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Authors: Celina Grace

Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspence, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Women Sleuths

Chimera

BOOK: Chimera
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Chimera

(A Kate Redman Mystery: Book 5)

 

Celina Grace

 

 

© Celina Grace 2014

Bought by Maraya21
--
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Prologue

The night sky over Abbeyford was spangled with a million little explosions of light; red, blue, gold and green lit up the dark clouds before falling and fading into oblivion. In the town below, the crowds thronged the pavements and the open space of the fairground that lay to the north of the town park gardens. Along the high street came a fantastic beast, jointed in three places; a giant, scaled snake with huge yellow eyes. Children yelled and pointed, and adults clapped and cheered at the sight. Beneath the snake costume, fifteen sweating men held up the frame that supported its body. The night air carried the acrid tang of cordite from the fireworks and billowed with smoke from chestnuts cooking on braziers. It was thick with the greasy smell of the fast food vans offering chips and hot dogs and candy floss. Thumping bass music blared from the funfair on the park ground itself, pierced by the shrieks and delighted yells of those on the fast rides and the bumper cars. Abbeyford was enjoying its annual pagan festival; for one night in late September the town celebrated the myth and legend of the Abbeyford Wyrm, a giant snake-like creature once rumoured to have lived in the woods and forests surrounding the town.

Olly Chandler had something more than the festival on his mind. He and his girlfriend, Mia Smith, strolled through the fairground, hand in hand. Mia wanted to go on the Ghost Train but Olly scoffed. “Got something even better than that,” he said, pulling Mia close. “A quiet place just for us and some decent weed. How about that?”

Mia looked at him, pouting. Then she giggled. “Let’s get stoned and
then
go on the Ghost Train,” she said, close to his ear. Her warm breath and the way she licked his neck after she spoke made him even more anxious to get her to where they were going.

“Come on,” he said and pulled at her hand. They ran, Mia a little awkwardly in her high heels, over the dusty, bruised grass of the park towards the dip of the hill and the river beyond it.

“Where we going, Olly?” Mia asked as they left the lighter area of the park and walked into the darkness, relieved only here and there by dim streetlights.

“You’ll see. We used to go there when we were kids. It’s private – no one ever goes there.”

“Okay.” She sounded doubtful. Olly found the footpath somehow – it was much more overgrown that it used to be – and pushed aside tree branches and brambles.

“Down there?” said Mia. She actually sounded nervous now. “What is it?”

“S’alright,” said Olly, conscious of a little spike of uneasiness himself. “It’s a row of little houses. They’re empty now, been like that for years.” The two of them pushed through the last of the undergrowth and came out onto a little back road. There were no lights but the moon had emerged from behind a cloud and cast a silvery radiance over the tumbledown buildings before them.

“Are you sure this is safe?” Mia looked down at herself, strewn with leaves and bits of undergrowth, and tutted. “Look at my top. This had better be worth it.”

“It’s fine,” Olly said impatiently. The desire he’d felt at the fairground was ebbing away, down here in the darkness and silence, not to mention the faint unpleasant smell that hung in the air. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. But where else did they have to go? He thought resentfully of his older brother, who’d recently gained his driving license. Only another year to go before Olly could take his test. He couldn’t wait.

Mia was still hanging back, and Olly felt protective. He pulled her close to him and kissed her, and she responded enthusiastically. “Come on, it’ll be fine,” he said. “You want to, don’t you?”

“’Course.” Mia took his hand trustingly and he led her through a space in the front garden wall of the first house in the row of three, where a gate had once hung.

Olly chose the first house because it was the nearest. If he remembered rightly, the door looked closed but could be opened with a shove. Though the house on the end had no front door at all…perhaps they should go there? No, they wanted a bit of privacy. Definitely this one, Olly thought to himself, a decision that would prove to cost him years of therapy.

They stumbled up the garden path to the front door, black in the moonlight. Olly put a hand out to the peeling paint and gave it a shove. The door creaked open and he felt a quick moment of triumph before the smell hit them in the face.

“Ugh, ugh, that’s
disgusting
,” shrieked Mia. “I’m not going in
there
.”

“It’s okay, it’s going, it’s going.” A night breeze whipped up and carried the worst of the stench away. “Come on,” said Olly, desperately. He couldn’t have said himself why he was so hell bent on getting into the cottage now, though his family would have told him it was because he had a stubborn streak a mile wide running through him.

He almost dragged Mia into the darkness of the cottage. Once inside, the smell returned and Olly almost gagged. Mia made a small, choked noise behind him. The inside of the cottage was pitch black, so black that as Olly inched forward, fumbling for his phone in order to use its pale screen light as a torch; his feet collided with something hard and he tripped and fell.

His phone went flying and he put both hands out to break his fall. Both hands connected with something that, while ostensibly solid, broke open under the impact of his body. Olly felt his hands sink into something peculiarly liquid and the smell, which had already been terrible enough, intensified to something so repulsive it felt almost like a physical force.

Behind him, Mia held her phone aloft and it cast a pale, ghostly light over the room, showing Olly what he’d actually fallen into. Mia began to scream, but he hardly heard her because, by that time, he was screaming himself.

Chapter One

 

“This is freakin’ amazing!” Jay shouted in Kate’s ear. “I can’t believe you’ve lived here for four years and never
once
been to this festival.”

“I know, I know.” Kate was thinking the same thing herself. She’d never seen the normally fairly quiet streets of Abbeyford so busy, packed with a shouting, laughing, gesticulating crowd; from tiny babies in prams to pensioners gamely tottering on their walking sticks or regarding the festivities from wheelchairs. “I always thought it was – well – a bit – a bit…”

“A bit what?” asked Hannah, Kate’s best friend who was visiting from Brighton. Hannah’s husband, Dan, was standing with his hands in his jeans pockets, a bemused expression on his face. Kate knew how he felt.

“I don’t know. A bit…fuddy duddy. Like Morris dancing and the W.I.”

“Jesus,” said Jay, grinning. “I would have thought something like the Women’s Institute was right up your street. You’re hardly rock and roll, are you, Sis?”

Kate slapped his arm. “Compared to you, no. But then compared to you, the most debauched of the Roman emperors aren’t very rock and roll.”

That wasn’t actually very fair, as she knew full well that Jay had calmed down a lot over the last few years. But he was her little brother - teasing was her prerogative.

The main reason for Jay’s newfound sense of responsibility came up and linked her arm with his. “He’s like a toddler,” said Laura Murray, Jay’s girlfriend of the last two years. “He gets overexcited, especially if he’s had sugar. I knew that candy floss was a bad idea.”

Jay growled and bent his girlfriend over in a backwards wrestling hold. She shrieked and flailed at him until he pulled her back upright, the two of them giggling.

“Come on,” said Hannah. “Let’s go and get a drink.”

“Yes,” said Dan in a fervent tone. “All these giant worm things are weirding me out.”

They wandered along the crowded streets in a loose group, one or the other of the couples straggling behind or moving ahead. Kate tried not to mind that she was the only single person amongst them.

“There’s a really nice pub down by the river,” said Jay. “Let’s head there. It’s off the main drag so we’ll ditch the crowds, at least.”

“Sound good to me,” said Kate. “The Boathouse, right?”

“Yep. We need to take the first right up here and go past the fairground.”

The fairground was still heaving with people, showing no signs of slowing down for the night. The air was thick with the greasy smell of fried food, with the odd waft of sweetness from the clouds of candy floss being whirled into existence through the machine.

Kate found herself walking next to Hannah. Dan was up ahead, talking football with Jay. “How are you doing?” asked Hannah, linking her arm with Kate’s. “I was so sorry to hear about Andrew.”

“Oh, that’s fine,” said Kate, a little uncomfortably. “We just weren’t right for one another, that’s all.”

“But he was lovely!”

“I know,” said Kate, “But he wasn’t my kind of lovely. Anyway, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. How’s my beautiful godson?”

“He’s fine. But insane in the way only a two year old can be. He’s developed a scream that the army could use as a sonic weapon and he deploys it whenever he doesn’t get his own way.”

Kate laughed. Hannah always did have a way of putting things. “I must come down and see you soon.”

Hannah gave her arm a squeeze. “Yes, do. A few days at the seaside…it’ll do you good.”

“Mmm.” Kate always forgot that to almost everyone else, Brighton was a nice, hip, seaside town. To her, it was one of the hunting grounds of the person who’d almost killed her. She felt her hand moving towards the scar on her back, as it did every time she started thinking about it, and consciously stopped it. Hannah, who must have felt her flinch a little, gave her a quick glance but said nothing, giving her arm another quick, friendly squeeze.

“How’s gorgeous Mark?” asked Hannah, after a short silence.

“He’s fine, as far as I know. I haven’t seen him for a few weeks – he and Jeff have been living it up in the Caribbean for a fortnight.”

“Coo, nice. All right for some.”

“He deserves it. He works hard. Mind you,” Kate paused, considering, “so do I.”

“Your Inspector exams are coming up, aren’t they? Are you nervous?”

Kate shrugged. “A bit. I’ve been revising like hell, though. It’s just…I don’t know what to anticipate, really. It’s been ages since I’ve done any kind of written exam.”

“Well,” said Hannah comfortably. “I’m sure you’ll be fine. You always did better than me at college, that’s for sure.”

They walked on. The lights and noise of the fairground retreated a little as they moved away from the main part of the town park gardens and onto the wide footpath that led down the river and the footbridge that crossed it. Stately iron lamp posts, a nod to the park’s Victorian heritage, stood at intervals along the footpath, casting a faint orange glow over the group as they made their way down the gentle slope of the hill.

Hannah and Kate had outpaced the others by about fifty feet, Kate’s usual fast walking pace having swept her friend along. They had almost reached flat ground down by the banks of the river, and the iron railings that spanned the footbridge could dimly be seen up ahead in the street lights.

“Jay’s grown up a lot, hasn’t he?” Hannah said quietly as they walked along.

Kate looked at her in surprise. She’d noticed that about her little brother but it was heartening to see that someone else had too. Mind you, Hannah had known her and Jay since they were fourteen and five respectively; she was almost as close as family. Come to think of it, Kate thought, remembering several family members, Hannah was closer.

“He has,” she agreed. “It’s Laura’s influence, I think. God, I hope they never split up.”

Hannah smiled. “Well, they might not. They might even get married, one day.”

The thought gave Kate a jolt. She smiled to hide the small tremor that Hannah’s remark had given her. She didn’t want Jay to get married before her. I’m much older than him. It should be me first. But…fat chance of that happening anytime soon.

Hannah was saying something else but Kate held up a hand to stop her, frowning.

“What is it?” Hannah asked.

“I’m not sure – shush for a moment. I thought I heard something…”

They both listened. For a moment, there was nothing, just the busy silence of the landscape around them and then the wind changed and they both heard it – the faint sound of screaming.

“Wait here!” Kate called, catching a glimpse of Hannah’s astonished face as she pelted off, running flat out towards the sound of the screaming. She let her feet take her pounding down a smaller footpath, then onto an unlit lane. Adrenaline spiking, she ran just as she had when she was training with Olbeck for the half marathon two years ago, steadily but quickly, trying to see through the gloom. Up ahead she could just about make out two figures, one staggering about, one crouched by the side of the road. The screams came from the crouching figure. The staggering shape was uttering sounds that were almost worse; guttural, choked cries and moans.

“Are you hurt?” gasped Kate, skidding to a stop by the crouching shape – a teenage girl; she could now see even in the darkness. The girl had both her hands clasped in her hair and her mouth was an open, vibrating hole. “Can you hear me? Are you hurt?”

The girl didn’t answer but her screams faded into whimpering gasps. Kate turned to the other person, who was still staggering from one side of the lane to the other, weaving like a drunk, holding his hands out in front of his body in a peculiarly stiff-armed way.

As Kate got nearer, she became aware of the smell. She stiffened, nostrils flaring. The teenage boy with his arms held away from his body stopped and looked at her, panting. She could see the whites of his eyes through the darkness of the street.

“What’s wrong? Can you tell me what’s wrong?”

The boy’s voice was hoarse. He almost whispered. “In there. It’s in there. I – I didn’t realise… I fell…” He started to cry.

Kate turned at the sound of running footsteps behind her; Jay and Laura arrived at the scene, panting.

“What’s going on, Sis?” Jay asked between puffs. Laura said nothing but immediately headed towards the crying girl and crouched beside her, putting an arm around her shoulders and talking to her comfortingly. God, that girl is good in a crisis, that’s for sure. Kate had a fleeting thought that she might try to recruit her.

“I don’t know yet. You wait with him,” she said, indicating that Jay should stay with the boy.

He nodded and approached him, flinching a little when he got close enough to smell him, but managing to keep his voice calm and even. “You all right, mate? Don’t worry, don’t worry, you’ll be fine…” Even as he spoke, he was reaching for his mobile and dialling. What a difference a few years made, thought Kate. Back when Jay was in his teens, he wouldn’t have called the police if he’d been kidnapped by Jeffrey Dahmer. Now Kate could hear him steadily relaying what little information they had to the dispatcher on the other end of the phone line. Good lad
;
Kate was proud of him. She reached for her keys and the little pen-sized torch she kept on the key ring.

The smell got steadily worse, invading her nostrils as she approached the open door of the derelict cottage. What on Earth were these kids doing down here? Kate tried not to breathe as she nudged the door open with her elbow, shining the little beam of the torch in front of her. Even though she was expecting it, the state of the body was still a shock. What was left of what had once been a person – it was impossible to tell whether it had been a man or woman – lay in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a lake of dark fluid. Had the poor kid actually fallen into the body? The poor bastard. Kate had to take a quick breath to fill her bursting lungs and almost retched. She retreated back out of the front door, leaving it slightly ajar, not wanting to touch anything with her bare hands.

 

Within half an hour the lane was transformed; strobed by blue flashing lights on the attending police vehicles and the ambulance that had been ordered for the traumatised teenagers. Kate had sent her little group home, not without some grumbling from Jay that he was missing all the action. She stood waiting for Anderton, reaching for her phone every so often to call Olbeck before remembering with a curse that he was sunning himself on a beach in Barbados, the jammy git.

Scene of Crime officers arrived. Kate nodded to Stephen Smithfield, who headed the team and she’d worked with several times before. She was more pleased than she thought she ought to be at the sight of Anderton’s car drawing up and pulling in to park at the side of the lane.

“Evening, sir,” she said, as he made his way over to her. He was dressed more casually than she was used to seeing him, in a rather nice shirt and jeans, and had the air of a man pulled reluctantly from an enjoyable social engagement. Had he been at the Great Wyrm festival? Surely not. “Sorry to interrupt your evening.”

Anderton rolled his eyes. “Par for the course, Kate. Par for the course. What have we got?”

Kate told him as they walked towards the cottage. When she got to the part about the male teenager, Anderton whistled. “He fell
in
it? The poor little bugger. He’ll not get over that in a hurry.”

SOCO had set up powerful lights that illuminated the scene with a brilliant white glow. The body looked diminished, even more pathetic than it had been in the dark. Anderton, observing from the doorway, didn’t say anything but his eyebrows rose. “The paths will have their work cut out for them,” was his only remark.

Kate hadn’t thought of that, and it was then she realised that her ex-boyfriend, Andrew Stanton, would probably be doing the post mortem. Her heart sank. Would she be able to get Olbeck to go instead of her? Then she remembered, again, that he wouldn’t be back from Barbados for another couple of days, the jammy
git
.

“It may not even be a suspicious death,” Kate remarked, as she and Anderton watched the SOCOs do their work. Camera flashes momentarily dyed the air in the room an even brighter white. “Could have been a homeless guy who just died naturally.”

“Yes, that’s true,” agreed Anderton. “We won’t know anything more tonight.”

Just as he said that, there was a sudden flurry of interest in the room. One of the technicians held up something in an evidence bag. Kate squinted. “What have you got?” she called.

“Syringe,” the woman holding the bag called back. “Several syringes, actually.”

Kate and Anderton looked at one another. “There you go,” said Anderton. “Common or garden overdose. Not for us.”

“You can’t know that for sure,” protested Kate.

Anderton blew out his cheeks in a sigh. “No, I know that. But I was dragged up here from a very nice dinner engagement that I would really rather like to get back to. Stick around for another hour or so if you want, Kate, but I don’t think there’s anything for us here.”

Dinner engagement? With who? Kate was aware of a rather unpleasant prickling sensation, a swoop of her stomach, as if she’d stepped into a plummeting lift. Dinner engagement with
who
? Not that it was any of her business, but…

BOOK: Chimera
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