Book: The Lake House



The Lake House






The Lake House is the fourth chilling thriller in the best selling 'Annie Graham' series by Helen Phifer, author of The Ghost House, The Secrets of the Shadows and The Forgotten Cottage.

Elderly Martha Beckett is a prisoner in her own home, and has been ever since her older brother disappeared at just nine years old. He went to hide in the cellar and never came back. And now Martha has sworn to protect anyone else from the evils lurking just below her floorboards. But whatever it is, has woken up – and is hungry again…

When she calls the police for help, Annie Graham is the first to respond. Now Annie Ashworth, she is happily married to fellow police officer Will, with a gorgeous home and a job she loves. But then she hears the news – serial killer Henry Smith has escaped from his mental hospital and is on the run. So when a severed head lands at her colleague Jake’s feet – they can only assume that Henry is back to his old tricks. Last time he nearly killed Annie, and this time she’ll bet he wants to finish the job.

So Annie now has two monsters to track down, before they kill again. And time is running out…

Also by Helen Phifer:

The Ghost House

The Secrets of the Shadows

The Forgotten Cottage

The Lake House

Helen Phifer




The Lake House

www.CarinaUK.com

HELEN PHIFER

lives in a small town called Barrow-in-Furness with her husband and five children. She has lived in the same town since she was born. It gets some bad press but really is a lovely place to live, surrounded by coastline and not far from the Lake District, where she likes to spend at least one of her days off from work. She has always loved writing and reading and loves reading books that make the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. Unable to find enough scary stories to read, she decided to write her own.

You can contact or follow Helen on her blog at helenphiferblog.wordpress.com, her website at www.helenphifer.co.uk and on Twitter, @helenphifer1.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank all my amazing readers, family and friends. Without your support, Annie, Will and Jake would not be on their fourth adventure. I’d also like to thank Emma Kierzek, the most talented tattoo artist in the North West for her amazing tattoos and the inspiration last time we met. Once more I’m for ever indebted to my editor, the fabulous Lucy Gilmour, and the rest of the Carina UK team for all their support, hard work and talent. You guys make being a writer so much easier. Last but not least I’d like to thank my family for being there when the going gets tough. I couldn’t do this without them.

Helen xx

Dedication

For my children Jessica, Joshua, Jerusha, Jaimea & Jeorgia



Contents

Cover

Blurb

Book List

Title Page

Author Bio

Acknowledgements

Dedication

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Epilogue

Endpages

Copyright


Prologue

June 1919

The fairground filled the middle of the huge, open park. Its lights were blazing so bright that the girls had to squint to take in the sight before them. The darkness surrounding the fair was a stark contrast; the air felt much heavier where the shadows fell across the acres of trees and shrubs. Once they got close enough to bask in the warmth of the light, they were drawn inside the gates with no hesitation, their excitement taking over. Laughter filled the air along with the smell of candyfloss and hot dogs. Agnes’s stomach rumbled. It was so loud that Eleanor giggled. There were so many people walking around smiling and chattering. Eleanor had never seen anything like it. When her sister, Agnes, had first suggested they visit the fairground she had frowned and said no, but now, as she looked around at the brightly lit stalls, sideshow tents and carousels, she was smiling. They walked around arm in arm so as not to get separated in the crowds. The rides were busy and Agnes rhymed off which rides they were going to queue for. She pointed to the Ghost Train and Eleanor shook her head. Definitely not. They approached a red velvet tent where a man who looked not much older than them was shouting.

‘Roll up, roll up. I dare you to come and see the monsters and strange creatures that haunt your dreams. Never in your life would you expect to see them in the flesh, with your very own two eyes. Come inside and see the bearded lady, the world’s strongest man; or how about the real, living mermaid who was captured by none other than a shipwrecked sailor who clung on to her for dear life after his ship crashed into the rocks? Come and see the one, the only Windigo, all the way from the plains of North America. It is the most feared monster of all, half man, half demon – the only one in the whole world in captivity. Even the Indian chiefs won’t look him in the eye. Are you brave enough to?’

The two girls looked at each other and giggled. ‘Should we go inside?’

‘No, we should not. It’s just a shameless trick to take our money. There is no such thing as a mermaid or a Windigo.’

He stepped closer, towering over them with his top hat. His black cloak billowing behind him, he bent towards them and whispered, ‘How can you be sure until you’ve taken a look? If you don’t believe that it’s real then I will give your money back. Now that’s surely an offer two pretty ladies like you can’t refuse?’

‘I don’t know. I suppose it is.’

‘Come on, Agnes, I want to go and see the animals, not some scary monsters.’

He looked at them both. ‘Yes, you are scared, but you, my little flower, look as if your interest is piqued.’

‘Come on, Eleanor, if we don’t believe it we can have our money back. Please. You know how much I love to be scared.’

The slightly older girl rolled her eyes at her sister, and opened her purse. She handed over the money to the man who took it from her, then bowed.

‘Take it from me, you will not be disappointed, but if you are then I’ll be here with your money.’

Agnes pushed her arm through her sister’s, pulling her towards the deep red velvet curtain.

Eleanor didn’t want to go inside the tent. Her heart was racing and her mind was telling her to get away from there as fast as she could, but Agnes pulled her through the gap in the curtains and they were inside the gloomy tent. It was hard to see after the bright lights from seconds ago and it took some adjusting before they could make out the glass display cases and cages that were lined up around the sides of the tent. Agnes stepped forward but Eleanor stayed where she was, finding the air much thicker in here than it had been outside. It was warm and she felt a trickle of perspiration form on her brow and start to roll down her forehead into her eye, making it sting. She began to blink.

From somewhere inside the tent, which now felt as if it had tripled in size, she heard her sister’s voice as she gasped. Eleanor felt the room swim and shook her head to clear it. Now was not a good time to faint. She felt her legs begin to give way and she stumbled, catching herself against one of the glass display cases. She looked at the thing that was inside and froze. It was staring right at her. She screamed. It was tall and very gaunt. It looked like a man but she knew that it wasn’t. The whole thing was grey from head to foot with a larger than average head, which had thick, black tufts of hair sticking out from it in patches. Her eyes frozen to the creature, she looked down at where its hands should have been and gasped, crossing herself. Instead of fingers there were long, black, sharp claws.

Eleanor felt as if she was suffocating and couldn’t breathe. She needed to get outside into the fresh air before she fainted, but she couldn’t tear herself away from the thing inside the case. It had long, pointed teeth and blood-red lips. She could imagine them biting into her soft, warm flesh and ripping her throat out.

All of a sudden there was a succession of loud popping sounds and the crowds that had been laughing outside the tent now began to scream. A loud whooshing noise and an immense heat enveloped the tent. A hand grabbed hers and Agnes screamed into her ear, ‘We have to get out of here. The whole place is on fire.’

Eleanor couldn’t move; the terror that had taken over her body wouldn’t let her. A hand slapped her face, breaking the gaze between her and whatever monster was inside the case. She came to her senses and let Agnes lead her to the back of the tent where there was a dimly illuminated exit. She turned to take one last look at the beast inside the glass case and felt her blood turn to ice. Its eyes, which had moments ago been cold and dead, were now glowing red. Then she was pulled through the curtains out into the fresh air.

People were screaming and running, trying to get away from the rides and tents that were now all beginning to glow red and orange as the flames took hold. All but a few of the bright bulbs had exploded and there were people running around in the dark amongst the thick clouds of black smoke that now filled the air, not knowing where to go or what to do. Both girls looked at each other. If they ran to the crowd they would get crushed, trampled in the panic or, even worse, not be able to escape and burn to death. The man in the top hat appeared, his handsome face now covered in soot.

‘Follow me if you want to get out of here alive.’

He pulled off his hat. Without it he looked like any normal boy his age. He grabbed hold of Eleanor, who was clutching on to Agnes, and dragged her in the opposite direction from the entrance to the fair.

‘We’ll never get out of there alive. Come on, there’s an exit a bit further up for us carnies to use.’ Neither of them was about to argue with him because the heat from the flames was getting intense. Screams of panic were now turning into screams of pain and the sound was horrific. Eleanor turned and saw a woman whose skirts had caught fire. She made to run and help her but the man dragged her back.

‘It’s too late; you can’t help her. We need to get out.’

Agnes nodded and pulled her sister’s arm as hard as she could, then all three of them continued running until he stopped and made a sharp left. Within seconds they were out of the confined walls of the fairground. It was only after they were a good distance away that they stopped to catch their breath. Fire engines were on their way and the whole fairground in front of them was in flames. The screams could be heard even above the fierce crackling and popping as the fire took hold, and Eleanor began to pray for the people inside. Agnes looked across at the man.

‘Shouldn’t we be going in to help get people out?’

‘No, we should not. We would be crushed or get caught in the fire. I’m afraid it’s hopeless.’

Agnes glared at him. ‘But we might be able to help!’

‘Or you might die. What would you prefer?’

Eleanor reached out for his hand. ‘Thank you; you’ve saved our lives. I’m Eleanor Sloane and this ungrateful wretch is my sister, Agnes.’

He took hold of her hand. ‘You’re very welcome. James Beckett at your service, and that sideshow you were very much enjoying was mine. I hunted far and wide to find those exhibits.’

The fire engines began to appear and they watched as the last throngs of people were led from the gates. The men began to form up to take it in turns to try and fight the fire.

‘You ladies should stay here or go home, but I better go and help them.’

‘Thank you; we live at 3 Park Place if you need anything. We would be more than glad to help. It’s the least we could do.’

Eleanor watched as he jogged towards the men who were lining up, passing buckets of water along to each other. He was nice even if he did work in a fairground. Her father would be furious with them. With her especially for letting Agnes talk her into bringing her here, but she had a feeling that tonight had been worth the days of anger that were to come. She grabbed her sister’s arm, dragging her away from the burning wreckage in front of them.

‘Come now; we best get home before Mother begins to worry where we are.’ As they turned to leave she stole one last glance at James, who had thrown his cape to the floor and had pushed the sleeves of his soot-stained white shirt up to his elbows, showing off his muscular forearms. As if he knew she was looking he glanced in their direction. His eyes meeting hers, he performed a small bow. Eleanor giggled and her sister looked at her.

‘Please tell me you don’t find that man attractive. He works in a freak show of all places.’

‘It’s none of your business who I find attractive and he doesn’t just work in a freak show, as you so rudely put it; he owns the whole thing. So he’s a businessman and he is a lot more attractive than that beastly old man, Thornton, who Father keeps inviting round for dinner.’

Agnes looked over at the blackened tent they had been inside not fifteen minutes ago. ‘He was a businessman. There’s nothing left now.’

‘Come on, let’s go home…’

They set off, walking the short distance to their home, which overlooked the park. The four-storey town house came into view, every window brightly lit. Eleanor could make out the figure of her mother in one of them and her father in another. ‘They are either waiting for us to come home or have been watching the fire.’

Agnes stared at her sister. ‘Let’s not tell them where we’ve been. We can say we went for a stroll.’

Eleanor began to laugh so much that her eyes watered. ‘Agnes, I have no idea if I look like you but you are covered in black soot and smell as if you’ve been standing too close to one of Arthur’s bonfires.’

Agnes for the first time looked at Eleanor and also began to laugh. ‘Oh my, I think we are in a lot of trouble because you look like the chimney sweep. How did we get so dirty?’

They both began to giggle as the front door opened and the tall figure of their father blocked out the light. A yelp or a scream, Eleanor wasn’t quite sure what it was, filled the air as their mother pushed their father to one side and ran down the steps.

‘Oh my goodness, I’ve never been so worried. Look at the state of you two. Where have you been?’

She pulled them both close, hugging them, and they hugged her back.

‘Sorry, Mother, we went to see the fair.’

Their mother pulled away from them both. ‘Well, what matters now is that you’re both safe and home in one piece. Come inside. You smell terrible. A hot bath and your nightdresses on before we talk about any of this terrible business.’

She led them by the hand up the steps to the house. Their father nodded at them both.

‘Do what your mother said and then we’ll talk about your fraternising with those people without our permission.’

Eleanor turned her head to look at him, catching the sigh that escaped his lips as his shoulders relaxed. He wasn’t as angry as she’d thought. She said a prayer for all the people back at the fairground and for James, because she wanted to see him again.

1 September 1929

The workmen had almost finished building the large house on the edge of Lake Windermere and were relieved it was almost over. The slate and limestone house was impressive. Although not as large as some of the homes along this stretch of the lake, it was still a sight to behold. It was the cellar that the builders didn’t like; there was a real sense of desolation down there. There was a problem with the drains, from which a terrible stench was emanating, and they had drawn matches to see who was going down to put it right. They had argued and bickered amongst themselves for the last thirty minutes. Not one of them was brave enough to admit that for some unknown reason they were terrified to go down there now daylight was fading fast.

In the end it had been Fred and Billy who had agreed to do it for an extra two hours’ pay. The family hadn’t moved in yet but last week there had been a delivery of packing boxes and crates, which had been stored in the cellar. They would be moving in in the next few days but they wouldn’t be able to if the house still smelt this bad. Fred and Billy had laughed and joked to their friends to send a search party out to look for them if they weren’t at the pub by eight o’clock. As they’d stood watching the others drive away a silence had descended. Neither of them particularly wanted to go back inside to work now the others had left, especially not in the cellar.

It had been Fred who had gone back in first. ‘The quicker we get it done, the quicker we’ll be out of here and home for tea.’

Billy watched him. A gut feeling that something wasn’t quite right made his feet reluctant to follow his friend, who was ten years older and probably a lot wiser than him. He had to force himself to go inside. They took the handheld lamps so they could at least see what they would be doing down there. With the house just being built the cellar was one big space with some shelves lining one wall, ready to store anything else that was surplus to requirements upstairs out of the way. Fred led the way with Billy close behind and they walked across the space until they found the corner where the drain that led into the sewerage pipe was. There was an awful smell, so Billy had tied his handkerchief around his nose. Fred laughed at him.

‘You great soft bugger, what’s the matter with you?’

They reached the drain and it took the pair of them to lift the heavy-duty cover from it, both of them putting their hands through the gaps in the bars and pulling at the same time. Billy bent his knees, gripped the iron cover and then let out a scream so high-pitched that if you’d asked Fred what it sounded like he would have said a girl who’d just had a spider run across her hand. Billy leapt back from the hole in the ground and Fred did the same, as if he had no idea why but seemed to think it was a good idea.

‘Jesus Christ, Billy, what are you trying to do – give me a bloody heart attack? What’s the matter with you, lad?’

‘Something touched my hand, Fred. It brushed against my fingers and it felt freezing cold.’

Fred started to laugh. He looked at his friend’s face, which was almost glowing it was so white, and he really began to chuckle.

‘You’re an idiot. What did you think it was? Someone trying to hold your hand from the sewers?’

‘I don’t know what the hell it was, Fred, but I’m telling you now, something touched me.’

Fred wiped at his hands with his sleeve and tried to stop laughing, but the harder he tried the harder it was to stop.

‘It will have been a water rat. This place is right next to the lake. There’s bound to be all sorts of vermin running around down there. Must have took a liking to you, young Billy. You should be grateful it didn’t decide to take your finger off and eat it for its tea.’

Billy shuddered; he didn’t like rats or mice.

‘Now stop behaving like your Emma and let’s get this done. The quicker we see what’s causing the blockage and move it the faster we can go home and still get paid.’

Billy nodded his head and stepped forward. He didn’t want to put his hand down there but he didn’t have any choice. If whatever it was that had brushed against his hand was a rat it was a bloody big one. On the count of three they heaved the drain cover off and dropped it onto the floor.

‘Now get down on your hands and knees and take a look down into that hole; see what might be causing the blockage.’

Billy shook his head. ‘You stick your head down there. What if it’s waiting for one of us?’

Fred rolled his eyes at Billy and took the lamp he’d put down onto the floor. He hovered over the hole. The smell was bad. Fred mumbled that he had no doubt some animal had got trapped down there and died. He didn’t want to go fishing around in the drains and have to move some rotting animal corpse but he did want to go home and put his feet up, so he knelt down to take a closer look.

Billy, who was ready to run should anything dark and hairy come up through the hole, watched Fred with an expression of horror etched onto his face. Fred leant right down and peered into the blackness then let out a scream and jumped back.

‘What was it? What did you see?’

‘I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I think it was a rat but it was massive. It moved too fast to be sure but there’s something at the bottom that’s going to need shifting. Whatever it is stinks and must be causing the smell.’

‘How are we going to shift it? I’m not going down if there’s a huge rat running around. Christ, it’s probably looking for its tea and if there’s one there will be hundreds more. Just put the cover back over and tell them we couldn’t find anything.’

‘Some hero you are, Billy. You’re scared of your own shadow. It won’t be interested in me or you when it’s got something else to eat. Go upstairs and get one of the empty sacks. I’ll go down and put the sack over it and scoop it up, then you can take it off me and pull me back out. It will take five minutes at the most and then we can get out of here.’

Billy looked at Fred with fresh admiration and then turned and ran. It was almost dark now and what little daylight was left was dirty grey, streaked with black. He grabbed a sack and heard a muffled shout from the cellar; Billy ran as fast as his legs would let him. Where was Fred? He shone his lantern around but the vast room was empty as far as he could see.

‘Fred, stop mucking around. Where are you?’

But there was no reply. He knew that his friend couldn’t have gone upstairs without Billy bumping into him and he felt a ball of dread lodge in the back of his throat. What if he’d fallen down into that hole and was stuck in the drains? He ran across to the black hole, which seemed to have doubled in size since the last time he’d looked into it a couple of minutes ago.

Fred’s lantern was on the floor and Billy called his friend again. A muffled grunt from inside the hole made Billy force himself to kneel down and look inside. He couldn’t see Fred, but he could see whatever it was that Fred had been talking about at the bottom of the hole. Billy leant closer. The thing was moving ever so slowly but it was definitely moving. He opened his mouth to shout to Fred again and was pulled down into the hole by something with sharp nails that scraped against his skin, making him shiver in disgust. He was so shocked that he couldn’t speak. As he was falling he hit his head on a large rock that was jutting out of the wall, and just before he lost consciousness he saw a face in front of him unlike any he’d ever seen before, one that was ghostly grey with two huge red eyes and a mouthful of sharp, pointed teeth.




Chapter One

‘I can’t hear you. Speak up. It’s too windy.’ Police Constable Jake Simpson was talking into the radio clipped on to his body armour to his best friend and colleague, Annie Graham. He refused to call her by her married name, Ashworth, because she’d always be Annie Graham to him. She was near to the side of Lake Windermere looking for a missing sixty-year-old man who had last been seen pottering around near some of the rowing boats that were for hire. A gust of wind took Jake’s police helmet clean off his head and blew it along at some speed until it reached the corner of one of the boathouses then disappeared underneath it.

‘Shit, I’ll call you back. My helmet’s just blown away.’

He didn’t hear Annie’s giggling as he ended the call and jogged across to find it. He bent down to reach underneath. He’d never hear the last of this if he didn’t get it back. He rarely wore the damn thing but this morning they’d had an email from the inspector telling them to make sure they were dressed appropriately at all times and not to let standards slip. It was all right for her – tucked up in her cosy office doing the crossword. She should try to keep her hat on in a gale-force wind and see how much she was arsed about standards then.

Jake’s fingers brushed against something that he assumed was his hat. He wasn’t really paying attention because he was too busy looking to see how many of the Japanese tourists on the steamboat that had just docked at Bowness pier were actually watching him and taking photos. He grabbed it and yanked it towards him. When he pulled it out and saw what he was holding in his hands he actually threw it onto the shingled path and screamed – really screamed. Which in turn made the tourists who were now all watching him lift their cameras and begin to photograph the perfectly preserved, severed head in front of him. Not only was Jake not wearing his helmet as he became the most photographed policeman in the Lake District, he was also swearing profusely and jumping up and down while rubbing his hands against his trouser legs.

He shouted down his radio to the control room for assistance and wondered how the hell a woman’s head had got under there and where the rest of her body was. Annie came running across from the other side of the pier towards him to see what was wrong and stopped in front of the head. Her mouth fell open and she looked from the head that was lying on its side on the ground back up to Jake.

‘Oh my God, where on earth did you find that?’ She tilted her head and stared. ‘Isn’t that the woman who went missing in Barrow a couple of months ago?’

He shrugged and pointed to the gap underneath the boathouse. ‘How would I know that?’

‘Well, you would if you bothered to read the bulletins the Intelligence Unit send out now and again instead of pressing delete every time.’

‘Jesus Christ, Annie, remind me what it was that you said? Come and work with me in Bowness, Jake. It’s lovely in the summer and ever so quiet in the winter. You won’t know you’re born. It’s all ice creams and summer fetes.’

Annie’s cheeks turned pink. ‘Well, it is most of the time. You’re not blaming this one on me; it’s all your fault. Is the rest of her body under there?’

‘I haven’t looked yet, boss. Oh my God, I dragged it out thinking it was my hat. Do you want to do the honours? And what the hell do we do with that? Everyone’s looking.’

Annie slid her torch out of her body armour and shone it underneath the building. She could see Jake’s helmet, which she reached under and grabbed, but there was no sign of a body. She turned around and looked at the size of the head; it wasn’t as big as Jake’s.

‘Should I cover her with your helmet?’

‘Piss off. I have to wear that!’

‘Stop being so dramatic. You can get another one. We can’t just leave her on show for the tourists to stare at; it’s not right or dignified.’

She bent down and placed the helmet on top of the head and Jake cringed.

‘If I get bollocked for not wearing my hat it’s all your fault.’

‘It’s always my fault so it won’t make a difference. Have you notified control?’

‘Yes, CID are on their way, along with CSI and the chief super, and now, thanks to you, when the circus gets here I haven’t got a hat.’

‘I’m doing you a favour. Stop complaining. Anyway, my darling husband, Will, is the on-call detective sergeant tonight so it will be him, and he was going to his dad’s for tea so he won’t take long. At least I hope he won’t.’

‘It’s just like the good old days when you, me and Will were the crime-busting, serial-killer-investigating task force back in Barrow before that evil, murdering bastard Henry Smith came along and ruined everything. Only most of the time they weren’t actually that good. I wonder who is duty CSI. If it’s Debs then we’re all back together. But I have to tell you I have a bad feeling about this, a really bad feeling.’

Annie didn’t say it out loud but so did she. How had the very well-preserved head of a woman who had gone missing from Barrow three months ago turned up in Bowness, on the patch she worked, when all three of them just happened to be on duty? What exactly were the odds of that? There had been no sightings of her stalker, the serial killer Henry Smith, or the nurse he’d escaped with from the secure mental hospital four months ago in the area. Yet she felt sick at the thought that this could be so much more than a coincidence. Jake had gone back to the car and was now taping off the immediate area with a huge roll of blue and white crime-scene tape that was flapping so hard in the wind it looked as if it was going to take off, bringing the tree with it.

There was quite a crowd beginning to gather and Annie pushed the thought of Henry out of her mind as she began to tell people to leave the area because there was nothing for them to see. Which wasn’t strictly true but it was the best she could come up with at this moment in time. Bang went her early finish. Will would be here for hours in charge of the scene. She would be here until they could draft in reinforcements to guard the scene, and then she and Jake would have to go back to type up statements. Will would be working for hours waiting for the scene to be processed and then meeting the undertakers at the hospital.

Technically it was Jake’s job to go and fill out the sudden death forms at the path lab but he would want to get home to his partner, Alex, and Alice, their nine-month-old adopted daughter. Annie knew she would be the one to go instead. She had no children to rush home to. Besides, if Will was working late there wasn’t much point in her finishing early. She may as well stay behind. She turned to hear Jake shouting at a group of tourists who were all chattering excitedly and trying to duck under the tape. She walked over to give him a hand. At least they would be kept busy until reinforcements arrived.

Before long the sky lit up with flashing blue and white lights and the area had soon been completely sealed off. PCSOs had arrived in force to guard the scene and keep the tourists away, and Annie could have kissed every single one of them. Guarding a crime scene for hours on end was her worst nightmare. She had hated the days when she would spend a full shift standing outside a crime scene while it was being processed and didn’t miss it at all. Claire and Sally, along with Sam, Tracy, Tina and Phil, had been drafted in from Barrow, and Annie had thanked them all, promising she would make sure they weren’t forgotten about and that she would bring them a hot drink in an hour. Jake had been so glad to see them he had spent ten minutes gossiping with them all before Annie had dragged him away to go and write their statements up.

Unfortunately for Debs, she was the on-duty CSI so she had also had to travel up from Barrow to do the honours and process the crime scene. It was like some big community reunion and Annie had to admit that they had all worked well together and made a pretty good team. It was just a shame about the circumstances, but at least they could now tell this poor woman’s husband where she was. Will’s familiar black BMW pulled up and Annie felt her breath hitch in the back of her throat as she caught sight of him. He waved and she lifted her arm back, wondering if he would still have the same effect on her in ten years’ time. He got out of his car and smiled at his wife. He was there before his boss so he walked across to Annie and pecked her on the cheek.

‘What are you two like? He is supposed to be the one keeping you out of trouble not dragging you into it.’

Will nodded his head in Jake’s direction.

‘I know, but I wish I’d taken a photo of his face. He looked as if he was about to pass out. Have you eaten yet?’

‘Yes, my dad made some lasagne and he’s sent a plateful for you, but am I going to throw it all back up? Is it bad?’

‘It’s bad but not that bad. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen worse.’

Unlike his colleague, Detective Constable Stuart Martin, it took a lot to make Will throw up. He went back to the car to get suited and booted, then he walked across and ducked under the plastic tape. He approached Jake’s helmet, which was lifting slightly with the wind, threatening to blow away again. Turning to make sure there were no members of the public watching he crouched down, blocking the view from the pier as best he could, and lifted the helmet up.

‘Bloody hell.’ The head looked like it had fallen off a waxwork dummy. It was so lifelike but at the same time dead. There was a milky film over the eyes, which were wide open and staring straight at him. He shivered. What an awful way to die. He hoped she had been dead before whoever it was cut it off. Who in their right mind would do this to someone?

‘DS Ashworth to control.’

‘Go ahead.’

‘I can confirm this is a foxtrot.’

A male voice answered instead of the call handler and Will assumed it was the control room inspector.

‘Sergeant, you can’t confirm a foxtrot until the doctor arrives.’

‘I think I can, sir. We have a severed head and no body. Full decapitation. It doesn’t need a doctor to confirm this is a foxtrot.’

‘Now then, DS Ashworth, what have we got here?’

The chief super’s voice boomed down his ear and he jumped. He turned to talk to him and saw the duty detective inspector over by the panda car talking to Jake.

‘Evening, sir. I don’t really know, to be honest. We have a head but no body as yet.’

‘Well, have you called the dog handler out?’

‘No, boss. I’ve only just arrived myself. I’m about to do that now.’

A vision of the dog turning up and running off with their severed head filled Will’s mind and he had to shake himself to stop it. All he knew at this moment in time was that something bad was happening and he didn’t want Annie to be involved in it at all. She had nearly died at the hands of Henry Smith, who had abducted her and put her in the cellar of an abandoned mansion. In fact, he’d nearly killed Will as well. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Annie had found the strength and courage to fight for them both, neither of them would be here today to tell the tale.

Call it his copper’s instinct or a hunch, but whatever it was he knew she needed to be kept out of this and the sooner she left the better. He walked back to the car and, as he began talking on his radio, the hairs on the back of his neck began to prickle. He felt uneasy, as if someone was watching him. Will slowly began to turn around to see if there was anyone in the area who shouldn’t be. His first guess would be that reporter who drove him mad who always managed to appear at every crime scene Will did and completely piss him off, but he wouldn’t know about this and, if he did, he wouldn’t be here yet. Will scanned the area, but it was getting darker by the minute and it was hard to tell who or what he was looking for.

His gaze fell on the lake where there were lots of boats, some moored and others sailing around. He had the distinct feeling that someone was out there, watching him from a distance, but he had no idea who or why.


Chapter Two

Annie stretched out and was relieved to find Will still asleep next to her. She’d finished much later than she should have and had waited at the hospital for him to finish up with the head. He’d confirmed that Annie had been right. The victim’s name was Beth O’Connor. They had managed to ID her from the missing person’s posters that had been put all over the town and the police station. It wasn’t an official identification – that would happen first thing in the morning with her husband having that gruesome job – but Will was happy enough that it was her. She was so well preserved he thought that she’d either only been killed within the last twenty-four hours or been kept in a freezer somewhere. The whole thing made Annie shiver and she hoped that Beth had been decapitated once she was dead, because it didn’t bear thinking about if she hadn’t.

It had been the strangest sight to see the head being zipped into a black full-length body bag. It reminded her of something out of the old horror films she’d watched when she was a kid. The whole situation was awful. Not wanting to disturb Will she crept out of the bedroom. They had been living in their house on the outskirts of Hawkshead village for six months now and there had been no sign of… Annie didn’t like to say her name in case it summoned her back. But there was no sign of the woman who, in 1732, had killed an entire family and been hunted down by a group of men and hung from the very beams of the front porch of this house for her crimes.

If Annie had known the story about the house there was no way she would have bought it, but she hadn’t, and when Will had taken her there she had fallen in love with it. After a serious head injury at the hands of Mike, her first husband who had also been killed, she had developed a psychic sixth sense. Sometimes she thought she could hear the laughter of the young boys who had been murdered in the house but she didn’t mind that. At least they were happy now and they didn’t bother her or Will. Except for the odd things being moved around everything was fine. She was so forgetful she couldn’t be sure it wasn’t her who had misplaced them.

As long as the ghosts were happy then so was she. Even Jake, who had been terrified of coming into the cottage at first, was now content to sit on the sofa drinking wine until the early hours. He had told her that they’d done a good job and the house didn’t feel anything but cosy now, which was good because she would have hated it if her two best friends and their adorable nine-month-old daughter had refused to come and visit. Jake and Alex were so content with their lives and their perfect family that it made her heart ache. This weekend she was definitely going to broach the subject of children with Will. They had been married for six months and, although there was no rush for a baby, the more she thought about it the more she wanted one. Whoever would have thought that she’d become a broody old mare? It was all Jake’s fault.

She showered, dressed and made breakfast, leaving a plate of bacon, eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes in the microwave for Will, and then she set off for work. It was her last shift and then her long weekend off. After yesterday she was ready for it. There would be mountains of house-to-house and CCTV inquiries to do today because of the head yesterday. She hoped to God that someone had found the body and that it and the head had been reunited. Otherwise their tasks would also include searching every boat, boathouse, shed and garden to see if the body could be located. She drove to the car ferry, which would take her across the lake in a fraction of the time it would take her to drive around. There were only four cars in front of her so she might even be able to pop into the café for a skinny latte to take to the station with her. Gustav, the manager, still had a bit of a thing for her even though she had shown him her wedding ring, much to her inspector’s amusement. He would sense Annie walk through the door and within minutes he would be passing her a hot drink and begging her for a date. Will didn’t find it quite so amusing as Cathy did, but he knew Annie wasn’t about to go running off with an Italian barista because he gave her free coffee.

She parked her brand-new Mercedes outside the café and stuck the hazard lights on. The car had been a wedding present from Will to replace the beloved Mini Cooper she had managed to write off. She had been gutted when she’d woken from her coma in the hospital to find out she’d completely wrecked it. Will had offered to replace the Mini with an identical one, but somehow, as much as Annie loved it, she couldn’t face driving one again – at least not for a while. It would always remind her of Betsy Baker and the crash that could have killed her. There. She could say the woman’s name now that she was outside her house. She just wouldn’t have it spoken inside. Before she’d even got inside the café Gustav was walking towards her with a large takeaway coffee in his hand.

‘So, my lovely police lady, what’s been happening down by the pier? Is it true you found a severed head?’

He made a swiping motion across his throat with his hand. ‘This is bad news, very bad news. I want you to take care, Annie. I have a bad feeling about this. In my country severed heads mean you have pissed off someone in the Family.’ He leant closer and whispered, ‘You know who the Family are? The Mafia. Or it means there is a crazy person running around. Either way you should not get involved. Why don’t you come and work for me? I will train you to make the best coffee in town and you can work with me all day and drink as much coffee as you like.’

Annie laughed. ‘I know who the Family are and somehow I don’t think they have any reason to be leaving heads under boathouses around here, but thank you for your concern. You are such a sweetie. And thank you for the job offer. You know I may take you up on that one day when catching criminals becomes too much.’

He bent towards her and kissed her cheek. ‘That would make my life complete. I hope Mr Annie realises how lucky he is.’

He winked at her and went back to work, and although she was touched Annie wondered exactly how much Gustav knew about her life and why he would be worried about her.

Annie didn’t take any notice of the new girl who was working on the till and listening to every word of their exchange. There were new staff in the shop on a weekly basis. The only constant was Gustav, but the girl on the till never took her eyes off Annie because she knew exactly who she was. She had just never actually seen her in person.

Megan Tyler hated this job. She was a fully trained psychiatric nurse. She hadn’t spent three years of her life writing the most boring essays to end up making coffee, but then she had to remind herself that it had been her choice. She had thrown away a perfectly good career because she had become infatuated with one of England’s worst serial killers. Henry Smith had almost died at the hands of Annie Graham when it should have been the other way around. When the story had broken and the headlines on all the tabloids screamed about what a monster he was, Megan had found that she admired him a little. Then he’d been sent to the ward that she worked on. When he was well enough after a long time in intensive care, she had got to know the well-spoken, gentle, polite older man. She had become infatuated with him. She had read every article and a book about his crimes but was unable to connect the man she was reading about with the man she took breakfast to and chatted about the weather with every morning.

Megan had lost her own father when she was nine years old. He had been killed in a hit-and-run accident. In the early days she had asked herself if she wasn’t looking to Henry to become a father figure to her, but the more she got to know him the more she realised it wasn’t a father she needed. She had become deeply attached to him and had developed just as much of a secret crush on him as he had on this bloody Annie Graham. It had been Megan’s choice to help him escape and she realised that she’d thrown her whole life away to be with him, but she admired him and wanted to be just like him so it would all be worth it in the end.

They needed the money working in the coffee shop brought in – plus it was a perfect excuse for her to get to know Henry’s little crush, who was a regular customer. Megan couldn’t help but wonder why so many men were besotted with this Annie Graham. She supposed she was pretty and she did have lovely, thick, black curls, but she wasn’t dead skinny and drop-dead gorgeous. She was just normal. It must be her personality, or then again it could be the shiny black sports car that was parked outside on the double yellow lines with the hazard lights flashing – Megan hadn’t told Henry about the car yet. Whatever it was, Megan would like to get to know her better before they killed her.

***

Ninety-year-old Miss Martha Beckett had noticed the bad smell that was lingering in the downstairs corridor three days ago. Ignoring it at first she had then asked her cleaner to clear out all the kitchen cupboards and bleach the fridge in case something had gone off, but today the smell was still there and her cleaner was now on her days off. She had to do something about it. In fact it was even worse than yesterday. The horror she had felt at the realisation of where it was coming from had made her knees go weak and her heart race. It was emanating from…the cellar.

She hated it down in the huge, stark cavern that smelt of damp. It would for ever remind her of her nine-year-old brother, Joseph, who had gone down there during a game of hide-and-seek a long, long time ago and never been seen since. She forced herself to shuffle down to the big, oak door, which had been sealed shut since the day after Joseph’s disappearance. She tried to count back the years; it had been 1930 the last time anyone had any call to go down there – too damn long.

She felt her heart beat faster as she approached it, always with the same feeling of dread in the base of her spine, but she couldn’t live in a house that smelt this bad. The drains must be blocked. She reached the door and sniffed, then gagged. The smell was much stronger here. In fact it was dreadful. She moved away from the door, too afraid to even consider opening it to go down and investigate. No, she would call in a professional plumber and warn him not to go down there on his own. After Joe had gone her father had made it a rule that no one went down there alone. They must always be in a pair or group.

She went back into the kitchen and opened the drawer where kept a tatty copy of the Yellow Pages. It was four years old and she wondered if any of the plumbers were still in business, but she had to try something. She didn’t own a computer or a mobile phone. She hated technology. Her television was ancient and she rarely watched it, instead preferring to spend her time upstairs in her bedroom, which was at the opposite end of the house to the cellar. She would listen to her records and read her books, but most of the time was spent looking out of her window at the lake, watching the boats and wondering if Joseph would ever come home.

She picked the advert with the biggest writing and hoped that they would answer the phone. Carefully pressing the numbers on the keypad, she was delighted to hear a man’s voice answer, ‘Crawford’s Plumbing Services.’

‘Good morning, I wonder if you could help me? My drains are blocked. Well, there is an awful smell so I think they are. I don’t actually know for sure. Would you be able to send someone out to take a look at them as soon as possible?’

‘We could get someone out to you by four o’clock today if that’s any good?’

‘Today, oh yes, please. That would be wonderful, but can you tell me if your men work in teams?’

‘I’m not sure what you mean by a team, love; we have six staff and if there is a job that is big then yes we send in a team, but if it’s just blocked drains then it won’t need more than one.’

‘I’m afraid I can only let them into the cellar if there are at least two of them. It’s a rule of the house that no one can go down there alone.’

‘I’ll try my best to send two of the lads over but I can’t guarantee it. It depends how busy we are.’

‘If you don’t send two then I’m afraid I won’t be able to let anyone down there; I will of course pay for them both.’

‘Look, I’ll send two of them over as soon as I can. We’ll sort something out.’

‘Thank you.’

Martha replaced the receiver and felt her heart slow just a little. She couldn’t be responsible for what would happen if anyone was to go down there alone and didn’t come back up. She didn’t want another missing person on her conscience; it was getting too much to bear.


Chapter Three

Henry waited in the small silver van down the tiny side street behind the coffee shop for Megan. It had been her idea to get a job in the busy tourist town of Bowness. She was bored of his home town, Barrow, and said it was too small. She was right. In fact, most of the time she was right, but she never gloated when she was. It was always just a matter of fact.

He still didn’t quite believe that little nurse Megan was on a par with him when it came to their personalities. She was equally as sadistic and had enjoyed the thrill of their first kill together. They had lived in a caravan since she’d so boldly helped him escape from the mental hospital. They had sold their former caravan for a good price. Well, Megan had, using her fake name of Rosie Dance, and then bought a much older one on a site close to Bowness. Henry was able to wander around more freely up here. There were still the odd articles in the newspapers about him but he’d kept a very low profile. There had been no reported sightings of him as far as he knew and he never left the caravan unless he was dressed like a twenty-year-old rapper with his jersey tracksuit, baseball cap and dark sunglasses on.

He’d seen her a few times and felt his heart race so much with excitement. He had wondered if this was how it was going to end for him. Would he drop dead before he had the amazing Annie Graham in his arms? He hoped not because years of pent-up frustration were coming to a head. He smirked. He’d almost forgotten about the head. Watching his dream team of police all working the crime scene yesterday, he knew it had been worth the risk.

The icing on the cake had been watching him turn up. Henry had squirmed when he’d kissed Annie in public like that, as if she was his, but apart from that it had been pretty perfect. It would have been better if Annie had found the head. He would have quite liked to see her face, but that clown she worked with had found it before he’d even had a chance to ring up anonymously and report it. Still, all in all, it had gone well. They had watched from the small boat on the lake, drinking a cheap bottle of wine and sharing the crappy binoculars. Megan had got so excited she’d wanted Henry to video it all, but there was no way they could. It would have been far too risky.

The door opened and Megan threw herself into the passenger seat. ‘I fucking hate that place. I stink of ground coffee.’

‘Hello, Megan, how was your day?’

‘All right, Henry – it was as good as it can be scalding yourself to death over a red-hot coffee machine. How about you? What did you get up to?’

‘Not much. I spent most of the day inside bored out of my head, waiting to come and collect you.’

‘Guess who called in this morning? The boss was all over her – was a bit sickening to watch actually.’

Henry sat up straight and felt his skin prickle. ‘I don’t know, Megan. Why don’t you tell me?’

‘That Annie woman you like so much. Can I just ask you something? You don’t have to answer because it’s none of my business and I understand that, but why do you like her? What is it about her? It might be because I’m a woman but I don’t really get the attraction.’

Henry considered his reply. He didn’t want to upset Megan in any way and he thought he had hidden how much he really liked Annie from her – obviously not enough. Then again Megan knew everything. She was very astute.

‘I can’t really say. She entered my life at a time when it was absolute madness and I guess I felt sorry for her. She was all alone and had a terrible injury to the back of her head; she looked like a victim but didn’t act like one. I suppose I just clicked with her.’

He didn’t say how much he wanted her, how he’d spent hours watching and fantasising about being with her, because he didn’t want to piss Megan off. She was good to him and he owed her big time.

‘Oh okay, I get that. I mean, who would have thought I’d fall for you, Henry? But I did.’



She reached out and ran her hand along his thigh, squeezing it tight.

He smiled at her; she was so much like him it was a little bit scary, and it made him wonder how many other seemingly normal people were killers at heart if they were given the right opportunities. He drove away, careful to stick to the speed limit and not draw attention. He wished that he’d seen Annie close up, heard her talking, but she would have recognised him straight away.

It was almost two years since he’d managed to drag her down to the cellar in the abandoned mansion to kill her, where she’d well and truly got the better of him, fighting to save herself and that police detective she seemed to be so in love with. She had fought so well that she had managed to stab him so hard in the thigh he’d thought he was going to bleed to death. And then he’d panicked and thrown the damn petrol all over. If only he’d kept calm, his reflection wouldn’t now resemble Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street. She had left him for dead and he hadn’t quite got over that. The fact that he had wanted to slit her throat and leave her for dead didn’t matter. In his mind she had betrayed him and now he was destined to wear hats and sunglasses in public for the rest of his life, to make sure he didn’t scare any of the nice little children who might see him.

‘What do you want to do this afternoon then, my little flower? It’s a nice day. Should we take the boat out and people-watch?’

‘We could do, but first I want you to take me to bed, and then I’m going to have a shower, and then we could talk about what we’re going to do next. We didn’t discuss whether this was a one-off.’

She was talking about the woman they’d abducted between them and killed, a practice run to see if the lovely Megan was up to killing another person. Henry had needed to see if she really was serious and if she could cope with the enormity of what they had done. Megan had not shown one ounce of guilt, even after they’d left the woman’s body in a barn and kept her head in the freezer for a couple of months until the time had been right to put their plan into action.

‘The boathouse is almost ready. That old woman never leaves her house. I’ve been watching her for weeks now. She doesn’t have any family except that woman who turns up twice a week carrying a mop bucket and polish. She sits in her bedroom staring out of the window, but never in the direction of the boathouse. I doubt she even knows we use her boat. She might not even realise there’s a boat in there; it’s been so long since anyone has been inside it. I wonder why she lives alone in that big house and never comes out? Still it’s very lucky for us, because otherwise we would have nowhere to take our next victim. Plus it’s right next door to the caravan site. It’s very convenient.’

‘So what’s the plan then, Henry? Are we going to take another woman and let you cut her head off or are you waiting for the woman you love?’

She poked him in the ribs and he felt a brief flare of rage, so bright and red inside his chest that he didn’t speak. He didn’t like Megan being sarcastic about Annie and she must have sensed something.

‘Sorry, I’m only joking, you know. It’s just I really enjoyed the last time – well, except for having to keep her head in the freezer. It was a bit off-putting having that in a plastic bag next to the frozen sausages every time I looked inside.’

‘Patience. We have to take our time. These things can’t be rushed. It’s how you make mistakes, and if you make mistakes you end up being nearly burnt to death, stabbed and then locked up in a mental hospital.’

He indicated to take the sharp turn into the caravan park, driving slowly because there were always kids running everywhere. The last thing he needed was to run one over and have the police crawling all over the place.

***

The doorbell chimed and Martha looked up from the ball of pastry she was kneading with her gnarled hands. She wiped them on her apron and began to walk towards the front door. As she passed the cellar door she paused, sure that she’d heard a high-pitched giggle coming from somewhere down in the dark. Walking faster now she felt both relieved and terrified at the thought of opening up the cellar. She could see the dark shadows through the glass pane in the door and hoped it was the plumbers. At least there were two of them. She opened the door and was surprised to see two men who were nearing retirement age. She’d expected a couple of youngsters.

‘Hello, we’ve come about your blocked drains.’

She opened the door wide enough for them to step inside. ‘Thank you so much; I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. Unfortunately the smell seems to be coming from down in the cellar.’

‘That’s all right, we’re used to working in the dark. What we’ll do is take a look and see if it’s something we can get sorted now. If it’s going to be a big job it will have to wait until next week, I’m afraid. We’re so busy this week.’

Martha tried not to let the panic show. Next week was no good. No good at all. It needed sorting now. She sighed and turned, leading them to the cellar door.

‘By heck, what do you keep down there: lions? I’ve never seen so many locks on a door.’

The men laughed at their joke and Martha smiled. She didn’t want to tell them it was something far more lethal than a big cat.

‘My father was very conscious about us playing down there in the dark. The sewer pipe reaches to the lake and it can flood very easily in the winter. He was such a cautious man. I’m afraid I can’t open the locks very fast with my fingers – arthritis.’

She passed them an old, iron key ring and watched as the more talkative of the men began to try and unlock the padlocks. Finally he’d taken all the locks off and slid the bolts back. With the opening of each one Martha felt an impending sense of dread. Should she tell them about the thing down there or hope that it had died? Maybe that’s what the smell was. She prayed that it was. He pulled the door open and the stench was overwhelming. Both men groaned and began to take face masks from their pockets.

‘Smells like something’s died down there, love.’

‘It does indeed. Please be careful, won’t you. Don’t leave each other’s side. The light-pull is just to the left of you.’

She saw the look that passed between the men, as if to say, ‘Bless her; she’s a bit mental,’ but she ignored it. Better for them to think she was some crazy old woman than not to warn them. The light illuminated the stairs and they both began to walk down. Martha didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t go down with them because she couldn’t get back up fast enough if she needed to. Instead she paced up and down the hall. She could hear their muffled voices but nothing much else. She breathed out when they finally came back up.

‘It’s hard to see the problem. The smell is coming from the drains and it looks as if there is something down there that could be causing it. The problem is the drain is a lot bigger than we thought so we’re going to have to come back and investigate it properly, but it won’t be until next week.’

Martha felt herself deflate. Thirty seconds ago she had been overjoyed to see them coming up the steps alive and together. Now she was going to have to put up with the smell and them risking their lives again.

‘Is there nothing you can do today? I can’t live with the smell. It’s horrific.’

‘I’m really sorry, but it’s a lot deeper than it looks and we haven’t got the tools. They’re out on another job. There’s nothing we can do today.’

Martha pushed the heavy door shut and began to slide the bolts across.

‘Very well, but you must come back as soon as you can.’

She watched them leave and continued to work the locks, the sweat forming on her brow because it was taking so long. The van doors slammed and the engine started. They drove off, leaving her on her own once again.

***

Seamus Jones was walking along the road. There were no pavements around here. He’d been dropped off an hour ago to check out the houses along this stretch of the lake. His two friends had gone into the town and told him to ring them once he’d found a suitable house with no burglar alarms or security cameras. He stepped onto the grass verge to let the plumber’s van pass. It had only driven past him ten minutes ago. Bingo. They must have been to price up a job. He went to the overgrown drive the van had come out of and opened the gate at the side. He walked along the gravel drive and smiled to himself. Double bingo. This could be the payday they’d been waiting for.

He finally reached the house and nodded in appreciation. It was a beautiful old house. The garden was very neglected and unloved, along with the tired paintwork on the outside of the house. He couldn’t see any burglar alarms or cameras and it looked deserted. After walking up to the front door he hammered on it, not expecting anyone to answer, but after a minute he could hear a shuffling sound coming along the corridor. He put on his best smile and grinned at the old woman who opened the door. She looked distraught and he actually felt uncomfortable for the first time ever.

‘Yes, can I help you?’

‘I was thinking I might be able to help you, miss.’

‘Really, and how exactly could you help me?’

‘Well, I was out walking and couldn’t help but notice the plumber’s van. Are you having trouble with your drains?’

‘I am.’

‘Well, I could sort it out today if you like, if the price is right. Cash in hand.’

Seamus was thinking how he could make a bit of money all to himself before coming back with the others to burgle the house later. Before she had chance to answer he put his foot into the open doorway and stepped forward, forcing Martha to move back. He took his chance and within two strides was inside the house. His eyes fell to the huge oak sideboard with the solid silver candlestick holders and antique blue and white vase, and he practically felt the wad of cash he was going to earn from this in his back pocket.

He had startled Martha, who now felt wary of him. She knew his sort and knew what he was up to because she could almost imagine the pound signs that were ringing in his ears, but she was so desperate that now she didn’t care. He could only rip her off if she allowed him to. He was on his own but she didn’t feel quite as bad about a con man coming to a sticky end as two reputable businessmen.

‘I can only pay you what I was quoted by the others and not a penny more. I have no bank card that you can force me to give you the numbers for and I haven’t left this house for ten years so don’t think you will be able to get me to come to the bank with you.’

Seamus grinned. ‘Fine by me, miss; I’m only after an honest day’s work and some cash for my back pocket. Do I look as if I would try and rip such a lovely lady off?’

Martha didn’t answer that, but she smiled.

‘Good. I’m glad we have an understanding.’

‘Well, come on in then and take a look. See if you can do anything about my drains.’

She led the way and he followed, eyeing up the oil paintings and antique grandfather clock, which was ticking away in the hall. When they reached the cellar door he looked it up and down but didn’t say anything. All the time she kept telling herself that it would be okay. Those other men had been down there and come back out. He slid the bolts across and leant in to reach the light-pull. He tugged it but nothing happened. He pulled it again and still there was no light.

Uneasy now, Martha felt her heart begin to race. The light had worked less than half an hour ago.

‘It doesn’t matter. You can’t go down there in the dark. Why don’t you come back tomorrow?’

‘What’s up with you? I’m not scared of the dark, you know. Have you not got a torch?’

Martha nodded and walked back to the sideboard where she opened the drawer and pulled out a big torch. He took it off her.

‘I’ll have your drains sorted in ten minutes. You see if I don’t.’

He went back to the cellar with Martha lagging behind. She watched as he ran down the steps into the blackness and prayed to God that, even though he was probably a crook and a thief, he would be safe. The memories from eighty-five years ago came rushing back as if it was yesterday. He was whistling away to himself until she heard him mutter, ‘Fuck me.’

‘Is everything okay?’

‘Apart from the smell it’s fine, miss; don’t you worry. I’ll get this sorted out for you in a jiffy.’

Martha couldn’t stand there any longer. Her legs were shaking so much she needed to sit down, so she went into the kitchen and filled the kettle up. She would make a pot of tea for them both. After what he’d done he deserved it and it might make her stop feeling as if the world was about to end. She could hear some banging and clattering then some muffled curses, which made her smile. Footsteps came running up and he came into the kitchen.

‘I found the drain and it looks like something big is jammed in the bottom of it. No idea what it is but I need something to poke it with. If I can dislodge it then it should move along the sewer pipes. Then I can chuck some buckets of water down to flush it out.’

It didn’t sound very technical but she didn’t care. As long as it worked and got rid of the smell she would be more than happy.

‘There’s a shed outside full of my father’s old tools. I’m sure you’ll find something in there.’

He nodded and went out of the back door to the shed, which she could see from the kitchen window. He came back in with an assortment of tools and smiled at her.

‘You know, you have a beautiful old house and garden, miss. Do you not get lonely living here all on your own?’

‘Thank you, I do. I get terribly lonely but it’s always been this way and it always will be until the day I die. I know what’s in the shed by the way, but if you manage to sort out my problem I will let you take whatever you want.’

He began to laugh. ‘Well now, that’s very kind of you.’

He went off to finish the job and she felt a lot better. Maybe, after all these years, whatever it was had moved on. After all, it had nothing to feed on so there wasn’t really any reason for it to be hanging around beneath her house. She went back to the shortbread she had begun to roll earlier.

Seamus walked back along the corridor and was surprised to see the cellar door was now shut when he knew he had left it wide open. Probably a draught – this was a big house and he’d gone outside. He pulled it open and pressed the button on the torch. Before he could move he heard some strange, tinny music coming from somewhere down in the dark. It reminded him of the old jack-in-the-box his dad had given to him when he was a kid. It had a scary clown that freaked the shit out of him every time he wound the little handle, never knowing when the fucker would pop up and make him scream. In the end, he’d given it back to his dad and told him that it gave him nightmares. His dad had laughed until he’d cried and called him a big girl but Seamus hadn’t cared. He hadn’t wanted it in his bedroom.

He was much older and wiser now and shrugged to himself. He must have knocked something over on his way out of the cellar. The quicker he got out of here, the quicker he could pocket the cash before his mates turned up. He made his way down the steps and got a whiff of something that smelt of rotting flesh, smoke and lake water.

Martha was clattering around in the kitchen. The kettle was boiling. She had just slid the tray of shortbread into the oven and slammed the door shut. After she’d poured the milk and set the teapot on the table to brew, she heard the noise and her heart missed a beat. She knew that sound. It was for ever etched into her memory. That jack-in-the-box had been Joe’s favourite toy and he had spent hours turning the handle and playing the music. She felt her legs begin to wobble. Either that man was messing around or something terrible had happened.

Forcing herself to move, she walked slowly towards the open cellar door. The first thing she noticed was that the smell had gone. He must have cleared the blockage and be rooting around in her belongings. She reached the top step, her fingers brushing against the ancient Cree Indian symbols her father had carved into the back of the cellar door a long time ago to protect them all from the monster that lived down there. He had promised her when they had been done that the thing could not come past them because they were full of ancient Indian power, and she had believed him wholeheartedly. She looked down to the bottom of the steps and saw the circle of light shining into the blackness from the torch, which was now on the floor.

‘Are you all finished? I’ve made you a cup of tea and if you’ve got a few minutes to spare there will be some fresh shortbread coming out of the oven to go with it.’

She was greeted by silence. Then something began to shuffle in the dark and she heard a high-pitched shriek of terror, but it sounded as if it came from somewhere underneath the ground miles away. Terrified, Martha stepped back and slammed the cellar door shut, sliding the bolts across as fast as her shaking hands would let her. She couldn’t do anything to help and she crossed herself, begging God for his forgiveness. Picking up the phone she did the only thing she could think of and rang the police.


Chapter Four

When Annie got into the station she passed the sergeant’s office and heard Inspector Cathy Hayes muttering on the phone to someone. She carried on to the small changing room and hung her jacket up, zipping herself into her body armour and taking hold of her belt. She walked through into the office and was surprised to see an older man sitting at Jake’s desk. Looking at his collar number she saw it began with a seven, which meant he was a special constable and, judging by the sheen of sweat on his brow and the way he kept tapping his foot, a very new one at that.

‘Hi, I’m Annie. Is this your first day?’

He nodded, then jumped up and held out his even sweatier palm.

‘Morning, I’m George and yes it is.’

She shook his hand. ‘Don’t worry about it. You will be fine. It’s a good job you didn’t start yesterday. Have you heard about the severed head my colleague Jake found?’

His face turned white.

‘Oops sorry, I guess you hadn’t. Don’t worry. Things like that don’t happen very often around here.’

She didn’t add that this was unless he had to work with her, and then it might be a whole different ballgame. She’d terrified the poor guy enough in the space of two minutes. He’d be making a quick exit and never coming back if she told him how in the last two years she had been stalked by a serial killer who had abducted her and tried to kill her down in the cellar of an abandoned mansion, which had once belonged to none other than Jack the Ripper. Thankfully she had overcome Henry Smith to live to tell another tale.

Then there was her run-in with a nine-year-old ghost called Sophie and the evil Shadow Man who wouldn’t let her go to the light because he collected souls. Annie had fought him with the help of her now good friend Father John, and together they had managed to banish him to the darkness for good and set Sophie free. Last but by no means least was her run-in with Betsy Baker, the woman who, in 1732, had lived in Apple Tree Cottage, which was now Annie’s home. Betsy had poisoned her mother, then set her sights on the most eligible widower in town, killing his children and parents so she could have him and his house all to herself. Betsy had made Annie’s life hell when she and Will started renovating the cottage, giving Annie terrible nightmares and almost killing her in a car crash. Annie had been in a coma and watched the tragedy of Betsy Baker unfold while she was unconscious. Betsy had been hanged for her crimes by a group of angry villagers and buried in her own front garden in an unconsecrated grave.

Jake had helped Annie to dig her up and, enlisting the services of Father John, they had moved her skeleton to the safety of his church in Bowness where he’d dug a grave and finally given her a proper burial. Yes, it was probably best not to share this information with him so freely.

Cathy walked in and smiled at Annie as if she was about to eat her, which didn’t bode well for either her or George.

‘Morning, PC Ashworth. You drew the short straw. You’re answering any jobs that come in while your lovely colleagues conduct the inquiries regarding that poor bugger’s head we found yesterday. And you, George, I’m afraid drew an even shorter straw by having to work with our Annie here. She’s a walking disaster so I’m relying on you to keep her on the straight and narrow.’

He vigorously nodded his head. ‘I can try, ma’am.’

‘Rule one, George: none of this ma’am bullshit. It makes me sound like I’m your great-aunt. Call me Cathy unless you’ve really screwed up and need to crawl. Annie, I don’t want you getting involved in our severed head case unless it’s life or death. The last thing I want is to be getting indigestion worrying about where you are every hour. Just keep clear of it. Jake was in full agreement and said he’s happy to do your share of the door knocking, and we’ve brought in every PCSO from Barrow and Ulverston anyway so there are plenty of staff to do what needs to be done.’

Annie knew better than to argue with Cathy and she was quite relieved. She hated endless door knocking and leaflet delivering. Cathy threw the van keys at her.

‘Take George and give him the rundown on the area. Show him the best places to get some dinner and a brew.’

‘Yes, boss.’

Cathy grinned at them. ‘And if you both manage to keep out of mischief I’ll be one very happy woman. I’m on my way to see what the troops are up to, so play nice.’

Annie sat down behind the desk opposite George. ‘Let me just log on to my computer and see what’s been going on in the world of Bowness since I finished work last night – in case there are any jobs that need following up on – and then we’ll go out on mobile patrol.’

Annie’s radio began to ring.

‘Oh and can you bring me back some dinner? I ate my packed lunch before I’d had chance to log on to the computer this morning. Cheers.’

‘Yes, boss.’

George was smiling at her. ‘She seems okay then for a big boss.’

‘Yes, she is as long as you’re behaving…no, she is. She’s great and has been brilliant with me since I moved up here.’

She stopped herself again from giving him the rundown on her life. She didn’t know the man at all so until she did the less said the better. Her radio crackled and the voice on the other end called her number.

‘Can you attend Beckett House on Windermere Road, please. It’s a grade two. Elderly woman reporting the man who came to unblock her drains has come to some harm. She thinks he has disappeared in her cellar and may have come to some harm down there. She can’t go down to see if he’s okay because she’s not good on her legs.’

‘Roger, I’m on my way. Can you show me in seven zero and I also have…’ – she tilted her head to read the epaulettes on his shoulders – ‘…I also have 7993 with me.’

She stood up and George followed her as she strode outside to the van.

‘What’s a grade two again?’

‘It means it’s important but not as important as a grade one, which is an emergency response. There’s two-hour time limit on getting to the job.’

‘Oh, so no blue lights and sirens this time?’

‘No, sorry. Not this time. Anyway be thankful – it’s not very good driving through the twisty back roads around here at top speed, and it’s dangerous.’

‘Yes, it must be. I just wondered what it was like, you know.’

She did know. When she first joined she’d loved it when Jake had been her tutor and would answer emergency calls, then drive like a maniac to get to the job first so they could deal with it. It was an adrenaline rush like no other, but as the years passed she began to realise that most of the jobs were the same people with the same problems, which weren’t really that much of an emergency. The excitement had slowly passed and the dread of being stuck in custody all night with the same idiots took its place.

She decided that George wasn’t so bad and she would do her best not to give him a hard time.

She turned into the overgrown drive at Beckett House. She had been here to do inquiries when there was a missing man a few months back and all the sheds and outhouses had to be searched. The grey slate house, with its huge black and white painted windows and doors, would have been lovely in its day and George began to mumble about how the other half lived. The elderly woman who lived there was waiting for them on the front step and she looked distraught. Annie jumped out of the van.

‘Hello, Miss Beckett, what’s the problem?’

‘Hello, dear, I’m afraid I have some very bad news and it’s entirely my fault. I should have stopped him from going down there on his own. I knew all along it was a very bad idea.’

Annie gently took hold of her arm to guide her back inside and George followed behind. The old woman led them to the kitchen, which smelt of home-made shortbread and stewed tea.

‘Why don’t you sit down, Miss Beckett, and I’ll make us a fresh pot of tea, then you can tell me all about it?’

‘Would you, dear, or would you rather go and search the cellar first? Although I think it’s far too late for him.’

George was looking at Annie, inquiring whether Miss Beckett was as mad as a box of frogs or just delusional, and she shook her head.

‘I need you to tell me from the beginning what’s happened. This is George. It’s his first day as a special constable and he’s going to make the tea, aren’t you, George?’

‘Yes, yes, of course I will.’

He picked the still-warm teapot up from the centre of the table and tipped the contents into the sink. He then began making a fresh pot.

‘There was a terrible smell and I knew it was coming from the cellar. It’s been around for a few days but this morning it was really bad and I couldn’t stand it so I looked in the phonebook and rang the number from the first plumber’s advert that I saw. They sent two men out and that was all right because it has to be two, you see. You’re much safer in a pair. But they couldn’t see what the blockage was and they didn’t have the right tools. Well, they left and one of those Irish men… What’s the word you use for them now instead of gypsies?’

‘Travellers.’

‘Yes, I’m positive he was one of them. Well, he knocked on my door ten minutes later and, you know, he looked a bit of a rogue and had forced his way inside before I knew it, but he didn’t threaten me. Well, he offered to sort the drains out for me and I was desperate, you have to understand. The smell was horrific.’

Annie smiled at the woman who looked so frail that a strong wind would blow her over.

‘You’re doing really well, Miss Beckett. What happened then?’

‘Well, he went into the cellar but the lights had gone out. I told him he shouldn’t but he laughed and told me that he wasn’t afraid of the dark. I gave him a torch, then I came back in here and it was then that I heard the music, the old music of the wind-up jack-in-the-box that belonged to my brother, Joe. I just knew something bad had happened. I shouted to him but the only thing I heard was a muffled scream and it sounded like it was a long way away.’

George was standing behind the woman rolling his eyes and Annie actually wanted to tell him to grow up, but she didn’t. The poor woman obviously thought something had happened; she may have dementia, for all she knew, or she might be telling the truth.

‘Did you notice if this man had a car or a van? Maybe he decided to leave and didn’t tell you?’

‘No, he didn’t have any vehicle that I could see. He walked up the drive. I know because I watched him from the kitchen window.’

‘Well, in that case I think the best thing to do would be for George and I to go down into your cellar and have a look around, and then we’ll search the rest of your house from top to bottom, if that’s okay with you?’

‘That would be wonderful, thank you.’

George placed the teapot back down on the table and waited for Annie’s instructions.

‘Right, do you want to show us where the cellar is so we can give it a quick check?’

‘I don’t know if I should let a young thing like you go down there. It’s such a dangerous place; it always has been.’

There was something in the woman’s eyes that looked straight through Annie’s and said quite clearly, ‘I’m not talking rubbish; this is all true.’ And Annie knew then that she believed her. She nodded her head.

‘It’s okay. I promise I understand. I’ve dealt with a lot of things that were slightly unusual the last couple of years and I know how to look after myself because I’ve had to. Anyway, I have George here to help, so please don’t worry about me.’

They followed her along the corridor to where the cellar door was situated and Annie felt her stomach do a full-length flip. The hairs on the back of her neck and arms stood on end and she felt a cold chill run through her bones. Martha stared at her.

‘You feel it, don’t you? You know it’s not right. It’s never been right since the day this house was built. I’ve been stuck here my whole life waiting for my brother, Joe, to come back and making sure that whatever it is that lives down there can’t get out.’

Annie looked at the number of bolts and padlocks on the heavy wooden door and wanted to slide them all back in place, lock the cellar up tight and leave Beckett House right now. But she couldn’t leave this poor old woman to deal with whatever it was hiding down there on her own. She wished that Jake was here. Even though he hated anything like this, just his sheer size and muscles always made her feel a whole lot better. George, who was looking bemused, was an inch shorter than her with a bit of a paunch, and didn’t instil the same sense of security. She wondered if she should ask for Jake to come and back her up because, technically, she was on her own and this man she couldn’t find might be up in the bedrooms right now, stealing the family heirlooms.

Annie pulled her thick, black leather gloves from her pocket and slid them on; then she took the torch from her body armour and pressed the button to switch it on. George fumbled to get his out of the loop he’d tied it to so that he wouldn’t lose it, but he managed to get it out and did the same. She said a quick prayer for whoever might be listening to protect them both from evil, and then she worked loose the bolts that were still fastened. Pulling the door back, she reached for the light-pull and tugged it. Watery light filled the cellar steps and she noticed the old woman, who was shaking, let out a small sigh and relax her shoulders. Taking this as a good sign she shouted, ‘Hello, it’s the police. Is there anyone down there?’

They were greeted by silence. Annie nodded for George to follow her. He didn’t look quite so bemused now. She shouted again and again but beyond the underlying feeling that something bad had happened down there, there was nothing. When she got to the bottom she stood on the last step and shone her torch around, even though there was a light on, because it didn’t reach the dark corners. She knew what horrors could lurk in dark corners because she’d seen them for herself. The vast cellar looked empty. There were boxes and shelves filled to the brim with all sorts of stuff but they were all pushed against a wall and there was nowhere for this man to be hiding.

She bent down and, with one gloved hand, picked up the torch that had been abandoned on the floor and switched it off. There was a smell underneath the damp and she tried to place it, but she couldn’t. Although every sense was on heightened alert, she didn’t feel as if there was anything in here right now. But it definitely felt as if something had been here. It had left an echo of itself. She stepped down and began heading to the very far corner where the big, iron drain cover was pushed to one side. So someone had been down here, because she was pretty sure Martha Beckett wouldn’t have been able to lift it. There was also a big damp patch next to it, along with an assortment of tools that looked older than she did.

She walked across to the hole, wondering if the man had fallen into it and hurt himself. As her shadow blocked out the light and she stood over it a sense of dread settled over her. It was so strong she felt her own knees go weak. There was movement at the bottom of it and she forced herself to shine the torch down to see what it was that was scaring her so much. Whatever it was moved fast as the light filled the hole. If she’d blinked she would have missed it. George, who had followed her, was standing behind her peering over her shoulder.

‘Did you see that? What was it?’

Annie felt better knowing he’d seen whatever it was, but it wasn’t their missing man – it was on all fours. If someone had fallen into that hole they wouldn’t be hiding from them, they’d be screaming to be helped out.

‘I don’t know, maybe a rat.’

‘Some big rat – it was bloody huge.’

Annie didn’t say anything else. She knew that it wasn’t a rat and she knew that it wasn’t the missing man. What she did know was that whatever it was knew that she had been looking for it, and that really scared her. She stepped back away from the hole. A fear inside her of falling down it and coming face to face with whatever it was made her break out in a cold sweat.

‘Come on, he’s not down here. Help me pull the cover back over. It’s dangerous leaving it open like that. Anyone could fall in.’

Or anything could get out. But she didn’t say that aloud.

‘I think our man decided to cut his losses and run when he saw how deep the hole was and that it might be full of rats. I bet he’s long gone and it wouldn’t surprise me if her purse or the family silverware are missing.’

The cover was heavy and it was hard lifting it up. Between them they managed to shove it back in place as best as they could. Annie cringed at something sticky on her gloves and led the way back upstairs. She shone the torch onto the back of the door and wondered what the symbols meant that had been carved into the wood. George whispered, ‘Are they devil-worshipping signs?’

She shook her head and lowered her voice. ‘No, I don’t think so but I can’t say for sure. Come on, let’s get out of here.’

She stepped into the hall, closely followed by George, and they slammed the door shut. Annie slid all the padlocks across before making her way back down to the kitchen.

‘There’s nobody down there now, Miss Beckett, although we can tell that he was down there because there are some tools near to the drain and the cover was off, but I think he’s decided to call it a day and left. Do you have anywhere I can wash my hands?’

‘Oh dear, I was afraid that was what you would say. Yes, just down the opposite end of the corridor there is a washroom tucked under the stairs.’

‘Thank you. I’ll just wash my hands and then we’ll do a search of your house to make sure he’s not hiding anywhere.’

She walked along to the washroom, desperate to wash whatever the black gunge was from her gloved fingers. Using her elbow to press the light switch she went inside and turned the tap on, letting it run for a moment to get hot. As she held her gloved fingers under the tap she gasped to see the water had turned blood red. Tugging the gloves from her fingers she lifted her hands to examine them and make sure she hadn’t cut herself on the rusty drain cover, but they were fine, and the water was now running clear. Picking up the soap she scrubbed it against her skin and then let her hands stay under the hot water until it began to scald her. There was a towel next to her and she dried her hands on it. The mirror above the sink had steamed up and she rubbed at it with the corner of the towel so she could see herself, but what she saw looking back at her made her scream so loud that George came running down the corridor and hammered on the door.

‘It’s okay. I’m okay. Sorry about that. There was a massive spider.’

‘Oh, just checking. You gave us a fright.’

Annie didn’t look in the mirror again for fear of seeing the grey, gaunt face with the huge red eyes and row of razor-sharp teeth staring back at her again. Her heart palpitating, she wondered if somehow that sweet old woman had at one time summoned a demon to her house, because she couldn’t think of any other way to describe the monster she had seen staring at her from the mirror. She turned around in the small space, relieved that she was alone, and made her way back to the kitchen. Miss Beckett looked at her but didn’t say anything.

‘Right, we need to check the rest of the house if that’s okay with you, and then we’ll have that cup of tea.’

The old woman nodded, but she knew full well that they wouldn’t find that young man anywhere upstairs, although she wished they would. She didn’t even care if he had been up there and stolen the antiques. It would be better for her to know he was still breathing and alive than to lie in bed at night wondering exactly what it was that had taken him. She went back to the cellar door to continue snapping all the padlocks shut while Annie and George went upstairs.

They started on the third floor, which was the attic. The staircase that led up to it was a proper staircase and not a ladder like Annie had been expecting. There were two huge rooms, which were separated by a small landing in the middle. Both of them had bits of junk in them. One was full of old suitcases and the biggest, dustiest Christmas tree she had ever seen, but there was nothing to suggest he was hiding up here. There was a small door that led underneath the eaves, but it was bolted from the outside and Annie sensed that whatever was behind it had nothing to do with them. She turned around and George grabbed her arm.

‘What about in there? He could be hiding in that little room.’

‘He could, but unless he’s Alice in Wonderland or can shut bolts across from inside a room then I somehow doubt it.’

His cheeks flared red and she felt mean. ‘But apart from that, yes, he could have been. Well spotted.’

They went back down the stairs and onto the huge landing. There were seven bedrooms and a separate bathroom and toilet. Annie started on one side and he started on the other. Most of the rooms were empty. There were only two that were still fully furnished – one that was clearly Miss Beckett’s with its pale pink, rose-covered, faded wallpaper. It was at the far end, away from the staircase, and the one next to hers was a little boy’s room, which hadn’t been used for a very long time. But it was spotless. Even though the things in there were old-fashioned and probably worth a bit of money to a toy collector, it was clean and tidy. There wasn’t a speck of dust on anything and the bed was made, ready for whoever’s room it was to climb into. George walked in and whistled.

‘Man, what a room; it’s like something from a museum. The stuff in here must be worth a fortune; all the toys are in mint condition and valuable collectors’ items.’

He began to look around, getting excited at the pristine Corgi cars, while Annie felt a huge sense of loss that was so consuming it made her want to curl up and cry. Something awful had happened to the little boy whose bedroom this was. She was careful not to touch anything because she didn’t want her psychic sixth sense to pick up on it and let her know exactly what. It was too heartbreaking.

‘Come on, he’s not in here and we have no business being in here.’

George put down the tin car he was admiring and nodded his head, then followed her out of the door, which she closed.

‘Well, he’s not here; he must have decided to leave. I just hope he isn’t planning on coming back later to rob her.’

Annie nodded in agreement. She couldn’t tell him what she really thought because he would think she was nuts. They checked the last room together and went down to the kitchen where Martha had made a fresh pot of tea.

‘You didn’t find him?’

It wasn’t a question; it was more a statement of fact.

‘No, we didn’t and it doesn’t look as if anything is missing. You will need to check yourself and let me know if there is. Can I ask you if you have any help – a cook or maybe a cleaner? This is a big house for you to look after by yourself.’

‘Yes, thank you, I have a wonderful housekeeper called Dawn who comes in two days a week to help me. So what are we to do then? I know you might not believe me but I know in my heart that he went down into that cellar and never came out.’

George’s mobile phone began to ring and he apologised and walked out into the hall to answer it.

Martha lowered her voice. ‘Your friend might think I’m ready to be committed to the insane asylum but you know I’m speaking the truth, don’t you, dear? You sensed it. I could tell.’

‘Yes, I did sense something and I also thought that I saw something moving down in the drain, but it was so fast I didn’t actually see what it was. I believe you, I really do, but I have to go by the evidence and there isn’t any at the moment to say that this man has come to some harm, or even to prove that he was here. If his family report him missing then we can come back with a search team and go down into the drains, but at this moment in time I can’t say for sure that he has.’

‘What you mean, young lady, is that you have no proof that he was ever here and that I might be imagining the whole thing.’

‘To be blunt, Miss Beckett: yes. I do believe you, though, and whatever you do you mustn’t go down into that cellar on your own.’

Martha chuckled. ‘Officer, the only reason I’ve lived to this ripe old age is because I never go down into that cellar. I’ve only ever been in there once when I was a child. I was scared beyond belief and I never went back down. But thank you for your concern. I suppose we will have to wait and see if this young man’s family or friends report him missing. What will happen, then, if someone reports that they saw him coming into this house but he never came out?’

‘Then we’ll send a search team in.’

‘And will this search team be told that something dwells in the drains underneath my cellar that has a taste for human flesh? I will not be responsible for anyone going down there.’

‘If it comes to that, then yes, I will tell them myself.’

Martha nodded. ‘Thank you. You’ve been much more accommodating than I ever imagined. You have a gift, don’t you? That isn’t always a blessing, but you use it wisely and I can tell that you help those who need it. I hope you can find it in your heart to help me when the time comes.’

Annie’s radio crackled, breaking the silence as the control room shouted at her again to go to a burglary at the rugby club. She stood up.

‘There’s no need to see us out. We can manage. But can I just tell you to make sure you keep everything locked up and secure? I know that he seemed like an okay kind of man, even though he was cold-calling, but you can’t be too sure. He may try to come back later and burgle the house.’

Martha smiled. ‘Oh I always keep everything locked up, but it’s not to keep the burglars out, it’s to keep whatever is in this house in.’

Annie nodded at her and felt her whole body shiver at the thought of having to live here alone, terrified by something you’ve never seen.

They got into the van and Annie reversed. Sticking her arm out of the window she waved and then set off to go back through town to the rugby club.

George sighed. ‘Oh my God, do you deal with nutty people like that all the time? I mean, at one point, when we were down in that cellar, I could almost have bought her story and my heart was beating ten to the dozen, but it just seems a bit too farfetched for my liking.’

‘I don’t think she was nuts. I think she’s a scared, vulnerable old woman. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we get a phone call from her tomorrow to say her house has been broken into. It sounds to me as if he was checking it out and will be back later.’

‘What does that go down as then – you know, when you update control?’

‘Suspicious incident, then I’ll have to submit an intelligence report and a vulnerable adult form. The next job will probably be a bit more standard. You can be the officer in charge if you like.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘It means you get to run the case, take the statements, request CSI. See how you feel when you get there.’

Annie hoped he felt like saying yes because she couldn’t stop thinking about that face she’d seen in the mirror and the blood on her fingers. It was unlike anything she’d ever seen before. Did things that look part human but are clearly not live in drains and sewers? Was that even possible or was her imagination on overdrive after the severed head yesterday? She didn’t know, but either way she suspected that Miss Martha Beckett and Beckett House would be seeing a lot more of her in the near future.

31 December 1930

Joseph loved playing hide-and-seek. It was his favourite game and he was lucky enough to live in a house big enough to play a really good game of it. Sometimes it took his sister ages to come and find him, although he hated it if she took too long because he got bored. Today was one of those days where he was bored. He had no idea what she was doing, but if she didn’t come soon he was giving up and playing something else. Then he heard her footsteps running up the first staircase and stifled a giggle. She hated the attic and would go mad with him for hiding in here although she hated the cellar even more. She said the attic was full of spiders and the cellar was full of rats. A right proper girl she was and he sometimes wished that he had a brother to play with, but then he would remember that she was only five so he shouldn’t complain. He was nine so he was almost grown up compared to her. She began to call his name so she must be fed up of playing. Joe had tucked himself away at the back of the small cupboard in the attic. The door was tiny and only really big enough for a child to go in, and he wondered quite a lot why it was there and what purpose it served. It was one of those questions he always meant to ask his father but he would forget about it until the next time he saw it. His father was hardly around anyway. He was always at work at the amusement park. Joe wished he could go there more often with him, but his mother always said it wasn’t a place a child should be spending time in unless it was for a fun day out.

‘I give in, Joe. I can’t find you and if you’re hiding in the attic I’m not coming up there anyway. I told you I wasn’t.’

His mother began to call them and he scrambled out of his hiding place as he heard Martha clattering back down the stairs. For a small child she had feet like an elephant. He hit his head on the doorframe and rubbed it with his hand to take away the sting. Slamming the door shut he ran out of the room and down the steep attic stairs to the landing below, then down the next set of stairs and straight into the dining room where he’d last seen his mother bossing Lucy, their housemaid, around while she was trying to set the table for tonight. He barged through the door and straight into Lucy.

‘Careful, Master Beckett, you’ll do yourself an injury rushing around at that speed.’

‘Sorry, Lucy.’

His mother nodded her head with approval at his manners although he could tell she was a little displeased with him. He looked down and saw the black marks on his clean white shirt and realised why.

‘Sorry, Mother, we were playing hide-and-seek.’

Martha was already standing next to her.

‘Yes, we were and he was cheating again. I told him I wasn’t going up to the attic but he still hid up there.’

‘Now listen to me very carefully: when the guests begin to arrive later on I want you both to be on your best behaviour. No bickering between yourselves and definitely no hide-and-seek in the attic. Do you understand what I’m saying, Joe?’

‘Yes, Mother.’

‘Good. I understand you might be excited and need to burn off some energy. It’s such a dismal day outside and you can’t go and run around the garden, so another fifteen minutes of play and then I want you both to go and get washed and changed.’

‘Yes, Mother.’

They both spoke in unison and she stood up, holding out her arms to them. They ran over for a hug and she squeezed them tight.

‘Now you know that I would like nothing more than to spend tonight reading stories to you both, but your father is an important man and with great importance comes great responsibility, which means he must invite all the other important men and women that he works with into our home to share our precious time. I promise you both that, after dinner tomorrow, when the last guest has gone home, both your father and I will play whatever games you would like and read as many stories as you desire. How does that sound?’

‘Wonderful, Mother.’

‘Good. Now go and play for a while before you need to start acting like two of your father’s waxwork dummies. I love you both very much.’

She kissed them, one after the other, on the tops of their heads and then patted their bottoms, shooing them out of the dining room.

Joe ran along to the kitchen to see what Mary was cooking. He was starving. The halls were filled with the aroma of roast beef and roast chicken. Martha followed him, and Mary laughed to see them both looking like a couple of street urchins, with dirt-streaked hair and faces, and black marks all over their clothes.

‘Where the devil have you two been? Up to no good, I’ll bet. I suppose you’ll be looking for some biscuits and a drink of milk after all that exploring.’

They both nodded and climbed onto the wooden chairs around the huge kitchen table that filled the middle of the room. It was covered in plates and dishes of food, and Joe had begun to lift the lid off one when he felt a tap on the back of his head.

‘Hands off! I haven’t been awake since five o’clock this morning baking and cooking for you to put your scruffy little hands all over my works of art.’

Martha giggled and he stuck his tongue out at her, which made her giggle even more.

They sat and drank the glasses of milk as they nibbled on warm shortbread biscuits that had just come out of the oven. When they finished and Joe had wiped his milk moustache from around his lips he bent his head towards her and whispered, ‘One last game of hide-and-seek and then I’ll play dolly hospital with you.’

‘You promise? You have to nurse the dolls and make them better and not grumble about it.’

‘I promise.’

‘I suppose so. Please can I count in here? I hate having to wait on my own.’

He nodded his head, jumped off his chair and ran towards the door. ‘No peeking, Martha – I’ll know if you cheat.’

Then he was gone. Martha could only count to twenty and then she had to stop and start all over again. She was watching Mary pipe icing onto the biscuits and forgot all about going to find Joe until she heard him call her name. He sounded like he was far away. She jumped off her chair and began walking towards the hall.

A door banged behind her and she turned to see the cellar door ajar. He was just being mean and he was a big, fat cheat. She had told him not to go in the attic or the cellar and he had gone into both. He knew she didn’t like them. Well, he could wait in there all day. There was no way she was going down to look for him in the dark. She shivered. Just thinking about the dark and the rats made her want to cry. What if they nibbled her feet while she was walking around in the dark? She sat on the bottom step of the staircase and waited for him to get fed up and come back up. After what seemed like for ever she stood up and walked along to the door. She stood and listened and thought she heard her brother crying. Opening the door she stood on the top step and shouted, ‘It’s no good pretending. I don’t care one little bit if you are upset. I told you I wasn’t going down into the cellar to look for you so you might as well come back up.’

Martha expected him to come bounding up and clip her round the ear for being so cheeky to him, but he didn’t. She listened again, only this time she heard a scratching and a dragging sound. She had no idea what it was but it sounded like something much bigger than Joe. Getting cross now she folded her arms and shouted at the top of her voice, ‘Joseph, I’m going to tell Father if you don’t come out of there right this minute and play dollies with me. You promised you would. Don’t be so mean.’

Still there was no reply and Martha felt scared. What if he’d fallen over and hurt himself in the dark? It would serve him right but he could have at least called out and told her he needed some help. Worried now, she began to suck her thumb and turned to run and find her father. She didn’t have to go far as he was striding along the corridor towards her.

‘Martha, what have you been doing in the cellar? Why is the door open?’

‘It was Joe not me. We are playing hide-and-seek and I told him I wouldn’t look for him down there or in the attic but he’s still gone down. Only he’s not answering when I shout to him.’

A look of alarm crossed her father’s face and he moved her to one side and leant forward to tug the light-pull and illuminate the steps.

He ran down them and began to look around for Joe, who was nowhere to be seen. He shouted, ‘Joseph Beckett, if you don’t show yourself now you will not be able to sit down on your bottom for a week. I mean it.’

There was no reply. He looked at the drain in the corner that led into the sewers and saw that the iron grating was out of place. It had been moved and not put back properly and his head began to pound. Surely a nine-year-old boy wouldn’t have the strength to move a heavy iron cover on his own and then move it back again? He ran towards it and fell to his knees, looking down into the black hole. ‘Joseph, are you down there? Are you stuck? Do you need help? If you do, then answer me, boy. I won’t be mad at you. Just tell me if you are down there.’

A scuttling, scratching sound made him jump back. It sounded as if there was nothing more than rats down in that hole. But who had moved the cover? Unless it was the builders who hadn’t put it back properly and he’d just never noticed before. He stood up, taking one last look around the cellar, and then he ran back up the stone steps to Martha who was now crying.

‘He isn’t down there, Martha. Now where else could he be? Why don’t you show me the places he likes to hide in the attic? Maybe he’s fallen asleep and can’t hear you shouting.’

She nodded her head and grabbed hold of her father’s hand, leading him up the stairs to the attic, but she knew in her heart that Joe was down in that cellar somewhere because she had heard him crying down there.

They checked the entire house, and by this time her mother and father were panicking. Martha had been told to sit in the kitchen with Mary after she’d shown her father all of Joe’s hiding places and he was nowhere to be seen. Martha watched Lucy put her coat on and go outside to check the gardens in the pouring rain, but she could have told her not to bother. There was no point. Joe was in the cellar somewhere, except she didn’t know where; her father came in with Davey, the gardener, who doubled up as the caretaker when it was winter. They both had lanterns in their hands and were going down into the cellar to look for Joe. Her mother had come into the kitchen to sit with her and was very quiet. She didn’t speak a word and her eyes were watering, and all Martha could hear was Mary saying over and over again, ‘Don’t you worry, miss. He won’t be far. Up to no good as usual. They’ll find him. You just wait and see.’

After the third time her mother screamed at Mary, ‘Shut up, please, just shut up. Where is he? He can’t have just disappeared.’

Martha had never heard her mother shout at anyone, not even her father, and this scared her more than the thought of Joe being down in the cellar.

Her mother grabbed her hand. ‘Where is he? Where did you last see him, Martha? This is very important. He might have hurt himself and need our help.’

‘I was in here. He begged for one last game of hide-and-seek and ran off. When I went to look for him the cellar door was open and I heard him down there, but he was crying, and then it went quiet and he didn’t make another sound.’

Her mother stood up and ran to the cellar and her husband and Davey.

James was down there scratching his head in disbelief. Between all three of them they pulled out every box, case and trunk to search inside them. James looked at the old wooden crate he’d brought in here one evening before he, Eleanor and the children had moved in. It looked as if the lid had been ripped off and put back on. A ball of fear lodged in the base of his spine and he had to force his feet to move towards it. Had someone been down here and taken the thing from inside it? Perhaps Joe had caught them stealing it and they’d taken him as well.

Another thought crossed his mind and he tried to block it out, but he couldn’t. He had an uneasy feeling about the empty crate, which should have contained the supposed, magnificent, one and only captured Windigo in the whole world, and now didn’t. He tried to think who knew about it and when the last time was that he had looked at the packing crate, but he couldn’t remember. James knew it was a long time ago. He’d moved it in under the cover of darkness with help from Archie, one of his most trusted workers, and he’d sworn him to secrecy.

If Eleanor had known he’d brought that thing into their home she would have been beside herself. It terrified her. She’d made him promise that he wouldn’t bring it anywhere near their house, but it was worth a lot of money and he didn’t want to leave it lying around the amusement park until the building that was going to house it was finished. It wasn’t alive. It was dead. At least it looked as if it was dead. In fact, he didn’t even believe that it was real. He had no idea who had made it, or how, but it was a very good piece and one of its kind. So why could he not shake the uneasy feeling that the monster’s disappearance had something to do with his son who was now missing?

He thought back to the night he had first set eyes on the creature, as he’d walked down the cobbled street and, for the second time in ten minutes, asked himself what he was doing. Why did the man who had the piece he wanted to add to the display of his sideshow of freaks and monsters want to meet in a dark back alley in Piccadilly? He knew he should have sent one of his employees but he needed to see the thing for himself, to see if it was real or at least looked realistic, because the asking price had been a lot of money and this wasn’t exactly one hundred per cent above board. There were no shipping papers from America. where it was from, to go with the skeleton. In fact there were no papers at all. This was a strictly take a look and pay cash on the spot deal.

He stopped and looked at the blackened door in front of him. This must be the one. As he lifted his hand to knock it opened a crack. The smell of stale ale and something that had gone off escaped, making him take a step back. ‘Who is it?’

‘Mr Beckett.’

There was some shuffling and fumbling and then the door opened wide enough for him to step through. For a moment he contemplated turning around and walking away. For all he knew he was about to get beaten and left for dead.

‘I thought you were. I can tell by your fancy clothes and the sound of your shoes on the stones outside that you’re not one of us.’

James, who had never looked down on anyone in his life, even though he had been brought up the son of a businessman, thanked God that he wasn’t one of them – whoever they may be.

‘Come in before someone sees you.’

He forced himself to step inside the dark hallway and tried not to flinch as the man slammed the door behind him.

‘So you are looking for something special for your fairground, are you? Something the likes of which the world has never seen?’

‘I am. That’s very true but I don’t know if you can show me anything that I want. I’m afraid I might have made a mistake coming here.’

The man smiled, showing a mouthful of rotten teeth.

‘Oh you’ll want what I have, all right. It’s been kept in the dark, underground, for five years, waiting for the right buyer to come along.’

The man led James along the narrow corridor into a room that was brightly lit by many candles. Inside it was an assortment of boxes and crates of all shapes and sizes. He continued walking to the back of the room until he reached one that was almost seven feet tall and looked more like a coffin than a crate.

‘Tell me, Mr Beckett, do you believe in those Red Indian folk tales at all? A man of your stature must like to read. Do you have any interests in the Algonquin tribes?’

James shook his head. ‘Not specifically – I have read a lot about the history of the Indians but nothing that I can recall about that specific tribe.’

‘Have you ever heard of the thing I’m going to show you? Apparently it’s bad luck to speak its name. It came over from North America with my great-uncle who went out there and became a bit obsessed with their way of life. He spent many years with a certain tribe and this was the parting gift he brought back.’

James could feel his heart begin to race. He was scared yet at the same time morbidly fascinated to see what was in the box. He felt his knuckles flex. He needed to see inside that crate. There was no way – no matter how much he disliked the dirty, smelly man standing in front of him – that he could leave now.

‘They say that they don’t exist but my uncle knew they did. A shaman told him all about them. He said they would sit around the campfire telling tales of horror and cannibalism. These things dwell in caves and like the dark. The tribesmen had a name for it; they called it the “evil that devours”.’

‘Well, that’s all very well and good, but if I’m to buy this thing from you I need to see it, please, so that I can make all the necessary arrangements to ship it back to the fairground.’

The man studied James then nodded. ‘Very well. I’m fed up of taking care of it. I’ll be glad to see the back of it.’

He stepped forward and began to unlock the padlocks keeping the case secure. James had never felt a greater fear yet he stepped towards the crate, eager to see whatever it was inside. Finally the man pulled the lid back and it swung open, revealing the most revolting thing James had ever seen. His instinct was to back away at the smell of burning flesh that emanated from the box and he cupped a hand over his mouth.

‘The only way to kill them is to burn them and that doesn’t always work.’

He said it matter of factly, like it was no more difficult than swatting a fly.

James stared at the thing in the crate. It looked like nothing he’d ever come across. It had a gaunt, skeletal body that was covered in some kind of grey skin. The head was larger than the average man’s, although a similar shape, but it was the teeth that made his breath catch. They were long, sharp and pointed and would look more at home on a sabre-toothed tiger. James looked at the man, who shrugged.

‘It’s an ugly bugger, all right.’

It was then that James looked down to the thing’s hands. Only they weren’t hands – instead of fingers there were long, sharp, black claws. The man stepped forward. After slamming the door shut, he began to padlock it once more.

‘Sorry, that’s about as long as I can stand to look at that thing. It scares me.’

So many thoughts were running through James’s head that he had difficulty processing them all into the right order. The one that was at the forefront was the one that kept screaming at him that he simply had to have that thing, no matter what the cost. Even if it turned out to be a complete fake it would draw the crowds from miles around to the amusement park. The crowds would flock to see it. This was the thing he had been waiting for. It could turn the park’s fortunes around for good.

‘I’ll take it.’

Those three words echoed in his mind. And where was it now? It had been the only thing from his freak show to survive the great fire that burnt down the fairground in 1919. It had been relatively unscathed apart from the blackened and cracked glass that surrounded it. He had stayed all night fighting the fire and by the morning he had been exhausted, but the whole time he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Eleanor Sloane who lived at 3 Park Place.

Once he’d got cleaned up and smelt a little better he had gone straight round to find her house. He had to see her again to see if she still had the same effect on him as she’d had last night. The tree-lined street was very different to the life he was used to. The houses were so big he thought he could probably fit half of his fairground friends into one of them and they still wouldn’t be falling over each other. He found number three and stood outside staring up at the whitewashed town house, trying to pluck up the courage to go and knock on her door. As if she’d be interested in him. Her parents would be mortified to have someone who was from the fairground knocking on their door in broad daylight. He remembered how his shoulders had slumped and his heart had broken in two as he turned and began to walk away. He had no business knocking on that door because he had nothing that he could offer Eleanor. What he had owned was now a blackened, charred mess. A motor car pulled up and a man who looked very well to do got out of it. James carried on walking and was shocked to feel a hand on his shoulder.

‘Can I help you, sir? Is there a reason you were standing staring at my house?’

James paused and wondered if he should lie, but then he had never been a very good liar and he wouldn’t live with himself if he didn’t at least speak some truth.

‘Sorry. I’m James Beckett, sir. I met your daughters at the fairground last night and I was wondering how they both were?’

‘Are you the young man who saved their lives?’

James nodded. He hadn’t thought of it that way but, yes, he supposed that he was.

‘Well, then, why don’t you come inside and see for yourself? It’s the least I can do. You have no idea how much my girls mean to me and I am for ever in your debt, young man.’

He turned and began striding towards his house, and James grinned and rushed after him. He had been expecting a telling-off, not a thank you. The man pushed the doorbell and immediately a young housemaid opened the door. James followed Mr Sloane inside and found himself staring around at the grand surroundings.

‘You wait in the library while I go and find my wife and daughters. I know that my wife would very much like to thank you in person. Would you like a drink, something to eat?’

James shook his head, not sure what to say even though his stomach was rumbling and his throat was parched from the smoke he’d inhaled all night long.

Before long the man came back in with the very beautiful Mrs Sloane, who rushed over and hugged him.

‘Thank you so much; Eleanor told us how brave and kind you were to both her and Agnes. We can never repay your kindness. Did you stay on to fight the fire all night?’

‘I did. I had to. You see that fairground was half mine and now there’s nothing left but a couple of exhibition pieces.’

‘Oh how dreadful. You must be exhausted and in shock. Do you have anywhere to stay?’

He shook his head. ‘Not at the moment – everything I had is gone.’

She looked at her husband who nodded his head as if he knew what she was about to say.

‘Well, then you must stay here with us as our guest until you sort something out. I won’t hear of you saying no. It’s the least we can do. I’ll get Bertha to show you to the guest room where you can have a hot bath and then something to eat. Isn’t that right, Harold?’

‘It is indeed. I wouldn’t bother arguing with her about it because you’ll never win. Just accept and it will be much easier for the pair of us.’

‘Thank you; I don’t know what to say. That’s very kind of you both.’

He saw Eleanor come down the stairs and then start running towards him.

‘Oh I’m so glad that you’re here. I’ve been awake all night thinking about you.’

He felt his cheeks burn but he also felt his heart skip a beat at the sight of this beautiful young woman who was so relieved that he was still alive.

James knew that he had been very lucky because he had soon forged a strong friendship with Harold and the rest of Eleanor’s family. When he had told her father his plans to open up a permanent fairground on some land in Manchester he had managed to secure through a private deal, he had thought it was a splendid idea and wanted to know everything about it.

James brought himself back to reality and looked around. Now here he was, eleven years later – a partner in a very successful amusement park, married to the woman he loved and with two beautiful children. God could take it all back this very moment in time if he returned Joe to them safe and sound. He could take back the money, the house, everything – he just wanted his son safe in his arms.

They had checked every inch of the room while James had been in a daydream, but there was still no sign of Joe. The men went over to the drain and lifted the cover off, then leant over to look inside with the lamp, but there was nothing down there except the smell of something gone bad. James looked around at them all.

‘There is no way on God’s earth that Joseph would have been able to lift this cover off, climb down there and pull it back over. Davey and I can only just move it and we’re both grown men. I don’t understand it. Where is he?’

Davey shrugged. ‘Why don’t we start at the top of the house again and go from room to room, leaving no cupboard or trunk unturned. If he’s nowhere to be found then we need to get the police, Mr Beckett, because I don’t know where he can be and boys can’t just disappear into thin air.’

Mrs Beckett nodded her head. She didn’t trust herself to speak because she was on the verge of crying, and if she did, she was afraid she wouldn’t stop. Where was her son whom she had kissed not thirty minutes ago? He would not be so foolish as to hide for this long when everyone was shouting his name and looking for him. All three of them went back upstairs and Davey shut the cellar door.

Everyone shouted Joe’s name and the noise was so loud that Martha had to put her hands over her ears. She knew that he wasn’t coming back or he would have answered by now. He would not disrespect their father by staying silent all for the sake of winning a game of hide-and-seek. Hot, salty tears began to roll down her cheeks for the brother she had loved with all her heart and would not see again. Somehow he had been taken from that cellar, she didn’t know how or why, but she knew that whatever was responsible lived down there, in the dark. Like some monster out of the fairy tales she loved, the Giant in Jack and the Beanstalk or the Troll under the bridge in the Three Billy Goats Gruff, she knew that whatever it was liked little boys and girls. It probably liked men and women as well, but children always tasted much better in the fairy tales her mother read to them before bed each night, so why wouldn’t they taste much better in real life as well?


Chapter Five

Will and Stu had attended the shortest post-mortem ever. Watching Beth O’Connor’s husband identify her head had been terrible and left Will feeling drained. He had sobbed and sobbed, wanting to know where the rest of her body was, and Will wished to God he could tell him, but they didn’t have a clue. She had gone missing from a function she’d been attending at the Town Hall, probably around the same time that Annie and Will had been performing their first dance for everyone on their wedding night.

Will left the hospital and went straight back to the station, needing to read the missing person’s report through from start to finish again. After an argument at home her husband had refused to go to the black-tie evening reception held every year for newly elected councillors at the Town Hall, leaving Beth to go on her own. She had gone because she was a very popular woman and had known there would be no shortage of male companions to talk to or buy her drinks all night.

All the witness statements said that she had been having a great evening and hadn’t looked upset. Everyone at the reception knew Beth because she worked in the Town Hall and was popular. Three men who Will had spoken to personally had given statements to say they had gone outside with her for a cigarette, but it was literally a quick smoke and then back inside until one of the women noticed her going outside on her own for a smoke and arguing with someone on the phone, which her husband had confirmed. She’d rung him up after a few too many glasses of wine to have another go at him, he said, and the phone records proved that this was the truth.

It was after that phone call that she disappeared. She never came back into the reception. She didn’t go home, and none of the taxi drivers had picked her up; all the bus drivers had been spoken to and the CCTV checked and there was no sign of her. The town CCTV cameras hadn’t picked her up walking away from the Town Hall. She’d literally disappeared into thin air. After a couple of days a search team and a dog handler had gone into the Town Hall, a massive building, and they had searched it from top to bottom, even going up into the clock tower and attics and down into the basements. The dog had at least picked up her scent outside the rear doors where she’d been in and out to have cigarettes, but it didn’t go any further. All the bins, flower beds and drains around the area had been checked and still there was no sign of Beth O’Connor until you fast forwarded to two days ago when Jake found her well-preserved head all the way over at Bowness.

Will rubbed his forehead. He had to be honest. He didn’t have a clue where her body was or who had taken and killed her. All he could say for sure was that someone had, because it was pretty impossible to cut your own head off and then drive twenty miles to dump it under a boathouse. It was certainly a mystery. Her husband had been questioned several times but, around the time of the last phone call to him, he had had a pizza delivered and the delivery man had given him a watertight alibi. Will had told Stu to make some inquiries to see if they were friends, but the answer was negative. It was the first time he’d ever ordered pizza from this takeaway and had no connection to it whatsoever.

He phoned Annie to see what she was doing. As soon as the job had come in he had asked Cathy, her inspector, not to let her get involved, and she’d laughed so loud at him over the phone he’d had to hold it away from his ear.

‘Will, my friend, do you honestly think I’m going to let her anywhere near this? It’s bad enough I have a severed head right in the middle of the tourist season. The last thing I want is Annie getting involved in this up to her neck – no pun intended – because you and I both know it has the possibility of going horribly wrong if she’s anywhere near.’

He hated it when Annie didn’t answer on the first couple of rings but he knew there was a perfectly good reason when she was working. She couldn’t stop mid arrest or as she was driving to answer her phone. Stu put a mug of coffee down on the desk in front of Will and he gave him a thumb ups while leaving Annie a voicemail to ring him back. He put the phone down.

‘What’s the plan of action for today, boss?’

‘I think we need to speak to someone in Lancashire and ask how they are getting on with locating Henry Smith. Asking them why the bloody hell they haven’t found him yet would be a good start. It’s a huge coincidence that our very own Barrovian born and bred serial killer has escaped and now we have a severed head, but it doesn’t really fit right with his modus operandi, does it? He likes to slit throats, although I suppose severing a head would be the next step up for him. Shit, this could well be him and if it is we have a major problem on our hands because his behaviour is escalating.’

‘It could be, but do you really think he would risk his newfound freedom to come back here and cut someone’s head off? I don’t think so. We probably just have another copycat who wants to go to the Henry Smith Hall of Fame.’

Will wanted to agree with him but it didn’t feel right. Why dump the head in Bowness and what were the chances of Jake finding it when he was with Annie? Why not dump the whole body in Bowness? If she was last seen in Barrow then it looked like whoever it was wanted Annie or Jake to find that head, and why would someone want that? His phone began to ring and he relaxed to see Annie’s number flashing on his screen.

‘Afternoon, what’s up?’

‘Nothing, I just wanted to hear your voice. I miss you.’

Stu was sitting at his desk sticking a finger down his throat and making gagging noises, and the others were all giggling. Will gave him two fingers and walked out of the office, letting the door slam shut behind him.

‘What are you on today? I suppose you’ve got loads of house-to-house to do. How’s it going?’

‘Nope, I’m on response. Cathy told me I was to keep well out of it and answer any jobs that came in. I’m with a brand new special called George who has very kindly offered to be the OIC in charge of a break-in at the rugby club. He’s taking a statement at this very moment in time.’

‘Oh, that’s a relief then. I can’t wait to see you. Do you want to go out for tea or should I pick something up on my way home?’

‘I’d rather you pick something up. I just want to go home and put my pyjamas on and drink wine.’

‘Such a high-maintenance, glamorous woman you are to keep. I don’t know how my bank balance will ever survive.’

She laughed and the sound made his heart skip a beat.

‘I told you I wasn’t after you for your money. Did you not believe me?’

‘Not really, but I’m overjoyed that you’re just after my body.’

‘See you later. And, Will, please can you stop off at the shop and pick up some blue-top milk and a box of Coco Pops. I just fancy some; I haven’t had them for years.’

‘No champagne or expensive chocolates? I’m offering.’

‘No, thank you.’

‘Okay, see you later. Be careful and don’t work poor George too hard. I love you.’

‘I love you too. Bye.’

She ended the call and he typed a reminder into his phone because he had a terrible memory and the last thing he wanted to do was forget when the nearest shop was miles away from where they lived.

When he walked back into the office they had all calmed down and were busy typing away. He was lucky he worked with such a good team of people. It could be much worse. They could all be class-one tossers. He sat down and decided to ring Grace Marshall, the forensic psychologist who had been there when Henry was captured and had also been Henry’s doctor in the secure hospital. He dialled her number and swore when she didn’t pick up either; he wasn’t having a very good day.

‘Stu, can you ring DS whatever his name is right now and find out what the latest update on Smith is, please.’

Stu pointed to the phone that was being held up to his ear by his shoulder.

‘Already on it, boss – just on hold while they transfer me.’

Will nodded. ‘Nice one, Stu.’

Will sat down and began to write a list of the bars, hotels, clubs and shops around the Town Hall perimeter. He would ask a couple of his trusted PCSOs to sit and view all of the CCTV footage that had been seized the night of Beth’s disappearance. Something might have been missed in the first raft of inquiries. It had to be watched in real time for anything that could give them a lead. Someone had to have lured Beth O’Connor away from her party and it could have been on foot, by car, van or motorbike. They couldn’t afford to leave anything unchecked because they needed a lead and they needed it now, not in three weeks’ time. He printed several copies of the list out and handed them to the newest member of the team, Detective Constable Jack Manning.

‘Do me a favour; can you print out enough copies of Henry Smith’s most recent mug shot the hospital sent and find enough clipboards to put the photo and a copy of the list on? Then go find me some PCSOs. I want every shop, bar, hotel and takeaway revisited just in case something was missed the first time.’

Jack nodded and disappeared out of the office in search of some clipboards. Stu couldn’t help but grin to himself; this was a turn-up for the books because it was normally him who got the crap jobs.


Chapter Six

Henry parked the van outside the caravan, which was tucked away at the back of the park, right next to the huge evergreen hedge that ran alongside Beckett House. It was an ugly caravan, so no wonder it was hidden out of sight, but it suited their needs perfectly. He’d never been in a caravan before the last four months, and now he’d lived in not one but two of them. He couldn’t complain, though. At least there were no heavy-duty metal doors or bars across the windows to keep him inside and he could come and go as he pleased, within reason.

He had made a small hole directly behind the caravan in the hedge, so he could get in and out of the gardens and boathouse to the big rambling house, which had seen better days. A couple of times he’d seen the old woman staring out of the bedroom window but she never looked his way. She always looked out onto the lake. Henry had watched her for weeks. He was very good at that so he knew exactly what happened and who came in and out of the house.

The boathouse was directly behind the hole he’d made so it gave him the perfect cover to go in and out unseen. When he’d lifted the window and climbed through he’d been surprised to see the boat in there, which for its age was in excellent condition. It had taken him a week to clean it up and check there were no holes in it, then he had gone out there one night when it was really windy and tried the engine. It had taken four attempts and on his last one, before he gave it up, it had started, and he’d jumped up and down like a kid at Christmas. He would be able to take it in and out of the boathouse whenever he needed it because the window the woman looked out of faced in the opposite direction, and he hoped that her eyesight wasn’t very good, along with her hearing. Judging by the state of the rusted-up lock on the main door into the building it hadn’t been opened for a very long time. It was a shame to let it go to waste. There was an upper galley that had a rusted table and chairs and enough room to throw down a sleeping bag should he need somewhere to hide.

Megan wanted to kill again. She kept begging and begging and was wearing him down. He had tried his best to hide from her the thrill he had got watching her cut the woman’s throat. Between them they had gagged her and then killed her. They didn’t have any clippers so Megan had cut big chunks of hair off so it was a mess. She had insisted their victim must have long hair she played with constantly. He hadn’t particularly enjoyed cutting her head off. It was too messy and a lot harder than he’d imagined, but there was no way he could have hidden her body. He’d been able to carry her head in a rucksack and shove it under the boathouse when it was still dark, just before daybreak, and there was no one around.

Megan got out and slammed the door shut, which really irritated him beyond belief.

‘Sorry, I forgot.’

And then she ran up the steps and went inside, leaving him sitting there contemplating his next move. He was so jealous that she had seen Annie close up today. He wanted her more than he’d ever wanted anything in his entire life. She had looked so tiny last night compared to that big brute she always seemed to be with. Her face had been a mask of horror when she’d seen the head. He’d watched the whole thing play out from the safety of the boat, which they’d moored on the lake, far enough away not to arouse suspicion but near enough that with a pair of binoculars they could watch everything that went on.

It had been quite unbelievable, really, that the copper had lost his hat and that it had ended up under the same boathouse as the head he’d dumped there in the early hours. If they hadn’t found it, the next thing on his list had been for Megan to use the unregistered pay-as-you-go mobile they had bought to phone the police and tell them she’d found a head. But they had been saved the unnecessary risk of the call being traced, which had been greatly in their favour.

Henry knew it was too soon to even think about taking Annie. He wasn’t ready, but he would have to do something to keep Megan happy. He would look for another victim while she was at work tomorrow, maybe one of the girls she worked with. And then he swore at himself. That would mean the police would be crawling all over the coffee shop and Megan – far too risky. It could be one of the customers, though; there must be some regulars who fitted Megan’s profile. He got out of the van to go inside and ask her what she thought. He was excited at the thought of killing again. He hadn’t thought it would be as enjoyable with an audience, but it was even better, and now both of them were as guilty as each other. It wouldn’t matter if they got caught. They were both equal now in the eyes of the law – both cold-blooded murderers.

***

After what took almost three times as long as if Annie had taken charge they finally left the rugby club. At least she’d taught George something valuable today. He would be able to put his knowledge to good use and know exactly how to treat someone who was very vulnerable and also deal with a break-in – probably the two most common jobs the police dealt with. They went back to get something for a late lunch at the deli. Cathy would probably be frothing at the mouth. She’d been waiting so long for some food, but there was nothing stopping her going into town for something.

Annie bought savoury cheese baguettes, salt and vinegar crisps and Cherry Cokes all round – the healthy option. Starting tomorrow she would have to watch what she was eating. She’d lost loads of weight without trying before the wedding because of Amelia, who had been Will’s dad’s housekeeper. She had turned out to be Will’s half sister who nobody knew existed. She had kidnapped Will so she could get some of his wealthy dad’s cash. But the weight was slowly creeping back on. Her work combat trousers were a little tighter this week than they had been last. After today she would dig out her old diet books and start again. Probably if she just cut down on the wine and all the home-cooked meals, that would do the trick, but there was something so nice about sitting in their cottage next to the wood-burning stove with a large glass of wine and Will. It almost made her want to sigh with contentment.

She parked outside the station and climbed out of the van, grabbing the carrier bag of food in one hand and tucking her hat under her other arm. They went inside and Cathy’s voice boomed down the corridor. ‘I hope to Christ you have something for me to eat because I’m chewing my own bloody arm off in here.’

George looked mortified and Annie stifled a giggle. ‘Yes, boss, we have.’

‘Well, come on, don’t be shy. Throw it my way.’

Annie walked down the short corridor to the end office, which was the inspector’s.

‘Sorry, we’ve been busy. Any luck finding the body?’

‘What do you think? Your boy wonder is on the case down in Barrow, though to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been killed there and just her head brought up here and dumped.’

‘Why?’

‘Why not?’ Cathy took a huge bite of her baguette, dropping cheese and salad cream all down her top. She scooped it up on her finger and popped it into her mouth. ‘If whoever did it is sick enough to take her in the first place and cut off her head, I don’t think it really matters why the fuck he did. In his own sick, twisted mind there is a reason for it and there’s a good chance we won’t have a bloody clue what makes him tick – unless your Will catches him. He is quite good at that sort of thing. Mind you, so are you. In fact my money would probably be on you catching him, only there’s a good chance you’d kill him. No mercy with you, is there?’

Cathy winked and Annie smiled.

‘I’m not a violent person. What are you trying to say? I’ve only ever used violence when it was a life or death situation.’

‘I know, but there’s only you who ever gets into life or death situations in the whole county of Cumbria. Relax, I’m only winding you up, but that’s why you’re on strict orders not to go near this case with a barge pole. Your husband will have me strung up, hunted down and shot if so much as a hair on your head gets harmed.’

‘Well, that’s very nice of you both, but you do know I’m quite capable of looking after myself and making my own decisions. It really pisses me off when everyone else decides what I can or can’t do.’

‘See what I mean? Perfect example of why you’re hard as nails, with that take-no-shit attitude. I love it, kid. Don’t ever let anyone wear you down so much that you are afraid to answer back. Now go show George how to do something useful with those statements. What had they taken from the rugby club?’

‘A case of King’s lager, a box of cheese and onion crisps and the charity tin off the bar.’

‘Kids. No self-respecting burglar would be seen dead carrying a case of that lager. Did you check the playground behind to see if our would-be burglars had a party and left behind all the evidence?’

‘Yes we did and it was clean, but I’m going to ring the council to see if anyone had been in to tidy it up first thing this morning.’

‘You know your talents are truly wasted being a response officer. Why don’t you sit your detective’s exam or your sergeant’s?’

‘Honestly, I can’t be bothered. I just want to do my shift and go home to my boy wonder.’ She winked at Cathy who laughed and almost choked on the last bite of her baguette.

‘I have to say that I probably would myself if I was married to him. It must be nice waking up to someone who doesn’t make you groan with disgust first thing in the morning.’

Annie left her to go and eat her dinner, write up her stuff, and then hopefully it would be time to go home.

31 December 1930

Every light in the Beckett house was burning bright; each and every room had been searched thoroughly. Nothing was left undisturbed. As the guests began to arrive they were greeted by Lucy, who informed them they were dreadfully sorry but Master Joseph had gone missing and the party was now cancelled. The men had insisted on coming in to help with the search and the women went in search of Martha’s mother, Eleanor, to comfort her and help in any way that they could. When the police finally arrived it was just as a group of six men were about to begin searching the gardens. They gathered everyone inside to listen to what had happened exactly before Joe had disappeared.

The policeman who had looked a little bit like her father had taken Martha to one side and knelt down on the floor to speak to her, and she told him exactly what she had told everyone else. That she heard Joe crying down in the cellar and then he was gone. Everyone was told to stay where they were while the police went to search the cellar. There was a lot of muttering amongst the men about time being wasted but none of them wanted to disobey the officers, so they stayed where they were. They finally came back upstairs and agreed there was no sign of him.

‘The only place he could have fallen is down into that drainpipe. Was the iron cover across it when you went down there the first time to look for him, Mr Beckett?’

‘Yes, it was. It wasn’t quite on the hole but it was covering it. My son is nine years old and if he did fall into it he would be screaming blue murder for us to rescue him. There is no way if he did go down there that he would have been able to move the cover and then put it back across. It’s a two-man job; it is so heavy.’

‘I need some volunteers. Regardless of his strength, if the last place he was seen was in the cellar then we need to send someone down into that hole.’

‘I’ll do it. He is my son.’

‘No, sir, I think it’s best if you stay here with your wife.’

Davey stepped forward. ‘I will do it, and I’ve been down there once before, last year when there was a blockage.’

The policeman nodded his head in approval. ‘Thank you; we will help you and watch you to make sure that you’re safe and then we can pull you back out after you’ve checked it out.’

Davey left the room followed by the two policemen and Martha watched as her mother began to crumple in front of her eyes. Mary and Lucy both walked over to her. Taking an arm each, they led her out of the crowded dining room and down towards the kitchen and Martha ran behind them.

‘Should I tell the guests to leave, ma’am?’

‘No. As much as I don’t want them here, if they don’t find Joe down in that hole we will need them to help search the gardens. I don’t want any stone unturned.’

‘Very well, ma’am. Would you like a cup of tea?’

‘No, thank you, Mary. I think this is going to call for something much stronger than tea. Lucy, please will you get a bottle of sherry and pour me the biggest glass you can find.’

Eleanor looked at her daughter for the first time since Martha had told them she couldn’t find her brother and seemed to realise how upset she must be. She opened her arms and Martha ran to them. After clambering onto her knees, she buried her head in her mother’s chest and began to cry.

‘I’m so sorry we can’t find him. I don’t know what to do.’

‘Shh, Martha, come now. None of this is your fault. We’ll find him and when we do he will be in trouble for causing such a fuss.’

Martha felt her eyes getting heavy and before long she was drifting off to sleep and a place where Joe was still hiding in the attic waiting for her, and whatever it was that lived in the cellar hadn’t taken him away to eat him.

***

Davey led the way into the cellar followed by James Beckett, who had insisted on helping, and the two policemen – all of them with lamps burning brightly and illuminating the gloomy room. Which was no longer its usual tidy state because every box and piece of furniture had been pulled out and searched. James couldn’t tell them about the missing monster without Eleanor finding out that he’d disobeyed her wishes, and he didn’t want to upset her any more than she already was. If they didn’t find Joe soon he would tell her and the police, but for now it was far more important to locate his son than a stolen fairground exhibit.

Davey led them to the large drain in the far corner and put his lamp down. James did the same and they both took hold of one end and strained to lift the cover to one side. The policemen looked at each other and nodded. They knew that if the boy was down there, and the cover had been in place, then there was no way he had got down there on his own, which meant some foul play was afoot. The cover dropped to the floor with a heavy clang, narrowly missing Davey’s feet.

Davey walked over to the hole and waved his lamp around. It didn’t look any different to any other time he’d looked into it. He knew there was a tunnel that led out from under the house to the lake, but it wasn’t that big and he would have to slither along on his belly to check the whole length of it, which he was glad to do. He liked the lad and didn’t want any harm to come to him. The thing was that, if by some miracle Joe had managed to get down here and go along the tunnel, it would be highly dangerous. There were rats and a couple of times Davey had seen something much bigger than a rat, but it never stayed in the same place long enough for him to actually see what it was. It moved too fast.

The tunnel eventually led out into the lake and he hoped to God they wouldn’t find the boy’s body in the morning, all dead and floating around. It made him shiver just thinking about it. He sat on the edge of the hole and swung his legs down. After jumping down into the blackness he landed on his feet but felt his hand brush against something large and cold. He screamed for Mr Beckett to pass him the lamp and he did. There was some movement as whatever it was brushed against him, but when the light was shone down there it had gone.

‘What’s the matter, Davey? Why did you scream? What’s down there?’

‘Sorry, sir, it was a rat, a bloody great rat. I hate them things. They give me the shivers.’

‘Can you see anything? Can you see Joe?’

He knelt down, his hands shaking so much that the light swayed as it cast shadows. Now on his hands and knees, he ignored the thick, black gunge underneath him, which squelched under his weight. Scared to look into the tunnel but even more scared not to, he forced himself to shine the light down there and felt relieved there was nothing in there. No sign of whatever had just touched him or the boy. Davey wasn’t sure whether this was a good or bad thing. He would have liked to have found Joe covered in muck and too terrified to move in case one of the rodents bit him.

‘Nothing. The tunnel is empty, sir. Do you want me to crawl down and see if Master Joseph has gone down and got stuck?’

‘If you can, Davey – I know this is difficult for you but it’s a matter of life and death. If for some reason he’s in there and has hurt himself…’

Mr Beckett’s breath caught in the back of his throat and his eyes welled with tears he would not shed, not in front of strangers. Davey nodded and, although terrified of what he might encounter, he began to crawl into the tunnel and forced himself to think of nothing other than finding the boy. It was hard work. The floor was wet and filled with God knows what. It stunk something terrible and it was hard to breathe without inhaling the foul smell.

He did his best to crawl as far as he could where the tunnel branched off into two. The one that went to the left was much narrower and he was glad that he couldn’t fit down it because that was where the eye-watering smell was coming from. The other tunnel also narrowed and Davey knew that if Joe was down here he was so far down he was never coming back. The boy had no lamp with him and, although he was an adventurous lad, Davey didn’t think he would venture down here in the pitch black just to avoid getting caught playing hide-and-seek.

So he began to move backwards, his breathing laboured with the exertion. He had to stop and rest a minute. It was when he was perfectly still and resting that he heard the noise. It was coming from the much narrower tunnel and it struck the fear of God into him. It sounded like scratching and the clicking of claws, very big claws, and it was heading up the tunnel to meet him. Panic taking over, he began to move himself backwards as fast as he could until he felt his legs dangle over the lip of the tunnel, and with one final shove he pushed himself out of the tunnel and back into the hole where the policemen were leaning over, shining lamps onto him. He had never been so glad to see a copper in all his life, and he shook his head.

‘He’s not down here. Pull me out.’

They reached in and grabbed his arms and he felt himself yanked up just as something reached out of the tunnel to grab at his foot. He felt the air swoosh around it and he let out a scream. He clambered out of the hole as fast as he could and fell onto the floor in a sticky, smelly mess.

‘What’s the matter with you, man? Are you scared of your own shadow?’

‘No, sir, I just don’t like rats. Horrible creatures they are and I think there is a big one down there. We need to come back tomorrow and set some traps – try and catch it. We don’t want it coming up here.’

‘Is there any sign that Joe has been down there, Davey?’

‘None at all, sir – I’m really sorry. I was hoping he’d gone in and got scared and was waiting to be rescued, but the tunnel was empty as far as I could see, and I crawled along until it narrowed and isn’t big enough for anyone to get down.’

James stood up. ‘Right then. We need to start searching the gardens and boathouse. He may have gone outside and fallen. He could have broken an ankle or knocked himself out. We need to sort out search teams and send them to cover a section each.’

‘Very wise decision, Mr Beckett – you have a few volunteers upstairs. It’s a good job you didn’t send your guests home because we are going to need all the help we can get. How big are the grounds?’

‘Two acres, an acre of landscaped gardens and then there’s the wood to the back, which leads up to the main road. Davey, thank you for going down there; I know it wasn’t an easy task. Go and get yourself cleaned up and get a hot drink from Mary, and then will you help to search? You know the grounds better than anyone.’

‘Of course I will, sir; Master Joseph has a den in the woods. I would check there first. He uses it when he wants to play soldiers with his friends.’

‘Why didn’t you say something before? He could be in there now.’

‘Because it’s dark and cold, it’s been raining. He doesn’t use it in the winter. I asked him just yesterday how his den was holding up and he told me it had been leaking with all the rain and he hadn’t been out there for weeks. Asked me if I’d help him make it waterproof when the weather turned better. I didn’t think he would go out there in the dark.’

‘We need to check. Tell me exactly where it is.’

Davey, who was now shivering and feeling shaken at the thought of whatever it was down in that tunnel that had been coming after him, did his best to explain. James and the two policemen ran up the stone steps to go out and search for this den. Davey followed and then realised they hadn’t replaced the cover. Whatever it was could get up out of the hole. Terrified to go back on his own he ran over to it and strained to pull the metal cover, but he had this feeling that whatever was down there was waiting for him to leave and turn out the lights, and then it would be up here and they would all disappear. His arms aching and his knees creaking, he pulled and pulled until the cover was over the hole as best as he could do. It didn’t quite fit properly but it was good enough, and then he ran from the cellar and upstairs into the wonderful, light-filled hallway. He slammed the cellar door behind him, sliding the bolt across, and at that moment he knew in his heart that they could search for the rest of their lives for little Joe Beckett and they would never find him. Whatever it was down in the tunnel had taken him away for ever. He crossed himself, jumping when Mary spoke.

‘For the love of God, Davey, you smell like something the dog dragged in and you don’t look much better. Go and get washed and changed before you dare to set foot in my kitchen. Have they found Master Joe yet?’

He shook his head and tears filled his eyes. He lifted his damp sleeve to brush it against his face and wipe them away.

‘No, Mary, not yet.’

Before she asked him anything else he ran along to the narrow staircase used by the staff and up the stairs to the staff bathroom. After slamming the door shut and locking it, he looked into the mirror. His face had lines underneath his eyes that hadn’t been there this morning. He ran the water and stripped off his now ruined clothes. Stepping into the bath, he wanted nothing more than to stay in there and soak away the memories of that thing but he couldn’t. He didn’t want to tell Mr Beckett or the coppers what he’d heard in the tunnel. They would think he was going mad and then probably send him back down there until he’d crawled the entire length. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t go back in that hole because he knew now that whatever it was had smelt him and would be waiting for him.

Davey had no idea how he knew this but he did. It was like a predator scenting its prey. If he went back down there it would be curtains for him and he was too selfish to die down there all alone. The best thing he could do was to go and help search the woods for Master Joe and hope they found him safe and well because he was far too scared to go down that drain and face whatever it was. It would be easier to push it away, forget about it and hope that somewhere inside his mind he was having a bit of a breakdown, for he would rather be a stark, raving lunatic than have to face a monster that dwelled in the drains and ate children.


Chapter Seven

Megan passed a plate of chicken curry to Henry and sat down opposite him at the table, which was just big enough for them both to eat their tea on.

‘So I’ve been thinking today, a lot.’

‘What about?’

‘I want to do it again. This time I want to make sure that we shave all their hair off, while they are watching. You know what I mean?’

Henry didn’t have a bloody clue what she meant but he nodded anyway. He didn’t answer her. She could wait. Talking about murder wasn’t his number-one subject when he was eating his tea. Yes, he had a hard stomach and no feelings or empathy for his victims, but he didn’t want to talk about it at mealtimes. There were some boundaries. Megan knew this. He’d told her several times and this was when she most annoyed him, disregarding his wishes when she should know better.

Lately she was getting on his nerves, not a lot but just a touch more each day. He knew what it was. He wanted her but they had only ever slept together a couple of times, and he hadn’t been pleased with himself for breaking his own rule, which had been not to get too personally involved. He had wanted their partnership to be a working one. Things got too messy when emotions and desire got in the way. Now she was becoming needy, relying on him to come up with ideas and plans. It was hard enough trying to plan what he was going to do when he finally had Annie without having to plan abductions and murders for her as well.

He knew that if it hadn’t been for Nurse Megan befriending him in the mental hospital, he wouldn’t be here, and he tried to remind himself of this every time he found himself getting bad-tempered with her, but he wished for once she would just shut the fuck up and stop being so selfish. Megan got the message. His face had said it all so she didn’t speak another word. They both finished eating in complete silence. It was Henry who stood up to take the plates away and wash them. Once he’d rinsed them and put them away he turned to her.

‘So when are we going to do this and how?’

‘Well, I want to do it soon, not in a couple of months, and I think we should check out that barn on Walney. If it isn’t crawling all over with police, and there’s no reason it should be because no one except us has used it in years, I think we should do exactly the same as last time. Take someone over there, tie them up, let me shave their head, and then we can kill them and you can chop their head off. We can leave the body in the barn with the other one and bring the head up here as a romantic gesture for that Annie woman you like so much. A severed head is far more original than a dozen red roses. What do you think?’

‘Sounds like a plan.’

‘This time, though, we are not keeping the head in the freezer. It totally freaked me out. We do the job and dump the head straight away. I mean, how long are you going to take before you go after that copper anyway?’

‘I don’t know yet, Megan. I want to make sure it will be perfect and nothing can go wrong like last time.’

Megan adored Henry. He was her hero, and even though he’d lied to her in the hospital about wanting to apologise to Annie Graham for the harm he’d caused her, she’d known straight away that it was bullshit. She’d read a biography about Henry called Deadly Obsession and it seemed that all Henry had done was stalk and then want to kill the woman. She knew that he still wanted to kill her because she’d got away from him and ruined his life. It didn’t take a psychologist to work that out, but because Megan understood his desire to kill she didn’t mind too much about Annie. She supposed it would be a different matter the day they decided to kill her. She didn’t know how she would feel to see the man she was in love with so excited about another woman, but she’d cope. She would have to because she didn’t have a choice. To be with Henry she had to understand about his strange obsession with that policewoman, and she could put up with it all as long as, after it was over, they could still be together. He might pay her a bit more attention when that Annie was out of the picture and that could only be a good thing.

‘Yes, I’ve been meaning to ask you about those little white lies you told me back in the hospital. You didn’t mean what you said, did you? You didn’t want to make it right with her at all. I read the newspaper reports in the library and that book about you, and it said that you were obsessed with her and had been stalking her. Naughty, naughty, Henry – telling me such fibs.’

He clenched his knuckles into tight white fists, enraged that she had been checking up on him behind his back and had never had the decency to confront him about it. After putting the plates into the cupboard he turned and walked into his narrow bedroom, slamming the door and sliding the catch over so she couldn’t get in. He needed to be on his own until he calmed down and the desire to wrap his hands around Megan’s delicate throat until she choked to death had passed.

He lay on the bed and closed his eyes, breathing deeply. He forced his fingers to uncurl from their fists and thought about Annie, his Annie, who looked a picture of health when he’d been watching her from the boat. So much better than when he had first got to know her and she’d had a shaved head and a big wound running across the back of it. He’d wanted to kiss that cut all better but he hadn’t got the chance. Instead that man who she had now married had been the one to do that. He’d taken her away from Henry and now she would never be his. Therefore the fitting thing to do was to take her away from him. and then they could be together for ever, because he knew that once she was dead his life would be over too, and he planned to kill himself so that he could be with her.

After an hour there was a gentle knock on his door. He had been dozing on and off. Not properly sleeping because he wasn’t tired, but in that in-between state of consciousness.

‘I’m sorry, Henry, I didn’t mean to wind you up. I wasn’t checking up on you. I was there for something else and saw a pile of newspapers tucked away in the corner. The headlines caught my eye.’

He lay there contemplating whether to bother speaking or not. He was quite happy to spend the rest of the night in here, on his own, in silence. After all it wasn’t as if he wasn’t used to it. Megan, however, didn’t like silence and would chatter on about anything and everything.

‘It’s okay. I should have told you from the start, but I was embarrassed about the whole thing.’

He heard her walk away, into her room opposite him and close her door. He was relieved that she was just as pissed off with him as he was with her. At least that meant a whole night of peace and quiet. He would make it up to her tomorrow and be extra nice, but it was a relief to have a bit of space. He turned on his side and looked out of the small window. It looked onto the hedge of the property next door. He could see through the hole he’d made into the garden. It was getting dark and it took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the gloom, but he saw something move from the corner of his eye. It was only for the briefest of seconds but it was bent over on all fours, yet it looked far too big to be an animal.

He sat up and pressed his face to the glass, waiting to see if he could spot it again, but it had moved lightning fast. It couldn’t have been a deer; it wasn’t the right shape. He supposed it could have been a badger but he didn’t think they could move like that. He’d always thought they were more of a slow creature. Whatever it was, it was gone, and he thought about going outside to throw down some breadcrumbs for it so he could lure it back and see exactly what it was. But then he lay back down and shut his eyes.

He wondered just how bad the smell would be in the barn and whether or not the body had been found by the farmer or some dog walkers. They would be looking everywhere for the woman’s body now that her head had been found. It would be tricky taking another so soon but it could be done. Hadn’t he gone on a bit of a spree last time and managed to kill four people in the space of a couple of weeks without getting caught? He smiled to himself. He was a natural at this murder thing – a natural talent. It would be a shame to waste his talents. They would do it tomorrow. Strike while the police were still in an uproar about the first one. Megan wasn’t at work tomorrow so it made perfect sense. They would take a drive to Barrow to check. As long as the barn hadn’t been discovered, it would be game on.


Chapter Eight

Annie drove along the country lane to reach her house and sighed. Will had left the gate open for her so she didn’t need to climb out of the car. No matter how many times she looked at the cottage she was so proud to call it her home. She refused to think about the trouble she’d had when they first bought it. Thankfully it was calm and peaceful now. The lights were on in the bathroom and the entire downstairs was lit up. She parked her sparkling new car next to Will’s much older BMW. She had refused point blank to drive it when he’d given her the keys and led her outside to see it. Instead she’d begged him to swap cars. He could have the new one and she would drive his, but he’d shaken his head and it had been his turn to refuse.

‘You’re having a laugh, aren’t you? It’s taken me eight years to get my leather seat shaped to fit my backside. I don’t want to have to start all over again and break a new car in. You can do that. Besides I thought you’d like a Mercedes. You said when you watched that film with all the vampires in it you wished you had a car like that. Well, now you do.’

She almost broke into a run she was so excited to see Will, have her shower and put her pyjamas on. As she walked through the door he greeted her wearing nothing but a pair of boxers and a black T-shirt. She threw her arms around him, hugging him tight.

‘Boy, I’ve missed you today. I kept thinking of you having to deal with that poor woman’s head and I just wanted to be with you.’

He lifted his hand to her forehead to check if she had a temperature.

‘I missed you too. Are you feeling okay?’

‘Of course I am. I’m just a bit tired and hungry.’

‘Good. Tea’s almost done.’

‘Have I got time for a quick shower?’

He nodded his head then leant over and kissed her.

‘A quick one – I took a bit of effort making this. But your Coco Pops are on standby if you don’t like it.’

She giggled and turned to go upstairs to the bathroom where she could strip off and wash away the aches and pains of the day under the hot water.

When she came downstairs her stomach grumbled as she inhaled the smell of roast beef and all the trimmings. In the kitchen Will was just plating up the vegetables and she walked behind him and kissed the back of his neck.

‘You do know that you spoil me, don’t you?’

‘I do, but it makes me happy to spoil you. So that makes it okay, don’t you think?’

‘As long as you’re happy then so am I, and I’m starving. Good choice, Mr Ashworth.’

He laughed and turned around to kiss her.

‘When are you not starving?’

If anyone else had said that she would have been insulted but not Will. He never judged her or commented on how much she ate. She did have a healthy appetite but she knew that he was an angel because he never deep-fried anything and always cooked as healthily as he could to help her. Although he’d never seen her when she was really overweight and miserable, he knew that she was very conscious about what she ate, which practically made him a saint in her eyes. Mike, her abusive ex-husband, would demand fried foods and fatty takeaways, and then he would enjoy calling her names and making her cry.

How she had changed in three years. She was a completely different person from back then and she wondered what hold he’d had over her to make her let him treat her the way he did. Will put the plate of roast dinner down in front of her and she sighed.

‘Pass me the mint sauce?’

‘It’s beef, not lamb.’

‘I know but I like mint sauce on any roast. Gives it a kick.’

He took the glass jar from the cupboard and passed it to her. ‘Glass of wine?’

‘Maybe later, thanks. I think I’ll fall asleep halfway through my tea if I do. I’m so tired. I must have been dreaming last night but I can’t remember what about. Was I tossing and turning much?’

‘Only the usual. Your night-time exercise keeps me warm. You get so hot I can feel the heat radiating off you in waves. It saves us a fortune not having to put the central heating on.’

They both began to eat, Annie trying her best not to think about Martha Beckett and Will trying to block out the image of Beth O’Connor’s severed head all alone in the fridge bank at the morgue.

***

Megan was tired and grumpy and she felt bad for upsetting Henry. She knew that she had, but she’d been on her feet all day in that coffee shop while he’d been able to potter around here doing nothing more strenuous than driving to pick her up. She wasn’t really mad at him, more irritated by their financial situation. She knew that he couldn’t go and get a job and had to keep a very low profile, but she would like it if she didn’t have to go to work as well.

Her eyes became heavier and she turned on her side with her back to her window, the smallest window on earth. Even the inmates at the hospital had bigger rooms, with large windows that looked out onto the landscaped gardens – even if they did have metal bars across them. They even had an en suite, which was a laugh considering what sick bastards most of them were. Most average hard-working families didn’t have such luxuries.

She didn’t regret her decision to help Henry escape but she was bored of it now, not totally bored but she was an all-or-nothing kind of girl. She wanted to kill again and read all about it in the papers, hear people discussing it in the café. Listen to them speculate about what monster could commit such crimes when the monster had just served them with a vanilla latte and a slice of lemon cake.

She was almost asleep when a loud scratching noise from under the caravan made her eyes open wide. She listened again but it was silent. She shuddered at the thought of some animal underneath there trying to get in; she hated rats or badgers, anything that wasn’t cute and fluffy. It happened again and this time she threw her covers back and sat up. It sounded as if it was directly below her bed. She lifted her duvet up to check there wasn’t a big rat under there and sighed with relief that there wasn’t. Pressing her face against the window she peered into the blackness and waited for her eyes to adjust. She couldn’t see anything. A loud thud against the metal side of the caravan shook the glass and she pulled her face back, the hair on the back of her neck standing on end. Megan backed away from the window and got back on her bed. Maybe it was some stupid bird or a deer. In fact, it probably was. She turned on her side, facing away from the window, and closed her eyes.

There was no more noise and she began to drift off once more. She was almost asleep when she heard a sharp scratching noise. This time it was against the glass of her window. She turned over and screamed. There was a face peering through the glass. At least, it looked like a face, but then again it didn’t. It had the greyest skin and the sharpest teeth that were huge. It must have been tall because she couldn’t reach her window and neither could Henry – the caravan was on bricks to keep it off the ground. The thing lifted its arms to bang on the glass and Megan screamed even louder because at the end of them were razor-sharp, black claws. Henry came barging through the door in only his boxers to see what was wrong. She ran to him and threw her arms around him.

‘Jesus Christ, Megan, I thought you were being murdered.’

The irony didn’t go amiss on Henry and if it hadn’t been for the fact that she was so white and shaking he would have started to laugh.

‘There’s someone outside…not someone, something.’

‘Like what?’

‘Like a man that looks like a scary dead man but he doesn’t have any hands and he was scratching at the window.’

‘A man that didn’t look like a man with no hands was scratching on the glass? How the fuck did he manage that with no hands? You must have been dreaming.’

‘I wasn’t. It’s outside. First of all it was scratching under the caravan and then it was banging against the side. Did you not hear it?’

‘No, I was asleep. All I heard was you.’

‘I looked out but couldn’t see anything so I got back in bed and it began to scratch at the window with these horrible, sharp, black claws.’

Henry scratched at his head. She was out of her tiny mind. He didn’t think she’d been drinking. He’d never seen her take drugs. Maybe the stress was all getting too much for her and she was losing it.

‘Look, we are in a caravan park in England and as far as I know there are no men with claws for hands that live around here.’ He squeezed her tight and stroked her head.

‘You’ve been under a lot of pressure lately. We’ve done some things that would freak out most normal people and you haven’t had time to adjust. It’s probably a combination of everything and the fact that you’re tired. I swear you must have been dozing off and dreamt it. Sometimes dreams can be so realistic you don’t know that it was a dream.’

‘Will you go and check outside, please? Make sure the door is locked when you come back in, but I don’t want to stay in here on my own.’

He nodded. Barefoot and in only his underwear he went to the caravan door. It was completely dark now. He could hear the water from the lake lapping at the edge of the shore and from somewhere in the distance laughter echoed through the trees. He stood on the top step and looked around. He couldn’t see anything. He didn’t actually believe that he would. The air was a lot cooler tonight than it had been the last few days and he shivered. He stepped back inside and locked the door behind him. Megan was waiting in the kitchen clutching a frying pan in her hands. If she hadn’t looked so scared and vulnerable he would have laughed, but he didn’t.

‘There’s nothing. Honestly, you dreamt it.’

She breathed out and put the pan on the worktop, nodding her head.

‘Come on, why don’t you sleep with me tonight? We can keep each other warm and I’ll protect you.’

She followed him into the bedroom and he wondered if pretty little Megan was not as tough as she’d made out. She insisted on sleeping next to the wall, as far away from his window as possible. and she told him to draw the curtains, so nothing could look in. Henry did as she asked then climbed under the covers next to her. She was so cold she was shaking. He wrapped his arms around her and began to tell her about his plans for tomorrow.


Chapter Nine

Annie parked outside the police station and wondered who the battered, rusty Ford Transit van belonged to. Her three days off had gone so fast she couldn’t believe she was back on shift once more. She walked into the station and could hear raised voices in the front office. Heading that way to see what was going on she was surprised to see two men arguing with Cathy.

‘Look, gents, I’ve told you we are doing everything we can. I have officers and staff out now door knocking in the area you last saw him. Are you sure he hasn’t just buggered off somewhere else?’

The older of the two placed a hand on the other’s arm, trying to placate him.

‘Look, if we thought he’d pissed off back home or on to somewhere else do you think we’d be here bothering you? I’d rather cut my own throat than ask you lot for help. It’s a last resort that we’re here darkening your doorstep. We’ve checked with family, friends and anyone else we can think of. He hasn’t been seen since Thursday afternoon when we dropped him off near the caravan park and no one has heard from him. His phone was going to voicemail but now it’s dead. So you tell me, where the bloody hell is he?’

Annie stepped forward. ‘Where exactly did you drop him off on Thursday?’

Cathy let out a sigh of relief, glad to have someone to back her up. The other wimps had made a hasty retreat upstairs to the far end of the building to the refs room when they’d seen the travellers storming up the steps.

‘Near that caravan park on the way out of the town, the one between the big houses that lead onto the shore. We dropped him off to have a good look around – well, to knock on a few doors and see if anyone needed any odd jobs doing. You know, a bit of gardening, path cleaning – we does anything. He was supposed to phone up and tell us to pick him up at four. We waited and waited and he never rang. I phoned him and it just rang out so we thought he might be busy. When it got to seven and there wasn’t a peep from him we drove down there to see if we could spot him. We couldn’t find him anywhere. We walked all over that caravan park, checked along the shore. He’s nowhere to be seen. Now you tell me how a man whose idea of exercise is lifting a can of lager to his mouth could have gone anywhere and not bothered to let his family and friends know. Your boss here doesn’t believe us. She thinks we’re all out to rip little old ladies off. Just because there are a few bad eggs who do, you can’t tar us all with the same brush.’

Cathy opened her mouth then closed it again, obviously not sure that what she was about to say would actually help the situation.

‘I understand. I was in that area myself on Thursday afternoon, but I never saw him. Why don’t you let me make some inquiries and I’ll get back in touch with you as soon as I’ve spoken to some of the people around there. I cover that area and I pretty much know everyone. Give me your phone number and I’ll ring you as soon as I can.’

The men looked at each other and nodded.

‘I suppose so. You won’t go messing us around, will you? Seamus has a wife back home waiting for him and we’d like to get back home ourselves.’

He recited his number. Annie scribbled it onto a piece of paper. She thanked him and showed them to the door.

Cathy looked at her. ‘My office now.’

Annie thought that she would tell her where to go if she was going to bollock her for only trying to defuse the situation; she followed her down and shut the door behind her. She hadn’t even booked on duty yet so she had no idea who would be in the office listening to their conversation.

‘Thank God you arrived when you did. Were you really down there or did you just say that to fob the thieving little bastards off?’

‘I went to a job at Beckett House. Do you know it?’

‘I do, although I haven’t been there for years. Is old Martha Beckett still alive?’

‘She is, very much. The thing is she reported that a young man who looked and sounded to be of traveller origin had gone missing in her cellar.’

Cathy spat the coffee she had just slurped all over her shirt.

‘Jesus, please tell me you’re winding me up. Why didn’t I know about this? Did you search the cellar?’

‘You were busy with the severed head and the call came in just after I’d come on shift. Yes, I searched the cellar and had a look around the grounds. When we spoke to Miss Beckett it sounded as if she was slightly delusional.’

‘What did you do?’

‘I came back and put an intel report and a vulnerable adult form in for her. She’s in her nineties and living in that big old house.’

‘Shit, I fobbed them off yesterday when they came. I’d already had three complaints from residents about them being overly persuasive and overpriced when they knocked on doors. So where is this Seamus? Has he shacked up with some bird he’s met at the caravan park? Or maybe he hit the big time and robbed Martha Beckett and didn’t want to split the profits?’

‘Or maybe he is missing? You see, I actually believed her when I spoke to her. She said that the cellar is a bad place and that her younger brother went down there when he was nine years old and was never seen again.’

‘Argh.’

Cathy buried her head in her hands and shook it. Annie waited for her to look up.

‘Right, you, me and two PCSOs are going to pay Martha Beckett a visit. We’ll see if she’s changed her story. Have you ever seen the film Arsenic and Old Lace?’

Annie shook her head.

‘Really? Well, you should. It’s a brilliant old black and white film, but to cut a long story short it’s about two sisters who run a boarding house and let in male guests. They think they are being kind and poison them to end their suffering, then hide their bodies in the cellar. Maybe it’s Martha Beckett’s favourite film and she’s decided to copy it.’

‘Well, that’s all very good, boss, but the problem is, how would a ninety-year-old woman who looks quite frail manage to drag the body of a young, fit man down those steps – which are really steep – into the cellar and then hide his body. Because me and George searched all over and couldn’t find anything.’

‘Well, maybe she didn’t put him in the cellar. I don’t know; it’s just a theory. Come on, we’d better get there and search the house before the shit hits the fan.’

Annie didn’t agree with a word Cathy had just said. She had a hunch, a very real one, that Miss Martha Beckett had been telling the truth all along and that at least two people had disappeared from that cellar, and that one day they would find the skeletons of them both.

‘I have a bad feeling about this, Annie, a really bad feeling.’

Annie nodded. She couldn’t agree more. Then she went to get her kit on. As she walked down the corridor to the locker room she lifted her fingers to check the crucifix that her dear friend Father John had given to her when she was about to go into battle with the Shadow Man to save Sophie’s soul. It was still around her neck, tucked under her shirt. Not only had he helped her to fight the scariest demon she’d ever come across, he’d also been there to help her put the skeleton of scary Betsy Baker to rest. She lifted it to her lips and kissed it, asking God for all the help she could get, and hoped that she wouldn’t have to drag John – who at his age should be taking it easy – into this mess.

***

Henry parked the silver van in the hotel car park and turned off the engine. It was one of the classier establishments in Barrow. In fact it was probably the classiest with its imposing red sandstone blocks glowing in the setting sun. The car park was huge and he had parked the van in a far corner next to a copse of trees so they couldn’t be seen from any of the hotel windows. Megan had checked and found there were CCTV cameras but none of them was in the car park, which suited their needs perfectly. They were probably on camera entering the car park but he didn’t really care. The chances that the cameras were good enough to pick up the registration number were slim, and if they did they would dump the van and find another mode of transport.

There were a lot of cars so it must be busy inside. What they were waiting for was a woman to come out on her own. Preferably one who was a bit drunk, but they would take their chances. At Megan’s insistence whoever it was had to have long hair because she had this thing about women who looked down on others and had long hair that they loved as much as themselves, which Henry thought was stupid. At this very moment in time they weren’t in a position to pick and choose their victims, but he wanted to make her happy. Since last night she’d been very subdued and hadn’t made much conversation at all. A woman came out on her own who matched the profile perfectly, and she had black mascara trails down her cheeks.

‘Had a barney with her boyfriend. He keeps staring at the younger bird on the next table. I’ll bet you a fiver.’

Henry shook his head. ‘I think you’re probably right, which means she’s a no-go because her boyfriend will be out looking for her any minute.’

‘Nah, he’ll let her sulk for a bit. Come on, let’s do it.’

She began to open the door to go and ask her for a light when the sound of heavy footsteps running across the gravel path made her stay where she was. The boyfriend turned the corner and ran across to his girlfriend, pulling her into his arms.

‘Bollocks.’

‘What did I tell you? Far too risky. Megan, you really need to learn to be patient. You are going to get us both caught if you don’t start to assess situations and think of the risks.’

‘Why can’t you be wrong? Just for once. You get on my nerves sometimes, Henry.’

‘Because, my dear, I’m older and an awful lot wiser. I’ve been there, done that and worn the ‘Keep Calm I’m Only a Serial Killer’ T-shirt. Trust me, I don’t want to spoil your fun, but we need to do things properly. It’s not as if we have anywhere to be rushing off to now, is it?’

Megan grunted and he smiled to himself. The couple who had kissed and then kissed some more had made up and were walking back hand in hand to the hotel entrance. He wondered if she would ever realise how close she had come to her life ending in a bad way – probably not, unless she read the papers and was intelligent enough to put two and two together. Megan began to pick at the pink varnish on the end of her nails and he tutted, but stopped himself from complaining. It might just push her over the edge if he kept on finding fault with everything she did. All he wanted was for her to listen and learn and be happy.

He wasn’t sure what you would call their relationship. She was his only friend and, yes, he found her attractive and sometimes the need inside him for her was so fierce it scared him, but then at other times he found her immature, impatient and annoying. He supposed they were like any other couple who had their ups and downs, only all they had at the moment was each other, so they should really make the most of it. After another forty minutes a woman a lot older than the first one came out. She was clearly on her own because she was rooting around in her clutch bag for her car keys. She stumbled over the borders of the path and almost fell over. Catching herself in time, she began to giggle to herself.

‘She’s pissed. I hope she’s not thinking about driving home in that state.’

Henry nodded in agreement. He knew that she was the one and his senses had gone into overdrive. Like a predator circling its prey he watched her every move. Her car wasn’t too far away from the van and still out of range of the cameras. She walked over to the shiny white sports car that was out of most people’s price range and began pointing the keys and clicking them at the car. Nothing happened so she tried again, this time managing to tip the entire contents of her handbag all over the ground.

Before he could say anything Megan was out of the car and running towards her. She stopped and bent down to pick up the phone, purse, expensive lipstick and perfume and hand them back to her. The woman took them from her without so much as a thank you and Henry got out of the van and strolled around behind her. He looked around to make sure no one was heading their way and then he pulled the hammer from his pocket.

Megan tried to make conversation with her but she just ignored her as if she was something on the bottom of her shoe, so she stepped back and nodded at Henry who shrugged his shoulders. The woman, even though she was drunk, realised there was someone standing behind her and opened her mouth to scream, but he already had the hammer mid swing and it connected with the back of her head before a sound left her throat. The woman fell forward and Megan caught her. Between the two of them they managed to manhandle her across the car park and into the back of the van. Megan slammed the doors shut and stared at Henry.

‘What an absolute, ignorant bitch. She deserves everything she’s going to get.’

Henry agreed wholeheartedly with her and they both got into the car. He began to drive out of the car park onto the main road. Now as long as they didn’t get pulled over by the police they would be fine, because it would be pretty hard to explain the semi-conscious woman in the boot. He headed in the direction of Walney and their small torture chamber. He had two paper suits, latex gloves and hats they could wear once they got there because they didn’t want to risk leaving any evidence at the scene and the last time it had got messy, really messy.

‘Did you see her face when she realised you were standing behind her? Serves her right. Who did she think she was? She didn’t even say thank you. Would it have hurt to have said thank you? Urgh, people like her make me so angry. They think they’re so much better than everyone else when really they are worse. Normal people don’t treat anyone like that. I can’t wait to shave her fucking hair off and watch her face then – see if she manages a ‘please don’t shave my expensive hair extensions off’. Fuming I am, totally fuming.’

‘Really, I’d never have guessed.’

They drove the rest of the way in silence, with the occasional groan from the back of the van. They passed through the town centre without so much as seeing a police van. When they finally approached the field with the barn the road that led to it was deserted as well – no farmers tending to animals and no tattered blue and white crime-scene tape fluttering in the breeze surrounding the ramshackle barn. So the local police hadn’t yet located the body, which meant it would stink in there, really stink. It was just as well that he’d had the foresight to buy the protective overalls.

Megan jumped out of the van and opened the gate for him to drive straight through towards the barn. He drove around to the back where they were hidden from view from the roadside and switched the engine off. His heart had begun to race. As much as he liked to deny the enjoyment this gave him he couldn’t, because it wasn’t just fun for him. Killing was the biggest thrill ever and he relished it.


Chapter Ten

Annie, Cathy and two PCSOs got into the police van. Annie drove. She’d been to Beckett House before and knew exactly where she was going. The PCSOs chattered away in the back of the van and Annie smiled at their conversation. She was too nervous to join in and from the thunderous look on Cathy’s face she was probably thinking of the headache another serious crime would do for their figures at the next monthly meeting at headquarters. They drove past a couple of officers and Annie slowed, winding the window down.

‘Any luck finding our man?’

‘Nope, sorry; we’ve done the whole caravan park and spoken to loads of people and it’s a negative. We checked the cameras on the entrance to the park and there is no sign of a single male who matches the description even entering the park through the main gates.’

It was Cathy who leant forward to speak. ‘Well done; nice work. Where are the other two?’

‘Door knocking the houses to the left of the park – we were just going to visit that big house on the right.’

‘No need, we’re going there now. The elderly occupant told Annie on Thursday that a man had come to her house and then disappeared again. We’ll go and speak with her first and then can you two do the house a bit further down? Give us a shout when you’re finished and we can pick you up.’

Annie smiled at them and continued driving towards Beckett House. She turned in and drove slowly along the gravel until she reached the front of the house. Cathy whistled in admiration.

‘That’s a serious house for one person to live in, don’t you think? Our man could be anywhere inside there. For all we know she might be keeping him hostage. Have you seen that film Misery?’

Annie had seen that film but she doubted that frail old Martha Beckett had kidnapped an Irish traveller and was keeping him tied up somewhere in the house. And besides, she’d checked it the other day with George and hadn’t found anyone. She wondered if Cathy did anying but watch movies in her spare time, seeing as how she compared every scenario to a scene from one.

‘We checked the house from top to bottom. It was empty. There wasn’t any man tied to a bed with cauterised stumps for legs.’

Cathy grinned. ‘Well, we’ll see then, won’t we? Let’s hope that you and George did a thorough check; then you’ll have nothing to worry about.’

Annie laughed but at the same time she wondered if it was possible. Had they missed a room? It was a big house and there were probably a lot of nooks and storage cupboards. She hoped not, otherwise she’d never live with herself if they found his body stuffed into a cubbyhole.

All four of them got out of the van and the front door opened. This time a much younger woman was standing there.

‘Can I help you?’

Cathy looked at Annie and shrugged. ‘Yes, you can. Is Miss Beckett available? We really need to speak to her.’

‘She’s in the kitchen. Is this about the missing man?’

‘Yes it is, and who told you there was a missing man?’

Cathy stepped closer to the woman.

‘Martha did. I was off on Thursday but when I came Friday morning she was in right state. She hadn’t slept and looked as if she had aged twenty years, and when you’re in your nineties that’s not a good look.’

Annie stifled a giggle. She liked the housekeeper or cleaner or whatever the woman was. Cathy nodded her head. For once she was at a loss for words.

‘Well, you’d best come in then. I suppose Martha will be pleased to see you. She is ever so worried about that man, even though I told her he was probably going to steal the best silver.’

All four of them followed her down to the kitchen. This time it smelt of fresh gingerbread and coffee. Annie felt her stomach grumble and put her hand on it as if to tell it to be quiet. Martha stood up from her chair to greet them. Recognising Annie, she smiled.

‘It’s nice to see you again, officer. Have you found him? Please tell me that you have. I’ve been sick with worry since I last spoke to you.’

Annie wanted to hug the frail woman but didn’t know if Cathy would appreciate it, so she walked over and took hold of her hand, gesturing for her to sit down.

‘I’m sorry to say that we haven’t, Miss Beckett, and now his friends who were with him on Thursday have come to report him missing. So you were probably the last person who saw and spoke to him. I know you’ve already told me what happened, but would you mind telling me again so the inspector here can listen? And then would it be possible for us to search your house again?’

‘Well, of course, dear. You can search anywhere you like. I’m so sorry that he hasn’t turned up; I’ll never forgive myself for letting him go down into that cellar on his own. I told him it was dangerous but he laughed and told me he wasn’t scared of cellars, but he should have been because now he’s gone. We won’t ever find him, just like we never found Joe.’

Cathy looked at Annie; arching one eyebrow Annie shook her head. She knew exactly what her boss was thinking – that the woman was cuckoo – only she wasn’t.

‘Joe is Miss Beckett’s brother who went missing when he was nine years old. He went into the cellar and was never seen again.’

Cathy grimaced.

Annie kept hold of the hand, careful not to tug on the almost see-through wrinkled skin.

‘We’ll start at the top and work our way down and all four of us will go into the cellar. Is that okay with you?’

‘I suppose it will have to be, dear. Do you really need to go back down in the cellar? You’re all women. What if it’s down there, waiting for you all? What would I do then?’

‘I’m pretty sure between us four we can cope with whatever it is. In a way I wish it would be and then we could capture it and find out where everyone is and put your mind at rest.’

Martha clasped Annie’s warm, soft hand with her stiff fingers.

‘You’re a dear; please take care. I don’t want any more blood on my hands. I would never forgive myself if something happened to any of you. My housekeeper will escort you around the house but I will not let her go into the cellar. She’s far too precious to me and I couldn’t manage without her help.’

Annie glanced at the younger woman who’d let them in and actually saw her breathe out a sigh of relief.

The two PCSOs looked confused and Cathy looked amused, which meant that only Annie was actually taking anything seriously. That was both dangerous and downright stupid. She couldn’t say anything because she didn’t want them thinking she was cracking up, which was the distinct impression Cathy had formed of Miss Beckett. Annie stood up and nodded at the woman who had been given the babysitting duty; she looked Annie straight in the eye and never wavered. She believed everything her employer had told them, so at least that was two of them who thought they were up against something no one had ever come across before – at least not that Annie had ever heard about, and she’d heard a lot of stuff over the years. The woman held her hand out to Annie.

‘I’m Dawn; I suppose we should know who we all are just in case.’

‘I’m Annie, this is Cathy, my boss, and these two are Sam and Tracy.’

‘Good. Come on then, let’s get this over with. I’ve been in every room myself since Thursday – except the cellar – and nothing is missing. There is no sign of this man.’

All four of them followed Dawn out into the hallway. As they passed the cellar with the assorted bolts and padlocks, Cathy looked at Annie. ‘That’s the cellar.’

‘Well, whatever is down there won’t be getting out this side of the century, will it?’

Dawn looked at Cathy, about to say something, then apparently thought better of it and carried on walking towards the stairs.

‘The attic is big and there are a lot of storage cupboards up there, but it won’t hurt to check them again.’

‘No, it won’t. We need you to show us every single space in the house that you can gain access to. I want it searched from top to bottom and if we find anything then we will need to call in forensics.’

‘You don’t think that me or Martha had anything to do with this, surely? I wasn’t even here. It was my day off and I’d spent the whole morning in Furness General with my twelve-year-old son. Fell off his blasted skateboard…again.’

‘Not really, but it can’t be ruled out. Sorry to put it so bluntly. To be honest I think our Seamus has helped himself and then done one so he didn’t have to split the profits with his mates, so there’s nothing to worry about.’

Annie kept quiet, letting her boss do the talking for a change.

‘Is Miss Beckett of sound mind, if you don’t mind me asking?’

‘Yes, she is. She’s old and frail but she’s as sharp as you or I. I don’t think she would make something up like that; she’s such a lovely woman. She is very quiet and keeps herself to herself. She wouldn’t phone the police if she didn’t believe in her heart that this man had gone missing.’

Annie believed her wholeheartedly. She couldn’t say this in front of an audience, and she didn’t know how much Cathy believed in the whole sixth sense, psychic thing. It wasn’t something they’d ever discussed, but it was something Annie had had plenty of practice with – since the day Mike had tried to kill her and left her with a gaping wound across the back of her head and the ability to connect with dead people. They all followed Dawn up the narrower staircase that led to the attic. There were two huge rooms full of boxes and suitcases. A smaller door opened onto a room that was lined either side with shelves and cupboards, which were also full of stuff.

‘Right, I’ll check in here. Annie, you do the room on the left and you two do the bigger one. I want every cupboard checked.’

The only smell was one of the fustiness that attics normally smelt of. It didn’t smell as if there was a rotting corpse hidden up here and Annie doubted that Martha could even make it up these narrow, steep stairs – let alone kill someone and hide the body. She checked everything then went back to speak to Cathy, who had just slid the last door shut in her room.

‘Nothing, boss, and I don’t think you are going to find anything either. We need to check the cellar.’

‘I agree with you, but I want every room searched first, and then if the shit hits the fan later on we can say that we did everything by the book.’

Cathy lowered her voice and pushed the door to. ‘Do you believe the old dear, then, or do you think she’s batshit?’

‘I believe her. I don’t know if I fully believe her about the something living in the cellar that no one can see that manages to kidnap kids and grown men who are never to be seen again, but I think there’s something to her story. There has to be.’

‘Why? What makes you believe her? Is it because you feel sorry for her or because that freaky psychic thing in your head is telling you something’s wrong?’

‘Both. When I went down in the cellar with George it made my skin crawl and I couldn’t get out of there quick enough. I don’t know how to explain it, though.’

Sam opened the door. ‘We’re all done. Nothing up here.’

They followed her out and back down to the first floor where Dawn was waiting for them. Annie wouldn’t have said the woman’s expression was smug, but it was close.

‘There are bedrooms, bathrooms and storage cupboards in most rooms. Help yourselves.’

She leant back against the hand-carved oak staircase and folded her arms across her chest, as if not wanting to hamper their search in any way.

They took a room each and began searching in wardrobes, cupboards and under beds until they finally met on the landing, empty-handed. Annie had opened the last door, which had been Joe’s room, and smiled at the perfect little boy’s room. It reminded her of the schoolroom in the haunted mansion that had started all of this and her first encounter with a ghost.

She pushed the door shut behind her and walked across to the small four-poster bed with a one-eyed teddy on it. Breathing in this time, she picked up the teddy, letting the emotions run from the stuffed bear into her fingertips. She closed her eyes and felt an overwhelming rush of love for the mischievous boy whom it had once belonged to.

She could see him running around and hiding from his even younger sister who was sitting at the kitchen table watching the cook while trying to count. He had run up the stairs and then back down again, stopping outside the cellar door. This time it only had one bolt across, which he could only just reach if he stood on his tiptoes. He worked the bolt back and opened the door, pulling it to behind him. He wasn’t afraid of the dark like most kids and he’d run down the steps, crouching at the bottom and waiting for Martha to find him. He would have gone further in but he knew his sister was a scaredy-cat and didn’t like the cellar.

A noise from the far corner shifted his attention from the slither of light that shone through the crack in the door. He turned to see where it was coming from. It sounded like something with sharp claws was skittering along the floor. He couldn’t locate which direction it was coming from, and then he heard Martha shouting at him and turned back to face the door, the noise behind him forgotten. He decided to go up and see her. But before he could, something came out of the dark and grabbed him.

Annie couldn’t see what it was because of the blackness, but it looked the size of a tall man. Terrified and too scared to carry on because she didn’t want to see what terrible thing had happened to poor little Joe, she dropped the bear onto the bed and crossed herself. Feeling as if she’d just intruded into another person’s nightmare, she turned and left the room to join the others on the landing. She shivered. The thing was horrible and, whatever it was, it lived in the dark and never came into the light. Annie didn’t want to go back down into the cellar because she knew that the first time she had been lucky and this time her luck might run out.

Dawn, Cathy, Sam and Tracy were waiting on the landing for her; she walked out and shrugged her shoulders, hoping her voice wouldn’t crack and that she sounded braver than she felt. ‘I guess we need to check the rooms downstairs and then the cellar. What about the grounds? Are there any sheds, garages, boathouses?’

‘All three but I’ve checked them, except for the boathouse because no one can get the rusted lock open on the door. I’ve definitely been out into the garage and outhouses, though.’

Dawn led the way downstairs with Annie lagging behind; she really didn’t want to go into the cellar. She had no idea what it was that lurked down there but the thought of being dragged off and never seen again didn’t appeal to her in the least. Not to mention what it actually did with the people who were never seen again. Where was little Joe Beckett now? He would be almost a hundred. And what about Seamus? There was a big difference between a nine-year-old kid and a grown man. Whatever it was must be strong enough to drag them both off. She pictured the claws from her vision and, realising somewhere deep down that they were used for killing its prey, she shuddered.


Chapter Eleven

Stu could hear the dog whining downstairs to go out and he groaned. He hated the horrible little thing with a passion but Debs loved it to bits. He got out of bed, relieved he wasn’t at work until two. It would give him the chance to unpack some more of the boxes of his stuff that had been shoved into the spare room three days ago when they’d moved in. He had never really wanted to live over on Walney Island but Debs loved it. She loved the beaches and being surrounded by open fields full of horses, cows and sheep. Stu loved Debs, so when she’d found the house he’d agreed they could go and take a look at it. She’d fallen in love with the whitewashed cottage with a huge back garden.

He padded down barefoot into the kitchen and stepped in a puddle of dog piss. ‘Argh, you dirty little bastard.’ The dog was still whining by the back door as Stu hopped over to open it and let it out. Lifting the washing-up bowl out of the sink he lifted his leg and ran his foot under the hot water tap. As he was balancing on one leg he saw the note taped to the fridge and leant over to tug it off.

Happy that his foot was now clean he blotted it dry with kitchen towels and then unfolded the note from his wife, asking him to walk the dog because she’d run out of time. He swore under his breath. He didn’t mind walking; it was the dog he didn’t like. It came back inside the house and started whining again, so Stu went upstairs to get dressed and take it out, planning, when he came back, to make the biggest bacon and egg sandwich this side of Walney and find his games console and connect it to the telly. He would sit playing on it until it was time for him to go to work – his revenge on Debs for making him take the dog out.

The dog slipped its collar and bounded off across the grass verge to the slightly open gate. Squeezing through the gap it ran off towards the ramshackle barn. Stu cursed, shouting, ‘Come on, Sasha. Come here, girl.’

The dog, totally oblivious, continued towards the barn. It was on a mission. It began scratching at the door and whining. Stu called it, not really wanting to go into the field in case there was some angry bull hiding behind a hedge – or a horse. He didn’t like either of them and they were both as bad as each other in his opinion. He leant against the gate and hollered, ‘Sasha.’

The dog didn’t even flinch. Stu stood on the metal gate and looked around. He couldn’t see any big four-legged animals so he squeezed through the gap and began to stride towards the dog, which was going to get its arse kicked when he got hold of it. As he got nearer to the barn he got a whiff of something dead and he felt his stomach turn. He knew that smell. He’d dealt with enough dead bodies at work to recognise the stench of a decomposing body.

Dread filling him, he looked around. The grass was too long. If there was something dead it was hard to see, but the dog would have run to it and rolled in it. She’d rolled in the carcass of a dead whale that had washed up on the beach at Roanhead last week, stinking their old house out for days. Instead she was going mad scratching at the door to the barn. As he got closer he inhaled and almost gagged. The stench was horrific. He took out his phone and rang Will, who he knew was at work.

‘It’s me. I’m in an overgrown field on Walney and the bloody dog’s going mental.’

‘Morning, Stu, what would you like me to do? Send out a response officer to taser the dog?’

‘Don’t be stupid. I’m not phoning because I can’t control my dog, although that’s not a bad idea.’

‘Well, that’s a relief then; I’m glad to hear it. So why are you phoning?’

‘There’s a knackered old barn and the stench coming from it is gut-wrenching. I think I might have inadvertently stumbled across Beth O’Connor’s body.’

‘Really? Have you opened the door to have a look? Good effort, Stu.’

‘No, because the dog will go inside and then I’ll have to go in and trample all over everything to drag it out. I’ll wait for you to get here and then we can put the dog in the back of your car. I haven’t got my car with me. It might only be a dead animal but it smells worse than that, if you know what I mean.’

Will knew what he meant; the smell of rotting flesh was so pungent that it clung to your clothes like the world’s worst aftershave, lingering for days. He had sent the two detectives who were on duty out to go and view CCTV so he went down to the parade room to see if there was anyone he could grab to go with him, but that was empty. Kav walked in with a mug of coffee and nodded.

‘Can you come with me, Kav? I need you.’

‘Steady on, Will, have you not got a lovely wife now to sort you out?’

‘I need your professional help. Stu thinks he’s found a body in a barn in the middle of a field on Walney. It might be Beth O’Connor’s.’

Kav put the drink down and then grabbed a set of keys off the whiteboard.

‘After you, William. One of these days you will want me for something other than a dead body.’

Kav drove with the blue lights on, to get through the traffic on the bridge. Will was on the phone to Stu, getting directions from him that he relayed to Kav. Before long they pulled up at the field where Stu was standing waving his arms at them. There was a poodle tied up to the metal gate. Kav looked at the dog then looked at Stu.

‘Nice dog, Stuart – matches the image.’

‘Piss off. It’s Debs’. I hate it.’

Will sniggered as he walked to the boot of the car and lifted the trunk to pass some paper suits around. He held one out to Stu, who shook his head.

‘I’m not on duty, so you two can knock yourselves out. I’ll guard the gate and not let anyone in. It might not even be a body. It could be a dead cow, but whatever it is it bloody stinks.’

Will and Kav got suited and booted and walked across the field, the smell making both men’s eyes water.

‘That’s bad.’

‘Yes, it is.’

Will approached the wooden door. Reaching out his gloved hand he gently pushed it, expecting it to be locked, but it opened. The smell was so pungent that Kav – who was a veteran police officer of nearly thirty years and had seen everything there was to see – gagged. Will switched on the torch that he’d been carrying and stepped inside, lifting one arm over his nose and using the other to shine the torch around. Kav stepped in behind him and whistled.

‘Jesus Christ almighty.’

There were two headless bodies slumped on the floor, surrounded by pools of dried blood and covered in swarms of bluebottles and maggots. Will shone his torch around to make sure there were no more then shone it back on the bodies. One of them was bloated and black. It had been eaten away by every insect possible and it looked as if the whole body was moving. The other looked a lot fresher, and although it was covered with flies and maggots it still had white flesh attached to it. It suddenly hit Will, who turned to Kav then pointed to the door; both of them retreated to the outside where they took in huge gulps of air.

‘Did you see that? What a state. At least we know where the rest of Beth is.’

‘Yes, I did, but Kav, there were two bodies – both with no heads. So who does the other one belong to?’

‘Aw bloody hell, I was so sickened by the sight of them I didn’t even think about it. Have we got any high-risk mispers?’

‘Not that I’m aware of – no one has been reported missing in the last forty-eight hours, at least not from around here. We need to go back and check the database and we need to find her head.’

‘Will, my friend, where do you think the head might be? The last one turned up miles away when Annie was on duty. I’m sorry to say this but there’s only one reason I can think of that someone would want to leave severed heads for our delightful Annie. I’m almost too afraid to say it reminds me of the not-so-delightful Henry Smith. No one knows where he is, but if you ask me I think he’s up to his old tricks again. I knew the bastard wouldn’t be able to stop. It’s all one big game for him, and we now have to prove that it’s him all over again.’

The panic on Will’s face said it all and he whipped out his phone to ring Annie, who answered straight away.

‘Where are you? Are you on your own?’

‘No, I’m at Beckett House with the inspector and two PCSOs. Why?’

‘Just checking. Stu stumbled across two headless bodies in a barn on Walney while out walking the dog. I need you to be extra careful and vigilant because I have a terrible feeling the head might be on its way up to you.’

‘Oh God, I hope not. Will, I’ve been thinking about this on and off all day – where do you think Henry Smith is? Honestly. Because I don’t believe he’s shacked up somewhere and keeping his head down. I’m worried that this has his signature written all over it. We both know that he was obsessed with me and wanted me dead, only I stopped him in his tracks. Do you think he’s over that now, that he has forgiven me and isn’t interested? I don’t. As much as I want to believe this is something else that has nothing to do with me, I can’t.’

‘I think you might be right, but I can’t start a widespread panic in case it isn’t. You need to be so very careful; I don’t want you going to any calls on your own. When you leave the station make sure there’s no one hanging around and make sure you’re not followed home. Do you want me to come up there and pick you up?’

‘No, you can’t do that now. You need to process the scene and I can’t think of anyone better than you for the job. What are we going to do? Because if it is him, he must know where I work. Otherwise why would he leave a head in Bowness and the body in Barrow? In fact he must know an awful lot more about us than we do about him because that’s what he’s good at. Watching and waiting, biding his time. He’s playing with us both. He’s like a cat taunting a mouse. I can feel it.’

Will walked away from the others and lowered his voice. ‘We might be jumping to conclusions and I hope we are, but it’s too much of a coincidence. He wanted you dead. Instead you almost killed him and lived another day. What did he get for his efforts? Third-degree burns and locked up in a secure mental hospital until he managed to escape. At least you have a different car and your hair’s much longer than it was when he first…’

He didn’t finish the sentence; Annie finished it for him.

‘Than when he first began to stalk me, you mean. Please, God, I don’t want any more blood on my hands. I have a hard enough time sleeping at night without dreaming about Jenna White or Emma Tyson.’

‘You know none of that was your fault. You were not responsible for his actions. Please be careful, Annie. Promise me that if you so much as see a man looking your way that you’ll gas him and get him cuffed.’

‘I will, but I need you to be careful as well because you almost stopped him in his tracks, and I don’t think it will be just me he goes after. I should imagine he knows that we’re a couple now and he won’t like it one little bit.’

She ended the call and Will felt his shoulders slump with the weight of the world that was about to come crashing down on him. He felt Kav’s huge hand squeeze his shoulder and he turned to look at him.

Kav said, ‘If this even shows the slightest link to that fucker, Smith, I’m on it. In fact I think that you, me, Jake and Annie need a little emergency meeting when we get finished today to get a contingency plan together, should the need arise.’

‘I think you’re right. I’ll phone Jake and see what he has to say and let you know what time.’

The dog wriggled its way out of its collar once more and this time it took off in the opposite direction. Kav and Will laughed as Stu took off after it. Three police vans and the CSI van rounded the bend with Debs – Stu’s wife who was also the on-duty CSI – driving.

‘Ooh looks like Stu’s in the doghouse. Hope he catches it before Debs catches him.’

Will smiled then turned around to brief the officers and give them instructions to close the roads. This part of the island would be sealed off until a thorough investigation had taken place, which could take days. Whoever the killer was knew there were no cameras over here, not many dog walkers apart from their very own Stu, and relative seclusion. He told every officer and PCSO who had been drafted in to take the registrations of any vehicles that tried to gain access and to note who was in the car. He had a feeling that the killer wouldn’t be expecting them to have discovered his little barn yet, and would get the shock of his life when he turned the corner and was greeted by a police van blocking the road. A silver car headed in his direction and he waved a hand to greet Matt, his friend and the pathologist for this part of the county. Matt got out of his car and strolled across to him.

‘It’s been a while; I was beginning to think you were losing your touch, Will.’

‘I wish. One of these days it will be someone else on shift when this shit happens.’

‘Then what would I do?’

Matt looked around to see Kav explaining how to fill out a scene log to the student officer who was holding it clutched to his chest. A red-faced Stu was having a bit of a domestic with Debs, who was in the process of getting suited up.

‘There’s someone missing from this scene. I know, where’s Annie and Jake? They are nearly always around when the bodies start to pile up.’

‘So far they’re safe in Bowness, as far out of the way as they can be. I hope. I don’t want Annie anywhere near this.’

Matt nodded, well aware of what both Annie and Will had been through the last couple of years. Matt handed Will a face mask and Will took it off him, relieved to have something to block out some of the smell.

‘I suppose we should get this over with then. No point putting it off.’

Matt followed Will into the field and the short distance to the barn. Debs followed them with her camera. As the first scent of death hit her nose she tugged down her mask. Will turned to her.

‘Have you thought about letting that poodle of yours join the dog team? It’s a great sniffer dog.’

She shook her head at him and gently punched his arm.

‘It’s Stu who’ll be joining the dog team. All he was supposed to do was take it for a quick walk and now we’re all going to be working late and we’ll stink to the high heavens.’

Will pushed the door open and stepped inside, not really wanting to look at the two bodies, but not having much choice. Matt needed him to shine the torch until they brought some better lights up. Debs groaned under her mask and Will nodded in agreement. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Matt, ever the professional, walked across and scanned both bodies.

‘In my opinion as a medical doctor I can confirm that these are both deceased.’

‘No shit, Sherlock, what gave it away – the missing heads?’

‘Of course.’ He bent down and leant closer. ‘Both female, one has been dead a lot longer than the other, but you know that, Will. I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you. The state of decomposition is far more advanced on subject one. I’ll need to do a full post-mortem and send off samples of the bugs to give you a better estimate of when they died.’

He opened his bag and began rooting around inside until he pulled out some specimen jars and a pen. He wrote on one and began to pluck the insects and drop them into the jar, then screwed the lid on tight. Then taking another jar he did exactly the same for the second body and then dropped each of the jars into its own evidence bag. He didn’t speak, but worked diligently and fast. Standing up, he nodded at Debs.

‘They’re all yours.’

Will followed him out of the barn, which was stifling, making it hard to breathe in the paper suits and face masks. He pulled his mask down, glad of the fresh air and the breeze that was blowing.

‘Do you think it’s Beth O’Connor?’

‘You know I’m not supposed to say until I’ve done the post-mortem, but yes, I’m almost one hundred per cent sure. The cut marks on the base of her neck are almost identical to the ones on the head back at the morgue. Of course we won’t know for sure until I place her head against the neck to see if they match up.’

‘What about the other? Have you had any heads come into the mortuary from anywhere else in the county?’

Will desperately hoped he was going to say, ‘Yes, one came in from Carlisle or Workington,’ but Matt shook his head.

‘I’m afraid I’ll have to leave that in your capable hands. You’re going to have to find the head. Have you had any missing person reports in the last week? Because judging by the bloating and marbling of Jane Doe number two she hasn’t been dead that long. The heat in the barn and the insect activity has sped her decomposition up; this is a real mess, Will.’

‘You’re telling me. Thanks, Matt, as always, for coming straight out and not making us wait around for ages.’

‘I’d say it was my pleasure but, to be honest, this time it’s not. I’m not looking forward to doing the post-mortems on those two. I’ll let you know when we’re good to go.’

He began to walk back to his car. As he got to the gate he stripped off his paper suit, foot covers, gloves and mask and dropped them all into a brown paper sack. Debs came out to get the rest of her equipment so she could do everything that needed to be done before the undertakers came.

Kav walked across to Will.

‘Undertakers are on standby. What did Matt say? Is it the rest of Beth?’

Will nodded. ‘He thinks so.’

‘Good, I hate to think of that poor woman’s head all alone in the mortuary fridge. Gives me the shivers. Be nice for her husband to have all of her to bury, don’t you think?’

Will didn’t want to even think about what the poor bloke was going through. What a way to lose your wife. The familiar black 4x4 of the chief super pulled up outside the field. He got out along with the detective chief inspector and Kav sniggered. ‘Should we let them go in and ruin their designer suits or make them wait outside?’

‘Let them go in, of course. Which one do you think will come out looking green and puke first?’

‘My money’s on the super.’

Will smiled at the two men who were in the process of getting suited and booted. This should add a little bit of laughter to an otherwise very sad day.


Chapter Twelve

‘I suppose we best get checking the cellar over with.’

Annie looked at Cathy. Annie thought even Cathy seemed wary about going down there now they had checked everywhere else. Dawn pulled a bunch of keys from her pocket and began flicking through them to find the ones to open the padlocks. Sam and Tracy had gone quiet; all four of them were silent and the atmosphere was so heavy it made Annie feel weary. As Dawn slid the last bolt across she turned to look at them all.

‘Are you quite sure you want to go down there – on your own? Can you not call for backup and get some male officers here to go down with you?’

Cathy had just been wondering the same thing, although normally she would have given anyone who spoke like that a piece of her mind for being so outright sexist; however, on this occasion she actually agreed with the girl. But then she shook her head. ‘I think there’s enough of us to handle anything that might be down there.’

Dawn pulled the heavy door open and stood holding it. ‘If I hear any screaming I’m slamming this door shut and locking you all in.’

‘You’re fucking not. If you hear us screaming you get on the phone and ask for urgent assistance and give us a chance to get out of there. I’m telling you now, do not lock us in.’

Annie smiled. It wasn’t often she heard her boss swear in front of members of the public but she had a fair point. She didn’t want to be locked in that cellar for anything. Knowing that they might be standing dithering on that top step for the next hour, she leant forward and pulled the light-string and the bulb came to life. Dawn smiled and Annie took this as a good sign. So she began to walk down the stairs, followed by Cathy, then Tracy and Sam, who had her finger poised over her emergency button should they need help.

All four of them had switched on their torches. The cellar smelt like a cellar should again. It was damp and mouldy. It didn’t smell as if there were any rotting bodies tucked away. She tried her best to push the picture of the grey face with the sharp teeth out of her mind. They shone the torches around and began checking every corner, nook and cranny. Nothing. There was no one there. Annie walked towards the iron grate, her heart racing. Cathy was behind her and they both leant over, shining the light down into the dark hole. This time there was no sudden movement. It was empty and Annie almost cried with relief.

‘Right, come on, you lot. Let’s get back upstairs before that woman freaks out and locks us down here.’

Cathy led the way and Annie was the last to reach the steps. A sharp scratch against the iron railings made her hair stand on end. She paused, wondering if she was imagining it, but then it happened again and this time it was much louder. She pushed Tracy’s back and shouted, ‘Run.’

Cathy was already out of the door and the other two didn’t need telling twice. They shot up the last few steps closely followed by Annie, who fell out into the corridor. Dawn slammed the cellar door shut, sliding the bolts across. Annie began to help her click the padlocks into place then turned to see her three colleagues, who were all white-faced and wide-eyed.

‘What was it?’

‘I don’t know, boss; I probably just spooked myself.’

Cathy laughed. ‘Jesus, you should have seen your face! That’s the last time I’m coming on a job with you. Scared the shit out of me, and those two look as if they’ve seen a ghost.’

All four of them began to laugh but Dawn didn’t. She shook her head and went back into the kitchen to check on Martha. She nodded at the old woman and Martha crossed herself, thanking the Lord that all four officers had made it out of the cellar alive. The others followed Dawn into the kitchen and Annie smiled at Martha. Inside she was shaking and scared but she wouldn’t let anyone see just how scared she was.

‘We just need to check the grounds now and then we’re done.’

‘Good. Tell me, officer, what did you see or hear down there?’

Everyone stood still, waiting to hear Annie’s reply.

‘I heard a sharp scratching sound, against the metal grating, but I didn’t see anything and it might have been rats.’

Martha nodded her head. ‘I think you and your friends had a very lucky escape. Next time you won’t be so lucky. If you need to come back and go down there you bring big, strong men with guns. And if you have no guns, then bring whatever it is you use to kill animals that are big enough to steal children and grown men.’

***

Henry had the head in a cool box surrounded by bags of frozen ice. Much to Megan’s disgust he’d tried to put it into the freezer in the caravan, but it wouldn’t fit. So after much begging by Megan he’d agreed to dump it somewhere that Annie could find it. He’d made Megan stay at the caravan. They would look far too conspicuous as a pair, walking around at night with a cool box. He’d managed to fob her off by telling her if he got caught it didn’t mean that she would be. He wouldn’t tell a soul where she was hiding, and if he wasn’t back in two hours she was to pack her stuff and leave.

He thought about putting it outside the police station on the steps, but there were bound to be cameras on the doors to the building or looking onto it. As he drove past he looked to see if her bright red Mini was there and was surprised not to see it. He knew she was on duty because he’d phoned the 101 number and asked if she was available. The operator had told him she was on patrol but he could leave her a voicemail if he wanted. Henry had been sorely tempted. What would she think on hearing him speaking to her in the flesh? But he’d decided against it. Far too risky. They might be able to trace it back or something.

He wondered if she’d got a new car. The only one that was worthy of her was the shiny black Mercedes, but he didn’t think her wages would be enough to pay for that. It probably belonged to the inspector. There was a battered old Clio next to the Mercedes and an Astra. He parked up the street and watched the station. There were no police vehicles parked outside so they must all be busy working.

Getting out of his car he pulled his baseball cap down and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt up. He walked up and down a couple of times. There were no cameras. Henry grinned to himself. He was probably going to regret this but he had to see if it was possible. He tried the boot of the Astra, which was locked; he didn’t even touch the Mercedes as it was bound to have a fancy alarm system. Then he tried the Clio and much to his surprise it opened.

After pushing it back down but not quite shutting it, he jogged back to his car and drove down until he was parked directly in front of the boot of the Clio. He walked around to the passenger side of the car. With one hand he pushed the car boot open and with the other he pushed the lid from the cool box off and scanned the area. There was no one around so he pulled out the plastic bag containing the head and unzipped it. He dropped the head into the boot of the car then screwed the bag up and stuffed it into his pocket. If it was her car it would be a massive bonus, but if not it didn’t matter. She would know it was a present meant for her.

Once inside the car he stripped off the latex gloves he had been wearing for the last ten minutes. He hated them. They made his hands sweat too much and they smelt terrible. Checking around to see if anyone had watched his little performance, he was satisfied that they hadn’t. He put his foot down and drove off in the opposite direction, a smile on his face that would be there for at least the next half an hour. He didn’t want to go back to Megan just yet. He needed to find a secluded place so he could park, sit back and enjoy his time alone for a while.

31 December 1930

A sodden James and two policemen came back into the kitchen, with no Joe and solemn faces. The weather had turned nasty outside and if he was out there somewhere he would get hyperthermia. He wasn’t dressed for the torrential rain that was now hammering against the glass windows. Eleanor looked at her husband, who did not want to look her in the eyes.

‘What are we to do now, James? Is that it? You can’t stop looking. None of us can stop looking. I can’t stay here not knowing where he is. Boys don’t just disappear into thin air.’

The policemen looked at each other. Neither of them knew what to say or do because Eleanor Beckett was right.

‘Look, Mrs Beckett, we’ve done an initial search. We are going to send teams of three out to check the rest of the gardens and the lake, but apart from that we are going to be stuck until it’s morning because of the dark and the abysmal weather. These aren’t the best conditions to be out searching for your son.’

‘So what are you saying? That we just leave him out there on his own to die because it’s dark and wet? Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough. If I have to search on my hands and knees then I will. To hell with you all.’

She stood up but her knees wouldn’t support her body weight and she felt her legs collapse. James rushed forward to catch his wife. Scooping her into his arms he held her close.

‘I’m not giving in; I will search all night. I want you to stay here with Martha and watch her, make sure she’s safe. I will find him, I promise.’

He excused both policemen and helped his wife down, then gently led her upstairs to their daughter’s room, where Eleanor got onto the bed and lay next to Martha.

‘I’m scared, James. What if Martha is right? What if Joe went down into the cellar? Where can he be?’

He bent down and kissed her forehead, guilt and horror filling his heart. He needed to tell her about the missing Windigo but he couldn’t do it to her. Her heart was filled with enough horror without adding anything to it.

‘Davey searched in the drain and crawled as far along as he could and there was no sign of Joe being down there. If we don’t find him tonight, then tomorrow I will search it myself.’

Eleanor nodded. ‘You have to find him.’

‘I know I do, sweetheart. Don’t you think I know that?’

He turned and left his wife and daughter and thought that, if it came to that, he would spend the rest of his life searching for his son.

***

Some hours later Eleanor opened her eyes and for a moment had no idea where she was. She reached out for her husband but instead found her daughter, who was burning hot and clutching a teddy bear in one hand. It all came rushing back to her and the crushing pain inside her chest took her breath away. After carefully getting out of the bed she tiptoed out into the hallway to Joe’s room, pushing open the door and praying to God he was tucked up under his covers and she’d just woken from the worst nightmare of her life.

She saw a figure on the bed and began to cry, but as she got nearer she realised that it was much too big to be her nine-year-old son. She bent down to see James fully clothed and lying on top of the covers, and she thought that her heart might actually stop beating. She reached out for him and he turned to face her. Unable to say the words, she let out a sob and he pulled her close. She lay on the bed in her husband’s arms and cried once more. This time she could feel the hot, wet tears from his eyes falling into her soft hair and it made her sob even louder.

They stayed that way until neither of them could cry any more and James, exhausted, began to snore ever so softly. Eleanor couldn’t go back to sleep. Instead she got up and went out into the hall. The clock chimed four as she made her way downstairs and into the kitchen to make herself a warm drink. She was chilled to the bone. As she passed the cellar she heard a faint scratching noise. Pausing to listen at the door, she waited to see if it would happen again. After several minutes she heard it once more. This time it was louder and sounded much closer.

Her heart racing, she slid back the lock and pulled the door open. ‘Joe, is that you? Are you down there, sweetheart?’ She was greeted by silence but every hair on her body stood on end and a peculiar feeling spread over her, making her fingers tingle. She listened and got the impression that whatever it was that was down there was waiting and listening back. Her hand reached out and tugged on the light-pull. As the light flooded the dark below there was a scurry of clacking and scratching that made Eleanor almost slam the door shut and bolt it. Instead she forced herself to step forward.

‘Who’s down there? Answer me now. What have you done with my son?’

Anger taking over her fear, she began to walk down the steps into the cellar, determined to find out what was going on in her own house. She reached the bottom and picked up the nearest thing to her, which was a rusted lantern. Armed with that she stepped into the cellar.

‘Joseph, it’s me, Mummy. Where are you, darling? Tell me and I’ll come and get you, I promise.’

Movement from one corner of the cellar made her whip around to see something the size of a tall man crouched on all fours scurry back into the darkness. Eleanor stared in horror, realising that whatever it was couldn’t be human because she saw one sharp claw reach out of the shadows and drag itself along the floor in front of her eyes.

She stood her ground, determined that she wouldn’t be scared away by something that was quite clearly a freak of nature. Unable to speak, she waited for it to move again, and after a painfully long time it did. It began to move forward. She lifted the lantern but realised that it was no match for the razor-sharp claws the thing had instead of fingers. As its body moved into the light she saw the red glow in its eyes and remembered the last time she had seen something so horrific. It moved again, this time much faster, and she screamed and threw the lantern at it. There was a squeal and a clatter of claws as whatever it was came rushing towards her. Without thinking she turned and ran as fast as she could up the cellar steps. Stumbling on the last one she felt a whoosh as one of those claws grabbed for her foot, and then she was outside.

She slammed the door shut using her whole weight. She pushed the bolt across with hands that were shaking, and then she ran to the kitchen and pulled a chair along. Ramming the back of it under the doorknob, she began to cry and knew that whatever it was had taken her little boy and he wasn’t coming back.

Tomorrow she would send for the rat catchers, a hunter, anyone who had a rifle and could shoot whatever it was dead. Petrified, she waited by the door for someone to come down and make the cellar safe. When she had first seen that thing in the freak show it had somehow held her fascinated, as horrified as she was to look at it. The fire had pushed all thoughts of the creature from her mind, but now here it was, alive and in her cellar, and now her baby boy was missing. The pain in her chest took her breath away. She was terrified of whatever it was and wanted to run away upstairs to tell James…no, to demand that James explain how the thing had come to be in their house. But she couldn’t go back upstairs in case whatever it was escaped, because she knew if it did it would kill them all.


Chapter Thirteen

They said goodbye and climbed back into the van. Annie began the drive back to the station. As soon as they were out of sight, Cathy let out a huge sigh of relief.

‘What the hell do you make of that? I totally got sucked into it. I was actually terrified the Creature from the Black Lagoon was going to come out of the cellar and eat us all like some fairy tale monster.’

‘I know you did; we all did.’

Sam and Tracy nodded in agreement; for once they were unusually quiet.

‘I think that Miss Martha Beckett has a monster in her cellar that eats people.’

Cathy looked at Annie, who wasn’t smiling, and she began to laugh, really laugh.

‘Piss off, Annie. You’d believe anything. There’s no such thing as monsters in cellars, unless you count sick bastards like Henry Smith. People are the real monsters and you should know all about that.’

Annie decided not to say anything else. She’d already said it out loud. If her boss didn’t believe her that was up to her, but she wasn’t going back in that cellar unless they had armed officers with them who could kill moving targets with precision. Occasionally you heard of strange things happening. Who were they to say that they weren’t? The problem was: what could she do about it? Miss Beckett had lived in that house all her life with the knowledge that there was something bad down there. She needed to do some research on the house and the area. Go back and see if there were many missing person reports from around that area. She didn’t know of any herself except for Seamus, but she’d only been working here two years. She turned to look at the two women in the back.

‘What did you make of it all?’

It was Sam who answered. ‘I don’t know, but I’ve never been so frightened in my life. It was so scary down there I kept thinking that I don’t get paid enough for this and that you two were all right because you have your spray and batons. What were we supposed to do if something had grabbed you two “use harsh language”?’

Cathy started laughing again and had to wipe away a tear from the corner of her eye. ‘Give me strength. What are you lot like? We just got caught up in the moment, you know, the atmosphere, and the old dear was quite convincing. There’s no more a monster down there than there is Brad Pitt waiting in my bed for me at home.’

All four of them laughed and before long Annie pulled up in front of the police station, parking the van next to Cathy’s battered old Clio.

‘Watch my car; you know it’s my pride and joy.’

This set the other three off laughing even harder and Annie spluttered, ‘Now who’s delusional?’

All four of them climbed out and began to walk into the station, not noticing the amount of bluebottles that seemed to be landing on the boot of Cathy’s car. They went inside. Tracy went to put the kettle on and the others went into their respective offices. Just as Annie sat down Cathy shouted down the hall, ‘Will you stick a log on for our missing man and then fill out the report?’

‘Yes, boss.’

‘Good. Put down everything that we’ve just done except for the bit where we ran out of the cellar screaming like a bunch of girls. You’ve my permission to leave that bit out.’

Annie smiled as she began to log on to her computer to input the details on the system. The next step would be to do a leaflet drop in the area just in case there was anyone they hadn’t spoken to. It was going to be a long day. The door slammed. Annie smelt Jake before he actually entered the room and she let out a sigh of relief. She always felt so much safer when he was around. He walked in, chatting on his phone and getting quite animated.

‘Yes, I don’t care. No, I didn’t say that, did I? You’ll have to come to my house because Alice goes to bed at seven and I don’t want to get her out of her routine. Right, okay, yes, that will be fine. See you then.’

He sat on the corner of Annie’s desk and patted her head as if she was a pet dog. She shrugged his hand off.

‘I’ve got good news and bad news from your other half. Which do you want first?’

‘Is he okay? The bad news…why? What’s happened?’

‘He’s fine, probably a bit smellier than usual, but you should be used to that by now. Will is convinced that those two bodies Stu discovered earlier are the work of your friend Henry. He said that he’s convinced Henry has dumped the head for us to find. Which means it could be anywhere. As from now you are no longer allowed to be without your special bodyguard, who if you ask me deserves a shiny new Mercedes as danger pay.’

Annie had been doing her best to try and talk herself out of the fear that Henry was stalking her again, but if Will thought it was Henry then there was a good chance it was. Which meant that he was watching her and possibly Will, but definitely her. She shivered, and then groaned. ‘Why me? What did I ever do to that man to make him hate me so much?’

‘Let me think about that one. Well, for a start you didn’t lie down and die like he expected you to, did you? Nope, instead you had to pick a fight with him, stab him and almost burn him to death, so that could be the reason why he’s a bit obsessed and pissed off with you. How am I doing?’

She punched him in the thigh.

‘Ouch, see? Danger money. Seriously, Annie, I think Will is freaking out, although I do agree with him that you can’t be left on your own. Kav has suggested we meet at my house tonight, to see if we can come up with a plan of action, so to speak. None of us is willing to wait around and let him sneak up on us a second time.’

Jake lowered his voice and leant towards her ear.

‘Seriously, this time I’m going to catch him. I promise you, before he so much as gets a chance to hurt you I’ll take him out.’

Annie nodded, unable to speak; her stomach was churning so much she actually thought she might be sick.

‘What have you got to do now?’

‘Missing persons report and that’s it.’

‘Good. Because I’m finished in ten minutes and whether the boss woman likes it or not you’re coming home at the same time as me. Alex was going to drive up with Alice and we were going to go for an ice cream, but I’ve told him to stay at home and make sure everywhere is secure. I know Henry isn’t interested in me. He probably doesn’t know who I am, but I sure as hell know who he is and I’m going to be ready for him.’

Jake stood up to go and discuss what he’d just told Annie with Cathy. She heard her swear loudly and then her door was slammed shut. Annie tried to block it out while she typed up the report on the computer, but she could feel his hot breath in her face as he straddled her, whispering into her ear how he was going to kill her. Tracy walked in with a cup of coffee and almost made her jump out of the chair and spray her with CS gas.

‘Jesus, you gave me a bloody heart attack.’

‘Sorry, that kettle’s on its last legs. It takes for ever to boil.’

Annie thanked her and turned back to finish typing the details in about where they had searched and what other actions had been taken. Her hands were shaking so much it took her five times longer than usual. She could feel both Tracy and Sam watching her, wondering what was going on, but she didn’t want to tell them until she knew for sure. Why drag them into her nightmare? They both stood up to go outside and have a wander round the town for the last hour of their shift.

Jake came back in and grinned at her. ‘She’s not so bad is she, our old boss woman? I think she’s having kittens in there after what I just told her.’

‘What did she say?’

‘That I was to get you home, and she didn’t want to see you until the bastard is back behind bars. She also said she’s coming round to mine later on. She wants to help, but more than that she wants to kick Kav in the balls for passing you on to her. In her words, “No wonder he couldn’t wait to get shut of her. I’m about to have a bloody heart attack.” She’s not impressed by the sounds of it.’

‘Oh, you think so? I’m nearly done now. Please take me home. I want to get changed.’

‘Well, I would, but I haven’t got the car. You’re driving, remember?’

She nodded, typed the last sentence and then logged off her computer. She stood up to go and take her body armour off and grab her handbag. Jake followed her into the changing rooms.

‘I think we should take it all home.’

‘What?’

‘Body armour, CS gas, radio, baton, everything – just in case we need it. It’s no good up here. Cathy isn’t going to complain, is she? I’m sure she’ll turn a blind eye.’

Annie didn’t argue with him. It seemed like a good idea. At least it was some protection should they need it. Between them they carried armfuls of equipment out to her car. She clicked the boot, walked around and screamed at the swarm of bluebottles that were buzzing around the cars. Jake wafted them away with his hands. Annie opened her boot and they threw everything inside before any flies could get in. Then they ran to open the doors and get inside as fast as they could.

‘Urgh, did you see those flies? That was gross. Where do you think they’ve come from? I’ve never seen them swarm around like that before.’

‘Disgusting. Don’t open your windows until we get away from here. The drains are probably blocked or something.’

Annie nodded and reversed her car, neither of them really noticing that the boot of Cathy’s car was crawling with the flies and that they were all fighting to get inside. They drove to Annie’s house in silence, both of them wondering exactly what they were up against. As she pulled up outside she looked around. Henry couldn’t know that she lived up here now. That would be impossible. But he knew where her brother and his family lived because she’d been house-sitting for them when he began to stalk her.

Her heart started racing and she took out her phone and rang Ben. He didn’t pick up so she left him a voicemail to ring her back as soon as he could. Henry didn’t know Ben or his wife, Liz, and their daughter, Matilda, and he had no reason to go after any of them, so she hoped they would be safe, but it wouldn’t hurt to let them know. Jake got out of the car and looked around. He nodded at her and she got out.

Annie knew that even if Henry Smith, the monster who haunted most of her nightmares, had jumped out on Jake that she wouldn’t drive off and leave him. She would die trying to fight him because she would never live with herself if she did leave. She wanted Henry out of her life more than anyone else did. They went into her house together and she grabbed some clean clothes for both her and Will, stuffing them into a travel bag along with some toiletries. It might end up that they stayed with Jake and Alex, which would make sense – safety in numbers and all that – but she wouldn’t want to put Alex or Alice in danger.

What a complete mess this was. She reset the burglar alarm and made sure the CCTV cameras were working. When Will had insisted on installing a state-of-the-art security system she had laughed and told him he was going way over the top. Now she was thankful for it, and she couldn’t help but wonder if Will had known all along there was a chance that Henry would come back to finish what he started. They left and locked the house up, getting back in Annie’s car. Jake whistled under his breath. ‘I never thought I’d see the day that you would live somewhere so gorgeous. Look at you driving a brand-new Mercedes and even being able to work your own burglar alarm. How times have changed, Ms Graham.’

‘Mrs Ashworth.’

‘Nope, you’ll always be plain old Annie Graham to me.’

‘Good. I wouldn’t want to be anyone else. Do you think I’ve changed though, Jake? I don’t mean because Will is loaded, as you would so eloquently put it, but am I the same person who walked into the police station five years ago and got the biggest crush on you anyone has ever had?’

She was driving along the narrow lanes that would take them onto the main road at Newby Bridge and he looked at her for a few minutes.

‘Yes, you’ve changed, but for the better. You’re no longer the timid person who never talked about her home life or her obsession with chunky Kit Kats. But you’ve been through so much. Any normal woman would have cracked up and been admitted to a mental hospital, but not you. You’ve survived and come through the other side even stronger. Although you’ve got a fair few scars to prove it as well. Do you think you’ve changed?’

‘Yes, I do. I’ve truly never felt so loved and special. Will makes me feel like I can be me; I never have to pretend to be anyone else with him. With Mike it was always as if I had to put on an act. I couldn’t be myself because if I was I ended up getting a good slap. I know that Will would never hit me and I think because of his love I feel a lot more confident. Is that how you feel about Alex? I’ve never really thought about it before?’

‘I suppose it is, but Alex has a lot going for him. He’s pretty gorgeous, as you well know, you harlot. Plus he’s not as wealthy as Will, but he is relatively well off, so we never argue about money. And now we have Alice it’s like everything is just perfect and I don’t want it to end. I will do anything to protect you and my family. So if it comes to it and there’s no choice, then I’m serious about hunting down that freak Smith and putting him back behind bars. Is that okay with you?’

‘Of course it is, Jake, but I would never expect you to put your life on the line for me. And if it comes to the point where there’s even the slightest chance he knows where you live then we move you, Alex and Alice to a safe place until it’s all over. One way or the other.’

Annie didn’t say it but she would rather die than put her friends’ lives at risk. She felt her eyes fill with tears because she knew that it could come to that if they didn’t find him first. She wouldn’t expect Will, Jake or Kav to put themselves on the line for her. Henry wanted her, not them and, if she had to, she would go with him, to make sure they were safe. She’d fought him once and she hoped that she would have the strength to do it again if she had to.

Jake was staring out of the window, but his eyes were filled with as many tears as hers, because he knew her so well that he was thinking exactly the same thing, and he didn’t want to lose her.


Chapter Fourteen

Jake ushered Annie into his house where a pale-faced Alex was pacing up and down with the baby, rocking her to sleep. Jake kissed him on the cheek and then held his hands out and let Alex pass her over. He kissed her tenderly on her forehead and took over rocking and singing to her, and Annie felt her heart melt. She had never seen a sweeter sight and she was tempted to turn around and walk straight back out of this house and drive away. She couldn’t put her friends at risk. They meant far too much to her. Alex grabbed her elbow and led her into the kitchen.

‘No, you don’t. I saw that look on your face and you’re here because we want you to be. If there is the slightest chance that bastard knows where we live then we’re leaving. All of us. I already have my car packed up with everything that me, Jake and Alice might need.’

‘I’m sorry, Alex, I can’t.’

She let out a sob and he walked around the breakfast bar to where she was sitting and wrapped his arm around her, passing her some kitchen roll.

‘You can’t what? This isn’t the Annie I know, the feisty, I’m-going-to-kick-your-arse girl. Don’t let him get to you; it’s what he wants. He wants you to feel like you can’t possibly fight him a second time. Well, I’m telling you now, I think it’s him who is scared of you. Last time you hurt him and he ended up in hospital fighting for his life. You turned the tables on him so don’t you underestimate yourself.’

‘I’m not, but it’s just that last time I was lucky, very lucky. I might not be this time around. I’ve got too much to lose now and he will know this.’

She blew her nose on the kitchen roll and wiped her eyes with her sleeve.

‘I’m not scared for me; I’m scared for Will and all of you. I don’t want any of you risking your life for me.’

There was a loud knock at the door and Alex rushed to open it. Peering through the spy hole, he was glad to see Will standing on the other side. He opened the door and pointed to the kitchen, then he locked the door behind him. Will went into the kitchen where he ran to Annie and pulled her close. Alex left them to it and went to help Jake put Alice to bed and give them some space.

***

It was dark by the time Cathy left the station; she could hear the buzzing of flies but couldn’t actually see them. She got into the clapped-out car she had bought for her daughter, Georgia, to learn to drive in. Her own was at the garage so she’d resorted to using this to come to work in. Considering how old it was it was a surprisingly nice drive. The radio only played The Bay, which was the local radio station, but that didn’t matter. Tonight was eighties night so the drive back to Barrow went pretty fast. A couple of times when she went round a steep bend there had been a thudding noise from the boot, which sounded as if there was something rolling around in there – like a football.

She hadn’t noticed it that morning, but she’d been late and the roads had been much busier than they were now. Before long she was pulling up outside her house in Hawcoat, which her mother used to call Cornflake Hill, because she said that the people who lived in that area couldn’t afford to eat anything else, the houses were so expensive.

Her divorce had finally come through and the prick had agreed she could keep their marital home, which had pleased her spoilt brat of a daughter no end. She’d hated living in Bowness with a passion and was glad to be back home with all her friends. Which meant that she didn’t spend as much time moaning to Cathy about how crap her life was, meaning that Cathy actually got some peace and quiet. Probably too much peace, because all she did now was fire up the laptop, open a bottle of wine and settle down to watch Netflix. Cathy forgot all about the noise in the boot and went inside her house, glad to be home. Before she could get a quick shower her daughter appeared with two of her friends.

‘Mum, can we have a lift to the pictures, please?’

Cathy sighed and turned around to walk back out.

‘And is it okay if I sleep at Ellie’s house?’

She nodded. Another night of peace and quiet. It also meant she could go to Jake’s house and not have to worry about leaving Georgia on her own while they discussed the possibility of Henry Smith being back on the scene. Her daughter had an overstuffed backpack with her that rattled. As long as it wasn’t her bottle of vanilla vodka she didn’t care, so she ignored it.

‘Stick that in the boot, Georgia, and take that bloody football out. It’s been rolling around all the way home driving me mad.’

‘I haven’t got a football. Did you leave a tin of baked beans in it when you went shopping last night?’

‘Possibly. Well, have a look and take it out, whatever it is, please.’

Georgia, who was chattering away to her friends, opened the boot that never locked because it needed fixing and waited for the light to flicker into life. When it did it took her a few seconds to register that the face staring back at her was dead. She pulled away and looked for her mother, wondering if this was some kind of joke and if it was a mask, but then a bluebottle crawled out of the woman’s open mouth and Georgia began to scream.

Cathy, who was gulping cola from the bottle in the kitchen, heard the noise and dropped the bottle onto the worktop where the fizzy brown liquid glugged all over. Her heart skipped a beat. She didn’t understand what her daughter was screaming at. She ran out of the front door to see Georgia standing at the boot of the car, her mouth open and the most awful sound coming from it. Thinking that she’d trapped her fingers or dropped the bottles of alcohol in her backpack she ran around to see what the commotion was.

Cathy looked down into the boot and felt the world begin to swim as bile rose up her throat. There was a woman’s head staring back at her. She pushed her daughter away, and her friends, and screamed at them to get inside the house and lock the doors. After pulling her phone from her pocket she dialled the control room and told them to get patrols to her house now. She looked once more at the head and wondered why the fuck it was in the boot of her daughter’s car, and who would have had the audacity to do such a thing?

The neighbours from either side came out to see if everything was okay and Cathy wasn’t been able to speak to them. For once in her life she was speechless and just shrugged and held her hand up for them not to come any closer. She had been relieved to see them, but she couldn’t have them seeing what was inside the car. She was going to have nightmares for the rest of her life. She couldn’t inflict that on two seventy-year-olds. She’d driven all the way back with it rolling around the inside of her car. Finally snapping herself out of it, she went to her front door and asked Georgia if she was okay. Her daughter was sniffing but had thankfully stopped screaming. Her face was white. Her two friends were sitting either side of her on the sofa.

‘I need you to stay in here, make sure the windows and doors are locked and shut all the curtains.’

‘Mum, how did that get into my car?’

‘I don’t know, sweetie, I really don’t. It’s been in there since I set off from the police station at Windermere so whoever did it is probably still up there, but I don’t want to take any chances.’

‘We locked up before it got dark, but I’ll check again.’

‘Good girl. I’m really sorry but I’m not going to be able to take you to the cinema now. You’re going to have to talk to the police officers who come. They won’t be long and you’ll have to give them a statement, and then I’ll get one of them to drive you to Ellie’s house and you can all stay there. Is that okay?’

All three girls nodded and the sirens in the distance got louder. Cathy had never felt so relieved to hear them and she turned around and walked to the edge of her drive to flag them down. Then Cathy phoned Will.

***

Will put the phone down and relayed what Cathy had told him to Jake, Kav – who’d just arrived – and Annie.

‘I’ve got to go. Please can you stay here with Annie, Jake?’

Kav stood up. ‘I’m coming with you, then we’ll come back if it’s not too late. We need to sort out what we’re going to do about this situation.’

Jake escorted them to the front door where he let them out and then locked it again. He went back into the kitchen.

‘All those bloody flies – now we know why. I can’t believe he would be so brazen as to dump a head in the boot of a police inspector’s car. I can’t sit here; I need to know what’s happening. Do you know where she lives?’

Annie nodded. ‘You’re right, we need to be there. I want to know what’s happening. It’s no good sitting here like a pair of wimps.’

Alex came downstairs and Jake pecked him on the cheek.

‘I’ll be back as soon as I can. There’s been an emergency. All hands on deck sort of thing.’

Alex frowned at him. ‘Please be careful. I’m not too happy that you’re both going wherever it is. Should I know where you’re going and why?’

They both replied ‘No’ in unison.

‘Lock the doors, Alex, and ring me if you need me. I’ll be back here before you know it.’

Alex sighed but shut and locked the front door behind them. He didn’t really want to know but now he was going to be worried sick until they came back. Alice started crying and he turned around and ran back upstairs, glad he had her to take his mind off wondering what the emergency was.


Chapter Fifteen

Will pulled up behind the two vans with flashing lights and ducked under the crime-scene tape that was sealing off the drive. Cathy was huddled to one side, her arms wrapped around herself, and Will didn’t think he’d ever seen her looking so scared. She was talking to the young officer who must have been first on scene and she smiled to see Will.

‘Thank God you’re here. This is a right mess. My daughter found it because I told her to take her sodding football out of the boot of the car. All the way home, around every bend, there was a thudding sound as it rolled from one side of the boot to the other.’ She shivered.

‘How is she? That must have been an awful shock for her.’

‘She’s inside the house with her two friends. I think she’s calmed down now. At least she’s stopped bloody screaming.’

Will walked across to the boot of the car and peered inside; he felt his insides turn to ice as two cold, dead eyes stared back at him. He couldn’t say because that was Matt’s job, but he would bet money that this head belonged to the body Stu had found this morning. He had no idea who this woman was. She hadn’t even been reported missing, but whoever she was she hadn’t deserved to die like this. He turned to Cathy who was relatively calm now that she’d got over the initial shock.

‘What are we going to do, Will?’

Before he could answer he heard Jake’s voice talking to the officers standing guard. He turned and saw Annie in the front of Jake’s car and smiled at her. He was going to kill Jake, bringing her here. He strolled over to Jake, grabbed hold of his elbow and dragged him over to where Cathy was.

‘What the fuck are you doing bringing Annie here – to a crime scene?’

‘She wouldn’t stay with Alex. What was I supposed to do? And do you not think she’s been to enough crime scenes? I think she knows what to expect and I’d rather she was here where we can all keep an eye on her. I made her promise to stay in the car.’

Cathy looked at them both.

‘So I’m asking once more, what are we supposed to do? It’s getting personal. Why would whoever this is put a head in the boot of a police officer’s car? They must have known that it was. I’m trying my best to think of a reason that someone might want to do something so sick and twisted but I can’t. Every single time it comes back down to him. He is the only person sick enough, with an axe to grind and a grudge as big as a mountain. We don’t know where Henry Smith is but I’m positive that he sure as hell knows where we are. We couldn’t be easier to find. We even had the bloody flashing lights and bells to give him a clue.’

Will felt a surge of anger so hot that he turned and punched the brick wall. He wanted to kill Henry Smith.

‘Argh.’

He began shaking his hand and Jake stepped in front of him so Annie couldn’t see what he was doing. Jake grabbed his arm.

‘You need to calm down. What good is it going to do if you give yourself a heart attack? We need to find this bastard and I mean like today, like now, because I know he’s coming for Annie whether we like it or not. She can’t be left alone and I’m completely serious. From now on you or I do not leave her side, and if work don’t like it then they can go fuck themselves. It’s us and Kav and I think Cathy will agree. We need to form our own little task force, and so be it if I lose my job, but we need to turn the tables and hunt him down. And when we find him this time he’s not going to get away. I’ll personally escort him back to that secure unit and throw away the key.’

‘You’re right. I totally agree. It would be too much of a coincidence to have another psycho on the loose, so yes, I’m with you. I’ll get everything together I can. There must be someone who saw him around the time he put the head in the back of Cathy’s car. I mean, come on, it was broad daylight outside a police station. Somewhere there must be a camera in the area that has captured him. We need to find out what vehicle he was driving because he didn’t just stroll through the centre of Bowness with a severed head in his hand.’

Jake nodded. ‘That’s a good point. He needs a vehicle to take his victims away and then drive up to Bowness. He’s playing us all, leaving the bodies in Barrow where you’re on duty and the heads for us to find. I’m not scared to admit I’m worried. He knows exactly what he’s doing.’

Cathy stepped closer. ‘I’m with you. He’s probably mentally unbalanced Georgia for God knows how long. She’s never going to want to look in a car boot again for the rest of her life. As much as I’m all for keeping to the rules, it’s gone past that now. If he’s willing to take such blatant risks as this we need to find him fast.’

She pointed to the boot of the car. ‘He doesn’t care and he has nothing to lose. I reckon he knows it’s only a matter of time before the net closes in and that makes him even more dangerous.’

She stopped talking as the chief superintendent’s black Land Rover pulled up outside her house. She looked at her ex-husband behind the wheel and turned away muttering.

‘Jesus, that’s all I need. I can’t stand the prick on a good day and today’s a pretty shit one. Hold me back if I try to smack him, will you? I don’t want to give him the satisfaction. And don’t say a word about our conversation to anyone. I don’t want him getting involved. You know what a brown-nosing, glory hunter he is. The less he knows the better. It can be between us. We can cut our wrists with a piece of broken glass after and hold our bleeding hands together to seal the deal.’

Will finally broke a smile. ‘Thank you, it means a lot to me to know that we’re not on our own. When we’ve finished here we’ll go to Jake’s if you’re still up for it.’

‘Yes, I’m going to make the idiot take Georgia either back home with him so she can spoil his evening or to her friend’s house so she can get some sleep away from this mess.’

‘I’ll take Annie back to my house. You come as soon as you’re done, Will.’

Will walked Jake back to the car and opened the passenger door where Annie was sitting. He bent down and kissed her on the lips, not caring who was looking. He loved his wife and they could stuff procedures.

‘Why, Will? What’s the point of it all?’

‘Hey, you’re the psychic one, not me. Can you not figure it out?’

She laughed and it made him feel better.

‘I’m still not that great at the whole psychic thing. Sorry.’

‘Look, Jake’s going to take you back to his house. There’s nothing you can do. I will be there as soon as we’ve processed the scene and then I’ll come back with Cathy. Annie, I’m deadly serious. You are not to go anywhere on your own from now on. I’m not taking any chances. We don’t know for sure, but who else could it be other than Henry Smith?’

She lifted her hand and stroked the side of his face.

‘I won’t; I promise I’ll be a good girl.’

‘Well, that would make a refreshing change.’

He shut the door and stepped back so that Jake could drive away and take her back to his warm, safe house.

Will walked over to the chief super who was shooting daggers at the back of Cathy’s head.

‘Right, sir, we have a big problem, a really big problem.’

The chief super tore his attention away from his ex-wife and looked at Will. His face was pale and Will couldn’t help being a little bit glad that he was feeling as bad as Will was.

‘I think you might be right. What are we going to do? Because I’m not happy that someone is going round leaving severed heads in police officers’ cars.’ He lowered his voice. ‘As much as I dislike Cathy, I don’t like the fact that my daughter was the one to discover it. Is this a coincidence? Is whoever this is targeting my family? Should I be worried?’

‘No, sir. I don’t believe he was targeting her as such. I think he was targeting my wife, Annie. He didn’t know what car she was driving so he put it in the only one he could gain access to, which unfortunately was Cathy’s. I’m gravely concerned that this is the work of Henry Smith, sir, and I think he’s going to come after Annie again.’

‘Shite, now what the bloody hell are we going to do? This is a complete mess.’

‘Well we need to find him – and as soon as possible before he does something that I won’t be able to live with.’

‘Yes, right. Leave it with me; I’ll…erm…I’ll get a team together. We’ll have a briefing in the morning, eight o’clock sharp, and see what we can do.’

Will supposed it was better than he expected. At least he’d listened and wasn’t arguing. Two teams would be better than one. Surely between them all they should be able to find the murdering bastard and put him back behind bars.

1 January 1931

James opened his eyes and wondered where he was. Grey light filtered through the curtains and he turned on his side and saw Joseph’s train set on the floor. Then it hit him. He felt around for his wife but she had left him, so he got out of bed to search for her in the bedrooms. He made his way to the staircase and saw her slumped over in a heap on the bottom step. He rushed down the stairs, calling her name, scared that she had died from shock or something. She moved and let out a soft groan and he sighed. Sitting next to her, he pulled her close.

‘I was so scared when I saw you then, I thought…’

He didn’t finish his sentence; he couldn’t say the words out loud.

‘He’s not coming back, James. I went into the cellar to look for him myself last night because I couldn’t sleep. There’s something down there and it chased me. I only just managed to get to the top and slam the door shut, otherwise I wouldn’t be here now.’

‘Who is down there? Why didn’t you call for me and the police?’

He looked at his wife whose pale green eyes blinked back tears as she tried to find the right words.

‘I was too scared. What have you done, James?’ Her voice was rising with every word as the hysteria bubbled below the surface. It finally burst as she screamed, ‘What did you do? Why did you bring that monster into our home? And now our son has gone.’ Her tiny fists began to pummel his chest and he sat there and let her. He didn’t grab her wrists to stop her because he knew, deep down inside, that this was his fault, and if hitting him made her feel better, he’d let her hit him all day.

The tears began to flow and her pounding on his chest slowed down as she slumped down, fear and exhaustion turning her into a crumpled wreck at his feet. She looked up at him.

‘How is that thing in our cellar – that creature that looks like a man – alive? James, you have to believe me. I’m not lying. This is the truth. I saw it and it chased me.’

‘I know you wouldn’t lie. I’m so sorry, Eleanor. I didn’t think it was real. I’m going down there now to look for it, see if I can reason with it.’

‘No. You mustn’t. You can’t because it wasn’t really a man. It had long, black shiny claws and sharp, pointed teeth. You know what it is. I only ever saw it once and it scared me so much. Why did you bring it into our home when I told you not to?’ She shuddered. ‘I can hear the sound of those claws scrabbling across the floor to get to me, echoing in my mind.’ He slid to the floor next to her, taking hold of her hand. James had never known Eleanor to get emotional or spooked, but at this moment in time she was terrified.

‘Tell me everything. I believe you.’

She nodded and dabbed at her eyes with a sodden handkerchief she pulled from her pocket.

‘It looked like that Windigo monster you had in your sideshow the night I met you. It was hiding in the corner and at first I thought it was afraid of me because it was hiding in the shadows, but then it got braver, and when it realised I was on my own it ran after me. I can hear those claws swiping through the air to get to me. I only just managed to get to the top of the steps before it grabbed me and then I slammed the door shut.’

She began to cry again and James held her. His stomach churned at the thought of the thing in the cellar taking his son and almost taking his wife. When she had cried herself out he kissed the top of her head.

‘I’m sorry, Eleanor. I had nowhere to keep it that was safe. For God’s sake, I thought it wasn’t real, that it was man-made. I can’t believe that it’s alive after all this time. How can that be? It doesn’t make any sense. I’m going to get Davey to fetch Farmer Mitchell and as many guns as he owns, and then we will go down into the cellar and hunt for this thing. I promise you I will shoot it dead myself, even if I have to go down into the drains. I don’t care. We can’t tell anyone what you saw; we’ll say it was some kind of giant water rat.’

‘Why, because people will think I’m mad?’

‘No, because no one will want to help unless they don’t know what it is they’re dealing with. People like to know what’s what. It’s easier to believe it’s something we know rather than some kind of monster.’

‘What about you, James? Do you believe me or do you think I imagined it?’

‘I believe every word you said. I told you I will hunt it down and find it if it’s the last thing I ever do. I’m also going to put some more bolts on the cellar door, just to be sure that whatever it is can’t get out.’

‘Thank you for believing me. I’m so scared for Joseph. It must be able to come and go, so it might have taken him somewhere. He must be so terrified on his own.’

James didn’t want to tell her that he didn’t think it had taken Joe because it felt like it. Something like that would need to eat. What would it live off? A piercing pain shot through his heart and he almost doubled over with the severity of it. After a minute he straightened up and realised that what had just hit him had been pure, raw grief for his son.

James got dressed then went outside to the outhouse where his tools were kept. He found what he needed to make the cellar secure and stop whatever it was from escaping. He believed everything Eleanor had said, confirming his worst fears. He knew she felt like she was losing her mind but she would no more lie than she would hurt a hair on their children’s heads. If she said she had seen a monster, then that’s what it was. It must have a way in and out of that cellar. If it came in through the drain, it must lead somewhere. It had to live somewhere. He’d never heard another person speak of such a thing in the area so it was very good at hiding itself. He wondered how long it had been living below the ground like that and what it lived in.

It had been more than a year since he’d moved it in, never checking on it once because he didn’t think he needed to. He imagined it had a huge nest somewhere deep in the earth that was full of human bones and he felt the bile rise in the back of his throat, because at the top of that pile would be his son, Joe. He stormed back into the house where he began banging and screwing an assortment of bolts and padlocks onto the cellar door. If it wanted to come into the house it would make so much noise he would have his shotgun at the ready for it the minute it burst through the door.

Eleanor had washed and dressed Martha and was reading to her in the drawing room. He’d looked in on them on his way in and his heart had filled with sorrow for his son, who should have been sitting next to them. A loud hammering on the front door made him stop what he was doing. Lucy rushed to open it and he saw the two policemen from last night.

‘Good morning, Mr Beckett. Is there any news? Has Joseph turned up with his tail between his legs?’

‘Good morning, officers. I would give everything I own to be able to say yes to that question. Have you any news?’

‘I’m afraid we haven’t, sir. We’ve organised a search party to come and meet us here in half an hour so we can search the gardens and woods again. Two of the local boatmen have kindly offered to check the lake.’

James flinched at the thought of them finding his son floating in the cold water, and he knew it was a very real possibility. He nodded at them both.

‘That’s very kind of them and yourselves to sort this out. I can’t tell you how much I really appreciate it.’

Eleanor walked out holding Martha’s hand. She looked at James, then continued walking to the kitchen, pausing to look at the new locks and bolts that he had fixed to the door. She nodded her head in approval. The men waited for her to reach the kitchen and then the officer who was in charge lowered his voice.

‘Can I ask why all the locks?’

‘My wife is terrified that our daughter might go down there looking for her brother and it’s too dangerous.’

‘Once we have the search party organised we’ll give it one last once-over if that’s okay with you?’

‘It is. I’ve already organised some neighbours to come and help me search the cellar. Davey has been to ask Farmer Mitchell to come over with some guns.’

‘Can I ask you, sir, why you need guns? We’re looking for a missing nine-year-old boy, not hunting.’

‘I want to make sure everyone is safe. This might sound really strange to you but my wife believes some animal came out of the drain in the cellar and may have taken Joe away deep down into the drains somewhere.’

‘And you believe your wife, do you, sir?’

He nodded his head. ‘I do, officer, one hundred per cent, and if you are a wise man then you should believe her as well.’

The two policemen looked at each other as if to say he’d lost his mind, but James didn’t care. He had told them as much as he could and if they didn’t believe him that was their choice. He wouldn’t feel bad if whatever it was helped itself to them after he’d warned them. Davey walked in with Mitchell, who took his cap off and nodded at James.

‘I’m sorry to hear about Master Joe. I’ve brought guns and ammunition.’

‘Thank you, Mitchell, that’s very kind of you.’

‘It’s the least I could do.’

James turned to look at the policemen. ‘Would you mind if we go down and start to search for my son?’

‘Not at all, but be careful with those guns. I don’t want you blowing your limbs off. Sanders will accompany you down there while I wait up here for the others to arrive.’

James noted the look the younger man gave his older colleague. He wasn’t impressed and didn’t want to go down into that cellar either.

‘Would you excuse me while I go and speak to my wife?’

James didn’t give them a chance to reply. He turned and walked to the kitchen where he kissed both Martha and Eleanor on their heads.

‘I want you to stay in here with Martha, Lucy and Mary. I’m going into the cellar with Davey, Mitchell and Sanders the policeman. The other policeman is waiting up here for the rest of the search team to arrive. I want you to shut this door and push a chair under it so you are all safe. If anything should happen, God forbid, you take Martha and you run from this house as far away as possible. I will come and find you as soon as I can but you are not to wait here for me. Do you understand, Eleanor? You and Martha are the most precious things in my life and I will not knowingly put either of you in any danger.’

She nodded her head, then stood up and kissed him. She didn’t care that the staff or Martha were watching. She loved this brave, foolish man more than life itself.


Chapter Sixteen

Henry wondered what was happening right now, and who had been the lucky recipient of his gift. He had finally driven back to the caravan park after spending some time alone and was ready to see Megan. He parked the van and pulled his hood up as he strolled back down to his home. Megan flung open the door, jumped down the three small steps and threw her arms around his neck.

‘Where’ve you been? I was convinced you’d got caught. I’ve been so worried about you. Why didn’t you ring?’

‘I had to wait for the right opportunity to dispose of our package. Do you have any idea how busy Windermere is at this time of day?’

He was secretly pleased that she had been worried about him. Relationships had never been his strong point in life and his psychiatrist, Doctor Grace Marshall, had commented several times about his lack of female companionship over the years. She’d asked him if his frustration was sexual, which he’d found far too much of an intimate question to ask someone she barely knew. He went inside and Megan followed, shutting the door behind her then turning the lock. He sat down and she walked over and sat down on top of him.

‘Jesus, Henry, I have needs, you know. I like sex and you’re almost turning me into a nun.’

He smiled, then grabbed a handful of her hair and dragged her mouth towards his. She pulled away from him and grinned.

‘Now that’s more like it. Oh, before I forget, there were a load of coppers at the house next door earlier.’

The passion left Henry as soon as it had come. He sat up and pushed her off his lap, turning to look out of the small window that looked onto his hole in the hedge.

‘What were they doing?’

‘I don’t know, but there were four women and that young woman who helps the old bird out. They were looking into the boathouse windows and all the outhouses.’

‘Shit, shit, why didn’t you phone me and tell me?’

‘What, and have you drive straight past them? I’m not totally stupid.’

‘No, you’re not. I didn’t mean that. What were they doing that for?’

‘I don’t know but it didn’t look serious. They were all laughing when they drove away in the van.’

‘How do you know that? You can’t see the drive from here.’

‘I snuck through your hole in the hedge and watched from the corner of the boathouse to make sure. They didn’t go inside it. In fact they spent longer in the house than they did outside.’

Henry began to pace up and down, making the caravan rock slightly.

‘Are you mad at me, Henry?’

‘No, of course not. Why would I be? I’m just a little bit puzzled as to what they wanted.’

‘Well, whatever it was, it couldn’t have been important or they’d still be there. Maybe they were looking for that freak I saw last night.’

She stood up and took hold of his hand. She led him to the bedroom and he followed her. She was right. They had nothing to worry about. If they knew he was here they wouldn’t be searching the house next door. This place would have been crawling with plain-clothes officers. He let Megan undo the buttons on his shirt and push him down onto the bed, trying to stop worrying if this was the beginning of the end.

***

Will and Cathy watched as the recovery truck drove away with her daughter’s car for a full forensic search, which would be carried out first thing in the morning by whichever CSI was on duty.

‘Christ, it was a pile of shite anyway, and I certainly don’t want the bugger back now. I can’t get rid of the image of that head rolling around, thudding against the boot every time I turned a corner.’

Her daughter had been driven away by her father, who had dropped her off at her friend’s house. Cathy knew he wouldn’t be bothered mollycoddling Georgia all night so he’d have been glad to get shut of her. She went inside her house and made sure it was locked up then went back out. She’d got changed into some joggers and a T-shirt. Will was just putting the screwed-up ball of crime-scene tape into her bin.

‘I didn’t think you’d want that left across your drive for the neighbours to gawp at.’

‘No, I don’t. Cheers. Come on, let’s get to Jake’s. I’m starving and I need a glass of something strong. I’m still in shock, you know.’

‘I can imagine, and I think I need a glass of something as well.’

She got into his car, which smelt of his aftershave and peppermint chewing gum.

‘Annie’s a lucky woman. You always smell so damn good.’

He laughed. ‘I suppose she is, but then again she could say that I’m a lucky man.’

‘Yes, you are, but I won’t hold it against you. Now get me to Jake’s and feed me because I’m like one of those little mogwais from that film Gremlins. If you feed me too late I turn into a monster.’

They arrived at Jake’s less than five minutes later and he’d opened the front door before they got out of the car.

‘All right, Will, boss?’

‘If you have something for me to eat you never have to call me boss again. I’m starving.’

They followed him inside to be met by the smell of Chinese takeaway and Cathy squeezed his arm.

‘I bloody love you, Jake Simpson. Did I tell you that I think you’re one of my best officers?’

‘Ha-ha, yes, you did…never. But flattery gets you everywhere. I wouldn’t have thought you’d have much of an appetite after seeing that…’ He left the word hanging in the air.

‘No. Well, an hour ago I wouldn’t have, but a girl’s got to eat. I have to keep my energy levels up if we’re fighting serial killers.’

They laughed, but it wasn’t funny and they all knew it.

In the kitchen, sitting around the dining table, were Kav, Alex and Annie. There were trays upon trays of food laid out and Cathy groaned.

‘Remind me to get invited round here more often.’

Jake opened the fridge door and pulled out some bottles of lager and a bottle of wine, then he set about flicking the caps off and pouring wine into both Annie and Cathy’s glasses. They all sat down and did nothing but eat for the next twenty minutes. When the plates had been cleared and the table was empty it was Kav who started the conversation.

‘Plan of action from what I can see is: Annie, don’t try to be a hero. It’s gone past that shit. I think we’re talking about a life or death situation here. I’m sorry, but you are not to be left alone at any time. You are no match for Henry Smith and I think that the nurse, Megan Tyler – the one who helped him escape – has now become his accomplice, unless that head in Cathy’s car belonged to her.’

Annie nodded and sipped her wine. ‘I agree, but why are you so sure that it’s him? We don’t know that and there isn’t anything that ties him to the scenes as yet. How could a nurse go from being a caring person to a killer’s sidekick. What if it’s some copycat?’

‘If it’s a copycat they would be doing exactly what Smith’s done in the past, Annie – slitting throats, not severing heads. Think about it. He wanted you dead and you almost killed him. He’s had almost two years to think about his revenge and, all of a sudden, he’s dropped off the radar.’

Will nodded. ‘I think Kav’s right. We can’t afford to take any chances. If it isn’t Smith and it’s someone who isn’t remotely interested in you, then there’s no harm done, is there? But if we don’t take precautions and something were to happen…’

Annie finished, ‘Then none of you would be able to live with yourselves. I get it and I’m touched that you care enough to want to help, but I don’t expect anyone to put themselves at risk for me.’

Cathy tipped her head back and downed her wine, holding the empty glass out to Jake. ‘Look, it’s a complete pain in the arse. You’re a complete pain in the arse, Annie, but I’d rather be prepared and look an idiot if nothing happens. So you all have my permission to keep your radios, CS gas, tasers, body armour, batons – whatever you think will help at home – on you at all times.’

Jake winked at Annie, deciding not to tell Cathy they already had everything. He didn’t want to push his luck. Will stood up and asked Jake for a notepad and pen, then he walked across to the breakfast bar and began to make a list.

‘Why would someone abduct women and shave off their hair – the first victim had her hair cut off in clumps; this one had her hair completely shaved – then kill them and cut off their heads? What’s the point of it all?’

Kav stretched forward. ‘The point is the shock value. He wants to have a huge impact on whoever finds the head. I think if Jake hadn’t stumbled across that first one there would have been an anonymous phone call to the police stating that they’d found a head, but you saved them the trouble. The one today was purposely planted in the car of someone who worked at the station. And why? Well, we all know why. Because whoever did it knew that Annie would find out.’

Annie lifted her hand to her mouth. ‘He won’t know about the Mini, will he? If it was him he would have been looking for my red Mini. He probably thought the Mercedes belonged to one of the supervisors and that the Clio was mine.’

They all nodded in agreement.

‘So here’s the million-dollar question: where is he staying? Is it in Barrow or Bowness? And where could the two most wanted fugitives in Britain be living relatively incognito at this moment in time? They wouldn’t be able to rent a house. You need references and money to do that. I doubt they could afford to stay in a hotel or guest house. They would need more anonymity than that would afford them.’

‘What about a camp site or caravan park? They would pretty much be able to come and go as they please, especially this time of year, and it would be much cheaper to stay there than anywhere else.’

‘I think you’re right, Annie.’

Will leant across and kissed her on the cheek. ‘Tomorrow we’ll compile a list of the nearest ones and take them one at a time. We can send plain-clothes officers in to speak to the staff and show pictures of them around, see if anyone can recognise them.’

Cathy burped. ‘Excuse me. I think we might be on to something but this has to be hush, hush. If he gets an inkling that we’re searching for him it might make him panic and do something rash. I vote that we don’t even mention his name in any of the press releases. Keep the links to him tenuous at all times. We’ll keep it to ourselves for the time being and work our way through what you’ve just suggested. The only problem is: do you realise how many fucking caravan and camp sites there are? We’re in camp-site city. It could take months.’

‘Then we ask Grace Marshall for a favour, get her to do a geographical profile, see if she can narrow it down. It’s the least she can do seeing as how he walked out of her hospital without so much as a second glance back.’

Will was busy scribbling it all down. Alex stood up to go and check on Alice. There was nothing he could do. It was all way out of his league and he felt like a spare part. When he’d left Jake turned to the others. ‘So do you think he knows about us, where we live, what cars we drive?’

Annie shook her head. ‘No, if he didn’t know whose car belonged to whom then he doesn’t know much. He knows me and he knows Will, and I’m sorry, but he probably remembers you, Jake, from the trial, but he hasn’t got a clue where you live, or about Alex, or you, Cathy. His main focus is me and I think he’s just winging it, to be honest. I also think that that nurse who helped him, Megan, is helping him now, because it’s not easy to carry a body to a car and through a field on your own. The only reason he never took Emma Tyson to the old mansion was because he couldn’t carry her through the woods, so we need to be on the lookout for Megan as well. If she’s helping him to kill women then she could be just as dangerous – maybe even more than him. You hear of couples who get together and there’s something in the dynamics of the relationship that makes them thrive off each other and kill for pleasure. I think it’s the both of them.’

Jake yawned and Kav stood up.

‘Thanks, Jake. I’d best get going. There’s a lot to think about. I want to get some sleep and have a clear head for the morning. What time did the super say the briefing was going to be?’

Cathy answered, ‘The dick said eight. Can you give me a lift home, Kav? Come inside and check my house is all secure and make sure there’s no scary men hiding under my bed?’

They laughed, but all of them knew there was a real possibility of this happening if it did turn out to be Henry Smith. Kav, ever the gentleman, agreed, and Jake walked them to the car outside. All three of them scanned the street but there were no strange cars parked or any weird men hanging around.

Cathy got into the passenger seat of Kav’s car and he rolled his eyes at Jake. Jake had heard rumours that, years ago, before she’d married the chief super, Cathy and Kav had had an affair, but he’d been married at the time and she’d wanted to settle down. But they did make a pretty good couple. Maybe once this was sorted out he could do a little bit of matchmaking. He’d always said she needed a good shag to sort her out. He went back inside to Annie and Will, who were both curled up on the sofa.

‘I bet you a tenner Kav spends the night with Cathy and they come to work together in the morning.’

‘Rubbish. They’re always arguing.’

‘That might be, Annie, but there’s something about being scared and living dangerously that makes a quick shag all the better.’

Will laughed. ‘Are you all right if we crash here tonight? I don’t want to put you and Alex out but it’s a long way back to Hawkshead, and I’m knackered.’

‘Of course you can. I’d rather you both stayed here. At least I know where you are – just no noisy shagging. I don’t want you waking the baby up.’

Annie stood up and slapped his arm. ‘You are so crude at times. As if. I wouldn’t dream of doing that in your house. I’m so tired I just want to get into bed and sleep for a week.’

‘Yes, well, that won’t be happening either. Do you have any idea how many times a night babies cry and need their nappy changing or a bottle of milk?’

‘No, but I’m sure we’ll find out. Goodnight, Jake. Say goodnight to Alex for us, and thank you.’

They headed off upstairs to the guest room, which might as well have had a sign on the door that said ‘Annie’s Room’. She spent almost as much time here as she did her own home. They both undressed and crawled into bed where Annie snuggled up to Will, and even though she never thought she’d go to sleep, she drifted off in seconds, closely followed by Will.

***

Kav parked outside Cathy’s house, which looked like every other bungalow on the street. You would never have guessed the police circus that had been outside the front less than two hours ago. He got out of the car and walked across to the front door, waiting for her to find her keys. She finally found them and opened the door; before she walked in she pushed her arm through the open gap and felt along the wall until she reached the switch, flicking it and bathing the hall in light.

Kav never said a word. He had seen a different side to her tonight. One that wasn’t as tough as old work boots. They’d been friends for years, even lovers for a while a long time ago, but it hadn’t worked out. He’d refused to walk out on his wife even though he didn’t particularly love her, and Cathy had moved on and married, then divorced, the man who was now the super. Kav walked in with her close behind, shutting the front door. He then continued to check each room in turn, saving her bedroom for last. It was painted grey and white with a huge Marilyn Monroe print above the bed, and he nodded.

‘Excellent taste. I like your bedroom. It’s classy yet understated.’

She giggled. ‘What are you now, an interior designer? I’m glad you approve. I’ll sleep better tonight.’

He grinned and bent down to look under the bed and she squealed.

‘Ooh I say, don’t you go finding my private toy box.’

Kav dropped the sheet and stood up, his face burning, and she laughed even harder.

‘You’re so gullible. You always were. That was one of the things I loved about you back in the day. I would like to think, if I did have a vibrator, that I’d hide it a bit better than that.’

He started to chuckle. ‘So are you going to offer me a coffee for being such a gentleman and making sure there are no scary men hiding under your bed?’

‘Of course, but I can do better than coffee if you want something stronger?’

‘No, coffee will be fine. I don’t drink a lot these days. It messes with my…’

Cathy laughed. ‘Stop right there. I don’t want to know.’

He followed her into the kitchen and sat on one of her bar stools.

‘Do you ever wonder how come you and me both ended up divorced and on our own? I do. Not that I wasn’t glad to get rid of my wife. It was a bit of a relief, to be honest, but it does get lonely. Did you miss me at all after we split up?’

‘Yes, I did miss you, but be thankful you weren’t married to “I can’t keep it in my pants if they are blonde and under thirty”. The only thing I miss about him is having someone to cut the hedge and put the bins out. Even the sex wasn’t that good.’

She passed him a cup of coffee and leant over to pour the milk in; Kav grabbed hold of her and pulled her close. Cathy paused for a minute then pulled him even closer as he kissed her. When she pulled away she smiled.

‘Forget about the coffee. Come and warm my bed up for me. It’s been a long time, too long.’

She took hold of his hand and led him back to her bedroom, shutting the door behind her just in case Georgia came home for anything. Seeing her mother having sex and finding a severed head in one night might just be too much for her.


Chapter Seventeen

Will and Jake were already in the blue room waiting for the briefing to begin. Will had left Annie with Alex. She was giving Alice a bottle. The sight of them both curled up on Jake’s sofa had melted his heart. Even Jake had commented when they got into the car that she was a natural, which was a polite hint from him that they should stop messing about and have kids – another reason why he hated Henry Smith. He was ruining Will’s chance of having a happy family. There was no way he could bring a baby into this world with a sadistic killer waiting in the background to steal everything away from him.

There was no sign of Kav or Cathy yet and Jake rolled his eyes at Will, who shook his head. The task force were there lined up against the back wall, and so were the chief super and the detective chief inspector, along with Stu and the rest of Will’s team. No one had noticed that Jake shouldn’t be there, so he kept quiet. It was funny watching the super’s face getting redder and redder. He kept looking at his watch, no doubt thinking that Cathy was being late on purpose just to piss him off. There was the sound of footsteps as someone ran down the four steps that led to the room and in walked Kav with Cathy behind him. Jake whispered in Will’s ear. ‘You owe me a tenner. As if they haven’t been shagging all night. She’s actually smiling.’

Will grinned. The super eyed them suspiciously, then he eyed Kav and Cathy as they took seats at opposite sides of the table. He coughed into his hand.

‘Right. Morning, everyone. I’m glad you could make it.’ He stared at Cathy when he said this; she yawned loudly and looked at her watch but he turned away from her, his face a shade of crimson that you would normally associate with someone about to burst a blood vessel.

‘As you know, we have a problem, a major problem. There are two women who have been killed and correct me if I’m wrong, DS Ashworth, we don’t have a bloody clue who is doing it. Any evidence, suspects, motives?’

‘Not really, sir. We all know that the number one suspect is Henry Smith, who walked out of his secure hospital three months ago, but there is nothing concrete to suggest that it could be him. It’s a completely different MO from his last killings. There is a small chance it could be someone trying to emulate Smith’s killings but taking it one step further.’

‘You mean a copycat? Jesus Christ, why would you want to do that?’

‘I can’t say. Maybe because Smith got his fifteen minutes of fame, someone else wants theirs.’

‘So what have we got, exactly? I want it from top to bottom.’

Will stood up and Cathy winked at him. He walked over to the front of the room where the whiteboard was and began to tell them everything he knew. He had never been a violent person, but now that Annie was under threat, he had realised quite calmly that he was willing to do anything to keep her safe.

An hour later and they were no wiser than before they’d begun, except that they had agreed to search the houses and outbuildings near the barn where the bodies had been discovered. Photographs of Henry and Megan, taken from the hospital CCTV cameras on the day they escaped, had been handed round to everyone. The whole area was to be canvassed and all residents spoken to. Will had offered to coordinate it and told Jake to go back home and tell Annie what was happening. They were both on shift at Windermere at two, so they were going to make a start on the camp and caravan sites up there. Will had tried to persuade her to phone in sick but she’d told him no way. She wanted to find Henry as much as anyone else and she couldn’t do that from home. After the briefing Cathy had pulled Will to one side.

‘I’ve spoken to the sergeants in my spot; they are all aware that Annie and Jake are to be teamed up and not separated at any cost. I’m pretty sure she couldn’t get a better bodyguard than Jake and we both know he’d never let Smith anywhere near her. We need people on the ground up there in case he’s staying in that area. Personally I think he’ll be somewhere between the two, but then again he could be anywhere. It’s anyone’s guess.’

‘Thank you, Cathy, I really do owe you one.’

‘No, you don’t. I needed a little excitement in my life. I just didn’t realise it.’

He walked off back to his office and Cathy made her way to the sergeant’s office to see Kav, who was in the middle of lecturing one of the new recruits. He looked at her and grinned; she saluted and then went to find her car. Last night had been the most excitement she’d had in years. She could get used to it.

1 January 1931

James approached the men who were waiting for him in the hall with trepidation. He was desperate to find this creature but terrified at the same time.

‘Can I just take this moment to thank you from the bottom of my heart? I suppose I should explain to you why I asked for guns. My wife heard a noise in the cellar last night and went to investigate hoping to find our son. What she saw was a large creature that she thinks may have been responsible for taking Joseph. I have no reason to disbelieve her. She does not have cause to lie. Eleanor doesn’t have an overactive imagination. If she says she saw something in the cellar, then she did, and now I want to go and find whatever it is and shoot it dead. Because if it took my son and scared my wife then it doesn’t deserve to live.’

Davey was shifting from foot to foot, looking scared and uncomfortable. Mitchell nodded his head in agreement with what James had said and the policeman looked so far out of his depth James wanted to tell him that they didn’t require his assistance. Nevertheless, if they did find a creature, he wanted him to be a witness to it and its destruction. James began to unbolt the padlocks and the atmosphere was so fraught with tension, if anyone had said boo it was possible Mitchell would have shot them.

James thought it only fair that he go first, so he did. The light was never bright enough to cast out all the shadows and he stood on the bottom step with the three men behind him while they listened for any noise. There was none, and James shone the lantern he was holding around. The cellar seemed empty, desolate. He strode towards the iron drain, which was the only way anything could get in or out, and waved the lantern over it. The hole looked empty but the grating wasn’t down properly. It had been moved. He turned to Davey.

‘We didn’t put this back yesterday, did we?’

‘No, sir, after you went upstairs I dragged it back over as best I could, just in case.’

‘Just in case what?’

Davey squirmed. He had tried not to think about it for fear of bringing it back to life to haunt his dreams. Then he thought of poor little Joe and scolded himself.

‘In case the thing I saw down there yesterday came back up. I told you I thought there was something down there when I first looked – only it moved so fast I thought it was just a rat. Then when I was in the tunnels I heard something and it scared me so much I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.’

‘What did you hear, Davey?’

‘It sounded like sharp claws, clattering up the tunnel towards me. It gave me a fair old fright.’

‘I knew you had seen something yesterday. You were scared when we pulled you out. Why didn’t you say something? My wife could have been hurt.’

‘I was too terrified, sir. I didn’t think you’d believe me and then I thought that if you did you would send me back down there. I’m so sorry for being a coward.’

James stopped himself from saying anything else. He would probably have done the same. None of this was Davey’s fault. It was all his and he would pay for this every second of every day until he died. He lifted a hand and squeezed his shoulder.

‘It’s all right. I’d probably have done the same thing if it had been me.’

Davey let out a sigh of relief and Mitchell stepped forward.

‘Well, I’m not scared. It’s probably some mutant rat. You should see the size of the ones we get on the farm sometimes. I’ll go down there with the gun and, if I see it, I’m shooting it on first sight. Is that okay with everyone?’

The others nodded, except for the policeman, who hadn’t really spoken up until now. ‘I don’t know if you should be firing a shotgun in a narrow tunnel, Mitchell. What if it hits the wall and ricochets? It would kill you outright.’

‘I’m not going to shoot the wall, now am I, officer? That would be a pretty stupid thing to do and a waste of good ammunition. I’m a trained gun man, been shooting rats since I was seven years old when my dad taught me.’

James stepped forward and nodded at Davey to grab hold of the cover. Both men bent down and pulled it over, leaving a gap big enough for Mitchell to climb down, but not taking it off completely in case they had to drag it back in a hurry. Mitchell jumped down into the hole and James passed him the lantern and the gun. Mitchell nodded at him, then bent down to shine the lamp around the tunnel to see if there were any rat droppings or signs of any other animals. It was clear. He had barely managed to fit into the tight space and had to shuffle around to get his rifle in position in case he needed to fire it.

‘It’s all clear up to now. I’m going in.’

Davey crossed himself and James felt his heart begin to race. What if he had just sent an innocent man to his death? But there was no proof that his son was dead. He was jumping to conclusions. They waited for what seemed like hours and the policeman began to get fidgety. James hoped that nothing had happened to Mitchell but there had been no shots fired or any shouting. Finally they heard him scrabbling back down the tunnel. It wasn’t wide enough for him to turn around in so he had to crawl backwards, which was not an easy task in a tunnel that size. His feet appeared at the mouth of the tunnel and then he pushed himself back. With a face that was covered in black marks, he looked up at them.

‘Nothing down there as far as I can see. There is a narrow tunnel that leads off from the main one but I don’t even think that it’s big enough to get a small child down. There is a bad smell coming from that tunnel, though. Smells like there might be a blockage or a dead animal down there.’

James flinched and the policeman finally spoke.

‘Sorry to be so crude, sir, but may I just say that your son hasn’t been missing long enough for him to…for his body to…to begin to… Well if some harm had come to him down there it would take more than fifteen or so hours for it to smell really bad is what I’m trying to say.’

James felt deflated. He knew that he was only trying to help, but a picture of his son’s cold, dead body flashed before his eyes and he wanted to collapse on the floor and never get back up.

‘I understand, officer, and thank you. Mitchell, are you sure there was no sign of Joe – no clothes or shoes?’

‘No, sir, as far as I can tell your son hasn’t been in that tunnel and whatever it was that Mrs Beckett saw last night wasn’t down there either.’

James bent down to drag the cover over, and this time it was the police officer who helped him to do it. They went back upstairs and James went into the kitchen, closing the door behind him.

‘I’m sorry, Eleanor. Mitchell has been the full length of the tunnel and there is nothing there.’

She didn’t need to know about the dead animal. She would have nightmares imagining it was their son down there on his own in the dark. Christ, he was going to have nightmares thinking about it. He wished he knew what to do, but he didn’t. Their fate was in the hands of God now and he had a feeling that even God had nothing to do with what had happened to Joe.

Buried deep in the tunnels it sat on its nest of bones. It hadn’t survived this long without knowing when to show itself and when to hide. The people had come close but they couldn’t slither or crawl like it could, or see in the dark. It sat and played with the small, black, lace-up shoe until it was bored, slicing it in half with its razor-sharp claws then throwing it to one side like a child discards a toy when it’s finished playing with it. It didn’t know how many more humans would come looking, but it didn’t matter because soon it would be time to go to sleep for a very long time.

They could look all they wanted but you had to want to see something in order to find it, and you also needed to believe that things existed in this world that were beyond all human comprehension. The world was full of legends and tales of monsters that lived in the dark. The truth was that sometimes these monsters and humans collided and sometimes the humans lived to tell the tale.

When it had awoken in the dark and taken cover in the drains it had been so very hungry. The animals had satisfied it at first but it soon became aware of the much bigger things, which it had learnt were the humans who lived upstairs in the light. They were much harder to trap and kill but they were much tastier and more filling. It would watch the humans on their boats from the blackened shores of the lake when it was dark, too dark to see it crouched down under a bush or tree watching them. It would get a whiff of their scent and its mouth would fill with water at the thought of something so tasty to nibble on. On a few occasions it had watched lone sailors on the lake topple off their boats, and had swum out to drag them back to its nest. It was easier to drown them in the water than try and get their semi-conscious bodies through the narrow tunnels, but they would fight.

It was a rare thing for them to come without a fight. It didn’t care about them. They meant nothing and it didn’t have a conscience, because to exist you must eat, and if eating animals or humans was the only thing to keep it alive then so be it. There were no feelings of empathy or sympathy, just an ache in a belly that had been empty for too long and needed filling until it could eat no more, then it would sleep for a very long time.


Chapter Eighteen

The journey to work had been pretty standard for Jake, who insisted on driving Annie’s car. She had been too tired to argue with him. Even though she’d slept all night she still felt like she could go back to bed for another few hours. He parked outside the station and then made her wait in the car while he got out and had a look around. All she could see from her window was a lot of walkers and tourists. There was no shifty-looking man bundled up under layers of clothes waiting on the corner.

She hadn’t seen Henry since the trial and wondered how badly scarred his face was now. Knowing the British justice system, they had probably forked out for him to have some plastic surgery so he didn’t feel out of place when he looked in the mirror. In her mind he would always look like Vincent Price when he played the crazy man in House of Wax. In fact, come to think of it, he looked like him before she had set his head on fire. It was just a shame he hadn’t bled or burnt to death in the house. If he had then they wouldn’t all be living in fear and those two women who were now going to be remembered for ever as the severed heads would still be alive. Life was truly shit at times. Jake opened her door and she jumped.

‘Steady on, I don’t look that scary, do I?’

‘No, of course you don’t. I was just thinking about Henry Smith.’

‘Well, try not to because that’s what he wants. It’s a control thing. He wants us to be afraid of our own shadows. He will be getting his rocks off on that big time.’

‘I know, but it’s pretty hard, Jake. I love my life now. It’s never been so perfect and I don’t want anything to happen to change it.’

‘I know you do. I love your life now. It’s much less stressful – well, it was until this latest round of murders.’

They walked around to the side door of the station and Jake pressed the code into the keypad. As they shut the door behind them another door banged further down the corridor and they both jumped.

Annie held his arm. ‘Don’t worry, that’s just our resident ghost letting me know he’s around. He always bangs the door when I come in or go out.’

Jake looked down at her, shaking his head. ‘Completely normal, then. What resident ghost and why have you never told me about it?’

‘Because he’s shy and I think he just likes to be here. He doesn’t bother anyone or mean any harm. We sort of have an understanding. I talk to him and he bangs the doors.’

Amazed, Jake led the way through the corridors, checking each office until they reached the locker room where they both began to get dressed into their body armour. They fastened the heavy belts with batons and handcuffs attached, then clipped on their radios and the CS gas. Jake, who was taser trained, took one from the special cabinet and put in a fresh cartridge. He turned to her and grinned. ‘If I get the chance I’m going to taser him until the bastard is that charged up with electricity you could plug some fairy lights up his arse and they’d glow.’

Annie laughed so hard she couldn’t catch her breath. ‘Now that I would like to see.’

‘What do you want to do first? Begin checking the caravan parks? We could take the photos we have of them and go ask the site managers if they recognise them. If anyone does then we scarper and come back here. Let Will know and sort it out, then all go in undercover except for you and Will. You both have to hang back; he knows what you look like.’

‘I suppose so. I’ll print off a map and a copy of all the sites but Cathy’s right. There are hundreds of them. We’ll start at one end and work our way towards the middle. I think we should begin at the parks before you reach Bowness from Newby Bridge. If he’s killing in Barrow and dumping heads here I don’t think he’ll be stopping near Troutbeck or Ambleside.’

‘Good idea. You’re not just a pretty face, my friend. That’s very good common sense even if neither of us do have a clue.’

Annie went into the office to begin looking for two clipboards. She felt sick but had to do something. She didn’t want to put any of her friends in jeopardy but there really was no choice. She wanted to find Henry and this Megan more than anything, to put an end to it all. Annie felt a chill spread over her. She saw movement from the corner of her eye and was pleasantly surprised to see both Alice and Sophie glowing in the corner. Alice was the first ghost she had ever seen and she had helped Annie to overcome Henry when she was fighting for her life in the cellar of Abbeywood Mansion. Alice had fought her very own serial killer back in 1886 after she had discovered that her husband was none other than Jack the Ripper. He had tried to kill her in the very same cellar that Henry Smith had discovered and was using as a place to kill his victims over a hundred years later. ‘Hello, what are you both doing here?’

Alice smiled but it was Sophie who stepped forward. ‘Annie, he’s looking for you.’

Annie felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. She already knew this but to hear it from Sophie made it very, very real.

‘I knew he was, but thank you for coming to tell me. Do you know where he is?’

Sophie shook her head. This time it was Alice who spoke. ‘Not yet but we are looking for him and if we find him Sophie will let you know. She finds it much easier than me to come and go. Annie, I’m scared for you. He will not stop until he’s done what he set out to do, until you’re dead. And the girl is going to help him although he doesn’t want her to touch you. He wants you all to himself.’

‘He does? What should I do?’

‘Find him before he finds you. He is in one of those caravans but they all look the same. All I know is this one is brown and it is next to a huge, green hedgerow, with a hole in the middle of it. Sophie and I will keep trying to find him but he’s very hard to fix on to. It’s as if he knows and is blocking us both.’

‘Thank you, at least that’s more of a start than we had.’

Sophie ran over and wrapped her arms around Annie’s waist, hugging her tight. Annie felt as if an icy cold band was squeezing her stomach but she leant down and tried her best to hug Sophie back. Alice smiled at Annie then took hold of Sophie’s hand. Sophie grinned up at Annie, about to say something, but Alice frowned, shaking her head ever so slightly. They both disappeared into thin air. Annie had goosebumps; they had just confirmed her worst fears. Up to now she had been hoping they were all wrong about Henry Smith, that he was at the other end of the country hiding, but now it was a race to find him because he already had a good head start on her and he knew where she was.

Jake walked in and she jumped.

‘Will you stop doing that? You’re turning me into a nervous wreck. Who were you talking to? I heard voices.’

Annie decided not to say anything; she didn’t want to listen to him making fun of her all day. Her head was pounding and her was stomach churning.

‘Cathy just phoned me.’

Annie turned so he wouldn’t see the faint redness creeping up her neck. She hated to lie to him but sometimes it was easier and it was only a white lie. He didn’t need to know that she’d been talking to dead people again.

‘Did you ask her about Kav? I’m telling you now, you should have seen them both coming into the briefing late this morning. She was positively glowing; I haven’t seen her look so happy for a long time.’

‘Really, why did I not know this? You should have told me first thing. That’s sweet. I think they would make a great couple and it’s about time Kav had someone to take care of him. He’s a big softie underneath that gruff, scary exterior.’

‘I know. I did actually think that myself. Sorry, I guess scary motherfucker took over my priorities. Have you printed that list out?’

Annie shook her head and walked across to the wall where there was a map with red dots all over it. She unpinned it and took it across to the photocopier where she made two copies then handed one to Jake.

‘There you are.’

‘You are having a laugh. Are all these red dots camp sites and caravan parks?’

‘Yes.’

‘But there are almost more red dots than there is map.’

‘I know. I told you that before.’

‘I know you did but I thought you were exaggerating. Where on earth do we start?’

‘Well, we can rule out camp sites. We’re looking for a brown caravan that is next to a long green hedge with a hole in it.’

Jake stared at her, narrowing his eyes. ‘And you know this because?’

‘Because I do, that’s all. Look, if we start where I said, at least half of those are camp sites that won’t need checking. We just need to focus on the caravan sites. Trust me. I know what I’m doing.’

He shrugged. ‘Come on then, actions speak louder than words. Let’s get cracking. I’ll park outside the coffee shop and you run in and get us two coffees from your favourite manager.’

Jake dangled the keys in front of her face. Annie shook her head. She hated his driving and he knew it, but she wouldn’t be able to concentrate. Her head was spinning. The consequences of them not finding Henry first were too scary to contemplate.

‘Hang on, have you printed off pictures of the gruesome twosome?’

Annie nodded. She would never forget Henry but she didn’t know Megan except for the photo that had been circulated on an email when they’d first escaped. And there was no way she would still have that pink in her hair. It made her stand out too much. What was a young girl like her doing mixed up with Henry?

They went to the side door, which Jake opened and stepped through first, not letting her out until he’d looked around. He walked forward and she followed him, keeping close. They both climbed into the unmarked car and he locked them in. She didn’t say anything as he drove off but he kept glancing into the rear-view mirror and she knew he was making sure they weren’t being followed. It gave her the creeps. At least Henry didn’t know where she lived now. Are you sure about that, Annie? If he knows that you work up here, what’s to say he didn’t follow you home one night when you were tired and weren’t even thinking about him?

Jake stopped the car and she looked around. The street was busy outside the café. People were everywhere. She didn’t think that he would go for a quick kill in a public place. That wasn’t Henry Smith’s style. He much preferred an intimate setting, in a deserted place where he could spend some quality time with his victims. Jake was obviously thinking the same thing or he wouldn’t have expected her to go into the coffee shop. She got out of the car, keeping her head down. Jake wound the window down. ‘I’ll have the biggest piece of cake they have and don’t forget the sugar.’ She nodded then opened the door and sighed. The queue was huge. Luckily for her, Gustav’s sixth sense kicked in and he came rushing over to her.

‘You know I’m worried about you, Officer Annie. You look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders.’ He peered over her shoulder and waved at Jake, who waved back.

‘Come to the front. You don’t have to wait in this line. You know that.’

‘I don’t like to be cheeky.’

‘Nonsense, it’s my privilege to serve the brave officers of the constabulary.’

He walked her to the front of the queue.

‘Meg, two large lattes and two slices of lemon sponge to go, please.’

The girl smiled at them and turned away. Annie looked at her but she didn’t look anything like the girl in the picture. This one was far thinner with dark brown hair. She wouldn’t be working in one of the busiest shops in Bowness either. Annie scolded herself for being stupid. The girl handed her a bag with the cakes in it, her hand brushing Annie’s.

‘Sorry.’

Annie laughed. ‘No, sorry, it’s me. I promise I wasn’t trying to hold your hand.’

The girl smiled back, put the lids on the coffees and passed them over as well. Gustav began to chatter to Annie once more and she nodded her head, thanking both him and the girl who was now busy serving the next customer.

‘My offer still stands. You would make a fine barista, Officer Annie.’

‘I’ll think about it. Thank you so much.’ She winked at him and turned to leave, grabbing a couple of sachets of sugar and a wooden stirrer before walking back out into the cold. Jake leant over, opening the passenger door for her.

‘Bloody hell, those coffees better be good. How long does it take?’

‘You’re so ungrateful at times, Jake.’

‘I’m starving. Did you get any decent cake?’

‘Yes, but not for you – he only gave me one slice.’

Jake looked at her in disbelief and she thought he might actually start to cry. His bottom lip had stuck out like a small child’s.

‘I’m only kidding. You can have them both if you’re that upset. Jesus, it’s like working with a four-year-old.’

***

Jake drove away from the café but not before Megan had managed to get a good look at him. She nodded her head in approval. Lucky Annie. She wouldn’t mind working with him. He was gorgeous. That made her dislike the woman even more. Not only did she have a good job, rich husband and a nice car, she also got to work with a hottie like that copper. She couldn’t wait to tell Henry she’d actually touched her. He would totally freak but she didn’t care. She knew it would drive him mad. She had no doubt that when he was fucking her he was thinking about Annie Graham – only he’d never admit that and she knew full well that he wasn’t a rapist. He might be a sick, cold-blooded, murdering bastard but he wouldn’t do that.

She looked at her watch. She only had a couple of hours to go before the end of her shift, and judging by the queue it would be home time before she knew it. There had been a flurry of activity in the village. She had never seen so many yellow jackets walking up and down the main street. Normally it was only a passing police van a couple of times a day. Two officers had been in earlier handing out flyers and speaking to the staff, asking if they had seen anything suspicious. Of course none of them had because she knew Henry was meticulous. In fact he was so slow at everything he did, sometimes she wanted to tell him to get on with it, but she was grateful to him because if it had been up to her they would probably have been caught by now. Another PCSO came through the door and Megan smiled at her. ‘Sorry, we’ve already been spoken to.’

The woman rolled her eyes. ‘Cheers, I think we’re going around in circles now to tell you the truth. Thanks.’ She left and once again Megan wondered how come none of them had realised who she was. Of course it was so blatantly obvious, they would never expect it. They would be expecting her to be hiding away somewhere with Henry. Well, it was a shame they were so stupid that they couldn’t see what was right in front of their faces, because it was all going to come back and bite them on the arse big time. She went back behind the counter and began smiling and serving the customers once more, excited to go home and see Henry.

Henry was lying on his bed thinking about Annie. She looked different from the last time he had seen her and he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. She looked a little slimmer and a little older but then again didn’t they all. He thought that she looked… He was fumbling for the right word to describe her. It was very important. And then it came to him. Annie Graham looked haunted. Yes, that was exactly how she looked. He wondered if it was because of him. Of course it’s your fault, you idiot, he scolded himself.

Another time and place, things might have worked out differently. If he hadn’t started killing maybe he could have met her in a different way – even asked her out for a drink. A voice in his head began to laugh. If you hadn’t started killing you wouldn’t have even known she existed. Everything happens for a reason, Henry, remember that. And your reason is to hold her in your arms, stroke her hair and whisper words of comfort to her as she takes her last breath. A shudder ran down his back so hard he made the bed shake. He forced himself to get up and do something, anything, to take his mind off her before he couldn’t think about anything else, and the desire to kill her became too strong for him to control.

He wondered how Megan was getting on. She had texted him in her break to tell him the village was crawling with police and to keep away. She would let him know if it was safe to come and pick her up. He went into the living room and turned the small digital radio on then switched it straight off. It wasn’t even the end of November and they were playing Christmas songs.

Movement by the hedge caught his eye as something ran past the hole. He turned to look and see what it was but it had gone. Henry got the feeling that someone had been watching him. He pressed his face against the glass and looked around. There was no one walking around in the garden of the big house from what he could see. He looked up and saw the old woman who lived there looking out of her bedroom window, but she wasn’t looking down at him; she was looking towards the lake. He stepped back, not wanting her to know he was watching her.

Whatever it was had moved so fast it had looked like a black blur. It might have been a deer. He had been driving home the other night and one had jumped across the stone wall on one side of the road, taken two jumps and was across the road and over the hedge on the other side. He had scared himself. It had been huge and if he’d hit it he didn’t know who would have come off worse. He wouldn’t have liked to put a bet on it, that was for sure. They were so fast and big.

He sat down on the sofa where he could still see the woman looking out of the window but she wouldn’t be able to see him, and he wondered who she was watching for out on that lake. Maybe her husband had gone out on it and never come back, because day after day she seemed to spend her time staring at it. He wasn’t sure if he should make an effort to try and befriend her. She was always on her own except for when the younger woman went in to clean, or whatever it was she did. If she had no family it might be nice for her to have some company. It would be nice for him as long as she didn’t act like his mother.

He doubted she read the newspapers or watched much television so she wouldn’t have a clue who he was, and she probably had a big cellar. He liked cellars. They were much better for doing what he had to do in than some draughty old barn or ramshackle boathouse. In fact that was a brilliant idea. It would be much better to take Annie there on his own. Megan wouldn’t know about it, which solved the problem of him having to share Annie. He began to pull his shoes on. He had no idea what he was going to say to her but what the hell. She might not even open the door to him. Pulling his baseball cap on he stepped out of the caravan and slipped around the back, through the hole in the hedge, and strode across the lawn to the front door. He pressed the bell and waited a minute before knocking on the door. It took a while but then he heard the sound of the hall door being opened and her frail figure came into sight through the glass.

‘Who is it?’

‘Hello, sorry to bother you but I was wondering if you had a telephone I could use to ring my wife. I need to tell her I’ll be late to pick her up because I’m charging the car battery.’

The figure on the other side of the glass came closer and the door opened an inch, the brass safety chain not letting it open any further.

‘We’re stopping in that caravan park next door and my phone isn’t working. These mobiles are great when you can get them to work but a nightmare when you can’t.’

Martha Beckett ran every scenario through her brain. She knew she shouldn’t open the door because he was a stranger, but then she’d already broken that rule once this week by letting that Irish man push his way into her home. And look what had happened there. This man sounded much more polite and a lot older than the Irish one, so she slid back the locks from the front door. She had spent her entire life on her own, being careful. Maybe it was time to throw caution to the wind and start being more adventurous.

The sound of the chain being slid along and taken off was like music to his ears.

‘I wouldn’t have one of those things if you gave it to me.’

The door opened and she smiled at him. He grinned back.

‘No, me neither, but I have to have it for work. We’re up here on holiday and she’s gone shopping. I hate it – the shopping, I mean, not the area, because that’s beautiful – but I’ve left her to it and she’ll go mad if I leave her stranded.’

‘Come in. I’m afraid I only have a good old-fashioned house phone but you can use it to phone her. British Telecom will think I’ve broken the habit of a lifetime by using it.’ She winked at him and Henry laughed. He liked her. She wasn’t at all what he’d been expecting. She was old and frail but she had a sparkle in her pale blue eyes and a sense of humour. Nothing at all like his mother, which was a good thing for the both of them.

‘I can’t tell you how much this means. I’ll pay you for the call, of course.’

‘You’ll do no such thing. I’ve paid them every bill on time my whole life and I rarely use the thing.’

‘Thank you so much. I’m Henry by the way.’

‘You’re welcome. And I’m Miss Beckett, but you can call me Martha.’

She led him down the corridor to the sideboard with the phone and pointed to it.

‘I’ll be in the kitchen just down the hall.’

Henry smiled and picked up the phone, dialling his own mobile number to leave a voicemail. He couldn’t phone Megan because for now he didn’t want her to know what he was planning. After a minute he walked along the dark corridor, stopping to look at a heavy oak door which was covered in padlocks and bolts. He continued along to the bright, modern kitchen where the kettle was boiling.

‘Thank you so much for that. I’ll see myself out.’

‘No, you won’t. I hope she isn’t too mad at you. Would you like a drink before you go?’

‘Only if it’s no trouble. That would be lovely. I’m stuck until the car battery is charged anyway. You have a beautiful home, Martha. I can’t imagine how nice it must be to wake up to the view of the lake every day. Tell me, does a house this size have a cellar? I imagine it would have a pretty big one.’


Chapter Nineteen

They were on caravan park number two. Annie had eaten all her cake and managed to get crumbs everywhere. Jake looked across at her. ‘How did you miss your mouth? I mean, what a waste of cake.’

She couldn’t answer him because she was too busy sucking buttercream off her fingers, so she stuck one up at him.

‘Charming.’

‘Not all of us have a mouth that can fit in almost a whole piece of sponge cake in two bites.’

‘No, it’s a gift. Have you put your Christmas decorations up yet?’

‘No, it’s not December. Oh my God, I bet you’re going to, aren’t you? What are you like?’

‘You know I love it. I can’t get enough tinsel or glitter to keep me satisfied.’

Annie giggled, which was one of Jake’s favourite sounds. He grinned.

‘Don’t let Alex hear you say that. It’s very unmanly.’

‘I don’t care. He knows exactly how manly I am. Anyway we have a good excuse this year. I want Alice’s first Christmas with us to be magical, even if she won’t remember. I’m going to photograph everything and put it in an album for when she’s a stroppy teenager and hates us both.’

‘Aw, Jake, you are such a sweetie. She is one lucky kid and if she does turn into the teenager from hell I’ll remind her how lucky she is to have you both. I wish you could have adopted me.’

‘Thanks, Annie, I’ll hold you to that. Anyway, what do you mean? I feel as if you are my kid, I spend so much time looking after you.’

She reached over and poked him. ‘You love it, though, don’t you? I mean, how boring would your life be without me in it?’

Neither of them spoke. Annie was wondering if she would live past Christmas with Henry Smith lurking in the shadows.

Jake knew what she was thinking, and he was thinking about just how much pain he was going to cause the sick bastard for making his best friend have to worry about her own mortality. Annie couldn’t sense anything when it came to herself. She knew she was in trouble but had no idea how much. She was relying on them catching Henry before he could catch her. It was like a grown-up game of Mousetrap with Annie as the bait.

Jake indicated to turn off at the next site. A small silver van drove past them. The driver didn’t even give them the time of day. Annie assumed it must be the camp maintenance guy; Jake didn’t look because the road was so narrow it was a work of art getting the car around it without scraping one side. They drove down to the site office. After getting out of the car they took the clipboard and knocked on the door.

‘Come in.’

As they walked in the face behind the desk dropped, the smile gone in an instant.

‘Now then, Michael, how are things?’

Annie bit her lip to stop herself from smiling. Michael Houseman didn’t like the police, especially not Jake, who had arrested him three weeks ago for being drunk and wanting to fight everyone in the chip shop one Sunday night.

‘What do you want?’

Jake shook his head. ‘Is that a nice way to greet an old friend?’

Annie stepped forward, passing pictures of Megan and Henry to him.

‘We need to trace these two as soon as possible. Do you know if they are stopping here?’

He gave them a cursory glance then threw them on the desk. ‘Nope, never seen them before in my life.’

‘Are you sure? The man’s very distinctive. He has burns all down one side of his face.’

‘Definitely not. Now do me a favour and piss off out of my office.’

Jake stepped closer, pushing the pictures back towards him. ‘If you see either of these two it’s really important you let us know.’

Annie turned to leave and Jake followed her, slamming the door behind him.

‘Bollocks. He wouldn’t tell us even if they owed him three months’ rent.’

Jake nodded. ‘I think you’re right, my friend. We’ll have to check this one out ourselves. Get some plain-clothes officers to do a search.’

Annie wrote it down on her list. They got back in the car and he began reversing. Annie spotted the roof of Beckett House over the hedge.

‘Can we nip next door and see how Miss Beckett is? She was really upset the other day about that guy who was last seen at her house. I just want to check she’s okay.’

‘Fine by me.’

He drove back along the winding road to get out of the exit then took a sharp left into her drive. He parked in front of the house. Annie got out. ‘I’ll only be five minutes. Are you coming in?’

‘No, it’s okay. I’ll wait here. I want to phone Alex.’

She ran to the front door and rang the bell. The woman came to the door. Opening it wide, she smiled at Annie.

‘Hello, dear, have you come to tell me some good news about my missing man?’

‘I’m afraid not. I just wanted to see if you were okay.’

‘Oh that’s a shame, but it’s very kind of you. Do you want to come in? There’s something I would like to talk to you about.’

Annie turned and waved to Jake, mouthing the word ‘sorry’ to him. He gave her the thumbs up and she followed Martha into the house, where less than thirty minutes ago Henry Smith had been. Annie followed her down to the kitchen, shivering as she passed the cellar door. Martha, who was as bright as a button, watched her reaction. As they went into the kitchen she shut the door.

‘That cellar scares you as much as it scares me.’

‘You saw that?’

‘I did. What am I going to do, officer? I’m getting older. I can’t be the gatekeeper for ever. If I die and a young couple with children were to buy the house, what would happen then? I can’t sleep at night worrying about whatever it is that lurks down there, stealing children and grown men who are then never seen again. Whoever said that monsters aren’t real didn’t know about this house.’

‘Have you ever seen it? Do you know what it looks like?’ Annie was thinking about the scary face she had seen in the mirror last time she was here.

‘No, I haven’t, but I remember Davey our gardener was terrified of the drainage hole in the cellar. He saw something the night he went looking for Joe. I overheard him telling Mary, our cook, that it was like a man, but it wasn’t, and it had a grey face, with the reddest of eyes and huge sharp claws. I ran from the kitchen and up to my bedroom, terrified of this monster man that lived in our house and ate children.

‘I never left my bedroom for a whole month and my parents were so grief-stricken at not being able to find Joe they didn’t even notice. For a whole month they were out searching the grounds and the lake. So many people – almost everyone who lived locally and owned a boat – joined in the search for Joe. My father was positive he had to carry on searching but my mother knew; she knew all along that Joe had been taken. She had gone down into the cellar that night on her own because she thought she heard him calling to her, and she saw it. She said she had never seen anything so frightful, and she had to run for her life up the stairs and slam the door shut.’

‘How did you find this out?’

‘She told me before she died. When she knew I was going to be left alone in this house she made me sit with her one afternoon while she talked me through everything that happened back then. Of course I knew most of it, but I never knew that she had seen it with her own eyes. After that my father made the cellar as secure as he could.

‘I’ve spent numerous years researching it. I would go to the libraries in the cities and I’ve read just about every book on folklore that has ever been published, but I’ve never come across a story like this one. A part of me wonders whether it’s time to stop hiding the truth and ask a team of investigators to come in and look for it, but I’m scared to involve anyone else. I can’t sleep as it is most nights, wondering about Joe and now this man Seamus. Tell me, did he have a wife, a family?’

Annie couldn’t lie to her and nodded. ‘Miss Beckett, I think if I were you I would want to get someone in to look for it and make my cellar safe. I can’t imagine how scared you must be living here on your own with that thing in your cellar. But where does it go? You said yourself the cellars have been searched many times over the years. It has to have a home somewhere.’

‘I don’t know. If I knew, that I would go there and kill it myself. My mother believed that it lived in the sewers. We sent poor Davey down there unarmed and then the next day the farmer who used to live across the road came with his guns and the police. He said he wasn’t afraid of any monster, no matter how big it was, and he went in that tunnel watched by my father, the police and Davey. The only thing he came across was a horrific stench, which the police assured my father wasn’t my brother because he hadn’t been missing long enough to smell that bad. My mother made my father promise to seal off the cellar and that no one should be allowed down there. He died four years later and to this day I’m convinced he never got over losing Joe. I think if it had been my mother who had passed first my father would have dug the entire house up looking for whatever it was, but he couldn’t because of us.’

Jake walked through the kitchen door and they both screamed, which made him jump.

‘Bloody hell! Sorry, but what are you talking about to scare yourselves that much? My heart almost stopped. You scared me.’

Martha laughed. ‘Sorry, that’s my fault. I was telling spooky tales.’

Annie laughed too. ‘Jake, you could have coughed or something.’

‘Did you know the front door wasn’t locked, Miss Beckett? You need to be really careful. There are so many thieves and con men around this time of year. They could sneak in and out before you even knew it, this house is so big.’

‘I’m sorry. I was distracted. I do normally keep it locked at all times.’

Annie stood up. ‘I’ll have a think and come back and see you. There must be something we can do, especially with all the technology there is now. We could send in some cameras or something. Leave it with me.’

Martha stood up and nodded her head. ‘Thank you, that would be a relief. Please call in any time you’re passing. The kettle is always on and I’m tired of being on my own so much.’

Jake took hold of Annie’s arm to lead her away. ‘Oh she will, don’t you worry. She likes nothing better than a hot drink and a chat. She’ll do anything to get out of work will this one.’

Annie frowned at him but followed him out. They heard the locks being turned as the house was made secure once more.

Neither of them spoke until they got into the car.

‘Bloody hell, I was worried sick. I was on the phone for ten minutes. By the time the conversation had finished I’d convinced myself that bastard was hiding in there and the pair of you were dead.’

‘Why would he be hiding in there? He won’t know Miss Beckett. You don’t get any better do you, Jake?’

‘How can I, working with you? I should be bald by now. Thank God I got my mum’s hair and I’m wearing my lucky socks.’

‘Eh? Oh never mind. Sorry, she’s lonely and scared about where that Seamus guy has disappeared to. Right, where next?’

‘Dinner time. I’m starving. Let’s go back and see what our top team have found out. For all we know they might have already caught the bastard while we’ve been out doing care in the community.’

Annie hoped to God they had, but Will would have been the first to phone her if that was the case. Still, a bit of wishful thinking couldn’t hurt. They went back to the station, neither of them speaking. Annie was wondering how she could find the monster that lived in Martha Beckett’s house and Jake was wondering how he could find the monster called Henry Smith. Annie wanted to tell him about Beckett House but she knew it would freak him out. He had enough to worry about with being her bodyguard once more. So did Will. In fact he was under even more pressure than the rest of them because the powers-that-be would want to blame someone for Henry Smith being let out to kill again, even though it wasn’t anything to do with Will. But she knew he would blame himself, and God forbid Henry did get hold of her. She shivered so violently Jake jumped.

‘Jesus, are you okay?’

‘Yes, sorry. Cold shiver. I think Henry Smith may have just walked over my grave.’

‘That’s not funny.’

‘I know it isn’t. I’m not joking.’

She turned to look out of the window so he couldn’t see the tears that were filling her eyes. Life was so unfair. She hadn’t asked for any of this and as far as she knew hadn’t done anything to cause his obsession with her. She felt like a complete girl and that wasn’t a good feeling for a woman who was more used to hearing herself described as being tough as old boots. She wanted Henry to die. Why did men like him never get hit by a bus when they were crossing the road?

Jake parked in front of the station, jumping out of the car before she could. He looked around, then opened her door. Climbing out, she felt as if she could sleep for a week, she was so tired. She followed him up the steps and in through the small side door that led into the station. It was busy in there. Annie had never seen it so full. The majority were PCSOs who had just about covered the whole town with their house-to-house inquiries. Annie smiled to see her old colleagues from Barrow and went straight to them for a catch-up.

Jake went to find Cathy. He heard a couple of the PCSOs whispering about Annie and glared at them. He wouldn’t have anyone talking about her in front of him. He nodded at them, glad to see they had turned the colour of beetroot. He liked to gossip as much as the next person but this was different. It involved him and, if he was man enough, he’d also admit how scared he was. He had far too much to lose. Annie and Will were his closest friends. His life was complete with little Alice, and Alex was his soul mate. He didn’t want to do anything that would put them in any danger, but he also couldn’t shut his eyes and pretend none of this was happening, because it was. He knocked on Cathy’s door and walked straight in.

‘Just come in then. Don’t wait until you’re invited, will you?’

‘What was that you said last night? If I fed you I wouldn’t have to call you ma’am or boss again – ever?’

‘Oh yes, totally forgot and, for the record, last night I wasn’t myself. Any news?’

‘Nope, that’s what I was coming to see you about. We’ve done two caravan parks up to now. The last one we did, the manager was a complete cock. Although that might have been because I arrested him a few weeks ago. He wasn’t remotely interested, and I don’t know, but I think we should send in some plain-clothes officers to have a look around. Apparently Smith is hiding out in a brown caravan next to a hedge with a hole in the middle.’

She cocked one eyebrow at him. ‘Really? How do you know this?’

‘Classified. Well, it sort of came from one of Annie’s friends.’

‘Which friend? How come they know that but can’t tell her which site it’s on?’

‘Because it was one of her special friends.’

‘What – one with learning difficulties?’

‘No, do I really need to spell it out for you?’

Cathy rubbed her head, confused. She was starting to get the headache from hell. She nodded.

‘You know she’s gifted, psychic, whatever you want to call it? Well, it was one of her friends from the other side.’

She shut her eyes while she digested what he had just told her. Today was going down the shit pan quicker than most.

‘A ghost?’

‘Well, if you put it like that, yes, I suppose it was.’

‘Did it occur to you to ask said ghost to get an actual address?’

‘Now you’re taking the piss, boss.’ He emphasised the boss.

‘Sorry, I’m just stressed and tired. I’m worried about you lot and I’m terrified that bastard will get one of us before we have a chance to arrest him.’

‘Whoever it was could only give us cryptic clues, but it’s a start and better than what we had. Anyway, we’re meeting at my house again. I don’t want Annie and Will staying in their house in the middle of nowhere – miles from the nearest police patrol or me – should they need any assistance. At least we live in the middle of a busy town and there’s more chance of a swift response. Alex is cooking a roast dinner. He said we all need to keep our strength up, so you and Kav are welcome, as long as you stop acting like a bear with a sore head.’

‘Thanks, that would be great. Georgia is stopping at her dad’s until this is over. That conversation was almost as draining as sticking your finger into an electrical socket. He’s a complete bastard and I wonder why she’s such a bitch at times – obviously gets it from him.’

Jake nodded in agreement; he didn’t like the man either because he was such a pompous, cheating, back-stabbing prick. ‘Right, sorted then. Is there any update?’

She shook her head.


Chapter Twenty

Megan got into the van in a good mood for a change. Henry had almost had a panic attack when he saw the number of yellow stab vests wandering through the town. They were in pairs. Each pair had a clipboard. He didn’t look at them after that and tugged his baseball cap down as far as it would go. Maybe he should grow a beard. But wouldn’t they be expecting him to do something like that? Sometimes being blatantly obvious was the best disguise. Look at Megan. She was working in the busiest café in Bowness, which also happened to be the one Annie used a couple of times a week. She was chattering on and on about how stupid the police were, about how stupid Annie was, and then she dropped the bombshell, which made Henry want to stop the car and smash her face against the dashboard.

‘She came in today, looking very flustered. I even talked to her, but the best part was I touched her hand. Just think, Henry, while you were whacking off thinking about her this afternoon, I let my fingers brush against her skin, ever so delicately. And do you know what’s even better? She shivered at my touch. Maybe she’s a closet dyke. Imagine me and her naked. I bet you’d like to watch that.’

He carried on staring at the road ahead. He couldn’t pull over or start an argument. There were too many officers around. Instead he gripped the steering wheel as tightly as he could and imagined it was Megan’s neck. He loved her but he wouldn’t have her making fun of him or Annie, or touching her, because she was all his. He whispered ‘You stupid, fucking bitch’ under his breath, which was enough to knock the grin off her face. He glanced at her and was glad to see she had gone white. Good. He hoped she had realised exactly how much she’d crossed the line. He was trying to keep himself calm but he couldn’t, because deep down in the pit of his stomach a tiny flare had gone off, which had ignited the fire. A fire that could only be extinguished by death. It would burn and burn until he had killed someone and she’d better pray it wasn’t her. They got to the caravan but he left the engine running.

Megan looked at him. ‘Are you not coming in?’

Henry shook his head. ‘No, I need some time to think and calm down because right now, Megan, I want to hurt you so bad you wouldn’t believe it. So you best get out of the van and let me have some space.’

Realising she’d overstepped the line she did as she was told without saying another word. She shut the van door and ran up the caravan steps, not even glancing behind her. Good. He wanted her to sit on her own and think about what she’d just said, let her sweat it out and worry if he was going to come back and slit her fucking throat. Henry wasn’t worried that she’d panic and ring the police. Her fingerprints were all over that barn the same way his were. She would be arrested and banged up before she could cry for help. He also knew that he wouldn’t kill her, but he was going to have to kill someone. He needed to go for a drive away from here and hope he would come across someone he could kill on the way. He was having a bad day, but not nearly so bad as whoever he decided was going to die today.

The roads were busy but that was okay. It kept his mind occupied. He decided to turn left at the roundabout at Newby Bridge and head in the opposite direction to Barrow and Detective Will Ashworth. It was getting dusky and he had been driving for some time when he saw the flashing orange hazard lights in the distance. All the other cars kept on zooming past but Henry was intrigued to know who it was that had broken down on this deserted stretch of road. No doubt they had phoned for help, but if it was a woman alone, regardless of what she looked like, she would do the trick. He didn’t care if she didn’t match Megan’s profile. He needed to kill. He was pretty sure Megan wouldn’t argue either when he told her it was a choice between her and this complete stranger. He indicated and pulled up behind. He could see a woman who looked about the same age as Megan shouting down her phone at someone. He got out of the van and smiled at her.

‘Do you need a hand?’

She looked at him. In a split second she appeared to decide that this middle-aged man wearing a baseball cap that looked pretty stupid wasn’t a threat. She nodded her head. ‘Ring me back when you’re on your way. There’s someone here. They might be able to help.’

He watched her slip her phone into her pocket. ‘Would you mind? It started to judder and then it completely cut out on me. Do you know much about cars?’

‘I know a little.’ He grinned at her and walked over to the bonnet. ‘Lift the catch and I’ll take a look.’

She leant into the car and he heard the pop as she released the catch. Feeling underneath he managed to find the button to get the bonnet up. He didn’t have a clue about cars except how to put oil and diesel in, but she seemed to know even less, so it wouldn’t matter. For the next five minutes he messed around, finally telling her to turn the engine on. He hoped that it wouldn’t work or she would be driving away to live another day. It didn’t. ‘Sorry, I can’t seem to find what’s wrong.’

‘Don’t worry. Thank you for trying. At least you bothered to stop. Do you know how many cars have just flown past and not given me a second glance?’

‘Look, it’s pretty dangerous to be standing here when it’s almost dark. Do you want a lift to the nearest garage where you can wait in safety for recovery and at least keep warm while you’re waiting?’

She didn’t even hesitate. ‘Yes please, that would be wonderful. My boyfriend can’t come for another hour. He can’t get out of work. Thank you.’

Henry opened the car door for her and she smiled as she got inside. He ran around to his, trying to suppress the smile that was threatening to take over his face. He got inside, and started the engine. Slipping his hand down the side of his seat he felt for the cold, steel blade of his knife. She began to chatter away about the car and how useless her boyfriend was, never there in an emergency. Starting the engine he nodded and laughed when he thought it was appropriate because he wasn’t really listening. He was trying to control the butterflies in his stomach. Reaching out, he turned the radio on to drown out any noise, then he turned and smiled at her. She looked at him properly for the first time and a shiver ran down her spine. Blindly feeling for the door handle, panic began to set in. She took her eyes away from him to find the handle and escape, but it was too late.

The van was a mess. She had bled a lot. He looked across at her face. Her eyes for ever open, staring at him. He pushed her body so her head was facing the other way. It was like having a life-sized doll sitting next to him. He realised that he needed to get moving. Her boyfriend might not be that useless and on his way, so he wiped his hands on his trouser legs and grabbed the steering wheel. The traffic was a steady flow and his indicator kept on ticking. He tried to slow his racing heart down. Finally a car slowed down and its headlights flashed to let him join the flow of traffic. He would drive as far as the next turn-off so he could double back and go to show Megan what he’d done without her help.

The roads were so dark around here, which was a blessing because driving around with a dead body next to you wasn’t a very wise thing to do. Especially when you were the most wanted man in England. He realised that he had taken some very stupid risks just to satisfy his needs. He had done what he had been making Megan put off for months. She would probably go mental with him, but then again he’d never really had an argument with her. It was more the case that she would say something that would annoy him and he’d give her the silent treatment for a few hours.

He felt sick. He’d never liked confrontation or arguing and this was going to make her freak. What if the camp site was crawling with uniformed officers? The whole town had been full of them. Megan might have decided to cut her losses and run. He could be driving to his downfall. The caravan might be full of coppers all waiting for him. A calmness spread over him. If that was how it was going to end, then so be it. He had managed to have a practice run. He knew, if it came to it, that he would cut his own throat rather than be locked away again without seeing or touching Annie one last time.

When he reached the turn-off to the park he was relieved to see it wasn’t swarming with police. He drove on down to the caravan and parked on the small gravel space next to it. The caravans around him were empty; winter wasn’t as popular in the Lake District. Making sure there was nobody around he got out and went up the steps. The door was unlocked and he walked in to see Megan sprawled on the sofa in the shortest of shorts and a skimpy vest. She took one look at him and sat up, the colour draining from her face. He had dark patches of blood all over his pale green sweatshirt.

‘Oh my God, what’s happened? Have you hurt yourself?’

He shook his head. ‘No, but I did hurt someone else. She’s out in the car.’

Megan ran across to the door, pushing past him. In bare feet she ran outside to look through the car window. It was steamed up so she opened the driver’s door and squealed in shock. After slamming it shut she ran back inside.

‘What have you done? What were you thinking, Henry? You make me wait for months, telling me it all has to be just right, we can’t risk anything, and then you turn up here with a dead woman in the front seat of the van on the day half of the Cumbria constabulary are out looking for us. You fucking idiot.’

She ran to her bedroom, slamming the door shut for good measure. He nodded. She had a point. He wouldn’t argue with her, but what he needed to do was hide the body. The only place he could put it was the ramshackle boathouse next door. He went outside, turning off the lights so it was as dark as it could be. Then he walked around to the caravan, peering through the hole in the hedge. The house on the other side was in darkness as well, so it would be just fine. He wasn’t too sure how he was going to get a body through the window, but if he managed it, he could go back when he needed to and cut off her head. He wanted to leave another little present for Annie. Megan was just going to have to get a grip and help him. Between the two of them they should be able to do it. He opened the passenger door and she slumped towards him. Catching her, he dragged her the rest of the way out. She was heavy and it was a struggle. There was no way he could do this on his own. He knocked on Megan’s door.

‘I need a hand.’

He was greeted by complete silence, so he knocked again much louder.

‘I said I need a hand, so stop being a drama queen and come help me.’

‘Why, Henry?’

‘Because I need to hide the body and I can’t lift it on my own. At the moment it’s lying on our lawn and if anyone was to wander down to the shore they would get a bit of a shock. What’s done is done. I can’t change that now, but we can slow down the car crash that’s waiting to happen if you help me. Please.’

He heard some shuffling around and stepped back as she opened the door. Her cheeks were wet and her eyes were red. He didn’t say anything. She’d been the one to piss him off. She was lucky it wasn’t her body lying outside on the gravel.

‘You’d better put a jumper on. It’s freezing outside.’

She turned and pulled on a pair of leggings and a black jumper. He nodded his approval and then he went outside.

Megan, who for the first time since the day she’d met Henry had actually spent ten minutes contemplating her own mortality, followed. She blanched when she saw the body lying so blatantly obvious on the grass, but waited for him to tell her what to do.

‘Right, when I say, we’re going to carry it through the hedge to the boathouse. I’ll climb inside and open the window as far as I can, then we’ll both have to shove it through the gap.’ She nodded and walked around to the woman’s feet, not wanting to have to stare into the bloodied mess that was at the other end. It was a struggle and before long the sweat was running down Megan’s forehead and into her eyes, but they half shuffled, half dragged the woman towards the boathouse.

When they reached it Henry climbed through, opening the window as wide as it would go. After what seemed like forever, with one final shove they managed to get her inside. He didn’t catch her and there was a loud thud as her body hit the floor. Henry disappeared, leaving her standing there, shivering. A noise from somewhere in the garden made her whip her head around to see what it was, no doubt a fox or a badger, but it sounded loud. She looked around, wondering if it was a deer, but a sharp, clattering sound of claws being scratched along a hard surface made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. It sounded creepy. She couldn’t see much because of the complete darkness, but she felt as if she was being watched by something that wasn’t an animal, yet wasn’t quite human either. Something was out there. She whispered ‘Henry’, but there was no reply. Finally he clambered back out of the window, pulling it shut behind him.

‘There’s something out there.’ The minute she said it she thought about the horrible face she had seen peering through her window. What if it was some freaky person who lived in the house that no one knew about?

‘What do you mean, there’s someone out there?’

She lowered her voice. ‘Something is watching us. I heard it.’

‘Someone, something? If it was a someone I think they would have phoned the police by now and we would be about to be taken into custody. It’s probably a fox. They’re sneaky and could probably smell the blood.’

She knew in her heart it wasn’t a fox. It was out there watching them and it gave her the creeps. Henry pulled a cloth from his pocket and began to wipe the blood smears from the glass. She stayed close to him, convinced that it was waiting for its moment to pounce and use those huge, scary, black claws on her. He turned and knocked into her; she was standing so close to him. ‘What are you doing? You gave me a bloody fright.’

‘Can we go back? There’s something there.’

He nodded and led her through the hedge, then she ran ahead into the caravan. He took one last look at the boathouse window. It looked clean enough but he would check it again first thing, as soon as it was light. He didn’t want to leave a huge bloodstain running down the wood underneath it. There had been a large, blue tarpaulin that he’d used to wrap around the body. He went into the caravan and locked the door behind him.

Megan’s clothes were in a pile outside the bathroom and he heard the sound of the shower running. Taking a black plastic bin liner, he scooped them up into it, then he undressed to his boxers and did the same with his own. He would dispose of the bag in the morning when taking her to work.

He had no idea why she had freaked out so much. Maybe she had realised that if he hadn’t killed a complete stranger it could have been her. Or she could be plain jealous that he hadn’t let her be a part of it. Whatever, it would teach her that he was the one who was still in control. She might have helped him to escape but it was Henry Smith who was the infamous serial killer, a bit of a local legend. Henry felt good. In fact he felt better than he had in months because, as much as he liked Megan, this whole thing had always been about him. She had been a means to an end. He didn’t think he would be able to catch Annie or kill Will without her help, but if she wasn’t around he would die trying.

She came out of the tiny bathroom wearing nothing but a towel wrapped around her body and he nodded. Her eyes were redder than before and she looked as if she’d been crying more in the shower. It hit him just how young she was. She looked like a teenager and he wondered if she was regretting throwing her old life away for this one. He had his shower and still couldn’t wipe the grin from his face. He was back in control and in full fighting form, and this time no one was going to stop him.


Chapter Twenty-One

Will called Annie. He had to speak to her. All day his stomach had been in complete knots. He hadn’t been able to settle and they were no closer to finding Smith than they had been this morning. She answered straight away. ‘Well, hello, pretty lady; how are you?’

She laughed and it was the sweetest sound he’d heard for hours. ‘Missing you but apart from that I’m not too bad. My bodyguard has done a pretty good job up to now.’

‘Good, because I’ll kill him myself if he lets that bastard anywhere near you. I can’t concentrate. I’ve been thinking how much I want to come pick you up, get our passports and take you as far away from this place as possible. Should we run away and leave them to it, let them find him and come home when he’s back behind bars?’

‘As tempting as that is I can’t leave. You know as well as I do that he will hurt someone close to me to bring me back, and that means Jake or your parents. He’s clever, Will. He won’t just give up and hand himself in at the nearest police station. You and I both know that he’ll keep on going until he’s got what he wants.’

Will paused. ‘Damn it, Annie, I hate it that you always have to be so practical and that you’re always right.’

‘I’m not always right, but there’s something about Henry that makes me think like him, and I don’t like it. I wouldn’t hurt anyone unless it was in the line of duty and completely necessary, but that man makes me think like a killer. For some bizarre reason I can’t explain I feel as if I have a connection to him. I love you.’

‘I love you more. Is the big guy there?’

‘He’s in with the inspector who sounds about as happy as the rest of us. I’ll tell him to ring you when he comes back.’

She ended the call knowing full well that he wouldn’t be the one to press the red button first. He hated saying goodbye. Will was well aware he had turned into a complete wimp since he’d met Annie, but he didn’t care. She was the only woman who had ever taken his heart completely. His desk phone began to ring so he picked it up to hear a call handler on the other end barking orders on the radio, as well as down the earpiece.

‘Is that Will Ashworth?’

‘Speaking.’

‘There’s a guy on the phone. Says he’s a farmer from Walney, a Gordon Corkill. He thinks he’s seen Megan near the field where the body was found. He’s only just been catching up with the papers. Wants to speak to whoever is in charge.’

‘Brilliant, thank you.’

He waited for the call to be transferred. ‘Hello, Detective Sergeant Ashworth speaking.’

‘Are you the chap in charge of this case?’

‘I am, sir. Can I help you?’

‘I’m thinking more along the lines of if I can help you, son. I’m sorry I haven’t rung before but I work long hours and only have Wednesday afternoons off. It’s then that I sit down with a cold beer and read the week’s papers. Well, I’m pretty sure I recognise that young lass that you’re looking for. She doesn’t have blonde hair, though. When I spoke to her it was dark brown, but she has the same ears as the one in the picture.’

Will tried not to groan as he leant forward and banged his head against the desk. Stu looked across at him wondering if he’d finally flipped.

‘I’m sorry but I don’t understand what you mean. How can you recognise someone by their ears?’

‘They are the one thing that never changes. You can dye your hair, bleach your teeth, straighten your nose, but not many people mess with their ears. I noticed she had a small birthmark above the earring on her left ear. It was like a large brown freckle. Well, that picture in the paper – when you look at it closely – you can just make out a brown smudge in the same place.’

Will jumped up from his chair and turned round to look at the picture of Megan that was taped to the whiteboard behind his desk. He squinted and, yes, he could make out what looked like a large brown freckle on her left ear, just above where her earring was.

‘Sir, you are a genius. Can I come and speak to you right now with one of my officers? It’s a matter of life and death.’

‘Aye, I thought it might be serious. That man she’s shacked up with is bad news. I live in the big, stone farmhouse next to the riding school. You know which one I mean?’

Will didn’t have a clue but he’d find it. ‘I’ll be there in ten minutes. Thank you.’ He put the phone down. ‘Come on, Stu, we have our first eyewitness. A farmer who reckons he spoke to Megan a couple of months ago near to a field.’ He didn’t go into detail about the birthmark. Stu would argue it was a coincidence, but Will didn’t care if it was. Any witness was better than the fuck-all they had at the moment. He grabbed a set of car keys off the board and rushed out of the door, with Stu close behind.

He reached the road to the riding school and was surprised to see the farmhouse. All the years he’d been coming over here, he’d never noticed it. He carried on until he reached the big wooden gates that were propped open. There was a brand-new Land Rover parked in front of the house. Who said farmers were poor? The door opened and a man who looked fitter than him and Stu put together walked towards their car. Will got out and shook the man’s hand. ‘Thank you. I can’t tell you how much this means.’

‘No problem, son. I just wish I’d heard about it sooner. Come inside and I’ll tell you what I know, which isn’t a great deal, but I saw her a few times after that afternoon. Sometimes it was walking but mainly she was driving a small silver van.’

‘Do you know the registration?’ Will prayed to God that he did.

‘No, I didn’t take much notice of it, to be honest, but I can describe the van to you.’ He led them both inside his house and into the warm kitchen that smelt of home-made soup.

‘Wife’s gone to the Bingo, so I make the dinner on a Wednesday.’

Will’s stomach let out a groan. He hadn’t realised just how hungry he was. ‘Was she always on her own?’

‘No, sometimes she had a chap with her. Always had one of those baseball caps on. I never saw him without it and, if it wasn’t hot, sometimes he wore his hood on top of it as well.’

Will wanted to kiss the man in front of him. This was their first solid lead and eyewitness. ‘Where do you think they were coming from?’

‘Oh now that I can tell you – the caravan park a couple of miles up the road. I sometimes take the grandkids swimming up there and I would see the van parked, near the clubhouse. They must have been stopping in one of the static caravans up there. I can’t say as I remember seeing it lately, though, and I was up there just this morning.’

Will nodded. Taking out his phone he began to give orders to the control room inspector, telling him exactly what he needed. He asked for the task force team to be brought in armed to the teeth. They needed to find the caravan and fast. Stu had his head down and was busy taking down as many details as he could. Will couldn’t concentrate so he went outside for some fresh air and to wait for the patrols that would be arriving soon to help with the search.

1 June 1931

Martha wiped her brow with her sleeve. She was concentrating so hard it was making a fine film of perspiration form on her brow. She was in Joe’s room even though she wasn’t supposed to be. It was hard to breathe. The air was so hot and stuffy with the windows closed. Her mother no longer allowed anyone in here but she liked to sneak inside when she could. She would sit on the chair by the window, snuggling down into the soft cushions and trying to make herself invisible. There she would clutch on to Joe’s favourite stuffed rabbit, which only had one eye because they had ripped the other one off in a struggle for it last year.

She didn’t go out into the garden much because she was sure she had seen the thing that took him twice out there, looking up at the house. The first time she had been told off and had come in here to sulk. It had been getting dark outside and there were shadows all around the garden, but she had seen something scurry across the grass by the water’s edge. It had been too big to be a cat or a dog and it hadn’t waddled like a bird would. Instead it had moved fast, like a rat, but it had been too big for one of those and it looked half human the way it was bent over. She had seen the rats that Davey sometimes caught in the traps and they were a thousand times smaller than the thing that had run across the lawn.

She had watched it, her heart racing, the fear making her whole body feel as if an electric current was running though it. Yet she had been fascinated. It had paused for a second, turning to look at the house, and she had let out a small screech and pushed herself down into the chair so that it couldn’t see her. She didn’t want it to know that she knew about it because she didn’t want it to eat her just like it had eaten Joe. She shivered. Poor Joe. He had been a pain but he hadn’t deserved to be stolen by some scary monster. Then the monster disappeared near the hedge and was gone.

Martha wondered if she should tell her father about it, but he had only just stopped turning the house upside down in his hunt to find Joe. It would only set him off again. Things were no longer the same now that Joe wasn’t here. Her mother was always so sad. She spent a lot of time in her bedroom, locked away from them all, and it hurt Martha that she didn’t want to spend time with them. Her father still played with her and read her bedtime stories, but he always seemed as if he wasn’t quite there.

She was lonely and none of her friends ever came to play because their parents wouldn’t let them. She had overheard Lucy and Mary gossiping in the kitchen about how the house would have a reputation now. No parent would let their child come here when Joe had disappeared and never been found, and as sad as it was, Martha could understand why her friends weren’t allowed here. Their parents wouldn’t want the same thing happening to them.

The more she thought about it the angrier she would get. What if the monster came back for her? It must like children and she was the only one left. She had asked her mother if they could live somewhere else and for the first time in her life she had screamed at her. ‘No, we cannot because what if Joe comes home? He won’t know where to find us, you silly girl.’

The words had stung so much that her heart had actually ached for her brother and she had wanted to scream back, ‘But what about me, Mother? What if it decides it liked how good Joe tasted and wants to come back to eat me up?’ But she hadn’t. She’d run upstairs and thrown herself onto her bed, crying with anger, fear and pent-up frustration at Joe for being stupid and getting himself eaten. She had begged him not to go into the cellar and he had anyway. Sometimes she would think that he had got what he deserved for trying to scare her, but then she would feel even worse and hate herself for even thinking such bad thoughts. What she wanted was for him to come home, then they could all move as far away as possible from this house and the monster that lived in the cellar.

Today it wasn’t the thing that looked like a giant human monster that she saw, but the figure of a little boy standing by the boathouse. Martha had jumped from the chair and felt her heart miss a beat at the sight of him. She wanted it to be Joe but whoever it was was too far away for her to get a clear view and the rain that had been running down the window all day made it harder to see. She pushed her face against the glass. It looked like her brother but she could be forcing herself to believe it when a new family might have moved in somewhere along this stretch of the lakeside. But he had the same sandy-coloured hair that stuck up on the crown, much to Joe’s annoyance. Joe would spend ages trying to get it to stay down, only for it to stick right up again not long after.

Martha wanted to shout to him as loudly as she could, but she was scared in case her mother heard her. She would be in trouble for being in here and for calling Joe’s name if it wasn’t him. She banged on the glass, hoping to catch his attention, but he never heard. How could he? The boathouse was at the end of the garden. Martha turned and ran out of his room and down the stairs as fast as her legs could carry her. Not caring that she wasn’t wearing any shoes she burst through the front door and down the steps to the gravel path that led to the boathouse, pumping her arms to make her run faster. Looking up she could still see the boy and she shouted at the top of her voice, ‘Joe Beckett, don’t you move an inch or you’ll be for it. Wait for me; I’m coming.’

Finally the boy began to move. Ever so slowly he began to turn around to face her and that was when she let out the loudest scream anyone in the house had ever heard. It was Joe, but he had no face apart from one blue eye that stared back at her. She fell to her knees, the fear paralysing her. He shook his head at her, opening his lips. ‘Don’t go into the cellar, Martha. It’s waiting for you. It’s waiting for all of you. Soon it will go to sleep and you will be safe until it wakes up again, but I don’t know when that will be.’

Then he was gone. He didn’t fade away but disappeared completely as if he had never been there in the first place. He left her screaming at the top of her voice, on her knees on the gravel. It was Davey and her father who came running to find her. Her father scooped her up into his strong arms and ran back to the house with her where Mary and Lucy were fussing by the door. He carried her into the lounge and laid her on one of the huge blood-red sofas. ‘Get me some brandy now. She’s in shock,’ he barked at Lucy who began to pour some from the crystal decanter into a small glass. She passed it to him and he lifted it to Martha’s lips. She was shaking so much her teeth were chattering.

‘You must take a small sip, darling. It will make you feel better and warm you up. You’re frozen. What were you doing out there in this weather with no shoes and coat on?’

Martha wanted to please him so she did as he asked, trying not to inhale the awful smell that was coming from the glass. She took a sip and swallowed as if it was some of the bad medicine Lucy would give her if she was poorly. Immediately she began to cough and splutter and she heard Mary gasp, ‘Bloody hell, you’ve killed her, sir.’

After what felt like for ever she stopped coughing and her eyes stopped streaming. Her chest felt all warm inside and her father nodded at her. ‘Is that better?’

She nodded back and then looked at Mary, Lucy and Davey. Her father seemed to read her mind and told them all to clear off and leave them alone.

‘Sir, do you want me to get Mrs Beckett to come down?’

‘No, thank you, Mary. I can handle this. I don’t want you to disturb her. She didn’t sleep well last night.’

They left them alone, shutting the door behind them. He sat down next to Martha and pulled her close, stroking her hair and rocking her back and forth. She shut her eyes. The feeling of being safe was nice and she wished they could stay like this for ever, just the two of them, but she knew that any minute he was going to ask her what had happened. She wanted to tell him, but she didn’t want to make him any more upset than what he already was.

‘Martha, do you think you can tell me what happened? Why were you outside screaming? I’m not going to shout at you, but I need to know what that was all about.’

‘I saw a boy who looked like Joe. He was standing by the boathouse but when he turned to talk to me he had no face. Father, I’m terribly sorry but Joe is dead.’

She watched the pain as it manifested across her father’s face. She expected him to tell her off, but he didn’t. He pulled her closer and whispered, ‘I know he is, sweetheart. I knew from the minute he disappeared. But how could you know this?’

‘That boy was Joe. He told me that the monster took him and that I mustn’t go down into the cellar. I believe him. He said that we mustn’t ever go back down there. Promise me we won’t. Joe wants us to be safe and we won’t be if we go down there.’

‘I promise you, Martha, that not one of us will ever go down into that cellar. If you see Joe again tell him that we love him and miss him very much.’

‘I will, but he already knows that. He looked so very sad, even though he didn’t have a face any more.’

James Beckett began to cry as he rocked his daughter. He had failed to do the one thing every parent must. He had let some monster kill his son and rip his family apart. He didn’t know how, but he knew that one day he would meet it face to face and kill it with his bare hands for what it had done. But for now he needed to listen to his daughter. He would keep his family safe until the day came that he could take matters into his own hands.

How on earth had the monster come to life and how could it be living in the sewers under his house? He didn’t believe anything like that could exist, yet his wife had seen it with her own two eyes and so had his son. He wanted to see it more than anyone, but it must have been able to sense that, if it came into close proximity with him, it wouldn’t end well for either of them. He would do some research, speak to his friend who was the curator at the Natural History Museum. Maybe he would know what he could do to keep his family safe from this Windigo. No wonder that horrible, strange man had been so eager to sell the damn thing to him all those years ago. It must have been hibernating all that time.

Martha began to murmur in her sleep and, instead of laying her down on the sofa, he held her closer and closed his eyes. He wouldn’t ever let her be on her own again when she needed him. ‘I’ll always be here for you, Martha, I promise,’ he whispered in her ear, then closed his eyes. He was tired, so tired after the months of sleepless nights.


Chapter Twenty-Two

Before long the caravan park was sealed off and surrounded with armed police. The manager had been shocked when Will had asked about the young woman and older man who always wore a cap.

‘Yes, well, of course I noticed them, but they were just doing their own thing. They didn’t bother anyone or cause any trouble so I left them to it.’

‘But you didn’t think to speak to them or ask them where they had come from or how they had access to the caravan they were stopping in.’

She shook her head at him.

‘No, because it was none of my business.’

Will felt his fingers curl into tight, white fists. He wanted to slap the woman who had no concept of what they were dealing with. She had a stack of women’s magazines and a half-eaten box of chocolates next to her on the desk.

‘How did they pay for it?’

‘Ah well, you see that caravan was bought for cash three years ago and five years’ worth of ground rent was paid up front, so there was no need to bother, whoever they were. You don’t go bothering customers like that who pay up well in advance. Why would you want to upset them?’

Stu pushed Will to one side before he leant over and shook the woman until her head fell off.

‘Look, it’s a very serious matter. We need to locate the couple who were stopping in that caravan before something happens that we might be able to stop. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?’

‘I’m not stupid. Of course I do, but I can’t help you. They sold it back to us for a very good price last month on the provision we paid them cash. Which we wouldn’t strictly do, but it was too good an offer to refuse.’

‘How much cash?’

‘Ten thousand pounds. They said they were going back home. It was too quiet here for them.’

‘For fuck’s sake, I don’t believe this.’

Will stormed out, about to explode, and the woman looked after him, shaking her head once more.

‘Is he normally so angry? You know, I do a very good job of running this place. I keep an eye on the people I think need looking out for, but those two didn’t. I thought they were father and daughter. There was never any intimacy between them. I assumed that something had happened and they’d come here for a break. How was I supposed to know he was that serial killer guy? They didn’t exactly wear T-shirts stating the fact. You just don’t expect people like that to come to Barrow of all the places. I mean, come on, it’s the biggest cul-de-sac in England.’

Stu had to agree with her. If they had kept a low profile, why would she be bothered about them? But it was so fucking unbelievable that they had lived here and gone about their daily business without anyone so much as raising an eyebrow. She pointed to a large map on the wall. ‘They lived in that van there, near to the shore. Number 189. But it’s empty now. They took everything with them. Left it clean as a button. I didn’t need to send in our cleaner. They even emptied the bins.’

That was something. At least it hadn’t been professionally cleaned. If they could get a print to prove it was them that would be good, but he doubted they would. Henry knew what he was doing. He’d had a long time in his padded cell to think it all through.

‘Have they been back since the day they left?’

‘Not that I’m aware of. Why would they?’

‘Could they still have a key? They might be hiding in there.’

Her face paled at the thought of them still being here. ‘I guess they could. I don’t know how many keys there were. I haven’t seen them around or that silver van they used, but you never know.’

Stu went outside to speak to Will who was pacing up and down, his hands still clenched into tight fists.

‘Look, she wasn’t to know, was she? You need to calm down, boss.’

‘I know that. I’m just so angry that he snuck back here. Right under our bloody noses and we didn’t have a clue. He must have been laughing his socks off at us. We give the Keystone Cops a good name. It’s shocking, Stu. Why did we not know or realise? I’ll tell you why – because we buried our bastard heads in the sand hoping he’d go somewhere else and be some other poor bugger’s nightmare, because we certainly didn’t want him back. I let him in, Stu. I should have kept a closer eye on things and now, because of my stupidity, I don’t know where he is. But I do know one thing. The clever bastard knows we’re running around like headless chickens. He’s probably watching us right now. If he gets hold of Annie…’

He couldn’t finish his sentence because the words wouldn’t come out. Stu, who didn’t know what to do and was still in shock after his outburst, grabbed hold of his arm.

‘Look, he might have got one over on us for now, but we’ll find him – and before he has a chance to even think about hurting any of us. Don’t crack up on me, boss. I need you to tell me what to do because you know I can’t think shit-all for myself.’

Will looked at Stu and nodded his head.

‘Come on, Will, you figured it out the first time around. You were the one to realise that Sean Black, one of us, was a killer, and you will be the one to find Henry fucking Smith and finish it before he does something we’ll all regret. And I swear to God I’ll be with you all the way. I’ll hold him while you kick the bastard to death if I have to, and I promise I won’t let go.’

Will inhaled. ‘Thank you, Stu. I don’t know what to say.’

‘Say that you’re all over it, that now you’ve had that little outburst you’ve cleared your mind and we’re ready to rock and roll, because I want to find him, and the sooner we do it the better for everyone who ever had the misfortune to cross Henry Smith’s path.’

‘Right then, let’s get the caravan secured and then CSI can come in and do their stuff.’

Stu nodded. ‘Yes, boss, task force are on it. They’re just waiting for the say-so from you to go in.’

‘Right, good then. What are we waiting for? Let’s do it.’

Stu stuck his thumb up at Will and ran off to the armed response vehicle, which was parked on the opposite side of the office. Will breathed out a long sigh of relief. His insides were a complete mess, but for now he was on top of it. He never thought he’d see the day when Stu would be the one giving him a pep talk, but today he was grateful that he had been here to do it. For once it was Will who was in Stu’s debt and he’d make it up to him somehow.

The caravan was empty and very clean. Will pulled on the white overalls and shoe covers, even though two armed officers had been right through it to secure it. Anything was worth a try. As he stepped inside he could picture Henry and Megan sitting at the small table eating. They had been here, right under his nose. Living like any other normal couple, except they were far from normal. Who in their right mind wanted to kill another person for pleasure? Will cursed Henry because the man had turned him into an emotional wreck.

He opened the small bedroom doors and wondered which room had been Henry’s. Or had they shared the same bed all along? Will didn’t think that they had. Before he’d met up with Megan, Henry had been a loner and was used to being on his own. He doubted he could go from that to happily almost married in such a short space of time. Why Megan Tyler? What did she find so attractive in a burnt, shrivelled-up man that made her want to throw her whole life away to help him escape? He didn’t understand, but he hoped to God he would get the chance to ask her once she was in handcuffs and in interview. He needed to know so he would be able to answer the questions that were swirling around in his brain every time he closed his eyes. He wondered if this was what it was like to lose your mind, because he didn’t feel like the usual Will Ashworth any more.

He opened every cupboard and drawer but they were empty. The fridge was empty and the freezer had a tray of ice cubes inside that was half empty. He pulled the tray out with his fingers, careful not to touch the frozen brown liquid that had dripped onto the back of it. It was probably cola but it might be blood. Debs or whoever was the duty CSI would soon figure that one out. He put it back into the freezer and shut the door.

He walked across to the sofa that ran along one side of the wall and sat down. Was this where he’d sat each day planning what he was going to do to Annie? Will shivered then closed his eyes. ‘I don’t know where you are at the moment, Henry Smith, but I’m getting nearer. I’m coming to get you and to put an end to this bullshit.’ The door opened, a gust of wind making it slam against the outside of the van, which made him jump. He looked up at the figure in white standing there and smiled. ‘Thank God for small mercies, Debs. I’m so pleased to see it’s you.’

She nodded. ‘I wouldn’t miss this for the world, Will. We have a psycho to catch. Is there anything?’

He pointed to the freezer. ‘Something on the side of the ice-cube tray, but apart from that it looks clean. However, I’ll leave you to be the judge of that. If you can find me some fingerprints or any evidence to link our victim, Beth O’Connor, to this place, that would be amazing.’

‘I’ll do my very best.’

Will smiled at her. ‘I know you will. Thank you.’

He went back outside, taking in big gulps of the cold, sea air. Glad to be out of that claustrophobic space and in the open. ‘Come on, Stu, let’s get back to the station and see where we go from here.’

Stu followed him to their car, which was parked some distance away. ‘Do you think Debs will be okay in there on her own?’

‘There are armed police standing guard, Stu. I’m pretty sure she will. I wouldn’t put her at any risk. You know that, don’t you? She’s our magic weapon. The other techs are okay, but she’s the one who really gets it and actually wants to help catch the fuckers who do this shit.’

‘I know she is. That’s why I’m asking.’

They got into the car, Will letting Stu drive because he had so much going on in his head he couldn’t concentrate. If they linked the caravan to Smith and their victim it would be great. It wouldn’t help them to find out where he was hiding now, but it was something against him. And right now Will would take anything he could get.


Chapter Twenty-Three

Jake strolled into the office, rolling his eyes at Annie and nodding his head in the direction of the inspector’s office. She frowned at him but he shook his head and mouthed, ‘I’ll tell you later.’

‘What are we going to do next?’

‘Eat.’

‘I meant after we’ve eaten.’

‘Whatever you want, my friend. Personally, right about now I’m thinking about a cruise to the Bahamas. What do you say we all go home, pack our bags and bugger off until this nightmare has ended?’

‘You’re the second person to suggest that in the last thirty minutes.’

‘Well then, what are we waiting for? It makes perfect sense. Let the plods do their work and catch him, while all we have to worry about is what factor sun lotion to use.’

‘Like I said before to Will, do you think it would be so easy? I mean, do you really think he’d let us all ride off into the sunset to live another day? Because I don’t.’

‘God, you’re such a spoilsport. I’d have let you rub sun lotion all over my body.’

‘Tempting Jake, very tempting, but it won’t work.’

‘I’ll have you know it works just fine.’

‘Not you, us.’

‘Ah, alas, I agree with you. You and I would never work as a couple, as much as it breaks my heart. You know I prefer the manly type.’

Annie laughed. ‘You’re such a dick. I meant it wouldn’t work if we all just ran away. You know he would start killing anyone close to me to bring me back. It’s safer for everyone if I stick around.’

He sat on the corner of the desk and grabbed her hand. ‘But what about you, Annie? It’s not safe for you to stick around. If he hurt you I’d never live with myself.’

She squeezed his hand. ‘And if he hurt you or Will or, God forbid, Alex, then I would never live with myself either. I have to be here to stop him, whether it’s a good idea or not, because one way or another, I can’t help feeling that my life is over anyway. I’d rather die trying to stop him than run and hide, leaving you all behind as bait. I don’t know what we’re waiting for really. We should just stop putting off the inevitable and let him get on with it. Why don’t I just go back to working on my own, driving home on my own, and see if we can’t lure him out? Can’t someone fit me with a tracker? What about my iPhone tracker? If I go missing you’ll be able to find me with that.’

‘Are you completely insane, Annie? Don’t talk like that. We can’t just throw you out on your own and wave goodbye. Yep, it’s been great working with you, even though you’ve turned my hair grey and all that. Now run along like a good girl and get killed so we can all go back to normal.’

His voice had raised enough that the two PCSOs in the room were now listening to their conversation. And standing at the door was Cathy, whose mouth was open wide enough to catch flies. She looked at the PCSOs. ‘Haven’t you two got somewhere you should be?’

They both nodded and scrabbled to get out of their seats and leave the room. Cathy waited until she heard the station door slam shut.

‘Now, my little sweet potatoes, do you want to run that little lovers’ tiff by me again? Did you seriously suggest putting yourself out there as bait, Officer Ashworth?’

Annie nodded.

‘I thought that was what I heard. It’s a terrible idea and one that won’t be very good for your health, if you want my opinion. But it just might work if we got the logistics right, of course.’

Jake swung around to face her. ‘Are you having a fucking laugh, boss? You actually think we should just throw her out of the station door on her own and let her get on with it?’

‘Well, I wouldn’t put it quite like that. I’m thinking more along the lines of a set-up. You know, we put a proper tracker on her and a microphone, have task force ready to follow and blow the fucker’s head off should he try to do anything.’

It was Annie who stood up. ‘I think it’s a good idea. We could be waiting days, weeks, even months for him to make a move. This way it’s us who are in control, not Henry. He won’t be expecting me to be working on my own. It will throw him and he might panic and completely screw it all up.’

‘And he might come along and cut your bloody head off, you idiot, before task force can figure out how to get the safety catch off those big machine guns they carry.’

‘Come on, Jake, we can’t live like this – waiting for something to happen. We need to draw him out of wherever it is he’s hiding. He might batten down for months, maybe years. I can’t live like this. I refuse to live like this.’

‘You’re forgetting the one thing in this equation that would never allow you to do it.’

‘What?’

‘Will. He won’t let you do it. Under no circumstances will he let you put yourself at risk like a sitting duck so Henry Smith can come along and kill you right under his nose.’

Annie sat down, deflated. Moments ago it had seemed like the best idea she’d ever had. Anything was better than this half life of waiting around.

Cathy nodded. ‘I don’t suppose he would agree to any of this. It’s completely foolish and dangerous. But if Will is as fed up as we are, you never know.’

‘I know, we could find a decoy – someone who looks like Annie – dress them in her clothes and let them drive her car. He might agree to that.’

‘So you won’t allow me to put myself in danger, but you’ll let some innocent woman who has nothing to do with this dress up and pretend to be me. Jake, that’s seriously fucked up and not just totally wrong. It’s immoral.’

‘It wouldn’t be any old woman, would it? I mean we’re not going to ask Mrs Walker from the post office to do it, are we? There are women out west who work on the task force. One of them could do it with a gun tucked down her bra for good measure.’

‘I don’t know. I couldn’t live with myself if they got hurt. I would rather do it myself, and besides, Henry is a very clever man. He knows most things about me. He knows what I look like from a distance. He’s not going to be fooled so easily.’

‘Well, let’s see what Will has to say. Come on, it’s better than nothing. Some of those birds in task force I wouldn’t mess with. They’re harder than me and you put together.’

Cathy wandered over towards them. ‘He has a point. There are two of them who wouldn’t blink at what we’re thinking. It’s probably what they live for – the chance to go down in history – but more than that a chance to actually shoot someone and get away with it.’

‘I don’t know; it doesn’t feel right.’

‘Come on, Annie. Does it feel right that we’re all walking around scared of our own shadows? Does it feel right that he’s going to come for you no matter what we do? Call it a pre-emptive strike. We’ll have the upper hand.’

‘Look, children, have a think about it and we’ll discuss it tonight after dinner, when everyone’s together. I think Kav will say no at first, but I’m sure I can talk him around. But, Annie, the only person who might make Will agree is you. Jake, if you manage to keep your big mouth shut to a certain degree and not make it sound too dangerous, then he might start to come around.’

‘Yes, boss.’

‘Now, you two eat some lunch and find something to do in the office because it gives me heartburn every time I watch you drive away in that bloody panda car. I want you both inside until finishing time unless an emergency call comes in and it’s all hands on deck.’

They both nodded. It was fine by Annie. She wanted to do some research on Beckett House and see if there were any local newspaper reports about the place. She also wanted to do some digging around and see if she could find anyone who might be able to help them search the sewers under the house. Jake threw himself into the chair opposite and began logging on to the computer. He didn’t say anything, which was unusual for him, but if whatever it was he was doing kept him quiet, Annie would be thankful. Her head was pounding enough as it was without having to listen to him going on and on.

Annie had typed the name Beckett into the system, but nothing came up apart from the missing person report for Seamus Jones. That was a good sign. At least there wasn’t any family history of them being mentally ill or mass murderers. She went on to the actual internet and typed Beckett House into the search bar and was surprised to see a full page of links appear on her screen. She clicked on one that took her to a photocopy of a newspaper report from 1930. The headline: ‘Son of Wealthy Businessman Goes Missing on New Year’s Eve’ in bold black print filled the top part of the page.

Annie scanned the article. It didn’t tell her anything that she didn’t already know, although whoever the reporter was must have disliked the Beckett family because the whole piece suggested that the boy had met with some kind of foul play at the hands of one of the family members. She was surprised that Martha’s parents hadn’t sued the paper and the reporter for defamation of character; then again she didn’t think they would have bothered to read the newspapers at the time. They wouldn’t have needed reminding about it because they were living the nightmare. Poor, poor family. How awful to have had to live through something like that. If this monster lived in the sewers under their house it must have free run of the connecting sewers to other houses, though.

She cleared the search bar and started again: ‘Missing persons in the Lake Windermere area.’ She let out a small gasp when the pages began loading the articles of people who’d gone missing in or near the lake. There were so many, although there hadn’t been any recently, until Seamus a few days ago. The last one, whose body had never been found, was more than twenty years ago. An elderly man who had a boathouse not far from Beckett House had last been seen tinkering around on his boat on 5 May 1994. It was believed that he had fallen into the lake, possibly hitting his head and drowning, because he’d never been seen again. Divers had searched the lake over the months following his disappearance, but he’d never been found.

She looked at the next link below that and saw that a month earlier a sixteen-year-old boy had been out on the lake with his friends. He’d had a bet with them that he could swim to the shore from the boat and had jumped in, to the accompaniment of their delighted whoops and cheers. He’d been swimming just fine until he almost reached the shore near Beckett House, where it was believed he’d got caught in the current and been taken under. His body was never recovered from the water. Annie felt a cold chill descend down her spine.

She sent the two articles to the printer and began searching some more. There was a gap of twenty years before she found another, this time in 1974. A woman had been out sailing. She was going to meet her friends who lived on the opposite side, but she never made it. Her empty boat was found bobbing along near Beckett House.

Annie kept on scrolling through. Almost every twenty years there were missing persons reports, but no one had ever thought to put them all together. She doubted if anyone apart from Martha Beckett even took any notice of them. The journalists who wrote them were all different. If it only happened roughly every twenty years there wasn’t much chance of the same journalist still working on the small local paper. They would have moved on.

The same could be said for the police force. The gaps were too huge for anyone to remember. Not only had there been two deaths already this year in the lake, but also both of those bodies had been recovered. People died every year. It was one of the biggest lakes in England and was used by a lot of inexperienced sailors. The water was freezing cold even on a hot summer’s day.

She carried on reading article after article until she found one about an incident dating back to 1 September 1929. Two workmen who had been building the house had stayed behind to sort out a problem in the cellar with a blocked drain and had never been seen again. Annie shivered. Whatever it was that lived in the tunnels beneath Beckett House liked to eat humans, and once it was full it would sleep or hibernate until it was ready to start all over again, which just happened to be every twenty years or so.

Poor Martha Beckett. What would she do when the time came to sell the house? She couldn’t very well tell the estate agent to advertise that the house came with its very own, human-flesh-eating monster, but as long as you don’t go down into the cellar you’ll be just fine. And what about all these missing people? Some of them had gone missing from boats on the lake. Whatever it was knew enough not to take people who were in a group. It must wait until it saw the perfect kill out there all alone and then go for it. That was how it had stayed hidden all this time. She shuddered at the thought of being dragged down into the sewers and eaten. If she had a choice she’d rather face Henry Smith than some scary man-monster that liked to chew on human flesh. She sighed. Could her life get any worse?


Chapter Twenty-Four

The journey home from Bowness was uneventful. There were no strange cars following them. Annie watched the whole time in the passenger mirror, not trusting herself enough to relax. In a way she wanted to see him again. She hadn’t forgotten what he looked like, but he had faded a little in her mind, even though he looked like a complete monster. Jake didn’t drive straight to his house. Instead he took the long way around, going through a maze of streets until he was happy enough they had no one behind them. He parked Annie’s car further away, in the next street to his, and they got out, looking all around them before they began to walk back to Jake’s street.

When they were sure no one was behind them they went inside to hear Alice crying and Alex singing a nursery rhyme to her. Jake held his arms out for the gorgeous bundle of baby who was dressed from head to toe in pale pink. Instantly she stopped crying and lifted a tiny finger to touch his cheek. Annie didn’t think she’d ever seen anything so sweet in her whole life. Jake began to talk to Alice and she responded by blurting back at him. Alex looked at Annie and mimed wiping his brow. ‘Thank God the big man’s home to take over. She’s been hard work all day. She’s either cutting her back teeth or she knows something is wrong.’ He passed Jake the bottle of milk and Jake began to feed his daughter, who was now almost asleep.

‘I never thought I’d see the day. He actually looks kind of cute holding a baby.’

‘No, me neither, but I’m glad he does because imagine how awful it would be if his big, ugly face scared her.’

Jake stuck a finger up at them both and they giggled. Jake turned to leave the kitchen, leaving the pair of them alone.

‘How are you doing, Annie?’

‘Okay, thanks. I just wish he’d make his move and get this over with. I can’t stand this feeling that I’m dangling over the edge of a cliff.’

Alex began to take trays of food out of the oven, then stirred the pans, which were simmering on the stove.

‘I bet you do; I think we all do. I’ve been so worried about you both all day. In fact, I bet that’s why Alice has been so unsettled. They say babies can pick up on their parents’ anxieties.’

Annie clenched her fists. Another bloody reason to make her feel even worse. Henry Smith had a lot to answer for.

‘I’m so sorry about this whole mess.’

Alex slammed the oven door shut. Pulling off the oven gloves he walked over to her and wrapped an arm around her. ‘None of this is your fault, Annie. Just remember that.’

She smiled at him, but inside her stomach was rolling. She wanted to see Will. No, she needed to see him now, before she walked out of here on her own and started looking for the bastard. As if he’d read her mind, not two minutes later there was a knock on the front door and she went to take a look out of the window. Will stood there, running his hands through his sandy, blond hair that needed a trim. He hadn’t had a shave for a couple of days but, damn, the stubble made him look even sexier than normal. She ran to open the door and threw herself into his arms. He pushed her inside, shut the door behind him and then held her as tightly as he could. She kissed him and didn’t want to stop. He kissed her back then pulled away, smiling. ‘Wow, did you miss me or something? It’s only been nine hours since you last saw me.’

‘Miss you? I’ve been wanting to hold you since about ten minutes after I left his morning. It’s been one long day without you.’

Will kissed her again. ‘Yes, you could say that. We need to sort something out. I can’t stand not being with you or knowing what you’re doing all day. You can throw a sickie tomorrow or you can tell them you’re working from down here. I don’t care as long as you’re with me and I can see you. I will not let that bastard drive us apart. I swear to God, Annie, I’ve had enough of his games.’

She hugged him hard and whispered, ‘Please don’t leave me on my own, Will. I’m scared.’

Will felt as though his heart had just been ripped in two. After everything they had been through in the past two years, not once had he ever heard her say she was scared. He didn’t want her to feel like this. It made him feel even more helpless to hear his tough, brave, beautiful wife admit that she was out of her depth. He held her tight. He didn’t want to let her go and she was happy enough to bury her head in his chest and stay that way until another knock on the door behind them broke the moment.

Will turned to peer through the glass and was relieved to see the hulking great figure of Kav standing next to Cathy. There was definitely something going on there, but that was good. They all needed to be paired up until they caught Smith. He didn’t want any of them putting themselves in danger. He opened the door and turned to see Annie wiping at the corner of her eye with the sleeve of her top. Another nail in his heart. She didn’t do crying in public either. For Christ’s sake, he wanted to strangle Henry Smith with his bare hands until the bastard was dead. Kav walked in and straight over to Annie, wrapping his arms around her in a bear hug, making them both smile.

Cathy rubbed her stomach. ‘I never knew what a big softie he was. Just goes to show you should never, ever judge a book by its cover. I hope tea’s almost ready. I’m starving.’ She looked across at Will. ‘Have Thelma and Louise told you their great idea yet?’

Annie pulled away from Kav to glare at her boss. ‘No, we haven’t. Will only arrived a couple of minutes before you did. I want to forget about it for at least an hour until we’ve all had something to eat – pretend we’re normal people for a while.’

‘Fine by me, doll. Just lead me to the food and I’ll say no more.’

Will looked at Annie, who rolled her eyes at Cathy. She took hold of his hand and squeezed it tight. ‘Come on, I need a drink and I should imagine you do too.’

Alex had opened a bottle of wine and had several bottles of lager on the table. He poured Annie a glass first but her stomach lurched at the sight of it. After forcing herself to pick it up, she took a sip, but gagged. Thrusting the glass into Will’s hand she turned and ran for the downstairs bathroom, where she ended up throwing up everything she’d eaten that day. Will put the glass down and went after her. He opened the door to see her kneeling down in front of the toilet, her face ashen. ‘Go away, I’ll be fine in a minute.’

Ignoring her, he walked over to her and began to rub her back. ‘No, I don’t want to go away. I’ll hold your hair up for you.’

Cathy looked at Kav. ‘Poor kid, I think it’s finally getting on top of her. It was bound to happen. You can’t go through everything she has and not get affected by it. We need to get this sorted.’

He nodded his head in agreement. Alex carried on serving up the food. His stomach was churning, but he wasn’t directly involved in any of this, so he couldn’t imagine what the others were feeling. Jake wandered in. ‘See, I have the magic touch. She’s out for the count. Where’s Annie? I thought I heard Will’s voice.’

Alex pointed to the bathroom. ‘She’s not feeling too well. Will’s gone to make sure she’s okay.’

Jake shook his head. ‘Bless, she’s kept it together pretty well up to now. I’d be a quivering wreck if some psycho killer wanted to murder me.’

Alex’s eyes almost popped out of his head. ‘Shh, you big idiot, she can hear you.’

Kav opened a beer and passed one to Jake. ‘So tell me something, good Jacob. Did you find out where our little friend is hiding today? Any good news that might lead us to him so we can put him out of our misery? In fact, any news at all?’

‘Not really. One caravan park was a bit difficult because I’d arrested the manager the other week, so he was being a bit unhelpful. Oh, we do have a bit of a lead. Apparently he’s stopping in a brown caravan, which is situated next to a hedge with a hole in the middle of it.’

Cathy touched Kav’s arm. ‘I wouldn’t bother asking how they came by this information. Let’s just say it was Annie’s special friends.’

Kav frowned, not having a clue what she meant, but he was happy enough to take their word for it. ‘So what next? I’ll go in first thing in the morning, if you want, in plain clothes and have a wander around. If anyone asks I’ll tell them I’m thinking of buying one. That should do.’

‘Sounds like a plan, but I’d rather you didn’t go on your own. I really think we need to be in pairs. Just in case, you know, he remembers us or something.’

‘I’ll go with him, then. I don’t mind spending the morning in my jogging pants instead of those bloody tight combat trousers that don’t give you room to breathe in. It will be nice to walk around pretending we’re a married couple – won’t it, Kav?’

Jake almost spat his lager all over but managed to swallow it and laughed. ‘Well, I never saw that one coming. Congratulations.’

Annie and Will walked back into the kitchen and she smiled at Alex. ‘Sorry about that.’

He walked over and squeezed her arm. ‘Don’t you apologise; it’s fine.’

‘Yes, and besides, it’s not as if it’s the first time. You’ve puked in our en suite before after one too many glasses of wine, so don’t worry about it. Don’t you go pretending you’re all ladylike on us. You’re amongst your friends now and we know the truth.’

Annie began to laugh, easing the tension, and the others joined in. Will kissed her cheek and they both sat down.

‘Tell them all my dirty secrets, Jake, why don’t you.’ She looked at the plates of food that Alex was handing around and her stomach groaned, but this time it was in hunger.

‘That looks delicious. Glad I’ve made room for it now.’ She winked at Alex who passed her a plate, half expecting her to dash out again, but she didn’t. She began to tuck in as if she’d not eaten all day. Will felt relieved. If she was eating that was a good sign. It would have been much worse if she’d lost her appetite.

When they’d finished and spent ten minutes talking about Alice and the weather, it was Cathy who brought them back to reality. She hadn’t wanted to, but it needed to be said. ‘So then, now we’re all stuffed after that lovely meal – thank you, Alex – I think we need to sort out exactly what we are going to do about that fucking man who is turning my hair greyer by the day. I’m sorry, but we can’t go on like this. It’s not fair on anyone, especially not Annie.’

Annie looked down at her hands. The thought of Henry made her stomach churn all over again. Will reached out and clasped her hand in his, then wrapped his other arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer to him.

Cathy continued, ‘Now our very own Thelma and Louise came up with the most stupid idea I’ve ever heard, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and I have to say they have a point. Will, you are about to throw the biggest shit fit in the history of the world and, believe me, I know how you feel. It’s how I felt when they were talking about it, but once the shock of it sinks in you will realise that it makes sense. It might be the only way we can speed things up and catch him.’

Annie squeezed Will’s hand. His heart was already racing and he didn’t want to know what Cathy was about to suggest, because deep down he knew anyway. She was going to suggest using Annie to draw him in.

Cathy looked at Will, whose normally tanned skin had turned almost as white as his wife’s. ‘This was Annie’s idea. I wouldn’t dream of even suggesting it, so before you want to rip my head off and shove it up my arse, I’d appreciate it if you could remember that.’

The whole room was fraught with tension. Everyone already knew what Cathy was going to say – it was so obvious – but none of them was brave enough to say it out loud.

‘Annie suggested putting herself out there on her own to draw him in so we can catch him.’

Alex, who was standing with a pile of plates in his hands, began to shake his head. Kav was also shaking his head and Will felt as if he was going to pass out. He couldn’t, wouldn’t, put her in any more danger than she was already in.

‘I don’t just mean chuck her out of the door and leave her to it. Annie suggested a tracker. We could give her a taser, get Smithy to give her the standard course in a half-hour session – as much as I’m scared to do that in case she ends up tasering herself – and she has her CS. But we could have task force following her every move. She wouldn’t technically be on her own. There would be a whole team around the corner waiting to swoop in and catch the bastard.’

‘No.’

Everyone looked at Will, who had stood up and was now pacing up and down. ‘No fucking way is my wife going out there on her own to face that maniac. So you’d better have a plan B.’

‘We do, actually. I suggested that we get one of the task force women to pretend to be Annie and see if that draws him out.’

Will stopped in his tracks. ‘That’s a brilliant idea. Let’s just throw some other poor bugger out to the wind and hope he doesn’t cut her head off as well, should we? Then what? He’s not stupid. He will know it’s not Annie, and whoever it is will end up dying for trying to help. Jesus, I can’t believe I’m hearing this. You’re all mad; do you know that? I mean, listen to yourselves.’ He turned and walked towards the front door. He needed to get out of there and get some fresh air. His friends were suggesting that they actually sent Annie to her death with a can of bloody pepper spray and a taser. He went outside, letting the door slam behind him.

Annie stood up to run after him.

‘Where are you going? You can’t go out there.’

‘Let me talk to him – and do you know what? If Henry Smith is out there, I’m past caring. At least it will be over, one way or the other.’

Cathy looked at Jake. ‘Well, that went better than I thought it would.’

Annie took off after Will, wanting to calm him down and bring him back inside. She couldn’t live if anything happened to him either, and there was a good chance Henry knew this. She opened the front door to see him leaning with his head on the roof of Alex’s car. Annie ran across to him and wrapped her arms around him. ‘Come back inside – please, Will. Don’t be mad. It’s just an idea and it was my idea, not anyone else’s, so if you’re pissed off with anyone, it should be me.’

‘They’re supposed to be our friends, Annie.’

‘They are our friends. Who else do you know who would put up with this shit? I’m very lucky to have such an amazing husband and friends who are willing to stand by me at the risk of losing everything that’s important to them. But I can’t live like this. We have to finish it, and I’d rather have the upper hand than wait around for it to happen when we least expect it. Please come back in and talk about it. You know it makes perfect sense. If I can lure him out, you, Jake and Kav can be there to arrest him. Isn’t that what you want?’

He turned around to face her. This time it was Will whose eyes were leaking. ‘I love you so much, Annie. Just the thought of it…’

‘I love you too, but we can’t carry on like this. It’s not fair to anyone. Come on, I’m pretty good in a fight. You know I am. I beat him before and, if it comes to that, I’ll beat him again. There’s no way I’d let him win.’

Will kissed her. ‘For a girl, you’re a pretty good fighter; I’ll give you that.’

‘Well then, come on, let’s see what we can come up with. It beats this empty feeling of helplessness that’s been rolling around inside my stomach for days.’

She grabbed his hand and tugged him back towards the door and into the warmth and safety of Jake’s brightly lit house.


Chapter Twenty-Five

Henry was in his bedroom, staring at his reflection in the mirror. He was humming a song that his mother used to listen to a long time ago. It was about being what you are, and not needing excuses. His scars were like war wounds. He no longer thought of them as something to be ashamed of. They were his battle scars and he should be proud of them. He wanted Annie to see them in their complete glory when the time came to take her, and it was going to be soon. He couldn’t wait any longer. The police were sniffing around and Megan seemed to be having a bit of a so-called crisis of faith at this very moment in time. He could hear her snivelling to herself on her bed.

Yesterday he would have gone to her and given her some comfort, but today he’d realised that this wasn’t about her, it was about him. He had no idea whether she would hold out. She could decide to go to the police, and then it would be game over for both of them, so he would tell her that it was tomorrow. She was finally going to be famous in her own right because she would be the one to kill Will Ashworth while he kept hold of Annie. He would make her watch the man of her dreams die in front of her eyes. He smiled. A slight twist on the last attempt where he had attempted to kill Annie in front of Will – only that hadn’t gone too well, but he wouldn’t dwell on that. This time he was more than ready and he had Megan to help him.

As soon as it was first light they would go out in the van and park near the police station. Tomorrow would be her last shift if he had worked it out correctly, then they would follow her home and ambush Annie and her lover. His hands were shaking. He was so excited to finally be able to touch her. How he’d longed to run his fingers through her soft curls. He imagined the look on her face when he wrapped a handful of them around his fingers so tightly he could pull her head back and kiss her soft, red lips. He would lick the salty tears that were falling from her eyes as she cried for her dead husband, then he would talk to her and tell her exactly how much she meant to him.

He had dreamt about talking to her face to face almost every night in the hospital. She was all he had ever wanted and it was going to be so special. Nothing would come between them. If he had to he would kill Megan so she didn’t get in the way. Besides, once she’d done what she was supposed to she would be surplus to requirements anyway. He smiled at himself. Tomorrow was going to be a great day.

***

Will let Annie lead him back to where their friends were waiting. They were chatting amongst themselves. He sat back down and Annie reached out for his hand.

‘Sorry, I just don’t want to put Annie in any more danger than she’s already in.’

‘We know. In fact, Jake pretty much had the same reaction as you until he realised that this could work to our benefit.’

Will looked across at Jake, grateful that he felt the same, and Jake nodded.

‘I don’t like it one bit, Will, but like Annie said, surely it will be better for us to have the upper hand. He’s clever. If we wait around he might start picking us off one by one anyway, so he’s able to get to Annie on her own. We’re an inconvenience to him and he doesn’t care who he kills.’

Annie squeezed Will’s hand. ‘I think he’ll be watching Windermere station like a hawk now to see when I come and go. If we do it so it’s not too obvious it should work. I bet he already knows my routines. He’ll know that we go to the café for takeaways. I don’t think he would try and ambush me outside the station but we can’t be too sure. If it was quiet enough then he just might, but if we arranged it so that you lot were already in the café in plain clothes when I went in, you could look out for him, see if he’s following me. The only other place I can think of luring him to is Beckett House. It’s pretty secluded and Miss Beckett, the owner, is elderly and wouldn’t have a clue what was going on. If he followed me from the coffee shop, we could lure him there. I’ve already been there a couple of times this week for work, so it might even be on his radar. There are several sheds and a boathouse you could all take cover in. What do you think?’

Cathy nodded. ‘I think it’s better than the fuck-all we had this morning. It has to be worth a try. It might not work and then it will be back to the drawing board, but at least if we do something it’s better than us sitting around here twiddling our thumbs. And wouldn’t it be a real tragedy if he fell into the lake and drowned? Save wasting tax payers’ money on the piece of crap.’

Will was absorbing everything they had just said. Yes, it did make sense. It made perfect sense if they could lure him to Beckett House and catch him before he even thought about harming a hair on Annie’s head, but could they all live with themselves?

Cathy smiled. ‘Well, that’s sorted then. Tomorrow we’ll do a trial run to see if he’s around, watching. You never know, our Henry might not be as clever as we’re giving him credit for, and we might be able to swoop on him and have him in cuffs before you get so far as ordering your skinny latte.’

Annie smiled. ‘Now that would be nice. Here’s to us: the Famous Five – or at least we will be after this is all over.’

5 June 1931

James waited at the front door for his friend, Martin Simms, to arrive. He was pacing up and down, unable to settle or stand still for more than thirty seconds. The day after Martha had seen Joe in the garden he had phoned Martin and told him the whole story, asking him for his forgiveness and assuring him that they hadn’t all gone stark, raving mad. Martin had listened to what James had to say then taken some time to think about it all.

‘I believe you, James. I truly do. I’ve seen some strange things working in this museum, so it doesn’t surprise me in the least, but I need to speak to my colleague, Arthur Fletcher, who specialises in Indian culture and mythology. I’ll be in touch as soon as I’ve spoken with him. And I’m dreadfully sorry to hear about young Joseph. I’m so sorry for your loss.’

‘Thank you, Martin, I’ll be for ever in your debt.’

Now both Martin and this expert, Arthur, were coming to visit. They had told him they needed to see him in person and that this wasn’t something that could be discussed properly over the telephone. So James had made all the necessary arrangements to have them brought down, and now they should be here any minute. Eleanor came down the stairs and his breath caught in the back of his throat. His beautiful wife was a shadow of her former self. She missed meals and slept a lot. Her skin was pale because she wouldn’t leave the house in case Joe came back and she wasn’t here.

‘Is there anything I can get you, darling?’

She shook her head and he cursed himself for asking such a stupid question. There was nothing he could get her. All she wanted was her son, their son.

‘Where’s Martha?’

‘Playing in her room. I feel as if I should be making more of an effort, but I can’t, because whenever I look at her she reminds me that Joe should be here and that he isn’t.’

James felt another piece of his heart tear apart. Why had he brought that thing here? It had ripped his family into pieces in more ways than one.

‘It’s okay; I’ll go and see her as soon as Martin arrives. I just want to be here to greet him.’

Eleanor nodded then turned and walked towards the kitchen. She visibly flinched as she walked past the cellar door, her head down. She couldn’t look at it. James had even toyed with the idea of having the damn thing bricked up and wallpapered over, but he knew she’d never agree to it. She still believed Joe might come back, and he couldn’t take that last bit of hope away from her because he feared that, if he did, she would give up altogether. The sound of tyres crunching along the gravel snapped James out of his world of grief and he threw open the front door, ready to greet his old friend.

After Lucy had shown the visitors to their rooms they came down to speak to him in his study. James poured out three glasses of brandy and handed one to each of them.

‘Thank you for coming. I need to know what to do and how I can keep my family safe.’

‘You’re welcome, James. I’m just sad it’s under such horrendous circumstances, but I can’t say that I know what to say or do. Arthur is the expert so I’ll let him take over from here.’

Arthur stepped forward, shaking James’s hand once more.

‘I’ve spent a lot of time over in America with the native Indians. They spoke a lot of this Windigo around the camp fires, but I assumed it was one of their tales to scare each other from resorting to cannibalism when food was scarce. I didn’t actually believe it to be real. Where on earth did you manage to come by it?’

‘Through the cousin of a friend at the fairground. He knew a man who dealt in rare and unusual antiquities in London. I was looking for pieces for my freak show and it was perfect, but it looked dead. In fact, it was so grotesque that I didn’t think it was real. I never for one moment thought it could be.’

‘Do you have any pictures of it?’

James nodded and unlocked his desk drawer. Pulling out a crumpled picture of him standing next to its glass display case hours before the fairground had burnt to the ground, he passed it to Arthur.

‘You’re right. It doesn’t look as if it’s real, but my God it’s incredible. It must be at least six feet tall. Look at those teeth. They would rip a man to shreds.’

Arthur stopped mid sentence, realising what he had just said, and looked up at James whose face had drained of all colour. Martin helped him to a chair and threw Arthur a look as if to say no more.

‘I’m sorry, James, that was so insensitive of me. I didn’t think. It’s just I’ve never seen anything like this before.’

James nodded, trying to block out the images in front of his eyes of his son being eaten alive by the monster he’d brought into his house. Martin took the photograph from Arthur to have a look.

‘Are you sure this thing hasn’t been stolen? I mean, I can imagine it would be worth some money to the right people.’

‘I wish I could say that was the case, that somehow it had been taken by two men who had access to the house and the cellar, but there is always someone here. This house has never been empty since we moved in. If Eleanor and myself went away with the children, the staff were always here.’

‘Do you trust your staff?’

‘Yes I do. Lucy and Mary would no more steal from us than they would their own mother. And what would they do with it? I should think if either of them had seen it they would be too terrified to touch it.’

‘What about the man who picked us up – Davey?’

‘Davey is a good man. He would have no reason to steal it and he saw it the night of Joe’s disappearance, as did my wife. It almost caught her in the cellar, but she managed to escape by the grace of God.’

‘Do you think I can talk to your wife about what she saw that night?’

‘No. You will not mention any of this to Eleanor. She is not well and hasn’t been since that night. I don’t want you to upset her. If I find out that you have tried to discuss it at any point, I will not be responsible for my actions.’

Arthur looked at Martin, who put his head down.

‘Of course not, old chap. I don’t want to upset your good lady. I give you my word I won’t talk about anything but pleasantries with her.’

James felt his shoulders relax. ‘Thank you. I’m sorry, but this has been so very hard on us all.’

Martin smiled at his friend. ‘Why don’t we talk about what we do know and what we can do that might help.’

Arthur pulled a book out of his well-worn leather briefcase and a pair of spectacles from his shirt pocket.

‘You have to understand we are on unprecedented ground here. To my knowledge nothing has ever been documented about it apart from in ancient tribal scripts. I have some notes here that I made while staying with the Cree tribe. The elders described it as a Wih-tih-koh. It is supposed to be a half beast of demonic origin, which could either possess the characteristics of a monster or human, and which liked to eat human flesh.’

Arthur appeared to note James wincing, but there was no nice and fluffy way to describe the fact that these things were cannibals. He had clearly decided it was better to just blurt it out and be done with it.

‘Now, the one in your picture looks to me like it was more human, or tried to appear as a humanoid but didn’t quite carry it off. They were cave dwellers and lived in the dark, damp caves or tunnels of the Great Lakes Region. Once they had had their fill and their bellies were full they would hibernate for a long time. I have no idea how long because no one seemed to know that part, but you have to remember what I’ve heard were tales told around camp fires at night. This is not proven historical fact because, up until now, there was no proof that these things existed. I was under the impression it was all mumbo jumbo.’

‘Did they say if they could be killed?’

‘Yes, the only way to kill them was by fire.’

James thought back to that night he had first encountered the thing. It had smelt of burnt flesh. Had someone tried to burn it before he’d bought it? He thought it likely and he wondered who.’

‘We can’t find it, though. We’ve searched the cellar and the drain that leads to the sewers and out to the lake many times over. Some of the tunnels are too narrow for us to get down, so how does it manage when it’s larger than all three of us?’

‘According to the legends it can change its appearance at will, so it won’t have a problem.’

‘It could be anywhere. What am I to do? I can’t rip the entire sewerage system to shreds searching for it. The authorities would think I had lost my mind and have me locked up.’

‘No, you can’t, and who is to say it is under there? It could have found an underground cave somewhere along the hillside. There are certain Cree symbols that we can paint around the house to create a barrier. Apparently it can’t cross them, so the best thing we can do is to paint them on the inside of the cellar door and then on the walls around the house near to the doors and windows. I don’t know if this will work or whether it’s just superstition, but the native Indians believe it works, so there’s nothing to lose. I’m afraid it might be the only thing we can do. When was the last sighting of the creature?’

‘The early hours of New Year’s Day when my wife heard a noise in the cellar and ventured down there looking for our son. No one has seen it since.’

‘Good. That must mean it’s hibernating, so if we seal the house with these symbols hopefully, when and if it does wake up, it won’t be able to come inside and your family will be safe.’

James nodded. He felt deflated. He had been hoping that Martin or Arthur would have a solution, a way to find it so he could kill it with his own two hands.

‘Yes, that sounds like something we should do. The sooner the better. Come on, let me get you something to eat. You must be starving and I’ve forgotten my manners. I’m sorry, but you have to understand how I want nothing more than to keep my family safe.’

‘Daddy.’

James stood up, horrified to think that Martha might have been listening to their whole conversation. He strode across and scooped her up into his arms.

‘Hello, sweet pea, how long have you been there?’

‘Not long. I’ve just come downstairs. I’m hungry.’

James kissed her soft cheek and rubbed his fingers through her silky, strawberry blonde hair.

‘Me too. I’d like you to meet my friends, Martin and Arthur. They’ve come all the way from London to see us.’

Martha held out her hand towards Martin, who smiled and shook it. She did the same to Arthur, who shook hers then lifted it to his lips and kissed it. Martha giggled and James felt his heart lift. Laughter was such a rare sound in this house now that it made him smile.

‘Have you come to kill the monster?’

James looked at his daughter. She was far too old for her years.

It was Arthur who answered. ‘If we could kill it then we would, but I think it’s gone to sleep now for a very long time, so what we are going to do is make your house safe so that it can’t come back inside. How does that sound?’

‘Good, I suppose, but I would much rather you killed it.’

‘Me too, sweetheart, but sometimes we can only do the best we can. I promise you this: if it ever wakes up and tries to come back, then, yes, we will kill it.’

Martha stared him in the eyes, as if trying to determine whether he meant it or not. She seemed to decide that he did and nodded her head.

‘Thank you. Can I have something to eat now, please?’

James laughed and led them all to the dining room where Lucy had just finished setting the table.


Chapter Twenty-Six

Annie excused herself. She was tired and it felt as if her brain was too big to fit inside her skull. She went upstairs where she looked in on Alice and blew her a kiss, then she went into the guest room, which had become her temporary home. All she wanted was to be back at her own house, soaking in the bath – preferably with her at one end and Will at the other. Then she wanted to put her fresh pyjamas, collapse onto her huge bed and into Will’s arms, and make long, slow, passionate love.

Instead she splashed water on her face, too scared to look at her reflection in the tiny en suite mirror in case she didn’t recognise the woman staring back. She didn’t want to run the shower in case the noise woke Alice. Instead she got into the bed and waited for Will to come up. She knew they had a lot to talk about, which was easier without her sitting there. They didn’t have to worry about upsetting her too much if she wasn’t in the room. Will would fill her in on what the plan of action was when he came up, and if she did fall asleep he could tell her in the morning. Her stomach lurched and she felt queasy again, Henry Smith was not only messing her life up, he was also playing havoc with her digestive system. Her eyes got heavy and before long she was asleep. There were no dreams this time and she welcomed the blackness.

***

Kav drained the last few drops from his lager bottle. ‘I hope we know what we’re doing. This could go very wrong for all of us. I hate to say this, Will, but there’s a very real chance we could fuck it up and Annie could die.’

There were several sharp intakes of breath. Even though everyone had been thinking the same thing, no one had dared to say it out loud. Will nodded. He looked distraught.

‘Well then, we’d better bloody make sure that isn’t an option. We can’t mess it up. I’m not willing to sacrifice Annie just so we can all get on with our lives.’

‘Neither are we. Alex, do you think you could go and check on Alice, please?’ Alex stood up, excusing himself. He obviously realised that Jake didn’t want him to be a part of the burden the others might have to bear. He squeezed Jake’s shoulder and left to go upstairs and read – anything to take his mind off what they were planning.

They waited until they heard Alex check on the baby and then shut the master bedroom door. Jake stood up and shut the kitchen door, just to be sure.

‘I don’t think he’ll be ready to do it tomorrow. He’s normally a planner. He might be thrown off track a little and take some time to think about it, but he won’t waste much time. He’ll probably realise the opportunity is too good to miss and then we’ll swoop in.’

Kav sounded as if he knew what he was talking about so they let him continue. ‘We can start by letting Annie go out of the station on her own but, before she does that, I’ll be parked around the corner in my own car. Then we can let her go to the café and drive around for a while. We can all be in the same area in our own cars to see if we can spot him. Are we going to bring task force in?’

Will nodded. ‘If we decide to do this and put Annie out there, then yes. I would prefer to have some men with guns around. There’s no guarantee they won’t fuck it up either, but it would make me feel a whole lot better.’

Cathy nodded. ‘I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this but, yes, I do totally agree. In fact, I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life. The system once again has let us down. It’s let Annie down. She fought him once and won, then had to go to court and fight all over again. I’ll speak to the chief super tomorrow and get him to authorise the boys with guns. In the meantime, if this all goes wrong, I’ve always fancied taking up flower arranging or cake decorating.’

‘I’ve only got twelve months to do and then I’m out of here. If I get my pension – great. If I don’t, I can always come and work for you in your flower shop, Cathy.’ Kav winked at her and reached out to hold her hand. She didn’t pull away and, if it hadn’t been such a solemn occasion, Jake would have clapped.

Will swallowed as if he had a lump in his throat. Clearly he was going to be eternally grateful to his friends who were willing to risk everything to help put a stop to Henry Smith. ‘You know how I feel about him. He tried to kill Annie in front of me once. I won’t let it happen again. Thank you all. I’m for ever in your debt.’

‘You don’t need to thank us, son. We wouldn’t have it any other way. I never imagined at my age I’d be out on the street chasing a killer, but I guess you’re never too old to want to protect the people who mean the most to you. So we’ll let Annie drive to work with Jake as normal. We can’t afford anything to happen when none of us has radios, CS or anything else. Then Cathy and I will follow behind in my car because hers is a pile of shite. Will, you can set off first and park near the station and see if you can spot the creep.’

‘It’s not much, but it’s a start. We can regroup at the station and decide what’s happening next once we all get up there and get kitted out. Now I hope you don’t mind if I go up to bed. I want to spend some time with my wife.’

Will stood up and walked out of the room, his shoulders slumped as if he’d already been defeated.

Cathy stood up too. ‘Come on, Kav, I’ll drive you home to my house. You needn’t think I’m stopping on my own while this is happening.’

Kav stood up and winked at Jake. ‘See, it’s not all bad. At least I’ve had a couple of…’

Before he could finish she dug her elbow in his ribs. ‘Er…I have a reputation to uphold. Don’t you go spilling my dirty secrets to our friend Jake here.’

Jake walked them both to the door. ‘Please be careful. I know he’d have to be an idiot to take you on, Kav, but don’t take anything for granted.’

He watched them walk to Cathy’s car and get inside, the whole time scanning his street to see if there were any silver vans or strange men hanging around watching his house. As they drove away he shut his door, locking it and then putting the safety chains across and turning on the burglar alarm. He wasn’t taking any chances. Then he went around checking all the doors and windows to make sure there was no way in without breaking one down.

When he finally went upstairs to bed he checked on Alice. She was so perfect. Her small chubby hand had a tight hold of the blanket that Annie had bought for her. He bent down and kissed his daughter on the forehead. He would go to any lengths to protect his family and he classed Annie as family. At least Alex would be around to take care of their baby should the worst come to the worst. The pain that shot through his heart at the thought of not being here to watch her grow up almost made him cry out, but he didn’t. He told himself that there was no way Henry would get the better of them. It wasn’t an option.

***

Will undressed, relieved to see that Annie was asleep, although how she’d fallen asleep he had no idea. He’d expected her to be awake, wanting to know what was happening in the morning. When he got into bed he pulled her close. She let out a murmur, but snuggled next to him. He wished sleep would come to him so easily. Instead he lay watching her, reliving the past two years. From the very first moment he’d set eyes on her at her brother’s farmhouse in Abbeywood, to the look of hurt on her face when she’d found him asleep on the sofa with an almost naked Laura next to him. The hours when she’d walked out of his life had seemed like days. Then he thought about their wedding and how the bachelor boy who had been happy to go from relationship to relationship had finally realised he was all grown up and in love. She had looked so beautiful on their wedding day. Hell, she looked so beautiful every day, especially when she was asleep. The warm glow of thinking about her began to thaw the shard of ice that had settled in his heart a little.

He had no idea what the next twenty-four hours would bring, but he knew one thing: whatever happened he would never live with himself if he didn’t catch Henry Smith. He was ready to throw everything away to keep her safe, and if anything did happen to Annie then it would be a double funeral because there was no way he wanted to live the rest of his life without her.

***

Kav drove to Cathy’s house, the whole time making sure he wasn’t being followed. He felt guilty that he didn’t need to worry as much as the others. Henry Smith was probably not the least bit interested in either him or Cathy, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t be watching. Cathy was quiet, which wasn’t like her, and as he pulled into her drive he grabbed her hand. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘Oh just the usual. I was wondering if that freak of a man is going to take away everything I’ve worked so bloody hard for over the last twenty years.’

He smiled. ‘You know that you don’t need to be involved in any of this, don’t you? In fact, I’d prefer it if you weren’t. I’d rather not be worrying about the woman I’m falling in love with getting hurt.’

She looked at him. For the first time in a long time she didn’t have a sarcastic comment to reply with. ‘And I’d rather the man who I find incredibly fuckable didn’t either, but I don’t think we have a choice. I can’t sit back and watch those two fight this on their own. Shit, I didn’t think I even liked anyone, but Annie has a way of getting under your skin without you even realising it. How does she do that? It’s not as if she tries. It just happens.’

‘I know what you mean. I feel as if she’s the daughter I never had. The scrapes she’s been through and she always comes out smiling, wanting to help everyone else and apologising for the mess. I want to see her live out the rest of her life as normally as Annie can. I can’t imagine a world without her in it.’

They got out of the car and Cathy opened the front door. ‘Look at us, we’ve turned into the soppiest and probably the oldest bloody swingers in town.’

Kav shut the door behind him, locking them inside. ‘Less of the old, I can swing with the best of them.’

Cathy leaned forward on her tiptoes and kissed him. He kissed her back then scooped her into his big, strong arms and carried her to the bedroom. ‘Let’s make this a shag to remember, just in case.’

He silenced her with another kiss. Tonight was going to be a long night. They might as well fill it doing something to take their minds off the morning.


Chapter Twenty-Seven

Henry didn’t sleep. He was so wired that he couldn’t even close his eyes. The images he saw when he did made him open them again. He had killed a lot of people – seven lives taken and they didn’t normally bother him, but tonight he felt as if each one of them was standing around his bed watching him. He knew it was the thought of finally making his move that was unsettling him. He’d waited so long for this day, but he was terrified that it might not go to plan.

What he needed to do was lure Annie to Beckett House. If he could get her there, then he could ambush her and take her into the boathouse, or better still the cellar. Yes, that would be for the best. It would be just like the last time. The old woman wouldn’t be a problem. He thought about killing her first so she wouldn’t interrupt, but technically he had no issues with her and he kind of liked her. Maybe he could get her to phone the police and request a visit from Officer Graham. He stopped himself. No, Officer Ashworth, you idiot. If she asked for Annie Graham it might set alarm bells ringing. He didn’t like her married name. It didn’t have the same ring as her own.

If she turned up with that hulking big pain in the arse he would reassess the situation, but it might just work. Megan could take care of him. As long as she took him by surprise, all she had to do was stick a knife into his side and puncture his liver. He’d bleed to death before an ambulance came. Surely she could manage that. Henry felt a little sick at the thought of finally having Annie in his arms because he knew that she wouldn’t come without a fight, but he would be ready this time.

When the small clock on his bedside table flashed six he threw back his covers and got out of bed. He knocked on Megan’s door, expecting her to be asleep, but she opened it straight away. Judging by the dark circles under her eyes she hadn’t slept all night either.

‘Morning, Megan. I trust you’re feeling a little bit better than you did yesterday?’

‘Morning, Henry. Yes, thank you.’

‘Good, because I need your help today. Things have come to a head. I feel that we need to put an end to this once and for all. Once you’ve helped me, you’re free to go and do whatever you want. I won’t come looking for you and I won’t tell tales should it all go wrong. I appreciate everything you did for me and I owe you more than I could ever repay. Are you ready to finish what I started two years ago?’

For a split second he thought she was going to say no and slam the door shut in his face, but she was obviously working out her survival chances if she didn’t agree, so she smiled at him.

‘I’m ready, Henry. I’ve always been ready.’

He reached out and took hold of her hand. ‘Good girl. That’s what I’ve been longing to hear. Between us we will be invincible and those two won’t know what’s hit them.’

‘I’ll get ready. Are you still mad at me, Henry?’

‘No, of course not. Yesterday was a bit of a revelation for me. I’ve been hiding who I really am and it all came to a head. I suppose it was going to come out sooner or later. You can only pretend to be something you aren’t for a short while before it all comes out anyway.’

He leant forward and kissed Megan’s forehead as if she was his daughter or a family friend. It wasn’t the kind of kiss that you gave your lover and equal.

Megan knew this. She knew that, after whatever happened today, she needed to get away from him, because his view of her had changed drastically in the last twenty-four hours. She could have kicked herself. If she hadn’t teased him about that stupid bitch they would still be living in relative happiness – even if it was a seriously messed-up relationship. She just hoped that he didn’t want to kill her first, but he said he needed her help. Once he had Annie he would be totally preoccupied, so she would discreetly slip away. She had packed a small bag with what few clothes and books she owned. She had left everything in her poky flat when she’d helped Henry to escape.

Maybe once she got away from him she could begin to rebuild her life – that was if she got away. The police might have her arrested before dinner time, but whatever happened, she would walk away with her head held high. After pulling on her black leggings, black T-shirt and black hoodie, she looked like any other goth. Megan stared at herself in the mirror. She missed her blonde and pink hair. She missed the heavy make-up she always used to wear. She had sacrificed everything for him and she hoped he remembered this when the time came.

The smell of bacon frying wafted under the gap in the small, plastic-coated door and her stomach groaned. She hadn’t eaten yesterday after their little spat because she’d been too worried, but she was starving now. She went out and smiled to see Henry cooking away and humming to himself. He was different but happy, and she supposed that was a good thing, for now.

***

Annie woke up still wrapped in Will’s arms. She lay there and stared at him. He was perfect. She loved the way his hair flopped to one side when it got too long, loved his clear blue eyes that crinkled at the corners when he laughed. She even loved the stubble that was growing on his normally clean-shaven chin.

Her stomach felt as if there were butterflies fluttering inside, but she put that down to what she knew might be in store for her today. Although the thought of the next twelve hours made her feel ill, she also felt as if a big weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Should anything happen to her, God forbid, at least she wouldn’t be alone. She was pretty sure that Sophie and Alice would be waiting for her on the other side to show her the ropes. It made her eyes fill with tears at the thought of it, but this was out of her control now. What will be will be. She leant up and kissed Will’s slightly parted lips and he opened his eyes. He pulled her closer to him.

‘It’s not too late to grab our passports and go to the airport.’

She giggled. ‘I think it is, but I’ll tell you what – after this is over you can whisk me away to somewhere hot and exotic to recover, because I think we’ll both need it, and you keep teasing me with thoughts of a holiday.’

‘You’re on. After this is over, if we’re both here to tell the tale, I’ll take you on a round-the-world cruise and keep you locked in the cabin so I know you’re safe.’

‘Sounds good to me. I could do that. I could spend six months locked up with you and do nothing but eat, sleep and read.’

Will poked her in the ribs. ‘I thought you were going to say sex.’

‘Well, of course, there would be plenty of time for that as well.’

He kissed her and she kissed him back, then pulled away. ‘Come on, Jake’s already up. I heard him banging around in the kitchen and this room is right above it. Besides I don’t want to tire you out. We might need to conserve our energy.’

She jumped out of the bed and dashed into the small bathroom before he could grab hold of her and drag her back to bed, even though she wanted to stay tucked up with Will for ever. When she came out of the bathroom he was dressed and on his phone to Stu. He’d given him an excuse for why he wouldn’t be in Barrow today. Said he had to go to Windermere to work and speak to some of the witnesses up there. He finished his call. ‘Well, that’s him in a mood for another week. Honestly, you would think I did this on purpose just to piss him off.’

‘He just wants to impress you, Will, that’s all. He follows you around like a lapdog. He probably thought you’d take him along for the skive.’

‘Well, I would if we were going to be skiving, but I don’t want to put anyone else at risk. I have enough guilt to last me a lifetime as it is without bringing Stu into the equation.’

‘You know he will be gutted, don’t you, when he finds out what you were really doing?’

‘That might be, but at least he’ll be alive to feel gutted. If I drag him into this I can’t guarantee he’ll still be alive by tonight.’

Annie opened the door. ‘Come on, I’m starving. I wonder if Jake has any Coco Pops.’

Will laughed. ‘What is it with you and chocolate-coated cereal lately?’

‘I don’t know, but I can’t get enough of the stuff. You know me, any excuse to eat chocolate for breakfast.’

She ran downstairs to see Alex feeding Alice and Jake grilling bacon. The smell made her gag and she had to rush to the toilet, trying not to throw up again.

‘What’s up with her now? Do you think she’s caught a stomach bug?’

Will shook his head. ‘No, I think she’s a bag of nerves, but she won’t admit it. Have you got any cereal? She said she wanted some.’

Alex pointed to the cupboard next to the fridge. ‘Just about every cereal known to man. Jake can’t resist buying whichever one is on special offer, even if we don’t eat the stuff.’

Will opened it and smiled to see a bright yellow box of Coco Pops. He took a bowl and poured some into it then put it on the table. Annie came in looking sheepish. ‘Sorry, I don’t know what’s the matter with me. Oh my God, you do have Coco Pops.’ She sat down and began to eat while the others waited for Jake to pass them bacon sandwiches. After two full bowls she looked up at them and smiled. ‘Right, that’s better. I’m ready to fight the world now.’

No one dared asked if she was ready to fight Henry. A loud knock on the door broke the comfortable silence. No one had been in the mood for small talk. Jake, followed by Will, went to see who it was. Kav and a very smiley Cathy were standing on the other side. Jake opened the door and they let go of each other’s hands. For once he didn’t make fun. He seemed relieved to see they were both happy. Life was too short to spend it sad and alone. They made their way to the kitchen and he offered them some breakfast, but Kav shook his head. ‘No, thanks, I’ve had a splendid double bacon and egg McMuffin courtesy of the top chef here.’

She pushed him, but smiled all the same. ‘I never told you I could cook now, did I?’

Kav winked at her. ‘No, you didn’t. You didn’t tell me you were such a good…’ He realised he had an audience and stopped talking, but his now red cheeks finished his sentence for him and they all laughed.

‘Right, my little flowers, who’s running this show? Someone needs to be gold commander.’

‘Are you being serious, Kav? This is not strictly police procedure, is it?’

‘No, Jake, it’s not, but someone needs to be the one monitoring and calling the shots. I suggest Cathy. She can run it from her office in the station or in the car with me. I think Will should be silver and I’ll be bronze. However, it will be open to change at any given minute, especially once task force join in; then the chief super will probably step in, but until he does that’s how it is.’

Will nodded. ‘Kav’s got a point. If we all run around like headless chickens, how can we keep an eye on what’s happening? Someone needs to give out orders and call us back to regroup if need be. I agree Cathy can monitor us from her office and make suggestions, but we’ll need to be on our own talk group so the others can’t hear what we’re doing. Preferably one that isn’t being monitored by control.’

‘Leave it with me. I’ll ring up and say we have a minor traffic operation on that we’re running from a different channel so we don’t fill up the airwaves. I’ll monitor what everyone is doing and where you all are, but make sure you keep me updated – no dashing off on your own and being heroic. I’m serious about this. We might not be strictly working by the book, but I still want it done professionally. Do you all understand what I’m saying? Because if you don’t then we go back to doing the same shit we did yesterday. You might feel as if you’re in the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but you’re not. This is real life and, after it’s all over, we are all still accountable for our actions, even if it’s only to each other.’

Nobody dared to argue with her. They were still mindful of her rank and with that came respect, because that was what the organisation had taught them from day one in training school. Will walked Annie outside to his car so he could drive her to where she’d left hers. Cathy and Kav followed, giving Jake time to say goodbye to Alex and their baby girl. Annie looked at Will. ‘Are we doing the right thing? This doesn’t feel right – expecting you all to put yourselves at risk for me. Look at Jake. He and Alex have a perfect life. What if…’

Will kissed her, then pulled away. ‘We don’t really have a choice. Stop worrying about everyone else and start thinking about yourself, please.’

Jake came out, closing his front door behind him. He wiped a tear from the corner of his eye then ran to Will’s car and jumped in. ‘Are you taking me or am I going with Annie?’

‘You’re coming with me. Annie will drive herself, but we’ll be a couple of cars behind at all times, so don’t go driving too fast. I don’t want to lose you.’

As they drove away from Jake’s house he looked back over his shoulder and Annie felt terrible for putting him in the position he was about to be in. Will stopped by her car and she opened the door. He grabbed her hand and she squeezed his back, but she couldn’t look at him because she thought that she might just burst into tears. That would be a complete embarrassment.

She started her car, the whole time begging God to watch over her friends and Will. The radio burst into life as she started the ignition and she jumped, reaching out and hitting the button to knock it off. She turned and stuck her thumb up at Will, who smiled, and then she pulled out. This was going to either be the shortest or the longest ride to Windermere she’d ever had. She just hoped that they were right and that Henry would be true to his form and make his move today, when they were all ready for him.

Martha Beckett popped into her head and she was glad of the distraction. Even after this was over there was still the problem of the monster in the cellar of Beckett House. How the hell were they going to find and kill that?


Chapter Twenty-Eight

Henry knocked on the door of Beckett House and waited to see if the old woman would answer. He was pretty sure that she would. Megan was waiting in the van for him. He’d told her he wanted to check something out next door. He didn’t tell her it was the cellar and she didn’t question him. When he had Annie, he wanted it to be like the first time around. He needed Annie to know that she may have won once, but it was still going to end in the same way. She had only managed to prolong the inevitable.

The vestibule door opened and she shuffled into sight. He smiled and waved at her and, once she realised who he was, she smiled back and opened the front door.

‘Morning, Miss Beckett, and what a frosty one it is. How are you today?’

‘I’m fine, thank you, Henry. How are you? Has your car broken down again?’

He smiled. She’d even thought of his excuse for him.

‘Yes it has. I’m really sorry to bother you.’

‘Come in. Don’t worry, it’s not a bother. You know where the telephone is. Help yourself.’

She turned and walked into the house and he followed her, smiling to himself. He paused at the telephone and she carried on into the kitchen. He looked at the cellar door and the number of padlocks and bolts on it and wondered what secrets that cellar held to be so well secured. Once more he rang his own mobile, which was on silent, and left himself a voicemail, then he walked to the kitchen.

For a moment he wondered if he should leave the cellar, leave the woman and just use the boathouse, but it just wouldn’t be the same. She was pouring hot tea into a cup, so he sat down and took it from her. They talked about the weather and how expensive cars were. Martha was obviously glad of the company. She clearly found it refreshing after all this time to be able to sit and have a proper conversation with such a polite man, while Henry was in turmoil about what he should do with the old woman whom he had a bit of a soft spot for.

When Henry jogged back to the van, his normally white face was flushed red. Megan, who was drumming her fingers on the dashboard, took one look at him and frowned. He opened the door and got into the driver’s seat. ‘What’s the matter, my flower? You look unhappy.’

‘Nothing. I was worrying. You’ve been such a long time.’

‘You shouldn’t worry about me, Megan. I’m capable of looking after myself. You don’t think a frail old woman is a match for me, do you?’

He drove off. ‘Let’s see if we can find somewhere to park near the café and see if she drives past on her way to work. You never know, she might even call in for her coffee. If my planning is right she will be on the same shift. Once she’s gone into the station we can find somewhere to hide nearby, ready to follow her, and then take her at the most convenient time.’

He parked next to a monster of a Range Rover in the small side street near the café and turned the engine off. As long as it didn’t move, this was perfect. He could just see the cars that went past, but he was hidden from their view. He had no idea whether or not they would be on to him or know what vehicle he drove, but there was no point risking it. Far better to be cautious than take it all for granted.

‘Megan, why don’t you go and get us something to drink? I could do with some caffeine flowing through my veins. It might calm down the adrenaline that’s already filling them.’

She didn’t speak but got out of the car like a good girl, slamming the door shut behind her. He flinched. She knew he hated that, but it was okay. He would remind her about it later. She was definitely a different girl from the one who had so eagerly wanted to fuck him and help him kill those two women. That was why he was glad he had never married. Women. They couldn’t make up their minds from one day to the next what it was they were going to be happy with.

About the same time as she came out of the coffee shop with two large coffees, Henry saw the shiny, brand-new Mercedes come to a stop outside and put its hazard lights on. He felt the blood rush to his head when he saw who it was getting out of the driver’s door. So it was Annie who had that big, flash car – not her boss, whoever that was.

He watched, frozen to the core, as Megan came out of the door and Annie held it open for her. Megan looked at Annie and smiled. There was a brief conversation between the pair of them and then she went inside and Megan carried on walking towards the van. He didn’t see the much older BMW that had stopped further down the street with Will and Jake inside. He was too busy trying to see Annie through the steamed-up window of the café. ‘Do you think we should drive around and grab her when she comes out of the café, or is that too risky? Is it very busy inside?’

‘Not too busy, but I think you’d be very foolish to try and get her right now. You would be stopped before you even got out of the town. For one thing, the manager in there has a massive crush on her and would run after you, and he’s a very good runner. Plus it’s too open and we stand out too much.’

‘I suppose you’re right. What did she say to you, Megan? I can’t believe that she talks to you and hasn’t realised who you are. She’s obviously not as clever as I gave her credit for. We’ll wait for her to go to the station, but at least I know which car is hers now.’

***

Annie watched the girl walk off with the two coffees and wondered why she thought she knew her. She seemed so familiar. It was probably because she had spoken to her a couple of times on her last visits. She knew Will would go mad with her. They hadn’t agreed that she should stop here on the way, but call it her sixth sense or whatever it was – something had told her she needed to call here. She ordered five coffees. This time Gustav didn’t insist on giving them to her for free, which was fine by her. The man had to make a profit sometime. He did come around to talk to her, though.

‘Gustav, how long has Meg worked here for?’

‘Not long – a couple of weeks. Why do you ask that? Don’t you like her?’

‘No, I mean yes, I like her. It’s not that. There’s something about her that makes me feel as if I should know her. Do you know her surname?’

‘Blah, I don’t remember the details. I only know most of my staff by name because of those name tags they have to wear. I have a memory that is entirely not fit for purpose, my lovely Annie.’

‘I think I need to know what it is. Can you ask one of the others or check her details for me? You will have them on file somewhere, won’t you?’

He turned to the man who was in charge of the menu today. ‘Stan, what’s Megan’s last name? Can you remember off the tip of your tongue?’

As Gustav repeated the name Meg Tyler, Annie felt her blood freeze and the room begin to swim. She turned to run towards the door of the shop and out into the front street, which was beginning to get busy. She pulled out her phone and rang Will. ‘Where are you? Did you see that girl I was talking to less than five minutes ago? I think that’s her. It’s Megan. She’s been working here right under our noses. I talk to her, for Christ’s sake. We need to find her because she had two cups of coffee in her holder, and if she’s nearby I can guarantee that so is he.’

Annie spotted Will’s BMW parked further down the street on the opposite side. He and Jake jumped out and came running across the road to where she was standing.

‘Can you see her?’

All three of them scoured the street and the cars that were parked nearby, but none of them looked familiar and there was no sign of the girl.

‘Fucking hell, we had our chance then. Right, can we get to the station, because not all of us have equipment with us? But I’ll tell you something: they must be around here somewhere waiting. So that means he’s watching.’

Will walked back into the café with Annie where she was met by a puzzled Gustav holding two carriers full of coffee. She took them from him and thanked him. Taking a moment to look Will up and down he leant and whispered into her ear.

‘Ah, serious competition.’

Then he winked at her and was gone, back to the kitchen where an almighty crash had just echoed through the shop.

Will opened her car door for her, checking that no one had climbed into the back seat while they hadn’t been looking. It was empty. He took the drinks with him. ‘Jake can hold them. Save them spilling on your leather seats.’ He winked at her and she smiled. Her face didn’t betray the turmoil she felt inside. She was so angry that she hadn’t realised who Meg was sooner. There had been something about her that had made her feel uneasy, and now she realised what it had been. The girl was almost as evil as Henry and she’d been able to sense it on her psychic radar. It was just a shame that inbuilt radar hadn’t made the connection much sooner. Things would have been a lot simpler. They could have arrested her at work and made her show them where he was hiding before he’d realised what was happening. She got back out of her car and ran into the café.

Will threw his arms in the air. ‘What the fucking hell is she doing now? Jesus, if she carries on like this I’ll have a heart attack.’

He drove up and parked on the double yellow lines behind her car. ‘Go and see what she is doing, Jake. If she’s gone back in for sugar, drag her out.’

Jake jumped out of the car and went inside. He couldn’t see her, but then he looked into the kitchen and saw her talking to the manager. He had a filing cabinet open and was passing Annie a brown file. ‘Gustav, if she turns up for work, don’t say anything to her, but make sure you ring me. Don’t let her hear you do it either. She’s very dangerous.’

He nodded his head. ‘Lovely Annie, how could this be? How could she work in my café, with all my lovely customers?’

Annie patted his arm. ‘It’s okay. You weren’t to know. We’ll catch her soon.’

She turned and saw Jake who was standing with his arms crossed. She walked towards him and he lowered his voice. ‘Your husband is in the car on the verge of a coronary because you keep changing the plan without any notice.’

She waved the file at him. ‘Megan’s personal records, phone number, address, etc. It might just make our job of finding them slightly easier, don’t you think?’

‘Not bad, not bad at all. That, my friend, is almost worth the foul language my delicate ears have just had to listen to coming from Will’s mouth. I had no idea he knew some of those words. I’ve never heard him use them before.’

They got outside and she mouthed ‘sorry’ to Will. He didn’t smile, but nodded his head. Bugger. He might have calmed down by the time they got to the station.

This time she got into her car and drove off, followed by Will, who watched Annie park outside the station. He carried on driving until he reached the next turn-off where he parked, out of the way. Then he and Jake got out of the car and made their way to the side door, which wasn’t used as much. Jake passed him the drinks while he typed in the code to get in. They walked to Cathy’s office, where Kav, Cathy and Annie were already sitting. Annie was in the middle of telling them about Megan’s job right in the middle of the town and Kav was shaking his head in disbelief. Cathy took the file from her and skimmed through it. ‘Cheeky little bitch. Who does she think she is? I mean, what a brazen little hussy.’

Will sat down on the chair furthest away from Annie. He was annoyed at her, but slowly beginning to calm down, and he found that he could actually think much more clearly when he was angry.

‘What does that file say? Please tell me it has an address we can go and pay a visit to.’

‘It does, but it’s that bloody caravan park down in Barrow. It does have her phone number and I don’t see why she would give him a false one. How else would he have contacted her to tell her about the job? It’s not much, but it’s something.’

Jake passed the coffees around. Annie shook her head and he raised an eyebrow at her.

‘You give us a bloody heart attack with your detour for a latte, and now you don’t want it? Are you ill? You love coffee.’

‘I know. Sorry about that. I just wasn’t thinking. No, I’m not ill but my stomach feels really off. Anyway, it was meant to be. If I hadn’t stopped, we wouldn’t have found out about Megan, would we?’

She stood up and went to the ladies’ locker room. She didn’t want them to see how much her hands were trembling or for them to hear her throwing up. There was no one else inside but her and she tried her best to be sick, but couldn’t. This was all she needed – to turn into a wimpy wreck. She was standing pressing her hot head against the cool tiles by the sink when Cathy walked in.

‘You look like shit, kid. Maybe we should call this whole thing off. Bring in task force and let them get on with it.’

‘No, I mean, I feel like shit, but I don’t want to put it off. I need it to be over with today and you have to admit it, we’re so close. What were the chances of my going to the coffee shop the same time as her for a takeaway? He’s close by, Cathy. I can feel him. I’m not bothered about her. She’s just a kid. I feel pretty confident I can take her out on my own, but he’s a different game altogether.’

‘I agree with you, but I’m worried about you.’ She walked over and pressed the back of her hand against Annie’s forehead. ‘You have a temperature. Let’s get some paracetamol down you and see how you feel in thirty minutes before we decide to send you out like a sitting duck.’

‘I don’t want to take anything, but thanks. They might make my stomach feel worse than it is.’

‘Will’s pretty pissed off with you, but I think that might be a good thing for now. If he’s too busy fawning over you, there’s a good chance he’ll fuck it all up anyway. He’s in there calling out the shots like the professional he is, so keep away from him. Don’t tell him you feel like shit and keep your mouth shut. I’ll do the talking. You are just going to agree with whatever they have decided to do. Is that okay with you?’

Annie nodded, hating that Will was still angry with her, but if it made him focus and kept him and everyone else safe she would keep making him angry. Then Cathy did something that almost made Annie faint. She walked over and hugged her.

‘I’m relying on you to keep yourself and the rest of us alive. Today is not the day any of us is going to die. Kav would be destroyed if anything happened to you. He thinks the world of you and, if that were to happen, I’d be devastated, because he is the best shag I’ve ever had. But don’t you go telling anyone that; it’s our secret.’ She winked at Annie who began to laugh. All the tension from the room had gone.

Annie squeezed her back. ‘I know. He’s been like a dad to me and I’m so glad the pair of you are so, erm, compatible. You actually make a really good couple. I can’t believe it’s taken you both so long to get it together.’

Cathy pushed her arm through Annie’s. ‘Come on, when this is all over I might need you to help me plan a wedding. You know, Kav once asked me to marry him a long time ago and, like the fool I was, I turned him down. Then I ended up with the cock of the North who treated me like shit and left me anyway. I’m not waiting around for years, so that’s another reason you can’t go and get yourself killed today.’

Annie stopped at her locker. ‘I’ll be out in a minute. I need to put my kit on; and Cathy, if you so much as leave this station, make sure you put yours on too.’

‘I will. Now come on, let’s go catch our killer.’

She left Annie to get dressed and walked back into her office to see Will writing out his plan on her whiteboard. Kav looked at her and she smiled, then mouthed, ‘She’s okay.’ He nodded then looked back at Will, taking in every word that he had written down.

***

Henry drove past and saw the Mercedes. ‘Good. She’s there. Now where do you think we should go?’ He turned into the same street where Will had parked, then turned the engine off and got out of the car. ‘I’m going to find somewhere to loiter for a while and watch to see who she comes out with and what car they go off in. Then I think I know exactly what to do to get her to come to us without any risky botched jobs in the middle of a busy street in broad daylight.’

‘What are you going to do, Henry?’

‘All in good time. I’ll tell you when I’m definitely sure that will be our plan. There’s no point in confusing you, is there?’

She watched him stroll off, his black jacket zipped up. He had a big scarf wrapped around the lower part of his face and a black woollen hat pulled down low on his head. He looked like every other middle-aged tourist and blended in seamlessly. His scars were barely visible. He stopped for a moment to pull on a pair of thick, woollen gloves and then he walked off towards the station.

She looked at the cheap, black phone on the car seat. Now was her chance. She could phone 101 and tell the police that England’s most wanted man was outside one of their stations waiting to kidnap a police officer, but she didn’t know if they would take her seriously. Probably not, knowing her luck, and by the time officers had come out Henry would have realised what she’d done and killed her anyway. She tugged her own hat out of her pocket and pulled it over her head, trying to disguise herself a little. If Annie came out and saw her sitting in the van, it might make her realise something was wrong.

After twenty minutes he came back grinning. ‘We’re on. Our lovely Annie just came out of the station and got into a police car all on her own. They must be short-staffed today because she’s normally with that giant beast of a man. Which means this is wonderful news for us, Megan, just wonderful.’

‘Are we going to follow her, then?’

‘No, it’s too obvious. I think we should go to the caravan park and you can phone up to say you’ve been in a car accident on the opposite side of town. Just before she came out, two policemen came out and got into a van. Hopefully, they will send them to the accident that isn’t, and then I’ll phone again and ask for help at that big old house. If she’s on her own, they might send her, if it’s nothing that one person can’t handle. We’ll lure her in and take it from there.’

Megan thought it all sounded pretty good. Where on earth he got his ideas from she didn’t know, but if it meant that this would all be over with soon, then good.


Chapter Twenty-Nine

Annie drove around aimlessly for the next forty minutes, backwards and forwards through the streets of Bowness and Windermere, hoping that Henry was watching. When there wasn’t much happening she pulled over near the café and waited to see if she could see either Megan or Henry lurking around.

Will had looked so different in his full uniform. She’d never seen him in black combats and fluorescent yellow body armour, and she hadn’t been able to stop staring. Will and Jake had gone out in the van, scouring the streets as well. A call came in for an accident, and control shouted Jake’s collar number to go to it. They couldn’t say no because, technically, Jake and Annie were the only uniformed officers on duty until the next shift started in an hour. She stayed where she was, making sure the locks were on so no one could jump in the car with her.

Her phone began to ring and she answered it. ‘Yes, Kav, I know. I’ve just parked and I’ve locked myself in. I won’t get out of the car, I promise. You don’t need to come down. I’m fine. I don’t need a babysitter just yet.’

The control room shouted her number, but she didn’t catch it until they shouted again. ‘Annie, we have a Martha Beckett on the phone from Beckett House. She’s asking if there’s any chance you could pop over and see her. She said it won’t take long.’

‘Yes, I will. Can you tell her I’ll be there in five minutes and she’s to let me in?’

‘Will do.’

Annie’s radio began to ring in her ear and this time it was Cathy’s voice on the other end. ‘Wait until Jake’s finished with this minor accident before you go there.’

‘It’s fine. I don’t think a ninety-year-old reclusive woman will be much of a threat. She doesn’t go anywhere or talk to anyone. She won’t exactly have Henry Smith hiding in her house, will she?’

‘I suppose not. Look, if you get there and anything isn’t right, get the fuck out. She can wait.’

‘Yes, boss, I will.’

‘Good, Kav’s having a shit fit. He said he’ll go with you.’

‘Tell him to calm down. It’s fine. She’s a lovely old dear. I’ll let you know when I’m clear from there, and we can regroup and try something else.’

‘Roger.’

Annie started the car, pleased to be doing something to break the boredom that was settling over her. She hated being cooped up in a car on her own. It was crap not having anyone to talk to. As long as Martha Beckett didn’t expect her to go down into that cellar and fight that monster on her own, what could possibly go wrong?

Annie drove into the now familiar drive of Beckett House and parked in front of the door. She looked around the gardens just to be sure there was no one around, but they were empty. It was so sad that such a beautiful house and gardens had been left so unloved. She got out of the car and walked up to the front door and rang the bell. Then she waited. It was a big house for one old woman to live in. Surely she’d be much better in a retirement flat.

There was no sign of Martha, and Annie began to worry. What if she’d fallen over or had a heart attack? She tried the door but it was locked, so she walked to the big picture windows that looked onto the lake and tried to peer through the gap in the curtains. It was dark inside and she couldn’t really see anything except the outline of the dark furniture that filled the room. Making her way round to the back of the house where the kitchen was, she thought she would see if that door was open. Martha might be in there with the kettle boiling and unable to hear her knocking.

She walked up to the glass door and took hold of the handle to push it down. As she did, she felt the familiar small, freezing hand that belonged to Sophie pull her own. ‘Annie, you have to run. He’s coming.’ Annie felt every hair on the back of her head stand on end as a dark shadow fell over her. Not even looking behind her, she stepped sideways and did what Sophie told her. She began to run. As she lifted her hand to press the bright orange emergency button on her radio she saw Megan step in front of her, swinging a large piece of wood. It hit her on the temple and she felt her knees give way as she started to fall towards the hard gravel. She lost consciousness before she hit the ground with a loud thud.

***

Jake drove up and down the street where the accident had been reported, but didn’t see anything. He slowed down and Will put his window down to ask a couple sitting outside one of the cafés if they’d seen anything. Both of them shook their heads and Will felt his stomach flip. ‘Where’s Annie? Where did they send her when they gave her a job ten minutes ago?’

‘Beckett House, but Martha’s a sweet old woman who lives there on her…’ Jake didn’t finish the sentence because Will was shouting ‘Annie’ over the radio and getting no reply. Jake took out his phone and rang her, but it just rang out.

His radio began to ring and a breathless Kav gasped, ‘I don’t know where the fuck this house is, Jake. Come and get us now.’

Will looked across at Jake. ‘Don’t you dare. Get your lights on and get us there now. They can find their own way to it. I’m not wasting any time.’

Will felt his hands shaking, and his head began to feel as if it was full of cotton wool. Jake put his foot down. Turning on the lights and sirens, he began to drive way too fast to the house by the lake. The whole time he kept shouting for Annie on the radio with no response. He heard the control room asking Cathy if they wanted reinforcements to help search for Annie and she screamed, ‘Hell, fucking yes,’ back at them, making Jake wince.

‘There was no accident. It was a decoy. The crafty bastard knew you’d have to go to it.’ Will slammed his hand against the dashboard.

Jake couldn’t think of a worse road to travel along at break-neck speed and hoped to God they made it in one piece without taking any pedestrians or other motorists out.

***

Cathy was zipping up her body armour as she was running for the door. ‘He won’t pick us up. They’re not going to waste any time. Come on, Kav, I’ll drive.’ She plucked a set of keys off the board in the small office and they ran out to the van.

‘Fuck, fuck, fuck. You told her I’d go with her. Why didn’t she wait for me?’

‘We might be panicking over nothing yet, Kav. For all we know she could be sitting having a cup of tea with this old bird and might not be able to get a radio signal. You know how these mountains and hills make the signals drop out all the time, don’t you?’

‘Let’s hope so.’

***

Henry and Megan half carried, half dragged Annie into the kitchen of Beckett House. He was fuming with Megan for hurting Annie like that, but she would have hit her emergency button if she hadn’t, so he understood why she’d done it. But still, he didn’t like that she’d grinned when Annie had dropped to the ground.

‘As soon as we get her into the cellar I want you to go, get away from here. You’ve served your purpose. This is personal. Do you understand what I’m saying, Megan?’

She nodded. ‘What about her?’ She pointed to the old woman who was semi-conscious on the floor and tied up. ‘I’ll take care of her as well. Take the van and go. Thank you for all your help.’

Megan looked at him in disgust, clearly annoyed that he was just dismissing her like a naughty child after everything she had done for him, everything she’d given up. They picked up Annie again, who was a dead weight, and began carrying her towards the cellar. He’d taken the key chain from around the old woman’s neck and had already unlocked the bolts and padlocks while waiting for Annie to arrive. He swung the door open and tugged on the cord, illuminating the stone steps. The smell of earth and a much stronger one of decay, which he recognised, hit his nostrils and he wondered what the old woman had been keeping down here. They struggled to get Annie down the steps – they were so steep – without dropping her, but they managed it and set her down on the damp, cold floor at the bottom.

‘Thank you, Megan, now go and leave me to do what I have to do.’

She stood up, her face a mask of anger and whispered, ‘Fuck you, Henry,’ between clenched teeth. But she turned and walked up the steps. As she got to the kitchen she saw the flashing blue lights illuminating the drive and heard the police van skid to a halt on the gravel outside. She heard two voices as one shouted at the other to go around the back.

Picking up one of the large carving knives from the draining board, she wondered at how heavy it felt in her hands. Then she wondered what it would be like to actually stab it straight through someone’s flesh. She fell to her knees by the sink seconds before one of the coppers pushed the back door open and walked inside the house. A man’s voice shouted ‘Annie’. There was no reply because she was out for the count, about to be slaughtered like a pig in an abattoir.

Megan smiled to herself. The copper stepped in just past her and stood still to listen. At the same time he sensed there was someone behind him she lifted her hand and thrust the knife straight into his side, under his body armour at an angle. He let out a gasp and fell to his knees. Megan stood up, wiping the blood that had seeped from the wound onto her leggings, and watched as he fell forward. His hand clutched at the knife that was now protruding from his side and he gasped for breath. She stood over him and smiled.

‘You fucking bitch. Where’s Annie?’

***

Annie blinked then tried to open her eyes. If she’d felt queasy before it was nothing compared to how she felt now. She had no idea where she was, and then the smell of damp, rotting earth assaulted her nostrils and her lungs, making it hard to breathe. The tightness in her chest, as cold fear lodged inside it, was overwhelming when she realised what had happened. She didn’t speak, too afraid to let him know she was conscious, but she could sense that he was close by. Her head was lifted and she felt him pull her close. Annie wanted to scream, but who was going to hear her? He’d done it, tricked her, and this was where it was all going to end, back in a cold damp cellar like the one where it had all begun. She tried not to cry out with revulsion when Henry started to stroke her hair.

‘After all this time we finally made it, my beautiful Annie. I have to admit I never thought I’d see the day that I’d hold you in my arms once more, but look at us. Here we are. We were meant to be together, you and I. It was our destiny. How could you deny fate? Last time you were too scared and I understand that. I truly do. But I promise it won’t take long.’

She choked back a sob as he pressed the cold, sharp blade against her neck. He lifted her head closer to his face.

‘Are you awake now? I need you to wake up so you can see me, Annie, see the joy in my eyes at being reunited with you.’

Henry didn’t notice the monster that was pulling itself out of the drain in the corner of the cellar. It cautiously put one clawed hand out of the hole and sniffed the air. It could smell blood and fear. Silently now, it pulled its whole body from the drain and stood on its two long, spindly legs. Wary of the noise its clawed feet would make on the hard, stone floor, it moved closer to the man who was holding the woman on the floor.

***

Jake hammered on the front door one last time then ran around to the back where the kitchen door was wide open. He ran in and saw Megan standing over Will. Why was Will on the floor? He looked at her blood-stained hands, then realised something was seriously wrong. Forcing himself to look away from her and at his friend, he pressed his radio. ‘Control, boss, Kav? Urgent assistance at Beckett House. Will’s bleeding, everywhere.’

Jake pulled out his taser and shouted his warning to her, but she turned and ran, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to leave Will like that. ‘Fuck.’ He bent down to press his fingers against Will’s neck, thanking God that there was a pulse, even though it was faint. It was only when he knelt down that he noticed the old woman on the floor, tied and gagged. She blinked her eyes and he nodded. Pulling every tea towel off the draining rack he pressed them against Will’s side where the blood was seeping from. He picked up Will’s limp hand and put it on top of the wound. ‘You have to hold this on as best as you can and hang on. Help is on the way. Please don’t die on me, Will.’

Then he looked up and saw Megan standing by the open cellar door. He knew she was luring him down there, but he also knew that was where Annie was. He was torn between who to help first, but the old woman began to shuffle over to Will, so Jake ran after Megan. She was grinning at him, which made his blood boil. He lurched for her, but instead of catching hold of her arm he pushed her and she teetered on the top step before falling backwards in slow motion, her arms waving around in the air as she tumbled all the way down into the blackness at the bottom. As she hit the last concrete step a loud snap echoed around the cellar and Jake knew that she was dead, but he didn’t care. It was nothing more than she deserved.

He ran down the steps into the blackness and stopped when he saw Henry crouched on the floor with a semi-conscious Annie in his arms. Jake moved and Henry lifted the knife so he could see in the muted light. He looked over at Megan whose neck was bent at a strange angle with her unblinking eyes staring at something he’d never see. Realising she was dead, Henry cried out to her, then forced himself to take control. He looked at Jake, who was frozen to the floor, staring at something that was moving behind Henry. Henry didn’t dare look away from Jake in case he made a move. Henry bent down and tenderly kissed Annie, then raised his knife ready to slit her throat.

***

Cathy parked next to the van and they both ran towards the open kitchen door. She took in the scene that greeted her and paled at the sight of Will lying there bleeding out on the floor with the old woman whose house it was tied up, but trying her best to stop the bleeding. Kav scooped Martha from the floor, sitting her down on a chair.

‘Go find Annie. I’ve got this.’

Kav nodded then turned and ran for the cellar door. Before he got there the most terrible sound he’d ever heard filled the stairs and hall and he felt his bladder loosen. There was a human scream this time, which made his feet move as he took the stairs two at a time, ready to rip Henry Smith’s head off. But as he got to the bottom he didn’t understand what he was seeing. Henry Smith was fighting with something that looked like a giant man, only it wasn’t. Its sharp claws were slashing at his body, drawing blood.

Jake snapped into action, running to scoop Annie up in his arms and pull her away from whatever it was. Kav stood next to him. ‘What is that thing?’

‘I don’t know, but I think now’s the time to leave.’ Jake ran up the stairs first as fast as he could, with Annie thrown over his back.

Kav was pushing him, screaming, ‘Go, go, go.’ As Jake reached the landing he stumbled out into the light with her. Kav was halfway up. He couldn’t move. The thing had just drawn its long, sharp claws across Henry Smith’s throat and Henry collapsed towards it, the hot, coppery smell of blood filling the air. He looked over at Megan’s body, shrugged his shoulders and ran up behind Jake in case the thing came after him. He didn’t care that Henry and Megan might not be dead. He wasn’t about to risk his life to go and check on either of them. He slammed the cellar door shut and threw all the bolts across.

Annie clung on to Jake. ‘Is it over?’

He hugged her back tightly. ‘I think so.’

Then he carried her into the kitchen where she locked eyes with the ashen figure of Will on the floor and Cathy with a mound of blood-soaked towels in her hands, trying to stem the bleeding. Annie screamed and untangled herself from Jake’s arms. Still light-headed, she tripped and fell to the floor, crawling the last few feet to Will.

‘No. Please, Will, open your eyes. Please, you have to open your eyes, Will. Don’t you leave me here on my own.’ She cradled his head in her arms while Cathy was pressing down with all her strength on the wound in his side.

‘Please God, where’s the ambulance? Tell me there’s one on its way.’

Cathy nodded at her and they heard the sirens coming closer. Jake ran out down the gravel drive to the gateway to flag it down.

Annie bent down and kissed Will’s lips. ‘Come on, Will, it’s over. We did it. Henry’s dead. Open your eyes.’

Will’s eyes fluttered open; he took one look at his wife and smiled before losing consciousness once more. The paramedics rushed in and began to work on him. Jake took hold of Annie and pulled her away.

‘Come on, let the experts do their job.’

He pulled her close and held her while she sobbed.

Kav untied Miss Beckett. ‘Are you okay? Did they hurt you?’

‘I’m fine apart from a bruised head and a cold bottom; I hope that young man is going to be okay. What on earth were they thinking? I’ve never seen anything so horrific in my life as the way that young woman stuck that knife into him as if he was nothing.’

‘I don’t know. It’s hard to say what makes people behave like that, but at least they won’t be hurting anyone else.’

‘Why, where are they now?’

‘In your cellar.’

The fear on her face told Kav that this frail old woman knew something about whatever the thing down there was, and he sat down opposite her.

‘I saw something in the cellar, but to be truthful I have no idea what it was, except that it was absolutely terrifying. Do you know anything about it?’

She nodded her head. ‘You saw it and you’re still alive to tell the tale? You are a very lucky man, officer. I don’t know what it is but it has lived in the sewers and drains under this house for a very long time. It took my little brother in 1930 and we never saw him again. Tell me, did it hurt those two evil bastards? Pardon my language.’

‘The girl fell down the steps and broke her neck, but the man…’

Kav wasn’t sure what to say. He had a feeling he shouldn’t be saying anything, but the look on her face was imploring him to speak, so he did. Jake had also seen it, and he wasn’t sure if Annie had been conscious at the time, but that was three of them.

‘The man got into a fight with it. There was a lot of blood, but I think the creature may have killed him. I don’t know about whatever it was, because the last I saw of them they had collapsed in a heap of blood and gore.’

Martha crossed herself and held her hands together to say a prayer, and then she looked at him.

‘I have spent my entire life a prisoner in this house, terrified of that cellar and the thing that lived within it, yet I couldn’t sell up and move away. I couldn’t put another family through what I’ve been through. It wasn’t right. I hope to God that it’s dead so I may finish off my days without living in complete fear.’

‘Well, we’ll find out for sure in the next couple of hours. I’m afraid it’s going to be a long night for you, Miss Beckett. We will need to bring in an armed team of response officers to secure your cellar and remove the bodies. I think you might be best going to the hospital and getting checked out. At least you’ll be well away from it.’

‘That’s very kind of you, but I have to be here. I need to know if it has come to some harm, or whether it escaped.’

There was some noise as the paramedics decided they had stabilised Will enough to take him out to the waiting ambulance and blue-light him through to the nearest hospital, where the surgical team was on standby to take him into theatre. Annie insisted on going in the back of the ambulance with Will. The paramedics had told her she should follow with Jake, but she wasn’t having any of it. ‘I promise I won’t get in the way. I can’t leave him. He’d never leave me if it was the other way around.’

Jake helped her to get inside then jumped straight back out. ‘I’ll meet you up there, Annie.’ He slammed the doors and watched as it drove away, sirens and lights flashing.

Cathy looked at him. She was covered in Will’s blood. ‘Is it over, Jake?’

He nodded. ‘Yes, it’s over. We might finally be able to start living our lives again.’

‘What about Will?’

‘He’ll be fine. He’s probably going for the sympathy card. How many times have we had to watch him fretting over Annie? He’s probably getting his own back.’

Jake winked at her. Even though his stomach was a bag of nerves, he wouldn’t let her see just how scared he was for his friend. ‘Are you coming to the hospital?’

‘Not yet. I’d better wait for the troops to come and clear up this big, bloody mess we’ve made. I can’t leave Kav on his own to deal with it all. He’ll want to go to the hospital to see how Will is as soon as he can.’

‘Thanks, boss. I don’t know what we’d have done without you.’

She laughed. ‘Probably exactly the bloody same. You lot are giving me stomach ulcers, I’m telling you now. I want a nice peaceful life after this is all over. Try and get that into Annie’s head, will you, Jake?’

Kav walked outside. He wrapped an arm around her waist.

‘Now can you wonder why I was so desperate to ship her up to you? I was hoping that she wouldn’t get into too much trouble up here. Sorry about that.’

‘You crafty old bugger. Yes, I do understand, but I’ll tell you something; there’s something about Annie we all love, including the local psychos, and if you hadn’t sent her to me I wouldn’t have found out that you might just be the man of my dreams.’

Jake clapped. ‘Aw, I love a good love story. Right, I’m off. I want to make sure Will doesn’t flake out and leave me to deal with Annie on my own for the rest of my life. I love her, but I don’t need this much stress every few months.’

He winked at them and got into his car, switching on the blue lights so he could catch up with the ambulance. In fact, he’d give the bloody thing an escort to the hospital to make sure they all got there in one piece at the same time.

31 December 1931

It had been a whole year since Joe had gone into the cellar and never come back out. Martha had grown up more in the last twelve months than any young girl her age should have to. She had been watching for the monster, but that day in June had been the last she had seen of it.

The next day in the kitchen she’d heard Mary gossiping to Lucy about someone falling into the lake. No one could find the body, even though it hadn’t been long before the alarm had been raised. Martha didn’t say anything to them, but she knew they never would find the body of whoever had been so unfortunate. The body had been dragged through the maze of tunnels and sewers to wherever the monster lived and slept. Martha hoped, no prayed, that whatever it was had gone to sleep for a very long time like Arthur had told her.

Each night she would creep down and listen at the cellar door to see if she could hear it scurrying around on the cold, limestone floor, its sharp claws clickety-clacking as it tried its best to get into the house. The first few times, Martha had heard nothing but the pounding of her heart as the blood rushed around her body; the fear had been so strong. But when she listened night after night and there was nothing but silence, no scratching and no tinkling of the jack-in-the-box, she began to feel braver. She knew that the monster thing would kill her if it got the chance, but a part of her had died the night Joe had gone anyway, and she wondered if it would be so bad. At least she would be back with Joe and they could play together again. No child should have to feel as lonely as she had done this last year.

There was no party tonight like there had been every other year that she could remember. The staff had all been given the night off and Martha’s mother had taken to her room earlier, crying and sobbing. Her father had promised he would play a game of snakes and ladders with her, which would be nice, but he was obviously torn between comforting his wife and his daughter. Such a harsh life lesson on divided loyalties was another thing that no child should ever have to learn.

She had gone downstairs to listen at the cellar door because she could hear the muffled voices of her parents as they argued. She felt guilty because they were no doubt arguing about her. For a heart-stopping moment she thought she heard a scraping sound coming from the cellar below, but then the back door slammed shut, making her jump away from the door to see a windswept Davey come inside.

‘Good evening, miss, what are you doing down here all on your own?’

‘I was just…I was just listening.’

Davey nodded. ‘I see. And what were you listening for?’

‘I don’t really know. My brother, I suppose. You know what day it is, don’t you?’

‘I do indeed. That’s why I came back to see if you were all right. I could never forget what day it is, young Martha.’

She nodded her head. ‘Good. I’m glad you won’t forget and I’m glad that you came back. It’s so sad and lonely here now.’

‘I know. This isn’t the same house, is it?’

‘Davey, did you see it? I heard Father say that he sent you down into the tunnels to look for Joe and you were terrified. Was that because you saw the monster man?’

He knelt down so he was at eye level with her. ‘I’m not going to lie to you, Miss Martha, because you’re far too clever for that. I didn’t see it as I’m seeing you, but I saw something that was big and scary. It scared me so much I thought I was going to pee in my pants and I haven’t done that since I was…well, since I was younger than you.’

‘I saw it too. I saw it on the lawn one day as it was getting dusky. It was by the water’s edge and it was staring up at this house. I was scared, but I couldn’t look away from it. It had long pointed teeth and big black claws instead of fingers. I don’t want it to come and gobble me up like it did Joe.’

‘I don’t know what it is, Martha, but it’s not like you or me. It lives in the sewers that run along this side of the lake and somewhere down there it must have a place to live and sleep, because I haven’t heard sight or sound of it for months now, and trust me, I’ve been listening for it just like you have.’

‘Davey, do you think that it’s gone to sleep? Father’s friend said it probably has.’

‘I do. I think that you can sleep a bit easier now, miss. I was talking to some of the men in the…well, it doesn’t matter where it was, but they said that the last time someone went missing around here was that man who fell off his boat last summer. So I think that maybe it sleeps for an awful long time, just like those bears that hibernate in the big forests in America. So if it’s hibernating that means it’s forgetting all about coming round and sniffing in that cellar.’

‘I hope so. Thank you for telling me, Davey.’

‘Let’s just hope that neither you nor I are still here when it wakes up.’

Martha nodded her head. She didn’t think she would be here when it woke up, and if she was she would buy a gun and shoot it herself.

‘Davey, does my father know any of this?’

‘I’ve told him what I’ve told you, but I don’t know if he was listening to me the way you have. Those friends who came to visit told him a lot of things about it as well. That was why we painted those funny symbols around the house to protect us all. One day, Miss Martha, you might have to explain it all to him again, but for now he is in a world of hurt and pain. I know he tries his best, so you keep on being patient.’

‘I will, thank you.’

‘Now come on, miss, let’s go and play a game of snakes and ladders. I bet you can beat me with your eyes shut.’

Martha began to giggle. She tried to picture herself wearing a blindfold, playing a game, and that made her giggle even more. Just then her father appeared at the top of the stairs. He smiled to hear his daughter laughing.

‘You’re just in time, sir. Miss Martha was going to show me how to lose at snakes and ladders.’

‘That would be the two of us then, Davey, because she always manages to beat me as well.’ He ran down the rest of the stairs and scooped her up into his strong, safe arms and Martha let out a sigh. A look passed between the two men. They shared a terrible burden – of knowing that a monster lived in the sewers – and it was a secret that would bond them to each other until one or both of them died.


Epilogue

Will had been in surgery for four hours and they had removed his spleen and repaired his ruptured kidney. He’d had blood transfusions and was on strong painkillers, which made him do nothing but sleep. He’d woken up a couple of times to see Annie at his bedside. She was sporting a black eye, just for a change, and had butterfly stitches on the side of her head, but she was alive.

He’d thought he was going to die when Megan had buried that knife in his side. Will had never known pain like it, but a young girl’s voice had kept whispering in his ear that he had to stay and fight it. She had such a sweet voice. He remembered at one point asking her what she was called, and she told him Sophie. When Annie’s voice had taken over, telling him to stay with them, he had known that everything was going to be fine, give or take a hospital stay. He’d been so relieved to feel her stroking his head and talking to him, it had made him more determined that he wasn’t going to die at the hands of Megan and Henry. He opened his eyes and Annie was curled up on the reclining chair next to him reading a magazine. ‘Hey, beautiful, what are you reading?’

She jumped off the chair, throwing the magazine to one side, and bent to kiss his dried lips. ‘A baby magazine. It’s all that was left in the waiting room.’

He laughed. The door opened and in walked the doctor who had treated Will when he was first rushed in, and then Annie once Will had been stabilised.

‘I’ve got your blood results back, Annie. I don’t know if you want to discuss them now or somewhere private.’

Annie’s face paled and Will found himself crossing his fingers that it wasn’t anything bad, not after everything else.

‘You can tell me now. There’s nothing that we don’t share with each other.’

Will reached out for her hand and clasped her fingers tightly.

‘Well, I’m pleased to tell you that I know the reason you are having so many problems with your stomach and feeling off.’

He paused and she nodded. ‘I’m relieved to say that it’s nothing serious. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Congratulations, Annie. You’re pregnant.’

Annie stood up, then had to sit back down on Will’s bed again. She took one look at Will, who had the biggest smile on his face she’d ever seen, and she began to laugh.

‘Oh my God, I’m pregnant. We’re pregnant. Are you sure?’

The doctor shook her hand and then Will’s.

‘I most certainly am. I’ve arranged for you to have a scan to check everything’s okay after what you’ve been through, but I’m not worried at all. It’s just routine. We’ll be able to find out how far on you are.’

He began to walk towards the door, then stopped and turned to face them both.

‘Oh, the one piece of advice I insist you take is to stop chasing serial killers, at least until the baby is born.’ He winked at her and walked out of the room.

Annie looked at Will. ‘Are you angry?’

‘Angry – are you kidding me? It’s the best news I’ve ever heard. Apart from you saying that you’d marry me. I’ve never been so happy. Thank you, Annie.’

She bent down and kissed him. The colour had returned to his cheeks and he looked much more like the Will she knew. They both looked at each other and said simultaneously, ‘Oh my God, who’s going to tell Jake.’ Then they started to laugh.

The Lake House
The Lake House

CARINA™

ISBN: 978 1 474 03341 1

The Lake House

Copyright © 2015 Helen Phifer

Published in Great Britain (2015)

by Carina, an imprint of Harlequin (UK) Limited, Eton House, 18–24 Paradise Road, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1SR

All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This edition is published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, locations and incidents are purely fictional and bear no relationship to any real life individuals, living or dead, or to any actual places, business establishments, locations, events or incidents. Any resemblance is entirely coincidental.

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The Lake House


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