Shirley Peters was murdered in her own home. A directionless young woman with a fondness for cheap red wine and a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend, her death is just another in the files of the Nottingham detective’s bureau. The police round up her ex-lover without much fuss, and are preparing to try him when another body surfaces. The method, the target, and the extreme violence are all a match for the killing of Shirley Peters. Nottingham is facing a serial killer. Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick is the first to see the connection. Both victims placed ads in a citywide Lonely Hearts column, and the rumpled detective suspects that their killer found them by preying on their isolation. He has little time to find the killer before more women die and Nottingham erupts into panic.
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A Charlie Resnick Mystery
By John Harvey
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1989 John Harvey
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She hadn't thought of him in a long time. The way he would hunch against the doorway, watching her as she dressed. Waiting to see which sweater she would choose, the soft green or maybe the red. You know it, don't you? His voice, as she stood before the mirror, as clear inside her now as it had been those years before. Watching you like this, the way you do those things; I can't keep my hands off you.
After they had started living together it had seemed that he could never leave her alone. She would wake in the night and he would be propped up in bed on one elbow, staring down at her. Once, he had parked his car across the street from the office building where she had been working and had sat there the whole day on the chance that she might walk past one of the windows. Whenever she had passed within reach of him inside the flat they had shared, his hands had moved for her, wanting to touch, to hold her. Just when she had become convinced it was going to be that way for ever, he had changed.
Small ways at first, barely perceptible: he no longer held her hand when they were watching television; failed to dip his head into the corner of her neck as she stood at the stove, making Sunday morning scrambled eggs. She realized that she had dressed five mornings in a row without his coming through from the bathroom, shaving lather on his face, to watch.
After that there had been other things, clearer, impossible not to recognize.
"Are you okay?"
"Does it look like I'm okay?"
"No. That's why I ..."
"Then why ask?"
She looked at herself now in the mirror. A plain gray sweater over a calf-length black skirt; the boots she had had repaired for the second winter running. Her hair was dark, almost black, and she wore it down to her shoulders at the sides, the front cut thicker and short, clear of her forehead. This evening she had been more than usually careful with her makeup, not wanting to send out the wrong signals, certainly not too soon.
Something was not quite right. She pulled open the top drawer of the dressing table and took out a thin wool scarf, deep red; tying it loose at the side of her neck, rearranging it several times until it was right.
A smile came to her face.
"Shirley Peters, you're not a bad looking woman."
Her voice was loud in the small room, a rough undertow as if she might be going down with a cold.
The letter lay on the coffee table in front of the couch, a single sheet of notepaper, pale blue. Maybe the only reason she had read this one twice was that it had been written with a fountain pen. Black ink. Isn't it strange how things that should be insignificant affect what we do?
Please be there between eight-fifteen and eight-thirty.
She carried it over to the narrow kitchen. A bottle of Italian red had been opened and recorked and she rinsed a glass under the cold tap before pouring herself a drink. The writing was distinctive, lowercase letters that were small and rounded, the capitals more pronounced and florid. The P of Please large enough to contain the whole word within its loop.
Shirley checked her watch again, plenty of time. Back in the living-room, she pushed a cassette into the tape deck and swung her legs up on to the cushions of the settee. One of her friends had told her it wasn't fashionable to like Sinatra so much, but she didn't care. There were not so many things she did like that she could afford to pass them up for the sake of fashion.
She smiled and, as Sinatra's voice rose against a bank of strings, leaned back her head and, for no longer than a moment or two, closed her eyes.
The first ring of the phone merged with high-flown phrases, bits of a dream. As she went to pick it up, Shirley thought against logic it might be her date, canceling the evening. But then, removing one earring, that wasn't the way it happened, no way for him to know her number, not yet; what happened was, he simply didn't turn up.
"I thought I'd missed you."
"Thought you'd left early."
"I don't understand ..."
"Monday night, isn't it? When did you ever stay in on a Monday night?"
She had a sense of her bones, fragile, pressing against the lightness of skin. Across the room a glimpsed reflection, the red scarf bright against the gray.
"Where are you? What do you want?"
"Long time since we talked."
"We didn't talk, we shouted."
"That temper of mine ..."
"I told you I didn't want to see you again."
"You did more than that."
"I had to protect myself."
"Oh, yeh ..." His voice softening into a smile she could still see. "Tell me something, Shirl."
"Tell us what you're wearing."
Her eyes were closed as she set the receiver back in place. Damn him! In the kitchen she uncorked the bottle a second time. Court orders couldn't free her from that look that had come back to his face after they had separated, couldn't disguise the tone of his voice. She clunked the glass down in the sink and went to the wardrobe for her coat. He was right and it was Monday night and when had she stayed in on a Monday night these last twenty years? It was what got her through the rest of the week.
Careful, she released the catch, turned the key.CHAPTER 2
It was several moments before Resnick realized that one of the cats was sitting on his head. The radio was tuned to Four and a woman's voice was trying to tell him something about the price of Maris Piper potatoes.
"Dizzy, come on."
He turned slowly, coaxing the animal down on to the pillow. The clock read six-seventeen. A second cat, Miles, purred on contentedly from the patch in the covers where Resnick's legs had made a deep V.
"Dizzy, cut it out!"
The cat, unbroken black and with its tail crooked in greeting, continued the rhythmic movement of its claws in and out of Resnick's arm.
Finally, he lifted the cat away, lowering it to the floor as he swung his own legs round, hesitated for no more than seconds, finally bracing himself on to his feet. Rain clipped against the window and when he pulled the curtains aside it did little to raise the level of light.
Standing under the shower, Resnick massaged shampoo into his hair as vigorously as he dared; eyes closed tight, face tilted upwards, he lowered the temperature of the water until it reached minimum. When he looked into the mirror, his breath came back at him a mixture of German beer and sweet pickled gherkins. He was the usual eight pounds over on the scales. Cats swayed around his bare legs, almost slid under his feet as he pulled on his dark gray trousers, light gray socks.
By the far wall of the kitchen, Pepper peered out at him from between the leaves of the rhoicissus on top of the fridge.
Dizzy, Miles and Pepper—where was Bud?
The runt of the unrelated litter appeared, splay-legged and startled, as Resnick opened a tin of chicken and liver cat food and forked it into four bowls: green, blue, yellow, and red. Whenever he changed the position of the bowls, the cats would go to their usual one without fail—who was it claimed that cats were color blind? Or maybe the answer lay in the way each one had its name, printed in inch-high red ink, taped to the side of each bowl.
Too early for anything more strident, Resnick set a guitar album on the stereo and kept the volume turned low. He got the coffee pot going, cut three slices of rye bread for toast, and sat down to read yesterday's paper. Both of the city's soccer teams had played and lost; one was treading water in the Third Division, the other keeping close to the top of the First until the inevitable winter retreat. It went without saying that Resnick supported the former. Off-duty Saturday afternoons he would stand on the terraces with half-a-dozen refugees from the Polish delicatessen and search with growing desperation for something to applaud—a cross-field pass, a tasty back-heel, a shot on goal almost too much to ask for.
Using one sock-covered foot to dissuade Dizzy from finishing the contents of Bud's bowl, Resnick thinly sliced some mozzarella and placed it on the toast. Coffee he drank black and without sugar: there were days when he wondered exactly why it was that he didn't lose weight.
"You ought to get married again, Charlie."
Superintendent Jack Skelton was on his way out of the station, executive briefcase under his arm and something of a gleam in his eye. Graying hair, still thick, had been brushed meticulously into place. Bugger's probably back from a three-mile run already, Resnick thought.
"I'm still waiting for the first time, sir," he said.
"A wife would do things for you."
"That's what I've heard."
"Like make sure you didn't leave the house in the morning with breakfast on your tie."
Resnick glanced down. "It's not mine, sir."
"You've got someone else's breakfast on your tie?"
"Someone else's tie."
Skelton continued down the steps and round into the car park with a step that managed to be unhurried and urgent at the same time. Resnick wondered if the superintendent would be back in the station for the nine o'clock briefing, or whether the chief inspector would be sitting in for him. He'd rather Skelton's briskness than twenty minutes of Len Lawrence doing his man-of-the-people act.
The CID office was L-shaped. Desks were pushed together along the center of the room, four and then six and four more around the corner; spaces left between them for access. A row of desks lined the window that ran the length of the left-hand wall. Four detective sergeants and sixteen constables used the office in shifts; somehow, between them, trying to make an impression on the five thousand plus crimes that had been reported so far that year—it was early November—and that was only one section of the city.
Resnick's office was the missing section of the rectangle, partitioned off from the rest by chipboard and glass.
Patel had drawn the early shift, seven till three, and was bending over his desk, making final adjustments to the files that would bring Resnick up to date with what had happened through the night. One detailed the movement of prisoners, in and out of the cells on the ground floor; the other logged messages and Patel would have sorted these into local and national. And he would have put on the kettle for tea.
"Anything I ought to see urgent?" Resnick called through the open door.
"Sir, there were six robberies, sir." Patel stood at the entrance to Resnick's office, one file under each arm, sheets of computer paper folding back at top and bottom.
"Six? You're going to have your work cut out."
As officer on the early shift, Patel was responsible for all burglaries. He looked at Resnick, unable to relax, uncertain if he was supposed to smile.
"Let's have a look, then. Before the army gets here."
The DC placed the files on Resnick's desk, opening each in turn. "Sergeant Millington, sir. He is here already."
Resnick nodded. What was the matter with everybody today? Had they done something to the clocks without telling him? He was certain he'd changed all his when Summer Time had ended.
"That tea won't mash by itself, lad," Millington said.
Patel scuttled out and Resnick did no more than glance at his sergeant, knowing he had to finish reading the files before the meeting. Graham Millington took a cigarette from its packet, transferred it from one hand to another, put it back unlit. He could never understand it. There he was, ten years in uniform, seven as a DC; four years now since passing his promotion board to sergeant. Not only that, he had a couple of commendations and a medal for bravery, a three-piece suit that didn't strain to fit, a wedding ring on his finger, an internal clock like Greenwich Mean Time, and a clean tie. What more did it take to make detective inspector?
"Anything the matter, Graham?" Resnick closed the files.
Millington sniffed and shook his head. "No, sir."
"Somebody's been busy along the back of the boulevard."
"I just had a word with uniform. Night inspector said some kid rang in about five. Just got back from a party. Got out of a taxi and into the drive and realized the front door's open to the wind. Takes him another five minutes to realize there's a space where the TV used to be."
"Anyone else in the house?"
"Family. All upstairs in bed. Fast off."
Lucky for some, Resnick thought. "Much else missing?" he asked.
"VCR, couple of good cameras—the kid's getting himself into a state on account his entire James Brown collection's been lifted." Millington sighed. "Five others so far, and there'll be more when folk wake up to it. All the same."
"All mourning their James Brown, eh?"
Millington felt one side of his mouth shaping into a grin and willed it to stop. He wanted to call Resnick's bluff but didn't quite dare. For all he knew, his superior went home and kicked back the carpet, tossed down a few glasses of schnapps and boogied the night away to "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag."
Bodies moved past the doorway, snatches of early conversation, a loud laugh and then a groan as Mark Divine's voice rose above the rest, boasting about the night before to the other officers.
Resnick glanced over his shoulder at the round-faced clock between pinboard and his pair of filing cabinets: four minutes past eight.
"Okay, Graham," said Resnick, standing. "Let's get to it."
Superintendent Skelton had not returned from Central Police Station, so, after briefing his men, Resnick had reported to Chief Inspector Lawrence, together with the uniformed inspector in charge. Both men had kept it as short as possible and by a quarter-past nine, Resnick was back in his own office, phoning through to the detective chief inspector at headquarters.
"Lively night down your way," the DCI observed, pleasantly caustic.
"Getting any help from uniform on this?"
"Two men for house-to-house, sir."
"Right you are, then, Charlie. Talk to you tomorrow. You'll likely have a result by then."
Resnick set the receiver down and the door to his office opened.
"Didn't know if I should remind you," said Graham Millington. "You're in court this morning, aren't you?"
Resnick closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose between forefinger and thumb. The door to his office closed quietly. Beyond it phones rang and were answered. Somebody swore, softly, repeatedly, and no one appeared to notice.
He had been trying to wipe from his mind the fact that he was due, that morning, to give evidence. There were cases that seemed to make no impact at all, others that brought their share of sleepless hours, and then there were those that bit deep.
This had started with a call to the station. A child's mother had rung in, pretending to be a neighbor. She had alleged that her husband was consistently forcing their daughter to take part in sexual acts. That was what it had come down to, when all the pretence, the play-acting were over. Remembering, Resnick's mouth went tight. It all seemed a long time ago, the first stumbled words, the investigation, the child who had sat quietly before a video camera and played with dolls. Yes, he did, he took this and he put it there. Seven years old. Was that what people got married for, Resnick asked? Had children?
On his way into the city center he tried not to answer the questions, tried to clear his mind of the case altogether. Once in the witness box it would come back soon enough.
There was time to walk up to the indoor market and take his usual seat at the Italian coffee stall. The girl slid an espresso in front of him without waiting to be asked and Resnick drank it down in two and ordered another.
"How's it going?" she asked.
Resnick slid the coins across the counter and shrugged. How was it going? Phones rang and were answered. It was part of the job, it was what he did.
Excerpted from Lonely Hearts by John Harvey. Copyright © 1989 John Harvey. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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