Silenced for Good- Alex Coombs (Digital Sample)

Read on for an exclusive extract from ‘Silenced For Good’ by Alex Coombs.

Silenced For Good

Alex Coombs

Chapter One

‘I think that you’re addicted to violence. I think you like the adrenaline rush, the danger. I think you like losing control.’ Dr Morgan’s gaze was steady, her voice calm. ‘I’ve seen this so many times before, usually in drugs and alcohol. Starting off as fun, then a remorseless escalation until we have total addiction, an inability to live without it.’

She glanced at Hanlon. Over to you, the look said.

‘I never lose control,’ Hanlon replied icily. She let her gaze wander around Dr Elspeth Morgan’s consulting room while she struggled to maintain her composure. It was a large, airy first-floor room overlooking a quiet residential road. It was a reassuringly expensive area. Dr Morgan’s fees were not reassuring; they were alarmingly high. They were in Hampstead, in North London, just up the road from the Freud museum. Freud had tribal art in his consulting room; Dr Morgan favoured modern, abstract paintings and sculpture.

Hanlon disliked them intensely.

‘Then why are you here?’ countered Dr Morgan, her voice sceptical. ‘For showing a worrying amount of kindness to a suspect avoiding arrest? I think not. You broke his nose.’

Hanlon had been temporarily suspended from duty while an assault charge was investigated. She didn’t blame the criminal responsible for struggling while she arrested him, but she did blame her colleagues for not backing her up. She had been in the police for twenty years now, and her career had plateaued. She was high-ranking, a DCI, but somewhere a line had been crossed from respected elder statesman – she was forty – to dinosaur. Embarrassing dinosaur. Her opinions were old-fashioned, as was her approach to policing.

‘He was resisting arrest.’

Dr Morgan raised an elegant shaped eyebrow and looked at her quizzically. She was about sixty, tall and sophisticated. She had short, skilfully cut grey hair and a shrewd face. She was wearing a grey silk trouser suit and a patterned blouse. Hanlon could imagine her in court giving evidence as an expert witness, unflappable, convincing.

Now she said, ‘I would imagine a lot of people resist arrest where you’re concerned, DCI Hanlon. Well above the average.’

‘The suspect didn’t complain at the time.’ She shrugged.

‘No, indeed. Not at the time, but he did later, didn’t he?’ Dr Morgan gave her an uncomfortably penetrating look and Hanlon moved uncomfortably in her chair. Not because it was badly designed; it was guilt. Hanlon had spent her life hiding things deep inside, and now here was this woman shining a light on things that had been in a cavernous darkness for years, decades sometimes. The present events that they were discussing would be a portal to the past, and Hanlon, although she would never have admitted it, was scared. She was beginning to regret coming here.

Dr Morgan looked at the hard-faced, dark-haired woman sitting opposite her and continued, pressing the point, ‘And your colleagues failed to back you up. I think we can draw our own conclusions from a rather deafening silence.’ Dr Morgan looked at Hanlon. ‘Bit unusual, isn’t it? You normally close ranks. When it’s the police worrying about police violence, surely alarm bells should be ringing in your head.’

‘I think I am suffering from stress,’ Hanlon lied, trying to shift the ground. The interview with the clinical psychologist was not going to plan. She had hoped that Dr Morgan would sympathise with her, agree that the Metropolitan Police had treated her shamefully and agree to help her fight her corner. She didn’t need this. Dr Morgan seemed to be casting herself as a hostile witness.

The psychologist raised a sceptical eyebrow. ‘You can’t control yourself, Hanlon – worse, you don’t want to.’

‘That’s not true.’ She looked around the room again. There were three plain pale grey unadorned ceramic vases on a table against the wall. They were very simple in design. Her fingers curled and her knuckles whitened.

She was reliving the incident, the four of them following the BMW 3 series through the streets of South London. A suspected arms drop. They didn’t want the driver, he was just the delivery man, they wanted the customers. Then the brief chase as the driver realised he was being followed. The car stuck in traffic, two men abandoning it, Hanlon chasing the driver on foot.

‘They’re Bauhaus vases,’ Dr Morgan said, misinterpreting Hanlon’s gaze but not the anger and frustration underlying it. ‘Please don’t even think of smashing them. They’re rather beautiful and rare.’

Hanlon ignored her. She was still in South London. Running down the alley. Behind a Chinese restaurant. The smell of five spice from the extractor fans and rotting food from the black bin-bags outside the kitchen door. The man, twenties, stocky. The alley had been a dead end, a chain-link fence. Shouting at Hanlon in some unknown Eastern European language. She glanced around, no one there, no witnesses. She hit him hard in the stomach, saw the pain and surprise in his face – it felt good… you can’t control yourself spun him round, cuffed him. More perceived insults, the frustration inside her, another punch and then, quite casually, an elbow into his face… Worse, you don’t want to…’

She stared hard into Dr Morgan’s eyes. ‘He was resisting arrest. He brought it on himself. There was no excessive force – it was necessary, proportionate and reasonable.’

The doctor drummed her fingers thoughtfully on her desk.

‘There’s a technical term, Hanlon. In layman’s terms it’s called pushing the fuck-it button. That’s when addicts give in to their chosen addiction big-time. They know it’s going to have terrible consequences, but they’ve ceased to care. They almost seem to relish it.’

‘Really?’ She tried to sound unconcerned.

‘I know you know that feeling, Hanlon.’

‘No. That’s not the case.’ She frowned, angry with herself; her voice sounded hollow and unconvincing.

‘Isn’t it? Really?’ She noticed how still the doctor was. And worst of all, she was right, and Hanlon knew it. She knew it only too well. The alley incident was far from isolated. In the past few days there had been a road-rage incident and a furious row with the woman in charge of line-ups at Lewisham. How many times had she said to herself, ‘Bring it on!’? She looked into the shrewd face of the therapist; she had no intention of bringing any of this recent history up.

Dr Morgan continued, inexorable.

‘From what you’ve told me, the heavily edited version, I assume, things are escalating. You deliberately put yourself in positions of extreme danger—’

‘That’s not true.’

‘You could have called for assistance at least three times that I know of, from what you’ve told me.’ Hanlon considered this; it was true. Even at the planning stage, she’d been offered another car, she’d turned that down. When the chase had started, she’d been adamant they could handle it. It had been her decision to pursue the suspect alone. She hadn’t wanted any help, maybe she hadn’t wanted any witnesses.

‘But I couldn’t trust…’ This wasn’t fair, Hanlon thought.

‘No, you don’t trust people, do you? Don’t you think that’s part of your problem, an inability to trust? And those you do trust, you seem to treat them in a very high-handed way. This man Enver, your former colleague, the man you claim is your best friend, he’s not talking to you.’

Hanlon shifted uncomfortably in her chair.

‘That’s because of his wife. She’s a bitch.’

‘Is she? Is she really?’ Dr Morgan raised an eloquent eyebrow. ‘Or is she just angry with you for exposing her husband to danger, not to mention morally blackmailing him into actions that would get him sacked if they had come to light?’

‘You’re twisting the facts,’ Hanlon complained.

‘When we discussed past relationships, you told me you had even managed to find a lover with a similar laissez-faire attitude to the law. Even though like calls to like, it’s quite an achievement.’

‘He’s Russian,’ Hanlon muttered. Whatever Serg got up to was no business of the Metropolitan Police in her view. There was no conflict of interest. Part of her thought, Well, I’m not sure that is true at all. She buried the thought. Another skeleton from the past.

Dr Morgan laughed. ‘So what? What difference does that make? I’m half Russian if it comes to that.’

In her life outside work, in the boxing ring and in triathlons, she had inevitably come across people better than she was and when she recognised it, when she knew she was beaten, sometimes it came as a huge relief. To stop pointlessly fighting. She knew she was beaten, she knew, deep down, that Dr Morgan was right. Hanlon was suddenly tired of herself. As with so many events in her life, she had managed to alienate someone who could help; she had managed to turn an appointment with a doctor who she wanted to assist her into a fight.

Maybe it was time to stop fighting everyone and everything.

‘What should I do?’ she asked quietly. She suddenly felt that what she really wanted was a set of easy-to-follow rules laid down by Dr Morgan.

‘Go on holiday,’ she said. ‘There, simple advice. Like you told me you had planned to do. Get out of London. Go on this holiday to Scotland. There is nothing you can achieve down here. Then when you feel calmer, call me and arrange for a follow-up appointment. Then we’ll talk about your future.’

Hanlon stood up and went to the door.

‘Oh, one more thing…’ Hanlon turned. Dr Morgan said, ‘You have a problem with life. You might have noticed this by now – I certainly have. Now, as you can’t avoid that, just avoid crime, OK. You’re going to a sparsely inhabited Scottish island. Don’t get into trouble.’ She looked hard at her. ‘That should be an achievable goal.’

‘I’ll do my best,’ Hanlon said and walked out of Dr Morgan’s tasteful house into the expensive, manicured Hampstead street.


Chapter Two

The woman’s body was lying on the shingle and stones of the beach. She was wearing a black one-piece swimming costume. Her skin was very pale against the dark material. There were tattoos on her upper arms and shoulders. Her head was on its side, her ear had multiple piercings. She had short, badly dyed blonde hair and her micro-bladed eyebrows were very dark on her forehead. She looked very young and terribly fragile against the hard black and grey rock of the foreshore.

DI Campbell shook his head sadly as he looked down at her.

He remembered the last time he had seen her. The party. She had been working the bar. He closed his eyes for a second; the cold grey rocky beach disappeared. He was back reliving the past.

‘Can I get you a drink, Mr…?’

‘Murray.’ He had smiled, he remembered doing that. She had smiled back. Women often did – he was good-looking and knew it. ‘You can call me Murray. Aye, I’ll have a Guinness.’

‘Certainly, one Guinness coming up…’

Murray had been the name he had used when he had seen her. Not his real name. The dark bar, its lights low. Then she had been in full party mode – the illumination might have been dim but her smile was bright, her blouse buttoned low, the music loud, the guests flushed with excitement and alcohol. He couldn’t remember her name, but he could remember her eyes, pupils dilated, she’d been high, her hands brushing his suggestively as she had handed him the pint. Some of the head from the Guinness had splashed on her forearm and she had licked it off, cat-like, provocatively. She had been so full of life and now… this.

He straightened up and pulled off his latex gloves. There were no red-flag indicators of foul play, no obvious external cuts or abrasions. There was nothing to indicate anything other than an accident. No need to get a team over to the island. He was only here because he happened to be staying just up the road. The call had come in from the station on Islay, the neighbouring, larger island – could he deal with it? He most certainly could.

‘What a waste,’ said the elderly man standing close to him on the shoreline. He was the one who had found her an hour or so earlier and called his discovery in.

‘Yes,’ Campbell said, ‘it’s very sad.’

The sound of vehicles – he looked up to the road above the shore – an old Volvo followed by an ambulance.

* * *

DS Catriona McCleod pulled up next to the familiar Land Rover of her colleague and the ambulance stopped behind her. She got out of the car and shivered in the cold sea breeze. They were on the east side of Jura, a hundred or so miles west of Glasgow, the Kintyre peninsula a low dark smudge across the choppy grey Atlantic. The cloud was low and, although it wasn’t raining yet, there was moisture in the air. Behind them the enormous shapes of the island’s mountains, the Paps of Jura, were invisible in the mist. But you knew that they were there. They were always there, stone giants dwarfing human activity.

‘Down here!’ called DI Campbell to her from the seashore below. The tide was out and she could see her colleague and another man bending over something invisible from where she was standing.

‘Wait by the ambulance,’ she said to the two paramedics. She’d met the ambulance at the ferry – a drowning, no suspicious circumstances – and escorted them to where the body was. Like Campbell, she was local, she knew where to go.

‘We’re in nae hurry,’ said the burlier of the two, grinning.

McCleod went to her car and took out a pair of latex gloves from a packet in the door compartment. ‘Stay!’ she ordered the border collie who was crouched in the rear hatch space of her Volvo, panting, eager to join in.

She sat down on the driver’s seat, kicked off her trainers and pulled on a pair of green wellingtons. She clambered down the slope with its coarse grass and made her way over the rocks to the seashore, where Campbell was standing with an elderly man.

The wind blew her long hair around her face. She twisted it back into a ponytail and secured it with a band. The breeze was ruffling Campbell’s short red hair. The old guy was bald and weather-beaten; he was wearing an old yellow oilskin. Retired fisherman, she guessed. He had that look. The sea was grey today and looked rough. Although the wind wasn’t that strong, white horses danced on the waves away from the shore. She could see a fishing boat rising and falling, tossed by the Atlantic as if it were weightless, ploughing through the swell a few hundred metres away.

The three of them looked down at the drowned girl. McCleod looked questioningly at Campbell; he shrugged as if to say, nothing to get excited about. They could hardly talk freely in front of the civilian but it wasn’t her place to send him away. Campbell answered her unspoken question.

‘It looks like a tragic accident,’ he said.

‘Do we know who she is?’ asked McCleod.

Campbell looked at her. He had very green eyes and McCleod noticed how they almost changed colour to a dark shade of jade as they reflected the grey from the sea and sky. She couldn’t say that she liked him very much, he was arrogant, stand-offish, but competent enough.

‘She’s from the Mackinnon Arms,’ he said. ‘I saw her working there.’

‘Och, of course,’ said McCleod, ‘Eva Balodis.’

Campbell, surprised, looked at her questioningly. ‘You know her, then?’

‘That woman Harriet – Harriet the manageress, I can’t recall her surname now – she called in a missing persons on her yesterday. Said she was very worried about her.’

‘Did she say why?’ Campbell asked. ‘I mean, other than the fact she hadn’t turned up for work?’

‘Well, she’s from Latvia, as far as the manageress knows, she has nowhere else to go, all her stuff is still in the hotel, so she hadn’t done a flit.’

She looked down at the girl. ‘Seems she was right to have been worried.’

The old man watched them impassively, taciturn like many of the islanders. He was dressed in scuffed and work-worn clothes and an old oilskin. Campbell, in a green Barbour jacket and worn cords, looked as if he’d stepped from a Boden catalogue. Even the trousers looked artfully distressed rather than old.

‘She said that Eva had talked about swimming the Corryvreckan whirlpool – in fact, Harriet made quite a point of it – and now…’ she nodded in the direction of the body ‘… here she is.’

‘Well,’ said Campbell briskly. ‘Well, there we are, then. Almost certainly an accident.’ Jumping the gun a bit, thought McCleod. It was as if Campbell wanted this done and dusted as quickly as possible.

‘How did you know her, sir?’ asked McCleod.

‘Oh, I don’t really know.’ He was studiously vague in that way that people have when they want to avoid a question. ‘I must have bumped into her at the hotel with my grandmother; you know she lives near Craighouse.’

Craighouse was the only village on the island. Not many people lived on Jura, the ones that did were mainly retired. During the summer the population swelled slightly with tourism but in general, everybody knew each other. It was odd that Campbell should have been so unaware of how he knew the girl. More than odd. And the whole way he was handling this was unusual for him. Normally he was a stickler for procedure, cautious in the extreme. Today he seemed very rushed, anxious to get everything tidied away.

‘Can I go now?’ said the old man, who had moved away from them and was now sitting a couple of metres away on a boulder while the two police officers talked.

‘I’m sorry,’ Campbell said, giving an apologetic smile. It transformed his face, making him look very boyish. ‘DS McCleod, this is Ronnie Fraser. He found the body and called us. Mr Fraser, could you go with my colleague? She’ll just be asking you a few questions, then you’re free to go.’

‘Aye, come along with me, sir. We’ll just go up to my car…’

‘Oh, and, Catriona, send the paramedics down. They can take her away. The tide’s coming in. Don’t want her floating away.’

‘Yes, sir.’

She walked back up the beach with Ronnie Fraser. He walked with the unhurried trudge of the countryman. She told the waiting men to fetch the body. As they unpacked the stretcher from the back of the ambulance and scrambled down to the shore, she looked back at Campbell, who was standing with his back to her, staring out to sea.

She turned to the old man. ‘Now, sir,’ she said brightly, ‘just a few wee questions. Firstly, your full name please…’

As the questions rolled on, where he lived, the sequence of events, the chronology of the discovery of the body, she found that she was operating almost on autopilot as she took down the answers. Her mind was more preoccupied with Campbell. It wasn’t just the way he was handling things or the uncharacteristic forgetfulness about where he had met Eva.

Campbell’s grandmother was ardent Free Church of Scotland. They were a strict, some would even say fanatical, Calvinist branch of Christianity. They were no fan of drink. She would no more have gone into a hotel bar where alcohol was served than McCleod would have visited a brothel.

Campbell was lying.

As if aware the DS was thinking of him, Campbell turned and looked directly at her. She recalled stories that she had heard, pub rumours, that Campbell was a bit of a ladies’ man. It was very believable. Maybe she would have been tempted herself, if he weren’t such a stuck-up prick.

As McCleod thanked Ronnie Fraser and watched him walk away back to where he lived, she wondered, were Campbell and Eva an item? No, they could never have been an item – she wouldn’t have been presentable enough for Campbell. She would have been an embarrassment.

Was she your side-piece, sir? That was far more likely. Not good enough to be a fully accredited girlfriend, but just good enough for a quick one when need or the opportunity arose. Was that why the DI was being so economical with the truth, why he was in such a hurry to close the book on this one, an embarrassing ex-lover? Self-interest seemed to be taking precedence over justice. Whatever had happened to Eva Balodis was not going to be gone into with any great rigour.

Well, she thought, I for one will be keeping a close eye on the investigation, that’s for sure.


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