Authors: Stephen Booth
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural
Dancing with the Virgins
Blood on the Tongue
Blind to the Bones
One Last Breath
The Dead Place
Scared to Live
Dying to Sin
The Kill Call
The Devil’s Edge
Dead and Buried
The Corpse Bridge
The Murder Road
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 Stephen Booth
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. 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.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
50 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0DZ
On the day of my birth, my death began its walk. It is walking toward me now, without hurrying.
– Jean Cocteau
this is the first secret of death. There’s always a right time and place to die.
It was important to remember. So important that Roger Farrell was repeating it to himself over and over in his head by the time he drew into the car park. When he pulled up and switched off the engine, he found he was moving his lips to the words and even saying it out loud – though only someone in the car with him would have heard it.
And he was alone, of course. Just him, and the package on the back seat.
There’s always a right time and place to die
As instructed, Farrell had come properly equipped. He’d practised at home to make sure he got everything just right. It was vital to do this thing precisely. A mistake meant disaster. So getting it wrong was inconceivable. Who knew what would come afterwards? It didn’t bear thinking about.
Last night, he’d experienced a horrible dream, a nightmare about weeds growing from his own body. He’d been pulling clumps of ragwort and thistles out
of his chest, ripping roots from his crumbling skin as if he’d turned to earth in the night. He could still feel the tendrils scraping against his ribs as they dragged through his flesh.
He knew what it meant. He was already in the ground.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Wasn’t that what they said at your graveside as they shovelled soil on to your coffin? The dream meant his body was recycling back into the earth. In his soul, he’d already died.
Farrell looked around the car park. There were plenty of vehicles here. Although it was the middle of the week, a burst of sunny weather had brought people out into the Peak District in their droves. They’d come to enjoy the special peace and beauty of Heeley Bank, just as he had.
Of course, in many other ways, they weren’t like him at all.
He let out a sigh of contentment. That was the feeling this scenery gave him. The green of the foliage down by the river was startling in its brightness. The farmland he could see stretching up the sides of the hills was a glowing patchwork between a tracery of dry-stone walls. Cattle munched on the new grass in the fields. Further up, a scattering of white blobs covered the rougher grazing where the moors began.
The sight of those sheep made Farrell smile. He’d always associated them with the Peaks. This landscape wouldn’t be the same without sheep. They’d been here for centuries, helping to shape the countryside. And they’d still be here long after he’d gone.
It really was so green out there. So very green.
there’s always a right time and place
A silver SUV had pulled into a parking space nearby. Farrell watched a young couple get out and unload two bikes from a rack attached to their vehicle. One of the bikes had a carrier on the back for the small girl sitting in a child seat in the car. She was pre-school, about two years old, wearing a bright yellow dress and an orange sun hat. Her father lifted her out, her toes wiggling with pleasure as she felt the warm air on her skin. The family all laughed together, for no apparent reason.
Farrell had observed people doing that before, laughing at nothing in particular. He’d never understood it. He often didn’t get jokes that others found hilarious. And laughing when there wasn’t even a joke, when no one had actually said anything? That seemed very strange. It was as if they were laughing simply because they were, well … happy.
For Roger Farrell,
was just a word, the appearance of happiness an illusion. He was convinced people put on a façade and acted that way because it was expected of them. It was all just an artificial front. Deep down, no one could be happy in this world. It just wasn’t possible. Happiness was a sham – and a cruel one at that, since no one could attain it. All these people would realise it in the end.
With a surge of pity, Farrell looked away. He’d watched the family too long. Across the car park, an elderly man hobbled on two sticks, accompanied by a woman with a small pug dog on a lead. She had to walk deliberately slowly, so that she didn’t leave the
man behind. The pug tugged half-heartedly at its lead, but the woman yanked it back.
These two had probably been married for years and were no doubt suffering from various illnesses that came with age. Did they look happy? Farrell looked more closely at their faces. Definitely not. Not even the dog.
He nodded to himself and closed his eyes as he leaned back in his seat. His breathing settled down to a steady rhythm as he listened to the birds singing in the woods, the tinkle of a stream nearby, the quiet whispering of a gentle breeze through the trees.
As the afternoon drew to a close, he watched the vehicles leave one by one. People were taking off their boots, climbing into cars and heading for home. All of them were complete strangers, absorbed in their own lives. They could see him, of course. An overweight middle-aged man with a receding hairline and a distant stare. But they would never remember him.
A few minutes later, a young man jogged past on to the woodland path, checking his watch as he ran, as if he knew the time was approaching. A black Land Rover eased into a spot opposite Farrell’s BMW, but no one emerged.
And finally, the lights went off in the information centre. A woman came out and locked the front doors. She took a glance round the car park, seemed to see nothing of any interest to her, and climbed into a Ford Focus parked in a bay reserved for staff. Farrell watched as she drove away.
it was quiet and there were only a few cars left, he leaned over into the back seat and unzipped the holdall. Carefully, Farrell lifted out the gas canisters, uncoiling the plastic tubing as it writhed on to the seat. He placed the canisters in the footwell. They looked incongruous sitting there, painted in fluorescent orange with their pictures of party balloons on the side.
It had taken him a while to find the right brand of gas. Some manufacturers had started putting a percentage of air into the canisters, which made them quite useless for his purpose. That was when things went wrong, if you didn’t check and double-check, and make sure you got exactly the right equipment.
Still, you could find anything on the internet, as he well knew. Information, advice, someone to talk to who actually understood how you were feeling. And the inspiration. He would be nothing without that. He wouldn’t be here at Heeley Bank right now.
And this is the first secret of death. There’s always a right time and place to die
Farrell said it again. You could never say it too often. It was so important. The most important thing in the world. Or in
world, at least.
He reached back into the holdall and lifted out the bag itself. He held it almost reverently, like a delicate surgical instrument. And it was, in a way. It could achieve every bit as much as any complicated heart operation or brain surgery. It could change someone’s life for the better. And instead of hours and hours of complicated medical procedures on the operating table, it took just a few minutes. It was so simple.
black tape from a roll, he attached the tubing to the place he’d marked on the edge of the bag, tugging at it to make sure it was perfectly secure. Everything fine so far.
Farrell had spent days choosing a piece of music to play. The CD was waiting now in its case and he slid it out, catching a glimpse of his own reflection in the gleaming surface. He wondered what expression would be in his eyes in the last seconds.
Despite his reluctance to see himself now, he couldn’t resist a glance in his rearview mirror. Only his eyes were visible, pale grey irises and a spider’s web of red lines. His pupils appeared tiny, as if he were on drugs or staring into a bright light. And maybe he
looking at the light. Perhaps it had already started.
The CD player whirred quietly and the music began to play. He’d selected a piece of Bach. It wasn’t his normal choice of music, but nothing was normal now. It hadn’t been for quite a while. The sounds of the Bach just seemed to suit the mood he was trying to achieve. Peace, certainly. And a sort of quiet, steady progression towards the inevitable conclusion.
As the sun set in the west over Bradwell Moor, a shaft of orange light burst over the landscape, transforming the colours into a kaleidoscope of unfamiliar shades, as if the Peak District had just become a tropical island.
Farrell held his breath, awed by the magic of the light. It was one of the amazing things he loved about this area, the way it changed from one minute to the next, from one month to another. Those hillsides he
was looking at now would be ablaze with purple heather later in the summer. It was always a glorious sight.
For a moment, Farrell hesitated, wondering whether he should have left it until August or the beginning of September.
And then it hit him. That momentary twinge of doubt exploded inside him, filling his lungs and stopping the breath in his throat until he gathered all his strength to battle against it. His hands trembled with the effort as he forced the doubt back down into the darkness. As the tension collapsed, his shoulders sagged and his forehead prickled with a sheen of sweat.
Farrell felt as though he’d just experienced the pain and shock of a heart attack without the fatal consequences. His lips twitched in an ironic smile. That meant he was still in control. He remained capable of making his own mind up, deciding where and when to end his life. He was able to choose his own moment, his own perfect location.
There’s always a right time and place to die
Roger Farrell took one last glance out of the window as the light began to fade over the Peak District hills.
The place was here.
And the time was
Sergeant Diane Fry was standing on the corner of a street in the Forest Fields area of Nottingham, examining a display of toilet rolls and multi-pack crisps in the window of Pound Stop Plus.
Around her were rows and rows of red-brick terraces, cars parked on and off the kerb, the soft, hopeful murmuring of pigeons gathering for an evening feed. The scent of warm spices mingled with the faint aroma of fish and chips. A sign on a nearby wall encouraged her to book early for next year’s Hajj. But she had no plans for a trip to Mecca right now. The suburbs of Nottingham were the ultimate destination of her journey.