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As a child, young Oskar Kasavian had shopped his mother to the police for smoking a joint at a Belgravia embassy party held for King Zog of Albania. This had been a serious matter because his parents both worked in the Foreign Office, and the family were in the middle of delicate negotiations with the Italians. It was only his fathers status as a politically appointed diplomat that prevented severe repercussions. Relations soured between Kasavian and his mother, to the point where she disowned him on her deathbed, but Oskar didnt care. By then he knew how to operate within the complex ecosystem of interdepartmental government politics, and used it to his full advantage.

By the time he had been promoted within the Home Office to handling matters of national security, he knew how to step on time-serving ministers like Leslie Faraday and gently squash them until they carried out his instructions without ever realising they had lost control of their own departments. The middle managers of Whitehall lived in fear of him, and even his superiors felt a sense of relief when he left the room.

Only Arthur Bryant had managed to bloody his nose over the investigation of the prankster-murderer newspapers had nicknamed the Highwayman. Kasavians relationship with a married tabloid editor had been exposed, and the PCU had blackmailed him into dropping his assault on unit funding in return for their continued silence about his affair.

Now, he felt, it was time to take revenge.

Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice of Connaught, who performed no public duties and was known to the press as Princess Poison, was the Baroness Katarina-Marchmaine von Treppitz, Viennese daughter of Baron von Treppitz and the Countess Alexandria Spenten-Berger, and was usually in the headlines for the wrong reasons. She had supposedly told a group of Chinese diners in a Chelsea restaurant to go back to Chinky Land and had been accused of everything from expressing pro-Nazi sympathies to living in a Regents Park apartment subsidised by the Queen. Her office also had occasion to correspond with Oskar Kasavian, and she had been persuaded, in the interest of public relations, to make a rare royal visit to a government law enforcement unit representing experimental policing techniques, namely the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

Kasavians plan in arranging the trip was ostensibly connected with the Princesss desire to take more of an interest in government funding initiatives. She had a reputation for being outspoken and litigious, something journalists rarely forgave, but had seemed perfectly charming on the few times Kasavian had dealt with her. He reasoned that, as his hands were still tied in the matter of closing down the PCU, which he considered a ridiculous squandering of resources, he would get someone else to do it for him. When Princess Beatrice saw the chaotic shambles that existed above Mornington Crescent tube station, he felt sure that her acerbic comments would bring the harsh spotlight of attention onto the PCU and provide him with the ammunition he needed to shut its doors once and for all. Then he would be able to reallocate funding to a new unit under his personal supervision.

When the Princesss office confirmed that the conductor of the Vienna Boys Choir had slipped and broken his baton wrist outside a Salzburg McDonalds, the sudden cancellation of his royal performance allowed her to schedule a brief visit to the unit in its place, which meant that she would be stepping daintily from her limousine onto the mean streets of Mornington Crescent this Thursday afternoon at five. Kasavian quickly informed Leslie Faraday, who sent a protocol package to Raymond Land, who was in the middle of opening it and reading the contents with a dropping jaw just as Janice Longbright walked into his room.

He cant do this, Land murmured. He cant send a royal visitor around at such short notice, not here, not now-not her. He had always known that the units victory over Kasavian would be temporary, and that he would come back fighting, but this was more underhand than he had imagined. Theyre heading here for an inspection in less than two days time. Our computer system is down, there are cables and equipment boxes and God knows what all over the floor and our two chief detectives are away on some kind of bizarre winter holiday. Well, the last part was perhaps a blessing, as Mr. Bryant could not be trusted to avoid controversial topics, and had expressed his cynicism about certain members of the royal family a number of times in the past. Hullo, Janice, what do you want? Land eyed the strangely garbed sergeant with suspicion. Why is she sporting that outlandish hairstyle and wearing a pencil skirt? he wondered. Would it kill her to dress normally?

Sorry to be the bearer of more bad news, Raymond. Oswald Finch has been found dead in the Bayham Street Morgue, a heart attack brought on by blows to the neck and the chest, and our lads think it looks like murder.

In our own pathology centre? Land all but squeaked.

Im afraid its worse, because it looks like an inside job. On that basis, were conducting an internal murder investigation with our own staff as suspects.

Good God, woman, does anyone else know about this?

No, sir. Not yet, at least. Thought Id better tell you.

Then for heavens sake dont tell anyone else. If word of this gets out, it will kill us. Youd better get Bryant and May back here at once. Theyll know what to do.

Longbright chose to ignore the snub. I cant, sir. Theyre stuck in a snowdrift on the edge of Dartmoor on their way to a spiritualists convention. I havent told them whats happened yet. Do you want me to call them?

Having to make spot decisions without the advice of a superior was the kind of situation Land dreaded. He worried a nail between his teeth, trying to think. If he turned down Faraday, the minister would be instantly suspicious, and would probably send Kasavian around to the unit to sniff out trouble.

We darent tell them whats happened, he said finally. The Home Office is sending Princess Beatrice of Connaught here for a full demonstration of the facilities. Kasavians doing it to embarrass and discredit us, but he doesnt know the half of it. He thinks Arthur will be here to make a mess of things.

Imagine how thrilled hell be when he discovers the truth. Theyre expecting to be shown a crime lab, not a crime scene. We cant turn them down; it would be admitting defeat. Theres only one thing for it: Oswalds investigation must be concluded before the Princess arrives. There must be no sign of anything untoward having happened.

Im afraid its going to be a little more difficult than that, sir, Longbright informed him. Access to the morgue was strictly limited to those of us inside the unit, and you know what Finch was like, he pretty much upset everyone in the course of the last week, so our own staff members will have to be kept here under house arrest.

Suffering Jesus, if Kasavian finds out we cant even solve a murder taking place on our own property, involving our own staff, hell make damned sure well get shut down instantly, so that he can reallocate his funding elsewhere. To think of the things Ive survived here, from Bryant blowing up the building to carpenters falling through the floor-you have to sort out this mess.

Ive already grounded everyone at the unit until we have a clearer picture of what happened, she informed him.

Good. He rose to leave. Well, I suppose thats a start. You can fill me in on the rest in the morning.

Im afraid that means you as well, sir. You also had access to the morgue keys.

Lands eyebrows rose to where his hairline would have been had he still owned hair. Thats outrageous! Oswald and I were old friends. Our wives went crown green bowling together.

You refused to take back his resignation. Did he threaten you in any way? Place you in a difficult position?

I will not be interrogated by my own staff sergeant! Land roared, clearly mortified. And you have no right to keep me here.

Im afraid I do, sir. Ive been appointed acting head in Mr. Bryants absence-he inserted the clause in my contract when you renegotiated it-so youd better make yourself comfortable, because I think its going to be a long night.

Longbright left the sputtering department head and returned to her office to call the detectives. May answered on the second ring. Things are pretty bad here, Janice, he said before she could speak. I dont know how long its going to be before we can get free. There was a hesitation on the other end of the line. Youre holding something back from us. Whats happened? He knew instinctively that something was wrong.

Its Oswald, she told him, explaining the circumstances of the pathologists death. This is starting to look like an internecine problem. I think I know what to do, but I need your advice on how to go about it.

Youd better tell us everything Giles and Dan have found since the body was discovered, said May. Poor old Oswald. Ill see what we can do to help. After all, its not as if were going anywhere.

Just then, Banbury stuck his head around the door.

Call him back, he told Longbright. I need to talk to you right now. I think we have a lead.