Val McDermid

Common Murder

The second book in the Lindsay Gordon series, 1989

For my father


Thanks to: Helen for keeping us laughing at Greenham; Andrew Wiatr for advice on computers (any errors are mine); Diana for all the constructive criticism; Lisanne and Jane for their hard work; John and Senga, Laura and Ewan for their hospitality at the crucial point; Sue Jackson for her inimitable skills; and Henry the lawyer for letting me pick his brains.


This is murder,” Lindsay Gordon complained, leaning back in her chair and putting her feet up on the desk. “I can’t bear it when there’s nothing doing. Look at us. Eight p.m. on the dynamic news desk of a national daily. The night news editor’s phoning his daughter in Detroit. His deputy’s straining his few remaining brain cells with the crossword. One reporter has escaped to the pub like a sensible soul. Another is using the office computer to write the Great English Novel.”

“And the third is whingeing on as usual,” joked the hopeful novelist, looking up from the screen. “Don’t knock it, Lindsay, it’s better than working.”

“Huh,” she grunted, reaching for the phone. “I sometimes wonder. I’m going to do a round of calls, see if there’s anything going on in the big bad world outside.”

Her colleague grinned. “What’s the problem? Run out of friends to phone?”

Lindsay pulled a face. “Something like that,” she replied.

As she opened her contacts book at the page with the list of police, fire, and ambulance numbers she thought of the change in her attitude to unfettered access to the office phone since she’d moved from her base in Glasgow to live with her lover Cordelia in London. She had appreciated quiet night shifts in those days for the chance they gave her to spend half the night chattering about everything and nothing with Cordelia. These days, however, it seemed that what they had to say to each other could easily be accommodated in the hours between work and sleep. Indeed, Lindsay was beginning to find it easier to open her heart to friends who weren’t Cordelia. She shook herself mentally and started on her list of calls.

Cliff Gilbert, the night news editor, finished his phone conversation and started checking the computerized news desk for any fresh stories. After a few minutes, he called, “Lindsay, you clear?”

“Just doing the calls, Cliff,” she answered.

“Never mind that. There’s a bloody good tip just come in from one of the local paper lads in Fordham. Seems there’s been some aggro at the women’s peace camp at Brownlow Common. I’ve transferred the copy into your personal desk. Check it out, will you?” he asked.

Lindsay sat up and summoned the few paragraphs onto her screen. The story seemed straightforward enough. A local resident claimed he’d been assaulted by one of the women from the peace camp. He’d had his nose broken in the incident, and the woman was in custody. Lindsay was instantly skeptical. She found it hard to believe that one of a group pledged to campaign for peace would physically attack an opponent of the anti-nuclear protest. But she was enough of a professional to concede that her initial reaction was the sort of knee-jerk she loved to condemn when it came from the other side.

The repercussions unfolding outside Fordham police station made the story interesting from the point of view of the Daily Clarion news desk. The assaulted man, a local solicitor called Rupert Crabtree, was the leader of Ratepayers Against Brownlow’s Destruction, a pressure group dedicated to the removal of the peace women from the common. His accusation had provoked a spontaneous demonstration from the women, who were apparently besieging the police station. That, in its turn, had provoked a counter- demonstration from RABD members outraged at the alleged attack. There was a major confrontation in the making, it appeared.

Lindsay started making phone calls but soon hit a brick wall. The police station at Fordham was referring all calls to county headquarters. Headquarters was hiding behind the old excuse: “We can make no statement yet. Reports are still coming in.” It was not an unusual frustration. She walked over to Cliff’s desk and explained the problem. “It might be worth taking a run down there to see what the score is,” she suggested. “I can be there in an hour at this time of night, and if it is shaping up into a nasty, we should have someone on the spot. I don’t know how far we can rely on the lad that filed the original copy. I’ve got some good contacts at the peace camp. We could get a cracking exclusive out of it. What do you think?”

Cliff shrugged. “I don’t know. It doesn’t grab me.”

Lindsay sighed. “On the basis of what we’ve got so far, we could be looking at a major civil disturbance. I’d hate the opposition to beat us to the draw when we’ve got a head start with my contacts.”

“Give your contacts a bell, then.”

“There are no phones at the camp, Cliff. British Telecom has shown an incomprehensible reluctance to install them in tents. And besides, they’ll probably all be down at the copshop protesting. I might as well go. There’s sod all else doing.”

He grinned. “Okay, Lindsay, go and take a look. Give me a check call when you get there. I’ll see if we can get any more information over the phone. Remember your deadlines- there’s no point in getting a good exclusive if we can’t get it in the paper.”

“What about a pic man?”

“Let me know if you need one when you get there. I seem to remember there’s a local snapper we’ve used before.”

Five minutes later, Lindsay was weaving through the London traffic in her elderly MG roadster. She drove on automatic pilot while she dredged all she knew about the peace camp to the surface of her mind.

She’d first been to the camp about nine months before. She and Cordelia had made the twenty-mile detour to Brownlow Common one sunny May Sunday after a long lunch with friends in Oxford. Lindsay had read about the camp in one of the Sunday papers and had been intrigued enough by the report to want to see it for herself. Cordelia, who shared Lindsay’s commitment to opposing the nuclear threat, had been easily persuaded to come along on that initial visit, though she was never to share Lindsay’s conviction that the camp was an effective form of protest. For Cordelia, the channels of dissent that came easiest were the traditional ones of letters to the Guardian and MPs. She had never felt comfortable with the ethos of the camp. Cordelia always felt that she was somehow being judged and found wanting by the women who had made that overwhelming commitment to the cause of peace. So she seldom accompanied Lindsay on later visits, preferring

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