THE SERIAL THRILLERS 2011
TRANSWORLD PUBLISHERS 61–63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA A Random House Group Company www.transworldbooks.co.uk THE SERIAL THRILLERS 2011 sampler produced by Transworld Publishers for their exclusive use Copyright
Transworld Publishers 2011 Individual stories:
Belinda Bauer 2011
Sean Black 2011
Tom Cain 2010
WORTH DYING FOR copyright
Lee Child 2010
BRYANT & MAY AND THE MEMORY OF BLOOD copyright THE ASSASSIN’S PRAYER copyright
Diana Norman writing as Ariana Franklin 2010
THE SILENT GIRL copyright BLOOD COUNT copyright FIRST FROST
Christopher Fowler 2011
Tess Gerritsen 2011
Robert and Vaunda Goddard 2011
Written for the Estate of R.D. Wingfield by James Gurbutt and Henry Sutton copyright Estate of R.D. Wingfield 2011 THE PAYBACK copyright CONTROL copyright THE BOMBER copyright ZERO HOUR copyright
Simon Kernick 2011 John Macken 2010 Liza Marklund 2010 Andy McNab 2010
THE QUARRY copyright Johan Theorin 2011 The authors have asserted their rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the authors of these works. These are works of fiction and, except in the case of historical fact, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Addresses for Random House Group Ltd companies outside the UK can be found at: www.randomhouse.co.uk The Random House Group Ltd Reg. No. 954009 ®
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WORTH DYING FOR
BRYANT AND MAY AND THE MEMORY OF BLOOD
THE ASSASSIN’S PRAYER
THE SILENT GIRL
Win Your Favourite Killer Read!
DARKSIDE BELINDA BAUER
‘One of the most gripping whodunnits you'll read this year’ Sunday Times
Published 29th September 2011 Corgi Paperback Currently available in hardback
Belinda Bauer grew up in England and South Africa. She has worked as a journalist and screenwriter and her script The Locker Room earned her the Carl Foreman/ Bafta Award for Young British Screenwriters. Darkside is her second novel. With her debut novel Blacklands, Belinda won the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the Year. She lives in Wales.
The sounds of the hospital came back to Lucy muffled and from far away. She became aware of a big hand holding hers – tough, dry and warm. Jonas, she thought with a twist of guilt. Stiffly she moved her head and opened her eyes, expecting to read worry, relief – even anger – in his eyes. Instead, for one crazy moment, she found she had been sucked through a tear in time, and that she was married to a small boy wearing a look of such terror on his face that she flinched and clutched at his hand as if he were the one who was falling. ‗Jonas!‘ Her throat burned and the word came out as a harsh caw, but it aged him like a slap in the face and immediately his eyes filled with all those emotions she‘d expected to see when she first looked up at him – even the anger. Lucy didn‘t care. She brimmed with tears. Jonas held her in his arms – a man again – and she overflowed into the crook of his elbow while he bent over her and said quiet, tender things into her hair. ‗I didn‘t mean it,‘ she sobbed, but she couldn‘t even understand her own muffled words. And anyway, she wasn‘t certain they were true.
Margaret Priddy awoke to the brilliant beam of light she had been anticipating with fear and longing for years. Finally, she thought, I‘m dying. And tears of loss mingled with those of joy on her lined cheeks. Ever since her fall she had lain here – or somewhere very like it – slack and immobile and dependent on other people for her most basic needs. Food, water, warmth. Toilet – which the nurses carried out as if her dignity were numbed, not her body. Company . . . The nurses tried their best. ‗Morning, Margaret! Beautiful morning!‘ ‗Morning, Margaret! Sleep well?‘ ‗Morning, Margaret! Raining again!‘ And then they would either run out of paltry inspiration or jabber on about their night out getting drunk, or their children‘s seemingly endless achievements at school. A relentless rota of cheerful bustle with big busts and bingo wings. The break in silence was welcome at first but, in the face of inanity, Margaret quickly longed for solitude. She was grateful. Of course she was. Grateful and polite – the way an English lady should be in the circumstances. They had no way of knowing about her gratitude, of course, but she tried to convey it in her eyes and she thought some of them understood. Peter did, but then Peter had always been a sensitive boy. Now – as the light made her eyes burn – Margaret Priddy thought of her son and the tears of loss took precedence. Peter was forty-four years old but she still always thought of him first as a five-year-old in blue shorts and a Batman Tshirt, running down the shingle in Minehead on the first beach holiday they‘d ever taken. She was leaving her little boy alone. She knew it was silly, but that‘s how she felt about it. She was dying and he‘d be all alone. But still she was dying. At last. And it was just as she‘d imagined – white and wonderful and pain-free. It was only when she sensed the press of weight on the bed that was her home that she realized this was not the start of her journey to the Hereafter, but someone in her room with a torch.
Someone uninvited, invading her home, her room, her bed, the very air in front of her face . . . Every fibre of Margaret Priddy‘s being screamed to respond to the danger. Unfortunately, every fibre of her being below the neck had been permanently disconnected from her brain three years before when old Buster – the most reliable of horses – had stumbled to his knees on a patch of ice, throwing her head-first into a wooden telegraph pole. So instead of screaming, punching and fighting for what was left of her life, she could only blink in terror as the killer placed a pillow over her face. He didn‘t want to hurt her. Only wanted her dead. As he suffocated Margaret Priddy with her own well-plumped pillow, the killer felt a rush of released tension, like an old watch exploding, scattering a thousand intricate parts and sending tightly wound springs bouncing off into nowhere as the bounds of the casing broke open around him. He sobbed in sudden relief. The feel of the old lady‘s head through the pillow was comfortingly distant and indistinct. The unnatural stillness of her body seemed like permission to continue and so he did. He pressed his weight on to the pillow for far longer than he knew was necessary. When he finally removed it and shone his torch into her face, the only discernible change in Margaret Priddy was that the light in her eyes had gone out. ‗There,‘ thought the killer. ‗That was easy.‘ * First Lucy – and now this. PC Jonas Holly leaned against the wall and took off his helmet so that his suddenly clammy head could breathe. The body on the bed had played the organ at his wedding. He‘d known her since he was a boy. He could remember being small enough not to care that it wasn‘t cool to be impressed by anything, waving at Mrs Priddy as she went past on an impossibly big grey horse – and her waving back. Over the next twenty-five years that scene had been repeated dozens of times, with all the characters in it evolving. Margaret growing older, but always vibrant; he stretching and growing, coming and going – university, Portishead, home to visit his parents while they were still alive. Even the horse changed, from a grey through any number of similar animals until Buster came along. Mrs Priddy always liked horses that were too big for her; ‗The bigger they are, the kinder they are,‘ she‘d told him once as
he‘d squinted up into the sky at her, trying to avoid looking at Buster‘s hot, quivery shoulder. Now Margaret Priddy was dead. It was a blessing really – the poor woman. But right now Jonas Holly only felt disorientated and sick that somehow, during the night, some strange magic had happened to turn life into death, warmth into cold and this world into the next. Whatever the next world was. Jonas had only ever had a vague irreligious notion that it was probably nice enough. This was not his first body; as a village bobby, he‘d seen his fair share. But seeing Margaret Priddy lying there had hit him unexpectedly hard. He heard the nurse coming up the stairs and put his helmet back on, hurriedly wiping his face on his sleeve, hoping he didn‘t look as nauseous as he felt. He was six-four and people seemed to have an odd idea that the taller you were, the more metaphorical backbone you should have. The nurse smiled at him and held the door open behind her for Dr Dennis, who wore khaki chinos and a polo shirt at all times – as if he was in an Aussie soap and about to be whisked off in a Cessna to treat distant patients for snakebite in the sweltering outback, instead of certifying the death of a pensioner in her cottage on a damp January Exmoor. ‗Hello, Jonas,‘ he said. ‗Right, Mark.‘ ‗How‘s Lucy?‘ ‗OK, thanks.‘ ‗Good.‘ Jonas had once seen Mark Dennis vomit into a yard of ale after a rugby match, but right now the doctor was all business, his regular, tanned face composed into a professional mask of thoughtful compassion. He went over to the bed and checked Margaret Priddy. ‗Nice lady,‘ he said, for something to say. ‗The best,‘ said Jonas Holly, with feeling. ‗Probably a blessing that she‘s gone. For her, I mean.‘ The nurse smiled and nodded professionally at him but Mark Dennis said nothing, seeming to be very interested in Margaret Priddy‘s face. Jonas looked around the room. Someone had hung a cheap silver-foil angel over the bed, and it twirled slowly like a child‘s mobile. On the dresser, half a dozen Christmas cards had been pushed haphazardly aside to make way for more practical things. One of the cards had fallen over and Jonas‘s fingers itched to right it. Instead he made himself look at the old lady‘s body. Not that old, he reminded himself, only sixty-something. But being bedridden had made her seem older and far more frail.
He thought of Lucy one day being that frail and tried to focus on Margaret lying on the bed, not his beautiful wife. Her lips flecked with bile and soggy painkillers . . . Jonas pushed the image away hard and took a deep breath. He focused and tried to imagine what Margaret Priddy‘s last words might have been before the accident that crushed her spine and her larynx in one crunching blow. Final words spoken in ignorance three years before the demise of the rest of her body. Jonas thought probably: ‗Get on, Buster!‘ ‗Glad you‘re here, Jonas,‘ said Mark Dennis – and when he turned to look at him, Jonas Holly could see concern in the doctor‘s face. His instincts stirred uneasily. ‗Her nose is broken.‘ They both looked at the nurse, whose smile disappeared in an instant. She hurried over and stood beside the doctor as he guided her fingers to the bridge of Margaret Priddy‘s nose. ‗See?‘ She nodded, a frown making her ugly. ‗There‘s no break in the skin or apparent bruising,‘ said Mark Dennis in the annoying, musing way he had. ‗I‘m no CSI, but I‘d say a sharp blow was not the cause.‘ Jonas hated people who watched American television. ‗You want to feel, Jonas?‘ Not really. Still, he was a policeman and he should . . . He swallowed audibly and touched the nose. It was cold and gristly and made Jonas – an ardent vegetarian – think of raw pork chops. Mark Dennis guided him and Jonas felt the break in Margaret Priddy‘s nose move grittily under his fingers. Gooseflesh sprouted up to his shoulders and he let go and stepped back. Unconsciously he wiped his hand on the dark-blue serge of his uniform trousers, before realizing that the silence – coupled with two pairs of eyes looking at him questioningly – meant he was supposed to take charge; was supposed to do something professional and policeman-like. ‗Yuk,‘ he said. * The detectives from Taunton must watch a lot of American television, too, thought Jonas as he observed them striding through Margaret Priddy‘s tiny home, bumping into antiques, clustering in the hallway, and thumping up and down the narrow stairs like US Marines invading a potting shed.
Despite their expertise in the field of suspicious death, Jonas secretly wished he‘d never called them in. Of course, not calling them was not an option, but even so . . . Jonas was equipped to handle nothing beyond the mundane. He was the sole representative of the Avon & Somerset police force in seven villages and across a good acreage of Exmoor, which rolled in waves like a green and purple sea towards the northern shore of the county, where it met the Bristol Channel coming the other way. The people here lived in the troughs, leaving the heathercovered peaks to the mercy of the sun, wind, rain, snow and the thick, brinescented mists that crept off the ocean, careless that this was land and not water, and blurring the boundary between the two. People walked on the exposed peaks but their lives were properly conducted in the folds and creases of Exmoor, out of the view of prying eyes, and where sounds carried only as far as the next looming common before being smothered by a damp wall of heather and prickly gorse. These shaded vales where people grew held hidden histories and forgotten secrets, like the big dark pebbles in the countless shallow streams that crossed the moor. But the homicide team now filling the two-hundred-year-old, two-up-twodown cottage with noise and action never stopped to listen to the undercurrents. Jonas didn‘t like Detective Chief Inspector Marvel, not only because the spreading, florid DCI‘s name sounded like some kind of infallible superhero cop, but because DCI Marvel had listened to his account of the finding of Margaret Priddy with a look on his lined face that told of a bad smell. It was unfair. Jonas felt he had recovered well after launching the investigation with the ignominious ‗Yuk‘. He had ascertained that the nurse – a robust fifty-year-old called Annette Rogers – had checked on Mrs Priddy at 2am without noticing anything amiss, before finding her dead at 6.15am. Despite the obvious answer, he had dutifully quizzed Mark Dennis on the possibility of a woman being able to somehow break her own nose during the act of sleeping while also paralysed from the neck down. He had escorted Mark Dennis and Annette Rogers to the front door with minimal deviation to maintain the corridor of entry and exit to the scene. He had checked the bedroom window and quickly found scrape-marks surrounding the latch. It was only a four-foot drop from the sill to the flat roof of the lean-to. He had secured the scene. Which here in Shipcott meant shutting the front door and putting a note on it torn from his police-issue notebook. He‘d considered the content of that note with care, running from the self-important ‗Crime Scene‘ – which seemed merely laughable on a scrap of lined paper – through ‗Police! Do Not Pass‘ (too bossy) and ‗No Entry‘ (too vague), finally ending up with ‗Please Do Not Disturb‘, which appealed to everybody‘s better nature and which he felt confident would work. And it did.
He had alerted Tiverton to the fact that foul play may possibly be involved in the death of Mrs Margaret Priddy of Big Pot Cottage, Shipcott, and Tiverton had called on the services of Taunton CID. Taunton Homicide was a team of frustrated detectives generally underextended by drunken brawls gone wrong, and Jonas thought Marvel should have been grateful for the call, not openly disdainful of him. He understood that in police hierarchy the village bobby – or ‗community beat officer‘ as he was officially called – was the lowest of the low. He also knew that his youth worked against him. Any policeman of his age worth his salt should be at the top of his game – swathed in Kevlar, armed with something shiny, clearing tall buildings in his pursuit of criminal masterminds and mad bombers – not walking the beat, ticking off children and corralling stray sheep in some sleepy backwater. That was a job for an old man and Jonas had only just turned thirtyone, so it smacked of laziness or stupidity. Therefore Jonas tried hard to appear neither lazy nor stupid as he ran through his notes with Marvel. It made no difference. Marvel listened to the young PC‘s report with a glazed look in his eyes, then asked: ‗Did you touch her?‘ Jonas blinked then nodded – reddening at the same time. Marvel pursed his lips. ‗Where?‘ ‗Her nose. Dr Dennis said it was broken and I felt it.‘ ‗Why?‘ Jonas felt his face burn as everyone in the room seemed to have stopped what they were doing to watch him being grilled. ‗I don‘t know, sir. Just to see.‘ ‗Just for fun?‘ ‗No, sir, the doctor said it was broken and I checked.‘ ‗Because you needed to confirm his diagnosis? Are you more highly qualified than him? Medically speaking?‘ Marvel dripped sarcasm from every pore, and from the corner of his eye Jonas saw the Taunton cops grin and roll their eyes at each other. ‗No, sir.‘ ‗Anyone else touch her?‘ ‗The nurse, sir.‘ ‗Was she more highly qualified than Dr Dennis?‘ ‗No, sir.‘ Marvel sighed and flapped his arms once helplessly like a man who has given up chasing down a mugger. The flap said, ‗There‘s only so much you can do.‘
‗So the doctor touched her. Then you touched her. Then the nurse touched her.‘ Jonas didn‘t correct Marvel on the sequence of events. ‗Yes, sir.‘ ‗Anyone else?‘ ‗No, sir.‘ ‗You sure? Not the milkman? The village idiot? You didn‘t get one man and his dog up here to give her a little poke?‘ There were snorts of amusement all round. ‗I‘m sure, sir.‘ Marvel sighed, then asked: ‗What‘s your name?‘ ‗PC Holly, sir.‘ ‗Have you ever heard of a crime scene, Holly?‘ ‗Yes, sir.‘ Jonas hated Marvel now. The man was grandstanding in front of his team and Jonas shouldn‘t have touched Margaret Priddy‘s nose, but still . . . ‗Have you ever heard of contaminating a crime scene, Holly?‘ ‗Yes, sir.‘ The heat of embarrassment was leaving Jonas and being replaced by a cool and distant anger, which he found easy to hide but which he knew he would nurture forever in that very small and stony corner where he kept all that was not kind, responsible and selfless in his heart. ‗And you understand that it‘s a bad thing, don‘t you?‘ ‗Yes, sir.‘ ‗A stupid thing.‘ Jonas wanted to punch him. ‗Yes, sir.‘ Marvel smiled slowly. ‗Then why would you do that?‘ Jonas was eight years old and Pete Bryant had put a cricket ball through Mr Randall‘s greenhouse roof. Pete had run, but Jonas had dithered – and Mr Randall had gripped him in a single meaty claw and shaken his arm while shouting that same question into his face. Eight-year-old Jonas could have told Mr Randall that it was Pete who had thrown the ball, but he didn‘t. Not because he was scared; not because he wasn‘t a rat; just because it was too late; the damage was already done. The glass was already shattered, Mr Randall already angry, his bicep already bruised, his tears already flowing and his self-worth already pricked. All that was left was for him to get home as quickly as possible
so he could shut his bedroom door and cry at the unfairness of it all without alerting his mother. Now the thirty-one-year-old Jonas swallowed that same bitter pill and unfocused his eyes so he could look straight over Marvel‘s greying hair. ‗I‘m very sorry, sir.‘ Marvel regarded the tall young policeman with a little disappointment. He‘d really have preferred the fool to have got defensive and angry. He loved a good fight. Instead PC Holly had rolled over like a puppy and shown the world his belly. Ah well. Marvel turned away before speaking. ‗You can go,‘ he said. In small defiance, Jonas bit back his ‗Yes, sir‘ and left without another word. Halfway down the stairs he heard Marvel say something he didn‘t catch, and the laughter of the big-town cops. * Some investigation, thought DCI John Marvel, as he stared out at the leaden Somerset sky. A dead old woman with a broken nose. Big deal. But a suspicious death was a suspicious death and helped to justify the funding that kept his Task Force (as he used to like to call it over late suppers with Debbie) in existence. So if they could whip suspicious death up into murder, then all well and good. Marvel had spent twenty-five years as a homicide detective. Half his life. To Marvel there was no other crime worth investigating – nothing that came close to the sheer finality of death by the hand of another. It kicked assault‘s arse, rode roughshod over robbery and even trumped rape in his book. Of course, there were degrees – and not every case was a thrill. Some were one long slog from beginning to end, some went off like firecrackers and turned into damp squibs, while others started off quietly and then spiralled wildly out of control. There was no telling at the start how it was going to finish, but the thing that kicked each one off was what sustained Marvel after all these years. The body. The corpse. That stabbed, strangled, beaten, shot, dismembered, poisoned usedto-be-person hung over his head every day like a cat toy – endlessly fascinating, tantalizing, taunting, always reminding him of why he was here and the job he had to do. The burgled replaced their televisions, bruises healed on the beaten, and the raped kept living, kept going to work and buying groceries and sending postcards and singing in the choir. The murdered were dead and stayed dead. For ever.
How could any true copper not love the murdered and the challenge they threw down from beyond the grave? AVENGE ME! Marvel could never hear that ghostly voice in his head without also imagining some kind of broad, dark cape billowing in righteous vengeance. It was stirring stuff. And Marvel was always stirred. Eventually. Even by a case like this in a place like this, he knew he would be stirred once death by violence was confirmed. He had to sort of grow into being stirred. But until then, he was just a bit cheesed off. Marvel sighed. Margaret Priddy‘s body had been removed to civilization – or what passed for it in this neck of the yokel woods. He hated to be out of town. He‘d been born and brought up in London. Battersea, to be precise, where the stunted lime trees grown through lifting, cracking pavement were all the green he felt anyone should suffer. Once he‘d carved his name in the bark and been repelled by the damp, greenish flesh his penknife had exposed. Sometimes as a kid he‘d hung around a bus stop close to the park, but had rarely ventured in. Only on the occasional Saturday for a kickabout, and even then he‘d never warmed to the muddy, olive-green grass. Playing behind the garages or under the railway arches was cleaner and faster. Grass was overrated, in Marvel‘s opinion, and it was his constant gripe that most of the Avon and Somerset force area where he‘d ended up working was covered in it. Now here he was in this shit-hole village in the middle of a moor that didn‘t even have the niceties of fences or barns on it, with the miserable prospect of having to conduct a murder investigation surrounded by the vagaries of gorse, yokels and pony shit instead of the sensible amenities of self-service petrol stations, meaningful road-signs and his beloved Kings Arms. The Divisional Surgeon had already found cuts and bruising inside Margaret Priddy‘s mouth where her lips had been crushed against her teeth, and the pathologist might find even more. All it would take now was for the Scientific Investigations Department in Portishead to confirm that the saliva and mucus on the well-plumped pillow found lying next to Mrs Priddy belonged to the victim, and they would have their upgrade to murder and their murder weapon all in one neat forensic package. Marvel looked at the empty bed over which three white-paper-clad CSIs crouched like folk off to a costume party dressed as sperm. ‗I like the son for this,‘ Marvel told DS Reynolds. Marvel loved saying that he ‗liked‘ someone for something. It made him feel as if he were in a Quentin Tarantino film. His south-London accent was a handicap but not a bar to such pronouncements.
‗Yes, sir,‘ said DS Reynolds carefully. ‗Sick of watching his inheritance pour down the home-nursing drain.‘ ‗Yes, sir.‘ ‗So what have we got?‘ ‗So far? Hairs, fibres, fluids— ‗Semen?‘ ‗Doesn‘t look like it, sir. Just what was on the pillow, and urine.‘ ‗I thought she was catheterized?‘ ‗I think the bag must‘ve burst.‘ ‗So the perp could be covered in piss.‘ ‗Yes, sir.‘ ‗Lovely. Anything missing?‘ ‗Doesn‘t look like a burglary, sir. If something was taken then the killer knew exactly what he was looking for and where to find it.‘ Marvel glanced around the room with its old dark furniture. A lifetime of use was evidenced by the wear around the dull brass handles on the chest of drawers. Nothing looked disturbed; even the lace doily on the dresser was flat and un-mussed. ‗I want the names of all the nurses employed and hair samples from everyone at the scene.‘ ‗Yes, sir.‘ ‗Prints?‘ ‗Not so far.‘ It was a bitterly cold January and the killer could have worn gloves for that reason alone. But Marvel hoped he was not just some opportunist burglar who had overreacted to finding a woman watching him silently from the bed in what he‘d thought was an empty room. Marvel hoped he‘d planned ahead. Whether he‘d planned burglary or murder ahead was open to question, but the fact that it looked unlikely that they would find prints made the whole case more interesting to Marvel. He hated to waste his talents on the low and the stupid, and – since coming to Somerset – he‘d started to tire a little of the flailing drunks who‘d turned from nuisances to killers because of the unfortunate coming together of heads and kerbs, and of the glazed teenagers whose generosity in sharing their gear had been repaid by their ingrate friends dying curled around pub toilets with shit in their pants and in their veins. No, the gloves made the killer a more worthwhile quarry in Marvel‘s eyes. Just how worthwhile remained to be seen.
* Four hundred yards before the sign that read PLEASE DRIVE SLOWLY THROUGH SHIPCOTT was the house Jonas had grown up in, and from where his parents had been carried to their graves. Not house really, more cottage – although cottage sounded nicer than it really was, as if it were the picture on a box of souvenir fudge. This cottage was squat and tiled rather than thatched, and attached to its only neighbour like a conjoined twin. The pair of them sat and glared across the narrow road at the high hedge beyond it, which cut off both light and the view from the downstairs windows. Both twins had identical silvered-oak nameplates on their garden gates: Rose Cottage and Honeysuckle Cottage. The John and Mary of adjoining country homes. Rose for Jonas and Lucy, Honeysuckle for old Mrs Paddon next door. Jonas parked the garish police Land Rover behind Lucy‘s Beetle in the track beside Rose Cottage and felt his heart quicken. He had to keep hold of himself. Had to step out on to the dry, freezing mud slowly and walk normally through the front door, and clean the bathroom and fill the washer-dryer, and make the tea – just the way Mark Dennis had told him he must. ‗Lucy needs you. You can’t fall apart on her, Jonas. Now more than ever.‘ He wouldn‘t fall apart. He would keep hold of himself. Even though every day for the past three weeks he had walked up the cracked and un-weeded stone pathway with his heart squeezed into his throat with fear, and his keys jingling like wind chimes in his trembling hands. The dread was almost overwhelming – the dread that he would push open the front door and it would once more wedge softly against the body of his wife. Or that he would call her echoing name and finally find her in a bath of tepid, pink water. Or that he would walk into the house enclosed in winter darkness and feel her bare feet nudge his face as they dangled in the stairwell. Jonas shook himself on the doorstep, forcing his breathing back to normal so he wouldn‘t cry with relief when he saw her, and pushed open the door.
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GRIDLOCK SEAN BLACK
‘Thrilling’ Simon Kernick
Published 4th August 2011 Bantam Press
Sean Black grew up in Scotland, studied film in New York, and has written the screenplays for many of Britainâ€™s best-known TV dramas. To research the first two Ryan Lock thrillers, he underwent weeks of intensive bodyguard training and spent time inside America's most dangerous maximum security prison, Pelican Bay Supermax in California. In Gridlock, he takes his readers deep inside the murky world of America's multi-billion dollar adult entertainment industry.
Near the end of every month, Bert Ely got up an hour earlier than usual, fumbled into his clothes in the dark so that he didn‘t wake his wife, clambered into his beat-to-hell Chevy Impala and drove the eighteen miles from his house in Van Nuys into downtown Los Angeles. Getting on to the 101 freeway at six rather than his usual seven o‘clock shaved about twenty-five minutes from his commute, although saving time wasn‘t the real issue. The time he spent in the car on these particular days was something he looked forward to all month. He loved the ritual of his routine as much as he enjoyed what lay at the end of it. As with any indulgence, half the fun – at least, as far as Bert was concerned – lay in the anticipation. The 101 took him out of the San Fernando Valley, through Hollywood, the city‘s degenerate heart, finally depositing him via the Broadway off-ramp into downtown Los Angeles where he worked as a real-estate appraiser for Citicorp. It was a mind-numbing job, based in a soul-crushing grey office building full of good little corporate automatons. Along with the fact that his wife no longer had sex with him, and his kids probably couldn‘t have cared less whether he lived or died, Bert used the utterly mundane nature of his job to justify his end-of-themonth routine. This morning, as he turned from North Broadway on to West 1st Street, a Los Angeles Police Department cruiser pulled out behind him. He found his heart rate quickening a little, although he had no real reason to feel guilty – certainly not yet, anyway. He supposed that technically what he would do today was against the law, but that was more to do with the thick streak of Puritanism that still ran through American society than anything else. The rack of stop lights next to the Japanese American National Museum was at red. The LAPD cruiser pulled up alongside him. Bert glanced at the two cops riding up front. One was half twisted round in his seat, talking to a young Hispanic woman who was perched on the rear bench seat. Judging from her clothes, and her cratered complexion, over which she had smoothed a rough veneer of foundation, she was a street walker. She saw Bert looking at her and stared back at him, like she knew what his secret was. Bert‘s heart rate elevated again. The middle finger of her left hand popped up as she flipped him off, then the lights changed and the cop car continued down 1st Street as Bert made the right turn on to South Central Avenue, his heart still pounding.
He shook the image of the Hispanic woman from his head as he pulled into the parking lot, a sleepy-eyed attendant handing him his ticket as soon as he exited the car with his briefcase. The sidewalk was still dewy with the water from early-morning street cleaning as he took a left heading down towards Starbucks on the corner of South Central Avenue and 2nd, passing the Cuba Central Cafe, and Yogurtland. Outside Starbucks a few chairs and tables were already stacked on the patio, ready to be deployed. Bert walked quickly past the three banks of newspaper vending machines next to the kerb, crossed the little patio and pushed the door open. He went straight to the counter and placed his order without glancing up at the board. ‗Skinny latte, no foam,‘ he said, to the barista. ‗Oh, and gimme a blueberry muffin.‘ The muffin was an everyday treat for Bert. As he waited, he studiously avoided looking outside towards the final bank of newspaper vending machines, their metal posts planted in the sidewalk. A black one, a brown one and two red ones, the last of which held the key to his treat. Inside that machine were copies of this week‘s LA Xclusive newspaper, although the term ‗newspaper‘ was a bit of a misnomer. There was no news inside, only page after page of adverts for escorts, predominantly female but with a scattering of men and transgender prostitutes, all selling limitless variations of the same thing: sex. It was the endless variation on a theme that captivated Bert. Not just in terms of all the different physical types, ages and races, but in the array of services they offered, some so outlandish that even the thought of them made Bert queasy. Sometimes the ads had pictures too, although he had learned from a couple of disappointing liaisons that they couldn‘t always be relied upon to be accurate. Still, contained within the pages was a wonderland of possibilities, like a huge candy store for grown-ups. Inside those little boxes was an array of women, all of whom would have sex with Bert in return for money. From cornfed Midwestern runaways, who no doubt told themselves that what they were doing was no different from what they‘d done at home in the back seat of a car on a Saturday night, through the twenty-something MAWs (Model/Actress/Whatevers), with their gravity-defying silicone boobs and jaded air of disappointment that they weren‘t even going to make the Z-list, all the way to the hardened professionals, women who had long ago reconciled their hopes and dreams with the reality of making a living by lying on their backs. Over the years, Bert had sampled them all. Recently, though, he‘d begun to find a sameness to the experience, and to feel a dark, lonely emptiness once the encounter was over. Where once he‘d felt satiated, now his monthly liaisons left Bert hungry for something other than sex. For intimacy, maybe? Last month, in the awkward post-coital moments and with ten minutes still officially on the clock, he had lain in bed with a young redhead in a condo in Playa Del Rey. He‘d asked her if they could spoon, cuddle in together, his arms around her. She‘d looked at him like he was nuts and asked him to leave, reaching into a bedside table and producing a hand gun to emphasize that she wasn‘t kidding.
Strangely, he had never felt much guilt about paying women to have sex with him, rationalizing that a real affair, one with emotions and feelings, would be far more upsetting to his wife. That was part of the reason he never visited the same woman twice. Well, that and the fact that he liked the variety. Living in LA you could sample all that the world had to offer in the way of women without leaving the city boundaries. As long as you didn‘t want a hug at the end. ‗Sir? Is this to go?‘ The barista‘s question snapped Bert back to the tiny coffee shop, which was starting to fill with office workers. ‗Yeah, thanks,‘ Bert mumbled, handing over ten dollars and waiting for change. He put the two single dollar bills into the tip jar and kept the coins, which he‘d need to pay for his copy of the newspaper. Then he picked up his coffee and the brown paper bag holding his muffin and wandered back outside into the early-morning California sunshine. He stood for a second, sorting through his change and trying to get back a little of the good feeling he‘d left the house with that day; the good feeling that came from his little secret. At lunchtime he‘d sneak to the men‘s room, peruse the women on offer that week, then make a phone call. With his department offering flexible working hours, he‘d reclaim the time he‘d banked by getting into the office early, and drive over to the woman‘s apartment. He was thinking that maybe he‘d try someone a little older today, someone who might not find it strange that a man of his age would trade sexual gymnastics for a hug. Or, maybe, he thought, smiling to himself, he‘d find a hot little spinner and screw her until her eyes popped out of her head. It was only then, standing on the sidewalk, lost in his own thoughts, that he noticed the stack of newspapers sitting at the far end of the vending machines, the pages of the top copy fluttering in the breeze as the beginnings of a hot Santa Ana wind funnelled its way from the natural canyons of the LA basin to the concrete canyons of downtown. ‗Huh,‘ he said to himself, bending down slightly. Someone, a kind of perverted Good Samaritan, must have opened the machine and dumped all the copies out on the ground. With his knees still bent and his head down, Bert grabbed one from the middle of the small pile. Then, as he raised his head, he saw something that sent a jolt of adrenalin surging through him, stealing his breath and leaving a tingle of pins and needles in his fingertips. Normally, if all the newspapers had been taken, he would have looked through the smeared glass display window to see ‗SOLD OUT‘ printed on a screen at the back of the compartment that held the papers. But that wasn‘t what he was looking at right now. Instead he was seeing blood – a lot of blood. And in the middle of the sheet of blood, a pair of eyes were staring back at him. A head. Someone had taken out the newspapers and replaced them with a human head.
Still gasping for air, Bert straightened up and looked around. A clutch of middle-aged white women dressed in pant suits walked past. One glanced at the paper still clasped in Bert‘s hand, and gave him a look of disgust. None seemed to look at the vending machine and what was in it. Maybe it was a prank. Yeah, thought Bert, that had to be it. A mannequin‘s head and a tube of fake blood. Must be some goddamn feminists trying to make a point about the exploitation of women or some shit. He looked back to the head. Sweet Jesus. If it was a prank, they‘d made it look really convincing. The initial shock had passed to the point at which he was starting to think about what to do next. He should just get the hell out, he knew that. Then another thought struck him, keeping him there. If there were cameras on this intersection and the prank was found later, the police might think he had something to do with it and want to speak to him. They might even come to his home. However, if he alerted the police right now, he could tell them he was walking past and just happened to notice it. He‘d be a vigilant citizen rather than someone with something to hide. He took a step towards the machine, and had a better look at the head. Although it was obscured by the blood spattering the panel he could make out enough of the features – soft, full lips, blue eyes, a small button nose and dyed blonde hair running down the cheeks in limp, tangled strands – to see that it was a woman‘s. Get it over with, he said to himself, jamming two quarters into the vending machine as quickly as he could and yanking at the handle to open it. The stench hit him like a truck. Even holding his breath the sickly sweet cloying odour clawed its way to the back of his throat, making his stomach spasm and sending the little that was left of last night‘s dinner spilling over his shoes and splashing on to the sidewalk. Behind him a woman screamed so loudly that he thought his ear drums might burst. Still gasping, he looked down at the copy of LA Xclusive he was holding in his left hand. On the cover there was a young blonde woman, perfectly made up and airbrushed: collagen-full lips, a button nose, deep blue eyes with silky platinum curls. It was the same person. Slowly, reluctantly, Bert Ely looked again at the front cover of the paper and the headline above the girl‘s face: ‗MEET CINDY CANYON‘.
Her body slick with baby oil and sweat, Raven Lane whiplashed her neck, sending a thick mane of jet-black hair flying into the air, arched her back and smiled at the three hundred men crowded around the tiny platform, as Mötley Crűe‘s heavy-metal anthem ‗Girls, Girls, Girls‘ pounded out from two huge speakers mounted at either side of the stage. Dollar bills cascaded across the metal barrier, which, along with two steroidpumped bouncers, separated Raven from her public. Ignoring the money, she wrapped herself around the stripper‘s pole, suggestively pistoning her left hand up and down the cold metal, her mouth open, her head thrown back again, her eyes closed in an expression of erotic abandon. After years on the road, she had her routine down cold. Every gesture, every pout, every spin around the pole and every hair-flick was choreographed to the second, specifically engineered so that every single man in the club went away feeling that somehow Raven Lane had danced solely for his gratification. She opened her eyes again, ready to move into the next part of the routine. At the edge of her vision she caught sight of a scrawny weasel of a man with a ratty beard, wearing a John Deere baseball cap, squeezing under the barrier and heading straight for her. Somehow he‘d found his way past the two lunkhead bouncers and was now careening towards her at top speed. Raven tensed as she adjusted her feet, one hand wrapping around the pole for support. Judging the speed of his approach, she took one final twirl and brought up a razor-sharp heel straight into his solar plexus. The man stumbled backwards clutching his chest as the crowd signalled its approval with a primal roar. One of the bouncers jumped on top of him and he was pulled back over the barrier by his hair before being propelled through the crowd by another member of the club‘s security staff. Despite his obvious physical discomfort, he had an inane grin on his face, as if a kick in the chest from Raven was some kind of come-on. Raven swept the incident from her mind, working through her routine, her hands running across her bare breasts, her backside thrust out towards the crowd, seemingly lost in a state of rapture. All the while the downpour of dollars cascaded towards her until she almost lost sight of the faces of the men who‘d already paid twenty bucks at the door just to see her naked body. Eight minutes later, and almost as many thousands of dollars richer, she was escorted back to her dressing room, a dingy cupboard at the back of the singlestorey roadside saloon. She towelled herself off, reapplied her makeup, put on a short, red silk robe from Frederick‘s of Hollywood and headed back out to have her picture taken with fans and to sign T-shirts.
The T-shirts cost fifteen dollars; her signature was another ten. Having their picture taken with her cost the men an additional fifteen. Alongside her cut of the door money and the bar, plus all those dollar bills tossed on to the stage, an appearance like this netted her around fifteen thousand dollars. Not bad for a few hours‘ work by a twenty-eight-year-old who hadn‘t even graduated from high school, she thought, as another loser stepped forward to have his picture taken with her. After almost a decade of shedding her clothes on-stage and in movies, Raven still couldn‘t quite understand why men would turn up to see her. With her long black hair and near flawless body, she knew what the obvious attraction was, but she still didn‘t quite get it. She always thought it must be like visiting the most amazing restaurant in the world but contenting yourself with standing outside, your nose pressed against the window, as other people ate the food. Maybe, she guessed, what attracted these men was exactly that: her unattainability. That she was a fantasy made flesh. Someone they could think about when they got home and had to bang the overweight domestic drudges of wives that they themselves had created. Yeah, fantasy was what she sold, she thought, rolling the tension from her shoulders and flicking back her hair; that had to be it. Two hours later, her right hand aching from several hundred scrawled signatures, her ass numb from perching on so many overexcited laps while they got their picture of her, she was finally back at her dressing room. As she opened the door, she saw a huge bouquet of red roses sitting on the table. How original, thought Raven, plucking the envelope from the centre and tossing it down next to the flowers. The way it bulged at the corners suggested it contained more than just a note. It was probably a roll of money and a phone number. Guys, usually rich local businessmen, often assumed that a thousand dollars in cash would somehow secure a night of passion for them to regale their buddies with at the local country club when they next played golf. She dabbed at a bead of sweat running down between her breasts with a towel. These days, her body ached a lot more than it used to when she‘d started out. The hair flicks gave you bulging or degenerative discs. Working the pole played hell with your shoulders. You started to damage cartilage from contorting your body into so many unnatural positions, and your sacrum, the large triangular bone at the base of your spine, which most people had never even heard of, started to swell up so bad that you had to sleep on your side. And those were just the physical maladies. She could have written a book about the psychological damage the job would do if you weren‘t careful: the suitcase boyfriends who saw you first as a trophy and then as a meal ticket; the constant temptation to drown your feelings in booze or drugs; the hundred and one small indignities you had to suffer on a daily basis, especially from other women. She reached over and opened the envelope. Inside there was a wad of paper, folded over multiple times. Here we go again, she thought, recognizing the carefully measured printed lettering and the faint whiff of cheap perfume.
She took out the note with a long, manicured fingernail and held it up to the light, scanning the words. Please remember, Raven, I did this for you. It’s what you wanted. Even if maybe you didn’t realize it yet. You’re always in my heart, baby. Did what? Raven asked herself. Right now all she wanted was for this freak to stop sending her notes. She dropped the paper on to the table next to the flowers, and looked up, half expecting to see in the mirror someone standing behind her. But the room was still empty. She was no stranger to freaks, stalkers and weirdos. In this business you tended to collect them like most other women collected shoes. She already had a restraining order out against one ex-boyfriend, and she‘d been in contact with the police in Los Angeles about this creep who‘d been calling and writing to her for the past few months. Knowing that the cops would want evidence, Raven took a couple of pictures of the flowers with her cell phone and put the note into her purse. Then she got dressed as quickly as she could. Once she‘d picked up her money from the club owner, she‘d asked him about the flowers but he was short on details. They‘d arrived at the club while she was out doing her meet-and-greet. The person who‘d dropped them off had seemed like a regular deliveryman. No, he hadn‘t seen the guy before. He gave a description that narrowed down to maybe a quarter of the male population: white, five feet eleven, brown hair, brown eyes. In other words, Mr Average. Yes, he‘d take a look at the CCTV they had at the entrance but he doubted it would show anything. With the best part of fifteen thousand dollars in her bag, and accompanied by two bouncers, she walked to her car, a midnight blue BMW 5-series sedan. The parking lot was emptying as they threaded their way through the pickup trucks and family vehicles (some complete with child seats) towards Raven‘s. She dumped her bag in the front passenger seat, got in and clicked the button that locked all the doors. She sat alone in the car, weighed down by the silence, as the two bouncers turned back towards the club. Raven closed her eyes, trying to centre herself. She had a long drive ahead of her and knew better than to start out in an agitated state. She took a couple of long, slow breaths, visualizing her fear and anxiety as a series of small clouds drifting from her mouth with every exhalation. There was a loud thud. Her head snapped round and she saw a pair of eyes staring at her through the black slits of a ski-mask. He grabbed at the handle of the driver‘s door, trying to get it open. That was when she noticed the long sheathed hunting knife dangling casually from his belt buckle. His eyes held hers for a moment, the intensity of his gaze paralysing her. Thick pink lips rimmed by the wool of the
mask mouthed something she couldn‘t hear above the roar of the engine as her foot stabbed at the accelerator. Then he blinked. The flutter of his eyelids was enough to break the spell. She threw the car into gear, and reversed at speed out of the space, only braking when the beeping of the parking distance control flat-lined to a near-constant tone. She put the BMW into drive and it shot forward, the headlights framing the man‘s broad outline. Yanking down hard on the steering-wheel, she narrowly avoided hitting him with the hood. Keeping her foot on the gas pedal, she pulled out of the club‘s parking lot and on to the street. She checked the rear-view mirror: the street behind her was empty. No one was following her. Her hands were still shaking – in fact, her whole body seemed to be vibrating with fear, her heart pounding in her chest. She grabbed for her cell phone, which was next to her on the passenger seat, thought about calling the cops, then decided against it. She wanted to go home, not stand around in a parking lot talking to the police. She dropped her phone, switched on the radio and turned up the volume, hoping the music would blast away the fear that was settling like a thin film over her skin. She slammed her palms hard against the steering-wheel, rage edging out her anxiety, and pulled over into the driveway of a gas station about a thousand yards from the club‘s exit, picking a spot near the out-of-service car wash that was pitch black. Then she waited, taking deep breaths, trying to gather herself. A few seconds later she watched a pickup truck pull out of the parking lot and make the same turn she had. Raven took a deep breath as she caught a glimpse of the driver. It couldn‘t be him. It just wasn‘t possible. The pickup wove across the centre median and, for a moment, she thought she might be about to glimpse some divine justice. But the driver righted the car and continued on his way, like nothing had happened. She pressed the button to lower her window, lit a fresh cigarette and started the car. Trembling, she pulled out from the darkness of the gas station and back on to the road.
Carved pumpkin jack o‘lanterns with jagged teeth and diamond-slit eyes stared blankly at Raven from the front stoops of her neighbours‘ houses as she turned into the quiet residential street nestled in the foothills south of Ventura Boulevard. Still shaken by what had happened outside the club, she‘d used the long drive back to calm herself. Now she was clear about what she had to do. As she pulled into the driveway, she pressed the garage-door opener, which was clipped to the BMW‘s sun shield. The door swung up. She took a minute before she drove in, idling on the street, checking to make sure the garage was empty. Satisfied that it was, she nudged the BMW inside, purposely leaving the door open behind her, then got out and walked to the front of the house. The street was quiet. A couple of cars were parked at the kerb but they belonged to neighbours. She walked back into the cool of the garage, opened the passenger door and took out her purse and the holdall that contained her stage outfits. As she closed the door, she glanced back at the BMW, a habit she‘d developed when she‘d had a bad night and needed to remind herself that her career had its compensations. It had been a gift from a man who had confused what Raven saw as a business relationship with something else. She had waited until he had given her the pink slip that transferred ownership of the car to her before letting him down gently. She couldn‘t be bought, she‘d said to him, with a smile; not in the way he wanted to buy her, anyway. She could only be leased, and even then you never got the full package. Over the years, she‘d learned that you had to keep something back, some small piece of yourself. If you didn‘t, you got your heart broken, and Raven had experienced enough heartbreak to last a lifetime. She had shut herself off and focused instead on making a life for herself and Kevin, and no one was going to take that away from her now. Rolling her shoulders to ease the crick in her neck, she walked through the door that led from the garage into the hallway at the rear of the house, then into the kitchen. She put her purse on the counter, took a bottle of water from the refrigerator and drank half of it. She pulled her work outfits from the holdall and jammed them into the washing-machine, then went back outside to collect the mail, leaving the door open so she could get back in quickly if anything happened. Nothing did, and the mail held no nasty surprises either. There were no handwritten envelopes, no death threats, nothing weird, just the usual junk mail and bills. She walked back into the house and suddenly remembered something. She‘d lost her sunglasses earlier in the week – she‘d looked all over the house but hadn‘t found them. Now she went back into the garage to check the car.
Leaving the mail on the hood, she peered into the glove box, then under the seats. Nothing. She stopped, trying to think where she might have put them down. It came to her. She had been unloading groceries from the trunk the day before and, unable to see in the gloom of the garage, she had taken them off. Maybe sheâ€˜d forgotten to pick them up again. She clicked the button to open the trunk, and walked to the rear of the car. The interior trunk light was faulty so she crossed to the light switches on the far side of the garage. The fluorescent tubes flickered into life, throwing fragments of harsh, savage light into the trunk. A horrific still image flashed in front of her. Then the lights steadied and she could see it clearly. She stared into the maw of the trunk at a semi-clothed body, the stump of the neck covered with clean plastic sheeting, the ends wrapped tightly with string. Then she started to scream.
Order now from
DICTATOR TOM CAIN
‘Like the Bourne movies meets Frederick Forsyth’ Guardian
Published 21st July 2011 Corgi Paperback Currently available in hardback
Tom Cain is the pseudonym for an award-winning journalist, with twenty-five years experience working for Fleet Street newspapers. He has lived in Moscow, Washington DC and Havana, Cuba. He is the author of The Accident Man, The Survivor and Assassin.
8 They called themselves war veterans, men who had served in the endless string of conflicts, at home and abroad, that plagued Malemba along with so many other African countries. They were psychologically scarred by their experiences, filled with rage and convinced of their entitlement to land and money in compensation for their services to the state. When they‘d finished their deadly work, they pulled the Hilux back out of the river, restarted the engine and made their way back to the acacia grove. There, the raiding team split in two, four of the men taking the Strattens‘ Land Rover as they headed towards the estate house. They paused once along the way to meet another pick-up filled with more armed veterans, then, reinforced, they sped towards their destination. *** Zalika Stratten had tried to protest when her father ordered her into the family‘s underground shelter, hidden beneath a workshop some distance from the main house. Contact had been lost with Andy and his men. Word had come in from an outlying village of a truck of armed men on the move. In a country inured to armed insurgency, people were used to preparing for the worst. Like many white women in southern Africa, Zalika had taken every self-defence and weapons training course she could get. It was a given among her race and class that they, too, were an endangered species. ‗I know how to handle a gun,‘ she insisted, ‗let me fight!‘ Her father was having none of it. ‗For once in your life, Zalika, do as you are told!‘ he shouted, grabbing her by the arm and half-dragging her towards her only hope of safety. ‗Come on, darling, you know this is for the best,‘ said Jacqui. ‗Daddy doesn‘t want to have to worry about us.‘ The shelter was well supplied with food, water, basic survival gear and even a couple of rifles. The women clambered through a hatch and down a ladder into the underground chamber, then looked up at Stratten, who was on his haunches above them. ‗You know the drill,‘ he said. ‗Stay here. Do not make any noise. Do not use any of the torches or lanterns. If all goes well, I will come for you. If it does not, then wait until nightfall, and try to get out under cover of dark.‘ ‗Oh Dick!‘ cried Jacqui, her composure finally starting to crack. ‗It‘s all right, my dear,‘ said Stratten, trying to keep his own fear from his voice. ‗Don‘t you worry now. Everything‘s going to be just fine.‘ He paused for a second, forcing his emotions back under control, then said, ‗I love you both so very, very much,‘ before he closed the hatch. ‗Daddy!‘ shouted Zalika in the darkness. But her father was already gone.
Down in the shelter, the women were aware of the trucks‘ arrival. They heard the firing of the guns, the screams of the fearful and the wounded, and the frenetic shouts of the fighting men. Then, as swiftly as a passing storm, the gunfire abated and the screaming gave way to a few agonized moans, swiftly silenced by single shots. Finally came a crash as the workshop door was barged open, followed by four quick, confident footsteps heading straight for the hatch. For a fraction of a second hope flickered in the women‘s hearts as they stood in the darkness, each gripping a rifle. Whoever was up there was not blundering around. They knew exactly what they were doing. That could only mean Dick Stratten, or one of the very few family retainers who were trusted enough to know about the shelter. Then the hatch was flung open and a disembodied voice – a refined, educated voice – commanded them, ‗Put down your guns. They are of no help to you now. My men have hand-grenades. If you do not leave the shelter within the next ten seconds, unarmed, holding on to the ladder with both hands, they will blow you to pieces. Ten . . . nine . . .‘ ‗You two-faced little shit,‘ hissed Jacqui Stratten. Then she gripped the ladder and called ‗We‘re coming up!‘ as she stepped up into the beam of light coming through the open hatch. Zalika Stratten followed her mother. Before she‘d reached the top of the ladder, strong hands reached down to grab her, pull her upwards and dump her on the workshop floor. She landed by a man‘s feet, clad in expensive, barely worn safari boots. She heard the man‘s voice bark, ‗Take the mother away.‘ Zalika raised her face and looked Moses Mabeki in the eye as he said, ‗Your brother is dead. Your father is dead. Your mother will soon be dead. You, however, are coming with me.‘
9 Two weeks later, a man named Wendell Klerk phoned Carver and summoned him to a meeting at a hotel on the northern shore of Lake Geneva. Klerk did not say what he wanted to discuss. He did not need to. He merely barked, ‗Be there in thirty minutes,‘ and hung up without waiting for an answer. Carver was intrigued. Klerk was as familiar a figure in the gossip columns, invariably attached to the latest in a long line of beauty-queen blondes, as he was in the business pages. Born into a working-class white family, one of two children of a railway worker and his socially ambitious teacher wife, Klerk had fought on the losing side in the civil war and left the country soon after British Mashonaland‘s rebirth as Malemba. He‘d settled in Johannesburg, South Africa, from where he‘d built an international business empire whose interests included gambling, hotels, construction and mining – ‗from casinos to coalmines‘ as one reporter had put it. Klerk was known as a tough operator. Over the years both journalists and hostile politicians had accused him of corruption, bribery and even ties to organized crime. But none of the charges had stuck. If anything, they had just made the public warm to Klerk as a tough but likeable renegade. In recent weeks, however, Klerk had been in the news for very different reasons. Carver assumed that was the reason for the call. Out of curiosity, if nothing else, he wanted to know what Klerk had in mind. Twenty-seven minutes later, Carver walked into the reception of a modern low-slung building faced in brick and terracotta rendering that made it look more Moroccan than Swiss. He was led by one of the staff across the groundfloor reception area, out past a swimming-pool ringed with unoccupied sunloungers and down into a tunnel which passed under the main road that ran along the lakeshore. At the far end of the tunnel a jetty stretched out across the water. A long, thin wooden motorboat that resembled a Venetian water-taxi was moored at the far end. The boat belonged to the hotel, whose insignia was embroidered on the pennant that fluttered from its stern. But the man standing at the open wheel in front of the covered passenger cabin was not one of the standard white-jacketed hotel boatmen. He wore the global uniform of the upmarket heavy: black suit, tie, shades and shoes; white shirt; earpiece; a gun invisibly but unquestionably secreted somewhere about his person. Carver was patted down, then ushered into the cabin where Wendell Klerk was waiting. Klerk‘s short, stocky, powerful body, with its snub-nosed peasant‘s face and tightly curled black hair, looked as incongruous as a cannonball deposited on the elegant quilted seating. The two men shook hands, then sat in silence as the boat was cast off from the shore and motored out on to the lake. Klerk looked out through a porthole. Evidently happy that they had travelled far enough to be out of earshot of any shore-based surveillance, he turned his black-brown eyes on Carver and asked, ‗You know who I am, ja?‘
‗Of course.‘ ‗So you are aware of my interest in a certain kidnapping case.‘ ‗Sure, I watch the news. You‘re the Stratten girl‘s uncle – her mother‘s brother.‘ ‗In that case you can work out why I wanted to see you.‘ Klerk‘s voice was a deep, guttural rumble. Carver nodded. ‗Your sister was killed and your niece was kidnapped. With the father and the brother both dead, that left only you to get her back. I assume you hired one of the top security firms to handle the negotiations to recover her. Clearly they‘ve not succeeded, so now you‘re thinking it‘s time for Plan B. Money‘s not an issue for a man of your resources and you must have some very powerful, well-connected friends. Some of them could have been involved with the organization I used to work for. Maybe you were in it yourself. Either way, I‘m assuming my name came up. Right?‘ Klerk nodded. ‗Close enough. So let me tell you the situation. The kidnappers are moving every few days, but my people have been tracking them wherever they go. It isn‘t hard to do. Nothing stays secret in Africa for long, not if you‘re willing to pay. I have not told the authorities because I do not trust them either to keep the information secret, or act on it appropriately. Instead, I want you to get my niece Zalika Stratten out of there. She must be recovered unharmed. Her safety is the only reason I have not sent my people in after her long before now. They are good, but – how can I put it? – they lack subtlety. That is why I have come to you.‘ ‗Maybe so,‘ said Carver, ‗but however subtle I might be, the guys who have your niece aren‘t likely to let her go without a fight. Even if she doesn‘t get hurt, they will. And I don‘t want to end up rotting in an African jail.‘ ‗I understand. But you can rest assured that if any of the kidnappers are made to pay the price for their actions, I will not care, and nor will the police. I will make sure of that.‘ Klerk rubbed his fingers together to indicate that a willingness to pay would, once again, be the key. Then he looked at Carver, appraisingly. ‗How tall are you?‘ he asked. ‗Five eleven.‘ ‗Weight?‘ ‗About one seventy-five in pounds, a little under eighty kilos.‘ ‗Light heavyweight,‘ said Klerk. ‗That‘ll do. You keep yourself in shape?‘ Carver gave a silent prayer of thanks for the hundred-plus miles of hard crosscountry running he‘d put in over the past fortnight. ‗Yes.‘ ‗Fully recovered?‘ So Klerk knew about the torture Carver had endured in the chalet outside Gstaad and the havoc that had wreaked on his mind.
‗I‘m fit for action, yes,‘ said Carver. Klerk looked at him again like a jeweller examining a stone under his glass, searching for hidden flaws. ‗Yes, I believe you are,‘ he finally replied. ‗Right, I‘m sure we can work out a financial package, you and I. My people will get you all the details we have about the kidnappers‘ current location. That just leaves two things you must know. The first is that Zalika Stratten is all the family I have left. I have never been able to have children, Mr Carver. I always hoped there would be someone to carry on my work when I am gone, keep my business alive. Zalika is my only hope and I will stop at nothing, absolutely nothing, to get her back. Whatever you want, you will have. Understood?‘ ‗Absolutely. What‘s the second thing?‘ ‗The terms on which we do business,‘ said Klerk. ‗I am a tough, mean bastard, Mr Carver. My sister got all the looks and social graces in our family and I got nothing but the will to win. But I am also a man of my word. You do right by me and you have nothing to fear. On the other hand, if you even try to screw with me I will not forget it and I will get even, however long it takes. So, now that you know what kind of a man you are dealing with, are you still interested?‘ ‗Yes,‘ said Carver. ‗Good. When can you leave?‘ ‗When‘s the next flight?‘
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WORTH DYING FOR LEE CHILD
‘Jack Reacher has the manliness of John Wayne, the coping skills of Jack Bauer, the fieldcraft of John Rambo and the coolness of Dirty Harry’ Sunday Times
Published 4th August 2011 Bantam Paperback Currently available in hardback
Lee Child is one of the worldâ€™s leading thriller writers. His novels consistently achieve the number one slot in hardback and paperback on bestsellers lists on both sides of the Atlantic, and are translated into over forty languages. His debut novel, Killing Floor, was written after he was made redundant from his television job in Manchester, and introduced his muchadmired maverick hero, the former military cop Jack Reacher. Born in Coventry, he now lives in America. Visit www.jackreacher.co.uk
ONE Eldridge Tyler was driving a long straight two-lane road in Nebraska when his cell phone rang. It was very late in the afternoon. He was taking his granddaughter home after buying her shoes. His truck was a crew-cab Silverado the colour of a day-old newspaper, and the kid was flat on her back on the small rear seat. She was not asleep. She was lying there wide awake with her legs held up. She was staring fascinated at the huge white sneakers wobbling around in the air two feet above her face. She was making strange sounds with her mouth. She was eight years old. Tyler figured she was a late developer. Tyler‘s phone was basic enough to be nothing fancy, but complex enough to have different ringtones against different numbers. Most played the manufacturer‘s default tune, but four were set to sound a low urgent note halfway between a fire truck siren and a submarine‘s dive klaxon. And that sound was what Tyler heard, in the late afternoon, on the long straight two-lane road in Nebraska, ten miles south of the outlet store and twenty miles north of home. So he fumbled the phone up from the console and hit the button and raised it to his ear and said, ‗Yes?‘ A voice said, ‗We might need you.‘ Tyler said, ‗Me?‘ ‗Well, you and your rifle. Like before.‘ Tyler said, ‗Might?‘ ‗At this stage it‘s only a precaution.‘ ‗What‘s going on?‘ ‗There‘s a guy sniffing around.‘ ‗Close?‘ ‗Hard to say.‘ ‗How much does he know?‘ ‗Some of it. Not all of it yet.‘ ‗Who is he?‘ ‗Nobody. A stranger. Just a guy. But he got involved. We think he was in the service. We think he was a military cop. Maybe he didn‘t lose the cop habit.‘ ‗How long ago was he in the service?‘ ‗Ancient history.‘ ‗Connections?‘ ‗None at all, that we can see. He won‘t be missed. He‘s a drifter. Like a hobo. He blew in like a tumbleweed. Now he needs to blow out again.‘ ‗Description?‘ ‗He‘s a big guy,‘ the voice said. ‗Six-five at least, probably two-fifty. Last seen wearing a big old brown parka and a wool cap. He moves funny, like he‘s stiff. Like he‘s hurting.‘ ‗OK,‘ Tyler said. ‗So where and when?‘
‗We want you to watch the barn,‘ the voice said. ‗All day tomorrow. We can‘t let him see the barn. Not now. If we don‘t get him tonight, he‘s going to figure it out eventually. He‘s going to head over there and take a look.‘ ‗He‘s going to walk right into it, just like that?‘ ‗He thinks there are four of us. He doesn‘t know there are five.‘ ‗That‘s good.‘ ‗Shoot him if you see him.‘ ‗I will.‘ ‗Don‘t miss.‘ ‗Do I ever?‘ Tyler said. He clicked off the call and dumped the phone back on the console and drove on, the little girl‘s new shoes waving in his mirror, dead winter fields ahead, dead winter fields behind, darkness to his left, the setting sun to his right. The barn had been built long ago, when moderate size and wooden construction had been appropriate for Nebraska agriculture. Its function had since been supplanted by huge metal sheds built in distant locations chosen solely on the basis of logistical studies. But the old place had endured, warping slowly, rotting slowly, leaning and weathering. All around it was an apron of ancient blacktop that had been heaved by winter frosts and cracked by summer sun and laced with wiry weeds. The main door was a slider built of great baulks of timber banded together with iron, hung off an iron rail by iron wheels, but the gradual tilt of the building had jammed it solid in its tracks. The only way in was the judas hole, which was a small conventional door inset in the slider, a little left of its centre, a little smaller than man-sized. Eldridge Tyler was staring at that small door through the scope on his rifle. He had been in position an hour early, well before dawn, a precaution he considered prudent. He was a patient man. And thorough. And meticulous. He had driven his truck off the road and followed winding tractor ruts through the dark, and he had parked in an ancient three-sided shelter designed long ago to keep spring rain off burlap fertilizer sacks. The ground was frozen hard and he had raised no dust and left no sign. He had shut down the big V-8 and stepped back to the shelter‘s entrance and tied a tripwire across it, made of thin electric cable insulated with black plastic, set shin-high to a tall man. Then he had walked back to his truck, and he had climbed into the load bed, and he had stepped on the roof of the cab, and he had passed his rifle and a canvas tote bag up on to a half-loft built like a shelf under the shelter‘s peaked roof. He had levered himself up after them, and crawled forward, and eased a loose louvre out of the ventilation hole in the loft‘s gable wall, which would give him a clear view of the barn exactly a hundred and twenty yards north, just as soon as there was light in the sky. No luck involved. He had scouted the location many years before, the first time his four friends had called on him for help, and he had prepared well, driving in the nails for the tripwire, pacing out
the distance to the barn, and loosening the louvre. Now he had once again gotten comfortable up on the half-loft, and he had kept as warm as he could, and he had waited for the sun to come up, which it had eventually, pale and wan. His rifle was the Grand Alaskan model built in America by the Arnold Arms Company. It was chambered for the .338 Magnum and fitted with a 26-inch barrel and had a stock carved from exhibition-grade English walnut. It was a seven-thousand-dollar item, good against most anything on four legs, better than good against anything on two. The scope was by Leica, a nine-hundred-dollar Ultravid with a standard crosshairs engraving on the reticle. Tyler had it zoomed through about two-thirds of its magnification so that at a hundred and twenty yards it showed a circular slice of life about ten feet high and ten feet across. The pale morning sun was low in the east, and its soft grey light was coming in almost horizontal across the dormant land. Later it would rise a little and swing south, and then it would fall away into the west, all of which was good, because it meant even a target wearing a brown coat would stand out well against the brown of the faded timber baulks, all day long. Tyler worked on the assumption that most people were right-handed, and therefore his target would stand a little left of centre so that his right hand when extended would meet the handle in the middle of the judas holeâ€˜s narrow panel. He further figured that a man who was stiff and hurting would stand in close, to limit his required range of movement to what was most comfortable. The door itself was less than six feet high, but because it was inset in the larger slider its lower edge was about nine inches above the grade. A man six feet five inches tall had the centre of his skull about seventy-three inches off the ground, which in terms of the vertical axis put the optimum aiming point about six inches below the top of the judas hole. And a man who weighed 250 pounds would be broad in the shoulders, which at the moment of trying to open the door would put the centre of his skull maybe a foot and a half left of his right hand, which in terms of the horizontal axis would put the aiming point about six inches beyond the left edge of the door. Six inches down, six inches left. Tyler reached back and pulled two plastic packages of long-grain rice from his canvas tote bag. Brand new from the grocery store, five pounds each. He stacked them under the rifleâ€˜s forestock and tamped the fine walnut down into them. He snuggled behind the butt and put his eye back to the scope and laid the crosshairs on the top left corner of the door. He eased them down, and eased them left. He laid his finger gently against the trigger. He breathed in, and breathed out. Below him his truck ticked and cooled and the living smells of gasoline and cold exhaust drifted up and mixed with the dead smells of dust and old wood. Outside, the sun continued to climb and the light grew a little stronger. The air was damp and heavy, cold and dense, the kind of air that keeps a baseball inside the park, the kind of air that cradles a bullet and holds it straight and true. Tyler waited. He knew he might have to wait all day, and he was prepared
to. He was a patient man. He used the dead time visualizing the sequence of possible events. He imagined the big man in the brown coat stepping into the scopeâ€˜s field of view, stopping, standing still, turning his back, putting his hand on the handle. A hundred and twenty yards. A single high velocity round. The end of the road.
TWO Jack Reacher was the big man in the brown coat, and for him that particular road had started four miles away, in the middle of an evening, with a ringing telephone in a motel lounge at a crossroads, where a driver who had given him a ride had let him out before turning in a direction Reacher didn‘t want to go. The land all around was dark and flat and dead and empty. The motel was the only living thing in sight. It looked like it had been built forty or fifty years earlier in a burst of commercial enthusiasm. Perhaps great possibilities had been anticipated for that location. But clearly the great possibilities had never materialized, or perhaps they had been illusions to begin with. One of the four crossroads lots held the abandoned shell of a gas station. Another had a poured foundation, perhaps for a large store or even a small mall, with nothing ever built on it. One was completely empty. But the motel had endured. It was an adventurous design. It looked like the drawings Reacher had seen as a kid in boys‘ comic books, of space colonies set up on the moon or on Mars. The main building was perfectly round, with a domed roof. Beyond it each cabin was a circular domed structure of its own, trailing away from the mothership in a lazy curl, getting smaller as they went to exaggerate the perspective. Family rooms near the office, individual accommodations down the line. All the siding was painted silver, and there were vertical aluminium accents spaced to frame the windows and the doors. Concealed neon lighting in the eaves of the circular roofs cast a ghostly blue glow. The paths all around were made of grey gravel boxed in with timbers that were also painted silver. The pole the motel sign was set on was disguised with painted plywood to look like a space rocket resting on a tripod of slim fins. The motel‘s name was the Apollo Inn, and it was written in letters that looked like the numbers on the bottom of a bank cheque. Inside, the main building was mostly an open space, except for a slice boxed off for a back office and what Reacher guessed were two restrooms. There was a curved reception counter and a hundred feet opposite there was a curved bar. The place was basically a lounge, with a pie-shaped parquet dance floor and huddles of red velvet chairs set around cocktail tables equipped with lamps with tasselled shades. The interior of the domed roof was a concave cyclorama washed by red neon. There was plenty more indirect lighting everywhere else, all of it red or pink. There was tinkly piano music playing softly over hidden
loudspeakers. The whole place was bizarre, like a 1960s vision of Las Vegas transplanted to outer space. And the whole place was deserted, apart from one guy at the bar and one guy behind it. Reacher waited at the reception counter and the guy behind the bar hustled over and seemed genuinely surprised when Reacher asked him for a room, as if such requests were rare. But he stepped to it smartly enough and coughed up a key in exchange for thirty dollars in cash. He was more than middle-aged, maybe fifty-five or sixty, not tall, not lean, with a full head of hair dyed a lively russet colour that Reacher was more used to seeing on Frenchwomen of a certain age. He put Reacher‘s thirty bucks in a drawer and made a fussy notation in a book. Probably the heir of the lunatics who had built the place. Probably worked nowhere else his whole life, probably making ends meet by pulling quintuple duty as manager, desk clerk, barman, handyman and maid. He closed the book and put it in a different drawer and set off back towards the bar. ‗Got coffee over there?‘ Reacher asked him. The guy turned and said, ‗Sure,‘ with a smile and a measure of satisfaction in his voice, as if an ancient decision to set a Bunn flask going every night had been finally vindicated. Reacher followed him through the neon wash and propped himself on a stool three spaces away from the other customer. The other customer was a man of about forty. He was wearing a thick tweed sports coat with leather patches at the elbows. He had those elbows on the bar, and his hands were curled protectively around a rocks glass full of ice and amber liquid. He was staring down at it with an unfocused gaze. Probably not his first glass of the evening. Maybe not even his third or his fourth. His skin was damp. He looked pretty far gone. The guy with the dyed hair poured coffee into a china mug decorated with the NASA logo and slid it across the bar with great pride and ceremony. Maybe a priceless antique. ‗Cream?‘ he asked. ‗Sugar?‘ ‗Neither,‘ Reacher said. ‗Passing through?‘ ‗Aiming to turn east as soon as I can.‘ ‗How far east?‘ ‗All the way east,‘ Reacher said. ‗Virginia.‘ The guy with the hair nodded sagely. ‗Then you‘ll need to go south first. Until you hit the Interstate.‘ ‗That‘s the plan,‘ Reacher said. ‗Where did you start out today?‘ ‗North of here,‘ Reacher said. ‗Driving?‘ ‗Hitching rides.‘ The guy with the hair said nothing more, because there was nothing more to
say. Bartenders like to stay cheerful, and there was no cheerful direction for the conversation to go. Hitching a ride on a back road in the dead of winter in the forty-first least densely populated state of Americaâ€˜s fifty was not going to be easy, and the guy was too polite to say so. Reacher picked up the mug and tried to hold it steady. A test. The result was not good. Every tendon and ligament and muscle from his fingertips to his ribcage burned and quivered and the microscopic motion in his hand set up small concentric ripples in the coffee. He concentrated hard and brought the mug to his lips, aiming for smoothness, achieving lurching, erratic movement. The drunk guy watched him for a moment and then looked away. The coffee was hot and a little stewed, but it had caffeine in it, which was really all it needed. The drunk guy took a sip from his glass and put it back on its coaster and stared at it miserably. His lips were parted slightly and bubbles of moisture were forming in their corners. He sipped again. Reacher sipped again, slower. Nobody spoke. The drunk guy finished up and got a refill. Jim Beam. Bourbon, at least a triple. Reacherâ€˜s arm started to feel a little better. Coffee, good for what ails you. Then the phone rang.
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BRYANT AND MAY AND THE MEMORY OF BLOOD
‘Quirky, touching, profound and utterly original’ Peter James
Published 29th September 2011 Doubleday
Christopher Fowler co-founded the film marketing company The Creative Partnership when he was only 23. A self-confessed film-obsessive, he has also written for the BBC, national newspapers and magazines (including The Times, Daily Mail and Time Out) and currently writes for the Independent on Sunday and the Financial Times, where he reviews crime fiction. As well as nine novels featuring the detectives Bryant and May, including the awardwinning Full Dark House and The Victoria Vanishes, Chris is the author of the cult classic fictions Roofworld and Spanky, numerous short story collections and an acclaimed memoir, Paperboy. He also writes a regular blog.
Christopher Fowler lives in Kingâ€™s Cross in London. For more information, visit www.christopherfowler.co.uk
The following undated document appeared on Wikileaks and is now the subject of a government investigation. It may be read before the case which follows, skipped, or used for reference. EYES ONLY— THIS COMMISSIONED OBSERVATION REPORT (COR) BG298/10–14 WATERMARKED TO H.O. WHITEHALL INTERNAL SECURITY POLICY UNIT— EYES ONLY— A GUIDE TO THE PECULIAR CRIMES UNIT, ITS STAFF AND AIMS This is a restricted communication. No part of the following personnel report is intended for public release. No reference copies may be reproduced from this document, and reading may only take place within the Records Ofﬁce upon the receipt of signed approval. An Explanatory Note on the Origin of the Peculiar Crimes Unit, 231 Caledonian Road, King‘s Cross, London N1 9RB The Peculiar Crimes Unit is not like other police divisions. It was founded soon after the outbreak of World War II, as part of a government initiative to ease the burden on London‘s overstretched Metropolitan Police Force. In this time of desperation most able-bodied men had been taken into the armed forces, and seven experimental agencies were proposed by the Churchill government. The Peculiar Crimes Unit was one of them. Its aim was to tackle high-proﬁle cases which had the capacity to compound social problems in urban areas. The afﬁx ‗peculiar‘ was originally meant in the sense of ‗particular.‘ The government‘s plan was that the new unit should handle those cases deemed uniquely sensitive and a high risk to public morale. To head this division, several young and inexperienced students were recruited from across the capital. The crimes that fell within the Unit‘s remit were often of a politically sensitive nature, or were ones that could potentially cause social panics and general public malaise. Its staff members were outsiders, radicals and freethinkers answerable only to the War Ofﬁce, and later the Home Ofﬁce.
The Other London Units One of the other experimental units created at that time was the Central Therapy
Unit, set up to help the bereaved and the newly homeless cope with the psychological stresses of war. This unit closed after just eleven months because bombed-out residents continued turning to their neighbours for support rather than visiting qualiﬁed government specialists. A propaganda unit called the Central Information Service (later to become the COI), was set up to provide positive, uplifting news items to national newspapers in order to combat hearsay and harmful disinformation spread about our overseas forces, and to ﬁll the void left by the blanket news blackouts. A further unit based at the War Ofﬁce employed a number of writers and artists, including members of the Royal Academy and novelists Ian Fleming and Dennis Wheatley, to project the possible outcome of a prolonged war with Germany, and to develop stratagems for deceiving the enemy. The most famous wartime deception created by this unit was Operation Mincemeat, in which the corpse of a dead Welsh tramp was disguised as a drowned naval ofﬁcer, planted with false plans and left for the Germans to ﬁnd. The most successful of the seven experimental units launched by the Churchill government in wartime was the cypher-breaking division based at Bletchley, where Alan Turing and his team cracked the Enigma Code, and in doing so, laid the foundations for modern computer technology.
The PCU Since 1945 The PCU remained in operation through the war and has continued in one form or another ever since that time. In the past two decades, reorganisation of the national policing network has aimed at reducing the inﬂuence of individual units and creating standardised practices operating from guidelines laid down for a national crime database, subject to performance statistics. The PCU unofﬁcially aided a number of high- ranking politicians in the past, and as a consequence has remained exempt from these measures. Subsequently, a series of high-proﬁle embarrassments has placed the Unit on a crossgovernmental blacklist of Organisations of Potential Detriment, which is the reason for this ongoing internal surveillance. The following notes are supplemental to ofﬁcial PCU personnel career details (see attached D/SC12–649). They are not intended to be comprehensive and represent public observations made by various co-workers. As such, they are provided to act as guideline opinions only. RAYMOND LAND Temporary Acting Head of the PCU Raymond Land‘s original PCU contract was intended to last for eighteen months but was extended indeﬁnitely after no other applicants could be recruited. He has applied for a transfer from the PCU
on no fewer than seventeen separate occasions, which gives some indication of his dissatisfaction with the Unit. Land comes from Luton, which says it all. He‘s never really lost his suburban temperament. He ﬁnds it hard to work with his detectives, who appear to pay no attention to his directives and treat him with amusement and disdain. His attempts at discipline go unheeded. As a former graduate of the Central London Criminal Biology Unit, Land has on occasion proven himself to be intelligent, driven and meticulous, but I once heard it said about him that ‗he could identify a tree from its bark samples without comprehending the layout of the forest.‘ Most members of the PCU seem to share this ﬂaw. In the past he has shown himself to be a strong government ally, but he can‘t be trusted to toe the party line, and has switched sides on more than one occasion. He could probably be easily manipulated with a promise of relocation/ early retirement. ARTHUR ST. JOHN BRYANT Senior Detective Where do I start with Arthur Bryant? Bryant is the original thorn in the side of the establishment. I could point out that he managed to blow up his old headquarters, that he released illegal immigrants into the underground system, infected a Ministry of Defence outsource unit and offended a member of royalty, but let‘s stick to the more salubrious facts. Bryant was born in Whitechapel, East London. Formerly of Bow Street, Savile Row and the North London Serious Crimes Division. In policing terms, Arthur Bryant has really covered the waterfront. He‘s handled just about every type of case including multiple murder, kidnap, vice, burglary, public affright, terrorism, the disappearance of a pub and the theft of forty cats. Typically, it was the solving of this last case that most endeared him to the general public. Formerly of Hampstead and Battersea, he‘s currently sharing habitation in Chalk Farm with his landlady, one Alma Sorrowbridge. His brother died on a Thames barge, parents lived in Bethnal Green. Father was a street photographer and a drunk. Bryant had a French wife, Nathalie, who died after falling from a bridge. He was devastated and never remarried. A loner by nature, he‘s rumoured to sleep no more than four hours a night. Has numerous driving offences, incurred in an ancient Mini Cooper apparently called Victor (187 TWR). Bryant is past Civil Service retirement age and his health is far from good, but despite having had a heart attack and needing a walking stick he seems surprisingly robust. He‘s extremely eccentric, offensively rude and is known to smoke cannabis, supposedly for his arthritis. We could probably get him for that.
Bryant‘s success rate in investigations is far above the capital‘s average, and this is the main reason why Whitehall continues to sign off on his budgets. Arthur Bryant & John May have a long history of refusing promotion, and the loyalty this engenders allows them to maintain control of the Unit. They are still well connected in political circles. Bryant garners much of his information from a loose network of psychics, healers, New Age fringe- dwellers, police time-wasters and anarchists, many of whom have lengthy arrest ﬁles. He is also an expert on the subject of London and its history. Bryant‘s oddly lateral thought processes remain a total mystery to us. The University College of London is currently offering a course that attempts to explain his methods. Whether deliberate or inadvertent, he has a habit of making us look bad. He has broken local, national and international laws on numerous occasions, but somehow always seems to get away with it. He remains entirely beyond the reach of inﬂuence. I simply wouldn‘t go there if I were you. Personally, I ﬁnd him incomprehensible and utterly ghastly.
JOHN MAY Senior Detective Bryant‘s partner was born in Vauxhall, South London. He‘s the human face of the team, and could be considered to be Bryant‘s alter ego. There‘s one sister, Gwen Kaye (married name), living in Brighton, married with two children. May moved from Hampstead to St John‘s Wood, and now resides in Shad Thames. He was married to Jane Upton, now divorced, has an estranged son, Alex, and had a daughter, Elizabeth, who also worked for the PCU until her death on active duty. The source of the estrangement between May and his son is not known. May‘s ex-wife was declared mentally unstable soon after their divorce. His granddaughter, April, suffered from agoraphobia until resolving issues about her mother. She worked at the Unit for a while, but we understand she now lives with her uncle in Canada. May is a pragmatic, determined worker well liked by his colleagues, but like Bryant, he has a few secret anti-government contacts we‘re not happy about. On a personal level, he‘s ﬁtter, friendlier and certainly a lot more pleasant to deal with than his partner. He is three years younger than Bryant, drives a silver BMW, knows a surprising amount about new technology. On a personal level he has loneliness issues, and continues to date women the department classiﬁes as high security risks. May suffers from high cholesterol and has a history of lower back pain. His continuing loyalty to Bryant is complete and unfathomable; there seems to be little likelihood that he could ever become an ally of the department.
JANICE LONGBRIGHT Detective Sergeant Longbright‘s parents were Gladys Forthright and Harris Longbright, both highly respected former Metropolitan Police ofﬁcers. She was once an Olympic javelin hope until an injury ended her career. Janice Longbright has been employed by Bryant & May for almost her entire adult working life, and is ﬁercely loyal to them, largely because of their relationship with her mother. She dated DCI Ian Hargreave for ten years, but inexplicably chose not to marry him. Her last partner, Liberty DuCaine, died on active duty. She lives alone in Highgate. Not to be underestimated. Lately there have been odd rumours about her supposed clairvoyant abilities, although perhaps someone is pulling our leg on this. There was also some kind of scandal involving her role in the running of a Soho burlesque club, but we haven‘t been able to uncover any details. GILES KERSHAW Forensic Pathology Kershaw was a child prodigy who dropped out of Queen‘s College, Oxford, after his wealthy family became newly impoverished, but he subsequently took his medical degree at UCL. He has now left the Unit to become the St Pancras coroner, but continues to work with the PCU on special investigations. By a peculiar coincidence, an earlier St Pancras coroner, Sir Bentley Purchase, was the supplier of the corpse for Operation Mincemeat (see above). When a government representative had trouble ﬁnding the coroner‘s ofﬁce, Purchase famously suggested that he would get there quicker if he got hit by a bus. Kershaw‘s brother-in-law was the last Home Secretary. His reputation is unimpeachable, and his loyalty to the PCU is also entirely unfathomable. DAN BANBURY Crime Scene Manager/ InfoTech Banbury is the only staff member who seems completely normal. Born in Bow, London. Married with a ten-year-old son. Lives in Croydon. He‘s a solid worker, eager and enthusiastic and reputed to show intuitive brilliance at crimes scenes. He‘s a dyed-in-the-wool tech-head who once ran afoul of the Ofﬁcial Secrets Act while still a teenager. The case ﬁle on that incident appears to have been mysteriously erased. Another loyal supporter of the PCU, despite the fact that his wage level has remained unchanged for nearly three years.
JACK RENFIELD Sergeant Formerly a duty sergeant based at Albany Street police station, Renﬁeld‘s a bit of a thick-eared old-school copper, and has a reputation for
playing it by the book. He‘s on record as being an outspoken critic of the PCU, but lately appears to have been won over and has started siding with them, which turns him into a liability. I‘d love to know what Bryant & May put in the water that makes their staff become so doggedly loyal. MEERA MANGESHKAR Police Constable She‘s a tough South Londoner from a large Indian family, hardworking, responsive, with a strong sense of duty. She has argued with her superiors and lodged complaints against them in the past, but things seem to have gone quiet on that front. However, there are rumours that she‘s not happy in her current position. Has anger management issues. Could be exploited. COLIN BIMSLEY Police Constable Another inherited employee; his father and uncle were both former members of the PCU, so he‘s pretty much bound to the Unit for life. By all accounts decent enough, he suffers from Diminished Spatial Awareness (DSA), which made him a liability at the Met. Trained at Repton Amateur Boxing Club for three years until suffering a head injury. Maybe Health & Safety could look into this? FRATERNITY DUCAINE Police Constable This chap appears to have joined the Unit without any Home Ofﬁce approval. It seems Bryant took it upon himself to offer the lad a job. Can somebody do some digging on him?
NB There have been numerous Health & Safety infringements at the Unit, including unsecured weapons in the Evidence Room, illegal wiring and dangerous chemicals stored on-site. There also appears to be a cat called Crippen (a surviving relative from Bryant‘s feline investigation) wandering around the place. Unfortunately, although the Caledonian Road building is unsafe, it was privately rented by Bryant in a deliberate attempt to exploit a legal loophole, and therefore does not technically fall under the jurisprudence of the Home Ofﬁce. Although it is entirely possible that the HO could ﬁnd a way to close the Unit down, the basic problem continues: So long as the PCU is useful, it remains a necessary evil. This report commissioned by Leslie Faraday (Home Ofﬁce Liaison), for Oskar Kasavian (Internal Security)
Chamber of Horrors
rthur Bryant stood there pretending not to shiver. He was tightly wrapped in a 1951 Festival of Britain scarf, with a Bloody Mary in one hand and a ketchup-crusted cocktail sausage in the other. Above his head, a withered yellow corpse hung inside a rusting gibbet iron. ‗Well,‘ he said, ‗this is nice, isn‘t it?‘ His partner, John May, was not so consoled. The great chamber was freezing. Rain was pattering into an array of galvanised buckets. The smell of mildewed brickwork assailed his nostrils. A few feet behind him, the Witchﬁnder General Matthew Hopkins was stabbing a thin-bladed knife into a screaming priest, looking for the marks of the Devil. On the other side of the detectives stood a torture rack and several members of the Spanish Inquisition clad in crimson robes, armed with ﬂaming brands and scourges. ‗You could have made an effort and put on a clean jacket, instead of that ratty old overcoat,‘ said May. ‗You look like a character from Toad of Toad Hall.‘ ‗This is Harris Tweed,‘ said Bryant, ﬁngering a frayed hole in his soupstained sleeve. ‗It was handed down to me by my grandfather.‘ ‗Was that before or after he passed away?‘ ‗Funny you should say that. He died in it. Gave himself a heart attack trying to get the lid off a jar of gherkins. My grandmother thought it was a pity to waste good fabric.‘ A distorted tape loop of chanting monks began to play once more from hidden speakers, adding to the chamber‘s pervasive gloom. May sighed. ‗Of all the things you‘ve put our unit through over the years, this has to be the strangest. Hosting a cocktail party in a house of horrors in order to catch a murderer. If you ever say a word about it in your memoirs, I‘ll kill you.‘ ‗I didn‘t hear any better ideas from you,‘ Bryant reminded him cheerfully. ‗This is absolutely our last chance to break the case. At midnight we‘ll be forced to unlock the doors and we‘ll lose everything, unless we can ﬂush him out in the next hour. Keep your eyes peeled for anything unusual.‘ May looked around at the kidnapped party guests, most of whom were glumly wedged between rotting corpses. ‗Unusual,‘ he repeated, trying not to lose his temper. Bryant sucked his celery stick thoughtfully. Somewhere above the stalactite-
spiked arches of London Bridge station a train rumbled. The bricks trembled and soot sifted down. The shunting mingled with the thunder outside. Rain was pouring under the front door and pooling around the sodden shoes of the guests, all of whom were underdressed for the occasion. In the silences between rain, thunder and trains, May saw the group‘s breath condensing and imagined he could hear their teeth chattering. A waitress passed them, bearing a tray of bloody eyeballs on sticks. On closer inspection, these turned out to be dyed pickled onions. ‗Masks,‘ said Bryant, apropos of nothing. May turned to him. ‗Explain?‘ ‗They‘re all wearing masks. Look at them all nodding and drinking.‘ He waved his sausage at the partygoers. ‗You wouldn‘t think we had to bring them here under sufferance and lock them in. They were as jumpy as cats when they arrived, but they‘re attempting to pretend that everything‘s normal. Middleclass people with upper-middle incomes. They come alive at parties, no matter how strange the circumstances. They discuss house prices and holidays and restaurants, and give opinions on the plays they‘ve seen. But after all that‘s happened in the last seven days, they know they‘ve been brought here for another reason. What do you think is happening behind those forced smiles?‘ ‗I imagine they‘re morbidly curious, the way people are about watching trafﬁc accidents.‘ ‗But they‘re careful to keep up the illusion of appearing unconcerned. An interesting phenomenon, isn‘t it?‘ ‘That‘s the English for you,‘ said May, studying the gathered guests. ‗We‘re great pretenders.‘ ‗Yes, an odd mixture of exaggerated politeness and thoughtless cruelty. The true mark of English conversation is not being able to tell when you‘ve been insulted. I think the more sophisticated society becomes, the more it hides behind the masks it manufactures.‘ ‗Do we have to discuss this now, Arthur? We‘re on a bit of a deadline here.‘ Bryant ignored his partner. ‗It‘s just that we seem to be so good at hypocrisy. I always think when an Englishman says ―We really must get together soon,‖ he‘s telling you to piss off. We bury ourselves so deeply inside complex personas that it‘s amazing we remember who we really are. Which makes this room, for example, very hard to read. You know me, I don‘t play those games. I prefer honesty.‘ ‗Yes, but you‘re downright rude to people,‘ retorted May. ‗And I do know you. It‘s a class thing. This lot make you feel uncomfortable. You‘re from a working-class background. Your mother cleaned cinemas for a living. You hate the idea that one of the guests might get the better of you tonight.‘ ‗No,‘ said Bryant ﬁrmly. ‗I hate the idea that one of them thinks they can get away with murder.‘ ‗Well, our legal priority over the investigation ends in exactly‘— here May
checked his classic Timex— ‗ﬁfty-ﬁve minutes. You‘re cutting it a tad ﬁne.‘ ‗I know. We have to watch for the smallest signs, an odd look, any betrayal of emotion that might cause one of them to give the game away.‘ ‗Arthur, an odd look isn‘t going to secure a conviction. We need concrete evidence before the clock strikes twelve.‘ ‗Well, whose idea of a shindig was this?‘ said a tipsy blond woman in a tight black Lycra dress that had made her tanned breasts rise like golden loaves. She turned her attention to May while ignoring his partner. It was her habit to only address men she found useful or attractive, a trait that made her thoroughly unlikeable. ‗How did you get in?‘ asked Bryant. ‗This is a private party. No riffraff allowed.‘ Rudeness had no effect on Janet Ramsey. As the editor of Hard News, the capital‘s gossip daily, she was used to having the door metaphorically slammed in her face. ‗Actually, Uncle Fester, I‘m here as a guest,‘ she rejoined airily. ‗And you‘re up to something. I can smell it. I can see it on that old tortoise face of yours.‘ ‗I‘m surprised you can see anything through that face-lift,‘ Bryant harrumphed. ‗If you print a single word about this, I‘ll send so many uniforms around to your ofﬁce it‘ll look like you‘re staging The Pirates of Penzance.‘ Ramsey gave him a blank look. ‗There are a lot of policemen in The Pirates of Penzance,‘ May explained to her. ‗I don‘t know why you hang around with Rip Van Winkle here,‘ said Ramsey, walking frosted ﬁngernails up May‘s lapel. ‗He‘s holding you back, John. He always has. Tell me the truth. Give an old newspaper gal a break. What‘s this party all about? Why are the guests locked in? Why does everyone look so anxious? What exactly are you two up to?‘ ‗You wouldn‘t believe me if I told you, Janet.‘ ‗I recognise some of the people in this room.‘ She narrowed her false eyelashes at the assembly. ‗This wouldn‘t have anything to do with the murders your unit has been investigating, would it?‘ ‗You can‘t print conjecture,‘ May warned. ‗I see the time has come to let you in on our little secret,‘ said Bryant, trying not to grimace as he took Ramsey‘s arm. ‗Come with me and I promise all will be revealed.‘ Ramsey knew she couldn‘t trust Bryant, but her curiosity got the better of her. She stumbled after him, into the chill shadows of the cobwebbed chamber. There was a short silence followed by a yelp and a clang of metal, and Bryant came back alone. ‗What did you do?‘ asked May. ‗Where‘s Janet?‘ ‗I think I managed to spike her story,‘ he said cheerfully. ‗I shut her in the Iron Maiden.‘
‗That thing‘s just a stage prop,‘ said May with a hint of regret. ‗There are no sharpened nails on the inside of it.‘ ‗Really?‘ Bryant‘s eyes widened in innocence. ‗I had no idea. What a pity. I‘ll let her out after midnight.‘ ‗Okay, what do we do now?‘ ‗We know that our killer is in this room. I just have to come up with a way of drawing him out.‘ ‗You mean you haven‘t thought this through?‘ ‗How could I? From the very ﬁrst moment, this entire investigation has been an unmitigated disaster. Nothing has gone according to plan.‘ Bryant peered up his sleeve. ‗The little hand‘s fallen off my watch. How much time do we have left?‘ ‗Fifty-two minutes. This is the last time all of our suspects will be in one room together. It‘s the only chance we have to put things right. We‘re so close now.‘ ‗John, we‘re no closer than we were a week ago,‘ said Bryant. ‗God, it feels like we‘ve been working on this case for a lifetime. Come on.‘ The pair set off into the penumbral chamber of horrors, determined to catch an impossible murderer. Last week had felt like a fresh beginning. Now they could see it might have been the beginning of the end.
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THE ASSASSIN’S PRAYER ARIANA FRANKLIN
‘Few historical novelists make their oddly clad characters, from monarchs to wattle-and-daubers, seem so much like real people’ Daily Telegraph
Published 18th August 2011 Bantam Paperback Currently available in hardback
Ariana Franklin was born in Devon and, like her father, became a journalist. Having invaded Wales dressed in combat uniform with the Royal Marines for one of their military exercises, accompanied the Queen on a royal visit, and missed her own twenty-first birthday party because she had to cover a murder, she married, almost inevitably, another journalist. At this point she decided that staying married was a good idea so she abandoned her career in national newspapers and settled down in the country to bring up two daughters, study medieval history and write. The Assassinâ€™s Prayer was her fourth historical thriller featuring Adelia Aguilar; the first, Mistress of the Art of Death, won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award 2007 and the Macavity Historical Award 2008, and her second novel, The Death Maze, was nominated for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award 2008. In 2010 Ariana won the CWA Dagger in the Library Award for a body of work. Ariana Franklin passed away in 2011.
Between the parishes of Shepfold and Martlake in Somerset existed an area of no man‘s land and a lot of ill feeling. Just as the nearby towns of Glastonbury and Wells were constantly at odds, so were these two small villages. They disputed constantly over whose pigs had a right to graze on the beechmast of the intervening forest, which stream was diverted to irrigate whose crops, whose goats trespassed over the boundary and ate whose laundry . . . Today, Lammas Saturday, after a fine summer that had enabled the harvest to be brought in exceptionally early, the two sets of villagers, everybody who could walk and even some who couldn‘t, faced each other across this strip of ground. A dais had been erected to accommodate Lady Emma of Wolvercote (her manor was in Shepfold) and her husband. With them were Sir Richard de Mayne (his manor was in Martlake), the two parish priests, an Arab doctor, his attendant and an elderly woman. Before them lay a ball the size of a good pumpkin, consisting of tough leather stitched over a globe of withies stuffed with sawdust. Father Ignatius (Shepfold) made the last of many appeals to prevent what was going to happen. ‗My lady, Sir Richard, it is not too late to avert this evil and send all home . . . the sheriff has specifically banned . . .‘ His protest fell on stony ground. Staring straight ahead, Sir Richard said: ‗If Shepfold is prepared to be humiliated yet again, who am I to disappoint them?‘ Lady Emma, also refusing to turn her head, breathed heavily through her pretty nose. ‗This year it will be Martlake who are humiliated.‘ Master Roetger, the tall German leaning on a crutch beside her, gave her an approving and husbandly pat on the back. Father Ignatius sighed. He was an educated and civilized man. Tomorrow, Sunday, he thought, these people will dress in their best to bring sheaves and fruit to church and give thanks to God for His infinite bounty as was right and proper. But always, by some hideous tradition peculiar only to them, on the day before Harvest Festival they revert to paganism and turn the eve of a Christian festival into something resembling the excesses of a Lupercalia. A madness.
Adelia Aguilar sighed with him and mentally ran through the medical equipment she‘d brought with her: bandages, ointments, needles, sutures, splints. It would be nice to think they weren‘t going to be needed, but hope was outweighed by experience. She looked up at the tall Arab eunuch standing beside her. He shrugged helplessly. Sometimes England baffled them. They‘d travelled a long way together. Both of them born in Sicily, that melting pot of races: she, an abandoned baby, probably Greek, rescued and brought up by a Jewish doctor and his wife; he, later taken into the same, good household to be her attendant, once a lost boy with a beautiful voice whom the Latin Church had castrated so that he might retain it. Circumstances – well, that damned King Henry II of England really – had plucked the two of them away from Sicily and dropped them down in his realm. And now, several extraordinary years later, here they both were, on a bare piece of land in Somerset with two villages out to maim each other in what they called a game. ‗I just don‘t understand the English,‘ she said. Gyltha, standing on the other side of her, said, ‗Somerset folk ain‘t proper English, bor.‘ Gyltha was a Cambridgeshire woman. ‗Hmm.‘ For God‘s sake, she was a trained doctor, a specialist in autopsy, a medica of the Salerno School of Medicine in Sicily – probably the only foundation in Christendom to take women as students – and this is what I’ve come down to. It wasn‘t even that she could officially practise her craft. In England? Where the Church regarded a woman with medical knowledge as a witch? Ostensibly Mansur had to be the one attending the wounded while she must seem to be carrying out his orders. It was a thin pretence but one that saved her from ecclesiastical punishment; also one to which, trusting them both, the two villages paid affectionate lip-service. The crowd was becoming restive. ‗For love of Mary, get on with it,‘ somebody called out. ‗Afore us bloody melts.‘ It was getting hot, early morning though it was. The sun that had ripened wheat and barley so beautifully was now slanting on yellow-white stubble in which rooks pecked up such corn as the gleaners had left them, brightening the forest beeches where some leaves were already showing autumn colours. On the balk strips, bees and butterflies were making free among trefoils and cornflowers. Father Ignatius gave in and turned to his fellow priest, Father John. ‗To you the honour this year, sir, if honour it be.‘ Father John, a Martlake man and therefore a lout, picked up the ball, raised it above his head, shouted: ‗God defend the right,‘ and threw it. ‗That wasn‘t straight,‘ Father Ignatius yelled. ‗You favoured Martlake.‘ ‗Bloody didn‘t.‘
‗Bloody did.‘ Nobody paid attention to the scuffling priests. The game had begun. Like great opposing waves, and with much the same noise, the two sides crashed together, their women and offspring skittering around the edges, screaming them on. A Martlake boy emerged from the scrum, the ball at his twinkling feet, and began running with it in the direction of the Shepfold parish boundary, a mob of howling Shepfoldians at his back. Lady Emma, Sir Richard and Master Roetger followed more sedately, while Adelia, Gyltha and Mansur, carrying their medicaments, accompanied by Adelia‘s six-year-old daughter and Emma‘s four-year-old son, Lord Wolvercote, brought up the rear. They paused at a safe distance to watch the scrimmage as the Martlake lad was brought down. ‗There goes his nose,‘ Mansur remarked. ‗Is it not against the rules to kick in the face?‘ ‗Better get the swabs out,‘ Gyltha said. Adelia delved into her doctor‘s bag. ‗What rules?‘ There were supposed to be some: no swearing, no spitting, no picking the ball up and carrying it, no gouging, no biting, no fisticuffs, no women nor children nor dogs to partake, but Adelia hadn‘t seen any of them observed yet. Gyltha was lecturing Adelia‘s daughter. ‗You listen to me, dumpling, you get into a fight this time, an‘ I‘ll tan your little backside.‘ ‗That‘s right, Allie,‘ Adelia said. ‗No brawling. You and Pippy are not to take part, do you understand me?‘ ‗Yes, Mama. Yes, Gyltha.‘ By the time she‘d dealt with the Martlake broken nose, children, ball and contestants had disappeared. Distant howls suggested that the match was now in the forest. On its edge, Adelia‘s old friends, Will and Alf, were lounging against a tree, waiting for her to come up. ‗Go home,‘ she told them – they were Glastonbury men. ‗Don‘t get involved, I won‘t have enough bandages.‘ ‗Just come to watch, like,‘ Will told her. ‗Observers, we are,‘ Alf said. She looked at them with affection and suspicion. In their rough smocks, they looked like common, respectable country men, though she had reason to know that both were frequently on the wrong side of the law. Will was the elder of the two and a dour man, who, along with the simpler, gentler Alf, had come into her life in fraught circumstances at Glastonbury two years before. They had since appointed themselves her guardians and providers of poached venison. They‘d been hanging around her more than usual lately. But there was no time to wonder about it; screams from within the forest suggested that there were wounded to be attended to. Will and Alf followed her in.
A broken leg, two twisted ankles, a dislocated shoulder and five scalp wounds later, the supply of injuries temporarily dried up. Mansur hoisted the protesting broken leg over his shoulder and set off to take it home to its mother. Gyltha was mopping up Allie. The noise had dwindled to isolated shouts. People were beating the undergrowth. ‗What are they doing now, in the name of God?‘ Adelia asked. ‗Lost the ball,‘ Will said laconically. ‗Good.‘ But her eye fell on a Martlake woman with a bulging midriff under her smock who was wending her way smartly along a nearby badger track. ‗Where are you going, Mistress Tyler?‘ ‗Back home, i‘n‘t I? ‘Tis too much for I, what with the babby due and all.‘ For one thing, Mistress Tyler had shown no sign of pregnancy while in church the previous Sunday. For another, the badger track led in the direction of Shepfold. For a third, Lady Emma was Adelia‘s good friend – so that, despite her pretension to neutrality, Adelia really wanted Shepfold to win. ‗You put that ball down,‘ she shouted. ‗You‘re cheating.‘ Mistress Tyler, holding tight to her protuberant and wobbling waistline, began to run. Adelia, chasing after her, failed to hear the ‗whoomph‘ of an arrow burying itself in the tree beside which, a second before, she‘d been standing. Will and Alf looked at it, looked at each other and then hurled themselves in the direction from which the flight had come. It was useless; the marksman, having chosen a clear shot, had made it his only one before melting into a forest in which a hundred assassins could be hiding. Returning to the tree, Will pulled the arrow out with some effort. ‗Look at that, Alf.‘ ‗We got to tell her, Will.‘ ‗We got to tell somebody.‘ They had a high regard for Adelia, who had twice saved them from a desperate situ ation, but, though agonized for her safety, they‘d not said anything to her, wanting to preserve her peace of mind. They advanced to where she was tussling with Mistress Tyler. At that moment, the ball fell to the ground from under the Martlake woman‘s skirt – and was spotted. Before the two Glastonbury men could reach their heroine, she and her opponent had been overwhelmed by a pile of players. In trying to get her out, Will and Alf lost their temper and put their fists and boots at the disposal of the Shepfold team. So did Adelia . . .
Some five minutes later, a familiar voice addressed her from its height on a magnificent horse: ‗Is that you?‘ Muddy and panting, Adelia extricated herself to look up into the face of her lover and the father of her child. ‗I think so.‘ ‗‘G‘day, Bishop,‘ said Mistress Tyler, trying to restore order to her smock. ‗And a good day to you, madam. Who‘s winning?‘ ‗Martlake,‘ Adelia told him bitterly. ‗They‘re cheating.‘ Looming over her was a tall man in his thirties, to her the most attractive being in the world, though his critics, of whom there were many, found his usual humorous expression unfitting for the highly ecclesiastical office he held. He was in travelling clothes today, the excellence of his boots and cloak marred by dust. He swept off his cap, revealing curly, dark hair, and pointed with it to where a round object shedding pieces of bracken had flown up from a group of fighting players. ‗Is that the ball?‘ ‗Yes.‘ ‗Thank God, I thought it was somebody‘s head. Hold my horse.‘ Dismounting, flinging away his cloak and cap, Rowley waded in. That night there was weeping and gnashing of teeth in the parish of Martlake while, three miles away in Shepfold, a limp piece of leather was carried high on a pole into the great barn of Wolvercote Manor with all the pomp of golden booty being brought back to Rome by a triumphant Caesar. Outside, carcasses of pigs and sheep turned on spits and hogsheads spouted best ale to all who would partake of it. The Lady of Wolvercote herself, limping slightly, deftly flipped pancake after pancake from the griddles into the hands of her villagers while her husband, who had used his oak crutch with effect during the match, poured cream on to them. A Welsh bard, another attachment to Lady Emma‘s household, had abandoned his harp for a vielle and stood, sweating and bowing away, in the doorway so that parents and children danced to his tune in long lines around the victory fires. Beyond, in the shadow of trees, young bodies rolled in celebratory copulation. Inside the barn, Adelia sternly regarded the Bishop of St Albans sitting beside her daughter – and his – on a hay bale. The resemblance between father and child was enhanced by the black eye sported by each. ‗Look at you. I hope you‘re both ashamed of yourselves.‘ ‗We are,‘ Rowley said, ‗but at least we didn‘t kick Mistress Tyler.‘ ‗Did she?‘ Allie was charmed. ‗Did Mama kick Mistress Tyler?‘ ‗Hard.‘ ‗I‘ll fetch some pancakes,‘ Adelia said, and then, over her shoulder: ‗She kicked me first.‘
While she was gone, Will, holding a mug of ale, came up to ruffle Allie‘s hair and doff his cap to her father. ‗I was wondering if I could have a word, Bishop. Outside, like . . .‘ Adelia returned and took Allie back to bed through the weave of dancers, bidding goodnights, throwing a kiss to Mansur who was executing a sword dance for Gyltha, the love of his life and Allie‘s nurse. For perhaps the first time in her life, she realized, she was content. When, seven years ago, the King of England, who was troubled by a series of unexplained killings in his county of Cambridge, had sent to his friend, the King of Sicily, begging for a master in the art of death from the famed School of Medicine in Salerno, it was Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar who‘d been chosen to go. It had occurred neither to the Sicilian king nor the school that they had made an odd choice; the school took female medical students as well as male, and Adelia was the best they had. However, her arrival in England, where women doctors were anathema, had caused consternation. Only by the subterfuge of Mansur pretending to be the medical expert and she merely his assistant and translator had Adelia been able to do her job. She had solved the murders – and done it so well that King Henry II had refused to allow her to return to Sicily, keeping her as his own special investigator. Damn the man. True, England had given her the happiness of friends, a lover and a child, but Henry‘s requirement of her had more than once put her in such danger that she‘d been deprived of the tranquillity with which to enjoy them. The Church had driven her and Allie, Mansur and Gyltha from Cambridge, but Emma, out of gratitude for being allowed to marry as she pleased – a boon that Adelia had successfully begged the King to grant his rich young ward – had built her a house on the Wolvercote estate, thus giving her the first home of her own she‘d ever had. Gyltha and Mansur had settled down together – to everybody‘s surprise but Adelia‘s. In Sicily, it was not unusual for eunuchs to have happy sexual relationships with women – or another man, for that matter; castration didn‘t necessarily mean impotence. In England, where eunuchs were a rarity, that fact was unknown; it was thought merely that Mansur had a peculiarly high voice, and that he and Gyltha were just . . . well, peculiar. And for the last two years, Henry II had not interrupted this idyll by asking Adelia to do anything for him. In fact she wondered if he might perhaps – oh joy – have forgotten her. Even her fraught relationship with Rowley, begun during an investigation and before the King had insisted on elevating him to a bishopric, had settled into a sort of eccentric domesticity, despite his extended absences as he toured his diocese. Scandalous, of course, but nobody in this remote part of England seemed to mind it; certainly Father Ignatius and Father John, both of them living with the mothers of their children, had not seen fit to report it to Adelia‘s great enemy, the Church. Nor was there a doctor for miles around to be jealous
of her skill; she was free to be of use to suffering patients in this part of Somerset, and be beloved for it. I have found peace, she thought. She and Allie put the hens away for the night and released Eustace, Allie‘s lurcher, from the confinement that had been necessary to keep him from joining in the football match. ‗We beat Martlake, we beat Martlake,‘ Allie chanted to him. ‗And tomorrow we shall all be friends again,‘ Adelia said. ‗Not with that bloody Tuke boy, I won‘t. He poked me in the eye.‘ ‗Allie.‘ ‗Well . . .‘ The door to their house was open – it usually was – but the creak of a floorboard inside brought back unpleasant memories and Adelia clutched her daughter‘s shoulder to stop her from going in. ‗It‘s all right, Mama,‘ Allie said. ‗It‘s Alf, I can smell him.‘ So it was. Beating off Eustace‘s enthusiastic welcome, the man said: ‗You ought to keep this old door o‘yours locked, missus. I saw a fox gettin‘ in.‘ Considering that it was dark and that Alf had been dancing in the barn a hundred yards away, Adelia marvelled at his eyesight. ‗Is it still there?‘ ‗Chased it out.‘ With that, Alf lurched off into the night. Lighting a candle to escort her daughter upstairs to bed, Adelia asked: ‗Can you smell fox, Allie?‘ There was a sniff. ‗No.‘ Allie‘s nose was unerring; her father had remarked on it, saying that she could teach his hounds a thing or two. So, sitting beside her daughter, stroking her to sleep, Adelia wondered why Alf, most honest of men, had chosen to tell her a lie . . . In Emma‘s rose garden, the Bishop of Albans held the arrow Will had given to him so tightly that it snapped. ‗Who is it?‘ ‗We ain‘t rightly sure,‘ Will said. ‗Never got a glimpse of the bastard, but we reckon as maybe Scarry‘s come back.‘ ‗Scarry?‘ Will shuffled awkwardly. ‗Don‘t know as if she ever told you, but her and us was all in the forest a year or two back when we was attacked. Fella called Wolf, nasty bit of work he were, he come at her and Alf. He‘d‘ve done ‘em both but, see, she had this sword and . . . well, she done him first.‘
‗She told me,‘ Rowley said shortly. Jesus, how often he‘d had to hold her shaking body to fend off the nightmares. ‗Well, see, Scarry was there, he was Wolf‘s lieutenant, like. Him and Wolf, they was . . .‘ ‗Lovers. She told me that, too.‘ Will shifted again. ‗Yes, well, Scarry wouldn‘t‘ve taken kindly to her a-killin‘ Wolf.‘ ‗That was two years ago, man. If he were going to take his revenge, why leave it for two years?‘ ‗Had to fly the county, maybe. The King, he weren‘t best pleased at havin‘ outlaws in his forest. Cleaned it out proper, he did. Had ‘em in bits hangin‘ off the trees. We hoped as Scarry was one of ‘em, but now we ain‘t so sure acause if it ain‘t Scarry, who is it? She‘s well liked round here, our missus.‘ ‗And he‘s trying to kill her?‘ ‗Don‘t know so much about that. He‘d be wantin‘ to frighten her to death first, that was more Scarry‘s style. Me and Alf, we been watchin‘ out for her, and we found an animal pit somebody dug along a path she takes often. Covered it was, but us filled un in. An‘ then Godwyn, him as owns the Pilgrim and takes her out regular to Lazarus Island to tend the lepers, well, last week, his punt began to sink when they was halfway there and the both on ‘em had to make their way back on foot across the marshes, the which is always chancy acause of the quicksand. Alf and me, we poled out later and raised that punt to look at her and found a neat hole in her bottom, like someone‘d taken a gimlet to her. We reckon as whoever it was‘d filled the hole with wax, like. And then there was...‘ But the Bishop of St Albans had left him and was striding towards Adelia‘s house. Alf met him at the door. ‗‘S all right, master, I checked the rooms afore she came. Ain‘t nobody in there.‘ ‗Thank you, Alf. I‘ll take over now.‘ And he would, Christ‘s blood he would. How many times did he have to rescue the wench before she saw reason? The fear Rowley felt when Adelia was in danger always translated itself into fury against the woman herself. Why did she have to be what she was? (The fact that he might not have loved her if she hadn‘t been was invariably set aside.) Why, when they‘d been free to marry, had she refused him? Her fault . . . a babble about her independence . . . an insistence that she would fail as wife to an ambitious man . . . her damned fault. No, she‘d had it her own way and Henry II had immediately pounced on him, insisting that he become a bishop – well, the King had needed one churchman to be on his side after the murder of Archbishop Becket – and he, in his resentment and agony, had acceded. He still blamed her for it. They‘d been thrown together on investigations since and found that neither could live without the other. Too late for marriage, though, celibate as he was
supposed to be, so they‘d finished up in this illicit relationship which gave him no rights over either her or the child. But this was the end of it. No more investigations for her, no more touching the sick, no more lepers – lepers, God Almighty. She must finish with it. And for the first time the King had given him the means to see that she did. Raging though he was, Rowley had enough sense to consider how he would break the news to her and stopped in the doorway to ponder. The two Glastonbury lads were right; she should not be told that there was an assassin after her – but they were right for the wrong reason. Rowley knew his woman; an assassin wouldn‘t scare her away from this country hole she‘d dug herself into; she’d refuse to go. She‘d spout her bloody duty to her bloody patients. No, though he had an iron fist, he‘d put a velvet glove on it and give her King Henry‘s orders as if they were inducements . . . But he was still very angry and he didn‘t do it well. Going into her bedroom, he said: ‗Start packing. We‘re leaving for Sarum in the morning.‘ Adelia had prepared herself for something else. She was awaiting him in bed and, apart from a strip of lace over her dark-blonde hair, she was naked, bathed and scented. Her lover was able to visit her so rarely that their encounters in bed were still rapturous. In fact, she‘d been surprised to see him arrive on a Saturday; usually he was preparing for the next day‘s service in some far-flung church or another. In any case, he never shared her bed on Sundays – a ridiculous decision perhaps, and certainly hypocritical, but one which, knowing how it weighed on him to preach abstinence to his flock while not practising it himself, Adelia was prepared to countenance . . . and, after all, it wasn‘t midnight yet. So, bewildered, she said: ‗What?‘ ‗We‘re leaving for Sarum in the morning. I came to tell you.‘ ‗Oh, did you?‘ Not for love, then. ‗What for? And anyway, I can‘t. I‘ve got a patient over in Street who needs me.‘ ‗We‘re going.‘ ‗Rowley, I am not.‘ She began to grope for her clothes; he was making her feel foolish without them. ‗Captain Bolt is coming to escort us. The King wishes it.‘ ‗Not again, oh God, not again.‘ Le Roi le veult. For Adelia, the four most doomladen words in any language; there was no appeal against them. Drearily, she poked her head through her smock and looked at him. ‗What does he want this time?‘ ‗He‘s sending us to Sicily.‘
Ah, now that was different. ‗Sicily? Rowley, how wonderful. I shall see my parents. They can meet you and Allie.‘ ‗Almeisan will not be coming with us.‘ ‗Of course she will! Of course she will. I won‘t leave her behind.‘ ‗No. Henry‘s keeping her here to make sure you come back to him.‘ ‗But Sicily . . . we could be away for a year or more. I can‘t leave her that long.‘ ‗She‘ll be well looked after. She can have Gyltha with her, I‘ve seen to that. They‘ll be lodged with the Queen at Sarum.‘ This was both suggestio falsi and suppressio veri on Rowley‘s part. Henry Plantagenet would have been perfectly content for Allie to stay where she was, at Wolvercote in the care of Emma. It had been Rowley who‘d begged him to allow the child to move in with Eleanor, and then got the Queen to agree. It was the only thing King and Queen did agree on. Since Eleanor of Aquitaine had joined the rebellion – the failed rebellion – of the two older Plantagenet princes against their father, things had, to put it mildly, been strained between royal husband and wife. Adelia put her finger on it. ‗Allie can‘t stay with Eleanor, the Queen‘s in prison.‘ ‗It‘s a prison anyone would be happy to be in; she‘s denied nothing.‘ ‗Except freedom.‘ There was something terrible here; he was frightening her. Panic restricted her throat and she went to the open window to breathe. When she‘d got her voice under control, she turned around. ‗What is this, Rowley? If I have to go . . . if I must leave Allie, she can stay here with Gyltha and Mansur. She‘s settled, she‘s happy here, she has her animals . . . she has an affinity with animals.‘ ‗My point exactly.‘ ‗She has an instinct, a genius. Old Marly called her in the other day when his hens got ill; she cured Emma‘s palfrey of the stifle when Cerdic couldn‘t . . . What do you mean, ―my point exactly‖?‘ ‗I mean I want my daughter to have the feminine arts that Eleanor can teach her. I want her to become a lady, not a misfit.‘ ‗What you‘re saying is that you don‘t want her to grow up like me.‘ In his fear and anger and love, that was what it came down to. Adelia escaped him, she always had; there must be something of his that wouldn‘t get away. ‗No, I don‘t, if you want to know. And she‘s not going to. I have a responsibility for her.‘ ‗Responsibility? You can‘t even publicly acknowledge her.‘ ‗That doesn‘t mean I don‘t care for her future. Look at you, look at what you wear.‘ Adelia was now fully clothed. ‗Peasant dress. She‘s a beautiful child,
why hide her light under that dowdy bushel? Half the time she goes about barefoot.‘ It was true that Adelia was in homespun; she had agreed to become the bishop‘s mistress but, when it came to it, she‘d drawn the line at being his whore. Though he urged money on her, she wouldn‘t take it, and dressed herself out of her small earnings as a doctor. She hadn‘t realized until now how much that irritated him. This wasn‘t about Allie, this was about her. But she fought on the ground that he‘d chosen, their daughter. ‗Education? And what sort of education would she get with Eleanor? Needlework? Strumming a lyre? Gossiping? Courtly blasted love?‘ ‗She‘d be a lady. I‘m leaving her money; she can make a good marriage. I‘ve already begun looking around for suitable husbands.‘ ‗An arranged marriage?‘ ‗Suitable, I said. And only if she‘s willing.‘ She stared at him. They had loved each other desperately and still did; she thought she knew him, thought he knew her, but now it appeared they understood each other not at all. She tried to explain. ‗Allie has a gift,‘ she said. ‗We couldn‘t exist without animals, to plough, to ride, pull our carriages, feed us. If she can find cures for what makes them ill—‘ ‗An animal doctor. What life is that for a woman, for God‘s sake?‘ The quarrel degenerated. When Mansur and Gyltha entered the house it reverberated with the yells of two people verbally disembowelling each other. ‗. . . I have a right to say how my household should behave—‘ ‗It‘s not your household, you hypocrite. The Church is your household. When are you ever here?‘ ‗I‘m here now and tomorrow we go to Sarum and Allie comes too. The King‘s ordered it—‘ ‗You made him do that? You‘d give her into slavery . . .?‘ Gyltha hurried to Allie‘s room in case the child should be listening. Eustace the lurcher lifted his shaggy head as she came in but Allie was sleeping the sleep of the innocent and unknowing. Gyltha sat by her bed just in case, and glanced with despair at Mansur, who was shaking his head in the doorway. ‗. . . I‘ll never forgive you. Never.‘ ‗Why? You want her to end up killing a man like you did?‘ If he‘d been in his senses Rowley would not have said it. The outlaw called Wolf had tried to kill her and she‘d been forced to kill him instead; the act had
hung a millstone around Adelia‘s neck. Time and again Rowley had reassured her that the monster was better dead; she had saved Alf‘s life as well as her own; there was nothing else she could have done; but still it weighed on her that she, who was sworn to preserve life, had taken one. After that the voices stopped. Gyltha and Mansur heard the bishop clump down the stairs to make up a bed for himself on a settle. Distressed beyond measure, they went to bed themselves. There was nothing to be done now. The last revellers in the barn went home. Lady Emma and Roetger returned to the manor house; their servants scattered to their various sleeping places. Silence descended on Wolvercote. On a water butt outside Adelia’s window where it has been crouching in shadow, a figure stretches its cloaked arms so that, for a second, it resembles a bat unfolding leather wings ready to fly. Noiselessly it jumps to the ground, overjoyed with what it has heard. His god – and Scarry’s god is not the Christians’ God – has just granted him the boon of boons, as Scarry was sure He would, sooner or later. He has poured the elixir of opportunity into Scarry’s hands. For Scarry’s hatred of the woman Adelia is infinite. During two years’ enforced exile from England, he has prayed to be shown the means of her destruction. Now, at last, the stink of his loathing has reached Satan’s nostrils and its incense has been rewarded. Once, in a Somerset forest not too far from here, the woman killed Scarry’s joy, his life, his love, his mate, his Wolf. And Scarry has come back, with Wolf howling him on in his head, to rend her to pieces. How stupidly he has done it; how in effectually. Arrows, pits, attempts to frighten her; she hasn’t even noticed; the two oafs who watch over her have seen to that. Unworthy of an educated man, which is what Scarry is. A way of passing the time, really, until the true and only God should show him the way. Which He has, He has. Dominus illuminatio mea. Wolf never killed a female until she was squirming in terror and pain – the only state in which Wolf, or he himself, could have sexual congress with the creatures. Timor mortis morte pejor. But now, Lord, in Your infinite wisdom, You have manifested to me all that I need to hear and see and learn that Your will and Wolf’s may triumph. The woman shall be reduced by slow torture, so much more satisfying, chop, chop, piece by piece, a capite ad calcem. At this point Scarry is out of the view of the house, and he twirls as the shimmering, hot night enfolds him. How curious that she didn’t ask her lover why the King was sending her to Sicily.
But he, Scarry, knows. By a great coincidence â€“ no, not coincidence but, manifestly, by the workings of the horned God in whose hand he rests â€“ Scarry is intimately cognisant of the journey the woman is about to take. And will be going with her.
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THE SILENT GIRL TESS GERRITSEN
‘Suspense doesn’t get smarter than this’ Lee Child
Published 21st July 2011 Bantam Press
Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen is also a physician, and she brings to her novels her firsthand knowledge of emergency and autopsy rooms. But her interests span far wider than medical topics. As an anthropology student at Stanford University, she catalogued centuriesold human remains, and she continues to travel the world driven by her fascination with ancient cultures and bizarre natural phenomena. She lives with her husband in Maine.
ONE San Francisco All day I have been watching the girl. She gives no indication that she‘s aware of me, although my rental car is within view of the street corner where she and the other teenagers have gathered this afternoon, doing whatever bored kids do to pass the time. She looks younger than the others, but perhaps it‘s because she‘s Asian and petite at seventeen, just a wisp of a girl. Her black hair is cropped as short as a boy‘s, and her blue jeans are ragged and torn. Not a fashion statement, I think, but a result of hard use and life on the streets. She puffs on a cigarette and exhales a cloud of smoke with the nonchalance of a street thug, an attitude that doesn‘t match her pale face and delicate Chinese features. She is pretty enough to attract the hungry stares of two men who pass by. The girl notices their looks and glares straight back at them, unafraid, but it‘s easy to be fearless when danger is merely an abstract concept. Faced with a real threat, how would this girl react, I wonder. Would she put up a ﬁght or would she crumble? I want to know what she‘s made of, but I have not seen her put to the test. As evening falls, the teenagers on the corner begin to disband. First one and then another wanders away. In San Francisco, even summer nights are chilly, and those who remain huddle together in their sweaters and jackets, lighting one another‘s cigarettes, savoring the ephemeral heat of the ﬂame. But cold and hunger eventually disperse the last of them, leaving only the girl, who has nowhere to go. She waves to her departing friends and for a while lingers alone, as though waiting for someone. At last, with a shrug, she leaves the corner and walks in my direction, her hands thrust in her pockets. As she passes my car, she doesn‘t even glance at me, but looks straight ahead, her gaze focused and ﬁerce, as if she‘s mentally churning over some dilemma. Perhaps she‘s thinking about where she‘s going to scavenge dinner tonight. Or perhaps it‘s something more consequential. Her future. Her survival. She‘s probably unaware that two men are following her. Seconds after she walks past my car, I spot the men emerging from an alley. I recognize them; it‘s the same pair who had stared at her earlier. As they move past my car, trailing her, one of the men looks at me through the windshield. It‘s just a quick glance to assess whether I am a threat. What he sees does not concern him in the least, and he and his companion keep walking. They move like the conﬁdent predators they are, stalking weaker prey who cannot possibly ﬁght them off. I step out of my car and follow them. Just as they are following the girl. She heads into a neighborhood where too many buildings stand abandoned, where the sidewalk seems paved with broken bottles. The girl betrays no fear,
no hesitation, as if this is familiar territory. Not once does she glance back, which tells me she is either foolhardy or clueless about the world and what it can do to girls like her. The men following her don‘t glance back, either. Even if they were to spot me, which I do not allow to happen, they would see nothing to be afraid of. No one ever does. A block ahead, the girl turns right, vanishing through a doorway. I retreat into the shadows and watch what happens next. The two men pause outside the building that the girl has entered, conferring over strategy. Then they, too, step inside. From the sidewalk, I look up at the boarded-over windows. It is a vacant warehouse posted with a NO TRESPASSING notice. The door hangs ajar. I slip inside, into gloom so thick that I pause to let my eyes adjust as I rely on my other senses to take in what I cannot yet see. I hear the ﬂoor creaking. I smell burning candle wax. I see the faint glow of the doorway to my left. Pausing outside it, I peer into the room beyond. The girl kneels before a makeshift table, her face lit by one ﬂickering candle. Around her are signs of temporary habitation: a sleeping bag, tins of food, and a small camp stove. She is struggling with a bulky can opener and is unaware of the two men closing in from behind. Just as I draw in a breath to shout a warning, the girl whirls around to face the trespassers. All she has in her hand is the can opener, a meager weapon against two larger men. ―This is my home,‖ she says. ―Get out.‖ I had been prepared to intervene. Instead I pause where I am to watch what happens next. To see what the girl is made of. One of the men laughs. ―We‘re just visiting, honey.‖ ―Did I invite you?‖ ―You look like you could use the company.‖ ―You look like you could use a brain.‖ Not a wise way to handle the situation, I think. Now their lust is mingled with anger, a dangerous combination. Yet the girl stands perfectly still, perfectly calm, brandishing that pitiful kitchen utensil. As the men lunge, I am already on the balls of my feet, ready to spring. She springs ﬁrst. One leap and her foot thuds straight into the ﬁrst man‘s sternum. It‘s an inelegant but effective blow and he staggers, gripping his chest as if he cannot breathe. Before the second man can react, she is already spinning toward him, and she slams the can opener against the side of his head. He howls and backs away. This has gotten interesting. The ﬁrst man has recovered and rushes at her, slamming her so hard that they both go sprawling onto the ﬂoor. She kicks and punches, and her ﬁst cracks into his jaw. But fury has inured him to pain and with a roar he rolls on top of her, immobilizing her with his weight.
Now the second man jumps back in. Grabbing her wrists, he pins them against the ﬂoor. Youth and inexperience have landed her in a calamity that she cannot possibly escape. As ﬁerce as she is, the girl is green and untrained, and the inevitable is about to happen. The ﬁrst man has unzipped her jeans and he yanks them down past her skinny hips. His arousal is evident, his trousers bulging. Never is a man more vulnerable to attack. He doesn‘t hear me coming. One moment he‘s unzipping his ﬂy. The next, he‘s on the ﬂoor, his jaw shattered, loose teeth spilling from his mouth. The second man barely has time to release the girl‘s hands and jump up, but he‘s not quick enough. I am a tiger and he is nothing more than a lumbering buffalo, stupid and helpless against my strike. With a shriek he drops to the ground, and judging by the grotesque angle of his arm, his bone has been snapped in two. I grab the girl and yank her to her feet. ―Are you unhurt?‖ She zips up her jeans and stares at me. ―Who the hell are you?‖ ―That‘s for later. Now we go!‖ I bark. ―How did you do that? How did you bring them down so fast?‖ ―Do you want to learn?‖ ―Yes!‖ I look at the two men groaning and writhing at our feet. ―Then here is the ﬁrst lesson: Know when to run.‖ I shove her toward the door. ―That time would be now.‖ I watch her eat. For a small girl, she has the appetite of a wolf, and she devours three chicken tacos, a lake of refried beans, and a large glass of Coca-Cola. Mexican food was what she wanted, so we sit in a café where mariachi music plays and the walls are adorned with gaudy paintings of dancing señoritas. Though the girl‘s features are Chinese, she is clearly American, from her cropped hair to her tattered jeans. A crude and feral creature who slurps up the last of her Coke before noisily gnawing on the ice cubes. I begin to doubt the wisdom of this venture. She is already too old to be taught, too wild to learn discipline. I should release her back to the streets, if that‘s where she wants to go, and ﬁnd another way. But then I notice the scars on her knuckles and remember how close she came to single-handedly taking down the two men. She has raw talent and is fearless— two things that cannot be taught. ―Do you remember me?‖ I ask. The girl sets down her glass and frowns. For an instant I think I see a ﬂash of recognition, but then it‘s gone. She shakes her head. ―It was a long time ago,‖ I say. ―Twelve years.‖ An eternity for a girl so young. ―You were small.‖ She shrugs. ―No wonder I don‘t remember you.‖ She reaches in her jacket, pulls out a cigarette, and starts to light it. ―You‘re polluting your body.‖
―It‘s my body,‖ she retorts. ―Not if you wish to train.‖ I reach across the table and snatch the cigarette from her lips. ―If you want to learn, your attitude must change. You must show respect.‖ She snorts. ―You sound like my mother.‖ ―I knew your mother. In Boston.‖ ―Well, she‘s dead.‖ ―I know. She wrote me last month. She told me she was ill and had very little time left. That‘s why I‘m here.‖ I‘m surprised to see tears glisten in the girl‘s eyes and she quickly turns away, as though ashamed to reveal weakness. But in that vulnerable instant, before she hides her eyes, she brings to mind my own daughter, who was younger than this girl when I lost her. My eyes sting with tears, but I don‘t try to hide them. Sorrow has made me who I am. It has been the reﬁning ﬁre that has honed my resolve and sharpened my purpose. I need this girl. Clearly, she also needs me. ―It‘s taken me weeks to ﬁnd you,‖ I tell her. ―Foster home sucked. I‘m better off on my own.‖ ―If your mother saw you now, her heart would break.‖ ―She never had time for me.‖ ―Maybe because she was working two jobs, trying to keep you fed? Because she couldn‘t count on anyone but herself to do it?‖ ―She let the world walk all over her. Not once did I see her stand up for anything. Not even me.‖ ―She was afraid.‖ ―She was spineless.‖ I lean forward, enraged by this ungrateful brat. ―Your poor mother suffered in ways you can‘t possibly imagine. Everything she did was for you.‖ In disgust, I toss her cigarette back at her. This is not the girl I‘d hoped to ﬁnd. She may be strong and fearless, but no sense of ﬁlial duty binds her to her dead mother and father, no sense of family honor. Without ties to our ancestors, we are lonely specks of dust, adrift and ﬂoating, attached to nothing and no one. I pay the bill for her meal and stand. ―Someday, I hope you ﬁnd the wisdom to understand what your mother sacriﬁced for you.‖ ―You‘re leaving?‖ ―There‘s nothing I can teach you.‖ ―Why would you want to, anyway? Why did you even come looking for me?‖ ―I thought I would ﬁnd someone different. Someone I could teach. Someone who would help me.‖ ―To do what?‖ I don‘t know how to answer her question. For a moment, the only sound is the tinny mariachi music spilling from the restaurant speakers.
―Do you remember your father?‖ I ask. ―Do you remember what happened to him?‖ She stares at me. ―That‘s what this is about, isn‘t it? That‘s why you came looking for me. Because my mother wrote you about him.‖ ―Your father was a good man. He loved you, and you dishonor him. You dishonor both your parents.‖ I place a bundle of cash in front of her. ―This is in their memory. Get off the street and go back to school. At least there, you won‘t have to ﬁght off strange men.‖ I turn and walk out of the restaurant. In seconds she‘s out the door and running after me. ―Wait!‖ she calls. ―Where are you going?‖ ―Back home to Boston.‖ ―I do remember you. I think I know what you want.‖ I stop and face her. ―It‘s what you should want, too.‖ ―What do I have to do?‖ I look her up and down, and see scrawny shoulders and hips so narrow they barely hold up her blue jeans. ―It‘s not what you need to do,‖ I reply. ―It‘s what you need to be.‖ Slowly I move toward her. Up till this point, she‘s seen no reason to fear me and why should she? I am just a woman. But something she now sees in my eyes makes her take a step back. ―Are you afraid?‖ I ask her softly. Her chin juts up, and she says with foolish bravado: ―No. I‘m not.‖ ―You should be.‖
TWO Seven years later ―My name is Dr. Maura Isles, last name spelled I- S- L- E- S. I‘m a forensic pathologist, employed by the medical examiner‘s ofﬁce in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.‖ ―Please describe for the court your education and background, Dr. Isles,‖ said the Suffolk County assistant district attorney Carmela Aguilar. Maura kept her gaze on the assistant DA as she answered the question. It was far easier to focus on Aguilar‘s neutral face than to see the glares coming from the defendant and his supporters, dozens of whom had gathered in the courtroom. Aguilar did not seem to notice or care that she was arguing her case before a hostile audience, but Maura was acutely aware of it; a large segment of that audience was law enforcement ofﬁcers and their friends. They were not going to like what Maura had to say. The defendant was Boston PD ofﬁcer Wayne Brian Graff, square-jawed and broad-shouldered, the vision of an all-American hero. The room‘s sympathy was with Graff, not with the victim, a man who had ended up battered and broken on Maura‘s autopsy table six months ago. A man who‘d been buried unmourned and unclaimed. A man who, two hours before his death, committed the fatal sin of shooting and killing a police ofﬁcer. Maura felt all those courtroom gazes burning into her face, hot as laser points, as she recited her curriculum vitae. ―I graduated from Stanford University with a BA in anthropology,‖ she said. ―I received my medical degree from the University of California in San Francisco, and went on to complete a ﬁve-year pathology residency at that same institution. I am certiﬁed in both anatomical and clinical pathology. After my residency, I then completed a two- year fellowship in the subspecialty of forensic pathology, at the University of California–Los Angeles.‖ ―And are you board-certiﬁed in your ﬁeld?‖ ―Yes, ma‘am. In both general and forensic pathology.‖ ―And where have you worked prior to joining the ME‘s ofﬁce here in Boston?‖ ―For seven years, I was a pathologist with the ME‘s ofﬁce in San Francisco, California. I also served as a clinical professor of pathology at the University of California. I hold medical licenses in both Massachusetts and California.‖ It was more information than had been asked of her, and she could see Aguilar frown, because Maura had tripped up her planned sequence of questions. Maura had recited this information so many times before in court that she knew exactly what would be asked, and her responses were equally automatic. Where she‘d trained, what her job required, and whether she was qualiﬁed to testify on this particular case.
Formalities completed, Aguilar ﬁnally got down to speciﬁcs. ―Did you perform an autopsy on an individual named Fabian Dixon last October?‖ ―I did,‖ answered Maura. A matter-of-fact response, yet she felt the tension instantly ratchet up in the courtroom. ―Tell us how Mr. Dixon came to be a medical examiner‘s case.‖ Aguilar stood with her gaze ﬁxed on Maura, as though to say: Ignore everyone else in the room. Just look at me and state the facts. Maura straightened and began to speak, loudly enough for the courtroom to hear. ―The decedent was a twenty-four-year-old man who was discovered unresponsive in the backseat of a Boston Police Department cruiser. This was approximately twenty minutes after his arrest. He was transported by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival in the emergency room.‖ ―And that made him a medical examiner‘s case?‖ ―Yes, it did. He was subsequently transferred to our morgue.‖ ―Describe for the court Mr. Dixon‘s appearance when you ﬁrst saw him.‖ It didn‘t escape Maura‘s attention that Aguilar referred to the dead man by name. Not as the body or the deceased. It was her way of reminding the court that the victim had an identity. A name and a face and a life. Maura responded likewise. ―Mr. Dixon was a well-nourished man, of average height and weight, who arrived at our facility clothed only in cotton briefs and socks. His other clothing had been earlier removed during resuscitation attempts in the emergency room. EKG pads were still afﬁxed to his chest, and an intravenous catheter remained in his left arm . . .‖ She paused. Here was where things got uncomfortable. Although she avoided looking at the audience and the defendant, she knew their eyes were upon her. ―And the condition of his body? Would you describe it for us?‖ Aguilar prodded. ―There were multiple bruises over the chest, the left ﬂank, and the upper abdomen. Both eyes were swollen shut, and there were lacerations of the lip and scalp. Two of his teeth— the upper front incisors— were missing.‖ ―Objection.‖ The defense attorney stood. ―There‘s no way of knowing when he lost those teeth. They could have been missing for years.‖ ―One tooth showed up on X-ray. In his stomach,‖ said Maura. ―The witness should refrain from commenting until I‘ve ruled,‖ the judge cut in severely. He looked at the defense attorney. ―Objection overruled. Ms. Aguilar, proceed.‖ The assistant DA nodded, her lips twitching into a smile, and she refocused on Maura. ―So Mr. Dixon was badly bruised, he had lacerations, and at least one of his teeth had recently been knocked out.‖ ―Yes,‖ said Maura. ―As you‘ll see from the morgue photographs.‖ ―If it please the court, we would like to show those morgue photos now,‖ said Aguilar. ―I should warn the audience, these are not pleasant to look at. If
any visitors in the courtroom would prefer not to see them, I suggest you leave at this point.‖ She paused and looked around. No one left the room. As the ﬁrst slide went up, revealing Fabian Dixon‘s battered body, there were audible intakes of breath. Maura had kept her description of Dixon‘s bruises understated, because she knew the photos would tell the story better than she could. Photos couldn‘t be accused of taking sides or lying. And the truth staring from that image was obvious to all: Fabian Dixon had been savagely battered before being placed in the backseat of the police cruiser. Other slides appeared as Maura described what she had found on autopsy. Multiple broken ribs. A swallowed tooth in the stomach. Aspirated blood in the lungs. And the cause of death: a splenic rupture, which had led to massive intraperitoneal hemorrhage. ―And what was the manner of Mr. Dixon‘s death, Dr. Isles?‖ Aguilar asked. This was the key question, the one that she dreaded answering, because of the consequences that would follow. ―Homicide,‖ said Maura. It was not her job to point out the guilty party. She restricted her answer to that one word, but she couldn‘t help glancing at Wayne Graff. The accused police ofﬁcer sat motionless, his face as unreadable as granite. For more than a decade, he had served the city of Boston with distinction. A dozen character witnesses had stepped forward to tell the court how Ofﬁcer Graff had courageously come to their aid. He was a hero, they said, and Maura believed them. But on the night of October 31, the night that Fabian Dixon murdered a police ofﬁcer, Wayne Graff and his partner had transformed into angels of vengeance. They‘d made the arrest, and Dixon was in their custody when he died. Subject was agitated and violent, as if under the inﬂuence of PCP or crack, they wrote in their statement. They described Dixon‘s crazed resistance, his superhuman strength. It had taken both ofﬁcers to wrestle the prisoner into the cruiser. Controlling him required force, but he did not seem to notice pain. During this struggle, he was making grunts and animal sounds and trying to take off his clothes, even though it was forty degrees that night. They had described, almost too perfectly, the known medical condition of excited delirium, which had killed other cocaine-addled prisoners. But months later, the toxicology report showed only alcohol in Dixon‘s system. It left no doubt in Maura‘s mind that the manner of death was homicide. And one of the killers now sat at the defense table, staring at Maura. ―I have no further questions,‖ said Aguilar. She sat down, looking conﬁdent that she had successfully made her case. Morris Whaley, the defense attorney, rose for the cross-examination, and Maura felt her muscles tense. Whaley appeared cordial enough as he approached the witness stand, as if he intended only to have a friendly chat. Had they met at a cocktail party, she might have found him pleasant company, an
attractive enough man in his Brooks Brothers suit. ―I think we‘re all impressed by your credentials, Dr. Isles,‖ he said. ―So I won‘t take up any more of the court‘s time reviewing your academic achievements.‖ She said nothing, just stared at his smiling face, wondering from which direction the attack would come. ―I don‘t think anyone in this room doubts that you‘ve worked hard to get where you are today,‖ Whaley continued. ―Especially taking into account some of the challenges you‘ve faced in your personal life in the past few months.‖ ―Objection.‖ Aguilar heaved out an exasperated sigh and stood. ―This is not relevant.‖ ―It is, Your Honor. It goes to the witness‘s judgment,‖ said Whaley. ―How so?‖ the judge countered. ―Past experiences can affect how a witness interprets the evidence.‖ ―What experiences are you referring to?‖ ―If you‘ll allow me to explore that issue, it will become apparent.‖ The judge stared hard at Whaley. ―For the moment, I‘ll allow this line of questioning. But only for the moment.‖ Aguilar sat back down, scowling. Whaley turned his attention back to Maura. ―Dr. Isles, do you happen to recall the date that you examined the deceased?‖ Maura paused, taken aback by the abrupt return to the topic of the autopsy. It did not slip past her that he‘d avoided using the victim‘s name. ―You are referring to Mr. Dixon?‖ she said, and saw irritation ﬂicker in his eyes. ―Yes.‖ ―The date of the postmortem was November ﬁrst of last year.‖ ―And on that date, did you determine the cause of death?‖ ―Yes. As I said earlier, he died of massive internal hemorrhage secondary to a ruptured spleen.‖ ―On that same date, did you also specify the manner of death?‖ She hesitated. ―No. At least, not a ﬁnal—‖ ―Why not?‖ She took a breath, aware of all the eyes watching her. ―I wanted to wait for the results of the toxicology screen. To see whether Mr. Dixon was, in fact, under the inﬂuence of cocaine or other pharmaceuticals. I wanted to be cautious.‖ ―As well you should. When your decision could destroy the careers, even the lives, of two dedicated peace ofﬁcers.‖ ―I only concern myself with the facts, Mr. Whaley, wherever they may lead.‖ He did not like that answer; she saw it in the twitch of his jaw muscle. All semblance of cordiality had vanished; this was now a battle. ―So you performed the autopsy on November ﬁrst,‖ he said.
―Yes.‖ ―What happened after that?‖ ―I‘m not sure what you‘re referring to.‖ ―Did you take the weekend off? Did you spend the following week performing other autopsies?‖ She stared at him, anxiety coiling like a serpent in her stomach. She didn‘t know where he was taking this, but she didn‘t like the direction. ―I attended a pathology conference,‖ she said. ―In Wyoming, I believe.‖ ―Yes.‖ ―Where you had something of a traumatic experience. You were assaulted by a rogue police ofﬁcer.‖ Aguilar shot to her feet. ―Objection! Not relevant!‖ ―Overruled,‖ the judge said. Whaley smiled, his path now cleared to ask the questions that Maura dreaded. ―Is that correct, Dr. Isles? Were you attacked by a police ofﬁcer?‖ ―Yes,‖ she whispered. ―I‘m afraid I didn‘t hear that.‖ ―Yes,‖ she repeated, louder. ―And how did you survive that attack?‖ The room was dead silent, waiting for her story. A story that she did not want to even think about, because it still gave her nightmares. She remembered the lonely hilltop in Wyoming. She remembered the thud of the deputy‘s vehicle door as it closed, trapping her in the backseat behind the prisoner grating. She remembered her panic as she‘d futilely battered her hands against the window, trying to escape a man she knew was about to kill her. ―Dr. Isles, how did you survive? Who came to your aid?‖ She swallowed. ―A boy.‖ ―Julian Perkins, age sixteen, I believe. A young man who shot and killed that police ofﬁcer.‖ ―He had no choice!‖ Whaley cocked his head. ―You‘re defending a boy who killed a cop?‖ ―A bad cop!‖ ―And then you came home to Boston. And declared Mr. Dixon‘s death a homicide.‖ ―Because it was.‖ ―Or was it merely a tragic accident? The unavoidable consequence after a violent prisoner fought back and had to be subdued?‖ ―You saw the morgue photos. The police used far more force than was necessary.‖ ―So did that boy in Wyoming, Julian Perkins. He shot and killed a sheriff‘s deputy. Do you consider that justiﬁable force?‖ ―Objection,‖ said Aguilar. ―Dr. Isles isn‘t on trial here.‖
Whaley barreled ahead with the next question, his gaze ﬁxed on Maura. ―What happened in Wyoming, Dr. Isles? While you were ﬁghting for your life, was there an epiphany? A sudden realization that cops are the enemy?‖ ―Objection!‖ ―Or have cops always been the enemy? Members of your own family seem to think so.‖ The gavel banged down. ―Mr. Whaley, you will approach the bench now.‖ Maura sat stunned as both attorneys huddled with the judge. So it had come to this, the dredging up of her family. Every cop in Boston probably knew about her mother, Amalthea, now serving a life sentence in a women‘s prison in Framingham. The monster who gave birth to me, she thought. Everyone who looks at me must wonder if the same evil has seeped into my blood as well. She saw that the defendant, Ofﬁcer Graff, was staring at her. Their gazes locked, and a smile curled his lips. Welcome to the consequences, she read in his eyes. This is what happens when you betray the thin blue line. ―The court will take a recess,‖ the judge announced. ―We‘ll resume at two this afternoon.‖ As the jury ﬁled out, Maura sagged back against the chair and didn‘t notice that Aguilar was standing beside her. ―That was dirty pool,‖ said Aguilar. ―It should never have been allowed.‖ ―He made it all about me,‖ said Maura. ―Yeah, well, that‘s all he has. Because the autopsy photos are pretty damn convincing.‖ Aguilar looked hard at her. ―Is there anything else I should know about you, Dr. Isles?‖ ―Other than the fact my mother‘s a convicted murderer and I torture kittens for fun?‖ ―I‘m not laughing.‖ ―You said it earlier. I‘m not the one on trial.‖ ―No, but they‘ll try to make it about you. Whether you hate cops. Whether you have a hidden agenda. We could lose this case if that jury thinks you‘re not on the level. So tell me if there‘s anything else they might bring up. Any secrets that you haven‘t mentioned to me.‖ Maura considered the private embarrassments that she guarded. The illicit affair that she‘d just ended. Her family‘s history of violence. ―Everyone has secrets,‖ she said. ―Mine aren‘t relevant.‖ ―Let‘s hope not,‖ said Aguilar.
Wherever you looked in Boston‘s Chinatown there were ghosts. They haunted quiet Tai Tung Village as well as garish Beach Street, hovered along Ping On Alley and ﬂitted down the dark lane behind Oxford Place. Ghosts were everywhere on these streets. That, at least, was tour guide Billy Foo‘s story, and he was sticking to it. Whether he himself believed in ghosts hardly mattered; his job was to convince the tourists that these streets were haunted by spirits. People wanted to believe in ghosts; that‘s why so many of them were willing to pony up ﬁfteen bucks apiece to stand shivering on the corner of Beach and Oxford and listen to Billy‘s gory tales of murder. Tonight, an auspicious thirteen of them had signed up for the late-night Chinatown Ghost Tour, including a pair of bratty ten-year-old twins who should have been put to bed three hours ago. But when you need the money, you don‘t turn away paying guests, even bratty little boys. Billy was a theater major with no job prospects on the horizon, and tonight‘s haul was a cool $195, plus tips. Not a bad payday for two hours of telling tall tales, even if it came with the humiliation of wearing a satin mandarin robe and a fake pigtail. Billy cleared his throat and held up his arms, drawing on skills he‘d learned from six semesters of theater classes to get their attention. ―The year is 1907! August second, a warm Friday evening.‖ His voice, deep and ominous, rose above the distracting sound of trafﬁc. Like Death singling out his next victim, Billy pointed across the street. ―There, in the square known as Oxford Place, beats the heart of Boston‘s Chinese quarter. Walk with me now, as we step back into an era when these streets teemed with immigrants. When the steamy night smelled of sweating bodies and strange spices. Come back to a night when murder was in the air!‖ With a dramatic wave, he beckoned the group to follow him to Oxford Place, where they all moved in closer to listen. Gazing at their attentive faces, he thought: Now it‘s time to enchant them, time to weave a spell
as only a ﬁne actor can. He spread his arms, and the sleeves of his mandarin robe ﬂapped like satin wings as he took in a breath to speak. ― Mahhhh- mee!‖ one of the brats whined. ―He‘s kicking me!‖ ―Stop it, Michael,‖ the mother snapped. ―You stop it right this minute.‖ ―I didn‘t do anything!‖ ―You‘re annoying your brother.‖ ―Well, he‘s annoying me.‖ ―Do you boys want to go back to the hotel? Do you?‖ Oh Lord, please go back to your hotel, thought Billy. But the two brothers just stood glowering at each other, arms crossed, refusing to be entertained. ―As I was saying,‖ continued Billy. But the interruption had ruined his concentration, and he could almost hear the pffft! of the dramatic tension leaking away like air from a balloon with a hole in it. Gritting his teeth, he continued. ―It was a steamy night in August. In this square, after a long day‘s work in their laundries and grocery stores, a crowd of Chinamen sat resting.‖ He hated that word Chinamen, but forced himself to say it anyway, to evoke an era when newspapers regularly referred to furtive and sinister Orientals. When even Time magazine had seen ﬁt to describe malice palely half-smiling from faces as yellow as telegraph blanks. An era when Billy Foo, a Chinese American, would have found no jobs open to him except as laundryman or cook or laborer. ―Here in this square, a battle is about to erupt,‖ said Billy. ―A battle between two rival Chinese clans, the On Leongs and the Hip Sings. A battle that will leave this square awash in blood . . . ―Someone lights a ﬁrecracker. Suddenly the night explodes with gunﬁre! Scores of Chinamen ﬂee in terror! But some do not run fast enough, and when the bullets fall silent, ﬁve men lie dead or dying. They are just the latest casualties in the bloody and infamous tong wars . . .‖ ―Mommy, can we go now?‖ ―Shhhh. Listen to the man‘s story.‖ ―But he‘s borrrring.‖ Billy paused, hands twitching to grab the little brat around the throat. He shot the boy a poison glance. The unimpressed kid just shrugged. ―On foggy nights like this one,‖ Billy said through clenched teeth, ―you can sometimes hear the distant sound of those ﬁrecrackers. You can see shadowy ﬁgures ﬂit past in mortal terror, forever desperate to escape the bullets that ﬂew that night!‖ Billy turned, waving an arm. ―Now follow me across Beach Street. To another place where ghosts dwell.‖ ―Mommy. Mommy!‖ Billy ignored the little turd and led the group across the street. Keep smiling, keep up the patter. It’s all about the tips. He had to maintain the energy for only another hour. First they‘d head to Knapp Street for the next stop. Then it was on to Tyler Street and the gambling parlor where ﬁve men were massacred in ‘91.
In Chinatown, there were murder sites galore. He led the group down Knapp Street. It was scarcely more than an alley, poorly lit and little traveled. As they left behind the lights and trafﬁc of Beach Street, the temperature suddenly seemed to plummet. Shivering, Billy wrapped his mandarin robe tighter. He had noticed this disturbing phenomenon before, whenever he ventured down this section of Knapp. Even on warm summer nights, he always felt cold here, as if a chill had long ago settled into the alley, never to dissipate. His tour group seemed to notice it as well and he heard jackets zip up, saw gloves emerge from pockets. They fell silent, their footsteps echoing off the buildings that loomed on either side. Even the two brats were quiet, as if they sensed that the air was different. That something lingered here, something that devoured all laughter and joy. Billy came to a halt outside the abandoned building, where a locked gate covered the door and steel bars secured the ground-ﬂoor windows. A rusting ﬁre escape clambered up to the third and fourth ﬂoors, where every window was boarded up tight, as if to hold prisoner something that lurked inside. His group huddled closer together, seeking escape from the chill. Or was it something else they sensed in this alley, something that made them draw into a tight circle as if for protection? ―Welcome to the setting of one of Chinatown‘s most grisly crimes,‖ said Billy. ―The sign on the building is now gone, but nineteen years ago, behind these barred windows, was a little Chinese seafood restaurant called the Red Phoenix. It was a modest establishment, just eight tables inside, but known for its fresh shellﬁsh. It was late on March thirtieth, a damp and cold night. A night like this one, when the normally bustling streets of Chinatown were strangely quiet. Inside the Red Phoenix, only two employees were at work: the waiter, Jimmy Fang. And the cook, an illegal immigrant from China named Wu Weimin. Three customers came to eat that night— a night that would be their last. Because in the kitchen, something was very wrong. We‘ll never know what made the cook snap and go berserk. Maybe it was the long, hard hours he worked. Or the heartbreak of living as a stranger in a strange land.‖ Billy paused. His voice dropped to a chilling whisper. ―Or maybe it was some alien force that took hold of him, some evil that possessed him. An evil that made him pull out a gun. Made him storm into the dining room. An evil that still lingers here, on this dark street. All we know is that he pointed his gun and he . . .‖ Billy stopped. ―And he what?‖ someone prompted anxiously. But Billy‘s attention was ﬁxed overhead, his gaze riveted to the roof, where he swore something had just moved. It was merely a ﬂutter of black on black, like the wing of a giant bird ﬂapping against the sky. He strained to catch another glimpse of it, but all he saw now was the skeletal outline of the ﬁre escape hugging the wall. ―Then what happened?‖ one of the brats demanded.
Billy looked at the thirteen faces staring at him expectantly and tried to remember where he‘d left off. But he was still rattled by whatever had ﬂitted against the sky. All at once, he was desperate to get out of that dark alley and ﬂee this building. So desperate that it took every ounce of willpower not to run back toward Beach Street. Toward the lights. He took a deep breath and blurted: ―The cook shot them. He shot them all. And then he killed himself.‖ With that, Billy turned and quickly waved them on, leading them away from that blighted building with its ghosts and its echoes of horror. Harrison Avenue was a block ahead, its lights and trafﬁc beckoning warmly. A place for the living, not the dead. He was walking so quickly that his group fell behind, but he could not shake off the sense of menace that seemed to coil ever tighter around them. A sense that something was watching them. Watching him. A woman‘s loud shriek made him spin around, heart hammering. Then the group suddenly erupted in noisy laughter, and one of the men said, ―Hey, nice prop! Do you use it on all your tours?‖ ―What?‖ said Billy. ―Scared the crap out of us! Looks pretty damn realistic.‖ ―I don‘t know what you‘re talking about,‖ said Billy. The man pointed at what he assumed was part of the performance. ―Hey, kid, show him what you found.‖ ―I found it over there, by the trash bin,‖ said one of the brats, holding up his discovery. ―Ewww. It even feels real. Gross!‖ Billy took a few steps closer and suddenly found he couldn‘t move, couldn‘t speak. He froze, staring at the object the boy was holding. He saw inky droplets trickle down and spatter the boy‘s jacket, but the boy didn‘t seem to notice it. It was the boy‘s mother who started screaming ﬁrst. Then the others joined in, shrieking, backing away. The bafﬂed boy just stood there holding up his prize as blood dripped, dripped onto his sleeve.
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BLOOD COUNT ROBERT GODDARD
‘When it comes to duplicity and intrigue, Goddard is second to none . . . A master of manipulation’ Daily Mail
Published 15th September 2011 Corgi Paperback Currently available in hardback
Robert Goddard was born in Hampshire and read History at Cambridge. His first novel, Past Caring, was an instant bestseller. Since then his books have captivated readers worldwide with their edge-of-the-seat pace and their labyrinthine plotting. His first Harry Barnett novel, Into the Blue, was winner of the first WHSmith Thumping Good Read Award and was dramatized for TV, starring John Thaw.
‗The holiday starts here,‘ Edward Hammond murmured to himself. He took a sip of sparkling mineral water and gazed idly across the club lounge, out through the wide windows at the gated and taxi-ing aircraft on the runway. Heathrow, on a grey February afternoon, made for an uninspiring vista, but Hammond‘s sights were already set on the ski slopes of Austria, where conditions, according to the newspaper, were outstanding: superb powder at Obergurgl, no less. Peter and Julie were already in Austria, in the middle of a fortnight‘s break. Hammond had spoken to Julie last night and learnt for the first time that a friend called Sophie had joined them. This sounded to him suspiciously like a matchmaking ploy – not the first such effort on Julie‘s part to find him a wife during the thirteen years that had passed since Kate‘s death. Maybe something would happen between him and Sophie, maybe not, but marriage was certainly not on the horizon as far as he was concerned. He was aware, of course, that he was more than averagely good-looking for a man of fifty-two. He went to some lengths (twenty in the pool, for starters) to keep himself so and had ample evidence of his attractiveness to women. His wealth and his status in the world qualified him as a desirable catch. But he did not wish to be caught. Marriage to Kate, and the manner of its ending, had left him wary of long-term relationships. Their daughter, Alice, now halfway through her first year at university, had often assured him she would not stand in his way. ‗I only want you to be happy, Dad.‘ And that was what he always claimed and generally believed himself to be: happy – up to a point. A man‘s state of mind, a psychiatrist friend had once told him, hinges on his ability to compromise between what is worth remembering and what is best forgotten; between what can be controlled and what cannot. It was a precept Hammond had tried to live by. One of the things besides the state of the Alpine ski resorts he had looked for in the newspaper was a name he knew he would eventually see in a headline. But the name had not been there. The proceedings he assumed were still continuing in The Hague did not currently merit the media‘s attention. And for that, at the outset of his much needed holiday, he was duly grateful. But his gratitude was on a short lease. It ended, though he did not at first realize it, when someone close by said, ‗Dr Hammond?‘ He opened his eyes to find a tall, curvaceous, strikingly attractive young woman standing in front of him. She was olive-skinned and dark-haired, dressed clingingly in black, with glittering jewellery and generous cleavage
vying for his attention. She had a drink in one hand and a carry-on bag in the other. A smile might have been expected to complete the package, whatever exactly the package was, but she was not smiling. Quite the contrary. She looked as if smiling was the last thing she intended to do. ‗May I join you?‘ There was an accent – Spanish, he would have guessed – wrapped round the huskily spoken English. ‗Certainly. Do we . . .‘ She sat down in the vacant chair next to his, dropping the bag at her feet. The ice clinked in her glass and the dangling hoops of her earrings chimed faintly in unison. ‗Do we know each other?‘ If she had ever been a patient of his, he felt sure he would remember. But nothing stirred in his memory. ‗I have seen you before.‘ She took a sip of her drink – it smelt like brandy – and clunked the glass down beside his. ‗But we have never talked to each other. Until now.‘ She was breathing rapidly, he noticed. She was nervous, though what about he could not imagine. ‗Where did you . . . see me before?‘ ‗Belgrade.‘ She cleared her throat. ‗Thirteen years ago.‘ ‗Really?‘ He hoped he sounded airily unconcerned, though in truth he wished she had said anywhere else at any other time. His trip to Belgrade in the spring of 1996 was not something he welcomed any reminders of. The man he had gone there to treat was now being tried in The Hague. His crimes could in no sense be laid at Hammond‘s door. And yet . . . ‗I don‘t . . . recall the occasion,‘ he said, smiling casually. ‗My name is Ingrid Hurtado-Gazi, Dr Hammond,‘ she said quietly. ‗I am Dragan Gazi‘s daughter.‘ He was not often lost for words. A facility for fluent and reassuring phrasemaking was one of the strengths of his consulting-room manner. But it had deserted him now. He simply did not know what to say. Though he did know that silence was not an option. ‗I see. Right. Of course. Well . . .‘ ‗When I saw you come in, I could not . . . believe my luck.‘ ‗Your luck?‘ ‗I have a problem. A big problem. That is, my family does. We need help. From someone . . . we can rely on.‘ ‗Is your father ill?‘ It would not have surprised Hammond to learn that he was, though there had been no mention of it in the reports of his arrest last year. ‗No. He is well. He is in a bad place. But . . . he is well.‘ ‗Then, what . . .‘ ‗Come over to the window.‘ She nodded towards it, then cast an eloquent glance round at the smattering of people nearby. The spot she was suggesting put them at a safer distance from potential eavesdroppers. And she was clearly certain Hammond would value such safety.
‗All right.‘ They rose and moved to the window. Their ghostly reflections hovered between them and the blank grey sky, into which a plane was languidly rising. But there was nothing languid about Hammond‘s thoughts. They were racing to find a way out of an encounter that was already uncomfortable and might, he sensed, become far worse than that. It had been a mistake ever to go to Belgrade. He had been extravagantly rewarded, but he could not say now where the money had gone. He always maintained that the character of a patient is irrelevant. But he did not really believe it. In Gazi‘s case, how could he? ‗Where are you travelling to?‘ he asked, determined to retain an unflustered air as long as possible. ‗Madrid. I have aunts and uncles there. It will be good to see them before I go home.‘ ‗And home is?‘ ‗Buenos Aires. Papa married my mother during his years in Argentina. Maybe he spoke to you about his time there?‘ ‗No. He didn‘t.‘ Nor had he spoken about the persecutions, deportations, imprisonments, expropriations and exterminations that would later lead to his indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He had not spoken. And Hammond had not asked. ‗Where are you planning to go, Dr Hammond?‘ ‗Ski-ing in Austria.‘ She fell silent and looked away, out through the window. Then her full attention switched back to him. ‗I am sorry.‘ ‗About what?‘ ‗The chance of our meeting. Good for me. Not so good for you.‘ ‗What?‘ He wondered if he had misheard. But he knew he had not. And he was beginning to doubt that their meeting was any kind of chance. ‗I need you to do something for me. For my father. For my family.‘ ‗I don‘t think I can help you.‘ ‗I have not told you what it is yet.‘ ‗No. But, as you see, I‘m going away on holiday.‘ ‗No, doctor. You must stay here. In England.‘ ‗I beg your pardon?‘ ‗I am sorry.‘ Hammond looked her in the eye. ‗I really can‘t help you.‘
‗Will you at least let me tell you what I need you to do?‘ She touched his arm. ‗It will not take long. Just listen to me. Please.‘ Her soft, pleading tone and the stirrings of curiosity within him won Hammond over. He would hear her out. And then he would turn her down. ‗All right. Tell me.‘ ‗As you know, my father is a rich man,‘ she said, lowering her voice and leaning towards him until she was almost whispering in his ear. ‗But his money is hidden. It has to be. The Serbian government – and other people – would like to steal it from him. He wants us – his family – to have it. It is controlled by a man who used to work for him. We call him the Accountant. He lives here. In London. He can release the money to us.‘ ‗Ask him to, then.‘ ‗We have. But he has not replied to our messages. I do not know why.‘ ‗Go and see him.‘ ‗I cannot. I am followed everywhere. If they found out who the Accountant is, we would lose everything.‘ ‗You‘re being followed?‘ Hammond glanced over his shoulder. No one in the lounge appeared to be paying them the slightest attention. Was the woman paranoid? ‗It is true, Dr Hammond. I am safe here, in this room, but they were on my tail as far as check-in and they will have someone waiting for me in Madrid.‘ ‗Seriously?‘ ‗If it was not true, I would not have to ask you to contact the Accountant for me.‘ So they had come to the crux of the matter. She wanted him to act as her courier in order to lay hands on her father‘s money, most of which he had doubtless stolen in the first place. It was worse than Hammond might have imagined. And he had no intention of complying. He shook his head. ‗I‘m sorry, but—‘ ‗If you refuse, my father will say things about you at his trial that you will not want him to say.‘ Her perfume was sweet, gardenia-scented. Was it only in his imagination that there was a tang of decay, of death, hovering behind it? He could not be sure. ‗Your father can say whatever he likes. I‘ve nothing to reproach myself for.‘ ‗He has told me, Dr Hammond.‘ Her expression was unflinchingly serious. ‗I know.‘ ‗What do you know?‘ ‗That part of your fee for treating my father was the murder of your wife.‘
Hammond‘s initial reaction to Ingrid Hurtado-Gazi‘s bizarre statement was akin to an out-of-body experience, except that the dislocation was temporal rather than spatial. He could not actually remember when someone had last mentioned the nature of Kate‘s death to him. Murder in all its brutal reality bred a reticence that time only entrenched. But now, at Ingrid‘s few words, he was transported back in his mind to the early months of 1996 and all the chaos and anger and tragedy that they had contained. The rapture of his first few years with Kate should, ironically, have warned him. Funny, infuriating, beautiful, electrifying, clever, passionate and energetic, Kate believed life could be an endless game. Marriage and motherhood were always likely to test her tolerance, devoted though she was to Alice. Her affair with Alan Kendall was in some senses a predictable response. It made her, as she freely admitted, ‗feel more alive‘. But she was never one for half measures, or for living a lie. She wanted a divorce. She wanted a fresh start. Hammond moved out of their house in Wimbledon into a rented flat across the Common and embarked on a half-hearted affair of his own. The divorce negotiations became acrimonious. Haggling over money soured the discussions. His existence was miserable – and it promised to grow more miserable still. That was when Svetozar Miljanović, a Serbian liver specialist Hammond had met at a conference some years previously, contacted him with a lucrative proposition. Dragan Gazi, a powerful figure in the Milošević regime, was in urgent need of a liver transplant. Hammond‘s team at St George‘s was one of the best by anyone‘s analysis. The Dayton Peace Accord had brought a lifting of international sanctions against Serbia. There were no official obstacles to them going to Belgrade to treat Gazi. And Hammond could virtually name his own fee. It was money he had every reason to think he could avoid disclosing to Kate‘s lawyer. He accepted. He took an anaesthetist, a perfusionist and a theatre sister to Belgrade with him. They were there for ten days. The transplant itself went well. They were all too busy – and well-paid – to dwell on the war in Bosnia and Gazi‘s role in it. Hammond could not have denied finding it exhilarating to be sought out for his life-saving expertise and then to demonstrate it so successfully. There was something almost military about the efficiency and precision of what he and his team did. A week after their return to London, Kate was murdered in a supermarket car park. A mugging gone wrong was the police‘s best guess, or the motiveless act of a madman. They checked Hammond‘s whereabouts at the time, but never seriously suggested they suspected him of involvement. He was distraught, Kate‘s death forcing him to realize he had never stopped loving her. He held himself together largely for Alice‘s sake. As the weeks and months passed, he lost hope that the police would ever find Kate‘s killer. Miljanović reported periodically on Gazi‘s recovery. He was doing well. From Gazi himself there was no word. Until now, indirectly, through his softly-spoken daughter, who gazed sombrely at Hammond in the pewter-grey light of the present day, awaiting his response. ‗This . . . is . . . utter nonsense.‘ The words came stumbling out of him.
Ingrid shook her head. ‗Not according to my father.‘ ‗He had nothing to do with my wife‘s death. There was no . . . deal of any kind.‘ ‗He says there was.‘ ‗It‘s a lie.‘ ‗But your wife is dead. And the killer has never been found. Why should my father admit he is responsible if he is not?‘ Why indeed? That was a question to which there were only dark and disturbing answers. ‗I believe my father, Dr Hammond. I think others will too. You have colleagues, friends, a family. How will they take this? You can deny it, of course. But will your denial convince them?‘ God, what about Alice? Would she wonder if her father might have been capable, in the throes of a bitter divorce, of commissioning her mother‘s murder? Would the care and the love he had put into her upbringing be sufficient to banish her every doubt? ‗Maybe there will not be enough for the police to act on. But there will be enough for suspicion. And that is all it takes to ruin a man in your position.‘ That much was horribly plausible. There were always people willing to believe a lie, especially as cunning a one as this. And just how big a lie was it? Had Gazi really ordered Kate‘s killing, for some warped reason of his own? Had he foreseen the need to have a hold on Hammond? Had he anticipated that one day he might find it convenient to be able to force his surgeon to do his bidding? ‗My father will say nothing if you help me. Contact the Accountant. Arrange for the money to be released. That is all I am asking you to do. It is a simple thing, easy for you to accomplish. You would be foolish to refuse.‘ Simple? Easy? Maybe. Maybe not. Hammond felt as if quicksand was sucking at his feet. If he stood still, he would sink. But the way out led only deeper in. ‗Well, Dr Hammond?‘
Svetozar Miljanović was a small, animated man, built like a jockey, with a smile ever at the ready to transform his features. Only when he forgot himself did the melancholy and weariness emerge. And even then it required a trained eye to notice them. Edward Hammond possessed such an eye. It was part of his diagnostic technique. Most diseases, according to his GP father, were apparent before a patient described a single symptom. It was all there, in the face, the hands, the posture. You only needed to be able to see. What Hammond saw in his dinner companion at the Sheraton that late February evening in 1996 was desperation well concealed, but not concealed quite well enough. He felt sure Miljanović had been living and working in unenviable conditions over recent years. It could hardly be otherwise, given Serbia‘s pariah status in the world on account of its role in the bloody conflict in Bosnia, not to mention the hyper-inflation and gangsterism the country had become a byword for. Miljanović‘s cheery proclamation that ‗Everything is better since Dayton‘ was undoubtedly accurate. But better did not necessarily mean good. ‗I was sorry I couldn‘t help you place your hep C paper, Svetozar,‘ said Hammond, when it had become obvious Miljanović did not propose to raise the subject. The paper had been an illuminating examination of the rampant spread of hepatitis C in the former Yugoslavia arising from drug abuse and infected blood transfusions. It had clearly merited publication, but none of the journals had wanted to court controversy by carrying a piece by a Serbian author. ‗You could re-submit it now sanctions have been lifted.‘ ‗Maybe I will.‘ Miljanović‘s tone suggested he had more pressing matters to consider. ‗When I have the time.‘ ‗Busy?‘ ‗Oh yes. Alcoholism. Drug addiction. And the hep C problem. They‘ve all increased because of the troubles we‘ve had. My fellow countrymen haven‘t been taking good care of their livers, Edward. They keep me very busy. And you? All is well?‘ ‗Professionally, never better.‘
‗But personally?‘ Hammond sighed. ‗I‘ve recently split up with my wife.‘ Miljanović grimaced. ‗Ah, I‘m sorry. That‘s bad. You have a daughter, I think.‘ ‗Yes. It‘s awful for Alice. She doesn‘t know whether she‘s coming or going.‘ ‗How old is she?‘ ‗Seven.‘ Another grimace. ‗A seven-year-old needs a mother and a father – together.‘ Hammond summoned a rueful grin. ‗You should tell my wife that.‘ ‗Is there . . . someone else?‘ ‗I‘m afraid so. Kate‘s traded me in for a sportier model.‘ Miljanović looked for a moment as if the weight of Hammond‘s distress was weighing on his shoulders as well. ‗I feel for you, Edward. No man should suffer that. Your news . . . makes me wonder if I should . . . trouble you with my proposal.‘ ‗I‘d welcome anything that might take my mind off the mess my life is in, Svetozar. Propose ahead.‘ ‗Very well.‘ Miljanović lowered his voice confidentially and leant across the table. ‗I have a very important patient who needs a liver transplant. We simply do not have the expertise in Belgrade. Many of our best people have left the country. I have a good team. But I doubt they can cope with all the complications of the procedure. I thought of you. Your reputation is . . . as high as they come. You and your team could do it, Edward. I know that.‘ ‗In Belgrade?‘ ‗My patient cannot travel. He fears . . . an indictment from The Hague.‘ ‗What has he done?‘ Miljanović shrugged. ‗Bad things, I guess. I‘m not sure. He led some kind of volunteer force in Bosnia. And . . . he has criminal connections. He has lots of connections all round. I cannot tell you a lie. He is not a nice man. But he is powerful and he is sick and I have to treat him. I have, to be truthful, no choice.‘ Was this, Hammond wondered, the root of the desperation he had sensed? The patient was not someone whose death Miljanović could afford to be in any degree responsible for. But die he well might, however good his surgeon. ‗I should also tell you he is very wealthy. He would be willing to pay . . . a quarter of a million pounds.‘ The figure was higher than Hammond would have guessed. Ten days or so in Belgrade for the lion‘s share of a quarter of a million pounds. It was hard to say no to. He needed a break and, though this would scarcely be a holiday, at least it would take his mind off Kate, her grasping lawyer and the too-smooth-to-betrue man she claimed to be in love with. There might even be a way of ensuring
that the money never came to the attention of the grasping lawyer, a possibility Miljanović seemed to have anticipated. ‗It could be paid in any way that . . . you specified.‘ ‗Could it now?‘ ‗What do you say, Edward? It would be an honour for me to work with you.‘ ‗I‘d need to know a lot more before I could give you a decision.‘ ‗Of course. Of course.‘ ‗The patient – what‘s his name?‘ ‗Dragan Gazi.‘ ‗Well, I‘ve certainly never heard of him.‘ Miljanović smiled. ‗Good.‘
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FIRST FROST JAMES HENRY
‘Frost is back – this is a brilliant read, I can’t recommend it highly enough’ Martina Cole
Published 27th October 2011 Corgi Paperback Currently available in hardback
James Henry is the pen name for James Gurbutt and Henry Sutton. James Gurbutt is a publisher at Constable & Robinson, R.D. Wingfield's original publisher back in the 1980s. Henry Sutton is the author of seven novels under his own name. His latest, Get Me Out Of Here, was published by Harvill Secker in January 2010. He is the Books Editor of the Daily Mirror, and teaches creative writing at the UEA.
Prologue He followed them up the escalator to the third floor – children’s clothes and lingerie. The woman was in no hurry. He was, but he knew he had to be careful. He’d spotted a security guard on the ground floor. Couldn’t see one on this floor, yet. Saturday afternoon and the place was heaving – perfect. Perhaps he was in luck. He thought there should have been a guard on every floor, big place like this. This was no way to run a department store, recession or not. If only things had been as slack when he was a player. Then he wouldn’t be in this mess. He’d be living the high life, a big happy family in tow. El Dorado. That’s how it should have been. They were looking at school uniforms. Short, grey pleated skirts. Navy sweaters. Crisp white shirts, bearing the logo of St Mary’s College for Girls. So that was where his girl went. He pretended to be browsing through the duffel coats, aware he was the only man on the floor. He played with a toggle, wondering what it would be like to fasten a child into such a garment, snug as a rug. To give her a kiss and a cuddle, hold her tight. He’d missed a lot. But it wasn’t too late. He was still young and fit. He’d made good use of the indoor facilities. The girl had removed her own coat and was trying on a sweater, out on the shop floor, under the bright spotlights, in front of everyone. He couldn’t believe how tall she was, for her age. They grew up fast nowadays, all right. Music was coming from somewhere. What a racket. When he was younger and into all that stuff at least they knew how to play proper instruments, and sing in tune. None of this electronic nonsense. Or boys dressing as girls. He was amazed at how so much had changed in little over a decade. Changed for the worst. She had picked out a skirt and was holding it against her waist. Not out here, my angel, he thought. Surely her mother had to say something, get her into a changing room. This wasn’t right. Who knew who could be watching? He couldn’t stand it. He shuffled further behind the rack of coats, breathing heavily. His head was throbbing. It was all going wrong already. About to blow his cover, a large, buxom, middle-aged woman, wearing the store’s colours (a black skirt and a pale-green blouse, which was at least two sizes too small for her) walked up to the mother and child. He couldn’t hear what was said but this woman – the floor manager? – pointed to a far corner. The changing rooms. He had been thinking everything was lost but now a new opportunity suddenly presented itself. The girl sloped off towards the changing rooms, clutching an armful of tiny skirts and tops, while the mother drifted across to the lingerie. That woman hasn’t changed, he thought. The tart.
He hung back for a couple of minutes; then, with his heart thumping wildly and his right hand clasping the still-damp handkerchief in his jacket pocket, he walked quickly across the floor, and slipped behind the partially drawn curtains leading to the cubicles. Surprise was going to be his best weapon. Plus a bit of luck. It was about time things went his way: he’d already paid a heavy price.
Saturday Detective Constable Sue Clarke sat on the edge of a soft, black leather armchair, across the living room from Mr and Mrs Hudson, who were slumped at either end of a matching settee. Mrs Wendy Hudson, a pretty, curvy fake blonde, in her late thirties, was clutching a tissue. Mr Steven Hudson, of a similar age, but with a slim, boyish build, and also with blond highlights in his hair, fashionably tufty on top and long at the sides, was drawing heavily on a Silk Cut. It was eight o‘clock at night. Pitch black and raining hard outside the neat, warm Hudson home. DC Sue Clarke said, addressing Mrs Hudson, ‗I know this is hard for you but try to remember everything as clearly as possible. You never know what might be useful.‘ Having just turned twenty-five, and recently promoted to CID, Clarke was anxious to play it by the book, and not make any mistakes in her questioning. ‗I‘ll try,‘ said Mrs Hudson, looking up. Her voice was tired and shaky. ‗Tell me about the last time you saw your daughter, Julie. This was in Aster‘s, the department store, in the centre of Denton. Is that right?‘ ‗Yes,‘ said Mrs Hudson weakly. ‗We were in the school- uniform bit, on the third floor – Julie needed a new skirt. She went to the changing room with an armful of stuff, and that was the last I saw of her.‘ The woman choked back a sob. ‗You were waiting outside the changing room?‘ asked Clarke, her notepad in hand. ‗Not exactly.‘ Mrs Hudson was now keeping her eyes on the floor. She was wearing surprisingly high-heeled shoes, of a not dissimilar colour to the lurid orange-patterned carpet. Clarke pressed on. ‗Where were you, then?‘ ‗I suppose I‘d wandered over to another section – there‘s this new lingerie bit.‘ The woman coughed into her tissue. ‗But Julie‘s a big girl, she‘s very nearly thirteen. It‘s not like she needs me watching over her at all times.‘ ‗No, of course not,‘ said Clarke, noticing Mr Hudson flinch. ‗But how long was it before you realized she was missing?‘
‗I don‘t know. It couldn‘t have been more than twenty minutes. I went to find her in the changing rooms, and she wasn‘t there – nobody was.‘ Mr Hudson was now staring at his wife, and not, Clarke thought, out of sympathy or concern. He was angry. ‗Twenty minutes?‘ Clarke repeated, careful to not sound accusatory. ‗Julie always takes her time in front of a mirror,‘ explained Mrs Hudson. ‗Like her mother,‘ said Mr Hudson. ‗There was no attendant by the entrance to the changing rooms, I take it?‘ said Clarke. ‗No, there weren‘t many staff about at all.‘ ‗But the shop was busy?‘ ‗I‘ve seen it busier.‘ ‗You would know,‘ muttered Mr Hudson, standing up, stubbing his cigarette out in an ashtray on the glass-and-chrome coffee table, then sitting straight back down again. He was a short man, shorter than his wife. ‗The amount of time you spend in there, running up my account.‘ ‗Did you see anyone suspicious?‘ asked DC Sue Clarke. ‗What do you mean?‘ said Mrs Hudson, shifting un comfortably on the settee. Clarke‘s eye was momentarily distracted by the enormous television in the corner of the room. Beside it were a new VCR machine and a stack of video cassettes. From where Clarke was she couldn‘t read the titles. ‗Men,‘ she prompted. ‗Men behaving oddly.‘ ‗You mean like perverts?‘ Mrs Hudson gasped. ‗Do you think she could have been snatched?‘ said Mr Hudson, getting to his feet again. ‗We have to keep an open mind,‘ said Clarke. ‗But it would be very unusual.‘ ‗I didn‘t see anything, anyone behaving like that,‘ said Mrs Hudson quickly. ‗I‘m sure I would have noticed.‘ ‗Most likely she‘s gone off to meet a friend,‘ suggested Clarke. ‗I‘m sure she‘ll come bursting through your front door any moment.‘ ‗What if she doesn‘t?‘ said Mr Hudson. ‗Well, first of all we need to contact all her friends – see if they know anything. I‘ll need a list.‘ ‗She wouldn‘t do that,‘ said Mrs Hudson. ‗Just disappear like that.‘ ‗I wouldn‘t be so sure,‘ her husband disagreed. ‗She can be a right stubborn little cow at times.‘ ‗She can‘t have run away,‘ sobbed Mrs Hudson. ‗Why would she do that?‘
Clarke looked at her, the tears now rolling down her cheeks, and then hard at Mr Hudson. He was giving her the creeps. ‗Is she generally happy?‘ she asked. ‗Are things OK at home?‘ ‗She‘s in a world of her own,‘ said Mr Hudson, sitting down once more. ‗All she does is play records and get dressed up. Spends most of her time in her room.‘ ‗She‘s a good girl,‘ said his wife. ‗Headstrong at times, but who isn‘t at that age?‘ They all looked up to see Detective Constable Arthur Hanlon appear in the lounge doorway, red-faced and very out of breath. Though he was still in his thirties, Clarke had always thought her chubby colleague could easily pass for being two decades older; it wasn‘t just his weight and thinning salt-and-pepper hair, but his old-fashioned moustache, and cheap, unfashionable clothes. Hanlon had been searching the girl‘s bedroom, and was holding a framed photograph in his large, podgy hand. ‗I take it this is Julie?‘ He waved the picture around. ‗Yes,‘ said Mrs Hudson quietly. Clarke strained to see a photograph of a desperately slight girl in school uniform. She had hazel eyes, prominent cheekbones and a pointy nose. There was a streak of red in her shoulder-length, mousey hair. Clarke didn‘t think she looked much like either of her parents. ‗Can we borrow this?‘ Hanlon asked. ‗We‘ll need to get some copies made.‘ He turned the frame over in his hands. ‗Someone‘s taken her, haven‘t they?‘ Mrs Hudson suddenly wailed. ‗I‘m sure they haven‘t,‘ said Clarke, hoping to God they hadn‘t – such a vulnerable, impressionable-looking girl – and rising to her feet, not knowing whether she should walk over and comfort the woman. Her husband wasn‘t going to. ‗She‘ll show up soon enough,‘ Hanlon added cheerily. ‗I expect it‘s all been a bit of a misunderstanding.‘ ‗Don‘t bet on it,‘ Mr Hudson said sharply, standing again also.
Sunday (1) ‗Whatever next?‘ Desmond Thorley muttered, fumbling for the Harvey‘s Bristol Cream. It didn‘t feel like he‘d been asleep for long. The bottle appeared to be empty so he slumped back on his bench. However, the high-pitched shrieking, which had so rudely and painfully woken him, seemed to be getting worse. It sounded like a child. A young child. But not at this hour, in the middle of the woods, surely. His mind was playing games again, yet he couldn‘t just go back to sleep and he found himself sitting up again and peering out through a badly smudged and cracked window-pane. There was daylight, already, not that he could see much except tree trunks and branches and the sodden ground. He gathered his mound of threadbare coats and moth-eaten blankets tighter around him. Winter was fast approaching. He looked over at the old woodburning stove, knowing the chimney was blocked solid with tar, like his lungs, no doubt. Scratching his head, he then noticed, lying on the dirty wooden floor, his tin of tobacco – open and all but empty. Not even one shred of Old Holborn. Just at that moment his old railway carriage was rocked by that bloodcurdling noise again, worse than anything he‘d ever encountered on stage or screen; his bit-part acting career, though in the distant past, was still a vivid memory. It was no good, he knew he wasn‘t going to get back to sleep. Clasping his tatty covers around him, he swung his legs off the hard bench and let his feet fall to the sticky ground. He was already wearing his boots, what was left of them. Slowly he made his way to the end of the carriage. Pushing open the rickety wooden door, he blinked in the soft light. The freezing early-morning air making his bloodshot eyes water. The frantic, terrifying noise was coming from some way off, to the left of the end of his track, behind a wall of rhododendrons and a vast copper beech, its last few leaves still clinging on for dear life. Feeling a mixture of outrage and apprehensive curiosity, Thorley stepped gingerly down from his carriage and on to the forest floor. This was his home, his kingdom. How dare they wake him in such a manner. He was used to wind and rain battering Denton Woods, but it was strangely calm, which made the noise even more penetrating and unbearable. He heard a rustle coming from the bushes – he was certain of it. He walked to the end of his track, where it joined the main path, and while he was debating whether he should attempt to go straight through the middle of the rhododendron bushes, or take the less obstructed but longer route round, he heard short, heavy panting breaths behind him. Quickly turning, and managing to lose his grip on his blankets and outer garments at the same time, he was faced with the vision of a tall, perfectly built
young woman jogging towards him. She was wearing clothing so tight it left little to the imagination. Every bump and crevice was shockingly revealed. What was it with these female keep-fit types and their Lycra? Yet it was wasted on him: women weren‘t his thing. The woman was clearly startled, though rapidly seemed to feel reassured. Desmond Thorley knew he couldn‘t have appeared much of a threat. She nodded a hello before passing and then increasing her pace. He had seen her before, he was sure – with even less clothing on. Down by the north car park, that was where they came to do it, in the summer. Groups of them, sometimes. Men and women. ‗Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please,‘ Superintendent Stanley Mullett said loudly. He was standing between a desk and an incident board at the front of Denton Police Station‘s scruffy briefing room. ‗Gather forward, gather forward,‘ he added, noticing the lack of personnel, even for a Sunday. Mullett self-consciously fiddled with his papers while there was the noise of people slowly shuffling forward and changing seats. The new divisional commander was already regretting his decision to come to the station, straight before the golf club, despite the fact that his beige trousers were sharply creased and his Pringle sweater was neatly pressed too. However, when the Sunday newspapers had dropped on to his doormat Mullett had realized he needed to be at that morning‘s briefing. And there wouldn‘t have been time to change into uniform and then back into his golfing attire, and there was no way he was going to miss the tee-off time. Despite his exalted position in Denton, he was still very much the new boy at the Royal Denton Golf Club. ‗It has come to my attention that certain members of the fourth estate are already making enquiries about twelve-year-old Julie Hudson,‘ Mullet said, suspecting there was a leak from the station. ‗The Southern Estate, did you say?‘ coughed someone to his side. ‗No, the fourth estate,‘ repeated Mullett. He continued, ‗The press, the press.‘ He paused. ‗By the way, where is everyone?‘ There were fewer than a dozen officers in the room. A scattering of plainclothes and uniform. ‗The clocks went back, not forward, last night,‘ snapped Mullett. ‗There really is no excuse.‘ He slapped the Sunday Mirror on to the desk. Lifting his head, in an attempt at conveying superiority, he caught a couple of people bemusedly studying their watches. Only six months into the job, Mullett was having a desperate time trying to gain control of the overstretched and under-resourced station. The Denton Division had been the laughing stock of the county. No one, except possibly Detective Inspector Jim Allen, had a clue what they were meant to be doing. But Allen was in the middle of a walking holiday in the Peak District, and
Detective Inspector Bert Williams, who should have been in charge this morning, was nowhere to be seen. It was just as well that Mullett had made the detour between home and the club. ‗See this,‘ he said angrily, unfolding the rag, and holding it up for the benefit of the half-empty room. ‗You‘re holding it upside down, sir,‘ prompted the long, pale face of PC Pooley. Flustered, Mullett turned the paper the right way up. ‗What it says, right across the front page – and I quote – is, ―COPS BEATEN BY CHILD MOLESTERS‖. Inside, the paper details what it claims are the mistakes police, right up and down the country, are making by not monitoring paedophiles. We‘re being accused of rape and murder.‘ A terrible squeaking sound was coming from the middle of the room. ‗These seats, sir. Sorry,‘ apologized Detective Constable Arthur Hanlon. ‗There must be something wrong with them.‘ Mullett was not going to enter into a discussion about the new office furniture. He was aware that people had already been grumbling, the ungrateful slobs. ‗When I want your opinion, Detective, you‘ll know about it.‘ Mullett‘s stride was well and truly ruined – and it was only ten past nine in the morning. He looked about the room, hoping DI Bert Williams might have materialized, ready to take over with the finer details, as per his duty. But he was still nowhere to be seen. Right, Mullett said firmly to himself; he was not going to be derailed by a lack of attendance and discipline. ‗Now, while the nature of Julie Hudson‘s disappearance bears some similarities with the case of Miranda Connelly – the girl who was snatched from a department store in Bath last July – there are enough differences for me to believe at the moment that there is no connection. Notably, Miranda Connelly was a good four years younger, and the store in question had virtually no security. I don‘t like to say it, but it was a case of somewhat easy pickings. Aster‘s, as we all know, is a famously well-run ship – the pride of Denton.‘ There was a titter from the floor, but Mullett didn‘t bother to look up. ‗I doubt very much that Aster‘s was being targeted by a paedophile. No. In fact, I don‘t believe Julie Hudson was snatched by anyone,‘ he continued. ‗And the last thing I want is for the press to start printing such nonsense.‘ He paused, running his fingers down his newly trimmed moustache. ‗Where‘s DC Clarke?‘ ‗She‘s off duty today, sir,‘ replied DC Hanlon, accompanied by more of the awful squeaking. ‗Taking a well-deserved rest,‘ someone else chipped in. ‗Frisky little thing.‘ As a further bout of tittering subsided, Mullett said calmly, ‗Hanlon, you were with DC Clarke when she interviewed Mr and Mrs Hudson together yesterday evening at their home. I‘ve read Clarke‘s report – am I right in thinking there are good grounds to believe that Julie has in fact run away?‘
‗That‘s the impression we both arrived at, sir,‘ said Hanlon. ‗As you will have read, Mr and Mrs Hudson appear to have a number of personal issues, to say the least. Frankly, they could barely look each other in the eye. And the girl‘s bedroom was suspiciously tidy, as if one of the parents had hurriedly cleaned the place up.‘ Mullett wasn‘t sure how much he trusted DC Clarke‘s intuition; she seemed rather immature and impressionable. Or Hanlon‘s for that matter. The great oaf was too fat to take seriously. Yet he was willing to give them credit here. A girl running away from home seemed straightforward enough, even for them. What he didn‘t need was pressure from the press drumming up hysteria. He knew how pernicious they could be, having been bitten once before – it had nearly ended his career. ‗Thank you, Hanlon. One of the reasons why I wanted to be here this morning, having been alerted to what our friends in Fleet Street are trying to cook up, is to make sure we approach this case with an appropriate and proportionate response.‘ Mullett‘s mind flashed to the evergreen fairways of the Royal Denton Golf Club, and the impressive men making up this morning‘s foursome. ‗I shouldn‘t have to spell it out,‘ he said, knowing that was exactly what he‘d have to do, ‗but we don‘t want any unnecessary attention. Which would distract us from our proper investigations.‘ ‗Does that mean, sir,‘ asked DS Frost, slumped in a seat at the back, puffing away, ‗that you don‘t want us to go public on this missing Julie Hudson?‘ ‗That‘s exactly what I‘m ordering – for the time being. I don‘t want public lynchings breaking out in Denton, just because a few tabloid hacks have it in for the police. DI Williams is in charge of this case. When he gets in. For the time being . . .‘ Mullett quickly glanced about the tatty room. It was going to take a lot more than the addition of a few modern comforts to get the place up to a standard befitting a modern division. ‗For the time being,‘ the station commander repeated slowly, ‗DS Frost will be handling the investigation.‘ Mullett doubted Frost could do a worse job than DI Williams, and he was, worryingly, the highest-ranking officer present. ‗I suggest, Frost,‘ he added, ‗you and Hanlon get straight over to the Hudsons‘ home and get this matter ironed out.‘ As he was heading for the exit Mullett suddenly stopped in his tracks, and shouted over his shoulder, ‗Oh, and I‘d also like to remind everyone that the canteen will be shut as of tomorrow, when we embark upon the next stage in the station‘s renovations. A replacement trolley service will be coming round throughout the day.‘ With that Mullett was out of the briefing room and marching down the corridor, only to feel a tap on his arm. ‗A quick word, Super.‘ It was DS Frost. ‗Bert, sorry, DI Williams, had asked me to process the October crime clear-up stats for County, which, as you know, are due in tomorrow first thing. But with me taking over the Hudson case, I don‘t see how I‘m going to make this deadline. There‘s an awful lot of paperwork.‘
There was a strong smell of tobacco, and cheap aftershave. The detective sergeant looked smart enough, if a little crumpled – suited, but the Paisley tie had seen better days. He was of medium height and build, with thinning, lightbrown hair, intense dark eyes and an almost permanent grin on his face. Mullett could never be sure whether Frost was being mocking or friendly. ‗You‘ll get it done, Frost,‘ he said. Though dismayed, Mullett was not surprised to hear that Williams had tried to pass on yet another one of his duties. ‗Enjoy your golf, sir,‘ Mullett heard Frost shout from the other end of the corridor. ‗Any sign of Inspector Williams?‘ Mullett asked irritably, not even looking in Station Sergeant Bill Wells‘s direction, as he was striding across the lobby. ‗No, sir,‘ said Wells, from behind the front desk. He was quickly shuffling the duty roster over his Pools coupon. ‗No sign, sorry, sir.‘ ‗Keep trying.‘ A few paces on, Mullett added, ‗Sunday morning or not, it wouldn‘t do any harm if you looked a little more alert. And this lobby is a bloody disgrace. But not for much longer – the decorators will be starting in here too in the next few days. I want the public to feel not just welcomed when they visit the station, but to realize we‘re in a properly organized division too. It‘s not a tatty social club, you know.‘ With that Wells watched the tall, straight-backed Mullett, in his ridiculous golfing gear, delicately push his way through the lobby doors, which Wells had to concede could do with a lick of paint, and march across the yard to his gleaming Rover, neatly aligned in the super‘s special parking slot. It‘s all right for some, Wells thought, retrieving his Pools coupon: golf, Sunday dinner, followed, no doubt, by a long snooze. He looked down at the scruffy receipt. He definitely hadn‘t won. The phone rang the second Wells was reaching for his tea mug. Control was putting through calls to the front desk because they were understaffed – part of Mullett‘s bloody new cost-cutting regime, which was hitting the weekends worst. ‗Can you speak up,‘ Wells said. ‗What was that? You‘ve just seen a van circling Market Square?‘ ‗Yes,‘ the softly spoken male voice replied. ‗At least half a dozen times.‘ Wells thought he could detect a trace of an Irish accent. His heart skipped a beat. ‗What colour was the van?‘ ‗White. It was white.‘ ‗Any idea of the make?‘ ‗Ford Transit. No doubt about it.‘ ‗I don‘t suppose you got the licence number?‘ Wells asked hopefully. ‗Yes, I did.‘
‗And?‘ ‗Hang about a moment. Yes, here it is: N16 UES.‘ ‗Wait a minute.‘ Wells fumbled for his pen and the call- register log. ‗Can you repeat that, please? Hello? Hello?‘ The man had rung off, before Wells had had time to slide open the panel behind him and alert PC Ridley, the duty controller, to listen in. Bugger, he said to himself. All he could remember of the licence number was that it had an ‗N‘ and an ‗S‘ in it, and maybe an eight too. ‗Look who we‘ve got here – it‘s the Old Bill.‘ Frost had appeared in the lobby, making for the exit. ‗Hello, Jack, off somewhere nice?‘ ‗You know me, Bill, and my love of the great outdoors. Talking of which, I don‘t suppose Inspector Allen‘s rung in from his hols? There‘s some info missing from the crime clear-up stats I‘m meant to be processing for County HQ. Maybe I‘ll leave the lot on his desk for his return, and he can join up the dots.‘ ‗Jim Allen‘s not going to like that. Nor is the super, Jack, if it‘s late. Allen‘s away for another week.‘ ‗They get paid more than us, Bill. Let‘s not forget.‘ ‗I haven‘t, Jack.‘ As Frost was nearing the exit, Wells added, ‗Oh by the way, Jack, it probably isn‘t anything, but a man just rang in to say he‘d seen a white van being driven round and round Market Square.‘ ‗I don‘t suppose he kindly supplied the licence number as well?‘ ‗No . . . not all of it. But he said it was a Transit.‘ ‗Did he now? Well, nothing to worry about then—‘ Wells watched in horror as a disgusting mound of rags and bones entered the station and collided with Frost. ‗Jesus,‘ a winded Frost spluttered, immediately starting to brush his mac. ‗It‘s Steptoe without his son.‘ ‗Sorry, Mr Frost, I didn‘t see you,‘ croaked Desmond Thorley. ‗Looks like times are treating you as well as ever, Des,‘ said Frost. ‗Amazing what riches lurk in Denton Woods.‘ ‗You‘d be surprised, Mr Frost.‘ ‗I‘m sure I would. So what brings you back to the land of the living?‘ Frost had paused by the exit. ‗I want to report an incident,‘ said Thorley. ‗Don‘t tell me. On a dark and stormy night,‘ said Frost.
‗It was morning, actually. And very cold too.‘ ‗Is that right? Well, old Bill Wells over there is ready and waiting with pen and paper. Spin him a good one and he might even fetch you a cuppa.‘ ‗You‘ll be lucky,‘ muttered Wells.
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THE PAYBACK SIMON KERNICK
‘Simon Kernick generates a potent cocktail of thrills’ Guardian
Published 10th November 2011 Corgi Paperback Currently available in hardback
Simon Kernick is one of Britain's most exciting thriller writers. He arrived on the scene with his highly acclaimed debut novel The Business of Dying, and his big breakthrough came with his novel Relentless which became the bestselling thriller of 2007. Simon's research is what makes his thrillers so authentic. He talks both on and off the record to members of Special Branch, the Anti-Terrorist Branch and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, and hears first hand what actually happens in the dark and murky underbelly of UK crime. To find out more about his thrillers, visit: www.simonkernick.com
As soon as the man in black walked into the cluttered little office, a briefcase in one gloved hand, a large, lethal-looking pistol in the other, Nick Penny realized that in an occasionally distinguished career of stepping on the toes of those with something to hide, he‘d finally planted his size nines squarely on the wrong ones. ‗You‘ve been a bad boy,‘ said the man in heavily accented yet perfect English, coming towards Penny‘s desk and raising the pistol so it was pointed at the centre of his chest – a cold, knowing expression on a face that was otherwise perfectly ordinary. Penny was frozen to his seat. ‗Please,‘ he whispered, conscious of his heart hammering in his chest. ‗I don‘t want to die.‘ ‗No one wants to die, Mr Penny,‘ said the gunman evenly. ‗Unfortunately, in this matter you have no choice.‘ Instinctively, Penny shut his eyes and gritted his teeth, waiting for the impact of the bullet. But the gunman didn‘t pull the trigger. Instead, he took a seat opposite him. ‗Where you do have a choice, however,‘ he continued, waiting until Penny opened his eyes again, ‗is the manner in which you depart.‘ He motioned towards Penny‘s open notebook. ‗I want you to write three short letters. The first will be to your wife, asking for her forgiveness, and apologizing both for your deception and for what you are about to do. You will address her as Nat and sign it Nick. The second will be to your former lover, saying that you can‘t take the pressure any more. You will address her as T, and sign it Mr P. The third will be to your daughters, Ella and Amelie. Again, you will ask for their forgiveness. You will also add that you hope one day they will understand your actions. You will, of course, sign this letter ―Love Daddy‖.‘ Penny flinched at the mention of his two daughters. He stared at the gunman, wondering how on earth this man knew so much about him. Not only the names of his family, but also that of the woman he‘d been seeing secretly for the past three months. He‘d worked incredibly hard to cover his tracks there, having no desire to cause Natalie undue upset, but even so, he‘d been found out by a complete stranger, and one who even knew the pet name his lover had used right up until the end of their affair, two weeks earlier. Mr P. He‘d loved the way she‘d purred it when they were in bed. The man must have bugged her house, as well as his own, which meant he was a professional – something that was obvious by his calm, unflappable manner, and the blankness of his expression. But to Penny, it also meant that he could be reasoned with. ‗Look, there must be some way we can sort this out,‘ he said, trying hard to keep the fear out of his voice.
‗I‘m afraid there isn‘t,‘ said the man, his expression unchanging. ‗You are to write those letters. Then you are to hang yourself from the overhead beam with rope that I will provide you with.‘ Penny instinctively looked up at the RSJ that ran from one end of the office to the other, knowing it would easily hold his weight, then back at the man sitting opposite him. He was finding it difficult to believe that this was happening. He‘d always known that some of the work he did carried with it an element of danger, but never in his worst nightmares had he expected to be staring down the barrel of a gun and pleading for his life. ‗Please . . .‘ he whispered. ‗Start writing, Mr Penny, and don‘t worry if you‘ve forgotten what to say. I can dictate.‘ Penny frowned. ‗You can‘t make me do it,‘ he said with a lot more confidence than he felt. ‗That gun‘s a nine-millimetre. It‘ll make a hell of a noise if it goes off in here, and you don‘t have a silencer.‘ He knew that the downstairs office was empty, and that the guy who worked next door was hardly ever there, but it was still possible that he could spook the man enough to make him think twice. But it didn‘t work. The man gave him a thin, bloodless smile. ‗That‘s true. But I‘m not going to need to fire it. I have something far better.‘ Still keeping the gun trained on Penny, he leaned down, unclipped the briefcase, and produced a small black netbook. He opened it up one-handed and placed it in the middle of the desk, with the screen facing Penny. ‗Press Enter and tell me what you see.‘ With a growing sense of dread, Penny did as he was told. And froze. His face crumpled. ‗Oh Jesus.‘ On the screen was a view of the rear of the cottage he shared with Natalie and his two children, taken from the woods at the end of the garden. By the way the screen was shaking slightly, it was clear that someone was filming the cottage with a handheld camera. In the foreground, he could make out the trampoline, as well as the plastic Wendy house that the girls had all but grown out of now. Because of the time of year, it was already dark and there were lights on inside. As he watched, terrified that something might have happened to them already, he saw the unmistakable figure of Natalie, her auburn hair in a tight ponytail, moving about in the kitchen, looking as if she was getting the girls‘ tea ready. The camera panned in on her, so that her top half took up much of the screen as she poured water into a saucepan, blissfully unaware that she was being watched. Looking up from the laptop, Penny watched as the gunman put a mobile phone to his ear and barked a command into it in Russian. A second later, the camera panned away from the cottage and the man holding it set it down, turning it round so that it was facing him. The cameraman took a couple of steps backwards so that the whole of his top half was visible. He wore dark clothing
and a balaclava, and Penny felt his heart lurch as he saw the huge hunting knife in his hand, the metal glinting in the moonlight. ‗The man you see there is an associate of mine,‘ explained the gunman matter-of-factly. ‗He‘s awaiting my orders. If I tell him to, he will go inside your house and round up your family, and then he will cut your wife‘s throat in front of your children, before cutting their throats one after the other.‘ Penny swallowed. He felt physically sick. ‗You can‘t do this,‘ he groaned, his voice shaking. ‗We can, and make no mistake, Mr Penny, we will – unless you do what you are told.‘ ‗But they‘re just bloody kids,‘ he said desperately, rubbing his hand across his forehead, wanting to launch himself at the man opposite and tear him apart limb from limb, but knowing, in reality, that he was utterly impotent. The gunman shrugged. ‗That‘s not my concern. And in case you think I‘m bluffing, I have to tell you that my associate is both psychotic and sadistic. Luckily for me, he‘s also reliable. He has killed on my behalf on three separate occasions, and neither the age nor sex of the victims means anything to him.‘ ‗Oh God . . .‘ ‗But if you do what I say, no harm will befall them.‘ ‗How do I know you‘re not lying? How do I know you won‘t kill them anyway?‘ ‗Because my client wants only you to die. And he wants your death to look...‘ He paused a moment. ‗Unsuspicious. Can you say that?‘ Penny found himself nodding. ‗If you write suicide notes and hang yourself, then it will look unsuspicious, but if we are forced to kill your family, then obviously it won‘t, which would cause my client problems. Therefore we would prefer to avoid such an outcome. Of course, your death will be unfortunate for your wife and children – they will no doubt be very upset – but it will be considerably better for them than the alternative.‘ ‗I know who your client is,‘ said Penny, his mind, like his pulse, racing. Like any human being in his situation, he couldn‘t accept that he was going to die. Instead, he was hunting for a survival strategy. Any strategy. ‗Look, I know now I‘m out of my depth, so I‘ll stop everything to do with the investigation right now. I‘ll never write another bloody word about it. You have my word on that.‘ He slapped a hand on his heart to signify that he meant what he said, hoping above all hope that it was enough. But it wasn‘t. The gunman simply smiled again. ‗I don‘t believe you, Mr Penny. Nor does my client. I‘m afraid either you write those notes, and do what I say, or I will give my associate the order to butcher your family. Take a good look at his knife and imagine it slicing across the throats of your wife and daughters while they scream for mercy, knowing that no one will hear them,
because your nearest neighbours are more than a hundred metres away. That‘s the problem with living somewhere isolated, isn‘t it?‘ Penny shook his head from side to side. ‗Oh Jesus,‘ he sobbed as it finally hit him that his life was almost certainly about to end. ‗Oh God.‘ ‗You have ten seconds to make up your mind.‘ Before he‘d become a father, Penny had always scoffed when his friends who were parents had told him that they wouldn‘t hesitate to die for their children. He‘d always been unable to understand the enormity of such a concept. But now that he had two beautiful daughters of his own, he knew with absolute certainty that they were right. In all honesty, he wouldn‘t have died for Natalie. Their marriage had long since degenerated into a meandering, loveless routine. He wouldn‘t have died for his lover, either. He was infatuated with her, maybe even loved her; but, in the end, he‘d always known it wasn‘t going to last for ever. But Ella and Amelie . . . there was no question. And he knew the man seated opposite him was deadly serious, because he knew exactly who the gunman‘s client was, and what that monster was capable of. Penny cursed himself for ever getting involved, for making himself so easy to follow and to trap, for buying an isolated cottage where the massacre of his family could take place without a soul knowing about it. He cursed himself for everything, even though it was far too late to change a thing. Then he stared into the pale face of the gunman, trying to locate a chink of humanity in the cold, professional demeanour, but finding none. ‗How can you live with yourself?‘ he asked with a final, instinctive show of defiance. The gunman allowed himself a small, knowing smile. ‗Far more easily than you could understand,‘ he answered, removing a length of rope from the briefcase as Penny opened his notebook and began writing.
The Axe Rises One
Hong Kong. It‘s the king of modern, twenty-first-century cities, an architectural marvel that grabs you the moment you leave the airport and travel along the smooth, almost traffic-free road, over immense bridges stretched like steel skeletons across a blue-grey sea that brims with junks and cargo ships heading in and out of one of the great natural harbours of the world. Seven million people live on this scattering of tiny mountainous islands, parts of which are still swathed in the same sub-tropical greenery that was there a thousand, probably even a million, years ago. Yet they‘re also home to a forest of glass and concrete skyscrapers that charge upwards, as if in competition, into the swirling white mist that so often clings to the mountaintops. Whether you like big cities or not, you can‘t help but be drawn to it. Personally, I don‘t much like them. I spent almost twenty years in London and that was easily enough urban living for several lifetimes. These days home is the hot, sleepy town of Luang Prabang in the forests of northern Laos, only a few hundred miles from Hong Kong as the crow flies but a million miles away in every other sense, and infinitely more preferable for a man like me. But even so, I still felt a small sense of awe as I stared out of the window of the taxi taking me to Hong Kong Island and my destination. I‘d only been here once before, about eighteen months ago, and that time it had been to kill a man – a brash, corrupt British ex-pat who thought he was invincible but wasn‘t. But that‘s another story. The reason for this visit was to see the man who was my occasional employer. His name was Bertie Schagel and he was Dutch. Now normally I like the Dutch. They‘re a genial bunch and they always speak excellent English, which makes communication easy. Bertie Schagel spoke excellent English, but he was not a nice man. In fact, he was one of the most repellent people I‘ve ever met – and I‘ve been unfortunate enough to meet quite a few of them in my life. But I owed him big-time and he‘d spent the last three years calling in the debt. It was Schagel who‘d sent me here the last time to kill the ex-pat, because that seemed to be one of his primary businesses, liquidating people on behalf of other people, and in the dog-eat-dog world of modern globalized capitalism, there seemed to be no shortage of work. In truth, I knew very little about Bertie Schagel. For security reasons, we always met in different locations around South East Asia whenever he had a job for me to do, and I had no idea where he actually resided. I didn‘t even have a phone number for him. He did all his communication via email from different hotmail addresses, always keeping details to a minimum. When he wanted me for a job, he wrote a message in the drafts section of an email account that only he and I had access to, giving me instructions about where we were to meet. I would read and delete it, then write another message in the drafts section in response, usually confirming my attendance. That way, no actual correspondence was ever sent across the net, which meant our conversation
couldn‘t be monitored by any interested parties. Schagel was extremely careful in the way he did business. To be honest, I couldn‘t even have told you if Bertie Schagel was his real name, although I suspected strongly that it wasn‘t. All I knew for sure was that he was utterly ruthless, and if I could have stopped working for him, I can promise you that I would have done. But for the moment at least I was tied to him, so that when he called I came running, just like he knew I would. I got the taxi driver to drop me off in front of L‘Hotel, a gleaming forty-storey structure in the Causeway Bay area of the city. Then, when he‘d pulled away, I picked up the bag I‘d been told to bring, containing enough clothes for three days, and doubled back along the Causeway Bay Road, with its monolithic buildings looming up on either side of me, until I came to the green oasis of Victoria Park. It was late afternoon and unseasonably warm and humid for February, with the sun managing to poke its head through the clouds as it began its descent over Kowloon. A t‘ai chi class for senior citizens was in progress on one of the greens, while couples of all ages sat on the benches lining the pathways, some holding hands as they enjoyed both the warmth and each other‘s company. I kept my head down as I walked. I didn‘t want to meet anyone‘s eye. These people might have been Chinese locals who would probably never in a million years have recognized me as a fugitive ex-police officer from England, a man wanted on murder charges by Interpol for almost the whole of the previous decade, but I‘d learned through bitter experience that there‘s no such thing as being too careful. Looking round furtively, I felt a pang of jealousy. Having been on the run for so long, I was in a state of perpetual loneliness, and it pained me to see the settled, shared lives of other people, because to do so served as a constant reminder of what I hadn‘t got. At the end of the park, I crossed the footbridge over the six-lane Victoria Highway and, remembering my instructions, walked along the modern waterfront of Causeway Bay harbour, amazed at how quiet it was, until I came to a flight of stone steps that led down to the water. A motorized white dinghy containing a muscular western man I didn‘t recognize, in T-shirt and sunglasses, bobbed up and down below me. The man gave me a cursory nod as I walked down the steps and clambered aboard, then, without a word, he started the engine and pulled back. The harbour was lined with a varied cluster of boats, with the most expensive nearest the shoreline, while the local junks were relegated to a far corner, next to the outer harbour wall. It was therefore no surprise that our journey lasted all of fifty yards until we came to the back end of one of the sleekest, most expensive-looking yachts in the place. Bertie Schagel was not the kind of man to scrimp when it came to his own comfort. A second westerner in T-shirt and sunglasses appeared on deck and took hold of the proffered rope as I came up the back steps. I slipped on the fibreglass and almost tumbled backwards, and he had to grab my arm to steady me. I nodded in thanks, recognizing him from my last meeting with Schagel in a Singapore hotel, slightly embarrassed to have lost the cool demeanour I like to portray in situations like this.
The guy pointed towards the lower deck, and taking a last look at the setting sun, I went through an open door and into the air-conditioned coolness of a dimly lit room where a very large man with a very large head sat in a huge leather tub chair that still looked tight around his rolling, multi-layered midriff. Bertie Schagel‘s thinning grey hair was slicked back, and he was wearing a black suit with a black open-necked shirt beneath it, from which sprouted a thick, wiry wodge of chest hair. He had an outsized glass of something alcoholic in one hand and a Cuban cigar, already half-smoked, in the other, making him look uncannily like Meatloaf in a Gordon Gekko fancy-dress costume. ‗Ah, Dennis, good you could make it,‘ he said with a loud smile, not bothering to attempt to extricate himself from the chair, which would have taken far too long. ‗Take a seat. Would you like a drink of something?‘ Normally I would have baulked at the prospect, as I never liked to mix business with pleasure, or spend any more time with Schagel than I absolutely had to, but the flight from Bangkok had taken it out of me. I told him I‘d have a beer. ‗Singha, if you‘ve got it.‘ ‗We‘ve got everything,‘ said Schagel, before leaning over his shoulder and calling out to someone to bring it through. A few seconds later, a dark-skinned Thai girl with dyed-blonde hair came through the door behind him, carrying the beer. She couldn‘t have been more than eighteen at most, which made her at least thirty years short of Schagel, and she was wearing tight denim hotpants and an even tighter, garish pink halter-top that clung like a second skin to her boyish body. As she set the bottle and a coaster down on the teak coffee table, Schagel leaned forward and, with an unpleasant leer, slapped her behind with a painful-sounding thwack. The girl flinched with shock but otherwise made no move to acknowledge what had happened, and retreated from the room without meeting my eyes. It was clear that Schagel was humiliating her for my benefit. He seemed to like doing that. Once, at another of our meetings, I‘d been made to wait while he‘d yelled abuse at someone in an adjoining room (I never knew if it was a man or a woman because whoever it was didn‘t speak once), ending his tirade with an audible slap before lumbering back into the room and greeting me with one of his sly, knowing smiles. I think it was his way of reminding me that he was the boss, the one in control; that he could do exactly what he liked, and there was not a thing that I, or anyone else, could do about it. Only once had I ever defied his orders. He‘d wanted me to kill a middle-aged Russian housewife based in Kuala Lumpur on behalf of her businessman husband, who it seemed didn‘t want to have the hassle of a divorce. The husband must also have been mightily pissed off with her about something because his instructions were that she was to be kidnapped, taken to an isolated location, and then beheaded live on film, a copy of the footage to be delivered to him afterwards. It never ceases to amaze, or sadden, me how twisted human beings can be. As Schagel had told me about the job, I was thinking about how low I‘d fallen to be having such a conversation. He‘d offered me a hundred and fifty thousand US dollars to do it – triple what I would normally expect – and it was clear he was getting paid a hell of a lot more than that. But I‘d turned him down flat.
I‘m not a good man. I‘ve killed people in my life who‘ve probably not deserved it. In fact, scotch that, I know I have. I‘ve acted as judge, jury and executioner when I‘ve had absolutely no right to do so. But I‘ve also lost a lot of sleep over what I‘ve done. Woken up in the middle of the night, sweating and terrified, as the ghosts of the past haunt my dreams, knowing that they‘ll always be there with me right up until the end of my life, and possibly even beyond. I‘ve got morals. I like to think the hits I carry out are on people who‘ve done some kind of wrong. That they‘re not innocent. This woman was guilty of nothing, and I drew the line immediately, knowing that ultimately my sanity depended on it. Schagel hadn‘t taken it well. He‘d threatened and cajoled me, claiming that he could have me arrested at any time and then I‘d be spending the rest of my life in jail. He could have done too. He knew far more about me than I knew about him, having set me up with the fake identity I now lived under. And, unlike me, he had some very powerful friends. But I‘d stood my ground and eventually he‘d given up. He didn‘t betray me to the authorities, either. I guess, in the end, I was too useful to him for that. Unfortunately, I still read in the newspapers a few weeks later that the headless corpse of a fifty-six-year-old Russian woman had been found floating in the Klang River just outside KL. My stand might have served to make me feel a little better, but it hadn‘t done her much good. I picked up the beer and took a long slug, relishing the coldness and the hoppy taste. Sometimes in life there are few things better than a cold beer. ‗So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company, Mr Schagel?‘ ‗Ah, straight to the point, Dennis. That‘s what I like about you.‘ He smiled, lizard-like, and crossed his hands on his lap, loudly cracking the knuckles. ‗So, I shall be straight to the point also. It‘s a job in the Philippines – a country I understand you‘re familiar with.‘ I nodded. The Philippines. I hadn‘t been there in over six years, and I immediately wondered how exactly Schagel knew I was familiar with it. I certainly hadn‘t told him, and as far as I was aware no one knew about the three years I‘d spent there after I‘d first gone on the run from the UK. But for the moment I let it go. ‗Who‘s the target?‘ ‗An Irish ex-pat and long-term resident of Manila. His name‘s Patrick O‘Riordan.‘ Schagel reached down behind his chair and grabbed a plain brown envelope, which he handed to me. I opened it and pulled out an A4-sized black-and-white headshot of a fitlooking western man in his early fifties with a shock of bouffant-style curly white hair and high, well-defined cheekbones. He was looking straight at the camera, a confident half-smile on his face, as if all was well in his world. Which it probably was. ‗It should be a straightforward assignment,‘ continued Schagel. ‗As far as the client has led me to believe, Mr O‘Riordan will not be expecting anything.‘ Sometimes the people you target are suspicious of what‘s coming and take measures to protect themselves, or check for surveillance, which makes tracking them slightly harder. The good thing from my point of view is that this usually means they‘re guilty of something. But if Patrick O‘Riordan – whoever he was
– wasn‘t expecting anything, it was possible he was an innocent man. That, or a foolish one. Either way, it unnerved me a little that right now he was going about his daily business unaware that two people were discussing the mechanics of his murder a thousand miles away. ‗What‘s his background?‘ I asked. ‗He‘s a journalist for the Manila Post.‘ ‗Someone must really dislike his work.‘ Schagel smiled. ‗Someone does. Did you know that more journalists are murdered in the Philippines than in any other country in the world?‘ ‗I didn‘t,‘ I said, although it didn‘t surprise me. In my experience, the Philippines was a lawless, corrupt place where people from all backgrounds tended to use the gun as a first rather than a last resort. ‗Mr O‘Riordan lives with his wife in the city. The client only wants him targeted, but if the wife gets in the way . . .‘ Schagel shrugged his shoulders, and his outsized head seemed to sink into them. ‗Then you will need to get rid of her too.‘ My face showed no reaction to his casually callous tone, but by the way he was looking at me I could tell he was watching for one. Testing whether or not I could be relied upon to put a bullet into the woman if she got in the way. I asked him what the pay was. ‗The remuneration for this particular job is seventy-five thousand US dollars, payable at the end of the task in the usual manner.‘ The usual manner was in the form of a deposit paid by a Hong Kongregistered shell company into the numbered Panama-based bank account that Schagel had set up for me three years earlier. I would then move it to an account that I held with the Bangkok Bank (also set up by Schagel), and from there I could send money transfers as and when I needed them to a local Laotian bank. The sizes of the payments made were never enough to bother the authorities, and although it was plenty of hassle, it was a hell of a lot less suspicious than carrying large amounts of cash around between countries. Schagel puffed lordly on his cigar. ‗In Manila, you‘ll be supplied with an unused gun with a suppressor attached. Use that. The client would prefer O‘Riordan to be targeted in his own home, and that when you have dealt with him, you set fire to the place.‘ I nodded to signify that this was OK, even though it meant that I was almost certainly going to have to kill his wife too – a task that filled me with a hypocritical distaste. ‗The only stipulation with this job is that it has to be done fast. Very fast. I have already booked you on the Cathay Pacific flight tonight at ten p.m. Your flight home is open-ended, but the client wants him dead by two p.m. local time tomorrow. That‘s why the pay is higher than usual.‘
‗There‘s no way I can guarantee that, Mr Schagel. I don‘t like hurrying these kinds of jobs. You know that. Too many things can go wrong.‘ ‗And that‘s why the client came to me. Because he wants a professional to do it. Someone who can act swiftly and decisively.‘ He waved the stub of his cigar at me. ‗You have proved many times that you are this kind of professional, Dennis. So do this task for me. O‘Riordan has to die by two p.m. tomorrow, otherwise the job is off and I am left looking bad.‘ I started to say something but he put up a hand, signifying that it wasn‘t up for discussion, and I knew better than to try. He motioned towards the envelope in my hand. ‗There‘s also a phone in there. In the notes section, you will find Mr O‘Riordan‘s home and work addresses, and several of the establishments he frequents in the area.‘ ‗What if he isn‘t in the city?‘ I asked, rummaging inside and pulling out a new iPhone. ‗I am reliably informed he will be.‘ It seemed Schagel‘s client knew a lot about the man he wanted killed, but that suited me fine. It made things a lot easier. ‗There‘s also a pre-programmed telephone number on there for use in emergencies if you need to get hold of me day or night. Call it, leave a message, and I will be back to you within the hour. When you‘ve given me confirmation that the job‘s done, delete everything from the phone and get rid of it in a way it can‘t be found. Now, have you memorized the target?‘ I nodded, putting the phone in my jeans pocket, and handed him back the envelope with the photo inside. I‘ve carried out four hits on behalf of Bertie Schagel in the past three years, and he‘s always operated in the same way. Methodically, and with every angle covered. Always in a position to deal with any unforeseen problems but leaving behind absolutely nothing to link him to the actual crime itself. But at least he was reliable, and in my line of business, that‘s something that‘s priceless. I also knew not to ask too many questions. I never did any more. Not since the Russian woman. I still liked to think my targets were all bad guys (and they had all been guys) who‘d deserved to meet a sticky end, but I couldn‘t put my hand on my heart and swear it with total confidence, especially now that I‘d found out O‘Riordan was a journalist. But because I‘d turned down that one job, I knew that Schagel no longer trusted me entirely. He liked his operatives to be like him, utterly devoid of human compassion. Thankfully I had yet to stoop that low, although occasionally in the dark, solitary moments when I contemplated my place in the world, I wondered if it was only a matter of time before I finally did. He downed the remainder of his drink, then gave me a look that told me our meeting was over. ‗I can organize a taxi to the airport for you if you wish?‘ ‗No, it‘s OK. But there is something I‘ve been wanting to talk to you about.‘ He looked suspicious. ‗Really? What‘s that?‘
I hadn‘t been looking forward to this part of the conversation, but I also knew that it had been coming for a while. ‗My retirement. I‘ve done quite a lot of work for you now, but I‘m making a living running my other business, and I want to make a go of it. I‘ll do this job for you, but afterwards, I‘d like to bring our relationship to a close.‘ Schagel looked at me through the cigar smoke with an air of vague amusement, as if I‘d told him an inconsequential joke and he was humouring me. ‗You haven‘t forgotten, I hope, Dennis, what I did for you?‘ I hadn‘t. It was why I owed him. If Bertie Schagel hadn‘t come to my rescue, I would have been facing the prospect of the rest of my life behind bars. He hadn‘t done it for altruistic reasons, but even so, he‘d still done it. ‗No,‘ I said, ‗but I reckon when I‘ve done this job, number five, that I‘ll have paid my debt to you.‘ ‗It cost me a great deal of money and effort to remove you from custody. You are wanted for mass murder by the British authorities, and they have notoriously long memories. Yet I still managed to secure your freedom.‘ He paused. ‗There will come a time when your debt to me is repaid. I‘ve always told you that. But right now, I need you and the services you provide, and I pay you well for your troubles, do I not? Even though, on occasion, you haven‘t, as the Americans would say, played ball.‘ He cleared his throat. ‗But if you do this job for me within the timescales you‘ve been set, then maybe we talk again. OK? But make sure you do it.‘ You had to hand it to Schagel. He was a good salesman and the way he put it almost made me feel guilty that I‘d brought the subject up. And the truth was, I had to do what he said, because that was my problem these days: I was in hock to the wrong sort of person. ‗OK,‘ I said, and got to my feet, knowing I was about to embark on a journey that would leave another stain on an already blood-splattered conscience. But if I‘d had the remotest clue about the terrible darkness I was about to head into, I would have caught the first plane home and taken my chances, even if it did mean spending the rest of my days in jail.
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CONTROL JOHN MACKEN
‘Cutting-edge forensics, an all-too-human hero and a nightmarish scenario: Control is one you won’t put down’ Simon Beckett
Published 4th August 2011 Corgi Paperback Currently available in hardback
John Macken works as a scientist in a large windowless building. He is the author of three previous books featuring Reuben Maitland â€“ Dirty Little Lies, Trial by Blood and Breaking Point.
‗Hacksaw – that‘s a great word, don‘t you think?‘ Dr Ian Gillick stared up at the man above him, listening to every nuance, observing every movement. He watched him pick the slender implement off the table, and imagined the cold metal handle warming to the man‘s touch. ‗Not just sawing, but hacking as well. Two for the price of one.‘ Dr Gillick didn‘t answer. His mouth was sealed shut with thick black gaffer tape. He could taste the adhesive on his tongue, and smell the plastic in his nostrils. ‗Sawing sounds nice and neat and precise. Straight lines, measured progress, a clear objective. But hacking? That‘s just butchery, don‘t you think?‘ Gillick stared past the man looking down at him, past his sickening stubble, the deep black pores of his skin, the red capillaries of his eyes. He focused on the ceiling, telling himself his only hope was not to react. ‗I don‘t know where it came from or who invented it, but I like it.‘ Dr Gillick watched as the man ran his eyes along the thin serrated blade. ‗I like it a lot.‘ The man moved the hacksaw in front of Gillick‘s face, allowing him to inspect it in even greater detail. Hiding in the crevices were specks of red. An attempt had been made to clean it, fibres of cloth snagging, water creeping into the teeth, particles of rust beginning to brown the surface. Dr Gillick fought a sudden nausea. He bucked against the ties clamping him firmly in place. ‗Words. Where they come from, what they mean. But then, as a scientist, you should understand all that.‘ Gillick focused through the blade, its sharpness becoming blurred, its jagged profile blunt. ‗The first one, he couldn‘t see the beauty either. But that‘s OK. We had different aims. His aim was to survive at any cost. Mine was to make him understand.‘ The man raised his eyebrows, inviting the question, which didn‘t come, Gillick breathing hard through his nose, flexing against the ties, fighting to stay calm. ‗You do understand why I‘m here, don‘t you?‘ Gillick grunted. It was as much noise as he had made for the past five minutes. He understood all right. At first it had been unreal, a different lifetime, events he had moved on from. But now it was as real as anything had ever been in his thirty-six years of existence. ‗And you do understand how much this will hurt, Dr Gillick? How much real, actual human pain you are about to feel? Sickening levels that will make you want to pass out, to die, anything but experience any more. And I want you to
also understand that I will be doing everything I can to keep you alive and awake, so you can feel every tooth of the saw, every hack of the blade. And that I need you to watch carefully what I do with your fingertips after I‘ve removed them. Exactly where I put them, and exactly how I do it.‘ Gillick began to struggle more violently. The legs of the dining table he was tied to creaked and shook. But it was too wide and too heavy to move far. He had bought it four years ago from a shop specializing in reclaimed teak. It had needed three men to lift it into his flat. A couple of books and CDs dropped to the carpeted floor. Gillick began screaming into his sealed-off mouth, flailing his restrained limbs, sensing he was utterly trapped, panic overwhelming the calm. The man standing above Dr Ian Gillick cast his eyes around the room, pausing for a second, taking it all in. Not bad, and a hell of a lot better than the place he was used to inhabiting these days. Deep wall colours, pale flooring, leather furniture, lots of wood. Not rich or luxurious, just plain and honest good taste. He bent down and picked the cage off the floor. The smell infested his nostrils, sharp and piercing. ‗Rattus norvegicus,‘ he said. ‗The common rat. Hungry little fuckers as well. But that really needn‘t concern you.‘ Gillick had ceased his futile attempts at escape. He was sucking air in through his nose, his cheeks red, his eyes wild and staring. The message was finally getting through. ‗At least not yet.‘ The man gripped the metal handle of the hacksaw tight in his right hand. With his left, he clenched Gillick‘s down-turned wrist, and pushed it hard into the table. ‗Although now I think about the word, about the whole job it has to do, I can see some sense in it,‘ he added. ‗First the hack, then the saw. Hacking through the flesh, sawing through the bone.‘ He lowered the blade. ‗I‘d never really thought about it before, but now there‘s a strange sort of beauty to it.‘ The blade made contact with the three middle fingers. He rested it there, judging the line. Straight across and he could take the fingertips without touching the little finger or the thumb. Then he could do the little finger separately, and finally the thumb. Same for the right hand after that. Ten fingers with six main bouts of cutting. Gillick‘s legs were shaking uncontrollably. His face was so pale that a thick blue vein was bulging down the centre of his forehead. His eyes were barely blinking, just fixed open in panic and horror. A deep cleansing breath. First the hack, then the saw. The rats were frantically scratching the plastic side of their cage, gnawing into the metal bars, climbing over each other to get out. He pulled the blade back, snagging through hairs and skin. And then he began slowly and methodically to work his way down to the bone.
Dr Reuben Maitland ran his long thin fingers over the spikes of the cactus plant. It stood on his new desk in a shallow brown saucer, tiny white stones covering the soil. A fine dust from the stones encircled the pot, just under its rim. Judging by the cleanness of the rest of the desk, the plant had been there some time, polished around by whoever came in and tidied the office each day. Reuben examined it in more detail. The cactus was remote, the lush fruit of its body sitting serenely behind a barbed-wire exo-skeleton. Protection radiating in all directions, fending off all-comers. The body was six inches high and tubular, the spines an inch long in every direction. Reuben had no idea what it was called in English, Latin or any other language. Botany was not his thing. He had clearly inherited the plant along with the office, the only piece of greenery among the browns, whites and greys. Probably, he guessed, it had been left over from the previous occupant, too sharp to carry home or dispose of easily. He glanced around the bare room. There was of course another option: it could be a small token to say hello, to welcome him back to GeneCrime. But if it was a welcome present, he told himself, it was one hell of an unfriendly one. Reuben wrapped his right hand round the cactus. He started to squeeze slowly, long second after long second. Multiple points of contact between human and plant. He glanced up at the two internal windows on adjacent walls which opened into separate laboratories. Through the one-way glass he watched forensic scientists chatting, leaning on benches, shrugging themselves into lab coats, ambling around, calling across to each other or staring into computer screens. Reuben gripped harder, the spikes making tiny white pricks, bloodless indentations, in his skin. The left window opened into the Gross Debris lab, the right into the DNA lab. He flashed through the hours he had spent in each, the scientists he had trained and become friends with, the ones who had died, the ones who had survived. The phone rang. One long trill followed by silence. An internal call. He looked down at his hand. A couple of spikes had broken through, droplets of blood appearing. The phone continued to sound. One second on, one second off. He let it ring another ten times. Then he glanced at his watch and sighed. He used his left hand to lift the receiver. ‗Yes,‘ he said. ‗Reuben? It‘s Sarah. You ready?‘ Reuben glanced down at his right hand. Slowly, he let go of the plant. ‗Yeah,‘ he grunted. ‗You sure?‘ ‗I guess I am.‘
‗They‘re in the Command Room. Meet you in the corridor. Two minutes.‘ The call ended, and Reuben replaced the receiver. He sucked the blood from his palm, sensing the sweet iron taste of haemoglobin. The Command Room. He sighed. Here we go again. He paced towards the door, pausing to get a good look through the adjacent windows. Gross Debris handling hairs, footprints, fibres. A more casual attitude clearly visible from his vantage point. A couple of forensic technicians slowly and methodically picking hairs from sections of Sellotape, matching fibres under a dual-light microscope. The DNA lab, by contrast, looked more precise and pressured. Scientists scanning elongated lists of sequences, pipetting minute volumes of liquids into tiny tubes. Different levels of detection with the same end point. And both of them about to get busy. Reuben had a final scope of the office. A different room in the same building. Subterranean, no daylight, cooled air pumped in on a loop. Back again, he told himself. A year and a half away, and now a jumble of feelings he hadn‘t experienced for a long time. Excitement. Unease. Impatience. Ambition. The possibilities and the pitfalls. The pressure, the thrill of working in a team. The long troughs of endeavour, the short peaks of success. Everything came flooding back at once. He took a second to compose himself, examining the army of small indentations in his palm, a few of them red, the rest white. ‗Here we go,‘ he said quietly to himself, soft words that just escaped being sighed. And then he opened the door and stepped out into the hallway.
Sarah Hirst had beaten him to it. She was standing at the end of the corridor, one leg bent at the knee, her foot resting against the wall. In her arms she had a couple of A4 files which she was pressing to her chest. She looked oddly like a schoolgirl loitering in a hallway, waiting impatiently for something better to happen. Reuben shook the idea from his head. DCI Hirst as anything but the unit commander was now unimaginable. As Reuben approached, she said, ‗Dr Maitland.‘ ‗DCI Hirst,‘ he answered. Sarah began walking. ‗Just like the bad old days, eh? How does it feel to be back?‘ ‗Scary.‘ ‗Scared? You?‘ ‗It‘s been a long time.‘ ‗It‘s only been a year.‘ ‗Eighteen months.‘ ‗So what‘s your point? Ten years here and only eighteen months away. Blink of an eye.‘ ‗Blink of a slow and painful eye that still feels bruised and swollen.‘ They turned into another long walkway, thin blue carpet underfoot, the walls white, neon strips lighting the way. Standard civilian police decor. ‗How‘s the office?‘ Sarah asked. ‗What happened to my old one?‘ ‗It‘s mine now. And before you say anything, finders keepers.‘ ‗There‘s some sort of cactus on the desk.‘ ‗Count yourself lucky.‘ ‗Whose was it originally?‘ ‗No idea. But like I said, finders keepers.‘ They reached a set of concrete stairs and climbed three flights, Sarah quickly jogging up one at a time, Reuben taking two steps per stride. A thick double door led to another of GeneCrime‘s long straight corridors. The building was a five-storey box. Reuben wondered whether the architect had ever drawn anything without a ruler. Sarah slowed. ‗Here,‘ she said, unfolding a broadsheet newspaper from a cardboard file. ‗Have a listen to this.‘ Reuben suspected that Sarah spent a lot of her free time running, or in the gym, or doing whatever cardiac exercise came to hand. She was slim and fit, her movements nimble and quick. As she spoke, her breathing was barely any different, despite having just jogged up three flights of stairs.
‗―Police have officially linked the second death, of scientist Dr Ian Gillick, thirty-six, to the murder of a man found at his home last week in‖ blah blah blah.‘ She turned to Reuben and a mischievous grin lit up her features. ‗Here‘s the interesting bit. ―Police sources revealed that the case is being handed over to GeneCrime, the elite but controversial Forensics division based in Euston. Tellingly, Dr Reuben Maitland, thirty-nine, recently reinstated to GeneCrime, will be overseeing the investigation.‖ New paragraph.‘ Sarah grinned again. ‗You ready for some more?‘ Reuben raised his eyebrows. ‗I‘m thirty-eight,‘ he said. ‗Either way, here we go.‘ They pushed through another set of off-white double doors, Sarah scanning the paper. ‗They‘ve gone to town on you big time. ―Dr Maitland was implicated in a previous incident of serious misconduct and dismissed from the Forensic Science Service eighteen months ago. That case involved the use of pioneering forensic techniques by Dr Maitland to profile the lover of his now former wife Lucy Maitland, and resulted in the arrest of Shaun Graves, a junior partner in the corporate law firm of Bostock and Tuson.‖‘ Reuben noted that Sarah could barely keep the glee out of her voice. He walked on, appreciating that this was a long way from how he had imagined the start of his first day back. ‗―Mr Graves, thirty-six, subsequently received a five-figure settlement from the Metropolitan Police for false imprisonment and arrest. The reinstatement of Dr Maitland is bound to be seen in some quarters of the Met as inappropriate, so soon after a charge of serious misconduct and the ensuing legal fallout.‖‘ ‗I wish they‘d get their facts right,‘ Reuben said dourly. ‗It wasn‘t serious misconduct.‘ ‗No?‘ ‗No. It was improper conduct.‘ ‗Shhh. It gets better. They‘ve done a biog on you.‘ ‗Sounds painful.‘ ‗―Dr Maitland formerly headed the Forensics section of GeneCrime before his dismissal. He was a regular contributor to the general media, writing articles for this newspaper as well as several others, and appearing occasionally on television and radio—‖‘ ‗What paper is this?‘ ‗The Independent. Will you shut up?‘ Sarah was enjoying herself. Reuben walked on in silence. Ten metres ahead of them a large wood-effect door was marked Command Room. He felt his stomach tighten involuntarily. ‗―Inside the force, Dr Maitland has a reputation as a maverick scientist, a fierce obsessive who has pioneered several forensic breakthroughs.‖‘ Sarah stopped in front of the Command Room door and lowered the paper. ‗I could go on. Maybe I should have walked slower. So, Mr Fierce Obsessive, with the improper conduct record, are you ready to join the big time again?‘
Reuben grabbed the paper and quickly scanned what was left. He saw his son Joshua‘s name, the term ‗acute lymphocytic leukaemia‘, the hospital he had been treated in, the wonderful word ‗remission‘, his wife‘s name and the not-sowonderful word ‗estranged‘. They had been thorough. The press as detectives. Digging, enquiring, speculating. It would be an interesting experiment to get a good reporter on to a serious crime, see if they dug up the truth quicker than CID or Forensics. ‗How do the press get all this?‘ he said, almost to himself. ‗Maybe because we brief them every single bloody day.‘ ‗There used to be a time when the force‘s movements were not for public consumption.‘ There was a moment of silence, Reuben‘s words hanging in the artificial light. He examined Sarah out of the corner of his eye. As pretty and hassled as ever, blonde hair restrained, mouth slightly pursed, a frown breaking like a slow wave across her forehead. ‗Shall we?‘ she asked. Reuben handed back the paper. At the top, the headline proclaimed ‗Police Link Deaths of Two Fingerless Men‘. A cold nervousness continued to burrow into his stomach. His mobile phone started vibrating inside his pocket. Two plainclothes CID officers hesitated, then entered the room ahead of them. Sarah passed him one of her files, and gripped the door handle. ‗Let‘s catch some killers,‘ she said.
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THE BOMBER LIZA MARKLUND
‘Edge-of-your-seat suspense’ Harlan Coben
Published 24th November 2011 Corgi Paperback
Liza Marklund is an author, publisher, journalist, columnist, and goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. Her crime novels featuring the relentless reporter Annika Bengtzon instantly became an international hit, and Marklundâ€™s books have sold over 12 million copies in 30 languages. She has achieved the unique feat of being a number one bestseller in all five Nordic countries, and she has been awarded numerous prizes, including a nomination for the Glass Key for best Scandinavian crime novel. The Annika Bengtzon series is currently being adapted into film.
Prologue The woman who was soon to die stepped cautiously out of the door and glanced around. The hallway and stairwell behind her were dark; she hadn‘t bothered to switch on the lights on her way down. She paused before stepping onto the pavement, as if she felt she was being watched. She took a few quick breaths and for a moment her white breath hung around her like a halo. She adjusted the strap of the handbag on her shoulder and took a firmer grasp of the handle of her briefcase. She hunched her shoulders and set off quickly and quietly towards Götgatan. It was bitterly cold, the sharp wind cutting at her thin nylon tights. She skirted round a patch of ice, balancing for a moment on the kerb. Then she hurried away from the street-lamp and into the darkness. The cold and the shadows were muffling the sounds of the night: the hum of a ventilation unit, the cries of a group of drunk youngsters, a siren in the distance. The woman walked fast, purposefully. She radiated confidence and expensive perfume. When her mobile phone suddenly rang she was thrown off her stride. She stopped abruptly, looking quickly around her. Then she bent down, leaning the briefcase against her right leg, and started searching through her handbag. Her movements were suddenly irritated, insecure. She pulled out the phone and put it to her ear. In spite of the darkness and shadows there was no mistaking her reaction: irritation was replaced by surprise, then anger, and finally fear. When the conversation was finished the woman stood for a few seconds with the phone in her hand. She lowered her head, clearly thinking hard. A police car drove slowly past her; the woman looked up at it, watchful, following it with her eyes as it went away. She made no attempt to stop it. She had clearly reached a decision. She turned on her heel and started to retrace her steps, going past the wooden door she had come out of and carrying on to the junction with Katarina Bangata. As she waited for a night-bus to pass she looked up, her eyes following the line of the street to the square, Vintertullstorget, and beyond to the Sickla canal. High above loomed the main Olympic arena, Victoria Stadium, where the summer games were due to start in seven months‘ time. The bus went past, the woman crossed the broad sweep of Ringvägen and started to walk down Katarina Bangata. Though her face was expressionless, her fast pace let on that she was freezing. She crossed the pedestrian bridge over Hammarby canal to reach the media village of the Olympic Park. With quick, slightly jerky movements she hurried on towards the Victoria Stadium. She decided to take the path beside the water although it was further, and colder. The wind from the Baltic was ice-cold, but she didn‘t want to be seen. The darkness was dense, and she stumbled a few times. She turned off by the post office and pharmacy towards the training area and jogged the last hundred metres towards the stadium. When she reached the
main entrance she was out of breath and angry. She pulled the door open and stepped into the darkness. ‗Say what you want to say, and be quick about it,‘ she said, looking coolly at the figure emerging from the shadows. She saw the raised hammer but didn‘t have time to feel any fear. The first blow hit her left eye.
Saturday 18 December
1 The sound reached her in the middle of a bizarre sexual dream. She was lying on a bed of glass on a spaceship; Thomas was on top of her, inside her. Three presenters from the radio programme Studio Six were standing alongside them, watching expressionlessly. She was desperate for the loo. ‗You can‘t go to the toilet now, we‘re on our way into space,‘ Thomas said, and, looking through the big panoramic window, she saw he was right. The second ring tore the cosmos to shreds, leaving her sweaty and thirsty in the darkness. The ceiling loomed above her in the gloom. ‗Answer the bloody thing before it wakes the whole house,‘ Thomas grumbled from the mess of pillows. She twisted her head to see the time: 03.22. The excitement of the dream vanished in a single breath. Her arm, heavy as lead, reached for the phone on the floor. It was Jansson, the night-editor. ‗The Victoria Stadium‘s gone up. Burning like fuck. Our reporter‘s out there for the night edition, but we need you for the next edition. How soon can you get there?‘ She took several breaths, letting the information sink in, feeling adrenalin rolling like a wave through her body and up into her brain. The Victoria Stadium, she thought. Home of the Olympics. Fire, chaos. Bloody hell. South of the city centre. Should she take the southern bypass or the Skanstull bridge? ‗How are things looking in town? Are the roads OK?‘ Her voice sounded rougher than she would have liked. ‗The southern bypass is blocked. The exit by the stadium has collapsed, but that‘s all we know. The Södermalm tunnel is shut off, so you‘ll have to go above ground.‘
‗Who‘s doing pictures?‘ ‗Henriksson‘s on his way, and the freelancers are already there.‘ Jansson hung up without waiting for a reply. Annika listened to the dead crackle on the line for a few seconds before letting the phone fall to the floor. ‗So what is it this time?‘ She sighed silently before replying. ‗Some sort of explosion at the Victoria Stadium. I‘ve got to go. It‘ll probably take all day.‘ She paused before adding: ‗And all evening.‘ He muttered something inaudible. Carefully she extricated herself from Ellen‘s slightly damp pyjamas. She breathed in her daughter‘s scent, her skin sweet, her mouth sour, her thumb firmly lodged between her lips, then she kissed the child‘s soft hair. The girl stretched happily, then rolled up into a ball, three years old and utterly content, even in her sleep. She dialled for a taxi with a heavy hand, climbing out of the numbing warmth of the bed and sitting on the floor. ‗A car to Hantverkargatan 32 please. Bengtzon. It‘s urgent. To the Victoria Stadium. Yes, I know it‘s on fire.‘ *** It was bitingly cold outside, at least ten degrees below zero. She turned up the collar of her coat and pulled her woollen hat down over her ears, her toothpaste breath hanging in a haze around her. The taxi pulled up just as the front door clicked shut behind her. ‗Hammarby harbour, the Victoria Stadium,‘ Annika said as she landed with her bulky handbag on the back seat. The driver glanced at her in the rear-view mirror. ‗Bengtzon, the Evening Post, eh?‘ he asked with a hesitant grin. ‗I always read your stuff. I like what you said about Korea, my family come from there. I was up in Panmujom as well – you caught the atmosphere really well, the soldiers standing there facing each other, never allowed to talk to one another. That was a really good report.‘ As usual she heard the praise but didn‘t take it in, couldn‘t take it in, because that might make the magic ingredient, the thing that made her texts work, vanish. ‗Thanks. I‘m glad you liked it. Do you think the Södermalm tunnel is OK or should we stick to the streets?‘ Like most of his colleagues, he had a perfect overview of the situation. If something happened anywhere in the country at four in the morning, there were only two calls you had to make: one to the police, and one to the taxi service. That was enough to guarantee you an article for the national edition: the police could confirm what had happened, and the taxi-drivers were almost always able to give some sort of eye-witness account.
‗I was on Götgatan when it went off,‘ he said, performing a U-turn. ‗God, the street-lamps were swaying like hell. Christ, I thought, the bomb‘s gone off. The Russians are here. I radioed in, wondering what the fuck . . . They said the Victoria Stadium had blown up. One of our guys was right next to it when it went up, he had a call-out to an underground club in one of the new blocks out there . . .‘ The car raced down towards the City Hall as Annika fished her notepad and pen out of her bag. ‗Was he OK?‘ ‗Fine, I think. A lump of metal came through the side window, missed him by a couple of centimetres. Just a cut on his face, so they said over the radio.‘ They passed the metro station in the old town, heading towards the big junction at Slussen. ‗Where did they take him?‘ ‗Who?‘ ‗Your colleague – the one with the bit of metal?‘ ‗Oh, him, his name‘s Brattström. Södermalm Hospital, I think; that‘s the closest one.‘ ‗First name?‘ ‗Don‘t know, but I can check over the radio . . .‘ His name was Arne. Annika pulled out her mobile, put in the ear-piece and dialled Jansson‘s desk in the newsroom. He knew from the number on the phone‘s LCD-screen that it was her calling before he answered. ‗A taxi-driver‘s been injured, Arne Brattström, he was taken to Södermalm Hospital,‘ she said. ‗We might be able to get up there and see him; we can do that in time for the first edition . . .‘ ‗OK,‘ Jansson said. ‗We‘ll find out what we can about him.‘ He put the receiver down and yelled to a reporter: ‗Look up an Arne Brattström, then check with the police to see if his family‘s been told, then call his wife if he‘s got one.‘ Back on the line he said, ‗We‘ve sorted an aerial shot. When will you be there?‘ ‗Seven, eight minutes, depending on what they‘ve closed off. What are you doing now?‘ ‗We‘ve got the bare facts, comments from the police. I‘ve got reporters ringing people in the buildings facing the stadium for their comments, and one reporter‘s already there but is about to go home. And we‘re rerunning the earlier Olympic bombs, the bloke who let off fire-crackers in the old Victoria Stadium in Stockholm and New Ullevi in Gothenburg when the Stockholm bid went in...‘
Someone interrupted him, and Annika could feel the buzz of the newsroom all the way down the line to the taxi. She said quickly, ‗I‘ll be in touch when I know more.‘ ‗Looks like they‘ve closed off the warm-up area,‘ the taxi-driver said. ‗We‘d better take the scenic route.‘ The taxi swung onto Folkungagatan and down towards the Värmdö road. Annika dialled the next number on her phone. As the call went through she watched the last stragglers going home from their night out, raucous and stumbling. There were a lot of them, more than she would have imagined. It was always the same these days: the few times she was out at this time of day were always because a crime had been committed somewhere. She had forgotten that the city could be used for more than just crime or work, had somehow suppressed the fact that there was an entirely different life that only emerged at night. A stressed voice picked up her call. ‗I know you can‘t say anything yet,‘ Annika began. ‗Tell me when you‘ve got time to talk. I‘ll call whenever suits you. Just say when.‘ The man sighed down the line. ‗Bengtzon, I don‘t fucking know. I don‘t know. Call later.‘ Annika looked at her watch. ‗It‘s twenty to four. I‘m writing for the early edition. What about half past seven?‘ ‗OK, fine. Call at half seven.‘ ‗OK, we‘ll talk then.‘ Now that she had a promise, it would be hard for him to pull out. The police hated journalists who called as soon as something happened and wanted to know everything. Even if the police had managed to gather any information, it was hard to know what they could go public with. By half past seven she would have had time to formulate her own observations, questions and theories, and the detectives would know what they wanted to say. That would work OK. ‗You can see the smoke now,‘ the taxi-driver said. She leaned over the front passenger seat, peering up to the right. ‗Bloody hell.‘ Thin and black, it stretched up towards the pale halfmoon. The taxi swung off the Värmdö road and onto the southern bypass. The motorway was blocked off a few hundred metres from the mouth of the tunnel and the stadium itself. A dozen other vehicles were already lined up behind the roadblock. As the taxi pulled up alongside them, Annika handed over her taxi account card. ‗When do you want to go back? Shall I wait?‘ the taxi-driver asked. Annika smiled weakly. ‗No thanks, this is going to take some time.‘ She gathered up her pad, pen and mobile. ‗Happy Christmas!‘ the taxi-driver called as she shut the car door.
Oh God, she thought, there‘s a whole week to go yet. Are we going to start that already? ‗Thanks, same to you,‘ she said to the taxi‘s rear window. She wove through the cars and pedestrians until she reached the roadblock. Not set up by the police. Good. She usually respected their cordons. She didn‘t even slow down as she jumped the barrier and started to run.
2 She didn‘t hear the angry shouts behind her as she stared up at the immense construction in front of her. She had driven past loads of times and each time had been fascinated by the scale of the job. The Victoria Stadium was being built into the rock itself, excavated from the old Hammarby ski-slope. The environmentalists had made a fuss, of course; they always did whenever a few trees were cut down. The southern bypass carried on right through the rock and beneath the stadium itself, but the opening had been shut off with concrete blocks and emergency vehicles. The flashing lights on the roofs of the vehicles reflected off the wet tarmac. The north side of the stadium leaned out above the opening of the tunnel like a great chanterelle mushroom, but now it was torn in two. That must have been where the bomb went off. The curved shape was torn apart, spiking up into the night sky. She ran on, but realized that she wasn‘t going to get much further. ‗Oi, where do you think you‘re going?‘ a fireman shouted. ‗Up there,‘ she shouted back. ‗It‘s shut off!‘ the man yelled. ‗Oh, is it?‘ she muttered. ‗So arrest me!‘ She carried on, then turned off to the right as far as she could. Beneath her the Sickla canal was frozen solid. On the far bank, on the other side of the ice, there was a sort of concrete plinth, where the roadway plunged into the rock. She heaved herself up onto the railing and dropped down, falling a metre or so. Her bag thudded against her back as she landed. She stopped for a moment and looked around. She had only been this close to the stadium a couple of times, once for a press tour back in the summer, and then one Sunday afternoon in the autumn together with Anne Snapphane. To her right was the site of the Olympic village, the half-finished blocks of Hammarby Sjöstad, where the competitors would live during the games. The windows gaped blackly, every pane of glass in the area seemed to have been blown out. Immediately ahead of her the training ground glimmered in the darkness. To her left was a ten-metre-high concrete wall. Up above it was the plaza and the main entrance to the stadium. She started to run along the wall, trying to make sense of the sounds she could hear: a siren in the distance, muffled voices, the noise of a water cannon,
or maybe a large ventilation unit. The red lights of emergency vehicles played across the wall. She reached the end of the wall and set off up the stairs towards the entrance just as a policeman began to unroll a reel of blue and white tape. ‗We‘re blocking this entrance off,‘ he yelled. ‗My photographer‘s up there,‘ Annika shouted back. ‗I‘m just going to get him.‘ The policeman waved her through. God, I hope I wasn‘t lying, she thought. The stairs were divided into three even flights. By the time she reached the top she was out of breath. The whole plaza was full of flashing emergency vehicles and people running. Two of the pillars holding up the northern stand had collapsed and were lying crumpled on the ground. Twisted green seats were scattered everywhere. A television camera-team had just arrived. She caught sight of a reporter from the other evening paper, and three freelance photographers. She looked up, into the hole made by the bomb. Five helicopters were circling above, at least two of them media choppers. ‗Annika!‘ It was the photographer from the Evening Post, Johan Henriksson, a twenty-three-year-old part-timer who had moved down from a local paper in Östersund. He was both talented and ambitious, the second of these being the most important. As he ran towards her his two cameras jolted against his chest, his bag hanging off his shoulder. ‗What have you got?‘ Annika asked, pulling out her pad and pen. ‗I got here thirty seconds or so after the fire brigade. I managed to get a shot of an ambulance taking a taxi driver away, seems he was hit by something. The fire crews are having trouble getting water up to the stand; they ended up driving an engine right into the stadium. I‘ve got pictures of the fire from the outside, but I haven‘t been inside. A couple of minutes ago something must have happened – the cops started running around like mad. I‘m sure something‘s happened.‘ ‗Or else they‘ve found something,‘ Annika said, putting her pad away. Holding her pen like a relay baton she started to jog towards the entrance at the far side of the plaza. If her memory was right, it ought to be somewhere over to the right, under the part of the stadium that had collapsed. No one stopped her as she crossed the plaza, there was too much chaos. She wove her way between lumps of concrete, twisted metal and green plastic seating. Four flights of steps led up to the entrance; she was out of breath when she reached it. The police had blocked the entrance, but that didn‘t matter. She didn‘t need to see more. The doorway was untouched, it seemed to be locked. Swedish security companies evidently couldn‘t resist putting stupid little stickers on the doors of buildings they guarded, and the Victoria Stadium was no exception. Annika pulled out her pad and noted down the name and phone number. ‗Please evacuate the area. There is a risk of collapse! I repeat . . .‘
A police car glided slowly across the plaza, its loudspeaker on. People started to hurry off towards the warm-up area and the Olympic village down below. Annika jogged along the outer wall of the arena, and managed to avoid having to go back down to the plaza. Instead, she followed the ramp that curved gently round the whole edifice. There were several entrances; she wanted to check them all. None of them had been damaged or forced open. ‗Sorry, madam, it‘s time to leave.‘ A young policeman put his hand on her arm. ‗Who‘s in charge?‘ she asked, holding up her press card. ‗He hasn‘t got time. You‘ve got to leave. We‘re evacuating the whole area.‘ The policeman started to guide her away, he was clearly shaken up. Annika pulled away and stopped in front of him. She took a chance: ‗What did you find inside the stadium?‘ The policeman ran his tongue over his lips. ‗I‘m not sure, and I‘m not allowed to say either,‘ he said. Bingo! ‗So who can tell me, and when?‘ ‗I don‘t know, check with the duty officers. But you have to get out of here now!‘
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ZERO HOUR ANDY McNAB
‘Nick Stone is emerging as one of the great all-action characters of recent times’ Daily Mirror
Published 1st September 2011 Corgi Paperback Currently available in hardback
Andy McNab joined the infantry as a boy soldier. In 1984 he was 'badged' as a member of 22 SAS Regiment and was involved in both covert and overt special operations worldwide. During the Gulf War he commanded Bravo Two Zero, a patrol that, in the words of his commanding officer, 'will remain in regimental history for ever'. Awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and Military Medal (MM) during his military career, McNab was the British Army's most highly decorated serving soldier when he finally left the SAS in February 1993. He wrote about his experiences in three books: the phenomenal bestseller Bravo Two Zero, Immediate Action and Seven Troop. He is the author of the bestselling Nick Stone thrillers. Besides his writing work, he lectures to security and intelligence agencies in both the USA and UK. He is a patron of the Help for Heroes campaign.
Tuesday, 9 March 2010 12.50 hrs It wasn‘t supposed to be this way. I leant against the triple-glazed floor-to-ceiling windows of my penthouse apartment and tried to look out over Docklands, but the stabbing pain in my head played havoc with my vision. It felt like I was swimming through a pool full of razorblades. The glass-and-steel monolith had had its final lick of paint the day Lehman Brothers had gone belly-up and the owner was no longer flashing the cash. ‗Their crunch is your lunch,‘ the overly pushy estate agent told me, with a megawatt grin and flash of racing-car cufflinks. ‗If you‘ve got cash on the hip, you can really clean up at times like this.‘ I‘d been penniless through every other recession in living memory, so it seemed like a nice idea. And I‘d loved everything about this place, from the dual-aspect reception room opening on to the roof terrace to the secure underground parking space; from the granite worktops to the limestone bath with integrated TV; from the private balcony and walk-in wardrobe that hadn‘t yet been filled, to the guest bedroom with the cantilevered glass pod sticking out over the dock. It was like something out of a Bond film. The photochromic glass frontage darkened when the sun got too bright during the day, and the night-time views across to the Canary Wharf towers and the glistening river beneath were so fantastic I never closed the blinds. Before the headaches had begun I‘d just sit there with a brew, mesmerized by the aircraft warning lights. If I needed a change of scenery I‘d wander over to the other side of the apartment and gaze past Tower Bridge towards the mishmash of South London estates that used to be my manor. As a kid I‘d looked back across the water and thought the disused warehouses and crumbling tenements along this stretch were even worse than the shithole I called home, but Docklands was a very different story now. And so was what had been happening inside my head for over a week. ‗You OK, Nick?‘ Julian was sitting on one of my fancy leather armchairs, working his way through my supply of coffee capsules. I didn‘t look round. ‗Yes, mate.‘
I wasn‘t about to tell him the truth. I didn‘t like people worrying about me. It made me uncomfortable. No one had given a fuck about me when I was a kid, and I‘d got to prefer it that way. The forest of tower cranes standing over Millwall Dock was a blur, but the one with Christmas lights still draped across its boom was starting to come back into focus. ‗This isn‘t good for you, stuck away up here, keeping yourself to yourself. You‘re turning into a recluse. You‘ve got to get back out into the real world, do the things you do best.‘ He hesitated. ‗I‘m worried about you.‘ I knew he wasn‘t just concerned about my social life: he had a job for me. I‘d tried to blank the pain instead of dealing with it these last few days; trying to stand there and take it until it gave up for a moment and went away. Maybe it was working. I always gone that route during my time as a deniable operator, and before that when I was in the Regiment. I‘d done it as far back as I could remember. I‘d taken whatever my stepdad had dished out and not given him the satisfaction of knowing I was about to cry. I‘d just stepped up to the plate, taken the punishment and dared him to have another crack. Which he always did. Me not reacting the way he wanted had pissed him off big-time: the slaps had got harder, and so had I. So, no way was this shit going to get to me. I turned back to Jules. He was dressed immaculately as usual, in a crisp white shirt and black suit, shiny shoes, perfectly knotted fancy red tie. He looked more like a Calvin Klein model than the first black section head of the Security Service, MI5. We‘d become quite good mates, as far as the mates thing went for me. He wasn‘t coming over from his Edwardian apartment in Marylebone and banging on my door for brews the whole time, but he was a regular visitor, and always called first. Maybe that was why I liked him so much. Or maybe it was because he was the only mate I had left. Everyone else seemed to have got themselves royally fucked up or dead. ‗Listen, mate, I keep telling you I‘m not interested. Why the fuck would I want to go and work again? Take a look at all this.‘ I waved a hand around the apartment, then wiped it down the side of my face as if it was about to magic the pain away. ‗Waste of a morning, mate. I‘m shitting money. I don‘t need any of yours.‘ He put down his mug. ‗Ah, yes – your grandmother‘s inheritance . . .‘ ‗She put it away for a rainy day – bless her.‘ Pinpricks of light still swam across my retina, but I could now see well enough to get the full benefit of his ironic expression. Julian knew exactly where the cash had come from. I took a seat beside one of the three glass coffee-tables scattered around the massive room.
Op Sec triggered MI5‘s answer to catch-22: they could only tell you what the job was once you‘d signed up for it – but you wouldn‘t want to do that until you knew what you were letting yourself in for. Not even our friendship could change that. It was another of the reasons I liked him. He was one of the good guys, straight down the line. Truth, integrity, defence of the realm and all that shit: he radiated it. I realized I was a bit jealous. I might have the penthouse, the knockout view, the Porsche downstairs, but this lad had things money can‘t buy. Jules leant forward, his elbows on his knees. ‗They want you back, Nick.‘ ‗After all those years of getting fucked over from both sides of the river, all of a sudden your lot can‘t do without me?‘ I laughed, and that made my head start hurting all over again. Jules shifted uneasily in his chair. ‗Are you sure you‘re OK, Nick?‘ I managed to dredge up a smile from somewhere. ‗Never better, mate. Never better. Although that fucking ―Chinese‖ we had the other night has given me the odd dodgy moment.‘ I pointed a finger. ‗I blame you.‘ He leant back in his chair. ‗You should be thanking me. No wheat, no dairy, no toxins – Vietnamese is probably the healthiest food you‘ve eaten in your life.‘ ‗But don‘t you get bored eating that Ho Chi Minh shit all the time?‘ He smiled. ‗When I do I‘ll go somewhere else. You still coming on Saturday?‘ ‗I‘ll call you.‘ Ten minutes later he headed for the lift and I made it to the toilet just in time to bulk up another gutful of coffee-flavoured bile.
Wednesday, 10 March 11.34 hrs The wind gusted down Harley Street, throwing pellets of rain against the window. The nurse had disappeared fifteen minutes earlier, after announcing that Dr Kleinmann was just checking a few things. She‘d done her best to look encouraging, but it wasn‘t working. A dark blue Bentley coupé pulled up across the road. I‘d spent a great morning test-driving a green one a couple of months ago, but decided it was just too wide for my parking space. An overweight driver leapt out with a multicoloured golfing brolly and held it over a couple of equally large Arab women as he ushered them into the clinic opposite. The row of gracious old houses where grand families had once played charades by the fire and drunk to the health of Queen Victoria now hosted hundreds of offices and treatment rooms, turning over cash-paying patients seven days a week. I was waiting in one of the drabber ones: the consultation fees hadn‘t stretched to a can or two of Dulux in the last couple of decades, and they hadn‘t been chucked in the direction of the central heating either. A pitted brass chandelier hung from a sepia moulding above my head, casting enough light over the carpet and furniture to make it painfully obvious that they could have done with a bit of a steam clean. Shabby or chic, it didn‘t seem to make much difference to the bill. Whatever you were there for, you came out a few hundred quid lighter. A clock on the mantelpiece ticked away the minutes, and the pounds. Fuck it, I wasn‘t exactly spoilt for options. The NHS needed all sorts of details that I‘d got out of the habit of providing, and BUPA weren‘t much better. The Firm had never provided health insurance for people in my line of work, and without a bank account I was willing to divulge, I couldn‘t set up my own. My credit history was non-existent. I‘d slipped out of the frame years ago, when I‘d left the army; I hadn‘t paid tax since I‘d picked up my discharge payslip. So I had to come to places like this, pay cash, and get on with it. I wasn‘t complaining. The less anyone knew about Nick Stone, the better. ‗Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr Stone.‘ The accent was East Coast, but it would have been equally at home in LA or Jerusalem. Dr Max Kleinmann carried a large brown folder with my name splattered all over it, but he didn‘t look happy to see me.
His expression was as grim as the weather and made sterner still by his blackframed glasses. Was he suffering under the usual burdens of marriage, mortgages and school fees, or was he just pissed off not to be on Rodeo Drive? His dark, tightly curled hair was thinning on top, and a patch of stubble sprouted from above his Adam‘s apple where he‘d failed to zap it with his razor. The combo made him look a bit ridiculous, and that cheered me up for some reason. Perhaps it would help me take what he was about to say to me less seriously. ‗I just wanted to be sure I was seeing what I was seeing . . .‘ He came and sat opposite me, on my side of his desk. ‗I wish I had better news for you.‘ I turned back towards the window. ‗You OK, Mr Stone? You still with me?‘ Of course I was. I just didn‘t know what to say. I came out with the first thing that hit what was left of my mind. ‗That‘s me fucked, is it?‘ He didn‘t even blink. ‗This is where the hard work starts. Let me show you...‘ I followed him over to a light box on the wall. He hit a switch and it flickered into life. He slid the scan under the retaining clips. He pointed to the tiny shadow on the right side of my brain. ‗This lesion, I‘m afraid, is the problem. We know it as a glioblastoma multiforme, a particularly virulent type of astrocytoma. It‘s a high-grade tumour, which tends to grow quite quickly. It‘s the most common type of primary malignant brain tumour in adults. I‘m surprised the symptoms aren‘t worse. You have headaches, nausea, drowsiness?‘ ‗Yeah, all that. Listen, Doc, I don‘t need to know all the technical bollocks. Just – can you zap it?‘ ‗With treatment it can be made bearable.‘ He breathed in slowly. ‗Mr Stone, have you anyone waiting for you downstairs?‘ ‗No, there‘s no one. No one to call, no one to worry about.‘ At last Kleinmann was looking a little happier. He wouldn‘t have to trot out the usual bullshit, shepherding me and my loved ones through the emotional labyrinth that led from here to fuck knew where. He could just get down to business. He pushed his glasses further up his nose and leant forward to take a closer look at the tumour, in case it had changed into something nice like a Teletubby in the last few minutes. I found myself doing the same, examining the scan as if I knew what the fuck I was looking at. ‗You say it‘ll keep growing?‘ It was hard to believe that something so insignificant was going to finish me off. I‘d always imagined it would be something a bit bigger, something more like the diameter of an RPG, a rifle butt or at least a 7.62mm round, but this little fucker was no more than pea-sized. Checking out like this? It felt so . . . pedestrian . . .
I tried to smile. ‗I always wondered what a death warrant looked like. Does it have a use-by date?‘ I turned away and went back to my chair. I didn‘t need to see any more. Looking wasn‘t going to change anything. Kleinmann followed me. ‗Like I said, Mr Stone, this is where the hard work starts. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment, that‘s going to help, and there is—‘ ‗But will that nail it?‘ Kleinmann sat down opposite me. ‗No.‘ He flicked his coat over his legs like a woman adjusting her skirt. ‗It could keep you going for six months, possibly longer. But without any treatment? Two months, maybe. We can‘t stop the pressure on the brain increasing. Of course, if you need a second opinion—‘ ‗Don‘t worry, Doc, no second opinions. It‘s there, I‘ve seen it.‘ ‗What about the treatment? Would you like to go ahead with the chemo and radiation? The pain is going to get worse. There could be weight loss, maybe incontinence, vomiting still to come. But I will give you some drugs to help you in the short term.‘ I got up and headed for the coat hooks. ‗Thanks, I‘ll take whatever Smarties you‘re offering. But chemo and all that gear? I don‘t think so.‘ Kleinmann sprang to his feet. ‗There are far more advanced treatments available in the US – or Italy, if you want to be closer to home. I could recommend some excellent clinics . . .‘ I bet he could. With a nice little kickback if I took him up on the offer. ‗I think I‘m going to handle this my own way.‘ ‗Let me give you some details of support groups, counselling—‘ ‗I don‘t need any of that.‘ I shrugged on my coat, then paused. ‗Out of interest, any reason I got it? Just one of those things?‘ ‗You have an unusual amount of tissue scarring. You appear to have taken a great deal of blunt trauma to the cerebral cortex over a number of years. Are you a boxer, maybe?‘ I shook my head. ‗When the grey matter is shaken about over a sustained period of time it can cause irreparable damage – and in extreme cases provoke conditions such as yours.‘ ‗Thanks for that, Doc.‘ I gave Kleinmann a slap on the shoulder. ‗I hope your next appointment‘s a nice boob job.‘ I made for the door, not knowing quite what I felt. It wasn‘t fear. Fuck it, we‘ve all got to die some day. It was more frustration. I didn‘t want to end on a dull note. Better to burn out than fade away, I‘d always thought. Better to be a tiger for a day than a sheep for a year; to die quick standing up than live for
years on my knees. All the shit I‘d seen on soldiers‘ T-shirts the world over actually meant something today. ‗No, no – wait, Mr Stone. You‘re going to need to control the pain as the symptoms worsen.‘ He disappeared for a minute or two and came back with a large bottle of shiny red pills. ‗Take two of these every six hours.‘ I nodded. ‗And please, take this information.‘ He waved a brown A4 folder at me, stuffed with leaflets and flyers. ‗It‘s all in there – treatments, support groups, help lines. Read them, think about it.‘ I took the folder and stuffed it in the nearest wastepaper basket, then headed back towards my 911 waiting faithfully in the rain.
16.15 hrs The storm pounded against the triple glazing. For about the hundredth time in the last hour, I reached for the mobile, twisting and turning it in my hand before putting it back down again. What the fuck was I going to say to her? Did I need to say anything? It was only six months since I‘d first held Anna in my arms. Even then I‘d had the feeling I‘d known her all my life. We were standing among the wreckage of an aircraft full of dead men and drug dollars I‘d shot down in Russia. We‘d met at an arms fair press conference in Tehran two weeks earlier. I was working undercover for Julian; she was investigating a corrupt Russian‘s links with Ahmadinejad and the Iranian ayatollahs. She said she wouldn‘t have touched me with a ten-foot pole if she could have sorted it on her own. Then she gave me the kind of smile that makes your knees go funny. I‘d first set eyes on her when she was giving the Russian a hard time in front of the world‘s press. She was a dead ringer for the girl from Abba with blonde hair and high cheekbones. I‘d fancied her big-time. I used to sit in the NAAFI as a sixteen-year-old boy soldier with my pint of Vimto and a steak and kidney pie, waiting for Top of the Pops to hit the screen. ‗Dancing Queen‘ had already been number one for about five years, and I took my seat in front of the TV every week hoping her reign would be extended. This amazing woman had helped me choose furniture for the flat, and in between writing investigative pieces and flying around saving the world she‘d come and stay. Only a few days at a time, mind, but for me that was almost long-term. The only thing we‘d fallen out over was her smoking. She wasn‘t about to be sent onto the balcony to do it. I headed for the kitchen sink, swallowed a couple of Kleinmann‘s Smarties and stuck my mouth under the designer tap. I clicked the kettle on and told myself I had to bite the bullet. Did I really want to do this? Did I really need to do this? I had to. I didn‘t want her standing in the wreckage with me again. She deserved so much better. I twisted and turned the mobile in my hand. Why drag her down with me? My arse rested against the stainless-steel cooker. It would always be this shiny. I had all the toys now, but I was never going to turn into Jamie Oliver. Finally, I stabbed a finger at the keypad and dialled.
‗Jules, mate? Count me in for Saturday.‘
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THE QUARRY JOHAN THEORIN
‘If you like Stieg Larsson, try a much better Swedish writer’ Guardian
Published 23rd June 2011 Doubleday trade paperback
Throughout his life, Johan Theorin has been a regular visitor to the Baltic island of Öland, where his books are set. His mother’s family – sailors, fishermen and farmers – have lived there for centuries, nurturing the island’s rich legacy of strange tales and folklore. A journalist by profession, Johan lives in Gothenburg, Sweden.
It was March in northern Öland, and the sun was shining on small, dirty-white snowdrifts as they slowly melted on the lawns at the residential home for senior citizens in Marnäs. Two blue flags fluttered in the breeze by the car park – the Swedish flag with its yellow cross, and the flag of Öland with its golden stag. Both were flying at half-mast. A long, black car moved slowly towards the home and stopped in front of the main entrance. Two middle-aged men in thick winter coats climbed out and went around to the boot of the car, where they slid out a metal trolley. They lowered the wheels and set off, pushing it up the wheelchair ramp and in through the glass doors. The men were undertakers. Retired sea captain Gerlof Davidsson was sitting drinking coffee in the dining room with his fellow residents when they emerged from the lift. He watched them move along the corridor, pushing the trolley in front of them; on top of it lay yellow blankets and broad straps which would be used to secure the body. The men plodded silently past the dining room and continued towards the service lift, which would take them down to the cold store. The murmur of conversation among the elderly residents had temporarily died away as the trolley passed by, but now it began once more. A couple of years earlier, Gerlof recalled, everyone in the home had been asked to vote on whether they wanted the undertakers to park at the back of the building and make their way in discreetly through a side door when they came to collect someone who had passed away. Most had voted against the suggestion, Gerlof included. The old people in the home wanted to see a dead neighbour‘s final journey. They wanted to say goodbye. The person being collected on this cold day was Torsten Axelsson, and he had died in his bed – alone and late at night, as was often the case when death came. The staff on the morning shift had found him, called a doctor to certify the death, then dressed him in his best dark suit. They had fastened a plastic bracelet with his name and ID number around one wrist, and finally they had wound a bandage around Torsten‘s head to keep his jaw closed when rigor mortis set in. Gerlof knew that Torsten had been well aware of exactly what would happen to him after his death. Before he retired he had worked as a churchwarden and gravedigger. One of the many coffins he had buried belonged to a murderer by the name of Nils Kant, but most of the graves Torsten had dug were for ordinary islanders. He had dug graves in the churchyard all year round, except when there was a
great deal of snow and the temperature below zero reached double figures. It had been particularly difficult to dig in the spring, he had explained to Gerlof, because the frost was so slow to leave the ground on Öland. But the physical exertion hadn‘t been the worst thing, Torsten had added: he had found it extremely hard to get out of bed on those days when he knew he had to make his way to the churchyard to dig a grave for a child who had passed away. Now he would soon be lowered into his own grave. In an urn – Torsten wanted to be cremated. ‗I‘d rather burn than have my bones left in the ground, to be tossed here and there,‘ he had said. Things were different in the old days, Gerlof thought. When he was young and some relative died, there were no undertakers or funeral directors to take care of the practicalities. In the old days you died in your bed at home, then some relative would make a coffin. This thought reminded Gerlof of an old family story. As a newly married couple living in a renovated cottage down in Stenvik at the beginning of the twentieth century, Gerlof‘s father and mother had been woken one night by strange noises coming from the attic; it had sounded as if someone was hurling around the leftover planks of wood his father stored up there. But when he went up to see what was happening, everything was silent and there was nothing there. His father came down and went back to bed, and the crashing and banging began again. Gerlof‘s parents lay there in the darkness listening to the terrifying noises, not daring to move a muscle. When Gerlof had finished his coffee, the undertakers came back with the trolley. He could see that there was a body on it now, hidden beneath a blanket and secured with the leather straps. They moved silently and quickly towards the door. Farewell, Torsten, he thought. When the outside door closed, Gerlof pushed back his chair. ‗Time to go,‘ he said to his companions. He got slowly to his feet with the help of his stick. He gritted his teeth against the rheumatic pains in his legs and went into the corridor, heading for the supervisor‘s office. For a few weeks now Gerlof had been thinking something over, ever since his birthday, when he suddenly realized he would be eighty-five in just a couple of years. Time was passing so quickly – a year now that he was old was like a week when he was young. Today, following Torsten‘s death, Gerlof had made up his mind. He knocked tentatively on the supervisor‘s door, and pushed it open when Boel answered. She was sitting at the computer, filling in some kind of report. Gerlof stood in the doorway, saying nothing. Eventually she looked up. ‗All right, Gerlof?‘
‗Yes.‘ ‗What is it? Is there some kind of problem?‘ He took a deep breath. ‗I have to get away from here.‘ Boel started to shake her head. ‗Gerlof . . .‘ ‗I‘ve already made up my mind,‘ he broke in. ‗Oh?‘ ‗I‘m going to tell you a story . . .‘ Gerlof noticed Boel raising her eyes wearily to the ceiling, but he carried on anyway. ‗My father and mother got married in 1910. They took over an old croft where no one had lived for several years. On that first night when they went to bed, they heard strange noises from the attic... It sounded as if somebody was sorting through the planks of wood my father had stored up there. They could find no explanation for the noise, but the following morning a neighbour called round.‘ Gerlof paused for effect, then went on: ‗The neighbour told them that his brother had died over on his farm the previous evening. Then he asked if they could spare him some wood to make a coffin. My father let him go up into the attic alone to choose some planks, and as my parents sat there in the kitchen listening to the banging and crashing from above, they recognized the noise . . . It was exactly the same as they had heard the previous night.‘ Silence fell in the room. ‗And?‘ said Boel. ‗It was a sign. A sign of impending death.‘ ‗Well, that was a very nice story, Gerlof . . . But what exactly is your point?‘ He sighed. ‗The point,‘ he said, ‗is that if I stay here, it‘ll be my coffin they‘re making next. I‘ve already heard the planks of wood being moved around. And the rattle of the trolley as it comes to collect the body.‘ Boel appeared to give up. ‗So what are you intending to do, then? Where will you go?‘ ‗Home,‘ said Gerlof. ‗Home to my cottage.‘
‗Dying? Who said you were dying, Dad?‘ ‗I did.‘ ‗But that‘s ridiculous! You‘ve got years and years left . . . lots of springs to look forward to,‘ said Julia Davidsson. ‗Besides, you‘ve made it out of an old people‘s home alive – how many manage that?‘ Gerlof said nothing, but he was thinking about the steel trolley with Torsten Axelsson‘s body on it. He remained silent as his daughter drove on down towards the coast and into the village of Stenvik. The sun was shining through the windscreen, making him long for butterflies and birds and everything else the warm weather would bring. His zest for life raised its sleepy head within his breast and blinked in surprise, and he had to make a real effort to sound gloomy when he eventually spoke. ‗Only God knows how much time I have left, and He is allowing it to pass all too quickly . . . but if I‘m going to die, I want it to be here in the village.‘ Julia sighed. She stopped the car on the deserted village road and switched off the engine. ‗You read too many obituaries.‘ ‗Correct. They keep the newspapers going.‘ Gerlof‘s last comment was meant partly as a joke, but Julia didn‘t laugh. She simply helped him out of the car in silence. They walked slowly towards the gate of the family‘s summer cottage, which lay in a grove of trees in Stenvik, just a few hundred metres from the sea. He would be alone here most of the time, Gerlof was well aware of that, but it meant he would avoid all the illness back at the home. The residents with their pills, their oxygen cylinders and their constant harping on about what was wrong with them had started to get on his nerves. His former girlfriend, Maja Nyman, had become increasingly unwell, and now spent most of her time in bed in her room. It had taken almost a month to persuade Boel and the rest of the management team at the home to agree to let him move back to Stenvik, but eventually they had realized that Gerlof would be making room for somebody else who actually did want to live in the Marnäs residential home for senior citizens. Of course, Gerlof would still need help with cleaning, medical care and the provision of meals, but that could be organized through visits from the community nursing team and the home-care service. Gerlof‘s mind was perfectly clear, even if he could barely move sometimes. There wasn‘t much wrong with his head or his teeth – it was just his arms, legs and the rest of his body that could do with a makeover. This day at the end of March was the first time this year he had been back to
the village on the coast where he had been born and had grown up. He was back on the land the Davidsson family had owned and worked for centuries, and back at the cottage he had built for himself and his wife Ella some fifty years earlier. Stenvik was the place he had always come back to during his years at sea. The snow had almost disappeared from the garden, leaving a sodden lawn that needed raking. ‗Last year‘s grass and last year‘s leaves,‘ said Gerlof. ‗Everything that has been hidden by the winter is reappearing.‘ He held tightly on to Julia‘s arm as they walked across the pale yellow grass, but when she stopped at the bottom of the stone steps he let go and made his way slowly up to the door, leaning on his chestnut stick. Gerlof was able to walk, but was glad of his daughter‘s help; he was glad too that Ella was no longer alive. He would have been nothing but a burden to her now. He took out his key and unlocked the door. The musty smell of the cottage rushed towards them as he opened the glass door: cold, slightly damp air, but no hint of mould. It seemed that the slates on the roof were still in good condition. And as he stepped inside he noticed that there were no little black deposits on the wooden floor. The mice and shrews liked to spend the winter in the foundations, but they never came into the rooms. Julia had come over to the island for the weekend to help him move into the cottage and get it sorted out. Spring cleaning, she called it. It was Gerlof‘s cottage, of course, but it had been used as a holiday home for his two daughters and their families for many years. When the summer came they would somehow have to rub along together in the little rooms. Plenty of time to worry about that, he thought. When they had taken Gerlof‘s things inside, switched on the electricity and opened the windows to air the cottage, they went back out on to the lawn. Apart from the screaming of a few gulls down by the shore, the village had seemed completely deserted on this Saturday morning, but they suddenly heard thumping noises from the far side of the village road, echoing across the landscape like loud hammer blows. Julia looked around. ‗There‘s someone here.‘ ‗Yes,‘ said Gerlof. ‗They‘re building over by the quarry.‘ He wasn‘t surprised, because last summer when he was down in the village he had noticed that all the bushes and undergrowth had been cleared from two large plots over there, and a caterpillar tractor was busy flattening the ground. He presumed somebody was building even more cottages that would stand empty for most of the year. ‗Do you want to have a look?‘ ‗If you like.‘ He took his daughter‘s arm again, and Julia led him out through the gate.
When Gerlof built his cottage at the beginning of the fifties, he had had a view of the sea to the west and had just been able to see the tower of Marnäs church in the east, but at that time there were plenty of cows and sheep grazing the land. Now the animals were gone and the trees had come back, their crowns forming an increasingly dense canopy around the cottage. As they crossed the village road, Gerlof caught only a brief glimpse of the ice-covered sound to the west. Stenvik was an old fishing village, and Gerlof could remember a time when rows of gigs and skiffs lay drawn up out of the water along the gently curving shore, waiting to be rowed out to the fishing nets further out in the sound. Now they were all gone, and the fishermen‘s cottages had been converted into holiday homes. They turned off on to the gravel track leading to the quarry, where a new white sign proclaimed ERNST‘S ROAD. Gerlof knew who it was named after: Ernst had been a quarryman and a friend of his, and the last of the villagers to work in the quarry before it closed for good at the beginning of the sixties. Now Ernst was gone too – only his road remained. Gerlof wondered whether anything might be named after him some day. As they approached the quarry, which lay behind a grove of trees, he saw that Ernst‘s red-brown cottage was still there right by the edge, all closed up. Some second cousin and his family had inherited it when Ernst died, but they had hardly ever been there. ‗Goodness,‘ said Julia, ‗I see they‘ve been building here as well.‘ Gerlof tore his gaze away from Ernst‘s cottage and noticed the two new houses she was talking about. They were on the eastern side of the quarry, a couple of hundred metres apart. ‗They only cleared this last summer,‘ said Julia. ‗They must have built them during the autumn and winter.‘ Gerlof shook his head. ‗Nobody asked my permission.‘ Julia laughed. ‗They don‘t bother you, do they? I mean, you can‘t see them, because of the trees.‘ ‗No, but even so. They could show a bit of consideration.‘ The houses were built of wood and stone, with shining picture windows, whitewashed chimneys and roofs made of some kind of black slate. The scaffolding was still up at one of them, and a couple of joiners in thick woollen sweaters were busy nailing wooden panels in place. Outside the other house a large white bath stood in the garden, still wrapped in plastic. Ernst‘s cottage, to the north of the new houses, looked like a little woodshed in comparison. Luxury homes, thought Gerlof. Hardly what the village needed more of. But here they were, almost finished. The abandoned quarry lay like a wound in the ground, five hundred metres
wide and filled with large and small lumps of reject stone that had been broken off and cast aside in the quest for the fault-free stone deeper down. ‗Do you want to take a closer look?‘ asked Julia. ‗We could go over and see if anyone‘s home.‘ Gerlof shook his head. ‗I already know them. They‘re rich, irresponsible city folk.‘ ‗Not everybody who buys a house comes from the city,‘ said Julia. ‗No, no . . . But I have no doubt they‘re rich and irresponsible.‘
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