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Authors: Ian Simpson

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Murder on Page One

MURDE
R
ON PAGE ONE

IAN
SIMPSON

Copyright © 2012 Ian Simpson

The moral right of the author has been
asserted.

Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study,

or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents

Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in

any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the

publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with

the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries

concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between the characters

in this book and real people is coincidental

Cover design by Tayburn

Matador

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Kibworth Beauchamp­

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Tel: (+44) 116 279 2299

Fax: (+44) 116 279 2277

Email: [email protected]

Web: www.troubador.co.uk/matador

ISBN 978 1780889 740

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Matador
is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd

Since retiring from a law career which
included sitting as a judge in High Court murder trials, Ian Simpson has been writing crime fiction. In 2008, one of his books was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger by the Crime Writers’ Association. He has also written newspaper articles on legal topics.

For Annie

Ti
mes are bad. Children no longer obey their parents and everyone is writing a book.

Cicero, circa 43 BC.

1

The body lay on the floor, as warm as the blood that seeped through the plush Wilton carpet or trickled down the white walls.

A clean, deep cut had caused that blood to spurt in spectacular quantities from the left side of the neck until the heart was still.

Glassy-eyed, brain-dead, finished, Lorraine McNeill’s high-achieving life was over.

Her black skirt had bunched up round her hips, revealing long, shapely legs – legs to die for. Like a butcher arranging the shop window, the killer lifted a slender ankle and put underneath it a sheet of plain A4 paper. One character had been typed at the foot: the numeral 1.

‘Well, you wanted a murder on page one,’ the killer whispered, then left to be absorbed into the anonymous crowd.

2

His shabby chair gave a painful creak as Detective Inspector Noel Osborne threw his eighteen stones into it. Before he could open the baker’s bag he was clutching, his phone rang.

‘Oh, good morning, ma’am … yes … just following a lead … nothing exciting … oh … another one? … yes … I will …’ He pulled a face at the receiver before slamming it down. He turned to the other two officers in the Wimbledon CID room. ‘So, another literary agent. Lorraine McNeill.’ He swilled the name round his mouth. ‘She’s not Scottish by any chance?’ he asked hopefully.

His back turned as he made coffee, Detective Constable Bagawath Chandavarkar, ‘Baggo’ from his first day in the police, grinned. Inspector No was incorrigible. Since giving up their national drink, he had not had a good word to say about the ‘sweaty-sock jocks’. The previous June, Baggo had wound him up repeatedly by calling Henman Hill ‘Murray’s Mound’.

Detective Sergeant Flick Fortune scowled. ‘She lived in London all her life,’ she said sharply.

Osborne reached into the bag and drew out a cream doughnut.

‘The SOCOs and the photographer finished an hour ago, so I told them they could take the body away. Sir.’ Flick made sure Osborne saw her looking at the wall clock in the CID room. It showed half past eleven.

Fifteen – love, Baggo thought to himself as the kettle came to the boil.

Osborne swung a brown shoe, darkened by muddy slush, onto the papers littering his desk and bit into the doughnut. Cream squelched out, some dropping on his shirt. ‘What do we know?’ He wiped the cream from the crumpled fabric and licked his finger.

Flick said, ‘Yesterday, Ms McNeill worked late. She was the only person in the office. Rigor mortis was complete when she was found this morning at about nine. Her throat had been cut and she’d bled to death.’

‘So time of death would have been some time yesterday evening. Any sign of forced entry?’

‘None. She may have known her attacker.’

‘Or they barged in as she left for the night. Had she arranged to meet anyone?’

‘Don’t know. Chandavarkar has her i-Phone.’

‘Anything interesting there, Baggo?’ Osborne asked.

‘Nothing yet, gov.’ He put the mugs down and resumed his seat. ‘This lady did not have a big social life, if her contacts are anything to go by. A publisher was her last caller, at half past five yesterday evening. I’ve ordered up the phone records for her and her office. I will tell you more tomorrow.’ The classical sing-song of Mumbai was over-laid by the flat whine of the English capital.

Osborne turned to Flick. ‘What’s happening at the scene?’

‘I left Peters there with the receptionist. She’s been told not to touch anything and not to use her computer. Do you want to see for yourself?’

‘Never saw the point of rushing to a crime scene, Felicity. I need to think …’

Fifteen all.

‘Flick, please. Sir.’

Thirty – fifteen.

‘Felicity’s your name, and you can’t belly-ache when I call you that.’

Thirty all. The game is warming up, Baggo thought. Two days previously, Flick had complained to Superintendent Palfrey that Osborne called her ‘doll’, ‘pet’ and ‘my love’. He had been summoned to the station head’s office and spent quarter of an hour with her before storming out, his face red; angry, not ashamed.

Flick glared. She despised everything about Osborne: his slobbishness, his idleness, the extent to which he was off-message. He had an addictive personality, smoking like a chimney, even in the office. Years ago, his irregular methods concealed by perjury, he had jailed a lot of East End villains; in the muster room he was still a legend in his own lunchtime. But modern, transparent policing was not his style and he had developed a fondness for whisky that had nearly cost him his job; High Court Judges are not all deaf, and none of them likes being called ‘old wanker’ in the street outside the Bailey. Now, his mojo long gone, instead of drinking, Osborne ate, mostly curries and doughnuts. His sinewy thirteen stones had ballooned beyond recognition and, motivated only by his pension, he coasted towards retirement. It couldn’t come soon enough for Flick, either.

‘I need to think,’ he repeated, slurping coffee. His mug was so chipped and stained that few tramps would touch it. ‘That other literary agent was strangled, with paper stuffed in her mouth.’

‘Not just paper, something she had written.’

Forty – thirty.

‘Quite right, my lo… Felicity. Made her eat her words.’ He looked meaningfully at her.

Deuce.

‘Anything odd about the new one?’ he asked.

‘There was a bit of paper under her. It had ‘1’ written on it.’

‘One?’

‘The numeral.’

‘Interesting.’ He scratched his crotch then said, ‘Someone must hate literary agents. Don’t much fancy them myself, but who’s going to murder them?’

‘Unpublished authors, I suppose,’ Flick said.

‘Are there many who can’t get published? Bookshops are full of rubbish. With your education, you should see that.’

Advantage Osborne.

Flick had ceased to rise to jibes about her two/one degree in English Literature from Bristol. She sipped her coffee then explained, as if to a child: ‘There are good writers who don’t get published and bad ones who do. It depends on whether a publisher thinks the book will sell. Thanks to computers, anyone who wants can write a book these days.’

Deuce.

‘What do you mean?’

‘A book has to be typed. Before computers you had to type out every page yourself, or get someone else to do it. If you made a bad mistake, or wanted to change something, you had to re-type the whole page. Sometimes pages. Now you can alter your work easily. Bit like you and your statements,’ she added pointedly.

Advantage Fortune.

Osborne ignored the dig. ‘So you put all your imaginings on the computer, then print out your book when you’re finished?’

‘You don’t even have to do that. You can e-mail your work round the world.’

‘I see. But why blame literary agents if no one likes it?’

‘It’s probably the literary agent who doesn’t like it. Most publishers look only at work sent to them by agents, so, if you want to get published you need an agent. Good agents reject hundreds of books every week. Yes, hundreds.’

‘And if they do take a book on …?’

‘It still may not get published.’

‘And there’s another reason to blame an agent,’ Osborne said, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. ‘But a writer wouldn’t have the one eating her own words …’ He nodded towards the whiteboard, where an asymmetrical, botoxed face, clarted with make-up, had the word ‘victim’ beside it in green ink.

‘Jessica Stanhope.’

‘I know. And this new, sweaty-sounding one …’

‘Lorraine McNeill.’

‘Representing them, would they?’

‘I doubt it.’

‘So if there’s a wannabe that both agents have turned down, we have a suspect for both murders.’ Osborne looked triumphant.

‘I’d worked that out. Sir.’

Game Fortune.

‘Well, Felicity, what are you waiting for? We need two lists, soon as you can manage. But we’ll do the usual personal checks as well. Don’t want to overlook the bleeding obvious. I wonder if this one got up to as much hanky-panky as Jessica.’

‘Are you going to visit the crime scene at all? Sir.’

Osborne screwed up the empty bag and missed the bin with his throw. ‘Suppose it’ll fill in the time till lunch. You drive.’

‘It’s just round the corner. Off Worple Road. I thought I’d walk.’

‘We’ll take the car in case it snows. You drive.’

Baggo waited till they had left. ‘The match will resume later,’ he announced to the empty room. ‘New balls, please.’

* * *

‘She was such a lovely person,’ Aline-Wendy Nuttall sniffed as she struggled to re-attach her false eyelashes. Tear tracks spoiled her heavy make-up, her silver-grey hair was askew and her nose was red. It was only a few hours since she had reported her employer’s murder. ‘I can’t face anything till I have my eyes on,’ she confided to Flick as Osborne rummaged in a filing cabinet and a bored Detective Constable Danny Peters looked on.

Flick raised her eyebrows. ‘What exactly do you do here?’ she asked.

‘Anything I can to help. Ms McNeill is … was so busy. I answered the phone, opened the post, kept her diary. Sometimes I saw people she was too busy to see. “You’re my shield,” she would tell me. Some people can get quite nasty, you know. Excuse me.’ Seizing tissues, she swivelled her chair and buried her face in her hands.

‘We’ll just look round,’ Flick said. The McNeill Agency’s premises were compact. Osborne had already moved from the poorly-heated hallway, where Aline-Wendy’s simple pine desk was situated, to what had been Lorraine McNeill’s office. No one else worked for the agency.

Trying to think of the blood as paint, splashed extravagantly about the room by a crazy artist with a bucket and spray-can, Flick stepped over the soggy, coagulating stain on the carpet to the right of the door and inspected the walls. Alongside the likes of Tony Blair, David Cameron and Stephen Fry, the dead woman’s superior smile shone out of numerous photographs. Anyone with her who was not a recognisable celebrity clutched an award, a plaque or a dagger. Flick presumed they were writers she had successfully represented. The huge, laminated black desk held only a crystal vase containing a dozen red roses, a telephone and a small laptop. Osborne sank into the leather swivel chair behind it and started going through the drawers.

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