Authors: Mark Sennen
77–85 Fulham Palace Road
Hammersmith, London W6 8JB
First published in Great Britain by HarperCollins
Copyright © Mark Sennen 2015
Cover image © Neil Robinson/Getty Images
Cover Design © Andrew Smith
Mark Sennen asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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Ebook Edition © January 2015 ISBN: 9780007587872
Source ISBN: 9780007587865
For Gitte … again!
Table of Contents
Stars. Pinpricks of light vaulted across the sky. Hundreds of them, thousands, more than he can count. Perhaps, he thinks, there are even as many stars in the sky as there are girls in the city. He licks his lips, the notion exciting him. That’s one hell of a lot of stars. A hell of a lot of girls.
You know what you do with stars, Chubber? Make a wish.
‘Oh yes, a wish!’ Chubber whispers to himself as he swings his eyes earthward, down from the heavens. ‘I wish, I wish … I wish I could find her!’
In front of him, the moor is a heaving landscape of shadows rolling towards the distant orange glow of civilisation. All around, tors rise from the scrub and heather, grey grani
te forms that watch and wait. Chubber is waiting too, crouched behind a prickly clump of gorse, well wrapped in a homemade sheepskin cloak. The night is cold and frosty. A lacework pattern of ice glitters amongst the bog plants. Chubber’s eyes follow the silver trail as frozen water winds up towards a spring. She’s up there. Hiding. If Chubber hadn’t slipped over he’d have caught her by now.
Yes. Silly. She’d been safely locked away but he’d wanted to give her a chance. The game was more exciting when he gave them a chance.
Exciting, yes! The thrill of the chase. You love it.
Chubber scans the hillside hoping his wish will come true, but there’s nothing moving, nothing living out here. Not at this time of year.
December, Chubber. Nearly Christmas.
He should have waited for the big day, he thinks. Now he’ll have nothing to look forward to but a ready meal from the microwave and the chocolate orange he’s been saving. If only she would … there! His heart leaps as he spots her eyes sparkling green in a shaft of moonlight. He jumps up and starts to run. She runs too, but now Chubber’s grinning, he’s getting closer. Gaining. Soon he’ll catch up with her.
‘There, there,’ Chubber shouts out. ‘No need to run from Chubber, my little beauty. Chubber’ll be nice and gentle. Promise. Just a bit of gliding and sliding and then … and then …’
She lets out a little cry, the noise disappearing into the dark of the night, the moor sucking the sound down into the boggy ground, where centuries of secrets lie hidden in the peaty soil. Chubber stumbles after her, but then pauses. There she is, standing on a ridge in the distance, for a moment silhouetted against the starry sky. She’s found harder ground and now she darts away, across the moor and into the night; disappearing behind a tor, the hunks of granite sheer black against the sprinkling of stars.
Chubber stands and pants. Hard work, chasing. Bloody hard work. Especially when you don’t catch them. Air wheezes in and out of his lungs. A hand moves down to loosen the tie on his baggies. Slips inside. Touches himself and then scratches his bollocks.
Double bugger, he thinks. Waste of an evening. She’s well and truly gone. Disappeared behind that … Chubber feels a breeze glide across his exposed tummy. He shivers. Realises he’s chased his prey far over the moor.
Too far, Chubber. Much too far.
Yes, because he knows this place. The tor. What lies beyond.
Chubber moves slowly now, climbing to the ridge so he can see down into the valley beyond. A group of rocks stands in a circle, the hunks of granite clustering like sentinels, guarding a large, flat boulder at the centre. This place is bad, cursed, he thinks. An ancient place of witches and ghouls, spirits and will-o’-the-wisps. In the daytime you might sit and eat a picnic, but at night …
Ch … Ch … Chubber!
Chubber looks again. The rocks are moving, dancing, one with a towering headpiece of antlers.
Not rocks, Chubber – people!
Six standing stones and six people dancing in and out, weaving some sort of pattern. A soft wind carries a plaintive melody across the ground, a woman’s voice, as sweet and clear as the cold night air. Then other voices join in, a low hum providing a background drone. Chubber tries to understand the song, but the words mean nothing, the language foreign to him, alien.
He stares down and his lip quivers. He moves to the tor and slides behind a large boulder. His head peeks round as the six figures begin to move faster and faster, back and forth between the stones. The tall figure with the antlers starts to sing a different chant, the figures whirling until there almost seems to be more than six. As if the very stones have somehow come alive and are joining in.
But he can’t, he’s frozen to the spot, mesmerised. Seconds pass, minutes, hours maybe. He doesn’t know. The figures race round and round until their chants conflate to a single drone. Chubber blinks. Something has happened. The six figures have rushed away from the circle. They are pulling something from behind a stand of gorse. It’s a person. A man. He’s limp, not resisting. Now they shove him down next to the flat rock and push him into a shallow trench alongside it. The six figures position themselves around the huge slab and slowly push the boulder over the hole in the ground. The scraping echoes into the night and the rock moves the final few inches and seals the chamber.
Chubber turns from the tor and runs back down the hill. Twice he tumbles over and rolls in the bog, clothes soaking, body cold. When he’s put two ridges between himself and the stone circle, he finally pauses for breath. He thinks of the man, the one in the hole. Chubber looks to heaven, raises his hand and passes his palm across his eyes, recreating what happened back at the stone circle. The tapestry of moon and stars and galaxies soaring overhead are wiped away, replaced by the utter blackness of the tomb.
Chubber whimpers at the thought of it. He knows he’s a bad man, but what he’s just witnessed goes far, far beyond bad. Those people, they were …
Evil, Chubber, those people were evil
Evil. He doesn’t like the sound of that. He quickens his pace again. Not long to the track where he’s parked his van. Just a few more steps and he’ll be there.
Oh God! There’s the track and there’s the van and …
And, Chubber, and?
d standing by the car is a hooded figure with a towering headpiece of antlers.
‘Bee, Mummy, Bee.’ Jamie pointed at a blur of wings hovering over the food. ‘Buzzy bee.’
‘It’s a fly, sweetheart,’ she said, swatting the insect away with a hand and offering her son another Dairylea sandwich. ‘They’re like bees, only they don’t make honey.’
‘Bee,’ Jamie repeated before he took the sandwich and chomped it down. There was the tinkle of a bell and Jamie looked up. ‘Horse.’
She turned to follow his gaze. Samantha and Clarissa were riding up and down the narrow lane on their bicycles, every now and then one of them uttering a ‘trot on’ or a ‘woah’ to control their mounts.
‘Pretend horses.’ She turned and scanned the horizon until she picked out a group of Dartmoor ponies grazing near a clump of gorse. ‘There’re some real ones, darling.’
Jamie had by now lost interest in the local wildlife and turned his attention to his collection of chunky plastic cars. She cleared away the picnic things, then lay back on the woollen blanket, shielding her eyes from the light. The respite wouldn’t last long, she knew. Jamie would need attention or the girls would all of a sudden come over and profess extreme boredom. But for the moment she would enjoy the warmth of the sun, the sound of birds in the heather, the stillness of the surrounding wilderness.
‘Vroom,’ Jamie said. ‘Vroom, vroom, vroooooom.’
She felt something on her thigh. The wheels of a truck climbing the impossibly steep hill of her body. She worried about Jamie sometimes. His sisters were nine – seven years older – and they played with him only when it suited them, so he was, in effect, an only child. With her husband away for much of the time, Jamie only had her to spice up his life. Of course he went to nursery five days a week; she figured the girls there spent many more hours playing with Jamie than she did. Not for the first time she felt a pang of guilt, but then dismissed the thought. She wondered if her husband ever had the same doubts as he lay on his bunk at night.
‘Car, Mummy.’ The wheels rolled up and onto her stomach. ‘Vroom, vroom.’
‘Yes.’ She reached out a hand, keeping her eyes closed and groping for the toy. ‘Let me have a go.’
‘No, Mummy, car! Car!’ Jamie’s voice went up in pitch. ‘Car coming!’
She opened her eyes and sat up, hearing the revving of an engine, something like a racing car, a guttural exhaust spitting and crackling, the squeal of tyres on tarmac. Somewhere the tinkling of a bicycle bell and a shout. She turned her head towards the road and heard a scream silenced as metal screeched against metal. She pushed Jamie away and scrambled to her feet, aware of a flash of blue haring away down the lane, her daughter lying like a rag doll in the road next to the mangled frame of the bicycle, one wheel still spinning round. Even as she ran towards the accident she could hear the tick-tick-ticking as the wheel rotated, and as she reached Clarissa it was the only thing moving, the only thing still making a sound in the whole wide world.
Then she woke up.
Charlie Kinver cast out once again. He had no real expectation of another fish. Two nice ones in an hour was a good bag. Especially for Fernworthy. The reservoir’s surface dimpled with little wavelets as the earlier breeze died to a zephyr. A duck set out from the far bank and a dozen swallows skimmed the surface, sweeping up the last of the morning hatch. The heat of the late August sun warmed Charlie’s back. The bright light would be driving the trout deeper. Unlikely he’d get another bite now. But still …
He wound in, thinking he’d have one final cast. Behind him, in his fishing bag, the two brown trout almost shouted out to be taken home and placed in a pan. A knob of butter, a few minutes’ heat and then served atop a slice of toast made from the bread his wife had baked that very morning. They’d had an argument before she’d gone to church and he’d headed off fishing, so the catch would serve as a peace offering.
He cast out a final time, and almost as soon as the fly touched the water, a fish struck. Kinver raised his rod. The reaction was instinctive, but this time he was too late. The fly flew out of the water and caught in the low branch of a tree to his right. He could see the line had somehow wrapped itself around the branch. He pulled on it, hoping it would slip over the branch. It didn’t. Instead, the hook caught in the bark. Charlie put the rod down on the bank. Pointless getting cross. He had waders on, so he could simply wade along the bank a few metres and free the hook. Since this was his last cast he’d cut the line, pocket the fly and then reel in.
Charlie stepped into the water and began to make his way down the bank. He reached the tree, put a hand up and held the fly. With the other hand he took his knife, sliced the line and freed the hook. He pulled the line to make sure it would come round the tree and then began to wade back to the gravel beach.
A flash of white caught his eye. On the bankside, wedged in the crook of an old stump, was a plastic carrier bag. The carrier bulged, something within. He waded closer. The bag seemed to be filled with some kind of material. One of yesterday’s picnickers had forgotten their blanket or waterproofs. Charlie grabbed the bag and carried it to the beach. He’d walk round to the car park and leave the bag on the wall. First though, he’d take a look inside. There might be some personal item to identify who the bag belonged to.
He delved into the bag, finding a pullover, a flimsy top, a short skirt. Then a black bra, and some black, lacy knickers. He opened his mouth. There was something about finding a pair of knickers in the middle of nowhere. It meant somebody was going around without a pair. He thought of his wife. Perhaps after he’d wooed her with the trout he could persuade her to climb the stairs to their bedroom, to remove her own knickers.
At the bottom of the bag was a lightweight windcheater and beneath that a slim leather wallet. Charlie flipped the wallet open. Forty quid. A driving licence with a picture of a pretty girl bottom left. Was she the owner of the knickers? He stared down at her. Long hair, high cheekbones, a real babe.
On the top left of the licence there was a familiar circle of yellow stars on a blue background. An EU flag. In the centre of the stars sat the letter ‘H’. On the top right, in capitals, the word ‘MAGYAR’. Charlie looked at the pile of clothing again. Finding a bunch of women’s clothing had for a moment provided a frisson of excitement. Certainly the girl in the picture was one he’d like to see naked. But, as his eyes returned to scan the surface of the water where dark blues and browns and blacks shimmered in the sun, he thought of what might be hidden in the depths of the reservoir. He reached for his tackle bag and pulled out his phone, knowing it was now unlikely he’d be eating the brace of trout for lunch.
For DI Charlotte Savage, Sunday morning came around all too soon. A pale glow seeped past the edges of the curtains, the daylight intruding on a dream about her daughter, Clarissa. It was getting on for five years now. Savage stared up at the ceiling, trying to discern an image of Clarissa in the soft shadows. Nothing. She had to turn to the bedside table and the little picture frame on it to see her daughter smiling out from a face fringed with red hair. Savage reached up and touched her own red hair. She twirled a long length with her fingers until one by one the strands slipped from her grasp.
Ever since Clarissa had died, Savage’s sleep had been plagued with bad dreams. She was used to spending half the night tossing and turning, often waking in a sweat and a tangle of duvet. Recently though, the dreams had become more vivid, with the same scene repeated over and over. Savage knew why. It was because she’d discovered who was responsible for the death of her daughter. The official report had the death down as a road traffic collision, or RTC. In old money, an RTA: road traffic accident. But Savage had never seen what had happened as an
. The hit-and-run driver had been travelling way too fast for the moorland lane – but it was the ‘run’ bit of ‘hit-and-run’ which had compounded Savage’s anger. The driver hadn’t hung around to see the consequences of his actions, and, having never been caught in the following investigation, he’d escaped punishment.
‘He’ being a young lad by the name of Owen Fox.
Savage sat up, her husband, Pete, stirring for a moment before settling back to sleep. She hadn’t told Pete about Owen Fox. Pete was a Royal Navy officer, had been for all his adult life. He’d been commander of a frigate until recently, when the ship had been scrapped. Now he was shore-based, training naval cadets while waiting for another command. On-board the ship everything was governed by rules and regulations. You did the right thing. You served your country. Even when you gave the order to fire a cruise missile, you knew the destruction you were about to wreak was backed up in law. What Savage wanted to do to Owen Fox was far, far from legal.
She climbed from the bed and headed to the kitchen. The kids wouldn’t rise for another couple of hours, but Pete would be up soon. With Stefan, their unofficial Swedish au pair, away racing yachts for the summer, Pete had to juggle his new duties with looking after the children. Often he’d wake early and come downstairs to read some document or other. Savage needed to be out of the house by then. She’d leave a hastily scribbled note explaining that a call had come in. Not the first time she’d have lied to her husband, but she told herself the deception was necessary. Pete simply wouldn’t understand or accept the truth – and what she intended to do about it. It didn’t make her feel any less guilty.
Breakfast was a bowl of cereal, a piece of fruit and a cup of black coffee. She slid the patio doors open and took her food onto the deck. An area of lawn spread from the deck to a hedge, beyond which cliffs fell sheer to the sea. It was still early but a couple of yachts had slipped their moorings and were cruising down the Sound. They’d be catching the tide, intent on getting a free lift westward to Fowey and beyond. If they’d set off a couple of hours later then they’d end their journey pushing against a foul current, getting nowhere fast.
Savage sat at the garden table, watching the yachts. Timing was the issue. Owen Fox wasn’t just another boy racer. When she’d found out the name she’d been shocked for the first few seconds, but then everything had become clear. How the lad had managed to remain under the radar and escape detection. Dozens of officers had gone well beyond the call of duty trying to find Clarissa’s killer, and yet they had failed. Not surprising really – for Owen Fox was the son of Simon Fox, the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police.
She finished her breakfast as the yachts passed the breakwater and turned west. A puff of pink exploded from the lead yacht as the crew launched a colourful spinnaker, the huge sail filling and billowing as the breeze caught it. For a moment Savage felt an almost overwhelming sadness that she wasn’t aboard the boat. What joy it would be to have Plymouth at the stern, the bow forging through clear blue water, perhaps – if she was lucky – dolphins racing alongside.
Then she gathered her breakfast things and went back inside the house.
DC Jane Calter glanced at the clock on the dashboard and then out at the open moorland stretching away in all directions. Nothing moved in the bright summer sun, other than a heat haze rising from the undulating terrain. She thought for a moment of the man she’d left lying in her bed and wondered if he’d woken and seen the note she’d left on top of his clothes. Wondered if he’d be there when she got back.
Calter slumped sideways in the passenger seat, as next to her DC Patrick Enders swung the car round yet another sharp bend. Her stomach heaved and she hoped she’d be able to hold on to her breakfast – a slice of toast, plus half a Mars Bar, courtesy of Enders. Last night had been epic in more ways than one, but if she’d known she would be subject to an hour’s car journey with Enders at the wheel she’d have taken things a little easier. Enders was as chirpy as ever, prattling away as Calter tried to doze. The DC was the same age as her – mid-twenties – but already married with three kids. He was Irish and usually Calter found his accent soothing. Right now though she was so, so tired she wished he would shut the fuck up.
The call had come at eight, just a couple of hours after she’d fallen asleep.
‘That misper from last week,’ the voice had said. ‘Her clothes have turned up at Fernworthy Reservoir. Looks like she either topped herself or …’
It was the ‘or’, left hanging by the officer on the end of the line, that had pulled Calter from a state of half-slumber to wide awake. As the officer had given her the details she’d headed for the bathroom. In five minutes she was washed and dressed and in the kitchen, a slice of toast popping up as she gulped down a pint of water and tried to banish her hangover and focus on the task in hand.
The missing person was a twenty-two-year-old Hungarian by the name of Anasztáz Róka. She’d been in the UK for six months, working as a waitress in a coffee bar. A week ago a housemate had reported her missing. The report had been logged but other than a few preliminary enquiries, no action had yet been taken.
‘We’re here, Jane,’ Enders said as the car rumbled across a cattle grid, woodland closing in on both sides. ‘Fernworthy Reservoir. Been up here many a time with the kids. Lovely spot for a … you alright?’
Calter nodded and glanced at the Forestry Commission sign by the side of the road, interested in another nearby which said it was but three hundred yards to the car park and toilets. If she needed to be sick she’d prefer to do the business away from the gaze of other officers.
Enders turned off the road and was ushered into the car park by a couple of uniformed officers. Calter caught sight of the reservoir for the first time. The surface of the water was alive, little wavelets reflecting the sky, a tinge of brown in with the blue. Even on a hot day the water would be cool. Only the foolhardy would ignore the ‘no swimming’ signs.
‘D Section,’ Enders said. He stopped the car and pointed across the car park, where three men were unloading boxes of equipment from the back of a large van. ‘Hope they’ve packed their beach ball.’
D Section provided water-borne tactical support and had expertise in underwater search operations. The head of the section, Inspector Nigel Frey, stood next to one of two patrol cars, talking to another uniformed officer. Frey was dressed in black, military-style boots on his feet, only a peaked cap and a Heckler & Koch submachine gun missing from his usual attire. He waved when he saw Calter and Enders get out of their car. Calter sucked in a few mouthfuls of fresh air and tried to banish her hangover.