The third gripping instalment in the DI Paolo Sterling crime series. Detective Inspector Paolo Sterling has just six weeks to solve a series of murders by insulin injection, with nothing to connect the victims except the manner of death and a note left at each crime scene. The murderer, determined to avenge a wrong from many years earlier, gets close to his prey by assuming various identities. Can Paolo win in his race against the pretender?
Release date: June 13, 2019
Publisher: Audible Studios
Print pages: 294
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Injections of Insanity
Week OneFriday 25th July to Thursday 31st July
In the lift, aware of the security camera overhead, the pretender kept his head down and his eyes on the envelope he held in his right hand. In his left hand was a laptop case, but there was no computer inside. What it did contain would come as a surprise to the man he was about to call on. The lift finally arrived at the top floor and the doors slid silently open to allow him to step into a marble-panelled vestibule with ornately gilded mirrors on the walls to his left and right. He didn’t bother looking at his reflection; he knew what he looked like and so, too, would the police by this time tomorrow. Much good that would do them.
Opposite the lift was a single door. Privileged entrance to the only apartment on the penthouse floor. He briefly wondered what it must feel like to be rich, but shrugged off the thought. He wasn’t interested in money. All he wanted was to achieve his goal. And today he’d take the first step.
He walked across vestibule and pressed the buzzer.
The door opened and the woman whose movements he’d been watching and timing for the past month stood on the threshold.
“Professor Edwards is expecting me,” he said, handing over a visiting card.
The woman glanced at it and then gave it back. “Yes, Mr Buchanan. The professor is waiting for you in his study. I’ll show you the way.”
He slipped the card into his jacket pocket, inwardly smiling at how easy it was to fool someone with no more than a rectangle of cardboard he’d had made up in a quick print store. Concentrate, he told himself, this is no time to lose focus. He followed her along the hallway. Tastefully decorated, he thought, looking around at the bronze sculptures, watercolours and oil paintings adorning the walls. But then Professor Edwards was a very wealthy man, so he shouldn’t have expected anything less. They passed closed doors on the left and right, but no windows. He wondered where the light was coming from and looked up. A massive skylight filled most of the space above his head. He wondered if you’d ever get tired of looking up and seeing the blue sky above instead of having your view limited by a ceiling, like most of the world. Was Professor Edwards immune to the view from his wonderful home? It didn’t matter, one way or the other. The professor didn’t have much time left to enjoy being rich enough to afford a penthouse apartment in the most prestigious apartment complex in Bradchester.
They reached a door at the far end of the hall and the woman knocked before opening it and going in.
“Mr Seth Buchanan from the New York Times is here to see you, Professor.”
“Show him in, Mary, and then bring us some coffee before you go home. I won’t need you until tomorrow.”
“Yes, Professor,” she said.
“Come in. Don’t stand in the doorway. You’ll have to excuse me not getting up to greet you. Gout keeps me trapped in this chair most of the day. Take a seat.”
The pretender forced himself to walk across and shake the hand the professor held out to him, before sinking down in the comfortable armchair his host had pointed out.
“You remind me of someone, but I can’t think who.” Anger surged through the pretender. He swallowed.
“I think I have one of those generic faces.”
“Must be, because we haven’t met before, have we? This is a turn up for the books. Fancy the New York Times realising my importance to the field of psychiatry and deciding to feature me in their series on great men. I won’t say I’m not flattered, because I am. It’s a pity our own press haven’t seen fit to recognise me in the same way.”
And so you should be flattered, you arrogant prick. Anger surged through the pretender, but that was good. He’d need the rage to carry him through to the end.
“Have you been following the series?”
Professor Edwards laughed. “To be honest with you, it’s not a paper I generally get, but when I received your call, I sent Mary out to get me a copy with the latest interview in it. You’re going to put me in some very illustrious company.”
The professor was interrupted by the arrival of his housekeeper with the coffee tray.
“Put it down there, Mary, and then you get off home. See you tomorrow and don’t be late. I like my breakfast on time, not half an hour after it should have arrived.”
The woman looked as if she wanted to say something, but bit her lip before speaking.
“I’ll be away in a few minutes. Can you see yourself out, Mr Buchanan?”
He smiled. Exactly as planned. “Of course,” he said. “I would imagine I’ll be here for about an hour or so.”
The door closed behind the housekeeper and the professor pointed at the tray. “How do you like your coffee? I see Mary has put out some cream. Don’t take the stuff, myself, but I know you Yanks like it. Not that you sound American. Not at all.”
Shaking his head at the offer of cream, the pretender stood up. “I’m not American,” he said. “I’m British through and through, but with the ease of internet communications, you don’t have to live in a country to work for a publication based there. I travel all over the world conducting interviews. Do you mind if I look at your books. I find I get a sense of the man from the books he keeps closest to him.”
He crossed the room to stand next to the bookshelves lining one complete wall of the study.
“Interesting collection you have here. Are they all first editions?”
“Not all,” the Professor answered, looking uncomfortable as he twisted around in his seat and peered over the back of the chair. “But many of them are. As you can see, I have a passion for history.”
“What is your favourite period?”
“The Tudors, without a doubt. From a psychiatric perspective they make a fascinating study.”
Keeping his eyes on the titles on display, the pretender edged his way along the bookshelves, moving out of the old man’s line of sight. He stopped when he was sure the professor could no longer see him and waited. Then he heard the noise he’d been listening out for -the front door closing behind the housekeeper.
The professor was droning on about the connection between megalomania and syphilis. The pretender gave the occasional word of encouragement to keep the man speaking, although he probably didn’t need to, as the professor clearly loved the sound of his own voice.
He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a face mask and a plastic bag. Placing the mask over his mouth and nose, he opened the bag and took out a piece of material. From another pocket he took a small plastic screw top bottle. Working quickly, he undid the top and soaked the material with the liquid. Replacing the cap, he dropped the bottle into the plastic bag and slipped it back into his pocket.
He strode back to the professor’s chair. The old man had briefly stopped talking and was in the act of drinking his coffee. He waited until the professor replaced his cup in the saucer and then put his arm around the chair and held the cloth firmly over the professor’s nose and mouth. The old man kicked out and clawed, trying to drag the cloth from his face, but he gradually stopped struggling. The pretender held the cloth in place for a few seconds longer and only removed it when he was sure the professor was completely immobilised.
Fishing the plastic bag out from his pocket, he put the cloth into it. He removed the mask and walked over to his seat. As he sat down, he was annoyed to feel his body trembling. This was going exactly as planned. Now wasn’t the time to get squeamish. He reached down for the laptop case and laid it across his lap. Unzipping it, he fished in his pocket for the plastic bag and mask and threw both inside. Taking a deep breath and telling himself he had right on his side, he took a syringe and a vial of liquid from inside the case.
He filled the syringe and made sure there was no air at the top. That made him smile. Considering what he was about to do, worrying about putting air into the professor’s body seemed a bit redundant.
Okay, it was time. Standing up, he walked across to the old man, immobile in his drugged sleep. His hands shook. Get a grip, he told himself. You’ve waited bloody years for this; don’t stuff it up now.
He managed to get his tremors under control by deep breathing and repeating the mantra he’d been living by for the last year. Time for justice!
Stabbing the syringe into the old man’s leg, he depressed the plunger, shooting the deadly liquid into the professor’s blood stream.
Not as steady on his feet as he would have liked, the pretender staggered backwards and sat down again, waiting for the insulin to take effect.
As the old man’s body went into shock, trembling and twitching like a leaf in a gale, he wished he’d been able to leave the professor conscious, so that he was aware of his suffering. Maybe for the next one, that’s what he’d do.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” he said, “but the New York Times doesn’t even know you exist and my name isn’t Buchannan. You ruined my life. You destroyed me and felt nothing as you did it.”
The professor’s body jerked and shuddered, his feet kicking over the small table and sending the coffee cups and pot flying. Finally, he lay still as a pool of urine darkened the material of his trousers.
You didn’t even recognise me properly, you bastard,the pretender thought, tears streaming down his cheeks. If I’d used my real name you probably still wouldn’t have realised who I was.
The pretender took once last look around the room. There was only one thing he had still to do before he left. He placed the envelope in the middle of the floor, propped against the fallen coffee pot. He knew he’d left fingerprints behind which would enable the police to catch him one day, but not before he was ready for them to take him in.
Paolo added his rucksack to the pile of suitcases already stacked by the front door. He turned to Lydia, who was leaning against the stairs, and grinned at her.
She shrugged in response. “We can’t say we didn’t give it a fair trial this time,” she said, smiling.
Paolo could hear the relief in her voice matching the way he felt. “Six months, almost to the day,” he said. “Well done, us, for lasting that long. But at least we’re friends now. The first time I left you swore you never wanted to see me again.”
Lydia laughed. “What makes you think this time is different?”
“Because I’m a great bloke you once loved and now really, really, really like, even if you don’t want to be married to me,” he said.
He stepped up to her and opened his arms. She didn’t hesitate, moving into his embrace.
“You’re right. I much prefer you as a friend to a husband,” she murmured against his neck.
Paolo hugged her. “You know, I swear there’s a compliment in there somewhere,” he said. He let her go and turned to Katy coming down from her bedroom to join them.
Even after living back at home for six months, he still couldn’t believe how well Katy had recovered from last year’s trauma. To look at her, it was impossible to credit the nightmare she’d been through. As a family, they owed everything to Jessica Carter, Katy’s psychiatrist.
“You off now, Dad? Want a hand with the cases?”
“No, you stay inside. It’s chucking it down out there and there’s no point in both of us getting wet. I should have left yesterday; it was blue sky and sunshine all day.”
“Ah, but yesterday you were working at chasing bad guys,” Lydia said. “That’s a sunshine job. Leaving home is definitely something that should be done in the pouring rain.”
“You reckon?” Paolo asked. “I think I’d rather chase the bad guys in the rain than shift this lot outside in a monsoon.”
He opened the door, grabbed a couple of cases and made a dash for the car, only realising when he got there that he didn’t have a hand free to press the remote unlocking device. Why didn’t Britain have normal summers, like other countries? he wondered, shuddering as rain ran in rivers down the back of his neck.
By the time he had all his bags packed in the boot, he was soaked through to the skin. He just hoped his new landlord had switched on the water heater as he’d asked. A hot shower and he’d be ready to put his feet up and relax for the rest of the day. Katy was coming over the next day to wield a paintbrush with him, but he intended to do nothing other than loaf around today.
He splashed back to the house and couldn’t help returning the grins of his ex-wife and daughter as he stood on the doorstep, water cascading from his face and hair. “You look like you need a snorkel,” Lydia said.
“Thank you, your sympathy is much appreciated.”
“I offered to help,” Katy said. “You decided you wanted to be all he-man macho.”
Paolo grinned and took a step towards her. “A hug for your dad?”
She laughed and jumped back. “No way. What time shall I come over tomorrow?”
“At about ten? I’ll treat you to lunch. Restaurant of your choice as long as it doesn’t have a Mc in its name.” He waved goodbye and squelched back to his car, slipping behind the wheel. Dripping water everywhere, he wondered if the seat would ever dry out. Oh well, that was a problem for another day. He started the engine and headed off to his new home.
Two hours later he’d showered, unpacked his clothes, switched on the television and stretched out on the couch. It was strange to be on his own again, but this time it felt right. He and Lydia were at peace with one another, Katy was okay with him moving out and he felt ready to move on.
Ah, bliss, the rest of the day to himself, he thought, just as his mobile rang. The tune told him it was Dave Johnson and he was almost tempted to ignore it. But he couldn’t. Dave would only call on a Saturday if it was serious.
He picked up the phone and slid the bar to answer.
“Paolo here,” he said. “What’s up?”
“Looks like we’ve got a murder on our hands, sir. It’s a Professor Edwards’s, apparently an eminent psychiatrist. His housekeeper called emergency services, but it seems the professor was dead long before she dialled 999.”
“What makes you think it’s murder?”
“The killer left a piece of paper in an envelope on the coffee table. The computer printed message says: ‘one down -five to go.’”
“Shit! I don’t like the sound of that. Where are you now?”
“On my way to the professor’s apartment,” Dave said.
“Give me the address. I’ll meet you there as soon as I can.”
By the time Paolo arrived at the professor’s penthouse, the forensic team were already in place.
“Who’s in there?” Paolo asked Dave, slipping on white overshoes so that he could enter.
“Barbara Royston and she’s not in a good mood.”
Paolo took his eyes off the shoes and looked up, almost losing his balance in the process.
“Maybe she was having a nice relaxing weekend like me and resented being called out,” Paolo said.
Dave shrugged. “Could be. I’m just saying, be careful. She bit my head off just for asking a question.”
Paolo grinned. “That’s normal behaviour for Barbara. Come on, let’s go in and see what we can find out.”
He saw the forensic pathologist leaning over a figure sprawled in a deep armchair and headed towards her.
“I hope you’ve covered up,” Barbara said, without even looking round. “I’ve got enough to do without worrying about contamination.”
“Hello, Barbara. Happy Saturday to you, too.”
She glanced back at him and gave a half smile. “Sorry, Paolo, this call came in at a particularly bad time.” She shrugged. “Sometimes I wonder why I do this job.”
“Because you’re good at it,” Paolo said. “What can you tell me?”
She glared at him. “If that half-hearted compliment was meant to soften me up so that I’d answer questions before I’ve had time to make a proper examination, you’ve wasted your breath.”
Paolo took a step back. “Whoa, calm down. I don’t know what’s eating you, but whatever it is, I’m not the cause.”
Barbara shook her head as if trying to rid her mind of an unpleasant image. “No, I know you’re not.” She nodded towards the body. “He’s been injected with something. I won’t know what until I can do a proper tox screening, but there’s a faint smell on his face, which makes me think he was given something to render him unconscious before the injection was administered. There’s very little sign of struggle other than the table being knocked over. I think someone came at him from behind.”
“Thanks, Barbara. When will you do the autopsy?”
“I’m not going to be able to get to it until Wednesday morning. I’ll let you know what time.”
Paolo nodded his thanks. “I need to speak to the housekeeper. I’ll come back and fill you in if she comes up with anything that might help you.”
Barbara smiled and Paolo was horrified to see tears forming in her eyes. He stepped in closer so that nobody would be able to overhear.
“What is it, Barbara? Can I help?”
She shook her head. “No, it’s something I need to work out for myself.”
“Okay, but you know where to find me if you change your mind.”
She nodded and Paolo turned away to leave the study, stopping when Barbara called out to him. He turned back, eyebrows raised in question.
“Thanks,” she said.
Paolo caught up with Dave, who’d been chatting to one of the forensics team in the hallway.
“Nothing to help us so far, sir,” he said. “There are plenty of prints, though, so we might get lucky when they are tested against the database. Did Dr Royston have anything to say?”
“Not much. You know what she’s like about giving information before she’s had chance to test every aspect of the body. He might have been knocked out before receiving the killer injection. That may or may not be useful. We’ll have to see what else comes up. I’m looking for the housekeeper. Do you know where she is?”
“In the kitchen, sir. She’s with a WPC.”
“Right, let’s go.”
As they approached the kitchen, sounds of giggles drifted along the hallway. Paolo had expected the housekeeper to be distraught, but she seemed to be in the middle of telling a joke when he and Dave walked in.
“... and the man dropped his trousers,” she said, followed by gales of laughter, hers and the WPC’s.
“Thank you, Constable. Detective Sergeant Johnson and I will take over now.”
The WPC stopped laughing mid-chuckle and straightened up.
“Yes, sir. This is Mary Prentice, Professor Edwards’s housekeeper,” she said.
Paolo nodded and waited for her to leave the room before addressing the woman who was still wiping away tears of laughter.
“Please, take a seat, Mary,” he said, pointing to a chair at the head of the kitchen table. He pulled out one of the chairs and sat down. Dave sat opposite and took out his notebook, ready to record the interview.
“You don’t seem very upset at the loss of Professor Edwards.”
Mary stopped laughing. “I’m not particularly sad, to be honest. He wasn’t exactly the most likeable of people. I’m more upset about losing my job than anything else.”
“He wasn’t a good employer?” Paolo asked.
“The pay was good, better than good, but he was an arrogant pig who’d throw something at you as soon as look at you. I’ll be glad to move on.”
“Could you tell me the exact sequence of events, starting from the last time you saw the professor alive to the moment you called in 999?”
For the first time, Mary looked serious. “Am I in trouble?”
“No, why would you think you were?”
“Well, I let the reporter in. I didn’t know he was going to kill the professor though, did I?”
“From the New York Times. He’d only phoned to set up the meeting a few hours earlier. The professor was beside himself with pride. Thought he was the bees’ knees, he did.”
Paolo exchanged a glance with Dave. This was getting interesting.
“Okay,” Paolo said, “let’s start at the very beginning. When did the man phone and what did he say?”
“The phone call came in the morning and the man asked to speak to Professor Edwards. I asked him who he was and what it was about. I have to, you see. The professor won’t... wouldn’t speak to just anyone. He felt he was far too important for that. Anyway, the man said. hang on, I have it written down on the pad over there.”
She stood up and walked over to the kitchen phone, picking up a notebook before returning to sit down again. She opened the pad and showed it to Paolo.
“See, here it is. Mr Seth Buchanan from the New York Times.”
“Do you know why he wanted to interview the professor?”
“Do I know? If the professor been able to find a town crier the whole of Bradchester would have known! The paper is running a series on important men of the world, or some such, and they decided Professor Edwards should be included. If they’d been looking for selfish, nasty, bigoted egotists, I’d have put his name forward myself, but that man was only important in his own eyes.”
“You really didn’t like him, did you?”
She shook her head. “No, but then you find me one person who did. The man hardly ever went out, but he still managed to upset nearly all the other residents in this apartment block. If he wasn’t complaining about the neighbours’ pets, it was their children. He didn’t think the doorman did a good enough job, the cleaners weren’t up to his standards, the lift didn’t run as smoothly as he thought it should. You name it, he found fault with it.”
“Would y. . .
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