Authors: JOY ELLIS
CRIME ON THE FENS
A gripping detective thriller full of suspense
First published 2016
Joffe Books, London
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The spelling used is British English except where fidelity to the author’s rendering of accent or dialect supersedes this.
First published as “Mask Wars” by Robert Hale.
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THERE IS A GLOSSARY OF ENGLISH SLANG IN THE BACK OF THIS BOOK FOR US READERS.
DI Nikki Galena Book 2
SHADOW OVER THE FENS
TWO BRUTAL KILLERS ARE LOOSE ON THE FENS BUT WHO CAN DI NIKKI GALENA TRUST?
Detective Nikki Galena’s friend and neighbour meets a tragic end but there’s more to his death than meets the eye . . .
And someone terrible from DS Joseph Easter’s past is back . . .
For my partner Jacqueline.
Thank you for making Nikki real.
A night wind blew along the narrow alleyway, bringing with it the smell of ozone and red diesel. Nikki Galena leaned back against the rough brickwork of the derelict warehouse and wondered how many other women of thirty-six would feel quite so comfortable in such unpleasant surroundings. The backstreets that skirted the docks were no place for a lone female at any time of the day, but after midnight they were a definite no-go area. Nikki smiled in the darkness. Right now there was nowhere else she’d rather be.
She pushed the light button on her watch. He’d be here soon. She knew exactly what he’d look like, even though she’d never met him before. Worn denim jeans, a hooded jacket and trainers. It was like an unofficial uniform, except the jeans were sometimes swapped for sports pants, dark ones with stripes down the sides and a designer logo.
Nikki stared unblinkingly towards the entrance of the alley. The rain had stopped, but somewhere water was falling from a broken gutter, beating an uneven tattoo on the already wet flagstones. It was July, but summer meant nothing these days, and right now, Nikki didn’t give a damn about the weather. She would have stood there and waited for Darren Barton if it had been a searing heat-wave, or below zero.
Nikki tensed. The sound of rubber soles slapping rhythmically on the slick pavement made the small smile spread further across her face.
She waited until he was a few feet from her, then stepped silently out, blocking his exit from the alleyway.
Darren jumped back and swore. ‘Silly fucking cow! You scared the life out of me!’
‘Sorry about that, Darren.’
The hooded figure froze at the mention of his name, then stepped a little closer, screwed up his face and stared at her suspiciously. ‘I don’t know you.’
Nikki stared back. ‘No. You don’t. But, I’ll tell you something, you’re never going to forget me.’
Her voice had become hard as winter ground, and Darren Barton suddenly seemed to decide that his earlier position, a few steps away from her, may have been the best one. ‘Dunno what you’re on about, so just bugger off. Get outta my way.’ He tried to adopt a hard man pose. Hands deep in pockets and jaw pushed forward in a feeble attempt to look threatening.
‘Can’t do that.’ In one swift move, she had Darren’s arms behind his back and his cheek jammed against the brick wall. ‘I’d hoped we could talk, but this way is fine by me.’ She tightened her grip, and saw pinpoint specks of blood appear across the stubbly surface of the man’s face. ‘You see, I don’t like you, Darren. Somehow I just can’t cope with scumbags like you, scumbags who kill kids.’
The man groaned and tried to mutter something. Nikki held both his wrists in one hand, grabbed his hair and pulled his head away from the brickwork.
‘I never killed no one!’ His eyes rolled. ‘Listen, lady! I dunno who you’re after, but you got the wrong man!’
‘Mm, don’t think so.’
‘What do you want?’ The eyes still looked like a really bad case of hyperthyroidism.
‘A name. That’s all, I want you to give me a name. But first, let me tell you why I picked this exact spot for our little chat.’
The man’s eyes narrowed.
‘It’s what’s called a dead spot. No cameras. No CCTV. No passers-by. No interruptions. So, what else does that mean, Darren?’
‘No witnesses.’ The voice was just a gravely whisper.
‘Exactly. Clever boy!’
‘Maybe you should know that I got connections to some very nasty people. They won’t be happy about this.’
Nikki laughed out loud. ‘Believe me, the nastiest person you’ll ever meet, is standing right beside you.’ She spun him round and pushed him back against the wall. ‘You carry a knife, Darren?’
He glowered at her, but said nothing.
‘Of course you do. Your kind always does.’ She stared at him, her loathing barely concealed. ‘Now, are you going to take it out of your pocket and place it on the ground? Or am I going to have to get it off you?’
‘I’ll do it, alright? Just back off.’ He may be a good foot taller than her, and weigh perhaps one and a half times her weight, but he had enough sense to know he would be seriously outclassed if it came to fighting dirty.
‘Down here.’ Nikki pointed to the wet pavement. ‘Now, carefully kick it towards me, then back against that wall.’
She picked up the blade with a gloved hand, then pushed it into her own pocket. ‘Right. Now, I need some information.’
‘Oh no! I’m no fucking nark. And I’m clean right? I said before, you got the wrong man.’
Nikki ignored him. ‘Do you know someone called Frankie Doyle?’
‘Never heard of her.’
She raised an amused eyebrow. ‘Is that so?’
‘Yeah. Like I said, name means nothing.’
Before the man could take another breath, Nikki had leapt forward, one arm across his windpipe, and her knee jammed hard against his groin. ‘So how do you know that Frankie is a woman?’
For the second time in five minutes, Darren’s eyes practically exploded from their sockets. ‘I, I guess I’ve heard of her.’ He coughed painfully. ‘But I don’t know her. Really I don’t.’
‘So she’s out of your league, is she?’
‘Something like that.’ He winced and tried to wriggle away from the unrelenting pressure that her knee was exerting. ‘Lemme go. Please. I’ll tell you what I know, though I’m warning you, it ain’t much.’
Nikki leaned back a fraction, and the man gratefully exhaled stale breath. ‘I’ve heard she hangs out with some new guys on the Carborough Estate. I hear they are a really tough bunch. Always got cash, and I mean a lot of cash. They’ve got mega funding from somewhere, but no one knows where.’
‘No one knows
about these guys. And there’s only one real name on the Carborough, isn’t there?’
from Archie Leonard.’
‘Nah, they use tags.’
‘Then give me a tag for whoever supplies Frankie, and I’ll help you out of the mess you’re in right now.’
‘But I ain’t in a mess, so I don’t need your help, do I?’
‘Oh, believe me, you do. Because you’re in the brown and sticky stuff right up to your scraggy, and if I may say, very grubby neck.’ She moved her knee a fraction and made to lean forward.
‘No! There’s this guy, calls himself Fluke. I think he’s connected to the new gang. I don’t say he supplies her, but he’ll know who does. He’s into everything.’
‘Does this Fluke live on the Carborough?’
‘I dunno, he kind of comes and goes. Like Frankie Doyle. They may even be an item.’ Darren swallowed noisily. ‘That’s all I know, so you gonna let me go now?’
Nikki stared at him thoughtfully. ‘Well, I suppose you have been helpful to me.’
Darren nodded furiously. ‘Yeah. Gave you a name, didn’t I?’
‘Mmm.’ She sighed. ‘But sadly it doesn’t work like that. Not with a stinking dealer.’
‘I’m no dealer! Search me if you don’t believe me!’
‘Oh, I’m sure you’ve nothing on you,’ she shrugged, ‘because you sold your last batch to that skinny little tart who’s been buying from you outside Harry’s Club, didn’t you?’
Darren’s eyes narrowed.
‘I see you remember her. White blonde hair, black spikes, too much make-up and no tits? She’s one of ours, Darren. And the twenties that she gave you, the ones tucked up cosily in your wallet, are marked. Your prints will be all over the bag of crystal meth that you sold her, which incidentally, is already in an evidence bag and on its way to the police lab. So, along with that nasty knife you so kindly gave me . . . ?’
Darren’s face screwed up into a mask of fear and anger. ‘Stinking pig! You said you’d help me.’ He almost spat the words at her.
‘You fucking set me up!’
‘I did. And funny thing, but I’m not exactly eaten up by remorse.’ She pushed harder against his groin. ‘You see, in my book, if you deal drugs, you deal death. And me and my colleagues have to sit with the families, breathe in the heartbreak and the agonising pain that scum like you cause. And we don’t like it, Darren. We don’t like the fact that you make vulnerable kids turn to violence, to mugging old ladies to get money to feed their habit. A habit that you are
happy to fuel.’
‘If they didn’t get it from me, they’d get it from someone else!’
‘Jesus! Don’t give me that old crap! You’re disgusting. You’re like some flesh-eating virus infecting society, and making a wad of money out of your victims.’ She jerked her knee forward and felt a small satisfaction from the ensuing scream.
‘You can’t do this! I’ll have you! I know my rights!’
‘Yeah, yeah, you shit-bags always know your rights. But proving this could be tricky, because we simply had a quiet chat, Darren, as my partner down there will testify.’ She indicated to a shadowy figure sauntering slowly up the alley. ‘And before he gets here, my scuzzy little friend, let me remind you of something. Tonight, I was just asking a few questions in an amicable manner. Don’t
let me get really angry with you, or you’ll wish you’d been born in the Outer Hebrides and never left home, got it?’ Her eyes bore into his. ‘Oh, and before you start bleating about brutality, just be quite sure of what you’re going to say, huh? Like who’s going to believe a pusher who says he was terrorised in an alley by some woman half his size? Apart from which, I reckon it’d make your street cred rating slip down to somewhere around zero, don’t you?’ The knee gave one last jerk, and she turned away. ‘Arrest him, Dave, then take him down to the station and sling him in the digger.’
The big man yawned, then slowly reached for his cuffs. ‘What charge, guv?’
‘You can start with this.’ She pulled an evidence bag from her pocket, slipped Darren’s vicious looking knife into it and passed it to her colleague. ‘Then follow it up with unlawful supply of drugs. Tie up with WDC Cullen over that. He’s all yours. I need to be somewhere where the air is a little sweeter.’ With one last contemptuous look at the drug dealer, she turned her collar up against the rain, and walked back down the alley into the darkness.
* * *
It took only ten minutes to walk to the small basement flat that she hated to call home. She slipped the key into the lock, then paused, as a terrible lethargy overtook her. It happened every time. Out on the streets she was fine, she was great. At the nick, in the courts, in the cells, anywhere where she knew that she was doing something concrete to stop the drugs making their insidious way around her town, as a detective inspector, she was in control. But now, as the adrenaline slowed down, the camouflage fell away and she knew, behind that door, she was just Nikki Galena, a lonely woman who dreaded the working day coming to an end.
She gripped the key and began to turn it. It was as if every ounce of energy had left her. The key weighed a ton, and she had all the strength of a week old baby. With a supreme effort, she pushed open the door, went inside and flipped the light switch.
Nothing that she loved greeted her. An estate agent would have called it minimalist, in fact, it was mind-numbingly Spartan. The front door opened directly into the living room, off that was a bedroom with what the landlord laughingly called an en-suite, and a kitchen/diner with French windows that opened into a tiny, private courtyard garden. And that was the only part of the miserable place that Nikki had some mild affection for.
She pulled off her damp jacket and threw it over the back of the room’s only chair, then went through to the kitchen. Exhausted as she was, sleep never came easy. Her body was shutting down, but her mind was in overdrive. She needed help to switch off, and for years it had been in the form of single malt. Now she couldn’t even do that. If she got a call, a lead, anything that may bring another result, she’d have to be ready to go at a second’s notice, and you sure couldn’t do that if you’d had enough units to detonate a breathalyzer.
Nikki opened the fridge and peered inside. The top two shelves were lined from back to front with dozens of small bottles of wine. Red, white and rosé. French, Italian, Australian. Sweet, dry, sparkling. Neat little bottles that held one wine glass full to brimming. Just enough to relax the mind, but not enough to dull the senses.
She selected a Grenache and tipped every last drop into the only glass in the cupboard. Normally she would have sat in the garden and planned her next day’s hunting, but tonight the rain thwarted her.
The lounge housed a lonely chair, a large metal frame futon with a huge soft blanket thrown over it, and something that probably started life as a corner unit for a television. At present, it held a phone charger, a telephone book, a lap top computer and a lamp with multicoloured glass shade that screamed out faux-Tiffany.
Nikki slumped onto the futon and tucked her legs beneath her. As always she had felt the initial rush of relief at having prepared the way for another pusher to face the legal system, but it was never enough. Not anymore. There were too many dealers, too many drugs out there.
She sipped her drink and thought how radically things had changed over the last few years. Greenborough had always been a pleasant rural market town. To some it still was. One mile from the outskirts in any direction, and you were in the fenlands. One more mile to the east, and you were on the coastal marshes. It was fairly big, as market towns go, and the tidal river running right through the centre made it busier than some. But then there was the port. Small maybe, one end for the cockle fishing boats, and the other recently expanded to take in real ships again. Freighters and cargo vessels made their way in from the North Sea, through the Wash and into the estuary of the Wayland River. And with the extra jobs, the new opportunities and the illegal immigrants had come a frightening increase in the drug trade.