The Cuckoo Murders

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Chapter 16

Before she left the station, Grey sent a text to Rancid Ronnie asking to meet him at their usual spot. The spot was a lay-by not far from Ronnie’s crib in the doorway of Lumbertubs Pharmacy. Over the years Grey had tried to convince him to move into secure accommodation, even went as far as introducing him to a social worker, but Ronnie always returned to his pile of cardboard boxes, stinking threadbare blankets, and bottles of White Lightning. To him it was home. Grey guessed it had its advantages; air conditioning, no rent, no rates, no water bills, but this time of year with frosts coming in, she wondered how he survived.

Grey pulled into the lay-by and switched off her engine. Ronnie was waiting, hands in the pockets of an oversized grey striped overcoat tied up with string. He limped over to her car and pulled open the passenger door. Grey tried not to retch when he slumped down onto the seat and closed the door. He stank of urine and vanilla ninja.

‘What have you done to your leg?’ Grey asked.

‘Dog, last night.’ He said.

‘You were bitten?’

‘Yeah, little bastard tried to nick my McDonalds. Gave it a smack and it took offence.’

‘Have you had it looked at? You might need a jab.’

‘Nah, be alright.’

Grey decided not to pursue it. There was no talking sense to him, so she got to the point.

‘Thanks for the text. It proved useful.’

‘Can’t spend that can I? Must be worth a bit extra.’

Grey sighed. ‘I need to know your source Ronnie.’

Ronnie did not answer for several seconds. ‘I don’t know who sent it.’ He said at last.

‘But someone must have Ronnie. The delivery wasn’t on your patch, so how did you find out about it?’

‘Got an anonymous text didn’t I. Came out of the blue. No Caller ID, number withheld. Just said there’d be a delivery to the address I gave you.’

Grey thought for a moment. ‘Are you sure you’re not holding out on me Ronnie? This is important. There’ll be a large bonus for you if you tell me.’

‘I’m not holding out Mrs Grey I promise. It just came out of the blue.’

‘So, you’re trying to tell me that you had no idea who sent you this text or why?’

‘Straight up. I swear I don’t know, but it’s got me worried I can tell you.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Well whoever sent it must’ve known I would pass it on to you. Why else would he send it? That means I’m blown. He could come for me any time.’

‘I think you’re safe enough Ronnie, but I wonder how he knew? Are you being careful?’

‘Well of course I am, it’s not as if I go round telling people how I earn my extras, and I have no fucking idea how he’s found out, but he has.’ He said bitterly.

‘You need a lift?’

‘Nah, I’ll walk.’

Grey handed him a bunch of notes. ‘You take care now, and have that leg looked at.’

Rancid Ronnie quickly counted the notes and beamed. ‘Thanks Mrs Grey, I’ll let you know if I hear anything else.’

Grey nodded and he climbed out of the car before limping off in the direction of his bunk. Grey opened both windows and took a deep breath. Mrs Grey eh? Not likely. What was going on? Had Ronnie been lying? She did not think so, but if not, then who knew he was a snitch and why inform him of the delivery?

Grey felt tired and she could not think clearly so decided to drive home and sleep on it.

When she arrived home, her partner Atherley was lounging on the sofa watching Sky Sports. He sat up when she entered the room. Grey leaned over and pecked him on the cheek. ‘Evening Einstein. I’m bushed.’ She said, and flopped down beside him.

‘Want a beer? You’re late.’

‘Rancid Ronnie, and yes I’d love a beer.’ She said.

Atherley stood up with a groan and shuffled into the kitchen in his Micky Mouse slippers, returning a few seconds later with a cold can of Pedigree. He handed it to her.

‘You really know how to treat a girl.’ She said, pulling the ring and taking a long swig.

‘Interesting day at the college today. One of the students was pulled up for being under the influence.’

‘Booze?’

‘No, drugs. She was high on heroin. Eyes like dinner plates. Flopping about like a performing seal.’

‘Did you call us in?’

‘I think so. Not my department, but she got really scared and started blabbing on about a Mr. Khan overcharging her for her dope and cutting it too weak, not that you could tell by the state she was in.’

Grey sat up, suddenly all ears. ‘Khan you say. What was this girl’s name?’

‘Charley, I think, Charley Lewen.’

‘Can you get me her address?’

Atherley looked puzzled. ‘I suppose so, but why are you interested? I thought you dealt with major crimes, not junkies.’

‘Two people named Khan were killed the other day. We think they were dealing. This girl might have some information.’

‘Really?’

Grey put down her beer and threw an arm round his shoulders. ‘Yes really, now are we going to sit here talking about my job or are you going to show a girl a good time?’ She said, putting her free hand on his thigh.

‘Only if you have a shower. You stink of Rancid Ronnie.’

Grey gave him a gentle tap on the nose and kissed him. ‘Be right back. Don’t start without me.’

Thomas phoned Alice as soon as he arrived home. He was enjoying being on his own, but he missed her badly; she was his rock, his lover and counsel rolled into one. He missed her looks, her kindness, her very presence, and he found himself expecting to find her every time he entered a room, feeling empty and disappointed when not seeing her. Three more days and she would be back. He was counting them.

In the meantime, he needed something to take his mind off of work. Malan was a constant thorn and the pressure of trying to work three cases at once with Giordano confined to the office was keeping him awake at night.

One evening at a force get together Echo, who knew he liked music, had suggested he try opera. Thomas loved some of the famous arias but had never seen a live performance or even a recording of a whole opera. Scrolling through YouTube he came across a live recording of La bohème featuring Anna Netbrebko and Jonas Kaufman. He decided to give it a go and poured himself a large glass of Fleurie, put his feet up on the sofa, and clicked ‘Play’.

Regular opera goers know that there are many productions of Puccini’s most famous work, and this one was a recording of the 2012 performance at the Salzburg Festival. It had started with the crowd hissing when the Director had announced ten minutes before the opening that the tenor, Pietr Beczala, had lost his voice and could not perform. After forty minutes of booing and hissing, a solution was found when Jonas Kaufmann agreed to step in and sing the role of Rodolfo to Netbrebko’s Mimì. Beczala would act and mime to Kaufmann’s singing from the side of the stage. A high-risk solution but it turned out to be a triumph.

Based on Henri Murger’s tragic tale of Parisian bohemian life, the opera tells the story of a love affair between seamstress Lucia, known as Mimi, and Rodolfo a hard-up poet. It is a timeless story; love, lust, jealousy, betrayal, and finally death. It provided the perfect blank canvas for Puccini to paint the story in four acts with soaring arias, heart wrenching duets, and wonderfully understated orchestration. Netbrebko and Beczala are both accomplished actors and managed to bring the whole production to life with their expressive movement. Netbrebko’s beautifully crafted Soprano was the perfect foil to Kaufmann’s powerful tenor.

The opera has many of Puccini’s best known arias, but it was the opening scenes when the four friends, Rodolfo, Marcello, Schaunard, and Colline, are introduced that gripped Thomas. By the end of the third act after blobbing through the goodbye aria, ‘Donde lieta usci’, he sat transfixed, and afterwards found himself scrolling through YouTube for more Puccini compositions. He stumbled upon Tosca and vowed to watch it the following evening.

Giordano went home to her penthouse apartment frustrated that she could not help the team on the ground. Yes, she was able to support them by acting as data collector, but she knew she could be doing more if it was not for the damned arm. After locking the door behind her she slipped off the sling and rubbed the plaster on her broken arm. It had begun to itch.

She had a few ready meals in the fridge and pulled out a vegetable curry, removing the wrapping and placing it in the microwave before slamming the door irritably and setting the timer. She pulled a 150-mil glass from a shelf, poured herself a glass of cool Sauvignon Blanc and slumped down onto her sofa. Resting her head on the back cushion she peered up at the high ceiling, roof timbers forming perfect triangles up to the apex, the cavernous space discreetly lit by soft coloured Up Down LEDs. The apartment was comfortably warm and beautifully furnished. Gifts from her wealthy family meant that she had not had to scrimp or buy cheap fittings; everything was top quality, from the underfloor heating to the plush carpeting, deeply cushioned sofas, solid oak dining table, and prismatic chandeliers.

But somehow it felt cold and claustrophobic on this misty autumn evening. The red brick walls, usually so chic, seemed to be closing in on her as she sat in silence, her arm aching, her mind in turmoil. It was the first time in many months that she had felt alone and vulnerable.

She had an Alexa device and asked it to stream some soft jazz to help her relax. The microwave pinged and she walked back into the kitchen carrying her wine in both hands. She set the glass down on a worktop and pulled a tray out of a drawer, placing it next to her glass. Grabbing a tea towel, she wrapped it round her uninjured hand, opened the microwave and pulled out the bubbling curry. She set it down on the tray, pulled a knife and fork from a drawer and carried her dinner and wine back to the sofa. A piano version of Errol Garner’s ‘Misty’ was playing on Alexa and she began to relax as the wine took effect.

Her mind turned to the cases she and Thomas and Grey were working. What did they know about these three murders, and were they somehow connected to the drugs they had found in Stenson Street and Nether Heyford?

Firstly, Markovic; he had been killed in Connor Street but carried to Eastfield Park. Why? And why had he been killed?

Clues; not many but they had found hair and fibres on the body, and Grey had ordered a CCTV check on the LandCruiser she had seen speeding off when they had searched his house. In the house they had found drugs and money and articles of clothing. On his phone were several contacts, most from the Eastern district of town.

Secondly, the Khans; burned to death in their flat above their shop.

Clues; rumoured to have been dealing in drugs. A picture of the arsonist had been captured on CCTV and FRS suggested it was an ex SAS soldier called Riley. Why had they been targeted and what did Riley have against them?

Thirdly; young Alicia from Stenson Street had been targeted by someone called Micky who had stored heroin in her cellar. That had found its way to a house in Nether Heyford owned by a man called McVey.

What did these incidents have in common? Drugs, that much was clear, but what else? Location, both murders had a connection to the Eastern district, but Stenson Street was an outlier and so was Nether Heyford.

Giordano sat deep in thought for several minutes when her telephone rang. She picked it up without thinking. ‘Jo?’

‘Yes who is calling?’

‘It’s Dave, erm Echo.’

‘Echo, hi what’s happening? Has someone escaped?’

‘Er, no. I thought I’d give you call, see how you are.’

Giordano flushed. ‘Well that’s very kind of you. Thank you. I’m fine, the plaster is beginning to itch but my head is OK now.’ She said.

‘Glad to hear it. I was worried about you when Sheila told me. Well, I did have another reason for calling you. I wondered if we could have dinner?’

‘Dinner? What like on a date?’

‘Yes. I really like you and would love to take you out.’

‘But you’re married aren’t you?’

‘No, I’m free a bird.’

‘Oh, well, OK then. Er when?’

‘Tomorrow at seven? Assuming of course we don’t get held up at the station.’

Giordano smiled. ‘Ok then, where shall we meet?’

‘I’ll pick you up.’ He said, sounding excited.

He rang off. Giordano leaned back on the sofa and took a long sip of wine. Well, that was a turn up. Echo of all people, but now she thought about him, he was kind of attractive. ‘Alexa,’ she said, ‘put on some party music.’

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