Authors: E. E. Richardson
An Abaddon Books™ Publication
First published in 2015 by Abaddon Books™, Rebellion Intellectual Property Limited, Riverside House, Osney Mead, Oxford, OX2 0ES, UK.
Editor-in-Chief: Jonathan Oliver
Commissioning Editor: David Moore
Cover & Design: Sam Gretton
Marketing and PR: Lydia Gittins
Publishing Manager: Ben Smith
Creative Director and CEO: Jason Kingsley
Chief Technical Officer: Chris Kingsley
Copyright © 2015 Rebellion Publishing Ltd.
Ritual Crime Unit, Abaddon Books and Abaddon Books logo are trademarks owned or used exclusively by Rebellion Intellectual Property Limited. The trademarks have been registered or protection sought in all member states of the European Union and other countries around the world. All right reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
HE NEXT TIME
Pierce got stabbed in the shoulder by a suspect, the bastard had better have the decency to do it in the summer. Bad enough to have spent weeks in a sling and more doing rehab without the shitty weather and joint aches to contend with. She was cleared to drive by now, but still wary of her shoulder; the December roads were icy after last night’s rain, and the last thing she needed was to crash the car on the way to her first day back at work.
The station hadn’t got any prettier in her absence. A squat, shabby red brick building, it hosted the local police team first, the Ritual Crime Unit crammed in as a vague afterthought. Promises of new facilities had never come to anything; the budget always went on Oxford branch or RCU London. Here up north, they made do.
Pierce parked outside and walked in. On duty at the front desk, Jill Lyons gave her a nod. “Dragged you back already, have they?” she asked. “So much for the season of goodwill.”
“Needs must when the budget drives,” Pierce said. In truth, she could probably have swung the extra leave to stay off till after Christmas, but one more week at home and she’d go spare. After years of vaguely dreaming of having more time off, it turned out she had bugger all to do with it. Her duff shoulder had put the kibosh on fixing up the house or garden, and most of her social connections had withered on the vine after years of the job getting in the way.
The problem with being married to your work was that eventually there came a point when you had to get a messy divorce. Pierce grimaced as she climbed the stairs up to the RCU. She might be out of shape from her time off, but at almost fifty-five, there was a limit to the shape she could get back into.
Not that she had any business feeling sorry for herself. She’d been lucky to come out of her last clusterfuck of a case with no worse than a stab wound: shutting down a ring of illegal shapeshifters and the skinbinder supplying their pelts had left one of her officers critically injured and another dead.
Pierce hesitated in front of the double doors onto the office, steeling herself against the inevitable ache of the missing faces. The RCU’s work was always high risk, but there had been something rotten in the state of Denmark this time round: too much information held back from her team when they needed it, too many special interests playing politics with people’s lives. There was no way she was shuffling quietly off to retirement when there were forces above her head in the police and government who thought they could manipulate the RCU and the law.
At least there was still one familiar face left to greet her. As she pushed through into the RCU’s open-plan office, Sergeant Deepan Mistry jumped up from his computer with a smile. “Guv! Come back to take the reins at last?” he said.
Despite the boyish grin, the detective sergeant looked older than when she’d seen him last. Even now he’d hit thirty, Deepan had a chubby-cheeked baby face and a penchant for hair gel that had always made him seem barely out of his teens to her; right now, though, the clear signs of tiredness were etching more years on his face. October’s bloodbath had left him in the lurch, the only RCU member still standing after the carnage cleared.
But Pierce was back now, and hopefully able to lift some of the weight of shepherding the rookies off his shoulders. “Looks like my reign’s not over yet,” she said, glancing around the office to see what was new. Not much, except her
Team Leader: DCI Claire Pierce
sign had been supplanted by a sheet of printer paper that read
Acting Team Leader: DI Graham Dawson
. She supposed it would be petty to walk right over and tear it down, though it didn’t seem that the man himself was around to see it.
The room’s only other occupant was a smartly dressed young black woman with her hair pulled back into a bun, fresh-faced and eager and not looking a day over twenty-five, if that. Pierce felt a twinge as she remembered the last equally youthful soul to occupy that chair, and why he wouldn’t be there anymore.
She kept that thought off her face, and gave their new recruit a nod and smile. “You’re one of us now, I take it?” she said.
“That’s right, Guv.” The woman nodded crisply. “Constable Gemma Freeman—I took the PRMC certificate with Greater Manchester Police.”
The PRMC exam was required to work in Ritual these days, though Pierce wasn’t convinced it was much more use than her own on-the-job orientation, which had largely been on a theme of, “Assume nobody has a clue what they’re doing and everything can kill you.” Even in these twenty-first-century days of global information networks, magic was still too difficult to reproduce and too deeply surrounded by fakery and bullshit to have more than a trial-and-error approach to understanding what it could do. The only training they could give their people was to toss them in at the deep end and hope they either swam or clawed their way out without drowning.
Probably not an effective pep speech, that.
“Well, welcome to the team,” she said, instead. “I don’t doubt Deepan’s done a good job showing you the ropes while I was off.” She turned back to him. “Where’s DI Dawson?”
“Out at a scene, Guv, with our other new DC.”
“Two new constables
a DI?” Pierce raised her eyebrows. “Good Lord. Rock star treatment.” Maybe having three out of four of the team dead or injured in a span of days had finally woken somebody up to the fact that they really did need the extra personnel they’d been requesting for years.
Or, more likely, her superiors had expected her to conveniently retire after the disaster of the shapeshifter case. Well, they were out of luck: Pierce had never been one to take subtle hints, and there were too many unanswered questions for her to step down now. She might have arrested the skinbinder, but they still only knew him by the possibly false name of ‘Sebastian,’ and the group who’d funded him remained a mystery. With the Counter Terror Action Team muscling in on her case, all the evidence had been seized before she’d had the chance to follow up.
That didn’t mean she was prepared to let things go without a fight—so if Dawson was planning to ascend the ranks and take her place, he was going to have to be a patient man. Pierce had hoped to have the chance to meet with him and make their positions clear right from the start, but she supposed it had been too much to ask that the RCU’s never-ending caseload would give everyone the day off to throw a welcome-back party.