Cut to the Bone - Alex Caan



Chapter One

Ruby is running. Her eyes pop, bright like a cat’s. She is looking over her shoulder as she moves, which causes her to stumble. Her breathing is heavy; when she falls she moans, she cries out. There is blood on her face, there are cuts on her body. Her clothes are gone. She wears a sack, tied at the waist. Each time her bare feet step on sharp objects she whimpers. The scene is holding those watching it in thrall. The trees around her are black, dense. She falls again, to her knees.

Help me.

Who is she speaking to? Does she call on God? Or is someone there with her? Or is she simply pleading, hoping someone will hear, come to her rescue? Does she know they will be watching her?

Loud screams as someone grabs her. Ruby struggles and is dragged backwards, kicking out with her damaged heels. Ruby is gone. Only her screaming remains.

Ruby is seated in a chair. Her arms are strapped, her legs are bound. She looks straight ahead. Her mouth is taped.

Her eyes squeeze out tears that crawl down her cheeks.

Then there is darkness.

Ruby thinks she will die. She hopes she will die. Death seems like an end, like peace. Cessation of pain, no more fear.

The walls are coming in. The darkness has icy fingers. Her skin is on fire.

She wants her mother.

She can’t breathe.

She is drowning.

She opens her eyes. Her body has slumped forward, her face is half buried under putrid sludge. The tape on her mouth has been removed; she tastes foul liquid, and spits. She pulls herself out of the mire, and she screams. She knows no one will come. Because no one can hear her now.

Something grabs her ankle, tugs at her, pulls her into the darkness.

She tries to escape, tries to break free. She can’t; it has clamped its jaws on her soft flesh, gripping her bones, which it can crush.

She wants to die.

And then the rats come.

Chapter Two

Blood-red, rust-orange, liver-brown. A riot of colour pricking at her senses, unlocking her memories. Kate Riley was sprinting through a New England forest. It was fall. The world around her beginning to mulch and rot. She was alone, and then he was there. Out of nowhere he appeared, and she knew what would happen next.

Kate opened her eyes, stared into the darkness. Head against her pillow, her senses alert, her heart hammering. Familiar aftershock, from a familiar nightmare. She checked the baby monitor. It was silent. She checked her phone. Three missed calls. It was 2.38 a.m. She checked the caller ID. Unknown.

The phone rang again in her hand.

‘Riley,’ she said.

‘Detective Chief Inspector, it’s Justin Hope. Apologies for disturbing you at this hour.’

This wasn’t going to be good.

‘What’s the emergency?’ said Kate.

‘Missing girl. It’s sensitive,’ said Hope.

‘Message me the details. I’ll head out now,’ she said, pushing her sheets back.

‘No, send Harris,’ he said, quickly. ‘He can open for us. He needs to get his fingers burnt.’

The garden was shadowy, dim and obscure. Kate kept her kitchen lights off, didn’t like the idea of being visible to anything out there.

Pitch black. Watched, but not seeing. That old paranoia.

She rubbed the backs of her legs with her bare feet, trying to soften the goosed skin, warm herself up. There was a draught. Or maybe it was just her imagination, conjured up by the situation she was in.

The display on her phone showed 2.46 a.m. Her body, shivering and slow, still held on to its stolen sleep. But her mind was alert. She rubbed her face, gulped back freshly made black coffee, scalding her throat. Then dialled.

There was no answer. She let it ring. It was 2.51, her fifth attempt, when he finally picked up.

‘Harris,’ he said.

‘It’s DCI Riley,’ she said. ‘I’m texting you an address. Missing girl, name of Ruby Day. I need you to speak to the parents, get some background, open the investigation for me.’

She heard herself talking. It was the same clipped voice she put on for all work calls. Holding back the American teenager she had been, and forcing herself to speak with a British accent. It was an old trick, a politician’s trick. Speech alignment; copy someone’s way of speaking and they are immediately drawn to you.

‘How old is the girl?’ Harris asked.

‘Early twenties,’ she said.

‘Missing since when?’

‘Seven-thirty, or thereabouts,’ she said.

Silence. She knew what he was thinking. She had thought the same.

‘Are you serious?’ he said. ‘Why have we been called in? That’s, what, under eight hours?’