The utterly brilliant Stuart MacBride is back with the gripping standalone Now We Are Dead – now out in paperback! Read the first chapter below, or head over to Stuart’s Facebook page to see an extract read by the man himself…
Tufty lunged, arm outstretched, fingertips just brushing the backpack … then closing on thin air. Too slow.
The wee scroat laughed, shoved his way through a couple of pensioners examining the pay-as-you-go phones, and exploded out through the doors. His mate hurdled the fallen oldies, hooting and cheering. Hit the pavement and ran right, twisting as he went to stick both middle fingers up through the Vodafone shop window.
Tufty sprinted after them. Burst through the doors and out onto Union Street.
Four-storey buildings in light granite lined the four-lane road, their bottom floors a solid ribbon of shops. Busses grumbled by, white vans, taxis, cars.
The foot traffic wasn’t nearly thick enough for the pair of them to disappear into a crowd. They didn’t even try. Running, laughing, hoodies flapping out behind them. A couple of mobile phones clattered to the paving slabs, screens shattering amongst the chewing-gum acne.
Look at them: neither one a day over thirteen, acting like this was the most fun they’d ever had in their lives. Expensive trainers, ripped jeans, one bright-blue hoodie – violent orange hair – one bright-red – dark with frosted tips – both with stupid trendy haircuts. Earrings and piercings sparkling in the morning sunlight.
Tufty picked up the pace. ‘Hoy! You!’
The clacker-clack of Cuban heels hammered the pavement behind him.
He glanced back and there she was: Detective Sergeant Steel, actually giving chase for once. Didn’t think she had it in her. Her dark-grey suit was open, yellow silk shirt shimmering, grey hair sticking out in all directions like a demented ferret. Face set in a grimace. Probably hadn’t done any serious running since she was a kid – trying not to get eaten by dinosaurs.
A man wiped coffee off his jacket. ‘You rotten wee shites! I was drinking that!’
An old woman grabbed at her split bag-for-life, its contents rolling free. Off the kerb and into the road. ‘Come back here and pick this up, or I’ll tan your backsides!’
Up ahead, the one in the blue hoodie barrelled through a knot of people stopped in the middle of the pavement chatting, sending one bouncing off a solicitor’s shop window with a resounding ‘boinnnngggggg’, the others clattering down with their shopping. Another couple of mobile phones, still in their boxes, joined them, spilling out of the open backpack.
Hoodie Red sprinted past the e-cigarette shop where the granite buildings came to an abrupt end. A pause in the street, marked by a short row of black iron railings, a small gap, then a sort of fake two-storey-high neo-classical frontage thing, with a graveyard lurking behind its Corinthian pillars.
A grin and Red jinked right, into the gap and down the stairs.
Tufty gritted his teeth. Come on: faster.
He scrabbled to a halt in front of the railings.
Red was right there, dancing from foot to foot on the stairs, unable to get any further than a quarter of the way down due to the bunch of mothers wrestling pushchairs up.
The stairs led down about fifteen/sixteen feet to a narrow cobbled road that disappeared under Union Street.
Ha! Got you.
Red pulled a face, gave Tufty the finger again, then jumped. Clearing the handrail. Dropping six foot onto the top of a Transit van, parked below. A boom of battered metal. Then he rolled off, landed square on his feet and took off into the tunnel. Still laughing.
The driver leaned out of his window, shaking his fist. ‘Hoy!’
Blue clearly didn’t fancy his chances. Instead he went left, sprinting across the bus lane, hooting away as car horns blared – a taxi and a truck slammed on their brakes, inches away from turning him into five stone of hoodie-wearing pâté.
Blue or Red? Blue or Red?
Steel’s voice cut through the horns. ‘Get out the sodding way!’
A quick look – she shoved her way through a couple of gawkers and some well-meaning souls helping pick up the old lady’s shopping.
Blue or Red?
The stairs were still jammed with mothers and pushchairs.
Deep breath. ‘Oh God…’
Tufty stuck one hand on the rail and swung his legs up and over into thin air.
It whistled past him, then, boom onto the Transit’s roof, just as it pulled away. He had time for a tiny scream as the world flipped end-over-end, then the cobbles broke his fall with a lung-emptying thud.
They were cold against his back. Little flashing yellow lights pinged around the edges of the bright blue sky, keeping time with the throbbing high-pitched whine in his ears.
Steel’s face appeared over the railings, scowling down at him. ‘Don’t just lie there, get after the wee sod!’ A shake of the fist, and she disappeared again.
Tufty struggled up to his feet. Shook his head – sending the little yellow lights swirling – and lurched into the tunnel.
Roberta shook her head. Silly sod. Having a wee kip in the middle of the road while the thieving gits got away. Never trust a stick-thin, short-arsed detective constable. Especially the kind with ginger hair – cut so short their whole head looked like a mouldy kiwi fruit – and watery pale blue eyes the same colour as piddled-on Blu-Tack.
That’s what she got for taking the new boy out on a shout.
Well Tufty had better sodding well catch Hoodie Number Two, because if Tufty didn’t Tufty was in for a shoe-leather suppository.
And in the meantime…
She charged across the pavement and out into mid-morning traffic, one hand up on either side of her eyes to shut out the view. ‘Please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me…’ Horns blared. Something HUGE slammed on its brakes – they squealed like pigs, hissed like dragons.
An angry voice: ‘YOU BLOODY IDIOT!’
And pavement! Beautiful, beautiful pavement.
She dropped her hands.
Wasn’t difficult to see which way Hoodie Number One had gone – just follow the trail of swearing people sprawled across the beautiful pavement, leading west along Union Street.
Roberta dragged out her phone, dialling with one hand as she ran past McDonald’s. Jumped over a young woman with a screaming toddler in her arms, sprawled beside the bus shelter.
A bored woman sighed from the mobile’s earpiece, followed by: ‘Control Room.’
‘I need backup to Union Street, now!’
‘Nearest car is two minutes away. How severe is the situation? Do you need a firearms team?’
Roberta threaded her way through a clot of idiots outside Clarks, all staring after Hoodie Number One. ‘Shoplifter: early teens, blue hoodie, orange hair, ripped jeans—’
‘Oh you have GOT to be kidding me. We’re not scrambling a patrol car for a shoplifter!’
The tunnel under Union Street spat Tufty out between two tall granite buildings. Cold blue-grey in the shadows, the windows at ground level either bricked up or barred. He limp-ran to the end, making little hissing noises every other step. Like his left sock was sinking its teeth into his ankle.
Oh let’s go after the red-hoodied shoplifter. Let’s jump off a bridge…
That’s what you got for being brave: a whack on the cobblestones and a carnivorous sock.
He burst out from between the buildings and into the Green. Aberdeen Market was a massive Seventies concrete hatbox off to the left, making the stubby end of a blunt triangle – old granite buildings on the other two sides and…
There he was: Red. On the other side of a barricade of big council recycling bins. Still laughing. Twirling around on the spot, middle fingers out again. Waiting for him. Taunting him.
Then off, running down the middle of the Green. Getting away.
Not this time.
Tufty put some welly into it. Onward brave Sir Quirrel!
He jumped, hip-sliding across one of the bins marked ‘Cardboard Only’, Starsky-and-Hutch style. Landed on his bad ankle. Hissed.
Started running again.
Red looked back, grinned at him, barrelling headlong towards a fenced-off eating area outside a wee bar/restaurant full of loved-up couples eating a late breakfast in the sun. Red jumped the barrier, feet clattering on top of the tables, sending plates and glasses flying.
Diners lunged for him.
A man jerked back as his bloody Mary introduced itself to his lap. ‘Hey! What the hell…?’
A woman bared her teeth. ‘Get your manky feet out of my eggs Benedict!’
Then bang – Red was out the other side.
Tufty pumped his arms and legs harder. Leaned into the sprint as he skirted the dining area. Ignoring the sock eating his ankle. Closing the gap…
Horrible Hoodie Number One did a wee dancy twirl around an old man with a walking stick, showing off, hooting. Then disappeared around the side of Thorntons.
Roberta gripped her phone tighter. ‘He’s gone down the steps to the Green.’
Another sigh from the bored woman on the other end. ‘I don’t care if he’s gone down on Nelson Mandela’s ghost, you’re not getting a patrol car.’
The wee sod’s face popped back around the corner again, joined by a double-handed two-fingered salute. He jiggled the V-signs in her direction, then vanished.
‘You’re not a child, for goodness sake. Surely you can catch a shoplifter without a SWAT team!’
Roberta wheeched around the corner, grabbing onto a big bearded guy to stay upright. ‘Well bugger you, then!’
The big guy flinched back. ‘What did I do?’
She jammed her phone in her pocket and skidded to a halt at the top of the stairs.
Oh … wow, that was a long way down.
The stairs weren’t far off vertical, at least three-and-a-half-storeys-worth of thin granite steps, with a handrail at either side and one down the middle. Fall here and it’d be bounce, crack, bang, wallop, thump, crunch, scream, crash, splinter, THUD. Followed by sirens and nine months in traction.
Hoodie Number One was already halfway down the stairs. Taking them two at a time.
A boxed iPhone spilled from his backpack and bounced off the granite steps.
She stuck both hands out, hovering them over the railings. And ran.
Going to die, going to die, going to die…
Down at the bottom of the stairs, Hoodie Number Two – the one dressed in red – hammered past, laughter echoing off the grey buildings.
And Hoodie Number One was nearly at the bottom too, grinning over his shoulder at her.
Where the hell was Tufty when you actually needed him?
How could one detective constable be so completely and utterly, totally—
He ran into view, staring straight ahead. Which was a shame, because Hoodie Number One wasn’t watching where he was going and smashed right into him.
They both hit the cobblestones in a twisted starfish of arms and legs. Thrashing and bashing and crashing as she hurried down the last two flights of stairs and into the Green.
They rolled into the ‘Pedestrian Zone ENDS’ sign with a faint clang.
‘Aaaargh, gerroffus gerroffus!’
Roberta skidded to a halt at the foot of the stairs. Looked right.
Hoodie Number Two was just visible as a red smudge – running deeper into the tunnel that led under the St Nicholas Centre and out to the dual carriageway. He turned and treated them to his middle fingers. Then his voice thrummed out, amplified by all that concrete and granite, ‘CATCH YOU LATER, MASTURBATOR!’ That red smudge vanished into the gloom.
‘Sodding hell…’ Roberta bent double, grabbing her knees and puffing like an ancient Labrador.
Tufty hauled Hoodie Number One to his feet, both hands cuffed behind the wee sod’s back.
A cough, then Tufty wiped a hand over his shiny forehead. Gave his prisoner a shoogle. ‘You are comprehensively nicked.’
The wee sod just grinned and stood on his tiptoes, shouting after his friend: ‘IN A WHILE, PAEDOPHILE!’