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No Place to Hide
By Jack Slater
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2017 Julian Slatcher
All rights reserved.
Jerry's knife hit the floor with a thump. He reached for it, tempted to ignore the knock on his front door that had caused him to drop it. Who the hell was going to be calling at this time of the evening, anyway? He certainly wasn't expecting anyone.
Probably Jehovah's Witnesses or something, he thought, checking the knife and the carpet where it had fallen.
The knock came again, louder, more insistent. They must have seen the light from inside. He sighed and got up, putting his dinner to one side.
In the hallway, he could see the silhouette of a man through the glass front door. He checked the chain and opened it a crack. A young man stood there. Clean cut, with neat dark hair, dressed in chinos and a jacket against the chill of the November evening.
'Perfect.' He took a step back and Jerry frowned, confused. From nowhere, something slammed into the door. The chain gave way and the door hit Jerry in the face. He staggered. The young guy leapt in, shoving him back so that he stumbled and fell onto the stairs, the treads digging painfully into his back. Another figure crowded in behind, carrying what looked like a heavy metal pipe with handles along two sides and a black sports bag with a dark gold logo. The first one was leering over him now, his face inches away. 'Now, Jerry. You're going to show us your computer.'
'My computer?' Jerry frowned. 'Why? What are you ...?'
'We know what you are. I've seen your record.'
The guy's hand clamped across Jerry's throat, cutting off his words. 'It wasn't a request,' he said. 'Where is it? Or do we have to search the place?'
Jerry stared into the young man's eyes and saw no give at all. No compassion. If anything, a cold enjoyment of what he was doing. Who was he? How had he seen closed records?
'You want it the hard way? Fine.' Something hard pressed into Jerry's solar plexus and agony spasmed through his torso. He gasped. Had he been stabbed? He couldn't look down for the hand at his throat. 'Josh, get his trousers.'
The other, larger guy crowded forward. Jerry felt hands at his belt. 'No, please,' he gasped. 'I'll tell you.'
A smile lit up the face above him. 'I know.' The head tilted. The agonising pressure lifted from his torso. 'So ...?'
'Front bedroom. It's my office.'
'Ironic, in the circumstances. Josh?'
Panic flashed in Jerry's mind. 'No. I told you ...' He cried out as agony flared in his stomach and chest again, so fierce and intense that he barely felt the fingers unfastening his trousers. His shoes were slipped from his feet and his trousers tugged from the bottoms, down and off in one quick motion, change and keys spilling across the wood floor. Jerry was paralysed by the pain in his torso as he felt his underwear tugged down. Tears were running freely from his eyes as he stared up at the young man holding him. 'Please, don't. Don't do this.'
He felt rubber-clad fingers place something around the base of his genitals. It felt like wire. He gasped, his eyes widened in horror. 'No. Fuck!' Panic surged through him, almost overwhelming the pain in his chest and stomach.
The guy shook his head. 'No, no, Jerry. Not wise. What you can feel is cheese wire. One tug from Josh, and bye-bye bits. Do you understand?'
Jerry nodded, unable to speak.
'Good.' The guy's voice was almost friendly now. He pushed himself up. The pain went from Jerry's torso, but he was horrifically aware of the tension around his groin. 'Up you get. But no sudden moves, eh? We wouldn't want any accidents. Awfully messy on this nice, beige carpet.'
Jerry felt horribly exposed and vulnerable. He sat up carefully and got to his feet.
'Up you go,' the first one said. 'I'll be right behind you.' He took the wooden handle on the end of the wire from the bigger guy in the blue surgical gloves and stepped in close, grabbing a handful of Jerry's shirt with his free hand.
Jerry turned, feeling the wire across the top of his thigh as he took a tentative step up. He led the way cautiously up the stairs and along to the front bedroom, which he had converted into an office.
Keep them calm, do what they want, he thought. It was the only way he could see of getting out of this intact. Any wrong move and that little wooden handle would be snatched back and ... He didn't even want to think that far, but an image came unbidden into his mind – blood spurting, a lump of flesh lying at his feet as he collapsed, ruined forever. He would bleed out, here, on the floor.
'Right. Stand aside, Jerry. Let the dog see the rabbit.'
The big one – Josh – stepped past them and took the seat in front of the computer. He powered it up as if he owned it and a flash of annoyance pierced Jerry's fear. A hand clamped heavily on his shoulder, almost as if the guy standing beside him knew what he was thinking. Jerry felt suddenly crowded, claustrophobic in his own private space.
The computer screen lit up with a pleasant coastal scene, dotted with icons. Josh clicked on the Documents icon and searched until he found what he was looking for. Jerry felt himself go pale.
'Oh, Jesus,' he murmured.
'He won't help you now, Jerry,' the other one said from his side. 'Or where you're going, if the preachers are right. Up you get, Josh.'
'What? What are you going to do?' Fear formed a lump in his throat that was the only thing stopping him from retching. His legs didn't work properly as he was pushed forward and into the seat. He sat down hard, the wire digging into the sensitive skin at the top of his thighs. 'Please. Don't hurt me. I'm not that guy any more. I don't use that stuff. I'd forgotten it was even on there.' Jerry felt the guy's free hand grab his collar and tug it down, then a sharp prick in the muscle between his neck and shoulder. 'What are you doing?'
'Just something to help you relax, Jerry.' He patted him on the shoulder, where the injection had been.
A weird feeling swooped through Jerry's body. He tried to shift his feet under the chair, but couldn't. They wouldn't respond. My God, what was this stuff they'd given him? Jesus! He could clearly hear the TV from downstairs. He recognised the voice of the BBC News anchor. Fiona. Not his favourite. He liked Julie. What the hell was he thinking?
He stared at the screen in front of him. Went to lift his hand to the mouse, to close the image, but his arm wouldn't work either. 'What ...?' His voice was slurred and he couldn't turn his head to face the men behind him. What was happening? Had they overdosed him? God! He'd never done drugs before, not of any kind – he didn't even smoke – and he never would again. This lack of control was frightening. 'Wha —?'
He felt the guy's presence, close beside him. Felt his breath in his ear when he spoke.
'Of course, in the dose we've given you, it goes a bit further than that. Becomes a paralytic. Stops your muscles from working. You can see, hear, smell, feel, but you can't move. And soon, you won't be able to breathe.' He stood back. 'Best get on, before we lose him. Wouldn't want him to miss the fun, eh?' He laughed and the other one joined in.
Panic filled Jerry's mind as he felt his hand being placed around the wooden handle of the cheese wire. They were killing him. Slowly, so that he would feel every terrifying, agonising moment of it.
The bigger one placed a couple of big, fat candles on the ends of the wall-to-wall desk and lit them.
'There,' the one in charge said. 'A bit of romance. Appropriate, or what?'
A lighter sounded. The candles were lit. Then a third one.
'Josh, check the sitting room, would you? And turn the TV off while you're there. You know what we need.'
Josh left the room.
Jerry tried to look away from the image on the screen in front of him, but even his eye muscles no longer worked. He heard a creak on the landing. 'Ah, perfect.'
Josh came back into the room and dumped a pile of newspapers and magazines on the back of the desk, under the curtain. The top quarter or so of the stack was slid across a few inches and the third candle placed under it.
Jerry gasped. They were going to burn him alive! 'Pwu ... Nu ... Hu ...'
A hand clapped him hard on the back. He coughed, tried to get his breath and found it difficult. 'We'll be off, then, Jerry. Don't worry. You probably won't feel the flames. I dare say the Sux will have stopped your breathing by then.'
Frozen in place, Jerry stared at the stack of papers and magazines as his attackers walked calmly along the landing and down the stairs. The bottom one of the overhanging magazines and papers was already beginning to brown. Desperately, he tried to shift his body in the chair, but nothing happened. He drew a breath to try to shout, but his chest felt tight and restricted. 'Hel —' he croaked, then struggled to breathe in again. 'He —'CHAPTER 2
'Concealing evidence is a serious offence, Sergeant.'
DCI Adam Silverstone's slim hands were flat on his desk as he stared at the man standing stiffly before him.
'I haven't concealed anything ... sir. Tommy's connection to Rosie Whitlock wasn't relevant to the case. How could it have been? He's been missing for six months, he hadn't exchanged any messages with her since April and he's thirteen years old. He wouldn't have been driving the van. So I made a judgment call. As you know, every minute counts in cases like that. It was a question of either/or. Either I followed protocol or I gave Rosie Whitlock every chance of being recovered alive and well. I chose the latter. Was I wrong, sir?' With difficulty, Detective Sergeant Pete Gayle kept his eyes on the wall above the station chief's head.
'Don't push me, Sergeant. You're on thin ice already. In fact, you're a very small step away from being back on the beat. You've deliberately and blatantly flouted the most basic of rules. You cannot work a case involving a direct member of your family. But, knowing that, you hid your son's connection to the victim and carried on regardless. Did you imagine there'd be no consequences to that?'
'No, sir. I imagined there would be fatal consequences if I didn't – for a thirteen-year-old girl whose case was all over the press at the time. And the girl's own testimony suggests I was correct.'
'It doesn't matter whether he was a victim or a suspect, Sergeant. The fact that he was involved at all, and you knew it, is enough that you should have handed the case over instead of carrying on regardless. You are not the only competent officer in this nick.'
'No, sir. But all the others were fully occupied on other cases and there wasn't time for one of them to start again from scratch.'
'That was not your call to make, Sergeant. It was mine or DI Underhill's. And I distinctly remember telling you at the outset to keep DS Phillips up to speed so that he could take over if necessary.'
'My understanding at the time was that he'd got to a critical stage in one of his own cases, sir. With all due respect to Simon, he couldn't deal with that and take on Rosie Whitlock's case at the same time, as urgent as it was. And any delay in our investigation would have meant the suspect getting away. To attack another victim. He's already killed at least twice, sir.'
'Which he blames on your son, Sergeant. With, at least in one case, the support of the pathologist's report. And where's he now, eh?'
'I think that's a question you should ask Simon Phillips, sir. He's been trying to answer it for six months now.'
'Enough!' Silverstone's hands slapped his desk as he came up out of his chair, face reddening. His dark eyes locked on Pete's, jaw clenched as he pulled a deep breath in through his nose. He held it a beat, then slowly let it out. 'I have been reminded by HR at Middlemoor that, before going back on active duty, you should have had a psych eval. Circumstances prevented it at the time, obviously, but that is no longer the case.'
'Sir, I don't ...'
'Do not presume on my patience, Peter,' Silverstone snapped, overriding him. 'You'll find it severely lacking. This is not my decision and certainly not yours. You will attend Middlemoor HQ and report to the police psychologist at 0900 hours on Wednesday.' He slapped a piece of paper down on his desk in front of Pete. 'There are your orders. See that they're obeyed.'
* * *
Silence descended as Pete walked back into the squad room. He ignored it, marching back to his desk, jaw clamped tight with the anger still seething inside him.
Bloody jumped-up clueless twat. How the hell did the brass ever imagine he was going to be any use to the force? Talk about piss-ups and breweries, as a manager he was as much use a chocolate teapot and there was no way he'd ever survive in a political environment. They'd wipe the floor with the arrogant, preening dick.
He sat down heavily, yanked open the bottom drawer of his desk and took out the file that he kept there. He slapped it open and stared at the page without focusing.
'You all right, boss?' DC Jane Bennett asked from the desk opposite.
Pete looked up and sighed. 'I'm still here. For now.'
DC Dave Miles straightened up in his chair, next to Jane's. 'Even he's not stupid enough to sack you while the press is still singing your praises.'
'No, but you know what the press is like, Dave. News is only news for a day or three. Then they get bored and move on.'
'Be back for the trial, though, and that won't be for a few months at least. Bit of luck, FTP'll have been promoted out of here by then.'
One of these days, Silverstone was going to catch somebody calling him that, Pete thought. It was just a question of whether he would realise it was him they were talking about. Which would probably depend on whether they used the initials, as Dave had, or the full version, Fast-track Phil. If the latter, what he'd just endured would be nothing in comparison ...
He shook his head. 'If we get a conviction then he might get his promotion. Not until then.'
'What do you mean, if?'
'Nothing's certain in this life, Dave. Anyway, now's not the time to be taking the piss out of the chief.'
'Feeling sensitive, is he?' Dick Feeney, the oldest member of the team, asked with a grin.
'Distinctly tetchy would be closer to the mark. So, what have you lot been up to while I was getting my balls chewed off?'
Pete had explained the situation to his crew before he'd reported the email and text links between his still-missing son, Tommy, and Rosie Whitlock, the victim of the abduction they had been investigating. The team had understood and supported him but they'd all known that DCI Silverstone would not.
It was now just over a week since the girl was rescued and Dave arrested the suspect after a brief car chase through the streets of Exeter. When the tech team at Headquarters had found the link between Rosie and Tommy on her computer, Pete had kept it to himself. He knew it was against the rules, but, as he'd said to the DCI, it was a judgment call. There was no way that Tommy could have snatched her and there wasn't time to waste on following protocol when the girl's life was at stake. Or, at least, that was what he'd told himself.
Thinking it through afterwards, he'd accepted that DI Colin Underhill could have taken over. He was a bloody good copper – had taught Pete everything he knew – but, having only just stepped back into the fold after five months' compassionate leave following Tommy's disappearance, the last thing Pete had wanted was to be pushed straight back out to the sidelines.
And, in the end, he'd been right. They'd nailed the guy. He'd been arrested before he could harm anyone else, including Rosie.
'You know how it is, boss.' Dave leaned back in his chair, fingers linking behind his head. 'While the cat's away ...'
'Well, I'm back now, so let's get to it, eh? We need every i dotted and every t crossed on this one. No chance of him wriggling out of it for any reason at all.'
Including some smart-arse DS hiding the fact that his son was connected to the victim.
Pete pushed the thought aside as soon as it popped into his mind. As lead investigator, it was up to him what was relevant and therefore what would go to the CPS lawyers. As long as the defence team didn't get hold of it and, more importantly, of the fact that Pete knew of it ...
'There's no way he's wriggling out of this, boss,' Dave said, sitting forward again and tugging his black waistcoat back into place. 'His van. His barn. The stuff at his house. The girl's testimony. We're safe as houses.'
Excerpted from No Place to Hide by Jack Slater. Copyright © 2017 Julian Slatcher. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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