When a mysterious DVD is delivered to Northumbria Police Headquarters, DS Matthew Ryan and Detective Superintendent Eloise O’Neil are among the few to view its disturbing content. With little to go on the only lead comes from the anonymous and chilling woman’s voice narrating the blood-soaked lock-up depicted on screen.
But with no victim visible, nor any indication of where the unidentifiable crime scene is located, Ryan and O’Neil get the distinct feeling someone is playing with them. What is certain is that the newly formed special unit has just taken on its first challenging case.
As further shocking videos start arriving at police stations around the country, the body count rises. But what connects all the victims? And why are they being targeted? As the investigation deepens, the team is brought to breaking point as secrets from the past threaten to derail their pursuit of a merciless killer . .
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Dusk was the perfect choice, heavy on atmosphere, exactly what she was after. To her it was almost as important as what she had in mind to do. The weather was playing its part. Thunder rumbled overhead as she left the village and crossed the bridge, the loch on one side, the swollen River Tay on the other. The folly she was heading for wasn’t far, but the riverbank was slick and shiny, heavy going for most people, more so for her. The path was deeply rutted by horses’ hooves and the footprints of those daring to venture out. She’d chosen well. It was getting dark. Locals were heading home to eat. The chances of meeting anyone on the way to the kill site were negligible.
She had no qualms. Not one. Her targets deserved to die, in the worst way possible. Allowing them to go unpunished, after what they had done, was out of the question. When she started out on this journey she’d listened to her gut. Surveillance was key. No point in being short on detail. As it turned out, stalking the first one was easier than it should’ve been. Security wasn’t so much lax as non-existent. Diplomat? Ha! Not any more. Killing him made her feel well again. Better than she had in ages.
She thought of her victim now, the surprised look on his face, the horror in his eyes. A couple of months had gone by since his execution, but she’d watched the video so many times that every action, every word was now indelibly etched on her memory. It still gave her a thrill, the way everything had followed her script to the letter. Even though she’d never taken centre stage personally, it was a first-rate job. She could never have imagined such a positive outcome, representing as it did that all-important first step on the road to hell.
It was all mapped out …
Her map …
She soldiered on, the mud sucking at her boots with every step. Tracking number two had been easy. One slight setback, but nothing she couldn’t handle. Annoying more than anything. She’d climbed the fence surrounding his fuck-off estate. Crawled on her hands and knees through woods to observe his house through binoculars, only to find him loading a suitcase into the boot of his car. The bastard had taken off on holiday before she had time to act.
In retrospect, the height of the summer holidays was perhaps not the best time. She could wait. She’d spent the time productively: tracking other targets, scouting locations, never idle. And now, after several weeks of waiting, the judge’s time was drawing near. According to her unwitting source, His Lordship was due back any day now. She smiled to herself. People were so gullible.
The local newsagent had fallen over himself to be accommodating when she’d called the shop. ‘Good morning, I’m from His Lordship’s residence. I’m his new PA, just checking that his newspapers have been cancelled until further notice?’
There was a momentary pause.
‘There must be some mistake.’ The lad on the other end sounded flustered. ‘Let me check the ledger …’ The phone went down onto a hard surface. She heard pages rustling, then he was back on the line. ‘Our instructions are to stop them only until October twelfth.’
‘No problem at all.’
‘I’ll pop in one day. The name’s Jenny.’
‘Alec. That would be cool.’
Would it, really?
Somehow she didn’t think so.
Deception worked every time. It never ceased to amaze her how many folks were willing to take her at face value, to accept every lie, every pleasantry exchanged in person or on the phone. Her mother had once told her that her familiarity would get her into trouble one day. How wrong could one person be? It had opened so many doors they may just as well have been left open.
Yes, it was all shaping up nicely.
Shadows were beginning to form as the sun fell beneath the horizon. If someone did happen along she’d play it cool, take out her equipment and set up a photo shoot. Capturing an ancient monument, a throwback from a bygone era, in the atmospheric light of dusk – nothing suspicious in that. She was simply a conscientious professional, a slave to her art.
If only the same could be said of her co-conspirator. His nonstop whining was getting on her nerves.
‘Quit bitching,’ she said. ‘It’s a bit of rain. And it’s giving us the best chance we’ll ever have to check out the terrain, do a proper walk-through at the temple, with no one around. It can’t be far. Come on!’
He hitched the camera case further onto his shoulder, rain dripping from the hood of the waxed jacket she’d given him so he’d blend in. Sodden, it would weigh as much as he did. ‘This place gives me the creeps.’ He looked around as if some unseen enemy was lurking in the half-light. ‘You sure we’ve picked the right site? What if—’
‘You want out?’
‘I didn’t say that. I was only—’
‘You’re in too deep to be backing out now.’ She saw the resentment in his eyes and decided to change tack. ‘Look, we’ve talked about this. Out here in the sticks we’ll be too conspicuous if we try following him. The house is out, because it’s bound to have a state-of-the-art alarm system as well as live-in staff. At work he’s surrounded by cops and security and CCTV. The only time he’s alone is when he walks his dog – and this is where he likes to walk him, bright and early every Sunday morning, when he’s got the riverside all to himself. Logistically, this is far and away our best bet. So what is your problem?’
He pulled a face: What do you think?
‘We won’t get caught if we’re careful and patient.’
‘It’s too risky. What if his Lab goes for us?’
‘Then you’ll kill that too.’ She glared at him. ‘What? You can waste a judge but you’re squeamish about offing a man’s best friend? Come on, when have you ever seen a Labrador go for anyone? They’re more likely to lick you to death.’ She walked on, her feet squelching in the mud, his complaints not far behind …
‘Why bring all the gear if we’re just having a look?’
‘Because I want to sort out the lighting, maybe shoot some test footage.’ Her gaze shifted to the river. ‘It’s handy having the river close by for disposal purposes, but the noise of rushing water is going to play havoc with the audio. I need to check sound levels, figure out a work-around so it doesn’t cause a problem when we’re filming. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.’
She pulled up sharp, in awe of the building that emerged through the treeline. It was so much more romantic than the images she’d viewed online: an ornate hexagonal tower, raised up from the ground on a stepped plinth, surrounded by mature beech trees, the branches of which almost met in the middle above a stone cross; a magnificent sight.
The graffiti-covered door stood slightly ajar, inviting her in. Her eyes travelled up to the viewing platform at the top – a tailor-made lookout post. Perfect for her needs. She winked at her cohort, went inside and climbed the winding staircase to take a look, brushing cobwebs and creepy-crawlies from her hair as she emerged at the top, her eyes scanning the scene.
She stepped back from the edge as a ghostly figure appeared through the fading light. The hair on the back of her neck was rising, not in panic but exhilaration. This was no apparition. The judge was moving towards the folly at a pace, his trusty gundog trotting to heel. It wasn’t planned but luck was on her side. She alerted her accomplice. Seconds later, he seized his chance.
No one heard her quarry scream.
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