There's nothing to match curling up with a good book when there's a repair job to be done around the house.

Joe Ryan

Tác giả: Val McDermid
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Chapter 19
ven I don't know many people whose doors I can knock on just after one in the morning in the absolute certainty I won't be waking them up. But I didn't have any qualms about this particular door. I pressed the bell and waited, leaning up against the door jamb to shelter from the persistent night rain.
After Tony had sloped off into the groovy world of nightclub Manchester, I'd felt too wired to go home to bed. Richard had tried to talk me into a Chinese followed by cool jazz in some Whalley Range cellar known only to a handful of the true faith. It hadn't been hard to say no. I've always thought jazz was for anoraks who think they're too intellectual for collecting beermats, and my stomach already felt as if it had been stir-fried. Besides, I knew exactly how I could profitably fill the time till sleep ambushed me.
The door opened suddenly and, caught unawares, I tipped forward. I almost fell into Gizmo's arms. I don't know which of us was more appalled by the prospect, but we both jumped back like a pair of fifties teenagers doing the Bunny Hop. "You don't believe in office hours, do you?" Gizmo demanded belligerently.
"No more than you do. You going to let me in? It's pissing it down out here," I complained.
I followed him back upstairs to the computer room, where screens glowed softly in the dim interior and REM reminded me that night swimming deserves a quiet night. "Tell me about it," I muttered, shaking the raindrops from my head well out of range of any hardware.
"Gimme a minute," he said. There were only two chairs in the room, both of them leather desk chairs. I sat in the one Gizmo wasn't occupying and waited patiently while he finished whatever he'd been in the middle of doing. After ten minutes, I began to wish I'd brought my own games software with me. I cleared my throat. "Be right there," he said. "This is crucial."
A few more minutes passed and I watched the head¬lights on Stockport Road sneak around the edge of the blinds and send slender beams across the ceiling, an activ¬ity that could give counting sheep a run for its money. Then Gizmo hit a bunch of keys, pushed his chair away from the desk, and swiveled around to face me. He was wearing an elderly plaid dressing gown over jeans that were ripped from age not fashion and an unironed collar-less shirt. Eat your heart out, corporate man. "Got some work for me, then?" he asked.
"Depends. You found another job yet?"
He snorted. "Come around to take the piss, have you? Like I said, Kate, I'm too old to be a wunderkind any more. Nobody believes in you if you're old enough to vote and shave unless your name's Bill Gates. No, I haven't got another job yet."
I took a deep breath. "You make a bit of money on the side, don't you? Doing bits and pieces for people like me?"
"Yeah, but not enough to support a habit like this," he said wryly, waving a hand around at the computers and their associated software and peripherals.
"But you're good at finding the weak points in systems and worming your way in, aren't you?"
He nodded. "You know I'm the best."
"How do you fancy working the other side of the street?"
He frowned suspiciously. "Meaning what, exactly?"
"Meaning going straight. At least in normal working hours. Meaning, coming to work for me."
"Thought you had a partner who did all the legit secu¬rity stuff?" he demanded. "I don't want charity, you know. I either want a proper job or nothing."
"My partner is taking early retirement due to ill-health," I said grimly.
"What's the matter with him?"
"Delusional psychosis. He thinks he's in love and wants to live in Australia."
Gizmo grinned. "Sounds like an accurate diagnosis to me. So what's the job description?"
"We do a lot of corporate computer security work, liaising with their software engineers and consultants to make their systems as unbeatable as we can get them. We also work with people whose systems have been breached, both plugging the holes and trying to track what's been raided and where it's gone. We've done a little bit of work with banks and insurance companies tracking money that's been stolen by breaching Electronic Fund Trans¬fers. I know enough about it to pitch for the business, but not enough to do the work. That's where I'm going to need to replace Bill. Interested?"
He spun around on his chair a couple of times. "I think I might be," he said. "Are you talking a full-time job or ad hoc consultancy?"
"I'll be honest, Giz. Right now, I can't afford to take you on full-time. Initially, it would have to be as and when I can bring the work in. But if you're as good as you say you are, we'll generate a lot of word-of-mouth business."
He nodded noncommittally. "When would you want me to start?"
"Mutually agreed date in the not too distant?"
"Fifty percent of the net? Per job?"
I shook my head. "Net. I'm not a charity. Shelley has to put the pitch document together and she has to do all the admin. Her time comes off the fee. Plus phone expenses, faxes, photocopying. Most jobs, it's not big bucks. But sometimes it starts to run into money. Net or nothing."
"I can live with it. Net it is. Six-month trial, see how we both go on?"
"Suits me. There is one thing though, Giz... ?" His red-rimmed eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Well, two things," I continued. "A haircut and a smart suit." I held a hand up to stem the protest I knew was coming. "I know it breaks your heart to spend money on a suit that could be better spent on a new genlock adapter. And I know you think that anything more sophisticated than a number one all over once a year is for girlies, but these are deal breakers. If you like, I'll even come with you and make the process as painless as possible, but it's got to be done."
Gizmo breathed out heavily through his nose. "Fuck it, who do you think you are? I've managed to avoid that kind of shit working for Telecom, why should I do it for you?"
"Telecom has just fired you, Giz. Maybe corporate image had something to do with it, maybe not. Bottom line is, Telecom was a necessary evil for you. Working for me is going to be fun, and you know it. So get the haircut, get the suit."
He scowled like a small boy who's been told to wash behind his ears. "Yeah, well," he growled, scuffing his heels on the floor. "You drive a hard bargain."
I smiled sweetly. "You'll thank me for it one day. Let me know when you want to shop till you drop."
I walked downstairs alone, leaving Gizmo staring at a screen. I still didn't know where the money was going to come from to buy Bill out. But at least I was starting to feel as if it might be possible for the agency to earn enough to pay it back.
Rasul and Lal's sandwich bar is one of Manchester's best-kept secrets. Nestled under the railway arches at the trendy rather than the glossy end of Deansgate, it pro¬duces some of the best snacks in town. They like to name sandwiches after their regular customers, and I'm proud to reveal there's a Brannigan Butty up there on the board- tuna and spring onion in mayo with black olives and tomatoes in crusty French bread. Strictly speaking, it's a takeaway, but in the room behind the shop, some of us get to perch and munch. I'm not sure of the criteria Rasul and Lal apply for admission to the back shop, but I've found myself sharing the privileged space with doctors, lawyers, Equal Opportunities Commission executives, and TV technicians. The one thing we all have in common is that we're refugees, hiding from our lives for as long as it takes to scoff a sandwich and swallow a coffee.
When I arrived in the back shop the following morn¬ing, Delia was already there. She'd opted for an egg may¬onnaise sandwich. I was feeling less traditional, going for a paratha with a spicy omelet on top. There was no one else around apart from the brothers. There seldom is then, which was why I'd chosen it for our meeting. This was one time I absolutely didn't want to be seen publicly with Delia.
We gave each other as much of a hug and kiss as our breakfasts would allow. She looked as if she'd had more sleep than I had, her skin glowing, her green eyes clear, copper hair pulled back into the kind of chignon that never stayed neat for more than five minutes on me when I had the hair for it. On Delia, there wasn't a stray hair to be seen. I couldn't quite work out why, but Delia was get¬ting better-looking with every passing year. Maybe it had something to do with cheekbones her whole body seemed to hang from. If she wasn't my friend, I could hate her. "Mysterious morning call," she remarked as we cozied up in the corner between the fridge and the back door.
"You'll understand why when I tell you what I've got for you."
"Goodies?" she inquired enthusiastically.
"Not so's you'd notice." I bit into my sandwich. Any¬thing to postpone the moment when I delivered the bad news.
Realizing I needed to work up to this one, Delia said, "We lifted your headstone con artists yesterday morning before their eyes were open. We'd fixed up an ID parade with some of the names you gave us, and we got enough positive identification to persuade them that they might as well put their hands up and admit to the lot. Turns out they'd pulled the same routine in Birmingham and Ply¬mouth before they turned up here. Nice work, Kate."
"Thanks. By the way, on the subject of those two, some¬thing occurred to me, which you've probably thought of already."
"I was thinking about the business they're in. Mobile phones. I just wondered how straight the company is that they're working for. Given how many ways there are to make an illegal buck out of mobies, and given that this pair are as cool as Ben and Jerry's in the way they operate, I wondered if it might be worth a poke about at Sell Phones."
"You know, that might not be such a bad idea. I was so busy with my own team this week, I never gave it a thought. But Alien and Sargent's arrest gives me the perfect excuse to get a search warrant on Sell Phones. Thanks for the thought," Delia said, looking slightly embarrassed that she hadn't worked it out for herself. I knew just how she felt; I've been there too many times myself.
"No problem. However, I don't think you're going to be quite as thrilled about today's bulletin, somehow."
"Come on, get it over with. It can't be as bad as all that. The only news that deserves a face like yours is that Josh is a serial killer."
"What about a bent DI?" I said gloomily.
The smile vanished from Delia's eyes. "I don't have to ask if you're sure, do I?"
"It's possible somebody's setting me up, but I don't think so. It fits the facts too well."
Delia's mouth tightened into a grim line and she looked past me into the middle distance. "I absolutely hate cor¬rupt police officers," she said bitterly. "They've always got some pathetic piece of self-justification, and it never ever justifies the damage they do. So, who are we talking about here? Just tell me it's not one of mine."
"It really isn't one of yours," I said, knowing it was pretty bleak as reassurances go. "It's a DI in Vice. Peter Lovell? Heard of him?"
Delia's answer had to wait. Rasul came through to the fridge for another tray of sliced ham. "All right?" he asked cheerfully, far too polite to indicate that the expressions on our faces showed the exact opposite.
"Fine," we chorused.
When he'd left, Delia said, "I know who you mean. I've never had anything to do with him directly, never met him socially, but I have heard the name. He's supposed to be a good copper. High body count, keeps his patch clean. What's the story?"
"I'm not too sure of the exact wording on the charge sheet, but it goes something like threatening behavior, assault, illegal possession of firearms, conspiracy, incite¬ment to cause an affray, obtaining money with menaces, improper use of police resources.... Oh, and illegal bill posting."
"If I didn't know you better, I'd say you were winding me up," Delia said wearily. She looked at her half-eaten sandwich. "I just lost my appetite." She was about to bin it, but I stopped her. For some reason, I was ravenous this morning. I had the last mouthful of my paratha and started on her leftovers. Ignoring every environmental health regulation from Brussels to Baltimore, Delia pulled out her cigarettes and Zippo and sucked on a Silk Cut. "Details, then," she said.
Lal stuck his head around the door into the shop. "Can you crack the window if you're smoking, Del?" he asked. I was astonished. I'd never heard anyone contract Delia's name and live. Not only did she ignore his liberty-taking, she even opened the door a couple of inches. Either Delia was in a state of shock or there was something going on between her and Lal that I knew nothing about.
"It all started when Richard came home with Dan Druff and the Scabby Heided Bairns," I began. By the time I'd finished, Delia looked as if she was about to have a second close encounter with the half sandwich she'd already eaten. "So right now, Lovell's winning," I finished up. "He's got the muscle to get what he wants, and the gangsters can't beat him the usual way because every time they make a move, their shock troops end up behind bars."
"I can't believe he'd be so stupid," she said. "He must be looking at having his thirty in when he retires. That's a good pension, and he's young enough to pull something decent in private security. And he's risking the lot."
I helped myself to a Kit Kat from an open box on a shelf behind me. "He's risking a hell of a lot more than that," I pointed out as I stripped the wrapper off. "He's risking his life. The people he's dealing with can't afford to lose that much face. If the normal ways of warning someone off aren't working with Lovell, somebody is going to shell out the requisite five grand."
"And then there will be a war. It doesn't matter how bent a bobby is. When he's dead, he's a hero. And when we lose one of our own, the police service doesn't stop till somebody has paid the price."
"I think they realize that," I said quietly. "They'll have to be desperate before they go for a hit. But every week that goes by where money goes into Lovell's pocket instead of theirs is a week when the ratchet gets screwed a notch tighter. I don't know how far away desperation is for the likes of Collar di Salvo's lad, but I know some of the other players are really hurting."
Delia thumbed another cigarette out of the packet. "So Greater Manchester Police has to put a stop to Lovell on humanitarian grounds? Is that what you're saying?"
"Something like that. But I'm not talking GMP, I'm talking DCI Delia Prentice and a small handpicked team. If Lovell's been on the force this long, he must have a fair few in his corner, and I don't see how you can be sure who they all are. You need outsiders like you've got in the Regional Crime Squad."
Delia did the time-wasting thing that smokers do to buy some space; fiddling with the cigarette, rolling the lighter around in her hand, examining the filter for holes. "So what do you suggest?" she asked.
"An undercover operation?"
"Nice of you to volunteer."
I shook my head. "No way. I'm not sticking my head above the trench on this one. Remember, I'm the one who doesn't believe in private health insurance, and the waiting list for key organ transplants is too long for my liking."
Delia took another hit of nicotine then said, "Nerve gone?"
"Cheeky bastard," I growled. "My nerve's as sound as it's ever been."
"Really?" she drawled. God, I hate Oxbridge graduates. They learn that sarcastic drawl at their first tutorial and they never forget it. Those of us who grew up in the backstreets shadowed by the dreaming spires never got past the snarl.
"Yeah, really," I snarled. "You're the police, it's your job to catch criminals, remember?"
"Problem is, you're not bringing me any hard evi¬dence," Delia said.
"So mount your own undercover operation. Leave me out of it."
"It's hard for us, Kate. We don't have any way in to an undercover. We haven't got some tame club manager who's going to roll over and help us. And from what you've said, your contacts are not going to welcome Offi¬cer Dibble with open arms. They might well think it's better to deal with the devil they know. Whereas you ..."
"Call yourself my friend, and you want me to go up against an animal like Lovell with his army of hard cases?"
Delia shrugged. "You know you'll have all the backup you need. Besides, from what you tell me, there's been a lot of mouth but not a lot of serious action. Nobody's been killed, nobody's even had a serious going-over. Mr. Lovell's merry men seem to specialize in violence against property. When it comes to sorting people out, he seems to go for remarkably law-abiding means. He calls the police. I think you'd be perfectly safe."
"Gee thanks," I said.
Delia put a hand on my arm. Her eyes were serious. "I'm not asking you to do anything I wouldn't do myself. I'll handpick the backup team."
"You think that makes me feel any better? Everybody knows you're an even madder bastard than I am!" I pointed out bitterly, knowing I was beaten.
"So you'll do it?"
"I'll call you when I've got the setup sorted," I said resignedly. "I'm not a happy camper, I want you to know that."
"You won't regret this," Delia said, pulling me into a hug.
"I better not."
Delia paid for the KitKat on the way out.
I thought it was about time I showed my face in the office lest Bill get to thinking he could start the revolution with¬out me. With luck, he would still be busy showing Sheila the delights of the North West.
I don't know why I indulged myself with the notion that luck might be on my side. It had been out of my life so long, I was beginning to think it had run off to sea. When I walked in, Bill was sitting on Shelley's desk, going through a file with her. Given that I wasn't speak¬ing to Bill and Shelley wasn't speaking to me, it looked like an interesting conversation might be on the cards. "Kate," Bill greeted me with a cheerful boom. "Great to see you." And I am Marie of Romania.
"Hi," I said to no one in particular. "Has anything come for me from the Land Registry?"
"If you checked your in-tray occasionally, you'd know, wouldn't you?" Shelley said acidly. It probably wasn't the time to tell her I'd gone through it at one that morning. Not if I wanted to keep my office manager.
"Have you thought any more about the implications of my move?" Bill asked anxiously.
I stopped midway to my office door, threw my hands up in mock amazement, and said, "Oh dearie me, I knew there was something I was supposed to be thinking about. Silly me! It just slipped my mind." I cast my eyes up to the ceiling and marched into my office. "Of course I've bloody thought about it," I shouted as I closed the door firmly behind me. People who ask asinine questions should expect rude answers.
The letter from the Land Registry was sitting right on top of my in-tray. Their speed these days never ceases to amaze me. What I can't work out is why it still takes solic¬itors two months to convey a house from one owner to another. I flipped through the photocopied sheets of information that came with the covering letter. It con¬firmed the suspicion that had jumped up and down shout¬ing, "See me, Mum, I'm dancing!" when I'd interviewed Helen Maitland.
I might have been warned off talking to Sarah Black-stone's former patients. But Alexis hadn't said anything about her former lover.
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