/ Language: English / Genre:thriller,

Dead Man’s Footsteps

Peter James

'Abby stepped in the lift and the doors closed with a sound like a shovel smoothing gravel. She breathed in the smell of someone else's perfume, and lemon-scented cleaning fluid. The lift jerked upwards a few inches. And now, too late to change her mind and get out, with the metal walls pressing in around her, they lunged sharply downwards. Abby was about to realize she had just made the worst mistake of her life…' Amid the tragic unfolding mayhem of the morning of 911, failed Brighton never-do-well Ronnie Wilson sees the chance of a lifetime, to disappear and reinvent himself in another country. Five years later the discovery of the skeletal remains of a woman's body in a storm drain in Brighton, leads Detective Superintendent Roy Grace on an enquiry spanning the globe, and into a desperate race against time to save the life of a woman being hunted down like an animal in the streets and alleys of Brighton.

Peter James

Dead Man’s Footsteps

The fourth book in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, 2008

TO DAVE GAYLOR

Some of this story takes place on the

days surrounding the terrible events of 9/11.

With deepest respect to the victims

and all who lost loved ones.

1

If Ronnie Wilson had known, as he woke up, that in just a couple of hours he would be dead, he would have planned his day somewhat differently.

For a start he might not have bothered to shave. Or wasted so many of those last precious minutes gelling his hair, then messing around with it until he was satisfied. Nor would he have spent quite so long polishing his shoes, or getting the knot of his expensive silk tie absolutely right. And he sure as hell would not have paid an exorbitant eighteen dollars – which he really could not afford – for the one-hour service to have his suit pressed.

To say that he was blissfully unaware of the fate awaiting him would be an exaggeration. All forms of joy had been absent from his canon of emotions for so long, he no longer had any idea what bliss was. He didn’t even experience bliss any more in those fleeting final seconds of orgasm, on the rare occasions when he and Lorraine still made love. It was as if his balls had become as numb as the rest of him.

In fact recently – and somewhat to Lorraine ’s embarrassment – when people asked him how he was, he had taken to replying with a brief shrug of his shoulders and the words, ‘My life is shit.’

The hotel room was shit too. It was so small that if you fell over you wouldn’t even hit the floor. It was the cheapest room the W had, but at least the address helped him to maintain appearances. If you stayed at a W in Manhattan, you were a somebody. Even if you were sleeping in the broom closet.

Ronnie knew he needed to get himself into a more positive mode – and mood. People responded to the vibes you gave out, particularly when you were asking for money. Nobody would give money to a loser, not even an old friend – at least, not the kind of money he needed at this moment. And certainly not this particular old friend.

Checking out the weather, he peered through the window, craning his neck up the sheer grey cliff of the building facing him across 39th Street until he could see the narrow slit of sky. The realization that it was a fine morning did nothing to lift his spirits. It merely felt as if all the clouds had drained out of that blue void and were now in his heart.

His fake Bulgari watch told him it was 7.43 a.m. He had bought it on the internet for forty pounds, but hey – who could tell it wasn’t real? He had learned a long time ago that expensive watches gave off an important message to people you were trying to impress: if you cared enough about a detail like time to buy one of the best watches in the world, then you would probably care just as much about the money they were going to entrust you with. Appearances weren’t everything, but they mattered a lot.

So, 7.43. Time to rock and roll.

He picked up his Louis Vuitton briefcase – also fake – placed it on top of his packed overnight bag and left the room, wheeling his luggage behind him. Emerging from the elevator on the ground floor, he skulked past the front desk. His credit cards were so maxed out he probably didn’t even have enough to settle the hotel bill, but he would have to worry about that later. His BMW – the swanky blue convertible that Lorraine liked to drive around in, posing to her friends, was about to be repossessed, and the mortgage company was about to foreclose on his home. Today’s meeting, he thought grimly, was the last-chance saloon. A promise he was calling in. A ten-year-old promise.

He just hoped it had not been forgotten.

*

Sitting on the subway, cradling his bags between his knees, Ronnie was aware that something had gone wrong in his life, but he couldn’t really put a finger on what it was exactly. Plenty of his contemporaries from school had gone on to have big successes in their fields, leaving him floundering in their wake, getting increasingly desperate. Financial advisers, property developers, accountants, lawyers. They had their big-swinging-dick houses, their trophy wives, their kids-to-die-for. What did he have?

Neurotic Lorraine who spent the money he didn’t have on endless beauty treatments she seriously did not need, on designer clothes they seriously could not afford, and on picking up the tabs of absurdly expensive lunches of lettuce leaves and mineral water with her anorexic friends, who were all far richer than they were, in whatever happened to be the latest hip restaurant-of-the-week. And despite a fortune spent on infertility treatment, she had still been unable to produce the child he so badly wanted. The only expenditure of which he had really approved had been her boob job.

But of course Ronnie was too proud to admit to her the mess he was in. And, ever the optimist, he always believed there was a solution just around the corner. A chameleon, he blended perfectly into his environment. As a used-car dealer, then an antiques dealer and an estate agent, he used to look pin-sharp, with the gift of the gab that was, unfortunately, better than his financial acumen. After the estate agency business went down the toilet, he had rapidly segued into property developing, where he used to look convincing in jeans and a blazer. Then, as the banks foreclosed on his twenty-home development that ran aground over planning issues, he reinvented himself yet again as a financial adviser to the rich. That business hit the buffers too.

Now he was here in the hope of convincing his old friend Donald Hatcook that he knew the secret of making money out of the next golden goose – biodiesel. Donald was rumoured to have made north of a billion in derivatives – whatever they were – and had lost only a paltry couple of hundred thousand investing in Ronnie’s failed estate agency business ten years ago. Claiming to accept all his friend’s reasons for the failed enterprise, he had assured Ronnie he would back him again one day.

Sure, Bill Gates and all the other entrepreneurs on the planet were looking for the way forward in the new, environmentally friendly biofuel market – and had the money to throw at it to make it happen – but Ronnie reckoned he had identified a niche. All he had to do this morning was convince Donald. Donald was sharp, he’d see it. He’d get it. It ought to be – in New York parlance – a slam dunk.

In fact, the further the train headed downtown, while he mentally rehearsed his pitch to Donald, the more confident Ronnie became. He felt himself turning into the Michael Douglas character in Wall Street: Gordon Gekko. And he sure looked the part. Just like the dozen other sharply dressed Wall Street players sitting in this swaying carriage with him. If any of them had just half of his troubles, they were keeping it well hidden. They all looked so damned confident. And if they bothered to glance at him, they would have seen a tall guy with lean good looks and slicked-back hair who looked equally confident.

People said that if you hadn’t made it by the time you were forty, then you were never going to make it. He was coming up to forty-three in just three weeks’ time.

And he was coming up to his station. Chambers Street. He wanted to walk the last few blocks.

He emerged into the fine Manhattan morning and checked his bearings on the map the hotel concierge had given him last night. Then he looked at his watch: 8.10 a.m. From past experience of navigating New York office buildings, he reckoned he should allow himself a good fifteen minutes to get to Donald’s office once he reached the man’s building. And it was a good five minutes’ walk from here, the concierge had told him – and that was assuming he did not get lost.

Passing a sign informing him he was now on Wall Street, he walked past a Jamba Juice shop on his right and a shop offering ‘Expert Tailoring and Alteration’, then entered the packed Downtown Deli.

The place smelled of stewed coffee and frying eggs. He sat on a red leather bar stool and ordered freshly squeezed orange juice, a latte, scrambled eggs with a side order of bacon and wheat toast. As he waited for his food, he flipped through the business plan once more, then, looking at his watch again, mentally calculated the time difference between New York and Brighton.

England was five hours ahead. Lorraine would be having lunch. He gave her a quick call on her mobile, told her he loved her. She wished him luck in the meeting. Women were easy to please, just a bit of lovey-dovey flannel every now and then, the occasional lines of poetry, and one or two pieces of expensive-looking jewellery – but not too often.

Twenty minutes later, as he was paying the bill, he heard a massive bang somewhere in the distance. A guy on the stool next to him said, ‘Jesus, what the fuck was that?’

Ronnie collected his change and left a decent tip, then stepped out into the street to continue his journey towards Donald Hat-cook’s office, which, according to the information that had been emailed to him, was on the eighty-seventh floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

It was 8.47 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday, September 11th, 2001.

2

OCTOBER 2007

Abby Dawson had chosen this flat because it felt secure. At least, in as much as she was ever going to feel secure anywhere at this moment.

Apart from the fire escape at the back, which could only be opened from inside, and a basement fire exit, there was just one entrance. It was eight floors directly below her, and the windows gave her a clear view up and down the street.

Inside, she had turned the flat into a fortress. Reinforced hinges, steel plating, three sets of deadlocks on the front door and on the fire escape door at the back of the tiny utility room, and a double safety chain. Any burglar trying to break in here was going to go home empty-handed. Unless they were driving a tank, no one was going to get in unless she invited them.

But just in case, as back-up, she had a canister of Mace pepper spray in easy reach, a hunting knife and a baseball bat.

It was ironic, she thought, that the first time in her life she was able to afford a home large and luxurious enough to entertain guests, she had to live here on her own, in secrecy.

And there was so much to enjoy here. The oak flooring, the huge cream sofas with their white and chocolate-brown cushions, the sharp, modern art on the walls, the home-cinema system, the high-tech kitchen, the massive, deliciously comfortable beds, the under-floor heating in the bathroom and the smart guest shower room which she had not yet used – at least not for what it was intended.

It was like living in one of the designer pads she used to covet on the pages of glossy magazines. On fine days, the afternoon sun streamed in, and on blustery days, like today, when she opened a window she could taste the salt on the air and hear the cries of gulls. Just a couple of hundred yards beyond the end of the street, and the junction with Kemp Town’s busy Marine Parade, was the beach. She could walk along it for miles to the west and along under the cliffs to the east, past the Marina.

She liked the neighbourhood too. Small shops close by, safer than going into a large supermarket, because she could always check who was in there first. All it needed was for one person to recognize her.

Just one.

The only negative was the lift. Extremely claustrophobic at the best of times, and more prone than ever to panic attacks recently, Abby never liked to ride in any lift alone unless she absolutely had to. And the jerky capsule the size of a vertical two-seater coffin that serviced her flat, and had got stuck a couple of times in the last month – fortunately with someone else in it – was one of the worst she had ever experienced.

So normally, up until the past couple of weeks, when workmen renovating the flat below hers had turned the staircase into an obstacle course, she walked up and down. It was good exercise and, if she had some heavy shopping bags – well, that was easy – she would send them up in the lift on their own and climb the stairs. On the very rare occasions she encountered one of her neighbours, then she would ride up shoulder to shoulder with them. But mostly they were so old they never went out much. Some seemed as old as this mansion block itself.

The few younger residents, like Hassan, the smiling Iranian banker who lived two floors below her and sometimes threw all-night parties – the invites to which she always politely declined – seemed to be away, somewhere else, most of the time. And at weekends, unless Hassan was in residence, this whole west wing of the block was so silent it seemed to be inhabited only by ghosts.

In a way, she was a ghost too, she knew. Only leaving the safety of her lair after dark, her once long, blonde hair cropped short and dyed black, sunglasses on her face, jacket collar turned up, a stranger in this city where she had been born and grown up, where she had been a business studies student and had once worked bars, done temporary secretarial jobs, had boyfriends and, before the travel bug hit her, had even fantasized she would raise a family.

Now she was back. In hiding. A stranger in her own life. Desperate not to be recognized by anyone. Turning her face away on the rare occasions when she passed someone she knew. Or saw an old friend in a bar and immediately had to leave. God damn it, she was lonely!

And scared.

Not even her own mother knew she was back in England.

Just turned twenty-seven three days ago – and that was some birthday party, she thought ironically. Getting smashed up here on her own, with a bottle of Moët et Chandon, an erotic movie on Sky and a vibrator with a dead battery.

She used to pride herself on her natural good looks. Brimful of confidence, she could go out to any bar, any disco, any party and have the pick of the crop. She was good at chatting, good at laying on the charm, good at playing vulnerable, which long ago she had understood was what guys liked. But now she was vulnerable for real, and she was really not enjoying that.

Not enjoying being a fugitive.

Even though it would not be for ever.

The shelves, tables and floors of the flat were piled high with books, CDs and DVDs, ordered from Amazon and from Play.com. During the past two months on the run she had read more books, seen more films and watched more television than ever before in her life. She occupied much of the rest of her time by doing an online course in Spanish.

She had come back because she thought she would be safe here. Dave had agreed. That this was the one place he would not dare show his face. The only place on the planet. But she could not be completely sure.

She had another reason for coming to Brighton – a big part of her agenda. Her mother’s condition was getting slowly worse and she needed to find her a well-run private nursing home where she could have some quality of life in the years remaining. Abby did not want to see her end up in one of those terrible National Health Service geriatric wards. She had already identified a beautiful home in the countryside nearby. It was expensive, but she could afford to keep her mother there for years now. All she had to do was lie low for just a little longer.

Her phone pinged suddenly with an incoming text. She looked down at the display and smiled when she saw who it was from. The one thing that helped sustain her was these texts, which she received every few days.

Absence diminishes small loves and increases

great ones, as the wind blows out the candle

and blows up the bonfire.

She thought for some moments. A benefit of having so much time on her hands was that she could surf the net for hours without feeling guilty. She loved collecting quotations, and texted back one she had saved up.

Love is not gazing at each other. Love is staring

together in the same direction.

For the first time in her life she had met a man who stared in the same direction as herself. Right now it was at just a name on a map. Images downloaded from the web. A place she went to in her dreams. But soon they would both be going there for real. She just had to be patient for a little longer. They both needed to be.

She closed The Latest magazine, where she had been browsing dream houses, crushed out her cigarette, drained her glass of Sauvignon and began her pre-exit checks.

First she walked to the window and peered down through the blinds at the wide terrace of Regency houses. The sodium glow of the street lights bled orange into every shadow. It was dark enough, with a howling autumn gale blasting rain as hard as buckshot against the windowpanes. As a child she used to be scared of the dark. Now, ironically, it made her feel safe.

She knew the cars that were regularly parked there on both sides, with their residents’ parking stickers. Ran her eyes over each of them. She didn’t used to be able to tell one make from another, but now she knew them all. The grimy, bird-shit-spattered black Golf GTi. The Ford Galaxy people carrier belonging to a couple in a flat across the street who had grizzly twins and seemed to spend their lives lugging shopping and collapsible strollers up and down the stairs. The odd-looking little Toyota Yaris. An elderly Porsche Boxster belonging to a young man she had decided was a doctor – he probably worked at the nearby Royal Sussex County Hospital. The rusty white Renault van with soggy tyres and a FOR SALE notice written in red ink on a strip of brown cardboard stuck in its passenger-door window. Plus another dozen or so cars whose owners she knew by sight. Nothing new down there, nothing to be concerned about. And no one lurking in the shadows.

A couple were hurrying by, arms linked, with a bloated umbrella threatening to turn inside out at any moment.

Window locks in bedroom, spare bedroom, bathroom, living/dining room. Activate timers on lights, television and radio in each room in turn. Blu-Tack single cotton thread, knee high, across the hallway just inside the front door.

Paranoid? Moi? You’d better believe it!

She tugged her long mackintosh and umbrella from the hooks in the narrow hallway, stepped over the thread and peered through the spyhole. The dull-yellow fish-eye glow of the empty landing greeted her.

She unhooked the safety chains, opened the door cautiously and stepped out, instantly noticing the smell of sawn timber. She pulled the door shut and turned the keys in turn in each of the three deadlocks.

Then she stood listening. Somewhere downstairs, in one of the other flats, a phone was ringing, unanswered. She shivered, pulling her fleece-lined mac around her, still not used to the damp and cold after years of living in the sunshine. Still not used to spending a Friday night alone.

Her plan tonight was to catch a film, Atonement, at the multiplex in the Marina, then grab a bite to eat – maybe some pasta – and, if she had the courage, go to a bar for a couple of glasses of wine. That way at least she could feel the comfort of mingling with other humans.

Dressed discreetly in designer jeans, ankle-length boots and a black, knitted polo neck beneath the mac, wanting to look nice but not to draw attention to herself if she did go to a bar, she opened the fire door to the stairwell, and saw to her dismay that the workmen had left it blocked for the weekend with lengths of plasterboard and a whole stack of timber.

Cursing them, she debated whether to try to stumble her way through, then, thinking better of it, she pressed the button for the lift, staring at the scratched metal door. Seconds later she heard it clanking, jerking and bumping obediently upwards, reaching her floor with a jarring clang before the external door opened with a sound like a shovel smoothing gravel.

She stepped in and the door closed again with the same sound, along with the lift car’s own double doors, enclosing her. She breathed in the smell of someone else’s perfume, and lemon-scented cleaning fluid. The lift jerked upwards a few inches, so sharply she almost fell over.

And now, when it was too late to change her mind and get out, with the metal walls pressing in around her and a small, almost opaque mirror reflecting the dawning look of panic on her mostly invisible face, it lunged sharply downwards.

Abby was about to realize she had just made a bad mistake.

3

OCTOBER 2007

Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, seated at the desk in his office, put down the phone and leaned back with his arms folded, tilting the chair until it was resting against the wall. Shit. At 4.45 on a Friday afternoon, his weekend had just gone down the toilet – more or less literally. Down a storm drain, at any rate.

On top of a lousy run of cards at his weekly boys’ poker game last night, when he’d lost nearly three hundred quid.

There was nothing like the idea of a field trip to a storm drain on a howling wet Friday afternoon, he thought, for putting you in a really foul mood. He could feel the icy draught of the wind blowing through the ill-fitting windowpanes of his small office and listened to the rattle of the rain. Not a day to be outside.

He cursed the Control Room operator who had just rung him with the news. It was shooting the messenger, he realized, but he had everything planned to spend tomorrow night in London with Cleo, as a treat for her. Now that would have to be cancelled, for a case he knew instinctively he was not going to enjoy, and all because he had stepped in as duty Senior Investigating Officer to cover for a colleague who had gone down sick.

Murders were what really floated his boat in this job. There were between fifteen and twenty every year in Sussex, with many of them in the City of Brighton and Hove and environs – more than enough to go round all the SIOs and give them a chance to show their abilities. It was a tad callous to think this way, he knew, but it was a fact that handling a brutal, high-profile murder inquiry well was a good career opportunity. You got noticed by the press and the public, by your peers and, most importantly, by your bosses. There was intense satisfaction to be had out of a successful arrest and conviction. More than just a job done, it allowed the family of the victim a chance of closure, to move on. To Grace, this was the most significant factor of all.

He liked to work on murders where there was a hot, live trail, where he could crack into action with an adrenaline rush, think on his feet, galvanize a team into working 24/7 and have a good chance of catching the perpetrator.

But from the sound of the operator’s report, the findings in the storm drain indicated anything but a fresh murder. Skeletal remains. Might not even be a murder at all, could be a suicide, maybe even a natural death. There was even the remote possibility it could be a shop-window dummy – that had happened before. Remains like this could have been there for decades, so another couple of days wouldn’t have made a sodding bit of difference.

Guilty at this sudden flash of anger, he looked down at the twenty or so blue boxes, stacked two and three deep, that were taking up most of the carpeted floor area of his office that wasn’t already filled by the small round conference table and four chairs.

Each box contained the key files of an unsolved murder, a cold case. The rest of the case files were bulging out of cupboards elsewhere in the CID headquarters, or were locked up, going mouldy, in a damp police garage in the area where the murder happened, or were archived away in a forgotten basement room, along with all the tagged and bagged items of evidence.

And he had a feeling, born from close on twenty years of investigating murders, that what awaited him now in the storm drain was more than likely to result in another blue box on his floor.

He was so saturated with paperwork at the moment that there was barely a square inch of his desk that wasn’t buried under mounds of documents. He was having to work through the time lines, evidence, statements and everything else needed by the Crown Prosecution Service for two separate murder trials next year. One concerned a scumbag internet sleaze merchant called Carl Venner, the other a psychopath called Norman Jecks.

Glancing through a document prepared by a young woman, Emily Gaylor from the Brighton Trials Unit, he picked up the phone and dialled an extension, taking only a small amount of satisfaction from the fact that he was about to ruin someone else’s weekend too.

He was answered almost instantly. ‘DS Branson.’

‘What are you doing at the moment?’

‘I’m about to go home, old-timer, thanks for asking,’ said Glenn Branson.

‘That’s the wrong answer.’

‘No, it’s the right answer,’ the Detective Sergeant insisted. ‘Ari has a dressage lesson and I’m looking after the kids.’

‘Dressage? What’s that?’

‘Something involving her horse that costs thirty quid an hour.’

‘She’ll have to take the kids with her. Meet me down in the car park in five minutes. We need to take a look at a dead body.’

‘I’d really prefer to go home.’

‘So would I. And I expect the body would prefer to be at home too,’ Grace replied. ‘At home in front of the telly with a nice cuppa instead of decomposing in a storm drain.’

4

OCTOBER 2007

After just a few seconds the lift jerked sharply to a halt, swaying from side to side, banging against the walls with an echoing clang like two oil drums colliding. Then it rocked forward, throwing Abby against the door.

Almost instantly it plunged sharply again, in freefall. She let out a whimper. For a split second, the carpeted floor dropped away below her, as if she had become weightless. Then there was a jarring crash and the floor seemed to rise, striking her feet with such force it knocked the air out of her stomach – it felt as if her legs were being driven up into her neck.

The lift twisted, throwing her like a busted puppet against the mirror on the back wall, and lurched again before becoming almost still, swinging slightly, the floor tilted at a drunken angle.

‘Oh, Jesus,’ Abby whispered.

The lights in the roof flickered, went out, came on again. There was an acrid reek of burnt electrics and she saw a thin coil of smoke glide, unhurriedly, past her.

She held her breath, trapping another cry in her throat. It felt as if the whole damned thing was being suspended by one very thin and frayed thread.

Suddenly there was a rending sound above her. Metal tearing. Her eyes shot up in stark terror. She didn’t know much about lifts, but it sounded as if something was shearing away. Her imagination running wild, she pictured the shackle holding the cable on to the roof breaking off.

The lift dropped a couple of inches.

She shrieked.

Then another couple of inches, the angle of the floor becoming steeper.

It lurched left with a massive metallic bang, then sagged. There was a sharp crack above her head, like something snapping.

It dropped a few more inches.

When she moved to try to balance herself, she fell over, bashing her shoulder against one wall, then her head against the doors. She lay still for a moment, with dust in her nostrils from the carpet, not daring to move, staring up at the roof. There was a central opaque glass panel, with illuminated strips either side of it. Had to get out of this thing, she knew, had to get out fast. Lifts in movies had roof hatches. Why didn’t this one?

The button panel was just out of reach. She tried to get on to her knees to reach it, but the lift started swaying so wildly, banging into the sides of the shaft again as if it really was held by a single thread, that she stopped, afraid that one movement too many could snap it.

For some moments she lay still, hyperventilating in utter blind terror, listening for any sounds of help coming. There were none. If Hassan, her neighbour two floors below, was away, and if the rest of the residents were either away too or in their flats with their televisions up loud, no one would know what was happening.

Alarm. Got to ring the alarm.

She took several deep breaths. Her head felt tight, as if her scalp was a size too small. The walls were closing in around her, suddenly, then expanding, moving away before closing in again, as if they were lungs. In towards her, then moving away again, lungs that were breathing, pulsing. She was having a panic attack.

‘Hi,’ she said quietly, in a croaking whisper, saying what she had been taught to say by her therapist whenever she felt a panic attack coming on. ‘I am Abby Dawson. I am fine. This is just a wonky chemical reaction. I’m fine, I am in my body, I am not dead, this will pass.’

She crawled a few inches towards the alarm button. The floor rocked, spun, as if she was lying on a board that was balanced on the point of a sharp stick and would fall off at any moment. Waiting until it had stabilized, she inched forward again. Then again. Another wisp of blue, acrid-smelling smoke passed by her, silent, like a genie. She reached out her arm, stretching as far as she could, and jabbed her trembling finger hard against the grey metal button printed in red with the word ALARM.

Nothing happened.

5

OCTOBER 2007

There was a meagre amount of daylight left when, deep in thought, Roy Grace turned the unmarked grey car into Trafalgar Street. It might be proudly named after a great naval victory, but this skanky end of the street was lined on both sides with grimy, unloved buildings and shops and, at most times of the day and night, drug dealers. Although the foul weather this afternoon was keeping all but the most desperate of them indoors. Glenn Branson, sharply dressed in a brown chalk-striped suit and immaculate silk tie, was sitting in morose silence beside him.

Unusually for a pool vehicle, the almost new Hyundai had not yet begun to reek like a discarded McDonald’s carton filled with old hair gel but still had that fresh, new-car smell. Grace turned right, alongside the tall hoarding wall of a construction company. Behind it, a large and run-down area of central Brighton was getting a makeover, transforming two old and largely disused railway goods yards into yet another urban chic development.

The artist’s glossy impression of the architect’s vision ran much of the length of the hoarding. THE NEW ENGLAND QUARTER. ASPIRATIONAL LIFESTYLE HOMES AND OFFICES. It looked, Grace thought, like every other modern development in every town and city you ever passed through. All glass and exposed steel beams, courtyards with neat little shrubs and trees dotted around, and not a mugger in sight. One day the whole of England would look the same and you wouldn’t know what town or city you were in.

But does that actually matter, he wondered suddenly. Am I already an old fart at thirty-nine? Do I really want this city I love so much preserved, warts and all, in some kind of a time warp?

At this moment, however, he had something bigger on his mind than the Brighton and Hove Planning Department’s policies. Bigger too than the human remains they were on their way to observe. Something that was depressing him a lot.

Cassian Pewe.

On Monday, after a long convalescence following a car accident and several false starts, Cassian Pewe would finally be commencing work at the CID headquarters, in the same role as Grace. And with one big advantage: Detective Superintendent Cassian Pewe was the blue-eyed boy of Assistant Chief Constable Alison Vosper, whereas he was pretty much her bête noire.

Despite what he considered to be some major successes in recent months, Roy Grace knew he was just one very minor screw-up away from being transferred from the Sussex Police Force to the back of beyond. He really did not want to be moved away from Brighton and Hove. Or, even more importantly, from his beloved Cleo.

In his view, Cassian Pewe was one of those arrogant men who were both impossibly good-looking and fully aware of it. He had golden hair, angelic blue eyes, a permanent tan and a voice as invasive as a dentist’s drill. The man preened and strutted, exuding a natural air of authority, always acting as if he was in charge, even when he wasn’t.

Roy’d had a run-in with him over just this, when the Met had sent reinforcements to help police Brighton during the Labour Party Conference a couple of years ago. Through complete blundering arrogance, Pewe, then a Detective Inspector, had arrested two informants Roy had carefully cultivated over many years and then flatly refused to drop the charges. And to Roy’s anger, when he had taken it to the top, Alison Vosper had sided with Pewe.

Quite what the hell she saw in the man he did not know, unless, as he sometimes darkly suspected, they were having an affair – however improbable that might be. The ACC’s haste in bringing Pewe down from the Met and promoting him, effectively splitting Grace’s duties – when in reality he was quite capable of handling everything on his own – smacked of some hidden agenda.

Normally irritatingly chatty, Glenn Branson had not said a word since leaving the CID headquarters at Sussex House. Maybe he really was hacked off because he was being dragged away from his Friday night with the family. Maybe it was because Roy hadn’t offered to let him drive. Then suddenly the Detective Sergeant broke his silence.

‘Ever see that movie In the Heat of the Night?’ he asked.

‘I don’t think so,’ Grace said. ‘No. Why?’

‘It was about a racist cop in the Deep South.’

‘And?’

Branson shrugged.

‘I’m being racist?’

‘You could have ruined someone else’s weekend. Why mine?’

‘Because I always target black men.’

‘That’s what Ari thinks.’

‘You can’t be serious?’

A couple of months ago, Roy had taken Glenn in as a lodger when his wife had thrown him out. After a few days of living at close quarters, it had nearly been the end of a beautiful friendship. Now Glenn was back with his wife.

‘I am serious.’

‘I think Ari has a problem.’

‘The opening shot on the bridge is famous. It’s one of the longest tracking shots in cinema history,’ Glenn said.

‘Great. I’ll watch it some time. Listen, matey, Ari has to get real.’

Glenn offered him a piece of gum. Grace accepted and chewed, perked up by the instant hit of peppermint.

Then Glenn said, ‘Did you really need to drag me out here tonight? You could have got someone else.’

They passed a street corner and Grace saw a shabby man in a shell suit talking to a youth in a hoodie. To his trained eye, they looked furtive. A local drug dealer serving up.

‘I thought things were better between you and Ari.’

‘So did I. I bought her the fucking horse she wanted. Now it turns out it was the wrong kind of horse.’

Finally, through the clunking wiper blades, Grace could see a cluster of digging machines, a police car, blue and white crime-scene tape across the entrance to a construction site, and a very drenched, unhappy-looking constable in a yellow high-visibility jacket, holding a clipboard wrapped in a plastic bag. The sight pleased Grace: at least today’s uniformed police were getting the hang of what needed to be done to preserve crime scenes.

He pulled over, parking just in front of the police car, and turned to Glenn. ‘You’ve got your inspector’s promotion boards coming up soon, haven’t you?’

‘Yeah.’ The DS shrugged.

‘This could be just the type of inquiry that will give you plenty to talk about during your interview. The interest factor.’

‘Tell Ari that.’

Grace put an arm around his friend’s shoulder. He loved this guy, who was one of the brightest detectives he had ever encountered. Glenn had all the qualities to take him a long way in the police force, but at a price. And that price was something that many couldn’t accept. The insane hours destroyed too many marriages. Mostly, those who survived best were married to other police officers. Or to nurses, or others in professions where antisocial hours were par for the course.

‘I chose you today because you are the best man to have beside me. But I’m not forcing you. You can come with me or you go home. It’s up to you.’

‘Yeah, old-timer, I go home and then what? Tomorrow I’m back in uniform, busting gays for indecent exposure down on Duke’s Mound. Have I got it right?’

‘More or less.’

Grace got out of the car. Branson followed.

Ducking against the rain and howling wind, they changed into their white oversuits and wellington boots, then, looking like a couple of sperm, walked up to the scene guard constable and signed themselves in.

‘You’re going to need torches,’ the constable said.

Grace clicked his torch on, then off. Branson did the same. A second constable, also wearing a bright yellow jacket, led the way in the falling light. They squelched through sticky mud that was rutted with the tyre tread patterns of heavy plant, making their way across the vast site.

They passed a tall crane, a silent JCB digger and stacks of building materials battened down under flapping sheets of polythene. The crumbling Victorian red-brick wall, fronting the foundations of Brighton Station’s car park, rose steeply in front of them. Beyond the darkness, they could see the orange glow of the city lights around them. A loose piece of hoarding clattered and somewhere two pieces of metal were clanging together.

Grace was eyeing the ground. Foundation pilings were being sunk. Heavy diggers would have been criss-crossing this area for months. Any evidence would have to be found inside the storm drain – anything outside would have long gone.

The constable stopped and pointed down into an excavated gully twenty feet below them. Grace stared at what looked like a partially buried prehistoric serpent with a jagged hole gouged out of its back. The mosaic of bricks, so old they were almost colourless, formed part of a semi-submerged tunnel just rising above the surface of the mud in places.

The storm drain from the old Brighton to Kemp Town railway line.

‘Nobody knew it was there,’ the constable said. ‘The JCB fractured it earlier today.’

Roy Grace held back for a moment, trying to overcome his fear of heights, even for this relatively small distance. Then he took a deep breath and scrambled down the steep, slippery slope, exhaling sharply with relief when he reached the bottom upright and intact. And suddenly the serpent’s body looked a whole lot bigger, and more exposed, than it had seemed from above. The rounded shape curved above him, nearly seven feet high, he guessed. The hole in the middle looked as dark as a cave.

He strode towards it, with Branson and the constable right behind him and switched on his torch. As he entered the storm drain, shadows jigged wildly back at him. He ducked his head, crinkling his nose at the strong, fetid smell of damp. It was higher in here than it had seemed from the outside; it felt like being in an ancient tube tunnel, with no platform.

‘The Third Man,’ Glenn Branson said suddenly. ‘You’ve seen that movie. You’ve got that at home.’

‘The one with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten?’ Grace said.

‘Yeah, good memory! Sewers always remind me of it.’

Grace shone the powerful beam to the right. Darkness. Shimmering puddles of water. Ancient brickwork. Then he shone the beam to the left. And jumped.

‘Shit!’ Glenn Branson shouted, his voice echoing round them.

Although Grace had been expecting it, what he saw, several yards away down the tunnel, still spooked him. A skeleton, reclining against the wall, partially buried in silt. It looked like it was just lounging there, waiting for him. Long fronds of hair were still attached to the scalp in places, but otherwise it was mostly just bare bones, picked or rotted clean, with a few tiny patches of desiccated skin.

He squelched towards it, being careful not to slip on the mulch base. Twin pinpricks of red appeared for an instant and were gone. A rat. He swung the beam back on to the skull, its inane rictus grin chilling him.

And something else about it chilled him too.

The hair. Even though the lustre had long gone, it was the same length and had the same winter-wheat colouring as the hair of his long-vanished wife, Sandy.

Trying to dismiss the thought from his mind, he turned to the constable and asked, ‘Have you searched the whole length?’

‘No, sir, I thought we should wait for the SOCOs.’

‘Good.’

Grace was relieved, glad that the young man had had the sense not to risk disturbing or destroying any evidence that might still be in here. Then he realized his hand was shaking. He shone the beam back on the skull.

On the fronds of hair.

On his thirtieth birthday, a little over nine years ago now, Sandy, the wife he adored, had vanished off the face of the earth. He had been searching for her ever since. Wondering every day, and every night, what had happened to her. Had she been kidnapped and imprisoned somewhere? Run off with a secret lover? Been murdered? Committed suicide? Was she still alive or dead? He’d even resorted to mediums, clairvoyants and just about every other kind of psychic he could find.

Most recently he had been to Munich, where there had been a possible sighting. That made some sense, as she had relatives, on her mother’s side, from near there. But none of them had heard from her, and all his enquiries, as usual, had drawn a blank. Every time he encountered an unidentified dead woman who was remotely in Sandy’s age bracket, he wondered if perhaps this time it was her.

And the skeleton in front of him now, in this buried storm drain in the city where he had been born, grown up and fallen in love, seemed to be taunting him, as if to say, You took your time getting here!

6

OCTOBER 2007

Abby, on the hard carpeted floor, stared at the small sign beside the panel of buttons on the grey wall. In red capital letters on a white background it read:

WHEN BROKE DOWN

CALL 013 228 7828

OR DIAL 999

The grammar did not exactly fill her with confidence. Below the button panel was a narrow, cracked glass door. Slowly, one inch at a time, she crawled across the floor. It was only a few feet away but, with the lift rocking wildly at every movement, it might as well have been on the far side of the world.

Finally she reached it, prised it open and removed the handset, which was attached to a coiled wire.

It was dead.

She tapped the cradle and the lift swayed wildly again, but there was no sound from the handset. She dialled the numbers, just in case. Still nothing.

Great, she thought. Terrific. Then she eased her mobile from her handbag and dialled 999.

The phone beeped sharply at her. On the display the message appeared:

No network coverage.

‘Jesus, no, don’t do this to me.’

Breathing fast, she switched the phone off, then a few seconds later switched it back on again, watching, waiting for just one signal blob to appear. But none did.

She dialled 999 again and got the same sharp beep and message. She tried again, then again, jabbing the buttons harder each time.

‘Come on, come on. Please, please.’

She stared at the display again. Sometimes signal strength came and went. Maybe if she waited…

Then she called out, tentatively at first, ‘Hello? Help me!’

Her voice sound small, bottled.

Taking a deep lungful of air, she bellowed at the top of her voice, ‘HELLO? HELP ME PLEASE! HELP ME! I’M TRAPPED IN THE LIFT!’

She waited. Silence.

Silence so loud she could hear it. The hum of one of the lights in the panel above her. The thudding of her own heart. The sound of her blood coursing through her veins. The rapid hiss-puff of her own breathing.

She could see the walls shrinking in around her.

She breathed in slowly, then out. She stared at the display of her phone again. Her hand was shaking so much it was almost impossible to read it. The figures were just a blur. She breathed in deeply again, and again. Dialled 999 once more. Nothing. Then, putting the phone down, she pounded hard on the wall.

There was a reverberating boom and the lift swayed alarmingly, clanging into one side of the shaft and dropping a few more inches.

‘HELP ME!’ she screamed.

Even that caused the lift to rock and bang again. She lay still. The lift settled.

Then, through her terror, she felt a flash of hysterical anger at her predicament. Hauling herself a few feet forward, she began pounding on the metal doors and yelling at the same time – yelling until her ears hurt from the din, and her throat was too sore to go on, and she began coughing, as if she had swallowed a whole lungful of dust.

‘LET ME OUT!’

Then she felt the lift move, suddenly, as if someone had pushed down on the roof. Her eyes shot up. She held her breath, listening.

But all she could hear was the silence.

7

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Lorraine Wilson was topless on a deckchair in her garden, soaking up the last of the summer, trying to prolong her tan. Through large oval sunglasses she looked at her watch – the gold Rolex Ronnie had bought her for her birthday, in June, and which he had insisted was genuine. But she didn’t believe that. She knew Ronnie too well. He would not have spent ten thousand pounds when he could have bought something that looked the same for fifty. And certainly not at the moment, with his financial worries.

Not that he ever shared his problems with her, but she could tell from the way he had recently tightened up on everything, checking her grocery bills, complaining about the money she spent on clothes, her hair and even her lunches out with her friends. Parts of the house were looking embarrassingly shabby, but Ronnie refused to let her call in the decorators, telling her they would have to economize.

She loved him deeply, but there was a part of him that she could never reach, as if he had a secret internal compartment where he kept and fought his private demon, all alone. She knew a little of what that demon was – his determination to show the world, and in particular everyone who knew him, that he was a success.

Which was why he had bought this house, just off Shirley Drive, that they really could not afford. It wasn’t big, but it was in one of the most expensive residential districts of Brighton and Hove, a tranquil, hilly area of detached houses with sizeable gardens along tree-lined streets. And because the house was modern, on split levels, it looked different from most of the more conventional Edwardian mock-Tudor houses that were the mainstay of the area; people did not realize it was actually quite small. The teak decking and bijou outdoor pool added a touch of Beverly Hills glamour.

It was 1.50 p.m. Nice that he had just called. Time zones always confused her; strange that he was having his breakfast and she was having her cottage cheese and berries lunch. She was happy that he was flying back tonight. She always missed him when he was away – and, knowing he was a womanizer, she always wondered what he got up to when he was on his own. But this was a short trip – just three days, not too bad.

This part of the garden was completely private, shielded from their neighbours by a tall trellis interwoven with mature ivy and a huge out-of-control rhododendron bush that seemed to have ambitions to be a tree. She watched the electronic pool sweeper cruising up and down the blue water, sending out ripples. Alfie, their tabby cat, seemed to have found something interesting at the back of the rhododendron and was walking slowly past, staring, then turning, walking slowly past again and staring some more.

You never knew what cats were thinking, she thought suddenly. Alfie was a bit like Ronnie, really.

She put her plate down on the ground and picked up the Daily Mail. She had an hour and a half before she needed to leave for the hairdresser. She was going to have highlights put in and then go to the nail studio. She always wanted to look nice for him.

Luxuriating in the warm rays of sun, she turned the pages. In a few minutes she would get up and iron his shirts. He might buy fake watches, but he always bought the real thing in shirts, and always from Jermyn Street, in London. He was obsessive about them being ironed properly. Now that the cleaning lady had gone, as part of their economy drive, she was having to do all the housework herself.

Smiling, she thought back to those early days with Ronnie, when she had actually liked doing his washing and ironing. Ten years ago, when they’d first met, when she’d been working as a sales demonstrator in duty free at Gatwick Airport, Ronnie had been putting back together the broken pieces of his life after his beautiful but brainless wife had run off to Los Angeles, to shack up with someone she’d met on a girls’ night out in London, a film director who was going to make her a star.

She remembered their first holiday, in a small rented flat outside Marbella, overlooking the yacht basin of Puerto Banus. Ronnie had drunk beer on the balcony, looking enviously down at the yachts, promising her that one day they’d own the biggest yacht in the harbour. And he knew how to romance a woman, all right. He was a master at it.

She had loved nothing better than to wash his clothes. To feel his T-shirts, swimming trunks, underwear, socks and handkerchiefs in her hands. To breathe in his manly smells on them. It was intensely satisfying to iron those beautiful shirts and then watch him wearing them, as if he was wearing part of herself.

Now it was a chore, and she found herself resenting his meanness.

She went back to the article on HRT she had been reading. The ongoing debate about whether the reduction of menopause symptoms – and the retention of youthful looks – outweighed the extra risks of breast cancer and other nasties. A wasp buzzed around her head and she flapped it away, then paused to stare down at her own chest. Two years away from forty and everything was starting to go south, except for her expensive breasts.

Lorraine was not a flawless, striking beauty, but she had always been, in Ronnie’s parlance, a looker. She owed her blonde hair to her Norwegian grandmother. Not that many years back, like a trillion other blondes around the globe, she had copied the now classic hairstyle of Diana, Princess of Wales, and on a couple of occasions she’d actually been asked if she was the Princess of Wales.

Now, she thought gloomily, I’m going to have to do something about the rest of my body.

Lying back in the chair, her stomach resembled a kangaroo’s pouch. It was like the stomach of women who had had several children, where the muscles had gone or the skin had been permanently stretched. And there were cellulite dimples all over the tops of her thighs.

All that disaster happening to her body despite (and to Ronnie’s chagrin at the cost) going to her personal trainer three times a week.

The wasp returned, buzzing around her head. ‘Fuck off,’ she said, flapping her hand at it again. ‘Go away.’

Then her phone rang. She leaned down and picked up the cordless handset. It was her sister, Mo, and her normally calm, cheerful voice sounded strangely agitated. ‘Have you got your telly on?’

‘No, I’m out in the garden,’ Lorraine replied.

‘Ronnie’s in New York, isn’t he?’

‘Yes – I just spoke to him. Why?’

‘Something terrible’s happened. It’s all over the news. A plane’s just crashed into the World Trade Center.’

8

OCTOBER 2007

The rain worsened, rattling down on the steel roof of the SOCO Scientific Support Branch van, sounding as hard as hailstones. The windows were opaque, to allow in light but keep out prying eyes. There was little light outside now, however, just the bleakness of wet dusk, stained the colour of rust from ten thousand city street lights.

Despite the large external dimensions of the long-wheelbase Transit, the seating area inside was cramped. Roy Grace, finishing a call on his mobile, chaired the meeting, the policy book he had retrieved from his go-bag open in front of him.

Squeezed around the table with him, in addition to Glenn Branson, were the Crime Scene Manager, a Police Search Adviser, an experienced SOCO, one of the two uniform scene guards and Joan Major, the forensic archaeologist Sussex Police regularly called in to help with identification of skeletons – and also to tell them whether the occasional bone found on building sites, or by children in woods, or dug up by gardeners, was human or animal.

It was chilly and damp inside the van and the air smelled strongly of synthetic vapours. Reels of plastic crime-scene tape were packed in one section of the fitted metal shelving, body bags in another, plus tenting materials and ground sheets, rope, flexes, hammers, saws, axes and plastic bottles of chemicals. There was something grim about these vehicles, Grace always felt. They were like caravans, but they never went to campsites, only to scenes of death or violent crimes.

It was 6.30 p.m.

‘Nadiuska isn’t available,’ he informed the newly assembled team, putting his mobile down.

‘Does that mean we’ve got Frazer?’ Glenn responded glumly.

‘Yes.’

Grace saw everyone’s faces fall. Nadiuska De Sancha was the Home Office pathologist everyone in Sussex CID preferred to work with. She was quick, interesting and fun – and good-looking, as an added bonus. By contrast, Frazer Theobald was dour and slow, although his work was meticulous.

‘But the real problem is that Frazer is finishing a PM up in Esher at the moment. The earliest he could get here is about 9 p.m.’

He caught Glenn’s eye. They both knew what that meant – an all-nighter.

Grace headed the first page of his policy book: PRE-SCENE BRIEFING. Friday 19 October. 6.30 p.m. On site. New England Quarter development.

‘Can I make a suggestion?’ Joan Major said.

The forensic archaeologist was a pleasant-looking woman in her early forties, with long brown hair and square, modern glasses, dressed in a roll-neck black pullover, brown trousers and sturdy boots.

Grace gestured with his hand.

‘I suggest we go and do a brief assessment now, but it may not be necessary to start work tonight – especially as it’s dark. These things are always a lot easier in daylight. It sounds as if the skeleton has been there a while, so another day won’t make much difference.’

‘It’s a good thought,’ Grace said. ‘One thing we need to consider, though, is the construction work going on here.’ He looked directly at the Police Search Adviser, a tall, bearded man with an outdoors complexion, whose name was Ned Morgan. ‘You’ll need to liaise with the foreman, Ned. We’ll have to stop the work directly around the storm drain.’

‘I spoke to him on my way in. He’s worried because they’re on a time penalty,’ Morgan explained. ‘He nearly had a fit when I told him we could be here a week.’

‘It’s a big site,’ Grace said. ‘We don’t need to shut the whole of it down. You’d better decide where you want work stopped as part of your search plan.’ Then he turned back to the forensic archaeologist. ‘But you are right, Joan, tomorrow would be better, in daylight.’

He put a call through to Steve Curry, the District Inspector responsible for coordinating uniform police in this area of the city, and advised him that a scene guard would need to be kept on until further notice, which didn’t thrill the inspector. Scene guards were an expensive drain on resources.

Grace turned next to the Crime Scene Manager, Joe Tindall, who had earlier this year been promoted to the post. Tindall gave a self-satisfied smile. ‘All the same to me, Roy,’ he said in his Midlands accent. ‘Now I’m a manager I get to go home at a decent hour. Gone are the days when you and your fellow SIOs can screw up my weekends. I ruin other people’s weekends for you now.’

Secretly, Grace envied him. What’s more, in reality the remains could easily wait until Monday – but now, as he again regretted, they had been discovered and reported, that was not an option.

*

Ten minutes later, clad in their protective clothing, they entered the storm drain. Grace led the way, followed by Joan Major and Ned Morgan. The Police Search Adviser had advised the other team members to stay in the vehicle, wanting to keep contamination of the scene to a minimum.

All three stopped a short distance from the skeleton, shining their beams on it. Joan Major played hers up and down, then stepped forward until she was close enough to touch it.

Roy Grace, feeling a tight knot in his gullet, stared again at the face. He knew the likelihood of this being Sandy was extremely small. And yet. The teeth were all intact; good teeth. Sandy had good teeth – they had been one of the many things that had attracted him to her. Beautiful, white, even teeth, and a smile that melted him every time.

His voice came out sounding lame, as if it was someone else speaking. ‘Is it male or female, Joan?’

She was peering at the skull. ‘The slope of the forehead is quite upright – men tend to have a much more sloped forehead,’ she said, her voice echoing eerily. Then, holding the torch in her left hand and pointing at the rear of the skull with the forefinger of her gloved right hand, she went on, ‘The nuchal crest is very rounded.’ She tapped it. ‘If you feel the back of your skull, Roy, it’ll be much more pronounced – it normally is in males.’ Then she looked at the left ear cavity. ‘Again, the mastoid process would indicate female – it’s more pronounced in the male.’ Next, she traced the air in front of the eyes. ‘See the skull brow ridges – I’d expect them to be more prominent if this was a male.’

‘So you’re reasonably sure she’s female?’ Grace asked.

‘Yes, I am. When we expose the pelvis I will be able to say one hundred per cent, but I’m pretty sure. I’ll also take some measurements – the male skeleton is generally more robust, the proportions are different.’ She hesitated a moment. ‘There is something of immediate interest – I’d like to know what Frazer thinks.’

‘What’s that?’

She pointed at the base of the skull. ‘The hyoid bone is broken.’

‘Hyoid?’

She pointed again, to a bone suspended from a tiny strip of desiccated skin. ‘Do you see that U-shaped bone? It’s the one that keeps the tongue in place. It’s a possible indicator of the cause of death – the hyoid often gets broken during strangulation.’

Grace absorbed this. He stared at the bone for some moments, then back at those perfect teeth again, trying to remember everything from the last examination of skeletal remains he had attended, at least a couple of years ago.

‘What about her age?’

‘I’ll be able to tell you better tomorrow,’ she replied. ‘On a quick assessment, she looks as if she was in her prime – twenty-five to forty.’

Sandy was twenty-eight when she disappeared, he reflected, continuing to stare at the skull. At the teeth. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ned Morgan shining his torch beam one direction along the drain, then the other.

‘We ought to get an engineer from the council along, Roy,’ the Police Search Adviser said. ‘An expert on the city’s drainage system. Find out what other drains connect with this. Some of her clothing or belongings might have been washed along them.’

‘Do you think this drain floods?’ Grace asked him.

Morgan shone the beam up and down again pensively. ‘Well, it’s raining pretty hard and has been all day – not much water at the moment, but it’s quite possible. This drain would probably have been built to stop water flooding the rail track, so yes. But…’ He hesitated.

Joan cut in. ‘It looks as if she’s been here some years. If the drain flooded, it’s likely she would have been moved up and down and would have broken up. She’s intact. Also, the presence of the desiccated skin would indicate that it has been dry here for some while. But we can’t rule out flooding from time to time altogether.’

Grace stared at the skull, all kinds of emotions raging through him. Suddenly, he did not want to wait until tomorrow – he wanted the team to start now, right away.

It was only with great reluctance that he told the scene guard to seal up the entrance and secure the whole site.

9

OCTOBER 2007

Abby could not believe it – she needed to pee. She looked at her watch. One hour and ten minutes had passed since she had stepped into this bloody lift. Why? Why? Why had she been so bloody stupid?

Because of the fucking builders downstairs, that’s why.

Christ. It took thirty seconds to go down via the staircase, and that was good exercise. Why? Why? Why?

And now this sharp, biting urgency in her bladder. She had gone only minutes before leaving the flat, but it felt as if she had drunk ten pints of coffee and a gallon of water since.

No way, I am not peeing. I am not having the fire brigade turn up to find me lying in a puddle of urine. Not that indignity, thank you.

She clenched her insides, pressing her knees together, shaking, waiting for the moment to pass, then looked up at the roof of the lift again, at the gridded, opaque lighting panel. Listening. Listening for that footstep she was certain she had heard.

Or her imagination had heard…

In movies, people pulled the lift doors open or climbed out through the roof hatches. But in movies lifts did not sway like this.

The desire to urinate passed – it would be back, but for the moment she felt OK. She tried to get to her feet, but the lift swung wildly again, banging into one of the shaft walls and then another with that deep, echoing boooommmmmm. She held her breath, waiting for it to stop moving. Praying the cable was still holding. Then she knelt, picked her mobile phone off the floor and dialled again. Same sharp beep, same no-signal message.

She placed her hands on the doors, tried to force her fingers into the gap down the centre between them but they were not moving. She opened her handbag, rummaging inside for something she could ease into the tiny crack. There was nothing there other than a metal nail file. She slid it in, but after a couple of inches it hit something solid and would go no further. She tried moving it to the right, then sharply to the left. The file bent.

She pressed every button on the panel in turn, then slapped the wall of the lift in frustration with the flat of her hand.

This was just great.

How long did she have?

There was another ominous creak above her. She imagined the cable of twisted wires steadily uncoiling, getting thinner and thinner. The bolts fixed to the roof shearing, bit by bit. She remembered a conversation at a party some years ago about what to do if a lift cable snapped and the lift plunged downwards. Several people said to jump just before you hit the bottom. But how would you know when you were going to hit the bottom? And if the lift was plunging at maybe a hundred miles an hour, you would be plunging at the same speed. Other people suggested lying flat, then some wit said your best chance of survival was not to be in the lift in the first place.

She was with that wit right now.

Oh, Jesus, this was so ironic. Thinking back to all she had gone through to be here in Brighton. The risks she had taken, the precautions to leave no trail.

Now this had to happen.

She thought suddenly of the way it would be reported. Unidentified woman killed in freak lift accident.

No. No way.

She stared up at the glass panel, stretched, prodded it with her finger. It did not move.

She pushed harder.

Nothing.

It had to move. She stretched as much as she could, just getting the fingertips of both hands against it, and pushed with all her strength. But her exertions only made the lift sway again. It bounced off the side of the shaft once more with the same dull booommmmmmmm.

And then she heard a scrape above her. A very distinct, long scrape, as if someone was up there and had come to rescue her.

She listened again. Trying to tune out the hissing roar of her breathing and the drumbeat thump of her heart. She listened for what must have been a full two minutes, her ears popping like they did sometimes on an aeroplane, although then it was altitude pressure and now it was fear.

All she could hear was the steady creaking of the cable and the occasional cracking, rending sound of metal tearing.

10

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Clutching the cordless handset and feeling a terrible swirl of darkness deep inside her, Lorraine threw herself out of the deck-chair. She ran across the decking, almost tripping over Alfie, and in through the patio doors, her feet sinking deep into the soft pile of the white carpet, her boobs and her gold ankle chain flapping.

‘That’s where he is,’ she said into the phone to her sister, her voice a trembling whisper. ‘That’s where Ronnie is right now.’

She grabbed the remote and hit the button. BBC One came on. She saw, through a jerky, hand-held camera, the instantly recognizable image of the tall silver twin towers of the World Trade Center. Thick black smoke belched from the top section of one tower, almost obliterating it, the black and white mast standing erect above it, rising into the cloudless cobalt sky.

Oh, Christ. Oh, Christ. Ronnie is there. Which tower is his meeting in? Which floor?

She barely heard the agitated voice of an American newscaster saying, ‘This is not a light aircraft, this was a large plane. Oh, God! Oh, my God!’

‘I’ll call you back, Mo,’ she said. ‘I’ll call you right back.’ She stabbed out Ronnie’s mobile phone number. Seconds later she got the busy tone. She tried again. Then again. And again.

Oh, God, Ronnie, please be OK. Please, my darling, please be OK.

She heard the wail of sirens on the TV. Saw people staring upwards. Everywhere, scores of people, men and women in smart clothes and in work clothes, all standing still, frozen in a bizarre tableau, some with their hand in front of their faces, some holding cameras. Then the Twin Towers again. One belching that black smoke, soiling that beautiful blue of the sky.

A shiver ripped through her. She stood still.

Sirens getting louder.

Almost nobody moving. Just a few people now sprinting towards the building. She saw a fire truck with a long ladder, heard sirens howling, whupping, grinding the air.

She tried Ronnie’s number again. The busy signal. Again. The busy signal. Always the busy signal.

She called her sister back. ‘I can’t reach him,’ she said, crying.

‘He’ll be OK, Lori. Ronnie’s a survivor, he’ll be OK.’

‘How – how could this happen?’ Lorraine asked. ‘How could a plane do this? I mean-’

‘I’m sure he’s OK. This is horrible, unbelievable. It’s like one of those – you know – those disasters – like a disaster movie.’

‘I’m going to hang up. He might be trying to get through. I’ll try him again.’

‘Call me when you get through to him?’

‘Yes.’

‘Promise?’

‘Yes.’

‘He’s OK, sweetie, I promise you.’

Lorraine hung up again, transfixed by the images on the television screen. She started punching out Ronnie’s number again. But she only got halfway.

11

OCTOBER 2007

‘Am I the love of your life?’ she asked him. ‘Am I, Grace? Am I?’

‘You are.’

Grinning. ‘You’re not lying to me, are you, Grace?’

They’d had a boozy lunch at La Coupole in St Germain, then ambled along the Seine on that glorious June afternoon before returning to their hotel.

It seemed that the weather was always fine when they were together. Like it was now. Sandy stood over him, in their pretty bedroom, blocking the sunlight that was streaming in through the shuttered windows. Her blonde tresses swung down on either side of her freckled face, brushing his cheeks. Then she flicked her hair across his face, as if dusting it.

‘Hey! I have to read – this CPS report – I-’

‘You’re so boring, Grace. You always have to read! We’re in Paris! Having a romantic weekend! Don’t you fancy me any more?’ She kissed his forehead. ‘Read, read, read! Work, work, work!’ She kissed his forehead again. ‘So boring, boring, boring!’

She danced back, away from his outstretched arms, taunting him. She was wearing a skimpy sundress, her breasts almost falling out of the top. He caught a glimpse of her long, tanned legs as the hem rode up her thighs and suddenly he felt very horny.

She stood over him, moving closer, taking him in her hand. ‘Is that all for me, Grace? I love it! That’s what I call a real hard!’

The brilliance of sunlight was suddenly making her face difficult to see. Then all her features were gone completely and he was staring at a blank, black oval that was framed with flowing gold hair, like a moon eclipse of the sun. He felt a stab of panic, unable for a split second even to recall what she looked like.

Then he could see her clearly again.

He grinned. ‘I love you more than anything in-’

Then it felt as if the sun had gone behind a cloud. The temperature dropped. The colour faded from her face, as if she was sick, dying.

He threw his arms around her neck, holding her tightly to him. ‘Sandy!’ he said urgently. ‘Sandy, darling!’

She smelled strange. Her skin was hard, suddenly, not Sandy’s soft skin. She smelled rancid. Of decay and soil and bitter oranges.

Then the light went completely, as if someone had pulled out a plug.

Roy heard the echo of his voice in cold, empty air.

‘Sandy!’ he shouted, but the sound stayed trapped in his throat.

Then the light came back on. The stark light of the postmortem room. He stared into her eyes again. And screamed.

He was staring into the eyes of a skull. Holding a skeleton in his arms. A skull with perfect teeth that was grinning at him.

‘SANDY!’ he screamed. ‘SANDY!’

Then the light changed. Soft yellow. A bedspring creaked. He heard a voice.

‘Roy?’

Cleo’s voice.

‘Roy? You awake?’

He stared at the ceiling, confused, blinking, in a river of sweat.

‘Roy?’

He was shaking. ‘I – I-’

‘You were shouting so loudly.’

‘Sorry. I’m sorry.’

Cleo sat up, her long blonde hair tumbling all around her face, which was pale with sleep and shock. Leaning on one arm, she looked at him with a strange expression, as if he had hurt her. He knew what she was going to say even before she spoke again.

‘Sandy.’ Her voice full of reproach. ‘Again.’

He stared up at her. The same hair colouring as Sandy, the same eye colour – perhaps a touch more grey in the blue than Sandy. A touch more steel. He’d read that people who were bereaved or divorced often fell in love with someone who looked like their wife. That thought had never struck him until now. But they didn’t look the same, not at all. Sandy was pretty but softer, not classically beautiful in the way that Cleo was.

He stared at the white ceiling and white walls of Cleo’s bedroom. Stared at the black lacquered-wood dressing table that was badly cracked. She didn’t like coming to his house, because she felt too much of Sandy’s presence there, preferring them to spend their time together here, in her place.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘Just a bad dream. A nightmare.’

She stroked his cheek tenderly. ‘Maybe you should go back to that shrink you used to see.’

He just nodded, and eventually fell back into an uneasy, restless sleep, scared that he might dream again.

12

OCTOBER 2007

The spasms were getting worse – more and more painful, and they were happening at increasingly frequent intervals. Every few minutes now. Maybe this was what giving birth was like.

Her watch said 3.08 a.m. Abby had been in this lift for nearly nine hours now. Maybe she would be here until Monday, if it didn’t break free and plunge to the ground first.

Oh, fucking great. How was your weekend? I spent mine in a lift. It was cool. It had a mirror and a panel of buttons and a dirty glass roof with light bulbs and a scratch on the wall that looked like someone had started out carving a swastika but changed their mind – and a printed sign by some dumb fuckwit who couldn’t spell – and clearly couldn’t maintain the fucking thing properly either.

WHEN BROKE DOWN

CALL 013 228 7828

OR DIAL 999

She was shaking with anger and her throat was parched, raw from shouting, her voice gone almost completely. After a rest she hauled herself to her feet once more. She was beyond caring about shaking the thing and dislodging it – she had to get out, rather than just wait for the cable to snap or the shackles to shear, or whatever else might cause her to plunge to her death.

‘I’m trying, you stupid bastards,’ she croaked, staring at the sign, feeling the walls closing in around her again, another panic attack coming on.

The lift’s phone was still dead. She held her mobile close to her face, breathing deeply, trying to calm herself down, willing a signal to appear, cursing her service provider, cursing everything. Her scalp was so tight around her skull it was blurring her vision and the damn urge to pee was coming again now. Coming like a train, hurtling through her insides.

Pressing her knees together, she sucked in air. Her thighs, locked against each other, were quivering. She felt an agonizing pain in her belly, as if a hot knife blade had been pushed deep inside her and was now being twisted. She whimpered, gulping down air, her whole body shaking, doubling up into a foetal ball against the wall. She wasn’t going to be able to hold out much longer, she knew.

But she persevered, clenching – mind over matter – fighting her own body, determined not to succumb to anything it wanted to do that her brain did not. She thought about her mother, who had been incontinent with multiple sclerosis from her late fifties.

‘I am not bloody incontinent. Just get me out of here, get me out of here, get me out of here.’ She hissed it under her breath like a mantra until the urge peaked and then slowly, so damned slowly, began to recede.

Finally, blissfully, it had passed and she slid back down on to the floor exhausted, wondering how long you could stop yourself from peeing before your bladder ruptured.

People survived in the desert sometimes by drinking their urine. Maybe she could urinate into one of her boots, she thought wildly. Use it as a container. Emergency drinking supply? How long could you last without water? She seemed to remember having read somewhere that a human could last weeks without food but only a few days without water.

Steadying herself on the swaying floor, she removed her right boot, then jumped up as high as she could, striking the roof panel with the Cuban heel. But it did no good. The lift just swayed crazily, banging and booming off the shaft again, throwing her sideways. She held her breath. This time – surely this time something was going to break. The last frayed strand of wire that stood between her and oblivion…

There were moments now when she actually wanted it to break. To drop however many floors were left. It would be a solution to everything. An inelegant one, sure, but a solution all the same. And how ironic would that be?

As if in answer to her question, the lights went out.

13

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

A house burned down one night in the street where Ronnie Wilson grew up, in Coldean in Brighton. He remembered the smell, the noise, the pandemonium, the fire engines, standing out in the darkness in his dressing gown and slippers, watching. He remembered being fascinated and afraid at the same time. But most of all he remembered the smell.

A horrible stench of destruction and despair.

There was the same smell in the air now. Not the pleasant, sweet aroma of wood smoke, or the snug cindery smell of coal, but a sharp, pungent stench of burning paint, charring paper, singeing rubber and acrid gases from melting vinyl and plastics. A choking reek that stung his eyes, that made him want to cover his nose, back off, get away, retrace his steps to the deli he had just left.

But instead he stood still.

Like everyone else.

A surreal moment of silence in the Manhattan morning, as if someone had hit the freeze-frame button on all the people in the street. Just the cars kept moving, then a red light stopped them too.

People stared. It took him some moments to see what they were staring at. At first he looked at ground level along the street, past a fire hydrant and trestle tables outside a store that were stacked with magazines and tourist guides, past the awning of a shop where a sign advertised BUTTER AND EGGS. He looked beyond an illuminated DON’T CROSS! red hand a little further on, and the gantry supporting a stop light suspended over the junction with Warren Street, and the row of backed-up traffic and glowing tail lights.

Then he realized that they were all gazing up.

Following their line of sight, at first all he saw, rising above the skyscrapers just a few blocks ahead of him, was a dense plume of black smoke, as thick as if it was coming from the chimney of a petrochemical refinery.

A building was on fire, he realized. Then, through his shock and horror, his heart sank as he realized which building. The World Trade Center.

Shit, shit, shit.

Chilled and confused like everyone else, he stood rooted to the spot, still not able to believe his eyes or comprehend what he was seeing.

The stop light turned green and, when the cars and vans and a truck started moving forward, he wondered if maybe the drivers hadn’t noticed, that perhaps they could not see up above the tops of their windscreens.

Then the plume thinned for a few moments, the smoke fanning out. Through it, standing tall and proud against the brilliant blue of the sky, was the black and white radio mast. The North Tower, he recognized, from a previous visit. He felt a flash of relief. Donald Hatcook’s office was in the South Tower. Good. OK. He would still be able to have his meeting.

He heard the wail of a siren. Then a whup-whup-whup, getting louder, deafeningly louder, echoing all around in the silence. He turned and saw a blue and white NYPD patrol car with three occupants, the guy in the back leaning forward, craning his neck upwards. It hurtled urgently past on the wrong side of the road, roof spinners showering red sparks on the doors of three yellow cabs in a row. Then, braking hard, tyres squealing, its nose dipping, it wormed its way through the intersection, between a bakery delivery truck, a halted Porsche and another yellow cab.

‘Oh, my God! Oh, Jesus! Oh, my God!’ a woman somewhere close behind him was saying. ‘Oh, my God, it hit the tower! Oh, my God!’

The siren receded into the distance, just audible above another long silence. Chambers Street had fallen quiet. It was empty, suddenly. Ronnie watched a man walk across. He was wearing a baseball cap, lightweight anorak and workman’s boots, and carrying a plastic bag which might have contained his lunch. He could hear the man’s footsteps. The man stared warily down the empty street, as if worried he might get run over by a second cop car.

But there was no second cop car. Just the silence. As if the one that had gone past was enough and could deal with the situation like it was some minor incident.

‘Did you see it?’ the woman behind him said.

Ronnie turned. ‘What happened?’

She had long brown hair and eyes that were bulging. Two bags of shopping lay on the sidewalk either side of her, cartons and tins of stuff spilled out.

Her voice was quivering. ‘A plane! Oh, Jesus, it was a fucking plane! It hit the fucking tower. I can’t believe what I saw. It was a plane. It hit the fucking tower!’

‘A plane?’

‘It hit the tower. It hit the fucking tower.’

She was obviously in shock.

There was another siren now. Different from the cop car, a deep honking sound. A fire tender.

This is great! he thought. Oh, this is just so bloody great! The morning I have my meeting with Donald, some fucking jerk crashes his plane into the fucking World Trade Center!

He looked at his watch. Shit! It was almost 8.55! He’d left the deli just after a quarter to – giving him plenty of time. Had he really stood here for ten minutes? Donald Hatcook’s snotty secretary told him he needed to be punctual, that Donald only had an hour before he needed to leave for the airport to catch a plane to somewhere – Wichita, he thought she’d said. Or maybe it was Washington. Just one hour. Just a one-hour window to pitch to him and save his business!

He heard another siren. Shit. There was going to be fucking chaos, for sure. The bloody emergency services might seal the whole area off. He had to get there before they did. Had to get to that meeting.

Have to.

There was no way he was letting some fucking jerk who crashed his plane bugger up his meeting!

Towing his bags behind him, Ronnie broke into a run.

14

OCTOBER 2007

There was an unpleasant smell in the storm drain that had not been here yesterday. A putrefying animal, probably a rodent. Roy had noticed it when he first arrived, shortly before 9 a.m., and now, an hour later, he wrinkled his nose as he re-entered the drain, holding two bulging carrier bags of hot drinks foraged from a nearby Costa by a young, eager-to-please Police Community Support Officer.

The rain drummed down relentlessly, turning the ground outside into more and more of a quagmire, but, Grace realized, there was still no rise in the water level here. He wondered how much rain that would take. From his memory of the body of a young man found in the Brighton sewer network some years ago, he knew that all the drains connected into a trunk sewer that flowed out into the sea at Portobello near Peacehaven. If this drain had flooded, then it was likely that much of the evidence, in particular the victim’s clothes, would have been washed away long back.

Ignoring a couple of sarcastic comments about his new role as tea boy, his nerves ragged from his disturbed night and troubled thoughts about the skeleton, Roy began distributing the teas and coffees to the team, as if by way of apology – or atonement – for ruining their weekend.

The storm drain was a hive of activity. Ned Morgan, the POLSA, several search-trained officers and SOCOs, all in white suits, were dispersed along the tunnel. They were searching inch by inch through the mulch for shoes, clothes, items of jewellery, any shred or scrap, however small, that might have been on the victim when she had been put down here. Leather and synthetics would have the best chance of surviving in this damp environment.

On their hands and knees in the gloomy brick drain, in the chiaroscuro of shadows and brightness thrown by the lights that had been rigged up at intervals, the team made an eerie sight.

Joan Major, the forensic archaeologist, who was also encased from head to foot in a white suit, was working in silent concentration. If this ever came to trial, she would have to present to the court an accurate 3-D model of the skeleton in situ. She had just finished darting in and out, struggling with the lack of signal for the hand-held GPS device she was using to pinpoint and log the coordinates of the remains, and was now sketching the exact position of the skeleton in relation to the drain and the silt. Every few moments the flash from a SOCO photographer’s camera strobed.

‘Thanks, Roy,’ she said almost absently, taking the large latte he handed her and setting it down on a wooden box full of her equipment that she had placed on a tripod structure to keep dry.

Grace had decided he would make do with a light team over the weekend and then gear up on Monday morning. To Glenn Branson’s immense relief, Grace had given him the weekend off. They were working in ‘slow time’; there wasn’t the urgency that would apply if the death had been more recent – days, weeks, months or even a couple of years. Monday morning would be soon enough for the first press conference.

Maybe he and Cleo could still make their dinner reservation in London tonight and salvage something of the romantic weekend he had planned if – and it was a huge if - Joan got through her mapping and recovery process and the Home Office pathologist was able to do his post-mortem quickly. Some hope, he knew, with Frazer Theobald – and actually, where the hell was he? He should have been here an hour ago.

As if on cue, clad in white like everyone else in the drain, Dr Frazer Theobald made his entrance, warily, furtively, like a mouse scenting cheese. A stocky little man just under five feet two, he sported an untidy threadbare thatch of wiry hair and a thick Adolf Hitler moustache beneath a Concorde-shaped hooter of a nose. Glenn Branson had once said that all he needed was a fat cigar to be a dead ringer for Groucho Marx.

Muttering apologies about his wife’s car not starting and having had to take his daughter to a clarinet lesson, the pathologist scurried around the skeleton, giving it a wide berth and a suspicious glare, as if challenging it to declare itself friend or foe.

‘Yes,’ he said to no one in particular. ‘Ah, right.’ Then he turned to Roy and pointed at the skeleton. ‘This is the body?’

Grace had always found Theobald a little peculiar, but never more so than at this moment. ‘Yes,’ he said, somewhat dumbfounded by the question.

‘You’re looking brown, Roy,’ the pathologist remarked, then took a step closer to the skeleton, so close he could have been asking it the question. ‘Been away?’

‘New Orleans,’ Grace replied, levering the top off his own latte and wishing he was still there now. ‘I was at the International Homicide Investigators’ Association Symposium.’

‘How’s the rebuilding going there?’ Theobald asked.

‘Slow.’

‘Still much damage from the flood?’

‘A lot.’

‘Many people playing the clarinet?’

‘The clarinet? Yes. Went to a few concerts. Saw Ellis Marsalis.’

Theobald gave him a rare beam of pleasure. ‘The father!’ he said approvingly. ‘Yes, indeed. You were lucky to hear him!’ Then he turned back to the skeleton. ‘So what do we have?’

Grace brought him up to speed. Then Theobald and Joan Major entered into a debate about whether the body should be removed intact, a lengthy and elaborate process, or taken away in segments. They decided that, because it had been found intact, it would be better to keep it that way.

For a moment, Grace watched the rain teeming steadily in through the broken section of the drain, a short distance away. The individual drops looked like elongated dust motes in the shaft of light. New Orleans, he thought, blowing steam from his coffee and sipping it tentatively, trying to avoid frizzing his tongue on the hot liquid. Cleo had come with him and they’d taken a week’s holiday straight after the conference, staying on, enjoying the city and each other.

It seemed that everything had been much easier between them then, away from Brighton. From Sandy. They just chilled, enjoyed the heat, took a tour around the areas devastated by the flooding that had not yet been restored. They ate gumbo, jambalaya, crab cakes and oysters Rockefeller, drank margaritas, mojitos and Cali-fornian and Oregon wines, and listened to jazz in Snug Harbor and other clubs each night. And Grace fell even more in love with her.

He was proud of the way Cleo coped at the conference. As a beautiful woman who did a very unglamorous job, she was on the receiving end of a fair bit of ribbing, curiosity and some truly appalling chat-up lines from five hundred of the world’s top, toughest and mostly male detectives in party mode. Always, she gave back as good as she got, and she made eyeballs pop out by dressing her five-feet eleven-inch leggy frame in her usual eccentric, sexy way.

‘You asked me about her age last night, Roy,’ the forensic archaeologist said, interrupting his thoughts.

‘Yes?’ Instantly, he was fully focused as he stared at the skull.

Pointing at the jaw, she said, ‘The presence of the wisdom teeth tells us she is over seventeen. There is evidence of some dental work, white fillings – which tend to have been more common during the past two decades, and more expensive. Could be she went to a private dentist, which might narrow it down. And there’s a cap on one maxillary incisor.’ She pointed to a top-left tooth.

Grace’s nerves began jangling. Sandy had chipped a front left tooth on one of their first dates, biting into a fragment of bone in a steak tartare, and had later had it capped.

‘What else?’ he asked.

‘I would say from the general condition and colouring that the teeth indicate her age to be consistent with my estimated range yesterday – somewhere between twenty-five and forty.’ She looked at Frazer Theobald, who gave her a deadpan nod, as if he was sympathetic to her findings but not necessarily in wholehearted agreement.

Then she pointed at the arm. ‘The long bone grows in three parts – two epiphyses and the shaft. The process by which they join together is called epiphyseal fusion and it is usually complete by the mid-thirties. This is not quite complete yet.’ She pointed at the collar bone. ‘The same applies with the clavicle – you can see the fusion line on the medial clavicle. It fuses at around thirty. I should be able to give you a more accurate estimate when we get to the PM room.’

‘So she was about thirty, you are fairly sure?’ Grace said.

‘Yes. And my hunch is not much more than that. Could even be younger.’

Roy remained silent. Sandy was two years younger than him. She had disappeared on his thirtieth birthday, when she was just twenty-eight. The same hair. A capped tooth.

‘Are you OK, Roy?’ Joan Major asked him suddenly.

At first, lost in thought, he heard her voice only as a distant, disembodied echo.

‘Roy? Are you OK?’

He snapped his focus back to her. ‘Yes, yes. Fine, thanks.’

‘You look as if you’ve just seen a ghost.’

15

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Ronnie hurried down West Broadway, crossing Murray Street, Park Place, then Barclay Street. The World Trade Center was right in front of him now, on the far side of Vesey Street, the two silver monoliths rising sheer into the sky. The smells from the fire were much stronger and sheets of curled, burning paper were floating in the air, while debris tumbled down and smashed to the ground.

Through the dense black smoke he could see crimson, as if the tower was bleeding. Then flashes of bright orange. Flames. Jesus, he thought, feeling a terrible dark fear in his gut. This cannot be happening.

People were staggering out of the entrance, looking dazed, staring upwards, men in sharp shirts and ties without jackets, some on their mobiles. For a second he watched an attractive young brunette in a power suit stumbling along with only one shoe on. She suddenly clamped her hands to her head, looking pained, as if a falling object had just struck her, and he saw a trickle of blood run down her cheek.

He hesitated. It didn’t look safe to go any further. But he needed that meeting, needed it so desperately badly. Just have to chance it, he thought. Run like hell. He coughed, the smoke pricking his throat, and stepped off the sidewalk. The kerb was higher than he realized and, as the wheels of his case bumped down, the handle twisted in his hand and his briefcase fell off.

Shit! Don’t do this to me.

Then, just as he ducked down and grabbed the handle of his briefcase, he heard the scream of a jet aircraft.

He looked up again. And could not believe his eyes. A split second later, before he had time to register intelligibly what he was seeing, came an explosion. A metallic thunderclap boom, like two cosmic dustbins colliding. A sound that seemed to echo in his brain and to go on echoing, rumbling around out of control inside his skull until he wanted to stick his fingers in his ears to stop it, to choke it. Then he felt the shockwave. Felt it shuffling every single atom in his body.

A massive ball of orange flames, showering diamanté sparks and black smoke, erupted from near the top of the South Tower. For one fleeting instant he was struck dumb by the sheer beauty of that sight: the contrast of colours – the orange, the black – stark against the rich blue of the sky.

It seemed as if a million, billion feathers were floating in the air around the flames, drifting unhurriedly towards the ground. All in slow motion.

Then the reality slammed into him.

Slabs of wood, glass, chairs, desks, phones, filing cabinets were bouncing, shattering, on the ground in front of him. A police car pulled up, just past him, doors opening before it had even stopped. A mere hundred yards or so to his right, along Vesey Street, what at first looked like a burning flying saucer dropped with a massive clanging sound, smashing a deep crater, then bounced, shedding parts of its covering and innards, spraying out flames. When it finally lay still it continued to burn fiercely.

To his utter numb horror, Ronnie realized that it was a jet aircraft engine.

That this was the South Tower.

Donald Hatcook’s office was here. The eighty-seventh floor. He tried to count upwards.

Two planes.

Donald’s office. By his quick estimate, Donald’s office was right where it hit.

What the hell is happening? Oh, Jesus Christ, what the hell is going on?

He stared at the burning engine. Could feel the heat. Saw the cops run forward from their car.

Ronnie’s brain was telling him there wasn’t going to be any meeting. But he tried to ignore it. His brain was wrong. His eyes were wrong. Somehow he would still make that meeting. He needed to keep going. Keep going. You can make the meeting. You can still make the meeting. YOU NEED THAT FUCKING MEETING!

And another part of his brain was telling him that while one plane hitting the Twin Towers was an accident, two was something else. Two was badly not right.

Propelled by absolute desperation, he gripped his bag handle and walked forward determinedly.

Seconds later he heard a dull thud, like a sack of potatoes falling. He felt a wet slap on his face. Then he saw something white and ragged roll across the ground towards him and stop inches from his feet. It was a human arm. Something wet was sliding down his cheek. He shot his hand up to his face and his fingers touched liquid. He looked at them and saw they were smeared in blood.

His stomach heaved liked wet cement in a mixer. He turned away and threw up his breakfast where he stood, almost oblivious to another thud only a few feet away. Sirens wailed, sirens from the pit of hell. Sirens from all around. Everywhere. Then another thud, another spatter on his face and hands.

He looked up. Flames and smoke and ant-like figures and sheet glass and a man, in shirtsleeves and trousers, tumbling in free fall from the sky. One shoe came away, flipping over and over. He watched it all the way down, end-over-end-over-end-over-end. People the size of toy soldiers and debris, indistinguishable from each other at first, were raining from the sky.

He just stood and stared. A set of postage stamps he had once traded, commemorating the Dutch painter Bosch’s vision of death and hell, came into his mind. That’s what this was. Hell.

The foul choking air was thick with noise now. Screams, sirens, cries, the overhead chop of helicopter blades. Police and fire officers were running towards the buildings. A fire truck bearing the words ‘Ladder 12’ pulled up in front of him, blocking his view. He moved around the far side of it as helmeted firemen poured out and broke into a run.

There was another thud. Ronnie saw a plump man in a suit land on his back and explode.

He threw up again, swaying giddily, then dropped to one knee, covering his face with his hands, and stayed there for some moments, shaking. He closed his eyes, as if somehow that would make everything go away. Then he turned in a sudden panic that someone had taken his bag and his briefcase. But they were there, right behind him. His smart fake Louis Vuitton briefcase. Not that anyone was going to care at this moment who the hell had made it. Or whether it was fake or real.

After some minutes, Ronnie pulled himself together and stood up. He spat several times, trying to get the taste of vomit out of his mouth. Then a flash of anger turned in seconds to a burning rage inside him. Why today? Why not some other fucking day? Why did this have to happen today?

He saw a stream of people, some of them covered in white dust, some bleeding, walking slowly, as if in a trance, out of the entrance of the North Tower. Then he heard the distant honk-honk-honk of another fire engine. Then another. And another. Someone in front of him was holding a video camera.

News, he thought. Television. Stupid bloody Lorraine would be panicking if she saw this. She panicked over everything. If there was a pile-up on a motorway she would instantly call to make sure he was all right, even when she must have known, if she’d only thought about it, that he couldn’t have been within a hundred miles of it.

He pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket and dialled her number. There was a sharp beep, then the message on the display:

Network busy.

He tried again, twice more, then put the phone back in his pocket.

He would come to realize just a little while later, when he reflected on it, how lucky he was that his call did not get through.

16

OCTOBER 2007

You are meant to be bloody luminous! In the pitch, bitumen-black darkness, Abby brought her watch right up to her face, until she felt the cold steel and glass against her nose, and still she could not see a damned thing.

I paid money for a luminous watch, damn you!

Curled up on the hard floor, she had a feeling she might have slept, but she had no idea for how long. Was it day or night?

Her muscles felt as if they had seized and her arm was dead. She swung it through the air, trying to shake circulation back into it. It was like a lead weight. She crawled a couple of feet and swung it again, then winced in pain as it struck the side of the lift with a dull boom.

‘Hello!’ she croaked.

She banged again, then again and again.

Felt the lift swaying at her exertion.

Banged again. Again. Again.

Felt the urge to pee once more. One boot was already full. The reek of stale urine was growing stronger. Her mouth was parched. She closed her eyes, then opened them again, brought the watch up close until she could feel the coldness on her nose. But still she couldn’t see it.

Squirming in sudden panic, she wondered if she could have gone blind.

What the hell time was it? When she had last looked, before the lights went out, it had been 3.08 a.m. Some time after then she had peed into her boot. Or at least as best she could in the darkness.

She had felt better then and had been able to think clearly. Now the need to pee was muzzing her thoughts again. She tried to push the desire from her mind. Some years ago she had watched a documentary on television about people who had survived disasters. A young woman her own age had been one of the few survivors from an aircraft that had crash-landed and caught fire. The woman reckoned she had lived because she kept calm when everyone else was panicking, had thought logically, figured out through the smoke and darkness which way the exit was.

The same theme had been echoed by all the other survivors. Keeping calm, thinking clearly. That was what you had to do.

Easier said than done.

They had exit doors on planes. And stewardesses with Stepford Wives expressions who pointed out the exits and held up orange life jackets and tugged at oxygen masks, as if they were addressing a convention of mentally retarded deaf mutes on every flight. England was a bloody nanny state now, so why hadn’t they passed a law ensuring that every lift had a stewardess on board? Why didn’t you find a robotic blonde standing inside each time you entered, handing you a laminated card that told you where the doors were? Giving you an orange life jacket in case the lift got flooded while you were in it? Waving oxygen masks in your face?

Suddenly she heard a sharp beep-beep.

Her phone!

She fumbled for her handbag. Light spilled out of it. Her phone was working! There was a signal! And, of course, there was a clock on the phone – she had totally forgotten about in her panic!

She pulled it out and stared at it. On the display were the words:

New message.

Barely able to contain her excitement, she clicked it open.

She did not recognize the number. The message read:

I know where you are.

17

OCTOBER 2007

Roy Grace shivered. Although he had on thick jeans, a heavy-knit pullover and lined boots under his paper suit, the damp inside the storm drain and the rain outside were getting into his bones.

The SOCOs and search officers, who had the unpleasant task of checking every inch of the drain, mostly on their hands and knees, had so far found a few rodent skeletons, but nothing of interest. Either the dead woman’s clothing had been removed before she was deposited here, or it had been washed away, rotted or even taken for animals’ nests. Working painstakingly slowly with trowels, Joan Major and Frazer Theobald were scraping away the silt around the pelvis, bagging and tagging each layer of dirt separately in neat cellophane bags. They would be another two or three hours at this rate, Grace estimated.

And all the time he was drawn back to the grinning skull. The sensation that Sandy’s spirit was here with him. Could it really be you? he wondered, staring hard. Every medium he had been to in the past nine years had told him that his wife was not in the spirit world. Which meant she was still alive – if he believed them. But none had been able to say where she was.

A chill fluttered through him. This time it was not the cold, but something else. He had determined a while ago to find closure and move forward with his life. But each time he tried, something happened that sowed doubt in him, and it was happening again now.

The crackle of his radio phone startled him out of his reverie. He held it to his ear with a curt, ‘Roy Grace?’

‘Morning, Roy. Your career going down the drain, is it?’ Then he heard Norman Potting’s throaty chuckle.

‘Very funny, Norman. Where are you?’

‘With the scene guard. Want me to get togged up and come down?’

‘No, I’ll come to you – meet me in the SOCO van.’

Grace welcomed the excuse to get away for a bit. He wasn’t strictly needed here and could easily have gone back to his office, but he liked his team to see him leading from the front. If they were having to spend their Saturday inside a dank, horrible drain, at least they could see his day wasn’t any better.

It was a relief to shut the door on the elements and sit down on the soft upholstery at the work table in the van. Even if it meant being confined in a small area with Norman Potting – never an experience he relished. He could smell the stale pipe smoke coming off the man’s clothes, mixed with a strong reminder of last night’s garlic.

Detective Sergeant Norman Potting had a narrow, rather rubbery face criss-crossed with broken veins, protruding lips and a thinning comb-over, part of which, at this moment was sticking bolt upright, having been blasted by the elements. He was fifty-three, although those who particularly disliked him spread rumours that he had knocked several years off his age so he could stay in the force longer, because he was terrified of retirement.

Grace had never seen Potting without a tie and this morning was no exception. The man was wearing a long, wet anorak with duffel tags over a tweed jacket, Viyella shirt and a fraying green knitted tie, grey flannel trousers and stout brogues. With a wheezing sound, he eased himself behind the table, on to the bench seat opposite Grace, then plonked down a large, dripping-wet cellophane folder, looking triumphant.

‘Why do people always pick such bleedin’ awful places to get murdered or dumped in?’ he said, leaning forward and exhaling directly into Roy’s face.

Trying not to wince as a blast furnace of hot and rancid smells enveloped him, Roy decided that this was probably what being breathed on by a dragon would be like. ‘Maybe you should draw up some guidelines,’ he said testily. ‘A fifty-point code of practice for murder victims to abide by.’

Subtlety had never been Norman Potting’s strong point and it took him a moment now to realize that the Detective Superintendent was being sarcastic. Then he broke into a grin, showing a mouthful of stained, crooked teeth, like tombstones on subsiding ground.

He raised a finger. ‘I’m rather slow this morning, Roy. Had a bit of a night last night. Li was like a bloody tiger!’

Potting had recently ‘acquired’ a Thai bride and constantly regaled anyone in earshot with details of his new-found prowess in bed with her.

Heading off the subject rapidly, Grace pointed at the cellophane folder. ‘You got the plans?’

‘Four times last night, Roy! And she’s a dirty cow – do anything! Phoawwww! She makes me a very happy man!’

‘Good.’

For a brief moment, Grace actually felt pleased for him. Potting had never had a lot of luck in his love life. He was a veteran of three marriages, with several children he had once admitted, ruefully, that he rarely saw. The youngest was a girl with Down’s syndrome whom he had tried and failed to get custody of. He wasn’t a bad or a stupid person, Roy knew – he was a very competent detective – but he lacked the social skills essential to rising any higher in the force, should he want to. Still, Norman Potting was a solid and dependable workhorse, with sometimes surprising initiative, and those aspects of him were far more important in any major inquiry, in his view.

‘You should consider it yourself, Roy.’

‘Consider what?’

‘Getting a Thai bride. Hundreds of them gagging for an English husband. I’ll give you the website – they are bloody wonderful, I tell you. They cook, clean, do all your ironing, give you the best sex of your life – lovely little bodies-’

‘The plans?’ Grace said, ignoring the last remark.

‘Ah, yes.’

Potting shook several large photocopies of street maps, grids and section drawings out of the folder and spread them over the table. Some of them dated back to the nineteenth century.

Wind rocked the van. Outside, somewhere in the distance, an emergency service siren sounded and then faded away. The rain drummed steadily on the roof.

Plans had never been something that Roy found easy to follow, so he let Potting talk him through the complexities of Brighton and Hove’s drainage system, using the paperwork and briefing which had been given to him by a corporation engineer earlier this morning. The DS ran a grimy-nailed finger across, down, then up each of the drawings in turn, showing how the water ran, always downhill, eventually out into the sea.

Roy tried hard to keep up with him, but half an hour on he was little wiser than he had been before he started. It seemed to him that it all added up to the fact that the weight of the dead woman’s body had jammed her in the silt, while anything else would have been washed down the drain, into the trap and out to sea.

Potting concurred with him.

Grace’s phone rang again. Excusing himself, he answered it, and his heart immediately sank as he heard the dentist’s-drill voice of freshly appointed Detective Superintendent Cassian Pewe. The slimeball from the Met his boss had brought in to eat his lunch.

‘Hello, Roy,’ Pewe said. Even distanced by a phone connection, Grace had the impression that Pewe’s smug, pretty-boy face was pressed claustrophobically up against his own. ‘Alison Vosper suggested I give you a call – to see if you needed a hand.’

‘Well, that’s very kind of you, Cassian,’ he replied. ‘But no, actually, the body’s intact – I’ve got both of her hands here.’

There was a silence. Pewe made a sound like a man who has started to urinate against an electric fence. A kind of stilted laughter. ‘Oh, very funny, Roy,’ he patronized. Then, after an awkward silence, he added, ‘You’ve got all the SOCOs and search officers you need?’

Grace felt a band tighten inside him. Somehow he restrained himself from telling the man to go and find something else to do with his Saturday. ‘Thank you,’ he said instead.

‘Good. Alison will be pleased. I’ll let her know.’

‘Actually, I’ll let her know,’ Grace said. ‘If I need your help I will ask her, but at the moment we are all managing very well. And – I thought you weren’t actually starting until Monday.’

‘Oh, absolutely, Roy, that’s correct. Alison just felt that helping you out over the weekend might be a good way to get my eye in.’

‘I appreciate her concern,’ Grace managed to say before he hung up, boiling with rage.

‘Detective Superintendent Pewe?’ Potting asked him, with raised eyebrows.

‘You’ve met him?’

‘Aye, met him. Know his type. Give a pompous ass like him enough rope and he’ll hang himself. Never fails.’

‘Got any rope on you?’ Grace asked.

18

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Ronnie Wilson had lost all track of time. He just stood still, transfixed, holding the handle of his bag as if it was his crutch, watching something he could not comprehend unfolding before his eyes.

Stuff was tumbling out of the sky on to the plaza and the surrounding streets. Raining from the sky. A never-ending downpour of masonry, office partitions, desks, chairs, glass, pictures, framed photographs, sofas, computer screens, keyboards, filing cabinets, waste bins, lavatory seats, washbasins, paper like letter-sized white confetti. And bodies. Bodies falling. Men and women who were alive in the air one moment, exploding and disintegrating as they landed. He wanted to turn away, to scream, to run, but it was as if a massive leaden finger was pressing down on his head, forcing him to stand still, to observe in numb silence.

He felt that he was watching the end of the world.

It seemed that every fireman and every police officer in New York was running into the Twin Towers. An endless stream entering, barging past the endless stream of bewildered men and women leaving at half-speed, staggering out as if from some other world, covered in dust, dishevelled, some with their arms or faces tracked with blood, contorted by shock. Many of them had mobiles pressed to their ears.

Then came the earthquake. Just a gentle vibration beneath his feet to start with, then more vigorous, so that he really had to grip the handle of his bag hard for support. And suddenly the zombies emerging from the South Tower seemed to wake up and quicken their pace.

They started running.

Ronnie looked up and saw the reason why. But for a moment he thought it must be a mistake. This was not possible! It was an optical illusion. It had to be.

The entire building was collapsing in on itself, like a house of cards, except-

A police car a short distance in front of him was suddenly flattened.

Then a fire engine was flattened too.

A cloud of dust like a desert sandstorm rolled towards him. He heard thunder. Rolling, rumbling, surround-sound thunder.

A whole stream of people disappeared under masonry.

The dark grey cloud was rising in the air like a storm of furious insects.

The thunder was numbing his ears.

This was not possible.

The fucking tower was coming down.

People sprinting for their lives. A woman lost a shoe, continued limping along on one foot, then shed the other shoe. A terrible tearing sound in the air, drowning out the sirens, as if some giant monster was ripping the world in half with its claws.

They were running past him. One person, then another, and another, their faces etched into masks of panic. Some were sheet-white masks, some were dripping water from sprinkler systems, some dripping blood or showering slivers of glass. Bit-part players in a weird early-morning carnival.

A BMW suddenly jumped in the air, yards from where he stood, and came down on its roof minus its front end. Then he saw the black cloud rising, tumbling straight towards him like a tidal wave.

Gripping the handle of his bag, he turned and followed them. Not knowing where he was going, he just ran, putting one foot in front of the other, towing his bag, not sure, not even caring, whether his briefcase was still on top. Running to keep ahead of the black cloud, of the falling tower that he could hear, thundering, rumbling in his ears, in his heart, in his soul.

Running for his life.

19

OCTOBER 2007

By now the lift seemed alive, like some preternatural creature. When Abby breathed, it sighed, creaked, moaned. When she moved, it swayed, twisted, rocked. Her mouth and throat were parched; her tongue and the inside of her mouth felt like blotting paper, instantly absorbing any tiny drop of saliva she produced.

A cold, persistent draught was blowing on her face. She fumbled in the darkness for the cursor button on her phone, then pressed it to activate the light on the display. She did this every few minutes, to check whether there was any signal and to bring a small but desperately welcome ray of light into her unstable, swaying prison cell.

No signal.

The time on the display read 1.32 p.m.

She tried dialling 999 yet again. But the feeble signal had gone.

With a shiver, she again read the text that had come through:

I know where you are.

Despite not recognizing the number, she knew who it was; there was only one person who could have sent it. But how did he have her number? That was what really worried her at this moment. How the hell do you know my number?

It was a pay-as-you-go phone, which she had bought for cash. She’d seen enough cop shows on television to know that was what crooks did so their calls could not be traced. These were the phones drug dealers used. She had bought it to keep in touch with her mother, who now lived in nearby Eastbourne, to see if she was OK, while pretending to her that she was still abroad and was well. Almost as importantly, the phone was so she could keep in touch with Dave – and occasionally send pictures. It was hard being apart for this long from someone you loved.

The thought suddenly occurred to her: had the sender gone to her mother? But even if he had, he wouldn’t have got her number. She was always careful to withhold it. Besides, when she had called yesterday, her mum had said nothing and sounded fine.

Could he have been following her, seen where she bought the phone and got the number that way? No. No chance. She had bought it from a small mobile phone shop in a side street off Preston Circus, where she had been able to make doubly sure no one was observing her. At least, as best she could.

Was he here in the building now? What if he was responsible for trapping her like this? And was using the time to break into her flat…? What if he was in the flat now, searching?

What if he found-

Unlikely.

She looked at the display again.

The words scared her more and more. Coils of fear spiralled inside her. She stood up in panic, pressing the cursor again as the light went off, pushing her fingers in the crack between the doors for the hundredth time, trying to force them apart, weeping in frustration.

They wouldn’t move.

Please, please open. Oh, God, please open.

The lift swayed wildly again. An image flashed in her mind of divers in a shark cage, with a Great White nosing against the bars. That’s what he was like. A Great White. A numb, unfeeling predator. She must have been mad, she decided, to have agreed to this.

If ever there had been a moment in her life when her resolve to succeed faltered, and she would willingly have traded all she had just to turn the clock back, it was now.

20

OCTOBER 2007

Blowflies or bluebottles – or blue-arsed flies, as the Aussies called them – can scent a dead body from twelve miles away. Which gives them a considerable amount in common with crime reporters, Roy Grace was fond of telling members of his team. They feed on the fluid protein excretions that ooze from a decomposing cadaver. Not much different from crime reporters there either, he liked to add.

And, no surprise, there was one outside the door of the SOCO van at this very moment, the Argus’s most persistent – and best informed, it had to be said – crime reporter, Kevin Spinella. Sometimes too well informed.

Grace told the scene guard who had radioed to inform him of the reporter’s presence that he would speak to Spinella, and stepped outside into the rain, relieved to get away from the rank smell of Norman Potting. As he walked towards the reporter, he noticed two photographers hanging around.

Spinella stood without an umbrella, hands in his pockets, wearing a sodden gumshoe raincoat with epaulettes and a belt, and the collar turned up. He was a slight, thin-faced man in his early twenties with alert eyes and his mouth was busily working a piece of chewing gum. His thin black hair, brushed and gelled forward, was at this moment matted to his head by the rain.

Beneath the reporter’s coat, Grace could see, he was wearing a dark business suit and a shirt that was at least one size too big for him, as if he hadn’t grown into it yet. The collar was hanging slack around his neck, despite the big, clumsy knot of his crimson polyester tie pulled tight. His flashy black shoes were caked in mud.

‘You’re a bit late, old son,’ Grace said as a greeting.

‘Late?’ The reporter frowned.

‘The blowflies beat you by several years.’

Spinella gave him the merest hint of a smile, as if unsure to what extent Grace was taking the mickey. ‘Wondered if I could ask you a few questions, Detective Superintendent.’

‘I’ll be holding a press conference on Monday.’

‘Is there anything you can tell me in the meantime?’

‘I thought maybe you might be able to tell me something – you normally appear to be better informed than I am.’

Again the reporter seemed uncertain about his attitude. With a thin smile of acknowledgement he said, ‘Heard you found a skeleton, a woman, down in a storm drain just over there on the site. Is that correct?’

The casual way he asked the question, as if they were remains of no significance, angered Grace. But he needed to keep his cool. There was nothing to be gained by antagonizing Spinella; it was always better, in his experience of dealing with the press, to be guardedly helpful.

‘The remains are human,’ he replied. ‘But so far the gender hasn’t been positively ascertained.’

‘I heard it is definitely a female.’

Grace smiled. ‘You see, I just said you were better informed than me.’

‘So – er – is it?’

‘Who do you want to trust, your sources or me?’

The reporter stared at Grace for a few moments, as if trying to read him. A drip formed on the bottom of his nose, but he made no attempt to wipe it off. ‘Can I ask you something else?’

‘If it’s quick.’

‘I hear you’ve got a new colleague starting at Sussex House on Monday – an officer from the Met, Detective Superintendent Pewe?’

Grace felt himself tighten. One more smug remark and he was going to knock that drip off Spinella’s nose with his bare fist. ‘You hear correctly.’

‘I understand the Met is the first police force in the UK to start cutting down on bureaucracy properly.’

‘You do, do you?’

The reporter’s snide grin was almost unbearable, as if he knew all kinds of secrets he was not revealing. For a wild moment Grace even thought that he might have been leaked something confidential by Alison Vosper.

‘They’re employing civilian clerks to book people into custody, so their arresting officers can go straight back out on patrol – instead of spending hours filling out forms,’ Spinella said. ‘Do you reckon Sussex CID will be learning things from Detective Superintendent Pewe?’

Fighting his anger, Grace was careful with his answer. ‘I’m sure Detective Superintendent Pewe is going to be a valuable member of the Sussex CID team,’ he said.

‘I can quote you on that, can I?’ The grin was getting even worse.

What do you know, you little shit?

Roy’s radio phone crackled. He held it to his ear. ‘Roy Grace?’

It was one of the SOCOs in the tunnel, Tony Monnington. ‘Thought you’d like to know, Roy, we seem to have found our first possible piece of evidence.’

Grace politely excused himself from the reporter and made his way back to the storm drain, phoning Norman Potting to tell him he would be some minutes. It was strange how things in life changed on you constantly, he thought. A little while ago, he could not wait to get out of the storm drain. Now, when the alternatives were either standing in the rain and talking to Spinella or going back to being closeted in the SOCO van with Norman Potting, suddenly it seemed to have a lot going for it.

21

OCTOBER 2007

It was Abby’s room-mate, Sue, who had inadvertently changed her life. The two of them had met working in a bar down on the Yarra waterfront in Melbourne and became instant friends. They were the same age and, like Abby, Sue had gone to Australia from England in search of adventure.

One evening, nearly a year ago, Sue told Abby that a couple of good-looking blokes, a bit older than them but very charming, had been in the bar, chatting to her. They said they were going to a barbie on Sunday with a fun crowd of people and to come along if she was free, to bring a girlfriend with her if she liked.

Having no better offers, they went. The barbecue was at a cool bachelor pad, a penthouse apartment in one of Melbourne’s hippest districts, with fine views across the bay. But in those heady first hours, Abby had barely taken in her surroundings, because she had been instantly and totally smitten with her host, Dave Nelson.

There were a couple of dozen other people at the party. The men, ranging from about ten years older than her to north of sixty, looked like extras from the set of a gangster film, and the women, dripping with bling, all seemed to have just stepped out of beauty salons. But she barely noticed them either. In fact, she hardly spoke a word to anyone else from the moment she set foot in the door.

Dave was a tall, lean, rough diamond in his mid-forties with a rich tan, short gelled hair and a world-weary face that had probably been seriously handsome in his youth, but now looked comfortably lived in. And that was how she felt, instantaneously, with him. Comfortable.

He moved around the apartment with an easy, animal grace, lavishly sloshing out Krug from magnum bottles all afternoon. He was tired, he said, because he had been playing poker for three days around the clock, in an international tournament, the Aussie Millions, at the Crown Plaza casino. He’d paid an entry fee of one thousand dollars, and had survived four rounds, building up a pot of over one hundred thousand, before being knocked out. A trip of aces, he’d told Abby ruefully. How was he to know the guy had two aces in the hole? When he had three kings, two hidden, for Christ’s sake!

Abby had never played poker before. But that night, after the rest of the guests had gone, he’d sat her down and taught her. She’d liked the attention, liked the way he looked at her all the time, told her how pretty she was, then how beautiful she was, then how good she made him feel just being there with him. His eyes scarcely left her face in all the hours they sat there together, as if nothing else mattered. They were good eyes, brown with a hint of green, alert but tinged with sadness, as if there was some loss hurting him deep inside. It made her want to protect him, to mother him.

She loved the stories he told her about his travels, and how he had made his fortune dealing rare stamps and playing poker, mostly on the internet. He worked a gambling system which seemed so obvious, when he explained it, and so clever.

Internet poker games took place all over the world, 24/7. He’d use the time zones, logging on to games that were being played where it was the small hours of the morning by people who were tired and often a little drunk. He’d watch for a while, then join in. Easy pickings for a man fully awake, sober and alert.

Abby had always been attracted to older men and this guy, who seemed so tough, yet was passionate about tiny, delicate, beautiful stamps and enthused to her about their links with history, fascinated her. For a girl from a staid British background, he was totally different from anyone she had ever met. And although there was that vulnerability about him, at the same time there was something intensely strong and manly that made her feel safe with him.

For the first time in her life, breaking her own rule with total abandon, she slept with him that very night. And she moved in with him just a couple of weeks later. He took her shopping, encouraging her to buy expensive clothes, and often came home with jewellery or a new watch or an insanely lavish bunch of flowers if he’d had a good poker win.

Sue had done her best to dissuade Abby, pointing out that he was a good deal older than her, that he had a somewhat uncertain past and a reputation as something of a ladies’ man – or, put more crudely, was a serial shagger.

But Abby had ignored all of that, dumping her friendship first with Sue and subsequently with the other friends she had made since arriving in Melbourne. Instead, she enjoyed meeting Dave’s older and – to her – much more glamorous and interesting circle. Big money had always had an allure for her and these people were all big spenders.

As a child, in her school holidays she had sometimes gone on jobs with her father, who ran a small floor and bathroom tiling business. She had loved helping him, but a stronger attraction for her was the houses – some of them really incredible – where rich people lived. Her mother worked at the public library in Hove and their little semi in Hollingbury, with its neat garden, which both her parents tended lovingly, was the extent of their horizons.

As she grew up, Abby felt increasingly constricted, and restricted, by her modest upbringing. In her teens she read the works of Danielle Steel, Jackie Collins and Barbara Taylor Bradford avidly, and of every other novelist who wrote about the lives of the rich and glamorous, as well as devouring OK! and Hello! magazines cover-to-cover every week. She secretly harboured dreams of vast wealth, and the grand houses and yachts in the sun that would come with it. She longed to travel and she knew, deep down, that one day she would get her chance. By the time she was thirty, she promised herself, she would be rich.

When a friend of Dave’s was arrested on three murder charges she was appalled, but she couldn’t help feeling a frisson of excitement. Then another of his circle was shot dead in his car, in front of his twins, while watching a children’s football training session. She began to realize that she was now part of a very different culture from the one she had grown up in and had previously understood. But despite her shock at the man’s death, she found the funeral exciting. To be there as part of all these people, to be accepted by them – it was the biggest turn-on of her life.

At the same time she began to wonder what else Dave was really up to. She noticed him sometimes fawning over the guys he had told her were the biggest players, trying to do some kind of business with them. One morning she overheard him on the phone telling someone that trading in stamps was a great way to launder money, to move it around the globe, as if he was trying to sell the concept to them.

She didn’t like that so much. It was as if she hadn’t minded all the time they were on the fringe, just hanging out in bars and partying with these people. But actually doing business with them – almost begging them to let him do business – lowered Dave in her eyes. And yet, deep in her heart, she felt she might be able to help him, if she could just get through the wall he seemed to have erected around himself. Because, after several months with him, she realized she knew no more about his past than when she had first met him, other than that he’d had two previous wives and both his divorces had been painful.

Then one day he dropped a bombshell.

22

SEPTEMBER 2007

The metallic blue Holden pick-up headed west, away from Melbourne. MJ, a tall young man of twenty-eight with jet-black hair and a surfer’s frame, wearing a yellow T-shirt and Bermudas, drove with one hand on the wheel, his free arm around Lisa’s shoulders.

The ute sat low and squat on its shocks, on wide mags shod with fatties that clung sure-footedly to the contours of the winding road. This vehicle was his pride and joy, and he listened contentedly to the burble of the V8 5.7-litre engine through the drainpipe exhausts as they drove through big, open country. To their right, plains of scorched vegetation stretched out for miles. To their left, beyond a tired-looking barbed-wire fence, softly contoured brown hills rose in the near distance, parched and arid courtesy of six years’ almost unbroken drought. A few thin ridges of trees were scattered over them randomly, like strips of facial hair missed by a razor.

It was Saturday morning and for two whole days MJ could forget about his intensive studies. In a month’s time he was sitting tough stockbroking exams, which he needed to pass to secure a permanent job with his current employers, Macquarie Bank. Spring had been a long time coming this year, despite the drought, and this weekend promised to be the first truly glorious one after the dreary winter months. He was determined to make the most of it.

They were ambling along. With six points on his licence, he was being careful to drive well within the speed limits. Besides, he wasn’t in any hurry. He was happy – intensely happy – just being here with the girl he loved, enjoying the drive, the scenery, the Saturday morning feeling of the whole weekend stretching out ahead of him.

Something he had once read was going around inside his head: Happiness is not getting what you want. It is wanting what you have.

He said it out aloud to Lisa, and she said they were beautiful words, and she agreed with them. Totally. She kissed him. ‘You say so many beautiful things, MJ.’ He blushed.

She pressed a button and music from the Whitlams thumped out of the madly expensive sound system he’d had installed. And their camping gear and the slab of VB beer thumped under the battened-down tarp behind the cab. And his heart thumped too. It was good to be here, good to feel so alive, to feel the warm air blowing on his face through the open window, to smell Lisa’s perfume, to feel her tangle of blonde curls batting against his wrist.

‘Where are we?’ she said, not that she cared. She was enjoying this too. Enjoying the break from her weekly routine of visiting doctors’ practices as a haemophilia drugs sales rep for the pharmaceutical giant Wyeth. Enjoying wearing just a loose white top and pink shorts, instead of the business suits she had to wear during the week. But most of all, enjoying precious time together with MJ.

‘Nearly there,’ he said.

They passed a yellow hexagonal road sign depicting a black bicycle and stopped at a T-intersection, beside the skeletal trunk of a Radiata pine that was topped by a thick clump of needles, like a badly fitting toupee. Immediately ahead of them rose a steep, bald hill with isolated clusters of bushes looking as if they’d been stuck to it by Velcro.

Lisa, who was English, had only been in Australia for two years. She had moved to Melbourne from Perth a few months ago and the terrain was all new to her. ‘When were you last here?’ she asked.

‘Not for some years – ten maybe. Used to come here camping with my parents, when I was a kid,’ he said. ‘It was our favourite place. You’re going to love it. Yee-hah!’

With a sudden burst of exuberance, he tramped the accelerator. The ute shot forward, making a sharp left on to the highway with a squeal of its tyres and a roar of thunder from its exhausts.

After a few minutes they passed a sign on a pole that read BARWON RIVER, then MJ slowed down and started looking to his right as they passed another saying STONEHAVEN AND POLLOCKS FORD.

After a while he braked sharply and turned right on to a sandy track. ‘I’m pretty sure this is it!’ he said.

They bounced along for five hundred yards or so. Wide open country to their right, bushes to their left and an embankment down to a river they couldn’t see. They passed a steel-girder bridge sitting on old brick buttresses to their left, then thick brush obscured the view. The track suddenly dipped sharply, then rose again on the far side. After a few minutes it widened out for some yards and ended, turning into scrub grass beyond which was dense brush.

MJ brought the ute to a halt and put on the handbrake. A cloud of dust swirled over them. ‘Welcome to paradise,’ he said.

They kissed.

Then, after some moments, they climbed out. Into total warm silence. The engine pinged. There was the scent of dried grasses in the air. A bowerbird made a sound like someone whistling yoo hoo!, then was silent. Down below them, snaking into the distance, was shimmering water and further away, beneath the fierce late-morning sun, there were bald brown hills sporting just the occasional acacia or eucalyptus tree. The silence was so intense, for a moment they felt they could be the only people on the planet.

‘God,’ Lisa said, ‘this is so beautiful.’

A fly buzzed around her face and she batted it away. Another one came and she batted that away too.

‘Good old flies,’ MJ said. ‘This is the right spot!’

‘Obviously they remember you!’ she said, as a third one landed on her forehead.

He gave her a playful punch, before arcing his hand several times in rapid succession in front of his face, giving an Aussie salute to flap away more flies that were pestering him. Then, with his arm around her, MJ steered Lisa to a gap in the brush.

‘This is where we used to launch our canoe,’ he said.

She peered down a steep, sandy slope overgrown with bracken that was a natural slipway into the river, a good thirty yards below. The water, about twenty yards wide, was as still as a millpond. A few damsel flies sat on the surface, feeding off mosquito larvae or laying eggs, and more hovered just above. Reflections of the brush on the far bank appeared in sharp focus.

‘Wow!’ she said. ‘Wowwwwwww! That is amazing.’

Then she noticed the series of white sticks planted all the way down the slipway. Each of them had precise ruled markings in black.

‘When I was a kid,’ MJ said, ‘the water level was up to here.’ He pointed at the top marker.

Lisa counted eight exposed rulers, all the way down to the water. ‘It’s dropped this much?’

‘Good old global warming,’ he replied.

Then she saw the looped hangman’s rope fixed to the overhanging branch of a tree thick as an elephant’s leg.

‘We used to jump off that!’ MJ said. ‘It was just a short drop.’

Now it was a good five yards.

He peeled off his T-shirt. ‘Coming in?’

‘Let’s put the tent up first!’

‘Shit, Lisa, we’ve got the whole day to put the tent up! I’m hot!’ He continued stripping. ‘And the flies hate the water.’

‘Tell me what the water’s like – I’ll think about it!’

‘You’re weak as piss!’

Lisa laughed. MJ stood naked, then disappeared for some moments into the undergrowth. Moments later, she saw him crawling along the overhanging branch. He reached the rope, which looked dangerously frayed, rolled over and clung to it.

‘Be careful, MJ!’ she shouted, suddenly alarmed.

Holding on with one arm, he beat his chest with the other, making a series of Tarzan whoops. Then he swung out over the river, his bare feet almost touching the surface of the water. He swung back and forward in several arcs, then he let go and dropped with a loud splash.

Lisa watched anxiously. Moments later he surfaced and tossed his head, shaking wet hair away from his face. ‘It’s beautiful! Get in here, wuss!’

He struck out, doing a couple of powerful crawl strokes, then suddenly he raised his head with a pained expression.

‘Fuck!’ he spluttered. ‘Shit! Owww! Bloody stubbed my toe on something!’

Lisa laughed.

MJ duck-dived. Moments later his head broke the surface and there was a look of panic on his face.

‘Shit, Lisa!’ he said. ‘There’s a car down here! There’s a fucking car in the river!’

23

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Lorraine stared in numb disbelief. The unlit cigarette between her fingers was quite forgotten. A young, female reporter, talking urgently to the camera, seemed totally unaware that the South Tower, just a few hundred yards behind her, was collapsing.

It was dropping straight down out of the sky, disappearing inside itself, neatly, almost unbearably neatly, as if for one brief instant Lorraine was witnessing the greatest conjuring trick ever performed. The reporter talked on. Behind her, cars and people were disappearing under rubble and swirling dust. Others were running for their lives, running straight down the street towards the camera.

Oh, Jesus, doesn’t she realize?

Still unaware, the reporter continued reading off her autocue or from a feed in her ear.

LOOK BEHIND YOU! she wanted to scream at the woman.

Then finally the woman did turn. And lost the plot totally. She took a startled, stumbling step sideways, followed by another. People were running past on either side, jostling her, almost knocking her off her feet. The mushrooming cloud was now as tall as the sky itself, and as wide as the city, tumbling like an avalanche towards her. In bewildered shock, she spoke a few more words, but there was no sound with them, as if the cable had been disconnected, then the image became just a grey swirl of shadowy figures and chaos as the camera was engulfed.

Lorraine, still in just her bikini bottoms, heard various shouts. The image on the screen cut to a jerky, hand-held shot of a massive slab of steel and glass and masonry crashing on to a red and white fire truck. It smashed through the ladder, then flattened the whole mid-section, as if this was a plastic toy truck a child had just stamped on.

A woman’s voice was shouting, over and over, ‘Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God.’

There were cries. Darkness for a second, then another handheld shot, a young man limping past holding a blood-drenched towel against a woman’s face, helping her along, trying to pull her faster, ahead of the cloud that was gaining on them.

Then they were in a studio news set. Lorraine watched the anchor, a man in his forties in a jacket and tie. The images she had been viewing were all up on monitors behind his head. He looked grim.

‘We’re getting reports that the South Tower of the World Trade Center has collapsed. We are also going to bring you the latest on the situation at the Pentagon in just a few moments.’

Lorraine tried to light the cigarette, but her hand was shaking too much and the lighter fell to the floor. She waited, unable to bear taking her eyes from the screen for even one second in case she missed a glimpse of Ronnie. There was an agitated woman on the television now, shouting unintelligibly. She watched an attractive woman clutching a mike, who was standing against a background of dense black smoke flecked with orange flames, through which she could just make out the low roofline silhouettes of the Pentagon.

She dialled Ronnie’s mobile number and once more got the lines-busy beep.

She tried again. Again. Again. Her heart was thrashing around inside her chest and she was shaking, desperate to hear his voice, to know that he was OK. And all the time inside her head was the knowledge that Ronnie’s meeting was in the South Tower. The South Tower had collapsed.

She wanted more pictures of Manhattan, not the sodding Pentagon, Ronnie was in Manhattan, not the sodding Pentagon. She changed channels to Sky News. Saw another jerky hand-held shot, this time of three dusty firemen in helmets carrying a busted-looking grey-haired man, their yellow armbands jigging as they walked urgently along.

Then she saw a burning car. And a burning ambulance. Figures appearing out of the gloom behind them. Ronnie? She leaned forward, close up to the huge screen. Ronnie? The figures appeared from the smoke like faces on a developing photograph. No Ronnie.

Then she dialled his number again. For one fleeting moment it sounded as if it was going to ring! Then she was thwarted by the lines-busy signal once more.

Sky News cut to Washington. She grabbed the remote and hit another button. It seemed that every station was now showing the same images, the same news feeds. She watched a replay of the first plane striking, then the second. It replayed again. And again.

Her phone rang. She hit the answer button with a sudden burst of joy, almost too choked to get any words out. ‘Hello?’

It was the washing-machine engineer, calling to confirm his appointment for tomorrow.

24

OCTOBER 2006

The target’s name was Ricky. Abby had met him on a few occasions at parties, when he always seemed to make a beeline for her and chat her up. And in truth, she found him attractive and enjoyed the flirtation.

He was a good-looking guy in his forties, slightly mysterious and very self-assured, with the air of an ageing laid-back surfer dude. Like Dave, he knew how to talk to women, asking her more questions than he answered for her. He was also involved in stamps, in quite a big way.

Not all the stamps were his own. Four million pounds’ worth, to be precise. There was some dispute over their ownership. Dave told her that he and Ricky had made a deal to split the proceeds fifty-fifty, but now Ricky was reneging and wanted ninety per cent. When she had asked Dave why he didn’t simply go to the police he had smiled. Police, it seemed, were off limits for both of them.

Anyhow, he had a much better plan.

25

OCTOBER 2007

Roy Grace was still struggling, even with the help of the direct beam of a halogen light, to see the minute object Frazer Theobald was holding up in his stainless-steel tweezers. All he could make out was something blue and blurred.

He squinted, reluctant to admit to himself that he was getting to the point where he needed glasses. It was only when the pathologist placed a small square of paper behind the tweezers and handed him a magnifying glass that Roy could see it more clearly. It was a fibre of some kind, thinner than a human hair, like a gossamer strand of a spider’s web. It appeared translucent one moment, then pale blue the next, and the ends were jigging from a combination of the faintest tremor in Theobald’s hand and the icy breeze blowing through the storm drain.

‘Whoever killed this woman did his best to leave no evidence,’ the pathologist said. ‘It’s my guess he put her down here expecting that at some point she’d be washed along through the drainage system and then flushed out of the sewage outfall into the sea – thinking a sufficient distance from the shore for sewage would be a safe enough distance for a body.’

Grace stared again at the skeleton, unable to get the possibility that it was Sandy out of his mind.

‘Perhaps her killer hadn’t considered the drain not flooding,’ Theobald went on. ‘He hadn’t reckoned on her getting embedded in the silt, and because the water table was down, there wasn’t enough flow through the drain system to wash her free. Or maybe the drain went out of use.’

Grace nodded, looking again at the twitching thread.

‘It’s a carpet fibre, that’s what I think. I could be wrong, but

I think the lab analysis will show it’s a carpet fibre. Too hard to be from a pullover or a skirt or a cushion cover. It’s a carpet fibre.’

Joan Major nodded in agreement.

‘Where did you find it?’ Grace asked.

The forensic pathologist pointed at the skeleton’s right hand, which was partially buried in the silt. The fingers were exposed. He pointed at the end of the middle finger. ‘See that? It’s an artificial nail – from one of those nail studio places.’

Grace felt a chill run through him. Sandy had bitten her nails. When they were watching television she would chew on them, making busy little clicking sounds like a hamster. It drove him nuts. And sometimes in bed as well. Often when he was trying to go to sleep, she would be gnawing away, as if fretting about something she could not or would not share with him. Then suddenly she’d look at her nails and get angry with herself, say to him that he must tell her when she was biting and help her to stop. And she would go to a nail studio to have expensive, artificial nails put over her bitten ones.

‘A plastic compound, glued on, somehow the nails didn’t get washed away when the skin beneath rotted,’ Frazer Theobald said. ‘The fibre was beneath this one. It could be that her assailant dragged her along a carpet and she dug her nails in. That’s the most likely explanation of how it got there. Bit of luck that it didn’t get washed away.’

‘Luck, yes,’ Grace said distantly. His mind was racing. Dragged along a carpet. A blue carpet fibre. Pale blue. Sky blue.

There was a pale blue carpet at home. In the bedroom. The bedroom he and Sandy had shared until the night she disappeared.

Into the blue.

26

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Ronnie had been running for maybe a minute when day changed into night, as if there had been an instant, total eclipse of the sun. Suddenly he was stumbling through a choking, stinking void, with the sound of thunder in his ears, thunder that was rising from the ground.

It was as if someone had emptied a billion tons of foul-smelling, bitter-tasting black and grey flour into the sky directly above him. It stung his eyes, filled his mouth. He swallowed some of it and coughed it back up, immediately swallowing more. Grey shapes like ghosts swirled past him. He stubbed his toe painfully on something – a fire hydrant, he realized – as he tripped over the damned thing and fell forward, hard, on to the ground. Ground that was moving. It was vibrating, quaking, as if some giant monster had awakened and was breaking free from the belly of the earth itself.

Have to get out of here. Away from here.

Someone trod on his leg and crashed down on top of him. He heard a woman’s voice, cursing and apologizing, and smelled a fleeting whiff of fine perfume. He wriggled free of her, tried to stand up, and immediately someone slammed into his back, hurtling him forward again.

Hyperventilating in panic, he scrambled to his feet and saw the woman, looking like a grey snowman clutching a pair of court shoes, get up. Then a huge fat man with mad hair crashed into him, cursing, punching him out of the way, and ran stumbling on to be swallowed by the fog.

Then he was knocked over again. Got to get up. Get up. Get up!

Memories of reading about people being crushed to death in panicking crowds swirled in his mind. He struggled to his feet again, turned, saw more snowy figures lumbering out of the gloom. One knocked him sideways. He searched through the oncoming legs, shoes, bare feet, for his bag and his briefcase, saw them, ducked down, grabbed them both, then was barged over on to his back again.

‘Fuck you!’ he screamed.

A stiletto heel passed over his head like a spiky shadow.

Then suddenly there was silence.

The rumbling stopped. The thunder stopped. The ground wasn’t vibrating any more. The sirens stopped too.

For an instant, he felt elation. He was OK! He was alive!

People were walking past more slowly now, more orderly. Some were limping. Some were holding on to each other. Some had glass in their hair, like ice crystals. Blood was the only colour in an otherwise grey and black world.

‘This is not happening,’ a male voice near him said. ‘This is so not happening.’

Ronnie could see the North Tower and then, to the right, a hill of twisted, lopsided wreckage, rubble, window frames, broken cars, burning vehicles, broken bodies lying motionless on the stained ground. Then he saw sky where the South Tower should have been.

Where it had been.

The Tower was gone.

It had been there minutes ago and now it wasn’t there any more. He blinked, to check it wasn’t some kind of trick, an optical illusion, and more of the dry stuff got caught in his eyes, making them water.

He was shaking, shaking all over. But mostly he was shaking deep inside.

Something caught his eye, drifting down, flapping, rising for a moment – caught in an updraught – then continuing its descent again. A piece of fabric. It looked like one of those felt cloths you got when you bought a new laptop, to stop the screen being scratched when you closed it.

He watched it fall all the way to the ground like a dead butterfly, landing just yards in front of him, and for an instant, amid all that was going on in his mind, he wondered if it was worth picking up, because he had long ago lost the one that had come with his laptop.

More people trudged past. An endless line, all in black and white and grey, like an old war movie or documentary showing refugees on the march. He thought he heard a phone ring. His own? In panic, he checked his pocket. His phone was still there, thank God! He pulled it out, but it wasn’t ringing and there was no missed-call sign. He tried Lorraine again, but there was no signal, just a hollow beep-beep-beep, which was drowned out after a few seconds by the chop of a helicopter right above his head.

He did not know what to do. His thoughts were all jumbled. People were injured and he was OK. Maybe he should try to help people. Maybe he’d find Donald. They must have evacuated the building. They would have got everyone out before it came down, for sure. Donald was back there somewhere, maybe wandering around looking for him. If they could find each other, they could go to a café or a hotel and still have their meeting…

A fire truck blasted past him, almost running him down, then was gone in a blaze of red flashing lights and sirens and honking.

‘Bastards!’ he shouted. ‘You fuckers, you almost killed-’

A group of black women caked grey, one carrying a satchel, one rubbing the back of her dreadlocked head, glided towards him.

‘Excuse me?’ Ronnie said, stepping into their path.

‘Just keep going,’ one of them replied.

‘Yeah,’ said another. ‘Don’t go that way!’

More emergency vehicles blasted past. The ground crunched. Paper snow beneath his feet, Ronnie realized. The paperless society, he thought cynically. So much for the bloody paperless society. The whole road was covered in grey paper. The sky was thick with falling sheets, zigzagging down, plain, typed, shredded, every shape and size you could imagine. Like a billion filing cabinets and waste bins had tipped their contents from a cloud.

He stopped for a moment, trying to think clearly. But the only thought that came into his head was, Why today? Why fucking today?

Why did this shit have to happen today?

New York was under some kind of terrorist attack, that much was blindingly obvious. A dim voice inside his head told him he should be scared, but he wasn’t, he was just fucking angry.

He marched forward, crunching on paper, past one bewildered person after another coming from different directions. Then, as he approached the mayhem of the plaza, he was stopped by two NYPD cops. The first was short with cropped fair hair; his right hand was resting on the butt of his Glock, while his left was holding a radio to his ear. He was shouting a report into it one moment and then listening the next. The other, much taller cop had shoulders like a padded-up footballer player, a pockmarked face and an expression that was part apologetic, part don’t fuck with me, we’re all fucked enough.

‘I’m sorry, sir,’ the tall cop said. ‘You can’t go past here – we need the space right now.’

‘I have a business meeting,’ Ronnie said. ‘I – I – ’ he pointed – ‘I have to see-’

‘I think you’d better reschedule. I don’t think anyone’s meeting anyone right now.’

‘The thing is, I have a flight to the UK tonight. I really need-’

‘Sir – I think you’re gonna find your meeting and your flight have been cancelled.’

Then the ground began rumbling. There was a terrible cracking sound. The two cops turned in unison and looked up, straight up the silver-grey wall of the North Tower. It was moving.

27

OCTOBER 2007

The lift was moving. Abby felt the floor pressing against her feet. It was rising, jerkily, as if someone was hauling it up by hand. Then it stopped sharply. She heard a thud, following by the sloshing of liquid.

Shit.

Her boot had fallen over. Her latrine boot.

The lifted swayed suddenly, as if it had been given a massive push, and boomed into the side of the shaft, throwing her off her feet, against a wall, then slamming her on to the wet floor. Jesus.

There was a massive bang on the roof. Something struck it with the force of a sledgehammer. The sound echoed, hurting her ears. There was another bang. Then another. As she tried to scramble to her feet, the lift lurched violently sideways, striking the shaft with such force she could feel the shockwave running through the steel walls. Then it tilted, throwing her across the small space, thumping her into the opposite wall.

Then another bang on the roof.

Christ, no.

Was he up there? Ricky? Trying to smash his way into the lift to get her?

It rose again a few inches, then swung wildly again. She whimpered in terror. Pulled out her phone, pressed the cursor. The light came on and she could see a small indent in the roof.

Then another bang and the indent grew larger. Dust motes swarmed crazily.

Then another bang. Another. Another. More dust.

Then silence. A long silence. A different sound now. A dull thudding. It was her heart. Pounding. Boomf… boomf… boomf.

The roaring sound in her ears of her blood coursing. Like a wild ocean racing inside her.

The light on her phone went off. She pressed the cursor and it came back on again. She was thinking. Desperately thinking. What could she use as a weapon when he broke through? She had a canister of pepper spray in her bag, but that would only stall him for a few moments – maybe a couple of minutes if she could get it in his eyes. She needed something to knock him down.

Her boot was the only thing. She picked it up, aware of the wet, soft leather, and touched the Cuban heel. It felt reassuringly hard. She could conceal it behind her, wait until his face appeared, then swing it up. Surprise him.

Her brain was all over the place with questions. Did he know she was in here for sure? Had he been waiting for her on the staircase, then somehow stopped the lift when he realized she had taken it?

The silence continued. Just that fast thud of her heartbeat. Like a boxing glove pounding against a punchball.

Then through her fear she felt a flash of anger.

So close, so damned close!

So tantalizingly close to my dreams!

I have to get out of this. Somehow I have to get out of this!

Suddenly the lift began to rise slowly again, before stopping with another sharp jerk.

The grinding sound of metal against metal.

Then the angular tip of a crowbar screeched in through the crack between the doors.

28

SEPTEMBER 2007

The grinding whine of the winch. The rattle of the idling diesel of the R &K 24-Hour Rescue tow truck.

Lisa batted away a whole bloody cloud of flies. ‘Piss off!’ she shouted at them. ‘Just go away, will you!’

The rattle turned into a roar as the steel hawser tightened and the guy in the cab accelerated, giving more power to the winch.

She was intrigued to know what would happen next. To find out what the car was doing there in the first place. No one drove three klicks down a dirt track and then into a river by accident, MJ said. Then he’d added, ‘Not even a woman driver,’ for which he had received a kick on the shin from her.

One of the local Geelong cops who had turned up, the shorter, calmer of the two, told them the car had probably been used in a crime and then dumped. Whoever had put it here hadn’t reckoned on the drought causing the water level to drop so much.

A fly landed on her cheek. She slapped her face, but it was too fast for her. Time was different for flies, MJ had told her that once. One second to a human was like ten seconds to a fly. It meant that the fly saw everything as if in slow motion. It had all the time in the world to get away from your hand.

MJ knew all about flies. Not surprising, she thought, if you lived in Melbourne and liked to go out in the bush. You’d become an expert faster than you could ever have believed possible. They bred in dung, he had told her last time they went camping, which meant she would no longer eat anything once a fly had landed on it.

Lisa stared at the white cop car with its blue and white chequered band, and the white police van in the same livery, both with their racks of blue and red roof lights. There were two police divers in wet suits and flippers, masks on their heads, standing down below her in the shrubbery at the edge of the water, watching the taut steel hawser steadily rising out of the water.

But flies performed a service as well. They helped clear dead things away: birds, rabbits, kangaroos and humans too. They were some of Mother Nature’s little helpers. They just happened to have lousy table manners, such as vomiting on their food before eating it. All in all, they didn’t make great dinner guests, Lisa decided.

Perspiration from the heat was running down her face. MJ stood with one arm around her, the other holding a water bottle which they were sharing. Lisa had her arm around his waist, fingers tucked into his waistband, feeling the sweat in his damp T-shirt. Flies liked to drink human sweat, that was another nugget he had given her. Sweat didn’t have much protein in it, but it contained minerals they needed. Human sweat was the fly world equivalent of Perrier, or Badoit, or whatever bottled water floated your particular boat.

The river just ahead of where the hawser had entered became a sudden mass of whirlpools. It looked like it was boiling. Bubbles burst on the surface, turning to foam. The taller, more panicky officer kept shouting out instructions, which seemed unnecessary to Lisa, as everyone seemed to know what they needed to do. In his early forties, she guessed, he had brush-cut hair and an aquiline nose. Both he and his younger colleague wore regulation open-throat shirts with epaulettes and a woven Victoria Police shield on one sleeve, navy blue trousers and stout shoes. The flies were enjoying them too.

Lisa watched the rear end of a dark green saloon car breaking the surface, water tumbling off it, which she could hear above the roar of the winch and the bellow of the truck engine. She read the number plate, OPH 010, and the legend that was written beneath it: VICTORIA ON THE MOVE.

How long had it been down there?

She wasn’t an expert on cars, but she knew a little about them. Enough to recognize that this was an older-model Ford Falcon, a good five or maybe even ten years old. Soon the rear windscreen appeared, then the roof. The paintwork was shiny from the water, but all the chrome had rusted. The tyres were almost flat, flapping on the arid, sandy soil as the car was hauled backwards up the steep slope. Water poured out from the empty interior through the door sills and the wheel arches.

It was an eerie sight, she thought.

After several minutes, the Falcon was finally up on the level ground, sitting motionless on its rims, tyres like black paunches. The hawser was slack now, with the tow-truck driver on his knees under the tailgate, unhooking it. The grinding sound of the winch had stopped and the tow-truck engine was silenced. There was just the steady splashing of the water pouring from the vehicle.

The two cops walked around it, peering warily in through the windows. The tall, panicky one had his gun hand on his gun butt, as if he expected someone to jump out of the car at any moment and challenge him. The shorter one saluted away some more flies. The bowerbird yoo-hooed again in the new silence.

Then the taller cop pressed the boot release button. Nothing happened. He tried again, exerting leverage on the lid at the same time. It lifted a few inches with a sharp screech of protest from its rusted hinges. Then he raised it all the way up.

And took a step back, in shock, as he smelled what was inside before he even saw her.

‘Oh, strewth,’ he said, turning away and gagging.

29

OCTOBER 2007

Grey was the default colour of death, Roy Grace thought. Grey bones. Grey ash when you were cremated. Grey tombstones. Grey X-rayed dental records. Grey mortuary walls. Whether you rotted away in a coffin or in a storm drain, all that was eventually left of you would be grey.

Grey bones lying on a grey steel post-mortem table. Being probed by grey steel instruments. Even the light in here was grey, strangely diffused ethereal light that seeped in through the large opaque windows. Ghosts were grey too. Grey ladies, grey men. There were plenty of them in the post-mortem room of the Brighton and Hove City Mortuary. The ghosts of thousands of unfortunate people whose remains had ended up here, inside this grim bungalow with its grey, pebbledash-rendered walls, residing behind one of its grey steel freezer locker doors before their penultimate journey to an undertaker’s premises, then burial or cremation.

He shuddered. He couldn’t help it. Despite the fact that he minded coming here less these days, because the woman he loved was in charge, it still gave him the creeps.

Gave him the creeps to see the skeleton, with its artificial fingernails and fronds of winter wheat-coloured hair still attached to the skull.

And it gave him the creeps to see all the green-gowned figures in the room. Frazer Theobald, Joan Major, Barry Heath – the latest addition to the team of Coroner’s Officers for the area, a short, neatly dressed, poker-faced man, recently retired from the police force, whose grim job it was to attend not only all murder scenes but also sudden-death scenes, such as traffic accident fatalities and suicides, and then the post-mortems. There was also the SOCO photographer, recording every step of the process. Plus Darren, Cleo’s assistant, a sharp, good-looking and pleasant-natured lad of twenty with fashionably spiky black hair, who had started life as a butcher’s apprentice. And Christopher Ghent, the tall, studious forensic odontist, who was occupied taking soft-clay impressions of the skeleton’s teeth.

And finally Cleo. She hadn’t been on duty, but had decided that, as he was working, she might as well too.

Sometimes Roy found it hard to believe that he really was dating this goddess.

He watched her now, tall and leggy and almost impossibly beautiful in her green gown and white wellies, long blonde hair clipped up, moving around this room, her room, her domain, with such ease and grace, sensitive but at the same time impervious to all its horrors.

But all the time he was wondering if, in some terrible irony, he was witnessing the woman he loved laying out the remains of the woman he had once loved.

The room smelled strongly of disinfectant. It was furnished with two steel post-mortem tables, one fixed and the other, on which the remains of the woman now lay, on castors. There was a blue hydraulic hoist by a row of fridges with floor-to-ceiling doors. The walls were tiled in grey and a drainage gully ran all the way around. Along one wall was a row of sinks, with a coiled yellow hose. Along another were a wide work surface, a metal cutting board and a glass-fronted display cabinet filled with instruments, some packs of Duracell batteries and grisly souvenirs that no one else wanted – mostly pacemakers – removed from victims.

Next to the cabinet was a wall chart listing the name of the deceased, with columns for the weight of their brain, lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and spleen. All that was written on it so far was ‘ANON. WOMAN’.

It was a sizeable room but it felt crowded this afternoon, as it always did during a post-mortem by a Home Office pathologist.

‘There are four fillings,’ Christopher Ghent said, to no one in particular. ‘Three white composite and one gold inlay. An all-porcelain bridge from upper right six to four, not cheap. No amalgams. All high-quality stuff.’

Grace listened, trying to remember what dental work Sandy had had. She had been fastidious about her teeth. But the description was too technical for him.

Joan Major was unpacking, from a large case, a series of plaster of Paris models. They sat there on square black plastic plinths like broken archaeological fragments from an important dig. He had seen them before, but he always found it hard to get his head around the subtle differences they illustrated.

When Christopher Ghent finished reciting his dental analysis, Joan began to explain how each model showed the comparison of different stages of bone development. She concluded by stating that the remains were female, around thirty years old, give or take three years.

Which continued to cover the age Sandy had been when she disappeared.

He knew he should put that from his mind, that it was unprofessional to be influenced by any personal agenda. But how could he?

30

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

The floor was shaking. Key blanks, dozens of them hanging in rows on hooks along one wall of the store, were clinking. Several cans of paint fell from a shelf. The lid came off one as it hit the floor and magnolia emulsion poured out. A cardboard box tumbled, sending brass screws wriggling like maggots across the linoleum.

It was dark in the deep, narrow hardware store just a few hundred yards from the World Trade Center, where Ronnie had taken refuge, following the tall cop in here. Some minutes earlier the power had gone off. Just one battery-powered emergency light was on. A raging dust tornado twisted past the window, blacker some moments than night.

A shoeless woman in an expensive suit, who didn’t look like she had been in a hardware store before in her life, was sobbing. A gaunt figure in brown overalls, grey hair bunched in a ponytail, stood behind the counter that ran the full length down one side, presiding over the gloom in grim, helpless silence.

Ronnie still held tightly on to the handle of his suitcase. Miraculously, his briefcase was still resting on top.

Outside, a police car spun past on its roof, like a top, and stopped. Its doors were open and its dome light was on. The interior was empty, a radio mike dangling from its twisted cord.

A crack suddenly appeared in the wall to his left and an entire stack of shelves, laden with boxes of different-sized paintbrushes, crashed to the floor. The sobbing woman screamed.

Ronnie took a step back, pressing against the counter, thinking. He had been in a restaurant in Los Angeles once during a minor quake. His companion then had told him the doorway was the strongest structure. If the building came down, your best chance of survival was to be in the doorway.

He moved towards the door.

The cop said, ‘I wouldn’t go out right now, buddy.’

Then a massive avalanche of masonry and glass and rubble came down right in front of the window, burying the cop car. The store’s burglar alarm went off, a piercing banshee howl. The ponytailed guy disappeared for a moment and the sound stopped, as did the clinking of the keys.

The floor wasn’t shaking any more.

There was a very long silence. Outside, quite quickly, the dust storm began to lighten. As if dawn was breaking.

Ronnie opened the door.

‘I wouldn’t go out there – know what I’m saying?’ the cop repeated.

Ronnie looked at him, hesitating. Then he pushed the door open and stepped out, towing his bag behind him.

Stepped out into total silence. The silence of a dawn snowfall. Grey snow lay everywhere.

Grey silence.

Then he started to hear the sounds. Fire alarms. Burglar alarms. Car alarms. Human screams. Emergency vehicle sirens. Helicopters.

Grey figures stumbling silently past him. An endless line of women and men with hollow, blank faces. Some walking, some running. Some stabbing buttons on phones. He followed them.

Stumbling blindly through the grey fog that stung his eyes and choked his mouth and nostrils.

He just followed them. Towing his bag. Following. Keeping pace. The girders of a bridge rose on either side of him. The Brooklyn Bridge, he thought it was, from his scant knowledge of New York. Running, stumbling, across the river. Across an endless bridge through an endless swirling, choking grey hell.

Ronnie lost track of time. Lost track of direction. Just followed the grey ghosts. Suddenly, for one fleeting instant, he smelled the tang of salt, then the burning smells again – aviation fuel, paint, rubber. At any moment there might be another plane.

The reality of what had happened was starting to hit him.

Hopefully Donald Hatcook was OK. But what if he wasn’t? The business plan he had created was awesome. They stood to make millions in the next five years. Fucking millions! But if Donald was dead, what then?

There were silhouettes in the distance. Jagged high-rise silhouettes. Brooklyn. He had never been to Brooklyn before in his life, just seen it across the river. It was getting nearer with every step forward. The air was getting better too. More prolonged patches of salty sea air. Thinning mist.

And suddenly he was going down an incline towards the far end of the bridge. He stopped and turned back. Something biblical came into his mind, some memory about Lot’s wife. Turning her head. Becoming a pillar of salt. That’s what the endless line of people passing him looked like. Pillars of salt.

He held on to a metal railing with one hand and stared back. Sunlight dappled the water below him. A million brilliant specks of white dancing on the ripples. Then beyond it the whole of Manhattan looked as if it was on fire. The high-rises all partially shrouded in a pall of grey, brown, white and black smoke clouds billowing up into the deep blue sky.

He was shaking uncontrollably and badly needed to collect his thoughts. Fumbling in his pockets, he pulled out his Marlboros and lit one. He took four deep puffs in quick succession, but it didn’t taste good, not with all the stuff in his throat, and he dropped it into the water below, feeling giddy, his throat even drier.

He rejoined the procession of ghosts, following them on to a road where they seemed to disperse in different directions. He stopped again as a thought struck him, and as it took hold he suddenly wanted some peace and quiet. Turning off, he walked along a deserted side street, past a row of office buildings, the wheels of his bag still bump-bump-bumping along behind him.

Totally absorbed, he walked through almost empty urban streets for a long time, before finding himself at the entrance ramp to a highway. A short distance in front of him was a tall, girdered advertising hoarding rising into the sky, emblazoned with the word kentile in red. Then he heard the rumble of an engine and the next moment, a blue four-door pick-up truck stopped alongside him.

The window slid down and a man in a chequered shirt and a New York Yankees baseball cap peered out of the window. ‘You wanna a ride, buddy?’

Ronnie stopped, startled and confused by the question, and sweating like a hog. A ride? Did he want a ride? Where to?

He wasn’t sure. Did he?

He could see figures inside. Ghosts huddled together.

‘Got room for one more.’

‘Where are you going?’ he asked lamely, as if he had all kinds of options.

The man spoke in a nasal voice, as if the bass on his vocal cords was turned up to max. ‘There’s more planes. There’s more planes any moment. Gotta get away. Ten more planes. Maybe more. Shit, man, it’s just friggin’ started.’

‘I – ah – I have to meet-’ Ronnie stopped. Stared at the open door, at the blue seats, at the man’s dungarees. He was an old guy with a bobbing Adam’s apple and a neck like a turkey. His face was wizened and kind.

‘Jump in. I’ll give you a ride.’

Ronnie walked around and climbed into the front, next to the man. The news was on, loudly. A woman was saying that the Wall Street area of Manhattan and Battery Park were impassable.

As Ronnie fumbled for his seat belt, the driver handed him a bottle of water. Ronnie, suddenly realizing how parched he was, drained it gratefully.

‘I clean the windows, right? The Center, yeah?’

‘Right,’ Ronnie said distantly.

‘All my fuggin’ cleaning stuff’s in the South Tower – know what I’m saying?’

Ronnie didn’t, not exactly, because he was only half listening. ‘Right,’ he said.

‘I guess I’ll have to go back later.’

‘Later,’ Ronnie echoed, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

‘You OK?’

‘Me?’

The truck moved forward. The interior smelled of dog hair and coffee.

‘Gotta get away. They hit the Pentagon. There’s ten fucking planes up there right now, coming at us. This is yuge. Yuge!’

Ronnie turned his head. Stared at the four huddled figures behind him. None of them met his eyes.

‘A-rabs,’ the driver said. ‘A-rabs done this.’

Ronnie stared at a plastic Starbucks beaker with a coffee-stained paper towel wrapped around it in the cup holder. A bottle of water was jammed in next to it.

‘This thing, it’s just the beginning,’ the driver said. ‘Lucky we got a strong president. Lucky we got George Dubya.’

Ronnie said nothing.

‘You OK? Not hurt or nothing?’

They were heading along a freeway. Only a handful of vehicles were coming in the opposite direction, on an elevated section. Ahead of them was a wide green road sign divided into two. On the left was written EXIT 24 EAST 27 PROSPECT EXPWY. On the right it said 278 WEST VERRAZANO BR, STATEN IS.

Ronnie did not reply, because he did not hear him. He was deep in thought again.

Working through the idea. It was a crazy idea. Just a product of his shaken state. But it wouldn’t go away. And the more he thought about it, the more he began to wonder if it might have legs. A back-up plan to Donald Hatcook.

Maybe an even better plan.

He switched his phone off.

31

OCTOBER 2007

Abby watched the tip of the iron crowbar in terror. It was jerking sharply, blindly, left then right, levering the doors apart, just a couple of inches each time before they sprang shut again, clamping tight on the tip.

There was another huge crash on the roof and this time it really did feel as if someone had jumped on to it. The lift swayed, thumping the side of the shaft, throwing her off balance, the small canister of pepper spray dropping with a thud from her hand as she tried to stop herself smashing into the wall.

With a loud metallic screech of protest, the doors were opening.

Cold terror flooded through her.

Not just opening a couple of inches now, but wider, much wider.

She ducked down, desperately scrabbling on the floor for the spray. Light spilled in. She saw the canister and grabbed it, panic-stricken. Then, without even wasting time to look up, she launched herself forward, pressing down on the trigger, aiming straight into the widening gap between the doors.

Straight into powerful arms that grabbed her, yanking her up out of the lift and on to the landing.

She screamed, wriggling desperately, trying to break free. When she pressed down on the trigger again, nothing came out.

‘Fuck you,’ she cried. ‘Fuck you!’

‘Darlin’, it’s all right. It’s OK, darlin’.’

Not any voice she recognized. Not his.

‘Lemme go!’ she screamed, lashing out with her bare feet.

He was holding her in a grip like a vice. ‘Darlin’? Miss? Calm down. You’re safe. It’s OK. You are safe!’

A face beneath a yellow helmet smiled at her. A fireman’s helmet. Green overalls with fluorescent stripes. She heard the crackle of a two-way radio and what sounded like a control-room voice saying, ‘Hotel 04.’

Two firemen in helmets stood on the stairs above her. Another waited a few stairs down.

The man holding her smiled again, reassuringly. ‘You’re all right, love. You’re safe,’ he said.

She was shivering. Were they real? Was this a trap?

They seemed genuine, but she continued gripping the pepper spray tightly. She would put nothing past Ricky.

Then she noticed the surly face of the elderly Polish caretaker, who was puffing up the stairs in his grubby sweatshirt and brown trousers.

‘I not paid to work weekends,’ he grumbled. ‘It’s the managing agents. I speak to them about this lift for months! Months.’ He looked at Abby and frowned. Jerked a finger with a blackened nail upwards. ‘Flat 82, right?’

‘Yes,’ she replied.

‘The managing agents,’ he wheezed in his guttural accent. ‘They no good. I tell them, every day I tell them.’

‘How long you been in there, darlin’?’ her rescuer said.

He was in his thirties, good-looking in a boy-band sort of way, with black eyebrows almost too neat to be real. She looked at him warily, as if he was too handsome to be a fireman, as if he was all part of Ricky’s elaborate deception. Then she found she was shaking almost too much to speak.

‘Do you have any water?’

Moments later a water bottle was put in her hand. She drank in greedy gulps, spilling some so that it ran down her chin and trickled down her neck. She drained it before she spoke.

‘Thank you.’

She held out the empty bottle, and an unseen hand took it.

‘Last night,’ she said. ‘I’ve been – since – I think – in this sodding thing – last night. It’s Saturday now?’

‘Yes. It’s 5.20, Saturday afternoon.’

‘Since yesterday. Since just after 6.30 yesterday evening.’ She looked in fury at the caretaker. ‘Don’t you check the bloody alarm’s working? Or the bloody phone in the thing?’

‘The managing agents.’ He shrugged, as if every problem in the universe could be blamed on them.

‘If you don’t feel well you should go to A and E at the hospital for a check-up,’ the good-looking fire officer said.

That panicked her. ‘No – no – I’m really fine, thank you. I – I just-’

‘If you’re really bad, we can call you an ambulance.’

‘No,’ she said firmly. ‘No. I don’t need hospital.’

She looked at her fallen-over boots, which were still in the lift, and at the damp stain on the floor. She couldn’t smell anything but she knew it must reek in there.

His radio crackled again and she heard another call sign.

‘I – I thought it was going to plunge. You know? At any moment. I thought it was going to plunge – and I was going to be-’

‘Na, no danger. Got a back-up centrifugal locking mechanism, even if it did. But it wouldn’t have fallen.’ His voice tailed away and he seemed pensive for a moment, his eyes darting to the ceiling of the lift. ‘You live here?’

She nodded.

Relaxing his grip on her, he said, ‘You ought to check your service charges. Make sure the lift maintenance is on them.’

The caretaker made a comment, something else about the managing agents, but she barely heard it. Her relief at being freed was only fleeting. Great that she was out of the bloody lift. But that did not remotely mean she was out of danger.

She knelt down, trying to reach her boots without going back in the lift. But they were out of reach. The fireman bent down and hooked them out with the reverse of his axe. He clearly wasn’t stupid enough to go in there himself.

‘Who alerted you?’ she asked.

‘A lady in – ’ he paused to read a note on his pad – ‘flat 47. She tried to call the lift several times this afternoon, then reported she heard someone calling for help.’

Making a mental note to thank her some time, Abby looked warily up the stairs, which were covered in the workmen’s dust sheets and littered with plasterboard and building materials.

‘You should get plenty of fluids down you, and eat something as soon as you can,’ the fireman recommended. ‘Just something light. Soup or something. I’ll come up to your flat with you, make sure you’re all right.’

She thanked him, then looked at her Mace spray, wondering why it hadn’t fired, and realized she had not flipped the safety lock. She dropped it in her bag and, holding her boots, began to climb the stairs, carefully negotiating the builders’ mess. Thinking.

Had Ricky sabotaged the lift? And the phone and the bell? Was it too far-fetched to think he had done that?

All the locks were as she had left them, she was relieved to discover when she reached her front door. Even so, after thanking the fire officer again, she let herself in warily, checking the thread across the hall was intact before locking the door again behind her and securing the safety chains. Then, just to be sure, she checked each room in the flat.

Everything was fine. No one had been here.

She went to the kitchen to make herself some tea and grabbed a KitKat out of the fridge. She had just popped a piece in her mouth when the doorbell rang, followed immediately by a sharp rap.

Chewing, nerves jangling in case this was Ricky, she hurried warily to the front door and peered through the spyhole. A slight, thin-faced man in his early twenties, with short black hair brushed forward, wearing a suit, was standing there.

Who the hell was he? A salesman? A Jehovah’s Witness – but didn’t they normally come in pairs? Or he might be something to do with the fire brigade. Right now, dog tired, very shaken and ravenous, she just wanted to make a cup of tea, have something to eat, then down several glasses of red wine and crash out.

Knowing that the man would have had to pass the caretaker and the firemen to get here eased her fears about him a little. Checking that the two safety chains were properly engaged, she unlocked the door and pushed it open the few inches it would travel.

‘Katherine Jennings?’ he asked in a voice that was sharp and invasive. His breath was warm on her face and smelled of peppermint chewing gum.

Katherine Jennings was the name under which she had rented the flat.

‘Yes?’ she replied.

‘Kevin Spinella from the Argus newspaper. I wonder if you could spare a couple of moments of your time?’

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, and immediately tried to push the door shut. But it was wedged open by his foot.

‘I’d just like a quick quote I could use.’

‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I have nothing to say.’

‘So you are not grateful to the fire brigade for rescuing you?’

‘No, I didn’t say-’

Shit. He was now writing that down on his pad.

‘Look, Ms – Mrs Jennings?’

She didn’t rise to the bait.

He went on. ‘I understand you’ve just had quite an ordeal – would it be OK for me to send a photographer round?’

‘No, it would not,’ she said. ‘I’m very tired.’

‘Perhaps tomorrow morning? What time wouldbegood for you?’

‘No, thank you. And please remove your foot.’

‘Did you feel your life was in jeopardy?’

‘I’m very tired,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’

‘Right, I understand, you’ve been through a lot. Tell you what, I’ll pop back tomorrow with a photographer. About 10 tomorrow morning suit you? Not too early for you on a Sunday?’

‘I’m sorry, I don’t want any publicity.’

‘Good, well, I’ll see you in the morning then.’ He removed his foot.

‘No, thank you,’ she said firmly, then pushed the door shut and locked it very carefully. Shit, that was all she bloody needed, her photo in the paper.

Shaking, her mind a maelstrom of thoughts, she pulled her cigarettes from her bag and lit one. Then she walked through into the kitchen.

*

A man seated in the rear of an old white van that was parked in the street below also lit a cigarette. Then he popped the tab of a can of Foster’s lager, being careful not to spray the expensive piece of electrical kit he had alongside him, and took a swig. Through the lens inserted in the tiny hole he had drilled in the roof of the van, he normally had a perfect view of her flat, although it was partly obscured at this moment by a parked fire engine blocking the street. Still, he thought, it relieved the monotony of his long vigil.

And he could see to his satisfaction, from the shadow moving back past the window, that she was in there now.

Home sweet home, he thought to himself, and grinned wryly. That was almost funny.

32

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Lorraine, still wearing nothing but her bikini bottoms and gold ankle chain, sat on a bar stool in her kitchen, watching the small television mounted above the work surface, waiting for the kettle to boil. The butts from half a dozen cigarettes lay in the ashtray in front of her. She had just lit another and was inhaling deeply as she held the phone to her ear, talking to Sue Klinger, her best friend.

Sue and her husband, Stephen, lived in a house that Lorraine had always coveted, a stunning detached mansion in Tongdean Avenue – considered by many people to be one of the finest residences in Brighton and Hove – with views across the whole city, down to the sea. The Klingers also owned a villa in Portugal. They had four gorgeous children, and, unlike Ronnie, Stephen had the Midas touch. Ronnie had promised Lorraine that if Sue and Stephen ever sold the house, he would find a way to come up with the money to buy it. Yep, sure. In your dreams, my love.

They were replaying the images of the two planes striking the towers again, and then again, over and over. It was as if whoever was producing or directing this programme couldn’t believe it either, and had to keep replaying them to be sure it was real. Or perhaps someone in shock thought that if they repeated these images enough times, eventually the planes would miss the towers and fly past safely, and it would be just a normal Tuesday morning in Manhattan, business as usual. She watched the sudden orange fireball, the dense black clouds, feeling sicker and sicker.

Now they were showing the towers coming down again. First the South, then the North.

The kettle came to the boil but she didn’t move, not wanting to take her eyes off the screen in case she missed Ronnie. Alfie rubbed against her leg, but she ignored him. Sue was saying something to her, but Lorraine didn’t hear because she was peering at the screen intently, scanning every face.

‘Lorraine? Hello? You still there?’

‘Yes.’

‘Ronnie’s a survivor. He’ll be OK.’

The kettle switched itself off with a click. Survivor. Her sister had used that word as well.

Survivor.

Shit, Ronnie, you’d better be.

A beeping sound told her there was a call waiting. Barely able to contain herself she shouted excitedly, ‘Sue, that might be him! Call you straight back!’

Oh, God, Ronnie, please be on the phone. Please. Please let this be you!

But it was her sister. ‘Lori, I just heard that all flights in the US have been grounded.’ Mo worked as a stewardess for British Airways long-haul.

‘What – what does that mean?’

‘They’re not letting any planes in or out. I was meant to be flying to Washington tomorrow. Everything’s grounded.’

Lorraine felt a new wave of panic. ‘Until when?’

‘I don’t know – until further notice.’

‘Does that mean Ronnie might not get back tomorrow?’

‘I’m afraid so. I’ll find out more later in the day, but they’re making all planes that are heading to the States turn back. Which means the planes will be in the wrong places. It’s going to be chaos.’

‘Great,’ Lorraine said glumly. ‘That’s just bloody great. When do you think he might get back?’

‘I don’t know – I’ll get an update as soon as I can.’

Lorraine heard a child calling, and Mo saying, ‘One minute, darling. Mummy’s on the phone.’

Lorraine crushed out her cigarette. Then she jumped down from the stool, still watching the television screen, pulled out a tea bag and a mug, and poured in the water. Still without taking her eyes from the screen, she stepped back and bumped her hip, painfully, into the corner of the kitchen table.

‘Shit! Fuck!’

She looked down for a moment. Saw the fresh red mark among the uneven line of bruises, some black and fresh, some yellow and almost gone. Ronnie was clever, he always hit her in the body, never her face. Always made bruises she could easily hide.

Always cried and begged forgiveness after one of his – increasingly frequent – drunken rages.

And she always forgave him.

Forgave him because of the deep inadequacy she felt. She knew how badly he wanted the one thing she had not been able, so far, to give him. The child he so desperately wanted.

And because she was terrified of losing him.

And because she loved him.

33

OCTOBER 2007

It hadn’t been the best weekend of his life, Roy Grace thought to himself at 8 o’clock on Monday morning, as he sat in the tiny, cramped dentist’s waiting room, flicking through the pages of Sussex Life. In fact, it didn’t really feel as if the previous week had actually ended.

Dr Frazer Theobald’s post-mortem had gone on interminably, finally finishing around 9 p.m. on Saturday. And Cleo, who had been fine during the post-mortem, had been uncharacteristically ratty with him yesterday.

Both of them knew it was no one’s fault that their weekend plans had been ruined, yet somehow he felt she was blaming him, just the way Sandy used to blame him when he’d arrive home hours late, or have to cancel some long-term plan at the last minute because an emergency had come up. As if it was his fault a jogger had discovered a dead body in a ditch late on a Friday afternoon, instead of at a more convenient time.

Cleo knew the score. She knew the world of the police and their erratic hours better than most – her own weren’t much different. She could be called out at any time of the day or night, and frequently was. So what was eating her?

She had even got annoyed with him when he’d gone back to his own house for a couple of hours to mow the badly overgrown lawn.

‘You wouldn’t have been able to mow it if we’d been up in London,’ she’d said. ‘So why now?’

It was his house that was the real problem, he knew. His house – his and Sandy’s house – still seemed a red rag to a bull with Cleo. Although he had recently removed a lot of Sandy’s possessions, Cleo still very rarely came round and always seemed uncomfortable when she did. They’d only made love there once, and it hadn’t been a good experience for either of them.

Since then they always slept at Cleo’s house. The nights they spent together were becoming increasingly frequent, and he now kept a set of shaving kit and washing stuff there, as well as a dark suit, fresh white shirt, plain tie and a pair of black shoes – his weekday work uniform.

It had been a good question and he didn’t tell her the truth, because that would have made things worse. The truth was that the skeleton had shaken him. He wanted to be on his own for a few hours, to reflect.

To think about how he would feel if it was Sandy.

His relationship with Cleo had gone way, way further than any other he had had since Sandy, but he was conscious that, despite all his efforts to move forward, Sandy remained a constant wedge between them. A few weeks ago at dinner, when they’d both had too much to drink, Cleo had let slip her concern about her biological clock ticking away. He knew she was starting to want commitment – and sensed she felt that, with Sandy in the way, she was never going to get it from him.

That wasn’t true. Roy adored her. Loved her. And had begun seriously to contemplate a life together with her.

Which was why he had been terribly hurt early yesterday evening when, having gone back to her house clutching a couple of bottles of their current favourite red Rioja wine, he had opened her front door with his key to be greeted by a tiny black puppy which sprinted towards him, put its paws around his leg and peed on his trainers.

‘Humphrey, meet Roy!’ she said. ‘Roy, meet Humphrey!’

‘Who – whose is this?’ he asked, bewildered.

‘Mine. I got him this afternoon. He’s a five-month-old rescue puppy – a Lab and Border Collie cross.’

Roy’s right foot felt uncomfortably warm as the urine seeped in. And a strange hot flush of confusion swirled through him as he knelt and felt the dog’s sandpapery tongue lick his hand. He was totally astonished.

‘You – you never told me you were getting a puppy!’

‘Yep, well, there’s lots you don’t tell me either, Roy,’ she said breezily.

*

An elderly woman came into the waiting room, gave him a suspicious look, as if to say, I’ve got the first appointment, sonny boy, then sat down.

Roy had a packed schedule. At 9 a.m. he was going to see Alison Vosper and have it out with her about Cassian Pewe. At 9.45, later than normal, he was holding the first briefing meeting of Operation Dingo – the random name thrown up by the Sussex House computer for the investigation into the death of the Unknown Female, as the skeleton in the storm drain was currently called. Then at 10.30 he was due at morning prayers – the jokey name given to the newly reinstated weekly management team meetings.

At midday he was scheduled to hold a press conference on the finding of the skeleton. Not a huge amount to tell at this point, but hopefully by revealing the age of the dead woman, the physical characteristics and the approximate period when she died, it might jog someone’s memory about a mis-per from around that time. Supposing, of course, that it was not Sandy.

‘Roy! Good to see you!’

Steve Cowling stood in the doorway in his white gown, beaming with his perfect white teeth. A tall man in his mid-fifties, with a ramrod-straight military bearing, immaculate hair becoming increasingly grey every time Roy saw him, he exuded charm and confidence in equal measure, combined always with a certain boyish enthusiasm, as if teeth really were the most exciting thing in the world.

‘Come in, old chap!’

Grace gave an apologetic nod to the elderly lady, who looked distinctly miffed, and followed the dentist in to his bright, airy torture chamber.

While, like himself, Steve Cowling grew a little older with each visit, the dentist had an endless succession of assistants who grew younger and more attractive. The latest, a leggy brunette in her early twenties, holding a buff envelope, smiled at him, then removed a clutch of negatives and handed them to Cowling with a flirty glance.

He picked up the alginate cast Roy had given him twenty minutes earlier. ‘Right, Roy. This is really quite interesting. The first thing I have to say is that it is definitely not Sandy.’

‘It’s not?’ he echoed, a little flatly.

‘Absolutely not.’ Cowling pointed at the negatives. ‘Those are Sandy’s – there’s no comparison at all. But the cast provides quite a lot of information that may be helpful.’ He gave Grace a bright smile.

‘Good.’

‘This woman has had implants, which would have been quite expensive when they were done. Screw-type titanium – made by a Swiss company, Straumann. They’re basically a hollow cylinder put over a root, which then grows into them and makes a permanent fixing.’

Grace felt a conflicting surge of emotions as he listened, trying to concentrate but finding it hard suddenly.

‘What is interesting, old boy, is that we can put a rough date on these – which corresponds to an estimate of how long ago this woman died. They started going out of fashion about fifteen years ago. She’s had some other quite costly work done, some restorations and bridge work. If she’s from this area, then I would say there are only about five or six dentists who could have done this work. A good place to start would be Chris Gebbie, who practises in Lewes. I’ll write down the others for you as well. And it means that she’d have been reasonably well off.’

Grace listened, but his thoughts were elsewhere. If this skeleton had been Sandy, however grim, it would have brought some kind of closure. But now the agony of uncertainty continued.

He didn’t know whether he felt disappointed or relieved.

34

SEPTEMBER 2007

The stench that erupted from the car’s boot made everyone on the river bank gag. It was like a blocked drain that had suddenly been cleared and months – maybe years – of trapped gases from decomposition were freed into the air, all at once.

Lisa backed away in shock, pinching her nose shut with her fingers, and closed her eyes for a moment. The searing midday sun and the relentless flies somehow made things even worse. When she opened her eyes and took in a gulp of air just through her mouth, the smell was still as bad. She was really struggling not to vomit.

MJ didn’t look like he was finding this any easier, but both of them were doing better than the panicky cop, who had turned away from the car and was now on his knees, actually throwing up. Holding her breath, ignoring the cautionary pull on her hand from MJ, Lisa took a few steps towards the rear of the car and peered in.

And wished she hadn’t. The ground beneath her feet suddenly felt unsteady. She gripped MJ’s hand tightly.

She saw what looked at first like a shop-window dummy that had melted in a fire, before realizing that it was the body of a woman. She was filling most of the deep boot space, lying partially submerged in slimy, glistening black water that was steadily draining away. Her shoulder-length fair hair was splayed out like matted weed. Her breasts had a soapy colour and texture, and there were large black blotches covering much of her skin.

‘Has she been burned?’ MJ, who was curious about everything, asked the shorter cop.

‘That’s – no – no, mate, that’s not burning. Skin slippage.’

Lisa looked at the cadaver’s face, but it was bloated and shapeless, like the half-melted head of a snowman. Her pubic hair was intact, a thick brown triangle looking so fresh it seemed unreal, as if someone had just stuck it on as a grotesque joke. She felt almost guilty looking at it. Guilty being here, staring at this body, as if death was a private thing and she was intruding.

But she could not tear her eyes away. The same questions kept going round and round in her mind. What happened to you, you poor thing? Who did this to you?

Eventually, the panicky cop recovered his composure and moved them back abruptly, saying this was a crime scene and he would need to tape it off.

They edged back several paces, unable to avert their eyes, as if they were watching some episode from CSI in real time. Shocked, gripped and numb – but curious as the circus grew. MJ produced some water and baseball caps from the car and Lisa drank gratefully, then pulled a cap on to keep the searing heat off her head.

A white crime scene van arrived first. Two men in slacks and T-shirts climbed out and began pulling on white protective suits. Then a smaller, blue van from which a crime scene photographer emerged. A short while later, a blue VW Golf arrived and a young woman climbed out. She was in her twenties, in jeans and a white blouse, with a frizz of fair hair, and stood for some moments observing the scene. She was holding a notebook in one hand and a small tape recorder. Then she walked over to MJ and Lisa.

‘You’re the ones who found the car?’ She had a pleasant but brisk voice.

Lisa pointed at MJ. ‘He did.’

‘I’m Angela Parks,’ she said. ‘From the Age. Could you tell me what happened?’

A dusty gold Holden was now pulling up. As MJ told his story, Lisa watched two men in white shirts and ties climb out. One was stocky, with a serious, boyish face, while the other looked like a bruiser: tall, powerfully built – if a little overweight – with a bald head and a narrow ginger moustache. He had an expression like thunder – probably from being called out on a weekend, Lisa thought, though she rapidly discovered otherwise.

‘You bloody idiot!’ he yelled at the panicky cop, by way of a greeting, standing some distance back from the crime scene tape. ‘What a fuck-up! Didn’t yer ever do any basic fucking training? What have you done to my crime scene? You’ve not just contaminated it, you’ve fucking desecrated it! Who the fuck told you to move the car out of the water?’

The panicky cop seemed lost for words for some moments. ‘Yeah, well, sorry about that, sir. Guess we screwed up a bit.’

‘You’re fucking standing in the middle of it now!’

The stocky one walked over to Lisa and MJ and nodded at the reporter. ‘How you doing, Angela?’

‘Yeah, OK. Nice to see you, Detective Sergeant Burg,’ she said.

Then his colleague, the bruiser, walked across in big sturdy strides, as if he owned the river bank and all around it. He gave a cursory nod to the journalist and then addressed Lisa and MJ. ‘Detective Senior Sergeant George Fletcher,’ he said. His manner was professional and surprisingly gentle. ‘You the couple that found the car?’

MJ nodded. ‘Yep.’

‘I’m going to need a statement from you both. Would you mind coming to Geelong Police Station?’

MJ looked at Lisa, then at the detective. ‘You mean now?’

‘Some time today.’

‘Of course. But I don’t think there’s a lot we can tell you.’

‘Thank you, but I’ll be the judge of that. My sergeant will take your names and addresses and contact phone numbers before we leave.’

The journalist held out her recorder to the detective. ‘Detective Senior Sergeant Fletcher, do you think there is any connection between the Melbourne gangs and this dead woman?’

‘You’ve been here longer than I have, Ms Parks. I don’t have any comment for you at this stage. Let’s find out who she is first.’

‘Was?’ the journalist corrected him.

‘Well, if you want to be that pedantic, let’s wait for the police surgeon to turn up and make sure she is actually dead.’

He gave a challenging grin, but no one smiled.

35

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Still nobody spoke except the driver, who talked non-stop. He was like a television in a bar, with the volume irritatingly high, that you couldn’t switch off or change channels. Ronnie was trying to listen to the news that was coming out of the pick-up truck’s radio and to collect his own thoughts, and the driver was preventing him from doing either.

What’s more, the strong Brooklyn accent made it hard for Ronnie to decipher what he actually said. But as the man was being kind and giving him a ride, he could hardly tell him to shut up. So he sat there, half listening, nodding from time to time and occasionally saying, ‘Yep,’ or ‘No shit,’ or ‘You have to be kidding,’ depending on which he deemed the most appropriate.

The man had trashed most of the ethnic minorities of This Great Country and now he was talking about his ladders in the South Tower. He seemed pretty bothered about them. He was pretty bothered about the IRS too, and began trashing the US taxation system.

Then he lapsed back into a few moments of merciful silence and let the radio speak. All the ghosts behind Ronnie in the pickup truck remained silent. Maybe they were listening to the radio, maybe they were in too much shock to absorb anything.

It was a litany. A list of all the stuff that had happened that he already knew. And some time soon George Bush was going to be saying something. Meantime, Mayor Giuliani was on his way downtown. America was under attack. There would be more information as it came in.

Inside Ronnie’s mind, his plan was coming together steadily.

They were gliding along a wide, silent street. To their right was a threadbare grass verge with trees and lampposts. Beyond the grass was a pathway, or a cycleway, and then a railing, and beyond that another street, running parallel, with cars and vans parked along it, and red-brick apartment buildings that were not too tall, nothing like the Manhattan monoliths. After half a mile or so they gave way to big, angular, detached dwellings that might have been single-occupancy or divided into apartments. It looked a prosperous area. Pleasant and tranquil.

They passed a road sign which said ‘Ocean Parkway’.

He watched an elderly couple walking slowly on the sidewalk and wondered if they knew the drama that was unfolding just a short distance away across the river. It didn’t seem like it. If they had heard, they would surely now be glued to their television set. Apart from them, there was not a soul in sight. OK, at this time of day, during the week, a lot of people would ordinarily have been in their offices. But mothers would be out pushing infants in strollers. People would be walking dogs. Youths would be loitering. There was no one. The traffic seemed light too. Much too light.

‘Where are we?’ he said to the driver.

‘Brooklyn.’

‘Ah, right,’ Ronnie said. ‘Still Brooklyn.’

He saw a sign on a building saying YESHIVA CENTER. It seemed like they had been driving for an age. He hadn’t realized Brooklyn was so large. Large enough to get lost in, to disappear in.

Some words came into his head. It was a line from a Marlowe play, The Jew of Malta, that he’d gone to see recently with Lorraine and the Klingers at the Theatre Royal in Brighton.

But that was in another country.

And besides, the wench is dead.

The street continued dead straight ahead. They crossed an intersection, where the elegant red brick gave way to more modern pre-cast concrete blocks. Then, suddenly, they were driving along beneath the dark green steel L-Train overpass.

The driver said, ‘Rushons. This whole fuggin’ area is now Rushon.’

‘Rushon?’ Ronnie queried, not knowing what he meant.

The driver pointed to a row of garish store fronts. A nail studio. The Shostakovich Music, Art and Sport School. There was Russian writing everywhere. He saw a pharmacy sign in Cyrillic. Unless you spoke Russian, you wouldn’t know what half these stores were. And he didn’t speak a word.

Rushon. Now Ronnie understood.

‘Little Odessa,’ the driver said. ‘Yuge fuggin’ colony. Didn’t used to be, not when I was a kid. Perestroika, glasnost, right? They let them travel, waddya know? They all come here! Whole world’s changing – know what I’m saying?’

Ronnie was tempted to shut the man up by telling him that the world had changed once for the Native Americans too, but he didn’t want to get thrown out of the truck.

So he just said another, ‘Yep.’

They made a right turn into a residential cul-de-sac. At the far end was a row of black bollards with a boardwalk beyond, and a beach beyond that. And then the ocean.

‘Brighton Beach. Good place. Be safe here. Safe from the planes,’ the driver said, indicating to Ronnie that this was journey’s end.

The driver turned to the ghosts behind. ‘Coney Island. Brighton Beach. I gotta get back to find my ladders, my harnesses, all my stuff. Expensive stuff, you know.’

Ronnie unclipped his seat belt, thanked the man profusely and shook his big, callused hand.

‘Be safe, buddy.’

‘You too.’

‘You bet.’

Ronnie opened the door and jumped down on to the tarmac. There was a tang of sea salt in the air. And just a faint smell of burning and aviation fuel. Faint enough to make him feel safe here. But not so faint that he felt free of what he had just been through.

Without casting a backwards glance at the ghosts, he walked on to the boardwalk, with almost a spring in his step, and pulled his mobile phone from his pocket to check that it was definitely off.

Then he stopped and stared past the sandy beach at the vast flat expanse of rippling, green-blue ocean and the hazy smudge of land miles in the distance. He took in a deep breath. Followed by another. His plan was still only very vague and needed a lot of work.

But he felt excited.

Elated.

Not many people in New York on the morning of 9/11 punched the air in glee. But Ronnie Wilson did.

36

OCTOBER 2007

Abby sat cradling a cup of tea in her trembling hands, staring through a gap in the blinds down at the street below. Her eyes were raw from three sleepless nights in a row. Fear swirled inside her.

I know where you are.

Her suitcase was by the front door, packed and zipped shut. She looked at her watch: 8.55. In five minutes she would make the call she had been planning to make all yesterday, just as soon as office hours started. It was ironic, she thought, that for most of her life she had disliked Monday mornings. But all of yesterday she had willed it to come.

She felt more scared than she had ever felt in her life.

Unless she was completely mistaken, and panicking needlessly, he was out there somewhere, waiting and watching. Her card marked. Waiting and watching and angry.

Had he done something to the lift? And its alarm? Would he have known what to do? She repeated the questions to herself, over and over.

Yes, he’d been a mechanic once. He could fix mechanical and electrical things. But why would he have done something to the lift?

She tried to get her head around that. If he really knew where she was, why hadn’t he just lain in wait for her? What did he have to gain by getting her stuck in the lift? If he wanted time to try to break in, why hadn’t he just waited until she went out?

Was she, in her panicked state, simply putting two and two together and getting five?

Maybe. Maybe not. She just didn’t know. So most of the day, yesterday, instead of going out, buying the Sunday papers and lounging in front of the television, as she would ordinarily have done, she sat here, in the same spot where she was now, watching the street below, passing the time by listening to one Spanish lesson after another on her headphones, pronouncing, and repeating, words and sentences out aloud.

It had been a foul Sunday, a south-westerly twisting off the English Channel, continuing to blast the rain on the pavement, the puddles, the parked cars, the passers-by.

And it was the cars and the passers-by that she was watching, like a hawk, through the rain that was still pelting down today. She checked all the parked cars and vans first thing, when she woke up. Only a couple had changed from the night before. It was a neighbourhood where there was insufficient street parking, so once people found a space, they tended to leave their cars until they really needed to go somewhere. Otherwise, the moment they drove off, another vehicle took their place, and when they came back they might have to park several streets away.

She’d had two visitors yesterday, a photographer from the Argus, whom she’d told on the entryphone to go away, and the caretaker, Tomasz, who had come to apologize, maybe concerned for his job and hoping she wouldn’t make a complaint about him if he was nice to her. He explained that vandals must have broken into the lift motor-room and tampered with the brake mechanism and electrics. Low-lifes, he said. He had found a couple of syringes in there. But he wasn’t able to explain convincingly to her why the alarm system, which should have rung through to his flat, had failed to do so. He assured her the lift company was working on it, but the damage the firemen had done meant it would be several days before it was working again.

She got rid of him as quickly as she could, in order to return to her vigil of watching the street.

She called her mother, but she said nothing about receiving any phone calls from anyone. Abby continued the lie that she was still in Australia and having a great time.

Sometimes text messages went astray, got sent to wrong numbers by mistake. Could this have been one?

I know where you are.

Possible.

Coming on top of the lift getting stuck, was she jumping to conclusions in her paranoid state? It was comforting to think that. But complacency was the one luxury she could not afford. She had gone into this knowing the risks involved. Knowing that she would only get away with it by living on her wits, 24/7, for however long it took.

The only thing that had made her smile yesterday was another of his lovely texts. This one said:

You don’t love a woman because she is

beautiful, but she is beautiful because you

love her.

She had replied:

It’s beauty that captures your attention -

personality which captures your heart.

She saw nothing untoward in the street all Sunday. No strangers watching her. No Ricky. Just the rain. Just people. Life going on.

Normal life.

Something she was – for just a short while longer, she promised herself – no longer a part of. But all that would be changing soon.

37

OCTOBER 2007

Rain rattled down on the roof and the van rocked in strong gusts of wind. Although he was well wrapped up, he was still cold in here, only daring to run the engine occasionally, not wanting to attract attention to himself. At least he had a comfortable mattress, books, a Starbucks nearby and music on his iPod. There was a public toilet close by on the promenade with an adequate washing facility and it was conveniently out of sight of any of the city’s CCTV cameras. Very definitely a public convenience.

He had once read a line in a book someone had given him which said, Sex is the most fun you can have without laughing.

The book was wrong, he thought. Sometimes revenge could be fun too. Just as much fun as sex.

The van still had the FOR SALE note written in red ink on a strip of brown cardboard stuck in its passenger-door window, although he had actually bought it, for three hundred and fifty pounds cash, over two weeks ago. He knew Abby was sharp, and had observed her checking the vehicles daily. No point in removing the sign and alerting her to any change. So if the previous owner got pissed off with people phoning, wanting to buy it, tough. He hadn’t bought it because he needed transport. He had bought it for the view. He could see every window of her flat from here.

It was the perfect parking spot. The van had a valid tax disc and MOT and residents’ parking sticker. All of them ran out in three months’ time.

By then he would be long gone.

38

OCTOBER 2007

It was the same every damn time. Whatever confidence Roy Grace felt when he set off to come to this impressive place deserted him when he actually arrived.

Malling House, the headquarters of Sussex Police, was just a fifteen-minute drive from his office. But in atmosphere, it was on a different planet. Strike that, he thought as drove past the raised barrier of the security gate, it was in a whole different universe.

It sat within a ragbag complex of buildings on the outskirts of Lewes, the county town of East Sussex, housing the administration and key management for the five thousand officers and employees of the Sussex Police Force.

Two buildings stood out prominently. One, a three-storey, futuristic glass and brick structure, contained the Control Centre, the Crime Recording and Investigation Bureau, the Call Handling Centre and the Force Command Centre, as well as most of the computing hardware for the force. The other, an imposing redbrick Queen Anne mansion, once a private stately home and now a Grade 1 listed building, was what had given its name to the HQ.

Although conjoined to the ramshackle sprawl of car parks, single-storey pre-fabs, modern low-rise structures and one dark, windowless building, complete with a tall smokestack, which always reminded Grace of a Yorkshire textile mill, the mansion stood proudly aloof. Inside were housed the offices of the Chief Constable, the Deputy Chief Constable and the Assistant Chief Constables, of whom Alison Vosper was one, together with their support staff, as well as a number of other senior officers working either temporarily or permanently out of these headquarters.

Grace found a bay for his Alfa Romeo, then he made his way to Alison Vosper’s office, which was on the ground floor at the front of the mansion. It had a view through a large sash window out on to a gravel driveway and a circular lawn beyond. It must be nice to work in a room like this, he thought, in this calm oasis, away from the cramped, characterless spaces of Sussex House. Sometimes he thought he might enjoy the responsibility – and the power trip that came with it – but then he would always wonder whether he could cope with the politics. Especially the damned, insidious, political correctness that the brass had to kowtow to a lot more than the ranks.

The ACC could be your new best friend one day and your worst enemy the next. It had seemed a long time since she had been anything but the latter to Grace, as he stood now in front of her desk, used to the fact that she rarely invited visitors to sit down, in order to keep meetings short and to the point.

Today he was actually rather hoping he wouldn’t get invited to sit down. He wanted to deliver his angry message standing up, with the advantage of height.

She didn’t disappoint him. Giving him a cold, hard stare, she said, ‘Yes, Roy?’

And he felt himself trembling. As if he had been summoned to his headmaster’s study at school.

In her early forties, with wispy blonde hair cut conservatively short, and framing a hard but attractive face, Assistant Chief Constable Alison Vosper was very definitely not happy this morning. Power-dressed in a navy suit and a crisp white blouse, she was sitting behind her expansive, immaculately tidy rosewood desk with an angry expression on her face.

Grace always wondered how his superiors kept their offices – and their desks – so tidy. All his working life, his own work spaces had been tips. Repositories of sprawling files, unanswered correspondence, lost pens, travel receipts and out-trays that had long given up on the struggle to keep pace with the in-trays. To get to the very top, he had once decided, required some kind of a paperwork management skill for which he was lacking the gene.

Rumour was that Alison Vosper had had a breast cancer operation three years ago. But Grace knew that’s all it would ever be, just rumour, because she kept a wall around herself. Nonetheless, behind her hard-cop carapace, there was a certain vulnerability that he connected to. In truth, she wasn’t at all bad-looking, and there were occasions when those waspish brown eyes of hers twinkled with humour and he sensed she might almost be flirting with him. This morning was not one of them.

‘Thanks for your time, Ma’am.’

‘I’ve literally got five minutes.’

‘OK.’

Shit. Already his confidence was crumbling.

‘I wanted to talk to you about Cassian Pewe.’

‘Detective Superintendent Pewe?’ she said, as if delivering a subtle reminder of the man’s position.

He nodded.

She opened her arms expansively. ‘Yes?’

She had slender wrists and finely manicured hands, which seemed, somehow, slightly older and more mature than the rest of her. As if making a statement to show that although the police force was no longer a man-only world, there was still considerable male dominance, she wore a big, loud, man’s wristwatch.

‘The thing is…’ He hesitated, the words he had planned to deliver tripping over themselves inside his head.

‘Yes?’ She sounded impatient.

‘Well – he’s a smart guy.’

‘He’s a very smart guy.’

‘Absolutely.’ Roy was struggling under her glare. ‘The thing is – he rang me on Saturday. On Operation Dingo. He said you’d suggested that he call me – that I might need a hand.’

‘Correct.’ She took a dainty sip of water from a crystal tumbler on her desk.

Struggling under her laser stare, he said, ‘I’m just not sure that’s the best use of resources.’

‘I think I should be the judge of that,’ she retorted.

‘Well, of course – but-’

‘But?’

‘This is a slow-time case. That skeleton has been there ten to fifteen years.’

‘And have you identified it yet?’

‘No, but I have good leads. I’m hoping for progress today from dental records.’

She screwed the top back on the bottle and set it down on to the floor. Then she placed her elbows on the shiny rosewood and interlocked her fingers. He smelled her scent. It was different from the last time he had been here, just a few weeks ago. Muskier. Sexier. In his wildest fantasies he had wondered what it might be like to make love to this woman. He imagined she would be in total control, all of the time. And that as easily as she could arouse a man, she could rapidly make his dick shrivel in terror.

‘Roy, you know that the Metropolitan Police have been one of the first forces in the UK to start getting rid of bureaucracy on arrests? That they now employ civilians to process criminals so police officers don’t have to spend two to four hours on paperwork on every person they arrest?’

‘Yes, I had heard that.’

‘They’re the biggest and most innovative police force in the UK. So don’t you think we can learn something from Cassian?’

He noted the use of the man’s first name. ‘I’m sure we can – I don’t doubt that.’

‘Have you thought about your personal development record this year, Roy?’

‘My record?’

‘Yes. What’s your assessment of how you have done?’

He shrugged. ‘Without blowing my own trumpet, I think I’ve done well. We got a life sentence on Suresh Hossain. Three serious crime cases solved, successfully. Two major criminals awaiting trial. And some real progress on several cold cases.’

She looked at him for some moments in silence, then she asked, ‘How do you define success?’

He chose his words carefully, aware of what might come next. ‘Apprehending perpetrators, securing charges against them from the Crown Prosecution Service and getting convictions.’

‘Apprehending suspects regardless of cost or danger to the public or your officers?’

‘All risks have to be assessed in advance – when practical. In the heat of a situation, it’s not always practical. You know that. You must have been in situations where you had to make snap decisions.’

She nodded and was silent for some moments. ‘Well, that’s great, Roy. I’m sure that helps you to sleep at night.’ Then she fell silent again, shaking her head in a way that he really did not like.

He heard a distant phone ringing, unanswered, in another office. Then Alison Vosper’s mobile pinged with a text. She picked it up, glanced at it and put it back down on her desk.

‘I look at it slightly differently, Roy. And so do the Independent Police Complaints Authority. OK?’

Grace shrugged. ‘In what way?’ He already knew some of the answers.

‘Let’s look at your three major operations in the past few months. Operation Salsa. During a chase you were handling personally, an elderly member of the public was hijacked and physically injured. Two suspects died in a car crash – and you were in the pursuit car right behind them. In Operation Nightingale, one of your officers was shot and another was severely injured in a pursuit – which also resulted in an accident causing serious injury to an off-duty police officer.’

That officer had been Cassian Pewe. Delaying his start here by some months.

She continued. ‘You had a helicopter crash, and an entire building burned down – leaving three bodies beyond identification. And in Operation Chameleon you allowed your suspect to be pursued on to a railway line, where he was maimed. Are you proud of all this? You don’t think there is room for improvement with your methods?’

Actually, Roy Grace thought, he was proud. Extremely proud of everything but the injuries to his officers, for which he would always blame himself. Maybe she genuinely did not know the background – or she was choosing to ignore it.

He was cautious in his reply. ‘When you look at an operation after the event, you can always see ways you could have improved it.’

‘Exactly,’ she said. ‘That’s all Detective Superintendent Pewe is here to do. Bring the benefit of his experience with the best police force in the UK.’

He would have liked to have replied, Actually, you are wrong. The guy is a total wanker. But his earlier feeling that Alison Vosper had some other agenda with this man was even stronger now. Maybe she really was shagging him. Unlikely, for sure, but there was something between them, some hold over her that Pewe had. Whatever, it was clear that at this moment he was definitely not teacher’s pet.

So, on one of the rare occasions in his career, he played along with the politics.

‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Thanks for clarifying that. It’s really helpful.’

‘Good,’ she said.

As Grace left the room, he was deep in thought. There had been four Senior Investigating Officers at Sussex House for the past five years. The system was fine. They didn’t need any more. Now they had five, at a time when they were short of recruits lower down and running way over budget. It would not be long before Vosper and her colleagues started reducing the number back down to four. And no prizes for guessing who would be axed – or, rather, transferred to the back of beyond.

He needed a plan. Something that would cause Cassian Pewe to shoot himself in the foot.

And at this moment he didn’t have one.

39

OCTOBER 2007

He could have murdered a Starbucks latte. Or any freshly ground coffee. But he didn’t dare leave his observation post. There was only one way out of her building, regardless of whether she used the lift or the fire escape staircase, and that was through the front door he was staring at. He wasn’t taking any chances. She had remained inside for too long, much longer than normal, and he had a feeling she was up to something.

Finding her had been hard enough – and expensive enough. With just one piece of luck on his side: an old friend in the right place.

Well, actually the wrong place, because Donny Winters was in jail for identify theft and fraud, but it was Ford Open Prison, where visiting hours were reasonable and it was under an hour’s drive from here. It had been a risk going to see him, and it had cost him, for the bungs Donny said he would need.

He’d been right, of course, in his hunch. All women called their mums. And Abby’s mum was sick. Abby thought she would be safe, calling from a pay-as-you-go mobile with the number withheld. Stupid cow.

Stupid, greedy cow.

He smiled at the GSM 3060 Intercept, which sat on a wooden vegetable box in front of him now. If you were in range of either the mobile handset making the call or the mobile receiving it, you could listen in and, very usefully, see the number of the caller, even if it was withheld, and the recipient, regardless of whether it was a mobile or landline. But of course she wouldn’t know that.

He’d simply camped out in a rental car close to her mother’s flat in Eastbourne and waited for Abby to call. He hadn’t had to wait long. Then it had taken Donny just one call, to a bent mate who worked on an installation team rigging mobile phone radio masts. Within two days he had established the location of the mast which had picked up the signals from Abby’s phone.

He learned that mobile phone masts in densely populated cities were rarely more than a few hundred yards apart, and often even closer together than that. And he learned from Donny that, in addition to receiving and transmitting calls, mobile phone masts act as beacons. Even on stand-by, a phone keeps in touch with its nearest beacon, constantly transmitting a greeting signal and receiving one back.

The pattern of signals from Abby’s phone showed she barely went out of range of one particular beacon, a Vodaphone macrocell sited at the junction of Eastern Road and Boundary Road in Kemp Town.

This was a short distance from Marine Parade, which ran from the Palace Pier to the Marina, fronted on one side by some of the finest Regency fac¸ades in the city and on the other by a railed promenade and views out across the beach and the English Channel. There was a rabbit warren of streets immediately off and behind Marine Parade, most of them residential, almost all of them containing a mix of flats, cheap hotels and B &Bs.

He remembered how much she loved the sea view from his own flat and he figured she would be close to the sea now. And almost certainly have some kind of a view of it. Which had made it a simple measuring job to identify the group of streets in which she must be residing. All he’d had to do was patrol around them, disguised, in the hope that she would appear. And that had happened within three days. He had spotted her going into a newsagent on Eastern Road, then followed her back to her front door.

It had been tempting to grab her then and there, but too risky. There were people around. All she had to do was shout, and game over. That was the problem. That was the advantage she had over him. And she knew it.

The rain was coming down even harder now, drumming noisily, reverberating all around him. On a day like this it would have been nice to have room service, he thought. But hey, you couldn’t have everything! Not, at any rate, without a little patience.

He used to go fishing with his dad when he was a kid. Like him, his dad had always been into gizmos. He’d bought one of the earliest electronic floats. The first strike from a fish, pulling the float under, would trigger a short, high-pitched beep from the little transmitter on the ground beside their folding chairs.

It was similar to the beep he heard now from his interceptor system, as he flipped through the pages of the Daily Mail, a distinct, sharp, high-pitched beep. Followed by another.

The bitch was making a phone call.

40

OCTOBER 2007

The automated voice said, ‘Thank you for calling Global Express. Please press any key to continue. Thank you. To check the status of a delivery, please press 1. To request a collection, press 2. If you are an account customer requesting a collection, press 3. If you are a new customer requesting a collection, press 4. For all other enquiries, press 5.’

Abby pressed 4.

‘For deliveries within the UK, please press 1. For overseas deliveries, press 2.’

She pressed 1.

There was a brief silence. She hated these automated systems. Then she heard a couple of clicks, followed by a young, male voice.

‘Global Express. Jonathan speaking. How can I help you?’

Jonathan sounded like he’d be better suited helping young men into trousers in a gents’ outfitters.

‘Hi, Jonathan,’ she said. ‘I have a package I need delivered.’

‘No problem at all. Would that be letter size? Parcel size? Larger than that?’

‘An A4 envelope about an inch thick,’ she said.

‘No problem at all,’ Jonathan assured her. ‘And where would that be going?’

‘To an address just outside Brighton,’ she said.

‘No problem at all. And where would we be picking up from?’

‘From Brighton,’ Abby said. ‘Well, Kemp Town, actually.’

‘No problem at all.’

‘How soon can you collect?’ she asked.

‘In your area – one moment – we will collect between 4 and 7.’

‘Not before?’

‘No problem at all, but that would be an extra charge.’

She thought quickly. If the weather remained like this it would be fairly dark by about 5 o’clock. Would that be an advantage or a disadvantage?

‘Will you be sending a bike or a van?’ she asked.

‘For overnight it will be a van,’ Jonathan replied.

A revised plan was forming in her mind. ‘Is it possible you could ask them not to come before 5.30?’

‘Not to come before 5.30? Let me just check.’

There were some moments of silence. She was trying hard to think this through. So many variables. Then there was a click and Jonathan was back with her.

‘No problem at all.’

41

SEPTEMBER 2007

Oh yes, what a great place to be – not – on a Monday morning this was, thought Detective Senior Sergeant George Fletcher. It was bad enough to have a blinding hangover on a Monday morning. But being here, in the Forensic Pathology department of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, greatly compounded it. And he hated all this bullshit newspeak. It was the city morgue, for God’s sake. It was the place where dead bodies got even more dead. It was the last place before the cemetery where you’d ever have your name on the guest check-in register.

And at this moment he was being assaulted by a grinding, whining sound that shook every atom in his body as he stood in the cramped CT room, watching the body of Unidentified Female pass slowly through the doughnut-shaped hoop of the CT scanner.

She had not been touched since being removed from the boot of the car yesterday, bagged and brought here, where she had been stored in a fridge overnight. The smell was unpleasant. A cloying stink of drains and a sharp, sour odour that reminded George of pond weed. He not only had to fight the pounding noise in his brain, but the heavings inside his stomach. The woman’s skin had a soapy, bloated look, with large areas of black marbling. Her hair, which had probably been blonde and was still fair, was matted and had insects, bits of paper and what looked like a small bit of felt in it. It was hard to make out the features of her face as part of it had either rotted or been nibbled away. The pathologist put her age, as a guesstimate, at mid-thirties.

George was dressed in a green gown over his white shirt, tie and suit trousers, and white rubber boots, like his colleague, DS Troy Burg, beside him. Thin, wiry-haired and with a prickly attitude, Barry Manx, the Senior Forensic Technician, operated the machine, and the pathologist stood running his eyes up and down the woman’s body, reading it like the pages of a book.

It was routine that all bodies admitted here for post-mortem were scanned, checking primarily for signs of any infectious disease, before they were opened up.

Unidentified Female’s flesh was missing in several places. Her lips had partially gone, as had one ear, and bones showed through the fingers of her left hand. Although she had been sealed in the boot of a car, plenty of aquatic wildlife had, nonetheless, managed to gain entry and had had a good time feasting on her remains.

George had had a good time yesterday with his wife, Janet, feasting on his cooking. A few months back he had enrolled on a cookery course at the technical college in Geelong. He’d prepared a meal last night of stir-fried Morton Bay Bugs, followed by garlic-marinated rib-eye beef, finishing with kiwi panacotta. And accompanied by-

He groaned, silently, at the memory.

Far too much Margaret River Zinfandel.

And now it was all coming back to bite him.

He could do with water now, and a strong black coffee, he thought, as he walked behind Burg down a shiny, spotless, windowless corridor.

The post-mortem room was not his favourite place. Not at any time of any day and least of all with a hangover. It was a cavernous arena which felt like a cross between an operating theatre and a factory floor. The ceiling was aluminium with massive air ducts and recessed lights, while a forest of booms swung out from the walls, containing spotlights and electrical sockets which could be directed over any part of a body under inspection. The floor was a deep blue, as if in an attempt to bring some cheer into the place, and along each side were work surfaces, trolleys of surgical instruments, red trash cans with yellow liners, and hoses.

Five thousand cadavers were processed here each year.

He slipped a couple of paracetamol capsules into his mouth, swallowing each one with difficulty with his own saliva. A forensic photographer was taking pictures of the corpse and a retired policeman George had known for years, who was now the Coroner’s Officer for this case, stood on the far side of the room, by a work table, leafing through the brief dossier that had been put together, including the photographs taken at the river yesterday.

The pathologist worked at a brisk pace, stopping every few minutes to dictate into his machine. As the morning ticked away, George, whose presence here, along with Troy’s, was almost superfluous, spent most of the time in a quiet corner of the room, working on his mobile phone, assembling his inquiry team and assigning each of them duties, as well as preparing for the first press conference, which he was delaying as long as possible in the hope of getting some positive information from the pathologist that he could release.

His two priorities at this moment were the woman’s identity and cause of death. Troy’s sick joke that maybe she had been trying to replicate one of Harry Houdini or David Blaine’s stunts might normally have raised a smile, but not today.

The pathologist pointed out to George that the hyoid bone was broken, which was an indicator of strangulation. But her eyes had deteriorated beyond the point of providing supporting evidence he might have got from petechial haemorrhaging, and her lungs were too badly decomposed to yield clues as to whether she was already dead when the car had gone into the water.

The condition of the woman’s flesh wasn’t good. Prolonged immersion in water caused degradation of not only all soft tissues and hair, but, most crucially, the nuclear – single-cell – DNA that could be obtained from them. If there was too much degradation, they would have to rely on the DNA from the woman’s bones, which provided a much less certain match.

When he wasn’t on the phone, George was propping himself quietly against a wall, badly wanting to sit down and close his eyes for a few moments. He was feeling his age. Policing was a young man’s game, he had thought more than once recently. He had three years to go before collecting his pension, and although he still enjoyed his work, most of the time, he looked forward to not having to keep his phone on day and night, and worry about being dispatched to some grim discovery in the middle of his Sunday morning lie-in.

‘George!’

Troy was calling him.

He walked over to the table the woman was lying on. The pathologist was holding something up with forceps. It looked like a dimpled, translucent jellyfish without tentacles.

‘Breast implant,’ the pathologist said. ‘She’s had a boob job.’

‘Reconstruction from breast cancer?’ George asked. A friend of Janet’s had recently had a mastectomy, and he knew a little about the subject.

‘No, just bigger boobs,’ the pathologist said. ‘Which is good news for us.’

George frowned.

‘All silicone breast implants have their manufacturer’s batch numbers stamped on them,’ the pathologist explained. ‘And each implant has a serial number that would be kept in the hospital register against the recipient’s name.’ He held the implant a little closer to George, until he could see a tiny row of embossed numbers. ‘That’ll take us to the manufacturer. Should be a shoo-in for you to find her identity.’

George returned to his phone calls. He made a quick one to Janet, to tell her he loved her. He had always called her, at least once a day from work, from almost their first date. And he meant what he said. He still loved her just as much all these years on. His mood had improved with the pathologist’s discovery. The paracetamols were kicking in nicely. He was even starting to think about lunch.

Then suddenly the pathologist called out, ‘George, this might be of real significance!’

He hurried back over to the table.

‘The uterus wall is thick,’ the pathologist said. ‘With a body that’s been immersed for a length of time like this, the uterus is one of the parts that degrades the slowest. And we’ve just got really lucky!’

‘We have?’ George said.

The pathologist nodded. ‘We’ll get our DNA now!’ He pointed down at the dissecting board that stood, on its steel legs, above the dead woman’s remains.

There was a mess of body fluids on it. In the midst sat a cream, internal organ, like a U-shaped sausage that had been sliced open. George could not identify it. But it was the object that lay in the middle that instantly drew his eye. For a moment he thought it was an undigested prawn in her intestine. But then, peering closer, he realized what it actually was.

And he lost all his appetite for lunch.

42

OCTOBER 2007

The first, and most welcome, sign that there had been a regime change at Sussex House was that senior CID officers here now actually had a parking bay of their own, and in the best position, outside the front of the building. Which meant that Roy Grace no longer had to drive around trying to find a space out on the street, or furtively leave his car in the ASDA supermarket car park across the street, like most of his colleagues, and then trudge back through the pissing rain, or take the muddy short cut through the bushes, followed by a death-defying leap off a brick wall.

Situated on a hill in what had been open countryside, a safe distance from Brighton and Hove, the Art Deco-influenced low-rise had originally been built as a hospital for contagious diseases. There had been several changes of use before the CID had taken it over, and at some point in its history the urban sprawl had caught up with it. It now sat rather incongruously in an industrial estate, directly opposite the ASDA which served as the building’s unofficial but handy canteen and parking overflow.

Since the very recent departure of the amiable but lax Detective Chief Superintendent Gary Weston, who had been promoted to Assistant Chief Constable in the Midlands, tough, no-nonsense, pipe-smoking Jack Skerritt was making his presence felt throughout the place. Skerritt, the former Commander of Brighton and Hove Uniform, who was fifty-two, combined old-school toughness with modern thinking, and was one of the most universally liked – and respected – police officers in the force. The return of this weekly meeting was his biggest innovation so far.

Another instantly noticeable change, Grace reflected, as he entered the front door and exchanged a cheery greeting with the two security guards, was that Skerritt had imposed a modern stamp on the entrance staircase. The displays of antique truncheons had been dispatched to a museum. The cream walls had been freshly painted and there was now a new, wide blue felt board containing photographs of all the senior personnel currently manning HQ CID.

Most prominent was the photograph of Jack Skerritt himself. He was a lean, square-jawed man, good-looking in a slightly old-fashioned Hollywood matinée-idol way. He had a stern expression, a slick of tidy brown hair, and was wearing a dark suit jacket and a muted, chequerboard tie. He exuded a commanding presence which seemed to be saying, Don’t fuck with me and I’ll be fair to you. Which was in fact the essence of the man.

Grace respected and admired him. He was the kind of policeman he would like to be. With three years to go before retirement, Skerritt didn’t give a stuff for political correctness, nor was he too concerned about directives from above. He saw his role as being to make the streets and homes and businesses of Sussex safe places for law-abiding citizens, and how he did it was his business. And in his past two years as Commander of Brighton and Hove, before this new posting here, he had made a considerable impact on crime levels across the city.

At the top of the stairs was a broad, carpeted landing, with a rubber plant that looked as if it was on growth hormones and a potted palm that looked as if it should have been in a hospice.

Grace pressed his card against the door security pad and entered the rarefied atmosphere of the command floor. Thisfirst sectionwas a large, open-plan area, with a dark orange carpet down the centre, with clusters of desks on either side for the support staff.

Senior departmental heads had their own offices. The door to one was open and Grace exchanged a nod with his friend Brian Cook, the Scientific Support Branch Manager, who was on his feet, finishing a call. He then hurried past the large, glassed-in office of Jack Skerritt, wanting a quick word with Eleanor Hodgson, his Management Support Assistant, as his PA was called these days in this bonkers, politically correct world.

Posters were stuck up all over the walls. A big red and orange one stood out the loudest:

RAT ON A RAT.

DRUG DEALERS RUIN LIVES.

TELL CRIMESTOPPERS WHO THEY ARE.

He hurried past his office and one marked ‘Detective Superintendent Gaynor Allen, Operations and Intelligence Branch’, and went over to where Eleanor was sitting.

It was a cluttered area of desks stacked with over-full red and black in-trays and littered with keypads, phones, file folders, writing pads and Post-it notes. A car ‘L’ plate had been stuck to the rear of one flat computer screen by some joker.

Eleanor’s was the only orderly desk. A rather prim, quietly efficient if nervy middle-aged woman with neat black hair and a plain, slightly old-fashioned face, she ran much of Roy Grace’s life for him. She was looking nervous now as he approached her, as if he was about to shout at her for some balls-up, although he had never once raised his voice at her in the eighteen months she had worked for him. It was just the way she was.

He asked her to check with the Thistle Hotel on the size of the tables for the Rugby Club Dinner for this December, and quickly ran through some urgent emails she drew to his attention, then, glancing at his watch and seeing it was two minutes after 10.30, he entered Skerritt’s spacious, impressive domain.

Like his own new office – he had recently been moved from one side of the building to the other – it had a view over the road towards ASDA. But that was where the similarity ended. While his just had room for his desk and a small round table, Skerritt’s cavernous room accommodated, as well as his large desk, a rectangular conference table.

There were changes in here too. Gone were the framed photographs of racehorses and greyhounds that had dominated the walls in Gary Weston’s day, showing his priorities in life. They had been replaced by a single framed photograph of two teenage boys, and several of Labrador dogs and puppies. Skerritt’s wife bred them, but they were also the police officer’s own passion – on his rare moments away from work.

Skerritt exuded a faint smell of pipe tobacco smoke, just as

Norman Potting usually did. On Potting, Grace found the smell noxious, but on Skerritt he liked it. It suited the senior officer, enhancing his tough-man image.

To his dismay, he saw Cassian Pewe seated at the table, along with the rest of the SIOs and other senior members of the Command Team. He did not imagine tobacco had ever crossed Cassian Pewe’s lips in his life.

The new Detective Superintendent greeted him with a reptilian smile and a treacly, ‘Hello, Roy, good to see you,’ and held out his moist hand. Roy shook it as briefly as he could, then took the only empty seat, muttering apologies for being late to Skerritt, who was a stickler for punctuality.

‘Good of you to make it, Roy,’ the Detective Chief Superintendent said.

He had a strong, classless voice that always sounded sarcastic, as if he had spent so much of his life interrogating lying suspects it had rubbed off permanently on him. Roy couldn’t tell now whether he was actually being sarcastic or not.

‘Right,’ Skerritt went on. ‘The business of today.’

He sat bolt upright, with a fine, confident posture, and had an air of being physically indestructible, as if he was hewn from granite. He read from a printed agenda in front of him. Someone passed a copy to Roy, which he glanced through. The usual stuff.

Minutes of previous meeting.

Annual motor incident report.

2010 Challenge Programme – shortfall of £8-10m.

Joining forces – update on merging Sussex and Surrey Police Forces…

Skerritt steered the assembled group through each of the items at a brisk pace. When they reached ‘Operational Updates’, Roy brought them up to speed on Operation Dingo. He did not have a lot of news for them at this stage, but told them he was hopeful that dental records might produce the dead woman’s identity quite quickly.

When he reached ‘Any Other Business’, Skerritt suddenly turned to Grace. ‘Roy, I’m making a few changes in the team.’

For a moment, Grace’s heart sank. Was the Vosper-Pewe conspiracy finally showing its colours?

‘I’m giving you Major Crime,’ Skerritt said.

Grace could hardly believe his ears, and indeed wondered if he had misheard, or misunderstood. ‘Major Crime?’

‘Yes, Roy, I’ve given it some thought.’ He pointed at his own head. ‘Up here in the old brainbox, you know. You keep your SIO roles, but I want you to head up Major Crime. You’re going to be my number two – you head up CID if I’m not around.’

He was being promoted!

Out of his peripheral vision he saw Cassian Pewe looking as if he had just bitten into a lemon.

Grace knew that although his rank remained the same, covering for Jack in his absence and running HQ CID from time to time, was a big step up.

‘Jack, thank you. I – I’m delighted.’ Then he hesitated. ‘Is Alison Vosper OK with this?’

‘Leave Alison to me,’ Skerritt replied dismissively. Then he turned to Pewe. ‘Cassian, welcome aboard our team. Roy’s going to have his hands full with his extra workload, so I’d like you to start here by taking on his cold-case files – which means you will be reporting to Roy.’

Grace was having trouble suppressing a grin. Cassian Pewe’s face was a picture. Rather like one of those television weather maps dotted with rain and thunderclouds and not a ray of sunshine in sight. Even his perma-tan seemed, suddenly, to have faded.

The meeting ended on target, at exactly 11.30. As Grace was leaving, Cassian Pewe intercepted him in the doorway.

‘Roy,’ he said. ‘Alison thought it might be a good idea if I sat in with you today – at your press conference and at your evening briefing. To sort of find my feet. Get the general gist of how you do things down here. Still OK with you – in the light of what Jack’s just instructed me to do?’

No, Grace thought. Not at all OK with me. But he didn’t say that. He said, ‘Well, I think it might be a better use of your time to familiarize yourself with my caseload. I’ll show you the cold-case files and you can make a start.’

And then he spent a few moments thinking how very pleasant it might be to stick hot needles into Pewe’s testicles.

But from the expression on Pewe’s face, it seemed that Jack Skerritt had just done that job for him.

43

OCTOBER 2007

Grace kept the press briefing short. It was party political conference season and a lot of reporters, even if not directly interested in politics, were up in Blackpool with the Tories – who at this moment seemed likely to provide richer pickings than a skeleton in a sewer, for the nationals at any rate.

But the Unknown Female was a good local story, particularly as the remains had been discovered beneath one of the biggest property developments ever in the city, and it had a whiff of both history in the past and history in the making. Analogies were being made to the Brighton Trunk Murders, two separate incidents in 1934 where dismembered bodies were found in trunks, earning Brighton the unwelcome sobriquet ‘Crime Capital of England’.

One local television crew from the BBC had turned up, as did Southern Counties Radio, a young man with a video camera from a new Brighton internet television channel, Absolute Television, a couple of stringers from London papers whom Grace knew, a reporter from the Sussex Express and, of course, Kevin Spinella from the Argus.

Although Spinella irritated him, Grace was beginning to develop a grudging respect for the young journalist. He could see that Spinella was a hard worker, like himself, and after an encounter on a previous case, when Spinella had honoured a promise to withhold some important information, he had shown himself to be a reporter the police could do business with. Some police officers viewed all press as vermin, but Grace felt differently. Almost every major crime relied on witnesses, on members of the public coming forward, on memories being jogged. If you handled the press correctly you could get them to do quite a bit of your work for you.

With little information to give out this morning, Grace concentrated on getting a few key messages across. The age and as much description of the woman as they could give out, and an estimate of how many years she might have been down that storm drain, in the hope that a family member or friend might come forward with details of a person who had gone missing within that time frame.

Grace had added that although the cause of death was unknown, strangulation was a possibility, and that whoever had murdered her would probably have had good local knowledge of Brighton and Hove.

As he left the conference room, shortly before 12.30, he heard his name being called.

Irritatingly, Kevin Spinella had taken to waylaying Grace after press conferences, cornering him in the corridor, out of earshot of the other journalists.

‘Detective Superintendent Grace, could I have a quick word?’

Roy wondered for a moment if perhaps Spinella had heard about his promotion. It should have been impossible for him to find out this quickly, but for some time now he had suspected that Spinella had an informer somewhere inside Sussex Police. He always seemed to know of any incident ahead of everyone else. At some point Roy was determined to get to the bottom of it, but that was no easy thing to do. When you started digging below the surface, you risked alienating a lot of your colleagues.

The young reporter, as ever in a suit, shirt and tie, was looking sharper and more spruce than at his rain-soaked appearance at the site on Saturday morning.

‘Nothing to do with this,’ Spinella said, his teeth working on a piece of gum. ‘Just something I thought I ought to mention to you. On Saturday evening I got a call from a contact in the fire brigade – they were going into a flat in Kemp Town to rescue someone stuck in a lift.’

‘Boy, do you have an exciting life!’ Grace ribbed him.

‘Yeah, all go,’ Spinella replied earnestly, missing the barb, or deliberately ignoring it. ‘The thing is, this woman…’ He hesitated and tapped the side of his nose. ‘You got a copper’s nose, right?’

Grace shrugged. He was always careful what he said to Spi-nella. ‘That’s what people say about police officers.’

Spinella tapped his own nose. ‘Yeah, well, I got it too. A nose for a good story – know what I mean?’

‘Yes.’ Grace looked at his watch. ‘I’m in a rush-’

‘Yeah, OK, I won’t keep you. Just wanted to alert you, that’s all. This woman they freed – late twenties, very pretty – I felt something wasn’t right.’

‘In what way?’

‘She was very agitated.’

‘Not surprising if she’d been stuck in a lift.’

Spinella shook his head. ‘Not that kind of agitated.’

Grace looked at him for a moment. One thing he knew about local newspaper reporters was the range of stories they got sent to cover. Sudden deaths, road crashes, mugging victims, burglary victims, families of missing persons. Reporters like Spinella met agitated people all day long. Even at his relatively young age and experience, Spinella probably had learned to recognize different types of agitation. ‘OK, what kind?’

‘She was frightened about something. Refused to answer the door the next day when the paper sent a photographer round. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was in hiding.’

Grace nodded. A few thoughts went through his mind. ‘What nationality?’

‘English. White – if I’m allowed to say that.’ He smirked.

Ignoring the comment, Grace decided that ruled out her being an imprisoned sex slave – they were mostly from Eastern Europe and Africa. There were all kinds of possibilities. A million things could make you agitated. But being agitated wasn’t enough reason for the police to pay a call on someone.

‘What’s her name and address?’ he asked, then dutifully wrote down Katherine Jennings and the flat number and address on his pad. He would get someone to run it through PNC and see if the name got flagged. Other than that, all he could do was wait to see if the name appeared again.

Then, as Roy pressed his card against the security panel to step through into the Major Incident Suite, Spinella called after him again. ‘Oh – and Detective Superintendent?’

He turned, irritably now. ‘Yes?’

‘Congratulations on your promotion!’

44

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Ronnie stood in the sunshine on the empty boardwalk and checked once again that his mobile phone was switched off. Very definitely switched off. He stared ahead, past the benches and the beachfront railing, beyong the deserted golden sand, out across the expanse of rippling ocean, at the distant pall of black and grey and orange smoke that was steadily staining the sky, turning it the colour of rust.

He barely took any of it in. He had just realized that he had left his passport in the room safe back at his hotel. But perhaps that could be helpful. He was thinking. Thinking. Thinking. His brain was all jammed up with thoughts. Somehow he needed to clear his head. Some exercise might do it. Or a stiff drink.

To his left the boardwalk stretched out as far as he could see. In the distance, to his right, he could see the silhouettes of the rides in the amusement park at Coney Island. Nearer, there was a messy-looking apartment building, covered in scaffolding, about six storeys high. A black dude in a leather jacket was engaged in a discussion with an Oriental-looking guy in a bomber jacket. They kept turning their heads, as if checking they weren’t being watched, and they kept looking at him. Maybe they were doing a drugs deal and thought he might be a cop. Maybe they were talking about football, or baseball, or the fucking weather. Maybe they were the only people on the fucking planet who didn’t know something had happened to the World Trade Center this morning.

Ronnie didn’t give a shit about them. So long as they didn’t mug him they could stand there all day and talk. They could stand there until the world ended, which might be pretty damned soon, judging by the events of today so far.

Shit. Fuck. What a day this was. What a fuck of a day to pick to be here. And he didn’t even have Donald Hatcook’s mobile phone number.

And. And. And. He tried to shut that thought out, but it kept knocking on his door until he had to open up and let it in.

Donald Hatcook might be dead.

An awful lot of people might be fucking dead.

There was a parade of shops, all with Russian signs on them, to his right, lining the boardwalk. He began walking towards them, towing his bag behind him, and then stopped when he reached a large sign in a green metal frame with an arched top, framing one of those YOU ARE HERE! maps. It was headed:

RIEGELMANN WALKWAY. BRIGHTON BEACH. BRIGHTON 2ND STREET.

Despite all that was going through his mind, he stopped and smiled wryly. Home from home. Sort of! It would have been fun to have someone take his photograph beside it. Lorraine would be amused. On another day, under different circumstances.

He sat down on the bench beside the sign and leaned back in the seat, unfastened his tie, coiled it and put in his pocket. Then he opened the top button of his shirt. The air felt good on his neck. He needed it. He was shaking. Palpitating. His heart was thumping. He looked at his watch. Nearly midday. He began patting dust out of his hair and clothes and felt in need of a drink. He never normally drank in the daytime, well, not until lunchtime anyhow – most days. But a stiff whisky would slip down nicely. Or a brandy. Or even, he thought, thinking about those Russian signs, a vodka.

He stood up, gripped the handle of his bag and carried on pulling it along behind him, listening to the steady bump-bump-bump of the wheels on the planks. He saw a sign on a shop ahead. The first shop in the parade. In blue, red and white were the words: moscow and bar. Beyond was a green awning on which was a name in yellow letters: TATIANA.

He went into the Moscow bar. It was almost empty and felt gloomy. There was a long wooden counter to his right, with round, red leather bar stools on chromium feet, and to the left, red leather banquette seats and metal tables. A couple of men who looked like heavies from a Bond movie sat on bar stools. Their heads were shaven, they wore black, short-sleeve T-shirts and they were silently glued to a wide-screen television on the wall. Mesmerized by it.

Shot glasses sat in front of them on the counter, along with a bottle of vodka wedged into a bed of ice in a bucket. Both held cigarettes and an ashtray filled with butts sat beside the ice bucket. The other occupants, two young hunks, both wearing expensive-looking leather jackets and sporting large rings, were seated at one banquette. They were both drinking coffee and one was smoking.

It was a good smell, Ronnie thought. Coffee and cigarettes. Strong, Russian cigarettes. There were signs around the bar written in Cyrillic, banners and flags from football clubs, mostly English. He recognized Newcastle, Manchester United and Chelsea.

On the screen was an image of hell on earth. No one in the bar spoke. Ronnie began watching as well; it was impossible not to. Two planes, one after the other, flying into the Twin Towers. Then each of the towers coming down. Didn’t matter how many times he saw it, each time was different. Worse.

‘Sir, yes?’

Broken English. The barman was a shrimp with a fuzz of cropped black hair brushed forward, wearing a grungy apron over a denim shirt that needed ironing.

‘Do you have Kalashnikov vodka?’

He looked blank. ‘Krashakov?’

‘Forget it,’ Ronnie said. ‘Any vodka, neat, and an espresso. You have espresso?’

‘Russian coffee.’

‘Fine.’

The shrimp nodded. ‘One Russian coffee. Vodka.’ He walked with a stoop as if his back was hurting.

A man was hurting on the screen. He was a bald, black guy covered in grey powder, with a clear breathing mask over his face, attached to an inflated bag. A man in a red helmet with a visor, a red face mask and a black T-shirt was urging him forward through grey snow.

‘So much shit!’ the shrimp said in broken English. ‘Manhattan. Unbelievable. You know about this? You know what happening?’

‘I was there,’ Ronnie said.

‘Yes? You was there?’

‘Get me a drink. I need that drink,’ he snapped.

‘I get you a drink. Don’t worry. You was there?’

‘Some part of that you don’t understand?’ Ronnie said.

The barman turned away huffily and produced a vodka bottle. One of the Bond heavies turned to Ronnie and raised his glass. He was drunk and slurring his speech. ‘You know what? Thirty years ago I’d have said comrade to you. Now I say buddy. Know what I mean?’

Ronnie raised his glass seconds after the barman put it down. ‘Not exactly, no.’

‘You gay or something?’ the man asked.

‘No, I’m not gay.’

The man put his glass down and windmilled his arms. ‘I don’t have no problem with gays. Not that. No.’

‘Good,’ Ronnie said. ‘I don’t either.’

The man broke into a grin. His teeth were terrible, Ronnie thought. It looked like he had a mouthful of rubble. The man raised his glass and Ronnie clinked it. ‘Cheers.’

George Bush was on the screen now. He was wearing a dark suit with an orange tie, sitting at the back of a school classroom, in front of a small blackboard, and there were pictures stuck to the wall behind them. One depicted a bear with a striped scarf riding a bicycle. A man in a suit was standing over George Bush, whispering into his ear. Then the image changed to wreckage of a plane on the ground.

‘You’re OK,’ the man said to Ronnie. ‘I like you. You’re OK.’ He poured more vodka into his own glass, then held the bottle over Ronnie’s for a moment. He squinted, saw it was still full and set the bottle back down in the ice. ‘You should drink.’ He drained his glass. ‘Today we need to drink.’ He turned back to the screen. ‘This not real. Not possible.’

Ronnie took a sip. The vodka burned his throat. Then, moments later, he tipped the glass back and drained it. The effect was almost instant, burning deep inside him. He poured another for himself and for his new best friend.

They fell silent. Just watching the screen.

After several more vodkas, Ronnie was starting to feel rather drunk. At some point he staggered off his stool, stumbled over to one of the empty booths and fell asleep.

When he woke up, he had a blinding headache and a raging thirst. Then a sudden moment of panic.

My bags.

Shit, shit, shit.

Then, to his relief, he saw them, still standing where he had left them, by his vacated bar stool.

It was 2 o’clock.

The same people were still in the bar. The same images were still repeating on the screen. He hauled himself back on to the bar stool and nodded at his friend.

‘What about the father?’ the Bond heavy said.

‘Yeah, why they don’t mention him?’ the other heavy said.

‘Father?’ the barman said.

‘All we hear is this Son of Bin Laden. What about the father?’

Mayor Giuliani was now on the screen, talking earnestly. He looked calm. He looked caring. He looked like a man who had things under control.

Ronnie’s new best friend turned to him. ‘You know Sam Colt?’

Ronnie, who was trying to listen to Giuliani, shook his head. ‘No.’

‘The guy invented the revolver, right?’

‘Ah, OK, him.’

‘Know what this man said?’

‘No.’

‘Sam Colt said, Now I’ve made all men equal!’ The Russian grinned, baring his revolting teeth again. ‘Yeah? OK? Understand?’

Ronnie nodded and ordered sparkling mineral water and coffee. He hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, he realized, but he had no appetite.

Giuliani was replaced by stumbling grey ghosts. They looked like the grey ghosts he had seen earlier. A poem from way back at school suddenly came into his head. From one of his favourite writers, Rudyard Kipling. Yeah. He was the Man.

Kipling understood about power, control, empire-building.

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs…

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same…

On the screen he saw a fireman weeping. His helmet was covered in grey snow and he was sitting, visor up, cradling his face in his hands.

Ronnie leaned forward and tapped the shoulder of the barman. He turned from the screen. ‘Uh huh?’

‘Do you have rooms here? I need a room.’

His new best friend turned to him. ‘No flights. Right?’

‘Right.’

‘Where you from anyway?’

Ronnie hesitated. ‘Canada. Toronto.’

‘Toronto,’ the Russian repeated. ‘Canada. OK. Good.’ He felt silent for a moment, then he said, ‘Cheap room?’

Ronnie realized he could not use any cards – even if they had any credit left on them. He had just under four hundred dollars in his wallet, which would have to tide him over until he could convert some of the other currency he had in his bag – if he could find a buyer who would pay him the right money. And not ask questions.

‘Yes, a cheap room,’ he replied. ‘Cheaper the better.’

‘You’re in the right place. You want SRO. That’s what you want.’

‘SRO?’

‘Single Room Occupancy. That’s what you want. You pay cash, they no ask you questions. My cousin has SRO house. Ten minutes’ walk. You want I give you the address?’

‘Sounds like a plan,’ Ronnie replied.

The Russian showed him his teeth again. ‘Plan? You have plan? Good plan?’

‘Carpe diem!’

‘Huh?’

‘It’s an expression.’

‘Carpe diem?’ The Russian pronounced it slowly, clumsily.

Ronnie grinned, then bought him another drink.

45

OCTOBER 2007

Major Incident Room One was the larger of two airy rooms in the Major Incident Suite of Sussex House, which housed the inquiry teams working on serious crime investigations. Roy Grace entered it shortly before 6.30, carrying a mug of coffee.

An open, modern-feeling L-shaped room, it was divided up by three principal work stations, each comprising a long, curved, light-coloured wooden desk with space for up to eight people to sit, and massive whiteboards, most of which at the moment were blank, apart from one marked Operation Dingo, and another on which were several close-up photographs of the Unknown Female in the storm drain and some exterior shots of the New England Quarter development. On one, a red circle drawn in marker pen indicated the position of the body in the drain.

A large inquiry might have used up all the space in here, but because of the relative lack of urgency in this case – and therefore the need to budget manpower and resources accordingly – Grace’s team occupied only one of the work stations. At the moment the others were vacant, but that could change at any time.

Unlike the work stations throughout the rest of the building, there were few signs of anything personal on the desks or the walls here: no pictures of families, football fixture lists, jokey cartoons. Almost every single object in this room – apart from the furniture and the business hardware – was related to the matters under investigation. There wasn’t a lot of banter either. Just the silence of fierce concentration, the muted warble of phones, the clack-clack-clack of paper shuffling from printers.

Seated at the work station were the team Grace had selected for Operation Dingo. An ardent believer in keeping the same people together whenever possible, he had worked with all of them during the previous months. His only hesitant choice had been Norman Potting, who constantly upset people, but the man was an extremely capable detective.

Acting as his deputy SIO was Detective Inspector Lizzie Mantle. Grace liked her a lot and in truth had long had a sneaking fancy for her. In her late thirties, she was attractive, with neat, shoulder-length fair hair, and exuded a femininity that belied a surprisingly tough personality. She tended to favour trouser suits and she was wearing one today, in grey pinstripe, that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a stockbroker, over a white man’s shirt.

Her fair good looks were something Lizzie shared with another DI at Sussex House, Kim Murphy, and there had been some sour-grape rumblings that if you wanted to get ahead in this force, having the looks of a bimbo was your best asset. It was totally untrue, of course, Grace knew. Both women had achieved their ranks, at relatively young ages, because they thoroughly deserved it.

Roy’s promotion would undoubtedly result in new demands on his time, so he was going to have to rely heavily on Lizzie’s support in running this investigation.

Along with her, he had selected Detective Sergeants Glenn Branson, Norman Potting and Bella Moy. Thirty-five years old and cheery-faced beneath a tangle of hennaed brown hair, Bella was sitting, as ever, with an open box of Maltesers inches from her keyboard. Roy crossed the room, watching as she typed in deep concentration. Every so often her right hand would suddenly stray from the keyboard, like some creature with a life of its own, pluck a chocolate, deliver it to her mouth and return to the keyboard. She was a slim woman, yet she ate more chocolate than anyone Grace had ever come across.

Next to her sat, gangly, tousle-haired Detective Constable Nick Nicholl, who was twenty-seven and beanpole tall. A zealous detective and once a handy centre forward, he had been encouraged by Grace to take up rugby and was now a useful member of the Sussex Police team – though not as useful at the moment as Grace had hoped, because he was a recent father and appeared to be suffering from constant sleep deprivation.

Opposite him, reading her way through a thick wodge of computer printouts, was young, feisty DC Emma-Jane Boutwood. A few months earlier she had been badly injured on a case when she was crushed against a wall by a stolen van in a pursuit. By rights she should still be convalescing, but she had begged Grace to let her come back and do light duties.

The team was completed by an analyst, an indexer, a typist and the system supervisor.

Glenn Branson, dressed in a black suit, a violent blue shirt and a scarlet tie, looked up as Grace entered. ‘Yo, old-timer,’ he said, but more flatly than usual. ‘Any chance of a quiet chat later?’

Grace nodded at his friend. ‘Of course.’

Branson’s greeting prompted a few other heads to be raised as well.

‘Well, here comes God!’ said Norman Potting, doffing a nonexistent hat. ‘May I be the first to proffer my congratulations on your elevation to the brass!’ he said.

‘Thank you, Norman, but there’s nothing very special about brass.’

‘Well, that’s where you are wrong, Roy,’ Potting retorted. ‘A lot of metals rust, you see. But brass doesn’t. It corrodes.’ He beamed with pride as if he had just delivered the complete, final and incontrovertible Theory of Everything.

Bella, who very much disliked Potting, rounded on him, her fingers hovering above the Maltesers like the talons of a bird of prey. ‘That’s just semantics, Norman. Rust, corrosion, what’s the difference?’

‘Quite a lot actually,’ Potting said.

‘Perhaps you should have been a metallurgist instead of a policeman,’ she said, and popped another Malteser in her mouth.

Grace sat down in the one empty seat, at the end of the work station between Potting and Bella, and immediately crinkled his nose at the stale reek of pipe tobacco on the man.

Bella turned to Grace. ‘Congratulations, Roy. Very well deserved.’

The Detective Superintendent spent some moments accepting and acknowledging congratulations from the rest of the team, then laid his policy book and agenda for the meeting out in front of him.

‘Right. This is the second briefing of Operation Dingo, the investigation into the suspected murder of an unidentified female, conducted on day three following the discovery of her remains.’

For some minutes he summarized the report of the forensic archaeologist. Then he read out the key points from Theobald’s lengthy assessment. Death by strangulation, evidenced by the woman’s broken hyoid, was a possibility. Forensic tests for toxins were being carried out from hair samples recovered. There were no other signs of injury to the skeleton, such as breakages, or cuts indicating knife wounds.

Grace paused to drink some water and noticed that Norman Potting was looking very smug.

‘OK, Resourcing. In view of the estimated time period of the incident I am not looking to expand the inquiry team at this stage.’ He went on through the various headings. Meeting cycles: he announced there would be the usual daily 8.30 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. briefings. He reported that the HOLMES computer team had been up and running since Friday night. He read out the list under the heading Investigative Strategies, which included Communications/Media, emphasizing the need for press coverage, and said that they were working on getting this case featured on next week’s Crimewatch television programme, although they were struggling because it wasn’t considered newsworthy enough. Then he handed the floor to his team, asking Emma-Jane Boutwood to report first.

The young DC produced a list of all missing persons in the county of Sussex who fell into the estimated time period of the victim’s death, but without any conclusion. Grace instructed her to broaden her search to the nationwide missing-persons files for that time.

Nick Nicholl reported that DNA samples from the woman’s hair had been sent to the lab at Huntingdon, along with a bone sample from her thigh for DNA extraction.

Bella Moy reported that she had met with the city’s chief engineer. ‘He showed me through the flow charts of the sewer system and I’m now mapping possible places of entry further up the drain network. I’ll have that complete some time tomorrow.’

‘Good,’ Grace said.

‘There’s one thing that could be quite significant,’ Bella added. ‘The outlet from the sewer network goes far enough out to sea to ensure that all the sewage gets transported offshore by the currents, rather than towards it.’

Grace nodded, guessing where this was heading.

‘So it’s possible that the murderer was aware of this – he might be an engineer, for instance.’

Grace thanked her and turned to Norman Potting, curious to know what the Detective Sergeant was looking so pleased about.

Potting pulled a set of X-rays from a buff envelope and held them up triumphantly. ‘I’ve got a dental records match!’ he said.

There was a moment of total silence. Every ear in the room was tuned to him.

‘I got these from one of the dentists on the list you gave me, Roy,’ he said. ‘The woman had extensive dental work done. Her name is – or rather was – Joanna Wilson.’

‘Nice work,’ Grace said. ‘Was she single or married?’

‘Well, I’ve got good and bad news,’ Potting said, and fell into a smug silence, grinning like an imbecile.

‘We’re all ears,’ Grace prompted him.

‘She had a husband, yes. Stormy relationship – so far as I’ve been able to discover – the dentist, Mr Gebbie, knows a little of the background. I’ll get more on that tomorrow. She was an actress. I don’t know the full story yet, but they split up and she left. Apparently she went to Los Angeles to make her name – that’s what the husband told everyone.’

‘Sounds like we should have a little chat with the husband,’ Grace said.

‘There’s a bit of a problem with that,’ Norman Potting replied. Then he nodded pensively for some moments, pursing his lips, as if carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. ‘He died in the World Trade Center, on 9/11.’

46

OCTOBER 2007

At 6.45 Abby was beginning to worry that the courier company had forgotten her. She had been ready and waiting since 5.30, her suitcase by the door, coat slung over it, Jiffy bag addressed and sealed.

It was completely dark outside now and, with the rain still torrenting down, she could see very little. She was watching for a Global Express van to come down the street. For the umpteenth time she removed the Mace pepper spray canister from the hip pocket of her jeans and examined it.

The small red cylinder with its finger-grip indents, key chain and belt clip was reassuringly heavy. She repeatedly flipped open the safety lid and practised aiming the nozzle. The guy who had sold it to her in Los Angeles, on her way back to England, told her it contained ten one-second bursts and would blind a human for ten seconds. She had smuggled it into England inside her make-up bag in her suitcase.

She put it back in her pocket, stood up and took her mobile phone out of her handbag. She was about to dial Global Express when the intercom finally buzzed.

She hurried down the hall to the front door. On the small black and white monitor she could see a motorcycle helmet. Her heart sank. That twerp assistant, Jonathan, had told her it would be a van. She had been banking on a van.

Shit.

She pressed the intercom button. ‘Come up, eighth floor,’ she said. ‘I’m afraid the lift’s not working.’

Her brain was racing again, trying to do a fast rethink. She picked up the Jiffy bag. Have to revert to her original plan, she decided, thinking it through in the two long minutes that passed before the sharp rap on the door.

Vigilant as ever, she peered through the spyhole and saw a motorcyclist, clad in leather, in a black helmet, with a dark visor that was down, holding some kind of clipboard.

She unlocked the door, removed the safety chains and opened it.

‘I – I thought you were coming in a van,’ she said.

He dropped the clipboard, which fell to the ground with a clank, then punched Abby hard in the stomach. It caught her totally off guard, doubling her up in winded pain. She stumbled sideways into the wall.

‘Nice to see you, Abby,’ he said. ‘Not crazy about your new look.’

Then he punched her again.

47

OCTOBER 2007

Shortly before 7 o’clock, Cassian Pewe drove his dark green Vaux-hall Astra through the buffeting wind and neon-lit darkness of the cliff-top coast road. He crossed two mini-roundabouts into Peace-haven, then continued for the next mile past endless parades of shops, half of them seemingly estate agents, the rest garish fast-food places. It reminded him of the outskirts of small American towns he had seen in films.

Unfamiliar with this area a few miles east of Brighton, he was being bossed through it by the female voice of his plug-in sat nav. Now, past Peacehaven, he was following a crawling camper van down the winding hill into Newhaven. The sat-nav woman instructed him to keep straight on for half a mile. Then his mobile phone, in the hands-free cradle, rang.

He peered at the display, saw it was from Lucy, his girlfriend, and reached forward to answer it.

‘Hello, darling,’ he cooed. ‘How is my precious angel?’

‘Are you on your hands-free?’ she asked. ‘You sound like a Dalek.’

‘I’m sorry, my precious. I’m driving.’

‘You didn’t call,’ she said, sounding hurt and a tad angry. ‘You were going to call me this morning, about tonight.’

Lucy, who lived and worked in London as a PA for a hedge-fund manager, had not been impressed by his recent move to Brighton. Most probably, he thought, because he hadn’t invited her to move with him. He always kept his women at a distance, rarely rang them when he said he would and frequently cancelled dates at the last moment. Experience had taught him that was the best way to keep them where he wanted them.

‘My angel, I have been soooooo busy,’ he cooed again. ‘I

just didn’t have a moment. I’ve been in wall-to-wall meetings all day.’

‘In one hundred and fifty yards turn left,’ the sat-nav lady instructed him.

‘Who’s that?’ Lucy demanded suspiciously. ‘Who’s that in the car with you?’

‘Only the sat nav, sweetheart.’

‘So are we meeting tonight?’

‘I don’t think it’s going to work tonight, angel. I’ve been dispatched on an urgent case. Could be the start of a major murder inquiry, with some rather ugly consequences within the local police here. They thought I was the right man for it, with my Met experience.’

‘So what about afterwards?’

‘Well – if you were to jump on a train, we could maybe have a late dinner down here. How does that sound?’

‘No way, Cassian! I’ve got to be in the office at 6.45 in the morning.’

‘’Yes, well, just a thought,’ he replied.

He was driving over the Newhaven bridge. A barrage of signs lay ahead: one to the cross-Channel ferry, another to Lewes. Then, to his relief, his saw a sign pointing to Seaford, his destination.

‘Take the second left turn,’ the sat nav dictated.

Pewe frowned. Surely the Seaford sign had indicated straight on.

‘Who was that?’ Lucy asked.

‘The sat nav again,’ he replied. ‘Aren’t you going to ask me how my day was? My first day at Sussex CID?’

‘How was your day?’ she asked grudgingly.

‘Actually,’ he said, ‘I got a bit of a promotion!’

‘Already? I thought moving from the Met was a promotion. Going from a Detective Chief Inspector to a Detective Superintendent.’

‘It’s even better now. They’ve put me in charge of all cold cases – and that includes all unaccounted-for missing persons.’

She was silent.

He made the left turn.

The sat-nav display of the road ahead disappeared from the screen. Then the voice commanded, ‘Make a U-turn.’

‘Fuck,’ he said.

‘What’s going on?’ Lucy asked.

‘My sat nav doesn’t know where the hell I am.’

‘I have some sympathy with her,’ Lucy said.

‘I’ll have to call you back, my angel.’

‘Was that you or your sat nav speaking?’

‘Oh, very droll!’

‘I suggest you have a nice romantic dinner with her.’ Lucy hung up.

*

Ten minutes later, the sat nav had found its bearings again and delivered him to the address he was seeking in Seaford, a quiet, residential coastal town a few miles on from Newhaven. Peering through the darkness at the numbers on the front doors, he pulled up outside a small, nondescript pebbledashed semi. A Nissan Micra was parked on the drive.

He switched on the interior light, checked the knot of his tie, tidied his hair, climbed out of the car and locked it. A gust of wind immediately blew his hair into disarray as he hurried up the path of the neat garden to the front door, found the bell and pressed it, cursing that there was no porch. There was a single, rather funereal chime.

After a few moments the door opened a few inches and a woman – in her early sixties, he guessed – stared out at him suspiciously from behind rather stern glasses. Twenty years ago, with a better hairdo and the thick worry creases airbrushed from her face, she might have been quite attractive, he thought. Now, with her short, iron-grey hair, a baggy orange jumper that swamped her, brown polyester trousers and plimsolls, she looked to Pewe like one of those doughty, backbone-of-England ladies you find manning stalls at the church bazaar.

‘Mrs Margot Balkwill?’ he asked.

‘Yes?’ she said hesitantly and a little suspiciously.

He showed her his warrant card. ‘I’m Detective Superintendent Pewe of Sussex CID. I’m sorry to trouble you, but I wonder if I could have a word with you and your husband about your daughter, Sandy?’

Her small, round mouth fell open, revealing neat teeth that were yellow with age. ‘Sandy?’ she echoed, shocked.

‘Is your husband in?’

She considered the question for a moment, like a schoolmistress who had just been thrown a curve by a pupil. ‘Well, he is, yes.’ She hesitated for a moment, then indicated for him to come in.

Pewe stepped on to a mat which said WELCOME, and into a tiny, bare hall which smelled faintly of a roast dinner and more strongly of cats. He heard the sound of a television soap opera.

She closed the door behind him, then called out, a little timidly, ‘Derek! We have a visitor. A police officer. A detective.’

Tidying his hair again, Pewe followed her through into a small, spotlessly clean living room. There was a brown velour three-piece suite with a glass-topped coffee table in front, arranged around an elderly, square-screened television on which two vaguely familiar-looking actors were arguing in a pub. On top of the set was a framed photograph of an attractive blonde girl of about seventeen, unmistakably Sandy from the pictures Pewe had studied this afternoon in the files.

At the far end of the small room, next to what Pewe considered to be a rather ugly Victorian cabinet full of blue and white willow-pattern plates, a man was sitting at a small table covered in carefully folded sheets of newspaper, in the process of assembling a model aircraft. Strips of balsa wood, wheels and pieces of undercarriage, a gun turret and other small objects Pewe could not immediately identify were laid out on either side of the plane, which rested at an angle, as if climbing after take-off, on a small raised base. The room smelled of glue and paint.

Pewe made a quick scan of the rest of the room. A fake-coal electric fire, which was on. A music centre that looked like it played vinyl rather than CDs. And photographs everywhere of Sandy at different ages, from just a few years old through to her twenties. One, in pride of place on the mantelpiece above the fire, was a wedding photograph of Roy Grace and Sandy. She was in a long white dress, holding a bouquet. Grace, younger and with much longer hair than he had now, wore a dark grey suit and a silver tie.

Mr Balkwill was a big, broad-shouldered man who looked as if he’d once had a powerful physique before he let it go to seed. He had thin grey hair swept back on either side of a bald head and a flabby double chin that disappeared in the folds of a multicoloured roll-neck sweater that was similar to his wife’s – as if she had knitted both of them. He stood up, round-shouldered and stooping, like someone who had been defeated by life, and ambled to the front of the table. Below the sweater, which came almost to his knees, he wore baggy grey trousers and black sandals.

An overweight tabby cat, which looked as old as both of them, wandered out from under the table, took one look at Pewe, arched its back and stalked out of the room.

‘Derek Balkwill,’ he said, with a quiet, almost shy voice that seemed much smaller than his frame. He held out a big hand and gave Pewe a crushing shake that surprised and hurt him.

‘Detective Superintendent Pewe,’ he replied with a wince. ‘I wondered if I could have a word with you and your wife about Sandy?’

The man froze. What little colour he had drained from his already pallid face and Pewe saw a slight tremor in his hands. He wondered for a horrible moment if the man was having a heart attack.

‘I’ll just turn the oven down,’ Margot Balkwill said. ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

‘Tea would be perfect,’ Pewe said. ‘Lemon, if you have it.’

‘Working with Roy, are you?’ she asked.

‘Yes, absolutely.’ He continued to stare, concerned, at her husband.

‘How is he?’

‘Fine. Busy on a murder inquiry.’

‘He’s always busy,’ Derek Balkwill said, seeming to calm down a little. ‘He’s a hard worker.’

Margot Balkwill scurried out of the room.

Derek pointed at the aircraft. ‘Lancaster.’

‘Second World War?’ Pewe responded, trying to sound knowledgeable.

‘Got more upstairs.’

‘Yes?’

He gave a shy smile. ‘Got a Mustang P45. A Spit. A Hurricane. Mosquito. Wellington.’

There was an awkward silence. Two women were discussing a wedding dress on the television screen now. Then Derek pointed at the Lancaster. ‘My dad flew ’em. Seventy-five sorties. Know about the Dambusters? Ever see the film?’

Pewe nodded.

‘He was one of ’em. One of the ones that came back. One of the Few.’

‘Was he a pilot?’

‘Tail gunner. Tail End Charlie, they called ’em.’

‘Brave guy,’ Pewe said politely.

‘Not really. Just did his duty. He was a bitter man after the war.’ Then after some moments he added, ‘War buggers you up, you know that?’

‘I can imagine.’

Derek Balkwill shook his head. ‘No. No one can imagine. Been a police officer long?’

‘Nineteen years next January.’

‘Same as Roy.’

*

When his wife returned with a tray of tea and biscuits, Derek Balkwill fumbled with the remote control, then silenced the television but left the picture on. The three of them settled down, Pewe in one armchair, the Balkwills on the settee.

Pewe picked his cup up, holding the dainty handle in his manicured fingers, blew on the tea, sipped and then set it down. ‘I’ve very recently moved to Sussex CID from the Met, in London,’ he said. ‘I’ve been brought in to review cold cases. I don’t know how to put this delicately, but I’ve been going through the missing-persons files and I really don’t think that your daughter’s disappearance has been investigated adequately.’

He sat back and opened his arms expansively. ‘By that I mean – without casting any aspersions on Roy, of course…’ He hesitated, until their joint nods gave him the assurance to continue. ‘As a completely impartial outsider, it seems to me that Roy Grace is really too emotionally involved to be able do conduct an impartial review of the original investigation into his wife’s disappearance.’ He paused and took another sip of his tea. ‘I just wondered if either of you might have any views on this?’

‘Does Roy know you are here?’ Derek Balkwill asked.

‘I’m conducting an independent inquiry,’ Pewe said evasively.

Sandy’s mother frowned but said nothing.

‘Can’t see it would do any harm,’ her husband eventually said.

48

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Ronnie was drunk. He walked unsteadily past low-rise red-brick apartment buildings, pulling his bags behind him along the sidewalk, which was pitch-poling like the deck of a boat. His mouth was dry and his head felt as if it was clamped in a steadily tightening vice. He should have eaten something, he knew. He would get some food later, after he had checked in and stored his luggage.

In his left hand he held a crumpled bar receipt, on the back of which his new best friend – whose name he had already forgotten – had written an address and drawn a map. It was five in the afternoon. A helicopter flew low overhead. There was an unpleasant smell of burning in the air. Was there a fire somewhere?

Then he realized it was the same smell as earlier, when he had been in Manhattan. Dense and cloying, it seeped into his clothes and into the pores of his skin. He was breathing it in, deep lungfuls of it.

At the end of the road he squinted at the map. It appeared to be telling him to turn right at the next crossing. He passed several shops with signs in Cyrillic, then Federal Savings, which had a hole-in-the-wall cash machine. He stopped, tempted for a moment to draw out whatever his cards would allow, but that would not be smart, he realized. The machine would record the time of the transaction. He walked on. Past more storefronts. On the far side of the street a limp banner hung, screen-printed with the words, KEEP BRIGHTON BEACH CLEAN.

It began to dawn on him just how deserted the street was. There were cars parked on either side, but now there were no people. The shops were almost entirely empty too. It was as if the entire suburb was at a party to which he had not been invited.

But he knew they were all at home, glued to their television sets. Waiting for the other shoe to drop, someone in the bar had said.

He passed a dimly lit store with a sign outside, MAIL BOX CITY, and stopped.

Inside, to the left, he could see a long counter. To the right were rows and rows of metal boxes. At the far end of the store a young man with long black hair sat hunched over an internet terminal. At the counter, an elderly, grizzled man in cheap clothes was carrying out some kind of transaction.

Ronnie was starting to sober up, he realized. Thinking more clearly. Thinking that this place might be useful for his plans. He walked on, counting the streets to his left. Then, following his directions, he turned left, into a run-down residential street. The houses here looked as if they had been constructed from broken bits of Lego. They were two- and three-storey, semi-detached, no two halves the same. There were steps up to front doors, awnings and doors where there should have been garages; pantiles, crazy brickwork and shabby plasterwork facings, and mismatching windows that looked as if they had been bought in assorted job lots.

At the first intersection the map told him to turn left into a narrow street called Brighton Path 2. He walked past two white Chevy Suburbans parked outside a double garage with both doors covered in graffiti, and a row of single-storey dwellings, then made a right into an even more run-down street of semis. He reached No. 29. Both halves of the house were the colour of pre-cast concrete. A torn poster was wrapped around a telegraph pole outside. But he barely noticed. He looked up the grimy steps and saw, in red letters on a small white board nailed to the door lintel, SRO.

He climbed the steps, hefting his bags, and rang the bell. Moments later a blurred figure appeared behind the frosted glass and the door opened. A flat-chested waif of a girl, dressed in a grubby smock dress and flip-flops, stared out at him. She had dirty, straggly fair hair like tendrils of seaweed and a wide, doll-like face with large, round, black-rimmed eyes. She said nothing.

‘I’m looking for a room,’ Ronnie said. ‘I was told you have a room.’

He noticed a payphone on the wall beside her and a strong smell of damp and old carpet. Somewhere in the building he could hear the news on television. Today’s events.

She said something that he did not understand. It sounded like Russian but he wasn’t sure.

‘Do you speak English?’

She raised a hand, indicating that he should wait, then disappeared back into the house. After a little while a huge shaven-headed man of about fifty appeared. He was wearing a collarless white shirt, grubby black chinos held up with braces, and trainers, and he stared at Ronnie as if he was a turd blocking a lavatory.

‘Room?’ he said in a guttural accent.

‘Boris,’ Ronnie said, suddenly remembering his new best friend’s name. ‘He told me to come here.’

‘How long?’

Ronnie shrugged. ‘A few days.’

The man stared at him. Assessing him. Maybe checking out that he wasn’t some kind of terrorist.

‘Thirty dollars a day. OK?’

‘Fine. Grim day, today.’

‘Bad day. Most bad day. Whole world crazy. From 12 o’clock to 12 o’clock. OK? Understood. You pay each day in advance. You stay after midday, you pay another day.’

‘Understood.’

‘Cash?’

‘Yep, fine.’

The house was bigger than it had looked from the outside. Ronnie followed the man through the hall and along a corridor, past walls the colour of nicotine with a couple of cheap, framed prints of stark landscapes. The man stopped, disappeared into a room for a moment, then emerged with a key with a wooden tag. He unlocked the door opposite.

Ronnie followed him into a gloomy room which stank of stale cigarette smoke. It had a window looking on to the wall of the next house along. There was a small double bed with a pink candlewick spread that had several stains on it and two cigarette burn holes. In one corner there was a washbasin, next to a shower with a cracked plastic yellow curtain. A beat-up armchair, a chest of drawers, a couple of cheap-looking wooden tables, an old television set with an even older-looking remote and a carpet the colour of pea soup completed the furnishing.

‘Perfect,’ Ronnie said. And at this moment, for him, it was.

The man folded his arms and looked at him expectantly. Ronnie pulled out his wallet and paid for three days in advance. He was handed the key, then the man departed, closing the door behind him.

Ronnie checked the room out. There was a half-used bar of soap in the shower with what looked suspiciously like a brown pubic hair nestling on it. The image on the television was fuzzy. He switched on all the lights, drew the curtain and sat down on the bed, which sagged and clanked. Then he mustered a smile. He could put up with this for a few days. No worries.

Hell, this was the first day of the rest of his life!

Leaning forward, he lifted his briefcase off the top of his overnight bag. He removed all the folders containing the proposal and supporting data he had spent weeks preparing for Donald Hatcook. Finally, he reached the clear plastic wallet, closed with a pop stud, at the very bottom. He extricated the red folder that he had not risked leaving in his room at the W, not even in the safe. And opened it.

His eyes lit up.

‘Hello, my beauties,’ he said.

49

OCTOBER 2007

‘What’s wrong with liking Guinness?’ Glenn Branson asked.

‘Did I say there was anything wrong?’

Roy Grace set Glenn’s pint and his own large Glenfiddich on the rocks down on the table, along with two packets of bacon-flavoured crisps, then sat facing his friend. Monday night at 8 o’clock and the Black Lion was almost empty. Even so they had chosen to sit in the far corner, far enough from the bar not to be overheard by anyone. The piped music also helped to mask their voices and give them privacy.

‘It’s the way you look at me every time I order Guinness,’ Branson said. ‘Like it’s the wrong kind of drink or something.’

Your wife is turning you from a confident man into a paranoid one, Grace thought but didn’t say. Instead he quoted, ‘To the man who is afraid, everything rustles.’

Branson frowned. ‘Who said that?’

‘Sophocles.’

‘What movie was that in?’

Grace shook his head, grinning. ‘God, you’re an ignoramus sometimes! Don’t you know anything that isn’t in a movie?’

‘Thanks, Einstein. You really know where to hit a man when he’s down.’

Grace raised his glass. ‘Cheer up.’

Branson raised his, with no enthusiasm, and clinked it against Grace’s.

They both took a sip, then Grace said, ‘Sophocles was a philosopher.’

‘Dead?’

‘He died in 406 BC.’

‘Before I was born, old-timer. I suppose you went to his funeral?’

‘Very witty.’

‘I remember, when I stayed with you, all those philosophy books you had lying around.’

Grace took another pull of his whisky and smiled at him. ‘You have a problem with someone trying to educate themselves?’

‘Trying to keep up with their bird, you mean?’

Grace blushed. Branson was quite right, of course. Cleo was doing an Open University course in philosophy and he was trying hard in his free time to get his head around the subject.

‘Hit a nerve, did I?’ Branson gave him a wan smile.

Grace said nothing.

‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ was playing. They both listened to it for a while. Grace mouthed the words and swayed his head to the music.

‘Jesus, man! Don’t tell me you like Glen Campbell?’

‘I do, actually, yes.’

‘The more I get to know you, the more sad I realize you are!’

‘He’s a real musician. Better than that rap crap you like.’

Branson tapped his chest. ‘That’s my music, man. That’s my people speaking to me.’

‘Does Ari like it?’

Branson suddenly looked deflated. He peered into his beer. ‘She used to. Dunno what she likes any more.’

Grace took another sip. The whisky felt good, giving him a warm buzz. ‘So tell me? You wanted to talk about her?’ He tore open his packet of crisps and dug his fingers in, pulled out several crisps in one go and crammed them into his mouth. He crunched as he spoke. ‘You look like shit, you know that. You’ve looked terrible for the last two months, since you went back to her. I thought everything was better, that you bought her the horse and she was fine. No?’ He ate another fistful of crisps hungrily.

Branson drank some more of his Guinness.

The pub had a pristine smell of carpet cleaner and polish. Grace missed the smell of cigarettes, the fug of cigar and pipe smoke. For him, pubs didn’t have any atmosphere any more now the smoking ban had come into force. And he could have done with a cigarette right now.

Cleo hadn’t invited him over later because she had a paper to write for her course. He was going to have to grab something to eat, either here or from the freezer at home.

Cookery had never been his strong point and he was getting dependent on her, he realized. These last couple of months she had cooked for him most nights, healthy food mostly, steamed or stir-fried fish and vegetables. She was appalled at the junk-food diet most police officers existed on much of the time.

‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ finished and they sat in silence for a while.

Glenn broke it. ‘You know we haven’t had sex, right?’

‘Not since you went back to her?’

‘Nope.’

‘Not once?’

‘Not once. It’s like she’s trying to punish me.’

‘For what?’

Branson drained his pint, blinked at the empty glass and stood up. ‘N’other?’

‘Just a single,’ he said, mindful that he had to drive.

‘Usual? Glenfiddich on the rocks. Tiniest bit of water?’

‘So your memory hasn’t gone?’

‘Fuck off, old-timer!’

Grace thought hard for a few moments, his mind back on his work. Chewing over the 6.30 briefing meeting they’d just had. Joanna Wilson. Ronnie Wilson. He knew Ronnie from a long time back. One of Brighton’s rogues. So Ronnie had died in 9/11. Events like that were so random. Had Ronnie killed his wife? His team were on the case. Tomorrow they would start checking into the man’s background, and his wife’s.

Branson returned and sat back down.

‘What do you mean, Glenn, that Ari’s trying to punish you?’

‘When Ari and me met, we shagged all day. You know? We’d wake up and shag. Go out somewhere, get an ice cream maybe, and we’d fool around. Shag again in the evening. Kind of like it wasn’t the real world.’ He drank some more of his beer, almost half the glass, straight down. ‘OK, I know you can’t maintain that for ever.’

‘It was the real world,’ Roy said. ‘But the real world doesn’t stay the same. My mother used to say that life is like a series of chapters in a book. Different things happen at different times. Life changes constantly. You know one of the secrets of a happy marriage?’

‘What?’

‘Don’t be a police officer.’

‘Funny. Ironic, isn’t it, that’s what she wanted me to be.’ He shook his head. ‘What I don’t get is why she’s angry all the time. At me. You know what she said this morning?’

‘Tell me?’

‘She said that I deliberately keep her awake, right? Like, when I get up in the night to go to the toilet, you know, have a piss, that I deliberately aim into the water so it makes a splashing sound. She said that if I really loved her, I would pee on the side of the bowl.’

Grace tipped the contents of the new glass into his existing one. ‘You’re not serious?’

‘I’m serious, man. There’s nothing I can do right. She’s, like, told me she needs her space, and screw my career as a policeman. She’s gonna go out in the evenings, she’s not prepared to be tied to the kids, and it’s my responsibility. If I have to work lates, then I have to find babysitters.’

Grace sipped his drink and wondered if perhaps Ari was having an affair. But he didn’t want to upset his friend further by suggesting it.

‘You can’t live like this,’ he said.

Branson picked up his packet of crisps and turned it over and over in his hands. ‘I love my kids,’ he said. ‘I can’t go through some divorce shit and, like, see them for a few hours once a month.’

‘How long has it been like this?’

‘Ever since she got this bug in her head about self-improvement. Mondays she does evening classes in English literature, Thursdays she does architecture. And all kinds of other shit in between. I don’t know her any more – I can’t reach her.’

They sat in silence for a while before Branson mustered a cheerful smile and said, ‘Anyhow my shit to deal with, right?’

‘No,’ Roy replied, even though he knew that if Ari threw Glenn out again, he’d be lumbered once more with the lodger from hell. He’d had Glenn to stay a couple of months ago and the house would have been tidier if he’d had an elephant high on magic mushrooms come to stay. ‘I sort of feel we are in this together.’

For the first time that evening, Glenn smiled. Then he finally ripped open his packet of crisps, peering inside with a faint look of disappointment, as if he had been expecting it to be filled with something else.

‘So, what’s happening with Cassian Pewe – sorry, Detective Superintendent Cassian Pewe?’

Grace shrugged.

‘Is he eating your lunch?’

Grace smiled. ‘I think that was his game plan. But we’ve put him back in his box.’

50

OCTOBER 2007

Cassian Pewe took another tentative sip of his tea, wincing as the hot liquid touched his teeth. Last night he had slept with whitening gel on them and today they were sensitive to extremes of temperature.

Putting the cup down in the saucer, he said to Sandy’s parents, ‘I do want to make one thing clear. Detective Superintendent Grace is a well-respected police officer. I have no agenda other than to discover the truth about your daughter’s disappearance.’

‘We need to know,’ Derek Balkwill said.

His wife nodded. ‘That’s the only thing that matters to us.’

‘Good,’ he said. ‘It’s very reassuring to know we are all on the same page.’ He smiled at them. ‘But,’ he went on, ‘without wanting to cast any aspersions, there are a number of senor officers in the Sussex CID who feel that a proper investigation has never been carried out. This is one of the main reasons I have been drafted in.’

Pausing, he was satisfied by their receptive nods, and a little emboldened. ‘I’ve been studying the case file all day today and there are many unanswered questions. I think, if I was in your shoes, I would be feeling less than satisfied with the work of the police to date.’

They both nodded again.

‘I really don’t understand why Roy was allowed to review the investigation himself, when he was so personally involved.’

‘We understand there was an independent team appointed a few days after our daughter disappeared,’ Margot Balkwill said.

‘And who was it who reported their findings to you?’ Cassian Pewe asked.

‘Well,’ she said, ‘it was Roy.’

Pewe opened his arms. ‘There, you see, is the problem. Normally when a wife goes missing, her husband is instantly the prime suspect, until cleared. From what I have read and heard, it doesn’t seem to me that your son-in-law was ever formally regarded as a suspect.’

‘Are you saying that you regard him as a suspect now?’ Derek asked.

He picked up his teacup and again Pewe noticed the tremor. He wondered whether the man was nervous or it was the onset of Parkinson’s.

‘I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, at this stage.’ Pewe smiled smugly. ‘But I’m certainly going to take radical steps to eliminate him from suspicion – which is something that has clearly not yet been done.’

Margot Balkwill was nodding. ‘That would be good.’

Her husband nodded, also.

‘Can I ask you both a very personal question? Has either of you ever, for a moment, suspected that Roy might be hiding something from you?’

There was a long silence. Margot furrowed her eyebrows, pursed her lips, then clenched and opened her hands several times. They were coarse hands, Pewe noticed, a gardener’s hands. Her husband sat still, his shoulders hunched, as if being slowly crushed by a huge, unseen weight.

‘I think you should understand,’ Margot Balkwill said, ‘that we don’t have any animosity towards Roy.’ She spoke like a schoolmistress delivering a report to a parent.

‘None,’ Derek said emphatically.

‘But,’ she said, ‘a little bit of you can’t help wondering… Human nature. How well do any of us really know anyone. Isn’t that right, Officer?’

‘Oh, absolutely,’ Pewe agreed silkily.

In the silence that followed Margot Balkwill picked up her spoon and stirred her tea. Pewe noticed that although she didn’t take sugar, this was the third time now she had stirred it. ‘Was there ever anything you noticed in the way Roy treated your daughter,’ he asked. ‘Anything that bothered you? I mean, would you say they had a happy marriage?’

‘Well, I don’t think it’s easy for anyone being married to a police officer. Particularly an ambitious one like Roy.’ She looked at her husband, who shrugged assent. ‘She had to put up with being on her own a lot. And being disappointed at the last minute when he got called out.’

‘Did she have her own career?’

‘She worked for a travel agent in Brighton for a few years. But they were trying for a child and nothing was happening. The doctor told her she should do something less stressful. So she left, got a part-time job as a receptionist at a medical centre. She was between jobs when she…’ Her voice tailed off.

‘Disappeared?’ Pewe prompted.

She nodded, tears welling in her eyes.

‘It’s been hard on us,’ Derek said. ‘Particularly hard on Margot. She and Sandy were very close.’

‘Of course.’ Pewe pulled out his notebook and made some jottings. ‘How long were they trying for a child?’

‘Several years,’ Margot replied, her voice choked.

‘I understand that’s hard on a marriage,’ Pewe said.

‘Everything’s hard in a marriage,’ Derek said.

There was a long silence.

Margot sipped her tea, then asked, ‘Are you implying there is more behind this than we’ve been told?’

‘No, I wouldn’t want to speculate at this stage. I simply have to say that the methodology underpinning the investigation of your daughter’s disappearance is, in my view as an officer of some nineteen years’ experience in the top police force in the UK, wanting. That’s all.’

‘We don’t suspect Roy,’ Margot Balkwill said. ‘Just so you don’t jump to the wrong conclusions.’

‘I’m sure you don’t. Perhaps I should make one thing clear from the outset. My investigation is not a witch hunt. It is merely about closure. Enabling you and your husband to move on.’

‘That will depend, won’t it, on whether our daughter is alive or dead?’

‘Absolutely,’ Cassian Pewe said. He drank some more of his tea, then cleaned his teeth with his tongue. He pulled his card from his pocket and laid it on the table. ‘If there is anything, at any time, you think of that might be helpful for me to know, call me.’

‘Thank you,’ Margot Balkwill said. ‘You are a good man. I can feel it.’

Pewe smiled.

51

OCTOBER 2007

Abby blinked, waking up from a confusing dream to a strange whirring sound. Her stomach was hurting. Her face felt numb. She was freezing cold. Shivering. Staring at cream wall tiles. For a moment she thought she was in a plane, or was it a cabin on a ship?

Then the steady, slow realization that something was very wrong. She couldn’t move. She smelled plastic, grout, tile cement, disinfectant.

Now it was coming back. And with an explosion of swirling darkness inside her, she remembered.

Fear shimmied through her. She tried to raise her right arm to touch her face. And that was when she realized she couldn’t move.

Or open her mouth.

Her head was pulled back so much her neck was hurting and something hard was sticking into her back. It was the cistern, she realized. She was seated on the lavatory. It was hard to see anything except straight ahead and she had to strain her eyes to look down. When she did, she became aware she was naked, bound with grey gaffer tape around her midriff, her breasts, her wrists and ankles, her mouth and, she assumed, because that was what it felt like, her forehead.

She was in the guest shower room of her flat. Staring at the walk-in shower cabinet, with a packet of expensive soap, never unwrapped, in the dish, a sink and a few towel rails, and the beautifully tiled walls, in cream with Romanesque tiles and a dado rail. There was a door to her right, through to the tiny utility room, in which were crammed a washing machine and tumble dryer, and at the back of which was a fire escape door out on to the stairwell. The main door out on to the hallway, to her left, was ajar.

She began to shake, then nearly vomited with fear. She didn’t know for how long she had been imprisoned in here, in this small, windowless room. She tried to shift her position, but the bindings were too secure.

Had he gone? Taken everything and just left her here like this?

Her stomach was hurting. The tape had been put on so tightly, she was losing feeling in some parts, and had pins and needles in her right hand. The hard seat was digging into her bum and thighs.

She was trying to remember what was behind the toilet, so that she could work out what the tape was fixed to behind her. But she couldn’t picture it.

The light was on, which kept the extractor fan running, she realized, making that steady, gloomy whirr.

Her fear turned to despair. He had gone. After all that she’d been through, and now this. How had she let this happen? How had she been so stupid? How? How? How?

Her despair turned to anger.

Then back to fear again as she saw a shadow moving.

52

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Seated on the edge of the L-shaped sofa in the living room, Lorraine unscrewed the cap of a miniature vodka bottle and tipped the contents over the ice cubes and lime slice in her glass. Her sister had come round earlier with an entire plastic bag full of miniatures. Mo seemed to have a never-ending supply and Lorraine assumed she snaffled them from the bar of whatever flight she was on.

It was 9 o’clock. Almost dark outside. The news was still on. Lorraine had been watching it, through her tears, all day. The repeat images of the horror, repeat statements of the politicians. Now there was a group of people in a studio in Pakistan: a doctor, an IT consultant, a lawyer, a vociferous woman television documentary maker, a company director. Lorraine could not believe her ears. They were saying what had happened today in America was a good thing.

She leaned forward and crushed out her cigarette into an ashtray that was overflowing with butts. Mo was in the kitchen making a salad and heating up some pasta. Lorraine looked at these people, listening to them, bewildered. They were intelligent people. One of them was laughing. There was joy on his face.

‘It’s about time the United States of America realized they need to stop beating up on the rest of the world. We don’t want their values. Today they’ve learned that lesson. Today it was their turn to have a bloody nose!’

The woman documentary maker nodded and expanded his argument forcefully.

Lorraine looked at the phone handset beside her. Ronnie had not called. Thousands of people were dead. These people were happy? People jumping out of skyscrapers. A bloody nose?

She picked up the phone handset, pressed it to her sodden cheeks. Call, Ronnie darling, call. Please call. Please call.

Mo had always been protective towards Lorraine. Although only three years older, she treated her as if there was a whole generation between them.

They were actually very different people. Not just their hair colouring – Mo’s was almost jet black – and appearance, but their their attitude to life and their luck. Mo had a shapely, rounded, naturally voluptuous figure. She was gentle. Life fell into her lap. Lorraine suffered five years of humiliating, cripplingly expensive – and ultimately unsuccessful – in vitro fertilization treatment. Mo could get pregnant by just thinking about her husband’s dick.

Mo’d had three children, one after the other, who were all growing up into nice people. She was happy with her quiet, unassuming draughtsman husband and her small, pleasant home. Sometimes Lorraine wished she could be like her. Content. Instead of the yearnings – cravings – she had for a better lifestyle.

‘Lori!’ Mo shouted excitedly from the kitchen.

She came running into the room and, for a moment, Lorraine’s hopes soared. Had she glimpsed Ronnie on the news?

But Mo’s face was a mask of shock as she appeared. ‘Quick! Someone’s stealing your car!’

Lorraine leaped off the sofa, jammed her feet into her loafers, ran to the front door and pulled it open. There was a low-loader truck with amber flashing lights on the roof, parked just past her short driveway. Two men, rough-looking types, were winching her convertible BMW up metal ramps on to the truck.

‘Hey!’ she shouted, running down towards them, livid. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’

They carried on winching up the car, which moved steadily forward, jerking along the ramp. As Lorraine approached, the taller one stuffed a grimy hand into his front pocket and pulled out a sheaf of papers. ‘Are you Mrs Wilson?’

Uneasy, suddenly, her confidence eroding, she replied, ‘Yes?’

‘Your husband is Mr Ronald Wilson?’

‘Yes, he is.’ Her defiance was returning.

He showed her the documents. Then, his tone softening, almost apologetic, he said, ‘Inter-Alliance Autofinance. I’m afraid we are repossessing this vehicle.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘No payments have been made for six months. Mr Wilson’s in breach of the terms.’

‘There must be a mistake.’

‘I’m afraid not. Your husband’s ignored three warning letters that have been sent to him. Under the terms of the hire purchase, the company is legally entitled to repossess this vehicle.’

Lorraine burst into tears as the rear wheels of the blue BMW went over the top of the ramp and on to the flatbed. ‘Please – you’ve seen the news today. My husband is there. He’s in – in New York. I’m trying to get hold of him. I’m sure we can sort this out.’

‘He’ll have to speak to the company tomorrow, madam.’ There was some sympathy in the man’s voice, but he was firm.

‘Look – I – please leave the car here tonight.’

‘I’ll give you a number you can call tomorrow,’ he said.

‘But – but – I’m won’t have a car. How am I supposed to manage? I – I’ve got things in the car. CDs. Parking vouchers. My sunglasses.’

He gestured. ‘Go ahead. You can take those.’

‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘Thanks a million.’

53

OCTOBER 2007

Shaking in terror, Abby watched the creeping shadow, heard the squeak of a trainer on the shiny hall floorboards, followed by the rustle of paper.

Then Ricky appeared.

He stood in the doorway and leaned casually against the jamb, his leather motorcycling jacket unzipped, a grimy white T-shirt beneath. He had several days’ growth of stubble and his hair was greasy, and looked as if it had been flattened down on his head by the helmet. He seemed different from the last time she had seen him. He no longer had the air of a relaxed surfer dude, but one of a haunted man. He had aged in just a couple of months. He had lost weight and his face was haggard, with black rims and heavy bags beneath his eyes. He smelled rank.

Christ, how had she ever fancied him?

He was smiling, as if reading her mind.

But it wasn’t a smile she knew. Not a Ricky smile. It was more like a mask he had pulled on. She caught a glimpse of his watch. It was 10.50. Had she been unconscious for nearly four hours?

Then she saw the Jiffy bag. He held it up, nodded and turned it upside down, allowing the contents, Friday’s Times and Guardian newspapers, to fall out and on to the floor.

‘It’s good to see you again, Abby,’ he said. His voice wasn’t smiling.

She tried to speak, to ask him to untie her, but all she could do was make a muffled sound from her throat.

‘Glad you feel the same! I’m just a bit confused about why you want to courier someone old newspapers in a Jiffy bag.’ He looked at the address. Laura Jackson. 6 Stable Cottages, Rodmell.’ Old friend of yours? But why would you want to send her old newspapers? Doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me. Unless of course I’m missing something. Am I missing something? Perhaps they can’t get newspapers delivered in Rodmell?’

She stared at him.

He tore the bag in half. Fluff poured out. Then, being careful to take only small strips at a time, he ripped the rest of the bag apart. When he had finished, he shook his head and let the last piece fall to the floor. ‘I’ve read both the newspapers. No clues there either. But hey, none of that really matters now, does it?’

He locked on to her eyes, staring her out, still smiling. Enjoying himself.

Abby was thinking fast. She knew what he wanted. She also knew that to get it, he was going to have to let her speak. She racked her petrified mind, thinking desperately. But she wasn’t getting any traction.

He disappeared for a few moments, returning with her large blue suitcase, and laid it down on the floor, in full view of the door. Then he knelt and unzipped it and raised the lid.

‘Nice packing,’ he said, staring at the contents. ‘Very neat and tidy.’ His voice turned bitter. ‘But I suppose you’ve had plenty of practice at packing and running in your life.’

Again his grey eyes locked on to hers. And she saw something in them that she had never seen before. Something new. There was darkness in them. A real darkness. As if his soul was dead.

He began to unpack, one item at a time. First he took a warm knitted jumper that was folded on top of her wash and make-up bags. He unfolded it unhurriedly, checking it carefully, turning it inside out, then, when he was satisfied, he threw it over his shoulder.

She wanted to pee badly. But she was determined not to humiliate herself in front of him. Nor to give him the satisfaction of seeing her fear. Instead she held on and watched him.

He was taking his time, being incredibly, agonizingly slow. Almost as if he sensed that need she had.

She could see from his watch it was almost twenty minutes by the time he had finished unpacking, discarding the last item, her travel hair dryer, which he sent skidding down the corridor, banging against the skirting board.

All the time she kept trying to move. Nothing gave. Nothing. Her wrists and her ankles were hurting like hell. Her bum was numb, and she was having to clench her knees together to fight the need to pee.

Without a word, he pushed the suitcase aside and walked away down the corridor. She had a raging thirst, but that was the least of her problems. She had to get free. But how?

She peed. At least she was still able to do that, he hadn’t taped that up as well. Then she felt better. Exhausted, her head was throbbing, but now she could think a little more clearly.

If she could get him to take the tape off she could at least talk to him, try to reason with him.

Maybe even cut a deal.

Ricky was a businessman.

But that would depend. How hard he looked.

He was coming back now. Holding a tumbler of whisky on the rocks in his hand and smoking a cigarette. The sweet, rich smell tantalized her. She would have given almost anything for just one drag. And a drink. Of anything.

He rattled the ice cubes, then his nostrils twitched. He stepped forward and reached past her. She heard a clank, then the lavatory flushed and she felt spots of cold water splashing her backside.

‘Dirty cow,’ he said. ‘You ought to flush the toilet when you use it. You like to flush other people down the toilet.’ He flicked ash on to the floor. ‘Got yourself a nice pad here. Doesn’t look much from the street.’ He paused and reflected. ‘But on the other hand, I don’t suppose my van looks much from up here.’

The word hit her like a punch. Van. That old white van? The one that had not moved? Had she been so stupid that she’d not thought about that possibility?

She tried pleading with her eyes. But all he did was look back, mockingly, drink more whisky, smoke the cigarette down to the butt and trample it on the floor.

‘Right, Abby, you and I are going to have a little chat. Very simple. I ask you questions, you move your eyes right for yes, left for no. Any part of that you don’t understand?’

She tried to shake her head, but couldn’t. She could move it only a fraction to the right and left.

‘No, Abby, you didn’t hear me right. I said move your eyes, not your head. Like to show me you’ve got that?’

After some moments’ hesitation, she moved her eyes to the right.

‘Good girl!’ he said, as if he was praising a puppy. ‘Very good girl!’

He put his glass down, pulled out another cigarette and gripped it between his lips. Then he picked his glass up, shaking the ice cubes. ‘Nice whisky,’ he said. ‘Single malt. Expensive. But I don’t suppose money is much of a problem for you, right?’

He knelt, so he was at eye level, and inched forward, until he was eyeballing her from just a few inches away. ‘Eh? Money? Not a problem for you?’

She stared rigidly ahead, shivering from the cold.

Then he took a drag of his cigarette and blew the smoke straight in her face. The smoke stung her eyes. ‘Money?’ he said again. ‘Not a problem for you, right?’

Then he stood up. ‘The thing is, Abby, not many people know you are here. Not many people at all. Which means no one’s going to miss you. No one’s going to come looking for you.’ He drank some whisky. ‘Nice shower,’ he said. ‘No expense spared. I expect you’d like to enjoy it. Well, I’m a fair man.’

He rattled the ice cubes hard, staring at the glass, and for a moment Abby thought he was actually going to cut her a deal.

‘Here’s my offer to you. Either I hurt you until you give it all back to me. Or you just give it back to me.’ He smiled again. ‘Strikes me as a no-brainer.’

He took a slow, relaxed drag on his cigarette, as if enjoying her eyes watching him, enjoying the knowledge that she was probably desperate for one. He tilted his head and allowed the blue smoke to curl out of his mouth and drift upwards.

‘Tell you what,’ he said. ‘I’ll let you sleep on it.’

Then he shut the door.

54

OCTOBER 2007

Roy Grace sat at the work station in Major Incident Room One, nursing the mother, father, brother, sister, uncle, grandson, first cousin and second cousin-once-removed of all hangovers. His mouth was like the bottom of a parrot’s cage and it felt as if a chainsaw was blunting its teeth on a steel spike inside his head.

His one consolation was that Glenn Branson, seated diagonally opposite him, looked like he was suffering too. What the hell had come over them last night?

They’d gone to the Black Lion for a quick drink, because Glenn wanted to talk to him about his marriage. They had staggered out some time around midnight, having drunk – how many whiskies, beers, bottles of Rioja? Grace did not even want to think about it. He vaguely remembered a taxi ride home, and that Glenn was still with him because his wife had told him she didn’t want him coming home in the state he was.

Then they had drunk more whisky and Glenn had started riffling through his CDs, criticizing his music, as he always did.

Glenn had still been there this morning, in the spare room, moaning about his blinding headache and telling Grace he was seriously thinking of ending it all.

‘The time is 8.30, Tuesday 23 October,’ Grace read from his briefing notes.

His policy book, and his notes, typed out half an hour earlier by his MSA, sat in front of him, along with a mug of coffee. He was maxed out on paracetamols, which weren’t working, and he was chewing mint gum to mask his breath, which he was sure must reek of alcohol. He had left his car at the pub last night and decided a walk there to get it, later this morning, would do him some good.

He was starting to get seriously worried about his lack of self-control over drinking. It didn’t help that Cleo drank like a fish – he wondered if it was to help her cope with the horrors of her work. Sandy liked an occasional glass of wine or two at weekends, or a beer on a hot evening, but that was all. Cleo, on the other hand, drank wine every night and seldom just one glass, except when she was on call. They would often go through a bottle of wine, on top of a whisky or two – and sometimes make good progress on a second bottle, as well.

At his recent medical, the doctor had asked him how many units of alcohol he drank a week. Lying, Grace had said seventeen, under the impression that around twenty was a safe number for a male. The doctor had frowned, advising him to cut down to under fifteen. Later, after a quick check on a calculator programme he had found on the internet, Grace discovered his average weekly intake was around forty-two units. Thanks to last night, this week’s would probably be double that. He vowed silently never to touch alcohol again.

Bella Moy, opposite him, was already stuffing her face with Maltesers at this early hour. Although she never normally offered them around, she pushed the box towards Grace.

‘I think you need a sugar hit, Roy!’ she said.

‘Does it show?’

‘Good party?’

Grace shot a glance at Glenn. ‘I wish.’

He removed his chewing gum, ate a Malteser, followed, more-ishly, by another three. They didn’t make him feel any worse. Then he swigged some coffee and popped the gum back in his mouth.

‘Coca-Cola,’ Bella said. ‘Full strength – not the Diet one. That’s good for a hangover. And a fried breakfast.’

‘There’s the voice of experience,’ Norman Potting interrupted.

‘Actually I don’t do hangovers,’ she said dismissively to him.

‘Our virtuous virgin,’ Potting grumbled.

‘That’s enough, Norman,’ Grace said, smiling at Bella before she rose any further to the bait.

He then returned to the task in hand, reading out the information Norman Potting had produced at the previous evening’s briefing meeting, that Joanna Wilson’s husband, Ronnie, had died in the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. When he had finished, he turned to Potting. ‘Good work, Norman.’

The DS gave a noncommittal grunt, but looked pleased with himself.

‘What information do we have on Joanna Wilson? Any family that we can talk to?’ Grace asked.

‘I’m working on it,’ Potting said. ‘Her parents are dead, I’ve managed to establish that. No siblings. I’m trying to find out if she had any other relatives.’

Shooting a glance at Lizzie Mantle, his deputy SIO, Grace said, ‘OK, in the absence of immediate family we need to focus our enquiries on the Wilsons’ acquaintances and friends. Norman and Glenn can concentrate on that. Bella, I want you to contact the FBI through the American Embassy in London, see if you can find any record of Joanna Wilson entering the USA during the 1990s. If she was intending to work there, she would have required a visa. Ask the FBI to check all records and computer databases to see if they can find any record of her living there during that period.’

‘Do we have a point person at the embassy?’ she asked.

‘Yes. I know Brad Garrett in the Legal Attaché’s Office. He’ll give you any help you need. If you have a problem, I also have two friends in the District Attorney’s Office in New York. Actually, the smart thing might be to go straight to them. It’ll cut out some red tape. When we need the formal evidence, we will of course go through all the right channels.’ Then he thought for a moment. ‘Leave Brad to me. I’ll give him a ring and run things past him.’

Then he turned to DC Nicholl. ‘Nick, I want you to do a nationwide search on Ronnie Wilson. See if there’s anything on him cross-border.’

The young DC nodded. He looked as exhausted and pale-faced as usual. No doubt he had spent another sleepless night experiencing the joys of fatherhood, Grace thought.

He turned back to Lizzie Mantle. ‘Anything you would like to add?’

‘I’m thinking about this Ronnie Wilson character,’ she said. ‘On the balance of probability, he’s got to be our number-one suspect at this point.’

Grace popped the gum from his mouth and dropped it in a bin close to his feet. ‘I agree,’ he said. ‘But we need to know more about him and his wife, understand their life together. See if we can find a motive. Did he have a lover? Did she? See what we can eliminate.’

‘Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,’ Norman Potting cut in.

There was a brief moment of silence. Potting looked as pleased as hell with himself.

Then Bella Moy looked at him and said acidly, ‘Sherlock Holmes. Very good, Norman. You and he are about the same generation.’

Grace shot her a warning glance, but she shrugged and ate another Malteser. He turned to Emma-Jane Boutwood. ‘E-J, I also want you to take charge of drawing the family tree on the Wilsons.’

‘Actually, I have something to report,’ Norman Potting said. ‘I did my homework last night on the PNC. Ronnie Wilson had form.’

‘Previous?’ Grace said.

‘Yes. He was a frequent flyer with Sussex Police. First time on the radar was 1987. He worked for a dodgy second-hand car dealership that was clocking cars, bunging written-off ones back together.’

‘What happened?’ Grace asked.

‘Twelve months, pope on a rope. Then he popped up again.’

Bella Moy interrupted him. ‘Excuse me – did you say pope on a rope?’

‘Yes, gorgeous.’ Potting mimed being hung from a rope around his neck. ‘Suspended sentence.’

‘Any chance you could speak in a language we all understand?’ she retorted.

Potting blinked. ‘I thought we did all understand cockney rhyming slang. That’s what villains speak.’

‘In movies from the 1950s,’ she said. ‘Your generation of villains.’

‘Bella,’ Grace cautioned gently.

She shrugged and said nothing.

Norman Potting continued. ‘In 1991, Terry Biglow went down for four years. Knocker boy, ripping off old ladies.’ He paused and looked at Bella. ‘Knocker boy. All right with that? I’m not talking about boobies.’

‘I know what knocker boys are,’ she said.

‘Good,’ he continued. ‘Ronnie Wilson worked for him. Got charged as his accomplice, but a smart brief got him off on a technicality. I spoke to Dave Gaylor, who was the case officer.’

‘Worked with Terry Biglow?’ Grace said.

Everyone in the room knew the name Biglow. They were one of the city’s long-established crime families. Several generations into everything from drug dealing, stolen antiques and call girls to witness intimidation, they were just plain trouble in all its forms.

Grace looked at DI Mantle. ‘Seems you could be right, Lizzie. There’s enough there at least to announce we have a suspect.’

Alison Vosper would like that, he thought. She always liked that phrase, We have a suspect. It made her in turn look good to her boss, the Chief Constable. And if her boss was happy, then she was happy.

And if she was happy, she tended to stay out of his face.

55

11 SEPTEMBER 2001

Refreshed after a shower, which had washed the grey dust out of his hair and helped him to partly sober up, Ronnie lounged on the pink candlewick bedspread with the two cigarette burn holes. His thirty-dollar-a-night room did not run to a headboard, so he lay back against the bare wall, studying the news on the fuzzy screen of the clapped-out television and smoking a cigarette.

He watched the two planes repeatedly crash into the Twin Towers. The burning Pentagon. The solemn face of Mayor Giuliani praising the NYPD and the fire officers. The solemn face of President Bush declaring his War on Terrorism. The solemn faces of all the grey ghosts.

The dim, low-wattage bulbs added to the gloominess of this room. He had drawn the drab curtains over his view across the alleyway to the wall of the next-door house. At this moment the whole world beyond his little room seemed solemn and gloomy.

However, despite the raging headache from all the vodka he had drunk, he did not feel gloomy. Shocked at all that he had seen today, at all that had happened to his plans, yes. But here in this room he felt safe. Cocooned in his thoughts. The realization that the opportunity of a lifetime had presented itself to him.

He realized, also, that he had left more stuff behind in his room at the W. His plane tickets, as well as his passport, and some of his underwear. But instead of being concerned, he was rather pleased.

He looked down at his mobile phone, checking for the thousandth time that it was switched off. Getting paranoid that it might, somehow, of its own volition, have switched itself back on. That suddenly Lorraine’s voice would be on the other end, screaming with joy or, more likely, cursing him for not having called her.

He saw something scurrying across the carpet. It was a dark brown roach, about half an inch long. He knew that cockroaches were among the few creatures that could survive a nuclear war. They had reached perfection through evolution. Survival of the fittest.

Yep, well, he was pretty fit too. And now that his plan was taking shape, he knew exactly what his first step was going to be.

He walked over to the waste bin and removed the plastic bag that lined it. Then he took the red folder from his briefcase and dropped it in, figuring he was unlikely to be mugged for the contents of a plastic bag. He was well aware of the risk he had run towing his briefcase and suitcase all this way. He stopped and listened. The item of news he was most interested in was now coming up on the television. The repeated information that all non-military flights in and out of America were grounded. Indefinitely.

Perfect.

He pulled on his jacket and left the room.

It was 6.45. Dusk was beginning to fall, but it was still broad daylight as the walked along, swinging the carrier bag at his side, retracing his steps to the busy main street with the L-Train overpass.

He still hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, but he wasn’t hungry. He had a job to do first.

To his relief, Mail Box City was still open. He crossed the street and went in. To his right was the floor-to-ceiling wall of metal safe-deposit boxes. At the far end, the same long-haired man he had seen earlier was busy on one of several internet terminals. Two empty phone booths were beyond him. To Ronnie’s left, three people were queuing at the counter. The first, a man in a white hard hat and dungarees, held out a strange-looking passbook and was receiving a wad of banknotes. Behind him stood a grim-faced old woman in a denim skirt, and behind her was a strung-out girl with long orange hair who kept looking around with blank, glazed eyes, rotating her hands every few moments.

Ronnie joined the queue behind her. Five minutes later the grizzled man behind the counter handed him a key as thin as a razor blade, and a slip of paper, in exchange for fifty dollars. ‘Thirty-one,’ he said in guttural English, and jerked a finger. ‘One week. You come back, otherwise open box. Take. Understand?’

Ronnie nodded and looked at the slip of paper. The date and time, down to the minute, were printed on it. Along with the expiry date.

‘No drugs.’

‘Understood.’

The man gave him a long, sad stare, his demeanour softening suddenly. ‘You OK?’

‘Yep, I’m OK.’

The man nodded. ‘Crazy. Crazy today. Why they do this to us? It’s crazy, yes?’

‘Crazy.’

Ronnie turned away, found his deposit box and unlocked it. It was deeper than he had imagined. He slid his package in, then glanced around to make sure no one was observing him, closed the door and locked it. He had a sudden thought and went back to the counter. Having paid for thirty minutes’ internet connection time, he sat down at a terminal and logged on to Hotmail.

Five minutes later he was all set up. He had a new name, a new email address. This was the start of his new life.

And now, he realized, he was ravenous. He left the store and went in search of a burger and fries. And a gherkin. For some reason, he suddenly could have killed for a gherkin. And fried onions. Ketchup. The works. And a Coke.

Champagne would come later.

56

OCTOBER 2007

‘Come in,’ Alison Vosper said, in response to the knock on her door.

Cassian Pewe had selected his clothes carefully for this meeting. His sharpest blue suit, his best white shirt, his favourite tie, pale blue and white geometrics. And he had sprayed on so much Calvin Klein Eternity cologne he smelled like he had been marinated in the stuff.

You could always tell when you really connected with someone, and Pewe knew that he had with this particular lady Assistant Chief Constable from the very first time they met. It was at a Metropolitan Police conference on counter-terrorism and the Islamic threat in Britain’s cities back in January. He had sensed more than a frisson of sexuality between them. He was quite sure that the reason she had so enthusiastically and proactively encouraged his move to the Sussex CID – and championed his promotion to Detective Superintendent – was because she had extracurricular activities in mind.

Quite understandably, of course. He knew just how attractive to women he was. And throughout his career to date, he had always focused on the women in power in the police force. Not all were malleable; in fact some were as steely as their male counterparts, if not more so. But a fair percentage were normal women, intelligent and strong, but with emotional vulnerabilities. You just had to press the right buttons.

Which made the coldness of the ACC’s reaction as he entered her office all the more surprising.

‘Take a seat,’ she said, without looking up from the array of morning papers fanned out on her desk like a poker hand. ‘Or perhaps I should say, “Take a pew.”’

‘Oh, that’s very witty,’ Pewe cooed.

But no smile cracked her icy expression. Seated behind her huge rosewood desk, she continued reading an article in the Guardian, holding him at bay with her elegantly manicured hand.

He eased himself down into the black leather armchair. Although it was four months since the taxi he had been travelling in had been T-boned by a stolen van, fracturing his left leg in four places, it was still painful to stand for prolonged periods of time. But he kept that to himself, not wanting to risk his future career chances by being marked as a semi-invalid.

Alison Vosper continued reading. Pewe looked at the framed photographs of her husband, a burly, shaven-headed police officer several years older than her, and her two children, boys in school uniform wearing rather goofy spectacles.

Several framed certificates bearing her name hung on the walls, along with a couple of old Brighton prints, one of the racecourse, the other of the long-gone chain pier.

Her phone rang. She leaned forward and stared at the display, then hoisted it from its cradle, barked, ‘I’m in a meeting, call you back,’ replaced it and continued reading. ‘So, how are you getting on?’ she asked suddenly, still reading.

‘So far, great.’

She glanced up and he tried to hold and maintain eye contact, but, almost immediately, she looked down at something else on another part of her desk. She reached over, picked up and then shuffled through some sheets of typewritten papers, a report of some kind, as if she was trying to find something. ‘I understand you’ve been allocated cold cases?’

‘Yes.’

She was dressed in a short, tight-fitting black jacket over a white, Mandarin-collared blouse, which was closed at the neck by an opal in a silver clasp. Her breasts, which he had fantasized about, were almost flattened. Then she looked at him and smiled. A long, almost come-on smile.

Instantly he melted. Then lost eye contact again as she looked down and began shuffling through the papers once more.

There was something intensely fragrant about her, he thought. She wasn’t beautiful, but he was powerfully attracted. Her skin was silky white and even the small wart just above the neckline of her blouse, her one tiny blemish, intrigued him. She was wearing a citrus fragrance that was setting off fireworks deep in his belly. She looked pure, and strong, and exuded authority. He wanted to go around the far side of that desk, rip her clothes off and roll around with her on the carpeted floor.

He was getting an erection at the thought.

And she was still looking down at her desk, shuffling through the damn papers!

‘It’s good to see you again,’ he said gently, as a prompt.

He left an expectant gap. Was she was feeling the same way about him and just being coy? Maybe she was going to suggest a place where the two of them could meet later for a drink. Somewhere cosy.

He could invite her over to his pad at the Marina. With its view of the yachts, it was pretty cool.

Now she was reading the Guardian again.

‘Are you looking for something?’ he asked. ‘Is there some mention of Sussex Police?’

‘No,’ she said dismissively. ‘Just trying to catch up on the day’s news.’ Then, without looking up, she said, ‘I presume you’re starting an audit of how many cold cases are outstanding?’

‘Well,’ he said, ‘well, yes, absolutely.’

‘Murders, suspicious deaths? Long-term missing persons? Other undetected serious crimes?’

‘All of those.’

She moved on to the Telegraph and scanned the front page.

He stared at her uncertainly. There was an invisible barrier between them and he felt completely thrown. ‘Look, I – I was wondering if I could speak to you off the record.’

‘Go ahead.’ She turned several pages in rapid succession as he spoke.

‘Well, I know I’m meant to report to Roy Grace, but I have concerns about him.’

Now he had her full attention. ‘Go on.’

‘You know about his missing wife, of course,’ he said.

‘The entire force has lived with it for the past nine years,’ she replied.

‘Well, I went to interview her parents last night. They are deeply concerned. They don’t feel that anyone in Sussex Police has carried out an impartial investigation.’

‘Can you elaborate?’

‘Yes. Well, here’s the thing. In all that time, the only officer in Sussex Police who has taken responsibility for reviewing the investigation into her disappearance is Roy himself. To me, that doesn’t sit right. I mean, that wouldn’t have happened in the Met.’

‘So what are you saying?’

‘Well,’ Pewe continued unctuously, ‘her parents are deeply uncomfortable about this. Reading between the lines, I think they suspect Roy is hiding something.’

She looked at him for some moments. ‘And what do you think?’

‘I’d like your permission for me to prioritize this. Dig further. Use my discretion to take whatever investigatory steps I consider necessary.’

‘Granted,’ she said. Then she looked back down at her papers and dismissed him with a single wave of her hand. The one with the diamond solitaire and wedding band.

When he stood up, his hard-on had gone but he felt a whole new kind of excitement.

57

OCTOBER 2007

The light and the extractor fan had been on for what seemed like hours and hours. In the tiny, windowless room, Abby had lost all track of time. She didn’t know if it was still the middle of the night or morning. Her mouth and throat were parched, she was ravenously hungry and almost every part of her body was numb or hurting from the bindings.

She was shivering with cold in the constant icy draught. She desperately needed to blow her nose, which was blocked and getting increasingly hard to breathe through. No air at all came in through her mouth and, breathing faster and faster, she was sensing another panic attack coming on.

She tried to calm herself down, to slow her breathing. She was beginning to feel she wasn’t totally inside her body, that she was dead and floating above it. As if the naked person bound with tape was someone else, not her any more.

She was dead.

Her heart was pounding. Hammering. She tried to say something to herself and heard the muffled humming sound inside her mouth. I am still alive. I can feel my heart.

Inside her skull, she could feel a band tightening around her brain. She felt clammy and unable to focus her eyes clearly. Then she began shaking uncontrollably. A cold sweat of fear erupted on her skin as the thought hit her like a sledgehammer.

What if he has gone and left me here?

To die…

When she had first met Ricky she thought that, like Dave, his violence was just big talk, swagger, keeping up with their gangster friends. Then one night when she was with him, he’d caught a spider in the bathtub and burned each of its legs off with a cigarette lighter, then left it, alive in a glass jar, to die of thirst or hunger.

The realization that he was quite capable of doing the same to her made her struggle against the bonds with a sudden, new urgency. Her panic was deepening.

Concentrate.

Focus.

Remember it is just a panic attack. You are not dying. You are not out of your body. Say the words.

She breathed in, out, in, out. Hi, she thought the words. I am Abby Dawson. I am fine. This is just a wonky chemical reaction. I’m fine, I am in my body, I am not dead, this will pass.

She tried to focus on each of the bindings in turn, starting with the one around her forehead. Her neck was increasingly painful from her head being pulled back so far. But try as hard as she could, she could not move it an inch in any direction.

Next she tried her hands, which were taped to her thighs. Her fingers were splayed out and taped too, making it impossible to get a purchase on anything. She tried to move her legs, but they were taped together so hard they felt like they were in a cast. Nothing gave. There was no slack anywhere.

Where had he learned about bindings? Or had he just winged it as he went along? Smiling as he worked?

Oh yes, smiling for sure.

And she could hardly blame him.

She was wishing desperately, suddenly, that she had never agreed to this. She wasn’t strong enough, she realized. Nor smart enough. How the hell had she ever thought she could succeed? How could she have been so stupid?

A clank interrupted her thoughts, then the squeak of a rubber shoe and a shadow fell across the door. Ricky was looking down at her, holding a large, plastic ASDA carrier bag in one hand and a tall, white mug of coffee in the other. She could smell the aroma. God, that was so good.

‘Hope you had a good night’s rest, Abby. I want you fresh for today. Did you?’

She made a lowing moan.

‘Yes, sorry about the tape. But the walls in this place aren’t that thick. I can’t take any risks, I’m sure you understand. So – maybe the bed was a little hard? Still, very good for your posture, that position. Straight back. Did anybody ever tell you about the importance of good posture?’

She said nothing.

‘No, well, I don’t suppose the word straight features much in your vocabulary. He put the carrier bag down on the floor. It made a heavy clank, followed by the rattle of metal objects inside.

‘I’ve brought along a few things. I’ve never actually done torture before. Seen it in films, of course. Read about it.’

Her throat tightened.

‘I just want you to understand, Abby, that I don’t have to hurt you. All you have to do is tell me where it is. You know, what you took from me. Like, my entire stash.’

She was silent. Trembling.

He picked up the bag and shook it, with a loud, metallic rattle. ‘Got all kinds of stuff in here, but most of it’s pretty primitive. Got a power drill that could go right through your kneecaps. I’ve got a packet of needles and a small hammer. Could whack those up inside your fingernails. Got some pliers for your teeth. Or we could be a bit more cultural.’

He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a black iPod. Then he held it up close to her eyes. ‘Music,’ he said. ‘Have a listen.’

He inserted the ear-pieces, checked the display and pressed the start symbol. Then he turned up the volume.

Abby heard a song she recognized but could not immediately name.

‘“Fool for Love”,’ Ricky helped her. ‘Could be me, really, couldn’t it?’

She looked at him, almost incoherent with terror, not sure what reaction he was expecting. And trying not to let him see how scared she was.

‘I like this record,’ he said. ‘Do you? Remember, eyes right for yes, left for no.’

She moved her eyes right.

‘Good, now we’re cooking with gas! So, is it here, or somewhere else? How about I make the question simple. Is it here, in this flat?’

She moved her eyes left.

‘OK. Somewhere else. Is it in Brighton?’

She moved her eyes right.

‘In a safe-deposit box?’

Again she moved her eyes right.

He dug his left hand into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small, thin key. ‘Is it this key?’

Her eyes told him it was.

He smiled. ‘Good. Now all we need to establish is the bank and the address. Is it NatWest?’

Eyes left.

‘Lloyds TSB?’

Eyes left.

‘HSBC?’

Her eyes moved left. And she nixed Barclays too.

‘OK, I think I get it,’ he said, and moved away from the doorway. A short while later he returned holding a copy of the Yellow Pages, open at the listings page for security companies. His finger ran down, stopping and getting a negative from Abby at each name. Then it came to Southern Deposit Security.

Her eyes moved right.

He studied the name and address, as if memorizing it, then closed the directory.

‘OK, good. All we need now is to establish a few more details. Would the account be in the name of Abby Dawson?’

Eyes left.

‘Katherine Jennings?’

Her eyes went right.

He smiled, looking much happier now.

Then she stared at him, trying to signal. But he wasn’t interested.

‘Hasta la vista, baby!’ he said cheerily. ‘That’s from one of my favourite movies. Remember?’ He peered at her intently.

She moved her eyes right. She remembered. She knew this film, this line. It was Arnie Schwarzenegger in The Terminator. She knew what it meant.

See you later!

58

OCTOBER 2007

After the briefing meeting, Roy Grace retreated to the quiet sanctuary of his office and spent a few moments looking out of the window, across the main road at the ASDA car park, and the ugly slab building of the supermarket itself cutting off what would have been a fine view across the city of Brighton and Hove he loved so much. At least he could actually see some sky, and for the first time in several days patches of it were blue, with rays of sun breaking through the cloud.

Nursing the hot mug of coffee that Eleanor had just brought him, he glanced down at the plastic trays containing his prized collections – three dozen vintage cigarette lighters that he hadn’t yet put up on display and a fine selection of international police caps.

Lying beside the stuffed brown trout he had caught on a visit to Ireland some years ago was a new addition, a birthday present from Cleo. It was a stuffed carp, in a display case, at the base of which was engraved the legend – a terrible pun – Carpe diem.

His briefcase sat open on the table, together with his mobile, his dictating machine and a bunch of transcripts relating to the court hearings he was helping to prepare, one of which he had go through this morning, because the CPS lawyer was on his back for it.

What’s more, thanks to his promotion, he now had new stacks of files, growing by the minute, that Eleanor was bringing in and placing on every available flat surface. They contained case summaries of all the major crimes that Sussex CID were currently investigating, which he now had to review.

He made a list of everything he needed to follow up on Operation Dingo, then he went through the transcript, which took him an hour. When he had finished, he pulled out his notebook and, starting at the back, read his most recent jotting. His handwriting was bad, so he took a moment to decipher it and remember.

Katherine Jennings, Flat 82, Arundel Mansions,

29 Lower Arundel Terrace.

He stared at it blankly, for some moments. Waiting for his brain’s synapses to kick in and provide him with some recollection of why he had written that down. Then he remembered Kevin Spinella cornering him after the press briefing yesterday. Telling him something about her being freed from a trapped lift and that she had seemed frightened about something.

Most people trapped in a lift would have been frightened. Mildly claustrophobic and with a fear of heights, he probably would have been too. Scared witless. Still, you never knew. He decided to do the dutiful thing and report it to East Brighton District. He dialled the internal number of the most efficient officer he knew there, Inspector Stephen Curry, gave him the woman’s name and address, and explained the provenance.

‘Don’t make it a priority, Steve. But maybe have one of your beat officers swing by some time, make sure all is OK.’

‘Absolutely,’ said Stephen Curry, who was sounding rushed. ‘Leave it with me.’

‘With the greatest pleasure,’ Grace said.

Having hung up, he looked down at the workload on his desk and decided he would stroll down later this morning, towards lunchtime, to collect his car. Take in a bit of fresh air. Enjoy a rare bit of sunshine and try to clear his head. Then make his way downtown to see if he couldn’t find one or two of Ronnie Wilson’s old acquaintances. He had a good idea where to start looking.

59

12 SEPTEMBER 2001

Ronnie spent a restless night lying between unwashed nylon sheets, trying to cope with a foam pillow that felt as if it was filled with rocks and a mattress whose springs bored into him like corkscrews. He had a choice between keeping the window shut and enduring the air-conditioning unit that made a noise like two skeletons fighting in a metal shed, or opening it and being kept awake by the non-stop wailing of distant sirens and the chop of helicopters.

At a few minutes to 6 he lay wide awake, scratching one of several tiny red bites on his leg. He soon discovered more that were itching like fury on his chest and stomach.

He fumbled on the bedside table for the remote and switched the television on. The urgency of the outside world suddenly filled his room. Images of New York were on the screen. There were distraught-looking people, women and men, holdinguphand-made boards, placards, signs, some with photographs, some with just names, in red or black or blue writing, all asking, HAVE YOU SEEN?

A newscaster appeared, giving an estimate of the numbers dead. Emergency phone numbers to call ran along the bottom, as well as more breaking news.

All kinds of bad stuff.

Bad stuff was churning around inside his head too, together with everything else that had been in the mix all night long. Thoughts, ideas, lists. Lorraine. Donald Hatcook. Flames. Screams. Falling bodies.

His plan.

Was Donald OK? If he had survived, was there any guarantee he would agree to back his biodiesel venture? Ronnie had always been a gambling man and he didn’t reckon the odds on that were as good as the odds on his new plan working. So far as he was now concerned, alive or dead, Donald Hatcook was history.

Lorraine would be hurting. But in time she would understand that there was no gain without pain.

One day the silly cow would understand – one day soon, when he showered her in fifty-quid notes, bought her everything she ever wanted and more!

They would be rich!

Just had to suffer some pain now.

And be very, very careful.

He looked at his watch to double-check: 6.02. It took a few moments for his tired, jet-lagged brain to work out whether the UK was ahead in time or behind. Ahead, he finally decided. So it would be just after 11 in the morning in Brighton. He tried to think what Lorraine would be doing. She’d have phoned his mobile, phoned the hotel, phoned Donald Hatcook’s office. She might be round at her sister’s house, or, more likely, her sister would be round at theirs.

A police officer was speaking now, straight at the television. He was saying volunteers were needed to come and help out on the pile. They needed people down in the disaster area to help with the digging, to hand out water. He looked exhausted, as if he had been up all night. He looked like a man stretched to breaking point from tiredness and emotion and just sheer workload.

Volunteers. Ronnie thought about that for some moments. Volunteers.

He climbed out of bed and stood in the puny shower, feeling strangely liberated, but nervous. There were a thousand and one ways he could screw this up. But also there were ways he could be smart. Really smart. Volunteers. Yes, that had something! That had currency!

Drying himself, he focused on the news, watching a New York channel, wanting to see what was predicted for the city today. The other shoe that was going to drop that people were talking about? Meaning more attacks. Or was business going to get back to normal today? At least in some parts of Manhattan?

He needed to know, because he had transactions to make. His new life was going to require funding. You had to speculate to accumulate. Stuff he needed was going to be expensive and, wherever he got it, he would have to pay in cash.

The item he wanted was coming up on the news now. The parts of New York that would be closed off and the parts that were open. What was running on the transit system. It seemed there was a lot, that most of it was operating. The anchor woman was saying, solemnly, that yesterday the world had changed.

She was right, he thought, but for many today it would be business as usual. Ronnie was relieved about that. After his binge in the bar yesterday, his evening meal and his advance on the room, his resources were down to about three hundred and two dollars.

The reality of that was hammering home. Three hundred and two dollars to last him until he could make a transaction. He could pawn his laptop, but that was too risky. He knew, to his own cost, when the computer at the car dealership had been seized a few years back, that it was almost impossible to wipe a computer memory clean. His laptop would always be traceable back to him.

They were talking about volunteers wanted for the pile on the screen again now. Volunteers, he thought. The idea was taking root, exciting him.

Now, thanks to the morning news, he had another piece of his plan in place.

60

OCTOBER 2007

Sussex House had originally been acquired as the headquarters for Sussex CID. But recently, despite the fact that the building was bursting at the seams, a uniformed district, East Brighton, had been squeezed into the premises as well. The Neighbourhood Specialist Team officers, involved in community-orientated problem-solving, occupied a tight space behind double doors leading directly off the reception area.

One downside of this location for Inspector Stephen Curry was that every morning he needed to be in two places at once. He had to be here for his daily briefing with the duty Neighbourhood Policing Team inspector, which ended just after 9 o’clock, and then he had a mad dash through the Brighton rush hour to be at Brighton Police Station in John Street for the daily 9.30 review meeting chaired by the Superintendent Crime and Operations for Brighton and Hove Division.

A strong-framed man of thirty-nine with hard-set good looks and a youthful air of enthusiasm about him, Curry was in even more of a rush than usual today, looking anxiously at his watch. It was 10.45. He had just returned to his office at Sussex House from John Street, to deal with a couple of urgent matters, and was about to fly back out of the door when Roy Grace phoned him.

He carefully wrote down the name Katherine Jennings and the address in his notebook, then told Grace he would get someone from his Neighbourhood Specialist Team to stop by the place.

As the matter didn’t sound urgent, he decided it could wait till later. Then he jumped up, grabbed his cap off the door, and hurried out.

61

12 SEPTEMBER 2001

Lorraine was sitting once again at the kitchen table in her white towelling dressing gown, a cigarette in her mouth and a cup of tea in front of her. Her head was pounding and she was bleary-eyed, not fully with it, from an almost sleepless night. Her heart felt like a lead weight in her chest and she had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

She tapped the cigarette on the ashtray, sending a quarter-inch of ash tumbling in to join the four fresh butts already there this morning. The Daily Mirror lay beside her and the news was on television, but for the first time since yesterday afternoon, her mind was on something else.

In front of her lay the post that had arrived that morning, as well as yesterday’s and Monday’s. Plus more opened post she had found in Ronnie’s bureau in the small spare room upstairs he used as his office.

The letter she was looking at now was from a debt-collection agency called EndCol Financial Recovery. It was acknowledging an agreement Ronnie appeared to have entered into to pay off the hire-purchase payments on the large-screen television in the living room. The next one was from another debt-collection agency. It informed Ronnie that the phone line to the house was going to be disconnected if the outstanding balance of over six hundred pounds was not paid within seven days.

Then there was the letter from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, demanding that nearly eleven and a half thousand pounds be paid within three weeks or a distraint order would be made.

Lorraine shook her head in disbelief. Half the letters were demands for payment on overdue bills. And one, from his bank manager, told him that his request for a further loan had been rejected.

The worst letter of all was from the building society. She had found it in his bureau and it informed Ronnie that they were foreclosing on the mortgage and commencing court proceedings to repossess the house.

Lorraine crushed out the cigarette, buried her face in her hands and sobbed. All the time thinking, Why didn’t you tell me this, Ronnie darling? Why didn’t you tell me the mess you – we – are in? I could have helped, gone out and got a job. I might not have earned much, but it would have helped. It would have been better than nothing.

She shook another cigarette out and stared numbly at the screen. At the people in New York walking around with their placards, their photographs of lost loved ones. That’s what she needed to do, she knew. She had to get over there and find him. Maybe he’d been injured and was lying in a hospital somewhere…

He was alive, she felt it in her bones. He was a survivor. All these debts, he would deal with them. If Ronnie had been here last night, he’d never have let them take the car. He’d have cut a deal, or found some cash, or torn the fuckers’ throats out.

For the millionth time, she dialled his number. And it went straight to his voicemail. Not his voice, just an impersonal one telling her sorry, the person she had called was not available and inviting her to leave a message.

She hung up, sipped her tea, then lit the cigarette and coughed. A deep, hacking cough which made her eyes water. They were now showing the smouldering rubble, the skeletal walls, the whole apocalyptic scene of what had been, until yesterday morning, the World Trade Center. She tried to work out from the images now on the screen – first a tight shot of a fireman in the foreground wearing a face mask, stumbling across a hillock of shifting, smoking masonry, then a much wider shot showing a slab maybe a hundred feet high and a flattened cop car – where the South Tower had been. What was left of it. When had Ronnie got out of it and how?

Her front doorbell rang. She froze. Then there was a sharp rap.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

She slunk upstairs and into the front bedroom, the one that Ronnie used, and peered down. There was a blue van outside in the street, blocking her drive, and two burly men were standing outside her front door. One had a shaven head and was wearing a parka and jeans; the other, with close-cropped hair and a large gold earring, was holding a document.

She lay still, almost holding her breath. There were more raps on the door. The bell rang again, twice. Then, finally, she heard the van drive off.

62

OCTOBER 2007

Tosser!

Cassian Pewe had been in Sussex House for a couple of days, but it had taken about three minutes for Tony Case, the Senior Support Officer, to sum him up.

Case, a former police officer himself, ran the administration for this building and the three other buildings that housed between them all the Major Incident Suites in Sussex – at Littlehampton, Horsham and Eastbourne. Among his duties were performing risk assessments for raids, budgeting forensic requirements and new equipment, and general compliance, as well as ensuring that the people who worked here had everything they needed.

Such as picture hooks.

‘Look,’ Pewe said, as if he were addressing a flunky, ‘I want that picture hook moved three inches to the right and six inches higher. OK? And I want this one moved exactly eight inches higher. Understand? You don’t seem to be writing any of this down.’

‘Perhaps you’d like me to get you a supply of hooks, a hammer and a ruler, then you could put them up yourself?’ Case suggested. It was what every other officer did, including the Chief Superintendent.

Pewe, who had removed his suit jacket and hung it over his chair, was wearing red braces over his white shirt. He strutted around the room now, twanging them. ‘I don’t do DIY,’hesaid. ‘And I don’t have time. You must have someone here to do stuff like this.’

‘Yes,’ Tony Case said. ‘Me.’

Pewe was looking out of the window at the grim custody block. The rain was stopping. ‘Not much of a view,’ he moaned.

‘Detective Superintendent Grace was quite happy with it.’

Pewe went a strange colour, as if he had swallowed something to which he was allergic. ‘This was his office?’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s really a lousy view.’

‘Perhaps if you call ACC Vosper, she’ll have the custody block demolished for you.’

‘That’s not funny,’ Pewe said.

‘Funny?’ Tony Case said. ‘I’m not being funny. I’m at work. We don’t do humour here. Just serious police work. I’ll go and get you a hammer – if no one’s nicked it.’

‘And what about my assistants? I’ve requested two DCs. Where will they be seated?’

‘No one told me anything about two assistants.’

‘I need some space for them. They will have to sit somewhere fairly near me.’

‘I could get you a smaller desk,’ Tony Case said. ‘And put them both in here.’ He left the room.

Pewe couldn’t work out whether the man was being facetious or was for real, but his thoughts were interrupted by the phone ringing. He answered it with an important-sounding, ‘Detective Superintendent Pewe.’

It was a controller. ‘Sir, I have an officer at Interpol on the line. On behalf of the Victoria Police in Australia. He asked specifically for someone working on cold-case inquiries.’

‘OK, put him through.’ He sat down, taking his time about it, and put his feet up on his desk, in a space between bundles of documents. Then he brought the receiver to his ear. ‘Detective Superintendent Cassian Pewe,’ he said.

‘Ah, good morning, ah, Cashon, this is Detective Sergeant James Franks from the Interpol bureau in London.’

Franks had a clipped public school accent. Pewe didn’t like the way desk-jockey Interpol members tended to think they were superior and ride roughshod over other police officers.

‘Let me have your number and I’ll call you back,’ Pewe said.

‘That’s OK, you don’t need to do that.’

‘Security. It’s our policy here in Sussex,’ Pewe said importantly, getting pleasure out of exercising his little bit of power.

Franks repaid the compliment by making him listen to an endless loop of ‘Nessun dorma’ for a good four minutes before he finally came back on the line. He would have been even happier had he known it was a song that Pewe, a classical music and opera purist, particularly hated.

‘OK, Cashon, our bureau’s been contacted by police outside Melbourne in Australia. I understand they have the body of an unidentified pregnant woman recovered from the boot of car – been in a river for some two and a half years. They’ve obtained DNA samples from her and the foetus, but they have not been able to get any match off their Australian databases. But here’s the thing…’

Franks paused and Pewe heard a slurp, as if he was swigging some coffee, before he resumed.

‘The woman has silicone breast implants. I understand these are all printed with the manufacturer’s batch number and each of them has a serial number that’s kept in the hospital register under the recipient’s name. This particular batch of implants was supplied to a hospital called the Nuffield in Woodingdean, in the city of Brighton and Hove, back in 1997.’

Pewe took his feet off the table and looked around hopelessly for a notebook, before using the back of an envelope to scribble down a few details. He then asked Franks to fax through the information on the implants and the DNA analysis of both the mother and the foetus, promising that he would start making enquiries right away. He then pointed out rather crisply that his name was Cassian, not Cashon, and hung up.

He really did need a junior officer to assist him. He had far more important things to deal with than a floater in an Australian river. One of them much more important.

63

OCTOBER 2007

Abby was laughing. Her father was laughing too.

‘You stupid girl, you did that deliberately, didn’t you?’

‘No I didn’t, Daddy!’

Both of them stood back, staring at the partially tiled bathroom wall. White tiles with a navy-blue dado rail and a scattering of navy tiles as relief, one of which she had just put on backwards, so that the coarse grey underside was now visible, looking like a square of cement.

‘You’re meant to be helping me, young lady, not hindering me!’ her dad admonished.

She burst into loud giggles. ‘I didn’t do it deliberately, Daddy, honestly.’

For an answer, he patted her squarely on the forehead with his trowel, depositing a small lump of grout.

‘Hey!’ she cried. ‘I’m not a bathroom wall, so you can’t tile me.’

‘Oh yes, I can.’

Her father’s face darkened and the smile faded. Suddenly it wasn’t him any more. It was Ricky.

He was holding a power drill in his hand. Smiling, he squeezed the trigger. The drill whined.

‘Right knee or left knee first, Abby?’

She began shaking, her body still held rigid by her bonds, her insides twisting, shrinking back, screaming silently.

She could see the spinning drill bit. Corkscrewing towards her knee. Inches from it. She was screaming. Her cheeks popping. Nothing coming out. Just an endless, trapped moan.

Trapped in her throat and in her mouth.

He lunged forward with the drill.

And as she screamed again, the light changed suddenly. She smelled the sharp, dry smell of fresh grout, saw cream wall tiles. Hyperventilating. There was no Ricky. She could see the carrier bag lying where he had left it, untouched, just beyond the doorway. She felt slippery with perspiration. Heard the steady whirr of the extractor fan, felt the cold draught from it. The insides of her mouth were feeling stuck together. She was so parched, so terribly parched. Just one drop. One small glass of water. Please.

She stared at the tiles again.

God, the irony of being imprisoned in here. Facing these tiles. So near. So damned near! Her mind was all over the place. Somehow she had to get to Ricky. Had to get him to remove the tape from her face. And if he was rational, when he returned, that’s exactly what he would have to do.

But he wasn’t rational.

And thinking about that now chilled every cell in her body.

64

12 SEPTEMBER 2001

Wide awake and feeling mentally alert, despite his tired eyes, Ronnie stepped out of the front door of the rooming house shortly after 7.30. Immediately, he noticed the smell. There was a hazy, metallic blue sky and there should have been a dewy freshness in the morning air. But instead a pungent, sour reek filled his nostrils.

At first he thought it must be coming from the garbage cans, but as he walked down the steps and along the street it stayed with him. A suggestion of something that was damp and smouldering, something chemical, sour and cloying. His eyes hurt too, as if there were tiny pellets of sandpaper in the haze.

On the main drag, there was a strange atmosphere. It was Wednesday morning, midweek, yet there were hardly any cars about. People were walking slowly, with drawn, haggard expressions, as if they too had not slept well. The whole city seemed to be in a state of deepening shock. The numbing events of yesterday had now had time to work through everyone’s psyche and were bring to a new, dark reality this morning.

He found a diner, displaying, among all its Russian signs in the window, the English words stencilled in red letters on illuminated plastic, ALL DAY BREAKFAST. Inside, he could see a handful of people, including two cops, were eating in silence, watching the news on the television high on one wall.

He sat in a booth towards the rear. A subdued waitress poured him coffee and a glass of iced water, while he looked blankly at the Russian menu, before realizing there was an English version on the reverse. He ordered fresh orange juice and a pancake stack with bacon, then watched the television while he waited for his food to arrive. It was hard to believe that it was only twenty-four hours since his breakfast yesterday. It felt like twenty-four years.

After leaving the diner, he walked the short distance down the street to Mail Box City. The same young man was seated at one of the internet terminals, pecking at the keys, and a thin, dark-haired young woman in her early twenties, who seemed on the verge of crying, was staring at a website on another. A nervous-looking bald man in dungarees, who had the shakes, was removing items from a holdall and inserting them into a deposit box, looking furtively over his shoulder every few moments. Ronnie wondered what he had in that bag, but knew better than to stare.

He was now part of the world of transient people, the dispossessed, the poor and the fugitives. Their lives centred around places like Mail Box City, where they could store or hide their meagre stashes and collect their post. People didn’t come here to make friends, but to remain anonymous. Which was exactly what he needed.

He looked at his watch. It was 8.30. A half-hour or so before the people he wanted to speak to would be at their offices – assuming they were in today. He paid for an hour of internet time and sat down at a terminal.

*

At 9.30 Ronnie entered one of the hooded phone booths against the end wall, put a quarter in the slot and dialled the first of the numbers on the list he had just made from his internet search. As he waited, he stared at the perforations in the sound-deadening lining of the booth. It reminded him of a prison phone.

The voice at the other end startled him out of his reverie: ‘Abe Miller Associates, Abe Miller speaking.’

The man was not discourteous, but Ronnie didn’t feel any depth to his interest or any hunger for a deal. It was as if, he thought, Abe Miller figured that the world might very well end one day soon, so what did making a buck mean any more? In fact, what was the point of anything? That was how Abe Miller sounded to him.

‘An Edward, one pound, unmounted, mint,’ Ronnie said, after introducing himself. ‘Perfect gum, no hinge.’

‘OK, what are you looking for?’

‘I have four of them. I’d take four thousand each.’

‘Whee, that’s a little steep.’

‘Not for their condition. Catalogue’s over double that.’

‘Thing is, I don’t know how all this that’s going on right now will play out on the market. Stocks are on the floor – know what I’m saying.’

‘Yeah, well, these are better than stocks. Less volatile.’

‘I’m not sure about buying anything right now. Guess I’d prefer to wait a few days, see how the wind blows. If they’re in as good condition as you say they are, right now I could maybe go two. No more than that. Two.’

‘Two thousand bucks each?’

‘Couldn’t manage any more, not now. If you want to wait a week and see, maybe I can improve a little. Maybe not.’

Ronnie understood the man’s reticence. He knew he had probably picked the worst morning since the day after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 to try to do business anywhere in the world, and worst of all in New York, but he didn’t have any choice. He did not have the luxury of time. It seemed to him that this was the story of his life. Buy at the top of the market, sell at the bottom. Why was the world always fucking dumping on him?

‘I’ll get back to you,’ Ronnie said.

‘Sure, no worries. What did you say your name was?’

Ronnie’s brain raced, momentarily forgetting the name he’d used for his hotmail account. ‘Nelson,’ he said.

The man perked up a little. ‘You any relation to Mike Nelson? From Birmingham? You’re English, right?’

‘Mike Nelson?’ Ronnie cursed silently. Not good to have another person in this game with a similar name. People would remember – and at this moment what he needed was for people to forget him. ‘No,’ he said. ‘No relation.’

He thanked Abe Miller and hung up. Then, thinking about the name, he decided maybe it was OK to keep it. If there was another trader with a similar name, people might think he was related and treat him more respectfully from the start. This was a business that relied heavily on reputation.

He tried six more dealers. None of them were inclined to better his first offer, and two of them said they weren’t going to buy anything at the moment, which panicked him. He wondered whether the market might go even flatter, and if it would be wise to take the offer he’d had from Abe Miller while it was still on the table. If, twenty-five minutes on in this uncertain new world, it was still on the table.

Eight thousand dollars. They were worth twenty, at least. He had a few others with him, including two Plate 11 and unmounted mint Penny Blacks, with gum on the back. In a normal market he’d be looking for twenty-five thousand dollars a plate, but God knows what they were worth now. No point even trying to sell them. They were all he now had in the world. They were going to have to tide him over for a long time.

Possibly a very long time.

65

OCTOBER 2007

When Roy Grace had started his career he worked as a beat copper in central Brighton, then for a brief time in the CID with the drugs surveillance unit. He knew most of the faces and names of the street dealers, and some of the major users, and had busted most of them at one time or another.

It was normally only the smaller people who got caught – the low-hanging fruit. Frequently the police ignored them, watching them instead, even making friends with some of them in the hope that they would lead to the bigger fish, the middlemen, the suppliers and, very occasionally, a major consignment. But every time the police achieved a result and took out a handful of players, there were always new ones waiting in the wings.

At this moment, though, as he parked his Alfa Romeo in the Church Street NCP and switched off the engine, killing the Marla Glen song that was playing, the Brighton drugs underworld might suit his immediate purposes well.

Wearing a light mackintosh over his suit, he walked down through the lunchtime crowds starting to emerge from their offices, past cafés and sandwich bars and the Corn Exchange, and made a left turn into Marlborough Place, where he stopped, pretending to make a phone call. The area immediately to the north of here, and across the London Road to the east, had long been the downtown domain of the street dealers.

It took him less than five minutes to spot two shabbily dressed men in a hurry, walking faster than everyone else, easy targets. He set off after them, but kept a good distance back. One was tall and thin, with rounded shoulders, and was wearing a windcheater over grey trousers and trainers. The shorter, stockier man, who was wearing a tracksuit top over shell-suit bottoms and black shoes, walked in a strange strutting motion, arms out wide, and was shooting a worried glance over his shoulder every few moments, as if to check he wasn’t being followed.

The taller one carried a plastic bag, almost certainly with a can of lager inside it. Street drinking was illegal in the city, so most street people kept an open can in a plastic bag. They were walking really fast, either in a hurry to get money, in which case they were about to commit an offence – maybe a bag snatch, or some shoplifting – or on their way to meet a dealer and buy their day’s supply, Grace supposed. Or they could be dealers going to meet a customer.

Two single-decker red and yellow buses thundered past, followed by a Streamline taxi and then a line of private cars. Somewhere a siren wailed and both men’s heads twitched. The stocky one only ever seemed to look over his right shoulder, so Grace kept to the left, close to the shop fronts, shielding himself behind people as much as he could.

The two men turned left into Trafalgar Street and now Grace was starting to feel even more certain about his hunch. Sure enough, in a couple of hundred yards they turned left and entered their destination.

Pelham Square was a small, elegant square of Regency terraced houses, with a railed park in the centre. The benches near the Trafalgar Street entrance had always been a popular lunch spot for local office workers on fine days. Now, with the workplace smoking ban, they seemed even more popular. Few of the people eating their sandwiches or having a lunchtime cigarette took any notice of – or indeed even noticed – the ragbag assortment of people clustered around another bench at the far end of the park.

Grace leaned against a lamppost and observed them for some moments. Niall Foster was one of three people sitting on the bench, drinking beer like all the others from a concealed can in his carrier bag. A man in his early forties with a sullen, mean face beneath a strange haircut that looked like a monk’s tonsure gone wrong, he was wearing a singlet, despite the chill breeze, over blue dungarees and workman’s boots.

Grace knew him well enough. He was a burglar and a small-time drugs dealer. He’d be the one serving up now, for sure, to the sad group of people around him. Next to him on the bench was a grimy, strung-out-looking woman with matted brown hair. Beside her sat an equally grubby man in his thirties, who kept putting his head between his knees.

The two men he had been following walked up to Foster. It was a textbook migration. Foster would have told each of the users to meet him here, in this park, at this exact time. If he then became nervous that he was being watched, he would abort, leave the park, select a new location and phone each of his customers to come there instead. Sometimes there could be several such migrations before dealers felt comfortable. And often they would have a young assistant to do the serving up for them. But Foster was cheap, he probably didn’t want to pay anyone. And besides, he knew the system. He was fully aware that he was small fry and would simply swallow the packets of whatever drug he was dealing, if challenged, and retrieve them from the lavatory later.

Niall Foster looked over in his direction and as Grace moved up the pavement, not wanting to be spotted, he found himself almost colliding head on with the man he had come to find.

It had been a few years, but even so Grace was shocked by how much the old villain had aged. Terry Biglow was a scion of one of Brighton’s bottom-feeder crime families. The Biglows’ history reached back to the razor gangs, who fought turf wars over protection rackets in the 1940s and 1950s, and there were plenty of people in Brighton and Hove who would once have been scared by the mere mention of the name. But now most of the older members of the family were dead, while the younger ones were either serving long prison sentences or were fugitives in Spain. The remnants still in the city, like Terry, were busted flushes.

Terry Biglow had started life as a knocker boy, then he had become a fence and some-time drugs dealer. He used to cut a mean, dapper figure, with a slick haircut brushed up in a quiff and cheap, sharp shoes. He must be in his mid to late sixties now, Grace thought, but he could have passed for a decade more.

The old rogue’s hair was still tidily coiffed, but it looked greasy and threadbare, and had turned a listless grey. His rodent-like face was sallow and thin to the point of being emaciated, while his sharp little teeth were the colour of rust. He wore a shabby grey suit with the trousers fastened by a cheap belt far too high up his chest. He seemed to have shrunk several inches too and he smelled musty. The only signs of the original Terry Biglow were the big gold watch and a massive emerald ring.

‘Mr Grace, Detective Sergeant Grace, nice to see yer! What a surprise!’

Actually not that much of a surprise, Roy Grace nearly said. But he was pleased at the ease with which it all seemed to be dropping into his lap on this visit downtown.

‘It’s Detective Superintendent now,’ he corrected.

‘Yeah, course it is! I was forgetting.’ Biglow’s voice was small and reedy. ‘Promoted. I heard you was, yeah. You deserve it, Mr Grace. Sorry, sir, Detective – Detective Superintendent. I’m clean now. I found God in prison.’

‘He was doing time too, was he?’ Grace retorted.

‘Don’t do none of that stuff no more, sir,’ Biglow said, deadly serious, completely missing – or ignoring – Grace’s jape.

‘So it’s just coincidence you’re standing outside the park while Niall Foster serves up inside, is it, Terry?’

‘Total coincidence,’ Biglow said, his eyes shiftier than ever. ‘Yeah, coincidence, sir. Me and my friend – we’re just on our way to lunch, just passing.’

Biglow turned to his companion, who was as shabbily dressed. Grace knew the man: Jimmy Bardolph, who used to be a henchman for the Biglows. But not any more, he imagined. The man stank of alcohol, his face was covered in scabs and his hair was awry. He didn’t look as if he’d had a bath since his afterbirth had been washed off.

‘This is my friend, Detective Superintendent Grace, Jimmy. He’s a good man, always fair to me. He’s a cop you can trust is Mr Grace.’

The man extended a veined, filthy hand from the overlong sleeve of his raincoat. ‘Nice to meet yer, Officer. Perhaps you could help me?’

Ignoring it, Grace turned back to Biglow. ‘I need to have a chat with you about an old friend of yours – Ronnie Wilson.’

‘Ronnie!’ Biglow exclaimed.

Out of the corner of his eye, Grace could see that Foster had very definitely clocked him now and was hot-footing it across the park. The dealer sidled out of the entrance, shot Grace a wary glance and set off down the street, half walking, half running, lifting his mobile phone to his ear as he went.

‘Ronnie!’ Biglow repeated. He gave Grace a wistful smile and shook his head. ‘Dear old Ronnie. He’s dead, you know that, don’t you? God rest his soul.’

The fresh air was not doing it for Grace’s headache, so he decided to follow Bella’s earlier recommendation about hot, greasy food. ‘Have you had lunch?’ he asked.

‘Nah, we was just on our way to dinner now.’ Terry Biglow smiled suddenly, as if pleased with the alibi that had just presented itself. ‘Yeah, you see, that’s why Jimmy and I – why we is here. Just walking down to the café, it being a nice morning and that.’

‘Good. Well, in that case, lead the way. I’m buying.’

He followed them down the street, Jimmy moving in jerky little steps, like a clockwork toy that needed rewinding, and into a workmen’s café.

66

OCTOBER 2007

Abby heard the slam of a door. The front door. For an instant her hopes rose. Could it by some miracle be the caretaker?

Then she heard the squeak of the shoes. Saw his shadow first.

Ricky came into the bathroom like a thunderbolt and she felt the crack of his hand on her face. She flinched inside her bindings.

‘You fucking little bitch!’

He slapped her again, even harder. She hardly recognized him. He was in disguise, wearing a blue baseball cap pulled low over his face, and dark glasses, and had a heavy beard and moustache. He stepped out of the room and she watched, through smarting eyes, as he picked up the bag in the hallway and emptied its contents on the floor.

A power drill fell out. A large pair of pincers. A hammer. A bag of hypodermic syringes. A razor-bladed block cutter.

‘Which one would you like me to start with, bitch?’

A moan of terror yammered in her throat. She felt her insides loosening. She tried to signal with her eyes. To plead with him.

He put his face right in front of hers. ‘Did you hear me?’

She tried to remember which way he had told her to move her eyes to signal no. Left. She moved them left.

He knelt and picked up the block cutter, bringing the blade tight up to her right eyeball. Then he turned it and pressed it flat, covering her eye. She could felt the cold steel against her brow. She began hyperventilating in terror.

‘Shall I cut one of your eyes out? Take it with me? Would that work? It will be even darker then.’

She signalled no desperately. No, no, no.

‘I could try, couldn’t I? I could take it with me and see what happens.’

No, no, no.

‘Very clever. Biometrics. Iris recognition. You think that’s very smart, don’t you? Lock it all away in a safe-deposit box that requires iris recognition to access. Well, how about I just cut your fucking eye out and take that with me, see if it recognizes it? If not, I’ll come back for the other one.’

Again she signalled frantically. No, no, no.

‘Of course, if that doesn’t work we’re both fucked, because you’ll be blind and I’ll be no better off. And you know that, don’t you?’

Suddenly he removed the blade. Then, in one sudden movement, he ripped the tape away from her mouth.

She cried out in agony. It felt as he had torn off half the skin on her face. She gulped air down her parched throat. Her face was on fire.

‘Talk to me, bitch.’

Her voice came out as a croak. ‘Please can I have some water? Please, Ricky.’

‘Oh, that’s wonderful!’ he said. ‘That’s rich! You steal everything I have, make me chase you halfway around the world, and what’s the first thing you have to say to me?’ He mimicked her voice. ‘“Oh, please, Ricky, can I have a glass of water?”’ He shook his head. ‘What would you like? Sparkling or plain? Tap or bottled? How about the toilet water you keep pissing in? Would that be OK? Would you like some ice and lemon in it?’

‘Anything,’ she croaked.

‘I’ll get you some in a minute,’ he said. ‘What you should have done is fill in the room service breakfast menu and hung it on the door last night. Then you’d have had everything you wanted this morning. But I guess you were a bit tied up, ripping your old love Ricky off.’ He grinned. ‘Tied up. That’s quite funny, isn’t it?’

She said nothing, trying hard to think clearly, to make sure she said the right thing when she spoke and didn’t antagonize him further. It was good, she thought, that he was letting her speak finally. She knew how desperately he wanted back what she had taken.

And he wasn’t a fool.

He needed her. In his mind that was the only way he was going to get it. Whether he liked it or not, he was going to have to cut a deal with her.

Then he held up his mobile phone to her ear and pressed a button. A recording began to play. It lasted just a few seconds, but they were enough.

It was herself and her mother speaking. A phone conversation they had had on Sunday, she remembered clearly. She could hear her own voice talking.

‘Listen, Mum, it won’t be long now. I’ve been in touch with Cuckmere House. They’ve got a beautiful room with a view of the river coming free in a few weeks’ time and I’ve reserved it. I’ve looked it up on the internet and it really does look lovely. And of course I’ll come over and check it out and help you move in.’

Then Abby heard her mother replying. Mary Dawson, her brain sharp despite her crippling illness, retorted, ‘And where are you going to get the money from, Abs? I’ve heard these places cost a fortune. Two hundred quid a day, some of them. More even.’

‘Don’t worry about the money, Mum, I’m taking care of it. I-’

The recording stopped abruptly.

‘That’s what I like about you, Abby,’ Ricky said, pressing his glaring face up close to her own. ‘You’re all heart.’

67

OCTOBER 2007

The interior of the café was a fug of frying grease. Taking his seat opposite the two men, Grace reckoned that just breathing in here could raise anyone’s cholesterol up to heart-attack levels. But he went ahead and ordered egg, bacon, sausage and chips, fried bread and a Coke, glad that neither Glenn Branson nor Cleo was around to chide him about his diet.

Terry Biglow ordered egg and chips, while his vacant friend, Jimmy, just ordered a cup of tea and kept giving Grace imploring looks, as if the Detective Superintendent was the only man on the planet who could save him from something that he didn’t seem very clear about. Himself, most likely, Roy thought, watching him slip a half-bottle of Bells from his coat pocket and take a long swig, and clocking the prison tattoos on his knuckles. One dot for each year inside. He counted seven.

‘I’m on the straight and narrow now, Mr Grace,’ Terry Biglow suddenly said.

He had dots on his knuckles too, and the tail of a serpent on the back of his hand, its body disappearing up his sleeve.

‘So you told me. Good.’

‘Me brother’s very ill. Pancreas cancer. Do you remember me uncle, Eddie, Mr Grace? Sorry, Inspector Grace?’

Grace did indeed, more clearly than he cared to. He had never forgotten taking a statement from one of Eddie Biglow’s victims. His face had been ripped open in jagged lines by broken glass, down both sides from the hairline to the chin, because he had complained when Biglow barged in front of him at the bar of a pub.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I remember him.’

‘Actually,’ Biglow went on, ‘I’ve got a bit of cancer myself.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ Grace said.

‘Me tummy, you know?’

‘Bad?’ Grace asked.

Biglow shrugged, as if it was only minor. But there was fear in his eyes.

Jimmy nodded sagely and took another swig. ‘I dunno who’ll look after me when he’s gone,’ he whined to Grace. ‘I need protecting.’

Grace gave him a cursory shrug with his eyebrows, then took his Coke from the waitress and immediately drank some. ‘You and Ronnie Wilson were mates, weren’t you, Terry?’

‘Yeah, we was once, yeah.’

‘Before you went to jail?’

‘Yeah, before then. I took the rap for him, you know.’ He stirred sugar into his tea wistfully. ‘I did an’ all.’

‘You knew his wife?’

‘Both his wives.’

Both?’ Grace said, surprised.

‘Yeah. Joanna and then Lorraine.’

‘When did he remarry?’

He scratched the back of his head. ‘Cor, that was a few years after Joanna left him. She was a looker, Joanna was, a stonker! But I didn’t like her much. Gold-digger, she was. Latched on to Ronnie cos he was flash – but she didn’t realize he didn’t have much money.’ He tapped the side of his nose. ‘Not a good businessman, Ronnie. Always talked big, always had big schemes. But he didn’t have – what’s it called – the nose, the Midas touch. So when Joanna sussed that out, she legged it.’

‘To where?’

‘Los Angeles. Her mum died and she inherited a bit from the house. Ronnie woke up one morning and she was gone. Just left a note. Gone to try to make it in the movies as an actress.’

Their food arrived. Terry smothered his chips in vinegar, then shook out half the contents of the salt cellar on to them. Grace poured some brown sauce on to his plate, then picked up the tomato-shaped ketchup container. ‘Who did she keep in touch with after she went to LA?’

Biglow shrugged and speared a chip with his fork. ‘No one, I don’t think. Wasn’t no one down here liked her. None of us. My old lady couldn’t stick her. And she didn’t have no interest in making friends with us.’

‘Was she from down here?’

‘Nah, London. I think he met her at a lap-dancing place in London.’

Another chip met the same fate.

‘What about his second wife?’

‘Lorraine. She was all right. She was a good looker too. Took him a while to marry her – had to wait two years, I think, to get a divorce through from Joanna, cos of her desertion.’

Very difficult to get someone who is rotting in a storm drain to sign divorce papers, Grace thought.

‘Where can I find Lorraine?’

Biglow gave him a strange look.

‘I do need looking after, Mr Grace,’ whined Jimmy again.

Biglow turned to his friend and pointed at his own face. ‘See the lips moving? Means I’m still talking, so give it a rest, all right.’ He turned to Grace. ‘Lorraine. Yeah, well, if you want to find her you’ll have to get yerself a boat and a deep-sea diving suit. She topped herself. Went overboard the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry one night.’

Grace suddenly lost all interest in his food. ‘Tell me more.’

‘She was depressed, in a terrible state after Ronnie died. He left her in a right old mess, financially like. The mortgage company took the house and the finance people took just about everything else, except for a few stamps.’

‘Stamps?’

‘Yeah, they was Ronnie’s thing. Traded them all the time. Told me once he preferred them to cash, more portable.’

Grace thought for a moment. ‘I thought I’d read that 9/11 victims’ families got quite big compensation payments. Didn’t she?’

‘She never said nothing about that. She sort of became a recluse, you know, just kept her distance. Like retreated into a shell. When they took everything, she moved into a little rented flat down Montpelier Road.’

‘When did she die?’

He thought for a moment. ‘Yeah. It was November – 9/11 happened in 2001, so this would have been November 2002. Christmas was coming up. Know what I mean? Difficult time, Christmas, for some people. Jumped overboard from the ferry.’

‘Was the body found?’

‘I dunno.’

Grace made some notes, while Biglow ate. He picked at his own meal, his concentration now elsewhere. One wife sets off to America and ends up in a storm drain in Brighton. The second jumps off a cross-Channel ferry. A lot of questions were now filling his head. ‘Did they have children?’

‘Last time I saw Ronnie he said they was trying. But they was having fertility problems.’

Grace thought some more. ‘Other than you, who were Ronnie Wilson’s closest friends?’

‘We wasn’t that close. We was friends, but not close. There was old Donald Hatcook – Ronnie was with him, apparently, in his office on 9/11. Up in one them towers of the World Trade Center. Donald made it big, poor bastard.’ He thought for a moment. ‘And Chad Skeggs. But he emigrated, didn’t he, went to Australia.’

‘Chad Skeggs?’

‘Yeah.’

Grace remembered the name; the man had been in trouble years back, but he couldn’t recall why.

‘See, they’ve all gone. It would have been the Klingers here, I s’pose. Yeah, Steve and Sue Klinger, know them? Live in Tongdean.’

Grace nodded. The Klingers had an ostentatious house in Tongdean Avenue. Stephen had been, as the euphemism goes, a person of interest to the police for as long as Grace had been in the force. It was a widely held view that Klinger, who had started life as a car dealer, had not made his money legitimately and that his nightclubs, bars, coffee houses, student rental properties and moneylending businesses were all money-laundering fronts for his real business: drugs. But so far, at least, if he was a drugs overlord, he ran a tight ship and had ensured nothing could ever be traced back to him.

‘Ronnie and he started out working together,’ Biglow continued. ‘Then they got into trouble over a bunch of clocked cars. I don’t remember what happened exactly. The business disappeared overnight – the garage burned down with all the records. Sort of convenient. There weren’t no charges never brought.’

Grace added Steve and Sue Klingers’ names to the list of people to be interviewed by his team. Then he cut off a corner of fried bread and dunked it in an egg.

‘Terry,’ he said, ‘what was your take on Ronnie?’

‘How d’yer mean, Mr Grace?’

‘What kind of a bloke was he?’

‘Fucking psycho,’ Jimmy chipped in suddenly.

‘Shut it!’ Biglow turned on him. ‘Ronnie wasn’t no psycho. But he had a temper, I’ll grant you that.’

‘He was a fucking psycho,’ Jimmy insisted.

Biglow smiled at Grace. ‘He was a little sick in the head at times, you know, sort of his own worst enemy. He was angry at the world cos he wasn’t succeeding, not like some of his friends – know what I mean?’

Like you? Grace wondered privately. ‘I think so.’

‘Know what my dad said about him once?’

Grace, chewing on a piece of fatty sausage, shook his head.

‘He said he was the kind of bloke who could follow you in through a turnstile and come out in front of you without having paid!’ Biglow chuckled. ‘Yeah, that was our Ronnie all right. God bless his soul!’

68

12 SEPTEMBER 2001

Ronnie was feeling a whole lot better now that he had money in his pocket again. In the left-hand pocket of his suit jacket, to be precise. Holding folding, he liked to call it. And he kept his left hand in there, holding the folded wad of crisp new one-hundred-dollar bills tightly, never once letting go, all the way back in the L-Train from midtown Manhattan to Brighton Beach station, where he got off.

Still without removing his hand, he walked the short distance back to Mail Box City and stashed five thousand and six hundred of those dollars safely away in his deposit box. Then he walked back along the street until he found a clothing store, where he bought a couple of white T-shirts, a change of socks and underpants, a pair of jeans and a lightweight bomber jacket. A short distance further along he went into a souvenir store and bought himself a black baseball cap emblazoned with the words brighton beach. Then he popped into a sports outfitters and bought a cheap pair of trainers.

He stopped at a stall to pick up a hot corned beef sandwich with a gherkin the size of a small melon and a Coke for his lunch, then returned to his rooming house. He punched on the television and changed into his new kit, putting all his old clothes into one of the plastic bags his new gear had come in.

He ate his sandwich watching television. There wasn’t much that he hadn’t seen on the news already, just recaps, images of George Bush declaring his War on Terrorism, and comments from other world leaders. Then images of joyous people in Pakistan, jumping up and down in the street, laughing, proudly displaying crude, anti-American banners.

Ronnie was actually feeling rather pleased with himself. His tiredness had gone and he was on a high. He had done something brave: he had ridden into the war zone and back out again. He was on a roll!

He finished his meal, then scooped up the bag containing his old clothes and headed out of the door. A short distance down the street, he crammed the bag into a stinking garbage can that was already nearly full to the brim with rotting foodstuff. Then, with a spring in his step, he made for the Moscow bar.

It was just as empty as yesterday, but he was pleased to see that his new best friend, Boris, was sitting on what looked like the same bar stool he had sat at yesterday, cigarette in hand, mobile phone pressed to his ear and a half-full bottle of vodka in front of him. All that was different was his T-shirt, which today was pink and carried the legend, in gold lettering, Genesis World Tour.

The same shrimp of a barman was there, wiping glasses with a dishcloth. He acknowledged Ronnie with a nod of recognition.

‘You back,’ he said in his broken English. ‘Thought you maybe gone to help.’ He pointed at the television screen. ‘They needing volunteers,’ he said. ‘They needing people help dig bodies out. I thought maybe you gone to do that.’

‘Maybe,’ Ronnie said. ‘Maybe I will do that.’

He hauled himself on to the bar stool next to his friend and waited for him to finish his call, which sounded like some kind of business deal, then slapped him on the back. ‘Hey, Boris, how you doing?’

Ronnie received a resounding thump in return, which felt like it had dislodged several of his fillings.

‘My friend! How you doing? You found the place last night? It was OK?’

‘It was fine.’ Ronnie leaned down and scratched a particularly itchy bite on his ankle. ‘Terrific. Thank you.’

‘Good. For my friend from Canada, nothing is too much trouble.’

Without any prompt, the barman produced a shot glass and Boris immediately filled it to the brim.

Holding it daintily between his finger and thumb, Ronnie raised it to the level of his lips. ‘Carpe diem!’ he said.

The vodka went down well. It had a lemon flavour, which he found instantly addictive. The second one went down even better.

The Russian waved an admonishing hand in front of Ronnie’s face, then he raised his glass, staring Ronnie in the eye, the rubble in his mouth formed into a smile. ‘Remember yesterday, what I tell you, my friend?’

‘What was that?’

‘When you toast in Russia, you drink entire glass. All way down. Like this!’ Boris drained the glass.

*

Two hours later, after exchanging more and more outrageous stories about their backgrounds, Ronnie was reeling, barely able to remain on the bar stool. Boris seemed to have fingers in a range of dubious activities, which included importing fake designer-brand perfumes and colognes, fixing green cards for Russian immigrants, and acting as some kind of middleman for Russian hookers who wanted to work in America. Not a pimp, he assured Ronnie. No, no, absolutely, one hundred per cent not a pimp.

Then suddenly he put an arm around Ronnie and said, ‘I know, my friend, you are in trouble. I help you! There is nothing I can’t help you with!’

Ronnie saw to his horror that Boris was refilling the glasses yet again. The television screen was going in and out of focus. Could he trust this guy? He was going to have to trust someone and, at least to his addled brain at this moment, Boris did not seem like a bloke to make moral judgements.

‘Actually,’ he said, ‘I need another favour.’

The Russian didn’t take his eyes from the television screen, where Mayor Giuliani was talking.

‘For my Canadian friend, any favour. What I can do?’

Ronnie removed his baseball cap and leaned closer, lowering his voice to a whisper.

‘Do you know anyone who could create a new passport – and a visa?’

The Russian gave him a stern look. ‘What you think this place is? An embassy? This just a bar, man. OK?’

Ronnie was shaken by the man’s vehemence, but then the Russian gave him in a broad grin.

‘Passport and visa. Of course. Don’t you worry. Whatever you want, I fix for you. You want passport, visa, no problem. I got a friend can fix this. He can fix you anything. So long you got money?’

‘How much money?’

‘Depends how difficult the visa. I give you his name. Me, I don’t want nothing, OK?’

‘You’re very kind.’

The Russian then raised his glass. ‘Carpe diem!’

Carpe diem!’ Ronnie replied.

The rest of the afternoon became a complete blur.

69

OCTOBER 2007

Abby peered numbly through the windscreen of the grey rental Ford Focus. She hadn’t thought it possible for the nightmare to worsen, but now it had.

There was a broad stretch of clear blue sky over them as they headed up the A27 Brighton bypass, with Patcham to their right and rolling open downland countryside to their left. Freedom, she thought, still a prisoner, although her bonds had been removed and she was now in jeans, a pullover and fleece jacket and trainers. The grass looked lush and green from all the recent heavy rain, and if it hadn’t been for the whirr of the car’s heater fan blowing in welcome warm air, it could have been summer outside with that sky. But inside her heart, it was darkest winter.

To have got that recording, she realized, he must have bugged her mother’s phone.

Seated beside her, Ricky drove in angry silence, careful to keep within the speed limit, not taking any risks of getting stopped. It was an anger that had been simmering for two long months. The slip road was coming up ahead. He moved the indicator stalk. He’d already been here once this morning, he knew the way. She listened to the steady tick-tick-tick and watched the light winking on the dash.

Now she’d drunk some water and eaten a hunk of bread and a banana she was feeling more human and could think more clearly, despite being sick with fear for her mother – and for herself. How had Ricky found her mother? Presumably the same way he had found her, whatever that was. She was racking her brains, trying to think if she had left some clue back in Melbourne. How the hell could he have got her address? Not that difficult, she supposed. He knew her last name and she had probably mentioned at some point that her widowed mother now lived in Eastbourne. How many Dawsons were there in the Eastbourne phone directory? Probably not that many. Certainly not to a determined man.

He wasn’t answering any questions.

Her mother was a defenceless woman. Almost crippled by multiple sclerosis, she was still just about mobile, but not for much longer. And although she was fiercely independent, she had no physical strength. An infant could have overpowered her, which made her extremely vulnerable to any intruder, yet she flatly refused to wear a panic button. Abby knew that a neighbour looked in on her occasionally and she had a friend she went to bingo with on Saturday evenings. Other than that, she was alone.

Now Ricky had her address and, knowing what a sadist he was, that frightened her more than anything. She had the feeling he wouldn’t be content with just getting everything back; he would want to hurt her and her mother too. He would know, from the conversations they’d had in Australia when she had opened up to him, trying to gain his confidence, the love she felt for her mother, and her guilt at abandoning her, moving to the other side of the world, just when she needed Abby the most. He would enjoy hurting her mother to get at her.

They were now approaching a small roundabout. He took the second right turn off it and started going down a hill. To their right was a view for several miles across fields and housing estates. To their left was the Hollingbury industrial estate, a sprawling cluster of superstores, 1950s factories and warehouses converted into offices, and modern industrial units. One of the buildings, partially obscured from their view by an ASDA supermarket, was the headquarters of Sussex CID, but Abby did not know that. Even if she had, she could not take the risk of going in there. Regardless of what Ricky had done to get his money, she was a thief. She had stolen a great deal from him, and just because the person you stole from was a criminal, that did not exonerate your behaviour.

Besides, if they blew the whistle on each other, they would lose everything. They were in a kind of Mexican standoff at the moment. But equally she knew that if she did give him back what he wanted, there was no good reason for him to keep her alive. And plenty not to.

She saw a massive edifice carrying the sign, BRITISH BOOKSHOPS, then the Argus building, a Matalan sign, then they passed a Renault dealership. Almost missing the turn, Ricky cursed, braked sharply and swung the wheel, making the tyres squeal. He drove too quickly down a sharp incline, then had to bring the car to an abrupt halt inches from a truck-sized Volvo, with a tiny woman behind the wheel, which had pulled straight out of the car park in front of a row of stores.

‘Stupid fucking cow,’ he mouthed at her, and the woman responded by tapping the side of her head. For a moment Abby thought – hoped – that he was going to get out of the car and start a barney.

Instead the Volvo roared off and they drove on down the incline, past the car park and the rear of a warehouse. Then they went through a gateway with massive steel doors and large CCTV warning signs on either pillar, into a yard where there were several armoured cash-transporter vans and trucks parked. Each was in a distinctive livery of black paint with gold lettering showing a shield interwoven with a chain and the name SOUTHERN DEPOSIT SECURITY.

Then they headed towards a single-storey, modern building with tiny slit-like windows that gave it the air of a fortress. Which is what it was.

Ricky parked in a bay marked VISITORS and switched off the engine. Then he turned to Abby.

‘Try anything clever and your mother’s dead. You understand that?’

She choked out a terrified, ‘Yes.’

And all the time she was thinking. Trying to plan in her mind how she was going to play this. Trying to visualize the next few minutes. Doing her best to think it through, to remind herself of her strengths.

So long as she had what he wanted, he was going to have to negotiate. It didn’t matter how much he blustered, that was the truth of the matter. That had kept her alive and intact until now, no question about it. With luck, it was what would keep her mother alive. She hoped.

She did have a plan, but she hadn’t thought it through, and it all started coming unstitched inside her head as she climbed out of the car. She suddenly became a jelly, a bag of quivering nerves, and had to grip the roof of the car for a moment, almost certain she was going to throw up.

After a couple of minutes, when she felt a bit better, Ricky took her arm and they walked to the entrance, like any couple coming to make a deposit, or a withdrawal, or just to check out the family silver. But as she shot him a sideways stony glance, she felt revulsion, wondering how she had ever stooped to do all she done with him.

She pressed the entryphone buzzer beneath the imperious gaze of two CCTV cameras and gave her name. Moments later the door clicked open and they passed through two sets of security doors into an austere foyer that gave the impression it had been hewn from granite.

Two burly, unsmiling uniformed security guards stood just inside the door, and two more manned the counter behind a glass shield. She walked up to one of them and spoke through the perforations, wondering, suddenly, whether to try to signal distress to him, then thinking better of it.

‘Katherine Jennings,’ she said in a shaky voice. ‘I want to access my safe-deposit box.’

He pushed a register under the bottom of the shield. ‘Please fill this in. Are both of you going in?’

‘Yes.’

‘I’ll need both of you to fill it in, please.’

Abby filled in her name, the date and the time, then handed the register to Ricky, who did the same. When he had finished, he pushed it back under the shield and the guard typed into a terminal. Some moments later, he pushed printed name tags, encased in plastic and with lapel clips, across the counter.

‘You know what to do?’ he asked Abby.

She nodded and walked to the security door to the right of the counter. Then she put her right eye up close to the biometric retinal scanner and pressed the green button.

After some moments the lock clicked. She pushed the heavy door open, held it for Ricky and they both went through. There was a cement staircase in front of them. She went down, hearing Rick’s steps close behind her. At the bottom there was a massive steel door with a second biometric scanner. She placed her right eye up close and again pressed the green button. There was a sharp click and she pushed this door open.

They entered a long, narrow, icily cold vault. It was a good hundred feet long and twenty feet wide, lined floor-to-ceiling on both sides and at the far end with steel safe-deposit boxes, each bearing a number.

The ones on the right were six inches deep, the ones on the left were two feet deep and the ones at the far end were six feet high. She wondered again, as she had the last time she came here, just what exactly might be in those, and indeed what treasures, legally obtained or otherwise, might be behind any of these locked doors.

Holding the key, Ricky greedily scanned the numbers on the boxes. ‘Four-two-six?’ he said.

She pointed, down towards the far end, on the left, and watched as he almost ran the last few yards.

Then he slipped the thin, flat key into the vertical slot and gave it a tentative twist. He could feel the cam of the well-oiled lock revolving smoothly. He turned the key through one complete revolution, listening for each of the pins moving in turn. He liked locks, always had, and understood how most of them worked. He gave the key a pull, but the door did not move. It had a more complex mechanism inside than he’d imagined, he realized, turning the key another complete revolution and sensing more pins moving. He pulled again.

Now the heavy metal door swung open and he peered inside. To his utter astonishment, it was empty.

He spun around, swearing loudly at Abby. And found himself swearing at an empty room.

70

OCTOBER 2007

Abby sprinted. She had run most mornings in Melbourne and, despite having done little exercise in the past couple of months, she was still in reasonable shape.

She ran flat out without looking back, across the tarmac parking area of Southern Deposit Security, past the vans and trucks, out through the gates and up the hill. Then, just before she turned right through the shrubbery lining the car park by the row of stores, she shot a glance over her shoulder.

Ricky had not appeared yet.

She trampled through the bushes, only to narrowly avoid being struck by a people carrier driven by a harassed-looking woman as she dashed across the lanes of the car park towards the front entrance of an MFI store. She stopped when she reached it and looked back.

Still no sign of him.

She entered the building, briefly aware of the distinct, rich smell of new furniture, and raced through it, dodging around customers as she passed showroom displays of office furniture, living-room furniture, bedroom furniture. She found herself, almost at the rear of the store, in the bathroom section. There were showers all around her. A classy looking walk-in one to her right.

She looked back down the aisle. No Ricky.

Her heart was crashing around as if it had broken loose inside her chest. She was still holding the plastic Southern Deposit Security identity tag in her hand. Ricky had not allowed her to take her handbag with her from the flat, but she had managed to conceal her mobile phone, by stuffing it down her front, with some cash and her credit card, as well as a key to her mother’s flat. She’d switched the phone off just in case, by a billion to one chance, it rang. Now she retrieved it and switched it back on. As soon as it powered up, she rang her mother’s number.

No answer. She had begged her mother for months to get voicemail, but she still had not done anything about it. After numerous rings, the tone turned to a flat whine. She tried again.

There was a slatted wooden bench in one of the walk-in showers, flipped up against the wall. She went into it, pulled the bench down and sat holding the phone to her ear, listening to the unanswered ringing. Thinking. Thinking.

She was in total panic.

All her stalling tactics were now exhausted. She had not thought this through. She wasn’t capable of thinking anything through at the moment. All she could do was run on autopilot, dealing with one minute at a time.

Ricky had threatened to harm her mother. A sick, elderly lady. Her bargaining power was that she still had in her possession the riches Ricky desperately wanted. She needed to keep reminding herself that she held all the nuts.

Ricky could bluster all he wanted.

I hold everything he wants.

Except…

She sank her face into her hands. She wasn’t dealing with someone normal. Ricky was more like a machine.

The voice almost made her jump out of her skin.

‘Are you OK? Can I help you, madam?’

A young assistant in a suit and tie, with a lapel badge giving his name as Jason, was standing at the entrance to the shower. She looked up at him.

‘I – I…’

He had a kind face and suddenly she felt close to tears. Thinking rapidly, a half-formed plan vaguely taking shape, sounding as weak as she could, she said, ‘I don’t feel very well. Is it possible someone could call me a taxi?’

‘Yeah, of course.’ He looked at her in concern. ‘Would you rather an ambulance?’

She shook her head. ‘No, a taxi, thanks. I’ll be fine when I get home. I just need to lie down.’

‘We have a staff rest area,’ he said in a sympathetic voice. ‘Would you like to go there and wait?’

‘Yes, thank you. Thank you very much.’

Glancing around warily for any sight of Ricky, she followed him through a side door and into a tiny canteen, where there was a row of chairs against the wall with a low table in front of them, some tea- and coffee-making equipment, a small fridge and a biscuit tin.

‘Would you like anything?’ he asked. ‘Some water?’

‘Water,’ she said, nodding her head.

‘I’ll phone a taxi, then I’ll get you some water.’

‘Do you have a side entrance it could come to? I – I’m not sure I could make it all the way back through the store.’

He pointed at a door she hadn’t noticed, which had an illuminated RE EXIT sign above it.

‘Staff entrance,’ he said. ‘I’ll tell it to come there.’

‘You’re very kind.’

*

Ten minutes later, Jason came to tell her the taxi was outside. She drained the last of her water, then, acting the part of the sick lady, walked slowly out through the door and climbed into the rear of a turquoise and white Streamline taxi, thanking the young assistant again for his kindness.

The driver, an elderly man with a shock of white hair, closed the door for her.

She gave him the address of her mother’s flat in Eastbourne before sinking down low in her seat, so she could just see out but hopefully not be seen, and pulling her jacket up over her head.

‘Like me to put the heating up higher?’ the driver asked.

‘I’m fine, thanks,’ she replied.

She looked hard for Ricky or the rental Ford as they drove out through the car park. No sign of him. Then, at the top of the incline, as they reached the junction with the main road, she saw the car. The driver’s door was open and Ricky was standing beside it looking around. His face, beneath his baseball cap, was a mask of fury.

She shrank down, below the level of the window, and covered her head completely with her jacket. Then she waited until she felt the taxi pulling away, making a right turn up the hill, before sitting far enough up to be able to see out of the rear window. Ricky was looking away from her, scanning the car park.

‘Please go as quickly as you can,’ she said. ‘I’ll give you a good tip.’

‘I’ll do my best,’ the driver said.

She heard classical music playing on the radio. Something she recognized: Verdi’s ‘Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves’. Ironically, this was one of her mother’s favourite pieces. A curious coincidence. Or was it a sign?

She believed in omens, always had. She had never bought into her parents’ religious convictions, but she had always been superstitious. How strange it was that this was playing, right at this moment.

‘Nice music,’ she said.

‘I can turn it down.’

‘No, please, turn it up.’

The driver obliged.

She dialled her mother’s number again. As it started ringing, she heard the insistent beep of an incoming call. Which could only be one of two people. The wording Private number appeared.

She hesitated. Tried to think clearly. Could it be her mother? Unlikely, but…

But…

She continued hesitating. Then she accepted the call.

‘OK, bitch, very funny! Where are you?’

She hung up. Shaking. The sick feeling back in the pit of her stomach.

The phone rang again. Same Private number. She killed it.

And again.

Then she realized she could play this a lot more cleverly and waited for it to ring again.

But it remained silent.

71

13 SEPTEMBER 2001

Nothing in his life prepared Ronnie for the devastation that lay ahead of him as he made his way from the subway station towards the vicinity of the World Trade Center. He’d thought he had some idea of what it might be like from all he had seen on Tuesday with his own eyes, and on television subsequently, but experiencing it now was shaking him to the core.

It was just past noon. His hangover from his drinking binge with Boris yesterday wasn’t helping and the smell of the dusty air was making him very queasy. It was the same rank stench that he’d woken up to in Brooklyn these past two days, but far stronger here. A slow line of emergency and military vehicles moved down the street. A siren wailed in the distance and there was a constant cacophony of roaring and clattering from helicopters hovering what seemed like just feet above the tops of the skyscrapers on either side of him.

At least the time he had invested in his new best friend had not been in vain. Indeed, he was beginning to look upon him as his local Mr Fixit. The forger Boris had recommended lived just a ten-minute walk from his new lodgings. Ronnie had been expecting to enter dingy, back-street premises and find a wizened old man with an eye-piece and inky fingers. Instead, in a smart, bland office in a modernized walk-up, he had met a good-looking, expensively suited and very pleasant Russian man of no more than thirty, who could have passed for a banker or a lawyer.

For five thousand dollars, fifty per cent in advance, which Ronnie had handed over, he was going to provide Ronnie with the passport and the visa he wanted. Which left Ronnie with about three thousand dollars net. Enough to tide him over for a while, if he was careful. Hopefully the stamp market might recover soon, although the world stock markets were still in freefall today, according to the morning news.

But all this was small beer compared to the riches that awaited him if his plan succeeded.

A short distance ahead there was a barrier across the road, with the bar raised for the convoy of vehicles to pass through. Two young soldiers manned it, facing his way. They wore dusty combat fatigues and GI helmets, and were holding machine guns in an aggressive stance, as if they were intending to find something to shoot at soon in the new War on Terrorism.

A crowd of what looked like tourists, among them a group of young Japanese teenagers, stood staring, taking photographs of just about everything – the dust-coated store fronts, the sheets of paper and flakes of ash that lay ankle deep in places on the street. There seemed to be even more grey dust than on Tuesday, but the ghosts were less grey. They looked more like people today. People in shock.

A woman in her late thirties with matted brown hair, wearing a smock and flip-flops, with tears streaming down her cheeks, was weaving in and out of the crowd, holding up a photograph of a tall, good-looking man in a shirt and tie, saying nothing, just looking at each person in turn, silently imploring one of them to give a sudden nod of recognition. Yeah, I remember that guy, I saw him, he was fine, he was heading…

Just before he reached the soldiers, he saw on his left a hoarding with dozens of photographs taped to it. Most were close-ups of faces, a few of them mounted on Stars and Stripes backgrounds. They had clear cellophane wrapped round to rainproof them and all bore a name and handwritten messages, the most common of which was: HAVE YOU SEEN THIS PERSON?

‘I’m sorry, sir, you can’t go past here.’ The voice was polite but firm.

‘I’ve come down to work on the pile,’ Ronnie said, putting on a phoney American accent. ‘I heard they’re needing volunteers.’ He looked at the soldiers quizzically, glancing warily at their guns. Then, in a choked voice, he said, ‘I got family – in the South Tower on Tuesday.’

‘You and most of New York, buddy,’ said the older of the soldiers. He gave Ronnie a smile, a kind of helpless, we’re-all-in-this-shit-together smile.

A backhoe excavator, followed by a bulldozer, rumbled through the barrier.

The other soldier pointed a finger down the street. ‘Make a left, first left, you’ll see a bunch of tents. They’ll kit you out, tell you what to do. Be lucky.’

‘Yeah,’ Ronnie said. ‘You too.’

He ducked under the barrier and, after only a few more strides, the whole vista of the devastated area started opening up before him. It reminded him of pictures he had once seen of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb.

He turned left, unsure of his bearings, and followed the street for a short distance. Then, ahead of him, the Hudson suddenly appeared, and right by the river he saw a whole makeshift encampment of stalls and tents at the edge of a massive area of rubble.

He walked past an upturned sports utility vehicle. A shredded fireman’s jacket lay on the ground near it, yellow bands on the grey, dusty, empty uniform. One sleeve had been ripped off and lay some distance from it. A fireman in a dusty blue T-shirt, sitting on a small mound of rubble, was holding his head in one hand, a water bottle in the other, looking as if he couldn’t take much more.

In a momentary respite from the helicopters, Ronnie heard new sounds: the roar of lifting gear, the whine of angle cutters, drills, bulldozers, and the intermittent warble, wails and shrieks of mobile phones. He saw an ant-line of people, many in uniforms and hard hats, entering the cluster of tents. Others were queuing at stalls made from trestle tables. There were new smells here too, of spit-roasted chicken and burgers.

In a daze, he suddenly found himself in line, passing a stall where someone handed him a bottle of water. At the next stall he received a face mask. Then he went into a tent, where a smiling, long-haired guy who looked like a superannuated hippie, handed him a blue hard hat, a torch and a spare supply of batteries.

Cramming his baseball cap into his pocket, Ronnie put on his face mask and then the hard hat. He passed another stall, where he declined an offer of socks, underwear and work boots, and continued out of the rear entrance. Then he followed the ant-line past the blackened shell of a building. An NYPD cop in a hard hat and a filthy blue stab vest trundled past on a green tractor, towing what looked like plastic body bags.

Beyond a blackened leafy tree, Ronnie saw a bird flying above a skeleton in the sky. One massive wall of a structure rose at a precarious angle, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, all the glass gone from the windows, which were still otherwise intact, and the forty or fifty floors of offices that should have been beside it gone, collapsed.

He was stumbling over the roofs of smashed police cars and then across the underbelly of a half-buried fire truck. Every now and then from somewhere under the rubble there was the sound of a mobile phone ringing. Small teams of people were digging frantically and shouting. Dog handlers were dotted around, with German Shepherds, Labradors, Rottweilers and other breeds he didn’t recognize straining on their leashes, sniffing.

He continued forward, passing a swivel chair covered in dust, with an equally dusty woman’s jacket slung over the back. There was a telephone handset on a cord entwined around it, dangling from the seat.

He saw something glinting. Looking closer, he realized it was a wedding band. Near it he saw a smashed wrist watch. Chains of people were pulling out pieces of rubble, passing them back. He stepped aside, watching, taking it all in, trying to understand the pattern of what was going on. Eventually he realized there was no real pattern. There were just people in uniforms around the edges, holding huge black garbage sacks that people were bringing things they found to.

In front of him he saw what at first he thought was a broken waxwork. Then he realized, to his revulsion, that it was a severed human hand. He felt his breakfast rising up his throat. He turned away and swigged some of his water, feeling the dry dust dissolving in his mouth.

He noticed a sign painted in red on a brown hoarding at the edge of the devastation. It read GOD BLESS FDNY & NYPD.

Again there were all kinds of drained-looking people stumbling around the perimeter of the site, holding up photographs. Men, women, children, some of them small kids, mingling with all the different uniformed rescue services in helmets, masks, respirators.

He walked past a burnt cross, having to concentrate to keep his balance on the shifting mass beneath him. He saw a crane bent like a dead T.Rex. Two men in green surgical scrubs. He passed an NYPD officer in a blue helmet with a miner’s lamp, and what looked like mountaineering gear slung from his belt, cutting into the rubble with a motorized angle grinder.

A Stars and Stripes flag leaned out of the rubble at a drunken angle, as if someone had just conquered this place.

It was total and utter chaos. And seemingly uncoordinated.

It was perfect, Ronnie thought.

He glanced over his shoulder. The long ant-line stretched, never-ending, behind him. He stepped aside, letting it continue past him, and moved further away. Then, surreptitiously, and with some small regret, he dropped his mobile phone on to the rubble and trod it in. He stamped on it and took a few steps forward. Next, he pulled his wallet out of his jacket and checked through it, removing the dollar bills and jamming them in the rear pocket of his jeans.

He left his five credit cards, his RAC membership card, his Brighton and Hove Motor Club membership card and, after some moments of thought, his driving licence as well.

Unsure whether he could smoke here or not, he discreetly put a cigarette in his mouth, pulled out his lighter and cupped his hands over the flame. But instead of lighting his cigarette, he began singeing the edges of his wallet. Then he dropped that into the rubble also and stamped it in, hard.

Then he lit his cigarette and smoked it gratefully. When he had finished, he ducked down and retrieved his wallet. Then he retraced his steps and picked up his mobile phone. He carried them across to one of the makeshift repositories for recovered items.

‘I found these,’ he said.

‘Just drop them in the bag. All gonna be gone through,’ an NYPD woman officer told him.

‘They might help identify someone,’ he said, just to be certain they took notice.

‘That’s what we’re here for,’ she assured him. ‘We gotta lotta people missing from Tuesday. Lotta people.’

Ronnie nodded. ‘Yep.’ Then, to further double-check, hepointed at the bag. ‘Someone’s logging everything?’

‘You bet. All gonna be logged, honey. Every damned item. Every shoe, every belt buckle. Anything you can find out there, you just hand it.’

‘All of us got family in there – somewhere,’ the officer replied, waving her hand expansively at the devastation in front of them. ‘Every damn person in this city got a loved one in there.’

Ronnie nodded and moved away. It had been much easier than he had thought.

72

OCTOBER 2007

‘Here,’ Abby said. ‘Just past the lamppost on the left.’ She glanced again over her shoulder out of the rear window. No sign of Ricky’s car or him. But it was possible he could have come a quicker route, she thought. ‘Could you drive past, turn left and go around the block, please.’

The taxi driver obliged. It was a quiet, residential area, close to Eastbourne College. Abby scanned the streets and parked cars carefully. To her relief, she could see no sign of Ricky’s rental car or him.

The driver brought her back into the wide street of semidetached red-brick houses, at the end of which, totally out of character with the area, was the 1960s low-rise block of flats where her mother lived. It had been built cheaply at the time and four decades of battering from the salty Channel winds had turned it into an eyesore.

The driver double-parked alongside an old Volvo estate. The meter was reading thirty-four pounds. She handed the driver two twenty-pound notes.

‘I need your help,’ she said. ‘I’m giving you this now just so you know I’m not doing a runner on you. Don’t give me any change, I want you to keep the meter running.’

He nodded, giving her a worried look. She shot another glance over her shoulder, but still she wasn’t sure.

‘I’m going inside the building. If I don’t come back out in five minutes, OK, exactly five minutes, I want you to dial 999 and get the police here. Tell them I’m being attacked in there.’

‘Want me to come in with you?’

‘No, I’m OK, thanks.’

‘You got boyfriend troubles? Husband?’

‘Yes.’ She opened the door and climbed out, looking back down the street. ‘I’m going to give you my mobile number. If you see a grey Ford Focus – a four-door, clean-looking, with a bloke in it wearing a baseball cap, call me as quickly as you can.’

It took him several agonizing moments to find his pen, then, with the slowest handwriting she had ever seen, he began jotting the numbers.

Once he’d finished, she hurried to the entrance door of the building, unlocked it and went into the dingy communal hallway. It felt strange being back here again – nothing seemed to have changed. The linoleum on the floor, which looked as if it had been there since the building was put up, was immaculately clean, as ever, and the same metal pigeonholes were there for mail, with what could even have been the same pizza, Chinese, Thai and Indian takeaway advertising leaflets poking out of several of them. There was a strong reek of polish and of boiled vegetables.

She looked at her mother’s mail box, to see if it had been emptied, and to her dismay saw several envelopes wedged into it, as if there was no further room inside. One of them, almost hanging out, was a Television Licence Renewal reminder.

The post was one of the highlights of her mother’s day. She was a competition fanatic, subscribing to a number of magazines that included them, and she had always been good at them. Several of Abby’s childhood treats and even holidays had been from competitions her mother had won and half the things her mother now owned were prizes.

So why had she not yet collected her post?

With her heart in her mouth, Abby hurried along the hallway to the door of her mother’s flat at the rear of the building. She could hear the sound of a television on in another flat somewhere above her. She knocked on the door, then opened it with her key without waiting for a reply.

‘Hi, Mum!’

She heard the sound of voices. A weather report.

She raised her voice. ‘Mum!’

God, it felt strange. Over two years since she had been here. She was well aware of the shock her mother was going to get, but she couldn’t worry about that now.

‘Abby?’ Her mother’s voice sounded utterly astonished.

She hurried in, through the tiny hallway and into the sitting room, barely noticing the smell of damp and body odour. Her mother was on the couch, thin as a rake, her hair lank and greyer than she remembered, wearing a floral dressing gown and pompom slippers. She had a rose-patterned tray, which Abby remembered from her childhood, balanced on her knees. An open tin of rice pudding sat on it.

Torn-out newspaper and magazine competitions were spread all over the carpeted floor, and the lunchtime weather forecast was on the Sony wide-screen television, which Abby recalled her winning, perched clumsily on a metal drinks trolley, which was another prize.

The tray crashed to the floor. Her mother looked as if she had seen a ghost.

Abby ran across the room and threw her arms around her mother.

‘I love you, Mum,’ she said. ‘I love you so much.’

Mary Dawson had always been a small woman, but now she seemed even smaller than Abby remembered, as if she had shrunk during these past two years. Though she still had a pretty face, with beautiful pale blue eyes, she was much more wrinkled than last time Abby had seen her. She hugged her tightly, tears streaming down her face, wetting her mother’s hair that smelled unwashed, but smelled of her mother.

After her father had died, horribly but mercifully quickly from prostate cancer ten years ago, Abby had hoped for a while that her mother might find someone else. But when the disease was diagnosed, that hope went.

‘What’s going on, Abby?’ her mother quizzed, then added, with a sudden twinkle, ‘Are we going to be on This Is Your Life? Is that why you’re here?’

Abby laughed. Then, clutching her mum tightly, realized it had been a long, long time since she had last laughed. ‘I don’t think it’s on any more.’

‘No prizes on that show, Abby dear.’

Abby laughed again. ‘I’ve missed you, Mum!’

‘I miss you too, my darling, all the time. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming back from Australia? When did you get home? If I’d known you were coming I’d have tidied myself up!’

Suddenly remembering the time, Abby glanced at her watch. Three minutes had elapsed. She jumped up. ‘I’ll be back in a sec!’

She hurried outside, looking warily each way up and down the street, then went over to the taxi and opened the front passenger door. ‘I’ll be a few more minutes, but the same applies. Call me if you see him.’

‘If he turns up, miss, I’ll beat the crap out of him!’

‘Just call me!’

She returned to her mother.

‘Mum, I can’t explain it all now. I want to call a locksmith and get a new lock put on your door, and a safety chain and a spyhole. I want to try to get it done today.’

‘What’s going on, Abby? What is it?’

Abby went over to the phone and picked up the cradle, turning it upside down. She didn’t know what a bug looked like, but she could see nothing underneath it. Then she looked at the handset and couldn’t see anything wrong with that either. But what did she know?

‘Do you have any other phones?’ she asked.

‘You’re in trouble, aren’t you? What is it? I’m your mum, tell me!’

Abby knelt down and picked up the tray, then went to the kitchen to find a cloth to clear up the spilt rice pudding.

‘I’m going to buy you a new phone, a mobile. Please don’t use this one any more.’

As she started wiping the mess off the carpet, she realized it was the old carpet from the sitting room at their home in Holling-bury. It was a deep red colour, with a wide border of entwined roses in green, ochre and brown, and was frayed to the point of baldness in some patches. But it was comforting to see it, taking her back to her childhood.

‘What is it, Abby?’

‘Everything’s OK.’

Her mother shook her head. ‘I may be a sick woman, but I’m not stupid. You’re frightened. If you can’t tell your old mum, who can you tell?’

‘Please just do what I say. Have you got a Yellow Pages?’

‘In the middle drawer of the bottom half,’ her mother said, pointing at a walnut tallboy.

‘I’ll explain everything later, but I don’t have time now. OK?’ She went over and found the directory. It was a few years out of date, but that probably didn’t matter, she decided, flipping it open and leafing through until she found the Locksmith section.

She made the call, then told her mother someone would be here later this afternoon from Eastbourne Lockworks.

‘Are you in trouble, Abby?’

She shook her head, not wanting to alarm her mother too much. ‘I think someone is stalking me – someone who wanted me to go out with him, and he’s trying to get to me through you, that’s all.’

Her mother gave her a long look, as if showing she didn’t fully believe the story. ‘Still with that fellow Dave?’

Abby replaced the cloth in the kitchen sink, then came back and kissed her mother. ‘Yes.’

‘He didn’t sound a good ’un to me.’

‘He’s been kind to me.’

‘Your father – he was a good man. He wasn’t ambitious, but he was a good person. He was a wise man.’

‘I know he was.’

‘Remember what he used to say? He used to laugh at me doing the competitions and tell me that life wasn’t about getting what you wanted. It was about wanting what you have.’ She looked at her daughter. ‘Do you want what you have?’

Abby blushed. Then she kissed her mother again on both cheeks. ‘I’m close. I’ll be back with a new phone within the hour. Are you expecting anyone today?’

Her mother thought for a moment. ‘No.’

‘The friend of yours, the neighbour upstairs who pops by sometimes?’

‘Doris?’

‘Do you think she could come and sit with you until I get back?’

‘I may be sick, but I’m not a total invalid,’ her mother said.

‘It’s in case he comes.’

Again her mother gave her a long look. ‘Don’t you think you should tell me the full story?’

‘Later, I promise. What flat is she in?’

‘Number 4, on the first floor.’

Abby hurried out and ran up the stairs. Emerging on the first-floor hallway, she found the flat and rang the bell.

Moments later she heard the clumsy rattle of a safety chain and wished that her mother had one of those right now. Then the door was opened a few inches by a statuesque white-hairedwoman, with distinguished features that were partly obscured by a pair of dark glasses the size and shape of a snorkelling mask. She was dressed in an elegant knitted two-piece.

‘Hello,’ she said in a very posh accent.

‘I’m Abby Dawson – Mary’s daughter.’

‘Mary’s daughter! She talks so much about you. I thought you were still in Australia.’ She opened the door wider and peered closer, putting her face almost inches from Abby’s. ‘Excuse me,’ she said. ‘I have macular degeneration – I can only see well out of one corner of my eye.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Abby said. ‘You poor thing.’ Abby felt she should be more sympathetic but she was anxious to press on. ‘Look, I wonder if you could do me a favour. I have to dash out for an hour and – it’s a long story – but there’s an old boyfriend who’s making my life hell, and I’m worried he might turn up and abuse Mum. Is there any chance you could sit with her until I get back?’

‘Of course. Would you prefer she came up here?’

‘Well, yes, but she’s expecting the locksmith.’

‘OK, don’t worry. I’ll be right down in a couple of minutes. I’ll fetch my stick.’ Then, her voice darkening with good-humoured menace, she added, ‘If this fellow turns up he’ll be sorry!’

Abby hurried back downstairs and into her mother’s flat. She explained what was happening, then said, ‘Don’t answer the door to anyone until I get back.’

She then hurried out into the street and climbed into the back of the taxi.

‘I need to find a mobile phone shop,’ she told the driver. Then she checked her pocket. She had another hundred and fifty pounds in cash. It should be enough.

*

Parked carefully out of sight behind a camper van to the right, on the cross-street, Ricky waited for them to drive off, then started his engine and followed, staying a long way back, curious to know where Abby was heading.

At the same time, keeping a steadying hand on the GSM 3060 Intercept he had placed on the passenger seat beside him, he replayed her call to Eastbourne Lockworks and memorized the number. He was glad he had the Intercept with him, he hadn’t wanted to risk leaving such a valuable piece of kit in the van.

He called the locksmith and politely cancelled the appointment, explaining that the lady, his mother, had forgotten she had a hospital appointment this afternoon. He would call back later and arrange a new time for tomorrow.

Then he rang Abby’s mother, introduced himself as the manager of Eastbourne Lockworks and apologized profusely for the delay. His staff were attending an emergency. Someone would be there as soon as possible, but it might not be until early evening, at the earliest. Otherwise it would be first thing tomorrow morning. He hoped that would be all right. She told him that would be fine.

The taxi driver drove cretinously slowly, which made following at a safe distance easy, the vehicle’s bright turquoise and white livery and the sign on its roof making it easy for Ricky to spot. After ten minutes it started driving even more slowly down a busy shopping street, the brake lights coming on several times before it finally pulled over outside a phone shop. Ricky swerved sharply into a parking bay and watched Abby run into the shop.

Then he switched off his engine, pulled a Mars bar out of his pocket, ravenously hungry suddenly, and settled down to wait.

73

OCTOBER 2007

Something was nagging Inspector Stephen Curry when he returned to his office from the Neighbourhood Policing meeting, which had gone on much longer than expected.

It had turned into a sandwich lunch meeting as well, covering a broad range of issues, from two illegal traveller encampments that were causing problems at Hollingbury and Woodingdean, to the creation of an intelligence report on the city’s latest teenage gangs and a plague of happy-slapping incidents associated with them. These violent incidents were becoming an increasingly large problem, with youths filming the attacks and then posting them as trophies on social networking sites such as Bebo and MySpace. Some of the worst attacks had taken place in schools, been picked up on by the Argus and had a real impact on children and worried parents.

It was coming up to 2.30 p.m. and he had a ton of stuff to get through today. He had to leave earlier than usual – it was his wedding anniversary and he had promised Tracy faithfully – absolutely one hundred per cent faithfully – that he would not be late home.

He sat at his desk and ran his eyes down the log on the screen of all incidents in his area during the past few hours, but there was nothing he needed to get involved with right now. All emergency calls had been responded to without delays and there were no significant critical incidents which would sap resources. It was just the usual assortment of minor crimes.

Then, remembering Roy Grace’s call earlier, he opened his notebook and read the name Katherine Jennings and the address he had written down. He had just seen one of the early-turn Neighbourhood Policy Team sergeants, John Morley, come in, so he picked the phone and asked him to have someone from the Neighbourhood Team go and see the woman.

Morley crooked the phone into his shoulder and picked up a pen, his left hand marking his place in a crime file he was reviewing relating to a handover prisoner arrested by the night shift. Then he flipped over a small scrap of paper on his desk, on which he’d written a vehicle registration number earlier, and jotted the name and address down.

The sergeant was young and bright, with his buzz cut and stab vest making him look harder than he actually was. But, like all of his colleagues, he was stressed from being overworked, because they were short of staff.

‘Could be any number of reasons why she was agitated by that jerk Spinella. He agitates me.’

‘Tell me about it!’ Curry concurred.

A couple of minutes later, Morley was about to transfer the details to his notebook when his phone rang again. It was an operator in the Southern Resourcing Centre, asking the sergeant to take command of a grade-one emergency. An eight-year-old mis-per. Vanished from her school this afternoon and not with her family.

Within moments the shit hit the fan. Morley radioed first his duty inspector, then barked instructions on his radio phone to his team of officers and PCSOs who were out and about in the city. While doing his, he ran to the back of the cluttered room, which contained half a dozen communal metal desks, boxes of supplies, and a row of pegs and hooks for jackets, hats and helmets, and grabbed his cap.

Then, taking a couple of constables who had arrived early for the afternoon shift, he headed for the door at a semi-run, still talking into his phone.

As the three of them passed his desk, the draught of air lifted the scrap of paper with Katherine Jennings’s name and address up, off the flat surface, and it fluttered to the floor.

Ten minutes later an MSA entered the room and put several copies of the latest directive on diversity training within the police force down on Sergeant Morley’s desk for him to distribute. As she was about the leave, she noticed the scrap of paper lying on the floor. She stooped down, picked it up and dropped it, dutifully, in the waste-paper basket.

74

OCTOBER 2007

The fresh air and the greasy fry-up had done the trick for his hangover, Roy Grace decided, feeling almost human again now as he walked back up Church Street and entered the NCP multistorey car park.

He stuck his ticket in the machine, wincing as he always did each time he parked here at the extortionate amount that appeared on the display, then climbed the steps up towards his level, thinking about Terry Biglow.

Maybe he was going soft, because he actually found himself feeling a little sorry for the man – although not for his vile companion. Biglow had once had a bit of style and he was one of the last of a generation of old-school villains who respected the police, if nothing else.

The poor bastard didn’t look as if he was long for this world. What did a man like him think as he approached the end of his life? Did he care that he had totally squandered it, contributing nothing to the world? That he had played a part in ruining countless other lives, ending up with nothing, absolutely nothing? Not even his health…

He unlocked his car, then sat inside and ran through his notes from the encounter. Partway through, he phoned Glenn Branson and gave him the news that Ronnie had had a second wife, called Lorraine. Then he told him to take Bella Moy and interview the people Terry Biglow said had been Ronnie Wilson’s best friends, the Klingers. Stephen Klinger currently ran a large antiques emporium in Brighton and should be easy enough to find.

As he hung up, his phone rang. It was Cleo.

‘How’s your hangover, Detective Superintendent Grace?’ she asked.

It was strange, he thought. Sandy had always called him just Grace and now occasionally Cleo did it too. At the same time, he found it endearing.

‘Hangover? How do you know about that?’

‘Because you rang me from the pub about 11.30 last night, slurring undying love for me.’

‘I did?’

‘Uh oh, memory loss. Must have been a seriously bad session.’

‘It was. Five hours of Glenn Branson’s marital woes. Enough to drive any man to drink.’

‘Starting to sound to me like his marriage is terminal.’

‘Yep, heading that way.’

‘I – ah – need a favour,’ she said, her tone changing, suddenly all sweetness and light.

‘What kind of a favour?’

‘An hour of your time, between 5 and 6.’

‘What do you want me to do?

‘Well, I’ve just had to go and bring in a particularly unpleasant suicide – a fellow who put a twelve-bore in his mouth in his garden shed – and the Coroner’s not happy with the circumstances. She wants a Home Office pathologist – so our good friend Theobald is coming to do the PM this afternoon. Which means I can’t take Humphrey to dog training.’

‘Dog training?’

‘Yes, so I thought it might be a good opportunity for you and Humphrey to bond.’

‘Cleo, I’m right in the middle of a really-’

Cutting him short, she said, ‘Your murder investigation – she’s been dead for ten years. One hour isn’t going to make a huge difference. Just one hour, that’s all I’m asking for. It’s the first day of a new course and I’d really like Humphrey to be there from the start. And because I know you’re going to do it, because you’re such a lovely man, I’m offering you a very sweet reward!’

‘Reward?’

‘OK. Dog training’s from 5 o’clock to 6… Here’s the deal. You take Humphrey and in exchange I’ll cook you Thai-style stir-fried tiger prawns and scallops.’

Instantly she had him hooked. Cleo’s prawn and scallop stir-fry was one of the best dishes in her amazing repertoire. It was almost to die for.

Before he had time to comment, she added, ‘I’ve also got a rather special bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc I’ve popped in the fridge for you as a treat.’ She paused and then, in a deeply seductive voice, said, ‘And…’

And?

There was a long silence. Just the hiss of static from the phone.

‘What’s the and?’ he asked.

Even more seductively, she said, ‘That’s for your imagination.’

‘Did you have anything particular in mind?’

‘Yes, lots… We have the whole of last night to catch up on as well as tonight. Think you can rise to the occasion, with your hangover and all?’

‘I think I could.’

‘Good. So, you give Humphrey a treat and I’ll give you one in exchange. Deal?’

‘Shall I bring some biscuits?’

‘For Humphrey?’

‘No, for you.’

‘Sod you, Grace.’

He grinned.

‘Oh, and one other thing – don’t get tooooo aroused. Humphrey likes chewing on hard things.’

75

OCTOBER 2007

He could have done with another Mars bar – he was starving – but Ricky didn’t want to risk leaving the car to buy one, in case he missed her. Christ, it was over half an hour since she had gone into the mobile phone shop – what was the bitch doing in there? No doubt dithering about which colour to buy.

The cab would be costing a bloody fortune! And whose money would she be using to pay for it?

His, of course.

Was she doing it deliberately to make him angry, knowing that he would be watching somewhere?

She would pay for this. Every which way. And then some.

She would scream apologies to him. Over and over and over. Before he was finished with her.

A shadow fell across his nearside window. Then he saw a traffic warden’s face peering in. He put down the window.

‘I’m picking up my mother,’ Ricky said. ‘She’s disabled – won’t be a few minutes.’

The warden, a lanky youth with a sullen face and his cap at a jaunty angle, was not impressed. ‘You’ve been here half an hour.’

‘She’s driving me nuts,’ Ricky said. ‘She’s suffering dementia – first stages.’ He tapped his watch. ‘Got to get her to the hospital. Just give me a couple more minutes.’

‘Five minutes,’ the warden said, and swaggered off. He then stopped by the car in front and began tapping out a ticket on his machine.

Ricky watched his altercation moments later with the returning owner, an irate-looking woman, and continued to watch his slow progress into the distance. He realized, with a shock, that another twenty minutes had passed.

Jesus, how long do you need to buy a fucking phone?

Another five minutes went by. Followed by another. Suddenly the taxi drove off and was swallowed by the traffic.

Ricky did a double-take. Had he missed her? Had the warden moved the taxi on?

He started the car and followed. Several vehicles in front, the taxi headed down to the sea, then turned right. Keeping his distance, staying several vehicles back, he followed the imbecilic, moronic, geriatric, dithering fool of a driver at a pace where he was likely to be overtaken by a tortoise. They went along the seafront, then up the winding hill into wide, open national park and farmland, and along towards the cliff-top beauty and favoured suicide spot of Beachy Head.

A double-decker bus was on his tail, pushing for him to speed up. ‘Come on, fuckwit!’ he shouted through the windscreen at the cab. ‘Put your fucking foot down!’

Still at the same speed, he passed the Beachy Head pub, following the winding road towards Birling Gap, then up through East Dean village. The agony continued through more open countryside, winding past the Seven Sisters and into Seaford. Then on, past the Newhaven ferry port, and up the hill into Peacehaven. A long-haired young man and a girl stood on a street corner in the distance waving and, to Ricky’s astonishment, the for hire light suddenly came on and the taxi pulled over.

He pulled over too and a line of traffic that had built up behind him shot past.

He watched the couple get into the back.

The taxi had been empty.

He’d been following an empty taxi.

Shit, shit, shit.

Oh, you little bitch, now you’ve really fucking done it.

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