Off Minorby John Harvey
Raymond Cooke is looking for revenge, not corpses. It’s been six weeks since the gang of four young punks attacked him, since the one with the knife slit open his belly and left him to die on the street. After that Raymond bought a knife of his own, and has spent his nights lurking in/b>
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Two months after she disappears, a six-year-old child is found dead
Raymond Cooke is looking for revenge, not corpses. It’s been six weeks since the gang of four young punks attacked him, since the one with the knife slit open his belly and left him to die on the street. After that Raymond bought a knife of his own, and has spent his nights lurking in Nottingham’s worst pubs, hoping for a chance at vengeance. Instead, walking home one night, he encounters a smell that reminds him of his work at the abattoir. It’s coming from the body of Gloria Summers. For over two months, police inspector Charlie Resnick has looked for the missing six-year-old. Now that she’s been found, Raymond Cooke becomes Resnick’s chief suspect. But to find the killer, the disheveled detective may have to look within the girl’s own family.
Read an Excerpt
A Charlie Resnick Mystery
By John Harvey
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1991 John Harvey
All rights reserved.
He sat across the bar from Raymond, staring, daring him to walk over and say something: the youth who had stabbed him, the one with the knife.
Six weeks back it had been, Saturday night like this one, but colder, Raymond's breath on the air as he turned down past the Royal, heading for the square. No reason to notice them then, no more than any others, four young men in shirt sleeves, nineteen or twenty, out on the town; white shirts and new ties bought that morning at River Island or Top Man, hands punched down into pockets of trousers that were dark and loose at the hip. Loud. Voices raised at girls who scuttled past and laughed, short skirts or shorts, rattle of high heels.
Raymond had bumped into one of them, hardly that, shoulder no more than brushing his shirt as he swiveled past, close to the glass of Debenham's window.
"Watch where you're fucking going!"
"Okay, I didn't ..."
The four of them closing round him, no room for explanations.
"Look ..." A gesture of pacification, Raymond raising both hands, palms outwards: a mistake.
The nearest one struck him, more a push than a punch, enough to drive him back against the cold flat of the glass; the jolt of fear across his eyes enough to draw them on.
All of them, then; punches he hardly felt, except that he was down on his knees and one of them, swaying back, kicked out his polished shoe, causing Raymond to cry out and that, of course, they loved. The four of them wanting some piece of him, a good kicking while the rest of the city veered round them, a few more pints, a few more laughs, the night not half over and everyone wanting some fun.
Raymond clung to a leg and hung on. A heel stomped down on his calf and he closed his teeth around the trousered thigh and bit hard.
"Jesus! You bastard!"
A hand grabbed at his shirt, hauling him onto the punch. A face wide with anger. Pain. Stumbling back towards the window, Raymond saw the blade, the knife. Then it was out of sight inside the pocket and they were gone, a cocky strut across the street which broke into a run.
Raymond was looking at the same face now, brown eyes, dark beginnings of a mustache; his attacker sitting at a table with three others, heads close together as a girl with purple bites and penned black hair struggled to finish her joke without cracking up. But the youth that Raymond had recognized was not really listening, knowing who Raymond was now, remembering; with a swagger he got to his feet and walked towards the counter, empty glass in hand. Ordering another pint of lager, Heineken draught, paying for it, waiting to receive his change, scarcely shifting his eyes the whole time from Raymond's face. Smiling with those eyes now as he straightened, mouth set tight. Come on, you ponce, you shirtlifting piece of shit, what are you going to do about it?
What Raymond had done, that evening weeks before, was ease himself into a sitting position, leaning back against the window while people stepped over the spread of his legs, over or around. He was frightened at first to feel where the blow had landed, the soft flesh above his hip where the knife had cut. Unsteady on his feet, pausing every dozen paces, he had passed the circle of shrubs festooned with someone's discarded knickers, mushy peas and pizza crust, containers from Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King, on past the toilets to the taxi rank at the bottom of the square.
"Queens," he said, wincing as he eased himself into the seat.
A conga line in fancy dress danced over the pedestrian crossing in front of them—Minnie Mouse, Maid Marian, Madonna—somebody's hen night in raucous celebration.
When they arrived at the hospital the driver cursed Raymond for leaking blood on to his seat and tried to charge him double fare. The receptionist had to ask him to spell his name three times and each time Raymond spelled it differently because he wasn't about to give her his real name, was he? They cleaned him up enough to apply a temporary dressing, gave him some paracetamol and sat him in a corridor to wait. After almost an hour, he got fed up hanging around, picked up another taxi on the upper level and went home.
The first few days, each time he went to the bathroom, he would prise back the plaster he'd used to keep the dressing down and check for any sign of infection, without really knowing what that might be. All he saw was a darkening scab, no more than an inch, inch and a half across, round it a bruise that was changing color even as it began to fade.
Raymond went back to work and, except when he stretched or lifted something heavy like a side of beef, came close to forgetting what had happened. Except for that face, fast against his when the blade sank home. Raymond wasn't about to forget that—especially when it was no more than twenty feet away from him, like now, the youth sitting back with his friends, but still the eyes flicking back to Raymond every once in a while. What? You still here? All right. The last thing Raymond wanted him to think, that he was in any sense afraid. He made himself count to ten under his breath, set down his glass, one to ten again and stand, wait until the youth was looking right across at him and hold his gaze— there—then walk directly out of the bar as if he didn't care about a thing.
Only once Raymond was out in the corridor, instead of turning left towards the street, he went the other way and ducked down the stairs towards the Gents; one man in there in a short-sleeved check shirt, arm extended against the wall, leaning forward to take a blissful piss. Raymond tried the first cubicle, no lock, let himself into the second and quickly slid the bolt across. He unzipped the front of his leather jacket—forty pounds at the stall close alongside the fish market and unlikely to be repeated—and reached into the inside pocket. The cross-hatch pattern of the Stanley knife handle was comforting against his fingers, the palm of his hand. The thumbnail with which he flicked up the blade had been bitten low, almost to the quick. Outside in the urinals someone was singing "Scotland the Brave"; next door somebody was trying to be sick. Raymond slid the blade deftly up and back, up and back. With the point he carved his initials into the wall below the cistern, finally altering the R into a B, the C into a D.
As the knife scored the paint, he thought of coming face to face with his attacker, somewhere crowded, or quiet, that didn't matter: all that did was that when Raymond cut him, he knew who it was. "Raymond Cooke." The way he would say it. No need to shout, the lightest of whispers. "Raymond Cooke. Remember?"
Back in the front bar, busier now, it was several moments before Raymond realized the youth had gone.CHAPTER 2
The girl had been missing since September. Two months. A total of sixty-three days. Resnick's first home game of the season. He had taken his place in the stands at Meadow Lane, suffused with the annual early enthusiasm. A new player at the center of the defense, signed during the summer lay-off; their twin strike force smiling from the back page of the local paper, each vowing to outdo the other in their chase for thirty goals; good youngsters bubbling up from the youth team, the reserves—didn't two of the team have Under-21 caps already? Walking away from the ground after the final whistle, numbed by a 0–0 draw with a bunch of doggers and artisans from higher up the A1, Resnick had considered calling in at the station, but thought better of it. Rumor was that Forest had won 4–1 away and he could do without the sarcastic reminders of his colleagues that he was supporting the wrong team. As if he needed them to tell him; as if that wasn't most of the point.
Which meant that it was not the detective inspector, but his sergeant who was the senior officer in the CID room when the call came through.
Graham Millington shouldn't have been there, either. By rights, he should have been at home in his garden, stealing a march on autumn before it did the same to him. His garden or Somerset. Taunton, to be precise. He and the wife should have been in Taunton, drinking some ghastly mix of Earl Grey tea and eating egg and salad sandwiches while his wife's sister and her excuse for a husband went on at great length about the rising crime rate, the ozone layer and the diminishing Tory vote. Oh, and Jesus. Millington's in-laws, the original right-wing, Christian conservationists, sitting up there at the Green right hand of God, like as not offering him another wholemeal lettuce and cucumber and some advice about keeping acid rain well clear of the hem of his garment.
Millington's long face and protracted warnings about traffic hold-ups on the M5 had finally had their effect. "Right," his wife had declared, metaphorically folding her arms across her chest, "we won't go anywhere." Promptly, she had shut herself in the front room with an illustrated companion to the Tate Gallery, a new biography of Stanley Spencer and a set of earplugs: this term's course on art history was beginning with a new look at British visionaries. Millington had staked a few dahlias, dead-headed what remained of the roses and got as far as seriously considering putting top dressing on the back lawn. The weight of his wife's umbrage bore heavily on him, sullen-faced on the newly re-covered settee with those awful paintings she'd shown him. What was it? The cows at bloody Cookham. Jesus Christ!
He hadn't been in the office ten minutes, less time than it took to boil a kettle, set the tea to mash, when the phone rang. Gloria Summers. Last seen on the swings at Lenton Recreation Ground a little after one o'clock. Relatives, neighbors, friends, none had set eyes on her; not since her grandmother left her to walk to the shops, no more than two streets away. Stay there now, there's a good girl. Gloria Summers: six years old.
Millington wrote down the details, took a taste or two of tea before raising Resnick on the phone. At least once the boss was involved he'd likely talk to the kiddie's parents himself; one thing above all else that turned his stomach, Millington, looking into those collapsing faces, telling lies.
The summons saved Resnick from a difficult decision: Saturday night propping up the bar at the Polish Club, wishing all the while that he'd stayed home, or Saturday night at home, wishing now he'd gone to the Club. He spoke to Maurice Wainright, making sure all uniforms had been alerted, car patrols diverted, nothing new in the way of information yet obtained. Six o'clock: he guessed the superintendent would be listening to the radio news and he was right.
"See your team started well, Charlie," Jack Skelton said.
"Couldn't seem to get going, sir."
"Leave it too late as usual, like as not."
"I daresay, sir," Resnick said, and then told him about the missing girl.
Skelton was quiet: in the background Resnick could hear the disembodied newsreader and laid over it, a woman's questioning voice, Skelton's wife or daughter, he didn't know which.
"Five hours, Charlie. One way or another, not such a long time."
She could have jumped down from the swing and realized her gran was no longer there, panicked and gone looking for her, got lost. Somebody's mum, someone who should have known better, might have bundled her back with friends for cake and cola, a rented video of cartoons, anthropomorphic animals perpetrating unspeakable violence upon one another while the little girls laughed until they were crying. She could even be sitting up the road in the Savoy, hands sticky from too much popcorn, roped in on another's birthday treat. All that was possible, they had known it all before.
Then there was the other set of possibilities ...
Neither Resnick nor Skelton needed to voice what was nagging at their minds.
"You'll go to the home," Skelton said, not a question.
"Keep me informed."
Resnick set down the small cat that had climbed into his lap, the back of whose ears he had been absent-mindedly stroking, and headed for the door.
Outside it was darkening. Lights here and there at the windows of the high-rise gave it the appearance of an unfinished puzzle. Resnick turned off the main road between the twenty-four-hour garage and the cinema and parked beyond the slip road's curve. A desultory group of youngsters, the eldest no more than fourteen, evaporated at his approach. He was surprised to find the lift working, less so by the sharp stink of urine, the promises of love and hatred graffitied on the walls.
Someone had painted the door of Number 37 a dull, dark green which petered unevenly out a brush stroke from the bottom, as if either the paint or the energy had suddenly run out.
Resnick rang the bell and, uncertain whether it was working, rattled the letter-box as well.
The muffled sound of television laughter became more muffled still.
"Who is it?"
Resnick stood back so that he could be seen more easily through the spyhole in the door and held up his warrant card. In the fish-eye distortion of the circular lens, Edith Summers saw a bulky man, broad-faced, tall inside the uneven folds of his open raincoat; the slack knot of his striped tie several inches below the missing button at the neck of his shirt.
"Detective Inspector Resnick. I'd like to talk to you about Gloria."
Two bolts were fumbled back, a chain released, the latch slipped on the lock.
"You've found her?"
A slow shake of the head. "Afraid not. Not yet."
Edith Summers's shoulders slumped; anxiety had already forced out most of her hope. The corners of her eyes were red from rubbing, sore from tears. She stood in the doorway to her flat and looked at Resnick, half-broken by guilt.
"Edith Summers, yes."
"Perhaps we could go inside?"
She stepped back and showed him along the short hall into the living room: a television set, a goldfish tank, some knitting, photographs lopsided in their frames. On the TV, barely audibly, a man in a white dress suit and a wig was persuading a middle-aged couple to humiliate themselves further for the sake of a new fridge-freezer. In one corner, beneath a square table with screw-in legs and a gold-painted rim, the arms and heads of several dolls poked from a green plastic bag.
"You're Gloria's grandmother?"
"Her nan, yes."
"And her mother?"
"She lives here with me."
Resnick tried to blank out the thud of a poorly amplified bass from the upstairs flat, hip-hop or rap, he wasn't sure he knew the difference.
"You've seen no sign of her yourself?" Resnick asked. "Nobody's been in touch?"
She looked at him without answering, plucked at something in the ends of her hair. Resnick sat down and she did the same, the two of them in matching easy chairs, curved wooden arms and skinny cushions, upholstered backs. He wished he'd brought along Lynn Kellogg, wondered if he should find the kitchen, make a pot of tea.
"She's always lived here along of me. It was me as brought her up."
Edith Summers shook a cigarette from a packet in her cardigan pocket; lit it with a match from the household box on top of the gas fire. Turned low, the center of the fire burned blue.
"Like she was my own."
She sat back down, absent-mindedly straightening the loose skirt of her belted dress over her knees. The cardigan draped across her shoulders had been cable stitched in black. On her feet were faded purple slippers with no back and an off-white puff of wool attached to one of them still. Her hair was less than shoulder length and mostly dark. She could have been anything between forty and fifty-five; probably, Resnick thought, she was around the same age as himself.
"Someone's taken her, haven't they?"
"We don't know that."
"Some bastard's taken her."
"We don't know that."
"We don't know bloody anything!"
Sudden anger flared her cheeks. With a swift wrench of the controls she turned the television volume almost to full, then sharply off. Without explanation she left the room, to reappear moments later with a long-handled mop, the end of which she banged against the ceiling hard.
"Turn down that sodding row!" she screamed.
"Mrs. Summers ..." Resnick started.
Someone above turned up the sound still further, so that the bass reverberated through the room.
"I'll go up and have a word," offered Resnick.
Edith sat back down. "Don't bother. Soon as they see you go, it'd be twice as bad."
Excerpted from Off Minor by John Harvey. Copyright © 1991 John Harvey. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
John Harvey (b. 1938) is an incredibly prolific British mystery writer. The author of more than one hundred books, as well as poetry and scripts for television and radio, Harvey did not begin writing professionally until 1975. Until then he was a teacher, educated at Goldsmiths College, London, who taught literature, drama, and film at colleges across England. After cutting his teeth on paperback fiction, Harvey debuted his most famous character, Charlie Resnick, in 1989’s Lonely Hearts, which the English Times called one of the finest crime novels of the century. A police inspector noted for his love of both sandwiches and jazz, Resnick has starred in eleven novels and one volume of short stories. The BBC has adapted two of the Resnick novels, Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment (1990), for television movies. Both starred Academy Award–nominated actor Tom Wilkinson and had screenplays written by Harvey. Besides writing fiction, Harvey spent over twenty years as the head of Slow Dancer Press. He continues to live and write in London.
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