Dead GoneThe young girl you have found isn’t the first experiment I’ve carried out. She won’t be the last. A serial killer is stalking the streets of Liverpool, gruesomely murdering victims as part of a series of infamous unethical and deadly psychological experiments. When it becomes apparent that each victim has ties to the City of Liverpool University, DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi realise they’re chasing a killer unlike any they’ve hunted before – one who doesn’t just want his victims’ bodies, but wants their minds too.

So here we are on day three of the blog tour to celebrate the release of Luca Veste’s debut crime novel Dead Gone in e-book, and a cracking good debut it is too. With a solid recommendation from Mark Billingham resplendent on the jacket, I can only echo his words as Veste being a writer to watch, as this debut kept me hooked throughout and I loved the way Veste so neatly draws on his Liverpudlian and Italian roots, both in terms of the setting of the book and in the characterisation of his protagonists. With an assured touch, the reader is quickly immersed in a tautly plotted and psychologically dark tale of missing girls and a slippery killer that plumbs the depths of the psychotic mind, against the backdrop of academia. In much the same way as David Mark depicts Hull and Craig Robertson, Glasgow, Veste presents the reader with a vivid portrait of Liverpool- both good and bad- with the affections and frustrations of his home town presented in equal measure through the eyes and natural humour of his police characters, DI David Murphy and the feisty DS Laura Rossi. I think it’s worth saying at this point, that they make one hell of a team, and I found both characters extremely believable and loved the interplay between them- a partnership that has the propensity to run and run in future investigations I hope. So don’t just take my word for it and have a read of the extract below- I’m sure this will soon be winging its way to your e-reader now or check out for the paperback release in January. A great debut- more please!

LUCA VESTE- DEAD GONE

PART ONE

Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.

Isaac Asimov

We are taught from an early age to fear death, that unknowable force we are all moving towards, simply by existing. However, this aspect of human life is not one discussed easily amongst those in western society. Death is not an easy topic to discuss openly, without the fear of perhaps upsetting or insulting. This one aspect that binds us all together, touches us all, irrespective of race, gender, or orientation; the one thing we all have in common, yet so often it is considered a ‘dark’ subject. Talking about one’s own mortality is considered morbid and morose.

One truth remains however. We all die. Every single living organism experiences death. Indeed, according to Dr. Sigmund Freud, ‘It is the aim of all life.’ We live to die. Homo sapiens as a species have shown great technological advances over the past few centuries. Yet one thing we have not, and will arguably never achieve, is to create a way of dealing with death in a uniform manner as a population. We grieve differently, we die differently. Death touches us all. Should we fear death, try to actively repel it, through attempts to prolong our lives? If technology moved to such a point that death could be avoided, endless life became a possibility, would we ever be able to really live? Without being able to investigate death and the repercussions for the deceased, is it possible to study death in any meaningful way, without being able to experience it? Taken from ‘Life, Death, and Grief’, published in Psychological Society Review, 2008, issue 72.

Experiment Two

She hadn’t been afraid of the dark.

Not before. Not before it entered her life without her knowing, enveloping her like a second skin, becoming a part of her. She hadn’t been claustrophobic, petrified the walls were closing in around her. Crushed to death without knowing they’d even moved. Not scared of things that crawled around her toes. Wasn’t afraid to sit alone in a darkened room and wonder if something was touching her face, or if it was just her imagination. Nope. She wasn’t scared before. She was now. It took time to become afraid of those things, and time was all she had, stretching out in front of her without end. She blamed herself. Blamed her friends. Blamed him. She shouldn’t be there, and someone was to blame for that. Had to be. She’d become a responsible adult. The right thing, supposedly. Gone were the days she’d spent going into town, two, sometimes three times a week. Karaoke on a Friday, pulling on a Saturday ‒ if there were any decent lads out ‒ quiet one on a Sunday. Now she was always the first one to leave, early on in the night, when everyone else was just getting started. She didn’t like the feeling of being drunk. That loss of control, of sensibility. She’d been hungover so many times. She’d decided it wasn’t what responsible adults did. Her mum had drummed that into her one night, holding back her hair as two bottles of white wine and god knows how many vodka and lemonades decided they wanted out. She’d rather be at home now, watching TV after a day’s work, especially if it meant he was sitting close to her. She didn’t even mind that he always had the laptop on, playing that stupid football management game. Just being there with him was enough. She still enjoyed a drink at the end of a work day, a glass of wine with a meal and the occasional full bottle at the weekend. But the binging had stopped. That was for certain. When a Cheeky Vimto cocktail had been forced into her hand by one of the girls who told her she’d love it she didn’t say no.  Port and WKD. Who thought of these things? She didn’t care. It tasted bloody great. One more led to four more, and before she knew it, she was in an eighties-themed nightclub, dancing her heart out to Chesney Hawkes. Two a.m. hit, and she was saying her goodbyes. She loved them all. Her girls. Always left wondering why they didn’t see her more often. ‘Don’t go yet, we’ll all share a taxi later. Club doesn’t shut for another hour.’ ‘It’s alright, I’ll be fine. I’m knackered, want my bed. Need to get back … No, it’s okay I’ll walk up to the tunnel stretch by the museum if I can’t get one.’ Voice going hoarse from shouting over the music. Promises to do it all again soon. To give them a text when she’d arrived home. Finally she was out of the club, the bouncer helping her down the final step. Fresh air hit her, along with the realisation she was as drunk as she’d been in a long time. She began searching through her handbag for her phone, eventually finding it in the same pocket it was always in, wanting to call a taxi to pick her up. ‘For fuck’s sake.’ Too loud. Not in the club any longer, but her voice hadn’t caught onto that fact yet. A couple stared as they passed by, as she continued her argument with the stupid battery-sucking smart phone. The decision to wear comfortable shoes becoming the best idea she’d ever had. She set off for the taxi ranks at the end of Matthew Street, hoping it wouldn’t be too long a wait. She walked past the old Cavern Club, the sound of some shitty band murdering old hits wafting out of the doors, as a few tourists spilled out onto the street. She couldn’t find a taxi, queues of people down North John Street. She walked away from the lights of the clubs in the city centre, hoping to get one coming out of the tunnel. When she was younger it had been easier, as there was always enough of them to be safe getting the night bus home. Now she had money in her pocket she wouldn’t have to sit on a full bus, the stink of kebabs and vodka shots seeping into her clothes. The lads who were either squaring up to each other, or trying it on with any girl with a pulse. No thank you, she could pay the eight quid and get home without any of that. She stood on the corner near the museum, waiting for a hackney with its light on to pass her. She wrapped her arms around herself, cold air beginning to bite as she stopped walking and leant against the St John’s Gardens wall, the museum over to her right. The entrance and exit to Birkenhead tunnel directly opposite her. Swaying to silent music. She was cold, wishing she’d picked a warmer coat when she’d left the house earlier. She’d picked the right shoes, that was supposed to be enough. Ten minutes went by, then fifteen, before a hackney finally came towards her, slowing down before passing her. ‘Hey!’ It went up towards town, then did a U-turn and headed back her way, coming to a stop in front of her. She opened the door, barely registering the driver at all, just shouted her address at him, and settled back in the seat. She was glad to be in the warmth of the car. As they drove through the city centre, she began to feel just a little uncomfortable, the driver looking straight ahead, barely acknowledging her presence. He’d not said a word since she’d entered. Must be one of the new foreign drivers that were coming over from Eastern Europe or wherever. Her mum would know. She should ring her mum tomorrow, she thought. She hadn’t been in touch much lately, and she wanted to catch up. She yawned a few times in succession, the blurred buildings going past becoming hypnotic as the cab wound its way out of the city centre towards home. She battled her tiredness and lost, as her eyes closed and stayed that way. That was her mistake. She woke when the cab came to a stop and looked up to see the driver getting out of the cab. Through bleary eyes, confused by the sudden absence of movement, she sat fully upright. ‘I’m awake, it’s okay,’ she called out, but he was already walking around the cab, past her door and out of her sight. Panic didn’t set in straight away. Confusion was first. ‘Where are we?’ The windows inside had misted over, and she swiped her hand over the pane. To one side she saw trees lining a gravel driveway. She tried opening the door, but the handle wouldn’t budge. She moved across the seat, and tried that door handle. Same result. She swiped her hand over the window again, seeing a house to the other side. A strange house. Not her house. Oh shit, not her house. ‘What’s going on?’ She could hear the man’s shoes crunching through the gravel behind the car and then her window darkened. She jumped in her seat. He was crouched level with the window, his face obscured by a black balaclava. Panic started then. His voice came through the window. Slow, precise. ‘We’re in the middle of nowhere. So if you scream, no one will hear you. More importantly, if you do scream, I’m going to break the fingers on your right hand. Scream again, and I’ll cut them off. You understand me?’ There was no trace of an accent, yet there was something odd about his voice. She started to move across the back seat to the opposite door. Adrenaline kicked in. The need to get away, to get out of there, overtaking everything else. He was quicker though. The door opened behind her and a hand grabbed her by the shoulder. He was strong. Fight back, fight for her life, fight back. Without screaming. She used her fists against the opposite window, pulling on the door handle with all her weight, as the man attempted to drag her out. He got a firm grip of her dress, and placed his arm around her neck, turning her around. She kicked out at him, but felt herself being lifted from the car. He dragged her all the way inside the house, his grip around her throat choking the air out of her lungs. Her eyes drifted downwards and then around. Stone steps with marble pillars to the sides marked the entrance, but she had no time to look at them as she was pulled along a darkened corridor. She needed to breathe properly. Watched as one of her comfortable shoes slipped off and became lost in the darkness. She kicked at the ground, scratched at his arm, used her fingers to try and prise her way out of his hands, but nothing worked. She was being dragged along on her heels. He stopped, shifted his grip so she was now in a headlock. She could breathe a little. They went through an opening, before she bounced downwards. A staircase, she guessed. She couldn’t tell. It was too dark. They came to a stop. He took his arm from around her head, and before she had a chance to move, he pushed her with two hands. She fell backwards, landing hard. She heard, rather than saw a door close. She sprang up, the pain from the fall lost in the midst of heavy breathing and adrenaline. ‘Let me out of here you bastard! Open this door, open it now.’ She was in darkness and grasped at the door, trying to find a handle or anything that would open the door. She used her fists, banging on the door with all her strength. ‘Please, don’t leave me here.’ She continued to bang on the door until her hand started to ache. She switched hands. It came then. A voice through the walls, an audible static over it. She stopped, cocking her head to listen. ‘You will be fed. You will have water. There is a hatch opening on the door which can only be opened from the outside, through which this will be provided. On some days your food will have an extra ingredient, in order for me to clean up. You will not know when this is. If you’re good, I won’t have to kill you.’ The voice was silent then. She stood still, straining to hear any other noise, backing away from the door carefully. She put her hands out in front of her, her eyes trying to adjust. There was no sound, other than her own breathing, panting in and out. She spread her arms around, jumping a little as her hand brushed against a flat surface. She took a large breath in, struggling to keep the panic in. She couldn’t see the walls around her, yet she could already feel them. Closing in on her. She was alone, in the darkness.

Chapter One

Sunday 27th January 2013 – Day One

Frosty, brisk air swirled around Sefton Park and its surrounding area, the early morning mist only just beginning to lift above the tree line. Detached houses, set back from the main road, lined the street on one side, where flashing lights from multiple vehicles had drawn out bleary eyed gawkers. They stood on the pavements shifting on cold feet in the early morning light. Mostly, they wouldn’t say two words to each other, but the early morning excitement had driven them out, even caused conversation to break out. At one time the houses had contained whole families, now most were converted apartments, selling for six-figure sums. Detective Inspector David Murphy turned his attention back to the park over the road; not your small, family friendly, swings and slide type of park. Instead, acres of greenery, beautiful old trees, and enough space to see something new each time you walk through there. And the odd dead body turning up unannounced. It was usually suicides.Hanging from a tree or a bunch of pills in the middle of a field. Hoping no one finds them before they go. But at times it was something else. He saw the lights in the distance. Blue, red, shifting from left to right. The constant pattern having a seemingly hypnotic effect on those straining to see further into the park beyond. Murphy was sitting in his car, the engine settling as he summoned up the energy to get out and make his way over. The lights of the marked cars parked in front of his Citroen reflected off the dark interior inside, a strobe effect bouncing off the dashboard. Murphy shook his seatbelt off and leaned forward, attempting to see past the lights and people milling around the park. He slumped back in the seat when it became clear he wouldn’t see anything. He scratched his beard, the trim he’d performed the previous night giving it a coiffed edge, which he decided said ‘distinguished’ rather than ‘hiding a double chin’. He stifled a yawn and opened the car door, stretching his long legs out, the tight feeling in his calves telling him he’d maybe overdone it on the cross trainer the previous evening, trying to shift those last few pounds of weight. He’d been awake no more than fifteen minutes when his DCI had called. That made it less than an hour into the day for him, and he was walking towards the body of a dead girl. Not how Murphy usually liked to start off a day…especially a Sunday. A phone call from work before he’d even had chance to drink his coffee. Have a slice of toast. Put a fresh suit on. Death could be incredibly selfish. ‘Murphy,’ he’d answered once he’d finally located the phone hiding in his jeans pocket on the bedroom floor. Stabbed at the screen, trying to answer the stupid thing. ‘David?’ Murphy’s shoulders slumped. DCI Stephens. Which, outside of normal hours, usually signified nothing good. ‘What’s happened?’ ‘A body. Suspicious circumstances. Found in Sefton Park.’ ‘Shit. Bad?’ ‘Not sure of all the details at the moment.’ ‘I’m wanted?’ ‘Why else would I be calling you David? I’m not your bloody alarm clock.’ ‘It’s been a while, that’s all. Was starting to wonder if I’d be stuck on break-ins for another six months.’ ‘Well you’ve got something else now.’ ‘Who’s with me?’ ‘Rossi or Tony Brannon. Your decision.’ ‘Great. Not exactly Sophie’s fucking Choice.’ ‘Language. Weren’t you taught never to swear in front of a lady? And anyway, beggars can’t be choosers. How long until you can get down there?’ Murphy crooked his phone between his shoulder and ear. Grabbed his trousers from where they had been lying next to his jeans. ‘Which end?’ ‘Which end of what?’ ‘The park.’ Jesus wept. ‘Oh, Aigburth Drive. Just look for the lights. Sounds like half the bloody force is there.’ Murphy zipped up his trousers and gave the previous day’s shirt a sniff. ‘I’ll be there in twenty minutes.’ He left the house five minutes later reversing out the driveway, and onto the road. Decided twenty minutes was probably a little optimistic. It’d probably be double that this time of the morning, even without the usual weekday traffic through the tunnel. He shook his head, tugged on his bottom lip with his teeth, and turned right out of the small winding road which surrounded the small estate, lamenting the fact he was already going to be playing catch up when he got there. The commute may have been bad, but at least it gave him a chance to wake up. Within five minutes he was on the motorway heading for the Wallasey tunnel, which separated the Wirral and Liverpool. The Wirral is a small peninsula, only separated from Liverpool by the River Mersey, and connected by a mile-long tunnel underneath the seabed. The Wirral hadn’t always been home. In fact, he’d only been able to call it that for the previous few months. The differences between the two places was closing in recent years. The Wirral was historically known as simultaneously living in Liverpool’s shadow, whilst also enjoying much more wealth than most of Liverpool. These days, the link was closer. Whilst the wealth was still strong in the west of the Wirral, with the likes of West Kirby and Heswall, the destruction of the shipping trade at Cammell Laird’s on the east side meant that the Wirral now had its own pockets of deprivation. Even the kids spoke in a Scouse accent these days, albeit a bastardised version of it. Murphy was comfortable living there, even if the subtle differences became more apparent every day, needling at him. He loved the city of Liverpool. The people, the buildings, the history. He just needed to time away. Working there was enough for now. He used his fast tag when he arrived at the Wallasey tunnel booths, and broke the forty mile an hour limit going under the River Mersey, but it was still forty minutes after the phone call by the time he’d pulled the car to a stop. He walked out into the damp and cold January morning, zipping his coat up as he walked towards the railings which lined the path, hastily strung-up crime scene tape strewn across them. The wide main road was shadowed by high trees on both sides, which masked most of the view. A couple of uniforms stood guard at the park entrance ‒ a quick flash of his warrant card and he was able to pass through. He could see the hive of activity a couple of hundred yards or so up ahead, near a stone path which cut through the grass on either side, leading from the entrance into the distance. The main activity seemed to be concentrated on a grass verge which went up into the treeline. Murphy dropped his head as the wind picked up, and began walking towards it. ‘Sir!’ Detective Constable Laura Rossi, second generation Italian. Five and a half foot tall, dark long hair. Strong looking, from the broad shoulders which made her look stocky, to the roman nose which complimented her features. Most of the single, and quite a few of the married, lads at the station had tried and failed with her. Murphy wasn’t one of them. She came bounding towards Murphy and brushed her hair away from her face, tucking strands behind her ear. ‘You all right?’ ‘What have we got?’ Murphy said as she reached him. ‘Morning to you too sir.’ Murphy looked down at her, Rossi being at least eight inches smaller, and about half his weight. He smiled as she looked up to him, before realising where they were and adopting a stoic face once more. He was glad she was there. In a weird way, and completely without context given he had no kids of his own, he wanted to look after her; be a father figure of some sort. She was inexperienced, he supposed. Needed some guidance. Which, if this was a bona fide murder case, he could definitely do without. Especially considering his last effort. ‘Let’s get on with it. And stop calling me sir, how many times do I have to tell you.’ ‘Course. Sorry sir. Young female, found by a corpse sniffer around six a.m. Fully clothed. Nothing around the body, just laid out beneath a tree.’ Murphy looked around and spotted the man she was referring to, talking to some uniforms. An older guy, probably in his mid-sixties, his dog sitting next to him, silent on his lead. ‘He have anything to say?’ Murphy said. ‘Not much, dog ran off into the trees, he went looking for it and found the girl.’ ‘Is nobhead here?’ Rossi looked confused. ‘Who’s a nobhead?’ Murphy smiled, still finding it amusing that the Scouse accent didn’t match the Mediterranean looks. ‘Brannon. Is he around?’ Rossi attempted to hold back a laugh behind a hand. Murphy noticed her fingernails, bitten down rather than manicured. ‘Yeah, he’s off on the hunt for clues. His words, not mine.’ ‘Good.’ Murphy replied. ‘Fat bastard could do with some exercise. SOCOs here yet?’ ‘About twenty minutes before you.’ ‘Any other witnesses?’ ‘Not at the moment.’ ‘Okay. You looked at the body yet?’ Rossi shook her head. ‘Well then. Let’s not keep her waiting.’ Murphy snapped on his gloves, extra-large, and began walking towards the scene. He could see the Palm House, a large dome building which was the centrepiece of the park, in the distance, past the trees. The great glass windows which gave it the appearance of a huge greenhouse looked dull and lifeless in the muggy morning light. Murphy and Rossi entered the tent which was being erected around the body. The treeline was thicker there, the ground, still not completely unfrozen from the previous harsh winter, crunching underneath his feet. The click and whirr of photographs being taken was the only soundtrack to the scene. Murphy let his eyes be drawn to the girl. Early twenties he figured. Plain looking, dressed conservatively in black trousers and a red v-necked jumper. One earring, which meant either one was missing or was now a souvenir. His money, as always, was on the latter. Always to the morbid thought first. To be fair, he was usually right. Murphy side-stepped around the edge, carefully avoiding anything that looked important, and stood at the foot of the body, taking it in. She had the distinctive pallor of the dead; pale, the colour drained out of her as the blood stopped flowing. The clothes looked new, unworn, the creases on the jumper looking like they were from packaging, rather than wear. She was spread-eagled, her arms outstretched in a V, her legs doing the same. Carefully placed in the position. It looked unnatural, posed, which was probably the intention, Murphy thought. Her face was what drew his gaze. Half-lidded eyes, staring right through him. Blue, glazed, the last image they’d captured that of whoever had left her here. Her mouth was slightly parted, the top row of her teeth on show in a final grimace. Ugly, red marks over her bare neck. Dr Stuart Houghton, Stu to his friends, was crouched next to the girl. He’d been the lead pathologist in the city for as long as Murphy had been working. His grey hair was thinning, his posture looking soft as he stood up from his haunches. His short, squat stature only enhanced by the ever-growing paunch he was cultivating around his middle. He turned to look at Murphy. ‘Dr Houghton, what have we got?’ ‘Took your time Dave.’ Murphy shot his hands to his mouth. ‘Calling me Dave when you know I don’t like it? You never fail to shock. And it was only because I knew you’d be here already. What can you tell me?’ ‘Are you running this one?’ Houghton said. Murphy gazed at the pathologist and shrugged his shoulders. ‘I just do as I’m told.’ Houghton pursed his lips at him. ‘Well then, can’t tell you much at the moment,’ he said, gesturing towards the young woman. ‘This is how she was found, her arms and legs outstretched like she’s doing a star jump, only lying down. There’s no evidence around the body as far as we can tell so far, and she’s been dead around twelve hours. No ID, handbag, purse, nothing. Other than that you’ll have to wait for the post mortem for me to tell you more. We’re moving her out now.’ ‘Why suspicious then?’ Murphy asked, knowing the answer but wanting to piss off the doc a little more. Houghton muttered something under his breath before continuing. ‘ As you can no doubt already see, there’s bruises around her neck which indicate asphyxiation. First paramedic on the scene noticed them, and, in my opinion correctly, assumed it was better to call in the big boys.’ Murphy looked closer at the girl. Large bruises under her chin, turning darker as time moved on.  A large birthmark, or mole, the colour of strong coffee on the lower left side of her neck. ‘Did she die here?’ ‘Not certain yet, but I’m almost positive she wasn’t. No signs of struggle around the area. The grass is flattened only in the immediate vicinity of the body.’ ‘Any other distinguishing features aside from the mole, I need to know about straight away. And let us know when the post mortem is.’ Houghton nodded, and went back to work. Murphy left the tent, Rossi trailing behind him. ‘We’ll take a statement from the witness and then we should try and find out who she is.’ Rossi nodded and set off towards the witness. Murphy began the process of removing his gloves and looking around the area, seeing a few familiar faces from older crime scenes about the place. He nodded and exchanged greetings with some of them. No one stopped to talk to him. He wasn’t surprised. He gave one last look at the finished tent, the uniforms walking around the area, looking under the bushes and scouring the ground. Back to it.

Chapter Two

Sunday 27th January 2013 – Day One

‘This is Eddie Bishop,’ Rossi said as she led the dog walker towards Murphy. He was a grey-haired man with a stooped posture, a little Jack Russell padding alongside him. Yellow, stained teeth grimaced back at Murphy, the man’s wrinkled hands gripping the lead tighter, as he kept the dog close by. ‘Just a couple of questions, Mr Bishop.’ ‘Eddie is fine.’ ‘Okay Eddie.’ Murphy replied, noting the softness of the infamous Scouse accent. Softness which you only really heard from the older inhabitants of the city nowadays. ‘Do you walk this way often?’ he continued. ‘Twice a day, first thing in the morning, again in the evening.’ Murphy watched as Rossi wrote down the conversation in her notepad. ‘And the dog found the victim.’ Eddie’s face grew serious as he explained how he’d found the dog stood over the young woman. ‘Terrible shame. Will take me a long time to get over this, I’ll tell you that for nothing.’ ‘And you didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary this morning. Anything at all?’ Murphy asked. Eddie shook his head. ‘Same as always, just me and Floyd.’ he replied, gesturing at the dog. Murphy finished up with Eddie, explaining the need for a formal statement and promising to keep him informed, knowing that would be highly unlikely. ‘Anything else?’ Murphy asked Rossi, as she finished writing the conversation down in her notepad. ‘There’s someone who keeps telling uniforms at the gate that he heard something. Might be an idea to check that out.’ ‘Okay. We’ll do that now.’ Murphy stopped to take in the place. The park was big enough to get lost in, vast areas of green and small wooded areas surrounding it. ‘In the dark, you could become invisible in a place like this,’ Murphy said to Rossi as they neared the gates. ‘True. Perfect places for this type of thing. In and out, probably without being seen in the early hours,’ Rossi replied, stepping underneath the crime scene tape. ‘I’ll be coming to interview this witness with you, yeah? I mean, I guess I’m getting to partner up with you on this one?’ Murphy paused. ‘Let me see. We’ve worked together on and off for about two years, right?’ Rossi nodded her head up and down slowly. ‘Ever known me to choose to work with Brannon?’ She smiled and mocked a salute. ‘I’ll just go and get a new notepad from the car.’ Murphy watched as she walked towards her car parked over the road, her posture straight and assured. The trouser suit looked new. ‘Sir. Sir!’ Murphy stopped and turned. Sighed for effect. ‘What do you want Brannon?’ DS Brannon stopped jogging and bent down with his hands on his knees, panting. ‘I … sorry …’ He brought himself up again. ‘I just wondered if there was anything I can do?’ ‘Haven’t you already got something to do?’ ‘I just thought you might have something more interesting. I’m being wasted walking around looking through the mud.’ ‘Rossi is assisting me on this one Brannon. Maybe next time. For now, I want witness statements from everyone who lives in these houses which face the park entrance. Start organising it.’ ‘But …’ Murphy smiled inwardly and turned back towards the road outside the park. Brannon wasn’t all that bad really. He was annoying rather than incompetent. He wasn’t even all that fat, but first impressions stick. The uniforms were already being harassed by local residents eager to discover what was occurring near their homes. Murphy pushed through, ignoring the questions being directed towards him from a particular wild-haired older man, adorned only in a dressing gown and slippers. Murphy took the uniformed constable who’d been trying to placate the man to one side. ‘Which one says he heard something?’ ‘The loud-mouthed one.’ Typical, Murphy thought. ‘Okay, where does he live?’ The constable pointed to his house, which was exactly opposite the entrance. ‘Take him back in. We’ll be there in a minute.’ The first thought that struck Murphy as they approached the house, was that it seemed a little big for just one man. As he entered, the second thought was that it wasn’t big enough for one man and the amount of stuff he seemed to own. Newspapers were stacked up along the hallway in bundles, at least four feet in height, held together with what looked like old twine. A staircase with no carpet ran up the other side, which was similarly stacked with paper, but magazines instead of newspapers. As Murphy walked towards the first door which led off the hallway, he became aware of a sour milk smell which assailed his nostrils, making him thankful for the lack of breakfast that morning. Rossi was a few steps behind him. Murphy turned to see if it had reached her yet. From the look on her face, he knew it had. ‘In and out?’ ‘Definitely, or I’m going now.’ Rossi replied, covering her mouth with her hand. They turned into a large living room, Rossi almost bumping into the back of Murphy as he stopped in his tracks. ‘Jesus.’ The room was full. The only visible space to stand was that which Murphy was occupying. Small portable televisions teetered precariously on top of microwaves with missing doors. Stacks of crockery were piled onto an old mantelpiece a door missing its glass leaning against it. It was the world’s biggest game of Jenga, only using household goods instead of wooden bricks. ‘Who’s there?’ The voice seemed to come from within the mass of what Murphy could only think of as every item a person could acquire in their life, without ever throwing anything away. ‘Hello? I’m Detective Inspector Murphy, this is Detective Constable Rossi.’ Murphy turned to introduce Rossi, but there was an empty space behind him. Great. ‘I have a lot of work to do. Are you going to get on with it?’ Murphy ducked a little, trying to find the source of the voice. He saw a flash of brown through a small gap in the structure. ‘Can you tell me your name?’ A loud sigh. ‘Arthur Reeves.’ ‘Right. And you live here alone?’ ‘Do you see anyone else here?’ ‘I can’t even see you Mr Reeves.’ A small chuckle. ‘I guess that’s right. Let’s cut to the chase. I heard a car last night. It kept going up and down the road, disturbed my sleep. I got up out of bed and looked out the window. I couldn’t see very well, there’s not many streetlights up this way. It stopped at the entrance to the park. I assumed they’d been trying to find a parking space. Then it drove on again, right into the park.’ Murphy stood back up. ‘Did you see notice anything about the car? Colour, model, reg plate?’ ‘Not really. It was dark, as I said. Could have been dark blue, or dark red. Looked like a normal car. Or a van. A small van.’ ‘Okay. And what time was this?’ ‘About four a.m. I think. Maybe five or three, or in between. I thought it might be important, considering.’ Not exactly the early break Murphy had been looking for. ‘Anything else?’ ‘Sorry. I went back to bed. It wasn’t until I saw all the police cars turn up that I even gave it a second thought.’ ‘Well, thank you Mr Reeves,’ Murphy said, patting his thigh, ‘that’s a great help.’ ‘Is that it?’ ‘Yeah. An officer will come and take a formal statement soon. But for now, you can get back to work.’ Murphy turned out of the room, almost coming face to face with Rossi. ‘There you are.’ ‘Found the smell.’ Rossi whispered. ‘In the kitchen. There’s about two thousand empty milk bottles in there. Estimating of course. Think he got bored of rinsing them out.’ ‘Let’s get out of here.’ They left the house, Murphy filling Rossi in on his conversation. ‘What was his deal do you reckon?’ he said as he finished. ‘One of those hoarders I think. We should call environmental health. Can’t be safe living like that.’ Murphy murmured an agreement. ‘Nearest CCTV to here?’ ‘At the top junction which leads onto Ullet Road. Almost a mile up the road. Will get onto that.’ ‘What about from the other end?’ Rossi clicked her tongue. ‘A lot of roads up that way. If our guy came from there, it could be any number of places. All CCTV in the area then?’ Murphy nodded. ‘Best to check everything.’ ‘What now?’ They’d reached the entrance to the park again. The early morning mist had cleared, winter sun threatening to break through the remaining clouds. Murphy could still see faint traces of breath as he exhaled. ‘We need to find out who she is. Back to the station, check the system for any missing persons who match the description.’ ‘Okay, will meet you there’ Murphy reversed around a corner of a small cul de sac, and pointed the car back towards the station. Sefton Park is about four miles out of the centre of Liverpool, away from the hustle of town, into a leafier suburb. Once Murphy had turned into Ullet Road and then further onto the A roads which led towards the station, the contrast was complete. Half completed buildings appeared in the distance, scaffolding and cranes became the landscape. The River Mersey was off to his left, but was masked by warehouses and housing estates. Toxteth on the opposite side, still struggling to recover from the events of twenty years earlier. A city of contrast. Light and dark. Rich footballers and child poverty. Derelict housing and glass-fronted office buildings. Murphy lived it all. Took it all home with him, and attempted to make sense of it. How one city could have so many nuances to the lives of its inhabitants. Then he’d realise that every major city has the same issues. Feel slightly better about it all. It wasn’t just Liverpool, they weren’t a special case. Then he’d wake up and begin a murder investigation of a young woman, and the old feelings of resignation returned. A thread in the tapestry of his life coming loose. Frayed and torn. Threatening to be destroyed completely. A feeling in the pit of his stomach. Not a nervous feeling, something a little different. Something harder to ignore. Fear. Luca Veste is a writer of Italian and Scouse heritage, married with two young daughters, and one of nine children. He is currently studying psychology and criminology at University in Liverpool.  He is also the editor of the Spinetingler Award nominated charity anthology ‘Off The Record’, and co-editor of ‘True Brit Grit’, also an anthology of short stories for charity. A former civil servant, actor, singer and guitarist (although he still picks it up now and again), he now divides his time between home life, Uni work and writing. Visit his website http://lucaveste.com/ and follow on Twitter @lucaveste

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