Note: this preview is taken from the beta text, and has not yet been professionally edited; any typos will be corrected ahead of release.
It wasn’t the worst pain that Peter Lamont had ever experienced, but it wasn’t far off. “I’m a veteran,” he said to the man in the dark.
“I know,” the man replied. The voice was American. While most American accents sounded the same to Lamont, this one lazed over its vowels in a clear southern drawl. “Her Majesty’s Royal Fusiliers, I believe.”
Whoever he was, he paced slowly—rubber soles on a wooden floor—pausing occasionally to check equipment, to rearrange metal implements, to simply breathe. Although this person hid his identity, Lamont had commanded those types. He’d also chastised those types, and he had praised those types. The technique worked. With your subject immobile, as Lamont now found himself, wandering around the space exuded authority.
I am free, but you are not.
It was almost childish in its simplicity, but in whatever country, whatever culture, it worked. Oddly, if you knew the technique, the psychology behind it, it could work even better. It worked, because there was truth to it.
The two leather straps over Lamont’s chest pinned his arms by his side, and with his legs bound the same way Lamont had no choice but to talk. No choice but to delay whatever this man had planned.
Plead for his life, or go on the offensive?
‘Do you know who I am?’ Lamont said. ‘Who I work for?’
‘Yes, of course I do.’ The man picked up one of those metallic objects, a faint clink as it nicked off another. ‘Do you know who I am?’
Lamont tensed his jaw, weighing the pros and cons of pursuing this tactic. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I do not.’
‘Why is it interesting?’
The man stepped forward. With the room lit by candles covering three shelves on one wall, shadows melted and grew, shifting with each movement. The walls looked like mud with the occasional pattern of brickwork, the roof straw over wooden beams. The floor—what he could see—consisted mainly of dirt on uneven boards?
The man said, ‘It’s interesting because your answer implies you believe there’s more than one person in the world willing to do this to you.’
Electricity crackled yet again, and Lamont’s limbs thrust out against the straps, voltage stabbing through every muscle, every point where sinew connected to bone. When the current died, Lamont opened his eyes and found himself facing a lens. A new 4k camcorder, store-bought, a famous brand. On the front, a solid red light indicated the device was recording.
‘Confess,’ said the man in the dark.
Wind blew outside. A distant drumbeat carried through the walls.
Lamont asked, ‘To what?’
‘To why you’re here.’
‘I promise you, I do not know why.’
‘Then why don’t we explore. You said I should know who you are, and I do. But does anyone else? Does anyone know who you really are?’
Plead or attack?
If you plead but get it wrong, you can never return from looking weak; if you counter with an attack, you can always retreat into pleading later. His decision was not difficult.
‘I am General Sir Peter Lamont, special envoy to the ambassador of Great Britain to the United States. I am sixty-two years old, and I have a wife, three grown-up children, and five grandchildren. I served in Northern Ireland, the Falklands and the first Gulf war, then commanded men in the second Gulf war, and across Afghanistan. I have advised prime ministers and presidents, run joint operations with NATO and the CIA. Now I serve the UN and my country as a mentor for—’
‘That ain’t who you are,’ the man said. ‘That’s merely what you do. That’s your résumé. I want to get…’ A stubby, black blade emerged from somewhere and pricked Lamont’s cheek, just beneath his eye. ‘…Under your skin.’
A dot of blood rose in the General’s vision, disappearing as it rolled down his cheek.
He said, ‘Just tell me what you want.’
‘I want you to confess.’
‘You’re the one holding me here. You’re the one torturing a decorated officer. You should be the one doing the confessing.’ It came to him so easily, turning the accusation back on the interrogator. If the Republican Guard could not break him, this Yank psychopath would get nothing either. Lamont was not above begging, but he would not lie. He had done nothing in his career that caused him to lose sleep, so whatever this torturer wanted, he would spend what was left of their time together disappointed. Lamont said, ‘Just get on with it. If you brought me here to kill me, do it.’
‘Do you believe I set up all of this, here, in this place, just to murder you?’
The veteran officer still did not understand how he got here from the governor’s mansion, no clue how he could have been taken from the grounds without the agency guards protecting him. Or trying to. But his memory was fuzzy. He retained a vague image of starting up his Beamer, but the rest was a series of nauseous blurs and pain. He said, ‘Where is “here”?’
He smelled manure, hair, straw. The room could have been on a farm. The heat was unusually, but not completely inconsistent with a Texas spring, so he was probably still in-state. But somewhere private. Somewhere no one could hear his screams. And there had been much screaming.
‘Here,’ said the man, ‘is where you’re going to stay, until you kindly explain to the world why I have brought you. Tell them, perhaps, about why we—my country and yours—ousted Saddam Hussein. Tell them that your motivations were impure. Tell the world why you and your political paymasters evangelize about climate change, but continue to represent and support and prop up those corporations who pollute the air, and corrupt our fine planet for future generations. Tell the world all these things, General Lamont, and the pain will end.’
Plead or attack?
Lamont said, ‘You’re insane.’
The current ripped into him again, for longer this time. His skin burned where the electrodes entered, a pork-like aroma stinging his nostrils. When the man turned off the flow, General Sir Peter Lamont whimpered. He tried to halt the tears, but they trickled down his face, over his quickly-crumbling stiff upper lip. He tasted the salt. The knife blade rested on one of the trails, cutting easily along the tear’s path, back up toward the eyeball. Lamont’s eyelid closed, his head as still as he could will it.
He said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.’
‘Good.’ The man took back the knife and steadied the camera on a tripod. ‘Let’s talk about all those things. When I’m sure you’re in the right zone, we’ll get more specific.’
The blond woman slept on a thin mattress, a heavy woolen blanket wrapped around her, a smile stretched between her rosy cheeks. She looked far younger than the thirty-four years her file claimed. It was unusual to see someone slumber like that in a police cell, but then she seemed like an unusual prisoner. Chief Lamar assessed the woman was a little over five foot, far shorter than her own five-eight frame. They didn’t get much crime in Markson, and what did occur tended to deliver repeat customers, held securely mainly to prevent harm coming to themselves in their usual inebriated state. Wandering off into the near endless woodland presented a real risk. Phyllis Normanton did just that in Lamar’s first year in charge, having argued with her husband after sinking even more Saturday night beers than usual, and declared she was divorcing him for a new life amongst nature, because, ‘When bears are being assholes, you know where you stand.’ The search party found her a mile up-river, wrapped in a tent, having been unable to erect it for obvious reasons, and although she survived the hypothermia, she lost all her toes and seven fingers. Ever since then, such cases of public drunkenness, where no crime against an actual person was committed, barely even warranted paperwork, and the offenders were released the following day when their spouses woke up in empty beds and came looking for them.
This woman lying behind Markson PD’s the floor-to-ceiling bars was not drunk, though. Following an altercation with Hank Peterson at his restaurant, Hank & Sons, Chief Lamar cuffed her with zero resistance, and threw her in the patrol car. Lamar thought the eatery’s name sounded more like a locksmith’s or funeral parlor than somewhere you’d want to sink a burger or a plate of nachos, but that was because Hank changed it from Burger Stop some twenty-five years ago to help his boys cope with losing their mom. The boys were twelve and ten at the time of her death, so the dad giving them a share in the business and showing them the ropes and—by the time they left high school—allowed to tend to customers unsupervised, it instilled in them the sort of responsibility youngsters these days could do with in spades. On any other day, that would just be useless trivia, but it was their mom who was the subject of this short woman’s ire. When the little blonde started throwing condiments in frustration, Tim—the eldest boy, now in his late thirties—called Chief Lamar on her personal phone. He said that her being the only female on the six-strong force might mean the fruitcake could be restrained without the threat of firearms. She seemed troubled, he said, not dangerous. When Lamar showed up, her uniform alone seemed to be enough. The woman immediately caught herself and, as if she’d been unaware of her actions until that point, apologized over and over, and promised to leave them in peace. Still, Lamar brought her in. No telling where her mind had drifted to make her believe the things she was saying. She was from out of town, so drugs were always a possibility.
‘You know he’s done it before, don’t you?’ the woman said without opening her eyes.
She had an odd accent. British, Lamar thought, but perhaps it was Australian. She certainly didn’t sound like the queen, or those Brits taking over television.
‘Who has?’ Lamar asked.
‘The guy in… Ryeville, is it?’
‘The murder.’ Lamar and her deputy, Wayne, discussed the case an hour earlier over coffee. The cells looked out onto the four-desk squad room, and Lamar liked to get out here as much as possible, her glass-walled office turning her into a sort of pet for the others officers. ‘What makes you think he’s done it before? Looks like an accident.’
‘Accident?’ The woman sat up. The blanket fell off her. One side of her hair was stuck to her face. She wiped it with her sleeve. ‘Oh, did I dribble? I hate it when I dribble. Especially in public. Did I dribble?’
‘I honestly didn’t see if you did or not.’
‘Right. An “accident”. Wasn’t she bludgeoned?’
‘Blow to the head, yeah. Limbs cut into several pieces, ready for disposal, but he never got that far. Initial theory is he lost his temper during a fight, tried to get rid of the corpse, got disturbed, and made a run for it. They’ll catch him.’
‘Come on, then. What makes you so sure you know this guy?’
‘Because it’s a black woman in an area where black women stand out. Because the guy loves black women.’
‘We say “African-American” in these parts. But okay, if he loves them, why hurt her like that?’
‘Your man, Chief Lamar, is deeply attracted to African-American women. But he’s also a racist. He hates that he’s attracted to them, so the violence is him cleansing himself. He cut her up and left her, not because he was disturbed before disposal, but to show himself he’d dealt with the dirty little so-and-so.’ She bit her lip, like she was restraining herself, trying not to get too excited. ‘You’ll find the suspect was an out-of-towner, probably trying to get away from black women in the city. He’ll have used prostitutes and have a string of complaints if not convictions against him. He was probably in town less than two months. Before that, another town, slightly bigger, will have had at least one black woman die violently, and then you’ll be able to trace his movements back to his home city.’
‘I discussed this with Duane for all of a minute. You get all that from one minute of eavesdropping?’
‘No, don’t be silly.’ The woman pulled a handful of papers from under her blanket. ‘I persuaded Duane to let me see the file while you were out taking statements. I owe him a beer.’
The chief breathed in deeply, her hand to her head, hoping her frustration wouldn’t show. It clearly did.
The woman asked, ‘What’s your first name?’
‘My first name is Chief.’
‘Come on. Everyone else goes by their first names around here. Why don’t you?’
‘Because I’m the chief.’
The blond woman crossed the cell and slotted the papers through the bars. ‘Don’t be hard on him. He’s a sweetheart.’
‘It’s okay. Most of it’s public record. Doesn’t realize you’re pregnant either?’
The prisoner pulled at her sweater, smoothing the fabric, a frown descending.
‘Right,’ Lamar said. ‘Not an expecting bundle of joy then?’
‘The dad didn’t exactly stick around.’
‘No? Well, maybe Duane will look after you better. Got a name yet?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘It’s just… The Bump.’
‘The Bump.’ Chief Lamar raised the papers and was about to deliver them. ‘You a cop too?’
‘Will you pass on what I told you to Ryeville?’
The woman stared up at Lamar with big blue eyes. She asked, ‘Why do you hate it?’
‘Your first name.’
Lamar couldn’t help but smile. Sure, the prime suspect in the Ryeville murder was one Benjamin Pickering, a recent arrival from New York with a variety of assault convictions behind him. But the woman facing Lamar hadn’t known that the lowly local police had already nailed all of this. She wasn’t one hundred percent correct, but not bad for guesswork. No wonder the Feds had taken an interest in her.
Lamar said, ‘It’s Tamara.’
‘Tamara Lamar.’ The woman nodded to herself. ‘I knew it would be funny rather than tragic.’
‘It’s not funny when you’ve lived with it for thirty-eight years.’
‘I think there’s something to be said for alliteration in names. Tamara Lamar. Tamara Lamar. It’s got a cool ring to it.’
‘Why did you smash up Hank’s place?’
The woman’s face darkened for the first time. ‘I wanted to tell him who murdered his wife. He wouldn’t listen. I got frustrated.’
‘That’s long unsolved. Fifteen years cold.’
‘They thought it was a drifter, but I can confirm exactly who it is. I just need more information. They won’t cooperate, though. Can you get them to talk to me? At least the dad? The boys were probably too young to be of help.’
‘They don’t want it dredging up. Just leave it be. Here.’ Chief Lamar held up the sheets of paper she received. ‘Your ticket out. Just need you to confirm your name.’
The woman accepted the printout Lamar downloaded moments earlier, but did not look at them. Her lips narrowed as she contained that frustration. She said, ‘The man who killed Hank’s wife, and those boys’ mother… he’s a serial killer identified last year in England. Over a twelve year period, he murdered exactly one hundred people with a single wound to the heart. Different weapons to avoid detection, but the challenge was to—’
‘I get it,’ Lamar said. ‘You think it was that asshole the Brit cops picked up at Christmas. Isn’t he in a coma?’
‘He’s brain dead. Injured during… an incident. Before he could be officially arrested.’
‘Injured. You have anything to do with that? Confirm your name please.’
‘He can still be convicted.’
‘Can’t be convicted if he don’t wake up. Sure can’t be deported here to answer for his crimes.’ Lamar hoiked up her belt and positioned her hands on her hips. ‘Now, if you want to get out of here, read through that form, and sign it at the bottom. But I need you to confirm your name for me.’
‘Alicia,’ the woman said. ‘My name is Alicia Friend.’
‘No,’ Alicia said, after reading the proposal. ‘Hank needs to know who killed his wife.’
It was Alicia’s first failure during her two months here. So far, upon presenting evidence of a known serial killer’s travel records, of the man’s cast-iron methods and his confession to Alicia last winter, sixteen of his one-hundred victims had so far been attributed to him. Of those, two innocent people had seen their convictions quashed and were now suing their respective cities.
‘I want to see this through,’ she said.
Lamar shook her head. ‘Only thing you’ll be seeing is the county lockup until an arraignment hearing on Monday. This being Friday and all, you’ll be in there three nights, and it is not a nice place for a sweet young thing.’
‘You don’t want him to have closure at last?’
‘It’s been a long time, Ms. Friend. I’m not sure closure is needed so long after.’
‘You must know a lot of the residents. Most of them, in fact. You tell me, does Hank ever just stare at nothing? Do you ever see him performing a task slowly, over and over? Like wiping a surface or cleaning a glass? Maybe watching sports in his restaurant, but you can tell he isn’t really watching?’
Lamar breathed in deep through her mouth, and out through her nose. ‘Don’t we all do that from time to time?’
‘But Hank does it a lot, doesn’t he?’ Alicia handed back the papers. ‘I have a job to do. If it means three days dodging alpha-females, I can go that long without taking a shower. I’ve been to Glastonbury three times.’
‘What about Tommy Ricci?’ said a male voice.
The two women found a man in his mid-forties striding toward them, brandishing a thin manila file. He wore a crisp grey pinstripe with a crisper white shirt, a Stars-and-Stripes pin holding a red tie in place. When he got close enough the Department of Justice creds around his neck announced him as a deputy attorney general.
‘Are you Scott?’ Alicia asked. ‘Scott Hemingway?’
‘Yes,’ he said, holding his laminated badge closer.
‘Same Scott Hemingway whose name is on my kind offer?’
‘Again, yes. I assume Chief Lamar briefed you about the helicopter?’
Lamar said, ‘I hadn’t got to that part yet.’
‘Detective Sergeant Friend, we have a chopper fuelled and waiting at the Garrett farm a mile up the road.’ He made a half-turn and headed for the door. ‘Please sign what you need to sign and we’ll be on our way.’
Alicia backed away from the cell bars. ‘You think a fun-ride in a helicopter is going to make me change my mind?’
Scott Hemmingway halted and returned to the cell. ‘Tommy Ricci,’ he said, waving the file.
‘What about him?’
‘He’s going nowhere. The DA’s office sees his conviction as sound and your evidence against it is only circumstantial.’ He slipped out a rap-sheet and pressed it against the bars, a photo of Tommy Ricci in his prison orange in one corner.
‘He’s innocent,’ Alicia said.
‘What’s more important?’ Scott asked. ‘Giving a widower information he doesn’t even want or freeing an innocent man?’
The logic infiltrated Alicia’s brain, her min-computer as she liked to call it. Since he pleaded not guilty at trial, Tommy Ricci was handed a full sentence of forty years. He was only eighteen, and had now spent more than half his life in prison.
Hemingway said, ‘We could order the hearing forward. Maybe get it in front of a judge within six-to-eight weeks.’
‘You don’t need me,’ Alicia said, referring to the FBI proposal. ‘Not for this.’
‘We do, actually. The latest victim is a British diplomat. Sir General Peter Lamont. The Brits are screaming for results.’
‘Ah, right. And because the Dallas branch of the FBI haven’t got close, our embassy wants someone to liaise?’
‘To observe the investigation. To report back that the FBI is doing all it can to catch whoever murdered one of your own.’
Lamar said, ‘It’s a good deal, honey. Take it. You walk out, watch them catch this guy, and… I’ll talk to Hank. About the other thing.’
‘The end of the month.’
‘I’m sorry?’ Hemingway said.
‘Tommy turns forty in four weeks. Get him the hearing by the end of the month, so he can at least have some good news before the big four-oh. A bit less than three weeks. Then I’m on board.’
‘Deal.’ The deputy attorney general held out his hand. Alicia shook it lightly. He said, ‘Good. Now let’s move.’
Alicia signed the documents and Chief Tamara Lamar unlocked the cell door, and Alicia came out into the police station with a sense that she should say something to the woman who brought her here. They faced one another, but the taller woman just smiled and nodded. Touched Alicia’s shoulders. That was it. Nothing more.
Once a clerk came in with her winter coat and the suitcase on wheels that she’d brought with her on the coach, Alicia followed Hemingway out into the clear forest air. He bundled her into a pickup he’d obviously borrowed from the person whose farm he landed on and, as he drove away, Alicia waved to Chief Lamar on the steps of the one-story station.
Hemingway said nothing as he drove through the pines. They were elevated here, so it was colder than Texas, but Alicia believed it was important to trace the killer’s steps in the order in which he’d murdered those one hundred people. ‘The Century Killer’, as they were calling him. One hundred perfect murders, then he stopped, dormant for almost two decades. Until Alicia encountered him back home.
‘Encountered’ him, she thought. Interesting euphemism.
She smoothed The Bump stretching the skin around her stomach, only just beginning to show, but it would soon be obvious to all.
They pulled into the cattle farm at speed, and the helicopter’s rotors were already winding up. Scott helped her out, and into the vehicle that would whisk them to the nearest airport. She wasn’t sure which one that was, only that they were a good three hours on a bus from Cheyenne, Wyoming.
As the pilot ran through the safety briefing, she buckled in.
Alicia would have to be back at the top of her game to aid the FBI in their hunt, and she had slipped so very far. Aid them, not observe. Because there was no way she would simply sit back and watch. After months on the road, digging through more of the darkness that had consumed her so recently, she would become herself again.
People had called her ‘perky’ all her life, and not always in a good way. After all, a detective sergeant in the UK’s Serious Crime Agency shouldn’t be ‘perky’, right? But she chose her own personality. And no one, not her boss, not the Century Killer, not some prick murdering knights of the realm, no one would stop her from being herself.
With Scott secured beside her, the pilot asked if everyone was ready.
Alicia said, ‘There’s something you need to know. About me.’
‘Getting to know me. It’s a five-stage process. First, it’s disbelief. You won’t believe that someone like me could possibly reach the point in my career where I’m considered one of the best in my field. You’ll be shocked at my personality, which brings up the second stage. Irritation. You’ll find me irritating. But when you see how great I am, you’ll reach stage three: acceptance. Stage four is reliance, where you can’t do without me, and stage five is collaboration, where you actively want me around. It’s really quite cool.’
‘Um… okay,’ Scott said. ‘I’m sure you’ll be one hundred percent professional.’
‘Let’s see what this thing can do,’ Alicia said into the mic.
‘Oh, you will,’ the pilot replied.
The chopper lifted off. Gently at first, then it found its rhythm, and rose so quickly it made Alicia’s stomach loop-de-loop.
She cried out, ‘Wheeeeee!’
Scott looked at her. ‘Whee?’
‘Oh.’ She grinned at him. ‘You are going to absolutely love me.’