Out of the Night
Out of the Night

Out of the Night

by Dan Latus

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780719806209
Publisher: Hale, Robert Limited
Publication date: 12/01/2012
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Dan Latus is the author of Never Look Back and Risky Mission.

Read an Excerpt

Out of the Night


By Dan Latus

Robert Hale Limited

Copyright © 2015 Dan Latus
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7198-1863-9


CHAPTER 1

When they found the first body on the beach near Port Holland I didn't take much notice. I was busy at the time, tying up some work I'd been doing for a client who wanted to know why stuff kept disappearing from his hi-tech plant near Middlesbrough. It was obviously an inside job and I was on the brink of naming the supervisor with a nice little racket going.

Jimmy Mack said, 'It had its head cut off.'

I stared at him. 'What are you talking about?'

'That body they found.' He continued working away at a lobster pot he was mending. 'So they say, anyway.'

I shook my head. 'Ship's propeller, maybe?'

'Maybe.'

He didn't add anything, and I had plenty to do. So I left it there.

'I'll have to get back, Jimmy. I'm expecting a phone call. See you later.'

He nodded. 'There'll likely be more, you know.'

'More what?'

'Bodies.'

'Give over, you daft old bugger!'

I walked away in disgust.


The next morning I heard in the paper shop I visited that another body had been found on the beach at Port Holland. It seemed a curious coincidence, especially when the woman behind the counter shuddered and told the customer in front of me that the head was missing.

The third body was found not long after that. Headless again.


That was when Bill Peart came to see me. It was getting dark at the time. Mid-afternoon, and getting dark. That's what November days can be like at Risky Point, or anywhere else on the Cleveland coast. It's a different world compared to May time.

I saw the lights of his car as he picked his way cautiously up the long track that leads from the road to our cottages. Mine was the first one he came to. Fifty yards further on was Jimmy's.

That's all there is now at Risky Point. At one time it was a village, an ironstone miners' village, but there's not much left now. The relentless sea, and coastal erosion, has taken its toll. The only good thing is that at least the erosion has been gradual. Not like at Kettleness, a bit further south, where years ago the whole village slid into the sea in one go, and most of the population was saved only because there was an alum ship waiting offshore that managed to pick people up.

I knew it was Bill as soon as he opened the car door. I watched him get out, swing the door shut and then stand still for a moment. His weary, worn-out posture was what gave him away. Even in the gloom there was no mistaking those hunched shoulders, and I could already imagine that care-lined face. Nature and time had taken their toll on him, as they had on the coastal cliffs. I've never envied Bill his job, or his life. But he's a good man. Always was.

'You look like a man who needs a coffee,' I said, standing by the open front door.

'Better make it strong,' he said with an audible sigh as he came towards me.

He shook himself, as if dripping wet, and came inside. He really was wet, I realized then, although it wasn't raining.

'Take your coat off, Bill. Hang it up by the stove. What have you been up to?'

'Guess.'

'Headless bodies on the beach anything to do with it?'

He nodded and gave a weary sigh. 'As if I didn't have enough to do.'

I let him get settled while I made the coffee. It was a while since I'd last seen him, but we were old friends and sparring partners. From time to time he came over and we did a spot of fishing together. Or we just drank coffee and talked. As a serving cop, a detective inspector, he liked to keep an eye on what I was doing, and sometimes I got stuff from him. Sometimes we helped each other, usually unofficially.

'Bodies on the beach, eh?' I said, placing two mugs on the kitchen table and sitting down opposite him. 'Whoever would have thought it?'

He stared at me suspiciously. 'Is that you being funny?'

I smiled. 'Not really. What's going on?'

'No idea. It's not just heads that are missing either.'

'What else? Hands?'

He nodded.

That said something. Quite a lot, actually. It meant it hadn't been a ship's propeller. It was probably somebody who didn't want the bodies to be identified. Either that or it was an obscure message to others left alive.

With that grim reality hovering unspoken between us, we sat for a while, not talking much. It was warm in the kitchen, with the wood stove going full blast. I let Bill dry out and warm up a bit.

'Why is it your case, anyway?' I said eventually.

He looked at me.

'It's outside your patch, isn't it?'

Bill was with Cleveland Police. This was North Yorkshire. Just.

'How unlucky can one guy get?' he asked me. 'You're right, technically speaking, but ...' He shrugged. 'It's only just over the boundary, and the two chiefs did a deal for reasons best known to themselves.'

'So you're, like ... seconded?'

'In a manner of speaking.'

'That really is bad luck,' I said with a grin.

He didn't respond. It was probably a sore point with him. Politics! I guessed he'd had the bad luck to be available.

'I've got something in the oven,' I said. 'Are you going to stay for supper?'

He looked up with interest. 'What have you got?'

'Lamb casserole. With rice, probably.'

He pursed his lips and nodded thoughtfully. 'I could do, I suppose. I'll just get a bottle of wine out of the car.'

I smiled to myself while I waited for him to come back. The wine meant he'd planned this visit. Probably wanted to pick my brains. Well, good luck to him. He was welcome to anything he could find there. I knew nothing about headless, handless bodies on the Port Holland beach. Nothing to do with me.

That didn't mean I didn't want to know what Bill knew, of course.

CHAPTER 2

I found out that Bill knew very little, seriously little.

'I haven't a clue,' he said when I asked him point-blank what it was all about. 'I got a call yesterday morning, and came straight down with a team. There wasn't anything at the scene for forensics and the tide was coming back in. So we did the necessary, recovered the body and then I packed everyone back off where they'd come from.

'Today I got another call. The same thing. Came back down. Recovered the body, and sent the team away. After that I hung around for a while, trying to get my head round what I'd seen.

'Then this afternoon it happened again. A dog walker – or his dog – found the third one. I was still in Port Holland. So I whistled my people back and they did the business.'

'Then you thought you'd come and see what your old mate Frank Doy has to say?'

'More or less. I was cold, wet, tired and hungry. Risky Point did seem like it might be a good place to come,' he admitted with a grin.

I thought about what he'd said. We were gently joshing each other but that was to keep things on an acceptable level. We had to be objective. Thinking too sympathetically about mutilated corpses could do your head in.

'Are there going to be any more?' I asked him.

'You tell me.' He shook his head impatiently. 'How the hell do I know?'

I felt like setting him on Jimmy Mack for an answer, but I didn't. Instead, I pulled the casserole dish out of the oven, checked the contents and began to set the table.

'Smells good,' Bill said, sniffing eagerly.

'You're only saying that because you've been on a wet beach in the cold all day. Wait till you taste it.'

He grinned and began to hunt for a corkscrew. 'Good stuff, this,' he said, holding up the bottle he'd brought. 'It's from the Sunday Times Wine Club.'

'The label should be worth reading, in that case. But what are the contents like?'

'Australian,' Bill said with a grin. 'Fifteen per cent.'

'Wow!'

'Exactly,' Bill said. 'Get through this, and we might come up with some fresh ideas.'

But we didn't. Not really. All we came up with was fantasy and speculation. Bill was disappointed, I think, that I had nothing to bring to the table but food.

'So you've heard nothing?'

I shook my head.

'No theories?'

'For God's sake, Bill! I've told you. I've heard nothing at all. I knew some bodies had been washed up, but that's all.'

'Washed up?' he said quickly. 'What makes you say that?'

I shrugged helplessly and sighed. 'They were on the beach. I just assumed ... but I don't know. All right?'

Again, he was disappointed.

'Sounds like organized crime, though,' I said, trying hard to give him something useful to think about.

'Doesn't it?'

He yawned and stretched, and glanced at his watch.

'Do you want to stay tonight?'

He shook his head. 'Got to get back. But thanks for the meal.'

'Thanks for the booze. It's good stuff.'

'Isn't it? You finish it,' he added, draining the one glass he'd allowed himself. 'We'll do this again when I've got the case cracked.'

'In a couple of days' time, then?'

He just grinned.


After Bill had gone I cleared up, checked my emails and texts, looked up the weather forecast, and went to bed. I was tired. It had been a busy day, and the end of an investigation that had been going on for a few weeks. I was glad to have finished it and placed the results in the hands of my client. It was up to him what he did with them. I was done.

The wind got up and I could hear the sea crashing against the base of the cliffs, and draining back through the boulders and shingle; the rumbling, hissing, seething sound you get with a high tide. I liked listening to it. I was used to it, and accepted it as part of where I lived, but it was still pretty awesome.

I was asleep a couple of hours, I subsequently worked out. Then I woke up. It was still dark and I was puzzled. Something had woken me but I didn't know what. I lay still, listening, feeling, waiting. Now I was awake I was on edge. Old habits. Conditioning. Something had woken me. I needed to know what it was before I moved.

Three or four minutes passed. Then I heard a sound that didn't belong. Even through the noise made by the wind and the sea I heard several dull thuds from somewhere downstairs, perhaps from outside. Not loud noises, but something different. I got up to investigate.

It was black outside when I looked through the window. I could see nothing. I put a light on and made my way downstairs, wondering if something had come loose in the wind. Downstairs seemed normal. Nothing there. I stood, listening. Then I heard it again. One thud this time, against the front door.

I put more lights on, unlocked the door and started to open it. Immediately, the door slammed heavily against me, forcing me back off-balance. I held on. The door kept on coming, and with it came a shower of icy rain – and a wet, naked body that hit me hard and sent me staggering backwards.

Automatically, I dropped into a crouch, prepared to fight, but the body was an inactive dead weight. So my fists relaxed and I reached out to grab and hold. Then I probably gasped with shock as I realized what I was holding on to: a naked woman who was extremely wet and cold.

'Help me!' she whispered. 'Please help me.'

CHAPTER 3

She couldn't stand unaided. She was hanging on to me desperately to stop herself falling. I struggled to hold her upright. Somehow I managed to manoeuvre her far enough inside that I could slam the door shut with my foot. Got the wind and the rain out of my face.

'Please!' she stammered again, teeth chattering wildly, and her whole body shaking.

I lifted her off her feet and took her through to the living room. As gently as I could, I laid her on the sofa. It wasn't easy, and I was glad to be rid of her weight.

It was only when I straightened up that I could see her properly. She was young. Probably in her twenties. And she was completely naked and blue with cold. She pulled her arms across her breasts and held on, shivering uncontrollably, her legs jumping, her eyes shut tight.

'Stay there,' I said, virtually on autopilot. 'I'm just going to get some towels and a blanket.'

She didn't reply. She just lay there and shook hard enough to make the sofa rock.

I brought a big bath towel and covered her with it. She made no move to dry herself. She was too weak. So I did the best I could, as quickly as I could. Then I covered her with a quilt and turned my attention to the stove.

It was still quite hot. Briskly, I stirred the embers and placed some kindling on top of them. When they got going, I started piling in some bigger lumps of wood, all of it driftwood collected from the beach, none of it a sensible shape or length. But it took hold and began to crackle. I shut the door.

All the time I was processing what I knew of my visitor. It didn't take long. She was young, painfully thin and desperate, incredibly desperate. Inevitably, my thoughts jumped to the bodies that had been found on the beach. Should this have been another one? Had she somehow averted what had happened to the others? It seemed a strong possibility. Someone must have been after her. She hadn't got into this state all by herself.

Before I did anything else, I went to the cupboard under the stairs and took my shotgun out of its locked case. I placed it where I could easily reach it.

That done, I returned to the sofa. She stared up at me, still shaking but eyes wide open now.

'What happened?' I asked gently. 'Where have you come from?'

She said nothing. Just stared. In shock, probably. Either that or too cold for her brain or tongue to function.

'Can you tell me anything?'

'Thank you,' she said.

That seemed to be it. I decided not to press her for the moment. I was worried about her condition, as well as curious about how she had ended up here. She was probably suffering from hypothermia.

'I'll make you a hot drink,' I said, turning away. 'That'll help.'

'Thank you,' she said again, wheezing this time.

'Then I'll call an ambulance,' I added over my shoulder. 'Get some paramedics here to take you to hospital.'

'No!'

The cry startled me. I spun round and stared at her. She stared back, wide-eyed.

'We need help,' I said gently.

'No,' she said again. 'Please! They will kill us.'

'Who will?'

She just shook her head.

I considered for a moment. Then I said OK and went to make some coffee.

While the water was heating, I took a quick look outside. Nothing. Nobody. Not in the immediate vicinity, at least.

She sat up to take the coffee mug from me. I was surprised by her powers of recovery. Minutes ago she hadn't been capable of that. She was still shivering, though. And still terribly cold.

'So what happened?' I asked her again.

She sipped her coffee and then put the mug down on the small table I had placed within her reach.

'I am sorry,' she said. 'I can tell you nothing.'

I nodded. 'OK.'

Foreign, I had decided by then. From her accent, European – probably.

'Lucky I heard you,' I said with a smile. 'Lucky I'm a light sleeper.'

She nodded. 'Thank you,' she said again. 'I thank you.'

'Where are your clothes?' I asked. 'Who was chasing you?'

She put down the coffee mug and her expression became blank. I was getting nowhere.

'All right, all right!' I raised my hands, palms out, to placate her. 'How do you feel? Can I ask you that?'

'Better, thank you.'

I was getting tired of her words of gratitude. I wanted more from her. But I knew I wasn't going to get it yet.

'I'll find you some clothes,' I told her. 'You stay there and finish your coffee. And don't,' I warned, 'say "thank you" again!'

An expression of alarm flashed across her face. She gazed at me warily. I smiled. She relaxed. 'You make joke,' she said.

'Small one,' I agreed.


I went upstairs and dug out a pair of jogging pants, a thick flannel shirt and a heavy-duty sweater. She was going to have to make do without underwear. Mine wouldn't fit and none of my visitors had left any behind.

I switched off the bedroom light and moved the curtain aside. Still a black, stormy night. I could see nothing. Here at Risky Point we have no light pollution whatsoever. An astronomer's paradise, apart from the rain, fog and cloud.

For a moment I stayed where I was. Who on earth was she? And what the hell was I going to do with her? One thing I knew: I looked forward to meeting whoever had got her into this state.

Then I smiled ruefully as one of Jimmy Mack's many criticisms of me came to mind. I didn't need to go looking for trouble, he had once said. All I had to do was stay where I was, and it came to my door. This looked like more of the same.

She was lying down again when I went back downstairs, her coffee mug empty.

'Feel any better?'

She nodded, and managed to avoid using her stock phrase again.

'I've found you some clothes of mine. They won't fit but at least they'll keep you warm.'

'Thank you.'

'Would you like a hot bath first? That would help.'


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Out of the Night by Dan Latus. Copyright © 2015 Dan Latus. 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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