Main Playing with Fire

Playing with Fire

Gary Vickers killed his lover's daughter. There was overwhelming evidence of his guilt. He is now due for release from prison. Against all advice, he insists on returning to Helmsdale, where Detective Mike Nash must protect him. But Nash has other, more pressing worries . . . With extremist politicians fanning racial hatred and provoking attacks on migrant workers, Nash has to prevent an explosive situation from boiling over into civil unrest. SHOULD YOU PROTECT SOMEONE CONVICTED OF AN UNSPEAKABLE CRIME? Nash's small team of detectives has little time to spare for convicted murderer Vickers. But as Nash becomes acquainted with the facts, doubts start to grow about Vickers' conviction. Proving him innocent will be difficult enough . . . but keeping him alive until they find the truth may well be impossible. A BREATH-TAKING CRIME THRILLER PERFECT FOR FANS OF IAN RANKIN, JD KIRK, DS BUTLER or PETER ROBINSON.
Language: english
File: EPUB, 363 KB
Download (epub, 363 KB)
You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.

Killing Christmas

Language: english
File: EPUB, 338 KB

Vanish without Trace

Language: english
File: EPUB, 337 KB

An absolutely addictive crime thriller with a huge twist




Revised edition 2019

Joffe Books, London

First published as “MINDS THAT HATE” in 2010

© 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.



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

chapter twenty

chapter twenty-one

chapter twenty-two

chapter twenty-three

Chapter twenty-four

The D.I. Mike Nash Series

A Selection Of Books You May Enjoy

Glossary of English Slang for US readers

For Val

Wife, lover, best friend, critic and editor


A lot of people helped to turn my error-strewn manuscript into the volume you are holding. For their input, however great or small, I am truly grateful.

I’d like to thank Pat Almond and Cath Brockhill, for reading the original unedited work and giving their opinion.

To my wife Val, for her patient reading, proof-reading, continuity and copy-editing.

And to author, Zoë Sharpe, for her timely advice on copyright.

chapter one

The moorland road was little used. Grass had encroached onto the middle of the tarmac as it meandered between scrubby banks of heather and gorse. Sheep strayed across, unfettered by walls, unthreatened by vehicles. The scenery was spectacular, savage and untamed. The only sign of human influence was a stationary car. Inside the vehicle, the encounter was over. The couple struggled to dress. As they wrestled with recalcitrant clothing, they talked.

‘I’ve had news from Felling.’

She didn’t need to ask who or what Felling was. She knew, only too well. ‘And?’

‘Three months from now.’

‘God, that’s soon. Why isn’t it longer?’

‘That’s how it works.’

‘It doesn’t give us much time.’

‘There’s worse. He’s coming here.’

She stared, disbelieving. ‘I thought that wasn’t allowed?’

‘They can’t stop him.’

‘Aren’t there rules?’

‘They can’t enforce them. He still owns the house.’

‘There’ll be trouble.’

The man drew a sharp breath. ‘If not, we’re going to have to cause some.’

‘That won’t be difficult.’

‘We should start immediately.’

Her eyes were cold as she stated flatly, ‘He ought to be dead.’

‘He soon will be. He’ll be easier to get at outside.’

‘Will this interfere with your plans?’

‘On the contrary. We can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.’

She shivered, but it was a shiver neither of cold nor fear. It was the thrill she got from the power he exuded. She wriggled closer. ‘Tell me what you have in mind.’

DI Mike Nash woke early. Last night had been a hell of a party. Maria had wanted Gino’s birthday celebrated properly. Not a problem for the owners of a restaurant.

Nash had drunk too much. Discomfort in his bladder told him so. That he could deal with; the hangover wouldn’t be as simple.

He tried to recall how the evening had ended. Gino had introduced him to someone; he’d been talking to them. Who was it?

This thought disturbed him. He moved his leg. It brushed against something. Flesh! Nash panicked momentarily. As if alarm was contagious, the person alongside him moved slightly. Again he felt their skin against his leg.

He eased himself out of bed and groped his way to the shower room, switched the light on and looked back.

She was lying face down. The sheet did little to cover her. Nash admired her figure, the warm tones of her skin, her lustrous long dark hair across the pillow. He fought against his rising excitement.

She was undoubtedly young, appeared to be good-looking. She’d obviously come home with him. Equally obviously, they’d gone to bed together. The next question was far trickier. Who was she?

He returned to the bedroom. His earlier guess had been inaccurate. She wasn’t good-looking. She was stunning. An image flashed through his brain. She’d been standing next to the bar, tall, elegantly dressed, laughing at some remark of Gino’s. As she turned, she’d made eye contact with Nash.

He stretched out alongside her. The touch of her skin completed his arousal.

‘Hello, Michael,’ her voice, heavy with drowsiness, was husky with passion.

He put his hand on her waist and began to caress her. Even as they made love, one problem remained. He couldn’t remember her name.

It was late when he woke again. There was a note on the pillow. ‘Michael, had to go to work. Thanks for a wonderful night. Will call you. X.’

He appreciated the note, but her name would have been helpful. His glance strayed to the clock. 9.05. Nash groaned: he’d a meeting at ten. Where was Clara? As if in answer, the doorbell rang. He staggered out of bed and stubbed his toe. Swearing loudly, he struggled into his dressing gown and hobbled to the door.

‘Christ, Mike! You alright? You look like death warmed up.’

‘Thank you, Sergeant Mironova, and good morning to you. Come in. You make coffee, whilst I grab a shower.’

‘I’d better make it black, to match your eyes.’

‘Don’t be bloody cheeky,’ he snapped.

Minutes later, Clara was seated at the kitchen table. Nash had showered, but still looked terrible. ‘I hope you haven’t been having nightmares again,’ she asked.

‘No, thank God. The doctor reckoned they were caused by mixing my medication with alcohol. One of the two had to go.’

‘It’s obvious which you chose.’ Mironova glanced at the clock. ‘We’d better go or we’ll be late. Any idea why we’re wanted?’

‘None, but Tom implied it might be serious.’

Clara drove them to Netherdale, where Superintendent Tom Pratt was based. During the journey she continued her interrogation.

‘What was it? A late session at The Horse and Jockey or have you been on the nest? If I’d to guess, I’d say you’ve been at it all night. You look shagged out.’

‘I like the delicate, polite way you express yourself.’

Clara grinned. ‘Who is it? Anyone I know?’

‘I’m not sure.’

‘You’re not sure whether I know her, or you’re not sure who she is?’ There was a long silence. She laughed. ‘You’re the last of the great romantics. You mean to tell me you picked a girl up, took her home, and you don’t even know her name?’

‘I’m not aware that I told you anything,’ Nash muttered. ‘Anyway, it wasn’t like that.’

Clara bit her lip. ‘Go on, Mike, tell me what it was like.’

Despite severe provocation, Nash remained silent for the rest of the journey.

‘Morning, Mike. You look a bit rough. Are you okay?’

‘Tom, don’t! I’d enough problems with Clara. Any more lip from her and I’ll be tempted to send her back to Belarus.’

Mironova grinned unrepentantly.

‘What’s the panic about?’ Nash asked.

‘I had a call from the governor of Felling Prison. They’ve a prisoner coming up for release and it could mean trouble.’

‘Who is he?’

‘His name’s Vickers. I’ve read the case notes: very nasty.’

‘What’s he in for?’

‘He raped and murdered the daughter of his live-in lover. He got life, but he’ll be out in three months.’

‘Was it round here?’

‘Yes, they lived in Helmsdale. Her body was found in the woods by the banks of the Helm.’

‘They’ll not let him come back here, surely?’ Mironova interjected.

‘He insists on coming back.’

‘I thought they could block that?’

‘The trouble is, Vickers isn’t dependant on housing or social services. He’s got money and he owns a house.’ Pratt paused before adding, ‘On Grove Road.’

‘Grove Road? That’s on the edge of the Westlea.’

Nash knew there was more. ‘You’d better tell us the rest,’ he prompted.

‘The girl Vickers murdered….’ Pratt cleared his throat. ‘She was Jake and Ronnie Fletcher’s niece.’

‘Oh hell, they’ll fillet the bastard!’ Mironova muttered.

‘There’ve already been death threats. The governor told me they’re all postmarked from round here. He was attacked several times. The worst was a stabbing that nearly finished him off. The governor suspects someone might have bribed inmates to have a go. Strangely, they stopped after a few months.’

‘I wonder why he insists on returning? If he’d any sense, he’d stay well clear,’ Nash said.

‘We’ve got three months to dream up a strategy to keep him alive. Vickers always maintained he didn’t kill the girl. Complete nonsense of course, the forensic evidence puts it beyond doubt. He didn’t defend himself at his trial; in fact, he didn’t say anything. I want you to study the file. Maybe go to Felling as well.’ He looked across at Nash. ‘Persuade Vickers to think again. Suggest he goes elsewhere. Tell him if he returns to Helmsdale we don’t give much for his chance of survival.’

The Wagon and Horses was built during the 1960s. It was ugly, and looked dated before the paint dried. Time frequently softens the harsh lines of a building: here, time failed miserably. Not that the regulars cared. Had the beer been sour or the lager flat, that would have been different. The room was busy, as befitted a Friday night. The atmosphere was heavy with cigarette smoke and other more exotic aromas, despite the government ban on smoking.

The corner seat was occupied by a well-known trio. Well-known and feared. There were a few hard men in the bar, yet Jake and Ronnie Fletcher were of a different calibre. If Gemma Fletcher wasn’t feared like her brothers, she was equally respected.

Gemma outlined her problem. Ronnie was all for direct action. That was typical. His rash nature had landed him in trouble several times, one resulting in a custodial sentence. Gemma wasn’t prepared to risk that. ‘You can’t, Ronnie,’ she objected. ‘I’m not having you sent down over that pillock.’

Jake represented a more chilling threat. Hatred quivered through his voice. ‘No, Gem, we’ve got to finish him. If the law won’t, it’s up to us. We’ll make him suffer. When I think of our Stacey—’

‘Leave me alone with the twat,’ Ronnie growled. ‘I’ll deliver his bollocks on a platter.’

‘Listen,’ Gemma insisted, ‘I’m not risking either of you going inside. We need another way. And I think I know one.’

‘It’d better be good, Gem,’ Jake muttered angrily.

‘We’re all agreed as to what we want, right?’

The brothers nodded.

‘Anything happens to him, they’ll automatically suspect us.’ She didn’t have to explain who ‘they’ were. ‘Here’s what I suggest.’

Jake and Ronnie listened with admiration. There was no doubt it would work. But then, Gemma had always been the brightest. That’s why she’d made a successful career in advertising, whilst they sweated and toiled as jobbing builders.

‘That’s brilliant, Gem, but who’s going to do it?’ Ronnie was keen to know.

‘I thought Danny and the Juniors might be up for it.’

Jake whistled. ‘Christ, Gem, that’s genius. With Danny on our side, think what his brother Billy might do.’

Ronnie agreed. ‘Given half a chance, Billy’d have the whole town in ashes.’

‘I’ll buy him the petrol and matches,’ Jake agreed. ‘When do you want to start?’


‘But you said he wasn’t due out for three months.’

‘If we start now, there’s a chance our incident will be passed over as part of it. “Oh dear, what a bleeding shame. Not to worry, he won’t be missed”.’

‘If Danny and the Juniors get going, there’ll be bloody riots.’

‘Don’t you see? That’s what we’re after.’

When Gemma left, she was satisfied her brothers would already be implementing the plan. She climbed into her car, and reached for her mobile.

‘It’s me,’ she said. ‘Can you talk?’

‘Yes. How did it go?’

‘Fine. I told you it would. What about your end?’

‘I’ve a meeting tomorrow. I’ll know better after that. I’ll ring you when I’m sure.

chapter two

JT Tucker’s work was read wider than the circulation of the Netherdale Gazette: syndication took it throughout the north of England. Tucker was in the graveyard, the basement where old copies were stored. Computerization hadn’t reached the repository of the newspaper. Researchers still had to wade through files of back numbers.

Although Tucker churned out weekly articles of general interest, he occasionally produced excellent pieces of investigative journalism. He’d a keen nose for impropriety. This, combined with his contacts, a good memory, and hours of research, led him to uncover misdeeds which many would have preferred to remain unearthed.

His articles had caused ripples within local politics, business and even the church. Tucker was on the scent of another such scandal. So far the aroma was faint but to Tucker, unmistakable. Time and patient probing could cause the stench to ripen.

On the desk were back numbers of the Gazette, folded to reveal two articles on the same topic.

Thursday 12 August 1993

Police confirmed today that the body discovered in remote woodland was that of missing photography student, Stacey Fletcher. Forensic examination would be needed to establish how she died.

Tuesday 8 March 1994

A jury at Netherdale Crown Court today convicted Gary Vickers; a twenty-five-year-old graphic artist, of the rape and murder of his lover’s daughter. The body of twenty-year-old Stacey Fletcher was found in Helm Woods last August. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Traces of Vickers’ DNA were found on the dead girl’s clothing and body. The judge, approving the verdict, warned Vickers that he would be facing the maximum sentence for this crime. Sentencing will take place next week.

Tucker was unaware that the official version of these events was being studied a few miles away.

Clara was examining a photograph of Vickers when she heard Nash muttering. ‘Sorry, what was that, Mike?’

‘There’s something odd here. The evidence is overwhelming. Vickers’ semen was removed from inside the dead girl’s vagina and on her pubic hair. And from the sheets on her bed as well. Considerable quantities, not just traces. They also recovered his pubic hair. If that’s not the clearest possible proof, I don’t know what is. So why has Vickers consistently denied raping her? He’d have to be stupid to go against that evidence, and from what we know about Vickers, he isn’t stupid.’

‘Maybe he thought by admitting to rape, he’d be confessing to murder as well?’

‘What mileage was there in not pleading guilty? He might have caught the judge in a lenient mood. He could have claimed provocation, suggest the girl seduced him or something. Plenty of others have tried that. Some have got away with it.’

‘You’ve just read the evidence out loud. There’s no way Vickers isn’t guilty.’

‘You’re probably right, Clara, but the more I read this file, the more questions it throws up.’

Clara sighed. She knew Nash well enough to realize if he got his teeth into something he wouldn’t let go. She’d also enough experience of his insight to be cautious about contradicting him. He’d been proved right too often. ‘Okay, what don’t you understand?’

‘Imagine you’re Vickers, and, for the sake of argument, pretend you didn’t rape or kill the girl. Beyond entering a plea of not guilty, he didn’t say anything in his defence. All his counsel did was question the arresting officers and the forensic experts. He didn’t call any witnesses or put forward an alternative story. So, why not plead guilty? If Vickers truly was innocent, why not say so? Why wait until after he’d been tried and sentenced? And why kick up such a fuss later?’

‘Perhaps he was bored. He was banged up alone in a cell for twenty-three hours a day.’

‘As a reason for the campaign he waged, I find that a bit thin.’

‘The evidence is overwhelming, Mike. Have you anything to suggest he might not be guilty?’

‘Nothing. All I can see is a lack of evidence.’

‘From what you’ve said, I thought there was too much rather than too little?’

‘There is and there isn’t. There’s plenty of evidence of sexual activity. But if Vickers raped Stacey, where’s the other evidence?’

‘What other evidence?’

‘Why does the PM report fail to mention bruising? Rape victims almost invariably have bruises to their arms, their body, their legs. They often have gag marks or bruising from a hand across their mouth. There’s no mention of any defensive injuries. Why not? If he’d drugged her first, I could understand it. I checked the toxicology. There’s no evidence of drugs in her system.’

‘Perhaps he didn’t need to keep her quiet. Maybe the rape took place somewhere he knew they wouldn’t be disturbed.’

Nash shook his head. ‘The rape took place in her room. We know that from forensics. That’s another fact that doesn’t add up. If he raped her in her bedroom, why take her to Helm Woods before he killed her?’

‘He could have killed her at the house, then transported the body afterwards.’

‘No, he couldn’t. Vickers didn’t own a car. Besides, there were no bloodstains at the house but plenty in Helm Woods. Incidentally, there’s also nothing to suggest there were bloodstains on any of Vickers’ clothing.’

‘Anything else?’

‘In the vast majority of rape cases, the killer strangles his victims with his bare hands or an item of their own clothing. According to the evidence, Vickers garrotted the girl with piano wire, hence the blood.’

‘So, he wanted to be different.’

‘You’ve missed the point, Clara. Not that I blame you. You haven’t seen this.’

Nash passed her a sheet of paper, an inventory of the furniture at Vickers’ house. ‘There’s no mention of him owning a piano. What’s more, the prosecution couldn’t produce proof of Vickers buying any wire. The arresting officer made a note of it alongside the inventory. It reads: “Where did the wire come from?” I guess that got deliberately overlooked by the prosecution, and his counsel didn’t pick up on it.’

Clara conceded the point reluctantly. ‘It’s intriguing, I grant you, but it still doesn’t amount to much.’

‘There’s another thing about the wire. If Vickers did buy piano wire, that argues premeditation, as does taking her into Helm Woods to kill her. So, how did he persuade her to go with him? The prosecution case is that Vickers got overcome with lust, raped her and then got scared she’d tell her mother. Knowing that, he panicked and strangled her. There’s a huge contradiction in that argument.’

‘I see what you mean, although it isn’t conclusive. What do you intend to do?’

‘Nothing until we’ve spoken to Vickers. I want to look him in the eye before I form a judgement.’

There was another curious fact Nash had noticed about the case but he decided to keep it to himself.

Nash’s mobile chirped to signal an incoming message. He read the text slowly and groaned.

‘Bad news?’

‘Not really. At least, I don’t think so.’ He read aloud, ‘“Michael, going to France on business. Back Friday. What about weekend? X.”’

Clara fought to restrain her laughter. ‘That sounds like good news.’

‘It would be, if I could remember the girl’s name.’

‘Where did you meet her?’

‘Gino’s fortieth birthday party. You know, from La Giaconda.’

‘The answer’s simple. Go to La Giaconda and ask Gino.’

‘I can’t do that! Most of the guests were either his or Maria’s family.’

‘Oh sorry, I didn’t realize. That could be difficult. I don’t suppose it’s etiquette in Italian society to say, “I had a great time at your party. Afterwards, I gave your cousin a good shagging. Would you tell me her name?”’

‘Not if you want to stay healthy it isn’t.’

‘First time you’ve visited Felling?’ the prison officer asked Nash and Mironova.

Nash nodded. ‘My job usually finishes when the judge passes sentence.’

‘That happened to Vickers a long time ago.’

‘What’s he been like?’

‘A pain in the arse. Nobody likes Category 43s even when they’re quiet, and Vickers certainly hasn’t been quiet. Forever writing letters and trying to stir up a campaign to prove his innocence. He pestered anyone he thought might show an interest, not that it did any good.’

‘The others gave him a hard time, I understand?’

‘Funny you should say that. There was a load of aggro in the early days – usual treatment. His food was doctored regularly – not the usual stuff though. Three times he’d to be pumped out; been poisoned. He was beaten up half a dozen times, knifed twice. In the worst incident he nearly died; he was on life support for three days. After that he was watched pretty carefully. Then suddenly the trouble stopped, almost as if someone had ordered it. I mentioned it to Vickers and he laughed. He said, “Oh, it won’t happen again. I’ve arranged it,” and you know what? He was right. As you say, they go out of their way to make life unpleasant for sex offenders but I can’t explain why Vickers escaped the treatment. It’s almost as if they thought he got a rough deal. Why they should think that, God knows.’

‘That’s interesting.’

‘They’re not usually far wrong; that’s what intrigues me. Even now I have doubts.’


‘About six months back, I read the story in one of those true crime magazines. It carried a photo of the girl – Stacey, wasn’t it? I got a hell of a shock when I saw it.’


‘Because I’d seen that photo. Vickers keeps it in his cell. He has a stand-up photo wallet; photo of his parents on one side, the girl on the other. I know all sex killers are perverts but I’ve never heard of one keeping a photo of his victim. Maybe a porno type, but this is more like a photo you’d keep of your wife or girlfriend. I reckon it’d take a really sick mind to keep a photo like that. However hard I try, I can’t make it fit with the Vickers I know. Anyway, you’ll meet him in a few minutes; judge for yourselves.’

Nash waited until they were on the return journey before asking Clara, ‘What do you make of Vickers now?’

‘I don’t know. I came away wondering if we’d achieved anything, or if our visit was a waste of time. I keep wondering if we’ve actually met the real Gary Vickers.’

‘You mean because he was so quiet?’

‘Quiet! Mike, I’ve known deaf mutes make more noise. He never volunteered a statement, made a spontaneous remark or contradicted us. Where was the trouble-maker who continuously made a nuisance of himself? Where was the man who pestered the press, the radio and TV? Where was the angry man who wrote screeds of letters asking to be cleared? Above all, why did he sit quietly in front of us and fail to protest his innocence? All he did was stare at us and answer in monosyllables.’

‘Yes, I found that intriguing. He was obviously not scared of us. But then, why should he be? The law’s already punished him. As to why he didn’t proclaim his innocence, he probably reckons he’d be wasting his breath, seeing who we are. But I agree, I reckon we’re a long way from having met the real Gary Vickers, let alone finding out what makes him tick. There’s one question I’d have liked to have asked, but it’ll wait until Vickers feels able to talk freely.’

‘What was that?’

‘I want to know why Vickers made all that fuss. You just listed the people he canvassed to get his case looked at. There’s one glaring omission, and frankly I’m at a loss to explain it.’

‘I don’t follow you.’

‘We know Vickers is well off. The file says he got a big insurance payout after his parents were killed. Plus his father had life cover on the mortgage, so that got redeemed. Vickers has paid for a property maintenance company to look after the house whilst he’s been inside. That won’t have been cheap. In other words, he has ample resources at his disposal. So why has he never appealed against his conviction? If he’s as innocent as he makes out, that would be the first thing he’d want to do.’

‘Does that mean you think he is guilty?’

‘No, that’s not what I’m saying. On balance I believe he probably is, but there’s a whole raft of unanswered questions. And that’s making me uncomfortable. If he isn’t guilty, why not appeal? Why court the publicity when he knows it won’t lead anywhere?’ Nash thought for a moment. ‘Unless he was sending a message. You heard what the prison officer said about the attacks stopping suddenly. Perhaps there was an order given for them to be discontinued. Maybe Vickers did all that protesting to let people know he was on their case.’

‘Why on earth would he do that?’

‘One reason would be to stop the punishment he’d been getting. If that was so, it worked. And it would explain why Vickers was so confident he wouldn’t be attacked again. Apart from that, I’d only be guessing. Perhaps he kept quiet during his trial and didn’t go for a formal appeal because that would have required him to give evidence. If he remained silent because he was shielding someone, that might explain his actions. I checked the file after we talked to the warder and, guess what? All the fuss Vickers made began after he was attacked.’

‘Sorry, I don’t see how that’s significant?’

‘Suppose Vickers was protecting somebody and found out that the person he was shielding had paid someone to top him. He had death threats, remember. That might have been the spark that set him off on his campaign.’

‘But his campaign fell short of an appeal.’

‘That ties in with him sending a message. An appeal needs solid evidence. Vickers isn’t stupid. He’d know he didn’t stand a chance of clearing his name. So he doesn’t appeal, he just makes a nuisance of himself. If I’m right, that also explains his insistence in returning to Helmsdale.’

‘You think he has an agenda?’

‘Yes, and I’ve an idea what it is. I think Vickers wants to settle matters with whoever ordered him to be killed. I think he believes they’re responsible for the girl’s death.’

‘You really have serious doubts about his guilt don’t you?’

‘In some ways I do. What the prison officer told us about the photo worries me too. That’s not the action of a guilty man. There’s one thought that scares the pants off me, though.’

‘What’s that?’

‘You remember I asked him why he wants to come back to Helmsdale? Although he didn’t reply, he was looking at me as I said it. There was an expression in his eyes I found frightening. It was the closest I came to getting a reaction from him.’

‘What sort of expression?’

‘It was like a boxer before he steps into the ring or a soldier going into action. Psychedup for the battle ahead. Unless I read him wrong, Vickers is going back expecting there to be trouble. In fact, I believe he’ll provoke it. Maybe he no longer cares what happens? Or maybe he sees it as the only way the truth will come out. Either way, I’m sure of one thing. We’re in for one hell of a summer.’

chapter three

‘Councillor Appleyard?’


‘Carl Rathmell here. I thought you might like to join me for lunch at my place. I’m inviting one or two friends. I believe our discussion might prove mutually beneficial. What do you say?’

‘That’s very kind. When do you suggest?’

‘Are you free tomorrow?’

When Appleyard arrived, the gravel sweep in front of Rathmell’s house was almost full. Alongside several luxury cars were some run-of-the-mill vehicles, including a worse-for-wear Toyota pick-up.

Rathmell opened the door. ‘Good afternoon, Councillor. We’re in the drawing room. Follow me.’

Appleyard glanced round the wide hall. Everything suggested wealth, status and power. He’d heard that Carlton Rathmell, Member of European Parliament, had married into one of the richest families in the county. Seemingly, the report wasn’t exaggerated.

Heads turned as they entered. Appleyard recognized several guests at a glance. His host performed introductions.

As Appleyard joined in the social chit-chat, he speculated on those present. Rathmell’s agent seemed the most obvious. The two businessmen, heads of local electronics and plastics firms, were no surprise. Slightly more obscure was the presence of a trade union convenor, a man well known for his outspoken views.

Two others seemed totally out of place. Jake Fletcher, a building contractor with a reputation for toughness, who’d worked on several of Appleyard’s properties. Their business relationship had been more than satisfactory. Appleyard couldn’t imagine how Rathmell was acquainted with the builder, whose upbringing on the Westlea council estate was a world away from these surroundings.

The last guest caused Appleyard to give up speculating. Why Rathmell would need an alliance with a senior police officer, he couldn’t imagine.

The conversation over lunch was more small talk, although here and there politics entered via questions from one or other of the diners. Rathmell and Appleyard were naturally expected to reply to these. Both took their part, but the whole business was managed so skilfully that Appleyard didn’t suspect an ulterior motive.

It was only when they were having coffee that Rathmell provided an explanation. ‘Gentlemen,’ the MEP began. ‘With one exception,’ Rathmell smiled apologetically at Appleyard, ‘you all know the reason for this gathering, and most of you know Councillor Appleyard. Before I go further, I need everyone’s reassurance that we’re of the same mind.’

Rathmell’s remarks were greeted with a chorus of approval. He turned his attention to Appleyard. ‘It’s time to put our cards on the table, Frank.’ Rathmell sipped his coffee. ‘We propose to create a new political entity. A break from the traditional parties involved in that sham at Westminster. We intend to create a social force that will attract people disaffected by politics. We mean to step outside the existing structure. It will cause disapproval and condemnation. That won’t bother us. If it didn’t, I’d be worried we weren’t doing it right. We believe our radical policies will appeal to voters. They’ll bring us to the forefront of British politics and sweep the others into the wilderness.’ He gestured to his agent. As the man filled Rathmell’s cup, the MEP continued. ‘The average Englishman feels trapped and powerless. What happens on their own doorstep is beyond their control.’

Appleyard listened intently. He’d attempted to put across similar fears in council, but met only hostility. It felt good to hear someone voicing the same concerns.

‘I agree,’ Appleyard told his host approvingly. ‘I’ve longed to find someone prepared to take a lead in such matters.’

Appleyard’s words were greeted with smiles of satisfaction. They’d definitely made the right choice.

Rathmell continued. ‘Local people see politicians toadying to incomers and resent it. They see council officials bending over backwards to give immigrants the assistance they need. They see foreigners getting benefits locals aren’t entitled to. Crime on the Westlea and similar estates is out of control. Ask Jake. Ten years ago he wouldn’t have needed a sign on his vans that there were no tools left inside overnight. Now, it’s dangerous for a woman to walk along the street at night because foreigners have the wrong impression as to what that signifies. The police have neither the manpower nor the willpower to combat crime on the estates.’

Rathmell turned to the police officer. ‘I’m sorry if that sounds like criticism, Martin. I have great admiration for your officers, but they lack the necessary support. They need a judicial system that doesn’t protect the guilty and a sentencing policy that doesn’t make them a laughing stock. They’ve lost control of the streets.’

The policeman threw up his hands despairingly. ‘Once, I’d have argued with you. If any of you have any doubts about what Carl has just said, my presence here should cast them aside.’

Appleyard leaned forward in his chair, his face animated. ‘You’re dead right. I know from constituents how bad things are. But what’s to be done? Nobody has come close to identifying the problem, let alone suggesting a solution.’

‘The only way is by forcing the issue. Bad has to become worse before anyone will act. Look at the symptoms. Those who get the best treatment are the immigrants, legal or otherwise, the asylum seekers and those who are already a drain on society.

‘We’ve just paid millions for that smart new facility for travelling people to the east of Helmsdale. Do the gypsies use it? No way. Instead you see them camped on every bit of grass verge. Their caravans are unsightly, they leave litter and God knows what other unpleasantness behind.

‘Go into the Good Buys convenience store on the Westlea and listen to the conversation. You’d struggle to hear a Yorkshire accent. You’d be more likely to hear Latvian, Polish or some Baltic tongue. Even the shopkeeper’s an immigrant. If we don’t see action soon, there’ll be trouble on a big scale.’

‘How can it be prevented?’ As Appleyard spoke, he wondered how Rathmell knew so much about the Westlea.

‘It may already be too late. But I’m not sure it should be stopped. Not completely. We need direct action to focus on the problem, to highlight how serious the situation’s become.’

‘Direct action?’ There was concern, but no alarm in Appleyard’s voice. ‘What do you mean by that?’

‘If folk can’t communicate their fears by orthodox methods, they’ll use other means. It’s the only way left open to them. Let the authorities know how deep their resentment goes and send a message to the parasites that they’re no longer welcome.’

‘It sounds like a recipe for trouble,’ Appleyard commented.

‘Sometimes the cure’s as painful as the complaint. Our task would be to co-ordinate and guide the local population so they can act without fear of reprisal.’

‘How do we go about it?’

Rathmell leaned forward. ‘We,’ he gestured round the group, ‘need someone on the inside. Somebody who’s trusted, maybe even feared. If you and I control the policy, a man like that would plan the actions and ensure they were carried out successfully.’

‘He’s talking about me, Frank,’ Jake grinned.

Two hours later Rathmell watched the cars leaving.As the lead vehicle turned onto the main road he picked up his mobile. ‘It’s me,’ he said. ‘It went like a dream. Appleyard and Jake will start work tomorrow. Speaking of tomorrow, are you going to be free?’ He listened. ‘You don’t have to worry about that. My beloved wife has taken her money to London on a shopping spree. Usual time and place?’

Billy was excited. The younger of the Floyd brothers and unarguably volatile, Billy had suffered as a child. That changed when he was twelve. He’d been watching TV at home. He wasn’t supposed to be alone. Billy’s parents had gone to the pub. Billy’s sister was baby-sitting.

She’d interpreted her duties freely. She’d made Billy a sandwich and disappeared upstairs with her boyfriend. After they’d been gone half an hour, Billy decided to see what they were doing. He forgot that the bedroom door creaked. Confronted by his sister’s angry boyfriend, Billy stared in wonder at the huge thing sticking from between his legs. He failed to see the punch. The pain in his gut underlined the message as clearly as the accompanying words. ‘Get back downstairs, you pervert, or I’ll stick this up your arse.’

Billy crept back downstairs. A film had started on TV during his absence. As he watched a couple on the screen doing what his sister and her boyfriend had been doing, Billy’s interest grew. As the tower block they were in caught fire, his interest turned to excitement. Billy discovered that his thing was getting bigger too. Thereafter Billy’s confused mind linked the conflagration of fire with the passion of lovemaking. A year later he put this to the test. He took a girl from his class across the fields to a barn. He told her he’d seen some newly born calves. When they were inside, Billy forced himself on the girl. He’d grown and filled out in the last year and the girl was no match for him. Despite her muffled screams and writhing protest, he managed to achieve what he’d seen his sister enjoy. Just before his climax, Billy paused and withdrew. The girl was quiet now, barely breathing.

He walked over to a corner and took a lighter from his pocket. He set fire to the edge of a straw bale and watched the flames grow and flicker. As the polythene covering the bales took hold, the fire began to roar and Billy’s arousal became unbearable. He went back and stood for a second, looking down at the girl’s naked form, before flinging himself on her. He began to thrust, harder and harder, deeper and faster.

The smoke was all round them now, writhing, curling and choking. The roaring in Billy’s ears was part excitement and part the engulfing sound of the barn crumbling to destruction. Barely a minute later, Billy ejaculated. As he lay panting, something hot and heavy dropped close by. He staggered to his feet and stumbled outside, before collapsing on the ground. He turned to look back. A huge display of sparks flew up, as the roof timbers collapsed on the unconscious girl.

Despite exhaustive enquiries, the cause of the blaze and the reason for her presence in the barn were never discovered. Billy realized he’d been lucky. After that he became more careful.

Now Billy could pay girls to pretend to enjoy doing it with him. He also learned to be more selective about where and when to practise his love of fire.

Today he was excited, because he’d been asked to indulge his second passion. What was even better, he was going to be paid for it. That would mean he’d be able to afford Trudy. She was his favourite, but she cost more than the others. He’d been promised enough money to be able to visit her a few times. The job wasn’t even difficult. A caravan’s an easy target. The confined space, the single exit and the gas cylinders would make it easy. After all, he was an expert.

The caravan and its occupants shouldn’t be there. Danny told him that. They didn’t belong there. They didn’t belong anywhere. ‘They’re not like us, Billy,’ Danny explained. ‘They’re gippos and we don’t want gippos round here. They don’t contribute anything. They cost us money. They don’t pay tax, they don’t work. All they do is steal and beg. They’re sub-human parasites living in filthy squalor just like rats.’

Billy had no idea what sub-human parasites meant. But he did know rats. Knew them and detested them. ‘They need driving out, Billy. They’re just like rats.’ Danny was Billy’s hero. Although he was only three years Billy’s senior, Danny was like a god to the impressionable youth. Danny had a gun. Billy knew that. He’d seen it. What’s more, Danny had used it. Billy knew that too. More than once, Billy reckoned. If Danny said something was right, Billy would never argue.

Billy might have rushed the job, but that wasn’t the way it had to be. Danny had left him in no doubt. ‘You must make sure nobody suspects us, Billy.’

Billy took his brother’s words for gospel. ‘Plan it carefully. Take your time. We need to scare the lot of them off for good, just like rats.’

As Billy watched the caravan, making his plans, he had no doubt he was doing the right thing; a good thing. He muttered the mantra over and over. ‘Just like rats. Just like rats. Just like rats.’

chapter four

Drugs had been a problem on the Westlea for years. Getting hold of them, that is. Recently this had changed. The improvement was due to Ricky Smart. Ricky ensured they got what they needed. All he demanded in return was prompt payment. For some, this presented a problem, usually solved with a little opportunist crime. Nobody argued with Ricky. He’d been shrewd enough to seek protection. Smart had approached Danny Floyd. The move was a tactical triumph. His predecessors had gone it alone. Offering Danny a cut of the proceeds made Smart the dealer of choice. Competitors got a rough ride. Smart’s trade flourished as did Danny’s share.

Now they’d a unique proposition to consider. When Danny put the idea forward he believed it originated from Jake Fletcher. He couldn’t have guessed the true origin.

Smart was initially appalled. ‘Free gear for your lot this summer?’

‘Free to them,’ Danny reassured him. ‘But the stuff will be paid for.’

‘It’ll cost an arm and a leg. Who’s going to shell out?’

‘Some geezer wants the Juniors to do some stuff. Quite heavy stuff too.’

‘Must be real heavy if he’s stumping up that sort of cash.’

‘You’re better off not knowing. Believe me. Make sure you’ve plenty of gear when it’s needed. I don’t mean next week promises. I mean there and then. The Juniors won’t be happy if they’re kept waiting. Not when they’ve been promised. And you know what they’re capable of.’

‘Will it be cash up front? That’s a heavy layout.’

‘It’ll be cash on delivery. Just you see you’ve plenty of stock.’

‘That won’t be a problem.’

‘I’ve a meeting this afternoon,’ Nash told Clara.

‘What is it this time?’

‘The new deputy chief constable’s discussing staffing levels.’

‘Sounds like fun.’

‘You’ve a weird notion of enjoyment.’

‘What’s he like? Being from the lower ranks, I haven’t met him.’

‘You’ve not missed much. DCC King is a career policeman. He won’t have noticed the likes of you. His eyes are fixed on higher things. I’m sure he regards this posting as a backward step.’

‘Sounds a real berk. Mind you, he should get on with Creepy.’

‘DS Mironova, you shouldn’t speak of your superiors in that way. Inspector Crawley is one of our most respected and able officers – in his opinion, at least.’

‘That’s the only opinion Creepy values.’

Nash sighed. ‘Whatever happened to good old-fashioned values, like catching criminals and protecting the public?’

‘They got buried under red tape.’

‘The job’s turning you into a cynic.’

Clara grinned. ‘Talking of old-fashioned values, have you remembered your girlfriend’s name yet?’

Nash winced. ‘What made you bring that up? Was there a specific reason or was it sadism pure and simple?’

‘Being from the lower ranks, I have to get my pleasure where I can.’

‘For your cheek you can make the coffee. And bring some salt and vinegar.’

‘What for?’

‘The chip on your shoulder.’

‘I’ll be glad when Viv’s back off leave.’

‘So will I. Not only does Pearce make better coffee, he’s far more respectful.’

Tom Pratt managed a word with Nash before the meeting. ‘Try not to antagonize King. We know it’ll be bad news.’

‘I’ll let Creepy do the talking.’

Pratt laughed. ‘Much good that’ll do.’

Nash remained calm whilst the DCC outlined his plans. It was an effort.

‘I intend to initiate a review that will point the way to the most effective and cost-efficient service.’ King looked hard at Nash. ‘I shall be paying close attention to the smaller units and asking some pertinent questions regarding their viability.’

‘I’d have thought recent events might have shown that Helmsdale can’t be policed effectively from Netherdale,’ Nash objected mildly.

‘I shall approach this review with an open mind,’ King told him sharply. ‘However, I remain to be convinced that the community wouldn’t be better served by concentrating our resources where we can make an effective difference, rather than squandering them on small units covering areas with low levels of unsolved crime. I see a strong case for centring operations at Netherdale. That can be achieved either with the existing personnel,’ King’s stare grew colder, ‘or by replacing officers who don’t fit in with the new order.’

Nash ignored the implicit threat. ‘Could the low level of unsolved crime be because of an effective presence?’ he suggested.

King shook his head. ‘I’ll examine the logistics of ensuring an equally effective service from Netherdale. Given the will, and the right officers, it can be done. Nothing will be decided until I’ve completed my review.’

‘And that will be conducted with a completely open mind?’ Nash suggested, putting a little stress on the word ‘open’.

As they were leaving, King detained Crawley. ‘I’d like a word.’

‘What do you think that’s about?’ Pratt jerked a thumb backwards as he and Nash walked down the corridor.

‘Probably asking Creepy to do his dirty work. They’re two of a kind. I’m just glad one of them isn’t female.’


‘The thought of an offspring from that union is too horrible. I wonder what God makes of King. Do you know?’

‘God hasn’t confided in me. Anyway, you should know. You’re her blue-eyed boy. I reckon she looks on you as the son she never had.’

Their chief constable’s nickname was obvious, not only from her rank but her initials. Gloria O’Donnell did indeed have a soft spot for Nash. ‘I wouldn’t have thought any mother would refer to her son as she speaks about me,’ Nash objected.

‘Alright,’ Pratt confessed, ‘so she calls you “that randy bastard at Helmsdale”. You can’t tell me that isn’t a term of affection?’

‘Hardly matronly.’

‘Whatever, I think you’re right about Creepy.’

Had they remained in the meeting room, Pratt would have been able to congratulate Mike on the accuracy of his guess.

‘I’ve been reading the files of the officers under my command and I believe you’re the ideal candidate to assist me. I intend to build a team that’s second to none. There will be a considerable number of changes, in strategy, working practices and personnel.

‘There will be no room for lone-wolf operators. Procedures will not be ignored or bypassed. The chain of command will operate at all levels, with strict attention to correct reporting.

‘Every officer will have a clearly defined role. They will know exactly what’s expected. I intend to ensure this area is free from old, bad practices. There will be no prima donnas.’

‘I’ll do whatever I can to assist.’ Crawley’s eagerness was pathetic.

‘We’ll go into detail when I’ve established the parameters. In the meantime, tell me about Nash. I understand he has an active social life?’

‘He’s never short of female company,’ Crawley agreed.

‘I’m no prude, but I prefer my officers to have settled domestic arrangements.’

‘There have certainly been a lot of women.’ Crawley leaned forward confidentially. ‘There was even a rumour concerning Nash and DS Mironova, although that’s unconfirmed.’

‘That’s something I won’t tolerate. Romantic entanglements between officers inevitably cause problems. It impairs the efficiency of those concerned and others who work alongside them. There’s only one way of ending such an unsatisfactory situation and that’s by separating the parties. We must pay close attention to this.’

Nash’s mobile bleeped during his drive to Helmsdale. On reaching his flat, he checked the inbox. ‘Michael. Have to go to New York. Will call you. X.’ He groaned. Why didn’t the wretched girl sign her text? If he couldn’t remember her name, he’d be in real bother.

He noticed the message alert flashing on his landline. He’d to replay the message before the significance struck home. ‘Michael,’ a man’s voice said. ‘We need to talk about my sister.’

Nash stared down at the phone in helpless frustration. A fault had developed, which rendered every voice, male or female, totally unrecognizable. It was as if all messages were being delivered by a ten-year-old Jimmy Osmond. Now her brother wanted to see him. He couldn’t identify the brother’s voice any more than he could remember the girl’s name. As if things weren’t bad enough.

Reporters often have to wait a long time for a story. Tucker sat outside Gemma Fletcher’s flat each evening until he was sure she’d gone to bed. The following morning he was there before she left. He watched her as many hours as he could, given that he’d his weekly column to write.

He’d submitted this to his editor on Wednesday lunchtime and that afternoon had his first slice of luck. Gemma left work early. Tucker followed her as she drove west out of Helmsdale and headed deep into the countryside. His curiosity was roused: Gemma didn’t strike him as a nature lover. So where was she bound?

When she reached a remote moorland road, Tucker eased off the accelerator and maintained a discreet distance. Had he been fifty yards further back he’d have missed her turn off. He drove past the end of the rutted, unmade lane until he reached the brow of a hill and parked on the grass verge. It was an excellent vantage point. Tucker reached into the glove compartment for his binoculars.

Twenty minutes later, he saw another vehicle turn onto the track. As it pulled to a stop, Tucker saw Gemma leap from her car and dash to meet the other driver.

He saw their passionate embrace before the couple dived hurriedly into the man’s vehicle. What Tucker was anxious to discover was the identity of Gemma’s lover. Any doubt as to the status of the relationship was dispelled by the gentle rocking of the vehicle and the steamed-up windows.

‘Way to go, Gemma,’ Tucker murmured approvingly as he noted the car’s registration number. ‘Where would reporters be without a bit of good old-fashioned adultery?’

‘What news have you got?’ Appleyard began.

Jake Fletcher stared across the desk. ‘Everything’s ready. You don’t want to know the details. You should hear something today or tomorrow. With the right incentives, other incidents will follow.’

Appleyard passed him an envelope. ‘The first instalment; I hope the results will be worth it.’

‘You needn’t worry. When will you start?’

‘There’s a meeting next Friday. Normally they’re only attended by three men and a dog, but I want to ensure there’s a full house.’

‘What’s the meeting?’

‘Westlea Residents’ Association.’

Jake nodded approval. ‘You’ll be preaching to the converted there. How can I help?’

‘Make sure we get a good attendance.’

‘It could be tricky getting folk from in front of their TVs. Those that aren’t in the pub, that is. I’ll ask Ronnie to try a little persuasion. Anything else?’

‘I might arouse some strong emotions. It would be sensible to have a few people about.’

‘Danny and the Juniors will do that. I’ll be on hand with Ronnie to supervise them.’ Jake grinned. ‘Most of them have suffered at the hands of bouncers. It’ll appeal to them to act the part.’

At one end of the Westlea, planners had included a set of lock up garages. Most had been unused from the date of their completion. Many had fallen or been pushed into disrepair. Neglect and vandalism had reduced many to doorless shells. Not that they were unused. During the daytime they formed goalmouths for children playing football. When the weather intervened, the interior provided a welcome refuge. Detritus littered the crumbling concrete floors in the form of lager cans, cider bottles, cigarette ends and other smoking products even less healthy.

More sinister was the presence of used needles and syringes, aerosols and plastic bags for those who needed extra stimulation. After dark the garages were in regular use by a wide variety of occupants. Amorous encounters, between mixed-sex and same-sex couples. Many a girl from the estate enjoyed her first experience of true love in the garages.

One of the garages had long been the meeting place for teenagers from the Westlea. The gang had certain membership criteria. One of the most rigid was ethnicity. It probably hadn’t been a group member who daubed the racial slogans on one of the walls, but the sentiment met with their wholehearted approval.

Not that they were racist. They hated everyone with equal ferocity. Age was another qualification for joining the group. This rule was less tightly applied but it was generally held that anyone over the age of eighteen or under the age of twelve was excluded. Danny Floyd and his brother were exceptions, but then they had other excellent credentials. These took the form of one of the core values, a capacity for violence, preferably with a proven track record.

‘Shut it!’ Glazed eyes turned in the general direction of the voice. As they attempted to focus on the speaker, one or two mutters continued. ‘I said, shut it.’ The half-light made it difficult to focus. The fact that they were stoned didn’t help.

‘We all know there’s too many Immigrunts on the Westlea.’

A growl of anger emphasized their agreement.

‘Now we’ve chance to get shut of them.’

‘How we gunna do that, Dan? There’s hundreds of ’em.’

‘Shut up and listen. Then you’ll find out, won’t you? Here’s the job. We make life so fucking miserable for them they’ll be queuing up to get the first bus out.’

‘How, Dan?’

‘Never mind how. Are you up for it?’

‘Too right.’

‘The best bit is, there’s others think like us. We’ll even get re-fucking-warded.’

‘What you mean?’

‘We’re going to get free gear. Good shit too. All we’ve to do is earn it.’

‘What! By getting shut of the Immigrunts?’

‘You got it.’

‘I’d do it for nowt.’

‘I’m in if there’s free stuff.’

‘Me too.’

‘And me.’

‘I’m in.’ A dozen voices chimed their agreement.

‘When’s this going down?’

‘We wait for a sign. Billy’s going to torch a gippovan. We start after that.’

chapter five

Billy waited patiently. He was ready. As soon as the caravan was in darkness and quiet, that was his cue.

His hold on reality had always been precarious. A good psychiatrist might have saved him. But Billy had never been treated. That wasn’t the way things happened. No one realized how close he was to being psychotic; the thin dividing line between normality and a psychopath. It needed only a small push to send Billy over the edge. Setting the caravan fire took Billy to the brink. As he lay in the hedge-back watching it burn, watching the gas bottles exploding high into the night sky, he teetered on that edge.

Then, as he masturbated towards a climax, the caravan door burst open. For a second Billy froze, unable to comprehend what he was watching. A burning ball fell to the ground and rolled over, before coming to rest in a pyre of smoke and flame. As recognition came, Billy knew beyond doubt that what he’d watched had been a human being. Now a human torch that burned even brighter than the blazing caravan beyond.

As Billy lay spent and gasping, his mind plunged into an abyss of darkness. There could be no return. The last vestige of his sanity was destroyed in that instant, gutted as completely as the caravan.

Nash’s sleep was disturbed by the wailing of sirens. He stirred, but as their clamour faded, he dropped back to sleep.

Later, his mobile rang. ‘Nash,’ he growled.

‘Mike, it’s Clara. I’m on Netherdale Road. There’s been a caravan fire; completely gutted. I’m with Doug Curran. He reckons it’s arson.’ Clara’s voice quivered with distress. ‘There’s at least one dead. We found a body outside the van; burned to a crisp, completely unrecognizable. There may be more inside, but we can’t get near. Mike, the bloody thing’s just melted.’

‘I’ll be as fast as I can. Whereabouts exactly?’

Nash wondered how a crowd of onlookers could have gathered at such an early hour. Did they lie awake, waiting for the sound of sirens?

He ducked under the incident tape and paused for a brief word with Sergeant Binns.

‘Clara’s over there, with Curran.’

Binns pointed towards the first of three fire engines. ‘She’s pretty shaken.’ Binns paused. ‘She’s not the only one.’

Nash had to pass the caravan to get to Clara. The van was a hot, smoking shell of twisted metal and melted fibreglass, testimony to the ferocity of the blaze. Alongside it a dark tarpaulin sheet covered a shapeless bundle he knew would be a body. His nose wrinkled in revulsion as he recognized the sickly, cloying smell of burnt flesh.

He nodded to his sergeant and the chief fire officer. ‘Any more news?’

They shook their heads.

‘Clara, go to the travellers’ amenity site. Find the local headman. Get him out here ASAP. We need to know whose van this is. Was,’ he corrected himself. ‘And how many were inside.’

He turned to Curran. ‘Clara said you think it was arson?’

‘Yes,’ Curran answered heavily. ‘Caravan fires are very rare. The odds against one going up are long.’

Nash looked across to where Curran’s men were playing hoses over the wreckage. ‘Anything more positive?’

‘We’ll have to wait on forensics, but come and have a look at this.’

Nash followed Curran. Closer to the caravan, he could feel the heat from the smouldering wreck. Curran pointed to the ground. Nash could see a broad streak of scorched grass leading to where the gas bottles had been stored.

Curran looked at him and was about to speak when he saw the faraway expression on Nash’s face. He’d never seen that look before, but had heard Mironova describe it. What was it she called it? ‘Thinking, do not disturb’, that was it. He waited in patient silence.

For Nash’s mind’s eye, the darkness intensified. He crouched in the bank of bushes, waiting. He would have to wait, to avoid detection. As soon as the caravan’s occupants had switched the lights out, as soon as they were settled for a good night’s sleep; then he could move. He’d ensure their sleep was eternal. At last, the lights went out; his signal for action. ‘This is it,’ Nash murmured to himself. ‘You’ve waited; now you can do what you came here for. They’ve gone to bed. Now you must creep ever so quietly, closer and closer. Now for the tricky bit. You’ve to disconnect the fuel lines and open the valves on the cylinders, all without making enough noise to disturb those inside; your target, your victims. You’ve done that, now the rest should be easy. Sprinkle the petrol you’ve brought onto the ground. When you’re far enough back, simply strike a match and toss it onto the ground. Whoosh! Instant inferno! What now? Did you wait and watch? Enjoying the tragedy you’ve created? Glorying in it? Why? What had they done to hurt you? Was it a grudge? A dispute? Had they crossed you in some way? Or worse.’ Nash chilled at the thought. ‘Are you a psychopath? In which case, nobody’s safe.’

Nash was closer to guessing the motive than he realized. Which, given the confused state of Billy’s mind, was quite an achievement. Not that it helped.

Back at Helmsdale, Clara sat opposite Nash as he phoned Tom Pratt. They could still smell smoke from their clothing. ‘The van belonged to a family named Druze. The leader of the local tribe reckons we’re looking for three bodies. Druze, his woman and a girl; six years old.’

‘What’s Curran say?’

‘He says it’s arson. Mexican Pete and the brigade forensic team are on site. We’ll have to wait for their reports.’

‘Nothing we can do it the meantime?’

‘Appeal for witnesses, but that’s probably useless.’

‘I’d better tell our new DCC.’

‘You might ask him how he thinks closing Helmsdale would have prevented it.’

‘I would if I thought it’d do any good. How’s Clara?’

‘Pretty shaken. She was first on the scene.’

‘She’ll cope. She’s tough and professional.’

Nash put the phone down. ‘Tom thinks you’re a tough old boot,’ he told her. ‘Reckons you’re like an old pro.’

Mironova glared at him, distress in abeyance. ‘I bet he didn’t say anything of the sort,’ she snapped.

Nash smiled. ‘Not exactly.’ He repeated Pratt’s actual words. ‘Now, would the tough old boot like a coffee?’

Rathmell was watching the local TV news when his phone rang. ‘Carl, it’s Frank Appleyard. Have you seen the report about the incident at Helmsdale?’

‘I was watching it on TV when you rang; terrible tragedy. One I’m sure would never have happened if the family had stayed in the travellers’ site.’

‘My thoughts exactly. However, that wasn’t why I rang. I have everything set up for our campaign. I’ve handed over the first part. We need to make arrangements for the remainder.’


‘As and when they carry out each assignment, a sort of productivity bonus.’

Rathmell laughed. ‘That sounds appropriate. Give me twenty-four hours to make the arrangements. We also need to talk about next week’s meeting.’

‘Whereabouts? At your house?’

‘That would be inconvenient. My wife is in residence, and the less she knows about what’s going on the better.’

‘Where, then?’

‘I know the ideal spot. For the moment it would be better if we avoid being seen together until after next Friday.’

Gemma’s mobile rang. She glanced at the display. If it had been anyone else she wouldn’t have answered. ‘I’m about to go into a meeting. What is it?’

‘Not on the phone. We need to meet ASAP. When are you free?’

‘After work. Usual place. I can get there by six?’

‘I’ll be waiting.’

This time Tucker was prepared. As soon as he saw Gemma’s car turn onto the moor road he stopped and reversed onto the verge. He got out of the car and balanced his binoculars on the wall. He lit a cigarette, wondering how many he’d get through before the end of his vigil.

Nash had the radio on. He heard the news announcer read a statement from the Home Secretary on the subject of the prison service.

‘In view of the current level of overcrowding, all inmates whose sentence is due to end within the next three months will be released immediately. This will apply whatever their offence or the original length of sentence. The Shadow Home Secretary and spokesmen from other opposition parties condemned the move as an indictment of government policy. Calls for an emergency debate are expected to be tabled during Prime Minister’s question time.’

Nash paused, razor in hand. One effect would concern him directly. Vickers would be out within days. He was still pondering when he reached Helmsdale.

Clara looked up from the report she was reading. ‘There’s been another arson attack. Or an attempted one.’

‘Not another caravan? Anyone hurt?’

Clara shook her head. ‘No, this time it was a house, fortunately unoccupied. A woman feeding her baby during the night raised the alarm. Only superficial damage.’

‘Where was this?’

Clara glanced down. ‘Number thirty-two, Grove Road.’

‘Isn’t that—’

‘Gary Vickers’ house.’

They were still considering this development when the phone rang. It was Pratt. ‘Did you hear this morning’s news, Mike?’

‘You mean about prisoners being released early?’

‘Yes. Well, I’ve just had word. Vickers will be out on Friday next.’

‘That’s the last thing we want. He’s going to need round-the-clock protection, Tom.’

‘I don’t see that. He chose to come back to Helmsdale.’

‘Maybe, Tom, but that was before last night.’ He explained about the fire. ‘This situation’s impossible. We can’t leave Vickers unguarded. King’s attitude means we can’t draft anyone in. Given Vickers’ record, leaving Clara to guard him is out of the question.’

Pratt agreed. ‘It’s a bloody shame Pearce is on leave. All I can suggest is I lend you a DC from Netherdale.’

‘It would help if you can supply someone to baby-sit during the day. I’ll do the night shift until Viv comes back.’

‘I could always go over King’s head and ask the chief.’

‘That would prove King’s point. It’d set his back up even more. Besides, we can’t prove the fire was directed at Vickers. It could be a random act of vandalism.’

They were unaware of a conversation taking place elsewhere.

‘Jake, how did it go?’

‘Danny sent Billy. Somebody must have spotted him. He’d to scarper when the fire brigade rolled up.’

‘Shit! I wanted that place destroyed.’

‘Don’t worry, Gem. I’ll get him to try again.’

‘You don’t understand, Jake. He’ll be out in a few days.’

‘Even better: next time we’ll torch the house with him in it.’

‘Tucker speaking.’

‘I’ve got the information you asked for.’

‘Fire away.’

‘The vehicle is registered to Mrs Vanessa Rathmell, of Houlston Lodge, Helmsdale.’ Tucker whistled. Sometimes a journalist has to pay a lot for information. Sometimes the information is worth the outlay. Tucker knew this was worth every penny.

Now he’d a decision to make. Should he follow Rathmell and the adultery angle, or continue to follow Gemma for more background on the Vickers case? He’d been tipped off by a contact at Felling that Vickers was due out. What intrigued him was the planned return to his home, almost unheard of for a convicted sex offender. There was a human interest angle in Vickers’ tale.

On the other hand, there was Gemma Fletcher’s adultery with the local MEP. Elected as an Independent, Rathmell had shown little inclination to either wing of the political spectrum. Despite that, there were rumours that Rathmell held strong views on immigration and race. Tucker thought there’d be more mileage in pursuing Rathmell. It was no secret that Rathmell relied on his wife’s money. It was also known that Vanessa Rathmell’s family were staunch Catholics, certainly where divorce was concerned. They were also intensely private and wouldn’t take kindly to their name being splashed across the tabloids. First he’d research the man. This involved scanning newspaper files and reading his speeches and press announcements. Not a task Tucker looked forward to with enthusiasm.

chapter six

Juris was content. Homesick, but content. When his father died, the future looked bleak for him, his mother and his younger brothers. At eighteen, Juris was unable to support the family. Mechanisation had reduced the need for agricultural workers dramatically. Unskilled in anything else, Juris had to compete with other, more experienced applicants.

A welcome solution arrived. The rumour flashed round the village that a stranger was offering work. True, it was many hundreds of miles away, but the pay was good and the stranger was prepared to loan the fare. It was agricultural work too. He met the stranger, a Lithuanian called Zydrumas, and the deal was struck. That had been two years ago.

When he arrived in North Yorkshire, Juris was billeted in a camp for migrant workers. After three months, more suitable accommodation was found, close to the farm where he worked. Juris wrote to tell his mother he was sharing a house on an estate called Westlea. He wrote home often with his news, and to send money. She received the letters and money with equal pleasure and wrote back to thank him. She expressed her pride and love. Her only sadness was that she missed him.

The work was seasonal, but by limiting expenditure, Juris could support his family throughout the year. Although there was opportunity to return home once the season was over, Juris declined this. That would mean extra fares. He would rather save that money and remain in England. He might even find work during the winter.

He’d no success the first year and to alleviate his boredom Juris began improving his limited English. Although his education had been basic, he’d a quick brain and soon mastered a few simple words and phrases. Listening carefully and copying those around him accelerated the process and by winter Juris felt confident enough to enrol for night classes.

During the second winter he found casual work in the kitchens of a local hotel. It was only at weekends, except during December and January when this extended to most nights of the week. Juris didn’t mind that it was tedious, repetitive work. He didn’t even mind being sworn at, or blamed for everything that went wrong. Although his English was improving rapidly, the college courses didn’t give him the fluency a few nights in the hotel kitchen provided.

Later, his teachers explained the difference between English and Anglo Saxon. He learned that a snappy response delivered by a chef isn’t always polite. Juris discovered that calling somebody ‘a lazy twat’ or ‘an ignorant dickhead’ was no way to win friends.

The farm where Juris worked was visible from the migrants’ house. To get there by road would mean a walk of three miles, but there was a footpath that cut this to less than half a mile. When Zydrumas had to speak to the farmer about the forthcoming harvest, he took Juris along.

The first part of the meeting concerned the labour needed. When the discussion turned to rates of pay, Juris set off home. Zydrumas said he’d follow.

The day had been overcast and cool. The track led through a small wood before it bisected a series of miniature farms, dedicated to the growing of vegetables and other produce. Juris had learned these were called allotments. His teacher had explained the reason for their existence. The woods were a dark impenetrable mass of foliage, tangled briar and brambles. As Juris walked, he heard the rustle and creak as the wind stirred the trees around him. Suddenly he felt very alone, very far from home and, for no logical reason, very afraid. It was only when he’d passed the woods and come to the edge of the Westlea that the irrational fear subsided.

Billy sat in his room. His hand moved lazily to and fro as he passed the long bright blade of his knife across a sharpening stone. His movements were accurate, with precision born of practice. His eyes appeared to be fixed on the wall opposite. In fact they were unfocused, far away.

Danny led by example. Billy remembered when Danny returned home with the gun, remembered with equal clarity when Danny used it. He hadn’t been allowed to see the weapon, but the look on Danny’s face told Billy more than his elder brother suspected.

Before Ricky moved in, the Juniors had been having a lot of trouble with their drug dealer. Poor-quality gear and lack of regular supplies were only part of the problem. More critical was the exorbitant price charged by the Turkish Cypriot who controlled distribution.

When Danny returned after being absent all day and half the night, Billy knew something must have happened. Danny didn’t stray from Helmsdale and the estate often. He certainly didn’t vanish for such a long time without a convincing explanation.

Next day, Billy saw the news report on TV. Telling of the discovery of a man’s body in a house on the outskirts of Leeds, the item went on, ‘The man is believed to be of Turkish Cypriot origin. Police investigating the shooting are looking into a possible drugs connection.’

Danny had pointed the way. Billy knew exactly who Danny was referring to when he mentioned ‘The Immigrunts’.

He wasn’t quite as clear as to how the Immigrunts had made their lives so miserable, but Danny had said so, and Billy wasn’t prepared to argue. Billy knew what to do. He had to kill one. It didn’t much matter which one. That wasn’t the point. He’d a target in mind. Not a person but a location. He remembered them working on the farm close to the Westlea. They were starting to arrive back now. He’d seen two in the street, bold as you like, strolling along. It stood to reason they’d be working at the farm again. That meant they’d be walking through the woods. It’d be exciting. Not like the fire of course, but good nevertheless.

His decision made, Billy put the stone away. He fingered the blade, then wiped it with a soft cloth. He replaced the weapon in the sheath on his belt and put his jacket on, left the bedroom, left the house and headed for the woods.

Tucker had followed Rathmell for three days without anything to show for his efforts. Many journalists might have abandoned the story, but Tucker was made of sterner stuff. On day four he followed Rathmell out of Helmsdale. Within minutes of leaving the town Tucker thought he could guess who Rathmell was going to meet. His guess was wildly inaccurate.

When Rathmell turned onto the moor road, Tucker allowed his car to coast to a stop and got out.

As Appleyard headed towards the meeting place, he was so deep in thought he almost missed the turning. He swung off the main road, slowing to avoid missing the next landmark. He noticed a car parked alongside the dry-stone wall. He saw that the driver had left his vehicle, apparently to relieve himself. Appleyard hoped he hadn’t startled the man.

Tucker was surprised, although not as Appleyard imagined. He heard the sound of the approaching vehicle before it came into view. He expected Gemma Fletcher’s flashy red convertible. To avoid suspicion Tucker adopted the stance of a man in the act of urinating. It was natural to glance over one’s shoulder at the intrusion on so private a function; Tucker was glad he was only simulating the act or his surprise might have provoked an accident. It wasn’t Gemma Fletcher’s car. Nor was it a female behind the wheel. Was this coincidence, or was the driver on his way to meet Rathmell? If so, to what purpose? It was understandable to want a secluded spot for an illicit romantic assignation, but this was obviously not the case. So why the secrecy? A meeting neither party wanted witnessed, that was obvious. Tucker’s journalistic instinct told him there might be more to this rendezvous than the adultery he’d set out to expose. Back to watching and waiting. But at least there was the possibility of something worth waiting for.

Tucker waited almost an hour. The sun was hidden by low cloud and the wind blew cold. He was about to get back into his car when he heard the sound of approaching vehicles. As the first of them came into view, Tucker recognized it as Rathmell’s. He watched it speed past, noting that Rathmell was alone. Although his quest centred on Rathmell, the man he’d been meeting in such secrecy interested Tucker more.

The car was travelling faster than on the outward leg. Despite this Tucker was confident he’d be able to read the number plate. The ground on the opposite side of the wall rose steeply, so his eyes were almost at road level.

Tucker raised his binoculars and adjusted the focus. As he concentrated on the number plate, his vision was filled with a solid wall of white. Before Tucker realized what had happened, the car sped past and receded into the distance. The fading light had caused the car’s automatic headlamps to switch on. Tucker swore virulently at the trio of sheep grazing peacefully on the verge. They stared back curiously, before returning to their afternoon tea.

The meeting had been a great success. Zydrumas emerged from the farmhouse, shook hands with the farmer and wandered to the end of the yard. He paused and lit a cigarette. His client was an ambitious man. He’d outlined plans for the development of the business. These would involve Zydrumas and his workforce. Part of the farm was on heavy clay. This made production difficult. The farmer intended to install tunnel greenhouses to enable a range of produce to be grown all year round. He was also planning to acquire two other farms, one in Lincolnshire and another in Scotland.

Extra labour would be required. ‘What I need is a reliable workforce at reasonable cost. That’s where you come in. I want you to start straightaway. Leave Juris to run things here. He’s capable of controlling the other workers and reliable enough to take charge when I’m not about. That’s going to be increasingly often.’

Zydrumas stubbed his cigarette out and opened the gate. The farmer had just made his day. He was about to do the same for Juris.

Billy reached the allotments. The Immigrunts would have to stop work soon. Then they’d walk back along this track. Back from the work they’d stolen from people like Billy, towards the houses they’d stolen from people like Billy.

This was what he’d been told. Billy had never applied for a job in his life. He wouldn’t have wanted a job if he’d been offered one. The Floyd family already had a house, provided free of charge courtesy of the local authority and any number of social security benefits. Billy didn’t think of this. All he knew was he hated Immigrunts. He’d torched a gippovan. Now he was going to go one better.

He reached the place he’d picked, hid behind an elm tree and eased the knife from its sheath. A quarter of an hour passed. Then he heard footsteps. Billy strained his eyes. He peered through the foliage. Someone was walking on the path. Billy edged forward. The footsteps approached, slowly. The man on the path wasn’t hurrying. Billy moved further forward. A twig snapped under his foot.

Silence. Then the man called out, ‘What is it? Who is there?’

The accent was enough. Billy launched himself forward. He raised his arm. The blade gleamed as he brought the knife down. He struck again. This time there was no reflection from the blade. Or the next time, or the next.

chapter seven

‘What are you doing this weekend?’

Clara looked up from the paperwork. ‘David’s home on leave – we’re going rock climbing. He’s picking me up. I’ll need gallons of coffee to stay awake on Monday. What about you?’

‘Not much. I’ll probably go for a pint. I was going to La Giaconda, but I’ll give it a miss this week.’

Clara burst out laughing. ‘Still frightened of the Mafia?’

‘Too right. I’d a message on my voicemail from her brother.’

‘What did he say?’

‘Just, “Hello Michael, we need to talk about my sister. Call me”.’

‘No name?’

Nash shook his head.

‘Well, that’s easy enough. Dial 1471 and it’ll give you his number.’

‘Damn! I never thought of that. No good now – I’ve had a load of calls since.’

‘You didn’t recognize his voice?’

‘No chance. My answer machine’s got a fault. Everyone sounds like Frankie Valli on helium.’

‘Where will you go for a drink?’

‘The Horse and Jockey. It’s a good pint, and I want to find out how your other boyfriend’s getting on with his new dog.’

Clara looked at him suspiciously. ‘My other boyfriend?’

‘Jonas Turner. The one who calls you Sergeant Miniver. He asks about you whenever I go in.’

‘Oh, him. What’s this about a dog?’

‘He bought a Jack Russell to keep rats off his allotment. Apparently he was conned into it by one of his cronies. He was asking for advice and his mate sold him a Jack. Told Jonas they were “ferocious little buggers, one man dogs and it took a bite out of his missus’s leg”. Jonas was sold on the idea, much to his wife’s annoyance. She’s trying to make its life as miserable as Jonas’s. I want to find out how the training’s going.’

‘What training?’

‘He’s trying to teach it to bite his wife.’

‘That’s cruel.’

‘I’ll tell him you’re threatening to call the RSPCA, shall I?’

‘I didn’t mean that.’

It was almost midnight when Nash left the pub. The door to his flat was in deep shadow. He located the lock, but couldn’t get the key in. After three attempts, he worked out that the key was upside down. He was about to open the door when a voice behind him whispered, ‘Hello, Michael.’

The key fell onto the pavement with a clatter. ‘Oh bugger!’ Nash exclaimed. He squinted. ‘I didn’t expect you,’ he said weakly.

‘I said I’d be back. Didn’t you get my texts?’

‘Er, yes,’ he mumbled. ‘I’ve been busy though.’

‘I can see that. Are you going to invite me in?’

‘Oh yes, sorry. I’ll just find my keys.’

She bent down and scooped the ring off the pavement. ‘Let me.’ She opened the door, then guided him through the hall and into the lounge.

He smiled at her. ‘God, you’re lovely.’

‘And you, Michael, are drunk. I hope you’re not too drunk. I’ve been travelling for fifteen hours. I don’t want the journey to be wasted.’ She began to unfasten his shirt. Gently she fingered the puckered edges of the healed scar on his chest. ‘What’s this?’

Nash looked down and shrugged. ‘Perils of the job. I was shot by a madman who objected when I tried to arrest him.’

‘A bit of an extreme reaction. Does it cause you any problems?’

He grinned. ‘I hope not. You can judge if it affects my performance.’

Later, Nash said, ‘I’ve a confession to make.’

‘What is it?’

The beer had removed his inhibitions. ‘I’ve forgotten your name.’

Her rich peal of laughter rang around the bedroom. ‘But, Michael,’ she told him reproachfully, ‘how could you forget my name?’

‘I don’t know,’ he confessed miserably. ‘I realize it’s unforgivable.’

‘That’s not what I meant. How could you forget my name when I’ve never told you it?’

Nash sat bolt upright. ‘You mean that? I’ve been racking my brains to remember, and all the time you never told me? I don’t believe you. Are you pulling my leg?’

Her reply was another outburst of laughter, smothered by Nash.

As dawn was breaking, their sleep was interrupted by the phone ringing.

Nash listened. ‘I’ll be right there.’

He looked at her. ‘Sorry, I’ve got to go.’

‘What’s happened?’

‘A body’s been found. It sounds like murder.’

‘When will you be back?’

‘I’ve no idea. I can’t tell whether I’ll be four hours or forty-eight.’

She pulled the covers round her. As he began to get up she reached across. ‘I think you need an incentive.’ She kissed him, her tongue exploring his mouth, her hand gently massaging him. Eventually she released him.

‘I’ll be as quick as I can,’ he gasped.

He was halfway through ringing Mironova’s number when he remembered she was off duty. With Pearce on holiday, Helmsdale had no one available. He cancelled the call and dialled Netherdale. ‘Who’ve you got in CID?’

Nash waited a few moments. ‘DC Andrews is on call.’

Nash dialled her home phone number. A few minutes later a drowsy voice answered.

‘Sorry to disturb you, Lisa. It’s Mike Nash. I’ve got a stiff on my hands.’

‘I don’t want to know your personal problems.’

Nash grinned. ‘I mean a body; a murder victim.’

‘You pick your time, don’t you?’

‘I didn’t pick it, any more than the corpse did.’

‘It’s a good job I wasn’t up to no good.’

‘Aren’t you the lucky one.’ Nash looked down. ‘You should hear the complaints I got.’

A sleepy voice from Nash’s bed muttered, ‘You haven’t heard anything yet.’

Lisa said, ‘I’ll be on my way as soon as I’ve got dressed and had a coffee.’

‘A coffee! I wish somebody here would get out of bed and make coffee.’

‘You want coffee, try Starbucks,’ came from the bed.

Lisa continued, ‘Where shall I meet you?’

‘Can you pick me up? I had a few last night, so I don’t want to drive.’

‘Give me half an hour.’

The call to Andrews had been easy. Nash still had to ring the pathologist. He winced at the thought of what Ramirez would say. He hoped it would be in Spanish.

Nash had just finished his coffee when Lisa’s car pulled up.

‘Where are we going?’ she asked.

‘Head for the allotments on the edge of the Westlea. A bloke walking his dog found a body. The victim is male, has multiple stab wounds to his chest and stomach.’

‘Any ID?’

‘Not yet.’

The flashing lights pointed them to the crime scene. The constable keeping onlookers at bay acknowledged Nash and Andrews. ‘The guy who found the body’s over there talking to one of our men,’ he told them.

‘Did you check the body?’

‘No, we thought it better not to disturb anything.’

‘Good man.’ Nash nodded his approval. A tarpaulin sheet hid the body from view. As they got closer Nash stopped dead.

‘What’s matter, Mike?’

He pointed. ‘The man who found the body. I was drinking with him in The Horse and Jockey last night.’

‘Ayup, Mr Nash.’

‘Now then, Jonas. This is a surprise.’

‘Surprise! It were hell of a shock, I can tell you.’

Nash looked down to where the terrier was scrabbling for attention. ‘Now then, Pip.’ Nash bent and stroked the dog. ‘Did you find the body? We’ll make a police dog of you yet. You’re out and about early, Jonas.’

‘This is one of my busiest days. Greengrocer calls on his way back from market. I’ve to be ’ere to load him up. Then I let Pip have a run before I go back home for t’ toast the wife’s cremated.’ Jonas’s gaze strayed to Lisa. His eyes sparkled pleasurably.

‘Who’s this then?’ He nodded towards Andrews. ‘What have you done with Sergeant Miniver? Don’t tell me she’s been transferred?’

Nash smiled. ‘Don’t worry, Jonas. She’s off duty, that’s all. This is Detective Constable Andrews.’

Turner surveyed the replacement. ‘By gum, Mr Nash, they’ve got it right when they call it a bobby’s job. You surround yourself with some smashers, don’t you? Pleased to meet you, Miss Andrews. You’d better watch yourself with Mr Nash. He’s allus got one girl or another on his arm.’

Jonas winked conspiratorially at Lisa. ‘Aye, I reckon he’s a bad lad, is our Mr Nash.’

‘Don’t worry,’ Lisa told him cheerfully, ‘we all know that. Anyway, I’m spoken for.’

Turner’s face fell. ‘Damn. And there I was, thinking my luck had changed.’

Nash reverted to business. ‘What time did you find the body?’

Turner scratched his head thoughtfully – no mean feat for one wearing a flat cap. ‘It were just gone five o’clock when I left home. Takes me quarter of an hour to get here, so I’d be at t’ allotment by about quarter past, twenty past at latest.’

‘Was there anybody about?’

‘Not a soul. I’d have noticed, specially at that time.’

‘How long did it take you to load the produce?’

‘I’d to cut it, or dig it up. Then wash t’ mud off, say half an hour, three quarters at most. We’d been walking about ten minutes afore we found t’ poor chap.’ Turner gestured to the tarpaulin.

‘So we’re talking about six o’ clock to half past,’ Nash suggested.

‘Aye, that’d be about right. Then I’d to bike it into town to phone your lot. I tried t’ boxes over there,’ Turner jerked a thumb towards the Westlea, ‘but they’d all been vandalised. If you work back from t’ time I called in, say a quarter of an hour afore that.’

‘Did you look at the body?’ Nash asked.

‘I saw enough.’ Jonas shuddered.

‘Did you recognize him?’

Turner scratched his head again. ‘I did and I didn’t.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘I don’t know who he is…was. But I’ve seen him about. Never spoken to him, but I noticed him round here a time or two.’

‘When you say “round here” where do you mean?’

‘I’ve seen him a few times on this path. Enough for me to think, There’s that chap again, if you get me.’

‘Okay, that’ll do. We’ll need a statement later, but we’ll let you get off for your breakfast. We don’t want your wife worrying.’

‘That’ll be the day.’ Turner sniffed. ‘It’ll be cinders by now.’

They watched Turner walk towards the allotments. ‘That doesn’t sound like a marriage made in heaven,’ Lisa suggested. ‘What makes a man so bitter about his wife?’

‘You haven’t met her.’

They were interrupted by the uniformed officer. ‘The pathologist’s here.’

‘This should be fun,’ Nash said, as they approached Ramirez. ‘Good morning, Professor.’

‘It was,’ the pathologist said sourly. ‘Can’t you save your necrophilia until normal hours?’

‘I didn’t choose the time,’ Nash protested. ‘You know DC Andrews, do you?’

Ramirez nodded. ‘Don’t get hooked up with Nash,’ he told her. ‘Not unless you share his passion for cadavers.’

‘We’ll let you get on with your examination,’ Nash told him. ‘Check the body for identification, will you? We’ll be over by the road when you’ve finished.’

The SOCO team were stringing their incident tape in a wide circle round the area when Ramirez reported back. ‘There’s nothing to identify the victim. A couple of the coat pockets were inside out. There are several stab wounds to the chest and abdomen. Any of them would have caused death. The deceased has been deceased for between ten and fifteen hours. That’s as much as I can tell you until the post-mortem.’ Ramirez nodded to Andrews and walked briskly to his car.

‘What’s the significance of the pockets?’

Nash looked at Lisa. ‘Removal of identification, I guess. Whether that was to make our job harder, or whether there’s a deeper significance, I’m not sure. We need to ask Turner if he was at the allotment late yesterday and whether he saw anything then. Let’s give him chance to digest his cremated toast. Then we can take him with us to Helmsdale station and get his statement. I’ll have a word with the SOCO leader, then we’ll get something to eat.’

‘There were nobody about yesterday afternoon.’

‘Have you noticed anyone hanging about there recently, Jonas?’

‘I don’t know if it’s worth owt, but I noticed a car there a couple of days ago.’

‘You don’t happen to know the make or model?’

Nash was surprised when Turner said, ‘Aye, I do.’

Nash looked up.

‘It were a Superdo.’

‘A what?’

‘A Superdo. One of them sporty things. A Superdo Impressor, I think they call ’em.’

The fog in Nash’s brain cleared. ‘You mean a Subaru Impreza?’

‘Aye, that’s reet.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘Next-door neighbour’s son; spoiled rotten. Soon as he got a licence they bought him one of them Superdos. He super-did it up.’ Jonas chuckled at his own joke. ‘It made a hell of a racket. All hours of t’ day and night. He had it a year; then wrote t’ bugger off. We all slept better after that – until t’ little sod bought a motorbike.’

‘I can see how that might stick in your memory,’ Nash agreed. ‘Can you tell us anything more about the Subaru near the allotments? Colour, for example?’

‘It were a sort of mucky green,’ Turner told him. ‘And it were ought four red chester.’

Nash glanced at Lisa, who looked completely nonplussed.

‘Sorry, I don’t follow you,’ Nash was forced to admit.

‘Superdo near t’ allotments. It were an ought four red chester.’

This time Nash caught on. ‘You mean a nought four registration?’ Turner nodded. ‘2004. You can’t remember the number, can you?’

‘No, sorry.’

‘If you remember anything else, let me know. Or DC Andrews,’ he added. He saw the sparkle in Turner’s eyes and threw in a further incentive. ‘If it’s after the weekend you can tell Sergeant Mironova.’

‘I’ll do what I can for ’er, Mr Nash,’ Turner promised with a salacious leer.

chapter eight

The murder kept Nash busy throughout Saturday. When he returned home, he found a note on the breakfast bar. ‘Got to go to Milan tonight. See you soon, x.’

Nash smiled. She was teasing him, and he couldn’t do anything about it. He settled down for the evening. He’d reports to read, but decided they could wait. He flicked the television on to watch Match of the Day. The theme music hadn’t finished before he was sound asleep. He slept through two hours of TV before dragging himself to bed.

Next morning he felt refreshed and was up and about before 7 a.m. He brewed coffee and sat at the table. He pulled the folders out of his briefcase and began studying them. The report on the caravan fire confirmed Curran’s suspicions. Nash’s face was grim as he read the cold facts.

He turned his attention to the Vickers file. There were only a few days before the prisoner would be released. He picked up his phone. Fifteen minutes later, he set off for Felling Prison.

‘I want you to reconsider your decision. If you come back, there’s going to be trouble. It’s already started. Your house was broken into a couple of nights ago. You nearly didn’t have a home to go to.’

Vickers lifted his head. ‘What do you mean?’

‘The intruders set a fire. The fire brigade managed to put it out before it did much harm.’

‘What was the damage?’

‘The fire was contained in the lounge.’

‘And that’s all it was? The fire, I mean? There wasn’t anything stolen?’

‘Not that I’m aware.’ Nash saw the prisoner relax.

‘So, it’s started already.’ Vickers didn’t seem particularly upset or shocked. He’d been concerned about something, though.

‘You were expecting this.’

Vickers nodded. ‘I knew something would happen.’

‘Because of what you’ve done?’

Vickers’ laugh was devoid of humour. ‘Because of what I represent.’

‘I don’t follow.’

‘Some people regard me as a threat. But I can’t expect you to understand.’

‘Why don’t you try me? In a few days’ time you’ll be out of here. That doesn’t mean you’ll be free. You’ll be watched by us; your movements will be restricted. There are people who won’t be happy until you’re dead. And yet you still insist on returning to Helmsdale? You must be crazy.’

If Vickers was alarmed, it didn’t show. ‘The ones who fear me; they’re the reason I must return.’

‘Then tell me what you know; what you suspect. Give me some idea how to protect you.’

When Vickers replied, his voice was barely above a whisper. ‘My life doesn’t matter. Other things are more important. I’ll tell you when I’m back in Helmsdale. Not before.’

Monday morning found Tom Pratt in Helmsdale along with Clara, listening to Nash. ‘That was it. I tried to make him change his mind. I suggested he put the house up for sale and move elsewhere. He wouldn’t hear of it. I told him how much the house is worth. He wasn’t interested. He reckons people are after him because he represents some sort of threat. About what, and who they are, he wouldn’t say.’

‘You don’t think this is an act?’ Clara asked.

‘It could be. Or it may be Vickers doesn’t know anything.’

‘Do you still think he might be innocent?’

Pratt looked surprised by her question. ‘You’re not serious? Mike, you’ve read the evidence. There can’t be any doubt.’

Nash explained his reservations. Pratt shook his head. ‘I don’t agree,’ he muttered.

‘Let’s see what Vickers has to say when he’s in Helmsdale. In the meantime, we’ve more pressing problems.’

Nash explained about the body found near the allotments. ‘We need a description circulating to the media. I want a description of the dead man in tonight’s paper,’ Nash told Clara. ‘Call the Gazette. Ask them to send someone over. The sooner we get identification, the sooner we can start looking for a motive. At present we’re just sitting on our hands singing psalms.’

‘That’s an interesting concept,’ Clara commented.

‘Any clues from the crime scene?’ Pratt asked.

Nash shook his head. ‘SOCO reported this morning. It didn’t amount to much. There are some footprints in the undergrowth close to where the body was found. Apart from that we’ve a sighting of a car. But they could be coincidence.’

‘Hardly conclusive. Anything more on the caravan deaths?’

‘Only to confirm it was arson.’

‘No clues on that either?’

‘Forensics picked up a substance from the undergrowth close to the caravan. It was semen. They’ve gone for DNA profiling on it. It’s probably nothing to do with the fire. On the other hand, we’ve to look at every scrap of evidence.’

‘If that’s all, I’m off back to Netherdale. I’m seeing your friend King this afternoon. He’ll want a detailed report. Shall I give him your love?’ Pratt saw Nash’s expression. ‘Very well,’ he laughed. ‘I won’t bother.’

Clara watched the superintendent leave. ‘He’s in a genial mood today. Surprising when you think what’s going on.’

‘He’s not got long to go to his pension, that’s probably got a lot to do with it. How was your weekend? Did you get high with the galloping major?’

‘That man’s got far too much energy.’ Clara saw Nash’s raised eyebrows and blushed. ‘That’s not what I meant. He had me dashing up and down mountains all day Saturday and yesterday. I’ve come to work for a rest. How was your weekend?’

‘Nothing special, except I found out I don’t have amnesia.’ Nash explained about the practical joke.

‘Good for her,’ Clara approved. ‘It’s time somebody took you down a peg or two.’

‘For that you can make the coffee.’ Nash scowled.

When Clara returned, Nash handed her some paperwork. ‘These are the notes I made after I’d seen Vickers.’

Clara’s coffee had gone cold by the time she finished reading. ‘Your doubts about Vickers are stronger than ever.’

‘Yes. Either he’s bluffing or there’s something wrong about the whole case. One thing’s certain. He doesn’t care what happens. Nothing’s going to stop him coming back to Helmsdale.’

‘Are you visiting him again?’

‘I said I’d pick him up on Friday.’

‘Then we’d better start planning.’

They were interrupted by the phone. Nash answered, and after a few seconds he began to smile. ‘I thought you were going to be longer. What do you want to do? That’s fine. I need all the help I can get. No, she’s not much help. All she does is sit here, making snide remarks about my love life and being generally insubordinate. And her coffee’s lousy. Give me chance to clear it with HR. Call me later today.’

‘Pearce?’ Clara guessed, as Nash replaced the receiver.

‘Yes, the second leg of his holiday was cancelled. Something to do with an airline strike. He wants to come back to work.’

‘And the crack about me being insubordinate? What did Viv say about that?’

‘He said, “Nothing’s changed then”.’

Appleyard was in his study. After a few minutes’ thought, he picked up his pen and started to write. He set down a few sentences, paused and read them aloud.

He gathered his thoughts and began scribbling again. Eventually he put his pen down and read through the speech, altering a word here, a phrase there.

Appleyard would need to show it to Rathmell before the residents’ meeting on Friday. He made a note to print off a press release. No point in making the speech if nobody read or heard it.

He picked up the phone to call Rathmell. He felt a glow of pride: he was about to announce a new political philosophy. ‘Where do you want to meet?’ he asked eagerly.

Rathmell frowned. ‘I’m a bit pushed for time. Better make it in Helm Woods. If you drive along the road by the river, you’ll come to a picnic area opposite the bridge over the Helm. Take the path through the woods. After about a mile it crosses the path for Kirk Bolton. Turn right and you’ll see a clearing. I’ll be waiting for you there, seven o’clock tonight.’

Rathmell finished the call and dialled another number. ‘Are you free this evening? I’ve to meet the councillor at 7 p.m. in the clearing. I’ll get rid of him as quickly as I can. I’ll see you straight after. I’ll bring a rug so we can be comfortable. I’m getting a bit tired of the confines of the car, even the Merc.’ Rathmell cast a swift glance round before continuing, ‘She’s talking about a two-week trip to America, which means I’ll have this place to myself.’

chapter nine

Netherdale Gazette was not blessed with limitless resources or the backing of a large conglomerate. The paper was owned by the Pollard family. They took an active part in the running of the daily. The founder had been involved until he was into his eighties. His two sons divided their responsibilities: the elder brother ran the newspaper whilst his sibling managed the other family enterprises. When they retired, the editorial duties were handed to the eldest grandson. Nor did the family’s involvement rest purely with the male side: Helen Pollard had been features and women’s editor for many years. Now nearing retirement, she was grooming her niece Becky to succeed her.

Becky, a good-looking and popular girl in her early thirties, was responsible for overseeing such technological advances as the paper could afford. She also acted as staff photographer and relief reporter.

It was in the photography role that Tucker soug