A body is found hanging on a hook above the canals of Amsterdam’s old town, a mobile phone forced into the victim’s mouth. Meanwhile, in a remote coastal village, a doll lies in the ashes of a burnt-down house. But the couple who died in the fire had no children of their own. Did a little girl escape the blaze? And, if so, who is she and where is she now? This hunt for a clever and brutal murderer reveals two dark truths: everybody in this city harbours secrets – and hearing those secrets comes at a terrible price…
After the Silence by Jake Woodhouse
The voice shot out from behind him in the dark, and the cold touch of a gun, his own gun, jammed into the back of his neck.
This was not how he imagined it would be.
He’d been shoved to the hard, freezing ground, where something – a stone, a shard of glass? – had jabbed into his right kneecap, a trickle of blood cooling fast. He twisted his head up towards the sky, his breath rising plumes, stars piercing the dark, and somehow the pain made it all seem more beautiful, more precious, more real.
He had to play it cool, had to make sure he didn’t give in to the fear wrenching his gut, pulsing right through him. But, he thought as he fought down the rising panic, he wasn’t a soldier, a commando trained to kill with his bare hands, or a martial arts expert who could whirl around, kick the gun away and deliver a fatal blow to a secret place on the side of the neck.
No, he was just a police officer, an Inspector, special- izing in homicide, dealing with crime after the fact, after murder had been committed.
His work began where someone’s life ended. And he’d seen enough of those to know he wasn’t yet ready to be a mere job for someone else, for some other Inspector to arrive at the crime scene, piece together his life, and the events which had led to its close.
How could I have been so stupid, he thought, letting them catch me?
The people he was supposed to be chasing, bringing to justice. Who’d tied up the old couple and let them burn alive in their own home . . .
‘I said move.’
Increasing pressure from the gun barrel, pushing on the spot – the same spot as the earlier impact just on the back of his skull – made him rise up, both knees cracking like pistols.
‘Take it easy,’ he said, and couldn’t believe how scared his voice sounded.
He moved forward, step by step, the odd patch of ice shooting his feet away until he learnt to just shuffle along. Steel from the cuffs cut into his wrists.
He pictured the man behind him, the leather face mask with the zip where the mouth should be.
Is this it, am I going to die now?
Part of his mind screamed at him to engage his captor, he seemed to remember that was the key to surviving these situations, making them see you as a human being, not just a target, a kill – and where exactly did he know that from, a film? He was pretty sure he’d never received any such training from the Amsterdam Police Force – but he didn’t know what to say.
That voice. Harsher now, more guttural, as if the freezing air was corroding his vocal cords.
He thought of his wife, at home, her belly swollen with the life he wasn’t going to see. Doubling up, he vomited bile.
A kick to the back of his legs made him fall to his knees again. The feeling of being trapped rushed over him, crushing the air from his lungs, and making his head spin so badly he jerked sideways before managing to right himself.
It was then he heard the car, moving slowly, behind him off to the left. The sound grew, headlights streamed out of the darkness and his elongated shadow spilled forward on to the ground, a monk kneeling at prayer.
Prayer, he thought, the last resort.
He took a moment to scan his surroundings; it was a concrete drainage ditch – he’d thought as much – the shallow, sloped sides leading up to the trees which he knew must be all around.
The car stopped, engine turned off and ticking gently, but the headlights stayed, blue-white lasers slicing the dark. Doors opened then closed with soft thuds. Foot- steps from the road, difficult to tell how many people, soles grinding grit against concrete, then quieter steps on grass, before more hesitant footfalls on the ditch’s sides, each one carefully placed to avoid slipping.
Voices, in a language he didn’t understand, grating, sinister.
He was shivering now, his whole body shaking as if every muscle had simultaneously gone haywire, but he didn’t know if that was the cold or the sheer terror, or maybe both.
Someone walked round his left side and flicked a torch directly in his eyes, dazzling him. Instinctively his eyelids closed tight, protecting, even though part of him wanted to see who it was. He squinted them open just in time to see a figure in silhouette, wearing some kind of trench coat. The man’s arm moved, checking the time on a large wristwatch.
Then the light was off, one word uttered behind him and the footsteps retreated, doors opened and closed again, and the car, its engine roar splitting open the silence of the night, reversed away.
He listened until he could no longer hear it.
Was that it? Was this just a warning?
He couldn’t be sure but he felt he was totally alone now, the man who’d brought him here had departed as well. Relief surged through him, but then . . . if they’d found out about him . . .
I’ve got to warn Jaap, he thought, his knees aching, stom- ach loose. He forced himself up and started to turn around.
A shot rang out, and faded into the darkness.