Graham Hurley: Cut to Black

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Graham Hurley Cut to Black
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    Cut to Black
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Graham Hurley

Cut to Black


TUESDAY, 18 MARCH 2OO3, 20.13

He slowed in the darkness, the breath rasping in his lungs, trying to think of a thousand reasons not to draw the obvious conclusion. The car looked like a Vauxhall, maybe a Cavalier. The two shapes bent to the driver's door had the edgy slightness of kids. And the music through the open car window, as if this were some movie, was perfect: gangster rap with a heavy bass line that pulsed away into the night, drowning the nearby murmur of the sea.

He finally came to a halt, annoyed at losing the rhythm of his nightly run, aware of the chill kiss of the wind as it cooled the sweat on his body. Seven hard miles had drained the strength in his legs but already little knots of adrenalin were swamping his exhaustion. After the endless months of paperwork of audit trails and expenditure profiles, of asset calculations and restraint preparations it had come to this: the sordid little drama played out across dozens of cities, hundreds of estates, thousands of similar patches of urban wasteland.

The Cavalier, he thought grimly, had replaced the ice cream van. Stop me and buy one. Same time tomorrow night. And the night after that.

And the night after that. Until your new friend in the beaten-up Vauxhall had you phoning him every four hours, pleading for your life.

He began to circle the car on the driver's blind side, still fifty metres out, moving slowly, balls of his feet, stepping lightly through the tangle of scrub and marram grass. In these situations, anyone with half a brain would be thinking risk assessment. How would he take the guy behind the wheel? How would he contain him afterwards? What were the dangers of the kids getting hurt? These were important questions.

He needed a plan, and a fallback, but there was something about this little tableau how blatant, how fucking insulting that had cut him loose. All of a sudden, he had the chance to make a difference. Not much of a difference but a difference nonetheless.

He was ahead of the car now, aware of the line of street lights half a mile away. Silhouetted against the orange glow, every move he made betrayed him. He began to backtrack, hunting for cover, meaning to close on the car from the passenger side, then he froze as the driver stirred the engine into life. The music, abruptly, had gone. In its place, the throaty bark of a dog and a yelp of laughter from one of the kids. The child was barely an adolescent. His voice had yet to break.

What kind of animal sold gear to thirteen-year-olds?

He began to run, suddenly oblivious of the need for cover. Anything to get between the Cavalier and the distant street lights, between the driver and the next sale. One of the kids had seen him, yelling a warning to his mate. Two shapes melted away into the darkness as the car began to move. Abreast of it now, he drove himself forward, legs pumping hard. He reached for the passenger door and wrenched it open.

There was someone else in the car, slumped back against the headrest, the seat half reclined. The thin figure jackknifed forwards. A hand lunged at him, a fist in his windpipe, a choking pain that blurred his vision. Abruptly he lost his footing, fell head first, felt cinders tearing at his face, heard a squeal of brakes and the dog again, barking fit to bust. The car was ahead of him, metres away, briefly motionless. The passenger door was still open. A face appeared, contorted by a grin. Then a voice, thick accent, Scouse.

"Run the fucker over."

The engine was revving. Then the brake lights dimmed and for the briefest moment, as he tried to will his body to move, he had a perfect view of the Cavalier reversing towards him and the zigzag pattern of the tyre tread, inches away. Moments later, a wheel crushed his ankle and he screamed as it happened again another wheel, his lower leg — and for a second or two he must have lost consciousness because the next thing was a moment of surreal terror as the blaze of the headlights and the roar of the engine bore down on him. This time, somehow, he was able to reach out, trying to fend it off, flailing at the oncoming monster with his bare hands, flesh against metal, then he was aware of his body arching backwards, a gesture of defeat, before the pain thickened and the darkness returned, unfathomable, beyond comprehension.

Chapter one

WEDNESDAY, 19 MARCH 2OO3, 01. 19

The aircraft appeared well after midnight. It approached high from the west, droning over the sprawl of suburbs around Gosport then sideslipping down in the gusty onshore wind as the black mass of Portsmouth Harbour disappeared beneath the nose.

Beyond the harbour and the gaunt shadows of the naval dockyard lay the city itself, the shape of the island neck laced with street lights.

Away to the south, there was a queue of cabs for the fares spilling out of the late-night clubs by South Parade pier; further inland, the cold, blue wink of an ambulance picking its way through the maze of terraced streets.

At 1000 feet, the aircraft levelled off then dipped a wing and began to fly in wide, lazy circles, taking its time, each new circuit overlapping invisibly with the last. Households in its path stirred, dreams broken by the steady, pulsing beat of the engines overhead. Even half asleep, groping towards consciousness, this was a noise you'd recognise at once, familiar city-wide. Boxer One. Pride of the Hantspol ASU. The Air Support Unit's all-seeing eye in the sky.

The aircraft remained over the city for the best part of an hour. After a while, the circuits tightened and on two occasions the pilot took it low enough for startled insomniacs in Fratton to report the rush of air over the wings. Then, abruptly, the beat of the engines changed pitch, and the aircraft lifted and climbed away towards the west, returning the city to silence.

Awake in the stillness of the Bargemaster's House, Faraday had heard it too. And began to wonder.

It fell to DC Paul Winter to put the obvious into words.

"There's sod all here. We blew it."

"The Stanley blades? That bit of clothes line? Blood on the lino down in the corner there? More blood on the sofa? Is it your age, Paul?

Doesn't violence excite you any more?"

"I thought this was supposed to be a drugs bust?"

"It was. Is. And a tenner says we'll get a good hit on the DNA."

"Taking us where? Some scroat they tied up and put in a Tarantino movie? What's he going to tell us we didn't know already? These blokes are off their heads, Cath, but we can't do them for that."

Winter's use of her Christian name drew a cautionary look from DI Cathy Lamb. The rest of the squad three DCs and a dog handler — were still out of earshot, banging around in the chaos of the bedrooms upstairs, but even so Lamb was wary about letting Winter too close. The proactive CID team the Portsmouth Crime Squad was barely a week old.

The last thing she needed just now were the kind of liberties detectives like Winter were only too happy to exploit.

"We were unlucky," she said flatly. "We took every reasonable precaution but sometimes… it just doesn't work out."

"Is that for my benefit, boss? Or are you rehearsing for tomorrow?"


"The post-mortem. Secretan's going to love this. All that overtime.

All that hype. And we come away with a couple of Stanley blades and a million pizza boxes." He poked at the litter of greasy cardboard with the toe of his shoe. "What is it with kids these days? Don't they know about real food?"

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