/ Language: English / Genre:thriller,

Dead Tomorrow

Peter James

Lynn Barrett is a single mother, trying to cope with life after divorce. And her life becomes an even bigger nightmare when daughter Caitlin is diagnosed with terminal liver disease. She is put on the transplant waiting list, but there is a world shortage and most patients will die while waiting. In desperation, Lynn turns to the internet and discovers an organ broker who can provide her with a liver but it will cost Lynn GBP250,000.To save her daughter she mortgages her home and borrows from family and friends to raise the money. A few days later the organ broker tells Lynn she has found a young woman, a perfect match for Caitlin, who is in a coma following a car smash in Italy. Meanwhile Roy Grace is working on the case of the remains of three young people recovered from the seabed off the coast of Brighton. These remains lead him to a Romanian trafficking organization of street kids from the Eastern bloc for the UK sex trade; some of them are also traded as organ donors…

Peter James

Dead Tomorrow

The fifth book in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series, 2009

IN MEMORY OF FRED NEWMAN

RESPECT!

1

Susan hated the motorbike. She used to tell Nat that bikes were lethal, that riding a motorcycle was the most dangerous thing in the world. Over and over again. Nat liked to wind her up by telling her that actually, statistically, she was wrong. That in fact the most dangerous thing you could do was go into your kitchen. It was the place where you were most likely to die.

He saw it for himself every day of his working life as a senior hospital registrar. Sure there were some bad accidents on motorbikes, but nothing compared with what happened in kitchens.

People regularly electrocuted themselves sticking forks into toasters. Or died from broken necks after falling off kitchen chairs. Or choked. Or got food poisoning. He liked, in particular, to tell her the story of one victim who had been brought into A &E at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, where he worked – or rather overworked – who had leaned into her dishwasher to unblock it and got stabbed through the eye by a boning knife.

Bikes weren’t dangerous, not even ones like his monster red Honda Fireblade (which could hit sixty miles an hour in three seconds), he liked to tell her; it was other road users who were the problem. You just had to watch out for them, that was all. And hey, his Fireblade left a damn sight smaller carbon footprint than her clapped-out Audi TT.

But she always ignored that.

The same way she ignored his moans about always having to spend Christmas Day – just five weeks away – with the outlaws, as he liked to call her parents. His late mother was fond of telling him that you could choose your friends but not your relatives. So damn true.

He had read somewhere that when a man marries a woman, he hopes she will stay the same forever, but when a woman marries a man, her agenda is to change him.

Well, Susan Cooper was doing that OK, using the most devastating weapon in a woman’s arsenal: she was six months pregnant. And sure, of course he was proud as hell. And ruefully aware that shortly he was going to have to get real. The Fireblade was going to have to go and be replaced by something practical. Some kind of estate car or people carrier. And, to satisfy Susan’s social and environmental conscience, a sodding diesel-electrical hybrid, for God’s sake!

And how much fun was that going to be?

Having arrived home in the early hours, he sat yawning at the kitchen table of their small cottage at Rodmell, ten miles from Brighton, staring at the news of a suicide bombing in Afghanistan on the Breakfast show. It was 8.11 according to the screen, 8.09 according to his watch. And it was the dead of night according to his mental alertness. He spooned some Shreddies into his mouth, swilled them down with orange juice and black coffee, before hurrying back upstairs. He kissed Susan and patted the Bump goodbye.

‘Ride carefully,’ she said.

What do you think I’m going to do, ride dangerously? he thought but did not say. Instead he said, ‘I love you.’

‘Love you too. Call me.’

Nat kissed her again, then went downstairs, tugged on his helmet and his leather gloves, and stepped outside into the frosty morning. Dawn had only just broken as he wheeled the heavy red machine out of the garage, then swung the door shut with a loud clang. Although there was a ground frost, it had not rained for several days, so there was no danger of black ice on the roads.

He looked up at the curtained window, then pressed the starter button of his beloved motorbike for the last time in his life.

2

Dr Ross Hunter was one of the few constants in Lynn Beckett’s life, she thought, as she pressed his surgery bell on the panel in the porch. In fact, if she was honest with herself, she’d be hard pushed to name any other constants at all. Apart from failure. That was definitely a constant. She was good at failure, always had been. In fact, she was brilliant at it. She could fail for England.

Her life, in a nutshell, had been a thirty-seven-year-long trail of disasters, starting with small stuff, like getting the end of her index finger chopped off by a car door when she was seven, and steadily getting bigger as life took on more gravitas. She had failed her parents as a child, failed her husband as a wife, and was now very comprehensively failing her teenage daughter as a single-parent mother.

The doctor’s surgery was in a large Edwardian villa in a quiet Hove street that had in former times been entirely residential. But now many of the grand terraced houses had long been demolished and replaced with blocks of flats. Most of those that remained, like this one, housed offices or medical practices.

She stepped into the familiar hallway, which smelled of furniture polish tinged with a faint whiff of antiseptic, saw Dr Hunter’s secretary at her desk at the far end, occupied on a phone call, and slipped into the waiting room.

Nothing had changed in this large but dingy room in the fifteen or so years she had been coming here. The same water stain, vaguely in the shape of Australia, on the stuccoed ceiling, the same potted rubber plant in front of the fireplace, the familiar musty smell, and the same mismatched armchairs and sofas that looked as if they had been bought, back in the mists of time, in a job lot from a house clearance auctioneer. Even some of the magazines on the circular oak table in the centre looked as if they had not been changed in years.

She glanced at a frail old man who was sunk deep into an armchair with busted springs. He had jammed his stick into the carpet and was gripping it firmly, as if trying to prevent himself from disappearing into the chair completely. Next to him an impatient-looking man in his thirties, in a blue coat with a velvet collar, was preoccupied with his BlackBerry. There were various pamphlets on a stand, one offering advice on how to give up smoking, but at this moment, with the state of her nerves, she could have done with advice on how to smoke more.

There was a fresh copy of The Times lying on the table, but she wasn’t in any mood to concentrate on reading, she decided. She’d barely slept a wink since getting the phone call from Dr Hunter’s secretary late yesterday afternoon, asking her to come in, first thing in the morning, on her own. And she was feeling shaky from her blood sugars being too low. She had taken her medication, but then had barely swallowed a mouthful of breakfast.

After perching herself on the edge of a hard, upright chair, she rummaged in her bag and popped a couple of glucose tablets into her mouth. Why did Dr Hunter want to see her so urgently? Was it about the blood test she’d had last week, or – as was more likely – about Caitlin? When she’d had scares before, like the time she’d found a lump on her breast, or the time she’d become terrified that her daughter’s erratic behaviour might be a symptom of a brain tumour, he had simply rung her himself and given her the good news that the biopsy or the scan or the blood tests were fine, there was nothing to worry about. Inasmuch as there could ever be nothing to worry about with Caitlin.

She crossed her legs, then uncrossed them. Dressed smartly, she was wearing her best coat, blue mid-length wool and cashmere – a January sale bargain – a dark blue knitted top, black trousers and black suede boots. Although she would never admit it to herself, she always tried to make herself look good when she came to see the doctor. Not exactly dressed to kill – she had long ago lost the art, not to mention the confidence, to do that – but dressed nicely at least. Together with a good half of Dr Hunter’s women patients, she had long secretly fancied him. Not that she would have ever dared make that known to him.

Ever since her break-up with Mal, her esteem had been on the floor. At thirty-seven she was an attractive woman, and would be a lot more attractive, several of her friends and her late sister had told her, if she put back some of the weight she had lost. She was haggard, she knew: she could see for herself just by looking in the mirror. Haggard from worrying about everything, but most of all from worrying for over six years about Caitlin.

It was shortly after her ninth birthday that Caitlin had first been diagnosed with liver disease. It felt like the two of them had been in a long, dark tunnel ever since. The never-ending visits to the specialists. The tests. The brief periods of hospitalization down here in Sussex, and longer periods, one of almost a year, in the liver unit of the Royal South London Hospital. She’d endured operations to insert stents in her bile ducts. Then operations to remove stents. Endless transfusions. At times she was so low on energy from her illness that she would regularly fall asleep in class. She became unable to play her beloved saxophone because she found it hard to breathe. And all along, as she became a teenager, Caitlin was getting more angry and rebellious. Demanding to know Why me?

The question Lynn was unable to answer.

She’d long ago lost count of the times she had sat anxiously in A &E at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, while medics treated her daughter. Once, at thirteen, Caitlin had had to have her stomach pumped after stealing a bottle of vodka from the drinks cabinet. Another time, at fourteen, she fell off a roof, stoned on hash. Then there was the horrific night she came into Lynn’s bedroom at two in the morning, glassy-eyed, sweating and so cold her teeth were chattering, announcing she had downed an Ecstasy tablet given to her by some lowlife in Brighton and that her head hurt.

On each occasion, Dr Hunter came to the hospital and stayed with Caitlin until he knew she was out of danger. He didn’t have to do it, but that was the kind of man he was.

And now the door was opening and he was coming in. A tall, elegant figure in a pinstriped suit with fine posture, he had a handsome face, framed with wavy salt and pepper hair, and gentle, caring green eyes that were partially concealed by half-moon glasses.

‘ Lynn!’ he said, his strong, brisk voice oddly subdued this morning. ‘Come on in.’

Dr Ross Hunter had two different expressions for greeting his patients. His normal, genuinely warm, happy-to-see-you smile was the only one Lynn had ever seen in all the years that she had been his patient. She had never before encountered his wistful biting-of-the-lower-lip grimace. The one he kept in the closet and hated to bring out.

The one he had on his face today.

3

It was a good place for a speed trap. Commuters hurrying into Brighton who regularly drove down this stretch of the Lewes Road knew that, although there was a forty-mile-an-hour limit, they could accelerate safely after the lights and not have to slow down again along the dual carriageway until they reached the speed camera, almost a mile on.

The blue, yellow and silver Battenburg markings of the BMW estate car, parked in a side road and partially obscured from their view by a bus shelter, came as an unwelcome early-morning surprise to most of them.

PC Tony Omotoso stood on the far side of the car, holding the laser gun, using the roof as a rest, aiming the red dot at the front number plates, which gave the best reading on any vehicle he estimated to be speeding. He clicked the trigger on the plate of a Toyota saloon. The digital readout said 44 mph. The driver had spotted them and had already hit the brakes. Using the rigid guidelines, he allowed a tolerance of 10 per cent over the limit, plus two. The Toyota carried on past, its brake lights glowing. Next he sighted on the plate of a white Transit van – 43 mph. Then a black Harley Softail motorbike sped past, going way over the limit, but he wasn’t able to get a fix in time.

Standing to his left, ready to jump out the moment Tony called, was his fellow Road Policing Officer, PC Ian Upperton, tall and thin, in his cap and yellow high-visibility jacket. Both men were freezing.

Upperton watched the Harley. He liked them – he liked all bikes, and his ambition was to become a motorcycle officer. But Harleys were cruising bikes. His real passion was for the high-speed road-racer machines, like BMWs, Suzuki Hayabusas, Honda Fireblades. Bikes where you had to lean into bends in order to get round them, not merely turn the handlebars like a steering wheel.

A red Ducati was going past now, but the rider had spotted them and slowed almost to a crawl. The clapped-out-looking green Fiesta coming up in the outside lane, however, clearly had not.

‘The Fiesta!’ Omotoso called out. ‘Fifty-two!’

PC Upperton stepped out and signalled the car over. But, whether blindly or wilfully, the car shot past.

‘OK, let’s go.’ He called out the number plate – ‘Whiskey Four-Three-Two Charlie Papa November’ – then jumped behind the wheel.

‘Fuckers!’

‘Yeah, cunts!’

‘Why don’t you go chasing real criminals, right?’

‘Yeah, ’stead of fuckin’ persecuting motorists.’

Tony Omotoso turned his head and saw two youths slouching past.

Because 3,500 people die on the roads of England every year, against 500 a year who are murdered, that’s why, he wanted to say to them. Because me and Ian scrape dead and broken bodies off the roads every damn day of the week, because of arseholes like this one in the Fiesta.

But he didn’t have time. His colleague already had the blue roof spinners flashing and the siren whup-whooping. He tossed the laser gun on to the back seat, climbed in the front, slammed the door and began tugging his seat belt on, as Upperton gunned the car out into a gap in the traffic and floored the accelerator.

And now the adrenalin was kicking in as he felt the thrust of acceleration in the pit of his stomach and his spine pressed against the rear of the seat. Oh yes, this was one of the highs of the job.

The Automatic Number Plate Recognition video screen mounted on the dash was beeping at them, showing the Fiesta’s index. Whiskey Four-Three-Two Charlie Papa November had no tax, no insurance and was registered to a disqualified driver.

Upperton pulled over into the outside lane, gaining fast on the Fiesta.

Then a radio call came through. ‘Hotel Tango Four-Two?’

Omotoso answered. ‘Hotel Tango Four-Two, yes, yes?’

The controller said, ‘We have a reported serious road traffic collision. Motorcycle and car at the intersection of Coldean Lane and Ditchling Road. Can you attend?’

Shit, he thought, not wanting to let the Fiesta go. ‘Yes, yes, on our way. Put out an alert for Brighton patrols. Ford Fiesta, index Whiskey Four-Three-Two Charlie Papa November, colour green, travelling south on Lewes Road at speed, approaching gyratory system. Suspected disqualified driver.’

He didn’t need to tell his colleague to spin the car around. Upperton was already braking hard, his right-turn indicators blinking, looking for a gap in the oncoming traffic.

4

Malcolm Beckett could smell the sea getting closer as his thirty-year-old blue MGB GT halted at the traffic lights to the slip road. It was like a drug, as if the salt of the oceans was in his veins, and after any absence he needed his fix. Since his late teens, when he joined the Royal Navy as a trainee engineer, he had spent his entire career at sea. Ten years in the Royal Navy and then twenty-one years in the Merchant Navy.

He loved Brighton, where he was born and raised, because of its proximity to the coast, but he was always happiest when on board ship. Today was the end of his three weeks’ shore leave and the start of three weeks back at sea, on the Arco Dee, where he was Chief Engineer. Not so long ago, he rued, he had been the youngest chief engineer in the entire Merchant Navy, but now, at forty-seven, he was fast becoming a veteran, an old sea dog.

Just like his beloved ship, every rivet of which he knew, he knew every nut and bolt of his car, which he had taken apart and put back together again more times than he could remember. He listened fondly to the rumble of the idling engine now, deciding that he could hear a bit of tappet noise, that he would need to take the cylinder head off on his next leave and make some adjustments.

‘You OK?’ Jane asked.

‘Me? Yep. Absolutely.’

It was a fine morning, crisp blue sky, no wind, the sea flat as a millpond. After the late autumn storms that had made his last spell on board pretty grim, the weather was set fair, at least for today. It would be chilly, but glorious.

‘Are you going to miss me?’

He wormed his arm around her shoulder, gave her a squeeze. ‘Madly.’

‘Liar!’

He kissed her. ‘I miss you every second I’m away from you.’

‘Bullshit!’

He kissed her again.

As the lights turned to green, she depressed the clutch, crunched the gear lever into first and accelerated down the incline.

‘It’s really hard to compete against a ship,’ she said.

He grinned. ‘That was a great bonk this morning.’

‘It had better last you.’

‘It will.’

They turned left, driving round the end of the Hove Lagoon, a pair of artificial lakes where people could take out rowing boats, have windsurfing lessons and sail model ships. Ahead of them, adjoining the eastern perimeter of the harbour, was a private street of white, Moorish-styled beachfront houses where rich celebrities, including Heather Mills and Fatboy Slim, had homes.

The salt in the air was stronger now, with the sulphurous reeks of the harbour, and the smells of oil, rope, tar, paint and coal.

Shoreham Harbour, at the western extremity of the city of Brighton and Hove, consisted of a mile-long basin, lined with timber yards, warehouses, bunkering stations and aggregate depots on both sides, as well as yacht marinas and a scattering of private houses and flats. It had once been a busy trading port, but the advent of increasingly large container ships, too big for this harbour, had changed its character.

Tankers, smaller cargo vessels and fishing boats still made constant use of it, but much of the traffic consisted of commercial dredgers, like his own ship, mining the seabed for gravel and sand to sell as aggregate to the construction industry.

‘What have you got on in the next three weeks?’ he asked.

Trusting the wives they left behind was an issue for all sailors. When he had first started in the Royal Navy he’d been told that the wives of some mariners used to stick a packet of OMO washing powder in their front windows when their husbands were away on a tour of duty. It signalled Old Man Overseas.

‘Jemma’s nativity play, which you’ll just miss,’ she answered. ‘And Amy breaks up in a fortnight. I’ll have her moping around the house.’

Amy was Jane’s eleven-year-old by her first marriage. Mal got on fine with her, although there was always an invisible barrier between them. Jemma was the six-year-old daughter they had together, with whom he was much closer. She was so affectionate, so bright, such a positive little person. A complete contrast to his own strange, remote and sickly daughter by his first marriage, whom he was fond of but had never really connected to, despite all his efforts. He was gutted that he would be missing Jemma playing the Virgin Mary, but was long used to the family sacrifices that his chosen career entailed. It had been a major contributing factor to his divorce from his first wife, and something he still thought about constantly.

He looked at Jane as she drove, turning right past the houses into the long, straight road along the south side of the harbour basin, going almost deliberately slowly now as if eking out her last minutes with him. Feisty but so lovely, with her short bob of red hair and her pert snub nose, she was wearing a leather jacket over a white T-shirt and ripped blue jeans. There was such a difference between the two women. Jane, who was a therapist specializing in phobias, told him that she liked her independence, loved the fact that she had her three weeks of freedom, that it made her appreciate him all the more when he was home.

Whereas Lynn, who worked for a debt collection agency, had always been needy. Too needy. It was one thing to be wanted by a woman, desired by a woman, lusted after by a woman. But to be needed. It was the need that had ultimately driven them apart. He’d hoped – in fact, they had both hoped – that having a child would have changed that. But it hadn’t.

It had actually made things worse.

The car was slowing down and Jane was indicating. They stopped, let a truck loaded with timber thunder past, then turned right, in through the open gates of Solent Aggregates. Then she halted the car in front of the security Portakabin.

Mal climbed out, already in his white boiler suit and rubber-soled sea boots, and flipped up the tailgate. He hefted out his large, soft bag and pulled on his yellow hard hat. Then he leaned in through the window and kissed Jane goodbye. It was a long, lingering kiss. Even after seven years, their passion was still intense – one of the pluses of regularly spending three weeks apart.

‘Love you,’ he said.

‘Love you too,’ she replied, and kissed him again.

A tall man, lean and strong, he was good-looking, with an open, honest face and a thatch of short, thinning fair hair. He was the kind of man colleagues instantly liked and respected; there was no side to him. What you saw was what you got.

He stood watching her reverse, listening to the burble of the exhaust, concerned about the sound when she revved. One of the baffles in the twin silencers needed replacing. He would have to put it up on the hoist when he got back. Also, he needed to take a look at the shocks, the car didn’t seem to be riding as well as it should over bumps. Could be the front shock absorbers needed replacing.

But, as he entered the Portakabin and signed his name in the log, exchanging pleasantries with the security guard, other things were starting to occupy his mind. The starboard engine of the Arco Dee was coming up to 20,000 hours, which was the company’s limit for an overhaul. He needed to do some calculations to pick the optimum time for that to happen. Dry docks would be shut down over the coming Christmas holiday period. But the owners of the Arco Dee weren’t concerned about holidays. If he’d spent £19 million on a boat, he probably wouldn’t be either, he reckoned. Which was why they liked to keep it working 24/7 for as much of the year as possible.

As he headed jauntily along the quay, towards her black hull and orange superstructure, he was happily unaware of the cargo that would accompany them back from his next voyage, scheduled to start in just a couple of hours’ time, and the trauma it would bring to his own life.

5

Dr Hunter’s office was a long, high-ceilinged room, with sash windows at the far end giving a view of a small, walled garden and, minimally screened by barren, wintry trees and shrubs, the stark metal fire escape of the building beyond. Lynn had often thought that in grander days, when this had been all one house, this office was probably the dining room.

She liked buildings, particularly interiors. One of her biggest joys was visiting country houses and stately homes that were open to the public – and there had been a time when Caitlin had quite enjoyed that too. It had long been her plan that when Caitlin was off her hands, and the need to earn money was not so pressing, she would do a course in interior design. Maybe then she’d offer to give Ross Hunter’s surgery a makeover. Like the waiting room, it could do with a spruce-up in here. The wallpaper and the paint had not aged anything like as well as the doctor himself. Although she had to admit to herself that there was something reassuring about the fact that the room had barely changed in all the years she had been coming here. It had a learned feel about it that always – until today at least – made her feel comfortable.

It just appeared a little more cluttered on every visit. The number of grey, four-drawer filing cabinets against one wall seemed to keep increasing, as did the index boxes in which he kept his patients’ notes stacked on the top, along, incongruously, with a plastic drinking-water dispenser. There was an eye-test chart inside a light box on one wall; a white marble bust of some ancient sage she did not recognize – perhaps Hippocrates, she thought – and several family photographs above a row of crammed, old-fashioned bookshelves.

One side of the room, behind a free-standing screen, contained the examination couch, some electrical monitoring equipment, an assortment of medical apparatus and several lights. The flooring here was a rectangle of linoleum inset into the carpet, giving this area the appearance of a mini operating theatre.

Ross Hunter motioned Lynn to one of the pair of black leather chairs in front of his desk and she sat down, putting her bag on the floor beside her, keeping her coat on. His face still looked tight, more serious than she had ever seen him, and it was making her nervous as hell. Then the phone rang. He raised an apologetic hand as he answered it, signalling with his eyes to her that he would not be long. While he spoke, he peered at the screen of his laptop.

She glanced around the room, listening to him talking to the relative of someone who was clearly very ill and about to be moved into the local hospice, the Martletts. The call made her even more uncomfortable. She stared at a coat stand with a solitary overcoat – Dr Hunter’s, she presumed – hanging from it and puzzled over an array of electrical equipment that she had not seen, or noticed, previously, wondering absently what it did.

He finished the call, scribbled a note to himself, peered at his screen once more, then focused on Lynn. His voice was gentle, concerned. ‘Thanks for coming in. I thought it would be better to see you alone before seeing Caitlin.’ He looked nervous.

‘Right,’ she mouthed. But no sound came out. It felt as if someone had just swabbed the insides of her mouth and her throat with blotting paper.

He retrieved a file from right at the top of one pile, put it on his desk and opened it, adjusted his half-moon glasses, then read for a few moments, as if buying himself time. ‘I’ve got the latest set of test results back from Dr Granger and I’m afraid it’s not good news, Lynn. They’re showing grossly abnormal liver function.’

Dr Neil Granger was the local consultant gastroenterologist who had been seeing Caitlin for the past six years.

‘The enzyme levels in particular are very elevated,’ he went on. ‘Particularly the Gamma GT enzymes. Her platelet count is very low – it has deteriorated quite dramatically. Is she bruising a lot?’

Lynn nodded. ‘Yes, also, if she cuts herself the bleeding takes a long time to stop.’ She knew that clotting agents were produced by the liver, and with a healthy liver they would immediately be dispatched to cause clotting and stop the bleeding. ‘How elevated are the enzyme levels?’ After years of looking up everything Caitlin’s doctors had told her on the Internet, Lynn had accumulated a fair amount of knowledge on the subject. Enough to know when to be worried, but not enough to know what to do about it.

‘Well, in a normal healthy liver the enzyme level should be around 45. The lab tests that were done a month ago showed 1,050. But this latest test shows a level of 3,000. Dr Granger is very concerned about this.’

‘What is the significance, Ross?’ Her voice came out choked and squeaky. ‘Of the rise?’

He looked hard at her with compassion showing in his eyes. ‘Her jaundice is worsening, he tells me. As is her encephalopathy. In lay terms, her body is being poisoned by toxins. She’s suffering increasingly from episodes of confusion, is that right?’

Lynn nodded.

‘Drowsiness?’

‘Yes, at times.’

‘The itching?’

‘That’s driving her crazy.’

‘The truth is, I’m afraid Caitlin is no longer responding to her treatments. She has irreversible cirrhosis.’

Feeling a deep, dark heaviness inside her, Lynn turned for a moment and stared bleakly through the window. At the fire escape. At a wintry, skeletal tree. It looked dead. She felt dead inside.

‘How is she today?’ the doctor asked.

‘She’s OK, a bit subdued. Complains that she’s itching a lot. She was awake, scratching her hands and her feet, most of the night. She said her urine’s very dark. And her abdomen is swollen, which she hates most of all.’

‘I can give her some water tablets to help get rid of the fluid.’ He made a note on Caitlin’s index card and suddenly Lynn found herself feeling indignant. Surely this warranted something more than a sodding index-card note? And why didn’t he have such things on a computer these days?

‘Ross, when – when you say deteriorated quite dramatically – how – what – I mean how – how is that stopped? You know, reversed? What has to happen?’

He jumped up from his desk, went over to a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, then came back holding a brown, wedge-shaped object, cleared a space on his desk and set it down.

‘This is what an adult human liver looks like. Caitlin’s would be just a little smaller.’

Lynn looked at it, the way she had looked at it a thousand times before. On a plain pad he started drawing what looked like a lot of broccoli. She listened as he explained, patiently, how the bile ducts worked, but when he had finished the diagram she knew no more than she already knew about the way the bile ducts worked. And besides, there was only one question that mattered to her now.

‘Surely there must be some way to reverse the failure?’ she asked. But her voice carried no conviction. As if she knew – as if they both knew – that after six years of hoping against hope, they were finally arriving at the inevitable.

‘I’m afraid that what’s going on here is not reversible. In Dr Granger’s view we are in danger of running out of time.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘She hasn’t responded to any medication and there aren’t any other drugs out there that we can give her.’

‘There must be something you can do? Dialysis?’

‘For kidney failure, yes, but not for liver failure. There’s no equivalent.’

He fell silent for some moments.

‘Why not, Ross?’ she probed.

‘Because the liver’s functions are too complex. I’ll draw you a cross-section and show-’

‘I don’t want another fucking diagram!’ she shouted at him. Then she started crying. ‘I just want you to make my darling angel better. There must be something you can do.’ She sniffed. ‘So what will happen, Ross?’

He bit his lip. ‘She’s going to have to have a transplant.’

‘A transplant? Shit, she’s only fifteen years old! FIFTEEN!’

He nodded, but said nothing.

‘I’m not shouting at you – I’m sorry – I…’ She fumbled in her bag for a handkerchief, then dabbed her eyes. ‘She’s just been through a lot in her life, poor angel. A transplant?’ she said again. ‘That is really the only option?’

‘Yes, I’m afraid it is.’

‘Or?’

‘To put it bluntly, she won’t survive.’

‘How long do we have?’

He raised his hands helplessly. ‘I can’t tell you that.’

‘Weeks? Months?’

‘A few months, at most. But it could be a lot less if her liver continues to fail at this rate.’

There was a long silence. Lynn stared down at her lap. Finally, and very quietly, she asked, ‘Ross, are there risks with a transplant?’

‘I’d be lying if I said there weren’t. The biggest problem is going to be finding a liver. There is a shortage because there is a lack of donors.’

‘She’s a rare blood group too, isn’t she?’ Lynn said.

Checking his notes, he said, ‘AB negative. Yes, that is rare – about 2 per cent of the population.’

‘Is the blood group important?’

‘It’s important, but I’m not sure of the exact criteria. I think there can be some cross-matching.’

‘What about me – could I give my liver to her?’

‘It’s possible to give a partial liver transplant – using one of the lobes, yes. But you’d have to have a compatible blood type – and I don’t think you are big enough.’

He searched through a few index cards, then read for a moment. ‘You’re A positive,’ he said. ‘I don’t know.’ The doctor gave a bleak, wintry smile of sympathy but near helplessness. ‘That is something Dr Granger will be better able to tell you. Also whether your diabetes would be a factor.’

It scared her that his man she trusted so much suddenly seemed lost and out of his depth.

‘Great,’ she said bitterly. Diabetes was another of the unwelcome souvenirs of her marriage break-up. Late-onset Type-2, which Dr Hunter told her might have been triggered by stress. So she hadn’t even been able to go on comfort-food binges to console herself. ‘Caitlin’s going to have to wait for someone who is the right blood group match to die? Is that what you’re saying?’

‘Probably, yes. Unless you have a family member or a close friend who is a match, who would be willing to donate part of their liver.’

Lynn ’s hopes rose a little. ‘That’s a possibility?’

‘Size is a factor – it would need to be a large person.’

The only large person she could immediately think of who would be approachable was Mal. But he was the same blood type as herself – they had found that out some years ago, during a period of trying to be responsible citizens, when they had become regular blood donors.

Lynn did a quick mental calculation. There were 65 million people in the UK. Maybe 45 million of them teenagers or older. So two per cent would be about 900,000 people. That was a lot of people. There must be people with AB negative blood dying every day.

‘We’re going to be in a queue, right? Like vultures? Waiting for someone to die? What if Caitlin freaks out at the thought?’ she said. ‘You know what she’s like. She doesn’t believe in killing anything. She gets upset when I kill flies!’

‘I think you should bring her in to see me – if you want to I could have a chat with her later on today. A lot of families find that donating the organs of someone who’s died can give some purpose and value to their death. Do you want me to try to explain this to her?’

Lynn gripped the sides of her chair, trying to put aside her own inner terror. ‘I can’t believe I’m thinking this, Ross. I’m not a violent person – even before Caitlin’s influence, I never liked killing flies in my kitchen. Now I’m sitting here actually willing some stranger to die.’

6

The morning rush-hour traffic on Coldean Lane that had been halted by the accident was already backed up almost to the bottom of the hill. To the left was part of the sprawling post-war council housing estate of Moulescoomb, to the right, beyond a flint wall, were the trees marking the eastern boundary of Stanmer Park, one of the city’s biggest open spaces.

PC Ian Upperton cautiously edged the nose of the Road Policing Unit’s BMW out past the rear of the stationary, chuntering bus that was at the end of the queue until he could see the road ahead, then, with the siren flailing the still air, he launched the car up the wrong side of the road.

PC Tony Omotoso sat next to him in silence, scanning the vehicles ahead in case any of them in their impatience tried to do something stupid like pulling out or turning round. Half the drivers on the road were either blind or drove with their music too loud to hear sirens, only looking in their mirrors to do their hair. He felt tight, clenched up with anxiety, the way he always felt on the way to a road traffic collision, as accidents were now officially called in the ever-changing police lexicon. You never knew what you were going to find.

In a bad accident, for many people their car turned from friend to deadly foe, spiking them, slicing them, crushing them and, in some horrific cases, cooking them. One moment they would be cruising along, listening to their music or chatting happily, the next – just a fraction of a second later – they were lying in agony in a tangle of metal with edges as sharp as razors, bewildered and helpless. He loathed idiots on the roads, people who drove badly or recklessly, and the twats who didn’t put their belts on.

They were reaching the crest of the hill now, where there was a nasty dogleg junction, with Ditchling Road joining Coldean Lane from the west and east, and he saw a blue Range Rover at the front of the queue with its hazard flashers blinking. A short distance on was an old-model white 3-Series BMW cabriolet slewed across the road with its driver’s door open and no one inside. There was a massive V-shaped dent behind the door and the rear wheel was stoved in. The rear window was shattered. Just beyond it, a knot of people were standing in the road. Several turned their heads as the police car pulled up and some moved aside.

Through the gap they opened up, Omotoso saw, facing them on the far side of the crest of the hill, a stationary small white Ford van. Spread-eagled, motionless on the ground close to it, was a motorcyclist, a trail of dark crimson blood running from inside his black helmet and pooling on the road. Two men and a woman were kneeling beside him. One of the men appeared to be talking to him. A short distance away lay a red motorcycle.

‘Another Fireblade,’ Upperton said grimly, almost under his breath as he brought the car to a halt.

The Honda Fireblade was a classic born-again-biker machine, one of the motorcycles de choix for blokes in their forties who had ridden in their teens, had now made some money and wanted a bike again. And naturally they wanted the fastest machine on the road, though they had no real understanding of just how much faster – and harder to handle – modern bikes had become during the intervening years. It was a grim statistic, evidenced by what Omotoso and Upperton – and dozens of other Road Policing Officers like them – saw daily, that the highest risk age group were not tearaway teenagers but middle-aged businessmen.

Omotoso radioed in that they were at the scene, and was told that an ambulance and fire crew were on their way. ‘We’d better have the RPU inspector up here, Hotel Tango Three-Nine-Nine,’ he told the controller, giving him the call sign for the duty Road Policing Unit inspector. This looked bad. Even from here he could see that the blood wasn’t the light, bright red of a superficial head wound, but the ominous colour of internal bleeding.

Both men got out of the car, assessing the scene as quickly and as well as they could. One thing Tony Omotoso had learned in this job was never to jump to rapid conclusions about how any accident had happened. But from the skid marks and the positions of the car and the bike, it looked as if the car had pulled out into the path of the motorcycle – which must have been travelling at speed to have caused that kind of damage and spun the car around.

The first priority on his mental checklist was danger from other road users. But all the traffic seemed securely halted in both directions. He heard the wail of a siren approaching in the distance.

‘She pulled out, fucking stupid woman. Just pulled straight out!’ a male voice shouted to them. ‘He didn’t stand a chance!’

Ignoring the voice, they ran up to the motorcyclist. Omotoso edged between the people already beside him and knelt down.

‘He’s unconscious,’ the woman said.

The victim’s dark, tinted visor was down. The police officer knew it was important not to move him if at all possible. As gently as he could, he lifted up the visor, then touched the man’s face, opened his lips, felt inside his mouth for his tongue.

‘Can you hear me, sir? Can you hear me?’

Behind him, Ian Upperton asked, ‘Who is the driver of the BMW?’

A woman walked up to him, clutching a mobile phone, her face sheet white. In her forties, she was brassy-looking, with bleached blonde hair, and was wearing a fur-trimmed denim jacket, jeans and suede boots.

Subdued, she spoke in the gravelly voice of a heavy smoker. ‘Me,’ she said. ‘Shit, oh shit, oh shit. I didn’t see him. He came up like the wind. I didn’t see him. The road was clear.’ She was shaking, in shock.

The officer, long practised, put his face up close to hers, much closer than he needed just to hear her. He wanted to smell her, or, more particularly, smell her breath. He had a keen nose and he could frequently detect last night’s alcohol on someone who had been on a bender. There might be just the faintest trace now, but it was hard to tell, as it was so heavily masked by minty chewing gum and the reek of cigarette tobacco.

‘Would you step into my car, front passenger seat? I’ll be with you in a few minutes,’ Upperton said.

‘She pulled straight out!’ a man in an anorak said to him, almost incredulously. ‘I was right behind him.’

‘I’d appreciate your name and address, sir,’ the PC said.

‘Of course. She just pulled straight out. Mind you, he was travelling,’ the man admitted. ‘I was in my Range Rover.’ He jerked a thumb. ‘He absolutely flew past me.’

Upperton could see the ambulance arriving. ‘I’ll be right back, sir,’ he said, and hurried down to meet the paramedics.

How they handled the scene from here would very much depend on their initial assessment. If in their view it looked likely to be a fatality, then they would have to close the road until the Crash Scene Investigators had carried out their survey. In the meantime he radioed the controller and asked for two more units.

7

Festive parties had started early this year. At just after quarter to nine on Wednesday morning Detective Superintendent Roy Grace was sitting in his office nursing a hangover. He never used to suffer from hangovers, or at least very rarely, but recently they seemed to have become a regular occurrence. Maybe it was an age thing – he would be forty next August. Or maybe it was…

What exactly?

He should be feeling more settled in himself, he knew. For the first time in nine years since his wife, Sandy, had vanished, he was in a steady relationship, with a woman he really adored. He had recently been promoted to head up Major Crime, and the biggest obstacle to his career, Assistant Chief Constable Alison Vosper, who had never liked him, was moving to the other end of the country to take up a Deputy Chief Constable position.

So why, he kept wondering, did he so often wake up feeling like shit? Why was he drinking so recklessly suddenly?

Was it the knowledge that Cleo, who was about to turn thirty, was subtly – and sometimes not so subtly – angling for commitment? He had already effectively moved in with her and Humphrey, her mongrel rescue puppy – at least on a semi-permanent basis. The reason was in part that he really did want to be with her, but also because his mate and colleague Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson, whose marriage was on the rocks, had become an increasingly permanent lodger in his house. Much though he loved this man, they were too much of an odd couple to live together, and it was easier to leave Glenn to his own devices, although it pained Roy to see the mess he kept the place in – and in particular the mess he had made of Roy ’s prized vinyl and CD music collection.

He drained his second coffee of the morning, then unscrewed the cap of a bottle of sparkling water. Last night he had attended the Christmas dinner of the staff of Brighton and Hove City Mortuary, in a Chinese restaurant on the Marina, and then, instead of doing the sensible thing and going home afterwards, he had gone on with a crowd to the Rendezvous Casino, where he had drunk several brandies – which always gave him the worst hangovers – lost a rapid £50 on roulette and a further £100 at a blackjack table, before Cleo had – fortunately for him – dragged him away.

Normally at his desk by seven in the morning, he had just arrived in the office ten minutes ago, and so far the only task he had been able to perform, other than making himself coffee, was logging on to his computer. And tonight he had to go out again, to the retirement party of a chief superintendent called Jim Wilkinson.

He stared out of the window, at the car park and the ASDA supermarket across the road, then at the urban landscape of his beloved city beyond. It was a fine, crisp morning, the air so clear he could see the distant tall white chimney of the power station at Shoreham Harbour, with the blue-grey ribbon of the English Channel beyond, before it blended into the sky on the distant horizon. He’d only been in this office for a short while, after moving across from the other side of the building, where his view had been of the grey slab of the custody block, so this fine view was still something of a novelty and a joy. But not today.

Gripping his coffee mug in both hands, he saw to his dismay it was shaking. Shit, how drunk had he got last night? And from his hazy memory, Cleo had not drunk anything, which was just as well, as she’d been able to drive him back to her place. And – bloody hell – he could not even remember if they’d made love.

He shouldn’t have driven here this morning, he knew. He was probably still way over the limit. His stomach felt like a revolving cement mixer and he wasn’t sure whether the two fried eggs Cleo had forced down him had been a good idea or not. He was cold. He unhooked his suit jacket from the back of his chair and pulled it back on, then peered at his computer screen, glancing through the overnight serials – the list of every logged incident in the city of Brighton and Hove. New items got added by the minute and older ones that were still current got updated.

Among the more significant were a homophobic attack in Kemp Town and a serious assault in King’s Road. One, which had just been updated, was an RTC on Coldean Lane, a collision between a car and a motorcycle. It had first been logged at 08.32 and had just been updated with the information that H900, the police helicopter with a paramedic on board, had been requested.

Not good, he thought, with a slight shiver. He liked bikes and used to have them in his teens, when he first joined the police force and was dating Sandy, but he hadn’t ridden one since. A former colleague, Dave Gaylor, had bought himself a cool black Harley with red wheels when he retired, and, now that he had free use of a car as part of his promotion, Grace was tempted to replace his Alfa Romeo, which had recently been written off in a chase, with a bike – when the bastards at the insurance company finally coughed up – or rather, if. But when he’d mentioned it to Cleo, she had gone ballistic, despite being a little reckless behind the wheel herself.

Cleo, who was the Senior Anatomical Pathology Technician (as chief morticians were now known, in the new politically correct jargon which pervaded every aspect of police life, and which Roy privately detested with a vengeance) at Brighton and Hove City Mortuary, launched into a litany of the fatal injuries she witnessed regularly on her hapless overnight motorcyclist guests at the mortuary every time he raised the subject. And he knew that in some medical circles, particularly those working in trauma, where black humour was prevalent, bikers were nicknamed Donors on Wheels.

Which explained the presence of a pile of motoring magazines, featuring road tests and listings of used cars – but no bikes – that occupied some of the few remaining square inches of space on his absurdly cluttered desk.

In addition to all the files relating to his new role, and the mountains of Criminal Justice Department files on impending trials, he had inherited back the command of all the Sussex Police Force’s cold-case murder files, following the recent sudden departure of a colleague. Some sat in green plastic crates, occupying most of the floor space that was not already taken up by his desk, the small, round conference table and four chairs, and his black leather go-bag, which contained all the equipment and protective clothing he needed to have with him at a crime scene.

His work on the cold-case files progressed painfully slowly – partly because neither he nor anyone else here at HQ CID had enough time to devote to them, and partly because there was little more that could be done on them proactively. The police had to wait for advances in forensics, such as new developments in DNA analysis, to reveal a suspect, or for family loyalties to change – perhaps a wife who had once lied to protect her spouse becoming aggrieved and deciding to shop him. The situation was about to change, however, because a new team had been approved to work under him, reviewing all the outstanding cold cases.

Grace felt bad about unsolved murders, and the sight of the crates was a constant reminder to him that he was the last chance the victims had of justice being done, the last chance the families had of closure.

He knew most of the files’ contents by heart. One case concerned a gay vet called Richard Ventnor, found battered to death in his surgery twelve years ago. Another, which moved him deeply, concerned Tommy Lytle, his oldest cold case. At the age of eleven, twenty-seven years ago, Tommy had set out from school, on a February afternoon, to walk home. He’d never been seen again.

He looked back at the Criminal Justice Department files again. The bureaucracy demanded by the system was almost beyond belief. He swigged some water, wondering where to start. Then decided to look at his Christmas present list instead. But he only got as far as the first item, a request from the parents of his nine-year-old goddaughter, Jaye Somers. They knew he liked to give her gifts that made her think he was cool and not a boring old fart. They were suggesting a pair of black suede Ugg boots, size three.

Where did you buy Ugg boots from?

One person would definitely know the answer. He stared down at a green crate, the fourth in a stack to the right of his desk. The Shoe Man. A cold case that had long intrigued him. Over a period of time, several years back, the Shoe Man had raped six women in Sussex, killing one of them, probably by accident, in panic, it had been concluded. Then he had inexplicably stopped. It might have been that his last victim had put up a spirited fight, and had managed to partially remove his mask, enabling an Identikit drawing of the man to be made, and that had scared him off. Or perhaps he was now dead. Or had moved away.

Three years back, a forty-nine-year-old businessman in Yorkshire who had raped a string of women in the mid-1980s, and had always taken their shoes afterwards, had been arrested. For a time Sussex Police had hoped he might be their man too, but DNA testing ruled that out. Besides, the rapists’ methods were similar but not identical. James Lloyd, the Yorkshireman, took both shoes from his victims. The Sussex Shoe Man took just one, always from the left foot, together with his victims’ panties. Of course, there could have been more than six. One of the problems with tracking down rapists was that victims were often too embarrassed to come forward.

Of all criminals, Grace hated paedophiles and rapists the most. These men destroyed their victims’ lives forever. There was no real recovering from a kiddie fiddler or a rapist. The victims could try to put their lives back together, but they could never forget what had happened to them.

He had entered the police force not just because his father had been a police officer, but because he had genuinely wanted a career in which he could make a difference – however small – to the world. In recent years, excited by all the technological developments, he now had one overriding ambition. That the perpetrators behind the victims whose files filled all these crates would one day be brought to justice. Every damn one of them. And at the very top of his current list was the creepy Shoe Man.

One day.

One day the Shoe Man would wish he had never been born.

8

Lynn left the doctor’s surgery in a daze. She walked up the street to her clapped-out little orange Peugeot, which had one odd wheel with a missing hubcap, opened the door and climbed inside. She usually left it unlocked in the – as yet unrequited – hope that someone might steal it and she could collect on the insurance.

Last year, the man at the garage had told her that it would never get through its next MOT safety and emissions test without major work, and that it would cost more to put right than the car was worth. Now that test was due in just over a week’s time and she was dreading it.

Mal would have been able to fix the car himself – he could mend anything. God, how she missed that. And someone to talk to now. Someone who could have supported her in the conversation she was about to have – and was utterly dreading – with her daughter.

She pulled her mobile phone from her bag and dialled her best friend, Sue Shackleton, blinking hard, crushing tears from her eyes. Like herself, Sue was a divorcee and now a single mother with four kids. What’s more, she always seemed to be irrepressibly cheerful.

As Lynn spoke, she watched a traffic warden swaggering down the pavement, but she did not need to worry as there was over an hour yet to run on her pay-and-display sticker on the window. Sue was, as ever, sympathetic but realistic.

‘Sometimes in life these things happen, darling. I know someone who had a kidney transplant, what, must be seven years ago now, and he’s fine.’

Lynn nodded at the mention of Sue’s friend, whom she had met. ‘Yes, but this is a bit different. You can survive on dialysis for years without a kidney transplant, but not with a failing liver. There is no other option. I’m frightened for her, Sue. This is a massive operation. So much could go wrong. And Dr Hunter said he couldn’t guarantee it would be successful. I mean, shit, she’s only fifteen, for Christ’s sake!’

‘So what’s the alternative?’

‘That’s the point, there isn’t one.’

‘Your choice is simple, then. Do you want her to live or to die?’

‘Of course I want her to live.’

‘So accept what has to happen and be strong and confident for her. The last thing she needs right now is you throwing a wobbly.’

Those words were still ringing in her ears five minutes later as she ended the call, promising to meet Sue later in the day for a coffee, if she was able to leave Caitlin.

Be strong and confident for her.

Easy to say.

She dialled Mal’s mobile, unsure where he was at the moment. His ship moved around from time to time and recently he had been working out of Wales in the Bristol Channel. Their relationship was amicable, if a little stilted and formal.

He answered on the third ring, on a very crackly line.

‘Hi,’ she said. ‘Where are you?’

‘Off Shoreham. We’re ten miles out of the harbour mouth, heading to the dredge area. Be out of range in a few minutes – what’s up?’

‘I need to talk to you. Caitlin’s deteriorated – she’s very ill. Desperately ill.’

‘Shit,’ he said, his voice already sounding fainter as the crackling got worse. ‘Tell me.’

She blurted out the gist of the diagnosis, knowing from past experience how quickly the signal could fade. She was just about able to make out his reply – the ship would be back in Shoreham in about seven hours, he would call her then, he told her.

Next, she phoned her mother, who was at a coffee morning at her bridge club. Her mother was strong, and seemed to have become even stronger in the four years since Lynn ’s father had died, once admitting to Lynn that they really had not liked each other very much for years. She was a practical woman and nothing ever seemed to fluster her.

‘You need to get a second opinion,’ she said right away. ‘Tell Dr Hunter you want a second opinion.’

‘I don’t think there’s much doubt,’ Lynn said. ‘This is not just Dr Hunter – it’s the specialist too. What’s happening is what we’ve feared all along.’

‘You absolutely must have a second opinion. Doctors get things wrong. They are not infallible.’

Lynn, with some reluctance, promised her mother she would ask for a second opinion. Then, after she had finished and was driving back home, she churned it over in her mind. How many more second opinions could she get? During these past years she had tried everything. She’d scoured the Internet, looking at each of the big US teaching hospitals. The German hospitals. The Swiss ones. She’d tried all the alternative options she could find. Healers of every kind – faith, vibration, distant, hands-on. Priests. Boluses of coloidal silver. Homeopaths. Herbalists. Acupuncturists.

Sure, maybe her mother had a point. Maybe the diagnosis could be wrong. Perhaps another specialist might know something Dr Granger did not and could recommend something less drastic. Perhaps there was some new medication that could treat this. But how long did you keep looking while your daughter continued to go downhill? How long before you had to accept that surgery was perhaps, in this case, the only option?

As she turned right at the mini-roundabout off the London Road, into Carden Avenue, the car heeled over, making a horrible scraping sound. She changed gear and heard the usual metallic knocking underneath her from the exhaust pipe, which had a broken bracket. Caitlin said it was the Grim Reaper knocking, because the car was dying.

Her daughter had a macabre sense of humour.

She drove on up the hill into Patcham, her eyes watering as the immensity of the situation started to overwhelm her. Oh shit. She shook her head in bewilderment. Nothing, nothing, nothing had prepared her for this. How the hell did you tell your daughter that she was going to have to have a new liver? And probably one taken from a dead body?

She turned up the hill into their street, then made a left into her driveway, pulled on the handbrake and switched off the engine. As usual it juddered on for some moments, spluttering and shaking the car, and banging the exhaust pipe beneath her again, before falling silent.

The house was a semi in a quiet residential avenue and, like many homes in this city, on a steep hill. It had views, across trees that masked the London Road and the railway line, of some of the swanky, dreamy houses and massive gardens of Withdean Road on the far side of the valley. All the houses in her avenue were of the same basic design: three-bedroomed, 1930s, with a rounded, metalled Art Deco influence which she had always liked. They had small front gardens with a short driveway in front of the attached garage and good-sized plots at the rear.

The previous owners had been an elderly couple and when Lynn moved in she’d had all kinds of plans to transform it. But after seven years here, she had not even been able to afford to rip out the manky old carpets and replace them, let alone carry out her grander schemes of knocking through walls and re-landscaping the garden. Fresh paint and some new wallpaper were all she had managed so far. The dreary kitchen still had a fusty old-people smell to it, despite all her efforts with pot pourri and plug-in air fresheners.

One day, she used to promise herself. One day.

The same one day that she promised herself she would build a little studio in the garden. She loved to paint scenes of Brighton in watercolours and had had some modest success in selling them.

She unlocked the front door and went inside, into the narrow hallway. She peered up the stairs, wondering if Caitlin was out of bed yet, but could hear no sound.

Heavy-hearted, she climbed the stairs. At the top, taped to Caitlin’s door, was a large handwritten sign, red letters on a white background, saying: KNOCK, PURLEASE. It had been there for as long as she could remember. She knocked.

There was no answer, as normal. Caitlin would be either asleep or blasting her eardrums with music. She went in. The contents of the room looked as if they had been scooped up wholesale from somewhere else by a bulldozer’s shovel, brought here and tipped in through the window.

Just visible beyond the tangle of clothes, soft toys, CDs, DVDs, shoes, make-up containers, overflowing pink waste bin, upended pink stool, dolls, mobile of blue perspex butterflies, shopping bags from Top Shop, River Island, Monsoon, Abercrombie and Fitch, Gap and Zara, and dartboard with a purple boa hanging from it, was the bed. Caitlin was lying on her side, in one of the many extraordinary positions in which she slept, arms and legs akimbo, with a pillow over her head, bare bottom and thighs protruding from the duvet, iPod earpieces plugged into her ears, the television on, playing a repeat of a show Lynn recognized as The Hills.

She looked like she was dead.

And for one terrifying moment Lynn thought she was. She rushed over, her feet tangling in her daughter’s mobile phone charger wire, and touched her long, slender arm.

‘I’m asleep,’ Caitlin said grumpily.

Relief surged through Lynn. The illness had made her daughter’s sleep patterns erratic. She smiled, sat down on the edge of the bed and stroked her back. With her mop of short, gelled black hair, Caitlin looked like a bendy doll sometimes, she thought. Tall, thin to the point of emaciation, and gangly, she seemed to have flexible wire inside her skin rather than bones.

‘How are you feeling?’

‘Itchy.’

‘Want some breakfast?’ she asked hopefully.

Caitlin wasn’t a full-blown anorexic, but close. She was obsessed with her weight, hated any food like cheese or pasta, which she called eating fats, and weighed herself constantly.

Caitlin shook her head.

‘I need to talk to you, darling.’ She looked at her watch. It was 10.05. She had told them yesterday at work that she would be in late, and she was going to have to phone again in a minute and tell them she would not be in at all today. The doctor only had a short window of time, mid-afternoon, to see Caitlin.

‘I’m busy,’ her daughter grunted.

In a sudden fit of irritation, Lynn pulled out the earpieces. ‘This is important.’

‘Chill, woman!’ Caitlin replied.

Lynn bit her lip and was silent for some moments. Then she said, ‘I’ve made an appointment with Dr Hunter for this afternoon. At half past four.’

‘You’re doing my head in. I’m seeing Luke this afternoon.’

Luke was her boyfriend. He was enrolled in some course in IT at the University of Brighton which he had never been able to explain to her in a manner she could understand. Among the total wasters Lynn had encountered in her life, Luke was up there in a class of his own. Caitlin had been dating him for over a year. And in that year Lynn had managed to extract about five words from him, and those with some difficulty. Yep, yeah, like, you know seemed to be the absolute limits of his vocabulary. She was beginning to think that the attraction between the two of them must be because they both came from the same planet – somewhere at the far end of the universe. Some sodding galactic cul-de-sac.

She kissed her daughter’s cheek, then tenderly stroked her stiff hair. ‘How are you feeling today, my angel? Other than itching?’

‘Yeah, OK. I’m tired.’

‘I’ve just been to see Dr Hunter. We have to talk about this.’

‘Not right now. I’m like cotchin. OK?’

Lynn sat very still and took a deep breath, trying to control her temper. ‘Darling, that appointment with Dr Hunter is very important. He wants to make you better. It seems the only way we may be able to do this is by giving you a liver transplant. He wants to talk to you about it.’

Caitlin nodded. ‘Can I have my earpieces back? This is one of my favourite tracks.’

‘What are you listening to?’

‘Rihanna.’

‘Did you hear what I said, darling? About a liver transplant?’

Caitlin shrugged, then grunted. ‘Whatever.’

9

It took just under an hour and a half for the Arco Dee, making a plodding twelve knots, to reach the dredge area. Malcolm Beckett spent most of this time carrying out his daily routine tests of all forty-two of the ship’s audible alerts and warning lights. He had just completed some maintenance on three, the engine room alarm, the bilge alarm and the bow-thruster failure alarm, and was now on the bridge, testing each of the related warning lights on the panel.

Despite the biting, freshening wind, it was a gloriously sunny day, with a gentle swell making the ship’s motion comfortable for all on board. It was the kind of day, ordinarily, that he loved best at sea. But today there was a dark cloud in his heart: Caitlin.

When he finished the lights, he checked the weather report screen for any updates, and was pleased to see the forecast for the rest of the day remained good. The outlook for tomorrow, he read, was south-west five to seven, veering west five or six, with a moderate or rough sea state and occasional rain. Less pleasant but nothing to worry about. The Arco Dee could dredge in a constant Force Seven, but beyond that working conditions became too dangerous on board and they risked damage to dredging gear, especially the drag head pounding on the seabed.

She had originally been built for sheltered estuary work and her flat bottom allowed her a draught of just thirteen feet fully loaded. That was useful for working in ports with sandbars, such as Shoreham, where at low tide the harbour entrance became too shallow for shipping to pass through. The Arco Dee was able to come and go up to an hour either side of low water; but the downside was that she was uncomfortable in a heavy sea.

In the cosy warmth of the spacious, high-tech bridge there was an air of quiet concentration. Ten nautical miles south-east of Brighton, they were almost over the dredge area now. Yellow, green and blue lines on a black screen, forming a lopsided rectangle, marked out the 100 square miles of seabed leased from the government by the Hanson Group, the conglomerate which owned this particular dredging fleet. The land was as precisely marked out as any farm onshore, and if they strayed out of this exact area, they risked heavy fines and losing their dredging rights.

Commercial dredging was, in a sense, underwater quarrying. The sand and gravel that the ship sucked up would be graded and sold into the construction and landscaping industries. The best-grade pebbles would end up on smart driveways, the sand would be used in the cement industry, and the rest would be either crushed up into concrete and tarmac mixes, or used for rubble ballast in the foundations of buildings, roads and tunnels.

The captain, Danny Marshall, a lean, wiry, good-natured man of forty-five, stood at the helm, steering with the two toggle levers that controlled the propellers, giving the ship more manoeuvrability than a traditional wheel and rudder. Sporting a few days’ growth of stubble, he wore a black bobble hat, a chunky blue sweater over a blue shirt, jeans and heavy-duty sea boots. The first mate, similarly attired, stood watch over the computer screen on which the dredge area was plotted.

Marshall clicked on the ship-to-shore radio and leaned forward to the mike. ‘This is Arco Dee, Mike Mike Whiskey Echo,’ he said. When the coastguard responded, he radioed in his position. Working out on one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, where visibility could fall to just a few yards in the frequent mists and fogs that came down over the English Channel, it was important for all positions to be noted and updated regularly.

Like his other seven crewmates, most of whom had worked together for the past decade, the sea was in Malcolm Beckett’s blood. A bit of a rebel as a child, he had left home as soon as he could to join the Royal Navy as a trainee engineer, and had spent his first years at sea travelling the world. But, like the others on this ship who had begun their careers on ocean-going vessels, when his first child, Caitlin, was born, he wanted to find work that kept him at sea but enabled him to have some kind of family life.

Dredging had been the perfect solution. They were never at sea for longer than three weeks and returned to harbour twice a day. On the periods when the ship was based here in Shoreham, or in Newhaven, he was even able to nip home on occasions for an hour or so.

The captain reduced speed. Malcolm checked the engine revs and temperature gauges, then glanced at his watch. They would be back in phone range of the shore in about five hours. Five o’clock this evening. The phone call from Lynn had left him deeply disturbed. While he had always found Caitlin a difficult child, he was immensely fond of her and saw a lot of himself in her. On the days that he took her out, he was always amused by her complaints about her mother. They seemed to be exactly the same issues that he had had with Lynn too. In particular, her obsessive worrying – although, to be fair, Caitlin had given them both plenty to worry about over the years.

But this time it had sounded even worse than anything before and he felt frustrated that the call had been cut short. And very worried.

He pulled on his hard hat and high-visibility jacket, left the bridge and clambered down the steep metal steps to the gridded companionway, then down on to the main deck. He could feel the sharpness of the winter breeze rippling his clothes as he walked across to get into position to supervise the lowering of the dredge pipe into the sea.

A couple of his former navy colleagues, whom he met up with from time to time for a drink, joked that dredgers were nothing more than floating vacuum cleaners. In a sense they were right. The Arco Dee was a 2,000-ton Hoover. Which meant 3,500 tons when the dust bag was full.

Mounted along the starboard side of the ship was the dredge pipe itself, a 100-foot-long steel tube. For Malcolm, one of the highlights of each voyage was watching the dredge pipe sink out of sight into the murky depths. It was the moment when the ship truly seemed to come alive. The sudden clanking din of the pumping and chute machinery starting up, the sea all around them churning, and in a few moments water, sand and gravel would be thundering into the hold, turning the whole centre of the vessel, which was the cargo hold, into a ferocious cauldron of muddy water.

Occasionally, something unexpected, like a cannonball or part of a Second World War aircraft or, on one nerve-racking occasion, an unexploded bomb, got sucked up and jammed in the drag head – the mouth of the pipe. Over the years, so many historical artefacts had been dredged up from the ocean floor that official procedures had been established for dealing with them. But no guideline existed for what the Arco Dee was about to haul up on this occasion.

When the hold was full, all the water would drain off through openings in the spillways, leaving what was, effectively, a sand and pebble beach in the middle of the ship. Malcolm liked to walk along it as they headed back to harbour, crunching through some of the hundreds of shells that got scooped up, or occasionally coming across a hapless fish or crab. Some years ago he had found what was later identified as a human leg bone, a tibia. Even after all these years, the mysteries of the sea, especially what lay beneath it, filled him with a childish excitement.

*

In about twenty minutes or so it would be time to raise the dredge pipe. Malcolm, taking a quick break in the empty mess room, sat on a battered sofa, cradling a mug of tea and eating a tabnab – as scones were called in navy slang. The television was on, but the picture was too blurry to make anything out. His attention wandered distractedly to the evening meal menu, which was scrawled in red marker pen on a whiteboard: Cream of leek soup, Bread roll, Scotch egg, Chips, Fresh salad, Steamed sponge and custard. Once they returned to port, there were several hours of hard work unloading the cargo before dinner, and by then normally he would be ravenous. But at the moment, his thoughts on Caitlin, he lost interest in the scone after a couple of bites and dropped it in the bin. As he did so, he heard a voice behind him.

‘Mal…’

He turned to see the second mate, a burly Scouser in overalls, hard hat and thick protective gloves.

‘We’ve got a blockage in the drag head, Chief. I think we need to raise the pipe.’

Mal grabbed his hard hat, following the second mate out on to the deck. Looking upwards, he immediately saw only a trickle of water coming down the chute. Blockages were unusual because normally the heavy steel pincers of the drag head pushed obstacles clear of the nozzle, but just occasionally a fishing net was sucked up.

Shouting out instructions to his crew of two, Mal waited till the suction pumps and the chute were switched off, then activated the winding gear to raise the pipe. He stood, peering over the side, watching the churning water as it slowly came into view. And when he saw the object that rose to the surface, firmly wedged between the massive steel claws, he felt a sudden tightening in his gullet.

‘What the fuck’s that?’ the Scouser said.

For a moment, they all fell silent.

10

Roy Grace felt increasingly that his life was a constant challenge against the clock. As if he was a contestant in a game show that did not actually offer any prize for winning, because it had no end. For every email he succeeded in answering, another fifty came in. For every file on his desk that he managed to clear, another ten were brought in by his Management Support Assistant, Eleanor Hodgson, or by someone else – most recently by Emily Gaylor, from the Criminal Justice Department, who was there to assist him in preparing his cases for trial, but who seemed to take a malevolent delight in dumping more and more bundles of documents on his desk.

This week he was the duty Senior Investigating Officer, which meant that if any major crime happened in the Sussex area, he would have to take charge. He silently prayed to whichever god protected police officers that it would be a quiet week.

But that particular god was having a day off.

His phone rang. It was an operator called Ron King he knew from the Force Control Department. ‘Roy,’ he said. ‘I’ve just had a call from the coastguard. A dredger out of Shoreham has pulled up a body, ten miles out in the Channel.’

Oh great! Grace thought. All I bloody need. Being a coastal city, Brighton received a quantity of dead bodies from the sea every year. Some were floaters, usually suicide victims or unfortunate yacht crew who had gone overboard. Some were people who had been buried at sea, hooked in nets by fishermen who hadn’t read their charts and had trawled over one of the areas marked out for funerals. Mostly, they could be dealt with by a uniformed PC, but the fact that he was being called indicated something was not right.

‘What information do you have about it?’ he asked dutifully, making a mental note not to say anything to King about his cats. Last time the controller had gone on about them for ten minutes.

‘Male, looks young, early to mid-teens. Not been down long. Preserved in plastic sheeting and weighted.’

‘Not a burial at sea?’

‘Doesn’t sound like it. Not the usual kind of floater either. The coastguard said the captain is concerned it looks like it might be some kind of ritual killing – apparently. There is a strange incision on the body. Do you want me to ask the coastguard to send a boat out to bring it in?’

Grace sat still for a moment, his brain churning, switching his thoughts into investigation mode. Everything on his desk and in his computer was now going to have to wait, at least until he had seen the body.

‘Is it on the deck or in the cargo hold?’ he asked.

‘It’s wedged in the drag head. Beyond slitting open the plastic sheeting to see what it was, they haven’t moved it.’

‘They’re operating out of Shoreham?’

‘Yes.’

Grace had been on a dredger which had hauled up a severely decomposed body some years ago and remembered a little about the machinery.

‘I don’t want the body moved, Ron,’ he said. There could be key forensic evidence lodged around the body or in the nozzle of the dredge pipe. ‘Tell them to secure and preserve it as best they can, and get them to make an exact note on the chart where the body came up.’

As soon as he had terminated his call with Ron, he made a further series of calls, assembling the immediate team he needed. One was to the Coroner, informing her of the incident and requesting a Home Office pathologist to attend. Most bodies taken or washed up from the sea would be collected by the mortuary team straight away, after a cursory examination by a police surgeon or paramedic at the scene to certify death, no matter how obvious it was that the person was dead, and then assessed back at the mortuary for a suspicious or natural death. But here, Grace felt from the sound it, there was little doubt this was suspicious.

Thirty minutes later he was at the wheel of a pool Hyundai, heading towards the harbour, with Detective Inspector Lizzie Mantle, with whom he had worked on a number of previous inquiries, beside him. She was a highly competent detective, and the fact that she was nice to look at was another bonus. She had shoulder-length fair hair, a pretty face, and was dressed, as she always seemed to be, in a man’s style of suit, today in a blue chalk-stripe over a crisp white blouse. On some women it would have looked quite butch, but on her it was businesslike while still feminine.

They drove around the end of the harbour, passing the private driveway leading to the cul-de-sac where Heather Mills’s house was.

Seeing Grace turn his head, as if perhaps to get a glimpse of the Beatle’s former wife, she asked, ‘Did you ever meet Paul McCartney?’

‘No.’

‘You’re quite into music, aren’t you?’

He nodded. ‘Some.’

‘Would you have liked to be a rock star? You know, like one of the Beatles?’

Grace thought about it for a moment. It was not something he had ever considered. ‘I don’t think so,’ he said. ‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because,’ he said. Then he hesitated, slowing down, looking out for the right part of the quay. ‘Because I have a crap voice!’

She grinned.

‘But even if I was able to sing, I always wanted to do something that would make a difference.’ He shrugged. ‘You know? A difference to the world. That’s why I joined the police force. It may sound clichéd – but it’s why I do what I do.’

‘You think a police officer can make more difference than a rock megastar?’

He smiled. ‘I think we corrupt fewer people.’

‘But do we make a difference?’

They were passing a lumber yard. Then Grace saw the dark green van bearing the gold crest of the city of Brighton and Hove Coroner, parked close to the edge of the quay, and pulled up a short distance from it. None of the rest of the team had arrived so far.

‘I thought the ship was supposed to be here already,’ he said a little irritably, mindful of the time, and of the retirement party he had to be at tonight. Several of the top brass of the Sussex Police Force would be there, which meant it would be a good opportunity to do a spot of brown-nosing, so he had been anxious to be there punctually. But there was no chance now.

‘Probably delayed in the lock.’

Grace nodded, and climbed out of the car, walking to the very edge, still limping and tender from rolling his beloved Alfa Romeo during a pursuit a while back. He stood beside an iron bollard, the wind feeling icy on his face. The light was fading fast, and if it wasn’t such a cloudless sky, it would already be almost dark. A mile or so in the distance he could see the closed lock gates and an orange superstructure, probably that of the dredger, beyond. He pulled his overcoat tightly around himself, shivering against the cold, dug his hands into his pockets and pulled on his leather gloves. Then he glanced at his watch.

Ten to five. Jim Wilkinson’s retirement party started at seven, over on the far side of Worthing. He had planned to go home and change, then collect Cleo. Now, by the time he finished here, depending on what he found, and on how much examination the pathologist would want to do in situ, he would be lucky to make the party at all. The one blessing was that they had been allocated Nadiuska De Sancha, the quicker – and more fun – of the two specialist Home Office pathologists they worked with most regularly.

On the far side of the harbour he saw a large fishing boat, its navigation lights on, chug away from its berth. The water was almost black.

He heard doors open and slam behind him, then a chirpy voice said, ‘Cor, you’re going to cop it from the missus if you’re late. Wouldn’t want to be in your shoes, Roy!’

He turned to see Walter Hordern, a tall, dapper man, who was always smartly and discreetly attired in a dark suit, white shirt and black tie. His official role was Chief of Brighton and Hove Cemeteries, but his duties also included spending a part of his time helping in the process of collecting bodies from the scene of their death and dealing with the considerable paperwork that was required for each one. Despite the gravitas of his job, Walter had a mischievous sense of humour and loved nothing better than to wind Roy up.

‘Why’s that, Walter?’

‘She’s gone and spent a bleedin’ fortune at the hairdresser’s today – for the party tonight. She’ll be well miffed if you blow it out.’

‘I’m not blowing it out.’

Walter pointedly looked at his own watch. Then raised his eyes dubiously.

‘If necessary I’ll put you in charge of the sodding investigation, Walter.’

The man shook his head. ‘Na, I only like dealing with stiffs. You never get any lip from a stiff. Good as gold, they are.’

Grace grinned. ‘Darren here?’

Darren was Cleo’s assistant in the mortuary.

Walter jerked a thumb at the van. ‘He’s in there, on the dog-and-bone, having a barney with his girlfriend.’ He shrugged, then rolled his eyes. ‘That’s wimmin for you.’

Grace nodded, texting his:

Ship not here yet. Going to be late. Better meet u there. XXX

Just as he stuck his phone back in his pocket, it beeped twice sharply. He pulled it back out and looked at the display. It was a reply from Cleo:

Don’t be 2 late. I have something to tell you.

He frowned, unsettled by the tone of the message, and by the fact that there was no ‘X’ on the end. Stepping out of earshot of Walter and DI Mantle, who had just climbed out of the car, he called Cleo’s number. She answered immediately.

‘Can’t talk,’ she said curtly. ‘Got a family just arrived for an identification.’

‘What is it you have to tell me?’ he said, aware his voice sounded anxious.

‘I want to tell you face to face, not over the phone. Later, OK?’ She hung up.

Shit. He stared at the phone for a moment, even more worried now, then put it back in his pocket.

He did not like the way she had sounded at all.

11

Simona learned to inhale Aurolac vapour from a plastic bag. A small bottle of the metallic paint, which she was able to steal easily from any paint store, would last for several days. It was Romeo who had taught her how to steal, and how to blow into the bag to get the paint to mix with air, then suck it in, blow it back into the bag again and inhale it again.

When she inhaled, the hunger pangs went.

When she inhaled, life in her home became tolerable. The home she had lived in for as far back as she could, or rather wanted to remember. The home she entered by scrambling through a gap in the broken concrete pavement and clambering down a metal ladder beneath the busy, unmade road, into the underground cavity that had been bored out for inspection and maintenance of the steam pipe. The pipe, thirteen feet in diameter, was part of the communal central-heating network that fed most of the buildings in the city. It made the space down here snug and dry in winter, but intolerably hot during the spring months until it was turned off.

And in a tiny part of this space, a tight recess between the pipe and the wall, she had made her home. It was marked out by an old duvet she had found, discarded, on a rubbish tip, and Gogu, who had been with her as far back as she could remember. Gogu was a beige, shapeless, mangy strip of fake fur that she slept with, pressed to her face, every night. Beyond the clothes she wore and Gogu, she had no possessions at all.

There were five of them, six including the baby, who lived here permanently. From time to time others came and stayed for a while, then moved on. The place was lit with candles, and music played throughout the days and nights when they had batteries. Western pop music that sometimes brought Simona joy and sometimes demented her, because it was always loud and rarely stopped. They argued about it constantly, but always it played. Beyoncé was singing at the moment and she liked Beyoncé. Liked the way she looked. One day, she dreamed, she would look like Beyoncé, sing like Beyoncé. One day she would live in a house.

Romeo told her she was beautiful, that one day she would be rich and famous.

The baby was crying again and there was a faint stink of shit. Valeria’s eight-month-old son, Antonio. Valeria, with all their help, had managed to keep him hidden from the authorities, who would have taken him from her.

Valeria, who was much older than the rest of them, had been pretty once, but her face at twenty-eight, haggard and heavily lined from this life, was now the face of an old woman. She had long, straight brown hair and eyes that had once been sultry but were now dead, and was dressed brightly, an emerald puffa over a ragged, turquoise, yellow and pink jogging suit, and red plastic sandals – scavenged, like most of their clothes, from bins in the better parts of the city, or accepted eagerly from hand-out centres.

She rocked her baby, who was wrapped up in an old, fur-lined suede coat, in her arms. The damn child’s crying was worse than the constant music. Simona knew that the baby cried because he was hungry. They were all hungry, almost all of the time. They ate what they stole, or what they bought with the money they begged, or got from the old newspapers they occasionally sold, or from the wallets and purses they sometimes pickpocketed from tourists, or from selling the mobile phones and cameras they just grabbed from them.

Romeo, with his big blue eyes like saucers, his cute, innocent face, his short black hair brushed forward and his withered hand, was a fast runner. Fast as hell! He did not know how old he was. Maybe fourteen, he thought. Or perhaps thirteen. Simona did not know how old she was either. The stuff had not started to happen yet, the stuff that Valeria told her about. So Simona reckoned she was twelve or thirteen.

She did not really care. All she wanted was for these people, her family, to be pleased with her. And they were pleased every time she and Romeo returned with food or money or, best of all, both. And, sometimes, batteries. Returned to the rank smells of sulphur and dry dust and unwashed bodies and baby shit, which were the smells she knew best in the world.

Somewhere in a confused haze that was her past, she remembered bells. Bells hanging from a coat, or perhaps a jacket, worn by a tall man with a big stick. She had to approach this man and remove his wallet without making the bells ring. If just one bell tinkled, he whacked her on the back with the stick. Not just one whack, but five, sometimes ten; sometimes she lost count. Usually she passed out before he had finished.

But now she was good. She and Romeo made a good team. She and Romeo and the dog. The brown dog that had become their friend and lived under a collapsed fence on the edge of the street above them. Herself in her blue sleeveless puffa over a ragged, multicoloured jogging suit, woollen hat and trainers, Romeo in his hooded top, jeans and trainers too, and the dog, which they had named Artur.

Romeo had taught her what kind of tourists were best. Elderly couples. They would approach them as a trio, she, Romeo and the dog on a length of rope. Romeo would hold out his withered hand. If the tourists recoiled in revulsion and waved them away, by the time they were gone, she would have the man’s wallet in her puffa pocket. If the man dug in his pockets to find them some change, by the time Romeo accepted it, she would have the woman’s purse safely out her handbag and in her own pocket. Or if the people were sitting in a café, they might just grab their phone or camera from the table and run.

The music changed. Rihanna was singing now.

She liked Rihanna.

The baby fell silent.

Today had been a bad day. No tourists. No money. Just a small amount of bread to share around.

Simona curled her lips around the neck of the plastic bag, exhaled, then inhaled, hard.

Relief. The relief always came.

But never any hope.

12

A quarter to six, and for the third time today, Lynn was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, this time the consultant gastroenterologist’s. A bay window looked out on to the quiet Hove street. It was dark outside, the street lights on. She felt dark inside too. Dark and cold and afraid. The waiting room with its tired old furniture, similar to Dr Hunter’s, did nothing to lift her gloom, and the lighting was too dim. A tinny sound of music leaked from the headset plugged into Caitlin’s ears.

Then Caitlin stood up suddenly and began staggering around, as if she had been drinking, scratching her hands furiously. Lynn had spent all afternoon with her and knew she had drunk nothing. It was a symptom of her disease.

‘Sit down, darling,’ she said, alarmed.

‘I’m kind of tired,’ Caitlin said. ‘Do we have to wait?’

‘It’s very important that we see the specialist today.’

‘Yeah, well, look, right, I’m quite important too, OK?’ She gave a wry smile.

Lynn smiled. ‘You are the most important thing in the world,’ she said. ‘How are you feeling, apart from tired?’

Caitlin stopped and looked down at one of the magazines on the table, Sussex Life. She breathed deeply in silence for some moments, then she said, ‘I’m scared, Mummy.’

Lynn stood up and put an arm around her, and unusually Caitlin did not shrink and pull away. Instead she nestled against her mother’s body, took her hand and gripped it hard.

Caitlin had grown several inches in the last year and Lynn still had not got used to having to look upwards at her face. She had clearly inherited her father’s height genes, and her thin, gangly frame looked more like some kind of bendy doll than ever today, albeit a very beautiful one.

She was dressed in the careless style she always favoured, a grungy grey and rust-coloured knitted top over a T-shirt, with a necklace of small stones on a thin leather loop, jeans with frayed bottoms and old trainers, unlaced. Additionally, in deference to the cold, and perhaps to conceal her swollen, pregnant-looking belly, Lynn guessed, her camel-coloured duffel coat that looked like it had come from a charity shop.

Caitlin’s short, spiky, jet-black hair protruded above the Aztec patterned band that covered much of her head and her piercings gave her a vaguely Gothic look. She had a stud in the centre of her chin, a tongue stud and one ring through her left eyebrow. Out of sight at the moment, but which the specialist would no doubt expose when he examined her, were the ring on her right nipple, the one through her belly button and the one in the front of her vagina, the insertion of which she had coyly confessed to her mother, in one of their rare moments of closeness, had been rather embarrassing.

This truly had turned into the day from hell, Lynn thought. Since leaving Dr Hunter’s surgery this morning, then returning with Caitlin this afternoon, her whole life seemed to have been upended, as if it had gone through a seismic shift.

And now her phone was ringing. She pulled it out of her handbag and looked at the display. It was Mal.

‘Hi,’ she said. ‘Where are you?’

‘Just coming through the lock at Shoreham. We’ve had a shitty day – dredged up a corpse. But tell me about Caitlin.’

She filled him in on her consultations with Dr Hunter, all the time eyeing Caitlin, who was still pacing around the waiting room, which was about a third of the size of Dr Hunter’s. She was now picking up and putting down one magazine after the other with great urgency, as if she needed to read all of them but could not decide where to begin.

‘I’ll actually know more in about an hour. We’ve just come from Dr Hunter straight to the specialist. Are you going to be in range for a while?’

‘At least four hours,’ he said. ‘Might be longer.’

‘OK.’

Dr Granger’s secretary appeared. A matronly woman in her fifties, with her hair in a tight bun, she had a distancing smile on her face. ‘Dr Granger will see you both now.’

‘I’ll call you back,’ Lynn said.

Unlike Ross Hunter’s spacious surgery, Dr Granger’s consulting room was a cramped space, on the first floor, with barely enough room for the two chairs in front of his small desk. Angled so that they could be clearly seen by all his patients were framed photographs of a perfect, smiling consultant’s wife and three equally perfect, smiling children.

Dr Granger was a tall man in his forties, with a big nose and a thinning thatch of hair, dressed in a pinstriped suit, with a crisp shirt and a neat tie. There was a slight aloofness about him, which made Lynn think he could as easily have passed for a barrister as a doctor.

‘Please sit down,’ he said, opening a brown folder, inside which Lynn could see a letter from Ross Hunter. He then sat down himself, reading it.

Lynn took and gently squeezed Caitlin’s hand, and her daughter made no effort to remove it. Dr Granger was making her feel uncomfortable. She didn’t like his coldness, or the over-the-top display of family photos. They seemed to give out a message that read, I am OK and you are not. What I have to say will make no difference to my life. I will go home tonight and have dinner and watch TV and then perhaps tell my wife I want sex with her, and you – well, tough… you will wake up tomorrow in your private hell, and I will wake up as I do every morning, full of the joys of spring and with my happy children.

Having finished reading, he leaned forward with the faintest thaw in his expression. ‘How are you feeling, Caitlin?’

She shrugged, then was silent for some moments. Lynn waited for her to speak. Caitlin extracted her hand from her mother’s and began scratching the back of each hand in rotation.

‘I itch,’ she said. ‘I itch everywhere. Even my lips itch.’

‘Anything else?’

‘I’m tired.’ She looked sulky suddenly. Her normal look. ‘I want to feel better,’ she said.

‘Do you feel a little unsteady?’

She bit her lip, then nodded.

‘I think Dr Hunter has told you the results of the tests.’

Caitlin nodded again, without making eye contact, then rummaged in her soft, zebra-striped handbag and pulled out her mobile phone.

The consultant’s eyes widened as Caitlin stabbed some buttons, reading the display. ‘Yes,’ she said distantly, as if to herself. ‘Yup, he told me.’

‘Yes,’ Lynn stepped in hastily. ‘He has, he’s – he’s told us the news – you know – what you have told him. Thank you for seeing us so quickly.’

Somewhere outside, along the street, a car alarm was shrieking.

The consultant looked at Caitlin again for a moment, watching her send a text and then put the phone back in her bag.

‘We have to act quickly,’ he said.

‘I don’t really understand exactly what has changed,’ Caitlin said. ‘Can you sort of explain it to me in simple terms? Sort of, like, idiot language?’

He smiled. ‘I’ll do my best. As you know, for the past six years you’ve been suffering from primary sclerosing cholangitis, Caitlin. Originally you had the milder – if you can call it that – juvenile form, but recently and very swiftly it has turned into the advanced adult form. We’ve tried to keep it under control with a mixture of drugs and surgery for the past six years, in the hope that your liver might cure itself – but that only happens very rarely, and I’m afraid in your case it has not. Your liver has now deteriorated to a point where your life would be in danger if we did not take action.’

Her voice very small suddenly, Caitlin said, ‘So I’m going to die, right?’

Lynn grabbed her hand and squeezed hard. ‘No, darling, you are not. Absolutely not. You are going to be fine.’ She looked at the doctor for reassurance.

The doctor replied impassively, ‘I’ve been in touch with the Royal South London Hospital and arranged for you to be admitted there tonight for assessment for transplantation.’

‘I hate that fucking place,’ Caitlin said.

‘It is the best unit in the country,’ he replied. ‘There are other hospitals, but this is the one we work with normally from down here.’

Caitlin rummaged in her bag again. ‘The thing is, I’m busy tonight. Me and Luke are going to a club. Digital. There’s a band I need to see.’

There was a brief silence. Then the consultant said, with far more tenderness than Lynn had imagined he was capable of, ‘Caitlin, you are not at all well. It would be very unwise to go out. I need to get you into hospital right away. I want to find you a new liver as quickly as possible.’

Caitlin looked at him for a moment through her jaundiced yellow eyes. ‘How do you define well?’ she asked.

The consultant, his face thawing into a smile, said, ‘Would you really like my definition?’

‘Yes. How do you define well?’

‘Being alive and not feeling sick might be a good place to start,’ he said. ‘How does that sound to you?’

Caitlin shrugged. ‘Yup, that’s probably quite good.’ She nodded, absorbing the words, clearly thinking about them.

‘If you have a liver transplant, Caitlin,’ he said, ‘the chances are good that you will start to feel well again and get back to normal.’

‘And if I don’t? Like – don’t have a transplant?’

Lynn wanted to butt in and say something, tell her daughter just exactly what would happen. But she knew she had to keep silent and play this out as an onlooker.

‘Then,’ he said baldly, ‘I’m afraid you will die. I think you have only a short time to live. A few months at the most. It could be much less.’

There was a long silence. Lynn felt the grip of her daughter’s hand suddenly and she squeezed back, as hard as she could.

‘Die?’ Caitlin said.

It came out as a trembling whisper. Caitlin turned to her mother in shock, stared at her face. Lynn smiled at her, unable to think for a moment of anything she could say to her child.

Nervously, Caitlin asked, ‘Is this true? Mum? Is this what they already told you?’

‘You are very seriously ill, darling. But if you have a transplant it will be fine. You’ll be well again. You’ll be able to live a completely normal life.’

Caitlin was silent. She withdrew her hand and put a finger in her mouth, something Lynn had not seen her do in years. There was a beep, then a fax machine on a shelf near the doctor printed out a sheet of paper.

‘I’ve been on the Net,’ Caitlin said abruptly. ‘I Googled liver transplants. They come from dead people, right?’

‘Mostly, yes.’

‘So I’d be getting a dead person’s liver?’

‘There is no absolute guarantee we’ll be lucky in getting you a liver at all.’

Lynn stared at him in stunned silence. ‘What do you mean, no guarantee?’

‘You both have to understand,’ he said in a matter-of-fact way that made Lynn want to rise up and slap him, ‘that there is a shortage of livers and that you have a rare blood group, which makes it harder than for some people. It depends if I can get you in as a priority – which I am hoping I can. But your condition is technically “chronic” and patients with “acute” liver failure tend to get priority. I’ll have to fight that corner for you. At least you tick some of the right boxes, being young and otherwise healthy.’

‘So, if I get one at all, it’s likely I’m going to spend the rest of my life with a dead woman’s liver in me?’

‘Or a man’s,’ he said.

‘How great is that?’

‘Isn’t that a lot better than the alternative, darling?’ Lynn asked, and tried to take her hand again, but was brushed away.

‘So this is going to be from some organ donor?’

‘Yes,’ Neil Granger said.

‘So I would be carrying around for the rest of my life the knowledge that someone died and I’ve got a bit of them inside me?’

‘I can give you some literature to read, Caitlin,’ he said. ‘And when you go up to the Royal, you will meet a lot of people, including social workers and psychologists, who will talk to you all about what it means. But there is one important thing to remember. The loved ones and families of people who have died often take great comfort from knowing that the death wasn’t completely in vain. That that person’s death has enabled someone else to live.’

Caitlin was pensive for some moments, then she said, ‘Great, you want me to have a liver transplant so that someone else can feel good about their daughter’s, or husband’s, or son’s death?’

‘No, that’s not the reason. I want you to have it so I can save your life.’

‘Life sucks, doesn’t it?’ Caitlin said. ‘Life really sucks.’

‘Death sucks even more,’ the consultant replied.

13

Susan Cooper had discovered that there was a fine view from this particular window, just past the lifts on the seventh floor of the Royal Sussex County Hospital, across the rooftops of Kemp Town to the English Channel. All today, the sea had been a brilliant, sparkling blue, but now, at six o’clock on this late November evening, the falling darkness had turned it into an inky void, stretching to infinity beyond the lights of the city.

She was staring out at that vast blackness now. Her hands rested on the radiator, not for the warmth it gave off but merely to support her drained body. She stared silently, bleakly, through the reflection of her face in the window, feeling the draught of cold air through the thin glass. But feeling little else.

She was numb with shock. She could not believe this was happening.

She made a mental list of the people she still needed to call. She’d dreaded breaking the news to Nat’s brother, to his sister in Australia, to his friends. Both his parents had died in their fifties, his father from a heart attack, his mother from cancer, and Nat used to joke that he would never make old bones. Some joke.

She turned, padded back to the Intensive Care Unit and rang the bell. A nurse let her in. It was warmer in here than out in the corridor. The temperature was maintained at 34- 35°C, high enough for the patients to lie in hospital pyjamas, or naked, without any risk of catching cold. It was an irony, she thought, although she did not dwell on it, that she had once worked as a nurse here, in this very unit. It was in this hospital that she and Nat had met – shortly after he had started as a junior registrar.

She felt movement inside her. The baby was kicking. Their baby. Thirty weeks old. A boy.

As she turned right, walking past the central nursing station, where a prosthetic leg had been abandoned on a chair, she heard the swishing of a curtain being pulled. She looked across at the far corner of the ward and her heart lurched inside her. A nurse was drawing the blue privacy curtain around Bed 14, Nat’s bed. Sealing it from prying eyes. They were about to start some new tests and she wasn’t sure she had the courage to be with him while they did. But she had sat by his side almost all day and she knew she had to be there now. Had to keep talking to him. Had to keep hoping.

He had compound and depressed skull fractures, a lesion to the cervical region of his spinal cord that was likely to leave him a quadriplegic if he survived, as well as an almost irrelevant – at this stage – fractured right clavicle and fractured pelvis.

She hadn’t prayed in years, but she found herself praying repeatedly today, in silence, always the same words: Please, God, don’t let Nat die. Please, God, don’t let him.

She felt so damn useless. All her nursing skills and she could not do a thing. Except talk to him. Talk and talk and talk, waiting for a response that did not come. But maybe now would be different…

She walked back across the shiny floor, passing a hugely fat woman in the bed to her right, the rolls of flesh on her face and body looking like the contours of a 3-D map. One of the nurses told her the woman weighed thirty-nine stone. A sign on the end of the bed said DO NOT FEED.

To her left was a man in his forties, his face the colour of alabaster, intubated, a forest of wires taped to his chest and head. He looked, to her experienced eye, as if he had recently come out of heart-bypass surgery. There was a large, cheery get-well card propped on an instrument table beside him. At least he was on the mend, she thought, with a good chance of walking out of this hospital, rather than being carried out.

Unlike Nat.

Nat had been in steady decline throughout the day and, although she was still clinging to a desperate, increasingly irrational hope, she was starting to sense a terrible inevitability.

Every few minutes her phone, turned to silent, vibrated with yet another message. She had stepped out to reply to some. To her mother. To Nat’s brother, who had been here this morning, wanting an update. To his sister in Sydney. To her best friend, Jane, whom she had called tearfully this morning, an hour after arriving here, telling her that the doctors weren’t sure whether he would live. Others she ignored. She did not want to be distracted, just wanted to be here for Nat, willing him to pull through.

Every few moments she heard the beep-beep-bong of a monitor alarm. She breathed in the smell of sterilizing chemicals, catching the occasional tang of cologne and a faint, background note of warm electrical equipment.

Inside the curtained space, propped up in a bed that had been cranked to a thirty-degree angle, Nat looked like an alien, bandaged and wired, with endotracheal and nasogastric tubes in his mouth and nostrils. He had a probe in his skull to measure intracranial pressure, and another on one finger, and a forest of IV lines and drains from bags suspended from drip stands running into his arms and abdomen. Eyes shut, he lay motionless, surrounded by racks of monitoring and life-support apparatus. Two computer display screens were mounted to his right, and there was a laptop on the trolley at the end of the bed with all his notes and readings on it.

‘Hello, darling,’ she said. ‘I’m back with you.’ She stared at the screens as she spoke.

There was no reaction.

The exit tube from his mouth ended in a small bag, with a tap at the bottom, half filled with a dark fluid. Susan read the labels on the drip lines: Mannitol, Pentastarch, Morphine, Midazolam, Noradrenaline. Keeping him stable. Life support. Preventing him from slipping away, that was all.

The only signs that he was alive were the steady rising and falling of his chest and the blips of light on the monitor screens.

She looked at the drip lines into the back of her husband’s hands, and the blue plastic tag bearing his name, then at the equipment again, seeing some machinery and displays that were unfamiliar. Even in the five years since she had left nursing for a commercial job in the pharmaceutical industry, new technology that she did not recognize had come in.

Nat’s face, a mess of bruises and lacerations, was a ghostly shade of white she had never seen before – he was a fit guy who played a regular game of squash, and normally always had colour in his face despite the long – crazily long – hours of his job. He was strong, tall, with long, fair hair, almost rebelliously long for a doctor, not long past thirty and handsome. So handsome.

She closed her eyes for an instant to stop the tears coming. So damn sodding handsome. Come on, darling. Come on, Nat, you are going to be OK. You are going to get through this. I love you. I love you so much. I need you. Feeling her stomach, she added, We both need you.

She opened her eyes and read the dials on the monitors, the digital displays, the levels, looking for some small sign that could give her hope, and not finding it. His pulse was weak and erratic, his blood oxygen levels way too low, brainwaves scarcely registering on the scale. But surely he was just asleep and would wake up in a moment.

She had been in the hospital since ten this morning, arriving after the phone call from the police. It was another irony that she had been due to come to this same hospital for a scan today. That was why she had still been at home when the phone rang, instead of at Harcourt Pharmaceuticals, where she worked on the team monitoring clinical trials of new drugs.

It had helped that she knew her way around the labyrinth of the hospital’s buildings and also that plenty of people who worked here knew her and Nat, so she wasn’t given the usual platitudes and kept out of the way, but instead got straight talking from the medical team, however unpalatable it was.

By the time she had arrived here, half an hour behind Nat, he was already in the CT unit, having a brain scan. If it had shown a blood clot he would have been transferred to the neurological unit at Hurstwood Park for surgery. But the scan had shown there was massive internal haemorrhaging, which meant there was nothing surgical that could be done. It was a wait and see situation, but it appeared more than likely that he had irreversible brain damage.

The medical team had stabilized him for four hours in A &E, during which time there had been no change in his condition and his total lack of responsiveness persisted.

On the Glasgow Coma Score tests, before he had been sedated, Nat had produced a result of 3 out of a possible 15. He had no eye response to any verbal commands, or to pain, or to pressure applied directly to either eye, giving him the minimal score of 1. He gave no verbal response to any questions or comments or commands, giving him a score of 1 on this verbal part of the test. And he had no response to pain, giving him a score of only 1 in the motor response section. The maximum a person could score was 15. The minimum was 3.

Susan knew what that result meant. A score of 3 was a grim, though not 100 per cent reliable, indicator that Nat was brain dead.

But miracles happened. In her nursing years in this unit, she had known patients with a score of 3 go on to make full recoveries. OK, it was a tiny percentage, but Nat was strong. He could make it.

He would!

The short, friendly Malaysian nurse, Saleha, who had been with Nat one-on-one for the whole afternoon, smiled at Susan. ‘You should go home and get some rest.’

Susan shook her head. ‘I want to keep talking to him. People respond sometimes. I remember seeing it happen.’

‘Does he have favourite music?’ the nurse asked.

‘Snow Patrol,’ she said, and thought for a moment. ‘And the Eagles. He likes those bands.’

‘You could try getting some of their CDs and playing them to him. Have you got an iPod?’

‘At home.’

‘Why don’t you get it? You could get his wash stuff at the same time. Some soap, a facecloth, toothbrush, his shaving stuff, deodorant.’

‘I don’t want to leave him,’ Susan said. ‘In case…’ She shrugged.

‘He’s stable,’ Saleha said. ‘I can call you if I think you should get back here quickly.’

‘He’ll be stable all the time you keep the machines on, won’t he? But what happens when you switch them off?’

There was an awkward silence, during which both women knew the answer. The nurse broke it. She said cheerily, ‘What we have to hope is that there will be some improvement overnight.’

‘Yes,’ Susan said, her voice choking as she tried to hold back the tears.

She stared at Nat’s face, at his motionless eyelids, willing him to move, willing those eyes to open and his lips to smile.

But there was no change.

14

David Browne, the Crime Scene Manager, and James Gartrell, a police forensic photographer, had arrived a short while ago in separate vehicles. Browne, a lean, muscular man in his early forties, with close-cropped ginger hair and a cheery, freckled face, dressed in a heavy padded anorak, jeans and trainers, and Gartrell, burly and intense, with short dark hair, were busy on the main deck of the Arco Dee, photographing and videoing the scene.

Browne had agreed with Roy Grace that there was no useful purpose to be served in treating the ship as a crime scene, and none of the three men, or Lizzie Mantle, had bothered changing into protective clothing. Grace had merely secured the immediate area around the drag head with crime-scene tape.

The Detective Superintendent stood by the cordon now, gratefully cradling a mug of hot coffee, informally interviewing the captain and the chief engineer, whose comments were being noted down by DI Mantle, who was standing next to him. He glanced at his watch. It was ten past six.

The captain, Danny Marshall, wearing a high-visibility jacket over his thick pullover, was looking worried, and repeatedly checking his watch too. The chief engineer, Malcolm Beckett, dressed in a grimy white boiler suit and hard hat, was a tad less edgy, but Grace could sense both men were tense. Clearly they were upset about the body, but equally clearly they were worried about the commercial implications of the disruption to their schedule.

Another crew member came over to them, holding a sheet of graph paper on which was printed a set of coordinates, giving the precise position on the seabed where the body had been dredged up from.

Lizzie Mantle copied the information into her notebook, then slipped the square of paper into a plastic evidence bag and pocketed it. The body had been heavily weighted down, but even so, as Grace knew from previous experience, there were strong currents in the English Channel and bodies could get moved considerable distances. He would need to get the underwater team to calculate the probable dump site.

He was suddenly aware of the burble of a motorcycle, then his radio crackled and he heard the voice of the young female Police Community Support Officer he had posted at the bottom of the gangway to ensure that no unauthorized person came on board.

‘The paramedic’s just arrived, sir,’ she said.

‘I’ll come down.’

Roy walked across the deck and heard the motorcycle engine more loudly. A single headlight swept the quay. Moments later, under the glare of the ship’s spotlights, he saw a BMW motorbike, in paramedic livery, halt and the driver dismount and kick down the stand. Graham Lewis balanced the bike carefully, then pulled off his helmet and leather gloves and began removing his medical bag from the pannier.

However obvious it might be to an attending police officer that someone was dead, under the requirements of the Coroner, unless the remains were little more than bones, or the head was detached or missing, formal certifying of death had to be done at the scene by a qualified medic. In the past, a police surgeon would have been required to turn up, but in a recent change of practice it was now paramedics who performed this role.

Grace descended the perilous rope gangway to greet him, passing the PCSO at the bottom, and was glad to see that none of the local journalists, who usually got to murder scenes quicker than blowflies, had yet materialized.

The paramedic, a short, wiry man with curly grey hair, had the sort of kind, caring face that would give instant reassurance to any accident victim he attended. And he was irrepressibly cheery, despite all he saw daily in his career.

‘How are you doing, Roy?’ he greeted the Detective Superintendent breezily.

‘Better than the poor chap on the ship,’ Grace replied. Although not that much better if I don’t make it to the party before it ends, he nearly added. ‘I don’t think you’re going to be needing that bag. He’s about as dead as they get.’

He led Graham Lewis back up the wobbly gangway on to the deck, then along, under the glare of the ship’s lights, past the cable reels and orange rails of the conveyor belt, which would normally have been busily and noisily clanking away, shifting the cargo from the hold on to the chute, which would then discharge it on to the quay. But now it was silent. The paramedic followed Roy Grace to the far side of the ship.

The claws of the steel drag head, suspended a couple of feet above the deck, looked like a pair of gigantic, parallel crab pincers. Jammed between them was a parcel of black plastic tarpaulin, with several ropes wound around it. Several more lengths of rope, looped through eyeholes sewn into the tarp, were tied around a cluster of concrete breeze blocks, which now lay on the grimy, orange-painted metal of the deck.

‘He’s in the bag,’ Grace said. ‘They’ve cut it open but they haven’t touched him.’

Graham Lewis walked up and peered in through the long slit which had been opened up along part of the length. Roy Grace watched alongside him, horrified but deeply curious.

The paramedic pulled on a pair of latex gloves, then tugged the sheeting open wider, revealing the full length of the motionless, almost translucent, greyish-white body inside. It was a young man, in his late teens, Grace estimated, and from his condition he did not look as if he had been in the water for very long.

There was a strong smell of plastic, and a fainter reek of decay, but not the terrible, cloying, rotting-meat reek of death that Grace had long come to associate with a body that had been dead for a while. This person had been dead for only a few days, he guessed, but the post-mortem would hopefully give them a better steer on this.

The youth was thin, but from under-nourishment rather than exercise, Grace judged, noting the lack of muscle. He was about five foot seven or eight, with an angular, rather awkward-looking face and short black hair, some of which lay in a peak across his forehead.

The paramedic rotated his head slightly. ‘No immediate sign of any head trauma,’ he said.

Grace nodded, but his eyes – and his thoughts – were on a different part of the body. He was staring at the abdomen. In particular, at the neat vertical incision down the centre, from the base of the neck to below the belly button, stopping at the edge of the thick triangle of pubic hair, and the large sutures closing it up.

His eyes met the paramedic’s, then he looked down again. Stared at the incision. At the penis, almost black in colour, lying on top of the hairs, limp and wrinkled, like the cast-off skin of a snake. He could not help continuing to stare at it for a moment. The penises of dead men always seemed so profoundly sad, as if the ultimate symbol of manhood, through its motionlessness, became the ultimate symbol of death. Then his eyes returned to the incision.

‘What the hell is that?’ Graham Lewis asked. ‘There’s no scar tissue, so it has been made post-mortem – or close to it.’

‘It looks very neat,’ Grace said. ‘Surgical?’

Danny Marshall, who was standing a short distance away, next to DI Mantle, asked her anxiously how much longer it would be before the body was off-loaded and they could sail again – they had already lost over an hour of valuable discharging time. The Arco Dee needed to operate round the clock to earn its keep. Which meant never missing a tide. Another hour’s delay and they would not unload in time to make tonight’s tide.

She told him the decision would be Roy Grace’s.

For the first time in his career Marshall could understand the behaviour of a couple of skippers of fishing vessels he had met who had pulled up bodies from the deep in their nets, and confessed they had chucked them straight back rather than endure the delays that police procedures would inflict on them.

‘Definitely. That is not a wound,’ Lewis said. ‘This poor bastard’s had surgery. But…’ He hesitated.

‘But what?’ Grace prompted.

‘That incision definitely looks like a post-mortem one to me.’

‘Any idea how long you are going to be, Detective Superintendent?’ the captain asked.

‘It depends on the pathologist,’ Grace told him apologetically.

‘We have to wait?’

At that moment, Grace’s phone rang. ‘Speak of the devil,’ he said. It was the Home Office pathologist, Nadiuska De Sancha.

‘Roy,’ she said, ‘I’m so sorry. I’ve been called to an emergency. I don’t know what time I’ll be able to get to you. Four or five hours at least, maybe longer.’

‘OK, I’ll call you back,’ he said.

The paramedic was taking the man’s pulse. Just going through the motions. A formality.

Grace made a decision. It was partly influenced by his desire to get to the party, but more so by the reality of the situation. There was a crew of eight on this dredger, all of whom he had already spoken to. Each person could testify that the body had been hauled up out of the sea. The photographer, James Gartrell, had taken all the photographs and the footage he needed. The body was contained within the plastic sheeting, hauled up from the seabed, which made it extremely unlikely there was any forensic evidence on the ship itself – anything there might have been would have washed off in the water on the way to the surface.

He would be totally within his rights to impound the ship as a crime scene, but in his judgement that would serve no purpose. All the Arco Dee had done was haul the body up from the ocean floor. The vessel was no more a crime scene than a helicopter that hauled up a floater from the surface. The cause of death would be determined in the mortuary.

‘Good news for you!’ Grace said to Danny Marshall. ‘Let me have the names and addresses of all your crew members and you are free to go.’ Then he turned to the paramedic. ‘Let’s get the body ashore – keep him wrapped in the plastic.’

‘OK if I drop you off a statement later?’ Graham Lewis said. ‘I have to coach a young rugby team tonight.’

‘Coach?’

‘Yup!’

‘You’re a rugby coach?’

‘Yes.’

‘I didn’t know that. I run the CID rugby team. We need a new coach.’

‘Give me a call.’

‘I will. Tomorrow’s fine for the statement,’ Grace said.

Then he looked down at the bony, mutilated body again. Who are you? he wondered. Where are you from? Who made that incision on your body? And why?

Always the why.

It was the first question Roy Grace asked, privately, at every murder scene he attended. And for a man still young for his rank, he had attended far too many.

Too many to feel shocked any more.

But not too many not to care.

15

Lynn hated this drive at the best of times, the long slow crawl up the A23 through suburban south London. They were heading for the Royal South London Hospital, in Crystal Hill, where Caitlin was going to spend the next four days being assessed by the pre-transplant team there.

The last time Lynn had come up this way was back in April, when she had taken Caitlin to IKEA to choose some new furnishings for her bedroom. At least that had been fun – inasmuch as battling through the Sunday afternoon crush at IKEA could be any sane person’s idea of fun.

But they did have a treat at the end of the ordeal – in fact, a double treat so far as Lynn was concerned, because Caitlin did something she very rarely did. She had not just eaten something she would normally have turned her nose up at for being unhealthy, but had totally pigged out on it.

It was after they had finally got through the checkout queue, with their purchases of a bedside table, lamp, bedcover, wallpaper and curtains. They had gone to the restaurant area and eaten meatballs and new potatoes, followed by ice cream. Even naughtier, they’d bought two hotdogs as well, swamped in mustard and ketchup, as a treat for their supper, but had eaten them in the car long before they had reached home. Lynn had half expected Caitlin to want to stop and throw them up at any moment, but instead her daughter had sat there with a grin on her face, licking her lips from time to time and proclaiming, ‘That was wicked! Totally wicked!’

It was one of the few occasions in her life that Lynn could ever remember seeing Caitlin actually enjoy her food, and she had hoped at the time – a hope that was later dashed – that it might herald the start of a new and more positive phase of her daughter’s life.

They were passing IKEA now, the tall, floodlit smokestacks with the blue and yellow bands near the top, on their left. She glanced at Caitlin in the passenger seat beside her, hunched over her mobile phone, engrossed in texting. She had been texting non-stop for the past hour since they had left Brighton. The glare of oncoming headlights lit up her face, a ghostly, yellow-tinged white.

‘Fancy some meatballs, darling?’

‘Yeah, right,’ Caitlin said sleepily, without looking up, as if her mother was offering her poison.

‘We’re just passing IKEA – we could stop.’

She worked the keypad for some moments, then said, ‘They wouldn’t be open now.’

‘It’s only quarter to eight. I think they’re open until ten.’

‘Meatballs? Yuck. Do you want to poison me or something?’

‘Remember when we came here in April, to get the stuff for your room? We had some then and you really enjoyed them.’

‘I read about meatballs on the Net,’ Caitlin said, suddenly becoming animated. ‘They’re full of fat and crap. You know, some meatballs – they’ve even got bits of bone and hooves in. It’s like some burgers – they literally put the whole cow in a crushing machine. Like, everything, right? The head, skin, intestines. That way they can say it is pure beef.’

‘Not IKEA’s.’

‘Yeah, I forgot, you worship at the altar of IKEA. Like their stuff is blessed by some Nordic god.’

Lynn smiled, reached out a hand and touched her daughter’s wrist. ‘It would be better than the hospital food.’

‘Yeah, well, don’t worry. I’m not going to eat anything while I’m in that fucking place.’ She tapped her keypad again. ‘Anyhow, we just ate supper.’

‘I ate, darling. You didn’t touch your food.’

‘Whatever.’ She texted some more. Then she said, ‘Actually, that’s not true. I had some yoghurt.’ She yawned.

Lynn halted the Peugeot at traffic lights, removed her hand for a moment to put the gear lever into neutral, then put it back again on Caitlin’s wrist. ‘You must eat something tonight.’

‘What’s the point?’

‘To keep up your strength.’

‘I’m being strong.’

She squeezed her daughter’s wrist, but there was no response. Then she dug the map out of the door pocket and briefly checked it. The exhaust pipe banged on the underside of the car as the engine idled. The lights turned green. She jammed the map back into the pocket, wrenched the sticky gear lever into first and let out the clutch.

‘How are you feeling?’

‘I’m scared. And I’m so tired.’

Following the traffic, she changed gear again, then up into third, and squeezed Caitlin’s wrist once more.

‘You’re going to be fine, darling. You are in the best possible hands.’

‘Luke’s been on the Internet. He just texted me. He said that nine out of ten people on the liver transplant waiting list in the USA die before they get one. That three people die every day in the UK waiting for a transplant. And there’s 140,000 people in the USA and Europe waiting for transplants.’

In her fury, Lynn did not notice the brake lights on the vehicles ahead were glowing and she had to stamp on the brakes, locking up the front wheel to avoid rear-ending a van. The Internet! she thought. Sod the fucking Internet. Sod that jerk, Luke. Has that brainless twerp not got anything better to do than spook my daughter?

‘Luke’s wrong,’ she said. ‘I discussed it with Dr Hunter earlier. It’s just not true. What happens is that some very sick people get put on the waiting list far too late. But that’s not your situation.’

She tried to think of something else to say that would not sound patronizing. But her mind was suddenly a blank. The consultant, Dr Granger, had said they would try to get her a priority position on the waiting list. But, equally candidly, he’d said that he could not guarantee it. And there was the added problem of Caitlin’s blood group.

She drove on in silence, to the sound of the steady click-click-click of Caitlin’s phone keys and the occasional ping-ping of an incoming text.

‘Do you want some music on, darling?’ she said finally.

‘Not the crap stuff that you have in this car,’ Caitlin retorted, but at least she said it good-humouredly.

‘Why don’t you try to find something on the radio?’

‘Whatever.’ Caitlin leaned forward and switched the radio on. An old Scissor Sisters song was playing: ‘I don’t feel like dancin’’.

‘That’s me,’ Caitlin said. ‘No dancing today.’

Lynn gave her a wry smile. In the sudden flare of a street light, a thin, scared ghost in the passenger seat smiled wistfully back.

16

‘Well, well, guess who’s here! And you’ve even beaten the blowflies to this one!’ Roy Grace said, as, followed by DI Mantle, he walked past the scene guard at the bottom of the gangway and reluctantly acknowledged the reporter from the local Brighton newspaper, the Argus.

It did not seem to matter what time of the day or night, Kevin Spinella always turned up ahead of all other reporters, particularly when there was a whiff of a suspicious death.

Or perhaps it was the whiff of death itself. Perhaps the young reporter’s razor-sharp nose could smell death from the same four-mile distance as blowflies.

Either that or he had found some way of cracking the latest secure police radio network. Grace always suspected he had an insider in the police and was determined, one day, to find out, but at this moment his thoughts were on something else entirely. He needed to get to the party for Chief Superintendent Jim Wilkinson as quickly as possible and find out just what Cleo had meant when she’d said coldly, I want to tell you face to face, not over the phone.

Just what did this woman he loved so much want to tell him? And why had she sounded so off? Was she going to dump him? Tell him she had found someone else? Or that she was going back to her previous boyfriend, her born-again Christian barrister jerk?

OK, her ex was an Old Etonian, and Grace knew he could never compete with that. Cleo came from a different background from his own, a wholly different class league. Her family were rich, she had been educated at a private boarding school and she was ferociously intelligent.

By comparison, he was just a dumb, middle-class copper, the son of a middle-class copper. And he had no aspirations beyond that; that was all he wanted to be and all he would ever be. He loved his work and he loved his colleagues. He would happily admit that if he could just freeze time, he would like to remain in his job forever.

Had Cleo now realized that?

Despite all his attempts to keep pace with her Open University degree studies in philosophy, he was falling way behind. Had she decided he was simply not bright enough for her?

‘Nice to see you, Detective Superintendent Grace, Detective Inspector Mantle.’

The reporter flashed a big smile and stepped right into their path. For a moment, their faces were so close he could smell Spinella’s spearmint chewing gum.

‘So what brings two senior detectives to the harbour on a chilly night like this?’

The reporter had a thin, keen-eyed face and a short, modern haircut. He was wearing a beige, gumshoe mackintosh with the collar turned up, over a thin, summer-weight suit and a carefully knotted tie. His tasselled black shoes looked cheap and loud.

‘You don’t look like you’re dressed for fishing,’ Lizzie Mantle quipped.

‘Fishing for facts,’ he retorted, with a quizzical raise of his eyebrows. ‘Or perhaps dredging them up?’

Behind him, the mortuary van began driving off. Spinella turned to glance at it for a second, then he looked back at the two detectives.

‘Could either of you give me a comment?’

‘Not at this stage,’ Grace said. ‘I may hold a press conference after the post-mortem tomorrow.’

Spinella pulled out his notepad, flipping it open. ‘Might be just another floater, then. Can I quote you on that, Detective Superintendent?’

‘I’m sorry, I’ve no comment,’ Grace said.

‘A burial at sea, perhaps?’

Grace walked on past him towards his car. Spinella padded along beside him, keeping pace.

‘Bit odd, isn’t it, that it was weighted down with concrete breeze blocks?’

‘You’ve got my mobile number. Call me tomorrow around midday,’ Grace said. ‘I might know something by then.’

‘Such as what that incision on the body is?’

Grace stopped in his tracks. Then, restraining himself with great difficulty, he remained silent. Where the hell had he got that from? It had to be one of the crew members. Spinella was a past master at wheedling information from strangers.

Spinella grinned, knowing he had wrong-footed the detective. ‘Some kind of ritual killing, perhaps? A black magic rite?’

Grace thought quickly, not wanting some sensational headline appearing in the morning edition that would frighten people. But the truth was Spinella might be right. That incision was very strange. It was, as Graham Lewis said, very much like the kind of incision made during a post-mortem. During a ritual too?

‘OK, here’s the deal. If you hold back writing anything other than just the basic facts, that a dredger pulled up an unidentified body, I’ll give you clear water on the story tomorrow as soon as the PM is done. Fair enough?’

‘Clear water!’ Spinella nodded approvingly. ‘Very appropriate, considering where we are. I like it! Nice one, Detective Superintendent! Nice one indeed!’

17

Simona was hungry and she was wet. She had been walking for hours through the dark city streets in the pelting rain. This was always a bad time of year, the cold weather keeping people indoors, the lack of tourists. Hopefully there would be richer pickings in the weeks to come, as Christmas got nearer and the shopping crowds started.

She trudged past a bank that was closed, its windows dark, and wondered what people did inside banks. Important people. Rich people. Then a hotel: a doorman eyed her warily, as if signalling he was guarding the important people inside from her. Next she passed a closed mini-mart, glancing ravenously through its windows at the cans of food and jars of pickles.

She didn’t even have any metallic paint to inhale to take away the hunger pangs. Earlier in the evening she’d had an argument with Romeo and they’d fought over the last bottle and dropped it, and the paint had poured down a gutter. He’d stomped off with the dog and the remnants of the bottle, saying he was going home to get out of the rain. But she was hungry and hadn’t wanted to go back to the underground hole until she had found some food. Besides, the crying of the baby had been worse than ever.

The only thing she had eaten since yesterday was a couple of French fries, thin as matchsticks, which she had scavenged from a discarded carton on the pavement near a McDonald’s. For a while she stood, begging, outside an expensive-looking restaurant, tantalized by the smells of sizzling garlic and roasting meats, but all the dry, satisfied-looking people who had come out and climbed into their cars had ignored her, as if she was invisible.

Cars and taxis and vans sluiced past her now. She walked on, her trainers sodden, splashing through one puddle after another and not caring. Ahead of her was the Gara de Nord railway station – it would be dry inside. Some of her friends would probably be there, until the police threw them out at midnight, and they might have some food. Or she might be able to steal a chocolate bar from the station shop, which would still be open.

She climbed up the steps and went inside Bucharest’s vast, dimly lit main railway terminus. Puddles lay on the floor, glinting eerie reflections of the white, overhead sodium bulbs that stretched away, in pairs, to the far end of the building. Directly ahead, above her, was a large electronic noticeboard that read: PLECARI DEPARTURES. The round clock set into the board said 23.36.

There destinations were listed, with departure times for later that night and the next morning. Some were cities and towns she knew by name, but there were plenty she had never heard of. People talked about other places sometimes. Jobs you could get in other countries where you could earn good money and live in a nice house, and where it was always warm. She heard the clanking, rolling sound of railway carriage wheels. Maybe she could just get on a train and go to wherever it went, and maybe it would be warm there, with lots of food and no babies crying.

She passed a closed café on her right, with the sign, white on a blue background, metropol. Sitting on the ground in front of it was an old, bearded man in a woollen hat, ragged clothes and gumboots, swigging from a bottle of spirits of some kind. There was a filthy sleeping bag beside him, and everything else he owned seemed to be crammed into a tartan carrier. He nodded in recognition at Simona and she nodded back. Like most of the street people, they knew people by their faces, not by their names.

She walked on. Two cops in bright yellow jackets stood over to her left, young, mean-looking guys smoking cigarettes and looking bored. They were waiting for closer to midnight, when they would pull out their truncheons and clear out all the homeless people.

To her right was the brightly lit confectionery stall. A coffee-vending machine stood outside it with the name NESCAFE along the top. The blue-coloured counter was flanked by cabinets containing soft drinks and bottles of beer. A smart-looking man of about fifty appeared to be buying up the shop. He was dressed in a brown sports jacket, blue trousers and polished black shoes, and was filling bag after bag with packets of biscuits, sweets, chocolates, nuts and cans of soft drinks.

She stood for a moment, wondering if there was an opportunity to grab something, but the man who ran the place had already clocked her and was watching her like a hawk from the other side of the counter. If he did not catch her, the two policemen would, and she did not want a beating. Although, she considered, at least in prison she would be dry and get some food. But then they would take her back to the home, the institution.

In the institution they had sent her to school and she had liked that. She liked learning, knew she had to learn if she was ever to change her life. But she hated the institution, the other bitchy girls, the vile head who made her touch him, who beat her when she refused to take his thing in her mouth and locked her in a room, in darkness, with rats scratching, for days on end.

No, she did not want to go back there.

She passed a platform and stood still, watching the tail lights of a train pulling away, picking up speed. A solitary cleaner, in a fluorescent yellow jacket like the ones the cops were wearing, pushed a broom along the glistening wet surface of the platform.

Then she saw them, huddled in a corner, half hidden from view by a concrete pillar, and she felt a sudden surge of joy. Six familiar faces – seven if you counted the baby. She walked towards them.

Tavian, who was tall and thin, with a touch of Romany in his skin colouring, saw her first and smiled at her. He was always smiling. Not many people smiled all the time in her world, and Simona liked that he did. She liked his lean, handsome face, his warm, brown eyes, his thick, manly eyebrows. He was wearing a blue woollen hat with ear flaps, a military camouflage jacket over a grey, nylon windcheater and several layers beneath, and holding the sleeping baby, dressed in a corduroy jumpsuit and wrapped in a blanket. He was nineteen and this was his third child. The first two had been taken into care.

Beside him stood Cici, the baby’s mother. Cici, who she thought was about seventeen, was always smiling too, as if this whole life was a big joke that made you laugh all the time. Tiny, and still plump from her pregnancy, she wore baggy green jogging trousers and white trainers that looked so new they must have been freshly stolen today. Her face was round and pudgy, with a couple of front teeth missing, and was encased in her blue and white striped hoodie. She reminded Simona of pictures of Eskimos she had once seen, in a geography lesson at school.

She did not know the names of the others in the group. One was a sour-looking boy of about thirteen, dressed in a knitted ski hat, a bulky black jacket, jeans and trainers, who always had his hands in his pockets, like he did tonight, and who said nothing. Next to him stood another boy, who could have been his elder brother, with a weaselly face, a thin moustache, and spikes of fair hair matted to his forehead by the rain, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette.

There were two other girls. One, the eldest of this group, was in her mid-twenties and looked Romany too. She had long, lank dark hair and her skin was wizened by years of outdoors life. The other, who was twenty, but looked twice her age, was parcelled up in a fleece-lined jacket over bulky thermal trousers, holding a lit cigarette in one hand. In the other hand was a plastic bag containing a bottle of paint, the neck of which she held to her nose, inhaling and exhaling with her eyes closed.

‘Simona! Hey!’ Tavian raised his hand in greeting.

Simona slapped him a high five.

‘How are you? Where’s Romeo?’ Tavian greeted her.

She shrugged. ‘I saw him earlier. How are you all? How’s the baby?’

Cici beamed at her, but said nothing. She rarely spoke. It was Tavian who responded.

‘They tried to take the baby, two nights ago, but we ran!’

Simona nodded. The authorities did that: they would take the baby from you, but leave you. They would put the baby into some kind of state home. Like the ones she had run away from, repeatedly, from the time she was about eight years old until, four or five years ago now, she had managed to stay away permanently.

There was a silence. They were all looking at her. Tavian and Cici smiling, the others vacantly, as if they expected her to have brought something – food, or perhaps news – but she had brought nothing out of the dark, wet night.

‘Have you found anywhere new to sleep?’ she asked.

Tavian’s smile momentarily faded and he shook his head forlornly. ‘No, and the police are worse recently. They are hitting us all the time, moving us on. Sometimes, if they have nothing else to do, they follow us through the night.’

‘The ones who tried to take the baby?’

He shook his head, extracted a bent cigarette stub from a box and lit it, rocking the baby gently with his free arm. ‘Not them, no. They called someone, some special unit.’

‘I heard of a good place, where there is space – along by the heating pipe,’ Simona said.

He shrugged indifferently. ‘We’re OK. We are managing.’

She never really understood this group. They were no different from herself and they had no more than she had. In some ways she was better off, because she at least had a place to go to that was her home. These people were completely nomadic. They slept wherever they could – in alleys, in the shelter of shop-front porches, or out in the open, huddled together for warmth. They knew about the heating pipes, but they never went to them. She did not understand that, but there was a lot about the people she met that she did not understand.

Like the man approaching them now, laden with carrier bags. The man she had seen at the confectionery stall. He was middle-aged, with a slightly smug smile that made Simona instantly wary of him.

‘You look hungry, so I bought you some food,’ he said, and beamed enthusiastically, holding the bags out.

Suddenly they were all pushing past her, jostling, grabbing at the bags. The man stood there releasing them contentedly. He was of stocky build, with a pleasant, cultured-looking face and well-groomed hair. His open-neck white shirt, his brown jacket, his dark blue trousers and his shiny shoes all looked expensive, but she wondered why, on a night like this, he was not wearing a coat – he could clearly afford one.

Just one bag he held back, waiting until the rush had subsided and people had retreated, each inspecting their sudden windfall, and then he handed it to Simona. She peered inside at a treasure trove of sweets and biscuits.

‘Please,’ he said, ‘help yourself. Take everything. It’s yours!’ He was looking at her intently.

She dug her hand in, took out a Mars bar, unwrapped and bit into it greedily. It tasted so good. Incredible! She bit some more, then more still, as if afraid someone would snatch it from her, cramming the last of it into her mouth until it was packed so full she could barely chew. Then she dug her hand into the bag again and took out a chocolate-coated biscuit, which she began to unwrap.

Suddenly there was a commotion. She felt a painful thud on her shoulder and cried out in shock, turning round, her bag falling to the floor. A cop was standing behind her, black truncheon raised, a leer of hatred on his face, about to strike her again. She put her hands up and felt a blow on her wrist so hard and painful she was sure he had broken it. He was raising his arm to strike again.

There were police all around them. Seven or eight of them, maybe more.

She heard a loud crack and saw Tavian fall over.

Cici screamed, ‘My baby, my baby!’

Simona saw a truncheon strike Cici full in the mouth, busting her gums open and splintering her teeth.

Truncheon blows were hailing down on them all.

Suddenly she felt her hand being gripped and was jerked backwards, clear of the police. As she turned, she saw it was the man who had bought the sweets. A tall, bony cop with a small, rat-like mouth, brandishing his truncheon as if it was going to hit them both, shouted out something. The man dug his hand into his jacket pocket and produced a cluster of banknotes.

The cop took the money and waved them away, then turned his attention back to the mob, raising his truncheon and bringing it down with a sickening thud on someone’s back – Simona could not see whose.

Bewildered, she stared at the man, who was pulling her hand once more.

‘Quick! Come, I’ll get you away.’

She looked at him, unsure whether she could trust him, then back at the mêlée. She saw Cici on her knees, screaming hysterically, blood pouring from her mouth, no longer holding the baby. All of the street people were on the ground now, a shapeless, increasingly bloody mound, sinking further and further beneath the hail of batons. The police were laughing. They were having fun.

This was sport to them.

Moments later, still being pulled by her rescuer’s iron grip, she tripped down the stairs of the station’s front entrance, out into the pelting rain and towards the open rear door of a large black Mercedes.

18

The problem with buffets, Roy Grace always found, was that you tended to pile your plate high with food before you had actually studied everything that was on the table. Then, just when you were already looking terminally greedy, you noticed the king prawns, or the asparagus spears, or something else that you really liked, for the first time.

But there was no danger of his doing that now, at Jim Wilkinson’s retirement party. Although he had not eaten much all day, he had little appetite. He was anxious to get Cleo into a quiet corner and ask her what she had meant by the text she had sent him earlier, at the quayside.

But from the moment he arrived at the Wilkinsons’ packed bungalow, Cleo had been engaged in conversation with a group of detectives from the Divisional Intelligence Unit and had given him no more than the briefest smile of acknowledgement.

What the hell was up with her? he fretted. She was looking more beautiful than ever this evening, and was dressed perfectly for the occasion in a demure blue satin dress.

‘How are you doing, Roy?’ Julie Coll, the wife of a chief superintendent in the Criminal Justice Department, asked, joining him at the buffet table.

‘Fine, thanks,’ he said. ‘You?’ He remembered suddenly that she’d had a mid-life change of career and had recently qualified as an air stewardess. ‘How’s the flying?’

‘Great!’ she said. ‘Loving it.’

‘With Virgin, right?’

‘Yes!’ She pointed at a bowl of pickled onions. ‘Have one of those. Josie makes them herself – they’re fab.’

‘I’ll go back to my seat – perhaps you could put some on my tray when you bring it over.’

She grinned at him. ‘Cheeky sod! I’m not on duty now!’ Then she speared a couple of onions and piled them on the heap on her plate. ‘So, still no news?’

He frowned, wondering what she was referring to for a moment. Then realized. It never went away, however much he tried to forget. There were reminders of Sandy all the time.

‘No,’ he said.

‘Is that your new lady over there? The tall blonde?’

He nodded, wondering how much longer she would be his lady.

‘She looks lovely.’

‘Thanks.’ He gave a thin smile.

‘I remember that conversation we had a while back, at Dave Gaylor’s party – about mediums?’

He racked his brains, trying to think. He remembered Julie had lost a close relative and had picked his brains about a good medium to go to. He did vaguely remember they’d had a conversation, but could not recall any details.

‘Yes.’

‘I’ve just found a new one – she’s really brilliant, Roy. Amazingly accurate.’

‘What’s her name?’

‘Janet Porter.’

‘Janet Porter?’ The name did not ring a bell.

‘I haven’t got her number on me, but it’s in the book. She’s on the seafront, just near the Grand. Call me tomorrow and I’ll give it to you. I think you’ll be astonished.’

During the past nine years since Sandy’s disappearance, Grace had lost count of the number of mediums he had been to. Most of them had been recommended highly, just like this one now. None of them had come up with anything positive. One had said that Sandy was working in spirit for a healer and that she was happy to be back with her mother. A slight problem with that one, Grace had decided, since her mother was still very much alive.

A small handful of the mediums, the ones he had found most credible, had been adamant that Sandy was not in the spirit world. Which meant, they explained, that she was not dead. He was left as baffled today as he had been on the night of her disappearance.

‘I’ll think about it, Julie,’ he said. ‘Thanks, but I’m sort of trying to move on.’

‘Absolutely, Roy. I understand.’

She moved on too and for a few moments Grace had the buffet to himself. He eyed the new Chief Constable, Tom Martinson, who had only been in Sussex for a few weeks, wanting to ensure he got to chat to him. Martinson, who was forty-eight, was slightly shorter than himself, a strong, fit-looking man with short dark hair and a pleasant, no-nonsense air about him. At the moment he was busily tucking into his food, while engaging energetically in conversation with a group of brown-nosing officers who were surrounding him.

Grace forked a small slice of ham and some potato salad on to his plate, ate them on the spot and put the plate down, to avoid the hassle of walking around with it.

Then, as he turned around, Cleo was standing right behind him, a glass of what looked like sparkling water in her hand. In total contrast to how cold she had sounded over the phone, she was smiling warmly. Beaming.

‘Hi, darling,’ she said. ‘Well done, you’re not that late! How did it go?’

‘Fine. Nadiuska’s happy to wait until the morning to start the PM. How are you?’

Still smiling, she jerked her head, signalling him to follow. At that moment, he saw the Chief Constable break away from the group and head, alone, to the buffet table. This would be the perfect moment to introduce himself!

But he saw Cleo beckoning and did not want to risk her getting caught in another conversation with someone else. He was desperate to know what was going on.

He followed her, weaving through a packed conservatory, acknowledging greetings from colleagues with just a cursory nod. Moments later they stepped outside into the back garden. The night air felt even colder than at the harbour and was thick with the smell of cigarette smoke, wafting over from a mixed group of men and women who were standing in a huddle. The smoke smelled good and, if he’d had his cigarettes with him, he would have lit up. He could have done with one, badly.

Cleo pushed open a gate and walked a short distance down the side of the house, past the dustbins and into the carport at the front. She stopped by Wilkinson’s Ford Focus estate. They were private here.

‘Well,’ she said, ‘I’ve got some news for you.’ She shrugged, twisting her hands, and he realized it wasn’t for warmth but because she was nervous.

‘Tell me?’

She twisted her hands some more and smiled awkwardly. ‘Roy, I don’t know how you are going to take this.’ She gave him an almost childlike smile of bewilderment, then a kind of hopeful shrug. ‘I’m pregnant.’

19

The tall man walked up the spiral staircase, then stopped at the top for a moment, checking that his valet-parking stub and his coat-check ticket were securely slotted inside his crocodile-skin wallet. Then he surveyed the Rendezvous Casino’s high-value floor unhurriedly and thoroughly, taking it in the way a policeman might take in a room.

In his late forties, he had the lean physique of a man who works out. His face was craggy and his thinning jet-black hair was slicked back. He looked handsome under tonight’s dimmed bulbs, but coarser in broad daylight. He was dressed in a black cashmere blouson jacket over an open-neck plaid shirt, with a heavy gold chain around his exposed neck, expensive jeans, Cuban-heeled snake-skin boots and, even though they were indoors and it was nearly ten o’clock at night, aviator sunglasses. On one wrist he wore a chunky gold chain-link bracelet and on the other a large Panerai Luminor watch. Although he looked, like he always did, as if he did not belong here but in some more flash establishment, he was one of the casino’s regular high-rollers.

Chewing a piece of gum, he observed the four roulette tables, the blackjack tables, the three-card poker tables, the craps tables and the slots, his eyes behind those glasses scanning every face, then the restaurant at the far end, again scanning every diner, until he was satisfied. Finally he strode unhurriedly towards the table he liked, his regular table, his lucky table.

Four people were already playing and looked as if they had been there a while. One was a middle-aged Chinese woman who was another regular here; with her were a young couple who were dressed for a party they had either been to or were on their way to, and a stocky bearded man in a thick jumper who looked as though he would have been more at home in a geology lecture.

The wheel was spinning slowly, the ball rolling around the rim. The tall man laid £10,000 in bundles of £50 notes on the green baize roulette table, his eyes fixed on the male croupier, who gave him a nod, then said, ‘No more bets.’

The ball tumbled off the rim, rattled and clacked, bouncing across the trivets, then was silent, settled in. Everyone, except for the tall man, craned to look as the wheel slowed further. Deadpan, the croupier said, ‘Seventeen. Black.’

The number popped up on the electronic display screen behind the wheel. The Chinese woman, who had covered most of the table with chips, except for 17 and its immediate neighbours, swore. The young, slightly drunk girl, who was almost falling out of her black dress, gave a small whoop of joy. The croupier cleared away the losing chips, then prepared the payouts for the winning ones, paying the biggest first, while the tall man kept his eye on his bundle of notes.

Then the croupier took the bundle and counted the cash with practised hands. He almost did not need to, as he had done it countless times before and knew exactly how much it would be. ‘Ten thousand pounds,’ he said clearly, for the benefit of the punter and for the voice-recording equipment. The Chinese woman, who was in her fifties, gave the tall man a respectful glance. This was big money by this casino’s standards. The croupier stacked up his chips.

He took them and began to play immediately, rapidly covering the twelve numbers of the Tier, as well as placing some on the outside of the layout on Odd, but the majority he put down on the previous six winning numbers as displayed on the electronic board by the wheel. He covered the numbers straight up as well as all splits and corners. In moments his chips covered large areas of the board, like pins marking conquered territory on a map. As the croupier moved to spin the wheel – he was under a direction to spin it every ninety seconds – the others scrambled to place their bets too, stretching across the table, stacking up their chips on top of those of other players.

The croupier gave the wheel a gentle spin and flicked the ball into play.

Down on the floor below, the report from the CCTV room operator was brief and clear in Campbell Macaulay’s earpiece.

‘Clint is here.’

‘Usual place?’ the casino director murmured, his lips barely moving.

‘Table Four.’

Casinos had been Campbell Macaulay’s world all his working life. He had risen up through the ranks, from croupier to pit boss to manager, eventually running them. He loved the hours, the atmosphere, the calm and the energy that coexisted inside all casinos, and he also liked the whole business side of it. Punters might have the occasional big win, just as they had the occasional big loss, but in the long term the business model was remarkably steady.

There were really only two things he disliked about his job. The first was having to deal with the compulsive gamblers who financially ruined themselves in his – and other – casinos. Ultimately, they did the industry no good. And equally he disliked the phone calls waking him in the middle of the night in his time off to tell him that a regular small-time player, or a complete stranger, had just put a huge bet – maybe £60,000 – on a table, because that was the kind of thing that occurred when you were becoming the victim of a gaming scam. Which was why anyone suspicious was carefully watched.

If you were a good gambler, and you understood everything about the game you were playing, you could greatly reduce the amounts you lost. In blackjack and in craps, gamblers who knew what they were doing could make it close to a level playing field between themselves and the casino. But most people did not have the knowledge, or the patience, which had the result of pushing the casino’s profit margin from just the few percentage points of its advantage on most of the gaming tables, to an average 20 per cent of the amount a punter played with.

Immaculately coiffed, and dressed as he was every day and night in a quiet, dark suit, perfectly laundered shirt, elegant silk tie and gleaming black Oxfords, Macaulay glided almost unseen through the downstairs poker room of the Rendezvous Casino. This space was busy tonight, with one of the regular tournaments they held. Five tables, occupied by ten players each, just off the main room. The players were a shabby, slovenly bunch, wearing everything from jumpers and jeans to baseball caps and trainers. But they were all local people of substance and paid good entrance money.

When he had started his career, twenty-seven years earlier, most casinos had a smart dress code and he regretted the lack of elegance he saw today. But, in order to attract the punters, he understood the necessity of moving with the times. If the Rendezvous did not want these high-rollers, plenty of other casinos in the city would welcome them.

He took a brief walk through the busy, gleaming kitchen, nodding at the head chef and some of his underlings, watching a tray of prawn cocktail and smoked salmon platters heading out to the dining room, then went through into the main downstairs gambling room.

It was filling up. He cast his eye across the slots and it looked as if about two-thirds of them were busy. All the blackjack tables, the three-card poker tables, the roulette wheels and the craps table were in use. Good. There was often a lull in this pre-Christmas period, but business was building up nicely, with yesterday’s takings up almost 10 per cent on the previous week.

He walked across the room, passing all the tables in turn, making sure that each croupier and pit boss saw him, then took the escalator up to the high-value room. As he alighted at the top, he saw Clint straight away, standing like a sentinel at his regular table.

Clint was here at least three nights a week, arriving around ten and leaving somewhere between two and four in the morning. They had given him that sobriquet because Macaulay’s assistant, Jacqueline, once said he reminded her of the actor Clint Eastwood.

In the days before the smoking ban, like the actor in his early Westerns, Clint always had a slim cigar wedged between his lips. Now he chewed gum. Sometimes he came alone, sometimes he was accompanied by a woman – rarely the same woman, but they all seemed from the same mould. He was alone tonight. There had been one with him two nights ago, a tall, young, raven-haired beauty in a miniskirt and thigh-high leather boots, dripping with bling. She looked, as they all did, as if she was being rented by the hour.

Clint always drove himself here in a black Mercedes SL55 AMG sports car, gave the valet-parking attendant a £10 tip when he arrived and the same when he left, regardless of whether he had won or lost. And he gave the same amount to the coat-check girl on arrival and on departure.

He never uttered more than a grunt or a monosyllabic word to anyone, and he always turned up with exactly the same amount of money, in cash. He bought his chips at the table, then at the end of the night handed them in at the downstairs cashier.

Although he bought £10,000 worth of chips, he bet only with £2,000 worth of them – but that was still ten times the amount of the average punter here. He understood the game and always bet big, but cautiously, on permutations that would give him small gains, but, equally, only small losses. Some nights he walked away up, some nights down. According to the casino’s computer, he lost an average each month of 10 per cent of his initial stake. So, £600 a week, £30,000 a year.

Which made him a very good customer indeed.

But Campbell Macaulay was curious. When time permitted, he liked to watch Clint from the CCTV room. The man was up to something and he could not figure it out. He did not seem out to scam the casino – if that was his intention, Macaulay reckoned, he would have done it a long time ago. And most scamming tended to be at the blackjack tables, which, throughout his career, had been most vulnerable to fraud from card counters and bent croupiers. Money laundering was Macaulay’s best guess about Clint. And if that was his game, it was not Macaulay’s problem. Nor did he want to risk losing a good customer.

Traditionally, casinos had long been about cash. And casino operators did not like to grill their customers about the provenance of their money.

All the same, he did once, dutifully, mention his name to the head of the local police licensing team, Sergeant Wauchope. It was more to protect his own back, in case Clint was up to something illicit that he had failed to spot, than out of civic duty. His first loyalty was, and always had been, to the casino company, Harrahs, the Las Vegas giant, which had always looked after him.

The name that Clint used on the guest register here was Joe Baker, so it had come as a surprise when the Licensing Officer, returning the favour, had given him the privileged information that the Mercedes was registered to one Vlad Cosmescu.

That name meant nothing to Campbell Macaulay. But it had, for some considerable time, been on Interpol’s radar. There was no warrant out for his arrest at this stage. He was merely listed on the files of several police forces as a person of interest.

20

Outside Bucharest’s Gara de Nord, the chauffeur closed the door of the Mercedes with a solid thud. And for a moment, cocooned in the sudden silence of the interior of the car, on the big, soft seat, breathing in the rich smells of leather, Simona felt safe. The man who had rescued her entered on the far side and closed his door with the same thud.

Her heart thudded too.

The chauffeur climbed in the front and started the engine. The interior lights dimmed, then went off completely. As the car rolled forward, there was a sharp clunk beside her, like a door lock clicking, and she wondered what it was. Then she felt a sudden panic. Who was this man?

Seated on the other side of the big armrest, he smiled at her and, in a gentle, reassuring voice, asked, ‘Are you OK?’

She nodded, bewildered by the events of the past few minutes.

‘Are you hungry?’ he asked.

She was still a little wary of him, and there was that smug expression she continued to dislike, but he did not look a bad person. There were strangers, rich strangers, who occasionally came up to you and gave you money or food. Not often, but it happened, the way it seemed to be happening now. She nodded.

‘What is your name?’

‘Simona,’ she replied.

‘What is your favourite food?’

She shrugged. She didn’t know what her favourite food was. No one had ever asked her before.

‘Do you like meat? Pork?’

She hesitated. ‘Yes.’

‘Potatoes?’

She nodded.

‘Fried sausage?’

Again she nodded.

The man leaned forward, took a glass from a cabinet in front of him, poured whisky into it and gave it to her. She cupped the glass in her hand and took a long gulp. She stiffened in surprise at the deep, fiery sensation as it went down her throat. Then, moments later, she felt a pleasant, warm feeling ripple inside her. Stretching her legs out in front of her, she swallowed some more, draining the glass.

She had only drunk whisky once before, a bottle Romeo had stolen from a shop, but this tasted much better, much smoother.

The man’s mobile phone rang. He answered it, at the same time pouring more whisky into her glass, then began talking business to someone in America. She knew it was America because he asked how the weather was in New York. He was negotiating some kind of a deal and it sounded important. But occasionally he turned and smiled at her, and each time, with each gulp of whisky she took, she trusted him more.

The driver, who had said nothing, piloted the car in silence. His hair was cropped to a light fuzz and she suddenly saw, in the flare of oncoming headlights, the top of a tattoo. It was a snake, its tongue forked as if striking, rising out of the right side of his shirt collar, curling around his neck and up towards his chin. Outside, the lights of Bucharest glided past and rain pattered softly on the windows.

Simona had never been in a plane, but she wondered if this was what it felt like to fly. Music came from a speaker somewhere behind her head, a man singing. It sounded English or American, she could not tell which, a soft, rich voice. ‘I’ve got you under my skin’ was playing but she did not speak enough English to understand the meaning.

She looked out of the window, trying to get her bearings. They were passing the big place that Romeo told her the former president had built. He said it was called the People’s Palace, but she had never been inside it. It belonged to another world, another kind of people, just the way this car, the man in the back seat and the music all belonged to another world that was beyond her reach, and beyond her comprehension.

But the whisky made it all fine. She liked the man more and more, liked this car, liked the city that she had traipsed through, cold and hungry, just a short while ago, that was now gliding past. Maybe, just maybe, this man could help her to change her life.

After a short while, the car turned down a street she did not recognize, then slowed. In front of her, electric gates slid open and they drove through them, stopping in front of a tall house with a floodlit entrance.

The driver opened Simona’s door and took the empty glass from her hand. Feeling drunk and unsteady, she tottered out into the wind and rain. The man stepped out too, put an arm around her shoulder and gently encouraged her up stone steps to a front door, which was opened by a middle-aged woman dressed in a uniform, a maid, perhaps.

The house smelled of polish, like a museum.

‘Her name is Simona,’ the man said. ‘She needs food and then a hot bath.’

The woman smiled at her. A kind smile. ‘Follow me,’ she said. ‘Are you very hungry?’

Simona nodded.

They walked across a marble floor, along a hallway lined with fine paintings, statues and grand furniture, and into a huge, modern kitchen. A widescreen television on the wall was switched off. Simona stared around in wonder. She had never in her life been in a place so grand. It was like pictures she had seen in magazines and on the television in the homes she had once been in.

The woman told her to sit at a table, then moments later produced the finest plate of food Simona had ever seen. It was piled with roast pork, sausage, lard, cheese, pickled watermelon, tomatoes and potatoes, and accompanied by another plate with large, crusty bread rolls and a tumbler of Coca-Cola.

Simona ate with both hands, cramming the food into her mouth as fast as she could, scared that it would be taken away again before she had finished. The woman sat opposite her, watching her in silence, nodding encouragement occasionally.

‘You live on the streets?’ the woman asked at one point.

Simona nodded.

‘How is it?’

Speaking while chewing, she said, ‘We have a place under the heating pipe. It’s OK.’

‘But not enough food?’

Simona shook her head.

‘When did you last have a bath?’

Simona shrugged, chewing a thick piece of crackling. A bath? She could not remember. Not since the last time she had run away from the hostel. Not for years. She washed from bottles of water from the street pipes, when it was not too cold.

‘I have a beautiful bath waiting for you,’ the woman said.

When Simona finished the plateful, the woman brought her another, this time a huge bowl-shaped doughnut covered in melting vanilla ice cream. Simona gulped it down, ignoring the spoon on the dish beside it. She tore it apart with her fingers and crammed it into her mouth, eating it faster and faster, then scooped every last drop of the ice cream from the plate with her hand and licked it off. Her stomach ached, she was so full, and her head was swimming with the whisky. She started to feel a little queasy.

The woman stood up and beckoned. Wiping her hands on her jogging suit, Simona followed her up a grand, curved marble staircase, then along a wide corridor, lined with more fine paintings, and into a bathroom that simply stopped her in her tracks. She stared around in awe.

It was almost impossibly beautiful and magnificent – and vast. And equally almost impossible to believe she was here, standing in it.

On the ceiling were paintings of clouds and angels. The walls and the floor were all in black and white marble tiling, and in the centre was a huge, sunken tub, big enough for several people, overflowing with bubbles, and surrounded by nude male and female marble statues on plinths.

‘So beautiful,’ she whispered.

The woman smiled. ‘You are a lucky girl,’ she said. ‘Mr Lazarovici is a good man. He likes to help people. He is a very good man.’

She began helping Simona out of her clothes, until she was naked. Then she took her hand, steadying her as she stepped into the hot – deliciously hot, almost too hot – water and sank down. The woman eased her head back, until her hair was under the water, then up a little and rubbed in a deliciously scented shampoo. She rinsed it off, then put more shampoo on and rinsed that off too.

Simona lay there, luxuriating in it, staring at the angels above her, wondering if this was what it was like to be an angel, the whisky and the food making her relaxed and drowsy despite her queasiness. She was close to drifting away as the woman soaped her, every inch of her body, then rinsed her off. Then she helped her out of the bath, wrapping her in a vast soft white towel, drying her carefully and thoroughly, before leading her through into an en-suite bedroom that was even more magnificent.

The centrepiece was a huge, canopied two-poster bed. Simona stared at erotic paintings of nudes in gilt frames all around the walls. Some were single females or males, some were couples. She took in a man and a woman making love. Two women entwined in oral sex. A man sodomizing another. There were tall windows, up to the ceiling, with rich, swagged drapes. A chaise longue and other fine furnishings.

‘The room is OK for you?’ the woman asked.

Simona smiled and nodded.

The woman removed the towel and helped Simona, who was becoming increasingly sleepy, into the silky white sheets of the bed. Then she left the room.

Simona lay there, bathed in soft light from two huge table lamps, and began drifting into sleep. After some minutes, she was not sure how long, the door opened. She opened her eyes instantly.

The man who had brought her here, Mr Lazarovici, came in. He was naked beneath a black silk dressing gown that was open at the front and he had a massive erection below a large paunch.

As he walked towards the bed he said, ‘How are you, my beautiful angel of the Gara de Nord?’

She felt a prickle of anxiety through her haze of wooziness.

‘I’m great,’ she murmured. ‘Thank you so much for everything. I’m so tired.’

Then his erection was touching her left cheek. ‘Suck him,’ he said. His voice was cold and hard.

She looked at him, suddenly more awake and alert. There were dark rings around his eyes and menace in the inky blackness of his pupils.

‘Suck him,’ he repeated. ‘Aren’t you grateful to me? Don’t you want to show me your gratitude?’

He climbed on to the bed and manoeuvred himself so that his erection and his balls were right over her face. Afraid, she put up her right hand and held the shaft, then took him in her mouth tentatively. It tasted of stale sweat.

Then she felt a stinging blow on her cheek. ‘Suck him, bitch!’

She took him in deeper, closing her mouth around it, moving up and down the shaft.

‘Owww! You fucking stupid woman, you want me to take your teeth out or something?’

She stared at him, wild-eyed, sobering fast.

Suddenly he pushed her chin away, pulling himself free. ‘God, you ungrateful bitch!’ Then, wrenching her shoulders harshly, causing her to cry out in pain, he turned her over, right over, until her face was buried in the pillow, and for a moment she thought he intended to suffocate her.

Then she felt his fingers probing her vagina and thought she was going to throw up. She struggled to swallow the bile that rose in her throat. Then they moved from her vagina to her anus. Moments later she felt his erection trying to enter it.

Then, shrieking with pain, she felt him entering her. Further. Further.

‘No! Gogu!’ she screamed, almost choking on more bile.

Further.

She felt as if she was splitting in two.

Further.

She shook her head, her whole body, in desperation, trying to break free. He grabbed a clump of her wet hair and banged her face hard into the pillow, so hard she could not breathe. Then entered her further. Further still.

She was whimpering. Crying. Calling, ‘Gogu, Gogu, Gogu!’ Struggling. Struggling against the pain. Struggling for breath.

‘Fuck you, ungrateful little bitch,’ he whispered into her ear.

She turned her face sideways, gulping down air, crying in agony.

‘Fuck you, bitch!’ he hissed.

His erection was getting even bigger. Busting her in half.

‘Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, bitch!’ He smashed his fist into the side of her face. ‘Fuck you, ungrateful little bitch from the gutters!’

He pushed even deeper inside her.

She screamed out again and he rammed her face hard against the pillow, holding her there, jamming her airways. She struggled, tried to lift her head, but he kept it down, hard. Panic seized her, through the pain. She shook, trying to move, but she was pinned, as if a spike had been rammed through her. She began shaking in the final throes of suffocation, her chest hurting so much she thought it would collapse. Then he jerked her head back and kissed her deeply on the lips, as she gulped in air, his air, from his lungs.

Then he broke his mouth away. ‘Tell me you like this. Tell me you are grateful to me.’ He held his face hard against her cheek. ‘Tell me you are grateful to me for saving you. Say it. Say you are grateful! Say thank you!’

‘I hate you!’ she gasped.

He slammed the ball of his thumb against her cheek. Then he smashed his fist into her eye socket. He paused for a second before gripping her hair with both hands, so hard she was sure he was going to rip it from her scalp. He continued holding her hair as she felt him ejaculating inside her. Then she vomited.

*

Some time later, Simona did not know when – she had lost all track of time – she was in the back of the big black car once more. The same music she recognized from before was playing, that same rich voice singing those words of a song that had no meaning for her: ‘I’ve got you under my skin’.

The same Bucharest night was gliding past the window. She hurt all over. The most terrible pains. Her face felt puffy. Her head hurt. When she had arrived at the Gara de Nord she had felt dirty all over. Now she felt clean all over, but dirty inside. Filthy.

She wanted to cry but she hurt too much. And she did not want this man with the snake tattoo, who was driving, who had not spoken one word, but kept looking at her in the mirror and smiling at her, a filthy, dirty lecherous smile, to have any encouragement from her.

She just wanted to go home. Home. Home to Romeo, to the dog, to the screaming baby. To the people who cared about her. To her family.

He was stopping the car. The street was dark, and she had no idea where she was. He was opening the rear door and climbing in. Pushing himself next to her. He had banknotes in his hand. ‘Good money!’ he said, grinning. He pressed them into her hand, then unzipped himself.

She stared at him as he wiggled his erection out of his trousers. Stared at the tattoo of the striking snake that rose from his shirt collar.

‘Good money!’ he said.

Then he grabbed her hair, just like the man had done, and pulled her face down on to his erection.

She closed her lips over the head, then bit, as hard as she could, until she could taste blood in her mouth, until her ears were ringing with his screams. Then she grabbed the door handle, pulled it down, pushed with all her strength, stumbled out and ran into the night.

She ran without stopping, lost and disoriented, through an endless maze of dark streets and closed shops, knowing that if she kept running, kept running, kept running, she would eventually find somewhere she recognized, somewhere that would give her bearings and take her back to her home under the road.

In the blindness of her panic as she ran, she did not see that the black car, driven erratically but keeping a safe distance, was following her.

21

After driving for several minutes through the labyrinth of the Royal South London Hospital grounds, Lynn halted the Peugeot in frustration in the driveway outside the Emergency entrance, as the way ahead was barred by a metal barrier. It was just after half past nine in the evening.

‘Jesus!’ she said, exasperated. ‘How the hell is anyone supposed to find their way around here?’

It was the same every time; they always got lost here. Construction work was going on constantly and the liver unit was never in the same building twice – at least, that was how it seemed to her. And since the last time, a good two years ago, the whole traffic layout appeared to have changed.

She stared around in frustration at the institutional-looking buildings surrounding them. Tall monoliths, a mish-mash of architectural styles. Close to the car was a barrage of red, yellow and pale green signs and she had to strain to read them in the glow from the street lighting. None contained the name of the wing she was looking for, the Rosslyn Wing, which she had been told to access via the Bannerman Wing.

‘Must be in the wrong place,’ Caitlin said, without looking up from her texting.

‘Is that what you think?’ Lynn asked, more good-humouredly than she felt.

‘Uh huh. Like, if we were in the right place, we’d be there, wouldn’t we?’ She tapped her keys in furious concentration.

Despite her tiredness and her fear and her frustration, Lynn found herself grinning at her daughter’s curious logic. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Quite right.’

‘I’m always right. Just have to ask me. I’m like the Oracle.’

‘Perhaps the Oracle could tell me which way to go now.’

‘I think you’ll have to start by reversing.’

Lynn backed a short distance, then stopped alongside more signs. Hopgood Wing, she read. Golden Jubilee Wing. Main Hospital Entrance. Variety Club Children’s Outpatients. ‘Where the hell is Bannerman?’

Caitlin looked up from her texting. ‘Chill, woman. It’s like a television game, you know?’

‘I hate it when you say that!’

‘What, television game?’ Caitlin teased.

‘Chill, woman! OK? I don’t like it when you say that.’

‘Yep, well, you are so stressed. You’re stressing me.’

Lynn looked behind her and began reversing again.

‘Life’s a game,’ Caitlin said.

‘A game? What do you mean?’

‘It’s a game. You win – you live, you lose – you die.’

Lynn brought the car to a sudden halt and turned to face Caitlin. ‘Is that what you really think, darling?’

‘Yep! They’ve hidden my new liver somewhere in this complex. We have to find it! If I find it in time, I live. If I don’t, tough shit!’

Lynn giggled. She put an arm around Caitlin’s shoulders and pulled her close, kissing her head, breathing in the scents of her hair shampoo and gel. ‘God, I love you so much, darling.’

Caitlin shrugged, then in a deadpan voice said, ‘Yep, well, I’m quite worth loving really.’

‘Sometimes!’ Lynn retorted. ‘Only sometimes!’

Caitlin nodded, a resigned look on her face, and resumed her texting.

Lynn reversed out on to Crystal Hill, drove a short distance forwards and finally found the main entrance for vehicles. She turned left into it, passed a cluster of yellow ambulances parked outside the curved glass façade of an almost incongruously modern block, then finally saw the Bannerman Wing sign and turned right into the car park opposite a Victorian building that looked as if it might recently have had a facelift.

A couple of minutes later, carrying Caitlin’s overnight holdall, she walked past a man wearing a coat over his hospital pyjamas who was sitting on a bench beside a floodlit statue, smoking a cigarette, and entered the columned entrance porch of Bannerman Wing. Caitlin, dressed in a lime-green hoodie, ripped jeans with frayed bottoms and untied trainers, trailed behind her.

There were twin vertical perspex signs in front of them, printed with the words ROYAL SOUTH LONDON, and a row of white columns stretching ahead down the hallway. To the right was a visitors’ information desk, where a large black woman was on the phone. Lynn waited for her to finish the call, glancing around.

A bewildered-looking grey-haired man with a red holdall in one arm and a black handbag in the other was shuffling forwards in slippers. To her left, a cluster of people sat around in a waiting area. One, an old man, was in a motorized wheelchair. Another old man, in a beanie and tracksuit, sat slumped on a green stool, with a wooden walking stick out in front of him. A youth in a grey hoodie and jeans was plugged into an iPod. A young man, with despair on his face, wearing a blue T-shirt, jeans and trainers, was seated, bent forward, his hands clasped between his thighs, as if waiting for someone or something.

The whole place seemed filled with a late-night air of tired, silent desperation. Further along she saw a shop, like a small supermarket, selling sweets and flowers. A shell-suited elderly woman with blue-rinsed hair emerged, opening a chocolate bar.

The woman behind the desk ended her call and looked up pleasantly. ‘Can I help you?’

‘Yes, thank you. Shirley Linsell in the Rosslyn Wing is expecting us.’

‘Can you give me your names?’

‘Caitlin Beckett,’ Lynn said. ‘And her mother.’

‘I’ll tell her. Take the lift to the third floor and she’ll meet you there.’ She pointed down the corridor.

They walked along, past the shop, past signs reading, BUTT OUT, SMOKING BAN IN ALL NHS HOSPITALS AND DON’T INFECT. PROTECT and past weary-looking, disoriented people coming in the opposite direction. Lynn had always been spooked by hospitals, remembering the countless visits to Southlands Hospital in Shoreham when her father had had a stroke. Other than maternity wards, hospitals were not happy places. Hospitals were where you went when bad things happened to you or to people you loved.

At the end of the corridor they reached an area, in front of the steel doors of the lift, that was bathed in an iridescent purple light. It was more like the light she would expect to find in a disco, or on the set of a science fiction film, Lynn thought.

Caitlin paused from her texting to look up. ‘Cool,’ she said with an approving nod. Then, in a breathless rush of excitement, ‘Hey! You know what, Mum? This is a clue!’

‘A clue?’ Lynn questioned.

Caitlin nodded. ‘Like beam me up from Star Trek, right?’ Then she grinned mysteriously. ‘They put this on for us.’

Lynn gave her daughter a quizzical look. ‘OK. So why did they do that?’

‘We find out on the third floor. That’s our next clue!’

As they rode the slow lift, Lynn was pleased that Caitlin seemed to have perked up. All her life she had had strong mood swings and recently the disease had made them worse. But at least she was coming in here with a positive attitude, for the moment.

They stepped out on the third floor, to be greeted by a smiling woman in her mid-thirties. She was pleasant-looking, a classic English rose face framed with long, brown hair, and she was dressed in a white blouse, with a knitted pink top and black trousers. She gave Caitlin a warm smile first, then Lynn, then turned back to Caitlin. Lynn noticed she had a tiny burst blood vessel in her left eye.

‘Caitlin? Hi, I’m Shirley, your transplant coordinator. I’m going to be looking after you while you are here.’

Caitlin eyeballed her levelly for some moments and said nothing. Then she looked down at her phone and resumed her endless texting.

‘Shirley Linsell?’ Lynn asked.

‘Yes. And you must be Caitlin’s mum, Lynn.’

Lynn smiled. ‘Nice to meet you.’

‘I’ll take you along to your room. We’ve got a nice single room for you, Caitlin, for the next few days. And we’ve arranged an overnight room nearby for you, Mrs Beckett.’ Addressing them both, she added, ‘I’m here to answer any questions that you have, so please ask anything you like, anything at all that you want to know.’

Still looking down at her phone, Caitlin said, ‘Am I going to die?’

‘No, of course not, darling!’ Lynn said.

‘I wasn’t asking you,’ Caitlin said. ‘I was asking Shirley.’

There was a brief, uncomfortable silence. Then the transplant coordinator said, ‘What makes you think that, Caitlin?’

‘I’d have to be pretty fucking stupid not to, wouldn’t I?’

22

Roy Grace followed the tail lights of the black Audi TT, which was some distance ahead of him and drawing further away all the time. Cleo didn’t seem to fully understand what speed limits were. Nor, as she approached the junction with Sackville and Nevill roads, what traffic lights were for.

Shit. He felt a stab of fear for her.

The light turned amber. But her brake lights did not come on.

His heart was suddenly in his mouth. Being T-boned by a car running a stop light produced some of the worst injuries you could have. And it was not only Cleo in that speeding car now. It was their child too.

The lights went red. A good two seconds later, the Audi hurtled through them. Roy gripped his steering wheel hard, fearing for her.

Then she was safely over and continuing along Old Shoreham Road, approaching Hove Park on her left.

He halted his unmarked Ford Focus estate at the lights, his heart hammering, tempted to call her, to tell her to slow down. But it was no use, this was how she always drove. She was worse, he had come to realize in the five months they had been dating, than his friend and colleague Glenn Branson, who had only recently passed his Police High Speed Pursuit test and liked to demonstrate his skills behind the wheel – or rather, lack of them – to Roy at every opportunity.

Why did Cleo drive so recklessly when she was so meticulous in everything else she did? Surely, he reasoned, someone who worked in a mortuary and handled, almost every day, the torn and broken bodies of people killed on the roads would take extra care when driving. And yet one of the consultant pathologists for Brighton and Hove, Dr Nigel Churchman, who had recently transferred up north, raced cars at weekends. Perhaps, he sometimes thought, if you worked in such close proximity to death, it made you want to challenge and defy it.

The lights changed. He checked there was no one doing a Cleo coming across, then drove over the junction, accelerating, but mindful that there were two cameras on the next stretch of road. Cleo totally denied that she drove fast, as if she was blind to it. And that scared him. He loved her so much, and even more so tonight than ever. The thought of anything happening to her was more than he could bear.

For nearly ten years after Sandy vanished, he had been unable to form any relationship with another woman. Until Cleo. During all that time he had constantly been searching for Sandy, waiting for news, hoping for a call, or for her to walk in through the front door of their home one day. But that had begun to change now. He loved Cleo as much as, and maybe even more than, he had ever loved Sandy, and if she did suddenly reappear, no matter how good her explanation, he strongly doubted he would leave Cleo for her. In his mind and in his heart he had moved on.

And now this most incredible thing of all. Cleo was pregnant! Six weeks. Confirmed this morning, she had told him. She was carrying his child. Their child.

It was so ironic, he thought. In their life together before her disappearance, Sandy had been unable to conceive. The first few years they hadn’t worried about it, having made a decision to wait a while before starting a family. But then, when they had begun trying, nothing had happened. During that last year before she had disappeared, they had both had fertility tests. The problem turned out to be with Sandy, some biochemistry to do with the viscosity of the mucus in her fallopian tubes that the specialist had explained in detail, and Roy had done his best to understand.

The specialist had put Sandy on a course of medication, although he had told her there was less than a 50 per cent chance of it working, and that had depressed her, making her feel inadequate. Sandy always liked to be in charge. Probably one of the reasons why she too had liked to drive fast, commanding the road, he thought. She was the one who created the Zen minimalist look inside their house and who designed the garden. She always made the arrangements when they went away. Sometimes he wondered if she had been more depressed than he had realized about her infertility problem. And whether that might have been the reason behind her disappearance.

So many unanswered questions.

But now the vacuum in his life was filled. Dating Cleo had brought him a sense of happiness he had never believed would be possible again. And now this news, this incredible news!

He saw her car ahead, this time stopped at the lights at the junction with Shirley Drive, where there was a safety camera.

Please, darling, please drive a little less crazily! Don’t go and wipe yourself out in a wreck, just when I have found you. Just when life is beginning for us.

When life is growing inside you.

He saw her brake lights come on before the next camera and finally caught up with her car at the next lights. Then he followed her, right into Dyke Road and along to the Seven Dials roundabout. Half past eleven on a Wednesday night and there were still quite a few people on the streets, in this densely populated area.

Instinctively checking out every face, he soon saw someone he recognized, a ragged, small-time drug dealer and police informant, Miles Penney, shambling along, head bowed, cigarette dangling from his lips. From his slow pace it did not look as if he was on his way either to score or to sell tonight, and besides Grace didn’t care what he did. So long as Penney didn’t rape or murder anyone, he was part of another division’s set of problems.

He followed Cleo on down past the railway station, then through the network of narrow streets of the North Laine district, filled with its mix of terraced houses, individual shops, cafés and restaurants, and antiques dealers, until she found a resident’s parking space near her home. Grace pulled up on a single yellow line in sight of her car and got out, casting a wary eye around for any moving shadows, feeling doubly protective of Cleo all of a sudden.

He followed her through the gates of the converted warehouse building where she had her town house, and put an arm around her as she pressed the entrance keypad.

She wore a long black cape over her dress, and he slipped his hand inside it and pressed the palm against her stomach.

‘This is amazing,’ he said.

She stared at him with wide-open, trusting eyes. ‘Are you sure you’re OK with this?’

He slipped his hand out of her cape, then cupped her face in both his hands. ‘With all my heart. I’m not just OK with this, I’m incredibly happy. But – I don’t know how to express it. This is one of the most incredible things ever. And I think you will be a wonderful mother. You will be amazing.’

‘I think you will be a wonderful father,’ she said.

They kissed. Then warily, because it was late and dark, he glanced around again, checking the shadows. ‘Just one thing,’ he said.

‘What?’

‘Your driving is something else. I mean, Lewis Hamilton, eat your heart out!’

‘That’s a bit rich coming from a man who drove his car over Beachy Head!’ she said.

‘Yep, well, I had a good reason for that. I was in a pursuit situation. You just did eighty in a forty limit and shot a red light for no reason at all.’

‘So? Book me!’

They stared into each other’s eyes. ‘You can be such a bitch at times,’ he said, grinning.

‘And you can be such an anal plod!’

‘I love you,’ he said.

‘Do you, Grace?’

‘Yes. I adore you and I love you.’

‘How much?’

He grinned, then held her close and whispered into her ear. ‘I want you inside, naked, then I’ll show you!’

‘That’s the best offer I’ve had all night,’ she whispered back.

She tapped out the numbers. The gate lock clicked and she pushed it open.

They walked through, across the cobbled yard and up to her front door. She unlocked it and they went inside, straight into a scene of utter devastation.

A black tornado hurtled through the mess and launched itself into the air, hitting Cleo in her midriff and almost knocking her over.

‘Down!’ she yelled. ‘Humphrey, down!’

Before Grace had a chance to prepare himself, the dog head-butted him in the balls.

He staggered back, winded.

‘HUMPHREY!’ Cleo yelled at the labrador and border collie-cross.

Humphrey ran back into the devastation that had been the living room and returned with a length of knotted pink rope in his mouth.

Grace, getting his breath back and wincing from the stabbing pain in his groin, stared around the normally immaculate, open-plan room. Potted plants were lying on their sides. Cushions had been dragged off the two red sofas and several were ripped open, spilling foam and feathers everywhere across the polished oak floor. Partially chewed candles lay on their sides. Pages of newspaper were strewn all around, and a copy of Sussex Life magazine lay with its front cover half torn off.

‘BAD BOY!’ Cleo scolded. ‘BAD, BAD BOY!’

The dog wagged his tail.

‘I AM NOT HAPPY WITH YOU! I AM VERY, VERY ANGRY. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?’

The dog continued to wag his tail. Then he jumped up at Cleo once more.

She gripped his face in her hands, knelt and bellowed at him. ‘BAD BOY!’

Grace laughed. He couldn’t help it.

‘Fuck!’ Cleo said. She shook her head. ‘BAD BOY!’

The dog wriggled himself free and launched himself at Grace again. This time the Detective Superintendent was prepared and grabbed his paws. ‘Not pleased with you!’ he said.

The dog wagged his tail, looking as pleased as hell with himself.

‘Oh fuck!’ Cleo said again. ‘Clear this up later. Whisky?’

‘Good plan,’ Grace said, pushing the dog away. It came straight back at him, trying to lick him to death.

Cleo dragged Humphrey out into the backyard by the scruff of his neck and shut the door on him. Then they went into the kitchen. Out in the yard, Humphrey began howling.

‘They need two hours’ exercise a day,’ Cleo said. ‘But not until they are a year old. Otherwise it’s bad for their hips.’

‘And your furniture.’

‘Very funny.’ She chinked ice cubes into two glass tumblers from the dispenser in the front of her fridge, then poured several fingers of Glenfiddich into one and tonic water into the other. ‘I don’t think I should be drinking anything,’ she said. ‘How virtuous is that?’

Grace felt badly in need of a cigarette and checked his pockets, but he remembered he had deliberately not brought any with him. ‘I’m sure the baby won’t mind a wee dram or two. Might as well get him or her used to the stuff at an early age!’

Cleo handed him a tumbler. ‘Cheers, big ears,’ she said.

Grace raised his glass. ‘Here goes, nose.’

‘Up your bum, chum!’ she completed the toast.

He drained his glass. Then they stared at each other. Outside, Humphrey was still howling. Him or her. He hadn’t thought about that. Was it a boy or a girl? He didn’t mind. He would worship that child. Cleo would be a wonderful mother, he knew that, unquestionably. But would he be a good father? Then he followed Cleo’s gaze across at the mess.

‘Want me to clear up?’ he asked.

‘No,’ she said. Then she kissed him very slowly and very sensually on the lips. ‘I’m badly in need of an orgasm. Do you think you might be up for that?’

‘Just one? Could do that with my eyes shut.’

‘Bastard.’

23

Vlad Cosmescu chewed his gum, his eyes following the ivory ball skittering across the trivets of the roulette wheel. It made a steady rattling sound at first, then clack-clack-clacked as the wheel slowed, followed by sudden silence as it dropped into a slot.

24. Black.

Adjusting his aviator glasses on the bridge of his nose, he stared with a satisfied smile at his stack of £5 chips straddling the line between 23 and 24, then watched the croupier scoop away the losing chips from other numbers and combinations, including several of his own. Shooting his cuff, he glanced at his watch and observed that it was ten past twelve. So far it was not going well; he was down £1,800, close to his self-imposed limit for a night’s outlay. But maybe, with this win on his Tier strategy, his second in two consecutive spins, his luck was turning.

Cosmescu stacked half his winnings with the rest of his remaining chips, then joined in with the other players at the table – the reckless Chinese woman who had been playing all the time he had been there, and several others who had recently arrived – in laying out their new bets. By the time the wheel had been spinning for several seconds and the croupier had called out ‘No more bets’, almost every number was covered in chips.

Cosmescu always used the same two systems. For safety he played the Tier, betting on the numbers which made up a one-third arc of the wheel opposite zero. You would not win a lot with this system, but normally you didn’t lose a lot either. It was a strategy that enabled him to stay at the table for hours, while he worked on refining his own system, which he had been developing patiently over some years. Cosmescu was a very patient man. And he always planned everything with extreme care, which was why the phone call he was about to get would upset him so much.

His system was based on a combination of mathematics and probability. On a European roulette table there were thirty-seven numbers. But Cosmescu knew that the odds against all thirty-seven of those numbers coming up on thirty-seven consecutive spins of the wheel were millions to one against. Some numbers would come up twice, or three, or even four times within a few spins, and sometimes even more than that, while others would not come up at all. His strategy, therefore, was only to bet on numbers, and combinations of numbers, that had already come up, as some of those, for sure, would be coming up again.

Looking at the number 24 again, he pressed his big toe down twice on the pressure pad inside his right boot, then he pressed six times inside his left boot. Later, when he got home, he would download the data from the memory chip in his pocket into his computer.

The system was still a long way from perfect and he continued to lose on plenty of occasions, but the losses were getting smaller, in general, and less frequent. He was sure he was close to cracking it. Then, if he did, he would make his fortune. And then… well, he would not need to be anyone’s hired lackey. Besides, hey, if he didn’t, it all helped to pass the time. He had plenty of that on his hands. Too much.

He lived a lonely life in this city. He worked from his apartment, a big glass and steel place, high up, central, and he kept himself to himself, deliberately not mixing with others. He waited for his orders from his overlord, then, when he carried them out, he would wash some of the cash here in the casino, as instructed. It was a good arrangement. His sef, or boss, needed someone he could trust, someone who was tough enough to do the jobs but would not try to rip him off. And they both spoke the same language.

Two languages, in fact. Romanian and Money.

Vlad Cosmescu had few interests outside money. He never read books or magazines. Occasionally he’d watch an action film on television. He thought the Bourne films were OK, and he liked The Transporter series too, because he identified with Jason Statham’s loner character in those. He watched the occasional sex film too, if he was with one of his girls. And he worked out, two hours a day, in a large gym. But everything else bored him, even eating. Food was simply fuel, so he ate when he needed to, and just sufficient, never more. He had no interest in the taste of food and did not understand the British obsession with cookery shows on television.

He liked casinos because of the money. You could see it in casinos, you could breathe it, smell it, hear it, touch it, and you could even taste it in the air. That taste was more delicious than any food he had ever eaten. Money brought you freedom, power. The ability to do something about your life and your family’s life.

It had given Cosmescu the ability to take his handicapped sister, Lenuta, out of a camin spital, a state home-hospital tucked away in the village of Plataresti, twenty-five miles north-east of Bucharest, and into a beautiful home in hills above Montreux in Switzerland, overlooking Lake Geneva.

When he had first seen her, ten years ago, after a lot of enquiries and a lot of bribes to find her, she was classed as an irrecupable. She was lying in an old, caged cot, eleven years old, eating only milk and crushed grain. With her skeletal figure and pot belly from starvation, and ragged strip of cloth as a nappy, she looked like a victim in a concentration camp.

There were thirty cots in that cramped room, with vertical bars, side by side and jammed next to each other, like animal cages in a laboratory. The stench of vomit and diarrhoea was overpowering. He watched stronger children, all retarded in some way, all still on the same bottled milk with crushed grain, despite the fact that some were in their mid-teens, if not older, swigging their liquid food then sticking their arms through the bars of their cages and taking the bottles from the younger, weaker ones – and being ignored by the solitary carer, who sat in her office, unqualified and unable to cope.

As the ball rattled over the metal slots of the wheel again, Cosmescu’s mobile phone, on silent, vibrated. He slipped it out of his pocket, at the same time clocking the winning number, 19. Shit. That was a bad number for him, a total loss on that one. He moved a short distance from the table, entering the number with his toes, and looked at the display. It was a text from the sef.

Want to speak right now.

Cosmescu slipped out of the casino and crossed the car park, making his way towards the Wetherspoon’s pub, where he knew there was a payphone downstairs. When he reached it, he texted its number on his mobile phone, then waited. Less than a minute later, it rang. It was noisy in the packed pub and he had to hold the phone close to his ear.

‘Yes?’ he said.

‘You’ve screwed up,’ the voice at the other end said. ‘Big time.’

Cosmescu talked for several minutes before returning to his table at the casino. When he did so, his concentration was gone. His losses increased, passing his limit, growing to £2,300 and then £2,500. But instead of stopping, anger drove him. Anger and gambler’s folly.

By twenty past three in the morning, when he finally decided to call it quits, he was just over £5,000 down. His worst loss ever on a single night.

Despite that, he still tipped the coat-check girl and the valet-parking guy their regular, crisp, fresh £10 note each.

24

Roy Grace, dressed in his tracksuit, baseball cap and jogging shoes, let himself out of Cleo’s front door just before half past five. In the glow of the street lights, the pre-dawn darkness was an amber mist and a cold wind blew salty drizzle on to his face.

He was burning with excitement and had barely slept, thinking about Cleo and the baby growing inside her. It was an incredible feeling. If he had been asked to put it into words he could not, at this moment, have done so. He felt a strange sense of empowerment, or responsibility, and, for the first time in his career, a shift in his priorities.

He walked across the yard and let himself out of the gate, glancing up and down the street, checking for anything that might look wrong. Every police officer he had ever met was the same. After a few years of being in the force you automatically clocked everything around you, constantly, whether you were in a street, a shop or a restaurant. Grace jokingly called it a healthy culture of suspicion, and there were plenty of times in his career when that had served him well.

As he set off on this late November Thursday morning, feeling more protective of Cleo than ever, nothing he saw on the deserted streets of Brighton aroused any suspicion in him. Ignoring the pain in his back and ribs from his car roll-over, he ran along the narrow pedestrianized cobbles of Kensington Gardens, past its cafés and boutiques, a second-hand furniture store and an antiques and bric-à-brac market, then along Gardner Street, past Luigi’s, one of the shops where Glenn Branson, his self-appointed style guru, insisted on taking him from time to time to spruce up his wardrobe.

As he reached deserted North Street, he saw headlights and heard the roar of a powerful engine. Moments later a black Mercedes SL sports coupé flashed past, its driver barely visible through the darkened windows. A tall, lean male figure was the sense of him that Grace got, but that was all. He wondered what the man was doing out at this hour. Returning from a party? Rushing to a ferry port or airport? You didn’t see many expensive cars this early in the morning. Mostly it was the cheaper cars and vans of manual workers. There were, of course, any number of legitimate reasons why the Mercedes would be on the road, but all the same he memorized the number: GX57 CKL.

Crossing over, he ran on through the narrow streets and alleys of the Lanes and then finally reached the seafront promenade. It was deserted except for a solitary man walking an elderly, plump dachshund. Limping less as he warmed up, he ran down the ramp, past the front of a large nightclub, the Honey Club, which was dark and silent, then stopped for some moments and touched his toes several times. Then he stood still, breathing in the tangs of the beach, of salt, oil, putrid fish, boat varnish and rotting weed, listening to the roar and sucking of the sea. The drizzle felt like cooling spray against his face.

This was one of the places he loved most in the city, down at sea level. Especially now, early morning, when it was deserted. The sea had a hold on him. He loved all of its sounds, smells, colours and changing moods; and especially the mysteries it contained, the secrets it sometimes yielded, such as the body last night. He could never imagine living somewhere landlocked, miles away from the sea.

The Palace Pier, one of the great landmarks of the city, was still lit up. New owners had changed its name to Brighton Pier a few years back, but to him and to thousands in the city it would always be the Palace Pier. Tens of thousands of bulbs burned along its length, along the rooftops of its structures, making the helter-skelter look like a beacon rising into the sky, and he wondered, suddenly, how long it would be before the pier was obliged to switch everything off at night to save energy.

He turned left and ran towards it, and then into the shadows beneath its dark, girdered mass – the place where, twenty years ago, he and Sandy had had their first kiss. Would his child one day kiss his – or her – first date here too, he wondered, as he emerged on the far side. He covered a further half-mile, then headed back to Cleo’s house. A short circuit today, just over twenty minutes, but it left him feeling refreshed and energized.

Cleo and Humphrey were still asleep. He had a quick shower, microwaved the bowl of porridge Cleo had left out for him, gulped it down while flicking through the pages of yesterday’s Argus, then headed off to the office, pulling into his parking space at the front of Sussex House, the CID headquarters, at a quarter to seven.

If he didn’t get interrupted, he would have a clear hour and a half to deal with his overnight emails and the most urgent of the paperwork before heading to the mortuary for the post-mortem on the Unknown Male, as the body hauled up by the dredger was named at this moment.

First he logged on to the computer and ran his eye over the overnight serials. It had been a quiet night. Among the highlights were a street robbery on a male in Eastern Road, an office break-in, a drunken brawl at a wake at a council estate in Moulescoomb, a trailer overturned on the A27, and six cars broken into in Tidy Street. He paused to read that item thoroughly, as it was just around the corner from Cleo’s home, but the report did not say much. He moved on to a fight at a bus stop on the London Road in the early hours, then the reported theft of a moped.

All minor stuff, he noted as he continued, scanning the entire list. Moments later he heard his door open, followed by an all-too-familiar voice.

‘Yo, old-timer! You come in early, or are you just leaving for the night?’

‘Very funny,’ Grace said, looking up at his friend – and now permanent lodger – Glenn Branson, who looked, like he always did, as if he was all suited and booted to go partying. Tall, black, his shaved head shiny as a snooker ball, the Detective Sergeant was a sharp dresser. Today he wore a shiny grey three-piece suit, a grey and white striped shirt, black loafers and a crimson silk tie. He was holding a mug of coffee in his hand.

‘Heard you were bigging it up with the new CC last night,’ Branson said. ‘Or should I say brown-nosing?’

Grace smiled. He’d been so excited by Cleo’s news that he had struggled to think of anything intelligent to say to the Chief Constable when he’d finally had a few moments with him at the party, and he knew he had failed to make the impression on him that he had hoped for. But that didn’t matter. Cleo was pregnant! Carrying their child. Did anything else really matter? He would have loved to tell Glenn the news, but he and Cleo had agreed last night to keep it quiet. Six weeks was too soon; a lot could happen. So instead he said, ‘Yep, and he’s very concerned about you.’

‘Me?’ Glenn said, looking worried suddenly. ‘Why? What did he say?’

‘It was something about your music. He said that anyone with your taste in music would make a crap police officer.’

For a moment, the DS frowned again. Then he jabbed a finger towards Grace. ‘You bastard!’ he said. ‘You’re winding me up, right?’

Grace grinned. ‘So, what news? When do I get my house back?’

Branson’s face fell. ‘You throwing me out?’

‘I could murder a coffee. You could make me a coffee in lieu of the next month’s rent. Deal?’

‘Bargain. Could have this one but it’s got sugar in it.’

Grace wrinkled his face in disapproval. ‘Kills you, that stuff.’

‘Yeah, well, sooner the better,’ Branson said bleakly, and disappeared.

Five minutes later Branson was sitting on one of the chairs in front of the Detective Superintendent’s desk, cradling his mug of coffee. Grace peered dubiously at his. ‘Did you put sugar in this?’

‘Oh shit! I’ll make you another.’

‘No, it’s OK. I won’t stir it.’ Grace stared at his friend, who looked terrible. ‘Did you remember to feed Marlon?’

‘Yeah.’ He nodded pensively. ‘Me and Marlon, we’ve bonded. We’re like soulmates.’

‘Really? Well, don’t get too close to him.’

Marlon was the goldfish Grace had won at a fairground nine years ago and the fish was still going strong. It was a surly, antisocial creature that had eaten every companion he’d bought for it. Although the six-foot two-inch detective sergeant was probably beyond even that greedy creature’s appetite, he decided. Then he quickly glanced back at the screen, noting a sudden update on the cars broken into in Tidy Street. Two youths had been arrested breaking into a car directly beneath a CCTV camera around the corner, in Trafalgar Street.

Good, he thought with some relief. Except they would probably be released on bail and be back on the streets again tonight.

‘Any developments in the Branson household?’

A few months ago, in an attempt to salvage his marriage, Branson had bought his wife, Ari, an expensive horse for eventing, using compensation he had received for an injury. But that turned out to have resulted in little more than a brief truce in a terminally hostile relationship.

‘Any more horses?’

‘I went over last night to see the kids. She told me I’ll be getting a letter from her solicitor.’ Branson shrugged.

‘A divorce lawyer?’

He nodded glumly.

Grace’s sadness for his friend was only slightly tempered by the realization that this meant Branson would be lodging at his house for a considerable time to come – and he did not have the heart to throw him out.

‘Maybe we could have a drink tonight and chat?’ Branson asked.

Much though he loved this man, Grace responded with a less than enthusiastic, ‘Yup, sure.’ His chats with Glenn about Ari had become interminable, always going over and over the same ground. The reality was that Glenn’s wife not only no longer loved him, but didn’t even like him. Privately, Grace thought she was the kind of woman who would never be satisfied with what she had in any relationship, but each time he tried to tell his friend that, Glenn responded defensively, as if he still believed there was a solution, however elusive.

‘Actually, tell you what, mate,’ Grace said, ‘are you busy this morning?’

‘Yeah – but nothing that can’t wait a few hours. Why?’

‘Got a body hauled up by a dredger yesterday. I put DI Mantle in charge, but she’s on a course up in Bramshill Police College today and tomorrow. Thought you might like to come to the postmortem.’

Branson’s eyes widened as he shook his head in mock disbelief. ‘Boy, you really know how to treat someone when they’re down, don’t you! You’re going to cheer me up by taking me to see a floater having a post-mortem, on a wet November morning. Man, that’s guaranteed to be a laugh a minute.’

‘Yep, well, it might do you good to see someone worse off than yourself.’

‘Thanks a lot.’

‘Besides, Nadiuska’s performing it.’

Quite apart from her professional skills and her cheery personality, Nadiuska De Sancha, the forty-eight-year-old Home Office pathologist, was a striking-looking woman. A statuesque redhead with Russian aristocratic blood, she looked a good decade younger than her years and, despite being happily married to an eminent plastic surgeon, enjoyed flirting and had a wicked sense of humour. Grace had never encountered any officer in the Sussex Police Force who did not fancy her.

‘Ah!’ Branson said, perking up suddenly. ‘You didn’t tell me that bit!’

‘Not that you are so shallow it would have made any difference to your decision.’

‘You’re my boss. I do whatever you tell me.’

‘Really? I’ve never noticed.’

25

Sergeant Tania Whitlock shivered as a cold draught blew steadily in through the window beside her desk. The right side of her face felt as if it was turning to ice. She sipped some hot coffee and glanced at her watch. Ten past eleven. The day was already almost half gone and the piles of reports and forms on her desk that she had to fill in were still alarmingly high. Outside a steady drizzle fell from grey skies.

The window gave her a view across the grass runway and parking area of Shoreham Airport, the oldest civil airport in the world. Built in 1910, on the western extremity of Brighton and Hove, it was now mostly used by private aircraft and flying schools. Some years ago an industrial estate had been developed on land at the edge of the airport, and it was in one of these buildings, a converted warehouse, that the Specialist Search Unit of Sussex Police was based.

Tania had barely heard the drone of an aero engine all morning. Hardly any planes or helicopters had taken off or landed. It seemed that this weather didn’t inspire anyone to go anywhere, and the low cloud ceiling discouraged inexperienced pilots with only visual flight rating.

Please let it continue to be a quiet day, she thought, then turned her attention back to her current task. It was a standard statement form for the Coroner, with space for diagrams, detailing how members of her team had dived last Friday, in Brighton Marina, to recover the body of a yachtsman who had missed his footing, apparently drunk, according to witnesses, and fallen off his gangplank with an outboard motor strapped to his back.

Twenty-nine years old, the sergeant was short and slim, with an alert, attractive face and long dark hair. Wrapped up at this moment in a blue fleece jacket for warmth, over her uniform blue T-shirt, baggy blue trousers and work boots, she looked fragile and delicate. No one meeting her for the first time would have guessed that for the previous five years before her posting here, she had been a member of Brighton and Hove Police’s elite Local Support Team, the frontline police officers who carried out raids and arrests, dealt with public disorder and any other situation where violence was anticipated.

The Specialist Search Unit comprised nine police officers. One, Steve Hargrave, had been a professional deep-sea diver before joining the force. The others had trained at the Police Dive School in Newcastle. One member of the team was an ex-Marine, another a former traffic cop – and a legend in the force because he had once booked his own father for not wearing a seat belt. Tania, the only female, headed the unit, which had, by anyone’s definition, the grimmest task in the entire Sussex Police Force.

Their role was to recover dead bodies and human remains, and to search for evidence in locations which were considered beyond the abilities or too hazardous or too grim for regular police officers. Most of their work involved finding victims underwater – in canals, rivers, lakes, wells, the sea – but their remit had no limits. Among the previous twelve months’ highlights – or lowlights, depending on perspective – her team had recovered forty-seven separate body parts from a particularly horrific car smash, in which six people had died, and the incinerated remains of four people from a light aircraft crash. Partially obscuring the view of parked private planes from her window was a trailer, in police livery, containing sufficient body bags to cope with a wide-bodied-airliner disaster.

Humour helped to keep the unit sane, and every member had a nickname. Hers was Smurf, because she was small and turned blue underwater. Of all the people she had worked with since joining the police, ten years ago, this team was just the greatest. She liked and respected each of her colleagues, and the feeling was mutual.

The building in which they operated housed their diving equipment, including a large Zeppelin inflatable capable of carrying the entire team, a drying room and their lorry, which was equipped with everything from climbing to tunnelling apparatus. They were on permanent standby, 24/7.

Most of the space in Tania’s small, cluttered office was filled with filing cabinets, on the front of one of which was a massive yellow radiation-warning sticker. A whiteboard above her desk listed in blue and turquoise marker pen all immediate priorities. Beside it hung a calendar and a photograph of her four-year-old niece, Maddie. Her laptop, plastic lunch box, lamp, phone and piles of files and forms took up most of the space on her desk.

During the winter months it was permanently freezing cold in here, which was why she had her fleece jacket on. Despite the asthmatic wheezing of the blower heater at her feet, her fingers were so cold she was finding it hard to grip her ballpoint pen. It would feel warmer at the bottom of the English Channel, she thought.

She turned the page of the dive log, then made more notes on the form. Suddenly her phone rang, distracting her, and she answered it a little absently.

‘Sergeant Whitlock.’

Almost instantly she switched to full attention. It was Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, from HQ CID, and it was unlikely that he would be calling for a chat about the weather.

‘Hi,’ he said. ‘How’s things?’

‘Fine, Roy,’ she said, transmitting more enthusiasm than she actually felt today.

‘Did I hear a rumour that you got married not long ago?’

‘In the summer,’ she said.

‘He’s a lucky guy!’

‘Thank you, Roy! I hope someone tells him! So – what can I do for you?’

‘I’m at Brighton mortuary – we’re doing a Home Office PM on a young male hauled up yesterday by the dredger, Arco Dee, about ten miles south of Shoreham Harbour.’

‘I know the Arco Dee – it operates mostly out of Shoreham and Newhaven.’

‘Yes. I think I’m going to need you guys to take a look and see if there’s anything else down there.’

‘What information can you give me?’

‘We have a pretty good fix on the position where they found it. The body was wrapped in plastic and weighted down. It could be a burial at sea, but I’m not sure about that.’

‘Presumably the Arco Dee hauled it up from a designated dredge area?’ she said, starting to make notes on her pad.

‘Yes.’

‘There’s a specific charted area for burials at sea. It’s possible a body could drift from there in the currents, but unlikely if it was a professional burial. Want me to come over?’

‘If you wouldn’t mind?’

‘I’ll be there in half an hour.’

‘Thanks.’

As she hung up, she grimaced. She’d been planning to leave early today to get home to cook her husband, Rob, a special meal tonight. He loved Thai food and she’d stopped and bought everything she needed on the way in – including some fresh prawns and a very plump sea bass. Rob, a pilot with British Airways long haul, was home tonight before going away again for nine days. By the sound of it, her plans had just headed out the window.

Her door opened and Steve Hargrave, nicknamed Gonzo, peered in. ‘Just wondered if you were busy, chief, or if you had a couple of minutes for a chat.’

She gave him an acidic smile that could have dissolved a steel girder in less time than it took for him to register her displeasure.

Raising a finger as he started retreating, he said, ‘Not a good moment, right?’

She continued smiling.

26

Who are you? Roy Grace wondered, staring down at the naked body of Unknown Male, who was laid out on his back on the stainless-steel table in the centre of the post-mortem room, beneath the cold glare of the overhead lights. Someone’s child. Maybe someone’s brother too. Who loves you? Who will be devastated by your death?

It was strange, he thought. This place used to give him the creeps every time he came here. But that had all changed when Cleo Morey arrived as the new Senior Anatomical Pathology Technician. Now he came here eagerly, at any opportunity. Even in her blue gown, green plastic apron and white rubber boots, Cleo still looked incredibly sexy.

Maybe he was just perverse, or perhaps it was true what they said about love blinding you.

It struck him that mortuaries shared something in common with lawyers’ offices. Not many people, other than their staff, came to mortuaries because they were happy. If you were an overnight guest here, it meant you were pretty seriously dead. If you were a visitor, it meant that someone you knew and loved had just died, suddenly, unexpectedly and quite often brutally.

Housed in a long, low, grey pebbledash-rendered bungalow, just off the Lewes Road gyratory system and adjoining the beautiful, hillside setting of Woodvale Cemetery, Brighton and Hove City Mortuary consisted of a covered receiving bay, an office, a multi-faith chapel, a glass-sided viewing room, two storage areas, recently refurbished with wider fridges to accommodate the increasing trend of obese cadavers, an isolation room for suspected deaths from AIDS and other contagious diseases, and the main post-mortem room, where they were now.

On the far side of the wall he heard the whine of an angle-grinder. Building work was going on to extend the mortuary.

The greyness of the day outside was grimly matched by the atmosphere in here. Grey light diffused through the opaque windows. Grey tiled walls. Brown and grey speckled tiles on the floor that were a close match to the colour of a dead human brain. Apart from the blue surgical gowns worn by everyone in here, and the green plastic aprons of the mortuary staff and the pathologist, the only colour in the whole room was the bright pink disinfectant in the upended plastic dispenser by the washbasin.

The post-mortem room reeked, permanently and unpleasantly, of Jeyes Fluid and Trigene disinfectant – sometimes compounded by the stomach-churning, freshly unblocked-drain stench that came from opened-up cadavers.

As always with a Home Office post-mortem, the room was crowded. In addition to himself, Nadiuska and Cleo, there were Darren Wallace, the Assistant Mortuary Technician, a young man of twenty-one who had started life as a butcher’s apprentice; Michael Forman, a serious, intense man in his mid-thirties, who was the Coroner’s Officer; James Gartrell, the burly forensic photographer; and a queasy-looking Glenn Branson, who was standing some distance back. Grace had observed several times in the past that, despite the Detective Sergeant’s big, tough frame, he always had a problem at post-mortems.

Unknown Male’s flesh was a waxy off-white. It was the colour Roy Grace had long associated with bodies in which the life forces had ceased, but on which decomposition had not yet begun to present, to the naked eye at least, its hideous processes. The winter weather and the cold of the seawater would have helped to delay the onset, but it was clear that Unknown Male had not been dead for long.

Nadiuska De Sancha, her red hair clipped up, tortoiseshell glasses perched on her finely sculpted nose, estimated that death had probably occurred four or five days ago – but she was not able to get closer than that. Nor was she able to establish, for the moment at any rate, the precise cause of death, largely on account of the fact that Unknown Male was short of most of his vital organs.

He was a good-looking young man, with close-cropped, downy black hair, a Roman nose and brown eyes that were fixed open. His body was lean and bony – but from undernourishment rather than exercise, Grace judged from the lack of muscle tone. His genitals were modestly covered by the fleshy triangle of skin from his sternum, which had been removed and placed there by Nadiuska, as if to afford him some dignity in death. The flesh of his chest and stomach, either side of the massive incision running down his midriff, was clamped back, revealing a startlingly hollow ribcage, with the intestines, like shiny, translucent rope, coiled beneath.

On the wall to their left was a chart for listing the weight of the brain, lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and spleen of each cadaver examined in here. There was a dash against each item, except for the brain, the only vital organ the cadaver still possessed, and very likely to be the only one that would go to his grave with him.

The pathologist removed his bladder, laid it on the metal dissecting tray, which was on raised legs above the cadaver’s thighs, then made one sharp incision to open it. She carefully bottled and sealed samples of the fluid that poured out, for tests.

‘What’s your assessment so far?’ Grace asked her.

‘Well,’ she said, in her exquisite broken English, ‘the cause of death is not absolute at this moment, Roy. There’s no petechial haemorrhaging to indicate suffocation or drowning, and with the absence of his lungs I can’t say for sure at this point if he was dead prior to immersion. But I think we can surmise, from the fact that his organs were removed, that was pretty likely.’

‘Not many surgeons operate underwater,’ Michael Forman quipped.

‘I don’t have much to go on from the stomach contents,’ she continued. ‘Most of it has been dissolved by the digestion process, although that slows post-mortem. But there are some particles of what looks like chicken, potato and broccoli – so that indicates he was capable of eating a proper meal in the hours preceding death. That is not really consistent with his absence of organs.’

‘In what way?’ Grace asked, conscious of the inquisitive eyes of the Coroner’s Officer and Glenn Branson.

‘Well,’ she said, and waved her scalpel down his opened midriff. ‘This is the kind of incision a surgeon would make if he was harvesting organs from a donor. All the internal organs have been surgically excised, by someone experienced. Consistent with this is the fact that the blood vessels have all been tied off with sutures before being cut through to remove the organs.’ She pointed. ‘The perinephric fat that would have been around the kidneys – the suet, if you are a cook – has been opened with a blade.’

Grace reminded himself not to eat suet for a long time to come.

‘So,’ Nadiuska continued, ‘all this would indicate that he was an organ donor. Now, what directs me even more towards this possibility is the presence of these external indications of medical intervention.’ She pointed again. ‘A needle mark in the back of the hand.’ She gestured at the neck. ‘A puncture mark.’ Then she pointed at the right elbow. ‘Another puncture mark in the antecubital fosse. These are consistent with the insertion of cannulae for drips and drugs.’

Then, taking a small torch, she gently levered open the dead man’s mouth with her gloved fingers and shone the beam in. ‘If you look closely you can see reddening and ulceration to the inside of the windpipe, just below the voice box, which would have been caused by the balloon inflated on the end of the endotracheal ventilator tube.’

Grace nodded. ‘But he ate a meal of solids – he couldn’t have done that with an endotracheal tube, right?’

‘Absolutely right, Roy,’ she said. ‘I don’t understand this.’

‘Perhaps he was an organ donor who was subsequently buried at sea, and then carried by currents away from the burial zone?’ Glenn Branson suggested.

The pathologist pursed her lips. ‘It’s a possibility. Yes,’ she concurred. ‘But the majority of organ donors tend to be on life support for a period of time, during which they would be intubated and on intravenous drip feeds. It is odd to me that there is undigested food in his stomach. When I do the tox screen, that may show up muscle relaxants and other drugs that would be used for the removal of organs for transplant.’

‘Can you give me an approximation of how many hours from when he had eaten until he died?

‘From the state of the food, four to six at maximum.’

‘Couldn’t he have died suddenly?’ Grace asked. ‘A heart attack, or a car – or maybe motorbike – accident?’

‘He doesn’t have injuries consistent with a serious accident, Roy. He has no head or brain trauma. A heart attack or an asthma attack is a possibility, but considering his age – late teens – both, I would say, are a little improbable. I think we could be looking for some other cause.’

‘Such as?’ Grace scribbled a sudden note on his pad, thinking of something that would need following up.

‘I can’t speculate at this stage. Hopefully lab tests will tell us something. If we could get his identity, that might help us also.’

‘We’re working on that,’ he said.

‘I’m sure it is the lab tests that will provide the key. I think it is very unlikely that the tapings are going to produce anything, as he wasn’t in waterproof wrapping,’ the pathologist went on. Then she paused briefly, before adding, ‘There is one other thought. This food in the stomach. In the UK, because there is no automatic organ harvesting without consent, it does often take many hours from brain death for consent to be obtained from next of kin. But in countries where there is just an opt-out, like Austria and Spain, then the process can be much quicker. So it is possible that this man is from one of those countries.’

Grace thought about this. ‘OK, but if he died in Spain or Austria, what is he doing ten miles off the coast of England?’

There was a shrill ring on the doorbell. Darren, the Assistant Mortuary Technician, hurried out of the room. A couple of minutes later he returned with Sergeant Tania Whitlock, from the Specialist Search Unit, gowned and in protective boots.

Roy Grace brought her up to speed. She asked to see the plastic sheeting and weights in which the body had been found, and Cleo took her out into the storage area to show her. Then they returned to the post-mortem room. The Home Office pathologist was busy dictating notes into her machine. Grace, Glenn Branson and Michael Forman were standing near the cadaver. The photographer walked out to the storage area to start working on close-ups of the wrapping and binding.

‘Do you think he could have drifted in the currents from a designated burial-at-sea area?’ Grace asked Tania.

‘It’s possible,’ she said, breathing in through her mouth, trying to ignore the stench. ‘But those weights are pretty heavy, and we’ve had mild weather conditions recently. I can get you a plot done, showing where it might have come from with lesser weights on, if that would be helpful.’

‘It might be. Could it be a burial at sea where they got the position wrong?’

‘A possibility,’ she said. ‘But I’ve checked with the Arco Dee. They found him fifteen nautical miles east of the designated Brighton and Hove burial-at-sea site. It would be a pretty big error.’

‘That’s what I’m thinking too,’ he said. ‘We have a fairly precise position where he was brought up from, right?’

‘Very accurate,’ the Sergeant said. ‘To within a couple of hundred yards or so.’

‘I think we should take a look at what else might be down there, as quickly as possible,’ Grace said. ‘Do you have time to start today?’

Tania looked at the clock on the wall and then, as if mistrusting it, at her chunky diver’s watch. Next she glanced at the window. ‘Sunset is about four o’clock today,’ she said. ‘Ten miles out in the Channel, the sea’s going to be quite choppy – we’d need to rent a bigger dive boat than our inflatable for working out there. We have about three hours of daylight left. What I suggest is we get a dive boat sorted for first light in the morning – this time of year there are a few deep-sea fishing charter boats that don’t have many customers. We can start at dawn. But in the meantime, we can get out to the area in the inflatable and buoy it off, to make sure the dredgers don’t disturb anything else down there.’

‘Brilliant!’ he said.

‘That’s what we’re here for!’ she said, feeling a lot more cheerful than when she had arrived. She could get all that organized and still make it home in time to prepare the meal.

Turning to Glenn Branson, Grace said, ‘You look a bit peaky.’

He nodded. ‘Yeah. Does it to me every time, this place.’

‘You know what you need?’

‘What?’

‘A spot of sea air! A nice cruise.’

‘Yeah. A cruise would be very nice.’

‘Good!’ Grace gave him a pat on the back. ‘You’re going on one tomorrow morning with Tania.’

Branson screwed up his face and pointed at the window. ‘Shit, man, the forecast’s crap! I thought you meant the Caribbean or something!’

‘Start with the Channel. It’s a good place to get your sea legs.’

‘I haven’t even got any yachting gear!’ he moaned.

‘You won’t need any, you’ll be larging it on the first-class deck!’

Tania eyed Glenn dubiously. ‘The forecast’s not great. Are you a good sailor?’

‘No, I’m not,’ he said. ‘Believe me!’

27

There had been no deterioration in Nat’s condition overnight, which was one blessing, Susan thought, trying to find positive things as she sat on her long vigil beside his bed. But there had been no improvement either. He continued to be a silent stranger, propped up at his thirty-degree angle, wired and plumbed into the almost bewildering array of life-support and monitoring apparatus.

The round institutional clock on the wall said ten to one. Nearly lunchtime, which would not mean much to Nat, or to most of his fellow patients here in the ITU. The nutrients entered his body all day and night through a constant trickle down the nasogastric tube. And suddenly, despite her tiredness, Susan smiled at a thought. She was always chiding Nat for being late for meals. His hours as a medic at the hospital were utterly erratic and often, with no prior warning, he had to stay on late into the night. But even when he was at home, he always had just one more email to check, darling! whenever she called out to him that lunch or dinner was on the table.

Well, at least you are not late for your meals in here, she thought, and smiled again wistfully. Then she sniffed, pulled a tissue from the pocket of her jacket and dabbed away tears that were rolling down her cheeks.

Shit. This cannot be how it ends. Surely not?

As if in agreement, or to give her reassurance, the baby kicked inside her.

‘Thank you, Bump,’ she whispered.

Since the consultant, dressed in an open-necked shirt and grey trousers, accompanied by a group of gowned medics, had finished his round half an hour or so ago, the ITU seemed eerily quiet. Almost the only sounds were the alarms going off every few minutes, sounds that were increasingly getting on Susan’s nerves. There were alarms on the vital-signs monitors of each of the patients.

Despite the fact that there was one nurse on duty for every patient in here, the place seemed deserted. There was some activity going on behind the drawn blue curtains of the bed opposite, and Susan could see a woman polishing the floor, a yellow warning sign saying CLEANING IN PROGRESS set out near her. A couple of beds along, a physiotherapist was massaging the legs of an elderly, wired and intubated man. All the patients were silent, some sleeping, some staring vacantly. Susan had seen several visitors come and go, but at the moment she was the only one on the ward itself.

She heard again the almost musical beep-beep-bong of an alarm, like the chimes on an aircraft from an irritated passenger trying to summon a stewardess. It was coming from somewhere out of sight, over on the far side of the ward.

Nat was in Bed 14. The beds in here were numbered from 1 to 17. But, in fact, there were only sixteen beds in this unit. Because of superstition, there was no Bed 13. So Bed 14 was actually Bed 13.

Nat was a good doctor. He thought about everything, analysed everything, rationalized everything. He had no truck with superstition of any kind. Whereas Susan had always been very superstitious. She didn’t like to see a single magpie without spotting a second one, or to stare at a new moon through glass, and she would never, ever, knowingly walk under a ladder. She was not at all happy that he was in this particular bed. But the ward was full, so she could hardly ask for him to be swapped with someone else.

She stood up, stifling a yawn, and walked a couple of paces to the end of the bed, where the nurse’s laptop sat on a trolley. Yesterday had been a long day. She’d stayed here until close on midnight, then had driven home and tried to sleep, but after a few fitful hours, she’d given up. Instead she had showered, made herself a strong coffee, collected some of Nat’s Eagles and Snow Patrol CDs and his wash things, as the nurse had suggested, and driven back.

The iPod headset had been plugged into his ears for several hours now, but so far he had shown no response. Usually, even seated in his den, he swayed, nodded his head, rolled his shoulders, waved his arms around in slow motion whenever he played his music. He was a great dancer on the occasions when he let his hair down. She remembered being mesmerized by his timing when he’d rock ’n’ rolled with her the first time they’d danced together, at a nurse’s birthday party.

Now she stared at him. At the ribbed, see-through endotracheal tube in his mouth. At the tiny probe in his skull, taped in place, that measured his intracranial pressure. At all the other stuff taped to him and cannulated into him. At the hump from the cage raising the weight of his bedclothes off his broken legs. She looked at the main monitoring screen, at the spikes and waveforms indicating the state of his vital signs.

Nat’s heart rate was currently 77, which was OK. His blood pressure, 160 over 90, was OK too. His oxygen saturation levels were fine. The ICP moved between 15 and 20. In a normal person it should be below 10. Above 25 would be a concern.

‘Hello, Nat, darling,’ she said, and touched his right arm, above the identity tag and the plasters holding the drip lines in place. Then she gently removed the iPod earpieces and put her mouth close to his right ear, trying to sound as cheerful and positive as she could. ‘I’m here with you, my darling. I love you. Bump’s been kicking quite a bit. Can you hear me? How are you feeling? You’re doing OK, you know! You are hanging in there. You are doing fine! You are going to be absolutely fine!’

She waited some moments, then replaced the earpieces again and walked around the white swivel hoist which held several pieces of apparatus, including the syringe pumps that supplied the drugs keeping him stable and sedated, and his blood pressure up. She continued along the blue linoleum floor, past the blue curtains on the rail behind the bed and up to the window, with its blue venetian blinds. Then she stared down to her left, at a long line of traffic queuing for the car park. Directly below her was a modern, paved courtyard, with benches and picnic tables, and a tall, smooth sculpture that she found creepy, because it looked like a ghost.

She was crying again. Then, as she dabbed her eyes, she heard that damn alarm again. But much louder than before. BEEP-BEEP-BONG.

She turned. Stared at the waveforms on the monitor, feeling a sudden, terrible panic. ‘Nurse!’ she called, looking around, bewildered, then running towards the nursing station. ‘Nurse! Nurse!’

The volume of the alarm was increasing every second, deafening her.

Then she saw the big, cheery, bald male nurse, who had come on duty at half past seven that morning, sprinting past her towards Nat, his face a mask of anxiety.

28

The baby had been quiet for several hours and now it was Simona who was crying. She lay, holding Gogu tight to her face, curled up beside the heating pipe. She sobbed, slept a little, then woke and sobbed again.

All the others, except for Valeria and the baby, were out. On the crackly music system, Tracy Chapman was singing ‘Fast Car’. Valeria often played Tracy Chapman; the baby seemed to like her music and went quiet, as if the songs were lullabies. Outside, up on the road above them, it was a cold, wet day, rain on the verge of sleet, and an icy draught blew in down here. The flames of the candles, jammed on to stalagmites of melted wax on the concrete floor, guttered, making the shadows jump.

They had no electricity, so candles provided the only light and they used them sparingly. Sometimes they bought them with money they got from selling stuff they stole, or with the cash from picking pockets and snatching handbags, but mostly they shoplifted them from mini-markets.

On occasions when they were desperate – although Simona really did not like doing this – they stole candles from Orthodox churches. Working with Romeo, distracting onlookers, they would cram their pockets full of the thin, brown candles, the ones bereaved people paid for and lit for their loved ones, placing them in large three-sided metal boxes; one box for the living and the other for the dead.

But she was always scared that God would punish them for this. And as she lay sobbing now, she wondered if that had been God’s punishment last night.

She had never been to church, and no one had ever taught her how to pray, but the carer at the home she had been in had told her about God, that he watched her all the time and would punish her for every bad thing that she did.

Beyond the yellow glow of the flames, where the shadows never moved, darkness stretched away into the distance, until the tunnel housing the pipe ended at the point where the pipe surfaced and then ran overground across the suburb of Crângaşi. There were whole communities of street people there, she had seen, who lived in shanty villages, in makeshift huts built against the pipe. Simona had lived in one for a while herself, but inside it was small and cramped, and the roof let the rain in.

She preferred to be here. There was more space and it was dry. Although she never liked to be here entirely alone – she had always been afraid of that darkness beyond the candles, and the mice and rats and spiders it contained. And something else, far worse.

Romeo used to explore the darkness, but he never found anything, other than skeletons of rodents and, once, a broken supermarket basket. Then, one day, Valeria had brought a man back here. She regularly had men here, screwing noisily and openly, not caring who saw. But this particular man spooked them all. He had a ponytail, a silver cross hanging from his neck, and he carried a Bible. He did not want to sleep with her, he told her. He wanted to talk to them all about God and the devil. He told them that the devil lived in the darkness beyond the candles, because, like them, the devil needed the warmth of the pipes.

And he told them that the devil was watching them all, and they were damned because of their sins, and they should be careful when they slept, in case he crawled out of that darkness and snatched one of them.

Simona called out suddenly, ‘Valeria, is God punishing me?’

Valeria left the baby asleep, on a bed made from a quilted jacket, and walked across to Simona, crouching to avoid hitting her head on the rivets that protruded from the cross-girders supporting the road above them. She was dressed in the same clothes as always, emerald puffa over her gaudy-coloured jogging suit, her lank brown hair hanging as straight as laces either side of her haunted face. Then she put an arm around Simona.

‘No, that was not God punishing you. It was a bad person, just a bad person, that’s all.’

‘I don’t want this life any more. I want to go away from here.’

‘Where do you want to go?’ she asked.

Simona shrugged helplessly, then began sobbing again.

‘I want to go to England,’ Valeria said. She smiled wistfully, and her face suddenly came alive. She nodded. ‘England. We are in the EU now. We can go.’

Simona continued to sob for some minutes, then she stopped. ‘What is the EU?’

‘It’s a thing. It means Romanian people can go to England.’

‘Would it be better in England?’

‘I met some people a while ago who were going. They had jobs as erotic dancers. Big money. Maybe you and I could be erotic dancers.’

Simona sniffed. ‘I don’t know how to dance.’

‘I think there are other jobs. You know, in bars, restaurants. Maybe in a bakery even.’

‘I’d like to go,’ Simona said. ‘I’d like to go now.’ She sniffed. ‘Will you come with me? Maybe you and me and Romeo – and the baby, of course.’

‘There are people who know. I have to find someone who can help. Do you think Romeo will want to come too?’

She shrugged. Then behind them, they heard Romeo’s voice.

‘Hi! I’m back and I have something!’

He jumped down from several rungs up the ladder and walked over to them, dripping wet and panting, his hood up over his head. ‘I ran,’ he said. ‘Long way. Several places, you know, watched me, they got to know us. I had to go a long way. But I got it!’ His huge, saucer-like eyes were smiling brightly as he dug his hand inside his jacket and pulled out the pink plastic bag.

He stopped and coughed violently for some moments, then removed a squat, plastic bottle of metallic paint and twisted the lid to snap the seal.

Simona watched him, everything else suddenly gone from her mind.

He poured a small amount of the paint into the bag, then, holding it by the neck, passed it to her, making sure she had a good grip on it before letting go.

She brought the neck to her mouth, blew into it, as if inflating a balloon, then inhaled deeply through her mouth. She exhaled, then inhaled deeply again. And a third time. Now, suddenly, her face relaxed. She gave a distant smile. Her eyes rolled up, then down, glazing over.

For a short while, her pain was gone.

*

The black Mercedes drove slowly along the road, tyres sluicing through the rain, windscreen wipers clop-copping. It passed a small, run-down mini-market, a café, a butcher’s, an Orthodox church covered in scaffolding, a car wash, with three men hosing down a white van, and a cluster of dogs, their fur ruffled by the wind.

Two people sat in the back of the car, a neat-looking man in his late forties, wearing a black coat over a grey, roll-neck jumper, and a woman, a little younger, with an attractive, open face beneath a tangle of fair hair, who wore a fleece-collared leather jacket over a baggy jumper, tight jeans and black suede boots, and big costume jewellery. She looked as if she might once have been a minor rock star, or an equally minor actress.

The driver pulled over in front of a decrepit high-rise building, with laundry hanging from half the windows and a dozen satellite television dishes fixed to the bare walls, and turned off the engine. Then he pointed through the windscreen at a jagged hole where the road met the pavement.

‘There,’ he said. ‘That’s where she lives.’

‘So there’s likely to be several of them down there,’ the man in the back said.

‘Yes, but careful of the one I told you about,’ the driver said. ‘She’s feisty.’

With the wipers off, the steady droplets of rain were fast turning the screen opaque. Passers-by became blurred shapes. That was good. On top of the blacked-out windows, that would make it even harder for anyone to see in. The cars in this neighbourhood were beat-up wrecks. Every person walking past was going to notice the gleaming S-Class Mercedes, and wonder what it was doing here and who was inside.

‘OK,’ the woman said. ‘Good. Let’s go.’

The car pulled away.

Beneath the tarmac under its tyres, the baby slept. Valeria read a newspaper that was several days old. Tracy Chapman was singing ‘Fast Car’ again. Romeo held the neck of the plastic bag in his mouth, exhaling and inhaling.

Simona lay on her mattress, serene now, her head full of dreams of England. She saw a tall clock tower called Big Ben. She dropped cubes of ice into a glass, then poured in whisky. Lights glided past her. The lights of a city. People in that city smiled. She heard laughter. She was in a huge room with paintings and statues. It was dry in this room. She felt no pain in her body or her heart.

When, a long time later, she woke, her mind was set.

29

Lynn Beckett woke with a start. For some moments she had no idea where she was. Her right leg felt numb and her back ached. She stared, bewildered, at a cartoon on a television set that was mounted on a wall high up above her, suspended on a metal arm. On the screen, a man was being strapped to a catapult and aimed at a brick wall. Moments later he flew through it, leaving the wall intact but with an imprint of himself, like a stencil.

Then she remembered, and began gently pummelling her thigh, trying to get the circulation going. She was in Caitlin’s private room, off a small ward in the liver unit of the Royal South London Hospital. She must have drifted off. There was a faint smell of food. Mashed potatoes. As well as disinfectant and polish. Then she saw Caitlin beside her, lying in bed in her nightdress, her hair tousled, staring as ever at her mobile phone, reading something on the display. Beyond her, through the window of the small room, Lynn saw part of a crane, and the breeze blocks and spikes of a building under construction.

Despite having been allocated a bedroom, she had slept here last night, beside Caitlin. At one point, in agony from the cramped position of the chair, she had climbed into the bed and slept, curled up against her daughter, like spoons.

They had been woken at some horribly early hour and Caitlin had been wheeled off for a scan. Then, a while later, she had been wheeled back. Different nurses had come in and taken blood samples. At nine Lynn, feeling grungy and unwashed, had phoned work, telling her tough but kind team manager, Liv Thomas, that she did not know when she would be back. Liv was understanding about it, but suggested Lynn might want to work some extra hours in the following week to keep on target. Lynn said she would do her best.

And she sure as hell needed the money. It was costing her a fortune to be up here: £3 a day for Caitlin’s access to the TV and phone service; £15 per day to park; the cost of eating in the hospital canteen. And all the time running the risk of her employers deciding enough was enough and sacking her. She had used the entire, modest divorce settlement with Mal for the down payment on the house she now lived in with Caitlin, wanting to give her a proper home, to raise her with as much normality and security as possible. But it had been, and continued to be, a worrying financial stretch for her. As an additional worry, she was faced with having to come up with the money to fix her car, to get it through the imminent MOT.

Her job paid well, but her pay was performance-related, like a salesman’s. She needed to put in the hours to reach her targets and there was always the lure of a weekly bonus to the best performer. She took home, in a normal week, a lot more than a secretary/receptionist or a PA could earn in Brighton and Hove, and as she had no formal qualifications she considered herself lucky. But by the time she had paid the household bills and for petrol, Caitlin’s guitar lessons and all the stuff Caitlin had to have, like her mobile to keep in contact with her friends, and laptop and her clothes, as well as a few luxuries, like their bargain package holiday this summer to Sharm el Sheikh, she was left with very little. In addition, she was forever having to top up Caitlin’s empty current account. Her eight years at the debt collection agency had given her a morbid fear of owing money and for that reason she hated having to use credit cards herself.

Mal had at least been fair on the divorce settlement, and he did help out a little with his daughter, but Lynn was too proud to consider asking him for more. Her mother did what she could as well, but money was tight for her too. At the moment, Lynn had just over £1,000 put aside, which she had been saving all year, determined to give Caitlin a good Christmas – not that she was ever sure whether her daughter really connected to Christmas. Or to birthdays. Or to anything, really, that she had always considered normal life.

She wasn’t sure she could risk leaving Caitlin today and driving back to Brighton for work. Caitlin was not happy about being here and was in one of her strange moods, more angry than afraid. If she left her, she was scared her daughter might check herself out. She glanced at her watch. It was ten to one. On the screen, the man was in a house, making angry faces and puffing himself up. He ran out, straight through the front door, taking the whole front of the house with him. Despite herself, Lynn grinned. She’d been a sucker for cartoons all her life.

Caitlin was now tapping keys on her phone.

‘I’m sorry, darling,’ her mother said. ‘I drifted off.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ Caitlin said, grinning suddenly, without taking her eyes from her phone. ‘Old people need their sleep.’

Despite her woes, Lynn laughed. ‘Thanks a lot!’

‘No, really,’ Caitlin said with a cheeky grin. ‘I just saw a programme about it on television. I thought about waking you, cos you ought to see it. But, you know, as it was about old people needing their sleep, I thought it was better not to!’

‘You cheeky monkey!’ Lynn tried to move, but both her legs had stiffened up.

There was a grinding roar of construction machinery outside. Then the door opened and the transplant coordinator they had met last night came in.

Today, rested and in daylight looking even more the English rose, Shirley Linsell was wearing a blue sleeveless cardigan over a white blouse and dark brown slacks.

‘Hi,’ she said. ‘How are we today?’

Caitlin ignored her, continuing to text.

‘Fine!’ Lynn said, resolutely rising to her feet and pounding her dead thighs with both fists. ‘Cramp!’ she said, by way of explanation.

The transplant coordinator gave her a brief, sympathetic smile, then said, ‘The next test we are going to do is a liver biopsy.’ Walking across to Caitlin, she went on, ‘You are busy – got a lot of messages?’

‘I’m sending out instructions,’ Caitlin said. ‘You know, like what to do with my body and stuff.’

Lynn saw the shock on the coordinator’s face and the quizzical look on her daughter’s, that expression she so often had where it was impossible to tell if she was joking or being serious.

‘I think we have plenty of options for making you better, Caitlin,’ Shirley Linsell said in pleasant tone that did not patronize Lynn’s daughter.

Caitlin pressed her lips together and looked up with a wistful expression. ‘Yeah, well. Whatever.’ She shrugged. ‘Best to be prepared, right?’

Shirley Linsell smiled. ‘I think it’s best to be positive!’

Caitlin rocked her head sideways a few times, as if weighing this up. Then she nodded. ‘OK.’

‘What we’d like to do now, Caitlin, is to give you a small local anaesthetic, then we will take a tiny amount of your liver out with a needle. You won’t feel any pain at all. Dr Suddle will be here in a minute to tell you more about it.’

Abid Suddle was Caitlin’s consultant. A youthful, handsome thirty-seven-year-old of Afghan descent, he was the one person who, in Lynn’s view, Caitlin always seemed comfortable with. But he wasn’t always around, as the medical team were constantly being rotated.

‘You won’t take too much, will you?’ Caitlin asked.

‘Just the tiniest amount.’

‘You know, like, I know it’s fucked. So I sort of need whatever I’ve got left.’

The coordinator gave her a strange look, again uncertain whether Caitlin was joking.

‘We’ll take the absolute minimum we need. Don’t worry. It’s a minute amount.’

‘Yep, well, I’ll be pretty pissed off if you take too much.’

‘We don’t have to take any,’ the coordinator assured her gently. ‘Not if you don’t want us to.’

‘Right, cool,’ Caitlin said. ‘That would mean Plan B, right?’

‘Plan B?’ the transplant coordinator queried.

Caitlin spoke, still staring at her phone. ‘Yep, if I decide I don’t want your tests.’ Her expression was blank, unreadable. ‘That would be Plan B, wouldn’t it?’

‘What do you mean exactly, Caitlin?’ Shirley Linsell asked gently.

‘Plan B means I die. But, personally, I think Plan B is a pretty crap plan.’

30

After the post-mortem on Unknown Male, Roy Grace drove back to CID headquarters. He spent the entire journey talking on his hands-free to Christine Morgan, the Donor Liaison Sister at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, learning as much as he could about the human organ transplant process, in particular the administration of the supply of organs and donation procedures.

He finished the call as he drove into the car park at the front of Sussex House, manoeuvred around a parking cone marking off a space reserved for a visitor and pulled into his parking slot. Then he switched off the engine and sat, deep in thought, puzzling over who this dead young man was and what might have happened to him. Rain rattled on the roof and pattered on the windscreen, steadily covering it, turning the white wall in front of him into a shimmering, blurry mosaic.

The pathologist was convinced the organs had been professionally, surgically removed. The young man’s heart, lungs, kidneys and liver were gone, but not his stomach, intestines or bladder. From her own experience with organ donor bodies she had processed through the mortuary, Cleo had confirmed that families of donors often gave consent for those items, but wanted the eyes and skin retained.

The big inconsistency remained that Unknown Male had eaten a meal only hours before. A maximum of six hours before, the pathologist had estimated. Christine Morgan had just told him that even in the event of the sudden death of a victim who was on the National Organ Donor Register and carrying a donor card, it was extremely unlikely, to the point of pretty much an impossibility, that the organs would be harvested so quickly. There was paperwork to be signed by the next of kin. Matching recipients to be found on the databases. Specialist surgical organ recovery teams to be dispatched from the different hospitals where the organs would be taken for transplant. Normally the body, even if brain-stem dead, would be kept on life-support systems, to keep the organs perfused with blood, oxygen and nutrients until removed, for many hours, and sometimes days.

The timing was not absolutely impossible, she told Roy. But she had never experienced a situation where things had happened so quickly, and the young man had definitely not been in her hospital.

He picked up his blue, A4 notebook from the passenger seat, rested it against the steering wheel and wrote AUSTRIA? SPAIN? OPT-OUT COUNTRIES? Was it really a possibility that Unknown Male was an Austrian or Spanish organ donor buried at sea? Austria was a landlocked country. And if he was from Spain could he have drifted over 100 miles in just a few days?

Improbable enough to be discounted at this stage.

He felt hungry suddenly and glanced at the car clock. It was quarter past two. He never normally had much of an appetite after a post-mortem, but it had been a long time since his early-morning bowl of porridge.

Turning up the collar of his raincoat, he sprinted across the road, climbed over a low but awkward brick wall, ran up the short, muddy track and through the gap in the hedge, the standard shortcut to the ASDA superstore which served as Sussex House’s unofficial canteen.

*

Ten minutes later he was seated at his desk and unwrapping a dismally healthy-looking salmon and cucumber sandwich. Some while back Cleo had started quizzing him on what he ate when he wasn’t with her, knowing his tendency for junk food while at work and that for the past nine years he had survived on microwaved instant meals at home.

So at least he could look her in the face tonight and tell her he had eaten a Healthy Option sandwich. He would just conveniently omit the Coke, the KitKat and the caramel doughnut.

He quickly glanced through the post his MSA, Eleanor, had piled on his desk. On the top was a typed note in response to the Police National Computer registration plate check he had requested on the Mercedes he had seen earlier this morning, GX57 CKL. It was registered to a Joseph Richard Baker at an address he recognized as a high-rise block close to the seafront, behind the Metropole Hotel. The name was vaguely familiar but nothing that ran up any flags. There was no marker on the vehicle. There was a Joe Baker who had long been around the seedier side of Brighton, running saunas and massage parlours. It figured he would be out late and in a flash set of wheels.

He turned his attention to his emails, noting a few that needed urgent replies, then logged on to the serials. As he glanced through them, noting the usual domestics, muggings, break-ins, moped thefts and RTCs, but not major incidents, he took a bite of the sandwich, wishing he had gone for the All Day Breakfast option of a triple-decker egg, bacon and sausage wedge instead. Then, unscrewing the cap of the Coke, he remembered his promise yesterday to the Argus reporter. Reaching for his Rolodex, he spun it to find the man’s card and dialled his mobile number.

It sounded as if Kevin Spinella, who answered instantly, was also eating his lunch.

‘I don’t have much for you,’ Grace told him. ‘I’m not holding a press conference. Instead I’m just going to send out a press release, so I’ll give you the exclusive I promised. OK?’

‘Very good of you, Detective Superintendent. I appreciate it.’

‘Well, I think most of it you already know. The dredger, Arco Dee, pulled up the body of an unidentified male, believed to be in his mid-teens, yesterday afternoon, ten miles south of Shoreham Harbour, in its designated dredge area. A Home Office post-mortem was carried out this morning and the cause of death is as yet undetermined.’

‘Would that be on account of all the vital organs being missing, Detective Superintendent?’

How the hell do you know that? This was a real, ongoing problem, Grace realized. Where did Spinella get his information from? Some day soon he was going to find the leak. Was it someone here, within HQ CID, or at the Coroner’s Office, or in one of the uniform divisions or even at the mortuary? He thought carefully before answering, listening to the somewhat unpleasant sound of the reporter chewing.

‘I can confirm that the body has been subject to recent surgery.’

‘An organ donor, right?’

‘I’d rather you didn’t print that for the moment.’

There was a long silence. ‘But I’m correct?’

‘You would be correct to print that the body has been subject to recent surgery.’

Another silence. Then a reluctant, ‘OK.’ More chewing, followed by, ‘What can you tell me about the body?’

‘We estimate it has only been in the water for a few days at most.’

‘Nationality?’

‘Unknown. Our priority is to track down his identity. It would be helpful to me if you printed something along the lines that Sussex Police would like to hear from anyone with a missing teenage boy who has been subject to recent surgery.’

‘Foul play is suspected presumably?’

‘It is possible that the victim died lawfully and was buried at sea – and then drifted.’

‘But you are not ruling out foul play?’

Again Grace hesitated before replying. Every conversation he had with this reporter was like a game of chess. If he was able to get Spinella to word the story the way he wanted, it could be very helpful in generating public response. But if it was printed sensationally, all it would do was frighten the citizens of Brighton and Hove.

‘Look,’ he said. ‘If I tell you, you’ll promise not mention anything about organs at this stage?’

More chewing down the earpiece. Followed by the sound of a paper or cellophane wrapping being torn off. Then, ‘OK, deal.’

‘Sussex Police are treating this as a suspicious death.’

‘Top man! Thank you.’

‘Here’s something else for you, but not to be printed. I’m having the area scanned and police divers are going down tomorrow.’

‘You’ll let me know what they find?’

Grace assured him he would and ended the call. Then he finished his lunch and, almost instantly, his stomach feeling uncomfortably bloated, began to regret the doughnut.

Checking his electronic diary, he saw a reminder that he needed to send a request to Cellmark Forensic Services, the private laboratory at Abingdon which now handled Sussex CID’s DNA testing, for the six-monthly check on the DNA profiles of his cold cases.

While the perpetrators had so far eluded justice, there was always the chance that a relative would have their DNA taken by the police after committing an offence – even for something as comparatively minor as a drunk-driving charge. Parents, children and siblings could provide enough of a match, so although this was a considerable expense out of the force’s annual forensic budget, it did occasionally produce results to justify the outlay. He emailed his MSA, instructing her to put in a request.

As he had reflected many times, being a detective was a bit like fishing. Endless casting, endless patience. He glanced at the seven-pound six-ounce brown trout, stuffed and mounted in a glass case fixed to a wall in his office, and alongside it, a huge stuffed carp which Cleo had recently given him, with the terrible pun, Carpe diem, embossed on the brass plaque at its base. He referred to the trout, occasionally, when briefing young, fresh-faced detectives, making an increasingly tired joke about patience and big fish.

Then he focused his mind back on Unknown Male and made a series of phone calls to assemble his initial inquiry team. All the while, he kept staring at the damn fish, his eyes moving back and forth between them. Water. Fish lived in water. In the sea and in rivers. Then he realized why he kept staring at them.

A few years back, the headless and limbless torso of an unidentified African boy had been found in the Thames. Grace was sure he remembered, from all the publicity at the time, that this boy had had his internal organs removed too. It had turned out to be an occult ritual killing.

Feeling a sudden surge of adrenalin, Grace tapped out a search command for details of the file he knew he had saved somewhere on his computer.

31

Sometimes, Roy Grace wondered whether computers had souls. Or at least a sense of humour. He had not yet elevated Unknown Male to Major Incident status, but because the investigation was now a formal operation the protocols required that it be allocated a name. The Sussex Police Computer had a program for this purpose, and the name it allocated the Detective Superintendent was bizarrely apt. Operation Neptune.

Shoulder to shoulder around the small, round table in his office were five detectives whom he had come to regard as his most trusted team.

Detective Constable Nick Nicholl was in his late twenties, short-haired and tall as a beanpole, a zealous detective and a handy centre forward, whom Grace had encouraged to take up rugby, thinking he would be perfect to play in the police team, of which he was now president. But the poor man was permanently bleary-eyed and zapped of energy, thanks to the joys of recent fatherhood.

Rookie Detective Constable Emma-Jane Boutwood, a slim girl with an alert face and long fair hair scooped up in a bun, had nearly been killed in a recent operation, when she had been crushed against a wall by a stolen van. She was still officially convalescing and entitled to more leave, but she had begged to come back, determined to get on with her career, and had already proved her worth to him in an earlier operation.

Shabbily dressed, with a bad comb-over and reeking of tobacco, Detective Sergeant Norman Potting was an old-school policeman, politically incorrect, blunt and with no interest in promotion – he had never wanted the responsibility, but nor had he wanted to retire when he reached fifty-five, the normal police pension age for a sergeant, and would probably extend his service. He liked to do what he was best at doing, which he called plodding and drilling. Plodding, methodical police work, drilling down deep beneath the surface of any crime, drilling for as long and as deep as he needed until he hit a seam that would lead him somewhere. A veteran of three failed marriages, he was currently on his fourth, with a young Thai woman who, he boasted proudly at every opportunity, he had found via the Internet.

Detective Sergeant Bella Moy, an attractive woman in her mid-thirties, with a tangle of hennaed hair, was something of a lost soul. Unmarried – although, like many, married to the police force – she was stuck living with, and looking after, her elderly mother.

The fifth was Glenn Branson.

Also attending were the Crime Scene Manager, David Browne, and the HOLMES analyst, Juliet Jones.

A phone rang, to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’. Everyone looked around. Embarrassed, Nick Nicholl plucked the offending machine out of his pocket and silenced it.

Moments later, another phone rang. The Indiana Jones theme. Potting yanked his phone out, checked the display and silenced it.

In front of Grace lay his A4 notebook, his red case-file folder, his policy book and the notes Eleanor Hodgson had typed up for him. He opened the proceedings.

‘The time is 4.30 p.m., Thursday 27 November. This is the first briefing of Operation Neptune, the investigation into the death of Unknown Male, retrieved yesterday, 26 November, from the English Channel, approximately ten nautical miles south of Shoreham Harbour, by the dredger Arco Dee. Our next briefing will be at 8.30 a.m. tomorrow, and we will then hold briefings here in my office at 8.30 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. until further notice.’

He then read out a summary of the post-mortem report from Nadiuska De Sancha. Another phone began ringing. This time David Browne dived into his pocket to retrieve it, checked the display, then silenced it.

When Grace had finished the report, he continued, ‘Our first priority is to establish the young man’s identity. All we know at this stage is that he was in his mid-teens, and his internal organs appear to have been professionally removed. A fingerprint check on the UK database has proved negative. DNA has been sent to the lab on a three-day turnaround, but as that takes us into the weekend, we won’t get their report until Monday, but I doubt whether we’ll get a hit.’

He paused for a moment. Then he addressed DS Moy.

‘Bella, I need you to get the dental photographs out. It’s a massive task, but we’ll start local and see what we get.’

‘There is a designated charted area for burials at sea, right, chief?’ Norman Potting said.

‘Yes, fifteen nautical miles east of Brighton and Hove – it’s a burial ground for everyone from Sussex,’ Roy Grace replied.

‘Don’t the prevailing winds and currents run west to east?’ the DS continued. ‘I remember that from geography lessons when I was at school.’

‘Around the time they built the ark?’ quizzed Bella, who was not a Norman Potting fan.

Grace gave her a stern, cautioning look.

‘Norman’s right,’ Nick Nicholl said. ‘I used to do a bit of sailing.’

‘It would take some storm to move a body that far in a few days,’ Potting said, ‘if it was weighted down. I just spoke to the coastguard. He’d need to see the weights, then he could try to plot a movement path.’

‘Tania Whitlock’s on that already,’ Grace said. ‘But we need to speak to all the organ transplant coordinators in the UK and see if we can find a connection with our teenager. Norman, I’d like to task you with that. We already have one negative, from the Royal Sussex County Hospital.’

Potting nodded and made a note on his pad. ‘Leave it with me, chief.’

‘We can’t rule out the possibility that the body came from another county, can we?’ Bella Moy asked.

‘No,’ Grace said. ‘Or from another country. I would like you to speak to our counterparts in the ports of France bordering the English Channel. Also, Spain should be checked out as a priority.’ He explained his reasons.

‘I’ll get on to it straight away.’

‘We don’t yet know the cause of death, right?’ Nick Nicholl asked.

‘No. I want you to do a trawl with Crime Intelligence Bureaux around the country and see if you can find any other cases of a similar nature. And I want you to check the Mispers list for Sussex, Kent and Hampshire for any possible match to our Unknown Male.’

That was a big task, he knew. Five thousand people were reported missing in Sussex alone each year – although the majority were missing for only a short time.

Then he handed Emma-Jane Boutwood a folder. ‘These are the briefing notes we were given in September in Las Vegas, at the International Homicide Investigators’ Association Symposium, on the headless and limbless torso of a boy, believed to be Nigerian, pulled from the Thames in 2001 missing his vital organs. The case is unsolved, but it’s almost certainly a ritual killing of some kind. Take a look through and see if there are any comparisons with our young man.’

‘Has anyone checked the dredge area to see if there is any evidence down there?’ Potting asked.

‘The SSU are going out at first light. Glenn will be with them.’ He looked at his colleague.

Branson grimaced back at him. ‘Shit, chief, I did tell you this morning, I don’t really do boats very well. They’re, like, way out of my comfort zone. I threw up the last time I went on a Channel ferry. And that was dead calm. The forecast’s crap for tomorrow.’

‘I’m sure our budget will stretch to seasickness pills,’ Grace said breezily.

32

Forget seasickness, Glenn Branson thought. The speed humps along the southern perimeter road of Shoreham Harbour were really doing it for his stomach. Those, combined with a bad hangover and an early-morning row with his wife, kicked him off on this Friday morning in a mood that was a long way south of sunny. It was as dark as the grim, grey, early-morning sky through his windscreen.

To his left he drove past a long, deserted pebble beach, to his right were the big, ugly, industrial structures, the warehouses, gantries, stacks of containers, conveyor belts, barbed-wire fences, power station, bunkering station and storage yards of a commercial seaport.

‘I’m working, for fuck’s sake, aren’t I?’ he said into the hands-free.

‘I have to be at a tutorial this afternoon at three,’ his wife said. ‘Could you pick the kids up and be with them until I get home?’

‘Ari, I’m on an operation.’

‘One minute you’re complaining I don’t let you see the kids, then, when I ask you to look after them for just a few hours, you give me crap about being busy. You need to make your mind up. Do you want to be a father or a policeman?’

‘Shit, that’s not fair.’

‘It’s perfectly fair, Glenn. This is what our marriage has been like for the past five years. Every time I ask you to help me to have a life of my own, you pull the I can’t, I’ve got a job on number, or, I’ve got an urgent operation on, or, I’ve got to see Detective Superintendent Roy Sodding Grace.’

‘Ari,’ he said. ‘Please, love, be reasonable. You’re the one who encouraged me to join the force. I don’t get why you’re so fucking angry about it all the time.’

‘Because I married you,’ she said. ‘I married you because I wanted a life with you. I don’t have a life with you.’

‘So what do you want me to do? Go back to being a bouncer? Is that what you want?’

‘We were happy then.’

The turn-off was ahead of him. He indicated, then waited for a cement truck that was racing down from the opposite direction, thinking how simple it would be to pull out in front of it and end it all.

He heard a click. The bitch had hung up on him.

‘Shit,’ he said. ‘Fuck you!’

He drove in through a timber yard, past massive planks piled high on either side of him, and saw the quay of Arlington Basin directly ahead. Slowing to a crawl, he dialled his home number. It went straight to the answering machine.

‘Oh, come on, Ari!’ he muttered to himself, hanging up.

Parked to his right was a familiar vehicle, a massive yellow truck, emblazoned with the Sussex Police logo and the wording specialist search unit in large blue letters along the side.

He parked just behind it, tried Ari once more and again got the answering machine. Then he sat for a moment, pressing his fingers against his temples, trying to ease the pain that was like a vice crushing his skull.

He was stupid, he knew. He should have had an early night, but he hadn’t been able to sleep, not for ages now, since he had left home. He’d sat up late on the floor of Roy Grace’s living room, alone and tearful, going through his friend’s music collection, drinking his way through a bottle of whisky that he’d found – and needed to remember to replace – playing songs that brought back memories of times with Ari. Shit, such good times. They had been so much in love with each other. He was missing his kids, Sammy and Remi. Desperately missing them. Feeling totally lost without them.

His eyes misty with sadness, he climbed out of the car into the cold, wet, salty wind, knowing he needed to put on a brave face and get through today, the way he had to get through every day. He took a deep breath, sucking in air that was thick with the smells of the sea, and fuel oil, and freshly sawn timber. A gull cried overhead, flapping its wings, stationary against the headwind. Tania Whitlock and her team, all wearing black baseball caps marked POLICE in bold lettering, red waterproof windcheaters, black trousers and black rubber boots, were loading gear into a tired-looking deep-sea fishing boat, the Scoob-Eee, that was moored alongside the quay.

Even here in the shelter of the harbour basin, the Scoob-Eee was rocking from the choppy waves. On the far side of the harbour was a cluster of white petroleum storage tanks. Beyond them, steep grass banking rose up to the main road and a row of houses.

The DS, dressed in a cream raincoat over his beige suit and tan, rubber-soled yachting shoes, strode over to the team. He knew them all. The unit worked closely with the CID on major crimes, as they were trained in search techniques, especially in difficult or inaccessible places, such as sewers, cellars, river banks and even burnt-out cars.

‘Hi, guys!’ he said.

Nine heads turned towards him.

‘Lord Branson!’ said a voice. ‘Dear fellow, welcome aboard! How many pillows will you be requiring on your bed?’

‘Hello, Glenn!’ Tania said pleasantly, ignoring her colleague as she lugged a large coil of striped yellow breathing and communication lines over to the edge of the quay, and handed them down to another of her colleagues on the boat.

‘Where do you think you’re going dressed like that?’ said Jon Lelliott. ‘A cruise on the Queen Mary?’

Lean and muscular, with a shorn head, Lelliott was known as WAFI, which stood for Wind Assisted Fucking Idiot. He passed a folded body bag that reeked of Jeyes Fluid down to Arf, a man in his mid-forties, with a boyish face and prematurely white hair, who took it and tidily stowed it.

‘Yeah, got a first-class cabin booked, with my own butler,’ Glenn Branson said with a grin. He nodded at the fishing boat. ‘Presumably this is the tender that’s going to take me to it?’

‘In your dreams.’

‘Anything I can do to help?’

Arf held a heavy red anorak up to Glenn. ‘You’ll need this. Going to be lumpy and wet out there.’

‘I’ll be fine, thanks.’

Arf, the oldest and most experienced member of the team, gave him a bemused look. ‘You sure about that? I think you’ll need some boots.’

Glenn lifted a leg, showing his dainty yellow sock. ‘These are boat shoes,’ he said. ‘Like, non-slip.’

‘Slipping’s going to be the least of your problems,’ said Lelliott.

Glenn grinned and pushed back his coat sleeve, baring part of his wrist. ‘See that, Arf, the colour, right? Black, yeah? My ancestors rowed the Atlantic in slave ships, yeah? I got the sea in my blood!’

*

When they had finished loading the gear, they assembled on the quay for the pre-dive briefing, given by Tania Whitlock, who was reading her notes from a clipboard.

‘We are proceeding to an area ten nautical miles south-east of Shoreham Harbour, and the coastguard will be informed that we will be diving in that area,’ she said. ‘In terms of risk assessment on board, we will be out in the main shipping lanes, so everyone needs to keep a careful watch – and to inform the coastguard if any vessel is heading too close. Some of the larger tanker and container ships using the Channel have a clearance of only a few feet above the seabed in places, so they present a real danger to divers.’

She paused and everyone nodded their understanding.

‘Other than shipping, the risk assessment for the divers is low,’ she continued.

Yep, thought Steve Hargrave. Apart from drowning, decompression illness and risk of entanglement.

‘We will be diving in approximately sixty-five feet of water in poor visibility, but this is a dredge area and there will be an undulating seabed, with no underwater obstructions. The Arco Dee is dredging in a different area this morning. Yesterday we surveyed the area using sonar, where we identified, and buoyed, two anomalies. We will commence our dive on these today. Because of the tidal current we will wear boots for standing on the seabed rather than fins. Any questions?’

‘Do you think these anomalies are bodies?’ Glenn asked.

‘Nah, just a couple of first-class passengers enjoying the pool facilities,’ quipped Rod Walker, who was known as Jonah.

Ignoring the titter of laughter, Tania Whitlock said, ‘I will dive first, and then WAFI. ‘I will be attended by Gonzo, and WAFI will be attended by Arf. When we have investigated and videoed the anomalies, and brought them to the surface, if appropriate, we will consider whether any further diving will serve any purpose, or whether to spend the time scanning a broader area. Any questions at this stage?’

A couple of minutes later, Lee Simms, a burly former Marine, gripped Glenn Branson’s hand as he stepped off the quay and jumped down on to the slippery, rain-sodden deck.

Instantly Glenn felt the rocking motion of the boat. It reeked of putrid fish and varnish. He saw some netting, a couple of lobster pots and a bucket. The engine rattled into life and the deck vibrated. He breathed in a lungful of diesel exhaust.

As they cast off, in the falling rain and the gloomy light, no one, other than Glenn, noticed the dull glint of glass from the binoculars that were trained on them, from the far side of one of the petroleum storage tanks, across the harbour. But when he peered again into the gloom, he couldn’t see anything. Had he imagined it?

*

Vlad Cosmescu was dressed in a black bobble-hat and the dark blue overalls and heavy boots of a workman. Next to his skin he wore the latest in thermal underwear, which was doing a good job of keeping out the biting cold. But he wished he had linings inside his thin leather gloves; his fingers were going numb.

He had been at the harbour since four o’clock this morning. From a distance, in the darkness, he had watched Jim Towers, the wiry, heavily bearded old sea dog from whom the police had chartered the boat. He had observed him prepare her, filling up her fuel and water tanks, then motoring her eastwards from her moorings at the Sussex Motor Yacht Club to further up the harbour, to the agreed departure point in Arlington Basin. Towers tied the boat up, then left her, as instructed. The Specialist Search Unit had already been given a spare set of ignition and locker keys the night before.

It was ironic, Cosmescu thought, considering the number of fishing boats readily available for charter at this time of the year, that the police had chosen the same boat that he had. Always assuming, of course, that it was coincidence. And he was not a man who was comfortable with assumptions. He preferred hard facts and mathematical probabilities.

He had only discovered when he got talking to Jim Towers, when they were out at sea, that before he had retired to run his fishing trips, Towers had been a private investigator. PIs were themselves often ex-cops – or at least had plenty of friends in the police. Cosmescu had paid Towers big money. More money for that single trip than he would have earned in a year of charters. Yet now, just a few days later, he was letting ten cops go out on that boat!

Cosmescu didn’t like the way that smelled.

He had long believed in the old adage: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

And at this moment Jim Towers could hardly be closer. He was bound up so tightly with duct tape that he looked like an Egyptian mummy, lying securely in the rear of Cosmescu’s small white van. The van was registered in the name of a building firm that existed but never traded, and he normally kept it parked out of sight, inside a secure lock-up.

For the moment, it was parked in a side street, just off the main road behind him. Just a couple of hundred yards away.

Quite close enough.

*

Twenty minutes later, after a slow journey through the lock, the boat headed out of the shelter of the harbour moles into the open sea. Almost instantly the water became rougher, the small boat pitch-poling through the waves in the rising offshore wind.

Glenn was seated on a hard stool, under the shelter of the open cabin that was little more than an awning, next to Jonah, who was at the helm. The DS held on to the compass binnacle in front of him, checking his phone every few minutes as the harbour and shoreline receded, in case there was a text from Ari. But the screen remained blank. After half an hour he was starting to feel increasingly queasy.

The crew took the piss out of him relentlessly.

‘That what you always wear on a boat, Glenn?’ Chris Dicks, nicknamed Clyde, asked him.

‘Yeah. Cos, like, usually I have a private cabin with a balcony.’

‘Get well paid in CID, do you?’

The boat was vibrating and rolling horribly. Glenn was taking deep breaths, each one containing exhaust fumes and varnish and rotted fish, and occasional snatches of Jeyes Fluid – the smell that every police officer associates with death. He was feeling giddy. The sea was becoming a blur.

‘Hope you brought your dinner jacket,’ WAFI said. ‘You’re going to need it if you are planning on dining at the captain’s table tonight.’

‘Yeah, course I did,’ Glenn replied. It was becoming an effort to speak. And he was freezing cold.

‘Keep looking at the horizon, Glenn,’ Tania said kindly, ‘if you feel queasy.’

Glenn tried to look at the horizon. But it was almost impossible to tell where the grey sky met the grey roiling sea. His stomach was playing hoopla. His brain was trying to follow it, with limited success.

Between himself and the skipper, Jonah, who sat on a padded seat, holding the large, round wheel, was the Humminbird sidescan imaging sonar screen.

‘These are the anomalies we picked up yesterday, Glenn,’ Tania Whitlock said.

She ran a replay on the small blue screen. There was a line down the middle, made by the Towfish sonar device which had been trawled behind the boat. She pointed out two small, barely visible black shadows.

‘Those could be bodies,’ she said.

Glenn was not sure exactly what he was meant to be looking at. The shadows looked tiny, the size of ants.

‘Those there?’ he asked.

‘Yes. We’re about one hour away. Coffee?’

Glenn Branson shook his head. One hour, he thought. Shit. A whole hour more of this. He wasn’t sure he could swallow anything. He tried staring at the horizon, but that made him feel even worse.

‘No, thanks,’ he said. ‘I’m fine.’

‘Are you sure? You look a little peaky,’ Tania said.

‘Never felt better in my life!’ Glenn said.

Ten seconds later he leapt off his stool, lurched to the side of the boat and threw up violently. Last night’s microwaved lasagne and a lot of whisky. As well as this morning’s single piece of toast.

Fortunately for him, and even more so for those near him, he was on the leeward side.

33

Some while later, Glenn was woken by the rattle of the anchor chain. The engine died and suddenly the deck was no longer vibrating. He could feel the motion of the boat. The deck pushing him up, then sinking down beneath him again, rolling him left and right in the process. He heard the creak of a rope. The whine of a winch. The pop-hiss of a canned drink being opened. The crackle of radio static. Then Tania’s voice.

‘Hotel Uniform Oscar Oscar. This is Suspol Suspol on board MV Scoob-Eee, calling Solent Coastguard.’ Suspol was the nautical call sign for Sussex Police.

He heard a crackled response. ‘Solent Coastguard. Solent Coastguard. Channel sixty-seven. Over.’

Then Tania again. ‘This is Suspol. We have ten souls on board. Our position is ten nautical miles south-east of Shoreham Harbour.’ She gave the coordinates. ‘We are over our dive area and about to commence.’

Again the crackly voice. ‘How many divers with you, Suspol, and how many in the water?’

‘Nine divers on board. Two going in.’

Glenn was dimly aware that he had a blanket or a tarpaulin over him and he was no longer so cold. His head was swirling. He wanted to be anywhere, absolutely anywhere, but here. He saw Arf peering down at him.

‘How are you feeling, Glenn?’

‘Not great,’ a disembodied voice that sounded like his own responded.

The stink of Jeyes Fluid was even stronger suddenly.

Arf had a kindly, avuncular face, shaded by the peak of his black baseball cap. Wisps of white hair blew loose on either side, like threads of cotton.

‘There are two kinds of seasickness,’ Arf said. ‘Did you know that?’

Glenn shook his head feebly.

‘The first kind is when you are afraid that you are going to die.’

Glenn stared back at him.

‘The second,’ Arf said, ‘is when you are afraid that you are not going to die.’

Around him, Glenn heard laughter.

There was a third kind, Glenn reckoned, which was the one he was experiencing now. It was when you had actually died, but you weren’t able to leave your body.

*

Tania, in her drysuit, was snipping the corners off the white body bag she was taking down with her, to allow the water to flow out in the event of a recovery. Like a lot of police equipment, these bags were not suitable for underwater work, so they had to be adapted.

With her umbilical plumbed into the surface supply panel and comms system, attended by Gonzo, she tested her suit and mask for leaks, and then the breathing and comms lines of her three-core umbilical. When they were both satisfied, she checked her watch.

For all trained divers, awareness of the risk of the bends, or decompression sickness, was a vital part of their operating procedure. The bends was caused by nitrogen particles building up in the blood. It could be excruciatingly painful, sometimes fatal, and the way to avoid it was by taking frequent stops on the way up from the seabed, some of them for long periods, depending on the length and depth of the dive. Dive time began the moment the diver left the surface.

She looked once more at her umbilical, checked the position of the pink marker buoy a few yards from the boat, then launched herself backwards, jumping clear of the boat, and plunged into the turbulent sea.

For a moment, as she went under the surface in a maelstrom of bubbles, she experienced the beautiful calm that lay beneath. Total silence, except for the hollow, echoing roar of her breathing. Then she bobbed up and, instantly, waves broke over her. She gave Gonzo the thumbs-up.

Although she had dived countless times, both for her work and at every opportunity on holiday, entering the water gave her a fresh adrenalin rush each time. No two dives were ever the same. You didn’t know what you were going to find or experience. And she still could not quite believe her luck that she had landed this job, with this unit, which gave her the opportunity to dive somewhere almost weekly.

Although, admittedly, diving for bodies in filthy canals full of discarded fridges, garden tools, coiled chicken wire, supermarket trolleys and stolen cars was a poor substitute for the tropical fish and marine fauna of the Maldives.

She looked around for the pink buoy, which had momentarily disappeared behind a wave, swam a few clumsy strokes over to it, then gripped the heavily weighted shot line with her rubber gloves and sank a short distance below the surface.

It was instantly calm again here. This was always a moment she loved, descending from the waves and the wind into a completely different world. She continued steadily down, swallowing to equalize the pressure in her ears, keeping an arm looped around the rope, the visibility rapidly fading, until she was in total darkness.

When she reached the bottom, her feet sinking into the sand, she could see nothing at all. On fine days there was reasonable visibility underwater in the Channel. But today the currents had churned up the sand and silt on the bottom into cloud that was as dark as a coal cellar. There was no point in switching on her camera and her torch, she would have to do it all by feel.

She checked the luminous depth gauge on her wrist, struggling to read the dial. It indicated sixty-seven feet. Her lapsed time since she had entered the sea was two minutes. She signalled to the surface by speaking on her voice comms: ‘Diver made bottom. Starting work.’ Then she felt for the underwater jackstay line.

Yesterday, when the scanner had picked up the two anomalies on the seabed, they had gridded them with anchored marker buoys and jackstay lines – ropes on the seabed held down by leaded weights.

What she now had to do, with the body bag tucked under her left arm, was swim across the seabed, skimming the surface, holding the jackstay line with her left hand and sweeping with her right. She would move her right hand away from her body, then back to it, in a continual arc, until she struck the object she was looking for. If she reached the weight at the far end, she would shift it a couple of feet to the right and then work her way back along it. When she arrived at her starting point, she would move that weight a couple of feet to the right and repeat the process.

The scanner was not sophisticated enough to tell her what the anomalies on the seabed were, giving only shape and approximate size. Each one was approximately six feet long and a couple of feet wide. Consistent with a human body. But not necessarily bodies. They could have been pieces of equipment or discarded rubbish from a ship, or unexploded torpedoes from the war or the wreckage of a crashed plane, or plenty of other things. The worst thing, when underwater in darkness, was striking a sharp object.

Something bumped into her mask, then was gone. A bottom-feeder fish, a sole or a plaice or a flounder, or maybe an eel, she assumed.

Slowly, holding the jackstay line with her left hand, she started swimming through the inky blackness. She swept her right arm backwards and forwards, in a continual arc, like a windscreen wiper.

Every time she searched like this, her mind wanted to play games with her. It wanted to remind her of every horror film she had ever seen. Of every kind of monster or demon that might be lurking on the seabed, waiting for her.

But she had dived in plenty worse places than open sea. She had dived to recover the body of a ten-year-old boy in a canal. She had dived in reservoirs, in ditches and in potholes. In her view, there was nothing that would hurt her here. There was just an anomaly.

Suddenly her hand struck something.

It felt like a human face inside plastic.

And, despite herself, her heart burst clean out of her chest. And she damn nearly spat her face mask off in shock.

A bolus of iced water exploded through her veins.

Shit-shit-shit.

Her husband, the BA pilot, didn’t dive. She had tried to explain the excitement, the rush, to him many times. He got all the excitement he needed in the cockpit of a 747, he told her. It was dry and warm there, with plenty of hot drinks and food from the first-class galley. And now, for a moment, she understood his point.

She ran her hand over the face. The head. Feeling through the heavy-duty plastic sheeting. Shoulders. Back. Buttocks. Thighs. Legs. Feet.

34

‘Nice dog!’ the woman said. ‘What breed is he?’ She spoke with a foreign accent.

It was a dumb question. Only a visitor to Bucharest would ever ask such a question. Romeo, kneeling in the weeds beside the dirt road, was giving the dog its daily meal. He had no idea what breed it was. Like most of the thousands of stray dogs that roamed the outer districts of Bucharest, it was a mongrel. Twenty-nine years before Romeo had been born, one of Ceauşescu’s early acts as president was to throw the Romanian bourgeoisie out of their homes. Most were forced to leave behind their dogs, which ran wild and had been living and breeding on the streets ever since.

But the dogs were smart, figuring out that if they were mean, people would kick them and throw stones at them, but if they were friendly, they got fed. Over the years the stray dogs and the street people of the city had bonded. The dogs guarded the street people and, in turn, the street people fed the dogs.

‘I’d say he’s got some schnauzer in him,’ the woman said.

She looked at the boy’s cute, grubby face, and his round blue eyes, and his jet-black hair, messily cut, and his withered left hand. She observed his clothes, his worn-out jeans, his ragged, hooded top and his threadbare trainers, studying him carefully, as if inspecting him. Although she already knew for sure the kind of person he was and the world he inhabited. And, crucially, how to get through to him.

The boy thought the woman had a kind face. She was pretty, with a tangle of fair hair that was being blown about by the wind, casually dressed, but in the kind of expensive clothes that did not belong here in this district. An elegant, shiny, tight-fitting leather jacket, with the collar turned up, over a dark roll-neck jumper of fine wool, studded jeans tucked into black suede boots, big jewellery and beautiful black leather gloves. The kind of woman he would see emerging from a limousine outside one of the big hotels, laden with shopping bags, or being disgorged, in her finery, at a smart restaurant. People like her inhabited a different world from his own.

‘His name’s Artur,’ he said.

‘That’s a nice name.’ She smiled and said it out aloud. ‘Artur. Artur. Yes, a very nice name. It suits him!’

The boy pulled some out-of-date kidneys from a plastic bag and put them in Artur’s mouth. The dog ate them greedily, in one gulp. Then he dug his hand into the bag again. There was a butcher around the corner who was always kind to him, giving him strips of meat, pieces of offal and bones every day.

‘What’s your name?’ she asked.

‘Romeo.’

The boy was sizing her up. A wealthy visitor. Rich pickings! He pulled out a rank pig’s trotter and the dog clamped its jaws on to it.

The woman smiled. ‘Do you live around here?’ she asked, although she already knew full well that he did, and where.

He nodded, eyeing her. Eyeing her handbag. It was ruched leather, with chains and buckles, and a huge brass clasp on it. In his mind, he was sizing it up, thinking of all the things it might contain. A purse with cash, a mobile phone. Maybe some other stuff too, like an iPod, that he could sell. He glanced around, but so far as he could see she was unaccompanied. There were no smart cars parked nearby that she could have come from.

He could grab the bag and run!

But at the moment, she had the strap over her shoulder and her left arm was looped through the chain, gripping the top of the bag with her gloved hand, as if streetwise herself. He would need to distract her.

‘Where are you from?’ he asked.

‘I’m from Germany,’ she said. ‘München. Munich. Have you been to Germany?’

‘No.’

‘Would you like to go there?’

He shrugged.

‘What country would you like to go to, if you could?’

He shrugged again. ‘Maybe England.’

Her eyes widened. ‘Why England?’

The dog had almost finished the huge trotter and was looking at him expectantly.

‘They have jobs there. You can be rich in England. You can get a nice apartment.’

‘Really?’ She feigned surprise.

‘I heard that.’ Romeo checked inside the plastic bag, to ensure he had missed nothing, then dropped it. The wind sent it skittering away. Immediately, another dog, a misshapen brown and white creature, ran after it, pounced and began pawing at it.

The woman still had a tight grip on her leather bag.

‘Would you like an air ticket to England? I might be able to arrange it for you, if you would really like to go. I could get you a job.’

Their eyes met. Hers were beautiful, the colour of blue steel. She was smiling, looking sincere. He looked back at the handbag. Almost as if she knew what he was thinking, she kept her grip on it.

‘What kind of job?’

‘What do you want to do? What are your skills?’

A truck rumbled slowly by, close to the verge. Romeo looked up at its large, dirty wheels, its black, rusting underbelly, its billowing exhaust. If he was going to do it, this would be a good moment. Push her, grab the bag, run!

But suddenly he was more interested in what she was saying. Skills? There was a boy who had stayed with them recently, who talked about his brother who worked as a cocktail waiter in London and was earning over 400 lei a day. That was a fortune! Not that he knew anything about making cocktails. Someone else had said recently you could make that sort of money cleaning hotel rooms in London too.

‘Making cocktails,’ he replied. ‘Also, I’m a good cleaner.’

‘Do you have friends in London, Romeo?’ she asked.

Artur whined, as if wanting more food.

The woman opened her handbag and took out a fat purse. From it she removed a banknote. It was a 100 lei note. She handed it to Romeo. ‘I want you to buy some food for Artur, OK?’

He looked at her, then nodded solemnly.

Then she handed him another banknote. This was a 500 lei banknote. ‘That’s for you to buy anything you want, OK?’

He stared at the money and back at the woman. Then, as if afraid she was suddenly going to snatch them back, he stuffed the money into his trouser pocket.

‘You are kind,’ he said.

‘I want to help you,’ she replied.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Marlene,’ she said.

Despite her smile and her generosity, something about the woman was making Romeo very wary. He knew, from others he had talked to, that there were organizations that helped people who were living on the streets, but he had never tried to find one. He had been warned that sometimes, if you went to see them, you could end up getting taken into a government institution. But perhaps this woman really would help him get to England.

‘Charity?’ he asked. ‘You are with a charity?’

She hesitated for an instant. Then, smiling and nodding her head vigorously, she replied, ‘Yes, charity. Absolutely. Charity!’

35

Despite the arrival of two black, heavy-duty plastic body bags at the Brighton and Hove City Mortuary, containing the bodies that had been recovered from the Channel this morning, Roy Grace was in the sunniest mood he had been in for years.

He didn’t mind that it was quarter to three on a Friday afternoon and that the post-mortems, depending on how soon Nadiuska De Sancha arrived, were likely to wipe out his plans for the evening. He was floating on air.

He was going to be a father! That thought now dominated everything else. And at last night’s poker game he had won £550, his biggest win in as long as he could remember!

What he loved most about poker, apart from the camaraderie of an evening relaxing with a bunch of male friends and colleagues, was the psychology of the game. You were very unlikely to win if you came to the table in a downer of a mood. But if you were upbeat, your enthusiasm could be infectious and you could, even with modest cards, dominate the game. But he hadn’t just had modest cards last night, he’d been on a complete roll. He’d had one hand of four tens, countless trips – three cards of a kind – full house after full house, and a bunch of high flushes.

Alone with Cleo for a few moments, in the small mortuary office, with the sound of the kettle coming slowly to the boil, he put his arms around her and kissed her.

‘I love you,’ he said.

‘Do you?’ she said, grinning. ‘Do you really?’ All gowned up, she raised her arms. ‘Even like this?’

‘To the ends of the earth and back.’

He truly did. After the poker game he had gone back to her house and showered the cash over the bed. Then he had lain awake beside her, too wired to sleep, thinking about his life. About Sandy. About Cleo. He wanted to marry Cleo, he was sure of that. More sure of that than of anything. He had made his mind up that in the morning he would start the process, long overdue, of having Sandy declared legally dead.

And first thing this morning he had contacted a Brighton solicitor he had been recommended to, Susan Ansell, and done just that. He had made an appointment with her.

Cleo kissed him. ‘Only to the ends of the earth?’

He smiled, checked the door to make sure no one was coming in, then kissed her again. ‘How about to the ends of the universe?’

‘Better,’ she said. Then she raised her palms upwards and wiggled her fingers, indicating more was required.

‘And to the ends of any other universe that we might discover.’

‘Better still!’ She kissed him again.

Then he stopped, feeling a sudden chill, wishing he had not started on that analogy. Sandy had been a fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He remembered her favourite being the second book in the series, called The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Why the hell did her shadow have to keep falling over everything, darkening his happiest moments? It sometimes felt as if he was being stalked by a ghost.

‘You OK?’ Cleo said.

‘Very OK!’

‘You sort of disappeared for a second.’

‘I was overwhelmed by your beauty.’

She grinned again. ‘You’re such a good liar, aren’t you, Grace?’

Grinning back, he said, ‘I wasn’t lying!’

‘You spend half your time interviewing criminals who are lying convincingly. Don’t tell me that hasn’t rubbed off on you!’

He held her shoulders, firmly but gently, and stared into her eyes. ‘I would never lie to you,’ he said. ‘I would never want to lie to you.’

‘I feel the same way about you,’ she replied.

They stood in comfortable silence for some moments. The kettle rumbled to the boil, then clicked off. Distracted for an instant, Roy looked past her, at an L-shaped row of chairs beside the cluttered desk. At the table in the corner, on which sat a small Christmas tree, covered in glitter and shiny balls. At the walls, which were even more cluttered than the desk, with framed certificates, a calendar, a photograph of Brighton Pier at sunset and a row of clipboards on hooks, containing details of all their current, hapless residents in the fridges. And at the Argus newspaper lying on a chair.

Kevin Spinella’s piece on the finding of Unknown Male appeared on page five. It was a small column, pretty much reporting the facts as Grace had relayed them, with Grace’s appeal to the public. To his relief, Spinella had kept to his agreement not to mention anything about organs.

There was a shrill ring at the door.

Cleo glanced up at the CCTV monitor on the wall and said, ‘Your chum’s just arrived.’

Grace turned to the screen and saw Glenn Branson’s face. He was not looking a particularly happy bunny.

‘I’ll go,’ he said.

He walked down the short corridor, past the changing room, and pulled open the door. He was shocked by the sight that greeted him. He’d rarely seen Glenn looking anything other than immaculate. Now the Detective Sergeant stood in front of him, in the rain, looking a complete wreck. His tan shoes were sodden, his white shirt was spotted with dark marks, his silk tie was covered in blotches, and awry, and his cream mac was a patchwork of brown stains the colour of rust and oil, and what looked like shiny fish scales.

‘Where the hell have you been?’ Grace asked. ‘Kick-boxing in an abattoir? Or mud-wrestling in a fish market?’

‘Very funny, old-timer. Next time you send me on a cruise, I’ll book the tickets myself.’

Grace stepped back to let him in.

‘Nadiuska here yet?’ Branson asked.

‘She just phoned. She’s ten minutes away. I thought you said you were going home to change.’

‘Yeah, well, I did, didn’t I? Got back to your place and there were two sodding letters waiting for me.’

‘Feel free about redirecting your post there.’

Branson looked at his friend, unsure for a moment whether he was being sarcastic or genuine. He could not tell and decided not to push his luck. ‘One was from Ari’s solicitor, all pompous, right? Telling me that she’s been instructed by Ari, who is commencing divorce proceedings, and that I should get myself a solicitor, like I just rode into town in the back of a lorry and don’t know anything about the law.’

Grace shut the door behind him. ‘Sounds to me like you need to get one, PDQ.’

‘I’m ahead of you. I got one already.’

‘Act for a lot of tramps, does he?’

‘Actually, it’s a she.’

‘Very wise. They can be a lot more brutal than men.’

Glenn swayed suddenly and put his arm out on the wall to steady himself. For a moment Grace wondered if he was drunk.

‘The ground’s still swaying. I’ve been back on dry land for more than two hours and it’s still moving under me!’

‘So, your ancestors on the slave ship? Nautical life didn’t rub off on you? Not in your genes, then?’

‘Who told you about that slave ship stuff?’

‘Your fame as a seafarer goes before you.’

‘Did you ever see that film, Master and Commander?’

Grace frowned.

‘Russell Crowe.’

He nodded. ‘Yep. Saw it.’

‘That’s how I feel. Like I’m one of his crew who took a cannonball in the stomach.’

‘Listen, mate. Ari may be hacked off with you, but that doesn’t give her automatic rights to screw your life up.’

‘You’re wrong. Shit, do you remember Kramer versus Kramer?’

‘Meryl Streep?’

Glenn Branson smiled for a fleeting instant. ‘Fuck, I’m impressed. Two films in a row I’ve mentioned that you’ve actually seen! Yeah, Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman. Well, that’s about my situation.’

‘Except you’re not as good-looking as Dustin Hoffman.’

‘You know how to kick a man when he’s down, don’t you?’

‘In the nuts. It’s the only place.’

Branson peeled off his mac. ‘So, right, the other letter is the divorce petition from the court. You can’t believe this, man, you can’t fucking believe what she is saying!’

The Detective Sergeant slung his mac over his arm, held out his fingers and began counting them off. ‘She says there is an irretrievable breakdown, OK? She’s alleging unreasonable behaviour by me. That I’m not interested in sex any more. That I’m drinking excessively – yeah, well, that’s true, she’s driving me to fucking drink, right? She’s citing lack of affection.’

He dug his hand inside his mackintosh and pulled out several sheets of folded paper, clipped together. Reading from the top one, he said, ‘Apparently I refuse to join in with the family. I shout at her when we are in a car together. I keep her short of money – shit, I bought her a fucking horse! And get this – apparently I don’t appreciate how Ari looks after our children.’ He shook his head. ‘That’s rich, that is! What am I supposed to do? Tell everyone, Sorry, I know this is a murder inquiry, but I have to get home and bath Remi?’

The words gave Roy Grace a sudden chill. He suddenly realized that’s exactly where he was going to be when his child was born. It was normal for him to be in his office by seven in the morning, if not even earlier. And not to get home until eight, or even later. When his child was born, could he change those hours?

Not without harming his career.

He looked at Glenn, stared into his questioning eyes. And he knew the answer was one that the DS was not going to like. To be a good police officer was to be married to the force. For those thirty years until you collected your pension – and longer now, if you wanted – your work would come first. You were a lucky person if your spouse or partner accepted that. A tragically large number, like Glenn’s wife, Ari, did not.

‘You know the problem?’ Grace said.

Branson shook his head.

‘She’s probably right. A little insensitive, sure, but fundamentally right. You have to decide if you want a successful career or a successful marriage. It is possible to combine both, but you need a very tolerant and understanding partner.’

‘Yeah, well, the irony is I joined the police so that my kids could be proud of their dad.’

‘So they should be.’

‘So how proud of me would they be if I quit?’

‘And went back to being a bouncer? Or a security guard at Gatwick? It’s not what job you do,’ Grace said, ‘it’s the person you are. You can be a good, very human bouncer. You can be a vigilant security guard. You can be a crap cop. It’s what you are inside, not what it says on your badge or your ID card.’

‘Yeah, yeah. Sure. But you know what I mean.’

‘Look, I’ve told you before, with the mess I’ve made of my life, I’m not the right person to give marital advice. But you know what I really think? If Ari loved you, really loved you, she’d stick with it. I’m not sure she does really love you at all – all this legal process and stuff she’s throwing at you. I think if you did quit the force to appease her, at some point she’d want something else. Whatever you do is ultimately going to be wrong for her. I think she’s that kind of restless person. Appeasing her will never be more than a short-term solution. So, if I were you, I’d stay with your career.’

Branson nodded gloomily.

‘Know what Winston Churchill said about appeasement?’ said Roy.

‘Tell me?’

‘An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.’

36

The two bodies had been dumped in the sea in an identical way to Unknown Male, trussed up in plastic sheeting tied with blue cord and weighed down with breeze blocks.

They arrived at the mortuary parcelled in two further layers, the white plastic forensic bags in which they had been brought to the surface by the police divers, and the heavier-duty black plastic body bags in which they had been hauled up on to the dive boat, and in which they had remained until arriving at the mortuary.

The first to be unwrapped, in a tediously slow process, was a young teenage boy, perhaps a year or two older than the previous body, Nadiuska estimated. Less good-looking, with a beaky nose and a face badly pockmarked from acne, Unknown Male 2 was also missing his heart, lungs, kidneys and liver. They had been surgically removed in the same meticulous way.

Nadiuska was now working on the layers around the body of a young girl, also in her mid-teens, she estimated. Death took away the personality from a face, Grace always thought, leaving it a blank, which made it difficult to tell what people had really looked like when they were alive. But even with her pale, waxy skin and her long brown hair, tangled and matted, he could see she had been quite beautiful, if far too thin.

The pathologist was of the opinion that these two bodies had been in the water for the same length of time as Unknown Male. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist, Grace figured, to work out the probability that all three of them had gone into the sea together.

Which raised the stakes from the initial discovery of a single body considerably. In his mind, he had now dismissed any possibility that these were formal burials at sea that had drifted from the official seabed grave area. So who were these three teenagers? Where had they come from? Who were their parents? Who was missing them? Had they been dumped overboard from one of the dozens of foreign-registered merchant ships that travelled down the English Channel around the clock, from just about every country in the world?

There were no marks on Unknown Male 2’s body to suggest death from an accident or a blow to the head. There were puncture marks on his skin, just like the earlier body, consistent, as Nadiuska had just repeated, with organ removal for transplant.

A dark shadow was moving across Grace’s mind. For most of the time, he stood in the corridor that led into the now very crowded post-mortem room, mobile phone to his ear, making one call after another. His first had been to his MSA, Eleanor Hodgson, getting her to clear his diary for the immediate days ahead. There were just two dates he hoped to be able to keep. One, tonight, was his promise to a colleague to visit a football game at the Crew Club in White-hawk. He might be able to make that if DI Mantle took the 6.30 briefing meeting instead of him.

The second, was the CID dinner dance tomorrow night, which, with over 450 attending, was going to be quite a bash. It had been a tough year and he was looking forward to taking Cleo, now that their relationship was out in the open, and relaxing with his colleagues. And maybe getting an opportunity to improve on the poor impression he reckoned he had made with the new Chief Constable on Wednesday night.

Cleo, who had spent weeks fretting about what she was going to wear, and an amount equal to the GDP of an emerging African nation buying a dress, would be deeply disappointed if they now did not make it.

After going through his diary, Grace had then made a series of calls expanding his Outside Inquiry Team from the original six, to twenty-two. Now, as he stood talking to Tony Case, the Senior Support Officer at Sussex House, organizing space for his new team in one of the building’s two Major Incident Rooms, he watched Nadiuska at work, carefully taping the high-tensile cords around the breeze blocks, in the hope of finding a tell-tale skin cell or glove fibre from whoever had tied them. When each strip lost its tackiness, she bagged it for microscopic inspection later.

Michael Forman, the Coroner’s Officer, stood beside her, observing carefully and occasionally making notes, or checking his BlackBerry. David Browne, the Crime Scene Manager, was in attendance, along with two of his SOCOs. One of them, the forensic photographer, James Gartrell, was once more taking photographs of every stage of the post-mortem, while the other was dealing with the packaging in which the two corpses had arrived. At the next table along, Cleo and Darren were tidying up Unknown Male 2, suturing the incision once more.

Every time you thought you had seen it all, Roy Grace mused, some new horror would surprise you. He had read about people in Turkey and South America who got talking to beautiful women in bars and then woke up hours later in bathtubs full of ice, with sutured incisions down one side of their body and missing a kidney. But until now he had dismissed such stories as urban myths. And he knew the importance of never jumping to conclusions.

But three young people at the bottom of the sea with their vital organs professionally removed…

The press would have a field day. The citizens of Brighton and Hove would be worried when this news came out, and he already had two – as yet unreturned – urgent messages on his mobile phone to call the Argus reporter, Kevin Spinella. He would need to orchestrate the press carefully, to maximize public response in helping to identify the bodies, without causing any undue distress. But equally, he knew that the best way to grab the public’s attention was with a sensational headline.

Press conferences were not popular at weekends, so he could buy himself some time until Monday. But he was going to have to throw a few titbits to Spinella – and as a starting point the Argus, with its wide local circulation, could be the most helpful in the short term.

So what was he going to tell him? And, equally importantly, what was he going to conceal? He had long learned that in any murder inquiry you always tried to hold back some information that would be known only to the killer. That helped you eliminate time-waster phone calls.

For the moment, he put the press out of his mind, concentrating on what he could learn from the three bodies recovered so far. In his notebook, he jotted down Ritual killings? and ringed the words.

Yes, a very definite possibility.

Could they possibly have been organ donors who had all wanted to be buried at sea? Too unlikely to be considered seriously at this stage.

A serial killer? But why would he – or she – bother with the careful suturing after removal of the organs? To put the police off the scent? Possible. Not to be dismissed at this stage.

Organ trafficking?

Occam’s razor he wrote next, as the thought suddenly came into his mind. Occam was a fourteenth-century philosopher monk who used the analogy of taking a razor-sharp knife to cut away everything but the most obvious explanation. That, Brother Occam believed, was where the truth usually lay. Grace was inclined to agree with him.

Grace’s favourite fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, held to the dictum: When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

He looked at Glenn Branson, who was standing in a corner of the room with a worried expression on his face, talking on his mobile phone. It would do him good to have a challenge, Grace thought. Something to get his teeth into and distract him from all his nightmarish legal problems with Ari, who, privately, Grace had never liked.

Walking over to him, and waiting for him to finish a call, Grace said, ‘I need you to do something. I need you to find out everything you can about the world of trafficking in human organs.’

‘Need a new liver, do you, old-timer? I’m not surprised.’

‘Yeah, yeah, very funny. Get Norman Potting to help you. He’s good at researching obscure stuff.’

‘Dirty Pretty Things!’ Branson said. ‘See that movie?’

Grace shook his head.

‘That was about illegal immigrants selling kidneys in a seedy hotel in London.’

Suddenly he had the Detective Superintendent’s attention. ‘Really? Tell me more.’

‘Roy!’ Nadiuska called out. ‘Look, this is interesting!’

Grace, followed by Glenn Branson, walked over to the corpse and stared down at the tiny tattoo she was pointing to. He frowned.

‘What’s that?’

‘I don’t know,’ she said.

He turned to Glenn Branson. The DS shrugged and then, stating the obvious, said, ‘It’s not English.’

37

Romeo clambered down the steel ladder, holding a huge grocery bag under one arm. Valeria was sitting on her old mattress, leaning against the concrete wall, rocking her sleeping baby. Tracy Chapman was singing ‘Fast Car’ yet again. Again. Again. The fucking song was starting to drive him crazy.

He noticed three strangers, in their mid-teens, on the floor, slouched against the wall opposite Valeria. They were just sitting there, looking strung out on Aurolac. The tell-tale squat plastic bottle with its broken white seal and the yellow and red label bearing the words LAC Bronze Argintiu lay on the floor in front of them. The rank smell of this place hit him, as it did each time, and with particular force now in contrast to the fresh, windy, rainy air outside. The mustiness, the fetid body smells, dirty clothes and the soiled-nappy stench of the baby.

‘Food!’ he announced breezily. ‘I got some money and I bought amazing food!’

Only Valeria reacted. Her big, sad eyes rolled towards him, like two marbles that had run out of momentum. ‘Who gave you money?’

‘It was a charity. They give money to street people like us!’

She shrugged her shoulders, uninterested. ‘People who give you money always want something back.’

He shook his head vigorously. ‘No, not this person. She was beautiful, you know? Beautiful inside!’ Then he walked over to her and opened up the bag for her to inspect the contents. ‘Look, I bought you stuff for the baby!’

Valeria dug her hand in and pulled out a tin of condensed milk. ‘I’m worried about Simona,’ she said, turning it around and reading the label. ‘She hasn’t moved all day. She just cries.’

Romeo walked over and squatted down beside Simona, putting an arm around her. ‘I bought you chocolate,’ he said. ‘Your favourite. Dark chocolate!’

She was silent for some moments and then she sniffed. ‘Why?’

‘Why?’

She said nothing.

He pulled out a bar and put it under her nose. ‘Why? Because I want you to have something nice, that’s why.’

‘I want to die. That would be nice.’

‘You said yesterday you wanted to go to England. Wouldn’t that be nicer?’

‘That’s a dream,’ she said, staring bleakly ahead. ‘Dreams don’t come true, not for people like us.’

‘I met someone today. She can take us to England. Would you like to meet her?’

‘Why? Why would she take us to England?’

‘Charity!’ he replied brightly. ‘She has a charity to help street people. I told her about us. She can get us jobs in England!’

‘Yeah, sure, as erotic dancers?’

‘Any kind of jobs we want. Bars. Cleaning rooms in hotels. Anything.’

‘Is she like the man I met at the station?’

‘No, she is a nice lady. She is kind.’

Simona said nothing. More tears trickled down her cheeks.

‘We can’t stay like this. Is that what you want, to stay like this for all our lives?’

‘I don’t want to be hurt any more.’

‘Can’t you trust me, Simona? Can’t you?’

‘What is trust?’

‘We’ve seen England on television. In the papers. It’s a good country. We could have an apartment in England! We could have a new life there!’

She started crying. ‘I don’t want a new life any more. I want to die. Finish. It would be easier.’

‘She’s coming by tomorrow. Will you at least meet her, talk to her?’

‘Why would anybody want to help us, Romeo?’ she asked. ‘We’re nothing.’

‘Because there are some good people in the world.’

‘Is that what you believe?’ she asked bleakly.

‘Yes.’

He unwrapped the chocolate bar and broke off a section, holding it in front of her. ‘Look. She gave me money for food, for treats. She’s a good person.’

‘I thought the man at the railway station was a good person.’

‘Can you imagine being in England? In London? We could live in an apartment in London. Making good money! Away from all this shit! Maybe we’ll see rock stars there. I’ve heard that a lot of them live in London!’

‘The whole world is shit,’ she replied.

‘Please, Simona, at least come and meet her tomorrow.’

She raised a hand and took the chocolate.

‘Do you really want to spend another winter down here?’ he asked.

‘At least we are warm here.’

‘You don’t want to go to London because it is warm here? Right? How great is that? Maybe it’s warm in London too.’

‘Go fuck yourself!’

He grinned. She was perking up. ‘Valeria wants to come too.’

‘With the baby?’

‘Sure, why not?’

‘She’s coming tomorrow, this woman?’

‘Yes.’

Simona bit one square off the chocolate strip. It tasted good. So good she ate the whole bar.

38

Roy Grace stood on the touchline of the football pitch, beneath the glare of the floodlights, and jammed his gloveless hands deep into his raincoat pockets, shivering in the biting wind high up here in Whitehawk. At least the rain had stopped and there was a clear, starry sky. It felt cold enough for a frost.

It was the Friday night football league and tonight the Crew Club’s teenagers were playing against a team from the police. He had just made the last ten minutes of the game, in time to see the police being hammered 3-0.

The city of Brighton and Hove straddled several low hills and Whitehawk sprawled over one of the highest. A council development of terraced and semi-detached houses, and low- and high-rise blocks of flats, built in the 1920s to replace the slums occupying the land before, Whitehawk had long – and somewhat unjustly – held a dark reputation for violence and crime. A few of its warrens of streets, many with fabulous views across the city and the sea, were inhabited and dominated by some of the city’s roughest crime families, and their reputation infected everyone’s on the estate.

But during the past few years a carefully run community initiative supported by Sussex Police had radically changed that. At its heart was the Crew Club, sponsored by local industry to the tune of £2 million. The club boasted a smart, ultra-modern and funky-looking centre that could have been designed by Le Corbusier, which housed a range of facilities for local youngsters, including a well-equipped computer room, a music recording studio, a video studio, a spacious party room, meeting rooms and, in the grounds surrounding it, numerous sports facilities.

The club was a success because it had been created by passion, not by bureaucrats. It was a place where local kids did actually want to go and hang out. It was cool. And at its heart were a couple of Whitehawk residents, Darren and Lorraine Snow, whose vision it had been and whose energy drove it.

Both wrapped up in coats, scarves and hats so that their faces were almost invisible, they flanked Roy Grace now, along with a handful of parents and a few police colleagues. It was the first time Grace had visited, and, in his capacity as president of the Police Rugby Team, he was mentally sizing up the opportunities for a rugby challenge here. They were tough and plucky, the youngsters on that pitch, and he was quite amused to see them giving the force players a hard time.

A group thundered past, jostling, grunting and cussing, and the ball rolled over the line. Instantly the ref’s whistle blew.

But Grace’s focus was distracted by the post-mortems he had attended today, and yesterday, and the task that lay in front of him. Pulling out his pocket memo pad, he jotted down some thoughts, gripping his pen with almost numb fingers.

Suddenly there was a ragged cheer and he looked up, momentarily confused. A goal had been scored. But by which side?

From the cheers and the comments, he worked out it was the Crew Club team. The score was now 4-0.

Privately he smiled again. The Sussex Police team were being coached by retired Detective Chief Superintendent Dave Gaylor, who was an accredited football referee. As well as being a personal friend. He looked forward to ribbing him after the game.

He looked up at the stars for a moment and his thoughts suddenly flashed back to his childhood. His father had had a small telescope on a tripod and spent many hours studying the sky, often encouraging Roy to look as well. Grace’s favourite had been the rings of Saturn, and at one time he could have distinguished all the constellations, but the Plough was the only one he recognized easily now. He needed to re-educate himself, he decided, so that one day he could pass on that same knowledge – and passion – to his child. Although, he wondered wryly, would it again be mostly forgotten in time?

Then his focus went back to the inquiry. Unknown Males 1 and 2 and Unknown Female.

Three bodies. Each short of the same vital organs. Each of them teenagers. Just one possible clue to their identity: a badly executed tattoo on the upper left forearm of the dead young woman. A name perhaps…

One that meant nothing to him. But one that, he sensed, held the clue to all their identities.

Had they come from Brighton? If not, from where? He wrote down on his pad: Coastguard report. Drifting?

They could not have drifted far with those weights attached. In his own mind he was sure their proximity to Brighton made it likely that the three teenagers had died in England.

What was happening? Was there a monster at large in Brighton who killed people and stole their organs?

Experienced surgeon, he wrote down, echoing Nadiuska De Sancha’s assessment.

He looked up for a moment again at the stars in the night sky, then back at the floodlit pitch. Tania Whitlock’s Specialist Search Unit had scanned the area and not found any more bodies. So far.

But the English Channel was a big place.

39

‘You know, Jim,’ Vlad Cosmescu said, ‘it’s a very big place, the English Channel, no?’

Jim Towers, bound head to foot in duct tape once again, including his mouth, was only able to communicate with his captor via his eyes. He lay on the hard fibreglass deck of the prow cabin of the Scoob-Eee and was further concealed from anyone who might have looked down into the boat from the quay by a tarpaulin which smelled faintly of someone’s vomit.

Cosmescu, his feet in tall gumboots, steered the boat out of the mouth of Shoreham Harbour and into the open sea, a little concerned at the size of the swell. The northerly wind was stronger out here than he had realized and the sea much choppier. He sat on the plastic seat, his navigation lights on, making sure he appeared to the coastguard, and to anyone else who might be watching, just like any other fishing boat heading out for a night’s sport.

Wrinkling his nose at the smell of diesel exhaust being blown forward by the wind, he watched the illuminated compass swinging in its binnacle, steering a 160-degree course that he reckoned should take him out into mid-Channel, well away from the dredge area which he had carefully memorized from the chart.

A mobile phone rang, a very muted warbling sound. For an instant the Romanian thought it was from somewhere under the decking; then he realized it must be in one of the retired PI’s pockets. After several rings it stopped.

Towers just looked up at him, with the inert eyes of a beached fish.

‘It’s probably OK to speak now. Not too many people around to hear you,’ Cosmescu said.

He cut the throttle, stepped down into the cabin and tore the duct tape from the other man’s mouth.

Towers gasped in agony. It felt as if half his face had been ripped away.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘it’s my wedding anniversary today.’

‘You should have told me that sooner. I’d have got you a card,’ Cosmescu said, with only the faintest trace of humour. He stepped back quickly to the wheel.

‘You didn’t give me a chance to warn you. My wife’s going to be worried. She was expecting me back. She’ll have contacted the coastguard and the police by now. That would have been her ringing.’

As if on cue, the phone beeped twice, indicating a message.

‘Is that so?’ Cosmescu said breezily, not giving away his concern at this unexpected news. He kept an eye on the riding lights of a fishing boat some way off, and on the lights of a big ship out in the distance heading east. ‘In that case we will have to be quick! So, tell me what you have to say!’

‘I made a mistake,’ Towers said. ‘A mistake, OK? I screwed up.’

‘A mistake?’

Cosmescu dug in his pockets and pulled out a Silk Cut. Cupping his hands over his gold lighter, he lit it, inhaled deeply and then exhaled the smoke down at the man.

The sweet smell tantalized the former PI. ‘Could I cadge one, please?’

Cosmescu shook his head. ‘Smoking is very bad for your health.’ He took another deep drag. ‘And you have a law in England now, don’t you? Smoking is banned in the workplace. This is your workplace.’

He blew more smoke down at the other man.

‘Mr Baker, I’m sure we can sort this out – you know – your grievance with me.’

‘Oh yes, we can,’ Cosmescu said, gripping the wheel tightly, as the boat ploughed through a big wave. ‘I agree with you.’

He glanced at the depth gauge. Sixty feet of water beneath them. Not deep enough. They motored on in silence for some moments.

‘I paid you twenty thousand pounds, Mr Towers. I thought that was very generous. I thought it might be the start of a nice business arrangement between us.’

‘Yeah, it was extremely generous.’

‘But not enough?’

‘Plenty. It was plenty.’

‘I don’t think so. You are an experienced sailor, so you know these waters. Do you know what I think, Mr Towers? You took me to the dredge area deliberately. You reckoned there was a good chance the bodies would be found there.’

‘No, you are wrong!’

Ignoring him, Cosmescu went on, ‘I’m a gambling man. I like to play percentages. Now, the dimensions of the English Channel are twenty-nine thousand square miles. I paid you to take me to a place where those bodies would never be found. You took me to a dredge area that is just a hundred square miles. Do the maths, Mr Towers.’

‘You have to believe me, please!’

Cosmescu nodded. ‘Oh yes. I’ve done the maths. A hundred feet is the maximum depth for a dredger. In just a hundred and thirty feet of water, no one would have found them, Mr Towers. Are you going to tell me that an experienced boatman like yourself did not know this? That in all the years you have been operating your business from Shoreham, you never saw the dredge area marked on the chart?’

‘I made a navigation error, I swear it!’

Cosmescu smoked in silence for a short while, then continued, ‘You see, I’m a gambler, Mr Towers, and I think that you are too. You took a punt on this dredge area and you got lucky. You figured that if the bodies were discovered, you could blackmail me for a lot of money to keep quiet.’

‘That’s really not true,’ Towers said.

‘If you had had the opportunity to get to know me better, Mr Towers, you would know that I am a man who always plays the percentages. You might not win so much that way, but you stay in the game longer.’

Cosmescu finished his cigarette and tossed it overboard, watching the hot red tip sail through the air, before disappearing into the black water.

‘I’m sure we can work this out – find something that you will be happy with.’

Cosmescu watched the compass. The boat was very skittish and he had to correct the wheel sharply to bring her back on course.

‘You see, Mr Towers, I have to take a gamble now. If I kill you, there is a chance I will get caught. But if I let you live, there is also a chance I will get caught. In my view, that is a much bigger chance, I’m sorry to inform you.’

Cosmescu pulled a roll of duct tape from his windcheater pocket, together with the bone-handle knife that he always carried. It was one he had learned to trust over the years. A button in the side released the blade, which with a flick of his wrist, would swing out and lock into place. And, as past experience showed, it was tough enough not to break when it struck human bone. He kept it as sharp as a razor and indeed on one occasion on his travels, when he did not have his razor with him, it had given him a very satisfactory shave.

‘I think now we have said everything we have to say to each other, no?’

‘Please – look – I could-’

But that was as far as he got before the Romanian sealed his lips again.

*

Forty minutes later the lights of the Brighton and Hove coastline were still visible, but disappearing every few moments behind the inky blackness of waves. Cosmescu, finishing another cigarette, killed the engine and switched off the navigation lights. There was a comfortable 150 feet of water beneath them. This was a good place.

He was still smarting from the phone call he had received two nights ago in the casino, when he was told in no uncertain terms by his paymaster that he had fucked up. The man was right, he had fucked up. He had broken the rule that you never involve others unless you absolutely had to. He should have just hired a boat and taken the bodies out himself in the first place. There was nothing at all to driving it and navigating – a child of four could do it.

But he’d had a good reason; or at least it had seemed good at the time. A guy repeatedly hiring a boat in the cold winter months and going out on his own would soon arouse suspicion. All boats heading in and out of the harbour were noticed, and suspicious ones watched. But the coastguard would not bat an eyelid at a local fisherman taking his charter boat in and out, however often he went.

Now, watched only by the stars and the silent eyes of the boat’s owner, he unclipped and pulled up some of the decking, then, with the aid of a torch, identified the sea cocks. He tested one and instantly icy seawater flooded in. Good. At least Towers kept his boat well maintained.

He walked to the stern, unrolled the grey, inflatable Zodiac dinghy he had bought the previous day, and lifted clear the oxygen cylinder, petrol tank and Yamaha outboard motor, which were parcelled up inside it, along with a paddle.

Ten minutes later, perspiring from exertion, the Romanian had the Zodiac in the water, tied up alongside, with its engine running at tick-over speed. It bobbed up and down alarmingly, but it would be more stable, he reckoned, when he added his body weight to it.

The deck was now awash and water was bubbling up steadily from the two opened sea cocks. It was already almost up to Jim Towers’s chin. Cosmescu, glad of his rubber boots, shone the beam on his face, watching the man’s eyes, which were frantically trying to communicate with him.

Now the water was over Towers’s chin. Cosmescu switched off the torch and scanned the horizon. Except for the lights of Brighton and the occasional sparkle of phosphorescence on a cresting wave, there was just darkness. He listened to the slap of the sea on the hull. He could feel the Scoob-Eee settling down deeper into the water, rocking progressively less under the water ballast it was now shipping at a fast rate.

He switched the torch back on and saw Jim Towers frantically trying to raise his head above the water, which now completely covered his mouth.

‘My advice, Mr Towers, is, just before the water reaches your nostrils, take a very deep breath. That will buy you a good extra minute or so of life. There are a lot of things that a human being can do in sixty seconds. You may even have an extra ninety seconds, if you are a fit man.’

But by this time he wasn’t sure if the other man could still hear him. It seemed unlikely, as the water was immersing his face.

And the dinghy was parallel with the deck rail.

Textbook stuff! Never leave a sinking boat until you can step up into the life raft. Ninety seconds later, he did just that and cast it free, then motored away into the darkness. Then he waited, circling slowly, until the black silhouette disappeared beneath the surface, sending up large bubbles, some of which he could hear above the burble of the outboard.

Then he twisted the throttle grip and felt the surge of acceleration as the prow of the Zodiac rose, then thumped over a wave. Spray lashed his face. The prow surged down the far side of a wave, then thumped over another. Freezing, salty water sloshed over him. The little craft pulled sharply left, then right. For a moment he felt a twinge of panic that he was not going to make it, that he was going to get flipped over. But then they crested a wave and the lights of Brighton, blurry through his salty eyes, seemed just that little bit brighter. That little bit closer.

Gradually, the sea quietened as he neared the coast. He aimed for the lights of the pier and the Marina to the east of it. Beyond the Marina was the under-cliff walk. Few people, if anyone at all, would be there on this blustery, freezing November night. Or on any of the beaches.

That it was Jim Towers’s wedding anniversary tonight was a problem. Another potential fuck-up. Unless he had been lying. What if the man’s wife had called the police? The coastguard? Perhaps his disappearance would be reported in the local paper. He would have to watch carefully and see what was printed, then work around it.

Twenty minutes later, the silhouette of the cliffs in front of him, the Marina a safe distance to his left, he twisted the throttle up to maximum for several seconds, then cut the engine. He unscrewed the two wing nuts holding the five-horsepower engine to the transom and jettisoned the outboard into the sea.

The Zodiac continued travelling forward under its own momentum. In the lee of the cliffs, there was barely any wind to impede his progress. Gripping the paddle, he kept the prow of the craft pointing inshore, listening to the increasingly loud sound of breaking waves on shingle, until they jerked to an abrupt halt.

A wave broke over the stern, drenching him.

Cursing, he jumped out, and into water far deeper and far colder than he had estimated. Right up to his shoulders. A wave sucked him back and for an instant he panicked. Shingle gave way beneath his boots. He leaned forward, determinedly, dragging the craft by the line attached to its bow. Then he tumbled on to the hard pebbles of the beach.

Another wave broke and this time the prow of the Zodiac bashed him on the back of his head. He cursed again. Stumbling to his feet, he fell forward again. Then he clambered up, struggling to get a purchase on all the mad loose stuff beneath him. He took several more steps forward, until the dinghy became a dead weight behind him.

He dragged it on up the beach, then listened carefully in the darkness, watching all around him. Nothing. No one. Just the crashing of waves and the sucking of water on shingle.

He pulled the rubber stops out of each side of the dinghy, and slowly rolled it up, expelling the air. Then, using his knife, he cut the deflated craft, which was like a giant bladder, into several strips and scooped them into a bundle.

Struggling under its wet weight, he made his way along the walk beneath the cliffs to where he had left his van earlier today, in the ASDA superstore car park in the Marina, depositing strips into each of the rubbish bins he came to on his route.

It was a few minutes to midnight. He could have used a drink and a couple of hours at the roulette table in the Rendezvous Casino to calm down. But in his bedraggled state that was not a smart option.

40

Including Roy Grace, there were twenty-two detectives and support staff assembled around two of the three communal work stations in Major Incident Room One, on the top floor of Sussex House.

The Major Incident Suite, reached through a warren of cream-painted corridors, occupied about a third of this floor. It comprised two Major Incident Rooms, of which MIR One was the larger, two witness interview rooms, a conference room for police and press briefings, the Crime Scene labs, and several offices for SIOs based elsewhere to move into during major investigations here.

MIR One was bright and modern-looking. It had small windows set high up with vertical blinds, as well as one frosted-glass ceiling panel, on which rain was pattering. There were no decorations to distract from the purpose of this place, which was absolute focus on the solving of serious violent crimes.

On the walls were whiteboards, to which had been pinned photographs of the three victims of Operation Neptune. The first young man was shown in plastic sheeting in the slipper of the drag head of the Arco Dee dredger, then during various stages of his postmortem. There were photographs of the second and third victims in their body bags on the deck of the Scoob-Eee deep-sea fishing boat, then also during their post-mortems. One, blown up larger than the others, was a close-up of the upper arm of the female, showing the tattoo with a ruler across it to give a sense of scale.

Also pinned to the whiteboard, providing light relief, was a picture of the Yellow Submarine from the Beatles album, beneath the words Operation Neptune. It had become traditional to illustrate the names of all operations with an image. This one had been devised by some wag on the inquiry team – probably Guy Batchelor, Grace guessed.

The morning’s copy of the Argus lay beside Grace’s open policy book and his notes, typed up by his MSA, which were in front of him on the imitation light-oak surface. The headline read: TWO MORE BODIES FOUND IN CHANNEL.

It could have been a lot worse. Kevin Spinella had done an uncharacteristically restrained job, writing up the story pretty much as Grace had spun it to him, saying that the police suspected the bodies had been dumped from a vessel passing through the Channel. It was enough to give the local community the information they were entitled to, enough to get them thinking about any teenagers they knew who had recently had surgery and had subsequently disappeared, but not enough to cause panic.

For Grace, this had become a potentially very important case. A triple homicide on the home turf of the new Chief Constable, within weeks of his commencing in the post. No doubt the poisonous ACC Vosper had already told Tom Martinson exactly what she thought of Grace, whose clumsy attempt to strike up conversation with him at Jim Wilkinson’s retirement party would have added credibility to her opinion. He intended to get a few minutes with Martinson at the dinner dance tonight, and an opportunity to assure him that this case was in good hands.

Dressed casually, in a black leather jacket over a navy sweatshirt and a white T-shirt, jeans and trainers, Roy Grace opened proceedings. ‘The time is 8.30 a.m., Saturday 29 November. This is the fourth briefing of Operation Neptune, the investigation into the deaths of three unknown persons, identified as Unknown Male 1, Unknown Male 2, and Unknown Female. This operation is commanded by myself, and by DI Mantle in my absence.’

He gestured to the Detective Inspector opposite him for the benefit of those who did not know her. Unlike many of the team in here, who were also dressed in casual weekend gear, Lizzie Mantle still wore one of her trademark masculine suits, today’s a brown and white chalk-stripe, her only concession to the weekend being to wear a brown roll-neck sweater instead of a more formal blouse.

‘I know several of you are going to the CID dinner dance tonight,’ Grace continued, ‘and because it is the weekend, a lot of people we need to speak to won’t be around, so I’m going to give some of you Sunday off. For those working over the weekend, we’ll have just one briefing tomorrow, at midday, by which time some of those at the ball will have slept off their hangovers.’ He grinned. ‘Then we return to our routine at 8.30 a.m. on Monday.’

At least Cleo understood the long and frequently anti-social hours his work demanded of him, and was supportive, he thought with some relief. That was in marked contrast to his years with Sandy, for whom his weekend working was a big issue.

He glanced at his notes. ‘We are waiting on the pathologist’s toxicology results, which may help us with the cause of death, but they won’t come through until Monday. Meantime, I’m going to start with reports for Unknown Male 1.’

He looked at Bella Moy, who had her habitual box of Maltesers open in front of her. She plucked one out, as if it was her drug, and popped it into her mouth.

‘Bella, anything on dental records?’

Rolling the chocolate around inside her mouth, she said, ‘No match so far, Roy, for Unknown Male 1, but something that may be significant. Two of the dentists I went to see commented that the condition of the young man’s teeth was poor for his age – indicative of bad nutrition and healthcare, and perhaps drug abuse. So it is likely he came from a deprived background.’

‘There was nothing about dental work on his teeth that gave the dentists any clue to his nationality?’ Lizzie Mantle quizzed.

‘No,’ Bella said. ‘There is no indication of any dental work, so it is quite possible he has never been to a dentist. In which case we are not going to find a match.’

‘You’ll have the three sets to take around on Monday,’ Grace said. ‘That should broaden your chances.’

‘I could do with a couple of other officers with me to cover all the dental practices quickly.’

‘OK. I’ll check our manpower resources after the meeting.’ Grace made a quick note, then turned to Norman Potting. ‘You were going to speak to organ transplant coordinators, Norman. Anything?’

‘I’m working my way through all the ones at every hospital within a hundred-mile radius of here, Roy,’ Potting said. ‘So far nothing, but I’ve discovered something of interest!’ He fell tantalizingly silent, with a smug grin.

‘Do you want to share it with us?’ Grace asked.

The DS was wearing the same jacket he always seemed to wear at weekends, whether winter or summer. A crumpled tweed affair with shoulder epaulettes and poacher’s pockets. He dug his hand into one, with slow deliberation, as if about to pull out something of great significance, but instead just left it there, irritatingly jingling some loose coins or keys as he spoke.

‘There’s a world shortage of human organs,’ he announced. Then he pursed his lips and nodded his head sagely. ‘Particularly kidneys and livers. Do you know why?’

‘No, but I’m sure we are about to find out,’ Bella Moy said irritably, and popped another Malteser into her mouth.

‘Car seat belts!’ Potting said triumphantly. ‘The best donors are those who die from head injuries, with the rest of their bodies left intact. Now that more people wear seat belts in cars, they only tend to die if they are totally mangled, or incinerated. How’s that for irony? In the old days, people would hit the windscreen head-first and die from that. It’s mostly motorcyclists today.’

‘Thank you, Norman,’ said Grace.

‘Something else that might be of interest,’ Potting said. ‘Manila in the Philippines is now actually nicknamed One Kidney Island.’

Bella shook her head cynically and said, ‘Oh, come on. That’s an urban myth!’

Grace cautioned her with a raised hand. ‘What’s the significance, Norman?’

‘It’s where wealthy Westerners go to buy kidneys from poor locals. The locals get a grand – a substantial sum of money by their standards. By the time you’ve bought it and had it transplanted, you’re looking at forty to sixty grand.’

‘Forty to sixty thousand pounds?’ Grace repeated, astonished.

‘A liver can fetch five or six times that amount,’ Potting replied. ‘People who’ve been on a waiting list for years get desperate.’

‘The people here aren’t Filipinos,’ Bella said.

‘I spoke to the coastguard again,’ Potting said, ignoring her. ‘Gave him the weight of the breeze blocks holding down our first poor sod. He doesn’t think the weather conditions of the past week would have been strong enough to have moved him. Most of the current is on or near the surface. Maybe if there had been a tsunami, but not otherwise.’

‘Thank you. That’s good information,’ Grace said, noting it down. ‘Nick?’

Glenn Branson, still looking ragged, raised a hand. ‘Sorry to interrupt. Just a quick point, Roy. All three of these persons could have been killed in another country, or even on a ship, and just dumped into the Channel, right? The story that you told the Argus?’

‘Yes. A few more miles further off the coast and they would not have been our problem. But they were found inside UK territorial waters, so they are. I’ve already got two of our researchers compiling a list of every known vessel that has passed through the Channel in the last seven days. But I don’t know yet how we are going to find the resources to follow up that information, or even if it’s worth trying.’

‘Well,’ Branson went on, ‘the bodies were found in about sixty-five feet of water – so if they hadn’t drifted they were dropped there, from a boat or a plane or a chopper. Some of the bigger container ships and supertankers using the English Channel need more draught than that, so we should be able to eliminate quite a bit of shipping. Also, I would have thought that any boat skipper would know from the Admiralty charts that it was a dredge area, and keep clear of it as a dump site if he didn’t want these to be discovered. A chopper or private plane pilot might not have looked at the Admiralty charts – or noticed. So I think we ought to check out the local airports, particularly Shoreham, find out what aircraft have been up during the past week and check them out.’

‘I agree,’ DI Mantle said. ‘Glenn’s making a good point. The problem is we don’t know what might have taken off from a private airfield without filing a flight plan. If it was a light aircraft on a mission to dump bodies, it’s quite possible the pilot wouldn’t have done.’

‘Or it could have been a plane from overseas somewhere,’ Nick Nicholl said.

‘I doubt that, Nick,’ Grace said. ‘Any foreign aircraft, say from France, would just go out a few miles into the Channel. They wouldn’t fly into British airspace.’

Branson shook his head. ‘No, sorry, chief, I disagree. They might have done it deliberately.’

‘How do you mean deliberately?’ DI Mantle asked.

‘Like, a double-bluff kind of thing,’ the DS replied. ‘Knowing we might find them and assume they were from England.’

Grace smiled. ‘Glenn, I think you’ve watched too many films. If someone from overseas was dumping bodies in the sea, they’d be doing it because they didn’t want them to be found – and they wouldn’t fly that close to the English coastline.’ He jotted down a note. ‘But we need to check every local airport and flying club – and air traffic controllers. And that can be done over the weekend, as they’ll be open.’

David Browne raised a hand. The Crime Scene Manager, in his early forties, could easily have passed for the actor Daniel Craig’s freckled, ginger-haired brother. It had long been a standing joke among his colleagues that a few years back, when the film company was casting the new James Bond, it had sent the contract to the wrong man. Dressed in a zippered fleece jacket, over an open-neck shirt, jeans and trainers, with his powerful shoulders and close-cropped hair, he appeared every inch an action man. But Browne’s looks belied his thorough approach to crime scenes, and his tireless attention to detail, which had taken him almost as high up the SOCO ladder as it was possible to rise.

‘All three bodies were wrapped in similar industrial-strength PVC, which can be purchased from any hardware or DIY store. They were bound with high-tensile cord that’s again widely available. My view is whoever did this wasn’t intending them to come back up. So far as the perp was concerned, it was job done.’

‘What are the chances of finding out where these items were purchased?’ Grace asked.

‘It wasn’t a big quantity,’ Browne said. ‘Not enough to stick in anyone’s mind. There are hundreds of places that sell them. But it would be worth doing a trawl of all the local suppliers. Most of them will be open over the weekend.’

Grace made another note on his Resourcing list. Then he turned to DC Nicholl again.

‘Nick?’

‘I’ve checked the Mispers lists. They have quite a number of missing teenagers who could be matches. They want me to let them have photographs of the victims.’

‘Chris Heaver’s been given photographs of all three of them. He’s preparing sanitized versions to release to the press on Monday. You can send them to the Missing People office at the same time.’

Chris Heaver was the Facial Identification Officer.

‘We’ll also get them circulated to every police station in the south-east, and see if we can get them on Crimewatch if we’ve no joy by the time the next show screens. Anyone know when that is?’

‘Tuesday week,’ Bella said. ‘I checked.’

Grace screwed up his face in disappointment. It was a long time to wait. Then he addressed the young DC, Emma-Jane Boutwood.

‘E-J?’

‘Well,’ she said, in her plummy, public-school voice, ‘I’ve looked into the case of the headless and limbless torso of the small boy that was recovered from the Thames in 2001. The police gave the poor little chap, who has never been identified, the name Adam. It was eventually established that he had come from Nigeria by the examination of microscopic granules of plants found in his intestines. The expert used was a Dr Hazel Wilkinson of the Jodrell Laboratory at Kew Gardens.’

David Browne, the Crime Scene Manager, raised his hand again. ‘Roy, we know Hazel – we’ve worked with her on a number of cases.’

‘OK,’ Grace said. ‘E-J, will you arrange to get her what she needs from Nadiuska?’

‘Yes, and there’s something else. I read about this in hospital.’ She gave a wan smile and a shrug. ‘Thought I might as well try to make use of my time there! One of the forensic labs we use for DNA, Cellmark Forensics, has a US parent, Orchid Cellmark. I’ve been in touch with a helpful guy over there called Matt Greenhalgh – he’s the Director of Forensics. He told me their labs in the US have been making progress analysing the isotopes in enzymes in DNA. Matt said they have established that food – in particular its constituent minerals – is sufficiently localized to get a region of origin, if not an actual country. Lab samples from Unknown Male 1 have been expressed out there and we should hear back early in the week.’

‘Good. Thanks, E-J,’ he said. He pondered the value of this for a moment, when foodstuffs were now regularly shipped all over the world. But it might help. Then he stood up and walked over to one of the whiteboards and pointed at the close-up photograph of the female’s upper arm. ‘Do you all see this?’

Everyone in the room nodded. It was a crude tattoo, one inch long, spelling rares.

‘Rares?’ Norman Potting said. ‘Could be a bad spelling of rash! Which might mean it’s a nasty rash!’ He chuckled at his own joke.

‘My guess is it’s a name,’ Roy Grace said, ignoring him. ‘The most likely thing a teenage girl would have tattooed on her arm is the name of a boyfriend. This one looks as if she might have done it herself. Anyone ever heard of this name?’

No one had.

‘Norman and E-J, I’m tasking you with finding out if this is a real name – and in which country. Or what it means if it isn’t a name.’

Then he looked at DI Mantle. ‘I know you’ve been out of the loop for a couple of days on your course, Lizzie. Anything you need to know at this stage?’

‘No, I’m up to speed, Roy,’ she said.

‘Good.’

Still on his feet, he glanced around the room and looked at the HOLMES analyst, Juliet Jones, a dark-haired woman in a brown-striped shirt.

‘Over the weekend we need a scoping operation – check with every county force in the UK to see if they have anything remotely similar. We can’t assume this is about transplants. It’s the most obvious line of enquiry, but we mustn’t rule out having a lone nutter on our hands. Nadiuska reckons that whoever did this has surgical skills. We need to find out from the Home Office about every surgeon, and doctor with surgical skills, who has been released from prison or from a mental home in the last couple of years as another starting point.’ He thought for a moment. ‘And all surgeons who have been struck off who might have a grievance.’ He noted this down as an action for the researchers.

‘What about the Internet, Roy?’ asked David Browne. ‘I recall that someone advertised a kidney for sale on eBay a few years ago. It would be worth a trawl.’

‘Yes, that’s a very good point.’ He turned to Lizzie Mantle. ‘Can you get the High-Tech Crime Unit on to that? See if anyone is advertising organs for sale.’

‘Do you really think anyone would do that, Roy?’ Bella asked. ‘Kill victims and sell their organs?’

Grace had long passed the period when he questioned human potential for evil. You could take the most horrific thing your brain was capable of imagining, then multiply it by a factor of ten and it still would not bring you close to the levels of depravity that people were capable of.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately, I do.’

41

Half past three and it was already growing dark outside. Lynn stood at her kitchen table, staring out of the window, waiting for the microwave, which was making a sound like a chainsaw inside a metal dustbin, to finish its cycle. Rain was pelting down and the back garden, which she tended proudly for most of the year, now looked badly neglected.

The autumn roses needed dead-heading, and the grass, beneath a carpet of fallen leaves, needed cutting again now, even though it was the end of November – thank you, global warming, she thought. Maybe next weekend she would have the energy and enthusiasm. If…

A big if.

If she could get through the terrible fear for Caitlin that was gripping her, almost paralysing her mind, making it impossible to concentrate on anything, even the newspaper.

There was something about Sunday afternoons that she had never liked, for as far back as she could remember. A feeling of gloom that the weekend was ending and it was back to the real world the next day. But it wasn’t just gloom this afternoon. She felt sick with fear for Caitlin and helpless – and angry at her helplessness. Seeing her daughter’s frightened face these past days in the hospital and being unable to offer her anything but words of reassurance, a few teenage magazines and some CDs was eating away at her soul.

Helping people was one of the things she had always done best in life. For two years during her mid-teens she had helped her younger sister, Lorraine, crippled and bedridden after being knocked off her bike by a lorry, slowly get back to health and start walking again. Five years ago, she had again helped Lorraine through her divorce and then through the battle she had finally lost against breast cancer.

After her own divorce, her mother had been her rock, but she was growing old and, although still strong, at some point in the coming years Lynn knew that she would lose her too. If she lost Caitlin as well, she would be utterly alone in the world, and that selfish thought scared her almost as much as the pain of seeing Caitlin suffering now.

The last few days in the Royal South London had been a living hell. They had organized a room for her for the past three nights, in a Salvation Army training centre across the street from Caitlin’s ward, but she had barely spent any time in it, not wanting to miss out on any of the examinations and tests for transplant suitability that Caitlin had been put through, almost around the clock. She’d chosen instead to sleep in a chair next to her daughter’s bed.

She had lost count of the people her daughter had seen. All the different members of the transplant team, the social workers, the nurses, the registrar, the consultant hepatologist, the consultant surgeon, the anaesthetist. All the scans, the blood tests, the base line measurements, the imaging, lung function, cardiac assessments and seemingly endless and repetitive clinical reviews.

‘I’m just an exhibit, right?’ Caitlin had said, despairingly, at one point.

The one person to whom Caitlin responded, the consultant, Dr Abid Suddle, had assured them both, this morning, that hopefully a match would be found very quickly, despite Caitlin’s rare blood group. It was possible within just a few days, he said.

Lynn always felt reassured by him. She liked the man’s energy, his warmth and his genuine concern. She saw he was someone who worked incredibly long hours and she believed he truly would go the extra mile for Caitlin, but the fact remained that there was a world shortage of livers and Caitlin had a rare blood group. And there was another problem. As had already been explained to them, Caitlin had chronic liver disease. Priority was given to those with acute liver disease.

Dr Suddle had explained that there were other, not so rare blood groups that could be a match in liver transplants, so that needn’t be a cause for worry. Caitlin was going to be fine, he told her. And Lynn knew that Dr Abid Suddle did want her to be fine.

But she also knew he was part of a system. He was just one exhausted member of a very big, very overworked and permanently exhausted but caring team. And Luke, who had frightened her, had made her go to the Internet herself. It was hard to find an accurate figure for the number of people in the UK waiting for a liver transplant. Dr Suddle had admitted privately that 19 per cent at the Royal died before one became available. And she felt sure he was not telling her the whole truth. Priorities got shifted at every week’s Wednesday meeting. In all the down-time she had, she talked to patients who found themselves endlessly bumped down the list by others in worse condition than themselves.

It was a lottery.

She felt so damn helpless.

The thick wodge of the Observer newspaper and all its supplements lay on the table and she glanced at one of the front-page headlines, forecasting more economic gloom, falling property prices, rises in bankruptcies. And tomorrow, going back to work again, she would have to deal with the human fallout from all of that stuff.

She felt sorry for almost everyone she spoke to on the phone when she was at work. Decent, ordinary folk who had got themselves into a financial mess. There was one woman, Anne Florence, almost the same age as herself, and with a sick teenage daughter. Her problems had begun a few years back when she bought a car on hire purchase for £15,000, but failed to keep up the insurance payments and then the car was stolen. It left her still owing the hire purchase company, but without a car.

Unable to afford another car, she had gone ahead and bought one using plastic. And had then taken out new cards, using the cash limits of each new one to pay off the previous ones.

For over a year now, Lynn had almost weekly renegotiated her monthly repayments on a £5,000 debt to one card company, a client of her firm, allowing her smaller and smaller repayments. But to make matters worse, she had fallen badly into arrears with her mortgage. She knew it was only a matter of time before the poor woman lost her house – and everything else.

She wished she had a magic wand that could make everything OK for Anne Florence, and the dozens like her she dealt with daily, but all she could do was be sympathetic but firm. And she was a damn sight better at being sympathetic than at being firm.

Max, their tabby cat, rubbed himself against her legs. She knelt and stroked him, feeling the reassurance of his soft, warm fur.

‘You’re lucky, Max,’ she said. ‘You don’t know all the shit that happens in human lives, do you?’

If Max did, he wasn’t letting on. He just purred.

She picked up the phone and dialled her best friend, Sue Shackleton, on whom she could always rely for cheery support. But the phone went to Sue’s voicemail. She remembered, vaguely, something about Sue’s new boyfriend taking her away to Rome for the weekend. She left a message, then hung up forlornly.

As she did so, the microwave pinged. She waited for another minute, then opened the door and took out the pizza. She then cut it into sections, put it on a tray and carried it through into the lounge.

As she opened the door, the television was blaring. On the screen she recognized two of the characters of Laguna Beach, one of the soaps her daughter was addicted to. Caitlin was lying on the sofa, her head on Luke’s chest, barefoot, her toes curled, two cans of Coke open on the glass-topped coffee table. She looked at her daughter’s face for a moment, saw her totally absorbed in the programme, smiling at something, and for an instant she felt overwhelmed by a rush of emotion. She had a strong desire to cradle Caitlin in her arms.

God, the girl needed reassurance – deserved reassurance. And she deserved someone a lot better than that dickhead, with his stupid, lopsided hairstyle, on the sofa with her.

She was still furious at him for spooking Caitlin – and herself – with the statistics about the numbers of people on transplant waiting lists – and their mortality rate.

‘Pizza!’ she said, a lot more cheerfully than she felt.

Luke, in a hoodie, ripped jeans and untied trainers, peered at her from under his slanted fringe, then raised a hand as if he was directing traffic.

‘Yeah! Cool! I’m cool with pizza.’

You’d look even cooler wearing it as a hat, Lynn thought. She could have happily dumped it all on his head. Instead, she kept calm, put the tray down, exited the room and returned to the kitchen. Ignoring the Sunday newspaper, she picked up the Val McDermid crime novel she had been reading for the past few days, in the hope of immersing herself in a different world for an hour or so.

In the novel a man was putting a victim into a replica of a medieval torture machine and Lynn suddenly thought how pleasant it would be to put Luke into such a machine.

Then she put the book down and cried.

42

Susan Cooper was utterly exhausted. She had lost track of the days since Nat’s accident. Apart from brief trips home for a shower and change of clothing, she had lived here, in this ITU ward, since last Wednesday. It was now, according to the Daily Mail newspaper on her lap, Monday.

The paper was full of advertisements bordered with holly, and cheery, festive articles and tips. How to avoid a Christmas hangover! How to avoid putting on those extra pounds during the festive season! How to decorate your tree using recycled household rubbish! A hundred great Christmas gift ideas! How to buy your man a gift he will never forget!

How about, How to help your man live until Christmas, she thought bleakly, or, How to help your man live long enough to see his unborn child?

In the last five days there had been no change. The five longest days of her life. Five days of living in a chair at Nat’s bedside in the blue ITU ward. She was sick of the sight of blue. Sick of the pale blue of the walls, the blue of the curtains that at the moment were drawn around his bed, the blue of the venetian blinds, the blue tops and trousers of the nursing staff and the doctors. The only different colour came from all the cards he had been sent. She’d given the flowers to another ward, as there was no room in here.

She toyed with going into the curtained area, but it was crowded with medics at the moment. An alarm suddenly chimed. BEEP-BEEP-BONG. Then stopped almost instantly. She hated that alarm more and more. Every damn time it spooked her. Then another one chimed on the far side of the ward. She put the paper down and stood up, needing a break.

There was another alarm chime from Nat’s bed and she wondered again whether to check inside the curtain. But she had been checking constantly, quizzing every member of the medical staff day in and day out, and knew she must be close to driving them demented. She decided to go out of the ward for a few minutes to get a change of scenery.

She walked past several beds, the occupants mostly intubated and silent, either asleep or staring vacantly, and stopped by the hygienic hand-rub dispenser on the wall by the door. Dutifully giving her hands a squirt and massaging the gunk into her skin, she then pressed the green button to unlock the door, pushed it open and stepped out of the ward. She walked, like a zombie, along the corridor, past the door on her left to the quiet room and the one on her right to the larger, but no more cheerful, waiting room, past an abstract painting that looked like a collision between two trucks filled with multicoloured cuttlefish, and further along the corridor to the window on the far side of the lift.

This had become her window on the outside world.

It was the window she stared through on to an alternative reality. Rooftops and soaring gulls, and the Channel beyond. A world of tranquil normality. A world in which Nat was fine. A world in which the grey hulls of ships passed along the grey horizon, and in which, yesterday, she had watched the distant white sails of yachts out of the Marina racing around marker buoys. The winter racing series, the Frostbite Series. She knew all about it, because for a couple of years, on Sunday mornings that he had off, Nat had crewed on one of those yachts, grinding winches. He had enjoyed the fresh air and, like squash, found it a good escape from the pressures of the hospital.

Then he had bought the motorbike and instead had spent his free Sunday mornings racing around the countryside with a group of other born-again bikers. The bike she hated so much.

Oh shit, she thought. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.

As if sensing her mood, her baby moved inside her.

‘Hi, Bump,’ she said. Then she pulled out her mobile phone. Eight missed calls. New message after new message after new message. Nat’s brother. His sailing friends. His squash partner. His sister. Jane, her best friend, and two other girlfriends, as well.

She heard footfalls behind her. Soft and squeaky on the linoleum. Then a female voice she did not recognize.

‘Mrs Cooper?’

She turned and saw a pleasant-looking woman who was holding a clipboard loaded with forms. In her late thirties, the woman had long, light brown hair pulled back into a bun, a brown and cream striped top, black trousers and soft black shoes. On her chest was pinned a badge which read, Specialist Nurse.

‘I’m Chris Jackson,’ she said, then smiled sympathetically. ‘How are you?’

Susan shrugged and gave a wan smile. ‘Not great, if you want to know the truth.’

There was a brief moment of hesitation and Susan felt awkward, sensing something bad was coming.

‘Could we have a chat for a few minutes, Mrs Cooper?’ the nurse asked. ‘If I’m not interrupting anything, that is.’

‘Yes, fine.’

‘Perhaps we could go into the quiet room. Can I get you a cup of tea?’

‘Thank you.’

‘How do you take it?’

‘Milk, no sugar.’

A few minutes later Susan was seated on a green chair with wooden arms in the windowless quiet room. There was a corner table with what looked like a bedside table lamp with a fringed shade on it. A small mirror was mounted on one wall, a print of a dreary landscape on another, and there was a tiny fan, switched off. The atmosphere was oppressive.

Chris Jackson returned with two cups of tea and sat opposite her. She smiled, pleasantly but awkwardly.

‘May I call you Susan?’

She nodded.

‘I’m afraid, Susan, it’s not looking good.’ She stirred her tea. ‘We’ve done everything we can for your husband. Because of who he is, and the affection the staff have for him, everyone has put in even more effort than normal. But in five days he has not responded, and I’m afraid there has been a development this morning.’

‘What’s that?’

‘The frequent check of his pupils reveals that there’s been a change in the brain consistent with raised pressure.’

‘His pupils have blown, right?’ Susan said.

Chris Jackson gave a grim smile. ‘Yes, of course. With your background, you’d understand.’

‘And I understand the severity of his brain damage. How much longer do you – do you think – you know…’ She started choking on the words. ‘That he’ll be with us?’

‘There are more repeat tests to be done, but it’s looking conclusive. Is there anyone you would like to call? Any other family members you would like to be here, to say goodbye to him, and to give you support?’

Susan put her cup and saucer down, dug in her handbag for a tissue, then dabbed her eyes and nodded.

‘His brother – he’s on his way down from London anyway – he should be here soon. I – I-’ She shook her head, sniffed and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself while fighting back tears. ‘How sure are you?’

‘There was a rise in his blood pressure to 220 over 110. Then it plunged to 90 over 40. Do you understand the significance of that?’

‘Yes.’ Susan nodded, her eyes becoming a damburst of tears. ‘Nat has effectively died. Right?’

‘I’m afraid so,’ said Chris Jackson very quietly.

Susan nodded, pressing the tissue hard against each eye in turn. The other woman waited patiently. After a few minutes, Susan sipped some tea.

‘Look,’ Chris Jackson said. ‘There is something I’m going to talk to you about now. Because your husband is in here, and his body is intact, to a large extent, you have the option of donating his vital organs to help save the lives of others.’

She paused, waiting for a reaction.

Susan stared silently down into her cup.

‘A lot of people get comfort from this. It means that the death of their loved one can at least help to save the lives of others. It would mean that something positive comes out of Nat’s death.’

‘I’m pregnant,’ she said. ‘I’m carrying his child. He’s not going to see it now, is he?’

‘But at least something of him will live on in this child.’

Susan stared at her tea again. It felt as if there was a band of steel tightening around her gullet.

‘How – I mean, if I – he – donated organs, would he be – you know – disfigured?’

‘He would receive the same medical care as if he was a living patient. He wouldn’t be disfigured, no. There would be just one incision down his chest.’

After a long silence, Susan said, ‘I know Nat always supported the concept of organ donation.’

‘But he didn’t carry a donor card? Or join the register?’

‘I think he would have done, in time.’ She shrugged and dabbed her eyes again. ‘I don’t think he expected to – to…’

The nurse nodded, sparing her from finishing the sentence. ‘Not many people do,’ she said.

Susan laughed bitterly. ‘That fucking motorbike. I didn’t want him to have it. Right? If only I’d put my foot down.’

‘It’s very hard to stop strong-minded people from doing things, Susan. You cannot blame yourself, now or ever.’

There was another long silence. Then she said, ‘If I gave consent, would you give him an anaesthetic?’

‘If that’s what you want, yes. But it isn’t necessary. He can’t feel anything at all.’

‘How much of him would you take?’

‘Whatever you wanted.’

‘I don’t want you to take his eyes.’

‘That’s fine, I understand.’ Her pager bleeped suddenly. She glanced at it, then put it back in its holster. ‘Would you like another cup?’

Susan shrugged.

‘I’ll make you another cup and I’ll get the consent forms. I will need to go through his medical history with you.’

‘Do you know who his organs will go to?’ Susan asked.

‘No, not at this stage. There’s a national database for organs – kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas and the small bowel – with over eight thousand people waiting. Your husband’s would be allocated on a match and priority basis – finding recipients who would have the best chance of success. We would write to you and tell you who has benefited from his donation.’

Susan closed her eyes to stop the tears.

‘Get the forms,’ she said. ‘Just get the sodding forms before I change my mind.’

43

The Denarii Collection Agency, for whom Lynn Beckett worked, was located on two floors of one of Brighton and Hove’s newest office blocks, close to the railway station in the trendy New England Quarter.

The agency, named after the ancient Roman coins, had customers from the full range of companies providing consumer credit – banks, building societies, mail-order catalogues, stores which supplied their own credit cards, hire purchase companies – and in the worsening economic climate, business was booming. Some of their business came from simply chasing bad debts for specific clients. But a big part was bad debt portfolios that they purchased in bulk, taking a gamble on how much they would be able to recover.

At a quarter past five on Monday afternoon, Lynn was seated at her ten-person work station. Her team was called the Harrier Hornets. Each team was identified by its name, which hung above it on a board suspended from the ceiling. The other, fiercely competitive teams in the huge open-plan office were called Silver Sharks, Leaping Leopards and Denarii Demons. Over on the far side of the office was the litigation department, beneath a sign which said Legal Eagles, and beyond them was the dialler management team, which monitored the calls the collection agents made.

Normally she liked being here. She liked the camaraderie and the friendly rivalry. This was fuelled by huge flat screens around the walls constantly showing bonuses to be won, which ranged from a box of chocolates to outings, such as dinner in a posh restaurant or a night at the dogs. The screen in her line of view currently depicted an animated cooking pot filled with gold coins, together with the words THE COLLECTED BONUS POT £673. Often, she felt, the atmosphere was akin to being in a casino.

By the end of the week that would have grown even larger, and either one of the collection agents in her team or one in a rival team would be taking it home as a bonus. She could do with that right now, she thought, and it was still possible. So far she was having a good start to the week, despite the interruptions.

God, I want to win that! she thought. It would pay for the car, and a treat for Caitlin – and help with her mounting monthly credit card payments.

There was a fine view across Brighton, now in winter darkness, from the office, but when she was at work she concentrated so hard she rarely had time to appreciate it. Right now, she had her phone headset on, a mug of tea cooling in front of her, and was focusing as best she could on working through her call list.

She stopped, as she did every few minutes, and looked with a heavy heart up at the photograph of Caitlin that was pinned to the red partition wall, directly above her computer screen. She was leaning against a whitewashed house in Sharm el Sheikh, looking tanned, in a T-shirt and shorts and a cool pair of sunglasses, and giving the photographer – Lynn – a jokey supermodel pout.

Then, returning to her call sheet, she dialled a number and a gruff male voice answered in a Geordie accent.

‘Yeah?’

‘Good afternoon,’ she said, politely. ‘Is that Mr Ernest Moorhouse?’

‘Um, who’s speaking?’ He sounded evasive suddenly.

‘My name is Lynn Beckett. Is that Mr Moorhouse?’

‘Well, yeah, it might be,’ he said.

‘I’m phoning from Denarii Collection Agency, following up a letter we sent you recently, regarding eight hundred and seventy-two pounds that you owe on your HomeFixIt store card. Could I just check your identity?’

There was a moment’s silence. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘sorry, I misunderstood you. I’m not Mr Moorhouse. You must have a wrong number.’

The line went dead.

Lynn redialled and the same voice answered. ‘Mr Moorhouse? It’s Lynn Beckett from Denarii. I think we got disconnected.’

‘I just told you, I’m not Mr Moorhouse. Now eff off and stop bothering me or I’ll come round to New England Quarter and ram this phone up your blooming arse.’

‘So you did get my letter?’ she went on, unperturbed.

His voice rose several octaves and decibels. ‘What part of I’m not Mr Fucking Moorhouse don’t you understand, you stupid cow?’

‘How did you know I am in New England Quarter, unless you got my letter, Mr Moorhouse?’ she asked, still keeping calm and polite.

Then she lifted the headset away from her ears as a torrent of abuse came back. Suddenly the mobile phone in her handbag began ringing. She pulled it out and glanced at the display. It showed Private Number. She pressed the kill button.

When the abuse had ended, she said, ‘I should warn you, Mr Moorhouse, that all our calls are recorded for training and monitoring purposes.’

‘Yeah? Well, I’m going to warn you something, Miss Barnett. Don’t you ever call me again at this time of day and start talking to me about money. Do you understand?’

‘What time of day would be better for you?’

‘NO FUCKING TIME OF DAY. OR NIGHT. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?’

‘I’d like to see if we could make a plan for you to start paying this off on a weekly basis. Something you can afford.’

Again she had to hold the headset away from her ears.

‘I can’t fucking afford nothing. I lost my fucking job, didn’t I? I got fucking Gordon Brown in my fucking pocket. I got fucking bailiffs knocking at my door for bigger fucking debts than this. Now go away and don’t ever fucking call me again. DO YOU FUCKING UNDERSTAND ME?’

Lynn took a deep breath. ‘How about if you started off by paying us just ten pounds a week? We’d like to make it easy for you. A repayment plan that you would be comfortable with.’

‘ARE YOU FUCKING DEAF?’

The phone went dead again. Almost instantly, her mobile beeped, with a message.

She made a note on Ernest Moorhouse’s file. She’d arrange for him to be sent another letter, then follow it up with another call next week. If that did not work, and it rather sounded as if it wouldn’t, then she would have to hand it over to litigation.

Surreptitiously, because private calls were frowned upon, she brought her phone to her ear and checked her message.

It was from the transplant coordinator at the Royal South London Hospital, asking her to call back urgently.

44

There had been another suspicious death in the city over the weekend, a forty-year-old known drug dealer called Niall Foster, who had fallen seven floors from his seafront flat. It had the hallmarks of a suicide, but neither the Coroner nor the police were comfortable about coming to an early conclusion. The small inquiry team that had been set up to investigate had been allocated the third work station in MIR One, so to avoid interrupting them when they were there, and to more comfortably accommodate his growing team, Grace was now holding some of his twice-daily briefings in the conference room, across the corridor.

His team, which had expanded even further, were seated at the large rectangular table, with twenty-four occupied red chairs pulled up around it. At one end of the room, directly behind the Detective Superintendent, was a curved two-tone blue display board bearing the words www.sussex.police.uk and an artistic display of five police badges on a blue background, with the Crimestoppers name and number prominently displayed beneath each of them. On the wall at the opposite end was a plasma screen.

Grace felt under even more pressure than usual on this investigation now. At the dinner dance on Saturday night he had managed to have another chat with the new Chief Constable and had been surprised by how well briefed on the inquiry Tom Martinson was. He realized it wasn’t just going to be the ACC, Alison Vosper, watching his every step but Martinson himself. The three bodies were bringing the city of Brighton and Hove under increasing national media scrutiny, which meant, in particular, a focus on the competence of Sussex CID. The only thing keeping the discovery of the three bodies from attracting wider news coverage at the moment was that two small girls had been missing from their home in a village near Hull, for over a week, which meant most media attention was focused on them and their immediate family.

‘The time is 6.30 p.m., Monday 1 December,’ Grace announced. ‘This is the eighth briefing of Operation Neptune, the investigation into the deaths of three unknown persons.’ He sipped some coffee, then went on. ‘I held a very uncomfortable press conference this morning. Someone’s leaked about the missing organs.’

He stared at his most trusted colleagues in turn: Lizzie Mantle, Glenn Branson, who was dressed in an electric-blue suit as if ready for a night out, Bella Moy, Emma-Jane Boutwood, Norman Potting and Nick Nicholl, certain it was none of them, nor another face in the room, DS Guy Batchelor. In fact, he was pretty sure it wasn’t anyone here. Nor did he think it was the mortuary team. Or the press office. Perhaps someone in the Force Control Room… One day, when he had the time, he would find out, he promised himself that.

Bella held up a copy of the London Evening Standard and a late edition of the Argus. The Standard headline read: ORGAN THEFT RIDDLE OF BODIES IN CHANNEL. The Argus: CHANNEL BODIES MISSING VITAL ORGANS.

‘You can be sure there will be more tomorrow in the morning papers,’ he said. ‘There are a couple of TV news crews crawling all over Shoreham Harbour and our PRO’s been fielding calls from radio stations all afternoon.’ He nodded at Dennis Ponds, whom he had asked to attend this briefing.

A former journalist, the public relations officer looked more like a City trader than a newspaper man. In his early forties, with slicked-back black hair, mutantly large eyebrows and a penchant for slick suits, he had the tough task of brokering the ever-fragile relations between the police and the public. It was often a no-win situation, and he had been given the sobriquet Pond Life by those officers who remained suspicious of anyone with anything to do with the press.

‘I’m hoping the coverage will help bring members of the public forward,’ Ponds said. ‘I’ve circulated touched-up photographs of all three to every paper and television news station and to the Internet news feeds.’

‘Is Absolute Brighton TV on your list?’ Nick Nicholl asked, referring to the city’s relatively new Internet channel.

‘Absolutely!’ Ponds replied, then beamed, as if pleased with his wit.

Grace glanced down at his notes.

‘Before we have your individual reports, there’s been one interesting serial today,’ he said. ‘Might be nothing, but we should follow it up.’ He looked at Glenn Branson. ‘You’d be the man, as you’re our nautical expert.’

There was a titter of laughter.

‘Projectile-vomiting expert, more likely,’ Norman Potting chuckled.

Ignoring him, Grace went on, ‘A fishing boat, called the Scoob-Eee, based at Shoreham, has been reported missing since Friday night. Probably nothing, but we need to monitor anything out of the usual anywhere along the coast.’

‘Did you say Scoob-Eee, Roy?’ Branson asked.

‘Yes.’

‘That – that’s the boat I went out on, on Friday, with the SSU.’

‘You didn’t tell us you bloody sank it, Glenn!’ quipped Guy Batchelor.

Glenn ignored him, thinking hard and very shocked. Missing as in stolen or sunk? Turning to Grace, he asked, ‘Do you have any more information?’

‘No – see what you can find.’

Branson nodded, then sat in silence, only half concentrating on the rest of the briefing.

‘Sounds like racketeers to me,’ Norman Potting said all of a sudden.

Grace looked at him quizzically.

Potting nodded. ‘It was Noël Coward, wasn’t it? What he said about Brighton. Piers, queers and racketeers. Sums it up, doesn’t it?’

Bella gave him a huffy stare. ‘So which one are you?’

‘Norman,’ Grace said, ‘there are people who would find that offensive. All right?’

For a moment the DS looked as if he was going to argue back, but then he appeared to think better of it. ‘Yes, chief. Understood. Just trying to make the point that with three bodies missing their organs, we could be looking at racketeering – in human organs.’

‘Anything you want to expand on that?’

‘I’ve given a brief to Phil Taylor and Ray Packham down in the High-Tech Crime Unit to see what they can find on the Internet. I’ve had a trawl myself, and yes, it’s widespread.’

‘Any UK connections?’

‘Not so far. I’m widening the search as far as I can, with Interpol – in particular Europol. But I don’t think we’re going to get any quick answers from them.’

Grace concurred with that. Having had many previous experiences with Interpol, he knew that the organization could be infuriatingly slow – and at times arrogant.

‘But I have come up with something that may be of interest,’ Potting said. He heaved himself up from his chair and walked over to the whiteboard, on which was fixed the blow-up photograph of the tattoo on the teenage girl’s arm. Pointing at it, he said the name aloud: ‘Rares.’

Bella rattled the Maltesers in her box and took out one.

‘I did some checking, mostly on the Internet,’ Potting went on. ‘It’s a Romanian name. A man’s first name.’

‘Definitely Romanian – and nowhere else?’ Grace asked him.

‘Unique to Romania,’ Potting responded. ‘Of course, that doesn’t necessary mean this Rares, whoever he might be, is Romanian. But it’s an indicator.’

Grace made a note. ‘Good, that’s very helpful, Norman.’

Potting belched and Bella shot him daggers. ‘Oops, pardon me.’ He patted his belly. ‘Something else, Roy, that I think might be relevant,’ he ploughed on. ‘The United Nations publishes a list of rogue countries involved in human trafficking for organ transplants. I checked it out.’ He smiled grimly. ‘Romania features on it – prominently.’

45

The hospital offered to send an ambulance, but Lynn didn’t want that, and she was sure Caitlin wouldn’t either. She decided to take her chances with the Peugeot.

Mal’s phone went straight to voicemail, which indicated he was at sea, so she sent him an email, knowing he could pick those up:

Matching liver donor found. She is having the transplant tomorrow at 6 a.m. Call me when you can. Lynn

For once in the car Caitlin did not send any texts. She just gripped her mother’s hand all the time that Lynn did not need it for changing gear, a weak, clammy, frightened grip, her jaundiced face flashing in the street lights and in the stark glare of oncoming headlights, like a yellow ghost.

A record on Southern Counties radio ended and the news came on. The third item was speculation that there was a human organ theft ring operating in Sussex. A policeman came on the radio, someone called Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, speaking with a strong, blunt voice: ‘It is far too early in our investigation to speculate, and one of our main lines of enquiry at this stage is to find out if these bodies were dumped by a passing ship in the Channel. I want to reassure the public that we consider this an isolated incident, and-’

Lynn punched the CD button, hastily silencing the radio.

Caitlin squeezed her mother’s hand again. ‘You know where I’d really like to be right now, Mum?’

‘Where, darling?’

‘Home.’

‘You want me to turn the car round?’ Lynn said, shocked.

Caitlin shook her head. ‘No, not our house. I’d like to be home.’

Lynn blinked away the tears that were forming. Caitlin was talking about Winter Cottage, where she and Mal had lived when they had got married, and where Caitlin had grown up, until the divorce.

‘It was nice there, wasn’t it, angel?’

‘It was bliss. I was happy then.’

Winter Cottage. Even its name was evocative. Lynn could remember that summer day when she and Mal had first gone to see it. She was six months pregnant with Caitlin at the time. There had been a long drive down a cart track, past a working farm, to the small, ramshackle cottage, ivy-clad, with its cluster of falling-down outbuildings and broken-paned greenhouse, but a beautifully tended lawn and a collapsed little Wendy house that Mal had lovingly rebuilt for Caitlin.

She could remember that first day so well. The musty smells, the cobwebs, the rotting timbers, the ancient range in the kitchen. The view to die for out across the softly rolling South Downs. Mal putting his strong arm around her shoulders and squeezing her, discussing all the things he could do himself to fix it up, with her help. A big project, but their project. Their home. Their piece of paradise.

And she could imagine, standing there then, what it would be like in winter, the sharp cold smells, the burning firewood, rotting leaves, wet grass. The place felt so safe, so secure.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Every time Caitlin brought it up, it made her sad. And it made her even sadder that still, over seven years after they had moved out, when Caitlin was just eight, she referred to Winter Cottage – and in particular its little Wendy house – as her home. And not the house they lived in now. That hurt.

But she could understand. Those eight years at Winter Cottage were Caitlin’s healthy years. The time in her life that she had been carefree. Her illness had begun a year later, and at the time Lynn had wondered whether the stress of seeing her parents’ marriage break up had been a contributing factor. She always would.

They were passing the IKEA chimneys again. Lynn was starting to feel they were becoming a symbol in her life. Or some kind of new marker posts. Old, normal life south of those chimney stacks. New, strange, unknown, reborn life north of them.

On the CD, Justin Timberlake began singing ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’.

‘Hey, Mum,’ Caitlin said, suddenly sounding as if she was perking up. ‘Do you think that’s the case, you know, what he’s singing, right?’

‘How do you mean?’

‘What goes around, comes around. Do you believe in that?’

‘You mean do I believe in karma?’

Caitlin thought for some moments. ‘I’m saying, like, I’m taking advantage of someone who’s died. Is that right?’

Someone who had died in a motorcycle accident, Lynn had been told by the hospital, but she had not given that detail to Caitlin, and did not want to, fearing it would distress her. ‘Maybe you need to take a different perspective. Perhaps that person has loved ones who will get comfort from knowing that some good will come out of their loss.’

‘It’s just so weird, isn’t it? That we don’t, like, even know who it is. Do you think I could ever – meet – the family?’

‘Would you want to?’

Caitlin was silent for a while, then she said, ‘Maybe. I don’t know.’

They drove on in silence again for a couple of minutes.

‘You know what Luke said?’

Lynn had to take a deep breath to restrain herself from retorting, No, and I don’t want to know what that sodding moron said. Through gritted teeth, sounding a lot more cheery and interested than she felt, she replied, ‘Tell me.’

‘Well, he said that some people who have transplants inherit stuff from the donors. Characteristics – or changes in their tastes. So, if the donor had a craving for Mars Bars, you might get that. Or liked a particular kind of music. Or was good at football. Sort of from their genes.’

‘Where did Luke get that gem from?’

‘The Internet. There’s loads of sites. We looked at some of them. You can inherit their dislikes too!’

‘Really?’ Suddenly Lynn perked up. Maybe this liver would come from someone who disliked dickheads with stupid hair.

‘There are verified case histories,’ Caitlin said, brightening up even more. ‘There are, really! OK, right, you know I’m frightened of heights?’

‘Uh huh.’

‘Well, there’s this woman I read about in America who was terrified of heights, and she had a transplant and got the lungs of a mountain climber, and now she’s a fanatical climber!’

‘You don’t think that was simply because she felt better, having lungs that worked properly?’

‘No.’

‘It sounds amazing,’ Lynn said, not wanting to appear sceptical, and keen to keep her daughter’s enthusiasm up.

‘And there’s this one, right, Mum? There was a man in Los Angeles who received a woman’s heart, and before he hated shopping – and now he wants to go shopping all the time!’

Lynn grinned. ‘So, what characteristic would you most like to inherit?’

‘Well, I’ve been thinking about this! I’m rubbish at drawing. Maybe I’ll get the liver from someone who was a brilliant artist!’

Lynn laughed. ‘Yep, there’s all kinds of possible bonuses! See, you’re going to be fine!’

Caitlin nodded. ‘With a cadaverous liver inside me. Yeah. I’ll be fine, just a bit liverish.’

Lynn laughed again, and was pleased to see her daughter break into a smile. She squeezed her hand tightly and they drove on companionably for some minutes, listening to the music, and the knocking rattle of the exhaust pipe beneath them.

Then, as her laughter faded, she felt a tightening band, like cold steel, inside her. There were risks with this operation which had been spelled out to both of them. Things could and did go wrong. There was a realistic possibility that Caitlin could die on the operating table.

But without the transplant, there was no realistic possibility that Caitlin would live longer than a few months.

Lynn had never been a churchgoer, but since earliest childhood, for much of her life, she had said her prayers every night. Five years ago, in the week immediately after her sister had died, she had stopped praying. Just recently, since Caitlin became seriously ill, she had started again, but only half-heartedly. She wished, sometimes, that she could trust God, and surrender all her concerns to Him. How much simpler that would make everything.

She squeezed her daughter’s hand again. Her living, beautiful hand that she and Mal had created, maybe in God’s image, maybe not. But certainly in her image. God could strut his stuff, but it was she who was going to be there for Caitlin in the coming hours, and if the Lord wanted to play Mr Nice Guy then she would welcome that with open arms. But if he wanted to screw around with her mind and her emotions and her daughter’s life, he could go take a hike.

Even so, at the next traffic lights she briefly closed her eyes and said a silent prayer.

46

Roy Grace was gripped with panic. He was running across grass, running at the edge of the cliff, with its sheer drop of a thousand feet, with a howling wind blowing in his face, almost pushing him to a standstill, so that he was just running on the spot.

Meanwhile a man was running towards the edge of the cliff, holding the baby in his arms. His baby.

Grace threw himself forward, grabbing the man’s waist in a rugby tackle, bringing him down. The man broke free and rolled, determinedly, cradling the baby like a ball he was not going to lose, rolling over and over towards the cliff edge.

Grace gripped his ankles, jerking him back. Then suddenly the earth beneath him gave way, with a crack like thunder, a huge chunk of the cliff breaking off like a crumbling piece of stale cake, and he was plunging, plunging with this man and his child, plunging down towards the jagged rocks and the boiling sea.

‘Roy! Darling! Roy! Darling!’

Cleo.

Cleo’s voice.

‘Roy, it’s OK, darling. It’s OK!’

He opened his eyes. Saw the light on. Felt his heart hammering. He was drenched in sweat, as if he was lying in a stream.

‘Shit,’ he whispered. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Falling again?’ Cleo said tenderly, looking at him with concerned eyes.

‘Beachy Head.’

It was a recurring dream he had been having for weeks. But it wasn’t just about an incident he’d been involved with there. It was also about a human monster he’d arrested a few months ago.

A sick monster who had murdered two women in the city, and had tried to kill Cleo as well. The man was behind bars, with bail refused, but even so, Grace felt suddenly nervous. Above the thudding of his heart and the roar of the blood coursing in his ears, he listened to the silence of the city at night.

The clock radio panel showed 3.10 a.m.

Nothing stirred in the house. Rain was falling outside.

Pregnant with his child, Cleo seemed more vulnerable than ever to him now. It had been a while since he had checked on the man, although he had recently dealt with some of the pre-trial paperwork. He made a mental note to make a call to ensure that he was still safely in custody and had not been released by some woolly-minded judge doing his bit to ease the overcrowding in England’s prisons.

Cleo stroked his brow. He felt her warm breath on his face. It smelled sweet, faintly minted, as if she had just brushed her teeth.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, his voice low, barely above a whisper, as if that would be less intrusive.

‘You poor darling. You have so many nightmares, don’t you?’

He lay there, the sheet below him sodden and cold with his perspiration. She was right. A couple of times a week, at least.

‘Why was it you stopped going to therapy?’ she asked him, then kissed each of his eyes, softly, in turn.

‘Because…’ He shrugged. ‘It wasn’t helping me to move on.’ He eased himself up in bed a little, staring around.

He liked this room, which Cleo had decorated mostly in white – with a thick white rug on the bare oak floor, white linen curtains, white walls, and a few pieces of elegant black furniture, including a black lacquered dressing table – still damaged from the attack on her.

‘You’re the only thing that’s helped me to move on. You know that?’

She smiled at him. ‘Time is the best healer,’ she said.

‘No, you are. I love you. I love you so much. I love you in a way I never thought it would be possible to love anyone again.’

She stared at him, smiling, blinking slowly, for some moments.

‘I love you too. Even more than you love me.’

‘Impossible!’

She pulled a face at him. ‘Calling me a liar?’

He kissed her.

47

Glenn Branson lay wide awake in the spare room of Roy Grace’s house, which had now become his second home – or, more accurately at the moment, his main residence.

It was the same every night. He drank heavily, trying to knock himself out, but neither the booze nor the pills the doctor had prescribed seemed to have any effect. And his body, which he normally kept in shape by working out relentlessly at home or in the gym, was starting to lose muscle tone.

I’m bloody falling apart, he reflected gloomily.

The room had been decorated by Sandy in the same Zen minimalistic style as the rest of this house. The bed was a low, futon-style affair, with an uncomfortable slatted headboard that, because of his tall frame, he constantly bashed his skull on as he tried to stop his feet sticking out the other end. The mattress was as hard as cement and the frame of the bed felt loose, wobbling precariously and creaking every time he moved. He kept meaning to sort it out with a spanner, tightening the nuts, but away from work he was so despondent he didn’t feel like doing anything. Half his clothes, still in their zipped plastic covers, lay across the armchair in the small room – some of them had been there for weeks and he still had not got round to hanging them up in the almost empty wardrobe.

Roy was quite right when he told him he was turning the house into a tip.

It was 3.50 a.m. His mobile phone lay beside the bed and he hoped, as he hoped every night, that Ari might suddenly ring, to tell him she’d had a change of heart, that she’d been thinking it over and realized she did still love him, deeply, and wanted to find a way to make the marriage work.

But it stayed silent, tonight and every damn night.

And they’d had another row earlier. Ari was angry that he couldn’t collect the kids from school tomorrow afternoon, because there was a lecture she wanted to go to in London. That sounded suspicious to him, rang alarm bells. She never went to lectures in London. Was it a guy?

Was she seeing someone?

It was bad enough coping with being apart from her. But the thought that she might be seeing someone, start another relationship, introduce that person to his kids, was more than he could bear.

And he had work to think about. Had to focus somehow.

Two cats, fighting, yowled outside. And somewhere in the distance a siren shrieked. A response unit from Brighton and Hove Division. Or an ambulance.

He rolled over, suddenly craving Ari’s body. Tempted to call her. Maybe she was-

Was what?

Oh, God almighty, how much they used to love each other.

He tried to switch his mind to his work. To his phone conversation yesterday evening, with the wife of the missing skipper of the Scoob-Eee. A very distraught Janet Towers. Friday night had been their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. They had a table booked at the Meadows restaurant in Hove. But her husband had never come home. She had not heard from him since.

She was absolutely certain he’d had an accident.

All she could tell Glenn was that she had contacted the coastguard on Saturday morning, who had reported back to her that the Scoob-Eee had been seen going through the lock at Shoreham Harbour at nine on Friday night, along with an Algerian-registered freighter. It was common for local fishing boats to enter the lock behind a commercial cargo vessel, enabling them to skip the locking fees. No one had paid any attention to the vessel.

Neither the boat nor Jim Towers had been seen since.

No accidents at sea had been logged by the coastguard, she had told Glenn. Jim and his boat had literally disappeared into thin air.

Suddenly, in his sleepless state, he remembered something. It might be nothing. But Roy Grace had taught him many important lessons about being a good detective and one of them was going around in his head now. Clear the ground under your feet.

He was thinking back to Friday morning, when he had been standing on the quay at Arlington Basin, waiting to board the Scoob-Eee. To a glint of light he had seen as they cast off, on the far side of the harbour, beside a cluster of refinery tanks.

*

At half past six that morning, Glenn pulled his unmarked police Hyundai Getz up, putting two wheels on the pavement of Kingsway, opposite a row of houses. He climbed out into drizzle and breaking daylight, eased himself over the low wall, then, clutching his torch, half slid and half ran down the grassy embankment behind the cluster of white petroleum storage tanks, until he reached the bottom. Across the far side of the dark grey water he could make out the timber yard, the gantry and, further up, the lights of the Arco Dee dredger, disgorging its latest cargo of gravel and sand. He could hear the rattle of its conveyor belt and the falling shingle.

He worked out the position where he had boarded the Scoob-Eee with the police diving team, right in front of that timber yard, and where he had seen that glint of light across the water, between the fourth and fifth tanks, and made his way to the gap.

A fishing boat, with its navigation lights on, was coming down the harbour, its engine put-put-putting in the morning silence. Gulls cried above him.

His nostrils filled with the smells of the harbour – rotting seaweed mixed with oil and rust and sawn timber and burning asphalt. He shone the beam of the torch directly at the ground beneath his feet. Then briefly up at the white cylindrical walls of the refinery storage tanks. They were much bigger now he was close up to them than they had appeared on Friday.

He checked his watch. He had just under an hour and a half before he needed to leave to get to the morning briefing in time. He pointed the beam back down on to the wet grass. Looking for a footprint that might still be there from Friday morning. Or any other clue.

Suddenly he saw a cigarette butt. Probably nothing significant, he thought. But those words of Roy Grace buzzed inside his head, like a mantra.

Clear the ground under your feet.

He knelt and picked it up with the neck of an evidence bag he had brought along – just in case. Printed around the butt were the words, in purple, Silk Cut.

Moments later, he saw a second one. It was the same brand.

To drop one cigarette butt here could have meant someone was just passing by. But two, that meant someone was waiting here.

For what?

Maybe, if he got lucky, DNA analysis would reveal something.

He continued to look for the next hour. There were no further clues, but he headed towards the morning briefing with wet shoes and a sense of achievement.

48

‘Please tell me you are joking?’ Lynn begged.

She was utterly exhausted after the sleepless night she had just spent in the chair beside Caitlin’s bed, in the small, claustrophobic room off the liver ward. A muted cartoon was playing on the small, badly tuned television bolted to an extension arm on the wall above the bed. A tap was dripping in the sink. The room smelled of poached eggs from breakfast trays out in the main ward, weak coffee and disinfectant.

It must have been like the kind of tense, desperate last night a prisoner spends before being executed at dawn, hoping for that last-minute reprieve, she thought.

Lights coming on and off. Constant interruptions. Constant examinations, injections and pills given to Caitlin, and blood and fluid samples being taken from her. The alarm handle dangling from a cord above her. The empty drip stands and the oxygen pump that she did not need.

Caitlin fretting, unable to sleep, telling her over and over again that she was itching and scared, and wanted to go home, and Lynn trying to comfort her. Trying to reassure her that in the morning everything would be fine. That in three weeks she would be leaving the hospital with a brand-new liver. If all went well, she would be home in time for Christmas, OK, not to Winter Cottage, but to the place that was now her home.

It would be the best Christmas ever!

And now this woman was standing in the room. The transplant coordinator. Shirley Linsell, with her English rose face and her long hair, and the tiny burst blood vessel in her left eye. She was wearing the same white blouse and knitted pink top and black trousers as when she had first met her, almost a week – that seemed like a million years – ago.

The only difference was her demeanour. When they had first met, she had seemed positive and friendly. But now, at seven o’clock this morning, although apologetic, she seemed cold and distant. Lynn stood facing her, glaring in fury.

‘I’m extremely sorry,’ she said. ‘I’m afraid these things happen.’

‘Sorry? You phoned me last night to say that you had a liver that was a perfect match, and now you are telling us you were wrong?’

‘We were informed a liver had become available which was a good match.’

‘So what exactly happened?’

The coordinator addressed Lynn, then Caitlin. ‘From the information we were given, it appeared that the liver could be split, with the right side to be given to an adult and the left side to you, Caitlin. When our consultant and his team went down to the hospital to collect the liver, in their assessment, it was healthy and suitable. We use a scale of size of liver against body weight. But this morning our senior consultant surgeon, who was to have performed the transplant, examined the liver more closely and found there was more than 30 per cent fat. He did a biopsy and made a decision that it would not be suitable for you.’

‘I still don’t understand,’ Lynn said. ‘So are you going to throw it away?’

‘No,’ Shirley Linsell said. ‘With this amount of fat, there is a danger it could take several weeks to function properly. Caitlin needs a liver that will function immediately. She is too ill to take the risk. It will be used for a man in his sixties with liver cancer. It will hopefully prolong his life for a few years.’

‘How great is that?’ Lynn said. ‘You’re bumping my daughter in favour of an elderly man? What is he? Some fucking alcoholic?’

‘I can’t discuss another patient with you.’

‘Yes, you can.’ Lynn raised her voice. ‘Oh yes, you damn well can. You’re sending Caitlin home to die so some fucking alcoholic, like that footballer George Best, can live a few more months?’

‘Please, Mrs Beckett – Lynn – it’s not like that at all.’

‘Oh? So what is it like, exactly?’

‘Mum!’ Caitlin said. ‘Listen to her.’

‘I am listening, darling, I’m listening really hard. I just don’t like what I’m hearing.’

‘Everyone here cares for Caitlin, a lot. It’s not just work in this unit – it’s personal for us all. We want to give Caitlin a healthy liver, to give her the best chance of a normal life, Mrs Beckett. There is no point in giving her a liver that might not work or that might fail in a few years’ time and put her through this ordeal a second time. Please believe me – the whole team here wants to help Caitlin. We’re very fond of her.’

‘Fine,’ Lynn said. ‘So when will this healthy liver be available?’

‘I can’t answer that – it depends on a suitable donor.’

‘So we’re back to square one?’

‘Well – yes.’

There was a long silence. ‘Will my daughter be at the top of the priority list?’ Lynn demanded.

‘The list is very complicated. There are a number of factors affecting it.’

Lynn shook her head vigorously. ‘No, Shirley – Nurse Linsell. Not a number of factors, just one as far as I am concerned. My daughter. She needs a transplant urgently – correct?’

‘Yes, she does, and we are working on that. But you have to understand, she is one of many people.’

‘Not to me, she isn’t.’

The woman nodded. ‘Lynn, I appreciate that.’

‘Do you?’ Lynn said. ‘What percentage of patients on your waiting list die before they get a liver?’

‘Mum, stop being so hostile!’

Lynn sat on the side of the bed and cradled Caitlin’s head in her arms. ‘Darling, please let me deal with this.’

‘You’re talking about me like I’m some retard in a box. I’m upset! Don’t you see that? I’m just as upset as you are – more – but it’s not going to help getting angry.’

‘Do you realize what this bitch is saying?’ Lynn exploded. ‘She is sending you home to die!’

‘You are being, like, so dramatic!’

‘I AM NOT BEING DRAMATIC!’ Lynn turned to the coordinator. ‘Tell me when another liver is going to be available.’

‘I’d be misleading you if I gave you a time or a date, Lynn.’

‘Are we talking twenty-four hours? A week? A month?’

Shirley Linsell shrugged and gave a wan smile. ‘I don’t know, that’s the honest truth. We thought we had got lucky, getting this liver so quickly, in a week with no matching recipient higher up the priority list than Caitlin. The donor was an apparently healthy thirty-year-old man, but clearly, it turned out, he had a drink or a diet problem.’

‘So this same shit could happen again, could it?’

The coordinator smiled, trying to placate Lynn and reassure Caitlin. ‘We have a very good record here. I’m sure that everything will be fine.’

‘You have a good record? What does that mean?’ Lynn said.

‘Mum!’ Caitlin implored.

Ignoring her, Lynn went on, ‘You mean you have a good record compared to the national average? That only 19 per cent of your patients die before they get a liver, compared to the national average of 20 per cent? I know about the National Health and your damn statistics.’ Lynn started crying. ‘You’ve gambled with my daughter’s life by giving some elderly alcoholic an extra few months of life because that will tick the right boxes for your statistics. I’m right, aren’t I?’

‘We don’t play God here, Mrs Beckett. We cannot say that one human being has more right to life than another because of their age, or because of how they may or may not have abused their bodies. We’re non-judgemental. We try our best to help everyone. Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions.’

Lynn glared at her. Never in her whole life had she hated anyone as much as she hated this woman right now. She didn’t even know if she was getting the truth or being fed some yarn. Had some rich oligarch with a sick child made a donation to the hospital for bumping Caitlin and getting his child saved? Or had there been a screw-up that she was trying to cover up?

‘Really?’ she sneered. ‘Difficult decisions? Tell me something, Shirley, did you ever lose a night’s sleep in your life over a difficult decision?’

The nurse kept calm, her tone gentle. ‘I care about all our patients very deeply, Mrs Beckett. I take their problems home with me every night.’

Lynn could see she was telling the truth.

‘OK, answer this for me – you just said that Caitlin would have got this liver, had it been OK, because there was no matching recipient higher up the list than her. That could change, right? At any moment?’

‘We have a weekly meeting to decide the priority list,’ Shirley Linsell replied.

‘So it could all change at your next meeting, couldn’t it? If someone in greater need than Caitlin – in your assessment – came along?’

‘Yes, I’m afraid that’s how it works.’

‘That’s great,’ Lynn said, her blood boiling again. ‘You’re like a firing squad, aren’t you? This weekly meeting to decide who is going to live and who’s going to die. It’s like you all pull the trigger, but one of you doesn’t have a bullet in the gun, just a blank. Your patients die and none of you has to take the damn blame.’

49

Simona lay on the examination couch, wearing just a loose dressing gown. Dr Nicolau, a serious, pleasant-looking man of about forty, strapped a Velcro sleeve around her arm and tightened it, plugged his stethoscope into his ears and pumped the rubber bulb until the sleeve squeezed her arm tightly. Then he looked at a gauge fitted to it.

After a few moments he released the sleeve, nodding, as if everything was fine.

The German woman, who had told her that her name was Marlene, stood beside her. She was beautiful, Simona thought. She was dressed in a sleek, fur-trimmed black suede coat, over a light pink pullover, smart jeans and black leather boots. Her blonde, elegantly tangled hair cascaded around her shoulders, and she smelled of a wonderful perfume.

Simona liked and trusted her. Romeo had been right in his judgement of her, she thought. She was such a confident woman, kind and gentle. Simona had never known her mother, but if she could have chosen a mother, she would have liked her to be a person like Marlene.

‘Just going to take a little blood,’ the doctor said, removing the strap and producing a syringe.

Simona stared at it, cringing in fear.

‘It’s OK, Simona,’ Marlene said.

‘What are you doing?’ she asked, her voice tight.

‘We are giving you a full examination, just to make sure you are healthy. It’s a big investment for us to send you to England. We have to get you a passport, somehow, which is not so easy as you have no papers. And they won’t allow you to work there if you are not healthy.’

Simona shrank away as the needle approached. ‘No,’ she said. ‘NO!’

‘It’s OK, darling Simona!’

‘Where’s Romeo?’

‘He’s outside. He is having the same tests. Would you like him to come in here with you?’

Simona nodded.

The woman opened the door. Romeo came in, his saucer eyes becoming even wider when he saw Simona in her dressing gown.

‘What are they doing?’ Simona asked him.

‘It’s OK,’ Romeo said. ‘They won’t hurt you. We have to have this medical.’

Simona shrieked as she felt the prick in her arm. Then she watched in terror as the doctor drew up the plunger and the plastic barrel filled, slowly and steadily, with her dark red blood.

‘We have to have the certificates to get into the country,’ Romeo said.

‘It hurts.’

Moments later, the syringe was full. The doctor removed it, laid it on a table, then pressed an antiseptic wipe against her arm. He held it for a few seconds, then stuck on a small square of Band-aid in its place.

‘All done!’ he said.

‘Can I go now?’ she asked.

‘Yes, you can go,’ the woman said. ‘You will be in the same place?’

‘Yes,’ Romeo answered for both of them.

‘Then I will come and find you, if we are happy that everything is all right. You can get dressed again now. Are you sure about England, Simona? You are sure you want to go, my little Liebling?’

‘You can get me a job there, can’t you? Me and Romeo? And a flat to live in, in London?’

‘A good job and a nice flat. You will love it.’

Simona looked at Romeo for reassurance. He shrugged, then nodded.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I am sure.’

‘Good,’ Marlene said. She kissed Simona on the forehead.

‘When do you think we will go?’ Romeo asked.

‘If your medical results are good, then soon.’

‘How soon?’

‘When do you want to go?’

He shrugged again. ‘Can Valeria come with us?’

‘The one who has a baby?’

‘Yes,’ he said.

‘That’s not possible now. Perhaps later, when you are settled, then we can make arrangements.’

‘She wants to come with us,’ Simona said.

‘It is not possible,’ the German woman said. ‘Not at this time. If you would prefer to stay here in Bucharest to be with her, then you must say so.’

Simona shook her head vigorously. ‘No.’

Romeo also shook his head, equally vigorously, as if afraid Marlene might suddenly change her mind about Simona and himself. ‘No.’

*

Back in Berlin, Marlene Hartmann received a phone call from Dr Nicolau in Bucharest. Simona’s blood type was AB negative. She smiled and noted the details down – it was good to have a rare blood group on her books. She was sure she would find a home for all Simona’s organs very quickly.

50

After the Tuesday morning briefing meeting of Operation Neptune, Roy Grace drove to the Sussex Police headquarters, twenty minutes away, to update Alison Vosper.

Although she was leaving at the end of the year, to be replaced by a Yorkshire Detective Chief Superintendent called Peter Rigg – about whom he knew little so far – she was still fully hands on for a few weeks more and wanted the usual weekly face-time she had with Roy on any major investigation he was involved with. To his surprise, and relief, today she had been in a strangely subdued mood. He waited for her to kick off, but it hadn’t happened. She listened quietly to his update and dismissed him after only a few minutes.

Now back in his office, scrolling through the endless emails on his screen, he was concentrating on his various lines of enquiry when he was interrupted by a knock on his door and Norman Potting entered, reeking of strong tobacco – no doubt having just nipped outside for quick puff or three on his pipe.

‘Do you have a moment, Roy?’ he asked in his rural burr.

Grace gestured for him to take a seat.

Settling down into the chair in front of the desk, loudly expelling a puff of garlicky breath in the process, Potting said, ‘I wondered if I could have a word with you about Romania? I have something which I didn’t think I should raise publicly at the briefing meeting.’

‘Sure.’ Grace looked at him with interest.

‘Well, I think I might have a short cut. I know that we’ve sent dental records, fingerprints and DNA samples of these three individual to Interpol, but you and I know how long those desk jockeys take to get a result.’

Grace smiled. Interpol was a good organization, but the bureau was indeed full of desk-bound police officers who relied on cooperation with police forces in countries abroad and were seldom able to short-cut rigid time frames.

‘We could be looking at three weeks minimum, at least,’ Norman Potting said. ‘I’ve done some more trawling on the web. There are thousands of street people in Bucharest who live on the margins. If – and it’s only speculation – these three victims are street kids, then it’s unlikely they’ll ever have been to a dentist – and unless they’ve been arrested, there won’t be any fingerprint or DNA records.’

Grace nodded in agreement.

‘There’s a chap I was on a Junior Detective Training course with at Hendon when we were young DCs. Ian Tilling. We became mates and kept in touch. He joined the Met, then after some years he got transferred to Kent Police. Rose to inspector. Long story short, about seventeen years ago his lad was killed in a motorcycle accident. His life fell apart, his marriage bust up, and he took early retirement from the force. Then he decided to do something totally different – you know the syndrome – try to make sense of what had happened and to do something useful. So he went to Romania and began working with street kids. Last time I spoke to him was about five years ago, just after my third marriage went kaput.’ Potting gave a wistful smile. ‘You know how it is, when you are down in your cups, you start going through your address book, phoning up old mates.’

That wasn’t something Roy Grace had ever done, but all the same he nodded.

‘He’d just got a gong – an MBE – for his work with these street kids, which he was proud as all hell about. With your permission I’d like to contact him – it’s a long shot, but he might – just might – be able to help us.’

Grace thought for a little while. In the last few years the police had become increasingly bureaucratic, with guidelines on just about everything. Their procedures with Interpol had been strictly in accordance with these. Stepping outside was risky – and nothing was more certain to bring him into conflict with the new Chief Constable than deviating from procedure. On the other hand, Norman Potting was right that they could spend weeks waiting for Interpol to come back to them, and probably with a negative result. How many more bodies might turn up in the interim?

And he was reassured by the fact that this man, Ian Tilling, was a former police officer, which meant he was unlikely to be a flake.

‘I won’t put this in my policy book, Norman, but I’d be very comfortable for you to pursue this line in an off-the-record way. Thanks for the initiative.’

Potting looked pleased. ‘Right away, guv. The old bugger’ll be surprised to hear from me.’ He started to stand up, then got halfway and sat back down again. ‘Roy, would you mind if I asked you something – you know – man to man – personal?’

Grace glanced at another slew of emails that had appeared on his screen. ‘No, ask away.’

‘It’s about my wife.’

‘Li? Isn’t that her name?’

Potting nodded.

‘From Thailand?’

‘Yeah, Thailand.’

‘You found her on the Internet, right?’

‘Well, sort of. I found the agency on the Internet.’ Potting scratched the back of his head, then checked with his stubby, grimy fingers that his comb-over was in place. ‘Did you ever think of – you know – doing that?’

‘No.’ Grace glanced anxiously at his computer screen, conscious of his morning running out on him. ‘What was it you wanted?’

Potting looked gloomy suddenly. ‘Bit of advice, actually.’ He dug his hands into his jacket pockets and rummaged around, as if searching for something. ‘If you could imagine yourself in my position for a moment, Roy. Everything has been just grand with Li for the past few months, but suddenly she’s making demands on me.’ He fell silent.

‘What kind of demands?’ Grace asked, dreading graphic details of Norman Potting’s sex life.

‘Money for her family. I have to send money every week, to help them out. Money I’ve got saved up for my retirement.’

‘Why do you have to do this?’

Potting looked for a moment as if he had never asked this question. ‘Why?’ he echoed. ‘Li tells me that if I truly love her, then I would want to help her parents.’

Grace looked at him, astonished at his naivety. ‘You believe that?’

‘She won’t have sex with me until she’s seen me make the bank transfer – I do it online, you know,’ he said, as if proud about his technical prowess. ‘I mean, I understand the relative poverty of her country and how they perceive me as rich, and all that. But…’ He shrugged.

‘Do you want to know what I think, Norman?’

‘I would value your opinion, Roy.’

Grace studied the man’s face. Potting looked lost, forlorn. He didn’t see it, he really did not.

‘You’re a police officer, for God’s sake, Norman. You’re a sodding detective – and a really good one! You don’t see it? She’s having a laugh on you. You’re being led by your dick, not by your brain. She’ll bleed you of every penny you have and then she’ll sod off. I’ve read about these girls.’

‘Not Li – she’s different.’

‘Oh yes, how? In what way?’

Potting shrugged, then looked at the Detective Superintendent helplessly. ‘I love her. I can’t help it, Roy. I love her.’

Roy’s mobile phone rang. Almost with relief at the interruption, he answered.

It was a bright police colleague he liked a lot, Rob Leet, an inspector in the East Brighton sector.

‘Roy,’ he said, ‘this may be nothing but I thought it might be of interest, with your current inquiry with the three bodies from the Channel. One of my team has just gone down to the beach to the east of the Marina. A guy walking his dog through the rock pools at low tide has found what looks like a brand-new outboard motor lying there.’

Thinking fast, Grace said, ‘Yes, it could be. Make sure no one touches it. Can you get it forensically bagged and brought in?’

‘That’s under way.’

Grace thanked him and hung up. He raised an apologetic finger at Norman Potting, then dialled an internal number to the Imaging Department on the floor below him. It was answered after two rings.

‘Mike Bloomfield.’

‘Mike, Roy Grace. Are you guys able to get prints off an outboard motor that’s been immersed in the sea?’

‘Funny you should ask that this morning, Roy. We’ve just taken delivery of a new piece of kit we’re trialling. Costs a hundred and twelve thousand quid. It’s meant to be able to get fingerprints off plastic that’s been immersed in any kind of water for considerable periods.’

‘Good stuff. I think I may have your first challenge for you.’

Norman Potting stood up, mouthed that he would pop back later, then walked slowly out of the door, stooping a little, Grace noticed, his shoulders rounded. His heart suddenly went out to him.

51

Vlad Cosmescu stood in the arrivals hall of Gatwick Airport, along with the usual assortment of relatives, drivers and tour operators, holding a small placard. The Bucharest flight had landed just over an hour ago and the girls had not come through yet.

Good.

From the tags he had managed to read on the bags of the steady stream of passengers emerging through Customs, everyone from that flight had now gone. He saw Al Italia tags, which he reckoned must be from a flight that had come in from Turin a good thirty minutes later. And Easyjet tags, too, probably from the Nice flight. Then SAS tags, mingled with some KLM ones.

His watch told him it was 11.35 a.m. He popped a tab of Nicorette gum in his mouth and chewed. The two girls he was meeting had been given strict instructions what to do once they had disembarked and entered the passport area, and it seemed they were obeying them.

They were to hang back for an hour, let other flights land and their passengers go through, before they entered the passport queues. Although Romania was now a member of the EU, Cosmescu was well aware that it was internationally regarded as a hot zone for human trafficking. Romanian passports automatically raised a flag for the Border and Immigration Agency.

Which was why all those he came here to meet, sometimes weekly and sometimes more frequently than that, were instructed to tear their Romanian passports up and flush them down the aeroplane toilets, wait for one hour after landing and then arrive at passport control with the false Italian passports they had been given. In that way, if the agency was keeping a lookout for arrivals from the Romanian flight, they would have stopped looking by the time the girls came through.

Two girls were coming now. Good-looking young things in their late teens, cheaply dressed and towing cheap luggage. Could be them. He held up his placard with the innocuous words JACKSON PARTY on it.

One of the girls – really very sexy-looking, slender with long dark hair – raised a hand and waved at him.

‘You had a good flight?’ he asked in Romanian, as a greeting.

‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Great!’

‘Welcome to England.’

‘Yeah,’ she said again. ‘Great.’

‘Great!’ her companion added.

The relief on their faces was palpable.

*

Twenty minutes later, Cosmescu sat in the front passenger seat of the tired, brown E-Class Mercedes. Grubby little buck-toothed Grigore drove. He didn’t actually have a hunchback, but he looked like a hunchback. He squatted over the wheel, in one of his cheap beige suits, with his greasy hair, beaky nose and eyes more on the mirror than the road ahead, shooting quick, lascivious glances at every opportunity at the two girls who were seated in the back.

Cosmescu had worked with Grigore for five years and still he knew virtually nothing about the weirdo little creature. The man always turned up on time, did the pick-ups and the drop-offs, but rarely spoke – and that was fine with Cosmescu. If you got into conversation, then you had at some point to talk about yourself. He did not want to talk about himself to anyone. That wasn’t smart. The less anyone knew about you, the more anonymous you could be. And the more anonymous you were, the safer you were. The sef had instilled that in him.

Grigore was good at fixing things. He could turn his hand to just about anything, from plumbing to electrics to damp-proofing, which meant he could deal with all the shit, all the leaking pipes and blocked toilets and loose floorboards and busted blinds, and everything else that could go wrong in the four brothels Cosmescu looked after in the city. Which meant that Cosmescu did not have to worry about gossiping tradesmen. Once a week he allowed Grigore to take his pick of any girl, for an hour. That and the generous pay packet were more than enough to secure Grigore’s undying loyalty.

Which meant there was one less headache for him. He was still thinking about the bodies. About the fuck-up. About Jim Towers. It had been stupid, killing him. But it would have been a lot more stupid to have let him live, all cosied up to the police, with the knowledge he had. Towers had been up to something – maybe he just had a bad conscience, but he could have been planning blackmail. Like in gambling, you had to balance your risks. A small one against a larger one.

He turned and looked at the girls. The one on the left, Anca, she was nice. Her companion, Nusha, had a harder face, her nose was a little big. But both of them were young, seventeen, eighteen maximum. They were OK, they would do fine. He wouldn’t kick either of them out of bed.

And he didn’t intend to.

*

Cosmescu turned the privacy key and the lift ascended non-stop from the underground car park of his apartment block, behind the Metropole Hotel. The two girls stood with him, with their cheap luggage, in silence.

Then Anca asked, ‘When do we start work?’

‘You start now,’ he said.

She raised a finger. ‘We go to the bar?’

He looked at her sparkly necklace. Smelled her sweet perfume, and her companion’s, which was even sweeter. He stared down her neckline. Good tits. Her friend had even better ones, which made up for her face. He pulled out a packet of cigarettes, knowing that almost certainly they would both smoke. He was right. Each accepted one.

Before he had a chance to click his lighter – his timing, as ever, perfect – the lift stopped and the doors opened.

Now they would be focusing on their unlit cigarettes more than anything else. Keeping them tantalized, he stepped forward into his apartment, then held the door until they had pulled their suitcases, containing their life’s possessions, clear.

As they walked along the carpeted landing, he showed each her room. Single rooms. Divide and rule. That strategy always worked. Then he went into Anca’s room and picked up her plastic handbag.

‘Hey!’ she said.

Ignoring her, he removed her passport and then all the cash from her purse.

‘What you do?’ she demanded angrily.

He produced his lighter and finally lit her cigarette. ‘You know how much money you owe? How many thousands, for your journey and your passport? When you have repaid my boss, then you may have your passport.’

He went out and repeated the scenario with Nusha.

*

A few minutes later, the two girls walked sullenly into the large, modern living room. It had fine views of the Palace Pier and the blackened remains of the West Pier, the Marina, over to the east, and far out across the English Channel.

Cosmescu was sure they would never have seen anything like this place in their lives. He knew the kind of background they would have come from. And that Marlene would have cleaned them up, in preparation for their new lives.

All the girls that came here were debt-bonded, which meant they had signed up in Romania to an impossibly large loan – although they never actually saw the cash – agreeing to work off in England their one-way passage to what they thought was freedom. They would start here in Brighton. If they settled into their work, fine. But the vigilant Brighton and Hove police, along with care workers, visited the local brothels from time to time, talking to the girls, trying to find ones that were there against their will.

If either of these looked as if she might start giving out signals that she wanted help from the police, he would move her away from Brighton and up to a brothel in London, where less interest would be taken in her, by anyone.

‘We go to the bar tonight?’ Anca said.

‘Take your clothes off,’ he said. ‘Both of you.’

The two girls looked at each other in surprise. ‘Clothes?’

‘I want to see you naked.’

‘We – we did not come to be strippers,’ Nusha said.

‘You are not strippers,’ he said. ‘You are here to pleasure men with your bodies.’

‘No! That’s not the deal!’ Anca protested.

‘You know how much it cost to bring you here?’ he said harshly. ‘You want to go home? I will take you to the airport tomorrow. But Mr Bojin will not be pleased to see you. He will want his money back. Or would you rather I call the police? In this country false passports is a bad offence.’

Both girls fell silent.

‘So tell me, which do you want? Shall I phone Mr Bojin now?’

Anca shook her head, looking terrified suddenly. Nusha bowed hers, looking ashen.

‘OK.’ He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and stabbed a button on the dial pad. ‘I call the police.’

‘No!’ Anca shouted. ‘No police!’

He put the phone back in his pocket. ‘So, take your clothes off. I will teach you how to pleasure a man in this country.’

Staring sullenly at the black carpet, as dark as the void of their new lives, both girls began to undress.

52

On the flat screen high on the wall, a short distance in front of her desk, Lynn read the words in large gold letters: COLLECTOR BONUSES TOP TEN.

Below was a list of names. The top was currently Andy O’Connor, on a rival team, the Silver Sharks. The screen informed her that Andy had collected a total of £9,987 in cash this week, so far. His accumulated bonus, if he maintained this position, was £871.

God, how she could do with that!

She looked enviously at the other nine names beneath his. The bottom was her friend and team-mate Katie Beale, at £3,337.

Lynn was way off the scale. But one sizeable client had just agreed to a plan. He would make a lump sum payment of £500 and a regular £50 a month, to pay off a MasterCard debt of £4,769. But that £500 – assuming it did come in – would only bring her weekly total to £1,650. Leaving her with an almost impossibly long way to go.

But perhaps she could stay late tonight and catch up on her hours. Luke had come over to see Caitlin after they’d got back from the hospital this morning, so at least she would have company. But she did not want to be away from her for too long.

Suddenly an email pinged on to her screen. It was from Liv Thomas, her team manager, asking her to have another try with one of her least favourite clients.

Lynn groaned inwardly. A golden rule of the company was that you never actually met with your clients, as they were called. Nor did you ever tell them anything about yourself. But she always had a mental picture in her head of everyone she spoke to. And the image she had in her head of Reg Okuma was of a cross between Robert Mugabe and Hannibal Lecter.

He had run up a bill of £37,870 on a personal loan from the Bradford Credit Bank, putting him up among the largest debtors on their client list – the highest topping out at a whopping £48,906.

A few weeks ago she had given up on ever recovering a penny from Okuma, and had passed his debt over to the litigation department. On the other hand, she thought, if she did get a result, then it could be fantastic and would propel her into contention for this week’s bonus.

She dialled his number.

It was answered by his deep, resonant voice on the first ring.

‘Mr Okuma?’ she said.

‘Well, this sounds like my good friend Lynn Beckett from Denarii, if I am not mistaken.’

‘That’s right, Mr Okuma,’ she said.

‘And what can I do for you on this fine day?’

It may be fine inside your head, Lynn thought, but it’s pissing with rain inside my head and outside my window. Following her long-used training script, she said, ‘I thought it might be a good idea to discuss a new approach to your debt, so that we can avoid all that messy litigation business.’

His voice exuded confidence and oily charm. ‘You are thinking of my welfare, Lynn, would that be right?’

‘I’m thinking of your future,’ she said.

‘I’m thinking of your naked body,’ he replied.

‘I wouldn’t think about that too hard, if I were you.’

‘Just thinking about you makes me hard.’

Lynn was silent for a moment, cursing for falling into that one. ‘I’d like to suggest a payment plan for you. What exactly do you think you could afford to pay off on either a weekly or a monthly basis?’

‘Why don’t we meet, you and I? Have a little tête-à-tête?’

‘If you would like to meet someone from the company I can arrange that.’

‘I have a great dick, you know? I’d like to show it to you.’

‘I will certainly tell my colleagues.’

‘Are they as pretty as you?’

The words sent a shiver rippling through her.

‘Do your colleagues have long brown hair? Do they have a daughter who needs a liver transplant?’

Lynn cut the call off in terror. How the hell did he know?

Moments later her mobile rang. She answered it instantly, spitting out the word, ‘Yes?’ convinced it was Reg Okuma, who had somehow got hold of her private number.

But it was Caitlin. She sounded terrible.

53

There were occasions when Ian Tilling missed his life in the British police force. Plenty of moments too when he missed England, despite the painful memories it held for him. Particularly on those days when the numbing cold of the Bucharest winter froze every bone in his fifty-eight-year-old body. And on those days when the chaotic bleakness of his surroundings here in the suburban sector 6, and the bureaucracy and corruption and callousness of his adopted country, dragged his spirits down.

Whenever he felt low, his mind went back to the terrible evening, seventeen years ago, when two of his colleagues came to his house in Kent and told him that his son, John, had died in a motorcycle accident.

But he had an instant fix for coping with that pain. He would get up from his desk in the ramshackle office, filled with donated furniture, which he shared with three young female social workers, and take a walk around the hostel he had created as a sanctuary for fifty of this cruel city’s homeless. And see the smiles on his residents’ faces.

He decided to do just that, now.

When Ceauşescu had come to power in 1965, he had a skewed plan to turn Romania into the greatest industrial nation in Europe. To achieve that he needed to increase, dramatically, the size of the population in order to create his workforce. One of his first acts of legislation was to make it compulsory for all girls, from the age of fourteen, to have a pregnancy test once a month. If they fell pregnant they were forbidden to abort.

The result, within a few years, was an explosion in the size of families, and the offspring became known as the Children of the Decree. Many of these children were handed to government care institutions and brought up in vast, soulless dormitories, where they were brutally maltreated and abused. Many of them escaped and took to a life on the streets. A huge number of them were now living rough in Bucharest, either in shanties built along the network of communal steam pipes that criss-crossed the suburbs, or in holes in the roads, beneath them. Tributaries of these pipes fed every apartment block in the city with their central heating, which was switched on in autumn and off in spring.

After the tragedy of John’s death led to the collapse of Tilling’s marriage, he had found it impossible to concentrate on his police work. He quit the force, moved into a flat and spent his days drinking himself into oblivion and endlessly watching television. One evening he saw a documentary on the plight of Romanian street kids and it had a profound effect on him. He realized that maybe he could do something different with his life. Nothing would bring John back, but perhaps he could help other kids who’d never had any of the opportunities in life that John, and most other kids in England, had. The next morning he phoned the Romanian embassy.

He remembered the first government home for children he had visited when he arrived in the country. He walked into a dormitory in which fifty handicapped children aged from nine to twelve lay in caged cots, staring blankly ahead of them or at the ceiling. They had no toys at all. No books. Nothing to occupy them.

He had gone straight out and bought several sackfuls of toys and handed a toy to each child. To his astonishment, there was no reaction from any of them. They stared at the toys blankly, and he realized in that moment that they did not know what to do with them. Not because they were mentally retarded, but because they had never been given toys before in their lives and did not know how to play with them. No one had ever taught any of these kids anything. Not even how to play with a fucking doll.

And he became determined, then and there, that he would do something for those kids.

Originally, he had figured on spending a few months out in Romania. He never thought he would still be here, seventeen years later, happily married to a Romanian woman, Cristina, and more content than he had ever been in his entire life.

Tilling looked tough and fit, despite carrying more than a few excess pounds around his midriff and he walked, exuding pent-up energy, with a copper’s strut. His face was craggy and lived in, with a toothbrush moustache and topped with close-cropped grey hair. Making few concessions to the weather, he was dressed today in a blue open-neck shirt, baggy fawn trousers and old brown brogues.

He stepped out into the hallway and smiled at a group of new arrivals from a care organization who were seated on the battered armchairs and sofas. Four dark-skinned Roma kids, a boy of eight in shell-suit bottoms and a sparkly T-shirt, a youth of fourteen in a baggy top and black tracksuit trousers that were too short for him, and two girls, a long-haired twelve-year-old in a mismatched jogging suit and a girl of fifteen in jeans and a holed cardigan. Each of them held a helium-filled party balloon, which they raised in celebration.

They were all from one family who could not cope and had placed them into an institution that they had run away from two years ago. They had been living on the streets since and now had the smiles on their faces he had seen so many times before, and which broke his heart each time. The smiles of desperate human beings who could not quite believe that their luck had changed.

‘How are you doing? All OK?’ he said, in Romanian.

They beamed and jigged their colourful balloons. Tilling had no idea where the balloons had come from, but he knew one thing for sure. Apart from the clothes they stood up in, these were the only possessions they had in the world.

The residents of Casa Ioana ranged in age from a seven-week-old baby, with her fourteen-year-old mother, to an eighty-two-year-old woman who had been tricked out of her home and her life savings by one of the many monsters who exploited Romania’s ill-thought-out laws. There was no welfare for the homeless in this country – and few shelters. The old woman was lucky to be here, sharing a dormitory room with three other elderly inmates who had met the same fate.

‘Mr Ian?’

He turned at the voice of Andreea, one of the social workers, who had stepped out of his office behind him. A slim, pretty twenty-eight-year-old, who was getting married in the spring, Andreea had a deep warmth and compassion, and tireless energy. He liked her a lot.

‘Telephone call for you – from England.’

‘England?’ he said, a little surprised. He rarely heard from England these days, except from his mother, who lived in Brighton, and to whom he spoke every week.

‘It is a policeman. He says he is old friend?’ She said it as a question. ‘Nommun Patting.’

‘Nommun Patting?’ He frowned. Then suddenly his eyes lit up. ‘Norman Potting?’

She nodded.

He hurried back into his office.

54

Lynn cursed as she saw two flashes from the speed camera in her rear-view mirror. She always drove slowly past that sodding camera opposite Preston Park, but this afternoon it had gone completely out of her mind. She was concentrating on getting home to Caitlin as quickly as possible and on nothing else. Now she faced a fine to add to her financial woes, and another three points on her licence, but she carried on without slowing down, a steady fifty-five in the thirty limit, desperate to get to her child.

Five minutes later she pulled into her driveway, jumped out of her car, jammed her key in the front door and pushed it open. Luke was standing in the hall, limp hair slanted across one eye, wearing a baggy top and trousers that looked like they might have come from the rear of a pantomime horse. His mouth was open and he had an even more gormless expression than usual on his face, like a man on a railway platform watching the last train of the night disappearing and not sure what to do next. He raised his arms by way of a greeting to Lynn, then let them drop again.

‘Where is she?’ she said.

‘Oh – er – right – Caitlin?’ he said.

Who the fuck do you think? Boadicea? Cleopatra? Hillary Clinton? Then she saw her daughter, standing at the top of the stairs, in a dressing gown over her nightdress, swaying as if she were drunk.

Dumping her handbag on the floor, Lynn threw herself up the stairs just as Caitlin stepped out into space, missing the top stair altogether, and tumbled forwards. Somehow, Lynn caught her, grabbing her thin frame in one arm and the banister rail in the other, and, clinging for dear life, managed to stop herself plunging backwards.

She stared into Caitlin’s face, inches from her own, and saw her eyes roll. ‘Darling? Darling? Are you OK?’

Caitlin slurred an incomprehensible response.

Using all her strength, somehow Lynn managed to push her back and up on to the landing. Caitlin tottered against the wall. Luke followed them, stopping halfway up the stairs.

‘Have you been doing drugs?’ Lynn screamed at him.

‘No, no way, Lynn,’ Luke protested, the shock in his voice sounding genuine.

Slurring her words, Caitlin said, ‘I’m like – I’m – I’m like…’

Lynn steered her back into her room. Caitlin half sank, half fell backwards on her bed. Lynn sat down beside her and put an arm around her. ‘What is it, my darling? Tell me?’

Caitlin’s eyes rolled again.

Lynn thought, for one terrible moment, that she was dying.

‘If you’ve given her anything, Luke, I’ll kill you. I swear it. I’ll tear your fucking eyeballs out!’

‘I haven’t, I promise. Nothing. Nothing. I don’t do drugs. I wouldn’t, wouldn’t give her nothing.’

She put her nose to her daughter’s mouth to see if she could smell alcohol, but there was only a warm, faintly sour odour. ‘What’s the matter, darling?’

‘I just feel giddy. I’ve got the roundabouts. Where am I?’

‘You’re home, darling. You’re OK. You’re at home.’

Caitlin stared blankly around the room, without any recognition at all, as if she was in a totally unfamiliar place. Lynn followed her eyes as she stared at the dartboard with the purple boa hanging from it, then at the photograph of the rock star hunk, whose name Lynn had momentarily forgotten, as if she was looking at them for the first time.

‘I – I don’t know where I am,’ she said.

Lynn stood up, gripped by a terrible panic. ‘Luke, stay here with her for a moment.’ Then she ran downstairs, grabbed her handbag and went into the kitchen. She pulled her address book out of her bag, then dialled the mobile phone number of the Royal South London transplant coordinator.

Please God, be there.

To her relief, Shirley Linsell answered on the third ring. Lynn told her Caitlin’s symptoms.

‘It sounds like encephalopathy,’ she said. ‘Let me speak to a consultant and either I or he will get straight back to you.’

‘She’s in a really bad way,’ Lynn said. ‘Encephalopathy? How do you spell that?’

The coordinator spelled it out. Then, promising to get back to her within minutes, hung up.

Lynn ran back up the stairs, holding the cordless phone. ‘Luke, can you look up “encephalopathy” on the Net?’ She spelled it out for him.

Luke sat down at Caitlin’s dressing table, opened her laptop and began clicking on the keypad.

Five minutes later, Shirley Linsell rang back. ‘You need to get Caitlin to move her bowels. Would you like to bring her back up here?’

‘Have you found a liver for her?’

There was a hesitation that Lynn did not like.

‘No, but I think it would be a good idea for her to come in.’

‘For how long?’

‘Until we’ve stabilized her.’

‘When will you have a liver?’

‘Well, as I said this morning, I cannot answer that. You could treat her at home for this.’

‘What do I have to do?’

‘Give her an enema. Usually with this condition, evacuating the bowel will regularize her.’

‘What kind of enema? Where do I get one?’

‘Any chemist.’

‘Terrific,’ Lynn said.

‘Why don’t you try that? Give it a few hours, then see how she is and call me. There is someone here all the time and she can come in at any hour.’

‘Yes,’ Lynn said. ‘Fine, I’ll do that.’

She hung up.

Caitlin was lying back on her bed, eyes opening and closing.

‘I think I’ve found what you’re looking for!’ Luke announced.

Lynn peered over his shoulder. His hair smelled unwashed.

Reading aloud off the webpage he said, ‘Encephalopathy is a neuropsychiatric syndrome which occurs in advanced liver disease. Symptoms are anything from slight confusion and drowsiness to change in personality and outright coma.’

‘How fucking great is that?’ Lynn said. Then she turned to Caitlin, whose eyes were now closed. Afraid, suddenly, that she might be slipping into a coma, she shook her. ‘Darling? Keep awake, darling.’

Caitlin opened her eyes. ‘You know what?’ she slurred. ‘Liver disease rocks.’

‘Rocks?’ Lynn said, astounded.

‘Yeah, why not?’ Luke retorted.

‘Why does it rock?’ Lynn stared quizzically at Luke, as if somehow she was going to find the answer in his inane face.

‘This transplant waiting list, yeah?’

‘What about it?’

‘There’s a way around it.’

‘What way?’

‘Yeah, well, I’ve been looking on the Net. You can buy a liver.’

‘Buy a liver?’

‘Yeah, it’s whack.’

‘Whack? I’m not sure I’m on your planet. How do you mean, buy a liver?’

‘Through a broker.’

‘A what?’

‘An organ broker.’

Lynn stared at him, thinking for a moment this was his idea of humour. But he looked deadly earnest. It was the first time she had ever seen him remotely animated.

‘What do you mean by an organ broker?’

‘Someone who will get you whatever organ you want. On the Net. They’re selling anything you could want for a transplant. Hearts, lungs, corneas, skin, ear parts, kidneys – and livers.’

Lynn stared at him in silence for some moments. ‘You are serious? You can buy a liver on the Internet?’

‘There’s a whole bunch of sites,’ Luke went on. ‘And – this’ll interest you – I found a forum about waiting lists for organs. It says the waiting list for liver transplants in some countries is even worse than in the UK. Something like 90 per cent of people on the list in the USA will die before they get a new liver. Sort of puts our 20 per cent into the shade.’

Unless one of that 20 per cent happens to be your daughter, Lynn thought, staring hard at Luke. One of the three people a day in the UK who die waiting for a transplant.

She was sick with worry and all twisted up inside with rage. Thinking. Thinking about Shirley Linsell. Her change from warmth to coldness. Caitlin was just another patient to her. In a year or two’s time, she probably wouldn’t even remember her name – she would just be a statistic.

Lynn was not going to take that chance.

‘I’m going to the chemist. When I get back, I’d like you to show me about these organ brokers,’ she said.

*

On the way, she stopped at a newsagent’s, went inside and scanned the Argus for any further news on the story about the three bodies. On the third page was a long article, headlined police remain baffled by channel bodies. She stared at the sanitized photographs of the three dead teenagers’ faces. Read the speculation that they might be organ donors. Read the quotes from Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, whoever he was.

Something dark stirred inside her. Leaving the paper on the rack, not wanting Caitlin to see it, she bought a packet of ten Silk Cut cigarettes, then went back out to her car and smoked one, thinking again, hard, her hands shaking.

55

Some years ago, when he was a detective sergeant, Roy Grace had attended a break-in at a small wine merchant’s premises up on Queens Park Road, close to the racecourse and the hideous edifice of Brighton and Hove General Hospital.

The proprietor, Henry Butler, a drily engaging, shaven-headed and impeccably spoken young man, appeared more upset at the quality of the wines the thieves had taken than at the break-in itself. While the SOCOs went about their business, dusting and spraying for fingerprints, Butler bemoaned the fact that these particular specimens of Brighton’s broad church of villainy had no taste at all.

The Philistines had taken several cases of his cheapest plonk, leaving all the fine wines, which in his view would have been far better drinking, untouched. Grace had liked him instantly, and whenever he needed a bottle for a special occasion, he had always returned to this shop.

At four o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, taking a quick, late lunch break, he pulled up the unmarked Ford Focus on double yellow lines outside the small, unassuming shop front of the Butler’s Wine Cellar and dashed inside. Henry Butler was in there now, head still shaved, sporting a gold earring and a goatee beard, dressed in dungarees and a collarless shirt, as if he had just been out picking grapes.

The door pinged shut behind him and Roy instantly breathed in the familiar, sour, vinous smell of the place, mixed with the sweeter scent of freshly sawn timber from the wooden cases.

‘Good afternoon, Detective Superintendent Grace!’ Butler said, putting down a copy of The Latest. ‘Very nice to see you. All crimes solved now, so you’re free to partake of my libations?’

‘I wish.’ Grace smiled. ‘How’s business?’

Butler gave a shrug at the empty shop. ‘Well, with your arrival, I would say the day just got better. So what can I tempt you with?’

‘I need a rather special bottle of champagne, Henry,’ he said. ‘What’s the most expensive bottle you have?’

‘Good man! That’s what I like to hear!’ He disappeared through a doorway into a tiny, cluttered back office and then clattered down some stairs.

Grace checked a text that just pinged in, but it was nothing important, a reminder about his haircut appointment tomorrow at the Point, the hair salon his self-appointed style guru, Glenn Branson, insisted he go to for his monthly close-crop. He stared around at the displays of dusty bottles flat on their sides on shelves and stacked in wooden boxes on the floor. Then he glanced at the headline of the Argus: BRIGHTON REGAINS DRUG DEATH CAPITAL OF ENGLAND STATUS.

A grim statistic, he thought, but at least it kept his case off the front page today.

A couple of minutes later, Henry Butler reappeared, reverently cradling a squat bottle in his arms. ‘Got this rather seductive Krug. One sip and anybody’s knickers will hit the ground.’

Grace grinned.

‘Two hundred and seventy-five quid to you, sir, and that’s with 10 per cent discount.’

Roy’s smile fell into a black hole. ‘Shit – I didn’t actually mean quite that expensive. I’m not a Russian oligarch, I’m a copper, remember?’

The merchant gave him a quizzical, mock-stern look. ‘I have a luscious Spanish cava at nine quid a pop. It’s what we drink at home in summer. Gorgeous.’

‘Too cheap.’

‘There you go, Mr CID – ’ which he pronounced Sid – ‘I never did take you for a cheapskate. I do have a rather special house champagne, seventeen quid for you, sir. A massive, buttery nose, long finish, quite a complex, biscuity style. Jane MacQuitty did her tonsils over it in the Sunday Times a while ago.’

Grace shook his head. ‘Still too cheap. I want something very special, but I don’t want to have to take out a mortgage.’

‘How does a hundred quid sound?’

‘Less painful.’

The merchant disappeared down into the bowels of his emporium and re-emerged. ‘This is the dog’s bollocks! Roederer Cristal, 2000. Best vintage of the decade. Last one I have, bin-end price. A beaut! Normally one hundred and seventy-five – I’ll flog it to you for a hundred, as it’s you.’

‘Done!’

‘Diamond geezer!’ Henry Butler said approvingly.

Grace pulled out his wallet. ‘Credit card OK?’

Butler looked like he had been kicked in the nuts. ‘You know how to squeeze a man when he’s down – yeah, all right.’ He shrugged. ‘Very special occasion, is it?’

‘Very.’

‘Give her this and she’ll love you forever.’

Roy smiled. ‘That’s kind of what I’m hoping.’

56

Lynn sat on Caitlin’s bed, staring at the computer screen. Luke, hunched on a stool in front of the cluttered dressing table, was busily pecking away at the keyboard of Caitlin’s laptop, using just one finger and, apparently, just one eye.

Caitlin, in her dressing gown, had spent much of the past hour going backwards and forwards to the toilet. But she was already looking a little better, Lynn was relieved to see, except she was scratching again. Scratching her arms so hard they looked as if they were covered in insect bites. At the moment, iPod in her ears, she was switching focus between an old episode of the OC playing silently on the muted TV and her purple mobile phone, on which she was texting someone, with furrowed concentration, while rubbing the itching balls of her feet on the end board of the bed.

Luke had been tapping away for nearly an hour now, working through Google, then other search engines, trying out different combinations of phrases and sentences containing the words organs, purchase, humans, donors, livers.

He had found a debate in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on the topic of human organ trafficking, and on another site had discovered the story of a Harley Street surgeon called Raymond Crockett, who was struck off the Medical Register in 1990 for buying kidneys from Turkey for four patients. And plenty more debates about whether organ donation should be automatic on death unless a person has opted out.

But no organ brokers.

‘Are you sure it’s not just an urban myth, Luke?’

‘There’s a website about part of Manila being called One Kidney Island,’ he said. ‘You can buy a kidney there for forty thousand pounds – including the operation. That site talked all about brokers-’

Suddenly he stopped.

On the screen, in clinical white against a stark black background, the words TRANSPLANTATION-ZENTRALE GMBH had appeared.

In a bar above were options for different languages. Luke clicked on the Union Jack flag and moments later a new panel came up:

Welcome to

TRANSPLANTATION-ZENTRALE GMBH

the world’s leading brokerage for

human organs for transplantations

Discreet global service, privacy assured

Contact us by phone, email

or visit our Munich offices by appointment

Lynn stared intently at the computer screen, feeling an intense, giddying frisson of excitement. And danger.

Maybe there really was another option to the tyranny of Shirley Linsell and her team. Another way to save the life of her daughter.

Luke turned to Caitlin. ‘Looks like we’ve – yeah – found something.’

‘Cool!’ she said.

Moments later Lynn felt Caitlin’s arms around her shoulders and her warm breath on her neck, as she too peered at the screen.

‘That’s awesome!’ Caitlin said. ‘Do you think there’s – like – a price list? Like when you go online shopping at Tesco?’

Lynn giggled, delighted that Caitlin seemed to be returning to some kind of normality, however temporary.

Luke began to navigate the site, but there was very little information beyond what they had already read. No phone number or postal address, just an email one: post@transplantation-zentrale.de.

‘OK,’ Lynn said. ‘Send them an email.’

She dictated and Luke typed:

I am the mother of a 15-year-old girl who is urgently in need of a liver transplant. We are based in the south of England. Can you help us? If so please let us know what service you can provide and what information you require from us. Yours sincerely,

Lynn Beckett

Lynn read through it, then turned to Caitlin. ‘OK, my angel?’

Caitlin gave a wistful smile and shrugged. ‘Yep. Whatever.’

Luke sent it.

Then all three of them stared at the mailbox in silence.

‘Do you think we should have sent a phone number?’ Caitlin asked. ‘Or an address or something?’

Lynn thought for a moment, her brain feeling scrambled. ‘Yes. Maybe. I don’t know.’

‘No harm, is there?’ suggested Caitlin.

‘No, no harm,’ her mother agreed.

Luke sent a second email, containing Lynn’s mobile number and the dialling code for England.

*

Ten minutes later, down in the kitchen making a cup of tea and preparing some supper for the three of them, Lynn’s phone rang.

On the display were the words, Private number.

Lynn answered immediately.

There was a faint hiss, then some crackle. After a fraction of a second’s time delay she heard a woman’s voice, in guttural broken English, sounding professional but friendly.

‘May I please speak with Mrs Lynn Beckett?’

‘That’s me!’ Lynn said. ‘Speaking!’

‘My name is Marlene Hartmann. You have just sent an email to my company?’

Shaking, Lynn said, ‘To Transplantation-Zentrale?’

‘That is correct. By chance, I have the opportunity to be in England tomorrow, in Sussex. If it is convenient, we could meet, perhaps?’

‘Yes,’ Lynn said, her nerves shorting out. ‘Yes, please!’

‘Do you happen to know your daughter’s blood type?’

‘Yes, it is AB negative.’

‘AB negative?’

‘Yes.’

There was a brief silence before the German woman spoke again.

‘Good,’ she said. ‘That is excellent.’

57

‘The time is 6.30 p.m., Tuesday 2 December,’ Roy Grace announced. ‘This is the tenth briefing of Operation Neptune, the investigation into the deaths of three unknown persons.’

He was seated in his shirtsleeves, tie loosened, at the table in the briefing room of Sussex House. Outside, it was a vile night. He stared, for an instant, through trails of rain slithering down the windowpanes, at the blackness beyond. Inside, it felt cold and draughty, with most of the heat coming from the bodies of his fast-expanding team, now twenty-eight strong, crammed around the table.

On the flat surface in front of him were a bottle of water, a stack of newspapers, his notebook and his printed agenda. There was a lot to work through before he could get out of here tonight – and move on to his second, and much more pleasurable, agenda of the evening. One which involved the seriously expensive bottle of champagne lying in the boot of his car downstairs.

On the wall-mounted whiteboard were sets of fingerprints and composite e-fit photographs of the three victims. He glanced up at them now. A DI colleague, Jason Tingley, currently in the Divisional Intelligence Unit, once commented that e-fits made everyone look like Mr Monkeyman and Roy had never been able to get that image out of his mind. He was looking at two Monkeymen and one Monkeywoman up there on that wall now.

Dead.

Murdered.

Depending on him to bring their killers to justice.

Depending on him to bring closure to their relatives.

He flipped open the Independent newspaper, which was on the top of the pile. On page three was a stark headline: BRIGHTON AGAIN CRIME CAPITAL OF ENGLAND. This was a reference back to 1934, when Brighton was in the grip of its famous razor gangs and, within a short space of time, two separate bodies were found in trunks at Brighton’s railway station. Brighton had then earned the unwelcome sobriquet Crime Capital of England.

‘The new Chief’s not impressed,’ Roy Grace said. ‘He wants this solved, quickly.’

He looked down at the notes Eleanor had typed for him.

‘OK, we now have further pathology evidence that the organs were removed from our victims under operating-theatre conditions. The labs have identified the presence of Propofol and Ketamine in the post-mortem tissues. These are both anaesthetics.’

He paused to let the implications sink in.

‘I’ve been giving this organ-trafficking line some thought, Roy,’ Guy Batchelor said. ‘Purchase and sale of human organs are illegal in the UK. But because of shortages, there are people on the heart, lung and liver waiting lists who die before an organ becomes available. And there are people who wait for years, leading miserable lives, on the kidney transplant waiting lists. How are we getting on with our search for a disgruntled transplant surgeon?’

‘Nothing so far,’ DI Mantle said.

‘What about making every transplant surgeon in the UK a suspect?’ said Nick Nicholl. ‘There can’t be that many.’

‘What progress have we made on surgeons who have been struck off?’ Lizzie Mantle queried. ‘I really think that would be a good place to start. Someone angry who wants to buck the system.’

‘I’m working on that,’ Sarah Shenston, one of the researchers, said. ‘I hope to have a full list by tomorrow. There’s a lot of them.’

‘Good. Thank you, Sarah.’ Grace made another note. ‘I think we should make a list and visit all the human organ transplant facilities in the UK.’ He looked at Batchelor. ‘Something important to establish is the chain of supply of organs. How does an organ get from a donor to a transplant? Are there any windows of opportunity for a rogue supplier?’

Batchelor nodded. ‘I’ll get that researched.’

‘I think we need to assume in the first instance,’ Grace said, ‘that there is a Brighton – or Sussex – connection with these victims. To my thinking, the fact that they were found close to the coast of Brighton indicates that. Does everyone accept that?’

The entire team nodded agreement.

‘I think an important part of this jigsaw is to establish the identities of the victims – and we are making headway here.’ He looked down at his notes again. ‘We have an interesting piece of information from the laboratory, Cellmark Forensics, where we sent DNA samples of the victims. Their US laboratory, Orchid Cellmark, has done an enzyme and mineral analysis of the DNA from the three victims. It indicates they had a diet compatible with that of southeastern Europe.’

He took a swig from his bottle of water, then went on.

‘Now, this tallies with the toxicology report from the path labs. All three victims have small traces of a Romanian-manufactured metallic paint, known as Aurolac, in their blood. According to the pathologist’s information, this substance is inhaled by Romanian street kids, having an effect similar to sniffing glue. Now, supporting this, Nadiuska returned to the mortuary last night to carry out a further examination and discovered traces of metallic paint in the nostrils of the victims.’ He looked at Potting. ‘Norman, would you like to bring us up to speed on Romania?’

Potting, looking pleased as punch at being given the floor, puffed up his chest. ‘Well, I’ve briefed Interpol, but same as usual with those desk jockeys. No blooming sense of urgency. Could be looking at three weeks for a response – longer with Christmas coming up.’ Then he hesitated and looked at Roy Grace. ‘Can I mention Ian Tilling in Bucharest, sir?’

Grace nodded, then said, ‘Norman has a contact in Romania, a very well-respected former UK police officer who is running a charity helping to shelter street people there. Taking into account the imperative to move this case forward, I have given DS Potting permission to bypass Interpol on an exploratory basis. Can you update us please, Norman?’

‘I’ve tasked him with looking for anyone with the name Rares who might have come to England recently. I only spoke to him a few hours ago, but he promised to get on the case right away, and I hope to hear back from him with his first report tomorrow. That’s all I have at this point.’

Grace then turned to Bella Moy. ‘What progress have you made with dentists?’

‘None,’ she said, and held up several sheets of paper. ‘These are the ones I have seen so far. All have said the same thing. The victims show signs of poor nutrition and probably drug abuse, but no signs of any dental work. I’m not sure there’s any point in pursuing dentists, Roy. I don’t think any of these three victims had ever been to a dentist, and certainly not in the UK.’

‘Yes, doesn’t sound like it’s getting us anywhere. You can cease that line.’ He turned to DC Nick Nicholl. ‘What do you have to report on Mispers?’

‘Nothing so far, chief.’

Nicholl then outlined the progress he had made. He reported that he had circulated the e-fit photographs widely around Sussex and the neighbouring counties, with no hits. There had been no result, either, from the newspapers. The Crimewatch television show was another option, but that was still a week away.

Grace looked down at his notes again.

‘Ray Packham, from the High-Tech Crime Unit, has something to tell us.’

Seated opposite him, the computer analyst was nothing like the traditional image of the geek. Packham reminded him of the original ‘Q’ in the Bond films. In his early forties, he was keenly intelligent and always bursting with enthusiasm, despite the grim nature of his work, much of it studying photographs on seized computers of horrific sexual abuse of children, day in and day out. Anyone meeting him for the first time, finding him in a grey suit and club tie, might have mistaken him for an avuncular, old-school bank manager.

‘Yes, we’ve been checking out the countries that are party to the global trafficking of human organs, sir, and Romania is one of them,’ Packham said. ‘This confirms what DS Potting told us previously. We are continuing with our searches.’

Grace thanked him, then he said, ‘OK, I spoke this afternoon to several members of the team behind Operation Pentameter, which is investigating human trafficking. Jack Skerritt at HQ CID and DI Paul Furnell and DS Justin Hambloch at Brighton nick have given me a list of names that have south-east European connections, including a couple of Romanian ones. There are a number of Romanian girls working in Brighton brothels. We need to check all of them out, see if any recognize any of these three teenagers. And see if we can get any of them to talk about their contacts, either in Romania or here.’

Grace turned to DS Branson. ‘Do you have anything to report, Glenn?’

‘Yeah, there is still no news on the missing fishing boat. I have an appointment to interview the wife of the owner of the Scoob-Eee tonight, after this meeting. As agreed at this morning’s briefing, I’ve asked the Scientific Support Unit to send the two cigarette butts I retrieved from Shoreham Harbour out for DNA analysis.’

Grace nodded, then checked his notes again and said, ‘There may be no connection at all, but a brand-new five-horsepower Yamaha outboard motor was found earlier today on the beach at low tide, between the Marina and Rottingdean, at Black Rock. I’m having it analysed with some new fingerprint technology that the labs here are testing. Glenn, I’d like you to get a list of all Yahama outboard motor dealers in the area and find out who’s sold one recently.’

‘Where’s it now, Roy?’

‘In the evidence store.’

‘OK.’

Roy surreptitiously glanced at his watch, momentarily allowing himself a pleasant distraction. He’d told Cleo he hoped to be at her house by eight. Then he focused back on the meeting.

‘I’m taking the view that we are dealing with human trafficking here, until I’m persuaded otherwise. From what DI Furnell has told me, all of the known trafficking to date has been for the sex trade. The girls brought into Brighton for this purpose are handled by a number of Mr Bigs here. Some are under surveillance by his team, but he believes there are several others not yet on his radar. I think a key line of enquiry is going to be to talk to the girls employed in Brighton’s brothels and see if we can broaden our lists of Mr Bigs.’

Recognizing that the sex trade flourished in every town and city, Brighton Police preferred the working girls to be inside, rather than out on the streets, principally for their own safety. It also made it easier to monitor them for underage, trafficked girls.

‘Bella and Nick, I think you two would get the best out of them,’ Grace said.

He felt the prostitutes might feel comfortable with a woman present, and as Nick Nicholl was the doting father of a young baby, he was unlikely – as opposed to someone like Norman Potting – to be swayed by any sexual allure.

‘I was on brothels for a time when I was in uniform,’ Bella said.

Nick Nicholl blushed. ‘Just so long as someone explains to my wife – you know – what I’m doing in these places.’

‘Women lose their sexual drive after they’ve sprogged,’ Norman Potting interjected. ‘Take it from me. You’ll be in need of a bit on the side soon enough.’

‘Norman!’ Grace cautioned.

‘Sorry, chief. Just an observation.’

Glaring at him, wishing the man could shut up and just get on with doing what he was good at, Grace went on. ‘Bella and Nick, I want you to talk to as many working girls as you can. We know that a lot of them are making good money and are quite happy with their lot. But there are some who are debt-bonded.’

‘Debt-bonded?’ Guy Batchelor asked.

‘Rescued from poverty by scumbags who tell them they can get them a wonderful new life in England. Passport, visa, job, flat – but for a price they will never be able to pay back. They arrive in England, tens of thousands of pounds in debt, and some Mr Big will be licking his slimy lips. He’ll put them in a brothel, even if they are thirteen, and tell them it’s the only way they can pay the interest on the bond. If they refuse, they will be told that their families or friends will be harmed. But these Mr Bigs over here usually have their fingers in more than one pie. They’ll be into the drugs market – and some, it seems, into the human organ market.’

He had everyone’s attention.

‘I think that’s likely to be our number one suspect. A local Mr Big.’

58

Glenn Branson halted the unmarked black Hyundai at the roundabout and glanced up at the curved front of a modern building that he particularly liked, Shoreham’s Ropetackle Centre for the Arts. Then he took the first exit and drove along a wide street that was lined on both sides with shops, restaurants and pubs, all glittering with Christmas lights and decorations. Although it was half past eight on a rain-lashed Tuesday night, the place seemed vibrant and thrumming with people. Office-party season was in full swing. Not that he cared.

He felt terrible.

Christmas was looming. Ari didn’t even want to discuss it with him. Was he going to spend it alone, in Roy Grace’s lounge?

There were three missed calls from Ari on his mobile, which had come in during the briefing meeting, but when he had called her back afterwards, a man had answered.

A man in his house, telling him that his wife was out.

When Glenn had asked him who the hell he was, the man, with a creepy, arrogant voice, had told him he was the babysitter and that Ari was at an English literature class.

A male babysitter?

If he had sounded like a teenager, that would have been one thing. But he didn’t; his voice was older, like someone in his thirties. Who the fuck was he? When he had asked that question, the little shit had replied snidely that he was a friend.

What the hell did Ari think she was doing leaving his kids, Sammy and Remi, in the hands of a man he had never met or vetted? Jesus, he could be a paedophile. He could be anything. The moment the interview was over, Glenn determined to drive straight over there and see him for himself. And throw the fucker out of his house.

The turn-off was coming up, according to the directions he had memorized. He slowed, indicated left, then turned into a narrow, residential street. Driving slowly, he passed a crowded fish and chip shop, trying with difficulty to read the numbers of the terraced houses. Then he saw No. 64. Fifty yards or so on, there was a tight, empty space between two parked cars. He manoeuvred the little Hyundai into it, touching bumpers with the car behind once, and climbed out. Hurrying through the rain, the collar of his cream mackintosh turned up, he rang the doorbell.

The woman who answered was in her mid-fifties, tall and buxom, with a crown of reddish hair that looked as if it had been freshly styled today. She wore a loose grey smock over blue jeans and clogs. Dark rings under her eyes and mascara stains gave away her misery.

‘Mrs Janet Towers?’ he asked, holding up his warrant card.

‘Yes.’

‘Detective Sergeant Branson.’

‘Thank you for coming.’ She moved aside to let him in and then, in a sudden spurt of hope, she asked, ‘Do you have any news?’

‘Nothing so far,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry.’

He stepped inside, squeezing past her into a narrow hallway lined with framed antique nautical prints of Brighton. The house felt hot and stuffy, and smelled of cigarette smoke and damp dog. Something he had noted from past experience was that when people were in shock or mourning, they tended to keep their curtains drawn and turn the heating up high.

She ushered him into a tiny, sweltering lounge. Most of the space was taken up by a brown velour three-piece suite, and the rest by a large television set, a coffee table fashioned from a ship’s wheel, on which sat an ashtray filled with lipsticky butts, and several display cabinets filled with ships-in-bottles in varying sizes. An old-fashioned three-bar heater with fake coals blazed in the fireplace. On the mantelpiece above it were several family photographs and a large greetings card.

‘Can I get you a drink, Detective – er – Detective Sergeant Branson, you said? Like the Virgin guy, Richard Branson?’

‘Yeah, ’cept I’m not as rich as him. Coffee would be lovely.’

‘How do you take it?’

‘Muddy, no sugar, thank you.’

‘Muddy?’

‘Strong, with just a tiny dash of milk.’

She went out of the room and he took the opportunity to look at the photographs. One showed a couple outside the front of a church – All Saints, Patcham, he recognized, because it was the same church where he and Ari had been married. The husband, whom he presumed was Jim, wore a narrow-cut suit with a shirt that looked too big for him, bouffant frizzy hair and a quizzical smile. The bride, a much skinnier Janet, had ringlets down to her shoulders and a lace gown with a long train.

Ranged alongside it were several photographs of two children in varying stages of childhood and one of a shy-looking young man in a mortar board and graduation gown.

Graduation, he thought gloomily. Would he ever get to go to either of his kids’ graduations? Or would his bitch wife exclude him?

He pulled out his personal mobile and checked the display. Just in case.

In case what? he thought, pocketing it miserably and wondering again about the man who had answered the phone. The man who was alone with his children.

Was the little turd going to screw Ari when she came home?

He heard wheezing and turned to see an elderly, overweight golden retriever peering at him through the doorway.

‘Hello!’ Glenn said, holding out a beckoning hand.

The dog deposited a slick of slobber on to the carpet, then waddled towards him. He knelt and patted it. Almost immediately the dog rolled over on to its back.

‘Well, you’re a great guard dog, aren’t you?’ he said. ‘And you’re a tart too, showing me your tits!’

He stroked its belly for some moments, then got to his feet again and picked up the greetings card.

On the front, in gold, was printed: ‘TO MY DARLING.’

Inside was written, To Janet, the love of my life. I adore you and miss you every second that we are apart. Thank you for the happiest twenty-five years of my life. All my love. Jim XXXXXXXX

‘Hope it’s the right strength for you!’

Glenn closed the card and replaced it. ‘Nice card,’ he said.

‘He’s a nice man,’ she replied.

‘I can tell from reading it.’

She placed a tray, with two cups of coffee and a plate of chocolate digestive biscuits on the coffee table, then sat on the sofa. The dog pressed its nose against the plate.

‘Goldie! No!’ Janet Towers said sternly.

The dog waddled away reluctantly. Glenn chose the armchair that was furthest away from the fire and looked at the biscuits, suddenly realizing he was feeling hungry. But he felt it might seem rude to start eating at such a sensitive time for this poor woman.

‘I have a few questions for you, further to our telephone conversation yesterday,’ he said. ‘If you don’t mind?’

‘I’m desperate,’ she said. ‘Anything, anything at all.’

He turned to the mantelpiece. ‘Are those your children? How old are they?’ Then he watched her eyes very closely.

They swung to the right, then centred as she stared at him, frowning. ‘Jamie, twenty-four and Chloe, twenty-two. Why?’

Without answering, he said, ‘I take it you’ve still heard nothing?’

Roy Grace had taught him, some while back, that you could tell if a person was lying or telling the truth by watching their eye movements. It was an area of neurolinguistic programmin