A Matter Of Blood (The Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy), p.1Sarah Pinborough
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A Matter Of Blood
A Gollancz eBook
Copyright © Sarah Pinborough 2010 All rights reserved.
The right of Sarah Pinborough to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by Gollancz
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
London, WC2H 9EA
An Hachette UK Company
This eBook first published in 2010 by Gollancz.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 978 0 5750 8948 8
This eBook produced by Jouve, France
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor to be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
For Stephen Jones, without whose words these words would have had a harder journey to the page.
Thanks for everything, Jonesy. x
A thoroughly good person is as unbalanced as a thoroughly bad one.
The orchestra of flies buzzed above the mutilated corpse. To the man watching from the doorway they looked like an unruly audience in the gallery cheering on their support. More scuttered across the macabre stage below, flitting their way amidst the heaving mass of maggots, giving the very dead individual that was their theatre pretence of movement, life. The large window against the far wall was open, but still the room stank of decay. The man in the doorway sighed and for a second the flies stopped their dreadful whine and the shiny white pupae paused in their writhing.
The body was lying on the antique wooden desk, one arm hanging limply over the side. Where the steady trickle of blood dripped silently the thick red carpet was now a much deeper crimson. There was nothing elegant in the rips across the torso tearing apart the dead man’s skin and exposing organs and entrails. It must have happened fast though, the man in the doorway thought. Otherwise he’d have heard screaming.
The buzzing started again and he gritted his teeth.
‘This has to stop.’
The noise got louder.
He stared at the body, and the heavy workman’s boots that protruded from the tan chinos that John MacBrayne wore whenever he was speaking on television or leading one of his ridiculously ineffective protest meetings, as if by not buying a decent suit he was making a statement against The Bank and its more controversial interests. Its alleged more controversial interests, he silently corrected himself. Still, it was clear that Mr MacBrayne, for all his irritating tenacity, would be leading no more marches.
‘I don’t know what you think you’re achieving,’ he said, ‘or what point you’re trying to make.’ For the first time irritation crept into his voice. This wasn’t like the last two. This was going to take some effort to clear up; John MacBrayne had become something of an unlikely public figure. He looked at the mutilated body. The deep tan from years spent in the African sun had faded now into a drained pallor. Death had taken hold and he had to admit its effects were mildly fascinating, even after all this time. He drew his attention back to the hovering insects.
‘We need to meet with the others. They can help you.’
For a moment the room was still again, and then the flies and maggots rose as one from the body with such force that the corpse shivered visibly before falling still. The air was alive as the swarm twisted and turned, flecks of black filling each corner of the vast room before pulling into a shape that was almost human, and for the briefest of moments, a flicker of sharp eyes and blond hair peered out from within the rippling body.
The man in the doorway smiled. That was a mistake. The unnatural figure exploded, sending flies like splinters shooting across the room. The man flinched despite himself, one arm rising slightly to protect his eyes. He lowered it slowly.
‘This has to stop,’ he repeated against the bitter hiss of the swarm. The dark shadow didn’t answer but twisted away from him and, in a cloud of tiny beating wings, escaped out through the window and into the cool afternoon air.
The man in the doorway remained where he was for a moment, thoughtfully watching it disappear, before turning his attention back to the dead man on the desk. He sighed again. He had so much to deal with, though this would be manageable, if tiresome. He looked again at the open window. First, he had a phone call to make. The room and the dead man stayed silent as he turned and quietly closed the door on them.
It’s the little things that count.
Carla Rae’s cooling body was testament to that. Her wide eyes no longer shone as the drying surfaces became sticky. With no further call to pump through the lifeless veins, her blood settled heavily in her limbs. The cheap electric clock on the bedside table ticked the minutes away, moving on from the moment of her death without even a hitching breath of hesitation. The world continued. Twenty-five-year-old Carla Rae didn’t. There would be no twenty-sixth birthday. The inner mechanics of her body were accepting that, even if in the dying moments her mind had raged against the inevitability.
Tick tock. Silent body-clock stopped.
Gases began to accumulate where stomach acids were no longer working to digest the Chinese take-away she’d eaten not that many hours before. Soon, if left untouched, her flat belly would rise into a swollen ball of foul-smelling air before it escaped loudly in a last and woefully late warcry against the silence of death - but it wouldn’t come to that for Carla Rae. The small pinprick in her arm, the life now growing in her eyes and the words scrawled in crimson across her naked chest would ensure a neat and clinical autopsy on a metal bed less soft than that on which she currently lay. Not that she would notice. The soft flesh that had been Carla Rae’s home was beyond feeling anything at all.
The real matter of life isn’t about decisions, it’s about choices. Decisions are the big things; they’re thought out, weighed and evaluated. Each brings a unique set of consequences, maybe good, maybe otherwise, but they’re of our own making, and that is a comfort in itself. Even the bad ones we’ll take on the chin, albeit quietly railing against our own stupidity. Decisions make us think we’re in control.
It’s the little things that count: the choices.
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it: we don’t think about choices; we just make them. And yet those fleeting moments are dependent on the moment or mood
There is no luck. Or fate. It’s your own choices that will fuck you up.
Or at least that’s what DI Cass Jones was thinking as he stood in the doorway looking at the naked body face up on the untidy bed. What God-awful mistake did she make that she died here, on these stained sheets, in this shithole estate? Did she decide to walk instead of getting a cab? Did she accept a drink from the wrong almost-handsome stranger? Five minutes earlier, five minutes later - who knew where she’d be? Maybe still lying here, maybe breathing in ignorance somewhere else. It always came down to choices.
He sighed, his brown eyes bleary from a day that had already been too long. Whichever it was, the game was all over for her; now she was just one more statistic in a world that was rapidly caring less about statistics.
Outside, night was only just beginning to crack the sky, fracturing the deep blue of the dying day with streaks of orange and red, filling the small bedroom with an eerie gloom. It had been a hot day and the stale air was rank as stagnant pond water. Cass found himself breathing shallowly through his mouth.
‘Can someone open a window or is that too much to ask?’
The poised camera flashed brightly over the body before the unfamiliar photographer turned, his green plastic suit rustling. ‘Too much to ask.’ He grinned, his face young and free of lines, which was enough in itself to make the detective inspector want to punch him.
‘Say cheese.’ Before Cass could react, the bed and the figures around it became black voids haloed in white as in the gloom a haze of buzzing flies darted to safety in the corners.
‘Jesus Christ!’ The backs of his eyes had the scene imprinted in reverse lights and shadows before it started to fade.
‘Sorry.’ The cameraman shrugged, still smiling. ‘I sometimes get this overwhelming urge to photograph someone that’s living. Call me twisted.’
From beside the bed, a crouched figure rose. ‘And if you carry on like that, it’ll be only the living you’re working with - if you’re lucky to be working at all.’ The voice was acid-sharp and the young man visibly shrivelled into his plastic coating as he gurgled a muted apology.
‘Now piss off and take those cameras back to the van.’ He was still unimpressed.
DI Jones stared at the junior examiner as he squeezed awkwardly past, two cameras in one hand, the heavy protective case in the other. When he was trapped somewhere between Cass’s shoulder and the doorframe, the DI leaned forward.
‘If I ever hear that picture’s been developed, I’ll be looking for you.’ For brief moment, Cass was sure he could hear the boy’s heart pause. ‘Do you understand?’
The assistant nodded vigorously and Cass shifted half an inch to his left and let him go.
He watched him wearily, for a moment overwhelmed by the sheer stupidity of youth, as the boy rapidly disappeared into the mêlée of SOCOs filling the rest of the flat. He needed to learn his place, and he also needed to learn that DI Cass Jones wasn’t known for his perky sense of humour. And, more importantly for the assistant, neither was Dr Mark Farmer. In the current lack-of-jobs market there was no room for stupid mistakes, and one day, when he was older and wiser, he might realise that Cass had done him a favour.
‘My penance for training the last one up so well.’ The ME pulled his hood back, thick silver curls springing free across his head and down to his shoulders, turning him from coroner to ageing rock star in one swift movement. He frowned. ‘What are you doing here, Jones? This isn’t your case.’
‘It is now.’ The air trapped by the nailed-down window seemed denser, almost clinging to the body like a mourning relative. It felt like day-old cigarette smoke against the roof of Cass’s mouth as he said, ‘Bowman was rushed to hospital this morning with a suspected burst appendix. Looks like he could be out of action for weeks, so his caseload’s been passed on to me. No extra pay, of course.’
‘Of course.’ The ME shrugged. ‘Although peritonitis is nasty. He’s lucky to be alive.’
‘No luck involved: the stupid bastard’s been complaining about feeling like shit for a couple of weeks. He should have gone and got it sorted ages ago. It’s not like the police don’t still get NHS .’
‘Ah yes, the perks of being a civil servant.’ The coroner looked ready to launch into his usual bitter commentary on the state of Britain, the world and life-everlasting should he be given even the slightest hint of encouragement, but Cass, with little interest in politics and even less in Farmer’s particular viewpoint, refused to be drawn, forcing the ME to fall silent. Cass was too tired and pissed off to be a willing sounding board, and the stench in the room was such that surely they all wanted to be free of it as soon as possible.
He peered at the girl’s naked body. The poor cow’s ribs jutted upwards over her concave stomach in a way that suggested either poverty or an advanced eating disorder. Given the cheap dye job on her almost-ginger hair, perhaps an attempt at blonde, Cass figured the former. Her large nipples were now simply islands of pink on the tiny curves that were almost breasts. Would she be any less flat-chested standing upright? He doubted it.
‘What is this? Number four?’
The ME stood alongside him. ‘Yes - at least we can presume so. I’ll confirm when I get the toxicology results back after the PM. You’re going to have some catching up to do if you want half a chance of solving this one. I’ll send all my notes over to you. I presume your sergeant’s still getting debriefed by Bowman’s sergeant? So she should have a good idea of what’s going on. Or is that over now?’
Cass was surprised. Farmer wasn’t normally one for loaded remarks, at least outside of those that served to support his delicate left-wing sensibilities. For once, Cass would have preferred that; Claire May’s private life was none of Farmer’s business. He ignored the question, saying, ‘May’s staying on the Jackson and Miller case and I’m keeping Blackmore on this one. Stupid to switch them over as I’m working both. If I change them we’ll all be confused rather than just me.’
His fingers itched for the feel of a cigarette and a quiet space to just empty his mind and breathe. It had been a bitch of a day, and he figured Farmer’s hadn’t been much better. Resources were tight and everyone was overworked. The image of the smiling bobby on the beat had been murdered long ago. His unsmiling eyes scanned the bed’s contents.
The young woman’s skin was pale, with no hint of tan lines, either fresh, or the final fading memories of a holiday long gone. An empty ache touched the pit of his stomach. It wasn’t quite pity, but it was close enough. Neither he nor the doc had had as bad a day as the dead girl in front of them.
NOTHING IS SACRED was daubed across the top of her chest, below her angular collarbones and above her poor excuse for breasts. Somehow that thick crimson splatter made her death even more pathetic than the dingy flat ever could. Nothing is sacred.
‘You’re telling me, mate,’ he muttered under his breath, directing the words at the ghost of the stranger who’d stood where he was standing now, intently painting the letters onto the dead woman’s cooling flesh, no doubt thinking he was doing something profound. Cass Jones knew better. There was no message in murder; this was just some sick bastard making excuses for his choices.
‘How long’s she been dead?’
‘A few hours. He may have had her here longer, but I’d say he killed her around about midday or one o’clock.’
‘Who found her?’ Cass was surprised anyone had found her at all. Most of the flats in this block were either condemned, with squatters in, or inhabited by the kind of people that had no concern for their neighbours.
‘He wanted her found. There was a boombox on, playing some
‘And here we are,’ Cass repeated softly. A thin bracelet that probably wasn’t real gold hung from the wrist that flopped over the side of the bed, a miniature horse hanging from it. Her lucky charm? ‘What about her eyes?’ he asked. They looked normal enough, but he wasn’t the expert.
‘I’ll let you know once I’ve taken a look under the microscope. I can’t see properly in this light. She’s not been dead long enough for them to develop, but I’m presuming she’s the same as the others.’
Cass figured the doctor was right. ‘Who was she?’
‘Her name’s Carla Rae. Your lot have her purse and bag. Her ID card was in it. She’s twenty-five, unemployed, unmarried. She was a nothing. A nobody.’ On the other side of the bed, the ME gathered the tools of his trade together. ‘I’m done here. I’ll get the body-baggers in and get her back to the lab. Should have an initial report for you by end of play tomorrow.’
Crouched by the bed, Cass nodded slightly. A nobody. A nothing. For the first time in their long association, the DI realised that perhaps he didn’t like the ME all that much. He doubted Carla Rae would have either. A small bruise had bloomed around the tiny pinprick in her arm and he froze for a moment, wondering whether he could feel her calling out for answers.
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