Authors: Martyn Waites
Tags: #Crime, #Thriller, #Mystery, #Detective, #Hard-Boiled, #Suspense, #UK
Joe Donovan 
Martyn Waites was born and raised in Newcastle Upon Tyne. He has written nine novels under his own name and five under the name Tania Carver alongside his wife, Linda. His work has been selected as Guardian book of the year, he’s been nominated for every major British crime fiction award and is an international bestseller.
‘The leading light of a new generation of hard-hitting contemporary crime novelists’ –
‘Grips, and squeezes, and won’t let go. Waites’ lean, exhilarating prose is from the heart and from the guts, and that’s exactly where it hits you’ – Mark Billingham
‘Brutal, mesmerising stuff’ – Ian Rankin
‘An ambitious, tautly-plotted thriller which offers a stark antidote to PD James’ cosy world of middle-class murder’ –
‘If you like your tales dark, brutal, realistic, with a pinch of Northern humour – don’t wait any longer – Waites is your man’ –
‘Breathless, contemporary and credible, a thriller with a dark heart and guts to spare’ –
‘The book houses an audacious energy and if you’re in any way a fan of Ian Rankin or Stephen Booth, this mesmerising thriller will be right up your street’ –
‘If you like gritty crime noir in the style of Ian Rankin, this is the book for you … Waites brings his characters to life with skill and verve, with more than a few nasty surprises. A riveting whodunit you really won’t be able to put down’ –
‘A reckless energy which demands attention and respect’ –
The Joe Donovan Series
The Mercy Seat
Speak No Evil
The Stephen Larkin Series
Born Under Punches
The White Room
Also by Tania Carver
Cage of Bones
The Doll’s House
Published by Sphere
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2008 by Martyn Waites
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
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, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
For Linda again
He sat on the edge of the bed, unmoving. An anonymous chain hotel room. With the bed, a desk, a wardrobe. In-built and functional. Characterless. Could have been anywhere in the world.
The lights were off, the TV black. City sound drifted in through the open window. Only other noise in the room his breathing. The air pressed down, hot and heavy. Unrelenting.
He stared at the wall, face closed, mind unreadable. Hands in his lap, fingers moving against each other. The minibar had been raided.
Next to him, his mobile trilled.
He jumped, stretched out a hand, held it to his ear.
‘It’s starting,’ a voice said.
He listened, said nothing.
‘It’s not too late, you know. You can still change your mind. Join us.’
He sighed, shook his head. Opened his mouth to speak. Closed it again. The caller laughed.
‘Nearly. Was that going to be a yes?’
He kept his mouth tight shut.
‘It’s going ahead. Whether you want it to or not. Whether you’re part of it or not. So speak now or for ever, you know.’
He found the courage, opened his mouth. ‘No. I’ll … I’ll stop you. You can’t … can’t …’
‘Really?’ A laugh. ‘You won’t. The hope only of empty men. Because this is the way the world ends. Or begins.’
Another laugh and the line went dead. The phone felt hot, heavier than lead. He tossed it on the bed beside him.
Kept staring at the wall.
They drove round all day looking for the right victim. Someone who fitted the profile. Someone who would be missed.
The car was a Rover 75, a few years old, with extended axle space giving as much room in the back as in the front. Stolen to order from out of town. Licence plates switched. Confident it wouldn’t be traced. They drove slowly, carefully, no loud music, no revving engine. Nothing eyecatching. Nothing memorable.
Six of them. Four men, two girls. The girls curled up on the floor of the back seat, unseen from the street. No one joked, asked them for oral sex while they were down there. No one said much beyond what was necessary, talk so small as to be infinitesimal.
The men wore sunglasses, hoodies zipped up, hoods down. Windows up, air con on. It was a hot day.
And then they found him.
Sooliman had never known terror. Real life-about-to-end terror. Until now.
His body hit panic attack after panic attack, blood pounding faster than a John Bonham drum solo. I’m too young to have a heart attack, he thought, not knowing if it was a feeble joke or a true statement.
His eyes were open but he couldn’t see anything. His
wrists and ankles bound with plastic ties; his body jackknifed and crammed into the cramped space. Exhaust fumes stung his nose and eyes. Lack of air made him light-headed. Tears and snot covered his face. The gag in his mouth made it hard to breathe.
His body bounced, was banged around. He repeatedly hit sharp metal, felt wet warmth on the skin of his bare arms and face. He tried to focus, breath deep; will himself away from his present, find a happy memory, anything that would give him strength to cope. Impossible. His mind held only confusion and fear.
Thoughts of sudden death.
Through the gag, he cried.
They had taken him in the park. Out playing with his friends, enjoying a game of cricket on the Town Moor after getting home from college, taking advantage of the early-summer heatwave that was as unexpected as it was welcome. Laughing, play fighting as they approached the moor. Five of them, friends since school, all from the same area. Coke and Fanta from the newsagent, cricket equipment communally supplied. They had set up and started playing, two teams of two with Sooliman out fielding, knowing his chance to bat would come eventually.
Because that was the way Sooliman was. He concentrated on college, on his clubs. Chess. Science fiction reading group. Things he felt comfortable with but not geeky. He still went out with his mates, pubbing, clubbing, sticking to the soft drinks. Not because he was a Muslim. He just didn’t like the taste. And no girlfriend. Too shy to ask anyone out. Much safer to go to his clubs or stay in his room, listen to his classic rock. Be the person he wanted to be behind a closed door. A bedroom Bowie. A curtained-off Cobain. A pretend Plant. Act out his lonely dreams while in his heart he secretly, deeply yearned for love.
So when two girls came along and stopped to talk on the moor, he didn’t know what was happening. They were flirty, all bare arms and midriffs. And incredibly good looking. The kind of girls he didn’t even dare dream about. One blonde, one brunette, both about eighteen or nineteen, with lightly tanned skin smelling clean and wonderful. So much so he took his eye off the ball and missed a glorious catch that his friends immediately started ragging him about. He didn’t listen. He didn’t care.
At first he had thought they were asking directions, but it was soon clear that wasn’t what they were after. They talked to him. Smiled. Giggled. He tried talking back but became tongue-tied. They laughed along with him, encouraged him. Listened to what he had to say in response. No girl had ever done that before. Sooliman’s heart felt as big and as full as St James’s Park on a Saturday afternoon. He was a rock god. A sci-fi hero. He tried not to stare too obviously at the flesh on display, not to respond too readily to the arm strokes and supposedly accidental body brushes, the teasing and flirting. Tried, red-faced, to hide his growing erection.
His friends looked over, lost interest in the game, switched their attention. Started walking over slowly, hip gunslinger gaits. The girls noticed, made it clear they were interested only in Sooliman. He didn’t want his friends over either; they would take the girls away. Sweep them off with exaggerated stories and promises of rides in their fathers’ BMWs. It always happened. So when the blonde wandered off to a wooded area, the brunette in tow, and beckoned him over, he didn’t need to be asked twice. Heaven was unfolding on earth. He didn’t even look back.
And that was when they grabbed him. Four of them in long-sleeved hoodies with gloved hands and bandanas tied around their faces, sunglasses hiding their eyes. Standing
before a car hidden on an access road behind a thick hedge. Heaven disappeared before him. He tried to run, but his legs wouldn’t move. Then they were on him. Gagged and trussed, he was thrown into the car boot. Not even time to scream.
He heard angrily spat insults through muffled metal – ‘Paki cunt’, ‘suicide bomber scum’ – then vicious laughter, the giggles of the girls running quickly away. The suspension creaked as bodies got swiftly into seats and the car was engaged, revved and driven off, the sound like the roar of the devil in Sooliman’s ears.
Time passed. How long, Sooliman didn’t know.
Then a violent jarring: the car had turned off a main road, was now on an unmade one. Eventually it slowed, stopped.
He waited, breath coming in snotty, ragged gasps. Heard doors slam, footsteps. Voices, words inaudible through the metal, above the thump of his heart. But no mistaking the sense of anticipation.
The boot was opened. Sooliman held his breath.
He screwed his eyes up tight, desperately willed whatever awaited him away, willed his life back to how it had been when he had woken up that morning. He tried to visualize his mother standing there, his friends, his ordinary life that he had taken for granted but nevertheless loved. He made frantic deals with an Allah he had believed in only to please his parents. He would never criticize his father’s strictness again, would turn his music down when asked, never claim his business studies degree was boring. Never be mean to his little brother. Never look at a Western girl again. He closed his eyes hard, told himself it was all a dream. A horrible dream.