Read The Last Temptation Online

Authors: Val McDermid

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General

The Last Temptation (7 page)

BOOK: The Last Temptation
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Behind her, the door opened. Carol turned her head and felt a tightening in her chest. ‘Hi,’ she said.

Tony crossed the few yards to the bar, a slow smile spreading. He looked as out of place in the bar as he always had everywhere outside his own rooms. ‘Sorry I’m late. The phone just wouldn’t stop ringing.’ There was a moment’s hesitation, then Carol turned to face him and they hugged, her fingers remembering the familiar feel of his well-worn tweed jacket. The

 

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couple of inches he had on her made him a good fit for her five feet and six inches. ‘It’s good to see you,’ he said softly, his breath whispering against her ear.

They parted and sized each other up. His hair had started to thread with silver round the temples, she noted. The wrinkles round his dark blue eyes had deepened, but the ghosts that had always flickered in his gaze seemed to be finally at rest. He looked healthier than she’d ever seen him. He remained slim and wiry, but he felt firmer in the hug, as if his compact frame had built a subtle layer of muscle. ‘You look well,’ she said.

‘It’s all this fresh sea air,’ he said. ‘But ‘you - you look terrific. You’ve changed your hair? It’s different somehow.’

She shrugged. ‘New hairdresser. That’s all. He styles it a bit more sharply, I think.’ I can’t believe I’m talking about hairdressing, she thought incredulously. Two years since we’ve seen each other, and we’re talking as if there had never been more between us than casual acquaintance.

‘Whatever, it looks great.’

‘What can I get you?’ the barman interrupted, placing a single cup with an individual coffee filter in front of Carol. ‘Milk and sugar in the basket at the end of the bar,’ he added.

‘A pint of eighty shilling,’ Tony said, reaching for his wallet. ‘Ill get these.’

Carol picked up her coffee and looked around. ‘Anywhere in particular?’ she asked.

‘That table in the far corner, over by the window,’ he said, paying for the drinks and following her to a spot where a high-backed settle cut them off from the rest of the room.

Carol took her time stirring her coffee, knowing he would recognize the displacement activity with his usual cool detachment, but unable to stop herself. When she looked up, she was surprised to see he was staring just as intently at his

 

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beer. Some time in the past two years he had absorbed something new into his behaviour; he’d learned to give people a break from his analytical eye. ‘I appreciate you taking the time for this,’ she said. Ť

He looked up and smiled. ‘Carol, if this is what it takes to get you to come and visit, all I can say is it’s a small price to pay. E-mail’s all very well, but it’s also a good way to hide.’

‘For both of us.’

‘I wouldn’t deny it. But time passes.’

She returned his smile. ‘So, do you want to hear my Mission Impossible?’

‘Straight to the point, as always. Listen, what I thought, if it’s OK with you, is that we could get you settled in at your hotel then go back to my place to discuss what they’ve got lined up for you. It’s more private than a pub. I only suggested meeting here because it’s easier to find than my cottage.’

There was something more that he wasn’t saying. She could still read him, she was relieved to find. ‘Fine by me. I’d like to see where you’re living. I’ve never been here before - it’s amazingly picturesque.’

‘Oh, it’s picturesque, all right. Almost too picturesque. It’s very easy to forget that passions run as high in picture postcard fishing villages as they do on the mean streets.’

Carol sipped her coffee. It was surprisingly good. ‘An ideal place to recuperate, then?’

‘In more ways than one.’ He looked away for a moment, then turned back to face her, his mouth a straight line of resolve. She had a shrewd idea what was coming and steeled herself to show nothing but happiness. ‘I’m … I’ve been seeing someone,’ he said.

Carol was aware of every muscle it took to smile. ‘I’m pleased for you,’ she said, willing the stone in her stomach to dissolve.

 

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Tony’s eyebrows quirked in a question. ‘Thank you,’ he said.

‘No, I mean it. I’m glad.’ Her eyes dropped to the gloomy brown of her coffee. ‘You deserve it.’ She looked up, forcing a brightness into her tone. ‘So, what’s she}like?’

‘Her name’s Frances. She’s a teacher. She’s very calm, very smart. Very kind. I met her at the bridge club in St Andrews. I meant to tell you. But I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure something was going to come of it. And then … well, like I said, e-mail is a good place to hide.’ He spread his hands in apology.

‘It’s OK. You don’t owe me anything.’ Their eyes locked. They both knew it was a lie. She wanted to ask if he loved this Frances, but didn’t want to hear the wrong answer. ‘So, do I get to meet her?’

‘I told her we’d be working this evening, so she’s not coming over. But I could call her, ask if she’d like to join us for dinner if you’d like?’ He looked dubious.

‘I don’t think so. I really do need to pick your brains, and I have to go back tomorrow.’ Carol drained her coffee. Picking up her cue, Tony finished his drink and stood up.

‘It’s really good to see you, you know,’ he said, his voice softer than before. ‘I missed you, Carol.’

Not enough, she thought. ‘I missed you too,’ was what she said. ‘Come on, we’ve got work to do.’

 

5i

 

All violent death is shocking. But somehow murder in a beautiful nineteenth-century house overlooking a tranquil canal, a medieval seat of learning and an impressive church spire provoked a deeper sense of outrage in Hoofdinspecteur Kees Maartens than the same event in a Rotterdam back street ever had. He’d come up the ranks in the North Sea port before finally managing a transfer back to Regio Hollands Midden, and so far his return to his childhood stamping grounds had lived up to his dreams of a quieter life. Not that there was no crime in this part of Holland; far from it. But there was less violence in the university town of Leiden, that was for sure.

Or so he’d thought until today. He was no stranger to the abuse that one human — or several combining in the same blind fury - could inflict on another. Dockside brawls, pub fights where insults real and imaginary had provoked clashes out of all proportion, assaults and even murders that turned sex workers into victims were all part of a day’s work on the ^ Rotterdam serious crimes beat, and Maartens reckoned he had grown a second skin over years of exposure to the ravages J of rage. He’d decided he was impervious to horror. But he’d been wrong about that too.

Nothing in his twenty-three years at the sharp end had prepared him for anything like this. It was indecent, rendered .

 

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all the more so by the incongruity of the setting. Maartens stood on the threshold of a room that looked as if it had been fundamentally unchanged since the house had been built. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling with mahogany shelving, its ornate beading warm with the muted gleam of generations of polishing. Books and box files filled every shelf, though he couldn’t see much detail from here. The floor was burnished parquet, with a couple of rugs that looked worn and dull to Maartens. Not something I would have chosen in so dark a room, he thought, conscious that he was avoiding the central focus of the room with all his mental energy. Two tall windows looked out across the Maresingel to the historic town centre beyond. The sky was a washed-out blue, thin strips of cloud apparently hanging motionless, as if time had stopped.

It had certainly stopped for the man who occupied the hub of this scholar’s study. There was no question that he was dead. He lay on his back on the wide mahogany desk that stood in the middle of the floor. Each wrist and ankle was tied to one of the desk’s bulbous feet with thin cord, spread-eagling the dead man across its surface. It looked as if his killer had tied him down fully dressed, then cut his clothes away from his body, exposing the lightly tanned skin with its paler ghost of swimming trunks.

That would have been bad enough, a profanation Maartens hoped his middle-aged body would be spared. But what turned indignity into obscenity was the clotted red mess below the belly, an ugly wound from which rivulets of dried blood meandered across the white flesh and dripped on to the desk. Maartens closed his eyes momentarily, trying not to think about it.

He heard footsteps on the stairs behind him. A tall woman in a tailored navy suit, honey blonde hair pulled back in a

 

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ponytail, appeared on the landing. Her round face was serious^ in repose, her blue eyes shadowed beneath straight dark brows. She was pretty in an unremarkable way, her understated make-up deliberately making her appear even more bland and unthreatening. Maartens turned to face Brigadier Marijke van Hasselt, one of his two team coordinators. ‘What’s the story, Marijke?’ he asked.

She produced a notebook from the pocket of her jacket. ‘The owner of the house is Dr Pieter de Groot. He’s attached to the university. Lectures in experimental psychology. Divorced three years ago, lives alone. His teenage kids come to visit every other weekend. They live just outside Den Haag with the ex-wife. The body was discovered this morning by his cleaner. She let herself in as usual, saw nothing out of the ordinary, did the ground floor then came on up here. She glanced in the study door and saw that -‘ Marijke gestured with her thumb at the doorway. ‘She says she took a couple of steps i inside the room, then ran downstairs and called us! |

‘That’s the woman who was waiting on the doorstep with the uniformed officer when we got here?’

‘That’s right. She wouldn’t stay in the house. Can’t say I blame her. I had to talk to her in the car. Tom’s rounded up some of our team and set them on door-to-door inquiries.’

Maartens nodded approval of her fellow coordinator’s action. ‘Later, you can go over to the university, see what they can tell you about Dr de Groot. Is the scene-of-crime team here yet?’

 

Marijke nodded. ‘Outside with the pathologist. They’re waiting for the word from you.’

Maartens turned away. ‘Better let them in. There’s bugger all else we can do here till they’ve done their stuff.’

Marijke looked past him as he moved towards the staircase. ‘Any idea on the cause of death?’ she asked.

 

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‘There’s only one wound that I can see.’

‘I know. But it just seems …’ Marijke paused.

Maartens nodded. ‘Not enough blood. He must have been castrated around the time of death. We’ll see what the pathologist has to say. But for now, we’re definitely looking at a suspicious death.’

Marijke checked her boss’s dour face to see if he was being ironic. But she could see no trace of levity. In two years of working with Maartens, she seldom had. Other cops protected themselves with black humour, an instinct that sat comfortably with her. But comfort was the one thing that Maartens seemed inclined to prevent his team ever experiencing. Something told her they were going to need more than Maartens’s austerity to get them through a murder as horrible as this. She watched him descend, her heart as heavy as his tread.

Marijke crossed the threshold of the crime scene. The recherche bijstandsteam had a fixed system, even though murders didn’t happen often enough on their patch to be routine occurrences. Her role while Maartens briefed the forensic team and the pathologist was to make certain the crime scene remained secure. She took latex gloves and plastic shoe covers out of the leather satchel she always carried with her and put them on. Then she walked in a straight line from the door to the desk, which brought her level with the dead man’s head. This study of the dead was her job, the one Maartens always avoided. She was never sure if he was squeamish or simply aware that he was better occupied elsewhere. He was good at putting people to tasks that suited them, and she had never flinched at the sight of the dead. She suspected it was something to do with being a farm girl. She’d been accustomed to dead livestock since early childhood. Marijke really didn’t care how much noise the lambs made.

 

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What she cared about was what this body could teach her about victim and killer. She had ambition; she didn’t intend to end her career as a brigadier in Hollands Midden. Every case was a potential stepping stone to one of the elite units in Amsterdam or Den Haag, and Marijke was determined to shine whenever she got the chance.

She stared down at the corpse of Pieter de Groot with a clinical eye, one fingertip straying to touch the distended abdomen. Cool. He’d been dead for a while, then. She frowned as she looked down. There was a circular stain on the polished surface of the desk, forming a nimbus round the head as if something had been spilled there. Marijke made a mental note to point it out to the scene-of-crime team. Anything out of the ordinary had to be checked out.

In spite of her intention to scan methodically every inch of the body and its surroundings, her eyes were irresistibly drawn to the crusted blood surrounding the raw wound. The exposed flesh looked like meat left unwrapped overnight on a kitchen counter. As she realized what she was seeing, Marijke’s stomach gave an unexpected lurch. From a distance, she’d made the same assumption as Maartens. But de Groot hadn’t been castrated. His genitals were still attached to his body, albeit smeared grotesquely with blood. She sucked in a mouthful of air.

Whoever had killed the psychologist hadn’t removed his sexual organs. His murderer had scalped his pubic hair.

 

Carol leaned on the window sill, the steam from her coffee making a misty patch on the glass. The weather had closed in overnight, and the Firth of Forth was a rumpled sheet of grey silk with slubs of white where the occasional wave broke far from shore. She longed for her familiar London skyline. It had been a mistake to come here. Whatever she’d gained

 

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professionally from the trip was more than cancelled out by the rawness of the emotion that Tony’s presence had stirred up in her. Bitterly, she acknowledged to herself that she had still been clinging to a sliver of hope that their relationship might finally catch fire after an appropriate gap of time and space. The hope had crumbled like a sandcastle hi the sun with his revelation that he had moved forward, just as she had always hoped he would. Except that she wasn’t the companion he had chosen to share the journey with.

BOOK: The Last Temptation
7.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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