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Authors: Daniel Blake

White Death

BOOK: White Death
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Table of Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Part One: Opening

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Part Two: Middlegame

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Part Three: Endgame

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

About the Author

By the same Author

Copyright

About the Publisher

For Caradoc

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks to: Sarah, Julia, Emad, Kate and Anne at HarperCollins; Caradoc, Yasmin, Linda, Louise and Elinor at A.P. Watt; Charlotte, Judy and David Starling; John Saunders and the gentlemen and players of the José Raúl Capablanca Memorial Chess Society.

PART ONE
Opening

‘Play the opening like a book.’

Rudolf Spielmann, Austrian chess player

(1883–1942)

1

It’s not hard to shrink a human head.

First, you make a slit up the back. (Well, first you sever the head from the body, but I guess you figured that out already.) Then, you peel the skin and hair away from the skull. Slow and careful does it: you gotta keep it all in one piece, else you’ll spend hours tryin’ to make it right again, and even then it won’t look quite the same. And it’s not like human heads grow on trees, and you can just go out and find another one. So take your time and get it right. Sorry to sound all bossy, but it’s gotta be said.

You don’t need the skull no more, least not for this process, so do what you want with it. Chuck it away (someone else’s dumpster’s better than your own, in case the cops come knockin’), or, I don’t know, put a candle in it, save it for Hallowe’en, give it to the next guy you know playin’ Hamlet, whatever.

But you still need somethin’ to keep the head’s shape, so put a wooden ball in where the skull used to be. Sew the eyelids shut; the finer the thread the better. You need delicate fingers; think piano players rather than piano movers. Close the lips and skewer ’em with little palm pins, the kind you get on dog brushes.

Then take the head over to the stove, put it in a cookin’ pot, and simmer for a couple of hours – no more, you hear, not unless you want all the hair to fall out and the skin to end up as dry and cracked as a summer riverbed. A couple of hours, and the skin’ll look and feel like dark rubber. That’s what you’re aimin’ at. Take it out the cookpot, remove the wooden ball, flip the skin inside out and scrape out all the gunk and fat on the inside. Flip it back again and sew shut the slit you made at the back to kick this whole thing off.

You don’t need the wooden ball no more today, but of course keep it close to hand if you’re plannin’ on shrinkin’ more heads any time soon.

Now you need a heap of hot stones, to shrink the head even more and sear its inside clean. Drop the stones through the neck openin’, one at a time. Make sure you keep movin’ ’em around, else you’ll leave scorch marks. When you got too many stones in there to keep rollin’ ’em around nice and easy, take ’em all back out, one by one.

The stones all gone, tip hot sand into the head. The sand gets in the places the stones can’t reach, the little crevices of the nose and ears. Attention to detail, folks. But you ain’t finished with the stones yet, no sir. You press ’em to the outside of the face: shape and seal, shape and seal. Gotta keep those features lookin’ good. Think of it like moldin’ a clay face, like you’re Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in
Ghost
. Love that movie.

Singe off any excess hair and cover the face in charcoal ash. This is supposed to let you harness the dead person’s spirit to your own ends; you don’t put on the ash, the soul’ll seep out and avenge the death. That’s what the old-timers say, at any rate. Not sure I believe ’em, but what the hell. Can’t do any harm, can it?

The head should be about the size of an orange by now. Hang it over a fire to harden properly, and you’re done. You can do what you want with it now.

Like I said, not hard. Not hard at all.

2
Sunday, October 31st
Foxborough, MA

There are several types of hangover. There’s Hangover Lite, a mild but insistent ache in the temples; there’s Hangover Medium, where you ride greasy swells of nausea which rear and ebb without warning; and there’s Hangover Max, when a team of roadworkers are jackhammering behind your eyes, your heart is doing a one-man Indy 500, and the thought that you might die is eclipsed only by the fear that you won’t.

And then there’s the kind of hangover Franco Patrese had at the precise moment his cellphone jolted him from sleep with a brutality that was borderline sociopathic.

But Patrese was a pro. In the time it took for the phone to ring once, neither the shock of the rude awakening nor the monumental combination of toxins gleefully racing round his body could prevent him from assembling a few salient points.

First, it was still dark outside.

Second, he was in a hotel room, which he remembered as being on the outskirts of Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Third, there was another bed in the room, and in that bed was a man named Jeff whose snoring had the rhythm and persistence of waves breaking on a shore. Jeff was one of Patrese’s college buddies. A whole bunch of them had hooked up to come see their beloved Pittsburgh Steelers play the New England Patriots in Foxborough this coming afternoon, and, as Patrese hadn’t seen much of his old friends since moving down to New Orleans, they’d decided to make a weekend of it, all boys together. For someone like Patrese, a single guy who lived in party central, this was just another weekend of good times. For those of his buddies who were married with kids, and whose usual weekends were therefore kids’ soccer practice, home-improvement jobs and putting up with the in-laws, this was pretty much their only free time all year, and by hell they’d made the most of it.

Fourth, Patrese had been first a cop and then an FBI agent for more than a decade, so he knew that no one rang that early on a Sunday morning unless there was a good reason for it. And nine times out of ten, a good reason means something bad has happened.

He answered on the second ring. ‘Patrese.’

Well, ‘Patrese’ was what he’d wanted to say. ‘Ngfrujghr’ was how it had actually come out.

‘Hello?’ It was a woman’s voice. ‘I’m looking for Franco Patrese?’

Bile rose fast and hard in Patrese’s throat. He took a deep breath and forced it back down. This time when he opened his mouth to speak, his tongue felt like a desiccated slug.

‘Hello?’ said the woman again. ‘Hello?’

There was a glass of water by the bed. Patrese reached for it. Felt sick again. Hangover motion sickness, he thought: you move, you feel sick. No matter. He grabbed the glass and drank it down in one.

‘This is Patrese.’ His voice still sounded like Darth Vader with flu, but at least he was now speaking recognizable English.

‘Agent Patrese, my name is Lauren Kieseritsky. I’m with the police department in New Haven, Connecticut.’

No apology for waking him so early. Patrese didn’t expect one. Law enforcement personnel don’t apologize to each other for doing their jobs. In any case, Patrese was already trying to think. New Haven, Connecticut? He’d never been there in his life. Never been, didn’t know anyone there, probably couldn’t even point to it on a map.

‘I got your number through ViCAP,’ Kieseritsky continued.

Patrese sat straight up, nausea be damned. ViCAP is the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, a Bureau database which collates information on violent crime, especially murder. ViCAP is linked to police and sheriff departments across the country. Local officers can enter details of crimes committed on their patch and see if these details match anything already in the system. ViCAP is particularly useful in catching serial killers, who often murder in different jurisdictions and over many years: crimes which beforehand had simply been written off as unrelated and insoluble.

ViCAP definitely meant something bad had happened.

‘What you got?’ Patrese asked.

‘Two bodies found an hour ago on the Green.’

‘The Green?’

‘Sorry. New Haven Green. Grass square, center of the city.’

‘OK.’

‘White man, black woman. No IDs on either yet, though we’ve taken fingerprints and are running them through the system. Both been decapitated. No sign of the heads. Both missing an arm. Both with skin taken from their chests and backs.’

‘The arms – that’s why you called me? Limb removal?’ Patrese’s first case as an agent in New Orleans had been a serial killer who, amongst other things, had amputated his victims’ left legs.

‘Yes, sir. Well, not just that.’

‘Then what?’

‘The dead man. We found him on the steps of a church, and he’s wearing a signet ring with a cross emblem on it. We think it’s the Benedictine medal. We think he’s a monk, a priest, something like that.’

Before Patrese had been a Bureau agent, he’d been a Pittsburgh cop. He’d taken down a killer nicknamed the Human Torch, whose victims had included a bishop – a bishop who, as a young priest, had befriended Patrese’s family and done the kind of things to a teenage Franco that no human being should ever inflict on another.

Patrese ran to the bathroom and threw up.

3
New Haven, CT

Early on Sunday morning, no traffic on the road and a crime scene to get to, it took Patrese dead on two hours to make it from Foxborough to New Haven. He drove fast but not ridiculously so: he was still way over the alcohol limit, so the last thing he wanted was to get stopped. It was a dollar to a dime that any highway patrolman who did pull him over would let him go on his way once Patrese had explained the situation, but it wasn’t inconceivable that Patrese would run across a trooper who disliked the Bureau (most people did), didn’t see what the hurry was (the folks were dead, right? They weren’t going nowhere), and would take great pleasure in busting his ass for DUI (‘The law’s the law, sir’). Either way, better not to risk it.

Kieseritsky had said she’d hold the crime scene for him once he’d made it clear he was just down the road rather than in New Orleans. Patrese had texted his buddies back in Foxborough to explain his absence, and chuckled to himself at the thought of the ragging he’d endure
in absentia
once they eventually hauled their sorry asses out of bed. He’d have given an awful lot to be at the stadium this afternoon rather than poking round the entrails of yet more lives snuffed out, but when the dead said jump, anyone who dealt with homicide could only ask one question: ‘How high?’ That was the way it was and always would be. You don’t like it? Get another job.

BOOK: White Death
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