- Pub. Date:
In a freezing London flat, Scott Mitchell fights to stay warm. His thermos is empty and his hands are numb, but he keeps his vigil for the best reason in the world: He needs the money. A sleazy developer hired him to keep track of the comings and goings in the building across the road, but after too many hours of inactivity, Mitchell decides to do something unorthodox. He goes across the street and lets himself inside. It’s the worst decision he’ll ever make.
Mitchell has just stepped inside when a blackjack cracks him across the skull, and he crashes to the floor. When he comes to, he finds a photo of a beautiful woman—and a dead girl lying on the bed. Mitchell has fallen face-first into a murder scene, and it won’t be long before he’s wishing he’d frozen instead.
A hardboiled mystery in the tradition of Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald, Junkyard Angel grips readers from the first page and doesn’t let go. From the creator of legendary detective Charlie Resnick, the Scott Mitchell Mysteries give us the toughest private eye to ever walk the streets of London.
Junkyard Angel is the 3rd book in the Scott Mitchell Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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About the Author
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.
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.
Read an Excerpt
A Scott Mitchell Mystery
By John Harvey
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1977 John Harvey
All rights reserved.
I looked at my watch: three minutes off nine o'clock. I yawned and stretched my legs out straight from the chair. I had been sitting there for a long time. Had been in that room for a long time. With a few short breaks to go and take a leak, I had been there for almost twelve hours. I checked my watch again: one minute off nine o'clock: twelve hours all but one minute.
The room was cold and steadily getting colder. There was a gas fire but the gas had been disconnected. I tried to huddle up further into my overcoat, but the coat wasn't having any. Maybe I had bad breath. Maybe I just stank of too many rooms like this, too many days and nights spent watching other rooms, spying on people I didn't know on behalf of more people I didn't know. Maybe ... but what the hell! There were always a lot of maybes hanging around, some of them trying to fool you into thinking they were something more definite. Something that would stand. Something that would last.
But they weren't fooling me. Not any more. The world was a lot of little maybes, all running round looking for answers that didn't exist. And over it all presided the Great Maybe in the Sky.
Across the road, the tall wooden door was opening at its centre. A guy came out, looked quickly up and down the street, then hurried down the steps. He pulled his coat collar up around his ears. It had to be even colder out there.
The coat was in a kind of salt and pepper fleck and it hung too low to the ground to have been his. He had dark tightly curled hair and a youngish face that looked bleak in the dull orange pallor of the streetlights. He walked quickly along the pavement and out of sight.
I made a note in my notebook. A methodical man. Method in the face of so much maybe. It didn't solve anything but it kept me in touch with some strange illusion of reality that still bounced around somewhere at the back of my head. And it might mean something to whoever was paying me for my precious time.
Not that the notebook would tell anybody very much. Except that the same guy who had walked out had earlier, walked in. Much earlier. Mid-morning. Seven after eleven to be precise. It was in the book. The book didn't say that he had come up to the place with the same quick walk, had looked around anxiously at the top of the steps before going through the door. He looked like a guy who was worried, as if he was expecting someone to jump out at him, to be watching him.
Well, someone was. I was. Scott Mitchell: private investigator.
Very private. So much so that there were weeks when the phone failed to ring and the postman failed to call and I thought that I was the most private person on earth.
Then something would turn up that would make me realise that I was wanted after all. A nice cosy little job like this one.
I glanced down at the thermos on the floor, but I knew it was empty. I looked at the transistor radio I had brought along to help while away the pleasant hours; but I knew that if I turned it on then I would be reaching out a couple of minutes later to switch it off.
I thought about the bottle of Southern Comfort I had decided that I couldn't afford to buy.
I thought about ... steady, Mitchell, that way madness lies!
I directed my mind back to the reason for my being there. As far as I understood even that.
It had been three days ago and I had been sitting in what I laughingly referred to as my office, indulging in some piece of activity with the spring of my biro. Anything to prevent total atrophy. Then the phone had started to ring. The sudden sound in that empty room made me jump and I dropped the pen on to the desk. It rang on and I sat there listening to it, thinking it had to be a wrong number and watching the various parts of the biro gently rolling towards the edge of the desk.
Finally, I reached out a hand and lifted the receiver towards me.
'Mitchell,' I said.
A man's voice at the other end said, 'Ah, Mr Mitchell, I thought you were out.'
'So did I.'
There was a pause. Now it was his turn to wonder if it was a wrong number.
'You are Scott Mitchell? The private detective?'
I looked down at myself to check. 'That's me,' I told him, 'but I thought there were more of us than one.'
'Sorry?' he said.
'Let's not go through that again. You want to talk to me?'
'That's why I phoned.'
'Fine. You want to tell me now or ...'
'I'd prefer if we met.'
'So would I. Can you come to the office?'
'Couldn't we meet somewhere else? A pub or something?'
'I could force myself into a pub.'
'Do you know the Seven Dials?'
'Sure. It's near here.'
'That's why I suggested it.'
'Smart. You sure you need a detective, Mr ...?'
'Blagden. Hugh Blagden. Yes, I'm sure. Will eleven thirty suit you?'
'Well, normally I don't drink until after lunch, but I guess I could make an exception.'
'Do that. I'll see you at eleven thirty sharp.'
And he rang off.
I spent five minutes or so searching the carpet for the spring from my biro. Finally, the only way I found it was by treading on it. Just the thing to inspire a detective with confidence. I went out of the office, locking both doors as I did so. You couldn't be too careful. I didn't want anybody wandering in and stealing my stale air as soon as my back was turned.
I made sure that I got to the pub early and took my beer over to a table facing the door. All part of my Wild Bill Hickok complex. And I wanted to be able to pick him out before he saw me. I managed it, but not by much.
He came through the door like a man who was used to walking through doors and having people jump to some kind of attention on the other side. I hitched myself back into my chair and sipped at my beer. He was around six foot and at least a stone heavier than he should have been. He was, wearing a brown suit in some kind of shiny material, three piece, the waistcoat straining slightly over his stomach.
He stood there and checked out the customers, then finally picked me out as the man most likely. As he walked over I was thinking that he might be okay: but I wouldn't have bought a used car from him.
'Mitchell?' he asked, leaning a little over the table.
I nodded and he asked me if I wanted a drink. I shook my head and he walked over to the bar, coming back with what looked to be a large gin and tonic.
So that was the way it was. I wondered casually who signed his expenses form.
He tried the gin, took a cigar case from his inside pocket, shook out a cigar, fingered a lighter from the right hand side pocket, lit the cigar, put the lighter and cigar case back where they belonged. He blew a couple of puffs of smoke across the table, then decided to look at me.
He didn't show much but he must have liked what he saw because a minute or so later he asked me if I would like a job.
'Sure,' I told him, 'who wouldn't? Times are hard and getting harder. Or so I read in the papers.'
'That's good,' he said.
'That things are getting tough?'
'No. That you read.'
'Nice.' I applauded him quietly with three slow claps of my hands. 'You don't need a detective. What you need is a straight man. Try the home for out-of-work comedians.'
He had another go at the gin. The hand holding the cigar rested along one leg. The cigar seemed to have gone out.
'Not the home for out-of-work detectives?' he asked.
'Meaning you don't look like a man who usually orders a small beer.'
I shrugged my shoulders and wondered who was investigating who. He was turning out to be smarter than my first impression of him had suggested; but I still wouldn't buy a car from him.
'What's the job?' I asked.
He realised the cigar was out and tried to light it. He gave up and pulled his chair in closer towards the table.
'I have an interest in a large block of flats. What agents call substantial and the previous owners used to call mansions with some chance of being taken seriously. It's going to be redeveloped, only ...' Another drink, another pull on the dead cigar. 'Only one flat is still occupied. The people have a lease and they're not being receptive to any offers we've made. It's got to the point where they won't answer any letters we write and have refused to communicate with us in any way.'
He stopped. I was sitting there looking at him, not feeling any too keen on what I had heard so far. I put my empty glass back down on to the table.
'Sorry,' I said, shaking my head, 'it's not my kind of job.'
'Hiring myself out as muscle to force people out of their property. There are plenty of others around who'll do that with pleasure.'
'You've jumped the gun, Mitchell. That wasn't what I was going to ask you to do.'
'Okay. Fire away.'
'As far as I can find out, the leaseholders are no longer in the flat themselves. But somebody else is. Now that may mean they're subletting. If they are, then they've broken the agreement in the lease and that puts us into a stronger position in getting them out.'
'Some associates and myself. Surely that doesn't matter?'
'What do you want me to do?'
'Watch the flat. Find out who goes in and comes out. Try to establish who's living there.'
'You could go and ask them yourself — you or one of your associates.'
'Uh-uh. There's one of those arrangements you have to speak into before they open the outside door. And they're not answering. They're certainly not letting me in. Of course, they have a perfectly legal right to refuse their permission.'
'Is that how you want it played?'
He raised his eyebrows a little, as though he had not really heard what I'd said.
He shrugged his shoulders. 'The way you do your work is your affair, Mitchell. As long as nothing rebounds on to me. I simply want to find out who's living in the flat and what rights they have to be there. Nothing more.'
I tried to decide whether or not I believed him. There was no reason for not doing so. No reason, just a hunch. And something about that unlit cigar held between the fingers of his left hand.
We started to talk about unimportant little things like money.
Five minutes later he was gone, leaving me with a cash advance and a telephone number at which I should contact him as soon as I found out anything definite or after five days, whichever came first.
Sitting in that cold room, it seemed that the five days were going to win by a walkover. Apart from the guy in the salt and pepper coat, the flat was as busy as a suburban station at three in the morning. Of course, there was a back way in — if you didn't mind cutting across a garage forecourt, ducking along a low alley and jostling with a few empty dustbins.
But people living in a place that was rightfully theirs wouldn't stoop to any such thing. I mean, why should they? They weren't criminals or anything; they weren't even squatters; they were simply ordinary folk living an ordinary life and not wanting to be pushed around by some property speculator or other.
Well, good for them! If I had a drink, I'd have lifted it high and toasted them.
But I didn't have a drink. All I had was a notebook that was mainly full of blank pages, cold feet, and an aching back caused by sitting too long in the same position.
I didn't need to look at my watch to know that it was time I took a walk.
I didn't think there'd be much point in trying the front entrance, but I did anyway. I was right. There wasn't. Okay, I said to myself, if they want to play it coy ...
It was dark in the alley and I kicked one of the bins and sent out a little clattering echo towards the rear door. I waited for a couple of minutes to make sure there was no reaction, then followed it. Of course, the door was locked and, of course, I was able to get it open without a sound. I hadn't been a professional all these years for nothing.
I shut the door behind me. I seemed to be in some kind of passageway which led into a larder. There was a light showing at the far end. I walked towards it. Carefully.
The light was in the kitchen and it swung shadeless above a wooden table that was littered with mugs and plates which looked as though they had been simply used and left.
Perhaps the home help was sick.
The kettle was on a ledge in the corner of the room and the lead was plugged in. I touched its side gently; it was still hot.
Well, I thought, I could always call out and ask if there was anybody home. Then again, I could take a quiet look around and find out for myself.
There were two doors off to the right of the kitchen: bathroom and toilet. Both empty. There was a large square hall with coloured tiles across its floor. Enough to roof a normal-size house. In fact, any ten people could have camped out in that hallway without ever feeling cramped.
The door to the left of the hall was slightly ajar. There were two other doors leading off; they were both shut tight. On one of the walls was a large poster for an exhibition of work by Mark Boyle. Below it, a red bicycle rested against the paintwork. It was a lady's model and looked as though it had had a lot of use. No one was using it at the moment. The rear tyre was flat with the air of a tyre that has been flat for a very long time. I thought I knew how it felt.
I went through the door that wasn't closed. The guy with the curly hair was sitting cross-legged on the floor at the far end of the room. He was sitting on a large purple cushion with a mug on the carpet in front of him. He wasn't wearing his overcoat, but I recognised him anyway.
He looked up at me with a startled expression. His mouth opened as if he was going to say something, but he must have changed his mind. The mouth stayed open so that he looked like one of the fish in the tank under the window. I started to go over towards him.
A second before what ever hit me hit me I sensed it was coming. You always can. It might be the sudden proximity of another person, the sound or the warmth of their breath, the smell of their sweat, the swish of a solid object being swung through the air. It might be some sixth sense, some conditioned reflex brought on by being hit from behind more times than can be healthy for one man.
Not that I thought about the possibilities at the time. I didn't think about anything for very long. I tried to swing round, knowing all the while that I would never make it. I didn't.
I had this final glimpse of the curly haired guy's mouth open even wider, his eyes staring past my shoulder; then someone drove a small but efficient train into the back of my head and I lost interest in anything else in the world.
I wasn't even aware of falling to the floor.
But I had. I woke up on it some time later. There was a pain in my arm and another in my right ankle. The arm hurt because I had been lying awkwardly on it; I couldn't work out what was wrong with my ankle. I could have twisted it on the way down, or whoever slugged me might have been feeling vindictive.
It didn't look as though he'd stayed around to discuss it with me. Nor had my fast-walking, coffee-drinking friend. It was just me and fishes. The least I could do was go and exchange a friendly word or two. I pushed myself up off the ground and was suddenly conscious of what felt like a hole in the back of my skull.
I put my fingers round there gingerly and was relieved to find that they didn't sink in several inches. Rather, it was the opposite. There was a bump there that would have made a maternal duck want to sit on it and hatch it out. That and some dried blood which had stuck to my hair.
The fish didn't regard me very sympathetically. They didn't regard me at all. Simply went on with their own fishy business. I reached down and shook a little food out of the cardboard container alongside the tank. It floated on the water and they ignored that too. There was something about the way they refused to get involved which struck me as admirable. For fish.
I checked my wallet. There had been seven five pound notes; they had been going to see me through some time ahead; they were missing.
I didn't like it. I didn't like losing the money and especially I didn't like being slugged and rolled like some sucker. If it got around it could be bad for business. Supposing that I had a business it could be bad for.
I shook my head to clear it but only succeeded in making things worse. I rubbed my eyes with my fingers and when they were open again I noticed the photograph.
It was standing on top of a chest of drawers behind the door, propped against the wall. A large black and white picture of a girl. I stood a while and stared at her; there was something about the way she stared back that I liked. The eyes said, I'm me and I don't care who knows it; I'm me and you can either love me or hate me, take me or leave me.
I thought I knew which I would do if I got the chance. I wondered how many others already had. I went and looked at the photo more closely.
Excerpted from Junkyard Angel by John Harvey. Copyright © 1977 John Harvey. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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