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Authors: Denise Mina

Slip of the Knife

BOOK: Slip of the Knife
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Patricia "Paddy" Meehan Book 3



Copyright © 2007 by Denise Mina

For Jill and Alan, Chris and Adrienne and, of course, Jonah




Terry Hewitt had never been as afraid as he was now. It was being naked that terrified him. He was stripped of all identifying marks, untraceable, ready for his grave.

Terry had been arrested in Chile, seen a woman necklaced in Soweto, stood on the edge of a riot in Port-au-Prince, but here, lying naked in a shuddering car boot, heading into the dark outskirts of Glasgow, he was paralyzed with fear.

Whimpering, his knees tight against his chin, he was aware of how hopelessly exposed he was. He couldn’t even cup himself: his hands were bound behind his back, his wrists swelling around the tight binding. The plastic sheet beneath him was scalding his skin. A rough sacking hood over his head restricted his breathing and tiny fibers found their way to the moist back of his throat, making him gag.

The muscles on his neck hurt from the throttlehold that had made him pass out; his eyes ached where blood vessels had burst.

The attack had come from behind as he stood alone and half drunk on his front step.

It had been a good night until then: the celebration of a book deal. The advance from the publisher hardly covered his and Kevin’s expenses but a big book of glossy photos and text was expensive to produce. It was Kevin Hatcher’s suggestion to cash the entire two-hundred check and take it to the casino, and they had worn their least-crumpled suits, worried that they might not be smart enough to get in.

In the event they were overdressed. It was a Thursday night so the other gamblers were serious players wearing minimum swank to get through the door, scuffed leather shoes, jackets that had seen better days. A couple of Chinese women wore faded silk jackets and sat stone-faced, uplit from the tables, their eyes fixed on the dealer’s hands at all times, making swift plays. No one celebrated a win with a grin and a cheer the way Kevin and Terry did. Real players met a win with an anxious gesture, a straightening of their chip stack, eyes searching for the next move.

Terry and Kevin were obvious tourists. Terry drank whisley and Coke, Kevin sipped his lemonade. They lost for a while and then showed their lack of courage by stopping after a big win. They were four quid up on the two hundred. They bought a dried-out Havana cigar from the bar, smoked it between them, and stayed on, watching the serious players concentrate on the turn of the numbers, willing fate to favor them.

Lying in the boot, Terry now remembered the sounds most vividly: standing shoulder to shoulder with Kevin as the dealers swept chinking piles of chips into black-velvet holes, unblinking players clacking their fresh hopes on the baize, the rattling turn of the wheel, the steady rhythm of loss.

Kevin had had several books published already but it was to be Terry’s first, the first tangible result he would have of his years of work. It would be something to put on the bookcase, a spine to finger when his confidence and commitment were low, better than a box of yellowing newspaper clippings.

The warm camaraderie of the night had clung to Terry as he stood on the doorstep to his close, swaying slightly and fitting the key. The only warning that anything was amiss was a smell, an unlikely breath, stale, smoky, brushing his left ear. Then the elbow suddenly tight around his neck, pressing on his carotid artery. White bursts of light flashed in his eyes in the seconds it took for him to pass out.

When he came to he was in the boot, bewildered as to who had kidnapped him or why. The first thing he thought of was Kevin—maybe Kevin was playing a mad joke—but Kevin would never, ever have taken Terry’s clothes off. Being naked meant it was serious.

Looking for a motive for the attack, he ran through the casino night. He didn’t have the money, Kevin had the money. Even if Terry’d had the cash the guy had a car, a big car judging from the size of the boot, and two hundred quid wasn’t enough to kill for. He trawled his past for clues. In the last two years he had been in Angola, Liberia, Lebanon, New York, Glasgow. But he was a seasoned journalist, an observer, never participating or intervening, however much he wanted to. No conflict would be changed by taking him out.

But someone was going to take him out. And no one was coming to help him.

Terry remembered a fifteen-year-old prisoner of war, blinking at the scorching midday Angolan sun, a boy with navy blue skin, his pale brown eyes heavy with terror, exhausted. He had trailed passively along the dusty forest road towards his execution, saving his killers the trouble of cleaning his body from an inconvenient floor. Terry watched him kneel before a gun barrel, eyes darting around behind his executioner, looking for an intervention in the second the bullet left the barrel. Terry had interviewed Holocaust survivors, heard how they had hoped in the cattle trucks, knew they were headed for the death camps but hoped they weren’t and so waited.

Assassins depend on that hope, he knew that. Hope was the assassin’s accomplice.

He wasn’t going to trail down a dusty forest road and kneel passively before a gun barrel. He would forgo hope, face the truth and formulate a plan, find a moment he could exploit.

He took three deep breaths, holding them in to slow his heart rate.

There was no talking in the cabin of the car and no radio or tape was playing. It had to be one man, just the driver who had throttled him. Let it be one man.

He rehearsed the end of the journey: car stops, the lone captor opens the boot and makes Terry climb out, shuts the boot—an open boot on an abandoned car would attract curiosity, might look as if it had broken down and needed help—and leads Terry to where he wants the body to be found. And then the shot.

Terry felt the press at his temple, an indent from the bullet tip, heard the drop of his body to the ground, saw a puff of dry red African dust rise over him. He forced himself to breathe in again, slowing his pulse.

Shutting the boot: that was the moment. It was the only point when his captor’s attention would be deflected. If Terry was on his feet he could shuffle backwards, away from the car, so the man would have to move in front of him to reach around to the boot hood. Then, with a bit of distance, Terry could throw his weight against the man’s back, shove him or knock him over, land on him, try to really hurt him. He wouldn’t be expecting resistance if Terry acted passive, if he cried and tried to bargain.

He thought his way through the graceless climb out onto the ground, felt the cold road beneath his bare feet, the night air on his clammy, damp skin. He wiggled his hips, rehearsing the backwards stagger; he’d act as if he was unsteady from the journey.

Beneath him, the car took a gentle turn onto a new road surface, and the noise from the wheels changed to a crunch. Tarmac, soft from the warm day, with small stones pressed in. They were coming to the end of the journey.

Getting ready, Terry remembered why he wanted to live and immediately saw Paddy Meehan’s face. She was luminous, touching her fingertips to her long neck, flushing at a compliment. Since they had known each other, from when they were both in their late teens right up until now, Paddy had been an innocent. She had no idea how beautiful she was. And she was fearless, didn’t know all the things there were in the world to be afraid of, all the things he’d seen. Hunger and anger and civil war had passed her by. She worried about her mum and her sisters, fought with her brothers, held a small family together at the expense of everything in her life because she didn’t know she could do otherwise. If Terry drifted through the world, belonging nowhere, Paddy was tethered to her small place by connections as deep as her arteries.

He was sliding slowly to the back of the car, the rough road surface articulated through the metal: the car was slowing down. The moment of opening the boot. Three steps at most. No more. Act frightened, cry.

His ear was pressed to the floor and he heard the roar of his own hot blood. He began to sweat.

The car drew softly to the side of the road and stopped. The engine cut out. Through the quiet night Terry heard a whisper of breeze skim the bonnet, the chuckle of a burn. A ditch. There would be a ditch nearby if there was a burn. That was where he was meant to die.

The driver’s door clicked open. A foot hit the gravel at the side of the road, a pause, and then another. He was stiff, perhaps from driving; perhaps he was old. It was good anyway.

Footsteps down the side of the car, not slow but not in a hurry. He might be reluctant, more likely just tired. Feet scrunched into place behind the boot.

Keys chinking, one selected and the scratch of metal into metal. The mechanism clicked.

The boot sprang open; blue-white moonlight filtered through the weave of the sacking to flood Terry’s eyes, making him shut them tight. He forced himself to open them again and took a deep breath, feeling the eyes of his captor on his bare back. Act passive.

A cold, clammy hand grabbed his upper arm, tugging at him to roll over.


“Look, I’m Terry Hewitt. You’ve got the wrong man. I’m a journalist.”


Terry curled tighter over his knees. “Please, for the love of God . . .” He was glad his face was covered: he was never a good liar. “Don’t kill me. You can’t. I’m a journalist, for Christ sake.”

The cold muzzle of a pistol pressed into his neck. “Get the feck out.”

He sat up unsteadily, banging his head on the inside of the boot, the car swaying slightly beneath his weight. “Please, please don’t do this. My mother . . . she’s very old.”

Gun still tight against his jugular, his captor leaned into his face. Terry could smell the breath, still smoky but fresh now, not stale as it had been outside his front door. “Your mammy and daddy died ten years ago. Get out.”

“You know me?”

No answer.

“How do you know me?”

The pistol pressed tighter against the soft skin on his neck. “Out.”

Disconcerted, Terry shuffled his naked bum around the boot until he was facing out and dropped his feet over the edge to the ground.


“Sorry.” Terry sniffed his dry nose. “I’m sorry. Whatever I’ve done, I’m sorry.”


Terry kept his face to the man. He knew it was harder to kill someone if they were facing you, breathing on you. Even the most hardened assassin asked his victims to turn away.

One bare foot found the rough stones, then the other, and he stood up. Giving a whimper for cover, he staggered, caught his weight, shuffled a step. He was a foot and a half away from the car, he thought, far enough to use his weight against the man’s back.

The pistol pressed a kiss into his neck and left.

Gladness and hope flared in his chest. Terry took a deep breath, adrenaline pulsing through him, fingers tingling with excitement. He listened for the shift of the feet, for the step to close the boot.

He didn’t feel the muzzle on his temple because it wasn’t touching him. He didn’t hear the cold metal crack of the pistol shot as it ripped the thick night air and echoed across muddy fields.

Sharp black gravel scattered where his body fell.

The man looked down, saw the eager rush of blood pool under the sacking, watched it seep into the soil.

Judging him dead, he put a foot on Terry’s hip and pushed, rolling the naked body into the ditch by the side of the road.

Terry’s corpse splashed into the trickling stream. One meaty arm flailed out to the side, the moonlight catching a silver stretch mark underneath. Fingers flexed, twitched into a loose fist, then flowered gracefully open.

His killer reached for his packet of cigarettes, thought better of it, and dropped his hand to his side. He was tired.

The warm summer breeze tickled the tips of the grass on the verge. In the dark field beyond, a small brown bird rose screaming from the ground, circled, and flew away towards the yellow lights of a cottage on the distant hillside.

Terry’s corpse relaxed in the watery ditch. For the briefest of moments a white thigh dammed the stream, pooling it into a miniature lake, until it found a path across his groin, over his hip, and continued its passage to the sea.

BOOK: Slip of the Knife
6.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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