Authors: Howard Marks
Tags: #Crime, #Drug Gangs, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Women Sleuths
About the Book
DS Catrin Price is on administrative duty recovering from the trauma of her last case, when she receives a series of cryptic messages from an old school friend. She tracks him down to an isolated town in the wilds of the Brecon Beacons. There she finds him destroyed by fear for his missing daughter and living in terror of a shadowy figure he refuses to name.
The girl is a promising singer, and all Cat has to go on is a haunting video of her performing in a local talent competition. Other girls in the area have been going missing, and when one of them is found dead in an abandoned mine shaft, Cat fears the worst.
She embarks on a journey that leads to one of London’s most notorious drug gangs and into the darkest corners of her mind. Cat will stop at nothing to uncover the truth, but there are people who will do anything to keep it hidden – and they are watching her every move.
About the Author
Howard Marks is the author of the international bestseller
, which describes his years as one of the world’s most wanted drug barons. It has sold over a million copies worldwide and was released as a film, starring Rhys Ifans, Chloë Sevigny and David Thewlis, in 2010. His debut crime novel about DS Catrin Price,
Sympathy for the Devil
, was published to great acclaim in 2011.
Also by Howard Marks
Sympathy for the Devil
Howard Marks’ Book of Dope Stories
Señor Nice: Straight Life from Wales to South America
She feels dead inside. She is sixteen years old
It is Saturday evening. She looks at her family as they watch the TV talent show
Do they know it’s a sham?
Real talent is fragile, marginal, would melt beneath the gaudy studio spotlights. She doesn’t say this to her family – what is the point? – just burns a stare towards them, retreats to her room. Here she finds her books, her music, her kindred spirits
She sits at her flatpack desk, boots her laptop. She has two friends. Neither are online
She navigates to YouTube, watches the film of herself posted there. The film of her singing late at night at the bus stop, half drunk on cider. The sound and picture quality are not good, but she knows that she meant it when she sang it. She knows she is better than everyone on that TV talent show, because she is the real thing. She has the immodesty of the wildly insecure
She boots over to Twitter. Her mother doesn’t know she has an account. Her Twitter name is the same as her performance name on YouTube
She had two followers earlier today. Still only two now
A stab of disappointment, but it passes. It always does. She’s an artist. A talent. Authentic. This feeling of deadness? It goes with the temperament. You can’t sing well if you don’t have soul. And she does. What’s that saying? ‘No matter. Fail again. Fail better.’
She starts singing scales, warming up her voice. She is ready for anything
DS CATRIN PRICE
stared at her phone. She didn’t want to listen to her messages. She already knew what was waiting for her.
She pushed the phone under a stack of bills on the table. It was no longer visible, but she still stared in a daze at the papers under which it lay. The phone had a new number, a new SIM card, but already he was calling again.
She forced herself to move away, peered through the curtains. Beyond the huts on the pier, the estuary sparkled. In the haze of the horizon a ferry lay motionless. She pulled the curtains tight. She had hung some blackout drapes over the velvet. That way no light entered and no one could see if she had the lights on inside.
Padding over to the small windowless bathroom, she sat on the edge of the bath as the water flowed. Her afternoon routine of Shen Chuan and Krav Maga hadn’t calmed her. The calls were getting to her. That and everything else.
She turned off the tap and listened for a moment. Around her, the other flats were silent. It was too early for people to have come back from work. She could hear only the crying of the gulls. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, her brown eyes, their ink-dark surrounds, her small breasts, the black swoops of her tattoos whose meaning only she could decipher. Lowering herself into the warmth of the water, she closed her eyes, shutting out everything except the sound of her own breathing.
Maybe she could deal with the withdrawal if it wasn’t for the calls. Maybe. But she’d never know, because the calls kept coming. He was probably calling right now, filling up her voicemail, even as she sought peace in water. She could hear his voice in her ear, a voice she could almost place. Almost, but not quite.
The water may have been cold for all the comfort it was offering. She gave in. She had to know. Uncertainty was worse than having her fears confirmed. She got out, huddling a towel around herself, pulled her phone out and switched it on. She put in the code to access her voicemail.
The automated voice told her there was only one message. She knew it would be the same as before. But still she listened.
‘Cat,’ the voice said, ‘it’s Martin.’
The message usually urged Catrin to call back as soon as she could. But today, the pattern was broken, a new detail was added.
‘Meet me in Tregaron,’ the voice continued. ‘I’ll tell you everything at the house.’
Although there were more words this time, still there was no discernible accent. The voice sounded taut, the speaker betrayed no signs of fear or hesitation. At first she’d thought they were all the same message, recorded. But now, with this new detail, she knew they were not.
Cat looked at the map of Wales Blu-tacked on the wall; put there to help plan her biking routes. She stared at it. Tregaron: a small town in the middle of nowhere. It was bordered in the south by the wilderness of the Brecon Beacons, and to the north by the Cambrians. On all sides was a sea of green, empty pasture and hills.
Cat had never been to Tregaron. She knew of no one who lived there except her old colleague DI Jack Thomas. She doubted the calls were linked to Thomas. He had told her he didn’t want to keep in touch with the old-timers. He had moved more than a year ago, and she had not heard anything from him since.
he’d talked about her to some nutter who could follow her changes of number on the force intranet? It was just about possible.
She snatched up her phone but then hesitated, feeling the need to dress before she called Thomas. She slipped on some old joggers and a battered ‘Death to the Pixies’ T-shirt, then flipped to Thomas’s number. He answered on the second ring.
‘Well, well. Catrin Price.’ He gave what sounded like a morose chuckle. ‘I move out to the sticks and still you hound me. Do I need a restraining order?’
Others might have said that as a joke – made it sound affectionate, even – but with Thomas there was always an edge.
‘Things quiet enough for you out there, Thomas? Any missing cats need chasing down?’
He half-chuckled. ‘Not calling to pass the time of day, are you, Price?’
She told Thomas about the calls from Martin in Tregaron.
‘Never mentioned you to anyone. Think I’m always yapping on about you? Can’t get you out of my head?’
Again, the edge in his voice.
‘No, I don’t think that. Not at all.’
He paused. Cat heard him exhale. ‘Sorry, Cat. There was no need for that. Sorry.’
It was only the second time he’d ever apologised as far as she could recall. Once before he’d said sorry about his behaviour on a certain night out. After a certain number of drinks. In a certain car. He’d said sorry about that when she’d explained how he’d made her feel. Thomas was crude, but he did know that other people had feelings, when you reminded him.
‘I can’t help you with the calls. I don’t know anything about them.’ His voice was softer now.
She could tell he might have liked to talk more, but didn’t
it to show. She wondered if he was lonely; of course, he would never admit to that.
‘Jack,’ she used his first name, ‘can I ask you something?’
‘As long as it’s not on geography,’ he said. ‘I’m crap at geography.’
‘Why did you leave the city?’
The derisive snort told Cat he thought her naive for asking.
She ended the call, having learned nothing. She groped for her pouch of Drum, made a roll-up and heeled up to the headboard, pressing her back to it. Cat looked at the magnolia walls she’d never got round to repainting. She thought about Thomas’s response to her question. She did know why he’d left the city, why he’d bailed out to the sticks. It was the same reason she’d gone on the tranks.
Cat’s eyes lingered on the magnolia. She took a long drag. She’d always smoked rather than cried. She had the sense that the past was approaching her from below, winding its tendrils around her ankles and pulling her down.
She frisked her iPod out of her jacket. She span to Nick Drake, jammed it in the sound dock, and stuck on
Five Leaves Left
. The melancholia of the album would not help her state of mind, but she needed to think and sadness helped her do that. She lay back down and made another roll-up, sprinkling this one with canna.
If it had been a wrong number, the calls would have stopped when she changed the SIM card. But they hadn’t stopped and the caller had used her name. The rate of calls was increasing, now up to six a day. When she called back, the phone was always switched off. She’d run a check on the caller’s number, but it was a pay-as-you-go bought for cash in a backstreet store in Swansea a year back. The phone had no previous call history. Her next move was to check on mast signals for a fix on the phone’s whereabouts. But now Tregaron had been named.
She moved over to the edge of her unmade bed. The sheets were tangled from another sleepless night. The mattress showed through the thin sheets a livid orange, the cover had come loose from the duvet. As she pulled, it tore. Fierce, sudden anger shot through her.
The online research she had done told her there would be times like this, that anger and fear were two sides of the same coin. She should expect a period when she felt little else, that it was part of the healing. She should have seen a doctor about coming off the tranks, of course, but trusting anyone with her head was as alien to her as putting a hole in it.
She peeled the cover off the duvet then threw it into the basket. She pulled the basket into the kitchen and jammed its contents into the washing machine. There was a stool there and she sat, watching the chamber filling with foam. Just put your mind and body in neutral, this had been her sensei’s mantra. Let nature reassert itself. But the Klonopin and sleepers had taken their toll. Now she was paying the price: insomnia, anxiety, almost constant headaches and an apprehensiveness that never seemed to leave her.
She wrinkled her nose at the stuffiness of the flat, and walked to the window, grabbing at a breath of outside air. The only Martin she knew had been a boy in her class at school. She had not seen him for seventeen years. But they had been close enough that she could imagine him feeling he could depend on her.
She let her mind drift back. Martin Tilkian had been the least popular boy in the year, a loner and an outcast. She had been the least popular girl, though for very different reasons. They had formed a brief alliance. Hard case and the geek. Despairing at his unpopularity, and not approving of her influence over him – because that was how they wrongly saw the friendship – his parents had sent him away to a private school and they had lost touch.
She went to the wardrobe and rooted through the classic biker mags and old monitors and keyboards. She found what she wanted and brought it out into the light. It was the only photograph she had of him. It wasn’t a good one. He looked like an Armenian Andy Warhol, dark glasses and his hair grown in bangs to hide as much of his face as possible. His skin had been the main reason for his unpopularity: dry, scaly patches often covered his cheeks and forehead. Sometimes he had come to school with his face in plasters, only his big brown eyes peeping out.
If this Martin was her caller he was unlikely to be a threat to her. They had shared that uniquely intimate bond of adolescent friendship. Tough little Cat had saved him from the bullies who had stolen his money and covered his head with bags, tying him to the railings like a scarecrow. He had been grateful for her protection, and had sworn undying allegiance to her in a blood oath. She had done the same. She smiled at this, gently mocking the theatrics; their friendship had been so melodramatic. She wondered if her name in the press over the Dinas case had brought her back to his attention.
Over at the desk she booted her Mac, running his name on Google. Not much came up. A Wikipedia stub written a few years before described Tilkian as a ‘games designer’ and referred to some US games companies she had never heard of. It mentioned a wife who had died, and a daughter, Esyllt. There were a few entries from websites specialising in historic gaming, name-checking him in relation to a series of antiquated fantasy games with titles like ‘Gorgon’s Revenge VII’ and ‘Infiltrator versus Atilla’. After 2003, the year his wife had died, his involvement in that industry seemed to have ceased. She could find no further references to him. He seemed to have switched profession. Maybe gone to live the quiet life with his daughter in Tregaron.
She clicked over to the police portal, and went into the National Police Intelligence Service. Tilkian had no form, and no current address was listed. Next, she tried searches on the names of the wife and daughter, but nothing came up. No Facebook or other social networking sites for the daughter, nor any reference to where she was at school. Cat tried the villages around Tregaron, but drew a blank. Why the fuck would you ask someone to come, but give no address and refuse to answer the phone? It made no sense.
She was getting nowhere. Frustration was rising, her muscles tightening around her neck and forehead. She needed to get out of the flat. Pulling on some old trainers, Cat locked the door and went down to the yard. Her flat came with a garage and a store room as large as the living space above, and this was the reason she had rented it.
Without switching on the lights, letting the daylight filter in, she pulled the deadbolt behind her. On one side was where she kept her small collection of motorcycles. The rest was taken up with punchbags hanging from the ceiling, a rack of free weights and a beaten-up sofa.
She gazed into the gloom. Ahead was her giant poster of Brando in
The Wild One
. Next to it, pictures of the Welsh Formula One cars from the Fifties. They had been left by the previous occupier. It had been a doomed team. On the day the cars were to compete in their first Grand Prix, the driver of the transporter had raced against the German transporter through the Portuguese mountains. He had careered down into a valley, destroying the cars. The team had never raced again. She had first heard the story as a girl, but it had always held a certain bleak fascination for her.
In the damp, some of the pictures had dropped from the wall and she knelt to pick them up. Outside it was quiet. In the dimness
chrome of the bikes glimmered. There was the Laverda she used for everyday, and next to it her Triton. It had the elongated tank and narrow handlebars of the classic café racer. The tank was matt and the rest polished to a shine. In the obscurity it seemed to hover above the ground.
As she flicked the light, she noticed something. In the dust under the Triton there were takeaway flyers and beneath them, an envelope. Most of the post came to the main entrance, but sometimes items would get pushed under the doors of the garage.
The envelope had her name handwritten on it. She held it under the one bare bulb. Inside was a single sheet, thick and expensive by the feel of it. There was an address in Tregaron at the top. Then two lines written in a sloping, old-fashioned hand.
Cat – I need some help. Can you come to see me? I’d prefer not to discuss this on the phone. Martin Tilkian
So, her guess was right. She knew now who the caller was. Better still, she knew where to find him.
She felt calmer. Cat looked at the junk mail. Most of it was undated, but there were one or two advertising special offers relating to specific events. Assuming that the strata of junk mail were still lying in approximate order of delivery, it looked as if Tilkian had first tried to get in touch about a week ago.
The discovery made more sense of the messages. He had first called in person. Rather than leave a note in the communal box and risk her not getting it, he had left it in her garage. Then, when she’d not responded, he’d begun calling. The only reason he hadn’t been leaving his name on those messages was because he assumed she already had it. He hadn’t responded to her calls because, presumably, he wasn’t responding to anyone. That didn’t explain how he’d got her number, but already she felt herself
Most likely he just wanted her help in her capacity as police. An oddball like that, he probably had few friends to turn to. She had protected him once before. Now he was turning to her again. She nudged together a roll-up, lit it, and blew the smoke into Brando’s face.