Henrietta travelled east, following the river. In the early hours the Virago splashed through puddles spilled from the street-cleaning trucks that crawled until dawn, washing down the Metropolis. She hunched over the handlebars and leant into the bends, letting the bike follow them in a natural sweep. Her picture of Marie Montague, lying in a pool of blood, constantly welled up in her mind. She shivered, despite her riding leathers, and turned over the names. Sol Coniff Jr had gained by Marie’s death. Raymond Sappiano was in London when she died. All that was undeniable.
But why would her killer stab her through the eyes? And now there was Ibrahim Tolman? She had seen him argue with Marie at the football match for herself, yet he denied it. Maybe it was just a simple burglary that went wrong? Or a crazy stalking a star? Either way, Guy Royce would know the answers and she must stick by him. This story would make her good money. The fact that she liked the cop was a bonus.
She was glad when the familiar outlines of Docklands’ Canary Wharf loomed ahead. She wanted a shower and some sleep. At four a.m. she powered down the bike, coasting onto the forecourt of Cascades, her tower block, halting it under the single light at the lobby entrance. Henrietta smelled again the salt tang of the flooding tide on the night breeze. The turbulent waters were now closer, gurgling and crashing at the retaining wall only feet away. In the seven years she had lived on the River Thames she had sweated in the block’s gymnasium complex and ploughed the communal pool in its basement. She loved to swim and was built for it. Her apartment’s windows straddled the water and she loved watching the river traffic.
Every Thursday a timber ship manoeuvred outside her windows to berth next door at Lenanton’s Timber Yard. She could smell its diesel fuel mixed with the salt. She always found the arrival of the leviathan ship, the EKA LOD, a fascination and had watched the crew on deck many times. Level with her window on the fourth floor she saw the crew prepare the mooring lines as it closed with the shore, calling to each other in a tongue she didn’t understand. When it turned to dock it churned the river into a crescendo of spinning eddies and black, foaming swell.
She learned that one long, deafening blast from the ship’s funnel horn, followed by three short, meant “get out of my way, I am turning to starboard.” The plethora of pleasure boats and working launches plying the river duly did so, or faced being run down by the mammoth. A case of do or die.
She had photographed it, the decks laden with Czechoslovakian wood, submerging the red oxide hull and had the print framed on her wall. It was the centrepiece of her apartment with the aluminium grey sparkle of the tidal waterway flowing immediately outside. She wanted a chance to think and some sleep but her cell rang.
“Henri? That you? Wake up, will you?”
“What do you want, Guy? Where the hell ARE you?”
His voice was sharp. “Now listen, Henri. This is important. Are you listening to me?”
“I’m still up. What’s going on, Guy?”
He explained. “I’m still at the Yard. I’ve been getting prints from those negatives Raymond Sappiano gave me at the car wreck.”
“And? This better be good. I need sleep.”
“Marie was already married. They were her wedding photos.”
“What! That’s not in her biogs. When? Who to?”
“Her sister, Nicola, was the chief bridesmaid at the wedding.”
Henrietta was silent, then let out a long sigh. “Where’s her sister, then?”
“Missing. You remember Ibrahim Tolman threatened us both over your picture of him and Marie? Well, the Morning Graphic’s splashed it all over the front page again. I thought you should know.”
“Who’s the groom?”
“We’re working on that. Goodnight.”
At the fourth floor she fished in her pocket for her key but her door swung open at her touch. She inched back into the darkness, her neck hairs prickling, staring at the crack of light from her apartment. She pressed last number recall on her cell phone.
“Come on, Guy! I need you now, pal. Answer the damn phone.”
A large, smothering palm slapped over her lips, choking off her cry. She felt a hard, male body propelling her forward. Then a claw-like hand stretched out from the darkness behind her, ripping the cell phone from her grasp and her body convulsed. Her limbs refused to move, locked rigid. The scream welled in her throat. She couldn’t open her mouth to let it out! She felt her heart freeze in her breast.
The man’s free hand twisted at her arm, doubling it expertly behind her back and her shoulder joint exploded with the pain. The hand was crushing her face. She jolted, hearing the man’s whisper menacing in her ear.
“Quiet, lovely lady, or Marko will wring your neck like a chicken.”
He crashed her into the door. She felt a blow at her temple as she collided with it. It swung back under their combined weight, bathing the corridor with the light from her apartment. She was in the doorway, shocked and stunned by the blow. In a flash she took in her sitting room. It was wrecked, the contents of her drawers and cupboards strewn across the floor. A mountain of books lay piled at the base of her bookcase.
Her attacker kicked the front door shut behind them, shuffling her across the room in an iron grip. She knew instinctively that someone else was there. He held her stock still on the threshold of her bedroom and her mind screamed rape! She was desperate for air. His arm, pinning hers to her side, was stopping her breathing.
A cold, hard knot formed in her stomach as she listened, her senses searching out within the darkened bedroom. There was the soft click of a switch and the room was bathed in light. Carlos, the second minder from The Nash Terraces, sat on her bed, an automatic pistol dangling from his right hand. He observed her coldly.
“Henrietta Fox. Miljenik. You have made me wait a long time. Where have you been?”
Marko released her. She had trouble standing on her own. She could hardly speak, her tongue felt grotesque, like leather in her mouth. She tried to regain control of her breathing. Her pulse still raced wildly, her heartbeat pounding in her breast, and she could only obey her first impulse, which was to flee.
She began a run for her front door. Marko was blocking her path and she crashed into his chest. His muscled arms engulfed her again, trapping her easily in a bear hug. She jerked a knee up into his groin but he had already crossed his leg to block her. He snarled. “No, Miss Fox. You do not kick me there.”
She had always thought, in desperate moments, she would battle it out with any man, fight with her last breath. But the fear was paralysing and, to her horror, she found he could do what he wanted with her. Marko gripped her as a child would a doll. His large hands were able to encircle each of her upper arms and root her to the spot. He controlled her body like a puppet master. Marko spun her around, his grip cutting off her circulation. A grunt of air passed her lips as her teeth jammed together.
She was stood to attention like a lifeless guardsman as he pulled her arms behind her and she felt the bite of leather. He was binding her wrists together. She was too frightened to think how he had gained his expertise. Carlos moved into the sitting room to face her. His gun pointed into her belly. “Please, Miss Fox. No noise. I would not upset Marko further, if I were you.”
The strains of ’The Marseilles’ rang out and Carlos reached into Marko’s pocket to retrieve her mobile. She knew it would be Guy redialling her number and, for a moment, hope filled her. Carlos dropped the handset to the floor, crushing it under his heel. Henrietta found her voice. “Make this animal let go of me! Now! I’m warning you. You can’t do things like this! Not in England.”
He smiled without passion. “Miss Fox, it’s four in the morning. Please keep your voice down. We don’t want your neighbours to be troubled.” A raw glint came into his eyes and he moved on her. He jammed the gun hard into her midriff. It knocked the breath from her once more. She wanted to double over with the pain of it but Marko held her rigidly upright and she gasped to draw air. Carlos stared dispassionately into her face.
“Shut up! This is not some English tea game. You are in bad trouble, do you understand? You will not tell Carlos what to do. Carlos will tell YOU! Shut up or Marko will gag you. Do you understand me?”
Henrietta nodded, her mouth gaping wide to draw breath and a new fear gripped her. She hung from Marko’s hands. He took her full weight without flinching.
“Good. I see we understand. You have something I want and you will give it to me. Now.”
Henrietta stood on her feet again trying to forget the pain at her wrists.
“Carlos, what are you after? Why are you here? I have nothing for you.”
He traced a line with the muzzle of the automatic down her breast, absently prodding the open mouth of the barrel at a nipple outlined through her leathers.
“You have everything for me, Henrietta, but first the pictures. I want them all.”
She wriggled, trying to move away from him, but Marko grunted in her ear, holding her fast.
“The pictures you took of Mr Tolman and Miss Montague. I want the negatives.”
She was forced to look into his face, studying the fleshy line of his cheeks and the course openness of the pores on his nose. She saw some of them were clogged, as if he used an ointment. He even smelled rotten, she thought, like some beast that was dead but wouldn’t lie down. Killing was his passion, she could see that now. It gave him his joy. He was a natural born killer.
“Come now, Miss Fox. Soon it will be daylight. We have much to do. Tell me where they are, please.”
She gasped out, her fingers going numb from Marko’s bindings.
“There are no negatives. They are digital. They don’t exist, except in a computer.”
Carlos snarled, his teeth exposed like a jackal. “Don’t lie to me! You think I’m some silly foreigner? Some fool you can play games to? I will make you talk to me, you know that?”
She hesitated, desperate to find the words. “Yes, I know. I’m not lying to you. Look at my cameras. I will show you.”
He disappeared and she heard the click of her camera case opening. He returned to confront her, the big Nikon in his hands.
“Carlos, untie me. I will show you. Tell him to release me.”
He ignored her and pulled at the small doors on the camera. “Tell me how to get the pictures out.”
“I can’t just tell you,” she persisted. “I must show you.”
“Marko, untie her, but watch her. If she runs you may kill her.”
Henrietta blanched and rubbed her wrists to restore the blood flow. “Look, it’s here, you see? A memory card fits in here.”
He moved to grip her arm. “Where is Mr Tolman’s memory card? I want it now.”
She pointed to the flat, plastic box she held. “He’s on here. All his pictures.”
She slipped it into the Nikon, powering it up to project the images. “Look in there. You will see Tolman and Marie together.”
Carlos released her arm to take the camera and she took her chance, launching back at Marko, trying to locate his ankle-bone with her boot. Marko grunted and staggered back in pain but he did not fall. She turned on him, swinging a right fist as hard as she knew into his face, expecting to crack his nose. A searing pain in her scalp jerked her back, making her clenched fist swing uselessly in empty air. She cried out. Carlos had hold of a hank of her red hair, dragging her backwards with it.
“Bastardan! Marko, fix her!”
Marko menaced her, his face contorted. “Put your hands together, Henrietta Fox. You are a bad girl.”
She offered her wrists together before her. “Not like that. Behind you.”
He held a leather dog lead from which hung a tiny radio transmitter. Viciously, he wrapped the lead around her wrists, crossed in the small of her back. He pulled the ends together to knot them.
“No more boots for Marko, eh?”
She gritted her teeth with the agony from the leather leash. “Carlos, you’re a bastard, you know that! Just get out of here! You’ve got what you want.”
His lips opened, showing his teeth in a wide smile but she saw no laughter in his eyes, only the dead glaze of madness. “We are going sailing, Miss Henrietta, like the English song says.”
He gripped her chin viciously. “Tape please, Marko.”
He produced a strip of duct tape and smoothed it hard over her mouth, pressing at it firmly with a finger to contour her lips. Henrietta jerked back to shake her head, trying to dislodge it. The seal was impossible to break and she now feared for her life. She watched him slip the memory card into his pocket. Marko came to grip her by the arms. When his fingers dug into her bruises she gave a gasp through the gag. Carlos took up station beside her, the automatic held into her side.
“We go quietly, Miss Fox. I do not care where I kill you. The quieter you are the longer you live.”
She swallowed the saliva building in her mouth, hoping soon to wake from this nightmare. Where was Guy Royce? Why should he come to her aid? It was just one lost call in the night. The police don’t come because you can’t get through on a cell phone. She was alone with them and the adrenaline had left her, replaced by a cold desolation. What if nobody should see her leave at all?
The building was silent, only the whirr of the lift motor audible in the early hours. She expected the residents to sleep through her abduction. Why shouldn’t they unless she could make a noise? The three of them travelled to the ground floor in silence. Marko jerked her out of the lift into the empty, darkened reception.
She pressed her tongue hard against the tape, tasting the foul adhesive, but it resisted her. She glared at the night porter’s closed door, looking for anything to kick or tumble over to rouse him. Then the urging of Marko’s grip moved her out the back door into the darkness of the early hours.