Monday, 17 October 2016
The Hanging Tree - A Bit of a Chapter - Part Two
This a continuation of an extract from Chapter One of the upcoming The Hanging Tree
You can find Part One here.
She led me through the transparent cylindrical airlock style door onto a mezzanine balcony and down a set of stairs into a double height reception area with leather chairs and the sort of meaningless sculpture that’s bought by the ton by particularly greedy banks. Through transparent walls, rumoured to be bullet proof, I could see a small faux garden and – through another layer of security glass – the dim and dangerous streets of downtown Knightsbridge.
Beside the reception desk stood a fit looking man with brown skin, black hair and a good quality off-the-peg suit. Possibly Indonesian, I thought. He also managed the trick of looking both alert and bored out of his skull at the same time – ex-Job, ex-military, ex-intelligence – something like that.
The level of security struck me as a bit paranoid but, as my dad says, the more they have the more they worry about it being taken away.
The security man gave me and Guleed a sour look as we passed and I responded with a friendly smile and a cheery ‘Good morning’. Because I am an officer of the law and, providing I’m not nobbled by political considerations and/or influence peddling, my arm doth reach into all places, yea even unto the citadels of the mighty.
This particular citadel of the mighty was reached by a glass sided lift which ran up a completely transparent service core that allowed one – and one assumes that here one refers to one as one – to appreciate the view over Hyde Park which, after all, is what one has paid upwards of ten million to enjoy.
The glass elevator led out into a cross passage where we did the dance of the noddy suit whereby the grave dignity of the law is mitigated by the need to hop on one foot while you try and get the stupid paper leg over the other. Guleed, it turned out, was wearing leggings under her skirt – which she left, along with her scarf, in the clear plastic bag provided. Once we were safely zipped up in our hygienic forensically-neutral paper suits Guleed led me to the left, where a pair of mahogany doors had been propped open with a portable light stand. Beyond was a short hallway with a curved far wall and a lot of abstract art on the walls.
In home furnishing terms, past a certain point, more money doesn’t get you anything except an increase in insurance premiums. An elegantly proportioned room can have whitewashed walls and a bare wooden floor. But if it’s an awkward shape, then all the piano-finish rosewood occasional tables riches can provide aren’t going to do anything more than annoy the cleaners. One Hyde Park, I saw, had all the basic architectural charm of a brutalist council flat – except on a larger scale. The rooms were much wider, of course. But pressure to maximise the number of flats meant that the ceilings were disproportionately low.
We found Seawoll just around the corner in what the plans listed as a ‘study’. The architects had laid out each wing to maximise the light, with a long central corridor and side rooms branching off like the veins in a leaf. This meant they all had walls on the diagonal, severely restricting the decorator’s choice about where furniture could be placed. If you didn’t want to block the doors, the access or blot out the windows then the beds, cupboards, shelves and all the other stuff that turns a concrete box into a home had to go where the architect thought they should go. In the study, this meant a desk that could neither face the window for the view nor face away to take advantage of the light. Instead, the black mirror finish desk with the stainless steel legs stood in front of matching glass fronted bookcases that, as far as I could tell, contained a number of lumpy glass and chrome objects and a couple of soft porn albums cunningly disguised as cutting edge nude photography. Still in their shrink wrap, I noticed.
Seawoll sat in the executive leather operator’s chair behind the desk wearing a dangerously stretched noddy suit that made him look like the Michelin Man’s slightly deflated older brother.
‘You’ll notice that you can’t swivel all the way round,’ he said. ‘What fucking use is a swivel chair if you can’t fucking swivel on it?’ He spotted me trying to read the titles on the books.
‘Don’t bother, they’re just window dressing,’ he said. ‘As far as we can tell nobody lives here.’
I looked at a framed photograph of a young white woman with a dog.
‘Who owns the place, then?’ I asked.
‘Some tax dodging shell company out of Jersey,’ said Seawoll, running his fingers along the bottom of the desk top – looking for secret drawers, I guessed. ‘We won’t be able to trace that until the lads at Proactive Money Laundering can drag one of their experts out of bed.’ He gave up on the idea of secret drawer and jabbed a finger at Guleed.
‘Sahra,’ he said. ‘Get on the phone and give them a kicking.’
‘Gladly,’ said Guleed, and left.
‘Her brother’s an accountant,’ said Seawoll, watching her go. ‘So. What the fuck are you doing here?’
I considered lying for all of about two nano-seconds, but I don’t have a death wish – not even a figurative one. Of course, philosophically speaking, truth is a slippery concept and one should always be alive to nuance.
‘I got a tip off from a source that there might be some tangential Falcon involvement,’ I said. And because I saw Seawoll begin to draw himself up, ‘Lady Cecelia Tyburn-Thames believes her daughter may have been here when the incident occurred.’
‘And she wants you to put the fix in?’
‘Do you know what the “incident” is?’
‘Accidental drug overdose,’ I said.
‘So I bet you’re wondering what the fuck I’m doing here?’ he asked.
I felt a trickle of sweat work its way down my back.
‘You wanted a peek into the lifestyles of the rich and shameless?’ I said.
‘Because nobody was supposed to have access to this flat,’ he said. ‘Did you see the DPG cars downstairs?’
The Diplomatic Protection Group do bodyguard work for Royals and those people HM Government would rather were not done-in while resident in the UK. They’re routinely armed and drive around in red liveried vehicles – red to indicate that they are not there to break up fights, find your toddler or tell you the bloody time.
‘No, sir,’ I said.
‘Really?’ said Seawoll. ‘The lazy buggers must have sloped off for refs.’
He explained that, what with the screened entrance, bullet proof quality glass on the lower levels and the kind of semi-professional security that would gladden the heart of a putative generalissimo, this was the sort of place that the DPG knew they could park their high value targets.
‘Qatari Royal Family amongst them,’ said Seawoll.
And then not have to worry about them until they ventured forth to shop at Harvey Nicks or go to the opera or impoverish a small nation – or whatever else it was the very, very rich did when they had time on their hands.
‘So when a bunch of fucking kids waltz into the building, the DPG wants to know how. And I get woken up in the middle of the fucking night,’ said Seawoll. ‘And told to find out on pain of getting a bollocking. Me?’ he said in outrage. ‘Getting a bollocking? And just when I thought things couldn’t descend further into the brown stuff – here you are.’
With a grunt he levered himself to his feet, causing the chair to bang against the bookcase behind him and set the various objet d’bollocks rattling.
‘See,’ he said, once he was up. ‘Not even room enough to lean back and get yourself a bit of light relief. Mind you, there’s a media room next door that would do very nicely for a private viewing room.’ He must have seen that I’d lost the thread of his conversation.
‘Like they used to have in porn shops when there were proper porn shops?’ he said slowly, and then shook his head. ‘I suppose you lot get your mucky pictures uploaded to your phones.’
I wondered if he talked like this to Guleed. I doubted it, somehow.
He led me through to the media room, which was a cool grey-green and lined with sound absorbing material. There was a vast television, wider than some of the screens I’ve seen in retrofitted multiplexes, and an elegant curving sofa that actually suited the room it was in. It had also, if I’m any judge, been shagged upon in the last few hours. There was a V-shaped stain in the middle and the throw cushions, in amethyst and teal covers, had been pushed onto the floor. There was an island of wine bottles in the centre of the coffee table and a pair of wine glasses on the shelf by the Blu-ray player – both were white with fingerprint dust.
‘Behold,’ said Seawoll. ‘The wank palace itself.’
‘I don’t think they were wanking, sir,’ I said, and Seawoll sighed.
‘You’ve always got to push it, haven’t you Peter?’ he said, and outlined the details of the case.
At twelve thirty a 999 call had been made by a young man from a mobile phone asking for an ambulance and claiming that his friend ‘Chrissy’ was having an overdose and needed help. He was . . .
‘. . . hysterical, desperate and,’ said Seawoll, ‘obviously out of his box.’
But when the ambulance arrived, security wouldn’t let them into the building, claiming that the flat was unoccupied. The ambulance crew reported it to CCC who sent an instant response vehicle around, which ran straight into a pair of DPG officers responding because the building alarm was set up to inform them directly. Everyone piled up in the lifts, security opened the flat door and, voila, they found Christina Chorley aged seventeen lying in the entrance hall in the midst of a seizure.
She’d been dragged there by her boyfriend James Murray, also seventeen. James told the paramedics and everybody else in the immediate vicinity that ‘It was just E’s, it was just E’s.’ Had he taken them? Yes, he had. Who else was in the flat? It was just them. Oh god, it was just E’s.
Off in the ambulance went the pair of them while both sets of police kicked their problem upstairs until it bounced off DCI Seawoll’s bedroom window.
‘Metaphorically speaking,’ said Seawoll.
The ‘entrance hall’ was the wide, wedged shaped, low ceilinged room with an unparalleled view over Hyde Park. I was getting used to the sheer amount of money wasted on the furniture, which was spread out like something designed for The Sims. In amongst the money there were signs that people had been having a good time — more bottles, wine glasses, empty cellophane packets, a flat pool of oatmeal coloured vomit on the carefully chosen hand-woven cream wool rug. Definitely more than two people. At least six or seven, I thought. Maybe more, if they were particularly tidy teens.
Not so tidy that they didn’t leave their pills behind when they scrambled to get out.
‘We think they left as soon as James Murray made his 999 call,’ said Seawoll. Both the police and the paramedics entered a description of the pills into the TICTAC database and got a name – Magic Babas – and the worrying information that this particular brand tended to be heavy on the PMA, otherwise known as paramethoxyamphetamine, or Dr Death. Not MDMA, otherwise known as Ecstasy, otherwise known as the drug that allows you to listen to really dull music without your brain imploding from boredom. Seriously. PMA is a lot more toxic than MDMA and kicks in slower, so users have been known to swallow another couple of pills thinking the first were duds, and then suffer what Dr Walid would describe as ‘deleterious effects’.
Given that Christina Chorley had died on the way to hospital, it was important to find out who else had taken the Magic Babas in case they needed treatment – and to find out quickly. Before James Murray keeled over himself.
At first James had tried to claim that he and Christina had been alone in the flat, but five minutes with DI Stephanopoulos, who having been pulled untimely from her wife’s embrace, was particularly pissed off that morning, saw him coughing names as fast as they could be written down.
‘Amongst them was the name Olivia Jane McAllister-Thames,’ said Seawoll. ‘Now, I’ve got a few questions that need answering. Like, how did they get in? Where did the drugs comes from? And can I get a result before this case turns into a great big fucking media shit storm?’
I joined him at the window. It was getting light and a thick mist was washing out the trees and pastures of Hyde Park and the city beyond. Seawoll pointed down to a pair of statues in the faux garden at the back of the estate – two bronze heads that looked like they’d been flattened in a Corby trouser press and then had their brains scooped out.
‘It’s called Waiting For Enlightenment,’ said Seawoll, looking at the statues. ‘But if you ask me it’s a fucking rip-off of The Foothills of the Headlands from Yellow Submarine.’ Which meant nothing to me. ‘God, money is so wasted on the rich.’
‘Do you want me to statement Olivia McAllister-Thames?’ I asked.
‘No,’ he said. ‘I want Sahra to do that.’ He waved airily back at the flat. ‘Have you had a chance to check for any tingles?’
I said, with some dignity, that I had done an initial Falcon assessment and found nothing that indicated that a supernatural event had taken place on the premises.
‘Thank Christ for that,’ said Seawoll. ‘In that case you can go with Guleed and make sure nothing weird happens to her.’
Seawoll, like most of the senior officers who were aware of the Folly, might not like me using the m-word. But they weren’t about to ignore anything that might have an impact at an operational level. It’s understandable. You may not want to dwell on the fact that eighty percent of infant homicides are committed by the parents, but you’re still going to make the grieving mum and dad your prime suspects until proved otherwise.
‘In fact,’ he said, ‘I’m making you personally fucking responsible for making sure nothing weird happens to her. If you can’t guarantee that, I want your boss down here to do the job instead – understand?’
‘Yes, guv,’ I said.