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Karen Archer understands that women who date doctors should expect tardiness. The last time she invited Tim Fletcher over, he arrived from the emergency room exhausted, and barely had time to say hello before he passed out on her bed. Tonight her patience has run out. After a bottle of wine and too much television, she gives up on Fletcher and leaves the house to find her own fun—but instead she finds Fletcher, covered in blood, sprawled across the steps near her building. Karen runs to find the police, not sure if Fletcher is alive or dead. Despite his blood loss, Fletcher survives. Soon the attacker comes for other members of the hospital staff, and police inspector Charlie Resnick must race to find him before the slasher graduates from assault to murder.
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A Charlie Resnick Mystery
By John Harvey
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1991 John Harvey
All rights reserved.
The first time she had taken off her clothes for him, he had told her she was perfect: not meaning to, not able to stop the word escaping. Perfect. He had met her at a dance two months before and now he pictured her not far from the hospital, occasionally glancing at her watch as she drank a second glass of wine, waiting.
"You look more dead than alive." The words snapped him back to where he was, the staff nurse facing him, one hand pulling at her uniform where it had bunched above her belt.
"Thanks," Fletcher said.
Sarah Leonard smiled. "The new admission ..." she began.
Fletcher blinked, willing himself to concentrate. He had slept three hours out of the last twenty-four, eleven from the past seventy-two and he thought he might be delirious.
"Probably a stroke," Sarah was saying. "Neighbor alerted the police. He'd been on his kitchen floor for two days."
"I'll clerk him in the morning."
"He's going to need fluids. You'll have to put in a Venflon tonight."
"You could do that yourself."
"You know as well as I do it's against policy."
Fletcher smiled. "I won't tell."
She gave him the smile back a little with her eyes. Somewhere along the ward, a patient was breaking one hacking cough upon the back of another. Nearby, a youth with stitches latticed across his face was silently crying. Calls of "Nurse!" rose and fell like a litany.
"Very well, staff," said Fletcher with mock solemnity.
"Thank you, Doctor." She waited for him to move then fell into step beside him.
The patient lived alone on the twelfth floor of a tower block and it had taken two ambulance men and one police officer to get him down the stairs after the lift had jammed. Now he lay on his back beneath blankets, his face gray, legs and ankles swollen. He had to weigh close to seventeen stone.
Fletcher slapped the inside of the man's forearm with the back of his own fingers, searching for a vein. It wasn't only the excessive fat that was a problem: there was hypothermia, shock.
"He's peripherally shut down," Fletcher said, turning over the arm.
Sarah nodded, watching the needle, waiting to apply the necessary pressure higher up.
"I'll try the back of the hand," Fletcher said.
He opened his eyes wide and then narrowed them, focusing down. The point of the needle punctured the edge of the vein and passed through.
He steadied himself and prepared to try again. Behind them, the screaming that had started several minutes ago showed no signs of stopping.
"Can you manage?" Sarah asked.
"Does it look like it?"
Quickly, she applied a tourniquet and left him to it. Fletcher succeeded in finding the vein this time, but was slow in releasing the tourniquet and blood jumped back before he could close off the end of the cylinder. A fine spray speckled his hands and the front of his white jacket and now a puddle was seeping through the top blanket.
He passed Sarah on her way back to the bed. "A thousand ml of natural saline over twenty-four hours," he said, not breaking his stride.
"Where are you going?" Sarah asked over her shoulder.
She picked up the bloodied needle from where he had let it fall beside the patient's arm and, shaking her head, deposited it in the sharps disposal. The blankets were slowly staining a deeper red and would need changing. Without seeming hurried, Sarah finished setting up the drip.
Fletcher bent low over the sink and splashed cold water up into his face. In the mirror he looked like someone who habitually spent long hours underground. He knew that if he didn't shave, his stubble would score Karen's skin raw but it seemed more important to get there before she grew tired of waiting. He would phone as he left the hospital and tell her that he was on his way.
He cupped his hands beneath the tap a final time, combed his fingers through his tangle of dark hair and pulled on a padded blue anorak over his doctor's coat.
For a change the telephone near the exit wasn't already in use, but in Karen's shared house nobody was picking up and answering. After a dozen rings he gave up and hurried up the stairs towards the upper level, fitting the headphones from his Walkman over his ears as he climbed. He pushed through the first set of double doors on to the pedestrian bridge as the duet from the final act of Manon was beginning. The bridge arched over the ring road midway between the underpass and the flyover, linking the hospital with the university and the residential areas that closed around it.
Fletcher immediately identified the familiar smell of rubber that rose from the floor, although the personal stereo, turned up high, kept out the squeak of his shoes as he walked. The air was always stale, the warmth trapped in at either end, no matter the outside temperature.
He walked unsteadily, hands jammed down into his pockets, weaving slightly like someone the worse for drink. The lights of cars moving fast downhill, south from the city, blistered through the wired glass. Here and there, the sides had been flyposted, advertising social events, political meetings, a pram race along the canal.
Fletcher sang along with the music, suddenly energetic and off-key. If things worked out with Karen, he'd get tickets for Opera North next month and bribe himself a couple of evenings off. If things worked out ... Unobserved, the door giving access to the steps up from the street swung open at his back.
Fifteen yards from the far side and he had still not heard the accelerated tread of soft-soled shoes in his wake. Strange that he was thinking, not of Karen, but of Staff Nurse Sarah Leonard's half-smiling, half-accusing eyes, when finally he realized he was not alone. A quick reflection glimpsed in the glass door before him and Fletcher turned his head in time for the downward sweep of the blade, illuminated in a fast curve of orange light.
The blow sent him stumbling backwards, losing his footing as he cannoned against the center of the doors and pitched forward, thinking before the belated sear of pain that he had been punched, not cut. The headphones had fallen from his face and Massenet poured tinnily out. Fletcher raised an open hand to ward off his attacker and the blade sank deep into his palm before swerving clear.
Somehow he got to his feet and began to run. A foot tripped him and his temple smacked against the wired glass, cracking it across. He kicked out, swung into a crouch and blundered through the first pair of doors, within his reach the exit, the steps, the street. His legs went from under him and the side of his face hit the floor with a slap. Through the muffled sound of traffic, he could hear his attacker breathing hard. Not wanting to, he forced himself to turn his head. Through blood he saw black sweater, balaclava, black gloves. Movement. Fletcher screamed and on his hands and knees he tried to crawl away. The blade cut into his thigh and began to slice towards the knee.
Karen Archer upended the empty bottle into the waste bin in the corner of her room and fingered the portable TV set off. By the time she had got downstairs to the phone, whoever had been calling had rung off. It could have been Tim, wanting to tell her he was on his way, apologizing yet again for being delayed.
"Go out with a houseman," one of her medical student friends had said, "and that's what you get."
"Not a lot." Laugh. Except that it wasn't.
The last time Tim Fletcher had been round he had been fast asleep within ten minutes; she had pulled off the rest of his clothes, tucked the duvet round and sat cross-legged beside him, wearing two extra sweaters and reading Eliot. He hadn't been a lot of fun either.
Karen took a pack of cigarettes from the back of her underwear drawer, failed to find a box of matches and put the pack back again. She didn't need one. If that had been Tim on the phone, he might be on his way.
She pulled on her ankle-length suede boots and took down from behind the door the camel coat her aunt had thoughtfully found in an Oxfam shop in Richmond. Pocketing her keys, she headed down the stairs, automatically stepping over the one with the missing tread. If she walked in the direction of the bridge, more than likely she would meet him.CHAPTER 2
"Better not." Resnick shook his head. "Time I was making a move."
"Right. Right." Frank Delaney nodded understandingly, reached over the bar and poured a fresh Guinness into the detective inspector's glass.
"Some of us start earlier than others," Resnick said. The clock to the left of the small stage showed the wrong side of midnight.
"Sure you do," Delaney winked. "Sure you do. And after tomorrow I needn't be getting up at all." He raised his own glass towards Resnick's face and smiled. "A toast, Charlie. Early retirement."
The glasses clinked and both men drank, Resnick sparingly.
"How long is it for you, Charlie?"
"Can't be long now."
It lay ahead of him like some unwelcome sea, something to be swum through every morning, no matter the weather; the same aimless movements, made simply to be doing something, an illusion: either that or you trod water until one day you drowned.
"Tomorrow morning," Frank Delaney said, "eleven o'clock. I shall be in the bank in my best suit, shaking hands. Someone will give me a fountain pen with a 24-carat gold nib and not so many minutes later I'll be walking out of there with a check for a million pounds. Not bad, eh, Charlie, for an ignorant son of a bitch like me? Left school at fourteen with the arse hanging out of his trousers. Not bad."
Resnick sipped at his Guinness and glanced around the room. When Frank Delaney had bought the place—what? Ten years back? More?—it had been little more than four walls and space on the floor for the drunks to fall safely. Frank had brought in carpets and couch seats with dark upholstery, chandeliers and a mishmash of mostly fake Victoriana. At the weekends, he'd instituted Old Time Music Hall and with a little persuasion would get up at the mike himself and lead the patrons through choruses of "You Made Me Love You," "Who's Sorry Now?"
In the week the doors were opened to other things: country and western, poetry and jazz. By this week's end the developers would be tearing out the inside, stripping it all away. Another office block in the making.
"We've had some good nights here, Charlie."
Resnick nodded. "We have."
On that stage he had heard some of the best music of his life: David Murray, Stan Tracey—on a cold March evening, Red Rodney, who'd played trumpet with Charlie Parker when little more than a kid, had brought tears of pleasure to Resnick's eyes and goose pimples to his skin.
"Have I told you what folk said when I bought this place, Charlie?"
Only a dozen times.
"They said I'd go bust within a six-month. Bankrupt." Delaney laughed and opened another bottle of Newcastle Brown. "I've shown 'em. Eh?"
Resnick covered his own glass with his hand and stood up. "No regrets, then, Frank?"
Delaney gave him a long look across the rim of his glass. "A million pound? From nothing, more or less. What have I got to be regretful about?" He got to his feet and shook Resnick's hand. "Anything else, that's sentimentality. Won't even pay the rent."
Resnick walked through the partly darkened room towards the door. Sliding back the bolt, turning the heavy key, he let himself out on to the street. Fletcher Gate. Directly across from him a youth wearing baggy jeans and with his shirt sleeves rolled high was vomiting chicken biriani against the brick of the car-park wall. A black and white cab rose up the hill from the station and Resnick thought about hailing it, but realized he was in no great hurry to get home after all.
"Hey, you!" the youth opposite called out at him belligerently. "Hey, you!"
Resnick slotted his hands into his overcoat pockets and crossed the road at a steep angle, head slightly bowed.
When Resnick had first been a beat copper, walking these streets in uniform, himself and Ben Riley, the winos, the down-and-outs, the homeless had looked away as they passed. A scattering of old men who sat around their bottles of cider, VP wine. Now there were kids who hung around the soup kitchens, the shelters, young enough to have been Resnick's own. And these thrust out a hand, looked you in the eye.
Eighteen to twenty-six. Smack in the trap. Too many reasons for not living at home, too few jobs, precious little from the state: now they shared Slab Square with the pigeons, sprawled or hunched before the pillars of the Council House, the ornate mosaic of the city's coat of arms, the pair of polished limousines waiting to carry civic dignitaries to this important function or that.
The more you descended Goose Gate, the less prestigious the shops became. Two sets of lights and you were in the wholesale market, broken crates and discarded dark blue tissue, and beyond that Sneinton, where gentrification was still a word best left to crosswords. Fourteen Across: A process of changing the character of the inner-city.
Before the first of those traffic lights the pavement broadened out and Resnick slowed his step. There were a dozen or more people between the telephone kiosk and the entrance to Aloysius House. Two were in the kiosk itself, keeping warm with the aid of a quarter-bottle of navy rum. This is a dry house read the sign by the entrance. A middle-aged man, wearing the upper half of a gray pin-striped suit and with dark trousers that gaped over pale flanks, leaned back against the wall as he drained a can of Special Brew, shaking the last drops into his mouth.
"Locked out?" Resnick asked the nearest of the men.
"Fuck you!" the man replied.
Resnick moved closer to the door, brushing against a couple who declined to step aside.
"Wondered how long it'd be before they sent for you," one of them said accusingly.
Resnick's head turned instinctively from the cheap alcohol on his breath.
"Sodding copper!" he explained to his companion.
The second man stared at Resnick, cleared his throat and spat on to the pavement, close between Resnick's shoes.
"Need a bloody sight more than you to sort this out," called someone. "Bastard's in there with a bastard ax!"
Resnick knocked on the glass of the hostel door. There were two men in the small lobby, one of them sitting on the floor. Resnick took out his warrant card and held it against the glass, motioning for them to let him in.
Inside the dimly lit main room, bodies shifted and snored in the darkness. Here and there Resnick saw the dim glow of a cigarette. From one of the chairs, knees tucked into his chest, someone cried out in a dream.
The woman who had charge of the night shift came towards Resnick from the foot of the stairs. She was wearing a cream-colored sweater over dark sweatpants, Resnick couldn't be certain of the color in that light. Her hair had been pulled up at the sides and sat a little awkwardly, secured by a pair of broad combs, white plastic. She was in her late twenties, early thirties and her name was Jean, Joan, Jeanie, something close. He had been introduced to her once at Central Station, he couldn't remember exactly when.
That was it. He thought she was about to offer him her hand, but she thought better of it She was a well-built woman, tall, five nine or ten, and she had the nervousness in her voice pretty much under control.
"I didn't send for you."
"I was passing. Quite a crowd you've got outside."
"They're all waiting to see what happens before they come back in."
"What is going to happen?"
She glanced towards the stairs. "That depends."
When she grinned, the dimples at the edges of her mouth made her seem much younger, more carefree; the way she was before she got into social sciences and Christianity. "On what he does with the meat ax," Jane said.
"What seems to be his plan?"
"The last I heard, he was threatening to chop his foot off."
"Unless I stayed on this side of the door."
"Which is what you've done?"
Jane frowned; the dimples were a long time gone. "He's not on his own. There are two others in with him."
She shook her head. "Not as far as I know."
"Has he threatened to harm them?"
Resnick looked at his watch. It was a quarter to one. "Why didn't you call the station?"
"I was about to. I think. With the best will in the world, every time somebody steps in here in uniform, we lose somebody else's trust."
Excerpted from Cutting Edge by John Harvey. Copyright © 1991 John Harvey. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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