No more mixing it up.
No more starting in the middle.
No more, ‘them and us.’
In his own time, Cartier stood outside the gray army barracks in Battersea, London, and looked up at the castellated battlements of Marcus Hately’s mayoral campaign office. No more false starts. This time he would get it right. He knocked and waited, and looked at his sidekick.
“Close your mouth, Johnson,” he said, “or are you in love with Hately?”
“You have to admire him.”
“Because in the beginning,” Cartier added, “there was a little man who wanted to be mayor.”
“Enter,” said a voice from within.
Cartier entered and slammed the door shut behind him, seeing Hately’s trademark long dyed orange wig, safari suit, and monocle. Marcus Hately, Citizen columnist, social campaigner, and prospective mayor, was taking a selfie.
“Thank you for coming to my campaign office, Cartier. I wanted you to see me in my prime.”
“Let’s start where all good stories start,” Cartier said, noting that Hately stowed his phone in the top left pocket of his safari jacket. “You’re trailing badly. Thirty points down.”
He looked older than he did in his mayoral campaign leaflets.
“Far from being the washed out spin doctor Westminster’s forgotten about, Cartier, I still rate you highly. As you know, there’s a small matter of a murderer on the loose. I expect you to make this tragedy work for my campaign before Medina slays any more of our defenceless little angels. Here’s the headline I’ve written.”
He held up the Citizen free newspaper, and Cartier saw the headline.
“That’s no better than clickbait,” he said. “A gimmick.”
“You can do better than that. I took my Centring Foundation to Iraq, and I saw action in Iraq. That’s no gimmick, sir. What would you do?”
“I’d have worn a helmet,” Cartier replied, adjusting a framed photo of a young Hately posing in desert camouflage without a helmet.
“With my guardian angel protecting me? No need. Keep the pressure on, Cartier. Medina murdered Francesca O’Grady, a tiny little girl. Make his life hell. That’s all I ask of you.”
“The police are already looking for Francesca O’Grady. Everyone is.”
“Wasting their time while Medina’s at large. We want you to put pressure on Medina using your fabled arm lock techniques.”
Cartier looked out at the Thames, a river of steel, aircraft gliding in and slowing before dipping into Docklands airport. The lights on the London Eye diffracted and shattered, and beyond them, the Houses of Parliament were a golden palace.
“Wouldn’t you like to be installed over there,” asked Cartier, “in the seat of power?”
“The only truthful man ever to enter parliament was Guy Fawkes.”
“And he concealed his true intentions too,” Cartier added, seeing Hately scratch the side of his head under the wig.
“We know Medina kills, Cartier, so we don’t need a body. Obviously, this evil man is capable of many more murders, many more outrages, and many more taunts.”
“Is he?” asked Cartier, Hately’s rock solid words knocking him back.
“Bungling Detective Inspector Collington is deliberately avoiding capturing Medina to spare his embarrassment over our unsafe streets, and the devious Medina is taunting the police by not coming forward, which are reasons why I called you to work your magic for me in the papers, Cartier. You can reach people. I discovered that Medina has previous.”
“He did ten years,” Cartier added.
“You mean it should have been a capital offence, Cartier. What kind of a man is that?”
“The details of the trial have been withheld, so it’s all hearsay.”
Hately thumped his desk.
“That’s exactly what I want. Start in the middle. Make something up about him. Show him in his true colours. Say he stabbed his wife to death at breakfast with a broken flask. Say he hated the way she filled it. Make everyone believe in a vicious monster, and make them want to hunt the bastard down. Create the demon. Throw some lifelines to the thick ones who can’t make up their minds. Show the deluded masses they’re in safe hands, that I’m their superior, that only I, Marcus Hately, can protect them from these monsters. I pay you people to present the news in a way people understand. Make Medina run and jump. My newspaper column is read by millions, and I’m very influential. A satisfactory outcome would put me miles in front.”
“Well, Medina shouldn’t be hard to demonise,” Cartier added. “Fugitives never look pretty.”
“Trace his family. Speak to everyone. We need to alert people about this vile monster. The Citizen traced his mother-in-law who said he’s a madman who will stop at nothing. Fact!”
“That’s the usual definition of a psychopath,” Cartier added.
“Just destroy Medina,” Hately shouted, his eyes wide open, his orange wig slipping back.
That evening in the Cross Keys, High Holborn, London, Cartier turned the pages of the Citizen free newspaper and leaned on the bar.
“Light a candle to St Anthony, Johnson,” he said. “Picking up a common name. Only his tongue was preserved.”
He chewed a pen top.
“What does that clue mean, Johnson? Nine letters? Does that mean a common name like Jones or Smith? And St Anthony? The patron saint of what? Missing things? Missing people? Francesca O’Grady? Maybe Hately’s even spinning a story in the cryptic crossword. He seems to have tentacles that spread that far.”
“Have you seen what he put on the front of that rag?”
Medina: Hately Hires Ageing Hack.
“So much for secrecy,” Cartier added.
“Medina’s been sighted all over London. How can we follow every Medina?”
“We’re not meant to,” Cartier replied, seeing lunchtime City types in chinos and polo shirts tumbling into the Cross Keys, “in the same way the police were never meant to. This isn’t about Medina or Francesca O’Grady. I’ve been asking questions, which is why we’re here. So shut up, Johnson, and watch. All will become clear.”
“Medina strangled and sexually assaulted little Francesca. That’s what’s clear to me.”
“So you’ve condemned him without finding a body,” Cartier said, donning shades. “Hately wants me to spin both sides of the story, remember? He wants me to spin the ‘little girl’ story as well as the ‘evil’ suspect story, so an air of suspicion and mistrust will divide people, and then he’ll put out lifelines of clarity to win their trust, and their votes.”
“But where is little Francesca?”
“I doubt very much she was killed by a man called Medina,” said Cartier. “In fact, I think you’ll find she’s very much alive.”
The City types shadow boxed at the bar, ducking and diving like malevolent wading birds desperate for attention. They nudged each other and pointed at Cartier who lifted the Citizen and hid behind it.
“You’re going to save Medina’s bacon, Cartier?” one shouted, “I’ll snap his neck for you. Pervert!”
“I’d shoot him,” another added. “Scum! What’s an old hack going to say about that? What about his human rights?”
Their sharp words cut holes in Cartier, and he grabbed his highball glass and tasted sharp, dry London gin. He stared at the haloes around the chandeliers in the stucco ceiling till his eyes ached, counting to ten.
“Well it’s good to get out, Johnson,” he said, slamming the glass down, “and hear real voices.”
“Instead of talking nonsense. What’s the point of this exercise exactly?”
“I don’t talk nonsense,” Cartier replied, grabbing Johnson’s wrist. “I had tea with Medina’s mother. She’s distraught about the accusations levelled against her son in the Citizen.”
“So she should be.”
But the City types were staring at Cartier, and he twisted round to see what they were staring at. A woman in a red and white striped top and headscarf sashayed towards him, hand outstretched, a gold lamé hand-bag slipping down her arm, a watery slick of black mascara rolling down both cheeks.
“Need to make a call! Phone!”
“Jugtastic,” Johnson whispered. “A barber’s pole with breasts.”
His caustic words etched into the ornate mirrors and coursed through Cartier.
“Shut up, Johnson,” he said.
“Non-comprehendi,” said Johnson. “Speak English.”
The barman grabbed the woman’s wrist.
“Make call!” she shouted.
Cartier watched them struggle, and then he held his phone out for her.
“Let her go,” he said.
The woman snatched Cartier’s phone and dialled, blurting a few distress signals down the line. Cartier grabbed the phone back and drained the last essence of crisp, clear gin from his glass as he watched the woman being ejected from the Cross Keys.
“Well,” he said, picking her bag up off the floor and looking inside. “What do we have in here? A hairbrush, lipstick, a keyring, and a key.”
“Who was that, Cartier?”
“Stuck in the middle of all this was the not-so-little Francesca O’Grady,” Cartier replied, looking at his phone, “and she just called Hearts Cut Here.”
“And left her key. Not what I expected. A cry for help?”
“Let’s see,” Cartier replied, pressing redial, and listening.
The squall was beating down hard on Cartier, rain drops looking like soldiers marching into battle with bayonets drawn, the passing cars skating past soaking his feet. He found the bright sign hanging over a shop doorway, HEARTS CUT HERE. Inside, he heard the scream of shoes being trimmed, and saw a shelf of walked-on, worn out soles, their last threads hanging out. He inhaled glue so strong he felt his eyeballs swim, the rusted doorbell summoning no one.
DING! DING! DING!
“Stop!” Cartier shouted, seeing Johnson struggle to prise Francesca’s key from its keyring.
Johnson dropped it and sucked his thumb, “Shit!”
“Leave that!” snapped the key cutter, appearing from the back and picking up the key.
The man in overalls clamped the key in a vice, and set the machine cutting, sparks arcing out of a shiny blank copy, “Anything else?”
“Hearts Cut Here,” Cartier replied. “What does Hearts Cut Here mean?”
“Heart shaped keys. I Heart You.”
“You hearted Francesca O’Grady, Mr. Medina, didn’t you?” asked Cartier, seeing Medina make a heart shape with his hands, and then stop the machine.
Medina held both keys up.
“Comparing them peak for peak, both keys look the same, but considering the spines, one’s worn to a slope through use, and I cannot recreate that wear and tear. No one can.”
“Your past conviction,” asked Cartier, taking both keys off Medina. “Tell me about that?”
Medina removed a shoe from a vice and ran his thumb around the sole.
“I have many regrets about that,” he replied.
“Not half as many as Mrs. Medina,” Johnson added.
“I didn’t murder my wife.”
“Some say you should have paid with your life,” Johnson added.
“You’re Hately’s thugs? You work to get Hately elected? That’s why you’re here?”
“I work for no one,” Cartier replied.
“Hately makes life very difficult for Francesca.”
“If you care so much about her,” asked Johnson, “tell us where you’ve hidden the body?”
“We must find her, Mr. Medina,” Cartier added, “because if we can’t find her, we can’t clear your name.”
“I don’t know where she is, Cartier, and you will never clear my name. They’re poisoning people, and I’m the one who’s paying.”
“Constanza DeFilippio reported her missing,” said Cartier. “Do you know Constanza?”
“She runs Urbana. I just cut keys. Many keys.”
The last City type to stagger out of Urbana struggled to put a red Pringle sweater on, his arms refusing to connect with the arm holes.
“Allow me,” said Constanza, following the man to the door, and hauling the sweater on for him.
She slammed the door and locked it, closing the blinds. She flicked the sign off, and Cartier noticed her unblinking eyes, the shadow of the blinds crossing them, the lights outside changing from bright blue to red and then white.
“Thank you for small mercies,” she said.
“You didn’t need to shut up shop,” Cartier told her, sitting next to her on a bar stool.
“To be honest, I’m glad of the break.”
“Mr. Medina?” Cartier asked.
She brushed her hair back and lit a cigarette.
“I told the police everything.”
Cartier looked out at the passing trade; numerous tourists under backpacks in fleeces, rugby shirts, and waterproofs, all clutching the free Citizen.
“The Citizen says Soho’s dead and they’re looking for the murderer.”
“I run a bar. I don’t counsel old hacks desperate for a story.”
“Thank you for telling me where I might bump into Francesca,” said Cartier.
“You’ve changed your tune over the years, Mr. Cartier. No more Mr. Nasty.”
“No more spin,” he added. “No more deception. There has to be a beginning, a middle, and an end. Something has to give.”
“No one changes though, really, Mr Cartier. It’s just fashion that changes. If you think you can help Francesca before the lynch mob finds Medina, good luck to you. Thanks to the Citizen, everyone’s running round Soho looking for a man with a bread knife in his hand, and no one’s bothered that Francesca’s gone into hiding.”
“I know you’re hiding her,” Cartier added.
“You were the first to report her missing. Her mother hasn’t seen her, and she was very distressed in the Cross Keys.”
“That’s her patch for sure, and she worked this bar too.”
“Which makes me think someone’s making sure she’s well out of the way,” Cartier added, “which worries me.”
“How about a drink?” said Cartier, producing a tenner. “I’ll have a single malt. What’s yours?”
Constanza slid off her stool and strolled behind the bar.
“Mad Dog,” she replied.
“I thought as much,” he said.
“Francesca O’Grady came here at eleven every night, Cartier, and then no sign of her. She built up a significant tab.”
“I’m sorry you’re out of pocket,” said Cartier, tasting anti-septic malt that surgically stripped the back of his eyeballs.
“Don’t apologise. It’s a risky business. The police didn’t spend any time looking for Francesca round here.”
“Yet they’ve closed all airports and ports,” Johnson added. “What do you know about Medina?”
She swirled the vodka syrup around her glass and knocked it back.
“A man on a mission,” she replied. “He was with Francesca. They drank and left. She seemed to know him very well.”
“Did you hear them talk?” asked Cartier, the last drop of carbolic-smoked malt dislocating his throat.
“She wanted Medina to make a copy of her key so he could let himself into her flat. She wanted it in the shape of a heart, you know, ‘I Heart You’? It was her trademark with clients who paid to go the extra mile. Men adored her. Childish and flighty. She was a kid really, but not like they’re saying in the Citizen.”
“You’re sure it was Medina?” asked Cartier.
“He wore a pork pie hat all evening. Kept lifting the brim and scratching under it on the left.”
“What did you and Francesca talk about?” asked Cartier.
“She asked me what I thought of Marcus Hately. I told her.”
“He says things people want to hear, and he’s a lying manipulator who can’t be trusted.”
“Where’s Francesca’s flat?” Cartier asked.
“Do you have an address?” he asked.
“I’ll have another Mad Dog, Mr. Spin Doctor, please.”
“We haven’t got all day,” said Johnson.
“Well, Mr. Important, I’m too busy to answer your questions then.”
“Flat 845, East Ham Tower, Newham, but the police did all that and found nothing.”
In the disinfectant-stained lobby of the East Ham Tower, Cartier set off up four flights of concrete steps, his mind plastered over like the broken lift buttons strapped with brown packing tape. He stepped round an empty, oily-looking sleeping bag on a graffiti sprayed balcony, and battered on the blue door of 845.
“That new key, Johnson?” he asked, snapping his fingers.
Johnson produced Medina’s glittering new key, and Cartier tried the lock. It wouldn’t turn.
“As I expected,” he said, “Medina can’t cut a key to save his life. Give me the one she left in the Cross Keys.”
“He said he couldn’t recreate the wear.”
“But he didn’t say why he couldn’t recreate the wear,” said Cartier, taking the original key, and opening the door, “to save someone else’s life.”
In the blood splattered hallway, he saw a torn and stained red and white striped dress, a headscarf, and a naked body lying face down.
“Shut the door,” Cartier hissed, seeing Johnson slap his hands over his mouth.
“Get the police!” Johnson shouted.
“Shut the door!”
Cartier kicked the door shut, and snapped the lock.
“We were too late,” Cartier said, kneeling by the body, the bare skin scored with wavering red cuts. “Light a candle to St Anthony. St Anthony is the patron saint of lost things, Johnson, particularly keys, which have a knack of going missing. To find a missing key, you light a candle to St Anthony. His tongue is preserved, the incorruptible tongue of St Anthony of Padua. It’s kept under lock and key. So what is Hately telling us, Johnson? What is Hately telling us in nine letters?”
“That Medina’s a monster. I’m going to be first to snap his fucking neck.”
“Don’t miss any vital clues,” said Cartier. “Francesca O’Grady died by a thousand cuts, enough to bleed to death, and her hands were tied. Look.”
But Johnson was leaning against the wall, his hands over his eyes. Cartier took out his phone and dialled.
“Collington? Get your men over here. 845, East Ham Tower, Newham. I went one better than you. I found Francesca O’Grady, and you’d better bring forensics because it’s a stabbing, as predicted in the Citizen. Why would that be, Collington, that the Citizen always gets it right?”
He cancelled the call, and leaned close to the body and the red tramlines.
“As we know, Johnson, the stabbing of a prostitute in Newham is not going to cause a bent copper like Collington to rush round, so we can take as long as we need. You’d think it was a knife, but look at these cuts, several hours old, a serrated edge and not a true blade which would go much deeper.”
“It’s a frenzied stabbing, a long, slow, painful death. Medina’s work. End of.”
“Johnson?” he asked. “There’s no sign of a break-in, and we had Francesca’s key. So can you please tell me whether it’s been made to look like Medina did it, or not?”
“How do you mean?”
“Have you ever seen the side of a car that’s been keyed? Give me that key, Johnson, the new, sharp one. I’ll show you.”
Cartier took the shiny key off Johnson, and felt the sharp serrations under his thumb. He placed it over Francesca’s naked body, and compared the crimped edge with the seeping wounds. Peak for peak, valley for valley, it was a perfect match.
“What do you think, Johnson? The murder weapon?”
“I think we should wait for Collington.”
“Go and find Francesca’s phone, Johnson,” he said, as his phone rang.
He picked up the call and watched Johnson push the bedroom door open.
“Collington?” he whispered.
“Relax, Cartier,” said Detective Inspector Collington. “Put your ageing typewriter away. The headlines are already written. London can rest easy. We just found Medina.”
“Dead, of course,” added Cartier.
“How did you know? He was sitting under a Scots pine in Richmond Park. Swallowed a lorry load of aspirin with a pint of vodka. As soon as news of a body came out, he slit his wrists.”
“Both wrists?” asked Cartier. “Why not just one?”
“Obviously he wanted to make sure. He just couldn’t live with himself after what he did to little Francesca. So we needn’t look any further into his perverted mind, thank God.”
Collington signed off, and Cartier stared at Francesca’s crisscrossed glistening wounds.
“No need to look any further,” he said, “but we do have one more stone to turn don’t we, Johnson?”
“We have a pork pie hat to look under. I found this.”
“Well done, Johnson,” said Cartier, seeing Francesca’s phone. “Now let’s see who Francesca was really with on that last night in Urbana.”
“And in the end, there was Mr. Medina,” said Cartier, slamming the door of Marcus Hately’s campaign office in Battersea, and dropping the Citizen on his desk. “Good news. You’re ten points ahead after the Medina suicide.”
“Result!” Hately said.
“And Francesca O’Grady is confirmed dead.”
Hately sat back; his safari suit rucked up at the shoulders, so his head looked like a tiny orange mop, “And?”
“We were the ones who found her.”
“Well that’s very cool, and I thought you were just hacks.”
“And you wasted no time posting a childhood snap of Francesca that you stole from her mother: ‘Puppy-Loving Little Angel Murdered By Monster Medina’, plus a fotofit of Medina made to look like Dracula. Medina deserves a posthumous apology, Hately, don’t you think, for all that persecution you dished out in the Citizen?”
“Don’t talk rubbish, Cartier. The man murdered his wife, and comes over here to pick the locks of our defenceless little angels. Good riddance.”
“But we know who, as you put it, picked Francesca O’Grady’s lock.”
Cartier held out Francesca’s phone, and Hately reached for it. Johnson grabbed his arm, knocking the wig sideways revealing a deep, scooped out head wound and a scar.
“You should have kept your head down,” said Johnson, “or worn a hat.”
“We’ll find the pork pie hat, Hately,” Cartier added, tipping a drawer onto the floor.
“This is outrageous, Cartier. I don’t know what you’re talking about, and you don’t have a warrant to search here or look at data on that phone. This is entirely out of order. I demand Collington’s brought here with a lawyer.”
“Mr Medina regretted his conviction every day,” Cartier added. “Have you any regrets, Hately? It’s what I like to hear, regrets. It’s called beautiful music. Do you have any, Hately, or are you just a run-of-the-mill psychopath? You hid under a pork pie hat in Urbana, before leaving with Francesca and murdering her, and we have a witness.”
“Francesca left her old, worn out key in the Cross Keys, and the new one Mr Medina made for you wouldn’t fit her lock, so you went back to the hard-working Mr Medina again and again, making him file it down by hand, and that’s when you grew jealous of a brave man trying to protect Francesca by making a copy that he knew wouldn’t work, but you lost your temper with Francesca when you couldn’t get into her flat, and you killed her out of jealousy, scoring her skin a thousand times with the key that wouldn’t work to make it look like Mr Medina did it.”
“And with good reason,” Hately shouted. “All cockroaches should die in hell. Vile scum! They’ll never learn, these verminous women. Let them rot, Cartier. These crows in women’s clothing are picking at the bones of my existence.”
“That’s the answer, Johnson,” said Cartier, pressing redial on Francesca’s phone. “Light a candle to St Anthony, and pick up a common name: Smith. You pick a lock. Only his tongue was preserved. Let’s see whose phone’s going to ring; Hately’s or Collington’s?”
Hately’s rang, and Johnson snapped the politician’s flailing arms behind his back, and removed the phone from his top pocket.
“You see, what we’re dealing with here, Johnson, is an ignorant, narcissistic, ambitious man gone mad, and from now on, I’m going to speak directly to people, and treat them like humans instead of machines, or else people like Hately will win them over, sell them a bad product, lie to them, and betray them forever.”
“Is it locksmith?” Johnson asked.
“Indeed, it is,” Cartier replied. “Nine letters. Well done, Johnson. You solved the puzzle.”