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Detectives Frank Shapiro, Liz Graham, and Donovan find themselves investigating a international business convention after a prostitute turns up dead in the Castlemere Canal, even as it becomes apparent that their own lives are in danger. Reprint.
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Jo Bannister lives in Northern Ireland, where she worked as a journalist and editor on local newspapers.Since giving up the day job, her books have been shortlisted for a number of awards.Most of her spare time is spent with her horse and dog, or clambering over archaeological sites.She is currently working on a new series of psychological crime/thrillers.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Hireling's Tale
Part OneChapter OneIt had been a busy weekend for all of them, long periods of serious concentration interspersed by sudden, intense bouts of bargaining. Tempers had frayed and accusations had been hurled in a wide variety of languages - so many, fortunately, that almost nobody knew what he'd been accused of, which speeded the mending of both fences and friendships.Now the work was over, the deals were done, and almost sixty customers and potential customers for custom engineering products were unwinding in the convivial atmosphere created by a free bar. In the noise and the chaos and the babble, only half of it in English, someone with the inclination could have led a herd of pygmy elephants through the hotel lobby and over to the lifts without being noticed.The Romanian delegate was on top of a table, reenacting with an imaginary Sten gun his finest hour defending the family factory during the insurgence. Sober he spoke good English, but for a while now he'd been reduced to communication by gesture. It detracted hardly if at all from the story he was telling. He enjoyed the gypsy good looks of many ofhis kin, and though the glamour was wasted on most of his fellow revellers there were enough women present to egg him on with glances of smouldering admiration. At least, that's what he thought it was. An unbiased observer might have said they were laughing at him.'Young Nicu's in good form tonight,' observed the Saudi delegate tolerantly.Philip Kendall chuckled. 'I don't think there must be anyone left in Bucharest who hasn't heard the story. Here he's got a whole new audience. He's like a dog with two tails, isn't he? I should have a last crack at him, see if I can get him to up his order while he's still trying to impress us all.'Kendall was enjoying himself too. As sales director for Bespoke Engineering, this conference was his biggest budget commitment, and therefore his biggest gamble, of the year. In their own lands these people were hard-headed, successful businessmen like himself, or government officials who'd achieved high rank in similar ways, and they were no pushover. For the first day of the conference, and for a month before, he'd been desperately anxious that the gamble wouldn't pay off. When he started to see interest behind the professional reserve, and they started to discuss their own needs and the cost of meeting them, he was so relieved he could have kissed them. Except possibly the Belgian delegate, who just might have enjoyed it.A Mexican fishing magnate orbited by, a girl on each arm. In a largely male gathering this could have been considered greedy, but even Nicu Sibiu wasn'tdrunk enough yet to tell him so. Ian Selkirk was built a little like the champion caber-tossers he was descended from, and a little like the Old Man of Hoy. 'Great party, Phil.' The accent was like the man himself, part Scots, part Latin American.'Should be.' Kendall waved a canapé. 'These are your shrimps we're eating.'The big man laughed and lurched away. 'That explains it.'Ibn al Siddiq sighed. 'There are times,' he confided, 'when forswearing alcohol on religious grounds seems a considerable sacrifice. Then I see what a deeply unattractive spectacle drunken people make of themselves and I think perhaps Allah had the right idea after all.'Kendall laughed. 'Is it the Spanish who say, God never shuts a door without opening a window? You forget, I've been to your parties. They might be dry but they're not unstimulating.''True,' conceded Siddiq, amusement twitching one corner of his mouth. He was a man in his thirties, dressed faultlessly and expensively in the western taste to go with his flawless English. 'I hope now we'll see a bit more of you in Dhahran.' His head rose as he spotted someone across the tossing sea of bodies. 'I think that's your date for the evening, Philip.'Kendall looked round, saw the plump middle-aged woman in the sequinned blouse and, beaming, waved her over. 'Grace, will you have a drink before we leave? You know Prince Ibn al Siddiq, of course.''Of course.' Grace Atwood acknowledged himwith a smile, but she wasn't sure of the correct form of address for royalty, even minor foreign royalty, and she didn't know him well enough to call him by his given name. 'I hope you're enjoying your visit to Britain.''Oh yes, Mrs Atwood,' Siddiq assured her, 'I always do.''You're in oil, aren't you?' With a name like that it was a safe bet.Siddiq gave a little pretend scowl. 'But oil is such a bore. I much prefer to spend my time here in pursuit of fast young fillies.'Mrs Atwood raised an eyebrow. Kendall stepped in quickly. 'Prince Ibn is one of the leading racehorse owners in Saudi Arabia. Whenever he's here he visits the local studs to see if they have anything promising.'Grace smiled again. 'Well, I wish you every success.' She turned her attention to Kendall. 'Philip, are you sure it's all right to leave your guests here alone?'Kendall looked out across the room. 'As long as the bar stays open, one in ten of them will notice I've gone, and not even they will miss me. They've spent three long days listening to me bang on about precision engineering: I'm the last person they need here tonight.''So really I'm performing a public service.' They were old colleagues, old friends, and their insults carried no sting.Kendall shook his head. 'Grace, I haven't seen you properly for years. And though you've been herefor three days, I haven't talked to you properly since you arrived. I'm damned if I'm waving you off back to Ipswich until I have, and since conditions here are not exactly conducive to a good natter we're going out for supper. If anybody misses me I'll be flattered, and very surprised, and I'll see them before they leave in the morning. Now: have you got your coat?'She had. His car was waiting. 'Where are we going?'He smiled. 'Wait and see.'
'Captain Bligh is alive and well,' hissed the girl in the matelot shirt, 'and navigating the lesser-known reaches of the Castlemere Canal.'Her name was Emma Lacey, she was sixteen, she'd spent half her summer clothing allowance on this trip, and already she was regretting it. And the more bitterly because she'd had a choice. No one made her come. She could have gone with her mother on a painting holiday in the Cotswolds. But taking a barge - sorry, a narrowboat - round the Castlemere Ring with her father and brother had sounded ... well, cool. She'd imagined sprawling on the sunny foredeck in not much more than suntan oil while local swains hung, salivating, over the lock gates. She'd imagined tying up at night under shady stands of willow, a picturesque stroll from the nearest pub.She had not thought that May was a little early for a boating holiday in Britain. She had not realized that, in the rain, a canal is the most desolate spot onearth. She had not realized how cold it would be at night, or how the damp would pervade everything she owned. The shady willows dripped, not only water but bugs, and the country pubs were an average of three miles up a muddy track.Emma Lacey was not having a good time.Her brother Tom grinned with that schadenfreude sympathy that siblings reserve for one another's misfortunes. He wasn't having a good time either, but at least he hadn't spent good money on clothes he was never going to wear again. He said, 'So what made you think he'd be any different on holiday?'Emma shrugged. 'I don't know. It sounded like fun. I thought we could all relax, drift along, just generally have a good time. It never occurred to me he'd want to go for the Olympic canal-cruising record.''Quit slacking, you two,' shouted Barry Lacey from the sternsheets. 'Are the bunks made? You could get lunch started. There isn't a lock for miles, this'd be a good chance to get some of the mud off the decks. Come on, look lively!''If he tells me to polish the portholes,' murmured Emma, 'that's it, we set him adrift in the inflatable.' She went below.Tom looked round for the scrubbing brush. For some reason his father referred to it as a swab; mainly to annoy him Tom called it the mop. He dunked it in the canal, noting with satisfaction that the water it brought on board was hardly less muddy than the deck. 'I'll start at the front end.''The bows!' yelled Barry Lacey.'Whatever.'When he saw the damage to the canvas stretched across the front hatch, for a moment Tom debated with himself whether it would be more amusing to draw his father's attention to it now or wait for him to discover it himself. He decided that, since he might miss the best part if he was working a lock when the discovery was made, he'd better break the bad news. 'Er, Dad - ?''Now what?''Did you tear this tarpaulin thing?''What? What tarpaulin? What tear? Here, take the tiller. And don't steer us into the bank ...'Someone else might have assumed the hire boat had been damaged on an earlier trip. But Barry Lacey inspected it from stern to stern before taking delivery on Saturday morning, so he knew the canvas was intact two days ago. Already he was calculating how much this was going to cost him. Any moment now he'd get round to whose fault it was.It appeared to have been cut with a knife. Well, he knew he'd been nowhere near it with a knife, and though he didn't put much past his children he didn't think deliberate vandalism was their style. That dock where they moored last night, in the heart of Castlemere - that seemed the sort of place where people with knives might hang out.The council had painted the bollards in jolly primary colours and hung bits of white rope between the stanchions, but the effect was like hanging bunting on a workhouse. It wasn't a jolly place. It was a grim place, built of brutal hard work ingrinding poverty. Mere Basin itself was almost subterranean, tall buildings looming above it, all but shutting out the sky. Now they were flats and offices, but they were redeveloped from early Victorian warehouses and the black bricks remembered the lives of those who laid them. There was a pub by the waterside, but Barry had taken one look inside and backed away, shuddering. The last time he saw anywhere like The Fen Tiger it was run by Peter Lorre as a front for white slaving.He'd locked up the boat before taking the children up the access ramp into town for some supper. It was a recommended mooring, he thought it would be safe enough. It never occurred to him someone might cut their way in through the forward hatch. It should have been timber. If it had been timber no one could have cut their way in with a knife.They'd had a couple of hours to strip the boat of anything saleable. Barry Lacey frowned. He hadn't missed a thing. The television was still in the saloon, he'd used his binoculars this morning, and his camera ... What sort of thieves were they, who cut their way into a boat but left valuables aboard untouched?Then, as he scowled at the rent canvas, it occurred to him that the tough fabric had not been cut but rather torn. Perhaps it hadn't been deliberate vandalism so much as horseplay - local youngsters taking advantage of their absence to mess about, until one of them jumped on the canvas and it split. Barry sniffed. He suspected he'd still have to pay.But it could have been worse. If whoever split that cover had gone straight through he'd have dropped four feet into the chain locker - could have broken his leg, his neck, anything.He froze. Picking glumly at the torn canvas, wondering how much it was going to cost him, he saw something that had no business being in a chain locker - not his, not anyone's. A bare arm.He straightened up, his brain working furiously. Whoever tore the canvas did go straight through, and what's more he was still there. He must have been there for fourteen hours.Barry Lacey walked carefully back to the stern. 'Emma, come up here a moment and give Tom a hand.' His voice sounded odd to himself - and obviously did to Emma, because curiosity made her do as he asked - but probably the interloper would not notice. When he had the children back by the tiller he poked a stern finger at them. 'Stay here. Right here.'The boat-hook was too long and unwieldy. Instead he armed himself with the biggest wrench in the tool kit before creeping forward again.The teenagers exchanged bewildered glances. 'Alzheimer's?' hazarded Tom.The canvas cover was stretched over a wooden frame. One-handed, the other clutching the wrench, Barry winkled out the split pins that held it in place and then threw it back on its hinges. 'All right,' he said authoritatively as it fell, 'let's be having you ...'Then his hand and the heavy wrench slowly fell. He wouldn't be needing either of them. The barearm in the chain locker belonged not to a burly local tearaway, caged long enough to be dangerous, but to a girl. She was lying face up among the warps, the punctured fenders, the old mouldy life jackets and the other detritus of a thousand tiny voyages. She was naked, and she was dead.THE HIRELING'S TALE. Copyright © 1999 by Jo Bannister. All rights reserved. . No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
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