This was where it happened. The man, Simon Ridley, had been stabbed to death by a person or persons unknown. His two friends had been standing with him when it happened, but they were unable to identify the assailant. Ridley had died almost instantly. Royle remembered coming out here to see the body. A young constable had already been on the scene, making the area secure with police tape. The body had been covered by a white sheet that was too small to hide everything and Ridley’s legs from the knee down had been visible. There had been a lot of blood on the ground; it had stained the sheet.

He’d lifted the sheet to look at the man’s face. The victim had been smiling.

Even now, over three months later, he could not forget that smile. He dreamed about it regularly; it followed him through the darkness. At the time he couldn’t be sure what it was about the corpse’s facial expression that had disturbed him so badly. Only afterwards had he realised that it was because it was a smile of pure irony.

Royle didn’t usually become emotionally involved with cases, and his level of obsession in his work was manageable — at least most of the time, and apart from one special case. But this one was different; he wanted to know the real reason behind that smile. He needed to find out who had stabbed Simon Ridley, and why they’d done it. Royle knew that his thought process was flawed, but for some reason he couldn’t help thinking that if he answered these questions he might be able to understand more about his own life, and about the ghosts that haunted him.

He rose to a standing position and took one final look at the Needle. The place had always made him feel uncomfortable, as if the cold, grey structure hid something that wasn’t quite ready to be seen. He’d worked this patch long enough to know that strange things happened in the Grove. The estate was like some kind of locus for negative energy; in Medieval times it would have been considered cursed. Once he had read an article in a magazine about something called the Hum — low level electro-magnetic waves that some people were able to hear in the form of a low-frequency humming noise. These people heard it all the time; whenever they were close to electricity pylons, the sound became more apparent. One theory was that the Hum originated from all the electrical goods people pack into their homes. It had even driven one or two people insane.

There was something like that operating here, in the Grove. But it wasn’t a discernable sound. More like a feeling, a sensation; like the slow, burning sensation at the nape of the neck when you feel like you’re being watched. He felt that all the time. It only ever went away when he left the estate.

Royle had a name for it: he called it the Crawl. Because that’s how it felt: as if invisible insects were crawling across his skin, wandering around all over his body. The sensation wasn’t exactly invasive, but it was persistent. Sometimes he wanted to rip off his clothes and leap into a river to wash it off — anything to be rid of the terrible feeling that things were crawling all over his body, treating him like a patch of ground.

The Crawl.

He could feel it now; he could always feel it, when he was here, on these streets. Thinking about the Crawl made it seem worse, because it drew his attention to the sensation.

He turned away from the hoardings and walked back to his car, head down, skin crawling, shoulders hunched, and with his hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his coat.

Royle drove out of the estate towards Grove End. He passed very few people, apart from a couple making their way along the street from the direction of the Unicorn pub. The woman was tottering on her high heels and the man looked pensive, slightly out of place in his surroundings. He thought he recognised the woman, but he couldn’t be sure.

The farther Royle travelled from the source, the less bothered he was by the Crawl. Eventually, when he was roughly a mile away from the Needle, the feeling stopped completely and he was able to relax. The three whiskies he’d enjoyed earlier that evening no longer warmed him. He reached out and turned on the car’s heating system, listening to the slow suction of air into the interior of the vehicle.

When he arrived at his flat he sat there still waiting for the car to heat up. After a couple of minutes he got out and walked to his door, fishing his keys out of his pocket. He let himself in, climbed the stairs, and went straight to the drinks shelf. He took a sip of whisky before taking off his coat. It felt good, like an old friend.

The off-license downstairs was still open but he had enough supplies to see him through most of the following week.

He supposed that it had been stupid to rent a flat situated directly above so much temptation, but he’d long ago realised that it was impossible to fight his cravings. He could manage the problem, but would never defeat his addictive nature. Vanessa wanted to arrange for him to attend AA meetings, or see a counsellor, but he wouldn’t accede to her demands. He knew that he was drink-dependent — he wasn’t an idiot, locked into a cycle of self- denial — but the basic fact was that the dependency sustained him. If he didn’t have the drink, he’d lose his ability to cope with the job he did. Almost everyone he knew on the force had a drink problem. Nobody talked about it out in the open, and as long as it didn’t affect the way you did your job, it was simply accepted as part of the territory.

He walked across to his tiny stereo and flicked on the radio. There was a late-night phone-in programme about street crime. He changed the station to a sports discussion show and sat down in his chair by the window. He liked to watch the streets at night. It gave him a sense of the mechanics of how society worked. There were phases of activity after nightfall: the early evening crowd of street kids marking out their territory, then the after-pub crowd staggering home, followed by an emptiness that seemed almost holy.

Sometimes, when he sat and stared out of the window, he saw signs of something bigger than himself, a vast conscious energy that stirred the litter in the gutters, the leaves on the trees, the swings in the playground opposite his flat.

Royle had never been a religious man, but as he got older he became more aware of his burgeoning spirituality. He wasn’t sure what he believed in, but he knew that he believed in something — or that he wanted to believe.

In his trouser pocket, his mobile phone began to vibrate. He took it out and opened the text message. It was from Vanessa.

Are you awake?

It was a system they’d worked out between them. He struggled with insomnia and the pregnancy was causing her to sit up late at night, unable to sleep. So if one of them wanted to talk, or simply to listen to another voice on the phone whatever the time of day or night, they’d send a quick text to see if the other was amenable to a chat.

He reached over and retrieved the landline phone from its spot on the windowsill and dialled her number. She answered on the second ring.

“How are you?” she said, without preamble.

“The usual. Can’t sleep, mind refuses to shut down. You know…”

He pictured her smile and the way she always ducked her head slightly, as if to try and hide her chin.

“What about you? Baby keeping you awake?”

“Yeah. Baby’s been restless tonight. I don’t think it enjoyed the mushroom sandwich I had earlier. Maybe Baby’s getting a bit sick of mushrooms.”

“The way it got sick of cooked meat?”

“Yes.” She paused, and he sensed some minor apprehension on her behalf. “I know I shouldn’t say this, but I’m missing you tonight. Sorry. No… I definitely shouldn’t have said that.”

He adjusted his position in the chair and rested his fingertips on the edge of the whisky glass. “No, it’s okay. I know what you mean. I’m feeling a bit down myself, and kind of wish that I had someone here in the flat. Just another presence around the place.”

“Uh-hum. That’s it. That’s exactly it. I wouldn’t want you to speak to me, or do anything. Just be here. Be around, to make it less lonely.”

He felt an ache in his chest. Nothing major, a slight twinge that was gone just as quickly as it had arrived. “Yes,” he said. “Yes.”

They both stopped speaking, then. It was a comfortable, companionable silence. If they’d been sitting in the same room, one of them perhaps reading a book, it would have felt natural. But on the phone it was slightly strained. Royle listened to the static on the line and thought about the Hum. This thought led on to the Crawl, and he shut his eyes to try and disperse the negativity it brought. He was out of its range here; the Crawl could not reach him.

There was a crackling noise in his ear — or was it more of a clicking sound? Then the low-grade white noise

Вы читаете Beyond Here Lies Nothing
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату