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The Final Trick: Final Trick Private Investigator Crime Thriller Series, #1

The Final Trick: Final Trick Private Investigator Crime Thriller Series, #1

Автором Solomon Carter

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The Final Trick: Final Trick Private Investigator Crime Thriller Series, #1

Автором Solomon Carter

Длина:
433 pages
6 hours
Издатель:
Издано:
Aug 10, 2017
ISBN:
9781386575573
Формат:
Книге

Описание

Private Investigators Eva Roberts and Dan Bradley are hired to track down missing young mother Willow Jackson. When a body is found on the outskirts of town, all looks lost. The body was naked, and pathology shows evidence of drug taking and water damage. But Willow Jackson is discovered miles inland, and had never taken drugs in her life. And so a missing person case becomes a murder hunt. 
The hunt is soon joined by another mysterious rival. A man who will not stop until he has his revenge. 

Who can track down the killer before he strikes again? Detetcive Inspector Hogarth? The PIs? The mysterious hunter?

Welcome to Metropolis-on-sea. A town burning on the ambition of its leaders, a place infected by wicked lust, preying on the weakness of those it has seduced. 

Welcome to The Final Trick...

Full of dramatic tension, with snappy dialogue, mystery, twists, thrilling action, humor and a hint of romance, this full-length novel should satisfy fans of all great mysteries and crime thrillers. If you love Lee Child, Robert Crais, Harlan Coben, Ian Rankin, and the Long Time Dying series then you will love The Final Trick.

Eva Roberts & Dan Bradley - London Calling Private Investigator Crime Thriller Series

THE FINAL TRICK - Book 1
TASTE OF DEATH – Book 2
THE DANGER ROOM– Book 3
BOOK FOUR COMING SOON!

Издатель:
Издано:
Aug 10, 2017
ISBN:
9781386575573
Формат:
Книге

Об авторе

Author of the Long Time Dying series, Solomon Carter grew up with crime and has worked around crime throughout his career. Born under a good sign, Solomon got lucky and didn't get addicted to crime or the lifestyle so easily available. Born in Southend, Essex, Solomon lived in South London, enjoying the sights, sounds, smokes, drinks and eats available for several years before coming back to Southend to write books and change the world. it's a big job, but someone's got to do it. Solomon lives in Southend with writer wife and children Batman and Black Canary, aged 3 years and 6 months respectively. Interests: staying sane in a hectic town on a seriously crazy world. Keeping the faith. Helping others do the same. Enjoying nature. Drinking neat scotch, sometimes vodka. Works out. Runs. Eats chocolate. Acts tough. Isn't that tough. Strong. Determined. On a mission. A writer since childhood, fascinated by the good and bad in all of us, a witness to how crime and addiction affects families from the inside out, and a believer that people can change if they really really want to. An alumnus of Goldsmiths College, London, on a mission to deliver entertainment, excitement to readers all over the world on the one hand, and to live the most authentic, inspiring and free wheeling adventure that life has to offer along the way. Join me for the ride. It's going to be fun. The Long Time Dying series brings an electric love affair into explosive contact with crime in the streets of Essex and London. Eva Roberts and Dan Bradley are ceaseless in pursuit of their quarry... Pick up the Long Time Dying series today.

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The Final Trick - Solomon Carter

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Prologue

Bliss

A trickle of cool sweat slicked down the sides of Robin’s head as he looked out on the dark country road. He gripped the steering wheel tight and hunched over it, his eyes fixed on the bends ahead. There was an absence of street light outside, only the bright full-beams of his headlights cutting across the scything bends of the lanes as he wound deeper through the wide, flat fields. It was hard to concentrate – because of the job ahead – and the trouble he’d left behind. It was hard to concentrate because of the yearning for the sweetness yet to come. The prospect of the girl being in his arms made everything else almost bearable. Almost.

Where are we going? said the silken voice at his side. Robin looked to his left and was about to speak, when the dreamy look in her eyes made him breathless. If he didn’t know better – but he did – he would have thought those lingering eyes promised him everything. They were bedroom eyes, but not in the way he truly wished. Light from a passing car flashed through the windscreen, and he made sure to grip the wheel tighter, following the right line. The light hit the young woman’s soft face, and her eyes glistened like an old-fashioned Hollywood star. She was certainly pretty enough for the silver screen. Yes, if she had been born to a different world this one could have been anything she wanted. But the world she had been born into was nothing like it. Which was good news for some, at least.

Don’t worry. Somewhere safe. Somewhere nice and comfortable where we can be alone. You’ll like it, I promise.

Promise? she said, the word dragged slowly through her plump, luscious lips.

Yes, I promise, he said. He swallowed nervously on his oath, hoping he could deliver on his promise.

But I liked things the way they were...

You didn’t see the danger. You didn’t know where it was all leading. I can do better for you than that.

The woman stared at him.

But it was okay the way things were. Why are we doing this...? she whispered.

He swallowed before a considered reply, Because you don’t deserve the pain.

What pain?

Don’t worry yourself about it.

What pain? she said, and through her drifting he knew he’d said too much. The woman carried on looking at him, waiting, but the rear-view mirror caught his eye. He saw two white lights growing in the mirror as a distant car accelerated towards them. His eyes widened, his neck tightened, and as he dabbed the accelerator his Skoda estate bolted forward. The woman looked at him and turned her eyes to the wing mirror.

What’s the matter? What are you worrying about?

Nothing, he said, firmly, knowing his tone risked alienating her, but he needed her to stop talking.

"But it’s not nothing..."

He avoided her eyes and gripped the steering wheel tight and pushed his car faster. The headlights behind him were still gaining. He should have done this long before, of course he should, but he liked her company. He liked her as a person, not just as a woman, even if none of the others saw her that way. Think, breathe, think, he told himself, silently repeating the words like a mantra, but the words brought him no peace. And still he felt her eyes on his sweaty face. He felt her tensing up, ready to panic. He felt her worries mixing with his own. Damn fool, he’d thought he could have his cake and eat it. From the very start he’d known it couldn’t work like that, but then old habits die hard. And lust was the oldest habit in the book. The headlights were now so bright behind him they filled his eyes and they were still coming faster. It seemed there was no way he could outrun them. His car was old and the engine failing. He steadied his breathing, and stretched his neck. Maybe he could front this out, use his diplomatic tongue. His mother used to say he could talk his way out of anything, and even the one he feared knew him to be a skilled diplomat. Yes, he had to trust himself. He had made a mistake tonight, but he could always make it better.

You’re scaring me, Robin... said the woman. He looked at her and saw the little girl in her eyes, and he felt a welling up of pity. Yes, he should have done it when he had the chance. The woman made him feel good, and yet she made him feel like a louse too. But that was his fault, not hers.

Just be quiet, sweet. Be quiet, and it will all be okay.

This was wrong, Robin, she said. I think you lied to me.

Only to help you, he said. The moonlight picked out a lay-by on the road ahead. He nodded to himself, looked in the mirror and began to slow the car.

I shouldn’t have allowed myself to get into this mess, said the woman, as if she had ever had a choice. I have a family...

Robin shut her out and pulled the car over, then counted the seconds in his head while he looked at the lights in the mirror. They kept coming, and then the light peaked as the car passed by. But it was not the car he was expecting. It was a family car – an old shape Citroen Picasso. He felt an instant relief, but his relief was quelled as the Picasso slowed and the man behind the steering wheel turned his head to look at them as he passed. How disconcerting... the man was little more than a silhouette. Another man up to who knew what in the middle of the night. The Picasso sped on and the pressure lifted. There was only one car he needed to fear, and it wasn’t an old Picasso.

Robin? What have you done? she said. The man had no choice but to look at her, but he refused the emotion in her eyes. He had to remember he was in charge, he had the ace in the pack, and he would have what he wanted.

Whatever you’ve done... please... you’ll make it right, won’t you? I have a family to think of...

Your family? he snapped. Tell me. Do you think of your family when you’re... but he stopped as her eyes flicked to each of his. He saw the tears forming.

It’s okay. He said. I know how to make it right.

How? But I don’t even know why we’re here.

And none of that matters now. Here. Have some of this. It’s the good stuff, just like I promised. His hand slid into his jacket pocket and he watched her eyes fix on his movements.

Not now, she said. But her words weren’t convincing, and he could see the hunger in her eyes. Robin smiled. Yes – especially now. You want to be happy again don’t you?

But... I’m scared, Robin.

Don’t be, my sweet. You know how I think of you.

He took the emptied-out biro pen tube and handed it to her, then took the wrapped foil from his pocket. He opened the foil to show her the brown line he had prepared before.

Will there be any trouble? she said, as she placed the tube between her lips.

How can there be? Just try to forget it all. Here... He placed a lighter beneath the foil and sparked a flame. As the fire slowly travelled towards her face, a waft of smoke rose from the foil. It made her mocha skin glow.

I hope not. For all our sakes. The way she said it, sounded like a warning. She sucked up the slow-rising smoke like a vacuum cleaner, and he watched her eyes roll back as if she was in ecstasy. With lungs held full of smoke, she settled back into her seat and moaned softly as she breathed out.

That’s it, my sweet... as she settled back, Robin’s eyes trailed down to the woman’s knees, then up to the softer flesh of her thighs.

I’ll look after you, my sweet. I won’t let them touch you ever again.

Robin’s hand landed on her knee but nothing registered on the young woman’s face. She didn’t even flinch. Her eyes were closed, with look of bliss fixed gently on her face. Soon it would be his turn.

One

The Throne and the Chesterfield

And the sense of being pursued, being watched, being hemmed in on all sides – as you say – have these things subsided too?

Eva Roberts sat in the leather chesterfield armchair opposite a man with silvery grey hair and glassy eyes. She had been to see Laurence Potts – registered psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and life coach six times now, and still the man hadn’t plumbed the depths of her stories. But with well over a decade of time served as a private investigator, Eva, a serious and beautiful red-head had more than a few stories to tell. At the first couple of sessions, she was sure the man didn’t believe any of her tales. But as time passed, she saw a deeper look of fascination come into those glassy eyes. He was intrigued by her, sometimes clearly amazed by her exploits. But in the last couple of sessions, the man had assured her that they were finally beginning to reach the ‘meat’ of her problems. Whatever they were. She didn’t know if they were psychological, because the way she saw it, all her problems were real. They were physical. They lived and breathed, or had done so before they died. Nothing about her experiences had been imaginary, and almost all of it had stretched her to the limit. She had only agreed to the idea of seeing Laurence Potts because of the pressure from her business, and long term romantic partner, Dan Bradley. The nightmares hadn’t stopped, and the tiredness was interfering with her ability to concentrate on cases. Eva was sure the headaches were something to do with her lack of sleep, but as to whether a therapist was the answer, she was less than convinced. But Eva had to be thorough. If she was going to dismiss Laurence Potts as a snake oil merchant, she was going to do so after giving the therapy a good go. If nothing else, maybe she would learn a new method to psychoanalyse her targets – and her clients too. Laurence Potts sat in a throne of a chair at the back of his small London Road office, with his pompous certificates arrayed around him on the wall like sunrays. For some reason, Potts reminded her of some minor king from the middle ages. He looked confident, bordering on arrogant, with the look of a man who believed the hand of destiny was with him. Nonetheless, Eva saw only a very minor king.

The sense of being hemmed in on all sides was real, Mr Potts. I was hemmed in. There were people watching us... said Eva.

To an outsider the meeting could have seemed between two equals – two professionals. Potts wore a blue blazer and beige slacks, no tie, shirt collar undone, and Eva Roberts wore one of her usual tweed ensembles – today green – a jacket with a slim waist and a pencil skirt to match. The way she studied Potts would have aided the illusion. But Eva still felt at the man’s mercy, releasing nuggets of her feelings, pouring out her past as if it was something to discard. But that couldn’t happen. Horrific, unbelievable, amazing – the things she had lived through would stay with her for the rest of her life. So... why was she still sitting here, letting a man invade her mind at the price of forty pounds an hour?

Please call me, Laurence, said the man again. Ah. You’re thinking, again, Miss Roberts. It’s all part of your elaborate evasion process.

Is it? said Eva, with a slightly irritated look, which brought a priestly looking smile from the man in the throne.

Yes, it is. You say it was real, and I don’t doubt you’ve been through some very traumatic things – both you and your partner, Sam.

Dan. His name is Dan, said Eva, wondering if Potts’ habit of using the wrong name was another of his psychological strategies.

Dan, yes, of course, said Potts. He made a note on his notebook and moved on.

...I don’t doubt that you’ve been–

Followed, watched, imprisoned, tortured, blackmailed...

The man’s face flickered and he nodded. "Yes, yes, all of those things. So, there is the question – why do you still do the job you do despite all these terrible things which have happened because of it... though I think you may know the answer to that, am I right?"

Eva picked up the plastic cup of water from the table beside her and sipped. Yes, I know the answer to that, alright, she said.

Aahhhh. Do tell, said Potts, a smug smile creeping across his face. He put down his pen and steepled his fingers.

I’m thirty-four years old. I’ve been working in this business for what – twelve years or more – my partner works with me. It’s all we’ve ever known.

"Familiarity, yes. That’s a good reason. But they say it breeds contempt, Eva. Do you not find your work contemptible?"

Eva paused and shook her head. Actually, I find it cathartic.

Why? Why is that?

Eva blinked. Because we set things right. When we’re working at our best, when the fog of confusion is cleared, when we’re doing what we should in the right way, we try to put things right.

You restore order... said Potts.

Sometimes. Though there’s nothing orderly about the real world, is there? said Eva.

Quite right, Miss Roberts. There is no order, unless we create some. And you work to make sense of the world, to bring order, don’t you think?

I work because I have to.

Potts nodded sagely. Let me ask you... are you addicted to your work, Eva?

Eva breathed in and out and took her time. Potts watched her the whole time.

It’s all there is, she said. Then, after a moment. Yes, I suppose I am.

Good! said Potts with a dynamic slap of his hand on his throne. Good. That’s something of a minor breakthrough right there.

But I’ve always known I was an addict, Mr Potts. This work is either in your blood, or it’s not.

Yes, yes, but is it healthy for an alcoholic to work as a pub landlord, Eva?

No. But they do, and it’s easy to see why, said Eva, jousting with the man because she could. Because she was paying him forty pounds a session to state the obvious.

But what if the alcoholic was taken away from the sight of the bottle for a little while, wouldn’t that also do him some good? said Potts, with a twinkle in his eye.

Eva’s eyes narrowed. Had the man sensed that she had a minor alcohol problem? The lure of the Pinot Grigio was a terrible thing, but not as terrible as much else in the world. A woman was surely allowed to have her vices after all. Eva tried to stop herself from blushing. Potts smiled like Buddha.

I suppose so, said Eva.

Good. That’s almost an agreement. I’m proud of you, Eva, said Potts. Eva tried not to feel complimented by such a patronising and possibly sexist comment, but failed. She was pleased for it. Damn him, Potts was good. Even if he was a snake oil merchant – he still sold it well.

Now, if I gave you a recommendation, would you take me up on it? said Potts.

It would depend what it was, said Eva.

Ha. Of course it would. I want you to take a break from the scene of the crime, so to speak.

You want me to take a holiday? said Eva, with a sudden lurch toward boredom. How predictable, she thought.

A holiday? You? Oh no. With you, impossible. No. I want you to move your home out of town, even for just for a short time. Tell me, would it be possible?

In theory, yes. I suppose. Why?

The idea is to take your head out of your work for a time. You live and work in a world of criminals and darkness, Eva. After such a long time, I think you’ve begun to see the world in the image of your career. Not as the world is, but through the prism of a private investigator. I want you to take a step away. Make work work, and your rest, rest. Do you understand?

Eva did understand. And now it was Eva’s turn to smile like Buddha.

Yes, I do see, Laurence.

Good, he said, with a little clap of his hands.

Because this time I’m a step ahead of you. I’ve rented us a small house on the outskirts of town, out in the countryside. A holiday let. Just for a few weeks...

Potts looked slightly diminished, then he shrugged.

You see? Your thinking and mine has been synchronised by the therapy, Eva. You know what that means?

You want me to carry on spending forty pounds a week for as long as you can milk it? Eva did not say.

No, Laurence. What does it mean?

It means the therapy is working. Well done.

Potts closed his notepad to signal the end of the session and Eva was soon on her feet neatening her jacket. Her partner Dan seemed to hear the movement from outside. He knocked on the door but didn’t wait for an answer. The door opened and Dan Bradley waltzed in. Six-foot-tall, with short dark brown hair, a chiselled face much in need of a shave, and with boisterous brown eyes, he looked straight at Laurence Potts for a sign of how things had gone. Potts nodded. Then Dan looked at Eva.

I don’t know if changing my address is going to change my world, said Eva.

But it’s got to be worth giving it a try, said Dan brightly.

Good to hear it, said Potts. Same time next week?

When she looked at Potts, Eva couldn’t help but let a little cynicism show in her pale green eyes.

Yes. We may as well continue, she said.

Meetings are the only way to measure progress, he said.

Hmmmm, said Eva.

Eva left the room to use the toilet before they departed. Laurence Potts walked around his small kingdom and opened the door to the waiting room. It was empty. Meanwhile, Dan Bradley wandered around. He looked at the certificates on the wall and the big wooden throne, and the theatrical prop of the chesterfield chair. When he had made a circuit of the room, he found Potts was watching him.

I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr Bradley, said Potts, putting his hands on his hips.

All good, I hope, said Dan, picking up a miniature globe form the window sill. He spun the globe as fast as it would go then set it down again.

Yes, indeed. But I form an impression of a firebrand, a go-getter, and if I take the liberty of saying, something of a wild man...

A wild man? Did Eva tell you that?

No. Eva would never speak badly of you, though one cannot help but draw conclusions.

Dan couldn’t help himself. He walked towards the wooden throne and sat down. He shifted his weight around until it felt right, styling himself head on hand like a Shakespearean king. And when it did, Dan couldn’t help feel a little of the power Potts must have felt in that chair.

Potts watched him the whole time without complaint. The therapist walked to the chesterfield and sat down in its bulk.

Tell me, Mr Bradley. What drew you into this wild world of private investigating?

How long have you got? said Dan with a smile.

Let’s see, shall we?

Two minutes later Eva pushed the door of the therapy room open and walked in to find Dan in full flow, gesticulating and talking loudly.

"...it turned out there was a hit man after us..."

Dan looked up at Eva and let his hands fall.

Eva looked at Potts.

You know, Eva, I could really go to town with your partner. Fascinating! said Potts. He smile he pointed at Dan, but Eva saw he meant every word.

Come on, we need to grab the keys for Paglesham, said Eva. Dan stood up from the throne and shook Potts by the hand, pumping his arm like a lever. As Eva turned for the door, her phone vibrated in her hand. She looked down and saw a text from their police colleague, Rob Dawson. Dawson had proven himself a friend a good few times, but his first loyalty was always to the law. Even so, Dawson knew the case they were working on and had broken protocol to provide some news. The text message was simple.

Willow Jackson has been found dead. Body found in undergrowth near Larkways, Basildon.

Eva put the phone to her lips and her gaze turned inward. Willow Jackson was a single parent, a good and loving mother, but last month she had disappeared leaving behind her only son Max. From the accounts of everyone concerned, Willow’s disappearance was deeply out of character. Willow was a grown woman with children. Eva fully expected to find her and reunite her with her family. But here it was, chaos raging against order. The room fell silent as Potter and Dan noticed Eva’s sudden change in mood.

It’s Dawson, said Eva.

What? said Dan. She saw Potts was hanging on her every word too. She held her tongue but remembered everyone would know soon enough. There was no reason to fear breaking client confidentiality now.

She looked at Potts. We’ve been working a missing person case, trying to track a young woman called Willow Jackson. Have you heard of her? she said, looking at Potts. The therapist shook his head.

Unfortunately, you soon will.

Potts looked curious, but Dan was reading the cues in her eyes.

The police have just found her body, said Eva. Poor Jane Jackson isn’t going to get the reunion she was hoping for, said Eva. You see, Laurence. Restoring order is the ambition, but sometimes the chaos is just too strong. Come on, let’s go and see if there’s anything we can do...

But it was far too late for that. If the missing person case was going to be closed without success, there were still questions to be answered, formalities and feelings to be addressed. Eva hoped Dawson was in the mood to break a little more of his police protocol.

Two

Bending the Rules

Dawson wasn’t in the mood to break every rule in the book, but by the time they met him, the rules were already broken. PCSO Rebecca Rawlins was busy keeping the townsfolk behind the police cordon at the edge of the Larkways Estate shops, on the rough edge of Basildon. The great unwashed lingered behind the police tape, talking and surmising loudly about what may have happened in the scrubland behind the row of mostly closed-down stores. A couple of youths raised their phones to film the hubbub, but Eva didn’t see anything worth filming. Just a few police uniforms and suits chewing the fat while the real work went on behind the shops. Eva knew PCSO Rawlins respected her and liked the way she worked. But Rawlins was still young and green. Aside from PC Dawson, almost all the other police she met had regarded them with either distant fascination or utter disdain. Private investigators weren’t seen as the same breed as cops. They were mercenaries, out to earn as much as they could in the name of their work. It wasn’t always true, but some prejudices were built to last. Rawlins’ face lit up when she saw Eva and Dan. But as they approached, Rawlins seemed to remember the sombre occasion which was bringing them together. She shuffled away from the rubberneckers behind the tape, and turned down the brightness of her smile.

You’ve heard then? But the TV cameras haven’t turned up yet.

Eva shook her head, Dawson sent a text. Then Eva looked at the small crowds, but bad news does travel fast. Any chance we could get to see the crime scene...? said Eva. She waited for the rejection, knowing what she was asking was far above Rawlins’ pay grade. She watched faith and doubt flicker on the pretty cop’s face, then she lifted the police tape to invite them through.

If Dawson said it’s okay... then I’m sure it’ll be fine...

Dawson had said no such thing, and neither did he have the authority at his disposal. But Rawlins wanted to help, and Eva’s innate curiosity got the better of her. She didn’t say a word.

What are we doing? whispered Dan as they passed through the cordon.

We’re going to have a bad conversation with Jane Jackson later on. If there’s chance I can see something to help, then I’ve got to do it.

Dan saw the fixed look in Eva’s eye. There was going to be no argument – she was on a mission. PCSO Rawlins was prettier than most cops and they knew she was in a thing with Dawson. They weren’t privy to the exact progress of their romance – there was no talk of wedding bells – and watching Dawson’s cool glance as Rawlins led them towards him, Eva wondered if their affair had fizzled out. Then Eva saw the spark in Dawson’s eyes and knew their affair was still on, but under wraps. Secrets, secrets. Eva’s job showed her how much people loved secrets. Secrets made affairs a thousand times more fun, until the secret became unbearable, and then there were consequences.

Dawson won’t be happy... muttered Dan, pasting a smile over his face as he nodded at Dawson. Right on cue, the big cop’s face turned from professional sober attitude to something approaching ‘angry doorman’. Dan was familiar with all varieties of cop and doorman, but Dawson was as close as he got to a friend.

Rob, said Dan, but Dawson was already striding towards them, leaving his position at the the copse with the rush of the A127 behind them. Dawson didn’t bother to answer.

What are they doing here, Bec? His question was addressed to PCSO Bec Rawlins. The girl stammered, and looked at Eva, blushing and awkward.

I thought...

Sorry, Bec, said Eva, fessing up to her sin. But I just need to know what happened. The dead girl’s mother is our client.

Which is why I sent you the text, as a courtesy. Not as an invitation to get us both suspended! I suppose I should have known better.

There was an awkward silence.

So... is there a way we can get a look? said Eva.

As I understand it, you were hired for a missing person case, said Dawson.

Eva nodded. She saw where he was going.

And this looks like murder. Sorry, Eva. Your case is closed.

Come on, you know that’s not true. I have an obligation to my client to try and get some answers, some closure for my client at least...

You have an obligation to stay clear of police business. Interfering with police business doesn’t end well, remember?

Eva let the reference to the Ritual Killing case pass, and swallowed it without response. Dawson had been badly injured back on that case, Rawlins too, and the cop deserved his right of reply.

If there’s any chance at all... I’d be grateful.

Dawson’s face lost its hard edge. Jeez. Let me take a look, but your timing really isn’t good. DI Hogarth is back on active duty, and from what I’ve seen, he hasn’t exactly mellowed.

Dan grinned. I can’t wait to see him again. Dawson shook his head and walked away towards the side of the row of shops. Two minutes later he reappeared and pointed to beyond the police cordon and the crowd.

That way. Walk around the edge of the crowd and you’ll see a way through the trees at the back. There’s no way you can come through this way. Everyone will see you.

Ashamed of us by any chance? said Dan.

Ashamed of myself, more like. Go on. Go that way now. I’ll meet you round the back.

Where’s Hogarth? said Eva.

You’re lucky. He’s gone back to the station to brief the team.

Or maybe he’s the lucky one, said Dan.

They walked back through the cordon, guided along by PCSO Rawlins, who was suddenly distant. She lifted the tape and let them through. Eva caught the PCSO’s eye before she turned away.

Sorry, Bec. I should have been honest with you.

But then I wouldn’t have let you through, would I? said Rawlins.

Eva winced, but Rawlins let her off the hook with a thin smile. Never mind, Eva. I’m learning fast. With difficulty Eva smiled back and walked on.

Dawson saw them coming. He looked shifty and nervous, checking back over his shoulder while he lifted a knot of blue and white police tape tied to one of the trees in the wasteland at the edge of the A127 traffic. He led them into an area where a man and a woman in white overalls hunched down beside a mound between the trees. Eva saw the mound was a human form, made small by virtue of being curled into a foetal position. The people in the white plastic suits were hooded with breathing masks over their mouths, but Eva could hear them talking quietly as they worked, studying the figure at their feet. There was no silent reverence for the dead, but a busy workaday attitude. Police lined a distant cordon on the other side, while a senior uniform talked to some locals by the back of the shops. Be quick. You’ve only got a small window of time, said Dawson.

How long?

Seconds, or my arse is grass. You wanted to see, but this is all you get. Promise me you won’t cause trouble. The big cop looked straight into Dan’s eyes, while Eva was already walking.

You know me, said Dan. But Dawson put a gentle hand on his chest. Okay, I promise, said Dan.

Eva did her best to look professional as she neared the scene, but she couldn’t hide her reactions. Her heart began to thud fast and hard. They had failed in their mission before it had truly started. Was there ever a chance she could have helped Willow Jackson? Not without knowing why she had run away. Not without knowing her motivation. Eva had seen nothing in the girl to suggest she would run away from her young child. No one believed it. Not her friends or family, her former work colleagues. No one. And now they knew why. Because the young woman had not run. She had been killed, and the hard truth hit Eva hard in the chest and put stinging tears in her eyes, but she denied them. She snatched in a breath and tried for the same workaday attitude she saw in the hard-nosed forensics, but it was harder than it looked to stay serene when faced with a murdered innocent. But Eva knew how to bury feelings. She’d become a living master at it, which was she supposed, the reason why she had finally succumbed to therapy. There was only so much room to bury corpses in any graveyard.

Dan drew to her side while Eva stayed by a set of trees just out of reach of the forensics people. They were close enough to see most of what she wanted. The horrific made banal. A living body rendered down to nothing but a mound of solidifying flesh.

Her eyes trailed the pale white face and body of a once beautiful woman. There were deep dark circles around the eyes, and the woman looked much thinner than she had been in her photographs. The body was naked, her bony legs buckled beneath her body, as if she had curled up for warmth.

How in the hell did she end up here, naked in a few yards of trees? In the middle of nowhere? whispered Eva.

As yet, we don’t know. She could have been thrown out of the side of a car driving down the A127 and crawled her way here, said Dawson, quietly eying the cops on the other side of the cordon. "She could have even died of hyperthermia.

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