Paul Finch is a former cop and journalist now turned full time writer. He first cut his literary teeth penning episodes of the British TV crime drama, THE BILL, and has written extensively in the field of children's animation. However, he is probably best known for his work in thrillers and horrors.
His crime debut novel, STALKERS, was a no 1 ebook best seller in 2013 and introduced DS Mark 'Heck' Heckenburg. This was followed last July by the sequel, SACRIFICE, and this month by the third in the series, THE KILLING CLUB. The fourth, DEAD MAN WALKING, will follow in November 2014. The Heck series is also to be published in Germany, Poland, Turkey, Hungary, and Japan.
In addition to his Heck novels, Paul has had twelve books and nearly 300 stories and novellas published on both sides of the Atlantic. His first collection, AFTER SHOCKS (Ash-Tree Press), won the British Fantasy Award in 2002, while he won the award again in 2007 for his novella, KID. Later in 2007, he won the International Horror Guild Award for his mid-length story, THE OLD NORTH ROAD. His short novel, CAPE WRATH (Telos), was short-listed for the Bram Stoker Award in 2002, and several other collections of his stories and novellas have been published since, all of them well received by fans and readers. His horror novel, STRONGHOLD, was published by Abaddon Books in 2010, and the same year Pendragon Press published his highly rated festive terror tale, SPARROWHAWK. Paul has also written three DR WHO audio dramas for Big Finish - LEVIATHAN, SENTINELS OF THE NEW DAWN and HEXAGORA, and THRESHOLD, the pilot episode for the DR WHO spin-off series, COUNTER MEASURES. Paul's DR WHO novel, HUNTER'S MOON was published by BBC Books in 2011.
Paul is no stranger to film either, having written scripts for several horror movies. Two of these, SPIRIT TRAP and THE DEVIL'S ROCK, were released in 2005 and 2011 respectively, while his short story THE BELFRIES, is currently being adapted in Hollywood, and his movie script WAR WOLF is under development by Amber Entertainment.
Wearing an editor's hat, Paul is also responsible for the TERROR TALES series from Gray Friar Press, a collection of ghost and horror anthologies exploring the folklore, history and geography of the various regions of Britain.
Paul Finch lives in Lancashire, UK, with his wife Cathy and his children, Eleanor and Harry.
Paul's blog can be found at www.paulfinch-author.blogspot.co.uk. You can also contact him on Facebook or on Twitter, where he is @paulfinchauthor. Paul is officially represented by Julian Friedmann of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency: http://www.blakefriedmann.co.uk/
‘As you’re aware, Operation Thunderclap is going to be a cross-department enquiry,’ Tasker said, addressing the two hundred or so officers crammed into the MIR. ‘Separate incident rooms have now been set up in Oxford and near to the ambush site at Gull Rock, but Gold and Silver Command have been located here.’
The crowd attending him didn’t just consist of SOCAR Special Investigations personnel. Members of the SOCAR uniform branch were also present, now in plain clothes, along with senior officers from the Met’s SCO19, whose firearms expertise was likely to be necessary, and a sprinkling of detectives from SCU, including Shawna McCluskey, whom Gemma had appointed Chief Statement Reader.
Heck, who wasn’t invited to the party, eavesdropped enviously from the open door at the back. Tasker and Gemma were at the far end, making a complex but thorough presentation, aided by flip-charts and videos.
‘But there’s a real urgency here, people,’ Tasker added. ‘It’s only four days since the prison break, and our targets, the so-called Nice Guys, appear to be shooting people like it’s open season…’
He’d stripped down to his shirt and tie before he’d started; it was cool, professional, businesslike. There was something reassuring about it. He spoke clearly and articulately, interacting easily with team members when they raised their hands to ask questions. Gemma hadn’t been lying when she’d said Tasker was an impressive operator. And she was usually a pretty good judge of character. Increasingly, Heck felt that it was he himself who wasn’t.
‘As well as the two massacres near Gull Rock and in Stanton St. John, which ballistics reports have now connected, we’re also focussing on several additional, apparently motiveless homicides, which have occurred in different parts of the country in the last few days,’ Tasker confirmed. ‘All were apparently the work of pro assassins who were well organised and appeared to know exactly what they were doing, but all were marked clearly …’ he held up a photograph, ‘by this BDEL signature, which we’ve deduced is an oblique reference to a punishment supposedly doled out to prostitutes in the ancient Middle East. As for Peter Rochester, better known as Mad Mike Silver, there are a lot of unanswered questions. We don’t know if he was really taken ill in Gull Rock, or if he somehow managed to fake it. If it’s the latter, we don’t know how he got word out to the Nice Guys that he was being transferred to hospital. We don’t know how they were able to respond to it so quickly. But Rochester’s obviously the key to all this. If we get him back, and we’ve got to get him back, ladies and gentlemen, that will enable us to wrap up the rest of these bastards too. But it’s not going to be easy, I’ll tell you now. These Nice Guys ... I mean I’m sorry but I hate that term, these Nice Guys, are almost entirely composed of combat veterans and spec-ops turned mercenary. That means they’re what I’d call “do or die” criminals, who’ll show no mercy to anyone who gets in their way. More to the point, they’ll have safe boltholes overseas, so it will never be in their interest to surrender. They’ll attempt to shoot their way out of every situation when they get cornered…’
Heck was still listening intently when someone tapped his shoulder.
He turned, to see Detective Constable Gary Quinnell there. Quinnell grinned and said, ‘Someone’s been illegally peeing.’
Quinnell grinned all the more. He was a gigantic Welshman with a dusting of red-gold bristles on his pate, a battered, craggy face and a nose that had been broken more times than he’d had leeks for his tea, mainly while playing rugby union for South Wales Police. ‘Up in Shoreditch. You know … peeing, slashing? The Shoreditch Slasher, for God’s sake!’
‘Oh, yeah.’ Heck accompanied him along the corridor. ‘You on that one as well?’
‘Yep, it’s me and you. Probably sending me along to puppy-walk you. Make sure you don’t lose interest halfway through and bugger off somewhere else.’
Heck wasn’t displeased to hear that Quinnell would be accompanying him. The two of them went back some way, having worked together closely on several cases. They weren’t natural bedfellows. Quinnell had an affable nature and liked to joke around. He also held staunch Anglican beliefs – which occasionally left Heck nonplussed as they didn’t seem to moderate the big guy’s effectiveness in a tight spot one iota. But that was a good thing. There was no one Heck would rather go across the pavement with than Gary Quinnell.
Ben Kane was waiting for them in the DO. He regarded Heck with thinly disguised irritation. ‘I take it you’re not too busy to do some SCU work today?’
‘No sir, I’m sorry about that,’ Heck replied. They were, of course, Kane’s orders that Heck had blatantly flouted the previous day – not intentionally, but it was still disrespectful to a supervisory officer. ‘I’ve had my knackers chewed off about it, I assure you.’
Kane harrumphed. ‘I ought to make you drop your kecks and prove it.’
Heck cleared his throat at the sound of suppressed sniggers from the surrounding desks. ‘Sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.’
‘Like I believe that,’ Kane said. ‘Anyway, enough bullshit. Let’s get on with it.’ He showed them a couple of photos that had just been emailed through. ‘I’m sending Gary to Stoke Newington with you, Heck, because this thing’s getting serious at a rate of knots. Apparently there was another one last night. This one also suffered severe damage to her left eye. As usual, the mugger seemed more interested in striping the victim with a knife – probably a Stanley, than in taking her handbag. But he did take the handbag.’
‘Perk of the job, I suppose,’ Quinnell said, hands in pockets.
Kane glanced at him with distaste. ‘The Met reckon it’s only a matter of time before someone dies.’
Heck nodded, but said nothing.
‘I know it’s small potatoes compared to the Nice Guys,’ Kane added. ‘But it’s worrying stuff and the local lads could use some help.’
Heck nodded again. ‘That’s what we’re here for, sir.’
‘Good. Now’s an excellent time to remember that. So get up there. Liaise with DCs Reynolds and Grimshaw.’ They slouched to their desks to get their stuff together. ‘And get a sodding move on!’ Kane bawled after them. ‘Take the quickest, shortest route … no dawdling or pissing around. That lot have waited long enough!’
‘You can bring the worst out of anyone, you can, boyo,’ Quinnell said as they sauntered down to the car park. ‘Now Schoolmaster Ben’s shouting and carrying on!’
‘You gonna blabber on all the way up to the East End?’ Heck asked.
Quinnell made a zipping motion across his lips.
‘Good. Because I’ve got to think some stuff through.’
‘Well, thinking stuff through’s one of your strong points, sarge.’
Heck gazed at him suspiciously, but Quinnell only grinned.
‘What do you think?’ Quinnell asked after ten minutes.
‘I think it should be left to Division,’ Heck replied.
‘Bit messy, though, isn’t it?’
Heck pondered the details of the case. The attacks were confined to the Shoreditch and Hackney districts, and rarely varied. In almost all cases, the assailant, a tall, lean man wearing a black anorak and a hoodie, and described as having ‘a pale, skullish face’ accosted lone females after dark. His MO was to shove them back against a wall or lamppost with his left hand, pull a small, sharp blade with his right, and demand money. In every case thus far, the terrified victim had handed valuables over. The assailant had then lunged at them with his blade, always going for the face, before running away. A couple of times, the wound had been superficial – no more than a nick, but he was clearly getting better at it. On the last three occasions, he’d created six- or seven-inch incisions, sometimes half a centimetre in depth. Heck could understand the divisional CID office’s concern – in the case of the previous night’s victim, Angelina Watts, a seventeen-year-old waitress, the blade had sliced clean through her left eyeball – yet he still didn’t view this as an SCU case, for various reasons.
‘This is five minutes of a job,’ he said. ‘To start with, he’s local. He always leaves the scene on foot, but CCTV footage from bus stops and railway stations has brought no results, which means he’s got somewhere close to lie low. He’s been chased from the scene three times, but always eludes his pursuers. That means he knows the area. He almost certainly lives or works on the plot. He’s white, six-foot four minimum, lanky build. That narrows the field.’
Heck read on. ‘Look at this … he left footprints in a flowerbed after vaulting a fence to get away across a nursery school playing-field. They’ve been identified as belonging to a size-twelve training shoe. That’s a big foot, which narrows it down even more. The tread pattern is also identifiable. It gives us the specific brand. So … six-four, size twelve feet, specific make of shoe, and all in that same small area. Realistically, how long should it take for the local factory to trace this lad? His signature crime is slashing the faces of female strangers. He robs them too, but the wounding is the object of the exercise. Think about it, Gaz. Face-slashing … that suggests he’s either got a disfigurement himself, or someone in his family has … maybe his mother, his sister.’
‘No witness has reported a disfigurement,’ Quinnell said.
‘No witness had a proper gander at his face. All they did was glimpse it under his hood, calling it pale and skull-like.’
‘A disfigurement isn’t a given … hey, shit-brain!’ Quinnell hit his horn as the red Alfa Romeo in front took its sweet time moving through a green light. The traffic was still heavy, the dirty grey rain intensifying, drumming the windshield.
‘Alright, put that aside,’ Heck said. ‘He only attacks young women. Non-fatal knife attacks on females tend to indicate a sexual inadequate. Someone who hasn’t got the capability to commit rape. The chances are he’s committed similar but lesser telltale crimes before. Purse-snatching, skirt-lifting, bottom-pinching, spitting on girls in the street, name-calling … especially when he’s drunk. You seriously think someone like that won’t already be in the system?’
Quinnell shrugged, but snarled. The Alfa Romeo was again dawdling at a traffic light.
‘And with all these ID markers,’ Heck added, ‘how long before you’re looking at a shortlist of one? And that’s assuming he isn’t dumb enough to have used one of the stolen credit cards at a cashpoint and get himself caught on film. It’s also assuming the local grasses can’t turn something up. Or that a poster campaign or a door-to-door won’t drop a name into our lap. Seriously, Gaz, this dickhead should’ve been topped and tailed in a couple of days.’
Quinnell shrugged. ‘This is why they’ve asked for us. We’ve got it sorted and we haven’t even arrived there yet … whoa, what’s this now?’
Heck looked ahead. The Alfa Romeo in front had stopped at another red light, but now two passengers, two young guys – one black, one white – had climbed out, one on either side. They chatted amicably as they sauntered around to the rear of the vehicle; the white one wore a denim jacket and jeans, the other a leather jacket and jeans. Their only precaution in the face of the heavy rain was to wear a knitted cap each. They continued laughing and chatting as they turned to the Romeo’s boot.
‘What the hell are these bozos doing?’ Quinnell wondered.
‘Get us out of here now!’ Heck said sharply. ‘Now, Gaz … NOW!’
‘What?’ Quinnell’s Subaru still advanced, though was slowing to a halt. Twenty yards ahead, the two men had opened the boot and were lifting something out, one item each.
‘Hit the fucking gas!’ Heck bellowed.
A third man, with a red beard, was coming across the road towards them. He wore a khaki flak-jacket and had a rolled-up newspaper in hand. One second earlier he’d been seated in a bus shelter. He too wore a woolly hat – but was now in the act of pulling it down over his face, to reveal that it was actually a ski-mask.
The twosome at the back of the Romeo did the same, and spun around.
Quinnell reacted, throwing his car into reverse, slamming the pedal to the floor. In seconds they were thirty yards away, but had to swerve sideways with a screech of rain-sodden tyres to avoid colliding with vehicles behind, before the two men opened fire with blistering flashes of flame and an ear-numbing dadadadadada! A strobe-like burst flared from the end of the rolled newspaper as the man in khaki opened up too.
Heck and Quinnell weren’t quite caught in an enfilade; they were moving too quickly for that, but streams of lead raked the Subaru from different angles, safety glass exploding, bodywork buckling and puncturing on all sides, projectiles whining across the interior. Blood and flesh spattered Heck’s face as one slug ploughed through the side of Quinnell’s neck. A split-second later, the Welshman was hit again, the second slug slamming through the windshield and into the right side of his ribs. Yet somehow he kept the vehicle on track, reversing clean across the A10, a hail of lead still rattling over and through it. He struck the kerb, which collision half-turned the car, spun the wheel and shifted gear.
‘Jesus loves me,’ Quinnell whimpered through clenched teeth. ‘Jesus loves me … Holly … Sally …’ Those were the respective names of his wife and daughter.
They blazed through a U-turn, other road-users shrieking out of their way. Heck squirmed around to peek over the top of his seat. The masked man in khaki had discarded his newspaper and was running full pelt in pursuit, in the process of snapping off a spent magazine and banging another into its place. The other two had jumped back into the Romeo, which swung around in a crazy three-point turn, back-ending a waste bin with such force that it cartwheeled through the window of a carpet showroom, and front-ending a Ford Fiesta coming the other way.
‘Jesus loves me,’ Quinnell gasped, three separate rivulets of blood running from his frothing mouth. He tromped the pedal hard, but his efforts to negotiate the oncoming traffic looked doomed. With a wild wailing of horns, cars and vans swerved aside at the last second, crashing through railings or into shop-fronts.
‘Serial Crimes Unit to Stoke Newington CAD, urgent message!’ Heck hollered into his radio, despite the rain now blasting his face. ‘We’re in trouble on lower Stoke Newington Road. Multiple shots fired by unknown number of assailants … maybe a Nice Guys’ hit-team! Repeat … maybe a Nice Guys’ hit-team! One officer injured. Require immediate back-up, plus armed support, over!’
‘Holl – eee …’ Quinnell moaned, the eyelids fluttering in his stone-grey face. Heck realised he couldn’t even see the single-decker bus screaming sideways towards them as it attempted to spin out of their way. He grabbed the wheel from Quinnell’s bloodstained hands and thrust it left, the Subaru jack-knifing around at speed, shuddering again from bullet impacts to its rear, and now to its offside flank, before shunting its way down a narrow alley.
A collapsible steel market stand blocked the way. Quinnell didn’t see this either, because they smashed through it at full speed, its rain-soaked tarpaulin plastering itself across the imploded windscreen. Heck punched at it, but only got it partially clear. ‘Jesus!’ he swore.
‘He’s calling me, Heck,’ Quinnell stammered.
‘No he isn’t,’ Heck retorted. ‘He’s telling you to hang tight!’ He yanked the wheel left as they approached a redbrick T-junction. They swerved around it, gearbox grinding, jagged cornerstones chewing through the Subaru’s nearside flank.
‘Gonna die …’ Quinnell groaned.
‘No you’re not! Keep that foot to the floor!’
Frantic voices sounded from the radio, but Heck couldn’t concentrate sufficiently to reply. Rain still whipped into his face, along with litter. The tarpaulin wouldn’t shift either, but even beyond that it was difficult to make things out. They were firmly in back-alley country, more bleak cobbled passages lined with old boxes, rainwater gushing in tumults from the broken gutters and rusty gantries overhead.
Quinnell kept his foot down, but was barely conscious. If his features had been grey before, now they were almost green. Blood clotted his chin and streamed from the gruesome gash in his neck – but it wasn’t pulsing out, which suggested no artery had been severed. The wound on his right was more of a worry. Heck couldn’t lean across to assess it, but that whole side of Quinnell’s jacket, and the shirt underneath, were saturated with gore.
They slid around another corner into a wider thoroughfare, with mountainous heaps of plastic rubbish bags on the left and locked-down steel shutters on the right.
‘Holl … eee ….’ Quinnell croaked.
‘Hang on, Gaz, we’ll be out of here…’
‘Smashed me up, Heck … smashed me…’
‘Fuck!’ Heck said, glancing back to the front. ‘OH FUCK! Brakes! Gaz, brakes!’
Quinnell was just adequately compos mentis to pull this off. They skidded wildly on the rain-slick cobbles, Heck jerking forward against his belt, losing his radio through the shattered windscreen. When they came to a halt, another T-junction lay ten yards in front. The left-hand turn was too narrow for any vehicle; little more than a footway. But the right-hand turn would have been wide enough to swing into had it not been blocked by a skip filled with broken pub furniture.
Heck kicked the passenger door open, jumped out and stared back down the passage behind them. Veils of rain swept along it, but there was no sign of immediate pursuit. From somewhere in the near distance, he could hear sirens. It was possible the Nice Guys had called it off. Alternatively, they might have followed and just got lost in this maze of backstreets. He clambered quickly over the bullet-riddled bonnet, and opened the driver’s door. ‘We’ve gotta get out of here, Gaz. Now … come on!’
‘You’re bloody … kidding.’
‘Come on, man! For God’s sake, they could be on us in seconds…’
‘You go …’ Quinnell inclined his head right, which action seemed to stretch open the glistening wound on his neck – it yawned, fresh blood trickling out. His attempted lazy smile became an agonised grimace. ‘You go…’
‘You think I’m going to leave you?’
‘It’s you …. you they want … isn’t it?’
This had already occurred to Heck, but the Nice Guys didn’t have much of a live-and-let-live policy where witnesses were concerned. ‘Just get your arse up, you bloody lazy Welshman … imagine you’ve been clouted by some plug-ugly English wing-forward. How’d you feel about that?’
Quinnell grinned again, but his eyes had closed. ‘That’s … fighting talk…’
Heck had lost his radio; he had his mobile, but how long would it take to place a call, much less get someone to answer? Instead, he reached down, freed Quinnell’s seatbelt, grabbed him under the right arm and around the back, and cantilevered him up and out of the vehicle.
‘Owww … shit! Sarge … that’s killing me … and it’s wet …’ At six-three and seventeen stone, the bulk of it bone and muscle, the casualty slumped to his knees and then over onto his side, and there was nothing much Heck could do about it.
‘Scared of a bit of rain?’ Heck scoffed. ‘They don’t build you men of Harlech like they used to!’
Quinnell lay flat on the cobbles, sinking into unconsciousness again. Even in the downpour, he was drenched head to foot with blood. ‘Leave me … you go…’
‘Yeah!’ Heck said. Like he was just going to abandon a guy who he’d gone through so many doors with, who he’d burrowed through so much paperwork alongside, who he’d shared more than a few whiskey breakfasts with after coming off a difficult night-turn. The problem was that Heck could hardly carry Quinnell away. He doubted he could drag him and expect to stay ahead of their pursuers.
Quinnell’s head dropped to one side, mouth agape.
For a second the breath froze in Heck’s lungs. He fell to his knees, feeling at the undamaged side of Quinnell’s throat. A faint pulse denoted the carotid. Placing a flat palm to the mouth, he felt the breeze of a breath. It was weak and shallow, but at least it was there – yet now there was another problem. Heck heard the approaching growl of an engine, and the howl of tyres as they were rent to shreds taking corners they’d never been designed for. The bastards were still on the hunt. He glanced across the alley at the mountain of rubbish bags.
It wasn’t a nice thought, but there wasn’t much else for it.
Taking Quinnell by the collar, he lugged him around the front of the vehicle. There was another squeal of tyres. It was difficult to place the direction it had come from. With a grunt, he laid his burden down alongside the rubbish. The meandering, gory trail behind was already washing away. That was the good news; the bad news was that blood was still flowing. Heck crouched and yanked open Quinnell’s sodden shirt. Underneath, the right-hand side of the ribcage had all but collapsed, as though clobbered with a mallet. It was black and blue, and in the middle of it there was a clean, coin-sized hole from which blood was throbbing.
‘Shit, Gary,’ Heck said, glancing over his shoulder as gears screeched again. By the sounds of it, they were sweeping the entire district.
He fumbled in his pockets, locating a wadded handkerchief. It wasn’t fresh, but it was as clean as they could hope for. He twisted it around and poked it into the wound, before stripping off his own and Quinnell’s neckties and knotting them together into a single binding, which he swathed around the injured torso. Then he stood up and backed away. The rain was still teeming, hammering the Subaru’s mangled hull.
One by one, he lifted down the rubbish bags, and piled them over the prone figure. He’d all but finished burying the Welshman under a makeshift cairn, when an engine yowled again, this time very close. More bodywork was ravaged as it turned a sharp corner. A rising rumble drew steadily closer. Heck spun his attention to the right-hand passage, the one half-blocked by the skip. He dashed forward and glanced into it – and saw the red Alfa Romeo proceeding towards him at speed, crashing through boxes, slewing over a discarded mattress.
He turned and checked the left-hand route. It led fifty yards between sheer brick walls, before turning at a right-angle. Possibly it connected with the main road beyond that. He didn’t know, but there was no time to try and get the Subaru started. Besides, anything to draw the bastards away from Quinnell.
Heck took the left path, running for all he was worth. Behind him, the Romeo shrieked to a halt as it approached the skip. Doors thundered open.
The alley was ankle-deep in slimy water. He blundered and slipped as he raced along it and around the corner – only to find another passage, this one filled with rubbish, bricks and collapsed pipe-work from overhead. The massive skeletal remnant of a fallen fire-escape blocked off most of it. As he scrambled around and over these obstacles, shouts rang out behind him. That was when he saw that this second alley didn’t lead to a main road, but to a steel mesh fence maybe eighteen feet in height.
He charged on, knowing he wouldn’t be able to climb the fence – not in time. But just in front of it there was a door in the left-hand wall. It was featureless and had no handle, but he cast around, spying a broken strut hanging loose from the upper section of fire-escape. It flaked in his hands, but was still stiff, still heavy. If this wouldn’t serve as a pry-bar, nothing would. He jammed the strut into the gap on the left side of the door, and used a brick to bang it in several inches. Movement flickered in the corner of his eye. He glanced around. A masked figure in khaki had come into view at the end of the passage.
Heck didn’t look to see more, though he sensed other figures appearing – and a communal raising of firearms.
With manic grunts, he slammed the brick against the base of the bar, and from somewhere inside heard the clunk of a rusty mechanism fracturing. He threw his weight sideways against the bar, and the door broke open. With a strobe-like glare and cacophony of submachine-gun fire, shells clattered through the fire escape, but Heck was already in the building, stumbling along a dank, black passage.
Faint exterior light spilled ahead through swirls of ochre dust, but didn’t prevent him toppling down the first flight of stairs he came to, tumbling over bare wooden treads, at last slamming into yet another door, which burst open on impact. Heck clambered to his feet, coughing and wafting at the rancid dust. Only the faintest trace of light penetrated down to this point, but it was adequate to show a wide, square room. Its floor was thick with greenish grime, but slippery. He fell again, his leather-soled shoes scraping away sufficient scum to expose yellow floor tiles. High on the wall facing him, a notice swam into view.
Assembly Area 2
Fleetingly, he wondered if he might have blundered into an old air raid shelter, but just as quickly dismissed the notion. More likely it was an old fire-evacuation chamber. These ruminations were shattered when he heard voices echoing down the stairway behind him. There was a tall, arched opening on his right. It was broad enough for two men to pass through, but led into inky blackness.
Again, Heck had no choice. He ventured forward into its depths.
(C) Paul Finch 2014
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.