Authors: Peter Guttridge
Table of Contents
The Brighton Mystery Series
CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT *
THE LAST KING OF BRIGHTON *
THE THING ITSELF *
THE DEVIL'S MOON *
The Nick Madrid Series
NO LAUGHING MATTER
A GHOST OF A CHANCE
TWO TO TANGO
THE ONCE AND FUTURE CON
available from Severn House
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9â15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2013 by Peter Guttridge.
The right of Peter Guttridge to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
The devil's moon.
1. PoliceâEnglandâBrightonâFiction. 2. Detective and mystery stories.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-430-0 (epub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8225-7 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-485-1 (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland
For Terry Dean (1947â2012)
Musician, writer, artist and friend
âI am Wrath.'
Christopher Marlowe: Dr Faustus
he shape at the edge of the rippling water was at first indistinct. Beyond it the sea was unnaturally placid, the waves sluggish. Then, as the first fingers of the sun spread across the morning from the east, the shape took form.
The keenest runners along the promenade glanced and noted it and continued on their way. The early-morning dog walkers kept half an eye on their unleashed dogs and the other half on the shape taking form with the coming of light. In Brighton, curious structures sprouting up overnight were nothing remarkable. Yet another art installation, though the skateboarders would have a difficult time turning this one into a practice loop.
Others had more time to reflect, if they were not too drunk to do so. The all-night revellers staggering on to the beach from the clubs under the arches. The just awaking homeless, the ones who preferred sleeping on the steep bank of shifting shingle to huddling on hard concrete in the city's streets and alleys.
The dawn revealed a giant, faceless man. Some twenty feet high, legs planted hip-width apart, arms stiff down his sides but at a slight angle away from his body. Those who had seen the cult movie or its unfortunate remake, or who knew something of paganism, knew it was a Wicker Man.
Individuals and groups were drawn towards the faceless figure. As they approached, the top rim of the sun bobbed on to the horizon and flames sprouted from the Wicker Man's ankles and gushed over his legs and torso.
To scattered applause the crackling, roaring flames engulfed the structure. People drew near to warm themselves against the chill of the morning. Those who were pagans at heart looked towards the sun rising beyond it and back at the burning effigy, its head now wreathed in vivid fire, and took significance from it.
Seagulls, clamouring at the dawn, wheeled towards and then away from the shimmering tower of flame. A pall of black smoke rose from the conflagration and drifted lazily in the brightening sky towards the collapsed ruins of the West Pier.
The heat grew more intense, the raging of the flames louder. Those nearest moved back a few paces. And so they could not be certain that they heard screams above the racket of the fire and the screech of the gulls.
Those who were sure took the screams as proof that this was indeed an installation or a performance of some sort. Four clubbers skirted the side of the effigy and looked round the back for the sound system producing the terrible cries. There wasn't one.
Two of them later insisted that just before the screams were swallowed in flames they heard an agonized voice shriek out: âWhy hast thou forsaken me?'
s the rain pelted down, Sarah Gilchrist splish-splashed along the narrow passage of Meeting House Lane, focused on avoiding a poke in the eye from one of the jumble of umbrellas around her. That meant she was off guard when the large fish fell on her head and almost knocked her down.
Not that she would normally be on her guard against fish. She stopped and looked down at it, dead in the puddle at her feet. She looked up at the rooftops to find the joker who had dropped it on her. Another fish slapped her in the face and slid away.
Shielding her head with her hand, she looked around. People were crying out and ducking as a hail of fish of all shapes and sizes rained down on them.
What the hell? The fish were not being dropped or thrown by anyone. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them were falling out of the sky.
Gilchrist pushed through to the junction with Union Street, fish pelting her as she went, and ducked into the Bath Arms. The staff and the early-morning drinkers were all at the window, gazing out open-mouthed or filming the surreal sight with their phones. One alert staff member pulled on the pub door and hooked it open.
The others laughed as he called into the street: âDon't you even know enough to come in out of the fish?'
Gilchrist laughed too, though her neck and her head ached. Ludicrous as it sounded, those fish hurt. They were heavy and hit with force. The hail of them was doing real damage. People were being beaten to the ground. Some people just slipped and slithered as the lane filled up with fish. There was panic in the confined space.
The fish were all shapes and sizes, all colours. They were already dead as they dropped from the sky. All except for these long, writhing creatures with heads the size of watermelons and fearsome-looking jaws.
Gilchrist watched, horrified, as a shower of them plummeted on to the crowded lane, jaws snapping, tails thrashing. They crashed through umbrellas and bore people to the ground beneath their weight. There was terrified screaming.
One eel, about four feet long, dropped like lead on to the shoulders of a teenage girl and sent her reeling into the window of the jeweller just across from the pub. The glass shattered and girl and eel both fell into the window display.
A jangling alarm blared out as jewellery fell into the street. Girl and eel sprawled, half in, half out of the window. Gilchrist could see jagged shards of glass sticking up from the base of the window frame but hoped the girl's thick waterproof was protecting her.
Gilchrist watched, stupefied, as people ignored the fish falling on their heads to grab at the jewellery in the window and on the lane. She was astonished when the girl who had fallen into the window reared up, screaming, but with fistfuls of jewellery in her hands. She stumbled away, clutching her loot, blood streaming down her face.
The jewellery shop manager came to the shop doorway to remonstrate with those people scrabbling for his silver watches and brooches and necklaces. He tried to snatch the jewellery back. Someone pushed him in the chest and he fell into the shop.
Gilchrist barged out of the pub and over to the shop, her boots slithering on the fish and the slick of water in the lane. âPolice officer!' she called. âMake way.'
âGo fuck yourself,' a fat man snarled. As she looked towards him he shouldered her away. She lost her footing and fell towards the broken window. She reached out a hand to stop her fall. It landed on the slick skin of the eel. She grabbed the door frame with her other hand and steadied herself.
As Gilchrist did so, the eel whipped its head round and sank its teeth into her hand. She snatched her arm back and stood looking in horror at the eel dangling from the web of her skin between thumb and first finger. She shook her arm feebly to dislodge the eel but all it did was lash its tail. Blood dripped off Gilchrist's hand. The pain was intense.
Gilchrist shrieked. The alarm shrieked. Fish fell from the sky. Looters jostled each other for a share of the jewellery shop spoils.
Gilchrist prised at the jaws one-handed. She was surprised the eel, out of water, showed no sign of expiring. It was strong and every time it writhed it dragged at her flesh. She had a sudden thought that an eel might be like those dogs whose jaws remain clamped shut even after death.
Gilchrist looked at the jagged glass sticking out of the window frame. She swept her hand towards it, dragging the heavy fish with her. She tried to impale it on the broken shard. The eel, as if sensing what she was trying to do, released her hand. It thrashed its tail and slithered to the ground.
Gilchrist fell back against the doorjamb. The hubbub continued around her. Holding her throbbing hand, she let her head fall back and looked up at the roiling sky. At least it had stopped raining fish.
âYou're listening to Simon Says on Southern Shores Radio, in case you thought you'd died and gone to heaven. Well, talk about being slapped in the face with a wet fish. The people of Brighton were stunned earlier this morning when fish rained down on them from a clear sky. But it's no laughing matter. So far, three people have died and at least forty people have been treated at Sussex County Hospital for cuts and bruises and shock as the fish â some weighing up to twenty-five pounds â plummeted down on the centre of town. One man had his skull crushed by a conger eel weighing seventy-five pounds; another of the dead was hit by a bass and a third was killed by a falling pollack . . .'
Kate Simpson looked into the studio. Simon was corpsing. He'd spun on his chair away from his microphone and was trying to control his giggles. Inevitably that meant there was going to be a big explosion when he failed to do so. She flicked a switch and spoke into the microphone on her producer's desk.