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When Detective Erika Foster receives a tip off that key evidence for a major narcotics case was stashed in a disused quarry on the outskirts of London, she orders for it to be searched. From the thick sludge the drugs are recovered, but so is the skeleton of a young child.
The remains are quickly identified as seven-year-old Jessica Collins. The missing girl who made headline news when she vanished twenty-six years ago.
As Erika tries to piece together new evidence with the old, she discovers a family harbouring secrets, a detective plagued by her failure to find Jessica, and the mysterious death of a man living by the quarry.
Is the suspect someone close to home? Someone doesn’t want this case solved. And they’ll do anything to stop Erika from finding the truth.
Friday, 28 October 2016
Detective Chief Inspector Erika Foster crossed her arms over the bulky life jacket against the icy wind, wishing she'd worn a thicker coat. The small inflatable Met Police Marine Recovery boat churned across the water of Hayes Quarry, dragging behind it a compact transponder, scanning the bottom deep below. The disused quarry was in the centre of Hayes Common, 225 acres of woodland and heath situated next to the village of Hayes on the outskirts of South London.
'Water depth is 23.7 metres,' said Sergeant Lorna Crozier, the Dive Supervisor. She was hunched over a screen at the front of the boat, where the results of the sonar were beamed back and displayed in inky purple shades, blooming across the screen like a bruise.
'So, it's going to be tough to salvage what we're looking for?' asked Erika, noting her tone.
Lorna nodded. 'Anything beyond a depth of thirty metres is tough. My divers can only stay down for short periods. The average pond or canal is a couple of metres deep. Even at high tide, the Thames is ten to twelve metres.'
'There could be anything down there,' said Detective Sergeant John McGorry, who was squashed in the small plastic seat beside Erika. She followed his youthful gaze across the rippling surface of the water. The visibility couldn't have been more than a couple of feet before it became a swirl of dark shadows.
'Are you trying to sit on my lap?' she snapped as he leaned across her to peer over the edge.
'Sorry, boss.' He grinned, shifting back along the seat. 'I saw this show on the Discovery Channel. Did you know, only five per cent of the ocean floor is mapped. The ocean occupies seventy per cent of the Earth's surface, that leaves sixty-five per cent of the Earth, excluding dry land, unexplored. . .'
At the water's edge, twenty metres away, clumps of dead reeds swayed in the breeze. A large support lorry was parked on the grassy bank, and beside it the small support team were preparing the diving gear. Their orange lifejackets were the only dots of colour in the dingy autumn afternoon. Behind them, gorse and heather stretched away with a mix of greys and browns, and a clump of trees in the far distance were bare. The boat reached the end of the quarry and slowed.
'Turning about,' said PC Barker, a young male officer sitting at the rudder of the outboard motor. He performed a sharp turn so they could double back and cross the length of the water for the sixth time.
'Do you think some of the fish or eels down there could have grown to, like, super proportions?' asked John, turning to Lorna, his eyes still shining with enthusiasm.
'I've seen some pretty big freshwater crayfish when I've been on dives. Although, this quarry isn't a tributary, so whatever is down there would have been introduced,' replied Lorna, one eye on the sonar screen.
'I grew up down the road, in St Mary Cray, and there was a pet shop near us that, apparently, sold baby crocodiles. . .' John's voice tailed off, and he looked back at Erika raising an eyebrow.
He was always upbeat and chatty, which she could just about cope with. Although she dreaded working the early shift with him.
'We're not looking for a crocodile, John. We're looking for ten kilos of heroin packed into a waterproof container.'
John looked back at her and nodded. 'Sorry, boss.'
Erika checked her watch. It was coming up to three thirty.
'What's that worth on the street, ten kilos?' asked PC Barker from his spot by the rudder.
'Four million pounds,' replied Erika, her eyes back on the sonar image shifting across the screen.
He whistled. 'I take it the container was dropped in deliberately?'
Erika nodded. 'Jason Tyler, the guy we've got in custody, was waiting for things to quieten down before he came back for it. . .'
She didn't add that they could only hold him in custody until midnight.
'Did he really think he'd get it back? We're an experienced dive team, and we're going to find this a tough one to salvage,' said Lorna.
'With four million quid on the line? Yes, I think he was going to come back for it,' replied Erika. 'We're hoping to lift his prints off the layers of plastic wrapping inside.'
'How did you find out he'd dropped it in here?' asked PC Barker.
'His wife,' replied John.
PC Barker gave him a look only another guy could understand, and whistled.
'Hang on. This could be something; kill the motor,' said Lorna, leaning closer in to the tiny screen.
A small shape glowed black amongst a swirl of purple hues. PC Barker switched off the outboard motor and the silence rang out, replaced by a swish of water as the boat slowed. He got up and joined her.
'We're scanning an area of four metres each side of the boat,' said Lorna, her small hand moving over the smudge on the screen.
'So the scale is correct,' agreed Barker.
'You think that's it?' asked Erika, hope rising in her chest.
'Could be,' said Lorna. 'Could be an old fridge. We won't know for sure till we're down there.'
'Will you dive down there today?' Erika asked her, trying to stay positive.
'I'll stay on dry land today. I was on a dive yesterday, and we have to have rest periods,' said Lorna.
'Where were you yesterday?' asked John.
'Rotherhithe. We had to recover a suicide from the lake at the nature reserve.'
'Wow. It must add a whole new level of freakiness, finding a body deep underwater?'
Lorna nodded. 'I found him. Ten feet down. I was searching in zero visibility, and suddenly my hands close around a pair of ankles, and I feel up, and there's the legs. He was standing on the bottom.'
'Jeepers. Standing up, underwater?' said John.
'It does happen; something to do with the composition of the gas in the body and the progress of decay.'
'It must be fascinating. I've only been in the force for a few years. This is my first time with a dive team,' said John.
'We find tons of horrible stuff. The worst is when you find a bag of puppies,' added PC Barker.
'Bastards. I've been a copper for twenty-five years, and I still learn something new every day about how sick people can be.' Erika noticed how they all turned to her for a moment; she could see them mentally working out how old she was. 'So, what about this anomaly? How quick can you get down there and bring it up?' she asked, drawing their attention back to the sonar on the screen.
'I think we'll mark it up with a buoy, and take another pass on it,' replied Lorna, moving to the side of the boat and preparing a small orange marker buoy with a weighted line. She dropped the weight over the edge, and it quickly vanished into the deep, dark water, the thin rope playing out over the edge. They left the marker floating as PC Barker fired up the outboard motor, and they moved off across the water.
Just over an hour later they had covered the surface of the quarry, and identified three possible anomalies. Erika and John had come ashore to warm up. The late October day was now fading as they huddled outside the dive lorry with Styrofoam cups of tea. They watched the dive team at work.
Lorna stood on the bank, holding one end of a weighted rope called the jackstay line. It led down into the water and along the bottom of the quarry, where it resurfaced twenty feet from the shore. The boat was anchored beside the first marker buoy, and manned by PC Barker, who was keeping the other end of the jackstay taut. Ten minutes had passed since two divers had entered the water. They'd started at opposite ends of the jackstay, and were searching along the bottom of the quarry to meet in the middle. Beside Lorna another member of the dive team was crouched over a small comms unit the size of a briefcase. Erika could hear the divers' voices as they communicated through the radios in their diving masks.
'Zero visibility, nothing yet. . . We must be close to meeting in the middle. . .' came the tinny voice over the radio.
Erika took a nervous inhale on her e-cigarette, the LED light at the end glowing red. She exhaled a puff of white vapour.
It was three months since she'd been transferred to Bromley Police Station, and she was still trying to find her place and fit in with her new team. Only a few miles from her old borough of Lewisham, in South London, but she was becoming used to the vast difference a few miles can make between the outskirts of London and the edge of the county of Kent. It had a townie feel to it.
She looked over at John, who was twenty yards away, talking on his phone; he was grinning as he chatted. Whenever he had the chance he called his girlfriend. A moment later he finished the call, and came over.
'The divers still looking?' he asked.
Erika nodded. 'No news is good news. . . But if I have to release that little bastard. . .'
The little bastard in question was Jason Tyler, a low-level drug dealer who had risen rapidly to control a drug dealing network covering South London and the Kent borders.
'Keep the line taut, I'm getting slack. . .' said the diver's voice through the radio.
'Boss?' asked John awkwardly.
'That was my girlfriend, Monica, on the phone. . . She, we, wanted to invite you over for dinner.'
Erika glanced at him, with one eye still on Lorna as she looped in a little slack from the jackstay, bracing her feet on the bank. 'What?' she replied.
'I've told Monica lots about you. . . Good stuff, of course. Since I've been working with you, I've learned loads; you've made the job so much more interesting. Made me want to be a better detective. . . Anyway, she'd love to make you her lasagne. It's really good. And I'm not just saying that cos she's my girlfriend. It really is. . .' His voice tailed off.
Erika was staring at the twenty-foot gap between Lorna on the shore and the boat out on the water. The light was fading rapidly. She thought the divers must be about to meet in the middle, and if they met that would mean they had nothing.
'So what do you say, boss?'
'John, we're right in the middle of a big case,' she snapped.
'I didn't mean tonight. Some other day? Monica would love to meet you. And if there were anyone else you'd like to invite, that's cool. Is there a Mr Foster?'
Erika turned to him. She'd spent the last couple of years hearing herself gossiped about in the force, so she was surprised that John didn't know. She went to answer, but was cut off by a shout that went up from the support team at the water's edge.
They hurried over to Lorna and the dive officer, who was crouched down at the small comms unit. They heard one of the divers say: 'There's something packed in under the mud. . . I need help if I'm going to pull it out. . . How am I doing for time?' The tinny voice cut through the cold air, and there was interference, which Erika realised were bubbles from the diver's respirator as the officer replied to the diver thirty feet down in the quarry.
Lorna turned to Erika. 'I think we've found it. This could be it.'
The temperature plummeted by the water as darkness fell. Erika and John paced up and down within the arc of light spilling out of the support vehicles, and the trees behind them had vanished in a darkness which seemed to press down on them all.
One of the divers, slick in his drysuit, finally emerged up the steep banks of the quarry carrying what looked like a large moulded plastic suitcase streaked in mud. Erika and John moved over to join the dive team helping him up and onto dry land. John held a small digital camcorder and began to film the diver with the box. It was placed on the grassy bank, on a square of plastic sheeting. They all stood back as John moved in and took several still images of the box intact.
'Okay, boss,' he said. 'I'm filming.'
Erika had pulled on a pair of latex gloves and was holding a pair of bolt cutters. She knelt in front of the box and began to inspect it.
'There's two padlocked latches either side of the carry handle, and there's a pressure equalisation valve on the case,' she said, indicating a mud-covered button underneath the handle. She clipped both locks with the bolt cutters as John filmed. The dive team watched from a little way back, illuminated by the arc of light from the digital camcorder.
Erika gently turned the pressure valve, which was followed by a hissing noise. She unclipped both latches and pulled up the lid. The light from the digital camcorder shone inside, bouncing off rows of small neat packages, each filled with the rose-grey coloured powder.
Erika's heart leapt at the sight of it.
'Heroin with a street value of four million pounds,' she said.
'It's horrific, but I can't take my eyes off it,' muttered John as he leaned in to get a close-up of the interior.
'Thank you, all of you,' said Erika, turning to the silent faces of the dive team standing around in a small semicircle. Their tired faces grinned back.
A crash of interference came through the comms unit from one of the divers still in the water. Lorna went over and started talking to the diver over the radio.
Erika carefully closed the lid of the case.
'Okay, John, put in a call to control. We need this moved securely to the nick, and tell Superintendent Yale we need the fingerprint team ready to pull this apart the moment we get back. We're not taking our eyes off it until it's safely locked up, you understand?'
'And get me one of the large evidence bags from the car.'
John went off as Erika stood up and stared down at the case.
'I've got you, Jason Tyler,' she muttered. 'I've got you, and you're going down for a long time.'
'DCI Foster,' said Lorna, coming over from where she'd been talking on the comms unit. 'One of our divers was just doing a sweep of the area. He's found something else.'
Fifteen minutes later, Erika had bagged up the plastic case of heroin, and John was back with the digital camcorder, filming another diver as he emerged from the water. He had something dark and misshapen cradled in his arms. He brought it over to a fresh square of plastic sheeting which had been laid out on the grass. It was a mud-streaked bundle of plastic entwined in thin rusting chains which were looped through and weighed down by what looked like exercise weights. It was no more than five feet long, and had folded over on itself. The plastic was old and brittle and seemed bleached of colour.
'It was found four feet away from the plastic case, partially submerged in silt on the quarry bed,' said Lorna.
'It's not heavy. There's something small inside; I can feel it shifting,' said the diver.
He placed it on the square of plastic sheeting, and a hush descended over the team, broken only by the branches in the far-off trees creaking in the wind.
Erika felt a cold dread pooling in her stomach. She stepped forward, breaking the silence.
'Can I please have those bolt cutters again?'
She tucked them under her arm, pulled on a fresh pair of latex gloves, then stepped forward, and gently set to work, clipping the rusty chains, which were thin but woven over and under several times. The plastic was so brittle it had become rigid, and it crackled as she unwound the chains and water began to seep out onto the grass from inside.
Despite the cold, Erika realised she was sweating. The plastic was folded repeatedly and rolled over, and as she unwrapped the layers she thought whatever was inside was small. It smelt only of pond water: stale and a little unpleasant, which set alarm bells off in her mind.
As she reached the last fold in the plastic, she saw the team around her were completely silent. She had forgotten to breathe. She took a deep breath, and unfolded the last roll of the brittle plastic.
The light from the camcorder illuminated its contents. Inside lay a small skeleton: a jumble of pieces amongst a layer of fine silt. Little remained of the clothes, just a few scraps of brown material clung to a piece of ribcage. A small thin belt with a rusted buckle was looped around the spinal cord, which was still attached to the pelvis. The skull was loose, and nestled in a curved pile of ribs. A few murky wisps of hair remained attached to the top of the skull.
'Oh my God,' said Lorna.
'It's very small. . . It looks like a child's skeleton,' said Erika softly.
They were plunged into darkness as John darted away with the camcorder and over to the banks of the quarry, where he kneeled down and was violently sick in the water.
It was raining hard when Erika climbed into the driver's seat of her car. It hammered down on the roof, and the blue light from the surrounding squad cars and dive lorry caught in the raindrops on the windscreen.
The pathologist's van was the first to pull away from the edge of the quarry. The black body bag had looked so small when it was loaded into the back. Despite her years in the force, Erika felt shaken. Every time she closed her eyes she saw the tiny skull with its wisps of hair and empty staring eye sockets. The question kept swirling around in her mind. Who would dump a small child in the quarry? Was it gang related? But Hayes was an affluent area with a low crime average.
She ran her hands through her wet hair and turned to John.
'Are you all right?'
'Sorry, boss. I don't know why I. . . I've seen plenty of dead bodies before. . . There wasn't even any blood.'
'It's okay, John.'
Erika started the engine as the two backup vehicles and the one escorting the case of heroin pulled away. She put the car in gear and followed. They rode in silence as the sombre convoy's headlights illuminated the dense woodland rolling past on both sides of the gravel track. She felt a pang of regret she was no longer in her old job on the Murder Investigation Team at Lewisham Row. She was now working in conjunction with the Projects Team, fighting organised crime. It would be another officer's job to find out how the small skeleton ended up thirty feet down in the freezing blackness.
'We found the case. It was where Jason Tyler's wife said it would be,' said John, trying to sound positive.
'We need to match his fingerprints; without them we have nothing,' said Erika.
They left the common, and drove through Hayes. Lights blazed in the windows of the supermarket, chip shop, and the newsagent, where a row of Halloween rubber masks hung limp in the window, all blank eyes and grotesque hooked noses.
Erika couldn't seem to summon up any feelings of triumph about finding the case of heroin. All she could think about was the tiny skeleton. During her time in the force, she'd spent several years heading up anti-drug squads. The names seemed to change - Central Drug Unit, Drug and Organised Crime Prevention, the Projects Team - but the war on drugs rumbled on, and it would never be won. The moment one supplier was taken out there was another ready and waiting to take his place; filling the vacuum with even more skill and cunning. Jason Tyler had filled a vacuum, and in a short space of time someone would take his place. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Murderers, however, were different; you could catch them and lock them up.
The squad cars in front came to a halt at a set of traffic lights by Hayes train station. Commuters carrying umbrellas streamed out across the road.
Rain clattered on the roof of the car. Erika closed her eyes for a moment. The small skeleton lying on the bank of the quarry rushed at her. There was a honk from the car behind, and she jumped and opened her eyes.
'It's green, boss,' said John quietly.
They crept forward slowly, the roundabout up ahead still clogged. Erika looked out at the people hurrying past, searching their faces.
Who was it? Who would do that? she thought. I want to find you. I'm going to find you. I want to lock you up and throw away the key—
The car honked twice from behind. Erika saw the traffic had cleared and she pulled off around the roundabout.
'You asked earlier if I was married,' said Erika.
- "Keeps the pages turning quickly...the ending here is shocking...HAND THIS ONE TO TANA FRENCH FANS."—Booklist
- "HOLY MOLY Robert Bryndza has only gone and done it again... it's one of those books you can't bear to put down, as each chapter ends you just 'have to read one more' and before you know it it's the middle of the night!... I can and will wholeheartedly recommend Dark Water for anyone looking for an original crime story but with all the hallmarks of a truly thrilling tale."—Book Review Café
- "Oh wowzerz ... OMG I really wasn't expecting the ending ... this is one hell of a read."—Insights into the Wonderful World of Books
- "Utterly addictive ... a book you really need to finish before bedtime, otherwise you will be up into the wee hours of the morning hooked!"—The Quiet Knitter
- "When all was revealed, I was totally gut punched... a winner and one that I feel will stay with me for quite some time."—Novel Gossip
- "OMG!! What an amazing book! Once I started reading it, I couldn't stop! From the first chapter I was hooked and held bound and captive till the end ... this book is just fabulous, and absolutely the author's best to date!!"—Relax and Read Book Reviews
- "Brilliantly plotted, incredibly captivating, and definitely a must-read!... Robert Bryndza is like a breath of fresh air. He creates characters we can't get enough of and juicy, complex stories that suck you in...He truly writes with great depth and heart, and leaves you, as a reader, surprised, highly entertained, and extremely satisfied."—What's Better Than Books
- "A gripping and an edge of your seat read. It made my heart and pulse race with every page I turned. It is one of those books that when you finish, you sit back and just think, wow! There is just so much more I want to say but I think I will just end up gushing and not do this fantastic book the justice it deserves. An outstanding read by an author who is one of my firm favourites."—By The Letter Book Reviews
PRAISE FOR ROBERT BRYNDZA'S THE NIGHT STALKER
"The Night Stalker is dark, fast-paced and shot through with wit and psychological insight. I couldn't put it down."—Mark Edwards, bestselling author of Follow You Home
- "Erika is fast becoming one of my favourite detectives...I absolutely loved this heart-pounding, fast-paced, chilling crime thriller."—The Book Review Café
- "Just when I thought it couldn't get any better...From the first page, we're sucked in with tension that had me holding my breath."—The Suspense is Thrilling Me
- "A truly brilliant crime series...The Night Stalker made me feel like I had been swept up in a whirlwind and had me clinging on for dear life, only letting me go right at the very end."—By The Letter Book Reviews
- "Intense, suspenseful, and clever...a gripping page turner that is disturbingly real, and I highly recommend it."—What's Better Than Books?
- "Absolutely brilliant ...impossible to put this book down! ... A must read."—The Quiet Knitter
- "A truly fantastic and exciting serial killer chiller!"—Booklover Catlady
- "The Night Stalker is a very gripping, engaging read full of nail-biting tension. Once I started reading it, I couldn't stop!...an amazing work of fiction no reader of the crime genre should miss."—Relax and Read Reviews
- "I think any fans of a good police procedural will become completely engaged in this series featuring a gritty and determined strong female lead."—Carrie's Book Reviews
- "This book grabbed me by the throat and didn't let go till I got to the end."—Sincerely Book Angels
PRAISE FOR ROBERT BRYNDZA'S THE GIRL IN THE ICE
"Compelling at every turn! The Girl in the Ice grabs us from the first page and simply won't let go, as we follow the brilliantly drawn Detective Erika Foster in her relentless hunt for one of the most horrific villains in modern crime fiction."—Jeffery Deaver, #1 internationally bestselling author
- "A riveting page-turner. An astonishingly good plot with perfectly drawn characters and sharp, detailed writing. The Girl in the Ice is a winner."—Robert Dugoni, #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author
- "Robert Bryndza's The Girl in the Ice has everything I look for in a mystery: an evil antagonist, a clever detective, and a plot that kept me guessing until the very end!—T.R. Ragan, New York Times bestselling author
- "Erika Foster is most definitely my kind of heroine. I CAN NOT wait for the next installment."—Angela Marsons, USA Today bestselling author
- "An intriguing web of lies, secrets and suspense."—Mel Sherratt, author of Taunting the Dead
- "A compelling read--once you've started, it's hard to put down."—Rachel Abbott, author of Sleep Tight
- On Sale
- Jul 21, 2020
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Grand Central Publishing