Mo Hayder: Ritual

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Mo Hayder Ritual
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    Ritual
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    Триллер / на английском языке
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    Английский
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Ritual: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Just after lunch on a Tuesday in April, nine feet under water, police diver Flea Marley closes her gloved fingers around a human hand. The fact that there's no body attached is disturbing enough. Yet more disturbing is the discovery, a day later, of the matching hand. Both have been recently amputated, and the indications are that the victim was still alive when they were removed. DI Jack Caffery has been newly seconded to the Major Crime Investigation Unit in Bristol. He and Flea soon establish that the hands belong to a boy who has recently disappeared. Their search for him — and for his abductor — lead them into the darkest recesses of Bristol's underworld, where drug addiction is rife, where street-kids sell themselves for a hit, and where an ancient evil lurks; an evil that feeds off the blood — and flesh — of others …

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MO HAYDER

RITUAL

To 'Adam'


Somewhere in the middle of the remote Kalahari desert in South Africa, nestling among the dry ochre veld, is a small weed-covered pool at the bottom of a crater. Ordinary except for its stillness — the casual observer wouldn't pay it much attention, wouldn't give it a second thought. Unless they were to swim in it. Or dip a toe into it. Then they'd notice something wrong. Something different.

First they'd notice the water was cold. Freezing, in fact. The sort of cold that doesn't belong to this planet. The sort of cold that comes from centuries and centuries of silence, from the most ancient recesses of the universe. And, second, they'd notice that it was almost empty of life, only a few colourless canefish living in it. Last, if they were foolish enough to try to swim in it they'd discover its fatal secret: there are no sides to this pool and no bottom — just a straight, cold line to the heart of the earth. Maybe that's when it would come to them, repeated over and over again over in the whispered ancestral languages of the Kalahari people, This is the path to hell.

This is Bushman's Hole. This is Boesmansgat.

1

13 May

Just after lunch on a Tuesday in May and nine feet under water in Bristol's 'floating harbour', police diver Sergeant 'Flea' Marley closed her gloved fingers round a human hand. She was half taken off-guard to find it so easily and her legs kicked a bit, whirring up silt and engine oil from the bottom, tipping her bodyweight back and upping her buoyancy so she started to rise. She had to tilt down and wedge her left hand under the pontoon tanks, then dump a little air from her suit so she was stabilized enough to get to the bottom and take a little time to feel the object.

It was pitch dark down there, like having her face in mud, no point in trying to see what she was holding. With most river and harbour diving everything had to be done by touch, so she had to be patient, allow the thing to feed its shape from her fingers up her arm, download an image in her mind. She palpated it gently, closing her eyes, counting the fingers to reassure herself it was human, then worked out which digit was which: the ring finger first, bent away from her, and from that she could figure out which way the hand was lying — palm upward. Her thoughts raced, as she tried to picture how the body would be — on its side probably. She gave the hand an experimental tug. Instead of there being a weight behind it, it floated free of the silt, coming away easily. At the place where a wrist should be there was just raw bone and gristle.

'Sarge?' PC Rich Dundas said, into her earpiece. His voice seemed so close in the claustrophobic darkness that she startled. He was up on the quay, tracking her progress with her surface attendant who was meting out her lifeline and controlling the coms panel. 'How you doing there? You're bang over the hotspot. See anything?'

The witness had reported a hand, just a hand, no body, and that had bothered everyone in the team. No one had ever known a corpse to float on its back — decomposition saw to that, made them float face down, arms and legs dangling downwards in the water. The last thing to be visible would be a hand. But now she was getting a different picture: at its weakest point, the wrist, this hand had been severed. It was just a hand, no body. So there hadn't been a corpse floating, against all physical laws, on its back. But there was still something wrong about the witness statement. She turned the hand over, settling the mental picture of the way it was lying — little details she'd need for her own witness statement. It hadn't been buried. She couldn't even say it was buried in the silt. It was just lying on top of it.

'Sarge? You hear me?'

'Yeah,' she said. 'I hear you.'

She picked up the hand. She cupped it gently, and slowly let herself sink to hover above the silt at the bottom of the harbour.

'Sarge?'

'Yeah, Dundas. Yeah. I'm with you.'

'Got anything?'

She swallowed. She turned the hand round so its fingers lay across her own. She should tell Dundas it was 'five bells'. A find. But she didn't. 'No,' she said, instead. 'Nothing yet. Not yet.'

'What's happening?'

'Nothing. I'm going to move along a bit here.

I'll let you know when I've got something.'

'OK.'

She dug one arm into the muck at the bottom and forced herself to think clearly. First she pulled gently at the lifeline, dragging it down, feeling for the next three-metre tag. On the surface it would appear to be paying out naturally — it would look as if she was sculling along the bottom. When she got to the tag she sandwiched the line between her knees to keep up the pressure and lay down in the silt the way she taught the team to rest if they got a CO2 overload, face down so the mask didn't lift, knees lightly in the sludge. The hand she held close to her forehead, as if she was praying. In her coms helmet there was silence, just a hiss of static. Now she'd got to the target she had time. She unplugged the mic from her mask, took a second to close her eyes and check her balance. She focused on a red spot in her mind's eye, watched it, waited for it to dance. But it didn't. Stayed steady. She kept herself very, very still, waiting, as she always did, for something to come to her.

'Mum?' she whispered, hating the way her voice sounded so hopeful, so hissy in the helmet. 'Mum?'

She waited. Nothing. As it always was. She concentrated hard, pressing lightly on the bones of the hand, making this stranger's piece of flesh seem half familiar.

'Mum?'

Something came into her eyes, stinging. She opened them, but there was nothing: just the usual stuffy blackness of the mask, the vague brownish light of silt dancing in front of the face-plate, and the all-enveloping sound of her breathing. She fought the tears, wanting to say it aloud: Mum, please help. I saw you last night. I did see you. And I know you're trying to tell me something — I just can't hear it properly. Please, tell me what you were trying to say. 'Mum?' she whispered, and then, feeling ashamed of herself, 'Mummy?'

Her own voice came back, echoing round her head, except this time, instead of Mummy, it sounded like Idiot, you idiot. She put her head back, breathing hard, trying hard not to let any tears come. What was she expecting? Why was it always here, under water, that she came to cry, the worst place — crying in a mask she couldn't pull off like sport divers could. Maybe it was obvious she'd feel closer to Mum somewhere like this, but there was more to it than that. Ever since she could remember, the water had been the place she could concentrate, feel a sort of peace floating up, as if she could open channels down here that she couldn't open on the surface.

She waited for a few minutes longer, until the tears had gone somewhere safe, and she knew she wouldn't blind herself or make a fool of herself when she surfaced. Then she sighed and held up the severed hand. She had to bring it close to her mask, had to let it brush the Perspex visor, because that was how close you had to get to things in this sort of visibility. And then, looking at the hand close up, she realized what else was worrying her.

She plugged in the coms lead. 'Dundas? You there?'

'What's up?'

She turned the hand, less than a centimetre from the visor, examining its greying flesh, its ragged ends. It had been an old guy who'd seen the hand. Just for a second. He'd been out with his toddler granddaughter who'd wanted to test-run new pink wellies in the storm. They'd been huddled under an umbrella, watching the rain land in the water when he'd seen it. And here it was — at the exact same hotspot he'd told the team it would be, tucked up under the pontoon. No way could he have seen it down here in this visibility. You couldn't see down five inches from the pontoon.

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