Detective Chief Inspector Harriet Martens is pushing to clean up Greater Birchester with her Stop the Rot campaign, and not everyone is pleased with her success. Whipping her division into shape and stepping up arrests has led to some pretty nasty mail. But when a night-patrol constable is murdered while on duty, it seems as if someone very dangerous is out to stop Stop the Rot.
As more officers are targeted, a twisted theme comes into focus. Each murder is executed according to the verse from Exodus, Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The murderer is on a personal quest for revenge, and to truly stop the rot, Harriet will have to put her own life on the line.
“Contemporary British police procedural meets old-fashioned puzzle mystery in this slick, streamlined effort.” —Publishers Weekly
The Hard Detective is the 1st book in the Harriet Martens Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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'We rang the bell, right?'
Detective Chief Inspector Harriet Martens pointed, finger held two inches away, to the untouched dusty plastic bellpush.
'We rang the bell,' murmuring, keyed-up voices echoed.
'We got no answer.'
'We got no answer.'
The subdued echo laced now with suppressed laughter.
'We had reason to believe evidence might be being destroyed.'
Tension held for one half-second.
'Right. Go, go, go.'
The four constables with the ram, already swung well back, took one long concerted pace forward and brought it hurtling towards the door. It struck with a single solid thud just beside the lock. The scratched and scarred, badly painted wood cracked in a sharp explosion and the door flew back.
'Hole in one.'
But Harriet hardly heard the shout of triumph as she led the raiding party in. Up the narrow stairs in front of her, two at a time, and straight for the door of the back bedroom where surveillance had placed Terry Dunne, persistent burglar.
A bleary shout of rage and questioning came from inside as she yanked at the knob and flung the door wide. Terry, hairy-chested, face thickly beard-shadowed, reared up in the bed, glaring.
'Okay, Terry, you're nicked.'
Sergeant Metcalf, Harriet's Number Two on the raid, gave a wide grin.
'Another scrote hauled in on the great B Division StoptheRot campaign,' he proclaimed.
'Only one,' Harriet shot back as she switched her silenced mobile back on. 'I want another half-dozen seen to before this day's out. Never mind what for. Anything that breaks any law. Jump on them. Jump on them. It's the only way to —'
But the woman on the other side of the frowsy bed, who had tumbled out and was standing there, body dead-white in the dawn light, burst out now with a stream of abuse, strident voice filling the whole cluttered, sour-smelling room.
'What the fuck d'you mean breaking in here? Christ, sodding police. Where d'you think this is then? Fucking Nazi Germany? Fucking well get out, won't you. Leering sodding bastards. Why, don't —'
But Harriet had taken three sharp paces to put herself in front of the screeching girl, face hardly more than an inch away.
The stream of abuse stopped. Abruptly as if an iron shutter had clanged down.
Harriet turned to the squad clustered at the door.
'All right, get on with it. Take the place apart. Sergeant Metcalf will note each find as it's made, and don't fail to account for every —'
Her mobile rang.
She turned to take the call.
For two minutes she listened in silence to the jabbering voice at her ear.
'Right,' she said when it ceased. 'I'll come.'
She turned back to Metcalf, clipping handcuffs on now roughly dressed Terry Dunne, not without a savage grin as he twisted his wrists behind his back.
'Someone's knifed a night-patrol constable. PC Titmuss. Body's been found somewhere just off New Street. So much for me coming out at the sharp end with you lot. Take over, Sergeant, will you? Give Terry the full rights spiel.'
With the formula words rattling out behind her, she hurried off.
'Terry Dunne, I am arresting you on suspicion of burglary. You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say ...'
She was pleased, as she brought her car to a halt behind a Greater Birchester Police van, to see that already efficient steps had been taken to secure the scene. Blue plastic tapes were in place, and a woman constable had been posted at the far end of the street to re- direct early-morning traffic. But, as it had been Inspector Roberts who, passing by, had found the body and called her at Terry Dunne's, she expected no less. Rob Roberts might be the sort of man who was happiest poring over the Personnel files he was in charge of at Headquarters but he knew his business.
'Rob,' she greeted him as, dressed only in jeans, trainers and a thick high-necked white jersey, he came forward. 'Put me in the picture. Was he dead when you found him? And what are you doing down here anyway?'
Round ruddy face, thatch of fair hair sticking up unbrushed, generous fair moustache, wide blue eyes, he grinned. A little sheepishly.
'I was out for a walk. Can't stay asleep all that long, these days. So I often come down here and get myself an early paper.'
'And as you passed you saw ... what?'
'Come and look. The doc hasn't arrived yet. The body's still where it was when I noticed something at the entrance to that passageway.'
The alleyway was so narrow it was still all but pitch-dark inside despite the slowly gathering March daylight. PC Titmuss lay face-down, with his helmet, which had not fallen from his head, protruding by two or three inches on to the street itself. At the side of his neck towards the back, just above the collar of his dark-blue greatcoat, there was what was almost certainly a deep knife wound. It had sent a dark runnel of blood on to the greasy paving stones below.
Harriet stood in silence, carefully looking at the area immediately round the body's slumped blue mass.
'Fag-ends in plenty,' she said. 'Place doesn't look as if a road sweeper ever comes near it. You know what? I think young Titmuss used to step inside here every night and give himself a crafty smoke. Bloody lucky I never caught him at it.'
'Oh, come on,' Rob Roberts answered. 'We've all done that, or something like it, in our early days on the beat, haven't we? Only natural really.'
'No, Rob, we haven't all done it. And we shouldn't any of us have done it, or be doing it now. No one's as alert as they ought to be if they're sneaking a quick fag, and you know it.'
Rob Roberts sighed.
'Well, some of us don't match up to your high standards,' he said, adding a half-murmured ma'am to counter what might be thought impertinence to a senior officer, even if one half a dozen years younger than himself.
'Scenes-of-Crime should be here by now,' Harriet said by way of closing the subject.
'Yes. I called Headquarters soon as I'd spoken to you.'
'Wrong order, Rob.'
'Well, I thought as he was one of ours ...'
'I dare say. But evidence has to be the number one priority. All the more so when the victim wears the cloth. Who do you think went for him like that? What do you know about him?'
'Not all that much, as a matter of fact. I don't think I've had his file out more than once a year, if that. This may have been just the result of some chance encounter.'
'Stabbed in the back like that? A chance encounter? I don't think so. No, someone almost certainly was waiting for him, hiding there in the dark. Where does the passageway go, do you know?'
'It doesn't go anywhere now, actually. It's just a dead-end. By daylight you can see that. It probably used to run between two buildings here. But a lot of the old offices were torn down back in the fifties, and I imagine this little space just got left. Why it never gets swept, I dare say.'
'And why Titmuss thought it a nice place for a smoke. And why someone knew it was a good spot to wait for him down at the dark end. You don't know anything about Titmuss's private life, you said?'
'There'll be the basics in his file. Next-of-kin, date of birth. I'll look it up soon as I get the chance, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't married.'
'Involved with any of the enemy? He wouldn't be the first. Owing gambling money?'
'I couldn't say.'
It was an unspoken, tight-lipped rebuke.
'Just because he's dead, Inspector,' Harriet answered sharply, 'it doesn't mean he was incapable of doing things he oughtn't to when he was alive. But if you do know nothing to his detriment, you know nothing. We'll have to — Ah, Scenes-of-Crime. And about time.'
She turned away to where behind her own car the big white Scenes-of-Crime van was pulling up. But, as she did so, something at the police tape at the opposite end of the protected area caught her eye.
'Isn't that the fellow from the EveningStar?' she said. 'Crime reporter. What's his name? Patterson. Tim Patterson. Who the hell told him about this? Somebody's going to be in a whole lot of trouble before very long. And he's talking to that WPC there. It's the little Muslim one, isn't it?'
'WPC Syed,' Rob Roberts said, with what sounded like quick defensiveness. 'Rukshana Syed. Probationer. Useful addition to the Force.'
'Well, she won't be any sort of addition to the Force much longer if she goes on chatting to EveningStar reporters.'
She strode, a swooping lioness, down to the far tape.
'You, Mr Patterson. What are you doing distracting one of my officers from her duty? We don't need the press here. There'll be a statement in due course.'
'DCI Martens,' the young reporter, pale-faced, lank-haired, beaky nose actually twitching, eyes behind big glasses flicking and flicking, came back at her, 'am I right in thinking one of your officers has been killed? Is it murder? How did it happen? Was he making an arrest? Was he carrying out your personal orders to check any and every sort of wrong behaviour? Have we got a killing here as a direct result of your StoptheRot campaign?'
'I said there'll be a statement when we're ready to put one out. Now, unless you want to get arrested, move on.'
For a moment he stood there, patently wondering if he could risk yet another provocative question. But then he turned on his heel and walked rapidly back to his car further down the street.
'Right, Constable Syed,' Harriet snapped out. 'Do you know who I am?'
The ferocity of the question turned the young Muslim girl's face momentarily pale.
'Yes. Yes,' she stammered out. 'You're DCI Martens.'
'Yes? Yes? Haven't you learnt yet how to address a senior officer?'
'Yes. I mean, yes, ma'am.'
'That's better. Now, what were you doing talking to that man?'
'I — I — er. He just asked me a question. Er — ma'am. So I answered.'
'He just asked you a question. Didn't you know he was a reporter?'
'No. No, ma'am, I had no idea.'
'Well, you ought to have done. When you're out on the street you ought to know about every damn thing you see. Which building is which. Which street goes where. What everyone you come across is doing there. Do you understand what harm talking to someone from the press about a murder case can cause? Well, do you?'
'I — I'm not sure, ma'am.'
'Well, you ought to be. It's the duty of every officer who knows anything at all about a murder to keep that information strictly to themselves. That way we'll have some hope of catching the man who's killed one of your fellow officers. Of catching him when he comes out with something he shouldn't know about. Unless some stupid little girl has already gone and blurted it out to a reporter. Understand?'
'Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry, ma'am. I just ...'
In the pale early morning light it was just possible to see a tear brimming up in the Muslim girl's eye.
'Well, in future, Constable, just don't. You're on probation in this Force, so let me tell you if I get to hear of one single other piece of stupidity like this, you'll be out. Out.'
Harriet swung away and went over to where the Scenes-of-Crime team were unloading their gear and getting clumsily into their bulky white coveralls and big plastic shoe-protectors.
'Morning, ma'am,' the sergeant in charge said. 'Is it right it's Titty Titmuss who's caught it?'
'It is, Sergeant. One of our own. So I want every piece of evidence, possible and impossible, found and bagged and handed to Forensic. And where's Inspector Palfrey? Scenes-of-Crime is his unit: he should be here.'
'On his way, ma'am,' the sergeant replied, doing his best to sound as if he was speaking the truth.
'Well, when he gets here — if he does — tell him if any man or woman in his team misses one tiny thing and loses us the bastard who did this, then he'll be answering to me.'
'You can rely on us, ma'am. But Titty Titmuss ... He may have been a pretty poor copper but he didn't deserve this.'
'A poor copper, Sergeant? What do you mean?'
The sergeant looked abashed.
'Well, I shouldn't really have spoken ill of the dead,' he said.
'Ill of the dead? Let me tell you, Sergeant, if you know anything about PC Titmuss, ill or good, it's your duty to cough it up.'
'Yes, ma'am. Well, it's not really all that much. But Titty was a bit of a skiver, you know. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, he was one hell of a skiver. I mean, if he could get out of doing anything, he would, and, if he couldn't get out of it, he'd do just as little as he could manage. I suppose, because of that he's been — That is, he was put on night patrol for almost the whole of the past month. As I understand it. Only canteen gossip, of course.'
'Yes. Well, thank you, Sergeant. I'll check on that. If Titmuss was coming every night at much the same time to stand and smoke in that nice little dark corner over there, then someone will have known about it. And that someone is the one we're going to put where he belongs. In prison for the rest of his damn life.'CHAPTER 2
Seeing that everything was up and running, Harriet began to think of heading for home to grab some breakfast and change — white blouse, grey barathea skirt — before getting to her office to direct inquiries. On the point of leaving, a spatter of rain flicked down and she noticed Inspector Roberts looking up apprehensively at the mass of dark cloud overhead.
'Inspector. Want a lift as far as my house? You'll get soaked in that jersey.'
He came over at a trot.
'Thank you, ma'am. That'd be a great help. But I didn't know you realized I lived not so far from you.'
'A detective can never know enough, Inspector.'
'Well, I'm glad you know what you do about me. I'd be wet through walking back in this. Still, it should be well over before we reach your place. Almost into April showers time now.'
In that Rob Roberts was wrong. When they pulled up outside Harriet's house the rain was coming down a lot harder.
'Look,' she said, 'I can't really spare the time to take you round to Meadow Avenue. I'll have a hell of a lot to see to at the nick. But I could lend you my husband's gardening mac. He's away working in Brazil. It's pretty ropey but it'll keep out the wet.'
'That's very kind.' Rob Roberts paused a moment. 'Mrs Piddock.'
Harriet looked at him.
'So, even though you're not a detective, you know something about me I prefer to keep under wraps.'
'Heading up Personnel, I have my sources.'
'Right. But don't go broadcasting my married name everywhere. It suits me at work to use the name I had when I joined the Force. Keeps my private life private.'
'Oh. No, no, of course I won't.'
'Right. Well, you can keep out of the rain under the porch while I fetch the coat. I can't let you in. Been getting some nasty presents through the letter-box from the local layabouts since StoptheRot got going. Shit, dog and human, and liable to go all over the carpet when I swing the door back.'
'But — Well, with respect, ma'am, shouldn't you be having some protection?'
'Against parcels of shit? I don't think so. Up to now it's only the riff-raff roundabout hitting back — the louts who sell drugs at the corner, urinators after dark, kids shining laser pens in people's eyes, the casual vandals. All the ones I've been having taught lessons.'
She looked across to the sturdy veranda-like porch that gave the house its touch of character.
'You'll be dry under there.'
'I'll be fine,' Rob Roberts said. 'And thanks for thinking of the coat. I'll bring it back one evening, if that's all right.'
'Whenever ... Oh, and one thing more ... If there does turn out to be anything other than the bare facts in your files about PC Titmuss, remember I want to know. There must be some reason why he was killed. Anything that gives me even a hint could help.'
They pelted then through the downpour to the porch. Up on its low platform Rob Roberts gave an apologetic cough.
'Excuse me, ma'am, but what about the really big boys? Before long won't one of them think of leaving something worse than dog- shit in your letter-box? A bomb, even?'
'Frankly, Rob, I wouldn't be sorry if they did. It'd show that the real criminals hate me. And, as I hate them equally, that'd be satisfying rather than worrying.'
Rob Roberts sighed.
'An eye for an eye,' he said. 'Rather you than me.'
'An eye for an eye? Something from the Bible, if I remember my Religious Studies at school. But, yes, I think I like it. An eye for an eye. Yes.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Hard Detective"
Copyright © 2000 H. R. F. Keating.
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