‘You’re not getting a car, you’re not getting a hostage,’ said Frost. ‘Chuck the guns out of the window, then come out with your hands up. It’s all over, Mr Taylor.’
Taylor’s voice was now hysterical. ‘Your last chance, or I shoot him.’
‘Come out with your hands up,’ repeated Frost. ‘It’s all over.’
The crack of a single revolver shot shattered the air.
Shocked silence, broken by Mullett turning to Frost, his face black as thunder. ‘You hated Skinner. You wanted him dead. You killed him.’
Frost said nothing. Yes, he hated Skinner, hated his guts. If the man was dead, then he was sorry – or was he? Had he secretly been hoping this would happen?
More cars roared up the lane. The Armed Response team had arrived.
Frost quickly filled them in and watched as they ran, half crouching, to the house. He tried to raise Taylor on the phone, hoping to distract his attention as the team burst their way in.
‘Mr Taylor, talk to me. What have you done?’ The armed police were at the front door, examining it to see if it would open with a kick. Heads shook and they silently made their way round the back to the door Skinner had used.
‘Mr Taylor…’ Frost was silently pleading for the man to answer, terrified he might be waiting, gun in hand, at the top of the stairs, ready to shoot as the men burst in.
Silence. Creaking sounds. A door charged open. Silence again. Then someone picked up the phone. One of the Armed Response team.
‘Inspector Frost, we need an ambulance.’
‘On its way,’ said Frost.
‘And you’d better get up here now.’
Skinner was sprawled on the floor by the door of the upstairs room. His clothes were sodden with blood. Frost bent to touch his neck.
‘He’s dead,’ said one of the flak-jacketed Armed Response team. ‘The other one is still alive, but he won’t be for long unless that bloody ambulance hurries up.’
As if on cue, they heard the approaching urgent wail of the ambulance siren.
Frost had to step carefully over Skinner’s body to get inside the room. Two of the team were waiting. Taylor was slumped on the floor, his back leaning against the wall. Frost winced. Half his jaw had been blasted away and blood bubbled from his throat. The wall behind his head was splattered with flesh, bone fragments and blood. On the floor, where it had dropped from his hand, was the police-issue revolver he had taken from Skinner, its muzzle wet and sticky red.
‘Must have tried to top himself,’ said the sergeant. ‘Stuck the gun under his chin and pulled the trigger. Must have had it at an angle.’
‘Silly sod couldn’t even do that right,’ said Frost sadly.
The ambulance pulled up below.
‘Up here, quick,’ yelled Frost.
The paramedics carefully and gently lifted Taylor on to a stretcher and covered him with a blanket. They had managed to stem some of the bleeding from the shattered jaw. Taylor’s face was chalk white and his rasping breath was making blood flow again.
‘Will he live?’ asked Frost.
The paramedic looked down at the shattered wreck of a face. ‘If his luck’s in, he won’t,’ he said.
Frost watched them ease the stretcher down the stairs, then pulled his mobile from his pocket and switched it on. Seven unanswered calls, all from Mullett. It rang again.
‘What the devil’s going on up there, Frost?’ barked Mullett. ‘Ah – I see they’re bringing Skinner down.’
‘No,’ said Frost. ‘That’s Taylor. Skinner is dead.’
Stunned silence as Mullett took this in. ‘What?’
‘He’s dead,’ repeated Frost. ‘It’s now a murder scene. We need SOCO, Forensic, a doctor and a pathologist.’ Then he suddenly remembered. He took the phone from his mouth and called to the sergeant. ‘The kid. Any sign of the kid?’
‘Next room,’ said the sergeant, pointing.
Frost dropped the mobile in his pocket and followed the man to the adjoining bedroom.
The boy was fast asleep and completely unharmed.
‘He slept through it all,’ said the sergeant. ‘I wish I could sleep like that.’
Frost sighed with relief, then remembered the phone in his pocket. He fished it out.
‘Frost…’ Mullett was shouting. ‘Answer me.’
‘I hold you solely responsible for DCI Skinner’s death, Frost. ..’
‘I knew I could rely on your support,’ said Frost, switching off the phone. He looked down at Skinner’s body, now draped with a sheet from the bed, a sheet that was becoming more and more bloodstained.
‘I hated your bleeding guts,’ he told the corpse. ‘I didn’t want you dead… but I can’t say I’m sorry.'
Frost woke with a start, screwing his eyes against the glare. The sun was hammering at the bedroom window and the room was as bright as day. Hell, he’d overslept with a vengeance. He fumbled for the alarm clock. Ten twenty-seven. A vague feeling of unease told him that some thing was wrong. His brain was out of focus.
Then it hit him.
Last night! That bloody disaster. Skinner, slumped on the floor, blood everywhere. Mullett bleating away, shovelling all the blame on to him. ‘You are solely responsible for his death, Frost. As sure as f you pulled the trigger, you killed him… You could have saved him, but you let him die…’
He lay back and stared at the ceiling, his head throbbing. As he tried to piece everything together, a jumble of flashbacks elbowed their way through his brain.
The visit to the hospital. Seeing Taylor unconscious, all drips, wires, blood-soaked bandages and tubes that gurgled from his throat, while the faltering monitors were bleeping away.
‘He’ll live,’ the weary junior doctor had told him. ‘We might be able to repair most of the jaw, but he’s shot away the best part of his tongue, so there’s nothing we can do there.’
‘When will he be fit for trial?’ asked Frost.
The doctor shrugged. ‘God knows – if ever…’
He organised a team of uniforms to keep vigil, although it was a waste of time as Taylor wasn’t going anywhere. But the man was a murderer and someone was bound to scream if he was left unguarded, even if he only had half a face.
Then back to the station, where the phones didn’t stop ringing
… the press, TV channels wanting facts and quotes, other forces offering condolences. Then the disgruntled Investigating Officer from County arrived, short-tempered at being dragged out of bed and trying to drum up some sense of urgency in the already knackered Frost, who he eyed with displeasure after accepting Mulleit’s version of events without question.
‘An officer’s life needlessly lost. There will be a thorough investigation. I want a full written report of what happened, and I want it now.’ And this at four o’clock in the morning.
He’d staggered back to his office, opened the window to tip out the contents of an overflowing ashtray on to the roof of Mullett’s car then started on the report. He’d barely put his name, rank and number when the phone rang yet again. ‘Yes?’ he snarled.
It was Beazley. At that hour of the night, flaming Beazley. ‘I’ve just heard on the radio that you’ve caught the bastard. What about my money?’
‘We’ve recovered a substantial amount,’ yawned Frost. ‘Too many other things to do than bother to count it.’
‘It had better be all there. When do I get it back?’
‘When we’ve checked that it’s your money.’
‘Of course it’s my money. That prat Taylor didn’t have two ha’pennies to rub together. Whose bleeding money do you think it is?’
‘If the banknotes’ numbers tally with those issued by the building society, you stand a good chance of getting your money back. Until then you ‘ll just have to wait.’ He slammed the phone down. It rang back almost immediately. He ignored it and pulled open the desk drawer for his whisky. He swigged it down from the bottle. It didn’t make him feel any better.
He managed to catch young PC Collier, who was on his way to keep a watchful eye on Taylor at the hospital in case the man gathered up all the drips and wires and made a dash for it.