It starts with five professional thieves. At their first robbery, they press a sawed-off shotgun against a bank manager’s head, and leave with nearly forty thousand pounds. They repeat the trick three times, raking in nearly half a million in cash. They have yet to kill, but with each raid they come closer to taking their bounty in blood. The Nottingham police department charges the brilliant but troubled Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick with stopping the crime spree. When the robberies turn violent, he can no longer deny their similarity to a long-buried incident from ten years ago, when a confrontation with a sociopathic killer nearly cost him his life. To halt this chilling crime wave, he must reopen a case he has spent a decade trying to forget.
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A Charlie Resnick Mystery
By John Harvey
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1993 John Harvey
All rights reserved.
"Don't forget the Boat, Charlie. Half-eight, nine. Okay?" Resnick turned at the sound of Ben Riley's voice, picking out his face without difficulty, the only one among the crush of supporters hard against the fence not jeering, calling abuse. Two minutes from the end of an apparent nil-nil draw, a war of attrition played out in the no man's land of late-season mud, the ball had skidded out towards the wing and the few blades of grass remaining on the pitch. The winger, shaking off one challenge, sprinted thirty yards before cutting in. At the edge of the area, uncertain whether to pass or shoot, a defender felled him from behind, sliding in, feet up, to leave his stud marks high inside the winger's thigh. The free kick, mishit, spun off an outstretched boot and crossed the line into the net. One-nil. Fifty or so visiting fans charged their opponents' end, sharpened coins bright in tight fists.
Resnick had lost his helmet in the first scuffle, something wet sticking to his hair that he hoped was spittle, nothing more. They were trying to pull the troublemakers out of the crowd, the worst of them; diving in among the flailing feet and words, punched and kicked, not caring, get your hands on one and drag him clear, show you mean business.
He had one now in a headlock, blue and white scarf, bomber jacket, jeans. Doc Martens with steel toe caps that had caught Resnick's ankle more than once.
"Better be there, Charlie."
The last of the players had left the pitch, those in the crowd who'd come with their kids were pushing them towards the exits. "Get down here and give a hand," Resnick called above the noise. "I'll be away sooner."
"No chance," laughed Ben Riley. "Off duty. 'Sides, you're doing okay. Overtime, i'n't it? Come in handy later, buy me a pint."
The youth wriggled his head out from under Resnick's arm and ran on to the pitch. His feet had already started to slither when Resnick's tackle sent him sprawling, the pair of them headlong and thick with mud.
"Right state you've got yourself in there, lad," Resnick's sergeant said to him outside the ground, vans filling up with those arrested, shuttling them to the station to be booked. "Have your work cut out getting that clean. Early shift tomorrow, aren't you?"
Resnick walked along the riverbank towards the bridge, the football ground at his back. The last straggle of fans moved grudgingly aside to let him pass, muttering, avoiding his eyes. Oarsmen were lifting their boat from the water and carrying it towards the nearest of the two rowing clubs that stood back from the path, side by side. Later that evening the buildings would be transformed by flashing lights and speakers pushed almost to distortion. "The Boat, Charlie. Half-eight, nine." Resnick thought he might be lucky to get there at all.
Resnick's landlady had his uniform jacket off his back almost before he was through the front door. "Let me have them trousers, duck, and jump into bath. Water's hot. I'll have this lot like new by morning, not to fret. Trouble at match, again, I s'pose. Ship lot of 'em off into t'army, best thing for 'em. Nice bit of fish tonight, keeping warm in oven."
Resnick handed her his trousers round the bathroom door. Fifty-eight years old and with three lads of her own escaped out into the world—two down the pit, one in Australia—she lavished mushy peas, strong tea, and what passed for common sense on her lodger with steely determination. Each night for the past six months, Resnick's planned announcement of his intention to move had foundered upon the direction of her stare. Her need of him. Him and next door's cat she tempted in with scraps, the budgie molting in its parlor cage.
He finished running the cold and lowered himself into the water. There was a bruise the size and shade of a large orange on his calf, another on his upper arm; he winced as he rubbed soap across his ribs. Careful, the tips of his fingers traced a ridge of dried blood through his hair. Once his transfer to CID came through, that would see an end to all this, alternate Saturdays as punch bag and kicking pole. Object of derision and hate. Once his transfer came through he could go to Mrs Chambers, clear conscience, and explain. Find a flat on his own, somewhere he could relax, ask people back, liberate his record collection from the tea chest where it languished. How long now since he had heard Paul Gonsalves taking chorus after chorus in front of Duke's band at Newport, the slow fall of Ella's voice in "Every Time We Say Goodbye"?
Resnick walked along Arkwright Street, away from the city, the muffled bass patterns audible before he stepped on to the bridge. In shadows close by the river, young men made one-handed assaults upon girls' clothing, metal clasps and elastic, glow of cigarettes cupped between their fingers. A Hammond organ surged as Resnick handed over his money, stepped inside. Thick with bodies, the room swam with the scent of sweat and tobacco and the possibilities of sex. The sweet odor of dope which he willed himself not to recognize. On the stage, a seven-piece band was playing "Green Onions." In those days, they were always playing "Green Onions."
"Charlie! Here. Over here."
Ben Riley was over by the wall, one hand resting against it, arm extended past the head of a girl with mascara eyes and a plum mouth. Not a minute over seventeen.
"Charlie, this is Lesley. Reckons as how she's here every week, on the bus from Ilkeston, but I told her, got to be having us on. Here that often, we'd've seen her for sure. Eh, Charlie?"
Ben Riley winked and Lesley glanced at Resnick's face and then away, a glass of rum and black held close against her waist.
"Lesley's got a mate, haven't you, Lesley? Carole. Off dancing with some bloke right now, but she'll be back any minute." Ben winked again. "What d'you reckon, Lesley? Think she'll go for Charlie, here? Your mate, Carole?"
The band took a break.
Carole turned out to be stooped, self-consciously tall, a narrow-faced girl with fair hair and a soft voice that was lost almost as soon as it left her body.
"Can't win 'em all," Ben Riley said, squashed up against Resnick in the crush for the bar. "Maybe she's got hidden talents."
Resnick shook his head. "It doesn't matter," he said. "I'm not interested."
"Come on. Don't be such a ... Two pints, love, rum and black and a lager top."
"You carry on," Resnick said. "I'll catch up with you tomorrow."
Ben handed him one of the pints and the rum and blackcurrant. "All right, you have Lesley. We'll do a swop. Another couple of these and they won't notice anyhow."
Resnick sighed and pushed his way back to where the two girls were waiting. "Here you go," Ben said cheerily, "reinforcements."
"We'll have to be going soon," Lesley said. "Our last bus."
"No, s'all right," Ben grinned. "You don't have to worry about that. We'll see you right."
Resnick handed over the drink and stepped away. "Tomorrow then, Ben. Okay?" He nodded at the girls and moved off into the crowd.
"What's up with him?" he heard Lesley ask.
He was moving too fast to hear Ben Riley's reply and besides, by then the band was back on the stage.
Nursing his pint, Resnick found a space up close but out of range of the dancers—he'd ducked flailing arms enough for one day as it was. The tenor player squirted out a quick spiraling phrase and set to readjusting his reed. A jazzman by nature, Resnick reckoned: given a mid-tempo blues and the chance to stretch out, he was worth careful listening. Now, though, it was a quick run through "Time is Tight," a change of riff, a spotlight—"Put your hands together for the fabulous ..."—the horns hit three notes hard, and the singer launched into "Tell Mama" as if her life, or the next thirty minutes, depended upon it.
Resnick had seen her before, this band and that, one club or another. A small woman with a rash of auburn hair, cheekbones that threatened to pierce the skin where they touched. She wore a black sweater, sleeves pushed back to the elbow, black skirt, black tights, red high-heeled shoes. One hand gripped the mike stand when she sang, the other punched or tore or windmilled through the air. A voice that seemed to come from some other—larger, older—body altogether.
Before the applause for her first song had begun to fade, she had signaled to the keyboard player, closed her eyes, thrown back her head, beaten in the tempo with an open hand against her thigh.
Slow blues in three flats.
Wedged into the middle of the floor, Ben Riley and the stoop-shouldered girl stood with their arms around each other, scarcely moving.
"Wasted years ..." Ruth sang, raw-edged.
"Sure you don't want to dance?" Lesley's voice close by Resnick's shoulder.
"No, thanks. Really."
A suit-yourself shrug and she was turning away.
Every night I spend waiting
All those dreams and wasted tears,
Every minute, every second, babe,
The worst of all my fears
When you walk back through my door again,
All you'll have for me are empty arms,
And empty promises,
And ten more, ten more, oh baby,
Ten more wasted years.
The band driving hard behind her, the final note torn and ugly, a wrench of pain. Arms loose now by her sides, she stood, head bowed. Applause. Resnick finished his pint and checked his watch. Early shift. Ben Riley no longer in sight. He left his plastic glass on the corner of the bar, rather than have it splintered underfoot. A final glance over his shoulder as he moved towards the door.
"Hey!" A woman's voice, sharp and aggrieved.
"I should think so, too."
"I was just ..."
"Leaving. Yes, I can see. And I was coming in."
"I didn't mean ..."
"Difference was, I was looking where I was going."
"Look, I said, I'm sorry. I don't know what else ..."
"To say. No, I don't suppose you do. Walking all over my feet like that. It's a wonder I didn't go flying back down the stairs. And don't stand there grinning."
Resnick bit his lip and looked at her seriously: not tall, around the same age as himself, mid- twenties, not pretty, anger bringing brightness to her eyes, a glow to her skin. Her shoe, where he had trodden on it, was scuffed; her tights were torn.
He reached towards his pocket. "Maybe I could buy you ...?"
"A new pair of tights? Don't bother."
"I was thinking more of a drink."
"What?" Eyes widening. "And pour it down my front."
"Elaine," a voice said off to the side and Resnick realized for the first time that she was not alone.
"All right," she said, withering Resnick with one more look as she squeezed past. "Coming."
Outside on the bank, the water looked dark. Buses moved in slow convoy across the bridge, heading towards the lights of the city. Gravel crunched lightly underfoot. "Elaine," Resnick said quietly, testing the name on his tongue. It would be more than four years before he would say it to her face.CHAPTER 2
Resnick nodded and unfolded the early edition of the local paper, thumbing through the pages in search of hard news, knowing he wouldn't like what he found. Fifteen-year-old youth wounded by four girls in knife attack; old woman of eighty-three robbed and raped; Asian shopkeeper driven from estate by racist taunts and threats of violence. In the magistrates' court, a man explaining why he pushed a petrol bomb through his neighbor's letter box—"Night and day they had this music playing, night and day. I asked them to turn it down but they never took no notice. Something inside me just snapped."
Setting the newspaper aside, Resnick sipped the strong coffee and, for a moment, closed his eyes.
The Italian coffee stall was located among the market stalls on the upper level of one of the city's two shopping centers. Vegetables, fruit, and flowers, fish and meat and bread, Afro-Caribbean and Asian specialties; the two Polish delicatessen stalls where Resnick did much of his shopping, replying to greetings offered in his family's language with the flattened vowels of the English Midlands. His stubborn use of English was not a slight; merely a way of saying I was born here, this city, this is where I was brought up. These streets. Eyes open, Resnick scanned the other customers sitting round the U-shaped stall: middle-aged shoppers whose varicose veins were giving them gyp; mums with kids who couldn't make up their minds which flavor milk shake and would never sit still; old men with rheumy eyes who sat for hours over the same strong tea; the photography student from the Poly who drank two cappuccinos back to back and whose fingers smelt of chemicals; the solicitor who could eat a doughnut without getting as much as a granule of sugar on the skirt of her power suit; the tramp who waited till someone bought him a drink, then skulked off by the photo machine to finish it, legs visible through the rags of his trousers. These people.
Angled across from where Resnick was sitting, Suzanne Olds licked her finger ends clean with the fastidious delicacy of one of his cats. Lifting her leather briefcase from the floor, she slid from her stool and approached. The last time they had spoken, one of the solicitor's clients had been up on five charges under sections 18 and 47 of the Offenses Against the Person Act, shuffling alibis like a dog-eared pack of cards.
"I was at dinner with a new colleague of yours a few nights ago. Helen Siddons. Very bright. Sharp." Suzanne Olds smiled. "Aware of the issues."
"I thought crime was the issue: solving it, preventing it."
Suzanne Olds laughed. "Come off it, Inspector, you're not as naive as that."
Resnick watched her walk away, incongruously elegant and somewhat intimidating as she passed between local-grown spinach and pink and white shell suits, the latter greatly reduced, council clothing vouchers welcomed. He had met Helen Siddons a number of times since she joined the local force; transferred from Sussex, detective inspector at twenty-nine, eighteen months and she would have moved on. A graduate with a degree in law, she was being propelled by the Home Office along a fast track towards the highest ranks. She should be looking at Assistant Chief Constable by the time she was forty. Resnick could see how well she and Suzanne Olds would have got along; serious conversations between courses about the sexism endemic in the force, racism, the errors—careless or malicious—in police evidence which had led to conviction after conviction being so publicly overturned.
Why was it, when he agreed, at heart, with most of the beliefs women like Helen Siddons and Suzanne Olds held, he found it so hard to give them his support? Was it simply that he found them a threat? Or the almost certain feeling that the support of men like himself, career coppers for more than twenty years, would not be welcomed?
"Another?" asked the stall owner, whisking his cup into the air.
Tempted, Resnick checked his watch and shook his head. "Got to be off. Important meeting. Maybe see you later. Cheers."
And he ambled away, shoulders hunched, a wave at the man from the fish stall forever on at him about giving a bit of a talk to the Church Fellowship, a bulky man in a shiny suit that had been beautifully tailored by his uncle more than fifteen years before—for somebody else and not for him.
Reg Cossall was standing on the steps of the central police station, swopping tales of arson with the senior officer from the fire station alongside.
"Hey up, Charlie," Cossall said, falling into step with Resnick as he pushed through the front door. "Heard the latest?"
Resnick was sure he was going to, any minute.
"They only reckon Grafton's going to get Tom Parker's spot. Can you believe that? Malcolm bloody Grafton a chief inspector. Over the likes of you and me."
Resnick grunted noncommittally and started on the stairs.
Excerpted from Wasted Years by John Harvey. Copyright © 1993 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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