In Frank Smith's police procedural Thread of Evidence, Shropshire Detective Chief Inspector Neil Paget leads an investigation into the brutal murder of a leading real estate developer. Discovered stabbed to death in his regular suite at the upscale Tudor Hotel, Jim Bolen has many enemies, both personal and professional. Paget and his motley crew of police officers must trace the movements of this multitude of players who benefited from Bolen's death, including a mysterious young woman seen that night running barefoot from the hotel. What they find will show a family in turmoil as well as a controversial business deal in the making, two arenas where it seems everyone wants to make a killing...
About the Author
Frank Smith's first DCI Paget novel was shortlisted for Canada's Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. He lives in British Columbia, Canada.
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SATURDAY, 23 SEPTEMBER
"I want that man out of here. Understand? He's been here the best part of two hours, and I have people waiting. I want him out now!" "But I can't simply tell him to leave," the waiter objected. "You know what Mr. Bolen's like. Besides, he just ordered another drink."
Leonardo, maître d' and absolute ruler of the Elizabethan Room, bristled. "I said, get rid of him!" he hissed fiercely. "I don't care how you do it, but do it."
The waiter sighed as he made his way toward the corner table where a well-built, dark-haired man sat hunched over a sheaf of papers and a pocket calculator, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. "If there is nothing else, Mr. Bolen," he ventured, "perhaps you would like ...?"
"Ah! There you are, lad." Jim Bolen didn't look up, but continued to write. "Thought you'd left for the night or gone on your holidays. What do you call this?" He shoved his drink across the table, slopping it on the cloth.
"Irish whiskey, sir. That is what you ordered, and —"
"I know what I ordered, and it wasn't this muck. Who's on the bar tonight?"
"Bingham, sir, but —"
Bolen grunted. "Thought as much. Take this back and tell Bingham that when I order Irish, I don't mean water from the bog, and if he tries it on again it will be the last drink he serves in this hotel. Got that?"
"Yes, Mr. Bolen. I'm sorry, Mr. Bolen."
Bolen lifted his head and favoured the waiter with a smile. "And you'll be gone as well," he said pleasantly, "since you no doubt split the take with Bingham."
The waiter opened his mouth to protest, then wisely closed it. No point in digging himself in deeper, especially when the man was right. He removed the offending drink and made for the bar, aware of Leonardo's smouldering eyes boring into his back as he left the room.
Jim Bolen tossed his pencil aside. He leaned back and closed his eyes. It would be tight, damned tight, but if he could bring this off it would be worth it. A grim smile touched the corners of his mouth. Lambert would be as good as finished.
He drew in a long breath and let it out again as he savoured the thought. He'd waited a long time for this.
"You devious bastard!" The words were spoken softly, but there was no mistaking their hostility. "Laura said I'd find you here. Getting everything sorted for Monday's meeting, are you, Jim?"
Jim Bolen stifled a groan. That voice was the last one he'd expected to hear this evening. A welcoming smile spread across his rugged features as he opened his eyes. "Harry!" he said expansively. "I wasn't expecting you back for another week." His expression changed to one of concern. "Nothing wrong, is there? Dee's not ill, is she? The kids all right?"
Harry Bolen pulled a chair away from an adjoining table and sat down facing his brother. Jim was the elder of the two, and heavier-set than his brother, but so similar was their appearance that they were often mistaken for twins. Both were six feet tall, broad-shouldered, and both had the same deep-set eyes and unruly hair — except it was Harry, at age fifty, whose hair was beginning to turn grey.
Harry shook his head impatiently. "You know damned well why I'm back," he told his brother, "and it has nothing to do with Dee and the kids. Laura phoned me in Vancouver. Said she'd tried to stop you going through with this nonsense, but you wouldn't listen. She said you were going to be meeting here with the Whitehall crowd on Monday to present the proposal."
He paused, holding his brother's gaze while he lit a cigarette. "She also told me that you had thrown her out," he went on softly. "So would you like to tell me just what the hell is going on?"
Jim Bolen shook his head and sighed heavily. "God knows I didn't want to, Harry," he said, "but Laura's in bed with Lambert. Has been for months, and I couldn't ..." "In bed with —" Harry's voice began to rise before he cut himself off abruptly as diners at the next table turned to look. "I don't believe it! Laura having an affair? With Lambert?"
Jim shook his head impatiently. "I didn't mean that literally, for God's sake. I meant she's been talking to him — or I should say listening to him, and taking his side. He's running scared and he's trying to get at me through her. At us. He can't stop us any other way, and he can see the writing on the wall. When this deal goes through, he'll be as good as finished."
Harry's eyes hardened. "And that's what this is all about, isn't it?" he said. "Get Lambert, never mind the cost. Never mind what it's doing to your marriage or to those around you. For Christ's sake, Jim, forget it. We went through all this before I left and you agreed to let it drop."
He reached for an ashtray and ground out his cigarette. "I should have known there was something up when you were so keen for us to go off to Canada to see the kids and our new granddaughter. You thought you'd have it all sewn up by the time we got back, didn't you? Well, in this case, I'm with Laura, and I'm damned glad she rang me and I came back in time."
Harry Bolen leaned across the table. "It won't work, Jim," he went on earnestly. "I won't let you destroy our business. It's taken us too many years to build it up, and I won't be a party to this."
"You already are."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "And what the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Jim shrugged. "It means, little brother, that those papers you signed in such a hurry before you left gave me full signing authority. The deal is as good as done. All I have to do on Monday is present our proposal and our bid and we're in business."
Harry leaned back in his chair and shook his head slowly from side to side. "Oh, no," he said quietly. "I've gone along with you on a lot of things, Jim, but this time you've gone too far. Destroying Lambert is an obsession with you. Leave it alone, Jim. We have all the business we can handle now. Why go on with this when you know it will ruin us?"
"Why? You have to ask why?" Jim Bolen stared at his brother as if baffled by the question. "For God's sake, Harry, he killed our father! Isn't that reason enough?"
Harry brushed the words aside. "We don't know that," he said. "The witnesses at the inquest were all —"
"— bought off by Sam Lambert!" Jim Bolen snarled. "You know it and I know it. And what about our mother?"
"Oh, for God's sake, Jim, she would have died anyway. The doctor made that very plain, so don't try to blame Lambert for that. Besides, it was a long time ago. It's over; let it go."
"Christ! You're just as soft as Laura. Has Lambert been getting at you as well?"
Harry regarded his brother stonily. There was no reasoning with him on this subject; he'd been foolish even to try. He tried another tack. "Look, Jim, forget Lambert for a minute. Think of the business. Now is not the time to be overextended, and we'll be in over our heads if you go ahead with this scheme. Let Lambert take this one on. It's too risky for us. Besides, he'll probably outbid you anyway."
Jim Bolen smiled. "Not a chance," he said.
"You don't know that," said Harry irritably. He could barely restrain himself from leaning across the table to wipe the smug look from his brother's face.
"But I do, Harry. I do."
The smile on Jim Bolen's face deepened as he tapped the side of his nose with a forefinger. "Never mind how I know, Harry, boy. But you can take my word for it, I know!"
"I wouldn't take your word for the time of day, at the moment," snapped Harry. "Besides, where's the money coming from? Tell me that."
"We have the money."
Harry became very still, and suddenly felt cold. "What do you mean, we have the money?" he breathed. "What have you done?"
Jim remained silent for a moment. "Mortgaged the house," he said at last. Harry frowned. Brookside was worth at least seven hundred thousand, but that was nowhere near enough. "And the Bolen Building," his brother added. "And the banks are prepared to back us."
"Using what for collateral?" Harry scoffed. It would take more than the house and their office building to swing the Ockrington deal.
Jim Bolen leaned back in his chair and smiled again. "Bolen Brothers," he said softly.
Harry could feel the blood draining from his face, and it seemed as if his veins were filled with ice. "You've no right!" he whispered hoarsely. "Damn you, Jim!" His open palm hit the table like a pistol shot, and a woman at an adjoining table jumped and spilled her soup. Leonardo, at his post beside the door, started forward, then thought better of it when he saw the look on Harry's face. He turned away and busied himself with menus.
Harry rose slowly to his feet, his face white with anger. "You're out of your mind," he said contemptuously. "This thing with Lambert has scrambled your brains, and I'm not going to stand by and see you destroy the business we've worked so hard to build. I'm going to stop you, Jim. By God, I'll stop you dead!" Harry thrust the chair back so hard that it fell and spun across the floor. The hum of conversation died, and every eye in the room followed him as he strode toward the door.
Vikki Lane huddled in the doorway, arms wrapped around her too-thin frame, trying to keep warm. It had been pleasant enough when she'd first arrived on her small patch, but the temperature had been dropping steadily ever since. And this was only September. What would it be like in winter, standing out here with nothing more than a mini-skirt and top between her and the elements? She jigged up and down and rubbed her arms, but it didn't help.
A dark car drifted along the kerb, one man driving, window down. Vikki stepped out into the pallid glow of the street light and tried to stop shivering as she approached the car.
"Remember, walk slow and loose, shoulders back," Simone had told her. "Bring each foot forward and slightly across the other one. Makes the hips swing. They like that. See?"
She had demonstrated, and Vikki had to admit Simone had a lot to swing. Taller than Vikki by a good four inches — and older by some ten years — Simone was beautifully proportioned, and her ebony skin and jet-black hair shone as if polished. When Simone walked down the street, men and women alike paid attention.
But it was hard when you were freezing to death and you weren't used to high heels and you knew that your pathetic little body couldn't begin to compare with Simone's.
The car stopped. A jacket hung on a hook behind the driver, half covering the near-side rear window. Business man, thought Vikki, as she came closer.
A shadow moved behind the coat.
Panic flared within her as she veered off sharply and walked rapidly away. Her heart thumped wildly as she listened for the slam of the car door and the sound of footsteps thundering down the pavement behind her. She wanted to run, but was afraid to try in her high-heeled shoes.
The engine roared and tyres screeched as the car shot away. Vikki glanced behind to see it turn the corner, and breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God she'd seen the coat move and the woman in the back seat. Police! If Vikki had so much as opened her mouth, they'd have had her.
She stepped into the shelter of a doorway and peered at her watch. It was a cheap little thing that lost ten or fifteen minutes a day, but it was all she could afford. Only eight o'clock. She groaned. Four more hours before she could pack it in.
A car slowed and stopped a few yards down the street, and Vikki drew back instinctively. The door opened and Simone slid out, bent to say something to the driver before she closed the door, then blew a kiss as the car took off again.
Vikki stepped out of the doorway. "Coppers are out," she said breathlessly. "Nearly had me a few minutes ago. Man driving; woman hiding behind a coat in the back."
Simone shrugged. She knew the ploy, but at least the girl was learning. "What's happening, apart from that?" she asked.
Vikki shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. "Sod all," she said bitterly. "And I'm —" She broke off as a car slowly drifted to a stop. "Watch it," she cautioned. "Could be another lot."
Simone turned and looked. "Not unless they've taken to driving Jags," she observed laconically. She patted her hair. "Could be my lucky night, kid."
The near-side window slid down with a soft whirring sound. The driver leaned over and beckoned with a gloved hand. He wore a cap and dark glasses, and his face was in shadow.
Simone started forward, hips moving smoothly, and Vikki felt a stab of envy. What chance did she have with someone like Simone around?
The driver waved his hand impatiently, palm outward, then pointed. Simone hesitated and looked back at Vikki with a puzzled frown. "I think it's you he wants," she said. Her tone implied she couldn't think why.
Vikki moved forward hesitantly. The man drew back as she reached the car and leaned inside.
"What's your name?"
"Vikki," the man repeated. "I like that. Here, this is for you, Vikki." He held something in his hand. "Fifty pounds," he said crisply. "Take it." He didn't sound local. Educated. Touch of class. Money. He was driving a Jag, wasn't he?
Vikki tried to open the door. "It's locked," she told him.
The man shook his head impatiently. "I said take it. I don't want you now, but there's fifty more if you do as I say."
Vikki eyed him. "What do I have to do for it?" she asked, suspicious.
A smile touched the corners of his mouth. "Nothing out of the ordinary," he assured her. "But I want you for the night. Come to my hotel room at midnight and there will be another fifty in it for you. All right?"
"And it's straight?"
Vikki reached for the money, but instead of releasing it, his other hand shot out and grasped her wrist. "And you'd better not let me down," he said softly. "If you take this money, make sure you're there on the dot or I'll come looking for you. Understand?"
He was hurting her wrist. She tried to pull away, but his grip was firm. "I'll be there," she gasped. "Which hotel? What room?"
"Room 203 at the Tudor."
"Yes. Why? Is that a problem?"
"No! No. It's just that it's a bit off my patch, that's all. I haven't been there before."
"Right, then. Come straight up to the room. Don't stop to talk to anyone on the way. And wear something more than you've got on. Something decent or you'll never make it past the desk. All right?"
Vikki nodded vigorously. "I'll be there," she assured him. The man released her wrist and handed her the money. Still leaning inside the car, she tucked it into the waistband of her skirt. She stepped back and joined Simone as the car pulled away.
"So what was that all about?" Simone demanded.
Vikki grimaced. "Changed his mind," she said dejectedly, and before Simone could ask more questions, she shivered violently. "I'm freezing," she declared. "I'm going up to Lee's to get warm. Want to come?" Simone shook her head, as Vikki knew she would, and shuddered delicately. "The place is filthy," she said. "I don't know why you go there."
"Because it's the only place round here that's warm," said Vikki as she moved off.
"Better not let Luke catch you," Simone called after her. "You get back without any money again tonight, and you know what'll happen, don't you?"
Vikki waved her hand without turning round. Her fingers strayed to the waistband of her skirt; she felt the crisp notes tucked safely there and could hardly contain herself. Who cared about Luke when you had fifty quid? She felt like skipping, but she daren't while Simone was watching. Time enough for that later — after she had the other fifty.
"Wear something decent," the man had said. Trouble was, she didn't have anything decent. At least, nothing that would pass muster at the Tudor. Her face clouded. She'd never been to the Tudor Hotel, but Simone had warned her about the place, so she would have to be careful. But first things first.
She poked half-heartedly through Simone's clothes, and was about to turn away when she spotted the black dress. It would be far too big, of course, but she pulled it off the hanger and eyed it critically. It might work if she pinned it at the back and wore her mac over it. After all, it was just to get past the desk.
Twenty minutes and six safety pins later, Vikki stood before the mirror mounted on the back of the door. "Not bad," she told her image in the mirror, "though, God knows what it looks like at the back." The thought of what Simone would say if she could see what had been done to her dress gave Vikki pause, but she thrust the thought from her mind. With any luck at all, Simone would be sleeping by the time Vikki returned, and the dress could be slipped back in the wardrobe without her ever knowing.
Excerpted from "Thread of Evidence"
Copyright © 2001 Frank Smith.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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