Sharon's account of the break-in that resulted in her husband's murder does not ring true, however, and when Brock and his assistant Detective Sergeant Dave Poole seek to interview Sharon a second time, they find that she has disappeared.
Brock and Poole soon find themselves caught up in a complex investigation where nothing is as it seems and the more they discover about the case, the less they really know.
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A Brock and Pole mystery
By Graham Ison
Severn House Publishers Ltd.Copyright © 2014 Graham Ison
All rights reserved.
The flight was scheduled to take off from Heathrow Airport at eight o'clock that July morning. It had been pouring with rain for quite a few days in London and the temperature had dropped to an unseasonably low fifties Fahrenheit.
When the passengers were settled, and the huge Boeing 777-300 had been towed away from the walkway and positioned for take-off, members of the cabin crew started to move through the aircraft, handing out newspapers and magazines, and ensuring that everyone was comfortable. Once that was complete, a steward described the safety measures that should be taken in the event of an emergency.
With a surge of power that thrust the passengers back in their seats, the Boeing left the ground, immediately creating the illusion that it had lost speed.
Once it had reached optimum altitude and the seat-belt warning light had been extinguished, the cabin crew explained how the in-flight movie could be accessed and enquired what else the passengers may need to sustain them for the long flight to Miami.
'Good morning.' The smiling man seated in the first-class section of the aircraft was in his late thirties, good-looking and a frequent traveller to Miami, where he had business interests. 'It's nice to see you again ...' He paused while making a pretence of reading the stewardess's name badge. 'Sharon.'
'Good morning, sir.' The stewardess's name was Sharon Gregory. She was twenty-six years of age and a petite honey blonde. She returned the man's smile. 'Would you care for coffee, sir?'
'Thank you. That would be most welcome, Sharon.'
'Breakfast will be served shortly, sir.'
'I look forward to it. You're very kind,' said the man.
'We aim to please, sir.'
'And you do. I've always found your service to be impeccable, Sharon,' said the man, with a knowing look.
'Will you be staying in Miami long, sir?' Although it sounded like the normal trite enquiry that cabin crew staff made, there was more to it than that. The passenger and the stewardess were not strangers to each other; in fact, they enjoyed an intimate relationship, and one that was a closely guarded secret from the airline for which Sharon worked. At least, by Sharon. But he was far from being the only man in her life.
'Just for twenty-four hours. I have business meetings all afternoon.'
'Oh!' Sharon struggled to keep the disappointment from her voice. 'That doesn't leave you very much time for pleasure, then.'
'Oh, I wouldn't say that,' said the man, and smiled again. 'You never know what might happen in Miami,' he added in a whisper.
Nine hours later, the huge aircraft touched down at Miami International, taxied to the walkway and the passengers began to alight.
'Enjoy your stay, sir,' said Sharon to the man from first class. She was standing at the exit, a fixed smile on her face, bidding farewell to the disembarking passengers. 'I hope we'll see you again soon.'
'I'm sure you will,' said the man, his mouth twitching into a smile that hinted of the promise of things to come.
Once the enormous airliner was empty, the crew gathered their suitcases and left the aircraft, making their way to customs, and thence to the crew bus that awaited them at the airport terminal.
An army of cleaners descended on the Boeing and began the routine task of clearing up after the largely untidy passengers who had just left; the sooner the cleaners finished, the sooner they would be off duty.
A tractor moved the aircraft away from the walkway to its stand and the task of refuelling began.
Arriving at the Shannon Hotel, Sharon Gregory stepped through the automatic doors into the cool, tiled lobby and checked in. A bellhop immediately seized her suitcase and took the key to her room from the receptionist before leading the way to the elevator.
In contrast to London, the temperature in Florida was up in the nineties and the humidity had hit eighty-four, not that Sharon Gregory understood or cared about humidity percentages. She did, however, know that it was damned hot, but being the United States her room was cool and spacious, the air conditioning blasting out at full power. All of which made her grateful that the airline for which she worked always put their crews into this particular luxury hotel for stopovers. It was twelve noon Miami time and she now had eighteen hours in which to relax and enjoy the sun. And anything else that might take her fancy.
The bellhop put her suitcase on the luggage rack. 'I won't open the balcony doors, Ms Gregory,' he said, 'otherwise the room will get hot and stuffy pretty soon.'
'Thank you.' Sharon handed the young man a few dollar bills.
'You have a nice day now, Ms Gregory,' said the bellhop, adroitly pocketing his tip.
Dismissing the idea of having an early dinner – her body clock told her it was five in the afternoon – she stripped off her clothes and scattered them carelessly about the room. Walking through to the bathroom, she spent the next ten minutes luxuriating under the needlepoint jets of freezing cold water that struck her body from all angles. But she felt no cooler when she stepped out of the shower.
Dispensing with the need for a towel, she returned to the bedroom and, ignoring the bellhop's advice, slid open the balcony doors. For a moment or two she gazed down at the beach and considered, yet again, how lucky she was to have a job that took her to such an idyllic place. Some of her former school friends in her native Basildon worked as hairdressers, shop girls or checkout assistants at a supermarket, but such mindless occupations would not have suited Sharon. And the dismal selection of available men would have suited her even less.
Turning from the balcony, she opened her suitcase and took out a small leather bag. Inside was a collection of perfumes: Tommy Girl, Coco Mademoiselle, Chanel No 19, Prada Amber and Lancôme Trésor. Each of them was a gift from one of the several men in her life. And she always ensured that she wore the right perfume for the man who had given it to her when she was about to make love to him. Although uncertain whether the man she had spoken to earlier would appear, she nevertheless selected his favourite, Lancôme Trésor, and dabbed it behind her ears and between her breasts.
Her preparations were interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. She crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed to take the call.
'Fancy a swim, Sharon?' It was her crewmate Cindy Patterson calling from the room next to her own.
That was a bloody nuisance, thought Sharon, and presented her with a minor dilemma. Should she wait on the off chance that her lover would arrive, or should she go to the beach? He'd said he had meetings all afternoon. She made a decision; after all, she might find a hunk on the beach who would catch her eye, and she could hardly tell Cindy that she was waiting to get laid. But the sea water would wash off her perfume. Oh, what the hell. She had plenty more and she might only sunbathe anyway.
'Sure. See you on the beach. Usual place?'
'I'll be there in ten,' said Cindy.
Sharon took a moment or two to study her all-over tan in the mirror, a tan that had ensured there were no ugly white lines or patches. Donning a string bikini, she shoved her feet into a pair of flip-flops and slipped into one of the hotel's terry robes. Grabbing a towel, she was about to leave for the lift that would take her direct to the beach when there was a knock at the door.
'Just coming, Cindy,' shouted Sharon, assuming that her friend had decided to call for her rather than meet her on the golden sands beneath her window.
She opened the door and the first-class passenger she had served on the flight that morning entered the room. Before locking the door, he hung a 'Do Not Disturb' sign outside, as he always did on these occasions.
Sharon smiled. 'I thought you said that you had business meetings to attend all afternoon, darling.'
'I cancelled them.' The man moved closer to where Sharon was standing, arms at her sides, and slid the robe from her shoulders. Quickly untying the bows of her bikini, he allowed the microscopic pieces of fabric to fall to the floor.
'I don't have the time, darling, really,' said Sharon. 'Cindy's expecting me on the beach in a few minutes' time and she'll wonder where I am.' But it was a futile protest and she didn't mean a word of it.
'Cindy will have to wait,' said the man, quickly stripping off his clothing. 'Unless she'd like to join in.'
'Naughty,' said Sharon. 'I want you all to myself.'
Later, when the couple were lying side by side and perspiring freely from the exertions of their love-making, the man raised himself on one elbow and gazed down at the girl.
'You are a thoroughly wanton woman, Sharon Gregory,' he said. 'But you know that, don't you?'
'Of course I am, darling. And aren't you pleased? However, there's something I want to talk to you about. Something that will mean we can be together always.' And she went on to explain what she had in mind. But before her lover could respond, the telephone rang. Reaching across him, she deliberately lowered herself so that her breasts were pressing on his chest. 'Hello?'
'Where the hell have you got to, Sharon?' demanded Cindy crossly. 'I've been on the beach for nearly an hour already. What's more, there are some dishy men about: a crowd of hunky all-American six-packs in a variety of colours, for a start. It's not like you to miss out on an opportunity like this.'
'Sorry,' said Sharon. 'I had to take a call.'
'Oh, really? I wasn't born yesterday, Sharon,' said Cindy sarcastically, and terminated the call.
Sharon replaced the receiver and turned on to her back. 'I've got to go,' she said.
'Not yet,' said the man.
'No, please, I can't,' protested Sharon lamely.
'Liar!' said the man.
'No, really, not now,' she said, but nevertheless locked her legs tightly around his body.
The first-class passenger was not the only man in Sharon's life. He was just one of a select group of lovers who travelled on her flights and to whose advances she willingly surrendered, as she had today. She had to admit, if only to herself, that she was an insatiable nymphomaniac. But it was the man with whom she had just spent an hour in bed who interested her the most, and the one whom it was her intention eventually to ensnare. By whatever means.
Sharon Gregory had been born an only child in Basildon, but had been trying for almost the whole of her short life to eradicate traces of her 'estuary' accent and what the sneering classes scathingly described as 'Essex girl' characteristics. She had even considered taking elocution lessons, but decided instead that she would listen carefully to the better educated of her passengers and try to emulate the way in which they spoke. In this she achieved some success, although the occasional grammatical slip would betray her origins.
Sharon's parents still lived in Basildon, in the same depressing little house in which she'd been born, and in her view they had done nothing to improve themselves. Her father had been a train driver, but had been disabled in an accident and forcibly retired from his job with a meagre pension, and her mother was suffering from some awful debilitating disease. Sharon avoided visiting them, claiming that the demands of duty meant she was often away. The truth of the matter was that she couldn't abide being in the company of sick people, even when they were her own family.
But Sharon was a very selfish person, accustomed always to getting her own way. And most of the time she succeeded.
However, just over twelve months later there was to occur an incident that put paid forever to the reckless endangerment that typified Sharon Gregory's immoral and self-indulgent lifestyle.
It was a Saturday evening towards the end of July and it was hot, unbearably hot. All the windows were open in the Gregorys' house in Tarhill Road, West Drayton, less than three miles from Heathrow Airport, but it made little difference to the temperature, even though it was now ten o'clock at night. The odour of aircraft kerosene fuel that always seemed to pervade the area was even more pronounced because the humidity prevented it from dispersing.
Outside, the usual crowd of noisy Saturday-night revellers, young men and teenage girls mostly, were passing the house on their way to the pub, or making their way to the garish nightclub a few yards further on, the heavy beat of its sound system polluting the still evening air for miles around.
Sharon Gregory hated the domesticity of housework and was grateful that her job meant that she was rarely at home to do it. Nevertheless, she was pottering about in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher and clearing up after dinner. Because of the heat, her long, honey blonde hair was clipped back into a ponytail and she was wearing nothing but a diaphanous cheesecloth kaftan.
Clifford Gregory yawned, turned off the television and ambled through to the kitchen. 'I think I'm going to turn in, love. How about you?'
'I'm just making your cocoa, Cliff. I'll bring it up when you're in bed, and I'll come in with you a bit later on.' Sharon Gregory wished that her husband wouldn't call her 'love'; it was so working class. Even though she was working class herself, she had been trying to shake off that image ever since leaving her birthplace. But Clifford had never used any other form of endearment during their seven years of marriage.
In fact, she often wondered if he noticed her at all. She thought, as she had done over and over again, what a mistake it had been to marry a man fourteen years her senior; a man who had turned out to be a boring accountant whose only interest was watching sport on television and spending hours making his wretched model aeroplanes. There were at least twenty of the damned things hanging from the ceiling in the study and Clifford could identify each one and accurately describe the history of its original.
Clifford and Sharon had met on a short-haul flight from Glasgow to Heathrow, and he had asked her out to dinner that very night. At nineteen years of age, she had been completely besotted by a man she had seen as handsome, mature, sophisticated, attentive and amusing, and over the ensuing months he had wooed her and made love to her repeatedly. And he had been breathtakingly inventive as a lover. But once they were married, a matter of two months later, all that had changed.
Over the course of the seven years since, his once chiselled good looks had become fleshy, he had run to fat and developed a paunch that he was ill disposed to do anything about. Even more irritating, he had attempted to disguise the onset of his baldness by effecting a ridiculous fold-over hairstyle. And at ten o'clock each night when Sharon was at home, he would announce that he was 'going to turn in'. And that was it: never any compliments on her appearance, never any affection, and definitely never any sex. The marriage was empty and loveless. It drove her mad and she felt trapped.
'When are you on duty again?' asked Cliff, pausing on his way out of the kitchen.
'Next Wednesday afternoon, LHR to MIA, as usual.' Sharon knew it was a formal question and one that he asked every time she was at home. But she sensed that he wasn't really interested in whether she was there or not.
'Where?' Clifford raised his eyebrows.
'Oh for God's sake, Cliff!' Sharon snapped at her husband impatiently. 'Heathrow to Miami International,' she said, slowly and distinctly. 'I must have told you a hundred times what those codes mean. And to think you're interested in aeroplanes.'
'Oh yes, I believe you have, love.' Clifford seemed not to notice her censorious tone and smiled infuriatingly.
'I'll make your cocoa.' It appeared to Sharon that nothing would rile or excite her placid lump of a husband. Not even flaunting herself naked, as she frequently did.
Waiting until she heard him mounting the stairs, she put a single mug of cocoa in the microwave and switched it on. Once the cocoa was ready, she paused briefly to shed her kaftan and sling it over a kitchen stool.
Clifford was already in bed when Sharon entered the master bedroom. She handed him the mug of cocoa and sat down in a chair, waiting for him to drink it.
'Aren't you having any, love?' he asked, completely oblivious to her nakedness.
Oh, if only he'd show some interest in my body and ask me if I was coming to bed, she thought. Or better still throw me on the bed and force himself on me. Oh God, how deliciously exciting that would be. But she knew it was a vain hope.
Excerpted from Reckless Endangerment by Graham Ison. Copyright © 2014 Graham Ison. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Ltd..
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