Dead Wood: Dundee Crime Series
Wendy H Jones
"The plot moves along at a cracking pace and the highs and lows, and twists and turns leave you breathless. If you like gritty tartan noir then you would do well to read this book. I would highly recommend it."
Living in the area of Dundee and being a retired Police officer I could relate to the subplot of the two unsolved murders referred to. Another top tale from a very accomplished author with lots of twists and turns. (Well into the book before I identified killer !!!)Jim Mollison
Award-winning Scottish suspense thriller set in a dismal and dark Dundee. A mystery and detective story which is a combination of police procedural and woman in jeopardy. Book 2 of The Dundee Crime Series, with the popular Scottish detective, DS Bill Murphy.
Kara owes money to Dundee gangster Tony and takes to the streets to earn the cash. She narrowly escapes the clutches of a killer on the prowl, but stumbles across the bodies of his other victims. Hunted by the serial killer and the gangsters, Kara goes on the run. However, one of the murder victims is Tony's daughter, and he vows revenge. He is determined to mete out his own kind of justice to the killer and make him pay the ultimate price.
DS Bill Murphy teams up with newcomer, DC Louise Walker in the murder investigation. But Murphy's past comes back to haunt him, and he is heading for a breakdown, which means it is up to Louise to catch the killer.
Who will find the killer first? Tony or the police. And what will happen to Kara? And in the end what kind of justice will prevail?
Chris Longmuir is an award-winning novelist. Her crime novels have won the Pitlochry Award and the Dundee International Book Prize.
“The plot moves along at a cracking pace and the highs and lows, and twists and turns leave you breathless. If you like gritty tartan noir then you would do well to read this book. I would highly recommend it.” – Wendy H Jones
“As with her other contemporary Dundee thrillers, Dead Wood is well written, tightly plotted, dark and well, thrilling. Lately, like many crime readers/writers, I've been wary of too many books with female victims of twisted serial killers but having read her other three books on kindle I had to read this one and it's so good I devoured it despite the female body count! Highly recommended.” – Valerie Laws
Release date: June 17, 2014
Publisher: Barker & Jansen
Print pages: 304
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Behind the book
Dead Wood is an award-winning novel. It won the Scottish Association of Writers' Pitlochry Award for best unpublished crime novel.
Following this, it won the prestigious Dundee International Book Prize for best unpublished book. This award led to publication as well as a rather large cash prize.
Dead Wood: Dundee Crime Series
Last night, when the dark was at its blackest, something had nipped at her fingers. She’d wiggled them and it had moved away, slithering into the unknown, no doubt waiting for another opportunity.
It was day now. She could tell because the dark had lightened to a greyish gloom.
Her head felt woozy like it did when she’d had too much vodka. Her eyes were playing tricks on her. She fixed her gaze on the leafy canopy overhead. The branches swayed and rustled, bending towards her, clutching and reaching to pull her into their embrace.
At first, she’d thought he would come back, that this was just some kinky game he was playing. But this was no game.
Left alone, tied to the tree, it hadn’t been long before the glacial cold air had bitten into the core of her. Violent shivers consumed her body but there was nothing she could do to stop them. She closed her eyes, hoping for release from the icy pain. Then, during the night, she thought she’d been back in City Square celebrating the New Year. The bells had been ringing, the crowds singing and bottles shared. Now it was day, and she was feeling warmer.
She desperately needed to sleep, but fought against it. She struggled, pulling and pushing her wrists in a vain attempt to break free. But it was hopeless. Each time she moved her arms the bonds seared into her flesh, and pain jolted up her arms. Her shoulders, savagely pulled into a backwards embrace of the tree, throbbed. Her mouth itched under the sticky tape. Her feet were free, but it made no difference to her predicament. She could stand up, sliding her arms up the back of the tree, and sit down again – if she could bear the agony of the bark scraping the length of her arms and the wrenching pain in her shoulders – but there was no way she could free herself.
As the day lengthened and dusk gathered around the trees, her body sagged and her chin drooped. She no longer felt the cold and sleep claimed her. It was a restless sleep, disturbed by the strange rustlings in the undergrowth and the sensation of being watched.
The dark hid her companions, her sisters of the forest, silent, sleeping, decomposing slowly under a fine blanket of snowflakes.
* * *
The scurrying creatures of the forest were not the only ones who watched. He had returned. It was important for him to be there at the final moment, for he had one last task before she died or her soul would not be purified and saved. Now that the screaming was past it was time to remove the tape from her mouth so that her soul would soar free with her last breath.
The pressure increased when Kara’s feet left the ground. She clawed desperately at the hand tightening around her neck. But her strength was going now, and she was losing the struggle. Flashing lights popped behind her eyes, and the fizzing in her ears exploded through her head. Her last thought as the darkness swallowed her was, I’m not ready to die yet.
‘You should’ve got the money, you stupid bitch.’ His voice, floating to her ears from a great distance, was silky soft in contrast to the large, rough hand gripping her throat.
Far away she could hear Charlene and Billy laughing. Thank goodness they were in the living room watching the telly. She didn’t want them to see this.
‘Well,’ he said, shaking her until her feet swung backwards and forwards like a pendulum, ‘what you going to do about the money?’
She opened her mouth to speak, to plead. But the pressure on her neck was too great. His cologne wafted around her, making her head swim, leaving the taste of perfume on her tongue. The whole world was spinning now, faster and faster. A terrible croak rasped out of her throat. Her limbs slackened, and she felt sure she was going to die.
‘Leave off, Phil,’ the other man said. ‘You don’t want to kill her yet.’
The hand loosened. Kara collapsed, gasping. She clutched wildly at the edge of the door frame and tried to stand, but her knees gave way. Her throat throbbed. She rubbed it with her hand, wincing as she touched the part where his fingers had been.
‘You didn’t have to do that,’ she rasped. ‘You’ve always got your money before. Anyway, it isn’t me who owes you, it’s Kev.’
‘Go get Kev, then.’
‘You know he’s not here. I told you already.’ Kara’s knees quivered.
‘Somebody’s got to pay, love. You know that as well as I do.’ His voice was soft, his words almost apologetic. If she hadn’t known better, she would have thought he felt sorry for her.
‘Yeah, but I don’t see why I should have to pay Kev’s dues. What he does is nothing to do with me.’ Kara wrapped her arms around her middle. Her whole body was quaking now. Why couldn’t she hold her tongue? This wasn’t Kev she was being smart with.
Phil pushed his face so close to hers she could smell peppermint under the aftershave. ‘That’s where you’re wrong, love,’ he hissed. ‘We deliver here. We get paid here. If Kev’s not available, you’ll do.’
‘That’s not fair,’ Kara moaned, realising immediately that fairness was not something Phil understood. ‘Anyway, I haven’t got any money. I told you already, Kev cleaned out my purse before he left.’
Phil flexed his hand. ‘Sorry, love, but we’re not interested in your personal problems. Far as we’re concerned the stuff was delivered, and we need paid.’
‘But the wanker’s done a runner with all my money.’
‘That’s your problem, love. We’re owed five hundred big ones.’
‘Why can’t you chase Kev for it?’
‘We would, love, if we knew where to find him. But we don’t and you’re here. So, you’ve got a choice. Find Kev, or pay up.’
Kara knew Phil meant it and she backed away from him. ‘OK. Give’s another day then. I’ll get the money tomorrow.’
‘What d’you think, Gus?’ Phil turned to look at his partner ‘Will we give her another day to come up with the readies?’
Gus shrugged his shoulders. ‘Tony’s not going to be pleased. If she don’t deliver that means we’ll have to do her.’
‘Aw, c’mon, guys. What’s one more day? Tony won’t mind. What’s £500 to him?’
‘It’s the principle, love. Tony lets you off and then everyone thinks they can do it. Not good for business that.’
Kara shivered at the thought of Tony. Everyone on the estate knew he was a real bastard. He wouldn’t think twice about topping her. He’d probably do the kids as well if the rumours had any truth in them.
‘OK, then.’ Phil gently moved a strand of hair from her forehead, carefully placing it with one of the magenta streaks that gleamed brightly in her brown hair. Then he stroked her cheek with his finger, tracing the line of her face and jaw before gripping her neck again. ‘Just remember,’ his voice was low and melodic. ‘Be here. Don’t even think of doing a runner.’ He twisted his lips into a smile, although his eyes were bleak and menacing. ‘The only place you’d be out of Tony’s reach would be six feet under.’ He released his hand and she slumped back onto the wall.
Kara gripped her arms tightly in an attempt to stop the shaking. She shouldn’t have opened the door to them, but they’d looked like Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses with their suits, white shirts and ties. It hadn’t taken her long to realise her mistake. Now she just wanted them to leave.
She shivered some more as she watched Phil adjust his tie and smooth his blond hair before sauntering along the landing closely followed by Gus. They murmured to each other, and Phil turned and waved to her, calling, ‘See you tomorrow, love.’
The soft click of a door closing further along the landing broke the silence, and Kara knew her neighbours had been nosing. It didn’t make any difference though, Tony and his thugs were well known on the estate and no one would dare to interfere. I could have been killed and they wouldn’t have done a thing about it, Kara thought, as she turned to go back into the flat.
The turn was too quick. Her head felt like mush and she staggered, clutching at the wall for support. Stinging bile hit her already aching throat. She gulped air into her lungs. She was lucky to be breathing.
She could hear the sound of the TV before she opened the living room door. ‘It’s too loud,’ she rasped at Charlene and Billy, who were watching a cartoon. She reached for the remote control and lowered the volume. ‘Anyway, I thought you were reading Billy a story.’ She stared pointedly at the book lying on the floor.
Charlene turned serious eyes on her mother. ‘There was lots of noise outside and I didn’t want to hear.’
For a child of six, she understood too much, Kara thought. But then, that was probably Kara’s own fault for expecting too much of her. She’d been one week past her sixteenth birthday, still only a child herself, when she’d had Charlene and hadn’t really understood what a child needed. All she knew was that she loved her daughter with a ferocity that was terrifying. No one, not even Tony Palmer, was going to threaten her kids.
Kara picked the book up and handed it to Charlene. ‘It’s your favourite,’ she whispered.
‘Billy doesn’t like stories. He likes telly better.’ Charlene tucked the book behind a cushion.
Billy nodded and pointed. ‘Want telly.’ He turned his gaze back to the screen, chuckling at the trick Jerry played on Tom – the cat leaping into the air with a howl after the mousetrap snapped shut on his tail.
She leaned over and stroked his mop of dark brown hair as if by this gesture she could compensate for the lower level of her feeling for him. Poor kid, he couldn’t help having a prat for a father. If it hadn’t been for Billy, she would have dumped Kev long ago, but it wasn’t fair to blame Billy for that.
In any case, Kev couldn’t help being what he was. There were times when he tried hard to be what she wanted, and that was when she loved him most. But he couldn’t look after himself, never mind a family, and he had a habit of leaving when he got tired of playing daddy. He always came back though, sometimes within a day, sometimes a week, sometimes months. Bloody Kev, she thought. If he hadn’t nicked all her money, she wouldn’t be in this fix now. Only it was more than a fix. It was serious.
Kara knelt in front of the children, pulling them both into her arms in a bear hug.
‘Mum!’ Charlene wriggled, trying to see the TV.
Billy slung his little arms around her neck and kissed her wetly on the bruise made by Phil’s fingers. Kara winced but still held him close.
‘Listen up, you horrors,’ she said. ‘Mum has to find the money to pay the men who came to the door or they’ll come back. That means I have to go out to find Daddy.’ She knew there was little chance of getting any money back from Kev, but she had to tell them something.
Charlene nodded, eyes older than her years. ‘How long?’ She didn’t have to say any more. Kara knew exactly what she meant.
‘A while,’ she said. ‘After you’re sleeping.’
‘Breakfast time?’ Charlene moved her eyes back to the TV.
‘I’ll be back before then. But not till late.’
‘You can keep the telly on, and I’ll get you pillows and blankets so you can sleep on the sofa.’ Kara didn’t have to say this because they slept on the sofa more often than they did in their beds. They liked to cuddle down in the living room, which was always warm compared to the iceboxes the Council called bedrooms. And, of course, they could watch the telly. Kara cuddled them again before she went through to the bedroom to get ready for her foray into the town.
She changed quickly, shivering with cold, her fingers almost too numb to fasten the zip on her skirt then fold the waistband over a couple of times to make it shorter. She didn’t have to bend over too far before the creamy flesh of her thighs was exposed. She smoothed her fingers over black fishnet hold-ups – a present from Kev – and thrust her feet into a pair of black high-heeled shoes. Then, removing the eighth and lowest studs in each ear, she replaced them with long gilt earrings that dangled to her bare shoulders. Finally, she pulled the neck of the black blouse lower to expose more of her breasts. She was ready for business.
She hooked her finger into the loop at the back of her red mac and returned to the living room to say goodbye to the kids. She didn’t like leaving them on their own. But what other choice did she have? Her neighbours were all scum. She might have trusted some of the women, but not the men. She’d seen too many black eyes and bruises, on the kids as well as the women, not to know what went on behind closed doors. She wouldn’t trust any of them with a dog, never mind her precious children. But they’d be all right. Charlene was a sensible child even if she was only six.
Kara cuddled them one last time. ‘Look after Billy,’ she instructed. ‘And be good. If anyone knocks, don’t answer. I’ll be back before you know it.’
Charlene nodded, although her eyes never left the TV.
Kara held her breath and tiptoed along the concrete landing. She didn’t want anyone to see her leaving the flat because they’d know fine she’d left the kids on their own, and she wouldn’t put it past any of them to grass her up to the welfare. She reached the stairs, letting her breath out in a burst of air that hurt her throat, and clattered down the two flights to the street below.
A bus drew up at the stop a few yards away, but she didn’t bother to run for it because she had no money. She couldn’t walk all the way into town and she didn’t have transport. Never one to give up easily, she sauntered along the pavement until she was two blocks away from her own building, quickly looked around, and slipped into the car park at the rear.
It was littered with rubbish and overshadowed on three sides by the tall concrete blocks that housed many of the unemployed of Dundee. Most of the lights had been vandalised, and the area was gloomy, with shadows that seemed to flicker and move. Kara’s foot struck a can, and it clattered away into the darkness. Keeping close to the scrubby bushes that ran along the car park wall, she slunk between the cars, trying door handles as she went, until she reached the furthest corner where the deepest shadows would cloak her movements. She moved silently, examining each car for open side windows or hidden keys.
Her lips formed a silent whistle when she found an old banger with its key in the ignition. The owner probably wanted to claim on the insurance, so she’d be doing him a favour by taking it.
It was the first piece of luck she’d had all night.
* * *
She was still now. Relaxed. A tree spirit, free and pure. The body an empty shell.
It had been eight nights since he had brought her here. Eight nights in which to embrace her new life. And now she was at peace. Her soul joined with that of her tree.
Rain pattered onto the branches above him. He raised his face, rejoicing in the drips, anointing him with their juices. It was their way of thanking him for bringing a new soul.
The whispers started again. At first, they made no sense, but gradually they intensified and became clearer. The rough bark of the trunk he was leaning on undulated. The boughs bent towards him. The wind rose and the boughs whipped angrily above him, their whispering becoming louder and more insistent.
It was a sign the trees were becoming restless again. Their voices were becoming impatient, more demanding.
Detective Sergeant Bill Murphy sucked the end of his pencil. Even after two years, he missed the fags. His teeth crunched into the wood at the thought of drawing the cool, soothing smoke into his lungs, but instead of the much longed-for taste he got the flavour of wood and graphite on his tongue. Rolling down the car window, he spat into the gutter.
He could feel Sue watching him from the corner of her eyes as he slid the window up and waited for her to comment. When she didn’t, he said, ‘I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t care. I’m pissed off.’
‘You’re not the only one,’ she muttered. ‘I can think of better ways of wasting an evening than sitting waiting to see if Tommy Fraser’s going to get off the London bus with a bag of smack. Should the drug squad not be doing this stakeout? Why bring us in?’
‘Yeah.’ Bill could just see the bonnet of Blair and Iain’s car parked around the corner. He didn’t doubt they’d been just as pissed off as he was when they were asked to do a stakeout on their night off. But they were good lads and hadn’t grumbled when he’d screwed up their plans for the evening.
‘Want a Polo?’ He held out the packet he’d just retrieved from the glove compartment.
‘You didn’t answer me. Why not the drug squad? It’s their territory, not ours.’
Bill shook a sweet from the packet into her hand. ‘Andy says there’s too much going down right now and half the squad have been hit with a flu bug.’
It was Detective Inspector Andy Michaels, their immediate boss, who’d sent them on the stakeout. ‘We need to show willing,’ he’d said to Bill. ‘Don’t know when we might need their help.’ It was OK for him though. He was probably sitting in his armchair watching his favourite programme by this time – lucky sod.
‘Bully for them,’ Sue grumbled. ‘We’ve been hit by the same bug, but we’re not asking them to do our work.’ Detective Sergeant Sue Rogers was usually cheery by nature, but tonight she seemed to have become as depressed as some of her other colleagues. Her green-flecked eyes had lost their sparkle, and there was a definite droop to her mouth that Bill had never seen before.
‘Yeah, I suppose so.’ Bill stuck his tongue through the hole of the Polo and wiggled it. ‘But they’re hitting Kirkton tonight. They’d already arranged synchronised raids on the main dealers and they didn’t have enough bodies for that, so they’ve had to draft in extra from Forfar. I suppose it’s just our luck the tip-off came in about Tommy at the same time.’ He brooded for a moment. ‘Just thank your lucky stars you’re not battering down doors in Kirkton.’
‘I joined the CID to do detective work, not the drug squad’s work.’ She eased her seat into a reclining position and propped her knees on the dashboard.
Sue was a striking woman – just under six feet, short auburn hair and fine features. She wore black designer denim and a padded ski jacket. Bill in his faded supermarket jeans and anorak made the perfect foil for her classic good looks. He was even taller than she was. His longish, untidy hair, like his eyes, was a nondescript brown, and his features, although attractive were unconventional, marred by a misshapen nose. He’d never really suited the clipped short hair of the uniformed branches and had been determined he wasn’t going to conform to any sartorial expectations when he moved to plainclothes, first in the drugs squad and then in CID.
Bill rubbed the bump on his nose. It was a reminder of his own experiences in the drug squad before he’d moved to CID, the aftermath of a raid gone wrong when a twelve-year-old kid had smashed a whisky bottle in his face, with his nose taking the brunt of the blow.
‘When’s that bus due in?’ Sue rubbed the knee of her jeans, not quite reaching the itch underneath.
Bill squinted at his watch. ‘Anytime now. You ready?’
‘As ready as I’ll ever be. Think he’ll cause any trouble?’ Sue peered through the windscreen at a bus that was just making a turn into the stance.
‘Probably. He’s got a rep’ to keep up, so he’s not going to hold his hands out and say, “It’s a fair cop, guv”.’ Bill rolled down his window and spat the remains of his Polo onto the pavement. ‘I think it’s time to welcome him back to Dundee.’
* * *
Kara drove into the car park in front of Tayside House and pulled into a parking place underneath the Tay Bridge approach road. The car wouldn’t be seen there for some time and she might be able to use it to get home again. Although, on second thoughts, maybe that wasn’t wise. She left the key in the ignition and the door unlocked. Maybe someone else would pinch it and she’d be off the hook.
Pulling her skirt down, she walked over to Dock Street. She’d only been here a few times when Kev needed money for a fix and she’d never liked what he forced her to do. But his withdrawals were scary and she hated to see him suffering. ‘If you love me, you’ll do it,’ he’d said, and so she did. Now, even in his absence, he was still forcing her into a life she despised. Bloody Kev, she thought, as she turned into one of the side streets.
The tip of a cigarette glowed in a doorway. Kara slowed, ready to run if the need arose. It could be a punter or one of the girls. If it was one of the girls she needed to know which one, because they weren’t all friendly. A few were known to be violent towards anyone they thought might be encroaching on their pitch, and Kara had no wish to have her face slashed.
The pavement glistened from an early evening shower, reflecting the glow of the streetlights from the puddles. The red tip of the cigarette wavered and danced in the dark. Kara hoped the smoker was more interested in her fag than she was in Kara.
‘It’s fucking cold the night.’ The voice sounded vaguely familiar and not at all threatening.
‘Too true,’ Kara said, as she joined the girl in the doorway. Her heart was beating faster than usual. ‘How’s business then?’
‘Slow. January’s never good. If I hadn’t needed the money I’d have stayed home.’
Kara knew the girl was the same age as herself, but she looked older, a shapeless sack of a female, carrying too much weight and wearing a denim jacket so tight it didn’t meet in the front. She looked grubby, with her dark hair straggling in greasy strings onto her shoulders. But Kara had heard talk that Jean usually did a good trade with men who liked a bit of rough.
‘It’s Jean, isn’t it?’ Kara scrutinised her. ‘We were in the same gang for a while.’
‘Yeah, I remember you. Used to think you were a snotty-nosed cow. But we all come to it in the end, eh?’ She dragged smoke into her lungs before throwing the fag-end into the gutter. ‘Haven’t seen you down here for a while. Things not so good just now?’
‘They weren’t bad until tonight. Then Tony’s guys showed up.’ She sighed. ‘Couldn’t pay them though. Kev’s fucked off with the money and the score they want paying for.’
‘You don’t want to cross Tony.’ Jean’s voice was flat.
‘Don’t I know it. That’s why I’ve got to do a bit of business.’
‘You’re not going to find much just now. Thursdays are quiet, and it’s early yet. Fancy going to the chippie? Sit in?’
‘No money. Kev took the lot.’
‘Aw, come on. You can pay me back.’
The fish and chip shop in Castle Street was quiet, and the two girls chose a table at the back. The vinegary smell rising from her plate of chips reminded Kara that she hadn’t eaten since breakfast time. ‘This is really good of you,’ she told Jean.
‘Aw, it’s nice to have the company.’ Jean pushed her chips to one side, sliced the battered fish in half and popped one piece onto Kara’s plate. ‘Better eat it before I change my mind.’
A slight drizzle was falling by the time they’d finished eating and returned to the street.
‘This’ll keep the punters away,’ Jean grumbled. ‘It’ll have to be in the cars tonight. Scarier though.’ She turned into a doorway in Exchange Street. ‘I’ll stay here. You might do better along the Seagate. Better class there.’
Kara realised that Jean didn’t want her on the same beat, but maybe business would be better in the Seagate, so she nodded and pulling her collar up turned away.
‘Be careful,’ Jean called after her. ‘Some of the girls say there’s a serious weirdo about.’
Kara shrugged. It didn’t worry her. Running into Phil and Gus was the only thing she feared. Nothing could be worse than that. ‘See you later,’ she shouted over her shoulder, ‘and thanks for the fish supper.’ Jean was entitled to her own beat, and Kara didn’t grudge her.
She’d paraded up and down the Seagate, circumnavigated all the side streets, and was heading up Trades Lane when she spotted the black Mercedes-Benz, tucked into an alley. Mercs were common enough in Dundee, but there weren’t many black ones, so she slid into the shadows to check it out. She hadn’t been mistaken. The tinted glass window was open and she could see, quite clearly, Phil’s profile as he flicked a chewing gum wrapper out of the window. She shuddered. She didn’t want to run into those two again tonight. They’d scared her enough the first time.
Kara turned, intending to retrace her steps, but was afraid they’d see her, so she pulled into the shadows, waiting for them to go away. She wasn’t sure how long she stood there, but it seemed to be forever. A chill crept through her. Her feet were cold and her fingers tingled. This was stupid, she’d have to chance it and make a move before she froze to death. It was at that moment a bus drew up in front of the alley, waiting until the road was clear to make the turn into the bus station. A double-decker drew in behind it, revving its engine and belching fumes. Kara didn’t hesitate. She darted around the back and along the side of the double-decker, keeping her fingers crossed that Gus and Phil’s view was blocked. Once she was clear, she ran across the road and into the bus station. It would be easier to hide herself among the throngs of people waiting.
* * *
‘Did you just see what I saw?’ Phil shifted his gum to the other cheek. ‘Wasn’t that our little Kara who just scuttled into the bus station?’
Gus peered across to where Phil was pointing. ‘I don’t see anything.’
‘It was her, all right. All tarted up. Quite a little cracker she is.’ Phil blew a chewing gum bubble and cracked it.
‘D’you have to do that?’
Phil ignored him. ‘I was thinking. After we’ve done the business with Tommy, we might have ourselves a little fun with that one.’
‘You’re disgusting, you are. Just concentrate on Tommy. If anything goes wrong with the pickup, Tony’ll have our guts for garters.’
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