand in
a
T-shirt on a winter's day, and that tang of turps
kept
the rooms from being stuffy. "Something's
changed
in the Maric case, and I wanted to..." I
trailed
off. We'd moved from the dark hall into the
living
room. We were in one of the turrets
--
sunset
light
was blazing in through one large casement
window
and two round ones set into a curving
alcove
. "Bloody
hell
, Rowan. Are these yours?"

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