Hope to die a gripping n.., p.1
Hope to Die: A gripping new serial killer thriller (The DS Nathan Cody series), page 1
About the Author
Letter from Author
For Lisa, Bethany and Eden
The beauty and majesty of the place only add to his fear.
Despite the poor visibility, the building ahead of him is unmistakable. Looking as though it has been carved out of the black sky and then suffused with its own light, it demands his attention. He has seen how even the godless are awestruck when they approach, mere specks in its presence.
He knows that this is a place of superlatives. That this is the largest Anglican cathedral in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. That it has the world’s heaviest and highest peal of bells. That it has the country’s largest organ. That it even has its own constabulary.
But they are all inconsequential tangibles. It is the sheer spirituality here that he finds overwhelming. If God is anywhere, he is here.
The sense of having been dropped into a mystical land is heightened by the weather. It is late afternoon on the first Saturday of December, but Christmas has come early for some. Snow fills the air. Huge, plump flakes swirl and glide before adding their contribution to the thickening white carpet below. It has created an unearthly silence here, and an unsettling change to the ambient light.
It’s a sign, he tells himself. A warning. I should go back. I should get out of here right now, while I still can.
But he presses on, stepping up his pace so as not to fall too far behind the jabbering couple ahead of him. There is some slight comfort to be gained from being in their proximity – some sense of safety in numbers – but he knows it will be short-lived.
The snow crunches and squeaks beneath his boots. The hood of his coat is up and his hands are buried deep in his pockets, but still he shivers. Yet he knows there are beads of perspiration on his forehead, and his palms are clammy. His breathing is shallow and fast, and seems not to be bringing enough oxygen into his body. He feels on the verge of fainting, or at least dropping to his knees to spill his guts onto the pristine whiteness.
At the black iron gates he halts. Oblivious to his actions, the garrulous couple continue their plod towards the West Porch, and his fear mounts with each yard they add to their distance from him.
He looks behind him. Peers through the dense snowfall towards the street.
He is being followed.
He wishes it were not so. Wishes that the dramatic change in the weather would have been enough to provoke a change of plan. But no. The figures are there, and heading his way.
He doesn’t have much time.
Facing forward again, he wonders what he should do. He catches sight of the huge statue of the Risen Christ, suspended above the entrance to the cathedral. He would like to imagine it wearing an expression of reassurance, of comfort, but from here it looks stern and disapproving. As if it is cautioning him not to tarnish this holy place with his troubles.
It occurs to him that it has always been this way. There will be no offers of guidance here. No signs from on high, pointing the way. He will have to find his own path.
The path he chooses is to his left. It takes him through another iron gateway and plunges downwards, as if towards the very bowels of the city.
The route could not be more evocative of death and what lies beyond it. On either side, the path is lined with faded and weather-worn gravestones. Countless numbers of them stand shoulder to shoulder against the high stone walls, their inscriptions speaking lovingly of the departed souls of past centuries. And, if further clues were needed as to the earlier use of this land, over to the left stands the Oratory – now forsaken and derelict, but once a thriving mortuary chapel.
He pauses again. Takes a deep breath. The freezing air stings his nostrils and sends a shiver through his body.
He walks on. Reaches a point that always chills him, even on a bright sunny day. It’s a tiny triangle of land enclosed by tall headstones. One stone is missing, allowing entry. It worries him that someone, some dark malignant creature, could be hiding in there, waiting to jump out and attack him.
He tells himself not to be afraid, but his inner voice sounds hollow. There is every reason to be afraid of what is coming.
And then he reaches the tunnel. Its mouth is a black hole in the solid rock. He knows the passageway is only short, that he will quickly be on the other side, but still it fills him with dread. The headstones continue on into that tunnel. They stand to attention as if waiting to pass judgement on whoever dares to pass through the narrow space between them.
He knows he has to go on. He has no choice.
He quickens his pace. Hears the echo of his steps as his feet move from fresh snow to unyielding stone in the enclosed tomb-like space.
And then he is through, and he can breathe again. Can feel the freshness of the snowflakes as they push under his hood and melt against his skin.
He stops here, declining to follow the line of gravestones that bends to his right, through St James’ Gardens. It’s a small but pleasant park, with its own mineral water spring. At its centre is a monument to William Huskisson, former MP for Liverpool, his accomplishments in that position somewhat overshadowed by his fame as the world’s first railway fatality, knocked down by Stephenson’s Rocket.
But right now this stretch of land shouts at him of its grimmer past, as the final resting place for sixty thousand people across the ages. He feels he can still sense their presence, as if some trace of their souls has been eternally chained here.
He shudders. And it is not only because of the ghosts.
The moment of decision is upon him. Fight or flight. He feels his stomach tying itself in knots, his intestines clenching and unclenching. He wants to vomit and defecate at the same time. His mouth has dried out and his heart hammers against his ribcage.
I could run, he thinks. I could race through the park and to the far side of the cathedral. I’d be gone before they got here. They’d never kn
But he stands there dithering for too long. They have arrived. He can hear them. He will have to face his fears.
When he turns and heads back into the tunnel, it is as if his body is no longer under his conscious control. It seems to him as though he is simply a passenger in a vehicle, wondering where it will take him.
He sees them, their shapes outlined against the canvas of white beyond the other end of the tunnel. Panic floods his system again, and he dips his hooded head, hiding his face.
I could squeeze past, he thinks. In this darkness, I can’t be recognised. I could walk straight past and keep on going, and nobody would be any the wiser.
And then it’s as if the knowledge that he has some control over the situation emboldens him. As he draws level with the other occupants of the confined space, he finds himself stopping. Finds himself uttering a word he hasn’t heard himself voice for a long time.
It has the desired effect. He registers the confusion, the puzzlement it causes. His pursuers become less than the demons he dreaded, less than the monstrous troll with its Cerberus-like hound. They become what they really are.
A middle-aged woman with her small pet dog.
And so he strikes.
It is all so fast. A blur. His hand leaves his pocket. His fingers curl tightly around the heavy lump hammer as he swings it at the woman’s head. But she is fast, too – unexpectedly so – and she manages somehow to get a forearm in the way, and she makes it all go wrong, ruining his aim, getting that limb smashed to pieces instead of her damn head. And then she is screaming, for help and in pain, and the dog runs off barking, and it seems to him that this is all going to shit, and that he has to bring this to an end, has to fix things. And so he takes another swing at the source of all her noise, and this time he feels the hammer connect with her jaw, and her shrieks cease instantly, but now things become even more terrifying because even in this darkness he can see what she has become. He can see that she is now a slack-jawed zombie-like creature, pushing herself away from the gravestones behind her as if she has just crawled from a coffin beneath the ground, and that useless jaw just hangs and swings, showing him its broken teeth and its bleeding gums and saliva strands as she makes strange keening noises. And it is all fear now, it is life or death for him, it is kill or be killed, and so he leaves it to his body to save him from this apparition, to hit out again and hear the cracking apart of her cranium before she falls, still alive and murmuring and slobbering and drooling, and he has to pound her again and again, grinding that bone and turning that head to mush beneath his righteous blows.
When he is done, when his arm aches with its efforts and his chest heaves for oxygen, he rests against the wall and looks down at his handiwork. Looks down at the still pile of rags that once enveloped a living, breathing force.
Movement catches his eye, startling him. But it is not from the woman’s corpse. Sitting in the mouth of the tunnel is a small dark shape, staring back at him, its eyes gathering what little light there is and firing it back at him in twin concentrated beams. He would like to imagine it as some tiny malevolent sprite, released from the unwitting host that has just been vanquished. But he knows it’s only the dog. It sits amid the swirling flakes and waits patiently for its owner, seemingly unaware that all around, the snow is turning dark with her blood.
He chuckles silently at the extent of his own fear. All that wasted emotional turmoil. Telling himself he couldn’t go through with it. Convincing himself it would go so badly wrong. Desperate for some higher power to intervene and prevent it happening.
Well, now it’s happened.
And for once, God seems to have been on his side.
Detective Sergeant Nathan Cody pulls his collar up around his neck. Crunches through the snow and then up the half-dozen cathedral steps.
He likes churches. Religion, not so much. He has been an atheist for as long as he can remember, but he sometimes wonders how he would have reacted if he had been a believer a year or so ago, when he and his partner were having bits cut off them by a sadistic maniac. Would he have managed to find it within him to hold on to his faith after such an ordeal? He doubts it.
At the top of the steps, DC Neil ‘Footlong’ Ferguson is cradling the victim’s dog in his arms. Some kind of terrier, Cody guesses, no expert on canines. He grimaces as he watches the dog licking greedily around the lower half of Ferguson’s face.
‘You should bag and tag that thing,’ he says.
Ferguson pulls himself away from the dog and looks down at his sergeant – not a difficult feat for this beanpole of a man even though Cody has now reached the top of the steps.
‘It could be evidence,’ says Cody. ‘You might be contaminating it. It’s certainly doing a pretty good job of contaminating you.’
Ferguson turns to the dog again. ‘Don’t listen to him. He’s just a mean, grumpy man. You’re lovely, aren’t you? Yes, you are.’
In return, the dog resumes exercising its tongue.
Cody says, ‘Do you have to let it do that? Doesn’t seem very hygienic.’
‘To be honest,’ says Ferguson, ‘it’s the closest I’ve come to snogging for weeks. Got to get it where I can.’
Cody grimaces again. ‘You’re a reprobate.’
Ferguson puts the dog down, but holds on to its lead. The animal sits and looks up at him with wide brown eyes.
‘You’ve got to admit, she’s cute, isn’t she?’
‘I’m more of a cat person, me,’ says Cody.
‘Really? I’d never have guessed.’
Cody thinks there’s an insult hidden in there somewhere, but he lets it slide. He moves to stand alongside Ferguson. Joins him in staring out from this vantage point in front of the West Entrance.
‘I’m starting to feel all Christmassy,’ says Ferguson. ‘The snow, the cathedral, the old street lamps over there, the Georgian buildings . . .’
Cody adds, ‘The police cars, the blue flashing lights, the uniformed officers, the CSIs in their white suits . . . Oh, and that woman with her head caved in.’
‘Killjoy,’ says Ferguson. ‘You’d make a great Scrooge, you know that.’ He pauses, then says, ‘You had a gander at her yet?’
‘Yeah. Not pretty. Someone wanted to make damn sure a couple of paracetamol wouldn’t sort her out. This was vicious.’
Ferguson chin-points to the hive of activity below. ‘They find anything of interest yet?’
‘Nah. I’m not sure they will, either. Too much to-ing and fro-ing. The vic was found by another dog-walker, then some people leaving the cathedral came for a look, then the cathedral constables were all over it, then some paramedics . . . And there’s only one narrow little path leading down to the crime scene. It’ll be a miracle if they find any useful forensics there.’
‘Well, if it’s miracles you want, this is the place for them. Speaking of little miracles, what do you think about Wibbly coming back?’
Cody snaps a look at Ferguson. ‘Webley? When?’
‘Tomorrow, is what I heard. Just in time to join the fun on this case. You mean you didn’t know?’
Cody shakes his head. Looks back across the city. But now he’s thinking only about DC Megan Webley.
Ferguson says, ‘I thought you’d know more than me about it. Haven’t you two kept in touch?’
‘Not recently,’ says Cody. Which is being a little disingenuous, he thinks. The truth is he’s hardly seen her at all since she was hospitalised. And now she’s coming back, and he’ll have to deal with it.
Ferguson clears his throat before issuing his next words. ‘You, er, you never did tell me the full story about what happened on that roof.’
It seems like an age ago to Cody now. Seems unreal. He was on the verge of sacrificing his life to save hers. She, in turn, almost did give up her life to save his. And all this taking place after Cody revealed things about himself that he has never told anyone else. It should have been one of
‘Nothing to tell,’ says Cody, although he knows that Ferguson won’t be convinced.
Two men come walking towards them. One is a uniformed police officer. The other is an overweight balding man in a hi-vis jacket.
The policeman says, ‘This is the cathedral constable who was the first to be called to the scene.’
Ferguson is quickest to respond. He beckons the man up the steps, like a king granting permission to approach the throne.
When the man gets to the top, he glances at the dog, then proffers his hand to Ferguson.
‘You must be Sergeant Cody. I’m Al Glover.’
Ferguson accepts the handshake, but gives an unsubtle tilt of his head in Cody’s direction.
‘Sorry,’ says Glover as he switches his gaze to Cody. ‘Don’t know why I thought that.’
Cody knows. It’s partly a height thing. For some strange reason people always seem to equate height with rank. But the main reason is that Cody has such a boyish face. He looks as though he could be a university student – not a seasoned detective sergeant on the Major Incident Team.
‘No problem,’ says Cody. He takes the man’s hand. Finds it clammy, despite the freezing conditions. There’s a faint tang of alcohol on the man’s breath, too. Cody guesses he’s had a tot of rum or Scotch to calm his nerves after what he’s seen here tonight.
‘I suppose you fellas come across a lot of this type of thing,’ says Glover.
‘A fair amount,’ says Cody.
‘Sure. Goes with the territory, doesn’t it? Most people don’t appreciate what we do, what we have to put up with.’
‘No,’ says Cody, smiling inwardly at Glover’s sudden switch from ‘you’ to ‘we’.
‘No. And there are some right weirdos knocking about.’
‘Weirdos? You had any here recently?’
‘Oh, we get ’em all. Drunks, druggies, homeless – well, you know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Our jobs are similar in lots of ways.’
by David Jackson have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes