The possibility of catching a serial killer is the bait used by Detective Superintendent Henry Christie’s chief constable to lure him away from his planned Christmas festivities. Henry could have said no – but if there’s one thing he can’t refuse, it’s the chance to bring a murderer to book.
In his thirty years with the Lancashire constabulary, Henry Christie has never known a case like this. What he couldn’t anticipate was that he would be stretched to the limit both personally and professionally. Unexpectedly stepping into a blood-soaked turf war raging between two local crime families, Henry soon finds himself slap-bang in the middle of a violent situation where his own life is also on the line.
About the Author
Nick Oldham was born in Belthorn, Lancashire, in 1956. He was a police officer from the age of nineteen, spending the majority of his service in operational roles, before retiring in 2005. He lives with his partner, Belinda, on the outskirts of Preston.
Read an Excerpt
For the moment his fear had subsided.
It was still there, humming in the background like a generator, still bubbling away, but the wild boil of terror had turned into a simmer and for the first time David Peters had time to think about his predicament. Not clearly, because his mind was still in turmoil. But at least now he could take a deep breath — even though the hessian bag over his head, with a drawstring pulled tight around his neck, meant he was inhaling strange-smelling dust particles that gagged his nasal passages and the back of his throat — and try to regain some control of his body.
Bring down the heart rate, moderate the breathing. There was nothing he could do about having soiled himself. That had already happened and the piss-shit stink mixed in with the smell of the sacking.
But for a while, though there was no way of knowing how long his respite would be — minutes, hours, days — he had to use the time constructively.
He had to marshal his thoughts and work out why he was here, hooded and bound, a prisoner trapped in a black space so tight he could hardly wriggle, a space even smaller than a coffin.
What had he done? What awful, terrible thing had he done — or omitted to do — to deserve this?
What did he possess, or what was he thought to possess, that was so valuable that he could end up like this?
If he could work out the reason, then maybe he could work out who was punishing him so severely, who held such a deadly grudge against him, or imagined he had wealth of some sort.
If it was possible to answer any of these questions, the next one would be, what could he, David Peters, do to escape with his life? Even then, before he had worked out any of the answers, he knew that if staying alive meant pleading for mercy and humiliating or degrading himself by licking up shit, he would do it.
Anything to live.
He twisted his hands, the cord around his wrists digging deeply into the skin, restricting the blood flow to his fingers, which tingled. He breathed in unsteadily as his heart began to pound again. He wanted to scream and scream. The parcel tape wound tightly across his mouth and around the back of his head and lower jaw meant his sounds were muted, never to be heard by anyone.
The fear began to rise again.
He was nothing special. He'd never cracked any pots — never will, his mother used to chide. He'd grown up and attended the primary school in the small Lancashire village where he'd been born. Then, after leaving the village and moving to a bigger town nearby, he'd attended college and after that became a TV repair man.
Unspectacular was his own description of himself. His only epiphany in life, the only good thing he had ever done, was to foresee the demise of tube and valve televisions and the advent of computers, and move into computer repairs. He took the plunge and invested in a little electrical shop, which became three, then back to two when recession struck. He made a half-decent living and that was all: no pots cracked.
He was in a tolerable marriage — unexciting, dull — had two grown-up kids he adored, but who despised him. He occasionally had a tryst with the dreary woman who managed his second shop when they would sneak into a Travelodge for an evening of dour passionless sex, an escape for both of them from their humdrum existences. But it was only occasional and nothing would ever come of the liaison. They didn't even really like each other.
And sometimes he went for a drink with an old mate.
A fully grown, middle-aged man, with a family, a small business, a woman he could hardly call a mistress, certainly not a lover — not in any exciting sense of the word ... although it had been on a night with her that Mr Unspectacular, David Peters, had something extraordinary happen to him.
He had been kidnapped.
'Did you do those invoices?' Peters had grunted. He was on top of his shop manageress, a woman called Stella Richards. They were making love and Peters had been thrusting distractedly into her when the thought occurred to him. Invoices. He stopped suddenly and asked the question.
Stella's eyes popped open in surprise, almost as though it was a shock to see her boss naked on top of her. She rarely opened her eyes when they had sex, not particularly liking what she saw at the best of times — flab and a bored expression (even at climax) on his face. But he was well built in the cock department and could keep going so that, more often than not, Stella managed an orgasm of sorts.
'What?' she said, screwing up her face, feeling those nice waves inside her start to ebb.
'Those invoices,' he said. 'Did they get done?' He had pushed himself up on his hands, taking his weight off her body.
'Yeah,' she gasped. She closed her eyes, grabbed his wide arse, digging her fingernails deep and slamming him back where he came from, deep inside, and she ground back. Their secret meetings were pretty pointless anyway, but would have been utterly so without an orgasm.
He resumed his movements and her ebb flowed again.
They never spent the night together. Their meetings were simply functional, so within minutes of finishing, David Peters was tugging on his socks (something Stella found irritating, a man who got dressed by putting his socks on first). She remained in bed, the duvet up to her neck, staring at the ceiling.
'... And that back room needs a tidy,' he was saying as he stepped into his Y-fronts (another irritation — though they mercifully covered his wide bottom). He continued to list the things that needed doing on the retail front. Their evenings usually concluded like this: back to business, because they had nothing else in common. Just a couple of TV and computer shops.
Peters stopped suddenly as he hopped into his pants. 'You not getting dressed?' he queried, puzzled.
She shook her head. 'I'm staying a while ... going to have a long bath and read a few chapters of that erotic book that's selling loads.'
'Duh — crap ... whatever.'
He finished dressing and skipped the awkward moment of parting by simply giving her a wave and slipping out of the room. Moments later he was out on the streets, heading for a nearby pub. He needed the smell of ale and maybe cigarette smoke on his clothes to fool his wife, who thought he was out for his monthly pint with his pal. Not that she was particularly interested, Peters believed, except that if he did get found out she'd probably take him for every penny. So, best to go through the motions.
He never made it to the pub.
David Peters stalked through the small lobby of the motel, neither seen nor noticed except by the CCTV camera above the reception desk that recorded all comings and goings. He exited via the main revolving door and found himself out on a busy street, which came as no surprise to him. It was only nine o'clock — the meeting with Stella had commenced at seven forty-five and lasted just over an hour, foreplay included.
And not only was it still quite early, it was also Christmas Eve — and the Lancashire seaside resort of Blackpool was heaving with bodies, mostly inebriated ones it seemed to Peters.
He paused on the footpath, stepping sideways to avoid some of the revellers, deciding where to go.
He couldn't go home too early, nor too late. It had to be finely judged, so he needed to go to a nice pub for a couple of slow jars, maybe a bag of crisps — Chilli Heatwave Doritos, he knew, did a good job of masking the aroma of recent sex — and then drive home for about elevenish. By that time his wife would be tucked up in bed and he could slide in without incident, even tonight.
Standing there, he experienced that sensation again.
That sixth sense, the one that made his hairs creep on the back of his neck. The one he'd had a few times recently. The sensation that someone was watching him. There was no evidence of it. No furtive shadows, just a feeling.
He spun quickly, only to come face to face with two drunken men who split either side of him and staggered past.
David Peters chuckled at his own foolishness. Who would be watching him?
He turned and headed towards Blackpool town centre, the two drunks ahead of him bouncing off each other as they progressed, crashing into other people, too. A couple to avoid, Peters thought, and set off to town, only a short distance away.
He turned off Talbot Square onto Market Street, thinking he would cut up Birley Street, past the entrance to the multi-storey car park, where he had left his car, then get into one of the pubs on Corporation Street and find a quiet corner with a pint of lager and spend some time contemplating his dreary existence.
Birley Street was maybe seventy metres long. It was a nothing of a street, just a thoroughfare connecting one busy main road to another. A street that took only a matter of seconds to walk along.
The van screeched past Peters and stopped just ahead of him. He thought nothing of it. Just a small box van based on a Vauxhall Astra.
Instead he was thinking, Mm ... my life ... shitty ...
It was about to get even shittier.
He didn't think about the footsteps behind him. Running.
Nor about the double rear doors of the van being flung open from within. And even if he had thought it through, his conclusion would have been that it was probably a van about to disgorge drunken occupants onto the street. More revellers to add to the thousands already in town.
Except no one emerged from the van.
And the footsteps rushed up behind him.
Then there was the blow to the back of the head which turned his knees to squish. His legs folded underneath him, no longer able to support his weight, and he slumped heavily onto his knees.
His eyes were still open, though. Just briefly he saw a dark shape in the back of the unlit van, but could not make out any features of it.
The pain from the blow to the head, still sending spasms throughout his body, rocked him onto his hands, and his shitty life swirled uncontrollably as he looked down at the cracked pavement, tried to raise his head, focus, concentrate, fight or run.
But then a hood was fitted over his head and drawn tightly around his neck. He was dragged and lifted and he knew he was being bundled head first into the van. His head hit something hard, an inner wheel arch perhaps. His hands were pulled behind his back and then he was punched on the side of his head, hard ... and neither his mind nor his body seemed to work any more. His eyes rolled back in their sockets, then there was nothing.
The sound of approaching footsteps on floorboards — or at least that's what they sounded like to David Peters.
He went rigid, listening, not breathing, trying to work it all out.
His head hurt still, throbbed. It was sore and there were big, tender swellings on it from the blows he had received.
Bang. That first one from behind had really hurt, made him drop like a sack of shit.
He blinked. Listened. Footsteps. They seemed to be ... above him. Then they stopped. There was a scraping, scuffling sound. Then the footsteps again, retreating, becoming distant ... the sound of a door clattering shut, like a garden gate. Not a house door. Then the metallic click of a latch dropping into place and a bolt being slid shut.
Peters tried to work out what to do.
So far he had been kidnapped and regained consciousness.
He wasn't sure, but he thought he hadn't made any noise yet, so perhaps the kidnapper believed him to be still unconscious.
Giving him precious time to think.
Why was he here?
Could it be Stella's husband? Had he discovered their sordid little affair — if it could be called an affair — and was he enraged by it and now wreaking revenge?
Peters thought it unlikely. Stella was convinced he neither knew nor suspected anything. And even if he found out he was unlikely to give a toss, she said, assuring him he was only interested in model railways.
Or had his own wife discovered the affair? Peters thought that was unlikely, too. He covered his tracks well, destroyed receipts, paid cash when he could, didn't make a regular habit of fucking his shop manager and always used a different location for each meet-up. No, the wife didn't know.
He had no money to speak of. A few grand in the bank, a couple of thou secreted in a building society, some cash — literally — stashed in the loft ... not nearly enough to satisfy a ransom demand.
Which was the truly worrying thing.
His assets were minuscule. Certainly not worth anyone kidnapping him for and putting themselves in jeopardy. He was worth next to nothing and even if the shops — which he owned outright — were sold, they wouldn't really be worth much either. They were both in crappy areas of town.
So no ransom demand.
A squeak of terror formed at the back of his throat.
This was personal.
And making it personal, logically, meant there would not be a pretty outcome to this.
No exchange. No money drop. No freedom.
He had been taken for some other reason.
His mind churned desperately.
Up until the start of the affair with Stella he had led a blameless life. Unspectacular. No cracked pots. Got married. Had kids. Ran a business. Had maybe done a few daft things as a kid, but nothing that bad and such a long time ago.
He was forty-five and innocent.
He inhaled unsteadily. The smell of the hessian sacking. And something else in the molecules he sniffed up his nose. Something familiar, yet difficult to place ... an aroma from the dim distant past.
At once his whole body felt as if it had been instantly frozen, dipped into liquid nitrogen.
And he knew.
The latch clattered. Footsteps approached again.
David Peters' heart pounded against his sternum.
The footsteps stopped directly above him.
There was a creaking noise as if an old door was being opened, or the lid of a coffin lifted. Peters felt an inrush of air around him. He could sense someone close by, standing over him. There was the sound of breathing.
He swallowed. He had hoped to do it silently, but the swallow became a loud gulp and because of that, it was now obvious he was awake. No more pretending.
The hessian hood was drawn slowly off his head.
He had expected to be blinded by bright lights, but the world his eyes saw was a dark, shadowy place, with a sinister figure standing over him. The figure squatted down onto its haunches as Peters realized where he had been lying. In a cavity of some sort, underneath a trap door, in a space maybe seven feet long, two feet wide and ten inches high, beneath some floorboards.
His heart whammed and crashed. Bitter adrenalin surged into his system and fear creased him.
The figure spoke. 'Welcome to the chicken shack.'CHAPTER 2
Henry Christie opened his eyes at the first low ring of the cordless telephone handset on the cabinet beside his bed. He was on his back, only half asleep, drifting in and out of wakefulness pretty much as per the last seven nights, over which, he claimed, he could probably count on both hands the hours he had slept. Not many. His head twisted to the right — a quick time check of the digital clock, the conditioned response honed by too many years of early morning phone calls and turnouts.
He saw and mentally logged the illuminated display, which read 03:48.
He rolled quietly out of bed, grabbing the phone as he moved, thumbing the 'Take Call' button before the third ring. He was up on his bare feet in an instant, phone clasped to his ear, plodding naked into the en suite shower room, closing the door softly behind him and only then speaking.
'Henry Christie ...' His voice was nervy as he wondered which of the two matters this could be. He didn't really want it to be either, but there was slight relief when the voice at the other end announced, 'Mr Christie, this is Inspector Howard, force control room ...'
Henry juddered a short breath. No, he didn't want either call ... what he wanted was a full night and a long morning in bed for once, and for nothing to happen ... but the Force Incident Manager's voice made this one infinitely more preferable to the call he could have got. The FIM was calling from Lancashire Constabulary's HQ Communications Room at Hutton, four miles south of Preston. It was the FIM who managed the call-out rotas for the force, deciding which specialist, if any, needed to be turned out to deal with an incident.
Not that Henry was even on a rota that week.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bad Tidings"
Copyright © 2013 Nick Oldham.
Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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