Death and Disclosure - a London Mystery

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2

She had felt watched for the longest time. As far as she could remember, the impression that somebody was out there taking care of her had been with her, even though she’d never been sure why.

Today however was a different story. Sitting in the Yard’s interview room facing what was surely a two way mirror she was sure there were people behind that glass wall – watching.

She was still wondering what had made them bring her here in the first place. When she had returned from town that afternoon they had been waiting at her doorstep. She had been surprised but then remembered the note she had seen and assumed that this was about the newest break-in at the institute. Now however she wasn’t sure about that anymore and she was debating if it wouldn’t have been a better idea to insist on having a solicitor present only to wonder again why the hell that should be necessary at all. She was a historian, a medievalist for Christ’s sake. Nobody got dragged to Scotland Yard for putting down a wrong footnote or finally managing to decipher a diploma. Only: people didn’t usually see the inside of that building about some stolen computers either. There must be some misunderstanding.

The men on the other side of the mirror were indeed watching the slight woman in the other room.

Naomi Downey was small, 5’ 3” probably, and quite slender. Unruly long dark hair looking almost too heavy for the small person framed a pale heart-shaped face. They knew she was 33 and in contrast to current fashion made no effort to look like a teenager. She wore little make-up, if any, and was dressed in a long light grey skirt with matching jacket, both so unobtrusively well-cut that they must have been expensive. A dark red silk blouse completed the ensemble. There must be money involved here, but they’d already guessed that from the address where they had picked her up after having just missed her at the college. No jewellery though, apart from a silver ring on her right middle finger. She wore brown high-heeled boots, apparently in an effort to appear taller. All in all the impression was that of a very fragile person.

“Do you think she’s for real?” one of the policemen was asking. “Nobody can be that naïve, not in this world!”

The younger man in the room shrugged his shoulders. “You know, I’m really not sure,“ he said, keeping his eyes on the other room. “Maybe she actually doesn’t know what’s going on. She’s such an egghead, and they tend to be quite literal.”

“You think she’s soft in the head?”

“No, just the opposite. Those people tend to get caught up in their own little worlds, and when you told her she was wanted to assist the police with their investigation, she probably took you at your word.”

The barrel-shaped man was sceptic. “Ok, then let’s start this whole thing so we can get it over with.”

The sudden scraping of chairs turned Naomi’s attention back toward the room. Both men sat down at the table, switched on the tape-recorder, gave their names and ranks and the time.

The older, Brian McNair, started the interview: “Ms. Downey, can you tell us your whereabouts on last Sunday evening between 7 and 10 o’clock?”

“Yes, of course, I was at home, reading.” She looked from one to the other slightly flustered. She had not expected to have to provide an alibi. For what? And hadn’t the break-in been last week? So there was something else.

“You wouldn’t have happened to have company at that time?”

She raised her eyebrows. “No, not really, but I can tell you the matter.”

“The matter of what?” Now McNair was interested.

“Of my reading of course. You see, once it was thought that in the twelfth century the Roman Senate …”

The younger policeman interrupted at this juncture: “Ms. Downey, did you have an argument with Jeffrey Lynd in the Swan and Eagle on Saturday evening?” They had been told the name of the victim’s usual pub by his neighbour, the one who’d found him. The publican had told them about a rather intense quarrel between the victim and a woman he had with him. It had been his impression that she was his girlfriend, he had seen them there before and had described her concisely. To find her then had been a piece of cake, she was on the faculty photo in Lynd’s study.

“Yes, how do you know about that?” Was there really someone watching her steps? Naomi frowned.

“Never mind. Would you mind telling us, what that was about?”

“Well, if you’re really interested”, she looked from face to face, both nodding, “it was about faculty policy. You see, Jeff wanted to vote for keeping on the visiting American scholar, and I was dead against it, that Clark person being so superficial and only interested in chasing undergraduates and even giving our secretary the eye… and of course academically he’s a real bust. The last original thought he had must have been in the Stone Age.” Oops, she really ought to think more before talking, now she’d been giving away faculty secrets again. Hopefully, the police weren’t really interested in that kind of gossip. Judging from their unsatisfied expressions, she still hadn’t been helping them much.

The younger detective decided to attack her head on. “Ms. Downey, would it surprise you if you found out Dr. Lynd had been found dead in his flat this morning?”

The phrasing of the question startled her. She stalled. “I don’t know what you mean – dead? Jeff? Are you talking about murder?”

They certainly were. His neighbour had noticed there was something wrong when his dog wouldn’t budge from the door to the flat and had called the caretaker after getting no answer. Together they had gone in, noticed the smell of dried blood at once and called the police. They’d had some trouble getting the dog to leave, but other than that it looked an ordinary crime scene, albeit a bloody one.

“Ms. Downey, Dr. Lynd’s neighbour declared she saw you leaving the flat Sunday night.” Brian McNair sounded all bored.

“Which neighbour?” Naomi asked back exasperatedly.

“A Mrs. McKitterick, Flat 9b, gave evidence that she saw you leave Flat 9a in a very agitated state after 9 o’clock on Sunday evening. After a long loud quarrel.”

Naomi snorted impatiently and took a deep breath, obviously preparing to say something.

The younger detective leaned towards her. “Are you sure you don’t want to call a solicitor?”

His colleague looked at him thinking he must have lost his mind. He hurried to intercede: “Ms. Downey, you had an argument with your boyfriend Lynd, you were seen leaving the flat of the murdered man on the night of the deed, are you sure there is nothing you want to tell us at this point?”

“Perhaps you’d like to tell me some things first,“ stated in a curiously flat voice, “for example how Jeff was murdered, and how – apart from that ridiculous woman – you got the idea I had anything to do with it. Unless you start telling me things, I’m going to shut up for now – and I’d like to make a phone call to my solicitor.” She crossed her arms and started tapping her foot impatiently until one of the detectives handed over a mobile. Then she quickly entered a number and started a low conversation with the party at the other end – not before she had made clear her need for privacy.

Both detectives left the room – in a foul mood. This had definitely not gone the way they had planned it. It had seemed so easy at first, lovers’ tiff, crime of passion.

An hour later, they felt as if they’d been hit by a bus.

By the time Naomi Downey’s solicitor had finished, they were starting to wonder themselves whatever had caused them to follow that line of inquiry.

“Phew”, Brian McNair sighed, “Who would have thought the little professor had that kind of clout behind her. My, my, Stanislaus Vachewsky, that guy only comes in when there is a lot of money to be made. Better start looking in other directions as well – quickly.”

“We’ll need to do that, I agree, but you know, Brian, I’m not totally sure we’re barking up the wrong tree here,“ his younger colleague said thoughtfully.

“Ah, so you noticed the hesitation, too.” Brian chuckled. Paul Usher certainly was a bright young thing, even if he’d only been on the force for such a short time.

Brian had not been too chuffed to be paired with the Yard’s latest US re-import via Quantico. He was still wondering why the FBI hadn’t wanted to keep their graduate longer than three years. But maybe one of the Yanks had seen the devious spark of anarchy in Paul’s light green eyes and not been fooled by the British accent and the schoolboy looks.

Brian wondered if Paul’s family connections would be enough to keep him rising in the Yard with this kind of personality. He could understand though why he had not started in what had been his father’s old department, even though they probably tried recruiting him straight from university. Nobody would like to be known as the son of the former head of MI6, George Usher, who had somehow managed to keep things together and secret during the last heat of the Cold War. Big shoes to fill there, Brian thought. It seemed that Paul had even fled to the US to get out of his father’s shadow and got hired by the FBI as an analyst.

There were also rumours though that he had been a bit of a loose cannon after his divorce; there was talk of drink and women. Well, from what Brian had seen so far he seemed totally committed to work, maybe even too much so.

Right now Paul had settled in his chair and was about to read the file again. He had propped up his long jeans-clad legs on an open drawer. After a hectic search he found his reading glasses in the pocket of the black jacket he wore over a dark blue shirt. He put them on and started reading. After a while he ruffled his short dark brown hair. Something did not add up here, and he hadn’t needed the fancy solicitor to tell him. It just looked like too long a line of coincidences. He decided to check up a little further on their only suspect.

At the same time Brian had started to enumerate the facts of the case so far once more: Dr. Jeffrey Lynd, 50, historian, speech writer and about to become ghost writer for a former Prime Minister, had been found in his flat in Maida Vale with a number of injuries, quite a few of them deadly, consistent with either a fight or a bad fall down the spiral staircase in his post-modern flat. Suicide could definitely be ruled out, the preliminary report said. There had been no sign of a break-in or a robbery either, so Lynd must have let the assailant into his place willingly. From the injuries Brian judged that he had certainly had reason to regret that decision.

The suspect, who was known to be the victim’s girlfriend – without an alibi, but with a motive – had been seen leaving the flat in an agitated manner on the evening in question. Circumstantial evidence, granted, but people had been in the dock for less.

On the other hand – as the eloquent Pole had quite succinctly pointed out – there were a few questions to consider, above all the ‘how’. How could the pixie-ish Downey have hurt the burly Lynd even if a lot of anger was supposed? That idea required quite a lot of imagination. She wouldn’t have been able to push him, let alone throw him down the stairs, and she certainly couldn’t have beaten him up like that.

Yet again, if she had the money or the connections to make Vachewsky appear out of thin air, she might be able to hire someone to do the deed for her. Only – that assumed an amount of premeditation not entirely justified by an academic quarrel, so they would definitely have to check out what she had told them about that, or, better, get a witness to the quarrel. So far Mrs McKitterick had not come across with what exactly she had heard that night, apart from things thrown and sounds as if the furniture was being pushed around the place roughly, but both Brian and Paul were sure that she had had her ear glued to the wall. Whatever point you came at the problem, one thing became clear: More information was needed.

“Any luck so far?” Brian asked Paul. Receiving no answer, he looked up: His partner was completely absorbed, but not with the file – that had been put aside long time ago – but with his computer. Another thing Brian wasn’t happy about. In his mind, Paul relied far too much on bits and bites – research he called it. On their last case he had spent long nights alone on the internet, researching. Brian wasn’t absolutely sure that their surprising breakthrough didn’t owe something to an activity he’d heard about – hacking. However, in the end their proof had added up in court. Still, Brian felt uncomfortable. Had the Yanks sent them back a rotten egg after all?

“Eh, partner, any luck so far?” He repeated.

Paul looked up – momentarily confused, as if he’d forgotten where he was. Then he caught himself and answered Brian’s question. “What do you say, you check out a little more about Lynd, while I have another go at that Downey angle? We also need to find, if there were other women involved.”

“Other women? Did you see the man?” Brian was incredulous. It wasn’t as if he was an Adonis himself, but neither had Lynd matched that description. He had been quite tall though, which might have appealed to someone as small as Ms Downey, and he had been an intellectual, which certainly made him attractive.

Paul merely shrugged. “You never know, Downey isn’t bad-looking, and she’s quite a bit younger than him. Maybe he’s got something we don’t know about.”

“I find it easier to believe that the faculty politics provide more of a motive.”

Paul grimaced. “You might be right there as well. It looked deceptively easy, that may not necessarily be true. We also need to find out who stands to profit from his death.”

“Ok, I get it, start from the beginning.” Brian sighed and got up. “I’ll be talking to that woman again then.” He also had another idea. Maybe once the unfortunate other neighbour had calmed down again – they had had to call a doctor for him that morning – he could tell them something about the quarrel. He had sounded a much more rational person, but the sight of the battered body and his dog’s reaction to that had sent him into shock, so they’d have to wait for the sedative to wear off.

Paul breathed a sigh of relief once his partner had left the office. Brian was a good detective with a lot of experience and an amazing insight into human nature and the darker side thereof. He had been working homicide for twenty years now and had to his superiors’ surprise always been content with being the assistant to whoever they put in charge. He liked the excitement and the satisfaction of catching the bad guy, but he didn’t want to be settled with the bureaucracy and the responsibility of the investigating detective.

Paul liked his partner, he knew he was absolutely dependable, but somehow this ham-fisted person managed to make any room feel cramped. Obviously an asset for questioning criminals who tended to want out of the room as quick as possible, even if it meant a confession.

It hadn’t worked on Downey, though. She had just seemed resigned once she got their line of questioning, as if she’d been there before. This had caught Paul’s attention. It was so atypical for a first time offender, as she surely must be – a lecturer in Medieval History at King’s College. So he had wanted to start checking out all his usual (and unusual) resources about her. Now with Brian out, he was free to follow his course. His fingers were flying across the keyboard. He kept searching late into the night. When he finally shut down his terminal, it was becoming light outside. His eyes were raw, his throat parched, and his back felt as if he’d been chopping wood for a week. He was even more confused than he’d started out.

He left a note for Brian, stating that he’d be following his angle on the story – not a complete lie, he would start after a few hours of sleep. After he’d let himself into his empty flat, he drank two bottles of water and collapsed onto his bed fully dressed. He fell asleep with Naomi’s face in front of his eyes.


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