Green Fairy and Small God

 

Nobody noticed him come in.

A small man in his early forties wearing a suit, high-collared shirt and pushed back trilby just appeared before the desk sergeant. He had to be the most unlikely copper to enter their station. No one had expected the detective inspector sent to deal with the murder of a local family member noted for raising dangerous mobs to be so slight a light breeze could have blown him away.

The huge PS Harris looked down at DI Dalton and marvelled that someone this diminutive had managed to survive an unarmed combat course even though his stiff, upright posture suggested military training. With those bright, alert eyes he should have been stargazing or restoring illuminated manuscripts. It didn't help that PC Wren looked up from the timesheets she was working on to see if the small man was wearing a wedding ring. Her powers of deduction were quite often hormonal.

DI Dalton was there because the influential family claiming that their eldest son had been murdered had insisted that the detective investigating the case be removed. At least one good thing would come out of this. PS Harris would no longer have to accompany DI Knowles to the Gauvins' massive mausoleum of a country seat.

DI Dalton's partner arrived an hour later straight from armed response duties. She was a totally different kettle of fish; a woman built like the Rock of Gibraltar that PS Harris could look straight in the unswerving gaze. PS Atkins, who was assigned to accompany DI Dalton everywhere, cut a splendidly intimidating figure in uniform and protective vest, conceivably a ploy to counteract her superior's puny appearance. Even the local drug pusher waiting his turn to be interviewed seemed impressed. Fortunately DI Dalton and PS Atkins weren't there to interfere with the local constabulary's handling of petty criminals and dispensers of strange substances. Wealth and influence counted in their small corner of the world and PS Harris, amongst many, was glad that the troublemaking, racist Gauvin heir had jumped off the roof. It was somehow fitting that his last meal should have been in Mr Kapoor's popular Curry Palace, though unfortunately it made the restaurateur a prime suspect for spiking the food. On the other hand, it meant that the local police would no longer need to contain the anti-immigration rallies Jonah Gauvin regularly raised about the county. PS Harris was known for his short fuse and limited tolerance (his furious frown could intimidate the most brazen teenager), but knew that herding hard-working, vegetable picking immigrants back across the Channel would make dinners for the larger man much more expensive.

PC Wren blamed the Internet for persuading gullible minds to follow the Gauvins' ideology, and few argued with her. The IT savvy constable had saved many officer hours by ferreting out snippets of online information more clumsy fingers failed to make the connections for. But at that moment she was interested in DI Dalton. He had been assigned from a large town with almost 200 thousand residents. Its police force had a dedicated cyber crime unit consulted by other regions because of its impressive record. (Perhaps she might apply for a transfer when PS Harris wasn't looking over her shoulder.)

PC Wren decided to take a look on Panoramia.

The photograph of a beautiful Hindu temple immediately appeared. It had been built in a leafy suburb of the town some 30 years previously. With it was a brief history and links to several articles. One posting caught her eye; “Police constable rescues family from fire.” She clicked on it.

'Come and look at this, Sarge. According to this blogger, 20 years ago a young constable from DI Dalton's force saved an entire family from a house fire. “After escorting the adults who had been overcome by smoke from their blazing home, he wrapped his hands and head in wet towels then went back in to rescue the children trapped upstairs. He smashed a window and dropped them onto mattresses neighbours had piled up.” He didn't make it out. Firefighters found him later.'

PS Harris came across and glanced over her shoulder. 'Is that where they buried him?'

'No Sarge, it's a Hindu temple. But look, it says here that it has a shrine to his memory.' The prospect of facing a dilemma like that chilled PC Wren. 'Think you could have done something like that, Sarge?'

'Me? Not bloody likely.'

'Me neither. Strange this didn't come up when I checked our archives.' She tapped in a news search. 'Nothing in the papers of the day either.'

'It was over 20 years ago. The dead don't hang around to remind the rest of the world of how brave they've been. And look, that article goes on to say the newbie was a foundling brought up by Barnardos, so there wouldn't have been a family to remember him either, apart from the one who keep his picture in their temple.'

PC Wren read on. '“Because he arrived at the orphanage with no identity, the temple gave him a new one and revere him as Maderu Verma”. Nothing else about him.'

 

While the rest of the small station speculated over them, DI Dalton and PS Atkins were being briefed by about the death of the Gauvin's eldest son. It could have been accidental, but accusations by the father that the local Indian restaurant had spiked his food with a hallucinogenic drug could not be ignored. Fitzroy Gauvin insisted that this is what caused the heir to this pillar - albeit dangerously right leaning - of the landed gentry to step off the roof to touch the moon. But then, the head of this household was also convinced that his family had been cursed by Kali for the misdemeanours of an ancestor.

'The food served by the Curry Palace was thoroughly tested and other customers had experienced no symptoms, but Fitzroy Gauvin remained convinced that his son had been poisoned that very evening. If he had allowed an autopsy that would have proved it one way or the other and saved police time,' explained DI Knowles. 'The man is delusional and his politics dangerous to public order, but can't be ignored. Had me thrown off the case when I insisted on fingerprinting the family.'

DI Dalton smiled. 'You were aware he would do that of course?'

DI Knowles prickled in annoyance and limited his response to, 'This needs the application of a more ...'

But his counterpart knew why he was there. 'Devious?' 

'Intellect. Just try to prove it was an accident, or even the curse of Kali punishing the family for purloining so much treasure during the Raj.' DI Knowles vengefully slapped down the thick case file on the desk before the other detective. 'Just make it go away. Idyllic backwaters such as ours have too many influential idiots to deal with when we should be concentrating on dogs worrying sheep and broken street lamps.'

DI Dalton flipped through the dossier. 'Do you have anything relating to the Gauvin estate's finances?'

DI Knowles didn't see the relevance. 'That family keep things close to their chest. No one really knows what they're worth. Asking something like that would have really been pushing it.'

'Oh dear. Hacking into accountants' databases can be so time-consuming.'

'I didn't hear you say that.'

'Ignore the boss's sense of humour, Sir. It can be a bit odd at times.'

The way PS Atkins said it made DI Knowles even more suspicious. He could see why the chief inspector insisted that this small man had a partner with him at all times. If anyone took exception to what he said there needed to be someone to pick him up.

Once out of earshot, PS Atkins turned to her superior and scolded, 'You can really push your luck at times, you know.'

'I know. Where have you parked our car?'

'Outside the hotel. It's only a two minute walk.'

'Good. You can take the forensic kit up to my room and lock it in the wardrobe while I find a quiet corner in a teashop with Wi-Fi so I can talk to my elves.'

DI Knowles expected to hear no more from them. Then PS Atkins was unexpectedly called away on urgent armed response unit duty. He was obliged to replace her and the car. There was only one other officer familiar enough with the case, and PS Harris was not happy at the prospect of wet nursing the gnat of a man.

'Me? Take orders from someone who never loosens his tie?'

'Do as you're told,' ordered DI Knowles. 'And don't turn into the Incredible Hulk when he gets annoying. And, whatever you do, don't let him out of your sight.'

'Isn't he allowed out on his own then?'

'Must have a uniformed officer with him at all times. One of the conditions we got him.'

PS Harris was still grumbling under his breath when he left PC Wren in charge of the front desk.

He found DI Dalton sitting in a corner of the Coffee Pot, busily tapping away at his laptop.

The detective showed little surprise that his sergeant had gone. 'She likes playing with guns. It's her hobby.'

The rustic chair creaked with the weight of PS Harris as he sat down opposite him. 'What's the routine, Sir?'

'Have a cup of tea. The Darjeeling is quite decent.'

The waitress knew what the local constabulary preferred and brought him a hot chocolate.

At last DI Dalton looked up from the keyboard. 'Were you aware that the Gauvins have multiple offshore accounts squirrelled away in as many countries and own property in London, the Algarve and Cornwall?'

'Then why are they living out here in the back of beyond?'

DI Dalton ignored him. 'And are worth at least 60 million pounds? More than enough to fund their little forays into immigrant bashing. And Fitzroy Gauvin's will is certainly worth looking over.'

'I wouldn't have a clue how to hack into a solicitor's files.'

'Some firewalls can be quite daunting.' Then the detective realised that this was not polite interest. 'Your badly suppressed snarl suggests that you don't approve.'

'I would like to leave the force with a pension, if it's all the same to you, Sir.' A moustache of froth appeared on the large man's face as he swallowed his hot chocolate.

DI Dalton handed him a paper napkin. 'Perhaps if we pay the family a visit we might learn more.'

PS Harris doubted it. The Gauvins wouldn't tell you the time without a court order, but he relished his new boss finding that out for himself.

He had no idea why he allowed DI Dalton to drive them there in the unmarked car. The hacking of confidential records he could ignore because he was a dinosaur as far as technology was concerned, but collisions with unsuspecting trees was another matter and he confiscated the car keys as soon as they arrived at the palatial home of the landed gentry.

He pointed to a high, flat roof surrounded by a low railing. 'Eldest son jumped from up there.'

But the detective's attention was elsewhere and he crossed the courtyard to study the shrubs surrounding it. PS Harris refused to believe that this man had ever lifted a garden fork in earnest, so assumed there was something DI Knowles had missed during the initial investigation.

The DI was picking a couple of silver green leaves from a bush when the heavy oak door at the head of the sweeping steps opened. A stern looking butler and middle-aged man with distinguished features appeared. As DI Dalton placed the leaves inside his jacket a young man bounded excitedly from an outhouse adjoining the conservatory.

'You won't find any clues in those bushes, you know! Only dog poop! Daddy will let his puppies use it as a latrine. Really annoys the gardeners.'

DI Dalton turned to see one of those puppies being restrained by the butler. It was fixing its evil gaze on him.

PS Harris glowered at it and the Doberman drew back.

'This is DI Dalton, Sir. Come down especially to look into the case.' There was an edge to the policeman's tone as he added, 'As you requested.'

Fitzroy Gauvin let the underling's sarcasm pass. He was looking at DI Dalton in disbelief. From the other side of the courtyard the detective could have been taken for a 12-year-old if it hadn't been for the inflexible way he moved. At least the man had decent dress sense, unlike the dishevelled DI Knowles.

DI Dalton came over to hold up his police ID in case the landowner refused to believe it.

'Come inside,' Fitzroy Gauvin ordered and the butler escorted them through the hall to the large dining room.

'You didn't experience any digestive problems at the same time as Mr Jonah Gauvin, did you?' the DI asked him.

But Fitzroy Gauvin overheard and turned angrily. 'You don't question my staff without permission! Get out Cameron!'

The butler dipped a bow and discreetly left.

'See what I mean, Sir?' PS Harris whispered.

'You're snarling again.'

It was perversely gratifying to see how unflappable DI Dalton was as he impudently circled the spacious room in his oddly stiff gait, examining Indian antiques. 'You have a remarkable collection here, Mr Gauvin.'

The head of the family turned his back to show his contempt of the DI's disrespectful manner.

'Oh yes,' Connor, the surviving son who had followed them in, chirped up. 'All purloined from a Mogul palace during the Raj.'

'Indeed?'

'One of our ancestors was something of an adventurer.'

DI Dalton briefly examined a bronze statuette of Ganesh. 'And a handler of counterfeit goods,' he muttered under his breath.

Fitzroy Gauvin caught the last part of his comment and turned back furiously. 'What did you say?!'

The detective tapped Ganesh on his broken tusk. 'His trunk turns the wrong way and this fellow's companion was a rat, not a monkey.'

'And what would you know about it?'

'I know that it is unlikely that such a large collection of Hindu gods would be displayed in a Mogul palace.' DI Dalton took an evasive route around Gauvin to reach the black ceramic statuette of Kali sitting in pride of place - somewhat unusually for an artefact that was the cause of the family's woes - by the marble mantelpiece. 'And I assume that this one is supposed to be responsible for the curse?'

Gauvin glowered uneasily as DI Dalton dared to lift it, his expression warning him to replace it on the stand immediately. The detective chose not to notice and closely examined Kali.

'All of these artefacts would have been returned years ago if we could find out where they came from of course,' Connor told him. 'Daddy believes that they have been draining the life from our family, although I blame Mr Kapoor's curries myself. But they are so tempting, even if he is an immigrant.'

'Shut up boy! And put that back, will you!' stormed Gauvin.

DI Dalton carefully replaced Kali and raised his hands to remonstrate. 'Please let me put your mind at rest, Sir.'

PS Harris felt his muscles tense as the detective went on.

'I suspect that every artefact here is either smuggled or a forgery, and none of it came from a Mogul palace. Your ancestor wasn't just an adventurer, he was also a crook.'

'Oh shit...' PS Harris groaned audibly as Fitzroy Gauvin went purple with rage at the slander against his illustrious ancestor.

'Oh Daddy!' Connor crowed with sarcastic glee, 'We are free of the curse at last!'

DI Dalton seemed oblivious that the landowner was on the verge of eruption. 'This ceramic of Kali is probably Chinese, made for the European market. Kali is not a vindictive goddess. She was vilified because the Thugs in India worshipped her. Yama would have been a better choice. If you really wanted a potent curse, you didn't need to import one from India. Your ancestors hanged enough herbalists and frail old women as witches to bring down more damnation than any family could cope with.'

'My forebears were God fearing men!”

'Your forebears used the bench to dispose of anyone who challenged their authority, plus a few more who didn't believe in your hellfire and brimstone Church for good measure. They were also slave owners. Google it sometime.”

Fitzroy Gauvin looked as though he was about to reach for one of those shotguns PS Harris knew he had licences for.

'Well, thank you for your time, Mr Gauvin,' he declared before his superior could be physically hurled down the mansion's steps, 'we won't take up any more of it.' He placed himself between DI Dalton and the incandescent landowner and shepherded the detective into the hall.

'I'll show them out Daddy.' Connor bounced ahead and led the policemen to the great oak door. 'That was just tremendous, Detective,' he gushed. 'If the old man doesn't have a seizure first he might just get all that junk checked out so at last we can have some real art nouveau or Bauhaus instead. It's so deadly dull having to live amongst all that old pottery and brass.'

'Actually,' interrupted DI Dalton, 'I really wanted to speak to your mother.'

'I think we've outstayed our welcome, Sir,' insisted PS Harris.

'Oh, I'll let her know, Detective. Though there's nothing more she can tell you. I'm pretty sure my brother's meal was spiked at the Curry Palace that evening as well, and Daddy and I don't agree about much.'

'Why so sure?'

'That Bengali waiter has the shiftiest of looks.'

'What motive would he have?'

'Jonah and Daddy have a history of... differences... with the Asian community.'

'Mr Gauvin founded a right-wing party some years ago, Sir,' Harris reminded him.

'Are you two still here!' a voice bellowed from the far end of the hall.

PS Harris fancied he heard cartridges going into a shotgun and shepherded his superior to the car before the air to surface missiles could be launched. Connor stood at the top of the steps waving them off like a string puppet from a children's TV programme.

DI Dalton turned back. 'Bit of a kook, that one.'

PS Harris gripped his arm. 'Let's just keep moving Sir, before Mr Gauvin sends the dogs out.'

'He wouldn't? Would he really?'

The glee in the detective's tone persuaded the sergeant to move even faster, pushing his superior into the passenger seat and slamming the door shut before he could jump back out and enrage the Dobermans as well.

Just as their car reached the end of the drive the sergeant breathed with relief. Then DI Dalton insisted that they stop. Unable to pretend he didn't hear the order, DS Harris reluctantly followed him back through the grounds to the outhouse Connor had initially dashed from.

'This is a very bad idea, Sir! A very bad idea!' hectored PS Harris, all too aware of what a splendid target he would make if those shotguns were loaded.

'It's fine. The dogs are safely inside. You go back and wait in the car.'

PS Harris wanted nothing more than to obey, especially when his superior took a set of lock picks from his jacket and expertly opened the padlock of the outhouse.

'Oh, we are so dead,' murmured Harris.

'It's all right. Won't take a moment.'

With that, DI Dalton pushed the door just wide enough to slip inside. The sergeant could make out that he was examining some chemistry equipment and adding an oily substance to a phial. When finished, the detective poked his head back round the door to ask, 'Did you know that this young man was studying chemistry?'

'Got anything in there for palpitations has he?'

The fuming silence on their return to the station warned DI Dalton against uttering another word, so he retreated back in his seat to watch the world go by until they arrived.

As soon as he stepped through the door PS Harris could tell by the apprehensive look on PC Wren's face that the furious phone call from Gauvin had preceded them. The chief inspector had demanded to see him immediately.

'I want to apply for armed response duties, Sir,' he declared before he could hear the inevitable reason for him being summoned.

'I thought you hated guns, Harris?'

'I do Sir. I just want to shoot myself.'

There was a brief silence.

'It was that bad, was it?'

'That's not a man! He's a bandicoot!'

'It's all right, Harris. Relax. I just want you to know that you won't be held responsible for anything he does. I can't explain now but, whatever else you do, don't let him out of your sight. You have permission to physically restrain him if necessary.'

'That one would slip out of my grip and disappear through a crack in the floorboards.'

'And Harris ..?' The chief inspector hesitated before asking confidentially, 'Do you think he's gay?'

'Not by the way he's out there flirting with PC Wren. If he is, he's so far back in the closet he should be living in Narnia.'

'Just wondered …'

 

Surely nothing could go wrong during their visit to the Curry Palace. Mr Kapoor was a pillar of the community who could read the moods of others as easily as the Puranas. All the same, PS Harris felt tense as he followed DI Dalton through the faux Mogul entrance and past a life-sized image of Shiva.

Although he had not been forewarned of the visit just before lunchtime opening, Mr Kapoor, a friendly man in his mid-40s barely taller than the DI but twice the width, bustled over from the bar at the far end of the restaurant to greet them.

'Sorry to drop in on you unannounced like this, Mr Kapoor,' PS Harris apologised.

'But of course you must if you believe I have poisoned customers, especially ones as illustrious as Mr Gauvin's son.'

'Did you?' demanded DI Dalton. 'The man is a racist, and his eldest son was probably just as bad.'

PS Harris' soul sank, even though the proprietor took the accusation in his stride.

'It is true that Mr Gauvin is a very unpleasant man, but if I had done such a thing it would have been for the benefit of his wife, a wonderful woman with so much to put up with.'

'What about his youngest son?'

'A little strange perhaps, somehow detached from the tribulations of us minor mortals.'

'You mean spaced out on drugs?'

'Not ones I am familiar with, I assure you.'

'DI Knowles ran all the tests and ruled out any contamination in Mr Kapoor's kitchen,' PS Harris reminded the DI. 'If Jonah Gauvin's death was due to a toxin, it could have been administered by anyone.'

Mr Kapoor's face lit up as he realised something. 'Ah, of course! You are DI Dalton!'

'Sorry,' the detective apologised. 'Most people want to hit me before I have chance to introduce myself.'

'I understand that you come from the same town as my wife's mother. You must meet her.'

DI Dalton hesitated as though caught out in some childish prank. 'Of course.'

'A large Indian community lives there and they have this splendid temple,' Mr Kapoor explained to PS Harris.

'Indeed they do,' agreed the DI, 'I have visited it on several occasions.

Then, when PS Harris thought he had been disconcerted enough for one day, DI Dalton started to speak fluent Hindi, much to the delight of Mr Kapoor. He took the detective by the arm for a tour of his restaurant, its sumptuous fittings illuminated in the half light, ready to be turned up as lunch time approached.

When they were out of earshot PS Harris asked the waiter setting tables, 'Know what that's all about, Nabin?'

'I have no idea Mr Harris. I am from Bengal. Though I have a feeling Mr Kapoor's mother-in-law will enter at any second.'

Though she did not speak English, Mrs Prasad was a formidable woman and her talent for managing the restaurant's presentation remarkable. There was never a stain on the starched napkins, wilting flower on the tables or mote of dust on the peacock feathers.

Having completed the tour of his emporium, Mr Kapoor brought his visitor back. And just as the main lights went up Mrs Prasad appeared through the bead curtain that concealed the kitchen door. She immediately studied the restaurant for the slightest imperfection. Nabin flinched at the prospect of her spotting a misplaced fork.

Inspection complete, her gaze fell on the visitors. She knew PS Harris well enough and nodded in acknowledgement.

Then Mrs Prasad saw DI Dalton.

She stood stock still for a moment, unable to look away. Her heavily made up eyes widened then, without explanation, she backed through the curtain and disappeared from sight.

'I know she can be a bit odd at times,' said PS Harris when they had returned to the car, 'but I've no idea what that was all about.'

If he had, it was obvious that DI Dalton wasn't going to explain.

'Well, where to now, Sir?'

DI Dalton steepled his fingers thoughtfully. 'I think it's about time I paid a visit to a local drug dealer.'

It was inevitable he would get round to asking something like that. 'Cannabis or cocaine?'

'The one least likely to cut our throats.'

'That would be Tim, purveyor of legal highs, under the counter prescription drugs, and brewer of strange substances.'

PS Harris knew it was a mistake to let DI Dalton go into the dilapidated basement by himself, but one glimpse of a policeman's boot through the skylight and the weasel would have fled out of the back door. And Tim was harmless enough, too mellow on his own potions to do much harm. Even his weedy superior could have pushed him over.

The dimly lit steps led down to a rabbit warren of small rooms where odours, fragrant and peculiar, circulated from flasks and trays of drying substances.

Tim, gaunt and woolly-hatted, was so focused on the preparation before him he didn't notice DI Dalton silently enter and look over his shoulder. The visitor at least had the good manners to wait until he had counted the drops from a pipette.

'Interesting smell. Illegal high?'

The pipette almost jumped out of Tim's grasp as he spun round, wondering how anyone could have entered without activating the alarm's pressure pad under the hall mat.

He quickly recovered. 'Worm potion for the sister's dog. Who the hell are you?'

'Just another copper, but don't worry about it. This is a social call.'

Tim half believed him and didn't feel threatened by this small, stiff man in an immaculate suit and tipped back trilby. In the dim light he could have been taken for one of his more upmarket student customers.

'What can I do for you?'

DI Dalton took out his smartphone and showed it to him. 'He one of yours?'

'Who's asking?'

'Just a friendly pixie who doesn't carry handcuffs.'

'I'll deny it if this is entrapment. But yeah, he cooks up concoctions and experiments with stuff. Studying chemistry he says, though seems to spend too much time away with the fairies to be any good at it.'

'Especially the green ones.'

'Oh Gord. If he's brewing up wormwood and cutting my powders into that muck he's really asking for trouble.'

'You have no idea.' DI Dalton slipped the smartphone back into his pocket. 'Now, I need something for a good night's sleep.'

'See your doctor.'

'I'm not allowed sleeping tablets.'

'What do you think I've got?'

'Something to scare off the night terrors.'

'I've got a few Seroquel. They help customers having bad trips. I can't let you have more than 25 mg. Knowing my luck you might not wake up.'

'Oh, blissful oblivion should be that easy.'

Tim quickly summed up his customer. 'You're only getting two. You'll have to come back if you want any more.'

DI Dalton took a £10 note from his wallet. 'I'll appreciate anything that calms the demon.'

Tim reached for a box and removed a couple of tablets from it. 'And tell PC plod out there that his fat arse should lurk where the big dealers are.'

'He frightens their big, unfriendly dogs.' DI Dalton handed over the money. 'Pleasure doing business with you, Tim.'

'Well let's keep this between us.'

'I won't tell if you don't.'

PS Harris pretended not to notice the small sachet DI Dalton pushed into an inside pocket as he came out and manufactured a conversation to distract himself from what was really going on.

'So Mrs Prasad comes from your neck of the woods then, Sir?'

'Evidently. It's a large town. Somebody has to.'

'PC Wren found this blog mentioning a young copper there. He dashed into a blazing house to save a family. It happened over 20 years ago and she couldn't find a name for him, though I suppose it would be on his death certificate somewhere on our database.'

'They called him Maderu Verma.' There was tedium in the DI's tone, as though the subject had been broached once too often.

'Yeah, the blogger mentioned that.'

'If she must know, his real name was Rupert, or at least that was the one the nurse looking after the newborn gave him - apparently after Rupert Bear. Barnardos added a Smith later.'

'Must've been one hell of a man. Didn't he get a posthumous award?'

The obvious admiration in the sergeant's tone seemed to annoy the DI. 'That would have done him about as much good as a new name.'

PS Harris detected the hardening in his mercurial superior's attitude. 'Poor bugger, I say. Not surprised they treat him like some sort of god.'

'I have a problem with gods.' Then DI Dalton announced without warning, 'I was adopted.'

'That so? How old were you?'

'21.'

 

PS Harris wanted nothing more than to get home that evening. His daughter's cooking and pint at the local would help distract him from the day's nonsense. So, as per instructions, he ensured that DI Dalton was safely in his hotel room working with his forensic kit before leaving. He had been tempted to lock him in, but even this menace to his peace of mind was entitled to go downstairs for an evening meal.

Braced for the escort duties of following day, PS Harris arrived early at the station. Their usual unmarked car wasn't there, so he assumed somebody else had taken it out.

PC Wren looked up from the front desk. 'Hello Sarge, didn't expect to see you here?'

PS Harris was puzzled. 'What?'

'Just as well you are, though. Mr Kapoor and his mum-in-law say they want to see you urgently. They've been here since six.'

There were two anxious expressions watching from the waiting area so he immediately went over to them.

'What's the problem, Mr Kapoor?'

'I hope this means nothing, but my wife's mother is insistent that there is something you should know.'

'About the Gauvin case?'

'No. About DI Dalton.'

PS Harris' soul had thought it could sink no lower. Nightmare scenarios of what the DI had been up to behind his back flashed through his mind. PC Wren noticed the change in his expression. She watched from the other side of the glass partition as Mr Kapoor translated what Mrs Prasad had to say.

Harris's expression was so thunderous when he stormed back to the desk she daren't ask what it was.

'Where is he?!' he demanded.

'DI Dalton took the car. I assumed he was going to pick you up.'

'Like hell he was! Did he say where he was going?'

'There was a call from Mrs Gauvin just as Mr Kapoor arrived. She said he wanted to talk to her, so I texted the DI and he came in straight away. Is there anything wrong Sarge?'

'Where that man is concerned, everything is wrong. I need a car.'

'AD55 is waiting outside.' She handed him the keys. 'Shall I tell anyone else?'

'The chief inspector.'

'It's still early.'

'Then wake him up!'

Harris dashed out, followed by Mr Kapoor and Mrs Prasad.

 

The early morning mist was just lifting when DI Dalton arrived. He left the car at the end of the Gauvin's drive and cut across the grounds to the small pavilion where a frail, yet elegant, woman was waiting for him.

'Are you sure about this?' he asked.

Mrs Gauvin hesitated. 'You should not have come alone. My husband is unbalanced and ceased to know right from wrong years ago.'

'So he hadn't always been delusional?'

'My eldest son was worse. It was probably hereditary.'

'Your youngest son?'

'It's difficult to tell.'

'You do know that he's hooked on wormwood concoctions spiced with other drugs, don't you?'

'That would account for his behaviour.'

'And that he probably poisoned your eldest son's curry with thujone?'

Mrs Gauvin wasn't surprised. 'They did hate each other. I expected Jonah to kill Connor first.' She fastened her jacket and came down from the pavilion to lead DI Dalton across the lawn.

'I'm glad you feel confident enough to do this,' he told her.

'Not many people dare confront my husband in the way you did. But then, that was merely a ploy to reassure me, wasn't it?'

'You'd hardly risk confiding in an investigator who ran away.'

Mrs Gauvin turned to give the detective a reproachful look. 'DI Knowles had no idea of what is really going on, had he?'

'Pity that. He's twice my size and would have dismantled the place, with or without a search warrant. Dinosaurs do have their uses.'

'He wouldn't have found anything, even if he had managed to get past the dogs.'

She pointed to the entrance of an ancient sunken vault overhung by the branches of a Lebanon cedar. A padlock secured its wrought iron gate.

'You will need bolt cutters.'

'A puny mortal like me can barely handle nail clippers.' The detective took out his lock picks.

'Whatever you do, be quick. My husband might not be up yet, but if he does find either of us here he will shoot us.'

DI Dalton easily removed the padlock on the gate, but the heavy metal door beyond it required an authorised fingerprint. Mrs Gauvin watched in bemused surprise as he took a small pad of foam from an inside pocket and pressed it against the security scanner.

He gave a boyish smile. 'Discovered who installed your husband's security. It's baffling why a locksmith would believe it safe to back up his accounts on the Cloud.' With a low whirr the door of the vault yawned opened. 'Now please go to my car and wait there. It's parked at the far end of the drive.'

'I cannot leave you here by yourself. You must call for backup.'

'It's all right. I'm not what you think I am.'

'I think that you are a small, very intelligent man with no sense of danger or bullet-proof vest.'

'Nasty things. They ruin the line of your suit. This won't take a moment.'

Mrs Gauvin peered inside the vault. She had always been aware of what was stored beneath the house, though had never set eyes on it. Now she could see shelves of enough ordnance to supply the small army which the ringleaders of her husband's faction were preparing to mobilise. 'This group are very dangerous men. Jonah was a mere cog fronting the organisation that threatens the security of this country, while my husband dwindled into a witless puppet of the monster he had created.'

'That's why I'm here.'

'Just you? I don't understand?'

'I removed a list of the ringleaders' phone numbers from inside the ceramic of Kali when I examined her. I'm very good at picking pockets as well.'

Mrs Gauvin caught her breath. 'How did you know he kept one there?'

'Fortuitousness. It was also a hunch triggered by a guilty man's body language when I approached her. Even an unbalanced conspirator would know better than to save information like that on an electronic file, and he sincerely believed that this deity would safeguard it. The borderline insane are often persuaded that the world shares their delusions. I don't miss much.' The detective glanced up at the small light flashing above him. 'I did miss that, however.'

'He must know we're here! We have to leave immediately!'

'Just coming.' DI Dalton quickly took several snaps with his smartphone of the vault interior and pulled the door to. It locked with a click and he replaced the padlock on the outer gate. 'You'll have to come with me. It's obvious you aren't safe.'

Mrs Gauvin was following him to the car when a penetrating voice cut through the early morning air. 'Mummy! Mummy! What are you doing out here? Daddy wants to know where you are!'

'Please be quiet Connor!'

But the young man was still addled by the experimental toxins of the previous night and didn't register the urgency in her tone.

Then there was the desperate voice of Cameron, the butler, remonstrating with Fitzroy Gauvin as he stormed from the house.

Connor was confused. 'Oh look, here comes Daddy now. Why's he carrying that shotgun?'

It was too late to run. Gauvin had his wife and the detective in range and could have easily gunned down both of them.

DI Dalton placed himself in front of Mrs Gauvin and Connor became hysterical as the seriousness of the situation overwhelmed the effects of the drugs.

'I think Daddy's very angry, Mummy! What have you been doing? You aren't really going to shoot Mummy, are you Daddy?'

'I should have known no copper could be as stupid as you?' bellowed Gauvin. 'Who sent you? Special Branch? Fat lot of good that will do when we've taken out the major institutions! Then the country will dance to our tune! Too many people are on our side for you to do anything about it now!'

'We know the ringleaders, Mr Gauvin. Shooting me or your wife will not alter that.'

'Please Sir!' Cameron called from a safe distance. 'Please think about what you are doing!' When it was obvious that wasn't going to happen, he took a mobile from his pocket and dialled. 'Try not to move, Mrs Gauvin! I'm calling for help!'

Fitzroy Gauvin's tumultuous thoughts made him deaf to the entreaties of his butler, screeching of his son, and slam of a car door a short distance away. He was only aware of the insolent non-entity who had sent his aspirations of so many years plummeting into the abyss of lost causes.

DI Dalton could see the man's world crashing about him. Then, before commonsense was able to stop him, that demon in his soul taunted, 'Forget Kali! This small god has got your numbers! All of them!'

There was a report from the shotgun.

Its cartridge struck DI Dalton with a sickeningly hollow thud and lifted the small man like a paper bag snatched up by a gust of wind.

As Gauvin discharged the second barrel a large figure came between them and took the full force of the blast.

The wind knocked out of him, PS Harris looked down at the shredded surface of his protective vest and then at the pistol Gauvin pulled from his belt as he dropped the shotgun.

Connor was sure the policeman turned green with rage, and not into the absinthe fairy he was so familiar with. With a bellow of fury that reverberated about the grounds, this incredible hulk launched himself at Gauvin, landing a huge fist on his jaw, breaking it, and then snatched up the shotgun to smash its butt into the side of his head.

Seeing his father laying motionless, Connor shrieked in terror and ran off.

'Officer down! Officer down! Shots fired! Need medics and backup!' Harris shouted into his radio.

Help instantly appeared in the form of Mr Kapoor and Mrs Prasad who had driven across the lawn and pulled up by the police car.

'We need something to staunch the blood!' Mrs Gauvin called. 'He's bleeding terribly!'

'There are some clean napkins in the boot,' Mr Kapoor remembered, but Mrs Prasad had already opened it and snatched a handful.

Mrs Gauvin tried to loosen DI Dalton's tie. He seized her hand and refused to release her. But Cameron was immediately there. He expertly slipped the jacket from the detective's shoulders and unbuttoned the blood drenched shirt to expose the wound. This also revealed something else Mrs Gauvin and the butler had not been prepared for. She gave a small cry of horror and recoiled, while he allowed PS Harris to take his place.

Mrs Prasad quickly handed him the napkins and then tried to calm Mrs Gauvin.

What they were looking at came as no surprise to her.

DI Dalton managed to focus on the man who had tried to save his life. 'You're mad at me, aren't you?'

'Of course I am, you daft little sod!' The DI started to lose consciousness so PS Harris shouted. 'Oh no you don't! You stay with us!'

Cameron brought some blankets and they attempted to keep the detective conscious until the ambulance arrived, which was rapidly followed by armed response, local police and senior officers.

The paramedic took one look at DI Dalton's wound.

She called to her ambulance care assistant, 'He's losing blood and going into shock!'

The two women frantically tried to stabilise the patient.

Eventually the paramedic stopped and shook her head.

'I'm sorry. He's gone.' She turned to the large police officer clutching the detective's hand and still talking to him. 'What was his name?'

PS Harris didn't respond, so Mr Kapoor stepped forward.

He respectfully brought his hands together and inclined his head. 'His name, madam, was Maderu Verma.'