In the beginning
There were two possibilities available. He could roll over and contain his anger until sleep came or he could persist and provoke her into a further outburst of emotion. He decided to try for sleep. He pulled the duvet with him as he turned away. It was a final provocation but she refused to react, clung firmly into her pillow. A filmic image came to him, the camera panning down from a highpoint on the opposite side of the room: two reclining figures in an intimate landscape of bedclothes and unresolved rage.
He was shouting at both his mother and his father when the ugly purr of the telephone finally woke him from his troubled dreams. Beside him, Cathy muttered something indecipherable and immediately fell back to sleep.
"Jacobson here, Ian. There’s a dead body that shouldn’t be and we’re both on the case. I’ll be addressing the assembled masses in half an hour."
Jacobson didn’t waste any words, stayed on the phone just long enough to attain his yawning assent. Kerr couldn’t remember when he’d drifted off, hoped he’d grabbed enough sleep to see him through the day. His legs found the carpet and his automatic pilot steered him to the bathroom. Ten minutes: he pissed, slapped cold then hottish then too hot water on his face, endured the misery of a half-asleep shave. He moved quietly back into the bedroom, pulled on his clothes without disturbing his wife. From the doorway, he looked back at the bed. Only her sleeping, sleepy head was visible, her face blondly obscured by her hair.
I love you. He said it outloud, knowing she wouldn’t hear, made his way downstairs with quiet footsteps. In the front room he switched on the light. The stain of spilt Chianti on the couch had dried from red to brown, uprooted books and records were still strewn everywhere. The crack across the front of the television set looked far worse than it had seemed the night before. He left the debris where it was and went out into the hall. There were a couple of envelopes on the doormat, almost certainly bills. He picked them up and carried them through to the kitchen table, ignoring the cat’s plaintive meowing from the other side of the front door. If he didn’t have time for breakfast himself then there was no reason why she couldn’t wait either.
Detective Sergeant Ian Kerr settled down on the back row of the briefing room. It was standard modern practice for the duty soco to video the crime scene on arrival. Somebody dimmed the lights and the latest snuff-movie began: the body of a man about five feet ten, thin, face down, blue 501s and a green check shirt. The scalpline was matted with black coagulated blood which spread down and outwards so that the corpse seemed to be floating on a dense, black puddle. Black insects buzzed silently on the screen.
When the lights came back on, a burly figure stood up at the front of the room. Detective Chief Inspector Frank Jacobson coughed smokily, unhealthily, before speaking.
"The victim is likely to be identified as Roger Harvey, age thirty-six, university lecturer, not married, not known as a homosexual or a drug user, no criminal record. No obvious motive, in short, to bash his brains into mashed potato."
Jacobson paused for effect. Kerr glanced discreetly at his watch. It was seven thirty-seven am.
"Chummie says he found the body around four o’clock. Once we know the likeliest time of death we should be able to eliminate him provided he can account for his whereabouts. In the meantime we’ll hold on to him but provisionally it looks as if we’re buying his story: a well-dead stiff discovered in the course of breaking and entering."
Kerr and Jacobson followed the custody sergeant along the corridor in the direction of the interview rooms.
"So Geordie’s really in the clear?"
"He’s a stupid bugger, but harmful to himself alone. Pure panic reaction. Undoubtedly attributes magic powers to the forensics. Assumed that somehow there’d be a trace of him when we finecombed the premises so he runs straight down the local nick with the news. Actually, it might be an idea if you do the business on your own. Just run him through his statement again. There might be some detail or other he’s forgotten to mention. That way I’ll have time to call in on Merchant, see what’s shaping up in the pathology lab. Tell McCulloch we expect to bail him on the burglary charge as soon as the time of death’s confirmed. The last bloody thing we need is another junkie topping himself in the cells."
The custody sergeant opened the door and Jacobson peered in with the air of a master of ceremonies.
"Cheer up, Geordie. I’ve brought an old pal to see you."
George McCulloch’s fingers drummed the table. He looked up impassively, watched Kerr sit down.
"Hello Geordie. I was really sorry to hear about Sylvie."
"Ah know that, Mr Kerr, but wance yer oan that stuff…"
His thin voice trailed off. There was no need in any case to complete this statement of the obvious. Together Sylvie and George had carried out a fairly impressive series of small-scale cons, credit card rip-offs and the occasional old-fashioned burglary. Like a schoolteacher or a doctor, Kerr thought, you always remember those first cases, almost felt a soft spot for them. At their second or third arrest, Kerr, newly out of uniform and keen, had talked the McCullochs into a methadone programme, kept them from a stretch. Now she was dead from adulterated gear and he’d just done the flat of a murder victim.
Kerr read McCulloch’s statement over to him again. He asked him to re-tell the crucial parts of his version of events once, twice, even three times. But there were no flaws, no obvious inconsistencies. He was either telling the whole truth or lying skilfully from start to finish.
"You’re absolutely sure there’s nothing you saw or heard that you haven’t mentioned? If we could clear this up quickly-"
"Ah’m sure, Mr Kerr."
He offered and lit McCulloch a cigarette from the pack which, as a non-smoker, he carried solely for professional reasons. He could have hated himself for that "quickly", for its easy, dishonest implication. McCulloch would go down this time even if he came up with the killer’s name, address and hat size inside the next three seconds. There was nothing useful for Kerr to do here but a minute still passed in uneasy silence before he spoke again.
"OK. That’s it for now. The autopsy and first lab reports should be through by tonight. If it all checks out, we won’t oppose bail. The constable will take you back to the cell when you’ve finished your smoke."
Kerr slid the cigarette packet across the table as he stood up. McCulloch tried a smile as slight as his huddled frame, as slender as his future.
The crime scene was a nondescript block of flats, six floors high, on the edge of town. Kerr slowed to a crawl as the block came into view at the end of a winding street of semis. The area was close to the countryside but not close enough. The relentless line of electricity pylons, which stretched out into the surrounding hills, grabbed the eyes far more than the hills themselves. Entry-level suburbia: you lived here if you were straight enough to qualify for a mortgage but still only a joke punter in the real property stakes. Office fodder, nine to five, computers, sales, teachers and - no doubt – coppers. What his father would have called Thatcher’s children, willingly or unwillingly intent on keeping the wolf from their doors, their heads above the gutter.
A car park with numbered spaces filled the void between the block and the closest semi. He parked up alongside a couple of patrol cars and got out into a strong November wind. At the far end of the car park, a young constable stood watchfully beside a blue Peugeot, the car, Kerr surmised, which must have belonged to the victim. Inside the first floor flat where the murder had taken place, he found the soco still hard at work and not exactly overjoyed by his interruption.
Roger Harvey’s flat was small and neatly but sparsely furnished if you excluded the massive amount of books and papers which it contained. A lounge, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and narrow hall with only the latter two devoid of bookshelves filled to capacity. The far side of the lounge, nearest the window, evidently doubled as a study. Here more piles of books jostled for floorspace and an old dining table bore the weight of a personal computer, printer and yet more books and papers. If the case turned slow, there would be a huge amount of sifting and delving to undertake.
He tried to fix the detail of the room in his memory. A long grey sofa marked the start of what was presumably the lounging part of the lounge: tv, video and a high quality set of hi-fi separates. They would have made Geordie’s week if it hadn’t been for the stiff. To one side of a fireplace with an unlit gas fire at its centre, the bottom row of shelving contained the dead man’s records, tapes, cds. Moving carefully, Kerr crossed the room and stood between the sofa and the fire from where he could make out the record which lay on the Linn deck. The stylus was still halfway across the surface. He strained his neck to read the label – Astral Weeks, Van Morrison. Kerr wondered when the music had stopped and under what circumstances, whether it had been the victim or the murderer or an innocent third party who had switched it off. At least, he thought, there was a possibility that Harvey had gone out to a decent soundtrack.
The soco had been dusting for fingerprints by the windowsill all this while but now it looked as if he was about to start on the area around the fireplace. Kerr decided not to push his luck any further. The detailed searching through Harvey’s possessions would have to wait, as properly he knew it should, until after the soco’s work was done.
"Inspector Jacobson should be here any minute. I think I’ll wait outside for him. I wouldn’t want to get in your way."
© Iain McDowall, 2000. All rights reserved.
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