Read Under the Skin (Ritual Crime Unit) Online
Authors: E. E. Richardson
An Abaddon Books™ Publication
First published in 2013 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: Michael Molcher
Publishing Manager: Ben Smith
Creative Director and CEO: Jason Kingsley
Chief Technical Officer: Chris Kingsley
Copyright © 2013 Rebellion Publishing Ltd.
ISBN (.mobi): 978-1-84997-536-0
ISBN (.epub): 978-1-84997-537-7
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.
In memory of Lesley Richardson,
my mother and my biggest fan.
HE POLICE VAN
jolted over the potholes of the rough farm roads at speed. DCI Claire Pierce gripped her paper cup tighter before the coffee could spill over and slop down the front of her tac vest.
Might have been the best place for it. “Christ, what the hell am I drinking? Did you run it through a goat before you gave it to me?” She chugged down the rest of the coffee without waiting for an answer. Any method of caffeine delivery was better than none.
Sergeant Mistry gave her a brief grin from the other side of the van. “Not my fault, Guv,” he said. “North Yorkshire Police supplied the coffee.”
“Yeah? Well, next time we call for a raid remind me to pencil it in on the budget.” Pierce grimaced as she reached the bottom of the cup. It was all right for Deepan. He was barely closing in on thirty, still looking only half that with his chubby cheeks and artfully gelled hair. At fifty-four, she was considerably less bright and breezy. She wasn’t keen to be out as late as this, but they didn’t have much choice. The full moon was their best opportunity to catch the skinbinder they were after in the act.
There had to be one operating illegally in the area. They’d been chasing reports of unlicensed shapeshifters across Yorkshire for six months. This many enchanted pelts couldn’t all be heirloom pieces dragged down from the attic, and the maker’s rune on the one bearskin they’d seized didn’t belong to any of the country’s six authorised skin shops. Weeks of painstaking police work had finally led the Ritual Crime Unit to a farmhouse that the neighbours claimed had seen exotic animals delivered.
Pierce gripped the side wall of the van as the young driver swung them off the main road and through the farm gate. She didn’t know his name. This team was only half hers, the numbers made up by North Yorkshire Police. Necessary with the RCU’s limited manpower, but still not a happy thought. If there were shapeshifters on site, a group of untrained uniforms in hi-visibility vests were about as much use to contain them as a strip of P
She could see the dark shape of the farmhouse coming up on their left, the stones lit by the headlights of the Armed Response Vehicle ahead. Beyond was a brick-built barn with a white van parked outside. The owners of the property were supposed to be in Spain.
Pierce reached for the radio on her vest.
“Leo. Your people ready?”
Just give us the word.
” The familiar gruff voice was cool and steady. Leo Grey she’d worked with before, the local Firearms Support Unit’s specialist in supernatural threats. At least he’d be packing silver bullets in his Glock, but the ammo was rare and expensive, and the rest of his team were only supplied with Tasers. Theory said they should work just fine on shifters.
Pierce wasn’t a great fan of trusting to theory.
“I want you with me in the barn,” she said. “If the skinbinder’s at work, that’s where he’ll be.” Skinning was a messy business. The animals had to be freshly slaughtered for the skinbinding ritual to be performed.
I hear you. Henderson, you’re with us,
” he told one of his team. “
Baker will lead the rest of the team on the house clearance.
Dividing their forces made her edgy, but with a site this big they couldn’t afford to risk their suspects escaping in the dark. “Constable Keane and I will be coming in behind you.” Pierce exchanged a glance of acknowledgement with Sally Keane, the RCU’s resident expert in shapeshifting pelts. A plump, easy-going woman with blonde hair and red-framed glasses, she looked out of place stuffed into a tac vest, but Pierce knew she could handle herself in a crisis. It wasn’t her own people that concerned her.
As she climbed out of the van, Pierce checked her belt for her silver cuffs and incapacitant spray. Limited use against a shifter that wasn’t already subdued, but that was why they had Firearms along.
“All right, you know your orders,” she said as the team assembled on the grass. “No heroics. You see a shifter coming at you, you get out of the way and call for Firearms Support.” She looked over at Leo, and he gave her a terse nod. “Okay, everybody get into position. We’re going in.”
Leo took the lead as they advanced on the old barn at a jog. He must have been past forty, but he kept himself in shape, a lean, craggy-faced man with the kind of sandy blond hair that didn’t show the grey. As she followed him across the grass, Pierce tried to tug her own ill-fitting tac vest into a more comfortable position, vowing yet again to give up living on microwave meals. Slim chance of that.
Her stomach tensed as Leo and Henderson adopted positions to either side of the barn’s wooden door. Leo had his Glock held out before him in a two-handed grip, the barrel pointed down at the grass between them. Henderson had his hand on his Taser. They exchanged sober nods.
Henderson threw the door open and Leo charged in ahead of him. “Police! Get down on the ground!” he shouted. “Everybody stop what you’re doing and get down on the ground!” Pierce followed right on their heels, Sally and a swarm of North Yorkshire’s finest close behind her.
The barn was unconverted, a high-roofed open space with wooden beams and a dirt floor. Crates and vaguer shapes covered by tarpaulins were shoved against the walls to clear the centre. A square window in the rear wall allowed the full moon’s light to spill inside.
The pool of moonlight and the glow of their police torches lit up a gruesome scene. The bloody corpse of a grey wolf was strung up, dangling from a beam, the half-skinned pelt peeled down over the muscle like a fur glove pulled inside out. The dead-eyed face reminded Pierce of her neighbour’s pet husky.
No time to get sentimental. They’d caught the skinbinder in the act.
Focused on his craft, the young man didn’t even turn, swaying and crooning to himself as he moved around the hanging carcass. In the shadows he looked hunched, misshapen, until she realised that bound to his back were a great set of eagle’s wings, incongruous against a dark T-shirt and frayed jeans. His bare arms were covered with tattooed runes, and in one hand he held a curved silver knife with a hooked end.