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Margaret Duffy

The Not Quite Perfect Murderer

Sample Extract

He liked to be called Spike but his contemporaries at school saw no reason to do so and, if they addressed him at all, which wasn’t very often, it was Goggle on account of his rather expressionless, staring, large blue eyes. His mother Karley called him by the name she had given him, Damien. He hated it and didn’t like to ask what his father had thought about it as that subject was taboo. He’d once questioned her about him and the fact that he seemed to be missing and she’d flown into a temper and hit him. This hadn’t been too much of a shock as she’d always hit him a lot anyway.

Spike then. He liked that as he spiked up his hair with some gel stuff he’d bought in a chemist’s but only when Karley was out – which was for most of the time – as she’d hit him after he’d done that too. At school he was bottom of just about every subject but excelled at PT – strange really when one thought how odd his body was. For Damien was slightly disabled with long arms and big strong hands and no matter how much help he had had in the past from physiotherapists, when his mother bothered herself with the appointments the doctor had made for him that is, he still had a unique way of walking with his head thrust forward. Being thin, probably on account of malnourishment as Karley couldn’t be bothered to feed him properly, meant he had pointy elbows and knees and that didn’t help what he regarded as his image either. Some medic or other had said he was ‘double-jointed’ and he didn’t like that at all as it made him feel even more of a freak.

Whatever the truth it didn’t stop eleven-year-old Damien from going up a climbing wall in the school gym like a gecko. He loved climbing and when it was dark and he was supposed to be in bed he escaped from the house through his bedroom window, shinned down a drainpipe almost covered with an old ivy and went off exploring the city. Quite often walking for some distance he climbed trees. There were hundreds of them in the Regency squares and lining the roads, the plane trees being his favourite. Up there he was king looking down on everyone else and people never noticed him. Bath had many old stone houses and he discovered that it was quite easy to climb the walls of those as well as they often had cast iron drainpipes, which were strong and sometimes had his friend the ivy growing up them as well. This meant that he could look in the windows. He really enjoyed looking in windows. You never knew what you were going to see and he was amazed at what people got up to. He abandoned modern brick-built or reproduction stone homes as they were more of a problem and were usually furnished with plastic pipes and gutters which, from his point of view, were useless, if not dangerous. He had had one alarming fall due to those but had luckily landed in a bush so had escaped with a few cuts and bruises. Karley hadn’t noticed.

Then he became obsessed with watching fantasy and sci-fi films on TV and that changed everything. For ever.


Just over a Year Later

Detective Chief Inspector James Carrick of Bath CID was a happy man. His present sunny and smiling disposition, rare for him as Scots are not normally extravagant with open signs of emotion unless very, very angry, was due to the fact that he had finally caught up with the man who had tried to kill him. There was the underlying suspicion that this afterglow wouldn’t last long but while it did he had every intention of enjoying it. Yes, he kept telling himself, ex-DCI Derek Rogers of Dalesland Police, at one time stationed at Wemdale in the north of England, was in custody, the man who a couple of years previously had banged him up in an old factory boiler on a derelict industrial estate and left him there to die. He, Carrick, sometimes still had nightmares about it: the hours of trying to kick at the rusting hinges until he had fainted from the pain in his legs, of almost getting jammed as he had tried to turn round inside it in order to tackle the ill-fitting door – daylight cruelly visible round the edges – with his hands. Nothing had worked.

Rogers, together with DS Alan Terrington, had been in association with a criminal by the name of Frank Norris, otherwise known as Smiler, and they had collaborated to their mutual benefit. Everything had then gone wrong when an investigative journalist cum film producer, Martin Gilcrist, had made a short series of TV documentaries about police corruption and, in one of them, had exposed what was going on in Wemdale. Shortly afterwards his body had been found on the weir in the River Avon in Bath, not far from where he had lived. He had been murdered, battered to death and that was when Carrick had become involved.

The fact that he himself still existed on the planet was due to a friend, Patrick Gillard. Gillard had not only tracked down where he had been incarcerated but fought off sundry lowlife who had been thicker on the ground than the average man would have been able to deal with. But Gillard wasn’t average: a retired army officer, late of MI5 and the National Crime Agency, he was also frighteningly efficient at what Carrick could only describe as filthy fighting that he had learned in the back streets of God knows where. He had bettered the yobs in the pay of Smiler in a fashion that still gave Carrick, who could take care of himself handsomely if the situation arose, goosebumps when he thought about it. And, just a week previously, in connection with another case entirely, they had caught up with Rogers and Carrick had arrested him for the three murders he had committed since the Wemdale episode.

But that was in the past and Carrick had to attend to the present. Right now that entailed finishing his breakfast, two slices of toast and marmalade, as he gathered together various possessions to toss into his document case. Then he downed a mug of black coffee, brushed his teeth, looked in on his little daughter Iona Flora who was still sound asleep, waved goodbye to their live-in nanny Marion who was in the kitchen making tea and left the old farmhouse that he and his wife Joanna had made their home. Joanna, a constable in Frome, was on duty and he wouldn’t see her until he got home that night. He was using every quiet and unobtrusive means at his disposal to get her transferred to Bath.

Bath Police Station where, as far as he was concerned, most of the action happened, was now situated at Redbridge House in Midland Road. This was on account of the building housing the original nick having been deemed too large and outdated. It had been sold to the University. As far as the general public was concerned contact with the police could be made at a One Stop Shop situated not far from its predecessor in Manvers Street, a stone’s throw from the railway station. Carrick wasn’t sure that he liked the new arrangement and there was no custody suite on site, that was now in Keynsham. One didn’t have to be very clever to realise that where at one time everything had been more or less happily under one roof, now it was three.

When Carrick got to his office he quickly discovered that there had been a break-in at a jewellers in an arcade off Milson Street overnight, a gang wielding sledgehammers and crowbars having literally smashed their way into the shop. Lynn Outhwaite, quite recently promoted to DI, was overseeing the investigation having got to work early and gone off to the crime scene to see things for herself. Carrick, seating himself behind his desk, quite envied her. He had at least a morning’s work in front of him writing reports and reading through the stack of official papers that he never seemed to be able to get to the bottom of. But as he worked, just now and then, like a little beam of sunlight, came the memory of the clip to the jaw he had given Rogers, who had been calling himself Kevin Freeman, when the man had hurled himself at him when arrested.

There was a knock at the door and Sergeant Derek Woods, who knew he didn’t have to wait for permission to enter, put his head round it. ‘Got a minute, sir?’

‘Of course. Have a seat,’ Carrick answered. He always had time for Woods and not been looking forward to the time when the custody officer, as one of his roles had been at Manvers Street, retired. Woods was a walking enclyclopaedia on the ungodly, their families, friends, associates and enemies in the city and its environs. He had reached retirement age but a rare and miraculous bout of thinking had been done by those in authority and he had been asked if he wanted to stay on to undertake general duties. Absolutely, Woods loved his job and had a misery of a wife.

‘How are you now?’ the DCI enquired. The man had had a mild heart attack some months previously.

‘Not too bad at all now, sir, thank you.’

‘So, what’s the problem?’

‘It’s not actually a problem but I might have some information about that break-in last night,’ said Woods in his soft Somerset burr having seated himself. ‘I intended to speak to DI Outhwaite but she’s not here.’

‘Information from one of your sources?’

Woods nodded soberly. He had ‘sources’ in all kinds of places, mostly pubs.

‘I’d be very interested to hear it.’

‘Word has it that the Baker gang, who I should imagine are prime suspects for the raid last night as it’s exactly how they operate, have a backer, some kind of rich character who was described to me as being a big cheese but having a screw loose.’

Carrick leaned back in his seat unable to prevent a smile at the description. ‘How accurate d’you reckon that news is, Derek?’

Wood’s lined face creased even more as he also smiled. ‘That bit of gossip isn’t exactly gold-plated but there’s something else that is. I have a chum who’s stationed at West End Central in London. We joined this force together here and a couple of years later he asked for a transfer as he married a London girl who had a much higher paid job than he did. She still does. Lovely girl too.’

‘Wise man,’ the DCI commented. Woods must never be hurried.

‘Rob – that’s my chum – phoned me this morning. He’s been working on similar cases as the one last night – he keeps abreast with what’s happening here – and, a few weeks back they succeeded in arresting a gang member who had been actually knocked down by the getaway car on one of these raids. They’d left him for dead. He did die, unexpectedly, shortly afterwards but not before he’d been identified as Les Baker, wanted by this force for burglary and assault. As you must know, sir, the whole lot were from Shepton Mallet originally and old man Baker, Freddie, I think he was referred to, and several brothers were in the stolen car trade until the law caught up with some of them. He died in prison after being attacked by another inmate but most of the others are now on the loose again. It’s a big family, at least ten of them that includes numerous cousins and hangers-on who hire themselves out to what they regard as the big time as bruisers, yobs for hire, call it what you will. The latest is that some of this lot are said to have moved to London hoping for better things but returned quite quickly – say after six months or so.’

‘They might have moved back into home territory because it got too hot for them in the capital then,’ Carrick said. He hadn’t known anything about the quite ancient history of the Baker gang as what Woods had told him had occurred quite a while before he himself had come to the West Country.

‘That’s possible but the main point of what I’m telling you, sir, is that Rob’s heard their big sponsor, also originally from his neck of the woods, is now back here as well, either in Bath or the surrounding areas.’

Carrick was beginning to wish that with so many ears to the ground Woods worked for CID. ‘OK, thank you. Leave it with me. I’ll inform Lynn and get on to the Met. They might have some more info that’ll help us to track them down.’

Woods got to his feet. ‘Thank you, sir.’ He added, ‘I’m glad you caught up with that bastard who tried to kill you up north.’

‘Does everything get trumpeted around in this place?’ Carrick asked.

‘Probably,’ said Woods as he went out.

At one time, before they were married, Joanna had been Carrick’s sergeant and they had made a good team. Carrick had been married to Katherine at the time and she had been dying, with agonising slowness, from a rare form of bone cancer. Towards the end carers had come in several times a day to look after her. Then, one night after a particularly difficult raid on a house where armed criminals were known to be hiding when Carrick and several members of his team had been slightly hurt, he had driven Joanna home. Everything had got completely out of hand and they had made love right there on her hall carpet. Their affair had continued.

The superintendent of the day, now retired, had received a tip-off from a reporter on the local newspaper, a criminal on the quiet, who had been making it his business to spy on Carrick. The super had hated women in the job and broken rules to remove Joanna from her post. She had been offered a dead-end position. Not the sort of woman to tolerate this kind of treatment she had resigned from the police. Although he knew that a super wouldn’t be allowed to do what he had now Carrick still felt horribly guilty, and cowardly, for not having fought for her cause. At the time he’d only recently been promoted to DI and had felt vulnerable, no excuse though he knew. Now, some years, a wedding and a baby daughter later Joanna had re-joined the police.

‘You’ll have to get a shift on, James,’ she said, dressed to go out, when Carrick got home a bit later than usual. ‘We’re meeting the Gillards in the Ring o’ Bells for a meal in half an hour.’

Carrick kissed her cheek and went off to have a rapid shower. It was the first he’d heard of it and right now it seemed as though he was surrounded by people who knew things that he didn’t. Not only that, if there was one thing he hated it was rolling up late to anything social. But at least the village of Hinton Littlemoor where the Gillard’s lived was only a few miles away.

It was gratifying to discover when they got there that they were the first but Ingrid, Patrick’s wife, arrived about five minutes later. She told them that Patrick had got home from work later than normal and she had left him in the shower. A dark-haired and attractive woman once described by a Russian mobster as ‘formidable and beautiful’, she had worked with her husband first for MI5 in a department called D12 and then with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, now absorbed into the National Crime Agency. Both had then been involved with that organisation until Patrick officially retired. Only in reality he wasn’t, there were the occasional contracts, even though he had taken what he called a ‘day job’ as a claims investigator for a national insurance company.

This fourth member of the group, tall and slim, turned up shortly afterwards, shed his coat and came and sat down. So was it raining or had he forgotten to dry his hair?

‘It’s lashing down,’ he announced, solving the mystery and running his fingers through it, thus sprinkling his wife liberally with water. He picked up his pint of Jail Ale, a ‘visiting’ bitter beer that seemed to be a permanent fixture in the pub these days, thanked Carrick and had an appreciative taste. ‘I hope we’re not going to have a de-briefing on what happened in Wemdale,’ he said, all seriousness.

‘You mean another de-briefing, don’t you?’ Carrick said.

The fine grey eyes appraised him. ‘I only said it because I knew you’d smile. God, that was a good ending, wasn’t it?’

When they had ordered what they were going to eat Carrick told them what Sergeant Woods had said to him that morning.

Joanna said, ‘When I was James’s DS I once arrested a Karley Baker for soliciting – in Bath, outside The Star in the London Road. I wonder if she’s a relation.’

‘Well, apparently there are hoardes of them,’ Carrick told her.

‘She tried to get out of being arrested by saying she had a young child.’

Carrick changed the subject, saying to Gillard, ‘You still on the straight and narrow?’

‘If you mean am I working like crazy to prevent people from succeeding with false claims the answer’s yes.’

‘They just take one look at him and fold,’ Ingrid said after taking a sip of wine.

This was understandable as the grey eyes had in their repertoire a stare that could practically skewer people to the wall. On another occasion he had told those present that he was now an official ‘troubleshooter’ but it hadn’t resulted in any increase in his salary. Carrick didn’t think this would concern him unduly as he knew he was now in receipt of his army pension, which meant he had turned fifty. It went without saying that he was utterly wasted in this ‘day job’ he had now.

Ingrid said, ‘I wonder if this local so-called sponser already has, or had, a crime set-up of his own in London and fancies branching out nearer to home. Too much of a bore to keep getting the train perhaps.’

She wrote best-selling crime novels sprinkled with a little romance under the pseudonym Ingrid Langley, her maiden name. Joanna reckoned the romance was due to Patrick’s influence. Ingrid obviously thought so too and had fallen in love with him when they had met at school. The couple had three children of their own, Justin, Victoria, known as Vicky, and Mark, which was rather splendid if you took into account the fact that he’d been seriously injured in an accident with a hand grenade while serving with Special Forces. They had adopted his brother Lawrence’s Matthew and Katie after he was killed. Their real mother, a ‘basket case’ according to Ingrid, was in and out of rehab for most of the time and wanted nothing more to do with any of them.

All had work to do the following day so the four left shortly after finishing their meal and hurried through the rain, the Carricks to their car, the Gillards across the village green to their home in the old rectory.

It should have been summer by now but rain was still pelting down the following morning and although wearing a waterproof Carrick got quite wet walking from where he’d been forced to leave his car. There was very limited provision for police personnel to park near the nick, even for senior officers, and local residents had been complaining that they had been leaving their cars ‘in the wrong places’. Carrick kept a tactful silence on the subject – don’t upset the natives – even though their previous place of work had had quite a large carpark.

DI Lynn Outhwaite, petite, extremely good at her job, was in his office putting yet more paperwork in his in-tray. ‘DC Gascoign’s ill, guv,’ she reported. This wasn’t actually her job but she had wanted to speak to him.

He preferred her to call him that rather than ‘sir’. ‘Sir’ was too formal for a woman of her ability and professional manner.

‘What’s wrong with him?’ Carrick enquired, grimacing at the new additions to his work-load.

‘Not known yet but it sounds quite serious. He’s in hospital.’

‘Please find out as soon as possible. We’re understaffed as it is. Is there anything I need to know about events overnight?’

‘Scenes of crime found a half-eaten chocolate bar on the floor of the jewellers that was broken into the night before last and there’s the hope there’s DNA on it. Other than that there’s little to go on at the moment and the staff are still trying to list exactly everything that was stolen. Otherwise, there’s nothing you really need to know about, but to keep you in the picture someone tried to steal a car parked on Wellsway but disappeared when the alarm went off. Also, there was criminal damage in Abbey Churchyard where a couple of drunks threw empty bottles against a shop door, breaking the glass. One member of a group of girls on a hen night, also drunk, tried to cool off in the river. She was hauled out by passers-by and taken off to casualty suffering from hypothermia and cuts to her arms and legs.’

‘She was lucky. Cold water kills you pretty quickly when you’ve had too much alcohol. In my experience it’s usually young blokes and they usually drown.’

‘Women have more fat on their bodies.’

He stared at her. ‘Is that right?’

‘Well, it is right but whether it had any bearing on this occasion I’ve no idea.’

‘I’m not questioning your knowledge,’ he was forced to say.

‘Good,’ Lynn said, and went.

Carrick sighed. Perhaps she’d had a long walk through the rain too.

The morning crawled by, the rain continued to thump against the window, people came and went and Carrick began to wish he hadn’t been promoted. At least when he was DI he was able to go out more, everything was more hands on. Right now life was an anticlimax after his being involved with the case that had resulted in the arrest of Derek Rogers aka Freeman. Unconsciously perhaps, he shook his head, his involvement with Gillard in connection with that had begun with a murder in Glastonbury, not even on his patch. If Patrick was involved with a case the world went entrancingly haywire.

‘And I don’t want people to be murdered to make my life more interesting, do I?’ he said out loud, hurling a fat chunk of stapled together pages into a wire tray, the contents of which were destined for shredding.

No, he didn’t.

Lynn put her head round the door, which he usually left ajar. ‘I’m afraid it’s very bad news about Gascoign, guv.’

‘What’s happened?’

She came in. ‘He’s dead. An aneurysm on the brain.’

Speechlessly, he waved her to a chair and in a rare insight, for a man that is, on the subject of relationships, finally said, ‘You liked him, didn’t you?’

Her face crumpled and she just got out, ‘Yes,’ before she helplessly cried.

This was terrible news; everything else apart, Gerard Gascoign had not only been a personable and valued member of the team but had not brought with him the kind of attitude as had young Constable Morris who, although the DCI didn’t know it, Patrick Gillard had once described as ‘an uppity little sod’. Gascoign would have gone far in his career.

Carrick put a box of tissues within Lynn’s reach and told her to stay put and he’d fetch her a cup of tea. He went out, his mind in a whirl trying to compose what he was going to say to Gascoign’s parents. He wouldn’t just write a letter, which the Chief Constable would also do, he fully intended to go and see them. The only positive thing about it, a tiny crumb of comfort from the force’s point of view was that the man hadn’t been killed by the carelessness of anyone in the force in the course of his duties.

Joanna was standing in the reception area, in uniform, and looked as though she had just walked through the door.

‘For God’s sake ask for a transfer to CID and then to Bath now,’ he said to her quietly as he went by. ‘Right now. Your husband desperately needs you.’

‘Whatever’s happened?’ she understandably wanted to know.

‘Please go to my office and comfort Lynn,’ was all he said as he headed for the small room where they could make hot drinks, all the while feeling Joanna’s gaze boring questioningly into his back. He discovered later that she had had to visit an address in the city and had called in to say hello.

The following morning a teenage boy’s body was found on a building site near the river. Perhaps more correctly it ought to be described as a potential building site as although later additions to a Victorian warehouse had been demolished work hadn’t started on the main project which was to turn the building into high-end apartments. Carrick went straight there – it was quite early, just after eight-thirty. Even though the area had recently been fenced off vandals had already broken it down, using, Carrick knew, a stolen JCB which they had then driven around knocking things over and finally tried to torch it. In that they had failed but it had been seriously damaged. The developers hadn’t yet repaired the fence but this now meant that police vehicles could gain access. Several were parked hard up by the perimeter to avoid any contamination of the crime scene.

Lynn Outhwaite was already organising the response team so he left her to get on with it and had a look at the body. Forcing himself to be dispassionate, with difficulty, he wondered if this was merely the place where the body had been dumped and the boy had been killed or died in an accident elsewhere. Although the pathologist had not yet arrived to carry out a preliminary examination the DCI could detect no outward signs of a shooting or stabbing, the only visible injuries severe contusions and bruising on the left side of the face.

‘Who found him?’ he asked Lynn when she came over.

‘A sort of homeless man who’s dossing down here in what was a downstairs office,’ Lynn replied, putting up the hood of her anorak against the thin drizzle. ‘The boarding over part of the window had been wrenched off but he said he didn’t do it.’

‘A sort-of homeless man?’

‘I didn’t speak to him but Constable Tanner, who did, reckoned he could be Drug Squad and keeping an eye out for dealers who are reputed to hang out here.’

Quite, why would a down-and-out report finding a body?

‘Is he here now? Carrick asked, his gaze on the pathetic figure at his feet.

She shook her head. ‘No.’

‘Would you rather be somewhere else?’ he enquired quietly.

‘I’ve plenty to do at the nick,’ she answered. ‘But thank you, I ought to be here for a while.’

‘Any ID on the body?’

She should have already briefed him on all these details but, as he had just thought, was not only upset by this child’s death but, obviously, also Gascoign’s, a little bird in the shape of Sergeant Woods having told Carrick that they had been dating.

‘Oh, no, sorry guv. As you can see he’s wearing what I would call a tracksuit. Nothing in the single pocket of the bottom half but we can’t turn him over to see there’s anything in a back one until the pathologist gives permission. Tanner said these kind of garments for blokes are referred to as lounge wear now and are really pyjamas. Apparently young guys wander round in them at weekends.’

She hadn’t sounded as though she approved but Carrick quite liked the idea.

‘But it’s not the weekend so I wonder if he should have been in bed, especially as there’s nothing on his feet,’ he mused. ‘I take it no child answering this description has been reported missing.’

‘Not so far.’

‘But he only looks around twelve or thirteen so must have people responsible for him somewhere – people who would surely be around when he was going to school.’

If Lynn though this a little simplistic she didn’t say so.

‘He’s a strange-looking lad though, isn’t he?’ Carrick said. ‘His hands and wrists are almost the size of a strong adult man’s.’

An enigma.

They were no nearer that evening in finding out anything about the boy – a murder victim? – despite house-to-house enquiries as there weren’t many people living in the immediate vicinity due to the whole area being in the process of redevelopment. The post-mortem wouldn’t be carried out until the following day. No one answering the description had been reported missing. This meant that Carrick had no feelings of guilt at leaving work just before the usual time as he had a rugby match that evening. It was a police team, the Ferrets, and he had been playing with them for a few years, some of the original team members now describing themselves as ‘seniors’. He didn’t think of himself as good at it but could still run like blazes for short distances and his tackles had been described as ‘awesome’. This had come in handy for apprehending male suspects who had been unwise enough to try to flee.

Towards the end of the second half when things were getting a bit heated, the Ferrets just ahead on points, there was a ruck that was more like a multiple car crash and, Carrick somewhere near the bottom of it, had his right leg broken

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