Blackwater (DI Nick Lowry #1) - James Henry Page 0,1

notes under a grimy Anglepoise lamp.

The telephone had stopped ringing. He checked his watch. He was late. Very late. He’d been expecting a call from his in-laws – hours ago – to summon him to collect his son from their house. They’d taken him to a panto in London starring Rod Hull and Emu. He’d told them he’d be working late so they should call him at Queen Street once they got back to their place in Lexden. Perhaps that had been them on the phone – but why so late? Traffic, snow, accident – the possibilities raced through his mind in ascending order of potential danger and parental panic rose in his throat. Shit, why did he have to nod off!

‘Made a mess there,’ DC Daniel Kenton tutted, without looking up from his paperwork, his glasses sliding precariously close to the edge of his nose. Kenton was twenty-five and far too young to be wearing specs that made him look quite so studious. University educated, Kenton was considered to be exactly what the force needed in the modern age, according to Essex County HQ. And, though County’s dictate on progress was not always Colchester Chief Superintendent Sparks’s view on progress, in young Kenton they did in fact meet, for Kenton could box, and box well. Not that you’d guess it to look at CID’s most recent recruit. He flicked back his too-long foppish hair in a vaguely feminine way; Lowry thought him too big a lad to carry it off. Kenton probably thought it made him look intellectual.

‘What were you doing, letting me doze off like that?’ Lowry yawned, shuddering involuntarily in the cold of the Victorian building. ‘What’s happened to Matthew? I should’ve heard from him ages ago!’

‘Don’t panic. Your son is in Lexden with your wife’s parents. The night sergeant took the message. They’ve only just got back. Fog on the A12.’

Lowry grunted with relief. ‘What are you even doing here at this time of night? No New Year’s Eve parties for you?’

Kenton looked up from his writing, taking off his glasses to reveal handsome, boyish features. ‘No. Making the most of it now things appear to have quietened down, so I’m getting the paperwork on the Mersea post-office job out of the way.’

‘Right, well, no point me hanging around here,’ said Lowry flatly, getting up. Just then, the phone started to ring again.

Kenton was meticulously fitting the cap on what Lowry knew to be an expensive fountain pen – a graduation present. ‘Aren’t you going to answer that?’ he said. ‘The night sergeant knows you’re still here. It can’t be anything as bad as last night.’

Lowry glanced at the obstinate phone vibrating on the desk. Not the in-laws, then. His mind flickered back momentarily to the violence of the previous evening. He snapped up the receiver, glaring at the satisfied Kenton as he did so. ‘Lowry.’

‘At last,’ the night sergeant replied. The line was terrible, as though there lay a continent between them instead of a single storey. He could only make out the last word: ‘ . . . body.’

‘Beg pardon?’ Instinctively, he reached for his cigarettes, forgetting he’d given up as of now.

‘A car’s run over a body. The vehicle was travelling at speed. On the Strood.’ This was the local name for the causeway between the mainland and Mersea, an island that lay seven miles to the south of Colchester. It was often hit by high tides, which could cut the five-thousand-strong populace off from the mainland for up to three hours at a time. ‘Wait, why are you calling me?’ Lowry asked. ‘Get the Dodger’s boys out. They can handle an RTA, surely . . . I know it’s late, but still.’

‘The Mersea lads are on it, but this ain’t no RTA – the body is lying in six inches of water. It’s missing its head. And an arm.’

Lowry swallowed hard. ‘The body’s headless?’ Kenton caught his eye.

‘Yep, shaved clean off . . .’

Lowry hung up.

‘Problem?’ Kenton asked disingenuously.

1.10 a.m., Colchester General Hospital, Lexden Road

Jacqui wriggled on the bed and hoicked down her uniform. The mattress let out a sigh, signalling her lover’s imminent departure. The lights remained off. She swung round and felt with her toes on the cold, tiled floor for her shoes; the room was pitch black. She could just make out the luminous marks on her Timex watch. Her break was nearly at an end – she’d have to make for the nurses’ station straight away, no time