Inspector Walter Darriteau in his latest case in Chester in the north-west of England.
David Carter Books
The Sound of Sirens by David Carter
The ancient city of Chester, Friday night and the weekend starts here. High summer, skimpy fashions, short skirts, tight jeans, it’s a hot night, and the town’s relaxed.
The young man hid in the shadows, cigarette in hand. Moonless night, dry too, a hint of June balminess in the air. He thought he heard someone coming and peeked out from the disused shop entrance. He was right. He had heard someone, but not the man he was waiting for. Pulled back into the shop doorway, took a drag on the fag. The stranger ambled by on the other side of the road, dragged along by a shortsighted Alsatian dog.
There was music in the air, soft rock, slipping from the Friday night pub across the way, drifting down the road, floating across the river, vibrating through the city.
Another man came round the corner. This time, the right man, an older guy wearing an expensive tweed cap, carrying a packet. He walked fast toward the doorway where the young man was taking one last suck on the ciggie, before tossing it to the ground and dancing it out. The older guy stopped in the doorway, right up close, peered through the darkness at the young guy. Said, ‘You ready?’
The young bloke nodded. Didn’t speak.
The older guy handed him the packet. It wasn’t sealed, just folded over at the flap end, and said, ‘It’s the tall white guy, the guitarist, lead singer, you can’t miss him.’
The young bloke grabbed the packet and nodded and said, ‘When do I get paid?’
‘When you deliver the goods.’
‘OK, two o’clock, by the clock.’
‘I’ll be there.’
‘Don’t fuck up!’ the old guy said, and he turned around and walked smartly away.
The young guy opened the packet. Took out the handgun. Gleamed in the moonlight. Nice piece. Easy in the hand. Easy on the trigger. Not too large, not too small. Slipped it in the right blouson pocket. Stepped out of the shadows. Headed toward the pub.
The music was getting louder, reaching a climax, the end of the song, the end of the session, it had gone eleven and the live music licence expired at eleven o’clock.
Sissy Burke, the licensee nodded at the boys to stop. She’d already had one warning from the police about over-running, and she didn’t want another. Her licence was at stake.
Sweat was pouring down the lead singer’s face. Half a dozen pretty girls were hanging about, sipping the last of their drinks, glancing at the singer, seeking eye contact, looking for recognition, hoping to get lucky. His straight black hair was sticking together, plastered to his forehead. He was very sweaty, but still cool.
He needed a pee.
He needed a wash.
‘Hey, Jeff,’ he said, ‘hold my guitar a mo, I’m going to the bog.’
Jeff jumped on the stage. It was more of a platform, set at one end of the lounge bar. He’d been angling to join ALL SOULS for weeks. Thought his big moment had finally arrived. Grabbed the guitar and stood at the mic and glanced at the other guys. Imagined himself on lead vocal. Imagined himself on lead guitar. Imagined the women staring at him in the way they looked at Neil. Jeff felt good; grinned and began strumming the guitar.
Sissy shot him a look. Glanced her displeasure at the others. They shrugged their shoulders and looked away. It was nothing to do with them. Jeff caught the mood and stopped strumming, began composing a silent song in his head.
The young guy walked into the pub. It was still pretty full. The music had stopped but the conversation was bubbling. Friday night and the weekend starts here, lots of smart guys hanging about, gaggles of pretty women in sophisticated weekend frocks, sexy summer shorts, tight jeans and tiny skirts, some drinking, some laughing, some joking, some planning on getting a burger, some planning on getting laid, some wanting to be sick, some holding empty glasses and discussing where they were going next, some checking on their remaining funds, some checking in their bags for their ciggies and tabs and lighters they would bring out the moment they were outside.
The young guy made his way through the bar toward the makeshift stage. All four ALL SOULS were there. The Asian guy on drums, packing his sticks away, the Chinese guy polishing his violin, the mean looking black guy holding his trumpet down by his side, trying to look cool, trying to connect with the women, not wanting to go home alone, and the long lanky piece of shit in the middle, the white guy, the lead singer and guitarist, with a distant look on his face, and a price on his head.
Pulled the gun from his pocket, pointed it at the white guy’s torso, no second thoughts, let go four shots in quick succession, one, two, three, four, as if he was about to launch into a classic sixties rock song.
At the sound of the first shot a moment of stunned disbelief crashed through the bar. Someone was playing a joke, right? A second of silence. Then screaming and yelling broke out, and looks of disbelief at the sight of the guitarist blown on his back, bleeding, still clutching the guitar, not moving a muscle, eyes wide open, staring out in disbelief, not comprehending what had happened, hurting, shocked, and dying on his back like a beached and injured turtle.
The young guy turned round, waved the gun at the crowded bar. Girls screamed, parted like the Red Sea. He grinned and walked through the valley of death and out into the balmy night, gaining speed as he went, hurrying round the corner, the hot gun now back in his pocket, his neat and new car just up the road. One minute later and he had vanished into the night, laughing as he went.
Neil had been washing his hands when he heard the first shot. Thought it was some kind of prank. Heard the second and third and fourth. Some racket, some joke. Shook his hands dry and ran outside.
The girls were still screaming, the boys looking shocked, dazed and confused. Some were calling the police on their mobiles, some were calling their friends and family; some idiots were taking pictures of dead Jeff, bloodied and on his back, couldn’t wait to get them on their Bookface site before anyone else. Live murder in graphic colour, online and fresh, it’s amazing what the modern world had to offer, you wouldn’t believe it!
Neil ran to the stage. Couldn’t comprehend what he saw. His guitar was ruined. Two slugs gone clean through it; right through dopey Jeff as well; and clean into the wall at the back.
‘Who did it?’ asked Neil.
‘Never seen him before,’ said the black guy, ‘some young white piece of shit.’
Neil glanced at the other two. They pursed their lips and shook their heads and peered down at dead Jeff. What the fuck was going on?
The sound of sirens floated in through the door. Police? Ambulance? Maybe both. Sissy was bent over the bar, crying. She’d lose her licence now, she was certain of that, and she had big bills to pay, and bigger loans to service, and some of them from not so nice people.
Some of the guys who didn’t want to be interviewed by the coppers were scurrying away. But too late.
The cops were already there, surrounding the place.
Two armed response units, plus four unarmed officers, rounding everybody up, setting up temporary barriers, tapes across the exits, keeping the nosey parkers out, keeping the witnesses in. No one would be allowed to leave until their details had been taken and checked, and until their initial witness statements had been heard.
One dizzy ginger girl said, ‘I know that guy, he used to live on the estate.’
The bloke she was with said, ‘Trust me, Sharon, you don’t know him.’
‘I bloody well do!’
The guy took her arm and squeezed it hard and said, ‘He works for…’ and he leant over and whispered the rest in ginger’s ear.
Her brow furrowed and she said aloud, ‘Yeah, you’re right, Billy, I was mistaken, never seen the guy before.’
Walter Darriteau had just finished his late meal. He hadn’t been in the house long. Chicken chow mein. Ready meal job, one of the better ones. Ready meals were improving, and not before time, even if they were two to three times more fattening than your traditional meat and two veg. He ambled back to the kitchen. Emptied the detritus, the cardboard cover, the plastic tray, the stained clear top, into the chrome kick bin. His cleaner was coming in the morning and he didn’t want to be dirty and untidy for her.
Galina Unpronounceable was her name, Polish or Byelorussian, or Ukrainian, she was, something like that, one of those eastern European races where Europe thought about becoming Asia. Not an illegal, not our Galina, not working in Walter’s house, no way. That would not have gone down well. He’d seen the proof. He’d seen the papers. Her real surname was full of w’s and z’s and c’s and s’s with nary a vowel in sight. Hopeless to him, he couldn’t begin to say it.
She was a good kid though. Tall and slim and blonde and blue eyed and hardworking, did two straight hours every Saturday morning for a few pennies more than the minimum wage, worked like a maniac when she was in the house, never stopped once, even when Walter begged her to slow down and take a coffee with him.
Let herself in with the key under the stone if he didn’t open the door. When she first came Walter had left cash lying around as bait. Not a thing went missing, not a penny, and he felt guilty afterwards at trying to trap her, but the policeman in him would never go away completely.
She thought Walter was doing her a big favour, and she liked the man, and she liked his house. Couldn’t believe he was a policeman. Laughed her head off when she discovered that. Thought he was joking when he first told her.
‘Really? A black detective, in England? How strange!’
He was thinking of watching a Spike Lee movie. He was thinking of going to bed. Couldn’t decide which. He’d toss a coin. Heads bed, tails tales.
Walter glanced up at his own image reflected back from the new window recently fitted in his kitchen. No one would ever get through that, bragged the salesman, dead locks and steel bolts that went straight into the wall. It had cost him an arm and a leg, but Walter didn’t care about that, just so long as it kept the bloody burglars at bay.
He grabbed a damp cloth and began wiping down the worktops. Strange thing was his house was a lot cleaner now than it had been for years, even before Galina came in the morning. Perhaps he was ashamed of inviting a foreigner into a dirty home; perhaps he was trying to impress her.
She was thirty, almost half his age; but he knew it would take more than a gleaming kitchen to impress Galina Unpronounceable.
The old phone in the hallway began ringing.
Who the hell was that at this hour?
An even money bet.
Had to be either a wrong number… or work.
He hoped it would be work.
He always hoped it would be work.
It was indeed work.
Walter liked that, and smiled a smile that no one would ever see.
‘Sorry to bother you,’ said Karen, his sergeant, warily.
‘What are you doing working at this time of night?’
‘Gibbons called me in. It’s only a couple of minutes from my flat.’
‘There’s been an incident down by the river, The Ship Inn, some guy’s been shot.’
‘Is he on his way to hospital?’
‘Too late for that, Guv. Morgue candidate.’
‘Oh!’ That surprised Walter, and he took a moment out.
She jumped into the vacuum and said, ‘I’m going down there now. Do you want me to pick you up?’
‘What do you think?’
‘Thought so. I’ll see you in five.’
Just enough time to swig some mouthwash and find his shoes and cover the hole in his sock, and slip on a light jacket, and when he went to the front window and peered through the crack in the curtains, in the moonlight Karen was already there, pulling the unmarked BMW to a halt outside.
He went out and locked the front door and eased into the car and Karen pulled away and headed for the river.
‘Know any more?’ he asked.
‘Not much, armed response are already there. Place packed apparently. Some guy just came in and blew the singer away, member of the band, lead guitar or something.’
Walter resisted making a crack about the poor choice of music, or the crap playing, and stared ahead and already they could see pulsing blue light swirling around the roofs of the old buildings at the end of the narrow road.
He knew The Ship well, used to go there quite a bit himself, but fell out of love with the place when it was taken over by the twenty somethings and their shouty louty music.
A minute later and Walter and Karen were walking through the bar. The uniforms were busy taking statements, kids huddled around tables, an older man who an hour before had been unsuccessfully glad eyeing the young things, looking guilty and eager to get home to his wife and kids. The woman licensee was still standing behind the bar.
She’d regained her composure and now stood upright with her arms folded across her chest. She nodded at Walter as he came through the lounge. She’d seen him before, and you wouldn’t forget Walter Darriteau in a hurry, though he hadn’t been in for ages, and she wondered why.
The dead guy was still there where he’d landed on his back on the apology for a stage. The doctor was already there too, staring down and pulling faces.
‘There you are, Walter,’ he said, ‘I thought you might show up. This time you can ask me the time of death.’
‘Thanks, doc. What was the time of death?’
‘Six minutes past eleven, I know that because these guys tell me they had just finished playing at five past and death was pretty much instantaneous.’
Walter bobbed his head. Looked at the tall white guy standing to one side, the guy with his arms folded across his chest.
‘What was the dead guy’s name?’
‘Jeff something or other.’
‘Jeff what?’ snapped Walter.
‘Player,’ said the Chinese guy. ‘Jeff Player.’
‘Appropriate name,’ said Walter, glancing down at the holed guitar. ‘Was he a good player?’
‘He didn’t play at all, he was hopeless, he wasn’t even in the band, bit of a loner,’ said the white guy.
‘So what was he doing with the guitar?’
‘I asked him to hold it for me, keep it safe, make sure it wasn’t nicked while I went to the bog. He couldn’t even do that right.’
‘So you’re the guitar player?’
The white guy grinned. ‘Yeah. That’s me.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Neil, Neil Swaythling.’
‘And you didn’t see the shooting?’
‘Nope. Heard it though.’
‘Did you see it?’ Walter asked the Chinese guy.
‘Couldn’t miss it. Happened right next to me.’
‘And your name is?’
‘Ang Ung, spelt NG, my mates call me Nug.’
Ang Ung, smart name, thought Walter.
‘Did you know the killer?’
‘Nope. Never seen him before.’
‘Did any of you know the killer?’
The Asian guy behind the drums shook his head. The black guy was putting his horn away in its case, didn’t say anything, didn’t shake his head one way or the other.
‘You! What’s your name?’
The black guy stared at Walter in that look he’d seen a million times before. The I hate coppers look, and especially black coppers… like you.
‘You talking to me?’
‘We can do this here, or we can do it down the station, it could take all night, it’s no problem for me.’
‘Johnny,’ he said.
‘And are you known to us, Johnny Phillips?’
‘These days it’s hard not to be.’
Maybe he had a point there.
‘Did you recognise the killer?’
‘Course not. I’d have said so if I had.’
That was a moot point.
‘Thank you… Johnny.’
Karen came back to Walter’s side. She’d been checking on how the interviews were progressing, looking for an ID on the assassin.
‘Surprise, surprise, no one knew him,’ she whispered.
Walter bobbed his head, whispered back, ‘Where have I heard the name Swaythling before?’
‘There’s the builder bloke,’ she said, ‘that’s the only Swaythling I know.’
‘Ah yes, Homes for the Discerning,’ he whispered, parroting their advertising speak. Swaythling Homes built only a small number of properties, but they came individually designed and built, invariably on a huge plot, every one completely different, and every one with a huge price ticket attached, a price that began with seven figures and went sharply upwards. Walter turned to the white guy, said, ‘Could it have been meant for you?’
Neil shrugged his shoulders. ‘The bullets?’
‘Been wondering that meself.’
‘I’m not surprised you thought about it. Can you think of any reason why someone might wish to kill you?’
‘Nope. Definitely not!’
‘Do you deal drugs?’
‘Do me a favour, and even if I did, I’m hardly likely to tell you.’
‘You might, if you were a dealer… if you valued your life.’
‘I don’t! Don’t touch the stuff. Never have done. Don’t deal, don’t smoke. Don’t approve! None of us do.’
Karen glanced round the band.
The black guy suddenly looked uncomfortable.
‘It’s an odd line up for a band,’ Walter said, glancing at the logo on the base drum. ALL at the top and SOULS beneath. ‘What kind of stuff do you play?’
‘Mixture, everyone brings something to the table, fusion music,’ said Neil.
‘Fusion music is…’ started Karen.
‘I know what fusion is!’ barked Walter, stopping her in mid sentence. ‘And if I didn’t there’s a big clue in the phrase.’
‘Sure Guv, sorry.’
Walter glanced at the guy at the back. ‘What’s your name, drummer?’
‘Did you recognise him, Patna Shastri, did you know him?’
‘I did not.’
‘But you did see him, and you could give us an accurate description?’
‘Course,’ he said, nodding. ‘And I’ve got a very good memory.’
Walter bobbed his head, happy to hear something positive.
‘And you all did… you all could?’
‘Not me,’ said Neil.
‘Other than you,’ said Walter.
No further disagreement.
‘I want you down the station right now, all of you, while the killer’s image is fresh in your minds. Make up photofits, we’ll arrange the transport.’
‘There’s no point in me going,’ said Neil.
‘Oh yes there is,’ said Walter. ‘You might recognise the pictures, and you might be safer there too.’
Neil pulled a face. Perhaps the copper had a point, said, ‘What about the instruments?’
Walter glanced across at Sissy as if for help.
‘They’ll be safe here,’ she said.
‘They will, because police officers will be staying here too.’
Out of the corner of his eye Walter noticed the doc covering the body. Made sense. Some people are disturbed by dead bodies, especially bloodied and holed ones.
‘Get Neil out of here,’ said Walter, wondering if there might be an accomplice secreted somewhere in the crowd, and Karen bundled him out through the back door and away to a car. Ordered the driver to take him straight to the station and hurried back to the crime scene.
‘It’s nearly midnight,’ moaned the Chinese.
‘I don’t care what time it is,’ said Walter. ‘There’s a gunman out there who’s partial to shooting people dead, and we need to find him. Your cooperation would be most appreciated.’
Ang Ung had promised his girlfriend a night to remember. She’d be disappointed. Ang sighed loudly.
‘Turn into a frog at midnight, or something, do we?’ said Walter.
Nug pulled a face and shook his head and closed his violin case.
‘What about Jeff?’ asked Patna.
‘He’ll be looked after.’
‘Bit late for that,’ said Johnny Phillips, eyeing up a young uniformed policewoman. She was all right for a copper, pity about the job, but he’d still like to get to know her better.
‘All the more reason to catch the culprit,’ said Walter.
A striking woman appeared in front of Walter’s face, not the usual young crowd from the Ship. More business-like. Glanced down at the covered body, looked back at Walter, straight in the eye and said, ‘Inspector Darriteau, do you have any leads as to who was the assassin?’
Walter glanced down his nose at the newcomer. She knew his name. She was on the wrong side of forty, but not by much, auburn, wavy hair parked on her shoulders, pretty face, nice teeth, quality dark green suit. Walter glanced at Karen, as if to say, who let this woman in, and who the hell is she? Karen shrugged and turned away. Walter glanced back at the woman and said, ‘And you are?’
‘Gardenia Floem,’ she said. ‘Pleased to meet you, Inspector. Chester Observer, chief crime reporter,’ and she held out a pink nailed hand.
Walter ignored it.
‘To answer your question I have been on this case for precisely ten minutes, so the answer is No.’
‘Is this a drugs related case?’
Walter shrugged as if to say, How the hell would I know? said, ‘We’ve nothing to say to the press at this time, now if you don’t mind,’ turned to Karen and mumbled, ‘Get her out of here.’
Karen stepped between them and tried to usher her away.
‘The citizens have a right to be concerned when one of their sons is gunned down in a busy city centre pub,’ the woman shouted, each word further away from Walter than the last.
‘Goodnight, Miss Floem.’
‘This is going to be big news, Inspector,’ she squawked from further across the bar, as Karen continued to ease her toward the door and outside. ‘Big news!’
Walter shook his head and tried to eradicate her words. Is this a drugs related case? Maybe it is, who knows? Walter whispered to himself, but I am not jumping to conclusions. He turned round and shouted, ‘Come along now!’ and glanced and winked at Sissy behind the bar. She was still standing in that same hard pose. He thought he might have detected a softening in her eyes, but he could have been mistaken. ‘We haven’t got all night.’
Karen came back and said, ‘Sorry about that, Guv,’ then turned to the remnants of the band and said, ‘Where does Jeff Player live?’
‘He used to live down by the canal, one of those new flats,’ said Patna.
Karen noted the use of the past tense and nodded and took down the address. Someone would soon have the shitty job of telling Jeff’s mother, delivering the death-o-gram, and she hoped to God it wouldn’t be her.