Authors: Alan Carter
Tags: #Fiction/Mystery & Detective General
First published in Australia by Fremantle Press in 2011
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by
Michael O’Mara Books Limited
9 Lion Yard
London SW4 7NQ
Copyright © Alan Carter, 2011
This electronic edition published in 2014
Every reasonable effort has been made to acknowledge all copyright holders. Any errors or omissions that may have occurred are inadvertent, and anyone with any copyright queries is invited to write to the publishers, so that a full acknowledgement may be included in subsequent editions of this work.
All rights reserved. You may not copy, store, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN: 978-1-78243-284-5 in paperback print format
ISBN: 978-1-78243-262-3 in ebook format
Cover design by Ally Crimp
Cover photograph by Erik Wollo/Shutterstock
Alan Carter was born in Sunderland, UK, in 1959. He holds a degree in Communication Studies from Sunderland Polytechnic and immigrated to Australia in 1991. Alan lives in Fremantle with his wife Kath and son Liam. He works as a television documentary director. In his spare time he follows a black line up and down the Fremantle pool.
is Alan Carter’s first novel. He wrote it while he was living in Hopetoun as a kept man.
Something is changing, he can tell. There’s a shift in power. The underdog is snarling. The meek are about to inherit the earth. Colours from the screen flicker in his eyes and he leans forward, fingers tightening into the arms of the chair. The hairs on the back of his arm stiffen and crackle like a crop before the approaching storm.
‘...Hughes with the corner, the ball falls to Porterfield. It’s in! Porterfield scores for Sunderland...’
He leaps to his feet, splashing the colour telly with Double Diamond ale and turns to his wife Chrissy and little Stephen sitting on the settee.
‘Did you see that pet? Eh son? Brilliant!’
He takes a long gulp from the can. Some escapes and runs down his chin and on to his red and white striped shirt. He does a little jig. On the telly the players hug and kiss. This wasn’t the way the script was meant to go. He fires up an Embassy Regal and draws the smoke deep into his lungs. In slow motion the goal is replayed a third time, a fourth. He says it again.
‘Did you see that? Magic.’
Chrissy’s hand rests lightly on her pregnant bump. Little Stevie is leaning into his mum. No, Chrissy and Stevie didn’t see the goal. By that time they’ve already been dead at least two hours. The black and tan Yorkshire terrier licks uncertainly at the blood on the cheap paisley-patterned carpet.
Maud Street: redbrick two-storey terraced houses, thirty either side of the road. Huddled together like ill-fitting dentures. A crowd was already forming around the tape at number 11. This house, like many others, had the red and white team colours in the windows and a ‘Ha’way the Lads’ poster from the
Detective Sergeant Stuart Miller walked across the threshold. His young offsider, Chris Lawton, followed.
In the front room a uniform was interviewing the neighbour. According to the call-out she’d dropped by to share the winning moment and found them. She was a small, thin, bottle-brunette with the yellowed fingers of a chain-smoker. With shaking hands she lit another off the end of the last, chucking the dead one in the fireplace. The uniform looked up, caught Miller’s eye, and nodded her head back in the direction of the room next door.
‘Not pretty, sir.’
Miller took a deep breath and walked in.
The telly in the corner was still on. Post-match interviews and celebrations: an ecstatic rolling sea of red and white engulfing a bemused Wembley Stadium. Nobody had turned it off yet, maybe in case fingerprints could be taken from it, maybe because they wanted to keep on watching, to hold on to that magic, and never let go. Second division Sunderland had beaten first division Leeds United. A single goal had delivered them the coveted FA Cup. The post-match pundits all agreed this was a day to remember. Miller had no argument with that.
Just inside the doorway a framed wedding photo hung slightly askew on the wall; the groom, mid-to-late twenties, looking like the guitarist from Slade but with a suit on like he was due in court. Big eyes, dark shoulder-length hair and a lopsided fringe with smile to match; maybe he’d stopped off for a couple of bevvies on the way to church. There was already an APB out on him, last seen by a neighbour walking up the street at half-time. He was the prime suspect. You couldn’t argue with the statistics, Miller thought: murder and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.
The bride had a California look, long blonde flowing hair like those lasses in the ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’ Coke ad. She’d have gone down a storm on the grey, grimy streets of Sunderland. It was her big day, but the smile didn’t seem to match the occasion: a bit uncertain, not sure what she was getting herself into. Next to that was another photo of a little boy, maybe five or six. He had his mother’s blonde hair and his dad’s big wide smile. And perhaps two years left to live.
It wasn’t a big room and now seemed even less so with Miller’s own bulky frame, the gangly DC Lawton, a photographer and a doctor all jostling for space. And there were the two bodies.
‘Christ,’ whispered DC Lawton, his hand over his open mouth.
They were on the settee; if you half-closed your eyes and forgot where you were for just a moment they looked like they could have fallen asleep in front of the telly. But it was a grisly illusion. A young woman, heavily pregnant; the same one in the photograph, Miller presumed, but he only had the hair to go on. Her head was a bloody mush. She’d been bludgeoned with something heavy, a hammer or a big spanner perhaps. There were brown scorch marks on both her earlobes. He could smell it now, in with the stale cigarettes in the overflowing ashtray down by the fireplace and the metallic sweet smell of blood and other crime-scene odours – a hint of something smoky or burnt.
The little boy was beside her, his hand resting on her knee and his head against her shoulder. He looked about the same age as Stuart’s own son, seven or eight. His head was less of a mess than the woman’s but still caked with blood from one big gash on the right side. His earlobes were also burnt. DC Chris Lawton stumbled out of the room and Miller heard him dry-retching in the backyard.
On the floor at their feet was some kind of transformer box. One end was plugged into the mains and at the other, car jump leads with alligator clips. The box looked like it could have come off a Scalextric racing-car set or something similar. The doctor plucked his dandruff-flecked jacket from a door hook, shrugged it over his narrow shoulders and snapped his case shut.
‘Electrocution or bludgeoning, either would have been enough. So why both?’
Miller shook his head slowly. Why indeed? One was the cold application of science and gadgetry, the other was the heated application of brute force. What were they dealing with here?
The room was a dingy box, ten feet by twelve, dimly lit by a narrow window which looked out on to a postage stamp backyard patterned with curls of dog shit. It was the same kind of room Miller had grown up in. Same cheap carpet, same bitter fug of old cigarettes. If you’re lucky, you grow up and better yourself and never take for granted where you came from. If you’re not so lucky you spend the rest of your life drowned in piss and self-pity and lashing out at those you claim to love. Miller’s hand wandered instinctively to the small scar at the corner of his eye where his father’s wedding ring had caught him on his twelfth birthday.
Is that what happened here? A domestic gone too far? He looked at the bodies propped side by side on the settee. Cuddled together, hands on knees, posed in a cruel parody of happy families. No, this was something else. He had experienced blood and death and tragedy and stupidity and all the other daily horrors included in his job description. But he’d never encountered anything like this before. Miller’s vision blurred, his throat tightened. The room was closing in on him, the low hum of the TV, the rolling ecstatic waves of red and white, the jubilant players lifting the trophy in constant replay.
‘All fucking nonsense.’ Miller switched it off.
He walked out into the street to get some air. A little Yorkshire terrier was hanging around the front door looking inquisitive and expectant. Miller crouched and patted it.
‘Nothing for you here son, off you go.’
A gang of lads, decked out in red and white, were headed for the Royal Marine pub at the top of the street to continue the victory celebrations, chanting and clapping ‘We are the champions!’ The leader caught Stuart Miller’s eye and grinned. ‘Best fucken day of me life this, mate, best fucken day!’
The way the body was lying, it was obvious she hadn’t seen it coming. The limbs were splayed at a grotesque angle. A pool of blood beside the head had dried in the sun before it could make it the few centimetres to the side of the road. Blowflies hovered impatiently. The October sun was high and unseasonably nasty. Anybody with any sense was sitting under the shade of the only tree for miles. Or they were somewhere else.
The sergeant was crouched beside the rapidly ripening corpse, talking into a small digital recorder. Cato Kwong squinted at the sergeant and took a swig of lukewarm water from a bottle that felt like it was melting in his hands. On his iPod,
was reaching a screeching crescendo. He turned it off and removed the earphones. He checked his watch: still only midmorning.
Time seemed to move so slowly these days. The sergeant’s name was Jim Buckley: he chattered to himself, loving every minute, every detail of the task at hand. For a big bloke his movements were graceful. Pavarotti in a butcher’s apron.
‘Bullet number one entered just behind the left ear and exited through the right cheek; bullet number two entered the left eye. No apparent signs of an exit wound so we presume bullet number two is still lodged inside. I now intend to conduct an on-the-spot autopsy to confirm. Recording suspended at ... 10.22a.m. Detective Sergeant James Buckley.’
Buckley reached over and opened his toolbox. He pulled out a handsaw.
That’s one big difference between Homicide Squad and Stock Squad, Cato mused, you don’t have to wait for the autopsy, just
do it yourself. He was still getting used to the idea: Detective Senior Constable Philip Kwong – Stock Squad. Homicide Squad, Major Crime, even Gangs, they had a ring to them that made you puff out your chest and stand a bit taller. Stock Squad? They were there to deal with cattle duffers, sheep theft, stolen tractors. They were touted as industry experts, they knew the farmers, knew the lingo. In Cato’s view they were washed-up has-beens recycled as detectives. Mutton dressed as lamb? The Laughing Stock Squad.
So if you come across a suspicious cow will you take it back to the station and grill it? Or leave it to stew?
So far Cato felt like little more than a glorified agricultural inspector. Stock Squad. It kind of escaped from the corner of your mouth like a coward’s curse. Coward’s curse pretty well summed up his situation. He was here because he’d been hung out to dry by a bunch of cowards he’d once worshipped and he couldn’t do anything about it because of the Code, the Brotherhood, the whatever other bullshit name that might conceal a multitude of sins.
The Stock Squad was on tour: hearts and minds. The other two members of the squad taking the high road to the north, Cato Kwong and Jim Buckley on the low road south. A week of ‘intelligence gathering’ was how Buckley saw it: pressing the flesh, nosing around, random checks and a healthy per-diem budget – it would keep them in piss until they got back to Perth. A week of chewing straw, swatting flies and nodding sagely at stuff he didn’t give a rat’s arse about was how Cato saw it.
Cato Kwong: Stock Squad. Cato, like Peter Sellers’ Chinese butler and martial arts sparring partner in
The Pink Panther.
A nickname inflicted on him at police academy. Cato hadn’t seen any of the movies so he’d rented the videos to see what they were getting at. Cato, the manic manservant? Cato, the loyal punch-bag? Or just simply Cato the Chinaman?
The beginning of day three and Cato felt like he’d been on the road for a month.
‘Oi, Kwongie, you gonna give us a hand, mate?’
Jim Buckley was already red-faced with effort as the saw bit into the back of the cow’s neck. Blood spurting, blowflies going berko,
he was in hog heaven. Cato winced primly; he preferred his meat plastic-wrapped and barcoded.
‘Jim. Sir. Sarge...’
Cato still didn’t know how to address Jim Buckley. It wasn’t that he didn’t have any respect for authority, it was just that he was still working on it in Jim Buckley’s case.
‘Look, do we really need to do all this stuff? It’s pretty obvious. The cow was run over, finished off with a couple of bullets to the head. The back leg was chopped off with a chainsaw and taken home to the barbie. End of story.’
Cato took another swig of the mountain spring water. He didn’t function well in excessive heat. Maybe he should join the Canadian Mounties, or the Tasmanian ones, somewhere nice and cool.
Jim Buckley frowned, a tad disappointed with the younger man’s attitude. ‘It’s still a crime, Cato mate. And it’s our job to find the bad guys.’
Cato knew he was banging his head against the proverbial. Buckley, after twenty-five years in the force, had finally found his niche. Stock Squad was Jim’s domain and he was in no mood for negativity. He mopped a sodden brow with a wipe of his shirtsleeve and passed the blood-soaked implement to Cato.
‘So, as your senior officer, I’d advise you to shut the fuck up and start sawing.’