Meet the New Supporting Cast
Lupita Nyong'o as D.S. CLAUDINE JACOBSON
Shazad Latif as D.C. AADIT LAKSHMI
Harry Treadaway as D.C. WILLIAM VERNON
Micheal Obiora as KENNETH FRYE
Thanks so much for checking out THE INSPECTOR! If you stumbled here by chance, please check out THE MURALIST, the first book in the series. None of this will make sense unless you've read it.
To readers of THE MURALIST, thanks for sticking with me! Much more drama begins to unfold as we move forward!
THE PULLMAN COUNTRY ESTATE. DAWN.
Wellington Bros. Removal Company. That’s what was emblazoned in purple letters on the side of the lorry. Clive (the younger Wellington brother) had wanted crimson lettering, but Elizabeth (wife of Duncan, the elder Wellington brother) had insisted on the particular shade, calling it “regal”. Peter wished he’d fought harder. The horrible mauve had become part of their “brand,” and every corner of his professional life from their website to their business cards had been affected. Each morning when he pulled on his purple work shirt, he berated himself a little. It was a small thing, but it mattered.
For all her poor taste in choosing colours, Clive had to admit Elizabeth had done a good job of getting them a higher class of clientele, and he had been up early to drive with his crew down to an estate in the country. When they’d received the job, they’d stared at the manifest for minutes, wondering if someone was taking the piss. They’d be moving an antique bedroom set, a few pieces of luggage, and 47 dwarf orange trees.
Clive expertly manoeuvred the enormous lorry into the awkward turn up the drive to the Pullman’s country house. They’d looked it up online, of course, but, as with all things grand in scale, it was impossible to appreciate in a photograph. “Cor blimey…” Clive whispered as the lads whistled in awe. A real-life butler, like something out of a film, was waiting out front for them, and he instructed Clive to pull the lorry around to the back. Clive put the vehicle in reverse, and the high-pitched warning beeps broke the peace of the quiet morning.
Inside, Miriam and Cormac were in the breakfast room having an early meal. Cormac was bleary-eyed, and the dark circles under his eyes showed that lack of sleep wasn’t new to this morning. Miriam kept shooting him concerned looks. “You look tired, darling,” she observed. Cormac made an exhausted, noncommittal gesture with his hand and took a sip of his tea. “I know big changes wear you out,” Miriam encouraged, “but today is the last of it. You'll be back to sleep in your orange grove tonight.” Cormac managed a small smile. Suddenly, there was loud beeping coming from outside, and they both turned to watch as Clive reversed past their window.
MEANWHILE, IN THE SPARE ROOM OF THE HOME OF MARK REED.
An alarm clock shrieked. Mark woke up with a groan, slit one eye open, and looked around the room. He’d rather hastily set himself up after his return from the country. He was one half of one of those couples now – the ones with separate bedrooms, living under the same roof but leading separate lives. On his bedside table were several large volumes of Greek mythology tabbed with sticky notes. Given all the twists and turns of the Carol Ogilvy case and Cormac Pullman’s strange visions, it seemed prudent to him to spend some time revising. Atop the stack of books sat Mark’s phone. He grabbed it, and tapped it to life. There were no new messages. He and Cormac had exchanged a flurry of texts in the days since they’d met, but they’d petered out on Cormac’s end and now had halted altogether. Mark had been plagued by an increasingly acute fear that he’d made some horrible faux pas and had gone over all his messages, searching in vain for the error in judgement. He’d been friendly and even a bit witty (if he did say so himself) but scrupulously professional. The strange and wholly unexpected intimacy that had sprung up between him and Cormac Pullman had set him back on his heels. He’s a witness in a murder I’m investigating. He’d been the prime suspect, Mark had reasoned. They hadn’t crossed any lines, not really, but the volume of their messages alone might cause eyebrows to raise. He could explain it all away as having to handhold a skittish and naïve witness while trying to remain in the Pullman family’s good books. But perhaps he’d overcorrected and was now veering off course. Had he seemed standoffish and aloof? This was why he preferred face-to-face interactions. Close readings of text messages was far too tedious, rarely bore fruit, and made him feel like he was back in fourth form. He didn’t like the feeling, and yet he did.
It shouldn’t matter to me whether or not he texts back. It shouldn’t matter, but it does.
Mark rolled out of bed with a sigh and shivered. The thin pyjama bottoms he was wearing weren’t doing much good against the chill. He’d have to start turning the heat up. He made his way to the bathroom, put the toilet seat up, and relieved himself gratefully. He looked at himself in the mirror, focussing on his crow’s feet, tired eyes and the grey coming in at his temples – he looked old. He turned to the side and examined his profile. His stay in hospital had taken some weight off of him, and his stomach was almost concave. His body was a bit too lean, but it was still powerful and lithe. He flexed his right bicep and was unimpressed with the result. He stripped his underpants off and stepped into the shower. He wet his hair, lathered it up with a generic brand of cheap shampoo, and wondered what brand Cormac used to maintain his glorious mane.
BACK AT THE PULLMAN COUNTRY HOUSE.
As Cormac sat and finished his breakfast with his mother, Clive and his men disembarked their lorry. Branford had thrown open the doors leading into the orangery, and the team used their hand trucks to begin loading the dwarf orange trees on to the lorry. They soon came to the middle of the room and stood staring at the antique bedroom furniture. The bed had been stripped, and suitcases and trunks were clustered together neatly off to one side. Someone had been living there. Sleeping there! The rich and their foibles… Clive and his men continued to efficiently empty the bizarre bedchamber under Branford’s watchful eye.
A HEALTHY BREAKFAST.
Mark was dressed for work – in a white dress shirt and dark grey trousers. He’d rolled up his sleeves and slipped on an apron before he began breaking and beating eggs. He wasn’t much of a cook, but it was hard to make a hash of scrambled eggs. He poured the eggs into the pan he’d been heating on the hob and pushed them around with a spatula. There was a trick to getting them smooth and creamy that he’d never been able to figure out. Whenever he added cream the way his Mum used to, it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. The toast popped out of the toaster while the eggs were cooking, and soon he was sitting down for his meal. He smeared his toast with a butter substitute and took a bite along with a forkful of eggs. His appetite was better, but before his illness, he would have wolfed the entire plate down in a few gulps then bounded out the door. He didn’t exactly have to force himself to finish, but it was a near thing. He supposed that showed some improvement.
Mark was washing up his dishes and putting them on the drying rack when he heard Vanessa making her way down the stairs. He considered leaving the job unfinished and racing out the door to avoid her. Had it really come to that? Whether it had or hadn’t, they’d eventually have to talk about it. He just didn’t have the energy at the moment.
Vanessa entered, looked at the dishes, and asked, “Did you make a proper breakfast?”
“I had some eggs and toast,” Mark informed her. “I've only just got my appetite back. I've got to try and build my strength back up.”
“Is there any left for me?”
Mark stared at her in disbelief. “You never eat breakfast.”
“You could have asked,” she insisted.
Mark sighed and grabbed his suit jacket, shrugging it on. “I've got to get to work. I'll see you later.” He leaned in to kiss Vanessa, and she turned away so he just caught part of her ear. He wondered why he’d even bothered to make the effort and headed out of the kitchen.
Part of him hoped she’d offer an olive branch, signal there was some end to this impasse they’d stumbled into. “Yes,” he replied.
“Don't forget it's Kathy's birthday dinner tonight.”
“I didn't forget,” he replied, trying to hide his annoyance. “How could I? Who else would have their celebration on a fucking Monday night?”
“Don't be late,” Vanessa commanded.
“I'll try not to be,” he replied.
“Don't try,” she admonished. “Turn up on time.”
Mark left without responding.
Clive and his removal men had cleared the orangery. Surprisingly, the room seemed smaller now that it was empty. It shouldn’t have. Not with all the now unobstructed light pouring in and reflecting off the floor. Branford supposed it was some sort of optical illusion, something someone far cleverer than he was could explain. He closed and locked the doors behind the removal crew and exited into the house. Mrs. Pullman and Master Cormac would need his assistance preparing for the journey up to London.
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They had gathered in the incident room. They were surrounded by the evidence they’d collected during their investigation of Carol Ogilvy’s rape and murder. They were also tracking the press coverage. All the morning’s major papers were laid out on the small conference table. Carol’s smiling face beamed out from each cover, reproaching them. The headlines screamed:
NO SUSPECTS IN CAROL OGILVY CASE
BEAUTIFUL LIFE SNUFFED OUT: CAROL OGILVY’S PARENTS SPEAK
THE RAPE EPIDEMIC AT UNIVERSITIES
And so on.
They knew they’d take the blame if the headlines didn’t improve.
They were: Detective Sergeant Janet Pike, Detective Sergeant Claudine Jacobson, Detective Constable Aadit Lakshmi, and Detective Constable William Vernon.
Janet had argued her way into running the investigation in Mark’s absence and was gutted by the lack of progress. She’d been certain something would turn up, but she hadn’t even had the chance at a shot on goal. And now Mark was coming back. She’d lost her moment. D.S. Jacobson was newly promoted, as sharp as they came, and determined to prove herself. Janet knew Mark would take a shine to her and wondered how her failing to move the investigation forward would wash out. D.C. Lakshmi was bright, perhaps even as bright as D.S. Jacobson, but he lacked her confidence, and his constant second guessing was hampering his professional growth. “Competent” was the damning faint praise often used to describe D.C. Vernon. “Not a self-starter” often followed. They weren’t one of those crack teams they showed on the telly. It was never like that in real life. Not everyone could be an A player. They were solid, though. Their work would eventually produce results. It had to.
Their leader entered.
They greeted Mark warmly, shaking his hand and welcoming him back. Mark thanked them and took a quick tour around the room, looking over the white board notations, the crime scene photos, and bags of evidence. He absently checked his phone. Still no new messages. He seems subdued, Janet thought. Not quite himself. Maybe it's too soon for him to be back at work.
Almost to himself, Mark spoke. “We still don't have a suspect.”
“No,” Janet admitted reluctantly. “Everyone we've looked at's been cleared.”
Janet's response brought Mark back to himself, and he got into "leading this meeting" mode. “Let’s catch me up to speed,” he said with a self-effacing smile, and his team relaxed a bit. “We've cleared the muralist, Cormac Pullman, and the boyfriend... remind me of his name.”
“Jake Greene,” Janet said.
“Tell me about him.”
“He's on the same course Carol was,” Janet informed him. “Psychology – but a year ahead. They'd been together about six months. He had a group project due and was up all night with his team members the night she was killed.”
“It says the DNA from the pubic hair found in her underwear is a match to him, though,” Mark said. “What if we've somehow got the timeline wrong?”
“They had sex earlier in the day,” Janet replied. “Her flatmate heard them.”
“So, it's not likely that encounter was the cause of the vaginal injuries.”
“It's not likely, no.”
“Get me the recordings of his interviews,” Mark requested. “I'd still like a listen.”
“What did the CCTV from the day the mural was drawn turn up?” he asked. “Did it show Carol with anyone suspicious?”
There was an awkward pause. Janet straightened her back. “I determined that reviewing reams of CCTV footage that’s likely irrelevant wasn't the best use of our time.”
“Really?” Mark asked, raising an eyebrow. “Why?” His overly solicitous politeness put everyone on edge – they knew that underneath it his ire was raising.
“The source of the information isn't trustworthy,” Janet replied. “How are we to build a case on the word of a man who's just got out of the loony bin?” Mark clenched his fist, and his eyes narrowed. “A pretty, middle class girl was raped and killed.” Janet continued. “We can't bollocks this up, not with the press breathing down our necks.”
“You're right,” Mark said much more calmly than he felt. “We need to know everywhere she'd been, everyone she’d talked to in the days leading up to her death. The CCTV coverage of the university is almost total. How many hours of it has been viewed?”
The silence was crushing.
“Show me the logs,” Mark commanded. D.C. Lakshmi searched through some files and handed some papers to Mark.
“This is all from the day of the killing and limited to the cameras with a view of or inside the library,” Mark said as he flipped through the papers.
“The killer is in that footage,” Janet argued.
“Yes,” Mark conceded. “But that's only one set of data. How do we rule people out? Carol entered by herself, and it was closing in on exam time, so the library was overrun. There are far too many people to cross-check. We need some other point of connection besides the location.” As Mark continued to speak, a clearer path for the investigation emerged, and while the rest of the team was relieved, none of them could quite look at Janet. “This wasn't a crime of opportunity. He probably stalked her, maybe even found a way to inveigle himself into her circle of acquaintances and gain her trust. There is footage of him with her before he killed her; I'm certain of it. Cormac Pullman saw her with someone he perceived as a threat then he started drawing the mural almost immediately. That narrows down the time considerably.”
Mark turned to D.S. Jacobson. “Jacobson, get in touch with the security office at the university and request all the CCTV footage for the week before Carol Ogilvy was killed. We've already got some of the footage from the time the mural was drawn. Start with the cameras in that area and go back an hour or so before the muralist starts working. Flag any instances of Carol Ogilvy with a man. If there's nothing there, move out in concentric circles in the same window of time. If nothing turns up, then go back another hour and repeat. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied, glad to have landed the assignment. She cast a subtle sidelong look at Janet. She wasn’t the sort to be pleased by someone else’s failure, but she saw a clear opportunity and would take the fullest advantage of it.
“Get someone to help if it gets to be too much,” Mark ordered. There was no point in burning out what he sensed was his best asset. He directed his attention to the rest of the group gathered. “Detective Sergeant Pike is right,” he said. “We can leave no stone unturned. When asked what we've done to find Carol's killer the answer ‘everything in our power’ should be the truth. You've all been following the news. They've all got their agenda – sensationalising her murder and her parents' grief, slagging us off, whipping up fear and paranoia to sell papers and get clicks to their websites. She's become an object. Even to us here in this room. I know it's difficult, but we can't make this about our egos and escaping criticism. This has to be about Carol. Whoever killed her silenced her forever, and we speak for her now. We've got to be diligent. And that includes checking the story of the only person who seemed to know this was going to happen. Even if he had recently been an inpatient at a psychiatric institution.”
Janet was humiliated and felt she had to keep fighting. “And if someone in the press wants to know why we're taking the word of someone who told us to look for a giant hyena?”
She had missed the point cosmically, and Mark could scarcely bring himself to be civil when he responded. “We tell them that we investigate all leads. And since we're so concerned about not causing offence, it would do us all well to remember that the young man in question has cooperated as fully as he can, given his limitations, and he is a member of a prominent family. His mother has the Commissioner's ear. And if that doesn't give any of you pause, Minerva Pullman-Hogg is his big sister.” There were murmurs of recognition at Minnie's name. Even Janet seemed cowed at the mention of her. “If she finds out any one of you hurt her brother, you'll be lucky to end up a Community Support Officer.”
Having made his point (perhaps a bit too firmly), Mark got things back on track. “Lakshmi, walk me through the timeline,” he commanded.
A BIT LATER IN MARK’S OFFICE.
Mark had just settled in to have a closer look at some of the photos from the scene of Carol Ogilvy’s murder. He took in the strange angles of her limbs. That’s what let you know they weren’t just sleeping or unconscious, that the worst had happened. The longer he looked at her, the more ill at ease he felt. His pulse was beginning to pound, and there was a queasy feeling creeping up his gorge. His breath was shortening. He’d lost count of all the dead bodies he’d seen, many in much worse shape than Carol’s. What was it about her? There was something about this case that had crawled under his skin and was burrowing its way into his psyche. Whatever shields he usually put up had been compromised.
His door was flung open, and Janet burst in. She was incensed. “You didn't have to cut me off at the knees in front of them all,” she hissed.
Mark sighed. He supposed he could have handled things more tactfully, but the truth was he’d been holding back. “We both know there is plenty more I could have said,” he retorted. “That timeline is a bloody joke. Lakshmi knew it, but he doesn't have the bollocks to speak his mind.”
“It's been difficult without you here, knowing you were so ill, that you might die.” Janet may as well have said, "I'm in love with you and could barely function when I thought you were dying and I couldn't be with you." She’d given herself permission to sob herself to sleep the third day into his hospitalisation, and it had been a mistake. It had burst an emotional dam, and it had affected her work, just like she had known it would. Mark deftly avoided connecting to her emotionally, but his voice was gentler when he spoke again.
“I'm not indispensable,” he said. “Why didn't Paul assign another D.I. to run the case in the interim?”
“We’re always a bit understaffed, and I convinced him I could handle it. At least until you got back.” Janet couldn’t stop herself from enquiring, “If he asks about my performance...?”
“I'm not going to lie for you, Janet,” Mark replied. Directness was the only course of action in these situations. Allowing things to linger always lit a fuse, and you never knew where the explosives were hidden or when they would go off.
Janet's face hardened. He felt absolutely nothing for her. She’d thought there’d at least been a friendship of sorts. “You've always been a cold fish, haven't you?” she accused. “I don't know why I thought otherwise.”
“Don't make this personal,” Mark advised. “Once you heard I was coming back, you knew I'd have expected you to have followed up on what Mr. Pullman told me, but you didn't.” He’d very nearly said “Cormac” but caught himself in time. He smoothed the front of his shirt and continued. “You wanted to make a show of your independence from me. You did, and it's backfired. Don't try and lay that bet off on me.”
Janet was beginning to understand just how pear-shaped things had gone. “I'm putting in for Detective Inspector,” she said, unable to hide the hint of panic in her voice. “You know that. I need your recommendation.”
“I think you should wait,” Mark replied. This was one of the hardest parts of the job. “You're not ready. You can't see the big picture, make the connections that aren't obvious. That's vital to leading an investigation.”
“We all can't be as clever as you are, Mark.” Her voice was cutting, and Mark supposed her bitterness was justified. She was one of the hardest working officers he’d come across, but she wasn’t a natural at either the investigative work or the politics.
“It's not cleverness, Janet,” he countered. “It's seeing things as they are, not as you want them to be. Trying to get away from your biases. The mural is the only solid thing we had to go on, and you dismissed Mr. Pullman out of hand because he doesn't communicate the way we do. I do get it, you know. It's not like we can put him on the witness stand, but that doesn't stop us from looking at what he's pointing at. And he's pointed at the killer. I meant what I said in there – we chase every lead, especially the ones that take us to places we don't want to go.”
Janet was livid. That condescending bastard, she thought. “You really think you're so much better than the rest of us with your double first, don't you?” She was sneering, baring her teeth.
She wants to tear my throat out, Mark thought. He rarely found himself in these situations and supposed it was evidence that, even by his own standards, he was mishandling matters.
She continued, her fists and jaw clenched, her chest beginning to heave. “Lecturing me about biases. You won't look anywhere but at the mural. You were so bloody certain the killer drew it, and you were wrong. Now to save face you've got our people wasting their time running down bogus leads from some barking mad lunatic –”
“That's enough!” Mark didn’t raise his voice, but the hurled spear of his quiet rage struck its mark, and Janet shut up. “I've told you,” he cautioned, his voice going even lower, becoming even darker. It was almost a snarl. “Have a care for how you speak about him. This is my final warning.”
Janet swallowed hard and nodded. She’d never seen that look in his eye before. He’s different, she thought.
Mark calmed himself and continued. “If I'm fixated on the mural, it's because it seemed to predict the rape and murder of Carol Ogilvy or someone who looked very much like her...”
Mark's voice died.
“I've got to make a phone call,” he said.
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