By the time Savvas arrived at the copse in Filothei, the police had already cordoned off the area. Two ministers, the High-up Chief and the Press Secretary of the Government were waiting at the crime scene. The head rookie bypassed the representatives of the Intelligence Service and grasped the hand of colleague Jacob Oldman.
“What do you mean, good morning?” queried Oldman.
With greying hair, thick moustache, squared shoulders and serious expression, the taciturn Oldman was the most senior officer in Homicide. “Come see,” he said in a fatherly tone, pointing at the victim’s Rover. Gus Black, the President of the party in power, was slumped at the wheel, with two contact shots in the head. Three hours earlier he had dismissed his bodyguard and driver. Black’s door was closed, the rear door was not. The gun used to shoot him had not been found, and neither had the revolver he kept in the glove compartment or his personal belongings.
“How do you feel about robbery after murder?” whispered Whitebrow, who had crept up as quietly as a cat.
“It’s likely,” said the senior officer.
The Chief pulled Savvas aside.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“Did the Honourables remove his personal belongings?”
“You know the answer to that.”
“They thought they would round off the crime scene, eh?” chuckled the head rookie and swore at the “good for nothings” for tampering with the investigation.
In his opinion, the passenger door had been broken into by an amateur; someone who must have known how long Black would be unaccompanied. If it was someone the victim knew, it was likely they would sit beside him. Otherwise, the threat of a weapon would have been enough to get them into the car. The perpetrators had preferred to break in and hide behind the driver, leaving mud smears with DNA. And as it hadn’t rained for days, it was probably transferred from a garden.
“Black must have been followed by at least two people,” said Stretch. “When they saw him head towards his vehicle, one hid in the back. We’re looking for a thin, short and flexible person, who jumped up as soon as the politician turned the key. He didn’t let him drive far due to the increased police presence in the area, killed him and hopped onto his accomplice’s motorbike. This was indicated by the narrow tire tracks behind the Rover. The victim must have been at one of the villas nearby. It smells like a political crime committed by an amateur.”
“We’ll get caught up with professional liars. Zeus, take note. Your theories are for my ears only. Oldman is in command of the investigation, I’ll explain your role to you in private,” said the Chief, and returned to the huddled VIPs.
Officially he was in charge, unofficially…
“Clearly one coroner won’t suffice,” murmured Oldman, motioning to the Crime Scene Investigators to stop snickering, as no less than three coroners pulled up.
While they were waiting for Black’s driver and bodyguard, Savvas decided to consult with the representatives from local police station, certain they would be aware of the quirks of their citizens, many of whom were involved in politics, be it front and centre or behind the scenes. It turned out to be no secret that the victim often visited Claire Vane, who lived 200 metres from the scene of the crime and another 200 from his own villa. Although she was Black’s closest associate, they had not been instructed to inform her of his death.
The head rookie updated Oldman, who requested Savvas handle Vane.
:: Warm-blooded Constituent
In the meantime, the police had blocked off the roads leading to Black’s residence. Savvas asked the patrol car to pass by the house first. Arriving there, he saw the victim’s wife in a red convertible waiting for the garage door to open. It was 4.55 am. The patrolmen had some very interesting gossip about the “brand-new widow” Lola Black and the Vanes. Among other things, the latter’s husband, former MP Vane, had moved to the city centre “to serve his female constituents better”.
His “official wife” was sleeping. Her house was like a bungalow with large uncovered windows, which offered the perfect view into the sitting room. The head rookie walked through the unlocked gate and rounded the garden. There were puddles in a few areas from a recent watering. He requested that Forensics take a sample of the mud for comparison with the trace found in the Rover and to search for footprints and other evidence. Ringing the doorbell, he heard Claire Vane’s voice a few seconds later.
On hearing about Black’s death, she burst into sobs. However, she quickly regained her self-control and systematically asked for details. She then proceeded to make telephone call after telephone call. Her authoritarian words testified to her anger and antagonism. To Savvas she said that Black had also been a close friend of her father’s. The previous evening they had shared a bottle of wine, chatting easily. He must have been killed just a few minutes after leaving her house. Claire flatly rejected the possibility that it was an organised political crime, or that the perpetrator was a friend or colleague.
“Politicians kill with their words,” she stated. The only possible explanation was an entirely unpredictable action by a warm-blooded constituent. The “only possible explanation” was interrupted by the sound of her telephone.
“Yes, I know… an officer is here now… I don’t care… it’s your problem,” she said, hostilely.
Her husband, wondered Savvas. Was he asking for an alibi? He looked at her questioningly. She wasn’t going to enlighten him. He expressed his condolences and bid her goodnight.
“You are completely different from the woman who opened the door to me,” he said.
“Please explain, Mr Kallinis.”
“I met three Claires this evening. One opened the door, warm from her bed. Another expressed her deep grief on hearing about the murder of her closest friend. Now I’m bidding farewell to a disciplined, dynamic scientist. I won’t mention your political standing in case you misunderstand me.”
Before shutting the door behind him, Mrs Vane took his mobile number saying, “We will meet again.” There was no doubt in his mind that she was flirting with him.
Review on Amazon by Martha P.
This is the perfect book, I dare to say, for someone who’s looking to read something funny and witty. The characters are not complex except for Avra, the main female character, and I truly liked her. The five criminal cases give the reader the feel, as though the “subject” is changing, and that makes the book more interesting from page to page. I really enjoyed its plot and I think, well, I got hooked!
Other books in this genre:
Not long before my mother died, she told me a story I’d never heard before. It was 1965, the year before she married my father. Spring had come to the Northeast nearly a season ahead of itself. By May, the fields rippled with thigh deep, green-gold grasses: sweet timothy, birdsfoot trefoil, clovers, reed canarygrass, ryegrass, and tall fescue. All the kids along Sweet Milk Road knew the species names; they were weaned on the sweat of haying, and my mother and her brother Morgan were no different.
It was a clear, bright Sunday morning—a perfect day for the first cut of the season. The fields around the farm were filled with the buzz and clang of sicklebar mowers and balers while my mother and Morgan stood toe-to-toe in a field of egg-yolk colored mustard blooms. They scrapped with one another on the strip of land between their farm and the Deitman property where no one could hear them. At first my mother laughed at her brother’s suggestion, like a late-comer for Sunday dinner who asks for the platter of fried chicken to be passed, only the plate is empty and the laughter trickles into awkward silence. She pleaded with Morgan, but he was of no mind to hear her. His decision, he claimed, was best for the family: She would marry Michael Deitman on her eighteenth birthday, and their families and land would be united, an isthmus to wealth and stability.
All of that changed when a bullet ripped through the leaves, shearing the air. Before either of them heard the sound of the report, it shattered Morgan’s breastbone and sprayed bright red blood onto my mother Lydia’s face and hair. Morgan looked at her, his eyes filled with terror, as he fell dead into the yellow mustard blossoms.
“Who did this?” I asked.
“Well.” She stammered, of course it was an accident. You have to know that, Joss. Someone was in the high birch grove shooting at the birds . . .”
I didn’t challenge her, but I wondered how she came to believe this. And who could have fired from nearly a quarter of a mile and struck down Morgan with such precision?
During those first three days before anyone else knew what had happened, my adrenaline-driven mother dragged Morgan’s body to the cottage in back of the farmhouse, and hid him in a macabre game of hide and seek—first in the closet, then under the stairwell to the cottage, and finally behind the old woodstove—all their favorite childhood hiding places. While the crows sat in the trees above and watched. On the third day she carried him to the river and washed him in the cool running water, then laid him in the tall grass.
Even when the coroner came to take him later that afternoon, she still refused to believe he was dead. She sat on the back porch all that summer rocking, worrying the floorboards for days that lingered into weeks. She did not cry or speak for months and only bathed in the river.
I think about this story as an April wind blows my red Mini Cooper along I-84 West, then tracks north along the Taconic Parkway. I try to distract myself, turning up the radio, flipping through the FM stations, but still I hear her voice.
“I had no one,” my mother told me. “My brother was the only one left, and then he was gone, too. I convinced myself that he was sitting on Heaven’s back porch. That if I waited on our rear balcony, he’d be back. I don’t know why, but I washed and ironed all of his pajamas and packed them in a suitcase. You do crazy things when you lose someone. I think that suitcase is still in one of the upstairs’ closets.”
She said she’d look for it but never did. I wonder if it’s still there. I try to push away these thoughts by doing what I always do: measure the day by road signs, or how many times I pass the same truck. An attachment from girlhood and those hopscotch counting rhymes from my school days—one-ery, two-ery, zigger-zoll, zan. . . . But on this morning I gauge my time, tapping out the minutes by heartbeat, dropped lanes, or the whirl of the car’s cozy heater and classic rock tunes buzzing in my heart like a lullaby.
It’s what my dad always did back when we all lived in the city—crank up the radio while he drove. He’d holler, “Hey, Paulie-girl! Get in the van.” With my mother scolding, “Paul! Her name is Joss Ellen—not ‘Paulie-girl!’ Not ‘Boy-o’ either!” But that name, ‘Paulie-girl,’ was lassoed around everything I knew myself to be. As a six year old, I was always ready for an adventure with my father, Big Paul.
We’d fly in that rattletrap van with the tunes blaring. He’d bring me to his tailor shop on East Forty Second between Lexington and Third. I’d jump out before the vehicle stopped, and ran through the jangling back door, hollering, “Liam, where are you?”
Liam Michaels was my father’s apprentice and an occasional guest at the farm. He’d drive upstate to play with my father’s jazz group that met there on Friday nights. I’d steal into the millhouse where they played to hear Liam’s melancholy Irish tunes flow across his fiddle strings. I used to beg him to bring his violin to the tailor shop, but he never would. He always said it wouldn’t be proper in a gent’s shop. I’d nod though I didn’t understand why, or what a ‘gents’ shop’ was.
“Liam!” I’d holler again.
“Is that you, Jossy?” he’d ask.
I could never answer fast enough. He’d scoop me up and lift me onto his shoulders, and then stand in front of the tall mirrors. I’d laugh and screech, terrified of being up so high, and hang onto his hair or squeeze my arms around his neck.
He’d cough and choke. “Tell the truth, girl! Are ya trying to kill me, or do you just like me that much?” He’d pull my hands away and grab me around my waist. “Oh my God!” he’d say. “Look at that two-headed thing in the mirror.
“It’s me, Liam,” I giggled, all the while reeling in woozy panic. My dark red curls, just like my mothers, bounced in the mirror images, and stared back at me with my father’s same grey eyes.
“There you are!” he’d point, with a goofy smile plastered across his face and a shock of black hair falling into his eyes. “How’s my girl? What are ya—on a ladder? Come down from there. I got a little bit of ribbon in my pocket I saved for ya.”
My father would barrel through the back door, yelling, “What’s going on in here? Paulie-girl, don’t bother the help!” He’d wink at me and disappear into his office.
He’d check his stock and special order sheets, and then we’d pile back into the van and charge off to the garment district. There my looming father, nearly six feet tall and wide in the shoulders, would haggle with some witless slob over the best gabardine. Daddy would reiterate his secret every time: Look them in the eye and smile, but walk away before you back down. Just be soft with every step. Once he’d get his price, he’d buy remnants of cerise or saffron taffeta to make my sister and me something for school. For Naomi, it would be a blouse with pearl buttons or a crinoline skirt, but for me he’d always fashion something man-tailored: a vest or jacket spit in my father’s image. “Stand still,” he’d say while he’d mark the fabric with chalk and pins that scratched my skin. Back then I never winced.
I’d turn slowly while my father stood, scrutinizing his work, commanding me to stop, or turn, or walk across the room as he’d watch the garment move in the swing of my arms. What emerged would be flawless: pale gray herringbone with pockets piped in apricot, a vivid lining at the pleat. In the mirror, I only saw my father’s eyes, his smile.
Back then, I thought I was special.
On Friday nights, we’d go to the Floridian on Flatbush Avenue for sweet fried smelts with lemony rémoulade sauce. The same diner he used to go to with his own Pops. “Here he comes,” some waitress named Dolores or Ronnie would shout above the din: “The dapper tailor dressed to the nines with his little one.” We’d sashay down the aisle between the tables, he in his striped shirt and red braces, a vest or jacket, shoe-shined and natty. Me in a replica—never a skirt or a bit of lace. Big Paul, square-jawed, with smoke-grey eyes that could darken instantly. would smile at the other diners as if they were his guests, always with the witty comments, tipping his fedora or porkpie, or whatever was perched on his head that evening.
We’d slip into a booth and order drinks: cherry soda for me and Cutty Sark straight up for Big Paul. Before the first sip, we’d clink our glasses while I stared in awe at the myth that was my father. And when our hot plates came out, we’d slather on that tart sauce and slide those sugary fish down our throats, barking like penguins for more. We were hungry. We were the boys out for all we could get.
Charles Carpenter, the author of the revered memoir Handcuffed does it again with Colors of Oppression.
The well written narrative explores the anatomy of the often hostile, racially divided prison environment. Charles Carpenter details the social and psychological ramifications of oppression, and describes the wisdom needed to navigate through a microcosm of hatred, racism, deception, and prison politics.
This book highlights various deceitful tactics employed by the correctional officers and inmates, thus giving the general public an unadulterated glimpse into the world within a world - prison.
Colors of Oppression is an educational tool for anyone interested in a career in the field of corrections. This book also raises the awareness level for those interested in analyzing the dynamics of prison life.
The Russian state of Sverdlosk was the Soviet Union’s center of fringe military research during the cold war. There, terrifying biological weapons, capable of inflicting unspeakable horror, were intensively researched and developed. Every single medium and long range armament in the Soviet arsenal was repurposed to deliver these lethal agents to anywhere on the globe. The cold war eventually ended. The research did not.
Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.
Sun Tzu – "THE ART OF WAR"
It happened so fast. One minute she was swimming, the next the current was dragging her to the bottom. Seawater flooded her mouth. She fought, thrashed to the surface and tried to shout; a hoarse whisper was all that came. Her head went under and stayed under. Her lungs were on fire. With no warning it released her and she saw blue sky. Jennifer gulped shallow ragged breaths, shocked and scared, and started towards her family. She would never leave them again. But the decision was no longer hers. The force drew her back into a world without light or oxygen and this time it didn’t let go. Her arm broke free in a desperate attempt to escape. Tongues of spray pulled it down and Jennifer knew she was goingto drown. She’d dreamed of watching her daughter grow into a woman. That would never be. And Mark, poor Mark. How unfair to leave him. Her body rolled beneath the waves. She stopped struggling, closed her eyes and disappeared from sight. Seconds passed before Mark realised something wasn’t right. ‘Where’s mummy? Where’s your mummy?’ The baby sucked her thumb. ‘Where is she, Lily?’ At first he couldn’t move. Cold fear consumed him. A hundred yards away a group of boys played football; apart from them the beach was deserted. He yelled. They didn’t hear him. He threw the push-chair to the sand, yanked it open and sat Lily in it. His hands were shaking. The damned straps wouldn’t fasten. He spoke to himself. ‘Please god, no. Please god, no’ and raced into the sea. The water was freezing. What the hell had Jen been thinking? This was Scotland, for Christ sake. He swam to where he’d last seen her and went under. Mark was a good swimmer but it was dark. His frantic fingers searched until the pressure in his chest forced him to the surface. He took in as much air as he could and went back. Something bumped against him; he grabbed hold and dragged it up. Two boys ran into the water to help: the footballers. They hauled her body the last few yards and Mark fell to his knees. Jennifer wasn’t breathing. People appeared on the beach, silent witnesses to the nightmare the day had become. Where had they been when he needed them? He shouted, half in anger half in desperation. ‘Somebody call an ambulance!’ The crowd kept a respectful distance, believing what he believed, that he’d lost her. Jennifer’s face was white. Mark covered her mouth with his and breathed into her. His hands pressed against her chest demanding she come back to him. One of the boys took over with no better luck. Mark tried again, refusing to let her go. He pumped her heart, whimpering like a child, sobbing for himself as well as his wife. Jennifer’s eyes fluttered; she retched and vomited water. Mark turned her on her side and rubbed her back, whispering reassurance, blinded by tears, aware his prayers had been answered. A siren sounded in the distance. It was going to be all right. She was safe. They would be together again. The three of them. He raised his head and saw ambulance-men racing towards him across the sand. Mark jumped to his feet. They must have drifted... except the boat was there. His voice rose from a cry to a scream. ‘Lily. Lily!’ He spoke to the group who had offered nothing. ‘I left a baby here, somebody must’ve seen her.’ They stared, no idea what he was talking about. A new terror seized him. He ran a few steps up and down the beach, lost and afraid. The bag lay where Jennifer dropped it. But no push-chair. No sign his daughter had ever been there. Lily was gone.
Step into the fictional town of Bucksdale Mississippi, where you'll meet the riveting character of ELLANECE MOSLEY, a woman who fronts as a home and property flipping realtor, but in reality, is a psychotic serial killer, who stalks men and lures them to their death, with her beguiling methods. Throughout this TALE OF THE MURDEROUS SOUTHERN BELLE, along with Ellanece's victims, you'll also meet the town's detectives, JASPER LEWIS and TRACI HARMON. After seemingly getting away with her first murder, of one DENNIS HENDERSON, she knows that time is running out for her, in the small town. So she employs the help of various other contractors, to help her complete her real estate investment. One of the helpers being a young man by the name of, JUSTIN HOWARD, winds up falling head over heels for his deadly but charming employer, ELLANECE, who decides to set him up, to take the blame for another murder that she plans on committing. Will ELLANECE get away with it all? Or will the combined forces of JUSTIN HOWARD, and the detectives of Bucksdale, be able to stop her, and deliver the justice that is long over due for this Murderous Southern Belle.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury. The Butcher has been caught and her trial is set. She’s going to show Jake and his team of detectives that it doesn’t matter if she is in prison, she can still get to anyone and to prove this, she hires some help to throw a wrench into the prosecution’s case by taking out some of the witnesses they have lined up. You will hear testimony that Jake and his team are assigned to protect the witnesses, however The Butcher’s associates get to a few of them, so Jake and his team are forced to rescue them. As they try to keep the witnesses safe, Ashaki, the new A.D.A who is assigned The Butcher’s case, is kidnapped and tortured. Can Jake and his team find her in time to try The Butcher’s case and put her away for the crimes she committed or will The Butcher escape and continue to grow her criminal empire in Avalon City?
Only a vampire can solve these crimes--a vampire private eye named Samantha Moon...
Private investigator Samantha Moon is working undercover for the Fullerton Police Department’s new top-secret Vampire Crimes Special Unit (VCSU).
With the increasing number of supernatural-type crimes in and around Orange County, Detective Sherbet needs Samantha’s special talents to help solve and prosecute the real and growing threats to the citizens of Fullerton. People are dying—and some of them are already undead.
Sam’s first case for the VCSU threatens to expose her life as a vampire. When a 200-year-old mummified corpse turns up on the grounds of an Orange County mission with a note addressed to Sam, she needs to protect herself, as well as solve this case before something worse happens.
The more Sam digs into the case, the more evidence she discovers of the mission’s grisly history and scandalous past. But will there be a price to pay? What if the only way to save the people of the present from the people of the past would be to expose the truth to the public? A truth that could take down a mission that is the very foundation of a community.
To solve the mystery in the present, Samantha Moon must first solve the mystery of the past. It’s a good thing she’s a vampire. A very good thing. She’s going to need those skills…
MOON HUNT is April M. Reign's first novel in the Vampire Crimes Special Unit series, her series set within the licensed Vampire for Hire Kindle World created by J. R. Rain, bestselling paranormal mystery author.
It has been years since Sebastian has visited any type of fitness or training facility,and even then by invitation from the Olympic Coach, so he looks more than a little awkward with his coat bunched in one hand and a walking stick, in the other.Just to top it off, a jacket and tie aren't exactly perfect gym attire either.Small details like these never really deter Sebastian as his thoughts are solidly focused on the job at hand.Even though he has mellowed and has become a little less self-conscious in recent times,his early, embedded beliefs still linger.His issue with the cane is more about being told what he must do rather than how he looks. How others perceive him is irrelevant; he contemplates such thinking as shallow conceptions of an idle mind; his own head is so occupied with other things there's no room for what he sees as wasted thoughts.
Sebastian is surprised by the enormity of the interior. The receptionist sits at a semi-circular desk directly across from the entrance and to the right and left,small booths sell gym equipment,health food and sports drinks. He informs the receptionist that has an appointment with the manager, Max Martin and she rings through to his office at the rear of the building and then points Sebastian in that direction.
The path to his office leads Sebastian directly through the workout area and his senses fill with an overpowering smell of liniment, the sound of clanging metal and muffled voices of patrons and instructors.He eyes everything around him in a desultory manner, as he strives to familiarize himself with the scene.
Only a few strides along, there is disharmony between a middle-aged pair. She is trying to encourage her partner to stay close and he is making it overtly obvious that he's there against his will. Sebastian slows his pace and continues to observe them.
He will often challenge himself to understand what others communicate with their bodies rather than orally and walking through the gym gives him an opportunity to hone his already exceptional skills. The woman consistently pulls at her jacket in an attempt to prevent it creeping upwards means she is carrying more weight than she would like. As the fellow is quite muscular and lean, Sebastian muses, she may have dragged him along because of her own insecurities. She flutters from one machine to the next in her matching pink tracksuit and joggers like a bee in a floral heaven. In contrast, her partners outfit camouflaged cargo pants and sleeveless checked-shirt isn't your regular gym attire but that of a woodsman, hunter or laborer.
Sebastian is soon bored with these two. Spying a spritely young woman about to board a treadmill,his mood soon changes to one of being inspired, as he ponders the thought of buying one for home. He murmurs to himself, "Mmm. That would certainly save me being late to breakfast again!"
Now Sebastian the 'real deal'; one rather solidly built fellow lays flat on a slab and above him sits a set of gigantic weights, held together with a bar surely way to lean for the enormous discs. A muscular friend, or perhaps trainer, is arched over, ready to take the torturous weight from its racks and lower the bar carefully down. There's no doubt in Sebastian's mind that these to are gym enthusiasts, disciplined and dedicated, something that he admires, even if he has no interest in the activity.
On he goes until his eyes abruptly shift to the right "Well,well, there's hope for me yet!" he exclaims as he catches sight of a massive form of a man trying to keep rhythm with his overlapping stomach on yet another treadmill.Sebastian is so enthralled he doesn't see a rather plump, middle=aged woman cross his path.As they collide, his had flies out and accidentally grabs hold of her ample breast."Sorry, sorry!"
She stands there smiling at him, glances down at the hand that has yet to disconnect from her bosom. Sebastian also glances down then back up. His mouth opens; his forehead wrinkles and he gives an involuntary smile before releasing the object like a red hot ember.To make matters worse he's so flustered he begins brushing down her breast in a reflex action.
"It's fine.You can stop now". She says smiling warmly and gently nodding her head.
Sebastian hesitantly smiles back and then leaves as quickly as he can, no longer interested in anything except his destination.
They dragged him from the boot of the car, down an embankment to the shore; gagged, bound and blindfolded. His feet scraped grass and stones; a shoe came off and was left behind. At the jetty, Kevin Rafferty waited in the boat. In a long career of violent persuasion this guy had been the hardest to break. But it wouldn’t last. When the blindfold came off he’d realise the loch was to be his grave. Then the begging would begin because pain and death weren’t the same. And he’d tell. Everything. It never failed. Plastic ties fastened the victim’s wrists to hooks hammered into either side of the gun-wale, holding him upright. His head moved, blindly drawn to every sound. With what he’d been through – the beating, the burns, the loss of blood – it was a miracle he was still breathing.
Rafferty turned up his collar, dipped the oars in the water and started to row.
After a while he stopped. Late afternoon drizzle falling from a grey sky stippled the calm surface, they would drift, but not much. He released the blindfold. They stared at each other. Rafferty broke the spell. He opened a canvas bag that lay across his knees, slowly, so the man could see the knives, the screwdrivers, the pliers: his tools. On top he placed a bolt cutter and patted it as he would a faithful dog. The thief moaned and fought against the restraints, wild terror in his eyes. The cutter trapped the first finger of his right hand between the blades. He began to cry.
‘Last chance,’ Rafferty said.
The blades tightened, a muffled wail came from behind the gag.
A thin red line appeared at the joint. Rafferty sighed fake regret.
‘This little piggy went to market...’
An opal moon hung above the loch, it had stopped raining and the night sky was clear. The thief was slumped forward, passed out. They’d been at it for hours - or five fingers - he should be pleading for his life. Better yet he should be dead. In Glasgow, Rafferty understood it wasn’t going to be easy. Something wasn’t right about this guy. He didn’t get it. Kevin’s job was to make him get it.
He peeled the sock from the shoeless foot, bleached like a corpse in the moonlight, and lifted it into position. For the moment the gag was unnecessary, he ripped it away and waited for his victim to come round; when he did it would continue. A noise took him by surprise. He tensed. At the other end of the boat the head came up, eyes blazed in the gloom and the madman grinned at him through broken teeth.
‘I’m starving,’ he said.
‘Could murder a curry.’
Rafferty’s voice cracked with desperation. ‘What did you do with the money?’
This was insane.
‘The money! Where is it?’
The thief spat blood and sniggered. ‘Fuck off.’
Rafferty snapped. He grabbed a knife and buried it in the crazy bastard’s heart.
No,’ he said, ‘you fuck off.’
The body rolled over the side and disappeared into the dark water, Rafferty gathered the severed fingers and threw them after it; food for the fish. At the jetty, he got out and stood for a long time watching the untethered boat float away. He had been so confident, so sure. But it hadn’t worked out. He was going back with nothing. The thought of telling his father made Rafferty sick with fear – more afraid than the man he had just killed had ever been.
Jimmy would go mental.
Prologue The Little Louisiana Pageant, Whitfield Centre, Baton Rouge Timmy Donald waited to be introduced; he wasn’t nervous. Timmy was a round-faced cherub, kiss-curled and confident. A tiny robot programmed to perform, and at five, already a veteran. The MC gave him a big build-up. ‘From East Baton Rouge, a homeboy paying his tribute to one of the greatest entertainers of all time … Timmy Donald!’ The red velvet curtain parted, leaving Charlie Chaplin in the spotlight – lost, unsure and vulnerable. Timmy played it to a T, cocking his head to one side, leaning both hands on his stick. The face of a comic genius gazed out of the golden light. A single note gave him his key, and the spot followed the diminutive performer through a show of stagecraft beyond his years. A piano track, played without finesse, tinkled in the background. Timmy brought the walking stick into action in vintage Chaplinesque. He scrunched his shoulders and tipped his bowler, letting it run down his arm, a weak smile revealing the courage of the little tramp beset by cruel misfortune. He sang “Smile,” and the audience loved him. At the end of the song, he twirled, walked his “Charlie” walk and shuffled towards the back of the stage. The spotlight died, the curtains closed, the lights came up. Timmy’s father was pleased. All the hard work, the day after day rehearsals, had paid off. That trick with the hat had taken months to get right. Worth it, though. ‘You can’t put it out if you don’t put it in,’ Tom Donald reminded his son every chance he got. The old jazz musicians’ maxim about the value of practice appealed to him. Timmy’s performance shouted its truth. He was the winner for sure. Everybody said so.
‘We can’t find him.’ Claudine Charlton couldn’t believe it. It had been going so well. A good crowd. No hiccups. No tantrums. Even one or two who might have something. Not as good as the Chaplin kid but not bad. She watched Alec Adams giving out instructions. He’d been with her for years, from the very first contest, and she would be first to admit that when it came to stage-management, there was nobody better. They had been married once, a very long time ago. Claudine never let herself forget that he was a snake. Alec shook his head. ‘No sign.’ ‘Did you ask his parents?’ ‘His father thought we had him.’ In a room off to the side, the judges sat round a beat-up table, drinking coffee. Claudine didn’t knock. The interruption took them by surprise. ‘We have the final result, Claudine.’ ‘Who won?’ ‘The little boy.’ ‘Forget it. He’s out of the running. We need another decision and fast. Bump everybody on a place; that’ll give us a new winner. Stick any of them in third, it doesn’t matter. The cowgirl, the crowd liked her, she’ll do. OK? Two minutes.’ ‘But she was awful.’ ‘No.’ Claudine stared the objector down. ‘She was third.’ Alec met her behind the stage. ‘Cops are here. And the father. Somebody needs to speak to him.’ ‘What? Oh, yeah.’ She ran a hand through her hair in quiet desperation. ‘What do I tell him? What can I say?’ ‘Reassure him.’ ‘You do it. You speak to him.’ ‘It’s your show, and I’m busy. You’re the boss, remember?’ She hurried towards a guy in an ill-fitting suit – had to be a cop – talking to Timmy’s father. Uniforms covered the stage door; the front was already closed. ‘Mr Donald, Claudine Charlton.’ Timmy’s father was too upset to reply. She placed a comforting hand on his arm and spoke to the policeman. ‘I’m in charge. What do you need to know?’ ‘When did you notice the kid was missing?’ The policeman glanced at Tom Donald and walked-back his tactless question. ‘I mean, when did you notice Timmy was missing?’ ‘Twenty minutes ago. He was one of the last to go on. Once they’ve done their thing, the contestants stay in the dressing rooms. No wandering around until we announce the winners.’ ‘Sounds fine. So how come he’s gone?’ ‘Wish I knew.’ The detective gave an order to a sergeant. ‘Start interviewing. We needID, names and addresses. It’s going to be a long night.’ Claudine said, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ ‘Start looking.’ ‘What about the show?’ He didn’t answer her. ‘Shouldn’t we go with the final ceremony? Keep it normal’ ‘Good idea. Finish the thing. Nobody’s going home for a while.’ One hour later, a locked store cupboard in a back room was the only place that hadn’t been searched. The detective wasn’t prepared to wait for a key; he barked his instructions. ‘Break it open.’ Two uniforms forced the door. The wood frame cracked and splintered and gave under the pressure. In his career, the cop had come across plenty of bad stuff; that didn’t make it easier. The colour drained from his face, and he knew he’d been doing this shit for too many years: time to take the pension, kick back and go fishing. But for now, he was the officer in charge, so he made himself look at the horror guaranteed to keep him awake at night long after he’d turned in his gun and badge. Stuffed in at the back, on top of paint pots and dustsheets, was a broken Charlie Chaplin doll that used to be Timmy Donald. And so, it began.
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