St. Martin's Press
I’d seen enough dead bodies to know they can look peaceful. Calm, even. At rest.
Princess Gordon was not that sort of corpse.
It wasn’t her fault. Anyone would have struggled to look serene when they had been battered to death, then shoved into the boot of a Nissan Micra and left to stiffen into full rigor mortis.
“I’m going to need to get her out to give you a proper cause of death, but from a preliminary examination she was beaten with something hard but rounded, like a pole, sometime within the last twenty-four hours.” The pathologist stood back, touching the back of one gloved hand to her forehead. “I can’t narrow it down for you yet, but I’ll have a look at stomach contents during the post-mortem and make an educated guess.”
“I can make an educated guess for you now. It was her husband.” The voice came from beside me, where Detective Inspector Josh Derwent was taking up more than his fair share of room in the little ring of officers and crime-scene technicians that had gathered around the back of the car. The garage door was open but it still felt claustrophobic to me to be in that small, cluttered space. The air was dusty and the lighting cast long, dark shadows. I felt as if the piled-up junk was reaching out to grab me. Derwent had his hands in his pockets, with his elbows jutting out on either side. I had already inched away twice, to get out of range, but there was nowhere left to go.
“She wasn’t married,” I said.
“Partner, then. Whoever that bloke is in the house.”
“What makes you say that?” The pathologist was new, earnest and heavily pregnant. I wished she would just ignore Derwent. She had no idea what she was dealing with.
“Bound to be him.”
“If you’re basing that on statistical probability—”
Derwent cut her off. “I’m not.”
One of the response officers cleared his throat. I thought he was going to raise his hand and ask for permission to speak. “He said he came back and she was missing. He said someone must have come into the house and attacked her.”
“Yeah, he’d know. He was the one who did it.” Derwent waved a hand at the body. “Say this wasn’t a domestic. Say it was a burglary gone wrong or a random murder. Why bother putting her in the car? Why not leave her in the house?”
“To hide her,” the response officer suggested.
“Why, though? It’s hard work, moving a body. And she’s a big girl, too. Look at that arse.”
“Sir.” I didn’t usually try to manage Derwent’s stream of consciousness but I had seen the look of shock on the pathologist’s face. Dr. Early, who had arrived late and made a joke about it. Derwent hadn’t laughed.
“What is it, Kerrigan?” He glared at me.
I didn’t dare say why I’d actually interrupted. It would only provoke worse behavior. “Just—why would Olesugwe move the body?”
“He was planning to get rid of the body but then her sister came round.”
It was Princess’s sister, Blessed, who’d found the body and called 999. Last seen in hysterics being comforted by a female officer at the kitchen table, she’d been too incoherent to interview.
“Why would he want to kill her?” Early asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine. She was having an affair, or he was, or she didn’t do the ironing.” He looked down at the pathologist’s rounded belly. “She was four months pregnant, according to Olesugwe. Women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence when they’re up the duff.”
“That’s a myth.” Dr. Early put a protective hand on her stomach, as if she was trying to shield her unborn child from Derwent’s toxic personality. I personally felt lead-lined hazard suits should have been standard issue for anyone who came into contact with him, pregnant or not.
Derwent shook his head. “They did a study in the States. Murder is the third most common reason of violent death for pregnant women.”
“What else kills them?” I asked.
“Car accidents and suicide. Women drivers, eh?”
“Well, this lady didn’t die in a car accident and she certainly didn’t beat herself to death.” Dr. Early folded her arms, resting them on top of her bump.
“That’s my point. He killed her,” Derwent said. “He gets angry about something, he beats her up, it goes too far, he dumps her in the car, starts to clean up, gets interrupted by the sister and all bets are off.”
“There was a smell of bleach in the kitchen,” I remarked.
“And no sign of a break-in. Wherever she died should look like an abattoir but I didn’t see a speck of blood in the house.” Derwent pushed past a couple of officers and peered into the back seat of the car. “Bags. If you forensic boys would like to do your jobs and get them out for us, I bet we’ll find blood-stained clothes in Olesugwe’s size.”
Dr. Early looked down at Princess’s body. “I’ll need some help to get her out of the boot.”
“Nice to hear a woman admit she needs some help,” Derwent said, and walked out without waiting to hear what Dr. Early had to say in response, or, indeed, offering any assistance.
The doctor’s lips were pressed together and her eyes were bright. I recognized the signs of someone trying not to cry. I’d been there, many times. “Is he always like that?” she asked me.
“Not always. Sometimes he’s worse.”
“I don’t know how you can stand it.”
“Neither do I,” I said.
* * *
The reason I could stand it was because in addition to his numerous personality defects, Derwent was a brilliant copper. He left the SOCOs to their work and took both Olesugwe and Blessed to the nearest police station, Great Portland Street, where Blessed confessed to the affair she’d been having with Olesugwe, and Olesugwe admitted that Princess had found out about it. The murder weapon—a metal pole that had been used as a clothes rail in the couple’s wardrobe—turned up in a shed in the garden of the small house, stuffed in a bag behind a lawnmower. Olesugwe had the key to the shed’s padlock on his key ring, as well as the only set of keys for the Nissan. When I pointed out that neither the padlock nor the car boot was damaged in any way, he admitted moving the body and hiding the weapon.
“But he still won’t admit that he killed her,” I said to Derwent as we left the police station, heading back to the office to get the paperwork underway. I shivered as the cold hit my face. We were on foot because Derwent had flatly refused to drive through central London to Somers Town, where Princess had breathed her last, when our new offices were in Westminster and it was twice as fast to go by public transport.
“He’s still looking for a way out. I bet he’ll say it was Blessed who attacked her and he was just trying to help her.”
“Do you think that’s what happened?”
“Nope. Doesn’t matter, though. He’ll still lie about it.”
“I don’t think Blessed would have called the cops before they were finished tidying up if she’d been involved.”
“She might have. She might be thick. Most criminals are.”
“I’ve noticed,” I said. I was only a detective constable but I had seven years of experience behind me. Derwent tended to forget that.
Instead of answering me, he sighed. “What a waste of fucking time.” It wasn’t my imagination: Derwent’s mood was darker than usual.
“We got a result,” I pointed out.
“Anyone could have got it. Even you.”
“We did a good job.”
“The local murder team could have handled it.”
“They were too busy.”
“Is that what the boss told you?” He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets and walked faster. I lengthened my stride to keep up.
“Why else would he send us up there?”
I realized I wasn’t going to get an answer out of Derwent. Besides, I wasn’t sure I wanted one. There was a chance he was referring to the fact that I was out of favor with the boss, and I couldn’t imagine that Derwent would be pleased if he knew about it. Especially if he knew why.
I’d have been sensible to keep my mouth shut and walk in silence, but there was something I wanted to know. “You were a bit off with Dr. Early. What was the problem?”
Derwent’s jaw clenched. “She shouldn’t be doing that job in her condition.”
“She’s more than capable of doing it.”
“If you say so. She probably won’t even be able to reach the table to do the PM.”
“I’m sure she’ll manage.”
“She shouldn’t have to.” Derwent flipped up the collar of his coat, hunching his shoulders as a scattering of rain spat in our faces. “It’s no job for a woman anyway. But when she’s got a baby on board, she shouldn’t be near dead bodies.”
“You are so old-fashioned it’s untrue. Are you worried her unborn child will see the corpses and be upset? Wombs don’t come with much of a view.”
“It’s just not right.” His voice was flat. No more arguing.
I held my tongue until we got to the tube station and discovered that two lines were closed, just in time for the evening rush hour. We forced our way onto a packed Metropolitan line train to Baker Street, switched to the Bakerloo line and suffered as far as Charing Cross. It was a positive pleasure to resurface from the super-heated, stale depths of the Underground, even though the cold autumn air made my head ring as if I’d just been slapped.
Even with the inspector as a companion it wasn’t a hardship to walk through Trafalgar Square and on down Whitehall as the lights came on. It had rained properly while we were on the tube, a short but sharp cloudburst, and the pavement had a glassy sheen. Fallen leaves were scattered across the ground, flattened against it by the rain, looking as if they had been varnished to it. The going was slick and my shoes weren’t designed for it. Opposite the Cenotaph I slid sideways and collided with Derwent, clutching his arm for support. He bent his arm so his biceps bulged under my fingers. I snatched my hand away.
“Steady on,” Derwent said.
“It’s the leaves.”
“I know you, Kerrigan. Any excuse to cop a feel.” He crooked his arm again. “Come on. Hang on to Uncle Josh. I’ll look after you.”
“I can manage, thank you.”
“It’s not a sign of weakness, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s good to recognize your shortcomings. Look at Dr. Early. She knew she couldn’t shift that body on her own so she asked for help. You could take a lesson from that. Accept help when it’s offered.”
“Is that what you do?”
He laughed. “I don’t need any help.”
“Of course not. The very idea.”
“Seriously, if you need to hold on to my arm, do it.”
“I would if I did, but I don’t.” I would rather take off my shoes and walk barefoot than reinforce Derwent’s ideas of chivalry. He would see it as proof of what he’d always thought—women need looking after. And I was junior to him, as well as being female, so he was totally comfortable with patronizing me.
It made me want to scream.
We turned the corner into Parliament Square and I gazed across at the Houses of Parliament, not yet tired of staring at them even though I saw them every day on my way to work. They were a Victorian idea of medieval grandeur and there was something fantastic about them, something unreal about the delicate tracery, the honey-colored stone, the soaring gilt-topped towers. From here, Britain had ruled the world, temporarily, and the buildings remembered. They were a physical manifestation of the superiority complex that was bred into the British, my father had said once. He had little time for the Empire and less sympathy for the country he lived in. I didn’t think you could characterize a whole nation that way, but then I wasn’t in the comfortable position of being foreign. Nor could I count myself as British. I was born in London of Irish parents, bred and raised as an Irish girl, despite the fact that we lived in Carshalton rather than Killybegs. I’d learned to dance the Walls of Limerick and played “Down by the Sally Gardens” on the tin whistle and struggled into thick, sheep-smelling Aran jumpers knitted by relations and swapped the soda bread in my packed lunches for my friends’ white crustless sandwiches. I’d played camogie, badly, at weekends, and played hockey equally badly at school. I was Irish by blood and English by accident and I didn’t belong to either tradition, or anywhere else. I’d grown up feeling as if I’d lost something and it was only now I was starting to wonder if it mattered.
Derwent threw out an arm. “Look at that. What a disgrace.”
“The Houses of Parliament?” I asked, surprised. I should have known Derwent was unlikely to be experiencing post-colonial guilt.
“Those fuckers. Shouldn’t be allowed.” He was referring to the protesters camping on the grass in the middle of Parliament Square, occupying the space where the anti-war crowd had maintained their vigil, and where the demonstrations against globalization had raged. There were regular police operations to clear the lawn, but somehow the campaigners came back in ones and twos, and it was rare to see it empty.
I tried to read the banners but it was hard to see them in the dusk, especially since they were rain-sodden. “Capitalism is evil?”
“Oh, them.” The Dads Matter group was the militant alternative to Fathers for Justice, a pressure group for men who felt they had been victimized by the family courts. Dads Matter was small but growing and prone to extravagant publicity-seeking. Its leader was Philip Pace, a handsome, charismatic forty-year-old with a background in PR. He was a smooth talker, a regular interviewee on news and current affairs programs and had made the Top Ten Most Eligible Males list in Tatler the previous year. I didn’t see the attraction myself, but then I wasn’t all that keen on zealots. As the public face of Dads Matter, he made it his business to be reasonable and moderate, but as a group they were neither. “What’s their new campaign? Twenty-Twenty?”
“Someone hasn’t been paying attention to briefings,” Derwent said. “It’s Fifty-Fifty. They want the courts to split custody of children equally between parents. No exceptions.”
“Oh, that sounds reasonable. What about abusers? What about protecting children from that?”
“Dads don’t harm their children. They love them.” For once, Derwent’s ultra-sarcasm had a decent target.
“You don’t think fathers have rights?” Derwent’s eyebrows were hovering around his hairline. “I thought you were a liberal, Kerrigan. If I said feminism was wank, you’d report me.”
“You say that frequently, and I haven’t yet. Anyway, it’s not the same thing. The courts make their decisions on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes the mothers get full custody because the dads aren’t fit to be involved with their families. These men are just sore losers.”
“Doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous. You know they’ve been sharing tactics with extremist anti-abortion activists in the States, don’t you?”
“I didn’t, actually.” I was amazed that Derwent did. He generally didn’t bother with reading briefings. In fact, I wasn’t aware of him having read anything properly since we’d been working together.
“Pace was over in Washington recently, trying to get a US branch up and running. He appeared on a platform with the pro-lifers at a massive rally, though he doesn’t want that to get out in this country in case it puts people off. They’ve got a lot in common, though. It’s all about the sanctity of the family, isn’t it? Two-parent happy families with hundreds of smiling, cheerful children. Fucking fantasyland. If you didn’t read the briefing notes you’ll have missed this too: they found a Dads Matter-affiliated messageboard on the Internet with a list of names and addresses for family court judges and their staff. Everyone is very jumpy about it. They’re expecting parcel bombs and anthrax and God knows what.”
“How did I miss all of this?” I felt as if I hadn’t done my homework and I’d been caught by my least favorite teacher—which was basically what had happened.
“Dunno. Maybe you’re too busy concentrating on what’s right in front of you to get a decent idea of the big picture. That’s why you’re a DC. You do all right at the small stuff, but you need a bit of a flair for strategy at my level.”
Maybe if you didn’t leave all the paperwork and form filling to me I’d have time to read about the big picture. “Thanks for the advice.”
“Freely given,” he said. “Listen and learn.”
“I do. Every day.” It was true. If I wanted to know about misogyny, right-wing conspiracy theories or competition-grade swearing, working with Derwent was roughly equivalent to a third-level education.
Our route took us close to where the protesters stood, rain-blasted and pathetic, huddled in their anoraks like penguins in nylon hoods. Most were middle-aged and a touch overweight. They didn’t look dangerous.
“They can’t all be evil, and they must miss their children,” I said.
“Pack of whingers. If they loved their kids so much they wouldn’t have left them in the first place.” He glowered at them. “Anyone who’s got the nerve to sit under the statue of the greatest Englishman who ever lived and make it look like a gypsy camp has got no principles and no soul.”
“Who else?” He looked at me as if he was waiting for me to argue, but I knew better than to try. Derwent needed a fight occasionally, to do something with the aggression he seemed to generate just by breathing. But I was not going to be his punchbag today.
I could have sworn his ears drooped.
Copyright © 2013 by Jane Casey
JANE CASEY was born and raised in Dublin. A graduate of Oxford with a master's of philosophy from Trinity College, Dublin, she lives in London, where she works as an editor. The Stranger You Know is her fourth novel.