Extract: Hope to Die by Cara Hunter
Midnight. A callout to an isolated farm outside Oxford. A body, shot at point blank range in the kitchen. It looks like a burglary gone wrong, but DC Adam Fawley suspects there’s something more to it. Who exactly was the aggressor here?
When the police discover a connection to a high-profile case from years ago, involving a child’s murder and an alleged miscarriage of justice, the press go wild. Suddenly Fawley’s team are under more scrutiny than ever before. And when you dig up the past, you’re sure to find a few skeletons…
Read on for an extract from Hope to Die by Cara Hunter!
Hope to Die
It’s a perfect night for it. No cloud, and barely any moonlight. Though cold comes with clear skies – they said on the radio it could hit freezing tonight. But he’s done this before and he’s come prepared. The backpack is digging into one shoulder and he hoists it a little higher, then starts off again. His stride is sure, despite the dark: he knows where he’s going – he did the full recce a couple of days ago. All the same, it’s hard slow-going at night, especially with all this kit. But he made allowances for that, and in any case, this game is all about patience. The right time, the right place, the right conditions.
The path is winding up through the woods now, and he feels the earth give like mattress beneath his feet; generations of leaf litter compressed to sponge. There are owls calling to each other, invisible in the thickets above his head, and small animals moving in the undergrowth, and – louder than any of them – the thud of his own heart. When he breaks through the treeline at last he stops on the ridge and inhales deeply on the cold damp air, peppered with woodsmoke from the house in the valley below. There’s nowhere else for miles – the only sign of habitation is a scattering of lights on distant hills, mirroring the constellations. It’s completely silent now, out in the open. Not a wisp of wind, just the earth breathing.
He scans the sky for a moment, then swings down the backpack and crouches next to it, flicking on his torch. He pulls out his mount and night-sight and, his excitement growing, starts to snap them together.
‘So what do you think? I know Ben’s really young to be a godparent, but if it hadn’t been for him –’
I load the last of the supper plates and straighten up. Alex is watching me from the other side of the kitchen. She looks a little apprehensive, though I don’t know why: she can’t really think I’d say no.
‘Of course – I think it’s a great idea.’
There’s a photo of Ben and Lily stuck to the fridge behind me; his small face managing to look thrilled and nervous all at once, because he’s never held a baby before and is clearly terrified he’s doing it all wrong. It was Ben – eleven-year-old Ben – who phoned the ambulance when Alex went into premature labour and there was no one else in the house. Certainly not me. I didn’t even know it was happening. Because I was in the cells at Newbury nick, twelve hours and counting from a rape and murder charge. I’m not about to go into all that again – I’m guessing you know already, and if not, I’m sorry, but I’ve tried damned hard, these last few weeks, to stop obsessing about it. Let’s just say that I have two people to thank for being here right now, stacking my dishwasher rather than slopping out a cell. One of them is my wife; the other is Chris Gislingham. Gis who’s in the dictionary under ‘dependable’; Gis who doesn’t know it yet but will be needing to get his wedding suit cleaned, because when Lily is christened in a few weeks’ time, he’ll be standing up next to Ben as her other godfather.
And right on cue there’s a crackle on the baby monitor and I can hear the little breathy snuffling noises of my daughter waking up. She’s a miraculously sunny child – hardly ever cries, even when she needs changing. She just gets this bemused look on her little face, as if surely the world isn’t supposed to work that way. The rest of the time she lies there in her cot, smiling up at me and kicking her tiny feet and breaking my heart. She has her mother’s blue-lilac eyes and a soft down of her mother’s dark auburn hair, and even though I’m as biased as the next new dad, when people tell us how beautiful she is I just think, Hell, you’re right, she bloody is. Beautiful, healthy and, more than anything, here. Against all the odds, after losing Jake, when we thought our last chance was gone –
‘I’ll go,’ says Alex. ‘She’s probably just hungry.’
Which is mother code for ‘so you wouldn’t be much use anyway’. She touches my arm gently as she goes past and I catch a drift of her scent. Shampoo and baby milk and the butter-biscuit smell of her skin. In the last few months of her pregnancy Alex looked haunted, like someone locked on the brink of terror. But that last day, the day Lily was born, something changed. She found herself again. Perhaps it was the hormones, perhaps it was the adrenaline; who knows. Alex has never been able to explain it. But it was the old Alex who worked out where the evidence against me had come from, and made sure, even as they were lifting her into the ambulance, that a message got through to Gis. The old Alex I have always loved, the old Alex who laughed and was spontaneous and stood up to people and could out-think pretty much everyone I know, including me. I didn’t realize it until much, much later, but a daughter wasn’t the only gift I was given that day; I got my wife back too.
* * *
Transcript 999 emergency call
Operator 1: Emergency, which service do you require?
Caller: Police, please.
Operator 1: Connecting you.
Operator 2: Go ahead, caller.
Caller: I’m at Wytham [INAUDIBLE 00.09] may be in trouble.
Operator 2: I’m sorry, I didn’t catch all of that – can you repeat?
Caller: It’s that big house on Ock Lane [INAUDIBLE 00.12] heard something.
Operator 2: You’re at Ock Lane, Wytham?
Caller: Well, not exactly – the thing is [INAUDIBLE 00.15] definitely sounded like it.
Operator 2: You’re breaking up, sir –
Caller: My phone’s about to die [INAUDIBLE 00.17]
Operator 2: You want the police to attend – Ock Lane, Wytham?
Caller: Yes, yes –
Operator 2: Hello? Hello?
* * *
‘According to Google, this is the place.’
PC Puttergill pulls on the handbrake and the two of them peer out of the window. It may have ‘Manor’ in its name but it’s actually just a farmhouse, though to be fair, a pretty hefty one – a gravel drive, a five-bar gate and an old mud-spattered SUV parked outside an open barn. It looks quiet, private and a little run-down, as a certain type of old-money home so often does. What it certainly doesn’t look like is a place where bad things happen.
‘What did the control room say again?’
Puttergill makes a face. ‘Not much, Sarge. The line was bad and they couldn’t hear half what he was saying. When they tried to call back it just went to voicemail.’
‘And who lives here, do we know?’
‘Couple called Swann. Pensioners. They aren’t answering the phone either. Though they should be expecting us – the station left a message.’
Sergeant Barnetson gives a heavy sigh, then reaches into the back seat for his cap.
‘OK,’ he says, his hand on the door handle, ‘let’s get on with it.’
They trudge up the drive, the gravel crunching beneath their feet, puffing white in the cold air. They can almost feel the temperature dropping; there’ll be ice on that SUV by morning.
The front door has a wrought-iron carriage lamp and a fake-old bell you pull like a lavatory chain. Barnetson makes a face; it’ll be bloody horse brasses next.
They hear the bell ringing deep in the house, but despite the light in one of the upstairs windows there are no signs of life. Puttergill starts stamping to keep warm. Barnetson rings again, waits; still nothing. He takes a couple of steps back and looks up at the first floor, then gestures to Puttergill.
‘Can you try round the back? I’ll wait here.’
It’s so quiet he can hear Puttergill’s feet all the way along the side of the house. A distant knock, a ‘Hello, anyone in?’, a pause. And then, suddenly, the sound of running and Puttergill appearing round the corner and slithering to a halt in a spatter of gravel.
‘I think there’s someone in there, Sarge – on the floor – it’s too dark to see much but I reckon they could be injured –’
Barnetson strides up to the door but even as he stretches out to knock there’s a crunch of bolts being drawn back and the door swings open. The man on the step is late sixties or early seventies, slightly stooped, an angular and bony face. He’s wearing the sort of threadbare cardigan that keeps for thirty years if you look after it, as he evidently has. He doesn’t look like someone bad things happen to, either. In fact, as Barnetson is already concluding, Puttergill must have got the wrong end of the stick: no one with a casualty in their kitchen could possibly look as composed as this.
His vowels are more clipped than his hedge.
‘Mr Swann, is it?’
The man frowns. ‘Yes?’
‘Sergeant Barnetson, PC Puttergill, Thames Valley Police. We had a call from a member of the public. They thought you might be in need of assistance.’
There’s something on the man’s face now. Irritation? Surprise? His glance flickers away. He doesn’t, Barnetson notes, ask them what the caller said or why they thought something was wrong. ‘I think,’ he says heavily, ‘you’d better come in.’
He heads off into the house and the two officers exchange a glance. There’s something, obviously, but clearly nothing that drastic, and certainly not a corpse. So, what? Break-in? Some sort of minor domestic?
The hall is paved with quarry tiles. There’s a rack of wellington boots, hooks with waxed jackets and tweed caps, a line of musty watercolours running along the wall, most of them hanging skew. Somewhere upstairs a loo is flushing. Barnetson glances back at Puttergill, who shrugs and makes a mental note to suggest a tea-stop at the garage on the bypass on the way back: it’s not much warmer inside than it was out.
‘It’s in here,’ says Swann, gesturing forward. They round the corner after him, two steps down and into the kitchen.
Thirty seconds later Puttergill is stumbling blindly out of the back door and throwing up what remains of his lunch over the crazy paving.
* * *
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