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REVIEW ‘Lively and fun, with absorbing interplay between DI Joe Rafferty and sidekick Sgt Llewellyn. Replete with strong protagonists, infused with British atmosphere, and filled with intrigue and personal concerns alike, Death Dues is a fine detective saga.’ D DONOVAN, eBOOK REVIEWER, MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW http://www.midwestbookreview.com/mbw/jan_14.htm#donovan
When one John ‘Jaws’ Harrison is found with his skull caved in, in an alleyway backing on to rundown Primrose Avenue while on his way to collect debt repayments from the residents, Rafferty and his intellectual partner, Sergeant Dafyd Llewellyn, imagine the case will be easily solved. Armed with a list of local debtors, they begin their investigations. But they hadn’t counted on the conspiracy of silence amongst the residents — most of whom had good reason to want Jaws dead.
Rafferty is forced to make some unorthodox decisions and stretch his intuitive powers to breaking point to find the solution.
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Detective Inspector Joe Rafferty riffled through the quotes from caterers and venues, photographers and florists, and thought, Why so expensive? It’s only a wedding, not the Second Coming.
When he’d proposed to Abra the previous Christmas, he’d been astonished that she’d said yes. His beguiling, spirited Abra could have married anyone, yet she’d chosen him. He’d wafted around in a rose-pink cloud for days. Then it had been all hearts and roses. But now the cold reality of a modern wedding hit him in the face with the force of a frozen kipper.
He ran a hand over his unruly auburn hair and muttered under his breath, ‘I can feel my credit cards wincing from across the hall.’ And he hadn’t even looked at the honeymoon brochures yet.
Abra reached across the breakfast table, took his face in her hand and forced an involuntary pucker. But she didn’t kiss him. Instead, she said, ‘You won’t be a tightwad about it, will you, Joe? We don’t want a hole-in-the-corner wedding. People will say we’ve something to hide.’
With no kiss forthcoming, Rafferty eased his head out of her grasp, picked up the stack of papers and let them drop again. ‘If we fork out for what this lot are charging, we will have something to hide. Us! From friendly, neighbourhood bailiffs.’
Abra tossed her chestnut hair. She slid around the table onto his lap to poke him slyly in the ribs. ‘Aren’t I worth it, then, love?’
He buried his face in her long hair and breathed in its just-washed lemon scent. ‘Of course you’re worth it, my little peach melba. But I’m not Rockefeller. Only a humble copper still paying off the re-decoration of the flat.’
‘That’s another thing.’ She gave him a lingering kiss which put him on his mettle, before she said, ‘I think we ought to sell this place and buy a house.’
‘But we’ve only just decorated,’ he protested. ‘All the new furniture!’
‘Exactly. That’s the most sensible time to sell. When the flat’s looking its best.’
‘I’d prefer to enjoy it looking its best myself,’ he said, disgruntled. ‘Anyway, I thought we were discussing the wedding, not moving home. Isn’t getting married big enough?’ It’s certainly stressful enough, he thought.
‘Where’s your ambition?’ she challenged. Then immediately softened. ‘Sorry, love. I’m being mean. But try to look at it from my point of view, Joe. This flat’s not mine, and it never will be. I want a place that we’ve chosen together. A place that’s ours. Is that so unreasonable?’
‘No,’ he conceded. ‘But we still haven’t settled a date for the wedding, poppet.’ Rafferty pushed her hair behind her ears and kissed her nose.
‘What about May?’
Rafferty nodded with relief. ‘May’s fine.’ That was one thing sorted. He eased her off his lap onto his chair as he stood up from the table. ‘And now I’ve got to get to work.’ He slid his arms into his jacket and straightened the frayed cuffs. ’Earn the money to pay for it all.’
Abra looked up at him with a winner’s grin. ‘Love you.’
‘Reckon it’s my money you love, you hussy.’ He bent and kissed her. ‘But I‘m pretty keen on you, too. Just try not to put my Mr Plod salary in too steep a debt spiral or we’ll be climbing out of the pit from here to eternity.’
As he picked up his raincoat and felt in his pocket for his keys, he shook his head. These wedding costs were getting seriously out of hand. Abra seemed to hope for the pomp of Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding—but look how that marriage turned out. His lovely fiancée had been taken over by an alien being—a mischievous wedding sprite, and he didn’t know how to get her back.
Abra shuffled the wedding quotes into a neat pile. ‘I’m off work today, so you can leave these to me. I’ll whittle them down. Some are charging way over the odds.’ She flashed her dimples. ‘I’ll ring round and see if I can’t knock them down a bit.’
Rafferty swallowed the sigh with the thought: A lot would be better. He bent once more, gave her a lust-filled kiss and made for the hall.
He only hoped this marriage worked out better than his first.
The weather was playing tag with Rafferty. A fierce wind blew his hair into that just-out-of bed look that was so fetching on Abra, whipping his raincoat into a veritable Irish jig as rain lashed him from all sides. He wished he was feeling as lively as his raincoat. He put down his head and dashed to the car, trying to restrain his flapping mac. Please God, let nobody get themselves murdered today. He didn’t fancy hanging around street corners in a downpour, musing on the type of house Abra might choose in her current mood. Buckingham Palace? Windsor Castle?
He hoped she hadn’t meant it. It wasn’t as though the flat wasn’t big enough. With three bedrooms, it could easily house a family. His Abra might long for Princess Diana’s fairy-tale wedding, but Rafferty—like Prince Charles—was no Prince Charming. And Rafferty lacked that princely income.
He threw himself into the car and slammed the door against the wind and rain, then glanced at his watch. His work day not even begun, and he was already behind.
Elmhurst was an attractive Essex market town that even the grey day couldn’t make ugly. Its quirky, individual architecture seldom failed to cheer him. Rafferty sped through it, quickly correcting as his back wheels aquaplaned through a puddle that had overwhelmed the drains and slid around a corner. He pulled into the car park off Bacon Lane, the police station’s back entrance. Naturally, the car park was full. Even the Super had beaten him to work today, his shining Lexus parked in the bay nearest the station’s rear entrance, a space sanctified by both Superintendent Bradley and, presumably, God. Rafferty had trespassed once or twice on its holy space and been roundly rebuked.
He parked in the last open space on the street and ran head-down and splashing through puddles to the station’s rear entrance. He opened the door and hurried dripping up the concrete stairs, leaving with each squelching step little slippery droplets to catch the unwary. Perhaps the sainted Super would have reason to come down shortly and injure his dignity. Rafferty smiled. A man can dream.
As he walked along the second floor corridor, he wrung out his hair and raincoat, wishing, in spite of the wedding arrangements, that he was still at home, in bed with Alba with her long, chestnut hair let down and her silky nightie soft under his hands. He quelled the thought. Inappropriate for work, isn’t that what they called it these days? He opened his office door.
His sergeant, Dafyd Llewellyn, was already at his desk, as usual. Llewellyn looked both industrious and bandbox-smart, also as usual, with a workspace as neat as conscientious industry could make it.
By comparison, Rafferty felt like something the cat dragged in. He glanced at his own desk and almost laughed as he realised that, like Llewellyn, he too was a good match for his workspace. Sometimes even the usually restrained Llewellyn’s fingers gave in to the itch to straighten the towering piles of papers, folders, and other impedimenta that covered the surface and threatened to spill over the sides.
Rafferty smoothed his unruly hair into some sort of order and sat down, shaking out the soggy ends of his trousers. ‘So what have we got, Dafyd? Anything exciting today?’
‘Not yet,’ Llewellyn replied evenly. ‘Unless, of course, there are any further muggings.’
‘Less of the fate-tempting, if you please.’
‘There’s still that report Superintendent Bradley wants you to read and initial.’ Llewellyn’s voice had the slightest tinge of disapproval. ‘It’s been on your desk nearly a week.’
Rafferty pulled a face. ‘I suppose you’ve read it?’
‘Give me the condensed version, then, there’s a good chap. You know how wordy these bloody reports are. Mostly bumf.’
Llewellyn proceeded to explain the lengthy report in his calm, level manner, but as he proved almost as wordy as the report itself, Rafferty stopped him at Section 3 Subsection iv c. ‘Can you simply nod if the powers-that-be have ordered another meeting to discuss their preliminary findings?’
Rafferty sighed. ’Meetings and more meetings. It’s a wonder we have any time to solve crimes. I’ll initial it. They’ll still be discussing it come Doomsday. Anything else?’
‘Superintendent Bradley asked for you to pop in to see him, if you haven’t arranged a prior appointment.’
‘What’s the old bugger want now?’ Sarky git, he thought. Trust the Super to assume he was given to making spurious appointments so as to avoid him. He’d only done it twice. Or it might have been thrice. But even so—Rafferty thumped the weighty report. ‘Not to discuss this, I hope.’
Llewellyn’s lips twitched slightly. ‘I think not. I understood him to say that he wishes to speak with you about the recent spate of muggings against moneylenders’ collectors.’
‘He wants to know what I’m doing about it, I suppose?’ Truth was, Rafferty wasn’t doing a lot. The local loan sharks’ collectors were nothing more than bullying thugs adept at putting the frighteners on little old ladies. Mugging was too good for them. ‘Throw a few grand-sounding phrases together for me, Daff. You know I’m no good at that sort of thing. Loads of long words and Politically-Correct bollocks. The Super’ll like that.’
Llewellyn raised dark eyebrows that were as neat as the rest of him. Rafferty swore he plucked them. ‘Something along the lines of: “We’re proceeding with our inquiries and have a number of promising leads,” you mean?’
‘That’ll do for starters.’ He felt in his pocket for some change. ‘But before you do that, can you get the tea in? I’m gasping. You can think up a few more bunches of bullshit while you’re in the canteen instead of chatting up the lovely Opal.’ Rafferty stifled a grin at his sergeant’s blush. Opal was a Caribbean lady of lilting accent, ample charms and an irrepressible sense of fun that believed flirtation should have a dangerous edge. She had taken a fancy to Llewellyn and seemed to find his puritan soul a challenge. ‘One of the muggers was thought to be Asian, so perhaps you can work in something about ethnic sensitivities.’
‘Wouldn’t it be easier to investigate the muggings?’
‘Probably. But I hesitate to interfere with anybody making the streets of Elmhurst safer. Oh,’ Rafferty shouted just before Llewellyn closed the door. ‘Fancy a hot-cross bun?’
Mock-serious, Llewellyn frowned. ‘I think you’ll find it is now called a hot-lined bun. Religious symbolism is also on the veto list.’
‘Veto my arse.’ Rafferty slammed the door for added emphasis. But he knew that no matter how many PC-worded explanations Llewellyn came up for his lack of progress , he’d have to do something about the muggings eventually.
Llewellyn was back in the office within minutes, a cup of tea in each hand and hot cross buns balanced precisely dead centre.
‘Managed to escape Opal’s blandishments again, hey?’ Rafferty teased.
Llewellyn placed Rafferty’s cup on a folded paper napkin which he’d earlier had the prescience to clear some space for on Rafferty’s cluttered desk.
Rafferty pulled a thin file on the investigation towards him. He began to read, liberally scattering crumbs across his front, his lap and his paperwork.
He was interrupted by the ringing of the phone.
‘Ah, Rafferty. You’re in, then?’ It was Superintendent Bradley.
The intimation that he’d been late wasn’t lost on Rafferty. He crossed his fingers behind his back. ‘Bright, shining, and ready to go, sir.’ Hey paused to swallow more tea before adding, ‘I’ve put in a couple of hours’ working from home.’
This brought a stunned, disbelieving silence, and across the room Llewellyn shook his head.
‘Right.’ The Super’s voice barked unexpectedly, so that Rafferty almost dropped his tea. ‘You can start by coming along to my office. I’m sure Llewellyn told you I wanted to see you first thing.’
Rafferty kept shtum.
‘I want to talk to you about these muggings.’
Superintendent Bradley was in lecturing mode. ‘You’ll have to do better than this, you know, Rafferty.’ The Super waved a thin sheaf of papers under Rafferty’s nose. ‘Your reports are sparse—very sparse.’
Rafferty began his explanatory spiel. He wished the Super hadn’t rung before he’d had time to get Llewellyn to prime him with the correct verbiage, but he hadn’t, so Rafferty did his best.
Superintendent Bradley interrupted him almost immediately. ‘It won’t do, Rafferty. It won’t do at all. I’ve had the Deputy Chief Constable on my back about these cases. He’s a golfing buddy of one of the moneylenders whose collector was assaulted. Man by the name of Forbes. That’s the wrong side of the brass to be on, Rafferty. Which makes it the wrong side of me. Do I make myself clear?’
Rafferty nodded glumly and made his escape.
He’d barely got back to his office when the phone went again.
It was Abra. ‘Hiya. Missing you already.’
‘Ditto, darlin’. The Super’s really not up to the job of standing in for you, more’s the pity.’
‘He’s dragged you into his lair already, has he? Poor Joe.’ Abra paused tellingly, then said, ‘I’ve been ringing round a few of the venues, and I simply can’t get them to drop their prices. I wondered—’ A more delicate pause this time.‘ How much might I spend?’ She named a figure that made Rafferty’s eyes water.
‘For a measly chicken salad and a few olives thrown in?’ He didn’t even like bloody olives. ‘What do they do in their spare time? Rob graves?’
‘It’s a normal quote, Joe. What did you have served at your first wedding? Sausage butties all round at the corner chippie?’
‘Abra, darling. You know I’d rather nip up to Gretna Green and forget this whole thing.’
‘I suppose Gretna Green is good enough for a man who’s been married once already. But this is my first—my only—wedding.’ The note of tears in Abra’s voice worked its magic. In truth, they’d never been far away once she set sail aboard HMS Romance. ‘I want to do it properly with all our family and friends there to wish us well.’
That was two people Rafferty had upset, and it wasn’t even ten o’clock in the morning. ‘All right, sweetheart. But can we talk about it tonight? I’m up to my eyes here.’
‘Tonight, then. Promise, Joe?’
‘Cross my heart. Love you, Abra. I’ll see you tonight.’ Rafferty had just set down the phone when it rang for the third time right under his hand. He braced himself.
‘Inspector Rafferty? This is Constable Smales. There seems to have been a murder, sir. Just called in.’
‘Where?’ Rafferty sat up straight, knocking his bun to the floor.
‘An alleyway adjacent to Primrose Avenue.’
‘Constanble Green, who’s on the scene, reports it as blows to the back of the victim’s head. Quite a mess, sir.’
‘Any idea of the victim’s identity?’
‘Not yet, sir. His wallet’s missing. Lizzie Green thinks he’s a man called John “Jaws” Harrison. Works as a collector for Malcolm Forbes, one of the local loan sharks.’
Oh great, thought Rafferty. Now he really would have to take action.
‘All right, Smales. I’ll be out there right away.’
Rafferty gulped his lukewarm tea, picked up his bun from the floor and dusted it off, before cramming its remains into his mouth. Muggings were one thing. But now they’d escalated to murder he knew he’d have to do more than a ‘little something’ He’d likely need the bun’s sustaining carbohydrates during the following busy hours.