Death is a Service Rendered-1

A Piers Fellowes Crime Story

By Lairdscastle

Chapter 1

He stood naked and self-conscious by the side of the bed and stared down at the display of toys arranged neatly on the quilted bedspread. Nearby on a chair, also neatly folded… perhaps he would admit obsessively so, lay his business suit, expensive shirt, underwear, blue silk socks and a matching silk tie. There had been little time after he took the call from his Mistress to do more than escape from the office, take a taxi to his London flat, and grab the first travelling bag from the toybox that came to hand and then dash to the Country Hotel he had been summoned to. He was now trying to arrange what he had brought into some sort of order. With a shiver he hoped he would be punished for his lack of foresight.

He picked up one of a pair of silver rings, delicately attached to corded and therefore strong silver-plated chains and which ended with an exquisitely tooled and tiny clamp with a screw thread. After testing that the clamp closed smoothly, he laid it back down and similarly examined its pairing. A smooth paddle, about a foot long caught his attention. He picked it up and slowly rubbed his hand along the wood, so smooth and oiled he could hardly feel the grain and thankful that it was in good condition despite the fact he couldn’t remember when it had last been used.

He regretted that in his rush to be here, he had not picked up the new set of black leather butt-plugs he had recently bought on instruction from his Mistress (though on his recommendation) as the ones he had found in the bag of toys were not the best quality. They were clean and serviceable but he noticed that some of the stitching on the larger of them (and so more used) was beginning to fray. That would be spotted. Finally, he removed from the old Doctor’s medical case that served as his travelling toy bag, a short-handled flogger… he only one he was able to bring in the rush. It was, however, an old favourite and specially made by one of the best whip makers in England. The shiver came back as he held it and admired the workmanship. Three naturally coloured red, white and black strips of leather had been bound into a braided handle with a retaining ring of polished green opal and an exhibition quality red and gold flecked opal pommel stone at the end, set into brass. Not gold or silver as the quality and high price of the tool might have suggested. This was a workmanlike device, not meant for display. The expensive quality was to be enjoyed only in the most private and intimate circumstances.

There was a rustle of stockings as legs were unfolded and folded again.

“No boy! We won’t be using those today. I have brought my own… special surprises for you. Replace them in the bag. There is nothing of interest to me in there today.”

He didn’t look up. He had been forbidden to look her in the eye.

“Yes Mistress.”

“And when you have finished, neatly mind you, kneel and crawl to me. I want you to honour me. You are allowed to remove my shoes.”

A rebellious twitch at the side of his mouth was the only sign that he was irritated. The urgent summoning that day at short notice was rude in itself and not usually in character with this particular Mistress. His day had been filled with meetings and urgent decisions. His PA had to perform miracles of diplomacy to clear his diary. Neither did he care for floggers or butt plugs that he had not personally cleaned and oiled. It was all more disorganised than he preferred.

“Of course Mistress, it will be my pleasure.”

“Don’t bring me an attitude today boy; it’s not your pleasure that’s important.”

“Yes Mistress.”

Chapter 2

Detective Inspector Ross Grave watched Detective Superintendent Pal Khan from his vantage point at the window as the latter climbed the metal steps into the mobile operations trailer. The temporary office had been placed discreetly in the staff car park behind the main hotel building. It had been put there out of direct view from the main driveway entrance at the request of the horrified manager when he realised the police were going to be on-site for some days, if not weeks. Ross had not felt it necessary to be so sensitive to the hotel’s misplaced sense of propriety. After all, it was not as if the private chalet room in the grounds of this country club was going to be in a condition to be re-used for some time. Not known for his jokes, he nevertheless thought it was grimly amusing that the manager was so distraught given that this particular murder scene would probably attract “murder mystery” weekenders and boost business well after the police had gone. This case had a national profile.

DS Khan took off his hat and immediately sat down on one of the plastic chairs in front of the operations board to signal that he didn’t want fuss. There were only two officers in the room at this time of the morning. Detective Sergeant Paula Morris stood and formally acknowledged the arrival of her boss. Ross simply waved from his chair as he stared pointedly engrossed in the operation’s record sheets on his screens.

Turning, Ross thought that the boss was looking fatter and more tired than when he had last seen him. Ross on the other hand felt fitter and fresher than he had any right to be at this time of the morning. In fact, it was noticeable that he was taking better care of himself in the last few months. A residue from his recent marriage to his second wife, perhaps.

Khan placed his hat on the shelf next to one of the empty desks.

“So what do we have Ross? Forget a formal briefing; we can do that later in the pre-press meeting.”

Ross glanced back at his screens, then turned to face his boss.

“Well so far this week we have told the press that we have a probable murder on our hands, likely to be sex related. They have picked up from some of the hotel staff, who couldn’t wait to tell them, that it’s probably a sado-masochistic crime involving a girl and a surprising amount of blood. They know from the irritatingly indiscreet staff that she is a cousin of the model Carrie Hart-Graham and so the press were usefully diverted into pursuing that link rather than anything important to us. That’s sort of keeping them off our backs.”

Khan made no sign he was listening, but Ross was used to getting very little feedback from him and after a suitable pause, he carried on.

“As for us, well the victim signed in at the front desk as Alicia Greenberg on Monday and provided a company credit card in the name of Strended Carr Ltd. Turns out that it is a near dormant advertising agency that seems to be her own firm. Her real name is Alice Hart-Graham, cousin to Carrie on her father’s side. The latter is deceased along with her mother who sadly died years ago when she was a baby. Her uncle is of course Julian Hart-Graham, the city property guy. As far as I can tell, Alice’s branch of the family are little known and not nearly as rich. Paula is looking into that history.”

Khan roused by the name smiled up at Paula who ignored him and who nodded to Ross instead. Covering his irritation by a clearing of the throat, Khan spoke.

“Let’s leave that connection for now, what about the crime scene? I’ve seen the reports and photographs, so just your opinion would be fine.”

Ross ran his hand through thick greying brown hair and sat back.

“The techies say that they’re finished with the room. When you first see it, you’ll find it looks obvious what might have happened. The bed appears at first glance to be where she was killed as it is disturbed and covered in blood. Well, to be honest, we guess it was everywhere else, but there is a lot soaked into the sheets and into the atteress. That’s what the cleaning staff has told the press anyway before we got to them and told them to keep quiet. There are ropes, some tied to parts of the bed and also various pieces of equipment scattered about. I have an itemised list but they are obviously standard bondage stuff; clamps, whips that sort of thing. All being DNA tested of course. We will have the results within the week we think.”

Ross turned back to the desk and extracted a sheet of paper, then continued, glancing at the notes as he spoke.

“But as you know, it’s not as straightforward as that. Alice was sitting in a gold velvet upholstered chair away from the bed. The chair was urine stained, still damp which will help forensics. She was naked from the waist down and was wearing a very thin black silk blouse above. There is no other female clothing in the room. Instead, on another chair there was a pile of neatly folded clothing. A male business suit and other stuff. All looked new.”

Khan wrinkled his eyes in an involuntary twitch of disgust: despite his years in the force. He had too much imagination to cope well with crime scenes. Ross continued.

“There was no obvious injury on her body, certainly no cuts or any other indication that she had bled all over the bed. The attending forensic doctor, Fairley, tells me that it is reasonable to assume even before testing that it’s not her blood.”

“Cause of death?”

“Still waiting for final toxics, but Fairley says that there is no obvious cause of death either. I’ve had a preliminary report from autopsy and reading between the lines, I think they are simply going to scratch their heads and put it down to heart failure. We might yet be in a position to say natural causes if it weren’t for the blood. Something unnatural happened here certainly.”

“What about breath-play, asphyxiation?”

“If it was, it’s left no obvious sign.”

“Ok. Take me across the scene and afterwards we will get the team together to set up the press briefing.”

As DS Khan spoke, the door opened and two Detective Constables arrived for their shift. They acknowledged him and crossed the now crowded room to their work-stations. Ross was the only one who returned their greetings. He issued basic instructions.

“Morning John. Shona, can you and Paula look after the clear up team when they arrive shortly? I’ve left notes on the file. The DS and I are just out to take a look. John, can you look out a Coverall for me the DS?”

It prompted a bustle of activity. Ross noted that everyone seemed overly business-like, subdued even. He wondered if this case had more than the ordinary tragedy about it. Or was it that he was now passed the stage when his colleagues could feel comfortable with expressing in his presence the black humour that usually accompanied the task. A way of telling him he was no longer a team player. He hoped not. In his early years in the force, he wasn’t known as one of the lads, one to join in with the jokes, but he could appreciate them. Inside.

*

Appropriately suited and booted, Ross led his boss across the formal gardens to the edge of the woodland and on to the area where the chalets were scattered amongst the trees. Coming to one of the more secluded huts, he stepped past the young Constable guarding the door. Ross explained to Khan as they went inside that the hotel kept a small number of individual chalet rooms away from the main hotel complex for their guests who wanted more privacy than normal. The hotel could barely be made out through the trees that surrounded them: clearly ideal if this was a meeting place for sado-masochistic play. Or worse.

DS Khan didn’t look happy to be there. It occurred to Ross at that moment that he knew pretty well what DS Khan thought of him. Due to an error in the office some months before, Ross had accidentally seen a personnel report which included Khan’s private formal work assessment of him. One embarrassing phone call from Human Resources later, the email was retracted and an understanding was made between Ross and the flustered civilian human resources person not to mention it again. But he remembered what Khan had written. Khan noted that Ross was older than himself and far more experienced in his special CID role that he had occupied for years. Khan speculated why there had been no further promotions. Ross was in fact perfectly aware that he was seen as one of those long-timer servers who revelled in the day to day investigations, but hated management. He rarely went to social events with his colleagues and these days he was strict in keeping to sane working hours when he could. Ross had taken stock of his life after the failure of his first marriage and was determined to take control of it. It made him dull on the page of a personnel report.

Ross focussed and then was careful not to step too far into the room. He respectfully pulled his boss close to him.

“As you can see, the techies have recorded and taken away what they think is of interest. There isn’t much left for me to do, but I asked the clear-up team to wait until today before we hand it back to the hotel.”

“Why, what’s left to do?”

“To be honest, I don’t know. I have this feeling that there is something else going on here. I’ve spent a bit of time just looking at the room. In fact it was Paula that set me thinking. She is, as I said, looking into Alice’s background and so far we haven’t found anything that links Alice to the BDSM community. I know that doesn’t say much. Most people in that lifestyle, especially the amateur dabblers, tend to cover their activities. But in this case there was nothing to suggest she was interested in that sort of thing.”

“How so?”

“Well, she was fairly asexual for a start. Some regular boyfriends in the past and few friends, but those interviewed so far say that she was pretty, but glacial. She was supposed to be working in advertising, but from what we can make out, she was living on a small amount of inherited money from her father. She also inherited his large flat in a fairly expensive part of London, and now shares it with two friends who pay a decent rent. They say they knew her well, not the sociable type and nothing suggested a fun loving person who went out a lot. They were apparently rather shocked about the papers crawling over the kinky stuff. They thought her more bookish as a type it seems.”

“You can’t really tell from that surely. Sounds to me that there may be a volcano under that crust?”

Ross smiled.

“Well put Sir!”

DS Khan grimaced at his unintended patronising tone and inappropriate humour.

“Never mind. Go on.”

“By the way, the papers put her age at 24 which I think they got from one of the friends. However, she is actually 31, quite a bit older than her cousin. Incidentally, she doesn’t appear to have had any contact with her famous cousin. We haven’t managed to speak to the gorgeous Carrie, despite the fact that she has spoken to the press already. Bloody irritating, but she’s due back from her Middle East work on Tuesday. We can catch up then. As far as I can tell, Carrie is playing a game of; “isn’t it dreadful, but my publicist thinks it’s helpful”. She will probably add nothing of interest to us.”

“Did she look like Carrie?”

“Ah, we thought of that. Someone trying to get off with a Carrie look-alike. Alice was pretty enough in the photographs and clips we have retrieved from her home laptop and what limited social media we’ve seen, but nothing like her cousin: Alice was shorter, darker, an average figure and build.”

DS Khan smiled awkwardly. Ross wondered whether Khan had prudish views about thin models.

“Ok, Ross, so why did you want to keep the crime scene live and extra day?”

“Well, two things really. First, it’s obvious that the room has been meticulously cleaned in the places where anyone is likely to have left fingerprints or DNA. The killer must have brought in cleaning materials which suggests it was planned. I suppose the bed covered in blood was just too much to deal with.”

“And the second?”

“Look at the windowsill. It came to me this morning, and why I called you in Sir. What do you see?”

Khan glanced to the side where the room’s only window was placed. A light coloured varnished wood surface with no ornaments, clean, but with an obvious small cup ring stain. He shrugged.

“Ok, look at the picture on the wall, I asked the techies to put it back especially?”

It was a picture of the golf course that the hotel operated within its grounds, placed in a non-descript black frame. Again clean as a whistle and.., then it struck Khan then what he was looking at.

“That looks like a cup ring like the one on the windowsill. A cup ring?

“You will find the same thing on the headboard above the bed and on the left-hand bed-side drawer unit. If I was to guess, I would say they were left by some sort of rubber sucker mounted web-cam or similar unit. There may have been other cams that have left no trace. Someone was either taking photographs, or even web streaming what went on in this room.”

“DNA?”

“Too much to hope for. They probably used the room’s water to wet the sucker. Obviously at least two people have been in this room with Alice. Someone has cleaned but left in a hurry and didn’t take enough care when the cams were lifted away. Too busy taking away what we must assume was a body.”

Khan was silent for a moment. He looked around with fresh eyes.

“There’s something else, isn’t there?”

“Yes there is. Quite simple really. Why take all the trouble to remove some, but not all of the equipment… and Alice’s clothes. I have a feeling that forensic testing will find no DNA other than Alice’s and the victims, perfectly clean objects, unused clothing and BDSM equipment, also unused. That’s what occurred to me. It looks like someone has created this scene rather than caused it.”

“You’re thinking serial killer.”

“Maybe. The staff are checking the records for anything similar now Sir. But there is one last thing.”

Khan groaned inwardly as if he knew what was coming. Ever since Khan heard of the first details of this case, he knew where it would lead.

“We don’t need him Ross; we have our own experts who can help out.”

“Not like Piers. He knows the people in the BDSM community inside out. And you can take that literally Sir!”

“Apart from anything else, the man thinks I’m a moron. In fact, he thinks you’re a moron, I don’t understand why you like him.”

Ross looked pained.

“I need to correct that with respect Sir. I don’t like him, but he has helped before.”

“Apart from that case with the politician; what’s-his-name. We ended up with our Chief Constable having to make a fucking public apology.”

“We had that one right. Sir.”

Khan was silent for a while and looked around again at the room. He sighed.

“This isn’t straightforward is it?”

“No, it isn’t. I think this rock is going to turn over and what’s underneath will shock even us. I have a bad feeling.”

“I’ll run with it. Get hold of bloody Piers Fellowes and then keep him away from me.”

“And you will tell George we’re going to use Piers?”

Khan winced and nodded. That was a conversation with the Chief Constable, Ross was sure he would leave until the last possible minute.

Chapter 3

Just for amusement, Piers Fellowes decided to wait until DI Ross Grave had set out all of his papers and prepared his laptop before he would speak. He looked out of his own apartment window to an expensive view of the Thames and the City of London beyond. Once Ross had finished shuffling the files on his coffee table, Piers spoke, still staring out the window.

“To be honest Detective Inspector, I am not sure I really have the time. I seem to spend my days, including weekends working on my business interests. I have no more time for anything else.”

Ross decided not to play the game. He had heard in the past that Piers’ business was inherited from his father who had made sure before he died that it was in the capable hands of specialists. It was rumoured that Piers rarely interfered. What he didn’t know was whether that was true.

“Mr Fellowes, Piers, I am not asking a favour from you. This is a murder investigation and you are well known in a community that might just include someone you know who is involved. And anyway, since when did you become so poor that you can’t spend some time away from work.”

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