Before It's Too Late

Before It's Too Late

by Jane Isaac

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781910394625
Publisher: Legend Times Group
Publication date: 10/01/2015
Series: DI Will Jackman Series , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 654,118
File size: 689 KB

About the Author

Jane Isaac's short stories have appeared in several crime fiction anthologies. Her previousnovel was An Unfamiliar Murder.

Read an Excerpt

Before It's Too Late


By Jane Isaac

Legend Press Ltd

Copyright © 2015 Jane Isaac
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-910394-62-5


CHAPTER 1

A rumble in the background woke me. I could feel something rolling, somewhere nearby. Gently, side to side, like a baby rocking in a crib.

I swallowed, slowly opened my eyes. The images were unclear; bleary dark shadows flickered about in the distance.

The rocking continued, and I suddenly became aware that it was my own body moving. A wave of panic caught me. As much as I tried, I couldn't keep it still. I had no control over my limbs.

Rivulets of sweat trickled down my neck. More blurred images. The sound of an engine.

Darkness. I was travelling in a vehicle with no windows.

I tried to recall earlier: the thump of music, the babble of conversation punctuated by bouts of laughter. Hanging my head over a toilet pan. Pressing my cheek to the cold tiles in the cubicle. Worming my way through sweaty bodies jammed together, moving to the beat, drinks sloshing everywhere. I needed air, and quick. Tom's face contorted in anger, the muscle in his jaw flexing as he spoke through tight teeth. The slam of the pub door behind me. The relief at emerging into the silvery darkness. Alone. The throb of an engine as it revved behind me.

My thoughts fragmented and faded. Little pieces of the jigsaw were missing. I reached for them in the semi-darkness, but they danced about on the periphery.

My head grew heavy, a thick smog began to descend on my brain.

The van stopped abruptly, snapping me back to the present. I was shunted forward. A pain speared through my foot and up into my calf. I couldn't move, yet I still felt the sharp ache.

The engine cut. The grate of a door as it swung open. A soft breeze reached in and tickled my hair.

Footsteps shuffled around me. Hands reached beneath my armpits. Warm breaths on my neck. Dragging.

I mustered every ounce of energy to turn my head and let out a gentle moan.

The breathing instantly halted. The grip released.

A cloth was pressed down on my nose and mouth. A sickly-sweet smell. I desperately wanted to struggle, I tried to, but my limbs felt like they were immersed in a puddle of glue. The world spun around me. Slower and slower. Gradually fading. Until my brain became an empty well of darkness.

CHAPTER 2

Detective Inspector Will Jackman lowered the window and sucked in a wave of crisp air. Stars peeped down at him through the dark blanket of sky above. A moth flew into the car and fluttered about on the dashboard but he ignored it, relishing the breeze that rushed through his hair as he pressed on.

The sweet scent of grass mingled with wild honeysuckle wafted into the car. The smells were always stronger in the dark hours, especially that gap between 2 and 5am when the roads were quiet and the people of Stratford rested in their slumber. It reminded Jackman of his early years in the police, working instant response on a rolling shift pattern around the clock. The whole atmosphere changed at night. Jobs were more sporadic but intense. Colleagues rallied around in support. Emotions were heightened. Back at the station things took on a much lighter feel, practical jokes came to the fore in an effort to lighten the load and stave off the fog of fatigue.

Jackman cast the memories aside and pushed on, leaving the town behind him, through a tunnel of trees that cast hazy shadows on the road ahead. By day, Warwick Road Lands was a haven for riverside wildlife, walkers, families sharing their picnics with the ducks in the balmy sunshine. As the sun subsided and the birds roosted it grew peaceful once more, haunted only by the occasional footfall of a passing fisherman, the call of an owl or the swoop of bats, hunting their prey.

He grew closer, turned into the empty car park and stopped the car. Gravel scratched beneath his feet, the sound elevated in the darkness, as he crossed the tarmac and made for the river bank.

He glanced at his watch. It was 2am. Right here. This was where Ellen's body had floated just over a week ago, huddled amongst the bulrushes on the water's edge.

On Saturday 3rd May, Ellen Readman had packed her suitcase into the boot of her black Ford Ka and climbed into the driver's seat. Her face had stretched into a wide grin as she had lifted her hand to wave at her housemate, revved the engine and disappeared down the road. She was off to visit her Aunt in Corfu for a week's break. A missing persons' enquiry later revealed that she'd never even reached the airport.

Media appeals followed, asking for witnesses to come forward, desperately trying to trace Ellen's movements. Her car was last spotted by police cameras leaving Stratford on the A46. But, apart from the usual crank calls and the odd sighting earlier in the week, nothing to reveal what happened next. Until her body surfaced in the River Avon.

If Jackman closed his eyes he could still see her lying there, tossed aside like a rag doll. Her face was concealed beneath a mop of long dark hair, thickly matted with Japanese knotweed. The t-shirt she wore was pulled tight across her bloated body, a short denim skirt clung to her thighs, her feet bare. Jackman let out a ragged sigh. Her parents came across from nearby Nottinghamshire to identify her body. Tissues pressed to tear-stained faces, distraught over the death of their youngest daughter. Twenty-two years old. Barely a couple of years older than his own daughter, Celia.

Jackman sunk his hands into his pockets and glanced across the water. It was calm and still. The pathologist's report indicated her body had been immersed in water for some time. Grazing on the backs of her thighs suggested she may have been lodged somewhere, freed up by the increased flow of the river due to the barrage of heavy rainfall the weekend before.

As soon as the incident room was established, police computers had identified a link with the case of a woman found in the River Nene in rural Northamptonshire, two months earlier. Twenty-two-year-old Katie Sharp's neck bore similar ligature marks, her body no sign of sexual intervention. Just like Ellen. She'd also been immersed in water for some time before a dog walker had stumbled across her.

Jackman massaged his temples. Despite there being separate incident rooms in two counties, less than an hour's drive from each other, neither were close to finding a motive, let alone a suspect. Forensics worked hard on the clothing, the bodies, the surrounding area, and yet any clues were likely flushed away.

The investigation had been code-named Operation Sky and now it felt like the clouds were rolling in, blocking out any gaps of possible light as the lines of enquiry began to dry and shrivel. The irony was not lost on him.

Jackman picked up a stone, skimmed it across the water and watched it plop twice and disappear, before turning on his heels back to the car.

CHAPTER 3

The bubbling ringtone his daughter had installed as a joke played out as Jackman retrieved his back door key from his tracksuit bottoms the following morning, and fumbled with the lock. Erik, his four-year-old chocolate Lab jumped around his knees, the lead still attached to his collar slamming against everything in sight. Finally, the key turned. He wrenched the door open and grabbed the phone off the kitchen side.

"Where are you, sir?" The sir followed afterwards, an add-on in an attempt to pacify.

Jackman recognised the gruff tone of Detective Constable Andrew Keane immediately. "Morning to you, too." He glanced at the clock. It was 8.30am. "On my way to Northampton, or I will be in a minute. What's up?"

"The Super's trying to get hold of you. Wants to speak to you urgently."

Jackman lunged forward and stretched out his stiff calves. The run had failed to release its usual endorphins and his muscles, dogged by sleep deprivation, felt hard and tight. "What about?"

"A misper."

"What kind of misper?"

"Missing girl. Twenty-year-old student. The Super wants you in for a briefing, as soon as. Apparently, it's high profile."

Jackman wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his sleeve. "What do we know?"

"Female, Chinese student at Stratford-upon-Avon College, name of Min Li. Missing person call came in at two o'clock this morning. Argued with her boyfriend and left the Old Thatch Tavern on the corner of Rother Street and Greenhill Street around ..." Jackman heard the rustle of a page turn in the detective's notebook, "... 10.35pm. Later, her boyfriend couldn't reach her on her mobile, so came back to her apartment at the college to check on her and then alerted her roommates. They called the police at 2am when they'd phoned all her friends and couldn't locate her. I was the lucky bunny working the CID nightshift, called in to assist."

Jackman crossed to the sink, filled a glass and took a swig as he listened. "What do we know about her?"

"Not much. We've checked both her and the boyfriend out. They're not known to us. She's been over here since last September doing an access course in business. Originally from Beijing."

"And the boyfriend?" "We've spoken to him. They were celebrating his birthday with a group of friends. Claims he hasn't seen her since she left the pub last night."

Jackman bent forward and wrestled with the laces on his running shoes. "Witnesses?"

"We've checked the council CCTV cameras, she was spotted turning the corner from Rother Street into Greenhill Street, probably on her way back to the college. Then nothing. In between Greenhill Street and Alcester Road she disappeared. A few vehicles passed through around the same time, which we're trying to trace. Bloody council footage is hopeless though. We'll have to get it enhanced to read the number plates."

Jackman thought for a moment. "Any chance she could have taken herself off somewhere? Gone somewhere to calm down?"

"I don't think so. In the light of current events we've been extra thorough. Luckily, it was quiet last night and most of the uniform shift helped us out. We've made the usual checks – she doesn't own a car, so we tried the trains, buses, taxi firms. No sign of her there. There were no recorded accidents in Stratford last night but we checked the local hospitals anyway and they've no record of treating a Chinese female."

"What about GPS on her phone?"

"Switched off."

He had to hand it to Keane. He'd been diligent. Jackman sighed inwardly. With the changes in the recruitment process and the possible introduction of shorter-term contracts, officers like Keane were on the decline.

"There's something else," Keane continued. "We talked to her friends at the college. Min Li is a dedicated student. She didn't turn up for an early tutorial at 7am this morning. We used one of the college's interpreters to speak to her parents in China as it's only her father that can speak reasonable English. They have no idea where she is. Last heard from her at the weekend with a routine catch-up call. Take it from me, sir, this ain't no regular misper."

Jackman thanked the detective, rang off and drained the rest of his glass. He kicked off his shoes and called Superintendent Alison Janus. He could picture her right now as the dial tone filled his ear: her duck face protruding beneath a fringed, brown bob, pinched in at the centre at this potential new addition to her crime figures.

She answered on the second ring, as if she were awaiting his call. "Will. You've heard about the missing girl?"

"I have."

"Good. I'd like you to lead this one."

Jackman's frown was tempered with a frisson of excitement. "I've got my hands full with this murder enquiry at the moment, ma'am. Off to Northampton for a meeting with their homicide team this morning. Is there no one else?"

Janus didn't attempt to hide the frustration in her voice, "No. Resources are tight enough as it is. DCI Reilly will have to bat on with Operation Sky without you. Liaise with him if you establish any links. But for the moment I want the two enquiries treated separately. The very suggestion of a serial killer running loose in Stratford will cook the press into a fever, let alone the public. Right, I'll meet you at Rother Street station in an hour. Make sure you are up to date. We have a press conference at twelve. And Will?"

"Yes."

"Put a tie on will you? The new chief constable's taken a personal interest in this one." The line went dead.

Jackman stared at the phone in his hand. Even with the Readman case pressing on them, why the chief constable would be so interested in a missing person case was beyond his comprehension, although it certainly explained the spur into action. Warwickshire's annual figures for missing persons were far below the national average. Generally, uniform dealt with missing persons; resources were prioritised to the young and the vulnerable. A twenty-year-old college student wouldn't usually fall into this category.

His mobile buzzed again. He viewed the screen. Reilly.

"Will?"

"Yes."

"I have to attend this meeting with Northants homicide team this morning. I'll need a briefing."

Jackman closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose with the thumb and forefinger of his free hand. "We are looking for any links between the two victims. We know they were killed in a similar manner, but we need to compare the victimology research. If we can establish a personal link between the two – a mutual acquaintance, a similar interest, a place they have both visited – then it strengthens the connection and could point to a single killer."

"And?"

"It could give us a motive and fresh leads."

"Can't we do this by email?"

"We've already exchanged emails. This meeting will enable us to talk to the investigating officers, go through witness statements, phone records, credit card statements and bring copies back of anything that might be relevant." Silence filled the phone line as Jackman continued, "Look, I'm going to be out of action for most of this morning. You're meeting DCI Stevens at Northants headquarters at 10.30am. Everything's in the policy log in the top drawer of my desk if you need to refresh your memory."

Jackman felt a thud against the side of his thigh as he rang off. Erik was leaping about like a demented springbok, waiting for his breakfast. Jackman filled a bowl with an unappetising batch of dried brown kibble and left the dog to eat.

As he climbed the stairs and jumped into the shower, his mind turned back to the missing woman. Janus was right, whatever happened, until she was found, speculation would be rife. The press would have a field day. Warwickshire was one of the UK's smallest police forces and Stratford was considered a pretty sleepy town when it came to serious crime, which was one of the reasons he'd moved his family here from North London when his daughter was young.

Even at night, to attack a woman in Stratford town centre was a risk. He pictured the Old Thatch Tavern in his mind. It was located opposite the market square and some way from the theatre and its nearby pubs. Granted, the day-trippers, the shoppers and tourists that flocked in to see the Shakespearean sites, would have gone home and the traffic wouldn't have been particularly prevalent on a Monday evening, but surely there were still some people wandering around? All potential witnesses. Perhaps she went back to the pub to reconcile with her boyfriend, disappeared down one of the numerous alleys that snaked the town centre?

Ten minutes later, Jackman stooped to view himself in the mirror above the fireplace in his sitting room when he heard the letterbox snap and something hit the mat. Erik raised his head and cast a sleepy eye towards the door, then lowered it again. So much for the guard dog.

Jackman moved out into the hallway, fastening his cuffs. He bent down, grabbed a pink envelope and turned it over. It was addressed to 'Mrs Alice Jackman'. He stared at it a moment. Of course. Thursday was her birthday.

As he stood, his shoulder caught the clip-frame on the wall. It wobbled, rattling against the plaster, until he reached up and steadied it. A mosaic of little photographs slipped down inside. His eyes brushed past the jumble of family holiday pics, the photo of him crossing the finishing line at the London marathon a few years earlier, and rested on the small snapshot in the centre: a photograph of him and his wife at their wedding reception. Her white-blonde hair contrasted with his groomed chestnut mop. Their wrists were entwined, poised to drink. The camera had caught them on centre; elated eyes sparkled in the flashlight. Jackman looked back at the card and recognised Alice's mother's spidery handwriting. Why? She knew Alice would never open this. Alice would never open another card again. He pushed it into his pocket, grabbed his keys and left the house.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Before It's Too Late by Jane Isaac. Copyright © 2015 Jane Isaac. Excerpted by permission of Legend Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Before It's Too Late 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Very good. Kept you guessing until the very end
DaUgh More than 1 year ago
enjoyed this book alot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very fast read with a lot to make you turn the page. Also liked the fact that there weren't a lot of characters to remember.
Haziegaze More than 1 year ago
I haven’t read any of Jane Isaacs’ books before but after reading this, I will certainly read more by her and I feel very privileged to have been invited to provide an honest review by the publisher, Legend Press, via NetGalley. This invite in no way influenced my thoughts on the book and I say it as I read and feel it! Before It’s Too Late introduces us to a really interesting, complex and likeable Police Officer - DI Will Jackman. He is thorough, methodical, logical and driven and is the sort of Police Officer that I would want looking for me if I had been kidnapped but, if I was a miscreant, I would be quaking in my boots. Will is also a troubled man with a huge amount of guilt being carried on his shoulders following a car accident which seriously injured his wife. Jane excellently delves into Will’s mind and describes his thought processes and reasoning as well as his frustrations with the investigation in a way that feels natural. I really like Will and feel there is quite a lot of mileage with him and his colleagues. The victim, Min Li, is another great character and I love the way the Chinese culture is brought to life and explained by Jane in an interesting way without being cliche or patronising. I found the sections told from Min’s perspective when she was in the pit were so well described that I really felt like I was in there with her and I could really feel her absolute terror. The story moves at a good pace and kept my interest from start to finish. There are some red herrings and twists and despite me guessing what was going on when the 2nd person was kidnapped, I still enjoyed how it all played out to the end. I’m not sure I would go as far as to say that this is a psychological thriller, well not for me anyway, but I do think it’s a good crime thriller and I would recommend to anyone who enjoys this genre. One last thing, this is the first nonfiction book I have read that mentions THE greatest motorcycle rider EVER - the Doctor himself - Valentino Rossi - this alone adds a star to my rating ;)