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In a world steeped in darkness, a new breed of evil has fallen...
London’s ruined economy has pushed everyone to the breaking point, and even the police rely on bribes and deals with criminals to survive. Detective Inspector Cass Jones struggles to keep integrity in the police force, but now, two gory cases will test his mettle. A gang hit goes wrong, leaving two schoolboys dead, and a serial killer calling himself the Man of Flies leaves a message on his victims saying “nothing is sacred.”
Then Cass’ brother murders his own family before committing suicide. Cass doesn’t believe his gentle brother did it. Yet when evidence emerges suggesting someone killed all three of them, a prime suspect is found—Cass himself.
Common links emerge in all three cases, but while Cass is finding more questions than answers, the Man of Flies continues to kill...
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Sarah Pinborough is a British author of dark fantasy, horror, thriller and YA who has had more than ten novels published thus far across that range. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies and she has a horror film in development. She has recently branched out into television writing and is currently writing for the BBC. Sarah was the 2009 winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, and has three times been short-listed for Best Novel. She has also been short-listed for a World Fantasy Award. Her novella, The Language of Dying was short-listed for the Shirley Jackson Award and won the 2010 British Fantasy Award for Best Novella.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It’s the little things that count.
Carla Rae’s cooling body was testament to that. Her wide eyes no longer shone as the drying surfaces became sticky. With no further call to pump through the lifeless veins, her blood settled heavily in her limbs. The cheap electric clock on the bedside table ticked the minutes away, moving on from the moment of her death without even a hitch¬ing breath of hesitation. The world continued. Twenty–fi ve– year–old Carla Rae didn’t. There would be no twenty–sixth birthday. The inner mechanics of her body were accepting that, even if in the dying mo¬ments her mind had raged against the inevitability.
Tick tock. Silent body–clock stopped.
Gases began to accumulate where stomach acids were no longer working to digest the Chinese take– away she’d eaten not that many hours before. Soon, if left untouched, her flat belly would rise into a swollen ball of foul–smelling air before it escaped loudly in a last and woefully late warcry against the silence of death—but it wouldn’t come to that for Carla Rae. The small pinprick in her arm, the life now growing in her eyes and the words scrawled in crimson across her naked chest would ensure a neat and clinical autopsy on a metal bed less soft than that on which she currently lay. Not that she would notice. The soft fl esh that had been Carla Rae’s home was beyond feeling anything at all.
* * *
The real matter of life isn’t about decisions, it’s about choices. Deci¬sions are the big things; they’re thought out, weighed and evaluated. Each brings a unique set of consequences, maybe good, maybe otherwise, but they’re of our own making, and that is a comfort in itself. Even the bad ones we’ll take on the chin, albeit quietly railing against our own stupidity. Decisions make us think we’re in control.
It’s the little things that count: the choices.
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it: we don’t think about choices; we justmake them. And yet those fleeting moments are depen¬dent on the moment or mood, and all entwined with an endless series of other choices made by people unknown. It’s almost funny—if you’ve got that black kind of sense of humour. Little choices stories are every¬where, but they’re blaming luck, or fate—they scream out from the pages of grubby tabloid newspapers and cheap TV channels. But those stories are wrong.
There is no luck. Or fate. It’s your own choices that will fuck you up.
Or at least that’s what DI Cass Jones was thinking as he stood in the doorway looking at the naked body face up on the untidy bed. What God–awful mistake did she make that she died here, on these stained sheets, in this shithole estate? Did she decide to walk instead of get¬ting a cab? Did she accept a drink from the wrong almost–handsome stranger? Five minutes earlier, five minutes later—who knew where she’d be? Maybe still lying here, maybe breathing in ignorance some¬where else. It always came down to choices.
He sighed, his brown eyes bleary from a day that had already been too long. Whichever it was, the game was all over for her; now she was just one more statistic in a world that was rapidly caring less about statistics.
Outside, night was only just beginning to crack the sky, fracturing the deep blue of the dying day with streaks of orange and red, fi lling the small bedroom with an eerie gloom. It had been a hot day and the stale air was rank as stagnant pond water. Cass found himself breath¬
ing shallowly through his mouth.
“Can someone open a window or is that too much to ask?”
The poised camera flashed brightly over the body before the unfa¬miliar photographer turned, his green plastic suit rustling. “Too much to ask.” He grinned, his face young and free of lines, which was enough in itself to make the detective inspector want to punch him.
“Say cheese.” Before Cass could react, the bed and the fi gures around it became black voids haloed in white as in the gloom a haze of buzz¬ing flies darted to safety in the corners.
“Jesus Christ!” The backs of his eyes had the scene imprinted in re¬verse lights and shadows before it started to fade.
“Sorry.” The cameraman shrugged, still smiling. “I sometimes get this overwhelming urge to photograph someone that’s living. Call me twisted.”
From beside the bed, a crouched figure rose. “And if you carry on like that, it’ll be only the living you’re working with—if you’re lucky to be working at all.” The voice was acid–sharp and the young man visibly shrivelled into his plastic coating as he gurgled a muted apology.
“Now piss off and take those cameras back to the van.” He was still unimpressed.
DI Jones stared at the junior examiner as he squeezed awkwardly past, two cameras in one hand, the heavy protective case in the other. When he was trapped somewhere between Cass’s shoulder and the doorframe, the DI leaned forward.
“If I ever hear that picture’s been developed, I’ll be looking for you.” For a brief moment, Cass was sure he could hear the boy’s heart pause. “Do you understand?”
The assistant nodded vigorously and Cass shifted half an inch to his left and let him go.
He watched him wearily, for a moment overwhelmed by the sheer stupidity of youth, as the boy rapidly disappeared into the mêlée of SOCOs filling the rest of the flat. He needed to learn his place, and he also needed to learn that DI Cass Jones wasn’t known for his perky sense of humour. And, more importantly for the assistant, neither was Dr. Mark Farmer. In the current lack–of–jobs market there was no room for stupid mistakes, and one day, when he was older and wiser, he might realise that Cass had done him a favour.
“My penance for training the last one up so well.” The ME pulled his hood back, thick silver curls springing free across his head and down to his shoulders, turning him from coroner to ageing rock star in one swift movement. He frowned. “What are you doing here, Jones? This isn’t your case.”
“It is now.” The air trapped by the nailed–down window seemed denser, almost clinging to the body like a mourning relative. It felt like day–old cigarette smoke against the roof of Cass’s mouth as he said, “Bowman was rushed to hospital this morning with a suspected burst appendix. Looks like he could be out of action for weeks, so his case¬load’s been passed on to me. No extra pay, of course.”
“Of course.” The ME shrugged. “Although peritonitis is nasty. He’s lucky to be alive.”
“No luck involved: the stupid bastard’s been complaining about feeling like shit for a couple of weeks. He should have gone and got it sorted ages ago. It’s not like the police don’t still get NHS.”
“Ah yes, the perks of being a civil servant.” The coroner looked ready to launch into his usual bitter commentary on the state of Britain, the world and life–everlasting should he be given even the slightest hint of encouragement, but Cass, with little interest in politics and even less in Farmer’s particular viewpoint, refused to be drawn, forcing the ME to fall silent. Cass was too tired and pissed off to be a willing sounding board, and the stench in the room was such that surely they all wanted to be free of it as soon as possible.
He peered at the girl’s naked body. The poor cow’s ribs jutted up¬wards over her concave stomach in a way that suggested either poverty or an advanced eating disorder. Given the cheap dye job on her almost– ginger hair, perhaps an attempt at blonde, Cass figured the former. Her large nipples were now simply islands of pink on the tiny curves that were almost breasts. Would she be any less fl at–chested standing up¬right? He doubted it.
“What is this? Number four?”
The ME stood alongside him. “Yes—at least we can presume so. I’ll confirm when I get the toxicology results back after the PM. You’re going to have some catching up to do if you want half a chance of solving this one. I’ll send all my notes over to you. I presume your sergeant’s still getting debriefed by Bowman’s sergeant? So she should have a good idea of what’s going on. Or is that over now?”
Cass was surprised. Farmer wasn’t normally one for loaded remarks, at least outside of those that served to support his delicate left–wing sen¬sibilities. For once, Cass would have preferred that; Claire May’s pri¬vate life was none of Farmer’s business. He ignored the question, saying, “May’s staying on the Jackson and Miller case and I’m keeping Black–more on this one. Stupid to switch them over as I’m working both. If I change them we’ll all be confused rather than just me.”
His fingers itched for the feel of a cigarette and a quiet space to just empty his mind and breathe. It had been a bitch of a day, and he fi g¬ured Farmer’s hadn’t been much better. Resources were tight and ev¬eryone was overworked. The image of the smiling bobby on the beat had been murdered long ago. His unsmiling eyes scanned the bed’s contents.
The young woman’s skin was pale, with no hint of tan lines, either fresh, or the final fading memories of a holiday long gone. An empty ache touched the pit of his stomach. It wasn’t quite pity, but it was close enough. Neither he nor the doc had had as bad a day as the dead girl in front of them.
NOTHING IS SACRED was daubed across the top of her chest, below her angular collarbones and above her poor excuse for breasts. Somehow that thick crimson splatter made her death even more pa¬thetic than the dingy flat ever could. Nothing is sacred.
“You’re telling me, mate,” he muttered under his breath, directing the words at the ghost of the stranger who’d stood where he was stand¬ing now, intently painting the letters onto the dead woman’s cooling flesh, no doubt thinking he was doing something profound. Cass Jones knew better. There was no message in murder; this was just some sick bastard making excuses for his choices.
“How long’s she been dead?”
“A few hours. He may have had her here longer, but I’d say he killed her around about midday or one o’clock.”
“Who found her?” Cass was surprised anyone had found her at all. Most of the flats in this block were either condemned, with squatters in, or inhabited by the kind of people that had no concern for their neighbours.
“He wanted her found. There was a boombox on, playing some kind of thrash metal music; he must have put it on just as he left. It was loud enough to piss off the people on either side. They kicked the door in around four and then called the police. And here we are.”
“And here we are,” Cass repeated softly. A thin bracelet that prob¬ably wasn’t real gold hung from the wrist that flopped over the side of the bed, a miniature horse hanging from it. Her lucky charm? “What about her eyes?” he asked. They looked normal enough, but he wasn’t the expert.
“I’ll let you know once I’ve taken a look under the microscope. I can’t see properly in this light. She’s not been dead long enough for them to develop, but I’m presuming she’s the same as the others.”
Cass fi gured the doctor was right. “Who was she?”
“Her name’s Carla Rae. Your lot have her purse and bag. Her ID card was in it. She’s twenty–five, unemployed, unmarried. She was a nothing. A nobody.” On the other side of the bed, the ME gathered the tools of his trade together. “I’m done here. I’ll get the body–baggers in and get her back to the lab. Should have an initial report for you by end of play tomorrow.”
Crouched by the bed, Cass nodded slightly. A nobody. A nothing. For the first time in their long association, the DI realised that perhaps he didn’t like the ME all that much. He doubted Carla Rae would have either. A small bruise had bloomed around the tiny pinprick in her arm and he froze for a moment, wondering whether he could feel her call¬ing out for answers.
Outside, street lamps flickered into humming existence. Cass sucked in a lungful of the woman’s death before standing up and stepping back so the paramedics could roll her into the black zip–up. He glanced at his watch, the numbers glowing naggingly back at him, and his heart speeded up; shit. He needed to kick his lethargy back into touch. It was just gone fi ve–thirty and he had to be in Soho in thirty minutes’ time. It was his day to collect.
The dying embers of the day clung to the skyline, and peering blearily out through the windscreen Cass wondered if maybe the world might truly be in the grip of some insanity that was slowly hugging it closer and refusing to let go.Things were going to get better. That’s what the newspapers and perfectly presented newsreaders kept repeating. Cass couldn’t see it though. As far as he could tell, they were all sinking deeper and deeper into the shit, and no one had a rope to cling to, let alone a shovel big enough to dig them out. And as the world got crazier, so did the rules, leading to situations like this one, which had him heading into Soho for a transaction all the bosses over at Scotland Yard must know about but obviously preferred to ignore. Maybe they liked to pretend their shit didn’t stink the same as everyone else’s.
But then, he figured, lighting a cigarette as the traffic crawled to¬wards the inevitable central London almost– gridlock, what did he know? He’d been wallowing in the brown stuff for longer than he cared to re¬member. Smoke filled the confined space and he grinned, enjoying it more because it was illegal to be smoking inside the car. Understanding the thrill of breaking rules was what made Cass Jones such a good po¬liceman. Despite his disgruntled colleagues’ assertions that Cass was just lucky when it came to solving his cases, he knew luck had nothing to do with it. Cass was a good copper because he thought like a crimi¬nal, and that was all there was to it. He took another long drag before winding down the window, letting the smoke escape to join the other poisonous fumes belching out from the vehicles shuffling their way through the centre of town. The air reeked of life.
The heaviness he’d felt watching the dead woman’s body being bagged up finally lifted as the car filled with the earthy noises of the city. There wasn’t a place in the world to beat London Town. It was grimy and gritty and cold and damp, but it was a tough old place that had survived for centuries; the ghosts of the past lurked on every street in the shape of the buildings and the plaques that proudly declared their long–gone residents, bolstering the living with the solid anchor of their heritage. It would take a lot to bring London and her Londoners to their knees. They might be buckling under the recession, but the city would find a way to bring them all through. It always did.
He flicked the butt out of the window and thought of Carla Rae again. London’s residents now at least had the prospect of a serial killer to look forward to. There had been four dead women found in the same circumstances in the space of two months, and in these straitened times, where bad news of some sort or another filled the papers every day, the press wouldn’t pass up a juicy story like this once they’d joined the dots. At least once this was splattered across the pages of the tab¬loids it might distract the masses from their own misery for a while. Once they’d devoured the details of the deaths—the...
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