James Craig

Buckingham Palace Blues

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Psalm 146. iii-iv


‘Urgh.’ Joe Dalton took a bite out of his fried-egg roll, chewed it a couple of times and spat it out of the window of the Austin FX4. Despite having eaten little for more than three days now, he could feel the bile rising instantly in his throat and knew that no food would stay down. Disgusted, he chucked the rest of the roll into the gutter and wiped his hands on his grubby Nickelback T-shirt. Gingerly taking the cardboard cup from the drinks- holder on the dashboard, he removed the lid and blew gently on his oily black coffee. He took a tiny sip and winced. Horrible.

Wearily he opened the cab door and climbed out. Pouring the steaming liquid down a drain leading into one of London’s crumbling sewers, he then dropped the cardboard cup and its plastic lid into a nearby bin. Shivering in the cold, he went round to the back of the cab and opened the boot. Coiled on top of the spare wheel inside was the length of cord that he had been carrying around with him for weeks: three-strand 6mm white nylon — excellent shock-absorption properties, with a guaranteed break load of 750kg. With a sigh, he pulled it out, knowing that it was more than capable of doing the job required.

Sticking it under his arm, Dalton slammed the boot shut and walked towards the streetlight beside which he had parked the taxi. Looping one end of the rope around its metal pole, he tied it securely with a simple overhand knot. Stepping back to the cab, he tossed the rope through the driver’s window, opened the door and got back in. After putting on his seat belt, he took a couple of deep breaths. Then he wound the free end of the rope round his neck three times, tying it off with the same kind of knot.

It was tight, but not too tight. The nylon cut into his neck, but he could still breathe. Gritting his teeth, he switched on the ignition and pushed the stick into first gear.

‘Fuck it!’

Tears welling up in his eyes, he released the handbrake and stomped on the accelerator.

Fernando Garros returned his cup of tea to its saucer and idly watched the taxi driver getting in and out of his cab. He recognised the grinning face of Chad Kroeger on the guy’s shirt and gave a small nod of approval. Nickelback were cool! Fernando had spent more than a day’s wages to go and see them at Wembley the year before. The extra?20 for a T-shirt had been beyond him, but at least he had seen an awesome show. He hummed a few bars of ‘Burn It to the Ground’ before turning around, embarrassed, to check that no one had heard him. He needn’t have worried; sitting by the window, he had Goodfellas cafe to himself. Apart from the cabbie, there had been no other customers through the door in the last hour. Xavi, the cafe’s Spanish owner, had been fast asleep behind the counter for the last twenty minutes.

Yawning, Fernando checked his watch. It was almost 3.15 a.m. Closing his eyes, he folded his arms and stretched out his legs. He was in no rush. He had come off an eleven-hour shift as a hospital porter at St Thomas’s and was enjoying his dinner (or was it his breakfast?) before he made the fifteen-minute walk back to the bedsit he had rented for the last eight years. Elephant and Castle wasn’t the greatest neighbourhood to be wandering around in at night but, if he waited another half hour or so, he could be reasonably sure that all the gangbangers, nutters and general assholes who might otherwise try to impede his journey home would have gone to bed.

Xavi’s snoring grew louder. Opening his eyes, Fernando finished the last of his tea and thought about helping himself to another cup. Deciding against it, he returned his gaze to the cabbie who had now returned to the relative warmth of his taxi. Fernando was amused by the way London cab drivers fussed over their taxis. He found it strange. True, the vehicles were expensive —?30,000 or more, he’d read somewhere — but even so, at the end of the day it was just another car.


Fernando almost fell off his chair as the cab suddenly shot backwards, jumped the pavement, knocked over a rubbish bin and crashed into the front window of a dry cleaner’s.

Immediately, several alarms started ringing.

‘What happened?’ Xavi appeared at his shoulder, yawning, and went over to the door.

‘Car accident.’ Fernando then noticed the rope hanging from the lamp post, trailing along the pavement. He was fairly sure that hadn’t been there before. Then he remembered the cabbie. It was hard to make out what was happening inside the vehicle, but it looked like the driver was slumped forward over the wheel. Maybe he’d suffered a heart attack. Meanwhile, something — a football? — had bounced into the road and come to a stop beside the upturned bin.

‘Man,’ Xavi scratched his head, ‘you would have thought a taxi driver could drive better than that.’ He stepped cautiously out of the door on to the pavement, and then into the empty road, heading towards the cab.

Feeling more than close enough to the action already, Fernando watched him cross the street towards the ball. Then, as an afterthought, he pulled out his mobile and dialled 999.


It was a beautiful evening with the temperature in the low 60s, a bit chilly when the wind blew but as good as you were ever going to get in London on a Saturday evening in the middle of September. A darkening blue sky with only the occasional patch of cloud offered a sad reminder of the summer days past. Now was the steady, painful descent into autumn, and then winter beckoned.

Wiping his brow on his sleeve, Inspector John Carlyle took a swig of water from his plastic bottle as he jogged up The Mall, heading towards Buckingham Palace. Running was not really his preferred form of exercise, but it was cheaper than going to the gym. And just being outside helped clear his head.

He was glad to be out of the flat; his daughter and wife had been bickering all day, and he felt a sense of relief as he pounded the pavement. Alice was fast heading towards so-called ‘tweenager’ status, twelve going on twenty-five, and several years of further conflict seemed inevitable. Carlyle felt bad that there wasn’t more he could do to smooth things out between them, but he had learned a long time ago that there were severe limitations to what he could hope to achieve when it came to dealing with women, whatever their age and however well you thought you knew them.

Leaving the flat in Winter Garden House, he had taken an easy pace down Drury Lane, cutting through Covent Garden Piazza and Trafalgar Square, getting nicely into his stride as he dropped down from Carlton Gardens on to The Mall and made his way up towards Buckingham Palace. Carlyle was no royalist but he appreciated the grandeur of the surroundings. Having all this history on your doorstep was one of the perks of living in Central London. It gave you a sense of being at the centre of one of the great cities of the world. And, hand on heart, it was a great city. But, above all, it was his city. He had been born in London and, apart from a few unhappy but mercifully brief excursions into the provinces, he had lived and worked here his whole life. He was a London boy; it was the only place he had ever wanted to be.

Passing the statues of the Queen Mother and her husband King George VI, he veered on to the gravel cycle- path to avoid a couple of tourists taking photographs. As he did so, another couple stepped into his path and he

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