Jigsaw Man(2)

By: Elena Forbes







Two

Banging. More banging. Louder. Someone shouting his name. Mark Tartaglia opened his eyes. He was lying on a bed, in the dark. Unsure where he was, he stretched out his arm and felt the cool, smooth space beside him. He reached out further. Nobody there. Light filtered through the open crack under a door and, as his eyes gradually adjusted, he made out familiar shapes. He was at home. He peered at the luminous face of his watch. Just before six o’clock. About half an hour before he needed to get up. The room was cold, yet he was sweating. His head throbbed and he took several long, deep breaths, trying to fix in his mind the sequence of events the night before, images unravelling like jerky little clips of film. The bar-crawl with his cousin Gianni to celebrate Gianni’s decree absolute; beer and vodka chasers, and ending up in some fancy new boutique hotel in the West End. Dim lighting, loud music, lots of people. More of a nightclub than a hotel bar. More drinks. Something unmemorable to eat. A foursome of giggling, very young women, stragglers from an office Halloween party, who had joined them without much persuasion. More to drink; champagne this time. Later, a woman with long, dark hair, on her own, who had met his gaze several times from across the bar. Early forties, tanned and slim. Not a pro; he clocked that immediately from her body language. He’d seen her again in the courtyard at the back when he’d gone out for a smoke and they’d exchanged a few words over a cigarette until her phone rang. Then the slip of paper with her room number that she had discreetly dropped in his lap on her way out of the bar. If you’re looking for something different . . . The accompanying smile that spoke more than words. He’d been drunk, but not so drunk as to not know what he was doing when he’d made his excuses to Gianni, saying he was tired, and knocked on her door fifteen minutes or so later.

He stretched out into a star shape, enjoying the chill of the sheets in the furthest corners, and closed his eyes as he ran through the sequence of events again in his mind. He barely remembered the taxi ride home, or letting himself into his flat. Her name was Annika, no, Jannicke. From Oslo. Over in London for a few days on business. The pale circle on her ring finger said she was married.

The banging started again. He wasn’t dreaming. A man was shouting his name and he opened his eyes. The noise seemed to be coming from the front of his flat. As he eased himself into a sitting position in bed and reached for the light switch, he caught a fleeting scent of a woman’s perfume. Slowly he got to his feet, head aching, mouth sour and dry as dust. He had no idea what he had done with his clothes. Unsteadily, he grabbed a towel he found lying over a chair, wrapped it around himself, and stumbled into the sitting room. The lights were on, the shutters gaping open. A man was standing in the front garden, peering through the window. The man waved at him. Silhouetted against the acid-orange glare from the street lamp, it was difficult to see his face clearly and it took Tartaglia a few moments before he recognised Nick Minderedes, a detective constable in his team. They’d been on call for the past five days, the next murder investigation team in line for any case of suspicious death that came into the Homicide West jurisdiction. A diet of early nights was the prescription, just in case, and a clear, sober head. Sod’s law that something had happened on the one night he had been out getting lashed.

Tartaglia let himself out of his flat and opened the front door.

Minderedes stood on the doorstep, dressed even at that hour in a sharply-cut suit and tie, his face shaved, his short black hair still wet and spiky from the shower. He looked alert, as though he had been awake for hours. It was ironic that he was usually the one burning the candle at both ends.

‘Sorry for the noise, boss. Didn’t want to rouse the whole street but you weren’t answering.’ As he spoke, a window was slammed shut immediately above them.

‘What’s up?’

‘Suspicious death in the West End. I need to take you over there now.’

‘Couldn’t you have phoned first?’

Minderedes’s brown eyes narrowed. ‘I tried. Many times. Some cabbie with an attitude finally picked up. Said you’d left it on the back seat of his cab a few hours ago. Said it’d been ringing non-stop ever since.’ His eyebrows raised a fraction as he spoke.

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