Under orders, p.12

Under Orders, page 12


Under Orders

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  Gloved fists with brass knuckle-dusters, I thought. That fitted; there was too much damage for fists alone.

  “I went down on my knees and he ran off. It was quite a while before I could stand up and make it the twenty yards home.”

  If I’d had a spare hand, I would have held hers.

  Geoffrey beat us to the Cancer Research Institute from his home in Highgate, but Marina kept him waiting as she electronically signed in to the building.

  “Some experiments need constant monitoring,” she said, “so the labs are always open. Some of the staff almost live here at times.”

  “My, my,” Geoffrey said, seeing Marina in the light. “That’s quite a face. Is this a police job, Sid?”

  “No,” both Marina and I said together.

  “Walked into a door, did you?” Geoffrey said sarcastically. “Correction. Two doors. Very careless.”

  We went up in the elevator with Geoffrey, tut-tutting under his breath.

  We walked down endless corridors with cream walls and blue vinyl flooring. Half of the corridor floor space was taken up with rows of gray filing cabinets interspersed by three-foot-high cylinders with yellow triangular warning labels stuck on them: LIQUID NITROGEN—DANGER OF ASPHYXIATION. Marina punched numbers into another electronic lock that agreed with a beep to give us entry to her domain.

  She flicked on the stark, overhead fluorescent lights and went to sit at one of the laboratory benches, where she carefully removed the plastic bag from her pocket and put it in a fridge.

  “That will keep it fresh for a while,” she said. “OK, Doc, do your worst.”

  Geoffrey worked for nearly half an hour, cleaning and tidying up the wounds, injecting some local anesthetic, and finally closing the gaps with two rows of minute blue stitches. I had brought my camera up from the car and, much to Marina’s annoyance, I took a series of shots as her wounds were transformed from an ugly, bleeding mess to two neat lines, one horizontal in her eyebrow and the other vertical through her lower lip. With a rapidly blackening eye, she looked like one of those advertisements for wearing seat belts.

  “There,” he said at last. “I’ll have to take them out again in about five or six days but you won’t be able to spot the scars in a few weeks.”

  “I thought stitches dissolved these days,” Marina said.

  “Those are mostly used for internal stitching,” he replied, “and staples are ugly and tend to leave scars. Nothing like good old-fashioned catgut stitches if you want to leave no trace, or this blue nylon as we tend to use these days. And don’t tie them too tight or they pull. These should be fine.”

  “Thank you,” said Marina. “Can I get back to work now?”

  “Sure,” said the doctor, “but those might be a bit sore when the anesthetic wears off. And I should give you a tetanus shot, unless you’ve had one within the last ten years.”

  “I have no idea,” said Marina.

  “Well, you’d better have one just to be sure. I brought some with me.”

  He stuck a preloaded hypodermic needle into Marina’s bottom as she bent over a lab bench.

  “What do you do here?” he asked. “Reminds me of medical school.”

  “This is a hematology lab,” she said. “We look at blood to try and find a marker for various types of cancer. We take blood cells and cut the proteins into amino acids chains using the enzyme trypsin. Trypsin is, of course, a protein itself.”

  Of course, I thought.

  “We look at the chains of amino acids that make up the proteins and see if there are markers that are certain cancer specific. We pass the chains through this mass spectrometer.” She pointed at a long, gray cabinet that reminded me of a Deepfreeze. “It determines the relative masses of each chain, and if there is a variation we are not expecting this may be the marker we are looking for.”

  I was completely lost, but Geoffrey seemed to understand and he was nodding furiously as he moved around inspecting the mass spectrometer from every angle.

  “Glad to see my taxes are going to a good home,” he said.

  “No, no!” said Marina. “This institution and all the research we do here is funded by charitable contributions from the public to Cancer Research UK. We are not supported by taxation. It’s very important to us that people know that.”

  “Sorry,” said Geoffrey. “I stand corrected.”

  Marina nodded and took the plastic bag out of the fridge.

  “Now, from this little lot,” she said, getting back to her “in lab” mode, “what I want is a DNA profile. DNA is the code for making cells. Proteins are the bricks from which the cells are built. The DNA strands are the architect’s plans that show how the bricks go together to build the cell structures.”

  “So people with different DNA have different cell structures?” I asked.

  “Absolutely,” she said. “Different DNA produce different-looking people due to slight differences in their architect’s plans. Nearly all the DNA in each person is the same so we all have the same sort of cells—muscles, nerves, skin and so on. We all have two eyes and one nose. It’s just the teeny-weeny differences in the codes that produce our different characteristics, like blue or brown eyes; blondes, brunettes or redheads; black or white skin; short, tall—everything. It’s these minute differences that are distinctive to an individual and it is these differences that allow us to produce a DNA profile that is like a fingerprint: unique.”

  Marina was on a roll. “I can use restriction enzymes like EcoR1 to cut the DNA strands in this sample into what we call polynucleotides. Then I’ll put them in an agarose gel matrix, a sort of jelly, for electrophoresis. The polynucleotides are charged so they’ll migrate, or move, in the electric field. The amount they migrate is dependent on the size and shape of each polynucleotide. Imagine that the gel acts as a sort of sieve: the bigger the polynucleotide, the less distance it will migrate.”

  Geoffrey was still nodding. I wasn’t.

  “So in the gel matrix you get separation of polynucleotides into different bands. Then you bake the matrix onto a sheet of nitrocellulose paper to give a permanent pattern of lines where the bands are.”

  “How does that help?” I was out of my depth here, I thought. Give me a poor jumping novice chaser over Aintree fences any day.

  “Everyone has slightly different DNA, so everyone has a different pattern. In criminal cases, they say that the odds of two different people having the same pattern is more than sixty million to one. Unless, of course, you have identical twins. They will have matching patterns because their DNA is exactly the same; that’s what makes them identical. However, what I’m doing wouldn’t be acceptable as evidence in court. The law requires much stricter systems for producing the profile to prevent cross contamination. This one will be contaminated with my DNA, for a start. I’ll have to do another pattern of just my DNA so I can subtract my lines to leave those of our friend alone.”

  “Our friend?” asked Geoffrey.

  “The door,” I said.

  “Door? What door?” Poor Geoffrey was getting very confused.

  “The door Marina walked into, twice.”

  “Ah.” The penny dropped. “Yes, the door, our friend. Good. Well done.”

  I wasn’t sure if he understood or not, but he seemed happy to wander around the lab as Marina worked away with the fingernails. She then scraped some cells from the inside of her cheek to do another profile of her own DNA alone.

  “It will take several hours now for the polynucleotides to migrate in the gel matrix. We’ll have the results next week.”

  “What will they give us?” I asked.

  “Nothing on their own,” she said, “but if we get more samples and one of them matches, then, bingo, we have our man.”

  “So all I have to do is go around asking everyone for a DNA sample.”

  “You don’t have to ask,” said Marina. “Just pluck out an unsuspecting hair. As long as the root follicle is still attached, there will be enough cells present to get
a profile.”

  “Is that legal?” I asked.

  “No. Strictly speaking, it’s not,” she said. “The Human Tissue Act makes it illegal to hold a sample for the purpose of producing a DNA profile without the consent of the donor.” She waved her hand at her work. “All this has technically been illegal but I’m not telling.”

  “Me neither,” said Geoffrey flamboyantly. “Doctor/patient confidentiality, don’t you know.”


  MARINA AND I went back to Ebury Street while Geoffrey returned home to Highgate.

  “See you next week to take the stitches out,” he had said as he got into his Volvo. “Take care with that girl of yours. I’ll send you my bill.”

  He hadn’t sent me a bill for years.

  We arrived back home at about ten-thirty, far too late to go out to eat, as I had planned.

  “Package for you, Mr. Halley,” said the night porter as we arrived. Derek had gone off duty.

  The package was, in fact, a brown manila envelope about seven by ten inches. It had SID HALLEY—BY HAND written in capital letters on the front.

  “When did this arrive?” I asked the porter.

  “About five minutes ago,” he said. “It came by taxi. The driver said he had been paid to deliver the package and that you were expecting it.”

  “Well, I wasn’t.”

  I opened the flat envelope. There was a single sheet of paper inside. It was a newspaper cutting from Monday’s Pump. It was the picture of Marina and me walking down the road, hand in hand. This copy had some additions.

  “Listen to the message. Someone could get badly hurt” was written across the bottom of the picture in thick red felt-tip.

  And a big red X had been drawn across Marina’s face.


  * * *

  When in trouble, seek sanctuary.

  I decided we should go to Aynsford.

  Marina had become very agitated on seeing the newspaper cutting. She was sure that we were being watched and I agreed with her. She packed a few clothes while I rang Charles.

  “What, now?” he asked. Charles was old-fashioned, in so far that his house telephone stood on a table in the hallway and I could imagine him glancing at his longcase grandfather clock. It would have told him that it was after ten-thirty, almost his bedtime.

  “Yes, Charles. Now, please.”

  “Physical or mental problem?” he asked. He knew me too well.

  “Bit of both,” I said. “But it’s not me; it’s Marina.”


  “I told you about her last week,” I said. “She’s Dutch and beautiful. Remember?”

  “Vaguely,” he said.

  Was he trying to make me cross?

  “I suppose it’s all right,” he said without conviction.

  “Look, Charles, we won’t come. Sorry to have bothered you.”

  “No,” he said, sounding a bit more determined. “Come. Does this Dutch beauty need her own room or are you two … together?”

  “Charles,” I said, “you’re losing your marbles. I told you last week. We’re together.”

  “Right. So it’s one room, then?”


  Suddenly it didn’t seem to be a good idea anymore. Charles was being very reticent and I certainly did not want to abuse his hospitality. Perhaps bringing a new girlfriend into the house of my ex-father-in-law was not, after all, very prudent.

  “Charles, perhaps it would be best if we didn’t come.”

  “Nonsense,” he said. “I’m expecting you now. Looking forward to it. How long will you be staying?”

  “Only for the weekend, I expect.”

  “Jenny and Anthony are coming on Sunday.”

  Ah, now I understood. Jenny, my ex, had always put her father in a spin. In the Navy, he had been at the center of command and control, but he could be reduced to a gibbering wreck by the cutting tongue of his only daughter. Just the thought of her imminent arrival had sent him into a fluster.

  “What time on Sunday?” I asked.

  “Oh, for dinner, I think. Mrs. Cross has the details.”

  Mrs. Cross was his housekeeper.

  “We’ll be gone by then.”

  It would save a scene that Jenny would have relished. Not my injuries this time but my girlfriend’s. How delicious, she would think. The former Mrs. Halley, the current Lady Wingham, would have had a field day.

  “Oh, right. Good.” Charles, too, could see that it was an encounter best avoided.

  “We’ll be there in an hour and a half,” I said. “Leave the back door open and I’ll lock it when we get in. No need for you to stay up.”

  “Of course I’ll be up. Drive carefully.”

  As if I wouldn’t. Just because someone says “drive carefully,” does it make people actually drive more carefully? I suspect not.

  We left the lights on in the flat and went down through the building to the garage. Marina lay down on the back seat of the car as I drove out onto Ebury Street. Anyone watching would have thought I was on my own and assumed that Marina was alone upstairs.

  I jumped two sets of red lights and went around Hyde Park Corner three times before I was satisfied that we weren’t being followed.

  I drove, very carefully, along the M40 to Oxford and then crosscountry to Aynsford, arriving there soon after midnight. Marina, having transferred to the front passenger’s seat, slept most of the way but was finally woken by the constant turning of the narrow lanes and the humpback bridge over the canal as we approached the village.

  “Nearly there, my angel,” I said, stroking her knee with my unfeeling hand.

  “My bloody mouth hurts.”

  “I’ll get you something for that as soon as we get in.”


  CHARLES WAS NOT only still up but he was still dressed, and in a dark blue blazer and tie.

  No one could ever accuse Charles of being underdressed. He had once worn his dinner jacket to a “formal” dinner for his great-nephews. The formality of the dinner meant that the great-nephews had to use a knife and fork rather than their fingers, and Charles had looked a little out of place at Pizzaland in his bow tie. He hadn’t cared. Better to be over- than under-, he’d said, better than wearing a business suit to a Royal Naval “Dining In” night, better than wearing a sweater to church.

  He came out to meet us as I pulled up in front of the house and fussed over Marina. He was genuinely shocked that anyone could have hit a woman, especially one clearly so beautiful as Marina. Her face didn’t look very beautiful at the moment, with a badly swollen lip and two blackening eyes. I knew it would look worse in the morning.

  “It’s outrageous,” he said. “Only a coward would hit a woman.”

  Charles was a great believer in chivalry. He didn’t care that many of his ideals were out-of-date. He had said to me once that, at his age, people expected him to have old-fashioned views so he didn’t disappoint them.

  Charles found some painkillers and a sleeping pill for Marina and she was soon tucked up in bed. Charles and I retired to his small sitting room for a whisky.

  “I hope I’m not keeping you up,” I said.

  “You are,” he replied, “but I’m happy to be kept up. What’s this all about?”

  “It’s a long story.”

  “It’s a long night.”

  “Do you remember Gold Cup day at Cheltenham?” I asked.

  “Difficult to forget.”

  “Huw Walker was murdered over something to do with race fixing. Murder seems to be a bit of an overreaction for a little fiddle on the horses, so I think there must be something more to it than that.”

  “How can you be sure it was something to do with fixing races?” Charles asked.

  “Because Huw left two messages on my London answering machine the night before he died and as good as said it was. He was frightened that someone might kill him for not doing as he was told.”

  “I thought Bill Burton had killed him for playing aroun
d with his wife.”

  I raised my eyebrows, both at the fact that Charles had heard the rumor and the way he expressed it.

  “So someone told me,” he added. He had clearly used their exact turn of phrase.

  “Look,” I said, “I think Huw’s murder was premeditated. Bill Burton didn’t believe that, as you say, Huw was playing around with his wife until just before the first race that afternoon. Bill couldn’t have suddenly magicked a gun out of thin air. And Huw certainly left the first message on my answering machine hours before Bill had any hint that there was an affair going on between him and Kate. It wasn’t Bill that Huw was frightened of. So I think we can discount the tidy solution that Bill killed him.”

  “But Burton was bloody angry with Walker for winning on Candlestick. I saw it myself.”

  “No, he wasn’t. He was bloody angry because he had just found out it was true that Kate and Huw had been at it.”

  “Oh.” Charles went over to the drinks tray and poured two more large single malts. It was indeed going to be a long night.

  “Bill Burton was murdered as well,” I said. “I’m sure of that, too. It was made to look like a suicide, but it wasn’t.”

  “The police seem to think it was, or so everyone says at the racetrack.”

  “I’ve been doing my best to cast doubts as to the accuracy of that theory. That’s why Marina got beaten up. It came with a message to me to leave things be, to stop sticking my nose into Huw’s death and allow Bill to carry the can.”

  “So that the case will be closed and the guilty party will still be free?”

  “Exactly,” I said.

  “So are you?”

  “Am I what?”

  “Are you going to stop sticking your nose into Huw’s death?”

  “I don’t know.”

  I swallowed a mouthful of Glenmorangie’s best ten-year-old and allowed the golden fluid to send a shiver around my body, the prelude to a comforting warm glow that emanated from deep down. I realized that I had eaten hardly anything all day and that drinking on an empty stomach was a surefire way to a hangover. But who cared?

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