The Elephant Tree by R.D. Ronald

Chapter 1

The call came in at 01:48 on Saturday morning as Detective Mark Fallon was catching up on his paperwork at the station. A shooting at Aura nightclub, one of the more luxurious establishments in Garden Heights.

Fallon’s partner Alan Bryson pulled their green Volvo up behind some squad cars already outside the club. Officers on the scene were taking statements. A few clubbers had been detained for questioning; others hung around hoping something interesting would happen.

Fallon stepped over empty beer bottles and discarded Chinese food cartons that lay on the pavement. An empty pizza box lid opened and closed like the mouth of a mute in the cold night breeze.

‘Wait out here Alan,’ Fallon said. ‘Talk to this lot, get some impressions.’

The Aura manager was hovering in the entrance.

‘Nick Baker,’ he said, giving Fallon a tremulous handshake.

Baker wore a sharp-fitting fashionable suit, or it would have been if he was ten years younger and a few inches narrower in the waist. Fallon guessed he was forty-five. He looked distressed, probably because the victim was his brother.

‘How is he doing?’ Detective Fallon asked.

‘Fred, he’s stable, thanks for asking. The Doctors say he was lucky, no arteries or organs were hit in the attack, just tissue damage and blood loss.’

‘Do you have any reason to suspect your brother was targeted?’ he asked, and flipped open his notebook.

‘No, not at all,’ the manager replied, perhaps a little too quickly, Fallon thought. His eyes darted around the room as he spoke, never settling on anything for more than a second before they took flight again. ‘Surely it was just a random act of aggression.’

‘A random act of aggression outside the club, perhaps. Maybe a fist-fight inside. But a shooting in a prestigious venue like this one would appear to be anything other than random, Mr Baker. Especially considering the security measures you have in place,’ Fallon said, and tapped the metal detector archway they stood beside at the club’s entrance. ‘I’m presuming everyone has to walk through here when they come in, no exceptions?’

‘Yes, I mean no – no exceptions,’ the manager confirmed.

Fallon nodded and paused as if in thought, but really just watched Baker as he grew more and more uncomfortable under what had been pretty soft questioning. ‘Is there anything else you would like to tell me at this time?’

‘No, I’d really just like to go see Fred.’

‘OK,’ Fallon said, handing him his card. ‘Go check on your brother, Mr Baker, I’m gonna have a look around.’

Nick Baker nodded and took the detective’s card. ‘Any other questions you can ask my assistant, Stephanie Hutton.’

Fallon surveyed the subtle placement of security cameras as he walked along the corridor and through the double glass doors into the main room of the now eerily quiet but brightly lit nightclub. An attractive brunette in a masculine grey business suit walked confidently up to him.

‘Hi, are you from the police?’

Fallon flashed his credentials.

‘Detective Mark Fallon.’

‘Stephanie Hutton, Mr Baker’s PA. He’s very upset.’ She

was below average height but stood square shouldered looking him directly in the eye.

‘I have a lot to deal with right now, but if you have any questions...’

‘OK how about you show me the exact spot of the attack.’

Stephanie led him to a curved chrome staircase. Bright red blood drops marked the polished floor like scattered berries. ‘We have a staircase on either side of the main doors that lead to the balcony and two other rooms above. The right hand staircase is covered by one of the main cameras above the bar over there,’ she said, pointing.

‘Do you mean this area here isn’t monitored by any of the other cameras?’

‘As far as I know it’s the only black-spot in the club.’

‘Who else other than yourself and the manager would know this?’

‘The security staff would know, they had hands on input regarding placement after our last refit a few months back.’

Fallon had taken out his notebook and pen when Stephanie was talking and eagerly wrote down the information. Stephanie had stopped talking by the time he finished and Fallon looked at her to see if there was anything else she could offer. The confident gaze she had initially confronted him with had been replaced by one more guarded and wary. She still looked him in the eye, but it now seemed forced and uncomfortable.

‘Who is in charge of security at the club, Miss Hutton?’