by Don Stoll
Inspector Charlie Blake thought that if Detective Inspector Ellen Flay kept
acting like a fucking cow then he’d happily lead her to slaughter.
cheek Flay had recording Hedgie on about shagging that tart, Blake thought.
Playing it for the missus, ruining
Hedgie’s marriage. Hedgie pissing it up then, useless on the job, transferred out.
Flay strutting through the station tits high, on about her black witch doctor. Like
to put a blade to that pretty throat, other hand squeezing her tits.
straw, Flay thought, was the morning
that black chap was arrested on suspicion of being the Brixton Rapist. Racist
twats Hedges and Blake dragging the poor sod up to me, arms pinned. Hedges yanking
down his trousers and—‘ello!—no knickers. Eying me like they’d won the pools.
had teeny ones,”
the black chap’s arms.
He reached for his trousers but Blake grabbed an arm and wrenched it behind his
“That scar of yours,”
Hedges said. “Your
black French doctor have one this big? Use his scalpel to enlarge your mouth,
try to get his thing in?”
“Doctor Sylvain de León,” Blake said. “Black
French witch doctor.
with that grin on his fat porridgey face looking like Benny Hill, Flay
Hedges said. “Do cures
tusks? His thing big
like an elephant’s tusk?”
“This bloke an
actual suspect?” Flay said.
“Or just the first black chap you happened to see after you woke up?”
Similar height and build to Sylvain, Flay thought. Same ebony coloring. Bloody bigger down
Hedges said. “Hang him by that great whacking thing, he’ll confess to killing
Kennedy. Caught him pissing in an alley with that thing hanging out, thought Got
to show Flay, let her compare him to her black witch doctor.”
That was the moment when
Inspector Ivor Hedges situated himself squarely between Flay’s crosshairs.
Christmas Eve. The Provisional
bombing campaign commencing eighty-two days previously in Guildford had two
days before nearly taken the life of former Prime Minister Edward Heath, conveying
to the pessimistically inclined the sense that the country was falling apart. The
blackness of the wee hours of the morning heralded another grim gray day
through the bedroom window of Doctor Sylvain de León’s Twickenham
flat round the corner from his cosmetic surgery practice. Ellen Flay sprang out
of bed to answer her fiancé’s phone.
Ellen! There’s other
makes Sylvain feel like an insider, Flay thought.
In the front room hitting
her shin on
something, she switched on the light stark naked thinking Sod the open curtains, let
anyone who’s lucky enough have an eyeful.
“Sorry to call
so early, Flay.”
apologizing. Mark it on the calendar.
Sylvain, she wanted to shoot back. But Redmond
not one to joke with.
Street, Flay? The Red
Lion? Where the soldier was stabbed.”
of Brixton. Favorite
place for Hedges and Blake to bust heads.”
on Redmond’s end, Flay thought. Crossed
another bombing, sir?”
“Could see that.
Great for soldiers
with a taste for exotic amusements.”
meaning black, Flay thought.
Her intention upon returning
bedroom was to dress for work but her fiancé had not reconciled himself to the wreckage
of his holiday.
“That a no?”
“Bloody hell no.”
Flay caught Elton John’s
cover of “Lucy
in the Sky with Diamonds” on two different stations as she drove. Life’s
not completely buggered, she
thought. Not with blokes like Lennon and
now this chap pinning diamonds in the sky.
Chief Inspector Antony
Redmond was waiting
for her not at The Red Lion but across Killarney Street in front of a squat ugly
building, not alone.
“You smell like
sex, Ellen,” nodded Charlie
Blake through a smile, its insincerity illuminated by a streetlight whose effective
functioning surprised Flay.
“And you don’t,”
Flay said. “Boyfriend
cow, Blake thought.
“Need you two to
put it aside,” Redmond
said. “Third floor. Walk up give you time to prepare.”
“Bring a folding
chair from your car,
Flay?” Redmond said. “Give Blake a sit-down on the landings, catch his breath?”
Redmond stopped. Flay
could see he
didn’t want to say what he had to say.
“Not good at being
human”—finally admitted it himself, Flay
thought—“but. . . bloody hell, it’s Hedges.”
Inspector going to cry? Flay wondered what to do. She looked at Blake’s frozen
face and wondered again. Suddenly these
hard blokes who never wanted me in the station though Redmond has come to respect
my work with little-boy faces wet with tears and snot. Flay thought If I tried
that, might as well say I can’t work
because of cramps.
But she said “Sorry,
She touched his arm.
Like a tennis
player flailing at a shot to his backhand that he might just get his racket on
he repelled it.
“You wanted him
dead,” he hissed. “Bit
of taking the piss but you couldn’t take it. Innocent fun and now he’s dead, so
don’t pretend you ain’t happy.”
Flay recalled Hedges’
suggestions about the scar on her upper lip.
“Always on about
a bloke’s”—she glanced
at the Chief Inspector—“about one stuck in my mouth, me needing to make it
bigger. That’s innocent?”
“How did you get that scar, Flay?” Redmond said distractedly.
you it was a drunken boyfriend,” she said thinking Fucking hell Redmond stay
focused, Charlie’s scaring me.
“Flirting was all,”
Blake said. “Hedgie
had a wife, so couldn’t ask you out, but his way of saying you was all right.”
“Wife keep him
from shagging that
Suddenly Blake was shaking
breath in her face and screaming “Fucking cow!” Then Redmond was between them. Blake
released her arms.
Redmond’s hat knocked
off. Kojak look suits him, Flay thought.
Flay,” he snapped. “I’ll
bring Charlie up. Need you both.”
Flay adjusted her clothes
and smoothed her
hair. Breathing heavily, Blake hitched his trousers up over his stomach.
“Blake and me a
team?” she said.
motivation,” Redmond said, no humanity in his face.
“Not like you to
overreact, Flay, so
proud of your cool head.”
“Heat of the moment.”
Flay said, going inside.
She tried the lift, but
been right: out of order.
The walk up not breathing
nose because of the stink of piss gave her time to think about working with Blake.
Stay on my guard, not think hard about
the case but let him take the lead. And make sure he doesn’t kill the first
black he suspects.
She nodded at the constable
Number Eighteen. He looked away. Flay thought Like I’m his mum.
hell. Borrow your gloves?”
he said, offering her
an excuse but not looking in her eyes.
She pulled on the oversized
opened the door.
The corpse of Ivor Hedges
was sunk into
the ragged sofa. Flay experienced a satisfaction she knew she couldn’t show. The
head, blood having streamed out of both sides, rested against the wall behind
like he’d nodded off watching football. Sofa facing the telly. Note on the low
table his legs were stretched beneath, but Flay saw why Redmond didn’t think
suicide. Two words—“I’m sorry”—and not even a period. Why
type two words except to disguise the handwriting? Plus Hedges
would have known that the trick to steady a hand that might pull away last
second is barrel in the mouth with lips clamped round it. Lips clamped round it
like round something else, Flay thought, remembering Hedges’ innocent fun
and thinking Dance on your grave now.
She was distracted from
that she knew would do her no good by the shop talk of the forensics blokes. Here
fast, no one pulling them back into bed
for a shag. She peeked into the hallway. Tom about his business in the bedroom,
Dick in the loo.
“Any estimate of
time of death?”
“Only rough so
far, Ellen,” said Dick.
She thought Why would a bloke call himself Dick?
“Full rigor not
attained yet,” Tom
added. “But takes longer at this temperature. Can’t afford to run the heat,
“Tart lives here,”
Dick said. “Half-six
now, so might have an alibi if she was across the way pissing it up before work.”
and miserable bloody sunrise ninety minutes away, Flay thought. Be like spring
in the Azores then.
Tom and Dick in the hallway.
“Doing my job now?” she said sternly.
Tom grinned. Dick’s
called Dick,” Tom said.
“Taking the piss,
Richard,” she smiled.
to the front door.
“Who found him?”
“Tenant, down the
hall with her mate in
Twenty-three,” the young constable said in a normal voice and then, quietly,
“Working all night,”
he smirked. “And
smells like it. Acting broken up. Knew him.”
alibi, Flay thought. That kind of
work travels, and just try finding the blokes afterward.
She had another idea
about the shooting.
“Her name Mandy?”
of yours too?” he grinned but Flay
looked at him and the grin vanished.
revenge? Flay thought. Like it was the
tart’s fault he’d told her “Won’t run you in you do me.” Tart’s fault I taped
him on about doing her? Course he’d take revenge on a poor black tart scraping
out a living providing a necessary service. Poor, black, and a tart: good
enough reasons for Hedges. He’d faked someone doing a poor job of faking his
suicide so whoever investigated would think murder.
Then Flay thought Worked too long in this slime. Coppers often worse than the criminals, now
I’ve turned into the slime. Twisted thoughts come easy.
Then she thought Doesn’t mean the slime’s not the slime, means maybe time to get out. Marry
Sylvain, this time get through the
with no cock-up, quit the force, shop and play tennis. Last only so long doing
that, bored to tears. But last a while and think of something else, just bloody
get out of the force. And maybe last a bit longer shopping and playing tennis if
Sylvain moves the cosmetic
surgery practice to Los Angeles like he’s
talked about. Novelty of getting to know the place, take longer to get bored.
Move to Los Angeles, Flay
thought, maybe have him give me the perfect
joked about, not altogether joking. Required to prove local residence there,
stuck at the back of the queue at the meat counter if you’re not loaded with
both barrels pointed at the butcher’s face. Sorry luv, see you’re from out of
town so got to serve these five local ladies ahead of you. Except do they have
meat counters in the States? All pre-packaged, no worries about the meat
counter but easily identifiable as a tourist looking for Cary Grant’s house.
also thought Not murder but that vengeful racist woman-hater wanted it thought so
and if Blake doesn’t make Mandy pay he’ll see another black does.
Speak of the devil.
my apology Ellen?” said Blake with a smile plastered on his porridgey face.
Charlie,” she said just
play a different game, she thought: play
soft, put him off guard. Game he thinks he can play, she thought, also
thinking But I’ll play it better.
Redmond right behind,
not fooled by
either of them but looking like he wanted to fool them into thinking he was
fooled. Oh what a tangled bloody web,
Blake said, glancing at
the note after glancing at the corpse of his former partner, weeping no more now,
instead trying to convince Flay and Redmond that he was a man so he could
handle this. “Murder made to look like one. And poor job of it.”
Redmond said. “First
“Usual for Charlie,”
Flay said. “Whole
population of Brixton with extra pigmentation. Years to interview them all.”
“Start with Hedges’
sighed. “You take her, Flay.”
She thought He knows Blake can’t be objective but then why assign him? So I’ll keep
an eye on him? He finally figure out Hedges and Blake terrorized these poor
blacks, that why he moved Hedges? Blake on his way out too? Not soon enough.
“You start knocking
on the other
doors,” Redmond said. “Delicately.”
“My middle name,
Mandy Marshall sat facing
Flay in the
middle of a careworn sofa.
“Watches your little
boy while you’re
working?” Flay said nodding toward the large woman making tea in the kitchen, not
as dark as Mandy.
hear anything,” Mandy said.
carved out of some precious polished gem, Flay thought, stirred by the
young woman’s beauty and reminded of occasional intriguing experiments at
college, but never with anyone quite this pretty. Easy to see why Hedges fancied her.
Tarts for a copper’s taking all the time but I listened for my chance
to catch Hedges out and Mandy was the first.
Flay said to the large
woman, thinking East Indian. Effing Black
Hole of Calcutta so bad they’d rather come here for abuse by the likes of
Hedges and Blake?
Mandy said. “Your job to ask
“Might have happened
last night when
the pub across the way was jumping,” Flay said. “Gun had a silencer, doesn’t
really silence but can change the noise when there’s loads going on in the
Mandy looked at her curiously.
“Sound like a car
heavy falling, whatever,” Flay said.
“If it was last
night she could have
been asleep with my son,” Mandy said, looking toward the kitchen. “Reads to him
and they nod off together. But the other tenants. . .”
You the new Ivor?”
“What you think
of him?” she said.
Mandy hesitated longer.
“What you think
“Does his job,”
“That what you
Flay hesitated again.
“What time you
start working last night,
Dick the forensics bloke was right: at The
Red Lion pissing it up before starting work until late.
“Think well after.
“People see you
neighborhood,” Mandy laughed.
of death rough so far, Flay thought, but
Dick the forensics bloke might be right and poor tart Mandy polished like some
precious black gem might be in the clear. Make sure Blake understands, stay
with her for when he comes knocking.
Which he did sooner than
expected and not in the mood she’d expected. Not fury and hunger for revenge
but grief, Flay thought. Defeat, barely a nod at his late partner’s
tart. Just a halfway-civil explanation that she needs to wait at her mate’s
till forensics can finish, clear the body out of the way.
Flay whispered after they’d
left the tart with her mate.
he said not whispering. “Sleeping
the sleep of the innocent whether they are or not, or else saying they didn’t
or couldn’t of heard a thing, all beating their tom-toms across the way half
the night. Holiday season and all.”
Give them time to wake
Blake smiled a sad little
in the car for a
Christmas Eve morning.”
your guard up, Flay thought. But his
grief seems real. Got to be human.
Black Label,” he said. “Left
it behind. Constant companion after. . .”
thought After Yours Truly destroyed his
“Too early, Charlie.”
“One or two, Ellen.
Then back to work.”
“Charlie. . .”
She’d already capitulated
him Charlie. But got to be human, she
thought. And how else kill a bit more
time? Charlie might have two or three, but I’ll stop at one.
The immediate warming
of Flay’s insides
by the remnant of the dead man’s bottle of Johnnie Walker conspired with her
recognition that it was after all but a remnant to persuade her to think Let’s
have a couple, finish it with the poor
was poor Charlie now—had
three or four. Flay lost count.
Blake and Flay went back
squat ugly building where even Blake now thought, without prompting by Flay, Hedgie
may have offed himself but faked
someone doing a poor job of faking him offing himself so that whoever
investigates thinks murder.
still pointless, Flay thought. Rousted
one or two. Others still sleeping the sleep of the innocent whether they are or
not, even Charlie Blake not up for banging on doors. Not on Christmas Eve
morning with the whisky mellowing him from his insides out and him feeling
grief not anger.
At nine Blake said “Red
Lion, Ellen? Maybe
someone there who was working last night, finally give us some help?”
“Be tripping over
themselves to help,
Charlie,” she laughed.
Crossing the street she
said “No more
“All right, mum,”
mulatto,” Blake mumbled
when he saw the owner behind the bar.
Flay looked at Blake.
white,” he said.
“Staff coming in
at ten was here till
late,” smiled the proprietor of The Red Lion. “Put them to work cleaning up.”
Blake and Flay followed
his gaze as it
surveyed the wreckage of the previous night.
“Keep me and the
whisky company till
then?” the proprietor said.
taste of the islands?”
say no rum,” Blake said, looking
Just like that three
shots of Captain
Morgan in three glasses.
“Sorry about your
mate,” the proprietor
“Another on the
house in his honor,”
the proprietor said.
“Should start the
cleanup. One more on
the house then you pay.”
“Pour it now so
we can sit?” Blake
the proprietor said.
“Table in the corner,
“You call me Helen?”
so. Know it’s Ellen.”
she said, walking loose-limbed
toward the corner.
When Blake stopped she
bumped into him.
“Thought you meant
the other table,”
“Can keep your
It was on Blake’s
“Almost ran you
down,” she said.
but he doesn’t seem disgusting, Flay thought. Seems soft and pitiful.
he said, thinking Could do her.
seem full of herself, he thought. Seems
like she’d understand.
They sat down.
Hedgie,” he said.
She leaned toward him.
“Might have done
himself, made it look
like murder,” he said.
She nodded expressively.
“Like him to find
one last way to give
the black bastards grief,” he grinned.
Flay wrenched violently
to her left to
avoid spewing on the table.
Blake watched the contents
stomach spill out.
She wondered how the
owner could be
there right away with a mop.
smell of the bleach nauseated her. She
spewed onto the mop.
luv,” she heard Blake
She felt his hand pat
and stroke her
back and feel for her bra clasp.
she said sharply.
Blake removed his hand.
best mate, bleach,” the owner
said. “You not the first or the last, luv.”
to be like that,” Blake
said. “Didn’t mean anything.”
She turned around to
ask what “like
that” meant but he was headed out.
bloody did mean something” she said,
and he said, “Fucking cow.”
the owner said, and she said
“Ta” and he said, “This’ll make you right.”
But its bitter smell
nauseated her, so
she said, “Back to work” and up and left.
first thing Flay saw when she stumbled
into the grim gray morning was Charlie Blake’s broken body in the middle of
Ellen Flay resented her
suspension from the Metropolitan Police for drunkenness during official hours,
during which certain male colleagues had often been drunk. But her resentment
was mitigated by the satisfaction of knowing she hadn’t been drunk enough to
walk in front of a lorry.
Her return to duty was
also brief due
to Doctor Sylvain
de León’s decision to move his much-in-demand cosmetic surgery practice to Los Angeles sooner rather
resign and thumb your nose at those bastards who blame you for Hedges
and Blake,” he said, and she thought that was a fine idea.
He asked about the investigation
death of Ivor Hedges, which she’d been removed from. She said she didn’t bloody
care, which was true.
Don Stoll has fiction forthcoming in The Helix; Green Hills
Literary Lantern; The Main Street
Rag; Sarasvati; Between These Shores
in the Dirt; and Children, Churches
and Daddies. His stories have appeared recently in Eclectica
(tinyurl.com/y73wnmgq) and Erotic Review (twice: tinyurl.com/y8nkc73z and tinyurl.com/y36zcvut). In
2008, Don and his wife founded their nonprofit (karimufoundation.org)
to bring new schools, clean water, and clinics
emphasizing women's and children's health to three contiguous Tanzanian