Nigel Ellis lost his wife over a decade ago in Uganda. He is remarried now, and his grown daughter, once plagued by nightmares, has finally gotten over the trauma of her mother’s death—or so it seems. Nigel has decided to write a memoir about his time in Britain’s security service—and he intends to include some explosive details about the country’s secret connections to the brutal dictator Idi Amin and behind-the-scenes corruption.
But there are some who are desperate to prevent his book from ever seeing the light of day—and now his family may be in lethal danger once again . . .
This nerve-jangling thriller from a Diamond Dagger winner is a dark, action-packed look at the lives of those involved in espionage and the people caught in the cross fire—guilty and innocent alike.
“Reginald Hill’s stories must certainly be among the best now being written.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“Hill is an absorbing, provocative novelist with great style and humour.”—Frances Fyfield
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Sairey Ellis lay awake, or dreamed she lay awake, all the rest of the night, but even the longed-for dawn was the pinched grey of her mother's face as she lay in her coffin.
Is she dead?
I don't know. I don't know what dead is.
What do you do?
I scream out. I struggle.
Is someone holding you?
Yes, it's Daddy. Daddy has me in his arms.
What does he do?
He hands me to Aunt Celia.
And what does Celia do?
In parts, the Dream was almost too vivid for recall, its scenes like flashes of bright light which burn themselves on the retina and leave shards of colour flickering between the eyes and reality.
She presses me to her breast. She carries me out of the room and down the corridor.
What do you see? What do you hear?
There's moonlight flooding through the window and a smell of rotting flowers and the sound of crickets and a dog barking and it's very warm.
It had come upon her with adolescence and almost destroyed her. Still, she never told her Dream, clutching it to her like an incestuous secret. But she had not been able to hide its effects. Her father had sent for Dr Varley, who had reassuringly diagnosed the cause of her sleep-lessness as 'girlish nightmares, pretty commonplace actually, all hormonal, don't y' know? She'll grow out of them.' And it had seemed his breezy complacency was justified when, as she reached physical maturity, the Dream had faded to a nightmare memory.
Where does Celia take you?
Up the stairs towards my room. But I break free and she has to let me go and I run back downstairs and Daddy's standing there in the moonlight closing this long box and I won't let him and I look inside again and I can see ... I can see ... I can see ... Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!
At eighteen, life seemed good. School was behind her, and ahead, if her A-levels were good enough, lay Cambridge. She spent the first half of the vacation in Spain with her stepmother. At 28 Masham Square, their London home, they had a relationship of Swiss neutrality. But in Spain, Fanny Ellis proved an ideal companion. With Fanny, you sailed into all the best places and were greeted as a valued friend by head waiters and Castilian grandees alike. Here, her sophisticated elegance was a bunk-up not a put-down, and her emotional withdrawal came across as tolerant non-interference. So, over five sybaritic weeks, Sairey's Cambridge reading list got only gently dented, but her skin took on a rich chestnut tan which made her re-shade her short spikey hair from shocking pink to olive green.
Nigel Ellis remained in London. Since his retirement he had started working on a book of memoirs and he claimed he was far too busy for a holiday. When Sairey suggested he could work just as well in Spain, he laughed and said, 'The only safe place for a star is under a spotlight.'
Being mysterious was a habit of his some people seemed to find endearing.
Towards the end of August, Sairey and Fanny returned to Number 28 to find Nigel in high spirits. His work was going well, it seemed, and Sairey's Cambridge place had just been confirmed by exam results even better than expected. That night they went out for an extravagant celebration dinner which left Sairey feeling more certainly a member of a united family than ever before. As she lay, wine-drowsy, in her bed, the future seemed secure, the present full of pleasures, and the past a melancholy memory, without power to harm. So, contented, she fell asleep.
Then the Dream came with such force that she brought its terror with her as she burst back into waking. The darkness seemed thick and cobwebby; she was stifling in it! Desperate for the world of air, she ran downstairs and out of the front door.
She'd no idea what time it was. Most windows were dark, but a big red BMW moved slowly towards her between the rows of parked vehicles. She shrank back into the doorway as its headlights caressed her bare limbs. Then it was passing and she was in the dark once more. But the bright, animal eyes of the man's face that filled the passenger window seemed to take in the whole of her body, as though darkness were no defence. The face looked familiar. Perhaps he was a neighbour. But the car crawled round the whole Square without stopping and finally disappeared towards the main road.
She didn't want to go back in, but she felt too vulnerable standing there on the step. She took a breath, plunged back into the hall, grabbed a light raincoat, then ran across the road and slipped through the railings of the little park at the centre of the Square. Where its gravel walks crossed stood a dilapidated summer-house, and this was where she headed. Already she felt some of her tension easing. Despite its smallness, entering the park was like escaping to the country. Here, the air felt cooler, fresher, and the burr of the distant traffic was eased out by softer, closer sounds, rustlings and scutterings in the grass; wind in the trees; water tinkling over stones.
Except that there was no water course in the park.
She soon found her answer. The gardener's tap by the summerhouse had been left running. She stooped to turn it off and noticed a balled-up handkerchief on the ground. She picked it up. It was sodden wet. And under the cool of the water there was something warm and sticky. She let the thing drop in distaste and saw in the dim starlight that her fingers were discoloured. Turning on the tap again, she let the water wash the brown stain away. And somewhere quite close, as if someone had been waiting for a covering noise, she heard a long soft exhalation of breath.
It said much for the horror of the Dream that her sense of refuge was still strong enough to counter this new fear.
'Who's there?' she said sharply.
At the side of the summer-house, the darkness stirred. The new fear took a sudden surge. She might have screamed but before she could, a voice from the road called her name.
'Sairey! Sairey! What the hell are you doing in there?'
It was her father. She doubted if she'd disturbed him, but Fanny, who seemed to need no sleep, had probably noticed her exit.
The sound of his voice gave her courage. Nigel Ellis brought to the active life what his wife brought to the social – the promise of being perfectly equipped to meet any crisis.
'Who are you?' she demanded. 'What do you want?' The darkness stirred again, a shadow advanced, began to form itself into a shape. I must be mad, thought Sairey. Daddy's well into his fifties, and he's sixty yards away. Even if I scream now, I can still have my throat cut open before he gets anywhere near.
But screaming seemed the best option. She opened her mouth, then let out only a gasp which had as much of pity as terror in it, as a face floated to the surface of the dark. It was a young man's face, fine-featured, with skin as golden as the image of an ikon, but it was a gilt in need of repair. Blood from his nose crusted his upper lip, while from the lower it still flowed fresh. His left eye was closed with a rainbow swelling, while his right cheek bore a contusion shaped like a star. As her sight adjusted she saw that he was dressed in muddied jeans and a tee shirt ripped in half to reveal more of that lovely golden skin whose colour had not been won from the Spanish sun.
'Sairey! Come out of there at once! Please.'
Her father was sounding angry. She glanced in his direction and could glimpse his lanky figure against the light spilling from the open front door of the house. She returned her gaze to the wounded boy and gasped as she saw his hand reach out towards her.
'Sairey,' he murmured, echoing her father. 'Sairey.'
The name seemed to amuse him, or perhaps it was a grimace of pain not an attempt at a smile which curled his lips. Whatever, Sairey didn't want him to touch her. She took a step back and almost stumbled. The raincoat slipped from her shoulders and she felt the night air, chill as frost against her skin. The young man let his reaching hand fall. But he still smiled, like an old friend at an unexpected meeting.
Sairey turned and ran towards her father.
Nigel Ellis was in his pyjamas but Fanny, sitting in the lounge with a cigarette in her hand and a book on her knee, was fully clothed. The little clock with the mechanical bluebirds which had belonged to Sairey's mother sang half past midnight. The Dream must have been waiting for her just around the corner of sleep.
Fanny smiled and said, 'Hello,' as if greeting them on their return from an evening stroll, then let her gaze drop to her book. Twenty-five years younger than her husband, she had that limpid, nerveless English beauty which can last for ever if life isn't allowed to trouble it.
'Darling, what happened? What were you doing out there?' asked her father again, his long narrow face filled with a concern now matched by his tone. Outside, he had sounded merely annoyed.
As Sairey debated her reply, Fanny said, 'Weren't you wearing a raincoat when you went on your little walkabout, dear?'
'Was I? I must have dropped it. I'll get it in the morning. Sorry, Daddy. I just couldn't sleep and wanted some air. Sorry if I disturbed anyone. Goodnight.'
She didn't offer to kiss either of them, but left immediately. In the hall she closed the door firmly behind her, then paused to listen. She had discovered this desperate need to know what people were saying about her at an early age. Eavesdropping made her feel guilty, and she rarely heard anything which made her feel good, but kicking the habit was proving very difficult.
'I hope to God it's not those nightmares again,' said her father uneasily. 'I hope she wasn't working too hard in Spain.'
'Only at getting a tan,' said Fanny lightly.
'You did keep an eye on her, Fan?'
'Yes, I did. We got on rather better there, as a matter of fact. But if you wanted full-scale parental supervision, you really should have come yourself.'
'You know I couldn't. Any trouble and I want it on my own ground.'
'And is there trouble?'
'Nothing that I didn't forecast. Their predictability is almost criminal. So you think that Sairey's OK?'
'I think so. But if you're really worried, don't ask me, ask John Varley.'
'Yes,' said Nigel Ellis. 'I might just do that, if ... I might just do that.'
Sairey went silently up the stairs and into her room. She didn't switch on the light, but stood by the window and looked down into the park. By daylight it was a rather dusty rectangle of scrubby shrubs and trees designed to give the inhabitants of the tall Victorian terraces a taste of the country in town.
But by night it seemed deep and bosky, a swaying, melodious grove in which a girl could get lost, or worse.
She strained her eyes to glimpse the hurt boy but could see nothing but the swaying of branches.
Why hadn't she mentioned him? Because he was none of their business. Not her father's, not Fanny's. Not even her own. Unless, of course, he were part of her Dream. Perhaps this, too, was still part of her Dream. If so, at least it was a better part than what lay in wait for her behind closed eyelids. She settled down to keep the long vigil to daylight.
And so she lay awake, or dreamed she lay awake, all the rest of the night. But even the longed-for dawn was the pinched grey of her mother's face as she lay in her coffin.CHAPTER 2
'Your father would like a word, I think,' said Fanny at breakfast one morning, about ten days after their return from Spain.
Sairey had little doubt what the word was about. She had tried with some success to conceal the worst effects of her lack of sleep, and her father's preoccupation with his memoirs might have enabled her to get away with it a good deal longer. But Fanny's keen eye missed little.
She went into her father's study and found it empty, but a still-smouldering cigarette promised he'd be back soon.
The study was very much a 'man's room', in the old-fashioned sense. A few tusked or toothy heads protruding from the panelled walls would not have looked out of place, but Ellis, fortunately, had never been that kind of white African. What did cover the walls were photographs. All his life, or at least its surface, was here. Like a visitor to an art gallery, Sairey wandered round the room.
Here he was, aged about five, with his father and sister, outside their farmhouse near Nyeri. Half a dozen Kikuyu farmhands grinned at the group from a respectful distance, their broad smiles contrasting with the Whites' solemnity. Sairey looked at the nineteen-year-old Celia and could already see in that slim, upright figure and thoughtful gaze the much-loved, middle-aged aunt who had once more taken over a mother's role, forty years on. A photo of her in her thirties on Camber Sands with her invalid father showed little change, but the crouched and wizened figure in the wheelchair was unconnectable with the broad-shouldered, vital man outside his Kenyan farmhouse.
Sairey let her gaze slip to the young Kikuyu. Had any of them been involved in the raid which destroyed his life, she wondered? But there was no way of looking beneath those smiling faces. She passed on.
Group photographs, formal and informal, dominated; her father tassel-capped at school, bare-headed at university, peak-capped in the KAR, bare-headed again at the hauling down of the Union Jack in Nairobi in '62, greytoppered at his wedding ... she moved her gaze rapidly on.
Here he was being married again, casually dressed this time in a light linen suit, with Fanny, cool in a flowered summer dress, by his side. There were no black faces in this group, except in contrast with Fanny's pale, flawless skin which was, apparently, impervious to the African sun. Nigel Ellis looked uncharacteristically nervous. Most of the surrounding guests looked suitably cheerful except for one, a bulky, snarling man whose head was thrust forward in the questing pose of a hungry bear.
She remembered noticing him particularly when she first saw the photo. He must have made a deep impression for, though it was years since she could recall looking at this group, she was suddenly convinced that this was the man she'd seen driving slowly round the Square that night the Dream returned.
She shuddered, and moved on in search of her father.
The very last of the pictures showed him alone for once, grey-toppered again, standing outside Buckingham Palace examining his retirement MBE. Sairey had taken a whole roll of snaps, but Ellis had shown little interest till Fanny said, 'In this one, you look as if she'd just given you a corgi dropping.'
'How apt,' he'd said, and chosen that photo as his record of the award.
The door opened and he swept in. Tall and rangy, with the deep tan of Africa hardly touched by seven years in England, he looked more like a bushranger than a civil servant, which is what appeared on his passport.
'Hello, sweetie,' he said, kissing her cheek. 'Not sleeping so well, I hear.'
'I'm all right,' she said. 'Just a bit of insomnia, that's all.'
'You reckon? Look, I'd like John Varley to take a look at you, OK? Now I know you're eighteen and, by one of those laws which they passed behind my back, that makes you adult and able to say yea or nay to being examined, but for my sake, just so that I can cross one worry off my list of a thousand, see John, will you?' 'All right,' she said. There was no way of arguing with him, or, at least, no way which would not leave her feeling more like eight than eighteen.
'Daddy,' she said, 'I was just looking at these old photos before you came in. This man at your wedding, who's he?' She pointed at the ursine man.
Nigel Ellis said, 'Why do you ask?'
'No reason. He just looks very ... striking. In a rather nasty way.'
It was the right thing to say, it seemed.
'That's not so far from the truth. His name's Archbell. Archie to his friends, such as they are.'
'What was he doing at your wedding?'
'He was by way of being my boss in Africa. Also, Fanny was his secretary. So it would have been difficult not to invite him. If ever you meet him, run a mile, even if he does seem to be on a chain! Now I must dash. Got to see a publisher. Don't I sound high-powered!' He swept up some papers from his desk and was gone.
This had been the pattern of their relationship for as long as she could recall – brief intense encounters, sudden departures. She wanted to explain to him that she needed long sessions of examination and reflection to get to know people. She'd made few close friends at school because the sheer pace of life and the multiplicity of personnel had made it difficult to work things through. His judgements were swift, piercing, accurate, but rather limited in their understanding of an opposite nature. She could have told him, of course, only there never seemed time. And also, perhaps because there never seemed time, she never felt close enough for the kind of openness such a telling would require.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dream of Darkness"
Copyright © 1991 Estate of Reginald Hill.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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