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Authors: Paul Cleave

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Cemetery Lake

BOOK: Cemetery Lake
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Cemetery lake

by

PAUL CLEAVE

 

What began as a routine exhumation of a suspected murder victim quickly turns complicated for private investigator Theodore Tate…Theo Tate is barely coping with life since his world was turned upside down two years ago. As he stands in the cold and rainy cemetery, overseeing the exhumation, the lake opposite the graveyard begins to release its grip on the murky past. When doubts are raised about the true identity of the body found in the coffin, the case takes an even more sinister turn. Tate knows he should walk away and let his former colleagues in the police deal with it, but against his better judgement he takes matters into his own hands. With time running out and a violent killer on the loose, will Tate manage to stay one step ahead of the police? Or will the secrets he has buried so deeply be unearthed?

 

Also by Paul Cleave

The Cleaner

The Killing Hour

 

S

Published by Arrow Books 2009

13579 10 8642

Copyright S Paul Cleave, 2008

 

Paul Cleave has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

This book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

First published in New Zealand in 2008 by

Black Swan, an imprint of Random House New Zealand

 

First published in Great Britain in 2009 by

Arrow Books

The Random House Group Limited

20 VauxhaU Bridge Road, London, SW1V 2SA

 

www.rbooks.co.uk

Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at: www.randomhouse.co.uk/omces.htm

The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

 

A ZIP catalogue record for this book

is available from the British Library

ISBN 9780099536253

 

The Random House Group Limited supports The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the leading international forest certification organisation. All our tides that are printed on Greenpeace approved FSC certified paper carry the FSC logo.

Our paper procurement policy can be found at

www.rbooks.co.uk/environment

 

Printed and bound in Great Britain by

CPI Cox & Wyman, Reading, RG1 8EX

6 pounds 99 pence

 

To Joe — who got the ball rolling

chapter one

Blue fingernails.

They’re what have me out here, standing in the cold wind,

shivering. The blue fingernails aren’t mine but attached to

somebody else — some dead guy I’ve never met before. The

Christchurch sun that was burning my skin earlier this afternoon has gone. It’s the sort of inconsistent weather I’m used to. An hour ago I was sweating. An hour ago I wanted to take the day

off and head down to the beach. Now I’m glad I didn’t. My own

fingernails are probably turning blue, but I don’t dare look.

I’m here because of a dead guy. Not the one in the ground

in front of me, but one still down at the morgue. He’s acting

as casual as a guy can whose body has been snipped open and

stitched back together like a rag doll. Casual for a guy who died from arsenic poisoning.

I tighten my coat but it doesn’t help against the cold wind.

I should have worn more clothes. Should have looked at the

bright sun an hour ago and figured where the day was heading.

The cemetery lawn is long in some places, especially around

the trees where the lawnmower doesn’t hit, and it ripples out

from me in all directions as though I’m the epicentre of a storm.

 

In other places where foot traffic is heavy it’s short and brown where the sun has burned all the moisture away. The nearby

trees are thick oaks that creak loudly and drop acorns around the gravestones. They hit the cement markers, sounding like bones of the dead tapping out an SOS. The air is cold and clammy like a morgue.

I see the first drops of rain on the windscreen of the digger

before I feel them on my face. I turn my eyes to the horizon where gravestones covered in mould roll into the distance towards the city, death tallying up and heading into town. The wind picks up, the leaves of the oaks rustle as the branches let go of more acorns, and I flinch as one hits me in the neck. I reach up and grab it from my collar.

The digger engine revs loudly as the driver, an overweight

guy whose frame bulges at the door, moves into place. He looks about as excited to be here as I am. He is pushing and pulling at an assortment of levers, his face rigid with concentration. The engine hiccups as he positions the digger next to the gravesite, then shudders and strains as the scoop bites into the hardened earth. It changes position, coming up and under, and filling with dirt. The cabin rotates and the dirt is piled onto a nearby tarpaulin.

The cemetery caretaker is watching closely. He’s a young guy

struggling to light a cigarette against the strengthening wind, his hands shaking almost as much as his shoulders. The digger drops two more piles of dirt before the caretaker tucks the cigarettes back into his pocket, giving up. He gives me a look I can’t quite identify, probably because he only manages to make eye contact for a split second before looking away. I’m hoping he doesn’t

come over to complain about evicting somebody from their final resting place, but he doesn’t — just goes back to staring at the hollowed ground.

The vibrations of the digger force their way through my feet

and into my body, making my legs tingle. The tree behind me can feel them too, because it fires more acorns into my neck. I step out of the shade and into the drizzle, nearly twisting my ankle on a few of the ropey roots from the oak that have pushed through the ground. There is a small lake only about fifteen metres away, about the size of an Olympic swimming pool. It’s completely enclosed by the cemetery grounds, fed by an underground stream. It makes this cemetery a popular spot for death, but not for recreation.

Some of the gravesites are close to it, and I wonder if the coffins are affected by moisture. I hope we’re not about to dig up a box full of water.

The driver pauses to wipe his hand across his forehead, as if

operating all of those levers is hot work in these cold conditions.

His glove leaves a greasy mark on his skin. He looks out at the oak trees and areas of lush lawn, the still lake, and he’s probably planning on being buried out here one day. Everybody thinks that when they see this spot. Nice place to be buried. Nice and scenic.

Restful. Like it makes a difference. Like you’re going to know if somebody comes along and chops down all the trees. Still, I guess if you have to be buried somewhere, this place beats out a lot of others I’ve seen.

A second flatbed truck sweeps its way between the gravestones.

It has been pimped out with a wraparound red stripe and fluffy dice in the window, but it hasn’t been cleaned in months and

the rust spots around the edges of the doors and bumper have

been ignored. It pulls up next to the gravesite. A bald guy in grey overalls climbs out from behind the steering wheel and tucks his hands into his pockets and watches the show. A younger guy climbs out the other side and starts playing with his cellphone.

There isn’t much more they can do while the pile of dirt grows higher and higher. I can see the raindrops plinking into the lake, tiny droplets jumping towards the heavens. I make my way over

to its edge. Anything is better than watching the digger doing its job. I can still feel the vibrations. Small pieces of dirt are rolling down the bank of the lake and splashing into the water.

Flax bushes and ferns and a few poplar trees are scattered around the lakeside. Tall reeds stick up near the banks, reaching for the sky. Broken branches and leaves have become waterlogged and

jammed against the bank.

I turn back to the digger when I hear the scoop scrape across

the coffin lid. It sounds like fingers running down a blackboard, and it makes me shiver more than the cold. The caretaker is shaking pretty hard now. He looks cold and pissed off. Until the moment the digger arrived, I thought he was going to chain himself to the gravestone to prevent the uprooting of one of his tenants. He had plenty to say about the moral implications of what we were doing. He acted as though we were digging up the coffin to put him inside.

The digger operator and the two guys from the flatbed pull on

face masks that cover their noses and mouths, then drop into the grave. The overweight guy from the digger moves with the ease

of somebody who has rehearsed this moment over and over. All

three disappear from view, as if they have found a hidden entrance into another world. They spend some time hunched down, apparently figuring out the mechanics to get the chain attached between the coffin and digger. When the chain is secure the driver climbs back into place and the others climb out of the grave. He wipes his forehead again. Raising the dead is sweaty work.

The engine lurches as it takes the weight of the coffin. The

flatbed truck starts up and backs a little closer. With the two machines violently shuddering, more dirt spills from the bank and slides into the water.

About five metres out into the lake, I see some bubbles rising to the surface, then a patch of mud. But there is something else there too. Something dark that looks like an oil patch.

There is a thud as the coffin is lowered onto the back of the

truck. The springs grind downwards from the weight. I can hear the three men talking quickly among themselves, having to nearly shout to be heard over the engines. The cemetery caretaker has disappeared.

The rain is getting heavier. The dark patch rising beneath the water breaks the surface. It looks like a giant black balloon. I’ve seen these giant black balloons before. You hope they’re one thing but they’re always another.

‘Hey, buddy, you might want to take a look at this,’ one of the men calls out.

But I’m too busy looking at something else.

‘Hey? You listening?’ The voice is closer now. ‘We’ve got

something here you need to look at.’

I glance up at the digger operator as he walks over to me. The caretaker is starting to walk over too. Both men look into the water and say nothing.

The black bubble isn’t really a bubble but the back of a jacket.

It hangs in the water, and connected to it is a soccer ball-sized object. It has hair. And before I can answer, another shape bubbles to the surface, and then another, as the lake releases its hold on the past.

chapter two

The case never made the news because it was never a case. It was a slice of life that happens every day, no matter how hard you try to prevent it. It made the back pages where the obituaries are listed, along with the John Smiths of this world who are beloved parents and grandparents and who will be sorely missed. It was a simple story of man-gets-old-and-dies. Read all about it.

It happened two years ago. Some people wake up every

morning and read the obits while downing scrambled eggs and

orange juice, looking for a name that jumps out from their past.

It’s a crazy way to kill a few minutes. It’s like a morbid lottery, seeing whose number has come up, and I don’t know whether

these people find relief when they get to the end and don’t find anybody they know or relief when they do. They’re looking

for a reason; they’re looking for somebody, wanting to make a

connection and to feel their own mortality.

Henry Martins. I pulled those stories from the library

newspaper database this morning just like I did two years ago, and read what people had to say about him when he died, which

wasn’t much. Then again, it’s hard to sum up a person’s life in five lines of six-point text. It’s hard to say how much you’re going to miss them. There were eleven entries for Henry over three

days from family and friends. Nobody made my job easier by

throwing a ‘glad you’re dead’ in with their woeful sorrows, but each obituary read like the others: boring, emotionless. At least that’s the way they come across when you don’t know the guy.

Henry Martins’ daughter came into the station a week after

the old man was buried. She sat down in my office and told me

her dad was murdered. I told her he wasn’t. If he had been, the medical examiner would have stumbled across it. MEs are like

that. It was easy to see she already had both feet firmly on the road of suspicion, and I told her I’d look into it. I did some checking. Henry Martins was a bank manager who left behind

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