Authors: Simon Hall
Published by Accent Press Ltd – 2012
Copyright © Simon Hall 2008
The right of Simon Hall to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The story contained within this book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publishers: Accent Press Ltd, The Old School, Upper High St, Bedlinog, Mid Glamorgan, CF46 6SA.
About the Author
Simon Hall is the BBC’s Crime Correspondent in the south-west of England. He also regularly broadcasts on BBC Radio Devon and BBC Radio Cornwall.
Simon has also been nominated for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger In The Library Award.
For more information please visit Simon Hall’s website
The usual suspects of CID, the media and the medical worlds for all their help, plus my perceptive readers; George Major and Shaun Ebelthite, my excellent website team; Mathew Hooper, Gary Best and Mark Eccles, the Commander of Plymouth Police, Jim Webster, and the unsung heroes of the fine libraries of the South-west, in particular Sue Lancaster, Susannah Everington, Julian Luke and Paul Trainer.
Other titles in the Series:
EATH WAS STALKING
The frosted double-glazing of the front door hardly softened the screaming. It was strangled, penetrating, like a desperate, agonised animal. A woman’s voice, hysterical with pain and fear. Again. Lights flickered on in a line along the street, faces pressed to windows, fascinated heads shaking in sadness, but never so appalled as to risk missing the spectacle. Again.
It had become a ritual. Frightening nights, shameful days. A thick layer of the morning’s make-up to cover the evening’s wounds. Passing eyes avoided in the street. Conversation always shunned. Sunglasses, polo-neck jumpers and jeans to hide the blossoming bruises.
A flashing blue light began to tint the quiet cars and houses and windows of the Close. Tyres slewed, and the gunning engine spluttered and died. Two doors opened and closed fast, two broad silhouettes checked the array of heavy shapes encumbering their bodies. Two long, thin barrels, sleek and menacing. Two shorter, snub-nosed objects. The careful fingers manipulated the cold metal handles, slid in the series of tiny, gleaming cylinders, tested the delicate crescent triggers.
‘Good to go?’
The figures nodded to each other, began moving, walking fast, following a straight concrete path bisecting a perfect lawn. A worn and muddy mat bid a welcome to their heavy boots.
Death was edging closer.
More sudden noise inside the house. First, a thud, then a smash, an echoing crash. The screaming rose to a screech. Their heavy knocking forced a pause, a second’s hanging silence, then more sounds, vague at first, barely discernible, a soft sobbing, growing louder. Another crash. A fleeting shape in a dark window, moving furtively, like a hunter. Another scream, more hammering on the door, more screaming.
Then it stopped. Just halted. The house froze. No movement, no sound. Nothing.
Seconds slid by in silence.
The figures exchanged glances, whispered together.
‘Threat to life?’
‘Too dangerous to wait?’
‘We have to go in?’
The other figure paused, weighed the bulky weapon hanging at his side. ‘Too tight in there. Too constrained. Too risky.’
‘Side arms? Pistols?’
‘Yep. Have to be.’
Two hands reached for two holsters. One fist hammered again on the glass. The ominous quiet persisted inside.
That was how the operator had described the 999 call. At first, it was a ghost … quiet … the hiss of the phone line … no words … just silence. Now perhaps a hint of shallow breathing … growing … getting louder … a low groan. Then the shock of a sudden scream, a sickening crack, a gurgle … more silence.
The line had gone dead, the number traced, the Armed Response Vehicle scrambled. To find this – an unremarkable address in a modern neighbourhood. A tidy street, an orderly line of cars parked under the amber streetlights, three-bedroom houses, hopscotch grids chalked on the tarmac, safe semi-detached suburbia, all now dancing in the blue shadows of the flashing light from the patrol car.
And death, lingering, always just out of sight, hiding in the half light, but always there, rejoicing in the imminence of his moment.
More whispered urgency. ‘You ready then?’
‘You sure this is justified, after … well, you know …’
‘The last time?’
‘Yeah, the last time. If you … if we … take down another…’
‘If we have to, we’ll have done our job. That’s all. Just like the last time.’
A brief silence. A muted thud and the hint of another moan crept from behind the frosted glass door.
‘So … we go in? We’re absolutely sure it’s justified?’
‘You heard the 999 call. You heard the noises in the house. It sounds like he’s murdering her. We don’t have time to mess about.’
‘Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s just … OK … so … the usual way?’
One silhouette touched the rim of its cap with a forefinger, breathed out hard. The other rubbed reverentially at a shining, silver crucifix hanging around its neck. They exchanged a fast glance, each nodded. The rituals of luck were complete.
It was time.
A heavy black boot thumped into the door. It shuddered, but held. Again, and a complaining creak. Again, and the moan of warping plastic. Harder now and a splitting crash. The door careered open, juddering against a wall.
They edged in, one leading, one covering, both half crouched, pistols poised.
The hallway was narrow, in semi-darkness, pictures hanging at dizzy angles. A sunny Dartmoor landscape. A grey New York skyline. A wood-framed mirror, split with a diagonal crack.
A corner loomed. They slowed, carefully rounded it, step by sideways step. Underfoot a soaking, squelching carpet and a flickering blue luminescence from a smashed fish tank. Fronds of water still trickled, crunching broken glass, tiny golden outlines flipping weak and helpless on the floor.
Another corner. Open space now.
A kitchen, fridge door hanging ajar, a wedge of light spilling out, more crunching glass on the smooth tiles. Cups and plates cracked and smashed, white shards littering the darkness. A photograph of a young couple, morning suit and a white wedding dress, beaming smiles distorted in the cobweb of shattered glass.
And now movement. A woman, on her knees, a torn blouse hanging from her shaking shoulders, sobbing, begging. A man there too, hiding half in shadow, crouched above her, trembling.
‘Armed police, put your hands up!’
His head turned unsteadily, unfocused eyes wild with reflected light, white teeth clenched in a baffled scowl, a heedless welcome to the snub-nosed metal barrel now pointing at his chest.
‘Armed police!’ Louder now, the barked command booming in the sudden stillness. ‘Put your hands where I can see them! Do it now! Do it and you won’t be harmed!’
Still no movement. Still he crouched. The fridge juddered into rumbling life. A sobbing moan from the human shape on the floor rose to accompany it. Then a shift, more movement, his arm rising, menacing, gathering momentum …
One shot, a whipping, deafening crack in the cramped, echoing space. Then another.
A confused look spread across his face. No pain, no shock, no time, just pure puzzlement at the end of his life. His light shirt reddening fast from the pumping blood, his eyes wide, his body slowly slumping to the floor as the precious life leaked away. His soundless mouth open, eyes still staring, but sightlessly now.
A serrated, glinting knife clattered onto the tiles, and her sobs rose again to another strangled scream.
It was just as it had been before. The last time, only five months ago. Another traumatised woman, another corpse lying in its own suburban home, created at their hands.
The two marksmen stared, turned, looked at each other.
‘We’re for it now,’ one muttered breathlessly. ‘We’re bloody for it … you’ve … we’ve done it again …’
‘We did the right thing,’ the other interrupted, then louder, harsher – ‘The right thing! Didn’t we?’
‘Well? Well?! Didn’t we?!’
Still no reply.
Death nodded and departed Haven Close, his work complete.
She was such a beautiful girl. Her eyelids drooped as she lay back on the pillow, but she was determined to fight the gathering sleep, to hear the end of the poem.
‘Don’t stop,’ she whispered. ‘Please don’t stop. I want to hear what happens to the poor Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo.’
‘All right, but this is the last bit now. Then it’s lights off, OK? It’s way past your bedtime.’
She shifted her head, that long blonde hair diffusing around her like a golden halo. He had to close his eyes, to stifle the thoughts of what must happen to her. The ordeal he would put her through. But it was necessary. It was too important to reconsider. She was perfect. The plan was laid. He couldn’t turn back.
He forced the required jollity into his voice. ‘OK then, are you ready?’
She smiled that gappy grin, nodded, reached a hand out from under the duvet to hold his. The guilt formed an instant and dense barrier, made him hesitate, but he took it, swallowed hard, began to read.
‘“From the coast of Coromandel,
Did that lady never go;
On that heap of stone she mourns
For the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo.
On that coast of Coromandel,
In his jug without a handle
Still she weeps, and daily moans;
On that little heap of stones
To her Dorking hens she moans,
For the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo,
For the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo.”’
The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo, from Edward Lear’s
, her favourite. It was the sole part of their relationship he enjoyed. The simplicity of reading to her. He knew exactly why. It was because he was bringing to a fatherless child that which his own father had never brought to him.
Her gentle grip released. He closed the book, lay it down quietly on her bedside table, turned off the lamp. He turned to the woman standing in the doorway, managed to find a smile.
‘She loves you, you know.’
‘Yes …’ he wondered what else to say. ‘And I … she … she’s a lovely girl.’
He thanked his perfect planning that the woman was so stupid, didn’t notice his reticence. It wasn’t luck. He had chosen precisely. She was ideal in her loneliness and dullness and desperation. And her daughter was perfect too, in her beauty and innocence and naivety. When her picture was published, in every paper and magazine, and on every news website, and broadcast on every television station … when the story of what was happening to her was told – and why – then, at last, everyone would finally understand.
The irritating hours he’d had to spend playing his part would be richly rewarded. The thought was all that had kept him going through the tedium of the slow walks in the countryside, pointing out plants and birds and landmarks. The girl had discovered a delight in nature, and he’d been forced to buy a couple of second-hand books to find the knowledge to entertain her. The skylark had become her favourite bird, hovering in the clear air above Dartmoor, trilling out its song. She always loved to remind him how it sang a different tune, depending on whether it was soaring up into the sky, or down to a hidden nest in the moorgrass.
Even the ubiquitous heather was a joy, her only distress the elusive shortness of its flowering season. Classically, just the month of August, she’d quickly learned, although if the weather was kind, the runs of delicate purple candles could appear in July and survive well into September. She would carefully intertwine the tiny flecks with the vibrant yellow of the gorse, and shout how she wanted him to buy her a new dress of gorse and heather colours. He’d had to steel himself so very hard to avoid enjoying her excitement.
The long days by the beach had grown from building endless sandcastles to paddling in sun-warmed and slippery rock pools, waving the fronds of dark and slimy bladderwrack like swords, and hunting the scuttling Hermit crabs, safely protected within their adopted shells. She’d learnt of the menace of weaver fish, their stinging spines buried in the soft sand, and the extraordinary muscular adhesion of the barnacles and limpets that littered the pitted rocks with their tiny pyramids.
She’d insisted Mum took a photograph of the two of them, trousers rolled up, hunting the shallows for shipwreck treasures deposited by the tide. He’d stared at the picture for long hours that night, fighting so hard not to allow himself to become a part of the scene, only eventually finding the strength to burn it.
At least her love of nature was preferable to the deafening funfairs, all sickeningly swirling lights and grating, joyous screams, the very worst of the damned family horrors he’d had to suffer for the perfection of his beautiful plan. All were ordeals, but all would be worth it. When the time finally came. As it would.
The woman was speaking again, more of her ceaseless chatter. ‘She’ll be nine soon, you know. I was thinking of getting her that pony for her birthday. The one she’s always wanted. You know how excited she gets when we see them on our Dartmoor walks. She’d love it so much. You could join in with … make it a present from both of us … if you liked …’
He got up from the chair, tried not to look at the layers of pictures of ponies, dancing and prancing and galloping across the bedroom walls.
‘I’m a bit tight on money at the moment. I’m sorry.’
Her words gushed out to cover the awkwardness. ‘No, that’s fine. I understand. I really do. I’m always having trouble myself. I mean, it’s never easy, is it? Where does it all go, that’s what I want to know?’
She reached out a hand to lead him from the bedroom, looked about to speak again, but he interrupted. ‘I should be going. I’d love to stay, really I would, but I’ve got so much to do …’
She studied him, then nodded. ‘I understand. Perhaps another time. I hope …’
He turned to close the door, couldn’t stop himself looking back at the child, knees tucked, wrapped in the enveloping safety of the duvet. She was sleeping with a smile. In that frozen moment, he almost changed his mind. But it was too late for second thoughts. Far too late. He blinked twice, focused his purpose, just as the Sergeant Major had taught him. It was the only way to survive. To complete your mission.
The door clicked softly shut. But the knowledge of what must happen to her still wouldn’t leave his mind. He shuddered, but only briefly. Then, he smiled.