The Last Voice You Hear (The Oxford Series)

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9781616955847: The Last Voice You Hear (The Oxford Series)
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Oxford private investigator Zoë Boehm struggles with the aftereffects of her violent past as she hunts for a killer—or has she become the hunted?

Zoë Boehm has harbored a distinct aversion to death ever since she shot the man intent on killing her. So when Caroline Daniels takes a deadly fall in front of a train and her lover fails to turn up at the funeral, Zoë wants nothing to do with the case. But Caroline’s boss is persistent, and as Zoë attempts to unlock the secrets of a woman she’s never met while in search of a man who could be anywhere, she starts to wonder if he’s found her first. And if he has, will that make her the next victim, or prove to be her salvation from a paralyzing fear?

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About the Author:

Mick Herron is a British novelist and short story writer who was born in Newcastle and studied English at Oxford. He is the author of six books in the Slough House series (Slow HorsesDead LionsReal TigersSpook StreetLondon Rules, and the novella The List) and four Oxford mysteries (Down Cemetery RoadThe Last Voice You HearWhy We Die, and Smoke and Whispers), as well as the standalone novels Reconstruction, Nobody Walks and This Is What Happened. His work has won the CWA Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel, the Steel Dagger for Best Thriller, and the Ellery Queen Readers Award, and been nominated for the Macavity, Barry, Shamus, and Theakstons Novel of the Year Awards. He currently lives in Oxford and writes full-time.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

“She’s the one.”
       She wore black jeans, red top, a black leather jacket; she had dark curly hair and was old—forty, fifty, somewhere round that—with a shoulder bag that swung like an invitation: banging heavy on her hip, loaded with purses, credit cards and women’s stuff; everything she’d need in the big bad city. Definite out-of-towner. She should have had victim tattooed on her forehead.
       “Yessss . . .”
       Andrew, who answered to Dig these days, let it out in one long breath. Yessss. She was the one. You waited long enough, your ticket to the party arrived. The party started tomorrow—all around, the old millennium drained away like dirty water from a sink—and here she was, just the ticket: a bag with a bag. Drifting down the arcade, her attention swallowed by a glittery window’s expensive promises: they’d have the bag, that jacket off her back even, and all she’d ever know about it was Some You Lose. The credit cards, the money, were as good as in their pockets.
       Beside him, Wez muttered something purple-sounding. He looked like he’d melt in your mouth, but had a vocabulary could stop a train.
       And another spat of water hit Dig’s neck. They were leaning on one of the concrete stanchions that supported the building overhead, and once every couple of minutes enough moisture gathered up there to loosen and splash on Dig’s neck. It would have been pussy to move because he was dripped on. So the thing was to pretend it wasn’t happening, or if it was, that he liked it.
       The way the woman walked—her bag slung over one shoulder; her left hand resting lightly on its clasp—she might never have been out of her village before.
       Two hundred yards up the road, the Tube swallowed travellers. Here in the arcade, pedestrian traffic was slight: the shops were a low-rent jeweller’s, a hardware store, a CostCutter, a chemist’s, a dry-cleaner’s, a newsagent’s, a bagel outlet. It was the jeweller’s Black-and-Red faltered by. Dig had checked that window out himself: all crap, even he knew that. Naff engagement rings, and stuff, you hung it round your neck, you’d look like Miss Piggy on a bad hair day. The bigger the stone, the cheaper the lady his bastard father used to say. This lady didn’t look cheap, just old, and he wondered what she was doing here, where the shops were end-of-line, and all the expensive promises broken as soon as unwrapped. And then he thought: She must have been to the concert hall—there was a concert hall tucked inside the labyrinth—a concert hall and a museum and some other shit. Black-and-Red must have spent the afternoon doing culture, and wandered past the Tube in the hope of finding more.
        Wez said, “Dumb fuckbunny’s about to have a shit-fit.”
        Dig drew on his cigarette, and breathed out heavily—the cloud adding to the afternoon’s mistiness; to the damp, the grime, the oil-patterned puddles at the kerbs.
       Wez said, “Fuckin twatlegs’ll wish she’d stayed home,” and threw his own cigarette into the gutter.
       The real clouds, what showed of them above the office blocks and skyline furniture, were an angry grey mess. The pavements shone weakly, stealing light from nearby windows. Dig tugged at his top’s broken zipper. There was smoke in the air from some distant accident, and more in his lungs from a stolen Marlboro, and water poured down his neck in a fine white wash of reality, and the woman was moving again—coming towards them, the bag slapping happily against her hip—and his insides clenched with the inevitability of everything, and he looked at Wez, voice hardly cracking at all when he said, “Ready?”
       And Wez looked pure scorn, because Wez was born ready, and this was his meat and drink. Was how he knew he was awake and breathing.
       Dig freed himself from his pillar like, probably, some old statue coming to life, just as his cigarette scorched to the knuckle . . . He shook his hand and it jumped away, scattering sparks against the bagel joint’s fogged window. This was attention, mad enough to get the stares coming, but the dumb bitch hadn’t noticed; she’d turned to look at something—Get Two Suits Cleaned And We’ll Clean A Third One Free!—so missed the fireworks; missed, too, Wez’s split-second fury—Cunt he mouthed, then turned and headed towards Black-and-Red, side-stepping to her right maybe twenty foot in front. Dig watched the stub tumble cartwheels in the draught, bloom one last time against a greengrocer’s crate, then he set off to take his place in the dance.
       . . . Once, the bitch-mother had taken him to the ballet. That was what she’d called it: The ballet. He’d thought there was only one. And it was strange how some things you carried regardless: along with a couple of scribbled-over nursery memories, and a trace of her perfume he’d caught last night up west, he had the startling picture in his head sometimes of people producing impossible leaps and mid-air twirls; their limbs strangers to gravity, their hands gripping invisible ropes from which they swung like uncaged monkeys. So beautifully choreographed, darling she’d said afterwards, practising for her friends while she lit a cigarette and stared into the crowds in the hope of somebody interesting. And: So beautifully choreographed he thought now, as Wez slipped the bag from the woman with a touch light as a ghost’s, and turned and tossed it to Dig so sweetly it fell into his open arms even as he started to run—and this was what Dig did best. This was why Wez let him hang: it was Dig’s run; nothing to flat-out whirlwind in Point Zero. Wez tarried long enough to do the rest—he pushed the woman sideways, with just enough footwork she hit the deck—then took off too. But Dig was away by then; darting like his feet were on fire the length of the arcade, and up the redbrick walkway, and into the concrete labyrinth.
       It was heavy. That was the first and most important thing: this bag was heavy. Like the bitch collected bricks or something, except whatever it was, it wasn’t bricks, and even while he was running, imagined contents took root in his head: what did she have in here, this bottomless black leather bag with its big clasp? Maybe she was stopping in town for tomorrow’s blast, and this held her party gear: not just the money, the credit cards, the stuff, but strings of jewels, diamond tiaras, lengths of precisely numbered rubies. You never knew what you’d got till it was done. His feet had wings; they barely touched the walkway. At the top, he hit a hard left, then twisted right down a flight of steps: Dig was down them in one and a half clicks, and here came the danger—the big sprint across open space with bricked-in flowerbeds and litter bins, overlooked on all sides by office windows—here you could be spotted; your direction mapped; your destination guessed. He hugged the bag tighter. Today, he was winged. Today, the offices were deserted; everybody heading home, or filling the bars with their bigmouth suit-and-tie voices. He reached the shelter of the opposite side, the comfort of the next stairwell—up now, three steps a stride, which brought him to another walkway, this one bridging a traffic-choked road to end in a mini-plaza with a wide-fronted entrance to a museum or something, closed already. He ducked a loop of builder’s tape warning about overhead work which wasn’t happening, and into another stairwell, and then there were only two flights to go, and he was safe—there was a spot down here Wez had fixed on, and if Wez said it was safe, it was safe. Wez knew what was what. Dig was the legs but Wez was everything else, and both knew it.
       The breath was hammering out of him in short hard bursts: his heart pounding, blood racing. Everything. He was alive, and it was all working.
       The safe spot was a dark corner near the intersection of two walkways one flight from the car park; a strange nook the labyrinth’s interlocking architecture had thrown up: accident or design, didn’t matter. It smelt appallingly of piss. Waiting, Dig hefted the bag to shoulder height. Pretty weighty, yes. But he wouldn’t open it till Wez arrived. That was the rule. Truth told he was scared of Wez, who had no boundaries.
       The hand on his shoulder nearly killed him.
       Wez said, “All be dope?”
       Dig swallowed the cry; re-anchored his heart. “It’s . . . cool.”
       “Less check the stash.”
       Wez reached and took the bag from Dig like cigarettes from a baby, but even he noted the weight—a sudden collapse at the wrist before he could correct it, correct gravity, and Dig felt a quick rush of pride: he had stolen this.
       “She carryin fuckin stones.”
       “It’s not stones, Wez.”
       “She carryin fuckin leadweights, dickweed.” But there was a gleam in his eye, and Dig knew Wez didn’t think that; that there weren’t no leadweights here, but pirates' treasure.
       “It be dope,” he said, and felt the words come almost naturally; as if he were what they sounded like he were: king of the fucking streets, bigtime.
       Wez was unzipping the bag.
       A splash grabbed Dig’s neck—even here, buried out of reach of the weather, there was no escaping the damp.
       What Wez pulled out was, indeed, a brick.
       A couple of seconds they stood, looking at the brick in Wez’s hand like it was the Ark of the Covenant. Another splash hit the stones. Wez opened his mouth. The sounds he’d been going to make disappeared.
       And Dig jerked backwards, and whatever grabbed him this time was fiercer than raindrops. He made to squawk, but air vanished; it was half a second before he realized that an arm had scooped and clenched round his middle; an arm sleeved in black, with red at the cuff . . . He deflated instantly, and then his arms were wrenched back, and something snapped into place. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe. Hands seized his collar and he was pulled backwards so abruptly he lost his footing; he was sprawling now, aching for breath. And the rain was coming down harder and he was flapping on the stones man, flapping on the fucking stones, and couldn’t breathe, and it was the bitch with the bag, the bitch with the fucking bag, and all it held was bricks, and he couldn’t breathe, and it was raining, and she was over him like fucking Wonder Woman or something, and if he didn’t breathe soon he’d fucking die . . . They were handcuffs. The bitch had fucking cuffed him. And where was Wez: Wez was still in the fucking cubby. He breathed at last. The air felt like on fire.
       Wez emerged, looking smaller, looking grey. “Fuck you at, bitch?”
       She held a palm out flat, like she was stopping traffic. Then bent and pulled at Dig’s cuffs, so he was yanked to his feet like a puppet.
       He still wasn’t breathing properly. There were laws said you couldn’t do this, couldn’t just squeeze and cuff and yank people less you were a copper, and the horrible news hit him like that: she was a copper. What else was she? And his brain ran ragged, because a copper meant the beautiful game was over.
       Wez was smiling. Dig had seen that smile before. It didn’t signify happy. “Muffcruncher,” he said.
       “Back off.”
       And This isn’t her, thought Dig. This wasn’t the slack-jawed woman they’d watched trawling the arcade, carrying her bag like a victim tourist—this voice was hard; it came from a place you didn’t want to run into full tilt. It was a voice with rocks in it.
       “Fuckin twat merchant,” said Wez bravely. It was as if he still didn’t get it, but he got it. Beneath the words, Dig could hear something he’d never heard before from Wez; never imagined he’d hear from him. He was scared. But he was still giving it lip. “Bitch.”
       Then there was pain in Dig’s wrists as he was pulled again: he was on his feet, and they were on the move. The woman took as much notice of Wez as if he were bruised fruit.
       She had one hand on his collar and the other on the chain linking his wrists. He’d twist free any second; fling her away; give her some footwork—
       He kept marching.
       And two yards back Wez danced; never getting so close he was help or hindrance. “Dishwashin scumsucker. Gunna give you fuckin grief lady, gunna give you fuckin ballsache . . .”
       They were on the stairs now; he was being pushed down the stairs, her hand firm on the cuff-chain, so he couldn’t fall. The woman’s hand felt like cable. Wez’s voice wobbled after them, then his body followed.
       “You juss fuckin slice bitch, you slice waitin to happen . . .”
        Words tumbling out of him, and all Dig could feel, could think, was It’s over. The game is over.
       His hands ached, his chest ached, but at least he was breathing freely now as he was propelled in the direction of some piece-of-shit Nissan Sunny, anything less like an unmarked car he had yet to fucking see . . . Everything came to a halt when he was slammed against its bodywork.
       “You’re getting in,” her voice said. “And no fuss.”
       The door opened. Her hand squashing his head, he was poured into the back seat, which was what it felt like: poured. Outside, maintaining safe distance, Wez hovered.
       “You lookin at pain bitch is what you lookin at . . .”
       She could be anybody, thought Dig. Could be some serial pervert, and the next I’m known of, I’ll be body parts in bags.
       Wez came closer while Black-and-Red made an important suggestion to Dig. “Mark my car, and I’m taking it out of your hide. Are we together on this?”
       He said muh—or wuh—. It wasn’t clear which.
    ...

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