Brian Freemantle: No Time for Heroes

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Brian Freemantle No Time for Heroes
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    No Time for Heroes
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Brian Freemantle

No Time for Heroes


It settled into routine, like it always did, men hardened to violent death encountering it yet again, going through the procedures but thinking of other things, like a ball game or a bar or being in bed with someone other than their wives. It had stopped raining, which was something.

There were three patrol cars strewn haphazardly, their roof-bar lights still bouncing reds and whites off the puddled ground. The tinned voice of the dispatcher echoed unheard from inside the empty cabs. The crews and uniformed patrolmen were trying to move the curious on, saying there was nothing to see and that it was all over, which was a verbal part of the routine. There was the gore-splattered body to see, so it wasn’t all over, and none of the onlookers moved. The yellow tapes, sometimes looped around the disused girders of the old overhead railway, marked off where it lay. The scene-of-crime technicians were inside the cordon under emergency arc-lights, each going through their preliminaries, forensic brushing and sifting, the examining coroner taking body temperatures and looking at the injuries.

‘The Mafia comes to Washington DC,’ declared Rafferty. There was a lot of blood and they couldn’t make out all the wounds, but the most obvious was where the bullet had been fired directly into the mouth.

‘They’re everywhere else: why leave us out?’ said his partner, Eric Johannsen.

‘Wonder what he did wrong?’ Michael Rafferty was a short, red-haired Irishman, with freckles and the hard-shell cynicism of a ten-year veteran of the homicide division. He and Johannsen had been counting down the minutes to the end of their shift when the call had come, and Rafferty was still angry at missing the Orioles game.

‘We’ll never know,’ said Johannsen philosophically. He was a big man, thick bodied as well as tall and with the white-blond hair of a proud Scandinavian ancestry.

The moment they’d seen the trademark mouth wound they’d recognised just how routine it was going to be. By now the professional hitman would be on his way to Alaska or New Mexico or California or Timbuctoo, the unmarked weapon already disposed of, the contract money already deposited and earning interest. All they could do was go through the motions, write up the reports, enjoy a little unofficial time off on supposed inquiries and commit the whole file to the ‘unsolved’ cabinet along with all the rest. And it wouldn’t even reflect badly on their record, because no-one was expected to solve Mafia murders. That wasn’t the way things worked. Ever.

The coroner stood, stretched and ducked under the tape. ‘Want a closer look?’

‘It’s a body,’ said Rafferty, with practised boredom.

‘We’ve seen one before,’ said Johannsen. ‘Lots.’

The medical examiner, whose name was Brierly, was the odd one out in the murder team: after only three years he had some enthusiasm. ‘White Caucasian. Male. Death was due to gunshot wounds.’

‘You sure about that?’ asked Rafferty.

Brierly ignored the sarcasm. ‘Two to the body, one through the heart. Slugs were either hollow nosed or dum-dummed, flattening on impact. Took away most of his back on exit. There’s some bone and flesh debris’ – the man turned and pointed – ‘about five yards from where the body is. I guess he was standing when he was first hit. No burn marks, so I’d say from about five or six feet.’

‘What about the mouth?’ asked Rafferty.

‘That came later,’ judged the medical expert. ‘The lips are bruised but it’s after-death damage. And externally it’s comparatively slight. The barrel was pushed right inside before it was fired. Most of the back of the head’s blown away: forensic will get the bullet from somewhere in the mess.’

‘It’ll be useless,’ dismissed Johannsen, in a been-there-seen-it-before voice. ‘The flattening destroys barrel marking.’

Rafferty gave his partner a what-does-it-matter frown. ‘How long?’ he asked.

Brierly shrugged. ‘Two, three hours. The rain didn’t start until around ten: we were driving home from the Kennedy Centre when it began. It stopped around ten-thirty. The ground under him is dry.’

‘Age?’ asked Johannsen, going through the list.

‘Forty-five?’ guessed Brierly.

‘Anything more than the gunshot wounds?’ pressed Rafferty. ‘Beating? Torture? Stuff like that?’

‘Nothing obvious,’ said the coroner. ‘I’ll know after the proper autopsy.’

It began to spit with rain again.

‘Guess that’s all then,’ said Rafferty, anxious to get somewhere dry. He’d had covered seats for the Orioles game.

Brierly looked back to the body. ‘You think it’s a Mafia killing?’

‘We’re running a book on it,’ said Rafferty.

‘Don’t,’ called one of the scene-of-crime technicians. He straighted from the body, holding already filled exhibit bags; separating one from the rest, he offered it to the two detectives.

The DC driving permit carried a picture of a plump, serious-faced man. The name was Petr Aleksandrovich Serov; the address listed – 1123, 16th Street – was that of the Russian embassy.

‘Holy shit!’ exclaimed Rafferty, the cynicism slipping.

‘What’s the captain going to do about that!’ demanded Johannsen.

‘He’s going to get the fuck out of it, that’s what he’s going to do!’ predicted Rafferty.

Just across the Potomac a man within a thread of being flashily dressed, which he should not have been, left the anonymous grey Ford at the far end of the National Airport car parking lot, hurrying to reach the New York shuttle terminal before the rain got heavy. The clothes were new and he didn’t want to get them wet. He’d already assured himself there were no blood splashes. He’d enjoyed America. He wished he didn’t have to go back so soon.


The alarms were sounded overnight, and by early morning the meetings were arranged at timed intervals in the Secretary of State’s seventh floor office at Foggy Bottom.

The FBI was obviously first. Henry Hartz cupped the Bureau Director’s elbow to guide him away from office formality to the dining annexe, where breakfast was laid.

‘So what the hell have we got here?’ demanded Hartz. ‘A Russian diplomat, killed Mafia-style!’

‘I wish to God I knew.’ Leonard Ross was a carelessly fat, carelessly dressed man who had been a senior judge on the New York bench before accepting the appointment as FBI Director. After two years of Washington politics he regretted it, and promised himself he’d quit one day soon. Hartz was one of the professionals he got on with better than most.

‘The Bureau will naturally handle everything,’ declared Hartz.

Ross refused the covered food dishes, but poured himself coffee. ‘You know Russia’s got its own Mafia?’

‘That’s where I want it to stay. I don’t even want to think what the media are going to make of this.’ Hartz crumbled a Danish, mostly missing his plate and making a mess.

‘Have the Russians said anything?’

‘The ambassador is due at noon. What do we know about Serov?’

Ross made a doubtful face. ‘Senior cultural attache. Married. No children: not with him in this country, anyway. We never marked him as anything but a genuine diplomat…’ He sipped his coffee. ‘Only intriguing thing is his length of service. Seven years here. There have been two visa extensions…’ Ross smiled. ‘Both of which your people approved, without reference to us.’

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