Dead Good Christmas: A short story by Jane Casey
On the twelfth day of Christmas, Dead Good gives to thee….
Our final Christmas short….from Jane Casey.
This is the last of our exclusive free short stories, lovingly crafted by some of our best selling crime and thriller authors – our December gift exclusively for Dead Good fans.
Detective Maeve Kerrigan and Detective Inspector Josh Derwent are called to A&E on Christmas Eve to investigate a suspected homicide in ‘The Long Wait’, but all is not as it seems…
‘The Long Wait’ ©Jane Casey
Christmas Eve, 11.30 AM
‘This is why I wish I’d had kids.’
The doors to the waiting room in A&E had opened on a riot: drunks, screaming children, hassled parents and pensioners all sharing the special ambience of Christmas Eve in hospital. I stared at Derwent.
‘Definitely. If you’ve got kids, you get to spend family time with them instead of working the day before Christmas.’
‘Family time like this?’ A toddler sank to his knees in front of us, his face contorted with woe. He was making an unearthly sound at a volume that demanded ear protectors. ‘Give me work any day.’
‘Even homicide assessment?’
I shrugged. ‘Someone has to do it.’
For the next eight hours it was our job to decide if a death was suspicious and get the ball rolling on a murder investigation. The season of peace and goodwill was not a quiet time for us, or for hospitals, and I was just glad I wasn’t likely to be working on Christmas Day itself. I didn’t actually mind covering Christmas Eve. My mother would be arm-deep in the turkey, stressed beyond belief, surrounded by pots of sprouts and jugs of gravy and trays of cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon, a joint of spiced ham bubbling on the stove, scenting the steamy air with cinnamon.
‘Going home for Christmas?’ Derwent asked.
‘Tomorrow morning.’ To avoid Midnight Mass and the neighbours gathering round to find out whether I was engaged yet. ‘What about you?’
Derwent grinned. ‘Miami, baby. Got a last-minute deal. Five nights. I fly out tonight.’
‘What’s the temperature there?’
‘Mid-twenties. It’s supposed to be minus three tomorrow in London.’
‘Seasonal,’ I said bravely. ‘Christmas on the beach is just – ‘
‘I was going to say wrong.’
‘Envy will get you nowhere. And Virgin Atlantic will get me to Miami.’ Derwent beckoned to the nearest receptionist. She gave him a frosty look and ignored him. ‘Let’s find this body and get out of here.’
‘What do you mean, there’s no body?’ Derwent snapped. ‘Where’s it gone?’
The very young response officer quailed. Derwent was inches from his face. He swallowed, but managed to say,
‘He’s not technically dead? Yet?’
The moment of silence before Derwent responded was purely because he was struggling not to swear. And failing. ‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.’
‘I thought – the doc said–’
‘This isn’t a murder unless the victim is dead. I think it says as much in the Beat Officer’s Handbook.’ I said it nicely, though.
‘It’s just a matter of time.’ Derwent and I turned at the same time to see a small, serious, dark-haired woman with glasses and a white coat. Her nametag read Dr Gordon. ‘He sustained a major head injury. They had to dig chunks of skull out of his brain. He’s critically ill. He could go at any moment.’
‘But he’s not dead now. And we’re here about a homicide, so…’
‘Willy Fowler is not going to last another hour.’
‘Sorry,’ the response officer said. ‘But could you keep your voices down? That’s the relatives’ room.’
‘Relatives? Suspects, more like.’ Dr Gordon started filling in a form, her pen slashing ticks in boxes at a phenomenal speed. ‘According to them, Mr Fowler fell off a ladder this morning when he was fixing the Christmas lights outside their house.’
‘Why does that make them suspects?’ Derwent’s forehead was wrinkled.
‘Because he’d have had to fall on his head three times to get those injuries.’
I looked in through the porthole window and saw two sulky young men in their early twenties, a middle-aged woman sobbing into a hanky and a girl of twenty or so wearing over-the-knee boots, last night’s mascara under her eyes.
‘Wife and three kids?’
‘Wife and two sons,’ Dr Gordon said. ‘That’s the older boy’s girlfriend.’
‘Why aren’t they sitting together?’
She walked away, Derwent watching every rapid step until she disappeared from view.
‘She thinks she can do our job,’ he said.
‘She probably could. Could you do hers?’
No answer. None needed.
‘This is horrible.’
‘What is it?’
‘Turkey sandwich.’ Derwent peeled back the bread. Grey meat, a smudge of butter, some lurid cranberry jam.
‘Stale.’ The croissant had splintered into jagged crumbs as soon as I bit into it. ‘No Michelin star for this canteen.’
Derwent shoved his plate away. ‘Did I mention my hotel has five stars? And it’s on the beach?’
‘A few times. What time are you supposed to be at the airport?’
‘Twenty hundred hours.’
‘What time’s the flight?’
‘That’s a wait.’
‘I like airports. I like watching people. And planes.’
‘You are six.’
‘You are joyless.’ Derwent leaned back. ‘What’ve you got Rob for Christmas?’
‘None of your business.’
‘Sexy underwear? It’s the gift that gives back.’
‘No. And yuck.’ I changed the subject. ‘How long do we have to wait?’
‘Until he carks it or someone else takes over, the boss says.’ Derwent watched the son’s girlfriend cross the room with a coffee, bosom bouncing. She was still tearful. ‘She must have been very fond of the old man, all the same. Worth a chat?’
‘Leave her to me,’ I said, as she slid into a seat near the window.
Derwent looked up expectantly from a Florida guidebook. ‘Make it good, Kerrigan. Make me happy.’
‘Tanya was very forthcoming. She and Brian haven’t been getting on too well.’
‘Don’t tell me Willy was her shoulder to cry on.’
‘The other brother?’
I nodded. ‘Willy saw them together. He warned them to stop messing around, which they did, but last night Willy got drunk and told Brian everything. It all boiled over this morning.’
‘Who did what?’
‘Tanya wasn’t there.’
Derwent grimaced. ‘I’ll talk to Brian first, then Gary.’
‘I’ll talk to Janet, the mum.’
‘My money’s on Gary.’
‘Brian for me. Bets?’
‘Five gets you ten.’ We shook on it.
‘Get this wrapped up by four and I’m gone.’ Derwent mimed a plane taking off, whistling under his breath, and we went our separate ways.
‘Where have you been?’
‘On the phone.’ I sat down beside Derwent who was cooling his heels in the corridor. ‘What did you get?’
‘The runaround. Couldn’t get either of them to squeal. I’m losing my touch. What about you?’
‘I bumped into Janet in the ladies, crying. She told me the boys would never harm their father.’
‘She told me she was crying because Willy’s mistress just turned up to say goodbye. He’s been knocking her off for ten years. Janet was not pleased.’
‘Indeed. Then I noticed Janet’s tattoo.’
‘On her wrist. It was an amateur job, a bit faded. ACAB.’
Derwent literally sat up. ‘”All Coppers Are Bastards”? A prison tattoo?’
‘I made some calls. Turns out Janet did two stretches in the eighties, one for common assault and one for GBH. The GBH was on her ex-husband who cheated on her. She fractured his skull.’
‘I spoke to Tanya again. She said the boys were ignoring Janet. And she said Gary had known about the mistress but no one else did.’
‘Are we thinking Gary told Janet because Willy told Brian about Tanya?’
‘Fuck.’ Derwent stared into space for a minute. ‘Bad luck, Willy.’
‘I don’t know about that. He’s still alive.’
‘Can’t last for long. Dr Gordon wouldn’t get something like that wrong.’
‘That fucking doctor.’ Derwent paced up and down. ‘She said he’d be dead by lunchtime.’
‘You can’t wish him dead,’ I said firmly.
‘I can. We’ve got his killer sewn up. The SOCOs found a bloody rolling pin in the house. Janet is an open-and-shut case.’ Derwent glowered at the closed door. ‘I’m going to have you, Janet.’
‘You’re not going to make it to the airport by eight.’
‘I’ve got plenty of time.’ Derwent checked his watch again. ‘Plenty.’
‘Do you think…’
‘I just have to get my bag and get to the airport. No delays on the Piccadilly Line. No problem. I packed last night. I’m all ready.’
‘Okay. Just asking. Because technically we finish our shift in eight minutes.’
‘I’m not leaving until Willy Fowler dies.’
‘I don’t need my bag. I can buy stuff there. I’ve got my passport and dollars.’
The pacing was making me edgy; I was calculating routes to the airport in my head. ‘You need to get there by a quarter past nine to check in, because it’ll be busy at security. Are you still getting the Underground?’
‘Taxi,’ Derwent said, still walking.
‘You know, I’ve got this. You could go now.’
‘I’ll leave in half an hour. It should be fine. Unless the M25 has gone squirrelly.’ He stabbed his phone looking for a traffic update. ‘Why won’t he just die?’
‘It’s snowing!’ The nurse was small, Asian and had a beatific smile. ‘How lovely for the children.’
‘You are fucking kidding me.’
‘Go and find a window,’ I said. ‘It’s probably nothing to worry about.’
‘It’s a blizzard,’ Derwent announced, sauntering towards me.
‘Why are you still here? You’ll never get a taxi,’ I said, dismayed.
‘I just met some traffic cops downstairs. They said they’d get me there.’ He looked past me. ‘Thank Christ for that. Here’s the doctor.’ To Dr Gordon, he said, ‘Just tell me he’s dead and I can leave it in Kerrigan’s capable hands.’
She looked distraught. ‘Oh. Well. The thing is.’
‘Doc. Talk. Fuck patient confidentiality. One of them in there killed him, so they don’t get to know what happened before we do.’
‘This never happens.’ She shook her head. Her hair was coming down and she shoved in a clip more or less at random. ‘I mean, the nurses are calling it a Christmas miracle. I don’t know about that.’
‘What are you saying?’
‘Improving by the hour. Medicine’s not an exact science, but even so. The human body is marvellous, isn’t it?’
‘Some are,’ Derwent said through gritted teeth. To me, he said, ‘Laters.’
Then he was gone.
Rob stretched. ‘Time for bed. Big day tomorrow. One more sleep until I get to see how the Kerrigans do Christmas dinner.’
‘I’ll just finish this.’ I was wrapping a present, swearing as the scissors slipped. I was a little bit tense about Rob coming with me, but I wasn’t going to admit it. ‘Put the news on, would you?’
He turned on the TV just in time for the headlines.
‘Travel chaos as London’s airports, rail services and roads are shut down by blizzards. Seven inches of snow fell in just an hour, bringing the capital to a standstill. The bookies are paying out on a white Christmas…but stranded passengers will have to wait for airports to reopen on Boxing Day.’
‘Poor Derwent,’ I said. ‘No Miami for him this year. I hope he’s not too disappointed.’
‘I’m sure he’ll find something to do.’
‘Hope so. Or it’ll be a miserable January.’
Christmas Day 7.21 AM
My phone beeped and I reached for it, only half-awake. Two messages, both from Derwent. I squinted at the first.
- Look what Santa brought me.
I scrolled down for the picture. It took a second to make sense of it.
A bare shoulder. Tousled hair. Long eyelashes on flushed cheeks. Dr Gordon, minus her glasses and her clothes, fast asleep.
‘Unbelievable,’ I said, and opened the second message.
- Ho ho ho. Happy Christmas. JD
Well, we hope that you enjoyed our final short story. All of the published stories can be found in our Short Stories section, so do take a look and enjoy our Christmas gift to you.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all from the Dead Good Team.