It has been thirteen years since Michael Preston killed his father, and now his mother is dead too. Halfway through his twenty-four year sentence, Michael is a docile prisoner whom the warden doesn’t mind letting out for an afternoon to pay his respects. Michael goes to the funeral under armed guard, and when the time comes to return to jail, he gives them the slip. Police inspector Charlie Resnick’s city is under siege by drugs, gang warfare, and unhinged murderers. As blood flows in the streets of Nottingham, the rumpled detective attempts to hold his department together while his personal life comes unhinged. An escaped killer and an ever-rising crime wave are trouble enough, but Resnick has problems at home that may prove impossible to solve.
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A Charlie Resnick Mystery
By John Harvey
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1998 John Harvey
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It was twelve years since she'd seen him. Not that she hadn't wanted to, hadn't written to him often enough, in the early days at least, asking him to change his mind. Featherstone, Haverigg, Wandsworth, the Scrubs. Begging him, near enough. He'll get over it with time, she'd thought, feeling the way he does.
At first she had gone anyway, long journeys, sometimes by car, more usually by train. Not to contravene his word, only to be there, be near him, share something of the same atmosphere, the same air. From a distance she would watch the visitors at the gate: wives, lovers, got up in their best, hair specially done and makeup refreshed; others burdened, encumbered, dragging kids who skulked and slouched and scuffed their shoes. Coming out, she would mingle with them if she could, snatch bits and pieces of their conversations for her own. Then, abruptly, she stopped going; she wrote to him instead, regularly, the first of every month. Her ritual. Family gossip, bits and pieces about the kids. She persuaded herself it didn't matter that he never replied.
Some evenings when she stood upstairs alone, gazing out across the roofs of the other houses, noticing the way the light caught their edges immediately before it fell, she would try to remember the way he used to look at her, something bright flaring for a moment in the slate-gray of his eyes.
Life. After all that waiting, it had been out of the judge's mouth almost before she had heard or properly understood. That word: life.
She could still see her mother's face, the soft sigh of pain as if the air had been released from within, the pale skin puckering, sinking in. She could feel again her own panic rising in her veins. Life, was that what he had said? As though he were giving and not taking away. A term of no less than twenty-five years. She had wanted to shout out then, turn it all back, the short days of the trial, the photographic evidence, exhibit A, exhibit B, the summing-up. Begin again. No: farther, farther back than that.
For a moment, as she leaned against the heavy wooden railing of the gallery, he had turned his head toward her, tilted up. And she had read it there on his face, the apportioning of blame. Just that moment and then the officers on either side had moved him on and down. Anger, even guilt—what she had felt most from him was shame. Not for himself, or what he'd done, but for her.CHAPTER 2
Resnick had woken at a quarter to six, blinked at the light already filtering promisingly through the curtains, and decided to allow himself another fifteen minutes. Entwined near the foot of the bed, impossible to tell where one ended and the other began, the middle pair of his four cats, Miles and Pepper, breathed as one. Bud, the skinniest of the oddly adopted litter, lay with his head not quite touching Resnick's pillow, one paw covering his eyes, snoring lightly. Dizzy, scornful of the comforts of home life, would be out patrolling the neighbors' gardens, stalking the hedgerows for voles, field-mice, birds, occasionally a slow-moving rat, once a young squirrel, more than once a rabbit. Trophies that he would drag through the cat flap and lay with due ceremony at Resnick's feet, bright-eyed, arching his back with pride.
This morning, though, when Resnick finally shuffled his way, barefoot, from bedroom to shower, shower to bedroom, down the wide stairs to the hallway and on into the kitchen, there were no bodies waiting to ambush him, dead or dying.
An electrician friend of Resnick's, a man he knew from the Polish Club, had rigged up a second set of speakers in the kitchen and, after filling the kettle and setting it on the gas, Resnick wandered into the front room and pulled an old album from the shelf, scratchy vinyl, the cover with its reproduction of a painting by Henri Rousseau, The Repast of the Lion—not quite Dizzy, perhaps, this large cat devouring its prey among giant flowers, but close enough that Resnick could see the family resemblance.
The record was Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington, one of the first pieces of modern jazz he had ever heard or owned; that strange piano sound, so familiar now, insistent yet fragmentary, Monk stalking Duke's tunes with eloquent uncertainty.
Back in the kitchen, he opened a tin of Choosy, chicken-flavored, and emptied it into the four colored bowls. Coffee beans he varied from time to time, his present favorite being a mixture of French Roast and Mocha bought at The White House on Parliament Terrace. He tipped a handful of the shiny beans into his hand, savoring the strong smell before tipping them into the elegant Krups grinder Hannah had bought him for Christmas.
Hannah; oh, Hannah.
A trilling little four-note pattern repeated four times, a shuffle of Kenny Clarke's brushes on the snare, and Monk sailed jauntily into "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart."
What had happened with Hannah? To Hannah and himself? When had he last felt the urge to pick up the telephone and dial the number he still knew by heart? One of the cats nudged against his leg and began to purr; someone happy at least that Resnick's nights away from home were less frequent, that his presence in the early mornings was more and more assured.
He sliced some dark rye bread and placed it under the grill. Damson jam or marmalade? He thought damson jam. There was a book he'd started to read—reread in parts at least—Talking Jazz: an Oral History. Jackie Ferris, a sergeant with the Yard's Arts and Antiques Squad, had sent it as a gift at the conclusion of a case they'd been working jointly. Segments of recorded conversation, it was ideal for the ten minutes he allowed himself in the easy chair before setting off for work.
The patch Resnick was charged with policing sat nicely on the edge of the inner city, perched as it was on the front line between the poorer, largely working-class area of Radford and the more affluent and middle-class former private estate of The Park. To the east of the Alfreton Road were the student flats of Lenton and to the west was the city itself, with its burgeoning clubs and pubs, and ever-present hordes in search of the ultimate good time.
The CID room was on the first floor, Resnick's office partitioned off in the farthest corner, the squad's desks crammed with telephones, scraps of paper, stained mugs, directories, chewed-up ballpoints, printed forms, keyboards, VDUs.
Kevin Naylor, one of the four detective constables in the team, phone wedged between chin and shoulder, was doing his best to calm an elderly woman who had come down that morning to find her front door wide open and her TV set, camera, microwave, and the hundred and fifty pounds she kept in an old Huntley and Palmer biscuit tin all missing. "Yes," Naylor said, and "Yes, of course," and "Yes," and "Yes, I understand," using an HB pencil alternately to scribble notes on a lined pad and stir his tea.
Sharon Garnett fidgeted absentmindedly with a loose curl of hair, as she scrolled through a list of known offenders, searching for a possible match between an address in Radford and a name she had half heard in a crowded bar. Close to the side wall, Carl Vincent, cuffs turned back neatly against his wrists, was cross-checking the details of last night's stolen vehicles with one of the information officers at Central station.
All there was to show of Ben Fowles was a half-eaten bacon cob in the middle of his desk. Resnick pushed the temptation to the back of his mind.
Graham Millington, his sergeant for longer than either of them cared to remember, hovered close to the door to Resnick's office, chest puffed out, mustache bristling. A stoat, Resnick thought, hankering to be after the rabbit.
"Lot of activity."
"Normal night, then?"
"Was it, buggery!"
Resnick sat behind his desk, eased back in his chair. "Best let me in on it, then."
"You know that club, used to belong to Jimmy Peters ..."
"The Golden something-or-other."
"That was last month. Tarted itself up with purple paint and a few blow-up pictures of that Jennifer Allbran off the telly, legs akimbo, calls itself the Hot Spot. Not far off the mark last night, any road."
"Ambulances screaming down the Alfreton Road like it were World War Three."
"Half a dozen carted off to Queen's, bleeding all over the A and E. One serious, stab wounds to the face and neck, touch and go in Intensive Care. Up to a dozen more treated by paramedics on the spot. So to speak. Jimmy Peters wailing and gnashing his teeth over a thousand quid's worth of damaged upholstery and broken glass."
"Likely double that off the insurance."
"And the rest."
"Anyway, what happened to his security? Jimmy'd not open his doors without a brace of muscle in shiny jackets and combat boots."
"In the thick of it. Pigs in muck."
Resnick drew a breath and exhaled slowly. Why was it, whenever they succeeded in clamping the lid on some things, it blew off somewhere else? "Okay," he said, "any idea what got it started?"
Millington snorted. "Take your pick. Only thing most folk seem to agree on, this bunch of lads came in around two, several sheets to the wind already. One of 'em took a fancy to someone else's bit of tally. You can guess the rest."
Resnick shook his head. "These lads, Graham, black or white?"
"As the driven snow."
"And the girl?"
"Girl was white, too. Not them she was with."
On his feet, Resnick walked toward the window and stared down through smeared glass. Growing up in the city, he'd been haunted by the race riots which had dogged his childhood. Made him frightened, ashamed.
"Color," Millington said, "that's what you're thinking? Racial, what's back of it."
"Am I wrong?"
"Maybe not. Not entirely. Only I think somehow there's more to it than that."
Millington shook his head. "I'm not sure. Can't put me finger on it. But the way they were answering questions, them as was most involved ..."
"More the opposite. Couldn't wait to spill how it'd happened, started, chapter and bloody verse. Everything save who did the actual stabbing. Couple of 'em down in the cells now, cooling their heels. Mark Ellis and Billy Scalthorpe. Not that there'll be much point holding them. Waste of time and money."
"No weapon, then?"
"Not by the time we were on the scene. Magically disappeared." Millington flicked something stray away from one side of his mustache. "I've got Ben Fowles down there now, taking statements from Peters and his bar staff, couple of the security guards. See if he can come up with something fresh."
"And the laddie in Intensive Care?"
"Wayne. Wayne Feraday. I'm off out there myself now."
Resnick grinned. "It'll be late breakfast at Parker's, then?"
"Bring us back a sandwich, Graham, egg and sausage, heavy on the brown sauce."
As Resnick sat back down at his desk, he could hear Millington's cheery whistle making a fresh assault on the Petula Clark Songbook.CHAPTER 3
Convinced she'd be unable to sleep, Lorraine had gone off almost the moment her head had touched the pillow. She'd not woken till Derek brushed her shoulder with his fingers, so that when she blinked her eyes, there he was, standing over her, smiling down.
"Hello, sleepy head."
"Whatever time is it?"
"Quarter past eight."
"What? It's never." Throwing back the bedclothes, she sat up. "I've overlaid, what happened to the alarm? Why ever didn't you wake me?"
"Thought a lay-in would do you good."
Lorraine pushed past him, reaching for the dressing gown that hung behind the door.
"You don't have to rush. There's bags of time." He followed her along the landing, only stopping when she turned at the bathroom door.
"Well?" Lorraine said.
"D'you think I could have some privacy or what?"
Derek stepped back and she closed the door and slid the bolt, sat on the toilet with her head toward her knees. She was being unfair to him, she knew.
These last weeks, he had been wonderful. Looking after the children, fetching and carrying, fixing meals, shopping, Lorraine at the hospital all hours while her mother had lingered on. And then, suddenly, when it was over and Lorraine, despite all warnings, went numb, he had stepped in to handle the arrangements for the funeral, the crematorium, flowers, everything.
She stood up and looked at herself in the mirror, not liking what she saw. There was a packet of Neurofen in the cabinet and she took two, swallowing them down with water. She could hear the children's voices from downstairs, then Derek's, warning them to be quiet.
They were anxious, she knew: Sandra, who was eleven, fretful about sitting in the car on the way to the chapel with everyone staring, worrying over what she had to do during the service, what she would wear; Sean, nine, wanted to know why his best friend couldn't come with him, what there would be to eat afterward, what happened to his nan's body when the coffin rolled back along the platform and into the flames. That's what happens, isn't it, Mum? Nan gets burned in the flames.
Derek had driven them to his sister's yesterday, to help take their mind off things. Which meant, of course, that Maureen would spoil them as usual.
Maureen was nice enough, Lorraine thought, if a little over fond of herself; a little, well, overflashy. She was several years older than Lorraine and with no kids of her own; she earned a good living, managing her own place selling second-hand designer clothing, enough to afford a cleaning lady three times a week, wax and manicure once a month, and, of course, a mobile phone. Sometimes, Lorraine caught herself wondering if she were jealous of Maureen's money, her apparent freedom, before deciding that no, she was not.
When Lorraine appeared in the kitchen some thirty minutes later, she was wearing the black suit she'd bought at Richards for the opening of Maureen's shop, black tights, shoes with a low heel. She went straight to the stove and lifted the kettle, tested the weight of it for water, and carried it over to the sink.
"I'll do that," Derek said, half out of his seat.
"No, thanks." She caught herself, the angry snap in her tone, and smiled, relenting. "I'm sorry. I don't know what's the matter with me. Yes, I'd love some toast, that'd be great."
Sean came running in from the other room, Sandra chasing him, the pair of them skidding to an untidy halt just this side of the kitchen table.
"Now then, you two," Derek said, "behave."
"It's Sandra, she was punching me."
"I was not."
"Just because I wouldn't let her ..."
"Hey!" Derek said. "Hey! Settle down now. I don't want to hear it. That's enough."
"Is that for us, Dad?" Sean said, looking at where Derek was starting to butter the toast.
"Mum," Sandra said. "Will Uncle Michael be there? At the funeral?"
A glance, quick and awkward, passed between Derek and Lorraine.
"I'm not sure, lovey," Lorraine said. "I expect so. I hope so. Now why don't you both run along?"
"Yes, go on, the pair of you." Derek waved the knife in the direction of the door. "Get yourselves back in the other room and let us have a bit of peace."
"Oh, Dad ..."
"And see you're careful with those clothes. You don't want to be getting in a mess now, we'll be leaving soon."
"Mum ..." Sandra said, eyes widening. "This top, is it okay?"
Lorraine had been looking at her daughter, not so far off twelve now and springing up, starting to fill out. Sandra had put on her bottle-green skirt, wearing it for a change with the waistband not rolled up, her almost new shiny blue sandals, the light-gray CK sweatshirt she'd bought in the market with her own pocket money. Sean was wearing black jeans, trainers, a clean white Umbro T-shirt with a blue band around the collar and along the sleeves. He looked as though he'd borrowed some of his sister's gel before combing his hair.
"Perfect," Lorraine said. "You look really perfect. I'm proud of you."
Sean tried to pinch his sister's arm as they squeezed back through the door and Sandra settled him with a quick kick to the shins.
"Remember what I said now," Derek called after them and turned toward Lorraine with the plate of buttered toast, Lorraine standing there with tears rolling down her face.
Derek touched her arm lightly on his way to the sink. "I'm still not sure, you know. How good an idea it is. Michael." Lorraine dabbed at her eyes. "She was his mother." "Yes," Derek said. "Like your dad was his father, I suppose?"
Excerpted from Last Rites by John Harvey. Copyright © 1998 John Harvey. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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