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 (9 page)

BOOK: Scaredy cat
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'Something about him worried her though. She could never really say what it was and when I tried to find out more she shut up, like it was something spooky. I never even knew the bloke's name. But you should try and find him. I know that wanker Lickwood thought I was some kind of nutter, but I knew Jane. You know... ?'
McEvoy was impressed. The woman was angry, but as far as McEvoy could tell, she had no axe to grind. There was a burst of throaty laughter as Lyn Gibson put another cigarette in her mouth, but as she lit it, McEvoy could see the flame reflected in the tears that were gathering, ready to drop.
'I told her to come and stay at mine, you know. Stupid cow was too fond of her own bed.' She laughed again, and the laugh became a cough. She took a deep drag and pressed the heel of her hand to an eye. 'I'll tell you the really stupid thing. The film we went to see that night. It was shit. It was a shit film...'
It was amazing how much a simple thing like the Christmas lights in Kentish Town could raise Thorne's spirits. They were a long way removed from the gaudy display of Oxford Street or Brent Cross, just simple strings of white bulbs stretching from one side of the main road to the other, but he found them bizarrely uplifting after two hours in the company of Derek Lickwood.
Thorne liked Christmas. He didn't get as excited as he had when he'd been a kid, but then who did? As an only child, it had always been special. Now, he could afford to be cynical when the decorations started appearing in shops sometime just after Easter, and marvel at how much money was spent, but he always hoped for a white Christmas, and a kids' choir singing The Bleak Midwinter still made him teary.
This brief, early flowering of seasonal cheer was more than a little pissed upon when Thorne arrived home and opened his post to discover that his one and, thus far, only Christmas card was from the Bengal Lancer, thanking him for another year of custom. Now seemed like as good a time as any to thank them for their card-cum-calendar, by ringing to order a home delivery.
Moving to get the phone from the table by the front door, Thorne noticed the light blinking on the answering machine. He pressed play and then, a few seconds later, hit the Stop button as soon as he heard his father's voice. Thorne knew that the message itself would almost certainly be unimportant; just the latest in a long line of thinly veiled hints about his failure to ring.
Thorne took the hint and picked up the phone. Since the death of his mother two and a half years earlier, the relationship between Tom and Jim Thorne had settled into one defined by the father's absurd, almost pathological fondness for pointless quizzes and stupid jokes, and the son's grim acceptance of blame for the fact that the distance between them was far more than the twenty-five miles from North London to St Albans.
Forced laughter and instant guilt.
It was usually the joke that came first. 'Tom, what is ET short for?'
'Go on dad...'
'Because he's only got little legs.'
Then the guilt, which tonight took the form of the annual amble round the houses to decide where Thorne's father was going to spend Christmas. He'd spent the last two with Thorne in London, and the couple before that, when there'd been three of them. The days when there had been four of them to exchange socks and perfume, eat dry turkey, argue over the Queen's speech and then fall asleep in front of The Great Escape, seemed like a long way away. The days before strokes and hospital visits and a grief that changed people for ever. The days before affairs.
Now, there was just the father and the son, and it was as if the old man needed to be wooed, like a girl. He had a sister in Brighton, whose name would go unmentioned all year and would then be mysteriously dropped into the conversation around the same time that the first Christmassy Woolworths adverts appeared on television. Thorne knew his dad's 'I know you're busy, let's not bother' routine by heart. Like Santa, it came once a year and Thorne had started off believing it. Yes, he might go to Eileen's... maybe it would be easier for everybody.., he didn't want to put anybody to any trouble.., he promised to tell him as soon as he knew what he was doing... Thorne was well aware that the old sod knew exactly what he was doing.
By the time two cans of Sainsbury's premium Belgian lager had washed down a plateful of Kentish Town's finest Kashmiri food, Thorne had stopped being pissed off with his father. It was time to catch up with McEvoy and Holland.
Holland told Thorne that he'd gone through Margie Knight's description with Michael Murrell, and even though they were similar, Murrell maintained that the man he'd seen had been wearing glasses.
'Right, let's get Knight and Murrell together,' Thorne said, 'Come up with something definitive.'
McEvoy confirmed that Lyn Gibson's story needed checking out. Something had gone on with somebody at Jane Lovell's office and it was worth looking into. After all, might not at least one of the killers have started close to home? Started with somebody he knew? Thorne had been thinking exactly the same thing and despite what Lickwood had said about it being a waste of time, he'd already decided to see what he could find out. He'd have done it anyway, whatever DS
McEvoy had thought of Lyn Gibson, just to annoy Derek Lickwood. If he couldn't punch him, he could at least piss him off. As he spoke to McEvoy, Thorne gathered up the takeaway cartons off the floor. Elvis, his cat, squirmed around his ankles, yowling. He'd inherited her, stupid name and all, a year earlier in unpleasant circumstances, during the hunt for the 'Sleepyhead' killer. Elvis was a nervous moggy, but it never seemed to affect her appetite. Thorne carried the rubbish through to the kitchen. He couldn't say that he actually liked his flat very much, but it was at least tidy, most of the time.
He scraped the dried remains of his dinner into the bin, thinking that it would be nice to hear a woman say how tidy his flat was. Sarah McEvoy told Thorne that she'd see him tomorrow and switched off her phone. She smiled across a Dave Holland who, not two minutes before, had said and done exactly the same things. The bell rang for last orders. Holland looked first at his watch and then at McEvoy. She nodded and reached for a cigarette as he picked up their empty glasses and began pushing his way through the crowd towards the bar.
Thorne sat thinking about the day, no crowds keeping him from drink. It had been a day when sirens had wailed. When he'd been aware of the all too familiar noise, more so than usual; every few minutes, moving towards or away from him. The Doppler effect of one barely registering, before another took its place. Perhaps there'd been some horrible incident. A train crash. A fire in a tube station. Or perhaps it was just another day in a city Thorne loved and hated in pretty much equal measure.
Police cars, ambulances, screaming their way around the streets of the capital.
The sound of London.
Thorne stared at the television screen. He was thoroughly unengaged by the brash and jumpy images. Half past midnight, and the programme seemed to consist of a partially dressed woman shouting at complete strangers in the street. Thorne didn't connect with it on any level. He saw only a face that was vaguely familiar. A tired-looking, grey face, dimly glimpsed, floating behind the dusty screen, in the occasional, blessed moments of dark stillness. Outside, it was cold enough for snow.
Inside, Thorne sat staring at his own reflection. Wondering what Charlie Garner wanted for Christmas.
************
1986
Even later on, when winter came, he knew that he would prefer to be outdoors. On the street. There were bound to be a couple of days, he knew that, a couple of those really bad days when the cold made your balls ache, when he would need to get into a hostel for the night. He'd heard a couple of the really old ones, the stupid old fuckers, the drunks, talking about nights when your trousers would freeze stiff and stick to your legs, and you'd have to piss in your pants just to thaw them out. Then, maybe, he might go back to the shelter, back for the hot soup and Jesus bit. Otherwise though, unless the snow was at least a foot thick, he'd be sleeping outdoors. I mean that was why they called it 'rough' for fuck's sake.
And he'd always been able to put up with plenty of pain. This place was genuinely unique. A maze of walkways and underpasses and tunnels. A small city of concrete rat-runs for the human rats. It was only really at night that Cardboard City sprang fully formed to life. In order to appreciate the faces properly - the mad eyes, the running sores, and the matted beards - you needed to see them lit by the glow from a fire burning in an oil drum. By day, the skateboarders had the run of the place, but when darkness fell they would pick up their boards and drift away, home for dinner, and then the vermin would come out. The vermin like him.
He'd only arrived here recently. At first he'd been content with a doss-house and had usually made enough each day for a night in the Endell Street Spike in Covent Garden, but he didn't believe in doing things by halves. Outdoors was best, and besides, it tickled him to live here, down below the South Bank, with the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre right above his head, in a city built from boxes and fuelled by strong lager and despair.
Begging would do for the moment. There was plenty of time to work out an angle, but for the time being, a couple of quid a day was doing him handsomely. Enough to buy a paper, and a can of something, and always the chocolate to give him energy. He firmly believed in never doing anything unless you were going to give it absolutely your best shot. He was a very good beggar. He'd picked it up very quickly. He didn't just stand there looking like a puppy who's pissed himself, holding out his hand like some Ethiopian. He made an effort. Yes, he was brighter than most of the others, and him being only sixteen didn't hurt, but it wasn't rocket science was it?
It was all about making the punter think that they had no other choice. Not by being aggressive, no; that was stupid and a waste of energy. It just needed to be real, and looking like you had a sense of humour didn't hurt. If I can afford to laugh about this, mate, you can afford to put your hand in your pocket, and if all you've got in there is a pound coin then you might as well toss it my way. Gawd bless you guv'nor... These yuppie cunts could afford it anyway.
Leaving had been the best thing, he was certain of that now. Six months ago, chucking a few things in a bag, nicking the money he'd need to tide him over from his mum's purse. He'd not been a hundred per cent sure then, but he knew he didn't really belong there. Had to go.
He still thought about Palmer and about Karen. Thought about them far more often than he thought about his mum. He dreamed about his dad, once, but tried not to think about him. It was stupid really. He didn't exactly miss them, he missed the things he could do when they were there, and the feelings he got from doing those things. Palmer and Karen were just like his air pistol or his knives or his cricket bat. They were things he used. It was a warm night. He lay back, his head on his bag and stared up through the ramps and stairwells at the thing that flashed and moved on top of the Hayward Gallery. Somebody told him that the colours changed with the wind. Art, by all accounts. Wank, more like... The moon was full above Waterloo Bridge. He could see figures moving slowly across, staring left and right, marveling at the view up and down the river. Stupid tossers. The best view of London wasn't from up there. London was happening down where he was, among the dopers and the dogshit. It was a city that came alive the lower you went, and he was starting to fit right in.
Martin and Karen...
He pictured them, in that blackened shed by the railway line, or in the park or the shopping centre, or traipsing through darkening underpasses, following him, looking. Martin, his huge hands flapping in panic, needing to be soothed, needing to be coaxed. Karen, laughing at him, at his awkwardness and anxiety.
Nicklin drifted off to sleep and dreamed about fucking them both.
SIX
Baynham & Smout was a large accountancy firm whose glass-fronted premises on Shaftesbury Avenue nestled next to those of film companies and publishers, a stone's throw from Chinatown and Soho. If, having spent a hard morning number-crunching, an accountant wanted a bowl of hot and sour soup and a hand job at lunchtime, this was a fantastic place to work.
Thorne sat on a vast black leather sofa admiring the understated but classy artwork on the expansive white walls. He glanced at Holland on the chair opposite, leafing through the style magazine he'd picked up from the glass-topped coffee table in front of him. He wondered how much more it had cost to kit out this lobby, than it had cost to furnish his entire flat. Probably more than it had cost to buy his flat... He caught the eye of one of the two gorgeous young receptionists sitting at adjacent, walnut desks on the other side of the lobby. She smiled. 'Won't be much longer.' As the words echoed off the marble and glass, her colleague looked up and smiled as well. Thorne nodded. One of them would only have been there for five months...
He closed his eyes and saw an image from one of the photos in his ever expanding gallery. She was lying on her side, her right arm trapped beneath her, and her left thrown high above her head, like a schoolgirl eager to get a teacher's attention. One high-heeled shoe was missing; it lay a few feet away, in a patch of nettles, and the dew glistened on her thin summer skirt. She was yellowy white, like the bone of some giant dog, gnawed and then forgotten. Her clothes hung on her like scraps of flesh, her hair like pale strands of gristle. The single patch of colour - the blood that had poured from the wound in her chest and dried overnight to the shade of old meat. Thorne looked over at the two girls busy at their computer screens when they weren't answering the constantly trilling phones. He wondered which of them had replaced Jane Lovell.
'Sean Bracher... sorry.'
BOOK: Scaredy cat
3.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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