DETECTIVE SERGEANT MALCOLM MCKARN of the Metropolitan police serious crime squad had no sooner arrived home after working deep into the night, writing up the report on their last case, when the telephone rang.
His first reaction was to screw up his face and pray to whatever deity was listening to make it the Samaritan's; at least they could be told to piss off without getting upset. His second was to ignore it, but logic suggested that at this time in the morning it was certainly not going to be a call centre on the other end trying to sell him one of Russia's left over nukes; it had to be something work related, "McKarn?"
"Didn't wake you Malc, did I?"
Malcolm heard his own voice distort badly as a really long yawn began, and it promised to be one of those that went on for eternity. "Harry mate, if this is some sort of joke, I'm going to rip your lungs out the minute I clap eyes on you tomorrow..." he looked at his watch, "...Make that, later today."
He and Harry went back a long way, from Hendon to the present day in fact, and what was worse was knowing him to be possibly the most serious man on the planet, "No joke sunshine," said Harry.
It was only then that Malcolm realised he'd started shivering. His latest economy drive had him turning off the central heating before retiring in a vain attempt to keep the heating bills down to somewhere near payable. As a result of this frugality, the flat was bitterly cold and with it still only early January, Mother Nature's free warmth was still a long way away.
"Come on then," he urged, "Out with it, me and brass monkeys have got a lot in common at the moment."
"You and that miserable bleeder you work for have been ordered on an away mission. You're going travelling you lucky sod."
"To a faraway forgotten land called, 'The North' but apparently the locals call it 'God's country'. Although I was up there for a few months one Tuesday afternoon and I have my doubts as to whether such an eminent figure would ever want to live somewhere like that for any length of time. The chances of him catching pneumonia would be very high for one thing and I'm not sure his daddy would have allowed him to use one of his miracle cures on himself."
Not for the first time since working with Inspector David Charles had Malcolm felt like giving up and becoming a shelf stacker at the local Ann Summers sex shop. It was bad enough having to suffer the man through a policeman's normal 27 hour day, the thought of having to spend his 'down time' with him as well filled him with dread.
Malcolm was just starting to wonder if it was too late to transfer to the Mounties when Harry called down the line, "I know you're still there mate, I can hear you crying!"
Malcolm instantly gave up trying to think of ways out of the mission and muttered, "Sorry mate, carry on."
Harry tutted, "This has come from the very top sunshine. Apparently, the body of a female has been found in a ditch in the middle of nowhere, which pretty much describes the whole of the north actually. I remember when I was up there, people didn't live in towns and cities, they lived in settlements... Anyway, the nearest village to where the body was found is Wendesly, I did a check and there are a couple of places where you and Charles can bed down. There's a pub and a small hotel come guesthouse come crap hole."
"Any idea why our northern outposts ain't dealing with this themselves, mate?"
"Not really, possibly something to do with staffing problems, as if we ain't got enough problems in that area ourselves.
I've really no idea," Malcolm heard him take a puff of a cigarette; something that was now totally illegal in the office and meant he was alone. "But whatever the reason," he continued, "If I was you I would get my skates on, collect soppy bollocks and get your arses up there. Oh and by the way, something I did forget..."
"The boss man said and I quote, 'Tell DI Charles not to go racking up the expenses on this one. If he gets any sort of comeback from Newcastle he's going to sack him'.
"If only," Malcolm said dryly, "The boss man obviously doesn't know the D.I like I do. He may well book us into somewhere smart for expenses but he'll have us living in a tent. Anyway, why are you telling me all this and not Davey boy himself?"
"I am far too young to have a death wish. If that geezer has got to be called at this ungodly hour then it ain't going to be me doing it. You're his DS and that makes it your job."
After hanging up, Malcolm stood tapping the phone with his forefinger while deciding if the call should be made now or when he was ready to leave but finally decided on neither. There would be no point ringing him anyway, the man would only go back to sleep again whatever time it was. Malcolm made his way to the bedroom and threw a few essentials into an overnight bag. Shivering fit to shake something loose, he realised the only consolation to this jaunt was that his heating could remain off. This thought worried him; it wasn't quite what a normal person would have in mind when preparing to pop off a few hundred miles to inspect the decomposing body of a young girl. He sighed heavily and watched his breath as it gently floated up towards the ceiling, 'If I get any worse,' he thought, 'I'll tell the shrink I've been working with David, that should do it.'
Twenty minutes later he was making his way across the not so deserted streets of the capital towards Pimlico where DI David Charles lived and after passing to the rear of Victoria Station, Malcolm pulled into a small mews and stopped the car outside number 27.
Switching off the engine, he sat for a moment or two looking from one window of the mews cottage to the next hoping to see some sign of life; which was of course; a total waste of time at this hour of the night.
The digital clock in the car read half past three and it occurred to him that even condemned men don't have to face their worst nightmare until six! Malcolm found himself wishing his father had been that much firmer with him when he had suggested a career in the Navy.
Albeit reluctantly, he realised sitting there forever was not an option, so he forced himself to vacate the warmth of the car to stand outside the small, slightly lopsided, gaily painted mews cottage. He worked on building up the courage to begin the task of waking his boss and trying not to do the same to his neighbours, as they had already lodged several complaints against the man for noise and bad behaviour.
Taking a deep breath, Malcolm stepped forward and jammed his finger on the doorbell. A sound normally muted by the cities daily activity but in the dead of night would echo around the confines of the ex-stable and tomorrow, more complaints would end up of the Super's desk.
It was after his fifth attempt that he started to hear the feint sounds of someone stirring within, so he took a couple of paces to his rear in order to see the upper windows again, and sure enough there was now a dim light showing through the thin drawn curtains.
A few moments later Malcolm was illuminated like an actor on stage as the exterior security light came on. Seconds later David pulled the door open. He did not look happy.
"What the fuck do you want?" He asked scratching his bollocks and yawning, "Have you any idea what the sodding time is?" He demanded angrily before adding in a quieter tone, "What time is it anyway?"
Malcolm pushed past his boss, "Getting on for four." He replied luxuriating in the warmth of the cottage's interior.
David frowned and shook his head savagely to remove the sleep from his brain, "Okay, so do you mind telling me..." he started still hanging on to the open front door. But Malcolm interrupted him by pointing at the darkened mews outside.
"I'd close that if I were you mate; you're liable to get arrested for indecent exposure." Malcolm walked through the room to the kitchenette, which apart from a cupboard under the stairs, made up the entire ground floor of the property and switched on the kettle.
David looked down at his attire that consisted of nothing more than a baggy pair of Y fronts that had seen better days and a matching vest. He quickly closed the door. "If you've come to tell me that fat bird you've been knocking off is pregnant...," he warned walking through the lounge, "...Then the only advice I can give you is to deny everything. She probably can't spell DNA anyway."
Malcolm decided to ignore the remark "You've got to get dressed." He said simply, "I've had a phone call."
David sighed, "Oh no, what the fuck's the matter with these people? When will they learn? What is the point of calling us to the scene in the middle of the sodding night? Are they afraid the stiff might wake up or something? Do they not know that if a person is dead at twenty to four in the sodding morning, they will still be dead at nine?"
Malcolm removed two cups from the wall cupboard. "I'm not listening to this; you say the same thing every time."
David grabbed the spoon out of Malcolm's hand and began spooning coffee granules into the two mugs, "And another thing, what the fuck is everyone else at the nick doing?"
"I get the impression we're all in the same boat," replied Malcolm getting the milk from the fridge. "Just lately there seems to have been a spate of murders in the borough. It'll make a change though if this one isn't drug related."
"Of course it'll be drug related. Ever since them things have been coming into the country some bastard wants to take some other bastard out." He suddenly changed topic, "Why are you still going out with that fat bird? Are you on some government grant or something, endangered species perhaps?"
Malcolm had no intention of explaining about Griselda, "I wish you would pay more attention to your own relationships rather than mine."
"My relationships?" David repeated, chuckling to himself, "I can't even remember how they work. Isn't it something to do with chatting up some tart and trying to get her between the sheets as fast as you can without letting her know how much doe ray me you've got in the bank, or your second name?"
"Why don't you go and get ready while I finish making this coffee? And be sure to put some bits in an overnight bag, there's no knowing how long we're going to be away for."
David nodded, "Okay," he said pointing to the cups. "And don't go using all my sugar."
He turned towards the stairs but then stopped dead, "Away? Away where? Where is this place we don't know how long we're going to be there for?"
"It's no big deal; it's just a little north of London."
"How far just a little north of London? We don't pack for an overnight for anywhere south of Luton normally."
"Newcastle upon Tyne."
David's mouth fell open, "Newcastle upon sodding Tyne!" He was almost yelling. "But that's like...a billion miles away, the fucking moon's closer. They speak another language up there that's nothing like sodding English. They got one of them geezer's in the river section. He trapped me once while we were on the way to a floater, talked at me all the way up to Hampton Court about the sky rats him and his old man used to breed, although I don't think he meant personally. Christ I nearly shot him. What the hell are we doing going all the way up there? What's wrong with the locals, they sold all their truncheons or something?"
Malcolm was already feeling the effects of lack of sleep and didn't want to get involved in any pointless arguments when he didn't have the answers, "I've no idea. So can you please go and get ready? I got the impression that if we ain't up there as near as fuck it after daylight cometh; they're going to be none too happy."
DAVID DISAPPEARED BACK UP to the first floor at the same time that the kettle clicked off. Malcolm poured the boiling water onto the granules; put a single sugar into one of them and four into his own. 'Sod you!' he thought picking the cup up and walking back into the lounge area 'I need the energy'.
Not wishing to get too comfortable on the sofa, he chose instead an old leather bound swivel chair stationed in front of an old Remington typewriter, which in turn was perched on an old Victorian bureau.
Still in the machine was a sheet of A4, and with nothing else to occupy his mind until his lord and master was ready to leave, he began to read what someone, presumably David, had typed,
...He had got away again. The Inspector was out of breath and while leaning up against the door jamb remembered just how close he'd come to shooting him earlier. Now that his prey had escaped; he started to wish that he had. No one would have cared; it was just another spy that would be looking at the end of a rope. He took in his surroundings and realised he'd entered a building that had recently been bombed and could collapse at any time. There was no way he wanted to turn back but not being a young man anymore, chasing spies through broken buildings was a sure fire way of not getting any older. His breathing was slowing to a more normal rate as he turned to go back to his car; when suddenly some dust fell from above. This could only mean one of two things; firstly the building was even less stable than he thought or...
A moment later David came shuffling back down the stairs with his jacket under his arm and still tucking his shirt in. Collecting his coffee from the kitchen he returned to the sofa and began pulling on his shoes.
"Or what?" Malcolm asked tapping the typed sheet.
David looked up from wondering why when one was in a hurry; the laces on one's shoes always broke. "What are you doing reading that?" He demanded angrily. "This ain't the nick you know; that's private."
"Sorry no need to get out your pram, I only wanted to know what happens next, that's all."
"Why?" David was back dealing with the problem of how best to tie his laces up with what little he had left to work with.
"I just thought it sounded interesting that's all and I was ... well, interested."
"Taking the piss more like." He stood up and banged his feet on the floor a few times, presumably to check that the laces were working? "I'm warning you now Malc," he said, apparently satisfied, "if anyone down the nick starts calling me Agatha I will personally see to it you're back in uniform within the hour arresting parking wardens for pretending to be humans. Do I make myself clear?"
"Crystal but I don't know why you're getting so uptight; I think being able to write like that is a brilliant ability. I wish I could do it."
Pulling on his topcoat and trying at the same time to point a wary finger at his Sergeant. "The trouble with you Malc mate is I never know when you're having a dig."
"I'm not, honest." He crossed his heart with a stroke of his index finger said. "I genuinely would like to be able to write like that."
"I know, I've read some of your reports. You have this ability to mix fact and fiction together on the same page and one day if I get the time, I'll explain the difference between a full comma and a hieroglyphic."
Malcolm smiled in triumph. "Well there you go, that proves it. So are you going to tell me?"
"Tell you what?"
He sighed, "Strike a light! Are you going to tell me what comes after the bloody 'or,' or what?"
"How the fuck should I know, I ain't made my mind up yet. Anyway enough of that, we got to go to work."