DCI Mary McClure just wants to catch the killer. Even if only to shake their hand.
The first night he’d seen her, she’d entered the hotel bar at 9:55. She’d sat at the counter, ordered some sort of gin-based cocktail that looked way too green to be pleasant, and asked the bartender to put the news on. After checking with the other customers present, which was basically our man here, the bartender changed the TV channel.
She looked across from the bar, said ‘Decompression time,’ and returned her attention to the news.
She drank in time with the news; a sip on the change of story, the last coinciding with the switch to local. She placed two five-pound notes on the bar and stood to leave. She gave the TV one last glance, mumbled, ‘Not in the news today; winner-winner,’ and left.
This caught our man’s interest. He asked the barkeep if perhaps she was working, if you know what he meant. Which the bar tender did, and: No, not as far he knew. She had been in the last two nights and had done the same. It would seem she was in town for a few days, perhaps a week for meetings with clients, business clients he had stressed, and each night she would come to the bar, request the news, and drink one gin-based cocktail. The typical behaviour of a business traveller, except perhaps she didn’t drink as much as others and always paid cash.
The next morning, he had sat in the foyer waiting to see if she was staying at the hotel and to perhaps get a shufti at colleagues or even a husband. At nine fifteen, having decided she probably had some god-awful breakfast meeting, he was about to go when the lift door opened and there she was. Her dress was simple, beautifully tailored yet well mannered. Entirely fitting for a day in a boardroom or a court or wherever professionals like her hung out.
As she passed him, she looked over and smiled a smile that shows recognition but without knowing from where. He smiled back, was about to explain, then thought better of it.
The entire day, he thought of nothing else. Distracted to the point where even his underlings noticed.
And now here he was, just gone nine on a Thursday evening and in she walked. No request for the news and instead of gin she asked for wine; a bottle, and not from the top of the list. Somehow, and it would be forever to his shame, he asked if she was going to drink the entire bottle alone.
‘Excuse me?’ she replied. And with those two words, he knew she was not of this parish.
‘I’m sorry. That was rude of me. I meant, no, perhaps…’ He gestured at the bottle.
‘Oh. I see. Well, I wanted to try this vineyard because it is so hard over there, but they only have bottles here. So, no, I’m not planning on drinking the whole bottle. Well, not alone.’ She smiled at him.
He smiled back, feeling a bit of dick, then she said, ‘OK, so you missed that. Will you join me? Perhaps two people with a bottle, looks a little better than a single woman at a bar with a bottle in front.’
And this was why he couldn’t believe his luck. Here he was, a middle-aged, middle-sized businessman, for want of a better word, chatting with a highly attractive, late-thirties transatlantic… Transatlantic what though? He wasn’t sure. But she sure was something. Five days of meetings had condensed to four, so tonight she could kick back, relax, drink a little wine, lose a little focus.
He asked about the previous night’s outburst after the news. She smiled an inward smile and said: ‘Hmm, that. Yeah.’
The conversation flowed. She knew a lot of English and British history and places and seemed to have travelled most of the country and deep into Europe and beyond. Never once did his lack of knowledge of such things get in the way of conversation, and he assumed she had been schooled somewhere old in the US. There was no other way to explain the manners and the way she held herself. Confident yet not belittling; inclusive.
They reached the end of the bottle and, so confident of himself, he suggested a second. And then immediately regretted it when he saw the look on her face. ‘Yeah, sure, but not that and perhaps not here.’ He thought she meant going on somewhere else, but the weather had taken a turn for the worse earlier in the day and the idea of getting coats from rooms would really put the mockers on.
‘How about I get a bottle of something sent to my room?’ and then realising what he had said, ‘Or your room, or here. Or, Jeez.’
‘Well, my room’s kinda small. I mean, I have a bed, a shower and a desk. No frills, because that is all they pay for.’
He realised that at this moment, not only had she not said no, but had left the door open for something else. ‘How about,’ he reached for the wine list and started from the bottom, ‘a bottle of Voovee Click Kwot?’
‘Veuve Clicquot?’ He nodded, acknowledging how poorly he had pronounced the Maison’s name. ‘Sure. Where?’
‘Well, I have a suite on the top floor. There’s a panorama window that looks out to the coast.’
‘Wow. That sounds great. Listen, I’ll finish up here. I’m getting this one, OK? You order the champagne and get it sent to your suite.’ She stressed the word. ‘Then I have to visit my room and I’ll see you in five?’
‘Yeah.’ He gave her his floor number and room name—it was that big a suite—and they parted; he to order the wine and she to settle her bill.
As they stood waiting for the lift, she asked: ‘Listen, how am I going to get to your room? Won’t I need a key to get to that floor?’
‘Hell, yes,’ and then. ‘No, it’s OK. We order the lift, select the floor with my key, then I give you it and you use it to get to the floor when you’re ready.’
‘And you get in your room, how?’
Shit. He realised he was going to have to make one definite problem disappear for a while, after they’d handed over their key. ‘I have a plan,’ he said, trying to appear mysterious, but probably pulling off dopey.
‘OK,’ she replied, a smile in her eyes.
And so, at the seventeenth floor, she exited the lift and disappeared down the corridor to her room to do whatever she needed to do.
He, on the other hand, had to deal with that one minor problem.
‘Look, open the door and then disappear, yeah?’ He addressed the man, a rather large man in a suit that was made for someone with less shoulder and more stomach.
Now, this didn’t sit so well with the doorman. Not because he was going to stop our man from entering his room; that would be dumb. No, because the last time he’d followed orders, he’d come back to a disaster that had taken hours to clean, a body to dump, and nightmares of the girl’s dead eyes as she sunk into the sea. And in this job, disappearances tended to become permanent with colleagues not asking about you.
‘Open the door and fuck off. I’ve got lucky,’ and to himself our man added, ‘I hope.’
‘And come back at eight. Have a night off. Here’s a monkey, get yourself some fun.’
It wasn’t £500. It looked like £100, but you don’t argue and off the doorman fucked.
Inside his suite, he chose two glasses from the cabinet, shaped like someone’s tit, aren’t they? and placed them on the sideboard. Then the table, then the sideboard again. Then said out loud: ‘Jesus, son. Get a grip.’
He spent a few minutes in the bathroom. One little blue triangle. A look in the mirror, a memory. Two little blue triangles and a prayer. He would have washed his hands, but light-coloured trousers don’t take kindly to getting wet.
The doorbell rang, and he raced to open it, only to be disappointed by room service with a bottle in a bucket and two flute-shaped glasses, and not her. But then he realised he can greet her with that famous line: ‘Champagne?’
Then he thought, ‘And Pringles.’ Yeah, a snack. Ladies like Pringles. He looked at the tub in the mini-snack-bar, picked it up to read the label: they were sour cream and chive. Hmm. And then noticed the price: Fuck Me, that’s got to be a pound each crisp. And then, realising that by taking the tube from the shelf he had effectively bought them already, he said Fuck Me again. And then the doorbell sounded once more.
This time, he sauntered to the door and opened it with what he hoped was debonair nonchalance.
He guided her to the sitting area of the suite, her heels clicking on the marble floor, and delivered his line.
‘Mmm, please. And Chips!’ And he realised the tub was still in his hand.
‘Hey? No, they’re… Oh, yeah.’
He poured two flutes—with minimal spillage—and she picked hers up by the stem. He followed suit, and they clinked their glasses together. ‘Cheers,’ almost in unison, and they both sipped the wine.
‘Now that is nice. Just. Oooh.’ She sighed.
To him, it tasted a little sour, and the bubbles were going to repeat if he wasn’t careful. Hopefully not with a belly full of oniony crisps. Because bollocks if he wasn’t going to eat them at that price.
She moved to the window that looked out from the room. The weather had changed, and the night was clear and crisp. The moon reflected on a calm sea, and the stars shone above. ‘Wow. I mean, no. Just. Wow.’ She paused. ‘Listen to me like a teenager from the valley.’
‘It’s something, isn’t it? You see the wheel at the end of the pier? My grandad had a hand in that.’ He was fighting with the tube. Jesus, but they built them tough.
‘Wow, local boy. Know your way around things?’ It was the voice of silk brushing against your skin. Was that the triangles kicking in? ‘Tell me, have you ever had a champagne BJ?’
‘Fuck. What? Fuck.’ He was standing in a mess of processed potato snack.
‘Oh dear. You seem to have popped your load onto the floor.’ She smiled from the eyes down. ‘I asked, “Have you ever had a champagne BJ?” With cold bubbles tickling your tip?’
‘Err, no. No, I haven’t,’ he stammered out.
‘Well. Come here and get to answer that next time with a “Yes”.’
She took her glass of champagne to the window and knelt down. She looked over, smiled, and took a sip from the glass. ‘I’m waiting.’
Oh sweet Jesus. But. ‘By the window?’
‘Hey. Who’s going to see us? Up here. Scared?’
‘Me? Nah.’ But also, yes.
She took another sip. ‘Champagne’s getting warm,’ she said.
And that settled it, and your man, blue triangles mostly kicking in, strode his way to the window and stood in front of her. She looked up and smiled. ‘There ya go,’ she said, reaching for his fly.
Not the sound of unzipping, but that of glass breaking and his head snapping back and the squish of bone and brain and remnants of eye hitting the marble floor. He crumpled with a small hole in his right eye and a large hole in the back of his skull.
She looked out of the now shattered window. The darkened glass, having been removed by the bullet, gave a better view of the tower block to the left. Looking hard, she could just see the dim glow of a night-scope, and then it was gone. Brian had done his job and disappeared.
Glancing at the almost full bottle, she said, ‘Now that is a waste.’ Her voice had no trace of American. East coast or west.
She lifted her glass to the corpse, saluted, finished the drink, then knelt next to the body. ‘Do you know?’ she said in a thick Scouse accent to the remaining, yet admittedly, dead eye. ‘I fuckin’ hate my job. I’m thinking of jackin’ it in.’
She turned to the door of the suite and traced her steps, checking what she might have touched in her time here. Not the furniture, not the door, and not the Pringles.
‘Just the glass,’ a voice said in her ear.
‘Wires?’ she asked.
‘Hello, Jem,’ the voice replied. Your man had been too busy looking at her breasts to notice the hearing aid she now wore.
Jem looked up and around the room, scanning for where Wires may have placed his equipment. Even though she knew what Wires used, she never spotted it. She stared at the emergency exit sign over the door.
‘Not even close.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘Have you checked the playback?’
‘Yeah. Just the glass. You didn’t touch anything else.’
That had been the plan. The used glass she’d take with her. There was a clean replacement in her bag.
Jem opened her bag, put on a pair of latex gloves, and extracted a new glass, all wrapped in tissue. She picked up the old glass, wrapped it, then placed it into her handbag. The new glass went back on the tray, next to the bottle. One bottle, two glasses ordered; only one used. She saw the mark had left two further glasses on the sideboard. Well, that would have made things interesting.
Through the spyglass, and careful not to touch the door, Jem checked the corridor was clear.
‘You could have asked,’ said Wires.
She left and walked head down to the lift. She selected the seventeenth floor and when the doors opened on her floor, she walked from the lift to the stairs and down three flights. Her room was on the fourteenth floor.
Room 1408 had the both the ‘Do Not Disturb’ and ‘No Housekeeping’ signs on the handle. Jem didn’t want anyone entering and having a nose.
In the room, on the floor, and on top of a posh Lilo, was Jem’s sleeping bag.
In the suitcase in the corner, Jem found a bottle and took that to the bathroom. On her exit, she placed the filled - and tightly secured - bottle on the other side of the case. Clean and fresh on one side, used on the other. She pitied the poor sod that had to empty it.
Standing on a mat, she removed her wig, the dress, and her underwear, and got into a onesie. The most clinical looking onesie known on earth. Made of cotton, it allowed her skin to breathe, but captured any skin cells. Sleeping in the bag, dressed in a onesie, and peeing in a bottle. All so she didn’t leave a trace. What a life she led. No wonder she was tired of it. Had been making plans for months. This one last job and out before her luck ran out. You can only do this for so long before things catch up with you.
Early in the morning, she zipped everything and left the hotel. The bill was prepaid, there were no additions, and she didn’t stop by the desk. She showed mild interest in the incoming gang of police, because who wouldn’t?
Recently promoted Detective Chief Inspector Mary McClure stood at the barrier to the bedroom. This was as close to the crime as she’d get over the coming days. As SIO, she would be back at base, marshalling the troops as they performed the investigation. Like a general at war, she would receive updates from the front, not seeing the front until the battle was done. And how she missed it.
From the door, she couldn’t see much of the bedroom. No, suite, not Bed-Room. Otherwise, you’d call it either the Dining-Table-Room, the Excessively-Large-Sofa-Room, or, for some fumbled up reason, the Half-size-Pool-Table room. She’d seen the pictures on the hotel website. And the price.
As she tried to make sense of the layout, a figure dressed in the full crime scene kit approached.
‘Detective Chief Inspector,’ the figure said.
‘Aww, my rank’s not my name. Never has been. You never called me Sergeant, Inspector or any of the other badges.’
‘This one’s special, though, eh?’
‘You know they only gave me it cause there was no-one else?’
The figure nodded.
‘And look at you. Still constable after all these years.’ Still in the field, ya bast-ed turkey.
‘What can I say? I love the smell of shit in the morning.’
She looked past him and into the room. Where it did indeed smell of shixcrement. Something they don’t explain in the movies. ‘Tell me.’
The gnome sniffed. ‘IC 1 male. Single gunshot to the head. No sign of a struggle.’
‘They knew their attacker?’
A shrug. ‘The window’s blown out.’
‘I thought you said there was no struggle.’
‘Most of the glass is in the room…’
‘Shot from outside? How high are we up?’ Don’t say it. ‘A hit?’ Oh, you daft bovine, you said it.
‘Too early to tell.’ Then, ‘Guv?’
‘S’better. Anything else?’
‘Bottle of champagne in a bucket with two glasses. One poured, one empty. Two more on the sideboard.’
‘He was expecting company?’
‘Pringles all over the floor.’
‘Classy. You started processing?’
‘Once the window’s sealed. There’s a gale blowing, and that’s not helping. Course, got to process the window first.’
Mary looked up at the ceiling; it was a good twelve feet high. Fixing plastic to the window would require effort. ‘Anything else?’
‘We know him. Knew him.’
DC William Fogarty said two words to DCI Mary McClure.
‘Aww. Fuc-rying out loud. That’s me on the death knock, then.’