Main What Lies Beneath
What Lies BeneathBill Kitson
BONES IN THE WATER Two skeletons are discovered in Lamentation Tarn, a mountain lake. Talented detective Mike Nash and his team have little evidence with which to work, until a surprising discovery prompts them to contact law enforcement agencies in Eastern Europe. A GRIPPING, FAST-PACED MYSTERY WITH SOME STUNNING TWISTS A joint task force is formed to uncover a criminal network involved in prostitution, drugs, and human trafficking, but Nash's preoccupation with internal politics, as well as with an attractive Russian detective, proves to be a distraction. A BREATH-TAKING CRIME THRILLER PERFECT FOR FANS OF IAN RANKIN, JD KIRK, DS BUTLER or PETER ROBINSON. Finally, a young victim escapes the gang's clutches, providing Nash with much needed evidence. A search of the neighboring tarn yields evidence of even more heinous crimes. Who else will die before the criminals are brought to bitter justice?
WHAT LIES BENEATH An absolutely addictive crime thriller with a huge twist BILL KITSON (DI MIKE NASH BOOK 1) THIS IS A REVISED EDITION OF A BOOK FIRST PUBLISHED AS “DEPTH OF DESPAIR” Revised edition 2019 Joffe Books, London First published as “DEPTH OF DESPAIR” in 2009 © Bill Kitson This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The spelling used is British English except where fidelity to the author’s rendering of accent or dialect supersedes this. The right of Bill Kitson to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Please join our mailing list for free Kindle crime thriller, detective, mystery books and new releases. www.joffebooks.com CONTENTS Foreword Acknowledgments Dedication Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Afterword AUTHOR’S NOTE The D.I. Mike Nash Series A Selection Of Books You May Enjoy Glossary of English Slang for US readers Foreword ‘No one would really choose this as a way of life,’ she says. ‘No one. I am glad to be able to send money home. My family are very poor. Sometimes,’ she covered her face with one hand, ‘it is as if your soul is getting hurt.’ ‘Lolli’ — Reported in the Daily Mirror 24 January 2006 Acknowledgments I am grateful to the following people who have given me information and advice in the preparation of What Lies Beneath. To Tatiana Mechklovska, who provided valuable background and Russian translations; Dr Dave McGorman, for advice on water temperatures and diving techniques; Pat Almond and Kathleen Dabb, my readers and critics; Joan, for pointing me in the right direction and not allowing me to give up; Val, for countless hours of meticulous editing. Dedication For Val Wife, lover, best friend, critic and editor. Prologue Bosnia 1996 The house was in the middle of a war zone. The roof was perforated by shell holes, the walls pock-marked by bullet scars. It was a far from safe refuge but for the woman and child there was no alternative. They ducked through the gaping doorway ahead of a curtain of machine gun fire that traced a fresh pattern on to the brickwork close to where they’d been running. They passed the remnant of the door hanging in splinters. Their footsteps crunched as they hurried down a hallway, stepping carefully over broken glass, chipped masonry and plaster. The house smelt abominably of stale urine and worse, the sweet cloying stench of rotting corpses. A smell that was too familiar. They found a body in the first room. It was an unrecognizable travesty of what was once a human being. What remained had provided a feast for too many predators. Neither mother nor daughter showed surprise, let alone shock. In the second room they found three more bodies, bloated and bloodstained. As they peered in, the room’s other occupants scurried hither and thither, their meal disturbed by the intrusion. The child clutched at her mother’s arm. Death held little terror but rats were different. Their only choice was to go upstairs. They’d be more vulnerable but it would be safer from intruders. At the head of the stairway they found one room relatively unscathed. It contained nothing but a bed and a cupboard. They sat on the bed and waited. Waited and prayed. They’d been there a few minutes when they heard someone enter the house. They listened as the newcomer trod the path they had. They clung together in fear as the footsteps approached. They saw the shadow first. Then the man appeared. Friend or enemy? They were unsure until they saw the uniform, recognized the emblem and relaxed. ‘Thank God,’ the mother said. ‘Now we’re safe.’ She smiled. She was still smiling when the bullet entered her brain. The child began to scream. She screamed at the blood that spattered her face, her hands and dress. She screamed for the murder of her mother and she screamed in fear for her life. The killer looked at the child. She’d be ten perhaps eleven years old. A pretty little thing, but looks were unimportant for his purpose. ‘I’m not going to shoot you.’ She didn’t understand. No words in any language would have comforted her. He approached, unzipping his trousers. The child began to scream with renewed vigour. He clamped one hand across her mouth and with the other began ripping the clothing from her slender body. He pushed the naked child on to the bed and straddled her, too preoccupied to notice the figure in the doorway. An hour later he collected every scrap of combustible material and lit a bonfire to destroy the house, his victims and all evidence of his crimes. The man in peacekeeper’s uniform walked away. Two weeks later as he was leaving his quarters he heard a voice. ‘Good evening; I’d like a word.’ He turned. He didn’t recognize the voice or its owner. ‘What can I do for you?’ He looked at the insignia. ‘Captain…?’ The man was leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette. He gestured towards the makeshift hospital. ‘I guess you must be pretty busy?’ ‘Yes I am. Is there some point to this?’ ‘A shame that. Being so busy I mean, not having time to relax. I bet you can’t remember the last time you watched a video?’ ‘No, but I still don’t see—?’ ‘You look like someone who’d enjoy a video. I’ve got one for you. It’s so recent it hasn’t been released yet. You really should see it. It’s one I shot right here.’ The officer gestured towards the town. ‘I reckon you’d enjoy it. After all, you’re starring in it.’ Chapter One 2007 Cauldmoor hadn’t always been deserted. Once there’d been a community there. A community whose isolation bonded them. Theirs had been a peaceful existence working lead and other ores, tending sheep or growing what they could in the bitter soil. They battled constantly against nature. The disaster that wiped them out was man made. Even in their isolation they’d heard of the men who’d come from over the sea. Brutal men who slaughtered to gain control of vast swathes of land. The invaders arrived in the middle of a spring morning when the sun was nearing its height. It was after that the rumours began to circulate. Rumours that became the legend of Cauldmoor. It was said that cries could be heard, carried throughout the valley on the ever present wind. The causeway became known as The Grieving Stones and the hitherto unnamed lakes were called Lamentation Tarn and Desolation Tarn. Legends didn’t worry the angler as he arrived at the tarn, took his gear and walked to the lake. He unlocked the boathouse, climbed into a boat and rowed out to the middle. He dropped anchor, chose a fly and commenced casting. It was 7 a.m. Faint sounds seeped through the air. The hiss of the wind channelled by the hills, the call of a curlew, the bleating of sheep. For the most part, however, the silence was absolute. The fish weren’t rising. It was an hour before he felt his line go taut. Long before it broke surface he realized it wasn’t a fish. A fish would have writhed and struggled. There was no resistance. Just a dead weight. He stared in horror at the obscenity on the end of his line. As he told a friend in the pub that night, ‘There I was. Alone in the middle of the tarn. Miles from anywhere. And there was this bloody skull grinning back at me.’ Detective Inspector Mike Nash stared out from the veranda of the bothy. Like the rest of the low building, it was painted with creosote to counteract the weather. Inside, the gas heaters were on full blast but the room was still cold. It would be cramped but it would have to do as an incident room. At least a few people might warm the place up a bit. If anything could be warmed up in such a desolate place. He shivered, only partly from the raw wind that whipped round the building. He burrowed deeper inside his waxed coat. They’d been there an hour. Three of them plus a couple of uniforms. Now they’d to wait for the divers. They were taking their time. Not that Nash could blame them. ‘Rather them than me.’ He was unaware he’d voiced his thoughts. The woman alongside him stirred, ‘What? Who do you mean?’ Nash looked at his assistant. He pondered the twist of fate that had brought this handsome young woman from Belarus to England, to Yorkshire and finally into a career in the police. ‘What did you mean, “rather them than me”?’ ‘Talking to myself, was I? Can’t say I’m surprised in this godforsaken spot. I was thinking about the divers.’ Sergeant Clara Mironova stared at the dark waters of the tarn and shivered. ‘I get your point. What do you think of this place?’ ‘I’d rather not think about it. There’s something eerie about it. I can’t rid myself of a feeling of depression.’ Mironova looked at her boss with concern. He looked tired. The last case they’d worked on together had affected him badly. Hardly surprising with the outcome. She thought of Stella Pearson. Nash and Stella had been an item until Stella was injured, paralyzed by wounds intended for Nash. She could only guess at the guilt he felt. She also knew how ill he’d been before he transferred from the Met. Was this a symptom of that illness? Or an example of the way Nash reacted to his surroundings. It was a strange ability. Or was it more of a curse than a blessing? She knew he was prone to nightmares about the cases he worked on. Perhaps she was the lucky one. When she slept it was dreamless. On the whole, she thought, she was better off. ‘All we have is a skull, Mike,’ she said, half teasing him. ‘True and that might not tell us anything. Is Mexican Pete on his way?’ Like everyone else Nash referred to the pathologist by his nickname. Fortunately, Professor Ramirez either hadn’t heard it or didn’t know the Ballad of Eskimo Nell. Or possibly both. ‘He’s got lectures all morning. He’ll be here at lunchtime. He asked for directions.’ ‘Hell, Clara, that’s a long conversation for Mexican Pete.’ ‘I think he was trying to chat me up. Is Superintendent Pratt coming?’ ‘He’s not planning to. Just said we’re to keep him up to speed. What did you get out of the angler?’ ‘Nothing useful. He was fishing for an hour, felt the resistance and pulled in the skull. Seemed peeved because it’s the last day of the season and he’s been cheated of his fishing.’ ‘What did you tell him?’ ‘I said think yourself lucky. You could have been on the other end of the line. That silenced him.’ ‘I’ll bet. Listen, I’m going for a walk up the valley. I want to have a look round and see if I can get my circulation going. You hang on here in case the Rubber Johnnies arrive.’ ‘I’ll see if Viv’s got the kettle on. This bothy’s quite comfortable in a fashion. No electric, of course, but once Viv worked out how to turn the bottled gas on it started to warm up a bit.’ As she watched Nash walk towards the ridge separating the lakes, DC Pearce joined her on the balcony. He glanced over towards their boss. ‘Trouble?’ Clara nodded. ‘What is it?’ ‘I reckon he feels guilty about Stella.’ ‘That’s ridiculous,’ Pearce interjected. ‘Maybe, but Mike thinks he’s responsible for her being in a wheelchair.’ ‘If it hadn’t been for Mike and you, Stella and the others would be dead.’ ‘I know that and you know it. And in his more rational moments Mike knows it. But when he’s got that depression on it’s a different matter.’ ‘No one’s to blame except that damned psychopath. We never know how hostage situations will end.’ Viv paused and watched Nash heading up the slope. ‘Don’t suppose it helped that Mike was giving Stella one.’ ‘Put with your usual delicacy. But you’re right, and it proves something else. The victims of violence aren’t always those who die. Sometimes survivors suffer even more.’ Nash fastened his coat up to the neck. He’d put his gloves on and pulled his flat cap down firmly before setting off, walking as briskly as he could. It took twenty minutes to reach the top of the ridge. He stared to the west where Desolation Tarn lay dark and uninviting, then back towards Lamentation Tarn with its grisly secret. Nash still felt cold. But this was a coldness that struck from within. He shivered and looked around. As the wind strengthened, Nash heard a faint keening sound. It was like a cry of distress. Of pain beyond endurance. The moaning appeared part of the wind and yet separate. The day darkened and Nash shivered again. Louder, harsher and shriller the sound came. There was mist writhing around now as the wind caused it to eddy. Nash stared about. He could almost imagine there were shapes within the gloom. Figures moving in the distance. Then the mist was gone, the shapes vanished. The threnody ceased. It had only been a fleeting impression. But it was enough to send a cold chill down his spine. Nash came briskly down the hillside, his walk only marginally short of panic. He neared the bothy and saw the diving team struggling down Misery Near with their equipment. Theirs was an unenviable task. There was no certainty the angler could pinpoint the place he’d been fishing. And the ‘Rubber Johnnies’ would be working in dark, cold water. At this altitude and at this time of year they’d have little more than twenty or thirty minutes under water. The soil on the moor was peat. It would darken the water, defying even their powerful torches. They would have to work by touch. Nash shivered anew at the prospect. Pearce had brewed tea. ‘I need you to fetch supplies from Bishopton.’ Nash told him. ‘Whilst you’re there contact the secretary of the angling club. I want him here.’ Mironova and Pearce exchanged glances. ‘Does that mean you’re treating this as a suspicious death?’ ‘No, Clara, I’m treating it as murder.’ ‘Why?’ Pearce asked. ‘That tarn is half a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide. Tell me how anyone got into the middle unless someone dumped them?’ ‘What about suicide?’ Pearce asked. ‘How? To get into the middle of the tarn would have required a boat. What would have happened to the boat afterwards?’ ‘Could the body have floated there?’ Clara asked. ‘I don’t think there’s enough current to move a body, even that of a girl. Besides, how did they get here in the first place? It’s twenty miles from the nearest town, ten from the nearest village. Are you asking me to believe a girl hiked here? That she got overcome by depression? That she swam out into the middle of a tarn that would be bloody cold even in summer? That having avoided hypothermia she drowned herself? Or that somebody drove her here so she could kill herself? It doesn’t add up.’ Pearce missed Nash’s last few words because of the sudden roar made by the diving team’s outboard. All three glanced round. The divers were ready to start, checking with the angler where he’d been fishing. When Pearce had gone and the divers were chugging out into the lake, Mironova turned to Nash. ‘You kept saying “she”. How do you know it’s a girl?’ He shrugged. ‘Guesswork I suppose. But from the size and shape of the skull I reckon it was probably a girl.’ Mironova stared at him suspiciously. ‘What happened when you went up the valley? You looked as if you’d seen a ghost.’ ‘Nothing.’ His tone was unconvincing. Clara shrugged, ‘No doubt you’ll tell me in your own time.’ Pearce returned an hour later bringing pies, sandwiches and milk, coffee and tea bags. He arrived at the same time as Ramirez and charmed the pathologist into carrying bottled water to the bothy. Nash greeted Ramirez. ‘The divers have recovered most of the skeleton, with the exception of one arm and hand.’ A cry from the lake suggested they’d been successful. When the dinghy reached the shore the divers removed the forearm and hand from its covering and placed it with the rest of the skeleton on the unzipped body bag. They started gathering their equipment as Ramirez examined the remains. After a moment he glanced towards the divers, ‘If I was you I’d tell them not to leave yet.’ ‘Why Professor?’ ‘Because this hand and arm do not belong to this skeleton. Not unless the woman had an unusual deformity. Like two left hands.’ The secretary of the angling club was a fussy middle-aged man. He seemed to take it personally that a body had been found in Lamentation Tarn. When Nash suggested they were looking for two bodies he went pale and swayed a little before recovering his composure. When Nash asked who had a key to the boathouse or the padlocks securing the dinghies, he appeared to think it was an accusation against his members. ‘Tell me,’ Nash took the secretary by the elbow and turned him to face the tarn, ‘how do you think those bodies got there?’ ‘Are you certain they were put there? Couldn’t it have been an accident?’ Nash shook his head. ‘I’m afraid not.’ The angler swallowed. ‘That means—’ ‘It means they were murdered.’ His face registered horror. ‘Do you suspect one of us?’ Nash ignored the question. ‘Whoever dumped the bodies had to use a dinghy. Unless you know of anyone else who has a boat? Who owns the land?’ ‘It belongs to Bishopton Estate, although they have nothing to do with the management. Their only involvement is to collect rent. But as far as the land’s concerned your best contact is Simon Wardle. He rents the pasture-land. Those are his sheep grazing on Misery Near.’ ‘Where will we find him?’ ‘His farm is the other side of Bishop’s Cross off the Helmsdale road, a few miles past the village. A big place on the left. Wardle’s family have owned it for generations. He has cattle and pig units there, keeps his sheep over this side. Be careful how you tackle Simon. He hasn’t much love for officialdom.’ Nash waited, certain there was more. ‘It goes back to the foot and mouth epidemic. Wardle wasn’t intending to be a farmer. He was a professional soldier but his father had a heart attack after their livestock was destroyed. Wardle resigned his commission and returned to help out until his father was fit. But that didn’t happen. The old man was in Netherdale hospital for six weeks before he died. Simon’s mother followed six months later.’ ‘That’s sad. I can see Wardle would be sensitive. How old is he?’ ‘In his late thirties. He’s a real loner and if you’re planning to visit him, watch out. He’s got a sophisticated security system backed up by ferocious guard dogs.’ ‘Is he married?’ ‘No, he reckons he’s too busy. To be fair he’s done really well. Rumour was, the losses were so bad the farm was on the brink of having to be sold, but Simon turned it round. Like I say, it’s only rumour, but he persuaded the bank to let him run with a huge overdraft until the compensation kicked in. Since then he’s never looked back but I think the scars are still there.’ Nash looked across at Mironova. ‘If he’s single perhaps I’d better send my sergeant.’ Mironova got up to leave, ‘If I find out he’s gay I’ll come back for Viv.’ ‘Returning to the matter of those keys. I need a list of your current members and any who have resigned or died. Say within the last ten years.’ ‘It’ll take a lot of work.’ ‘Then the sooner you start the quicker it’ll be done. I’ll get my constable to collect the list tomorrow morning, right?’ He nodded, recognizing the inevitable. ‘One more thing; can you make a note of any members who might have lost their keys during that time? If they asked for a replacement set, for example.’ The autumn afternoon was well advanced when the diving team recorded further success. The detectives emerged from the shelter of the bothy to supervise the handling of the latest find. The second set of remains was as skeletal as the first. As Nash rounded the tarpaulin shielding the corpses he wondered why they’d bothered erecting it. There were no passers by to be shocked or to ogle or take photos. The screen didn’t even act as a windbreak. ‘What do you reckon, Professor?’ The pathologist looked up in obvious irritation. ‘I think the sooner I get them to the mortuary and can examine them without the risk of hypothermia the better,’ he snapped. ‘But I don’t suppose that’s what you’re waiting to hear. Give me ten minutes and I’ll join you inside.’ He nodded towards Pearce, ‘That’ll be long enough for you to get coffee on.’ Nash and Pearce returned to the bothy. The wind had strengthened, the chill factor increased. When Ramirez joined them he was almost blue with cold. He wrapped his fingers gratefully round the mug. ‘Both victims are female, no more than thirty years old.’ ‘How do you know?’ Pearce was intrigued. ‘Because the flesh has been destroyed I was able to examine their spines. In neither case was there deterioration nor wear and tear in the discs as you’d find in an older person.’ ‘Not mother and daughter then?’ Nash asked. ‘I’d need DNA confirmation to be certain, but it’s unlikely.’ ‘Any chance of establishing the cause of death?’ ‘I can tell you exactly.’ ‘Already?’ Pearce exclaimed. Ramirez permitted himself a wintry smile. He held out his mug, ‘Refill, please,’ he demanded. ‘They were both shot in the back of the head where it joins the neck. Probably from above when they were kneeling. The reason I know,’ he explained before Pearce could ask, ‘is because the bullet, or bullets that killed them damaged the vertebra. That’s probably why the skull became detached when your angler hooked it.’ ‘Mr Wardle?’ The loudspeaker echoed eerily as the disembodied voice replied. ‘Who is it?’ ‘Detective Sergeant Mironova, Helmsdale CID. I need to ask you some questions.’ ‘What about?’ ‘If you let me in, I’ll explain.’ ‘No. If you want me to let you in, you’ll explain first. If I judge it to be important then you can come in.’ Mironova looked round the deserted windswept farmyard with exasperation. The lack of welcome had been apparent from the moment she’d pulled up. ‘Howlingales Farm’. The name couldn’t have been more appropriate. The notice fixed to the gatepost read, ‘Strictly No Admission Without Authority. No Representatives Without Appointment’. Alongside this notice was another. Below the picture of two Dobermans the caption read, ‘Guard Dogs Running Free’. Further down was the chilling addendum, ‘You Have Been Warned!’ ‘It’s in connection with two skeletons we’ve recovered from Lamentation Tarn. We understand you rent grazing land there. You may have seen something significant.’ There was a pause. ‘Wait two minutes.’ Mironova reckoned it was nearer five before the intercom buzzed. ‘When you hear the door click, come in. Walk down the hall, past the stairs and go into the room on your left. Don’t go into any of the rooms on your right, not if you value your safety.’ She heard the electronic lock disengage and pushed the door. As she walked down the hall she heard ferocious baying sounds from her right. She increased her pace as she passed the staircase and reached the room as directed. The man looked up from his computer. He was quite good looking, slim and tall, and seated at a large old-fashioned desk containing a very up-to-date PC. It wasn’t exactly how Clara had expected to see the farmer but then nothing about this visit had been like her expectations. He scowled at her furiously. ‘Mironova? What part of Helmsdale’s that from?’ She smiled. ‘It isn’t from Helmsdale, it’s from Belarus.’ ‘Bugger me,’ he exclaimed. ‘It’s a hell of a way to go home to Minsk after a day’s work.’ It was Mironova’s turn to be surprised. ‘You know Minsk?’ Wardle smiled patronizingly. ‘A farmer would know about a country whose exports include tractors and fertilizer. Well, are you coming in or are you going to stand there all day?’ When she entered the office she was able to see Wardle more clearly. ‘Tell me what you want to know.’ Clara explained about the bodies. She was slightly surprised by Wardle’s calm acceptance. She commented on this. Wardle was devoid of humour. ‘Nothing you’ve found surprises me. I go there to check my sheep. As soon as I get out of the Land Rover I want to be away. The place depresses me. To be perfectly honest, it scares me as well. That might sound ridiculous from someone who served in two war zones but this is different. I’m glad when it’s time to leave, I can tell you. Don’t you think it’s significant there’s been no attempt to build there? That valley looks beautiful on a warm day when the sun shines and the heather’s blooming. Yet you never get picnickers or walkers up there. I’ll tell you something. I’ve known that place and hated it all my life. My father used to take me when I was a kid,’ Wardle grimaced. ‘On a farm everyone has to help. Even then Cauldmoor frightened me like no other place has since. I thought I’d seen the back of it and didn’t miss it.’ ‘Why? Do you think the valley’s haunted or something?’ Clara half smiled. ‘I’m not sure I believe in things like that. And if you don’t mind, I’d rather not dwell on the idea. I’ve to be up there at night during lambing and if I thought there were ghosts roaming around I’d not stand it five minutes. All I’ll say is I’m not happy being there alone. Especially not at night.’ ‘Have you had any strange experiences up there? Anything you can’t understand or explain? Heard or seen anything unusual?’ Wardle stared long and hard. When he spoke it was as if the words were being forced from him. ‘Every spring I’m there a lot. Some of my ewes get tupped early so I’m on with lambing from the beginning of January. Some years we don’t get much snow but there are always bloody sharp frosts. I have to rely on my own resources. The vet can’t get out in time, and besides which I’ve no way of calling him. There’s no phone signal this side of Bishop’s Cross. Three, maybe four winters ago I was out there a few weeks earlier than normal. It was a clap-cold night. One of those when the stars are out and that means a keen frost. I drove on to Misery Near where the ewes were penned. I left the Land Rover engine running. There was no moon so I was using the headlights as well as my torch. I didn’t fancy running the battery down and finishing up stuck there or walking ten miles for help.’ Wardle paused and looked at Clara. ‘I didn’t park too close to the pens in case I frightened the ewes. They’re skittish enough at the best of times. I checked them and saw none was ready. I was about to go back to the Land Rover when I heard a sound. It was silent out there, even the wind wasn’t howling. The breeze was coming off Stark Ghyll side, that’s across Lamentation Tarn, so it would carry any sound towards me.’ ‘What did you hear?’ ‘I’m not sure. I know what it sounded like. Whether I’m right’s another matter.’ ‘Go on,’ Mironova encouraged him. ‘I thought it was a splash. As if something really heavy had dropped into the tarn. I could have been wrong. I didn’t hang around to investigate. I dismissed it at the time because I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to be up there on my own. I fancied the idea of someone else being there even less.’ Superintendent Pratt looked at Nash with interested speculation. They were sitting in Pratt’s office at Netherdale where Nash had called in to update his superior. ‘You went there to recover a body and by the end of the day you’ve recovered two. Now you want authority for the diving team to look for more. Isn’t two enough?’ Nash smiled. ‘It is and it isn’t, Tom. Given that we know two young women have been murdered, I’d be happy if that were the end of it. But I’m not sure it is.’ ‘Why?’ ‘It’s a hunch, no more.’ ‘I’m sorry, Mike. I can’t justify a diving crew’s expenses. Not for the time it would take to search that lake. Bring me something substantial and I’ll authorize it. But not on the strength of a hunch. What plans have you regarding the bodies you’ve recovered?’ ‘There’s very little we can do yet. Most of our hopes are pinned on the post-mortems. We’re facing a long, hard slog to get anywhere. Identification will rely on dental records or DNA. We can check all women who’ve gone missing within the timescale, but only when we know what that is.’ ‘When will we know?’ ‘When I hear from Mexican Pete. He said something on the phone that gave a clue. He reckoned they’d been down there several years.’ ‘Did he explain why?’ ‘He said the ambient temperature of the water at the depth the divers reported would be very low. That plus the concentration of peat as the predominant soil substance would tend to act as preservatives. He said it would only be natural predation that could have speeded up the deterioration.’ ‘What did he mean by that scientific mumbo-jumbo?’ Nash smiled grimly. ‘He said there would have been less decay if the fish and other creatures had refrained from dining on the corpses.’ Pratt, hardened as he was, turned pale. ‘I’m so glad I asked. On second thoughts, I prefer the scientific version.’ ‘He did give one piece of positive news, though. He reckoned he might be able to tell us something about the weapon.’ ‘Have you any other ideas?’ ‘I’m waiting until Mironova reports her conversation with the farmer. Then I reckon we’ll search the area round the tarn. It’s a long shot but we’ve two unidentified corpses. Someone snuffed the life out of them in cold blood.’ ‘It’s making you angry.’ ‘Yeah, sometimes murder is just sad, because much of the violence is avoidable. Domestic quarrels that have got out of hand, violent acts committed in the heat of the moment. It’s when I see crimes like these, committed against defenceless women that I get angry.’ ‘Those are two big assumptions you’ve made. I mean that the women were defenceless and were killed in cold blood. You got any facts to back them up?’ ‘Not really, apart from the fact that they were shot in the back of the neck; classic execution technique.’ Back in Helmsdale Nash stared sightlessly at the wall, his thoughts far away. Clara stood in the doorway watching him. She’d seen Nash drift off into a semi-catatonic state before when he was trying to work out how a crime had been committed. Was he visualizing a crime scene or something else? Recently, she’d often seen him like this, even when there was no crime to solve. It had happened far too often. Clara thought the time was right for her to confront the situation head on. ‘What’s up, Mike, you trying to work out what happened at the tarn?’ Nash shook his head. ‘I called at the clinic when I was in Netherdale. I’m surrounded by crime and its after-effects. Not just at work, when I leave here I take it with me.’ ‘That sounds as if the job’s sickening you. You’re not thinking of chucking it in, surely?’ ‘No, I suppose I’m just a bit down. To start with, Cauldmoor spooked me. The thought of those girls executed and dumped in that bloody lake made things worse. Then I went to see Stella.’ ‘How is she?’ ‘There’s no improvement. I think she’s beginning to lose heart. She won’t tell me what her consultant says. She won’t allow me to talk to him. She won’t even let me go with her when she sees him.’ ‘Isn’t the physiotherapy doing any good? I thought the prognosis was hopeful; the specialists were confident she’d walk again sooner or later?’ ‘It’s certainly not sooner, and I’m beginning to think it won’t be later. I reckon she’s half way to being institutionalized.’ ‘How do you mean?’ ‘She’s convinced she’ll be tied to that wheelchair for life. I think she’s starting to give up, subconsciously I mean. She’d never admit it.’ ‘Isn’t there anything you can do?’ ‘No, that’s the trouble. It makes me feel bloody helpless.’ ‘Really? Or do you still feel guilty that she’s in a wheelchair whilst you’re leading a normal life?’ ‘That too. I can’t rid myself of the notion that if she hadn’t got involved with me she wouldn’t be in the state she’s in.’ ‘That’s ridiculous.’ Clara’s tone was sharp, dismissive. ‘For one thing, Stella was involved before you met her. Whatever you’d done, she’d still have been taken hostage. So get rid of these crazy guilt notions. Stella would be the first to say it. You saved her life. Why beat yourself up because that life isn’t normal yet. That won’t help her.’ Clara paused to let her words sink in. ‘Would it do any good if I went to visit her?’ ‘I don’t know, Clara, but I don’t suppose it would do any harm.’ ‘I will when I get a minute. Speaking of visits, do you want to hear how I went on at Howlingales Farm?’ ‘Oh yes,’ Nash forced his mind back to business. ‘What did you make of Wardle?’ ‘He’s okay, I think. Not quite what I was expecting. He’s paranoid about security and scary about Cauldmoor. He’s well educated and down to earth,’ she paused and added. ‘It makes what he told me all the more remarkable.’ She went on to relate Wardle’s tale. ‘Three or four years ago, are you sure?’ ‘It’d have to be,’ Clara reminded him. ‘Remember what the guy from the angling club said about Wardle leaving the army. That was only five or six years ago.’ ‘True,’ Nash conceded. ‘Well, that’s something. But I don’t think it’s enough to convince Pratt.’ Mironova looked puzzled. ‘I was trying to persuade Tom to authorize another search by the Rubber Johnnies but he won’t okay it without proof.’ ‘Why do you want to do that?’ ‘Because I think there may be more bodies at the bottom of Lamentation Tarn.’ Chapter Two ‘Let’s start with the location,’ Nash said. The three were seated in the CID office at Helmsdale. The premises were purpose-built and contained all three emergency services. As yet, the team was still settling in. ‘The tarn is so remote we can discount eyewitnesses, even if we knew when the victims were murdered. Those bodies have been in the water so long there seems little point in examining the area. Nevertheless, we have to, if only to avoid the charge of negligence.’ ‘Have we any idea how long they’ve been there?’ Pearce asked. ‘Not yet. Unless we turn up something in our search, any information about the victims will depend on the autopsy and Ramirez’s analysis. I’m scheduled to meet him later.’ ‘What do you want Viv and me to do?’ Mironova seemed anxious for action. ‘Organize the search party and collect the information from the angling club secretary. If you’ve time, start trawling the computer for young women under the age of thirty-five reported missing over the last ten years. Concentrate on the search party and the angling club first. Identification is going to be slow, so if we discover some clue at the tarn it could be invaluable. Not that I’m counting on it. I’ll want every member of that club interviewed and their keys accounted for. Someone had access to those boats. Another thing. When I was at the bothy I picked up a fishing log for the current season. It records the date, the catch and who was fishing. There’s a column devoted to guests. Find out the club policy on visitors and how strictly they enforce it. I want to know about everyone who’s visited the tarn.’ ‘What’s your thinking, Mike?’ Pearce asked. ‘It’s so remote. It makes me wonder how the killer selected it. It’s not as if it’s Windermere or Loch Ness. You won’t find it marked on any maps. As well as interviewing the club members, I think we should talk to all the guests we can.’ ‘That should keep us out of mischief,’ Mironova muttered. Sitting at his desk in Sarajevo, Janko Vatovec regarded the figures on the screen with satisfaction. Figures were a source of delight to him. He regarded them as the life-blood of his business, and for Janko, life itself was a business. Janko was born in Slovenia, raised in poverty by a mother who fed him when she was sober and when she could afford to. His father departed when Janko was ten, but he left a lasting impression. One characterized by physical and sexual abuse. Janko learned early that people were of little importance. Their value lay only in what they could contribute to his prosperity. This enabled him to cast aside troublesome burdens such as family ties and scruples. In their place were the twin goals of power and wealth. Seeking these, Janko entered the conflict between the warring factions of the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Not as a combatant but as a supplier. Janko didn’t ask which side the buyers of his military hardware represented. He merely counted the money and examined each banknote before he released the munitions. He asked no questions. If the arms were used to kill old or defenceless people, mothers or babies, it was of no concern to Janko. His wasn’t the finger on the trigger. He’d been annoyed when the war ended. But he found that those who enforced the peace represented an even greater source of income. It didn’t take him long to spot a niche in the market. It was the supply of a commodity required in peace and war alike. He had a willing, eager customer base and a vast supply of raw material. Moreover, it was an operation he could run on a hands-on basis, with a little assistance from a few associates. It was hardly surprising he was pleased by the figures. Lulu was afraid. Unhappy and afraid. She could barely remember a time before the fear and unhappiness. Added to this deep well of misery, Lulu bore a sense of shame and self-loathing. These were part of her daily life, as was the violence and abuse from which it stemmed. So much a part that she’d almost come to accept them. Almost, but not quite, for there still remained a tiny grain of something she might have called hope had it been stronger, or spirit, had she been free to express it. It remained locked deep inside. It survived despite the abuse. She was only thirteen when it started. It came when three strangers entered her village in Moldavia and approached her parents. They said they’d heard good things of the couple’s eldest daughter. Their employer was a senior figure in the establishment, based in the capital, who required domestic servants. They would pay Lulu a handsome salary. They would provide her parents with money. Her parents were overjoyed. Lulu’s future was secure, and they would have one less mouth to feed, one less body to clothe. Two years later that mouth was fed only the basic necessities and that body was clothed in garments totally unsuitable for a fifteen year old. Lulu’s body showed the malnutrition and abuse she’d suffered. Her illusion of a well-paid job, supporting her parents and siblings, had been shattered the night she’d been taken from her home. She’d been heartbroken at leaving, but proud to help them, proud she’d been chosen for such high honour. The shattering of the illusion began before the car had gone five miles from the village. The driver stopped the car and the passenger from the front joined his companion in the back, one on either side of Lulu. As the driver continued towards their destination the others took turns to rape her. After a while the car stopped so the driver could change places with one of the others. Lulu didn’t know if she reached the capital. Her pain and anguish was continuous. Terror at what would happen to her, the unmitigating shame and knowing she would never be able to face her family again. After the journey she was dragged into a building and locked in a dark, windowless room. The only light switch was outside the door. Sometimes it was flicked on so Lulu could eat the meagre food provided. More often it was switched on so someone could look at her through the inspection flap. Later a stranger, sometimes alone, often accompanied, would enter and the nightmare would begin again. A nightmare that would go on for what seemed endless hours. In which Lulu was repeatedly raped, sodomised and forced to have oral sex with strangers. Disorientation and violent sexual abuse continued for weeks. She was even forbidden to use her own name as part of the subjugation process and had to suffer the corruption of it her captors foisted upon her. So Ludmilla became Lulu and Lulu became their property. An asset that would earn them money. Lulu was a prize asset but her homeland was not the best place to exploit it. They had ceased to think of her as her; she’d become ‘it’. Lulu was auctioned off through the wonders of the internet and transported overseas. She was sold on and her new owners were quick to realize a profit on their investment. Despite all she’d suffered, Lulu was still a good-looking young girl. Lulu knew nothing of this. All she knew was her tormentors had changed. Her slavery was as complete as before. Even worse, she didn’t speak their language and they couldn’t understand hers. They managed to communicate their desires in other ways. Lulu was held prisoner in a room containing only a bed. She was allowed out under guard, to cook and clean for her captors. That was how Lulu spent her daytime. At night at least one of the men would want sex, usually more than one, often whilst the others watched and commented. Lulu didn’t understand the words. The meaning was unmistakeable. Their desire for her seemed inexhaustible. Lulu’s hope grew day by day, like a fragile seedling in a frosty climate, its hold on life precarious. She didn’t know where she was but at last she had something she’d not had since her captivity began. Lulu had a plan. She planned to escape. She knew how she was going to do it. She also knew what she was about to do was a terrible thing, but terrible things had been done to her. She knew she ran the risk of even more dreadful retribution. She didn’t care. Nothing could be worse than what she’d endured. Nash was speaking to Ramirez. ‘Considering the state of the bodies, the place they were found and the length of time since they were dumped, I don’t think we’ve a cat in hell’s chance of identification unless you can come up with anything. I hope you can give us some sort of a lead. We’re going to be reliant on you.’ ‘I realize that. I might be able to tell you a little, or again I might be able to tell you a lot. What you really want to know is the extent of what my examination will reveal. Right?’ ‘I’ve never seen a case where deterioration is so complete. It’s a bit like being called in to investigate the murder of one of the pharaohs.’ ‘I think you’ll find the remains of the pharaohs would be in better condition than those in the mortuary drawers,’ Ramirez told him dryly. ‘But I get your point. This is a far from normal enquiry. If we get lucky I could tell you their names, addresses and dates of birth. That relies on us getting a match from their dental records. For that we need them to have been British citizens who had regular dental treatment. ‘Failing that, given time I should be able to tell you their age, give or take a year or two. Where they come from, their ethnicity and any diseases they contracted. If your enquiries turn up someone who may be related to them I could either prove or disprove that also.’ Nash stared at the pathologist in surprise. ‘Are you joking?’ Ramirez smiled and shook his head. ‘I rarely joke about work. Let me explain. X-rays can show evidence of medical conditions such as stress fractures or broken bones that have healed after setting. There’s a standard procedure that can determine age. It’s particularly effective in pre-adults and up to the age of thirty, so we’re lucky they were young. We can also gauge conditions like anaemia or periostitis, that’s inflammation of the periosteum and soft tissue surrounding the bone. That’s usually associated with traumatic infection. That might mean injuries, more commonly of the sort associated with a physically demanding occupation. Iron deficiency, anaemia, is symptomatic of malnutrition and a high pathogen load, i.e. bacteria or viruses that can cause diseases. All of which is routine. ‘The most spectacular results stem from advances in DNA analysis. We can identify genetic characteristics and associate them with specific locations. The genetic signature from different regions is distinct. Although each individual’s DNA is unique, every locality has a broadly similar gene pool. That means we can trace someone’s origin to a specific region and with the advance of a new technique called “familial DNA” we can identify enough similarities to place someone within a family.’ Ramirez tilted his chair back so he was balanced on the back legs. He gripped the edge of his desk with one hand. ‘Of course, the jewel in the DNA crown is the ability to identify someone’s genetic forbears via mitochondrial DNA.’ He smiled at Nash’s look of bewilderment. ‘Mitochondrial DNA is passed from a mother to her offspring. It’s indestructible. If you provide me with a tiny scrap of mitochondrial DNA from your pharaoh, for example, I could tell you,’ Ramirez kept his face straight, ‘who his mummy was.’ ‘I thought you didn’t joke about your work?’ ‘I couldn’t resist that. What I’m saying is by using mitochondrial DNA we could give as positive an identification of the victims as if someone had looked at them an hour after they died.’ Nash nodded, ‘The problem is going to be finding someone to provide a cross-sample.’ ‘I understand that. Of course it takes a long time. You have to grow the strands that form the DNA chain.’ ‘Where’s Clara?’ Mike asked. ‘Gone to collect the angling club membership list. How did your meeting go?’ ‘Pretty well. Ramirez reckons the skeletons will tell us a lot about the victims, where they were from and how they died. The only drawback is it’s going to take time. I don’t suppose a few weeks will be critical.’ ‘The press have got hold of the story. The Netherdale Gazette’s headline this evening is “Angler’s Grim Catch”. Their reporter was on earlier asking for a quote.’ ‘What did you tell him?’ ‘I said I could confirm both victims were definitely dead.’ Pearce grinned. ‘Then I told him, “pick the bones out of that”.’ Nash winced. ‘I’ve noticed you’ve started making lousy puns. I’m afraid it’s infectious. Even Mexican Pete’s doing it.’ He looked round as Mironova walked in. She waved a sheaf of papers. ‘I’ve got the details of the members of the angling club, plus the retired ones and, those who resigned. All the keys have been returned. They have quite a neat system. You pay a joining fee, £500 at present. If you leave, that gets paid back but only after you’ve returned any club property. That includes the keys to the bothy, the boathouse and the boats.’ ‘That’s not much help,’ Nash objected. ‘They could have been copied.’ ‘That would only work for a year. The locks are changed before each season. Members only get their new keys once they’ve paid their subscription.’ ‘That’s helpful. Do you know how long the club’s been going?’ ‘About sixty years. Before the war, Bishopton Estate kept the fishing for themselves. However, the father and eldest son were killed in the war. The estate passed to the younger son and he’d no interest in either the estate or fishing. Several local anglers got wind of it and approached the estate manager. A lease was agreed and Bishopton Angling Club was formed. Angling’s become so popular the club’s gone from strength to strength. That’s why they’re strict on controlling guests. If someone’s name isn’t in the guest books it means they haven’t been to the tarn. The penalty for not recording all the information is expulsion.’ ‘We ought to interview the landowner or whoever’s in charge.’ ‘I reckon the estate manager would be the best bet. The owner is well over ninety and absolutely loopy fruit. That means—’ ‘Thanks, Clara, I know what that means.’ ‘The secretary told me there are no direct descendants and when the old lady pops her clogs—’ ‘I know what that means too.’ ‘—the estate will pass to another branch of the family. Apparently, it’s of great concern to the anglers. They’re worried a new owner might want to fish the tarn and the club would lose the rights. There are only two seasons left on the lease. They’re praying the old lady stays alive long enough for them to renew.’ ‘Thanks, Clara,’ Mike said. ‘I’m off now. I’ll pop in the library on my way home; see what I can find out about the area.’ Nash called at the off-licence first and selected a couple of bottles of his favourite wine. Back at his flat the meal he’d left in the slow cooker would be ready when he was. He uncorked one of the bottles and took a leisurely shower. He settled down to read the library book written by a local historian. He was disturbed by the phone. It was Clara to confirm the search party had been organized for the morning. ‘Good, you can pick me up en route.’ ‘I assume from that you’re about to open a bottle of wine?’ ‘Wrong, I’ve already opened it.’ Clara groaned in mock despair. ‘How did you go on with your research?’ ‘I was right about Cauldmoor. It does have an evil reputation. I’ll tell you the details tomorrow.’ He laughed wickedly, ‘When we’re there and you can soak up the atmosphere.’ ‘Thanks a bundle. Just don’t soak up too much atmosphere tonight and don’t give yourself nightmares either.’ ‘No, Mother,’ he mocked. Despite Clara’s warnings, by the time he’d finished reading, the first bottle was almost empty. Without conscious thought he’d opened the second. By the time he was ready for bed that too was half empty. He tried to remember whether or not he’d taken his tablets. To be on the safe side he took two, washing them down with the last few drops of wine in his glass. Nash was in bed by eleven o’clock. In the early hours he began to dream. He was standing on a ridge overlooking water. Mist swirled round him. Mist, or was it smoke? He could hear screams, wailing, unanswered cries swirling round and round in his head. He saw flames rising and writhing, but there was no heat. He tried to leave, but was drawn, compelled, to walk towards the carnage beyond the fire. He fought against it, terror gripping him. Burning timber, burning clothing, burning flesh, burning hair, burning, burning, everything burning. He lay trembling, knew he’d been dreaming. A nightmare so realistic that the horror remained until morning. Nash stared out from the bothy as daylight crept reluctantly over the tarn. A stiff breeze was blowing, ruffling the surface of the water into white-capped wavelets. Nash shivered, not from cold but from the sense of foreboding that had dogged him since his first visit. Mironova came out to join him and passed him a mug. He nodded his thanks and continued to watch as members of the search party made their way down Misery Near and crossed The Grieving Stones towards Lamentation Tarn. ‘What’s wrong, Mike?’ ‘Wrong,’ he said with an effort. ‘How do you mean?’ ‘You look as if you’ve had little more than five minutes sleep,’ she smiled. ‘If things were different I’d suspect you’d been shagging all night, but you’ve hardly spoken a word since I picked you up, and now you’re here you’ve spent all your time staring into the distance. It doesn’t take a genius to work out something’s wrong. Is it a hangover?’ He told her what he’d learned of the history of Cauldmoor. ‘There was a settlement here in Saxon times but the inhabitants were massacred. The piece I read described how the Vikings slaughtered them. The men were killed first. Then the women and children were raped and murdered. In the middle of it the long hut caught fire and everyone perished. The rumour is this place is haunted. None of the locals will venture near.’ ‘That explains a lot,’ Clara said. ‘I mean what Wardle told me. This place is beautiful so how come it isn’t the most popular picnic spot in the area? How come nobody’s built here? You’d have buyers queuing up, normally.’ ‘Agreed, then to cap it off I had a bloody awful dream.’ ‘I’m not surprised, having read that lot. I hope this was a one-off and that you’re not starting to have nightmares again. You haven’t got Stella at home to watch over you.’ ‘It worries me too. I wish I knew how to stop them but I’m scared to talk to the medics. The last thing I need is them saying I’m not fit. I’ve been there once and I don’t want to go back.’ ‘If it’s starting to affect your health you might think differently.’ Pearce joined them on the veranda. ‘Everyone’s here, Mike. Do you want a word before we start?’ ‘I’d better. Gather them round the front.’ Nash looked at the assembled officers. ‘You understand the problem we’ve got. The victims have been in the water so long identification will be next to impossible unless we get really lucky. We need anything that might help us, might give us some idea as to who these young women were, where they came from, how they came to this desolate spot and were killed. What you’re looking for is anything that doesn’t belong here. Anything. No matter how insignificant or irrelevant it might seem. Anything that might have been left by the victims or whoever murdered them.’ The search took all morning and into the afternoon. The team was split into two sections. One, led by Pearce, quartered the slopes of Misery Near before moving on to The Grieving Stones. The other concentrated on the area immediately surrounding the tarn. The teams moved slowly, inching their way with painstaking care from the far distance towards the bothy. Nash stood watching as the operation drew to a close. He felt a sense of disappointment. He’d hoped the day would have produced some result. He’d no idea why he expected this, a hunch, sixth sense, whatever. A weak autumn sun filtered down the valley providing light but no warmth. The wind had stiffened and swung to blow cold from the north. ‘Make a note, Clara. Sometime this week we ought to interview house owners on the road between here and Bishop’s Cross. I know there’s only a handful, and I realize it’s long odds against them remembering strange vehicles but we must still do it. Whoever killed those girls had to use that road to get here.’ The teams gathered in front of the bothy. Nash could sense their dejection. Their leader, a sergeant from Netherdale, reported the failure then excused himself. He disappeared to answer a call of nature. He returned a couple of minutes later; his despondent air gone, signalling to Nash and Mironova. They followed as he led them round the building and pointed along the back wall. The bothy had been sighted by digging a cleft out of the hill where it sloped down to the tarn. Where the hillside met the building a protective wall of heavy, ancient railway sleepers had been sunk into the ground to prevent a landslip pushing the bothy into the tarn. The sergeant marched to the far end of the building and pointed. They could just make out something protruding slightly from between the sleepers. Only the tip of the object was visible. ‘I was about to er… water my horse,’ the sergeant said. ‘I looked down and saw this. It was wedged between the sleepers and the building. I bent down and pulled it out a bit, then I thought I’d better call you.’ Nash donned his gloves and began to ease the object from its hiding place. He gazed at it in complete, speechless amazement. He looked at Mironova, who seemed equally dumbfounded. The ‘object’ was about twelve inches tall. Two bright, beady eyes stared back at Nash from alongside a black-tipped muzzle. The rest of the body was bright blue. Nash was staring at a particularly handsome teddy bear. ‘How did that get here?’ Mironova exclaimed. ‘Put it in an evidence bag. It may have no relevance but we ought to follow it up,’ he passed the toy to Mironova. ‘Thanks, Sergeant. ‘I want that bear forensically examined. Then I want it checked by an expert. I have a feeling that bear can tell us a lot.’ When they returned to Helmsdale, Pearce called through Nash’s office door, ‘Mexican Pete’s on the phone, and he sounds agitated.’ ‘I’ve completed my preliminary examination. My report will be with you in a couple of days. I’ve sent samples off for analysis and most of what the bodies have to tell us will be as a result of those tests. However, I did discover one significant fact during my examination of skeleton B. I had occasion to move the pelvic bone and I noticed a minute bone on the table below it. A very tiny bone.’ ‘A piece that had broken off the skeleton?’ Nash asked. ‘No, you misunderstand me. I didn’t say it’s a piece of bone. It’s a tiny bone. Complete, but in miniature.’ ‘I’m sorry. I fail to see the point.’ ‘It’s a foetal bone. It didn’t belong to skeleton B at all. Or rather it did and it didn’t. The bone came from a developing foetus. Skeleton B was pregnant.’ That evening Nash finished the red wine and followed it with a couple of scotches. He realized he was drinking too much but he also knew the reason. It was the thought of what those young girls might have endured before they were thrown like garbage into the icy water. Pratt had forbidden further expense for the divers to search the remainder of Lamentation Tarn but Mike believed there were still more horrors below those dark waters. He shuddered as a fresh thought came to him. If the Tarn hadn’t yielded all its secrets what more were there? Not only there but in neighbouring Desolation Tarn? Nash tried to push the thoughts away but they refused to leave. He almost forgot his medication and had to get out of bed to retrieve the tablets from the kitchen. He returned to bed for what would be another unsettled night’s sleep. Nash stared at the uneven ground. There was a building. His sleeping self was disembodied as he watched. Cold, stinging, sleety rain blurred his vision, hurting his eyes. He saw a crouched figure at the end of the building. Was it a woman, a child? Nash wasn’t sure. He sensed fear, but fear of what? The figure was holding something. He peered harder through the mist of fine rain. The only colour to brighten the drabness was a patch of red. Why red? Nash couldn’t make it out. A bullet wound? He could hear weeping. Was she speaking to someone? Where, who? Although he heard words, he couldn’t understand them. Everything was strange, jumbled, but he sensed love as well as fear. She seemed to cradle something. He tried to move forward, tried to speak, but as he did so she disappeared. Nash’s dream ended and he awoke. Chapter Three Two months later Lulu was ready. Day after day, week after week she’d watched and waited for each opportunity, each moment her captors’ attention was distracted. The process was agonizingly slow and she lived in constant fear of her plan falling apart. This didn’t add to her distress, but that was because her ordeal was already beyond endurable. At last everything was set. Lulu had the plan, now she had the opportunity. She had the means and above all the motive. Her only concern was if she’d have the resolution. What she intended was a sin and a crime. Lulu pondered this, feeling her resolve weakening. Then she remembered what had been done to her, each sordid and degrading act, and her courage returned. All doubt vanished and her resolve hardened. As she worked under the relentless supervision of the most sadistic of her guards she was terrified that some last-minute hitch would throw her plan into disarray. Time crawled by until the man signalled to Lulu to start preparing the evening meal. He held up three fingers to signify for how many. Lulu nodded and turned away. She smiled grimly. Perhaps the gesture was an omen. The sign he’d just made denoted victory in Lulu’s country. The men gathered at the table and Lulu began to serve. She waited in a corner until they’d finished. As they ate, apprehension and agitation grew as the time for her escape bid came closer. There was much conversation as they lingered over the dish. Finally, the leader signalled her to clear and make way for the dessert. She placed the dishes of aromatic confectionary in front of them, passed the tiny cups of thick, dark coffee and walked over to the sideboard. She glanced back. They were already tucking into the dessert, one had almost finished. Lulu put out the small glasses to hold the liquor that signalled the end of every meal. She took a bottle from the cupboard and filled their glasses, taking care not to spill any of the precious, colourless liquid. They called for the drinks and Lulu set them down swiftly on the table. Tradition called for the fiery liquid to be downed in one gulp without the slightest hesitation. All three snatched at the glasses and did this unflinchingly. Lulu was so petrified she could barely look. Fiery the liquid certainly was, although not as they anticipated. They rose to their feet, hands clutching, scrabbling at their throats with choking, incomprehensible sounds. Gasping, eyes bulging, faces reddening and convulsed. They turned towards Lulu. They realized what they’d drunk. The knowledge came too late. Like synchronized swimmers they raised themselves on tiptoe as the agony became intolerable, then collapsed to the floor writhing in agony. Lulu stood watching as hope began to replace fear. The tremors of her tormentors lessened and she moved across the room. Carrying a carving knife from the dresser and without displaying any emotion, she went to each in turn. With a skill born of too much practice she unzipped their trousers and pulled them down. Wielding the knife, clumsily at first but with increasing dexterity she operated on the second and third of her victims. Although they were far beyond speech, unable to cry out, the violent thrashing of their bodies showed Lulu they were not yet insensitive to pain. She smiled angelically and on impulse went through to the kitchen and returned with a lemon. She sliced it in three with the bloodied knife and rubbed, then squeezed the lemon over each wound site in turn. Her smile becoming beatific as she saw the increased agony the astringent liquid produced. As a final gesture, almost an afterthought, Lulu emptied the salt cellar over the wounds then rubbed it in with the sole of her shoe. She gathered up the sets of genitals and thrust them into each man’s mouth, taking care that none should get his own. Removing a bunch of keys from the jacket of one of the dying men she hurried through to the kitchen and tossed the knife on to the draining board. She ran upstairs to her room and stripped off the blood-soaked clothes. In the bathroom she quickly cleaned herself. Dressed again, she unlocked the back door, opened it and stepped out. Despite the time she’d been held prisoner she’d never seen outside the building and had no idea where she was. The curtains of each room had been kept closed so Lulu could not see out; others could not look in. Shivering in the unaccustomed cold she turned to lock the door. A rickety gate set in the stone wall of the yard screeched, causing her to wince. She peered out into a narrow alley lined with houses identical to the one she’d left. Lulu felt a moment of panic. She’d escaped her vile prison but had committed three murders. She was free from the nightmare she’d endured for so long but was now faced with an appalling dilemma. Where should she go, what should she do? She didn’t even know what country she was in. Lulu steeled herself and walked to the main road. Here she could see more activity. She watched in terror as the headlights of a vehicle came towards her. The car was on the wrong side of the road. Worse still another car was approaching from the opposite direction. Lulu closed her eyes, waiting for the inevitable crashing, rending sound of metal on metal as the two vehicles collided. Nothing happened, her eyes opened again. The cars had passed one another. What stunned her was that both drivers had stuck to the wrong side of the road. Both had been driving on the left. Smolensk is a bustling city in western Russia, capital of the Smolensk Oblast, or administrative division. It is a beautiful city with a distinguished and heroic history of resistance against invasion. The city is dominated by the magnificent Assumption Cathedral and has many other fine buildings. In common with most cities housing a thriving industrial community not all the structures are beautiful; some areas are run down and less than handsome. One such building was shabby and anonymous in a row of three-storey, equally unattractive ones. Built a long time ago, the building hadn’t aged well. Years of neglect had followed its construction, and it showed. The house had been quiet all day with none of the usual callers, all male, that visited the place whatever the hour. Two large vans drew up at the front whilst a further two arrived at the rear. No sooner had they halted than a black saloon car with darkened windows stopped in front of the house. The rear doors of all four vans opened simultaneously. A team of uniformed policemen emerged and formed a cordon around the house, obviously following a well-rehearsed manoeuvre. The occupant of the car, a woman of between thirty and thirty-five years of age climbed out immediately the officers were deployed. She spoke to one of her companions, her tone clearly an order. The man spoke into his radio and officers began attacking both entrances with door enforcers. When the doors gave way they poured inside. The woman lit a cigarette and leaned against the car, watching and waiting. Eventually an officer emerged. He approached her and saluted. He spoke rapidly, nervously. ‘We were too late Commander. Every room is empty. However, it’s obvious what they were used for.’ The woman showed no emotion. She jerked her head and the officer followed her into the house. Larger rooms had been subdivided to create smaller units. Each contained only a chair, a bed, a small wardrobe and a mirror. Every bed had an iron frame. Each had a set of chains dangling from the wall behind it. The worst aspect of the brothel was the smell. Every room stank with the unmistakeable sour odours of stale sweat and semen. After the first floor the woman had seen enough. She pointed towards the stairs. Before climbing back into the car she paused to address the local commander. ‘Stay here,’ she ordered. ‘Make arrangements with the Fire Department. As soon as they get here, torch the building.’ ‘You can’t do that,’ he protested. She looked at him, her face expressionless, but a chill in her eyes. ‘This building is being used for criminal activities. Therefore it is forfeit. I shall pass here in two hours. If it isn’t already burning I shall set the fire myself.’ She turned away, adding, ‘and you will be looking for work.’ She climbed into the car. ‘You know where to go.’ The driver swung the car out into the street. ‘What went wrong?’ ‘I’m afraid our friend has been supplementing his income. I worry about what we’ll find.’ ‘Do you think there’ll be a backlash?’ The woman shrugged. ‘I don’t know and I don’t care. I’ve been given the task of destroying these bastards. Our actions have been approved by Moscow. Let the criminals complain.’ It was a fifteen-minute drive to their destination. As the car came to a halt at the kerbside the woman said, ‘As I suspected, we are too late.’ She pointed ahead. Lying in the gutter was a human head. It had been severed from the body with great skill. She recognized the head immediately. It was that of a Ukrainian girl who’d escaped from the brothel. She’d been courageous enough to tell the police of the place, how she’d been subjected to three years of enforced prostitution there. Now she was dead. Slaughtered for betraying her captors and as a message to others. She’d been two months away from her fifteenth birthday. The woman climbed wearily from the car. She glanced up and down the street. It was deserted, much as she’d expected. Nobody would have seen or heard anything. She knew that from bitter experience. ‘Get on to the DNSI’ (Investigation cell duty officer). Order him to send a unit here. Then ring the EKU (Directorate of Criminal Expertise) and tell them I’ll be on my way in shortly.’ She lit a cigarette and continued. ‘Explain what happened. Tell them the man we suspected has given himself away. He was the only one apart from us who knew where the girl was.’ As the phone calls were made she waited, staring bleakly at the dead girl’s head. She straightened and threw her cigarette into the gutter where it smouldered in a pool of blood. ‘Is the local commander coming?’ she asked. Her driver nodded. ‘The minute he gets here, slap the handcuffs on him, stick him in the back of the car and we’ll set off for the Bolshoi Dom (‘Big House’, St Petersburg Police Headquarters), okay.’ The exhaustive enquiries into members and guests of Bishopton Angling Club had taken several weeks and produced nothing. Nash was on the phone to Tom Pratt. ‘The problem is we’ve no idea what we’re looking for. Two girls were murdered and thrown into that tarn years ago, but apart from that and the fact that one of them was pregnant we know no more than we did on the first day. Investigating a case with so little evidence is bloody frustrating and we’re still waiting for the final reports from Mexican Pete.’ Mironova entered his office with a visitor. ‘Mike, let me introduce you to our local toy expert.’ ‘DI Mike Nash,’ Mike shook hands with the frail-looking, middle aged man. ‘I’m pleased to meet you. I assume you’ve come to tell us something about our teddy bear?’ ‘Indeed I have, Mr Nash.’ He pushed his glasses back on to the bridge of his nose and took some papers from a document case. ‘And a very interesting bear he is.’ He glanced down at the topmost sheet. ‘I’d a long job searching for this little fellow’s make. The problem is there are so many mass-produced bears it’s not easy to keep track of them. This isn’t one of them though. This chap is very special. I thought so when Sergeant Mironova brought him to my shop. I didn’t like to say as much until I was sure of my facts but once I’d checked out the materials used I knew we were dealing with something out of the ordinary.’ ‘I thought a teddy bear was just a teddy bear,’ Nash confessed. ‘I didn’t think there was anything different about this one.’ A pained expression crossed the expert’s face. ‘Ever since they were first made,’ he told them severely, ‘there’s been a mystique about teddy bears no other toy can match. Take Steiff bears for example. Steiff is the German manufacturer who invented the bear with jointed limbs. They can fetch really big prices at auction.’ He paused before continuing, ‘As for this one, he is distinctive and unique. I had a clue from both the material and appearance. It was made with special fabrics and threads. Obviously handmade. Above all there was the appearance. It differs from European and American bears. I got the idea he might be Russian so I got in touch with the Vakhtanoff Doll Gallery in Moscow. They’re the foremost experts on dolls and bears. They were able to supply me with the name of the maker,’ he paused triumphantly and added, ‘as well as the name of the bear.’ ‘The bear has a name?’ Mironova asked. ‘Indeed he has.’ He was clearly enjoying himself. ‘Allow me to introduce him. This is Mitya. Mitya is a diminutive form of the name Dmitriy. Mitya was made by a lady who has a high reputation for quality. She’s been making dolls for three or four years I believe.’ He stopped, although it was clear he had more to tell. ‘The gallery told me she doesn’t produce many so they would try to track the owner of Mitya.’ He paused before delivering his bombshell. ‘Within forty-eight hours I had a return phone call. Not from the maker or the Gallery, but from this person.’ He fumbled a piece of paper across the desk. ‘She wanted to know why I was enquiring about that bear. The phone number is that of the EKU, the Directorate of Criminal Expertise, part of the MVD. She said it was similar to the FBI in America.’ When Mironova returned from showing him out Nash was on the phone. ‘Thanks, Professor, that’s all I needed to know. I’ll see you next Friday.’ He put the phone down. ‘Why on earth would the Russian police be interested in that bear?’ she asked. ‘Search me. Perhaps he’s on their bear most-wanted list. I suppose I’ll have to ring them, although it has nothing to do with our two skeletons.’ ‘How do you know?’ ‘It doesn’t tie in date-wise. Ramirez says the shortest time those skeletons could have been in the water is seven or eight years. This bear is less than five years old.’ ‘So you’re discounting the bear?’ ‘I didn’t say that. I still want to know how a handmade teddy bear found its way from Russia to one of the most remote parts of North Yorkshire.’ Nash glanced down at the paper. ‘It’s to be hoped Commander Dacic can tell me, because it’s got me baffled.’ ‘I wish to know,’ the English was accent-free, ‘why you’re enquiring about the teddy bear?’ ‘It was found in a remote area and seemed to have been hidden deliberately. In the circumstances, we were curious to find out how the bear ended up here.’ ‘Please explain. What circumstances?’ ‘The bear was found close to a small tarn in a very isolated area where two skeletons had been discovered.’ ‘Tarn?’ ‘Sorry, tarn is a mountain lake. Very small, usually remote.’ ‘Thank you. These skeletons, they were recovered from the tarn?’ ‘Correct, they’d been there a long time.’ ‘Please tell me more about the skeletons?’ ‘I don’t know much more, Commander.’ Nash admitted. ‘We believe the skeletons had been in the water somewhere in the region of ten years. According to our pathologist they were young girls of about sixteen. One of them was pregnant when she was killed. They were shot in the back of the head. When we found out how short a time the bear-maker had been in business we discounted it from our enquiries. It still begs the question of how the bear found its way to such a place, though,’ Nash paused and added. ‘Now perhaps you’ll tell me what your interest is in the bear?’ ‘It’s part of an ongoing enquiry my department is making,’ the woman stated flatly. ‘Please fax me copies of all the relevant papers. Here’s the number,’ she recited a fax number. Her arrogant tone was too much. ‘I’m afraid I can’t do that without more information.’ ‘It’s concerned with a continuing enquiry.’ Dacic’s tone was one of irritation. ‘I’m unable to say more. Kindly send that information.’ ‘If you refuse to divulge any of the facts, there’s little point in retaining your number.’ As he spoke Nash crumpled the paper near enough to the receiver for the sound to be heard at the other end. He then replaced the handset. ‘That’s interesting.’ Mironova had been standing alongside Nash’s desk throughout. She pointed to one of the notes Nash had made. ‘The name Dacic, that isn’t Russian.’ Nash looked up. ‘Where’s it from?’ ‘One of the Slav states,’ Mironova told him. ‘My father could tell you for certain, but if I had to guess I’d say Serbia or Croatia. Serbia most probably.’ ‘Your point being?’ ‘If she’s a Slav as well as a woman, she must be very highly thought of to have risen to the rank of commander within the Russian police. They’re renowned for being both xenophobic and sexist.’ ‘All of which gets us no further forward,’ Nash commented gloomily. He smoothed out the paper containing the fax number and placed it into the file. Janko Vatovec was way beyond anger. He glared at his subordinate. ‘You mean to tell me,’ he hissed, ‘that one of our houses has been burned down, our contact in the police arrested and one of our assets disposed of. All because of some woman from St Petersburg? Who is this bitch, Wonder Woman?’ ‘She’s a commander in the EKU,’ his underling replied miserably. ‘Her name’s Zena Dacic.’ Vatovec stood up abruptly. ‘Snow Woman!’ He exclaimed harshly. ‘Shit! That’s all we need. If that bitch is on our tails then we’re in trouble. No wonder they burned the house down if that cow’s in charge.’ He began pacing the floor. ‘You’ve not heard of her, have you?’ His deputy shook his head. ‘Zena means “snow woman” in Croat. It’s wrong though. Dacic is colder than snow, she’s pure ice. She was the one who broke up the Minsk trafficking ring. The two leaders were shot, supposedly whilst trying to escape.’ Vatovec laughed, a laugh that was totally devoid of humour. ‘Escaping, my arse! They were both shot twice.’ He leaned over his assistant. ‘The first shot blew their balls off. The second was through the temple. Rumour has it Dacic fired the first shots herself. Then she left them in a locked room, handcuffed and with one round apiece in their pistols. When the pain got unbearable they topped themselves. That’s the evil cow who’s turned her attention on us.’ ‘What will you do?’ ‘There are two choices. We either fold up or take her on.’ ‘Take her on, what does that mean?’ ‘It means we have her terminated.’ Vatovec smiled, another mirthless gesture. ‘The Minsk operation wasn’t part of the Federation. We are. That gives us a distinct advantage. Dacic has never taken on the Federation before. I don’t think they’ll be happy to learn she’s interfering in their operations. I’ve been paying into Federation funds for years and I’ve never claimed anything in return. Now I realize what a shrewd investment it was. I have to make one phone call and the Snow Woman will be melted like that.’ Vatovec flicked his fingers. Vatovec broke off as the phone rang. His face darkened with fury as he listened. ‘The bitch has hit us again, and it’s worse this time. Another house burned down. If someone’s squealing I’ll circumcise the bastard from his crotch up to his neck.’ ‘What’s happened this time?’ ‘The Bulgarian police raided our house in Vidin. They closed it down, arrested everyone inside and carted them away. When our man came back next morning the fire department was hosing down the remains. She’s destroyed two of my properties in forty-eight hours. He had a word with one of the firemen. They got a call from the police who told them it was a disused building and they were going to use it as a way of testing emergency responses. The fireman also told him that although the local police were giving the orders there was a woman on the scene as well. She was about thirty years old, copper-coloured hair and spent the time leaning against her limo smoking cigarettes. That sounds like Dacic to me. Now do you understand how dangerous this bitch is? Now do you understand why I call her an evil cow? Why she must be eliminated?’ The four detectives sat round the table in Helmsdale CID office. Superintendent Pratt had driven over to join Nash, Sergeant Mironova and DC Pearce for the briefing. The main item on the agenda being Ramirez’s findings. The December afternoon was well advanced by the time Nash had returned with the file, but the first snow of the winter added a little brightness as the flakes drifted lazily past the window. ‘We know how little we have to go on, even less now our little bear has been cleared of any involvement in the murders. So I’ll give you a rundown on Mexican Pete’s results and see if it gives anyone a bright idea.’ Nash glanced down. ‘We know the first of the skeletons, skeleton A, is that of a young girl of no more than seventeen. Skeleton B is probably at least a year younger. We also know skeleton B was at least five months pregnant. So in addition to the murders we can be sure that at least one other crime was committed, that of unlawful sexual intercourse, if not rape. Whether the girl’s pregnancy was the motive for her murder or not we don’t know, but I’ll return to both these points later. ‘On the dental records, these do not match any patient treated within the NHS. From what we’ll hear shortly that’s hardly surprising. ‘Analysis of the skeletons revealed malnutrition over a long period. There was also evidence of localized trauma in certain areas of the body, consistent with beatings or physical abuse. There was significant deformity to the pubic bone in both cases. The malformation suggests a high level of sexual activity that occurred whilst the bones were still relatively soft. The assumption Ramirez draws is that both girls had been engaged in child prostitution.’ Nash’s face was grim, his eyes as bleak as the weather. ‘Ramirez concludes that this sexual activity must have commenced at least four years before the girls were killed, otherwise the bones would not have been soft enough to register the deformity. That means,’ he said heavily, ‘they had become, willingly or otherwise, prostitutes before they reached the age of twelve.’ The silence reflected the horror of what they were hearing. Nash waited a few moments before continuing. ‘Finally, Ramirez has now received the laboratory analysis on the DNA removed from the skeletons. The mitochondrial DNA suggests both girls came from the same region. The genetic structure of their DNA is consistent with the gene pool covering Eastern Europe.’ Nash waited for this to sink in. ‘That’s all Ramirez had to report. I don’t know how it reads to you but I’m beginning to see a pattern. I find it highly significant that the two dead girls hail from Eastern Europe and that we’ve found a Russian toy close to the scene. Admittedly our little friend isn’t directly associated with the murders but the link can’t be ignored. Particularly given the acute interest shown by the Russian Federal Police.’ Superintendent Pratt leaned forward, resting his forearm on the table. ‘How do you interpret all this?’ Nash rolled his biro to and fro. ‘I think we’re faced with an appalling crime, Tom. I think it’s a crime none of us has ever encountered. Maybe we thought our patch was safe from this sort of obscenity. We were wrong. My belief is these poor girls were victims of sex traffickers. I think they were smuggled into the country to service the perverted needs of paedophiles. My guess is that when they became pregnant they were got rid of. The ultimate in a disposable society.’ ‘What about the bear? How does that fit in?’ Mironova asked. Nash’s expression became grimmer. ‘I think Mitya belonged to another of the traffickers’ victims. I think the bear belonged to a child who has been reported missing more recently, hence the Russian police interest.’ ‘Do you realize what you’re implying?’ Pratt asked. ‘I do. I think the bear was concealed as a last act of defiance. By a girl who knew or guessed what was going to happen and left the only clue she could in the hope that someone would interpret it. If you remember, I said two months ago I believed there to be more bodies at the bottom of Lamentation Tarn.’ ‘I also remember saying if you bring me evidence I’ll authorize another search. I think I’ve heard enough.’ ‘Thank you,’ Nash said quietly. ‘There are a few more points to settle, however.’ ‘Such as?’ Pratt asked. ‘First, there’s the question of whether we should involve MCU?’ ‘The Major Crimes Unit is certainly the right vehicle for international crime; however, I think it’s a bit early to be involving them. We only have Ramirez’s report to give us an international connection. The bear signifies nothing at present. No, we’ll leave MCU out of it for the time being. We can always review the situation later.’ ‘We also have to consider the request from St Petersburg for information about the facts surrounding the case.’ ‘No bloody way,’ Pratt growled. ‘If they want facts from us they’ll have to come up with a few themselves. Let them stew.’ ‘Fine by me,’ Nash grinned. Tom Pratt got to his feet. ‘Unless there’s something urgent, I’m off. I’m away as from tomorrow so I want to get back to Netherdale before the roads get too bad. Much as I like the three of you I’m not sure I want to spend the night with you.’ He paused before correcting himself. ‘Well, two of you at least.’ Pearce left shortly after the Superintendent, leaving Nash and Clara reviewing developments. She noticed Nash was a little preoccupied and thought she knew the cause. ‘How’s Stella?’ She asked. ‘You went to visit her last weekend, didn’t you?’ ‘Just the same, really; she doesn’t seem to be making any progress.’ Clara nodded. ‘I agree. I went again yesterday evening.’ Nash stared at his sergeant in surprise. ‘That was kind. What did you think?’ ‘I think you’re right when you said she’s lost the will to fight. I think she needs something to motivate her. The trouble is finding the right button to press.’ ‘I know. I’ve been trying to think up ways for long enough.’ ‘I had an idea that might help. Why not bring in a specialist?’ ‘I told you, she won’t allow me to talk to her consultant.’ ‘I wasn’t meaning the neurosurgeon. I think you should talk to a psychologist.’ Nash smiled fleetingly. ‘For Stella or me?’ Clara grinned. ‘Both of you. Although you might be past help.’ ‘Thank you kindly.’ ‘My idea was for you to think about something I heard of called distraction therapy. It involves getting the patient to concentrate so hard on something else they forget what’s really wrong. Apparently it’s been used extensively on pain management with a lot of success.’ ‘What problem do you suggest I set for Stella?’ ‘Well, there’s always you.’ ‘You never miss the chance to insult me. Now you’re suggesting I’m a problem, are you?’ ‘Definitely,’ Clara grinned. ‘You’re a problem for any woman who gets close to you. What I meant was if you were to go see her and tell her about everything that’s worrying you, it might take her mind off her own problems.’ ‘I’d feel lousy dumping all that on her.’ ‘No you wouldn’t. Let’s face it, you used to talk to her about cases. It might get her fighting again.’ The security guard at Good Buys supermarket, Netherdale branch, was bored. The morning trade was slack. He saw the girl enter, saw her hesitant look round before venturing further inside. At first he’d taken her for a young mother from Carthill council estate, then realized she was far too young. She was dressed inappropriately for the weather. The mini dress with high hemline and plunging neck was too flimsy, covered too little. Her shoes, flashy enough in a tawdry sort of way, were far from new. She looked, the guard thought, ‘foreign, in need of a good wash, and a proper little tart’. He decided to follow her. He watched as she wandered up and down the aisles staring at the food. She looked lost, confused. ‘Probably drugged up,’ he thought. She reached out and slipped a chocolate bar into the pocket of her dress, then another before heading for the exit. That was when he signalled a female employee to help him tackle the shoplifter. Commander Dacic read the text. It was brutally short. It read, ‘Contract placed. Target; you. Hit tomorrow a.m.’ There was no signature. She picked up the phone. ‘We have a problem.’ Early the following morning the man was in position. The window in the apartment he’d chosen was directly opposite Police Headquarters and gave him an excellent line of fire. He’d hit the tenant over the head and hauled her into the bedroom, then placed a pillow over her face until she stopped squirming. It was a pleasant apartment. The old lady had kept it really nice. The new occupants would appreciate that. His Kalashnikov was set up on a tripod. He went through to the kitchen and brewed coffee. Having finished his drink he glanced at his watch. Time for action. The street was deserted. He set up a photo of his target against the window frame, admiring her good looks, the well-stacked figure, the gleaming auburn hair. At times his job was hard. It was never easy killing a lovely woman, but money was money and there were plenty more beautiful women. He saw a long, black limousine pull up in front of the Police Headquarters. It’s squat, dated shape proclaimed it to be a Zil, the model favoured by Russian government officials. This would be the one that was to collect Commander Dacic. His job was to ensure she didn’t reach the car. He checked the Kalashnikov. When he turned back to the window he blinked for a moment in surprise. The Zil limousine had been joined by two more. A few minutes later the double doors of the Police Headquarters swung open and the woman strode out dressed in uniform. He recognized the auburn hair below the peaked cap and started to sight the Kalashnikov. Almost at once he was distracted by movement in his peripheral vision. He straightened and stared in disbelief. He looked again. Another Commander Dacic with the same auburn hair had emerged. As he stared, mouth agape, a third Commander Dacic exited the headquarters. The trio stood like mannequins on a catwalk. He was still gazing at them when a voice alongside him brought his wandering wits back into focus. ‘Dobera Den,’ (Good day,) Zena Dacic murmured. ‘Please raise your hands high above your head.’ Zena’s voice was persuasive to the point of seductive when she wanted but what really convinced him was the small, extremely ugly Makarov semi-automatic pistol she was holding against his temple. That ensured his unquestioning obedience. Chapter Four Lulu should have been frightened. But she was beyond fear, at least the fear the staff of Good Buys Supermarkets was trying to instil. They weren’t to know she didn’t understand their threats. More to the point, her ignorance rendered her unaware and unafraid of the consequences of her theft. Even if she’d known, Lulu wouldn’t have been concerned. Lulu was an illegal immigrant, without passport or any identification. Within the past twenty-four hours she’d murdered three men. A charge of shoplifting would have frightened many youngsters. It would have hardly raised Lulu’s heart rate. Unable to get any response, the manager rang the police. As the only female available, Mironova agreed to accompany the constable responding to the call. ‘I haven’t been able to get a word from her,’ the manager said irritably. Lulu sat motionless. She stared at a point between the uniformed policeman and a stack of boxes. ‘I’ll see if she’ll talk to me,’ Clara said. ‘The warrant card might help.’ She placed herself in front of the girl and tapped her on the shoulder. ‘Look at me.’ The girl looked up. Whether in response to Clara’s touch or her words, the detective couldn’t be sure. ‘I’m a police officer.’ She displayed her warrant card. ‘Understand?’ The girl’s face registered no emotion. ‘Do you understand?’ She repeated. Again there was no sign the girl had heard or comprehended. Clara looked up and nodded to the uniformed policeman who advanced with a pair of handcuffs. ‘We’ll need statements from all of you. You in particular,’ she glanced at the guard. Back at the station Mironova looked at the young prisoner, a faint stirring of something approaching recognition troubling her. It wasn’t that she knew the girl, but there was something vaguely familiar about her. A familiarity based on Mironova’s past. Something in the cast of her features suggested an origin far from Yorkshire. After several minutes a mental image drifted before Clara. One from her childhood before her family left Belarus. She’d seen girls with similar features. That was a ludicrous notion, she told herself. Clara pulled a chair up and sat facing the prisoner. ‘Zdravstuj’ (Hello), she began. ‘Menia zvat Clara’ (My name is Clara). ‘Ja prishla chtob pomoch tebe’ (I’ve come to help you). ‘Kak tebia zovut?’ (What’s your name?). There was no doubting the reaction. As Clara began speaking, the girl stared wide-eyed at her. Then she burst into tears. Through her loud, hiccupping sobs Clara heard her whisper, ‘Ludmilla, my name is Ludmilla.’ The youngster was sitting, shoulders hunched, her expression a combination of misery and fear. Whatever the tale, Clara thought, it wasn’t going to be good news. ‘What should I call you?’ Mironova began. ‘Do you prefer “Luda”, or “Milla”?’ ‘Milla,’ the muttered response containing a wistful yearning. ‘I used to be called Milla at home.’ ‘Where was that, Milla? Tell me about yourself? Tell me your name and where you’re from. Tell me how you got here and how you came to be caught shoplifting in a supermarket in northern England.’ Milla stared at Clara. Her expression one of bewilderment, ‘England,’ she repeated, ‘I am in England?’ ‘Of course. Don’t tell me you didn’t know?’ Milla shook her head. She appeared dumbfounded. Clara waited and for a moment it seemed as if Milla was about to speak, then she appeared to think better of it. Despite Clara pressing her, she refused to add any more. To every one of Clara’s questions Milla gave the same, single uncompromising ‘niet’ (no) in reply. The abortive interview lasted half an hour before it was interrupted. The uniformed officer signalled Clara from the doorway. He muttered something. Milla stared straight ahead unmoved. Clara wasn’t sure why she translated. ‘Milla,’ she told the youngster. ‘I have to leave you. The bodies of three men have been found and I must go to investigate.’ There was no lack of emotion, no stolid resistance this time. Every vestige of colour drained from Milla’s face and her eyes widened in horror. There were three officers at the house. ‘What’s been done so far?’ Mironova asked. ‘Nothing, apart from securing the crime scene.’ ‘You’re certain it’s a crime scene?’ The officer’s smile had no humour in it. ‘I found three dead men in the dining room. I’m not sure how they were killed but what was done to them leaves no room for doubt. I only hope for their sake they were dead before and not after.’ ‘What do you mean?’ The constable glared at her, his irritation apparent. ‘Their dicks and bollocks were slashed off and stuffed into their mouths.’ Mironova swallowed and took a moment before continuing. ‘Who found the bodies?’ ‘The postman. He’d a letter that was too big for the box. He knocked on the door and it swung open. He looked inside. He could see into the dining room. He saw the legs and feet of one of the men and went to investigate. The pool of vomit is his.’ ‘Okay. I’ll take it from here. You keep the neighbours and press at bay. I need to get hold of Inspector Nash. You get on to the station, ask them to organize SOCO.’ Wearing white suits and overshoes, shower caps and latex gloves, the three detectives had a sexless uniformity. Nash led the way into the dining room. Curiosity overcame their natural revulsion at the sight that awaited them. Clara and Pearce gasped aloud. The stench of blood and the stink given off as the victims’ bowels voided on death was overwhelming, nauseously repulsive. Mironova fixed her eyes on Nash, who spent a couple of minutes assessing the room, ignoring the bodies. There was little of value in there. The carpet was worn but not threadbare, the furniture shabbily utilitarian, probably bought second-hand. There were a couple of shot glasses on the table, one of them on its side. A third was on the floor near the corpses. Nash advanced towards the table, treading a serpentine path to avoid the blood which had soaked in massive patches into the meagre pile of the carpet. He bent over the upright glass on the table and sniffed, recoiling instantly from the sharp, acrid smell. He looked closely at the corpses. Standing deep in concentration he studied each in turn. They were of similar age and appearance. Possibly in their early forties, their olive complexions suggesting a warmer climate than Netherdale. He transferred his gaze to the table and the few items on it, before looking at the corpses again. Eventually he turned to the others. ‘I’d say these are revenge killings. The killer used household bleach to poison or disable these men. The genitals were cut off before death as they lay choking in agony, their throats and digestive tracts burning from the corrosive substance they’d ingested. Unconsciousness would probably have taken some time, but I’m sure Mexican Pete will tell us more. The bleach would probably have killed them in any case but the murderer wasn’t about to take that chance. The neat bleach had to be substituted for something they would down in one gulp.’ Nash pointed towards the bottle on the sideboard. ‘That looks favourite.’ They glanced at the bottle but the only one able to read the label was Clara. She nodded agreement. ‘That’s Raki,’ she told them. ‘Product of one of the Slav states, Montenegro or somewhere like that.’ Nash nodded. ‘The removal of the genitals not only ensured the death of the victims, it provided a message. Rejection of what the genitals represent and hatred and contempt for the men themselves. The mutilation suggests revenge for some act or acts of extreme sexual violence. That’s the key to the murders.’ Nash gestured to the floor behind him. ‘The men lying there are criminals. They’ve violated someone, man or woman, in a way that provoked this retribution. They’re abusers. The manner of their killing is the ultimate in abuse.’ Pearce spoke, his tone awed. ‘Did you deduce all that from looking at the bodies?’ ‘From the bodies and the crime scene. The killer wasn’t satisfied with administering a virulently corrosive poison. He or she went way beyond that.’ He pointed to the pieces of lemon and the salt cellar. ‘The killer ensured the victims suffered the highest level of pain.’ Nash paused. ‘We’ll have a look round before SOCO get here. It won’t take all of us.’ Nash turned to Pearce. ‘Go chat to the neighbours. See what you can find out about the people who lived here. Get on to the council. See what they can tell us about their tenants.’ The kitchen provided further evidence of the horrific nature of the crime. The carving knife tossed carelessly on to the draining board, its blade festooned with shreds of skin and fleshy tissue was enough to turn the strongest stomach, and theirs were already churning. The next room was obviously used as a lounge. In one corner was a plasma TV complete with DVD and VCR players. The rest of the furniture was a couple of cheap settees and a coffee table. Nash went upstairs. The first door led to a double bedroom. He paused on the threshold, assimilating the scene. The room was set out like a dormitory, with three single beds in a row down one wall. Opposite them was a double wardrobe, the doors of which were open. Beneath the window was a chest of drawers, all open, their contents spilled across the nearest bed. Every item of furniture was cheap and far from new. Nash stared for a long time before walking across to the drawers. He signalled to Clara and pointed to a single fawn sock lying on the carpet. ‘Search that pile of clothing on the bed and see if you can find a companion to this.’ The sock had a distinctive diamond pattern in pale green. ‘While you’re doing that I’ll have a look in the other rooms.’ The next room was slightly smaller and set out in identical fashion but with only two beds. Only one of which was made up. Neither wardrobe nor drawers seemed to have been disturbed. Nash opened each drawer in turn. Although the contents appeared intact, Nash saw unmistakable signs that someone had moved them. Why? The third door was slightly ajar. Nash examined the stout bolt and sturdy padlock on t