No Time to Cry (DC Constance Fairchild, #1) by James Oswald Read Online (FREE)
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It’s the scent of smoke that tips me off.
Sure, the unlocked back door’s a big clue too, but it’s the smoke that really has me worried. I’ve come here alone, checked I’m not being followed. Must have done it a hundred and more times. Never been anything wrong before. But now the back door’s unlocked and there’s a smell of smoke in the air.
Wood smoke? Coal? I can’t really tell. Maybe it’s the scent of a recently gone cigarette. London’s ruined my country-born senses. All I know is there’s smoke and there shouldn’t be. So where’s it coming from?
I’m in a quiet courtyard at the end of a dark alley, tucked away in a forgotten part of the city centre. You don’t have to go far to find hipster cafés, old Victorian pubs and all the other stuff the tourist board loves about London, but this is well hidden. We chose it for that reason, among others. Not cheap to rent, but not so expensive it looks suspicious either. Just another business trying to make its way in the capital, struggling to pay the bills and maybe open to a little dealing under the counter, as it were. We set it up to fish for contacts, get someone into the local organised crime scene. It was working fine too. Until now.
I pull out my phone and stare at the screen like a lost tourist. Pete’s text is there in front of me.
Come to the office. Something’s up. Usual protocols. P.
It’s unlike him not to just phone, but not so odd I’d thought to bring backup. We’re a small team anyway, and this is meant to be deep undercover. Dragging anyone else along would risk blowing the whole thing before it’s really started.
Except there’s that faint whiff of smoke, and the back door’s unlocked.
Despite everything the press and politicians say, most of us in the Met aren’t armed and don’t particularly want to be. I wish I was right now though. All I’ve got is a can of mace and a rape alarm. It’s small comfort as I nudge the back door wider with my foot, try to peer inside. Foolish, really. There’s just the narrow hallway, piled up with old cardboard boxes and a couple of bin bags waiting to be taken out. Then the stairs climb up to the offices on the first floor. Can’t see anything around the corner. Do I shout?
No. That’s being stupid. Come on, Con. Get in there and find out what’s happening.
I thumb a quick text to DS Chambers anyway. Not that she’ll do anything about it, but at least it covers my arse. A quick look around the tiny courtyard, and then I step inside.
The smell of smoke is heavier, but I still can’t see any fire. I take the stairs as quietly as I can, back to the wall for support. Wary. At the top, I peer over the parapet, nervous ears straining for any sound over the ever-present rumble of traffic. Time was I loved that sound, the noise of progress, of sophisticated living. Now I’d happily trade it for the bored silence of my youth.