Tony Hill, criminal profiler and hero of TV’s Wire in the Blood, is back in a terrifying psychological thriller from bestselling author Val McDermid. A city is mourning. Bradfield Victoria’s star midfielder has been murdered, bizarrely poisoned in an apparently motiveless killing. Then a bomb blast rips through the football stadium. Dozens lie dead, many more injured. Is it a terrorist attack or a vendetta against the Vics? Or something even more sinister? As he lies in a hospital bed, psychologist and profiler Dr Tony Hill struggles to make sense of the fragments of information he manages to gather. But his customary ally, DCI Carol Jordan, is being pushed to the margins of the investigation by intelligence services determined to prove themselves indispensable. It wouldn’t be so bad if Tony and Carol could agree about who they’re looking for. But even their relationship has its dislocations and dark places. Beneath the Bleeding sets Tony and Carol at odds as they have never been before, forcing them to ask questions of themselves they would never have imagined possible.
Opening section of Beneath the Bleeding
The phases of the moon have an inexplicable but incontrovertible effect on the mentally ill. Ask any psychiatric nurse. For them, it’s a truth universally acknowledged. None of them volunteers for overtime around the time of the full moon. Not unless they are absolutely desperate. It’s also a truth that makes the behavioural scientists uneasy; it’s not something that can be laid at the door of an abusive childhood or an inability to relate socially. It’s an external rhythm that no amount of treatment can override. It drags the tides and it pulls the deranged out of their hampered orbits.
The internal dynamics of Bradfield Moor Secure Hospital were as susceptible to the undertow of the full moon as its name suggested. According to some of its staff, Bradfield Moor was a warehousing facility for those too dangerously crazy to walk free; to others, it was a haven for minds too fragile for the rough and tumble of life on the outside; and to the rest, it was a temporary refuge that offered the hope of a return to a loosely defined normality. The third group was, unsurprisingly, heavily outnumbered and heartily despised by the other two.
That night, it wasn’t enough that the moon was full. It was also subject to a partial eclipse. The milky shadows of the lunar surface gradually metamorphosed through sickly yellow to dark orange as the earth moved between its satellite and the sun. For most of those observing the eclipse, it possessed a mysterious beauty, provoking awe and admiration. For Lloyd Allen, one of Bradfield Moor’s less grounded inmates, it provided proof absolute of his conviction that the last days were at hand and thus his duty was to bring as many to his maker as he could. He had been hospitalized before he had achieved his goal of spilling as much blood as possible so that the souls of its owners might ascend more easily to heaven at the imminent second coming. His mission burned all the brighter within him for being thwarted.
Lloyd Allen was not a stupid man and this made the task of his keepers that much harder. The psychiatric nurses were well versed in low cunning and found it relatively easy to head off at the pass. It was much harder to spot the machinations of those who were deranged but smart. Recently, Allen had devised a method of avoiding taking his medication. The more experienced nurses were wise to tricks of this sort and knew how to subvert them, but the newly qualified, like Khalid Khan, still lacked the necessary canniness.
On the night of the full moon, Allen had managed to avoid taking both previous doses of the chemical cosh that Khan believed he had administered. By the time the eclipse began to be visible, Allen’s head was filled with a low thrumming mantra. ‘Bring them to me, bring them to me, bring them to me,’ echoed continuously inside his brain. From his room, he could see a corner of the moon, the prophesied sea of blood occluding its face. It was time. It really was time. Agitated, he clenched his fists and jerked his lower arms up and down every couple of seconds like a demented boxer raising and lowering his guard.
He turned to face the door and stumbled awkwardly towards it. He had to get out so he could complete his mission. The nurse would be here soon with his final medication for the night. Then God would give him the strength he needed. God would get him out of this room. God would show him the way. God knew what he had to do. He would bring them to Him. The time was ripe, the moon was bursting with blood. The signs were beginning and he had a task to fulfil. He was chosen, he was the road to salvation for the sinners. He would bring them to God.
The pool of light illuminated a small area on the top of a low-grade institutional desk. A file lay open, a hand holding a pen resting on one side of the page. In the background, Moby yearned plaintively for the spiders. The CD had been a gift, something Dr Tony Hill would never have chosen for himself. But somehow it had become an integral part of the after-hours work ritual.
Tony went to rub his gritty eyes, forgetting about his new reading glasses. ‘Ow,’ he yelped as the nose-pieces bit into his flesh. His little finger caught the edge of the rimless glasses, sending them spinning off his face to land askew on the file he’d been studying. He could picture the look of indulgent amusement the moment would have provoked on the face of Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan, the Moby donor. His distracted clumsiness had long been a standing joke between them.
The one thing she couldn’t tease or taunt him about was that he was still at his desk at half past eight on a Friday night. When it came to reluctance to leave the office until everything possible had been dealt with, she was at least his equal. If she’d been around she would have understood why he was still here, going over the brief he’d so painstakingly prepared for the Parole Board. A brief they’d chosen blithely to ignore when they’d released Bernard Sharples into the care of the Probation Service. No longer a danger to the public, his lawyer had persuaded them. A model prisoner who had co-operated with everything the authorities had asked of him. The very exemplar of remorse.
Well, of course Sharples had been a model prisoner, Tony thought bitterly. It was easy to behave when the objects of your desire were so far beyond your reach that even the most obsessed fantasist would struggle to conjure up anything remotely like temptation. Sharples would offend again, he knew it in his bones. And it would be his fault in part because he had failed to make his case strongly enough.
He retrieved his glasses and marked a couple of paragraphs with his pen. He could have, should have stated his case more firmly, left no cracks for the defence to slither through. He would have had to assert as fact what he knew to be conjecture based on years of working with serial offenders plus the gut feeling that came from reading between the lines of his interviews with Sharples. But there was no place for shades of grey in the Parole Board’s world of black and white. It seemed that Tony still had to learn that honesty was seldom the best policy when it came to the criminal justice system.
He pulled a pad of Post-It notes towards him but before he could scribble anything down, a noise from outside penetrated his office. He wasn’t generally disturbed by the miscellaneous noises that made up the soundtrack to life inside Bradfield Moor; the soundproofing was surprisingly effective, and besides, the worst of the anguish was generally acted out far away from the offices where people with degrees and status worked.
More noise. It sounded like a football match or a sectarian riot. Certainly more than he could reasonably ignore. Sighing, Tony stood up, tossing his glasses on the desk as he made for the door. Anything had to be better than this.
Not many people regarded a job at Bradfield Moor as a dream come true. But for Jerzy Golabeck it represented more than he had ever imagined possible growing up in Plock nothing much had happened in Plock since the Polish kings decamped in 1138. The only work to be had these days was in the petrochemical refineries where wages were pitiful and industrial disease a way of life. Jerzy’s narrow horizons had widened eye-poppingly when Poland had acceded to the European Union. He’d been one of the first to board a cheap flight from Krakow to Leeds/Bradford Airport and the prospect of a new life. From his perspective, minimum wage approximated a king’s ransom. And working with the inmates of Bradfield Moor wasn’t so different from dealing with a senile grandfather who thought Lech Walesa might still be the coming man.
So Jerzy had bent the truth and manufactured a level of experience of dealing with the mentally ill that bore little relationship to the reality of his past as a production line worker in the pickle-canning factory. So far, it hadn’t been an issue. The nurses and orderlies were more concerned with containment than treatment. They administered drugs and cleared up messes. Any attempts at cure or mitigation were left to doctors, psychiatrists, therapists of varying schools, and clinical psychologists. It appeared that nobody expected much more from Jerzy than that he turned up on time and didn’t shy away from the physical unpleasantnesses that cropped up every shift. That much he could manage with ease.
Along the way, he’d developed a shrewd eye for what was going on around him. Nobody was more surprised at that than he was. But there was no denying that Jerzy seemed to have an instinct for spotting when patients shifted away from the equilibrium that made Bradfield Moor possible. He was one of the few workers in the hospital who would ever have noticed anything amiss with Lloyd Allen. The problem was that he was confident enough by then to believe he could deal with it himself. He wasn’t the first twenty-four-year-old to have an inflated idea of his capabilities. Just one of the few who would die for it.
As soon as he entered Lloyd Allen’s room, the hair on Jerzy’s arms stood on end. Allen was standing in the middle of the cramped space, his big shoulders tensed. The fast flick of his eyes told Jerzy that either the medication had suffered a sudden and spectacular failure or Allen had somehow avoided taking it. Either way, it looked like the voices in his head were the only ones Allen was interested in listening to. ‘Time for your meds, Lloyd,’ Jerzy said, his voice deliberately offhand.
‘Can’t do that.’ Allen’s voice was a strained grunt. He rose slightly on the balls of his feet, his hands sliding over each other as if he were washing them. The muscles of his forearms danced and twitched.
‘You know you need them.’
Allen shook his head.
Jerzy mirrored the movement. ‘You don’t take your meds, I have to report it. Then it gets hard on you, Lloyd. That’s not how we want it to be, is it?’
Allen launched himself at Jerzy, his right elbow catching him under the breastbone and knocking the wind from him. As Jerzy doubled over, retching for air, Allen barged past, knocking him to the floor as he made for the door. In the doorway, Allen came to an abrupt halt then swung round. Jerzy tried to make himself look small and unthreatening, but Allen advanced all the same. He raised his foot and kicked Jerzy in the stomach, emptying his lungs in a dizzying explosion of pain. While Jerzy clawed at his gut, Allen calmly reached down and ripped his keycard from the clip at his waist. ‘I have to bring them to Him,’ he grunted, making for the door again.
Jerzy couldn’t stop the terrible convulsive groans as his body struggled for oxygen. But his brain was still working properly. He knew he had to get to the panic button in the hallway. Armed with Jerzy’s key, Allen could roam almost anywhere in the hospital. He could open the rooms of other inmates. It wouldn’t take long to free enough of his fellows to seriously outnumber the staff on duty at this time of the evening.
Coughing and gagging, strings of spittle trailing down his chin, Jerzy forced himself to his knees and shuffled closer to the bed. Clawing at the frame, he managed to drag himself to his feet. Clutching his guts, he stumbled into the hall. He could see Allen up ahead struggling to swipe the keycard through the reader mounted by the door that would release him into the main part of the building. You had to get the speed of the swipe just right. Jerzy knew that, but Allen, thankfully, did not. Allen thumped the reader and tried again. Swaying, Jerzy tried to cover the distance to the panic button as quietly as he could.
It wasn’t quietly enough. Something alerted Allen and he swung round. ‘Bring them to him,’ he roared, charging. His weight alone was enough to bring Jerzy’s weakened frame to the floor again. Jerzy wrapped his arms around his head. But it wasn’t enough. The last thing he felt was a terrible pressure behind his eyes as Allen stamped on his head with all his strength.
Opening his door brought Tony a sudden swell of volume. Voices shouting, swearing and screaming funnelled up the stairwell. The scariest thing about it was that nobody had pushed the emergency alarm. That suggested something so sudden and so violent that no one had had the chance to follow the procedures that were supposedly drummed into them from day one of their training. They were too busy trying to contain whatever was going on.
Tony hustled along the corridor towards the stairs, hitting the panic button as he went. A loud klaxon immediately blasted out. Christ, if you were crazy already, what would this do to your head? He was running by the time he reached the stairs but he slowed his pace enough to look down the stairwell to see what he could see.
Nothing, was the short answer. The raised voices seemed to be coming from the corridor off to the right, but they were distorted by the acoustics and the distance. Suddenly, there was the tinkle and crash of glass breaking. Then a shocking splinter of silence.
‘Oh, fuck,’ someone said clearly, disgust the apparent emotion behind the words. Then the shouting began again, the note of panic unmistakable. A scream, then the sound of scuffling. Without thinking about it, Tony had started down the stairs, trying to see what was going on.
As he rounded the final turn of the stairs, bodies spilled out of the corridor where the noise had come from. Two nurses were backing towards him, supporting a third man. An orderly, judging by the few areas of pale green scrubs left untouched by blood. They were leaving a smudged trail of scarlet behind as they scrambled backwards as fast as they could manage.
Carnage, Tony thought as a burly figure emerged from the corridor, swinging a fire axe in front of himself as if it were a scythe and he a grim reaper. His jeans and polo shirt were spattered with blood; the blade of the axe shed a fine spray with every swing. The burly man was intent on his prey, steadily pursuing them as they retreated. ‘Bring them to him. Nowhere to hide,’ he said in a low monotone. ‘Bring them to him. Nowhere to hide.’ He was gaining on them. Another couple of strides and the axe blade would be slicing through flesh again.
Even though the axeman wasn’t a patient of his, Tony knew who he was. He’d made a point of familiarizing himself with the files of any inmates considered capable of violence. Partly because they interested him, but also because it felt like a kind of insurance policy. Tonight, it looked like he was about to lose his no-claims bonus.
Tony stopped a few steps from the bottom of the staircase. ‘Lloyd,’ he called softly.
Allen didn’t break stride. He swung the axe again, in rhythm with his mantra. ‘Bring them to him. Nowhere to hide,’ he said, sweeping the blade inches from the nurses.
Tony took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. ‘This is not the way to bring them to him,’ he said loudly, with all the authority he could summon. ‘This is not what he wants from you, Lloyd. You’ve got it wrong.’
Allen paused, turning his head towards Tony. He frowned, puzzled as a dog tormented by a wasp. ‘It’s time,’ he snarled.
‘You’re right about that,’ Tony said, moving down a step. ‘It is time. But you’re going about it the wrong way. Now, put down the axe and we’ll figure out a better way of doing it.’ He tried to keep his face stern, not to reveal the fear curdling his stomach. Where the hell was the back-up team? He had no illusions about what he could do here. He could maybe hold Allen up long enough for the nurses and the wounded orderly to get clear. But good as he was with the deranged and the demented, he knew he wasn’t good enough to restore Lloyd Allen to anything like equilibrium. He doubted he could even get him to lower the weapon. He had to try, he knew that. But where thefuck was the cavalry?
Allen stopped swinging the axe through its long arc and raised it at an angle across his body like a baseball player preparing for the strike. ‘It’s time,’ he said again. ‘And you’re not him.’ And he launched himself across the gap between them.
He was so fast that all Tony could register was a slash of red and a glint of polished metal. Then a seam of pain exploded from the middle of his leg. Tony toppled like a felled tree, too shocked even to scream. Inside his head, a light bulb detonated. Then blackness.