A day of reckoning—both personal and professional—is at hand for Detective Inspector Stewart White in the third installment of the D.I. White Mysteries.
While White’s team is closing in on an elusive heroin smuggling operation, a prominent television executive reports that her twin teenage daughters have been abducted. The high-profile case is assigned to White, who must now divide his attention between the kidnapping and the heroin sting operation.
That leaves little time to console his one-time lover, Connie Cleghorn, when she returns to the UK to take her mentally ill brother back to Florida for treatment. In stark contrast, his father is diving deeper into a heady love affair of his own—forcing White to consider whether his inability to maintain a lasting relationship is due to his job or to his own shortcomings.
The two cases—and relationships—threaten to spiral out of control towards conclusions that are sure to surprise.
“A compelling, well-written mystery that comes to a booming, satisfying conclusion. As always, Everett and Coles create convincing characters that come to life. Under the skilled writing of this author duo, ‘bad guys’ are just awful, Detective White is a skilled officer and completely human, filled with all the warts and foibles found in most of us.” — Molly Martin, Midwest Book Review
“The book commences with a series of events surrounding the Bosnian Conflict. The reader discovers the relevance of this as the story progresses into present day. I love how the authors alternate the time lines until they merge into one. Yet, while the reader is privy to the missing pieces before the police, I was still not certain if I got the puzzle figured out correctly until the end. I highly recommend reading all three books.” — Lynn Hallbrooks, Goodreads Review
Somehow, a matte-black visiting card had found its way into my in-tray. Emblazoned across its face was the name Evangeline Kinti in silver, and continuing beneath the name, in a smaller font, of the Obeah Temple: practitioner.
In the bottom right-hand corner in truly small print was the address of a hotel with which I was somewhat familiar, being situated about ten miles from my office along the road to York.
Evangeline… I mulled for a second, pretty enough name to remember but if I had known such a woman, I certainly had forgotten her. I turned the card over. There, I read: A memorial service will be held on September 3rd starting 10:30 a.m.
That was today! Still baffled, I turned the card over and over and belatedly realized that it was doubled. Inside was a name which I certainly was familiar with and a face smiling up at me, Leroy Richards, an image I had never expected to see again. A former drug dealer whom I had had the pleasure of arresting and, the last I heard, had gone missing, presumed drowned in the River Ouse near Selby.
* * *
The hotel was a smart, residential place. A uniformed police officer stood before the front entrance as mourners, followers, friends, and perhaps, enemies of Leroy Richards sprouted umbrellas against the fat, heavy raindrops, and walked towards the entrance. I pulled the BMW into a corner and got out to follow them.
I had not thought to bring an umbrella and I stood at the edge of the small crowd, getting wet, while the constable raised his hand and told us that there was a slight delay while seating arrangements in the dining room were completed. I could have asked him what a police officer was doing directing attendees at a funeral, acting as a bouncer. I could have flashed my warrant card and expected to be allowed immediate entry. But I was in no rush, and had no wish to make my presence public.
My suit was getting wet, so I wormed my way forward and stood under the semi-circular arch around the door. Looking out, I saw a few faces in the gathering that appeared familiar. Perhaps I had had a run-in with them from my days in Birmingham. Leroy, I knew, had been born in Jamaica but I also knew that he had been raised a “Brummy,” a citizen of Birmingham, much like myself. Consequently, it was only a small surprise to see so many who had obviously travelled some distance to be here and yet spoke with the accent of Birmingham natives.
I wore my black suit, the one I used only for funerals and weddings, and a black shirt and tie to go with it. I was pleased I had done so, because almost everyone else, male or female, had chosen to wear black. As we were let in, I couldn’t help thinking that had there been a marching band playing solemn jazz, we might have been taken for a funeral procession in Birmingham, Alabama rather than Birmingham, England.
The staff had done us proud, the dining room had been cleared of tables. The chairs were set in rows, small white name cards had been put on each chair. I waited while most of the others sorted themselves out and then went looking for my name.
“Can I help you, sir?” asked an attendant.
“Just looking for my place, thank you. Name’s White, Stewart White.”
The man consulted a seating plan. “Ah, yes. Just along here near the back, Mr. White—ah, my apologies—Detective Inspector White!”
“Thank you.” I sat and looked around to see how many had picked up on the use of my title but no one was showing any sign of having done so. There must have been about a hundred guests but in the huge room, they were almost lost. The space was illuminated by wall lights but once everyone was seated, these were switched off, leaving us in momentary darkness until smaller lights in the ceiling came on in ones and twos and clusters until it resembled the night sky, stars and planets against a midnight blue.
Heavy brocade curtains opened at the front, revealing a black ebony lectern on a wooden dais. A single spot grew steadily brighter to show the carved lectern in greater detail, birds, snakes, reptiles and other, more improbable creatures were carved into the wood, intertwined, crawling over each other, looking back at our curious gazes.
I was concentrating on the carvings to such an extent that, probably, like most of the others, I missed the silent appearance of the woman who could only be Evangeline Kinti. Even in the relative darkness, her beauty shone like another lamp, a tiny, polished, black goddess who had suddenly appeared from nowhere.
She spoke and her rough voice seemed discordant compared with her perfect appearance, perhaps it was too much to expect perfection in both appearance and voice.
“Welcome to the Hounfour of Obeah where we are gathered to bid our friend, Leroy Richards, good wishes on this new stage of his journey. I am Mambo Kinti, Voodoo Princess.”
Evangeline raised her arm and, as carefully stage-managed as everything else, a huge—larger than life size—image of Leroy descended from above to stand behind her, his smile seeming to tell each of us to have trust in this diminutive woman.
3-D imaging? I thought it devilishly convincing.
With a slow wave of her hands, tables laden with glasses were conjured into being and two waiters began to place them on trays and offer them to the guests. Eventually, one of the servers offered me a glass and when I frowned, he smiled very slightly. “Cockerel’s blood and red wine, I understand, sir.” I took the glass although I had no intention of letting any of the liquid pass my lips.
I was getting a little bored with the theatrics. I sniffed from the rim of the glass; the liquid was very aromatic and the fumes seemed almost to climb up inside my nose with a sort of malign joy. I had been ready to leave the ceremony—or whatever it might be called—but then a curious thing happened, a very curious thing.
Evangeline’s features grew large and hazy, her face wafted above the assembly like a cloud until it hung level with Leroy’s face.
“Let us raise a glass for Leroy, ladies and gentlemen, an offering to our Loa to guide him across Creation. A little wine, a little blood from a sacrificial cockerel, to show that we keep the faith.”
Most, if not all, were taking sips from their glasses so I raised mine in pretense. I was not even aware of touching the surface yet there was a sensation of moisture on my lips, a taste of sweetness in my mouth. Evangeline’s ethereal face took on color, became real, her mouth opened and smiled, her words were whispered in my ear and into every other ear present.
“You all knew Leroy; some of you knew him as ‘King Richard,’ a man of extreme loyalty to his friends. He might have been known to steal on occasion, but he stole like the English Robin Hood, from the rich to give to the poor. I like to call him after the hero of that movie. I call him my ‘Prince of Thieves’.
“We grew up together in Jamaica, and many nights when I was young, I went to bed hungry. But always, Leroy would greet me with a banana, a mango, or an orange—and I more than suspect that each of those had been growing a minute before in someone else’s garden.”
Evangeline related another handful of anecdotes which set heads nodding and shaking until I didn’t know the man she was talking about at all. I would leave I decided, if I could find my way out with that face above me, talking, talking, talking.
One of my intentions in coming here was to take note of the names of any of Leroy’s acquaintances but it seemed none were going to be mentioned, I could do just as well by asking for a glance at the register in reception or asking to see the CCTV later. I had all but stopped listening to her reminiscences when suddenly, my name was mentioned.
“One member of our small congregation is Mister Stewart White, to give him his full title, Detective Inspector Stewart White, a man whom Leroy had a very soft spot for.”
This was news to me, in spite of what Jasminder Singh, a colleague of mine, had had to say. Any chance of my remaining anonymous, of course, was now blown away.
“Inspector White put Leroy behind bars a few years ago but Leroy realized that he had been bested by the better man and gained respect for him and when it mattered, Leroy tried to save Inspector White’s life even though he was in fear for his own.”
I almost dropped my glass in surprise.
“You appear puzzled, inspector? Didn’t you know you were at the top of Mad Charlie’s hit list?”
Across the room, another head shot bolt upright.
“On the day that Leroy, Prince of Thieves was running away from him, he rang you to warn you. Didn’t you know?”
I shook my head and the face floating above me faded away. A touch on my arm made me turn and there was Evangeline herself, looking up at me.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is Stewart White. Mark him well—he was Leroy’s scourge. He could be your nemesis.” And a hundred pairs of eyes scrutinized me from head to toe.
“And over there, my friends, is Mad Charlie Morgan.”
The figure of the man who had also been galvanized by the mention of his name tried to move but at best he could only hobble—probably because of the ankle chains he was wearing—and now I realized why there had been a uniformed police officer at the door as we came in.
* * *
In the car, the windows were misted with condensation. I switched the blower on and sat, wondering, while the glass cleared. Was Leroy playing a joke on us? There had never been a body found, only that witness report of his standing to attention and saluting, while his boat sank beneath him.