INNOCENCE DIES: excerpt

The Nokia default ringtone is a three-second snippet taken from a 1902 guitar solo, ‘Gran Vals’, by the Spanish musician, Francisco Tárrega, considered one of the greatest classical guitarists of all time.

It was sampled, before sampling was even fashionable, from Frédéric Chopin’s 1834 waltz ‘Grand Valse Brilliante. The greatest thing about the piece, from the point of view of the executives at Nokia, who decided to use it, was that it was out of copyright.

The musical phrase had quite a different meaning for DI Charlie George; it told him that someone, somewhere, had lost their life through an act of extreme violence.

The Nokia on his bedside table belonged to the Force, regulation issue. He stared at the glow from the LED display in the dark, listened to it buzz and vibrate for a few grim seconds before he reached for it. He had thought about changing the default to something more appropriate for the distress and ugliness he was being summoned to; something already ruined for him. Pre-fucked, as DC Jayden Greene would say.

Kanye West, for instance.

He sat up, had the feeling of being dragged out of a play halfway through. Already the roseate world of his dreams was slipping away; he tried to hold on to it, a hand reaching back in a fast-flowing stream. No, it was gone, not even a few cold details to mull over when he was scraping the frost off his windshield a few minutes from now. It had been a good dream, with a good woman in it, and Arsenal winning. Nothing at all like reality.

He flicked on the bedside lamp, picked up his Oliver Coen Berkeley and peered at it. 2.37. Nice. Come on, Charlie son, pick up the freaking phone. The duty officer isn’t going to change their mind and ring someone else. You’re on call, mate. Your shout.

‘DI George?’

He didn’t recognise the voice. Must be the new one, what was her name, Barnes, Barnett? No, Bartlett.

‘It’s DS Barlow at Essex Street.’

Right, that was it; close.

‘Yes, Barlow.’

‘Suspected homicide on a disused rail line in Finsbury Park. The HAT team are out there now. A eleven-year-old girl, missing since yesterday evening.’

His first thought: who finds bodies on a railway line in the middle of the night? That was one for the early morning joggers. Well, he supposed he’d find out the details soon enough. He scribbled down the details for his GPS, wished Barlow a good morning, and hung up.

A dead kid. Oh, great. He felt like he’d swallowed a cup of cold fat. He knew what that was like, too; his old man had made him do it once when he caught him stealing a bit of chicken out of the fridge.

He hated homicides involving kids; something you never got used to, they reckoned, no matter how many years you racked up in the job. ‘Morpheus descending into the Underworld,’ he said and got out of bed.

He stared at the clothes in his walk-in; he still missed his old place, this was like hanging up his suits in a phone box. He thought about his Corneliani suit, forty quid at a Salvo in Chelsea; the Incotex smart casual pants, still hadn’t worn them; the Marni sneakers bought for a tenner at a market stall down the road. But they weren’t for jobs like this. He grabbed one of his regulation navy CID suits, ninety quid at TK Maxx and got dressed.

His car keys were on the bedside table, next to his phone. He peered down into the street. There was a sheen of ice on the pavement.

He stumbled down the stairs, put on his Stone Island, hurried out of the door and nearly went arse over breakfast down his front steps. There was a high-pitched squeal; it sounded like a stuck pig, scared the bejesus out of him. He fumbled in his jacket for his iPhone, turned on the flashlight.

‘What the fuck,’ he said and bent down.

It was a dog, a cocker spaniel by the looks, shivering with cold, all skin and bone like a puppy. No collar on it. It licked his hand, the crafty bugger.

‘What are you doing here?’ Charlie said. ‘Get yourself off home.’

The spaniel scrambled to its feet and trotted inside.

‘No, you can’t do that. I’ve got to go to work.’

The little dog sat himself down in his kitchen, half sitting, half leaning against the refrigerator door. He was still shivering, stared at him with its big sad eyes like he expected him to do something about it.

‘You’re wet,’ Charlie said.

He grabbed a towel from the linen cupboard, dried him off as best he could. He went to the pantry, got an empty beer carton, put the towel in it to make a bed. He sorted through the shelves, there was a half-eaten packet of chocolate digestives. No, he’d read somewhere that dogs couldn’t have chocolate. It would have to be the Rich Tea. ‘Sorry mate, I ate all the custard creams,’ he said, scooped the damned thing up under one arm and put it in the box. ‘Look at you, you’re all ribs, like an underwear model. Doesn’t anyone ever feed you?’

Well, now what? He put the box under his arm and went out to the car.

I must be mad, Charlie thought. Who takes a spaniel to a crime scene? ‘If you crap in my car,’ he said to the dog, ‘there’ll be two bodies to sort out.’ He wondered where the bloody thing had come from; no one in the block had a dog, far as he knew, at least nothing bigger than a terrier. How was he going to find the owner? Facebook, he supposed. The spaniel didn’t look as if he was missing anyone in particular, though, the state of him.

He hesitated a moment before getting in his car. But what else was he going to do? He couldn’t leave the dog in the flat and he couldn’t leave it to freeze on the doorstep.

He clicked the remote, put the box and the spaniel on the floor on the passenger side. He got out one of the Rich Teas and gave it to him. ‘Christ, you inhaled that. Didn’t your mother teach you to chew your food?’ He gave it another one, same result.

‘Here, have the packet, why not,’ he said, tossed the biscuits in the box with the spaniel and shut the door. He used the plastic scraper to get the frost off the windscreen, then got behind the wheel and warmed up the engine. He turned on the GPS. Seven minutes to Finsbury Park, according to Mrs Google. He wondered what was waiting for him.

He put the car into gear. He could feel the cocker spaniel looking at him.

‘You have the right to remain silent,’ he said. ‘Use it.’

 

 

Charlie slowed at the police checkpoint, leaned out of the window to show his warrant card to a uniform in a high-viz jacket, and signed in. He parked behind a dark blue Beemer. Christ, the DCI was here. Was it that bad?

The local bill had cordoned off the high street either side of the railway bridge. He could see the glow of the Crime Scene unit’s halogens on the embankment; a nice climb up an icy slope then, that’s the way to start a day.

The cocker peered at him over the edge of the box. ‘Unless you’ve got a certificate showing me you’re qualified as a sniffer dog, you cannot come to a crime scene,’ Charlie said. ‘So just sit here and be quiet. Don’t eat all the biscuits and, for real, don’t crap in my car.’

As he got out his breath misted on the air. A few moments later it started chucking it down again, the weather gods conspiring to stuff up his crime scene. He went to the boot, got his white coveralls and shoe covers, struggled into them, got a fresh log book, then headed up the embankment. The CS team had set up their blue and white tent about a hundred yards further down the track; only there was no track, it looked as if there hadn’t ever been one. He shone his torch around. Everything on the embankment either side was grown over with weeds.

He headed towards the scrum of CS officers, all in their papery white hooded suits and face masks. It looked like a scene from a sci-fi film.

One of them pulled down his mask. ‘Morning, Charlie. All right, then?’

‘Bit nippy, Jack.’

‘This rain’s not doing us any favours either.’

‘What have you got for me?’

‘You’ll not be best pleased. Victim’s father trampled over everything before we got here, the weather did the rest. The local guvnor’s bringing in extra uniforms to do a search.’

‘What is this? Thought it was a railway.’

‘Meant to be, back when Jesus was a boy, then someone changed their mind. Now the locals use it for dogging and drug deals.’

‘It’s always good to have a designated area. Lobbying the council for one where I live, next to the skateboard park. What’s that over there? Public toilet?’

‘Ventilation shaft for the underground. It’s all locked up.’

‘The tube go under here?’

‘Not any more.’

 They were moving the body. Two lads from the Forensic Medical Examiner’s office had loaded the body bag on to a stretcher and had roped some uniforms into helping them carry it back to the bridge. Rain had beaded on the heavy-duty green plastic.

‘The FME’s been and gone,’ Jack said. ‘Your guvnor’s still here.’

‘Brilliant.’

‘Good luck,’ Jack said.

It was hot inside the tent from the lights, the slap of the rain all but drowning out the murmur of voices. Two of his Homicide Assessment Team team were still there, Gale and Lovejoy. Lovejoy looked a bit green under the lights. He nodded to her. ‘OK?’

‘Yeah, I’m OK, guv.’

‘You don’t look OK.’

‘Well, dead kids. I’ve been doing this job long enough, but it still upsets me.’

‘That’s all right then. Not good to get too cynical. When it stops upsetting you, tell me, and I’ll get you transferred to traffic.’ He turned to Gale. ‘Where’s Malik?’

‘He’s taken the father home.’

‘The victim’s father was here, Jack says.’

‘He was the one that found her, guv.’

‘That a fact. Did you get any kind of statement?’

‘Got it on my phone. He was quite lucid, which surprised me. Calm. It was a bit odd, like.’

‘What’s his name?’

‘Victor Okpotu. The victim’s name was Mariatu. Her family’s from from Sierra Leone.’

‘That where she was found?’ The tent had been put up over and around a clump of brambles. Two SOCO’s were still at work, on their hands and knees.

‘He said he found her lying right there, face down. She was reported missing …’ He checked his notes. ‘… at 7.40 p.m. yesterday evening. The 999 call was logged at 12.07 a.m.’

‘He went looking for her in the middle of the night and just happened to find her right there.’

‘Apparently.’

‘The FME say anything?’

‘He said he was cold.’

‘After you exchanged pleasantries.’

‘Massive head wound. Blunt-force trauma.’

‘Murder weapon?’

Gale shook his head.

Charlie slapped the log book into Lovejoy’s arms. ‘That’s yours. You can follow me around on this one, see how it’s done. Every decision gets written down in there, along with date and time. Anywhere I go, you go. Almost.’

He went back outside; the DCI was talking to someone, they both had their hoods back.

‘FONC,’ Lovejoy murmured, and she managed to get the tone just right. She was learning fast. ‘What’s he doing here, guv?’

It was four in the morning, chief inspectors didn’t get out of bed for just any old dead body. This was the sort of murder that could really bunch the commissioner’s panties; was it a hate crime, sex crime, what? Both? This would need a steady hand or the locals would be burning cars and chucking bottles at uniforms in full riot gear. Never mind the crime wave sweeping London, blokes on mopeds with zombie knives. This could turn political.

INNOCENCE DIES is the second in my DI Charlie George CRIME SERIES. It is published by Little,Brown and is available on Amazon