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The loose ends of murder take crusading cop Martin Nicols thousands of miles from his home beat … and into a steaming hotbed of child vice, inhuman torture and death.
But this time Nicols struggles against more than evil puppetmasters with ultimate power over their helpless young victims … he must also contend with hostile and jealous colleagues and infuriating red tape that threatens to hog tie his investigation and let the guilty get away with murder.
Unlike lesser crime writers, Kinnon does not insult us by scattering red herrings as he tears through his story. Every lead matters. All the intelligent reader must do is to decide how much.
Just like in a real murder hunt, the solid evidence unfolding page by page points in more directions than a weather vane in a gale. It isn't wise to attempt to outguess Kinnon - but it's fruitless to try to resist the temptation as you're drawn into his book as a silent character!
The Tangled Skein by Alistair Kinnon
Detective Sergeant Martin Nicols squirmed as he tried to ease his considerable bulk into a comfortable position. Detective Alan Boyde swore as he too sought space for his feet and long legs in an economy class seat.
"They sure didn't build planes with us in mind. Did they, Sarge?"
"At least the middle seat's empty," Nicols said.
Nicols wriggled to fish his briefcase out from below the seat in front of him.
"I never thought I'd be sorry to fly to Vancouver," Boyde said, gazing moodily at the fast receding view of Toronto, "but I always assumed it would be with Angela not with you, Sarge."
"Al, on this job, drop the Sarge. Mart's fine."
"Okay, Sar… Mart."
"Here, take your pick, any bit of the file."
"Aw, Mart, we've read the whole thing already."
"And we'll read it again till something clicks."
"Why did Papa Paas give it to you anyway? What has it to do with paedophile rings or child prostitution?"
"If Inspector Paas has loaded us with it, there might be some connection, but he did say we'd probably have to start from scratch."
Nicols started at the back of the file after glancing at its date: October 6th. Two weeks ago.
The PM report said the man had died of a single stab wound to the left side of the chest between ribs five and six, glancing off the fifth rib, travelling upwards towards the centre of the body to penetrate the heart.
The mutilation - the removal of the penis, testicles, and scrotum - had been done after death, and not very neatly.
The boy had died of a single gunshot through the roof of his mouth, blowing out the back of his head.
Nicols glanced at the photographs and shuddered.
I'll never get used to it, he thought, and turned to the beginning of the file.
The bodies had been found by someone walking his dog in the early morning, under trees not far from an abandoned car in a parking lot in Stanley Park. Both had been dead for some time: estimated time of death between 10:00pm Friday, October 3, and 1:00am Saturday, October 4.
The knife was found lying beside the body …
… the man's pants and underwear had been pulled down round his ankles; the boy was fully dressed. Fingerprints on the knife handle matched the boy's left hand and there was only one clear set, an underhand grip.
Like holding a sword, Nicols thought, not the overhand dagger grip of melodramas.
… On the gun, the cross-hatching on the grip obscured any possible prints, but the boy's left thumbprint was clear on the trigger. On the barrel, one clear set of prints from his right hand was found.
Nicols looked at the photographs of the prints. Where you would expect them if he had held the gun to position it in his own mouth, Nicols thought. But none of the man's prints. Why wouldn't there be some, blurred and overlaid, if the gun belonged to the man? And why were such prints as there were on the gun so clear? So we're supposed to think the boy killed the man, mutilated him, took his own gun, and shot himself? No, it doesn't sound right.
"Swap," he said to Boyde. "I want you to read this bit again."
As Boyde read, Nicols sat deep in thought.
"Well?" Nicols said when Boyde handed him back the file.
"Does it make any sense?"
"Does anything we have to investigate make sense?"
"You're a …" Nicols glanced at the file, "… a seventeen year old boy. You've just knifed a man to death and cut off his privates - "
"Would you like something from the bar, sir?"
"What? Oh, yes, a scotch and water."
The flight attendant looked at him very oddly as she handed him his drink. Boyde grinned and Nicols waited until the flight attendant moved on.
"Would you blow your brains out?"
Boyde shook his head. "No, I think I'd get the hell out of there. I see what you mean. You think a kid might kill himself when he realises he had killed a man, say in a struggle and if the gun were right there, but not after taking time to mutilate him."
"What does that leave us with?"
"A third party who offed both of them? What about a gang initiation? Find a queer, entice him someplace quiet, kill him, and bring back his apparatus?"
"You're right; the penis and testicles weren't found. So what about the boy, I wonder?"
"Was the boy bait? Not part of the gang? Like staking out a goat for the tiger? Or maybe the kid did it and got cold feet at the last minute."
"No, in that case why not simply take off? If he'd already done the deed, why shoot himself? No, someone else was there."
Nicols went back to the file.
The medical examiner thought the boy had been kneeling when he shot himself and had fallen backwards and sideways; his body was quite a bit away from the man's and he had been facing away from the other body.
It had rained after both had been killed and the only tracks were of the man and his dog, plus the police treads, of course. Under the man's body were two footprints of someone standing feet slightly apart. If he had been there at the same time as the victim then he must have been behind the man and very close, if not actually touching. There was nothing unusual about the prints, size ten, men's shoes, nothing to identify them.
"Al, take your knife in your hand as if you were going to stab someone. No, an underhand grip."
Boyde hefted the dinner knife.
"Now stab. The back of the seat in front of you is a man's chest. Where do you connect?"
"That depends on how tall he is and how tall I am, but I would get the left of his chest going in. If I got the right side it would more likely be a glancing blow, or into the right lung. At any rate slanting away from centre and the heart."
"So would you say whoever knifed our friend was probably right-handed? What does the file say about the boy?"
"Nothing really, Mart."
"Read it again. The prints on the knife came from his left hand, underhand grip. It was his left thumbprint on the trigger. Only the barrel had right hand prints."
"So the boy was left-handed?"
Boyde changed hands and stabbed left-handed.
"Are you finished with your knife, sir?"
"Oh, sorry. We're plotting a movie script." Boyde grinned and handed the knife to the flight attendant, handle first.
"The prints are too good. Could you grip the handle, stab, pull the blade out of the body, and use the knife to mutilate. All without changing your grip or moving your hand? Leaving only one clear set of prints?"
Boyde went through the motions, clutching his pencil. "No, I don't think I could. I don't think anyone could. So whoever killed the man put the boy's prints on the knife?"
"Why use the boy's left hand?"
"Because he knew the boy was left-handed? … No, wait … I've got it. Listen. I've got a friend whose son is left-handed; when he sets the table, if he doesn't think about what he's doing, he sets it left-handed. It's the natural way for him. So what if the killer is left-handed? In his hurry, or excitement, he makes the prints with the kid using his natural hand. But wouldn't that shoot down your idea of the killer being right-handed?"
"I didn't say he was right-handed, just that the wound made it look as if he was. Try this for size; a left-hander standing behind the victim bringing his left hand round to stab the chest would produce the same wound: left of the chest sloping up and to the right."
"Pretty far fetched, Sarge … Mart."
Nicols' mind drifted back to the events sending them to Vancouver.
The successful conclusion of a triple murder case and closing of a child prostitution ring hadn't done his reputation, or Inspector Paas', any harm. Inspector Paas hadn't given them much information beyond saying a friend of his in Vancouver had a possible lead to one of the men they still wanted. Without comment, this file had been dropped on them the day before they left.
"Wake up, Mart. We're almost there." Boyde grinned as he leaned across to shake Nicols.