Just One Evil Act - Elizabeth George

Sitting on a plastic chair inside Brompton Hall among a crowd of two hundred shouting individuals—all dressed in what had to be called alternative garb—was the last thing Thomas Lynley had ever expected to find himself doing. Edgy music was blasting from speakers the size of a tower block on Miami Beach. A food stall was doing a very brisk business in hot dogs, popcorn, lager, and soft drinks. A female announcer was periodically shrieking above the din to call out scores and name penalties. And ten helmeted women on roller skates were racing round a flat ring delineated with tape on the concrete floor.

It was supposed to be an exhibition match only: something to educate the populace in the finer points of women’s flat track roller derby. But it was a case of tell-that-to-the-players, for the women engaged in the bout were deadly serious.

They had intriguing names. All of them were printed, along with suitably menacing photos, in the programmes that had been distributed as spectators took their seats. Lynley had chuckled as he’d read each nom de guerre. Vigour Mortis. The Grim Rita. Grievous Bodily Charm.

He was there because of one of the women, Kickarse Electra. She skated not with the local team—London’s the Electric Magic—but rather with the team from Bristol, a savage-looking group of females who went by the alliterative collective Boadicea’s Broads. Her actual name was Daidre Trahair, she was a large animal veterinarian employed at Bristol’s zoo, and she had no idea that Lynley was among the howling mass of spectators. He wasn’t sure if he was going to keep matters that way. He was, at this point, operating strictly by feel.

He had a companion with him, having lacked the courage to venture into this unknown world on his own. Charlie Denton had accepted his invitation to be enlightened, educated, and entertained at Earls Court Exhibition Centre, and at this moment, he was milling among the crowd at the snack stall.

He’d made the declaration of “It’s on me, m’lord . . . sir,” with that final word a hasty correction that one would think by now he’d not even have to make. For he’d been seven years in Lynley’s employ, and when he wasn’t addressing his passion for the stage through auditions for various theatrical events in Greater London, he served as manservant, cook, housekeeper, aide-de-camp, and general factotum in Lynley’s life. He’d so far managed Fortinbras in a north London production, but the West End north London was not. So he soldiered on in his double life, determinedly believing that his Big Break was only round the next corner.

Now, he was amused. Lynley could see that in Denton’s face as he made his way back across Brompton Hall to the array of chairs among which Lynley sat. He carried a cardboard food tray with him.

“Nachos,” Denton said as Lynley frowned down at something that looked like orange lava erupting from a mountain of fried tortilla. “Your dog’s got mustard, onions, and relish. The ketchup looked iffy so I gave it a pass, but the lager’s nice. Have at it, sir.”

Denton said all this with a twinkle in his eye, although Lynley reckoned it could have been just the light shining on the lenses of his round-framed spectacles. He was daring Lynley to refuse the offered repast and instead come forth as he really was. He was also entertained by the sight of his employer sitting chummily next to a bloke whose potbelly overhung his baggy jeans and whose dreadlocks fell the length of his back. Lynley and Denton had come to depend upon this individual. His name was Steve-o, and what he didn’t know about women’s flat track roller derby did not, apparently, bear knowing at all.

He was attached to Flaming Aggro, he’d told them happily. Plus, his sister Soob was a member of the cheering squad. This latter group of individuals had taken up a position whose disturbing proximity to Lynley added to the general cacophony surrounding him. They wore black from head to toe with embellishments of hot pink in the form of tutus, hair decorations, knee socks, shoes, or waistcoats, and they had so far spent most of their time screaming “Break ’em, baby!” and shaking pink and silver pompoms.

“Great sport, innit?” Steve-o kept saying as the Electric Magic piled the points onto the scoreboard. “It’s tha’ Deadly Deedee-light does most of the scoring. Long ’s she don’t rack up the penalties, we’re in, mate.” And then onto his feet he