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TOO SMART TO DIE by Tom Bryson ©




A good night for killing.

The man watched the young university student hurry up steep concrete steps in the city centre square, late for his bus. Up past the rain-soaked statue of a huge nude woman sitting cross-legged in icy water. Birmingham's 'Floozie in the Jacuzzi'.

The swirl from a water fountain hit his The Man's face; he sweated even though it was a on a bitterly cold, wet November night. Standing with majesty overlooking the square, an austere statue of old Queen Victoria peered down, drippinged disapproval. 

    He watched the student. He remembered Iraq. That was his first time. Been here before.

    A couple of young women sprinted to the Town Hall entrance late for a concert, their heels piston tapping on glistening paving blocks. Rain whipped their faces. The front of house attendant ushered them through, darted a quick look around the square. He slammed shut the door; the show about to commence.

    The Man lowered his head, dropped his shoulders in a slouch.

    He knew the time was near. Too wild a night for strollers. This was the feeling. This was right. He had stalked Dominic Masters for weeks. A creature of habit was Masters, from Uni to the cyber café off Corporation Street, then along Colmore Row past the Council House heading for the bus stop on Broad Street. Number 226 - the ten past seven. Tonight Dominic Masters would not be boarding the bus. Tonight he’d die.

    Adrenalin surged through The Man’s veins. He would do it, he would; tonight. Soon, soon, very soon. In a public place, not skulking in a back alley, but in the open like a true warrior. This was what the feeling was like in the game. Only this was for real. A rush, a blast of power; just as it was those times in Iraq. They were real, perfect garrotting - whether the victim was an Iraqi civilian or a Sunni militant didn’t matter. Sergeant McCartney gave him a right bollocking afterwards - didn’t like that. But it was Job Done. Another kill. That was when he’d got the taste.

    Later, yet another kill. He recalled squaddies shouting, screaming across the desert, calling for medics. He hadn’t moved, didn’t want to. Remained still, watching, features immobile, listening, smelling, then sucking in hot air, feeling his lungs expand, holding in the air, his chest about to explode. He wanted to raise his arm in celebration, like a rabid football fanatic among fellow devotees celebrating a goal. But it wasn’t a moment to share. No, a private moment, his secret, and his triumph. Something to savour alone, the way he preferred things.

    He had moved across the desert mound to get the right line of fire - the line that brought McCartney squarely in his sight. Gunfire and rockets blasting all around. He hated that bastard - telling him what to do, rollicking him. Humiliating him in front of other squaddies - he was not to be scorned, he knew the day would come, the opportunity present itself and, sure enough, ‘dut dut dut’ from the semi-automatic rifle. Right between the eyes. Skull shattered. Gone. Dead. McCartney no more. Friendly fire...ho ho ho...

    McCartney’s body was soon recovered by medics, dragged away. The Man waited until they were clear, crawled to the site of the kill. Scooped brain tissue blown from the shattered skull into his hands, looked around, nobody watching; raised his hands to his mouth. He was intelligent, had read about it, and knew the score. Martin wrote to him, explained how it worked, he'd studied all that kuru stuff. Clever kid Martin, a good clansman. Not like Dominic Masters, an enemy clansman - his next victim.

    Now in the centre of the second city on a brass monkey’s of a winter night he was about to relive those moments in Iraq. No problem; this time he would take out a new kind of n enemy - a cyber enemy.C

    A young couple scurried up New Street, eating steaming hot dogs, their heads nuzzled together against the freezing rain, the smell of scorched fried onions whisked away into the night. Sheets of rain-laden wind howled about them, drove the pair for shelter in The Pizza Factory doorway.

    On the steps by the fountain, a trio of young girls tugged their jacket hoods tighter and scurried off along Colmore Row. Outside the front doors of the Victorian City Council house, a drunk puked up six pints of Foster’s lager. Across the square, the magnificently restored Town Hall flaunted its multi million pounds makeover; squared up to the deafening elements.

    The Man felt good. This was what it was all about. He rubbed his hands down his trousers to dry the sweat, closed his eyes to savour the moment, the thrill of it all. He put his hand into his overcoat pocket and felt for the plaited wire. Rabbit snares - as a boy he would watch rabbits wriggle in pain after a night tangled in a snare. He would linger, flat on his belly, watch the stupid animals twist and turn for ages, watch the wire cut deeper and deeper into fur and flesh, watch and grin until the suffering ended, the creature collapsed, became still. At the instant of death he felt euphoric; the end, the moment, the beautiful moment of death. Then anger; the moment gone. But he knew there would be another time. Another snare, another kill.

    He gripped the wire, pulled himself to his full height, and looked around - at the puking drunk;, the hot dog eating young couple eating hot dogs as they sheltereding in the a shop doorway in New Street, glimpsed in snatches through the blustery rain, snogging between bites of hot dog. Some loud-mouthed guys shoved and pushed each other as they ran up the steps in Chamberlain Square, past the Central Library heading for the bridge over Paradise Circus into Broad Street’s clubland. He smiled, checked himself and stopped; attract no attention, be invisible, be quick. His eyes stung, his ears blasted by the roaringstinging weatherwind.

    The Uni student, Dominic Masters, was just six feet away, moving fast. Skinny, wispy hair on his chin, rain smeared glasses.

    The Man removed the wire and held an end in each hand. Look, check, nobody watching - he stepped up past the big reclining nude statue. Be quick. A heavy squall of rain deepened the gloom, made the darkened the night darker. He ran from behind; threw the wire around Master’s neck. With his strong, fleshy hands, he pulled the wire tight. Tighter and tighter. He heard a rabbit-like squeal. Masters struggled, froze, fought again, weakened, became still, still and limp. In an act of care, he The Man lowered the sagging body down onto the cold stone steps.

    Nobody looking; the drunk held a hand against the Council House wall to steady himself, swayed, lost his balance and fell over. Across the square The Town Hall Council House doors remained shut, the entertainment begun.

    He drew a big breath, savoured the moment, loved it, just loved it. Power. He pocketed the wire. Now for the sacred moment. But quickly. He dragged the battery-powered drill from a deep pocket inside his long overcoat. He forced the one-inch diameter, carbide tipped hole cutter bit hard against Master’s forehead; hit the trigger, dug deep..

Chapter 1 

Detective Chief Inspector Matt Proctor looked up yet again from his computer screen willing the phone to ring. He hated ‘paperwork’; wanted a reason to get out of the office. But he was behind with reports, as his boss Chief Superintendent Emma O’Rourke was quick enough to remind him. Proctor liked results; Emma liked everything done by the book.

    ‘All our villains having a day off?’ Proctor said.

    DS Stevie Cole sat opposite snorted, ‘Don’t you believe it, Action Man.’

    Proctor tapped in another sentence, dragged his hand through his thick black hair - greying at the temples - wondered if he dared follow his daughter Sarah’s advice. He hadn’t seen her much since his divorce, but felt elated every time she did come round to see him. He thought about what she’d said.

    ‘Try some gel, dad, it’s cool.’

    At forty-one, he wasn’t sure it was the right time to start using hair gel. He glanced around at his colleagues, smiled, and imagined their comments.

    ‘Something amusing you, Chief Inspector?’

    Proctor leaned back in his chair,. ‘What do you think of men’s hair gel, Emma?’

    O’Rourke compressed her lips,. ‘That is a matter on which I don’t have an opinion.’

    A voice piped up from across the office,. ‘All depends where you put it.’ DS Stevie Cole grinned at Proctor.

    O’Rourke rolled her eyes,. ‘Matt, I need to have a word, can you come through please?’

    Proctor dragged in a long breath; he wanted to finish this shit now he’d started. He saved his report and pulled his long legs from under the desk. How long would she take?

As he followed O’Rourke’s squat figure into her office he heard laughter from behind and turned to see DS Cole toss his head from side to side and tug at his hair, a gesture picked up straight away by several others. O’Rourke looked straight ahead but gave a slight shake of her head while Proctor put stuck his hand behind his head neck and gestured a two-finger salute. Fucking Bloody well have you, Coley, he thought.

    ‘I’ve been looking at your caseload.’ O’Rourke stared at her computer screen as she spoke, ‘I think you need to do some reprioritising.’

    ‘What did you have in mind?’

    ‘We need to do more on drug crimes.’

    ‘Yes, we probably do.’ He thought about his unfinished reports. Come on, come on.

    ‘So - I suggest you put your category C homicide on the back burner for the time being. I’ve got these files for you to look at and liaise with the drug squad.’

    Proctor grabbed the files and flicked through them, ‘Why are drugs moving up the agenda, Emma?’

    ‘We want a clean city, Matt. You know that?’

    Proctor tapped a file with his finger, ‘I thought dealers - especially big time operators - were our priority.’ He turned a page for O’Rourke to see, ‘I mean Baz Manning - he uses and does a bit of dealing on the side. Hardly Mr Big.’

    ‘We need to make an impact on numbers - fast. You’re not the only one having work reassigned.’

    ‘Class C drug dealing?’ Proctor held up the files, ‘Above domestic homicide? Above knife crime?’

    O’Rourke shrugged, ‘Senior management edict. Ours is not to reason why…’

    Through the glass partition wallsdoor, Proctor could see a commotion and hear raised voices. His pulse quickened as DS Cole hurried over. Irritated, O’Rourke looked up as Stevie Cole’s knock preceded his ’s head popping popping around the door.

    ‘Sorry to interrupt, boss. Uniformed just reported nasty homicide in Victoria Square - outside the Council House.’

    Proctor looked out to where through the glazed partition at Inspector Azzra Mukherjee who held up a phone. He gave her a nod.

    Cole said, ‘Azzra’s got uniformed on hold.’ He grimaced, ‘Press already there. Some big 'do' on at the Council House tonight.’

    ‘Shit,’ O’Rourke scowled.

    ‘What 'do' is that?’ Proctor said.

    ‘Announcing a major piece of news,’ she said.

    ‘Oh, yes. Reducing the Council taxes then?’

    O’Rourke remained tight lipped, ‘An election launch. Our esteemed police authority chairman is to stand as the next MP.’

    ‘I see,’ said Proctor getting to his feet.

    ‘I haven’t finished yet.'

    ‘Councillor Bullivant standing on a platform of reducing drugs crime in the city by any chance?’

    O’Rourke blanked Proctor, ‘You’d better get over there.’

    He moved fast towards the door; she pointed to the files lying on the desk. ‘Don’t forget those.’

    Proctor grabbed the files and crashed them down on his desk in the general office. He took the phone held by Azzra and listened as the police sergeant at the other end described the incident. He interrupted him, ‘Have you secured the scene, Sergeant Harris?’

    ‘Yes sir, tape cordon in place. I’m attending with PC Dear.’

    ‘Good, I’m on my way. Doctor?’

    ‘Police surgeon on his way, sir. Doctor Mackenzie. Bit of a crowd gathering. Press boys too. Filthy night out here, sir.’

    ‘I’ll raise SOCOs. But scene needs protecting right away. Be careful - no contamination.’

    Alongside him, DS Cole smiled and shook his head. 'All CSI's now, sir.'

    ‘You watch too many American cop shows.’

    Proctor looked across his desk and returned Azzra’s concentrated stare. She was putting on her jacket even before he spoke. Just been working in his team a couple of months having been fast tracked from uniformed and the more he saw of her the more he liked. He shouted, ‘Stevie - get SOCOs to scene. Azzra - with me.’

Chapter 2 

The young uniformed officer’s tense expression turned to relief as Proctor strode towards him accompanied by Azzra and DS Cole. An ambulance’s flashing blue light flickered through the slashing rain and sparkled the wet block paving.

    ‘Everything under control, constable?’ Proctor glanced at his watch.

    The officer frowned at the growing crowd of onlookers under umbrellas, ‘Think so, sir.’

    The body of a young man lay face down, head on one side, arms straight alongside the torso. A pool of sticky blood darkened the wet ground around his head and shoulders.

    An attending paramedic shook his head, ‘Nothing we can do here?’ He pointed at an open wound in the centre of the man’s forehead. ‘I think you’ve got a right weirdo on the loose.’

    A young man and woman nearby huddled together shivering under a flimsy umbrella. Stood next to them a uniformed council security man added in a self important voice, ‘I phoned emergency services when this young lad here ran in telling us he’d found someone with his throat cut - looks to me like he was throttled - and shot. You can tell by the...’ Proctor gave him a withering glance and he shut up.

    Proctor said, ‘You two were the first to reach the body?’ Both indicated yes. The young woman said, ‘I think I saw the fountain.’

    The security man jabbed a thumb in the direction of the council house. ‘All hell’s broken loose inside. Big nobs everywhere.’ He pulled up his lower lip, ‘These two a bit shook up both of ‘em. Likely first time they’ve seen anything...’

    Proctor interrupted, ‘Azzra take them both inside - they look frozen - and have a quick word. I’ll join you soon. Get the medics’ and security people’s details too, will you?’ He wiped driving rain from his face with the back of his hand and pointing to the Council House entrance said to the security man, ‘You too.'

    Azzra touched the girl’s arm and said, ‘What’s your name?’


    ‘Right, Joanne. We’ll see if we can get you a hot coffee.’

    ‘You’ll be lucky,’ the security man snorted. ‘Vending machine’s packed up.’

    Azzra guided Joanne and her boyfriend away. ‘Please follow me,’ she said and strode out leading the paramedic and a reluctant security officer towards the building.

    Proctor spoke to the constable, ‘What’s your name?’     

    ‘Constable Dear, sir’ quickly adding, ‘Tim.’

    ‘Good job so far, Tim. Sergeant Harris phoned in, where is he?'

    ‘Ah...inside, sir.’

    ‘Try to keep the zoo watchers at bay, will you?’ The young PC appeared pleased to have a task, ‘Yes, sir,’ he said and moved off.

    ‘Right, Stevie, let’s have a look then?’ Proctor opened his portable bag and donned a protective white suit, overshoes and gloves. DS Cole said, ‘Come on, boss. Wait for SOCOs?’

    ‘Let’s go, Stevie. Right?’ Cole did not hear it as a question.

    ‘Pro tem you’re crime scene manager until Eric Cantwell gets here - we’ll need to set up a HOLMES team for this. Sort roles back in the station.’ He studied the victim for a few seconds then said, ‘Put a chaser on Doc Mackenzie. Sooner he gets here the better.’ Cole got on his mobile phone keeping a wary eye on his boss as he punched in Mac’s number.

    Proctor reached into the back pocket of the victim’s jeans and slid out a battered cloth wallet. He opened it; Block Busters video/DVD hire card, City of Birmingham library card, Aston University student union card, a few receipts, a bus ticket, a Centro student rail and bus travel card, a handwritten list of websites, two five pound notes, a fold out pocket containing several pound coins and loose change, a well used crumpled handkerchief. He glanced over at PC Dear busy moving people back and removed the websites list, inserted it into a small plastic evidence bag that he sealed and folded inside his notebook. Cole watched him and shook his head while he checked Doc MackKenzie’s whereabouts.

    Proctor slipped the wallet back into the dead man’s back pocket minus the list. He stood up and entered the name on the railcard into his notebook; ‘Dominic Masters’.

    Red spots and blotches speckled the young man’s pasty face and a deep gash of torn flesh encircled his neck where the garrotte had cut through. Kneeling down Proctor peered at the hole in the centre of his head. He whistled and thought how you could put your thumb in it. Yet there was no tissue on the ground, no exit wound for a bullet. He stood up noting the faded denims, a tear across the left knee, grey tee-shirt darkened halfway down his back and chest by the congealing blood, black zip up fleece, scuffed trainers with the laces undone. A pair of rimless thick-lensed glasses clung to one ear. His fleece had ridden up revealing thin, pale arms and wrists. Proctor pursed his lips when he noted the needle marks and faded slash-marked scar tissue. He stepped back under the ‘Police Do Not Cross’ tape and removed his protective suit and overshoes and gloves and returned them to his bag.

    He left Cole at the scene and walked towards the Council House as a team of white suited scene of crime officers arrived with a folded tent. The remains of a spewed up hot dog lay in a pool of water by the Council House wall, parts of sausage still recognisable. Proctor wiped a drip from the end of his nose and thought how much he would prefer to be out on the golf course on a summer’s day with his old friend and mentor Ron Kydd, choosing whether to hit a chip and run shot with a seven iron or play a subtle wedge. Or enjoying a fine meal with friends, chatting, putting the world to rights all washed down with a bottle of best French Merlot. But this was what he did; murder and mayhem were his stock in trade. This was what got him out of bed in the morning. And he loved it.

    Inside the council house, the pale-faced young man and his girlfriend clung to each other by the reception desk alongside Sergeant Harris. Azzra was nearby taking details from the security man and the paramedic.

    The Sergeant produced a notebook that Proctor ignored, shaking his head. ‘Too cold for you outside, was it? Go and give young Tim a hand.’ Harris glowered and sloped out into the wet night.

    Azzra said, ‘I think we’ve done with the paramedic and security?’

    Proctor said, ‘Yes, thanks for now.’ He signalled to the paramedic, ‘I think you can get back to work, thanks again.’

    The security officer stayed put. ‘And you,’ Proctor said. He looked disconsolate as he ambled towards the reception desk.

    Proctor took the names and contact details of the young couple. ‘So - Terry, Joanne, you two were the first to see the body?’

    The young man swallowed hard as he spoke, his hand covering his mouth. ‘Thought maybe he was a drunk, druggie, or something at first then I saw all the…’ He waved his arm towards the dead body sprawled outside where SOCOs were erecting a white tented cover. The girl sniffed and wiped her eyes, ‘It was horrible, really horrible.’

    ‘I know, I know.’ Proctor said. ‘Now, Terry, Joanne just take your time over this. Think back over the few minutes before you approached the body. Don’t rush. Try to remember what was happening and who was about. Will you do that?’

    They looked uncertain; Proctor spoke in a quiet voice, ‘Okay, Terry, let’s start with you.’ He seemed tongue-tied so Proctor said, ‘Joanne thinks she saw someone near the fountain. What about you?’

    He thought for a moment, ‘No, no, can’t remember seeing anyone.’ Proctor waited. ‘Hang on, yes, maybe there was a guy come to think about it.’

    ‘Can you describe him?’

    ‘Hard to say, wasn’t really looking. Atrocious weather.’

    ‘Try. Young, old? Tall, short? Jacket, overcoat? Hood, beanie?’

    ‘Kind of…heavy, you know?’


    ‘No, not fat, more meaty like. Tallish, maybe six feet.’

    ‘Hair colour? Headgear?’

    ‘No, no, can’t say.’

    ‘Can you remember anything he wore?’

    ‘Not sure, no - he kind of slouched, you know, head down.’

    Proctor asked a few more questions. ‘Thanks Terry, you’ve been a big help. We’ll chat with you again but don’t worry.’

    He turned to the girl, Joanne, asked her to tell him what she saw.

    They had travelled into Birmingham New Street station by train from Stourbridge and walked up New Street planning to have a coffee in MacDonald’s before going to see a play at The Door in The Rep. A heavy squall of rain made them take shelter at the top of New Street in the Pizza Factory doorway. When they climbed the steps leading to Victoria Square, they saw the prone body. They approached tentatively but as soon as they saw the pool of blood around the man’s neck Terry ran into the council house and alerted a security officer who phoned 999. The security man returned and felt for a pulse, said he was dead. He stayed by the body with Terry and Joanne as a few passers-by hurried on without showing much interest.

    ‘And you and the security officer stayed there until Sergeant Harris and PC Dear arrived?’

    ‘Yes, yes, that’s it.’

    Proctor recalled Sergeant Harris’s phone conversation and wondered how long he had waited before seeking the shelter of the council house and leaving the young couple outside to freeze. He hated timeservers.

    Joanne was more observant than her boyfriend. She mentioned seeing two young women running towards the Town Hall. She remembered the sound of their heels and noticed one wore red shoes and the other green.

    ‘I love shoes, you see. I always notice what shoes people are wearing.’ Proctor smiled as she glanced down at his feet, ‘You see I love buying new shoes.’ She also talked about a drunken guy puking by the Council House and pointed, ‘Look, he’s still out there.’

    Proctor moved to get a better view out from the doorway and watched the man struggle to his feet, prop both hands against the building; thought ‘Not going to get much from him.’ He said, ‘You said you think you saw a figure near the fountain, right?’ She gulped and struggled to speak.

    ‘It’s all right, Joanne, take your time.’ She shivered in her skimpy mauve top and short cream skirt with a wide white belt tightened around her slim waist. He caught a whiff of strong scent. Not for the first time he wondered why girls wore so little on the coldest night. He remembered the pitying look Sarah once gave him when he had said as much as she got ready for a night on the town.

    Proctor’s phone rang. He checked to see who was calling. ‘Azzra, I’ll take this call, you carry on here.’ He moved outside towards the crime scene.

    ‘What have you got, Matt?’ Emma O’Rourke sounded uptight.

    Prima facie homicide. Young man called Dominic Masters according to his wallet.’

    ‘Christ, Matt, you been rifling around before the SOCOs have done their searches.’

    ‘Cordon in place. I was suited, Emma, but we need to move fast.’

    ‘Listen, Matt, what we need to do is secure and preserve the scene. Then the SOCOs do their work. You know how fussy CPS is these days over cross contamination. Why on earth do you think we have procedures?’

    Proctor held the phone away from his ear and counted one-two-three. She said, ‘The press will have a field day. They must think it’s murder by appointment. TV boys will be there in no time for the big show.’ A heavy sigh travelled down the line as O’Rourke exhaled, ‘Police chairman will be there in a few minutes. You’re Senior Investigating Officer from now.’

    ‘I assumed that.’

    ‘You’ve got Inspector Mukherjee with you, right?’

    ‘Yes, and Stevie Cole’s here too. I’ll make Azzra my deputy and Stevie office manager.’

    ‘Shall you indeed?’

    ‘Def a HOLMES job.

    ‘You think we’ve got infinite resources?’

    ‘Is there a problem?’

    O’Rourke was quiet for a few seconds then said, ‘You deal with the media. Bare facts, Matt, got it? Any sign of dignitaries yet?’

    Proctor looked across the square. A black Bentley slid to a stop outside the Council House, met by a town hall official who whipped open the car doors. From the rear door a small, sharp-suited man emerged who shot past the official, ignoring his outstretched hand. Proctor said, ‘I think your man’s arrived.’

    ‘My man? What are you talking about?’

    ‘Mr Gerald Bullivant, CBE, Chairman of the West Midlands Police Authority, prospective Conservative pParliamentary candidate for Birmingham Central, moral guardian of the city’s deprived and disadvantaged…’

    ‘Proctor, watch it! I’m getting over there.’

    ‘Thanks Emma...’ The call cut off before he finished speaking. Proctor stared at his phone; since her husband ran off with their cat’s young female vet over a year ago, she was like an assassin hunting down a quarry. He wondered how the cat was getting on.

    He pocketed his mobile and watched the police authority chairman stride towards the busy crime scene. The now tented scene and surrounding area teemed with crime scene investigators. A photographer took shots from all angles while another filmed the scene and victim. Proctor gestured over one of the white suited figures who was directing others.

    ‘Eric, how are you? You can take over as Crime scene manager from Stevie?’ Proctor smiled at him. Their past paths were strewn with differences but he respected the man's ability. Eric Cantwell was good - but his scenes he protected with the tenacity of an old-fashioned park keeper keeping visitors off the grass. Moreover, his doggedness and caution wore thin Proctor’s patience.

    ‘Yes, and listen, Matt, I don’t want any of your lot touching anything until we’re done, right?’

    ‘Of course. We’ll talk about what you’ve got when you're ready.’ So territorial; he thought; Eric, you would be ace in a land grab, lighten up, it’s all yours.

    Cantwell’s job, as Crime Scene manager was to preserve and secure the scene, avoid contamination and ensure a thorough and disciplined approach to evidence gathering. That was the theory - people like Proctor made Cantwell’s job hard work.

    Stevie Cole appeared at Proctor’s side. Proctor said with Cantwell listening, ‘No one - and I mean no one - goes across that line without Eric's approval, got it?’

    ‘Yes, sir,’ Cole said.

    Cantwell crossed his arms and spread his legs, a determined look in his eyes.

    ‘I’m sure we all abide by the rules. Don’t we, sir?’ Cole said.

    ‘That’s it. No shitting on the scene.’

    ‘Of course,’ Cole said.

    Eric Cantwell looked far from convinced.

    ‘Good evening.’ A dapper little man dressed in black evening suit, dark blue bow tie and shining hand stitched leather shoes approached Proctor. He frowned and his head darted this way and that like a wary bird. Our beloved chairman, Proctor thought, here comes trouble. A black suited young man held a large umbrella to protect him from the rain.

    ‘You in charge?’ Bullivant looked up at Proctor, ‘I want this lot cleared out of the way. You know who I am?’

    ‘Good evening, Chairman. I’m Chief Inspector Proctor, Senior Investigating Officer. We have an apparent homicide sir.’

    ‘Who is it?’

    ‘Forensic team have just started their work so we have yet to identify the victim. Of course before we can release that we will need to inform next-of-kin.’

    ‘Right, right…’ he indicated the tent. ‘I want to have a look.’ The Police Authority Chairman reached for the tape and straight away Eric Cantwell planted a restraining arm on his shoulder.

    ‘I’m sorry, sir, but that’s not possible.’

    The chairman stared at Cantwell’s arm, swallowed several times and glowered, his face flushed.

    Proctor intervened, ‘I’m sure you’ll appreciate that this is a crime scene, sir. It’s critical that forensic examination is protected, I’m sure you understand.’

    ‘What did you say your name was again?’

    ‘Proctor, sir. DCI Proctor.’

    ‘Right, Proctor.’ He waved his hand towards the tented area, the investigators and photographers. ‘Can we get rid of…all this as soon as possible?’ He spoke to the suited umbrella carrier attending him, ‘Get the press people inside and away from all this crap.’ He looked around again at the massing crowd, photographers, and journalists. He whispered through clenched teeth, ‘Listen, Proctor, I want this paraphernalia cleared out of the way asapasap. Got it?’

    ‘We’ll do our best, sir.’

    ‘Good, good, carry on then.’

    ‘Thank you, sir.’

    A reporter pushed through the thickening crowd and stuck a recorder in Councillor Bullivant’s face, ‘Will you be campaigning in the election on making the city a safer place to live in, Chairman?’

    Let the circus begin, Proctor thought.

    Bullivant forced a smile and stormed off followed by his stumbling umbrella man and a couple more suits clutching mobile phones like comfort blankets. He held a fixed smile to the photographers’ flashing cameras as he bustled past them into the Council House.

    Proctor exchanged a glance with Cole who cocked an eyebrow; he checked his watch as Bullivant and his entourage disappeared inside then scrutinised the square, looking for a figure, that solitary observing individual trying to be invisible. Certain murder perpetrators had that need - to see the results of their mayhem; satisfy the demands of twisted egos. Nobody stood out for him.

    He stepped back into the Council House and suppressed a smile when the security officer he had spoken with earlier leaped up and gave a military style salute. Frantic local government officials ran back and forth across the tiled reception area shouting into mobile phones. They reminded Proctor of traders on the City floor and were most likely doing jobs about as useful.

    He located Azzra comforting Joanne and a bewildered looking Terry. Her genuine empathy for the distressed couple struck Proctor but he was disconcerted to find himself staring too long at her strong profile and large brown eyes. He coughed and said, ‘Emma’s coming over, I’m going to watch out for her. When you’ve finished here, join me at the scene.’ He looked out for Cole but couldn’t see him; he tapped a number into his phone.

    ‘Stevie? Where are you?’

    ‘Colmore Row - by St. Pauls.’

    ‘You’re not going religious on me, are you?’

    ‘You could do with someone praying for you. I’m with Doc MackKenzie. Will I bring him round to you?’

    ‘Yes, do that.’

    Azzra came alongside him. She said, ‘I’ve done with the young lovers.’

    Proctor raised a thumb and spoke into the phone, ‘No, listen Stevie, tell the Doc to come on his own. I have some websites I want you to look at right away back at the station. And a name, Dominic Masters.’

    ‘You’re joking, boss, where...’

    ‘Later. I’m making you my office manager . Set up an incident room in the station. Anyway, you know you’re a geek - you’ll love it. Now - take a note of these websites.’

    ‘Oh, shit.’

    Azzra smiled as Proctor relayed the website addresses from the list inside his notebook. ‘That’ll make his day,’ she said.

    ‘And you’re deputy SIO.’

    ‘Thanks, Matt. That’s made my day.’ She took a deep breath, ‘I won’t let you down.’

    ‘I know you won’t.’

    Doc MackKenzie emerged white suited from the tent and joined Proctor and Azzra. His drooping moustache, straight out of a Victorian melodrama exaggerated his doleful face. Although away from Glasgow for the best part of forty years, his glottal stops were as strong as ever, ‘Nasty one here, Matt.’

    ‘What do you reckon, wire?’

    ‘Aye. The perp was a big strong guy. Used a lot of force to cut in that deep.’

    ‘And the wound on the victim’s forehead.’

    ‘I’ll need to get him on the table to check that out.’ He stared for several seconds into the murky night, ‘You know, it looks like the bastard’s removed a solid core of the poor sod’s brain.’ He pushed his hands against his back and rocked sideways, ‘I’m getting too old for this game.’

    ‘You’ve always been old, Mac.’

    ‘Aye - and you’ve always been ugly.’


    ‘Marks on his arms?’

    Mackenzie blew out his cheeks, ‘Recent drug user. Looks like he was into self-harm when younger.’

    ‘Was in a bit of a mess then.’

    'Last mess he’ll get into.’ He wiped the back of his hand over his moustache, ‘You’ve got one evil bastard out there, Matt. Guessing - but I think this smacks of some ritualistic thing.’

    Proctor looked across Victoria Square at a camera wielding young woman in tight jeans and a long flapping coat accompanied by what he took for a schoolboy in a beanie struggling with a boom mike.

    ‘Looks as if the Midlands Today team have arrived. Must put on my best TV manner.’

    ‘Once this gets out you’ll need it.’

    ‘That’s the spirit, Mac. Cheer me up.’

    Azzra smiled, ‘What? Going on TV without hair gel?’ Doc Mackenzie looked puzzled.

    Proctor mouthed ‘Bollocks’ and stepped out towards the camera crew.

Chapter 3 

Tower cranes loomed over Birmingham’s Lancaster Circus, their long jibs swung across the dual carriageway like giant insects’ proboscises; the ground below Proctor’s feet vibrated from juddering pile drivers. It never ends, he thought, no sooner is one edifice built than the developers start another. How many office blocks does the world need anyway?

    He made his way to Brasshouse Lane police station and entered the forbidding Victorian era building. His footsteps echoed along the tiled corridor where the young receptionist Martha gave him a broad smile and waved calling, ‘Morning, Mr Proctor.’ He acknowledged her, smelt the odour of recent paint on the green glossed brick walls; good use being made of police overtime savings there then, God save us from the accountants. He asked if DCI Romney was in. She pulled a face and put her finger in her mouth, said, ‘Yes, and he’s in a mood - again.' Seemed DCI Romney still suffered from both halitosis and a dearth of goodwill.

    Proctor wanted to look in on Tony Romney and take a long shot on Dominic Masters’ murder. Romney had been in the Drugs squad a long time and although Proctor did not like the man - they had clashed in the past and if Proctor cut corners, Romney demolished buildings. He was also not averse to fitting up someone if it served his cause. But he had a shedload of contacts accumulated over the years - dealers, users, pimps and pros. Proctor thought he might have heard of Masters, know something that wasn’t official, not on the databases.

    He was about to enter Romney’s office when he heard raised voices. He hesitated and waited outside the just open door.

    ‘I told you he was a prat.’ Romney’s guttural Black Country accent spat out the words. A short silence. ‘Well, ain’t he?’ More statement than question.

    ‘Yeah, yeah, course he is.’ Detective Constable Alan Carpenter talked like a follower; sycophancy his second nature. Proctor also heard fear in his voice.

    ‘We need to get him sorted, mate, right?’

    ‘Right, Tony, def.’

    Romney lowered his voice and Proctor got closer to the door. ‘I mean, we got a good thing going here. Don’t want it ruined, do we?’ Another short silence. Proctor hopped back as he heard a fist hammer the desk. ‘I said do we?’

    ‘Of course not, Tony, I mean…’

    ‘Hassan’s a weak livered shite. He needs a kick up the arse, right?’

    ‘Right, Tony, too right.’

    ‘How much he owes us?’

    ‘How much?’

    ‘Yeah, how fucking much?’

    ‘A couple of grand.’

    ‘Fix a meet. If he wants us to keep shtum, the good dentist needs to cough up.’

    Proctor stepped away from the doorway. Hassan, who was Hassan? A distant memory stirred - what was it? Tax dodge or money laundering investigation, something like that. Worked as a dentist. Investigation never got anywhere though. Everyone associated with him clammed up. Suspected drugs dealing though. But Romney and Carpenter - owed by Hassan? Shit - backhanders?

    Proctor threw open the door. Carpenter stared at him wide-eyed, opened and closed his mouth a couple of times.

    Across the desk, Romney leaped up, both fists knuckling the desktop.

    ‘Just a couple of grand. Not worth the bother, lads, eh?’ Proctor leaned across the desk towards Romney, lowered his voice, ‘You still get teeth trouble, Tony?’

    Romney pulled his stocky body upright, smiled at Proctor. ‘What the hell are you talking about?’

    ‘I’m talking about that well known dentist - and dealer Rajinder Hassan.’ He smiled at Romney then spun to Carpenter, ‘Need any gold fillings done, Alan?’

    Carpenter’s colour drained from his face as his eyes darted between Proctor and Romney.

    Romney slid around the desk, got close to Proctor, his florid face riddled with small blue veins. He extended a finger and prodded Proctor several times in the chest, ‘You mind what you’re saying, Matt. Feelings run deep in this station. Wouldn’t want to get unpopular, would you?’

    Proctor fought not to step back from the smell of bad breath, ‘Listen Tony - you too Alan. I just caught a snippet. I don’t want to know anymore. So, here’s the deal. Jack it in. Like now!’

    ‘Are you threatening, Matt?’

    ‘No, I’m not threatening. Offering a lifeline. Jack it in.’

    Carpenter stuttered, ‘It’s…it’s no big deal, Matt. Small time…

    ‘Shut it!’ Romney glowered at Carpenter who licked his lips. He spoke softly to Proctor, ‘We’re a close-knit family in here, Matt. Right?’

    ‘Right, good and bad in families.’

    Romney’s flushed face reddened deeper; he lunged at Proctor and caught him by the collar, his fleshy hand in a tight grip, ‘Don’t take me on. I mean police family. We’re good.’

    Proctor took hold of Romney’ closed fist and forced it back into his face. ‘That’s what I think too. I don’t want to push this up the line.’

    Romney let go, he extended his hands wide, ‘Listen Matt, I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick here.’

    ‘Now you’re taking the piss.’ Proctor pointed his finger at him, ‘You heard what I said. Believe me.’ He looked from one to the other, turned and left the room.

    The gloss painted corridor smelt sicklier than ever, as if an outbreak of Romney's halitosis was spreading throughout the building . Martha glanced up at Proctor as he stormed past then buried her head in her computer screen. Proctor thought he’d truly screwed up any chance of getting a lead from Romney on Master’s murder.

Romney sat at his desk, drummed the surface with two fingers while Carpenter paced around chewing his knuckles. Romney leapt to his feet, his voice was contained when he spoke, ‘Alan, call Hassan, tell him to keep his head down. If anyone contacts him, he says nothing. And go bring in that little toerag Baz Manning. I want to speak to him.’

    ‘What do you want with Baz, Tony?’

    ‘I want to frighten the shit out of Baz - and stuff Proctor.’ 

Copyright Tom Bryson ©