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Authors: Stephen Booth

Tags: #Police - England - Derbyshire, #Police Procedural, #England, #Mystery & Detective, #Derbyshire (England), #Cooper; Ben (Fictitious Character), #Fiction, #Policewomen, #Mystery Fiction, #Women Sleuths, #Fry; Diane (Fictitious Character), #Traditional British, #General

The Dead Place

BOOK: The Dead Place
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THE DEAD PLACE by Stephen Booth

Soon there will be a killing. Close your eyes and breathe in the aroma. I can smell it right now, can't you? So powerful, so sweet. So irresistible. It's the scent of death. The anonymous caller who taunts the Derbyshire Police with talk of an imminent killing could be just another hoaxer. The macabre descriptions of death and decomposition could be someone's sick fantasy. But after listening to the voice, so eerily calm and controlled as it invites the police to meet the 'flesh eater', Detective Diane Fry is certain she's dealing with a killer ! And it may already be too late to save the next victim. DC Ben Cooper, meanwhile, is looking into Derbyshire's first case of body snatching. It is an investigation that will take him into the world of those whose lives revolve around the dead and their disposal, from funeral directors to crematorium staff and a professor whose speciality is the study of death. �

By the same author

Black Dog

Dancing with the Virgins

Blood on the Tongue

Blind to the Bones

One Last Breath STEPHEN BOOTH

The Dead Place This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters

and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or

localities is entirely coincidental.

HarperCollinsPublishers 77-85 Fulham Palace Road, London W6 8JB

harpercollins.co.uk Published by HarperCollinsPwWw^rs 2005

1 Copyright � Stephen Booth 2005

Stephen Booth asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 0 00 717205 2 (hardback) ISBN 0 00 717206 0 (trade paperback)

Set in Sabon by Palimpsest Book Production Limited,

Polmont, Stirlingshire

Printed in Great Britain by

Clays Ltd, St Ives pic

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, electronic, mechanical,

photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior

permission of the publishers.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not,

by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or

otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent

in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it

is published and without a similar condition including this

condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

For what is it to die, But to stand in the sun and melt into the wind? And when the Earth has claimed our limbs, Then we shall truly dance.'

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), 'The Prophet'

The end is always so close, isn't it? Fate lurks beneath our feet like a rat in a sewer. It hangs in a corner of the room like a spider in its web, awaiting its moment. And the moment of our dying already exists inside us, deep inside. It's a dark ghost on the edge of our dreams, a weight that drags at our feet, a whisper in the ear at the darkest hour of the night. We can't touch it or see it. But we know it's there, all the same.

But then again . . . perhaps I'll wait, and enjoy the anticipation. They say that's half the pleasure, don't they? The waiting and planning, the unspoiled thrill of expectation. We can let the imagination scurry ahead, like a dog on a trail, its nostrils twitching, its tongue dribbling with joy. Our minds can sense the blood and savour it. We can close our eyes and breathe in the aroma.

I can smell it right now, can't you? It's so powerful, so sweet. So irresistible. It's the scent of death. Footsteps approached in the corridor. Heavy boots, someone pacing slowly on the vinyl flooring. Here was a man in no hurry, his mind elsewhere, thinking about his lunch or the end of his shift, worrying about the twinge of pain in his back, a waistband grown too tight. An ordinary man, who rarely thought about dying.

The footsteps paused near the door, and there was a rustle of papers, followed by a moment's silence. An aroma of coffee drifted on the air, warm and metallic, like the distant scent of blood.

As she listened to the silence, Detective Sergeant Diane Fry rubbed at the black marks on her fingers with a tissue. The fax machine invariably did this to her. Every time she went near the damn thing, the powder ended up on her skin. There always seemed to be a spill from a cartridge, or fingerprints left on the casing. But tonight she felt as though she were trying to wipe a much darker stain from her hands than fax toner.

'He's seriously disturbed,' she said. 'That's all. A sicko. A Rampton case.'

But she didn't expect a reply. It was only a tactic to delay reading the rest of the transcript. Fry scraped at her fingers again, but the marks only smeared and sank deeper into her pores. She would need soap and a scrubbing brush later.

'Damned machines. Who invented them?'

On the other side of the desk, Detective Inspector Paul Hitchens waited patiently, rotating his swivel chair, smiling with satisfaction at a high-pitched squeal that came from the base at the end of each turn.

Fry sighed. Waiting for her in the CID room was the paperwork from several cases she was already up to her neck in. She was due in court tomorrow morning to give evidence in a murder trial, and there was a conference with the Crown Prosecution Service later in the day. She didn't have time to take on anything else, as her DI ought to know. She'd also slept badly again last night. Now, at the end of the day, her head ached as if steel springs had been wound tight across her forehead and driven deep into the nerves behind her eyes. A growing queasiness told her that she ought to go home and lie down for a while until the feeling passed.

And this will be a real killing - not some drunken scuffle in the back yard of a pub. There'll be no spasm of senseless violence, no pathetic spurt of immature passion. There's no place for the brainless lunge of a knife, the boot in the side of the head. There'll be no piss among the blood, no shit on the stones, no screaming and thrashing as a neck slithers in my fingers like a sweat-soaked snake . . .

No, there'll be none of that sort of mess. Not this time. That's the sign of a disorganized brain, the surrender to an irrational impulse. It's not my kind of killing.

My killing has been carefully planned. This death will be a model of perfection. The details will be precise, the conception immaculate, the execution flawless. An accomplishment to be proud of for the rest of my life.

TRANSCRIPTION NOTE: BRIEF PAUSE, LAUGHTER.

A cold worm moved in Fry's stomach. She looked up from the faxed sheets, suppressing a feeling of nausea that had risen as she read the last sentence.

'I need to hear the original tape,' she said.

'Of course. It's on its way from Ripley. We'll have it first thing in the morning.'

'What are they using - a carrier pigeon?'

Hitchens turned to look at her then. He smoothed his hands along the sleeves of his jacket, a mannerism he'd developed over the past few weeks, as if he were constantly worrying about his appearance. Tonight, he looked particularly uncomfortable. Perhaps he wasn't sleeping well, either.

'Diane, I've heard this tape,' he said. 'This guy is convincing. I think he's serious.'

When the footsteps outside the door moved on, Fry followed their sound and let her mind wander the. passages of E Division headquarters - down the stairs, past the scenes of crime department, the locked and darkened incident room, and into a corridor filled with muffled, echoing voices. By the time the sounds had faded away, her thoughts were aimless and disoriented, too. They were lost in a maze with no way out, as they so often were in her dreams.

'No, he's laughing,' she said. 'He's a joker.'

Hitchens shrugged. 'Don't believe me, then. Wait until you hear the tape, and judge for yourself.'

Fry regarded the DI curiously. Despite his faults as a manager, she knew he had good instincts. If Hitchens had heard the tape and thought it should be taken seriously, she was inclined to believe him. The printed words on the page weren't enough on their own. The caller's real meaning would be captured in the sound of his voice, the manner of his speech, in the audible layers of truth and lies.

'He seems to be hinting that he's killed before,' she said.

'Yes. There are some significant phrases. "Not this time", for a start.'

'Yet in the same breath he's disapproving of something. Disapproving of himself, would you say?'

With a nod, Hitchens began to smooth his sleeve again. He had strong hands, with clean, trimmed fingernails. A white scar crawled all the way across the middle knuckles of three of his fingers.

'He could turn out to be an interesting psychological case for someone to examine,' he said.

The DI's voice sounded too casual. And suddenly Fry thought she knew why he was looking so uncomfortable.

'Don't tell me we've got a psychologist on the case already?'

'It wasn't my decision, Diane. This has come down to us from Ripley, remember.'

She shook her head in frustration. So some chief officer at Derbyshire Constabulary HQ had got wind of the phone call and decided to interfere. That was all she needed. She pictured one of the ACPO types in his silver braid strolling through the comms room at Ripley, demonstrating his hands-on approach to visiting members of the police committee, hoping they'd remember him when promotion time came round.

'OK, so who's the psychologist?' said Fry. 'And, more to the point, who did he go to school with?'

'Now, that's where you're wrong,' said Hitchens. He pulled an embossed business card from the clip holding the case file together. As she took the card, Fry noticed that it was a pretty slim file so far. But it wouldn't stay that way, once reports from the experts started thumping on to her desk.

'Dr Rosa Kane,' she said. 'Do you know anything about her?'

The list of accredited experts and consultants had recently been updated. Someone had wielded a new broom and put his own stamp on the list, bringing in people with fresh ideas.

'Not a thing,' said Hitchens. 'But we have an appointment to meet her tomorrow.'

Fry took note of the 'we'. She made a show of writing down Dr Kane's details before handing back the card. If the psychologist turned out to be fat and forty, or a wizened old academic with grey hair in a bun, Fry suspected that she'd become the liaison officer, not Hitchens.

She stood up and moved to the window. The view of Edendale from the first floor wasn't inspiring. There were rooftops and more rooftops, sliding down the slopes to her right, almost obscuring the hills in the distance, where the late afternoon sun hung over banks of trees.

Whoever had designed E Division's headquarters in the 1950s hadn't been too worried about aesthetics. Or convenience either. The public were deterred from visiting West Street by the prospect of an exhausting slog up the hill, and the lack of parking spaces. Because of its location, Fry missed the sensation of normal life going on outside the door. There had always been that feeling when she served in the West Midlands - though maybe not since they'd started building their police stations like fortresses.

'You haven't finished the transcript,' said Hitchens.

'I think I'll wait for the tape, sir, if you don't mind.'

'There isn't much more, Diane. You might as well finish it.'

Fry bit her lip until the pain focused her mind. Of course, even in Derbyshire, all the darkest sides of human experience were still there, hidden beneath the stone roofs and lurking among the hills. This was the smiling and beautiful countryside, after all.

The transcript was still in her hand. Holding it to the light from the window, she turned over to the last page. The DI was right - there were only three more paragraphs. The caller still wasn't giving anything away about himself. But she could see why somebody had thought of calling in a psychologist.

Detective Constable Ben Cooper watched the dead woman's face turn slowly to the left. Now her blank eyes seemed to stare past his shoulder, into the fluorescent glare of the laboratory lights. The flesh was muddy brown, her hair no more than a random pattern against her skull, like the swirls left in sand by a retreating tide.

Cooper was irrationally disappointed that she didn't look the way he'd imagined her. But then, he'd never known her when she was alive. He didn't know the woman now, and had no idea of her name. She was dead, and had already returned to the earth.

But he'd formed a picture of her in his mind, an image created from the smallest of clues - her height, her racial origins, an estimate of her age. He knew she had a healed fracture in her left forearm. She'd given birth at least once, and had particularly broad shoulders for a female. She'd also been dead for around eighteen months. There had been plenty of unidentified bodies found in the Peak District during Cooper's twelve years with Derbyshire Constabulary. Most of them had been young people, and most of them suicides. In E Division, they were generally found oon after death, unless they were dragged from one of the reservoirs. But this woman had been neither.

BOOK: The Dead Place
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