Imperfect Killing, page 1
An Imperfect Killing
A short story by Luke Delaney
An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
1 London Bridge Street
London SE1 9GF
First published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2016
Copyright © Luke Delaney 2016
Luke Delaney asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
This is entirely a work of fiction. Any references to real people, living or dead, real events, businesses, organizations and localities are intended only to give the fiction a sense of reality and authenticity. All names, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and their resemblance, if any, to real-life counterparts is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.
Ebook Edition © JANUARY 2016 ISBN: 9780007585816
Chapter One: November 2004
About the Author
Also by Luke Delaney
About the Publisher
As she entered the open-air car park in front of the TV studio where she worked, Sue Evans’ mind was already in the advanced stages of organizing her busy daily schedule: a production meeting first thing, followed by a script reading, rehearsals and finally filming. Her new consumer affairs show had been doing well in the ratings – increasing the value of her own stock even more. Her career had been steadily on the up for several years now, although it hadn’t always been easy: she’d had to survive equal amounts of sexism and sexual bribery to get where she was – her good looks concealing her toughness and determination; her tongue sharp enough to crush the strongest of egos if she was ever treated with disrespect or dismissiveness. She had become a polished act with one face for the watching public and another for the people she worked with.
She scanned her studio pass in front of the reader and waited for the barrier to lift automatically – the costly car park attendant long since dispensed with in favour of the mechanized system. Slowly she drove through the deserted parking area. At this time in the morning there were few other cars and seemingly no people around as she slid into her named space and turned the engine off. She gathered her belongings into her handbag, grabbed the script she needed from the passenger seat and sprang from the car – locking it and turning towards the studio entrance all in one well-practiced movement. But her carefree expression suddenly turned to one of horror. Both her script and bag fell from her arms, the contents spilling over the tarmac.
He stood in front of her dressed in a black boiler suit, black boots and a black balaclava that revealed only his eyes and lips. It was enough for her to recognize the man pointing a revolver at her face – the fear in his eyes matched by her own. ‘You,’ she managed to say before his gloved finger coiled around the trigger and squeezed slowly. A deafening blast shattered the morning peace, reverberating across the car park as a huge cloud of acrid smoke billowed around executioner and victim – the shooter almost dropping the revolver in shock at the sound and sight of the explosion.
At first she felt the stinging pain of burning all over her face and neck as she gasped for air. Then all she felt was the sensation of falling into darkness and the silent cold, as if she was drowning in a deep, frozen ocean. She tried to call for help, but no words escaped her lips. Moments later there was nothing at all, other than the sound of her own pulse growing weaker and weaker until that too had faded to nothing.
The shooter stood rigid, unable to move from where he stood, the revolver still stretched out in front of him. But as the smoke finally drifted away, he stepped forward to look at the prostrate figure on the ground. Her face was a mass of burnt flesh and tiny bleeding wounds caused by debris that had exploded from the end of the barrel at close range, and just below her right eye there was a larger hole the size of a ten pence piece where the main bullet had smashed through her cheek bone and entered her brain. He’d expected more blood, but there was only a trickle coming from the wound. Her lips moved as if she was trying to say something, but then she seemed to sigh, her entire body slumping before her chest fell still. And although he’d never seen anyone die before, he knew she was dead.
For a few seconds he stood over her, staring down at her body, the gun pointing at her ruined face, as if he feared she would somehow come back from the dead and he’d have to shoot her again. Then he managed to shake off the shock and re-gather his thoughts, trying to comprehend what he’d done, how he had been driven to this moment of madness that he would never be able to take back. His head span wildly as he checked the surrounding area. They were alone, but he knew it would only be a matter of seconds before people came to investigate – only minutes until the police arrived. So he turned and ran, fleeing like a terrified fox from the hounds towards London’s Southbank and safety. The feeling of joy and exhilaration he’d expected never came. Instead he felt sick with fear, sadness, and regret, and as he ran, he would have given anything to have been able to undo what he’d just done. The hopelessness of his situation pushed tears from his eyes, but he didn’t cry for her – his sorror and terror were just for himself. Only now that the anger had gone did he realize that he’d have to spend the rest of his life living with the fear of one day being caught.
Detective Sergeant Sean Corrigan parked on the edge of the police corden surrounding the car park, in front of the shimmering glass building of the television studio. He’d received a phone call informing him of the shooting less than an hour ago when he was still at home and had made his way straight to the scene. He shivered a little against the deepening cold of winter, pulling his thin raincoat closed with one hand as he flashed his warrant card to the two uniform constables and gave them his name for the crime-scene log book. He ducked under the blue and white tape, pausing to look around and assess the situation – already imagining what the scene would have looked like a little more than an hour ago, when someone had ended another person’s life. He didn’t know much yet, other than that the victim was female and that she’d been shot. Shootings were still rare enough to warn a detetecive that they were dealing with something more than another domestic murder or gang-related killing. The victim had been pronounced dead after the crash unit at the nearby Guy’s Hospital had failed in all attempts to revive her. One thing he immediately noticed was the unusually large volume of uniformed officers guarding the scene and the ever-increasing number of TV crews and journalists who were gathering close by. Clearly word had already got out that the victim was a somebody.
Sean strode across the tarmac to where he saw DCI Alan Featherstone standing with another detective from the team, DC Zack Benton, who always took pride in being the most smartly dressed detective on the team. Today was no exception. His clothes had been carefully selected to complement his dark, mahogany-coloured skin, and even his spectacles were a designer brand. As Sean grew close it was Fea
‘Morning,’ was all he said.
‘Morning, Sarge,’ Benton added before returning to look at the detritus of emergency medical care the paramedics had left behind.
‘Do we know who she is yet?’ Sean asked, ignoring their pleasantries.
‘Sue Evans,’ Featherstone answered mournfully.
‘The TV presenter?’ Sean checked.
‘The very same,’ Featherstone confirmed. ‘Good-looking woman, smart too. Damn shame. What a waste.’
‘And the shooter?’ Sean forged ahead.
‘We’re checking CCTV, but it looks like he came round the back of the building from the Southbank, ambushed her here in the car park, shot her and fled the way he came,’ Featherstone explained. ‘Dressed in a black boiler suit and balaclava. From what we know there was only one shot.’
‘There was a witness?’ Sean asked.
‘Not as such,’ Featherstone told him. ‘A security guard heard a gunshot, came out to investigate and found the victim on the ground. He checked the studio’s security CCTV system once she’d been taken to hospital. That’s pretty much where all our information’s coming from.’
‘Sounds like a professional,’ Sean suggested.
‘It does,’ Featherstone agreed. ‘Only who would want to hit a TV presenter?’
‘She did consumer affair shows, didn’t she?’ Sean pursued his own emerging theory. ‘Maybe she pissed off the wrong people?’
‘Did you ever see any of her shows?’ Featherstone asked.
‘No,’ he admitted. ‘Not my sort of thing.’
‘All pretty tame,’ Featherstone explained. ‘This vacuum cleaner’s better and cheaper than that vacuum cleaner. We’re not exactly talking organized crime here. Other than that she did “how to do up your house” crap – again, not the sort of thing to warrant a price on your head.’
‘Something else then,’ Sean acknowledged.
‘A domestic?’ Benton offered.
Sean and Featherstone both looked around the large open-air car park, shaking their heads. ‘I don’t think so,’ Sean told him. ‘Domestics are spur-of-the-moment outbursts of madness. This was planned and the use of a firearm—’
‘Not just a firearm,’ Featherstone interrupted, ‘a handgun – which pulls us back to a professional hit, despite the current lack of motive.’
‘Early days,’ Sean reminded them.
‘Early days indeed,’ Featherstone agreed, ‘but the vultures are already gathering.’ He looked over towards the gathering media. ‘The powers-that-be will want a quick and clean result on this one. No excuses. I seem to recall the last time a TV presenter got shot the investigation dragged on for a year before anyone was charged. Let’s not let that happen here.’
‘You already got someone gathering up the CCTV?’ Sean asked.
‘As we speak,’ Featherstone assured him.
‘Then I’m no good here,’ Sean told him. He turned and began to walk away.
‘Going somewhere I should know about?’ Featherstone sarcastically asked.
‘The mortuary,’ Sean answered, surprised Featherstone hadn’t guessed.
‘Good idea,’ Featherstone nodded once. ‘Let me know what you find. I’ll be briefing the team back at Peckham in a couple of hours. I’d appreciate it if you could try and be there.’
‘I’ll be there,’ Sean promised and headed back towards the edge of the cordon and his unmarked car. He was calm on the outside, but inside his mind was already spinning with possibilities: had she pissed off the wrong person, despite what Featherstone had said? Or had she attracted a deranged stalker? Or was it a lover, a rival, a business partner? Right now he didn’t have enough to even make a calculated guess. He needed more information and he knew exactly where to start.
Sean walked through the alleyways formed by the buildings at Guy’s Hospital, close to London Bridge. This was a part of the city that very few members of the public would ever see, the buildings that housed the huge laundry, the boiler rooms, the clinical waste incinerators and the place he was heading to – the mortuary. He’d been there before, but only ever as a detective constable – a bag carrier and note taker for whichever DCI or DI was heading up the case. As a DS this would be the first time he’d be able to ask his own questions without having to watch what he said – the first time he could let his imagination guide those questions. He pushed his way through a large set of oversized, floppy plastic swing doors and only took a few steps before he had to push his way through another set – the brightness of the mortuary ahead lighting his way. He strode into the large, clinical-looking room and took in his surroundings. The mortuary assistant who had been mopping the floor looked up first – the pathologist a few seconds after, giving Sean a glance of annoyance at having been disturbed from examining the battered and bloodied body that lay on the stainless steel table in front of him.
‘Can I help you with something?’ he asked impatiently.
Sean scanned the other stretcher trolleys in the mortuary, wondering under which green sheet Sue Evans’ body lay. ‘Doctor Canning, isn’t it?’ he asked as he walked towards him uninvited, pulling his warrant card free as he approached.
‘Do I know you?’ Canning demanded.
‘We’ve met before,’ Sean told him, standing on the opposite side of the operating table that looked more like a giant shallow sink, ‘although perhaps you don’t remember. DS Sean Corrigan. The last time we met I was a DC assisting the OIC at one of your post-mortems.’
‘You’re right,’ Canning agreed. ‘I don’t remember you, but I take it you’re here for a reason.’
‘Female gunshot victim,’ Sean explained. ‘Brought here this morning. Died in the Critical Care Unit after attempts to keep her alive failed.’
‘You mean the television presenter.’
‘Yes,’ Sean confirmed. ‘Her name was Sue Evans.’
‘Then I’m a little confused as to why you’re here,’ Canning frowned. ‘I haven’t scheduled her post-mortem yet and it almost certainly won’t be today. I have this unfortunate fellow to deal with first,’ Canning swept his hand across the corpse in front of him, ‘and then at least one more before I can get to your victim.’
‘I’m not here for the post-mortem,’ Sean assured him.
‘Then why are you here?’ Canning asked.
‘I wanted to see her,’ Sean explained. ‘Seemed the right thing to do.’
Canning sighed. ‘Maybe I can let you see her for a moment,’ he conceded, ‘but I need to finish here first.’
‘What happened to him?’ Sean asked, looking down at the severely injured body of a white man in his mid-thirties.
‘Fell from a twenty-second floor balcony of a local tower block,’ Canning answered. ‘Question is – did he jump or was he pushed?’
‘Drunk?’ Sean questioned.
‘By the look and smell of him when they brought him in, I’d say so.’
From the state of the corpse Sean could tell the man had probably been a semi-vagrant wanderer, housed in an unwanted council flat in a soon-to-be-demolished tower block. His death would be mourned by few.
‘He can wait,’ Sean told the pathologist coldly.
Again Canning sighed and began to pull his soiled latex gloves from his hands. ‘Very well,’ he relented, removing his surgical apron. ‘I’ll have to scrub up and put some new kit on. We wouldn’t want any cross-contamination, would we?’
‘No,’ Sean agreed, ‘and I appreciate you doing this.’
After several minutes Canning was washed, re-equipped and ready to show Sean the body. ‘I believe she’s over here,’ he said and headed towards the stretcher trolley in the far corner of the mortuary. Sean followed, standing on the opposite side of the covered body to Canning, who pulled the green sheet down just enough to reveal her head and upper shoulders. Sean could immediately see the extent of her injuries: severe burns covered her face, neck and the exposed areas of her shoulders –
‘Our information is that she was shot once,’ he explained, ‘with a bullet fired from a handgun. But these wounds look more like she was shot with a mixed round from a shotgun – one larger projectile packed into a cartridge with standard buckshot. The burn marks mean she was shot at very close range, so again it looks more like the weapon was a shotgun. Probably a sawn-off one at that judging by the spread of her injuries.’
‘It’s the first chance I’ve had to take a look at her,’ Canning nodded, ‘but I tend to agree with your hypothesis. Are you sure the weapon was a handgun?’
‘I’ve not seen the CCTV footage myself,’ he admitted, ‘but the security guard is apparently adamant it shows the suspect firing a handgun, not a shotgun.’
‘Then perhaps the gun misfired,’ Canning suggested, ‘or perhaps the bullet was a faulty dum-dum bullet – only instead of exploding inside the body, this one exploded inside the gun’s chamber, sending these tiny pieces of lead flying through the air and into the victim’s face.’
‘Or maybe it was a badly prepared homemade bullet that started to disintegrate as soon as it was fired,’ Sean countered.
‘Also a possibility,’ Canning agreed, warming to the young detective sergeant the more they discussed the dead woman’s injuries.
‘I need the bullet,’ Sean blurted out. ‘I need to take it with me today – now.’
‘That’s impossible,’ Canning laughed. ‘You’ll get the bullet at the post-mortem. You’ll have to wait until then.’
‘It can’t wait,’ Sean insisted. ‘I need the bullet now.’
‘I understand the bullet is important,’ Canning sympathized, ‘as it would be to any murder investigation, but why can’t it wait?’
Other author's books:
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