BY: DEIRDRE FEEHAN
Taylor on Loan is told alternately by three protagonists—a British police officer, a Dutch investigator, and a forger’s girlfriend. Each struggles to stay alive as police and criminals hunt them across Europe, finally colliding in a shoot-out on the docks of Dover. It’s murder on everyone.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Taylor on Loan by Deirdre Feehan, Gareth Taylor is a British beat cop in 1980 when he discovers a dead man on the Blackfriars Bridge. Taylor is then loaned to the lead investigator on the murder case, and everything goes downhill from there. In the meantime, a forger’s girlfriend and a Dutch investigator, both connected to the murder case, are on a collision course with Taylor in more ways than one. As the bodies pile up and the list of suspects grows, Taylor begins to wonder if his life will ever be the same.
Well written, fast paced, and full of surprises, this one will keep you on your toes right to the end. A great read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Taylor on Loan by Deirdre Feehan is the story of a man who only wants to do his job, earn his pay, and live a quiet life. Gareth Taylor is a British Bobby in December of 1980, walking his beat in Southwark, when he hears an accident on the Thames River and runs to the Blackfriars Bridge. There he discovers a boat has run into a scaffolding that should not be there—a scaffolding from which a murdered man is hanging. While this is fairly extraordinary in itself, it is nothing compared to the events that follow, turning poor Taylor’s life upside down.
Feehan combines stolen art, drugs, forgeries, missing money, and murder to create a chilling tale of intrigue, deception, and betrayal, with a British flavor, making Taylor on Loan a worthy read that mystery fans should love.
Government cuts put Sergeant Gareth Taylor outside, on foot, at two twenty-three a.m., Sunday morning, December 1, 1980. He descended the steps to St. Paul’s Walk, deliberately noisy, giving any idlers and loiterers the impulse to move along. He wore the largest size police-issue boots, wide black coverings for feet that supported his six-foot-three-inch frame. He had reached that mark by age fifteen, two decades, one marriage, and two motorcycles ago.
For Taylor, the swirling fog had the taste of austerity. The chill seared his lungs as he breathed in the white, smothering river mist. His wool uniform grew soggy, chafing his skin as he moved.
Suddenly, there came a crash on the Thames, steel scraping the stone pillars of Blackfriars Bridge. A light popped, followed by alarms and human cries.
He bounded down the last two stairs, elbows out, and sped along the brick-lined walkway, vague in the limp beam of his flashlight.
The air’s oily smell increased as he reached the overhang.
Caught in scaffolding under the bridge’s hollow arch, a tugboat rocked. Its headlamp allowed Taylor to see the damaged vessel and the two boatmen who clung to the cabin. Above them swayed the body of a man in sagging clothes, dead at the end of a thick rope.
He waved his gloved hands, trying to catch the boatmen’s attention. The captain yelled as horns boomed from a passing freighter. Decked in bright lights, it swerved dangerously close. The small tug fought and finally freed itself from the metal frame.
Slowly the boat inched its way toward the quay, toward Taylor who reached with open hands and caught the heavy thrown rope. On his knees, he looped it around the metal stanchion, pulled, puffing hard, bent double with the effort, straining against the icy winter air, and the weight of the craft yanking him forward. At last, it banged against the cement wall, and Taylor clicked his radio, calling in for help less than two hours after the start of his shift. His message was curt: not suicide.
He inspected the damage to the left side of the boat, his torch light illuminating the scrapes, scratches, cracks, and tears in the metal.
The captain and pilot, now safe, made complaints and demanded action, pointing at the bridge, the tug, themselves. They talked over each other, saying, “Who’s going to pay for my boat? Who put that scaffolding there? It wasn’t there yesterday. What workman would climb that? Look how it hangs over the water. Didn’t anybody think about our boats when they put that right in the middle of the archway?”
All changed to sympathy when Taylor pulled out his notebook.
“Poor bastard,” the captain said.
“Dead, surely, God help him,” the pilot added.
Taylor peered at the swinging corpse, at the red-painted bridge and studied the angle of the crooked head; the bulging eyes; the ungloved hands; the cuffed, mud-spattered trousers and the shine of the one tasseled penny-loafer. The missing shoe bothered him. Did it fall? In the din, did he miss the splash?
He checked the lapping water, shining his torch in a slow arc, seeking the man’s shoe. It seemed an important task to complete now in the raw, spatial present, with the body in view, the wrecked boat beside him, and the frightened men getting in each other’s way in the small galley.
The pilot brought him tea in a tin mug. Drinking, he steadied himself against the tug’s railing and spoke calmly to the fishermen shivering in their damp clothes. He bid them sit down and wrap up warm. He knew well that they would soon be fodder for detectives and gossip-peddling hacks.
He’d been stung by reporters pestering him on his beat with questions he couldn’t or wasn’t permitted to answer. He’d wanted to swat the one little bugger from Radio1 who kept shoving a mic at him last month, all because he, Taylor, had been at that Westminster pub bombing, and a word from a local bobby would really interest listeners.
Now he sat on the tug’s rear bench, scribbling his record: the captain’s and pilot’s names, their boat’s name, and their itinerary.
The sweet tea thick on his lips, he knew what upheaval this death would bring to his Southwark station: meetings, inquiries, paperwork, and overtime. The black waves slapped the side of the boat, disrupting his writing, the ink smearing on the moist paper.
He looked up at the rush of arriving officers, the emergency workers staggering into St. Paul’s Walk. They brought a frenzy with them and all their gear, latex gloves, steel cases, cameras, and lights.
Another camera flash blinded him. That made six in the last two minutes. He wanted peace to take the boatmen’s statements. The captain and pilot huddled together, jamming their hands in their coat pockets and pulling their collars close against their necks.
Taylor bent his tall body toward the pilot, cutting off the press’s view, his wet hair stuck to his neck. Blinking his eyes, he wished for a scarf to warm his head and ears.
When Commander Vernon Nichols strode in swiftly on short legs, his mackintosh buttoned close to the chin, with two younger officers in tow, Taylor stood up sharply. Suicide never brought out commanders to the riverside on a cold night. Only politics with international overtones required an entourage of panda cars and vans. Nichols meant Home Office, parliamentary inquiries, clandestine meetings, and cases requiring global cooperation. None of which Taylor had ever been involved in.
Taylor shoved his notebook into a pocket, awaiting the many questions to come. Nichols would lead the investigation, conduct the interviews, and draw the conclusions. Taylor would be thanked and returned to his beat, if he were lucky.
He knew the talk concerning this commander and his teams: Nichols was difficult, a micromanager, an overseer. People got killed working for Nichols. He left you in the dark. He ordered you out on idiotic assignments while he sat warm and dry in his office. Or, some said, in your office, going through your drawers and files until you were up on charges you couldn’t even spell.
The lost shoe troubled Taylor less now. Nichols and his entourage worried him more. The tugboat captain and pilot scuttled away from Nichols, toward the undamaged rear of the vessel. They stared as if threatened. Nichols glanced at the forensic team, the little tug, and Taylor.
“Good evening,” Nichols said, the Welsh accent slipping out.
Mumbled replies, eager nods, and an exchange of names followed. Taylor read from his notebook as instructed.
“Out here on your own, sergeant?” Nichols asked, stillness in his mule-deer eyes.
“Yes, sir,” Taylor said, wondering if and when he would get home to bed. “We’re shorthanded in Southwark these days. We’ve all had to take an extra shift, here and there.”
Nichols’s entourage had increased: two more senior detectives, a photographer, a driver, and four uniformed constables.
Nichols waved Taylor closer. “The men who found him?” Nichols nodded toward the boat, his eyes appraising him. “Good witnesses?”
“They’ll confirm what I saw.” Taylor leaned toward the small man, not mentioning the half-dozen skateboarders who had rattled out of the fog, taken their butchers, and then skated south in diamond formation. Taylor would catch up with them tomorrow, threaten them with parental notice, and they’d spill whatever they’d seen.
Nichols smiled. “I’m sure we’ll get something out of them.”
Then Taylor smiled, an automatic response, not a sign of equality or camaraderie. He pressed his fingers to his nose as he smelled the exhaust from a police boat clattering to a halt under the bridge.
The caustic mist made him cough, and the white lamps forced him to blink his eyes, making him wish he had read classics at university and taken a job in the health ministry.
Nichols turned from the bridge. “What brought you down here?”
“Making a tour of the quays, sir. Addicts shoot up in the alleys.”
Nichols angled his head upward. “Look like suicide to you, Taylor?”
Taylor turned, watched the officers struggle with the body. “Hard for a person to hang himself from that scaffolding, sir. It juts out over the water. You’d likely fall in before you got the rope around your neck.”
The officers put the body on a gurney, covering it with a sheet.
“Come along.” Nichols waved to the man behind him. “Identification, Hines?” he asked a plump officer in a dark mac.
“British passport in his inside breast pocket, sir,” Hines said. “William Terrence McIness. One Forty-Three Breckenham Court, Putney.” Then he stroked his striped tie from its knot to its end, a finishing flourish to his report.
Nichols frowned, a deep glare visible even in the fog. “No wallet?”
“No wallet, no keys, no checkbook, sir.” Hines frowned at Taylor with disapproval and establishing the pecking order.
“Detective Inspector Hines, Sergeant. Taylor.” Nichols gave the men time to shake hands before continuing. “Tell Hines what you saw.”
“Tall, well-dressed man, about forty, wearing a brown suit, no overcoat, no hat, no gloves, one shoe missing. Not dressed to go out, hanging from scaffolding he couldn’t reach without a crate or barrel to stand on.”
“Murder, then.” Hines shielded his eyes from the stabbing lights and peeked at his wristwatch. The numbers glowed green.
“Sir.” Taylor pointed at the bridge. “That scaffolding has been moved, or we’d have had accidents before this.”
Nichols and Hines gazed at the now lighted arch.
“Hines, find out who installed the scaffolding and when. And get it taken down. We don’t need more hazards on the river.” Nichols turned to Taylor as Hines disappeared into the hive of police under the bridge. “You go with Sergeant Kitner to the Putney address.”
Taylor swallowed, lowered his chin, so his spine lengthened. He breathed in the cold night air and the activity all around him.
He didn’t want to leave. He wanted to take his normal place with the men busy on the walkway with the gurney and the blue and white police tape being stretched between lampposts.
But Nichols ordered him, and Nichols could make or break Taylor. That had to be remembered.
At his name, a younger man dashed to Nichols’s side, bumping Taylor with a black umbrella. They shook hands.
“Snow expected tomorrow,” Kitner said with a crow’s smile.
“I hope I’m home by then,” Taylor said into Kitner’s ear.
“Examine his flat,” Nichols said. “Call Putney Station and get someone to check the missing persons’ reports. See McIness’s description is distributed. You remember the address, Taylor?”
“One Forty-Three Breckenham Court, Putney, sir.”
The distance from Southwark to Putney required a car, and a car had a heater, Taylor thought, wanting to be warm and dry.
Nichols started as noise came from Taylor’s radio. “Then he threw the money on the Temple and went out and hanged himself,” he said.
“Pardon, sir?” Taylor pulled out his notebook, pencil poised.
“Nothing, thinking out aloud.” Nichols regarded the clogging traffic on the Thames. “I’ll see the captain and pilot. Off you go.” Nichols spoke sharply to Kitner. “Don’t get lost.”
The bow-legged Kitner led Taylor through clumps of arriving vehicles and purposeful, hurrying men to Kitner’s car. Taylor followed calmly, happy to be away from the bustle and the dead man.
“Nichols a religious man?” Taylor asked, his legs squeezed into Kitner’s Mini.
Kitner shifted gears and drove with abandon, his bony knees jammed under the dashboard. “Not particularly.” His dark hair dripped from the mist. “Welsh, you know. Peculiar, poetic.”
“You’ve worked with the commander long?” Taylor asked.
“If you think three years is long.” Kitner checked the radio.
“And Hines?” Taylor looked at the door handle. “We had a cursory introduction.”
“Henry?” Kitner sneered. “Can you believe that one? Henry Hines. Sounds like a news presenter, not the son of cop.”
Taylor examined his knees. “Got a chip on his shoulder, has he?”
“No.” Kitner leaned forward, his chest inches from the steering wheel, squinting and humming. “But every briefing starts with some bit of history that nobody else remembers. The great robbery of ’forty-four, the terrible murders of ’sixty-two. My father this, my father that. No end to his talk. Listen with one ear, if you listen at all.”
The Mini’s headlights barely pierced the darkness. Kitner rubbed the frosted window repeatedly with his sleeve. Taylor rolled down his window an inch to allow their breath to dissipate. The promised snow fell quietly.
Curiosity bit through Taylor’s wariness. Metropolitan Police Commander, Vernon Nichols, called to this death, prepped and ready for that very duty. Had the Yard been looking for the man? Had Nichols been waiting by the phone for news of McIness?
These thoughts stirred Taylor, unaccustomed as he was to fanciful speculations. He stared at his watch with its reflective face. Already three hours spent waiting in that frosty wind and several more to daylight. He gripped the door handle as Kitner cut another corner close.
Kitner jammed the car against the curb. The long Putney street featured detached houses with brightly painted doors, slatted gates, brick porches and enclosed square gardens. But Taylor saw pruned roses bushes and thorny hedges standing bare and burnished by wind, with snowdrifts across rooftops, car tops, and dirty curbs.
They approached 143 Breckenham Court, steady in heavy shoes. A middle-aged man answered their knock. He balanced a bowl of cornflakes in his left hand and crunched a mouthful, milk visible between his teeth.
Taylor read from his notebook. “William Terrence McIness?”
“Never heard of him.” The man shivered as if the chill morning air stabbed him through his dressing gown.
Kitner pushed forward. “May we come in?”
“I’m about to leave.” The man raised his hand. “You stop right there.”
Taylor noted the stockinged feet and the unbrushed hair. “Won’t take long.” He sighted over the smaller man’s head and glimpsed a staircase with burgundy carpet and a carved, wooden banister.
“What’s this all about?” The man stepped forward, blocking Kitner. “Where’s your warrant card? I’m a solicitor. I know the law. I have a right to know.” He stepped onto the porch and drew the door shut behind him.
“We’ve been given to understand this is the home of William McIness,” Taylor said slowly, outwardly calming the glowering man.
“Well, it bloody isn’t,” the solicitor said. “This is my house.”
“Mr. McIness’s gone missing,” Kitner said, and he wedged himself between the man and the closed door. “We were given this as his home address. Seen him lately?”
“I told you, I don’t know the man.” The man noticed the snow, looked back at his front door. “And I still haven’t seen your warrant cards.”
Taylor looked at Kitner. What did Taylor need with a warrant card? He was in uniform. Kitner pulled his card from his inside pocket.
“Your name, sir?” Kitner replaced his card in his coat.
“Hutchinson, Paul,” he said. “Who’s your superior, Sergeant? I’m going to file a complaint.” He opened the door and balanced on the threshold, adding three inches to his height.
“Commander Vernon Nichols, Metropolitan Police,” Kitner said. “Shall I spell it?’
Taylor caught a movement on the stairs. Someone else in the house? Wife, lover, friend? Taylor heard his stomach growl. “We’ve made an error. We’ve been given the wrong address,” he said. “Please excuse us, Mr. Hutchinson.”
“Your superior will hear from me.” Hutchinson slammed the door.
Kitner walked toward the car, but Taylor hovered by the gate, not quite ready to quit this strange opportunity for investigation. “I heard someone. I want a look.”
At Hutchinson’s bay window, they watched as a woman, plump and tall, strode back and forward in a white dressing gown, yanking the belt tight. Hutchinson shifted sideways, his mouth moving. She pointed and jabbed. He concaved and his back arched—his bowl of cornflakes fell.
“He won’t be getting any for a while,” Kitner said.
Taylor smiled, in spite of himself, and remained quiet. His eyes narrowed, simultaneously observing one marriage and reviewing his own five years of marriage. He and Joan had never fought like that. He’d never feared her, never caved before her like a punched-in pail, never raged at her about a knock on the door, a cop on the stoop or a messenger. But then no one had inquired about a murdered man at his address.
Taylor’s left foot slid forward, his boot splashed with slushy snow. Kitner grabbed his elbow. “What are you doing?” the younger man said.
“Wanted to know what that row’s about.” Taylor avoided the truth of his nosey-parker impulse to intervene and followed Kitner to the car.
Kitner gave an exaggerated shiver. “How about we get a move on?” He laughed as he slammed in the clutch with a great noise. “What a pair. Domestic bliss. You’re not married, are you?”
Taylor shook his head, his lips lifting, imagining that white dressing gown slipping down Mrs. Hutchinson’s backside to the floor.
“What’s this about McIness missing?” Taylor asked. “He’s dead. We just saw him hanging from a bridge.”
“Had to say something,” Kitner said. “You never know what people would blurt out. You get people off-balance, and then they say something stupid. You’ve seen that.”
Taylor looked back at the house with unease. He seemed to lack some crucial information that Kitner, Hines, and Nichols all seemed to know. He tried to formulate questions about the murder and realized that he didn’t know Kitner first name. “If you need to contact me later—” He angled his head to see both of Kitner’s eyes. “—ask at Southwark for Gareth Taylor.”
“Robert,” Kitner said then gave an odd little wave with his right hand. “But please, don’t call me Bob and don’t make any jokes. Bob the bobby. I’ve heard them all.”
Taylor bowed his head to hide his stupid grin. “Don’t you address me as Sir Gareth. I’ve had my fill of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table.”
They laughed, admitting that they both hated their given names.
“Oh, and I’m the commander’s driver,” Kitner said. “This look like his Jaguar? You notice the spacious interior, the leather seats, the hand-crafted dashboard?” He smacked the Mini’s plastic dash. “I’ve never driven him anywhere. I’ve never even so much as sat in his Jaguar. I don’t think he likes me. He clearly likes you.”
Taylor scraped his muddy shoes together. “Me?”
“Yes, you,” Kitner complained. “I’m his driver, and I’m driving you. Think about it.” He ran a red light.
Taylor gripped the door handle with both hands.
Kitner slowed the car slightly. “You wait until Nichols sends you out on one of his wild goose chases. You spend two days in Clapham, going flat by flat, asking the same questions, only to be told to start again in Hammersmith. Nichols’ll drive you right round the bend.” He whipped the wheel, forcing the car to skid around a corner and throwing Taylor against the door. He saw the snow splashing in front of the car
Dawn broke, and they ignored it, swerving through increasingly busy traffic back to Blackfriar’s Bridge.
© 2018 by Deirdre Feehan