When two skeletons are discovered from Lamentation Tarn, talented detective Mike Nash and his team have little evidence with which to work, until a surprising discovery prompts them to contact law enforcement agencies in Eastern Europe. A joint taskforce is formed to uncover a criminal network involved in prostitution, drugs and human trafficking, but Nash's preoccupation with internal politics, as well as with an attractive Russian detective, proves to be a distraction. Finally, a young victim escapes the gang's clutches, providing Nash with much needed evidence. A search of the neighbouring tarn yields further corpses and reveals an even more heinous crime. Two more bloody encounters must occur before the criminals are brought to bitter justice.
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Depth of Despair
By Bill Kitson
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2009 Bill Kitson
All rights reserved.
Cauldmoor hadn't always been deserted. Once there'd been a community there. A community whose isolation bonded them. Theirs had been a peaceful existence working lead and other ores, tending sheep or growing what they could in the bitter soil. They battled constantly against nature. The disaster that wiped them out was man made. Even in their isolation they'd heard of the men who'd come from over the sea. Brutal men who slaughtered to gain control of vast swathes of land. The invaders arrived in the middle of a spring morning when the sun was nearing its height.
It was after that the rumours began to circulate. Rumours that became the legend of Cauldmoor. It was said that cries could be heard, carried throughout the valley on the ever present wind.
The causeway became known as The Grieving Stones and the hitherto unnamed lakes were called Lamentation Tarn and Desolation Tarn.
Legends didn't worry the angler as he arrived at the tarn, took his gear and walked to the lake. He unlocked the boathouse, climbed into a boat and rowed out to the middle. He dropped anchor, chose a fly and commenced casting. It was 7 a.m. Faint sounds seeped through the air. The hiss of the wind channelled by the hills, the call of a curlew, the bleating of sheep. For the most part, however, the silence was absolute.
The fish weren't rising. It was an hour before he felt his line go taut. Long before it broke surface he realized it wasn't a fish. A fish would have writhed and struggled. There was no resistance. Just a dead weight.
He stared in horror at the obscenity on the end of his line. As he told a friend in the pub that night, 'There I was. Alone in the middle of the tarn. Miles from anywhere. And there was this bloody skull grinning back at me.'
Detective Inspector Mike Nash stared out from the veranda of the bothy. Like the rest of the low building, it was painted with creosote to counteract the weather. Inside, the gas heaters were on full blast but the room was still cold. It would be cramped but it would have to do as an incident room. At least a few people might warm the place up a bit. If anything could be warmed up in such a desolate place. He shivered, only partly from the raw wind that whipped round the building. He burrowed deeper inside his waxed coat.
They'd been there an hour. Three of them plus a couple of uniforms. Now they'd to wait for the divers. They were taking their time. Not that Nash could blame them. 'Rather them than me.' He was unaware he'd voiced his thoughts. The woman alongside him stirred, 'What? Who do you mean?'
Nash looked at his assistant. He pondered the twist of fate that had brought this handsome young woman from Belarus to England, to Yorkshire and finally into a career in the police.
'What did you mean, "rather them than me"?'
'Talking to myself, was I? Can't say I'm surprised in this godforsaken spot. I was thinking about the divers.'
Sergeant Clara Mironova stared at the dark waters of the tarn and shivered. 'I get your point. What do you think of this place?'
'I'd rather not think about it. There's something eerie about it. I can't rid myself of a feeling of depression.'
Mironova looked at her boss with concern. He looked tired. The last case they'd worked on together had affected him badly. Hardly surprising with the outcome. She thought of Stella Pearson. Nash and Stella had been an item until Stella was injured, paralyzed by wounds intended for Nash. She could only guess at the guilt he felt. She also knew how ill he'd been before he transferred from the Met. Was this a symptom of that illness? Or an example of the way Nash reacted to his surroundings. It was a strange ability. Or was it more of a curse than a blessing? She knew he was prone to nightmares about the cases he worked on. Perhaps she was the lucky one. When she slept it was dreamless. On the whole, she thought, she was better off. 'All we have is a skull, Mike,' she said, half teasing him.
'True and that might not tell us anything. Is Mexican Pete on his way?' Like everyone else Nash referred to the pathologist by his nickname. Fortunately, Professor Ramirez either hadn't heard it or didn't know the Ballad of Eskimo Nell. Or possibly both.
'He's got lectures all morning. He'll be here at lunchtime. He asked for directions.'
'Hell, Clara, that's a long conversation for Mexican Pete.'
'I think he was trying to chat me up. Is Superintendent Pratt coming?'
'He's not planning to. Just said we're to keep him up to speed. What did you get out of the angler?'
'Nothing useful. He was fishing for an hour, felt the resistance and pulled in the skull. Seemed peeved because it's the last day of the season and he's been cheated of his fishing.'
'What did you tell him?'
'I said think yourself lucky. You could have been on the other end of the line. That silenced him.'
'I'll bet. Listen, I'm going for a walk up the valley. I want to have a look round and see if I can get my circulation going. You hang on here in case the Rubber Johnnies arrive.'
'I'll see if Viv's got the kettle on. This bothy's quite comfortable in a fashion. No electric, of course, but once Viv worked out how to turn the bottled gas on it started to warm up a bit.'
As she watched Nash walk towards the ridge separating the lakes, DC Pearce joined her on the balcony. He glanced over towards their boss. 'Trouble?'
'What is it?'
'I reckon he feels guilty about Stella.'
'That's ridiculous,' Pearce interjected.
'Maybe, but Mike thinks he's responsible for her being in a wheelchair.'
'If it hadn't been for Mike and you, Stella and the others would be dead.'
'I know that and you know it. And in his more rational moments Mike knows it. But when he's got that depression on it's a different matter.'
'No one's to blame except that damned psychopath. We never know how hostage situations will end.' Viv paused and watched Nash heading up the slope. 'Don't suppose it helped that Mike was giving Stella one.'
'Put with your usual delicacy. But you're right, and it proves something else. The victims of violence aren't always those who die. Sometimes survivors suffer even more.'
Nash fastened his coat up to the neck. He'd put his gloves on and pulled his flat cap down firmly before setting off, walking as briskly as he could. It took twenty minutes to reach the top of the ridge. He stared to the west where Desolation Tarn lay dark and uninviting, then back towards Lamentation Tarn with its grisly secret. Nash still felt cold. But this was a coldness that struck from within. He shivered and looked around.
As the wind strengthened, Nash heard a faint keening sound. It was like a cry of distress. Of pain beyond endurance. The moaning appeared part of the wind and yet separate. The day darkened and Nash shivered again. Louder, harsher and shriller the sound came.
There was mist writhing around now as the wind caused it to eddy. Nash stared about. He could almost imagine there were shapes within the gloom. Figures moving in the distance. Then the mist was gone, the shapes vanished. The threnody ceased. It had only been a fleeting impression. But it was enough to send a cold chill down his spine.
Nash came briskly down the hillside, his walk only marginally short of panic. He neared the bothy and saw the diving team struggling down Misery Near with their equipment. Theirs was an unenviable task. There was no certainty the angler could pinpoint the place he'd been fishing. And the 'Rubber Johnnies' would be working in dark, cold water. At this altitude and at this time of year they'd have little more than twenty or thirty minutes under water. The soil on the moor was peat. It would darken the water, defying even their powerful torches. They would have to work by touch. Nash shivered anew at the prospect.
Pearce had brewed tea. 'I need you to fetch supplies from Bishopton.' Nash told him. 'Whilst you're there contact the secretary of the angling club. I want him here.'
Mironova and Pearce exchanged glances. 'Does that mean you're treating this as a suspicious death?'
'No, Clara, I'm treating it as murder.'
'Why?' Pearce asked.
'That tarn is half a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide. Tell me how anyone got into the middle unless someone dumped them?'
'What about suicide?' Pearce asked.
'How? To get into the middle of the tarn would have required a boat. What would have happened to the boat afterwards?'
'Could the body have floated there?' Clara asked.
'I don't think there's enough current to move a body, even that of a girl. Besides, how did they get here in the first place? It's twenty miles from the nearest town, ten from the nearest village. Are you asking me to believe a girl hiked here? That she got overcome by depression? That she swam out into the middle of a tarn that would be bloody cold even in summer? That having avoided hypothermia she drowned herself? Or that somebody drove her here so she could kill herself? It doesn't add up.'
Pearce missed Nash's last few words because of the sudden roar made by the diving team's outboard. All three glanced round. The divers were ready to start, checking with the angler where he'd been fishing.
When Pearce had gone and the divers were chugging out into the lake, Mironova turned to Nash. 'You kept saying "she". How do you know it's a girl?'
He shrugged. 'Guesswork I suppose. But from the size and shape of the skull I reckon it was probably a girl.'
Mironova stared at him suspiciously. 'What happened when you went up the valley? You looked as if you'd seen a ghost.'
'Nothing.' His tone was unconvincing.
Clara shrugged, 'No doubt you'll tell me in your own time.'
Pearce returned an hour later bringing pies, sandwiches and milk, coffee and tea bags. He arrived at the same time as Ramirez and charmed the pathologist into carrying bottled water to the bothy.
Nash greeted Ramirez. 'The divers have recovered most of the skeleton, with the exception of one arm and hand.'
A cry from the lake suggested they'd been successful. When the dinghy reached the shore the divers removed the forearm and hand from its covering and placed it with the rest of the skeleton on the unzipped body bag. They started gathering their equipment as Ramirez examined the remains. After a moment he glanced towards the divers, 'If I was you I'd tell them not to leave yet.'
'Because this hand and arm do not belong to this skeleton. Not unless the woman had an unusual deformity. Like two left hands.'
The secretary of the angling club was a fussy middle-aged man. He seemed to take it personally that a body had been found in Lamentation Tarn. When Nash suggested they were looking for two bodies he went pale and swayed a little before recovering his composure. When Nash asked who had a key to the boathouse or the padlocks securing the dinghies, he appeared to think it was an accusation against his members.
'Tell me,' Nash took the secretary by the elbow and turned him to face the tarn, 'how do you think those bodies got there?'
'Are you certain they were put there? Couldn't it have been an accident?'
Nash shook his head. 'I'm afraid not.'
The angler swallowed. 'That means —'
'It means they were murdered.'
His face registered horror. 'Do you suspect one of us?'
Nash ignored the question. 'Whoever dumped the bodies had to use a dinghy. Unless you know of anyone else who has a boat? Who owns the land?'
'It belongs to Bishopton Estate, although they have nothing to do with the management. Their only involvement is to collect rent. But as far as the land's concerned your best contact is Simon Wardle. He rents the pasture-land. Those are his sheep grazing on Misery Near.'
'Where will we find him?'
'His farm is the other side of Bishop's Cross off the Helmsdale road, a few miles past the village. A big place on the left. Wardle's family have owned it for generations. He has cattle and pig units there, keeps his sheep over this side. Be careful how you tackle Simon. He hasn't much love for officialdom.'
Nash waited, certain there was more. 'It goes back to the foot and mouth epidemic. Wardle wasn't intending to be a farmer. He was a professional soldier but his father had a heart attack after their livestock was destroyed. Wardle resigned his commission and returned to help out until his father was fit. But that didn't happen. The old man was in Netherdale hospital for six weeks before he died. Simon's mother followed six months later.'
'That's sad. I can see Wardle would be sensitive. How old is he?'
'In his late thirties. He's a real loner and if you're planning to visit him, watch out. He's got a sophisticated security system backed up by ferocious guard dogs.'
'Is he married?'
'No, he reckons he's too busy. To be fair he's done really well. Rumour was, the losses were so bad the farm was on the brink of having to be sold, but Simon turned it round. Like I say, it's only rumour, but he persuaded the bank to let him run with a huge overdraft until the compensation kicked in. Since then he's never looked back but I think the scars are still there.'
Nash looked across at Mironova. 'If he's single perhaps I'd better send my sergeant.'
Mironova got up to leave, 'If I find out he's gay I'll come back for Viv.'
'Returning to the matter of those keys. I need a list of your current members and any who have resigned or died. Say within the last ten years.'
'It'll take a lot of work.'
'Then the sooner you start the quicker it'll be done. I'll get my constable to collect the list tomorrow morning, right?'
He nodded, recognizing the inevitable.
'One more thing; can you make a note of any members who might have lost their keys during that time? If they asked for a replacement set, for example.'
The autumn afternoon was well advanced when the diving team recorded further success. The detectives emerged from the shelter of the bothy to supervise the handling of the latest find. The second set of remains was as skeletal as the first. As Nash rounded the tarpaulin shielding the corpses he wondered why they'd bothered erecting it. There were no passers by to be shocked or to ogle or take photos. The screen didn't even act as a windbreak.
'What do you reckon, Professor?'
The pathologist looked up in obvious irritation. 'I think the sooner I get them to the mortuary and can examine them without the risk of hypothermia the better,' he snapped. 'But I don't suppose that's what you're waiting to hear. Give me ten minutes and I'll join you inside.' He nodded towards Pearce, 'That'll be long enough for you to get coffee on.'
Nash and Pearce returned to the bothy. The wind had strengthened, the chill factor increased. When Ramirez joined them he was almost blue with cold. He wrapped his fingers gratefully round the mug. 'Both victims are female, no more than thirty years old.'
'How do you know?' Pearce was intrigued.
'Because the flesh has been destroyed I was able to examine their spines. In neither case was there deterioration nor wear and tear in the discs as you'd find in an older person.'
'Not mother and daughter then?' Nash asked.
'I'd need DNA confirmation to be certain, but it's unlikely.'
'Any chance of establishing the cause of death?'
'I can tell you exactly.'
'Already?' Pearce exclaimed.
Ramirez permitted himself a wintry smile. He held out his mug, 'Refill, please,' he demanded. 'They were both shot in the back of the head where it joins the neck. Probably from above when they were kneeling. The reason I know,' he explained before Pearce could ask, 'is because the bullet, or bullets that killed them damaged the vertebra. That's probably why the skull became detached when your angler hooked it.'
The loudspeaker echoed eerily as the disembodied voice replied. 'Who is it?'
'Detective Sergeant Mironova, Helmsdale CID. I need to ask you some questions.'
'If you let me in, I'll explain.'
'No. If you want me to let you in, you'll explain first. If I judge it to be important then you can come in.'
Mironova looked round the deserted windswept farmyard with exasperation. The lack of welcome had been apparent from the moment she'd pulled up. 'Howlingales Farm'. The name couldn't have been more appropriate. The notice fixed to the gatepost read, 'Strictly No Admission Without Authority. No Representatives Without Appointment'. Alongside this notice was another. Below the picture of two Dobermans the caption read, 'Guard Dogs Running Free'. Further down was the chilling addendum, 'You Have Been Warned!'
Excerpted from Depth of Despair by Bill Kitson. Copyright © 2009 Bill Kitson. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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