The snow killer, p.1

The Snow Killer, page 1

 

The Snow Killer
 


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The Snow Killer


  The Snow Killer

  A DI Barton investigation

  Ross Greenwood

  To my children, Isla and Aiden, even if you do keep interrupting me

  ‘I never killed anybody that didn't deserve it.’

  Frank White: The King of New York

  Contents

  I. Winter

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  II. Winter

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Chapter 50

  Chapter 51

  Chapter 52

  Chapter 53

  Chapter 54

  Chapter 55

  Chapter 56

  Chapter 57

  Chapter 58

  Chapter 59

  Chapter 60

  Chapter 61

  Chapter 62

  Chapter 63

  Chapter 64

  Chapter 65

  Chapter 66

  Chapter 67

  Chapter 68

  Chapter 69

  Chapter 70

  Chapter 71

  Chapter 72

  Chapter 73

  Chapter 74

  Chapter 75

  Chapter 76

  Chapter 77

  Chapter 78

  Chapter 79

  Acknowledgement

  More from Ross Greenwood

  About the Author

  About Boldwood Books

  Part I

  Winter

  50 years ago

  1

  I must have been ten years old when I first tidied up his drug paraphernalia. I didn’t want my sister crawling over it. We called her Special – a take on Michelle – because she was an enigma. Special was a term of endearment for us, funny how nowadays it could be considered an insult. She never spoke a single word and seemed more of a peaceful spirit than a physical entity. Give her a crayon or pencil and a piece of paper, though, and her smile filled the room.

  I monitored my father’s habit through his mood swings or by how much time he spent in bed. The foil and needles increased rapidly just before we escaped London a few years back. I cried because both my parents left evidence of their addiction.

  In many ways, my mother was as simple as Special. Swayed by my dominant father, she did everything he said, even though she had more common sense. Joining him in his heroin habit was inevitable.

  Until the night we left, we took holidays and ate out in restaurants. I didn’t know where the money came from because I had no idea what my father did.

  The evening we fled London, we packed our suitcases at ten at night and caught the last train to Peterborough, arriving at two in the morning. I recall beaming at my parents, especially when we checked into a huge hotel on the first night. My mum’s brother, Ronnie, lived nearby. When we eventually found him, he helped us move into a cottage in rural Lincolnshire, which was cheap for obvious reasons. The single storey building had five rooms and no internal doors. You could hear everything from any room – even the toilet.

  Six months after we settled in our new home, I lay in the damp bed with my sister’s warm breath on my neck and heard my father casually say he’d shot the wrong man. The fact my mother wasn’t surprised shocked me more.

  Life carried on. My parents continued to avoid reality. We ate a lot of sandwiches. Lincolnshire is only two hours north of London but it felt like the edge of the world after the hustle and bustle of the capital city. I walked the three miles to school. Special stayed at home where she painted and coloured. My mum sold Special’s pictures. She drew people and animals in a childish way, but they captivated people as the eyes in the pictures haunted the viewer.

  One freezing night, my sister and I cuddled in bed and listened to another argument raging in the lounge. We had our own beds but only ever slept apart in the hot summer months. At six years old, she didn’t take up much room.

  ‘You did what?’ my mother shouted.

  ‘I saw an opportunity,’ my father replied.

  ‘What were you thinking?’

  ‘We’re broke. We needed the money.’

  ‘What you’ve done is put our family in danger. They’ll find us.’

  ‘They won’t think I took it.’

  I might have been only fifteen years old, but I had eyes and ears. My parents constantly talked about money and drugs. By then, that was all they were interested in. That said, I don’t recall being unhappy, despite their problems. Normal life just wasn’t for them.

  My mother’s voice became a loud, worried whisper. ‘What if they come for the money? The children are here.’

  ‘They won’t hurt them,’ my father said.

  A hand slammed on the kitchen table. ‘We need to leave.’

  ‘It’s three in the morning and snowing. No one will look now. Besides, where would we go?’

  ‘We’re rich! We can stay where we like.’

  Crazily, they laughed. I suppose that’s why they loved each other. They were both the same kind of mad.

  That was the sixties and a different time. Not everyone spent their lives within earshot of a busy road. In fact, few people owned their own car. If you’ve ever lived deep in the countryside, you’ll know how quiet the long nights are. So it makes sense that I could hear the approaching vehicle for miles before it arrived. The put-put-put we gradually heard in unison that night sounded too regular for it to be my uncle’s ancient van. And anyway, good news doesn’t arrive in the middle of the night.

  Mum understood and her bellow filled the cottage. ‘Grab everyone’s coats and shoes. I’ll wake the kids. Move!’

  We slept more or less fully clothed due to the draughty windows and non-existent central heating. The warmth from the fire failed to reach the bedrooms. I rammed my boots on in seconds, and I slid Special’s warm feet into her little red wellies. Even at that time of night, my mother wore full make-up, but her beauty couldn’t disguise her wild eyes and trembling jaw. She hustled us kids to the back door where our jackets hung.

  I held my hands out to my father. ‘Come on, Dad. Please, let’s go.’

  My father peered through the window. Judging by the volume of the car’s engine ticking over, they had arrived. Then, a heavy silence. He glanced past me at my mother.

  ‘I’ll stay and talk to them. Get the children safe.’

  Until that point, the extreme danger hadn’t registered. The expression of grim acceptance and resignation on my father’s face told me what I needed to know. I grabbed his wrist and pulled him away from the window.

  ‘Please, Dad!’

  ‘G
o. Don’t worry about me. See you at Uncle Ronnie’s when I get there.’

  I frowned at him. If it was going to be all right, we wouldn’t need to go to my uncle’s. The loud, hard double knock on the front door jolted us from our inertia and my sister, mum and I fled through the back door.

  We waited at the side of the house. Even the clouds seemed to hold their breath. The inches of settled snow cast an eerie light over the fields. I peeped around the corner at our visitors and recognised three men: a gaunt man, a fat man, and a man with weird sticking-out teeth. They’d been to our place on numerous occasions. Goofy, as I’d secretly nicknamed him, watched Special in a manner that gave me goosebumps. I always took her to our room if they arrived and we hadn’t gone to bed yet. I called the other two Laurel and Hardy for their different sizes.

  Perhaps, it would be okay after all. Even though they talked down to my father, I thought they were friends. They joked that they all worked in the same line of business. Our front door opened. With the fire long dead and no electricity, the interior showed black and solid. Out of this darkness came my father’s outstretched hand holding an envelope.

  A flash startled me, followed by a deafening, frightening bang. It lit my father up like a photograph. Terrified like rabbits, we panicked and left our hiding spot. Stupid, really. The cottage sat on a straight track. There wasn’t another house for miles. We ran in a line up the snowy lane towards the wood. If you run like that, holding hands, you can only go at the pace of the slowest runner. Special’s little boots slipped and skidded across the surface. She rarely went outside.

  The first trees and only cover remained distant. I stole a glance back, knowing if they came after us, we would never make it. They stood in a line in the centre of the road, unmoving. Weirdly, considering the weather, they wore similar blue suits. Each had a raised hand. They were colour on a blank canvas, and clear as if it were daylight. We were sitting ducks. This time, multiple booms crashed around our ears.

  Incredibly, we carried on running. A sound not dissimilar to a whip cracking whistled by my right ear. A lone crow in front of us launching into flight seemed to be the only consequence of the volley of bullets until my mother stumbled. She dragged herself up with gritted teeth and spat on the floor. Her eyes fixed on the distant tree line, and we continued to move forward. I heard the men laughing. Another torrent of cracks echoed from behind, and my mother hit the ground face first with a sickening thump.

  I crouched and scraped the bloody hair from her cheek. Blood poured from her mouth. The snow devoured the liquid even though it gushed out. Her eyes lost focus and, with her dying breath, she gasped, ‘Run.’

  The men’s footwear crunched closer. I swung Special onto my back. She adored that: playing horses. She weighed nothing but could hang on like the finest jockey. I set off much faster, terror loaning speed and strength to my legs. I reached the wood and burst in. Branches rustled and scratched my face. But just the trees at the edge were thick conifers, the ones beyond only skeletons. I prayed that our hunters would give up if I put enough distance between us.

  It wasn’t a forest by any means, and soon I reached the edge. A large expanse of white opened up before me. The voices behind me echoed louder and closer. Special’s soft, slow breath warmed my ear. I clung to that fact. She didn’t understand. I had no choice and fled into the snow field. Beneath the covering of white, rutted uneven ground unbalanced me. I managed twenty stodgy paces when I heard chuckling again.

  Special’s grip loosened after the next succession of shots boomed out. I grabbed her little arms to stop her sliding off my back. Another bang shattered the silence, and a stabbing pain seared my right thigh. After lurching a few more paces, my leg gave way. I collapsed onto my side and Special rolled off. She stared at me. She wasn’t sad or frightened. Her face only displayed kindness. Special had never uttered a word, but she tried that night.

  ‘Sorry,’ she mouthed. And then the light inside her died. My beautiful sister faded. My sister who gave the best hugs in the world.

  A few seconds later, a man appeared in my vision. It was Goofy. He reached down and put his hand towards Special’s neck. I didn’t want him touching her. Energy coursed through me and I pushed up with my arms. The agony in my leg stole my power as I attempted to stand, and I crumpled backwards.

  The killer shrugged and removed his hand from Special. His fingers came away dripping with blood. He ran a parched tongue over misshapen teeth and put a finger in his mouth. He regretted that she’d died, but only because it prevented him from having her.

  A voice in the distance barked out, ‘Finish them off.’

  Goofy leaned over me. I smelled the whisky my father drank when he couldn’t get what he needed. His eyes narrowed. I’d often been called Junior at school. A smattering of freckles below cautious green eyes hinted at an age beneath my years. My parents didn’t waste money on haircuts any more, and my mother was no hairdresser. One of the other kids in my class called me Oliver Twist. Perhaps my innocence made Goofy pause.

  The wrinkles between his eyebrows deepened, and a cheek twitched. The snow fell again and flurried behind him. Maybe he thought twice, but he remained ruthless at heart. I stared at his eyes as he leaned back. I kept my gaze on him and implored for mercy until I peered into the barrel of his gun.

  The next retort and flash were muffled as though the weather had taken the brunt. And darkness fell.

  They left us in that bleak field in the depths of winter without a care. The papers would be full of the news for weeks. They called them the snow killings.

  2

  A veterinarian on his way to a morning call at a nearby farm found me covered in blood and lying in the middle of the road. I was two miles from where they discovered my mother, and a mile from my sister. I’d tied my belt around the injured leg and crawled and dragged Special, even when hope was gone. A drunken Goofy had aimed for my face, but his wavering hand meant he hit the top of my head. The strong skull bone broke, but it deflected the bullet away leaving me only with an extremely bad concussion.

  They said I should feel lucky to be alive, but it doesn’t feel that way when you’re alone in the world. They mentioned the possibility of a Traumatic Brain Injury, but they hoped for no permanent damage. I would never be the same after that, anyway. I don’t think that’s surprising. Any hopes of a normal future perished in that field.

  They removed the bullet from my thigh, and the leg healed fine. Curing a mind was a different matter. Bruised and battered, it vanished to a distant place and left me a vacant creature who responded to little.

  I tried to talk to the police. I stuttered about three men, but when I attempted to describe the murders, it finished with me choking and crying. They’d nod at each other and exchange meaningful glances. I assumed they would do their jobs and catch the killers. The visits from the detectives upset me for the rest of the day though, and I’d forgotten about Uncle Ronnie.

  As my only living relative, he became my legal guardian. Arriving a week after the deaths, he said he’d overheard someone talking about the shootings. Lucky really, because he didn’t read newspapers. The cottage still had a patrol car outside when he arrived. The police found him cautious and evasive when questioned, but he wasn’t a suspect, and they soon left him alone. The police had determined a clear line of events by examining the murder scenes, and I assumed they had suspects.

  My screaming ruined the funeral for the few present. In fact, more police and gawkers attended than mourners. I wondered who paid for the family graves, three in a line, until I caught a subtle glance from the vicar to my uncle. The church was in Peterborough, Orton Longueville. I asked why that particular one and Ronnie told me that he’d saved the vicar’s life once. He gave no further explanation.

  After three weeks of little change in my mental state, I managed to describe the man I called Goofy to the police. Uncle Ronnie stayed throughout the chat with them. Afterwards, he tutted and shook his head. All he said was, ‘No good.
He arrived the next day and told the nurses he wanted to take me for a walk. Fresh air would help waken me up. He borrowed a wheelchair and trundled me to his car. I never returned to hospital and didn’t see the authorities again.

  It turned out that Ronnie existed off the grid. Eccentric and crazed, he lived a solitary existence without rules. He slept in a touring caravan pulled by his old van, and had five spots where he would camp for a month at a time. He later told me that was the only way my mother found him. She visited each spot in turn. Some considered him a kind of gypsy, but he said he just didn’t want to live with other people.

  To his credit, he took me in. The cramped caravan unsettled me at first. Despite owning little, he’d hung old photos on the wall. He removed them after I mentioned they scared me. I had nothing. Ronnie asked me if I wanted to go back to school. He smiled when I said, ‘No, thank you.’

 
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