'Perhaps we should go and see Mr Singh's sister,' ventured Sergeant Longbright.
'No one will move her body until I tell them to, Janice.' Bryant shot her a look.
Longbright knew better than to argue with Arthur's working methods. The inability of the Peculiar Crimes Unit to conduct its affairs in a conventional manner was embarrassingly well documented. Having abandoned attempts to make it properly accountable, the Home Office had now separated the unit from Metropolitan Police jurisdiction and placed it under the nebulous security services of MI7. There would be certain advantages: the detectives would no longer have to pay exorbitant charges for equipment usage or fight the Met for their annual budget, and the old demarcation lines would finally be resolved, but they would now be accountable to passing governments, where personal resentments ran deep. Bryant and his partner John May had been given six months to make the revised unit successful or train up their own replacements, for they wereas everyone seemed so keen to point outboth far beyond the statutory retirement age. There had been talk of closing the place down altogether, and yet it seemed a guardian angel existed in the labyrinth of Whitehall, because eleventh-hour reprieves continued to appear with the regularity of rainbows.
'I didn't have time to change.' Benjamin Singh indicated his clothes, clearly feeling disrespectful for wearing a stripy tank-top, brown trousers and a purple shirt. 'I visit my sister Ruth every Monday morning to clean the house for her,' he explained. 'She's very old and can't lift the vacuum cleaner. The moment I opened the front door, I knew something was wrong. She was sitting on a chair in the basement, dressed for the shops, which was strange because she knows I always go for her. Ruth just makes out the list. She was cold to the touch.'
'Forgive me, but I don't understand why you didn't immediately call for an ambulance.' Bryant remembered that the new office had a smoking ban, and tamped out his pipe before Longbright had a chance to complain.
'She was dead, Arthur, not sick. Kentish Town police station is only three streets away from her house, so I walked around there and saw the duty sergeant, but I didn't like his attitude he told me to call an ambulance as wellso I came here.'
'You know we don't take cases off the street any more, Ben,' Bryant explained. 'They have to come to us through proper channels now.'
'But when I found her, my first thought was to'
'You're supposed to be recording this conversation, Arthur,' Longbright interrupted. 'From now on we have to stick to the rulebook.'
Bryant poked about in the cardboard box at his feet and pulled out a battered dictaphone. 'Here,' he offered, 'you have a go. It doesn't seem to let me record, for some reason. Perhaps I'm doing something wrong.' The patented helpless look suggested innocence but didn't wash with Longbright, who was familiar with her boss's ability to cause malfunctions in the simplest equipment. Bryant was no longer allowed to touch the computers owing to the odd demagnetizing effect he had on delicate technology. His application to attend an IT course had been turned down six times by those who feared he would cause a national meltdown if let loose near PITO, the Police Information Technology Organization. His facility for picking up old broadcasts of Sunday Night at the London Palladium on his Sky dish had been documented with fascination but no hope of explanation by the Fortean Times.
Excerpted from The Water Room by Christopher Fowler Copyright © 2005 by Christopher Fowler. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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