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Murder in Retribution
By ANNE CLEELAND
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP. Copyright © 2014 Anne Cleeland
All rights reserved.
Detective Constable Doyle and Detective Chief Inspector Acton crouched on the cement floor of the aqueduct and peered into the conduit that diverted surface waters into the greater London drainage system. Lodged in the conduit—dry at this time of year—was the decomposing body of an adult white male of perhaps forty years. Doyle held a paper mask over her face because the odor was making her stomach heave, and they studied the crime scene in silence while the SOCOs—Scene of the Crime Officers—stood by, clad in their paper bunny suits and awaiting instruction. Weak morning sunshine filtered through the trees lining the aqueduct, which ran through a remote wooded area near Epping Forest.
"Less than a week?" suggested Doyle.
"Perhaps," said Acton. "Difficult to say—it is cool down here, and so we'll wait for the coroner to come up with something more precise." He glanced at her. "Ready to pull him over?"
Doyle nodded, unaccountably annoyed that he was being so deferential, and they carefully rolled the corpse over, allowing the SOCO photographer to step in and take photos as they studied the decedent. It was an unusual wound; the man had been shot in the face with a large caliber weapon. An act of rage, thought Doyle; not your average professional job—which was a bit strange as all other aspects indicated a professional job. The remains of the face were a mess as the maggots had been busy, and between this gruesome sight and the odor of decomposition, Doyle made a strangled sound in her throat and wished she were elsewhere.
"Need a moment?" asked Acton quietly, motioning the photographer away.
"No. I am in perfect curl." Annoyed, she broadened her Irish accent so that she pronounced it "paarfect," just so he was aware she was annoyed—not that there was any mistaking. She knew she was being childish, snapping at him like an alewife, but couldn't seem to help herself; she was miserable, he knew she was miserable, and he was walking on eggshells which was a sad, sad testament to her supposed role as his helpmeet. Unconsciously lifting a hand to bite her nails, she was thwarted in this desire by her latex gloves, and so instead fought an almost overwhelming urge to cry. Or start throwing things; either, or.
Acton's dark eyes rested on her for a moment and then returned to study the body. "It would probably be best to know for certain."
With a monumental effort, Doyle took hold of her foolish, sorry self. "I do know for certain. I took a pregnancy test this mornin'." Best not to mention that she had panicked, thinking he'd discover the evidence, and so had thrown the stupid stick out the bathroom window, no easy feat from seven stories up.
He raised his gaze to meet hers.
"I am wretchedly sorry, Michael." She sighed so that her mask puffed out and then collapsed again.
He touched her hand and said with quiet emphasis, "I am not sorry; it is wonderful news, Kathleen."
It was the truth—which came as a complete surprise. Doyle had an innate ability to read people, and she could usually tell when someone was lying. Presumably, this ability was inherited from some Irish ancestor—hopefully one who hadn't been burned at the stake as a result—and it was a mixed blessing; it was no easy thing to be constantly aware of the currents of emotions that swirled around her at any given time. Acton guarded his own emotions very closely but she knew on this occasion he was speaking the pure truth. It was a huge relief, all in all.
Fearing she would disgrace herself by being sick during what should be a sentimental milestone in married life, she stood and backed away a step, taking in a deep breath and trying to settle her stomach. Acton rose to stand alongside her and the SOCO team took this as a cue that the visual inspection by the detective staff had now concluded—although there had been precious little detecting done, thus far. As Acton nodded permission, the examiner moved in to bag the corpse's hands and conduct preliminary tests for trace evidence before the body itself would be bagged and removed. After the man moved away, Doyle continued, "And do not pretend this blessed turn of events is not completely my fault."
"Oh? I feel I may have had a hand in it." He cocked his head, trying to tease her out of the sullens.
For whatever reason, this attempt to humor her only succeeded in making her more annoyed and she made a hot retort. "I am well-aware that you have no self-control, my friend; mine is the burden of keepin' you at arm's length."
"You failed miserably," he agreed.
She had to duck her head to suppress an inappropriate smile; it wouldn't do at all to be seen giggling while this poor mucker's mangled body was supposedly under examination. Faith, her husband was a treasure; a lesser man would be giving her the back of his hand after having to listen to her sauce. He was relieved by her reaction—she could feel it—and the tension between them dissipated. Face facts, she thought; what's done is done, and in this case it was your husband who had the doin' of you. She'd been trying all morning not to dwell on the consequences of that fateful night some weeks ago, and what it might mean to the future that she had a hard time picturing to begin with. Due to her intuitive ability, Doyle had managed to carve out a useful position as a detective at the New Scotland Yard CID and she especially loved the fieldwork; interviewing the witnesses and gathering the evidence that allowed her to untangle the latest wreckage of human conflict. Now the future was once again uncertain; her life was going to change dramatically and she couldn't help but think it may not necessarily be for the better. As she eyed her new husband, she reflected that, in truth, she was not yet fully recovered from the last dramatic change.
"It is not as though we didn't want children."
Again, she hid her surprise. The subject had never come up, which was only to be expected as their courtship had not commenced until after they were married; she and Acton were still feeling their way and it was not what anyone would characterize as a normal marriage—they were not your average mister and missus.
Feeling considerably relieved—now that the dreaded moment of revelation was behind her—Doyle made a mighty effort to right her ship. As they were no longer on a level with the corpse, her stomach seemed less inclined to rebel and she seemed less inclined as well—grow up, Doyle. "It's just that the timin' couldn't be worse, Michael."
"Do you not want this baby?" he asked gently, his tone neutral.
She met his eyes, a bit shocked and ashamed that such a question could even be asked. Faith, what on earth ailed her, that she was thrown so off-kilter by this unexpected turn of events? She was acting like a spoilt child and he'd be regretting this whole adventure in marriage if she kept this up. "Whist, man; don't be daft." She met his eyes with what she hoped was a message of reassurance. "Of course I do. I'm havin' a fit of the dismals, is all. And I'm not used to feelin' ill—I'm just that frustrated, Michael, and I beg your pardon fastin'."
She managed to convey a smile at him through the mask and rested a hand on his arm, even though it was in full view of the SOCO personnel. He covered her latexed hand with his own for a moment, and she could sense his relief. You should be ashamed of your foolish self, to worry him so, she scolded; but it was such a crackin' shame that this child was conceived on such a night. Nearly a month ago she had confronted a killer who had lured her to Acton's flat, and by a miraculous turn of events had managed to kill the killer and save the day. It had not been an unmitigated success, however, since in the process she had shot herself in the leg, and whilst awaiting the doctor's arrival she'd demanded that Acton make love to her amidst the carnage. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and while she may not have been entirely rational, she had definitely been fertile. Although they were already secretly married at the time, this prompt pregnancy would only add fuel to the bonfire of speculation as to why Lord Acton, celebrated chief inspector at the Met, had married a first-year detective constable by way of Dublin in such a skimble-skamble fashion. Please, baby, she pleaded mentally; don't come early.
Silently, they stood side-by-side and watched the photographer take the final photos before the body was bagged and transported from the scene. Now the more tedious task of helping the examiners scour the area for clues would commence, and it would no doubt be a hard slog, considering the untamed vegetation on either side of the aqueduct. If this crime scene was anything like the others, there would be precious little to show for such a dogged search and Doyle sighed yet again; she was not one for meticulous by-the-bookings when there were better uses for her talents.
Acton glanced at her, assessing. "Would you like to go home?"
"No; truly, Michael, I am right as rain—I'm that sorry I snapped at you." Mainly, she was very sensitive to her new status as Acton's wife, and did not want to give the impression to the other staff that she felt entitled, and didn't need to earn her way.
Before he could respond, his mobile phone pinged, and he checked the ID and took the call. He listened, said, "Right; I'm coming," and disconnected. "Another one—Newmarket."
"Faith; we'll be runnin' out of crime scene tape at this rate." There had been a rash of underworld murders in the past few weeks, and rumors of a vicious turf war seemed to have merit, as the body count kept climbing between the two warring factions. "They're callin' you because they think it's connected?" Normally Acton's territory did not include Newmarket, but if the first responders thought it was part of a pending investigation, they would contact the presiding DCI.
He crossed his arms and surveyed the scene before him. "Presumably; we shall see. There is always the chance that an unrelated killer is taking the opportunity to use the other murders as a cover."
"A shadow murder; like the first one we worked together." She smiled up at him, mistily sentimental about their first bloated corpse—what a fine day that was; she had been terrified of him, of course, but it had all worked out. Or worked in, more like, which in turn had brought her to her current sorry state.
"I'll not soon forget." He returned her smile, which was as sentimental as he was like to get; he was not one for pretty compliments—nor was she one to expect them.
She offered, "There's a bright side, I'm thinkin'; if all the villains are to be killin' each other off, all the more time for us to be paintin' the nursery." She had the satisfaction of seeing a flicker of relief in his dark eyes; shame on her for fretting him so.
His gaze moved to the wooded banks on each side of the aqueduct, assessing the task ahead. "I will have Williams come to help you finish here."
Doyle was instantly cross again. "I don't need Williams to help me."
"Yes, you do." He found the programmed number on his mobile and rested his eyes on her whilst he waited.
Sighing in repentance, she observed, "It is a rare wonder, husband, that you don't throw me over in favor of a more worthy redhead."
He gave her a look as he spoke to Williams, and Doyle had to duck her head to control another inappropriate giggle; Acton had little choice but to put up with her. A brilliant and eccentric man, he was suffering from some sort of obsessive neurosis and the object of his fixation was her own fair self. He had interrupted a murder investigation to confess his status as a Section Seven—a stalker—and with no further ado had bundled her off into marriage; not that she had put up much of a resistance. She was not certain how long his condition had been in existence or how long it would last; she only knew that she was right for him, and he for her. Thus far, she had no regrets—well, she was bitterly regretting that she had hysterically demanded sex after her first kill, but that wasn't really his fault; men were not known for standing firm in such a situation.
Acton finished his conversation with Williams and rang off. "He will be here shortly. If you would allow him to be of service, I would appreciate it."
He was teasing her in his dry way; she was professionally jealous of Williams and tended to be territorial. "Be off, my friend," Doyle replied with as much lightness as she could muster. "We will see you later."
Smiling at her use of the pronoun, he squeezed her arm gently and then left for Newmarket.CHAPTER 2
Relieved that Acton wouldn't be a witness if she were indeed to be sick, Doyle crouched down again to study the conduit where the body had been found while the SOCO examiners began to systematically scrutinize the area in ever-widening circles. She could guess what they would find; absolutely nothing. For a turf war, there was remarkably little evidence.
The scent of decomposition still lingered on the ground because the body had been there for a time, and she took deep breaths to steady her midsection, annoyed with herself because decomp had never bothered her before. Acton had already known she was pregnant, of course. She should have said something before this, but she was hoping her symptoms were built upon nerves and not upon the presence of the Honorable whomever who had been conceived the night his or her mother had killed a man and then accidentally shot herself for good measure. Nothin' for it, she thought in resignation; this is exactly why the nuns warned you about sex.
Struggling to hide her irritation, she called to the SOCO photographer so as to double-check that the woman had taken some close-ups of the maggot activity on the corpse. Doyle was irritated because the photographer had been emanating equal parts amazement and derision when introduced to Doyle earlier, even though her outward manner had been all that was correct. The general consensus—which Doyle could sense in resounding waves—was that Acton had lost his mind. Nothin' for that, either, and this was exactly what she deserved for stepping into the center ring at the circus—not that she would change a thing; best get on with it, the circus was soon to have another act.
After hearing the photographer's falsely-respectful assurances, Doyle crouched again, unable to shake the feeling that she was missing something, here. Acton was right; it was cooler in the conduit and time-of-death could more exactly be established by the insect experts, who could opine to a remarkable degree of certainty how long the body had been dead by gauging the life cycles of the various insects feasting on their grisly windfall. The body had no identification on it, but she had little doubt the victim had a record, and they would know who it was very shortly. It was odd that the man had been shot in the face; ordinarily, a professional did not face his victim and there seemed little doubt this was a professional hit—unless, as Acton had suggested, someone was using the excuse to conduct a little murder on the side. She wondered if he suspected as much—that might explain the shot to the face; it was the work of a nonprofessional trying to look like a professional.
Leaning back on her heels, she decided she was relieved to have the subject of her pregnancy out in the open, despite the fact that everyone at the Met would be counting to nine on their fingers. Acton said it was wonderful news, and it was, of course. It was just that she'd spent a rather solitary life—it came with the territory, knowing the things that she knew. Acton had been famously reclusive in his own right, and now the both of them were to make a go at family life when it wasn't in their respective natures. She looked up at the trees, shifting in the breeze. He loves me, she thought; so much that he is willing to put his hand to this particular plow and I am balking like a donkey at the hitch. Shame on me.
In this repentant frame of mind, she managed to greet Williams with good grace when he arrived on the scene. Doyle was conferring with the SOCO team about the dearth of evidence when she spotted him and mustered up a more-or-less genuine smile. "Williams."
Excerpted from Murder in Retribution by ANNE CLEELAND. Copyright © 2014 Anne Cleeland. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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