Val McDermid

Dead Beat

The first book in the Kate Brannigan series, 1992


I swear one day I'll kill him. Kill who? The man next door, Richard Barclay, rock journalist and overgrown schoolboy, is who. I had stumbled wearily across the threshold of my bungalow, craving nothing more exotic than a few hours' sleep when I found Richard's message. When I say found, I use the term loosely. I could hardly have missed it. He'd sellotaped it to the inside of my glass inner door so that it would be the first thing I saw when I entered the storm porch. It glared luridly at me, looking like a child's note to Santa, written in sprawling capitals with magic marker on the back of a record company press release. 'Don't forget Jett's gig and party afterwards tonight. Vital you're there. See you at eight.' Vital was underlined three times, but it was that 'Don't forget' that made my hands twitch into a stranglehold.

Richard and I have been lovers for only nine months, but I've already learned to speak his language. I could write the Berlitz phrasebook. The official translation of 'don't forget' is, 'I omitted to mention to you that I had committed us to going somewhere/doing something (that you will almost certainly hate the idea of) and if you don't come it will cause me major social embarrassment.'

I pulled the note off the door, sighing deeply when I saw the sellotape marks on the glass. I'd weaned him off drawing pins, but unfortunately I hadn't yet got him on to Blu-Tak. I walked up the narrow hall to the telephone table. The house diary where Richard and I are both supposed to record details of anything mutually relevant lay open. In today's space, Richard had written, in black felt-tip pen, 'Jett: Apollo then Holiday Inn'. Even though he'd used a different pen from his note, it didn't fool the carefully cultivated memory skills of Kate Brannigan, Private Investigator. I knew that message hadn't been there when I'd staggered out an hour before dawn to continue my surveillance of a pair of counterfeiters.

I muttered childish curses under my breath as I made my way through to my bedroom and quickly peeled off my nondescript duvet jacket and jogging suit. 'I hope his rabbits die and all his matches get wet. And I hope he can't get the lid off the mayo after he's made the chicken sandwich,' I swore as I headed for the bathroom and stepped gratefully under a hot shower.

That's when the self-pitying tears slowly squeezed themselves under my defences and down my cheeks. In the shower no one can see you weep. I offer that up as one of the great twentieth-century aphorisms, right up there alongside 'Love means never having to say you're sorry'. Mostly, my tears were sheer exhaustion. For the last two weeks I'd been working on a case that had involved driving from one end of the country to the other on an almost daily basis, staking out houses and warehouses from the hours before dawn till past midnight, and living on snatched sandwiches from motorway service stations and greasy spoons my mother would have phoned the environmental health inspectors about.

If that sort of routine had been the normal stock in trade of Mortensen and Brannigan it might not have seemed so bloody awful. But our cases usually involve nothing more taxing than sitting in front of a computer screen drinking coffee and making phone calls. This time, though, my senior partner Bill Mortensen and I had been hired by a consortium of prestigious watch manufacturers to track down the source of high-quality copies of their merchandise which had been flooding the market from somewhere in the Greater Manchester area. Surprise, surprise, I'd ended up with the sticky end while Bill sat in the office moodily staring into his computer screens.

Matters had come to a head when Garnetts, the city's biggest independent jewellers', had been broken into. The thieves had ignored the safe and the alarmed display cases, and had simply stolen the contents of a cupboard in the manager's office. What they had walked away with were the green leather wallets that are presented free to purchasers of genuine Rolex watches, the luxury market's equivalent of a free plastic daffodil with every packet of soap powder. They'd also taken the credit card wallets that Gucci give to their customers, as well as dozens of empty boxes for Cartier and Raymond Weil watches.

This theft told the manufacturers that the counterfeit business -known in the trade as schneids – was moving up a gear. Till now, the villains had been content to sell their wares as copies, via a complicated network of small traders. While that had infuriated the companies, it hadn't kept them awake at night because the sort of people who part with forty pounds in a pub or at a market stall for a fake Rolex aren't the sort who've got a few grand rucked away in their back pockets for the real thing. But now it looked as if the schneid merchants were planning to pass their clever copies off as the genuine article. Not only might that take business away from straight outlets, it could also affect the luxury watchmakers' reputation for quality. Suddenly it was worth spending money to knock the racket on the head.

Mortensen and Brannigan might not be up there in the top ten of Britain's major private investigation companies, but we'd landed this job for two good reasons. Although our main area of work is in computer fraud and security systems, we were the first people who sprang to Garnetts' minds, since Bill had designed their computerised security system and they had ignored his suggestion that the cupboard in question be linked in to the overall system. After all, they'd argued, there was nothing in there worth stealing… The second reason was that we were one of the few firms of specialist private investigators operating out of Manchester. We knew the territory.

When we took the job on, we anticipated clearing it up in a matter of days. What we hadn't grasped was the scale of the operation. Getting to grips with it had worn me into the ground. However, in the last couple of days, I'd started to feel that warm glow of excitement in the pit of my stomach that always tells me I'm getting close. I had found the factory where the schneid watches were being produced, I knew the names of the two men who were wholesaling the merchandise, and who their main middle men were. All I had to do was establish the pattern of their movements and then we could hand over to our clients. I suspected that some time in the next couple of weeks, the men I had been following would be on the receiving end of a very unwelcome visit from the cops and Trading Standards officials. Which would ultimately mean a substantial reward for Mortensen and Brannigan, on top of our already substantial fee.

Because it was all going so well, I had promised myself a well-deserved and much-needed early night after I had followed Jack 'Billy' Smart, my number one suspect, back to his Gothic three-storey house in a quiet, tree-lined suburban street that evening at six. He'd walked in with a couple of bottles of Moet and an armful of videos from the shop round the corner, and I figured he was all set for a kiss and a cuddle in front of the television with his girlfriend. Come to that, I could have kissed him myself. Now I could go home, have a quick shower, send a cab out for a takeaway from nearby Chinatown and watch the soaps. Then I'd have a face pack and luxuriate in a long, slow bath and beauty routine. It's not that I'm obsessive about personal hygiene, by the way, just that I've always felt that showers are for getting rid of the dirt, while baths are for serious pleasures like reading the adventure game reviews in computer magazines and fantasising about the computer I'll upgrade to when Mortensen and Brannigan's ship comes in. With luck, Richard would be out on the town so I could perform my ablutions in total peace, accompanied only by a long cool drink.

Well, I'd been right about one thing at least. Richard was certainly going out on the town. What I hadn't bargained for was being there with him. So much for my plans. I knew I was no match for Richard tonight. I was just too tired to win the argument. Besides, deep down, I knew I didn't have a leg to stand on. He'd bitten the bullet and got suited up to escort me to an obligatory dinner party the week before. After subjecting him to an evening with a bunch of insurance executives and their wives, spinach pancakes and all, I owed him. And I suspected he knew it. But just because it was my turn to suffer didn't mean I had to cave in without a whinge.

As I vigorously rubbed shampoo into my unruly auburn hair, a blast of cold air hit my spine. I turned, knowing exactly what I'd see. Richard's face smiled nervously at me through the open door of the shower cubicle. 'Hi,

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