Authors: Paul Finch
Published by Avon
An imprint of HarperCollins
1 London Bridge Street
London, SE1 9GF
First published in Great Britain by HarperCollins Publishers 2015
Copyright © Paul Finch 2015
Cover design © Andrew Smith 2015
Paul Finch asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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Ebook Edition © March 2015 ISBN: 9780008135553
PC Mark Heckenburg couldn’t quite remember the name of the road he was parked on. It ran along the top of a sloping, litter-strewn waste ground linking two satellite housing estates together. They weren’t officially designated as ‘satellite estates’, but this was the way he thought of them: small, interwoven clutters of red-brick council houses built far apart from each other to accommodate the rugged, unstable nature of so much of the post-industrial spoil-land that made up Greater Manchester.
Not that Heckenburg, or ‘Heck’ as his colleagues knew him, was paying much attention to his
surroundings. Briefly, he was mesmerised by the blood-red wording of the electronic logo on the distant, square-shouldered structure dominating Quay Street.
Iconic symbol of the North West it might be, but it was an old and venerable signpost now, erected some time back in the mid-’50s. It was now ’97, so that meant it had been perched up there, what, forty years at least? It probably wasn’t in the best condition. No wonder it didn’t seem as brightly lit as it had on those fun shopping trips into Manchester he used to make with his mum and dad when he was a tot. It might even be flickering, though that could have been an optical illusion created by the four miles lying between here and there; four miles crammed with slate roofs, brick chimneys and spindly television aerials, most of which were only visible in outline at this deathly hour.
Granada Television, he thought to himself, wondering briefly what job opportunities there might be over there. Did they take on police advisers for their productions?
It wasn’t a bad idea, that. The problem was, of course, that he’d only been in the job a bit over two years, which would hardly impress anyone, much less a hardnosed TV exec. Anyway, who was he kidding? Heck wasn’t going anywhere. You didn’t vacate a seventeen grand a year gig just because you’d had a run-in with one of your line-managers. Sergeant Crawford was the prize wanker of prize wankers, everyone knew that – he got on all their cases from time to time, though perhaps Heck was more sensitive to it at present because of the problems at home. Either way, you didn’t pack your career in – and that was what Heck had here, not a job, a career! – just because some pompous arse-wipe felt better about himself if he gave out a few needless bollockings now and then.
The dead air of the force radio hissed incessantly, like wind filtered through decayed brickwork. It was a familiar sound to coppers alone on duty in the wee small hours, but it was never less than eerie. It called to mind a desert, or wilderness, creating a sense of isolation, but at the same time putting you on edge, hinting that things were going on out there just beyond the range of your vision and hearing. This was night in the city. A time and place where bad things happened. That
to be the case, otherwise you wouldn’t be here, would you? You wouldn’t be watching from the shadows, a guardian of the peace, but also the hunter waiting patiently for his prey. Of course, none of that necessarily made you feel strong. You were vulnerable too, out here in the dark on your own, condemned by the nature of who you were, to plunge straight in at the first sign of trouble. Oh no, there was nowhere to hide when you were a copper.
That said, not everyone wanted to hide. Some were more than comfortable in this environment, even if they were relatively new to it.
Heck, for one.
His main complaint about dank, misty nights in late autumn was how cold they were, despite his thermal undies, and the thick, black waterproofs he wore over his uniform. But the restricted visibility, the stillness, the spectral mist – creepy yeah, but all for the good if it lured out the bad ’uns. Who knew, maybe tonight it would lure out the Spider himself?
That would suit Heck.
He adjusted the radio’s volume control and sat back, glancing down the slope at the rows of concrete tenements along the bottom. It was so late now that even down there – “Dodge City”, as it was known on the F Division – only one or two lights were still showing; orange and yellow blips in jumbled blackness. Then there was a sharp
on the driver’s window.
Heck whipped around – and saw the pretty, freckle-nosed face of PC Shawna McCluskey grinning through the glass. He slumped back again as she made her way around the front of the police van and climbed into the cab on the passenger side.
‘Thought I was about to catch you napping,’ she chuckled, flipping off her chequer-banded hat, shaking out her long, dark ponytail.
‘Gotta be quicker than that to catch me, McCluskey,’ he replied.
‘Challenge, eh?’ She pulled her gloves off and took a pack of foil-clad sandwiches from her anorak pocket, carefully unwrapping them. ‘Want one of these?’
‘What are they?’
‘Jam and peanut butter.’
‘God almighty …’
‘They’re good!’ she protested, her mouth already full.
‘Great for the waistline too.’
‘Loaded with sugar, yeah. Best thing on nights. Keeps you alert.’
‘I was born alert,’ Heck said, without conviction. He gazed back through the windshield. At present, it was a struggle to raise any enthusiasm for the usual night-shift banter, even with Shawna. ‘What you doing all the way out here, anyway?’
‘I’m on Four-Beat. Where else am I supposed to be?’
‘You still must’ve walked two miles from the nick to get up here.’
‘That’s what you do midweek, isn’t it?’ She munched contentedly.
Heck pondered that. If you liked a bit of action, midweek on nights could be a chore. Even in Salford, combine a midweek night shift with winter weather, and you were looking at tedium personified. One way to deal with that on foot patrol – in fact the
way to deal with it – was to slowly, systematically plod every street on your beat, no matter how far flung they were. Best to keep your eyes peeled and your ears pinned back, of course, but on the whole the emphasis should be on pacing yourself, because you might have nothing else to do but pound those pavements for the entire eight hours. Not that it was much of a problem for Heck. Increasingly these days, he was on mobile patrol. As a young, able-bodied bloke, his ability to arrive promptly at violent incidents was deemed desirable. As such, he generally didn’t have time to get bored.
He wasn’t bored now if he was honest; the main problem with quiet moments like this was the time it gave him to brood.
Official police adviser at Granada TV. Yeah … right.
‘How come you’re not having your grub back at the nick?’ he asked.
‘Too conscientious,’ Shawna replied.
‘You’re entitled to a refs break.’
‘So what? Settle your arse on one of them armchairs at this time of night, and it’s difficult getting off it again.’ She yawned. ‘Doesn’t matter how many jam butties you’ve scoffed. What’s
‘What do you mean?’
‘You’re on the same refs as me, and I don’t see you skedaddling back to the nick.’
He shrugged. ‘Not hungry.’
‘Good answer.’ She crammed the last scrap of sandwich into her mouth, chewed it thoroughly and swallowed. ‘Bollocks too. So what is it really?’
Heck and Shawna were both twenty-one. They’d come through basic training together at Bruche and at GMP’s own establishment, Sedgley Park, and had both been assigned to the F Division at roughly the same time. Though they’d only known each other for that relatively short period, it had been an intensity of experience that had created a real sense of familiarity among all those participating. He ought to have realised she’d detect that something was bugging him.
‘You’re not your usual piss-taking self,’ she added somewhat unnecessarily.
‘It’s nothing,’ he replied.
‘Trouble with your mum and dad again?’
‘Well … there would be trouble with Mum and Dad, but as I’m not living with them anymore, it can’t be that, can it?’
‘Yeah, I forgot … you’ve got a flat in Hag Fold now, haven’t you? Awesome.’
Heck sighed. ‘Excellent question.’
He pondered the crappy new place he was now being forced to live in, and perhaps unsurprisingly, wondered again about his chosen path in life. It was all very well telling himself this was his career. He loved the job for sure; two years in, and he couldn’t picture himself doing anything else. But he’d sort of sidestepped into it. And even now the perverseness of that decision perplexed him. Okay, after years of messing around at school, his qualifications weren’t exactly mind-blowing, so his career options had been limited. However, the police hadn’t been looking for academics, and they’d offered a lot – good money, a unique kind of camaraderie, a guaranteed job for life unless he really fouled up in some way. None of that was to be found in the normal workplace. But his mum and dad, and even his older sister, Dana, had been floored by the decision – and with more than a little justification. Heck’s brother Tom, a drug addict, had died in prison in 1992, having committed suicide after suffering unbearable brutality and sexual abuse at the hands of fellow inmates. He was serving life at the time for a series of violent burglaries for which he’d been framed by a lazy CID unit. The fact that Tom was exonerated shortly afterwards made no difference to the Heckenburg family; nor did the generous compensation they later received. Though a law-abiding clan, from that moment on the police had been their ultimate enemy, their nemesis – and not just the officers responsible, all officers.
And then Heck had gone and joined them.
It didn’t take long for family bewilderment to transform into a sense of anger and betrayal. His garbled explanations hadn’t helped much – all that stuff about it being his only career option, and even less convincingly, that he’d wanted to show the bastards how the job should
be done. He’d used that latter explanation so many times since, and the truth was he didn’t know if he believed it himself. Needless to say, he was shown the door of the family home. He’d opted briefly for police housing; he’d even lodged for a time with his uncle, a local Catholic priest, but that had caused further family disruption. So in the end he’d got his own place, a flat in the aforementioned Hag Fold, which was such a rundown district that it was never likely to satisfy for long.
Only yesterday he’d made yet another cap-in-hand approach to his parents, which was wordlessly rejected. So he now felt he’d reached the end of that particular tether. Quite clearly, there was nothing for him in his hometown of Bradburn. There was no reason ever to go back there, in fact it was
than that. Bradburn was eight miles from Hag Fold and thirteen from Salford. But suddenly even that felt too close for comfort.
So what was the next stage, he wondered. A departure from Manchester. A not-so-fond farewell to the North West itself. He’d recently seen an article that the Metropolitan Police in London were looking to start recruiting again. An experienced constable would almost certainly interest them. That would be another massive rift in his life, but it wasn’t like he’d be saying goodbye to lots of things he’d miss. Sergeant Crawford, for one. Yep, the guy’s arsey attitude earlier this shift had come at just the right time for Heck.
‘Don’t tell me this is all down to that spat you had with Don Crawford,’ Shawna said, again almost able to read his thoughts.
Heck sniffed. ‘By “spat”, you mean that humiliating lecture he subjected me to, which everyone on the Division also overheard?’