Ice Station Wolfenstein, page 1part #1 of Order of the Black Sun Series
Ice Station Wolfenstein
Copyright © 2014 by Preston Child
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed "Attention: Permissions Coordinator," at the address below.
Publisher's Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author's imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Patrick Smith could not tell which was annoying him more, the treacherous icy slush on the dark, ungritted path or the irritatingly cheerful neon Santa ringing his bell in the window. He half-walked, half-skated toward the door, occasionally making a lunge for the handrail to stop himself from slipping.
"It's all right for you," he scowled at the garish Santa as he reached the main door. "You've only got to get around to everyone's house one night of the year." He pushed the buzzer.
"Forth Valley Assisted Living, may I help you?" a tinny voice inquired.
"Lothian and Borders Police," Smith replied. "I'm responding to a call."
"Hang on a second." The intercom went dead. A few moments later, a short, middle-aged woman in a nurse's uniform and a thick cardigan appeared. "Thanks for coming out," she said, as she opened the door to let Smith in. "It's probably nothing, but I'm here on my own tonight and I just wanted to be sure . . ." She led him into a little room, scarcely bigger than a cupboard, crammed with paperwork. On one wall there was a board with a floor plan of the facility, with a little red bulb in each room. One of these, G21, was flashing urgently.
"It's Mr. Kruger's room," the woman explained. "He's got a door that leads out to the garden and it's been opened. I've looked on the security cameras but I can't see anything, and I've been into the garden to see if he'd got confused and gone out. He wasn't responding when I called out to him, and I haven't been into his room. I was about to go in, but then . . . I thought I heard people in the room. Not him—they were moving faster than Mr. Kruger can. It's probably just my imagination . . . I just thought I should call you, in case."
"You did the right thing," Smith reassured her. "Can you show me where his room is?"
They set off along the corridor. The door to G21 was firmly shut. The nurse tapped on it and called to Mr. Kruger. There was no response. At the end of the corridor there was a door leading out to the garden, so they went out into the freezing night. Sure enough, the external door to G21 was open, the long curtains fluttering in the breeze.
Smith listened hard. He could hear nothing from the room. "Mr. Kruger?" he called. "Are you all right in there?" There was no answer. "This is DCI Smith from Lothian and Borders Police. I'm going to come into your room and check that you're ok." He reached for his baton and proceeded cautiously into the room. There was no movement, no sound. The security light in the garden provided a little illumination, just enough for him to make out a light switch on the wall. Smith pressed the switch.
The room appeared to be empty at first. DCI Smith took in the sight of the pale green walls, the narrow single bed, and the little electric fire with the armchair next to it. The chair was turned so that its back was to the door. There was no sound, no movement.
Then, suddenly, a dark figure broke cover and sprinted across the garden. Smith lunged toward the open doors yelling, "Stop! Police!" but the figure was moving fast. Indeed, the turn of speed was surprising considering the killer's size—he appeared to be tall and stocky, with a large head covered by a black balaclava. Long before Smith could reach him, he had vaulted the fence and vanished into the little wooded area behind the home. Cursing softly under his breath, Smith turned and stepped back into Mr. Kruger's room.
Mr. Kruger, dressed in his pajamas and dressing gown, was in his armchair. It took Smith a moment to notice that the old man had been tied into the seat with garden twine, that he had had a rag stuffed into his mouth to silence him, and that some of his fingers and toes were missing. His attention was entirely taken up with the ugly mess of red, sliced flesh where the newly dead old man's throat had been.
"YOUR MOVE, BRUICH. Get out of that one, if you can."
Sam Cleave leaned back triumphantly, pushing the hair back out of his eyes. He reached for his cereal bowl and shoved a spoonful of cornflakes into his mouth, wrinkling his nose at the blandness of them. Next to the chessboard was a tumbler of whisky left over from last night. He picked it up and carefully poured it over the cornflakes, distributing it evenly.
"That's better," he said, taking another spoonful. "Bruich, I saw you touch that knight. You've got to move it now."
Bruichladdich lifted his ginger head and meowed at Sam.
"Don't talk to me like that," Sam said. "That's the rules, you wee cheat. Now hurry up and move so I can checkmate you."
The cat reached out a tentative paw and kicked the knight, Sam's queen, and a couple of pawns off the board. He stepped onto the board, turned around a couple of times, then curled up and stared accusingly at Sam.
"What?" Sam demanded. "What is it? What are you looking at me like that for? You've had your breakfast. Don't you try and tell me you haven't." He spun his chair around to face his desk. An untidy pile of papers lay on top of his laptop. He picked up the bundle and transferred it to the floor, then opened the laptop and stared at the open document.
BRUNTFIELD RESIDENTS' FURY OVER PLANNED TESCO METRO
He had got no further than that. His digital voice recorder was full of sound bites from concerned citizens who objected to the presence of another urban supermarket near their expensive homes. He had not yet transcribed them. He was not sure that he would bother. They had all said pretty much the same thing, and Sam was struggling to care.
He closed the document. With nothing else open on the screen, all he could see was the desktop wallpaper—a smiling man and a woman with their arms around each other. The woman was tall and slim with long, ash-blonde hair and blue eyes. Her head was slightly tilted and her face turned toward the man, so Sam could just make out the little bump in her nose where it had once been broken.
The man was a little taller than she was, with brown hair and eyes and a five o'clock shadow. He was a little too thin, perhaps, and his dress sense left much to be desired, but with the woman in his arms he looked like the happiest man alive. Sa
The buzzer sounded. Sam froze. Bruichladdich shot under the couch. "Let's just wait this one out, Bruich," Sam whispered. He had had too many mornings ruined by debt collectors banging on his door recently. It made it very difficult to ignore the growing pile of unopened mail accumulating behind the front door. Gingerly, as if they might hear him from the street outside, he picked up the bottle and took a swig. He counted out one minute, then two, then five. At last he reasoned that the coast must be clear and breathed a sigh of relief.
That was when the pounding at the door began. Damn it, Sam thought, They must have buzzed one of the neighbors and now they're in the stairwell. Ah well. Just lay low for a—
"Samuel Fergusson Cleave!" an authoritative voice called from the other side of the door. "Open up! Police!"
At once, Sam relaxed. He strode over to the door and flung it open. "Come on in, you old bastard," he said, welcoming DCI Patrick Smith into the flat.
Smith grinned. "I thought you'd never ask," he said. "I think I scared the students upstairs when I buzzed them. Told them it was the police; I think they thought I was coming to take their stereo away. Now they just think I'm here to arrest you." As Smith made his way into the living room and cleared himself a space on the messy couch, Bruichladdich emerged from his hiding place and jumped onto his lap. Smith scratched the cat behind the ears. "Hello Bruich. You never miss a chance to cover me in ginger fur, do you?"
"You should think yourself lucky," Sam remarked. "Some of us never get to see this side of Bruich. Some of us just provide him with Whiskas and get hissed at for telling him to get out of the sink."
"Well, it's not like you use it for washing up or anything."
"Touché." Sam gathered up some scattered pieces of crockery as nonchalantly as he could. "Want a cup of tea?"
Sam disappeared into his tiny kitchen and put the kettle on. It was a stereotypical single man's kitchen, with chipped, mismatched mugs that had to be washed before use, well-hidden tea spoons, and milk that had gone past its use-by date over a month ago. In a moment of optimism, Sam opened the carton to see how it smelled. He took a sniff and recoiled, screwing the lid back on as fast and as tightly as he could, then dropped the whole thing into the bin.
However, even if he could not be trusted to have fresh milk, the one thing Sam could be relied on to have a ready supply of was tea bags. He put two in each mug, added the hot water and stirred until it resembled tar. He dumped a heaped spoonful of sugar into each, then added another for good measure and to make up for the lack of milk.
"There you go," he said, handing one of the mugs to Smith. "Now what brings you here?"
Smith, settled on the couch with Bruichladdich curled up on his lap, looked doubtfully at the tea. "Something I thought you'd want to know about. I got called out to an old folk's home last night. Some old boy was murdered. Pretty gory, to tell you the truth. We haven't let the media know yet, but we'll have to soon and I thought you might want to get in there first."
"Might be a bit too exciting for me these days, Paddy," Sam replied, taking a large gulp of scalding hot tea. "Covering anything more dramatic than whatever's upsetting the Bruntsfield mums might set me off on a downward spiral again."
"Sam, have you looked at yourself lately?" Smith asked. "Frankly, the only way is up. Ugh, what's this supposed to be? I thought you said it was tea?"
"Spoken like a true friend, Paddy." Sam said. "It is tea; it's just not the kind of puny tea you're used to. I know you boys on the force all think that you know about caffeine and tannins, but I wouldn't feed the stuff you drink to a baby."
"This is why no one would leave you in charge of a baby," said Smith. "You'd just put whisky in its bottle. Anyway, I need you to cover this. It's a bit weird and I'd like to know that there's someone out there who'll cover it sensibly. I have a feeling that the local papers are going to go nuts with this and blow it out of all proportion, which means that when the nationals get hold of it—and they will, because it's an old folk's home—it'll be a giant mess. If you cover it, the national papers will look to you because they know you. That way I'll know that they're getting something resembling the actual facts, not some nonsense dreamed up by some twelve year old waiting for her big break."
Sam shook his head. "Gory murders aren't my thing anymore," he sighed. "No murders, no drug deals, no international crime rings, nothing. How gory can it possibly be, anyway? Your beat is South Queensferry, for Christ's sake. Nothing interesting happens out there."
"Not usually, I'll grant you." Smith conceded. He took another sip of his tea, as if trying very hard not to taste it. "But this . . . I've never seen anything like it. I mean, you don't expect this kind of thing to actually happen except on the telly. I got called out to check out a possible intruder at the assisted living facility—Forth Valley, do you know the one? No, of course you don't. Anyway, I got there and found this old boy tied to his chair, mouth stuffed with cloth, and he'd had his throat cut."
"Sounds to me like someone broke in, tied the old guy up while they robbed the place, then got spooked and killed him in case he identified them," Sam speculated. "What's so weird about that?"
Smith took a deep breath, staring intently into his tea as he spoke. "His fingers and toes had been cut off. Not all of them. Two fingers, both on the left hand, and the little toe on the right foot. But they hadn't been taken off in one go. When we found the digits, they'd been cut off bit by bit. Really nasty. And his throat wasn't just cut. It was slit. Neatly. Like whoever was holding the knife really knew what they were doing. If it was just an interrupted burglary you'd expect it to be messy, just someone slashing away because they were angry. But this . . . it looked like a professional job."
He looked up at Sam. "Now can you see why I'm worried about it getting sensationalized? It's bad enough already, and the last thing my department needs right now is some huge story about how South Queensferry's the kind of place where elderly people in secure housing facilities get hits taken out on them and get tortured to death on a regular basis. I really need someone who can handle this sensitively, Sam . . . Please?"
Sam leaned back in his seat and pressed his fists into his eyes. He was still a little hung over from the previous night, when he had made his first attempt at the Tesco Metro article and accidentally drunk himself to sleep instead. Listening to Smith was causing the slight ache behind his eyeballs to grow into a full-blown pounding headache.
"Paddy," he groaned. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, ok? I know you think you're being really subtle with all this stuff about your department, but it's bullshit and we both know it. Look, I know the state I'm in. I know you're trying to get me out of it and you think that if I get my teeth into a story that's more like what I used to do, it'll bring me back to my old self, right? Well, forget it. It doesn't work that way. You can only do what I used to do if you really care about it, and I don't any more. My days of valiantly pursuing a story to the bitter end, come what may, risking life and limb like some stupid bloody superhero? They're over. Sorry."
Smith grimaced. "Sam . . . you're right. I'm not subtle. But honestly, seeing you like this is painful. I know things have been tough. What happened to Patricia . . . it shouldn't have happened to anyone. You shouldn't have had to see it. I can understand that it's done a number on you. But this . . . Sam, you know damn fine that if you don't get your act together you're going to get fired. You're already on your final warning. I was hoping that this might, I don't know, fire your interest again." He looked Sam straight in the eye. "She wouldn't want to see you like this, Sam."
Sam's mug went flying, spilling tea all over the floor as he leaped to his feet. Bruichladdich was awake in a split second and dived back under the couch.
"Sam, I'm sorry—"
Sam shushed his friend and waved an aimless hand. "It's fine," he said, "doesn't matter. Look, could you leave me on my own for a bit? I need to be on my own."
Smith was just about to leave when he saw Sam's hand close around the whisky bottle. "Isn't it a wee bit early for that, Sam?" he asked as gently as he could.
"Nope," said Sam, taking a prolonged swig.
DCI Patrick Smith decided it would be best to beat a tactical retreat. He showed himself out.
He did not even make it to the end of the street before his phone beeped. He took it out and read the text.
Sorry. I'm a grumpy bastard. When are we going to this old folk's home, then? Sam.
Forty-five minutes later, Sam and DCI Smith were in the car, approaching South Queensferry. At Smith's insistence they stopped at a café on the way out of town and he bought them both breakfast. Sam's preference for rolls containing black pudding, haggis, and fried egg topped with brown sauce turned Smith's stomach, but he was happy to know that Sam had eaten something that morning—and that it wasn't just whisky-soaked cornflakes. He had also persuaded Sam to have a quick shower before leaving the flat, but as far as he could tell it had not made much of a difference.
"So what else do we know about this guy?" Sam asked, as they got back in the car. He drew a cigarette from the packet, lit it, and took a deep drag. "Apart from the fact that he's dead."
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