Slider's wheels were in dock. Atherton came to fetch him, elegantly suited as always, but wearing a – in Slider's opinion – lamentable pair of suede shoes.
'There's nothing wrong with suede shoes in the right context,' Atherton protested, following the direction of his eyes. They had had this conversation before. Of course, when you'd worked together for a long time, you'd had most conversations before.
'I must have been frightened in the womb by Kenneth Clarke,' Slider said. Atherton followed him back into the kitchen. Five pairs of eyes turned on them: Slider's father, wife Joanna, children from his first marriage, Kate and Matthew, and baby George. No doubt if the foetus in Joanna's womb had developed eyes yet, they too would be rolling in their direction in mute accusation.
Slider had been going to take Matthew and Kate to the Westfield shopping centre – which, oddly, they regarded as a treat.
'At least it came at the end of his week off,' Atherton offered.
'He hasn't finished breakfast,' Joanna said with wifely reproach. There was half a slice of toast and marmalade on his plate displaying a profile of his dentition that would have made a forensic scientist burst into song.
'I drove as slowly as I could,' Atherton said meekly.
'What is it?' Matthew pleaded. 'Is it a big case?'
Big case. Slider tutted inwardly. They all watched too much telly.
'It's a murder,' Atherton admitted.
'Cool!' said Matthew.
'Gross!' said Kate.
'Can I come, Dad?' Matthew pleaded.
Slider's father answered for him. 'Course you can't. And it's not "cool". Some poor soul is dead.'
Matthew blushed – he was terribly sensitive about being told off, even in the mildest terms – but Kate merely rolled her eyes. It was her response to everything. She must have eye-muscles like a boxer's biceps, Slider thought.
'I'm sorry, kids,' he said. 'It can't be helped. Your mother will be fetching you tonight.' He looked at his father. 'Are you all right looking after them?'
'Looking after us?' Kate said derisively. 'What are we, little kids?'
'Are you working today?' Atherton asked Joanna.
'Rehearsal for tonight,' she said. She was a violinist with the Royal London Philharmonia. 'Festival Hall. All-Prokofiev programme. First violin concerto, symphony number one and the Scythian Suite.'
Atherton was a classical music buff from way back – unlike Slider, who'd had to learn as he went along: when he first met Joanna he could barely tell the 1812 from Beethoven's Fifth.
'I don't know the Scythian Suite,' Atherton said. 'What's it like?'
Joanna thought a moment. 'Like The Rite of Spring's lesser known younger brother.'
'Twenty minutes of agony. Too many dots!' she moaned.
'I meant, to listen to?'
'Some of it's not bad,' Joanna said, 'but mostly it's tinsel.'
'Gretel's lesser known gay brother,' Slider suggested.
'At least it finishes with a fortissimo,' said Joanna, 'so the audience will know when to clap. Quiet endings confuse them.'
'We're so shallow,' Atherton scoffed.
Slider intervened. 'We must get going.' He bent to kiss her and she kissed him back with enthusiasm.
'Eeuw!' Kate complained routinely. 'Get a room!'
Slider ignored her. 'Don't get too tired,' he said.
'Now he tells me,' Joanna retorted.
'And don't skip lunch.'
Atherton lashed round a dithering Ford Focus, missing it by a coat of paint, and asked, 'Is she all right? Joanna, I mean.'
'She gets tired,' Slider said, 'but she won't admit it.'
'That's a big programme,' Atherton commented. 'All Prokofiev. No nice go of Haydn to rest your brain.'
He skimmed between a big red bus and a lurking traffic island. The incoming Labour council had installed hundreds of them to use up a budget surplus left by the outgoing lot. Locals called the new administration the Road Island Reds.
'You look tired too,' said Slider. 'You look like hell, in fact. Everything all right?' He knew Atherton's girlfriend Emily, a freelance journalist, was away again, and wondered if he were missing her.
'Me? I'm fine,' Atherton said, which was the equivalent of a 'Keep Off' notice.
'Do we know anything about the shout?' Slider asked instead.
'Only that it's in Shepherd's Bush Road,' he said.
'Well, that's nice,' said Slider. 'We can go home for lunch.'
Shepherd's Bush Road was the main north–south road from Shepherd's Bush to Hammersmith. With two of its four lanes dedicated to buses, it was barely adequate for the traffic in the first place; filling the space in front of the house with a variety of police wagons and do-not-cross tape had terminally fouled up the flow. Slider slapped on the spinner and Atherton used the bus lane, but even so they had to wiggle through side roads at the end to get near enough.
The house they were looking for was halfway down, in a block just before Brook Green: a tall, handsome Victorian façade, yellow London brick and white stone facings, shops on the ground floor, and flats above. As well as hiding the roof behind a curious ornate parapet, the original builder had ambitiously named the block Empire Terrace, with raised lettering on a white stone panel topped by a sort of decorative pineapple. That'd cause some fun if it ever fell, Slider thought.
The shops in Shepherd's Bush Road became posher the further you got from the Bush end, and in this block, as well as the inevitable estate agent, there was a tapas bar, a high-end Italian restaurant, a fishmonger's also selling expensive kitchen equipment (inevitably called The Kitchen Plaice), a dress shop with a double-barrelled name, and a knick-knackery sort of gift emporium called Ludlow Hearts and Crafts.
'Well, you can't get more upscale than Ludlow, now can you?' Atherton commented. 'Down our end there'd've been an Asian supermarket, a kebabery, a newsagent's, a betting shop and a caff specializing in chips.'
'We're not in Kansas any more,' said Slider.
A uniformed PC, big, blond Eric Renker, was guarding a smartly painted red door between the Italian and the dress shop, and a number of other wooden-tops were hanging around, some ready to man the barriers if the crowd of happily concerned citizens pursuing their right to gawp got bigger, and two resignedly directing the traffic round the blockage. Among the vehicles Slider recognized the forensic wagon up alongside the nick's own Sprinter, and the sleek Jaguar belonging to Freddie Cameron, the forensic surgeon.
Two of Slider's own DCs were there. Phil Gascoyne, newly transferred from Uniform, tall and fit from years of chasing drunks round Shepherd's Bush Green, was chatting to Rita Connolly, a peaky-faced Dubliner who looked almost too slight to be a policeman, though she was tough enough in reality. She had recently had her pale hair cut really close, giving her head the frail look of a Christmas tree bauble. Since Gascoyne regularly shaved his own fair locks to a stubble, an accidental head-clash between the two of them would probably cause a ringing in more ears than theirs.
'Doc Cameron's just gone up,' Connolly volunteered as Slider and Atherton arrived. 'And forensic's still in there.'
'What do we know about the deceased?' Slider asked.
'We've got a name, sir – Lionel Bygod,' said Gascoyne, and spelled it.
'A "y" instead of an "i"?' said Atherton. 'That's unusual.'
'Unusual is good,' said Slider. Made it easier to be sure who you were talking about when the subject wasn't called Smith, Brown or Robinson. 'Who found him?'
'His cleaner, housekeeper, whatever you'd call her,' said Connolly. 'Fine class of a woman with a chip on her shoulder. Half eight this morning. Back of his head's bashed in. His lordship Bob Bailey doesn't want us in there yet,' she added with scorn. She didn't like the crime scene manager for personal reasons, but they were often resented because they were civilians and not subject to police command. 'So here we are, hangin' around like the smell o' gas, waiting on his pleasure. Will I go and get the teas?' she concluded resignedly.
Her tone said because I'm the woman, but Slider liked to surprise. 'No, Gascoyne can go. But later. I'm going in.'
A steep flight of stairs led to the first floor where Bob Bailey intercepted them and told them that what he gratuitously dubbed 'The Murder Room' was the big reception room at the front. 'But you can't go in. My boys and girls haven't finished yet.'
These days the forensics experts were trying to discourage detectives from visiting crime scenes at all, and to have them rely instead on photographs and possibly virtual reality walk-through reconstructions. However, as Slider sometimes had to point out, this wasn't CSI Miami, and the forensic department didn't conduct the entire investigation.
He gave Bailey a sturdy look that said he didn't get clothed up in the Andy Pandy suit and attractive shower cap just to pull the girls.
Bailey wavered. 'You can take a look from the door,' he compromised.
The room was large and well-proportioned, with a high ceiling and handsome mouldings. It was decorated and furnished in appropriate Victorian style, with a brownish patterned wallpaper, a Turkish carpet covering the floor, and heavily framed oil paintings on the wall. A leather Chesterfield and two club chairs were grouped around the mahogany chimney-piece, and in the alcoves to either side were bookshelves crammed with books. There were nice little tables and lamps here and there, a bust of Caesar on a marble column in one corner, and an aspidistra on a stand with barley-sugar legs in another. It felt rich, comfortable, and very masculine, like a gentleman's club.
In the window was a massive mahogany desk, on which Slider could see an electric typewriter, a telephone, a wooden stationery-holder, and what looked like a brass shell-case containing a variety of writing implements. To one side of it stood a two-drawer filing cabinet, on top of which was a small document safe, its door ajar and the key in the lock. And in the large, leather chair the victim was sitting, slumped forward over the desk as though he had fallen asleep. Judging from the length of arms, legs and back, the late Lionel Bygod had been a tall man.
Bending over him was Freddie Cameron, another ghost in white coveralls among the busy wraiths fingerprinting and photographing.
'Bill!' he said in cheerful greeting. 'He can come over, can't he?' he added to Bailey.
After some negotiation, Bailey graciously allowed Slider to cross a designated path to the desk. Atherton he made to wait at the door.
Cameron had had to shed the jacket of his grey two-piece to put on the plastic suit, but nothing could dim the radiance of his neckwear, which shone through it, flamboyantly pink, purple and yellow.
'Ah,' said Slider, 'one of the ties that blind.'
'It's from the Matisse collection,' Freddie said.
'Glad it's not the Jackson Pollock collection. I've just had breakfast.'
At closer inspection the late Lionel Bygod was very thin, and Slider wondered whether it might be a recent development because his suit was not a new one, but seemed loose on him. It was a nice-looking three-piece in light pepper-and-salt tweed, and he was wearing a lovat-green knitted tie with it and – Slider stooped to look – well-polished brown brogues. Slider remembered Atherton saying once that a gentleman could wear brown shoes in London as long as Parliament wasn't sitting. He had probably been joking – it was sometimes hard to tell with Atherton – but still, Mr Bygod was dressed like a gentleman as far as Slider was concerned.
He had had a decent head of hair, grey, thick and wavy. The massive blow to the back of his skull had mashed hair, bone and blood all together in a sticky mess. Blood had trickled down the side of his face and under his head, soaking into the leather-bound blotter and pooling a little on the polished desk top.
'Several blows of considerable force,' Cameron said. 'Our old friend the Frenzied Attack. Depressed fracture of the skull, and no doubt cerebral contusion and laceration. It's not the fracture that kills, you know, it's the brain damage. Most of all the shearing stresses.' He straightened. 'When the head is rotated by a blow – and virtually every blow has some rotational element – the layers of brain tissue slide over each other.' He demonstrated with his palms. 'The old grey matter can't take it.'
'Would death have been instantaneous?' Slider asked.
'With blows of this force, unconsciousness would have been immediate. Death would have followed quite rapidly – a couple of minutes at most. You can see there has been bleeding, but not much. When was he found?'
'This morning, when the housekeeper came in.'
'I'd say he's been dead at least twelve hours,' Freddie said. 'Twelve to eighteen hours, so you're looking at yesterday afternoon or evening. Anything else before I get going?'
Slider stared, and thought. The top half of the body was obscuring what, if anything, was lying on the blotter. 'I'd like to know what he was doing at the desk when it happened. People don't usually just sit. Was he reading, working, what?'
'I'll call you when I move him,' said Freddie.
Bailey intervened eagerly. 'We've got the murder weapon.' He produced an evidence bag. It was a bronze statuette of a woman with tight curly hair, wearing a flounced, straight-skirted, nip-waisted dress that left her impossibly round bosoms bare. The face and head of the subject were obscured unpleasantly with bits of Mr Bygod.
Freddie hefted it gently. It was about fifteen inches high and heavy. 'That'd do it,' he said. 'It's a genuine bronze, not spelter.'
'It was lying on the carpet just there.' Bailey pointed to a spot a couple of feet behind the chair. At a nod from Slider he took it across to show Atherton. 'Greek goddess or something.'
'Not Greek. That's a Cretan costume,' Atherton said. 'It's Ariadne.'
'How on earth do you know that?' Slider asked. He was always surprised by the things his bagman came up with.
'It's written on the base,' Atherton pointed out.
'Creet or Greekan,' Bailey said, 'grip it round the legs and you've got a good weapon.' He demonstrated with what looked like a drive to deep extra cover.
Slider was looking round the room. 'Over there. There's a space on the mantelpiece.'
The mantelpiece was otherwise crammed with objets d'art of china, jade, and ivory, some rather dim-looking Etruscan bronzes, an onyx bull, and two little figurines that were, or were meant to look like, Sèvres. In the centre was a space, about the right size. It was easy to imagine Ariadne as the centrepiece of the eclectic display.
'Any fingermarks?' Slider asked without hope. Any two-bit criminal knew enough to wear gloves these days.
Bailey shook his head. 'Chummy wiped the bottom half of the thing, where he'd held it, with some sort of cloth. Handkerchief or something.'
Slider met Freddie's eyes with hope. 'If it was a handkerchief and not clean, we might get some DNA transference from it. What about the rest of the room?'
'Cleaner does a good job,' said Bailey. 'There aren't many marks anywhere. But we'll lift what we can.'
The house was a thing of strange contrasts. To begin with, though it was usual in London for the floors above commercial properties to be divided into several flats or even a multiplicity of bedsits, this was all one home, over three floors. Given the cost of housing in Hammersmith these days, its size ought to have made it quite valuable; on the other hand, not everyone wanted to live over a restaurant. It was hard to guess what it might fetch on the market, but it wouldn't have been cheap.
At the back of the first floor was an L-shaped kitchen-dining room; on the second floor the master bedroom was in front and a large bathroom, obviously made by sacrificing a second bedroom, at the back. On the third floor – the attic behind the parapet – were two maids' bedrooms with a sliver of a modern shower room tucked between them. One was empty; the other seemed to be used as a storage room, containing suitcases and cardboard removers' boxes full of personal possessions.
The main bedroom was decorated and furnished, like the living room, with grand, heavy old furniture in the Victorian style, very much a man's taste; yet the kitchen and bathroom had been done out fairly recently in modern style and at some expense, with a lot of tile, marble, chrome, and a profusion of gadgets.
The kitchen in particular roused Atherton's envy. 'Every damn thing that ouvres and fermes,' he remarked. He loved to cook, but living in a tiny two-up-two-down he hadn't the space for a kitchen like this, even if he could have afforded it.
Slider had often noted that, as a rule, the posher the kitchen, the less it was used, but this kitchen, though it was spotlessly clean, was obviously cooked in.
'I wonder if Mr Bygod was another of these epicurean bachelors who like to cook,' Slider mused.
'Don't look at me when you say "another",' Atherton objected.
'If the chef's hat fits,' Slider said. 'There's no sign of a woman's touch in the bedroom or reception room.'
A further anomaly was that flight of stairs at the bottom. The front door was heavy, and was controlled by an entryphone system, the upper end of which was beside the door inside the living room. It was recently painted and sported well-polished brass furniture – quite a grand door in its way – but behind it was a tiny lobby, lit only with a bare light bulb hanging from a long flex. And while the upper hall and stairs were carpeted, these lower stairs were covered with linoleum that looked old and worn, and the walls were painted with a dingy pale green emulsion that was much scuffed and marked with traffic.