Today I’m delighted to be hosting a stop on M.P. Wright’s All Through The Night Blog Tour and letting you in on a sneaky peep at the book by sharing the Prologue with you.
But, firstly, here’s what the blurb says: “Bristol, Summer 1966 … Struggling to make ends meet, private detective JT Ellington sees a way to make some easy cash when approached by Ida Stephens, the administrator of a local orphanage. She offers him £500 to locate a disgraced Jamaican GP, Dr Ronald Fowler. Fowler has in his possession a number of potentially damaging files regarding deceased young children who have been living at the orphanage. Ida tells Ellington to track him down by any means necessary, retrieve the files and ask an important question: Where is the truth to be found? But Ellington has underestimated his assignment. He quickly finds himself up to his neck and running for his life, in a world where nothing is as it appears and the truth is beyond his imagination …”
ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT by M.P. WRIGHT
Thursday, 12 May 1966
The Douglas C-124 aircraft rose and fell in the air as it butted and fought its way through heavy rain, strong winds and gut-churning turbulence. Its four Pratt & Whitney engines roared in unison as it flew out some two hundred miles off the coast of mainland Scotland towards Keflavík airfield, on the western tip of Iceland. The plane had been in the air for just over two hours since taking off from the United States Strategic Air Command base at RAF Fairford, in the heart of Gloucestershire. In the cockpit, Captain Gene Westlake glanced quickly at his wristwatch, which read 5.45 a.m. He smiled to himself, pleased that they were still making good time despite the appalling weather conditions. He looked out of the small window on his left-hand side and saw below him the angry, swelling white tips of the North Atlantic beating against the craggy outcrop of the final edges of the Faroe Islands’ rugged coastline. There were five other crew members on board the “Old Shaky”, as the C-124 was fondly known by all those who flew in or worked on her. This was strictly an all-American crew of the Military Air Transport Service and had made the same long journey back to Dover airfield in Delaware State, USA, more times than they cared to remember.
Sat next to Westlake in the cockpit was his co-pilot, First Lieutenant Dan Knudson and, to their rear, Navigator Ed Barry. Below them in the vastness of the transport hold were loadmasters Carl Brett, Bobby Romaire and Mac Kepner. Once a week they flew the huge aircraft with its cargo of military freight. On a flight out to Britain it could be anything from confidential documentation, armaments and uniforms to newly spruced-up Willys jeeps and troop-carrying lorries. On a run to the US, the cargo could be servicemen and women, tours of duty complete, all cheerfully homeward bound after months away and packed in like sardines alongside countless sacks of mail bound for armed forces and to news-anxious parents and sweethearts back in the States. Same crew, normal trip, thought Gene Westlake, only today, what was in the cargo hold of his craft made him nervous.
It wasn’t unusual to have military police officers on board an aircraft bound for the US. You would normally find them in pairs escorting a soldier, sailor or airman who had committed a serious crime abroad and who would more often than not be tried in the UK before being returned back to a martial penitentiary to serve out their custodial sentence. But military police officers sergeants Paxton and Jardine were not taking the four-thousand-mile flight simply to guard over a criminal miscreant. This was a more personal, delicate enterprise. They sat expressionless beyond the closed door of the cockpit on the upper level of the Douglas aircraft, neither of them perturbed by the way the plane shook as it was buffeted by the squally storm. The seasoned, battle- hardened soldiers, white and in their mid forties, were both originally from different armpit, backwater, shithole towns in the Deep South, Mississippians and staunchly proud of it. Both men were confident that their latest mission would run smoothly, like the previous nine other operations had; a little bad weather wouldn’t change the task at hand. There was no going back. Such was the serious nature of their undertaking.
Under their supervision was a consignment that was both precious and unique and of considerable monetary value, not only to the two policemen but also to the five other crew members on board. With nine ‘special’ deliveries complete, they knew the stakes, the risks involved. They had all been keen to go, enjoyed the pay-offs, but one man had got cold feet and asked for this to be his last illicit exercise.
Twenty-four hours previously Bobby Romaire had sat in the mess room after evening chow down and told his fellow crew he wanted no further part in their business, that he’d had his fill and was looking to get transferred to a different unit. He assured the other guys that he wasn’t a squealer, that their secret was safe with him. But Romaire’s colleagues got spooked and couldn’t allow him to walk away that easily. Gene Westlake knew what had to be done and told the rest of his crew to be cool, to leave it to him.
On Wednesday evening Westlake made a couple of telephone calls and informed the military police officers Paxton and Jardine of Romaire’s decision to walk.
“Just fly the damn package back stateside, like we done all those times before, you understand? Now, you leave Airman Romaire to me,” Paxton had said icily before the line went dead. Gene Westlake put down the phone at his desk, then told himself that the conversation had never happened.
Loadmaster Bobby Romaire stood on the bottom deck at the rear of the cargo hold, staring blankly down at a five- foot-square wooden crate. The crate was held securely by thick black webbing straps that looped through into large metal D-rings that were riveted into the walls and floor of the aircraft. Drilled into the panels of the crate were eight silver-dollar-sized holes, and printed on each side of the large box in big black capital letters were the words “MILITARY POLICE DOG IN TRANSIT TO BE LOADED AND UNLOADED BY MPC STAFF ONLY”.
Inside, sleeping after being sedated, was a large three- year-old male German Shepherd. Romaire knelt on one knee at the side of the crate and put his ear to the wooden panel, then covered his other in an attempt to muffle out the thunderous hum of the engines. He thought he could pick out the steady, heavy breathing of the big, drugged-up dog as it slept.
The airman put his face flat against the panel of the crate and called out. The side of his mouth grazed the wood as he spoke.
“Hey . . . you hear me in there? Now you just hold tight, don’t you be scared none. It’s gonna be all right, I’m gonna have you outta there as soon as this here Old Shaky hits the ground. You’ll be safe, I promise you that.” Bobby Romaire again pushed his ear as hard as he could against the crate and as he did felt his scalp being grabbed tightly. His head was snatched back and violently slammed into the side of the wooden container. Struggling to remain conscious and unable to cry out, he felt only the briefest touch of cold metal on the nape of his neck as the flat hilt of a stiletto knife made contact with his clammy skin. The needle-like blade rapidly shot up and injected itself underneath the occipital bone and into the soft tissue of his brain. Bobby Romaire felt nothing else as he fell back onto the deck of the cargo hold. He thought he heard the faint voice of a child in his head softly speak the word “Truth” as his life spiralled uncontrollably away from him. Gold shards of light flickered briefly in front of his eyes as a cold darkness took hold of him and pulled a last sharp breath away from his now limp body.
Sergeant Paxton stood over Bobby Romaire’s corpse, the dead man’s lifeless eyes staring back up at him. The thin stiletto blade in Paxton’s right hand made a sweeping sound as it swiftly returned itself into the black lacquered handle. Paxton opened his olive-green tunic and carefully clipped the knife back into a small leather cradle on his belt, then turned around and watched as his colleague walked slowly along the length of the vast hold to join him. As Nathan Jardine grew closer he threw his thumb back over his shoulder towards the front of the plane, then bellowed out to Paxton over the deafening sound of the engines.
“Westlake’s starting to take this heap down a couple of thousand feet, says he’ll flash the droplight that’s over the floor chute, then we can lug this fucker’s carcass into the drink.”
Paxton smiled back at Jardine. The two men bent down, took hold of Bobby Romaine’s body and heaved it over towards the emergency exit situated in the hull of the plane, then waited until the red overhead light began to glow on and off. Jardine bent down and turned the first of three metal handles, then used all his strength to pull back the chute door to reveal the dark emptiness below them. The inside of the plane was filled with the piercing scream of the wind from outside mixed with the growling rumble of the four giant propellers.
Paxton lifted Romaire’s body up by the scruff of his lapels, pulling it towards the edge of the door chute, then stood with his legs over either side of it, dropped the cadaver’s head and shoulders out of the hatch, and let the dead man’s weight drag the rest of his bulk out. Both men watched as it tumbled out into the blackness over the North Atlantic. Paxton stood away from the gaping hole in the floor and brushed the palms of his hands across the other as if to congratulate himself on a job well done before helping Sergeant Jardine to close the door and secure it once again. Neither man spoke as they stood staring at each other. They took a moment to smooth down their tunics with the backs of their hands and straighten the knots on their ties before returning back to their seats behind the cockpit.
As both men strode away from the hold, Jack Paxton stopped in his tracks and quickly turned on his polished boot heels, staring suspiciously at the crate. He tapped at the bronze braid strip on the trouser leg of his dress uniform, his glare burning into the inside of the container. He took a step towards it, then halted again, realising that there really was no need to return to it. After all the contents were still safe and he knew that what was inside had no way of escaping. He’d come back to the caged creature and feed it later. Paxton flashed a fleeting grin at the wooden chest, shaking his head at it knowingly before rejoining his colleague.
From inside the crate, secretly partitioned off from the doped police dog, the watery eyes of a small child stared out. A little girl, no more than seven, peered through one of the drilled air holes at the two men as they walked away. The girl timidly expelled a slow rasp of air from her lungs. She had been holding her breath for what seemed like forever and had stifled her sobs by biting into the back of her hand as, petrified, she had watched the slaughter of the “good” man who had promised her that things would be all right. He’d told her that he would make sure she was safe, that no harm would come to her. But that promise was now broken, snatched away by the monster with the pointed knife. The little girl remembered the piercing, cruel gaze of the killer: he was the same person who had come to her room in the middle of the night and taken her away from the only family she’d ever known. She’d been placed on the back seat of a car, given sweets and told to eat them. She had done as she was told, then fallen asleep. She’d woken inside the crate. The man with the pointed knife had told her not to make a sound, that if she cried out he would release the big dog from behind the partition and the animal would tear her to pieces. She’d done as he said and not uttered a sound. Terrified and still dressed in her flannelette pyjamas, a series of coarse wool blankets had been wrapped around her for warmth. She’d remained silent and sat in a pool of her own cold urine for what seemed like forever. The girl began to cry again as she watched the two men disappear from her view. Then, rubbing away the wetness of the tears from her cheeks with her tiny hands, she slowly sank back into the shadowy, bleak recess of her captivity, curling up into a ball and closing her eyes tightly in the hope that it would shut out the horrific images now etched so deeply into her memory.
ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT is published by Black & White Publishing on April 14th. Pre-order a copy from Amazon here
You can find out more about M.P. Wright by following him on Twitter @EllingtonWright
And don’t forget to check out all these other great stops along the All Through The Night Blog Tour: