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DEATH IS A STRANGER #3


11. Suggestion

 

Royle had a visitor on that Wednesday evening; one who knew him well enough to knock on his back door. The face had changed subtly since their last meeting, a month earlier. Even though he no longer looked like Lenny Suskin, Bob Parker had retained his stocky figure and his voice. He had not yet decided whether to commission some reshaping of his vocal apparatus.
   "Well, what do you reckon?" invited Parker, turning his face up to the kitchen light. "That's the last of the plastic surgery on the old mug."
   "Anything they did could only be an improvement," grinned Royle. "Have you got little white lines all over your face. That are going to show up like stripes if you stay out in the sun too long?"
   "This is a quality job," protested Parker. "None of your hack and rush stuff."
   "It's taken you long enough. They've been chopping you about since before Christmas. And couldn't they have done something about your voice. And that Charlie Williams accent?"
   "They did tell me about altering resonant cavities and shaving vocal cords, but it all sounded a bit dodgy. I suppose I could have elocution lessons and become a bit more Home Counties, like you."
   "I can just imagine you learning to talk proper," laughed Royle. "Come to think of it, you look a bit older. Definitely on the wrong side of thirty."
   "The right side in my business. Clients trust someone who's been around a while. Shows he can survive." Parker was twenty-nine, two years older than Royle.
   "Can you have a drink without giving your trigger finger a bad case of brewer's droop?"
   "I might choke down a half of your white wine. Got any crisps to go with it?"
   Royle took a bottle from the door of his fridge and collected two half-pint mugs on his way into the living room. Parker had found his crisps and was crunching happily.
   "What do you know, Johnny?" he said, taking a mug.
   "What would you do if there was some bloke trying to stick a knife in you?"
   "Stick it in him first. Or was that a serious question?"
   "What if the bloke had tried to stab you in a park in front of witnesses? And the cops knew all about it?"
   "Keep looking over my shoulder till they pick him up."
   "That's the point. I didn't see his face at the time. It was some woman nearby that identified him. Only he's got three mates saying he was with them. The cops reckon there's sod all they can do about it, even though they know the bloke."
   "You can always shoot over to Amsterdam and move in with Sibbi for the rest of your life. You still got that thirty-two automatic?"
   "I've been lugging it around with me. But I'm in a no-win situation. He had another go at me this morning. By the cut. And there's this kid been following me around in a car with a C.B. set. I reckon he's been telling Draggo when I'm out in the open."
   "Draggo?" laughed Parker.
   "The bloke's called Lambert. He likes drag racing."
   "Doesn't do a drag act, then?"
   "Not as far as I know."
   "So what happened this morning?"
   "Like I said, he jumped out at me with this commando knife, like he was in the S.A.S. So I showed him the gun and he tripped over his own stupid feet and fell in the bloody cut! I was just going to ask him what his game is when these two kids out fishing turned up and he legged it."
   "Maybe you've frightened him off now, Johnny. What did you do to him, anyway?"
   "Nothing! That's the whole point. I've never even seen him before he started having a go."
   "No boxes come through the post full of money and photos, then?"
   "Not for ages."
   "So why don't you go round his place and sort him out?"
   "Because I've been warned off by the cops. Anything happens to him and they're going to be leaping all over me."
   "And your problem is you can't fix up an alibi because you haven't got three mates?" grinned Parker. "You want to hire me? I might give you a bit of a discount seeing I know you. Shall we say five grand?"
   "You can get stuffed for a start! I can always break every finger of his knife hand. That might slow him down a bit. I'm not paying five grand to have him terminated with extreme prejudice, as the C.I.A. call it."
   "Not for ages. It became too much of a cliché. The bloke I know that was in that mob was calling it an incarnation reschedule without consultation last time I heard from him."
   "Sounds typically Yank," grinned Royle.
   "Well! You're definitely going to have to do something about this Draggo, Johnny. You're on the wrong end of all the trouble. You're not making it, you're reacting to it. And if your reflexes or your intuition happen to be out to lunch, it's bye, bye, Johnny."
   "Yeah, could be. Let's hope he stays frightened till the weekend. I'll sort him out after my last weekend with Sibbi."
   "It's definitely all off, then?"
   "She's moving to Nijmegen. This bloke's offered her a better job. And they're thinking of getting married."
   "So they want you out of the way?"
   "Well, we've been seeing each other for over two years. Maybe it's time for a change."
   "You know your trouble, old son? You're too easily satisfied. But I suppose there are advantages if you're not bothered when a woman dumps you."
   "Speaking as a deserted and divorced husband?"
   "I think you might be mixing me up with a bloke called Lenny Suskin," grinned Parker. "Shame I can't come with you. We had a great time in Amsterdam at Christmas. Their grub may not be fancy, but it certainly sticks to your ribs."
   "You can tell you're from Yorkshire. You don't fancy it?"
   "I'm sure you don't want me hanging around," laughed Parker. "No, I'm off to... Well, north of here on a job tomorrow. A certain person knows too much and he needs shutting up."
   "This you adding to your famous stamp collection?"
   "I've seen some covers in an auction next week, yes."
   Parker was a specialist collector of British stamps and covers up to 1940, and of pre-adhesive-stamp covers from any source. His attempts to reconstruct whole sheets of stamps had led Royle to accuse him of trying to corner the market in penny blacks and penny reds.
   "I see you're still doing okay for jobs even though you've lost Lenny Suskin's reputation," said Royle.
   "Oh, there's always plenty of work for a specialist. And the client doesn't need to know your name. Anyway, what are we doing? Does anything happen here in Fenton on a Wednesday night?"
   "Not a lot. We could stroll into Shepford to the Paradise Club. Give Draggo a fright if he's in. He's a member too."
   "To watch you lose a fortune at roulette?" scoffed Parker.
   "I won on Monday," protested Royle.
   "In that case, you're sure to drop a bundle," laughed Parker. "But it's your money."

Royle was feeling lucky as signed his friend in at the club's reception desk. He bought two half pints of draught cider at the Cabaret Bar while keeping half an eye open for Draggo Lambert. The frightener was in the casino. Royle pointed him out to Parker and started to plan an encircling movement. He was still plotting when Parker mentioned that their quarry had just disappeared through an exit, looking quite surprised. Lambert had been feeling safe. Someone had told him that Royle never visited the club twice in the same week. He could assume only that bank holidays did not count. Royle bought some chips and dropped two 10 plaques on the red diamond at the roulette table.
   "Oh, dear!" mocked Parker when thirteen black came up. "Unlucky for some."
   Royle put two more plaques on the red diamond. "This came up seven times on the trot on Monday."
   "How many times were you on it? A couple?"
   "The first six," sneered Royle.
   "Bet you can't do it again."
   Royle lost another 20 when the ball stopped on 29. He recovered half of his losses on the next spin and switched to black for two spins. The sequence continued with red, red and black. Royle shifted a growing mound of chips across the table and managed to follow the flow. Then he decided that he had pushed his luck far enough.
   "Roulette's a mug's game," he remarked to Parker at the cash desk.
   "Right," agreed Parker, who had invested a 50 plaque on Royle's final selection and doubled his money. "But you can't always tell who the mug is. There's a bird over there giving me the eye. Don't think much of yours, though."
   "Is it you or your winnings that's getting the eye?" scoffed Royle. "You told your plastic surgeon different, not good looking. I bet they're both married with half a dozen kids."
   "Let's find out how liberated they are. See if they'll buy us a drink," suggested Parker.
   "And you can show me what sort of chat-up lines the older man's using these days," grinned Royle.

 

12. Laddered

 

The evening had turned out to be a flop, crumpet-wise. Since his divorce from a former girlfriend of Royle's, Parker had adopted a cautious approach to women. He believed that a woman who would not buy him the first drink was not really interested in Robert Parker as a person. She was just someone looking for a cheap night out. The brunette who had been giving him the eye had turned out to have short arms and a deep handbag.
   Parker had spent the night alone at his spacious apartment in Hetton, a mile and a half from the centre of Shepford. His job lay a maximum darts score of 180 miles away, on the Welsh border. He had decided to drive there because his car would make a useful operational base.
   Having put away a modest two pints of the expensive draught cider at Paradise Club, he was able to make a seven o'clock start without difficulty on Thursday morning. He began the day with just a cup of coffee and a thick slice of toast. He ate a cooked breakfast on the road at a transport café a couple of miles from Oxford.
   It was a nice day and quite warm when the sun was shining. Parker was in no hurry to reach his destination, having allowed himself both Thursday, and Friday if needed, to check the lie of the land. He knew that his target was a blackmailer; a minor cog in a set of district council wheels, who had stumbled on some dirt. Parker did not like blackmailers. It was a carry-over from his ex-wife's attempts to screw maintenance out of him when she had decided that she was tired of working for a living. Making sure that Neil Finch would not show up for work on Monday morning would be a paid pleasure.

Parker reached his destination at lunchtime and took a swing past Finch's retirement home before driving on to the next town for a bite of lunch in a pub. The blackmailer lived on the outside of a looping lane, which cut one of the corners of a main crossroads. The houses were detached, a comfortable size for a couple, and they had generous gardens at front and back. Parker concluded that the small town's isolation would stop prices and rates going through the roof.
   After his early lunch, taken safely well away from Finch's new home, Parker unpacked a pair of binoculars, a dog-eared notebook, a well-thumbed guide to British birds and a camera with a telephoto lens; his bird-watching kit. He had spotted his target already. When making his initial pass, he had noticed a man twenty-five feet up a ladder, pointing the southern gable end of the house. His client had told him that Finch was a confirmed do-it-yourselfer, who did not believe in paying tradesmen to botch simple, household maintenance jobs.
   Parker made himself comfortable at the edge of a small wood, about thirty yards behind the houses, and trained his binoculars on the man up the ladder. He had a postcard-size photograph and a physical description that told him to look for an indication of red in the grey hair. Having made sure that he had found the right man, Parker turned his attention to the neighbours.
   Washing was hanging in a back garden three to the right of Finch's. Observation over the next hour and a half suggested that the houses in between were empty, their occupants probably at work. The neighbours on the immediate left were well into their sixties and seemed to be keen gardeners. The man was busy weeding and chopping away at dead growth. His wife was messing about with plant pots and a bag of compost in the conservatory. Each had a transistor radio. Snatches of Radio Three drifted over to Parker from the garden when the wind was in the right direction.
   The only other person in sight was an attractive young woman, who was sunning herself on a paved area three gardens further along to the left. She would be in shadow before long. With any luck, she would go indoors then.
   A woven fence separated Finch from his gardening neighbours. When the old boy moved over to the dividing fence to saw a couple of inconvenient branches from a bush, Parker noted that the top of the fence was at about shoulder height. He shifted to a position directly behind Finch's garden. He saw a path just to one side of the fence. Both ran from front to back of the property. If he kept his head down, the path offered an approach route with good cover on one side.

At around half past two, the gardeners gave up. The sun-bather had moved indoors an hour earlier. Parker watched the old man wash his hands at the kitchen sink. Then he turned his attention back to the target. Neil Finch had finished banging away with hammer and chisel. After a drink of orange juice from a carton in his fridge, he had mixed himself some mortar in a yellow plastic bucket. He was pressing it into his excavations, a pipe clenched between his teeth, apparently quite happy a long way off the ground.
   Parker smoked a cigarette and swept the backs of the houses with his binoculars, taking care to do so from the shaded side of the tree so that the sun would not leap in revealing sparkles from the lenses. As he was grinding the filter of a cigarette into damp leaf mould, he noticed that the retired couple were in their living room. He had an excellent view of them though the conservatory and a picture window. The man was sitting in an armchair, watching racing on the television, and his wife was pouring tea into large cups in the kitchen.
   Parker came to a snap tactical decision. Moving at a rapid but apparently unhurried pace, he walked out of the wood and crossed the open ground to a path that ran beside the fences and hedges at the ends of the gardens. He was exposed to a glance from a window for twenty seconds or so. The low level of activity in the area made the risk acceptable.
   He let himself through a gate into the garden of Finch's right-hand neighbour and hurried up a concrete path, making sure that the flaps on his anorak pockets were secure. He had left the camera and his binoculars hanging above eye-level from one of the branches of a sturdy oak tree.
   He smoothed back his driving gloves to make their fit even more snug and secure, and stepped over a low wall of concrete bricks. His senses were so tuned outwards for signs of danger that they left an internal void of icy calm intent. Moving silently on rubber soles and heels, he slipped across the back of Finch's house. An unmusical blend of humming and pom-pomming seeped down from roof-level.
   Parker turned the corner moving surely and confidently. He stepped past the ladder, then seized the side of it and heaved. The foot of the ladder shot toward him. Parker turned out of its path with the life-preserving grace of a matador. Thirty feet of aluminium ladder hit concrete and bounced. Parker leapt out of the way. The noise was like an aircraft crashing onto a corrugated iron roof.
   Parker rushed over to his target. Finch had landed across the concrete path beside the woven fence. His head had made a deep impression in a narrow flower bed and his body looked limp and broken. Parker seized Finch's head and twisted. The neck broke with a dry crunch.
   In a semi-crouch, Parker ran down the path and let himself through the garden gate. The retired couple had a liking for woven fences. The one at the foot of their garden was six feet high and lifted a further six inches into the air by a concrete base; which made it nine inches taller than Parker when he was on the path beyond the garden. He was level with the sunbather's garden and starting to angle away toward the wood when he heard the first scream.
   The metallic clamour of the ladder hitting concrete had startled Finch's neighbours. After a short debate, the wife had slipped out to peep over the fence, just to make sure that everything was all right. The unnatural, broken stillness of her new neighbour had told her that everything was all wrong.
   Parker retrieved his binoculars and his camera, and made his way back along a country road to the lay-by where he had left his car. He had been expecting to follow his target around for a couple of days to get the feel of his movements while he looked for a suitable sort of accident to stage. The opportunity to act had arisen so swiftly that he was at a loose end now.
   After a false start to the south, he turned his car around. He had decided to spend the weekend looking round his old haunts in Leeds to see if any of his former acquaintances thought that Bob Parker looked anything like Lenny Suskin.
   Several miles further on, he had third thoughts and turned around yet again. He had so much time on his hands that he could fit in a favour for an old friend. He also wanted to test a new gadget. His supplier had given it a shower of C.I.A. testimonials but Parker wanted to carry out his own field trials on the device.

 

13. Argent Court

 

Albert Brewer had struck lucky. He had roped his new pal Draggo into a mixed doubles game of darts with a pair of unattached women on his first Sunday in the area. The one that he fancied had accepted an invitation to go out on Tuesday night. Brewer had given her a good meal and a show, to celebrate his first week of freedom, and then taken her home in a taxi, behaving like a proper gent.
   Amy Strutt lived alone on the fourth floor of a tower block on the outskirts of Welling, just over two miles to the south of Hythe. Her flat was big enough for two sharing intimately. On Thursday, Brewer had popped the question. He was an honest, redundant stores clerk, not a thief fresh out of prison, living on his final pay-off, savings and a modest win by a doomed pools syndicate, and anxious to find out how cheaply two could live.
   Amy really was the rejected partner of a failed marriage. She had told the truth in response to Brewer's convincing cover story. Her husband had disappeared off to the Midlands with a neighbour just before Christmas. She had convinced herself that he was no great loss but being able to show off a presentable substitute to her remaining neighbours, she realized, would put an end to their poor cow looks.
   The landlord of The Crown at Hythe carried one of Albert Brewer's suitcases to his car on Friday morning. They had reached 'Al' and 'Bill' terms. Brewer had been an appreciative and generous guest. He had learned the value of creating a good impression.
   Three tower blocks straddle the road to the north of Welling. Crane Court, on the western side, had been sold to a private developer and refurbished as a system of service flats. Barrymore Court, on the other flank, was full of pensioners. Amy lived in the middle, in Argent Court, with other singles and childless couples.
   Brewer drove into a fenced courtyard and parked with two dozen other vehicles. A fair-size crowd was watching the activity on the central square of grass, which had become a bowling green in the absence of grass-destroying children. Amy had mentioned that it was part of a council programme to provide recreational facilities for the unemployed to keep them out of mischief.
   The lift was working and remarkably free of graffiti. An active residents' committee kept reminding the tenants that they paid for all unnecessary repair and maintenance work. Brewer let himself into Amy's flat with the spare key that she had given him the night before and dumped his cases in the bedroom, out of the way.
   According to Amy's cousin Eddie, whom Brewer had yet to meet, the four rooms of the single flat had been use-structured. Bathroom, kitchen and bedroom had all been reduced to a minimum size to allow extra space to be allocated to the sitting room. The architect has assumed that the tenant would spend most of his or her conscious hours in here, and would be prepared to put up with a little transient discomfort in return for room to move most of the time. According to Eddie, it was some sort of calculated insult to the working class.
   Having nothing better to do, Brewer decided to return to ground level and watch the bowlers for a while. He found himself a spot on a wooden bench and lit a cigarette. It was a sunny morning and the temperature had crept up to the low sixties. Almost at once, a man sat down beside him. Brewer glanced to his left, then decided that he would not want to argue with the newcomer.
   "Moving in? I saw you with your cases," said the other man. "I'm Charlie Grafton. On the Residents' Committee."
   "Al Brewer." The newcomer offered his hand for a mild crushing. He was no weakling but Grafton had a grip like a hydraulic press.
   "Not a bad place, this. Now we've got shot of the kids and all the trouble-makers." Grafton was around forty and looked as if he did a lot of weight training in the sun. He also looked more than a match for half a dozen trouble-makers.
   "Got yourself organized?" said Brewer.
   "We've got our own neighbourhood watch scheme going along with the other two towers. You can leave your car here without bloody kids climbing all over it, or nicking it for a joy-ride. And there's a shop on the first floor. Basic stuff: food, cigs, beer and so on. The prices are about the same as the shops, but all profits go to pay for repairs and things the council reckon there's no money for. And it saves the walk up to the village."
   "Sounds just the job," Brewer remarked into a growing pause for comment.
   "Yeah, I suppose it don't sound that special," grinned Grafton. "But you should have seen this place a year or two back. The towers were proper slums. They should never have put families in them. The trouble with kids today is they've got no bloody imagination. If someone hasn't organized a disco or something else for them, they just go and smash something up for fun. And they get away with it, more often than not. Not round here any more, though."
   "So you get a bit of peace and quiet, then?"
   "Well, maybe we have our share of noisy parties. But nothing gets too loud late on." Grafton paused for a massive yawn. "I reckon I'd better go and get me head down."
   "You on nights?"
   "Right. How about you?"
   "Redundant." Brewer pulled the sort of face that he had seen the genuinely redundant make.
   "Lots of that about all over. I'm a Night Security Officer."
   "That like a night watchman?"
   "Not really. There's no old age pensioners with a flask and a box of sandwiches on our team. We do patrols of high-risk insurance areas, and we're ready for trouble."
   "Yeah, I can imagine," nodded Brewer, picturing Grafton and his colleagues sneaking about, playing war games and hoping for an excuse to duff up a burglar.
   "Yeah!" Grafton yawned mightily again. "Well, I thought I'd better tell you about the shop. It's in the middle of the first-floor deck and you wouldn't think to look for it if you didn't know it's there. See you around. All the best."
   "Yeah, see you."
   Brewer finished his cigarette and watched the bowlers. Some of them looked quite expert, others had less idea, but all of them seemed to be having fun. When he had ground the life out of the cigarette end with his heel, he wondered whether someone from the residents' committee would rush over and accuse him of being a litter lout. Nobody did. Charlie Grafton seemed to be the one who minded the business of strangers, and he had gone to bed.
   Brewer spent a few minutes planning the rest of his day. He would sit out in the sun for a while. Then he would have a look at Welling and try out one of the pubs for lunch. In the afternoon, if the weather looked like staying fine, he would shoot down to Brighton. He was only about half an hour away and the idea of a small expedition appealed to him. He had spent three years, four months and he couldn't remember how many days looking at sets of four very similar walls - apart from a day out to go to his brother's funeral. He could still savour the freedom to leap into his car and just drive to the seaside for the afternoon.

Amy was at home, lurking in the small bedroom, when Albert Brewer returned from his trip. A character in a black leather jacket was sitting at the dining table, frowning at the front door and wondering who had been issued with the spare key. Brewer nodded to him, switched on the television for the news and dropped onto the settee.
   "Al, this is my cousin Eddie," said Amy, clicking the bedroom door shut behind her. She moved over to the settee and placed a possessive hand on Brewer's shoulder. "You can't stop for your tea tonight, Eddie. We're going out."
   "Yeah, right," added Brewer in response to a gentle dig from Amy's fingertips. He had been looking for a family resemblance.
   Eddie was in his early twenties, two or three years younger than his cousin. He had similar, slightly curly black hair but he looked a solid lump in the same room as delicate Amy. Eddie looked mildly offended. Having planted his feet under the dining table, he seemed reluctant to remove them. But he had to get up to shake Al's hand, and then it was just a short step to the front door.
   "We don't have to go out if you don't want," rushed Amy. "But he treats this place like a café. I don't mind so much. He's company. But I'm getting a bit bloody fed up of him having his union meetings here."
   "Oh, one of them, is he?" nodded Brewer.
   "Shop steward at the biscuit factory in Poulside."
   "Is that on the road into Shepford? I've noticed the smell of biscuits on the way past there."
   "That's the place. They made some people redundant last year and they might have to get rid of some more. Eddie and his mates are trying to do something about it. When they're not drinking my coffee."
   "Is this trying likely to get them anywhere, though?"
   "Probably not."
   "Oh, well. Anyway, we've got to go out tonight, you know." Brewer read the signals. "It's Friday night."
   "I could do with going out after bashing that till all day." Amy worked half a mile away at a supermarket in Welling; a rival to the tower block's own shop. "What did you do today?"
   "Oh, nothing much," smiled Brewer. "Watched some bowls down there." He decided not to tell Amy that he had spend a fine afternoon lurking about Brighton. Creating jealousies was no way of ensuring a quiet life.

 

14. Floating

 

The two sixteen-year-old boys were not allowed to smoke at home, and so they had developed the habit of taking a stroll along the canal bank on fine evenings to enjoy a quiet cigarette. The second Friday in May offered them good smoking weather.
   At first glance, the object floating in murky, brown water looked like a shop display dummy or a semi-waterlogged inflatable figure of the type sold in sex shops. It was floating face down, spread along the direction of flow of the slow-moving canal, and anchored by the right foot, which had become entangled in the drooping branches of a bush on the opposite, unpaved bank.
   Attention fixed firmly on a novel sight, the boys stopped opposite the figure and peered across at it. The time was half past eight and the further bank was in deep shadow. They could not believe that they were looking at a human body. They concluded that the track-suited shape was made of solid plastic foam. One of the boys picked up a stone and threw it at the head, not really sure what the experiment would tell him. The dull thock of impact before the stone rustled into the bush revised the boys' opinion for no particular reason.
   There was a set of locks twenty yards further on. The boys sprinted along the tow path and edged across the span of massive timbers at the top of the first gate. There was no tow path on the other side of the canal, just a thirty-degree bank, which dropped ten feet from a small wood. When viewed from a range of four feet, the object in the water was a drowned jogger beyond question.
   The boys recrossed the canal and took a short cut across an edge of the wood to the main road. They had considered trying to heave the corpse out of the water, but they had decided not to touch it. Detectives get upset when people mess about with bodies - they knew that from watching television - and they were sure that the man was stone dead. They had not heard a splash and they had been watching the figure just lying still, face down in the water, for a good five minutes.
   They crowded into the telephone box on the wide pavement between a bus stop and a row of four closed shops. Dialling nine double nine was a big thrill. Andrew Frobisher was half way through a prepared story before he realized that he had reached an operator and he had not been put straight through to the police. He repeated the tale to a grave voice, added his name and address, then he let Neil Travis take over the telephone to identify himself and tell his share of what they had seen.
   A patrol car rolled up to the telephone box five minutes later. The uniformed driver seemed quite surprised to find the two boys waiting for him. He had been making bets with himself that it was a hoax. After seeing the body for himself, the constable used his radio to summon assistance. Given the choice, he would rather have reported a nuisance call.
   A police surgeon gave the body a quick examination and certified that life was extinct. The cause of death appeared to be drowning. There was a purple bruise on the left temple, presumed to be the result of a blow, which seemed to have knocked the man unconscious before he entered the water. While it could not be classified as murder immediately, it was most definitely a suspicious death.
   The two boys enjoyed a ride in a police car to Bilcross, where they made statements, wondering if the story would reach the newspapers. They wanted written evidence to back up the tale that would astound their friends at school on Monday.
   Detective Sergeant Joe Erskine reached the canal as the body-bagged corpse was being carried on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance. He had been dragged away from a quiet drink at his squash club to the scene of a break-in at a small factory on the outskirts of Ashley, two miles from the canal. He had been handy for another spot of business.
   The stretcher bearers lowered their burden and allowed Erskine to unzip the body-bag. One look at the dead man's face told Erskine that he was five feet nine inches tall with a spare build. He was left-handed and his blond hair would have frothed out from his scalp if it had not been darkened and plastered into rat-tails by canal water.
   Without pulling the zip down farther, Erskine knew that Alan Michael Lambert was wearing a dark blue tracksuit and white training shoes with black stripes. Draggo would not be blowing out twenty-nine candles on a birthday cake.
   "So someone finally bounced him?" Erskine remarked to the police surgeon. "That's a bruise on his forehead, I take it? Possibly from a blow that knocked him into the water?"
   "Known, is he?" The doctor refused to be drawn into speculation. He had been dragged away from a dinner party.
   "Can't see anyone missing him too much," said Erskine. "Not even his old mum. When will we get a postmortem report?"
   "When whoever's on duty at the Infirmary gets round to it," said the doctor firmly, not volunteering his services. "Just give me the name for the paperwork and I'll get back to my dinner party."
   "You mean you can eat your dinner after hauling a stiff out of the canal?" laughed Erskine. "Alan Michael Lambert."
   "Why not?" The doctor completed his notes. "It's not as if he's been in the water for a couple of weeks. He looks all right. He can't have been in for more than an hour or so."
   "That's your best estimate?"
   "Probably a lot less. People are always wandering along the canal. Right, young Joe. That is definitely it? Yes?"
   "Yeah, go on, sod off back to your party," sighed Erskine. "Leave the poor bloody coppers to clean up another of society's messes."
   "My heart bleeds for you!" scoffed the doctor.
   Erskine had a quick word with the uniformed constable who had responded to the nine double nine call, then he returned to his car and hurried into Fenton. He could hardly believe that Royle had been stupid enough to drown Draggo Lambert in the canal and just leave the body floating there, but Royle was the prime suspect if the death was not accidental and the logical starting point of an investigation.
   No lights were showing from Royle's first-floor flat, which was not unreasonable at nine o'clock on a rapidly darkening Friday night. Erskine rang the doorbell anyway. Nobody came to the door. He pressed the bell-push again. Just when he was wondering whether to go round to the back for a look, a woman spoke behind him.
   "Who you looking for?" she asked. She was small and dark, her accent was local and she was carrying two plastic-slung four-packs of lager.
   "Mr. Royle," said Erskine in a neutral tone.
   "He's out."
   "You wouldn't happen to know where?"
   "He's..." The woman changed her mind and countered with a question of her own. "You a friend of his?"
   Erskine slipped into a tired smile and produced his warrant card. "Detective Sergeant Erskine, madam. I'd like to get in touch with him."
   "He's in Amsterdam." The woman peered closely at the warrant card. "Never seen one of them before. 'Cept on telly."
   "Any idea where in Amsterdam?"
   "If you're going to grill me, we'd better go in." The woman took a key from her coat pocket. "It's a bit chilly out here."
   Erskine followed her down the short hall to the door to the ground-floor flat. George Peacher was watching the news on a portable colour television; the twin of Royle's. He was on the short side and dark, and he could have passed for Amanda Peacher's brother instead of her husband.
   "This is a detective," Amanda explained to her husband. "With some bad news for Mr. Royle." It had not crossed her mind that Erskine might have come to arrest her neighbour. "Show him your warrant card, love."
   "Don't look half as good as the Yank ones with the big badges," George decided. "Someone died? An accident?"
   "As a matter of fact, yes," nodded Erskine, telling the truth but not confirming the implication of the question. The death that he had in might could have been something more sinister than an accident. "You don't happen to know where Mr. Royle is in Amsterdam?"
   "At his girlfriend's," said Amanda Peacher as her husband returned his attention to the television.
   "You don't happen to know her name?"
   "Sibbi. That's short for Sibilla Vleet. You spell it with a V even though it's pronounced Fleet."
   "That should give the Amsterdam police a shot at finding her address."
   "You want that as well, love?"
   "Why, have you got it?" Alarm bells began to ring in Erskine's head. The alibi was sounding much too good to be true.
   "She wrote to him, only it got shoved through our letter-box instead of his. They're always doing that. And my sister's lad collects stamps, so I asked him if I could have them. He give me the envelope." Amanda Peacher rooted through a wedge of correspondence parked behind the large, wooden-cased clock on the mantlepiece. "Here it is. Her address is on the flap at the back. Sibilla Vleet, Apartment three, Bilderdijk Straat seventeen. I think it makes more sense putting the number after the street, don't you? I mean, you look for the street first before you start thinking what number you want."
   "Could be." Erskine copied the address into his notebook. "You don't happen to know when he left?"
   "Lunchtime," offered George Peacher without taking his eyes from the television screen. "He was going out as I was coming in for me lunch. About ten to one this afternoon."
   "You don't happen to know which airline?" Erskine tried to find an unanswerable question in the face of an astounding flood of information.
   "Air India, of all things," said Amanda confidently. "I took the letter up to him instead of shoving it in his basket. There's these two separate baskets behind the letter-boxes. We usually just shove things in the right one; but I wanted the stamps. So he went over to the drawer to get a knife to open the letter and I saw his ticket on the table. I think I said something about why wasn't he Flying the Flag? You know, British Airways. And he said he got it from a bucket shop, cheap. Funny them being called that, isn't it? Mr. Royle said it's because the airlines dump tickets they can't sell by the bucketful."
   "Yes, I've heard that," nodded Erskine.
   "Is it someone close?" fished Amanda. "That died?"
   "Not particularly." Erskine swallowed a grin. "I doubt Mr. Royle will go into deep mourning. Well, thanks for all your help."
   "Must be a rotten job, telling someone a relative's died."
   Erskine made non-committal noises and headed back to his car. Royle would be highly delighted to hear of the death of Draggo Lambert; if he didn't know about it already, having bashed Draggo over the head with the traditional blunt instrument and shoved him into the canal. There was a telephone box on the main road through Fenton, conveniently placed for both a pub and the post office.
   Detective Inspector Peter Rostov, Erskine's immediate superior, was at home. Like George Peacher, he was watching the nine o'clock news, if Erskine's impression of the background noises was accurate. Erskine briefed his boss on the discovery of the body and Royle's whereabouts, then waited for the news to be digested.
   "Bloody convenient, telling half the street he's going to Amsterdam," growled Rostov. "On the very day Lambert goes for a float."
   "Yes, that was my first impression, sir," said Erskine. "But this Mrs. Peacher seems to be a natural ferret, given a little encouragement. Everything she told me stems directly from her wanting the stamps on Royle's letter. If you break the chain at that point, we wouldn't have had a clue where to start looking for him. And we wouldn't have a reason to think now that Lambert might just have fallen into the canal."
   "We don't know he didn't have some help, either, Joe. How long had Lambert been dead when they found him?"
   "The doctor reckoned it wasn't more than an hour, and probably less. That puts the time of death at between half-seven and half-eight, when the two lads found him."
   "Well, it won't hurt to get the Amsterdam police to find out if friend Royle really is there, and what he was doing around half-seven. What did you get on your break-in?"
   "Not a very clever job. Treacle and brown paper on a window. One of them cut himself getting in; and they used a first-aid box in the factory. The fingerprint boys found a couple of very nice prints on the packaging for a roll of sticky tape and there was quite a lot of blood on the floor. We're checking the prints and doing the rounds of hospital casualty departments."
   "I bet the prints don't get us anywhere. It sounds like an amateur job, not the experts we're looking for. Let me know what Van der Valk turns up in Amsterdam."
   "Right, sir." Erskine replaced the receiver wondering if fate was getting at him. There had been an epidemic of bodies the previous autumn, most of them connected with the notorious Mulgraham case. Erskine's colleague, Detective Sergeant Brian Orwell, had been unlucky enough to be on duty almost every time a corpse had turned up. Draggo Lambert's was the third body that Erskine had been required to examine in two weeks.
   The first had been the victim of a hit-and-run incident in the early hours of a Sunday morning. Number two had been a man found dead on his allotment. He had suffered a heart attack and split his face open by falling onto his spade. The friends who had found him had assumed that he had been attacked and robbed.
   Erskine hoped that Lambert's death would turn out to be either a simple accident or due to natural causes. Detective Inspector Rostov, and through him the rest of the squad, was getting a hard time from Detective Chief Inspector Halsey about the lack of progress on the hit-and-run. If Draggo Lambert had been murdered, and Royle had to be ruled out as a suspect, then the Shepford force could be in for a long, hard slog with Halsey peering over their shoulders, demanding speedy results.

Erskine telephoned his superior again at ten-thirty to convey bad news. The television was still quacking away in the background. D.I. Rostov seemed to be having an evening in with his wife. His two primary-school-age children would be tucked up in bed by that time.
   "I phoned Air India, sir," Erskine said after identifying himself. "They had a booking for a Mr. Royle on an afternoon flight. Bombay via Amsterdam. And he used it."
   "Someone used it," countered Rostov. "Not necessarily him."
   "Well, he arrived at his girlfriend's place around five this afternoon. He doesn't have a key but the woman in flat two has a spare and she let him in. The Amsterdam police said the neighbour knows Royle and they chatted for about ten minutes. He speaks Dutch like a native."
   "He would," growled Rostov.
   "His girlfriend got home about half-five. She's in the rag trade, a specialist machinist. They went out to a restaurant about half-seven. The neighbour saw them leave. Their table was booked for eight o'clock. Again, they'd been there before and the waiter confirmed it was Royle with Miss Vleet. They left about a quarter to nine. I suppose they're in a club somewhere now."
   "So he couldn't have polished Lambert off over here this evening," Rostov conceded reluctantly. "But he may just know who did. And it may just have been his idea. We'll have a word with him when he gets back. When's that?"
   "Coming back on Monday, according to his girlfriend's neighbour."
   "He seems to have a lot of chatty neighbours. What did Van der Valk tell the neighbour? About why we're interested in friend Royle."
   "Commissaris Ploor," Erskine leaned heavily on the name, becoming fed up with the heavy-handed attempts at humour, "that was the name on the telex, he gave her some double-talk about wanting to be sure the people on Royle's flight were who they said they were. Implying a check for criminals or international terrorists, or something."
   "What about the post mortem on Lambert?"
   "Nothing on that yet."
   "Well, go and make a nuisance of yourself, Joe. Anything more on the factory break-in? I've had the bloody managing director ringing me! Anyone would think they'd cleaned the place out."
   "We had one of the managers round to check the place over. As far as he can tell, all they got was some stuff out of the first-aid box. Nothing from the hospitals yet, but he may realize he has to have some stitches..."
   "So their M.D. was bellyaching over nothing? Bloody typical. Right, Joe, keep in touch."
   "Right, sir." Erskine knew what the parting message meant - 'Don't bother me for anything less than a full-scale emergency.'

 

15. Burglars

 

Feeling in need of refreshment, D.S. Erskine spent a quarter of an hour in Shepford police station's local pub. He washed down two packets of roasted peanuts with a pint of bitter, then returned to the accumulation of paperwork on his desk. As a night off, it was a personal disaster.
   About an hour later, just when he was about to sneak off home, he was called out to a siege in Hetton. Three men had tried to break into a cash-and-carry centre through the roof. Unfortunately for them, they had chosen premises protected by a local firm called Security Patrol Services.
   One of the raiders had been captured. He had been sent to Eastgate General Hospital to have a suspected broken ankle X-rayed by the time Erskine arrived on the scene. The other two had jumped across to the roof of a small factory and climbed the steeplejack's ladders on the side of a fifty-foot chimney. Erskine pushed through a small crowd to a police patrol car. A spot of nearby excitement had helped to encourage stragglers out of the local pubs.
   "Right, what's the score?" asked Erskine.
   A uniformed constable, who had to be at least six feet three without his helmet, grinned down at him. "Got 'em treed, Sarge. Looks like the bunch you're chasing. They're scared to come down in case they get duffed up."
   "You've been frightening them?" frowned Erskine.
   "Nah, Sarge. They ran into a bunch of S.P.S. blokes."
   "What, our local S.A.S. imitators?" Erskine had spotted several figures in dark uniforms, bovver boots and crash helmets. "How the hell did they get up there? The B. and E. merchants?"
   Erskine looked up at the chimney. The street was wide and well-lit. Most of the buildings on the small industrial estate were ablaze with security lights, which left any flat roofs in deep shadow. The chimney rose up at the back of the factory building, an apparent extension of the rear wall. Erskine could just make out two dark shapes clinging to the ladders a long way above the ground.
   "One of them climbed up to the roof of the cash and carry," said the tall constable. "Then he dropped a pot-holing ladder down for the others. The S.P.S. blokes used their ladder and chased them over there. That chimney's being pointed. They shot straight up there to get away from the S.P.S. blokes."
   "I don't suppose anyone's tried talking them down?"
   "They've seen our cars but they won't come down while there's a couple of S.P.S. blokes on their roof."
   "How much of a jump is it from the cash and carry to the other roof?"
   "A good five yards, Sarge."
   "They must have been feeling very brave. Or very desperate. How about the ladders on the chimney. Do they go all the way to the ground?"
   "There's planks padlocked to them to stop anyone climbing up the first three."
   "Find out where the keyholder of that place lives," Erskine said. "I think it's only a couple of streets away. We'll get up on the roof the easy way - from the inside."

Ten minutes later, a tough-looking man in a black crash helmet with a silver stripe approached Erskine as he followed the beam of a powerful torch through a skylight. The roof was two inverted Vs of glass with walkways between the Vs, at both sides of the building and also at the front. The walkway felt secure enough, and there were hand-rails, but Erskine trod carefully.
   "Charlie Grafton, S.P.S. You got the other one?" The man offered a hand with a crushing grip.
   "Yes, thanks," said Erskine in a neutral tone, wondering what Grafton and his partner had done with their pick-axe handles. "I think we can handle things now."
   "Right, then," nodded Grafton, handing the case over to a fellow professional. "Can I have your name for my report?"
   "D.S. Erskine."
   Grafton took out a small notebook and angled it to catch the beam of a police torch. "That's with an e?"
   "At both ends."
   "Right. We'll leave you to it. All the best."
   A uniformed constable stepped out of the way to let Charlie Grafton and his colleague use the stairs down to ground level. The sight of a police uniform and a torch shone on Erskine's warrant card persuaded the fugitives to descend from their perch. Two pale and shaken men slumped gratefully onto the back seat of a police car. It was turning out to be a bad night for criminals in the Shepford area.

Erskine was enjoying a cup of coffee fortified with a generous splash of Scotch, and thinking again about going home, when the call that he had been half-hoping to receive came through. He entered the casualty department of Eastgate General Hospital alone to check the lie of the land. A nurse pointed out one of the men, who was drinking a cup of coffee from a machine and waiting to drive his friend home. The friend was being examined in a cubicle. He looked as if he had been visited by a thirsty Count Dracula.
   Erskine and two uniformed constables returned to Shepford police station with one prisoner. The town centre was quiet and deserted at one-twenty-five on a cold morning. The other man had lost so much blood that the casualty department's consultant had admitted him as a precaution after stitching up a partially severed artery. Rather than waste a uniformed officer's time standing guard at the hospital, Erskine had noted the man's name and address and postponed arresting him until he was well enough to be discharged from the hospital.
   The shock of his arrest was starting to wear off when the undamaged prisoner reached an interview room. He and his friend had told the receptionist that the injury had been caused by a fall through a glass door. If his friend stuck to the story, and he could get out of the police station for long enough to be able to break a door at home, he felt that they might be able to get away with it.
   Sensing the trend of the prisoner's thoughts, Erskine lit a cigarette and began the interrogation with a short speech.
   "You're in a state of suspense and anxiety at the moment, wondering if you're going to bluff your way out of this. Well, you're not. We've got your fingerprints and some of your mate's blood; which isn't just A, B, AB and O these days. They can test it for over four hundred factors, and that's better than any fingerprint. So! I'm going to leave you to think it over for five minutes. I can promise you that you'll feel a whole lot better when you admit you've lost this game of cops and robbers. Confession really is good for the soul. And it was a proper cock up, wasn't it?"
   The prisoner had the grace to look embarrassed.
   "All you did was break one window and bleed all over the floor. You didn't get anything. We had to bugger up some poor sod's Friday night to find that out. So we're not exactly in the Raffles league, are we? You're not looking at ten years inside. So think it over. Give me a statement and you're out of here on bail. Refuse to co-operate and it's a night in the cells for starters. I'll be back in five minutes."
   Before the other man had time to open his mouth, Erskine pushed to his feet, winked in passing to the uniformed constable by the door, and left the interview room. He glanced at his watch, then headed for the coffee machine. He was confident that the man would talk when he returned, and he wondered whether to pass on the good news to D.I. Rostov. He was sure that old K.G.B. would enjoy being woken up at half past one in the morning to hear a sad story.
   The accident-prone, would-be burglars turned out to be employees of the biscuit factory in Poulside. Knowing that they were top of the redundancy list, they had been trying to make a few bob to tide themselves over the hard times to come.
   Erskine took a statement, then turned his prisoner over to the night duty sergeant. He was off home. The prisoner was told to sign a 10 bail form and to appear at the Shepford magistrates' court at ten o'clock the following Wednesday. He seemed quite surprised when he was shown the door. He had been expecting to be locked up for the night no matter what he had been told.
   It was not until he was out of sight of the police station that he realized that he had a three-mile walk home through a chilly night that threatened rain.

 

16. Inspiration

 

There was no doorstep milk delivery in Argent Court, but a carton of long-life milk could be found just a short lift ride away. Albert Brewer began to appreciate the convenience of the residents' shop on his first Saturday morning there. If Amy Strutt was going down for a pint of milk and a loaf, she could also fetch his morning paper and a packet of cigarettes.
   They had risen late after a very late night. Amy was having a Saturday morning away from her till at the supermarket. They were just finishing their breakfast when her cousin Eddie arrived for morning coffee. He had turned up purely from habit - that was clear from his wary greeting to Brewer. Putting an extra cup on the table was a conditioned reflex for Amy. She had filled it before Eddie could think of a reason to look in and duck out almost straight away.
   A routine 'How's business?' from Brewer triggered a long catalogue of redundancies past and future at the Poulside biscuit factory.
   "That's all very well," said Brewer, cutting short the flow. "But what are you doing about it?"
   "We're having another meeting today," said Eddie darkly. "But the trouble is, we can't get the factory out on strike. The selfish sods won't support their own union."
   "I don't know what good a strike's going to do," scoffed Brewer. "If they're not making any biscuits, they're going to struggle even more and they might have to make even more blokes redundant. They might even have to shut the place down."
   "That's exactly the selfish point of view we're fighting," began Eddie. Then he remembered that Amy had mentioned that Brewer had been made redundant and changed tack abruptly. "I mean, it's only people on the shop floor getting the push. They reckon the management team's the right size."
   "The way I see it, the mob on the shop floor are just going to take these redundancies and be glad there's not more of them. Having your meetings won't get you nowhere. There's no way you can stop them. So why don't you do like the Yanks reckon? Don't get mad, get even."
   "How d'you mean?" frowned Eddie.
   "Well, you've just been telling me the management have been causing your union members anxiety and distress. Why don't you show them how it feels?"
   "I don't get you." Eddie flicked a glance at Brewer. It was a habit that he shared with his cousin. When Amy sneaked a look at someone, it was usually apologetic and sought reassurance. Eddie, in contrast, kept checking those around him to make sure that they were not getting at him.
   "Bugger their lives about a bit," said Brewer. "Wake them up in the middle of the night with a string of wrong numbers. Find out their phone numbers and put them in phone boxes and pubs. 'If you want a good time, call Natalie on' - whatever it is. You can do that with anyone up to the managing director. You can let their tyres down or report their cars stolen. All it takes is a bit of imagination."
   "Yeah, they've got something like that coming."
   "There's something to talk about at your meeting."
   "Yeah!" Eddie glanced at his watch. "Hey, I've got to see some people about that." He poured more milk into his coffee and gulped it down. "See you, mate. See you, Amy," he called to the kitchen.
   Amy returned to the living room wearing a broad grin. Life had become a great deal more enjoyable since she had met Albert Brewer. "He was planning to have his union meeting here. While the racing's on. You've frightened him off."
   "Reckon he'll stroll back if I sneak off for a while?" laughed Brewer.
   "Shouldn't think so. What time are you going to be back? For lunch?"
   "About half-twelve, quarter to one."
   "Right, I'll see you then."
   The residents' committee had arranged for a pay-phone to be installed on the floor below Amy's flat, and they had provided it with a neat wooden cabin to protect the user from the fierce draughts that swirled up the stair wells and over the deck balconies. A heavy-set figure was waiting beside the cabin when Brewer reached floor three.
   "Morning, mate," said Charlie Grafton with a wry smile. "Wouldn't you just know it? I just want to drop a quick bomb on British bloody Telecom for not fixing my phone yet and there's some bloody woman rabbiting on in there."
   "Can't win, can you?" smiled Brewer. "Fag?"
   "Cheers! Still, we had a good night last night. Three blokes tried to do one of our buildings. Got the lot."
   "Much of that go on around here?" Brewer wondered how cocky Grafton would be if he were looking down the wrong end of a sawn-off shotgun. All his strength would be matched easily by the strength of one trigger finger.
   "More than enough to keep us in a job. You don't go jogging, do you?"
   "Not so's you'd notice."
   "A bloke out jogging by the canal last night fell in and bloody well drowned! Name of Lambert, according to the radio. Makes you think, don't it? Where does all that running get you if you can't bloody swim!"
   "Just fell in?" said Brewer incredulously.
   "Well, I don't know about that," admitted Grafton. "I just caught the end of the local news. A kiddie of about three or four fell in and drowned a couple of years back. Not too far from the bloke last night. There was some talk of putting fences up, but it came to nothing. I was just thinking, you don't expect it to happen to a grown man. Hello, she's finished. And about bloody time too!"
   Grafton claimed the telephone cabin, which had been painted the same shade of light green as the lift doors. When it was his turn, Brewer called George Markham's home. A woman with a very pleasant telephone voice referred him to Race Hill golf club. Councillor Markham was out on the course, but he had booked a table for lunch. Brewer said that he would call back later.
   Draggo Lambert had mentioned a cousin, who had been following Royle on his behalf. Brewer's memory offered up the name Dave Morton. After three false starts, Brewer managed to track young Dave down at his home. His mother called him in from messing about with his car. Their brief conversation confirmed that it was indeed his ferret who had drowned, which left Brewer feeling slightly confused.
   A long drive dispelled a mild feeling of claustrophobia. Brewer returned to Argent Court with an early edition of the Evening Standard. Amy was studying the entertainments section, planning a night out, when he slipped down to the telephone again to call the golf club. George Markham was anxious to talk to him. Brewer arranged a meeting in Caxton at two-thirty.

A bowls match at the Drover's Arms in Caxton had drawn a fair crowd. After a little manoeuvring, George Markham and Albert Brewer managed to find a spot where they could converse in murmurs and appear to be just two adjacent strangers intent on the match.
   "You know what happened to my ferret?" Brewer took a healthy swallow from a pint of Guinness. "I was just going to phone him when some bloke told me."
   "Yes, I've been playing golf with Chief Inspector Halsey of the Shepford force." Markham had a gin and tonic with a slice of lime.
   "Draggo's cousin saw that bloke Royle getting on a train for London with a suitcase on Friday afternoon. He thought he was going away for the weekend."
   "That's right. He's in Amsterdam."
   "He can't be!"
   "I brought up the safety of the canal bank, as a councillor, and asked about foul play. He told me they did have a good suspect, but that he was in Amsterdam, as confirmed by the local police, at the time of Lambert's death. In fact, he's still there."
   "That's a bit too bloody good to be true, isn't it?" said Brewer.
   "Convenient accidents do occasionally happen," Markham assured him, recalling the case of a blackmailer, who had been clumsy enough to fall off a ladder and cheat an assassin out of a job; an assassin to whom Markham had already paid an irretrievable 9,000.
   "Yeah, but he could have got someone to do it for him. What do the police reckon."
   "I get the impression they're going to speak to this Royle fellow before they make their minds up. And they're still waiting to hear the exact cause of death. You think he could have paid someone to kill Lambert? Isn't that a rather expensive procedure?"
   "Depends how well off he is. If he's a killer, you'd expect him to do the job himself. But it makes more sense to get someone else to do the job while he's in Amsterdam. And if he's smuggling coke, he can afford it. We could do with finding out a bit more about him. When are you playing golf with this top cop again?"
   "I'll be seeing him at a function on Tuesday night. Royle is due back on Monday morning, I gather."
   "I'll maybe give you a ring on Wednesday."
   "What do you think about this fellow? Do you really think he could have been involved in my Oliver's death? And your brother's, of course."
   "Can't prove nothing yet." Brewer produced a packet of cigarettes. "But there's a hell of a lot of trouble happening all round him. I can't see him not being mixed up in some of it."
   "Light?"
   "Ta! Bloody hell! What's that?"
   "A lighter Oliver gave me," smiled Markham, pulling the trigger to produce a flame at the end of the barrel. "Looks just like the real thing, wouldn't you agree? Something very similar is on sale in at least two shops in Shepford. I had a look yesterday. I was wondering if Royle couldn't have bought one to frighten your ferret."
   "Give us it here." Brewer put his cigarette in his mouth to leave a hand free. "You're right. It looks bloody real," he added, giving the impression that he had handled genuine firearms. "Makes you think."
   "Royle didn't actually fire his gun, I believe? He just used it to frighten your ferret away?"
   "And it's a bit late to ask Draggo if the shooter looked anything like this. So I need to do some more digging. Right, I'll be in touch if anything turns up." Brewer returned the lighter and gave his attention to the bowls match.
   Markham finished his drink and left him. At the end of the match, Brewer surrendered his place to a more enthusiastic follower of bowls and reclaimed his car. During the four-mile drive back to his adopted tower block, an idea caused him to stop at a convenient call box. If Royle was still smuggling cocaine, he would be well able to afford an assassin.
   Grassing went against the grain, but Brewer made an anonymous call to H.M. Customs and Excise with a smile on his pale face. He gave a brief but sufficient description of Royle and a warning that he would be travelling home from Amsterdam on Monday morning. If Royle was arrested, it would count against him in Brewer's estimation and bring him one step closer to retribution. And trapped in a prison cell, he would have nowhere to run. Brewer had the connections to arrange an execution in prison.

George Markham would have been surprised to learn that Albert Brewer still had doubts. He was sure that Brewer had made up his mind about Royle's guilt, having spent six months brooding in a cell after his brother's death. It was more than enough time for daily association of Royle's name with the crime to develop an unbreakable bond.
   Detective Chief Inspector Halsey's guarded remarks about Royle had been unfavourable. Royle had been unco-operative and less than frank in earlier dealings with the police. If Albert Brewer had to take his brother's death out on someone, then Royle sounded no great loss to the world. It may have been unjust, but Royle's fate seemed inevitable. George Markham's principal concern was to keep Albert Brewer at a discreet distance to make sure that a respectable citizen and valued member of the local business community did not become involved in a violent clash.

 


 

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