Hi and welcome to FromBelgiumWithBookLove! It is my absolute honour to share with you an excerpt from Mexico Street, the third instalment of the Chas Riley series, and my review is here if you missed that. Many thanks to Anne Cater for having me on the tour!
Let’s have a quick look at the blurb first:
Hamburg state prosecutor Chastity Riley investigates a series of arson attacks on cars across the city, which leads her to a startling and life-threatening discovery involving criminal gangs and a very illicit love story…
Night after night, cars are set alight across the German city of Hamburg, with no obvious pattern, no explanation and no suspect.
Until, one night, on Mexico Street, a ghetto of high-rise blocks in the north of the city, a Fiat is torched. Only this car isn’t empty. The body of Nouri Saroukhan – prodigal son of the Bremen clan – is soon discovered, and the case becomes a homicide.
Public prosecutor Chastity Riley is handed the investigation, which takes her deep into a criminal underground that snakes beneath the whole of Germany. And as details of Nouri’s background, including an illicit relationship with the mysterious Aliza, emerge, it becomes clear that these are not random attacks, and there are more on the cards…
Without further ado, let’s go to Hamburg!
DYING IN HAMBURG
There’s no functioning café to be found in the wilderness of high-rise offices at this time in the morning, but I’ve got hold of a twenty-four-hour kiosk. There are various trashy papers lying in heaps in front of the till, and then there are the superserious, grown-up newspapers people hide their tabloids inside. There’s a shelf of sweets and a shelf of crisps, there’s a fridge with beer and lemonade and stuff, there are endless cigarettes, and behind the counter there’s a fully automatic coffee machine with any number of buttons. But there’s nobody who could sell or serve me any of it.
I walk out of the door and light myself a cigarette. I’m surrounded by insurance companies, but that doesn’t necessarily make me feel any surer.
I feel a bit sick. The idea occurs, not for the first time, that in future I should only start smoking after nightfall; but three seconds later I abandon the idea, smoke the cigarette at least halfway down and go back in.
Still no answer.
Fine. Then the prosecution will just have to brew her own.
According to my observations over the last two decades, you just have to press a couple of buttons. I tank up four paper cups of brown brew, one after another, without anything going wrong. If only everything in life was this easy to fill up.
I put twenty-five euros on the counter, leave the shop with two boxes of cigarettes, a lighter and the full cups on a cardboard tray and make my way back to the burnt-out car. A cherry tree drops its last petals as I pass. Even the wallpaper’s coming down. Out of the corners of my eyes, on either side, I see office-worker prisons.
The Fiat stands in a cast-concrete clearing behind the multistorey car park, the ground floor of which is more like an underpass, and parked at the end of this semi-tunnel is the brown Mercedes belonging to Ivo Stepanovic. Both car and chief inspector have seen better days. One has sagging eyelids and the other has sagging headlights. But when it comes down to it, everything still works.
Stepanovic and the young police officer have cigarettes in the corners of their mouths and their hands in their trouser pockets. So the kid isn’t afraid of scrounging off the old man. Stepanovic is scanning the crime scene, his tired colleague is talking to a second detective: I’d evidently been too tired for him because I hadn’t even noticed him till now. He is now holding Nouri Saroukhan’s vehicle documents in his left hand. He holds out his other hand to me as he sees me coming with the coffee, but only takes the tray from me.
‘How kind of you to get coffee for us all.’
OK, he’s boring me already.
And I haven’t got anything like coffee for us all, because another two officers in uniform have now arrived and are cordoning off everything that the fire brigade have already
cordoned off, before taking a whole heap of photos. I can’t decide whether to apologise for the missing coffee or duck away. Stepanovic settles it for me.
I know the team.’ He’s slipped over to me and is speaking quietly. ‘That guy only drinks tea. And the other can have mine.’
‘Thanks,’ I say, and I’ve immediately forgotten the phone routine from earlier. Over the last six months, Stepanovic has become a reliable solver of problems great and small, and you can forgive that kind of person a lot. I walk over to the uniformed policemen with the two remaining paper cups.
‘Thanks, that’s nice of you,’ says one, ‘but I had litres of the stuff at the station last night – any more and I’ll keel over.’
The other says: ‘I’m a tea drinker.’ And he twinkles as if we were on breakfast TV.
‘Yes, no,’ I say, ‘uh, then … that’s fine.’
They carry on doing their stuff with mind-boggling levels of motivation. I rejoin my plain-clothes colleagues, press a coffee into Stepanovic’s hand, and he takes it gladly after all. The deep furrows on his face suddenly soften completely.
‘Sugar for anyone?’ I ask, digging in my coat pockets. ‘There wasn’t any milk.’
The young cops watch Stepanovic and me with mild revulsion as we stir far too much sugar into our coffee. They take hasty sips and lick their lips as if the gnat’s piss tasted of anything but metal and cardboard.
We remind ourselves: fully automatic coffee machine. Button-pressed by me personally.
‘So, Saroukhan,’ says Stepanovic.
‘Right,’ I say. ‘Saroukhan. Your colleague here picked up on that.’
‘Very good, Rocktäschel,’ says Stepanovic, clapping the young man – who is apparently called Rocktäschel but whose name I completely forgot to ask – rather too vigorously on his narrow shoulder blades. The coffee slops over. ‘Interesting family.’
‘Interesting family from Bremen,’ I say.
‘Exactly,’ says the guy I find so boring. ‘So why the hell are they suddenly dying on us here in Hamburg?’
‘Hey,’ I say, ‘nobody’s died here yet.’
‘Give it a rest, Lindner,’ says Rocktäschel, getting his smoke in his own eye.
I look at him, discreetly blow the smoke away and say: ‘I can’t help wondering: the name rang a bell with you so quickly … but the Saroukhan clan’s patch is a long way away from Hamburg.’
‘I grew up in Bremen,’ he says, stepping from one foot to the other and shivering slightly.
‘You a Werder fan then?’ asks Stepanovic.
Rocktäschel looks at him, and his neck muscles tense under his flying jacket. He throws the cigarette away. ‘Is that a problem?’
All Hamburg sees HSV everywhere, and you really have to wonder how they managed to cling on for so long when they were serving up such dross for years.
Stepanovic holds up his hands and puts his head on one side. ‘Hey, I’m from Frankfurt, no worries.’
‘Pff, that’s not much better,’ says Lindner, probably because he wants to say something too. He earns himself a look from me, but as a straight right to the chin.
‘Watch out,’ says Stepanovic quietly. For a moment, everyone thinks he’s still talking about the football; it takes a moment before we realise that it’s about something completely different. ‘Don’t look now, just carry on.’
‘What’s up?’ I ask quietly.
‘There’s someone on the car-park roof, watching us. A young woman. Flaming red curls. We’ll keep talking, I’ve got my eye on her. When I give the sign, you all look too.’
Stepanovic is capable of seeing things from the corners of his eyes that other people wouldn’t notice even if they hit them in the face. It’s one of the skills that got him to SCO44. All the guys there have a dead-straight CID career path – obviously – as well as something special in the mix. They’re interrogation specialists, techies, extremists of the senses. Stepanovic has eyes like nobody else, and he can immediately classify the stuff he sees.
We talk somewhat erratically back and forth, and I fidget about with one of the fresh cigarette packets. It’s always extremely difficult not to look when someone’s just asked you not to look now.
‘Now,’ says Stepanovic.
We turn our heads towards the car-park roof.
I’m just in time to see the fiery red hair as it vanishes below the parapet.
‘Go,’ I say to Rocktäschel, as I reckon he’s the sportiest of the three men here, and I press my coffee into Lindner’s hand.
Instantly, Rocktäschel is wide awake, for the first time this morning, but hey, it’s at the right moment. He drops his cup, and we run together towards the car park entrance.
‘You take the lift, I’ll take the stairs!’ he hisses to me, and we do it that way, but when we reach the roof, there’s no red hair anywhere to be seen.
‘Crap,’ he pants, his hands on his knees.
‘Too many options,’ I say, looking around. The low concrete walls to the next-door buildings are easy to climb, she could have fled anywhere.
We sprint round every side of the roof, and check every possible escape route – nothing.
She’s got away.
I stop for a moment and stand at the edge of the car-park roof, on the corner of Mexico Street and Überseering, and take a look at City Nord from above. What a crime to house people here, I think, how could they, and then my phone rings. Stepanovic.
‘That was a woman who knows how to get away,’ I say, and Stepanovic says: ‘Nouri Saroukhan is dead. The hospital just rang the station.’
Did that tickle your fancy, or what?! Mexico Street is available now, go get it!