Widowed detective DI Tom Blake sets off a chain of events that change his life forever, when the brutal murder of an alcoholic skinhead, and arrest of a vicious Turkish loan shark, unwittingly disrupts an international gang’s daring plans to steal the world-famous Staffordshire Hoard.
In a cruel twist of fate, Blake’s daughter is kidnapped and the trail propels the bereft detective on a personal quest to Miami to save her life. Operating outside the law, he enters into an illicit showdown with a mysterious artefacts Collector, almost costing him his life.
As the body count rises, Blake and his team struggle to unravel the conspiracy of a shadowy killer who leaves no trace. With only circumstantial evidence against each of the suspects, they hit a wall, until twenty-six-year-old photographs linking them to the murdered skinhead emerge. It seems the victim’s depraved past is the key to identifying the killer.
Can the police uncover the truth through all the lies and deception, and crack the case before someone else gets killed? And will they recover a legendary national treasure, worth millions, before it’s lost forever?
The extract - Chapter One:
murder, Abduction & robbery!
Detective Inspector Tom Blake sat drumming his fingers on the wheel of the white Astra pool car parked on Victoria Road, a main artery that fed the city of Stoke-on-Trent. His stomach rumbled in expectation of the return of his partner DS John Murphy with breakfast: hot bacon and cheese oatcakes, a Staffordshire delicacy, enjoyed all over the county.
He turned down Radio Stoke, but Sam Cooke’s soulful tones were suddenly replaced with the unmistakable rumble of a high-performance car rapidly approaching from behind. In anticipation of a pursuit he reached for his seat belt and fired up the engine.
Returning to the Astra DS, Murphy glared at the speeding vehicle as it screeched passed them doing at least fifty in the thirty zone. Hastily opening the passenger door, he jumped in, dropped two greasy paper bags onto his lap, before wrestling with his seatbelt.
‘You see that?
‘I’d put money on it being nicked. Twenty grand’s worth driven by a maniac in a red cap,’ Blake said, tracing the black Audi TT as it cut straight across the path of an oncoming van and carved through the traffic heading up Lichfield Street.
‘Could be a boy racer,’ Murphy said as his boss hit the siren, then the accelerator and flew towards the busy Joiners Square roundabout. They swerved around a flatbed pickup, avoiding collision with a red Nissan Duke by the tightest of margins. Blake glanced in the rear-view mirror at the chaos he’d caused: cars screeching to a halt, horns blasting, bringing the roundabout to a standstill.
‘Shitting hell, Tom! You trying to kill us before breakfast?’
Focusing on the road ahead he didn’t reply. The back end of the car drifted as he headed up the incline, slamming through the gears, adrenaline pumping through him like an electrical surge.
Murphy radioed in the shout. ‘In pursuit of a black Audi TT registration NT43 USD. Heading up Lichfield Street, requesting assistance from traffic. Possible stolen vehicle driven at excessive speed?’
Further up the road, they closed within fifty yards of the Audi. It slowed down behind a Citroen people carrier, air brakes hissing, before the driver slammed on the gas and flew dangerously past several other cars on the wrong side of the road. It was 10 a.m. and, the commuter traffic had cleared. Thank god, Blake thought, manoeuvring with caution past the line of cars that had eased to the curb.
A gap of around two hundred yards had now opened between them. The Audi swerved around a tight left-hand bend and disappeared down Regent Road.
Blake pumped the brakes and the back end of the Astra drifted to the right as it swerved round after him. Keeping control he eased off, then, as the road straightened, he put his foot down and slammed through the gears, mindful of a sharp left-hand turn leading onto College Road six hundred yards ahead.
‘You’re losing him, Tom!’
‘Don’t worry, he’s got to slow down before joining College Road because after that there’s speed humps. God forbid he gets that far … there’ll be loads of students mulling about!’
Cleveland Road eased to the right before straightening again, and the Audi came back in view.
‘Fuck, he’s not slowing.’ Blake clenched the wheel; taking his foot off the gas he jammed onto the brake and winced. Murphy pushed hard into the footwell, hands clenching the sides of his seat. Both men prepared for impact with gritted teeth as the Astra swerved and screeched to a grinding halt across the middle of the road, leaving an arc of rubber burns on the tarmac.
‘Shit, he’s losing it,’ Murphy said in disbelief.
They watched in horror. The Audi’s brake lights flashed. The car skidded, mounted a tarmac island partitioning the bend, locked and swerved before slamming into a solid six-foot high wall on the opposite side of the road. The bonnet crumpled, like a soda can being stamped on, spraying shards of glass and plastic over the pavement as the windscreen imploded. Its back end bounced, flashing a glimpse of the chassis before crashing hard onto the pavement.
Blake froze in his seat, sweating, his heart pounding; a disturbing flashback of the devastating hit-and-run incident that had killed his young son and wife ten years ago flooded his mind. The side impact of the vehicle had spun their car a hundred and eighty degrees into a dry stone wall. His colleagues never caught the driver, and he found himself unconsciously looking for the perpetrator every time the force apprehended a joyrider.
Rooted to their seats they expected the worst. In a moment of deadly silence they watched steam dissipate from the destroyed Audi’s radiator. A blue Volvo stood stationary in the right hand lane of College Road, its driver had exited and stood behind the vehicle warning oncoming traffic. Residents from nearby houses stood rubbernecking behind the safety of their front gates. Time froze for a few seconds while the two detectives processed the carnage.
Without warning the crushed driver’s door forced open and a young man no more than twenty, nursing what looked like a broken arm, ran frantically across the road and disappeared through the Victorian entrance gates of Hanley Park. Murphy flung his door open and dived out of the Astra in pursuit of the evading joyrider.
Blake shook himself out of paralysis and hit the radio.
‘DI Blake, vehicle crashed and abandoned at the junction between College Road and Cleveland Road, requesting immediate Ambulance and traffic presence. Suspect left the scene. DS Murphy pursuing on foot.’
Puffing like an old codger DS Murphy gave pursuit, but he was embarrassingly out of shape, too many takeaways and pints after work had increased his waistline enough to handicap him. Sweat ran down his spine. He brushed his fringe out of his eyes and cantered, zig-zagging over low flowerbeds and new cut grass levelling pansies, like a portly Jack Russel first time off its lead for a week.
An elderly gent plodding his Labrador along just about managed to dodge the fifteen stone Sergeant in full pelt. Considering his arm was broken, and he may be suffering the effects of concussion, the kid had some guts to attempt out running the cops, Murphy thought.
Flighting three steps at a time down toward the band stand, Murphy saw his prey was quickly losing quickly pace as he tried to escape through a cluster of ash trees like a pigeon with a clipped wing.
Whilst attempting to rejoin the winding concrete path meandering through the park, he stumbled over a loose edging stone and crashed to the ground. Seeing him writhe in agony, Murphy decided to spare him the full force of the law. He walked cautiously towards him, knelt and handcuffed his unbroken arm to a belt loop above his backside.
‘Ah! Ger off me, you fucking pig!’ he screeched, flapping on the path like a captured fish.
Totally spent, Murphy bent hands on his knees catching his breath. He paused for another few gulps of air. ‘I’m … arresting you … on suspicion of vehicle theft … and dangerous driving.’
The kid struggled for a few seconds before capitulating, as the out-of-breath DS finished reading his rights, his knee rooted in the lad’s back. Upon their feet, the DS jostled the reluctant captive the few hundred yards back towards the park entrance where Blake stood waiting with two paramedics who’d just arrived at the scene.
Blake shouted once they were within earshot. ‘Did he give you much grief, John?’
‘Nothing I can’t handle,’ he said, still suffering from his exertions.
One of the paramedics motioned the kid towards the nearest bench.’ Let’s get you checked over, son.’
‘Check my sarge over afterwards, will you? He looks like he’s blown a blood vessel,’ Blake asked, smirking.
‘Piss off, Tom!’ Murphy said, unimpressed.
Although in pain, the kid looked more annoyed at being arrested than anything else. It never ceased to amaze Blake how arrogant these little bastards could be. Joy riding had decreased across the city in recent years. Better education and stringent sentencing deterred teenage potheads from the Estates, but there was still a minority who were difficult to reach, often from dysfunctional families.
The paramedic lifted the lad’s eyelids and flashed a torch over his pupils, then asked him some basic cognitive questions. Apart from the arm and a facial scratches, he appeared unscathed, which both detectives thought was a bloody miracle considering the Audi was a complete wreck.
‘What’s your name, son?’ Blake probed.
The lad stared, gloss-eyed, into space.
‘Can’t this wait until the doctors have seen him? He needs that arm plastering,’ protested the paramedic walking their patient back to the ambulance parked in front of the park gates.
'Once we get the all clear from A&E we’ll come and collect him for an interview,’ Blake responded.
The cheeky sod shot them a juvenile smirk.
Murphy glared at him. ’Don’t worry, son, you’ll keep till later.’
The two detectives strode back to the Astra in a heightened state of alert. Unbelievably Murphy stood salivating like a ravenous dog at the limp paper bags on his seat.
‘Seriously, you’re still hungry after that?’
‘A man’s got to eat,’ Murphy protested, feeling cheated after his exertions. ‘Did you see that? Pisses me off! Little bastard totals a twenty-grand motor, tries to leg it and he’s frigging laughing at us.’
Blake reassured him. ‘Don’t worry, John. We’ll get him on car theft and dangerous driving. He’ll be looking at twelve months plus and a driving ban.’
‘Some poor bugger’s looking at an insurance nightmare, though,’ Murphy moaned. ‘Those bastards always try to wriggle out of paying.’
‘Suppose. Total write-off that one.’
‘Yep. Premium through the roof next time. I’m just going to check the vehicle,’ he said, making his way towards the abandoned wreck as Murphy dragged his aching carcass behind.
‘Careful, Tom, it could blow!’
Blake ignored his concerns. Peering through the window he spotted a cream manbag lying in the passenger foot well. ‘Any idea’s how we’ll get that?’ he asked, tapping the glass.
Murphy was still puffing like he’d done ten rounds in the ring with a heavyweight. ’Just … give us a minute, will you, Tom?’
‘You OK?’ he asked staring at the moons of sweat under Murphy’s arms.
‘Knackered! Too old for this game; without the broken arm I wouldn’t have caught him. My suspect chasing days are numbered.’
‘After that performance I was thinking of entering you into the Potteries Marathon,’ Blake teased.
‘Yeah, right, good one, Tom. Traffic will be here any minute. Let’s get back to the station, slap the Oatcakes in the microwave. I’m bloody starving?’
‘Not until we’ve fished out that bag.’
‘How? The door’s demolished!’ he said, annoyed the joyriding little shit had delayed his breakfast.
Blake had an idea. ‘Hang fire a minute while I fetch my baton from the car.’
Minutes later he’d caved the window in and fished out the bag like hooking a duck at the fair. He unzipped it and retrieved a package.‘Shit, there’s thousands worth here,’ he said, holding a bag of brown powder the size of a regular sugar pack, strengthened at each end with parcel tape.
‘You’re not kidding. Major league quantity?’
‘Could be a mule for a dealer? We’ll know more after questioning him.’
‘Doubt he’ll give us a name,’ Murphy said, his normal pale colour gradually returning. What’s with the logo?’ He pointed to a bottle kiln printed in brown ink on the side of the bag.
Blake turned to face him, oblivious to a thin stream of smoke rising from under the bonnet of the Audi.‘Your guess is as good as mine. Must be some sick branding for the local market?’
'Tom, get back! It’s on fire.’
Blake darted towards his partner who’d retreated to a safe distance. They both stood behind the park gates and watched in disbelief as flames lapped around the edges of the crumpled bonnet. Within seconds the car was burning intensely, engulfed in red heat, bellowing black smoke as the plastic and foam interior fed the fire.
The residents of Cleveland Road stood motionless as the muted sound of sirens echoed in the distance. That silence was shattered by a deafening explosion. A huge ball of orange flames erupted into the air, showering fragments of glass and plastic onto the road. An electrical cable trailed from the smashed base of the traffic island, which the joyrider had flattened in his insane trajectory into six foot of bricks and mortar. Incendiary blue sparks of electricity arced under the burning remains of what was once a top-of-the-range motor.
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