Dead Like You

Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (Volume 6)

Peter James

Minotaur Books

Chapter 1

Thursday 25 December

We all make mistakes, all of the time. Mostly trivial stuff, like forgetting to return a phone call, or to put money in a parking meter, or to pick up milk at the supermarket. But sometimes – luckily very rarely – we make the big one.

The kind of mistake that could cost us our life.

The kind of mistake Rachael Ryan made.

And she had a long time to reflect on it.

If…she had been less drunk. If…it hadn’t been so sodding freezing cold. If…it hadn’t begun to rain. If…there hadn’t been a queue of a hundred equally drunk revellers at the taxi rank in Brighton’s East Street at 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve, or, rather, Christmas morning. If…her flat had not been within walking distance, unlike her equally drunk companions, Tracey and Jade, who lived far away, on the other side of the city.

If…she had listened to Tracey and Jade telling her not to be so bloody stupid. That there were plenty of taxis. That it would only be a short wait.

His whole body stiffened with excitement. After two hours of watching, finally the woman he had been waiting for was turning into the street. She was on foot and alone. Perfect!

She was wearing a miniskirt with a shawl around her shoulders and looked a little unsteady on her legs, from drink and probably from the height of the heels. She had nice legs. But what he was really looking at was her shoes. His kind of shoes. High-heeled with ankle straps. He liked ankle straps. As she came closer, approaching beneath the sodium glare of the street lights, he could see, through his binoculars, through the rear window, that they were shiny, as he had hoped.

Very sexy shoes!

She was his kind of woman!

God, was she glad she had decided to walk! What a queue! And every taxi that had gone past since was occupied. With a fresh, windy drizzle on her face, Rachael tottered along past the shops on St James’s Street, past the Royal Sussex County Hospital, then turned right into Paston Place, where the wind became stronger, batting her long brown hair around her face. She headed down towards the seafront, then turned left into her street of Victorian terraced houses, where the wind and the rain played even more havoc with her hairdo. Not that she cared any more, not tonight. In the distance she heard the wail of a siren, an ambulance or a police car, she thought.

She walked past a small car with misted windows. Through them she saw the silhouette of a couple snogging, and she felt a twinge of sadness and a sudden yearning for Liam, whom she had dumped almost six months ago now. The bastard had been unfaithful. OK, he had pleaded with her to forgive him, but she just knew he would stray again, and again – he was that sort. All the same, she missed him a lot at times, and she wondered where he was now. What he was doing tonight. Who he was with. He’d be with a girl for sure.

Whereas she was on her own.

She and Tracey and Jade. The Three Saddo Singles, they jokingly called themselves. But there was a truth that hurt behind the humour. After two and a half years in a relationship with the man she had really believed was the one she would marry, it was hard to be alone again. Particularly at Christmas, with all its memories.

God, it had been a shitty year. In August, Princess Diana had died. Then her own life had fallen apart.

She glanced at her watch. It was 2.35. Tugging her mobile phone from her bag, she rang Jade’s number. Jade said they were still waiting in the queue. Rachael told her she was almost home. She wished her a merry Christmas. Told her to wish Tracey a merry Christmas too, and said she’d see them New Year’s Eve.

‘Hope Santa’s good to you, Rach!’ Jade said. ‘And tell him not to forget the batteries if he brings you a vibrator!’

She heard Tracey cackling in the background.

‘Sod off!’ she said with a grin.

Then she slipped the phone back into her bag and stumbled on, nearly coming a purler as one high heel of her incredibly expensive Kurt Geigers, which she’d bought last week in a sale, caught between two paving stones. She toyed for a moment with the idea of taking them off, but she was almost home now. She tottered on.

The walk and the rain had sobered her up a little, but she was still too drunk, and too coked up, not to think it was odd that at almost three on Christmas morning a man in a baseball cap a short distance in front of her was trying to lug a fridge out of a van.

He had it half out and half in as she approached. She could see he was struggling under its apparent weight and suddenly he cried out in pain.

Instinctively, because she was kind, she ran, stumbling, up to him.

‘My back! My disc! My disc has gone! Oh, Jesus!’

‘Can I help?’

It was the last thing she remembered saying.

She was hurled forward. Something wet slapped across her face. She smelt a sharp, acrid reek.

Then she blacked out.

DEAD LIKE YOU Copyright © 2010 by Really Scary Books/Peter James