Death is a Service Rendered-2

As he spoke Ross waved his hand around the large room with its glass wall onto an expensive view, impeccable furniture and original artwork.

Piers looked at him in surprise. Ross wasn’t usually so rude.

“I’m sorry Ross; I can see that this is a serious business. I didn’t mean to offend you. What I mean is that my finances are not as stable as you might think from this place.” He waved in return at the view.

“My interests and investments are not what they were. I am in the middle of a critical business deal which might help improve them and I can’t afford to be distracted.”

Grim faced, Ross ignored the special pleading. Piers was just as likely to refuse as Ross was likely to be one of his “pupils” as he put it. These pupils were people, usually wealthy, who came to Piers for training in order to organise their own lives in the BDSM lifestyle. No, an interesting BDSM related murder would be just too good a subject to ignore.

“I’ve brought some copies of the files with me. It includes summaries of statements, some scene photographs and a summary of the autopsy report we received recently. It goes without saying that they don’t leave your apartment or are copied. I want you to read them now so I can take them away.”

Piers simply nodded; cutting through a lot of teasing and wheedling he had intended to perform on this over-serious DI. Ross ignored the gesture of compliance.

“All we want from you are two things. To see if there is anything that jogs your memory that might help us start to trace the perpetrator. A style perhaps. A signature maybe. Secondly, I want you to use your contacts to see if you can find any trace of Alice Hart-Graham in the BDSM community.”

“Can I call some people?”

“Yes, but just discreet inquiries. I want no-one to think you are working for us.”

Piers shrugged.

“As soon as I take an interest, our networks will buzz. My involvement in the past with police investigations is well known.”

“Maybe so, but all I want from you are some starting points. Then you stop and we will take it from there.”

Piers looked down over the papers on his coffee table.

“I hear that you are married again. Congratulations.”

Ross paused, obviously unwilling to allow Fellowes to divert away from the subject. He nodded. Piers wouldn’t be put off.

In fact I hear that she is rather a beauty, where did you find her?

Ross sighed.

“It was some time after we last worked together. She was one of the potential witnesses the team came across in the case. She was discounted from the investigation and so I didn’t know her well then. Nearly a year afterwards we met at a big business lunch, she recognised my name and we started to talk. Hit it off pretty much straight away. She was between relationships; I was on my way back from missing Ellen. We got together.”

“Yes, I was sorry to hear about Ellen. But you had no children I seem to remember?”

“No, no children.”

“And you regret that?”

“This isn’t one of your “sessions” you know. You will be bringing out the pervert’s questionnaire next.”

This was a reference to Piers’ part time occupation as a BDSM lifestyle consultant and the form he used to assess potential clients for entry into his world of adult games. It asked for those wanting to join the lifestyle to reveal their most private desires and feelings. Piers however considered himself to be a professional and hated the term the police used for it.

“It was a civil question Ross.”

“Yes. Well. Sorry.”

There was an awkward pause. Piers inwardly smiled as he watched Ross’s face giving away the need to explain, for no reason other than he always seemed to end up like this with Piers. It was why Piers was very good at his main occupation: bringing out that feeling of being manipulated and not letting the client feel resentful at the same time. Very useful skill in his work.

To look at him at first glance, Piers was unremarkable. No more than average height, he gave the impression of being taller but running perhaps to obvious middle-age spread: a general stockiness rather than flabbiness. His mainly black hair was grizzled with flecks of grey and full bodied, a few stray hairs giving him the look of a schoolboy. No heterosexual man would have called him handsome, but he had the most arresting eyes, the colour and clarity of amber malt whisky and fringed with long black eyelashes. He knew he had what others might acknowledge as “charisma”: a penetrating stare and a way of using his voice like a sympathetic lawyer.

Female and gay male clients sometimes said that Piers was the sexiest man they had ever met: without any trace of irony. Piers thought that most other men would have offered such people a withering stare.”

“If you must know, Kielly is pregnant. I’m a bit old for fatherhood, but nothing will stop me from enjoying it. I have plans to retire soon.”

Piers raised an eyebrow as he didn’t think of Ross as that old. On the other hand he had always seen Ross as a slow burn plodder: someone who pulled himself up in his work and promotion prospects by his fingernails inch by inch. The sort of man who almost reaches the top when white haired and ripe for ousting by younger men, just at the time he thought he was getting somewhere. Perhaps he liked staying down amongst the little people. Perhaps he was one of us masochists after all!

Rather than push it any further, Piers turned business-like. He indicated to the table.

“I’ll read them in a moment. So far, I have read what’s been in the newspapers and websites. Tell me about the Carrie angle, how far have you got?”

“What Carrie angle? That’s just newspaper fluff, surely you aren’t hooked on the pretty Carrie? She doesn’t seem to be your type?”

“I take it you have interviewed her and found no connection?”

“No we haven’t and no there isn’t.”

“Bit premature? I suggest you speak to her.”

“Sorry Piers, you’re still being distracted by a pretty ankle as usual. We have looked at the family background. Yes, she and Alice are cousins, but we can’t find any occasion when they even met. Seems like the father and his brother were estranged going way back. Their families led very separate lives.”

“But you will be talking to her?”

“Of course, and we are still doing background checks. But you know the score with these celebrity types, they take up a hell of a lot of time even when there is nothing to help the investigation. We have a press team doing nothing but denying the latest made up newspaper story that offers an excuse to print Carrie’s face, or more likely the other bits of her body that her publicist is pushing at this moment.”

“Don’t worry Ross, I am not that stupid. But there is angle here? If you know where to look.”

“Ok Piers, dazzle me.” With an exasperated sigh, Ross sat back.

“You might at least have waited until you read the bloody papers.”

“Well in fact I have Ross. These ones.”

Piers pulled a thin stack of cuttings from the shelf under the coffee table and laid them out over Ross’s own official papers. They were all recent newspaper articles about Carrie. Ross noticed that the photographs had been neatly cut out, but not the articles themselves.

“But these are just standard publicity shots. Apart from that one.”

Ross pointed to the last one that was laid down which was a blurry tabloid shot of Carrie on holiday with her latest minor “businessman” lover.

“Actually, they all have something interesting to say to us that might link to this case. Some of the photographs are sourced. You know, tiny writing citing the photographer or agency down the side. The publicity shots are all from agencies she has used in the past, the fuzzy beach one is from a standard professional nuisance. However, I had my PA do a company house search this morning. Look.”

Piers turned one of the photographs to the side.

“I would talk to the journalist who wrote the article that accompanied this photograph, not because he has anything interesting to say, but because the newspaper is onto something here and they are obviously not ready to reveal it yet. They will use it later when their story starts to flag a bit. You need to let this journalist know he needs to talk to you”

Ross read the citation and audibly groaned. How the hell did they miss that! The source of the photograph read; “Strended Carr”.

“So, you searched and found her firm. Just as easy as that eh?”

Once again Fellowes had managed to make him look incompetent. He would have a few words to say to his team when he got back. On the other hand, he shouldn’t have been so dismissive of the celebrity aspect that he should have hived off the Carrie angle to the press office.

“We’ll get right on to it. Thank you.”

Piers spotted the reluctance to give credit. Those last two words were forced out of him. Ah, that’s the reason he, Piers Fellowes, businessman and BDSM lifestyle guru spends his valuable time on police work. The pleasure from the pain: even if only the pain of the other party feeling uncomfortable and resentful. He smiled briefly and walked back to the window. It was now raining and London shattered in the raindrops cascading down the glass.

“Actually, it’s not the Carrie link that interests me. It can hardly be a surprise that Alice might try to use her famous cousin to boost her own career. It can’t have come to anything anyway as we haven’t heard much from this firm in Carrie’s short but illustrious modelling career. No, it’s the photograph itself that is intriguing.”

Ross took a closer look. The photograph was of a full length shot of the model. Even its small size didn’t obscure the fact that it was Carrie. Skinny, lanky tall, high cheek bones, short dark hair, big eyes staring straight at the camera. Despite the fact that it was a black and white studio shot, it still made you think of her trademark light blue eyes. She was dressed in ordinary black skirt and white blouse, standing shoeless with her back to a plain wall, hands folded in front. It would have looked unusually demure for a Carrie photograph if it weren’t for the direct look to the camera, looking up, challenging you as if to say; “I know what you are thinking, but you ain’t getting any”.

She looked young, a schoolgirl’s slightly pouty face. He couldn’t decide if that was a sign of a much digitally enhanced product or simply an early assignment. Ross shrugged.

“What am I supposed to make of it? It looks like a fairly ordinary photograph. Can’t say I much like the clothes she’s modelling; I doubt this was a career high.”

Piers returned and settled back into his antique and exquisitely upholstered chair.

“She’s not modelling clothes. The pose is rather amateurishly done and the look to camera is all wrong, but she isn’t modelling anything other than herself here. This photograph is obviously meant to be the start of a BDSM story set: probably spanking or punishment.”

“Sorry, how on earth do you get to that idea: sounds like wishful thinking to me.”

“Don’t be crass. Look. The spanking story photo set is a pretty standard format, and, I would have to say, is a clichéd genre not much used now in this video porn age. It was probably old fashioned and out of touch even at the time the set was taken. This is near the beginning of the set. Young girl, secretary, older schoolgirl, whatever, is to be punished. She is asked to stand by the wall to contemplate her fate. Then she is summoned to the teacher, boss, whoever, and given a talking to. Then the inevitable laying over the knee or chair. Spanking, punishment tools selected, shown to the bad girl…”

Ross interrupted.

“Yes, OK, I get the idea. So you think this is a BDSM set that Alice took, the papers have got hold of it and we can look forward to seeing more soon?”

“Maybe.”

“Carrie must be crapping herself by now. They would be sensational.”

“Probably”

Ross gave this some thought. Looked at the photograph again, then reached inside his jacket for his phone.

“OK, take a look at this other stuff; I have to deal with this.”

He rose and walked around the room, ending as everyone did in Piers’ flat, at the window. He called in to Operations.

Piers watched him for a minute and when it was obvious Ross was deep in conversation, he picked up the police files and began to scan read.

Ross was still not off the phone when Piers had finished reading. The police had kept so much back he didn’t know why they wanted him to see this castrated bunch of papers in the first place. He picked out the only crime scene photograph of interest. It showed Alice, somehow peacefully asleep in the chair placed in the corner of a hotel room, head back, and wispy hair partially covering her face. The blouse fitted snugly and he could clearly make out the shape of her breasts, even the slight fold of tummy. The lack of clothing anywhere else was the only discordant feature. Her legs were wide apart with her knees resting against each arm of the chair to the side, though the fuzz of thick pubic hair hid her vagina. Her arms lay loose either side of the armrests. He wouldn’t have been surprised to see a book fallen to the floor where it was dropped when she fell asleep. In other words, she was posed. It was only the thought that he was looking at death made him consider the photograph sadly. He briefly wiped his eyes with his fingers.

Ross stood by his shoulder, unnoticed. He too looked at the picture for a moment. It was a shared moment of respectful silence. Then he spoke.

“So, is there anything else that comes to mind?”

Piers shook his head slowly.

“I can’t help you any more than I have.”

“You need more time?”

“No, I don’t see that helping. You seem to believe that the BDSM bit was staged. I agree, this could be the work of any sick murderer, if murder it was. I don’t think my expertise will help at all really.”

Ross looked puzzled.

“It’s not like you to be so definite. So you think it’s not one of your lot then?”

Piers coloured at the suggestion.

“They are not, as you put it so gracelessly, one of my lot.”

He tossed the photograph on the pile and signalled Ross to take them away.

“Provided you haven’t held something back, I would say that the equipment looks wrong, some of the toys work as individual items, but they don’t make sense if used together. You wouldn’t use those clamps with those chains and the rope is standard clothesline, too coarse and stiff for use. The handcuffs probably came from a Party Costume shop and are just ridiculous. As for the idea that there were webcams about. Well, everyone uses cams these days, not a BDSM lifestyle specific item.”

“What about the clothing and the body itself.”

“Your report says there was no sign of a struggle, no marks, no drugs. The toys are the stuff that a submissive or slave type would use or wear, whereas the pose in the chair is closer to the idea of a Domme role. But even there you see, she isn’t dressed for it. No, I think your people are right to be suspicious. But I don’t think I can take you any further.”

Ross nodded and started to gather his papers.

“OK, thank you for the insight Piers. Unless anything else comes up, I think we can close it there. You’ve confirmed what we thought. It will be a relief.”

“A relief? Ah yes, Ross. How is the good Detective Superintendent Can’t” these days.”

“DS Khan will be delighted to know you won’t be able to help further.”

“I bet he will.”

Once Ross had left, Piers made coffee and sat on a low seat by the window. He looked out at the grey river and considered his next move. It had been easy to direct Ross away from the idea that this was a lifestyle murder. He really had no idea if the risqué photograph of Carrie held any meaning whatsoever, he doubted it. But it was a useful distraction. He had to move fast and discreetly before they caught on to his misdirection.

He crossed the room to his laptop and spent an hour there. Afterwards he made some calls. Finally, in his room he packed a small rucksack, but left it open on the chair. Sitting on the bed he faced his dressing mirror.

Piers focussed on his reflection in the glass. He suddenly had become to look old and tired. He looked, he realised, worried.

Chapter 4

The small dyed blond girl behind the counter in the tiny cafe called “Kinky Coffee” on Canarde Street in London looked up, saw Piers arrive and immediately moved to the coffee machine and started to make his usual order.

“Sorry Mr Fellowes, Mr Brian is out for more milk, he won’t be back for a little time.” She spoke in a thick Eastern Europe accent he could not place and never asked about.

“Thank you Bo’ I will wait for him.”

He sat at one of only three tables in the narrow space, the cafe neatly decorated in white and grey, the space made even narrower due to the shelves of modern pristine lifestyle books that were also for sale. Prints of shiny latex women in artful poses took up wall space behind him and on the far wall. A narrow spiral staircase was positioned just to the side of the counter which led down to the basement and on to the main reason the cafe existed.

“Is there anything happening tonight Bo’?”

“Just a local Munch, Mr Fellowes. New people I think, the man organising it looked really sweet and embarrassed when he booked.” She laughed and brought over the coffee.

“Probably because you leant over to write in the book and showed him the fact that your t-shirt doesn’t fit properly again young lady.”

She pretended to look hurt and pulled the errant thin cloth shirt over her shoulders again.

“Anytime you need to punish me Mr Fellowes, you know I go at 6:00.”

“I never play with the staff Bo’, should be a rule of Mr Brian’s house eh?”

She moved back behind the counter and smiled as another pair of customers arrived. When she was finished, Piers called her over again pulled her close and whispered a question.

“Tell me, have you ever booked in a special. I mean a one to one in the playrooms. Someone called Alicia or Alice maybe? Paid for by credit card, possibly Strended Carr business card”

“I can check, but it is not a name I know. Shall I ask Mr Brian?”

“No, just check for me please. Can you do that?”

“Sure, I will do it now Mr Fellowes.”

It was very unlikely that Alice would have come to the basement BDSM playrooms known as the S’Played Club which was a large dungeon space, one of the most well known in London. But over time, he would have to check the other Clubs as well. But he needed to be as sure as he could be given that without a photograph it wouldn’t be definitive. But he couldn’t risk asking for one from the police.

At that moment, Brian Gerandon, owner of a small, unprofitable coffee shop and a large, very profitable BDSM club arrived, carrying a crate of supermarket milk and looking sweaty and out of condition. He greeted Piers with a pained smile as he hurtled towards the back of the counter and groaned when he set it down.

“Can I catch a word Brian?”

“Sure, come down.”

He moved towards the stairs and Piers followed him down. At the bottom, a door next to the washrooms led to a surprisingly large and comfortable office. Despite having no daylight, it was well and sublimely lit yet provided the impression of corporate professionalism. In fact, Brian fitted in well having the look of an overweight accountant: round faced, glasses, thinning hair. He could have modelled for Accountancy Weekly. Except that he was one of the most well-known business people in the Lifestyle. He, unusually, actually made money from his Club and ran an equally successful online BDSM equipment company. All from this office. Also, unusually, he wasn’t interested in living the Lifestyle himself. “Never touch the goods, never get trapped in the game” was his regular advice to everyone but his customers.

Piers didn’t even know if he had a partner, male or female. He would have been shocked to learn that Brian Gerandon in fact had an attractive wife, two teenage children, a dog and a fine house in Harpenden where his neighbours just thought he was something in the Civil Service. The truth was, Piers didn’t really care. He was a friend and a trustworthy one, that’s all he needed right now.

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