Book 3

The Dark Below

In the Cornish coastal village of Porthenev, a storm of blood-soaked violence is brewing…

Escalating acts of sabotage are threatening the livelihoods of local fishermen. Desperate to apprehend the culprit, they turn to private investigator Blake Hollow for help.
A seasoned veteran in wrangling dangerous criminals, Blake still grapples with her own ghosts, but views this case as just another routine assignment. Little does she know, the fishermen of Porthenev are harbouring secrets darker than the ocean. And the deadliest of them all is about to resurface.

When one of the men vanishes without a trace, Blake is unnerved by the nightmarish crime scene left behind in his wake. As she delves deeper into the heart of this once tight-knit community, she discovers the price of keeping silent is paid not just in blood but in a chilling conspiracy that threatens to consume everyone involved.

Now Blake must navigate treacherous waters to solve a mystery unlike any she’s encountered before—and stop a sadistic killer with a taste for flesh, who is hellbent on exacting gruesome retribution.

The Dark Below by Malcolm Richards is a gripping and relentless crime thriller that will leave readers on the edge of their seats, craving the next twist in this pulse-pounding tale of suspense and revenge.

Blake buttoned her coat up to her neck and began a slow approach towards the men she had seen earlier. They had climbed up from the slipway and were now gathered at the foot of the pier, busy repairing a large fishing net that was unrolled and spread across the ground. They hadn’t noticed Blake yet, so she took a moment to observe their surprisingly nimble hands fashioning intricate knots. The oldest of the men was a stern figure of average height, with salt and pepper hair and steely eyes. Blake guessed him to be in his mid-fifties, but his sea-weathered appearance made it hard to be specific. What was easy to see was his confidence. This man was the leader of the group, which meant he was almost certainly the trawler captain, Albert Roskilly.

Working next to him, was a younger man who looked to be in his late teens. A tall and stringy figure, he had pallid skin and blonde hair that protruded like straw from beneath his black handknitted hat. His sparse beard was little more than fluff and he had a nervous energy about him, his eyes constantly flitting between the other men, then back to his slim fingers as they worked on the net.

The third man was early thirties, broad and powerful-looking, with a square jaw and a straight nose. He wore a black and yellow striped woollen hat, Cornish rugby colours, and had emerald green eyes that creased at the corners as he talked. He was an attractive man, but Blake could tell from the way he held himself that he was very aware of the fact.
Suddenly, he glanced in her direction and those green eyes turned as dark as seawater on a stormy night. He muttered to the other men. All eyes turned towards her.
Blake felt a flutter of uncertainty as she drew closer. She had met men like this before. Men who believed they were still in charge of the world and that women were subservient. She held her head a little higher as she came to a halt in front of them.

‘Morning, gentlemen,’ she said, ensuring her voice was confident and even. ‘My name is Blake Hollow. I’m a private investigator. I’m assuming you know why I’m here.’

The older man straightened, wiped his left handvon his jacket and extended it towards her.

‘Albert Roskilly,’ he said in a gruff voice.

Blake shook his hand, which was icy and calloused. He nodded to the young boy next to him. this here is Ewan, and that’s my son, Conrad.’

Blake nodded at them both. The young man, Ewan, stared at the ground, while Conrad took a moment to appraise her, a leery smile spreading across his full lips. Blake was surprised to learn he was the older man’s son; they looked nothing alike.

‘I didn’t realise there were girl private detectives,’ Conrad said, flashing his eyes at her in an unsubtle attempt at flirtation.

‘Well, what can I say? We women get up to all kinds of things these days.’ She peered down at the fishing trawler that had been hauled up the slipway. She could see the hole in the side of the boat now. It was large and ragged, like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. She turned back to Albert Roskilly. ‘Is that your boat? I heard someone tried to sink it.’

The fisherman’s eyes darkened. ‘That’s right.’

‘Can you tell me what happened?’

‘Not much to tell. Some bastard put a hole in it one night last week. When we came in the morning, the tide was in and the boat was already half under. If we’d come any later, she would have been lost to us.’

‘How long until it’s back on the water?’

‘God knows. We’re still waiting for the insurance company to send someone out. The repairs won’t get done until I know they’ll pay up. I can’t afford to take out another loan if they don’t.’

He nodded at the other men. ‘This is my crew. Until we can get that boat seaworthy again we’re all suffering. We’ve got mouths to feed, bills to pay.’

‘Little Ewan doesn’t,’ Conrad said, elbowing the young man. ‘He still lives with his mummy and daddy, don’t you, Ewan?’

The young man was quiet, staring intensely at his feet.

Blake had spent less than a minute in Conrad Roskilly’s company, but she already knew him well. She had met his type before—a misogynist and a bully, the type of man who got off on belittling those he saw as weak and vulnerable, undoubtedly to cover up his own deep-rooted insecurities and fears. She ignored him for now, focusing her attention on his
father.

‘No one saw anything the night someone tried to sink your boat?’ she asked.

Albert shook his head. ‘You spoke to Jasper?’

Blake told him that she had.

‘Then you already know about the graffiti, the nets, all the rest.’

‘It sounds like whoever’s responsible has done quite a number on the harbour. Whose fish got ruined in the cold storage? Yours?’

‘Mine, and a few of the other boys’ catches as well.’

‘Any other boats attacked apart from yours?’

Albert shrugged. ‘Not to my knowledge.’

Blake’s eyes wandered back to the damaged trawler. ‘Have you had a problem with anyone lately, Albert?’

The man narrowed his eyes. ‘I mind my own business. Try not to have a problem with anyone.’

Conrad was staring at Blake again, that smug smile only serving to irritate her.

‘What about outside of the harbour? No strange phone calls, anonymous threats?’

‘Not me,’ Albert said, then glanced at the others.

‘Ewan?’

The teenager shoved his hands inside his jacket pockets and shrugged.

‘Is that no?’ Blake asked.

He shook his head.

Conrad jabbed the boy in the arm. ‘He’s not used to talking to girls. Probably too scared he’ll squirt in his pants.’

‘Leave the boy be,’ Albert said, a warning tone in his voice.’ You’ll have to forgive my son, Miss Hollow. Sometimes I think he was born with fish guts for brains.’

‘What about you?’ Blake settled her gaze on Conrad. ‘You seem like you could easily make a few enemies.’

The smile faded from the man’s lips and his eyes widened in mock innocence. ‘Me? You must be mistaken. I used to be a choir boy.’

‘John George Haigh used to be a choir boy, too.’

‘Who?’

‘The Acid Bath Killer. He murdered a bunch of people and disposed of their bodies using sulphuric acid. He also thought he was a vampire.’

Conrad stared at her, momentarily speechless.

Blake suppressed a smile. ‘So no run-ins for you, either?’

‘No,’ Conrad said.

‘So, we have smashed windows and damaged nets, sabotaged freezer units, graffiti, and a hole in the side of your boat. Has anything else happened I should know about?’

Conrad cleared his throat. His expression was serious now, as if he had finally accepted Blake was here to help. ‘There’s one more thing. The night after the boat was hit, me and some of the other lads camped out again in the harbour, in case that fucker came back to do more damage. It was getting late. We were cold and about ready to give up for the night. But then I thought I saw someone creeping around one of the other boats. We tried to sneak up on him, but he must have heard us coming because once we reached the boat, it was like he’d vanished into thin air.’ He smiled grimly. ‘That was when we found the blood.’

Blake shivered as an icy chill swept across the harbour. The fishermen hardly seemed to notice it. Conrad continued. ‘It was on the side of the boat. A large cross painted with a finger. “X” marks the spot.’

‘You’re sure it was blood?’

‘Looked like it to me.’

‘Whose boat?’

‘Tom Mathers’,’ Albert said. ‘He’s at sea right now. Back in a few days, I believe.’

Blake’s gaze shifted from man to man. ‘And this happened last week?’

‘My boat got hit Wednesday night,’ Albert said. ‘Police came around again the next day and did nothing. Conrad found the blood on Friday. Mathers and his crew camped out Saturday night in case someone decided to put a hole in the side of his boat. But nothing happened. They took her back out yesterday.’

Blake peered at the harbour and the swelling sea beyond. ‘Bored teenagers might spray graffiti on a wall or two, but they don’t sink boats. Which is why you should have called the police back when you discovered the blood.’

Albert Roskilly scowled. ‘What was the point? They’d already made it clear they weren’t going to lift a finger. That’s why Jasper had the idea to get hold of your dad and bring you down here. So what do you think? Are you going to catch this bastard for us or what?’

Movement to her left made Blake turn in the direction of the harbourmaster’s ofice. Her father stood at the window, watching silently. She heaved her shoulders then turned back to the fisherman.

Conrad looked at her indignantly, while Ewan continued to stare at his feet.

‘It’s an “I’ll look into it but I can’t promise anything”,’ she said. ‘I work by the hour, and I expect to get paid regardless of the results. I won’t waste your time or money either. If I can’t find any leads, you’ll be the first to know. Does that work for you?’

Albert nodded slowly, mulling the words over, then held out his hand. Blake shook it.

‘You’ve got yourself a deal,’ he said.

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