THE WIDOW IS A COP.
FORGET THE LAW, SHE WANTS REVENGE
Freelance journalist Vicky Riley was working with Richard to expose corruption buried deep inside the legal system. Unaware that powerful people are out to stop her, she contacts Stella.
Vicky’s research confirms Stella’s worst fears. The people who should be upholding the law are turning it on its head.
Stella thinks she’s closing in on the truth. Then a horrific discovery threatens her very sanity. What began as a search for justice is now a raging thirst for revenge.
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6 MARCH, 2009
THE BABY’S CRYING was growing louder. It had taken on a frantic edge. Richard Drinkwater knew the translation off by heart.
Feed me! Feeed meee!
But he couldn’t.
Not till he got her home, anyway.
He didn’t have the equipment, as he liked to joke to his wife. But she’d gone back to work with the Metropolitan Police, leaving precisely measured-out bottles of her milk in the fridge each morning.
Now Lola was hungry and she wouldn’t stop screaming.
The traffic was murder. It was rush hour. And there’d been an accident somewhere to the north of them. It would have been quicker to unbuckle Lola from the car seat and walk her home. The lights up ahead seemed stuck on red. Even when they did turn green, one car, at most, managed to squeeze through.
“Come on, Lola,” he crooned. “Soon be home. Then you can fill up on Mummy Ultimate. Kristina will be there too, so you can snuggle up with her.” Sometimes he thought his daughter loved her nanny more than either of her hard-working parents. Either her or the giant teddy bear they’d christened, for no reason they could fathom, Mister Jenkins. When squeezed, the bear emitted a random sequence of squeaks, bleats and catlike mewing sounds that seemed to amuse Lola.
Lola paused in her efforts to burst either her lungs or her father’s eardrums. Drinkwater’s shoulders dropped a little and his stomach began to unclench. He checked the rear-view mirror of his five-year-old silver Fiat Panda, sitting up straight in his seat so he could catch sight of his three-month-old daughter. Her face was red and streaked with tears and snot. As he watched, she drew in a mighty breath and then let it out again in a scream so high-pitched it made him flinch. He caught a whisper of milky breath in his nostrils that made him smile despite the industrial noise issuing from his daughter’s tiny mouth.
A car behind him sounded its horn. Twice. One of those twin-tone numbers precisely calibrated to emit the most horrible discord possible. He angled the mirror so he could see the make. Bastard! It was a Porsche. Some rich git working in a bank and earning more in a week than he did in a year. Well, darling, his mother’s voice sounded deep inside his head, perhaps you should have become a criminal barrister instead of all that human rights nonsense. Then you’d be earning a proper living instead of scraping along the bottom looking after your so-called clients.
He slammed the car into first and lurched forward, closing the gap between him and the car in front, a big, shiny, royal-blue BMW.
Lola’s screaming had settled into a steady, metallic screech now. In for five, hold for a beat, let it out in a shriek until her throat caught and she coughed, choking and wailing to silence. Repeat till daddy has an aneurysm.
Then, a miracle. The traffic lights ahead turned green again, and instead of merely sitting there as they cycled through amber, red, red-and-amber, green, as had been happening for the last five minutes, the traffic moved off smoothly.
“Yes!” he shouted, slamming both open palms onto the steering wheel and bringing forth an even more desperate scream from the baby. “Oh, sorry, darling. But look, Daddy’s on the move again. We’ll soon be home and everything will be all right.”
As he approached the front of the queue, Lola screamed again. Would he have to wait through another red? he thought. No.We’re going. He put his foot down and surged towards the traffic light, smiling as he began to catch the car in front. He craned his head to snatch another look at his baby daughter in the mirror.
“Dada!” she said. Then she smiled, a wide, gummy expression of pure joy.
His eyes popped wide open. “What, Lola? Did you say ‘Dada’? Oh my God, your first words. In a traffic jam, too. Mummy’s going to have a fit.”
He accelerated across the box junction, heart full at the sound of his name on his daughter’s lips.
The light was on amber now, but that was just a ‘hurry up’ signal in this part of London.
The lights changed to red just as Richard Drinkwater reached the white line indicating where stopped traffic should wait. Oblivious to anything but his daughter’s renewed screams, he flew across the junction to a chorus of angry blasts on motorcycle and truck horns. He drove on for another mile or two, through gradually thinning traffic until he reached Putney. Turning off the High Street he heaved a sigh. The road ahead and behind was empty, as if somebody had barred anyone else from entering this little part of residential London.
Sticking the indicator on and singing to Lola, whose screams had subsided to a steady, muted keening, he turned into the street that led towards Oxford Road, and their house, and sped away from the junction.
Then it was his turn to scream.
Approaching on his side of the road was a car. It was being driven at speed. He swerved to avoid it.
But it was too little, too late.
The bang as the oncoming car slammed his offside rear wing with its own front end was loud enough to rattle windows in the houses each side of the street. He, himself, heard nothing. His slewing, bouncing progress across the street was terminated by a cast iron pillar box, manufactured during the reign of King George the Sixth, and as solid now as it was then.
The Fiat slammed against the kerb and left the ground. And the top of the pillar box punched in Drinkwater’s side window. It came free of its steel frame and splintered into razor-edged shards.
Richard Drinkwater’s last coherent thought was that Lola had stopped screaming. Then the top of the pillar box punched in the side window and met his head coming in the opposite direction at thirty miles per hour.
As people began to emerge from their houses, intent on rescue, Drinkwater’s corpse was catapulted nack against his seat, his skull smashed like an egg.
Detective Inspector Stella Cole was sitting at her desk on the Specialist Crime and Operations Division’s Homicide and Major Crime Command floor at Paddington Green Police Station. She was joking with a colleague about a recent case they’d closed.
“No way, Jake,” she said, laughing. “He’s as sane as I am. If that brief tries to plead insanity she’s going to get My Lady Justice Miranda Jeffery’s patent leather stiletto right up her Cambridge-educated arse.”
The paunchy, balding detective sergeant perching on a desk beside her spread his hands wide, revealing an expansive belly that stretched his grey shirt tight.
“You say that, Stel, but you weren’t there when we nicked him. I’m not saying he had his old mum’s corpse in a rocking chair but it wasn’t far off.” He raised his head and called across to another DS. “Oi, Frankie. Tell her. Wayne Stebbings’s flat. It was a right state wasn’t it?”
The female DS ambled over, hitching up her black polyester trousers, which had slipped down over her hips.
“He’s right, boss,” she said. “Stebbings had all these dildos and whatnot lined up on shelves.”
The male DS, Jacob “Jake” Tanner, grinned. “Go on, Frankie. Tell her the best bit.”
Frances “Frankie” O'Meara blushed. “There was one of those sex dolls, boss.”
“What, a blow-up one, you mean?”
“No. Like a real woman. Jointed and everything, looked like a sort of shop-window dummy.” The blush spread, deepening from a pale pink to a furious coral. “She … it, well it was all done up in underwear, boss. Like a tart’s, I mean. You know, stockings and suspenders, corset, the works.”
“Unbelievable,” Jake said. “And as for his porn stash, well, don’t let’s even go there, because…”
Frankie shushed him, her eyes signalling a warning. “Shut up, Jake.”
From the door leading to the rest of the station, Detective Chief Superintendent Adam Collier was signalling to Stella. His handsome face was stern, lips set in a straight line.
“Stella, could I have a word in private, please? My office?”
He turned on his heel and left.
“Wonder what that’s all about,” Jake said. “Is it true you’re going to confess to being the phantom KitKat stealer?”
“Fuck off, Jake,” Stella said, rising from her chair.
She reached DCS Collier’s office three minutes later, knocked once, then entered, as was station protocol when summoned by a senior officer for a private chat. Usually it meant either a promotion board was coming up or you were in the shit. But Stella hadn’t heard of any vacancies for a DCI and Collier hadn’t called her “DI Cole” either, so a bollocking wasn’t on the cards.
Collier was immaculate in his charcoal-grey suit. He always was. They called him “The Model” behind his back because he looked like he’d been recruited from an agency to promote a healthy and clean image of the Force. His white shirt gleamed in the light from the fluorescent tube above his head and the knot on his bright pink tie was a perfect equilateral triangle. He glanced up, found Stella’s eyes and held her gaze. His smooth-shaven cheeks looked tight and there were creases around his eyes that brought his upper lids down to darken their irises.
“Have a seat, Stella,” he said in a soft voice.
“Thank you, sir,” she said, frowning. “Everything okay? You heard my lot just nicked Wayne Stebbings for the Mannequin Murders?”
“Yes, yes I did. Excellent work. We can close Operation Palermo today. Really, very, I mean, yes, a great result.” He looked down at his fingers. “Look, I’m afraid I have some bad news. Normally we’d have a family liasion officer here and someone close to you, as well, but we go back, so…”
Stella’s pulse suddenly began bumping in her throat and a surge of adrenaline flushed through her body.
Oh, no. Please, God. Not Lola. Please not Lola.
“It’s the worst, I’m afraid.”
No. Anything but that. My house burnt down. I’m being kicked off the Force.
“There was a fatal traffic accident. Richard—”
That’s funny. Who turned the sound down? I can see your lips moving but I can’t hear what you’re saying. Why call me in about a FATACC anyway?
Stella sat very still in her chair watching as The Model’s mouth opened and closed. She could hear surf roaring in her ears, waves crashing in over shingle then shushing back out to sea again. Her hands gripped the hard, plastic arms until her knuckles turned the colour of bone. Slowly, oh so slowly, she let her head fall back on her neck until she was staring at the ceiling. There was a crack in one of the tiles that looked like a duck. Or maybe it was a rowing boat. Or Portugal. She drew in a deep breath. And groaned it out again. It wasn’t a scream. Not as such. More like the sound of an animal in pain. Her mouth hung open and she let the deep, wounded cry sail out from between her stretched lips.
Collier leapt to his feet and came round the desk to comfort her. He knelt in front of her and pulled her unresisting body towards him and hugged her tight. The moaning went on, even when her head flopped forwards like a rag doll’s and she buried her still-open mouth in his shoulder. Frankie O'Meara appeared at the door.
“Sir?” she asked, green eyes open wide at the incongruous sight that greeted her.
“Can you help me up, please, DS O'Meara? I’ve just had to give Stella some bad news. The worst. And maybe take care of her? I’ve got an FLO coming up to talk to her but, you know, a friendly face…”
As his words tailed off, Frankie came forward. She prised Stella away from Collier and hugged her shaking body to her chest.
“Come on, Stella. Let’s get you somewhere quiet where you can sit down. Then I’ll run you home.”
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