In preparation for the release of No Good Reason in June, the good folks at Bold Strokes Books have just published its prologue and first two chapters over on its pre-order page. If you fancy a taster of the book that’s “Brittier than Snowbound” (TM – my editor) then hit the link or continue reading this post.
There are big old spoilers in here, obviously.
She hurt. She hurt when she opened her eyes, and she still hurt when she closed them. Her tongue felt thick, too big for her mouth, and sticky against the cloth bound across it. She shouldn’t be able to feel the cold grit beneath her bare thighs, the dampness of the air, the raging thirst; she had never been able to feel them before. She had never been able to move before, either, to touch her fingers to the slick stone or to raise her hands and feel what they were tied with: some kind of plastic-coated rope, knotted tightly enough to bite into her skin. The muscles in her arms were leaden and slow to obey, her fingers fumbling as she pulled the cloth away from her lips. She tore at the rope with her teeth, snarling and weeping with frustration when it refused to slacken. A slither of sound made her freeze, breath held, heart racing, but nothing followed, no footsteps, no grunt of effort as if something heavy were being lifted. He never seemed to be gone for long, but then how could she gauge the time through the darkness and the drugs?
She jumped as a droplet of water splashed against her shoulder.
She was unsure whether she had drifted to sleep, unsure what she had been trying to do beforehand. Her hands twitched as if to prompt her, and with a shock of remembrance, she began to work at the rope again. Blood oozed into her mouth from her cracked lips, but the knot showed no sign of loosening. She gave up and drew her knees toward her, unable to stop herself gasping as she picked at the bindings around her ankles with stiff fingers. This knot put up little resistance, though the ligature left puffy circles in her numbed flesh.
She fell as soon as she tried to stand, bruising her hands and face against the stone. The pain gave her a split second of clarity, and she almost identified the vague thought that was nagging at her, but it faded at once. Letting it go, she staggered to her left, toward the point from which he always approached. She squeezed through the only gap she found and let the fresher air guide her path, a thin breeze that wrapped itself around her skin and set her shivering, even as she sucked in huge, grateful breaths. Leaving the stench of blood, excrement, and urine behind, she threw herself at the wooden pallet wedged into the low entrance point. Kicking at the planks drove splinters into her heels, but the air was growing cleaner still, and she could see flashes of the outside now. One final push knocked the barrier down, the momentum hurling her onto her hands and knees. She crawled over the threshold and then got to her feet, swaying and trembling and surrounded by nothing.
“Oh God, oh God.”
Nothing: no lights, no obvious paths, no signs of civilisation. There was just a thin sliver of moon and the wind howling across the moors.
“Somebody help me, please,” she whispered. “Please, please.”
She was still begging even as she started to run, her feet alternately sinking into the wet peat and tearing on the gritstone. She lost count of the number of times she fell and had to stagger back up. Only once did she stop, to quench her thirst at a small pond. Unable to coordinate her bound hands, she lowered her head and lapped at it like an animal, the water tasting earthy but clean and cold. When she stood again, her head swam, and her vision twisted in dizzying circles. She closed her eyes, listening to the wind whistle through the boulders, their massive silhouettes darker even than the sky. One day, not long ago, she had climbed rocks like that, scrambling for footholds and handholds, reaching up toward…
She shook her head, the memory indistinct and already slipping. No longer able to run, she could only stagger along what she hoped might become a path. Minutes passed, maybe hours, but the sky never lightened, and the path never materialised.
At least I got away from him, she thought, and in that instant, the ground disappeared from beneath her, leaving her in freefall. She landed with limbs entangled, her head striking against a rock. She took a breath, the pain already fading.
“At least I—”
Leaning back in his chair, the young man facing Sanne Jensen picked something from a tooth with a grime-stained finger and then grinned at her. His teeth were uneven, one broken, one missing, and all unbrushed. Sanne didn’t smile back.
“No comment,” he said, and the machine recording his interview abruptly clicked off, as if it too had reached the end of its tether.
Sanne set her pen down beside her notepad. “Mr. Clark, I’d like to thank you for your time and your illuminating contribution to the investigation.”
Callum Clark narrowed his eyes, not quite sure whether she was being sarcastic. He looked at his lawyer, who indicated that they had been given their cue to leave.
“Detectives Jensen, Turay. We’ll look forward to hearing from you.” Such was the lawyer’s haste that he almost bumped into Clark’s chest as Clark stopped and turned back to Sanne.
“Name like that”—Clark pointed his thumb at her ID badge—“I thought you’d be—”
“Blonder?” she offered.
“Taller.” He tilted his head to one side. “But yeah, now you mention it, blonder too.” He sounded disappointed, as if the futile hours of questioning in a stifling room that stank of crappy coffee and his own dubious hygiene habits had had the potential to be far more entertaining.
Sanne took the implied criticism on the chin. “Yeah, I get that a lot,” she said, ignoring her partner’s snort of laughter.
The lawyer ushered Clark out into the corridor, and the door swung shut behind them. Sanne leaned forward, her vertebrae cracking as she attempted to rest her head on her folded arms. Weariness made her miss her target, her forehead thudding onto the table.
“Fuck.” She groaned but didn’t have the energy to move. “Four hours, Nelson,” she said against the cool plastic. “Four hours of our lives we’re never going to get back, thanks to that little shit.”
Nelson Turay clapped her shoulder, and she banged her head on the table again. “Fancy a drink? My shout. Abeni’s taken the girls round to see her mum.”
Sanne pushed herself upright. “Cheers, mate, but I promised to meet Meg, and I need to type up the notes for the Dawkins case, or the boss’ll have my arse.”
She showed him her notepad, holding it in front of her like a trophy. “I kept a tally.”
“One-oh-one?” He whistled in disbelief, displaying his own pad, which contained a similar series of marks. “Damn. I only got ninety-seven. Sure yours is right?”
“Must’ve wigged out a bit toward the end there.”
“Well, you can double-check when you listen to the tape.” She winked at him and ducked as he tried to swat her. They had held a rock-paper-scissors tournament to assign that particular task, and he had lost, badly.
“Not tonight,” he said. “If you’re ditching me, and I have the house to myself, I will be eating pizza and drinking beer while dressed in naught but my underpants.”
She stared at him. “Thank you for that image. My day is now complete.”
“Don’t say I never do nothing for you.” Holding the door open, he gestured for her to leave first.
She glanced once more at the scrawled lines in the margin of her notepad and sighed. In four hours, six minutes, and approximately thirty-two seconds, Callum Clark had repeated the phrase “no comment” one hundred and one times.
It was never going to work. The angle of approach was too acute, the pressure too fierce, and the aim slightly off. The man jerked at the first sting of discomfort and howled as the needle dug in deeper.
“You fucking bitch!”
Her reactions honed by years of experience, Megan Fielding stepped calmly into the firing line. She placed one hand on the man’s chest, pinning him to the bed, and used her other to pull the startled junior doctor out of his reach. The junior’s ID marked her as Foundation Year One, that tricky transitional period between being a medical student and a registered doctor.
“Enough,” Meg snapped, as the man actually growled at her. “I’ve had enough.”
He held up his arm, displaying blood oozing from a popped vein, and pointed at the F1. “She did that on fucking purpose.”
“She did that because she’s new and because you moved your fucking arm,” Meg said. The F1’s face paled, and her mouth dropped open. Meg ignored her. “Now, it’s not our fault that—for the fourth time in as many weeks—you’ve decided to wash down a month’s worth of diazepam with a year’s worth of gut-rot cider. And it’s definitely not our fault that your veins are all shot to shit. Personally, I’d leave you to sleep it off and suffer the hangover, but protocol and a certain oath, yadda, yadda, yadda…” She tightened a tourniquet around his upper arm and prodded the crook of his elbow. “You going to stay still this time?”
“You going to hit the fucking vein?”
She pursed her lips and blew out a breath. “Can’t make you any promises, I’m afraid.” She palpated one of the few veins that the F1 hadn’t ruined, before sliding the cannula into place. “There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” The blood bottles clinked as she dropped the samples into the tray. She turned to address the F1. “Start a litre of saline, and refer him to psych when he’s sober enough to talk about it. That is, of course, unless he kicks off and then absconds, like he did on the last three occasions. In which case”—she made a show of checking her watch—“we’ll see him again in about seven days.”
The man opened his mouth to respond, froze, smacked his lips together, and projectile-vomited all over Meg’s scrubs top.
She took a belated step back. “Well, that’s just fucking perfect.”
As the printer churned out page after page of Sanne’s case notes, she stood by the window and let the bleating of sheep and the hum of traffic heading into Sheffield blot out the mechanised drone. Six months ago, a contractor rushing to meet a deadline had painted the window shut, and of the nine detectives in the East Derbyshire Special Operations department, only Nelson had the knack of opening it fully. The warm air wafting in did nothing to temper the stuffiness in the office, but at least it smelled more pleasant. Sanne knelt to push her face closer to the narrow gap.
“I don’t recall authorising any overtime for you, Detective.”
The sound of Eleanor Stanhope’s voice provoked a Pavlovian response. Sanne bolted upright, forgetting about the window and bouncing the top of her head off its frame.
“Ow, fucking hell.” She clamped a palm over the injured spot and looked up at the detective inspector. “Sorry. Ow, fucking hell, ma’am.”
Eleanor smiled. “Were you planning to stay here all night?”
“No, but I’m off tomorrow, and I needed to finish up the Dawkins notes.” Sanne quickly gathered the printed sheets and clasped them to her chest. “I was going to have a final read-through before I left them for you.”
“Why don’t you just give them to me now and go home? It’s late. I know you came in early, and I also know you spent the afternoon being no-commented by one of the finest scrotes Halshaw has to offer.” Eleanor held her hand out expectantly. “If I were you, I’d be neck deep in a bottle of Scotch by now.”
“I’d settle for fish and chips with a cup of tea.” Despite the lightness of her tone, Sanne surrendered her paperwork with reluctance, nervous about typos or questionable grammar that she might have overlooked. Even after twelve months, she was still the most junior member of Eleanor’s team. She had been selected on merit alone—Eleanor made no secret of her disdain for positive discrimination—but the urge to push herself that little bit harder than most had been ingrained in her from an early age. EDSOP’s remit was major crimes—murders, rapes, serious assaults, kidnappings—and they covered a large swath of east Derbyshire. Prior to joining the team, Sanne had worked Response for three and a half years, and she’d never regretted the move.
Eleanor slid the sheaf of papers into her briefcase and snapped it shut. “Go on. Get yourself to the chippy.”
They crossed the room together and paused at the door to Eleanor’s office.
“G’night, boss.” It went without saying that the DI would be working into the early hours.
“Night, Sanne. Enjoy your day off.”
That brought a smile to Sanne’s face. She had met her deadlines, cleared her outstanding caseload, and triumphed at rock-paper-scissors. For the first time in months, she had nothing work-related left to do.
“Cheers, boss.” She grabbed her jacket and leaned over her computer to log out of the system. As she headed for the stairwell, her phone buzzed. Meg’s text was brief and to the point.
Running late. Got puked on. Fancy a chippy tea at mine instead?
The hospital’s shower pressure left a lot to be desired, but the water was hot and plentiful, and Meg felt herself beginning to relax beneath it. She shampooed her hair and then let her arms fall to her sides, allowing the thin stream to do the work of rinsing for her. Her back ached, and she could still smell a trace of alcohol-laced vomit, even through the body wash.
“Sod it,” she muttered, switching the shower off. “Better than it was before.”
Her torso was rubbed almost raw where she had tried to scrub herself clean. Already starting to shiver in the cool bathroom, she dabbed the abraded skin with her towel. Once dressed and somewhat warmer, she tossed her filthy scrubs into a clinical waste bag, collected her belongings, and carried everything out into the corridor.
“Bright side, Doc?” one of the porters called to her, as he wheeled a patient past. “Least it happened at the end of your shift.”
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up.” She smiled as he over-steered his trolley and bounced it off a doorjamb.
“Bugger. Sorry, Ethel. See you tomorrow, Doc.”
Meg turned in the opposite direction and dumped her waste bag in the sluice, before hurrying toward the exit. As she neared the doors, she had to force herself not to run. This was always the trickiest part of the shift: leaving without anyone attempting to waylay her, to ask her for a second opinion or get her to do just this one small procedure that wouldn’t take more than a minute, honestly.
The doors shut behind her, and she stepped out into mild evening air, tinged with tobacco smoke as someone hidden behind an ambulance enjoyed a crafty cigarette. She breathed deeply regardless, and smiled when her stomach rumbled. On cue, her phone chirped.
Hurry up, Sanne had typed. Make mine the usual, and add curry sauce xx
Sanne moved around Meg’s kitchen with an ease born of familiarity. She knew in which cupboard Meg stored her crockery and behind which jar of pasta the condiments were hidden. Tea bags waited in mugs beside the kettle and slices of thick-cut buttered bread, while the oven burred in the background as it warmed the plates.
The end-of-terrace house had beautiful Victorian features, but the living room’s large bay window and high ceiling left it draughty and cold even in summer. Kneeling on the hearthrug, Sanne pushed another log onto the open fire and shifted its position with the poker. A rush of heat made her cheeks tingle pleasantly, and she smiled as the scrape of a key in the front door was followed by the traditional hail: “Anybody home?”
Lured by the scent of vinegary chips, Sanne scrambled up and found Meg in the hallway, struggling to untie her trainers with her hands full.
“Plates are in, kettle’s boiled, bread’s done, fire’s lit, and oh, I love your new hairdo,” Sanne said. She took Meg’s workbag and the chip shop bag, and stood patiently as Meg used her as a prop while she levered the shoes off.
“You’ve been busy,” Meg said, giving Sanne a wet kiss on the cheek. “I knew there was a reason you were my very best friend.” She poked experimentally at her hair. “Did I forget to brush it again?”
Sanne laughed. “I would say so, yes.”
“Does it look horrible?”
“It certainly looks original.”
“Well, you know me. I am all about setting trends.”
That just made Sanne laugh harder. Meg adored the hospital’s casual dress code of scrubs for its Accident and Emergency doctors, and spent most of her free time wearing combat pants and hooded tops. Her short hair needed minimal styling, and the only colour in her cheeks was a suntan acquired sitting in her back garden with her feet up, while Sanne tended to her plants. Sanne grinned and kissed Meg’s forehead. They had been best mates for years, and Sanne adored her.
“You look gorgeous,” she said.
“Mmhm.” Meg regarded her with customary scepticism. “I think the promise of chips is clouding your judgement slightly.”
“That’s a distinct possibility. Did you remember my curry sauce?”
“Of course I did.”
The protestation might have been more convincing had Sanne not already seen CURRY! scrawled across the back of Meg’s hand. “How far did you get before you had to go back for it?”
Meg attempted to feign indignation for a moment, before she sighed. “About a mile and a half.”
“So, better than that time you came home with nothing but two pickled eggs and someone else’s mushy peas?”
It was faint praise, but it seemed to cheer Meg. She opened the paper wrappings and shook vinegar across her fish with renewed zeal. “I even remembered to put the bins out this morning.”
“Yeah?” Sanne said through a pilfered chip, as they took their plates into the living room. “Good for you.”
“Course, it was cans and paper this week, and I put out household and garden, but at least I got the day right.”
They sat together on the sofa. Sanne reached over to tap her fork against Meg’s.
“You’re bloody brilliant,” she said, and took the lid off her carton of curry sauce, to find gravy instead.
“Sorry about the curry.” Her expression downcast, Meg proffered a fresh brew and a packet of chocolate HobNobs like a peace offering.
Sanne took the mug and patted the sofa cushions, waiting until Meg had slumped beside her before she replied. “How many times do I have to tell you?” She stroked her fingers through the rough mess of Meg’s hair. “The gravy was fine, and you’re being a silly sod. Now, eat your biscuits.”
Meg made no move toward the packet. Her grip on her mug was so tight that her knuckles were turning white. “Think I’m going to end up like my mum, San?” She spoke in an undertone, her breath whispering against Sanne’s cheek.
“No, I don’t,” Sanne said without hesitation. The possibility was too awful to consider. “I think you’ve always been a scatterbrain, and your shifts just make it worse.” She almost spilled her tea as Meg sat upright, worry stark on her face.
“I wonder sometimes. It can run in the family, you know.”
“I know, love, but lots of things can do that, so there’s no point fretting about it.”
“Hmm.” Meg toyed with the packet of HobNobs, looking unconvinced.
“Come on,” Sanne chided her gently, not wanting her to slip into a funk. “Get them open before your tea goes cold.”
The packet rustled as Meg let out her breath and took a biscuit. She dunked it in her tea, held it for a couple of seconds, and pulled it out the instant before it collapsed. Her success seeming to buoy her mood, she ate the biscuit with enthusiasm. “How’s your dad?” she asked.
Sanne bit into her own HobNob, crumbs scattering on her lap as she made a so-so gesture with the remnant. “He’s slightly less yellow.”
“That’s good. Your mum okay?”
“Fine. I’ll probably go and see them tomorrow while I’m off.”
“Say hello to your mum from me.”
The welfare of their respective families adequately covered, they fell into an easy silence, broken only by an occasional pop from the fire and by the satisfied slurping as they drank their tea. Sanne stretched her legs out on the ottoman, her toes kneading the air contentedly. She only realised she had dozed off when Meg’s voice jolted her awake.
“So, what happened with Phoebe?” A sharp elbow nudging into her ribcage punctuated the question.
“Phoebe was nice,” she said, rubbing the sore spot. “Blond, bubbly, posh.”
“Ooh.” Meg wiggled her foot against Sanne’s. “Tell me more.”
“Educated at Oxford. Spoke all proper-like.”
“What was she doing up here? Working?”
“Researching.” Sanne watched embers rising from the fire. She had really liked Phoebe. It had been a promising date, for the first few hours.
Cradling her mug in both hands, Meg leaned forward, her curiosity piqued. “Researching what? Does she work at the uni or something?”
Sanne let out a short laugh. She wished it had been that simple. “No, she was researching, uh, well, me.”
Meg’s eyes narrowed as she waited for the punch line. When it didn’t come, she sat back against the cushions with a thump. “Are you having me on?”
“Nope. We’re sitting there, chatting away over coffee, all very civilised. Then, out of nowhere, she tells me that she’s a trainee journalist and that she’s researching a piece about women in the police force. She’d managed to find my details through some random Googling, pretty much stalked me to the pub that night we first met, and, oh, would I mind awfully if she asked me some questions?”
“You’re shitting me.”
“Wish I was.” Sanne giggled, Meg’s incredulity finally letting her see the funny side. “She whipped out this Dictaphone, set it next to the after dinner mints, and opened up a pad full of notes.”
“Oh dear.” Meg’s cheeks reddened as she tried to remain composed and appropriately sympathetic. When she spoke again, she sounded as if she were being strangled. “Did she at least pay for the meal?”
“Too bloody right she did. Y’know, I hope she’s got a day job, because I snuck a peek at her notes, and her spelling was crap.”
Meg laughed, inadvertently dropped her HobNob into her mug, and spent the next minute attempting to fish it back out.
“I’m glad my tragic love life amuses you,” Sanne said.
Meg gave up and finished her tea, biscuit and all. “At least you have one. I can’t remember the last time I kissed a girl that wasn’t you.”
“Oh, that’s just charming.” There was no malice in Sanne’s words, and she felt the familiar flutter in her stomach as she looked at Meg in the firelight. “No,” she said firmly, as much to persuade herself as to dissuade Meg. “I’ve got plans for tomorrow. Loads of stuff to do.”
The plates and mugs clattered as she stacked them up with clumsy fingers. Meg stooped to help her, and the sensation of their arms brushing together sent a thrill right through Sanne. She caught her breath at the same time Meg did and shook her head in despair. It was no wonder their love lives were such a bloody disaster.
“Are you on an early tomorrow?” she asked. The mundane nature of her question was all it took to break the tension. She heard Meg chuckle ruefully as they both turned their attention back to tidying.
“Yep. Seven till whenever, if it’s anything like today.” Meg straightened, her hands full of sauce bottles, and nodded for Sanne to lead the way to the kitchen. “Have you got anything more exciting planned for your day of leisure than visiting your parents?”
The water that Sanne had set running hit the edge of a plate, and she had to raise her voice above the splashes. “I’m getting up early for a run, and then I need to thin out my radishes, pick some lettuce before it goes to seed, and—” She frowned at Meg. “Why are you shaking your head?”
“Honey, you lost me at ‘getting up early for a run.’”
Sanne started the washing up, clattering the cutlery in indignation. “We can’t all laze about on our arses on our days off. I like to spend mine running. And do you want fresh salad this summer, or do you want to keep buying those limp, overpriced bits of leaves from Asda?”
“I want fresh salad, please.” Meg’s response was muffled by the tea towel she was hiding behind, and she squealed as Sanne dashed soapy water at her.
“Come and fix my leaky washing machine for me, and you can have all the salad you can eat. Deal?”
They shook on it, their hands slippery and full of bubbles.
“Text me your route tomorrow,” Meg said, her voice suddenly serious. “Because I know you. You’ll be up at the crack of dawn, and no one else will be around.”
“Sounds perfect.” Sanne touched Meg’s cheek gently. “I’ll have my phone, whistle, water, survival bag, and a first aid kit. I go up on Corvenden Moss all the time. I’ll be fine.” She dropped her hand away and used a clean tea towel to dry the suds she had left on Meg’s face. “But I do love you for worrying about me.”
Moments like this made Sanne grateful she lived somewhere remote. She had woken to soft morning light shining through the gaps around her curtains, while the scent of freshly cut grass and clean air filled her bedroom. She lay still, contemplating the idyllic peace.
It lasted only twenty seconds or so, however, before it was shattered by the raucous cock-a-doodle-doo of the rooster in the garden as he imitated a particularly obnoxious alarm clock. He woke all six chickens in his harem, who protested en masse. Sanne stuck her head under her pillow to drown out their squawking and once again thanked her lucky stars that she didn’t have any close neighbours. Fortunately, she was a morning person, not that her job gave her much choice in the matter. She lived about half an hour away from the police headquarters, a commute that could easily be doubled in winter, when the roads threading across the Pennines and connecting the cities of Manchester and Sheffield were often closed by snow.
There was a series of creaks as she climbed out of bed: the mattress, the floorboards, both of her knees. At thirty-three years old and with a long history of fell running, she felt as if her joints needed a good oiling first thing in the morning. Confident of her privacy, she opened the window wide and worked through her routine of stretches. Although a shower was somewhat superfluous, given that she would be mud-spattered and sweaty within the hour, she set it as hot as it would go and let it ease the remaining stiffness from her muscles. She dressed herself in front of the mirror, rolling her eyes at her towel-mussed hair. Like Meg, she kept it short, but a wayward, dogged waviness made styling it next to impossible. One gust of wind was all it would take to destroy anything she might achieve with gel or clips, and the weather in the Peak District was seldom placid. She ran a comb through it just for the hell of it and scowled at the result. Maybe next time she had it cut, she would go for broke and get rid of it all. Contemplating such an act of rebellion, however, quickly turned her scowl into a self-deprecating grin. She had no doubt that Meg would have embraced the challenge in a heartbeat, but her own nature was inclined toward conformity. She knew she would never have the guts to go through with it.
Leaving the mirror behind, she headed for the kitchen, with her reflection, captured in a series of framed photographs, tracking her down the stairs.Bemused was probably the politest word to describe people’s reaction to her. She was only five foot four, with hazel eyes, dark brown hair, and a northern English accent. She couldn’t have looked or sounded less Scandinavian if she’d tried, and yet fate and her mum’s bloody-mindedness had saddled her with the name Sanne Jensen. Mispronunciations occurred daily, “Sayne” and “Sanney” being the most popular. If someone had given her a pound coin every time she’d said “Actually, it’s ‘Sanner,’” she’d have been able to retire years ago.
“Fat bloody chance of that,” she muttered, toasting her mum’s stubborn streak with a mango and banana smoothie.
Sunlight poured into the small, tatty kitchen, hiding its flaws and casting rainbows through the water dripping from the faulty tap over the sink. Sanne had bought the cottage for its views and its land, but she had grown to love the old, weathered building for its sheer resilience. Wind, rain, and snow battered it year in, year out, and the worst it ever did was lose a tile or two from its roof. Beyond the kitchen window, hills dominated the landscape, their wild beauty a far cry from the cluttered streets where she had grown up. The dull browns of a cool spring had finally been replaced with lush shoots of bracken and bilberry, while lower in the valley the pastures were dotted pink with foxgloves. Summer arrived late in the Peak District, and the breeze carried with it the bleating of lambs still much smaller than their lowland cousins.
Surrounded by ever-changing scenery, Sanne was fond of each season in its own way, but this was her favourite time of the year to go fell running. She checked her pack one last time and scooped up her keys. The hens scattered as she jogged down the driveway to her car. The rooster just glared from the car’s roof.
“Hop it, Git Face.”
He ruffled his feathers but didn’t budge an inch.
“Oh, you’ll move soon enough, you little bugger,” she said and started the engine.
The stretcher collided with the bed, sending a jolt through its patient and forcing Meg to make a grab for the endotracheal tube protruding from his mouth.
“Easy, everyone. We’ll get him across on my count, okay?” She had to raise her voice above the mêlée, keeping a grip on the tube as the team around her prepared to slide the unconscious man from the stretcher. According to the ambulance pre-alert, he was only in his forties, but he was morbidly obese, naked aside from a pair of soiled boxer shorts, and had one foot firmly in the morgue. His belly jiggled as he landed on the mattress, a motion inadvertently worsened by the nurse resuming CPR.
“Bit of hush while I check this, please,” Meg said.
Squeezing the ventilation bag at a steady rate, she assessed the placement of the ET tube with her stethoscope. They could become dislodged during rapid transfers, but this one was right where it needed to be.
“Lovely.” She smiled at Kathy, the paramedic responsible for its insertion, who smiled back in relief. “Go ahead, hon. Everyone else, listen up.”
“Okay. Jimmy Taylor, forty-five years old. Found in a collapsed state by his wife at approximately six thirty. She was doing CPR when we arrived, but hadn’t been able to shift him off the bed. Initially in VF, shocked once, straight into asystole. He’s had”—Kathy checked the back of her glove, on which she’d scribbled her drugs—“four adrenaline. Due another about now. He’s a type two diabetic. Sugars are eight point six. High blood pressure and high cholesterol. Smokes thirty a day.”
“Cheers,” Meg said, wincing as the F1 from her previous shift made another mess of inserting a cannula. “Get him booked in as soon as, will you?”
“No worries. Wife should be here in a mo. She’s coming down with the Rapid Response para. Oh, and she said he’s allergic to strawberries.”
“Right, no strawberries. Probably the least of his worries.” Meg shook her head as Kathy laughed. “Go and put the kettle on.”
“Rhythm change.” A keen-eyed nurse was watching the monitor. “PEA.”
“Most likely due to the adrenaline.” Still pumping the bag with one hand, Meg peeled open Jimmy’s eyelids to find two blown pupils. “He’s already fixed and dilated. I don’t think we’re getting anything meaningful back from this.”
A murmur of assent rippled through the team. The F1 looked pale but resolute, under no illusions about the inevitable outcome of their efforts. Meg sighed. Even for one in such lousy general health, Jimmy had died far too young.
“Let’s give him the benefit, eh? We’ll have a look at his gases and go another couple of loops.” She glanced up at the red-faced nurse who was still doing compressions. “And can someone please take over from Liz before she pegs out as well?”
The doors to Resus edged open just as Meg dialled the oxygen down and disconnected the ET tube. She unplugged the monitor, and the alarm that had been sounding intermittently for the last half hour ceased.
Kathy poked her head through a gap in the curtains. “Mrs. Taylor’s in the Rellies’ Room.” She looked at Jimmy Taylor, splayed out and cooling on the bed. “Poor sod. They have three kids: ten, twelve, and fifteen.”
“Bloody hell,” Meg muttered. “Anyone come down with his wife?”
“No, but her mum’s on the way.”
Meg took off her gloves and plastic apron and flicked them into the nearest bin. “Cheers, Kathy. I want nothing but nice old grannies from you for the rest of the day.”
Kathy snorted. “I’ll see what I can do, Doc.”
Left alone behind the curtains, Meg brushed down her scrubs and ran a hand through her hair. She didn’t have a vain bone in her body, but she did want to appear professional. No matter how badly her own day had started, she was just about to make a complete stranger’s day infinitely worse.
Startled by the quiet voice, she looked up to see the F1 making an apologetic gesture.
“Sorry, I…” The F1 cleared her throat and tried again. “I was wondering if I could come with you when you speak to Mr. Taylor’s wife.” She met Meg’s gaze, despite her obvious trepidation. That was all Meg needed to reach her decision.
“Of course you can,” she said, and saw some of the tension ease from the F1’s posture. “Have you ever informed a relative of a death before?”
“No. Would I be okay just to observe?”
“Best way to learn.” Meg held the door for her. “Tell me your name again? I’ve got a mind like a sieve.”
“Emily. Emily Woodall. Yesterday was my first shift in A&E.”
“Bit of a baptism by fire today, then?”
“Yeah, you could say that.” The admission left her in a rush of breath.
Meg smiled, remembering her terrifying first few days on the job. “Well, at least you didn’t end up covered in vomit.”
Emily chuckled, but she sobered as they approached the Relatives’ Room. The nurse assigned to the role of family liaison opened the door at Meg’s knock and stepped aside to allow her to enter. Mellow light replaced the corridor’s harsh ceiling neon, and it took Meg’s eyes a moment to adjust. When they did, the familiar layout of the room took shape: the cupboard holding a kettle and china cups, and the low table with its vase of dried flowers carefully arranged beside a box of tissues. The chairs were pushed together to form a quasi-sofa, mimicking the design of a living room. As with most of the people who spent time sequestered there, Mrs. Taylor didn’t seem reassured by the home comforts. Her cup of coffee was still half-full, and two balled-up tissues rested on her lap. When she looked up at Meg, there wasn’t a flicker of hope in her eyes.
“Mrs. Taylor, my name is Dr. Fielding. I’ve been looking after your husband since he came into the hospital.” Meg took a step forward, broaching the gap. “May I sit down?”
Mrs. Taylor nodded, shifting her feet closer together even though there was ample space on the chairs. “He was always ‘Jimmy,’ never ‘Mr. Taylor,’” she said, unconsciously lapsing into past tense.
“‘Jimmy,’ right.” Meg sat at an angle, so she could look at Mrs. Taylor directly. “Jimmy’s heart wasn’t beating when the paramedics brought him here, and he wasn’t able to breathe for himself. Despite all of our efforts, we were unable to restart his heart.” She took care to speak clearly, leaving no room for misinterpretation. Mrs. Taylor was already weeping, her shoulders shaking as she tried to remain silent. Meg placed a hand on her arm. “He died, Mrs. Taylor. I’m very sorry.”
As if in slow motion, she watched the woman’s entire life crumble beneath the weight of those words: plans she and her husband might have made together, the financial security his job might have brought, holidays and Christmases they would never share, and then the realisation that she had three children who didn’t yet know their dad was dead.
“Oh God,” she whispered. “Oh God, the kids.” She buried her face in her hands, rocking and sobbing. “I want my mum.”
The liaison nurse gathered her close, pulling her away from Meg. Meg withdrew her hand but didn’t leave. Eventually, there would be questions Mrs. Taylor would need answering. Behind her, she heard Emily sniffle, and she surreptitiously passed a tissue. She closed her eyes and tried to block out the raw sounds of grief. Only two hours into her shift, she already felt exhausted. Sometimes, she wished she’d followed in her dad’s footsteps and become a plumber.
The route Sanne had chosen up Corvenden Edge was now more of a scramble than a path. That suited her fine. It gave her the opportunity to slow down, catch her breath, and take in the scenery around her. Beneath a bright blue sky, its few clouds mere high balls of fluff, the Peak District stretched for miles in every direction. The rounded shapes of ancient stones were distinct on the various summits, the occasional flash of white among them marking the locations of the more daring sheep.
Easily finding handholds, Sanne made swift progress up the final section. She climbed farther than she needed to and turned in a slow circle atop the highest boulder. To the west, the clough dipped away, the stream winding through its centre sparkling in the sunlight, its soft gurgle inaudible unless she faced it directly. To the east, the weathered rocks of Gillot Tor thrust up from the high plateau of Corvenden Moss. Ahead of her, the Pennine Way cut a line across the peat bogs covering the plateau. The path had been paved with huge stone slabs reclaimed from defunct mills, one of the few concessions made to hikers in that part of the Peaks. Once a walker left the Pennine Way, a map, a compass, and a sense of adventure were essential.
Sanne took a long drink from her water bladder and recapped the tube. The paving would make short work of her next section, but only for a mile or so. After that, it would be a case of veering to the right, trying not to sink too deeply into the bogs, and hoping to connect with the other path, on the far side of Corvenden Moss. At some point, there would be a stile over a fence. All she had to do was find it. The prospect made her grin, and she hopped down off the rocks, keen to get going again.
Though dry and relatively flat, the millstones were unforgiving to run upon, and she was relieved to reach the way-marker signalling her turn. She added a small stone to the marker for luck, before casting an experienced eye over the undulating peat hags and groughs. The ground between the knolls looked firm, but she knew that was deceptive. On a previous run, her right leg had been sucked thigh-deep into a bog, and she had managed to scramble out only because her left was safely on solid ground. She set off more cautiously this time, jumping between thicker patches of vegetation less likely to collapse beneath her weight.
Occasionally she landed short, splashing mud up her ankles, but the recent sunny weather made the traverse less tricky than she had anticipated. With no low cloud to mar her view, she spotted the stile from some distance and adjusted her direction to aim toward it. Across the sheep fence, her route would swing south and climb again, leading up to her favourite part of the run, a stretch along Laddaw Ridge, before finally taking her back down to the reservoir where she had parked her car.
She was slogging up the steepest section of Laddaw Ridge when she heard the whistle. Piercing and panicked, there was no mistaking it for anything but a distress call. At first it sounded in a continuous wail, but then the person signalling seemed to remember the SOS code and blew with more purpose: three long blasts, a gap, another three blasts.
Sanne looked around, the exertion of the ascent and a sudden dread raising goose pimples on her arms. The breeze and the echoing hills made it hard to pinpoint the call’s source, but it was close by and somewhere ahead of her. She set off running again, stopping at intervals to listen and alter her course. Soon, though, she realised where the sound was originating, and she slowed to a walk.
“Bollocks,” she whispered, preparing herself for the worst. A fall or a suicide leap from the cliffs that edged this section of the ridge. It had to happen one of these days, and dog walkers or joggers were always the ones who found such victims. In all honesty, she was surprised it hadn’t happened to her sooner. She left the path and climbed onto the rocks, leaning out as far as she dared and catching a flash of movement below her.
“Hey!” she yelled, and was somewhat bemused to see two youngish lads at the cliff base begin to wave frantically and beckon her down. “Everything okay? Are you hurt?” Neither of them appeared injured, but something had obviously given them a fright. She didn’t know if they could hear her. Even straining to listen, she had trouble picking out their response.
“No—us,” one of them shouted back. He stepped to his right, pointing down to the grass at his feet, where Sanne saw a third figure, lying motionless. “Need—ambulance. Please—no signal.”
For a long moment, she just stared, shock addling her thoughts. She couldn’t discern much detail from where she was, but she could see enough to know that the woman hadn’t simply fallen or tried to take her own life. She yanked off her pack and found her mobile phone.
“Come on, come on, you fucking useless thing.” She clambered onto a different rock, watching the phone’s signal fluctuate and then hold. “Is she alive?” she shouted down, an unaccustomed tremor in her voice.
The boy’s response filtered up to her as she dialled 999.
Her call was answered on the first ring. She interrupted the operator to identify herself and give her police collar number.
“I need paramedics and police to Laddaw Ridge, off Corvenden, north of the reservoir at Rowlee. There’s a woman at the base of the rocks.”
“Is she injured?”
“Yes. I don’t think she’s conscious, and there’s blood all over her.”
“Are you with her, Detective?”
“No, I’m on the ridge above.” Sanne dug her fingernails into her palms, trying to be rational when all she wanted to do was get down there and help in some practical, hands-on way. “We’ll need Mountain Rescue and Helimed.” She glanced over the edge again, needing to be certain of what she had seen. The woman lying in the grass was still half-naked, and her hands were still tied. “Fucking hell,” she whispered. Then, louder, “Inform Detective Inspector Stanhope at EDSOP—shit, I mean East Derbyshire Special Ops. Let her know we have a probable kidnapping. She’ll want to get a team out here.”
The operator stammered a little, but repeated the name and the details. “ETA on Helimed is thirty minutes.”
“Right.” Sanne was already trying to visualise her path down through the rocks. “Tell them to look for a red survival bag. I’ll lay it out for them.”
“I’ll pass that on.”
Whatever else the woman might have said was lost as Sanne scrambled onto a lower slab at the edge of the cliff. She tucked the phone into the pocket of her shorts and re-shouldered her pack to free up her hands. Adrenaline and fear were making her limbs feel wobbly. Breathing through her nose to steady herself, she began to move with more purpose, turning to face the rocks and taking a first tentative step downward. She had never been a climber. She didn’t mind taking her chances for a good viewpoint, but that was as far as she went. Often enough, she had watched small groups of men and women suspended beneath the overhangs on Stanage Edge, their lives reliant on thin ropes and metal clips, and had never once envied them. Now, without safety lines or gear, she manoeuvred herself off ledges, into crevices, and through the tightest of gaps. She was only wearing a T-shirt and shorts, and the sharp gritstone soon started to rip into her exposed limbs. Ignoring the pain, she focused on her route and tried to block out the awful scene looming in her peripheral vision.
A loose stone toppled beneath her foot, and she slid, her hands flailing for a hold as she slipped between two boulders. Her left arm bore the brunt of her uncontrolled descent, losing a layer of skin from shoulder to elbow, before she landed heavily on a grassy outcropping. She doubled over, winded, a fresh bolt of pain making her vision swim.
“You need to come this way a bit. It’s not as steep.”
Her head shot up at the quiet instruction. About six feet below her, one of the boys was using a stick to indicate a simpler passage.
“Okay.” The word came out in a gasp. “I got it, thanks.”
He held out his hand to help her off the last rock, and she felt the sweat coating his palm and the fine shivers running through his body. His face was dirt-streaked, with wet smudges on both cheeks as if he had wiped tears away with his sleeve.
“She’s over here,” he said, setting off at a trot.
Sanne matched his pace without difficulty, and as they neared the woman, she caught hold of his arm to jerk him to a stop.
“Stay back. I’m a detective with the Derbyshire Police, and I need you and your mate to keep clear of her, okay?”
His eyes widened, but he nodded, his throat working as he tried to swallow. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen. The second lad must have heard her instruction. He began to tiptoe gingerly through the cotton grass and bracken toward them.
“We were camping. We didn’t do nothing to her. We just found her,” he said as he approached. He raised his hands as if to protest his innocence, but they were covered in blood, and he dropped them again to wipe them on his trousers, his efforts increasingly frantic. “She’s hurt her head. I was trying to stop it bleeding.” His voice broke and he started to cry. “I think she’s dying.”
“There’s a helicopter on the way for her.” Suspecting he needed distraction rather than comfort, Sanne upended her pack to retrieve her small first aid kit and her survival bag. “You got a knife?”
The boy sniffled but pulled a Swiss Army knife from his pocket. When he offered it to her, she held out the bag instead.
“Cut it open as wide as it’ll go, and lay it out flat. Anchor it with stones if you need to. The pilot will be looking for it.”
She watched the lads begin their task. Then she started to walk slowly toward the woman, battening down the instinct to rush. As she approached, she noted the trampled vegetation, the rapidly abandoned camping gear, and the small puddle of vomit by the woman’s feet. Even at a cursory glance, Sanne was certain the boys were responsible for all of that. The woman was lying in a twisted heap at the base of the rocks and didn’t look as if she’d moved since landing there. Whether she had fallen or been thrown over the edge, Sanne had no way of knowing.
Kneeling beside her, Sanne placed two fingers against her throat, pressing with increasing force until she found the faint throb of a heartbeat.
“Jesus Christ,” she murmured, relief and revulsion hitting her simultaneously. The young woman was naked but for her bra and knickers, and the skin beneath Sanne’s fingers felt cold and clammy. Bright orange rope bound her wrists, and ligature marks stood out in bloody furrows around her ankles. Her features were difficult to ascertain. Her head had been shaved, haphazard chunks of hair clung to her scalp where the razor had skipped, and grotesque blue-black swellings closed both of her eyes. Bruises and lacerations covered the rest of her body, with new and old wounds crisscrossing each other, and her left leg was twisted at such a bizarre angle that it had to be fractured. Deeply unconscious, she showed no reaction to Sanne’s presence or touch.
Sanne floundered momentarily. She had never been solely responsible for a crime scene like this, and she was scared of fucking it up. There would be trace evidence all over the woman, evidence that might lead to her assailant being apprehended, so ideally she ought not to be moved or covered, and yet she was freezing and bleeding and completely exposed.
“I’m sorry,” Sanne whispered, arriving at a compromise that still made her feel like a ghoul. Using her phone, she took a series of photographs—close-up shots to record the woman’s position, her injuries, and the way in which she was bound—and then switched to video for a wider shot that would give context to the scene.
As soon as Sanne was confident she had documented everything, she shouted to the boys to throw her their knife. She scrambled through the grass to collect it from where it landed, picking up one of their abandoned sleeping bags on her way back.
Ensuring that the knot was preserved, she sliced through the ropes at the woman’s wrists. The bindings were tight, and there were shreds of flesh stuck to the orange strands when she was finally able to unwind them. She set the rope aside and tucked the sleeping bag around the woman.
“You’re okay,” she said, her voice breaking, belying her words. “You’re safe now. We’re going to get you to the hospital. You’re safe now.” She wrapped a clean bandage around the bloodiest part of the woman’s scalp, not even sure where the wound was but hoping for the best. There was blood everywhere, clotted and cool and reeking of metal. She knew she should be doing something: questioning the two boys or working out a way to protect the immediate area. Instead, she crouched by the woman’s side and put a hand on her arm, listening to the guttural snore of her breathing and watching her chest lurch with the effort it was taking to stay alive.
“We’ll have you out of here in no time.” Sanne looked up, searching the sky as she spoke, but all she saw was blue with dabs of white. The colours blurred. She wiped her nose and eyes with the back of her hand. “I promise they’ll be here soon. Just keep breathing.”