Femme Fatale

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Dominic Piper is an author, film and television writer, journalist and script editor. He lives in London, UK. He is the author of the best-selling, critically acclaimed thrillers Kiss Me When I'm Dead, Death is the New Black and Femme Fatale, all featuring the enigmatic, London-based private investigator Daniel Beckett. All three novels are published by Opium Den Publishing.


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When private investigator Daniel Beckett foils an assault on a young girl in London’s West End, it leads to an offer of work from a sinister and unlikely source in Soho’s Chinatown.But what starts out as a straightforward missing persons’ case soon takes on a more ominous aspect as he discovers a trail of blackmail, sadistic violence, conspiracy and murder, plus an influential, privileged and poisonous presence that seems to permeate all spheres of society.The perpetrators, however, are not expecting to encounter an individual like Beckett; an intelligent, amoral and fearless individual with a skill-set that points to a covert and violent past.Acquiring an entrancing and mysterious female associate, his investigation leads him into London’s electrifying burlesque scene where it seems some of the answers may lie.But no one is as they seem, and the truth is unexpected and disturbing.



 

Chapter 1

 

A TAP ON THE SHOULDER

We’re in the limbo
land between the end of the date and the ‘your-place-or-mine’.

This phase of the evening has to be handled
like a hothouse flower. Too much heat and it’ll wilt, not enough and there’s a risk
of it dying of frost damage. Lame botanical metaphors are a weakness of mine
and I’m glad I could share one with you.

Her name is Annalise St Clair. It’s a name
straight out of Knightsbridge, but she’s a black Mill Hill girl who’s made a
good fist of eradicating her north London accent and now sounds like she’s from
nowhere-in-particular. She has a low-pitched, carefully modulated voice and
when she speaks it’s like listening to warm honey pouring out of a jar.

She’s tall and sinuous with spectacular curves
and a tiny waist which I’m dying to get my hands around. To make things worse,
she’s tightly wrapped up in a blue/black cleavage-enhancing Agent Provocateur
Brandi dress with matching five-inch heels that bring her almost up to my
height.

Beautiful too, with a sexy, contemptuous
downturn to her mouth and striking hooded eyes made even more exotic by the
burgundy eye shadow she’s wearing. She’s also a senior cardiologist at the
Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, in case you thought it was all about looks.

I met her two nights ago. I’d just finished
a tedious insurance fraud case and was winding down with a double vodka and
soda in a quiet bar when the quiet bar became a noisy bar. A group of around
fifteen people came in. A pharmaceutical company conference had just finished
around the corner and a bunch of the attendees had decided to treat themselves
to post conference cocktails.

I saw her immediately. I let our eyes meet
once and then looked away, keeping her in my peripheral vision while she was
serially hit on by the entire male population of Nerd City. After a decent
interval, she peeled herself away from her crowd and we started talking. I
can’t remember who spoke first. I can’t remember what we talked about. I was
too busy inhaling her perfume and watching her mouth as her words subtly told
me she was available and interested.

And now, two days later, we’re walking down
Wardour Street after a great meal at The Spice Market accompanied by one too
many of their spectacular cocktails. She’s linked her arm around mine and I can
feel her hip brush against my thigh with each step she takes. She’s a little
unsteady but nothing too serious. I take a look at my watch. Eleven-fifteen and
it’s been dark for a couple of hours. It’s a warm evening with a cooling breeze
so we’re in no rush. She staggers slightly.

‘Shit!’ she says, laughing. ‘Those B-54
shooters have one hell of a kick. They don’t seem that alcoholic when you’re
knocking them back. I feel quite light-headed.’

‘I had a word with the barman.’

‘I knew it. You seem the type.’

‘Do you need to get a cab?’

‘Not yet. I quite like walking like this.’

‘Where do you live?’

‘Battersea. You?’

‘Covent Garden.’

‘You’re kidding. Really? Whereabouts?’

‘Exeter Street.’

‘Isn’t that where Joe Allen’s restaurant
is?’

‘That’s the one. I live above it. Third
floor.’

‘That’s so cool. So it’s a flat.’

‘That’s right.’

‘And you live there on your own?’

‘Last time I checked. You’re not fishing,
are you?’

‘Now why would I be doing that, Mr
Beckett?’

We keep walking as Wardour Street morphs
into Whitcomb Street, one side of which has been taken over by building works.
I can smell coffee roasting and a strong aroma of rosemary and oregano,
presumably emanating from a nearby Italian restaurant. The frequent roadworks
and sections of roads closed to traffic are so disorientating that for a moment
I don’t recognise where we are.

‘We’ll turn right at the end here into
Orange Street,’ I say. ‘We can head towards Piccadilly Circus from the other
side.’

Orange Street is all road works, hotels,
grey concrete, dirty-looking office entrances, joyless pubs and multi-storey
car parks. It’s fairly busy with people using it to get from one area of the
West End to another, just like we are. I can hear two contrasting bass thumps
from a couple of nightclubs. Two drunken teenagers walk past and ogle Annalise.
Someone is playing opera with the window open five floors up.

‘So what’s it like being a private
detective, Daniel? I’ve never met a real one before.’

‘It’s all dames and guns.’

‘I had a feeling it might be. Is your
middle name Danger, by any chance?’

I look surprised. ‘Have you had me checked
out?’

She laughs. Great laugh.

And then it happens.

It’s as if my subconscious just tapped me
on the shoulder and said, ‘Did you hear that?’

I stop walking and place a hand on
Annalise’s shoulder. I let my mind slip back about sixty seconds. I sift
through the street noise, the music, the footsteps, the chatter of passers-by,
the car horns and the taxi engines, trying to pick out the something my
subconscious reacted to but I somehow missed.

And then it comes back.

It was a girl’s voice.

Just one word.

No!

A young voice. Not someone joking with
friends. Not someone arguing with a boyfriend. No petulance. No bad temper.
Genuine alarm. Genuine fear. Genuine terror.

I close my eyes and try to work out where I
was when I heard it. About two hundred yards back. It came from my right-hand
side. What was there? I open my eyes and turn to Annalise.

‘Listen. I’ve just got to do something.
Wait here.’

‘Are you OK? What is it?’

She looks understandably baffled as I run
back the way we came. I can hear the click of her heels as she follows me. Oh
well. When it feels right I stop and listen, attempting to get my breath back.
These things always happen when you’ve been drinking.

I can hear a male voice, no, two
male voices coming from inside a small car park across the road from where I’m
standing. There’s humourless laughter and there are scuffling noises. That’s
it. That’s where the noise came from. That’s what my brain heard. Annalise
catches up with me.

‘What is it? What’s happening?’

‘I don’t know yet.’ I nod towards the car
park. ‘I have to go in there. Can you wait for me?’

She’s nonplussed. She thinks I’m eccentric.
‘Sure.’

The car park is closed and the entrance is
dark. It’s one of those small ones that shut down at six or seven o’ clock.
Maybe it belongs to a business or something. I don’t know. I walk into the
interior, ducking under the barrier. It’s dark inside, too, but not that dark.
I take in the scene in a millisecond. Three guys. Mid-twenties. Big. Sweaty.
Angry. Aggressive. The type you’d cross the road to avoid late at night,
particularly if you were a lone female. All wear smart suits: Canali, Thom
Brown, Lanvin. In amongst the typical car park odour of piss and petrol is the
sour reek of sweat and alcohol.

One of them is busy ripping the clothes off
a young Chinese girl who’s lying on the floor, struggling wildly and trying to
kick him in the head. She has a scram mark down her face, a bruised lower lip
and a look of terror in her eyes. Her turquoise blouse looks like it’s already
had an arm torn right off. All the buttons have popped out and you can see her
bra. It’s difficult to tell her age in this light. Fourteen? Sixteen? Eighteen?

The other two guys stand and watch. They’re
agitated. Drugs as well as booze? Doesn’t matter. One of them is rugby-player
huge. He takes his jacket off and looks for somewhere to hang it. There isn’t
anywhere, so he drops it on the floor. I can see huge sweat circles under his
armpits. The third guy stubs out his cigarette, runs a hand across his mouth
and starts to undo his trousers. They haven’t seen me yet: too pissed, too
busy. I put as much ki into my voice as I can.

Hey!

Huge Guy turns around to look at me. He has
an expression of stupid surprise on his face. ‘Who the fuck are you?
Fuck off, mate. This is nothing to do with you. Fuck off.’

I’m surprised to hear a rather plummy, posh
voice.

Crouching Boy glances at me, sniggers,
then, unconcerned, continues with the girl.

‘It’s everything to do with me,’ I
say, heading towards him.

‘We’re going to sort you out, matey,’ says
Cigarette Man, laughing and fiddling with his belt. ‘Go on, Derek: fuck him
up.’

Huge Guy laughs and strides over to meet me
half way, his palms outstretched, as if he’s going to try and push me over.
He’s easily over two hundred pounds and looks like he can take a punch or two
before his brain computes what’s happened. I’m going to have to get him out of
the picture quickly so I can deal with Crouching Boy and Cigarette Man.

He looks downwards, pursing his lips,
shaking his head and avoiding eye contact as he warns me for the very last
time. ‘Just go, friend. This doesn’t concern you. Just leave it. This is
private business, OK? Just go to the pub or something. Best you leave it be,
got it?’

He’s approaching rapidly, his face serious,
his eyes dead. He takes a sudden lunge at me, but he’s way, way too slow. When
his hands are about a foot away from my chest, I grab both sets of fingers in
mine and flick outwards and upwards, breaking both of his wrists. He screams.
While he’s considering that, I bring my right knee up to my chest and kick him
hard, at close range, in the solar plexus. He rockets backwards into Cigarette
Man, knocking him down.

Now Crouching Boy realises things are
getting out of hand. He punches the girl in the face to keep her down and gets
up to sort me out. He takes a swing at my head, which I block and give him a
swift knuckle strike just below his nose, knocking a couple of incisors out. I
grab the lapels of his suit, pull him towards me and head-butt him while
kneeing him in the balls as hard as I can. Twice. Three times. And one for
luck. It’s not his lucky day.

He bends double with the pain, so I grab
the back of his head with both hands, pull it down hard and knee him in the
face, just to be on the safe side. Safety is an important factor in matters
like these. When he’s on the floor, I kick him in the head, just because.

Cigarette Man gets up from under Huge Guy
and charges at me. He’s furious, but there’s fear in his eyes now. Just before
he makes contact, I turn away from him, grab the back of his collar and pull
him down while whacking him full in the throat with the side of my hand.
Amazingly, he gets up for another go, so I give him a three-finger jab beneath
the chin and slam his head into a concrete pillar. Tilt.

All three are down and won’t be getting up
any time soon. I turn around to see Annalise attending to the girl. In all the
excitement I’d forgotten she was a doctor. She gently rubs the girl’s cheek
with the back of her hand and turns to look at me.

‘She’s OK,’ she says. ‘Bloodied mouth, but
no damage to the teeth that I can see. Bit of a scratch on her face and one on
her shoulder but they’ll be gone in a few days. I think she’s in shock. You got
here just in time. Another few minutes…well, it isn’t worth thinking about.’

She stares hard at me as I run a hand
through my hair and do a quick visual inventory on my new unconscious pals. It
wasn’t fast enough and I was a little sloppy, but I had been drinking and the
light was bad. Those are my excuses, anyway.

‘Are you OK, Daniel?’ she says.

‘Me? Yes. Why?’

‘Uh – I don’t know. I just thought you
might have been punched, or were traumatised a little. Or is this what all private
investigators get up to on their nights off?’

‘They were just punks.’

‘Hey! Wait!’ she cries.

The girl has pushed herself up onto her
feet and made a run for it. In two seconds she’s disappeared. Annalise is
plainly in two minds whether to go after her or not. She stands up and I place
a hand on her shoulder.

‘Let her go. If she can move that fast
there can’t have been anything major wrong with her.’

‘Who’s the doctor here?’

‘Good comeback. Can I steal that?’

She punches me in the chest.

*

We head down the
Haymarket towards Piccadilly Circus, her arm linked around mine again, but now
she’s pressing close. We haven’t spoken for about five minutes and I wonder if
she’s OK. Maybe that little display was disturbing for her. Out of the corner
of my eye I can see that she keeps glancing at me.

‘That was pretty impressive back there,’
she says, still staring straight ahead.

‘What – me playing the Good Samaritan with
that girl? It was nothing. Had to be done.’

She looks up at me. Her eyes are shiny and
her pupils are dilated.

‘Well, that, yes. But the – what you did.
You know? I saw most of it.’

I take a gamble. ‘You mean the violence?’

She looks down at her feet. ‘Yes.’

‘You liked it?’

She doesn’t look up. She licks her lips.
‘Yes.’

I move the conversation away from where
we’re headed, just to give her a brief break. ‘It could have been done faster,’
I say. ‘I couldn’t really see very well in there.’

‘It made me feel weird.’

‘In a good way or a bad way?’

‘In a good way.’

‘That’s OK,’ I say, gently, rubbing the
small of her back. ‘It can affect some people like that. You mustn’t worry
about it.’

She swallows and licks her lips. ‘So what
was that you did to those guys? Was that some sort of martial art?’

‘I guess it was a mix. A cocktail.’

‘Of how many different styles?’

‘Four or five.’

‘And where did you learn four or five
different styles of martial art?’

Time for a subject change.

‘D’you want to go for a drink? There’s a
bar in St James’s Market that’ll still be open.’

She pulls me around to face her and her mouth
is on mine straight away. Her kisses are soft to begin with then swiftly get
passionate. I hold her waist firmly, keeping her a little further away than
she’d like to be, controlling her hunger, teasing her. She pushes her crotch
against my thigh. She’s panting.

‘I’m so fucking turned on.’ she whispers.

‘I know you are.’

‘Bastard.’

Exeter Street is ten minutes’ walk from
here. It’s going to be a hell of a long ten minutes.


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Dominic Piper

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