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Chapter Two

Unsheathed from the envelope, an array of black-and-white photographs spilled out onto the table in a mess of glossy layers. Only the topmost was unobstructed, and devastating in its content. A priest, dead, skewered on the railing of an iron fence – one arm still raised towards heaven itself.

Never moving his gaze from that harrowing image, Brawn’s hands began to unshuffle the other photos, arranging them around the first until the table was covered. Don Brawn’s tried and tested eye for detail drank in the pictures, scouring them for information – both of the scene and of whoever had taken them. Close-ups and backgrounds, views of the church grounds – even an aerial shot which had the tell-tale quality of the kind of satellite imaging that didn’t make it into the public consciousness. Interesting. Professional.

When Brawn thought professional, he wasn’t thinking photographer.

He was thinking, of The profession.

The priest was Roman Catholic, probably Spanish – the location at least was definitely Spain; a remote central part of the dry Iberian plains, to judge by geographic ticks in the satellite picture. Close-ups on the priest’s clothes revealed signifiers of a chase for certain, and in his face – filling three frames, both profiles and a daunting shot full on – there was more than just the markers of a hideously painful demise… there was some unnameable grief as well. A lingering sense of failure.

Murder, obviously. Taking in the shots of the grounds Brawn could see instantly that there were too many potential points of ingress for one to guess how the culprit had entered – through the main gates was as distinct a possibility as by hidden means. Brawn began to move and lift the images, a frown starting to form on his brow.

Something was missing.

It took another moment to register – the hand. There were close-ups of every conceivable area of interest on the priest’s corpse – but not that hand, clawing at the morning sky in the first picture. Brawn pored over it for another moment, but good as the quality was he couldn’t detect anything amiss – yet the inconsistency could only mean one thing: there was something there to be revealed.

He flipped open the envelope again in case one picture remained, but there was nothing – wait. Something – right at the back of the envelope, almost invisible. With the blade of his hand Brawn tore through the side-crease of the envelope, opening it to the light.

In faint pencil – a telephone number.

Brawn looked up at the handset hanging on the wall beside the kitchen door and rose, but hesitated as he was about to lift it. He turned, staring out through the window onto the street below. At the junction.

And the payphone booth beside it.

* * *

Brawn jogged down his short path, hearing the front door slam behind him, feeling the folded Manila crumpling and recrumpling against the long muscle of his thigh as he ran. He didn’t head straight for the payphone but circled the block first, giving himself a few minutes to collect his thoughts.

When he came to the booth the streets onto the junction were almost deserted: parked cars and a few very early morning drivers beginning their commute; the occasional delivery truck passing through the neighbourhood towards the industrial estate a few more miles down; no pedestrians yet, and only one other jogger whom he had passed two streets around the block with a nod, just like every other morning.

He bobbed to a halt beside the booth, fished out the envelope and a single quarter, and pulled the door three-quarters closed behind him. Lifting the receiver – the line was working, thankfully – he glanced at the number and dialled blind, his eyes on the streets outside.

He waited a moment, then pulled the receiver from his ear in surprise – it was the wail of a failed connection, but not of the usual kind. Brawn hung it up – then his eyes fell on the information board of the payphone itself.

Just to check, he lifted the envelope again.

The same number.

As he suddenly knew it would, the phone began to ring.

Don Brawn lifted the receiver again.

“I suppose you want to see the last picture,” said the voice. “Agent Brawn.”

X

Chapter One xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Chapter Three

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