Read The Night Hunter Online

Authors: Caro Ramsay

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural

The Night Hunter

Table of Contents

Previous Titles by Caro Ramsay
The Anderson and Costello series

ABSOLUTION

SINGING TO THE DEAD

DARK WATER

THE BLOOD OF CROWS

THE NIGHT HUNTER *

*
available from Severn House

THE NIGHT HUNTER
Caro Ramsay

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly

This first world edition published 2014

in Great Britain and the USA by

SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of

19 Cedar Road, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM2 5DA.

Trade paperback edition first published in Great Britain and the USA 2015 by

SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD

eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital

an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 2014 by Caro Ramsay

The right of Caro Ramsay to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Ramsay, Caro author.

The night hunter.

1. Anderson, Colin (Fictitious character)–Fiction.

2. Costello, Detective Sergeant (Fictitious character)–

Fiction. 3. Missing persons–Investigation–Fiction.

4. Murder–Investigation–Fiction. 5. Police–Scotland–

Glasgow–Fiction. 6. Detective and mystery stories.

I. Title

823.9’2-dc23

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8422-0 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-525-4 (trade paper)

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-574-1 (ePub)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This ebook produced by

Palimpsest Book Production Limited, Falkirk,

Stirlingshire, Scotland

For there is no friend like a sister,

In calm or stormy weather;

To cheer one on the tedious way,

To fetch one if one goes astray,

To lift one if one totters down,

To strengthen whilst one stands.

Goblin Market,
Christina Rossetti

PROLOGUE

I
am sitting at the kitchen table, waiting. I know he is coming and all I feel is a sense of relief. I am past being scared.

The only movement is the tapping of my fingernails on the top of the oak table. This could all go wrong. I check everything again. Then again. My eyes are sore with staring and looking, counting and measuring.

But I wait.

Mum’s kitchen, her comfy and cosy kitchen, in our nice detached house in our nice little village. Who knew it was all going to end here? The worktops are tidy, the knives neatly in their block in the corner, just out of reach. The matching jars of pasta, coffee and sugar are stacked up at the window ledge beside a tired peace lily fringed and curled with brown. The old balance scale sits near the door with its weights lined up in size order, each equidistant from its neighbour. They look like a set of Russian dolls. This is how I like it. This is how I have arranged it. The heaviest weight is nearest the door. I look at it again, counting, measuring; the distance from the weight to the door handle, the distance from my hand to the corner of the worktop. I make sure it is within my reach. Just in case.

My phone is lying near the sink. The ticking of the clock is loud in the night air but I am listening beyond that, listening for the quiet rumble of tyres on gravel. I told him to bring the car round to the back of the house where it will not be seen.

He liked that idea. Because he is stupid.

As the hour hand clicks its way to three, I realize I am getting cold but try to stay focused on the weights, the distance. Nothing has been left to chance. Then I hear it, a gentle purr, a gear change, the familiarity of a car in the drive. The engine dies.

Silence; the click of a car door opening.

More silence. This time it is full of expectation.

He is walking up the back path. I can sense him at the other side of the kitchen door where he hesitates, composing himself. I don’t move. I can afford to give him the small pleasure of his anticipation before the shock of my reality.

The knock when it comes is surprisingly soft and unobtrusive. Polite, even.

I get up and turn the handle. Immediately, he pushes the door open and walks in without a word, without giving me a second glance. He forces me to sidestep so he can pass. I resume my position as my eyes check the distance to the end of the worktop, ensuring I can reach.

It’s fine.

He is a tall, rather ugly man. He has an air of confidence that borders on arrogance. He is starting to run to fat. His aftershave smells like pine disinfectant, cheap and nasty. It sums him up.

I hate this man for what he has done to my family.

He turns slowly and stares at me, standing close as he studies my face. He is trying to make me feel small and vulnerable in my own mother’s kitchen. He is trying to make me feel like a victim. This is how he operates. He nods his head, gesturing that I should close the door. I am happy to oblige. I kick it with my heel so that I do not break eye contact with him. He reaches round me to turn the key in the lock. That was unexpected.

‘Nobody in?’ he asks. As if he doesn’t know.

There is no point in lying. ‘No. We’re on our own, nobody about. Even our neighbour is away.’

He smiles. I do not smile back. He picks up my mobile phone from the worktop, glances at it and then scrolls through my messages, my calls. He puts the phone down and regards me with circumspection. ‘When did you last speak to Sophie?’

I fold my arms, steadying my nerves. I will not tell him anything about my sister.

‘Did you hear me?’ There it is again, that politeness. But his eyes are desperate and that makes him dangerous.

I nod. It is up to him now. He will do either the right thing, or the wrong thing.

He laughs slightly, shaking his head. I don’t understand that. He leans on the worktop looking at me. Lifting the weights for the scales, he starts moving them around, placing them on the plates, watching the pointer swing from one side to the other. Then back again. The weights move like chess pieces. I watch like a grand master. He smiles at me; he finds this amusing. He puts the heaviest weight down in the wrong place. I have to put that right so I lift it and put it back in line, putting the scales back in balance. This is the way it
has
to be. He thinks he is one or two moves ahead. I am three or four.

He draws his fingertip slowly along the edge of the worktop, speeding up as he reaches the edge where he pauses, his fingertip twitching like a dying fish on a line.

Our eyes lock. I can see the flecks of fat collecting on the folds of his lids. I wonder what his arteries are like. He stretches out his arms and grips me by the shoulders. We are so close we could kiss. I can smell vinegar on his breath. I focus on the blocked pores on the end of his nose. He grips me harder, squeezing my flesh. It hurts.

I am not scared. I will not step back.

‘I need to talk about Sophie.’

When I speak I do not recognize my voice; it is thin and raspy. ‘Then you’ll be here a long time.’

He tightens his grip and my head tilts back, forcing me to look at the plaster on the kitchen ceiling. A fine cobweb dances on a draught; it’s not like Mum to miss that kind of thing. I am thinking that I must mention it to her as I feel the joints at the top of my neck grind together. In my peripheral vision I see him slowly raise his other hand; he is going to punch me. I reach out for the weight; my fingertips touch the heaviest one.

I smile.

I have my weapon.

Just in case he does the wrong thing.

FRIDAY, 1 JUNE

I
once had a self-help book that started with the words
Today is the first day of the rest of your life
. I threw it in the bin. My life changed yesterday. I might be unsure as to how I am going to make sense of it all but I know that a book by some Botoxed TV psychoanalyst isn’t going to help me.

A month ago my doctor suggested that I attend this meeting. I would rather juggle with razor blades but I have to show willing.

So it is two o’clock and I am waiting outside a grimy building near Bath Street. The city centre of Glasgow is lazy, enjoying rare summer sunshine. I go through the doors of the hall into the darkness and have a wee read at the noticeboard as my eyes adjust. There’s all the usual crap – loads of self-help groups for folk with no sense of responsibility.

My sister Sophie says that I have no empathy. She’s right.

A middle-aged woman in a heavy white jacket gives me a sweaty smile as she shuffles through the double doors. I catch a glimpse of the room beyond. No matter how many reinventions this place has gone through, it still has the dull, musty smell of a church, stagnant as if nobody ever opens a window to let any hope in. I slip into the room carefully so that the door makes no noise on closing.

There are about thirty people milling around, aimless. Are they all drifting in private purgatory, haunted by the memories of a loved one who walked out the door never to be seen again? Are they, are we all, suffering from the Not Knowing?

It doesn’t seem to bother them. This could be a Bowling Club outing to Largs enjoying a mingle with a free cuppa and a chocolate Hobnob before shuffling towards the main feature, another monthly instalment of a real-life soap opera.

I didn’t think I would ever be in this position.

Did any of us?

I steel myself not to leave, settling for avoiding eye contact. I am supposed to be here as some kind of therapy. The doc says it is good to bond with others in the same situation but people like me do not bond. We don’t see the point.

A youngish man with a ridiculous fringe covering his eyes says hello to me. He has that sugar-coated soft focus kind of hello deployed by ministers and bereavement counsellors. The Fringe waves a bony hand over his little crowd of acolytes. The audience are mostly women, mostly old enough to be my granny. There’s one man about my dad’s age, dressed in a checked jacket. His hair is Brylcreemed back like an oil slick and he is two decades too old for his jeans. There’s another couple of younger men with the same earnest expression as the Fringe who nod a lot. One much older man stands at the back of the hall, and as I am watching he kicks off one plastic slip-on shoe and rubs a grubby sock on the calf of his other leg. His zippered jacket struggles to support his beer belly, and his grey hair sticks up at the back of his head like a spring from an old mattress. His jogging bottoms are baggy at the knee, making his legs look misshapen. He catches my eye and flicks me a look of dislike. I return it with knobs on.

Checked jacket has taken his seat, a few others have nodded to him but nobody sits beside him. Slip-on shoes is ignored by all as he wedges a Hobnob between his teeth while his hand rifles in his pocket for something. Or he might be having a little play with himself. He looks the type. He stares out the window, and a nicotine-stained hand rises to flatten the unruly hair. I rather admire his stance. It says,
Do not speak to me.
I can use that. I watch and learn.

The Fringe hands me a cup of water, a film of grease dancing on the surface. I don’t catch Fringe’s name, I’m not that interested. He wants them to be quiet so he takes a deep breath while looking high into the rafters, waiting for God to intervene. God doesn’t, so the Fringe coughs once, twice and the audience take their seats and settle. He smiles at me, gesturing that I should come and sit beside him.

I do, tugging down the sleeves of my black Rohan jumper, curling the cuffs into the palms of my hands. The old guy in the jogging trousers is taking his time about finding a seat.

The Fringe introduces himself as Danny but the audience feast their eyes on me. He runs through what he calls the
usual housekeeping point
s accompanied with enough scratching to intrigue a dermatologist. He calls me Elvira, which is my name, but I never tell anybody that for obvious reasons. They chorus
Hello, Elvira
like we’re at a friggin’ pantomime. I do not hear the voice of Slip-on Shoes, but somehow I know it is raspy and thick with nicotine.

‘Elvira has come today to share her story with us. Her story is challenging.’ Danny nods in solidarity. ‘We all have these challenges. Elvira is at the start of a long road, a road that everybody in this room has walked.’ His voice quivers a little. ‘I know that we will support her in any way we can.’ He sits. The silence goes on. I see the dust motes dancing in the sunshine, then I focus on their sad, pathetic faces.

‘My name is Elvira. My dad was an Elvis fan. I get called Elvie.’ There is a mutter of
I knew it was her.
The words float up to the rafters to escape through the open window and into the sunshine beyond. ‘My sister Sophie went out for a run on the fifth of April. It was a Thursday. She left at six p.m.’ I pull my sleeve in a little tighter. ‘She never came back.’

I last thirty-two minutes, then escape.

Elvira has left the building.

By quarter to three I am hiding on the stone steps in Bothwell Street, my back against the railings, deep-breathing to calm my nausea. As experiences go that meeting was up there with tooth extraction and biopsies. After my little speech they had decided to ‘engage’ me. The Fringe had kicked that off, of course.
Do you and your mother have a positive dialogue about Sophie?

She’s never sober long enough.

I escaped as fast as I could to the sanctuary of the steps; they put it down to me being upset. I am trying to sit still, aware of that feeling again. The blood in my veins is turning to ice and the impulse to move is overpowering.

Sitting by my car, I debate if I should jog round the city streets to loosen up or just sit here and wait for it to pass. I need to let go the stress before I go out to Eaglesham and endure the weekly drama of family dinner. Later I will drive up to the tranquillity of Argyll. Strange that I now feel more at peace at work than I do in the house I grew up in.

I glance at my watch, calculating how long I can leave it before I need to head home, where Mum will feed us in silence while Rod, her boyfriend, answers her questions for her like a translator for the pathetic. Grant, my younger brother, will start ranting. He’s seventeen now, he has the looks of a Greek god and the personality of a spoiled six-year-old. His passions are himself, exercise and eating in any combination. Just to annoy Mum, he will probably be wearing a vest and mirrored sunglasses. He will flex his muscles while picking cheese off his pizza with his fingers. He thinks he’s Travis Bickle; he’s obsessed with
Taxi Driver
and sleepwalks round the house keeping everybody awake. The absence of table manners is usually the trigger for Mum crying, the absence of gin is the trigger for her screaming, the absence of Sophie is the reason for her pain. Rod will open a good bottle of red to pour wine on troubled waters.

At no point will anybody mention that Sophie is believed to be missing, and has been so for fifty-seven days.

Nobody is comfortable in that house any more. The sideboard is constantly set with coffee and biscuits for Avril, the police liaison officer who calls frequently with her offerings of sightings, partial and bogus. I used to pay scant attention to her. I might have to pay more attention now, though.

Everything has changed since Sophie left. I have deferred my medical studies at Glasgow uni for a year. I used to live in my own flat in the West End of Glasgow, and now I am a nanny of sorts and live in the middle of nowhere. I used to look at MRI scans and contribute to important decisions. Now I eat breakfast with a five-year-old with a Coco Pops addiction. Grant’s hopes of his sports scholarship at Texas University are shattered because of a knee injury and he savours his resentment as if it were delicious. Avril, the plump cop with nice fingernails, is only helping us because she worked at the Vulnerable Victims Unit and knew Sophie through her work at the Boadicea project for victims of domestic violence.

But Sophie has never been a missing person in the eyes of the police, not officially, and I do admire the textbook logic that Avril quotes at us. Sophie took money with her, therefore she had planned her disappearance. A married man called Mark Laidlaw had met her through Boadicea and he has not been seen for fifty-one days now. She was a blonde with a wide smile and huge blue eyes like a china doll, a young lawyer with a fierce social conscience. Mark was a bit of rough. Their conclusion was obvious and the police will need evidence of foul play before they will do anything to find Sophie.

And until midnight last night that was fine with me.

Now I need to rethink.

My mother has spent the last eight weeks cooking but refusing to eat, a remnant from her days as a model. Sleep is a shadow she chases. It was Rod, Mum’s boyfriend, who decided to start the Find Sophie Campaign to alleviate the pain of sitting doing nothing. He was the man of the house now, he told me; he owed it to my dad’s memory. At that time I knew that Sophie was not ‘missing’, we just had no idea where she was, and all I could do was go along with it while trying to stop them spending real money or too much time as my bedroom evolved into a mock office with letters, posters, envelopes and boxes all over the place. I was guilty of omission and nothing else.

The campaign grew like the heads of Medusa. Sophie was pretty and charismatic so the press got involved and created a mystery where there wasn’t one. I used to think that wherever Sophie had gone to ground was well chosen as nobody had set eyes on her. Now I hope to God there isn’t another reason.

I look at my watch, time is moving on. As soon as dinner is over I can get back to Ardno and the Coco Pops kid. I need to time it right; lying to my mother is very tiring. Drunks can sense evasion and have no intuitive sense of when to back off. She will ask me at least forty times what is wrong, then ignore whatever I say and go and cook something.

I am stretching out my calves when a nicotine-scented shadow falls over me. It starts to cough, a deep phlegmy cough that rattles through inflamed tubes as it splutters and cackles up from the base of the lungs. The coughing stops with a huge spit then there is the wheeze of laboured breathing. That cough belongs to a sixty-a-day man.

I open my eyes to see a pair of slip-on shoes.

‘Jesus,’ he rasps. ‘You left sharpish.’

‘You shouldn’t smoke with a cough like that.’

‘And you would know, being a medical student.’ He waves the cigarette around. ‘Before you dropped out.’

‘I deferred,’ I correct him, cupping my hands to my eyes to catch the sun while I try to focus on his face, but he remains a fat, wheezing silhouette. ‘And who are you, exactly?’

‘Billy Hopkirk. Private investigator.’

‘If you’re looking for business, forget it.’

He does not answer but fishes about his pocket, bringing out something that he balances on the palm of his hand like he’s checking the denominations of a foreign currency. ‘Sophie? Sophie went out running in a nice posh place like Eaglesham and vanishes. No forensics, no blood. No nothing. Just her parked car and a big fat pool of nothing.’

‘You seem very well informed.’

‘Charismatic, no money problems. A highly qualified lawyer who chose to live at home. A lawyer who worked for a pittance in a practice that specialises in legal aid for battered women.’ There was another bout of coughing, another spit. ‘Bet your mum was well chuffed, spending all that on her education to see it thrown away for the benefit of the great unwashed in the dole queue.’

‘You seem very well informed,’ I repeat, admitting to myself that he had my mum down to a T.

‘The cops are doing nothing. DI Costello is a shrewd cookie and she takes the official line – Sophie has done a bunk with Mark Laidlaw.’

‘Mark Laidlaw?’

Mark Laidlaw. Cheap piney aftershave. I resist the temptation to look up.

‘He hasn’t been seen since Sophie went missing.’

‘Soph went missing on the fifth of April,’ I correct him. ‘He was seen on the eleventh.’

‘OK, but his wife hasn’t seen him since Sophie went. Nice-looking girl, Sophie. Him a married man. How well did she know him?’

I’m not good at these
shades of grey
questions; I only do black and white. ‘What’s it got to do with you?’

‘Nothing if they went away together. Everything if they did not. My card – I’ll pop it under your windscreen. Save you getting up.’

I wait until he walks away. I want to ignore that card but it flickers in the wind, making a clicking noise that is both persistent and annoying. I think he might be as well. Rod makes a point of making sure the house looks the same; he likes to maintain its
kerb appeal
, as an estate agent would say. The two conifers in the front garden are perfect examples of topiary balls on stalks. Mum’s Octavia and Rod’s Focus are sitting in the driveway, waxed and polished. At least the Focus is back from being repaired after Grant bumped it and Mum went bonkers.

I grew up in this detached box on the far side of Eaglesham but moved out four years ago. The village is the same as all villages; small, gossipy. Eaglesham sits high on Fenwick Moor well within the Glasgow commuter belt, but when we left school Sophie and I bought a flat in the West End with the money Dad left us. It was handy for the university but Sophie never got round to moving in with me, and in the end I stopped asking. The flat is empty now that I’ve moved sixty miles north to Ardno. My new job thwarted Mum’s hope that I would return home to help her with Grant’s increasingly fragile mental health when Sophie left. My brother’s mind was fractured when Dad died then blew apart when Sophie disappeared. When Dad collapsed on the golf course, Grant reinjured his knee, and that injury meant he failed the medical for his sports scholarship in America. The echoes of those events resonate long and loud in this house. We all seem in limbo, can’t move forward or backward.

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