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Stuart MacBride

Broken Skin

SEX

1

Up ahead the woman stops. She stands on one leg under the streetlight, rubbing her ankle, as if she’s not used to wearing high heels. Number seven: a wee Torry quine on her way home after a night out on the pish, staggering along in her fuck-me heels and miniskirt, even though it’s February in Aberdeen and freezing cold. She’s a looker. Curly brown hair. Upturned little nose. Nice legs, long and sexy. The kind he likes to feel struggling beneath him as he makes the bitch take it. Shows her who’s boss.

She straightens up and teeters off again, mumbling away to herself in a little alcoholic haze. He likes them drunk: not so drunk they don’t know what’s happening, but drunk enough that they can’t do anything about it. Can’t get a good look at him.

Dirty bitches.

She lurches past the NorFish building — spotlit for a moment in the sweeping headlights of an articulated lorry — across the roundabout and onto the cobbles of Victoria Bridge, crossing the dark, silent River Dee into Torry. He hangs back a bit, pretending to tie his shoelace until she’s nearly all the way over. This part of town isn’t his usual hunting ground, so he has to play it carefully. Make sure no one’s watching. He smiles: the dark, grey street is deserted — just him and lucky Number Seven.

A quick jog and he’s right behind her again. He’s fit, doesn’t even break a sweat in his Aberdeen Football Club tracksuit, complete with hood and black Nike trainers. Who’s going to look twice at a man out for a jog?

Torry’s bleak in the late February night — granite buildings stained almost black with grime, washed with piss-yellow streetlight. The woman fits right in: cheap clothes, cheap black leather jacket, cheap shoes, cheap perfume. A dirty girl. He smiles and feels the knife in his pocket. Time for the dirty girl to get her ‘treat’.

She turns left, heading off the long, sweeping curve of Victoria Road onto one of the side streets, where the fish processing factories are. Probably taking a shortcut back to her horrible little bedsit, or the house she shares with mummy and daddy. He grins, hoping it’s mummy and daddy — she should have someone to share her pain with when this is all over. Because there’s going to be a lot of pain to share.

The street’s deserted, just the back end of an empty eighteen-wheeler parked opposite the oriental cash and carry. It’s all industrial units here, silent and dark and closed for the night. No one to see them and call for help.

The woman — Number Seven — passes a skip full of twisted metal, and he speeds up, closing the gap. Her heels go click-clack on the cold concrete pavement, but his Nikes are silent. Past a couple of those big plastic bins overflowing with discarded fish heads and bones, grimy wooden pallets slapped on top to keep the seagulls out. Closer.

Out with the knife, one hand rubbing the front of his tracksuit, stroking his erection for luck. Every detail stands out bright and clear, like blood splashed on pale, white skin.

She turns at the last minute, eyes going wide as she sees him, then sees the knife, too shocked to scream. This is going to be special. Number Seven will get to do things she’s never dreamed of, not in her darkest nightmares. She-

Her arm flashes out, knocking the knife away as she grabs his tracksuit and buries her knee in his groin hard enough to lift him off the ground.

He lets out a little squeal and she closes his mouth with a fist. Black concentric circles chase a hot yellow roar and his knees give way. The pavement is cold and hard as he collapses, curls up around his battered testicles, and cries.

* * *

‘Jesus …’ DC Rennie peered at the man snivelling away on the cracked pavement among the fishy stains. ‘I think you broke his goolies. I heard them pop.’

‘He’ll live.’ PC Jackie Watson forced the man over onto his face, cuffing his hands behind his back. He groaned and whimpered. Jackie smiled. ‘Serves you right, you dirty little bastard …’ She glanced up at Rennie. ‘Anyone looking?’ He said no, so she kicked the guy in the ribs. ‘That’s for Christine, Laura, Gail, Sarah, Jennifer, Joanne, and Sandra.’

‘Jesus, Jackie!’ Rennie grabbed her before she could do it again. ‘What if someone sees?’

‘You said no one was looking.’

‘Yeah, but-’

‘So what’s the problem?’ She stood, glowering down at the crying man in the AFC tracksuit. ‘Right, Sunshine, on your feet.’

He didn’t move. ‘Oh for god’s sake …’ She grabbed his ear and hauled him upright. ‘Rennie, you want to …?’ But DC Rennie was busy on the radio, telling Control that Operation Sweetmeat had been a success — they’d caught the bastard.

2

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary was spreading like a concrete tumour. For years it’d been in remission, but lately it had started to grow again, infecting the surrounding area with new wings of concrete and steel. And every time he saw it, Detective Sergeant Logan McRae’s heart sank.

Stifling a yawn he crumpled up the thin plastic cup his vending-machine coffee had come in and dropped it in the bin before pushing through the brown double doors into the heady bouquet of disinfectant, formalin and death.

The hospital morgue was a lot bigger than the one down at Grampian Police Force Headquarters and a lot more cheerful. A small stereo in one corner of the large, brown room pumped out Dr Hook’s greatest hits, the music almost drowning out the sound of running water as it gurgled down a drain on one of the dissecting tables. A woman in a green plastic apron, surgical scrubs and white Wellington boots was packing an old lady’s organs back where they’d come from, to the tune of WhenYou’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman.

Logan’s unidentified male was lying on his back on a hospital gurney, eyes taped shut, skin as pale as wax paper. They’d left all the surgical tubes and lines attached for the inevitable post mortem: it made the body look abandoned. Mid-twenties, short blond hair, thin, but well muscled, as if he’d been addicted to the gym. His lower limbs and abdomen were smeared red, a long row of hurried stitches marking where they’d sewn him back together again after the surgeon finally admitted defeat. Death: one, NHS Grampian: zero.

The woman stuffing the old lady looked up and saw Logan peering down at the man’s naked body. ‘Police?’ He nodded and she pulled off her mask, frizzy red hair escaping from underneath her surgical cap. ‘Thought so. We’ve not bagged him up yet.’ Stating the obvious. Not that there was much chance of getting any useful forensic evidence off the body now. Not after it’d been contaminated in the A amp;E lobby, examination room, and operating theatre.

‘Don’t worry about it, I can wait.’

‘OK.’ She picked the old lady’s ribcage up off a stainless steel trolley and fiddled it back into place, then started to close up.

He watched her for a moment before asking: ‘Any chance you could take a quick look at our John Doe here?’

‘No bloody chance! You got any idea what the Hormonal Bitch Queen would do to me if she found out some

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