Dead Lock by Damien Boyd
#8 DI Nick Dixon Series
Early on a cold Somerset morning, ten year old Alesha Daniels is reported missing by her father, a violent alcoholic. Her mother, a known drug addict, is found unconscious, but it’s her mother’s boyfriend the police are keen to trace.
As the hunt for Alesha gathers pace, a second local girl is taken, plunging another family into the depths of despair.
Cutting short his holiday, DI Nick Dixon races home to join the Major Investigation Team, but no sooner has he identified a network of local suspects than they begin to show up dead.
At odds with his superiors, Dixon is convinced the child abductions are anything but random, but nobody is prepared for the investigation to lead quite so close to home.
Can Dixon and his team crack the case before all the suspects are silenced? And will he find the missing girls before it’s too late?
Coal smoke. It was a familiar smell – comforting somehow – swirling in the fog of his dreams every morning when the crows dragged him back to his senses, even before he opened his eyes. Was it the same bloody lot following him along the cut these past several weeks? Sitting on the cabin roof every morning, squawking for all they were worth.
Mutton headed coveys.
He glanced across at Jack, fast asleep in his bunk. He was never up before dawn. It must be the grog. He reached over, picked up the jar and took a swig. Just the dregs. He grimaced.
Tam’s bunk was empty, as usual when they reached Combe Hay. Selling coal to the lock keeper’s wife, no doubt. And more besides.
He slid his feet out from under Sikes, the smelly brindle Lurcher who kept them in rabbits in return for the scraps, and yawned.
Time to sort out Bess. Poor Bess. She comes first.
He slipped his feet into his boots and crept out of the cabin, finding the horse where he had left her last night, tethered to a tree along the towpath eating the wet grass, as far from the water’s edge as he could get her. She’d been in the canal again last week, but then it was Tam’s proven remedy for a buckled shoulder.
‘Works every time,’ he always said. ‘Get her in the water and let her swim it off. It’ll soon pop back in.’
It was happening more and more often these days. Poor old Bess. The old nag was starting to struggle to get the barge moving when it was full of coal.
All twenty ton of it.
He filled her nosebag with the last of the oats from the barrel and slipped it over her head. They should get to Paulton today and he’d make sure he filled it up good and proper for the return trip.
He left Bess eating her breakfast in the half light of the dawn and wandered back along the towpath towards the barge. He slid back the tarpaulin and dropped down into the empty hold as quietly as he could. It was either that or wake up Jack and get another basting for his trouble.
He picked up the last few bits of coal. The dregs.
One day he’d have his own boat – it was the life of a bargee for him – then there’d be no more dregs. For him, or Bess.
He tiptoed along the gunwale to the back cabin, trying not to rock the boat. Smoke billowed out of the stove when he opened the door, which explained why everything – and everyone – was covered in a thin layer of black dust. Coal safely in, he gave it a prod with the poker, closed the door and then placed the kettle gingerly on the top. Jack didn’t mind the whistle of the kettle if it was followed by a nice cup of ‘Rosie’, as he called it. And the stronger the better to mask the taste of the coal.
‘Nat, are you in there?’
He poked his head out of the back cabin to find Tam running along the towpath, doing up his belt as he ran.
‘Get Bess harnessed up, then get up to the next lock. It’s against us.’ Tam was banging on the side of the cabin with his fist. ‘Get up, Jack. We need to get moving. I’ll meet you at the top of the flight.’
Then he watched Tam disappear through a gap in the hedge and sprint off across the field.
Lock keeper on your tail again, is it?
Here we go again, Bess.
Nosebag off, harness on. Then he ran along the towpath to the next lock. They had stopped for the night in the middle of the flight so it was only a short dash. He closed the top gate and then ran back to the bottom gate to open the paddles, emptying the water from the lock.
First the nearside, then across the top of the gate to the offside. With both paddles open the lock would empty twice as fast.
He looked back to the barge. Jack was already getting Bess moving. Easier for the old girl today, with no cargo on board.
He glanced down at the top of the gate as he cranked the windlass lifting the nearside paddle, the water swirling as it roared out through the opening. The gate was crumbling and split where it had been rammed by barges coming into the lock too fast over the years, the splintered wood just visible through the piles of wet leaves lying along the top.
He could step over them.
It’d be no bother.
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