Authors: Denzil Meyrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Crime
Daley peered over the prow of the vessel. He could see nothing: no shadows, no breaks in the water, nothing at all to indicate they were nearing land. ‘How do you know, Hamish? I can’t see a thing.’
‘Aye, well, you see,’ the old man mused. ‘Whoot you’re no’ takin’ intae account is the fact that ye need tae use a’ yer senses, no’ jeest yer eyes. Dae ye no’ hear that swish in the distance?’ His voice was barely a whisper.
‘Yes, I can.’ Daley closed his own eyes, better to hear the hissing noise he had detected a moment ago.
‘That’s the surf drawing off the shingle bay at Abb’s Skerry. Either that or we’re on the coast o’ Islay, which wid be a bugger, indeed. I canna stand Islay.’
Daley’s heart leapt into his mouth. If Hamish was correct, he was within a few yards of Liz. He mouthed a silent prayer of hope that she was there and still . . . still alive. He shuddered. ‘How, or should I say where, do we land?’
‘Noo, that’s a matter o’ tactics. I kinda thought that wid be your concern, Mr Daley.’
Daley thought for a few moments. He had to get onto the small island, but he didn’t want to alert Seanessy. This was no easy task: first, he couldn’t see the lie of the land, and second, he had no manpower apart from himself and the old fisherman, whom he could not put at risk.
‘I’m no’ blaming you fir the harbour master, Mr Daley,’ Hamish whispered apropos of nothing. ‘I knew fine he wiz up tae nae guid, wi’ the big car an’ a’ the fancy holidays. I wid never hae pit him as a drug dealer though, no, not at all.’ He shook his head in disbelief.
‘I’ll not even ask you how you know that,’ Daley admonished. ‘We’ve other things to worry about at the moment.
The lifeboat won’t be here for at least another half hour, and if we can get onto the island unseen, we’ll have the element of surprise in our favour. At the moment, that’s all we have in our favour. How well do you know this place?’
Hamish squinted at the chief inspector, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand while sniffing loudly. ‘This place hasna been used regularly since before they had engine power. In the old days, when ye had tae sail or row, whoot wi’ tides an’ winds an a’ that, ye could be stuck here for a good while. It’s a great place tae get the big lobsters though, the deep-sea kind. They shelter in the wee bay . . .’
Daley interrupted the tale. ‘That’s all very interesting, Hamish, and if we get through this I’ll buy you a bottle of the best malt whisky there is, and you and I can talk about it until the cows come home, but at the moment I really want to catch a murderer and save my wife’s life.’ He had raised his voice at the beginning of that statement, but recalling Hamish’s warning, his voice was back to a whisper by the end.
‘Noo, if I’m right, we’re at the back o’ the island. There’s a wee inlet, nae mair than a pond, ye understand.’ Hamish was holding his hand to his mouth in a conspiratorial manner. ‘We can likely pit in there, under cover o’ the wee hill. Yer man’ll no’ see ye fae the cottage, unless o’ course he’s no’ in the cottage an’ on top o’ the hill, in which case we’re . . .’
‘Right, Hamish.’ Daley stopped him in his tracks. ‘We’ll . . . I’ll just have to take my chances.’ He looked back into the fog. ‘I don’t suppose there’s much chance of this clearing soon? I can’t see it holding up the lifeboat, mind you. With all that equipment they have at their disposal they could get to the moon and back.’
Hamish took his pipe from the pocket of his dungarees. ‘Aye, nae bother for them, Mr Daley. No’ so funny fir the vessel comin’ in the other direction wi’oot a’ the gadgets. No. Campbell will no’ be able tae make headway wi’ any speed in this jeest in case he hits something.’ He struck a match on the bulwark of the vessel, cupping the tiny flame expertly in his fist as he applied it to the pipe, while making a noise not unlike a fish out of water in an effort to set the tobacco aflame.
‘I’ll say this for you, Hamish, you’re not scared to give anyone bad news, eh? Get me as close in as you can. I’ll just have to make it up from there on in.’ He slapped the old sailor on the shoulder. ‘You better put that pipe out, man; you can smell it at two hundred paces.’
‘Aye, you’re right enough, Chief Inspector.’ Hamish took the pipe from his mouth and tapped it on the side of the boat; its glowing contents disappeared into the sea. ‘I’m letting her drift in. The swell’s in oor favour. Hopefully yer man’ll no’ hear a thing, an’ I can manage tae steer her where we want to go. I want you tae keep an eye oot on the bow. My eyes are no’ whoot they used tae be. Jeest raise yer hand if ye see any sign o’ land, an’ we’ll take it fae there.’
Seanessy didn’t like the way things had gone; not that things hadn’t gone wrong before. No, this time it was different: he had been forced to kill before he’d had the chance to exploit the situations he’d created. All the careful planning and subtle persuasion involved in luring someone unsuspectingly to their death had been spoiled. Like cooking the perfect meal, and being able only to eat half of it.
He looked across the small bay. It would take keen eyes to spot the headless corpse submerged beneath the still water,
one of the legs attached to a large weight by a rope and a rubber cuff around the ankle. It had taken him a long time to work out the best way of disposing of a body. They could be killed at any time, of course, then kept relatively fresh, or at least kept from polluting the air with the foul stench of decay, by employing this method.
He cursed himself for the mistake he had made with the body of his first victim. The cuff had not been strong enough to hold in the swell. He had searched the small coastline of the skerry to see if the woman had been washed up on its rugged shore, but to no avail. It had led to a pathetic attempt at extortion and more death. In a way he had enjoyed the torturing and killing that day, despite the unexpected nature of the circumstances. He had resolved then and there to be more spontaneous, less deliberate as to the identity of his victim: that was how he had stumbled upon the policeman’s pretty wife, or rather she had stumbled upon him. The improvised nature of the situation had added an unexpected frisson of excitement to her capture. Yes, things had gone wrong, but the world was an uncertain place, and it didn’t do to be overly concerned with the perfect execution of a plan. He smiled at the memory of how dismissive the big detective and his sidekick had been of him when they met. Dismiss me now, gentlemen!
The air was beginning to clear. More of the bay was visible. It was time to put the next part of his plan into action. He picked up the bag of tools at his feet and strode back towards the shack. First, he wanted to fix the corrugated-iron roof of the lean-to at the side of the cottage, where he stored his fresh meat. He fished inside the bag, bringing out the nail gun he had brought especially for the task.
The boat edged forward on the swell. Daley peered into the grey mist. He thought he could see shadows. He turned, lifting his arm as Hamish had instructed, and the old man made his way forward.
‘We’re close tae the shore, Mr Daley,’ he whispered. ‘Better prepare yersel’ fir a wee bump. Here, can ye try and fend us off any rocks wi’ this.’ He held up a gnarled-looking oar to the detective. ‘Shouldna be much o’ a bump in this sea, and mebbe we’ll be lucky an’ get right ontae the shingle. That’s whoot I’m aiming fir, anyhow.’ He made his way back to the tiller as Daley kept watch intently on the bow, the oar poised.
Daley could see something ahead now – a bay with a pebble beach. Again, he held up his arm, looking round at Hamish, who nodded enthusiastically. Even though they were not under power, the beach seemed to be rushing towards them at some speed. Daley braced himself against the gunwale for the inevitable impact.
As it was, they seemed to glide onto the shingle. Like a car suddenly moving across a gravel drive, the noise was sudden and brief. They stopped quickly, the vessel lurching to one side as they came to rest. Daley looked down, to see that they were three quarters of the way beached, with the stern of the craft still in the water.
Without reference to the old man, he laid his impromptu fender carefully at his feet and jumped over the side of the boat, levering himself over the bulwark of the vessel as though he was clearing a fence. He landed heavily on the shale with a dull thump, nearly toppling over, though he managed to keep his feet. As he looked up, Hamish spoke to him from the deck. ‘Now you’re in charge, Mr Daley. At the top of that
little knoll you’ll get a grand view of the whole island, just about. If you can see for the mist, that is, though I think it’s clearing.’
‘Thanks, Hamish.’ He hoped they hadn’t alerted Seanessy. If he was even here. Daley’s heart was pounding. ‘I want you to stay here. If you see the lifeboat, tell them what’s happening.’ He turned to face the small hillock, dropping to his hands and knees.
‘Very good, Mr Daley.’ Hamish watched the detective scramble up the hill, crouching so that he wouldn’t appear silhouetted against the skyline should Seanessy actually be at the cottage.
Seanessy loaded the nail gun. The lean-to adjoining the shack was his larder; the place he kept his dead meat – for meat was all they became – and the place he did his butchery. He had killed his first victim there only a short time ago. He looked at the door. The big padlock was lying on the grass where he had left it before securing the corpse in the bay. No need to lock it now.
An old wooden ladder was propped up against the wall. He decided to secure it before attempting any repair to the roof. He placed the nail gun on the grass beside the padlock, then put his foot on the bottom of the ladder. The rungs were worn, but not dangerous. He pushed down on it, ensuring that the ladder gained purchase in the rough soil. It seemed firm, though he decided it would be best to climb to the top, just as a test, before he went up with his tools. He climbed carefully, noting that the mist was clearing. There was a tiny patch of blue showing through the gloom.
Daley reached the top of the hill. His trousers were already torn at the knee – one of his new pairs too, he mused. He cursed his lack of fitness. His legs were stiff, and his back ached after having to climb the small incline. He couldn’t recall ever having been so nervous. He forced thoughts of Liz to the back of his mind. The mixture of rage and fear he was experiencing was like a completely new emotion. All his senses were intensified: the ground smelled richly of wet earth; the tang of the sea was so sharp in his nostrils that he could taste it; the swish of the swell receding from the shale beach behind him sounded like distant thunder, over the pounding of his heart in his ears. Then he saw him.
Seanessy looked across the slanted corrugated iron. Two large nails had come loose in a recent storm, causing a bulge between the roof and the top of the wall through which rain had poured, leaving part of the earthen floor within the construction damp and cloying. The roofing material was old, but still thick and robust. He passed his hand over it, deciding the nail gun would make short work of the job. He paused briefly, then made his way back down the old ladder.
Daley watched the man scale the short ladder and examine the roof. He was literally only fifty yards away; the proximity made Daley hold his breath. He recognised Seanessy immediately, although he looked different to the shambling eccentric he and Scott had encountered on the beach. He seemed more severe – evil, almost. Daley realised this was absurd; it was his gut reaction to the horrors he had perpetrated. He now felt certain Liz must be here. His chest ached with fear, and he could feel beads of sweat on his brow.
What am I going to do? He was alone. He had to get to Seanessy and subdue him, while not putting Liz in any danger.
He had to keep a clear head and be optimistic – a mantra, he realised, he had picked up from Donald. He watched as Seanessy descended the ladder and went into a little shack. Taking a deep breath, still crouching, he scrambled over the top of the hill, and began to slip and slide down the muddy slope. He was heading for the rear of the cottage, all the time keeping his eyes on the building in case Seanessy appeared. He reasoned that he had the element of surprise, and that the retired teacher would be no match for him physically. He shortened his stride as he reached the back of the cottage, minimising the sound of his footfall. He leaned against the wall in order to catch his breath, which he drew as silently as he could. Please God, let her be in there. Please God, let her be safe.
The walls of the cottage were cool and damp, the salt smell of the sea here replaced by a musty odour of age and decay. He began to make his way slowly along the wall, in the opposite direction to Seanessy. He could hear no sound, nothing to indicate that Seanessy was busy inside, that he was inside at all. He edged to the corner, gripping the stonework with his fingers. He could hear nothing, so he decided to be bold and take a look.
He could see the bay now. The mist had cleared. There was no sign of Seanessy. If Seanessy had seen or heard him, he must surely make a move. There were tools strewn about the front of the building, and among them was Liz’s backpack. His blood ran cold. The emotions he had been fending off welled up inside. This man – this monster – had his wife. He tried to apply the lessons he had been taught in anger management to stave off the blinding rage he was now feeling; ultimately he knew it would be futile. He was beyond caring about the consequences: his only goal was to save Liz.
He heard a high-pitched whining, and in the split second he turned to face the direction of the noise, he saw a figure, arms outstretched, holding something before it. He just had time to lift his arm to protect his face when the flash of something caught his eye.
His head felt as though it would explode as he felt something hit his arm. Instinctively he fell to the ground. He landed heavily, banging his head and feeling his chest start to convulse as he struggled to breathe. Agonisingly his lungs would not inflate; it felt as though he was being crushed in a massive fist. He saw a figure loom over him. Seanessy. His body arched as his torturer triggered the taser, sending the crippling voltage along the wires now embedded in his arm. His right hand spread involuntarily, as though he was forcing his fingers to span. The pain was now excruciating.