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Stuart MacBride

Dark Blood

1

Run. Don’t stop. Keep moving…

The big, fat moon makes everything black and white. Frost and shadow. Life and death.

Steve stumbles. The churned-up mud’s solid-up and down like a roller-coaster. One foot catches the edge of a rock-hard peak, and he goes sprawling across the icy ground. Tries not to cry out as his arm screams sharp-edged pain.

Somewhere in the darkness a dog barks. Big dog. Fucking scary big dog. You know? Rottweiler, Doberman: some bastard like that. Big and black, with thousands of teeth. Coming after him.

‘Fuck…’ The word disappears into the night sky on a cloud of white breath.

Big dog.

He scrambles upright; stands there, trying to get his balance. Feeling sick. Far too much whisky. Makes everything blurry and warm, even though it’s so cold out here his fingers ache with it. Makes the world smell like it’s burning.

Steve lurches forward, arm clutched to his chest, hugging the shadows along the edge of the building site. Trees blocking the searchlight moon.

With any luck no one’ll see the trail of blood he’s leaving…

The dog barks again. Closer.

But then his luck’s always been for shit.

Steve speeds up. Lurch, stumble, struggle.

His left foot cracks through an ice-topped puddle, and he stops. Holding his breath.

Steve turns, looking back towards the site office. Torches sweep the muddy ground, muffled voices coming this way. That fucking dog yammering and yowling, leading them on.

Keep going.

Keep moving.

One foot in front of the other.

Follow the eight-foot-high fence: chainlink and barbed wire, skirting the building site.

This time when he trips he goes head-first into a ditch, slithering down the bank, branches snapping, pain ripping through his arm, something raking his cheek with thorny claws. A shatter of ice, and then water so cold it’s like being punched in the face again.

He splutters to the surface of the little stream. It’s not deep but it’s freezing. He thrashes against the brambles, pulling himself out of the water. Shivers so hard it’s like he’s got a jackhammer jammed up his arse. Teeth chattering hard enough to chip the enamel.

The dog barks again. Definitely closer now. Probably let the damn thing off its lead. Go on, you dirty bugger, find Steve and tear his thieving, double-crossing throat out.

Steve slumps back against the bank, trying not to cry, frigid water soaking his trousers, jacket, socks, every- fucking-thing. Why do these Scottish bastards call it a burn when it’s so fucking cold?

Rest. Just for a minute. Rest in the darkness, in the safety of the ditch where no one can see him. Not really so bad. Get used to the cold after a while.

Just close his eyes for a second. Catch his breath.

Rest for a moment…

And the next time he opens his eyes something’s looking right back at him. A big, muscular shape in the darkness, breath steaming out between sharp teeth. Black coat shining in the moonlight.

Nice doggy.

It barks, lurching forward and back with every terrifying sound, spittle flying everywhere.

Oh Jesus fuck.

Knife. There’s a Stanley knife in his pocket, but his frozen, sausage fingers aren’t working. They fumble against his torn jacket. Swearing. Tears. Cold. GET THE FUCKING KNIFE!

And then he hears the voice: ‘Fuckin’ hell, Mauser, this better no’ be another bloody rabbit.’ Footsteps crunching through frozen grass.

Steve drags the Stanley knife out, holds it in his trembling hand, trying to press the metal slider down. Come on, come on, come on.

And then a man joins the monster. The moon’s behind him, hiding his face, making him a thing of darkness that breathes brimstone smoke into the sudden silence. ‘Hey Steve,’ he says. ‘Where you goin’, man? We’re only just gettin’ started…’

2

‘Inspector?’ A shivering constable grabbed the blue-and-white ‘POLICE’ tape, stretching it up and out of the way. ‘They’re over there, sir.’

Logan McRae plipped the locks on his mud-spattered Audi, then ducked under the tape and slithered his way across the pale sand, making for the knot of figures gathered outside the SOC tent. It sat between a pair of massive sand dunes, the white plastic sheeting flapping in the frigid wind that whistled in off the North Sea. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but the low sun hadn’t made it over the crest of jagged pampas grass yet, leaving the crime scene shrouded in deep blue shadow.

Balmedie Beach wasn’t exactly the Costa Del Sol at the best of times, but at half ten on a cold January morning it could freeze the nipples off a polar bear. Aberdeen — two degrees north of Moscow.

If the city had a zoo they’d have to give the penguins bobble hats in the winter.

‘Inspector! Inspector McRae!’ An Identification Bureau technician, dressed in the obligatory white oversuit and blue plastic booties, waved him over. ‘Same as all the others, sir. You were right.’

Brilliant — the one time he actually wanted to be proven wrong.

Logan signed in with the Crime Scene Manager, then struggled his way into an SOC suit. It fought him all the way, the wind snatching at the legs and sleeves, trying to help it escape. ‘Pathologist?’

‘Inside, sir. Photographs and samples are done, so just give us a nod when you want us to remove…’ He pointed at what Logan knew was lurking in the tent. ‘You know…’

The whole structure creaked and juddered, the wind moaning through the joints as Logan stepped inside. They’d set up a couple of arc lights, the harsh white glare bouncing back off the sand, making Logan’s breath steam as he squatted down beside the pathologist.

She looked up at him, her eyes sparkling above the mask that covered her nose and mouth. Then back down at the head, lying on its side in the pale sand.

It was a woman: early twenties; eyes sunken and glassy; ginger hair bleached almost blonde by the arc lights; freckles dark against her porcelain skin; mouth open. A little drift of sand had built up behind her teeth, something golden glittering away in the depths. Just like the other six.

‘How did you know?’ The pathologist dug the severed head out of the sand. ‘She was right where you said she’d be.’

Logan watched them ease Lucy’s head into a clear plastic evidence pouch, seal, and label it. One more to add to the collection in the morgue.

‘Time of death?’

Doctor Isobel McAllister snapped off her blue nitrile gloves, removed her mask, and peeled back the hood of

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