In sun-soaked Mauritius, a retired Law Lord is brutally murdered, while in rain-sodden Manchester, the Labour Party conference is beginning.
The death of a teenage runaway, killed when she leaps from a motorway bridge into the speeding traffic below, leads Detective Constable Iona Khan into the most disturbing case of her new career. The dead girl’s identity remains a mystery – until the discovery of her details along with profiles of three other girls, all recently reported missing. A further, shocking, discovery causes the whole file to be handed over to Greater Manchester Police’s Counter Terrorism Unit.
Iona Khan – still struggling for acceptance in the male-dominated CTU – investigates, little realising that, because of her close resemblance to the girl who leapt from the bridge, she is now in the sights of a sinister figure. Someone whose reputation for ruthlessness has attracted notoriety, even among those who trade in the most depraved of human markets.
They were going to kill her, the girl was now sure of that. She didn’t need to understand what they were saying; the decision showed in their eyes, betrayed itself in the tight set of their lips.
The man who’d been raping her since she’d first arrived, on the final day, he’d just blanked her. Men. What a joke. She’d experienced enough of them in her short life to know what he’d been hoping when she’d first arrived. As they’d bundled her out the van, she’d seen him looking across the courtyard at her with glittering eyes.
Later, in the room they kept her in, she could almost hear the clunk of his thoughts as they’d made their brief journey through his brain: just you wait, I’ll be so amazing you won’t be able to stop yourself from enjoying it. Each time we do it, you’ll like me a little more. In time, you’ll grow to love me. To need me.
Not with the men back in Birmingham and not out here, in this flat-roofed house cowering behind high walls, halfway up some wind-whipped mountain in the middle of nowhere. Instead, she’d continued to fight. So he’d lost patience after a few days, got rougher, started with the slaps and stuff. Big deal, she’d had worse. Her dad used to touch the tip of a cigarette against her inner thigh. Now that did hurt. Made her legs spring open, that did.
But the one who was really nasty – the one who she could tell was pulling the strings, the one who listened to the family’s whining reports with a mouth that grew more and more tight with outrage – was the grandma. That face like a giant raisin, maggot holes for eyes, lips like a puckered arsehole.
During the days, they tried to get her to teach their younger kids English. That was fun; telling the little brown-eyed dickheads that the word for tree was ‘twat’, window was ‘wank’, spoon was ‘spunk’. And grandma? She was ‘cocksucker’.
When they eventually realised, she was certain it was the grandma who’d said to just finish it. Like the girl was one of their goats, herded into the courtyard at sundown each day. Something to take a knife to. Chuck the remains away. Burn, maybe.
So when the door to the room they kept her in opened and some new man stepped inside, she’d been caught by surprise. Especially when he didn’t swing a leg back and boot her like the family did. This man stepped closer while sadly scratching his beard. He’d undone her ropes, spoken to her in English, not bladda-bladda. Asked if she was all right.
On the drive back down – big car, Mercedes – he’d said to her what a terrible mistake it had all been. She thought he was full of shit, of course. She’d seen the wedge of dirty notes he’d handed over in return for her and her passport.
So she’d just bided her time, waiting for his hand to slide onto her knee, the finger to start gently tracing circles. But he never tried a thing.
She fell asleep at some point. When she woke, it was dark. He’d driven her to a big town. Posh apartment, fridge full of food – proper food. Pizza, fish fingers, squeezy yoghurts. Cupboards with Pringles, Maltesers, baked beans. Heinz. Even booze. Nothing decent like vodka – some rank shit. Local. But it worked.
Then it was the sunglasses, jeans, T-shirts and a pair of Nikes. Make-up, even bras and knickers. Still she waited for the catch. And, eventually, it came. She could go back to Britain, no problem. Just one little thing she needed to do for him.
Oh yeah, shall I unzip your flies now?
But it wasn’t that. It was just a belt. Beige, canvas, with two rows of thick compartments that had been sewn tightly shut. Full of cash, he’d said. To get his brother out of the prison in the big city nearby. A cousin would be waiting on the other side of the border fence. All she had to do was flash her passport at the soldiers. British girl like her? She’d stroll through. The cousin would take the belt off her and then drive her straight to the British embassy – and she’d be free to go home.
She thought he was a lying twat. But the way she figured it was this: he was giving her back her passport. And he’d said that he – personally – couldn’t go too close to the checkpoint. Which meant there was no way he could stop her walking up to the first official she could find, holding her passport out, lifting her shirt up and saying she was being used as a mule. Fuck his brother and fuck his cash.
So now here she is.
The sun’s so hot. Stupid hot. And he got me to wear this dumb blue bib over my T-shirt. Unicef – whatever that means. Sunglasses are OK. Gucci, probably fake. He’d said to keep them on to hide my bruises, but I’d have wanted them anyway, the sand is so bastard bright. The belt’s digging under my tits, canvas sticking to my stomach and back. Feels like something was in the Coke he gave me to drink. Not speed or E. Something nice and woozy. Skag, maybe. He said not to worry, he’d be watching from somewhere out of sight. He’d shaken my hand, wished me luck and a happy life. Fucking weirdo.
A few of the locals – the women covered from head-to-toe in those big robes – were being waved into a channel by barking soldiers. I try speaking to one but he took a quick look at my British passport and shouted me forward towards a hut. OK, OK, I hear you. No need for that attitude, no need at all. Probably best, anyway. Get inside – somewhere old beardy-weirdy can’t see – then come clean about what I’m carrying. Let them know how I’d been kidnapped back in Britain, too. Tell them everything.
Fifteen feet from the building and the sand feels like marshmallows beneath my new trainers. Whatever was in that Coke, it was good. Three soldiers sitting on an anti-ram barrier glance up and start speaking at me. I smile. Got the urge to just sit down next to them and ask for a cigarette.
‘Do I look like I speak what you speak? I’m English, see? This is my passport. The care home sorted it, years ago when we all went to France. You know Paris? Eiffel Tower and that? Ooh la la.’
One’s grinning uncertainly. He’s only a bit older than me. Quite cute. And he’s got the ciggies.
‘Papers? No, don’t have no papers, only this passport. Listen, mate, can you give us one of them you’re smoking?’
They’re chuckling now. The cute one calls over to the hut. Another steps out, this one in a shirt. No helmet or gun. Fuck it, he’ll do.
‘Hey, you in charge? I’m carrying something. Could be cash, but it’s probably drugs. I’ve been made to. It’s here, under here, look.’
The way they stiffen almost makes me laugh. Eyes bulging like ping-pong balls. Jesus boys, you never seen a push-up bra before? The one without the helmet is turning, diving at the open doorwa –
From the top of a building two hundred metres away, a man wearing a pale lavender shirt and designer sunglasses pressed send on a mobile phone. A hot white flash crackled along the bottom seam of the belt wrapped tightly round the girl’s abdomen. A millisecond later it was eclipsed by a booming ball of fire that obliterated the girl, the three soldiers, the side of the command post and a visiting Major from the Israeli Defence Force.
The idea for this novel came to me after I purchased a refurbished laptop from an online store. The machine came exactly as promised – complete with a travel case that had more pockets than Ray Mear’s survival trousers.
It was in one pocket – hidden inside the case – that I discovered a small notebook. It had obviously been missed by the people at the refurbishing company.
In the notebook were various things scrawled by whoever had previously owned the laptop. It was all very innocent but, being of a twisted mind, I thought: what if the notes weren’t harmless? What if they related to some kind of secretive, sinister activity? What sort of activity? Something dark? Sounds good. Something disturbing? Even better. I know! Something involving vulnerable girls being kidnapped and trafficked into a terrifying fate abroad.
Sighing at how my mind comes up with this stuff, I picked up my pen and began to write.