In a quiet residential area in London, a couple is discovered bound and imprisoned in their own home. Savagely battered and severely dehydrated, the worst revelation is yet to come: their eight-year-old son has been abducted. But when the body is found and forensic evidence turns the case on its head, revealing disturbing parallels to events in Detective Caffery's own past, he realizes he's dealing with much more sinister forces than he'd anticipatedand finds it increasingly difficult to maintain his professional distance. As the evidence mounts and Caffery struggles to hold his own life together, the case hurtles toward a shocking conclusion.
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WHEN IT WAS ALL OVER, DI Jack Caffery, South London Area Major Investigation Team (AMIT), would admit that, of all the things he had witnessed in Brixton that cloudy July evening, it was the crows that jarred him the most.
They were there when he came out of the Peaches' house — twenty or more of them standing in their hooded way on the lawn of the neighboring garden, oblivious to the police tape, the onlookers, the technicians. Some had their beaks open. Others appeared to be panting. All of them faced him directly, as if they knew what had happened in the house. As if they were having a sly laugh about the way he'd reacted to the scene.
Later he would accept that the crows' behavior was a biological tic, that they couldn't see into his thoughts, couldn't have known what had happened to the Peach family, but even so the sight of them made the back of his neck tingle. He paused at the top of the garden path to strip off his overalls and hand them to a forensics officer, pulled on the shoes he'd left outside the police tape and waded out into the birds. They took to the air, rattling their petrolly feathers.
Brockwell Park — a huge, thrown-together isosceles of forest and grass with its apex at Herne Hill station — rambles for over a mile along the boundary of two very different parts of South London. On its western perimeter, the badlands of Brixton — where some mornings council workers have to drop sand on the streets to soak up the blood — and, to the east, Dulwich, with its flower-drenched almshouses and John Soane skylights. Donegal Crescent lay snug up against Brockwell Park — anchored at one foot by a boarded-up pub, at the other by a Gujarati-owned corner shop. It was part of a quiet little council estate, rows of fifties terraced houses bare to the sky, no trees in the front gardens, window frames and doors painted chocolate brown. The houses looked on to a horseshoe-shaped piece of balding grass where kids skidded their bikes in the evening. Caffery could imagine the Peaches must have felt relatively safe here.
Back in his shirt sleeves, grateful for the fresh air outside, he rolled a cigarette and crossed to the group of officers next to the Scientific Support Command Unit's van. They fell silent as he approached and he knew what they were thinking. He was only in his midthirties — not a senior-rank warhorse — but most officers in South London knew who he was. "One of the Met's Young Turks," the Police Review had called him. He knew he was respected in the force and he always found it a bit freaky. If they knew half of it. He hoped they wouldn't notice that his hands were trembling.
"Well?" He lit the cigarette and looked at a sealed plastic evidence bag a junior forensics officer was holding. "What've you got?"
"We found it just inside the park, sir, about twenty yards from the back of the Peaches'."
Caffery took the bag and turned it over carefully. A Nike Air Server trainer, a child's shoe, slightly smaller than his hand.
"Who found it?"
"The dogs, sir."
"They lost the trail. At first they had it — they had it good, really good." A sergeant in the blue shirt of the dog handlers' unit stood on tiptoe and pointed over the roofs to where the park rose in the distance, blotting out the sky with its dark forests. "They took us round the path that scoots over the west of the park — but after half a mile they just drew a blank." He looked dubiously at the evening sky. "And we've lost the light now."
"Right. I think we need to speak to Air Support." Caffery passed the trainer back to the forensics officer. "It should be in an air-drying bag."
"There's blood on it. Didn't you see?"
The SSCU's dragonlights powered up, flooding the Peaches' house, spilling light onto the trees in the park beyond. In the front garden forensics officers in blue rubberized suits swept the lawn with dustpans, and outside the police tape shock-faced neighbors stood in knots, smoking and whispering, breaking off to huddle around any plainclothes AMIT detective who came near, full of questions. The press were there too. Losing patience.
Caffery stood next to the Command Unit van and stared up at the house. It was a two-story terraced house — pebble dashed, a satellite dish on the roof and a small patch of damp above the front door. There were matching scalloped nets in each window, and beyond them the curtains had been drawn tight.
He had only seen the Peach family, or what was left of them, in the aftermath, but he felt as if he knew them. Or, rather, he knew their archetype. The parents — Alek and Carmel — weren't going to be easy victims for the team to sympathize with: both drinkers, both unemployed, and Carmel Peach had sworn at the paramedics as they moved her into the ambulance. Their only son, nine-year-old Rory, Caffery hadn't seen. By the time he'd arrived the divisional officers had already pulled the house apart trying to find the child — in the cupboards, the attic, even behind the bath paneling. There were traces of blood on the skirting board in the kitchen, and the glass in the back door was broken. Caffery had taken a Territorial Support Group officer with him to search a boarded-up property two doors down, crawling through a hole in the back door on their bellies, flashlights in their teeth like an adolescent's SAS fantasy. All they found were the usual homeless nesting arrangements. There was no other sign of life. No Rory Peach. The raw facts were bad enough and for Caffery they might have been custom-built to echo his own past. Don't let it be a problem, Jack, don't let it turn into a headfuck.
"Jack?" DCI Danniella Souness said suddenly at his side. "Ye all right, son?"
He looked round. "Danni. God, I'm glad you're here."
"What's with the face? Ye've a gob on ye like a dog's arse."
"Thanks, Danni." He rubbed his face and stretched. "I've been on standby since one o'clock this morning."
"And what's the story on this?" She gestured at the house. "A wain gone missing, am I right? Rory?"
"Yes. We're going to be blowing some fuses on it — he's only nine years old."
Souness blew air out of her nose and shook her head. She was solid, just five foot four, but she weighed twelve stone in her man's suit and boots. With her cropped hair and fair, Caledonian skin she looked more like a juvenile dressed for his first court appearance than a forty-year-old chief inspector. She took her job very seriously. "Right, the assessment team been?"
"We don't know we've got a death yet. No dead body, no assessment team."
"Aye, the lazy wee bastards."
"Local factory's taken the house apart and can't find him. I've had dogs and the territorials in the park. Air Support should be on their way."
"Why do ye think he's in the park?"
"These houses all back onto it." He pointed toward the woods that rose beyond the roofs. "We've got a witness saw something heading off into the trees from number thirty. Back door's unlocked, there's a hole in the fence, and the lads found a shoe just inside the park."
"OK, OK, I'm convinced." Souness folded her arms and tipped back on her heels, looking around at the technicians, the photographers, the divisional CID officers. On the doorstep of number thirty a camera operator was checking his battery belt, lowering the heavy Betacam into a case. "Looks like a shagging film set."
"The unit want to work through the night."
"And what's with the ambulance? The one that almost ran me off the road."
"Ah, yes — that was Mum. She and hubby have both been trundled off to King's. She'll make it but he hasn't got a hope. Where he was hit —" Caffery held his palm against the back of his head "— fucked him up some." He checked over his shoulder then bent a little nearer to her, lowering his voice. "Danni. There're a few things we're going to have to keep from the press, a few things we don't want popping up in the tabloids."
"It isn't a custody kidnap. He's their child — no exes involved."
"A tiger, then?"
"Not a tiger either." Tiger kidnaps meant ransom demands and the Peaches were not in an extortionist's financial league. "And, anyway, when you look at what else went on you'll know it's not bog standard."
Caffery looked around at the journalists — at the neighbors. "Let's go in the van, eh?" He put his hand on Souness's back. "I don't want an audience."
"Come on, then." She hefted herself inside the SSCU's van and Caffery followed, reaching up to grip the roof rim and swing himself inside. Spades, cutting equipment and tread plates hung from the walls, a samples refrigerator hummed gently in the corner. He closed the door and hooked a stool over with his foot and handed it to her. She sat down and he sat opposite, feet apart, elbows on his knees, looking at her carefully.
"We've got something screwy."
"The guy stayed with them first."
Souness frowned, tilting her chin down as if she wasn't sure whether he was joking or not. "Stayed with them?"
"That's right. Just ... hung around. For almost three days. They were tied up in there — handcuffed. DS Quinn thinks another twelve hours and one or other of them'd be dead." He raised his eyebrows. "Worst thing's the smell."
Souness rolled her eyes. "Oh, lovely."
"Then there's the bullshit scrawled all over the wall."
"Christ." Souness sat back a little, rubbing her stubbly head with the palm of her hand. "Is it sounding like a Maudsley jobbie?"
He nodded. "Yeah. But he won't be far — the park is sealed now, we'll have him before long." He stood to leave the van. "Jack?" Souness stopped him. "Something else is worrying ye."
He paused for a minute, looking at the floor, his hand on the back of his neck. It was as if she'd leaned over and peered keen-eyed through a window in his head. They liked each other, he and Souness: neither was quite sure why, but they had both fallen comfortably into this partnership. Still, there were some things he didn't choose to tell her.
"No, Danni," he murmured eventually, reknotting his tie, not wanting to hear how much she guessed of his preoccupations. "Nothing else. Come on, let's have a shufti at the park, shall we?"
Outside, night had come to Donegal Crescent. The moon was low and red in the sky.
From the back of Donegal Crescent, Brockwell Park appeared to ramble away for miles into the distance, filling the skyline. Its upper slopes were mostly bald, only a few shabby, hairless trees across the backbone and at the highest point a clutch of exotic evergreens. But on the west slope an area about the size of four football pitches was thick with trees: bamboo and silver birch, beech and Spanish chestnut, they huddled around four stinking ponds, sucking up the dampness in the soil. There was the density of a jungle among those trees — in the summer the ponds seemed to be steaming.
At 8:30 p.m. that night, only minutes before the park was sealed off by the police, one solitary man was not far from the ponds, shuffling among the trees, an intent expression on his face. Roland Klare's was a lonely, almost hermitic existence — with odd tempers and periods of lethargy — and sometimes, when the mood was on him, he was a collector. A human relative of the carrion beetle, to Klare nothing was disposable or beyond redemption. He knew the park well and often wandered around here looking through the bins, checking under park benches. People left him alone. He had long, rather womanly hair and a smell about him that no one liked. A familiar smell — of dirty clothes and urine.
Now he stood, with his hands in his pockets and stared at what was between his feet. It was a camera. A Pentax camera. He picked it up and looked at it carefully, holding it close to his face because the light was fading fast, examining it for damage. Roland Klare had three or four other cameras back at his flat, among the items scavenged from skips and Dumpsters. He even had bits and pieces of film developing equipment. Now quickly he put the Pentax in his pocket and shuffled his feet around in the leaves for a bit, checking the ground. There'd been a heavy summer cloudburst that morning but the sun had shone all afternoon and even the undersides of the long grass were dry against his shoes.
Two feet away lay a pair of pink rubber gloves, large ones, which he slipped into his pocket with the camera. After a while he continued on his way through the fading light. The rubber gloves, he decided, when he got them under a streetlight, were not worth keeping. Too worn. He dropped them in a skip on the Railton Road. But a camera. A camera was not to be discarded lightly.
It was a quiet evening for India 99, the twin-engined Squirrel helicopter out of Lippits Hill air base. The sun had gone down and the heat and low cloud cover made the Air Support crew headachy: they got the unit's twelve fixed tasks completed as quickly as possible — Heathrow, the Dome, Canary Wharf, several power stations including Battersea — and were ready to switch to self-tasking when the controller came through on the tactical commander's headset. "Yeah, India nine-nine from India Lima."
The tactical commander pulled the mouthpiece nearer. "Go ahead, India Lima."
"Where are you?"
"We're in, uh, where?" He leaned forward a little and looked down at the lit-up city. "Wandsworth."
"Good. India nine-eight's got an active, but they've reached endurance, grid ref: TQ3427445."
The commander checked the map. "Is that Brockwell Park?"
"Rog. It's a missing child, ground units have got it contained, but look, lads, the DI's being straight with us, says you're a tick in the box. He can't promise the child's in the park — just a hunch — so there's no obligation."
The commander pulled away his mouthpiece, checked his watch and looked into the front of the cockpit. The air observer and the pilot had heard the request and were holding their thumbs up for him to see. "Good." He noted the time and the Computer Aided Dispatch Number on the assignment log and pulled his mouthpiece back into place.
"Yeah, go on, then, India Lima. It's quiet tonight — we'll have a look. Who are we speaking to?"
"An, um, an Inspector Caffery. AMIT — "
"The murder squad, you mean?"
"That's the one."CHAPTER 2
THERE WERE MARKS ON the camera casing where it had been dropped and, later, at home in his flat on the top floor of Arkaig Tower, a council block tower at the northerly tip of Brockwell Park, Roland Klare discovered that the Pentax was damaged in other, less visible ways. After wiping the casing carefully with a tea towel he attempted to wind on the film inside and found the mechanism had jammed. He fiddled with it, tried forcing it and shaking it, but he couldn't free the winder. He put the camera on the sill in the living room and stood for a while looking out the big window.
The evening sky above the park was as orange as a bonfire and somewhere in the distance he could hear a helicopter. He scratched his arms compulsively, trying to decide what to do. The only other working camera he had was a Polaroid. He'd acquired that, too, in a not totally honest fashion, but Polaroid film was expensive, so this Pentax was worth salvaging. He sighed, picked it up and tried again, struggling to unjam the mechanism, putting the camera between his legs to hold it still while he wrestled with it. But the winder wouldn't budge. After twenty minutes of fruitless struggle he was forced to admit defeat.
Frustrated and sweating now he made a note of it in the book he kept in a desk next to the window, then placed the camera in a purple Cadbury's Selection tin on the windowsill, where, along with a neon-pink-handled screwdriver, three bottles of prescription pills, and a plastic wallet printed with a Union Jack that he'd found last week on the upper deck of the number-two bus, it would remain, its evidence wound neatly inside, for more than five days.
All prisons in London insist on being informed about any helicopter that passes. It keeps them calm. India 99, seeing the familiar glass-roofed gym and octagonal emergency control room ahead on their right, got on to channel eight and identified themselves to HMP Brixton before they continued toward the park. It was a warm and breathless night; the low cloud cover trapped the orange city light, spreading it back down across the roofs so that the helicopter seemed to be flying through a glowing layer of heat, as if its belly and rotor blades had been dipped in hot, electric orange. Now they were over Acre Lane — a long, spangled, untangled row of pearls. On they went, out over the hot, packed streets behind Brixton Water Lane, on and on, over a warren of houses and pubs, until suddenly, on a tremendous rush of air and aviation fuel — flak flak flak FLAK — they floated out into the clear darkness over Brockwell Park.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Treatment"
Copyright © 2001 Mo Hayder.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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