The view of Great London at night from the cockpit of the Police patrol car was both startling and beautiful. It was almost enough to make North forget his fear of flying. Almost. The pilot effortlessly guided his machine between the towering obsidian blocks, each course correction flipping North's stomach over. Then they were suddenly hovering above a triangular patch of blackness amid the sea of artificial light. The patrol car dropped like a stone while North held on for dear life. If the pilot noticed his passenger's terror, he gave no sign.
Macauley of all people was waiting for him, a cup of tea in one hand and a sandwich in the other. Heaven forbid that Macauley should be denied his midnight snackhe'd fade away to a shadow. North climbed shakily out of the cockpit and lurched toward him, relieved to be on solid ground again.
"Good of you to drop in, Laddie," Macauley shouted above the rising din of the patrol car's thrusters. "The rest of us can go home now that you're here."
North didn't smile. He didn't like Macauley or the way the man worked. Macauley was a dinosaur who still thought detective work should rely upon gut instinct instead of systematic and exhaustive microanalysis of data gathered at the crime scene. In North's opinion, Superintendent Morgan should have bounced him off the team long ago. They watched in silence as the patrol car lifted off and swung back to retrace its path, its navigation lights flashing like miniature explosions.
"What's this all about?" North asked wearily once the noise of the thrusters had faded. When Morgan had called to tell him the patrol car was on its way to pick him up, he'd neglected to provide any details, or warn North that Macauley was already at the scene. Deliberately? North couldn't help but think so.
Macauley nodded toward a mock wrought iron bridge that crossed a narrow river with shallow banks. Through the trees on the other side, North could see the forensics team moving about, dressed like spacemen. Harsh floodlighting cast elongated shadows as the team checked out the area. The place was called Vader Park, named after some obscure VR actor whose face eluded North.
"Male, aged forty," Macauley said. "Name's Jessica-Ann Smythe. Apparently he was cruising the park looking for company. A Police patrol saw him two hours ago. He tried to tempt both constables into the bushes but they turned him down. According to them Smythe had already had three liaisons with passers-by. He must have been saving it up for tonight, hmm?"
North nodded, accepting it all without comment. It didn't affect him any more. In this sprawling city whose population was three-quarters gay, boygirls like Smythe were the norm rather than the unusual.
"Why am I here?" he asked.
Macauley swallowed the last of his sandwich and licked his fingers before answering. "Why don't you come and see for yourself?"
North followed him across the bridge and past the flashing blue POLICE LINE beacons. The electrical barrier switched off for a moment, long enough for North and Macauley to step through. There was no one around but you never knew when sightseers might appear to ogle the corpse and tramp all over the crime scene. Chinese tourists were the worst, with their satellite-linked cameras which relayed everything they saw live to the news channels. They even had a retired Chief Inspector of New Beijing Police on hand to laugh at lamentable Western procedures. North didn't need any of that going on while he was trying to work.
He stopped in mid-step when he recognized Samantha Harley, the forensics team leader. They'd shared an apartment for six months before they got bored with each other. At least, that was what North kept telling himself. The bitter truth was, Harley had left him for some skinny girl in Uniform Division. As far as he knew they were still together.
Her smile, when she looked round and saw him, was genuine enough. "Peter, hello. How are you? They've got you working the graveyard shift now?"
"Not really," he said, aware of Macauley's leering smile. "They woke me up especially. Must have decided I'm the only policeman in the entire bloody city." He glanced at the bundle beneath the plastic sheet. "I assume that's the body?"
[End of Excerpt]