Working at the Nottingham public housing authority is miserable, but Nancy Phelan knows that the tenants she services are worse off than her. Consider Gary James, whose family Nancy recently assigned to a new council flat. He’s got two children, no work, and no heat. As Christmas approaches and his children shiver, he vents his rage at Nancy. After a two-hour wait, he smashes a chair to get her attention, then locks them both in her office. Police inspector Charlie Resnick breaks down the door before he has a chance to hurt her. But hours later, at the office Christmas party, Nancy disappears. Although Gary James is the logical suspect, when the kidnapper starts sending the police department tapes, Resnick fears that the New Year may herald a psychopath.
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A Charlie Resnick Mystery
By John Harvey
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1994 John Harvey
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She slid out from beneath Gary's sleeping body and eased herself to the edge of the bed. Always the same, the way he would turn towards her each night, arm and the heft of his thigh heavily upon her. Weighing her down. Since they'd been moved here it was worse. He couldn't sleep without her. Holding her breath, Michelle waited for the thin squeak of the bedframe to still. Cracked lino cold at her feet. Gary sighed and when she looked round she could see his face, young in the faint light, open-mouthed. She saw the way one hand gripped the sheet, the knot of skin above his eyes, and was thankful she knew nothing of his dreams.
Slipping one of Gary's sweaters over her T-shirt, a pair of his socks on to her feet, she left the room.
The children had a bedroom of their own along the narrow landing, but these past weeks it had been too cold. Ice overlapping on the insides of the windows and their breath pigeoning the air. Get an oil stove in there, neighbors had said, keep it low. But Michelle knew of two house fires less than half a mile from here since winter had set in, ladders reaching up too late and never close enough, kiddies trapped upstairs and overcome by fumes.
Now they banked up the living-room fire with slack, made sure the guard borrowed from her parents' home was fixed in place. Natalie's cot they lifted into the middle of the room once the TV had been switched off and Karl's bed was the settee, curled beneath a nest of coats and blankets, thumb in mouth and dead to the world.
Downstairs, Michelle smiled at the baby, who had wriggled round again until her head was pressed against the bottom corner of the cot, one leg poked through the bars. Raising both hands to her mouth, Michelle warmed them before touching her daughter's tiny foot and easing it back, carefully, out of the cold. Both of them would need changing when they woke. She was reminded that it was her bladder that had woken her and she braced herself for the bathroom, the old scullery that had been converted and badly, quarry tiles laid on bare earth and made uneven by the frost.
She rubbed a circle from the inside of the window and the dark looked back at her. No more than two or three blurred lights pale along the street. If she were lucky, she might yet sit with yesterday's paper and a pot of tea, a little stolen time before the children woke to crying and she heard Gary's feet upon the stairs.
Resnick had been awake since four. So attuned to disruption, he had been blinking back sleep and reaching towards the telephone before, it seemed, he had heard its first ring. Kevin Naylor's voice was indistinct and oddly distant and Resnick, irritably, had to ask him to repeat everything twice.
"Sorry, sir, it's this mobile phone."
All Resnick heard were particles of words, breaking up like starlings in the early morning air.
"Redial," Resnick said, "and try again."
"Sorry, sir. Can't hear you."
Resnick cursed and broke the connection himself and when Naylor rang back he could hear him perfectly. A taxi driver had been taking two youths from the city center to an address in West Bridgford; as they neared Lady Bay Bridge, one of them had tapped on the window, asked the driver to pull over as his mate was feeling sick, like to throw up. When one young man got out of the car on to the pavement, the other went around to the driver's side and threatened him with an iron bar. Before the driver could pull away, the windscreen had been splintered in his face. The youths dragged him out of the cab and beat him around the head and body. He had been crawling across the center of the road when a milk lorry turned on to the bridge and stopped. The youths had run off and the driver's takings had gone with them.
"The weapon?" Resnick asked.
"Tried to chuck it into the Trent, sir, but only landed in the mud."
"And the driver?"
"Queen's. Accident and Emergency."
"Who's with him?"
"Uniform patrol should be there now, sir. There's nobody ..."
"Graham Millington ..."
"Leave, sir. He and the wife, they were going away. In-laws, I ..."
Resnick sighed; he should have remembered. "Divine, then. But I want someone with him all the time. The cabbie. We don't know how many chances we'll get."
"I could ..."
"You stay where you are." Resnick narrowed his eyes towards the bedside clock. "Twenty minutes, I'll be there. And see no one gets their sticky fingers all over that cab."
Absent-mindedly, he lifted away a cat that had folded itself into his lap and set it back down on the bed. One of the others was over by the bedroom door, scratching its head against the heavy edge of wood. The last time something like this had happened, the weapon had been a baseball bat and the taxi driver had died. Quickly, he showered and dressed and went downstairs, grinding coffee for a cup he would only half drink before stepping out into the cold light of another day.
"Bloody hell!" Gary said. "What sodding time is it?"
"It's past seven."
"And you reckon that's late, do you?"
Michelle arched her back and shifted the baby's weight against her arm. She didn't think Natalie was taking any milk now, just suckling for the comfort of it. "Depends how long you've been up," she said.
Gary was leaning sideways inside the doorway, head stooped, still wearing the boxer shorts and County shirt he had slept in. "I've been down since before six," Michelle told him, though he hadn't asked.
Gary gave himself a scratch and walked past the end of the table where she was sitting. "I suppose that's my fault, too," he said, not quite loud enough for her to be certain.
"If I heard, why would I ...?"
"You waking so early, I suppose it was my fault."
"Don't be silly."
"What's silly? Don't tell me I'm fucking silly. Everything else is my fault, why not that?"
Sitting between them, eating a mush of warm milk and cornflakes too big for his mouth, two-year-old Karl's eyes flicked from one to the other.
"Gary, no one's saying it's your fault. Not any of it."
He tossed his head and glanced away. "Wasn't what you said the other day."
"Gary, I was angry. I lost my temper, right? Don't you ever lose your temper?"
She knew it was a stupid thing to say. She watched his fingers tighten around the curve of the kitchen chair.
Michelle stood carefully with the baby still at her breast and went to him. He turned from her and she rested the side of her face soft against his back, unkempt curl of her hair brushing the nape of his neck. The baby wriggled a little between them and Michelle shushed into the feathery down of her head.
The last job Gary had had, six months back, laboring on a building site, cash in hand at the end of the week, no questions asked, had ended when the firm went bankrupt. Gary had turned in one morning to find the whole place cordoned off, all the heavy machinery being repossessed. Before that it had been the night shift in a factory that manufactured plastic switches for the fitments on table lamps. Then there had been piece-work, Sellotaping free floppy disks to the covers of a short-lived computer software magazine. Three jobs in as many years. More than a lot of people they knew; more than most.
But he knew. Michelle's free hand was stroking him through the striped cotton of his shirt, sliding up against the edges of his ribcage, along the flat of stomach just above the top of his shorts. She craned up to kiss him and his mouth was slightly sour from sleep. Behind them, Karl spun his spoon around the bowl too fast and it landed on the floor. Michelle lifted Natalie away from her breast as she turned and at once the baby screwed up her face and began to cry.
Mist rolled off the river in swathes. Hard against the curb, its offside door wide open, the cab sat cordoned off with yellow tape. Bright in the headlights of Resnick's car, glass sparkled on the surface of the road like ice. Immediately beyond, the road narrowed to a single lane across the bridge and Resnick knew that within an hour the traffic would be building up into the city worse than ever: Christmas Eve, for many the last day of this working year.
The scene of crime team were dusting the outside of the taxi now, the interior would be more safely and thoroughly examined when the vehicle had been removed. Uniformed officers were sifting carefully through the frosted mud and sparse grass of the riverbank below, others checking the path which led back off the bridge towards the city. This was the direction in which the driver of the milk lorry had seen two men running, down the slope towards the all-night garage and the road that would take them—where? On towards Colwick and the Country Park, the race course, or left into Sneinton. Yet according to the message the driver had called into base and the entry he had made in his own log, the destination for this fare had been across the river. A ruse, or had they simply run off, unthinking, panicked by what they had done?
Naylor stepped towards him, the usual hint of deference and apology in his voice. At first Resnick had found it grated on him, waited for it to change with use and time; now he simply accepted it, the way the man was. The reverse, perhaps, of Mark Divine's bullish eagerness. How had Lynn Kellogg described Divine? All mouth and trousers? Resnick's mouth widened, letting in a smile.
"The cabbie—they've moved him to Intensive Care."
The smile faded: an all-too-familiar pattern falling into place.
"Mark wants to know, should he stick around or come back in?"
"He stays. As long as there's any chance he'll get some answers, he stays put."
"Yes, sir," said Naylor, hesitating. "Only ..."
"I know it's not ... it's just, he seemed a bit het-up about getting stuck there all day. The shops, you see, they close early some of them and ..."
"And he wants to be let off duty to do a bit of last-minute Christmas shopping?"
"It is for his mother," Naylor said, not believing it for a moment.
"Tell him he'll be relieved in the usual way, as and when we can."
"I'll say you're keeping it in mind, then." Naylor grinned.
"If you like," said Resnick. One of the scene of crime team was walking towards him; likely they were ready to winch the cab on to the waiting lorry and drive it away. The last thing Resnick wanted cluttering up his mind—thoughts of what Divine might be putting into someone's Christmas stocking.CHAPTER 2
She'd been getting things for the kids for months now. Oh, nothing much, not a lot, not expensive. Just, you know, little things that had caught her fancy—a Dennis the Menace T-shirt for Karl, bright red on black, a toy dog for the baby, yellow, with blue stitching for its paws and nose, not too big, soft, something she could cuddle up to in her sleep. Michelle had joined the Christmas Club at the shop on the corner, opposite the old Co-op. Putting by a pound a week, not telling Gary, slipping in when she was on her own.
As long as there was something there for the children Christmas Day, enough to make it feel special. Not that either of them really knew, not yet, what it was all about. Too young to understand. They had been to the fair, though, the one in the Old Market Square; walked around the Christmas tree in its red tub outside the Council House, staring up at the colored lights and the star at the top. A present from Norway or Sweden or somewhere, though no one seemed to know why.
Gary'd bought them a jumbo hot dog, running over with tomato sauce, onions crisped, some of them, till they were black and brittle. They'd sat on the wall behind the fountain, sharing it between them, Michelle blowing on a piece of sausage and chewing it a little before pushing it into the baby's mouth. All around them, other kids with parents, kids on their own in gangs. Pushchairs and prams. Arms and coats to tug at. "Dad, can I have this?" "Can I have a go on that?" "Can't I? Can't I? Can I not? Oh, Mum! Dad!"
Michelle thought their Karl was like to carry on the same when he first saw the carousel, all the horses, brightly painted, prancing up and down. But she did his work for him, taking hold of Gary's hand to ask him softly, "Do look at his face, you can see how much he wants to have a go."
"You're all right," said Gary. "Just this once."
They had stood back and waved at him, Michelle shaking the baby's hand as well, and Karl, for all his smiles, had never quite felt sure enough to loose his grasp of the saddle and wave back.
"Snowman," said Gary later, pointing at the figure in front of the dodgems with its yellow hat and gloves. "See the snowman, Karl?"
"Noman," Karl had replied, excited. He had seen snowmen in his cartoons on TV.
"Snowman," Gary laughed. "Not noman, you daft pillock! Snowman."
"Gary," Michelle said, starting to laugh herself. "Don't call him that."
"Noman!" sang out Karl, jumping up and down. "Noman! Noman! Noman!"
He lost his footing and went sprawling, bruising his face and grazing the fingers of the hand from which he'd earlier lost his glove. Not long after that they all caught the bus home.
Michelle looked up from what she was doing and listened; footsteps that might have been Gary's outside on the street. As they went on past, she slid her hands back into the soapy water, washing out a few clothes in the sink. Natalie she'd put down half-hour back and mercifully she'd stayed. Last time she'd checked, Karl was belly down in front of the TV lost in a program about lions; at least he was quiet.
She lifted the clothes clear of the water while she emptied the bowl ready to rinse. She only hoped Gary would be pleased with what she'd got for him, a replica goalie's shirt, twenty-eight quid it'd set her back; they'd kept it on order for her at the County shop, twenty-eight pounds less one penny.
Well, it was only once a year after all.
The door stuck as she was taking the washing through to the back yard to peg out and when she nudged it with her hip the bottom half of the door came away from the frame.
"Michelle! Michelle! You there?"
"I'm out back."
"You might've shut the door behind you. Like a bloody fridge in here." He stopped short, staring at the twisted hinge.
"I'm sorry," Michelle said. "It wasn't my fault."
Gary turned on his heel and a moment later she heard the front door open and slam shut. Upstairs in her cot, the baby woke up crying.
"Ion," said Karl from the doorway. "Ion!" And he made his tottering run towards her, hands stretched high like claws, growling loudly.
Mark Divine was three degrees short of pissed off. First they'd told him, sorry, he'd have to wait outside the Intensive Care unit, they'd be certain to let him know the minute Mr. Raju regained consciousness. So he'd sat there, his bulk awkward on the low chair, legs at all angles, watching various other Rajus as they were shepherded in and out, whispering and wailing. The one time he wandered off in search of the WVS canteen and a decent cup of tea, one of the staff nurses came out looking for him.
"He's come to, then, has he?" Divine asked when finally she found him.
As well as the plastic cup of tea, which was threatening to burn a hole in his fingers, he was trying to balance two chocolate cupcakes and a lemon puff.
"Concerned about your sugar levels?" the staff nurse asked, raising an eyebrow in the direction of Divine's one-handed juggling.
"Not as I know of," Divine said cockily.
"Well, perhaps you should be."
One of the cupcakes fell to the floor and rolled underneath the nearest chair. "Don't worry," she said, "the cleaners will find it. Why don't you put the rest of them down on the table over there and come through?"
"You mean now, like? This minute?"
"You do want to see him, don't you?"
"Yes, but ..."
"Ask him some questions?"
"Then I should do it before they take him down to theater."
Divine took a large bite from the lemon puff, risked burning his tongue on a swig of tea, and followed the staff nurse through the double set of doors towards the ward. Nice arse, he thought, wonder if they've got any mistletoe strung up in Intensive Care?
Excerpted from Cold Light by John Harvey. Copyright © 1994 John Harvey. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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