It’s here. Our free crime ebook, Short Sentence, is laden with ten dastardly deeds, from five of our wonderful crime writers, Parker Bilal, Conor Fitzgerald, Thomas Mogford, James Runcie and Anne Zouroudi, together with the five unknown writers who won the writing competition last year. Congratulations to Alex Cooper, Mary Waters, Calum Macleod, Jan Snook & Sarah Evans.
Born in Cambridge in 1959, James Runcie was educated at Marlborough College, Cambridge University and Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, James has worked at Sadler’s Wells, The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Arts Council and, for a long period, at the BBC.
James’ prolific work for television includes the award-winning Miss Pym’s Day Out and Ten Days That Made the Queen. He has been appointed as Artistic Director of Bath Literature Festival. James has returned to Scotland after twenty years and now lives in Edinburgh with his wife and two daughters.
In the early afternoon of Christmas Eve,1953, a gaunt man in his late thirties walked into Grantchester church, sat down on the floor in front of the altar and refused to leave. He had murdered his wife, he said. Now he was claiming sanctuary.
The vicar, Canon Sidney Chambers, was already behind on his Christmas duties and was unprepared for the fresh hell of such a revelation. He had yet to begin his sermon, there were visits to the sick, presents to buy (let alone wrap) and the church roof had begun to leak. He was also sure that the ancient law of sanctuary, in which those accused of murder could be given forty days protection from revenge and the law, had been abolished in the seventeenth century. But perhaps there were exceptions, he told himself; and he knew it was his Christian duty to speak to any stranger and offer compassion, particularly at this benevolent time of year.
The man’s name was Vasily Kreutzer. He had been born in Russia and come to England as a child before the war. He wore a raincoat that stretched to his ankles and his hair was wet with rain. He began his confession by telling Sidney that his wife was beautiful: too beautiful to live.
Sophia Kreutzer had been a talented musician who took lessons in London. Her teacher, Ivan Truchevsky, played first violin in a prominent orchestra. The previous week the weather had been so bad that the last train to Cambridge had been cancelled and she had stayed overnight at Truchevsky’s house. This was the night, Vasily Kreutzer was convinced, on which his wife had betrayed him.
Sidney asked if Sophia had confessed to anything before he had decided to kill her. Had she provided him with anything other than a perfectly innocent explanation for her actions?
‘She didn’t need to say anything. I could tell from the look on her face when she came home. It was guilty.’
‘She could have been sorry that she left you alone.’
‘She knows I worry.’
‘Life without her. Now it is true. I have done what I feared the most.’ Kreutzer’s right hand shook. He reached into his coat for a cigarette. He had already struck the match when Sidney asked him to stop. ‘Do you mind not doing that? We are in church.’
Kreutzer flung the matches and then the cigarette away towards the altar. He clenched his fist and punched his forehead. ‘Stupid.’
Sidney waited before asking his next question. ‘Can you tell me what happened?’
‘I was in the kitchen. There was a knife.’
‘For the bread.’
‘You did not plan what you were going to do?’
‘I stabbed her in the heart.’ Kreutzer punched himself again.
‘How many times?’
‘I can’t remember.’
‘Again and again or just once?’
‘Once, I think.’
‘And did you remove the knife?’
‘Why do you ask? I don’t think so. It doesn’t matter. There was blood everywhere. I thought I was dreaming. There was no connection between my mind and body. I remember blood on the floor. It was dark like wine.’
‘When was this?’
‘A few hours ago.’
‘So your wife is still in the kitchen with a knife in her heart?’
Kreutzer looked as if he had only just remembered that time had not stopped at the moment of murder but was still continuing. ‘She must be.’
‘Do you have children?’
‘Where are they?’
‘I can’t think of them.’
‘But I must. We need to summon an ambulance. And the police. You must give me your address.’
‘She is dead. The blood. It was a lake.’
‘Your address. I insist.’
Sidney left for the vicarge, telephoned Inspector Keating and asked him to send officers to Kreutzer’s home. He also suggested that they should talk to Ivan Truchevsky.
An hour later a policeman arrived at the church with a young woman. It was Kreutzer’s wife.
‘Did you know he was making all this up?’ She asked.
‘I couldn’t be sure. It was the amount of blood. Your husband said it was everywhere. But there is often little bleeding if there is only one blow and the knife is kept in the wound. He was also unusually distressed. It was strange to show such remorse so soon.’
‘It comes from his fear that I am going to leave him.’
‘And are you? Sidney asked.
Sophia Kreutzer hesitated. ‘Vasya is not the easiest person to live with but I know he cannot survive without me. What should I do?’
‘Let him see that you love him.’
‘And what if I find that hard? Will you talk to him?’
Sidney returned to the church. ‘She has come back to me?’ Kreutzer asked. ‘From the grave?’
‘She was never dead,’ Sidney replied. ‘You should not have such fantasies.’
‘I think they are real.’
‘You imagined the worst that could happen so that you could learn to bear anything less. But we all have fears. Sometimes that we kill. At other times that we are about to be killed. We have to learn to live with our anxieties. If we do not trust people then we drive them away; and if we suspect them of duplicity then it is we who betray them. Go home now. Love your children. Marriage is your sanctuary. Not here.’
The rain had eased and a faint light glowed from the last of the sun. A murder of crows started up into the night air. The choir began a round of carol singing outside the village pub: God rest you merry gentlemen.
Sidney watched as Sophia Kreutzer put her arm round her husband and led him away, past the bare trees and on to the dark meadows.
The telephone was already ringing when he walked through the door of the vicarage. It was Inspector Keating.
‘Bad news, I’m afraid. That violinist. Truchevsky.’
‘Don’t tell me…’
‘As you feared. Dead in his flat. Stabbed through the heart.’
Sidney Chambers, the Vicar of Grantchester, is a thirty-two-year-old bachelor. Tall, with dark brown hair, eyes the colour of hazelnuts and a reassuringly gentle manner, Sidney is an unconventional clergyman and can go where the police cannot.
Together with his roguish friend, Inspector Geordie Keating, Sidney inquires into the suspect suicide of a Cambridge solicitor, a scandalous jewellery theft at a New Year’s Eve dinner party, the unexplained death of a well-known jazz promoter and a shocking art forgery, the disclosure of which puts a close friend in danger. Sidney discovers that being a detective, like being a clergyman, means that you are never off duty.
Available now. £14.99
Thomas Mogford works for ITV Sport as a translator and reporter on the UEFA Champions League. His short fiction has been published in The Field Magazine, Litro and Notes from the Underground. An early work featuring Spike Sanguinetti reached the semi-finals of the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. He is married and lives in London.
The spear bisects my palm. I run a finger across the purple arrowheads, which zigzag around the shaft, each pointing to the tip, the plump apogee of perfection. The colour, the weight… just perfect. Is that our supper, I hear behind? The summer sun has brought out the freckles on Flora’s cheeks; the sides of her new Hunters are felted with earth. I smile as I go to kiss her. Not in the first year, I say, dropping the spear onto the compost heap. You know not in the first year.
Things looked dire at first. Our stall was in the worst position, in the corner of the pub garden, beside a plastic slide with a murky pool of water in its base. And everyone seemed to know each other. The man next to us, who just grunted in a Cotswold burr at my hello, had sold all his spears within the hour. Just as Flora began to look worried – pursing her lips into that dark red heart – he arrived. I’ll take all of them, he said. All? Best I’ve seen on sale. We could have kissed him. A drink in the pub was the least we could do.
His name was Gregory Towne and he was young and American and worked as a sous-chef in Oxford. Respect what you’ve done, he said. Leaving good jobs, leaving London: takes guts. We just woke up one morning and knew we had to uproot, Flora explained, telling the story with more passion than I’d seen in a while. After he’d gone, Flora gazed at me and said, It’s really going to work, isn’t it?
Strange one today from Greg. Sitting post-sale with our drinks, he asked to pick up next week’s stock direct from our house. Season’s over, I told him. So where’s Chef going to get his asparagus? Greg, I said, the English season is six weeks’ long. Mid-May to end of June – sweetest, most intense spears in the world. Tell him, Flora – flying a kilo of asparagus from California uses a thousand times more energy than the home-grown equivalent. Chef won’t be happy, Gregory said.
The last supper; Flora making fresh Hollandaise. As if anticipating the change in season, a powerful wind rattles the dormers upstairs. Must get someone in to take a look. Flora tells me she wants to enrol on a course in Oxford. Carry on her Classics from university. I tell her there’s work to be done, winter veg, farmers’ markets, it’s not just about asparagus, but she’s determined, and she looks so beautiful when upset that I hide my anger and say yes.
Let me tell you something about asparagus. A single spear will pass through a man’s digestive system within ten minutes of consumption. Scientists are baffled at how the kidney can get to work so fast. Let me tell you something else. 50% of us claim asparagus has no effect on our urine. One particular digestive enzyme: either got it or you haven’t. The old wives’ tale, of course, is that those who give off the smell are more intelligent than those who don’t. Flora claims to be odourless; me, one spear’s worth would fell a tomcat.
I stare out of the kitchen window at the ferns blackening beneath the first frost. Time to get out the asparagus knife, use the narrow blade to pare the vegetation back, let the crowns build up energy for spring. Perhaps spring will be more productive for Flora. Humans follow cycles too.
Velocius quam asparagi coquantur, Flora trills as she comes in. Quicker than you can cook asparagus. Augustus Caesar was mad for the stuff, apparently. Used to have it rushed from the Tiber to the Alps, packing it in snow for year-round enjoyment. Well it can’t have tasted any good, I snap, and when Flora asks what’s wrong, I show her the repair bills. And still she wants to drive to Oxford in that fuel-consuming car.
First spears prodding through the loam. Surprisingly early.
Astonishing crop, far too much to sell. Flora keen to freeze but I refuse. No sign of Greg.
Flora mentions at the last supper that she’s enrolled for another year. She’ll be driving to Oxford twice a week now.
Still no Greg: has he jetted home to California?
The spears continue to sprout: over-composting? Mention to Flora my plans to sell the car. Another night in the blustery spare room.
Now I need to take this step-by-step. Flora comes home, then goes upstairs. When she re-emerges, she has something behind her back. A thin plastic tube. She shows me the tip: purply-blue. I embrace her and she rushes back up to call her mother.
Alone, I hold the tube in my palm. A sharp, unmistakable tang. I press it to my nostrils and sniff. Unmistakable.
Let me tell you something else about asparagus. There’s a new theory doing the rounds. Scientists used to believe just 50% of us gave off the odour. Know what they’re saying now? That we all do. Every one of us. The only difference is that half of us can’t smell it. It’s steaming off their piss but they’re way too thick to realise.
‘Yes, sir, we serve asparagus all year round’. I hang up and grab the asparagus knife. May have pared back the ferns too ruthlessly.
A buyer at last for the car – I shall drive it to Oxford myself, make Flora take the bus. Back in the bathroom: her smell, still there.
The spear bisects my palm, glinting in the winter sun. From inside the parked car, I watch the restaurant door open, and there she is, one hand in his, the other cradling her belly. Slipping the asparagus knife into my coat pocket, I get out of the car and fall in behind them.
A humid summer night in Gibraltar. Lawyer Spike Sanguinetti arrives home to find an old friend, Solomon Hassan, waiting on his doorstep.
Solomon is on the run. A Spanish girl has been found with her throat cut on a beach in Tangiers and he is accused of her murder. He has managed to skip across the Straits but the Moroccan authorities want him back.
Spike travels to Tangiers to try to delay Solomon’s extradition, and there meets a beautiful Bedouin girl. Zahra is investigating the disappearance of her father, a trail which leads mysteriously back to Solomon. Questioning how well he really knows his friend, Spike finds himself drawn into a dangerous game of secrets, corruption and murderous lies.
Available August 2012. £12.99
Anne Zouroudi was born in England and has lived in the Greek islands. Her attachment to Greece remains strong, and the country is the inspiration for much of her writing. She now lives in the Derbyshire Peak District with her son.
A SHEPHERD’S TALE
Where the coast path forked between the rocks and the slender lilies, the shepherd halted his mule. Late sun spread bronze on the Aegean’s swell; the breeze off the sea was cold, lifting the hem of the blanket that wrapped the mule’s load.
According to the plan she’d devised, he should go left, to the promontory and its cliffs. Sheltering his lighter under his jacket, he lit a cigarette, and smoked it watching waves break on the rocks below. When the cigarette was burned down to its filter, he flicked away the butt and followed the right-hand path.
The track wound steeply upwards. Stones and dirt slipped beneath his boots. The mule was surer-footed, and the shepherd let it go ahead, encouraging it with kind words until the land levelled at the old chapel of Ayios Yiorgos, where he whistled it to stop. Bats flittered in the dusk. Scanning the hillside, he saw no-one; there was nothing to hear but the wind. He tethered the mule and wedged open the iron gate, and heaved the load from the mule’s back onto his own.
The chapel’s walls were dirty from the rains; on its east side was a tomb, its carvings almost lost to years of weathering.
The shepherd left his burden on the tomb-lid.
When he reached home, she was waiting for him in the doorway. She followed him as he went round to the stable.
“Have you done it?” she demanded. “Did you do what I said?”
“Not exactly.” He unbuckled the mule’s girth, and lifted off its saddle. “I thought better of it. I left him at Ayios Yiorgos. He’ll be found tomorrow morning when they light the chapel lamps, but that still leaves you time to get away.”
“Stupid!” With tight fists she beat her husband’s back. “So stupid!”
“If you think I’m so stupid, Maria, why did you marry me?”
“I hate you!” she screamed. “I hate you!”
She ran inside and slammed the door; moments later, she came out, pulling on her church-going coat as she hurried towards the village.
He gave the mule fresh water and filled its hay-net. A foraging rat rustled the bedding straw. When the mule was settled, the shepherd went into the kitchen, where everything was perfectly clean and seemed as normal, though the stove was cold and she had made him nothing to eat. He lit a gas ring, and found what he needed from the cupboards.
An hour passed, then two. A police-car pulled up under the streetlight; she was in the back, and looked away.
A sergeant and a constable walked up to the open door. The shepherd sat at the kitchen table, smoking. The policemen wished him good evening.
“Is my wife coming in?” asked the shepherd. “I made her dinner.”
There was an omelette, cold on the plate, and an apple, peeled and sliced into rounds, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon.
“Maria’s told us everything,” said the sergeant. Uninvited, he took a seat opposite the shepherd, whilst the constable stood spread-legged, blocking the door. “She says you killed Dmitris Gavalas out of jealousy. That you hit him with a shovel and broke his skull.”
The shepherd drew on his cigarette and blew smoke towards the policeman.
“Is there any point in me telling you how it really was?” he asked. “My word against a good-looking girl like her? Fact is, he was going to leave her, and she went mad. When I came home, he was on the floor. Just there.” He pointed to a spot close to the constable’s feet, and the constable took a step back. The shepherd smiled. “Don’t worry, son. She’s cleaned up well.”
“But you took away the corpse,” said the sergeant.
“I did. She wanted me to dump it over the cliffs, but I couldn’t do it. His family’s done no wrong, and should have his body. When she knew he’d be found, she ran to you, I suppose to get her version in first. And here I am, her old fool of a husband. How could I not be guilty?”
“She says she was leaving you for him, and you couldn’t take it,” said the sergeant. “And is it a woman’s nature to be so violent? Fetch your coat if you want it, and let’s go.”
Days later, she saw him on the TV news. He was manacled, wearing prison overalls. As she watched him being led into the courthouse, a trickle ran from her nose; she touched a knuckle to her nostril, and there was blood. Dabbing at the trickle in front of the mirror, she tasted blood in her mouth; it was seeping from the edges of her gums.
By evening, she was too weak to stand. Her mother called the doctor, who came in no great hurry; he had a mistress of his own, and didn’t want to leave her bed. When he arrived, Maria was pale and fainting on the couch. Nothing could be done.
In the morning, as the mourners gathered, the doctor called the sergeant to the house. They stood together in the kitchen. From the salone they heard weeping and laments.
The doctor kept his voice low.
“I think it was poison,” he said.
The doctor shrugged.
“It wasn’t recently ingested. Rat poison takes a long time to do its work, a week, or even two. If it’s true her husband killed Dmitris, maybe he thought he might as well hang for a sheep as for a lamb.”
“But if he’d forced it down her throat, she’d have told me.”
“No forcing needed,” said the doctor. “The poison tastes sweet, and it’s easily dissolved. I’d put my money on him. Unfortunately for you, in one respect at least she was a good wife. I’ll bet she’s cleaned in here every day since he’s been gone.” They glanced around the pristine kitchen. “And won’t he be laughing now, knowing that she’s cleaned away your proof?”
It is summer, and as tourists, drawn by the legend of a priceless missing artifact, disembark on the sun-drenched quay of Mithros, the languid calm of the island is broken by the unorthodox arrival of a stranger who has been thrown overboard in the bay. Lacking money or identification, he is forced for a while to remain on Mithros. But is he truly a stranger? To some, his face seems familiar.
The arrival of the investigator Hermes Diaktoros, intrigued himself by the island’s fabled bull, coincides with a violent and mysterious death. This violence has an echo in Mithros’s recent past: in a brutal unsolved crime committed several years before, which, although apparently forgotten may not yet have been forgiven.
As Hermes sets about solving the complex puzzle of who is guilty and who is innocent, he discovers a web of secrets and unspoken loyalties, and it soon becomes clear that the bull of Mithros may only be the least of the island’s shadowy mysteries.
Available June 2012. £11.99
Conor Fitzgerald has lived in Ireland, UK, the United States and Italy. He has worked as an arts editor, produced a current affairs journal for foreign embassies based in Rome, and founded a successful translation company. He is married with two children and still lives in Rome.
A GOOD JUDGE OF CHARACTER
Neither the tattoo work emerging from the neck of Mirko’s T-shirt, nor the way the veins on his arms stood out like blue cords, made him someone a stranger in an empty motorway restaurant late at night would choose to stand next to.
But a man, bald apart from curls behind ears that, if red, would have made of him a perfect clown, was standing right there, eating a pastry. Behind the counter, the barman clicked a pair of food tongs and lifted up the top of the sandwich toaster. Mirko and the bald man both leaned forward to check on their food.
Claudio extracted a clear bottle from his pocket, squirted disinfectant gel onto his hands, massaging his wrists as he appraised the situation and evaluated the bald man, some of whose pastry flakes were floating down to join crumpled paper napkins and Mirko’s bag of equipment on the floor.
The bald man saw him standing there, gathered his car key from the counter and distanced himself from Mirko, as if to make room for Claudio.
‘Very slow that grill,’ ventured the bald man, glancing at the barman, who yawned wide all over the tongs. ‘Lousy food anyhow,’ continued the bald man, picking up some conversational courage. ‘Lousy food to end a lousy day.’
Mirko decided to take exception to this. ‘What do you mean you had a lousy day?’
‘How about my whole life?’ said the man, self-pity trumping his survival instinct.
‘What’s so fucking bad about your life that it can’t get worse?’ asked Mirko.
It was tiring handling Mirko. Fidelity without mental stability amounted to unreliability, which was just as bad as treachery. Claudio withdrew a pen from his pocket and tapped Mirko on the elbow to call him off and perhaps save the bald fool’s life.
Claudio glanced at his watch. Sergio should have phoned by now. That was the arrangement. It was perfectly linear and logical, but Sergio still complained that he was the one running the most risk.
Mirko’s sandwich arrived. He wolfed it down, spraying crumbs everywhere. Claudio was obliged to step out of the circle of contamination. Snug beneath his jacket, balanced in its Blackhawk holster, was his Sphinx CZ 75 tactical 9 mm pistol. He had pulled it out several times, often pointed it at terror-stricken faces, but had never fired it. Perhaps the maiden shot would go into Mirko. Or Sergio, if he didn’t phone soon.
Any further delay and he would have to abort the job. They had to dump the car before it could be reported stolen in the morning. That was why they were waiting here while Sergio drove on to the next town to position their legitimate car. It was an elegant arrangement. Logistics, it was called. Sergio had never heard the word.
‘I lost my job, too,’ said the bald man, waving his hand, which shone with sweat. Sugar grains were stuck to the hairs on the backs of his fingers and his fingernails were black.
‘That’s too fucking bad,’ said Claudio.
The barman balanced the second toasted sandwich on a saucer and set it before the bald man, who had now fallen silent. Savoury after sweet. Some people had no sense of the proper order of things.
‘You’d better wash your hands before you touch that,’ said Claudio.
The bald man lifted his left hand and looked at it. ‘You think?’
Claudio turned to Mirko. ‘Come on.’
Mirko picked up his heavy bag, and they made their way over to a table in the empty dining area that smelled reassuringly of bleach.
‘There’s something not right about him.’
‘Who?’ asked Mirko.
‘That bald fuck with the filthy hands.’
‘Talks too much,’ Mirko offered.
‘I observed his car key.’ He paused for effect. ‘A BMW.’
He might as well have been explaining quadratic equations to a Bull Terrier.
‘Expensive. He said he was unemployed.’
Claudio’s phone rang. It was Sergio at last. ETA five minutes. He put another drop of disinfectant on his hand, which had been resting on the table.
The bald man reappeared holding a bottle of water, a bar of chocolate and a bag of salted nuts. He walked past them to the cash register, but no one was there.
‘You need to pay at the bar,’ said Claudio.
The bald man turned, his face flushed, his chin trembling. ‘I tried to. But the guy has vanished.’ An idea occurred to him. ‘But I could leave some money with you.’ He came over and put a ten euro note, the colour of dried blood, on the table.
Time to go. Ignoring the bald man and his crumpled banknote, Claudio nodded to Mirko, who grabbed the grubby handles of his bag.
Claudio let Mirko leave first. As he pushed through the small exit turnstile and tasted the night air, a blinding beam from a spotlight hit him in the eyes. He heard the shout of ‘Police!’ and of Mirko dropping his heavy bag.
He spun around, and leapt over the turnstile. Black and yellow asterisks swam in the air before his eyes. Blue lights flashed outside.
Betrayed by Sergio? Absurd.
The bald man, eyes narrow and focused, was barring his way, a Beretta in his left hand. ‘Police. On the ground.’
With a balletic movement Claudio slipped his hand sideways towards the Sphinx with which he intended to correct the mounting absurdities around him, but an invisible bull charged into his chest, something cracked and he was looking at the ceiling, listening to a whistling sound.
Shadows crowded him, shouting and whispering. The bald man appeared out of the gloom, his white face huge now.
‘Can you imagine?’ The bald policeman was speaking, but not to him. ‘Three in the morning. Not a single vehicle in the forecourt, and these two jokers sitting inside, obviously waiting for someone. Yeah, he’s a goner… Sloppy planning.’
The voices began to fade.
‘Jesus,’ muttered someone. ‘What a mess your guy’s making of the floor.’
An Alec Blume novel
When magistrate Matteo Arconti’s namesake, an insurance man from Milan, is found dead outside the court buildings in Piazza Clodio, it’s a coded warning to the authorities – a clear message of defiance and intimidation.
Commissioner Alec Blume, all too familiar with Rome’s criminal underclass, knows little of the Calabrian mafia currently under investigation by the magistrate. Handing control of the murder inquiry to his partner Caterina Mattiola, Blume goes in search of answers, setting off on a journey into the deep dark south of Italy…
April 2012. £11.99 Available now.
Parker Bilal is the pen-name of Jamal Mahjoub. Born in London and brought up in Khartoum, Sudan, Mahjoub originally trained as a geologist and has written six critically acclaimed literary novels which have been shortlisted and awarded a number of prizes. He currently lives in Barcelona.
She was sifting through the discount bins in the supermarket on her way home from the library, looking for something that was both affordable and edible, two qualities that seemed mutually exclusive, when she spotted the man smiling at her. Instinctively she looked away. Throwing something into her basket she headed for the check-out. She was halfway across the station concourse when he caught up with her.
– Excuse me? Would you mind?
She gave him her coldest look. Mid-forties, maybe older, greying hair, puffy face.
– I have a proposition for you.
Why was there never a policeman around when you needed one? A conductor, porter, whatever, someone in uniform? It was as if the whole world had been handed over to machines. Press this, pull that. No wonder people were losing their social skills.
– I’m not that kind of girl.
– No, no.
– I didn’t mean… I just thought…
He nodded at her carrier bag,
-You could use some extra cash. A hundred pounds?
– You were looking for someone short of money?
Either he was a devious maniac, or he was pretty sad.
– What’s the catch?
– No catch. All you have to do is make a call.
– Nothing. You don’t even have to say anything except where you are.
– That’s it?
– It’s as simple as that.
She sniffed. Her mother was always on at her about it. She sniffed when she was nervous.
– What is it, like a practical joke?
– Something like that.
His smile was forced.
– Where’s the money?
He produced a wallet and counted out five twenties. How much trouble could you get into for making a phone call?
She made to walk on.
– Two hundred. He was pulling notes out of his wallet like a magician.
– Two fifty.
It was a good chunk of next month’s rent.
– All I have to do is dial a number, right?
– And say where you are.
At a pay phone on the far side of the station he handed her a card with a number on it. She dialled. It startled her when someone answered.
A woman’s voice.
There was a long pause. She could hear the woman thinking.
– Mallory? Is that you?
Another long pause. Then a choked sob made her heart leap.
– Please, darling. Say something. Anything. Just tell me where you are.
This was her cue.
– Paddington station.
– Oh, thank god! Stay there, I’m on my way.
The line went dead. She stared at the phone, then her eyes met the man’s.
– Who’s Mallory?
– That doesn’t concern you, he said, handing her the money.
Later that evening she stared at the folded notes lying on the table, wondering about the consequences of what she had done. The woman had been crying. She sounded frightened. Was Mallory her daughter? Had the man picked her because she was roughly the same age? Did he enlist her help to make the woman think her daughter was ready to come home? Why? Obviously, because he couldn’t get near the woman any other way. She didn’t trust him. More than that. She was scared of him. And now she was going to walk right into his arms.
Stuffing the money into her pocket she ran out.
It was late now and the station had cleared. It wasn’t hard to spot the woman. The only other person in sight was a thin man, sitting staring at the cup in front of him as though it might speak if he waited long enough. She was in her fifties, wearing a mohair coat and fiddling with the rings on her fingers. Was it all some kind of sick joke? The kind of cruelty couples inflicted on one another after years of loveless marriage? There was no sign of the man.
She circled carefully, looking into every corner she could find. Finally, unable to restrain herself any longer she approached the table. The woman looked up.
– Are you waiting for somebody?
– I might be.
Her face grew serious.
– I’m the one who called.
– You’ve seen her? You’ve seen Mallory? Is she all right?
The woman was frantic.
– I haven’t seen her.
– Then… I don’t understand.
So she explained the whole story. The supermarket, the conversation with the man, the money, which she now held out like an offering.
– Look, I’m really sorry if I caused you any pain.
The woman grabbed her firmly by the shoulders.
– This man, have you seen him again?
– No, I looked around, but he’s not here.
– Thank God!
The woman looked into her eyes;
– You have to leave, right now.
– I don’t understand.
– You’re in danger, don’t you see? This is how he caught my Mallory.
She suddenly felt very afraid.
– We both have to get out of here.
– Yes, but, what about Mallory?
– I have a car parked around the corner. Mallory will have to wait.
She was swept along by the urgency of the whole thing. They headed outside. The air was dark and cold. She was wondering what she had got herself mixed up in. As they hurried along a row of parked cars a door slid open and she was shoved into the interior of a large van. A cloth was pressed over her nose and mouth until she lost consciousness.
When she opened her eyes it was cold and dark. Her hands were tied. They were driving, somewhere far away. No other cars around. A road in the middle of nowhere. Two people were talking. A man and a woman. Both voices sounded strange, different, but she recognised them.
– How did you know she would come back?
– They always do. Conscience or something, never fails.
The woman chuckled.
– She’s pretty.
– I thought you’d like her, my love. We’re going to have some fun with this one.
In the back she rolled onto her side and tried to sit up. She wanted to scream but the gag was tied too tightly.
The ancient city of Cairo is a feverish tangle of the old and the new, of the superrich and the desperately poor, with inequality and corruption everywhere. It’s a place where grudges and long-buried secrets can fester, and where people can disappear in the blink of an eye.
Makana, a former Sudanese police inspector forced to flee to Cairo, is now struggling to make ends meet as a private detective. In need of money, he takes a case from the notoriously corrupt mogul Saad Hanafi, owner of a Cairo soccer team, whose star player, Adil Romario, has gone missing. Soon, Makana is caught up in a mystery that takes him into the treacherous underbelly of his adopted city, encountering Muslim extremists, Russian gangsters, vengeful women, and a desperate mother hunting for her missing daughter-a trail that leads him back into his own story, stirring up painful personal memories and bringing him face-to-face with an old enemy from his past …
January 2012. £11.99 Available now.