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Authors: Andy Oakes

Dragon's Eye

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Dedalus Original Fiction in Paperback

DRAGON’S EYE

Andy Oakes was born in 1952 and is the son of a professional football player and an academic. After his ‘A’ levels he worked as an engineer in the defence industry. His work with young people, on a voluntary basis, led to him producing a photographic study of youth in the inner city for the Gulbenkian Foundation and a career as a professional photographer. Having created a photographic retail franchise business with a staff of twelve and a turnover of over one million pounds, he trained to be a Youth Counsellor. He now lives in East Sussex and works with young people, specialising in alcohol and substance abuse.

DEDICATION

In Memory of my late parents Eva and Len Oakes.

This book is dedicated to Jean, Annie Lucy Oakes and Tom Alexander Oakes.

A special thank you goes to my literary agent, Juri Gabriel and to the writer and teacher, Alan Fisher.

Contents

Title

Dedication

Dedalus Original Fiction in Paperback

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Copyright

Chapter 1

THE BUND (
ZHONGSHAN LU
), SHANGHAI. THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA.

A tide so low.   A night so dark.   A secret so raw.

The bodies of the eight, caked in black river mud and twisted around each other in the strange and silent choreography of death … could not be seen from the Bund, once the most famous street in the East.

Only when down amongst the debris that clogged the Huangpu riverbanks and away from the deep rooted shadows of the grandiose neo-classical edifices that skirted the old commercial heart of Shanghai … could their lifeless limbs be made out. And even more clearly, the dark steel links, the heavy chains that bound the weld of bodies together in death. Leg to leg. Neck to neck. A permanence about the chains, as if they had always rested there between the once living, the once breathing individuals.

*

A dazzle of headlight.    A car door slamming.

The Homicide Squad of the PSB. The tall shadow amongst the smaller shadows … the Senior Investigator. Eyes trained into believing that they had seen it all. Still, Sun Piao felt the shiver slide up his spine; wings of nausea flutter in his chest. With difficulty, moving forward. Swearing, cold mud oozing over the top of his shoe. A few more muttered to himself as his eyes fell upon the gaping holes. Black. Bottomless. Cleaving the chests of the corpses closest to him. Splitting them, neck to navel. Finding himself thinking of overripe peaches. Of a melon cut and halved … sticky centre of seeds spooned away.

Somebody’s babies. Somebody’s children.

Half turning to Yaobang who was following, and in a whisper,

“What a fucking way to die.”

But the words swallowed whole by a freighter as it ploughed towards its deepwater berth south of the new Yangpu Bridge, the new Golden Gate; the sea-caravans of barges strung with tyres and the clumps of tethered junks, lifting, falling, lifting, across its insistent wake. He hadn’t heard. Just as fucking well. His deputy didn’t have the stomach for this sort of thing. He was, after all, from Kashgar in the north west. They didn’t have murders in Kashgar, at least not like these. All that they had in the oasis city were hot dust driven winds and ice-cold Xinjiang beer. An exquisite embrace of opposites that surely proved that there was a God. Anyway, he would see it all for himself soon enough. There was no hurry, they weren’t going anywhere, not these bodies. The limbs. The chains. The great curving black crescent moons of gashes.

They weren’t going anywhere.

He didn’t envy the Big Man. Better to be from Shanghai or Beijing and be used to such horrors; a civilised upbringing in an oasis town and a job as an Investigator with Homicide were not a complimentary pairing. Yaobang’s passage through his career was not going to be hot desert winds and chilled beers.

The dim beam of the torch wavered. Yaobang was not built for such a balancing act as this. Too plump. Too belly-full. Thinking of dumplings, beer … bed. Moving forward only as Piao’s urgently beckoning hand ordered. Shadows falling over shadows. The Senior Investigator hearing the Big Man retch behind him as the young detective caught a glimpse of the bodies. An instant reek of honey and vinegar invading the anonymous night air. Almost dropping the torch as he clumsily fled back across the broken foreshore to the tide worn stone blocks of the embankment.

“Headless chicken, throw the torch. How am I supposed to do my job with you halfway back to your mama’s lap?”

Rough material of his cuff to his mouth … he threw the torch across to Piao, leaving himself in a deep fold of darkness, the cold stone wall taking his weight. For a few seconds, eyes closed, but still seeing the horrors that the beam had illuminated. Subliminal cuts forming an inerasable film loop in his head. A part of his life now. A terrible part that would always be there. He felt sullied … despoilt.

Somebody’s babies. Somebody’s children.

“Boss, dump this fucking job. I mean look at them for shit sake. This has got to be state business. Fucking Party business. These are official …”

Wiping the jewelled cables of spittle from his lips, his chin.

“… look, let me get on the radio, get Security to deal with it. This is their backyard. Let them get their fucking shoes shitty for a change.”

The Senior Investigator stared back hard over his shoulder. The beam from the torch cutting harshly into the side of his slender face. Forehead. Cheek. Chin. Coldly chromed. Yaobang recognised the look etched into the tired features. He’d seen it before. Trouble … spelt with a capital ‘S’. The Big Man’s stomach rumbled again. Hoping that it was from the effects of the
Yoe Bing
 … the large, flaky mooncake that he had hurriedly washed down with tea. But knowing, with regret, that it was not. His stomach, always an accurate barometer as to how much shit was heading his way. And right now the barometer readings were off the fucking scale.

“Get on the radio …”

Piao, almost absentmindedly, muttering the words, his attention nailed to the bodies. The frozen, intertwined arms, that seemed to reach out wanting to embrace a fingernail moon anchored in the crow’s-nest branches of the trees in the neighbouring Huangpu Park.

The Big Man laboured through the rubbish. Up the slippery steps of the embankment. Mouth bitter with bile.

Every breath reminding him …

Somebody’s babies. Somebody’s children.

It was only as he stepped onto the road that the Senior Investigators said,

“Tell control that we need more men and floodlights. Lots of floodlights. I also want Wu brought down here right away. The bodies … get them out of the mud and the area combed before the tide comes back in and we lose the fucking lot …”

A pause of seconds. Somewhere in the distance, in the night, a dog barking. A car refusing to start. A tug moaning as it passed down river … running lights in a constant fade to black.

“… and Yaobang, tell them to keep it tight. No flapping mouths. This is police work. My work. I don’t want those Bureau Thirteen security shits climbing all over my back, got it?”

He nodded, even though he knew that Piao wasn’t watching him. His stomach grumbling more furiously than ever.

“Fuck it …” he groaned, loosening his trouser belt as he walked toward the car.

*

A cold, dark hour before the first batch of floodlights and men arrived. An olive green snake of police piling from an assortment of vehicles. Men extruded from the same mould … lean bodied and wide foreheaded. An hour and a half before the floodlights prised the darkness aside with an arc of white … blinding. Shadows, like sentries of razors. Two and a half hours before Doctor Wu arrived bleary-eyed and moaning onto the foreshore of a Huangpu that was beginning to turn. Yawning into life in a blush of palest baby pink. Three hours and ten minutes before Piao pulled the doctor out of the harsh arc-light midday and into the splintered penumbra of the wooden pier for an initial report.

“We have eight who are no longer living.”

The Senior Investigator moved deeper into the shadows where Wu could not read his face.

“You mean that they are dead. You have eight corpses to take back to your freezer doctor.”

The cloak of Wu’s smile slipped slightly; the passions pushed in, the outward impassivity drawn across his eyes … a heavy velvet curtain of constrained discipline.

“We have eight whom life no longer possesses.”

Stupid bastard. A doctor for thirty years and he still can’t use that word. That four letter word. Dead … they’re fucking dead!

But he would get nowhere trying to bait him. Wu, who at one time must have had the looks and physical attributes of a proud and studious orang-utan, but who had since shrunk to resemble a wizened squirrel monkey, was a professional
Wenming
 … a civilised man ruled by the old ways. Guided by the Book of Rites to conform, to meet the needs of life in society.

Piao felt the smile start to freeze on his lips … it laying across them as the dead dog does in the middle of the road, squashed, tongue sticking out. The society that he and other officers in the Homicide Squad moved in had no such restraints. He wished that it had. There were no courtesies in his society. No rules. No boundaries to adhere to. Just a carouselled blur of speed and colour. A head-on collision between the old ways and the new order. A society of guns, where no guns had been before. A society of swift retribution and death, where once the only pain that bled was from a dignity that had been wounded. He was glad that Wu could not see his eyes. They spoke no courtesies, they only said,

Your old ways are dead, old man – and now we’re all fucked.

“Sex?”

The doctor visibly blushed, smile souring.

“What sex were they, doctor, these eight whom life no longer possesses?”

“One woman. Seven men.”

Seven men. Not even the mask of a serene smile could hide the shock, the significance that the number seven bled onto Wu’s face. The Senior Investigator knew the words that would be humming through the old man’s head … the words that were already playing in the corners of his own mouth.

At Xun, there is a cold spring,
there, below that stream are your seven sons,
mother of pain.

Seven, the symbol of perfect prosperity. Did their murderers also know the very same poem from the Book of Songs? As they ripped their victims asunder, shackling them together and then lowering them into the black waters of the Huangpu, had they also been mouthing the words …

Softly, the wind blows from the south.
Softly, the wind blows from the south.

A shiver racking him. Piao folded his arms, cutting it adrift.

“So, what else do you have? Time, cause of death? Any clues to their identities? Astound me, doctor. Astound me.”

Wu shuffled uncomfortably. Cold, the mud. Filling his shoes, his soul. Thinking of the rubber boots back at the office. Thinking of the chains. The bodies … and the black, bloodless holes that spiked them and drew at his recognition, as the eye of the needle draws on the thread.

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