Murder In Thrall

Chapter 1

 Her eyes were five centimeters apart.  Her face was proportioned perfectly; the wide set eyes, the spacing between the zygoma and the mouth, the ratio of chin to forehead to temples. He had taken a photograph of that face when she was unaware and he often studied it after he went home.  He could not help himself.

 “I am wretchedly sorry, Sir.” Doyle apologized for the fourth time in the past two hours. She was waiting with Acton in the unmarked police vehicle, the rain pattering on the roof. Although she was cold and miserable she would rather be tortured than admit to it, a demonstration of stoic atonement being needful at present.

“Whist, Constable,” he answered, without taking his eyes from the door of the pub.  They had been staking it for over an hour.

Cautiously heartened, she stole a quick glance in the dim light at his averted profile and wiggled her toes in her boots keep them warm—she was fast losing feeling. Surely it was a good omen for her future prospects that he was imitating her; he was not one to joke about before lowering the boom. She stole another glance at his impassive face and recalled that he was not one to joke about at all, so perhaps it meant nothing.  Or perhaps it did.  She was Irish with an accent that tended to broaden when she was nervous; the present circumstance serving as an excellent example.

She ventured, “Is there a rank lower than Detective Constable?”

“Not at present.”

He continued his silent perusal of the pub and did not look at her. Snabble it, she thought, sinking into the seat.  You’re only making it worse; keep this up and he’ll push you out of the car, he will.

They were outside the Laughing Cat pub, hoping their prime witness would make a reappearance. Doyle had lost him.

“D’you think he has gone to ground, then?” The words were out before she could stop them. Honestly; what ailed her that she couldn’t keep her mouth shut? Acton was going to rethink his ill-conceived plan to partner with a first-year and give her the well-deserved boot–it was a rare wonder she had lasted this long.

It was indeed one question too many and Acton turned to meet her eyes.

“I’m that sorry,” she offered yet again, feeling the color flood her face.

The Chief Inspector had been most displeased when he discovered she had allowed Capper to trick her. She knew this only because the words delivered in his modulated public school voice had become clipped. The signs were subtle but she was alive to them–it was a survival mechanism, it was.

The witness had been a fellow Irishman, from Limerick, who was coming to meet with the murdered man. Doyle was never to discover the purpose of his visit because the aforesaid witness, a man named Capper, had neatly given her the slip.  He had thought to show her the tack room as a likely place to search for evidence, all the while expressing his profound shock at the horse trainer’s murder.   So helpful he was, in his low county manner, that she had abandoned protocol and had gone in before him. The door to the room had then locked with a snap and she was left alone in the darkness, breathing in the scent of worn leather and muttering Gaelic curses. She was forced to ignominiously text Acton on her mobile to request a rescue and after springing her free, her Commanding Officer had told her in all seriousness that she had taken a huge risk and was lucky not to have been shot. He never raised his voice nor changed his tone but she was thoroughly ashamed of herself all the same; she wouldn’t care to lose his good opinion. She knew–although she couldn’t say how she knew–that she indeed held his good opinion. Or had held it until this latest misadventure in the tack room.

At present he was having her repent fasting for her wayward ways–although she took it as a good sign that he had not sent her back to CID Headquarters to submit to yet another session of re-training in basic protocol.  Instead, after backtracking for several hours around the racecourse they had managed to find the merest scrap of a lead that had led them here; a pony boy’s tip, given on promise of anonymity while the frightened man looked over his shoulder every other word. Have a look about The Laughing Cat pub in North Hampton, the man had told them.  He intimated the murder was not an isolated incident but would say no more; wouldn’t even give his name.  This was of interest; when Acton had briefed her about the murder he mentioned Home Office concerns that a syndicate of some kind was laundering money at the racecourse.  Her run-in with Capper could turn out to be a case-breaker; if she didn’t get the sack, that was. And if they ever laid eyes on him again.

They waited in silence.   Doyle didn’t dare suggest he turn on the engine so that the heater was engaged, and she didn’t like to even think of what the wet weather was doing to herhair after such a ragged day.  Have pity, Acton, she pleaded mentally; I’ll expire of shame, else.

At long last he relented and turned to face her, his dark eyes meeting her own. “I don’t think he’s here, but there may be someone who knows where he’s gone to ground. Let’s have a look ‘round.”

As was his custom, he opened the car door for her and she declined his umbrella as the rain was now only sporadic. He was somewhat older than she and always treated her with grave courtesy. It’s in the breeding, she thought as she cautiously stood up on stiff legs;  he’s probably dyin’ to give me the back of his hand.

They approached the pub, which was located on an undesirable corner of the working-class area that bordered KemptonPark racecourse. It was late and the street was quiet as they crossed it, their footsteps echoing whilst she tried to keep up with Acton’s long strides. He forgot, sometimes, that she was so much shorter. Or he continued unhappy with her, and would just as soon leave her behind. Doyle stepped up her pace.

He glanced down at her sidelong. “You will allow me to take the lead, please.”

She blushed again in shame; he was reminding her not to stray away from him as she had done at the racecourse when she had been roundly hoodwinked. “I’ll be clingin’ to you like a barnacle, Sir,” she replied in an overly-pert tone; may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb and perhaps she could tease her way back into his good graces–anything to alleviate her current state of disgrace. She glanced up to observe his response and was relieved to receive one of his half smiles as he opened the door for her. There now; perhaps she wasn’t to get the sack, just be tortured ‘till the wee hours in the hope that she had learned her flippin’ lesson. It was a rare wonder the man didn’t get sick of the sight of her.

They stepped in through another set of doors and made for the bar, Acton giving the interior of the pub a quick survey and Doyle trusting him to see if their man was present.  He was keenly observant; her talents lay elsewhere.

“Not here,” he said quietly.

They leaned on the counter and she glanced around; the rain had kept the customers away and as it was quite late there were only a half dozen or so hardy souls scattered about, drinking in a desultory way as could be expected on such a night and in such an area of greater London. It was a shame their man was not in evidence; if Capper had indeed been present Doyle would have leapt upon him and strangled him single-handedly for putting her though it with Acton. Sadly, her temper would occasionally goad her into doing things she oughtn’t so perhaps it was just as well.

“Should I ask a few questions, Sir?” She was hoping to redeem herself by showcasing her talents.

Acton considered, his elbow on the bar whilst he took a keen look around and then settled his gaze upon her. “Have one of your coffees and we’ll see what the barkeeper has to say.”

Doyle didn’t hesitate and caught the ‘keep’s attention; coffee was her life’s blood.  “A latte with half soy and half skim.”  She threw caution to the winds. “And whipped cream.”  She was empty as a pocket and in desperate need of sustenance—it was grueling work, here in the doghouse.

The barkeeper lifted his lip and regarded her with undisguised scorn.  “Not that kind of place.  I can give you coffee with half and half.”

“Done.”   At this point plain hot water would do, if for nothing else than to pour on her poor frozen feet.

When the man brought the coffee, Acton took the opportunity to display his identification.  Doyle watched; often the witness’ reaction to the warrant card told her a lot, as Acton was well aware.

Acton asked, “Do you know a man named Danny Capper?”

The barkeeper took a little too long to answer and while he considered she noted that he gripped the bar rail with both hands for a moment. “Yeah.  He’s here sometimes.”

“When’s the last time?”

“Dunno,” said the man in the tone of one who would no longer discuss the topic. “Maybe a couple of days ago.”

Doyle brushed her hair from her forehead.

Acton leaned forward, all menacing law enforcement. “Obstruction of justice is twelve months. Shall we try this again or shall we continue the conversation down at CID Headquarters?”

Now uneasy, the barkeeper weighed his options but continued defiant. “Look, I don’t want any trouble.”

“There’s trouble enough,” countered Acton, unrelenting. “A trainer’s been murdered at the racecourse and we’d like to speak with Mr. Capper.”

Thus admonished, the barkeeper decided to cooperate but made a show of sullenness so that there was no misunderstanding his reluctance to cooperate with all persons constabulary.  “He stopped in to talk with his girlfriend, and asked that I cover for him—to say he wasn’t ever here.  He left about an hour ago.”

“Know where he is now?”  Acton tapped a long finger on his warrant card case, just as a reminder.

“No. But I suggest you talk to her.” The man jerked his chin toward a woman who sat at a table alone. “She’s the girlfriend.”

Doyle pulled out her occurrence book and jotted down the barkeeper’s information while Acton watched her.  He always watched her hands while she wrote and it made her self-conscious; as a consequence her left-handed scrawl was even less legible when he was present. No matter; it would all be typed into a report shortly—thinking of the coming report she paused, her heart sinking.

Acton indicated she was to follow as he walked over to introduce himself to the girlfriend.  She was the type of woman who inhabited this type of pub; a buxom brunette of perhaps thirty who looked a little the worse for wear, an empty pint glass before her along with an ashtray full of cigarette butts marked with lipstick. She was texting on her mobile phone, pausing to draw on a cigarette and gaze out the window, a crease between her brows.  She appeared abstracted and unhappy until she took one measuring look at Acton and brightened–Acton was tall and darkly handsome.  He was also reclusive and unapproachable which made him all the more attractive to the opposite sex; Doyle had witnessed the phenomenon many a time.

“Do you mind if we ask a few questions?” Acton showed his warrant card and introduced Doyle.

“Sure–I’m Giselle and I am very pleased to meet you.” She ignored Doyle and took Acton’s hand, looking up at him from under her lashes.  Doyle noted that her eyes strayed for a moment in the direction of the barkeeper, but couldn’t determine if any unspoken message had been sent or received.

“May we join you?” Acton could be semi-charming if he thought he could obtain an advantage, which was a useful talent in this line of work. Doyle knew she should observe and learn; she was not good at subterfuge.

Smiling warmly, Giselle indicated to Acton that he was to take the seat beside her and then when he offered to light her cigarette, it gave the woman an opportunity to lean in and show her cleavage to full advantage.

Brasser, thought Doyle, annoyed; you’ll catch cold at that. It didn’t help that the other’s cleavage was indeed impressive and made more so by a push-up bra with the emphasis on push. Doyle was left to seat herself and her less impressive bosom in the chair opposite them.

“Aren’t you that Detective from the papers?” Giselle put a teasing hand on his arm and blew a cloud of smoke Doyle’s way.

Worse and worse, thought Doyle, who may as well have gone somewhere else in search of a decent cup of coffee.  Acton was larger than life in the public’s eye; the brilliant, titled Chief Inspector who regularly solved high-profile murders. The newspapers featured him often–not that he noticed. He had little use for the newspapers and tended to give them short shrift, much to the dismay of the Commissioner who knew a good public relations gambit when he saw it.  Instead, Acton was reserved almost to the point of rudeness and definitely did not suffer fools–a decided drawback for Doyle at present.  In this instance, however,  Acton was giving every indication he was intrigued by this two penny brasser, who was taking full advantage and small blame to her; it must seem like Christmas.

“We are told you know a man named Danny Capper.”

“Oh, Danny—”  Giselle made a dismissive gesture with her hands that made it clear he was yesterday’s news. “We had a falling out.”

Doyle surmised that this remark was meant to convey to Acton that he had a clear field–it was too much to hope for that the woman was truly unhappy with her beau; few things were more helpful to a Detective than a disgruntled girlfriend.

“He was here tonight?”

“Yes.”  She exhaled some smoke in Acton’s direction, pursing her bright red lips. “That’s when we fell out.”

Doyle brushed her hair from her forehead.

“A shame,” said Acton, his tone indicating it was anything but.

“I suppose that depends,” said Giselle with a great deal of meaning.

Honestly, Doyle thought crossly; they should get a room.

But Acton was as subtle as a serpent.   “You wouldn’t mind giving me some information about him, then.”

There was only the tiniest pause before Giselle rendered a slow smile and drew on her cigarette. “No, I wouldn’t mind at all.”

Giselle gave Capper’s address and explained she had known him, off and on, for over a year—yes they had dated but it wasn’t serious; this said while fingering a curl that rested on her bosom, as though any more emphasis was needed or necessary.  Trying to suppress her annoyance, Doyle jotted the information and sensed that the girl seemed wary, despite her easy banter with Acton.

“Do you know what he was doing at the track today?”

Giselle threw back her head to blow a cloud. “He likes the track.”

Acton arched a brow at her. “Did he come home with a lot of cash, sometimes?”

Giselle laughed throatily, tapping the cigarette on the ashtray. “Now, that would have been nice.”

She is definitely wary, thought Doyle, trying to avoid the scattering ashes. She glanced around the room but could see no one who sparked an interest. The barkeeper was not within earshot.

Acton leaned in to suggest, “Perhaps there would have been no falling out, then.”

The woman stubbed out the cigarette, even though it was half-smoked. “Hmm,” she agreed, contemplating the ashtray. “Money does talk.”

“Did you quarrel with Capper about money?”

She shrugged, and the movement made her breasts shift upward. Honestly, thought Doyle; may as well plant a flag between them.

“No; we have different ideas about our future.”

This was true, and although Doyle kept her gaze on her occurrence book she felt Acton glance at her, to make certain. She tried to gauge what he was about; Acton never asked an idle question.

“Do you know where he is now?”

“Not a clue.” She smiled at him as though it was the last thing on her mind, now that Acton had come into her orbit, and crossed her legs toward him.

In response his tone was almost apologetic, having to interrupt their semi-flirtation with the grim facts. “A man’s been murdered; Mr. Capper may have information that could prove useful and I would very much like to speak with him.”

“Murder.  How shocking.” Giselle’s heavily mascara’d eyes widened with dismay. She did not ask who had been killed.

Doyle considered as she scratched out some illegible notes while Acton assured Giselle that she was perfectly safe.  So Capper came here, needed to see Giselle in person, then did a bunk.  He didn’t want to use his mobile, perhaps.  Or he needed to deliver something to her or to another.  He may be the killer or he may be unwilling to tell the police what he knows. Or, he may be afraid of the killer.  Whatever it was, it had been important enough to lock a police officer in the tack room so he could escape with all speed back to the Laughing Cat. She remembered thinking that his story rang true when she interrogated him–he had been coming to meet up with the trainer at the stables and was brought up short when he saw the forensics tape cordoning off the area and heard that the man had been murdered.  He hadn’t known the man well but they had friends in common. Doyle had been in the process of asking him about the identity of the aforementioned friends when he suggested they look around the tack room. Trumped me, she thought in annoyance.  Stupid culchie.

She saw that Acton’s gaze had shifted to her because she wasn’t paying attention. With a guilty start, she proceeded to focuslike a laser beam.

“Do you know if Capper had any friends who may know something? Criminals or underworld types?”

Doyle recalled what the pony boy had intimated; there were dangerous people and dark deeds involved.   Giselle played with the ashtray for a moment, her lashes lowered.  “I can’t recall any just now.”

There was a slight emphasis on the last two words.   Acton pulled his billfold from his jacket’s inner pocket. “May I give you my card? If you come across any information you can give me a ring.”

She held the card and stroked it with her long red nails, her limpid gaze upon his.  “I’m your girl.”  She looked up at him through her lashes.

Doyle brushed her hair from her forehead and saw Acton hide a smile.