If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.

Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

 
 
 
 
 
Tác giả: Val McDermid
Thể loại: Trinh Thám
Upload bìa: Minh Khoa
Language: English
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Cập nhật: 2014-12-27 15:25:44 +0700
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Chapter 15
few days ago, I'd have reckoned that as motives for murder go, the prospect of losing your livelihood was a pretty thin one. That had been before Bill's bombshell. Since then, I'd been harboring plenty of murderous thoughts, not just against a business partner who'd been one of my best friends for years, but also against a blame¬less Australian woman I'd barely met. For all I knew, Sheila could be Sydney's answer to Mother Teresa. Some¬how, I doubted it, but I'd been more than ready to include her in the homicidal fantasies that kept slipping into my mind. Like unwanted junk mail, I always intended to throw them straight in the bin, but every time I found myself attracted by some little detail that sucked me in. If a well-adjusted crime fighter like me felt the desire to kill the people I saw as stealing my dream, how easy it would be for someone who was borderline psychotic to be pushed over the edge by the prospect of losing their pro¬fessional life. And from what I've seen of doctors over the years, borderline psychopaths is a pretty optimistic description of most of them. What Gus Walters told me handed motive on a plate to everyone Sarah Blackstone had worked with at St. Hilda's, from the professor who supervised the department to the secretary who main¬tained the files.
There was nothing I could do now about pursuing that line of inquiry. By the time I'd got home and driven to Leeds, it would be the end of the medical working day. I made a mental note to follow it up, which freed my brain to gnaw away at the problem which had been uppermost there since Bill's return. Never mind murderers, never mind rock saboteurs, what I wanted the answer to was what to do about Mortensen and Brannigan. The one thing I was sure about was that I didn't intend to roll over and die, waiting for Bill to find the buyer of his choice. As I walked back through the red-brick streets dotted with grass-filled vacant sites that lie between Rusholme and my home, I was plagued by the question of whether I could find a way to generate sufficient income to pay off a loan big enough to buy Bill out while managing to remain personally solvent.
The key to that was to find a way to make the agency work more profitably. There was one obvious avenue that might pay off, but I'd need an extra pair of hands. Back when I'd started working for Bill, I'd done bread-and-butter process serving. Every week, I'd abandon the law library and turn up at the office where Shelley would hand me a bundle of court papers that had to be served ASAP. Domestic violence injunctions, writs, and a whole range of documents relating to debt. My job was to track down the individuals concerned and make sure they were legally served with the court documents. Sometimes that was as straightforward as cycling to the address on the papers, ringing the doorbell, and handing over the relevant material. Mostly, it wasn't. Mostly, it involved a lot of nosing about, asking questions of former colleagues, neighbors, drinking cronies, and lovers. Sometimes it got heavy, especially when I was trying to serve injunctions on men who had been persistently violent to wives who took out injunctions one week and were terrorized, bullied, sweet-talked, or guilt-tripped into taking their battering men back the next. The sort of men who see women as sexually available punching bags don't usually take kindly to being served papers by a teenager who barely comes up to their elbow.
In spite of the aggravation, I'd really got into the work. I'd loved the challenge of tracking down people who didn't want to be found. I'd enjoyed outwitting men who thought that because they were bigger and stronger than I was, they weren't going to accept service. I can't say I took any pleasure in slapping some of the debtors with bankruptcy papers when all they were guilty of was believing the propaganda of the Thatcher years, but even that was instructive. It gave me a far sharper awareness of real life than any of my fellow law students. So I'd quit to work for Bill full-time as soon as the opportunity arose.
But I hadn't joined the agency to be a process server. In the medium to long term, Bill wanted a partner and he was prepared to train me to do everything he could do. I learned about surveillance, working undercover, doing things with computers that I didn't know were possible, security systems, white collar crime, industrial sabotage and espionage, and subterfuge. I learned how to use a video camera and how to bug, how to uncover bugs, and how to take photographs in extreme conditions. I'd also picked up a few things that weren't on the syllabus, like kick boxing and lock picking.
Of course, as my skills grew, the range of jobs Bill was prepared to let me loose on expanded too. The end result of that was that we'd been content to let most of the process serving fall into the laps of other agencies in the city. Maybe the time had come to snatch back that work for ourselves.
What I needed was a strategy and a body to serve the papers.
Shelly sipped her glass of white wine suspiciously, as if she were checking it for drugs, and glanced around her with the concentration of a bailiff taking an inventory. She had only been in my house a couple of times before, since we tended to do our socializing on the neutral ground of bars and restaurants. That way, when Richard reached scream¬ing point we could make our excuses and leave. It's not that he doesn't like Shelley's partner Ted, a former client who opted for a date with her instead of a discount for cash and ended up moving in. It's just that Ted has the conversational repertoire of a three-toed sloth and is about as quick on the uptake. Nice bloke, but. ..
"You can't stay out of the office forever," she said. A woman who's never been afraid to state the obvious, is Shelley.
"Call it preventive medicine. I'm trying to get a plan in place before I have to confront Bill," I said. "At the moment, every time I'm within three yards of him, I feel an overwhelming desire to cave his head in, and I don't fancy spending the next twenty years in prison. Besides, I do have some cases that I'm working on." I picked up the microcassette recorder on the table and flipped the cassette out of it. "I dictated some reports this afternoon. That brings me up to date. I've included the new client details." Shelley leaned across and picked up the tape. "So why am I here? I don't guess it's because you couldn't go with¬out my company for a whole day."
I explained my idea about generating more income by reclaiming process serving work. Shelley listened, a frown pulling her eyebrows closer together. "How are you going to get the business? All the solicitors who used to put the work our way have switched to somebody else, and presumably they're satisfied with the service they're getting."
This was the bit I was slightly embarrassed about. I leaned back and looked at the ceiling. "I thought I could do a Charlie's Angel and try some personal visits."
I risked a look. Shelley had a face like thunder. Jasper Charles runs one of the city's biggest firms of criminal solicitors. The primary qualification for employment as a clerk or legal executive there is having terrific tits and long legs. The key role of these women, known in legal circles as Charlie's Angels, is to generate more business for the firm. Every day, one or more of the Angels will visit remand clients in prison, often for the slenderest of reasons. They'll get the business out of the way then sit and chat with the prisoner for another half hour or so. All the other prisoners who are having visits from their briefs see these gorgeous women fawning all over their mates, and a significant proportion of them sack their current lawyers and shift their business to Jasper Charles. Every woman brief in Manchester hates them, not least because the sleazy trick undermines their need to be taken seri¬ously. "You've done some cheesy things in your time, Kate, but this is about as low as it gets," Shelley eventu¬ally said.
"I know. But it'll work. That's the depressing thing."
"So you go out and prostitute yourself and you snatch back all this business. How you going to find the time to do it?"
"I'm not."
Shelley's head tipped to one side. Unconsciously, she drew herself in and away from me. "Oh no," she said, shaking her head vigorously. "Oh no."
"Why not? You'd be great. You're the biggest no-shit I know."
"Absolutely not. There isn't enough money printed yet to make me want to do that. Know what you're good at and stick to it, that's my motto, and what I'm good at is running that office and keeping you in line." She slammed her drink down on the table so hard that the wine lurched in the glass like the contents of a drunk's stomach.
So far, it was going just as I'd expected it to. "Okay," I said with a small sigh. "I just thought I'd give you first refusal. So you won't mind me hiring someone else to do it?"
"Can we afford it?" was her only concern.
"We can if we do it on piecework, same as Bill did with me."
Shelley nodded slowly and picked up her glass again. "Plenty of students out there hungry for a bit extra."
"Tell me about it," I said. "Actually, I've got someone provisionally lined up."
"You never did hang about," Shelley said dryly. "How did you find somebody so fast? How d'you know they're going to be able to cut it?"
I couldn't keep the grin from my face. Any minute now, there was going to be the kind of explosion that Saddam could have used to win the Gulf War if there had been a way of harnessing it. "I think he'll fit in just fine," I told her. "You know how wary I am of involving strangers in the business, but this guy is almost like one of the family." I got up and opened the door into the hall. "You can come through now," I called in the direction of the spare room that doubles as my home office.
He had to stoop slightly to clear the lintel. Six feet and three inches of lithe muscle, the kind you get not from pumping iron but from actually exercising. Lycra cycling trousers that revealed a lunchbox like Linford's and quads to match, topped with a baggy plaid shirt. He moved lightly down the hall, his Air Nikes barely making a sound. I stepped back to let him precede me into the liv¬ing room and put my fingers in my ears.
"Donovan? What you doing here?" Shelley's thunder¬ous roar penetrated my defenses, no messing. The vol¬ume she can produce from her slight frame is a direct contradiction of the laws of physics. Don half-turned toward me, his face pleading for help.
"I've hired him to do our process serving, as and when we need him. We pay him a flat fee of..."
"No way," Shelley yelled. "This boy has a career in front of him. He is going to be an engineer. Not a private eye. No child of mine. No way."
"I quite agree, Shelley. He's not going to be a private eye..."
"You're damn right he's not," she interrupted.
"He's not going to be a private eye, any more than stu¬dents who work in Burger King three nights a week are going to be stuffing Whoppers for the rest of their work¬ing lives. All he's doing is a bit of work on the side to relieve the financial pressures on his hardworking single mother. Because that's the kind of lad he is," I said quietly.
"She's right, Mam," Don rumbled. "I don't wanna do what she does. I just wanna make some readies, right? I don't wanna ponce off you all the time, okay?" He looked as if he was going to burst into tears. So much for muscle man. Forget valets: no man is a hero to his mother.
"He's not a kid anymore," I said gently. For a long moment, mother and son stared at each other. Hardest thing in the world, letting kids go. This was worse than the first day at school, though. There was nothing famil¬iar or safe about the world she was releasing him into.
Shelley pursed her lips. "About time you started acting like a man and took some of the responsibility for putting food on the table," she said, trying to disguise the pain of loss with sternness. "And if it stops you wasting your time with that band of no-good wasters that call themselves musicians, so much the better. But all you do is serve papers, you hear me, Donovan?"
Don nodded. "I hear you, Mam. Like I said, I don't want to do what she does, right?"
"And you don't neglect your studies either, you hear?" "I won't. I want to be an engineer, okay?" "Why don't you two discuss the details on the way home?" I inserted tactfully. I had the feeling it was going to take a while for the pair of them to be reconciled at any level beyond the purely superficial, and I had a life to get on with.
When I said "life," I'd been using the term loosely, I decided as I tagged on to the tail end of a bunch of girl Goths and scowled my way past the door security. If this was life, it only had a marginal edge on the alternative. Garibaldi's was currently the boss night spot in Manches¬ter. According to the Evening Chronicle, it had just edged past the Hacienda in the trendiness stakes with the acqui¬sition of Shabba Pilot, the hottest DJ in the north. In keeping with its status, the door crew were all wearing headsets with radio mikes. The crew are supposed to make them look hi-tech and in control; I can never see them without remembering all those old black-and-white movies where little old dears ran old-fashioned telephone exchanges and eavesdropped on all the calls.
I'd dressed for the occasion. I couldn't manage the paper-white, hollow-eyed Interview with the Vampire look adopted by the serious fashion victims, not without a minor concussion. So I'd opted for the hard-case preten¬tious philosopher image. Timberland boots, blue jeans, unbleached cotton tee shirt that told the world that Man¬chester was the Ur-city, and a leather jacket with the col¬lar turned up. Plus, of course, a pair of fake Ray-Bans, courtesy of Dennis's brother Nick. The look got me past the door no bother and didn't earn me a second glance as I walked into the main part of the club.
Garibaldi's belongs to a guy called Devlin. I've never met anybody who knows what his other name is. Just Devlin. He materialized in Manchester in the late seven¬ties with a Cumbrian accent and more money than even the resident gangsters dared question. He started small, buying a couple of clubs that had less life in them than the average geriatric ward. He spent enough on the interior, the music, and the celebs who could be bought for a case of champagne to turn the clubs into money machines. Since then Devlin has bought up every ailing joint that's come on the market. Now he owns half a dozen pubs, a couple of restaurants known more for their clientele than their cuisine, and four city-center clubs.
Garibaldi's was the latest. The building used to be a warehouse. It sat right on the canal, directly opposite the railway arches that raise Deansgate Station high above street level. When Devlin bought it, the interior was pretty bare. Devlin hired a designer who took Beaubourg as his inspiration. An inside-out Beaubourg. Big, multi¬colored drainage pipes curved and wove throughout the building, iron stairs like fire escapes led to iron galleries and walkways suspended above the dancers and drinkers. The joys of postmodernism.
I climbed up steps that vibrated to the beat of unidenti¬fiable, repetitive dance music. At the second level, I made my way along a gallery that seemed to sway under my feet like a suspension footbridge. It was still early, so there weren't too many people around swigging designer beers from the bottle and dabbing speed on their tongues. At the far end of the gallery, a rectangular structure jutted out thirty feet above the dance floor. It looked like a Por-tacabin on cantilevers. According to Dennis, this was the "office" of Denzel Williams, music promoter and, nomi¬nally, assistant manager of Garibaldi's.
I couldn't see much point in knocking, so I simply stuck my head around the door. I was looking at an ante¬room that contained a couple of battered scarlet leather sofas and a scarred black ash dining table pushed against the wall with a couple of metal mesh chairs set at obvi¬ously accidental angles to it. The walls were papered with gig posters. In the far wall, there was another door. I let the door close behind me and instantly the noise level dropped enough for me to decide to knock on the inner door.
"Who is it?" I heard.
I pushed the door open. The noise of the music dropped further, and so did the temperature, thanks to an air conditioning unit that grunted in the side wall. The man behind the cheap wood-grain desk stared at me with no great interest. "Who are you?" he demanded, the strong Welsh vowels immediately obvious. Call me a racist, but when it comes to the Welsh, I immediately summon my irregular verb theory of life. In this instance, it goes, "I have considered opinions; you are prejudiced; he/she is a raging bigot." And in my considered opinion, the Welsh are a humorless, clannish bunch whose contribution to the sum total of human happiness is on the negative side of the ledger. The last time I said that to a Welshman, he replied, "But what about Tom Jones?" QED.
I had the feeling just by looking at him that Denzel Williams wasn't going to redeem my opinion of his fellow countrymen. He was in his middle thirties, and none of the deep lines that scored his narrow face had been put there by laughter. His curly brown hair was fast losing the battle with his forehead and the mustache he'd carefully spread across as much of his face as possible couldn't hide a narrow-lipped mouth that clamped meanly shut between sentences. "Do I know you?" he said when I failed to reply before sitting in one of the creaky wicker chairs that faced his desk.
"I'm a friend of Dennis O'Brien's," I said. "He sug¬gested I talk to you."
He snorted. "Anybody could say that right now."
"You mean because he's inside and it's not easy to check me out? You're right. So either I am a genuine friend of Dennis's or else I'm a fake who knows enough to mention the right name. You choose."
He looked at me uncertainly, slate gray eyes narrowing as he weighed up the odds. If I was telling the truth and he booted me out, then when Dennis came out, Williams might be eating through a straw for a few weeks. Hedging his bets, he finally said, "So what is it you want? I may as well tell you now, if you're fronting a band, you're about ten years too old."
I'd already had a very bad week. And if there's one thing that really winds me up, it's bad manners. I looked around the shabby room. The money he'd spent on that mandarin-collared linen suit would probably have bought the office furnishings three times over. The only thing that looked remotely valuable in any sense was the big tank of tropical fish facing Williams. I stood up and felt in my pocket for my Swiss Army knife. As I turned away from him and appeared to be making for the door, I flipped the big blade open, sidestepped, and picked up the loose loop of flex that fed power to the tank. Without a heater and oxygenation, the fish wouldn't last too long. Tipped onto the floor, they'd have an even shorter life span.
I turned and gave him my nastiest grin. "One wrong move and the fish get it," I snarled, loving every terrible B movie moment of it. I saw his hand twitch toward the underside of his desk and grinned even wider. "Go on, punk," I said, all bonsai Glint Eastwood. "Hit the panic button. Make my day."
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