For Charlie Resnick, the night they found the body in the water was the night that Milt Jackson came to town. Resnick is a jazz fiend and considers Jackson, a contemporary of Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, one of the all-time greats. He has just sat down for the concert when the call comes in about the body. Gravely disappointed, the police inspector tears across town to run the crime scene. He finds the body of a young woman who shows signs of blunt force trauma and a recently terminated pregnancy. Attempts to identify the girl, and to link her to three other bodies recently found in canals, are futile. The case goes nowhere, but Resnick always remembers the night he missed Milt Jackson. When another woman disappears, Resnick reopens the case, and finds that few places hold darker secrets than the black waters of the Nottingham canals.
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A Charlie Resnick Mystery
By John Harvey
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1997 John Harvey
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It was the night Milt Jackson came to town: Milt Jackson, who for more than twenty years had been a member of one of the most famous jazz groups in the world, the Modern Jazz Quartet; who had gone into the studio on Christmas Eve, 1954, and along with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, recorded one of Resnick's all-time favorite pieces, "Bag's Groove" the same Milt Jackson who was standing now behind his vibraphone on the stage of the Broadway Media Centre's Cinema Two, brought there with his new quartet as part of the Centre's Film and Jazz Festival; Milt, handsome and dapper in his dark gray suit, black handkerchief poking folded from its breast pocket, floral tie, wedding ring broad on his finger and catching the light as he reaches down for the yellow mallets resting across his instrument; Milton "Bags" Jackson, born Detroit, Michigan on New Year's Day, 1923, and looking nothing like his seventy-three years, turning now to nod at the young piano player—relatively young—and the crowd that is packed into the auditorium, Resnick among them, holds its breath, and as Jackson raises a mallet shoulder high to strike the first note, the bleeper attached to the inside pocket of Resnick's jacket intrudes its own insistent sound.
And there is a moment, Resnick bulkily rising from his seat near the center of row four and fumbling inside his coat as he excuses himself, embarrassed, past people's knees, in which Jackson, expression shifting between annoyance and amusement, catches Resnick's eye and grins.
Out in the foyer, Resnick hurried to the ticket desk and asked to use the phone. Jack Skelton's voice was clipped and sharp: the body had been discovered less than twenty minutes earlier, trapped beneath the lock gates of the canal, just where it flows into the Trent. Resnick's sergeant was already on his way there, along with three of the team. Resnick glanced at his watch and estimated how long it would take to drive through the city, heading west.
"Shall I send a car for you, Charlie?" the superintendent asked.
"No, it'll be all right. No need."
He had driven to the theater that night with Hannah, or rather, she had driven him, preferring to wait for him in the Café Bar. Jazz she could tolerate, but not for hours on end.
Resnick picked her out immediately, sitting at a table close to the back wall with Mollie Hansen, Broadway's head of marketing. Hannah with her hair just short of shoulder length, brown shading gently into red, a man's dress shirt, not Resnick's, worn loose over a deep blue T-shirt, blue jeans. Wearing black beside her, Mollie seemed slighter, younger, though the difference between them was no more than a few years; Mollie's hair was shorter, her face sharper, pale skinned, bright eyed.
"Not over already?" Mollie said with a grin.
Resnick shook his head. "Something's come up." He tried not to notice the concern cross Hannah's face.
"Work?" she asked and Resnick nodded. She took her car keys from her bag and dropped them into his hand.
"Shame about the concert," she said.
Resnick nodded again, distracted, anxious to be away.
The air was hazy and humid, warm for June, and even with the windows of Hannah's Beetle wound down, Resnick could feel his shirt beginning to stick beneath his arms and along his back. The streets seemed to grow narrower, the houses smaller the closer he came; there was the scent of something sweet and sickly like honeysuckle and though it was still light, the moon hung in the sky, almost full, its reflection misted in the still water of the canal.
An ambulance was parked near the intersection of Canal Side and Riverside Road; several police vehicles were pulled back alongside the recreation ground that led to the lock. Resnick left the VW behind these and walked to where Millington was standing on the narrow lock bridge, talking to a sergeant from the river police. Lynn Kellogg was on the towpath, notebook in hand, questioning a youth in a baseball cap and a girl in a skimpy top and skirt who could have been no more than fourteen. He saw Naylor crouching down by the far lock gate, something stretched along the gravel beside him, covered in a plastic sheet. Carl Vincent was perhaps a dozen yards away, chatting to a pair of paramedics. There were people standing curious at windows and in open doorways, clustering in twos and threes at the pavement's edge.
As he approached the bridge, Resnick could hear clearly the roar of river water as it tumbled over the weir beyond the lock.
Millington nodded a response to the greeting. "You know Phil Given, river police? Charlie Resnick, my DI."
"I think I've bumped into you, County ground," Given said, "season or so back."
"Likely." Resnick was looking beyond them, down toward the water. "What do we know?"
"Couple of kids found her," Given said, "half-seven, thereabouts ..."
"That's them," Millington interrupted, "talking to Lynn now."
"Must've floated down to the gate here and got wedged somehow against the support of the bridge. Trapped by her arm." Given pointed below them in the direction of the bank. "Above the water line, look, you can just see the marks."
"Any idea how long she'd been there?" Resnick asked.
Given shook his head. "Couple of hours. Maybe more."
Resnick nodded. "Doctor not here yet?"
Millington finished lighting a cigarette. "Parkinson. On his way."
"I don't suppose we've any idea who she is?"
Millington shook his head.
Resnick left them standing there and walked to where Lynn Kellogg was still talking to the kids who'd reported the body. He listened for a few moments, not interfering, moving on to where Naylor was still standing guard, the young DC' s face yellow and strained. Some came to think little more of a corpse than roadkill; for others it was new every time.
"You could have a word with some of that lot standing round gawking," Resnick said. "Get Carl to give you a hand. One of them might have seen something, you never know."
Resnick lowered himself onto one knee and folded back the sheet: the face had lost much of its definition, the skin was puckered fast in some places, loose in others as an ill-fitting glove. There were marks—what might have been tiny bite marks—around the sockets of the eyes. High on the right temple, a gash opened, raw and washed deep into the bone. After or before, Resnick wondered, straightening? After or before?
"At least it's not four in the morning, Charlie," said a voice from behind him. "You'll be grateful for that."
"Maybe," Resnick said, lowering the plastic carefully into place. "And maybe not." He imagined the impeccable flow of notes from Jackson's vibraphone, their rise and fall stretching out across the becalmed evening air.
Parkinson smiled benevolently over his half-moon spectacles and unfastened the center button of his suit. "Bridge, that's what this saved me from. Going two off in four clubs, what's more. Four clubs, idiotic call."
"I dare say," said Resnick, for whom card games were as enticing as Gilbert and Sullivan or a quick game of croquet.
"Time and cause," Parkinson said, "I'll do what I can. But don't hold your hopes. Not yet awhile."
There was enough water in the lungs for death to have been caused by drowning, though the blow to the head was severe and would have caused considerable trauma and loss of blood. A contributory factor, then, though whether the blow had been administered before or soon after the body had been introduced into the water, remained unclear. As for the exact nature of the instrument which had delivered the blow—something heavy, probably metallic, sharp but not pointed and traveling, at the moment that it met the head of the deceased, with considerable speed, propelled with considerable force.
She was a young woman, twenty-four to twenty-seven years of age, of average size and build. She had had an appendectomy in her late teens, a pregnancy terminated within the past eighteen months. One of her front teeth was capped with a chrome crown, a procedure normally carried out only in Eastern Europe. Her clothing—denim shirt and cotton trousers, underwear—was of a type obtainable in chain stores in most major and medium-size cities of the world. Her feet had been bare. The silver ring on the little finger of her left hand had no idiosyncratic marks or features of design. The inexact photograph taken after basic reconstruction and forwarded to police forces throughout the United Kingdom and Europe resulted in no positive identification. Attempts to link the death to those of three others, two female, one male, whose bodies had been discovered in canals in the preceding seven years—two in the East Midlands, one in the North East—proved inconclusive.
After three months, the file was marked Pending.
Media references to the Canal Murders were spiked or stillborn. Resnick knew from occasional comments overheard in the canteen that the victim was referred to as the Phantom Floater, the Woman Who Went for an Early Bath. But for Resnick it was always the night he missed hearing Milt Jackson; the night Milt Jackson came to town.CHAPTER 2
"Charlie, is it tarragon or basil you don't like? I can never remember."
Resnick was sitting in the downstairs front room of Hannah's house, dark even though it was shy of seven on this late September evening, dark across the park that faced the small terrace through shrubs and railings, and Resnick sitting close by the corner table lamp, glossing through Hannah's back copies of the Independent's Sunday magazine.
"Tarragon," he called back, "but it's not that I don't like it. A bit strong sometimes, that's all."
In the kitchen, Hannah laughed quietly. From a man who regularly crammed sandwiches with everything from extra strong Gorgonzola to garlic salami, she thought that was a bit rich. "You could open the wine in a few minutes," she called back.
"What time are they coming?"
"Half-seven. Which probably means not till eight. I thought we could have a glass first."
Or two, Resnick thought. He hadn't met these particular friends of Hannah's before, but if the rest were anything to go by, they would be artsy, Labour-voting liberals with a cottage they were slowly rebuilding somewhere in southern France, a couple of kids called Ben and Sasha, a Volvo estate, and a cleaner who came twice a week; they would laugh at their own jokes and the cleverness of their cultural references, be perfectly amiable to Resnick, and at the end of the evening try not to appear too resentful that his presence was keeping them from skinning up and passing round a spliff. He suspected they had cast him as one of Hannah's passing idiosyncrasies—like taking her holidays in Scarborough or eating fish fingers mashed between two slices of white bread. "Okay," he said, "I'll be there in a minute."
One of Hannah's CDs was playing, an album he'd chanced on by Chris Smither with a version of "Statesboro Blues" that wouldn't have Willie McTell turning blind in his grave. He waited till that track had finished and then stood by the window for some moments, staring off into the dark.
Come Monday morning, Resnick was thinking, the newly formed Serious Crime Squad would be moving into its headquarters in a converted building that had once been part of the General Hospital. Twenty detective constables, four sergeants, a smattering of support staff, one inspector, and, running the show under the general supervision of a detective superintendent, a freshly appointed detective chief inspector.
There were those—and at times Resnick surprised himself by being among them—who thought it should have been him.
Jack Skelton, heaven knows, had nagged at him long enough—get in that application, Charlie, it's maybe your last chance; even the chief constable designate had buttonholed him in the Central Police station corridor and asked him point-blank what had happened to his ambition.
Still Resnick had prevaricated. He knew there would be over a hundred applicants, fifteen of whom would be selected for interview, at least six of those thirtyish high-fliers from the Police Staff College at Bramshill, their cards already marked.
"Charlie, am I opening this wine or are you?"
There were those high up in the force, Resnick knew, who valued his experience, the fact that he had dedicated all his working life to the city. And there were others who saw him as small-minded and provincial, a good copper certainly, but past his sell-by date where promotion was concerned. So finally Resnick had forgone the pleasures of giving a five-minute presentation on the major problems of policing in the year 2000, and of sitting with his fellow candidates in some anonymous examination room sweating over a string of questions. He had convinced himself that doing what he was doing, running a small CID squad from a substation on the edge of the city center, was still challenge enough to see him through the next five years. He had a team that by and large he trusted, whose strengths and weaknesses he knew.
But one of his DCs, Mark Divine, had still not returned after almost six months' leave of absence, and another, Lynn Kellogg, having passed her sergeant's board, had surprised him by applying for a transfer to the Family Support Unit. Even Graham Millington was murmuring darkly about going back into uniform and moving himself and Madeleine out to Skegness.
Some days, Resnick felt like a captain who was busily lashing himself to the mast while everyone else was resolutely jumping ship.
"Charlie?" Hannah's voice behind him was soft and questioning. "You okay?"
She gave a small shake of her head and smiled with her eyes. "Here," holding out a glass of wine, "I thought you might like this."
"You sure you're all right?"
"Yes, sure." And looking at her then, standing close, her fingers still resting on his as they held the glass, it was true.
"The risotto will be ready in twenty minutes. If they're not here by then, we'll eat it ourselves."
Alex and Jane Peterson arrived shortly after eight, bearing apologies and flowers, a bottle of Sancerre and another, smaller, of Italian dessert wine the color of peaches.
Alex, as Hannah had explained earlier, was a dentist, one of the few still working inside the National Health Service, a balding man of around Resnick's age, some ten years or more older than his wife. Unlike Resnick and Hannah, they had both dressed with a degree of formality, Alex in a loose cream suit with burgundy waistcoat, a white tie-less shirt buttoned to the neck; Jane was wearing a black linen jacket and black flared trousers, her hair, streaked blonde, cut short and close to her head.
Throughout the meal, Alex talked vociferously, often humorously, holding strong and sardonic opinions on almost everything, and when he lapsed into silence, managing to convey the impression that he was holding back in order to give the others a chance. Jane, who taught at the same school as Hannah, seemed tired but cheery, her pale face flushed as the evening wore on. Only when the subject of a day school she was helping to organize at Broadway came up, was she really animated.
"Not sure what I think about all this, Charlie," Alex said, pointing at Resnick with his fork. "What is it, Jane? Something about women and television, women and the media? Where d'you stand on that, Charlie, seminars on popular culture? Some academic from the university giving forth about stereotypes and the like."
"Personally," Alex went on, "I'd sooner slob out in front of EastEnders without thinking I was going to be interrogated about its gender issues the minute it was over."
Jane could scarcely wait for him to finish. "That's nonsense, Alex, and you know it. For one thing, you never slob in front of the TV, you've just read about other people doing it, and for another, you jump at the opportunity to intellectualize absolutely anything faster than anyone I know." She stared at him, defiant. "And just to set the record straight, it's about women and sexual violence and it's in next month's program. Hannah, you should get Charlie to come along, I think he might enjoy it."
Hannah smiled and said that she would see.
Alex leaned toward Jane and deposited a kiss on the side of her neck.
The risotto was followed by pork loin with red cabbage and sweet potatoes, crème brûlée, and a plethora of cheeses.
Excerpted from Still Water by John Harvey. Copyright © 1997 John Harvey. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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