This is an unedited preview of the 1st two chapters from the 1st draft of An Eye For An Eye, the second book in the Inspector Stone Mysteries.
The planned release date for this book is September 2017, and there is a lot of work for me to do between now and then, so I hope you will forgive any typos or editing mistakes you might find in this preview.
An Eye For An Eye
The sawn-off shotgun in the hands of the masked man boomed twice in quick succession, doing fatal damage to the two women in front of him. They were brave, he couldn’t deny that, but he could see the fear they were trying to hide, fear which remained even as the life faded from their eyes. At a distance of no more than three feet, the shots were powerful enough to lift both women, neither of whom were all that big, off their feet and throw them backwards, blood staining their dresses.
Opening the breach, He dumped out the spent shells and reloaded with brisk efficiency, his eyes on the women as he watched them for any sign they were still alive. There was nothing. Satisfied, he bent and picked up his rucksack, into which he shoved his shotgun, the money the younger of the two women had handed over in the hopes of appeasing him and making him leave, several bottles of whiskey – his preferred drink – and all the cigarettes he could fit in.
Once the bag was full, he shouldered it and turned away from the two bodies on the floor. Without so much as a backward glance, he left the shop. In a couple of strides, he was at his car, which he had left open; he threw his bag onto the back seat, not caring if the bottles of whiskey broke, and slid behind the wheel.
The engine started on the first turn of the key, and he quickly pulled away from the kerb, tugging his balaclava off as he headed down the road. Balaclavas were an occupational hazard for him, since he didn’t want to go to jail if it could be avoided, but he had never enjoyed wearing them; his discomfort was made worse by the heat of the day, it was over fifteen degrees, far too warm for the garment, and he exhaled in relief when he felt fresh air stroke his face.
Detective Inspector Nathan Stone got out of his car and looked around, his green eyes taking in everything. It didn’t surprise him to see that a small crowd, almost certainly made up of the residents of Mead Street, had gathered. He noted the anger on the faces of several people, Asians all, and hoped the attack he was there to investigate wasn’t racially motivated; if it was, he didn’t doubt there would be a lot of trouble, especially if he couldn’t solve it quickly. The non-Asians in the small group didn’t appear angry, but there was distress, sadness, and a mix of other emotions on their faces.
A police patrol car was parked outside Bhaskar’s convenience store on the corner of Mead Street and Vine Close, the officers who were supposed to be with it, nowhere to be seen. A second patrol car was down the road, filling the gap between a green Kia Picanto and a red Ford Ka; the officers from that patrol car were keeping the crowd back from the shop, an easy task, since none of those gathered showed any inclined to push forward. Everyone seemed content to stand and watch events, despite there not being much for them to see.
An ambulance occupied the middle of the road, preventing cars passing, it siren silent, though the blue lights atop it flashed across the faces of the crowd every few seconds, highlighting the anger and the grief.
Stone saw the paramedics leaning against their vehicle, doing nothing, and concluded that there was nothing that could be done for the victims in the shop, which meant he was almost certainly there to investigate a murder, rather than an assault.
“Jones is here.”
The comment drew Stone’s attention away from his surroundings and across the car to his partner, Detective Sergeant Steven Burke, whose eyes, a cloudy grey, were looking past him and the ambulance to the other side of the road. Following his sergeant’s gaze, Stone spotted the silver Mercedes that belonged to Doctor Daffyd Jones – it was easily recognised by the personalised number place ‘DRDJ94’ – the senior medical examiner for Branton Police, and the man who attended virtually every murder scene, thankfully a small number, in the town.
“Let’s hope he’s been here long enough to have the preliminaries out the way,” he remarked. While he had great respect for the doctor, Stone had little patience for the almost compulsive rituals he went through before getting down to work.
Walking around the car, Stone acknowledged the brief greetings of the two uniformed constables, and then crossed the pavement to enter the shop, his partner just a step behind him. He got the first surprise of his new case once he was through the door, and saw who had responded to the initial nine-nine-nine call.
“What are you doing here, Ian?” he asked, his voice revealing how unexpected it was to find his long-time friend, Sergeant Ian Oakley, there. “I didn’t think you were allowed out of the station anymore, something to do with too many crashes while on patrol, wasn’t it,” he said, a smile playing about his lips.
Oakley shot his friend a less than amused look and pushed away from the shelf he was leaning against, the limp he had been left with by his last crash obvious even in the few steps he took to approach the inspector. “I’m here because the chief inspector thought the situation might need someone with tact to handle the uniform side of things; since I was already on patrol, shepherding WPC Beck – he indicated the very nervous female constable who, to Stone’s mind, seemed far too young to be in uniform – on her first time out, he figured I was the best person for the job.”
“Judging by the looks on the faces of the people out there, tact is definitely going to be needed; fortunately, I have Steven for that,” Stone remarked.
Oakley gave that comment the smile it deserved; he knew Stone was perfectly capable of being tactful, polite, and considerate, when the occasion called for it.
After trading a few more comments with his friend, while his partner looked on without joining in, Stone made his way to the back of the shop, where he could see Dr Jones. As he got closer, he saw the two women on the floor of the shop, their limbs entangled, their chests sporting matching red stains. In appearance, both women were similar, to the extent that Stone wondered if they were sisters – both were short, barely over five feet, though it was hard to be sure of their heights given their position, clearly of Asian descent, and wearing long dresses that covered them from their throats to their ankles, with cardigans over the top, covering their arms. The only immediately obvious difference between the two women was in their faces; the eyes of the woman on the left were closed, and her expression suggested either peace or resignation; while the eyes of the second woman were open, and she wore a look of fear.
“It’s definitely murder then,” Stone said, taking in the scene at the doctor’s feet. In addition to the two murdered women, there was a mess of chocolate bars, clearly from a promotional display that had been knocked over, on the floor around them and behind the counter, on which the till sat, glass glittered in the pool of dark rum from the broken bottle.
“That’s what I like about you, Nathan, you’re not afraid to state the obvious,” Daffyd Jones remarked, looking up over his shoulder at Stone. He turned his attention to Burke then. “I hope you’re paying attention, Steven; if you ever want to make it to inspector, you need to be able to look at a crime scene like this and know instantly what it is you’re dealing with.” Though there was no hint of it in the doctor’s appearance, both detectives had enough experience of him to know when he was being sarcastic – it wasn’t difficult, when he wasn’t talking about purely medical matters, Daffyd was nearly always being sarcastic.
“Working with Nathan is constant learning experience,” Burke said with a perfectly straight face.
A trace of a smile played about Daffyd’s lips as he straightened, not that that made much of a difference since he still needed to look up to match eyes with the two detectives. At five foot five he was short, though the lack of inches in his height was made up for by those around his waist; no-one paid any mind to his physique, however, once they became acquainted with his intellect.
“I take it we’re looking at a shotgun here, Daff,” Stone said, deciding that it was time to become serious, and to put aside the humour and the sarcasm that had a habit of escaping him.
Daffyd nodded. “I’d guess it was a sawn-off, fired at a distance of about three feet, to judge by the spread of the pellets. They were thrown backwards into the wall, no surprise there, being shot at such close range, and I’m sure I’ll find bruising as a result of that, but they won’t have felt anything. Both women died instantly. It’s not much, but it might be a comfort to their family,” he said in a compassionate voice. “I’ll be able to tell you more after the PM, but right now everything looks pretty straightforward from my side of things.” He looked sadly down on the two women at his feet. “Who’d want to do a thing like this?” he asked, more of himself than of either Stone or Burke.
“Have you got anything else to do here?” Stone asked of Daffyd, knowing that there wasn’t much he could do until the doctor was finished.
“No, I’ve done all I can,” Daffyd said, knowing that he had done nothing, except confirm that the two women were dead and not happy about it. “Are forensics on their way?” he asked.
That was a question to which Stone didn’t know the answer, and he turned to Sergeant Oakley, in the hope that he knew.
“They’re about ten minutes out,” Oakley said in response to the questioning look from the inspector. “Apparently, a bus has broken down and is blocking Castle Bridge, they’ve had to divert. I imagine it’s chaos around there.”
“I imagine you’re right,” Stone agreed. “Let’s hope they don’t run into any more delays. Do we know who the ladies are?” he asked of Oakley.
“I’m afraid not, not for certain anyway,” Oakley answered. “We believe they are the wife and mother of the owner, a Mr Vikram Bhaskar, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet.” Anticipating the next question, he said, “We don’t know where Mr Bhaskar is; according to his neighbour – he gestured in the direction of Vine Street, to make it clear which neighbour he was referring to – he left in the shop’s van a little over an hour ago.”
“Who reported this?” Stone asked.
“A Mrs Dormer, she was walking past the shop on the way home when she heard the gunshots. She made the call from her mobile as she hurried home; she’s outside in the crowd now, at least she was.”
“Did she see anything?”
Oakley shrugged. “She didn’t say anything, but I only spoke to her briefly.”
Stone regarded him steadily for a moment before saying anything more. “Would you start the house-to-house enquiries?” he asked of his friend. “I have a feeling we won’t learn much, even if there are a few nosey neighbours out there, but anything is better than nothing.”
“Sure thing,” Oakley said agreeably, he knew as well as Stone did how important the most minor of details could be. “Come on, Elsa.” He gestured with a nod of his head for the young female constable to follow him. “Anything else you want me to do?”
Stone answered that with a shake of his head. “I trust you to get on and do anything that needs doing,” he said, “without me needing to tell you.” Though the sergeant had never passed the detective’s exam, he had more than enough experience to know what might need to be done to help an investigation.
Stone and Burke were standing to one side, keeping out of the way of the white-suited forensics team who were working the crime scene with their usual silent efficiency, when Vikram Bhaskar arrived. The bell over the door jangled noisily, announcing his arrival and giving the two detectives enough warning to allow them to intercept him before he could interfere with the work the forensics team was doing.
“Mr Bhaskar?” Stone queried, moving to place himself between the older man, whose Asian heritage was obvious in both his features and his clothing – he was dressed in traditional Hindu attire with a dark purple turban covering his head – and the specialists who were photographing, dusting, and otherwise sampling the area around the two murdered women, whose extremities had been covered with plastic bags to protect any forensics evidence there might be on them.
There was no reply from the man being blocked, his attention was all on the activity at the rear of the shop. Though he had stopped when his way was barred, it wasn’t until the question was asked a second time, that he showed any sign of being aware the two detectives were there. He nodded slowly.
“Yes, I’m Mr Bhaskar,” he said slowly, not taking his eyes from the two bodies that were partially visible between the forensics officers.
“I realise this isn’t a good time, Mr Bhaskar,” Stone said in a compassionate voice, “but can we talk?”
“W-what h-happened?” Mr Bhaskar asked, his face pale and grief-stricken.
“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” Stone told him. “At present it looks as though your wife and mother – we’ll need you to formally identify them later, once they have been taken to the mortuary – were killed during a robbery. Do you have any idea who might be responsible?” He knew the odds of Bhaskar being able to name a suspect were slim, but he had to ask.
Mr Bhaskar shook his head slowly. “No. My wife and mother have never done anything to anyone, and I’ve always told them not to be brave if anyone comes in to rob the shop, especially if they have a weapon. We’re insured against that kind of thing, so there’s no reason to be brave.”
“Have you had a problem with robberies?” Burke asked, wondering if Mr Bhaskar’s instructions to his wife and mother stemmed from trouble the family had been experiencing. “Or any other kind of trouble?” He hesitated to raise the subject of racism, because he didn’t want to put the thought into the older man’s head.
Again, Mr Bhaskar shook his head. “N-not for a long time,” he said. “We’ve been here for twenty-five years, almost, and get on well with everyone in the local area. W-we had some trouble in the beginning, people weren’t happy that we bought the shop from the previous owner when he retired, but there’s been none of that for years. I know some of my fellow shopkeepers have had trouble over the last few years, mostly from people who think all Asians are Muslims, and all Muslims are terrorists.” His grief slipped for a moment, to be replaced by disbelief that anyone could be so ignorant, an opinion that was shared by both detectives.
“So you have no enemies, no-one who would want to hurt you or your family?” Stone queried, wanting that confirmed. “Either in the local community or elsewhere?”
“No, no enemies at all.”
It would have been easier, Stone thought, if there were enemies, at least that would give him a starting place for his investigation. In the absence of known enemies, they had to work on the notion that the motive for the murders was robbery. That didn’t sit well with Stone, though; there was something about the situation that suggested a motive other than robbery to him – he knew of plenty of incidents where people had been hurt, and even killed, for much less than what the man who had robbed the Bhaskar’s must have gotten away with, but none of those had involved a shotgun.
“I notice you’ve got CCTV cameras around the shop,” Stone said, his eyes moving from one camera to the next; he counted five, one in each corner, and one angled to cover the till. “Would you mind showing us the footage?”
Mr Bhaskar opened his mouth to respond to the question, but no words came out.
Disturbed by the look of horror on the shopkeeper’s face, and the way his eyes went wide, like those of a cartoon character, Stone glanced over his shoulder to see what had caused the change in expression; the forensics officers had moved apart so they continued their work, with the result that Mr Bhaskar was, unfortunately, afforded an unimpeded view of what had happened to his wife and mother. Stone quickly shifted sideways to block the distressing sight.
“Mr Bhaskar, Mr Bhaskar,” he repeated. “Can you show us the footage from your CCTV cameras?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Mr Bhaskar agreed, once he realised what had been said. He led the two detectives through the shop, skirting the forensics team, and into the back; it was as he was leading them from the store room to the room that had been converted into an office that it occurred to him he didn’t know the names of the two men with him. “Who are you?” he asked, both his face and his voice reflecting his surprise at the lack of an introduction.
Stone’s eyes widened as he was reminded of his omission, it wasn’t like him to forget the courtesies. “I’m very sorry, Mr Bhaskar,” he apologised quickly, “we should have introduced ourselves straight away. I’m Detective Inspector Stone, I’m in charge of this investigation, and this is my partner, Detective Sergeant Burke.” He held out his hand, which was shaken briefly and perfunctorily.
The setup that allowed Mr Bhaskar to record and watch the footage from the cameras in the shop was old, Stone saw that the moment he entered the office – it if was old to someone as technologically inexperienced as him, he could only wonder how bad it must look to his partner, who was something of a geek, or was it nerd, he wasn’t sure which was the correct term. A quick glance at Burke revealed the horror the elderly, if not to say antique, equipment inspired in his partner; his face was bland but it was there to be seen in his eyes.
Stone and Burke both waited patiently while Mr Bhaskar stopped his recording, so he could search the footage for the first appearance of the person who robbed him of his family. It wasn’t easy for the monitor was small, and the image split into six – five of the little squares showed the shop as seen by each of the cameras while the sixth was dark.
When the darkly dressed, and balaclava wearing, figure appeared, Stone leant forward so he could watch events more closely. The robbery didn’t last long, only two or three minutes, and then the three of them watched as the two Mrs Bhaskars were shot for a second time; Stone said nothing aloud, not wanting to add to the distress Mr Bhaskar was already suffering, but as he watched the murders, he couldn’t help feeling that there was something wrong with the scene. It wasn’t until he had watched the scene for a third time that he realised what was wrong; there was no need for the two women to be killed, no need at all – though there was no audio with the footage, and the image was small, Stone could see that they were cooperating with the armed robber, and offering no resistance, he didn’t need to kill them.
Why the robber had killed Mr Bhaskar’s wife and mother, Stone couldn’t fathom. Robbery, even armed robbery, carried a much lighter sentence than murder, and a double murder, such as the one he had just watched, was likely to receive a life sentence, with a minimum of twenty years.
“Can you give us any idea of how much money he might have gotten away with?” Stone asked; he doubted it was enough to justify one murder, let alone two.
Mr Bhaskar was silent for a few moments as he thought about the question; finally, he answered the inspector in a voice which reflected his own uncertainty in what he was saying, “It depends on whether he just got the money in the till, or what was in the safe as well. We had a good day yesterday, and there was a little over a thousand pounds in the safe, waiting to be deposited tomorrow, and there should have been somewhere in the region of a couple of hundred pounds in the till this morning.” It struck him then just how cheaply the robber had valued the lives of his wife and mother. “I-I won’t be able to give you an exact f-figure until I-I cash up the till.”
“That’s alright, Mr Bhaskar,” Stone said reassuringly. “Will it be alright if we take the disk and have the footage analysed by our experts? They might be able to spot something that will enable us to identify the killer.”
Keep an eye out on this page for more updates in the future.