INNOCENCE DIES: excerpt

Charlie got home, took a Punk IPA from the fridge, and slumped on to the sofa.

He considered watching a DVD of the Invincibles relive the glory days of Vieira and Bergkamp to cheer himself up, it was that or go to bed, but his head was running away with itself. His Nokia rang. Oh, for God’s sake.

It was Reuben’s mother.

‘I’m sorry to be ringing you so late. But you said, we could, any time.’

‘Has Reuben remembered anything that might be of help, do you think?’

‘Actually, it’s more about what I just heard on the news. Is it true, you’ve let him go?’

‘Our enquiries are continuing, Mrs Williams.’

‘But he’s dangerous. I read in the newspapers, he’s on that offenders’ list. He hurt some poor little girl near Oxford somewhere.’

‘I can’t comment on what the papers say, Mrs Williams.’

‘It’s just I’m worried about my kids. Men like that out there, on the prowl.’

‘I’m not at liberty to discuss the case with you, Mrs Williams. All I can say is that we have been working around the clock to bring this case to a successful resolution. But we do not have the evidence to charge anyone at present.’

‘But my Reuben saw him following that poor little girl!’

‘That, on its own, is not enough to bring to a court of law, I’m afraid.’

‘What will it take before you people do something? Some other poor girl getting killed? If the police won’t protect our kids, who will?’

She hung up on him. Well, Charlie thought, that’s a nice end to the day. There was a dull pain behind his eyes. He closed his eyes, just for a second, the next thing he knew there was someone hammering on the front door.

Charlie opened the door and leaned against the door jamb with his bottle of IPA and thought, but didn’t say, well who the fuck are you? A raised eyebrow would do it, at this time of night.

The geezer had Frank Begbie eyes and a horseshoe moustache; he also had a mullet, and you didn’t see a lot of those these days. He was the sort of bloke his old man used to go to the football with: they were all called Knuckles or Psycho or Dog.

Ironically, the first thing out of the geezer’s mouth was: ‘Have you seen my dog?’

‘What sort of dog is that then?’ Charlie said, and put his IPA on the hall table. It was good beer and he didn’t want it getting spilled in the very likely possibility of a bit of a barney.

‘He’s a fucking spaniel, innit?’

‘Is that a cocker fucking spaniel or a cavalier fucking spaniel? Or a water fucking spaniel. Cos a water fucking spaniel, they’re bigger.’

‘Are you having a laugh?’

Charlie noticed Dog’s eye tooth was a little out of whack. Maybe someone had smacked him. He seemed like the sort of bloke that would get smacked a lot.

‘No, it’s a serious question,’ Charlie said. ‘When you’re looking for someone – or for someone who also happens to be a dog – you have to give a precise description or how do you know who you’re looking for? Height, eye colour, breed, it’s all very important.’

‘Have you seen it, or not?’

‘This is my point, see. A dog is a sentient creature, so by rights it is a “who” not an “it”. Have you ever studied much philosophy?’

‘You’re a fucking loony, you are.’ He turned to go.

‘How long have you had the dog?’

‘What’s it to you?’

‘Just curious, mate. Fond of it, are you?’

‘Fond of it? It’s my girlfriend’s fucking dog, I’d as soon drown the fucking thing. When I find it, I’m going to give it a fucking good hiding. It’s always running off. Open the fucking door for a minute and it’s fucking gone.’

‘Why do you reckon that is, then?’ Charlie said.

‘Because he’s a fucking shit of a dog.’

Charlie took another swallow of IPA to calm himself down, and thought about hitting Dog with the bottle. Come on, son, be civilised, talk to him normally, like you would any other serial killer. ‘I don’t suppose you’ve ever considered treating him with some kindness and respect?’

‘Have you seen the fucking dog or not, shit for brains?’

Charlie put down his beer, tried to stay calm. Then again, no PACE laws to get in his way when it came to dealing justice for a spaniel, not as far as he knew. ‘Christ, you’re ugly. I’ve seen Dobermans better looking than you.’

Dog took his hands out of his jeans. His fists were full of cheap, nugget rings, and he had tattoos on the knuckles. ‘Do you know who I am?’

‘Yeah, I know who you are. You’re the bloke in the flat over the road that always plays his music too loud and is always shouting and carrying on. Don’t ask me how I know this but you also have a criminal record, two common assaults and an ABH.’

‘How the fuck do you know that?’

‘I just said, don’t ask me how I know, and there you go, asking me. You don’t spend too much time visiting the kingdom of intelligence, do you?’

Dog poked Charlie in the chest with his index finger. ‘You ought to mind your fucking self.’

‘In what way?’ Charlie said.

‘Because if you don’t, you’ll end up eating your breakfast through a tube.’

Charlie was going to point out that all he ever had for breakfast was coffee, so that was doable with or without Dog’s help, but instead he said: ‘Jesus, you’ve got bad breath. I think you might have gingivitis.’

Dog grabbed Charlie by the shirt and pushed him against the door. Big mistake. ‘No need to be like that mate,’ Charlie said, and reached over and grabbed his right hand, locked it in place. His left hand came up fast, almost snapping Dog’s right elbow at the joint. Charlie brought his right leg across and around in a sweep for greater effect and down he went.

Suddenly Dog found himself lying face down on the doorstep, right about the spot where Charlie had found his spaniel that Thursday night. He gasped, dribbling blood from his nose where he had cracked it on the concrete. Could have chipped a tooth as well, Charlie reckoned, by the way he was howling. He could have that checked, when he got the gingivitis sorted.

Charlie now had one knee on his right elbow, and a hand on his right wrist, it gave him a nice bit of leverage. Dog’s wing wasn’t quite as tough as the leg joint on his old ma’s Christmas turkey but nearly. This would definitely count as police brutality if he was at work, he supposed, but he was off duty so in his mind it didn’t count.

‘The fuck,’ Dog said. ‘You’re breaking my arm!’

‘Not yet,’ Charlie said, and told him to keep his voice down, he was disturbing the neighbours. ‘We have enough of that sort of thing around here. People making too much noise, playing their music too loud, gunning the engine on their motors, know what I mean?’ He applied a little upward pressure and what came out of Dog was a high-pitched whining sound, like a badly tuned radio. ‘Now look,’ Charlie said, ‘I haven’t seen your dog, but if I had seen him, I think he would like me to send you a message.’

Dog wriggled a bit, so Charlie pulled a bit harder, and said, do you want to make a wish before we break it? Finally, he stopped moving about.

Charlie put his mouth close to Dog’s ear. ‘Now listen here, you low-life scrote, the RSPCA have restricted powers, they probably couldn’t even fine you for what you did to that dog. Me, however, I am unfettered by legal process in such matters, and if I ever see you mistreating one of God’s own creatures ever again, I will smash you like a plate at a Greek wedding. Am I making myself crystal, old son?’

He heard a bit more static, but he supposed that was a yes. He eased off the pressure a little.

‘Now repeat after me: I will endeavour to be kind to all animals from now on. Say it, go on.’ Dog was panting, must be hurting quite a bit, he supposed.

‘I will be kind to animals …’

‘No, “kind to all animals …”’

‘I will be … kind to … fuck, you’re breaking my fucking arm, you cunt.’

It wasn’t the epithet Charlie had been hoping to hear and he twisted a little harder until Dog was better able to express himself.

‘Repeat: “I will be kind to all animals, or someone from the RSPCA will come and cut my jacobs off,” say it!’

‘ … or someone from the RPSA will come and, oh fuck me, my arm …’

‘You don’t even know what the RSPCA is, do you?’

At last they got through it, and Dog promised to be good. Charlie didn’t believe a word of it, but at least he had made his point, on behalf of cocker spaniels everywhere.

‘I am going to let you up now,’ Charlie said. ‘I would advise you to go directly home, because if you think this is terrible, you don’t know me very well.’ He gave Dog a final little tug on the arm, just for fun really, and then he got up, levering himself up with a knee placed somewhere between the seventh and eight vertebrae of Dog’s thoracic spine.

Dog scrambled to his feet, clutching his arm, shouted some idle threats and ran off. Charlie went back inside and shut the door.

Result.

Cocker spaniels 1, Total Wet-wipes 0.

 

 

 

Back in the day, the Whitechapel Road was all Jack-the-Ripper tours and Bollywood video shops; it was proper Middle East London now, second or third generation, men in skullcaps and women in hijabs, Islamic bookshops and halal shops, street stalls selling papayas and scarves and rainbow dust mops. A car pulled up at the pumps, radio full blast, playing what sounded like Somali tunes.

They were parked in the service station across the road from the funeral home. Charlie sipped his coffee and scrolled through his phone, left the surveillance to Lovejoy, who seemed keen about that sort of thing.

‘Are you on another football site?’ she said, after a while.

‘It relaxes me.’

‘No, it doesn’t, it just winds you up, guv.’

‘Better than getting wound up about not being able to nail the bloke who did for the little girl.’

‘We’re getting a lot of stares.’

‘We’re two white people sitting in a car across the street from the city’s largest mosque. Wasn’t that long ago that that nutter Osborne drove a van into people outside the mosque in Finsbury Park. Don’t blame them for being nervous. Vehicle ramming goes both ways these days.’

‘Why have they come here for the funeral? We’re a bit of a way from where they live.’

‘Still not that many funeral homes for Muslims in London,’ Charlie said. ‘This is about the oldest one. Christmas, New Year’s Eve, it’s always open. Funerals are dead quick if you’re a Muslim. No hanging about like us.’

‘Won’t have been easy for the Okpotus, then.’

‘No, there’s been a bit of strife about that. But because of our enquiry, the coroner wouldn’t release the body.’

‘Have we still got Norton under surveillance, guv?’

‘FONC’s called it off, and for once I agree with him. Can’t keep spending taxpayer’s money on having someone sit in their car outside his shed and eat crisps. We’ve got nothing on him.’

‘It’s got to be him.’

‘Here we go,’ Charlie said, as the funeral cortege pulled out of the gates into the street. A pink hearse; that was a poignant touch, he thought. Lovejoy was about to start the car but Charlie put up his hand to stop her. ‘We don’t need to follow them, we know where they’re going. Just see if anyone else does, someone who doesn’t look like they belong.’

‘We’re clutching at straws here, guv.’

‘Straws, Lovejoy, are we all have. So, let’s clutch.’

 

 

It was a long drive out to the wilds of Ilford, in Charlie’s book. They got there before the cortege and waited in the car park, at a discreet distance. There were three funeral cars for the mourners, even a coach had been laid on. Others arrived in private vehicles.

Lovejoy turned off the engine. Charlie tapped impatiently on the dash with his fingers.

‘Do you reckon it’s true, that killers go to their victim’s funeral?’

‘It’s the perceived wisdom, Lovejoy.’

‘You don’t believe it?’

‘I’ve never caught anyone this way.’

‘So why are we here?’

‘What the DCI wants, the DCI gets. I am a humble public servant, as are you. We are here, serving the public, as directed by our superiors.’

Lovejoy found the binoculars in the console, Charlie went back to his iPhone. Never mind what he’d said to Lovejoy, he couldn’t concentrate on the football. He kept going through it in his mind, over and over; there had to be something he’d missed.

‘The Williamses are here.’

‘All of them?’

‘I suppose they feel invested. Seeing it was Reuben who was the last one to see her alive.’

She handed him the glasses. He fiddled with them, refocused. ‘Always him, holding the little girl’s hand.’

‘They’re an odd family. Ever heard the little one speak?’

‘Not now you come to mention it.’

‘Her big sister’s not much better. Just a text bump away from a serious deficit. She’ll be Snapchatting over the grave, that one.’

He handed her back the glasses.

‘They don’t have a casket,’ Lovejoy said.

‘I know.’

‘What, they just put her in, like that?’

‘She’s in a shroud. It’s the way they do it. They have to be buried facing Mecca. Me, I’m going to be buried facing away from the Emirates, so I can finally rest in peace.’

‘Never thought about it before, where Muslims go to get buried.’

‘Well, we’re all different. Trouble is, they can’t be cremated, it’s against their religion, so it creates a bit of a problem on a little island. A few years ago there was this plan to dig up everyone in this old cemetery in Tower Hamlets and bury all the Muslims there. There were three hundred thousand people in it, that’s a lot of dead bodies, more than a Tarantino film. It didn’t get passed. Are we done?’

She put down the glasses and shrugged. ‘So now what?’

‘We keep the file open. We go through all the witness statements again, look for something we missed, all the while try to keep up with the backlog of other cases. Pray for a breakthrough.’

‘On the TV we haul Norton in, conduct a brilliant interrogation, trap him in a lie and he breaks down and confesses.’

‘That would be nice, but that’s not going to happen. What’s going to happen is the team is going off roster, we arrest those two gangbangers who did for that other scrote in Tottenham, we catch up on our paperwork and our sleep, and I am going to see my girlfriend, who has probably forgotten all about me by now.’

‘Not that one works for the CPS?’

‘No, we broke up. This one’s a teacher. Pippa. Short for Philippa.’

‘Nice name,’ she said, but her voice had an edge to it. He decided to leave that one alone.

They drove back to the nick. Charlie stared moodily out of the window the whole way, thinking about the Okpotus, saying the janaza prayer over their little girl before following her shrouded body to the cemetery; they’d just lost more than he’d ever had. He had to get over this feeling that he’d let them down.

Or maybe I’ve missed something.

But what?

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