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Also by this author
THE BURNING GIRL
In the Dark
McArthur & Company
First published in Canada in 2008 by
McArthur & Company
322 King Street West, Suite 402
Copyright Â© 2008 Mark Billingham Ltd.
Lyrics from 'Wolves and Shepherds' used with kind permission from
Basement Music Ltd and Ashanti Music
All rights reserved.
The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise stored in a retrieval system, without the expressed written consent of the publisher, is an infringement of the copyright law.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
In the dark / Mark Billingham.
PR6102.I44I5 2009 --- 823'.92 --- C2009-903234-1
Cover design by Duncan Spilling
eBook development by Wild Elementwww.wildelement.ca
For Katie and Jack
It's a dry night, but the road is still greasy from the shower a few hours before; slick as it's sucked under the headlights, and there's not too much traffic rattling across the cracks in a main drag that's probably the worst maintained in the city.
It's morning, of course, strictly speaking; the early hours. But to those few souls on their way home, or struggling out to work in the dark, or already about business of one sort or another, it feels very much like night; the middle of the bastard.
The dead of it.
It's a warm night too, and muggy. The second of what's shaping up to be a pretty decent August. But that's not why the passenger in the blue Cavalier is leaning his head towards the open window and sweating like a pig.
âLike a kiddie-fiddler on a bouncy castle,' the driver says. âFuckin'
at you, man.'
âThere no air-con on this thing?'
âNobody else sweating that much.'
The three men in the back are laughing, shoulders pressed together. Staring out between the front seats at the traffic coming towards the car. When they light cigarettes, the driver holds out a hand, demanding one. It's lit for him, and passed forward.
The driver takes a deep drag, then peers at the cigarette. âWhy you smoking this rubbish, man?'
âFriend got a few cases, man. Owed me.'
âSo why not pass a couple my way?'
âI was thinking, you smoke that strong shit. Marlboro, whatever.'
âYeah. You was thinking.' He yanks at the wheel, taking the car fast around a bin-bag that has blown into the middle of the road. âLook at this shit up here, man. These people living like pigs or something.'
The shuttered-up shops and restaurants slide past the passenger window, Turkish places, or Greek. Asian grocers', clubs, a one-room minicab office with a yellow light. The shutters and security doors are all tagged: letters swooping against the metal; red, white and black; indecipherable.
The territories, marked.
âWe got no beats?' One of the men in the back starts slapping out a rhythm on the back of the head-rest.
âNo point, man.' The driver leans down, waves a hand dismissively towards the audio controls on the dashboard. âPussy-arsed system on this thing.'
âWhat about the radio?'
The driver sucks his teeth; something small dropped into hot fat. âJust men talking foolishness this time of the night,' he says. âChill-out shit and golden oldies.' He reaches across and lays a hand on the back of the passenger's neck. â'Sides, we need to let this boy concentrate, you get me?'
From the back: âHe needs to concentrate on not pissing in his panties. He's shook, you ask me. Shook, big time.'
-rious . . .'
The passenger says nothing, just turns and looks. Letting the three behind him know they'll have time to talk later, when the thing's done. He shifts back around and faces front, feeling the weight on the seat between his legs, and the stickiness that pastes his shirt to the small of his back.
The driver pushes up tight behind a night bus, then pulls hard to the right. Singing something to himself as he takes the Cavalier past, and across the lights as amber turns to red.
She'd turned onto the A10 at Stamford Hill, leaving the bigger houses behind, the off-street Volvos and the tidy front gardens, and pointed the BMW south.
She takes it nice and easy through Stoke Newington; knows there are cameras ready to flash anyone stupid enough to jump a light. Watches her speed. The roads aren't busy, but there's always a job-pissed traffic copper waiting to spoil some poor sod's night.
Last thing she needs.
A few minutes later she's drifting down into Hackney. Place might not look quite as bad at night, but she knows better. Mind you, at least those slimy buggers at the local estate agent's had to work to earn their commission.
âOh yes, it's very much an up-and-coming area. Gets a bad press for sure, but you've got to look behind all that. There's a
sense of community here; and, of course, all these misconceptions do mean that house prices are
. . .'
I mean, however the hell you pronounce it, De Beauvoir Town
nice, doesn't it? Just talk about Hackney Downs and Regent's Canal and don't worry about little things like knife crime, life expectancy, stuff like that. There's even the odd grassy square, for heaven's sake, and one or two nice Victorian terraces.
âStick a few of them, what d'you call it, leylandii at the back end of the garden, you won't even be able to
Poor bastards might as well have targets painted on their front doors.
She's across the Ball's Pond Road without needing to slow down; Kingsland to one side of her, Dalston spreading like a stain to the east.
Not long now.
Her hands are sticky, so she puts an arm out of the window, splays her fingers and lets the night air move through them. She thinks she can feel rain in the air, just a drop or two. She leaves her arm where it is.
The Beemer sounds good - just a low hum, and a whisper under the wheels; and the leather of the passenger seat feels smooth and clean under her hand when she reaches over. She's always loved this car; felt comfortable from the moment she first swung her legs inside. Some people were like that with houses. Whatever the sales pitch, sometimes it just came down to that vibe or whatever when you walked inside. Same with the car; it felt like hers.
She sees the Cavalier coming towards her as she's slowing for lights. It's going a lot faster than she is and pulls up hard, edging across the white lines at the junction.
It has no headlights on.
She feels for the stalk behind the steering wheel and flicks it twice; flashes the BMW's top-of-the-range xenon headlamps at the Cavalier. Better than the landing lights on a 747, she remembers the salesman saying. They talked even more crap than estate agents.
The driver of the Cavalier makes no acknowledgement; just stares back.
Then switches on his lights.
She urges the BMW across the junction and away. The first drops of rain are spotting the screen. She checks her rear-view mirror and sees the Cavalier throw a fast U-turn a hundred yards behind; hears a horn blare as it cuts across oncoming traffic, pulling in front of a black cab and moving fast up the bus lane towards her.
Feels something jump in her guts.
âWhy that one?' the man in the passenger seat asks.
The driver shifts the Cavalier hard up into fifth gear and shrugs. âWhy not?'
The three in the back seat are leaning further forward now, buzzing with it, but their voices are matter-of-fact. âFool selected her-
âYou interfere with people, you asking for it, proper.'
âShe was just trying to help.'
âThe way we do it,' the driver says.
The passenger seat is feeling hot beneath him as he turns away, like it's all OK with him. Like his breathing is easy enough and his bladder doesn't feel like it's fit to explode.
Fucking stupid cow. Why can't she mind her own business?
They pull out of the bus lane and swing around a motorbike. The rider turns to look as they pass, a black helmet and visor. The man in the passenger seat glances back, but can't hold the look. Drags his eyes back to the road ahead.
The car ahead.
âDon't lose her.' Urgent, from the back seat.
Then his friend: âYeah, you need to floor this piece of shit, man.'
The driver flicks his eyes to the rear-view. âYou two boying me?'
me or what?'
Hands are raised. âPump down, man. Just
. . .'
The eyes slide away again, and the foot goes down, and the Cavalier quickly draws to within a few feet of the silver BMW. The driver turns to the man in the passenger seat and grins. Says: âYou ready?'
The rain is coming down heavier now.
His chest thumping faster than the squeaky wipers.
âWe doing it,' the driver says.
âYeah . . .'
The Cavalier eases to the left, just inches away now, forcing the BMW across into the bus lane. The three on the back seat hiss and swear and snort.
âAny fucking second, we
In the passenger seat, he nods and his palm tightens, clammy around the handle of the gun against his knee.
âLift it up, man, lift that thing up high. Show her what you got.'
Holding his breath, clenching; fighting the urge to piss right there in the car.