Jigsaw Man(4)By: Elena Forbes
A wave of nausea hit him and he closed his eyes for a moment, massaging his temples and the bridge of his nose, as he tried to work out what to do. No doubt he had been captured on camera somewhere in the hotel. He hated having to explain himself to anybody, but there was no way around it. He would have to come clean, and as soon as possible. He pictured the inevitable awkward conversation with Steele, a woman whose private life, if she had one, never impinged on her work. Hopefully, she would accept a basic explanation of what he had been doing there and that’s as far as it would go, from the work point of view. Other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he had done nothing against the rules. Why, then, did he feel as though he had?
From nowhere, a conversation from the previous afternoon with his sister, Nicoletta, bubbled to the surface. He had been sitting at his desk in the office going through some paperwork when she called. He could still hear the sound of her voice, heavy with recrimination, reminding him that he was supposed to be going over to her house for dinner that evening. He had no recollection of it but she insisted that a definite arrangement had been made. His niece and nephew were dying to see him. She had asked some other friends too. Done all the shopping and cooking. He had to admit that she sounded convincing. Maybe he had forgotten. It wouldn’t have been the first time. He had been in court for most of the past week, giving evidence in a murder trial. It hadn’t been going well and it was preoccupying him. He had tried to tell her that he had made other arrangements, but she wouldn’t listen. Finally, when forced, he had explained that he was seeing their cousin Gianni and couldn’t let him down, and she had let rip. His being at work had made no difference.
‘You’re going out to celebrate? . . . Celebrate failure, more like, he’s hopeless . . . you’re no better . . . bad influence . . . both need to grow up, get a life . . . selfish . . . midlife crisis . . .’
Blah, blah, blah. Midlife crisis? Jesus! He and Gianni weren’t even forty yet. It was as if he were still fifteen, under the thumb of his older sister, the woman of the world who thought she had all the answers. He had held the phone away from his ear – he had heard it all before – but even from a foot away, the gist was clear. He caught the word ‘commitment’ several times. Or maybe it was ‘commitment-phobe’. What could he say? ‘Marco? Marco? Are you there? Listen to me, will you?’ He had been on the point of replying, telling her to get lost, when he had heard a movement behind him. Someone was in his office. Swinging around, he had found Nick Minderedes standing right behind him, mouth puckered as he fought back a grin. It wasn’t clear how long he had been standing there, but he must have heard enough.
Tartaglia looked at Minderedes, whose eyes were still focussed ahead on the road. He could have no idea what was going through Tartaglia’s mind. Nicoletta’s words echoed again: ‘You’re not thirty any more . . .’ He felt a stab of unaccustomed guilt then felt like slapping her. What was he supposed to do? Live like a monk? He didn’t need to justify himself to anyone but he had the feeling he was still going to pay for it.
The Dillon Hotel occupied a stretch of large early Victorian terraced houses set back behind railings, close to Manchester Square, not far from Marylebone High Street. The area immediately outside had been cordoned off and Tartaglia and Minderedes were forced to park a little further down the street and walk back. As they checked in with a uniformed officer, a short, heavy-set man with thinning salt and pepper hair detached himself from a group standing by the main entrance. He was wearing a baggy grey suit that had seen better days and had the tired, puffy eyes of somebody who had been up all night. He greeted them, introducing himself as DI Johnson from Marylebone CID.
‘I hear it’s one of the guests, a woman. Is that right?’ Tartaglia asked, as they walked with Johnson up the wide stone steps and in through the open front door. He hoped there was no trace in his voice of the irrational anxiety he felt, again telling himself that it couldn’t be Jannicke.
‘Yes, the victim’s female,’ Johnson replied, leading them past the white, panelled reception area and down the main corridor, ‘but we’re not sure who she is, or if she was staying in the hotel. She was strangled up in one of the rooms on the second floor.’