The opening to Good Dark Night, the new crime novel by Henry Sutton, writing as Harry Brett.
From the dead centre of Breydon Bridge the mudflats and reed banks stretched endlessly. A frozen waste of half water, half land. Mist mingled with the ice, under a thin sky of the palest blue. The sun was rising slowly behind Frank. In front, not so far away from the bridge, were a couple of dredgers – new vessels in a smart dull orange livery. Something else nearby was causing Frank’s pulse to quicken.
The dredgers had arrived a month ago, and had barely got stuck in. They were to carve space in the mud for the footings of the new lifting bridge, which would be the third crossing over the Yare to Yarmouth. This was a government-stamped £150 million project.
Another red herring, as far as Frank was concerned. The ballast-laying and concrete-mixing machines were nowhere in sight. The coordination appeared ill considered, wasteful. The way the currents flowed through Breydon Water, the way the mud collapsed in on itself, any hole dug around here would disappear almost before the next tide covered it. Which was how Frank had liked it. He was no engineer, but he’d had plenty of experience digging holes in this mud, burying rats.
Besides, the town needed more than a new bridge to turn its fortunes around. He wanted the dredgers to go away. He was also thinking of the birds, the waders, the reeds, the lugworms, the fragile ecosystem, which needed to be protected, left alone – though he knew it was already too late for that. Too late for most things. His eye caught sight of the forensics tent once again.
He’d pulled over onto what amounted to a hard shoulder. It might have been edging eight in the morning, nevertheless, the traffic was sparse. Rush hour, around here? Yeah, it happened, but most of the traffic flowed the other way. People leaving Yarmouth to go to jobs in Lowestoft, Norwich, and some to the wind farms and platforms on the sandbanks out in the shallow North Sea. Yarmouth was a dark and desperate place at the best of times. Few wanted to hang around for long. Frank was one of the few.
The instrument panel of his Lexus RX, much of which still baffled him, said it was minus two degrees outside. Inside the plush cabin it was a balmy 21.5 degrees. Frank was beginning to sweat. He went to turn the engine off, then realised the engine was already off, because the RX was a hybrid. Yes, he was doing his bit for the environment. Feeding the fishes and birds as well.
He got out of the car and walked over to the thick, chest-high railings. Directly above him were the giant lifting arms. Sunlight was catching the steel, tarnished with seagull shit and a steady breeze of indifference. It was rarely calm, still, in these parts. Desperate voices forever shouting to be heard, and all too soon lost in the wind.
Sunlight was also beginning to stream across the rippled water. The tide was about half in, or half out. There was no sign of anyone attempting to start up a dredger. But Frank was not surprised by this. What dredging might have been going on had been stopped, yesterday. It was all over the news.
Now that he was out of his SUV, leaning over the railings, he could see far too clearly the forensics tent, along with a rectangle of police tape, edging the high-water mark. There was a smattering of vehicles sporting officialdom, though no uniforms in sight. Perhaps they were having a brew, keeping warm, waiting for low tide.
‘Fuck’s sake,’ he muttered, straightening his back and pushing himself away from the railings. There was no rule against sightseeing, and amazingly there were no CCTV cameras on this part of the bridge. Which was why he used to set out from underneath the structure with his various loads, though always at low water.
One of the dredgers had dug up a body less than twenty-four hours ago. They weren’t saying whether the body was male or female. What state it was in. How long it might have been there. Frank had yet to contact the assistant chief constable, get her take. He wasn’t sure whether any more details would help him, or her.
The traffic appeared to be thickening by the minute – cars, trucks, trundling past him. He wondered whether he could even sense the slightest of sways, the bridge moving, the ground beneath his feet giving way. He climbed back into swathes of leather-studded luxury, knowing he was never going to work out what every button and display did. He was from the wrong century.
He gasped with the creaking effort, breathing in the new car smell, knowing he probably didn’t smell so good. Fear did that to you. He’d smelled enough coming off others, one of whom might have been dug up yesterday. Perhaps they’d found more bodies, and weren’t saying. Sort of games they played.
He’d probably got lazy as he’d got older. Was less prepared to trek through thigh-high mud, weighed down by all manner of shit. Life was too short.
He pressed the right button and eased the car into drive, saw a gap and pulled out, heading the most circuitous route to the office. To the office. The joke of it. In such a vehicle. He’d at least gone for the RX and not the LS. He would have slunk so far into the seat of one of those things that he would never have climbed back out. It even supplied a shiatsu massage. Technology had gone mad.
Soon he was approaching the roundabout, the confluence of two great East Anglian roads, the A12 and the A47, which then did their utmost to skirt Yarmouth. Not him. He was going to head due east. He’d quickly grown to like his new life and position, his place beside Tatiana Goodwin at the board table. Yes, partners they now were – her idea, her insistence. Now he was a man of stature he could pay others to do the street work, the enforcing, and keep a healthy distance from the dirtiest scum. In his dreams.
A couple of patrol cars were sitting on the edge of the roundabout. The cops huddled inside their rigs, seemingly paying no attention to the passing traffic. They should have been looking a lot harder, and for a lot longer.
It was a rotten, two-faced world, everyone knew that. Frank had only been doing his bit to clean it up, bring back some spark. Credit where credit was due, he thought, flicking on the surround sound, nodding his head their way. They owed him. The town owed him, big time.