Rough Diamond 2018-03-15T09:07:20+00:00

ROUGH DIAMOND


"A helter-skelter story of human emotion and family loyalty"

"Plenty of sex, violence and humour"

Marion Carter wants her husband back. He won the Lottery, then vanished.

Jessie Shafto, a young girl far from home, is looking for her lost love.

For Danny Lancaster, wounded Afghanistan veteran turned private investigator, it’s two easy missing person jobs, and the money’s good.

But it’s never that simple.

Two people have travelled halfway across the world in the hunt for the Demon’s Eye and the secret of Kaapse Kobra.

They weave a dangerous web of blood ties and revenge in the search for their own kind of justice.

Tangled in a maze of scandal, troubled celebrities, designer drugs and violent death, Danny finds out the hard way that there really is no honour among thieves.

Diamonds are not always a girl’s best friend.

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ROUGH DIAMOND

Foreword

NAMIBIA, EIGHT YEARS AGO

“Time to say goodbye to our passenger,” said De Ruyter. And Steele felt sick again. He unclipped his safety harness and pulled himself to his feet, bracing against the juddering of the aircraft in the rising air currents.

He made his way along the narrow aisle. Half way down, the aircraft lurched and he had to grab for a seat back. Steele glanced at the cockpit. De Ruyter was grinning.

At the rear, the big black case was waiting for him. De Ruyter’s instructions had been clear. He snapped open the catches and lifted the lid. The zip on the body bag inside was stiff at first, then it opened with a rush. Steele lurched backwards. The gutted corpse was staring at him, wide dull eyes, their blood-shot whites yellowing. Deeper in the bag he could see dismembered organs slithering about as the aircraft rose and fell.

One of his bullets had hit just below the man’s nose. The other had struck the lower left side of his face, ripped away part of the jaw, exposed broken teeth embedded in dull raw meat. The head was an odd shape, like a punctured football. Steele tried not to picture the exit wound at the back.

He braced himself against a seat and pushed the case towards the door. When he popped the latch the wind howled. He gave another heave. The case teetered on the edge. Then the wind took it and it toppled out into the air.

Gripping the edge of the door, Steele peered out. The open case turned over and over as it fell. Then the body bag fell out. The two objects dropped in close formation, tumbling as they plunged. Steele couldn’t tear his eyes away.

He stopped breathing when an arm flopped out of the body bag. It was the courier’s final farewell as the case and body bag smacked into the water, disappearing under flumes of spray.

Back in the cockpit, Steele strapped himself in, put his headphones on and lit a cigarette. Inland, purple and ochre desert was mottled by fuzzy puffs of cloud shadow. To the west, rows of long Atlantic breakers rolled in to pound the coast.

Steele looked across at De Ruyter. The man seemed to be whistling silently. He was enjoying himself. He caught Steele’s eye, grinned, jerked his head.

Steele turned to see gigantic orange dunes a thousand feet high marching down to the waterline where banks of fog born from the icy Benguela Current rolled inland.

“The Langewand,” said De Ruyter. “One of the driest places on earth. Oldest desert in the world, so they say.”

Steele gripped his harness as the aircraft dipped sharply. Just when he thought they were going into the fog De Ruyter swooped under it and suddenly they were 40 feet above the beach, skimming sand ridges in a world of desolation stripped of its colour by the sinister light.

After cruising at 4,000 feet the aircraft seemed to Steele to be flying at a suicidal speed, streaking along with dark green waves boiling into white foam to their left, dull yellow dunes striped with 4×4 tracks rising above them on the left under a canopy of gloomily luminous fog.

“For Christ’s sake…”

The 690 pulled up hard, instantly disappearing into the fog, climbing hard until it burst into clear sky. Steele saw a strange halo effect chasing them on the cloud below and realised it was the aircraft’s shadow with the sun prisming through the Perspex.

“What the fuck do you…”

He looked across at De Ruyter. He was laughing.

“Relax, man. We’ve done it. Kaapse Kobra, we’ve really bloody done it. Have a little fun.”

He wriggled in his seat, dug in his pocket, threw a small black cotton bag to Steele. It felt damp in his hand.

He opened the drawstring, tipped the contents into the palm of his hand. His face cracked into a grin, the scare of the beach minutes ago forgotten.

“Not bad, eh?” said De Ruyter. “What do you say, eh?”

Steele felt the aircraft manoeuvre but he couldn’t take his eyes away from the contents of his hand. They didn’t look like much, not what most people would imagine. And they were tinged red in places. But there were a lot of them, more than they had expected.

Steele heard his headphones hiss as De Ruyter clicked to transmit.

“Marine One, Marine One, this is Airborne One. We’re passing Sandwich Harbour, turning for Walvis Bay now.”

Steele vaguely heard a crackling acknowledgement but he was too absorbed teasing the stones in the palm of his hand with a finger.

De Ruyter returned the radio to 122.5 and called Walvis Bay control for permission to land on Runway 27 into the prevailing southwester. He looked down to check his position, saw the remains of the old American whaling station, began a belated climb to clear the salt pans and lagoons of the wetland bird sanctuary.

Steele wasn’t listening, all his attention focussed on the stones that rested so lightly on his hand.

He felt the aircraft begin to turn as De Ruyter lined up his approach to the airport ten miles inland.

Steele stirred the stones until his eye caught something. He picked one out and held it up between his thumb and forefinger.

De Ruyter saw the gesture, looked across, saw the size and the pink patina. He whistled.

“Wow, that’s what you call a blood diamond. Look at the shape, and that pattern. It looks like a demon’s eye.” He was laughing again.

De Ruyter looked back towards the airport. “We’re really going to . . . FUCK!”

Steele saw the man’s head mutate into some cheap horror movie monster.

The cockpit was a blizzard of blood and feathers. They coated his face, filled his eyes and mouth, hot and thick.

The slipstream howled through the shattered windscreen.

The aircraft jerked as the pilot’s hands spasmed on the controls.

Steele struggled to understand what he was seeing.

The mangled carcass of the flamingo sat where De Ruyter’s head should have been.

Its long neck flopped about like some alien probe.

The 690 lurched, whining into a dive.

“Fuck, we’re going down.”

Steele gripped the dual control but he couldn’t fight the dead man’s rigid grip on the pilot’s yoke.

Looking ahead, his whole world was filled with glowing orange sand.

Steele started to scream.

HERTFORDSHIRE, SEVEN YEARS AGO

She burst through the door and stopped as she saw herself in the mirror. The image took her breath away. Weird, looking at yourself like that, but it was true.

She’d always known she was a good-looking woman. Had no time for those who spent their lives torturing themselves over big bums or droopy tits.

No one’s perfect. She’d always thought her jaw was a bit too big, a bit manish. And the pounds would pile on her hips if she got careless. Maybe her feet would be better a size smaller. It didn’t matter. The basics were fine – good tits, good legs – and she had the confidence and personality to capitalise on that.

But today was different. The wedding dress looked fantastic, a great waterfall of white satin tumbling to the floor, the veil cascading down over her long chestnut hair. It felt sexy against her skin, stroked her as she walked.

It was the best she had ever looked. She looked hot. She looked powerful. She was loving it.

“You look bloody fantastic.”

Startled, she turned. He wasn’t looking too shabby either. Morning suit, immaculate creases, shimmering waistcoat.

“Not looking too bad yourself.”

He moved to her, tried to kiss her. She ducked away.

“Not the make-up.”

“Come on, babe, you look amazing.”

He nuzzled her neck. She purred.

“Somehow I never really thought you’d go through with this.”

His hand cupped her breast.

She let out a long sigh.

“I had my reasons.”

“You always do, babe.”

His hand clawed up an armful of dress and she made a low growling noise. His fast breathing dampened her neck. The hand became frantic.

“Steady.”

“Can’t help it, babe. You just look too good.”

She kissed him on the mouth, careful not to smudge her lipstick.

“You’re crazy, we’ve got guests downstairs.”

“They’re all propping up the free bar. They’ll never miss us. Five minutes, babe, just five minutes.”

She kissed him again.

“You really are mad. That’s probably why I love you.”

He stood, lips parted, watching her face, high colour in his cheeks, eyes wide and bright, breathing hard.

She made him wait just too long, just to the point where desperation was taking over. Then she turned, bent over the dressing table and lifted the tumbling folds of her white dress.

She smiled when she heard the intake of his breath, knew he was drinking in the long legs, the white stocking, the garter, the flash of white silk thong between tanned buttocks.

He ripped the thong down her thighs with one swipe. Went at her like a farmyard animal. She had driven him to the boil and now he was whistling like a kettle.

He gripped her hips, pounded into her without control. Perfume bottles and jars of cream rattled and clattered on the dressing table.

She could see him in the make-up mirror, face red, mouth open, eyes distant. For all their flash clothes, their fast cars and their swagger, you could control them like puppies if you played it right, suck their spine out through their dick.

He thought he was a big man, a player. He thought he was smart, ahead of the game. Now he looked like a character in one of those old cartoons, when they stick their finger in an electric socket, hair on end, tongue hanging out, eyes on stalks.

Then his breath became short and rasping. This was the bit she always liked. When they were desperate, trapped, helpless. Total control.

Play that right and you could mould their entire lives for a few minutes of frenzy.

His gasps came closer and closer. Then she heard the grunt, felt the grip on her waist slacken.

She felt him take a step back and knew what he was about to do.

“Not on the dress! Use a tissue. They’re on the dresser.”

He wiped himself and smoothed his hair down.

She turned, pulling up the thong, saw the sloppy schoolboy smile.

“You really are something else, babe.”

They both heard Bill’s voice call up the stairs.

He shovelled himself back into the trousers of his morning suit. The creases weren’t so crisp now.

He grinned. “Better get a move on. Your new hubby’s coming.”

They looked at each other and laughed.

***

CHAPTER 1

DEVIL’S DYKE, BRIGHTON, TUESDAY

Amazing thing, the human body. An intricate framework of linked bones powered by a complicated lattice of muscles, fuelled by a maze of tubes carrying oxygenated blood. Fair enough, it’s not indestructible. But it can flex and move in many ways, carry loads, withstand extremes of temperature.

You can even chop bits off and it’ll carry on pretty much as before.

Danny zoomed the telephoto lens of his old digital camera. An attractive brunette wearing tight jeans tucked into brown boots snapped into focus. He smiled at the tick, tick, tick of multiple exposures.

He refocused on the hill opposite and snapped a few more. Digital was wonderful. You could bang away to your heart’s content and delete the rubbish later. A lot easier than picking them up from Boots a week after you’d taken them.

And there was nothing wrong with enjoying a clear day at a local beauty spot, fill your lungs, get a bit of exercise, have a go at your hobby of photography. Nice and relaxed, just snapping anything of interest. An ordinary punter.

A movement caught the corner of his eye. Danny squinted against the brightness of the sky as the paraglider banked round to the west, the dot of a man swinging out like a pendulum under his narrow parafoil.

He swung the camera up, focussed, tracking the fluid movement as the bright red canopy rode the air.

As he came out of his turn the paraglider hung in the air for a few seconds, then began a gentle spiral down towards the crest of the hill.

Danny tracked his progress, snapping away as his target grew bigger.

Fifteen feet from the ground the man pulled his toggles to spill air and braced his bent legs. The canopy flared, his feet touched the grass and he walked half a dozen paces to a stop.

Danny took more bursts of pictures as the man turned and began to gather his collapsing chute.

As Michael Onslow, a graphic designer from Tunbridge Wells, looked towards the car park, Danny snapped another picture of him, helmet on, bulging folds of synthetic red OLKS fabric in his arms, a clear full-face image. The money shot.

As Onslow began folding his canopy into his stuff bag Danny flipped the camera to video and filmed him tidying up his equipment.

As a former paratrooper, Danny had to admire the man’s skill and lightness of touch. It had been a textbook landing, gliding to touchdown with the delicacy of a dancer.

Onslow would need a bit of fancy footwork on Monday when his boss asked just how bad was the back injury that had kept him off work for so long.

Danny looked at the Bremont watch on his wrist. Just time for a spot of lunch before his next appointment. Business was on the up.

***

“Steak knife, pencil, two biros – one red, one black – box of matches.” Danny sat back, head tilted to the ceiling, eyes screwed shut, concentrating.

“Kitkat, banana, five tea bags … no … six, corkscrew, phone charger, 50p piece – an Olympics one – two 2p pieces, screwdriver, condom – strawberry flavour.”

Sitting cross-legged on the living room carpet, he opened his eyes, looked at the ceiling, studied the nicotine stains. Observation, reasoning, keeping the mind flexible, they were tools of his trade, skills he needed to sharpen. Sudoku Wally down the Bellerophon might be a grumpy old sod but he had all his marbles. In combat, miss a movement, or a lack of movement, something out of the ordinary, and it could kill you.

In this detecting business, tiny details counted. Looking was no good. You had to see, really see what was in front of you.

A muffled voice came down the hallway.

“Was your lunch ok?”

Danny looked at the last bite of his tuna sandwich on a plate by his knee. He still had his Kitkat to look forward to.

“Fine, thanks.”

“I’ve sorted your mum. She was a bit restless but I think she’ll settle now she’s clean. I’ve got to get off. See you later.”

He heard the front door close behind Emma, part-time carer, part-time girlfriend, as she headed home to her waste-of-space husband Benny.

Danny ran through his list again until he was satisfied, then whipped the tea towel from the tray. His eyes ranged over its contents.

“Sod, I missed the door key… and it was five tea bags.”

If he could field strip, clean and reassemble an L85 assault rifle blindfold this shouldn’t be so hard. It was always the same, practise, practise, practise.

He checked his watch, picked up his jacket. Time for a new client. On the way out he slipped quietly into his mother’s room. Emma’s clean up and the nappy change had freshened the place up a bit but you could never get rid of that bitter tang of ammonia.

His mother lay still, on her back, between the raised sides of the hospital bed just as she did every day.

Danny watched the metronome rise and fall of her shallow breathing, wondered what, if anything, was going on in her head.

He stepped silently forward, leaned and kissed her lightly on the forehead. Her skin was cold and salty. He paused at the door, looked back, left.

***

ST ANN’S WELL GARDENS, HOVE

Big dark eyes and a cute nose, shy nature but a sharp brain. No doubting, it was picture postcard pretty.

But beneath the cuddly exterior was a nature that could shred wiring, chew through pipes and play havoc in your garden with its frantic digging up and burying.

Danny looked at the squirrels. He had read about them in Jubilee Library, how the American greys had driven out the reds. They looked good, had the kids and grannies in the park pointing and cooing, but he was never sure whether they were cuddly story book creatures or acrobatic rats, probably both. Nothing’s ever quite what it seems.

“Sure you wouldn’t like a slice of cake with that?”

The woman with her handbag on her lap, neatly folded Daily Mail peeking through the open zip, looked up at Danny, startled.

“Oh, er, no thank you.”

Danny put down two cups of tea and a slice of bread pudding on the cafe terrace table. The fresh air up on Devil’s Dyke had given him an appetite.

“Hope you don’t mind, had to skip breakfast.”

She shook her head. They sat in silence, surrounded by yummy mummies sipping lattes and picking at salads.

A toddler, thrilled to discover his legs could be used for walking, tottered after a pigeon that stayed just ahead of his unsteady steps.

Two shrieking seagulls battled for a discarded pastry on a nearby table.

Danny sat back and smiled up at the sunshine, a brief window of good weather as the damp of autumn crept in. It was a beautiful spot, a little hidden oasis in the middle of the city, a stone’s throw from the water.

He had come across St Ann’s Well Gardens by accident when out running and had been back several times. Now he had his library on one side of town and this on the other when he fancied a bit of peace and quiet.

And he valued a bit of time on his own. Business was picking up. He was starting to get established, starting to earn. He reckoned that made him a professional in the detecting lark.

True, the money was all peaks and troughs but the peaks had paid pretty well, enough to cover the troughs. Just.

Danny sipped his tea, lit a cigarette, looked across at the woman.

He put her at mid-forties, give or take. Fit for her age with just a hint of fat gathering at the hips. She was fashionably turned out in a blue coat, blouse and skirt, restrained in an M&S sort of way, smart but safe.

Her highlighted blonde hair was immaculate. Minimal make-up had been applied with care. Both hands gripped the bag as if she needed something to hide behind.

“So how did you find me? Was it the website?”

Marion Carter shook her head. “No, I’m not very good with computers. I saw your card in a newsagent’s window.”

Danny looked faintly disappointed. Maybe he could get Karol to pep up the site a bit. He sipped his tea.

“You’re very young, younger than I expected,” said Mrs Carter.

“Older than I look,” said Danny.

He drank his tea, lit another cigarette, watched the toddler chasing the pigeon, legs wobbling as he tired.

“In your own time, Mrs Carter.”

She nodded, lifted her tea cup, sniffed to test the temperature.

“You said something on the phone about your husband being missing.”

“Yes,” said Mrs Carter.

“I know it’s difficult. Just take your time and tell me what happened.”

Marion Carter sipped her tea, gathered her thoughts. The cup clattered against the saucer as she put it down. She dabbed at the corner of her mouth with a manicured finger.

“There is one thing I want to make perfectly clear from the start, Mr Lancaster.”

“Sure.”

“I’m not some sort of tart.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I’ve spent most of my working life as a journalist and was pleased and surprised to win an award for my travel writing. Before that I tried all sorts of jobs including furniture removals, photography, teaching and running a magazine group.

Travel writing is not all cocktails under the palm trees but it’s a fantastic job that has taken me to more than 40 countries, from the pure white wastes of Arctic Finland to the ancient deserts of Namibia.

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