Extract: No Less the Devil by Stuart MacBride
No Less the Devil by Stuart MacBride introduces a truly unforgettable, surprising and original new detective, DS Lucy McVeigh, and showcases a crime-writing master at the top of his game.
It’s been seventeen months since the Bloodsmith butchered his first victim and Operation Maypole is still no nearer to catching him. The media is whipping up a storm, the top brass are demanding results, but the investigation is sinking fast.
Now isn’t the time to get distracted with other cases, but Detective Sergeant Lucy McVeigh doesn’t have much choice. When Benedict Strachan was just eleven, he hunted down and killed a homeless man. No one’s ever figured out why Benedict did it, but now, after sixteen years, he’s back on the streets again – battered, frightened, convinced a shadowy ‘They’ are out to get him, and begging Lucy for help.
It sounds like paranoia, but what if he’s right? What if he really is caught up in something bigger and darker than Lucy’s ever dealt with before? What if the Bloodsmith isn’t the only monster out there? And what’s going to happen when Lucy goes after them?
Read on for the first chapter of No Less the Devil by Stuart MacBride!
No Less the Devil
Michelle checked herself in the mirror again: make-up perfect, auburn waves hairsprayed into submission, bright smile without a hint of lipstick on her teeth. Cupping a hand over a huffed-out breath revealed a reassuring minty freshness, too.
First day on the job and she was good to go.
All she needed now was a customer.
There – the lanky middle-aged woman, scowling away at the shelves of painkillers. Black overcoat on over a red-and-white striped top, mousey-blonde hair that was far too long for someone that age, skin like blanched milk, and a strong chin with a dimple at its point. She’d clearly gone for the ‘natural’ look, and it didn’t suit her at all. And those thick-black-framed glasses didn’t exactly help. Still, it was amazing what a bit of make-up – properly applied by a newly qualified professional like Michelle – could do.
The woman plucked a packet of paracetamol from the shelf and clacked towards the checkouts on a pair of Cuban-heeled boots. Which meant she’d have to walk right past Michelle’s station, completely unaware that her world was about to become a little bit brighter.
Michelle nodded to herself, keeping her voice low. ‘Remember your training, Michelle, you’ve got this.’ Then cranked her smile up another notch.
It was time to make a difference!
Lucy squinted one eye shut against the knife-sharp sun slashing its way in through the shop window. Sparking off the harsh white floor tiles, glass bottles, and jars, as if it was trying to stab its way right into her already throbbing brain.
It was too hot in here as well, the heating turned way up to depths-of-winter levels – even though it was only early September – transforming the overcoat she’d pulled on that morning into an instrument of torture. Only been in here fifteen minutes and already her top was sticking to her back.
‘Excuse me, madam? Hello?’ An orange-faced horror with too much blusher, drawn-on eyebrows, and a white smock top, popped out from behind one of the make-up counters, blocking Lucy’s way. Holding up a palm-sized tub of something greasy. ‘I know crow’s feet can be such a worry for middle-aged ladies, but, great news, now there’s an organic alternative to Botox!’
‘Middle-aged?’ Lucy glared at her. ‘I’m twenty-six!’
‘Ah.’ The idiot hid the tub behind her back and snatched up a couple of lipsticks instead. ‘Well, perhaps, with your classical pale complexion, I could tempt you to a slightly brighter lipstick? Bewitching Coral? Or Pink Brandy?’ Pointing them both at Lucy’s mouth. ‘Because that shade’s really far too insipid for you.’
‘I’m not wearing any make-up!’
The fake smile faltered. ‘Then… now’s the perfect opportunity to start?’
‘Gah!’ Lucy pushed past her and stomped over to the queue for the tills.
Of course, the self-service ones were all out of order, so there was no option but to shuffle forward, inch by painful inch, past the newspapers, magazines, and low-sugar sweets – arranged to corral the punters on their miserable death march towards the counter. Which clearly should’ve been manned by three people, but had been abandoned instead to the care of a single teenager with a permanent sniff who scanned people’s purchases as if she was doing them a huge personal favour.
Insipid? Crow’s feet? Middle-aged?
Like that make-up-counter troll was a sodding oil painting, with her face like a constipated Oompa Loompa.
Lucy kept her head down, avoiding the treacherous sunlight, her one open eye drifting across the publications: ‘LOVE ISLAND STD THREESOME SHOCKER!’, ‘STRICTLY COME DRUGS RAID’, ‘MY SECRET WEIGHT LOSS HELL!’, ‘SEX-PEST POSTIE STOLE MY HEART & MY CAT!’ The crappy tabloids were just as bad: ‘RANDY RHYNIE’S “RUSSIAN ROMP” RUMOURS’, ‘MIGRANTS “SWAMPING NHS” SAYS HERO COUNCILLOR’, and ‘JOCK COPS CAN’T CATCH CREEPY KILLER’.
Which was a bit unfair.
Even if it was true.
That last headline sat above a grainy photo of an empty, dilapidated room – ragged holes in the floorboards, pale blotches bleached into the crumbling walls.
A smaller picture was set into it: Abby Geddes gazing out at the world with tired eyes, mouth drooping at the edges, short brown hair rumpled and unstyled. Almost as if she—
‘Hello?’ It was barked out in an imperious male voice, right behind Lucy, followed by a tut. ‘Are you actually in this queue, or are you just browsing?’
Lucy turned, nice and slow, straightened her glasses, and gave the gangly dick in the pinstripe suit a lopsided dose of the evil eye. Baring her teeth. ‘You want to repeat that, sunshine?’
Pink rushed up from the collar of his shirt, flooding his cheeks, making it look as if his tie was tied far too tight. He stepped back. ‘I… er…’ Taking a sudden interest in his polished brogues. ‘I was… It’s your turn.’ One hand coming up to tremble at the counter.
She nodded, then took her time, ambling over to the bored spotty teenager. Thumped her packet of paracetamol down on the till’s stainless-steel weighing plate.
There was a pause. Some chewing. Then words slumped out on a wave of stomach-clenching spearmint, twisted into a strangled Kingsmeath accent: ‘You want a Chocolate Orange? It’s on offer, like. Buy one, get one half price, and that.’
The till bleeped as the pills were scanned.
And then a smile bloomed across the girl’s face, rearranging the pattern of blackheads and zits. ‘Here, you’re that woman, aren’t you?’
Lucy dug the debit card out of her wallet. ‘No.’
‘Aye, you are: you’re that detective sergeant woman. We learnt all aboot you, in Media Studies! You and that bloke, whatshisname, Nigel something-or-other. Black. Neil Black! That’s the boy.’
The card reader chimed out the purchase and Lucy snatched up her pills. ‘No, I’m not!’ She marched off, heels hammering the tiles out onto Jessop Street, into the crisp morning air. Even if it was laden with the pale-blue scent of exhaust fumes as cars and vans rumbled by.
The Dunk raised an eyebrow as she tore her way into the paracetamol. He was barely taller than the post box he leaned against, with a plump little face besmirched by a thin goatee-soul-patch-and-moustache thing that didn’t make him look anywhere near as much like Tony Stark as he clearly thought it did. He’d squeezed himself into his trademark black polo neck, with black jeans, black sunglasses, and a dark-grey leather jacket. A languid cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth.
Let’s face it, the boy was one French beret and a pair of bongos away from going full-on beatnik. But on the plus side, he’d done what he’d been told and got the coffees in.
The Dunk held out one of the two large wax-paper cups. ‘Caramel latte macchiato with chocolate sprinkles.’
‘Breakfast of champions.’ She knocked back a couple of pills, washing them down with a sip of hot sweet coffee goodness.
He pursed his chubby lips. ‘Have you still got that headache?’
‘We’re going to be late.’ She strode off down the street – the Dunk struggling to keep up on his short little legs.
He broke into a semi-jog, drawing level with her shoulder. ‘Only I’m pretty sure that if a hangover lasts more than two months, you should see a doctor.’ He shook his head. Thinning a bit at the back there. Not very Tony-Stark-like at all. ‘At the very least, cut back on the booze.’
‘Very funny. You’re like a modern-day Bernard Manning. And for your information, this’ – tapping her forehead – ‘is probably stress-induced. Caused by having to work with weirdos like you all day.’
A busker had set up on the corner, by the lights, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip-flops – a brave fashion choice for Scotland in September – warbling his way through a bland reggae cover of something vaguely recognizable:
‘Your love’s got me shivering, like a disease,
I splutter and sweat, I go weak at the knees,
Your love, it’s infectious, and I’m just defenceless,
I’m burnin’ up, baby, don’t need no vaccines…’
Not exactly in the best of taste.
They bustled across St Jasper’s Lane, nipping between a bendy bus and a grubby-brown Renault van, emerging opposite the King James Theatre with its elaborate yellow-brick-and-pink-granite façade, featuring lurid billboards for upcoming performances – ‘CHRISTMAS PANTO: SKELETON BOB AND THE GOBLINS WHO STOLE SANTA, TICKETS ON SALE NOW!’, ‘CASTLE HILL OPERA SOCIETY PRESENTS: THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS’, and ‘SIGN UP FOR SUPERSPANKYBINGOSWANKY–WEDNESDAYS! ~ BIG PRIZES EVERY WEEK!!!’ Because, apparently, being classy was overrated and…
Lucy stopped outside a small newsagent with one of those fake sandwich-board things screwed to the wall by the door. ‘CASTLE NEWS & POST: FAMILIES’ FEARS AS HUNT FOR BLOODSMITH FALLS FLAT’.
A flush of heat spread across the base of her neck, creeping upwards as it turned into that horrible, familiar prickling feeling – as if someone was watching her. Snatching the breath in her throat, setting her heart rattling. But when she spun around, fists clenched, it was just the usual assortment of shoppers and tradespeople, going about their business. Both legal and otherwise.
Wait a minute, there was someone watching her from the other side of the road: a tall, thin man, with a big forehead surrounded by curly brown hair. Beard and moustache. Corduroy jacket, like a supply teacher. Small round glasses that hid his eyes, but not the bags underneath them. And he was just standing there, staring.
Like a weirdo.
A large white van drifted by, blocking him from view, ‘HAVE YOU TRIED SCOTIABRAND CHICKEN MACSPORRANS YET? THEY’RE CLUCKING TASTY!’ in a lurid typeface down the side, with a happy mother feeding her little boy something revolting and flattened-Dalek shaped. And when the van had passed, there was no sign of the man.
‘Sarge?’ The Dunk poked her arm. ‘You OK, Sarge? Only you look like someone’s just shat on your grave.’
‘Never mind.’ Probably just a pervert anyway. Wasn’t as if the city didn’t have more than its fair share. And as long as he stuck to staring, that was fine. Creepy, but Christ knew it was better than the alternative. Lucy strode off again, going a bit faster this time so the Dunk had to abandon his semi-jog for a full-blown scurrying run instead.
The wee sod puffed and panted at her side, cigarette bouncing along – spilling ash down his jacket’s lapels. ‘Seriously, though: who’s Bernard Manning?’
‘God’s sake, I’m only three years older than you, I’m not your granny. Because, let’s face it, if I was related to you, you wouldn’t be so repugnantly ugly.’
‘All right, all right. Thank you, Sergeant Sarcastic.’ The Dunk dodged a couple of schoolkids who probably should’ve been in class at quarter past ten on a Wednesday morning, instead of hanging about outside a shuttered off-licence smoking fags. ‘So, what do you think the big briefing’s going to be about?’
‘Probably giving us all medals and a bonus for doing such a bang-up job of catching the Bloodsmith.’
‘Oh…’ He drooped a bit at that. ‘Well… maybe there’s been a breakthrough, or something, you know?’
‘You’re probably right. After all, it’s early days, isn’t it? Only been after the bastard for seventeen months.’ She took a left onto Peel Place. ‘What’s a year and a half between friends?’
Halfway down, O Division Headquarters loomed in all its brutalist glory. The big, red-brick Victorian monstrosity jutted out from the picturesque
ivory-sandstone buildings that lined the street, as if the genteel terrace had suffered a prolapse.
‘Yeah, but it’s not like we haven’t been trying, is it?’
‘Seventeen months, Dunk. And we’re no nearer than we were on day one.’
Lucy slipped out of the briefing room, closing the door behind her, shutting off the bored chatter of two dozen plainclothes and uniformed officers.
DI Tudor paced back and forth along the corridor, face creased and taut at the same time, one arm hugging a stack of paperwork like a teddy bear, leaving the other hand free so he could chew at his fingernails. Tall and broad-shouldered, with a jet-black Peaky Blinders short back and sides that somehow didn’t look ridiculous above serious eyes and salt-and-pepper designer stubble. In another life, he could probably have been a catalogue model – a rugged middle- aged man on a cold-looking beach somewhere, with his fake ash-blonde wife, both wearing matching chinos and rugby shirts: ‘BUY TWO, SAVE £10!’
‘You OK, Boss?’
He kept on pacing. ‘Everyone ready?’
‘Is something wrong?’
His mouth pulled out and down. ‘They’ve put me in charge of the investigation. Sole charge.’
‘Oh…’ Lucy frowned. Bit her top lip. Nodded. ‘That’s not good.’
‘Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, DS McVeigh!’
‘You know that’s not what I mean, Boss.’
‘Apparently DCI Ross has more active investigations requiring his supervision, but, and I quote, “The High Heidyins have complete faith in my ability to bring Operation Maypole to a swift and satisfactory conclusion.”’ Tudor stopped pacing and covered his face with his chewed hand. ‘I am so screwed.’
Hard not to feel sorry for the poor sod. ‘So, first Superintendent Spence bails and lumbers DCI Ross with it, now DCI Ross hands you the stinky baby and does a runner.’
‘Bad enough as it is, without you rubbing it in.’ Tudor slumped back against the wall. ‘Think it’s too late to go off on the sick?’
Lucy shrugged. ‘Maybe we’ll get lucky and solve this thing?’
His face soured. ‘Fat bloody chance.’ Then Tudor gave himself a shake. Smiled the kind of smile that was meant to convey sincerity and sympathy. ‘Listen to me, moaning on. I should’ve asked how you’re doing.’
She froze for a couple of breaths, then mirrored his fake smile. ‘Never better.’
‘Only, if you need to talk or anything…? My, you know, my door’s always open, right?’
God, could this get any more awkward?
‘I’m fine. Thanks for asking. Keen to get on with things: catch this bastard.’
‘Yeah.’ Tudor sniffed, then gave himself another shake, like an old spaniel coming in from the rain. ‘Show no fear.’ He pulled himself up to his full six-three and nodded at her. ‘Come on, then.’
Lucy opened the door and he strode through, into the office, as if the world lay at his feet.
Amazing what a bit of self-delusion could do.
She followed him in.
Operation Maypole filled the big incident room on the third floor. Four mean, narrow windows punctured the far wall – separated by corkboards thumbtacked with memos and mugshots and crime-scene photos – glaring across the potholed car park behind O Division Headquarters to the boarded-up carpet warehouse that backed onto it. Vague hints of Camburn Woods just visible over the rooftops in the distance. Digital whiteboards lined the whole side wall, covered in notes and lines and boxes and process-flow diagrams. A small kitchen area was recessed into the grey rank of filing cabinets opposite the whiteboards, leaving the last wall to pinned-up actions and the kind of posters Police Scotland mistakenly believed were motivational, rather than deeply depressing.
The rest of the room was packed with cubicles, desks, office chairs, and DI Tudor’s team – all two dozen of them. There were even signs hanging from the ceiling, marking out each specialist unit: ‘HOLMES’, ‘FAMILY LIAISON’, ‘SEARCH’, ‘DOOR TO DOOR’, ‘INTERVIEW’, ‘PRODUCTIONS’, and ‘COMMAND’. Which had seemed like a good idea at the time, even if it bore no real relationship to the way things actually worked.
‘All right, people!’ Tudor thumped his stack of paperwork down on the table at the front of the room and the babble of voices stuttered to a halt. ‘Thank you. I’m sure you’ve all seen the papers this morning.’ He picked up a copy of the Glasgow Tribune in one hand and a Daily Standard in the other, holding them up so everyone could see the front pages. ‘OLDCASTLE POLICE “INEPT AND FLAILING” SAY GRIEVING FAMILIES’ and that old favourite: ‘JOCK COPS CAN’T CATCH CREEPY KILLER’.
Someone at the back of the room booed.
‘My feelings exactly.’ The papers got dumped on the floor. ‘As of today, I’ve been placed in sole command of Operation Maypole.’
A few of the older officers made eye contact with Lucy and winced at that, but they kept their mouths shut.
‘I know it feels like we haven’t made a lot of progress in the last seventeen months, but that changes now. Angus?’
One of the officers who’d shared a wince held up a biro in his podgy, hairy hand. He’d probably been clean-shaven at the start of the shift, but now his jowls were coloured a heavy blue-grey, tufts of black sprouting out of his shirt collar. Just a shame he couldn’t grow any of it on his big shiny boiled-egg head. ‘Guv.’
‘Your team goes over the interview transcripts and witness statements. I want everything reviewed.’
A small grimace of pain, but Angus kept it out of his voice. ‘Will do.’
‘Emma? Your team does the same with our twenty-six ex-suspects. Have another crack at their alibis: see if we can’t move a few of them back into the “might-be-our-killer” column.’
A middle-aged woman with an explosion of rusty curls and a hard teuchter accent nodded. ‘Guv.’ But you could tell she’d just died a little inside.
Then, section by section, Tudor handed out all the back-to-square-one assignments – trying to make it sound as if this was a real chance for progress, rather than a massive setback – and sent the teams on their way, until there was no one left but him, Lucy, and the Dunk.
She nodded at the whiteboard, with its list of ticked-off tasks. ‘What
about us, Boss?’
‘I need you and DC Fraser to go over all the crime scenes again. Fresh pair of eyes. Start at the beginning and work your way through.’ His smile slipped a bit. ‘There has to be something we missed. Something that’ll—’
A knock on the doorframe and a chubby PC stuck her head into the room. ‘Sorry, Guv, but there’s a visitor downstairs for DS McVeigh? Won’t talk to anyone else. Says it’s urgent.’
Tudor licked his lips. ‘Is it about the Bloodsmith?’
A shrug. ‘Like I say: he won’t talk to anyone else.’
‘I see…’ Tudor’s smile kicked back in again. ‘Maybe our luck’s about to turn after all?’
Or maybe it was about to get a whole lot worse?
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