Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Ryan Kaine is on the wing…
When alleged murderer, Melanie Archer, is violently assaulted and left for dead by unknown attackers, she reaches out to the only organisation who might be able to save her life, The 83 Trust.
But before Ryan Kaine is willing to help her and put his team in danger, he wants to determine her guilt or innocence — in person. Against the advice of his closest allies, he and his insistent partner, Lara, con their way into the lion’s den — the last place he’d ever be expected to go willingly.
Unarmed and with no eyes or ears inside the prison, Kaine and Lara are trapped, with only a hasty disguise and a false identity preventing them from taking a permanent holiday at Her Majesty’s pleasure… or worse.
Is Kaine willing to risk everything to save her?
If you like Lee Child, Mark Dawson and Robert Ludlum, you’re going to find the Ryan Kaine series compulsively addictive.
Monday 11th April – Melanie Archer
HMP Falston Manor, Derbyshire, UK
A thumping, grinding blow. Back of the head.
Flashes of bright light. Darkness. Fog.
White tiles, wet and harsh, raced up. Smacked her in the face. Another blow, a kick. Heavy shoes, the toecaps cracked bone. Her bone. Bones.
“You’re gonna die, bitch!” the voice hissed in her ear.
“The killer’s going down,” another voice, deeper, guttural.
“Don’t need no pay for this. Do it for free, me.”
Another kick landed.
Added to the pain.
“I’ll have your share.”
“Fuck off. What’s mine’s mine.”
Wall to wall.
Floor to floor. Total, encompassing. Nothing but agony.
Head, eyes, jaw, ribs, stomach. Every movement screamed pain. The ribs hurt more on the left side.
Someone whimpered, cried. Close by, high-pitched and feeble. Melanie Archer felt the sounds inside her head. Another groan, this one louder.
She tried to open both eyes, but only the left lid reacted, letting in the searing agony of white light. Too bright, too much to suffer. She squeezed her lid closed and the ache lessened. But not by much.
Sunny? It’s sunny?
The sun gave off little heat. Her skin was cold. Sweaty cold. Clammy. Somewhere close by, water splashed. Dripped. The sound echoed off hard, reflective surfaces.
The shower block. Another kick, to the back, this one barely noticed. Barely felt.
Darkness closed in. Restful darkness. Peace.
Relax, Mel. Let it end. End now.
Female voices, but sharp and guttural, high-pitched.
In the distance, way off, an alarm bell rang. Too far away. No safety there. No help.
Melanie lay on her side, curled into a foetal ball. That much, she could tell. The unforgiving surface she lay on—stiff, cold, gritty—it smelled of urine, caustic bleach, and … decay.
Another blow, this one to her head.
She retched. Gagged. Vomited.
Blackness rushed up to swallow her and end the pain.
Thank you, God. Thank …
Softness. Scratchy softness.
Murmured voices in the distance, talking over the subdued, tinny music expelled from a radio. Mel didn’t recognise the song, but it was peaceful, relaxing. She smiled—or tried to. Her lips were swollen and split. Pain, the stinging pain of lemon juice driven into a cut, shocked her fully awake.
Mel lay on her back, the rough grit of tile and grout beneath her had been exchanged for the firm, intermittent lumpiness of an old, well-worn mattress. The smell had changed, too. From urine and corrosive bleach, to lemons and something else. Something sharp.
Starched sheets tucked in around and over her.
She tried to lift her head, but it was heavy, far too heavy, as though a concrete block was pressing against her forehead.
Her heartbeat thumped inside her head. Pounding. Adding to the cluster of pain.
She tried to swallow, but her mouth was too dry.
Mel moved her tongue, trying to generate some spit, some moisture. The tongue found a hole. A gap where her upper front tooth used to be. No pain though. An old injury. One of many. Years old. Nearly a decade. The missing front tooth, had been replaced by a ceramic implant. A perfect match to the original in shape and colour, but not in feel.
In the gap, something sharp—the implant’s metallic head protruding from her gum—cut the side of her tongue. Made it bleed. The blood seeped into her mouth, tasted of old pennies. She swallowed. Gagged. Swallowed again. Coughed.
Fresh, exquisite pain blazed though her side. The jagged edge of a rib bit deep. She yelped.
The distant conversation stopped. Footsteps approached. Heels clicked on a hard floor.
Metal rattled. Keys on a chain.
“Try not to move.”
“You have a couple of broken ribs, a fractured wrist, multiple contusions, and a suspected concussion,” the woman said. Her voice was cool and unemotional, but carried the rasp of a long-term smoker. Her breath stank of cigarettes. “Try not to move. Wouldn’t want the ribs to pierce a lung.”
“Where … Where am …”
Hesitation. “You don’t know where you are? Can you tell me your name?”
“You took a few blows to the head. What’s your name?”
Mel swallowed, blood mixed with saliva.
“Mel … Melanie Archer.”
“Good. Do you know where you are, in general terms?”
She tried to nod but, again, her head refused to move. Pain knifed behind her eyes, running between the temples, pulsing along with the rapid beat of her heart. Her neck seemed pinned in place, as though held in a vice. Something restricted her movement, stopped her from dipping her chin. A neck brace. She recognised its softly restrictive force. She’d worn one before.
“Falston,” she answered, “Falston Manor?” Her voice sounded as dry and cracked as the other woman’s, but Mel had never smoked a cigarette in her life.
Wouldn’t have dreamed of it. He wouldn’t have let her.
“Yes, that’s right. Memory’s unimpaired. Good,” the woman said, but didn’t seem particularly relieved. “Means we won’t need to send you for a scan. Paperwork for a transfer on medical grounds can be a nightmare. Expensive.”
Mel tried opening her eyes again, but her lids wouldn’t move. The right was being held in place by something soft but unforgiving—bandages. The lids of her left eye were stuck, gummed together.
“Oh God, I-I can’t see.” Even though she fought the panic, Mel’s voice rose in pitch and volume.
“Calm down, Archer. Far as I can tell, there’s nothing wrong with your vision. Heavy swelling and a deep laceration to the right side of your face needed bandages. I’ll clear the left in a second. Hold still.” The last words were barked in an order.
Footsteps clicked again, these ones moving away.
In the near silence that followed, broken only by the ticking of a clock and the tinny music, the seconds stretched into minutes. Mel tried to stay calm, keep her breathing shallow and slow. Panic wouldn’t help. She’d learned that the hard way, over decades.
Stay calm and subservient on the outside, cool and determined on the inside. The only way to survive.
How much damage had they done? What could she move?
Head? No, the neck brace and bandages handled that.
Hands and arms? She could make a fist with her left hand, but when she tried moving the fingers of her right, a fireball of pain exploded. Broken. Probably at the wrist. Again, not for the first time.
Hips, knees, and ankles? All moved normally, and without excessive discomfort.
Now for the important part, the one kept for last, the chest and stomach.
Mel moved slowly, testing each area gently by tensing and relaxing the necessary muscle groups.
Broken ribs were a given. She already knew that, and the bones would heal. Doctors didn’t bandage damaged ribs anymore. Not worth the time or effort. Pain would restrict movement well enough, and the patient needed to breathe. But what about her stomach?
Mel held her breath and tensed her abdominal wall. Sore, bruised, but not seriously. In the past, she’d suffered worse, much worse. The damage was superficial. Damage to the belly didn’t matter. No chance of her ever being pregnant again. He’d seen to that seventeen, no, eighteen years ago.
Oh God. Little Bella.
Gone, and without having had a chance at any sort of a life.
Bella would be doing her A levels this year. She’d have been smart, like her mother, but more worldly wise. Better prepared for what life could throw at her. Mel would have seen to that. Bella would have had none of the naïve ignorance of her teenage mother, and absolutely none of her father’s cunning evil or his vileness.
Tears formed behind gummy, gritty eyes.
She would have protected little Bella from his scheming, his anger. Mel would have done anything to save her daughter from the fear and the misery.
So many years of guilt and suffering had led to … where? Her Majesty’s Prison, Falston Manor.
Overcrowded cells and strip searches.
Why? What had she done?
Why wouldn’t anyone believe her? It wasn’t fair. Life wasn’t fair. It never had been.
Returning footsteps broke into Mel’s drift into self-pity.
“By the way,” the woman with the gravelly voice said, “I’m Dr Milliner, the Chief Medical Officer here. You might remember me from your orientation.”
Ritual humiliation, more like.
It started before Mel had even arrived.
Blurred, fractured memories crawled through her head, unwanted. An hour-long ride in a prison van with blacked out windows. Sitting handcuffed on a bench seat, safety belt around her lap. Two more luckless, pale-faced prisoners on the bench to her left. One, fat and brassy with hair bleached at the tips and a ring through her nose, kept leering at her, licking her lips and blowing kisses. The other, pale, skinny, and terrified. Hair cut in an angular bob and no more than a teenager, she cried throughout the journey and bit her nails.
Normally, inmates were allowed to wear their own clothes, but the guards deemed Mel’s were too expensive, too eye-catching. They stripped her, gave her a faded green tracksuit three sized too big, T-shirts, and plain, cotton underwear.
The so-called medical exam was cursory and performed by a wizen-faced fifty-something woman. She had short grey hair, horn-rimmed glasses, pale brown eyes, and a sneer. Presumably, the owner of the raspy voice and the harsh bedside manner, Dr Milliner.
For the exam, Milliner asked a few general health questions, ticked the answers on a form attached to a clipboard, and made Mel sign it. No stethoscope to the chest, no blood pressure test, nothing “hands-on”.
Medical over, the real horror began.
How long ago was that? Two weeks? Three?
The days blurred. They merged into one long, indeterminant routine, interspersed with threats and intimidation, leading to … here.
Metal scraped onto a hard surface close to Mel’s head. Plastic rustled and crumpled. A vacuum-sealed bag popped open. The lid of a plastic bottle clicked, its seal broken. Liquid poured into a small container.
“This will feel cold,” Dr Milliner said, her voice close, her breath still reeking. “Nothing but distilled water to clean your eye. Keep it closed until I’m done.”
Cool liquid from a cotton wool swab soaked her lids. The cold water ran down the side of her face and pooled in her ear. Tickled. The doctor’s touch was more gentle than expected. A dry swab dabbed the excess liquid and, two firm swipes later, Milliner pulled away from the bed, taking the smell of stale cigarettes with her.
“Okay, try now.”
Mel opened her eye, closed it against the sharp white light, and took a shallow breath. She opened the lid again, blinked two, three times, and waited.
Slowly, the fuzzy pictures cleared and the blurry images sharpened.
The hatchet-faced Dr Milliner pressed the tips of her fingers to Mel’s bandaged head and held up a brown-stained index finger.
“Follow my finger. Don’t move your head.”
The hazy digit moved, left and right, up and down. Mel followed it as best she could, keeping her head still. The migraine flared when she looked up and to the left. She winced and groaned but said nothing.
Milliner pulled away.
“You’ll have a headache for a while. If it gets any worse I might be able to prescribe some ibuprofen.” She paused, reading the time from her wristwatch. “Paperwork to do. I’ll be back to check on you shortly, maybe remove that neck brace. Meanwhile, try to get some rest.”
The doctor spun on a low-heeled shoe and marched away. Her footsteps clicked on the tiled floor once again, and the keychain attached to her belt jangled. She paused at one of only two doors in the three-bed ward, selected a key from the bundle, and turned the lock. She left the ward without looking back.
“Paperwork? Really. Fag break, more like,” Mel mumbled, struggling to form the words with damaged lips.
Someone turned off the radio. Apart from the continuous ticking of the cheap wall clock, the room fell silent. For the first time since entering Falston Manor, Melanie Archer felt safe.
But how long would it last?