Mr. James did his best to look authoritative, drawing himself up to full height. "Every one of our employees has a national insurance number. I can vouch for it personally. That is a fact."
The policeman ignored him. "How you got here is no concern of mine. We're here to do a job. Those of you worrying about your papers can stop right now. Because we are not worried about you. Clear? We just want to know what you know. Everyone clear on that?"
"What the bloody hell is going on?" said Maddox.
There was no chatter in the kitchen now, only a row of watchful faces. One of the policemen emerged from the basement and asked Maddox and Gabriel to step into Gabe's office. "Parks," he said. "I'm the senior investigating officer on this case."
"Case?" said Maddox. "What case?"
Parks smiled thinly. "Duty officer -- that's the sergeant there -- didn't like the look of it. Soon as someone calls it sus, you're dealing with a crime scene, incident log's up and running."
"Did he fall, or was he pushed?" said Maddox, simmering. "Do me a favor."
"Matter of fact," said Parks, "I agree with you. Looks like your chap fell. Tell you what's caused the confusion. There's castoff on the floor and a spot on the wall as well."
"Meaning?" said Gabe.
Parks yawned. "Apart from the blood pooled by the head, there's some splashes around the place -- like you might get if someone had been hit on the back of the head, for instance."
"You're not saying -- " began Maddox.
"I'm not. The CSM's taken a sample. Crime scene manager. We do like our acronyms."
"And the splashes?" said Gabe.
"Bit of a boozer, was he? Few empties down there. Probably what's happened is he slipped over, cut his head, got up and staggered around a bit, then fell back down. I don't blame the duty officer for calling it, but when I can get a BPA expert down there -- should be someone on his way now..." He checked his watch. "Blood pattern analysis. When I get my BPA guy down there, hundred to one that's what he'll say."
"So all this is a formality," said Maddox.
"No sign of robbery or anything like that. His things don't seem to have been disturbed. Of course, we'll be thorough. Once you set the ball rolling, you see, you've got to work it through to the end."
"Can we open again tomorrow?" said Maddox.
The detective stuck his hands in his pants pockets. He looked, Gabriel thought, somehow disappointing in his brown chinos and oatmeal sport jacket. "Don't see why not," said Parks. "Should have the body out of there soon. The CSM's got to bag the head and hands, and then it can go for the postmortem. That area will stay cordoned off for the time being."
"The postmortem's the end of it?" said the general manager.
"The coroner will give his initial findings -- injuries consistent with a fall, that kind of thing, open an inquest, and adjourn it awaiting the final police report."
"And the postmortem results you get back when?"
"Unless the BPA throws up any surprises, it won't go through on a rush job. We can get it done in forty-eight hours if there's cause; otherwise, it's more like five or six days. Ah, looks like my blood man's arrived. I take it you've called environmental health?"
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Maddox grimly. "We've called in the council. We've called in health and safety. We've not called in the navy yet, but we've called everyone else."
Copyright © 2009 by Monica Ali
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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