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Authors: Jessie Keane

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BOOK: Scarlet Women
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Ross sat there, impassive.

She opened the front door and to her shock found Tony standing there. He pushed inside, closing the door behind him. She glimpsed two policemen coming up the path. There was a cop car parked just in front of the black Jag.

‘Shit,’ said Annie.

‘Don’t think it’s a raid, they’re not mob-handed,’ said Tony. ‘Still, better keep it down in here.’

Ross was already on it. He’d shot out of his
chair at the word ‘raid’ and was already in the front room passing the word. The music was turned off. The laughter died. As the front doorbell rang he grabbed the visitors’ book from the hall table and ran off up the stairs to spread the word. Silence fell up there. Then he came back down and went into the kitchen, told Dolly. White-faced, she came out along the hall and looked at Annie and Tony standing there. She straightened her suit jacket, patted her hair and opened the front door.

‘Miss Farrell?’ asked one of the young coppers, politely removing his helmet.

Dolly nodded: yes.

‘Sorry to disturb you, miss. Can we come in?’

Oh hell,
thought Annie.

They went on into the kitchen. Ross was gone, out the back way. Dolly gave Annie a quick ‘don’t you dare fuck off’ glance, so Annie followed her and the coppers into the kitchen and they all sat down. Tony went off into the front room, out of the way.

‘What’s this about?’ asked Dolly.

The coppers exchanged a look, then the older one spoke.

‘Miss Farrell, a body has been found. There was a card on the body that led us to believe that the person in question was working out of an escort agency run by you from this address.’

‘A body?’ Dolly looked whiter than ever.

‘A young black female.’

Annie felt as sick as Dolly looked. She thought of Aretha, not calling in this morning. Aretha had been out on an escort job last night.

,’ Dolly whispered. ‘Not Aretha?’

‘We’d like you to accompany us to the station,’ said the copper. ‘If you’re willing to identify the body?’

Ain’t that Chris’s job?
thought Annie. She looked at Dolly.

‘It’s okay, Doll,’ she said, standing up, ‘I’ll come with you. Wait up while I phone Kath and let her know I’ll be delayed.’

Five minutes later they were in the back of the cop car being driven to the police station, both sitting silent and shocked, wondering what the hell was kicking off here, hoping against hope that the young black female was anyone, anyone at all, but not—please God—Aretha Brown.

When they reached the station they were led into the bowels of the place, into an antisepticscented room.

‘Oh fuck,’ said Dolly.

There was a body laid out under a sheet.

Annie grabbed Dolly’s hand and held it tight.

An attendant pulled the sheet back while the same two coppers hovered in the background.
Annie stepped forward, but Dolly seemed rooted to the ground. But she was close enough to see who was there. Together they looked down on the dead face of their good friend Aretha.

‘Oh no. Oh shit,’ whimpered Dolly, putting a hand to her mouth.

Annie was silent, staring, her guts churning with shock and grief.

Aretha’s face was not her own any more: it was a mask of death, wet and greyish, all the life gone. The eyes were closed, the mouth half open. There was redness along the jaw and around the neck there was a thin, bloody line.

‘Do you positively identify this woman as Aretha Brown?’ asked the older PC.

Dolly nodded, unable to speak, tears starting in her eyes.

‘Yeah,’ said Annie shakily. ‘That’s her. That’s Aretha.’

When they were being led back through the station to the front desk they came across Chris—huge, bald, heavily muscled Chris: Aretha’s husband. Two more cops were taking him into a room. Annie saw to her shock that he was handcuffed. And his hands were bloody.

‘Hey!’ she said, quickening her pace. ‘Hey, Chris!’

All three men stopped and looked at her. One
of the cops was tall and dark haired, the other one was dumpy and balding. Chris towered over them both.

‘I didn’t do nothing!’ Chris yelled out, tears streaming down his face.

Annie hurried over. The tall, dark-haired one had the air of being in charge, so she addressed her remarks to him. ‘What’s going on here? Wait up! You don’t think Chris had anything to do with Aretha…?’

The two plain-clothes cops exchanged a glance, then looked at her as if they’d stepped in something nasty.

‘And who are you?’ asked the tall one.

‘Annie Carter. This is Dolly Farrell.’

‘We’re interviewing Mr Brown. The officers will show you out.’ He turned away.

‘I’m going nowhere until I’ve talked to Chris,’ said Annie.

He turned back and stared at her with dark, unfriendly eyes. ‘What?’

‘You heard. Chris used to work for me. He’s a close friend of mine, I want to talk to him.’

He looked at her. Assessing her. He was going to tell her to bugger off, she just knew it. But then he surprised her.

‘All right. You can sit in on the interview for ten minutes, then you’re out.’

Annie nodded and moved forward. Dolly started
to follow. The tall one blocked her way. ‘These officers will show you out,’ he said.

Dolly gave him a glare and turned to Annie. ‘I’ll wait,’ she said.

Annie followed Chris and his captors into the interview room.

Chapter 3

The room was small, bare and windowless. On the near side of an oblong table were two chairs, one of which was quickly occupied by the portly, bald and sweaty-looking cop. They seated Chris on the other side of the table. He slumped there, his slab-like forearms spread out on the table, his big ugly ex-boxer’s head resting upon them. He looked fucked.

Annie watched him worriedly. She’d known Chris for years. He was a big, hard man who had once been the bouncer on the door at the Limehouse brothel. He was a Delaney man, but he was rock solid. Tough as nails. Took no crap from anybody. Now when he looked up at her his eyes were full of desperation; his face was wet with tears.

‘Oh Christ,’ he said, and put his head back down again, and sobbed like his heart was breaking.

‘All right, what the fuck you been doing to him?’ Annie demanded.

The tall dark-haired one gave her that ‘stepped in something nasty’ look again. She was already getting a bit tired of it. He moved a chair to the other side of the desk, beside Chris.

‘Take a seat,’ he said.

‘I’ll take a seat when you start telling me what’s going on here,’ said Annie.

He looked at her. His dark eyes were unfriendly. ‘Take a seat.
I’ll tell you what’s going on here.’

Annie sat down. She looked at Chris, hulking great Chris, sitting there crying like a baby. She had a very bad feeling about all this. She patted his arm. She noticed his hands were cut. She dug in her bag and pulled out a wad of tissues and handed them to him. He took them, nodded, wiped his face.

‘What’s going on, Chris?’ Annie demanded. ‘They been knocking you about?’

The fat bald cop let out a laugh. ‘You kidding? Look at the fucking size of him.’

Which was a point. Chris looked as if he could
both these cops; put them between two slices of bread—even the tall dark-haired one, who had the look of a man who could handle himself in a tight corner. But she had never seen him upset like this. Never seen him shed a single tear.

‘I want to know what’s going on here,’ she said, looking directly at the one in charge, the dark-haired, sour-faced one, who was now standing there leaning against the wall. He loosened his tie and stared at her
like she was shit on his shoe. He said nothing.

She turned her attention back to Chris. ‘How long you been in here?’

‘Jesus, I dunno,’ he groaned, running a huge, shovel-like hand over his face. He looked at her wearily. ‘Hours. Fucking hours.’

‘Shouldn’t he have a brief here?’ Annie asked the cops.

‘Probably he should,’ said Prune Face. ‘I’m Detective Inspector Hunter, this is Detective Sergeant Lane.’

‘Oh. Right. I’ll get a brief organised.’ She looked a question at Chris. Wondered why Redmond Delaney hadn’t done this already

‘Good. The sooner the better.’

‘What happened?’ Annie looked at Chris, who shook his head. Tears were still seeping out of his eyes, running unchecked down his face. ‘Chris, come on. What happened?’

He gulped.

‘It’s Aretha,’ he mumbled. He closed his eyes. His face was a mask of anguish. ‘She’s
Annie,’ he said, and buried his head in his arms again, and cried hard.

‘I know.’ She thought of her friend with the huge grin, the shock of dreadlocks, the wildly colourful clothes, wafting in to Dolly’s parlour just a few days ago shouting, ‘Hey girlfriend!’ and giving her a high-five and a warm hug.

‘She’s dead,’ sobbed Chris. He lifted his head and looked at her. Desperation and despair and deep, heart-wrenching grief were all written large across his face. ‘She’s fucking
, and they think I killed her!’

‘No,’ said Annie. She looked at Chris, then at DI Hunter and DS Lane. She shook her head.

‘I’m afraid it’s true,’ said Hunter.

‘There has to be some mistake.’

‘There’s no mistake,’ said Hunter.

He nodded to Lane. The fat one stood up, went to the closed door, opened it, snagged a passing uniform and told him to fetch in some water. He closed the door, sat down again. DI Hunter was leaning on the desk and looking at Annie and at Chris as if they were
guilty as hell.

Annie looked up at him, trying to take all this in. ‘Does her family know yet?’ she asked him.

‘Not yet,’ he said.

A PC came in with a tray, plastic cups and a jug of water. He placed it on the desk, then left the room.

Annie cleared her throat. ‘Look—Chris wouldn’t
harm a hair on Aretha’s head. You’ve got it wrong. Whoever did this, it wasn’t Chris.’

But what about the blood on his hands?
she thought, unable to help herself.
What the fuck was that all about?

Hunter’s fixed expression of disapproval deepened. He raised his eyes to the ceiling, as if she had cracked a really good joke.

‘The evidence indicates otherwise,’ he said.

‘What evidence?’ demanded Annie.

‘Look, luv,’ chipped in DS Lane. ‘Fact is, this tart had a bag-load of S & M gear with her. Whips and rubber coshes and nursy outfits and peephole bras, stuff like that. She wasn’t exactly a
If you know her then you must know that’s true.’

What, and you think that means she deserved this?
thought Annie in fury.

She said nothing, just glared at the fat, repulsive Lane.

‘We know she worked as an escort,’ said DI Hunter.

‘So where’s your evidence against Chris?’ asked Annie.

‘Mr Brown was waiting for his wife in his car, according to him,’ said Hunter. ‘Perhaps I’d better let Mr Brown himself fill in the details.’

Annie looked at Chris. He gulped, gave a shuddering sigh and wiped at his eyes. He looked at her.

‘Chris?’ she prompted.

‘I was waiting for her. Around the corner from the hotel. In the car. It was raining, raining hard. She’d told me she’d be finished by one o’clock in the morning, but by one thirty she still hadn’t shown and I started to get worried.’

He took a shuddering breath.

‘But I didn’t want to make a fuss. Aretha hates…
it when I made a fuss. She was a free spirit. A real free spirit.’ He paused, gulped, gathered himself again. ‘At a quarter to two, though, I was getting really steamed up. Really worried. I got out of the car. It was pissing down, hard to see two feet in front of your own face, real hard torrential rain, a pig of a night.’

They sat there listening to him and suddenly they were there, right there; Chris getting out of his Zodiac, shrugging his collar up against the rain, cursing the weather, angry and worried, where the
had she got to this time? The rain beating down, cold as Christmas on his bare, bald head as he hurried around the corner towards the hotel; not a soul about, this fucking weather. Pissing down. Summer in England, what else would it be doing?

His shoes were getting wet, water seeping into his socks, bouncing off the pavements, and now his bastard
were wet too, right up to the knee, he was going to catch his fucking
out here,
rain coming down like knives, deafening, blinding, and thunder rolling now, oh-ho, a summer storm to add to the fun, lightning flashing and crackling in the distance; oh, he was having a
of a time out here, getting wet right through to his skin.

Bloody Aretha! Couldn’t she ever be on time, just once?

As they listened they could picture him shuffling along the rain-slicked pavements, traffic still on the roads, wheels hissing through the rain, wipers going full speed; poor bastards, didn’t they have homes to go to? But no one walking the pavements, no one about in the dark and the rain except working girls, and the guys who were unfortunate enough to be their pimps or their boyfriends or—more rarely, like Chris—their husbands.

‘Go on,’ said DI Hunter when Chris paused.

Annie poured out water, tried to force it down: couldn’t.

‘That’s when I found her,’ said Chris, his voice breaking. ‘I…I tripped over her. I thought…I thought some fucker had left a bag of rubbish on the pavement, I tripped, fell over her, I didn’t know it was her…’

Annie reached out, squeezed his arm.

‘Then I realized. Saw it was her. I thought…’ He looked up wildly at the two men seated opposite. ‘I thought she was just unconscious, you know?
Thought she’d drunk too much in the hotel. I just thought, silly bint, you could catch pneumonia like that, laid out pissed on a sopping wet pavement in the middle of the night; you could catch any damned thing, ain’t that right?’

He was looking at Annie. She nodded.

‘Then I saw that she had this…this
around her neck.’ His voice cracked again.

He stopped talking, shook his head.

Annie looked at Hunter. ‘What thing?’

‘A cheese wire,’ said Hunter. ‘Length of wire with a toggle at each end. What the French call a
They used them during the war, to knock out sentries without a sound. Swift and very effective. Five seconds at the outside and you’re unconscious, five seconds more and you’re dead. Mr Brown’s prints are on the toggles. And his blood is on the wire.’

Blank-faced with horror, Annie looked at Chris.

‘I saw it around her neck and I tried to get it off her,’ said Chris in a rush. ‘I thought—I thought, oh Christ, it’s choking her, cutting off the air, I had to get it

But she was already dead,
thought Annie, feeling truly sick now. She looked down at Chris’s huge, ham-like hands, looked again at the deep cuts there. Looked back at his face.

‘But it was sort of…it was
into her throat, embedded there. I pulled, yanked at it, I had to get
it off her. I was…Jesus, I don’t know what I was doing, I was talking to her, telling her it was going to be all right, that I’d get it off, that everything was going to be fine…’ His voice tailed away to a whisper…‘But it wasn’t, was it? I tried to wake her, I talked to her, I tried…but she was dead. She was

BOOK: Scarlet Women
2.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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