Blood Harvest


3 November

IT HAD HAPPENED, THEN; WHAT ONLY HINDSIGHT COULD HAVE told him he’d been dreading. It was almost a relief, in a way, knowing the worst was over, that he didn’t have to pretend any more. Maybe now he could stop acting like this was an ordinary town, that these were normal people. Harry took a deep breath, and learned that death smells of drains, of damp soil and of heavy-duty plastic.

The skull, less than six feet away, looked tiny. As though if he held it in his palm, his fingers might almost close around it. Almost worse than the skull was the hand. It lay half hidden in the mud, its bones barely held together by connective tissue, as though trying to crawl out of the ground. The strong artificial light flickered like a strobe and, for a second, the hand seemed to be moving.

On the plastic sheet above Harry’s head the rain sounded like gunfire. The wind so high on the moors was close to gale force and the makeshift walls of the police tent couldn’t hope to hold it back completely. When he’d parked his car, not three minutes earlier, it had been 3.17 a.m. Night didn’t get any darker than this. Harry realized he’d closed his eyes.

Detective Chief Superintendent Rushton’s hand was still on his arm, although the two of them had reached the edge of the inner cordon. They wouldn’t be allowed any further. Six other people were in the tent with them, all wearing the same white, hooded overalls and Wellington boots that Harry and Rushton had just put on.

Harry could feel himself shaking. His eyes still closed, he could hear the steady, insistent drumbeat of rain on the roof of the tent. He could still see that hand. Feeling himself sway, he opened his eyes and almost overbalanced.

‘Back a bit, Harry,’ said Rushton. ‘Stay on the mat, please.’ Harry did what he was told. His body seemed to have grown too big for itself; the borrowed boots were impossibly tight, his clothes were clinging, the bones in his head felt too thin. The sound of the wind and the rain went on, like the soundtrack of a cheap movie. Too much light, too much noise, for the middle of the night.

The skull had rolled away from its torso. Harry could see a ribcage, so small, still wearing clothes, tiny buttons gleaming under the lights. ‘Where are the others?’ he asked.

DCS Rushton inclined his head and then guided him across the aluminium chequer plating that had been laid like stepping-stones over the mud. They were following the line of the church wall. ‘Mind where you go, lad,’ Rushton said. ‘Whole area’s a bloody mess. There, can you see?’

They stopped at the far edge of the inner cordon. The second corpse was still intact, but looked no bigger than the first. It lay face-down in the mud. One tiny wellington boot covered its left foot.

‘The third one’s by the wall,’ said Rushton. ‘Hard to see, half- hidden by the stones.’

‘Another child?’ asked Harry. Loose PVC flaps on the tent were banging in the wind and he had to half-shout to make himself heard.

‘Looks like it,’ agreed Rushton. His glasses were speckled with rain. He hadn’t wiped them since entering the tent. Maybe he was grateful not to see too clearly. ‘You can see where the wall came down?’ he went on.

Harry nodded. A length of about ten feet of the stone wall that formed the boundary between the Fletcher property and the churchyard had collapsed and the earth it had been holding back had tumbled like