The Lost by Simon Beckett
Published by Orion on November 25th 2021
A MISSING CHILD
Ten years ago, the disappearance of firearms police officer Jonah Colley’s young son almost destroyed him.
A GRUESOME DISCOVERY
A plea for help from an old friend leads Jonah to Slaughter Quay, and the discovery of four bodies. Brutally attacked and left for dead, he is the only survivor.
A SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH
Under suspicion himself, he uncovers a network of secrets and lies about the people he thought he knew – forcing him to question what really happened all those years ago…
It was when he smelled the blood that Jonah realised he was in trouble.
The quayside was pitch-black. None of the streetlights were
working, leaving the crumbling warehouses in darkness, abandoned relics from a different era. In the old Saab’s headlights, the scene resembled an industrial ghost town. Staring out through the windscreen, Jonah was reminded that, even though he’d lived in London most of his life, there were still corners of it he didn’t know existed. And didn’t want to know, if this place was anything to go by.
The quayside hadn’t been easy to find. It was part of a desolate stretch of the Thames, an undeveloped area of riverbank that wasn’t even shown on his phone’s map. The directions he’d been given were vague, and several times he’d been forced to backtrack when some rutted road proved to be a dead end. Now he was parked on a patch of weed-choked wasteland, facing a long brick wall. Across the river, the sparkling lights of high-end apartments, bars and restaurants were strung out like jewels. Here, though, all was darkness. The sprawling redevelopment that had engulfed the rest of the docklands had, for some reason, bypassed this watery cul-de-sac. Although that wasn’t surprising, given its name. Jonah had thought it must be a joke, but no. The proof was right there in front of him, a rusted street sign:Slaughter Quay.
A couple of hours earlier, he’d been sitting outside a pub with a few others from his team, enjoying the late-summer evening after a handgun training session. His phone had rung while he was at the bar waiting to be served. He didn’t recognise the number, and almost didn’t bother taking it. But there were still people waiting their turn ahead of him, so after a moment he’d answered.
‘Jonah? It’s me.’ And then, in case he might have forgotten :
Even though it had been the best part of a decade since he’d heard the voice, the years seemed to fall away in an instant. So did the pit of his stomach.
Jonah moved to a quieter part of the bar, the drinks forgotten.
‘What do you want?’
‘I need your help.’
No ‘How’s it going?’ or ‘Long time no see’. Jonah felt his jaw muscles clench.
‘Why would you need my help?’
‘Because you’re the only one I can trust.’
Surprise momentarily silenced Jonah. ‘You’re going to have to give me more than that.’
There was a pause. ‘I screwed up. I got it all wrong. Everything…’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘I’ll explain when you get here.’
‘Jesus, you can’t just expect me to –’
‘There’s an old warehouse on the south bank, a place called Slaughter Quay,’ Gavin went on in a rush. ‘You won’t find it on your satnav but I’ll text you directions. It’s the last warehouse on the quayside. I’ll be waiting for you outside at midnight.’
‘Midnight? Are you serious?’
‘You’ll understand when you get here.’ And then Gavin had said a word Jonah had never heard in all the time they’d been friends. ‘Please.’
The line went dead. Shit.
‘You all right?’
It was Khan, another sergeant from SCO19, the Metropolitan Police’s firearms unit. The big man’s shoulders and neck were thick with muscle, and his arms and chest threatened to burst the white T-shirt. Jonah had once seen him kick a door, and the knifeman standing behind it, halfway across a room. But, off duty, he was a family man, the person anyone in the unit with a problem would go to.
Putting away his phone, Jonah nodded. ‘Just someone I hadn’t heard from in a while.’
Jonah wasn’t sure how to answer that. ‘It’s probably nothing. But he sounded–’
He broke off as someone gave him a push from behind. ‘I thought you were going to the bar? Fuck’s sake, I could brew them faster than you get served.’
Jonah looked round at the compact woman scowling up at him. Nolan did that a lot. The policewoman was several inches shorter than him and barely reached Khan’s shoulder, but he wouldn’t have given much for either of their chances if push came to shove. Even less if it was your turn to get a round in.
‘We’re having a conversation,’ Khan told her, giving her his sergeant’s look.
‘Right.’ She considered. ‘Give me the money and I’ll get them.’ Jonah had to laugh. ‘It’s OK, I’ll go.’ ‘You sure?’ Khan asked.
‘Yeah, it’s fine.’ Jonah gave a shrug. ‘Probably nothing anyway.’
He’d tried to convince himself of that as he’d gone to the bar. Whatever mess Gavin had got himself into, he could sort it out on his own. Jonah didn’t owe him anything. Not one damn thing.
Yet the call had got under his skin. Even as he’d taken the drinks over to the table, he’d kept coming back to one thing Gavin had said.
You’re the only one I can trust.
That might have held true once. Time was Jonah might have said the same thing. He’d known Gavin forever. Best friends at school, joined the Met and gone through training together and then been posted to the same borough. Gavin had always been more outgoing, with an easy attitude and ready grin that disguised a fiercely competitive nature. They’d shared a flat, even after Gavin passed his detective’s exam and joined what was then the Specialist Crime Directorate, investigating human exploitation and organised crime. For a while Jonah had considered becoming a detective as well. He’d been told he had the aptitude by his superior officers, who’d urged him to sign up for the trainee detective programme. But for some reason – maybe because he didn’t like to feel pushed – he’d chosen a different path. Surprising even himself, he’d taken the rigorous training required to be accepted onto SCO19, the Met’s elite firearms unit. Gavin had mocked the decision, calling him an adrenaline junkie. Yet they’d stayed friends. And when Jonah started seeing Chrissie and Gavin hooked up with Marie, the four of them became a close-knit group. Nights out, holidays together. Good times.
But that had been years ago. Another life. So why was the lost
Gavin crawling out of the woodwork now, asking for Jonah’s help? Two things Gavin had never lacked were confidence and friends. He’d have to be desperate to call Jonah, and in the end that was what decided it. Because, no matter how much Jonah wanted to dismiss it, he kept coming back to the same thing.
Gavin had sounded scared.
So, making his excuses, Jonah had left the pub and gone back to his car.
Now here he was, at a derelict quayside in the middle of nowhere. Switching off the engine, he took a torch from the Saab’s glove compartment and climbed out. An Audi he guessed must be Gavin’s was parked nearby, but other than that there was no sign of life. An overgrown path led to the dark hulks of empty warehouses and industrial buildings, beyond which could be glimpsed the river, silvered by the sickle moon. Switching on his torch, Jonah set off towards them.
The path took him to a narrow lane that ran between boarded-up buildings. On one of them the ghost of ancient signage was still visible: Jolley’s Tannery. Fine Hides and Skins. Others identified themselves as wholesale butchers or meat processing companies, while a huge, hangar-like structure declared itself to be an abattoir. Slaughter Quay had been aptly named.
It was an unsettling place to be at night. Jonah wasn’t normally bothered by the dark, but he found himself listening for any footsteps beside his own as he walked down the narrow lane. He was glad when he reached the end of it and emerged onto the quayside. The lapping of water was louder here. Broken cobblestones showed through disintegrating asphalt, and the air was dank, smelling of salt water, rotting weeds and oil.
What do you think? I can’t wait to read Simon’s novel! You can get your copy here: Amazon
You will find a second excerpt from the book tour on November 23rd at https://martinaticic.wixsite.com/mysite-1
Thank you to Tracy at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this tour.