Dead Man’s Grip: New Excerpt

Dead Man’s Grip by Peter James
Dead Man’s Grip by Peter James
Carly Chase is still traumatized ten days after being in a fatal traffic accident that kills a teenage American student from Brighton University. Then she receives news that turns her entire world into a living nightmare. The drivers of the other two vehicles involved have been found tortured and murdered. Now Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Sussex Police force issues a stark and urgent warning to Carly: She could be next.

The student had deadly connections. Connections that stretch across the Atlantic to America and an organized crime group. Someone has sworn revenge and won’t rest until the final person involved in that fateful accident is dead. The police advise Carly her only option is to go into hiding and change her identity. The terrified woman disagrees. She knows these people have ways of hunting you down anywhere. If the police are unable to stop them, she has to find a way to do it herself. But already the killer is one step ahead of her, watching, waiting, and ready.

Chapter 1

On the morning of the accident, Carly had forgotten to set the alarm
and overslept. She woke with a bad hangover, a damp dog crushing
her and the demented pounding of drums and cymbals coming
from her son’s bedroom. To add to her gloom, it was pelting with
rain outside.

She lay still for a moment, gathering her thoughts. She had a
chiropody appointment for a painful corn and a client she loathed
would be in her office in just over two hours. It was going to be one
of those days, she had the feeling, when things just kept on getting
worse. Like the drumming.

‘Tyler!’ she yelled. ‘For Christ’s sake, stop that. Are you ready?’
Otis leapt off the bed and began barking furiously at his reflection
in the mirror on the wall.

The drumming fell silent.

She staggered to the bathroom, found the paracetamols and
gulped two down. I am so not a good example to my son, she
thought. I’m not even a good example to my dog.

As if on cue, Otis padded into the bathroom, holding his lead in
his mouth expectantly.

‘What’s for breakfast, Mum?’ Tyler called out.

She stared at herself in the bathroom mirror. Mercifully, most of
her forty-one-year-old–and this morning going on 241-year-old–
face was shrouded in a tangle of blonde hair that looked, at this
moment, like matted straw.

‘Arsenic!’ she shouted back, her throat raw from too many
cigarettes last night. ‘Laced with cyanide and rat poison.’

Otis stamped his paw on the bathroom tiles.

‘Sorry, no walkies. Not this morning. Later. OK?’

‘I had that yesterday!’ Tyler shouted back.

‘Well, it didn’t sodding work, did it?’

She switched on the shower, waited for it to warm up, then
stepped inside.

 

Chapter 2

Stuart Ferguson, in jeans, Totectors boots and company overalls on
top of his uniform polo shirt, sat high up in his cab, waiting
impatiently for the lights to change. The wipers clunked away the
rain. Rush-hour traffic sluiced across Brighton’s Old Shoreham Road
below him. The engine of his sixteen-wheel, twenty-four-ton Volvo
fridge-box artic chuntered away, a steady stream of warm air toasting
his legs. April already, but winter had still not relaxed its grip,
and he’d driven through snow at the start of his journey. No one
was going to sell him global warming.

He yawned, staring blearily at the vile morning, then took a long
swig of Red Bull. He put the can into the cup-holder, ran his
clammy, meaty hands across his shaven head, then drummed them
on the steering wheel to the beat of ‘Bat Out of Hell’, which was
playing loud enough to wake the dead fish behind him. It was the
fifth or maybe the sixth can he had drunk in the past few hours and
he was shaking from the caffeine overdose. But that and the music
were the only things that were keeping him awake right now.

He had started his journey yesterday afternoon and driven
through the night from Aberdeen, in Scotland. There were 603 miles
on the clock so far. He’d been on the road for eighteen hours, with
barely a break other than a stop for food at Newport Pagnell Services
and a brief kip in a lay-by a couple of hours earlier. If it hadn’t been
for an accident at the M1/M6 interchange, he’d have been here an
hour ago, at 8 a.m. as scheduled.

But saying if it hadn’t been for an accident was pointless. There
were always accidents, all the time. Too many people on the roads,
too many cars, too many lorries, too many idiots, too many distractions,
too many people in a hurry. He’d seen it all over the years.

But he was proud of his record. Nineteen years and not one scrape
–or even a ticket.

As he glanced routinely at the dashboard, checking the oil
pressure, then the temperature gauge, the traffic lights changed. He
rammed the gear lever of the four-over-four splitter box forward and
steadily picked up speed as he crossed the junction into Carlton
Terrace, then headed down the hill towards the sea, which was
under a mile away. After an earlier stop at Springs, the salmon
smokery a few miles north in the Sussex Downs, he now had one
final delivery to make to offload his cargo. It was to the Tesco
supermarket in the Holmbush Centre on the outskirts of the city.
Then he would drive to the port of Newhaven, load up with frozen
New Zealand lamb, snatch a few hours’ sleep on the quay and head
back up to Scotland.

To Jessie.

He was missing her a lot. He glanced down at her photograph
on the dashboard, next to the pictures of his two kids, Donal and
Logan. He missed them badly, too. His bitch ex-wife, Maddie, was
giving him a hard time over contact. But at least sweet Jessie was
helping him get his life back together.

She was four months pregnant with their child. Finally, after
three hellish years, he had a future to focus on again, instead of just
a past full of bitterness and recrimination.

Ordinarily on this run he would have taken a few hours out to
get some proper kip–and comply with the law on driver hours. But
the refrigeration was on the blink, with the temperature rising
steadily, and he couldn’t take the risk of ruining the valuable cargo
of scallops, shrimps, prawns and salmon. So he just had to keep
going.

So long as he was careful, he would be fine. He knew where the
vehicle check locations were, and by listening to CB radio he’d get
warned of any active ones. That was why he was detouring through
the city now, rather than taking the main road around it.

Then he cursed.

Ahead of him he could see red flashing lights, then barriers
descending. The level crossing at Portslade Station. Brake lights
came on one by one as the vehicles in front slowed to a halt. With a
sharp hiss of his brakes, he pulled up, too. On his left he saw a fairhaired
man bowed against the rain, his hair batted by the wind,
unlocking the front door of an estate agency called Rand & Co.

He wondered what it would be like to have that sort of job. To
be able to get up in the morning, go to an office and then come
home in the evening to your family, rather than spend endless days
and nights driving, alone, eating in service station cafe’s or munching
a burger in front of the crappy telly in the back of his cab. Maybe he
would still be married if he had a job like that. Still see his kids every
night and every weekend.

Except, he knew, he’d never be content if he was stuck in one
place. He liked the freedom of the road. Needed it. He wondered if
the guy turning the lock of the estate agency door had ever looked
at a rig like his and thought to himself, I wish I was twisting the
ignition key of one of those instead.

Other pastures always looked greener. The one certainty he’d
learned in life was that no matter who you were or what you did,
shit happened. And one day you would tread in it.

 

Chapter 3

Tony nicknamed her Santa because the first time they made love,
that snowy December afternoon in his parents’ house in the Hamptons,
Suzy had been wearing dark red satin underwear. He told her
that all his Christmases had come at once.

She, grinning, gave him the cheesy reply that she was glad that
was the only thing that had come at once.

They had been smitten with each other since that day. So much
so that Tony Revere had abandoned his plans to study for a business
degree at Harvard and instead had followed her from New York to
England, much to the dismay of his control-freak mother, and joined
her at the University of Brighton.

‘Lazybones!’ he said. ‘You goddamn lazybones.’

‘So, I don’t have any lectures today, OK?’

‘It’s half eight, right?’

‘Yep, I know. I heard you at eight o’clock. Then eight fifteen.

Then eight twenty-five. I need my beauty sleep.’

He looked down at her and said, ‘You’re beautiful enough. And
you know what? We haven’t made love since midnight.’

‘Are you going off me?’

‘I guess.’

‘I’ll have to get the old black book out.’

‘Oh yeah?’

She raised a hand and gripped him, firmly but gently, below his
belt buckle, then grinned as he gasped. ‘Come back to bed.’

‘I have to see my tutor, then I have a lecture.’

‘On what?’

‘Galbraithian challenges in today’s workforce.’

‘Wow. Lucky you.’

‘Yeah. Faced with that or a morning in bed with you, it’s a nobrainer.’

‘Good. Come back to bed.’

‘I am so not coming back to bed. You know what’s going to
happen if I don’t get good grades this semester?’

‘Back to the States to Mummy.’

‘You know my mom.’

‘Uh huh, I do. Scary lady.’

‘You said it.’

‘So, you’re afraid of her?’

‘Everyone’s afraid of my mom.’

Suzy sat up a little and scooped some of her long dark hair back.
‘More afraid of her than you are of me? Is that the real reason why
you came here? I’m just the excuse for you to escape from her?’
He leaned down and kissed her, tasted her sleepy breath and
inhaled it deeply, loving it. ‘You’re gorgeous, did I tell you that?’
‘About a thousand times. You’re gorgeous, too. Did I tell you
that?’

‘About ten thousand times. You’re like a record that got stuck in
a groove,’ he said, hitching the straps of his lightweight rucksack
over his shoulders.

She looked at him. He was tall and lean, his short dark hair
gelled in uneven spikes, with several days’ growth of stubble, which
she liked to feel against her face. He was dressed in a padded anorak
over two layers of T-shirt, jeans and trainers, and smelled of the
Abercrombie & Fitch cologne she really liked.

There was an air of confidence about him that had captivated
her the first time they had spoken, down in the dark basement bar
of Pravda, in Greenwich Village, when she’d been in New York on
holiday with her best friend, Katie. Poor Katie had ended up flying
back to England on her own, while she had stayed on with Tony.

‘When will you be back?’ she said.

‘As soon as I can.’

‘That’s not soon enough!’

He kissed her again. ‘I love you. I adore you.’

She windmilled her hands. ‘More.’

‘You’re the most stunning, beautiful, lovely creature on the
planet.’

‘More!’

‘Every second I’m away from you, I miss you so much it hurts.’

She windmilled her hands again. ‘More!’

‘Now you’re being greedy.’

‘You make me greedy.’

‘And you make me horny as hell. I’m going before I have to do
something about it!’

‘You’re really going to leave me like this?’

‘Yep.’

He kissed her again, tugged a baseball cap on to his head, then
wheeled his mountain bike out of the apartment, down the stairs,
through the front door and into the cold, blustery April morning. As
he closed the front door behind him, he breathed in the salty tang
of the Brighton sea air, then looked at his watch.

Shit.

He was due to see his tutor in twenty minutes. If he pedalled
like hell, he might just make it.

 

Chapter 4

Click. Beeehhh . . . gleeep . . . uhuhuhurrr . . . gleep . . . grawwwwwp
. . . biff, heh, heh, heh. warrrup, haha . . .

‘That noise is driving me nuts,’ Carly said.

Tyler, in the passenger seat of her Audi convertible, was bent
over his iPhone playing some bloody game he was hooked on called
Angry Birds. Why did everything he did involve noise?

The phone now emitted a sound like crashing glass.

‘We’re late,’ he said, without looking up and without stopping
playing.

Twang-greep-heh, heh, heh . . .

‘Tyler, please. I have a headache.’

‘So?’ He grinned. ‘You shouldn’t have got pissed last night.
Again.’

She winced at his use of adult language.

Twang . . . heh, heh, heh, grawwwwpppp . . .

In a moment she was going to grab the sodding phone and
throw it out of the window.

‘Yep, well, you’d have got pissed last night, too, if you’d had to
put up with that prat.’

‘Serves you right for going on blind dates.’

‘Thanks.’

‘You’re welcome. I’m late for school. I’m going to get stick for
that.’ He was still peering intently through his oval wire-framed
glasses.

Click-click-beep-beep-beep.

‘I’ll phone and tell them,’ she offered.

‘You’re always phoning and telling them. You’re irresponsible.
Maybe I should get taken into care.’

‘I’ve been begging them to take you, for years.’

She stared through the windscreen at the red light and the
steady stream of traffic crossing in front of them, and then at the
clock: 8.56 a.m. With luck, she’d drop him off at school and get to
her chiropody appointment on time. Great, a double-pain morning!
First the corn removal, then her client, Mr Misery. No wonder his
wife had left him. Carly reckoned she’d probably have topped herself
if she’d been married to him. But hey, she wasn’t paid to sit in
judgement. She was paid to stop Mrs Misery from walking off with
both of her husband’s testicles, as well as everything else of his–
correction, theirs–that she was after.

‘It really hurts, still, Mum.’

‘What does? Oh, right, your brace.’

Tyler touched the front of his mouth. ‘It’s too tight.’

‘I’ll call the orthodontist and get you an appointment with him.’

Tyler nodded and focused back on his game.

The lights changed. She moved her right foot from the brake
pedal and accelerated. The news was coming up and she leaned
forward, turning up the radio.

‘I’m going to the old people this weekend, right?’

‘I’d rather you didn’t call them that, OK? They’re your grandparents.’

A couple of times a year Tyler spent a day with her late husband’s
parents. They doted on him, but he found them deadly dull.

Tyler shrugged. ‘Do I have to go?’

‘Yes, you have to go.’

‘Why?’

‘It’s called servicing the will.’

He frowned. ‘What?’

She grinned. ‘Just a joke – don’t repeat that.’

‘Servicing the will?’ he echoed.

‘Forget I said it. Bad taste. I’ll miss you.’

‘You’re a lousy liar. You might say that with more feeling.’ He
studiously drew his finger across the iPhone screen, then lifted it.

Twang . . . eeeeeekkkk . . . greeeep . . . heh, heh, heh . . .

She caught the next lights and swung right into New Church
Road, cutting across the front of a skip lorry, which blared its horn
at her.

‘You trying to get us killed or something?’ Tyler said.

‘Not us, just you.’ She grinned.

‘There are agencies to protect children from parents like you,’
he said.

She reached out her left arm and ran her fingers through his
tousled brown hair.

He jerked his head away. ‘Hey, don’t mess it up!’

She glanced fondly at him for an instant. He was growing up fast
and looked handsome in his shirt and tie, red blazer and grey
trousers. Not quite thirteen years old and girls were already chasing
him. He was growing more like his late father every day, and there
were some expressions he had which reminded her of Kes too much,
and in unguarded moments that could make her tearful, even five
years on.

Moments later, at a few minutes past nine, she pulled up outside
the red gates of St Christopher’s School. Tyler clicked off his seat
belt and reached behind him to pick up his rucksack.

‘Is Friend Mapper on?’

He gave her a ‘duh’ look. ‘Yes, it’s on. I’m not a baby, you know.’

Friend Mapper was a GPS app on the iPhone that enabled her
to track exactly where he was at any moment on her own iPhone.

‘So long as I pay your bill, you keep it on. That’s the deal.’

‘You’re overprotective. I might turn out to be emotionally
retarded.’

‘That’s a risk I’ll have to take.’

He climbed out of the car into the rain, then held the door
hesitantly. ‘You should get a life.’

‘I had one before you were born.’

He smiled before slamming the door.

She watched him walk in through the gates into the empty play
area–all the other pupils had already gone inside. Every time he
went out of her sight, she was scared for him. Worried about him.
The only reassurance that he was OK was when she checked her
own iPhone and watched his pulsing purple dot and could see
where he was. Tyler was right, she was overprotective, but she
couldn’t help it. She loved him desperately and, despite some of his
maddening attitudes and behaviour, she knew that he loved her
back, just as much.

She headed up towards Portland Road, driving faster than she
should, anxious not to be late for her chiropodist. The corn was
giving her grief and she did not want to miss the appointment. Nor
did she want to get delayed there. She badly needed to be in the
office ahead of Mr Misery and, with luck, have a few minutes to
catch up with some urgent paperwork on a forthcoming hearing.
Her phone pinged with an incoming text. When she reached the
junction with the main road, she glanced down at it.

I had a great time last night – wld love to see you again XXX

In your dreams, sweetheart. She shuddered at the thought of
him. Dave from Preston, Lancashire. Preston Dave, she’d called
him. At least she had been honest with the photograph of herself
she’d put up on the dating website–well, reasonably honest! And
she wasn’t looking for a Mr Universe. Just a nice guy who wasn’t
100 pounds heavier and ten years older than his photograph, and
who didn’t want to spend the entire evening telling her how wonderful
he was, and what a great shag women thought he was. Was
that too much to ask?

Just to put the icing on the cake, the tight bastard had invited
her out to dinner, to a far more expensive restaurant than she would
have chosen for a first encounter, and at the end had suggested they
split the bill.

Keeping her foot on the brake and leaning forward, she deleted
the text, decisively, returning the phone to the hands-free cradle
with no small amount of satisfaction.

Then she made a left turn, pulling out in front of a white van,
and accelerated.

The van hooted and flashing its lights angrily, closed up right
behind her and began tailgating her. She held up two fingers.
There were to be many times, in the days and weeks ahead,
when she bitterly regretted reading and deleting that text. If she
hadn’t waited at that junction for those precious seconds, fiddling
with her phone, if she had made that left turn just thirty seconds
earlier, everything might have been very different.

 

Chapter 5

‘Black,’ Glenn Branson said, holding the large golf umbrella over
their heads.

Detective Superintendent Roy Grace looked up at him.

‘It’s the only colour!’

At five foot, ten inches, Roy Grace was a good four inches shorter
than his junior colleague and friend, and considerably less sharply
dressed. Approaching his fortieth birthday, Grace was not handsome
in a conventional sense. He had a kind face with a slightly misshapen
nose that gave him a rugged appearance. It had been broken three
times–once in a fight and twice on the rugby pitch. His fair hair was
cropped short and he had clear blue eyes that his long-missing wife,
Sandy, used to tell him resembled those of the actor Paul Newman.

Feeling like a child in a sweet shop, the Detective Superintendent,
hands dug deeply into his anorak pockets, ran his eyes over the
rows of vehicles on the Frosts’ used-car forecourt, all gleaming with
polish and rainwater, and kept returning to the two-door Alfa
Romeo. ‘I like silver, and dark red, and navy.’ His voice was almost
drowned out by the sound of a lorry passing on the main road
behind them, its air horns blaring.

He was taking advantage of the quiet week, so far, to nip out of
the office. A car he’d liked the look of on the Autotrader website was
at this local dealer.

Detective Sergeant Branson, wearing a cream Burberry mackintosh
and shiny brown loafers, shook his head. ‘Black’s best. The
most desirable colour. You’ll find that useful when you come to sell
it–unless you’re planning to drive it over a cliff, like your last one.’

‘Very funny.’

Roy Grace’s previous car, his beloved maroon Alfa Romeo 147
sports saloon, had been wrecked during a police pursuit the previous
autumn, and he had been wrangling with the insurance company
ever since. Finally they had agreed a miserly settlement figure.

‘You need to think about these things, old-timer. Getting near
retirement, you need to look after the pennies.’

‘I’m thirty-nine.’

‘Forty’s looming.’

‘Thanks for reminding me.’

‘Yeah, well, the old brain starts going at your age.’

‘Sod off! Anyhow, black’s the wrong colour for an Italian sports
car.’

‘It’s the best colour for everything.’ Branson tapped his chest.

‘Look at me.’

Roy Grace stared at him. ‘Yes?’

‘What do you see?’

‘A tall, bald bloke with rubbish taste in ties.’

‘It’s Paul Smith,’ he said, looking hurt. ‘What about my colour?’

‘I’m not allowed to mention it under the Racial Equality Act.’

Branson raised his eyes. ‘Black is the colour of the future.’

‘Yep, well, as I’m so old I won’t live long enough to see it–
especially standing here in the pissing rain. I’m freezing. Look, I like
that one,’ he said, pointing at a red two-seater convertible.

‘In your dreams. You’re about to become a father, remember?
What you need is one of those.’ Glenn Branson pointed across at a
Renault Espace.

‘Thanks, I’m not into people carriers.’

‘You might be if you have enough kids.’

‘Well, so far it’s just one on the way. Anyhow, I’m not choosing
anything without Cleo’s approval.’

‘Got you under her thumb, has she?’

Grace blushed coyly. ‘No.’

He took a step towards a sleek silver two-door Alfa Brera and
stared at it covetously.

‘Don’t go there,’ Branson said, stepping along with him, keeping
him covered with the umbrella. ‘Unless you’re a contortionist!’

‘These are really gorgeous!’

‘Two doors. How are you going to get the baby in and out of the
back?’ He shook his head sadly. ‘You have to get something more
practical now you’re going to be a family man.’

Grace stared at the Brera. It was one of the most beautiful cars
he’d ever seen. The price tag was £9,999. Within his range–although
with rather high mileage. As he took a further step towards it, his
mobile phone rang.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a salesman in a sharp suit,
holding up an umbrella, scurrying towards them. He glanced at his
watch as he answered the phone, mindful of the time, because he
was due for a meeting with his boss, the Assistant Chief Constable,
in an hour’s time, at 10 a.m.

‘Roy Grace,’ he said.

It was Cleo, twenty-six weeks pregnant with their child, and she
sounded terrible, as if she could barely speak.

‘Roy,’ she gasped. ‘I’m in hospital.’

 

Dying for more?  Listen to chapter 6 from the audiobook version of Dead Man’s Grip.

Copyright 2011 Peter James


Peter James is the #1 international bestselling author of the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series with more than 6 million copies sold all over the world. His novels have been translated into thirty-four languages and three have been filmed. All his novels reflect his deep interest in the world of the police, with whom he does in-depth research. He has produced numerous films, including The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, and Joseph Fiennes. He lives in England.

Comments

  1. Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

    I’ve read this. It’s good! The opening is quite gripping.

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