Harker: The Murder Club - part 2
Harker sighed with relief as he emerged out of the room and into the daylight, back amongst the living. It was a perfectly sunny day, not the kind of day he wanted to spend idling with the dead.
He made his way towards his car, which was parked amongst a small group of police vehicles at the end of the leafy cul-de-sac. The morning London traffic was a gentle rumble in the distance, masked by the trees. Large Victorian dwellings lined the quiet road around him, each of the houses set back from the street, hidden behind tall gates and even taller trees. It was suburban London at its finest and most expensive. Harker couldn't decide whether he loved it or loathed it. He was in a funny old mood this morning.
He took a long drag of his cigarette and leaned against the bonnet of his old Morris Six, lost in thought. The cigarette tasted good as he drew on it slowly, allowing the smoke to drift down his throat, taking the time to savour it before blowing it out casually through his nostrils. Smoking was a bad habit he clung to with enthusiasm, if only because so many sanctimonious people disapproved of it so thoroughly.
He eased back against the car and sighed to himself with vague self pity. It wasn't just the corpse that was getting him down. He knew he was using that as an excuse. He was still stuck in bloody London, that was the real issue. They were supposed to be a mobile team, moving around England to deal with whatever cases came their way, and yet here they were investigating another murder in this godawful city. A not-so-mobile team, then. He hated this place. It was dirty and old and decaying, and it was packed with tourists and rats and far too much traffic. A place of impatient people, ignorant drivers, one way roads and grime.
He had been hoping to be able to take a break. This constant wallowing in death was never good for him and it had been a while since he had been able to put his job behind him. Whitby was delightful at this time of year, and it was where he had wanted to be today. He was supposed to be on holiday. Then Critchley had phoned him and told him that there was another case for them and his heart had sank. More death, more corpses, more problems to be solved. Harker wanted to be building sandcastles, not rooting around in morgues in this godforsaken city. London always smelt of death to him.
Harker finished his third cigarette of the day, flicked it onto the ground by the side of the Morris Six and stubbed it out with his toe. He noticed Critchley wandering over to him.
"Sorry about this, guv," said Critchley. "I know you were fancying a break. I didn't want to call you but they insisted it had to be you."
The detective sergeant propped himself up against the car bonnet alongside his boss. He pulled out his sunglasses from the pocket of his immaculate black suit pocket and slipped them onto his nose, gazing up into the cloudless morning sky. Birds circled lazily overhead, enjoying the early morning sunshine. Critchley took a deep breath of fresh air, pleased to be away from the lingering smell of death, hoping the scent wouldn't cling to his new suit.
"We investigate multiple homicides, Critchley," said Harker, watching with quiet disdain as a splatter of bird crap landed on the front windscreen of his car. "Where's the first body? Where's the first murder? Is this even a murder? Why are we here?"
"Isn't it a little early to be getting all philosophical on me, guv?" Critchley gave his boss a cheeky grin. Harker cast him a withering look in return which the sergeant playfully ignored. "But there is at least a chance that this is a serial killing. Apparently there was another death here a week ago. Some bloke drowned in the swimming pool. So this is the second one in a week. They thought it was enough of a coincidence to at least call us in, given that we were in London anyway."
"Our fame clearly precedes us," Harker replied wryly. "We need to be careful of this, Critchley. Suspicious deaths happen in London all the time. I don't want us to get stuck here. I hate cities. Especially this one."
"London's a terrific place," Critchley said, brushing aside Harker's practised cynicism. "So much to see, so much to do. It could be a lot worse you know. I mean, we could be in Leeds."
"Don't even joke about it." Harker opened his cigarette packet and tugged out another one. He tapped it on the box, slipped it between his lips and lit it swiftly, popping the lighter back into his pocket. "So tell me what you know about this one. I've seen the corpse. I need some context."
Critchley pulled out his Blackberry and leaned next to his boss against the bonnet of the Morris Six, reading from the information he'd been sent. "This is the Mayfair Gentleman's Club. I'm sure you saw the sign at the door. It's owned and run by a Mr Arthur Quincey. The place is members only, full of rich people with nothing better to do all day than smoke pipes and gamble on the horses."
Harker took a disdainful look towards the Club behind them, set back from the road and surrounded by ornate iron fencing. The Club was housed in a gothic Victorian pile, with huge windows and elaborate baroque detailing. From where Harker was stood, the building appeared relatively modest in size, situated amongst simple gardens and neat lines of trees, but a glimpse along the side of the house revealed just how far back the building continued. It was clearly a large, exclusive and expensive place in which to spend time.
"Yes, thank you Critchley," Harker grumbled, scratching his arse. These early starts did nothing for his piles. "I'm well aware of your prejudices against the upper classes. Can we move onto the more pertinent details of the case please?"
Critchley smiled and continued. "I'll start with the first of the two deaths if that's okay. Everything in its right place. That's what you always say."
"Just get on with it Critchley." Harker took another drag on his cigarette.
"Well apparently last week some big American financier by the name of Charles Burrell Junior drowned in the indoor pool here."
"This place has a pool?"
"It's got a pool, a gym, a bar, all kinds of stuff guv. I had a bit of an explore before we looked at the corpse."
"It's alright for some. Anyway, carry on."
Critchley returned to the notes on his Blackberry. "At the time it looked as if there were no suspicious circumstances to this first death. Burrell had been drinking heavily and sniffing coke in the shower room, and then he drowned whilst taking a swim. So the investigating team concluded that it was death by misadventure. They're still doing the paperwork on that one down at the station and then this happens."
"This Burrell bloke was a drugs user? Can't rich people find anything better to do with their money?” Harker took another long drag of his cigarette and watched with mild disinterest as Jenny Griffin's forensic team walked in and out of the gothic building, ferrying various bags and mysterious apparatus. “So what's the name of our new corpse?"
"Our hanged man is Robert Allison," Critchley replied, checking his notes. "He was something big in the banking industry. Do they still call them fat cats? Or fat bankers? Anyway, he visited the Club regularly and the guy earned more money in a day than you and I see in a month. He's officially the first suicide they've ever had in here. He's also, it says here, the brother of William Allison, Assistant Secretary at the Home Office."
"Well now we know why they called us in," Harker grumbled. "Bloody politician's privileges. This Club is probably full of the loathsome little reptiles."
"Politicians, Lords, foreign dignitaries. This place attracts a wealthy clientele, guv."
"So that's two deaths in a week in the same Club. I can't imagine the owner is going to be especially thrilled by that." Harker took another tug on his cigarette and mulled it over for a moment, glancing up at the impressive facade of the Victorian building. This was just the sort of place in which he could see himself retiring, if it wasn't for all the rich nobs and the fact that it was obviously well beyond the range of his income.
"Okay Critchley, you know the routine. Talk to friends and family members and whatever work colleagues he had. We need to find out if this guy had a reason to want to kill himself. Put uniform on that for now, will you, and slip me any statements you think I need to see. Was there a note?"
"No note," said Critchley, double checking the report on his Blackberry. "Suicides nearly always leave a note. Why wouldn't he leave a note?"
"Maybe he left it somewhere else. It could be back at his house or maybe on his email or something."
"Who emails suicide notes?"
"I don't know, Critchley. You tell me, you're the bloody computer whizz kid. Get that checked out too, will you?" Harker thought to himself, tapped the excess ash from his cigarette and took another pull from it. "I'm wondering why he'd do it so publicly. Suicide is a private thing and this is anything but private."
"Maybe he wanted to be found. Maybe he hoped that someone would interrupt him before he did the deed. A cry for help and all that. Would someone try to hang themselves as a cry for help? Might be considered a little extreme."
"Two deaths in a week." Harker brushed aside Critchley's response. "Two deaths in the same place. Did you know that almost never happens? And whenever it does my nose starts to itch. Always assume the worst, Critchley, it saves so much time."
Harker took a last puff on his cigarette, flicked it away into the gutter and tugged his tatty linen jacket straight. "Go find out what's taking them so long to remove the body," he said, easing himself off the car bonnet and striding towards the entrance to the club. "I want to be in that room. In the meantime I'm going to go and talk to the owner, our Mister Quincey."