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Detective Chief Inspector Neil Paget stuffed another folder into an already bulging briefcase, and snapped it shut. Eight o’clock, and still at least two hours’ work ahead of him when he got home. He paused, listening to the rain slashing at the windows, and wondered if it was ever going to stop. Fourteen days into November, and already they’d had three more inches of rain than had fallen in the entire month a year ago. He looked down at his shoes and grimaced. Fine state they’d be in by the time he reached his car. The antiquated sewer line into the building was being replaced at long last, and what used to be the car park was awash with mud.
Paget hoisted the briefcase off the desk, plucked his furled umbrella from the hat stand, and turned out the light. His footsteps echoed hollowly on the worn linoleum as he made his way past cluttered desks and silent phones to the head of the stairs and descended to the ground floor. He nodded his good-night to Broughton, the duty sergeant at the desk.
“Bit of flooding out your way, sir,” Broughton called after him. “Nothing serious yet, but best be warned.” Paget raised a weary arm in response and moved on down the corridor to the double doors of the main entrance. On nights like this he wished he lived in town, but the thought, as always, would vanish with the dawn.
A woman wearing a blue plastic mac stood at the door, face pressed against the glass as she peered into the night. So intent was she on whatever it was she was looking for that she jumped when he said, “I thought you’d left some time ago, Constable,” then took a step backward as she gasped and whirled to face him. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to startle you, Regan. Are you waiting for someone to pick you up?”
Kate Regan put a hand to her chest, took in a deep breath and shook her head. “No. That is, no, sir. I was just looking out to see if it was still raining.”
It was an odd answer, considering the rain was bouncing six inches off the concrete steps outside, something he could see even from where he stood. “I think you’ll find it is,” he said drily as he opened the door.
“Is your car around the back, sir?”
“That’s right. Yours?”
She nodded. “Mind if I walk round with you?”
“Not at all, but … Is there something wrong, Constable?”
“Oh, no, sir.” Kate shook her head vigorously, then laughed self-consciously. “It’s just that these shoes are not exactly the best for walking through mud, and I could use a steadying hand over some of the puddles out there. That is if you don’t mind, sir?” she added quickly, as if fearing she might have overstepped the bounds.
“Not at all, Constable.”
They paused on the top step beneath the canopy above the door while Paget opened his umbrella. Kate Regan pulled the hood of her mac over her head, tugging the drawstrings tight beneath her chin, creating a frame for her face. With her pale skin, luminous eyes, and a sprinkling of freckles across her nose, he thought she looked more like a little girl than a twenty-nine-year-old seasoned constable.
PC Kathleen Regan had come to them from Tenborough, where she was being considered for promotion. After she had passed her sergeant’s exams, it had been decided to send her to CID for further training while she waited for an opening. At least, that was the official version. In fact, the Broadminster CID was short by at least four people, so under the guise of training, Chief Superintendent Brock had arranged to have PC Regan transferred on temporary duty to help make up the numbers, and—he hoped—stop Superintendent Alcott from whingeing on and on about lack of staff.
“Take my arm,” Paget told her as they descended the steps together. Kate glanced around as if afraid someone might see her and think she was cosying up to the chief inspector, then grasped his arm. They picked their way along the side of the building, half jumping runnels of muddy water flowing from the shoulder-high embankment of sodden earth. Tarpaulins had been draped over the mound in an effort to prevent the earth from washing away, but they merely served to slow the process rather than stop it. What had once been a parking area for some thirty cars was now reduced to a narrow lane barely wide enough to allow the passage of a single car.
“Thank goodness!” Kate breathed as they reached the end of the building and turned the corner. “At least there’s no mud back here.” She stopped abruptly. “It’s so dark. What happened to the lights?”
The area behind the building was poorly lit by two old-fashioned lamps at the best of times, but now both lights were out. If it hadn’t been for the feebly blinking red-and-amber lamps marking the edge of the earthworks beside the trench, there would have been no light at all.
“Probably shorted out by the rain,” Paget observed. He took out his car keys, attached to which was a tiny torch. The bulb was no more than a few millimetres in diameter, but it threw a surprising amount of light. They came abreast of a silver Escort, and Paget held the torch while Kate fished inside her handbag for her car keys. She opened the door, and the interior light came on. She looked down at her shoes and shook her head. “Ruined,” she observed sadly.
“Should have brought your wellies,” Paget told her, wishing he’d done the same.
“I did,” Kate told him ruefully. “They’re in the boot.” She slid into the seat. “Good night, sir. And thanks.”
“Good night, Constable.” Paget stepped back as Kate closed the door and started the engine, then moved on to where his own car was parked at the far corner of the building. Behind him, he heard the nervous grate of gears as Kate Regan backed the car out, spinning her wheels on the wet surface as she set off. She braked at the corner and then was gone.
Something was bothering that woman, he thought as he continued on. She’d denied that there was anything wrong, but she’d been on edge. He’d felt the tremor in her hand as she clutched his arm. He hoped it was nothing serious. Whatever it was, it hadn’t shown up in her work, but he made a mental note to keep a close eye on her during the next few days.
He had almost reached his car when he was blinded by a blaze of light. The umbrella was torn from his grasp, and his head exploded. Steel fingers grasped his hair, forcing his head back as he stumbled to his knees. Rain pounded in his face as he stared blindly into the light, arms flailing uselessly at his sides.
He sensed rather than saw movement behind the light. He tried to pull away, but his head was in a vice. A gloved hand appeared from behind the light. He tried to get his feet under him, tried to push himself away, but there was no feeling in his legs. He saw the flash of steel; felt the rush of blood; felt it run down his throat. The blade flashed again … .
Someone shouted as if from far away. So very far away. A figure, shiny, ghostly, seemed to float in front of him, then disappear. He fell face down, tasted blood. He must try to … The thought eluded him. Like a thousand tiny icicles, rain slashed against his face. He felt the water seeping through his clothes. His suit … So cold, so dark, such a lonely place to die.
Audrey Tregalles draped a sheet over the ironing board and tested the iron. She enjoyed ironing sheets. Not many people ironed their sheets nowadays, but her mother had always done it, and Audrey had simply carried on. She liked the warm smell of the material, and the way the wrinkles disappeared. The pure whiteness reminded her of snow … and Christmas.
“Less than six weeks till Christmas,” she observed. “It will be nice to see Philip and Lilian again, won’t it, love? Pity they can’t stay longer.”
Hidden behind the newspaper he was reading, Detective Sergeant John Tregalles’s normally pleasant if somewhat rumpled features became set. Black hair and a dark complexion bespoke his Cornish ancestry, as well as Cornish stubbornness at times, despite the fact that he’d been born and raised in London.
“Umm,” he grunted neutrally.
“I shall have to make the cake this week,” Audrey continued. “I meant to do it last week, but …” She sighed and shook her head. “I really don’t know where the time goes; do you, love? I mean we’ve only just had bonfire night, and now it’s nearly Christmas.” She frowned as another thought occurred. “Best get that order in for Lilian’s wine as well.”
Tregalles sighed. “There’s lots of time,” he said.
“Not if they have to special-order it, there isn’t. You know what happened last time when you left it till the last minute. Not that Lilian ever said, but you could see she didn’t like that Bulgarian stuff you brought home.”
Tregalles snorted. “Didn’t stop her from tossing it back, though, did it?”
“Now, you know that’s not fair, love. She has a heart condition, so she has to drink wine with her meals. The doctor told her it was good for her.”
“It should be, at that price,” Tregalles muttered. The truth was, Lilian was an alcoholic, but you couldn’t tell Audrey that.
“Don’t be like that, love. They don’t come that often, and it will be nice to see them again. You shouldn’t begrudge Lilian a little wine. She’s such a sweet little thing, and it is only for a few days each year.”
And thank God for that! Ever since last Christmas, Tregalles had been dreading the thought of another encounter with Audrey’s brother and his wife, or more specifically, with Lilian. Philip was the only one of Audrey’s four brothers who had gone to university, and now he worked for—sorry. Tregalles corrected himself silently, held a position with—the BBC, which, he seemed to think, gave him the right to talk down to everyone. Tregalles didn’t like Philip, but he was prepared to put up with him for a few days for Audrey’s sake. But Lilian was something else again. Even now, just thinking about last Christmas was enough to bring out a prickle of sweat across his brow. Lilian, a neatly packaged, slightly buxom blonde with the face of an angel and a strong sense of the dramatic, tended to become amorous when she’d had too much to drink, and last Christmas she’d taken a fancy to him. Philip hadn’t seemed to notice—or hadn’t cared—and Audrey had scoffed at the idea when he’d tried to tell her he was literally being stalked by her sister-in-law.
“So you think she’s after your body?” she said, chuckling, as they got ready for bed on Christmas Eve. “More like a bit of wishful thinking, I’d say,” she added slyly. “Lilian’s just a big tease, messing with your hair and patting your cheek and such. She’s an actress. They do that sort of thing. They don’t mean anything by it. It’s just their way. And you were under the mistletoe when she kissed you. I don’t know why you made such a fuss over a friendly little kiss, gasping and making such noises. It’s all in good fun. It’s Christmas.”
But the mistletoe wasn’t the half of it, he thought as he slid down in bed beside his wife. It hadn’t been the kiss that brought tears to his eyes and made him gasp; it was when he’d tried to pull away, and she’d slid her hand between his legs and squeezed. He’d mumbled some excuse about her catching him by surprise, and Lilian had smiled wickedly and said perhaps they should try again when he was more prepared.
“I’ll order the wine on Saturday,” he said, and sighed. There was nothing to be gained by starting an argument he was bound to lose.
The telephone rang. “I’ll get it,” he said, tossing the paper aside and scrambling to his feet. Audrey followed him with her eyes. She wished John and Philip had more in common, but there it was. It was hardly Philip’s fault that he’d had more education than John, but John always seemed subdued when Philip was in the house. It was almost as if he were ashamed of his job compared to Philip’s, and he shouldn’t be. John’s job was every bit as important as Philip’s, and she would remind him of that before they came.
Tregalles appeared in the doorway. His face was pale. He seemed to have aged ten years since leaving the room. “I’ve got to go,” he said, his voice little more than a whisper. “That was Alcott on the phone. It’s Paget. He was attacked in the car park. Some bastard cut his throat!”
When Tregalles arrived at the hospital, he found Detective Superintendent Thomas Alcott in one of the lounges, where he’d been firmly directed by a staff nurse when she discovered him smoking in the corridor. Called from a retirement dinner for one of the town’s councillors, he’d come straight to the hospital, where he now awaited word on Paget’s condition. The superintendent’s normally sallow features looked positively grey beneath the harsh fluorescent lights, and his eyes were bleak. His dinner jacket hung open, his tie was askew, and flecks of fallen ash dotted the otherwise pristine whiteness of his pleated shirt as he paced nervously back and forth.
“They’re still working on him,” Alcott greeted Tregalles as he ground out his cigarette. He fired the words like bullets. “He’s lost a hell of a lot of blood; in fact it’s a wonder he’s alive at all, from what they tell me. Hit on the head and slashed across the throat. Cut an artery. He’d have been dead if it hadn’t been for some quick thinking by one of the new lads Uniforms took on last month. Chap by the name of Redfern. Seems he kept his head and put pressure on the artery while his mate called for an ambulance. Stayed with Paget all the way into Casualty. He was still here when I arrived, soaked to the skin and blood all over his clothes, so I sent him home to change. Told him to get back to the station as soon as he could and bring all his clothing in a bin bag for Forensic and wait for me there.” Alcott fumbled for another cigarette, lit it, and sat down. He leaned his head against the wall and blew a stream of smoke into the air.
Tregalles sat down facing the superintendent. “Look, sir, all I know about this is what you told me on the phone. What did happen, exactly?”
Alcott shook his head. “All I know at the moment is what Redfern told me. He says they were bringing in a drunk and disorderly who’d passed out in the back of the car, but there was no room to park near the front door, so they drove around the back, where they saw two men struggling beside a car. Redfern said they both had their backs to him, but it looked to him as if the man closest to him had the other man on his knees and was pulling him backward by the hair.
“Redfern jumped out of the car and yelled at the man to stop where he was, but of course he didn’t. He took off into the trees next to the playing fields. Redfern said he was about to go after him when he saw the man on the ground was bleeding badly, and he could see his throat was cut. He told his mate to call an ambulance, then did what he said he’d been taught to do in first aid class, and put pressure on the artery. It was only then he recognized the man as Paget. Fortunately, the ambulance arrived promptly, and then it was only a matter of minutes to the hospital. Redfern stayed with Paget and kept the pressure on all the way up to the operating room, where the surgeon took over.”
Alcott sucked deeply on his cigarette. “The people in Casualty said if he hadn’t done what he did, Paget would have been dead long before they got there.”
“Thank God he did,” Tregalles breathed. “Any sort of description of the man who got away?”
“No. All Redfern could tell me was that he was fairly tall and was wearing a dark mac. Black plastic, he thinks.”
“There was only the one man?”
“He didn’t see anyone else.”
“What about the weapon? Any sign of that?”
Alcott cocked a quizzical brow at the sergeant through a haze of smoke, and Tregalles suddenly became conscious of his position. He had been virtually interrogating his own superintendent. “Sorry, sir,” he said. “I didn’t mean to … It’s just that, well, being DCI Paget …” He stumbled to a halt, not quite knowing what to say.
But Alcott nodded understandingly. “It’s all right, Tregalles,” he said quietly. “We all want the answer to those questions.” He fell silent for a moment, and when he spoke again it was in a thoughtful tone. “I asked Redfern the same question, but what he told me doesn’t seem right. He said he was quite sure the man had something like a bar in his hand when he first saw him. He only saw it for a split second, but it was his impression that the man was holding a short metal bar, or possibly a length of pipe, but not a knife.”
“But Paget’s throat was cut.”
Alcott shrugged. “I know. Doesn’t make sense, does it? Paget still had his wallet on him when Casualty took charge of his possessions, and Redfern says Paget’s briefcase and umbrella were lying beside the car.”
“He could have been interrupted before he had a chance to take anything,” Tregalles observed. But he was puzzled. Why would anyone be waiting behind the building? No mugger in his right mind would hang about out there, even if it wasn’t pouring with rain. There was nothing there, unless of course the man had been after Paget’s car. It could be that Paget had caught someone trying to break into his car, and tackled him. But if the man was after the car or even the contents, there were better pickings elsewhere. “It sounds to me as if this bloke was lying in wait for Paget,” he said.
“Which is why I wanted you down here.” Alcott drew heavily on his cigarette. “You’re probably as close to the man as anyone. Was he worried about anything? Have there been any threats? Anything arising from recent cases?”
Tregalles shook his head. “Not that I know of,” he said. “Mind you, I’m not sure he would have let on if there had been. He’s not exactly a talker, is he? At least, not when it comes to himself.”
“What about his personal life?”
Tregalles grimaced. “To be honest, sir, I don’t think he has one. He’s always at work. He’s mentioned the garden the odd time, and he has a daily housekeeper, but I’ve never heard him mention anything or anyone else. His mother and father are both dead, and the only woman I’ve ever seen him out with is one of the doctors here. Dr. McMillan. Audrey and I saw him having dinner with her one night a month or so back, and they seemed pretty chummy. I thought at one time that he might have something going with Grace Lovett, you know, from SOCO, but nothing seems to have come of that.”
Alcott nodded glumly. Paget had always been reticent about his private life. “I’ve been on to Len Ormside,” he told Tregalles. “Told him to get down to Charter Lane immediately and set up an incident room. SOCO’s been alerted, but I’ll be surprised if they find anything out there in all this rain.”
“Superintendent Alcott?” A tall young man in blue surgical garb stood in the open doorway. His face was pale, his eyes dark, and he looked desperately tired. The superintendent rose to his feet. “I’m Alcott,” he said quietly, “and this is Sergeant Tregalles.”
“My name is Livingstone. Mr. Livingstone,” the surgeon emphasized, establishing his credentials, “and the best thing I can say at the moment is that your man is still alive, which is something of a miracle in itself, considering the enormous amount of blood that was lost. The damage to the neck and throat has been repaired, and he has been given a transfusion, but it will be some time before we know how well he will respond. Unfortunately, the head injury complicates matters. Intracranial haemorrhaging is putting pressure on the brain, but the full extent of that damage cannot be determined until our neurologist has had a chance to examine him. And, if he recommends it, we may have to wait for the results of a CT scan.”
The surgeon paused. “In short, gentlemen, the patient is in very serious condition. Because of the damage to his throat and internal bruising, we had to perform a tracheotomy, which simply means that he is breathing through a tube inserted in his throat. He is, of course, unconscious, and no doubt will remain so for some time to come.”
“This head injury,” Tregalles ventured, “will it mean an operation?”
Livingstone shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “There are a number of less invasive techniques for reducing the pressure, but it’s too early to say exactly how we will proceed. The only thing I can tell you at the moment is that the patient is stable, but it could still go either way, and I think it would be advisable to notify his next of kin.”
“There are no close relatives as far as we know,” Alcott told him.
“Mrs. Wentworth, his housekeeper, should be told,” Tregalles put in. “I’ve never met her, but I gather she is a longtime friend as well as his housekeeper.”
Alcott glanced at his watch. “It’s late,” he said. “Let the woman have a good night’s sleep. It’s not as if she can do anything. We’ll send Molly Forsythe out there first thing tomorrow morning.”
“There is Dr. McMillan,” Tregalles offered.
Livingstone frowned. “What about Dr. McMillan?” he asked. “She isn’t involved in this case.”
“It’s just that I thought she might like to know, since she and the chief inspector … Well, I don’t know how close they are, but I believe they are on friendly terms.”
“Really?” Livingstone seemed mildly surprised. “In that case, I’ll have someone ring her.”
“I’ll be posting an officer outside Paget’s door,” Alcott told Livingstone. “I trust you’ll have no objection to that?”
Livingstone eyed the superintendent suspiciously. “It depends,” he said. “I realize that you must be anxious to talk to Mr. Paget, but I cannot allow his recovery to be put at risk. His life literally hangs in the balance.”
But Alcott was shaking his head. “As you say, the sooner we can talk to Paget, the better, but that’s not why I want someone here. We don’t know why Paget was attacked, but the way in which it was carried out suggests to me that it was deliberate and, I suspect, premeditated, so I’ll feel a lot better if someone is stationed outside his door. As well, I’d appreciate it if you would let the officer know of any change in Paget’s condition so he can keep me informed.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged,” said Livingstone, his mind already on other things as he glanced at the time. “I must go. It’s been a very busy night, and it shows no signs of letting up.” He turned to leave, then paused. “I don’t know if this will be of any help to you, but in my opinion the wound to the throat was caused by something much thinner than a knife. Possibly a razor—or a scalpel.”
“Bloody hell,” Tregalles breathed softly as Livingstone left the room and they followed him out. Knife wounds were common enough in Broadminster, as everywhere, but razors? No. Even the gangs who invaded Broadminster from time to time used knives or more sophisticated weapons. As for scalpels, Tregalles wasn’t quite sure whether the surgeon was being facetious or not, but Livingstone didn’t strike him as someone who would make frivolous remarks.
“As you so succinctly put it,” said Alcott grimly, “we have to find this man, and we have to find him fast. Obviously, Paget isn’t going to be able to help us, so we’ll be working blind as far as motive is concerned. I’ll have someone go through our office records, and you can do the same on Paget’s case notes. If he did receive a threat of any kind, he may have logged it. Meanwhile, you and I will begin questioning anyone who saw or spoke to Paget just before he left the building. And when Forsythe goes out there to see Mrs. Wentworth first thing tomorrow, I want her to find out everything she can about Paget’s private life. There has to be a strong motive for such a vicious attack. I want to know if Paget was worried about anything—money troubles, women, anything at all.” Alcott flapped his hands helplessly. “To tell you the truth, Tregalles, it wasn’t until tonight that I realized how little we know about the man once he leaves the office.”
“Who will I be reporting to?” Tregalles asked as they left the hospital, suddenly conscious of the fact that he would no longer be working for Paget. And might never work for him again! came the insidious thought.
It was still raining. Alcott paused at the top of the steps to take one last drag at the cigarette he’d been cupping in his hands as they walked along the corridors, before flicking it into the night. “You’ll be reporting directly to me,” he said. “We have two DIs off sick, one on course, and we’re stretched to the limit, so I’m counting on you, Tregalles. You probably know more about Paget than anyone else here, including me, so in effect, this is your case. I’ll see you back in the office in ten minutes. There’ll be no sleep for any of us tonight.”
ACTS OF VENGEANCE. Copyright © 2003 by Frank Smith.
Posted December 9, 2008
In Broadminster, the night is nasty and stormy as it has been in much of November. Newly assigned for training purposes as much as filling a vacancy, Constable Kathleen Regan asks her superior Detective Chief Inspector Neil Paget to help her traverse the muddy parking lot to her car. After seeing her off, Neil turns to his own vehicle only to have an unknown assailant slice his throat. The fortunate arrival of other police officers forces the culprit to flee before the job is completed and enables the rushing of Neil to the hospital where his life is saved. Everyone is shocked by the assault in the lot adjacent to the police station. Superintendent Alcott leads the investigation that includes Detective Sergeant John Tregalles as the key on the ground participant. Unable to stay home to recuperate, Neil accompanies his loyal sergeant on interviews and vaguely recalls his attacker mumbling "That's for Jill", the name of Neil's dead wife. The key to this latest pleasurable Paget police procedural is Neil¿s struggle to cope with his near death, his inability to let John take charge and his helplessness when his new love is endangered. The story line is exciting as John and Neil make inquiries seeking a link when other individuals have their throats slashed. Frank Smith makes this case personal as the audience gets deep inside the mind of the hero. Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.