Peter Lovesey: Bloodhounds

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Peter Lovesey Bloodhounds
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Peter Lovesey


The First Riddle

The Challenge

Chapter One

Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond was suffering in the rear seat of a police car scorching toward Bath along the Keynsham bypass with the headlamps on full beam, blue light pulsing and siren wailing.

"You want to look out for idiot drivers," he shouted to his driver.

"Everyone can hear us coming, sir."

"Yes, but they don't all do what you expect." If this went on much longer, his heels would make holes in the carpet. He was only aboard because he'd been giving evidence in court at Bristol and happened to ask the driver for a lift back to Bath. The emergency call had come over the car radio soon after they drove off. Sheer bad luck. "You said this one is a bank."

"Yes, sir."

"Do you have a bank account, son?"

"Yes, sir."

"At this branch?"

"No, sir."

"Well, then."

"It's an emergency call."

"It happens all the time," Diamond told him, still competing with the siren. "Some poor chump goes into the red, and the manager bites his leg off. They're sharks. They send you a letter telling you you're two pounds overdrawn and then slap on a ten-pound charge for sending it."

The conversation didn't develop. The siren defeated it. Diamond tried not to look at the dizzying blur of green that was all he could see of the trees beside the road. Only that morning, sitting in court, he had seriously thought police work in Bath was a doddle. When they approached the round-about that linked Bath Road and Broadmead Lane he closed his eyes.

They came to a screeching halt outside a branch bank on the A4 in Saltford.

"Looks like we're the first," Diamond said without a trace of pleasure in the achievement. "Who's that wally in the door-way, do you reckon-one of ours, or one of theirs?"

The man was wearing a gray pinstripe three-piece and waving to the police car, so the balance of probability was that he was friendly. He came over while Diamond was still in the act of levering his large body out.

"Routledge," the pinstriped gent introduced himself. The voice had a fruity quality, a definite hint of the plum. "Chief Clerk." He actually offered to shake hands-as if Diamond had called to open an account. "You got here very quickly."

"What's the state of play?"

"Well, the manager, Mr. Bellini, is dead."


"Shot through the head," the chief clerk said in the clipped, matter-of-fact tone of a British actor suppressing his emotion in a film about the war.

"You mean that? Is the gunman still in there?"

"Er, no."

"Any witnesses?"

"Witnesses? No, it happened in Mr. Bellini's office."

"People must have heard the shot," said Diamond.

"Oh, that's for sure."

"And seen the man come out."

Routledge gave the matter serious thought. "I don't think they could have done. You'll have to ask them. I think they ducked behind the counters."

Diamond's brain was grinding through the information he'd been given. "If no one saw the gunman come out, how do you know he isn't in there still, with Mr. Bellini?"

Routledge gave a shrug and a self-effacing smile. "Well, as a matter of fact, officer, I shot him myself. Forgive me for speaking plainly. Mr. Bellini was a total plonker."

Chapter Two

The Church of St. Michael with St. Paul, built just before Queen Victoria came to the throne, stands at the point where Broad Street meets Walcot Street, close to the Podium and the Post Office. The writer John Haddon in his Portrait of Bath described it as "a good eye-stopper," a summing-up that is difficult to better. The spire is one of the tallest in the city. The south front, necessarily slender because of the tapered piece of ground it occupies, is said to have been inspired by Salisbury Cathedral. Unhappily Salisbury Cathedral doesn't sit well in the center of Bath. Narrow lancet windows, buttresses, and pinnacles do not blend easily with Georgian or mock-Georgian pediments and columns. The nicest thing that has happened to St. Michael's in recent years is that the stone cleaners were called in. A century and a half of grime has been removed, and now the color of the building matches adjacent buildings even if the architecture does not.

At ten to eight on a rainy October evening a woman in a yellow PVC raincoat approached from Broad Street, taking care to block her view of most of the building with her umbrella. The scale of St. Michael's intimidated Shirley-Ann Miller. She was not a churchgoer. The only time she had braved the inside of a church in the past ten years was for a Nigel Kennedy recital at Christchurch during the Festival some years back. The adolescent crush she'd had on the punk violinist had lasted well into her twenties. This evening she was drawn by another enthusiasm, and it had to be a strong pull to get her here, for the meeting was to take place in the crypt.

The main doors to the church were locked. Shirley-Ann toured the outside searching for another entrance, doubts growing as to whether she had been misinformed. On the Walcot Street side she found a set of descending steps behind railings. She took off her glasses and wiped them dry, looking for some kind of notice. At the bottom of the steps was an archtopped door that definitely led under floor level. She released the catch on the umbrella and gave it a shake, took a deep breath, and stepped down.

Prepared for flagstones, cobwebs, and tombs, she was reassured to find that the way into the crypt was clean and well lit. There were doors leading off a short corridor, and she could hear voices from the room at the end.

She always felt nervous meeting people for the first time, but that had to be overcome. She pushed open the glass door to her right and stepped inside. It was like a private health center, warm, light and carpeted, with not a coffin in sight. The cream-colored walls had travel posters. Everything was so immaculate that she was concerned about marking the oatmeal carpet with her wet shoes.

The man and woman she had overheard stopped speaking and stared at her. To Shirley-Ann in her jittery state, the woman appeared a dragon empress, sixtyish, with a broad, powdered face with emerald-green eye shadow that toned with her peacock-blue high-necked oriental dress. Jade earrings. Heavily varnished nails. The rest of her was more European; permed blond hair and fleshy orange lips pursed in disdain.

The man was as awesome in his way as the woman. His black beard looked as if it came from a joke shop; it didn't match the silver hair on his head. Shirley-Ann found herself wondering if the beard was attached to his red-framed glasses, and if the whole thing lifted off in one piece.

Since neither of these people spoke, she introduced herself.

They just stared back, so she felt compelled to announce, "I do hope I'm not in the wrong place. Are you the Bloodhounds of Bath?"

How toe-curling it sounded.

The man didn't answer directly, but said, "Do you want to become a member, then?"

"I was told there might be room for me. I adore detective stories."

"I wouldn't admit to that if I were you." He cautioned her as if he were giving legal advice. "Some of the group won't be at all happy with such an admission. We have to define our tastes most scrupulously. You would be better advised-if you must give anything away at this stage-to say that you are a student of the crime novel, wouldn't she, Miss Chilmark?"

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