Authors: Nick Oldham
Table of Contents
A TIME FOR JUSTICE
ONE DEAD WITNESS
THE LAST BIG JOB
BIG CITY JACKS
SCREEN OF DECEIT
THE NOTHING JOB
FIGHTING FOR THE DEAD
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2004 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9-15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2003 by Nick Oldham
The right of Nick Oldham to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Oldham, Nick, 1956â Dead Heat
1. Christie, Henry (Fictitious character) - Fiction
2. Police - England - Blackpool - Fiction
3. Corruption investigation - England - Fiction
4. Detective and mystery stories
ISBN-13: 978-1-4483-0080-8 (epub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This eBook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
This is for the two men in my life â my father, Edward Vincent Oldham, and my son, Philip Joseph Oldham
e had just rolled the body into the shallow grave when the headlights hit him. The main beam sliced through the trees like a strobe, catching him in their glare, then moved on. Initially he froze, spade in hand. Then as the lights passed him he dropped quickly into the grave on top of the body.
He knelt on the dead man's stomach, keeping low and peering over the edge of the grave. The body hissed, groaned and twisted underneath the weight of his knees and something glugged obscenely out of its mouth. But this did not affect Verner. After all, he had killed the man in the first place and brought him to this deserted spot, where his intention was to quicklime and bury the body.
Yet now it transpired that it was not such a deserted spot after all.
Verner cursed, keeping his head down, annoyed with himself for not having heard the vehicle approach in the first place. But, to be fair, he had been digging hard â concentrating, sweating, his heart and ears pounding with the physical exertion of that â having just dragged the body of a fully grown man twenty metres through the trees before depositing it into the newly prepared resting place. His mind had been fixed on the task in hand, so it was not impossible for a car to sneak up without him knowing until the last moment. It was something he would have to think about for the future. It had never happened before and he was damned if it would ever happen again.
The vehicle, which had a quiet engine, was on the hard-packed track which curved through the forest. It was being driven some fifty metres into the trees beyond where Verner was hiding on top of the corpse. It moved slowly and Verner caught the occasional glimpse of its bodywork reflecting light from the half-moon hanging up in the clear night sky. The headlights were doused and the car slowed to a halt, then the engine was killed. Silence returned to the forest. Nothing seemed to be moving.
At first, when the headlights surprised him, Verner assumed that the appearance of the car was just a rotten coincidence. Someone else was up in the woods, up to something. That was all. A courting couple, maybe. Possibly poachers.
But as the car stayed parked there on the track, Verner began to feel differently about it. He blinked and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Instinct was now telling him he had been followed, or perhaps the man on whose corpse he was now balanced had been followed. Whoever was in the car was either looking for him, or the dead man, or both.
Car doors opened, were closed quietly. Voices shushed and whispered to each other. A torch beam came on, went off.
Two men, Verner worked out. His hand gripped the spade tighter. He slightly adjusted his position on the body, causing wind to be passed. Verner screwed up his nose and wafted the smell away with distaste. Then he regained control of his breathing and heart rate.
At least whoever it was had not spotted him in the headlights, that much was obvious. They did not know where he was and that gave him the advantage. Then he remembered his own car parked deep amongst the trees to his left, about a hundred metres away from where the intruding car and its occupants had stopped. Verner knew that a quick search would easily reveal the spot where he had driven off the track, then the car would soon be discovered. They would see the blood mess inside it, where much of the dead man's brains were still splodged on the passenger door and window. It would be an easy further step to find the drag marks made by the dead man's heels all the way to the grave. If they had anything about them, Verner knew they would soon be here.
His mind whizzed as it weighed up the options.
He could slide off into the woods and get away. That would be an easy enough thing to do, but it was not something he could realistically think of doing. His job had only been half-completed. There were too many forensic links left behind in the vehicle. His fingerprints were all over it. No doubt there was some DNA lurking in there too. Very messy and unprofessional. Not Verner's scene at all. He was paid good money to get jobs done â to kill people and dispose of them without them ever being found again â and, just as importantly, without him ever being connected to the disappearance.
Shit. This was not a good situation to be in.
Suddenly he was feeling quite vulnerable.
One of the men called out, âLet's wander this way.'
Verner expected a male response â but it was a woman's voice which replied.
So â not two men after all. Verner had been wrong. Perhaps it was a courting couple after all and all they wanted was somewhere to consummate their relationship. Verner did not allow himself to relax, though.
He fidgeted on the dead man's stomach, causing the corpse to burp quite loudly into the night. Verner touched a finger to the man's lips, shushing him gently.
Torch beams played down the track as the two people walked along it. Occasionally their lights flashed into the trees. They were now almost at where Verner had driven his 4x4 offroad into the trees.
He held his breath.
They stopped, drew close to each other and whispered. Verner could not hear what was being said, but their words seemed to be urgent, rushed. Verner's eyebrows knitted together. One of the two people broke away and jogged back to their car, opened it, reached in and then returned to their companion down the track.
Verner heard the next words as clear as a bell.
It was the woman speaking. âDC Coniston to Control . . . DC Coniston to Control . . . receiving?' There was a pause whilst a reply was awaited. Then she said the words once more. âDC Coniston to Control . . .' Still nothing came back. âShit, the bloody things are still not working properly,' she said, âor this must be a real blackspot here.'
Only then did Verner exhale as he said to himself, You'd better believe it, babe. This is a real blackspot for you.
So they were cops. And they could not radio for assistance. Aah, poor little mites. How very sad. All alone in the spooky dark forest with a big bad wolf watching them hungrily.
Verner watched their torches progress down the track, then they stopped again. He knew they had found the point where he had driven off, where the grass had been flattened and his tyre tracks disappeared into the woods. This, he thought, is where things will turn interesting. But he knew that whatever happened from this moment on, the two cops could not be allowed to live.
Earlier that same day . . .
The surveillance had not gone well that evening. It was one of those jobs when it seemed that if anything could go wrong, it did.
The team came on duty at 4 p.m., less than a day after another surveillance operation which had lasted four solid days and taken them from one end of the country and back again. So they were all, if not exhausted, pretty well worn out and in need of a longer break . . . which was not a good start in itself.
Not one of the team moaned or complained though. They all loved the job they did. It was exciting and rewarding at its best, though more often than not they were faced with hours or even days of tedium when nothing was happening, when targets were not moving. But even during these periods, it was fun because they made it so.
They assembled at the small, discreet office they used as their base on a business park in Prestwich, Greater Manchester. Each grabbed their personal-issue body radio and that was when the first problem of the tour manifested itself. As they tested the radios, they crackled with static and sometimes just stayed plain dead. There were a few frowns within the team, but no one really thought anything of it. They assumed that when they got out on the road, the radio signal would probably be OK.
There were six police officers making up the team. Five were dressed in casual-to-scruffy clothing, not one of them remotely resembling a cop. Even the ones who looked like cops when they first joined the unit no longer looked anything like. They had grown and developed into their roles, become cool, laid back, able to melt into any background.
The sixth member of the team was in his motorcycle leathers.
Detective Constable Jo Coniston was the newest member of the surveillance unit, two months into the job following many weeks of extensive training. She sat at the table in the briefing room, mug of black coffee in hand, a tiny smirk of satisfaction playing on her lips.
She was ecstatically happy.
She had been a police officer for just over four years, all that time spent as a uniformed bobby on the beat. It had been a tough, exciting time at the sharpest end of policing imaginable, working the cauldron that was Moss Side, Manchester. The posting had opened Jo's eyes to a world she had only ever imagined existed in horror nightmares. A world in which a shooting occurred almost daily, where drugs, violence and intimidation ruled a frightened community and where the police could only hope to keep a lid on things â on a good day.