Read Scaredy cat Online

Authors: Mark Billingham

Tags: #Detective, #Mystery & Detective - General, #Police Procedural, #Police, #Action & Adventure, #Serial murders, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #Fiction, #Psychological, #General & Literary Fiction, #Modern fiction, #Suspense, #Women Sleuths, #Traditional British, #Thrillers, #England, #General

Scaredy cat (26 page)

BOOK: Scaredy cat
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McEvoy was the first to see it. 'Fuck!'
Brigstocke and Holland looked at her, desperate to know what she was thinking, annoyed they weren't already thinking it.
'We were too late,' McEvoy said.
Thorne nodded, pushed himself away from the window and moved quickly across to his desk. 'He's pissing around. He knows we've got Palmer.'
Brigstocke stiffened. 'What?'
Thorne grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair and headed quickly for the door. The pain in his leg was gone. 'I got it wrong. He knows all about Palmer. We need to get him away from work now, get him home. It's Martin Palmer who Nicklin's planning to kill today...'
Brigstocke picked up the phone, shouted after him. 'Hang on, Tom. There must be at least half a dozen officers there...'
Thorne walked out without looking back. 'I'm not there.'
SIXTEEN
Thorne thought that Palmer looked scared, then realised it was the way he always looked. Certainly, Palmer's laughter when Thorne told him what was going on - why he'd been forced to take the rest of the day off 'sick'-seemed genuine enough.
He'd taken off his thick glasses, wiped his eyes and squinted at Thorne. 'Whatever else he is, Inspector, he's still my friend. I'm sure he still thinks of himself that way at any rate. He wouldn't try to kill me...
Thorne had said nothing, dragged a chair across to the window. That had been many hours ago. Since then they'd sat, or moved slowly around each other, saying virtually nothing as it grew dark, Thorne occasionally talking on the radio to the officers in the unmarked cars at the front and rear and to those on foot. Six officers were present, seven including Thorne. Still, the sudden crackle of static from the radio, the shrill ring of the telephone or a shout from an adjacent flat were enough to tighten something momentarily in his guts, to increase the beats per minute by a couple.
'What do you think of me, Mr. Thorne?'
Palmer had been perched close to the television. Thorne had turned the sound right down. Palmer leaned forward, switched the set off and swung round to look at Thorne who was sitting straight-backed on the sofa, eyes closed. He had his mobile in one hand, his radio in the other.
He spoke without opening his eyes. 'Nothing. I think.., nothing of you.'
'Sorry, I'm being dim. You think nothing of me or you don't think of me at all? It's confusing. Which do you mean?'
Now Thorne opened his eyes and his voice was tight with what might have been irritation. 'Either. Both. Turn the television back Palmer got up and moved across to take the chair opposite Thorne. As he sat down, Thorne stood and stretched, produced a yawn from somewhere. 'I'm going to get another coffee...'
'You must have seen a lot of killers, Inspector.' Palmer's voice was quiet, a whisper almost, but as always, he sounded like he had a heavy cold: nasal and laboured, the chest faintly wheezy between phrases.
'You've been in rooms with plenty of people who've done the same as me. Breathed the same air as a few who've done a lot worse I should think. I don't know, kids.., what have you.' Thorne said nothing, but the coffee seemed forgotten. He wasn't going anywhere. 'So why do I make you so uncomfortable?'
Thorne took a step towards Palmer, annoyed suddenly that he seemed so relaxed. Palmer drew back in his chair a little. 'You know that I'm here to catch him. Not to protect you. You do fucking well know that, don't you?'
Palmer nodded. Thorne stayed angry, groping for words. 'By the way, my dodgy knee makes me uncomfortable, one or two of my superiors often make me uncomfortable, wind makes me fucking uncomfortable. You ...'
'What? I make you sick? I make you want to hurt me?'
Thorne turned away and walked towards the window. He checked his watch as he went. It was a little after half past nine. He stared down at the courtyard outside, at the high green fencing and the quiet street on the other side of it. He could see one of the cars sitting a hundred yards or so away, could just make out the figures of the two officers inside. He imagined their tiredness, their irritation, and his own began to vanish, like dirty water down a drain. He waited a minute or two. 'I'm impressed you waited so long.'
Palmer pushed up his glasses, shook his head a little. 'Waited for what?'
'To give me the "I'm not like him" speech.'
'I wasn't...'
Thorne didn't take his eyes from the street below. He held up his hand to cut Palmer off. 'If that's what you're building up to here, you needn't bother. I don't care, and for what it's worth, I think you're actually worse.' He turned to see Palmer lowering his head, clasping his hands to his chest. 'Nicklin, you know, the one you reckon still thinks of himself as your friend, is a maniac. Psychopath, sociopath, whatever. I don't know why he kills. Not exactly. He likes it, he gets off on it, it's the only way he can express himself, sad little fucker. And he gets an extra kick out of getting you to do it as well.
'So, with you it's a bit easier isn't it? We know exactly why you kill.'
Palmer raised his head, blinked slowly behind his glasses. Thorne acknowledged the small plea he saw in Palmer's eyes.
'All right, past tense, we know exactly why you killed. You killed because he told you to. Pure and simple. To my mind, that makes you worse than he is.'
Thorne turned back to the window. 'He slaughters women in front of their children, and you're worse.'
It was several minutes later that Thorne heard the sigh of the armchair as Palmer stood up, and a few moments after that when he saw the shadow creep across the floor at his feet, and felt the presence of the man behind him.
'Have you ever been really afraid, Inspector Thorne?'
Outside it was cold and clear, but as he stared out at the night, the thoughts came against his will.
Thorne saw the rain suddenly begin to come down in sheets, and he was driving too fast along the dark, wet streets of south-west London, following a car with tail-lights like the eyes of a monster... He was moving through the corridors of a house full of whispers, the voices of those for whom it had been the last place they'd spent any time alive.
He was climbing, blind into an attic, rising up through the floor of a room that would soon be drenched in blood. What he saw when his eyes adjusted to the bright light stopped him dead like a palm pressed hard into his chest, took the breath out of him as effectively as any fist...
Now, one year on, the night was cold but clear, and as the memory receded, Thorne felt his heartbeat start to slow. While his breathing grew less shallow, he watched unmoving as the reflection of the man in the window grew larger and a killer drew closer to him. Palmer spoke slowly, the deep nasal voice emotionless, almost robotic. He gazed straight ahead, as if talking to the distorted image of himself in the windowpane. 'Whatever it is you're thinking, however bad it is, or was, imagine living with it. Not now and again. Not when you've had a few too many and it comes rushing at you out of nowhere. Not in the middle of the night when you wake up sweating and you thank God or whoever as mercifully it drifts away from you, but all the time.
'I'm talking about living with something that paralyses you, that turns your skin to something wet and unknown, even to your own touch. Something that makes your bowels boil and your blood freeze, that ties you up and cuts you off utterly, from every person but the one who frightens you, the one who generates the power of the fear itself, the one to whom you are bound and beholden.
'Now, imagine living with it to the point where, in spite of how much you hate and dread it, eventually it becomes something that you cannot bear to be without. It becomes a thing that you crave - the tightening in the chest, the rush as it hits you, the jolt as it does its work. The spidery touch of it, delicate and deadly, climbing up your body, from your toes to somewhere just behind your eyes, and yes, in your groin, always down there...
'By now, you need to be afraid to feel alive. The fear is the worst feeling in the world, the very worst, until it isn't there any more and you realise that there's a worse feeling.
'These aren't excuses, though I'm sure they sound like it. It isn't as simple as I'm making it sound, I'm not saying it is. What I did was not just.., a reaction. There was obviously some foul and desperate part of me that wanted to turn the tables, that wanted to make others afraid.'
Palmer shook his head, as if arguing politely with the other him on the dark side of the glass. 'No. No, I didn't do the terrible things I've done just because I was afraid. I don't even know if it was him I was afraid of, or whether I was being afraid for him, on his behalf.
'He was frightened of nothing, you see. He is frightened of nothing...'
Thorne did not want to turn to look at Palmer. Instead he looked hard at the reflection: the mouth turned mournfully down, the tears obvious despite the dirt on the window and the low light. At that moment, and Thorne would always be amazed by this, Palmer reminded him of nothing so much as one of those giant bears in some eastern European shithole. A lumbering thing, de-clawed and degraded, dancing in a collar and chain while idiots threw coins and those who watched it on the news at home threw bigger ones to try and put a stop to it.
Thorne was equally surprised by his own tone of voice when he spoke. It was, if anything, reassuring; so at odds with his anger of a few minutes ago. He was speaking for Palmer's benefit, as much as for his own.
'If he's out there,' Thorne said, 'he should be frightened.'
Palmer moved slowly forwards and placed a huge hand against the window, the fingertips whitening as he pressed against the pane. Thorne glanced sideways and watched Palmer staring out into the darkness at his past: distant, recent and somewhere in between.
'He's out there. He's always been out there.'
Holland woke and looked at his watch, panic-stricken.
'Fuck . . .'
He'd told himself he needed to get up an hour and a half ago but it had been so easy to drift off. Now he'd have some explaining to do. He needed to get showered and get the hell out of there. He needed to get home.
When he opened the bathroom door and saw her bent over the sink, his first thought was that she was being sick. He moved towards her, an arm outstretched.
'Sarah...'
She turned, the white powder obvious above her top lip. They stared at each other for a while. He was naked, goose-pimply, his arms wrapped around himself. She was wearing a white toweling dressing gown, her hair wet, her mouth hovering somewhere between two very different expressions.
Finally, she smiled. 'Want some?'
Holland barked out a laugh. His mouth formed itself into a question, a why or a what, but it wouldn't come out. He just wrapped his arms tighter, gritted his teeth and stared hard at the tiles around the bath, at the grout graying and flaking off, until he had something to say.
'Well, looks like I'll be making Sergeant a lot quicker than I thought...'
McEvoy's smile vanished and she turned away from him. She looked at herself in the mirror, leaned in close and blinked. In one quick, practised movement she wiped away the coke around her nostrils and slid the powdery finger into her mouth. She ran her tongue around her gums and spoke to his reflection, the anger not far below the surface.
'I don't need a fucking lecture, Holland. All right?'
'You're not going to fucking well get one,' he said. 'I just want a shower and I'm away...'
The smile came back then, of a different sort entirely. 'Right, back off home to her indoors, once you've washed the smell of me off your cock . . .'
Holland reached for a towel, wrapped it around his waist. 'Yeah, right. Change the subject, whatever.' He reached into the shower, turned on the taps, held his hand under the water waiting for it to get hot. 'Do you get high at work?'
McEvoy laughed and coughed at the same time. She spat something out into the sink. 'High? Jesus, Holland, you sound like my dad . . .'
The water was suddenly red-hot. Holland pulled his hand away quickly. He wanted to hit her. He wanted to shout, so he shouted.
'OK... slaughtered, wankered, off on one, monged, fucked up... whatever bit of stupid, fucking druggy jargon is the most current. Fair enough?'
'Well, we have been reading our pamphlets haven't we?'
'Answer the question.'
'What do you think? Do you think I take drugs at work? Do you not think I can do my job?'
'Not if you're using at work, no.'
McEvoy cocked her head, as if she was thinking about his answer. For a few moments they stood there, saying nothing, the small bathroom starting to fill with steam. She ran a hand through her wet hair and sniffed. 'So, now what happens, constable?'
Holland had no answer. Her dressing gown was starting to gape and his eyes dropped, just for a second, to her breasts. He felt himself harden immediately. She saw it at once and smiled, opening the dressing gown completely.
'Well, I'm still up for it if you are. I mean cocaine doesn't make you quite as horny as ecstasy but still...'
Before he could stop himself, Holland was moving across the bathroom, ripping the dressing gown from her shoulders and pushing her down on to the floor.
It was far better than when they had done it an hour earlier, better than it had ever been. Their voices, as they moaned and shouted and swore, echoed off the tiles. The hiss and spatter of the shower was not loud enough to drown out the noise.
In Martin Palmer's bathroom, Thorne stared at himself. Weighing up his options if, when, he walked away.
Thorne the pub landlord. Quite a few went down that road anyway, why not sooner rather than later? A couple of extra pounds and a beard maybe. Early mornings, changing the barrels, a free bottle or two for the local uniforms. Piece of piss... Thorne the shopkeeper. Why the hell not? The graying hair slicked back and someone else to do the accounts. No need to kowtow either. Curmudgeonly, characterful, with a faithful clientele... Thorne, forty-one and fucked. The copper who was fooling nobody.
BOOK: Scaredy cat
11.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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