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Authors: Celina Grace

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

Snarl

BOOK: Snarl
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Snarl

 

Celina Grace

 

©
Celina Grace

Bought by Maraya21
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Prologue

On the last morning of his life, Michael Frank forgot to kiss his wife goodbye. It was a simple omission, brought about by the worse than usual morning chaos and the knowledge that if he didn’t get a move on, he’d be late for his nine o’clock meeting. Knowing that next year’s research budget hinged on the successful outcome of this particular meeting, Michael was rather more harried than usual.

Mary Frank was
preoccupied with unloading the dishwasher, trying to find the second of her older son’s football boots and chivvying both her children into brushing their teeth, rather than watching the television, which was currently blaring out from the corner of the living room, in total disregard of the usual morning dictate of ‘no TV before everyone’s ready’ rule.

“I’m off,” Michael
said, grabbing his briefcase and doing his best to straighten his hastily-tied tie with his one free hand. “Have you seen the car keys?”

“Where
ver you put them last,” snapped Mary, crashing the door of the dishwasher shut. “Kids! Would you get a bloody move on?”

Michael found the keys on the third hook by the front door
; not the first hook, where they
should
have been. Muttering, he picked up his briefcase again, called a goodbye to his children, who were finally heading upstairs to the bathroom, and another to his wife before pulling the front door closed behind him.

Cut off from the tumult, he took a
deep breath, savouring the momentary peace. The Franks had not long moved to the house in Polton Winter, shortly after Michael started his new job at the MedGen Research Facility. Michael walked down the drive to his car, next to a young beech tree, newly clothed in fresh, bright green leaves. Michael unlocked the car, flung his briefcase in the passenger seat and, catching sight of the time on his wristwatch, cursed. His lateness made him just a little bit less cautious than he normally was and he jumped into the driver’s seat and jammed the key into the ignition, turning it swiftly on.

The explosion, as the device clamped to the underside of the suspension ignited, was the loudest thing ever heard in the sleepy little hamlet of Polton Winter. The car blossomed into a firework display of debris as the fireball
tore through it, hurling twisted pieces of metal, lethal shards of glass and smoking body parts into the air. Michael’s forearm was flung against the front wall of the house, as if knocking for entry. Fortunately, Mary Frank had bent down to continue unloading the dishwasher as the front windows of the house shattered into thousands of pieces, and she escaped the worst of the blast. The two Frank children were closeted in the bathroom at the back of the house, but as the explosion roared like an angry dragon, they dropped the foamy brushes from their mouths and screamed in utter terror.

As the noise
faded to the crackle of the flames that remained, and people in the village began to stream from their houses, drawn towards the oily smoke and the tick-tick-tick of cooling metal, blackened wisps of the beech tree’s leaves began to sift down from the sky, like the singed feathers of a million little birds.

 

Chapter One

Kate Redman faced her reflection in the mirror by the front door. Hair smooth and fringe neat – check. Jacket settled squarely on her shoulders – check. She was annoyed to find her hands were
shaking a little and she flexed her fingers, straightening them out and trying to stem their trembling. She checked her bag: purse, phone and warrant card, all present and correct.

Kate wandered through to the living room, peered out the window and then let the curtain fall back
into place. He was late, although not by much. She went back to her station by the front door, regarding herself in the mirror again. Her return-to-work outfit had been carefully chosen. She wanted to look composed, firm and no-nonsense, not a hint of the invalid about her. Automatically, her hand went to the small of her back, pressing against the raised ridge of the scar beneath her ribcage. Where the hell was he? He knew she’d be nervous so, just
for once
, why couldn’t he be on time? Kate tried to slow her breathing, consciously bringing the air deep into her lungs, aware that her chest was tightening up.

As if on cue, the doorbell rang and she jumped. Grabbing her bag, she pinched the bridge of her nose, closed her eyes momentarily and took another deep breath. She adjusted her face – she wanted to get
her expression and tone just right. Then she flung the door back with a beaming smile.

“Good morning, Detective Inspector Olbeck.”

Olbeck smiled, a little sheepishly. “Morning. Sorry I’m late.”

“I’m used to it, Detective Inspector.”

“How are you feeling?”

Kate wondered whether she could push it a third time and decided, what the hell, she would a
nyway. “I’m fine, thanks, Detective Inspector.”

“All right, all right,” said Olbeck, grinning. “You’ve made your point. I don’t hear any congratulations, by the way.”

“I
said
congratulations when you told me,” said Kate, locking her front door. Now that Olbeck was actually here, she felt better. It was always the way – anticipation was the worst thing, reality was never quite as bad. In almost all cases.

“Feel free to say it again,” said Olbeck, ushering her to the passenger seat. “As many times as you like.”

“Nope,” retorted Kate, buckling up. “That’s your lot.”

“Oh well.” Olbeck slammed the driver-side door and started the engine. “Thanks for the card, seriously. It was nice.”

“You’re welcome.”

Kate watched the sunny streets of Abbeyford roll past
as they drove on for a few moments in companionable silence. Kate watched the flicker of blue sky visible between the roofs and walls of the buildings flashing by the windows. It was late spring; warm, sunny, with the full glory of the spring flowers and tree blossom in evidence.

“How are you feeling?” Olbeck
asked.

“Fine.”

He glanced over at her. “No, how are you
really
feeling?”

“I’m fine,” snapped Kate, her tone belying her words. Olbeck said nothing but hummed a little tune as he indicated to turn right onto the police station road. There was a moment of silence.

“All right,” said Kate, giving in. “I’m feeling a bit nervous. It’s my first day back, what do you expect?”

“I didn’t expect anything,” said Olbeck, mildly. He slowed for the entrance to the underground car park beneath the station. “You’re bound to be feeling a bit shaken up. I don’t blame you.”

“Hmm.” Kate realised she was clenching her fists and forced herself to relax her hands.

“Did Anderton call you last night?” asked Olbeck.

“No,” said Kate. She shot a sideways glance at him. “Why – why, did he say he would?”

“I thought so. Perhaps he meant to and got caught up. Things are a bit hectic at the moment, as I’m sure you can appreciate.”

“When aren’t they?” murmured Kate.

 

The station itself hadn’t changed. Built sometime in the late sixties, it personified that charmless, boxy style so characteristic of the era: small windows, flat red brick and no features of architectural interest whatsoever. But it was functional, large enough to cope with everything that the Abbeyford criminals could muster between them, and the team’s main office had been renovated last year.

Olbeck parked the car and he and Kate got out. Now that they were actually on site, Kate felt her nervousness increasing. That remark of Olbeck’s about Anderton phoning her – when he hadn’t – had thrown her. She hadn’t spoken to Anderton for more than a month
, but she’d thought about him every day.

“Got your card?”

Kate groped for her handbag and then remembered. “It expired. I’ll have to get Security to give me a new one.”

“No probs.” Olbeck passed his security card in front of the door scanner and the door lock clicked back. “In you go.”

Kate stepped into the dingy corridor. It smelt the same; disinfectant, photocopier fluid, cooking smells from the canteen. She felt her hands go up, smoothing her hair again with fluttering fingers.

They walked past the door to the cells, up the stairs, past the door to the reception area, up another flight of stairs and along the corridor to the office. Kate let her feet guide her there automatically, her hand trailing up the banister of the stairs. Every so often, there was a little spike of surprise;
oh, that wall’s been painted; oh, that poster’s new
. She paused at the entrance to the office, unobtrusively, she hoped. Olbeck squeezed her arm and opened the door for her.

The whole team was in the office, it seemed. There was a moment of silence
, as everyone clocked who was back, and then a cry of ‘Kate!’ from Theo, who leapt up from his desk and hurried over, flinging his arms around her. She blushed, pleased and embarrassed. Rav got up from his chair, smiling and waving. Kate’s gaze flickered over the desk next to Rav’s – she thought of it as ‘Jerry’s desk’, but of course, Jerry was no longer here, having retired last year.

By now, Rav and Jane had come up to say hello and there were slightly awkward hugs and cheek kisses and rather facile chat about how well Kate was looking
, how they’d missed her, how was she finding it and was she back for good? Kate said
thanks,
and
me too,
and
not too bad,
and
yes, I hope so
; noting Jane’s new haircut, the bountiful red curls shorn off into a rather unforgiving pixie cut; that Rav finally looked a little bit older and not so much like a sixth-former doing some work experience; Theo’s sharp new suit, clearly the proceeds of his recent promotion. That last thought struck her rather unpleasantly. Theo, once her subordinate, was now her equal and Olbeck… Olbeck was her superior. Kate smiled more widely to hide the jab that thought gave her, and caught sight of the biggest change yet. Someone else was sat at her desk.

Kate felt the fixed smile drop from her face. Her
principal feeling was one of outrage. It wasn’t just that there was someone else sitting at her desk. It wasn’t just that this person had their chair – Kate’s chair – tipped back and their feet propped on the surface of the desk, as if they were relaxing at home on the sofa. It wasn’t just that this person was dressed as no detective should ever be dressed: in a filthy T-shirt and combat trousers, falling apart trainers with trailing laces and sporting matted dreadlocks that reached their shoulders. It was all of these things together.

Olbeck had followed Kate’s intent gaze.
“Ah, yes,” he said, taking her arm and pulling her forward. “Come and meet the newest member of the team. Stuart Granger, meet Kate Redman.”

Stuart flipped his dirty shoes off the desk and stood up, extending
a large hand to Kate. “Hi,” he said, grinning. “You probably shouldn’t call me Stuart, though.”

“What should I call you?” asked Kate politely, running through a few choice epithets in her head.

“Ah, yes,” said Olbeck again. “Stuart’s our undercover. He’ll be working with the various groups we’ve got picked out as the possible suspects for the bombing.”

Well, that explained the outfit. There was something about his expression, though, that made Kate’s hackles rise. What was the word? Self-satisfied? Arrogant? God knows, Kate was used to working with cocky young men
, but this Stuart Granger, or whatever the hell he was called, took the biscuit. Perhaps all undercover officers were like that, by nature of the job; she wouldn’t know, she hadn’t met one before.

Well, you think you haven’t, Kate. If they were working undercover, how would you actually know?

“Nice to meet you,” said Kate, in a tone barely above freezing. Stuart winked, clearly not upset at her frostiness. She supposed he was quite good looking, in a kind of broad-faced, sandy-haired, cheeky-grin sort of way. She bet he knew it, too.

“So, where am I sitting?” Kate
demanded of Olbeck. It was bad enough having to come back after six months, knowing that everyone was wondering whether you’d be able to hack it again, without being booted off your own desk as well… She knew she was being prickly and defensive but somehow wasn’t able to snap herself out of her mood.

“Tell you what,” said Olbeck. “You can sit here.” He gestured to the desk opposite Stuart.

Kate stared at it and then stared back at him. “That’s yours,” she said, waiting for the grin and the joke that she was sure was coming.

Olbeck looked a little embarrassed.
“Ah,” he said. “Not anymore. I’m over there now.”

Kate looked at where he gestured. ‘There’ was a glassed-in cubicle at the end of the room. An office. Olbeck had his own office.

Quickly, before everyone could see, Kate resettled her face and said, in an arch tone “Ooh. Get you!”

“Fancy, huh?” said Olbeck. “I’ll even give you the secret password
, so you’ll be able to enter its hallowed portals.”

“You’re too kind,” said Kate, pulling out the chair from Olbeck’s old desk. “Don’t let me keep you, Detective Inspector Olbeck.” For a moment Olbeck looked at her anxiously and she managed a grin and wink. Clearly relieved, he winked back.

Slowly, everyone settled back to whatever they had been doing before Kate arrived. Kate, left alone, stared blankly at her computer screen. She’d expected to be a bit unsettled, being back here with the team, but for a moment she was afraid that she’d actually start crying. Sitting there, she felt as if all her hard-won knowledge and experience were running away from her, pooling under the unfamiliar desk. What was left wouldn’t be enough to sustain her. Sitting at this desk – Olbeck’s desk! – with her erstwhile partner ensconced in solitary splendour at the other end of the room made Kate wonder how she was going to get through the rest of the
day
, let alone anything more. How was she going to talk over cases without Olbeck being right there in front of her? Instead, she would have to knock on his office door and request an interview. He’s my superior now, she thought again, and her entire middle section felt hollow.

And where
the hell was Anderton? Hadn’t he heard she was here, and if he had, where was he? Kate continued to look blankly at her computer screen, seeing nothing. Anderton. Her boss. The enigmatic, energetic Chief Inspector, who she had slept with once during the serial killing case last year; an incident apparently relegated to the dim and distant past by both of them. It had never happened again. And I’m glad about that, Kate told herself stoutly. Shagging your boss was no way to progress in your career, despite what some cynics might say.

So it was a bit of a surprise that, when Anderton did finally appear, Kate’s stomach
seemed to drop floorwards and remain somewhere down by her ankles. On top of that sensation came an unexpected surge of fury. Why hadn’t he telephoned her last night, as he had apparently said he would? Why hadn’t he come to welcome her back, personally?

He crashed through the door of the incident room as he always did, sending the usual ripples of reaction through the room. People sat up straighter, put their phones down, and turned to face him.

“Morning team, morning team. How are we all, this bright, sunny morning?”

There were a few chuckles and murmurs of assent. Then Anderton caught sight of Kate.

His face flickered minutely, some kind of emotional reaction, gone too swiftly for Kate to interpret it. Then he was smiling, walking forward to greet her. “DS Redman, how long have you been here? You should have come and said hello. How are you?”

“Fine, sir,” said Kate, smiling until she thought her face would crack under the strain. “Just getting this lot back into some sort of order.”

“God knows they need it,” Anderton said. There was an ‘Oy’ from Theo and a giggle from Jane. “Well, you’re looking well. Fit and healthy again.”

“I’m fine.”

“I’ve no doubt. Anyway, we’d better get on. Come and see me after the debrief and we’ll catch up properly.”

Kate was sure her face was now permanently stuck in this ridiculous smile. She nodded, unable to say anything. Anderton had already turned and was heading back to the front of the room, where the crime scene whiteboards were located. Kate hadn’t even had a chance to look at them yet.

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