Excerpt

Splinter in the Blood

Ashley Dyer

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Splinter in the Blood, a debut release from the two authors collaboratively known as Ashley Dyer, crime writer Margaret Murphy and police veteran Helen Pepper. In the following passage, a well-known member of a community is attacked, and suspicion quickly falls on the woman who found the grievously injured man.

The woman held Greg Carver’s front door open for the paramedics. They took the steps slowly on snow now trodden to slush and ice. Her own footwear impressions leading from the fire escape at the side of the house and down the drive had been quickly covered by the steady fall of snow. A police helicopter clattering overhead shut off its NightSun beam and moved off in an abrupt manoeuvre, most likely recalled as the snow whirled and thickened. Lights flashed on emergency vehicles, arc lamps lit up the driveway of Carver’s house and crime-scene tape was strung fifteen metres either side as an outer cordon to keep gawkers at bay. She followed the medics to the waiting ambulance and spoke a few words, watching until Carver was lifted inside.

A Scientific Support van was parked inside the cordon. Two CSIs and the Crime Scene Manager stood at the rear, suited up, ready to move in when they were given the okay.

The woman took a breath before heading over to them. ‘It’s all yours,’ she said.

‘Is it true?’ The CSM said.

‘It’s Carver,’ she said.

‘Jesus, Ruth.’ He touched her elbow.

Detective Sergeant Ruth Lake edged away. ‘Eyes everywhere,’ she murmured. She’d seen two local journalists outside the tape already.

‘Where are they taking him?’ he asked.

‘The Royal.’ Her throat closed and she couldn’t say any more.

‘Anything I can do?’

‘Just be thorough.’

‘Goes without saying.’

Lake tilted her head, a gesture of apology.

‘I touched the doors—handles and locks—’ She frowned as if trying to recall. ‘Light switches and the chair—in the sitting room at the front of the flat. He was—that’s where I . . .’

He nodded. ‘Understood. We’ll need your footwear.’

She scratched her eyebrow. ‘I’ll get it to you.’

‘How’d you get in?’

‘It was wide open,’ she said, avoiding a direct lie. But her hand closed involuntarily around the key fob in her coat pocket, and she looked away.

He ducked his head, forcing eye contact. ‘If there’s evidence in there, we’ll find it, Ruth.’

She blinked, twice. ‘I know.’

‘Trained by the best,’ he said.

She couldn’t manage a smile.

Detective Superintendent Jim Wilshire wasn’t media-friendly police.

A car turned into the street and a beefy man got out, fastening his overcoat and striding through the crowd of onlookers as if they were invisible. Detective Superintendent Jim Wilshire wasn’t media-friendly police.

Taken by surprise, the two journalists at the tape turned a little too late to get a decent shot, and he ducked under and was fifteen feet away by the time they regained their equilibrium.

‘Superintendent,’ one of them called out. ‘Sir—is it the Thorn Killer?’

Ruth Lake exchanged a look with the CSM. ‘I’ll catch up with you later,’ she said.

The CSIs headed inside, and she straightened her back, waiting for the superintendent.

‘Detective Sergeant Lake,’ Wilshire said.

‘Sir.’

‘Join me.’ He walked to the far side of the outer cordon where there were fewer people. There, he unfolded a huge black umbrella, more to shield them from the crowd, she suspected, than as protection from the weather.

She stepped under its canopy.

‘Greg Carver?’ His voice was lighter than you would expect in a big man.

She nodded.

‘Who’s the First Officer Attending?’

She looked guilelessly into his face. ‘I am.’

‘You got here fast.’

‘Actually, I found him.’

He frowned. ‘This was, what—thirty minutes ago?’

‘Thereabouts.’

He checked his watch. She knew it was ten past midnight.

‘Odd time of night to be making a social call, Sergeant.’ His tone was speculative, inviting explanation rather than demanding it.

‘He wanted to talk about the case.’

‘Odd time and place for a meeting,’ he said, sharper, now.

She nodded, felt her eyebrow twitch, but didn’t comment.

He watched her for a few more seconds, and she forced herself to breathe slowly and stay calm.

Behind her, the road lit up and she heard the sound of an approaching vehicle, followed by the creak of tyres on fresh snow. She glanced over her shoulder as a large vehicle braked to a halt. Mersey View—a local cable TV company. Wilshire hated those people more than all the others.

‘Sir?’ she said.

He looked past her at the broadcast crew scrambling out of the van.

‘All right, I’ll let it pass—for now,’ he said. ‘But you heard the press when I got here. They’re already asking if this is the work of the Thorn Killer. So you need to brief me.’

She took a breath, exhaled, put herself in the right mindset to give her boss the details he needed to hear.

‘He was sitting in an armchair in his front room,’ she said. ‘He’s been shot in the chest at close range.’ She cleared her throat. ‘It looks like a small calibre bullet.’

‘You know this because . . .?’

‘I was a CSI,’ she said. ‘I’ve seen a few shootings. And . . . there wasn’t much blood.’

But she’d smelled it well enough. The coppery stink rose in her nostrils again.

Wilshire said, ‘Are you all right?’

‘Fine,’ she said. ‘Just—’

He nodded, then shifted position slightly, and she realized he was blocking the cable TV crew’s view. ‘It’s understandable. But you need to hold it together. It’s your scene till the OIC gets here.’

‘I said I’m fine.’

He drew his brows down, and she knew she’d sounded snappish. To hell with him. ‘Who is the Officer In Charge?’ Wilshire’s nostrils flared, and she added, ‘If you don’t mind me asking, sir.’

‘DCI Jansen,’ he said, his tone stiff. ‘He’ll be here in twenty. He’ll want to know if you compromised the scene in any way.’

Her heart stopped for a moment, then began again, a slow, thick thud in her chest. ‘I’m a trained CSI,’ she said.

‘Even so, in the heat of the moment . . .’

‘I was careful,’ she said, truthfully.

‘Did he say anything?

‘Carver?’ she said stupidly.

‘Yes, Carver. Did he say anything?’

‘I thought he was dead.’ She felt a horrifying bubble of laughter surge up in her chest, and gripped the keys in her pocket so hard she felt the cut edge break the skin of her palm.

‘That doesn’t answer my question.’

She bit her lip.

‘Sergeant Lake?’

Ruth swallowed the humiliating urge to laugh and shook her head, focusing on a patch of pure white snow that reflected the light of the emergency vehicles stuttering red and blue, seeing Carver’s eyes staring back at her, the flicker of the lights recalling the slight tremble of his eyelid, the moment she realized he was still breathing.

She started to shake.

Sergeant,’ Wilshire hissed, moving in so close that she had to take a step back.

She looked into his face and the shaking stopped.

‘Look, the ambulance is about to leave. Go with him if you want—these media clowns will be on at you until they get a comment.’ More press had begun to pile in—national outside broadcast crews, already in town reporting on Kara Grogan, swelled the numbers of local journalists. They set up their own arc lamps and called from the edge of the cordon, agitating for an update on the situation.

‘I need to work,’ she said.

‘You can’t work the scene, and you can’t work the case—you know that.’

‘You can’t work the scene, and you can’t work the case—you know that.’

‘More use on the j-job,’ she said, then clamped her jaw shut to stop her teeth chattering.

‘Where’s your car?’

Lake jerked her chin towards her Renault Clio, parked opposite Carver’s house inside the police cordon, with Carver’s files and the gun still in the boot. She should have moved it after she’d called emergency services; right now, it was officially part of the scene.

‘Come on.’ Wilshire took her by the elbow. ‘We’ll talk in there.’

‘What?’ The Files. The gun. ‘No!’ She pulled free of him.

‘Lower your voice, Sergeant,’ Wilshire hissed.

‘Sorry, sir. I—I mean I should stay.’

‘You’re showing signs of shock,’ her boss said. ‘We need to get you out of this storm.’

He meant the snowstorm, but she thought he had never said a truer word.

‘Get in your car, I’ll wave you out after the ambulance—unless you want me to get someone to drive you home?’

Relief washed through her. ‘No—I can drive. Thanks.’ She fumbled her car keys from her coat pocket and got behind the wheel, staring straight ahead as uniformed police moved the media vans out of the way to let the ambulance through. The ambulance’s emergency lights and the press cameras strobed on her eyeballs, half-blinding her, but she gripped the wheel till it creaked with the tension and gritted her teeth and kept the wheels turning until she was out of the street.

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From SPLINTER IN THE BLOOD. Used with permission of William Morrow. Copyright © 2018 by Ashley Dyer.




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