On Christmas Day, Det. Chief Inspector Harry Brock’s celebrations are interrupted when he is called to a murder at Heathrow Airport. Kerry Hammond was due to fly out to New York with her husband—but never made it further than the car park. Brock and his sidekick, DS Dave Poole, put Kerry’s husband at the top of their suspect list, but the case becomes increasingly complex, and they find themselves embroiled in a complex case of smuggling that stretches from the South of France to Central London.
Writing as always “for readers who enjoy their mysteries laced with witty dialogue and lightly comedic moments,” Graham Ison delivers another delightful package of mystery (Booklist).
About the Author
During Graham Ison's thirty year career in Scotland Yard's Special Branch he was involved in several espionage cases and the investigation into the escape of the spy George Blake. He spent four years at 10 Downing Street as Protection Officer to two Prime Ministers and also served as second-in-command of the Diplomatic Protection Group.
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A Brock and Poole Mystery
By Graham Ison
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2011 Graham Ison
All rights reserved.
It was ten o'clock in the morning of Christmas Day when twenty-five-year-old Peter Shaw entered the car park at Heathrow Airport, hunched his shoulders and gazed around at the rows of parked vehicles. There were family cars in profusion, a number of four-by-fours, a fair number of Jaguars and a couple of Rolls Royce limousines. Not for the first time, he wished that he had gone where the owners of those cars had gone. But on the pay he was getting, there wasn't much chance of that.
Anywhere would do. A sunny beach with a gorgeous girl, or a luxury cruise around the Caribbean; anywhere to get away from the cold of an English winter and this mind-numbing job. He didn't really know why he carried on doing it; he wasn't married and his on-off relationship with a girl who worked in one of the shops in Terminal Three was about to become permanently off.
With a sigh, he began his patrol. On five out of every seven days or nights, year in and year out, apart from his annual two weeks holiday, Shaw had walked this same car park at London's Heathrow Airport. His mundane task was to check cars that had been there longer than they should have been, and to make sure that none had been broken into or vandalized. Occasionally, he had found unlocked vehicles containing quite valuable property that the owners had carelessly left behind.
The only bit of excitement was likely to be the sighting of a suspicious character loitering near the cars. Then he would call his control room and they would send for the police.
At first, he had passed the indigo blue Jaguar XJ, but then he stopped, realizing that there was someone in the driving seat. He retraced his steps, moved closer to the car and tapped on the window. Receiving no response, he tried the door and found it unlocked. He pulled it open, and the body of a woman fell towards him. She was an elegantly dressed blonde in a smart grey trouser suit. Her jacket was undone, and Shaw could not fail to see that the front of her stylish silk blouse was soaked in blood.
'Bloody hell!' exclaimed Shaw. Shaking almost uncontrollably, he took an involuntary step back. For a moment he stared transfixed at the body, now lying half out of the car, head almost touching the ground. In a grotesque image of death, the woman's eyes were open, and her long blonde hair was hanging down.
Moving well away from the car, Shaw unclipped the personal radio from his waterproof jacket. 'Hello, control,' he said, and then muttered, almost incoherently, 'I've just found a dead woman in a car.'
The operator at the control room asked for details, and Shaw, agitated by what he had found, eventually managed, somewhat disjointedly, to explain the circumstances of the grisly scene he had chanced upon.
'Stay with it, Pete,' said the operator. 'I'll call the police. Meanwhile, don't let anyone near it.'
'Yeah, right, mate.' Shaw looked around, but the car park was deserted. There was no one to go near the body, just rows of silent vehicles, a dead woman and him. He moved as far away as possible and sat on one of the metal barriers.
Christmas should be a time of joy and understanding and Christian charity, or so we are told. It is a season of goodwill, of good things to all men, and all that sort of claptrap. So how come that there's nearly always a murder on Christmas Day? Where, I ask you, is the goodwill in that?
Well, if there is to be a murder, fate being what it is, the investigation is bound to fall to Detective Chief Inspector Harry Brock of Homicide and Serious Crime Command. I know this because I am the said Harry Brock and I'm assigned to HSCC West, a Scotland Yard unit that takes in that segment of London that stretches, wedge-shaped, from Chelsea out to Hillingdon, and all the hotbeds of villainy in between. Unfortunately, it also includes Heathrow Airport, otherwise know to us of the CID as Thiefrow.
My girlfriend Gail Sutton and I had decided to spend this particular Christmas Day at her town house in Kingston. Although in a relationship for a number of years now, we had agreed not to get married, probably because we'd both been married before. And each of those marriages had ended with a measure of bitterness all round.
In my case, I had been married to Helga Büchner, a German girl who, at the time, was a physiotherapist at Westminster Hospital. She had pummelled my wrenched shoulder back to mobility following a somewhat violent disagreement with a group of yobs in Whitehall when I was a uniformed PC. It had been a whirlwind courtship, followed by a marriage that my colleagues at the nick said wouldn't last, even though it had taken sixteen years for them to be proved right in their forecast.
It had effectively come to an end when our four-year-old son Robert had drowned in a pond. Helga had insisted on continuing to work after he was born, and had left the boy with a neighbour, as she had often done.
It had not been a happy marriage, but that tragedy had signalled an end to it. Adultery on both sides became the norm, followed inevitably by divorce when Helga announced that she wanted to marry a doctor at the hospital where she worked, and with whom she'd been having an affair for several months. The only advantage for me that had accrued from the match was that I'd learned to speak German fluently. On reflection it would have been better and cheaper had I gone to night school.
Matters improved significantly when I met Gail Sutton. Gail is an actress when she's not resting, as thespians call unemployment in 'the profession'. Her marriage had endured for far shorter a period than mine, but had ended for a similar reason. Her former husband, Gerald Andrews, was a theatre director. One day Gail, feeling unwell after the matinee, arrived home early and unexpectedly from the playhouse where she was appearing, to find her husband in the marital bed with a nude dancer. That was the end of the marriage, and Gail reverted to her maiden name of Sutton.
Andrews, however, had held an unreasonable and spiteful grudge against Gail, as though that unsavoury incident had been her fault rather than his, and he did his best to prevent her getting any decent parts thereafter. When I'd met her at the Granville theatre, she was hoofing it in the chorus line of a second-rate review called Scatterbrain, and I was investigating the murder of one of her colleagues.
Not that Gail has to work. Her father George is a rich property developer who lives in Nottingham with his wife Sally, herself a former dancer. George's two obsessions are Formula One motor racing and the land speed record, both of which he talks about incessantly. Until his wife tells him to shut up. But he gives his daughter a substantial allowance, and that is why Gail doesn't have to work. But, loving Gail as I do, I'm willing to listen to his land speed stories for as long as he's prepared to bore me with them.
On this particular Christmas morning George was in full flow. He and Sally had arrived the previous day to enjoy Christmas dinner with Gail and me. Gail and Sally were in the kitchen preparing the meal, and my only chore was to keep their glasses constantly topped up with champagne, and George's with whisky.
Gail had decorated the sitting room tastefully, but minimally. There was none of the paper chains that my late father favoured. I still remember spending hours as a child sticking the damned things together before my father strung them from each corner of the room to the central light fitting. But Gail had put up just a few sprigs of holly, a number of bells and, of course, the obligatory Christmas tree.
Under the tree were parcels of varying sizes in colourful paper, including my gift to Gail and her gift to me. There was one from me to George, two bottles of malt whisky, and another from me to Gail's mother. Being useless when it came to selecting gifts for ladies of mature years, I'd left that one to Gail, and she'd purchased 'something suitable' on my behalf. It would've been a doubly difficult choice on my part because Sally didn't look much older than her daughter, was vivacious and always stylishly dressed.
My reverie on the subject of Christmas decorations and gifts was interrupted by George banging on about men in fast cars.
'And one of the finest drivers ever to attempt the land speed record, Harry,' he continued, sipping at his Scotch, 'was Frank Lockhart, an American engineer.'
'Really?' I said, realizing that I had missed the first, and probably most important, part of his monologue.
'He had a wonderful car called the Stutz Black Hawk Special with a three-eighty horsepower engine. In test runs at Daytona Beach in Florida, he got over two hundred miles an hour out of her. And that was back in nineteen twenty-eight.' An expression of admiration crossed George's face, and he shook his head in wonderment.
'Did he break the record, though?' I asked, feigning interest.
'No, he broke his bloody neck,' said George mournfully. 'He did three runs, all at over two hundred. But then he burst a tyre and skidded for a couple of hundred yards before the car leaped into the air and turned upside down. Lockhart was thrown clear, but died instantly. He was only twenty-five.' He held up his empty glass. 'Any more Scotch, Harry?'
I refilled his glass and mine with Laphroaig malt and settled down expecting the next instalment. But then George threw me a question that came in right under my guard.
'Are you going to marry my girl, Harry?'
'Well, I, er ...' But at that moment my mobile rang. I glanced at the little window and saw that it was my office calling. It was probably the first time I'd ever been pleased to get a call from work. 'Brock,' I said.
'It's Don Keegan at the incident room, sir.' Detective Sergeant Keegan was one of the skippers in my team who was standing in as incident room manager for Colin Wilberforce, the permanent manager, who was on leave.
'What is it, Don?'
'A murder, sir, at Heathrow Airport. DCS Cleaver's acting commander, and directs that you take it on.'
'What's the SP?' I asked. SP is racing terminology for 'starting price', but when a CID officer uses it, he means he wants the full story.
'One of the security staff was doing a routine patrol of a car park when he came across the body of a woman in a Jag, sir. First reports are that she'd been stabbed.'
'Terrific! What have you done so far?'
'I've alerted DS Poole and Dr Mortlock, sir. Both are on their way as I speak.'
'Good. Track down DI Ebdon and ask her to assemble a team, Don.'
'Already done, sir, and I've taken the liberty of sending a traffic car to pick you up. Are you at home?' 'No.' I gave him Gail's address.
'I'll give them a call on the air, sir.' Keegan paused. 'And a Merry Christmas, sir.'
'Get stuffed, Keegan.'
'Trouble?' asked George Sutton, once I'd terminated the call.
'You could say that, George,' I said. 'I've just had a callout to a murder at Heathrow.' I sighed, stood up and made my way to the kitchen to break the news that I would be missing out on Christmas dinner.
'I expect you can get a sandwich at the airport, darling,' was Gail's somewhat dry response. She had grown accustomed to my disappearing at the most inopportune moments.
'This zone of the car park's closed, sir.' The speaker was a uniformed jobsworth who, all puffed up with piss and importance, was strutting back and forth across the entrance. There was a policeman standing nearby, but he didn't seem to be doing anything in particular.
'You may not have noticed,' I said, waving my warrant card under his nose, 'but this car has the word POLICE plastered all over it, and there are blue lights on its roof.' By now I was in a thoroughly pissed-off mood, and this guy was doing nothing to alleviate it. Just to emphasize the point, my driver gave the attendant an ear-splitting blast on the siren.
'Ah! Of course, sir. Very good, sir.' The official crossed to the control box, managing to combine haste with obsequiousness, and raised the barrier. 'Your chaps are already in there, sir,' he added helpfully.
An unnecessarily large area of the car park had been cordoned off with the familiar blue and white tapes. I got out of the traffic car and walked towards my latest investigation.
I was intercepted by a uniformed inspector who carefully recorded my name on his clipboard.
'Merry Christmas, guv,' said Dave Poole, striding towards me with a huge grin on his face.
Detective Sergeant Poole is my right hand; what I don't think of, he does. The grandson of a Bethnal Green doctor who arrived from the Caribbean in the nineteen-fifties, Dave graduated in English from London University, and it shows. When it suits him. Shunning the professional calling of his grandfather, and indeed of his chartered accountant father, Dave decided to join the Metropolitan Police. He often claimed, to the embarrassment of those who worry about diversity, that this made him the black sheep of the family.
'What's the SP, Dave?' I asked, even though Don Keegan had given me the broad picture.
'That guy over there, guv,' said Dave, pointing to a white-faced individual, 'is some sort of security dogsbody. At ten o'clock this morning, he was doing a routine patrol and came across the victim in a Jaguar XJ.' He pointed to the canvas screens now surrounding the crime scene. 'Doctor Mortlock's in there somewhere, working his magic.'
I opened the flap and found Henry Mortlock in the act of packing his ghoulish instruments into a small black bag.
'Merry Christmas, Henry,' I said.
'What's bloody merry about it?' muttered Mortlock. 'And before you ask, as far as I can tell without carving her up, she was killed by a number of knife wounds to the chest and abdomen. Quite deep, I should think. I'll be able to give you further and better particulars after the post-mortem.'
'When are you proposing to do the PM, Henry?' Mortlock gave me a sour look. 'This afternoon, I suppose,' he said grudgingly. 'What a way to spend Christmas.' And belying that pithy comment, he went on his way, humming an extract from Good King Wenceslas.
I cast a cursory glance over the car that still contained the body of our murder victim. The dead woman had been a good-looking blonde, probably in her early thirties, and the quality of her outfit implied wealth.
Linda Mitchell, who enjoyed the title of senior forensic practitioner, was already standing by. Beyond the tapes was a van emblazoned with the words EVIDENCE RECOVERY UNIT. This, presumably, was another snazzy slogan to emanate from the funny names and total confusion squad at Scotland Yard. This unit is staffed by boy superintendents whose aim in life is to reach the very top of the constabulary tree without actually doing any police duty. But they're an absolute whizz at changing things that don't need to be changed and offering advice to officers who have no need of it.
'OK to make a start, Mr Brock?' asked Linda.
'Yes, carry on. Dr Mortlock's finished in there.'
'D'you want a word with Mr Shaw, guv?' asked Dave, as Linda disappeared behind the screens.
'Shaw?' I was becoming confused already.
'He's the car park guy who found the body.'
'Ah, right. Got it.' I crossed to where the pale-faced one was perched on a steel barrier, constantly sipping water from a plastic bottle. He looked as though he was about to be sick.
'I'm DCI Brock,' I said. 'And you're Mr Shaw are you?'
'That's me, guv'nor, Peter Shaw.'
'What time did you come on duty this morning?'
'And at what time did you do your first patrol of this zone of the car park?'
Shaw looked decidedly shifty. 'Well, it must've been about, um ...'
'Mr Shaw,' I said, 'I don't give a toss when you were supposed to have started patrolling, and I don't care what company regulations you might've broken by not being where you should've been when you should've been. I'm not going to run off and tell your boss, so just answer the question.'
'A couple of minutes before ten, guv'nor. You see, the lads in the control room, being as how it's Christmas, had put on a bit of —'
'Enough,' said Dave. 'Just answer the chief inspector's questions, otherwise he could get very nasty. And I should know,' he added. He was lying, of course. I hoped.
'Just before ten, sir,' said Shaw again.
'And tell me exactly what you found, Mr Shaw,' I said.
'I spotted this car, and saw that there was someone in it. That's against the regulations, you see. People are not allowed to —' Shaw noticed my frown, and returned to the facts. 'I tapped on the window, but the passenger didn't move. So, I opened the door and this woman fell out, all covered in blood. It gave me a nasty turn, guv'nor, I can tell you.'
'Must've been very upsetting for you,' murmured Dave.
'What did you do then?' I asked.
'I got in touch with the control room, and they sent for the police.'
Excerpted from Gunrunner by Graham Ison. Copyright © 2011 Graham Ison. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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