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Inner Space Book One A sample chapter.

INNER SPACE Book One

By Merlin Fraser

Chapter 1

What a complete and utter waste of bloody time. These were the thoughts of Detective Inspector Nick Burton as he returned to his home patch after a fruitless trip to Wales.

He was trying to imagine if there had been an alternative reason for his boss to want him out of the office and out of town. He didn’t think there were any secrets between them. After all, they were a good team as well as good friends, so why the silly subterfuge?

However, jammed in the window seat of an overcrowded train carriage sitting next to a man of very ample girth, whose breath smelled of stale beer and onions, is not ideal to conducive thought. Opposite him across the dividing table sat the man’s wife, a woman of equal size, who fidgeted constantly and managed to kick him every time she moved, with a sickly grin and “sorry dear” every time it happened.

As a distraction, he tried looking out of the grimy rain streaked window, but with the gathering gloom outside and the bright lights inside, all he could see was his own miserable reflection. He grimaced at the sight of the life battered face looking back at him. It appeared older than his forty-five years. Once upon a time, it had been a handsome face, sitting on top of a well built body. However, in those far off days he had had a relatively carefree, easy going attitude to life and he enjoyed the challenges life threw his way.

Twenty odd years a policeman had changed all that, carefree became careworn, easy going had become embittered. The all new politically correct police force and a legal system that cared more for the rights of the criminal than their victims had taken its toll. Add to that a broken childless marriage, a receding hairline, an expanding waistline and the promise of a stomach ulcer, and you had his life in a nutshell.

He dragged his thoughts back towards the half assed reason as to why he was even on this train in the first place. His boss, Chief Superintendent Daniel Davies, or Dapper Dan as he was more commonly called, had sent him on this fool’s errand to review evidence held at another police station. Evidence that, as far as he could see, was completely irrelevant to anything they were currently working on. He was doubly annoyed, given his well known aversion to travel, that Dapper would send him on a job that could so easily have been handled by a first year constable.

Courtesy of his recent travelling companions and the time-wasting exercise, he was still fuming two hours later in the darkness of late evening as he walked towards his own police station.

As he pushed the front door open if he was expecting a sea of calm efficiency, which was the norm around here, he was in for a shock. The place was in uproar, and most of the noise was coming from his colleagues.
There, milling in front of him, was a weird mixture of uniform and plain clothed policemen. The two different day watches were strangely intermingled; all seemed to be talking at once.

He pushed his way through the crowd to the front desk and the uniformed sergeant that stood there. As he approached, he could see the sergeant was not a happy man. His facial expression seemed to darken even further when he saw Nick coming.

He asked, “Tom, you mind telling me what the hell is….”

The rest of the question died on his lips as the sergeant spoke almost in a whisper, “They’ve arrested Dapper.”

Nick’s jaw dropped. “What? Arrested… arrested Dan… what the hell for?”
“Murder,” was the reply.

Nick shook his head. “No way, that’s ridiculous, Dan arrested for murder this is some sort of sick joke. Let me through, I want to see him.”

The sergeant stood firm, his hand on the folding lid of the counter; he replied as calmly as he could, “Look I know how you feel, but I can’t let you in Nick.”

“The hell you say,” Nick replied. “The head of CID arrested for murder, and the whole station standing out here with their collective thumb up their backsides.”

Now the desk sergeant was getting angry. “Look around you sonny Jim, we’re all here because we’ve been thrown out. CIB is all over this station your office is off limits to everybody, especially you by express orders.”

“Who’s bloody orders?” Nick demanded.

“Mine actually.”

Nick spun around so fast his vision blurred and a mild wave of nausea hit him. He put a hand on the counter to steady himself as he looked into the cold blue eyes of Superintendent Margaret Joy, recently promoted and made Divisional HQ liaison with the Complaints Investigation Bureau (CIB), what the Americans call Internal Affairs.

A more misnamed person would be hard to find – small in stature, she was as hard as nails and hated throughout the force for her fast tracked promotion through the ranks. Mostly, if rumours were to be believed, at the expense of her more experienced colleagues whose backs she had stabbed, robbing them of their successes. Plus the overzealous pursuit of her new job put her at odds with practically every officer in the force, and it seemed that in her opinion everybody was guilty until they proved otherwise. Her offhand way of dealing with her job had turned officer against officer and friend against friend.

“Of course,” Nick spat the words at her. “I should have recognised your unmistakable handiwork a mile off. The ring of steel jack boots tiptoeing around that, and the sickly smell of burning flesh…..”
Superintendent Joy just stood there, a slow smile growing at the corners of her mouth, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes. “Careful Inspector, insubordination to a senior officer comes under my remit as well. Besides we need to talk.”

“Talk?” Nick said, surprised at his own calmness. “Just what the hell do you suppose we have to talk about? If you want to talk to me, you’ll have to trump up some charge and arrest me, and even then I won’t speak to you unless there is a lawyer present.”

Her smile widened. “You’re over wrought and upset, I can understand that. It can wait until the morning. In the meantime, you’re suspended from duty pending further enquiries.”

The colour was starting to rise in Nick’s face. Their conversation was starting to draw the attention of the whole room. “Suspended? What possible grounds could you come up with to suspend me?”

“I would have thought that was obvious, wouldn’t you? Your long association with the accused for a start, everyone knows how close you are. For all I know, you might be an accessory to the murder, and until I can establish the facts….”

Nick took a step towards her, then checked himself. “My God! You can thank your lucky stars you’re a woman, because I wouldn’t take crap like that from a man. You have no grounds to suspend me, I’m not some wet behind the ears constable that you can ride roughshod over. But if you want to pursue the matter, we’ll go to the Chief Constable right now.”

The room was now still and silent. Superintendent Joy realised she had gone too far and it was time to back away. “Have it your way, for now, but be warned I am your superior officer and I will not tolerate another such public outburst.”

And before Nick could say anything else, she turned on her heel and marched from the room.

Nick was trembling with anger. “That bloody woman, who the hell does she think she is?” He pushed his way back to the counter and the desk sergeant. “Who’s in charge upstairs? Tell them I’m here and I want to see Dan.”

The sergeant smiled at him. Not many stood their ground before Superintendent Joy, and it had been amusing to watch. “Dan’s not here, he wasn’t arrested here, and we don’t know where they’ve got him. The first we knew there was anything wrong was when ‘Joy to the World’ walked in with her goon squad and started to chuck their weight around.”

“That’s it, I’m out of here! If anybody needs me, I’ll be at headquarters,” and with that Nick stormed out into the street.

The cold night air hit him immediately, and brought him down to earth with a bump. As he walked through the cold wet streets his thoughts raced, what the hell is going on? Dapper Dan arrested for murder! He shook his head… No, impossible, some huge misunderstanding, it has got to be, there is no conceivable way that Dan would take someone else’s life.

Who the hell is he supposed to have killed anyway? No one had told him that, mind you he hadn’t asked. His mind turned to all the cases they were currently working on. He could think of several lowlife villains currently under investigation that would make the world a better and safer place if they were no longer among the living. But Shit floats; sink one turd, and another one just pops up to take its place.

The only thing that he could think of was that in some extreme case, Dan must have been provoked or somehow caught so completely off guard that he overreacted. But one question kept nagging at him, why had Dan sent him out of town on such a stupid waste of time? Why today? Were the two connected? Nothing was making any sense.

The night air had cooled his anger and cleared his head. He still hadn’t a clue what was going on, but he was determined to find out and before the night was much older. He hailed a passing taxi and headed for the centre of town and police headquarters.

As he entered the building, he had to show his ID card to the constable on duty, and then he had to sign in before he could see anyone. He had already passed at least six people before he saw anyone he recognised or knew from Adam. He made his way to the duty Inspector’s office and knocked on the door, only opening it when a polite female voice called out “enter.”

He recognised her at once: Sandra Goodwood, quite a few years younger than him, but they had worked on a couple of cases together when she was in CID. “Is the Chief in?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

She looked up from the papers on her desk peering over the top of her glasses and said, “Don’t be daft, he’s off to some wingding or other, left hours ago, in fact I think all the seniors are attending. Anything I can do?”

Nick went in and closed the door. “You’ve heard about Dapper, I suppose?”

Taking her glasses off she smiled, “Nick, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what to say…”

“You could tell me it’s not true, you could tell me where they’re holding him.”
“Don’t you know? Dan’s been charged with murder.”

“You mean arrested?”

Rising from behind her desk, she shook her head as she came towards him. “No, I mean charged. He was standing over the body in the hospital when they arrested him. He’s confessed… signed a statement and everything.”

The colour drained from Nick’s face, and he slumped into a chair. “I don’t understand…Dan would never…it doesn’t make any sense. Who the hell did he kill? Where is he… is he here… can I see him?”

Sandra was standing over him, her hand on his shoulder. “I think you need to go home. Yes, he’s here but they won’t let anybody see him, especially you of all people. Come back in the morning when the seniors are around. They’ll be able to get you in to see him.”

“Is he alright? Does he need anything? A… a lawyer, has he seen a lawyer?”

“He’s fine, as far as I know. And no, there’s been no lawyer, he hasn’t asked for one, says there’s no need.”
Nick sat there white as a ghost, he didn’t stand up… he didn’t think he could. Sandra was on the verge of offering him a stiff drink when she remembered he didn’t drink any more, or couldn’t, to be more precise.

The room fell silent. All of a sudden, Nick felt tired and sick. Shakily, he rose to his feet, holding the back of the chair for support.

Sandra said, “Let me get the duty car to take you home! Get some rest, start again in the morning. Honestly, there’s nothing you can do tonight.”

Her words were barely penetrating his brain. It sounded as if his hands were over his ears; he heard the buzz of a phone and felt her arm gently supporting him. She led him towards a door that mysteriously looked both open and closed at the same time. The door moved and took on the shape of a big burly policeman. He heard muffled words, “Take him home… get him to bed… stay with him if necessary….”

The mist closed in, and the voices stopped.

The next morning, Nick awoke with a start. He was lying face down on a bed but had little recollection as to whose bed it might be or where. His first thought was that it must still be the middle of the night, given the darkness of the room. He lay there, quite still, trying to gather his thoughts, listening for any telltale clue as to where he was. He had no memory of going home, in fact, as far as he could recall his last clear memory was talking to Sandra Goodwood, but exactly how long ago that had been he couldn’t tell.

It was no good; he could hear nothing, and his head ached. He needed to get up, he fumbled around in the dark until his hand struck something hard at the bedside. Gently, he felt for the edge and moved his fingers over the surface, until he touched something that felt like the base of a lamp. Running his fingers up the side he found the little switch just below the bulb itself. He pressed it, and the room lit up before him.

It was his bedroom. He was lying on the wrong side of the bed, still in his street clothes with a loose blanket thrown over him. He thought of Sandra. Nah! Probably one of her men, the total lack of finesse as to his present state suggested the delicate touch of a beat bobby.

He swung his feet to the floor and went in search of his slippers. The bedside clock said 05:36. A good strong cup of coffee was called for, and as he waited for it to brew, he threw off his clothes and wrapped himself in his dressing gown. He knew he must look a sight and in need of a bath and a shave, but he needed coffee first.

On his next journey towards his tiny kitchen, he saw the little red winking light on the telephone that meant there was a message waiting. Even that was made to wait its turn. With a mug of steaming coffee in hand, he wandered back to the phone – it shouldn’t be that important. Anybody who needed him urgently had his mobile number. He pressed the rewind and waited for the machine to click and whir its way back to the start.

“Nick! It’s Dan. Listen, I don’t know when you’ll get this message but I imagine by now all hell has broken loose.”

“Christ! That’s an understatement and a half,” Nick said aloud as the message continued.

“Most of what you have heard is probably true, and by now the CIB will be all over the place. Whatever else you do, stay away from me. That’s an order, probably the first I’ve ever given you, but I mean it! Stay right out of it or ‘Joy to the World’ will try and drag you in as well. What’s done is done. I’ve no regrets, and there’s nothing you or anyone else can do to help me. Stay at home, go sick or take some leave, all will become clear if you stay at home.” The line went dead.

Second cup of coffee in hand, Nick played the message twice more before taking the little tape out of the machine and replacing it with a brand new one. Superintendent Joy’s goons would undoubtedly search his flat, with or without his blessing, so there was no point leaving them any gifts. The fact that the message was there at all was testament that he had not been searched already. He thought, more fool you Margaret Joy, but there again you were always a piss poor detective. In her shoes he would have searched his place as soon as Dan had been arrested.

Standing under the power shower, his one real luxury, he let the hot water knock the ache out of his shoulders while his brain tried to make sense of what was going on. His shock and the denial were over; it was true, and his friend and mentor these past seven years was indeed guilty of murder. But whom had he murdered and, more importantly, why? He had to know, even if it meant facing Dan and asking him.

Washed, shaven and in clean clothes, he felt a lot better than he did last night. He phoned the station and talked to the duty sergeant, who informed him that the goon squad was still there. Apparently, they had spent the night packing everything up: computers, files, even the wastepaper baskets from the CID office. They had carted it all away in a hired white van. Good luck to them, thought Nick. The sergeant ended with, “Superintendent Joy left a message that she wants to see you here at ten o’clock.”

Nick replied with a smile. “If she asks, you haven’t seen or talked to me and I don’t seem to be answering my mobile. If I don’t have an office to work in, I might as well take the day off.”

“No problem sir,” was the reply. “Anyway, I’ll be off duty long before she even gets here.”

Nick heard the line go dead, and he listened an extra few seconds just in case there were any telltale clicks before he also hung up.
Decisions, decisions, thought Nick. Bowl of cornflakes or a bacon sarnie at the local greasy spoon on his way to headquarters? He stared into the small fridge, not enough milk for cornflakes. Ah well! Such is life.

It had just turned nine when he entered the headquarters building. A casual glance through a side window told him that none of the senior officers had made it in yet. Obviously a good night was had by all, he thought. Although how they could just go out on a free binge with one of their own languishing in a cell downstairs was beyond him. Not something you need to dwell upon, Nick me boy, he thought to himself, the chances of you hitting those dizzy heights are a million to one. Then another thought chilled his brain. He knew one person who was clawing her way up the greasy pole, and he shivered at the prospect.

The duty custody sergeant popped his mug of tea under the counter as he saw Nick approaching. “I’ve come to see Chief Superintendent Davies,” he said as calmly as he could.
The man looked down at his desk and picked up a clipboard. “You’re not on me list of people who’s allowed to see him. Besides I don’t think you’re even allowed in here, are you, sir?”

“Look sergeant, what harm can it do? He’s already confessed and been charged, so where’s the problem? I only want to see if there’s anything he needs, a change of clothes, a toothbrush or something.”

“Five minutes is all you got and you have to talk to him from the passage, no going in there, and if anybody comes you pulled rank on me, alright?”

“Fair enough,” Nick replied and followed the man to the cells, where with a big bunch of keys he opened one of the doors and then moved a respectful distance away.

The sight that greeted Nick did little to improve his darkening mood. There, hunched on the hard narrow cot, was his friend looking tired, drawn and a little used.

Everybody knew him as Dapper Dan Davies, a good old fashioned copper, honest and well respected by all, even those he nicked. He was a tall and well built man from a fairly well to do family. His financial independence allowed him to indulge in his passion for being well groomed. He always wore immaculate tailor-made three piece suits over handmade shirts and coordinating ties. There was always a touch of gold about him from his cuff links to his father’s old pocket watch with its chain strung across his waistcoat.

None of that was apparent from the tired unshaven wreck of a man sitting there before him. He had been stripped down to the essentials, the neck of his shirt gaped open, and the double cuffs of his shirt hung open and dangling below his hands. The belt was missing from his trousers, as were the laces from his shoes. Rank had no privilege here. Nick felt the colour rising up his neck at the thought of Joy’s goons manhandling this man out of his clothes and searching everything.

The old man looked up, and it was clear from his expression he was not at all pleased to see his colleague. “Just what part of stay away from me didn’t you understand, Inspector? God Almighty man, get away from me and stay away.”
Nick looked crest fallen. In all their years together Dan had never pulled rank or even spoken to him in such a way. “I… I only came to see… if there was anything you wanted… needed…”

“No, no there isn’t, just get away from here.” The earlier sting was out of his voice now and he just sounded tired.

“Did those evil bastards keep you up all night? Did you have a lawyer with you? At least let me get you one of those…..” The words were tumbling out in a torrent.

“Go home Nick, go home and stay there, is that clear? Everything you need to know is there. Now, if you have any respect left for me, get the hell out of here.”

Nick was ready to start raving with more questions, but what would be the use? It was clear that his presence here was far from welcome. The fact that he didn’t know why hurt him as much as if Dan had struck him in the face. He grabbed the door to the cell and slammed it shut with such force that the noises echoed around the hall.

“Sit there and rot if that’s what you want!” he shouted as he marched past the policeman with the keys.

There was nothing to be gained from staying here, it wasn’t his case, and as Superintendent Joy had so nicely pointed out he might even be involved. Back outside he wandered aimlessly, until the cry of a street news vendor caught his attention.

“Senior Policeman arrested for Murder! Read Allaboutit.”

Nick almost ran to the newsstand, elbowing his way forward as he grabbed the paper from the man’s hand. Quickly he handed over some money and was scanning the headlines as he walked away. He read over the sensational opening sentences looking for some hard facts, suddenly his hands tightened on the newspaper as he read:

Late yesterday afternoon, detective Chief Superintendent Daniel Davies was arrested for the murder of a patient at the St. Anne’s hospital. According to eyewitness reports, he offered no resistance as staff restrained him while the police were called.
The murdered man was 34-year old Colin Murray, a long-term patient of the hospital. Mr. Murray who, according to a senior member of the hospital staff, was completely paralysed from the neck down following a car accident fifteen years ago and would have been unable to fend off any attack. Also due to his paralysis, his vocal cords were damaged and he would have been unable to call out for help. In this seemingly motiveless attack, police and staff are completely baffled as to why Chief Superintendent Davies would commit such a crime. This highly respected officer of local law enforcement is of course well known to this newspaper, and we believe there must be a plausible explanation, but it escapes our reasoning at this time. A police spokesperson said it was far too early to say anything…

Nick read on but there was nothing more he could learn, at least he now knew who if not why. He stuffed the newspaper in a waste bin and hailed a passing taxi.

“Where to mate?” the taxi driver asked.

Good question, he thought, where the hell am I going? “Just drive west for the moment.”

As the vehicle moved away from the kerb, he asked himself the question again, where to? There is no point going to the station and into the waiting clutches of Superintendent Joy. He still was not in the mood for another session with her or to run the risk of getting himself suspended. Can’t go back to the flat, even Joy’s goons would be waiting there by now… I need somewhere… somewhere I can think in peace and quiet, the library, yes! That’ll do.

“Can you drop me at the central library, driver?”

“That’s east that is, not west…. Still, it’s your money!” There came an angry blast of a car horn from somewhere close behind them as the taxi driver hastily changed lanes, apparently without signalling.

Two hours later, stomach rumbling with hunger, he was no further forward. This is pathetic, he thought to himself. I have the biggest goddamn database of criminal information at my disposal and here I am sitting in a bloody library like a penny ante news hack.

He had been half-heartedly trawling though microfiche records of fifteen year old newspapers. Again, he had no idea what he was looking for; car accidents, even ones that leave their victim paralysed, was hardly front page stuff. Let’s face it… people get flattened every day, tragic but hardly newsworthy.

Of course, he had to admit to himself that he was not actually looking for anything in particular he was just whiling away the time, or more precisely hiding. But hiding from what? He was not a criminal, he hadn’t done anything wrong so why, against all logic, was he ducking and diving around the city like a common villain? There was only one reason he could think of, joyless Superintendent Joy. Even here, other than his dislike for the woman, why avoid her? True, a small part of him realised that his disappearance would be a great sense of annoyance to her, and that gave him some pleasure. But why not face the cow? Get it over and done with, after all what could he tell her that would advance her case one step?

Then he smiled – what case? There had been a murder, and the murderer had been apprehended and confessed – hardly crime of the century stuff. It would be almost laughable if Dan was not involved. They had got their man, so why was she still stomping through all their files? There again, maybe she wasn’t. He hadn’t checked in lately; perhaps it was time he did.

Once clear of the library, he pulled his phone from his pocket and switched it on. It bleeped at him: there were seven messages. As he ran his eye over the tiny screen, he saw that all the messages were from Superintendent Joy. So Joyless, he thought, you are still on the prowl are you…and he switched his mobile phone off again. She will just have to wait a little longer – there is no way I can face her on an empty stomach.

Lunch over, he caught a bus to the station and was just walking the last few hundred yards when a car screeched to halt just ahead of him. A large shaven headed man got out of the front passenger seat and faced him. Nick recognised him at once. “Christ,” he said, “it’s getting harder to tell real policemen from Mafia hit-men every day.”
The man showed no recognition and even less humour. “The boss wants a word with you.”

Nick thought he even sounds like a henchman. “I assume you are talking about Superintendent Joy? Your boss, not mine,” replied Nick. “As you can see, I am on my way to the station right now.”

“The Super is not there. She’s gone back to HQ. My orders are to pick you up and take you there.”

Nick asked, “And you are?”

“DS Harvey.”

Nick looked at his watch. It was nearly half past two. “Well, DS Harvey, do you have a warrant for my arrest?’

“No, I was just told to go and get you.”

“Shouldn’t that be told to go and get you, sir? OK sergeant, you’ve seen me, you’ve passed your leader’s message on. Now run along back to Mama and tell her that I have some urgent business to take care of and I will come and see her in her office at four o’ clock, alright?”

“Sir!” The word was almost spat out. “My orders are….”

“Were you ever in the military, sergeant?”

“Yes Sir!”

“Well then, you should know by now to always obey the last order. And my orders to you are more recent now… bugger off…..” The man took a step forward but Nick stood firm. “One more step and I’ll drop you where you stand.” His voice was ice cold, and the expression on his face said he meant it. DS Harvey turned on his heel and got back in the car, which sped off tyres screeching, leaving the acrid smell of burnt rubber in its wake.

That was stupid, Nick admitted to himself. Why antagonise the woman further? But he had resented her arrogance at sending one of her bigger goons to fetch him. Better be on time for their four o’clock appointment, he thought, or next time they may just have a warrant.

He pushed his way in through the station door. A constable at the desk looked up and buzzed him through the door. He ran quickly up the stairs to the CID offices, stopping sharply with his mouth open. There in front of him was a sea of empty desks with drawers hanging open. Wires dangled from torn out computers, leaving dust rings as evidence as to where they had been. Chairs were overturned and paper was strewn everywhere. Two of his junior colleagues were over in a far corner nursing plastic cups of coffee. “Looks more like a crime scene than a CID office.”

DC Mary Riley was the first to speak. “It is a crime scene, sir. They’ve taken everything, even our personal effects.”

“What about interviews?” Nick asked.

“They finished about an hour ago, we were the last two,” this time it was the young man, DS Dave Martin, who spoke.

“So what did they want to know?”

“Just a fishing trip if you ask me sir. They just seemed to be going through the motions. I mean, what the hell do we know? They kept asking about some guy called Colin Murray and who was working on the case.”

“What case?” Nick asked.

Mary chimed in, “Precisely, no one had even heard of a Colin Murray until they started talking about him.” She looked around at the shattered office. “You can see they believed us.”

“So,” enquired Dave, “do you know who the mysterious Colin Murray is, sir?”

“Colin Murray is, or rather was, the man murdered yesterday by Chief Superintendent Davies,” Nick responded in an almost casual manner.

Mary said, “We’d heard he been arrested but none of us could believe it. Not our boss, surely? It just can’t be true, can it sir?”

Nick replied most soberly. “It can and is true. I heard it straight from the man himself this morning.”

“But why?”

Nick smiled. “That… he didn’t tell me, so I know as much about it as any of you. Anyway, round up the troops for the morning. Get this place cleaned up, and I’ll see about getting our stuff back.”

Four o’clock on the dot he knocked firmly on Superintendent Joy’s office door and waited for the command, ‘Enter!’

As he walked into the office, he imagined he could feel the cold of her stare as she watched him cross the room. There was no preamble or formal niceties, no welcome of any sort, just a blurted command. “Have a seat, Inspector.”

Nick did as he was told, keeping his facial expression as neutral as possible. Without further ado, Superintendent Joy got straight down to business. “I expected to see you this morning at ten o’clock. Didn’t you get my messages?”

“No, Ma’am,” he replied, “I didn’t feel too well, so I took a day’s leave.”

“Not sick enough to stay at home, or so I was informed.”

“I wasn’t sick, just not up to par. I thought fresh air might be more beneficial than just lying around the flat.”

She pulled a blue folder towards her and opened it. “This case you and Davies were working on…”

“Which case is that? We had at least four going on up until yesterday.”

“The one involving Colin Murray,” she replied, holding the file so that Nick couldn’t see the contents.

Good try, thought Nick. “That’s not a name I’m familiar with, Ma’am. I don’t recall the name being associated with any case we are, or ever have been, working on together.”

“Do you actually expect me to believe you’ve never heard the name Colin Murray before this moment?”

Nick thought: now she was getting flustered, not only a lousy detective but a lousy interrogator as well. “That’s not what I said. I said I don’t associate the name with any ongoing case. I know the name from a report in this morning’s newspaper saying that was the man murdered by Chief Superintendent Davies. Until then, I had no idea who he was.”

She changed tack. “Where were you all day yesterday?”

“Cardiff,” Nick said with a sigh. “I was asked to go there and review the evidence they had on a local murder case to see if it matched anything we were working on, possible serial killer, that sort of thing.”

“Who asked you to go?”

“Chief Superintendent Davies. It was a complete waste of time as it turned out.”

“So do you think you were sent out of the way to prevent you from being implicated in yesterday’s murder?”

My God, he thought. That was the first sensible question she has managed to ask. “The thought had crossed my mind, yes. It certainly makes more sense that way.”

There was silence as the two of them looked at each other across her desk. Neither wanted to be the first to break eye contact, Nick blinked.

“Listen Ma’m, can I say something?”

“Be my guest, if it’s relevant.”

“I am in the dark as much as anyone as to why the Chief did what he did. As far as I’m aware, it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any case that CID is currently working on. In the seven years that I have known and worked with him, there has never been any mention of a Colin Murray even as a social acquaintance.”

“Thank you Inspector, but that doesn’t alter the fact that a murder has been committed and we need to know why.”

“I too would like to know the answer to that, and given time we probably will. However, the point I’m trying to make is that you have the contents of our entire department locked up in a white van somewhere, and I need it back so we can get on with our job. Surely, if your people have done any work at all, you must have realised by now there is nothing in our system relating to this crime. You’ve got your man, he’s confessed and been charged, therefore why is the CIB still wasting their time by investigating the entire staff of one police station?”

She stared coldly across the desk at him. “If we had had this conversation at ten this morning as I asked, perhaps your department might have been back at work by now.”

For the first time during the meeting, Nick smiled. “That would not have been possible, Ma’am, perhaps if it had been a friend of yours arrested for murder you might understand. Besides, I didn’t find out who Colin Murray was until lunch time.”

Margaret Joy closed the file she had been holding and put it with the others in a neat pile. “I’ll arrange for your files and computers to be returned first thing in the morning. That’ll be all for the moment.”

As he stood to take his leave, Nick thought: Christ she’s a cold bitch even in defeat, but all he said was ‘Ma’am!’

While he crossed the office towards the door, she said, “It won’t be made official until tomorrow, but you’ll be in charge of CID until a new Super is appointed. I believe a promotion to acting Chief Inspector goes with the job, congratulations.”

If there was any warmth in the congratulatory statement, he couldn’t feel it but he added a “thank you Ma’am,” as he opened the door and went into the passage beyond. Was it just his imagination or was it really warmer out here?

On his way back downstairs, he mulled the meeting over in his mind. Christ, Burton, you are slow-witted today! Joyless should never have told him about his promotion, albeit temporary, it was not her place to do so. It was so obvious that she just couldn’t contain the fact that she knew something that he did not – a fact that she could only have picked up by talking to the top brass. Had she overstepped the mark by her raid on his station and been called to account? That would account for the relative softness of their meeting. She was just going through a face-saving exercise by trying to put him on the spot. Kind of obvious now, her heart wasn’t in it at all. No chance to use her brand new rubber truncheon, poor dear, he whispered with a grin.

Before he left the building, Nick’s thoughts turned to the prison cells in the basement. His first impulse was to go down and face Dan once more, tell him his fears about getting him involved were groundless. Get him in an interview room and find out what the hell was going on and what the two of them were going to do to get him out of it. Then, with a touch of anger, his next thought took him back to their previous encounter: what was it Dan had said?

‘Go home Nick, go home and stay there…,… now get the hell out of here.’

So with those words ringing in his mind, Nick left the building and headed for home.

On his way back to his flat, he stopped off at his local corner shop for some milk and the evening newspaper then popped across the road to his favourite Chinese takeaway. Now if there was just something half-assed decent to watch on the telly, his evening was set. Tomorrow was another day not touched. He would start working out the why after a good night’s sleep.

As he entered the front door leading to his flat, there was a small table set against the wall for mail and other messages. Nick put down his takeaway and other shopping and rifled his way through it. He whispered, ‘Junk, bill, bill, junk, junk, offer of a free massage, junk, junk.’ There was also a postcard from the Royal Mail saying that they had tried to deliver a package that needed a signature. He could collect it from the local sorting office, wherever the hell that is, he thought. He dropped the mail in with the rest of his shopping and stuffed the postcard in his coat pocket.

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