Det. Inspector Luke Thanet is brought in when a dead man is found in bed, apparently killed by a single blow with a blunt object. When the corpse is identified as Steven Long, the question is no longer who wanted to kill him, but who didn’t? A troublemaker with enemies wherever he went, Long was loathed by everyone in town, from his long-suffering ex-wife to the man whose family he killed in a driving accident. To find the culprit, Thanet will have to get to the bottom of a lifetime of hate.
The long-running series featuring Detective Inspector Thanet, which includes The Night She Died and CWA Silver Dagger winner Last Seen Alive, is perfect for fans of P. D. James and classic police procedurals. Dead on Arrival is “an intriguing tale not to be missed” (Yorkshire Post).
Dead on Arrival is the 6th book in the Inspector Thanet Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Dead on Arrival
An Inspector Thanet Mystery
By Dorothy Simpson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1982 Dorothy Simpson
All rights reserved.
The house was unnaturally silent. Thanet stood in the hall, head cocked, listening: no sound from the television in the living room, no movement or clatter of pans from the kitchen, no muffled, rhythmic thump of distant pop music from Ben's room ... He glanced at his watch. Ten to six. Where were they all?
He moved to the foot of the stairs. 'Anyone in?' he called.
He shrugged, went into the kitchen and put the kettle on, feeling disgruntled. Not so many years ago he would have arrived home to a rapturous welcome. Bridget and Ben would have rushed to greet him, faces aglow, reaching up to kiss him, competing for his attention. Unconsciously, he sighed. He certainly wouldn't expect such behaviour of an eleven- and a thirteen-year-old, but he had to admit that he sometimes regretted that they were growing up so quickly. In just a few years they would be independent, leaving home ... The front door slammed.
'I'm home!' Bridget's voice.
Thanet rose with alacrity, went into the hall. 'So I gather,' he said, smiling.
'Dad! Hi! What are you doing home?' The wind had whipped colour into her cheeks, tousled the fine blonde hair which recently (to Thanet's regret) had been cut fashionably short.
'Finished early for once.'
'Wonders will never cease.' Bridget shed her coat, hung it in the cupboard under the stairs and followed Thanet into the kitchen. 'It's nice to get into the warm.'
It was a Tuesday in late November, and since early morning an icy wind had been blowing from the east, bringing a warning of early snow and the prospect of a long, hard winter.
Thanet handed her a steaming mug of tea. 'I was beginning to wonder where you'd all got to.'
'Thanks.' Bridget cupped her hands around the mug and sipped appreciatively. 'Mum'll be a bit late tonight. She forgot to tell you.'
Joan, Thanet's wife, was a probation officer, and her working hours were sometimes inconveniently unpredictable.
'So I went round to Susan's. And Ben's at Paul's, watching a video.'
'What video?' said Thanet sharply. He was only too well aware of the ready availability of the pornographic and sadistic video films which, despite every attempt to stem the flood, continued to pour into the high street rental shops in a seemingly never-ending stream.
Bridget grinned. 'Cool it, Dad. It's nothing unsuitable. Just some documentary on photographic techniques which Ben missed because he was at Scouts.' She put her mug on the draining board. 'I must get on. I want to try another way of decorating that lemon flummery.'
Thanet hid his dismay. Much as he enjoyed that particular pudding, a fluffy concoction half-way between a mousse and a cream, this would be the fourth night in a row they'd had to eat it.
'Still not satisfied? I thought last night's looked terrific.'
Bridget frowned at the dish she had taken from the fridge. 'I've got to get it just right.'
About a year ago Bridget had developed an interest in cooking. Her mother was an excellent cook, but ever since Joan had started working full-time she had had neither the time nor the inclination to expend much energy in the kitchen. Thanet had watched with approval as Bridget rapidly developed an astonishing degree of expertise. On Friday she was to take part in the regional heats for the Junior Chef of the Year, her first competition.
'Nervous?' he asked, watching with admiration as she whipped cream, carefully selected the appropriate nozzle for the piping bag and began to decorate the pudding with minute, glistening whorls.
'A bit, I suppose.'
'You're going to win, I know it.'
'You're biased, Dad. But thanks for the vote of confidence, all the same.'
The front door slammed again and Ben appeared in the kitchen doorway. 'Oh no, not yukky lemon flummery again.' And he stuck out his tongue and pretended to retch.
'That's enough, Ben. If it'll help Sprig to win we'll eat it until it comes out of our ears.'
'It's already coming out of mine!'
'Great. Dad, when are we going to get a video? Everyone's got one.'
'Not everyone. We haven't. And as I've said before, there's no point in going on about it, we've no intention of getting one.'
'But why? It's so useful. Just think, when you got home late from work you could watch all the things you've missed earlier on in the evening.'
'When I get home late from work all I want to do is go to bed. Apart from which, so far as I can see, there's never anything on worth watching, these days.'
'That's not true,' they chorused. 'There's ...'
Thanet held up a hand. 'No. I don't want to hear, thank you. As far as I'm concerned, kids nowadays have far too much potted entertainment, and I'm not going to provide you with the potential for yet more.'
'But if we don't see it here, we only go and see it at someone else's house,' objected Ben.
And this, Thanet had to admit, was the one potent argument for having a video recorder of their own. Here, at least, he and Joan would have some control over the sort of material the children watched. But he wasn't going to strengthen Ben's case by saying so. 'In that case, what are you complaining about?'
The front door slammed once more, and Thanet went to greet Joan, his heart lifting, as always, at the sight of her. Tonight, fuelled by the memory of the emptiness which had marred his return home, his kiss was even more enthusiastic than usual.
Joan pulled away a little, laughing. 'Hey, what did I do to deserve that?'
He kissed her again. 'Do I have to have an excuse?'
Her arms tightened around his neck for a moment, then she wriggled out of his grasp, began to unbutton her coat. 'I must get on with supper. I'm all behind.'
'I was wondering if you'd like to go out for a change. Nowhere elaborate. Pizzaland, for instance?'
'Luke! That would be lovely. With the children?'
'What are we celebrating?'
He came closer, put his mouth against her ear. 'Sprig is decorating yet another lemon flummery. I don't think I can face it.'
Joan laughed. 'That makes two of us.'
They all enjoyed the unusual treat of a family outing midweek, and it was not until a quarter to eleven, when Thanet and Joan were thinking of going to bed, that the telephone rang.
Joan pulled a face. 'Guess who that's for.'
Thanet went reluctantly to answer it.
'It's Bentley, sir. We had an anonymous phone call, at ten twenty-five, reporting a murder at number three, Hamilton Road. We sent someone round, and it's just been confirmed. Young man in his twenties. Head bashed in.'
And Lineham's not here ... 'Better get everything laid on. You know what to do. Has Doc Mallard been informed?' I'll have to get Lineham back, as soon as I can. Hines isn't going to like this one little bit.
'Yes. He's out on a call apparently, but a message was left on his answerphone.'
'Let's hope he won't be too long. I'll be over there as soon as I can.'
Thanet rang off. He'd better get on to Hines right away. No, he'd wait until he'd seen what the position was for himself.
Joan was in the kitchen, pouring boiling water into a thermos flask.
'Coffee,' she said. 'It sounds as though it might be a long night.'
"Fraid so. Thanks, love.'
Outside, the wind tore at Thanet's raincoat. It was beginning to rain and by the time he turned out of his driveway on to the road heavy drops were hurling themselves against the windscreen in gusting sheets.
'That's all I need,' he muttered as he switched on the windscreen wipers. It was at times like these that he paid lip-service to the idea that it would be nice to have a comfortable, nine-to-five office job with weekends off and plenty of guaranteed leisure. But underneath he knew that such work would have bored him stiff. He loved his job, enjoyed its unpredictability, the constant challenge, the thrill of the hunt, the unique satisfaction of victory. There were disadvantages, of course, and he was grimly aware that one of them was imminent, something far more difficult for him to cope with than the inconvenience of being called out at an hour when most people were thinking of getting comfortably tucked up in bed.
For the truth was that, despite all his years on the force, Thanet had never been able to harden himself against his first sight of a corpse. He had tried every trick in the book, from disassociation to levity, but nothing had worked, ever. In the early years he had told himself that familiarity would breed if not contempt, then at least indifference, but it had never happened and by now he began each case with resigned dread and an acceptance that those few moments of acute discomfort were the necessary prelude to the work in which he found such satisfaction.
Hamilton Road was a wide, tree-lined street leading down to the river. The houses were huge Victorian redbrick monsters, built by prosperous tradesmen in the days when servants were plentiful and labour cheap. They had long ago been converted into flats and their original owners would have been appalled to see the dirty windows, peeling paint, sagging gutters, and overgrown gardens. Tonight the façades were punctuated by uncurtained oblongs of yellow light against which were silhouetted the heads and shoulders of neighbours curious to know what was going on. At least the weather should prevent the usual crowd of ghouls, Thanet thought with satisfaction.
It was easy to pick out number three by the police cars parked outside. Thanet cursed as the wind tore the door-handle from his grasp, straining the hinges. He ran through the pelting rain along the short, curving drive to the front door, where a uniformed PC in a waterproof cape was stamping his feet in a fruitless attempt to keep warm.
'Evening, Johnson. Filthy night.'
'Certainly is, sir.'
'Where's the body?'
'First floor back, sir.'
Thanet pushed open the stained-glass inner door and stepped into a spacious hallway which ran the depth of the house to a rear door at the far end. It was cluttered with prams and bicycles and only the curving hand-carved banister and the ornately patterned ceramic tiles on the floor spoke of the gracious way of life for which it had been designed. An unshaded, low-wattage overhead bulb cast a sickly yellow light on flaking plaster and grubby, distempered walls.
Head bashed in. Conscious of the tightening muscles in his abdomen, Thanet ran up the wide, uncarpeted stairs, trying not to think of all the other head injuries he had seen, some of them stomach-churning by any standards. Another few minutes and the worst will be over. A door immediately in front of him was ajar and from within came the unmistakable sounds of police activity. Thanet took a deep breath and walked in.
Carson was standing just inside the door, keeping out of the way of the photographers. The room was stiflingly hot.
Thanet nodded a greeting. 'Where is he?'
'Over there, sir. On the floor in front of the settee.'
Avoiding what looked like a smear of blood on the carpet, Thanet walked around the side of the settee, which stood with its back to the door half-way across the room. Then he took another deep, unobtrusive breath and looked.
The dead man lay face down on the floor in front of the settee, his knees curled up, one arm outflung. He was wearing jeans, a dark blue sweater and shabby plimsolls.
After the familiar rush of compassion, the pang of anger and regret at this wanton waste of human life, Thanet's first emotion was one of relief. Often, with head injuries, there is a great deal of blood, but in this case there was only a small, glistening streak in the man's hair.
'A single blow?' he murmured to Carson.
'Looks like it, sir.'
'And with something pretty blunt, by the look of it. Flat, even.'
Which made this case a little unusual. Thanet knew that in the majority of cases of death by head injury more than one blow is struck – which results in a lot of very quick bleeding and much splashing of blood. If, however, the victim is hit by something flat, the impact is distributed over a large area. There may be local damage to the brain under the point of impact, the skull may be fractured and there may be a large area of bruising, but the skin may not even necessarily split and there may thus be no external scalp bleeding.
Thanet was beginning to sweat. The gas fire was on full blast.
Carson followed Thanet's glance. 'Thought I'd better leave the fire on until the doc's been.'
Room temperature is an important factor in estimating time of death.
'Quite right ...' Thanet shrugged out of his coat and slung it over his shoulder.
One of the Scenes-of-Crime officers approached. 'All right if I take samples now, sir? I wanted to leave him in situ until you'd seen him.'
'Finished the photographs?'
'Of the body, yes, sir.'
'Fine. Carry on, then.'
Thanet began to wander around the room. The shabby settee, sagging armchair, cheap table scarred with innumerable cigarette burns and white rings on its once-glossy veneered surface, all spoke of a room which had been rented furnished to countless careless tenants. And yet, Thanet noticed, attempts had been made to brighten the place up. There were new, brightly coloured cotton curtains at the tall window, matching cushions on the settee and armchair. A wife, then? Or live-in girlfriend? If so, where was she? There were two birthday cards on the mantelpiece and he crossed to look at them. One, with a sentimental verse, was signed Sharon, the other, a bawdy, humorous one, was from someone called Geoff.
Carson had been following Thanet about, walking a pace or two behind like a faithful retriever.
Thanet glanced back at him. 'Do we know anything about him?'
'Not much. I had a quick word with a Mrs Bence, who lives in one of the downstairs flats, the one below this. She's a sort of caretaker, and has spare keys to all the flats in case of emergency, so it was her who let us in. She's a funny old bird. She says his name is Steven Long.'
'But they split up recently. Not surprising, according to Mrs Bence. She was quite friendly with the wife, but didn't have much time for him.'
'Why not? No, it doesn't matter, I'll have a word with her myself, later. How old is she?'
'Mrs Bence? Early sixties, I'd say.'
'Good. Time on her hands to be nosy, then.' Thanet was missing Lineham. It wasn't that Carson had been crass, or inefficient, quite the contrary. He was careful, solid, reliable, where the sergeant was eager, impulsive, volatile. But Thanet was so used to working with Lineham that it was almost as if a part of himself were missing. Was this what it would be like if Lineham got his promotion to Inspector? Thanet wondered. Would it be impossible to adjust to working efficiently with someone else, after all these years?
'Tell me what you think happened here, Tom.'
'Well, I was thinking about it while I was waiting for you to arrive, sir, and I reckon he was sitting on the settee when it happened. I think he was bashed from above and behind.'
'What with, do you think?'
Carson shrugged. 'Doesn't seem to be anything likely lying about. Chummy must've taken it with him. I was wondering ...'
'Well, that smear on the carpet, half-way between the door and the settee ... Looks like blood.'
'Yes, I'd noticed. What about it?'
'Well, I reckon he must have dropped the murder weapon, after hitting the victim, sir, then decided it was safer to take it away with him.'
'Could be.' Thanet already had a theory about what that weapon had been but he did not comment, simply gestured at the object which dominated the room, a huge colour television set, complete with video recorder on a shelf below. 'He can't have been too hard up.'
Carson grinned. 'It was probably on the HP.'
'Even so ...'
There was a flurry of movement on the stairs. Reinforcements had arrived. Thanet gave Carson the thankless task of tracing and notifying the next of kin and then went out on to the landing and set about deploying his men. He had just finished when the stained-glass front door opened again and Mallard came in, taking off his hat and shaking it, spattering the floor with raindrops which made dark circles in the dust.
Usually the lateness of the hour or the inclemency of the weather would have elicited some sarcastic comment from the little doctor, but tonight he merely glanced up at Thanet and said, 'Up there?'
Thanet nodded. 'Evening, Doc. Sorry to drag you out on such a filthy night.' He ushered Mallard into Long's room.
The SOCOs had finished with the body for the moment and after Mallard had examined the head wound, he and Thanet gently turned Long over.
It was the first time Thanet had seen the dead man's face, and he studied it while Mallard made his examination.
Excerpted from Dead on Arrival by Dorothy Simpson. Copyright © 1982 Dorothy Simpson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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