STRANGE BODIES (a gripping crime thriller) (20 page)

BOOK: STRANGE BODIES (a gripping crime thriller)
11.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

‘Yes, Nicholas.’

‘I don’t care what your objections are, I’m … What!’

‘Yes, Nicholas, it’s a good idea. I have a guest bedroom just inside the front door. Come on, I’ll show you.’ She jumped up and held out a hand to him.

He groaned. ‘Bloody hell, I’m trying to digest one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten and you want me to move.’ He pretended reluctance as he took her hand and allowed her to pull him up off the couch. He followed her back past the kitchen.

I didn’t realise there was another room here. This is a deceptive house. It’s bigger than I thought
. At the door he said, ‘I didn’t see this here or rather I saw it but it didn’t register.’

‘It’s the overflow room. I mean, when Marcus has guests to accommodate he often puts them up in Adelaide’s house, which of course, is actually his. There are five bedrooms there and a full staff of domestic robots. And a real cook when needed.’

‘Doesn’t she mind?’

‘No, you know Adelaide, the original party girl. But to give her her due, she is genuinely interested in everyone, in what makes them tick and she can draw out even the shyest ones.’ She frowned slightly. ‘The only one I’ve ever seen her have trouble with is our current subject of investigation, Levinsky, or whatever his name is, was.’ She threw open the door as they were speaking and stood aside for him to enter.

He saw a rather austere room, mainly black and white with a few splashes of colour from the abstracts on the wall.

‘We call this Marcus’ room. When he has guests staying next door at Adelaide’s he often stays here. Bathroom through there. Plenty of the usual toiletries—soap, toothbrushes, towels.’

Nick walked over to the window, pulled aside the curtain and peered out. The window was barred and he could see that the front garden was still lit. The glass surrounding the veranda shimmered slightly and he wondered if the bars on the windows were really necessary.

As if reading his mind, Verity said, ‘We don’t really need the bars, but they are a psychological deterrent whereas the glass looks like glass.’

She didn’t say what it really was.

Nicholas had never known her to be so talkative. He wondered if it was the wine or the hint of danger that had got her talking. Maybe this was her real self, no longer wary of him. He dropped the curtain back and then on an impulse he stepped forward and kissed her, very gently.

He stepped back after a couple of seconds and took her face in his hands. Gazing into her eyes, he said, ‘I will always be here for you, Verity.’ She held his wrists and looked straight at him, seeing how his dark blue eyes had softened as he held her gaze.

‘I know what you mean, Nicholas, and I do trust you now, just give me a little more time. Since you are staying here there is one more thing I have to do. Come on.’

She crossed the hall to her study, unlocked the door as usual and ushered him inside.

‘Is your study part of the house AI system?’ Nicholas asked.

‘Yes and no. It’s hard to explain. Until a few weeks ago I would have said my system was impenetrable, but now I’m not so confident. I’ve reprogrammed everything, changed all the passcodes and added another layer, but let’s not get into that. Very boring for you. This is what I want you to do.’

She walked over to a tall narrow cupboard at one side of the room and opened it. Whatever Nicholas was expecting it wasn’t this … just an empty space. ‘This is a body scanner … a security device I’ve was commissioned to improve and this one I’ve adapted for myself. When it scans you my entire security system will recognise you. Marcus has been scanned as he is the only other person who has stayed here overnight.’

Nicholas looked at it doubtfully. ‘Is it safe? What does it actually do? Shoot rays at me, read my mind?’

She laughed. ‘I assure you it’s perfectly safe. Now who doesn’t trust whom?’

‘Well, I’ll take your word for it. What do I do? Do you want me to strip?’ He gave her a cheeky grin.

‘I … uh. That won’t be necessary,’ she said primly. ‘Just step into the space and face the back wall, feet slightly apart and hands flat on the wall in front of you.’

She checked him for position then went over to her console and activated the “soup can”.

‘Please close your eyes. I’ll count to three then you can open them. Ready.’ She pressed a small button on the controller, there was a subdued flash and she counted, ‘One, two, three. You can step out now, all done.’

‘Well, I’m still intact so I guess you were right. Now what were you about to say when I asked you if I should strip?’ He had a gleam in his eye as he spoke.

‘Ah, nothing. I … um … was going to suggest you could take your shoes off.’

He laughed out loud then and tugged her to him. ‘Oh, really! Now that I have the freedom of the house, what privileges am I entitled to? This …’ He kissed her, not as gently this time though still restrained. He could feel her heart beating against him and felt his body started to respond to her closeness.
Not now, not yet
, he thought as he released her and stepped back. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Please, Nick, don’t apologise. I quite enjoyed it actually.’ She smiled at him, almost shyly. ‘Now let’s go and finish our coffee.’

She slid the panel into place as he headed back to the living room. He was pouring the last of the wine into their glasses as she sat next to him. ‘Now, explain. What exactly was the reason for the body scan?’

‘Simple. As I said you are the only other person to spend the night here apart from Marcus. At night there’s an extra layer of security so that anyone moving in the house or grounds is picked up by the sensors. So if, for example, you wanted to go into the kitchen for a midnight snack, every alarm and light in the house would go off if you weren’t registered to the system. I might add,’ she said, ‘at the moment your freedom of the house does not include the upper floor.’

He grimaced. ‘And your bedroom is upstairs. I see how much trust you have.’

She ignored the tone of his remark and continued, ‘Not for the reason you seem to be thinking, Nick. I do trust you and I know you would never take advantage. No, there are still one or two aspects of my life I haven’t revealed to you. I need to discuss them with Marcus first. Please, Nick, just a bit longer, a couple of days.’

Mollified, he swirled the remaining wine in his glass then swallowed it down in a quick gulp. He put the glass on the small table then said, ‘I want to get an early start to find that other safe. Can you ask your Jeannie, to wake me at five-thirty? And why Jeannie?’

‘Jeannie or genie?’ She spelled them both. ‘Partly because of Aladdin and the genie of the lamp story and partly because of an old American sitcom,
I Dream of Jeannie
. She came out of a lamp or bottle, I forget which. Lucy is really into old movies and sitcoms and suggested it. I’ve always thought of electronics as a kind of modern day magic, a genie in a microchip perhaps. I’ve always been enthralled by it, captivated by the endless possibilities.’ She touched his arm. ‘Don’t be insulted, Nicholas. Please. I’ll make sure we are both woken at five-thirty. Coffee will be ready ten minutes after that which gives us both time to shower and dress for the day.’

He looked at her in astonishment. ‘Ten minutes. You did say ten minutes? There is no woman on this earth who can be out of bed, showered and dressed in ten minutes.’

She laughed out loud. ‘Well, prepare to be surprised.’

They both stood up. ‘Goodnight, Nicholas.’ To his surprise she kissed him lightly on the lips and then walked over to the curving staircase. ‘Leave everything. The robots will take care of it. See you at five-forty.’

He stood for a few seconds gazing after her then turned and went to his bedroom feeling happier than he had for months.

Chapter 29

He wondered if he would sleep but had no sooner settled into the very comfortable bed, it seemed, than a very sexy voice was purring in his ear.

‘Wake up, Nicky. How can you sleep when I’m right here beside you?’
He sat up and looked around. It’s that cheeky Jeannie, he realised.

Ten minutes, hmmm, we’ll see
. He showered, shaved and headed for the kitchen, fourteen minutes later. And there she was, reading the news on a wall screen and sipping a mug of coffee, immaculate in jeans and a soft white shirt, every hair in place.

‘Good morning,’ she beamed. ‘What kept you?’

‘Coffee,’ he grunted. ‘Just shut up and give me coffee. You’re not human.’

She handed over a mug silently then went back to reading the news. There was no sound but he spotted a small device around one of her ears and assumed that was what she was listening to. She pointed to a drawer beside him and mimed opening it. He did and found a number of the small rubbery devices. It moulded to the curve behind his ear but was silent.

‘Just tap it gently for volume,’ she said.

He was never going to get used to this woman and her endless surprises. ‘I suppose this is another one of yours.’

‘Not at all. They’ve been around for years. You’ve never seen them? Amazing. Now could you manage scrambled eggs and mushrooms, toast and marmalade?’ The cooker beeped so she removed two plates and put one in front of him. ‘Toast coming up.’

‘Christ,’ he said, rubbing his eyes. ‘Are you always like this in the mornings?’

‘Oh, no,’ she said. ‘Only when I have overnight guests.’

He let that sink in for a few minutes as he enjoyed the best eggs he ever tasted. ‘But you said you only … oh, I get it. Please don’t make me think this early.’

As soon as they finished breakfast, Verity programmed the house for security then they set off for Levinsky’s house.

Verity said, ‘When I spoke to Marcus last night he said to trust you. It’s just … ah, one of the reasons you don’t have access to upstairs at the moment.’ She looked at him then said, ‘I guess I will have to trust you on this.’ She groped in her bag and pulled out a folder. She took a few photos out and handed them to him.

‘What’s this? Printed photos! What am I looking at?’

‘Our intruder. See, he comes around the corner, the only person wearing a hood. Now this one, he’s down the narrow lane beside my house, and the next one is zoomed in for a close-up, but we can’t see his face. The city security cameras have picked up an unexpected movement and gone in for a closer look. Now, check the time stamp, this is five, no six minutes later. He’s moved right to the wall and is taking out a rope with a hooky thing, a grapnel I think it’s called. Then he’s up the wall. The rest we saw on my own security cameras.’

Nicholas swore. He swore long and loud. Verity gazed out of the window and waited for him to finish.

‘I am not going to ask how many laws you have broken here. In fact, I am not going to ask you anything at all about this. In fact, we will not refer to this for at least half an hour. I prefer to think this last two minutes never happened.’

He was silent for at least ten seconds. ‘Shit, fuck, bloody hell, Verity. What have you done! What were you thinking! I can’t use this.’

‘I thought you didn’t want to talk about it.’

‘Don’t be a smart arse, miss. You know bloody well the problems this brings up.’

‘Nicholas,’ she said, patiently, ‘it’s really very simple. You could have done this yourself. Just contact city surveillance …you have the authority … and ask them to send you the vids of that sector for that period. You don’t have to say you’ve already seen it.’

‘Shit, shit, shit. I hate it when you’re right. Now we’ll talk about something else. I know, I wanted to ask you about the robots you mentioned a few times, house robots.’

‘Why? Don’t you have a cleaning ‘bot?’

‘Well, yes, it lives in a cupboard near the front door and looks a bit like a … robot I guess, and I just let it out if I want any cleaning done. I wish it would just do it when I’m not around. It spooks me a bit. How come I didn’t see any robots at your place?’

‘My robots don’t look like robots. My rule is “form follows function” so I’ve never created a humanoid robot. When you think about it the human body is not the most efficient machine for doing certain things … like cleaning a house. My Sadie ‘bots are programmed by the main computer which monitors everything in the house. It turns them on and off but only when I’m not there. I’ll show you next time. I can reprogram yours if you like.

‘Now, let’s talk about what we have to do at Levinsky’s house.’

He raised an eyebrow at the “we” but said nothing. Time enough later. So they talked about the possible location of another safe concealed somewhere in the house.

‘How the hell would you even start to look for that? It could be anywhere.’

‘Not quite. It’ll be on the ground floor. My guess would be the kitchen. As far as I can tell, it’s the only room that hasn’t been substantially changed. All those renovations on the ground floor, then the work on the bathroom upstairs—he wouldn’t risk workmen uncovering it.’

They pulled up outside Levinsky’s house. Adams took his crime scene bag from the back seat and together they headed for the house. At the front door he used his new gold key to unlock the police locks. The smell was still strong in spite of the measures taken the day before so he left the front door open and relocked the security grille. They went straight to the kitchen.

‘Gloves first.’ He pulled some out. ‘How do you know this stuff about old safes?’

‘It’s my business to know about security of all kinds, electronic or solid. I’ve made a study of safes and the specs are all stored in my data banks. Want me to look for it?

‘Don’t tell me your golden key will find a buried safe too.’

‘Well, not at this stage, no.’ She gave him a grin as she pulled a small metal wand about the size of a pencil out of her bag. ‘But this will. So let’s look.’

Verity was slowly sweeping across the floor area with the tiny detector. A soft blue light was pulsing at the tip and a faint hum could be heard. As she neared the brick hearth that housed a reproduction of a wood burning stove, the blue light became brighter and the hum became louder. ‘It’s under here. I think it’s under this cupboard next to the stove. A normal metal detector wouldn’t pick it up. It would just register the metal of the stove, which is probably the reason for its being there.’ She tapped the floor with her shoe. ‘That’s not solid brick.’

‘It looks pretty solid to me. Are you sure?’

‘There’ll be a catch or a lever somewhere inside this cupboard.’

Nick squatted down and peered inside. ‘It’s full of cooking utensils. They look pretty unused to me. Have a look … I can’t see anything obvious.’

Verity switched off the wand and crouched down beside him and peered in. ‘There must be a catch in there somewhere that probably allows it to swing out.’

He pulled out some of the pots and pans and was feeling along the sides. A sudden click and they saw the cupboard move slightly. He gave it a tug and it swung around smoothly from its base. They could see a round metal plate with a recessed handle, engraved with the name
and a keyhole.

‘What’s that name mean … it sounds vaguely German?’

Verity just looked at him and laughed. ‘So the great detective hasn’t figured it out yet. It’s an Australian company, or was I should say. Just someone’s sense of humour.’

Fasse-Drune, Fasse-Drune
. Why didn’t I see that before … Safes Under, how corny is that!’ He shook his head in disgust. ‘No combination lock. I would have expected one.’

‘Some of them did, but the smaller, cheaper ones didn’t and since they were only intended to keep important papers safe in case of fire they weren’t as sophisticated as their bigger brothers. And lucky for us we have the key.’

They both stood up, then Nicholas looked at Verity and held out the key. ‘Would you like to do the honours?’

‘Thank you but no. I’m probably not really supposed to be here. Chain of evidence. You need to hand it to another cop. I can’t do that.’

‘Let’s see if this key works.’ He inserted the key and turned it then tugged at the handle to no effect. He turned the key again and the door lifted and flipped back on a hinge. Wearing gloves he reached in and pulled out what was there, a sturdy envelope with contents that felt rigid. He opened the envelope and spilled the contents on to the kitchen table, five clear envelopes, each marked with a year, containing disks smaller than a shirt button, and a soft silvery bag which proved to contain gemstones.

‘There’s something else here too,’ he said and reached down, pulling out some tightly rolled papers tied with a red ribbon.

‘I think I know what these discs are from ... a small recorder which could be designed to look like a decorative medallion or almost anything. Oldish spy stuff. As I recall it was a complex procedure because it needed a machine to translate the coded recordings, then you had to transfer the result to a mainstream computer with the right software. Far too complicated and expensive. It went off the market after only a few years. One of yours?’

‘No, that’s way before my time. They came out about twelve or thirteen years ago and lasted about four or five years. I think I’ve got one tucked away in storage. It’s a
. I like to collect some of the older stuff just in case, including old computers. I remember when we, the company, bought the old radio telescope site at Parkes for the electronics plant, they were going through the archives, packing stuff up for the Thomas-Walker space exhibition and lab at the Powerhouse Museum. One of the archivists told me about how some recordings of the original moon landings were lost and copies turned up at Curtin University in Perth. Those boxes of “lost” NASA tapes recorded conditions on the moon when the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, landed there in 1969.

‘The problem was finding something to play them on. They found an old machine but had to figure out how to repair it before it could be used. So ever since then I’ve made a point of collecting and storing old media and the means to play them. It’s probably in our underground storage area.’

‘I’ll check with the lab but I doubt they’ll have one so we may need yours. Can you go ahead and look for it? I think these stones better go to the lab too. They may be valuable.’

Nick relocked the safe then put the disks, the small bag and the key in some evidence sacks and labelled them.

‘Now what’s this rolled paper?’ He undid the ribbon and unrolled the papers carefully. ‘Grab something to hold them flat.’ Verity spotted a few heavy mugs on a sideboard.

‘Well, I’m damned. It’s his will. And it looks legal as it’s dated only a couple of months ago. There’s a firm of lawyers mentioned here. Now let’s see …’

‘Should we be looking? You’ve got a law degree, haven’t you?’ Verity asked.

‘Well, legally speaking, I’m not one hundred percent sure, but this is a murder investigation so I would say yes, I can look at it. Not sure about you though,’ he said glancing sideways at her. ‘As far as the law degree goes I never practised and I wouldn’t be qualified in Australia anyway.’

She nudged him with her hip. ‘Move over. I found it so I’m looking too.’

‘Mmm, not too unexpected. All the paintings are left to the National Gallery. The scrimshaw goes to the Maritime Museum, I assume Sydney though he doesn’t say. What else?’

He turned to the next page. ‘Well, our friend the professor’s in luck. He’s bequeathed him his chess sets, three of them. Detailed descriptions given too.’

‘I saw them in the study. One looks like ivory, one is black and white marble and the other is just an ordinary oldish set.’

‘Okay, next page. Oh, my Lord, I don’t believe it. He has left his computer to the professor too. But there’s a proviso.’

‘What is it? Show me.’

She read the words silently then looked at him bewildered. ‘But I never met him. Why would he say this.’ She looked at Nicholas. ‘I swear I never met him. The night he was on Adelaide’s show I wasn’t even in Sydney. She was a bit annoyed because she wanted me to do a last minute check on him and I was out of touch. She told me later.’

She read it again, out loud this time, still trying to make sense of it.

‘I also leave my computer and peripherals to my friend and neighbour, Oscar Jerome Morgenstein in the hopes that he will give his ancient abomination a decent burial. Before such event, my computer is to be delivered to Dr Verity Sarah Burne’ … he gives my address and all my qualifications here … ‘so that she may examine the contents therein. The computer is booby-trapped and triple protected and it is my opinion that she is one of the few persons capable of rendering it safe. Following the retrieval of certain information, she is to wipe all information on said computer, install an operating system and then and only then to pass the computer on to the Professor. For her inconvenience in this I leave her the gem stones found in the enclosed silver bag. Their provenance is to be found under the heading Gemstones on my computer.’

Verity trailed off and sat down at the table, stunned. ‘How did he know about me? He couldn’t have been the one sending me those emails and pictures. He’d have no reason to implicate himself in anything or the Richardsons’ deaths if they were tied up with him in some way. There’s not even a pocket phone in the house. Now that’s strange. The killer must have taken his phone. Left the computer.

BOOK: STRANGE BODIES (a gripping crime thriller)
11.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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