Vendetta, page 1
Also by Dreda Say Mitchell
Dreda Say Mitchell, who grew up on a housing estate in east London, is an award-winning novelist, broadcaster, journalist and freelance education consultant. For more information and news, visit Dreda’s website:
Follow Dreda on Twitter: @DredaMitchell
Dreda Say Mitchell
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by
Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © Dreda Say Mitchell 2014
The right of Dreda Say Mitchell to be identified as the Author of the
Work has been asserted by her in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be
otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that
in which it is published and without a similar condition being
imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance
to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
ISBN 978 1444 78944 7
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
This one is for Uncle Moses. What an inspiration you are! Thank you for being such a calming and fiery presence, always making everything possible.
‘If you seek revenge, dig two graves.’
Also by Dreda Say Mitchell
About the Author
Mac woke up in a place he couldn’t remember. Black surrounded him, hot pain danced in his body. The pain brutally cut away inside his brain. A nasty taste sat at the back of his throat, metallic mixed with the flavour of death. He was on his back, lying on what he didn’t know. He was still in his clothes. Navy T-shirt, washed-out black jeans, military-style lace-ups. Laid out like a corpse ready to be put six feet under.
Where am I?
His gaze darted around. Abruptly his eyelids snapped down in a protective, reflex motion as something bright hit the room. Cautiously he reopened his eyes. Realised what the brightness was – light coming in from somewhere outside. Just a sliver creeping through a crack in a curtain that was dark with dirt rather than its natural colour.
Curtains meant a window.
A window meant a room.
But a room where?
There was softness under his head. The fingers of his right hand felt what lay beside him. Waves of material.
He figured out what he was laid out on – a bed.
Am I back home?
No, his bed was harder. The mattress he was on was soft, as if sagging with the memory of too many bodies. Mac tried to lift his head, but it wouldn’t budge, glued to the pillow beneath it. He raised his hand. Felt the pillow. Something sticky. Something wet. That scared him. Shook him up. Something wasn’t right here, just wasn’t right. Had to get up. He counted in his head, pulling in shots of deep air at the same time.
One. Two. Three.
Tried to move his head again. It wouldn’t budge. His mind went into an automatic three-count again.
One. Two. Three.
Teeth clenched tight, neck muscles straining, he ignored the pain as he finally heaved his head up. Swung his legs over the side. Dizziness blurred his vision. His fingers dug into the bed as he fought to see clearly again. The room came back into focus. He touched his fingers to the left side of his head. Felt the skin. Uneven layer on the outside, mushy crater on the inside. The crater didn’t feel big. He pulled his fingers to his face and sucked in his breath. Reddish-brown, scabby blood.
Did I fall?
Hit my head?
The skin on his forehead screwed up as he fought hard to remember.
Where am I?
WHERE THE HELL AM I?
He eased up, the pain wrapping tight around his throat. He stumbled over to the curtain. Pulled it back. Light flooded the room. Morning light? Afternoon? He checked his watch.
11. The number flashed abruptly in his mind.
Was something happening at eleven tonight?
He turned back to the room and faced total chaos. Overturned chairs. A sideboard pulled away from the wall. A wardrobe with i
What the hell happened here?
He spotted his rucksack and hooded denim jacket. Started moving, but did it too quickly and toppled straight over. Landed on his knees, the pain slashing every nerve end in his body. He stayed like that, winded, drawing the stale air into his lungs. Then he crawled over to a chair lying on its side. Set it on its legs. Used it to struggle to his feet. Mac took his time as he put one foot ahead of the other. Reached his bag and jacket. Started with the jacket. Checked the pockets.
Wallet with cards.
Two e-tickets for a flight to Cambodia.
Cambodia? Why am I going there?
He looked at the name on the first ticket. His own, John MacDonagh.
Checked the other ticket. Woman’s name. Elena Romanov.
Like a slap to the face, Mac remembered what he was doing here. Where here was.
He’d told Elena to meet him here at nine. But nine in the evening. So if it was light now, a whole night had come and gone. So where was Elena?
‘Elena?’ he yelled.
Images of what he could remember flashed through his head. Downing the dregs of a whiskey in the hole-in-the-wall bar downstairs; taking the stairs instead of the lift to the third floor; opening the door to the room. And . . . nothing. He couldn’t remember anything after that.
‘Elena,’ he screamed out again, the same time he noticed her bag peeping out of the wardrobe. The contents of the bling, red fake Gucci handbag were scattered over the wardrobe floor. With his mobile in his hand, Mac staggered towards it.
The pain came roaring back, so hard he thought his head was being severed from the rest of his body. He needed to find out what damage had been done to his head, so he swayed towards the bathroom. Thrust back the partially opened door. Flinched as the light beaming from the bare electric bulb caught his bloodshot eyes. It didn’t look like the other room. Tidy, ordered, except for the blue shower curtain that was pulled around the bathtub. He headed for the sink. Stared at the wound in his head in the cabinet mirror. It was crusted with blood that had leaked and matted against his hair and cheek.
He rested his mobile on the shelf above the sink, next to a discarded shower cap. The veins in his forearm bulged as he twisted the tap. Splashed cool water over his face. Pulled the towel from the rail. Tore off a strip. Wrapped it around the wound. Then he eased on the shower cap to keep his makeshift bandage in place. He went back to the main room as he rang Elena’s number.
The dialling tone echoed in his ears. It rang. And rang. Then voicemail:
‘I’m not around at the moment. But I’ll get back to you as soon as I . . .’
He clicked off. Tried again. This time he noticed something strange about the sound coming through the phone. It had an echo like it was . . . He pulled the phone back from his face. Listened. He was right, it was coming from somewhere in the hotel room. He moved towards the wardrobe where he’d found her bag but the ringing got fainter. He headed towards the bathroom. The sound got louder. He stepped back inside the chilled room as the ring bounced loud and clear against the walls. Mac rushed towards the shower curtain around the bath. Loud ring.
Reached the outside of the shower curtain as the call went to voicemail. As Elena’s sweet voice pulsed in his ear.
‘I’m not around at the moment . . .’
His hand reached for the curtain.
‘But I’ll get back to you as soon as I can . . .’
His palm caught the material.
‘Please leave a message.’
Swept it back.
The mobile slipped from his fingers. Instinctively Mac recoiled. There was something in the bath that he wasn’t expecting to see. A body. Slumped over at the waist. Head snapped forward. Dark, neck-length hair, toned even darker in patches by something matting it together. He knew what that something was. Blood. What kept him rooted still wasn’t the body; wasn’t the blood-gelled hair. It was the tiled walls. White tiles coloured with the scattered debris of human offal. Brains. There was no smell, but his nostrils twitched with an imagined gut-churning stench.
His mind started spinning again. What the heck was he doing in a dead-beat hotel with a dead body? Should only have been him and Elena . . . Elena. Mac’s gaze slammed away from the tiles back to the body. The blood iced over in his veins.
Couldn’t be . . . He wouldn’t allow it to be . . . He reached for the body . . . stopped before he touched it. He couldn’t leave any fingerprints. Instead he tucked one hand into the bottom of his T-shirt. Reached over with his covered hand and touched the shoulder of the body. Pushed back. The body slammed backwards. Mac gagged at what he saw – a bloody mess where a face had once been. No eyes, no nose, no mouth, no . . . nothing. The hair was a woman’s, the clothing was a woman’s. The trousers were . . . Mac reared back when he saw the mobile phone lying between the legs. Elena’s mobile, in its distinctive lilac protective case with the bunny ears, soaked in blood.
But that can’t be Elena. He shook his head. It couldn’t be . . . But the body’s left arm proved him wrong. Just above the left wrist was a small red star tattoo that he’d only ever seen on Elena. The left hand rested flat against the stomach. And at the wrist was the bracelet she always wore, with its fine, delicate gold links and tiny bunny-rabbit charm.
‘No . . .’ He let out an agonised whisper as he sagged to his knees by the tub, crippled by the thought of another death that had devastated his life. His right knee hit the edge of something hard on the floor. Mac looked down. A gun. His gun. His Luger P8. Mac picked it up. An automatic reflex, he sniffed the barrel, confirming what he already suspected, that it had recently been fired. Had he done this? Had he killed her?
The sound of sirens ripped up the air outside the hotel.
Mac rushed to the bedroom window. Peeped outside. Police were gathering on the pavement and more cars were pulling up. Men in uniform looking upwards. Whispering to each other. He had no idea why. But he knew he had to go. Now. Make it downstairs before the cops got inside the hotel. He glanced over at Elena’s bloody body. God, he wanted to take her with him, but he couldn’t. But he could take one thing. He ran back to her body. Tucked both hands under his T-shirt again. Unclipped the bracelet from her wrist. Dropped it into his pocket.
Ran into the main room. Scooped up Elena’s handbag and belongings and dumped them into his rucksack. Shoved on his denim jacket and grabbed up his bag in one smooth move. Flicked the jacket’s hood over his head to hide the shower cap. Breathing hard, he opened the door. Sweat pooled down his face as he checked the corridor. Not a soul in sight. He left the room. Made his way to the top of the stairwell. Peered over the rail. It was a dizzy, three-floor drop, but if he leaned over, he could just catch the goings-on at reception. Not a soul in sight again. Most importantly, no cops.
Mac began to walk downstairs as casually as he could. He hit the second floor. The first floor. Was halfway down the final set of stairs when he heard the doors to the hotel swing open and footsteps below. Mac twisted around. Crept back up the stairs. The voices could be heard clearly above.
‘Good morning. We’re the police . . .’ There was a brief pause while ID was no doubt being shown. ‘We’ve had a phone call this morning from one of your guests. She says she heard a commotion in a neighbouring room last night, room 19 . . .’
Mac could almost hear the shrug of shoulders from the receptionist. The cop went on. ‘And when she left this morning, she found what she thought loo
Mac tensed. How the hell was he going to get out of this?
The receptionist asked, in a foreign accent, bored, as if she’d been asked this question too many times in the past, ‘Commotion? Blood? This is just silliness. Have you got a warrant?’
‘No, we haven’t got a warrant – are you saying we need one? That you’re not willing to help? Are you sure about that . . . ?’
Silence. Then the cop continued, ‘OK – have you got a key for room 19?’
Mac thought fast. Safest thing to do was to carry on as if nothing was happening. Walk down the stairs, out through reception, past the cops all nice and innocent. He hitched the handle of his rucksack higher on his shoulder as he pulled himself off the wall. Took two steps to reach the top of the stairs. Stopped. Then he took the first stair; already he looked like a fugitive. He had a clear view of the people below. Three cops. All male. Two uniforms, the other plainclothes. Female receptionist next to them with a half-gone ciggie between her fingers. She moved, accompanied by two of the policemen.
They turned towards the stairs.
Mac took the next step.
They reached the bottom of the staircase.
Mac’s foot hovered over the next step. He let it fall.
The receptionist climbed up ahead of the police, smoke drifting out of her mouth.
Mac watched the top of her bleached blonde hair as he took a step. Then another.
The tops of the cops’ heads came into view. They were both looking down so they hadn’t spotted him yet.
The cigarette smoke floated up towards Mac. Stung the inside of his nose.
Just one more step and the receptionist would definitely see him.
One of the policemen abruptly stopped. Crouched down to inspect something. ‘This could be blood’. Turned his head and called out to the uniformed cop left in the reception, ‘Make sure no one leaves the building . . .’
Mac rapidly retraced his steps towards the higher floors. Kept going. And going. Adrenalin and his head wound made him giddy. He reached the top floor. And froze. Waited to hear footsteps. Then he heard them, somewhere not too far below. Mac kicked back into gear. Knocked on the door of the first room he came to.
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