En route to investigate a late-night disturbance, a patrol car spins off the road, killing one of the cops and leaving the other in critical condition. Detective Peter Diamond is assigned to look into the case. His supervisor is desperately hoping Diamond will not discover the officers were at fault. Instead, he discovers something even worse—a civilian on a motorized tricycle was involved in the crash and has been lying on the side of the road for hours. Diamond administers CPR, but the man’s fate is unclear. Soon, though, Diamond becomes suspicious of the civilian victim and begins a private inquiry that leads to a trail of uninvestigated deaths. As the man lingers on life support, Diamond wrestles with the fact that he may have saved the life of a serial killer.
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Another one goes tonight.
This time I’m ahead of myself so this isn’t a to-do list. Everything is in place, as they say. But being methodical I want something on record to look at when it’s all over. You’re on your own in this game, so any debriefing is with myself.
The only thing left is to make sure I get the timing right. I’m going for 2 a.m. when he’ll be sleeping soundly, guaranteed. Get gloved up, let myself in, do the necessary and get out without leaving any trace. The police have no idea and I’m not doing them any favours.
He’ll rest in peace and so will I, with the difference that I’ll wake up tomorrow morning.
I’ve seen a few things on the night shift,” Police Sergeant Lew Morgan said, “but this beats them all.”
“Shall we stop him?” his driver, PC Aaron Green, asked.
“What for? He’s not speeding.”
“He doesn’t need one. It’s only a trike.”
“It’s motorised. He’s not turning the pedals.” Aaron Green wasn’t there simply to drive the car. Typical of young bobbies out to impress, he was constantly on the lookout for offenders.
Lew was older and reckoned he was wiser. He took stock. There were reflectors on the pedals and, sure enough, they weren’t moving, but the tricycle was. Three hours to go and the boredom was getting to him.
Might as well do the business.
He pressed the control on the dash and triggered the blue flashing lights. “Okay, chummy, let’s see if your brakes work.”
Their patrol car slowed to tail the offending vehicle and draw in behind. The stretch of minor road near Bathampton was otherwise deserted at 2:30 in the morning.
The tricycle came to a controlled stop. Its rider turned his head in a way that involved rotating most of his upper body. He wasn’t young.
“You know what?” Lew said. “That’s a fucking deerstalker he’s wearing.”
“Still illegal,” Aaron said.
“Who does he think he is?”
Lew got out and approached the rider of the tricycle. “Switch off, sir.”
“I beg your pardon.”
Deaf as well.
Lew shouted, “Switch off,” and mimed the action with his hand.
The tricyclist obeyed. The hat was definitely a deerstalker. And the rest of the clothes matched. Lew was no fashion expert but he had an idea he was looking at a Norfolk jacket worn over a check shirt and trousers kept in place by leather gaiters. Like some character out of a television costume drama.
And the voice was vintage BBC. “How can I be of assistance, officer?” How patronising was that?
“Do you have a licence to ride this thing?”
“I do not.”
Lew almost rubbed his hands. He was going to enjoy this. “You’re aware that it’s a form of motorcycle?”
“I suppose it might be described as such.”
“So you need a licence.”
“What do you mean, no? You just agreed with me it’s a motorcycle.”
“In the eyes of the law, it’s a beast of another colour, so to speak.”
“In point of fact this is an EAPC.”
Lew was supposed to be the voice of authority here. He wasn’t about to show frailty by asking what an EAPC was. “That may be so but it’s motor-powered. You were riding without moving your legs.”
The man gave the sort of smile that gets the seat by the window. “Only because the poor old pins aren’t up to pedalling so far these days.”
Lew didn’t have any sympathy for the elderly. They did far too well out of the state with their inflation-proof pensions and all the extras. “So it’s a motorbike. You’re not wearing a helmet either.”
“That is true, officer.” Far from sounding apologetic, this lawbreaker was oozing confidence.
Lew remained civil, but firm. “Did you know it’s also against the law to ride a motorcycle without a helmet?”
Now the silver eyebrows peaked in concern. “You’re worried about my safety?”
“I’m not worried. I’m not worried in the least. I’m telling you it’s illegal.”
“Oh dear.” But the concern wasn’t for himself, it was for Lew. “I don’t suppose you come across many drivers of motorised tricycles.”
“That’s beside the point, sir.”
“Forgive me, officer. I’m trying to save you some embarrassment.”
“Trying to save me?” Lew said.
“You see I wouldn’t be out on the public highway if I knew I was in breach of the law. However, if you’ll bear with me a moment . . .” He dipped his right hand towards his jacket pocket.
Lew reacted fast. “Don’t do that!”
The startled old man almost fell off the saddle.
“Put your hands where I can see them, on the handlebars. What’s in the pocket?”
“Only a piece of paper. I always carry a copy of the official government advice, which I believe is still in force. I was about to invite you to look at it.”
“I don’t need to.”
“That’s a shame, because if you did you would see that provided I don’t exceed fifteen miles an hour and my vehicle doesn’t weigh more than sixty kilograms and the power is not more than two hundred and fifty watts, my choice of transport—contrary to appearance—is not classed as a motorcycle but an electrically assisted pedal cycle.”
All this had been spoken with such self-assurance that
Lew knew with a sinking heart it had to be right. The figures the old jerk had quoted were faintly familiar. Out on patrol you don’t often come across motorised trikes. This road user was a pain in the arse, but he was in the clear. He didn’t require a licence or a helmet. Lew should have stuck to his first impulse and told young Aaron to drive straight past. Now it was a matter of saving face. He pointed to the large bag strapped to the back of the saddle.
“What’s in that?”
“Nothing of interest to the police, I promise you.”
“Answer the question, please.”
“A plastic box containing a banana and a slice of date and walnut cake. I come prepared, in case I get hungry.”
“Is that all?”
“I haven’t finished. A flask of tea. Also my binoculars, camera, tripod, an ordnance survey map.” He smiled. “And Trixie.”
“You mean, ‘Who’s that?’ Trixie is my late wife.”
There was a pause for thought. “In this bag?”
“I always bring her ashes with me. We shared so much in life. She passed away six months ago. Examine her, by all means. And I forgot the puncture repair kit. It’s surprising how much the bag holds.”
Best insist on the old man handling his own possessions. The power to search at a road check has to involve suspicion of a serious arrestable offence. Lew asked him to unzip the saddlebag. This involved a contortion that was clearly uncomfortable, but Lew wasn’t going to get caught out a second time.
The vacuum flask and the sandwich box containing a banana and a wedge of cake were visible on top. And so was the lid of a plastic urn. Lew didn’t need to meet Trixie close up.
“What are the binoculars for?”
“Oh, you’re thinking I might be a peeping Tom. Absolutely not. I’m well past that sort of nonsense.”
“Most people are in bed at this time of night,” Lew said.
“But it’s not compulsory. We’re living in a free country.”
“Do you mind telling me where you’re going?”
A reasonable question that got an unhelpful answer. “I won’t know until I get there, will I?”
Lew was being led into a minefield of embarrassment. He knew it. The only mercy was that Aaron was out of earshot.
The old man added, “They don’t stay in one spot. They’re moving steadily closer to Bath, you see.”
He didn’t see. He didn’t see at all. But he wasn’t so stupid as to ask. He waited for something more, and he got it.
“They can cover as much as a mile in a single night, using hops.”
“A mile a night?” Lew pictured a colony of travelling rabbits. What was that film he’d once seen about rabbits on the move? Watership Down. “And you hope to see them through your binoculars?”
“Unless I can get really close and observe them with the naked eye. It depends on the terrain.”
“If they’re always moving, how do you know where to look?”
“I would have thought that was obvious.”
“Not to me, sir.”
“You can hear them some way off.”
“Hear them doing what?”
“Digging their holes.”
This was the moment Lew decided to quit. “On this occasion I’m going to leave you to it. For your own safety, I advise you to get a cycle helmet. And keep off the A roads.”
“I’m obliged to you, but I always do.”
“Go carefully. Other traffic may not see you coming.”
The old man looked skywards. “A full moon helps.”
You bet it does, you old loony, Lew thought, as he returned to the patrol car. He opened the door, got in and watched in silence as the tricyclist moved off.
Watership Down was a real place somewhere in Hampshire, seventy miles down the M4. The rabbits couldn’t have travelled that distance, even at a mile a night. Must have been a different colony. Oh Christ, Lew thought, he’s got me thinking it’s real.
“You didn’t book him, then,” Aaron said from the world of modern policing.
“Let him off with a caution?”
“No need. He’s legal.”
“How can that be?”
“It’s an EAPC.”
Like Lew, Aaron wasn’t betraying his ignorance. He turned the car and headed back towards the lights of Bath.
No more was said for some time.
Eventually Aaron asked, “Did the old bloke say what he was up to?”
“Like a safari?”
Lew didn’t smile. He was smarting from the experience.
He realised he hadn’t even asked the old boy his name.
“It takes all sorts.”
A shout from the control room saved them both from more of the same. Some people with a ladder had been seen acting suspiciously near a church north of the city in Julian Road. In the last six months the lead had been stripped from several roofs in Bath. The thieves could make as much as twenty grand from one night’s work.
Two patrols were ordered to the scene.
The burst of activity using blues and twos brought muchneeded distraction. Aaron jammed his foot down and they arrived first, just as two chancers from Swindon were loading their loot into the back of a pick-up truck.
The arrest filled an hour profitably and made a success of what had promised to be a long, barren night. The other patrol didn’t show up, but Lew and Aaron didn’t mind. By the time they had delivered their prisoners to the custody centre in Keynsham and gone through the formalities with the sergeant their shift was almost over.
It wasn’t worth going out on the roads again. Their relief would be coming in at 7 a.m.
Cue for a coffee.
Every officer working a shift knows the final hour is the worst possible time to get involved in a fresh incident because it has to be followed through regardless of when you’re supposed to go off duty. So Lew and Aaron weren’t overjoyed when ordered at 6:19 to investigate a report of a naked man in Beckford Gardens.
“That’s all I want, another nutcase,” Lew said.
They returned to the car.
“What are we dealing with here—a drunk?” he asked the control room as the early morning traffic moved aside for their flashing lights. “Is he dancing in the street and singing ‘I want to break free’?”
The operator giggled. “You tell me when you get there.”
To Aaron, he said, “Bet you it’s a domestic. His wife kicked him out of bed.”
“He could be a sleepwalker.”
“Don’t talk to me about sleep. I could have been home and horizontal if it wasn’t for this.”
They crossed North Parade Bridge and turned left on Pulteney Road. Getting to Beckford Gardens wouldn’t take long. Questioning a naked man, possibly drunk or asleep, might be a slower process.
“We’d better decide how to deal with him.”
“Cover him up?” Aaron said.
“Dunno. We’ve got high-vis jackets in the back.”
“That’s what he wants, high visibility.”
At the end of Darlington Street the road joins Sydney Place and curls around Sydney Gardens. The traffic was lighter here.
“It’s a long one,” Aaron said.
“How do you know? We haven’t seen it yet.”
“The road. Beckford Gardens, I’m talking about Beckford Gardens.”
Lew yawned. “Okay. Get us there soon as you can.” He closed his eyes.
The next thing he knew was Aaron yelling, “Jeeeez!” followed by the screech of brakes and a lurch as the car tipped sideways.
Lew was thrust forward like one of those dummies you see in films of accident testing. This wasn’t in slow motion but to Lew it might have been, because in the milliseconds before his face impacted, his brain flashed images like a slideshow. The sudden braking swung the car out of control. They veered right, mounted the steep bank, bounced off and teetered on two wheels, hurtling left. The crunch was imminent. His head would be crushed unless the airbag inflated. When the car turned over—as it was sure to—he might be crushed anyway.
He expected to die.