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Authors: Neil White

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Dead Silent

BOOK: Dead Silent
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NEIL WHITE

Dead Silent

AVON

Although my name appears on the cover,
Dead Silent
wasn’t written in isolation and then sent straight to the printers. My best efforts were scrutinised by my editors at Avon, Maxine Hitchcock and Keshini Naidoo, and I am eternally grateful for the advice they gave throughout the whole process, as well as for the hard work of all those who work at Avon, especially Sammia and Kate. Without them, I wouldn’t be writing these acknowledgements in my fourth book. In particular, I would like to thank my agent, Sonia Land, for giving me the opportunity to work with Avon.

My family has to bear the brunt of my writing distractions, with many evenings and weekends lost to my books, with many more lost hours still to come. It may be that they prefer it that way, but just in case they don’t, I can only thank them for their patience.

The rest of you, especially the people I meet at library events and by email, thank you for making my job more interesting and for reading my books, and I look forward to meeting more of you in the future.

Neil White

To Thomas, Samuel and Joseph, as always

Table of Contents

Cover

Title Page

Epigraph

Dedication

May 1988

Chapter One—Present Day

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

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Four

Chapter Forty-Five

Chapter Forty-Six

Chapter Forty-Seven

Chapter Forty-Eight

Chapter Forty-Nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-One

Chapter Fifty-Two

Chapter Fifty-Three

Chapter Fifty-Four

Chapter Fifty-Five

Chapter Fifty-Six

Chapter Fifty-Seven

Chapter Fifty-Eight

Chapter Fifty-Nine

Chapter Sixty

Chapter Sixty-One

Chapter Sixty-Two

Chapter Sixty-Three

Chapter Sixty-Four

Chapter Sixty-Five

Chapter Sixty-Six

Chapter Sixty-Seven

Chapter Sixty-Eight

Chapter Sixty-Nine

Chapter Seventy

Chapter Seventy-One

Chapter Seventy-Two

Chapter Seventy-Three

Chapter Seventy-Four

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

DEAD SILENT

By the same author

Copyright

About the Publisher

May 1988

Bill Hunter looked through the wrought-iron gates as he came to a halt outside Claude Gilbert’s house. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve, the interior of the police car heavy with the first real promise of summer, and turned to his passenger, Paul Roach, a fresh-faced young officer with scrubbed cheeks and the swagger of youth on his side.

‘Do you know why houses like this are on a hill?’ Hunter said, and pointed towards the large Edwardian property, a square block of sandstone walls and white corners, roses creeping around the edges, a wide gravel drive leading to the doors at the front.

Roach didn’t seem interested, responding with a shrug.

‘It kept the professionals out of the smog when the mills were running,’ Hunter continued. ‘It was peasants like us who had to live in the valley, where the smoke from the chimneys choked us every day.’

Like Rome, Blackley had been built on seven hills, except that Blackley’s majesty didn’t go much beyond the terraced strips and large stone cotton mills that scarred the once-green slopes.

‘The clogs and machinery are long gone, old man,’ Roach said, and then he looked back to the house and smiled. ‘I wouldn’t mind a piece of this though.’

‘What about the old-fashioned stuff, like making a difference?’ Hunter said.

Roach nodded at the sheen on Hunter’s worn-out trousers and the scuffs on his shoes. ‘You’re not a great career advert,’ he said.

Hunter turned off the engine and it seemed suddenly quiet, the bustle of the town centre out of earshot, just the long curve of the street in front of them, the houses bordered by ivy-covered high walls. He reached for his jacket and climbed out of the car.

Roach joined him on the pavement and looked around. ‘So where has Gilbert gone?’ he said.

‘We won’t find out standing here,’ Hunter said, and he pushed at the gate, the creak from the old hinges the only sound in the street.

‘Do you think they’ll serve us strawberries on the lawn?’ Roach said.

Hunter shook his head, and then, as the gates clanged against the supporting brick pillars, he stepped onto the gravel drive, the confetti of cherry blossom blowing against his shoes.

‘What’s he like, Claude Gilbert?’ Roach asked.

‘Depends on which Claude you mean,’ Hunter said. ‘The television Claude, the morning show legal expert, the media’s favourite barrister—he’s a real charmer.’

‘And the courthouse Claude?’ Roach said.

‘Like a lot of them, stars in their own universe,’ Hunter said. ‘When you’ve been in the job longer, and you’ve been spat on and punched and uncovered sudden deaths, then maybe you’ll look at lawyers’ houses and wonder why they get so much when we do all the dirty work.’

‘It’s a great view though,’ Roach replied, looking along the lawns, and when he heard Hunter grunt his disapproval,
he added: ‘You’re a dinosaur, Bill. The miners’ strike ended the class war. Do you remember them all marching back? That was the end of the revolution, so let’s cut out the working-class hero stuff. Thatcher won.’

Hunter scowled as he watched Roach march towards the double doors at the front of the house.

‘When were they last seen?’ Roach shouted over his shoulder.

‘About a week ago,’ Hunter replied.

‘So it could be a holiday.’

‘Claude’s chambers don’t think so. He’s halfway through an assault trial, and by disappearing they’ve had to abort it.’

‘What, you think they’ve run away?’

‘It depends on why they’ve gone,’ Hunter replied. ‘Bit of a gambler is Claude, so the rumours go. Maybe he’s had that big loss that always comes along eventually. If Mrs Gilbert is used to all of this, the fancy furniture, the dinner parties, the cash, she’s not going to settle for nothing. They could have emptied their accounts and gone somewhere.’

Roach didn’t look convinced. ‘House prices are rising. There’ll be plenty of money tied up in this place.’

Hunter took a step back and looked up at the house. The curtains were drawn in every window. ‘Maybe he got too involved in a case? Lawyers think they’re immune, but they’re not, and they’re dealing with some real nasty people. I know judges who have been threatened, just quiet words when they’re out with their wives, thinking that no one knows who they are.’ He stepped forward and pressed his face against one of the stained glass panels. ‘There’s a few letters on the floor, so they haven’t been here for a while.’

‘What do we do?’ Roach asked, looking around.

Hunter followed his gaze. There was someone watching them from the other side of the road, a teenager, a newspape
delivery bag on his shoulder. ‘Go ask him if he knows anything.’

Roach paused for a moment, and then he shrugged and walked away. Hunter watched him until he was a few yards away, and then he rammed his elbow into the glass in the door. When Roach whirled around at the noise, Hunter shrugged and said, ‘Slipped,’ before he reached in and turned the Yale lock. Roach pulled a face before heading back to the house.

The pile of letters scraped along the tiled floor as Hunter pushed open the door. He pointed at the envelopes. ‘See how far back the postmarks go.’

Hunter squinted as his eyes adjusted to the darkness inside. The hallway stretched ahead of them, with stairs leading upwards, the stained glass around the doors casting red and blue shadows along the wall. They both crinkled their noses. The house smelled stale.

Hunter looked into the living room to his left. Nothing unusual in there. Two sofas and a television hidden away in a wooden cabinet, crystal bowls on a dresser, nothing broken. There was a room on the other side of the hallway dominated by a long mahogany table.

‘No sign of a disturbance,’ he said. ‘What about the letters?’

‘These go back a couple of days,’ Roach said, flicking through them. ‘Bills and credit card statements mostly.’

Hunter went along the hall to the kitchen. It was a long room, with high sash windows looking along the garden. There was a yellow Aga and a battered oak table, and china mugs hung from hooks underneath dusty cupboards.

‘They hadn’t planned to leave,’ Roach said. When Hunter turned around, Roach was bathed in the light of the open fridge door, holding a half-empty milk bottle. ‘This is turning into yoghurt. They would have thrown it away.’

Hunter scratched his head. He ambled over to the window and looked out at the two lawns, green and lush, separated by a gravel path. There was an elaborate fountain in one corner of the garden, with a wide stone basin and a Grecian statue of a woman holding an urn, with a steel and glass summer house in the other. Hunter could see the bright fronds of plants.

Hunter looked downwards, at the floor and the walls, and then out at the garden again. He was about to say something when something drew his eye, a detail in the garden that didn’t seem quite right. He looked closer, wondering what he’d seen that had grabbed his attention, his eyes working faster than his mind, when he realised that it was the lawn itself. It was flat all the way along, green and even, but there was a patch near the back wall where it looked churned up, as if soil had been newly piled up on it.

‘What do you think to that?’ Hunter said, before turning around to see Roach kneeling down, examining the skirting and the wall. ‘What is it?’

Roach looked up, his brow furrowed, his cockiness gone. ‘It looks like dried blood,’ he said. ‘And there’s some more on the wall.’

Hunter followed his gaze; he saw it too. Just specks, and some faint brown smears on the white wall tiles, as if someone had tried to clean it away.

‘What do we do?’ Roach said.

Hunter pursed his lips, knowing that he was in a lawyer’s home, and lawyers can make trouble.

But blood was blood.

‘You can forget about your strawberries,’ Hunter said, and headed for the garden. As Roach joined him, Hunter lit a cigarette and made for the path that ran between the lawns.

‘Where are you going?’ Roach shouted.

‘Gardening,’ was the reply.

Hunter walked quickly down the path, towards the disturbed patch of grass at the end of the garden. He stopped next to the soil beds beside the high garden wall, just before the path wound round towards the summer house. Hunter pointed. ‘Can you see that?’

Roach looked and shrugged. ‘Can I see what?’

‘Soil,’ Hunter replied. ‘On the grass, and there on the path.’ He pointed at some more dark patches. ‘Someone’s been doing some digging round here.’

‘It’s a garden,’ Roach said. ‘It’s what people do.’

Hunter ignored him and strode onto the soil beds, dragging his foot along the ground, his face stern with concentration. Then he stopped. He looked at Roach, and then pointed downwards.

‘It’s looser here,’ he said. ‘Crumblier, less dense. And there’s soil on the lawn and the path. Perhaps they thought it would be rained away, but it’s been hot all week.’ Hunter pointed to an old wooden shed, painted green, on the other side of the garden. ‘Get some spades.’

Roach looked aghast. ‘We can’t rip up a barrister’s house just because we’ve found some old blood.’

‘Is that because he’s a barrister?’

‘Yes,’ Roach answered, exasperated, ‘because he can make trouble for us if we get it wrong.’

Hunter drew on his cigarette. ‘We can wait for the rest of the squad to arrive, and they can get the excavators in here because you saw spilled gravy.’

Roach looked uncertain.

‘Or we could dig a hole and then fill it back in again,’ Hunter said.

Roach waved his hand to show that he had relented. ‘Just the flower bed,’ he said, his voice wary, and then he walked
over to the shed. When he returned, he was holding two spades. He rejoined Hunter by the soil bed and said, ‘Someone’s been ripping that shed apart.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Just that,’ Roach replied. ‘All the slats from the back are gone.’

‘We’ll dig first before we worry about vandals,’ Hunter said, and thrust the spade into the dirt.

It was hot work: after twenty minutes of digging their shirts were soaked and they had wiped dirty sweat trails across their foreheads. They were about two feet down when Roach cried out in disgust, ‘What the fuck is all that?’

Hunter looked down. There was movement in the soil. Flies started to appear out of the dirt, their tiny wings making a soft hum around Hunter’s head. Roach scraped again at the soil, and then Hunter heard the soft thud of spade on wood. He looked at Roach and saw that he had gone pale, his sleeve over his mouth.

‘It stinks,’ Roach muttered, and that’s when Hunter caught the stench; it was one he recognised, like gone-off meat, beef left on a warm shelf.

Hunter grimaced and started to move the soil from whatever it was that Roach’s spade had hit. Another swarm of flies buzzed around Hunter’s spade; as the soil was removed, the thudding sounds from his spade became louder, acquiring an echo. They looked at each other, both sensing that they were about to find something they didn’t want to see.

When they had finished, Roach climbed out of the hole and looked down. ‘It’s the same wood as on the shed,’ he said.

Hunter took a deep breath. Their digging had exposed wooden planks, painted green, wedged into the hole. The planks had supported the soil, and the hollow sounds that came from beneath told Hunter that there was a cavity.

‘Who’s going to look first?’ Roach asked.

‘It might be a dog,’ Hunter said.

Roach shook his head. ‘That’s more than a dog.’

Hunter grimaced and then lay down on his chest so that he could reach into the hole. He moved the remnants of dirt from the end of the planks with his fingers, breathing through his mouth all the time to avoid the stink of whatever was in there and shaking his head to swat away the flies. He managed to ease his fingers under one of the pieces of wood and pulled at it, until he felt it move and was able to shove it to one side. Sunlight streamed into the hole and he heard Roach step away quickly before his lunch splashed onto the path nearby. Hunter clenched his jaw and swallowed hard, the smell making him gag.

The sunlight caught a body, naked, a woman with long dark hair.

Hunter pulled at another plank, and then one more, laying them on the lawn next to the hole, and then he stood up, taking deep breaths.

Roach turned back to the hole. ‘Fuck me,’ he whispered, wiping his mouth.

In the hole was a woman, crammed into the space, curled up on her side, her face green, her dark hair over her face, with blood on her shoulders and dirt on her bare legs. The hole was small, barely enough space to contain her, not enough room to stretch out.

As Hunter looked, he noticed something else. He lay on the floor again, just to have a closer look, and then he struggled to his feet. He looked at Roach. ‘It’s worse than that,’ he said, his face pale.

‘How can it be worse?’ Roach said.

‘Look at her hands,’ Hunter said, his face ashen. ‘Can you see her fingers, all bloodied and shredded?’

Roach didn’t answer, quiet now.

Hunter pulled the boards towards them and turned them over. ‘Look at the underside.’ Roach looked. ‘There are scratchmarks.’

‘I see them,’ replied Roach.

Hunter turned to Roach. ‘Do you know what that means?’

Roach nodded slowly, his face pale too.

‘She was buried alive.’

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