Call for simon shard, p.1

Call for Simon Shard, page 1

 part  #1 of  Simon Shard Series


Call for Simon Shard

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Call for Simon Shard


  Philip McCutchan

  © Philip McCutchan 1974.

  Philip McCutchan has asserted his rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

  First published in 1974 by George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd.

  This edition published in 2018 by Endeavour Media Ltd.

  Table of Contents




















  The three men — elderly, shoulders a little bowed, faces more than a little lined but still with something innately soldierly about them — left the Cortina pulled over onto a muddy grass verge just outside a gateway with a cattle grid set across the track. Undaunted, carrying the wreath, they started on the long climb. Long and hard for men who were no longer young. Tens of millions of years ago, in the early dawn of prehistory, before the adjacent small town of Camelford had grown across the Camel River to become just one more place to be by-passed in the savage thrust of the motorway pincering down from Cheshire, the slow-moving but inexorable forces of nature had acted to produce Rough Tor. The great flat stones, left stark and bare as the earth eroded over those early centuries, dominated the barrenness of what was to become Bodmin Moor, Cornwall’s mist-covered area of tin mine and quarry. And dominate it they did: from the summit of the tor the views were breath-taking, a fitting surround for what Rough Tor now held sacred: the memorial to the fallen of the British Army’s 43rd (Wessex) Division in their fight to regain Hitler’s Europe in 1944 and 1945.

  The three men, old comrades of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, Cornwall’s own regiment, now merged anonymously, unterritorially, into The Light Infantry, made their way across open country, wind-swept, bitter with early November weather, towards the great chunks of dark grey granite that lay, as though strewn by a giant’s hand, below the three main summits of the tor. From the former regimental depot at Bodmin the old soldiers had brought a Remembrance Day wreath, worked around the badge of the DCLI. One of them, stopping to take a breath, gave a short laugh, staring upward as they approached the real rock climb.

  “What’s up, Sar-Major?”

  “Ruddy vultures! Look at’em.”

  “Crows…not vultures. Not vultures here.”

  “I know that. But what’s the difference, really? Reminds me of India, does that. When we were on the Frontier.” The ex-Sergeant-Major shuddered. “Never got used to that. Filthy brutes. Just look at’em — they’ve seen us.”

  “We’ve disturbed their dinner, Sar-Major.” The big black birds had swirled into the air, darting and circling and hovering — hovering over something as yet hidden from view among the boulders. “Reckon they’ve got a cow or a sheep. I saw one once, up here, one the crows had been at. Head and neck all gone, just skull and vertebrae. And the stink!”

  “Wish I had a Bren with me.”

  They moved on, breathing hard, with red faces and straining backs and calf muscles. Wondering how many more years they would be able to make the climb. Thinking, like the Sergeant-Major, of Indian service: of marches on patrol, back in the thirties, along the rock-strewn, bandit-ridden Khyber Pass, or sometimes sweating troop-trains hauling a brigade below the heaven-high forts of Jamrud and Ali Masjid and Landi Khotal. There was something military, something fortress-like, about Rough Tor right enough — something to make old soldiers think a lot about their past. Not just the crows, either.

  But just now it was the crows. In the lead, the old Sergeant-Major had seen what it was they had been eating. Or had been about to eat.

  Just like India.

  He said hoarsely, “Oh, my God. It’s a human body. It’s a woman.”


  In London November had struck as well: next day rain, and damp clothes in tubes and buses — horrible. Cold too, really chill. Heads well down under umbrellas in the City, steam from the nostrils of the horses of the Blues and Royals in Whitehall. In Downing Street, morose policemen, damply guarding. Over in the Foreign Office, expensive cars off-loading well-dressed gentlemen in the courtyard. One of these gentlemen, pink, puffy and smiling, though the smile was automatic, part of the image, and meant nothing good, was virtually bowed into the building by such flunkeys as happened to be around, and deferentially ushered to a lift. Stepping out two floors up, he proceeded to his office, which was fairly sumptuous, with a deep-pile carpet, two beautiful armchairs, a vast highly-polished desk on the leather top of which sat three telephones, one of them a scrambler, and two big windows giving a fine view of Westminster Abbey and a part of Parliament Square.

  The pink man hung a bowler hat and a lightweight overcoat in a mahogany wardrobe beside the door, examined himself critically in a gilt-framed mirror, and went towards his desk. The telephone he used was the security one, the number he called was in his head alone, was never written down. His words, when the call was answered, were simple and direct: “I want Shard and I want him now. This is Hedge.”

  “I’m sorry, Hedge, Mr. Shard is out of town.”

  The pink man, whose name was not Hedge but who used the word as a synonym for the screen which in fact he was, lost his smile for a moment. “Get him back, then,” he said. “Where is he?”


  “Oh? Not…the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary?”

  “Yes, Hedge.”

  “When’s he due back?”

  “Late this evening, Hedge. Do you wish an immediate recall?”

  “No,” the pink man said after a moment’s thought. “Leave him. But he’s to report on return.” He clicked the handset back into place, neatly, quietly, thinking of a young woman named Yvette Casabon. Yvette Casabon from Cherbourg, according to letters found on the body. The pink man thought of Bodmin Moor and for an instant felt its biting cold. Just before he’d left Eaton Square, Frank Hesseltine, Assistant Commissioner Crime at Scotland Yard, had rung him personally. The Devon and Cornwall police had been in touch: the previous day a young woman had been found by a party of ex-service-men, dead on Bodmin Moor. Natural causes — exposure. There had been an overnight mist, the girl hadn’t been dressed for rock climbing, there was some evidence of under-nourishment. Could have been suicide, but Assistant Commissioner Hesseltine wasn’t committing himself further than to say foul play was not suspected. She had died an hour or so before being found: there had been crows, but she had been lying face downwards, so the damage had been confined to the back.

  Why, the pink man had asked somewhat caustically, ring him?

  Hesseltine’s non-committal voice had dropped the bombshell: “I decided to ring a telephone number noted in pencil on one of the letters. A London number.”


  Hesseltine had said, “Yours.”

  That one word had sent the smile packing. “I know no-one named Yvette Casabon. Can you describe her?”

  “Pretty. Excellent figure.” A pause. “French…of course.”

  “I’d like to see the body.”

  “I’ll let you know when that’s possible,” Hesseltine said rather nastily; and then he’d rung off.


  There was a good deal of need for Simon Shard. Hedge knew that Hesseltine was no friend; there had been altercations in the past. Hedge hadn’t liked Hesseltine’s tone: it
had held insinuations. Hesseltine, naturally, would never step outside the law, the law was his job and his life and he was an honest and honourable man, no doubt of that. But if Hesseltine believed what was in his tone — if Hesseltine really thought the worst — then things might very well become exceedingly awkward: for a number of people knew that Hedge’s wife spent a good deal of time away from home, and that Hedge was a full-blooded man. Pretty, excellent figure — and, of course, French. In spite of Big Brother, the faceless people who checked even on Security’s moral background, men in high places had been known to lapse from the highest standards before now. And telephone numbers noted down by young women…yes, this could be difficult if ever the Press got hold of it. From time to time young women had been known to commit suicide for reasons of the heart.

  Naturally, knowing himself to be innocent of any affair, Hedge saw the answer for himself: he was being compromised. Or the young woman had had some information to give him, and had died too soon. Died? Hesseltine, who knew his job, had been firm about natural causes — but presumably he was, at this stage, working on hearsay, on opinions of police and medicos locally.

  A frown had crossed the pink man’s face as he left for the Foreign Office. Damn Hesseltine and his broody voice, damn his stupid insinuations! But, of course, the insinuations had never been uttered: possibly they didn’t exist, other than in the mind. Hesseltine surely would not leap quite so quickly to one conclusion among many? The pink man frowned again: mental suggestion? (He knew himself well enough, knew his own desires, the strong urge that came from time to time, the urge towards an affair, something to compensate…the urge that had always to be broken inside himself since to give way to it would be to court disaster. The higher you were, the farther you fell…)

  So — mental, possibly. But to be guarded against, watched carefully. Yes, there was much need of Simon Shard. Hedge, pink and well preserved, smelling of after-shave, had settled back behind the glass separating him from his official driver, tapping a plump and anxious hand on opulent grained woodwork as the car glided him smoothly, quietly towards Whitehall.


  That evening Chief Superintendent Shard travelled towards Whitehall less smoothly and less quietly by British Rail from Plymouth, carrying in his mind certain unpleasant facts that much interested him. Staring at the deerstalker hat that he’d chucked up onto the rack — he’d bought the hat once in Okehampton, and had always worn it in the West Country since, thus giving himself a faintly Sherlock Holmes air — staring at the extraordinary hat, he thought of Hedge. Before leaving for Plymouth in a police car, he’d been warned that Hedge was calling for him urgently, and though he had a fair idea why, Chief Superintendent Shard was tired and wanted to go to bed on arrival home: Hedge would keep him away from bed. Shard, glancing sideways at the darkened windows of the carriage, caught the reflexion of his face, and grimaced at it. He didn’t like his face, it was too long, too thin, too like a horse as Beth, his wife, said from time to time, but affectionately…no, he could think of better faces, but he wasn’t sure he didn’t prefer it to the round pink chub of Hedge all the same. Simon Shard didn’t like Hedge, didn’t like his type, though because Hedge, taking an interest in him years ago, had helped him in his career, Shard was duly grateful. Shard didn’t like official anonymity, perhaps that was it, nor did he like the Foreign Office gentry very much. Some were efficient — of course they were, in fact, no doubt most were or, in these days, they wouldn’t have stuck. School and accent had ceased to count in the main, though it was amazing how they did all acquire the accent and the manner in the end, no matter where they came from. But some were not efficient, yet managed to cover it very successfully. Shard wasn’t sure about Hedge: efficient — or just an efficient coverer? One thing sure: like all the others, he was full to the bung with guile and a certain horrid charm.

  Shard gave a sigh, closed his eyes and tried to sleep. Sleep wouldn’t come: there was too much Hedge around. Plus a high degree of continually nagging self-criticism for having allowed himself to be prised loose from the Special Branch on secondment to Hedge’s outfit at the F.O. To some extent, much as he prized the comparative freedom of action that went with the job, it had been a bloody silly move. Beth had been largely responsible for his acceptance when the invitation had come. Beth liked the sound of the Foreign Office, it gave cachet, and they had super Christmas cards that looked, in the centre of the mantelpiece, as if they’d come from the Queen. Shard grinned sleepily: dearest Beth! Like Hedge, you often didn’t know how to take her. Unlike Hedge, you loved her very much and took the faults in your stride…

  Paddington jerked him awake and he took a tube, not home to Ealing, but to his crummy little office in a sleazy part of Soho, off the Charing Cross Road. When you worked for Hedge, you had to have cover. Chief Superintendent Shard’s cover was stamps. He was a commercial philatelist and he worked on the second floor of a dirty building that would soon be bulldozed down in the interest of town planning and sanitation, wedged between a porn shop and a woman with the name ELSIE set in red upon a bellpush. As he reached for the security line to Hedge’s home in Eaton Square, he could hear the thump of clients through the ceiling.

  The line was answered. “Shard,” he said. “I believe you wanted me to report in, Hedge. That, I’m doing.”

  “I want you round here.” The voice was disparaging of Shard’s lack of ceremony.

  “Hedge, I’ve had a busy day and I’m tired. Can’t we do this on the wire?”

  A grudging semi-assent: “What have you been doing?”

  “A body, on Bodmin — ”

  “I know about that. I…gather I’m implicated.”

  Shard nodded at the phone.

  “Well, am I?”

  “It would seem so, Hedge.”

  “I want to know why you went down — went down yourself and without notifying me. Well, Shard?”

  Shard took time off to light a cigarette, then said quietly, “I had a word…from a friend in the local force, after the body had been examined.”


  “There were drugs on the body. Hard stuff, heroin. A fortune, in money terms. You know how I feel about the hard drugs, Hedge. So I went. Quite apart from the drugs angle, I don’t like the feel of this, Hedge.”

  The security line chattered at him. He got the impression that he was being told drugs were no direct concern of the F.O. He also gathered that he’d opened his big mouth too wide to be allowed to go home to bed, and that Hedge wanted him, personally and pronto.

  Shard sighed. He said, “Very good, Hedge,” down a line that had already been hung up on him, drew on his cigarette, took a nip of whisky from a pocket-flask, left and locked the office, stood back on the stairs to let pass an Elsie-bound client with a purple face, heavy breathing and an eager eye, and walked out into Seddon’s Way towards Leicester Square tube station, cursing Hedge. He was in for a long walk from bloody Victoria…which was the nearest any tube would take him to Hedge. Hedge had all the undercover man’s mistrust of taxi-drivers who drew up within around a couple of miles of home.


  Hedge answered the door himself. He was wearing a dinner jacket and smoking a cigar — an expensive one, and wasted on quick nervous puffing. “Come in,” he said, and closed the door behind Shard. Moving ahead of Shard, he proceeded fatly along the hall over a thick Persian rug towards a richly furnished drawing-room where whisky stood in a crystal decanter on a silver tray. Chivas Regal…Shard felt very thirsty all of a sudden, when Hedge let drop the brand as he lifted the decanter interrogatively. “Thank you, yes.”

  Hedge nodded. “Sit down. Sit down — and talk.”

  “Talk about what?” Shard asked, sitting on green-and-gold brocade.

  “Bodies on the moor — of course.” Hedge brought the whisky across, stood for a moment looking down broodingly from above the white shirt-front and the neat black bow. “We’re alone — naturally. Feel free to tell me all. My wife’s away
fortunately, I think. Staying with a sister in Scotland.”

  Shard met his eye. “Why fortunately?”

  “Hesseltine rang here.” Hedge explained in detail. “Naturally, I don’t discuss things with my wife…but you know what women are. Just as well she was away. And perhaps I’ve now explained my interest, Shard…my personal interest. You follow?”

  Shard looked into the Chivas Regal’s golden glow. “Oh, yes, I follow. Your telephone number.”

  “Was she attractive, Shard?”

  “Very. Even in death. A sort of…I don’t know…dignity and imperiousness. But warm, somehow. There was vitality there, still obvious. Hard to explain.”


  “Not with me. They’ll reach me by special messenger in the morning.”

  “I’d like to see them.”

  “All right. But why are you so worried, Hedge?”

  Hedge looked pained. “I thought you understood.” He moved away, walked around the room.

  “I do,” Shard said. “Basically, that is. I don’t see why it’s got so far under your skin.”

  “Please don’t be impertinent.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  Hedge breathed hard and circled to a halt. “Think what scandal would do to me, to the Department!”

  Shard nodded, pursed his lips. “Was there an affair?”

  “Of course not!” The pink man almost danced.

  “Well, then.”

  Hedge gulped at his glass. “The Press, Shard. And something in Hesseltine’s voice I didn’t like.” He aimed a finger at Shard’s head. “Why didn’t he mention this drug presence to me?”

  Shard gave a shrug. “I don’t know, Hedge.”

  “Did he know — at the time he rang?”

  “I’d assume so, yes. The local police knew, and I suppose they’d have reported that when they called the Yard. But I wouldn’t worry, Hedge. Leave the worrying to me.”

  “Are you worried?”

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