Silas Nash Book 1: Hush Hush Honeysuckle: Chapter 32 (B)
Nash snatched the keys as Brown held Carter’s arm to stop him from running. Nash charged up the stairs and was aware of Brown guiding Carter up in front of her. By the time he got to the top, he was panting. Brown and Carter were still a floor behind. He took a second to slow his gasping. Something was going on in the flat. Nash had met Jones there during the last week when it was more convenient to meet in Barrow than Ulverston, so he knew the layout. The boy and Brown reached the top landing, and Nash whispered. ‘There’s a bedroom, last door on the right. Take Carter in there and call for backup. Advise stealth.’ It took two attempts to find the right key and slide it into the lock. He wished he’d signed a taser out of the police hold that morning. Nash listened and then opened the door and went in ahead of the other two. He used the flat of his hand to close the door quietly behind them.
Waiting until he heard the soft click of the bedroom door, Nash crept along the hall to the main lounge at the front of the house, where he heard low voices. Jones wasn’t alone then. The first person he heard was female, and he wondered if he was making a fuss about nothing. Jones must have been entertaining company.
As he crept to the door, that bloody song Two Black Cadillacs came into his head.
He heard something being poured into glasses. There were two. Just Jones and a woman.
‘A toast, I think.’ It was the woman’s voice, and the ice-cold tone and command it held sent a chill down Nash’s back. He tried to place the voice but couldn’t.
‘To lifelong friendship. What do you think, Max?’
Max muttered something that Nash didn’t catch. There was the sound of clinking glasses, and a third voice threw him. Nash’s body went on instant high alert when he heard two women laugh. ‘What the hell was Jones up to?’ He had two choices. He could go in now and hope this was innocent and friendly, or he could wait for backup.
Going for the element of surprise and hoping he wouldn’t get an eyeful of a Ménage à trois swansong from Jones, he opened the door and slipped in. He didn’t make a sound.
The women had their backs to the door and didn’t see him at first. Jones did but was savvy enough not to let on.
Nash was so horrified that he almost alerted them to his presence by making a noise, but what it would have been, he had no idea. He only got in undetected because the women were distracted. He’d never be able to slip out again to wait for backup before they saw him. It was now or never.
‘Police! On the ground!’
One woman jumped, but the other was as cold as ice as she turned around. ‘Detective Chief Inspector Nash. We’ve been waiting for you. How lovely to see you again. Would you like a glass of Champagne? It’s Maxwell’s good stuff.’
‘I said get on the ground. Now.’
‘I couldn’t possibly. I wouldn’t expect you to recognise Prada, but have you any idea how unseemly that would be?’
‘Actually, I do recognise quality clothing when I see it and trust me, lady, that isn’t it.’ Prada was just one of the many designer labels he’d bought for Sandy.
‘And would you recognise the make of my blade if I ran it through your belly and released your innards?’
Max couldn’t lift his head because of the wooden bracket holding him down, but he raised his eyes, ‘Run. Get out of here, Nash.’
‘DCI Nash would never be so rude. Would you, dear? Max, do shut your mouth, or the next word you speak will be your last. If you spoil this before the verdict is read, then we’ll have to continue eliminating other people, won’t we? And poor Inspector Nash will likely be our next participant. However, Maxwell, if you’re a good little philanderer and keep your big mouth closed for once in your stupid life, this will end with us—and you. Now. What do you say, Maxie? Nothing. Good. You catch on fast.’
‘Get down. Now,’ Nash said.
He heard a creak on the stairs, still a way off. He estimated it was two floors down, but his shirt would stick to his back less knowing they had backup. The sound in the old house was so quiet it was the merest creak, and neither of the killers gave any indication of having heard it.
‘For the last time. Get on the floor with your hands behind your heads.’
They didn’t pay any attention, but the woman who hadn’t spoken yet put her glass on an occasional table and turned around. They were both wearing their outfits from the funeral and had the veils down. Two Black Cadillacs. It was there all along. His subconscious knew who the killers were, but he’d been too stupid to listen to it.
He took in the staging. They’d worked hard on it. The end game was always going to be spectacular. Jones’ living room had been turned into a courtroom drama. The dock, however, was far less civilised and had been replaced with a full-sized guillotine. Jones was naked and bleeding from slash marks across his back where he had been whipped, presumably while he was in place. He was on his knees with his hands tied behind his back and had a crown of thorns on his head. In several places, blood trickled in rivulets from his forehead into his eyes and down his face. The letters I N R I had been gouged into the flesh of his forehead, and the scratched wounds were already scabbing in places, showing that he’d been there for some time. His head was resting on the red velvet chin cushion, and the block was in place to secure his head. Three feet above him, the blade gleamed as the bright afternoon sunlight shone through the open curtains in a shaft of beatific light.
‘Get him out of there,’ Nash said.
‘Leave it, Nash. They’re insane, and they’ll kill you, too.’ Jones whispered.
‘Do you like our guillotine, Inspector Nash? We borrowed it from a production of Les Mis showing in The Lakes. We did laugh when we thought of their faces when they found it missing. A small adaptation to put in a productive blade—and I can assure you, it has been tested, and it is fit for purpose. Fait Accompli. Would you like a piece of fruit?’ The taller woman offered him a plate with two halves of apple on it.
The lady in charge moved to the device and untied the rope so that only the pressure of her hand was stopping the blade from falling. ‘So this is how it’s going to work. If anybody comes near me, this blade falls.’
Nash winced as he looked at the bucket, waiting to receive Max Jones’ head. ‘You’ve made your point. You can stop now, Ms Evans. Let’s talk,’ Nash couldn’t believe that one of the killers was Linda Evans, Henry Watson’s PA. They’d had no idea, and there wasn’t a shred of evidence leading them to her. And yet, from the minute he’d seen her in the church, his subconscious mind had joined the dots.
She was laughing, and the shrill sound of it cut through Nash’s nerves to grate along his spine. ‘Stop? We have no intention of stopping until we’ve done what we set out to do. After that, yes, we can talk if you insist, Inspector.’
‘Nash, get lost, will you? You’re surplus to requirements. Go home, mate,’ Max said. Blood rolled down his cheek. ‘It’s better this way.’
Evans made a show of letting the blade fall, and Max screamed. Nash shot forward and shouted, ‘No.’
She held up her other hand to stop him. Linda Evans wore leather driving gloves in place of the lace ones she’d worn at the funeral. She’d dropped the blade at a slow and controlled pace, not the velocity it would need to take a man’s head off.
She stopped a couple of inches before it reached Jones’ neck.
After smiling at them like a benevolent teacher, she pulled the rope back up to the top of the rig. ‘I told you to be quiet, Maxwell. Next time you open your big fat mouth, I let go of the rope for real. This production has to play out properly. We need a verdict before the execution.’
Nash appealed to Fiona Finch, the second woman. She was taking a lesser role, and he guessed she did as she was told. The whole time Nash had been in the room, Fiona had kept hold of the cat o’ nine tails. He saw that she had blood on her hands, metaphorical and literal. As she moved, she left a half-moon footprint of blood on the oatmeal carpet.
‘Fiona. Think about your nephew. We’re looking after Carter in the next room. You wouldn’t want him to see you like this, would you?’
Fiona Finch was only twenty-five and hadn’t married yet, and she had no children of her own.
‘We know about the abortion. It must have been awful. We understand how much Max Jones hurt you. We can help. Fiona, you must love your brother’s children. You don’t want this. I can see you’ve been forced into it.’
Fiona found Nash’s speech funny. She smiled, and the mirth behind it was unpleasant. ‘You think we killed all those people, Inspector? Oh, you do make me laugh.’ Nash faced the woman in charge. ‘Linda, please tie the rope back up. Make it safe, and we can talk about this.’
‘Before his trial? That’s ridiculous. We have to wait until sentencing has been passed. The jury has listened to all the evidence and has made their deliberations. You came just in time for the best part.’ She indicated the twelve polystyrene display heads. They were arranged in two rows as in a courtroom and had white curly wigs and black robes glued to their necks.
‘We can stop this,' Nash said. ’It’s not too late.’
‘We could indeed, but why would we want to? We’ve waited a long time for this, Fiona and I. Haven’t we? Do you realise I’ve worked with Maxwell Jones for years? He’s passed my desk every morning and again every night. He’s stared at my breasts and flirted without seeing me—as he flirts with every woman he meets. And despite taking my virginity and having intercourse with me on several occasions, he has never once acknowledged me. He moved on to his next conquest and forgot so fast. All this time, he’s known who I am, but to him, I’m just a secretary. He called me that once. Henry’s secretary.’
‘That’s awful for you, Linda. You must have been so angry. I get it.’
‘Do you? It’s only eight years since he took me to bed. I started at his company for Henry Watson less than a year later, and yet his eyes passed through me. How could he not see me? To him, I was just a girl he’d had his way with, and I didn’t matter.’
‘He treated you both very badly. I know that. But all this, ten murders and now Max? I know he’s scum, but no matter what he’s done, no human being deserves this.’
Her voice rose in a rage that Nash knew she’d held in for all those years. She’d sat at her desk while Max Jones walked in front of it and was blind to her. ‘Are you saying this isn’t justified?’
‘No. I’m not saying that. But it’s okay to stop now. You can let it all go because we’ve seen him for what he is. Everybody has.’
She controlled the fire in her voice, and it took on an authoritative quality. ‘I know jurors don’t wear the fancy garb, but the costumes were just there, hanging up in the theatre, so you have to allow us a little artistic license, Inspector Nash. Each juror has his own expression. As you can see, juror number three looks as though she may be sympathetic to his plight, but I don’t fancy Max’s chances with the other eleven. They look grumpy, don’t they? Should we find out?’
Nash spread his hands, buying time and bringing the SWAT team outside the door up to date. He chose his words carefully. ‘Please, Ms Evans, go ahead. You’ve come this far, and it’s not as if I can stop you. One slip of the rope in your hand and the guillotine blade comes down on Jones’ head. Who knows, maybe it’s all he deserves.’ He knew the team was waiting outside the door, listening and assessing the situation.
While the killers were playing out their scenario, and with the rope in her hand, Linda was an unknown entity. Nash knew they’d be waiting for a trained negotiator to be brought in and were biding their time so as not to spook the killers. One slip, and if that blade dropped, Max was dead, and Nash would never sleep at night without the image of Jesus’ head dropping into the bucket.
Linda Evans turned to the polystyrene display heads. ‘Members of the jury, have you reached a verdict on which you are all agreed?’
Fiona said, ‘We have, Your Honour.’