- Author: Gary Bell
Read book online «Post Mortem by Gary Bell (free children's ebooks pdf .TXT) 📕». Author - Gary Bell
PART ONE: OLD DOGS
PART TWO: OLD FLAMES
PART THREE: OLD HABITS
PART FOUR: OLD BOYS
A Note on the Authors
Winter nights are hard in prison. Hours dilate and darkness is absolute.
On Tuesday 9 January the sun set over London at 16.11.
Children were walking home from schools; parents had welcomed in the final hour of the working day. For all inmates at Wormwood Scrubs, association time had been cancelled after a fatal stabbing at the weekend. The cells were bolted at sundown, and they didn’t open again for sixteen hours.
No disturbance was reported in the night. No sounds of distress echoed between bars. Even the rats, it was later said, made themselves scarce.
At dawn, they found the bodies.
Thirteen men had died in their cells.
Some had choked. Others had bled. It wasn’t long before rumours spread through the wings. Whispers of suicide pacts. The governor called it a tragic coincidence, a bizarre succession of unfortunate accidents. The coroner reported death by misadventure.
Nobody at the prison dared to call it what it was until the tabloids did it for them.
The Prison Service was facing a locked-room mystery spread out across three impenetrable wings. Thirteen bodies in a single winter night.
What happened should’ve been impossible.
Somehow, it was murder.
It took me a few minutes to force the door, levering a length of pipe back and forth against the lock, but I could already smell them from the other side: urine and faeces, dank fur, sour blood like old copper coins. When the lock finally gave, and the door sprang wide open, I had to hoist my collar up over my mouth to keep from gagging.
Inside, the animals went berserk.
I entered the building slowly, cutting through shadows with a torch in one hand, brandishing the pipe I’d used to jemmy the door with the other. There were nine dogs, I counted, each bashing itself against the confines of its pen, jaws snapping, desperate to rip and tear at me – the trespasser, the criminal.
I paused, anxiously watching for any buckling in their cages.
These were game dogs. Killers in training. I might’ve been on the hefty side, but up against one of these I didn’t fancy my chances.
The baying was constant, but any chance of alerting a passer-by was slim. This building, a former launderette stripped of all but the bolts of its former mechanical guts, was tucked away on an industrial estate in Croydon, neighbour only to desolate factories and waste-processing plants.
The dogs’ cages were spaced along the back wall in a row, each no larger than three square feet with muck piled in every corner. Five of the nine were American pit bull terriers. They weren’t fully grown, and the stumps of their ears and tails hadn’t healed since being sheared off at the bases, but already they were fearsome enough. Inching further into the building, my torchlight picked up a pair of secateurs on a workbench stained with old blood and the sight redoubled my queasiness.
Alongside the five pit bulls, separated by an empty tenth cage, were four of the dogs I’d come looking for: Dogo Argentinos, each around a hundred pounds of muscle under pure white fur. They butted the steel with lunatic aggression, and my mind couldn’t help but go back to the case I’d worked on months before, which had focused on a similar white aggressor by the name of Billy Barber. He was, in some way, responsible for me coming here.
While serving time on remand, Billy had recommended my services to Isaac Reid, a drug dealer who now wanted me to appeal his own conviction for double murder. Reid’s case had been one of almost mathematical simplicity: business rivals had moved into a house in Margate, quaint seaside town on the Kentish coast and alleged territory of Reid’s criminal organisation; into this equation a so-called zombie knife was introduced, the newcomers were hacked to death, and Isaac Reid was sent down for life.
The key to his appeal was a Dogo Argentino that had belonged to the dead dealers. It was Reid’s argument that, since the dog had been standing guard over the property that night, the actual killer must’ve been known and welcome to the victims, or else he would never have made it past the animal alive. Now, seeing the power of these dogs, I found myself inclined to agree.
I wiped a glove across my face, fighting the urge to race back to the car. First, I wanted photographs. With a bit of luck, I could use them not only to win Reid’s appeal, but to close down this particular branch of a sick trade for good.
I dropped the pipe and rummaged through my coat for my phone. Ignoring the text onscreen, I enabled the flash and photographed the cages from a distance, then the secateurs and the other makeshift apparatus of this cruel animal gymnasium: in one corner a home-made treadmill, its running platform fixed at an uphill angle; across the room, hanging ropes designed to strengthen bites. It was about this time, while I was distracted and deafened by the cacophony of barking, that the tenth dog in the room managed to get near enough to lock its teeth around my right ankle.
The impact sent me to the floor with a strangled cry. It was shock more than pain. Sprawled and frantic, I aimed the light down and braced myself for freshets of blood pouring out from my trousers. But there was no wound. My attacker, a black Staffordshire bull terrier, was strapped by collar and chain to a water pipe in the corner. She was already cowering, and when she opened her mouth to whimper, I saw that her teeth had been manually filed down to blunt stumps.
‘For Christ’s sake,’ I said, getting carefully back onto my feet then crouching at her level. ‘What’ve they done to you, girl?’
What remained of her left ear was tattered. There were