Although the cop who finds the man in Alfreton Road describes him as “absolutely stark bollock naked,” that is not quite true—he is wearing a sock. The naked man is flabby, middle-aged, and bleeding heavily, in no shape to be sprinting down the street at three in the morning. After the ER doctors patch up his stab wound, the man tells the police he was attacked by a prostitute. Then he clams up, embarrassed, and refuses to even give his name. This is the fourth such recent attack reported to police inspector Charlie Resnick’s thinly stretched Nottingham police department. Two victims were salesmen; the other was a traveling Italian soccer fan, lured away from his friends by a redheaded beauty. It’s up to Resnick to find a link between the crimes, and to nab the perpetrator before more of the city’s men let their basest urges lead them into peril.
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A Charlie Resnick Mystery
By John Harvey
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1995 John Harvey
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The man running down the middle of the Alfreton Road at five past three that Sunday morning was, as Divine would say later, absolutely stark bollock naked. Poetic, for Divine, if not scrupulously true. On his left foot, the man was wearing a size eight, wool and cotton mix, Ralph Lauren sock, a red polo player stitched onto the dark blue. And he was bleeding. A thin line of drying blood, too light in color to match the Lauren logo, adhered to the man's side, its source, seemingly, a puncture wound below his pendulous breast.
The surface of the road was hard; it bruised his feet and jarred his knees: his breath rasped harsh against his chest. Promises to give up smoking, take up swimming, resume playing squash—little in the man's past ten years had prepared him for this.
Still, he continued to run, past the Forest Inn and the Queen Hotel, the carpet tile shop and the boarded up fronts of the café and the fruit and veg shop, both long closed down; past Don Briggs Motorcycles, the Freezer Centre and Kit 'Em Out, all closed down; on past the Krishna Vegetarian Restaurant and Take Away and the tiny health food shop that offered vitamins and ginseng, athletic supports and marital aids.
Stumbling along thç broken white line at the center of the road, he passed the boarded-up branch of Barclays Bank, Tony's Barber Shop, the Bismilla Tandoori, the Regency Bridal Salon, and the Running Horse pub, before finally, outside the vivid green front of II Padrono Ristorante Italiano, balance all but gone, arms flailing, he collided with a car parked near the curb and cannoned sideways, falling heavily to his knees.
Under the changing glow of the nearby traffic light, his eyes were bright with tears. Not wanting to, he pressed his fingertips against his ribs and groaned.
The next time the light turned green, he pushed himself back to his feet and though at first his legs refused to move, he forced himself to carry on. Overweight, balding, middle-aged, a wound near the center of his chest that had started to bleed again, the man had no idea where he was running to, only what he was running from.CHAPTER 2
Across the city, Resnick was sleeping soundly, cats curled here and there among the humps and hollows of his bed. He had spent the weekend in Birmingham, at a conference called to address the establishment of a national police force. More silver epaulettes and high-flown phrases than he had encountered in one place since Marian Witczak had dragged him along to a revival of The Merry Widow at the Theatre Royal.
"I feel," one senior officer had said, "that we are already moving towards the formation of such a force in a very British way." Piecemeal, ill-considered, and over-cautious, then, Resnick had thought, somewhere between the reorganization of the National Health Service and the building of the Channel Tunnel.
"Y' never know, Charlie," Jack Skelton had said, when he pleaded a backed-up schedule and sent Resnick along in his place, "might not do you any harm, putting yourself about a bit. Letting yourself be seen. After all, don't want to stick at plain inspector all your life."
Watching all the highfliers like Helen Siddons, Home Office approved, race past him in the fast lane, didn't make Resnick feel he had a great deal of choice. Although, truth to tell, if he had wanted promotion badly enough, he would have pushed for it by now himself. Got it, like as not, for all that he had long ignored the lure of the local Masonic Lodge and had maintained a steadfast preference for watching County over chipping balls on to the green, getting his handicap down below double figures.
No, the team he had working with him now—no one fussing overmuch with how he went about his job—thanks very much, Resnick liked it where he was.
The alarm aroused him a few minutes short of six and he padded, barefoot, towards the bathroom, cats, instantly alert, winding between his legs.
The showerhead was in need of cleaning again and the water jetted out at him, unevenly, too hot or far too cold.
Before the cats could be fed, the caked residue of the previous day's Whiskas had to be prized from their bowls and Bud, the youngest, seized the opportunity to perfect that pathetic mew of hunger which, allied to the soulful stare of his eyes, would have served well among the young men begging beside the mural in the Broad Marsh bus station. What had someone at the conference called it, homelessness? A choice of lifestyle? As if, Resnick had thought, anyone would deliberately choose to sleep rough through the kind of wet winter they had just experienced.
He forked food into the four bowls, allowing the others to get a head start before letting Dizzy in through the back door, from where he had been patrolling the night. Tail angled high, the black cat stalked past him, green eyes narrowing against the extra light.
Resnick dropped a handful of Costa Rican beans into the grinder, sliced rye and caraway, set the kettle on to boil; he removed the outside layer from what remained of the Polish garlic sausage and cut thin slices from a stump of Emmental cheese. Behind him, through the glass at the top of the door, the sky was turning through purple and orange to red.
Resnick carried his breakfast through to the living room, switched the radio on low, and sat with yesterday's paper on the arm of his chair, while Miles assiduously cleaned himself on his lap, pink tongue licking deep between extended claws.
It was the time of day Resnick liked best, the quiet before most of the world had got under way. Even back in the days when be had been married—before the advent of the cats—he would slide from the bed early, careful not to disturb Elaine, and wander contentedly through the empty rooms before settling with a cup of coffee and a new record on the stereo, headphones to his ears.
These days he rarely used the headphones for fear he would fail to hear that first summons, hauling him into the working day—bit of an emergency, sir, something's come up.
This morning he got as far the sports round-up just ahead of the half hour—another England bowler laid low by a strained groin—before the phone rang and he swiveled towards it, Miles jumping to the carpet before he was pushed.
Divine's voice was loud with cynicism and wonder. "Those blokes who were attacked a few months back in the red-light district, looks like we might have another."
"Serious enough. Lorry driver picked him up by Canning Circus, not far short of running all eight wheels right over him. Stretched out in the middle of the chuffing road he was, absolutely stark bollock naked."
"Twenty minutes," Resnick said. "I'll be there."CHAPTER 3
The first had been your average punter, run of the mill; confectionery salesman with a wife and kids in Hinckley and a four-year-old hatchback stuffed full with Snickers and licorice chewing gum. Halfway along one of the alleys off Waterloo Road, lured by leopard-skin leggings and red high heels, and two men had suddenly been standing there behind him, quick and still from the darkness. Three weeks on the critical list, it had taken all the skills of the Senior Registrar and her neurosurgery team to reconstruct his skull, fragment by fragment, piece by broken piece. Every day his wife had come in on the bus to sit at his bedside, reading Woman's Weekly, filling in puzzles, eating his grapes. A couple of months later, one of his credit cards had turned up in Leicester, part of a job lot being offered for sale in a pub near the covered market.
The second victim had been an Italian soccer fan, jubilant after his team's victory in the Anglo-Italian Cup and celebrating on the open spaces of the Forest Recreation Ground with his friends, waving thousand-lire notes and singing Pavarotti's Greatest Hits. A young redhead, newly arrived on a Super Saver from Newcastle, had offered him a quick handjob in the trees off the road, anything to stop him singing. A couple of early morning dog-walkers found him tied to a sycamore hours later, terrified, stripped of everything save his first-team replica shirt. Seventeen stitches it had taken to mend the gash in his forehead. His plane ticket had been found in a rubbish bin near the Forest park-and-ride and his passport, torn in two and two again, finally surfaced floating on the duck pond by the entrance to the Arboretum.
The most recent occurrence had been at the nub end of March, another sales rep, in the city on a roll and booked into the Royal Hotel. He had met a woman in the penthouse bar, nice looking, good clothes, nothing garish but out for business just the same. Back in his room, she had undressed him on the bed, encouraging him, he said, to talk dirty to her all the while. Call her, you know, a slag, a dirty whore, stuff like that. When he was down to his Jockeys, she had pulled a knife from her handbag and stabbed him, once in the side, once through the flesh of the upper arm. Frantically, he had pushed her clear away and she had fled, off out of the room and down the hotel corridor, leaving him in no position to chase her. The description he gave of her, detailed as it was, matched no known prostitute on the Vice Squad's books. Just another housewife, most likely, eking out the Family Support.
Three incidents, probably unrelated, and now a fourth.
Resnick crossed the street from the center of Canning Circus, early traffic already building up on its way along Derby Road towards the city center. Time was, he would have bumped into Jack Skelton at this hour, the superintendent setting out on his regular three-mile run. But since early spring, Skelton's exercise had been restricted to pacing the four walls of his office. Whether the superintendent's relationship with DI Helen Siddons had progressed beyond an older man's fantasy or not, Resnick could imagine only too well the tartness with which Alice Skelton would have scolded him for his folly. And Siddons' accelerated promotion to the West Country had done little to ease the situation, leaving Skelton increasingly disgruntled and gray-haired, his girth thickening at a noticeable rate.
The CID office was close to the head of the stairs on the first floor, an L-shaped room with filing cabinets ranked along the far wall, below detailed maps of the city. A succession of desks and tables ran along two of the walls and down the center of the room. Graham Millington's desk was on its own, adjacent to the thinly partitioned office which had the words Detective Inspector Charles Resnick on its door.
Behind Millington's desk were the kettle and mugs and the rest of the paraphernalia for tea- and coffee-making. Most of the other surfaces were clogged with official forms in a variety of shades and colors, typewriters and VDUs, here and there foil containers harboring the remains of the previous night's chicken korma or lamb kebab.
In the usual way of things, only the officer on early shift would have been present when Resnick arrived, busy updating the files that logged the night's activities, after which the primary investigation of the inevitable break-ins would be his or her responsibility. This morning, though, Mark Divine had been there from first light, back aching after sharing the interior of a rusting blue Transit with Kevin Naylor, the pair of them peeing into old orange juice cartons and waiting forlornly for the Homecare warehouse on the Abbeyfleld Industrial Estate to be raided for a third time.
"What buggers me," as Divine was overfond of saying, "is who'd go to all that trouble to liberate three gross of sink plungers and a couple of dozen aluminum ladders?"
The fourth night in a row in which they were no nearer to finding an answer.
Naylor had snuck off home to snatch a quick hour snuggled up to his Debbie, while Divine, for whom home offered no such luxury, had opted for a kip behind his desk. He had been snoring nicely when the duty officer rang up from below with details of a man who'd been brought in barely conscious from the end of the Alfreton Road. Soon after which, he had phoned his superior.
"Mark," Resnick said, door swinging to behind him.
"Boss." Divine swung his legs down from his desk and stood to uncertain attention.
"Best fill me in."
Divine told him what little he knew about the man who was presently in a bed at Queen's Medical, barely conscious and temporarily restricted to fluids.
"This stab wound," Resnick asked. "Life threatening?"
"Seemed so at first, now they reckon he's going to be okay. Missed anything vital, by the sound of it." Divine shrugged. "Lost a fair bit of blood all the same."
"And the nature of the attack, how much do we know about that?"
"Not a heck of a lot. I mean, when he first come round he was full of it. Tart and whore, over and over, blaming her, like, for what had happened."
"It was the woman who stabbed him, that's what he's claiming?"
"No two ways about it. Aside from that, though, started asking him a few questions, clammed up tighter'n a virgin's arse. Wouldn't even tell us his name."
Resnick frowned and shook his head. "All right. Have a word with Vice, see if they had anyone on patrol last night, late. They might have noticed something that'll tie in. Minute Kevin arrives, pair of you can get up by the Forest, talk to the girls on the early shift. Meantime, I'll drop by the hospital. Maybe if our mystery man knows he's out of danger, he'll be more ready to talk."
"Right, boss." Divine was alert now, tiredness fallen away. It wasn't every day Resnick was prepared to trust the younger man's instincts and there was a grin around the corners of Divine's mouth as he sat back behind his desk, reaching for the phone.
Lynn Kellogg was on the stairs as Resnick went down. After the traumas at the start of the year, she had had her hair cut short, making her face seem less rounded, more severe. More often than not now, there was a haunted look, hunched at the back of her eyes.
"Morning, Lynn. Everything okay?"
Neither of them believed it.
Resnick made a mental note to ask if she were still seeing the police psychiatrist, and if she were, whether it was doing any good.CHAPTER 4
After circling the inner ringroad twice, Resnick squeezed into a parking place at the rear of the hospital, close to the offshoot of the canal. Above, the sky showed a flat, unbroken blue, but the sun, for early summer, gave off little warmth. He thrust both hands deep into his jacket pockets as he walked.
That way in took him past the psychiatric wing and an image of his ex-wife, Elaine, slipped unbidden into his mind: the way she had looked the last time he had seen her, after spending God knows how much time in places likes this. And Lynn, he kept thinking of Lynn—two years without a relationship worthy of the name, and when she had come close to giving her trust to someone again, it had been the wrong man.
It had been a mistake that had cost her more than pride and self-esteem; it had very nearly cost her life. Resnick remembered how it ended: the mud that had sucked, thick, about his feet as he had run across the field-end, awkwardly towards her, helicopter hovering noisily above; the way the blood had pumped, jaggedly, from his heart when he knew that she was safe.
In the months since then, all conversation between them had been formal, withdrawn, as if what each had glimpsed in that despairing clutch of arms was more than they would dare acknowledge. And Michael Best was in custody awaiting trial for kidnapping and murder. His days in court—and Lynn's—still to come.
The single door, which Resnick knew led through to the rear of Accident and Emergency, was directly in front of him and he pushed it open and went in.
Excerpted from Living Proof by John Harvey. Copyright © 1995 John Harvey. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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