Detective Inspector Hanlon. She'll break but she won't bend. A woman with a habit of breaking the rules and a fierce loyalty to the few people she respects.
Her boss, Corrigan. Looks like a street copper promoted above his ability. Underestimate him at your peril.
Enver Demirel. Known in the boxing ring as Iron Hand. Now soft and gone to seed. But he would do anything for Hanlon.
Now the kidnap of a 12-year-old diabetic boy has blown the case of some missing children wide apart and the finger is pointing at the heart of the Met.
Corrigan sends in the only cop in his team who would care more about the life of a boy than about her own career. Hanlon.
And then he sends Demirel to spy on her...
About the Author
Alex Howard studied Arabic and Islamic History at Oxford, and has worked in adult education. He lives in London with his wife and two children. Find out more at alexhowardcrime.com
Read an Excerpt
Time to Die
By Alex Howard
Head of Zeus LtdCopyright © 2014 Alex Howard
All rights reserved.
The compact, concrete shape of the World War Two gun emplacement crouched, hunkered down into the shallow, gravelly soil above the beach on the Essex side of the Thames Estuary near Southend. It overlooked the wide, grey shallow waters on whose far side lay the Isle of Grain and Sheerness. Hanlon guessed it was somewhere out there in those cold, steely waters that the proposed island airport for London might one day take shape. She thought, fleetingly, it would be a pity in a way if it happened. The North Sea waters had a chilly quality that she found rather beautiful. She looked around her slowly, the sky above enormous after London's claustrophobic horizons. A heron stood on a boulder near the beach, shrugging its wings like an old lady arranging a shawl around her shoulders. Cormorants bobbed along on top of the water and she could see guillemots, their wings folded back like dive-bombers, thundering into the water. The calls of the birds floated towards her on the stiff sea breeze.
The tarmac track that led down from the main road above them was old, cracked and weed-grown. The ex-army building's pitted, grey, artificial stone surface was now camouflaged with yellow, cream and blue-grey lichens and grey-green moss, so that it seemed almost organic, a part of the landscape like a strangely symmetric rock formation. There was a fissured, concrete apron next to the bunker and Hanlon pulled up adjacent to the large, white Mercedes van that she guessed belonged to the forensics team, then got out of her car. She stood for a moment by her Audi and closed her eyes. She felt the cold, fresh sea air against her skin and the breeze tugged at her shoulder-length dark hair. She could smell the metallic warmth of her car engine and the salt tang of the sea. The sound of the small waves breaking on the stony beach a hundred metres or so away were nearly drowned out by the throbbing of the generator next to the Mercedes. She could hear the keening of seagulls, much louder now, wheeling above in the sky. Hanlon stretched the powerful, sinewy muscles in her shoulders and arms and opened her eyes, which were as expressionless as the North Sea in front of her.
She looked out over the water, feeling its call. Hanlon loved swimming in the open sea. Earlier that morning, at 6 a.m., she had swum for a steady hour in her local swimming pool, but pool swimming was nothing compared to real salt water. She guessed at this time of year the temperature would be only two or three degrees, colder than a fridge. That wouldn't deter her. She could taste its saltiness, carried to her lips by the wind.
A red power cable looped its way from the generator through the heavy, open metal door of the bunker. The door was rusted and pitted by time and the elements, but still substantial. Hanlon stepped over the line of police crime-scene tape that secured the area, blowing like bunting in the sea breeze, and approached the building. Earlier that day, the place would have been bustling with her colleagues from Essex. Now the uniforms had gone and the outside of the bunker, included in the search area, reopened. She didn't go inside through the forbidding-looking portal designed, she guessed, to be blast-proof, but walked instead along the side wall until she came to one of its long, slit windows that overlooked the beach and the far horizon.
Hanlon had already spoken to the crime scene manager in charge to clear her access to the site and she remembered her conversation on the phone with the CSM. It had been straightforward enough. 'We've done what we can with the access route to the crime, DI Hanlon. It was vehicular, we've searched the surrounding radius of the bunker to within half a kilometre, foreshore, beach, in case the body was brought in by sea or inland, on the off chance it was carried here, but nada. We assume it was driven here.' The CSM had carried on. 'Basically, you're fine by us as far as access is concerned. Why the interest anyway?'
The intonation of Hanlon's voice conveyed a shrug. 'AC Corrigan wants me to have a look. Ask him.' And that's how the call had ended.
The World War Two building still had a certain forlorn power about it even though its original purpose – observation? Defence, maybe? – was long forgotten or possibly preserved somewhere, buried deep in a government archive. Now it was being noted by officialdom again.
Hanlon peered in through the glassless window. Inside the hexagonal interior of the building she could see the two CSI men in their white disposable overalls, gloved and booted, masked, and in plastic caps, working in the blaze of two powerful arc lights powered by the generator outside. She watched as they carried on with their high-intensity light source photography.
The inside of the bunker was comparatively clean. The chained door had kept people out and there was none of the usual smell of urine or detritus like old beer cans, food wrappers, odds and sods of soiled clothing, cigarette ends or the drug paraphernalia of roaches from joints and needles that you'd normally find in abandoned, solitary buildings – the spoor of kids, tramps and junkies, the natural denizens of places like this. When she'd first joined the force, places like this were always littered with scraps of photographs torn from pages of porn magazines. She'd often wondered why. If you wanted to look at porn, why do it in a dank, derelict building? Maybe you had to. That sort of litter had become a rarity these days. She guessed it was the digital revolution. Times moved on.
The bunker certainly wasn't odour-free, though. Hanlon had a keen sense of smell and her nose could detect the lingering aftermath of charred flesh and petrol that still coated its concrete shell. It smelt like burnt cooking, a barbecue gone horribly wrong. She looked upwards at the ceiling and there, as she thought she might, she could see small patches of black, greasy soot where bits of burnt remains had drifted in the updraft from the flames and come to rest.
Hanlon was invisible to the men inside working behind the glare of the lights and she watched unseen as the taller of the two figures started to put photographic equipment away into a dimpled, metallic, silver-coloured carrying case. Despite the noise of the breeze, she could hear their conversation clearly.
'So, are we done now, Jim?' one of them asked.
The smaller of the two men removed hat and mask, revealing a bald head and a thin, good-humoured face. She recognized him. Hanlon was glad it was James Forrest. He was old school, thorough and experienced, not the kind of man who'd make foolish mistakes. In the last year Hanlon had seen two perfectly good verdicts overturned by defence lawyers because of stupid, procedural blunders. Forrest wouldn't do that.
'Pretty much,' Forrest said. 'I'd like you to start packing all this stuff away. I'm going outside now, Hanlon'll be here soon.'
'What about the PolSA?' asked the other man. Only after the scene had been signed off by that officer, the police search adviser, could the scene actually be cleaned and returned to normality. Hanlon guessed that in this case there'd be no big rush. It was hardly in anyone's way, like a stabbing on Oxford Street would be. The only people inconvenienced out here would be dog walkers and beachcombers.
'We'll secure the premises and speak to the SIO later,' said Forrest.
The younger man carried on disassembling the cameras and putting the parts away in their respective compartments. It had been an unpleasant day. The girl's naked body had been so charred they'd had to wrap her limbs carefully in oiled clingfilm so that when they moved her, she didn't break up. One of the officers present had made a joke about liking his meat well done. No one had laughed. 'So what's she like, boss, this Hanlon? They say she's a bit of a ball-breaker,' said the young CSI.
'Is that what they say, Thomas?' said Forrest courteously but firmly. His tone made it clear he had no interest in this line of conversation. He was annoyed with his assistant now. He disliked gossip. 'You shouldn't listen to tittle-tattle.'
Ball-breaker, Hanlon thought. Is that what I am? Well, she thought dispassionately, I've kicked a fair few in my time. She had the rare quality of not caring what others thought of her. She had long ago reached the conclusion that she had risen as far as she was likely to get in the police force. Hanlon didn't particularly mind.
She'd forgotten Forrest's old-fashioned turns of phrase. Tittle-tattle. Stuff and nonsense. Argy-bargy. Golly. Those kinds of expressions. He'd never been known to swear. Forrest was a kind of living legend for that alone.
She'd once been with him at the scene of a triple homicide. A drug deal gone wrong. Shotguns had been used. Two of them. Great chunks had been blown out of the victims' bodies. A shotgun is a very messy weapon; it does an all too predictable amount of damage to a human body. It looked like the room had been painted and decorated in blood and tissue, arterial spray and brains, far worse than an abattoir. Even Hanlon had been impressed by the carnage. Two or three police had to go outside and be sick. It was memorably horrible. Forrest had slowly surveyed the scene, eyebrows raised, cocked his head to one side and said simply, 'Good Heavens.' Hanlon had savoured that moment. She appreciated understatement.
'She's always been perfectly pleasant to me,' said Forrest. 'Now, get this lot cleaned down and I'll see you outside.' He was very fond of Hanlon. His voice was suddenly acerbic. The way he emphasized 'Now' was like the crack of a whip. His young assistant jumped and set to with alacrity.
She turned and retraced her steps and waited for Forrest to emerge from the bunker. He did so, looking tired and preoccupied, then, as soon as he saw Hanlon, a delighted smile transformed his thin, mobile, slightly ugly face.
'James,' she said. They shook hands, both pleased to see each other.
'So what brings you down here?' asked Forrest. The sea breeze whipped again at Hanlon's hair and she pushed it away from her eyes as she looked out over the water at the mouth of the estuary. She could see in the far distance the low bulk of two tankers heading for the port facilities on the unseen opposite shore.
By way of explanation she said, 'You heard about my new job?'
'Vaguely,' said Forrest. 'Congratulations on the medal, by the way.' Hanlon smiled thinly. Her mouth wasn't designed for humour. In December she had been given the Queen's Award for Gallantry, a decoration for bravery usually awarded posthumously to dead police. It was almost the equivalent of a Victoria Cross. It was this that Forrest was referring to.
She shrugged, dismissing all talk of the medal. 'Corrigan gave me this post on the back of it.' Her hard eyes looked out to sea. 'He wants the Commissioner's job, it's no secret, and he's worried that there'll be some internal cock-up that'll get in the way and screw his chances up.' Forrest nodded and Hanlon continued. 'You can imagine, another Stockwell, another police killing, some stupid balls-up that we've made.' She looked out to sea, the wind still whipping her long, dark hair.
'Like Tottenham,' said Forrest pleasantly. Hanlon narrowed her eyes; it was the riots that had nearly finished her own career.
'Exactly. No more own goals, well, not in our bit of the Met anyway. If anyone else cocks up, preferably one of his rivals, so much the better for us. We don't care if heads roll so long as it's not ours. If Corrigan's a bit paranoid, I can't say I blame him. How many police have we got in the Met anyway? Thirty-one thousand officers the last time I counted. Bound to be a few bad apples.'
'Well,' said Forrest diplomatically, 'Public Relations is part of his job after all. I suppose this one,' he jerked his head in the direction of the bunker, 'is going to generate a bit of press interest. It's not on your patch, though.'
'May as well be. You're only down the road,' she said. 'So, what have we got here then?' she asked the forensics man. 'Witchcraft killing, is it? At least, that's what I was told.'
Corrigan had heard this might be the case and had sent her down to check up on the facts rather than wait for an official report to be delivered. The AC shared Forrest's view. A witchcraft killing in his opinion was newsworthy. If reporters were going to ask questions he didn't want to look uninformed. It was off his patch as Forrest had said, but it was so close to London it might as well be there.
Forrest started removing his protective suit. 'What we've got, Hanlon,' he said in his gentle, measured way, 'is the charred body of a pubescent African girl who was killed elsewhere, brought here, and set alight. I'm guessing diesel was the accelerant but we'll have to wait for the GC results on that. Her teeth and hands are intact so I'm guessing she won't feature on any UK or Interpol DNA database, she won't have any dental records and there'll be no record of her fingerprints on NAFIS or HOLMES.'
Hanlon nodded. Anyone who had the kind of personality needed to do this to a child would not hesitate to remove such obvious clues to identity.
'That's only a guess, mind you,' said Forrest. 'We'll obviously know soon enough.'
'OK,' said Hanlon. 'What else, James?'
'There are also some crude designs scratched on the floor and the remains of a chicken and a couple of candles. And a crucifix. That would seem to indicate some kind of occult mumbo-jumbo, some sort of ceremony, but ...' Forrest looked at her keenly.
'But?' asked Hanlon. They were both thinking of two similar cases. The 'Adam' killing in 2001 when the torso of an African boy was found in the Thames – just the torso, no limbs or head. That had been a witchcraft killing, most probably Nigerian. Then, more recently, there had been the murder of Kristy Bamu in London by his sister and her boyfriend. They had accused the boy of Kindoki or witchcraft. Attempts to exorcize him had led to horrific injuries and the boy's death. Hanlon thought that had been Congolese. African Christianity seemed keen on this sort of thing. While driving through London recently she'd been listening absently-mindedly to Radio Four and heard two African Anglican ministers discussing the existence of witches as a verifiable fact. She'd turned angrily to another station.
Forrest smiled at her. 'But a cursory examination showed extensive vaginal trauma.' He sighed. 'The poor girl was naked, legs splayed so it's just visual evidence. We'll know more after we've examined her properly but she had been circumcised, the clitoris excised, the labia sewn up. It's partly why it was so easy to see she'd been assaulted.' Hanlon frowned. FGM, or female genital mutilation, in her view was not taken nearly as seriously over here as it should be. The French, she knew, adopted a much harder line. There were virtually no prosecutions over it in this country. 'I'd guess, personally, she was Somali. They've got a 98 per cent female circumcision rate. Well, she looks Somali anyway. As I said, it's early days yet. We'll know more after we've run tests. So I think we've got a murdered rape victim, not a witchcraft victim. I think I'm correct in saying that witchcraft victims are usually the by-products of African Christianity, often Congolese or Nigerian, not Islam. Do they have witches in the Qur'an?'
'I don't know,' said Hanlon. 'I don't think so. I seem to remember that there's something about women blowing on knots as a form of sorcery, but I don't really have a clue. Mind you, I don't think there's much about them in the Bible, come to that. Witches, I mean. That hasn't stopped anyone before, has it.' Certainly not you two idiots, she thought back to the two men of God she'd heard on the radio. The unspoken implication had been that killing a witch was quite reasonable.
'I guess not. Well, anyway,' said Forrest, 'I think it was just staged. The body made to look like a witchcraft killing. I think it's old-fashioned rape, murder. But, of course, that's your job, not mine. I just do forensics.'
Hanlon nodded. She could see that if the motive was sexual rather than occult it would widen the search parameters hugely. There were only a certain number of Kindoki practitioners in London, but a vast pool of potential rapists. Several million.
Excerpted from Time to Die by Alex Howard. Copyright © 2014 Alex Howard. Excerpted by permission of Head of Zeus Ltd.
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