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Ken Orford

Crime

15

This is the third story featuring Detective Inspector jennifer Jones (JJ) and Detective Constable Terry Jackson. It is recommended you read "Rolex" and "Open and Shut" first.


It’s funny the way you notice things. If you saw an elephant in the zoo then you wouldn’t think twice. But seeing one in your back garden may be a bit of a shock. It’s all to do with context.

That’s how his wife’s comment hit Sergeant Jackson. A few days ago his wife saying:

“Oh by the way, if you want to get me at work from now on, dial my mobile – they are changing the telephone system.”

was met with a grunt and an “okay”. Although he thought it a bit strange, he didn’t give it a second thought.  But with what he’d discovered yesterday, when she said:

“Don’t forget, use my mobile number to call me!” the comment set alarm bells ringing.

Terry didn’t say anything, but studied his wife as she busied herself over the last of her breakfast and put the cereal bowl into the dishwasher. Claire drank the rest of her coffee quickly, pecked him on the cheek and headed off out of the front door. He could smell, almost taste, the lingering whiff of her perfume as he watched her go. He loved her more than life itself, and he thought how lucky he was to have such a great looking and intelligent soul-mate. Then as he thought about the past six weeks, he could feel his face change and a knot form in his stomach.

Six weeks ago he’d arrived home with the news of his promotion. His success in solving what became known as the “Rolex Case” and also his part in unravelling the truth of what seemed to be an open and shut case, the murder of James Martin – the body in the boot, had undoubtedly helped. He and Claire had gone out to celebrate and had had a brilliant evening together. They had decided over dinner that the extra pay meant they could start a family, and life felt like it just couldn’t get any better.

That had lasted a few weeks, then things all went a bit strange. Claire had suddenly got a bit distant. At the time he’d just thought that she was having second thoughts about having children, and was just worrying about how it would affect her life and career. He’d decided to play it cool, and not make an issue out of it and just let her sort it out herself.

But then he’d been called out to a case yesterday, and his life had been turned upside down. It had all started when a cleaner arrived at her employer’s to find his dead body. She had called an ambulance assuming he had suffered a heart attack or something.

The first time the police had become aware was late that morning when Terry Jackson had been talking to one of his contacts. He’d asked Terry if he’d heard the news that Alex Cramer was dead. Jackson had sat up sharply, his attention immediately grabbed:

“How’d it happen?”

“Heart attack apparently. Cleaner arrived this morning and there he was!”

“Couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke,” said Terry, the sarcasm heavy in his voice. ”No doubt the vultures and jackals will be starting to squabble over what he flatteringly called his empire.”

“Yeah, daresay.”

The conversation ended soon after, and Jackson went in to see JJ to tell her the good news that there was one less villain to net. Alex Cramer wasn’t exactly big time, but he was a nasty piece of work and had fingers in lots of pies – drugs (inevitably), extortion, prostitution, theft – you name it and Alex had dabbled in it – if it was against the law. Thanks to some good police work and luck in avoiding the net himself, the past six months had seen his criminal star rise quite significantly. Many of his rivals had been put behind bars, so because he had eluded arrest so far, he had stepped into some ready made criminal businesses. DI Jennifer Jones, “JJ”, was initially delighted at the news of his demise, then worried about the inevitable fall out – the squabbling over his spoils, and finally she was suspicious.

“Are we sure it was a heart attack?”

“Just came in to tell you the good news, then I was going to go and see what the post mortem threw up.”

“Whilst you’re at it …”

… but her ‘phone interrupted the sentence. She grabbed the receiver, and held her hand over the mouthpiece and continued:

“… get a warrant for his place.”

Then she turned her attention to the call, and Terry walked out. He’d just grabbed his coat when JJ called him back.

“I’m coming too – that was the morgue. He was poisoned.”

“Fitting for a rat like him,” smirked Jackson, then he turned to the department’s newest recruit.

“Rupi, can you get a couple of uniforms and go and seal off Alex Cramer’s house, then get Forensics over there and wait for me and the DI.”

Then as an afterthought, he added that she should find out who the cleaner was and who the paramedics were that had gone to the scene.

DC Rupi Dhariwahl could barely conceal her delight at getting involved in a murder case. This was a chance to raise her already lofty profile even higher. She was very bright, and had come in from Vice last week. She had a very impressive record there and when in uniform, and wanted to get to the top. Being in CID was a career move for her; the chance to tick another box on the way to becoming the first Asian, female Chief Constable. Terry realised that the ambition didn’t exactly make her popular amongst her colleagues, in fact she’d been nicknamed “Cut-throat Bitch” after the ambitious “win at all costs” doctor in the “House” TV series. But Terry Jackson also realised something else: she was a very good cop.

JJ and Jackson left Rupi making calls, and made their way to the car park.

“Yours or mine?” asked Terry.

“You can drive – I want to think.”

They got into Terry’s Vectra which was tightly parked next to Rupi’s new Astra. Terry squeezed in between the two cars, thanking the Lord he was still skinny and cursing women drivers. They headed off to the morgue where the pathologist had just finished dictating his report, and told them it would be ready in a couple of hours.

“What’s the bottom line?” asked JJ.

“Well, I sent a sample of his blood off to the lab at Abingdon first thing this morning. They came back and confirmed the presence of Ethylene Glycol.”

“Anti-freeze!” JJ looked across at Jackson and raised her eyebrows.

“I knew that your A level in Chemistry would come in handy one day.”

“Yeah, but don’t ask me what grade I got! Besides, I remember it from that case in Stoke a couple of years ago. The one where that woman tried to kill her husband. He just ended up in a coma I think. Time of death, Doc?”

“Oh, late last night, between 10:30 and 11:30. I remember that case, he came out of it but was brain damaged and blind. Kate Knight, that was her name.”

JJ thought for a minute and nodded.

“Okay, can you e-mail us the report as soon as?”

The pathologist confirmed it, and the two detectives left. As they walked to his car, JJ taunted him:

“You know that now you’re a sergeant I expect you to be smarter. None of these mud-stained trousers like you’re wearing now.”

Terry looked down and cursed. They’d just come back from the dry cleaners too.  He had a mud streak all down his clean trousers from where he’d squeezed between the cars earlier. He made a vague attempt to wipe them off, then got in. They headed to the countryside and Alex Cramer’s house. On the way they discussed the possible suspects.

“Bloody Hell, where do we start? There’s going to be no shortage. It could be anyone.”

JJ nodded agreement:

“As I see it there are three main groups: One, a gangland rival. Two, an ambitious employee. Three, a victim out for revenge.”

“Or a pissed off employee.” Jackson thought for a minute. “But of course, it may not be related to crime. Might just be an ex wife or jilted lover.”

They pulled up alongside a Police car, Rupi’s silver Astra and two other cars in the large drive of Alex Cramer’s house.

“You’re right, I was thinking too narrow. Come on; let’s go see how the criminally rich live!”

“And die!” added Terry.

They waved their ID at the uniforms on guard. Rupi and the Forensic team already had their plastic suits on. JJ was asking questions as they donned their suits. Rupi told them she’d tracked down the cleaner and the two ambulance paramedics. She’d sent a car to bring the cleaner. They went in and JJ and Jackson looked at each other, and shook their heads. Jackson turned to the others:

“I don’t suppose we know if anyone told the cleaner NOT to clean today?”

The Forensics guys scanned the living room where the body had been found.

“Christ, look at the place. It’s bloody spotless. Well, we’ll see what we can find, but it looks like old fashioned hard detective work for you lot!”

Whilst the Forensics team were doing their fingerprinting and taking photographs, Jackson went into the study and listened to voice messages and dialled 1471 to see what they would reveal. Voicemail was empty, and the last number dialled in was from a mobile, at just after seven last night,

Meanwhile JJ looked around the kitchen, nothing out of place. Not even a teaspoon. Either Alex had been incredibly tidy, or his cleaner really earned her corn. And it was probably both. Whatever the reason, they were going to struggle for clues in the kitchen. In fact, it looked like they were going to struggle for clues anywhere. There was a positive library of cook books on a couple of shelves, all kinds of cuisine. She made a note to ask the cleaner about his cook.

Jackson called to the Forensics guys that there was a laptop in the study for them to take back to their colleagues in the electronics branch. He went through the desk which had some domestic bills and bank statements in. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. He flicked through an address book and the only thing that looked odd was a loose piece of paper with a series of mobile numbers and initials against them. Jackson bagged it after taking a digital photo of it.

Rupi had been upstairs checking it out with the other Forensics guy. She reported that they had raided the contents of the bathroom cabinet, nothing unusual. No sign of any recreational drugs. The bed was unused.

At this point a uniformed constable arrived with a middle aged black woman. The constable introduced her as Mrs. Daniels, Alex Cramer’s cleaner. Like the officers, she was dressed in a plastic suit. JJ thought it unnecessary; after all she’d been in the house probably every day for the past year and a half. But procedure is procedure. She looked petrified, and JJ gave her a warm smile, and told her to come and sit down.

JJ reassured her, and asked her to go through everything that had happened this morning, step by step. Jackson and Rupi watched quietly as JJ and Mrs Daniels went through a painstaking reconstruction. Yes, the door had been locked, and she had let herself in with her key. No it wasn’t unusual for the house to be quiet. Mr Cramer was often either out, or occasionally still in bed. The first room she went in after taking off her shoes and coat (she always brought slippers to wear around the house), was the kitchen. No, nothing particularly unusual. Well, she didn’t think anything of it at the time, but she supposed the glasses were a bit odd. JJ raised her eyebrows:

“Why?”

“Well there were four glasses, and they were all washed up. Mr Cramer never did any washing up.”

“What sort of glasses? Where are they because I didn’t notice any when I was in there earlier.”

“Well, I put them away of course. But I had to wash two of them again.”

“Why’s that?” JJ was now getting quite curious.

“Well the two normal glasses, you know the type that you have Gin and Tonic or Vodka in? Well they were washed and dried and were sparkling, and they were put on the side. Whoever did it obviously didn’t know where they went. But the other two: one large wine glass, that would have been Mr Cramer’s – he always drank red wine in the evening if he was in. I’d often find an empty bottle. And the other glass was a tall one, for a soft drink, like a coke or something. Well, they had been washed but not dried, they were streaky. So I did them again.”

JJ glanced at the two Forensics guys that had been listening. One shook his head, looking doubtful. JJ smiled at her and asked her if she’d show these men where the glasses were, and if she could point them out. She went out and was back in a moment, and the Forensic team had four glasses in plastic bags.

“What about the red wine? Was there any left in the bottle?”

“Oh no, Mr Cramer never left any.”

“Where’s the bottle now?”

“Oh they’re in the bin. I put them there when I tidied up.”

“Them?”

“Yes, there were two last night. That was a bit unusual as well.”

Jackson and one of the Forensics team headed out straight away, and JJ continued and asked Mrs Daniels to talk them through how she’d found the body. She said that after tidying the kitchen she went into the lounge and saw him there. JJ asked precisely where, and asked her to describe how he looked.

“He was lying on the floor just in front of the chair he used. I ran over to him to see if he was alright but as soon as I got near I saw he was dead. He was white like a sheet, his eyes were open, and he had obviously been drooling or foaming at the mouth. He’d knocked over the small table as he fell.”

“So was his glass on the floor?”

“Mmm, no, it was in the kitchen like I said. It had been washed.”

JJ asked her a few clarifying questions, and also asked what she’d moved, or if there was anything odd.

“Apart from straightening the table, nothing. And nothing odd apart from the glasses.”

“Tell us about visitors.”

“I hardly ever saw anyone. He never had business people here. He always said this was his home. He lived here and worked at work. I know he owned a couple of clubs and such. There was the occasional woman here – I could tell by the sheets and stuff, but I never saw any. He didn’t have a regular girlfriend as far as I could tell. Just an ex wife and a kid I never saw – there’s a picture in the study.”

“What about cooking? Who did it for him?”

“Oh, he ate out a lot. At least half the time there was no plates or pans to wash up. The rest of the time he cooked for himself. By all accounts he was a good cook. In fact, that was about the only thing he ever talked to me about as an equal - when he asked me about West Indian cooking.“

JJ thanked her and said that if she thought of anything to give her a call. Then as an afterthought:

“Mrs Daniels, you don’t seem very upset for a woman who just found a dead body?”

Mrs Daniels flashed her white teeth through a thin smile, and her West Indian origins and accent became quite pronounced:

“I watched my husband die of cancer, and watched my son fight for his life after gettin’ stabbed. I’ll save my tears for people I love. Mr Cramer paid me to clean his house, he paid okay, but he treated me like dirt. Judgin’ by some of the conversations I overhear, I think maybe he was up to no good. But I minded my own business.”

JJ nodded and the cleaner turned and left with the constable she had arrived with. The DI looked at the chair and table in thought, then nodded and started to give instructions:

“Rupi, can you go and talk to the neighbours to see if any of them saw anything last night. Then go and talk to the paramedics and get their story. Find out if they had any suspicions about the CoD. Thanks.”

Then she turned to the Forensics team:

“Can you give me some preliminary stuff – especially the glasses and the bottles by close of play?”

“It’ll take us longer than that – we’ll have it on your desk first thing.”

JJ shrugged but said that was fine. Then she turned to Terry. “Come on, let’s go and see some of his associates.”

On the way out JJ stopped to talk to the Sergeant who was in charge, so Terry decided to call Claire. He speed dialled her mobile and she answered more or less straight away.

“Hi babe, you okay?”

“Yeah. Fine. I’m fine. You?” She sounded a bit flustered, so Terry decided to cut to the chase.

“Look, I’ll probably be a bit late. Some local lowlife bigshot got knocked off last night. It looked like a heart attack, but he was poisoned. Anyway, I’ll be doing a bit of overtime I think, visiting some of his so called businesses. I’ll give you a call later.”

“Oh, er ,okay! Umm, who was this guy?” Now that was unusual, Claire didn’t normally pay any attention to his investigations.

“Slime-ball called Cramer – into all the usual nasty stuff. Drugs, extortion, prostitution – probably even dabbling in the latest criminal fad – human trafficking from Rumania.  Never been able to pin anything on him though.”

“Oh, okay. I’d better let you go. Talk later.”

“Yeah. Love you babe.”

“Me too!”

Terry had been hoping to get home early tonight so they could spend some time together and maybe get to the bottom of what was troubling her. She’d been out with her friend Sophie last night and had got back quite late. And he’d been out the night before that playing five a side. They needed to talk, and it looked like tonight wouldn’t be it. He wanted to tell her they could put off kids for a while if she wasn’t sure. He wanted his soul-mate back. Not this rather distant friend she’d become over the last couple of weeks.

JJ came and got in the passenger seat, and Terry drove off down the unmade muddy, private road that Cramer’s house shared with a handful of other large detached houses. Terry asked where they were going first, and JJ said they ought to try and establish what Cramer had been doing yesterday before getting home. So they agreed to visit his two clubs, and the pub he owned. He also had a couple of betting shops, and a warehouse company. He also had recently bought a GM car dealership, but that was thought to be legit.  JJ suggested they start at the warehousing company.

When they arrived at the warehouse Jimmy Sharpe, the manager, greeted them at the door:

“Well, well, I didn’t expect to see you lot back quite so soon.”

JJ smiled, and asked if he minded if they came in.

“Well, as I recall it last week you weren’t quite so polite. When one of your uniformed friends bashed down the front door I don’t recall you asking.” His grin was from ear to ear, and he was obviously going to continue rubbing the police’s noses in their failed raid a few days earlier.

The drugs squad had received a tip off from a very reliable source that there’d be a shipment at the warehouse. But in the event Cramer’s warehouse was so clean that you’d even have struggled to find a dog end within 3 meters of an exterior door.

The office was the usual clutter of files, boxes and a grubby looking, ancient PC and printer. The phone looked old enough to have had a dial rather than buttons. They asked Jimmy if he had heard the news about his boss.

“Yeah, news like that travels … know what I mean?”

“When did you last see him?” Jackson studied his eyes for a clue as to whether he was lying or not. He was pretty sure it was the truth when he said that the last time he’d seen Cramer was the day after the raid. He’d come down to see the damage “you bastards” had caused.

JJ ignored the insult and asked him where he was last night at around ten thirty.

“Darts. The Seven Stars. The match ended about quarter to eleven. I stayed for couple more and went home.”

Jackson noted it down, he’d send Rupi to check, but was pretty sure it would stand up. They asked him about who would be taking over, but got nothing more than a shrug, and a statement that he was just a small cog. They left and headed for the first club. On the way out Jackson looked at the front door and tutted:

“I’d get that fixed if I were you, there are some right villains in this neighbourhood you know!”

At the club they were greeted by yet another familiar face, Alex Cramer’s number two, an ex boxer called Mickey Shiffenham, “Shifty” as he was widely known.

“What an expected surprise! Come on in Inspector and Detective Constable.”

“That’s Inspector and detective sergeant, to you.” Smiled Jackson amiably.

“Well, well, I am honoured.”

They went into the club – it always amazed JJ how different clubs look when they are empty and there’s daylight coming in. In the distance they heard a female voice and then the slam of the backdoor and silence. Something about the voice triggered something in Jackson’s mind. A vague familiarity. He pondered on it for a second then dismissed it.

There were glasses and champagne bottles around the place, and a barman and waitress were tidying up.

“Didn’t know you opened during the day, Shifty.”

“Private Party. You know how it is – a few businessmen. We get some girls in to entertain them. You know.”

“I think we get the picture.”

“It’s a booming market – the corporate sector.”

JJ and Jackson nodded, and JJ picked up the lull in the conversation:

“Okay Shifty, when was the last time you saw him?”

“Who?”

JJ tilted her head to one side and looked at him.

“Oh, the boss!” JJ put on smile, and Shifty continued.

“What? No condolences? No sympathy? No, sorry for your loss?”

The policemen didn’t answer, and just kept looking at him.

“Hmm, I suppose not. Well, I last saw him about half six-ish yesterday. He left here to go home. Said he was going to cook his dinner, and he had a couple of ladies coming to see him.”

Jackson wanted to leap straight in and ask about the women, but instead sat back and watched his boss do her thing.

“Did he often cook his own dinner?”

“Are you kidding? Always! He loved it – he was a bloody brilliant cook. Me and the boys used to go round there every month or so – he’d cook for six or seven of us. Fuckin’ fantastic food. He had plans to buy a restaurant in the High Street. Don’t suppose that’ll happen now.”

JJ asked him about business and plans. Who he thought would take over. Did he know who would inherit? The answers were predictable and guarded – as you would expect from a man who had spent most of his life on the wrong side of the law. He thought his son would inherit, but didn’t know whether the will would say the businesses would be sold as going concerns or what. One thing he was sure about, Alex would have made sure his bitch of an ex wife got as little as possible. After half an hour of extracting information like a dentist extracts a molar – slowly and painfully – JJ asked the question that Jackson had been waiting for.

“You mentioned two women were seeing Alex last night. Do you know who they were?”

“Sorry, I really don’t. Mind you I probably wouldn’t tell you if I did. But I can honestly say I have no idea.”

“What about girlfriends?”

“He had a couple of women that … err, let’s say whose company he enjoyed. But no serious girlfriend. He picked up the odd woman here too. Nothing for a few weeks though.”

“Names? Addresses?” asked Jackson more in hope than expectation.

“Oh I really am sorry. Alex kept that stuff to himself.” Shifty smiled the most insincere smile Jackson had ever seen.

“What about last night? Where were you?”

“Here, all night, left after we closed at three. Sorry, lots of people here will give you an alibi.”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“They will – we had a talent night. I compered.”

They asked the usual questions. When Jackson asked if Alex had any enemies, they all laughed – then Shifty got serious.

“The last nine months or so has been great for us. You guys have so many of our competition behind bars, that legitimate, law abiding clubs like ours …” -  at this Jackson intervened in a coughing fit, but Shifty continued:
“… have been able to take up the slack in the market, and become very profitable businesses.”

It was a familiar story. The police did their job but it didn’t make any difference, some other piece of lowlife stepped in. As they say it was “like shovelling shit against the tide”.

They left and went to the pub that Alex owned. The story was much the same. The pub manager had been in the pub all evening with no shortage of witnesses. Yes, he knew lots of people that would have liked Alex out of the way. No, he hadn’t seen him for a couple of days. Yes, he guessed his son would inherit, but didn’t know what kind of trust things would be held in. Same old same old. When they left, JJ announced she needed a break from this and suggested they go back to the station.

In the car while Terry negotiated the traffic, JJ looked out of the window, deep in thought.

“You know this doesn’t add up,” she shook her head. “I mean, Alex was pretty much top dog since the Vice boys cleaned up over the past few months, no-one in his organisation stood to gain, so no real motive. And the last thing is the cause of death. When was the last time a crime gang leader got poisoned with bloody antifreeze? I ask you.”

“Well, there’s a first time for everything,” was Terry’s unconvincing response.

“Gunned down, knifed or smashed on the head maybe, but poisoned. No, that’s a woman’s way.”

“Well then, looks like a trip to see his ex for starters. Why don’t you do that? And I’ll see if we can find out who his two girlfriends were last night. Maybe they were two of his girls who wanted out. I suspect they were set up for a threesome but took the opportunity to get rid of their employer and set themselves free.”

JJ thought for a moment as they drew into the station car park. She paused with her hand on the car door handle.

“The only problem with that theory is that surely Cramer would have someone else handle the staff. Therefore someone else besides Alex would know. And if the girls were his usual type, they’d be kept on a tight leash.”

Rupi was typing at her PC when they walked in, and JJ asked her for a summary of what the paramedics had said. She reported their main thoughts had been to get him to A and E as fast as possible; though they were both pretty sure he was a black bag case. They had apologised, realising that given the circumstances, they had messed up in moving the body. But to them it seemed like a massive coronary. It looked like he’d collapsed, convulsed – knocking over a bit of furniture in the process - and died.

They talked it over for a few moments, and JJ asked her to find out where Cramer’s ex wife lived, and arrange for the two of them, JJ and Rupi, to go see her in the morning.

Terry sat down to check his e-mails and was thinking about Alex’s spotless house. He decided to upload his “amateur” crime scene photos and see if he could spot anything. He also wanted to check those mobile numbers he’d photographed. As the images were uploading to his PC he looked at Rupi:

“From your time in Vice and Drugs, what kind of clientele did Alex’s girls go after? Are we talking rough end kerb crawlers or what?”

“A bit up market from that, but traditionally the lower end of the escort market. We’re not talking Billie Piper and “Diary of a Call Girl” stuff, for sure. But just before I came here, the rumour was he was recruiting a higher class of girl. Moving up in the world.

“Where do you find that kind of girl then? Where does he recruit from?”

“Well obviously, there are some of his existing girls that will scrub up well and move up. But I guess his clubs are his best recruiting ground. It’s easy money if you aren’t too particular.”

Terry nodded and turned his attention back to his PC, which now displayed the list of mobile numbers. He studied the list – one number caught his eye. It had been crossed out and replaced by another number. There was something about that number. He took his mobile out of his pocket and dialled the crossed out number. His heart stopped as the number started to ring. The display on his phone had changed from showing the numbers he’d dialled to the name of the person he’d called. The phone flashed “Claire Mob”. Terry hit the red button. He felt his chest tighten. The bottom of his stomach had felt like it had just left his body. He stared at his phone in a mixture of disbelief and sheer horror. The he jumped up from his desk. It was touch and go if he’d make to the gents in time. But there’s something about the human body and throwing up. You always seem to be able to hang on until you get there. As his lunch was being emptied into the bowl in cubicle one, Terry’s mind was still racing to grasp what was happening.

“What the fuck was Claire’s number doing in Alex Cramer’s little black book?” He took a few deep breaths and stood up.

“Claire, his wife. His soulmate. The love of his life. The woman who was going to have his children for God’s sake! Involved with a criminal lowlife who specialised in drugs and prostitution.” Then he felt the retching start again, and he threw up until there was nothing left. He washed his face, and looked at himself in the mirror. He had a decision to make. Did he take this to JJ, or did he keep it to himself? He decided to buy himself some time by telling JJ he’d investigate the numbers, while he decided how he was going to talk to Claire about this.




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© Ken Orford, 2008




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