Trowchester Blues by Alex Beecroft

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 riptidepublishing: amazon.co.uk: amazon.com

Blurb:

Michael May is losing it. Long ago, he joined the Metropolitan Police to escape his father’s tyranny and protect people like himself. Now his father is dead, and he’s been fired for punching a suspect. Afraid of his own rage, he returns to Trowchester—and to his childhood home, with all its old fears and memories. When he meets a charming, bohemian bookshop owner who seems to like him, he clings tight.

Fintan Hulme is an honest man now. Five years ago, he retired from his work as a high class London fence and opened a bookshop. Then an old client brings him a stolen book too precious to turn away, and suddenly he’s dealing with arson and kidnapping, to say nothing of all the lies he has to tell his friends. Falling in love with an ex-cop with anger amanagement issues is the last thing he should be doing.

Finn thinks Michael is incredibly sexy. Michael knows Finn is the only thing that still makes him smile. But in a relationship where cops and robbers are natural enemies, that might not be enough to save them.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

Thirty seconds after Smith knocked at the front door, the suspect threw open the back and charged out. Michael May, standing to one side waiting, kicked the guy’s knees out from under him, and moved in to try to seize an arm, get the bastard in a half nelson, under control.

But this guy—Watkins—was tougher than these white-collar city boys usually came. He took the fall like a pro, used the momentum to roll, and came up running. He was a wiry git, taller than May—most men were—with long legs. That damn kung fu fall set off all kinds of alarms in May’s head, but at this stage it was fight or lose him, and he was not going to let the bastard get away.

A wheelie bin in the narrow passage between the back of the house and the street slowed the perp up enough so May could throw himself at those long legs and rugby tackle him to the ground. Watkins went down, but he squirmed like an eel. May took a heel to the balls, and blessed his own foresight in wearing rugby protection down there. He held on tight, not wanting to walk his hold up the guy’s body and potentially give him a better angle to use his fists. Pinned by May’s considerable weight, facedown on the pavement, there wasn’t a lot the guy could do to him. May could lie here just fine until Reed or Smith got round to coming to help.

The perp tried rolling. No luck. He pushed himself up on his arms, trying with better leverage. Failed again. In terms of sheer physical force, May outclassed him easily.

“Nigel Howard Watkins”—this was an unusual position from which to make an arrest, but May wasn’t going to turn down anything that worked—“you are under arrest for—”

Watkins flopped flat. One of his long, flailing arms went to the back of his designer suit trousers. His jacket shifted, and there was the bulge of a gun stuffed down the back of his waistband.

May’s heart kicked up beneath his ribs. Fuck, every villain had a gun these days, and they hadn’t brought any armed officers with them. His mind went white and clear even as his lips tingled with cold adrenaline. Don’t let him draw it.

He punched Watkins in the kidney with his left hand, reached up with the right to try to grab for the gun. The moment his hold loosened, Watkins squirmed again, got one leg out from under him and kneed May in the ribs with it. May body-slammed the guy back to the pavement, swarmed up him, got his hand on Watkins’s hand just as it grasped the gun, and kept it pressed down hard against the guy’s back, so if he did pull the trigger, he’d shoot his own arse.

“May?” Acting Detective Constable Reed called from the exit to the road.

“Here! I could use a little help.”

The yard gate swung open. Reed—a tall, skinny kid who lived up to his name—ran through, pushed past the wheelie bin, and got his knees on Watkins’s shoulders.

“You’re not going anywhere, sir.” May managed to get his thumb on the pressure point of Watkins’s wrist. Watkins jerked like he knew exactly what May was doing, knew that as soon as May dug in there, his hand would go numb, he would let go of the gun, and it would be all over.

If the man was going to shoot at all, it would be now. And yes, the bullet would go through his own buttock on the way to tearing into May’s belly, lodging itself in his pelvis or his spine, but May would still be dead, and he’d be alive. Could he be tough enough for that? Tough enough to get another shot off afterwards, take Reed down too, and escape?

“You’re not going anywhere,” May said again, digging in to the pressure point with his fingers, pushing with his own resolve against Watkins’s determination. “Nigel Howard Watkins, you are under arrest for kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment of a minor.”

Watkins struggled against May’s hold, but his fingers opened involuntarily, and May wrenched the gun out of his hand, threw it out of reach. The high, shrill edge to May’s mood quietened down into a more familiar wariness. Okay, okay. Thank God, we’re all fine.

He breathed out hard, pushing the panic aside, and drew on the comforting blanket of routine. “You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

Reed passed him handcuffs. He snapped them on, breathed again two, three times before giving the ADC a smile. “Good work. Let’s get him up.”

The fight had gone out of their prisoner. He rose easily enough, stood between them meekly with his smart white shirt black all over with the exhaust residue and smut of London’s streets. Jermyn Street tailoring, gold watch, this season’s spiky City cut on his muddy-blond hair, manicured hands. Maybe with blood under the nails, they’d have to check.

“You can’t touch me,” he said, obviously trying for suave and not quite making it.

“You got him?” Smith appeared at the yard door, wiping her hands over and over against her jeans. Jenny Smith, May’s longtime partner, was hard and clear as diamond. His already queasy stomach—roiling with the comedown of that sudden flood of fight or flight—sank at the sight of her. Mouth pale, skin greenish, creases of strain between her eyebrows. It was bad.

“Bag the gun,” he replied, nodding to it.

She knelt down to do it, not looking at him, not looking at Watkins. “Is he going to be secure in the car? You should see inside.”

May could almost feel the confidence coming back to his prisoner, as if he were a vase being filled under a tap of it. Being physically overwhelmed and disarmed tended to knock even the most egotistical down a peg, but this guy was bouncing back from it with all the arrogance of his suit. He wasn’t going to sit still and be a good boy while he waited for the police to gather evidence.

“We’ll bring him.”

Inside the man’s house, it was glossy. A whole Victorian terrace house, not even split into flats. The ground floor was open plan, finished in pale wood, with a floating staircase up to the second and third floors. The bannisters were wrought iron. Nice and sturdy, so May used his own cuffs in addition to Reed’s and secured Walker there, each wrist cuffed to a different spoke.

Smith passed the bagged gun to Reed. “Stay here. Make sure he stays too.”

May caught Smith’s gaze and raised his eyebrows. Reed’s staying here?

She shoved a tendril of barley-sugar-coloured hair back into her plait and gave him a twist of the lips that said, ADC Reed is twenty-one. Too young for this. “I’ve already called for forensics, but you should see, so you can corroborate my evidence.”

The smell began halfway down the stairs to the cellar. Very clean stairs. They ended in a small stone room full of racks of wine. Not a speck of dust on the floor, probably because if there had been, the place where the far wall swung out to reveal a hidden room would have been obvious at a glance. May drew on gloves, though he didn’t intend to touch anything.

His educated nose picked up the bouquet of blood and burned flesh, layered with the fainter and yet more disturbing scents of semen and corpse. The energy of the fight had well and truly worn off now. His hands in his pockets shook no matter how hard he clenched them. He stopped where the false wall, cheerful with green bottles, still blocked his view, and closed his eyes for good measure.

“Jenny, I . . .”

But she was a woman and a mother. She’d seen everything he’d seen over their shared career. If she could take it, what kind of a pathetic excuse for a man did it make him that he could not?

Smith looked at him with a kind of cold fury that meant, You are not leaving this all to me. Pull yourself together, but what she said was, “No, you know, on second thoughts, why don’t you and Reed just take him in? I’ll wait for forensics.” And see, he was letting down his partner with his weakness. She’d have to go home at night and know she was the only one with this stuff in her head. She’d have no one to talk to about it, no one to understand the pain that came out as morbid jokes and obsessive hand washing and one too many beers on a Friday night, if you were lucky.

No one needed to tell him he’d been flaky lately. He knew he’d been unravelling for the better part of the last year. That didn’t mean he had to give in to it. He could try acting like a man and suck it up.

“Let me see,” he said. Didn’t miss her look of relief and guilt. No matter how concerned she might be about him, she didn’t want to be alone with this.

The victim was a fourteen-year-old girl. Quite dead. By the look of her, she’d been dead for a couple of days. Her wrists, where she’d been chained to the radiator, had melted into the metal. Stacey Merriweather: ran away from home after a family argument over her grades at school, failed to return.

Cameras on Platform 3 of Piccadilly Station had seen her sitting with her back to the wall, crying. A disconsolate little package of short skirt and Hello Kitty hairband. Had seen the camel-coated back of the kind gentleman who’d comforted her, and a flash of his pocket watch as he’d reached down to help her to her feet.

They’d traced that watch to waterfront properties, a high-powered job in the City, every luxury money could buy and then some. A slew of false names, this house belonging to one of them. And then they’d followed the trail down and down again to this room with its operating table and its instruments and its chains. To this corpse with its internal organs removed and placed in labelled jars. With its lips sewn shut and its eyes sewn open and a Hello Kitty hairband in its hair.

May thought he said something. Pretty sure the strangled noise was his voice. But he’d mostly lost himself, not quite following who was striding back up the stairs with Smith’s shouts chasing him and a head full of such rage that the skull had shattered under the pressure and the fury was smoking behind him in a tail like a dark comet.

Footsteps came running behind him, but he was in the living room now, looking at white furniture, deep white carpets like clouds. Looking at polish and varnish and golden autumn light slanting through high windows onto a monster in an Armani suit.

“Sir!” Reed squeaked as May reached out a lazy hand and shoved him aside.

Fingers tried to grab hold of his jacket from the back. “May! May! Michael! Listen to me.”

He twitched them aside, drew back, and punched Watkins straight in the gut, the satisfying impact reverberating through his knuckles into every bone of his body. How about he show the bastard what it was like when his internal organs were pulped?

Watkins tried to double over, still cuffed to the stair rods like a crucifixion. It brought his smug mouth down perfectly to the level of May’s fists, and May hit him twice more, splitting his lip, bloodying his nose, making spittle and blood fly. He grinned, fierce, righteous, because this was just what the guy deserved. No. He deserved more, so much more. May drew back his hand to strike again.

But something was stopping him from swinging. He tried his hardest, succeeded in unbalancing Smith and dragging her forwards, but she kept right on clinging to his arm as Reed’s long grasp locked around his waist and the ADC fought to pull him away.

May could have shaken them both off without much effort, but the contact, their grip, their concerned voices, started to wake up something human in him again. He was coming to after having been unconscious, all the madness that had been spiralling around his head contracting into a little black hole that he swallowed back down.

Just because the guy deserved this didn’t mean May could go around beating up defenceless citizens. He was not fucking Batman. He was better than this.

“Shit,” he said, appalled, and stepped away from the prisoner. “Shit. Jenny, Mark. I’m sorry.”

They let him go. Stood, looking at him with shocked and unsettled eyes, Jenny with that guilt back, all over her face like she somehow thought any of this was her fault.

Silence while it all sank in, and then Watkins raised his head and smiled. “I have friends in places so high you don’t even know they exist. I’m going to be fine. But you? I’m going to see you broken for police brutality at the least. At the very least.”

 

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