The Cuckoo Murders

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Chapter 6

Grey and Giordano left Thomas’s office and hurried downstairs to Grey’s car. It was cold and dull outside, the sky a threatening battleship grey, the wind picking up from the North bringing a chill to the air.

They settled inside the car and Grey switched on the heater, turning the blower up to maximum for a few minutes until the cabin warmed up. The traffic along Pavilion Drive was nose to tail. The lunchtime exodus from Barclaycard was in full flow. After ten minutes of inching forward, with Grey cursing continuously, the traffic miraculously cleared, most people heading towards the new fast food outlets just off the roundabout. With the roads now clear, Grey put her foot down and was clear of the A45 dual carriageway within three minutes before she was held up again at the junction of Cliftonville and Bedford Road. From there the journey became more and more frustrating. Roadworks, lane closures, breakdowns, speed cameras, they encountered them all before pulling up outside the small red brick terrace in Connor Street that had been Markovic’s address.

Grey switched off the ignition and they climbed out of her car. The street was deserted. Markov’s front door was chipped and scratched, but underneath was painted with dark green gloss. Grey guessed it was made of hardwood, but it had no viewing window and was about as welcoming as a bee sting to someone allergic to apitoxin.

Fortunately, Grey had a key. She inserted it and pushed against the door. Giordano stood behind her. The door opened begrudgingly, a few days post had accumulated and jammed against the space between the bottom and the floor. Grey gave it a good firm shove and stepped inside, kicking the irritating post to one side as she entered into a narrow passageway. Giordano followed closely behind.

The passageway was dark and strewn with litter. Empty plastic cola bottles and beer cans, stubbed out cigarettes, and old newspaper made it difficult to tread on the floor without stumbling over one or another of them. Brown and yellow patterned wallpaper depicting some kind of never-ending chain hung on the walls. The place stank of stale sweat and cigarette smoke. The ceiling should have been white but was tainted amber from smoke. Grey tiptoed through to the back room, Giordano turned sharp left into the front room. She paused on the threshold, surprised to see herself reflected in the mirror that dominated the opposite wall. It was a plain affair framed with cheap sanded plywood. Other than that, the room was empty of furniture. But not of drugs. On the dull knotted floorboards, she could see packets of snow in small cardboard shoe boxes. She counted twelve boxes, each containing perhaps five dozen plastic packets, stamp bags as they were known on the streets. Each bag was worth about fifteen pounds, each box nine hundred pounds, the room contents over ten thousand pounds. In one corner was a built-in cupboard rising from the floor to a height of about two feet. It was painted cream and secured with a brass catch. It was not locked. Giordano put on a pair of nitrile gloves and walked over to it, knelt and unfastened the latch. Inside were more boxes but they were empty.

As Grey and Giordano were searching Markovic’s property, Maric arrived in a Toyota Land Cruiser with three men. He had no reason to believe that the police were inside because Grey drove an unmarked car. He parked a couple of doors away from the house and he and his three men got out. Before leaving headquarters, Maric had briefed his men on Kubric’s instructions. Each one knew his individual job. Maric was wary, knowing the police could arrive at the house at any moment, or perhaps they had already turned it over in which case his trip would be useless.

He looked around but could not see any sign of the police, so he and his men approached the house. They had no key. They would have to force the front door. That could be risky in broad daylight. Noisy, messy, and the sort of thing best done under cover of darkness. But Kubric’s instructions had been clear. Do it now, this second. No time to waste and dangerous as it might be Maric took a deep breath and pulled a jemmy out from under his coat. Short, about eighteen inches long, and made of hardened carbon steel, it would make short work of the door if he could slip it between the frame and flimsy Yale lock. With a final look around, and his three men waiting impatiently close behind, he pushed it in and hooked it round.

Giordano heard a noise at the front door and hurried towards it just as Maric burst in. The lock had given way suddenly and Maric had almost stumbled through the door into the passageway.

Startled, Giordano shouted, almost screamed. Shocked at encountering someone in the house Maric acted instinctively and struck Giordano with the crowbar. It was heavy and unforgiving. Giordano raised an arm to try to fend off the blow, but the hardened metal broke a bone and despite being deflected, the bar crashed into her skull. She cried out before collapsing in a heap in the passageway, blood pouring from her scalp. Grey rushed out of the back room, carrying a pepper spray shouting ‘Police, Police!’ almost tripping over Giordano’s motionless body. Maric stopped abruptly and was almost bundled over when his men ran into his back. He lost his balance which gave Grey the chance to pepper-spray his face. Maric’s stumble helped him avoid the full effect of the stinging particles but nevertheless he was almost blinded and the pain in his eyes was unbearable. His men could not get past him to attack Grey and they backed off when he shouted ‘Go! Go!.’ Grey sprayed him again as he began to lurch back towards the door. His men had run out onto the street. As big and heavy as Maric was, Grey was determined not to let him escape. She kicked out a leg and tripped him, sending him sprawling headlong towards the open front door. His head thumped against the edge, dazing him for a few seconds, enough time for Grey to pull out her handcuffs, pull his arms behind his back, and slip them on.

With Maric in handcuffs, face down on the floor, Grey moved her attention to Giordano. A quick inspection found her unconscious, bleeding, and very pale. Her right arm looked to be broken. Grey pulled out her mobile and dialled 999 asking for an ambulance and back up. She rushed out into the street trying to catch site of Maric’s men, but all she saw was a glimpse of the back of a Land Cruiser, engine screaming, tyres smoking.

While waiting for the ambulance and back up to arrive Grey did what she could to make Giordano more comfortable. She put her in the recovery position and wiped her brow free of blood with a tissue she found in her pocket. There was little she could do about her arm, but she was relieved to find a strong pulse, even though Giordano remained unconscious, and a huge lump had formed on her scalp.

The police arrived first in four squad cars. Grey told them what had happened and instructed them to secure the area. She asked one of the drivers to try to track the Land Cruiser, and another to take Maric to the station. She did not have the registration number, but she did have a description, late model, black, headed towards town centre. Possible perhaps to pick it up on CCTV. Next she called Thomas. He told her to get back to the office and see him as soon as she had made sure Giordano was safe.

The ambulance crew turned up a few moments later with lights flashing and sirens wailing. Grey showed them where Giordano was, and they began their tried and tested routine for someone who had suffered head injuries and broken bones. Medical procedures were a mystery to most members of the public, but like most mysteries they were quite logical. First responders went through a check list step by step, by the numbers, each step simple. The mystery came in the design of the procedures and the knowledge necessary to implement them. The paramedics worked on Giordano for thirty minutes before carefully lifting her onto a stretcher and carrying her into the back of the ambulance. Then with sirens howling and lights blazing, they sped off to the hospital.

Grey followed slowly, feeling numb. What had begun as a routine look around a murder victim’s house had suddenly without warning turned into a vicious assault on her partner, and it had only been her instinct that had made her pull out her pepper spray, a reflex action that had probably saved her life. The question she was asking herself was ‘Why?’ What had they stumbled on? There had been nothing in the back room except a couple of threadbare easy chairs, a dirty chipped coffee table and an ash tray full of dog-ends. No drugs, no cash, nothing. Maybe Giordano had found something. She would go back and finish her search after the hospital and Thomas.

It started raining as she drove up the steep hill towards the Mounts, passed the Swimming Pool and Fire Station, the Charles Bradlaugh pub, and then on along St. Michael’s Road where the oldest shoemaker in England had its factory. Almost two hundred years old, Trickers was still going strong and boasted shops in Tokyo, and London, unlike many of the 1,800 or so shoemakers that had existed in the town in the mid nineteenth century. Only a few had survived, unable to compete with the cheap Italian imports that had flooded the market in the mid twentieth century. Cutting around Kettering Road into Wellingborough Road she turned right into Cliftonville Road and right again into the hospital car park.

For the public, trying to park was a nightmare, and expensive, but Grey ignored all the restrictions and pulled up close to the ambulance outside A&E. She could see Giordano lying on the stretcher in the corridor, surrounded by nurses. Grey approached tentatively, not wishing to disturb them but at the same time anxious to find out how badly her partner was injured. A nurse noticed her and asked. ‘Are you a relative?’

‘Police, she is a DI, my partner.’ Grey said.

‘Ok well you can’t wait here. Take a seat in the waiting area and I’ll talk to you when we’ve had a chance to examine her.’

Grey did as she was told.

Kubric heard the bad news from one of Maric’s men. He told Kubric he was sure that Maric had been arrested. As they entered Markovic’s house they believed it was empty, there had been no sign of police or anyone, but the young woman must have been in the front room because she came into view as soon as they entered through the front door. Maric had attacked her in the passageway with a crowbar, but another woman had appeared out of nowhere, shouted ‘Police’ and had used a pepper spray. There was a good chance she had been a detective. Last time he saw Maric he was screaming with pain face down on the floor.

Outwardly Kubric took the news calmly, much to the messenger’s relief, but inwardly he was seething. What had that fool Boucher started? First he allows some intruder to deal on his patch, next he comes up short, then he allows Markovic to go missing, then Markovic is murdered, and now Maric gets himself arrested trying to clean up his mess. Boucher had a lot to answer for and answer he would.

His first thought was to find someone he could trust to replace Maric, even if for a short time, someone who would not panic, someone who could help him get to the bottom of this. But who? He thought about Foal, but he was just a brainless stupid young thug, hopeless for this task, then he considered Riley for a long time, the man was calm and experienced, good in a crisis, but could he be trusted? Where did his true loyalties lie? After all he was Boucher’s man. Kubric could not be sure so in the end he decided on Cameron. He was a thinker, not a man of action, but a thinker was what he needed at that moment. And trustworthy, at least with Cameron he knew he could be trusted. He had worked with him and recommended him to McVey.

Grey waited for an hour before the nurse returned with the news that Giordano was awake, but she had suffered a fractured right arm and a nasty blow to the temple. Fortunately, scans showed no internal bleeding, but she would remain in hospital under observation.

‘Can I see her?’ Grey asked.

‘Better you don’t, she needs rest. Come back tomorrow and we’ll see.’ The nurse replied.

‘Ok I will’ Grey said, relieved that Giordano had not been seriously wounded, but disappointed she could not see her.

She left the A&E and drove back to the station on Brackmills. It was raining when she left, sheeting down, heavy drops bouncing off the blacktop and the bonnet of her car. She drove slowly. Her windscreen was being constantly sprayed by passing cars, too much for her wipers, but she did not pay much attention, her mind could not stop replaying the few seconds of mayhem in the passageway of Markovic’s house.

Almost without realising she arrived at the Brackmills centre. If anyone had asked, she would not have been able to describe her journey. The car park was remarkably full meaning she had to park a good few hundred yards away from the entrance. She debated whether to wait until the rain abated or face the deluge and run. She ran and, in the half a minute or so it took her to reach the metal framed glass doors, the rain had drenched her face and flattened her hair. Her Boksanda slacks were soaked and sticking to her thighs, and water had burst into her shoes. They squelched as she walked, and her feet were cold and wet. She could not see Thomas in that state so headed for the toilets. When she examined herself in the mirror, she was worse than she imagined. Not only was rainwater streaming down her cheeks onto her neck, but her mascara had run, and her lipstick had smudged. Her white silk blouse, a week’s salary from matchesfashion, was so wet she could see her bra through it. ’Christ girl you look like you’ve just been rogered in a back alley and flung into a river.’ She muttered.

Fifteen minutes of towelling, combing, and reapplying make-up later she was presentable enough to see Thomas. She found him in shirt sleeves in his office, wading through a bunch of reports. Thomas invited her in and made no secret of giving her a quick head to toe inspection, ending with a smirk. She expected him to make some sarcastic comment, but he said nothing and waved her to a chair.

She sat down, immediately noticing that her backside was wet. She had towelled dry her front but paid no attention to her back. ‘Jo is stable sir; she was awake when I left. She has a broken arm and a nasty wound to her temple, but the hospital has done a scan and it came back clear. They’re keeping her in for observation.’ She explained.

‘Talk me through it.’ He said.

‘The house looked empty when we arrived. I let us in with the key. The place was a mess. The hallway was litter strewn and stank of cigarettes and sweat, perhaps even spliffs. I decided to check out the back room and Jo went into the front. A few minutes later there was a cracking sound from the front door followed by a scream. I hurried back to the passageway and found Jo injured on the floor being attacked by a huge well-built man carrying an iron bar. Behind him were three men. He came for me, but I sprayed him with pepper, and he went down. The other three hightailed it and drove off, possibly in a Land Cruiser. I’ve asked traffic to see if they can trace it. I cuffed the attacker and he’s waiting in the cells.’

Thomas sat still for a few seconds, thinking. Then he said. ‘And the house.?’

‘Secured sir. I’ll go back once I’ve finished here.’

‘Make sure you take a team with you. Have forensics scour it.’ He said. ‘No injuries to yourself?’

Grey knew him well enough to understand it was his way of asking if she was alright. ‘A bit shook up sir, but nothing else.’ She said honestly.

‘Good. It sounds like Giordano is going to be out of action for a while so it will be just you and I. Malan won’t let me draft anyone else in as cover. His budget is already at breaking point. Do you want me in on the interview with your assailant?’

Grey thought about it for a few seconds and then nodded her head. “If you wouldn’t mind sir that would be very useful.” She said.

‘We need to understand why these people were there. It might be that they knew that Markovic was dead, even though we haven’t made it public yet, and if he was a dealer, then perhaps they came to clean the place, remove any evidence.’

‘That would make sense sir.’ She said.

‘Alright give it half an hour while you find out if the duty sergeant has managed to identify him and whether we have anything on him and then we will bring him up.’ He said.

Grey left Thomas and made her way downstairs to the custody suite where she found Sergeant David Sergeant who had lost his hair as a direct result of the number of times he had heard himself called ‘Echo’. He was smartly dressed in a well pressed uniform. Grey was no different to anyone else in the force and greeted him with an ‘Afternoon Sergeant,’ while holding her hand against her ear, waiting for the echo.

Sergeant sighed heavily and asked, ‘What can I do for you Sheila?’

‘Uniforms brought in an Oddjob lookalike this afternoon. Do we have a name and address? Any form?’ She asked.

Sergeant consulted his list and said, ‘Maric Kovic, address in Overstone, no form, being held on suspicion of breaking and entering and GBH against one of our own.’

‘Jo Giordano’ she said.

Sergeant frowned, suddenly looking concerned. He had gotten to know her well from her time with Thomas and he liked her. A lot. ’Christ. How serious? Is she Ok?’ He asked.

‘Broken arm and maybe concussion. She’s in the hospital under observation. Did you have to call the doc?’ She asked, changing the subject, thinking about the pepper spray she had used.

‘Yeah, swilled his eyes out. Pepper?’

‘Yep. Works every time, even against gorillas like this Kovic.’ She said.

‘Good for you.’ Sergeant said warmly. ‘Do you want him brought upstairs?’

‘Yes, IR1 please.’

Sergeant nodded agreement and headed off to the cells. Grey made her way upstairs to IR1 as it was known in the station. IR1 stood for Interview Suite 1. Nobody knew why the R was in the acronym, although a few had cynical opinions on it, and to call it a suite by any normal meaning of the word was a joke. An eight by ten box with cheap wood panelled walls, a single fluorescent, and a teak table flanked either side by two steel framed chairs with some kind of red stretched plastic backs, and the same awful dull grey floor as the corridors, it was more a rathole than a suite. Maybe that was what the R stood for. And it stank of stale sweat.

Grey called Thomas while she waited for Kovic to be brought up from the cells. He joined her a few moments later and seconds afterwards Kovic was escorted in by two burly constables. They showed him to a chair and stood unobtrusively either side of the door.

Grey set the recorder going and began ‘You are Maric Kovic?’

Kovic nodded. ‘Yes.’

‘Can you tell me what you were doing this afternoon at the property in Connor Street?’

‘It is my house. I forgot my key.’

’You own the property?

‘I rent it.’ Kovic said.

Grey let that pass for the moment but stored the obvious question in the back of her mind for possible later use.

‘I see. Can you describe for me what is in the back room? That is the room that overlooks the back yard?’ That was the room Grey had seen. She could remember the furniture in it.

Kovic looked uncomfortable for a moment but recovered quickly. ‘I don’t know. I have a tenant. I live in Overstone village.’

‘I thought you said you rent the property?’

‘I do, but I sublet it.’ Kovic said.

‘To whom?’ Grey asked.

‘Edin Markovic.’

This guy thinks he is clever, Grey decided. He has had time to think about what he was likely to be asked and had prepared his answers. ‘Why did you jemmy the door.?’ She asked.

‘I told you, I forgot my key.’ He said.

‘But you don’t live there. Why break in? You could have returned some other time, with your key.’

‘He is late with his rent; I am going to take possession.’ Kovic said.

‘Presumably, you know where you keep the key?’ Thomas chipped in.

‘Of course.’ Kovic said.

‘And from whom you rent the property?’ Grey asked, retrieving the obvious question out of storage in the back of her mind.

‘Yes.’

‘So, let’s go.’ Thomas said.

Kovic looked surprised. ‘Go where?’ He asked.

‘To get the key. And on the way we can check in with your landlord and get a copy of your rental agreement.’ Thomas said cheerfully.

Kovic sat motionless. Grey could see he was trying to think of a way out of the trap Thomas had just sprung but in the end he simply smiled.

‘Can you tell me where you were between eight and ten last night?’ She asked.

‘With friends.’ He said.

‘We will need their names and addresses.’ Grey said. ‘How well do you know Edin Markovic’

‘Not well, he is my tenant.’

‘Yes you sublet to him but you don’t have a key and can’t remember the name of your landlord.’ Grey said sarcastically. ‘Why did you go to his house this afternoon?’

‘To collect rent arrears.’ Kovic said.

‘Markovic is dead, murdered last night.’ Thomas said, ‘did you kill him?’

‘Dead?’ Kovic sounded shocked. ‘I had no idea.’

‘Did you kill him?’ Thomas persisted.

‘No.’ Kovic said firmly.

‘You attacked my colleague with a crowbar. Had you seen her before?’

‘I thought she was a burglar.’ Kovic said, sticking to his story.

‘But it’s not your house is it?’

‘I told you I sublet it to Markovic.’

‘I think you need to think carefully about what you’re telling us Mr.Kovic. It will take us less than five minutes to check the Land Registry and find out who owns that property, and then a quick phone call to the owner will tell us if you’re lying. Now I ask you again, why were you at Markovic’s house?’ Thomas said, although by now he was sure that Kovic would tell him nothing. His suspicion that the murder and Kovic were somehow connected grew stronger by the minute.

Kovic said nothing but sat back in his chair and smiled.

Grey finished up by taking down the names and contacts numbers of Kovic’s alibi for the previous night and terminated the interview shortly afterwards.

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