Hell is Empty Teaser #3

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I headed back to the car. Gone two a.m. I felt as if my internal clock had been overwound and dropped on the floor and kicked against a wall a few times. I wasn’t even sure what day it was. Only the Christmas lights shining in the houses parted by the M1 gave me any kind of clue as to where we all were.

I thought of wrapping presents on Christmas Eve with Rebecca and trying, and failing, every year to get her to do it in the nude. While wearing a Santa hat. I would always write a letter from Father Christmas to Sarah after I’d had a few Bristol Creams, disguising my handwriting best I could. You’ve been very good this year. You know that Mummy and Daddy love you very much. Maybe next year you can sit on Rudolph… I’ve been very busy, you know. And then I’d scarf the mince pie and toss back the glass of brandy and put the carrot back in the salad crisper.

I might have wrapped presents with you in the nude if you didn’t get so piss-pants drunk.

It’s Christmas Eve. What else are you supposed to do?

But that’s your excuse for everything. Christmas Day. New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day. The first daffodil of spring. Having a shave.

You’re being dramatic. And more than a bit unfair.

Just think on the number of times you could have spent truffle time with my magnificent norks. But you forwent that because you had your gob around a bottle neck.

That was then, Becs.

Yeah, well, I was then, too.

Becs. Please.

The wipers keeping beat to the sad song that always played. The rain. The splintering of all those red lights on wet tarmac. So much blood. There had been so much blood. The amount we carry in these fragile vessels. And it had all flowed so feverishly for me, as mine had for her, all those years ago. Now it felt like cold porridge in my veins. What was left of hers was soaked into the fibres of the floorboards on Lime Grove or turned to ash by the flames at the crematorium.

One thousand degrees Celsius.

You always said I was hot stuff.

Hell is Empty Teaser #2

dsc_0009-2008-03-04-at-16-43-50A stiff breeze, riddled with winter, tore through the exposed bones of the building. There were other giants rising in concert with this one. London, irked by the knowledge that it was a global shortarse, had decided to tilt for the heavens. Across the way the Splinter was nearing completion. Nearly 800 metres of glass and steel fitted together with the kind of top-level engineer-fu that ensured there were no visible joins. There seemed to be no window frames, just a uniform smoked-glass look throughout, as if it had been fashioned from one stupendous layer. It was beautiful and terrifying and it felt as though I could just reach out from where I was standing to touch its gleaming, polished shoulder. The summit of the Splinter would be a jagged thrust of reinforced glass. Something playful the architect had come up with, to offset the dreary pursuit of money that would go on in all the floors beneath it. He wanted to replicate the shattering of some boiled sweet or other that had caused him to lose a tooth. Work was ongoing; the building was due to open officially in the first quarter of the New Year.

I admired it for a while and then tried to imagine a struggle and a person being thrown over the edge. Was there any chance, I wondered, that the Skylark had finally lost one of these skirmishes and plummeted to his death instead of his intended target? I made a mental note to check the details of the final victim, thinking that whoever had been in charge of the investigation back then ought to have done so as a matter of course.

I got so high that I ran out of building. Steel rods reached up from concrete cores. A guy stood there, slouched against them, observing my trespass. My heart pounced but it was just a hi-vis gilet and a hard hat jammed on a strut. Christ it was cold. Wind buffeted the heights – it probably did so most of the time, no matter if it was completely still at street level. I was about to go – cursing myself for not rocking up in hat and gloves – when I saw light on the uppermost levels of the Splinter.

I might not have been so surprised at that of course, in this metropolis of megawattage, but for the way the light arrived, and the nature of it. It bloomed into being and was softer, a buttery light next to the harsh burn of the halogen. It flickered and leaned as it was moved across the floors. A security guard whose torch had let him down, relying on a candle? Highly unlikely. Kids then. BASE jump researchers. I kept my eyes on the flame. Now it ascended. When it had risen as far as it was able I thought I saw something just beyond its reach: the pale round of a face most likely, looking out, as I was, on the yawning muddle of roads and buildings that meant home. I fancied, with a chill of recognition, that he, or she, was looking straight at me, though surely I was concealed by the dark. It didn’t stop me from moving back into deeper shadow, or whomever it was from suddenly extinguishing the flame.

Sonata of the Dead: Teaser #4

She poured and I drank. She held her glass with both hands, like a child, and closed her eyes when she took her first mouthful.

‘Oof,’ she said. ‘That’s good.’

‘That was the drink of a person who has just walked out of the desert,’ I said.

‘Feels like it. Had a tough couple of days.’

‘I know how that feels.’

‘So I watch football to unwind.’

‘Really?’ I said. ‘It doesn’t relax me. I end up swearing at the set.’

She took another drink, leaned back in her seat. On the screen, ex-players in panic-inducingly expensive suits and fuck-me haircuts bantered around a pitch-side table.

‘That’s because you’re partisan. You’re invested.’

‘You’re not?’

She shook her head. ‘Itinerant upbringing. Didn’t stay in one place for long enough to swear allegiance. I’m as neutral as it gets. I just like to watch. The patterns. The shapes. The flow.’

‘So what’s on tonight?’ Screens upon screens. Giant screens. Tiny corner screens. Personal screens on tables. So many screens you’d be hard pressed not to catch the match at all, even if you were a dwarf with cataracts. In a different bar.

‘Champions League semi-final, first leg.’

‘Who’s playing?’

‘No idea.’ She looked at my clothes. ‘Red versus blue. France versus England. Expansive versus cautious.’

‘You could be describing us.’

‘Experience versus youth.’

‘Very good,’ I said. ‘Very funny.’

‘So how come you’re out on a school night?’ she asked.

On the screens overpaid, oily-haired prongs stood in the tunnel. And that was just the match officials. Smoke from a flare turned the stands into a ghost-red battle zone. The bar management ramped up the volume and the Champions League theme shook our glasses.

I’d gone through my beer as if it were water. I realised I was nervous. She poured me another glass. ‘I’ve been looking into a death. Someone was murdered a couple of days ago. In Enfield. He knew my daughter.’

‘I don’t know what I can do to help.’

‘Possibly nothing. It doesn’t matter. But I was wondering if there was someone at the museum who could look at some documents for me.’

‘You mean me?’

‘Of course I do. I’m rubbish at being direct.’

‘What sort of documents?’

I pulled the pages from my jacket and handed them over.

She took another deep drink and studied them.

‘My uncle would have been all over this,’ she said.

‘Your uncle?’

‘He was involved in the Zodiac killings back in the sixties and seventies.’

‘No kidding.’

‘Yeah. He was one of the team who studied the notes Zodiac sent to the San Francisco Chronicle.’

‘And you got into palaeography because of him?’

‘Kind of. But I’m more involved with manuscript dating.’

‘You just haven’t met the right man yet.’

‘Very good,’ she said. ‘Very funny.’

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know…

Detail from 'Red Dragon'

Detail from ‘Red Dragon’

Thanks to the excellent My Bookish Ways, who agreed to host a blog by me this week on the heels of Dust and Desire‘s publication. You can read it here, a little piece about creating a memorable villain.

Cover Up!

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I’m very happy to share with you the cover from the first in a series of crime thrillers I’m writing for Titan Books. I love it to bits. I hope you’ll keep any eye out for the novel when it hits bookshops some time in November…

‘A gritty and compelling story of the damned and the damaged; crackling with dark energy and razor-sharp dialogue. Conrad Williams is an exciting new voice in crime fiction, and Joel Sorrell is a character you will want to see plenty more of.’ – Mark Billingham