Authors: Jake Woodhouse
Jake Woodhouse has worked as a musician, winemaker and entrepreneur. He now lives in London with his wife and their young gundog.
Into the Night
is the second book in his Amsterdam Quartet;
After the Silence
is the first.
And for S.S, who didn’t make it
in this world
we walk on the roof of Hell
gazing at flowers
Saturday, 8 May
‘I can’t believe you’re doing this. You
you’d look after her.’
Inspector Jaap Rykel stepped towards the edge of the roof, leaving a cluster of forensics fussing over the body behind him.
High in the gas-flame-blue sky a plane glinted its way towards the west coast.
He glanced down and wondered what it would be like to jump.
‘I know,’ he said, wishing he’d turned his phone off after leaving the message for Saskia, his ex. ‘But I’ve got a dead body here and—’
body here. Your daughter, remember her?’
Behind him one of the forensics hiccuped, a burst of laughter following from his colleagues.
‘Of course I do, you know that. It’s just …’ he tailed off, unable to explain.
Below him, five storeys below, a patrol car pulled out, two officers lifting the red and white tape to let it pass. Sun sparked off the bonnet, a lone cloud cruised across the windscreen. A faint buzzing came on the line, highlighting the silence.
Which was kind of worse than Saskia shouting.
A breeze stroked his face, and he found his free hand in
his pocket, fingers rubbing the smooth brass coins he kept there.
The ones he’d had made specially after his sister, Karin, had died.
Tomorrow would have been her thirty-fourth
, he thought.
A distant siren wailed then cut off mid-swoop, and he glanced out north, over Amsterdam, his city.
‘Fine,’ he eventually heard her sigh, ‘but you’ll be picking up her therapy bills later on, right?’
Their little joke.
Which often felt too close to the bone.
‘I’ll do that,’ he said, relieved to have got through it. ‘Mind you, I might just need some myself.’
He turned back to the body, watched as the hiccuping forensic lowered something clasped in a pair of tweezers into an evidence bag.
‘Kind of. It’s … Honestly, you don’t want to know. I’ll call you later. And Saskia?’
‘I’m going to make sure I can look after Floortje for when you start the trial.’
‘I’ll hold you to that.’
They signed off and he took one last glance over the edge. He got the feeling that after the first moments of panic the fall might be exhilarating; air rushing, limbs loose, the sensation of speed. He wondered if he’d keep his eyes open or closed.
Coins jangled softly as he drew his hand out of his pocket.
No more decisions to make once you’re on your way down
thought as he turned and walked back to the body.
No responsibilities either.
He got close and stopped, not wanting to look at it again. It lay there, dressed in expensive white trainers, jeans – ripped by use or design it was hard to tell – and a tight white T-shirt.
Which, considering the body had no head, the neck severed about a third of the way up from the shoulders, was still remarkably white.
He’d just promised Saskia he was going to be finished by Monday. Even as he’d said it he knew it was unlikely to be true.
Looking down at the body now, his own shadow spilling on to the torso, he knew just how big a lie it had been.
The forensic, on his knees, turned and looked up at him, squinting into the sun.
‘You kidding? And I’ve got a date tonight.’
‘Fascinating,’ said Jaap, moving to the opposite side of the body. ‘And anyway I meant the hiccuping.’
The forensic shrugged, his plastic suit crackling like radio static.
‘Weird, isn’t it?’ he said, pointing to the body, another hiccup rupturing the end of his question, throwing the words up high into the air. The breeze whisked them away.
Jaap looked at the figure again and felt his stomach twitch. But he knew there was nothing left to come; he’d thrown it all up when he’d stepped on to the roof for the first time twenty minutes earlier and the forensic had whipped off the plastic sheet with a flourish worthy of a stage magician.
It was at that moment he’d understood the dispatcher’s comment about not losing his head on this case.
He’s the one who needs therapy
, thought Jaap as he looked away again.
He sits there all day sending people out to things like this, and all he can do is crack sick jokes.
He turned back to look at the body, trying to keep his gaze on the torso. What was in front of him was just so wrong, he found it hard to believe it was real.
‘So, what have you got?’
‘Not much,’ said the forensic. ‘Whatever they used for the cut was pretty sharp – the pathologist will be able to tell you more – but I reckon it was serrated, like a saw maybe?’
Jaap wasn’t sure he wanted to know more.
‘Nothing on him except for these,’ the forensic said, pointing at two clear bags laid out by his kit bag. One had a phone and the other a set of keys.
‘Got any spares?’ asked Jaap, holding up his hands.
The forensic rustled around before shaking his head.
‘Any gloves for the poor inspector?’ he called out to his two colleagues, who were on their hands and knees, probing something a few feet away from the door which led back into the building. The nearer of the two tossed over a pair to Jaap; he caught one, the other fluttered down and landed on the body’s chest.
It looked like the glove was pointing out the missing head.
He snapped on the first then reached down for the other. He hated their feel, the way they made his hands sweat, the smell which lingered long after they’d been taken off. By now the smell had become synonymous with death.
‘I don’t like the lack of blood,’ he said, the thought of jumping off the building’s roof reappearing in his mind.
‘Unusual for you lot to want more gore,’ said the forensic, pulling off his own gloves and dropping them into a waste sack. ‘They must have done it elsewhere, but who the hell would be crazy enough to risk bringing a headless body up here?’
The building was new, brand new. There were still builders on site, fixing up the interior. The security cameras weren’t yet operational, and no one had seen anything.
As the foreman had told Jaap earlier, if someone had wanted to take a body to the roof all they’d have had to do was don a hi-vis and get on with it. As long as the body was in a box, or even a sack, no one would look twice.
And the only reason it had been discovered in the first place was an anonymous account had tweeted the official Twitter feed, giving an address where a body would be found. The police assumed it was a hoax and a passing patrol had been asked to check it out. Once the foreman had let them up onto the roof they realized it wasn’t a joke and called it in.
‘The way I see it,’ said Jaap, squatting down and checking the arms for needle marks, ‘if you’re crazy enough to take someone’s head off you’re crazy enough to do anything.’
‘It gets worse. Turn the right hand over.’
Jaap took hold of the wrist between his thumb and forefinger and twisted it. He hated the feel of dead people, the way the flesh gave without responding. Touching them always seemed like some kind of violation.
Or is it just fear?
The palm was badly burned, the flesh charred black.
‘Blowtorch, I reckon,’ said the forensic.
Jaap laid the wrist back down carefully, thinking about planned mutilation.
The worst type of killing.
Something moved off to his left, a flicker of light and shadow, and he turned to look above the door. A seagull stood on one leg, head cocked, its one visible eye electric-yellow with a glistening oily black drop at its centre.
It stared at Jaap for a second, then went back to jabbing something near its feet.
‘Those things will eat anything.’
‘Maybe,’ said Jaap standing back up, kneecaps firing. ‘But I doubt they’d take off a whole head.’
‘Would make it easier for you if it had,’ said the forensic as he mimicked a pistol shot at the bird, the recoil exaggerated. He blew across the top of his fingers. ‘Then we could all go home.’
Jaap turned to the bags laid out a few feet from the body and picked up the one containing keys. There were three on a plastic key fob, round with a corporate-looking logo embedded in it. When he flipped it over he could see the fob had the name of an estate agent and a number. He punched the number into his phone, saved it, then turned to the second bag.
It held a newish-model phone made by some global company which specialized in underpaying workers in poor countries. Or so he’d heard. He powered it on, expecting it to be locked.
The screen flashed up the fruit logo but didn’t ask for a passcode.
, he thought.
He checked the call lists. Loads of numbers. Didn’t look like a drug phone where there’d only be a couple of
contacts. A few apps, one for the weather, one for the stock market, and several games, most of them looking like they involved shooting or driving.
He was just about to drop it back into the bag – he’d get the phone company records to see if it was on a contract later – when he found himself hitting the pictures icon.
Behind him the gull squawked, flapped its wings and took off, flying so low Jaap had to duck. He could feel the air beating down on him as the bird passed overhead.
He went back to the phone, a picture on screen.
His lungs froze.
The photo was slightly blurred, as if it had been taken on the move, and showed several people walking through Dam Square. The problem was, he recognized the person at the centre of the image.
He swiped back to see the previous photos, the screen not responding properly to his gloved finger. Then he realized there weren’t any more; it was just this one. Sweat oozed between his skin and the gloves, and he still couldn’t breathe.
He dropped the phone back into the bag, jammed it in his pocket along with the one containing the keys, and headed for the door.
‘Hey, you’ve got to sign for those if you’re taking them now,’ called the forensic as the door swung shut behind him and he started down the stairs, his footsteps clattering wildly through the concrete stairwell.
It must be a coincidence
, he thought.
But his gut told him otherwise.
The image on the phone had been taken about seven hours earlier.
The face, in two-thirds profile, was his own.