Title: Crossed Lines
Series: Summerskill and Lyon, Book Four
Author: Steve Burford
Release Date: 11/23/2021
Heat Level: 1 – No Sex
Pairing: No Romance
Genre: Contemporary Crime, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, crime, family-drama, gay, policeman, murder, gay and lesbian switchboard, MP
“Victor really was a very good man.”
Why then did someone brutally murder Victor Whyte, an elderly man chiefly known for his dedication to helping the gay community?
Inspector Claire Summerskill and Sergeant Dave Lyon investigate and are drawn into the world of the Hereford and Worcester Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, a telephone helpline for LGBQT+ people. Operatives and callers help piece together a picture of the murdered man, and gradually a surprising picture of Victor emerges with the possibility of a murderer in the very last place Summerskill and Lyon would have thought of.
Even as they deal with this latest case, the two officers are forced to deal with turning points in their personal lives. Can Claire balance the demands of her position as an inspector with those of her husband and children? Is Dave ready to settle into a relationship with earnest young police officer Joe Jones or will he opt instead for the excitement of an almost certainly shorter fling with charismatic MP Sean Cullen? And what exactly is Sean’s real motivation?
Crossing Lines is the fourth in the series of Summerskill and Lyon police procedural novels.
Steve Burford © 2021
All Rights Reserved
Dave Lyon examined the muscular, naked man smiling up at him from the sheepskin rug. “I’m a Power Bottom,” read the caption beneath him, “And I Always Have Safer Sex.” Dave sighed.
“Wishing you were curled up with him?” his immediate boss, DI Claire Summerskill, asked as she entered the cramped office. “Or is there only room on your rug for one other now?”
“You know you get very camp when you take the piss. Ma’am.”
Claire shrugged. “That was quite a longing look there. Love’s young dream isn’t fading already, is it?”
“Love’s young dream is, at this moment, on hold while Love’s young dreamers investigate a murder.” Dave indicated the poster they had been considering. “And actually, I was wondering why gay men have to be in such a rush to label themselves. ‘Top’. ‘Bottom’. ‘Passive’. ‘Submissive’. It’s more confusing than quantum physics.” He gave one last look at the happy stud on the rug, particularly at his magnificently rounded arse. “Still, this was in a good cause, I suppose.”
“Eyes back in your head and on me, Sergeant. Let’s have a look at what we’ve got here. Could you give us a moment, please, Maggie?”
The SOCO officer in whites put down her camera and stepped away from what she was photographing, revealing the figure of a man slumped in a chair in front of a desk. His face was distorted and blackened. Around his neck was a length of telephone cord wrapped several times and pulled tightly into the flesh.
“I’ve only seen one other person killed like this,” Claire said quietly.
“Yeah. But he was a big man, prime of his life.” She grimaced. “Bit of a shit, too, as you’ll recall. But this. An old man. On his own.” She scanned the cramped room. “Surely there wasn’t anything of value here?”
“I wouldn’t have thought so,” Dave said. “We’ll find out soon enough, I suppose.”
Claire took a moment to imprint the unpleasant scene on her memory. She hated it, bitterly resented filling her mind with such vile imagery. But it was her job, and the only way to exorcise the picture was to find the bastard responsible for it, and if that meant sitting on any squeamishness she had till it was done, then that was what she would do. “All right, Maggie,” she said finally, gesturing for the SOCO officer to return to her work. She turned to Dave. “Let’s go and talk to these witnesses Chris has got for us and see if we can’t begin piecing together what’s gone down here.”
Summerskill and Lyon stepped out of the office and into a large, incongruously ornate hall. On three sides was a series of doors, all presumably leading to small offices or rooms similar to the one they had come out of. Above them, there was a mezzanine, with more doors all around that. White columns, presumably wooden but carved like something out of a Greek temple, reared up around the space, topped with gilded wreaths of what Claire assumed were meant to be laurel leaves. “What is this place?”
“How long have you lived in this city?” Dave reached for his notebook.
Claire scowled but couldn’t deny the implied criticism. The building they were in stood on the very edge of the city’s high street, its worn brick and wood exterior a sharp contrast to the clean-cut brightness of the metal and glass shop fronts surrounding it. Over the years she had lived in Worcester, Claire must have passed it several hundred times, either while on duty or when out shopping, but beyond its name, which was carved in stone over the impressive main double-door entrance, she realised she didn’t know anything about it at all.
“The Halo Centre,” Dave read from his pad. “Grade Two listed building. Built 1887 by the Congressional Church as a Sunday school. Repurposed as Vagabonds Nightclub, 1974. Repurposed again in 1990 as a centre for various arts and charity groups.” He flipped his notebook shut and slipped it back into his jacket pocket. “Including the Worcester and Hereford Gay and Lesbian Switchboard.”
“And what’s that when it’s at home? Some kind of hook-up operation?”
“It’s a telephone helpline. The sort of place you can turn to in the face of all too prevalent homophobia. And microaggression.” He gave his boss a look that he would have described as “jaundiced” and she would have dismissed as “sarky”. “The Centre is noted as having an unusual plan with offices in rows around a central two-storey hall with a gallery on columns in polygonal plan.’”
“You had time to look up and memorise all that, and you still got here before me?”
“Other way round, ma’am. I got here first and then had time to learn it. While I waited.”
Claire scowled at him again and strode out across the hall towards the small group of people gathered at the far end. “I might be slow in traffic, but you’d be amazed how fast I can bust mardy sergeants. Chris!” she called out.
Sergeant Chris McNeil looked up from the seated person he was dealing with. “Inspector. Sergeant.”
“What have we got?”
“Will you excuse me for a minute, please?” Sergeant McNeil stepped away from the man he’d been talking to and moved to one side so he could speak to Claire and Dave in a low voice. “You’ve seen the victim? Name is Victor Whyte. Midseventies. Was working for the Worcester and Hereford Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. That’s their office where you saw him. The Switchboard is for—”
“I know what the Switchboard is for,” Claire said. Dave coughed. She ignored him. “And these people are witnesses?” She indicated the man McNeil had been talking to and the woman across the hall who was also seated and being attended by a pair of paramedics.
“Kind of. Both that bit too late to stop the killer, and neither able to detain him. He was long gone before we got here, ma’am.”
Claire looked across to the seated woman. “Is she okay?”
“Slight bump on the head and a small amount of bleeding from a cut on her cheek. Nothing major. Bit shook up though.”
“Not surprising. And what were these two doing here at this time of night? Do they both work for the Switchboard?”
“The man does. He’s another Switchboard volunteer. The current chairman in fact. The woman is a cleaner for the Halo Centre. Works in all the offices.”
“Right. Pad out again, Sergeant,” she said to Dave. “Let’s go and talk to these people.”
Meet the Author
Steve Burford lives close to Worcester but rarely risks walking its streets. He has loaded conveyor belts in a factory, disassembled aeroplane seats, picked fruit on farms, and taught drama to teenagers but now spends his time writing in a variety of genres under a variety of names. He finds poverty an effective muse, and since his last book has once again been in trouble with the police. (He would like to thank the inventor of the speed camera.)