In Manchester, two hardened gang members on the run take Catherine Blake and her one-year-old son hostage at gunpoint. She is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Held in a Transit van, Catherine needs a plan fast. But it means diving into her captors’ risk-drenched world, and playing them at their own game.
Catherine has been through cancer, miscarriages and five draining years of IVF in order to have her son Ethan. He is the most precious thing in the world. She may be terrified out of her wits, but she’d do anything to protect him. Anything, no matter the cost...
A nerve-shredding suspense thriller you won’t believe until you have experienced it yourself, Trapped is perfect for fans of Cara Hunter, JP Delaney and Rachel Abbott.
From the bestselling author of the DCI Craig Gillard series. More coming soon.
|Publisher:||Canelo Digital Publishing Ltd|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||356 KB|
About the Author
Nick Louth is a best-selling thriller writer, award-winning financial journalist and an investment commentator. He self-published his first novel, Bite, in 2007, which was a No. 1 Kindle best-seller in 2014. It has sold a third of a million copies, and been translated into six languages.
Freelance since 1998, he has been a regular contributor to the Financial Times, Investors Chronicle and Money Observer, and has published seven other books. Nick Louth is married and lives in Lincolnshire.
Read an Excerpt
This is my wife, Catherine, yesterday evening. Tuesday. You can see her, with a screwdriver, in the boot of our Nissan, trying to tighten the screws on the anchor points for the new child seat. I tell her that they are secure, the man at the shop who installed it told us so, and he is fully qualified. I'd already double-checked the seat too. Watched the video, read the instructions. Used all my strength to test the straps, wobbled it, tried to pull it loose. It was fine. But for her that wasn't enough. When it comes to Ethan, nothing is ever enough. She fears that in a collision our one-year-old son could be catapulted from the back seat through the windscreen. Since Ethan arrived, Catherine has developed a tendency to worry about all sorts of things. Sometimes it is reasonable, sometimes not.
She is understandably anxious about the odd-shaped mole on her right shoulder. She frets about her figure, and the smile lines she has acquired at 41, and seems to be convinced that one day I will no longer find her attractive. She's wrong. I will adore her to my dying day, I can guarantee that now. I love her corkscrew copper hair and her pale freckled skin, even though she hates it and wishes she were a dark-haired olive-skinned Italian.
Wishing you were something else, someone else, somewhere else. It's so clear to me now that you have what you have, and you make of it what you can. That's what matters. When the time comes, when you are tested. You never know when that will be. I didn't know, and neither here does she, still working on that seat for our son. Look at her. She has no idea of what is going to happen in less than 24 hours. That would make her worry, no mistake.
* * *
That mole. Catherine survived skin cancer, you see. She knew about the risks. She never sunbathed, was rarely drawn to the beach, always wore a broad-brimmed hat and gallons of sunscreen when on our brief foreign holidays. She had been aware since childhood that with her milky skin and about as many freckles as a galaxy has stars that there would always be a chance of some malevolent sun-seared alien cell, splitting and growing in a forgotten corner of her epidermis. And she had always looked out for the arrival of that malignity. Believe me, she looked. I saw her after every shower, in front of the mirror. But it was a dab of pigment she noticed for the first time under the nail of her left little toe, just a smear of brown visible through the cuticle, when she was about to apply nail varnish. It didn't even look like the moles you see on the chart. But better safe than sorry. The nail was removed, the offending clump of melanocytes excised and tested.
The test results were not good.
Acral lentiginous melanoma. Not benign. Malignant. Dangerous. Potentially lethal, that tiny little blot. It's not related to sun exposure, so there was no blame on her (or us). Still, tests showed that it had spread to a lymph node on the foot. A sentinel node, that's what they call them. Watching out for trouble. If that's infected, then the next stage is worse. Stage III, they call it, like some tricky examination. Maths, Further Maths, Much Further Maths. Catherine had her entire lymph node basin removed from her foot and ankle. Basin – it's a good description for what is an entire river system, carrying white blood cells to where they are needed, and taking toxins away. But hiding away amongst the toxins are cancerous cells, still alive. She was 38, and she was very brave about it. When under local anaesthetic she watched them peel back her creamy skin, remove the nodes, then stitch it almost invisibly back. The next nodes, the next basin, seemed to be uninfected. It was then a question of waiting. Cancer's Russian roulette. That was when the question of having a child became more urgent. As she always said to me: 'That's what I was made for. To bring a new life into the world.'
And to protect it, Catherine. Against all the badness this world can throw at you. That's why you survived cancer, Catherine. You have a job to do. I can't help you now. No one can help you. It's your task alone. I know the date and the time, and the place. But I can't come back and warn you. God, how I wish that I could.
* * *
Tuesday. Almost eight in the morning, and she has to leave for work in half an hour. I've just finished getting Ethan up. Catherine is doing pilates, lying in the centre of the lounge listening to the CD, whose soft rainforest music is full of bird calls and pattering raindrops. Because of the time, she hasn't bothered to put her leggings and leotard on. She's just wearing shorts and an old T-shirt with a faint orange stain on one side that, I am now experienced enough to be sure, is baby vomit. The voice on the CD, all mid-Atlantic vowels and breathy enthusiasm, is enjoining her to be aware of her own body, its balance and alignment. 'Make sure you are square-aware, and breathe, breathe in until you have expanded your ribcage to its maximum. Now hold it gently, and make a few slow pelvic tilts.'
Mindfulness seems out of reach though. She eyes me staring at her, and starts giggling. 'Don't. You know I can't concentrate if you watch.' More giggling. But I stay leaning in the doorway, my arms folded, a slight grin on my face as I listen to Ethan's happy burbling from the bedroom. Her hips tilt, her tummy flattens, the puke patch creases. I see the tell-tale vibration in her diaphragm. Silent laughter.
'Right, that's it!' She jumps up and chases me around the lounge. I let her catch me by the kitchen door, and she tickles me quite hard in the ribs. As I mock up a wounded expression, she stands on tiptoes to give me a slow languorous kiss. 'Tonight. I promise. He'll sleep better, even if I have to have a G&T before I feed him,' she whispers.
'You are going to drug our precious child?' I say in faux horror.
She smiles and licks my neck. It's a delicious feeling. 'Maybe.'
I did get that promised act of lovemaking on Tuesday night.
It was wonderful.
It was my last.CHAPTER 2
Wednesday. There are poignant moments from the start of that terrible day. It's 8.30. I've just come down from the bathroom, and I see there has been something of a breakfast incident. Catherine is in the kitchen holding the remains of a pot of yoghurt. She's bending over, sweetly dishevelled, and looking meaningfully at Ethan in his high chair. There is yoghurt all around Ethan's mouth, on the plastic tray, and speckled on the floor. Catherine puts her little finger in a yoghurt smear on his tray, and paints the goop around her own mouth. Ethan explodes in chuckles, and repeatedly bangs his plastic teaspoon on the tray in appreciation of this mimicry.
'Messy Mummy,' Catherine says, before putting the finger in her mouth. 'Mmm. Fairtrade sugar-free tropical fruit flavour, all the milk from certified happy cows. Do you want some, Ethan?'
Ethan bangs his spoon again, spattering yoghurt liberally. He loses his grip on the upstroke. The spoon sails over his shoulder, and a vanilla blob lands in Catherine's hair. We all laugh. I wish I'd had a camera. But never mind. I'll remember it for ever. Good memories are an insulation. They help cushion the blows of life.
Even of death.
* * *
Later on Wednesday but still in Manchester. Same city, different world. Maybe two miles from where we live, a young man stirs to a not-very-new day in a basement flat that reeks of socks, booze, fags and weed. It's eleven o'clock. He's wreathed in grey sheets that haven't been washed since God knows when. His shaven head is half under a pillow, a twisted mouth snoring. More visible is a protruding shoulder, a muscled hillock of indigo and viridian, entwined foliage around a dagger, blade upwards and the initials tattooed beneath in gothic script, MSM on his pale, freckled skin. The floor is strewn with clothes. There are cans too: Carling, Red Bull, Bulmer's, Coke. He's not fussy, so long as it supplies the effect he's looking for. Look around and you see crisp packets, biscuit wrappers, a half-eaten pizza slice, a KFC box. In a heap by a huge TV, boxes for video games: Carmageddon, Dark Souls III, Dead Rising.
Don't get me wrong. This is not a drug den. There isn't a single crystal of crack cocaine in the place, nor a syringe. Liam generally gets his buzz and his stupefaction, his energy intake and his entertainment, from familiar sources. In that respect he's like the rest of us, only more so. I'd slid back a few days to take a closer look at him, and how he lived, given how we were going to get to know him, Catherine, Ethan and I. The animal purity and immediacy of his impulses are almost beautiful. He's a single-minded jaguar for the urban jungle. Thirsty, get a can. Hungry, go to KFC or Mickey D's. Tired, get a Red Bull. Bored, slay some zombies. Angry. Yeah, every day there was anger. Well, the outlets for that were legion. Usually indulged fraternally, with the rest of the nocturnal tribe.
Liam Fretwell is a gang criminal of course, and the flat belongs to the gang. For a supposedly successful con, there's only one thing missing, and that's money. He has just 15 quid in his jeans pocket, a few coins on the floor. He's on the run from prison, but that doesn't worry him. What does bother him is that he's skint, and he hates being skint. It's a personal affront to his standing, his status and prestige. He knows who to blame. Sparko Sinclair. Today's the day when that score gets settled.
His eyes are opening. They are a startling icy blue, set in a skin almost as pale as Catherine's. He has a malevolent pucker between his dark eyebrows, and a short but deep scar along the side of his nose from a Stanley knife wound. That was from his first landing altercation at HMP Wakefield, seven years ago, when he was 19. It looks nasty, but as he would always say, you should have seen the other guy.
I want to understand Liam Fretwell.
He was a one-year-old once, probably a yoghurt thrower, I don't know. Probably chucked stones too, a little later. I can't go back that far, or get that level of detail. But I know this. Something clicked early in that cascading interconnection of genetics and environment that turned him into a monster. Yet he wasn't one of those offspring who would be easy to predict on that trajectory. He had parents, two of 'em, both present for his childhood. No abuse on the record. No domestic violence. An older brother, Steven, who became a joiner, and now makes posh kitchens for big houses in Wilmslow. His own business, doing well.
But not Liam. Something there inside him, something wrong, something twisted and nasty. A kind of carcinogenic mole of the soul. Neither sought out nor excised. A lump of resentment gone bad. What was initially an indifference to the pain and suffering of others became by late teenage years a little kick of pleasure, a pulse of power. The first flexings of intimidation helped that nodule of badness crystallise into evil.
* * *
Back to us. On that damp Wednesday in April. The puddles from the last shower are drying on the tarmac. (I will get to see a close-up of that tarmac, believe me.) Reliving it, I'm now getting tetchy about not being able to warn her. I mean, there was really no reason why it had to be that day that we drove to Manchester Royal Infirmary, on her monthly appointment to see the Mole People, as she called them. And those dermatologists do indeed reside underground, in an absurdly overheated linoleum-lined basement that smells of hot dust and disinfectant. If we'd known about the dangers of today, we could have asked for a new appointment. There are always cancellations. The good old NHS will always cheerily put you back in the queue. It's what they do. It's no good me thinking about that now. It happened. The day was set. That Wednesday made sense for Catherine because the computer system at her work was being upgraded. 'It's always useless for half a day afterwards, and I can't bear to hear Helen whinging about her emails for the rest of the day.' She laughed, that lovely infectious chuckle. 'I'd just rather be somewhere else. Anywhere else.'
Yes, she certainly ended up somewhere else. And so did I.
* * *
Life-changing days hide in with the others, like jokers in a pack of cards. Imposters in the weekly roll-call of trivia and tedium. We were preparing for the hated Asda run to Hulme, a necessary chore on the way back from the Mole People. I'd just paid the council tax, Catherine had rung her mother. The babysitter had let us down, so Ethan had to come with us. Then there were Bags for Life, batteries to recycle, a long once-a-month list of the stuff you can't get at Aldi. I mean we're only talking tinned prunes and coconut milk, bales of cheap toilet roll, that kind of thing. But there was the Moss Side deli to visit too. Well, that was what we called it. It had some Asian name with initials. KG Stores, I think, on Claremont Road. It was the highlight of any food shopping trip for me, not that there was much competition. But the Moss Side deli supplies wonders that we can't get anywhere else locally. Ready-made dolmades with vine leaves. Fresh okra for ladyfinger curry or for Cajun cuisine. Sweet potato, fresh curry leaves, soft Kurdish cheese in huge tins. That is all my department. I'm the house husband. Travel the world in 80 tastes. I love to cook for her. Well, I did. Can't any more of course.
But that's why we are where we are. Parked on Walton Road, just round the corner from KG Stores, in the middle of Moss Side, at 4.03 p.m. on Wednesday 12 April. Caught up in the biggest spree killing in Manchester's history.
* * *
I am in the shop, you see, when it happens. Immersed in the smell of spices: the heady garam masala, the sweet cakey dust of cinnamon, the tang of cumin. A little bit of the exotic East. So I don't see what happens outside at the time. I know now of course. I know everything now. That comes of being where I am now. That knowledge is a kind of privilege, but it's frustrating too. To be able to watch over her, but not to hold her hand, not to kiss her. To know what she's thinking, but not to be able to let her know what I'm thinking. Not to be able to tell her that I love her. Not to be able to comfort. That hurts, honestly it does. Because there is so much to tell her, now I know it all.
The first I know is the sound of a car revving. I glance up, and out into the street. The beige Nissan, our little Nissan with the missing front left hubcap. On the far side a bulky man-shape that I would later know to be Liam Fretwell is in the driving seat. My seat! And a tall, skinny Afro-Caribbean man has the front passenger door open, a blink of an eye, and he's in. Our car. My little boy, one year old in a week's time, would be in his little car seat. And where is Catherine? All this I take in instantly.
I drop everything and just sprint. I have a clear run through the shop doorway. I'm bellowing Catherine's name, and everyone just shrinks back to let me pass. I'm not beefy, I'm not threatening, but I am tall. Six-four. Anger looks odd on me. Like a furious giraffe. The Nissan is pulling a U-turn, tyres screeching, which gives me two seconds to decide what to do before it passes back in front of me towards Princess Road.
I can make Catherine out. I can see she is in the back by the corona of golden sunlight around her hair, and I can see her protective arm around the child seat. Her stance instantly telegraphs that Ethan is in it, even though he's too low for me to see. The front passenger has turned round towards her, an arm outstretched, rigid. And I can see the driver, now on my side, his merciless taut face and his thick, tattooed arms. He stares at me, and seems to know what I am already committed to doing. The only meaningful option.
I sprint out into the road, heedless of the traffic, and throw myself headlong onto the bonnet of our car. The bang as I hit the windscreen puts me face to face with them both for the first time.
Fretwell and Cousins.
* * *
On the day in question, Liam Fretwell, 26, an enforcer for the Moss Side Mafia, is busy. He's being sought by the police and on the run from prison, but has already found time for two murders. The first was planned. Frankie 'Sparko' Sinclair. Sparko is, no let me correct myself, was a sad case: a disabled alcoholic and small-time crook who had been Fretwell's former neighbour and drinking partner. To be an associate of Fretwell's was Sparko's last, deadly descent on a slow slide of bad luck. A former Royal Signals corporal, he had served in Iraq, but after discharge couldn't cope. Violent outbursts, a conviction for domestic abuse, a broken marriage, periods of drug dependency, alcoholism, some jail time and occasional homelessness.
Several years earlier, in a different life, I had actually been Sinclair's probation officer. Considering he only had one leg and was confined to a wheelchair, he led me a merry dance. But for all that I don't think he deserved what Fretwell did to him.
Nobody deserves that.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Trapped"
Copyright © 2019 Nick Louth.
Excerpted by permission of Canelo Digital Publishing.
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.