Winter 2001


The Magazine for Crime & Mystery




Jess Walter
Martin Edwards
Mo Hayder
Sarah Diamond
Minette Walters
Paul Kilduff


Under a Winter-Blue Sky
by Ceri Jordan


Agatha Christie & Archeaology
by Maureen Caryle
W.R.Burnett, American Realist
by Martin Spellman
The Black Widowers
Isaac Asimov - Overlooked but not Forgotten
by Catherine Stewart


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ANDREW TAYLOR on Writing Crime Fiction


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Under A Winter-Blue Moon

by Ceri Jordan

It was November when Raz was moved from the lifers to the dead. The probation officer’s little joke, that was, falling flat in the silence between them as Raz signed the papers for the halfway house, signing away his right to drink, get high, or have any control over his own life.
‘I don’t think,’ he said, when the smile had finally faded from the fat man’s fat mouth, ‘I’ll notice any difference.’
He did, of course. He noticed the sky.

The management took care to keep him well away from the grieving relatives. The Summerhill Crematorium and Gardens Of Rest ‘prided itself on its dignity’, or so the plaque by the doors said. The mourners, loitering in the porch, cupping a cigarette in white-knuckled hands until the sound of the organ summoned them, ignored it and its coded message for them.
They had no dignity, no pride; just emotions that they didn’t know what to do with, that burst out in sobbing or fainting fits, that glazed their eyes and deadened their tongues as they mumbled through the carefully inoffensive service.
From the safety of the flower-beds or the lawns, an invisible man in his overalls and GROUND STAFF jacket, Raz tried to guess their stories. Thirty-something blonde in furs, flanked by a litter of teenagers: second wife, her mind already on the will. Cardiganed ladies bussed in by the old people’s home to say goodbye to another of their number. Sometimes a child in a fussy party dress, wandering neglected among the heather beds. He kept well away from them.
He’d never touched a child, those perverts made him sick; but all the probation department needed was some misunderstanding, some wild accusation, and he’d be trading all this for a concrete ceiling again, and he didn’t want that.
He was getting used to the sky.

It was thunder-black the day she came to him: cloud moving in fast from the east, turning the fading daylight the colour of a new bruise. He’d been late, just five minutes, thanks to the bus, and the manager had scowled and sent him out to scrape mould from the Wall of Remembrance.
The Wall disturbed him. Reminded him of history lessons, of Berlin and dead babies in camps and old gits marching in red with poppies. Raz felt like he ought to bow every time he came near it, like his mother in church; and that brought back memories, and the tight feeling in the pit of his stomach, and made him wonder if the house supervisor would really notice if he had a couple of beers at lunch, just to steady him.
It was white marble, the Wall, with the names carved out in gold. Carved so they weren’t quite flush, and the grime and the mould built up in them. He had to use a sponge, so he wouldn’t damage the names. And a spray to stop the moss coming back, but it made him cough and mostly he didn’t use it - which made the whole thing sort of his fault and just made him more annoyed.
He’d just worked his way down the first column - old names in peeling gold, unvisited, their wives and siblings probably named further along by now - when he realised she was watching him.
She was young, to be coming here alone. His age, maybe, behind a mask of mascara and a high fur collar. She was too pale to wear black, and her hair was up, which made her look like a movie star. Maybe she was. The Summerhill was expensive enough. Raz straightened up. Feeling her eyes on him, the way he looked at women and liked to imagine they’d look at him, though he never caught them doing it.
‘It’s so sad,’ she said. ‘All these people.’ Raz bowed his head. ‘Not them being dead, I mean. But thinking they’re remembered. Thinking that, by getting their names on this wall, they’ve achieved something. They’re immortal.’
‘It’s bad,’ he heard himself say, ‘to be forgotten.’
She was looking up into the sky, where the clouds were closing over the last of the sun. The wind sharpened suddenly, slicing through the tatty donkey jacket, reducing him to shivers.
‘I’ll leave you alone,’ he said, without looking her in the eye. Polite as ordered.
She smiled.
‘Don’t,’ she said.

‘I came to you for a reason, Raz.’
Her name was Naomi, and she had silk sheets on a big bed in a studio flat half a mile away. And now it was one a.m. and he was lying face-down on them, breathing her cigarette smoke and wondering what reason anyone would have to bring him here, unless they were desperate or psycho or picking up a one-nighter in a graveyard turned them on.
‘I need your help.’
She blew smoke into the empty air: the whole flat seemed empty, hollow, despite the books and the old newspapers and the jumble of toiletries in the bathroom. Her voice rang like an actor’s, like someone whispering in a cave to hear their echo.
‘The thing is, Raz: I killed someone.’

She took him down the fire escape, a comedy of clattering ladders and lights coming on in distant windows, and led him to the end of the alley. It terminated in a high wall that smelled of piss, and two big dumpsters, the kind American TV cops always found bodies in. Both were full to overflowing with black sacks and soggy cardboard. Chinese food was scattered in the puddles.
Lifting the corner of a sack, Naomi showed him a white hand, fingers upturned like a man-trap. Blood had dried in splatter marks on the palm.
`He attacked me,’ she said, but the words seemed redundant.
In the dark, in his sleepy, sated state, the whole situation had developed its own logic. The corpse required no explanation. It simply was.
‘We can’t carry it,’ Raz said, and his breath misted in the stillness, blurring his vision.
‘Not alone.’
‘I can get people to help,’ Naomi told him. ‘I just need a way to get rid of... it.’
‘What if someone comes looking?’
‘They won’t look here.’
The cloud was breaking, at last, and a few pale stars had appeared in the gaps. Raz looked at her, hunched in a jacket that would cost him a month’s wages, and wondered how much she would miss the sky.
‘Tomorrow night,’ he said.
Her face was in shadow, but she sounded almost hurt as she murmured, ‘Aren’t you going to ask . . . ?’
‘I’ve worked it out for myself. Client, working girl, a fight... Doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes, right?’
Naomi licked her lips, turned away. ‘Right.’
Which was good, because he needed to be right - about her, anyway, he needed that to be right to justify it when he said, ‘Of course, you’re going to owe me. Big time.’

The sky was clear by dawn.
He went straight to work; far too early, had to stop into the cafe down the road and have a breakfast he didn’t want just to pass the time. The TV over the counter droned about closing steelyards and the Duke of somewhere filing for divorce. Nobody dead, that he could tell. Nobody important.
The wind had cleared the lawns for him, pinning the leaves against the chain link fence behind the Wall. Raz finished cleaning the names before lunch; huddled low against the marble, enjoying the sun. Enjoying the avenues opening up to him, the possibilities. The nights in that hollow little flat, collecting what he was owed.
It’s a transaction, that’s all. She wants, she pays. Just like anything else. And that was the best way with women. It was misunderstanding all those stupid signals that had got him into prison in the first place, and he wasn’t going to risk it again.
The crackle of wheels on gravel startled him back to the present. A hearse was pulling in, taking the road to the rear entrance. Delivery time. Early funeral, relatives based too far away to bother with the traditional procession; a nursing home glad to shift a body to the Summerhill’s gloomy Chapel of Rest.
Either way: bingo.

He’d told her seven: later than the staff ever worked, but early enough that anyone passing wouldn’t freak out if they saw a light. He’d even walked several streets to find a pub to hang out in, just in case anyone recognised him. And she still left him waiting, stamping and rubbing his hands together in the cold, loitering round the gates for half an hour like some cheap burglar.
Lights. No way to see past them, tell if it was her and he hadn’t even asked what sort of car she’d arrive in, but too late now. Raz pushed the gate open, and the car rolled through.
Pulled right up to the rear entrance, like he’d told them; killed the lights, the engine, and opened the doors gently, left them open, no slamming and banging.
And there was Naomi, in old jeans and a pullover, looking out of place and worried and wonderful. And there beside her was a whole lot of trouble.
The driver wasn’t a problem. As soon as he got close enough, Raz could tell what the deal was there. The driver was big and brown-haired, but he had Naomi’s eyes, and even her way of standing, weight on one hip like he was poised to make a run for it. The driver was big brother, come to lend some muscle, and along as he didn’t want to play the hero, that was just fine.
It was the kid that really had Raz worried.
‘What’s this?’
‘This,’ Naomi murmured, pulling the girl to her like a disobedient pet, ‘is Denise.’
‘Hey,’ big brother said, looking Raz over. ‘He doesn’t need to know that.’
‘He’s not going to tell anyone anything.’
‘Not as long as I get paid,’ Raz agreed, and saw Naomi’s shoulders hunch a little. Didn’t tell bro about the deal, then.
Denise looked up at him, dull-eyed, and asked, ‘Who is he?’
‘He’s helping us, Den,’ Naomi said sweetly. Too sweet. The kid was, what? Fourteen at least, and if they wanted her protected from the nasty old world, they should’ve left her at home. And maybe kept her away from her sister, and her nasty habit of picking up ex-cons in graveyards.
Big brother said, ‘Let’s get it done,’ and popped the clasp on the boot.

Give the man his due, he was strong. Taking most of the weight by the time they got inside the Chapel, which was fine by Raz, who’d couldn’t keep his grip on the tarpaulin and wasn’t exactly pleased by the smell.
‘If they get a whiff of this guy and open up the coffin, all bets are off, buddy.’
Bro just flexed his shoulders a little and said, ‘Where to?’
‘The open one.’
The coffin was already on the trolley, ready to go through in the morning. Tilt the trolley end and slide it onto the table with it’s carefully concealed conveyor belt: no lifting involved, no chance for someone to realise Mr Grenville had put on two hundred pounds overnight. He hoped.
Drawing level with the coffin, big brother took a look inside and muttered, ‘Shit. Poor old bugger.’
‘Cancer. Hardly anything left. Plenty of room for your boy.’
Bracing himself, bro lifted; and suddenly all the weight was slithering down towards Raz, the tarpaulin bulging and sliding like something was alive in there. He lifted, but he didn’t have the grip right, and something hit him in the face and he went over backwards, unable to hear his own cursing over the kid’s scream.
‘It’s all right,’ Naomi said, slowly and clearly. ‘It’s all right.’
Looking up, Raz realised she wasn’t talking to him.
The kid had her face buried in Naomi’s chest, but now she was twisting against her sister’s arms, like she wanted to be able to turn, to look, but hadn’t made up her mind if she was going to.
The tarp had come open, and an old guy was spilling out of it, one hand flung up by his face like he was miming shock. His eyes were closed, but the way big brother was gulping breath, the way Naomi held her sister so tight she might break, told Raz who he was.
This wasn’t what he’d expected at all.
Big brother bent down and pulled the tarp over the old man - their old man - and muttered, ‘Just help me get him.’
‘Wait. She said.’
‘I said nothing,’ Naomi snapped, and her voice was ringing, the way it did in her studio, and he understood now that the emptiness wasn’t in the apartment but in her. ‘Please. Let’s get this over with. Think of Denise.' ‘Maybe you should have thought of her . . .’
Big brother choked like he was fighting laughter, and Naomi pulled the crying child closer and whispered, ‘Why do you think we did it?’

The kid was hunched in the back seat when he came out; not crying, not relieved, just sat there ramrod straight and staring into the rear-view mirror like she thought someone was creeping up on her.
Naomi was leaning against the car, blowing smoke at the velvet-black sky.
‘You should have let me explain,’ she said.
And, when Raz didn’t reply; ‘He was messing with Denise. Tried it with me, but I left, I was old enough. She isn’t. So . . .’ Raz looked at her, wondering how he could have read her so wrong. ‘Look, we’d like you to take this . . .’
Twenty-pound notes, fanned between shaking fingers. ‘That’s not what I did it for.’
‘You said I’d owe you.’ ‘
That’s not what I meant.’
Naomi just blinked; but she understood. He could see it in her eyes. Just like he’d seen a ‘yes’ in a girl’s eyes and pushed open the door she was about to close, and suddenly he was unsure about that too, about the innocence he’d clung to all through his sentence, about women and himself and everything.
Naomi threw the cigarette end down in the gravel, drew breath, and said, ‘I don’t think we should be seen together again. You know, in case anyone . . .’
He didn’t hear the rest. He didn’t have to. He knew all about excuses and brush-offs and changes of heart. He would have grabbed her, hurt her, maybe taken what she’d promised right there, but the kid, the bloody kid was watching from the back seat, watching with that dumb accusation in her eyes like only a child can.
He turned instead; just in time to meet big bro, back from locking the chapel doors, and it was easy to catch him by surprise, a right hook that sent him sprawling onto the wet grass. And then just walk away. Walk away with sore knuckles, his eyes burning with tears, Naomi yelling behind him; not at him, not even at him, but just urging her brother to leave it, forget it, get in the car . .. . The car, that roared past him as he turned left onto the lawns, screeching out into the night, leaving him with dew seeping through his cheap trainers and the cold white marble of the Wall under his fingertips, cold as a concrete cell.

It was dawn now. The sky was the colour of ice-cream, and the cloud had cleared. It was going to be a beautiful day, bright and winter-blue. The first sunlight was already stroking the top of the Wall, and any moment it would pour down on him like honey, evaporating the last of the night.
He’d thought about leaving the lid off dear old Mr Grenville’s coffin, but that wasn’t personal enough, and anyway, the house would report that he’d been out all night and they’d find a way to blame him for it. They always did.
Instead, he’d carefully replaced the lid, screws and all. After he’d gone through darling daddy’s pockets and found his wallet.
They hadn’t been thinking, kid and big bro and Naomi. They hadn’t been thinking straight all along. They’d realise their mistake, after he paid them a little visit. Took what he was owed. Later. Right now, he was tired, and happy just to sit there, watching the frost melt off his jeans, and drinking in the sky.