Introducing cross-border investigators Peter Ash and Frankie Varg of the European Crime Division in the first of a series of hard-hitting thrillers.
When a newly-appointed Catholic bishop disappears shortly after receiving a macabre gift in the post – a severed human tongue – the Vatican calls in Peter Ash of the European Crime Division to help. Enclosed with the package was a bizarre note: Memini Bonn. I remember Bonn.
At the same time, Ash’s Swedish counterpart Frankie Varg is investigating the murder of a prominent politician. When it transpires that the two cases are linked, the pair team up to become enmeshed in a baffling investigation where nothing is as it first appears. What exactly is the significance of Bonn? And who is so determined to unleash those carefully buried memories…?
About the Author
Steven Savile is an award-winning British fantasy, horror and thriller writer, who has also written official tie-ins for Doctor Who, Torchwood, Primeval and other popular game and comic worlds. His novels and short stories have been published in a dozen languages and sold more than half a million copies worldwide. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden.
Read an Excerpt
Darkness and light.
Shadows and pain.
They were inextricably linked, feeding off each other, enhancing each other.
Darkness and light.
Shadows and pain.
All it ever took was a single spark to banish the absolute black, but in that moment the two came together to give life to something new. The shadows. Everyone knew that the real monsters hid in the shadows, not in the dark. No amount of light could make them less monstrous. All it ever succeeded in doing was changing the face of their evil into the more familiar masks they wore every day as they moved among us. But then that was the essence of evil, wasn't it? Looking normal. Some mornings it wore your neighbour's face, some afternoons it looked like your best friend, some evenings it masqueraded as your lover and late at night your father confessor. It came dressed in familiar skin, and for a while there you even welcomed it.
For a while.
A narrow slash of yellow underscored the ancient oak door that imprisoned the man. The jaundiced light only lived for an inch before the darkness overwhelmed it. He'd lost track of how long he had been in there. It couldn't be anywhere near as long as it felt. He'd woken naked and cold with a fierce thirst and a tongue that didn't feel like it belonged in his mouth. He had a shit-smeared blanket for warmth. At first, he'd sworn he'd rather freeze, but that stubborn resolve had weakened. Now he clutched the blanket around his shoulders and shivered as he tried to ignore the crust and the smell.
He'd given up shouting and hammering at the door. No one came. He'd made bargains with the darkness, promising not to prosecute them if they just opened the door. He'd even wait long enough for them to slip away. No one ever needed to know who they were. Being a public figure brought all kinds of unexpected trouble, and being a politician meant there was always someone who hated him. Every policy decision transformed him into someone's own personal Antichrist, no matter how well-meaning it was. He wrapped the blanket tighter around himself. There was nothing he could do but wait it out.
He struggled to piece together what had happened. The memories were fragmented and confused, a side-effect of the drugs they'd pumped into his system. There had been an invitation. He remembered that much. It had been nicely written on a small white card. There had been a time and a place, beneath a cryptic message that urged him to Remember Bonn.
No, not remember, it was something else, a foreign word. Latin? Memini. Remember Bonn. Bonn. Was this about the climate conference? It was hard to believe anything he'd done there could have warranted this. He tried to think. Everything was dulled with the lingering fog of the sedatives. There had been a lot of back-channel negotiations, plenty of incentives changing hands, nothing unusual. He'd done things he shouldn't, including one diplomatic gift that was barely legal. Was that it? How could the shadow know about that?
He heard movement on the other side of the door. Gaoler or rescuer?
He stumbled to his feet, the blanket hanging on his shoulders, and hammered on the door until his knuckles were raw.
More movement, and then they were gone and silence reigned supreme. He slumped down against the wall, hunger tearing away at his gut, confusion soaking his thoughts. The plates of his skull threatened to pull apart on their biological fault lines.
Somewhere in the darkness hope died.
It wasn't a prank. There was nothing harmless about it.
He was lost.
When the bolt finally ratcheted back he had no voice left to beg with. When the key turned in the lock and the door opened he had no tears to soften the pain as he blinked desperately against the light. The air was filled with the smell of his own urine.
'Please,' was the only word he could muster, and even that was barely a whisper. The bare bulb hanging from the ceiling behind him turned the figure in the doorway into a shadow.
'I hope you've made your peace with God,' the shadow said.
'What do you want?' Four words. Now, at least, he could find the words if not the strength to deliver them.
'What makes you think I want anything?'
'Everyone wants something,' he said, ever the politician looking to make a deal.
'I want nothing from you.'
That threw him. It had to be a lie. He needed it to be a lie. 'Then why am I here?'
'You must undergo a trial. If you succeed, I will allow you to confess your sins.'
'I don't understand.'
'A test of faith. Don't tell me you have forgotten everything?' He shook his head. It might have been denial. It might have been disbelief. 'You disappoint me.'
'I need water, please. A drink.' As he reached out the blanket fell away from his shoulders to expose a ripe belly matted with a wire of greying hair and flaccid cock that had shrivelled up to the size of his thumb and was all but lost in the tangle of more hair. 'Please.'
The shadow held something out to him. It took him a moment to realize what it was: a plastic water bottle.
'Is this what you want?'
'Good. That should make the trial interesting at least. It's always better if there is a genuine dilemma,' the shadow said. 'Resist the temptation to drink from this bottle for the next twenty-four hours and I will hear your confession. I will cleanse your body and your mind and you will find your release.' The shadow placed the bottle on the floor and kicked it, sending it skittering away into one of the dark corners.
He scrambled on his hands and knees, clutching at the darkness as he reached for the bottle.
The door slammed, the key turned in the lock, and the bolt slid back into place.
This time there was no light.
He fumbled around frantically, his hands finding only empty darkness as he crawled on all fours. All he could think about was the water and his overwhelming need. His hand came down in something wet and his heart sank. He lowered his face to the dirty stone slabs ready to lap at the water like a dog until the astringent reek of his own piss had him recoiling and laughing at himself in disgust and relief.
He kept on searching the darkness until he found the bottle. He crawled back into the far corner and pressed his back up against the wall. He clutched the bottle to his chest.
There was no way he could go that long without breaking the seal on the bottle cap. It already felt like days since he'd last had a drink. It wasn't a trial, it was torture. Just one sip. Not even a swallow. Just the feel of the cool refreshing wetness on his tongue. He didn't have to swallow, just savour it. He could dip his finger into it and run the tip across his cracked lips. That wasn't drinking, was it? The shadow had said resist the temptation to drink. He hadn't said don't open the bottle. Don't wet your lips. Don't drink. That was specific. He convinced himself there was a loophole, a way to save himself from the hell of his trial, or at least lessen the torment.
He was weak.
He had always been weak.
He knew who he was. He didn't hide from his weaknesses.
The thirst was all he could think about.
It was the devil inside his head, whispering its need over and over until his fingers fumbled with the plastic cap.
He pushed his finger down into the neck, then tried to moisten his lips, but that was never going to be enough. It only served to make the craving more intense and without realizing what he was doing he put the bottle to his lips and took a swig. One mouthful was nowhere near enough to slake his thirst. He took another swallow. Another mouthful. And then another.
The cold water burned his raw throat as he guzzled it greedily down. He didn't stop swallowing that one endless mouthful until the water spilled back out of his mouth and dribbled down his chin and chest. He'd drunk maybe half of it and spilled another precious quarter. As much as he wanted to just drink the rest and be damned, he struggled with putting the cap back into place and promised himself he was saving the rest for later. He had twenty-four hours to get through. He needed to ration the last sips out to keep his strength up if he was going to have a hope of overwhelming the shadow when he returned. He wasn't going to die here, he promised himself, even as the bottle slipped from his fingers and he started to slump against the brickwork.
The last thing he felt before he blacked out was the cold kiss of stone where his face hit the floor.
And then there was nothing.
When he came around he was sitting upright, strapped into a too-small wooden chair, hands bound behind his back, the blanket draped over his legs to hide his modesty. There was an unholy war raging inside his skull, and he was on the losing side of it. It looked like the same dank cell. The door was wide open. The bare bulb from the other room cast everything into sharp relief. It was so bright it burned to look at, like the sun. With no way to shield his eyes, all he could do was blink and turn his head, trying to look away.
It took him a moment to realize he wasn't alone; the sound of breathing betrayed his tormentor's presence.
'You disappoint me,' the shadow said, behind him. 'All you had to do was show some restraint. You knew the reward that awaited you. Release. But you surrendered to temptation. Not easy, is it?'
'You were never going to release me,' he said, finding courage in the certainty that he was already dead, and this was hell.
His own personal devil came around to face him, leaning in close enough that he could taste the sulphur on his breath. With the stark light behind him it was impossible to make out any features. And yet there was something about the voice that seemed hauntingly familiar; a long-forgotten sound that stirred a distant memory. Remember Bonn.
'You didn't speak out when you had the chance,' the shadow said, pronouncing judgement on him. 'You could have made it stop. All you had to do was speak out. But you chose silence. You chose complicity. You could have prevented so much harm ...'
And again, he couldn't find the words, this time to save himself. In truth he didn't know what to say. Denials wouldn't save him. Confession wouldn't cleanse his soul. Nothing he said now would make the slightest difference. It was too late. So, for the second time in his life, he chose silence.
A strong hand clamped around his jaw. The pressure was relentless as the shadow man's fingers forced his teeth apart and his mouth open. He tried to scream, but before the sound could take on any real shape his torturer caught a hold of his tongue.
The more he fought against it, the fiercer the vicelike grip became.
The shadows finally gave way to pain.
'You should have spoken out,' the shadow man said, and then the world was reduced to searing pain and blood as the blade sliced through the meat of his tongue.
He tried to scream but was already choking on his own blood.CHAPTER 2
Peter Ash stood in the shadow of River House, the nickname of the massive old Ministry of Defence building, looking along the river.
It was a view that he knew better than he knew himself. The circus of the city was there for all to see in splash after splash of vibrant colour and designer labels, reflected in the sunglasses. The crush of bodies filed along the South Bank towards the Tate Modern and the big wheel. An amusement park had been set up, spilling into the already narrow street making it so much more stressful for the tourists to file past the London Dungeon and the Festival Hall and turned that stretch of the Embankment into a pickpocket's heaven. Every cloud, Pete thought, glad to be on the other side of the water.
He'd walked passed the entrance three times already, but had kept going, unable to face whatever fresh hell waited for him inside. It'd been more than a week since he'd last braved the office, which was a fancy name for the broom cupboard that he'd been assigned – a genuine broom cupboard that been converted for him. No windows, no ventilation, and no space. He could touch all four walls without having to leave his seat. The European Crime Division was a fancy name for a cross-border investigative team that spanned the entire Eurozone, their prime directive to cover sensitive crimes that crossed member-state borders. It was great in theory. It was also a bureaucratic nightmare in practice, and only getting worse since the Brexit vote had thrown everything up in the air in terms of British involvement. No one had a clue what would happen once the whole ugly divorce was over. There'd be fallout. How could there not be? But plenty of the suits higher up the chain seemed to think someone somewhere would pull off some kind of deal to keep the whole cooperation thing alive. Ash wasn't holding his breath. Since Mitch's death the one thing he could say for certain was that there were no certainties in life.
When he had been seconded onto the project back in 2012, Ash had convinced himself that it was going to be a dream gig. And for a while it had looked like it was, but it hadn't taken long for the various national agencies to decide they wanted nothing to do with the Division's intrusions. It quickly degenerated into jurisdictional pissing contests and endless red tape, and that was when they were cooperating. When they decided to be deliberately obstructive the whole thing became positively Dantean. The Greeks didn't want Turkish detectives meddling in their shit. The French weren't exactly fond of the Brits hopping on the Eurostar and trampling all over their lovely walkways with the size-nine Doc Martens. Not that Her Majesty's boys in blue were any happier with the idea of Germans in their jackboots making a mess in their green and pleasant Broken Britain. And with the crap going on in Catalonia the Spaniards didn't want anyone coming over, full stop. It wasn't new. It had been going on ever since MI5 decided that they wanted to get involved in anything that caught their eye. That was the logic behind Division locating them in a Secret Intelligence Service broom cupboard. Like it or not, even on home turf they were outsiders.
It had been three. Now it was two, so it was still a they, just. No decision had been made about whether Mitch would be replaced, so for now it was just Ash and Laura Byrne, who somehow kept the office functional while he chased shadows. It had to be a lonely existence for her; late thirties, no children, and a bitter divorce in the rear-view that still burned. She was his only friend in the world these days. He wasn't sure what that said about him. Or her.
He still hadn't made the few short steps up to the glass doors when he sensed rather than saw someone walk up behind him.
'Thought you might need this.' Laura offered him one of the two over-sized paper coffee cups she was carrying. 'Any reason you keep walking away?' She nodded towards the door.
He took the cup from her. The heat coming through the paper made it too hot to hold comfortably. 'You must have asbestos fingers,' he said, changing his grip. She smiled at him. She looked tired. It was hardly surprising. Grief wasn't exactly conducive to sleep. It didn't take a degree in psychology to realize she missed Mitch every bit as much as he did. If anything, she'd probably spent more time with his partner in crime than he had. The two of them were rarely in the office at the same time, but Laura was part of the furniture. She never went anywhere. 'I'm good,' he lied. It wasn't even a good lie. 'It should have been me, Law,' he said, looking up at the blind windows of the new building.
'It should have been me. I should have been in Marseilles, not him. I should have been shot,' meaning not Mitch. 'He shouldn't have been there. And now he's dead.'
Laura shook her head. 'That's not how it works, Pete. It's not your fault. I'm serious. Mitch was a big boy. He knew what he signed up for. And we both know he'll haunt you if you keep this shit up.'
'He was scheduled for down time, but he insisted on being a gent. It's not like I had anything better to do.'
'Look at me, Pete. I'm only going to say this once, and if you ever quote me on it, I'll deny it, OK?' His own smile was sad, but they could share that sadness for a moment without worrying about hiding it. 'You're awesome. Mitch loved you like a brother. And was just as protective of you. There's no way he'd let you put yourself in the crossfire just because he was due a week of R&R. You got that? Besides, it's not like you didn't have enough crap going on. So, if you want to blame someone, there's a bean-counter up there who decided we could only spare two cops as our contribution to the initiative. Two cops. Blame the government. Blame the morons who voted for Brexit if you want. Blame the Russians and their fake-news interference. Blame intolerance and fear and protectionism if you must, but most of all blame the prick who pulled the trigger, because he's the one who deserves it. Not you. And you dying in Mitch's place is the absolute last thing our boy would have wanted. Got it?'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Memory Man"
Copyright © 2018 Steven Savile.
Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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