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Rock-a-bye Baby: Chapter 1

6th October (early morning)

Joey held the blade against Edona’s neck. A tiny line of red trickled down, collecting on the edge of her blue sweatshirt. He didn’t want to kill her. She’d always been one of his best money earners, still looking like a schoolgirl even though she was almost twenty.

“Make the call,” he whispered. “Make the call and you can live.”

He could feel her trembling against his body as he pulled her closer.

“Make the call,” he repeated.

She nodded and dialled. Her fingers shook so much Joey wondered if she’d hit the right buttons. He’d know when the call was answered. His head was close enough to hers to hear the ringing tone and then the copper’s sleepy voice.

“Sterling.”

The call had obviously woken him. Not surprising. It was five in the morning.

Joey released the knife just enough to enable Edona to speak. If she tried anything stupid, he’d put an end to her before she had chance to betray him again.

“It’s me. I …”

Joey touched the knife gently against Edona’s neck; a reminder of what they’d agreed.

“I’m listening,” Sterling said. “What have you got for me?”

“Some girls, they come tonight.”

“Where? What time?”

“I not know what time, but they bring them to motorway. Change van in car park outside restaurant and shop.”

“Tell me who is bringing them in. Who are you working for? I can protect –”

Joey took the phone and ended the call.

“What a kind man! He wants to protect you. It’s a bit too late for that, Edona. I wonder what else you’ve told him. I don’t suppose I’ll ever find out. Not that it matters to you now, but I’ve always been very fond of you. What I have to do to you breaks my heart.”

“No hurt me. Please no. You say me, I make call, you forgive.”

“And you believed me? Shame on you, Edona. I could never forgive such a betrayal.

You’ve been working against me for too long now. I’ve heard you telling the young ones that they’d get free, someday.” He laughed. “You’re such a fool. For girls like you, someday never comes.”

He felt her tears dripping onto his hand.

“Ah no, don’t cry. I don’t like to have my girls crying. No more tears.”

He pulled the knife across her throat. As the blood spurted, he pushed her away, smiling as her body tumbled into the foundation pit.

“Edar, Bekim!” he called to the two men waiting by the car. “Cover her up.”

They moved forward and began shovelling rubble and sand. Joey watched for a while, but soon got bored. He went and leaned against the car until Bekim signalled for him to come back and approve what they’d done.

He looked down into the pit and smiled. There was no trace of Edona. He glanced at his watch. It was now five-thirty. The concrete was due to be poured in three hours’ time.

Perfect.

“That’s cleared up that loose end. I’d wondered how Sterling seemed to know so much, but without you two pointing her out, I’d never have guessed it was Edona. Good work,” he said, smiling at the two men.

He passed her phone to one of them. “Get rid of that, Bekim.

Make sure it can’t be traced back to us. Right, let’s get everything in place for tonight’s delivery. Now that we know Sterling will be on the other side of town, the transfer will be, as the Brits like to say, a piece of cake. I wonder what the fuck that means, a piece of cake.” He grinned. “Talking of cake, it’s time for breakfast.”

***

7th October (early hours)

Detective Inspector Paolo Sterling’s foot had gone to sleep, but that was the least of his worries. Staying awake after spending several hours in a parked car, listening to Dave Johnson, his detective sergeant, list the reasons he was in love, was a bigger issue. The darkened car they were in, partially hidden behind bushes, faced the entrance to the car park of Bradchester Motorway Services. Paolo felt as if he’d been there half his life.

He moved about on the seat, trying to get the circulation going in his foot. It felt like a lump of dead meat on the end of his leg.

“Rebecca isn’t like any other girl I’ve known,” Dave said.

Paolo smiled in the dark. That must be the hundredth time Dave’s said that tonight, he thought. But he didn’t really mind. It was nice listening to Dave saying positive things these days. It wasn’t that long ago Paolo would have classed his DS as a misogynist.

Giving up on trying to coax his foot back to life, Paolo shifted his position again and almost screamed as pain shot the length of his spine. They should get medical compensation for stake-outs, he thought. Wear and tear on muscles forced to stay in one place for too many hours.

“I think it’s her hair I love the most,” Dave said. “Or maybe it’s her smile. Yes, that’s what it is.”

Paolo thought about the list Dave had given over the last few hours and felt as if he knew more about Rebecca than she did herself. He peered out into the night. No sign of the lorry they were waiting for. He checked his watch. It was no longer night. The time was just after five in the morning. A full twenty-four hours since the call had come in. Maybe his tip off had got the day wrong. Paolo decided to give it another couple of hours until the sun came up at and then tell the teams scattered around the car park to go home and get some sleep.

Paolo wouldn’t have that luxury. He had the joy of a meeting with his ex-wife and his daughter’s psychiatrist to look forward in only a few hours’ time. Another couple of turns of his ankle and suddenly the circulation was back in his foot. The pins and needles were agony, but at least he could feel both feet once more.

“Do you think we’ve been given duff information, sir?”

It took Paolo a moment to realise Dave had stopped talking about Rebecca and was back into police mode.

“It’s beginning to look that way, Dave, but I don’t want to give up too soon just in case the tip off was a good one. I can’t bear to think of more kids being smuggled in. If they’re being transferred here, we need to get to them before they’re handed over and put to work.”

Through the gloom, Paolo could just make out Dave’s head nodding in agreement. They settled back into silence and Paolo wondered about the series of phone calls that had led to this point. It had been the first break they’d had. Albanian girls were turning up on the Bradchester streets. Someone was smuggling them in, getting them hooked on drugs and then putting them out to work to earn enough to pay for their addiction.

They’d picked up many of these kids and placed them in social services, but not one of them could, or would, tell them who was behind the trafficking. Terrified and addicted, they all told the same story. They’d been abducted and kept prisoner in Albania, then sent here.

What happened to them once they arrived remained a mystery. Paolo hadn’t been able to
discover any connection to the Albanian community in Bradchester.

Then came the tip off. It seemed the girls came in elsewhere and were shipped to Bradchester in various vehicles, often hidden behind false panels. The caller, a woman, had sounded terrified and was only on the phone for a few minutes each time, but managed to give enough information for Paolo to set up this operation. Now it looked as if they’d camped out all night for nothing. There’d been a procession of various vans and cars, but none of them had done anything even remotely suspicious.

Paolo felt himself dozing off and jerked awake just as a van drove past and parked in the darkest corner of the car park, diagonally opposite their car.

“Dave, I think this might be our man. Let’s see what he does next.”

As they watched, the driver climbed out and lit a cigarette. Leaning against the van, he took out a mobile phone and made a short call. When he’d finished, he slipped the phone back in his pocket. He looked around the car park, as if searching for something, then turned and climbed back into the van.

“What do we do now, sir? It looks as if he might be pulling out again.”

“We’ll watch for a bit. If he drives off one of the teams out on the road can follow at a safe distance. At least until we’re sure this isn’t our man. But he hasn’t started the engine, so maybe he’s waiting for someone.”

Twenty minutes later a dark van swept past Paolo’s and pulled up next to the lorry. Both drivers got out of their vehicles and embraced. Then the first driver took the second man to the rear of his vehicle and unlocked it. From where they were parked, Paolo couldn’t see into the van, so signalled to Dave to wait.

The second van driver returned to his vehicle and manoeuvred it so that the two ends faced each other, blocking any view of what was being transferred between the two vans.

“Now,” Paolo said into his phone.

The car park lit up as several police vehicles switched on their lights and moved forward, blocking any chance of the vans making a getaway. The two men took off, one towards the services and the other towards the motorway.

Paolo jumped out and ran after the one aiming for the motorway.

He was almost past him when Paolo threw himself at the man and brought him down with a flying rugby tackle. As the air whooshed out of Paolo’s lungs, he forced himself to hang on to the man’s legs.

Panting, he held the man down and waited for Dave to arrive. Between them, they got the man handcuffed and dragged him to his feet. They handed him over to the uniformed officers to put into a squad car. The other man was already sitting in one of the other cars.

It took Paolo a while to get his breath back and he realised how unfit he was. He’d turn forty later this month; too old to be throwing himself about the place like a kid.

“Right, let’s see what they’ve got hidden in those vans,” Paolo said when he had enough air in his lungs to be able to speak again.

He and Dave walked over to the open doors of the first van.

Cartons of cigarettes filled the entrance floor to ceiling like a wall.

“Pull them all out,” Paolo ordered the uniformed officers. “There might be kids hidden behind there.”

An hour later both vans had been stripped bare. A fortune in stolen cigarettes filled the area around the vans, but there was no sign of any children. Paolo swore, but it didn’t relieve his frustration.

Whoever was bringing the girls in had taken him for a mug.

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Reviews of D. I. Sterling series

Chilling but amazing

Oh my goodness, what an opening!! Lorraine certainly knows how to write a gripping thriller. This book was chilling but amazing.

Reviewer

Consistent and gripping

Fast paced, twists and turns, did not want to put it down. Same characters that we know. Cannot wait for the 6th … the series is consistent and gripping

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Vivid and realistic storytelling

Reading ‘Love Me Tender’ felt like being on a very unpredictable rollercoaster ride with more twists and turns to it than you could possibly count. I felt as though I was part of the story and that’s all thanks to Lorraine’s very vivid and realistic storytelling. For me, ‘Love Me Tender’ is a tightly plotted and gripping read that held my attention throughout and which kept me on the edge of my seat.

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Twists and turns by the dozen

Great addition to the series. Twists and turns by the dozen. Fast paced, all plots unravelled and tidied up by the last page. I cannot wait for the next instalment.

Reviewer

Everything I want

From start to finish this book kept me fully engrossed. It had everything that I want in a crime thriller to keep me hooked. Mystery, murder, torture, intrigue and a well thought out plotline.

Reviewer

I really, really enjoyed this novel

This is my first foray into the DI Sterling series and I must admit that I am going to hunt down and consume the rest because I really, really enjoyed this novel. Not reading any of the other books in the series had little impact, rather the relationships between characters are so well constructed that I am eager to read the earlier novels to see how they have developed and grown.

Reviewer

Kept me guessing

I was warned that reading the first few pages would make me squirm and I did! Another Great story and characters. Kept me guessing to the end, I really had no idea who would turn out to be the villain. I like the way the characters are developing and look forward to the next book. Recommended.

Reviewer

Edge of your seat

This is the fourth book in the D.I. Paolo Sterling series. Yet again Lorraine Mace keeps you on the edge of your seat, trying to guess the perpetrator. This is another fast, well plotted read.

Reviewer

Intense

Whilst this story was not as dark as the previous two in this series, it felt more intense. As DI Sterling investigated the case, he kept hitting brick wall after brick wall and you could sense he was up against the clock the catch the killer. The use of insulin was a unique weapon of choice and I learnt that something that would save lives would kill others horrifically.

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Already a huge fan

I’m already a huge fan of DI Paolo Sterling mysteries but I think this is my favourite book in the series so far!

Reviewer

Beautifully written page-turner

This was a fascinating and beautifully written page-turner, with believable, interesting and sympathetic characters. The author has avoided the character cliches, and created an exciting and frighteningly credible plot. I couldn’t put this down until I’d finished it. Also very impressed with the excellent pace and the tight ending.

Reviewer

Fast-paced gripping read

I couldn’t put this book down. A fast-paced gripping read with a credible plot and authentic characters. It had me hooked until the end and I can’t wait to read more of Lorraine’s books.

Reviewer

Highly recommended

Great read from this author. Gripping tale, good characters. Highly recommended.

Reviewer

Right down to the nitty gritty

This is the second in the D.I. Sterling series, written by the brilliant Lorraine Mace. Her books lure you in from the first page and get right down to the nitty gritty from the start. They are not for the faint hearted, certainly not cosy reading, but well written for anyone who enjoys a good crime novel.

Reviewer

Brilliantly written

Brilliantly written and fast paced, loved this book. I’m hooked on this fantastic author!

Reviewer

Compelling crime novel

This is a well conceived and compelling crime novel that deals sympathetically with an unsympathetic investigation. I liked the honesty and authenticity at the heart of this book, helped greatly by a new kind of lead detective who carries with him an air of being a true gentleman.

Reviewer

Gripped me

This is an edge-of-the-seat crime thriller, starring Di Paolo Stirling, which gripped me right to the end. Lorraine Mace certainly knows how to keep you hooked!

Reviewer

I was hooked

From page 1 I was hooked! Mace certainly knows how to employ a shock tactic or two… This was one of those un-put-downable, gripping, read-in-one-sitting crime novels from an author who is evidently Queen of the red herrings.

Reviewer

Loved this book so much!

I loved this book so much! My first with Paolo Sterling but definitely not my last.

Reviewer

Well thought out plot

Well thought out plot, lots of red herrings to keep you guessing pretty much to the end and a lead character that, although he has his flaws, you are rooting for.

Reviewer

great British crime drama

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I can’t wait to start the next book in the series!

The Northern Witch’s Book Blog

excellent police procedural

This book kept me hooked and at one point I was convinced up to 4 different people could be the killer!

Books and Emma

could not put my kindle down while reading this!

It isn’t very often that I just know I’m gonna fall in love with a series halfway through the first book!

Feed the Crime

Wonderfully dark crime procedural

it’s a hidden gem of a perfect crime novel

Radzy Writes and Reviews

kept me guessing right until the end

Every time I thought I had it figured out, another spanner was thrown in the works and all my amateur detective work was thrown out the window!

K T Robson Reviews

Retriever of Souls is a wonderfully crafted novel

It’s filled with all sorts of twists and turns that not only kept me hooked till the last page but also made me excited for the next installment in the series.

Off the Record

A first class crime novel

Retriever of Souls is sinister, menacing and jam-packed with jaw dropping twists and turns …

Bookish Jottings

Instantly engaging

D.I. Paolo Sterling is instantly engaging – Children in Chains is a dark, gripping and unflinching read.

Louise Phillips, winner of the Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year, longlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library Award for her entire body of work.

Unflinching plots

Delve into the dark side. Well-constructed with unflinching plots.  Satisfying enough for the most discerning crime reader.

Ruth Dugdall, winner of the CWA Debut Dagger Award and author of best-selling psychological crime.

Compelling

Gripping, fast-paced crime fiction with a compelling central character. Fans of Karin Slaughter and Tess Gerritsen will love Lorraine Mace.

Sheila Bugler, author of the DI Ellen Kelly series.

Compulsive reading

Fast-paced and compulsive reading with tension ratcheted to the max. D.I. Paolo Sterling’s humanity is tested by gut-wrenching crimes and damaged killers. Fans of Mo Hayder should love this series.

Chris Curran, author of psychological thrillers

Gritty and gripping

A gritty and positively compelling crime novel

Colette McCormick, author of Ribbons in Her Hair.

Gut-wrenching thriller

‘A visceral, no-punches-pulled, gut-wrenching thriller. A disturbing and gripping tale of child prostitution, and the tragic detective Paolo Sterling dealing with the heartache of his own daughter’s sexual assault. Crime Noir at its darkest’ 

Caroline Dunford, A Death in the Family 

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