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Authors: Mark Billingham

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Die of Shame

BOOK: Die of Shame
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Mark Billingham
has twice won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Award for the Best Crime Novel of the Year and has also won a Sherlock Award for the Best Detective created by a British writer. Each of the novels featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne has been a
Sunday Times
bestseller, and there is now a hit TV series on Sky 1 starring David Morrissey as Thorne. Mark lives in London with his wife and two children.

Visit the author’s website at:
www.markbillingham.com

 

The DI Tom Thorne series

Sleepyhead

Scaredy Cat

Lazybones

The Burning Girl

Lifeless

Buried

Death Message

Bloodline

From the Dead

Good as Dead

The Dying Hours

The Bones Beneath

Time of Death

 

Other fiction

In The Dark

Rush of Blood

COPYRIGHT

 

Published by Little, Brown

 

978-1-4055-2761-3

 

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

Copyright © Mark Billingham Ltd 2016

 

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

 

The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

 

LITTLE
,
BROWN

Little, Brown Book Group

Carmelite House

50 Victoria Embankment

London, EC4Y 0DZ

 

www.littlebrown.co.uk

www.hachette.co.uk

Die of Shame

To my friend, Michael.

For showing me, every day, what recovery really means.

 

If a way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst.

THOMAS
HARDY

THE FINAL VISIT

‘I didn’t think you were coming back,’ the prisoner says. He had begun to roll a cigarette as soon as he’d sat down and now he licks the edge of the paper, his eyes fixed on the person in the chair opposite.

‘I had a lot of running around to do.’

‘Yeah?’

‘A bit of detective work, after what you said last time.’

He is trying hard not to look nervous, or even particularly interested, struggling to remember exactly what he said all those weeks before. What he might have given away. He says, ‘It’s rubbish, isn’t it? Everything you put in that first letter. The reason you’ve been coming.’

‘Sorry about that.’

He slaps his hand on the table, but not in anger. He’s just pleased to have been proved right. ‘I knew it.’

‘What do you care? You’ll be out soon enough.’

‘Yeah, I knew it first time I saw you.’

‘Really?’

‘You don’t look like a student.’

‘What do I look like?’

He shrugs, roll-up complete. ‘Well, you’re obviously some kind of nutter.’

The visitor nods. ‘I can’t really argue with that. Some kind.’

‘So you know, if I see you once I’m out, I won’t be quite so friendly.’

‘There’s no danger of that.’

‘Just as long as we’re clear.’

‘I mean, we know all about that famous temper of yours, don’t we?’ A smile. ‘The only reason I came back at all was to say thank you.’

‘For what?’

‘For giving me what I needed. For putting me on the right track.’

Now he doesn’t much care whether he looks nervous or not. All these years saying nothing; not even
then
, after it had happened.

He hadn’t let something slip, had he?

No, he can’t have been that stupid.

He sits up straight and lays his hands flat on the table. He says, ‘You hear stories inside about people like you.’

‘Really? What kind of people is that?’

‘People who get off on all this. Who just like being close to it.’ Now, he leans forward, confident that he’s hit a nerve. That he’s back in charge. ‘All this shit you’ve been giving me, all those questions, and I reckon you just want to know what it’s like.’

‘What it’s like?’

‘To kill someone.’

The visitor’s face breaks into a grin. ‘Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. I’ll know for myself soon enough.’

Tony De Silva stands and watches Robin and Heather drinking coffee decanted from the large vacuum flask he lays on every week. They’re chatting easily and, as usual, Robin is helping himself to the lion’s share of the biscuits. Tony decides that he will need to speak to him about that. Diana is a few feet away, looking out into the garden and cradling a mug of herbal tea, while Chris is already sitting down, his thumbs working at the screen of his smartphone. Tony strolls across and glances over Chris’s shoulder to check that he is not playing any sort of combat game, which, for him, would not be permissible.

The use of phones will not be allowed once they get started.

Tony checks his watch. Six o’clock and it has been dark for an hour already, but outside the conservatory window the garden lights show up a scattering of frost on the lawn and across the bare, black beds.

‘Looks like she’s bottled it,’ Chris says, well aware that Tony is behind him, keeping an eye on what he is doing.

‘We’ll give it another minute or two,’ Tony says.

‘You’re the boss.’

Tony takes a swig from a small bottle of mineral water. He says, ‘Wrong word.’

It’s useful, he thinks, this ten or fifteen minutes before they begin. There are never any breaks during the session itself, so it’s good to get the small talk and light refreshments out of the way. It’s usually when toilet visits are made – to the downstairs cloakroom only, of course – and it gets conversation started, which he believes always makes the session itself go better.

Diana turns from the window and smiles at him. She still likes to keep herself to herself in these informal moments, though she seems a little less anxious in the circle these days, which Tony is pleased about. On the other side of the conservatory, Heather says something which makes Robin laugh, and he spits crumbs which Heather stoops to gather up with her hands.

‘We should probably sit down,’ Tony says.

He tries to place the melody that’s drifting down from upstairs, watching as Robin, Heather and Diana put their mugs back on the trolley and move across to take their seats in the circle. The chairs are identical, but each of them sits in the same position every week, their territory chosen early on and now carefully protected. Tony takes his usual seat, hangs his jacket over the back of it and looks across at the single unoccupied position in the circle.

‘Shall I close it up?’ Heather asks.

It’s what they normally do, if there’s a no-show. Better a smaller circle than an empty chair. Tony nods and Heather is pushing the chair towards the wall when the doorbell rings. She says, ‘Sod’s law,’ and starts to drag it back into the circle again.

‘Bang on the hour,’ Chris says. ‘This one’s clearly got a
major
thing about punctuality.’

Tony stands up, walks quickly out through the kitchen and opens the front door to a woman who looks much as he expected, having spoken to her on the phone a few days before. She tells him who she is anyway, and they shake hands before he leads her inside and through into the conservatory.

Everyone except Chris watches her come in.

Tony takes the new arrival’s coat and points out her seat. As she lowers herself into it, Diana and Robin, who are seated on either side of her, subtly shift their chairs away; just an inch or two.

‘Welcome,’ Tony says.

There are nods and smiles, murmured acknowledgements from most of those in the circle. The newcomer nods and smiles back, if a little nervously.

‘Let’s get the formalities out of the way,’ Tony says. He looks towards the eldest member of the group, a man wearing a suit with an open-necked striped shirt. ‘Introductions?’

‘I’m Robin,’ the man says. He smiles at the newcomer then looks to his left.

‘Heather…’

‘You already know my name,’ Tony says. ‘But, once again, welcome.’ He looks to the next chair, but Chris is staring into space, as though completely uninterested in proceedings. Tony waits a few seconds. ‘Chris?’

‘Oh for heaven’s sake.’ The woman to Chris’s left shakes her head and turns to her new neighbour. ‘I’m Diana,’ she says. ‘And if you want some early advice, you’re best ignoring him. Some of us are rather more needy than others.’

‘Somebody talking about me?’ Chris says. He produces a radiant smile and turns it towards the newest member. ‘My name’s Chris.’ He sits back, laces his fingers behind his head. ‘Tennis pro, male model and part-time racing driver.’

‘You’re leaving “rent boy” off the CV these days, then?’ Heather says.

Robin laughs, low and hoarse.

Chris beams and casually gives Heather the finger.

Tony waits.

When the woman opposite him realises that it’s her turn, she sits forward. ‘Caroline,’ she says. A nervous laugh. ‘I hope I can remember everyone’s name.’

The names will come quickly enough, Tony knows, but getting to trust and understand these men and women with whom she has one crucial thing in common will be a longer and far more difficult process.

A respected doctor in his early sixties, with a history of addiction to a variety of easily available medications. A thirty-two-year-old woman once addicted to drugs and gambling. A young gay man, living in a series of hostels and shelters, his drug dependency now replaced by an addiction to computer games and online pornography. A well-heeled housewife who had drifted into alcoholism as her domestic life had disintegrated and now shops compulsively instead of reaching for a bottle of wine at breakfast.

There are many different roads to recovery.

‘Right.’ Tony reaches beneath his chair for a laminated sheet of paper and passes it to his left. ‘Will you do the honours in a minute, Chris?’

Chris snatches the sheet.

Tony looks at Caroline. ‘This is what’s called a “slow open” group, OK? Meaning that I can bring new clients into the circle as and when, and therefore some members will have been part of the group a lot longer than others. Some have been in recovery much longer than others.’ He looks to Heather first.

‘I’ve been clean for nearly two and a half years,’ she says. She looks to her right.

‘Four years,’ Robin nods, ‘seven months and twenty-two days.’

Diana says, ‘I haven’t had a drink in nine weeks.’

They all wait for Chris. He grins, wolfish, and says, ‘Well, it depends which time you’re talking about.’

Tony shakes his head, having heard the same line from Chris the last time a newcomer was welcomed. He looks at Caroline again. ‘We’re here to work on a range of recovery skills and to offer relapse prevention support, and whether you’ve been coming three months or five minutes, everyone in the group has equal status and equal rights and is equally protected.’ He nods at Chris.

Chris has clearly given the same spiel before or heard others do it. He does not need to look at what is printed on the sheet and speaks in a monotone, like a call-centre operative trotting out a compulsory legal declaration. ‘This circle is a safe place. It cannot be broken or violated and that which is discussed within it should never be taken outside.’ He puffs out his cheeks to demonstrate his boredom. ‘Confidentiality is the fundamental principle that underpins these sessions and the only exceptions to this are where the revelation of a serious crime is made or where it is felt that a member intends to harm themselves or others. Then, the therapist is ethically bound to reveal only such information as is necessary. Blah blah blah.’ Without looking, he holds out the sheet for Tony to take.

‘Thanks, Chris.’ Tony looks at Caroline. ‘All good?’

She nods, looks around the circle. ‘Everyone seems really… different, which is good.’

‘It’s
really
good,’ Heather says.

‘So what’s everyone’s…? Am I allowed to ask?’

‘Ask anything you like,’ Tony says.

Caroline nods again, then, distracted, looks upwards. ‘Who’s playing the piano?’

Tony stares at her, takes a few seconds. ‘I’m wondering why you would want to know that?’

‘Is it your wife? Girlfriend?’ She waits, but gets no answer. ‘You don’t want to tell me, that’s fine.’

‘Well… by not answering the question, I just think I’m more likely to find something out about you.’

She shrugs, like she isn’t bothered, then grins. ‘Is it your gay lover?’

Tony sits back. ‘See what I mean?’

‘Boom!’ Chris shakes his hand in the air, flicking the fingers against one another, like the black teenager he isn’t. ‘One nil.’

Caroline looks at him, unable to mask her irritation. ‘Sorry?’

‘It’s not a game,’ Tony says. ‘And nobody’s keeping score.’

‘You can’t mess with Tony,’ Chris says. ‘He’s too good.’

‘I took everything I could get my hands on,’ Robin says, suddenly. ‘To answer your initial question. And I’m a doctor, so I could get my hands on almost anything I fancied. Diazepam, morphine, pethidine. Fentanyl was a particular favourite.’

‘Vodka and white wine for me,’ Diana says. ‘Though it was more or less whatever was going to get me pissed by the end. Actually, by the end, I wasn’t getting pissed at all and that was the problem.’

‘What about you?’ Heather asks. She looks at Caroline.

‘Oh, please!’ Chris leans forward. ‘It’s not like you need to be Sherlock Holmes, is it? Look at her.’

‘You are such a twat,’ Heather says.

‘I’m used to it,’ Caroline says. ‘Doesn’t bother me.’

‘That’s good,’ Tony says.

‘Yes… I had a problem with compulsive overeating. I’ve always had… issues with food, with weight. Then, when the knees started to give out, I got hooked on painkillers. So…’

‘Right,’ Chris says. ‘But it’s really all about why your knees gave out, isn’t it? Your basic addiction is to cake at the end of the day. Eating all the pies.’

‘That’s correct,’ Caroline says. ‘Wow, are you a therapist as well?’

Robin looks to Heather, then to Tony. ‘I’m not sure he actually understands what the word “support” means.’

Tony has already turned to address Chris. ‘I’m wondering why you’re feeling the need to attack Caroline like this.’

If Chris is listening, he shows no sign of giving a toss. ‘Truth is it’s a bit of a pussy-arsed addiction, isn’t it? Food. Not even sure it
is
an addiction, not a proper one.’

‘You know the rules,’ Tony says. ‘If someone says they’re an addict, they’re an addict. Simple as that.’

Chris ignores him. ‘It’s all a bit amateur-hour though, don’t you reckon?’ His voice gets higher, camper as he talks faster and grows more animated. ‘I mean, you have to eat food, don’t you? You don’t have to shoot up smack or guzzle gin, and let’s be honest, a few extra helpings isn’t going to kill anyone, is it?’

‘Have you any idea what damage obesity can do?’ Robin asks. ‘Are you a complete idiot or just pretending?’

Still, Chris isn’t listening. ‘Sorry, I just think it’s a bit of a joke, that’s all. Weightwatchers, love, that’s where you should be.’ He looks around the room, ready with his killer punchline. ‘I’d go as far as to say our newbie’s a bit of a lightweight, except she’d think I was taking the piss.’

Caroline stares at her shoes, and save for the hiss of Chris sucking his teeth, unhappy with the reaction to his wit and repartee, the group falls silent. Tony waits, in accordance with the rule he’d learned years before, when he was sitting in a circle himself. The therapist will never to be the one to break a group silence.

After a minute or so, it’s Diana who says, ‘Perhaps we should start again.’

‘Good idea,’ Tony says. ‘We got a bit sidetracked, I think. So… everyone had a good week?’

Nods and grunted yesses. Five of the six in the circle know what the question really means. Caroline will catch on quickly enough.

‘Good,’ Tony says. ‘Now, I wanted to raise an issue I’ve already spoken to Caroline about on the phone.’

‘This shame business,’ Caroline says.

‘Right.’

‘Shame?’ Heather says. ‘What about it?’

‘I think we should start discussing it, opening up a little about what it is we’re all ashamed of.’

‘Who says we’re ashamed about anything?’ Chris asks.

‘Of course we are,’ Robin says. ‘I think it sounds like a good idea. We talked about this a lot at Highfields.’

Highfields House is a residential rehab in which Robin has spent some time; a place from which many of Tony’s clients have come in recent years. Others in the group have come to recovery via a very different route and Chris is one of them. He groans. ‘Don’t start with all that twelve-step rubbish again.’

‘It’s helpful,’ Robin says.

‘To you, maybe.’

‘I’m game,’ Diana says.

‘Good.’ Tony undoes a button on his shirt. The underfloor heating is cranked up a little high and it’s starting to get warm in the conservatory. ‘I think it will be helpful,’ he says. ‘I really believe that shame is at the root of a great many addictions.’ He looks around, mindful as always of making eye contact, where possible, with each member of the group whenever he can. ‘Shame about something we did. Shame about something that was done to us. I think that facing up to that shame and taking away the power it holds over us is a key recovery tool.’

‘I’m ashamed that I was a junkie and an alcoholic,’ Heather says. ‘Simple as that. Same as most of us, probably.’ Next to her, Robin nods enthusiastically. ‘I reckon anyone who’s half decent would be ashamed of that, right? I’m ashamed that I stole and lied all the time. I’m ashamed that I shat on people who cared about me.’

‘That’s all really positive,’ Tony says. ‘But I’m talking about the shame that drove you towards substance abuse to begin with.’

Heather opens her mouth and closes it again.

‘Look, I’m not suggesting we dive straight into this, but I’d like us all to be thinking about it over the coming week and then maybe we can talk about it a bit more at the next session.’

‘Who’s going to go first?’ Caroline seems anxious.

‘Don’t worry, it probably shouldn’t be you,’ Diana says. ‘Not unless you want to. You’ve only just joined, so…’

‘Well, don’t look at me,’ Chris says.

‘Nobody was,’ Heather says. ‘Sorry,
darling
.’

BOOK: Die of Shame
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