A Silent Death

Peter May

The following is an exclusive excerpt from A Silent Death, by Peter May. Expatriate fugitive Jack Cleland watches his girlfriend die in a tragic chase involving Police Officer Cristina Sanchez Pradell, he vows to exact revenge on Cristina, and he plans to do it by getting to her aunt Ana, a deaf and blind woman Cristina loves dearly. And only Investigator John Mackenzie, a brilliant but irritable detective, can catch Cleland before he does irreparable damage.

Mackenzie woke late, sun streaming through the French windows to fall in burning bands across his bed. He had managed to kick off all his covers, and was lying in a twisted heap, naked apart from his boxer shorts.

The shortness of the bed had not inhibited his sleep as he had feared. Fatigue had overcome all obstacles to comfort. But now he had a bad taste in his mouth and a growling in his belly.

The shock of looking at his watch to see that it was after ten o’clock propelled him out of bed and into the shower. He dried and dressed quickly. A pair of jeans, a T-shirt, pristine white sneakers. He felt oddly starched in his new clothes as he went downstairs to the bar. There he wolfed down a couple of churros and washed them over with two large cups of cafe con leche. No one, they said, had called for him, and he wandered out into the street wondering what the hell he was doing here. The town had already come to life. Locals sat out on the pavement terrace, and at the bar across the street. A couple of mini-markets were doing brisk business, and pale people clutching doctors’ prescriptions came and went from the phar- macy next door. A little further down, a couple of old men perched on a bench seat, leaning forward on gnarled sticks to exchange observations on life in the shade of the colourful overhead sails. The sun was already striking heat off stone pavings where sunlight fell between the shadows. Everything, it seemed to Mackenzie, was covered in a fine dust. It had barely rained in weeks.

Impatience turned to irritation, and he set off along the street in the direction Lucas had taken him the previous evening. He remembered his embarrassment at the strained atmosphere between Cristina and Antonio, and his failure to steer a smoother social course out of troubled family waters. He sympathized with Lucas, recalling how alienated he himself had felt when his aunt and uncle fought over the dinner table – or rather, when his uncle had picked a fight and shouted at his wife.

The lower end of the street was dominated by the town hall – ayuntamiento as it was called in Spanish – with its mosaics around the entrance and its flags hanging limply in the airless heat. A terrace rose above the road, as the narrow thorough- fare fell away, and steps took him down into the Plaza del Vino. Although there were cars parked along both sides of the street, there were few people in the square.

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Half a dozen liveried and unmarked vehicles sat outside the police station, beyond the fire station with its loitering bomberos and Mackenzie ran up the steps to the main entrance.

The duty officer looked up from his desk as Mackenzie entered the foyer. ‘Is the Jefe around?’ The policeman flicked his head towards the hall and the open door to the Jefe’s office. Mackenzie went through, knocked and entered.

The Jefe looked up from a pile of paperwork which had been engaging his concentration and seemed pleased to see him. ‘Señor Mackenzie.’ He stood up and held out a hand. ‘Did you sleep well?’

‘Too well, Jefe, and half the day is gone already.’

The Jefe shrugged. ‘It is Spain, señor. We start early and work late. It is too hot once the sun is up.’

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‘Crime doesn’t wait for the weather, Jefe.’ Mackenzie’s dis- approval was clear.

The other man laughed. ‘You always say what you think, señor. I like that.’

Mackenzie said, ‘Most people don’t.’ He hesitated. ‘Jefe, since Cristina is away this morning, I wondered if I might borrow a car. It feels like I’m just wasting my time hanging about up at the hotel. I could be checking out Cleland’s haunts down at the port.’ The Jefe shook his head. ‘Not possible, I’m afraid. We would need permission from a higher authority. And then there is the question of insurance.’ He sat down and waved Mackenzie into the seat opposite. ‘Cristina will be back this afternoon.’ ‘Have there been any developments at all?’

‘The fi police in Malaga have frozen those three bank accounts you uncovered yesterday, so Cleland will be feeling the pinch when he starts running out of ready cash. We’re tapping every underworld source we can to try and get some notion of where he might be hiding out, and who’s helping him.’

‘And how seriously do you take the threat on Cristina’s life?’ The Jefe laughed. ‘I don’t. Cleland’s just looking to scapegoat his own conscience. I’m sure he has other more important

things to occupy him now.’

‘What about the message he asked her brother-in-law to deliver?’

‘Amateur dramatics. Just trying to scare her.’

‘He’s succeeding.’

The Jefe leaned forward on his desk. ‘Señor, if I really thought she was in danger I would have her confined to the house under armed guard until Cleland is caught. Trust me, he has bigger fish to fry.’ He sat back. ‘You’re Scottish, Cristina tells me. I spent two weeks in Scotland once. Salmon fishing in the Outer Hebrides. Best fishing of my whole life. Of course, conservation being what it is these days, we had to throw back all the salmon we caught. Do you fish?’

‘Unless I was fishing to feed myself I would consider it a waste of time. Catching fish only to throw them back with their mouths half torn open, seems pointless and cruel.’

The Jefe raised his eyebrows in amusement. ‘I take it that’s a no.’

Mackenzie nodded solemnly. ‘Do you like whisky, then?’

Mackenzie smiled finally. ‘I have been known to sip the odd dram.’

‘I love the stuff. I have a wonderful collection at home. Everything from Lagavulin to Glenmorangie. I prefer the peaty kind myself.’

‘I’m a glens man,’ Mackenzie said. ‘Softer, sweeter whisky, aged in old sherry or madeira casks. Balvenie Double Wood is my favourite.’

The Jefe beamed. ‘I have that very one. The triple wood, too. You must come up some evening and we’ll sample a few. I’m all on my own these days.’ And his face clouded. ‘Since my wife passed.’ But the cloud cleared quickly and he added, ‘If you’re here long enough, that is. We’ll both be happy to get that bastard sooner rather than later.’

Mackenzie nodded his agreement. ‘We will.’

The Jefe sat back in his chair and regarded Mackenzie for several long thoughtful moments. ‘Ah to hell,’ he said. ‘Just don’t crash the bloody thing. And we’ll not tell anyone upstairs.’

Mackenzie opened his eyes in surprise. ‘You’re letting me have a car?’

The chief heaved himself out of his chair. ‘One of the priv- ileges of being the Jefe. Come on,’ he said, and Mackenzie followed him out through the hall and foyer to the steps out- side, stopping only to retrieve a set of keys from the front office. ‘Take the Seat at the end of the line. It’s just a little car, and with your long legs you’ll have to tuck your knees under your chin, but it’ll get you from A to B.’

Mackenzie nodded towards the car immediately below them. A shiny black Audi Q5. ‘I was hoping you might offer me that one?’

The Jefe laughed uproariously. ‘That’s my car, you cheeky bastard! You’ll take what I give you, or you can hoof it down to the port under your own steam.’

Santa Ana was an ugly utilitarian town that had grown up around a quaint little  fishing village stretching  between Condesa and Casares Beach. Remnants of the original village were still to be found along the shore, which was littered now with the fishing boats that went out early each morning to supply the dozens of fish restaurants on the coast.

Mackenzie drove quickly through the Santa Ana agglomeration before turning off the A7 to double back through a tunnel that ran beneath it and out into the Port of the Countess. He parked under palms fibrillating with the chatter of tiny green parrots barely visible among its fronds, and walked through the burgeoning heat of the day into the cool shade of an arcade that led him along to the Condesa Business Centre which had proved so fruitful the day before.

He’d had a thought. It had come to him the previous night after turning out the light. It had haunted him through all his dreams and still been there when the sun woke him belatedly this morning. Now it was burning in his brain and he wanted to put it to the test.

The sandy-haired Dickie Reilly was standing behind his counter. He looked at Mackenzie with undisguised dismay when he stepped out of the shade of the arcade and into the gloom of the business centre. He kept his voice low when Mackenzie approached. ‘Repeated visits from the police are not good for business.’

‘Oh? Why’s that?’

‘Because people don’t like the police, Mr . . . Mackenzie, was it?’

Mackenzie smiled. ‘Well, who’s to know? I’m on my own today, and not a uniform in sight. All I’m looking for is a simple answer to a simple question.’

‘Which is?’

‘Where would I go to find out if someone owned a berth at the marina?’

‘Ian Templeton, you mean?’

Mackenzie shrugged. ‘Anyone. It’s hypothetical.’ ‘The tower,’ Reilly said.

‘Where’s that?’

‘It looks like a lighthouse, but it’s not. At the entrance to the breakwater. A blue and white building. That’s where you’ll find the port authority.’

‘And they can tell me who owns what berth?’

‘They can, but they won’t. That’s privileged information. Unless you have some kind of official authorization. But, as you say, not a uniform in sight. And no warrant either, I’d guess.’ He smiled smugly.

‘Thank you for your help,’ Mackenzie said.

The sea was almost painfully blue as Mackenzie walked squinting into the sun towards the far end of the marina. A constant stream of white-sailed yachts came and went. They littered the water beyond the breakwater like scraps of paper blowing in the breeze. A speedboat cut noisy arcs out in the bay, washing white circles in sparkling azure. Pantaláns, or quays, branched off at right angles, yachts and motor boats and dinghies berthed along either side, bobbing almost imper- ceptibly on the gentlest of swells, the air filled with the sound of steel cables chapping on metal masts.

Access to the pantaláns was barred by locked gates, sur- veillance cameras mounted on each. Berths were expensive, security was high.

Mackenzie saw a young girl in a bikini taking buckets and mops and cartons of cleaning materials from the boot of a car parked opposite Pantalán 4. She was lithe and muscular with deeply bronzed skin and hair bleached blond by the sun. She smiled at Mackenzie as he passed. He nodded. ‘Hola,’ he said. He imagined that if he spent his days cleaning boats in full sunshine, he too would end up the colour of teak. And maybe the sun would find some blond in even his dark hair.

He noticed that the deeper into the marina he walked, the larger the boats. Only smaller ones were berthed close to the port itself.

The port authority sat right at the end of the access road, where the breakwater offered protection to the inner harbour. A collection of blue-and-white-painted buildings from which the tower itself rose above the breakwater, designed by some fanciful architect to look like an old lighthouse. Mackenzie climbed steps to an office at the foot of the tower. A middle- aged woman looked up from her desk, peering at him from behind a computer monitor. A large TV screen mounted on the wall behind her segued through a carousel of images from security cameras around the port.

Buenas dias, señor. Can I help you?’

Susan had always told him that when he faked a smile it was like the grimace of a chimp behind bars in a zoo. He trusted he was doing a better job of it today. ‘I hope you can,’ he said. ‘A friend of mine, Ian Templeton, told me that the berth next to his was for sale. Or rent. He wasn’t sure which. I wondered if you could clarify that for me, and tell me how much it would cost.’ His jaw ached from his chimpanzee smile.

She gave him a curious look. ‘What’s the number of his berth?’

‘I have no idea.’

She sighed. ‘Templeton, you said?’

‘Yes. Ian.’

She tapped her keyboard and manoeuvred her mouse around the desk, peering myopically at the screen in front of her. ‘Yes, here we are. Pantalán 4, berth 405. Which side of it did he say was for sale?’

‘He didn’t’

She glared at him. ‘He didn’t tell you very much, did he?’ He tried to factor apology into his smile. ‘Sorry.’

She frowned at her screen. ‘Well, neither of them are for sale or rent. Are you sure it wasn’t one opposite?’

He shrugged unconvincingly, certain that she could see right through him. ‘Eh . . . maybe.’

She shook her head again. ‘There’s nothing available on

Pantalán 4 at all. I can give you something on 3.’

‘Oh.’ He hadn’t been expecting that. ‘No, no . . . it’s alright.’ ‘Well what kind of boat do you have?’

He hesitated. ‘A . . . A big one.’ Which was what this excruciatingly lie was turning into.

She frowned. ‘Can you be more specific?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘Not really. Just, you know . . . big.’ His smile, he was sure, would have turned milk sour by now. ‘But it’s okay. I’ll talk to him again. Thank you very much for your help.’ And he hurried out before she could ask him anything else, force-feeding the lie to grow from big, like his fictitious boat, to unbelievable.

As if in punishment for lying, the sun seemed to strike him a blow as he stepped again into its relentless heat. He breathed a long sigh of relief. Deception was not his forte. Still, he had established one thing. Cleland kept a boat here, registered to Templeton, at berth number 405 on Pantalán 4.

A motor launch had pulled in to Pantalán 5 to refuel from the Repsol pumps, and he glanced down the quays that stretched away towards the port, gates all locked. No way to take a look at Cleland’s boat without going through official channels. He began to walk back along the access road towards the port and took out his phone, resigned to reporting his discovery to the Jefe. He stopped at Pantalán 4 and saw that the nearside berth was number 401. Counting along, he saw Cleland’s boat berthed at 405. It was a sleek white motor yacht with a long nose like a shark, an impressive superstructure rising towards the stern of the vessel. The sweep of its smoked-glass windows wrapped around the front of the cabin and either side, hiding its interior from the casual observer. Clip and zip canvas covers sealed off the rear entrance. He saw a maker’s name printed high up beneath an external cockpit. Princess 52.

He looked at his phone and saw that he had a 4G signal, so initiated a Google search for the make and model. A second- hand boat for sale came up on his screen almost instantly. This was an expensive beast, 15.95 metres long, or 52 feet 4 inches, which was the source of its model name. It had twin 630-horsepower Volvo diesel engines with a cruising speed of 22 knots. This one had been built in 2000, and still commanded an asking price of €200,000. He had no idea what vintage Cleland’s boat might be, but it looked brand spanking new, so was worth, perhaps, anything up to a million. The Princess 52 had three cabins with room for six guests.

Mackenzie swiped through photographs of the interior. This was a luxury vessel. Beneath the external cockpit, a generous lounge and kitchen area of white leather and polished wood gave on to the internal cockpit. Stairs led down to sleeping quarters below, where the three cabins shared two bathrooms and a shower room.

He stood gazing at it through the bars of the gate with something like awe. He could never have dreamed of owning something like this, but had never aspired to. Boats, he knew, were notoriously expensive to run and maintain, and for most owners would provide only occasional use. A measure of the affluence that Cleland had accumulated by trading in other people’s misery, the price of all the ruined lives he had left in his wake. Mackenzie felt his hackles rise.

‘Hello again.’

He turned, startled, to find the teak-coloured girl in the bikini smiling at him, a bucket and mop in one hand, a box of cleaning fluids beneath her other arm. There was a key dangling from a tab held between her clenched front teeth.

‘Open the gate for me?’ She had difficulty with the p and the f and the m.

It took a moment for him to realize what she meant. He blushed. ‘Of course.’ He removed the key delicately from her mouth to unlock the gate and hold it open for her.

‘You can just drop it in the bucket,’ she said, indicating the key in his hand, and it occurred to him for the first time that she was speaking English. ‘My name’s Sally.’ She glanced at him, inviting a response.

‘John,’ Mackenzie said reluctantly.

‘Dreaming, were you?’ She nodded towards the yachts.

For once the lie sprung quickly to Mackenzie’s lips. ‘No, I just came down to check on my boat and realized I’d left my key at home.’

‘Oh. Which is yours?’

‘The Princess 52.’

She looked along the pantalán and picked it out. ‘Nice one, John. You don’t fancy taking out a little cleaning contract on it, do you?’

‘That’s what you do, is it?’ he said. ‘Clean boats?’

She started walking along the quay and he fell in step beside her.

‘It pays for me to spend the whole season down here. And get a great tan at the same time. I sleep on the boats, too, so I have no accommodation costs. Next year I might go back to Cambridge and finish my degree.’ She smiled. ‘Or the year after. Or maybe I’ll meet some rich yacht owner who’ll sweep me off to some distant blue horizon and I’ll never need to graduate.’ She cocked a mischievous eyebrow in his direction.

He laughed. ‘You’re looking at the wrong man.’

She feigned disappointment. ‘Gay?’


‘Aren’t they all?’ She gave him a cheerful grin. ‘See you later.’ And she headed off along the pantalán, leaving Mackenzie standing at the stern of the Princess 52. He watched her walk to the far end and climb aboard a long, sleek-looking sail boat. When she had disappeared below, he turned towards Cleland’s boat and saw that it was called Big Rush, one of the many street names for cocaine. It rekindled his anger. But an unzipped flap of the canvas cover that weather-protected the rear deck stilled it before it took hold, replacing it instead with a sudden stab of disquiet. Was it possible that this is where Cleland had been hiding out the whole time, right under their noses?

On full alert now, he stepped carefully from the quay on to the exposed lip of the rear deck and felt the boat dip a little in the water from his weight. He stood listening intently, but all he could hear was the gentle purr of motors propelling boats in and out of the harbour, and the cries of seabirds swooping and wheeling overhead. Across the water, at the far side of the marina, the Varadero la Condesa boatyard was winching a boat from winter storage to take its first dip of the year. Its pristine keel cut into mirrored water sending concentric rings off in light-catching circles.

Mackenzie lifted the flap and peered inside. The door to the lounge stood open, and the carpeted luxury beyond it simmered in semi-darkness. He breathed in deeply, smelling leather and aftershave, and all his instincts told him there was somebody there.

He waited several long seconds for his eyes to adjust to the dark after the glare of sunshine on water outside. Very cautiously he moved forward, passing through the open door to feel soft carpet underfoot. The lounge with its open-plan kitchen and the cockpit beyond appeared empty. The hatch to the lower deck stood open. Mackenzie ran a practised eye around every surface. A pair of well-worn boat shoes sat under a dining table strewn with maps and charts. A pullover lay discarded on the settee.

From nowhere a shadow materialized from the darkness, taking form and sudden human shape to deliver a disabling blow to the side of Mackenzie’s face. Light filled his head and his knees buckled beneath him. His full dead weight hit the floor with a sickening thud that expelled the remaining air from his lungs in a single long sigh.

His attacker stepped swiftly over him towards the door and from somewhere Mackenzie summoned coherent thought and sufficient strength to reach out and catch an ankle. It was enough to unbalance the other man, who toppled face-for- ward to strike his head on the doorframe and roll over on to his back. Mackenzie fought to suck air into his lungs and fuel his lunge towards the supine figure on the floor, only to feel the full power of a flat-footed kick in his chest. It felt as though his rib-cage had been crushed by the blow and he fell back again to cry out in pain, rolling to one side to avoid further blows.

The other man got to his knees as Mackenzie tried to get to his, and they found themselves staring straight into each other’s eyes, breathless and perspiring. It was Mackenzie’s first face-to-face with Cleland and he saw the crazed light in his psychotic blue eyes. How was it Cristina had described him? Quite mad.

‘You fucker!’ Cleland screamed, and his voice resounded deafeningly in the enclosed space of the cabin. Mackenzie lunged again, catching him off guard. He fell backwards with Mackenzie on top. Mackenzie could smell coffee on his breath, and garlic from yesterday. And something else. Something rank.

Mackenzie hissed in his face, ‘You’re claimed, Cleland. I’m taking you all the way down.’

For a moment Cleland went limp, and he looked into Mackenzie’s face, surprise writ large on his. ‘Scottish!? You’re fucking Scottish!? You came all the way down here just to get me?’

‘That’s right, Cleland. And take you back, too.’

‘Like fuck!’ He bucked hard beneath Mackenzie, and with an enormous effort rolled him off to the side. He was a big man, physically stronger than Mackenzie, and his fist felt as if it were clad in chainmail as it smashed into Mackenzie’s face. Blood bubbled into Mackenzie’s mouth, and he felt the bitter iron taste of it. He lashed out with his own clenched fist and felt pain jar through his arm all the way to the shoulder as it made contact with Cleland’s head.

Cleland cursed, and staggered to his feet. Mackenzie could do nothing to stop him. Nor could he prevent the other man from sinking a foot hard into his solar plexus. He doubled up, gasping with pain, and felt the searing heat of the midday sun as it spilled momentarily into the back of the boat through the open canvas flap. Cleland was through it and gone.

With an enormous effort of will, Mackenzie dragged himself to his knees, supporting himself on the corner of the built-in settee. His eyes settled on a flare gun clipped to the fascia beside the wheel in the cockpit. He scrambled to his feet and staggered across the cabin to wrench it free, then ran to the stern of the boat and out into blinding sunlight.

He blinked fiercely to focus on the fleeing figure of Cleland as he sprinted along the pantalán towards the gate. The fugitive had to stop and fumble for a key to open it. Then with a back- ward glance he was out and pounding along the access road towards the port. Mackenzie limped after him, holding his side with one hand, clutching the signal pistol with the other. He caught the gate before it closed and stumbled into the road. He had a clear shot at Cleland’s back as he ran towards steps that rose in two flights towards the road behind the port. He levelled the pistol. There was a good chance that the flare would bring him down. It might do him damage, though it probably wouldn’t kill him.

But there were holidaymakers on the road. A young couple with a baby in a pram, a family with a dog, a boy on a bike, Cleland brushing them aside as he sprinted past. Mackenzie clenched his teeth and bellowed through them in pure frustration. There was no way he could release the flare. God only knew how accurate the pistol might be, or what kind of injuries it could inflict on innocents.

Instead, he raised the gun above his head and fi ed it angrily into the air, sending an arc of pink smoke soaring into the sky above the puerto to explode in a bright flash of red that cast its reflection like blood across all the still waters of the marina.

He caught a movement in the corner of his eye and turned to see Sally standing at the far end of the pantalán, mop in hand, gawping at him in astonishment.


From A Silent Death by Peter May. Used with the permission of the publisher, Quercus. Copyright © 2020 by Peter May.

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