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The Dark Detective: Venator (The Max Darke Files)

Jane Harvey-Berrick

  Jane Harvey-Berrick

  The Dark Detective:


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Books By Jane Harvey-Berrick



  Chapter One – A Really Bad Day

  Chapter Two – The Best Hotel in Town

  Chapter Three – A Rock and a Hard Place

  Chapter Four – Home Comforts

  Chapter Five – Messages

  Chapter Six – Bad Dreams

  Chapter Seven – The Circle Line and the Crypt

  Chapter Eight – The Book

  Chapter Nine – Bad Tidings

  Chapter Ten – The Beast of Bodmin

  Chapter Eleven – North of Chelsea

  Chapter Twelve – The Amulet

  Chapter Thirteen – Changing the Guards

  Chapter Fourteen - 10 Downing Street

  Chapter Fifteen – Mother Dearest

  Chapter Sixteen – Endings


  Jane A. C. Harvey-Berrick has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  All rights reserved; no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

  First published in Great Britain in 2012

  ISBN 97809553150-4-6

  Harvey Berrick Publishing

  Copyright © Jane A. C. Harvey-Berrick 2012

  Cover design by Nicky Stott

  Photograph: Shutterstock, with permission

  Formatted by Perfectly Publishable


  The Education of Sebastian

  The Education of Caroline

  Dangerous to Know & Love


  At Your Beck & Call

  Playing in the Rain

  Summer of Seventeen



  The New Samurai

  The Dark Detective

  To Steve, who was there when Max was born.

  The man stared at the small, blue gemstone in his hand. It felt cold and looked just like a piece of coloured glass, but he knew it wasn’t – it was azurite – a rare gemstone. And it had power.

  A shiver ran through him as he picked up his phone.

  He drummed his fingers on the desk impatiently, willing the person he was calling to answer.

  Finally, he heard the line crackle into life: “Good morning, Scotland Yard, D Division.”

  “Max! Good to hear your voice. How’s London these days? Keeping you busy and out of trouble?”

  “Hello, Walter! How’s Langley? Have the CIA managed to catch any villains lately?”

  Laughter. He was relieved to hear the relaxed voice at the other end of the end of the line. It meant things were still normal. Or what passed for normal in their business.

  “You working on anything in particular?” he said.

  “Hmm. Got some Level 2 activity,” came the reply, “but nothing serious, I don’t think. What about you?”

  “Actually, there is something. I don’t want to say too much at the moment but I thought I’d just check in with you, see if you’d heard anything on the street.”

  “No. Just the regular stuff. What have you heard?”

  The man took a breath.

  “Nothing concrete. Some whispers on the wind, you know the kind of thing. Right now I’ve got a routine security job going on – some protection for a big cheese. They probably don’t need me but you never know. Say, what’s the score on azurite?”

  There was a pause.

  “Not much. It’s a low grade gemstone, similar to lapis lazuli, said to enhance mystical powers, I think. Why do you ask?”

  The man was disappointed. He’d hoped to learn more.

  “Oh, no special reason. I was just wondering...”

  “I know someone who’s an expert on mystical gems – I could find out?”

  “Yeah, that would be great. Thanks. Well, better go and earn my bucks – keep in touch, okay?”

  “Okay, Walter. Will do. Bye.”

  With the phone call ended, the man stared d at the receiver. He was surprised to find his hand was shaking ever so slightly.

  “Pull yourself together,” he told himself sharply. “You’re a CIA agent!”

  He stroked the azurite gemstone. It wasn’t just cold to the touch now – it had become icy. The man looked around him uneasily. He’d been too preoccupied, too slow. And now it was too late.

  Suddenly the lights flickered out. Shadows rushed forwards. The man screamed.

  A Really Bad Day

  Max Darke was about to have a really bad day, although he didn’t know it yet as he pushed his way through the crowds of early morning commuters in London’s Victoria.

  The businessmen and women with their sharp suits and expensive watches gave Max a wide berth, their eyes flicking up and down at the tall, broad-shouldered man with the unusual bronze-coloured hair and his long, heavy overcoat. It wasn’t the shabbiness of his clothing that made him stand out particularly, or the weary expression on his youthful face, but the whiff of barely concealed violence that seemed to cling to him. Which was a pity, really, because Max enjoyed the company of people: it wasn’t something he got a lot of in his job.

  He lowered his wide, grey eyes to the pavement and tried not to step on the cracks – it gave his gait an odd, skipping-shuffling rhythm.

  “Don’t step on the cracks or the bears will get you... never can be too sure,” he muttered to himself, startling a woman who was striding past in the opposite direction.

  Max continued carefully down Broadway, passing the ugly, modern building of New Scotland Yard: a grey, concrete monolith, ill at ease with the many Georgian and Victorian buildings that surrounded it. He glanced up briefly but didn’t see anyone he recognised. The triangular sign – announcing that you had arrived at the offices of London’s Metropolitan Police – revolved slowly. It was a favourite backdrop for journalists and public relations staff organising impromptu press conferences. Tourists liked it, too.

  Scotland Yard is the headquarters of London’s police force and is famous across the world. But it had a secret – a big, dark, nasty secret.

  Max was the guardian of the secret.

  He turned right and dodged down a narrow alleyway. An unnumbered, unnamed blue door was set back from the kerb. If you hadn’t known it was there, you would hardly have noticed it as you walked past. There was no knocker and no bell. Max used his key to let himself in, making sure that nobody was watching. Better safe than sorry.

  Not many of his colleagues used the backdoor entrance and Max preferred to keep a low profile. In fact, if he thought about it, his bosses were rather insistent that he kept a low profile: sometimes Max felt that he was almost invisible. He shrugged his shoulders – there were times when it would have been useful in his job.

  He made his way down a brightly lit corridor. A few ‘Wanted’ posters were pinned to the wall along with fire notices and a pair of fading health and safety memos that had remained unchanged for the last four years. The police at New Scotland Yard had too many criminals to catch without worrying about minor things like how to change a light bulb safely, or the correct way to climb a ladder.

ax’s office was small and gloomy. It was as insignificant as possible, tucked away next to the Traffic Division and behind building maintenance. There was no name on the door, just the number 13 and the sign that told people they had reached ‘D Division’.

  Most people ignored this door and walked straight past it. If anyone had bothered to stop, knock politely and look inside, this is what they would have seen: three small desks, two telephones, three computers and Max. And if you had asked Max who he was, he’d give you the ghost of a smile and say,

  “I’m Detective Darke, Demon Division.”

  It is a well-known fact that most cities have a problem with demons. Of course, the tourist boards don’t advertise this fact but demons, and other creatures of the night, are drawn to the most populated areas like party-goers to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

  Most of these are Level One demons: not something you would invite to your granny’s birthday party, but not out-and-out evil (although this does depend on your definition of ‘evil’ – Max liked to think of himself as a tolerant man). Level One demons steal the washing from clothes lines and leave litter on the street. Sometimes they eat small children who should have known better than to go out alone after dark. They’re not too much of a problem.

  Level Two demons are less common. These are nasty and vicious and like to pick fights with men who have more muscles than brains. Then they eat the brains. Never invite a Level Two demon to your granny’s house.

  But if you are really, really unlucky, you might one day meet a Level Three demon.

  Detective Max Darke had left the police training college at Hendon two years ago and had worked in the Demon Division at Scotland Yard for most of that time. He had never met a Level Three demon. His luck was about to run out.

  Max scowled at his computer screen: 32 emails, plus 19 text messages on his mobile already, not to mention a lot of shrieking and growling on the voicemail that Max didn’t have time to translate. That wasn’t good. In fact, that was really, really bad. In fact it meant something really, really bad.

  He scanned through the list of emails. Most of them came from Level Two demons. That was no surprise because Level Twos were considerably brighter than the dim-witted, slow-moving Level Ones, who would look at a computer and wonder where they put the powder for the washing machine – even assuming that most Level Ones bothered to wash the food stains out of their clothes, or the blood (which was often the same thing).

  This meant that Level Ones were easier to catch, although they could still tear your throat out with their teeth if you caught them on a bad day. Not that demons ever really had good days.

  Most Level Ones behaved themselves, which, in Max’s book, meant sticking to low grade crime like graffiti (with appallingly bad spelling – where did those demons get their education these days?), pick-pocketing and blood-drinking in the rough part of the city – which, by coincidence, happened to be right next to the smart part of the city.

  All the demons on Max’s patch had a Demon Passport. The Powers That Be issued them on a demon’s arrival from the nether regions. Max had never met the PTBs, although he had their email. Max had the right to revoke a demon’s passport for repeat offences or really nasty first offences such as decapitation and organ tasting. That usually meant a termination and a return down under.

  Max read through the emails quickly, then stared blankly at the screen, his pulse just a little faster than usual, his fingers raking through his untidy hair. The emails all said the same thing – a nest of Brood demons had arrived in the city. Level Threes. The worst kind. And they were on the hunt – for who or what, no-one was saying. They didn’t need to because it was always the same: blood and bodies. Human blood, human bodies.

  Max stood up slowly. He had to find these demons – and fast. A nest like that could breed rapidly, killing dozens of people in just one meal. From what he’d read about Level Threes they were clever, leaving little evidence behind them, just a string of mysterious disappearances. It had certainly put the wind up the tail of a lot of Level Twos, which was why Max had had so many messages – there was no honour amongst demons; there was already too much competition for food. And Level Threes would take out any other demon who got in their way.

  But what were the Brood doing here in the first place? Why risk termination for travelling without a permit? There must be a reason. Even stupid demons didn’t act without a clear purpose. That worried Max more than he liked to admit. For all their demonic bad behaviour, most demons preferred the status quo. It must mean something serious was just over the horizon. But what?

  Max collected his weapons, mentally checking them off his list:

  “Holy water, silver letter opener, water pistol and garlic. If the first three don’t work, I’ll just eat the garlic and breathe on them.”

  The messages told him that the Brood were staying at the Ritz hotel. They liked rich victims because they tasted better. Rich people were much more likely to eat organic food and also have nice, furry arteries for added fibre.

  You can tell a Level One demon by its red eyes and green skin. A Level Two demon always wears a hoodie, hat or a baseball cap to hide its horns. But a skin-stealing, soul-sucking Level Three demon – they look just like me or you.

  He didn’t need to be told that Brood demons were difficult to spot. One of the reasons was that these Level Threes were darned smart demons. The other reason was that the Brood didn’t simply eat their victims – they sucked out their souls first. Then they stole their victims’ skins – to wear.

  Despite this, Max knew that he would have no difficult spotting the demons once he’d located them. Sometimes he really hated his gift.

  Max sighed. It was 9am – already it was a really bad day.

  The Best Hotel in Town

  Max left discreetly through the blue door. He strode past the Home Office and nodded a greeting to the smartly-dressed security guards who stood at the entrance. To the untutored eye they looked human, if rather bad tempered. Max knew that they were Level Twos doing their day job. It was surprising the number of demons who worked in government – some at the very highest levels. It was even rumoured that in the past, one or two Prime Ministers had been rather less than human, although Max was inclined to discount this as urban legend. Mind you, there was that one with the hypnotic eyes and manic smile that he’d wondered about... If he’d seen him in the flesh he would have known for sure.

  Max strolled across St James’s Park, enjoying the fresh air and graceful trees. He saluted the memorial of Queen Victoria and couldn’t help smiling when a couple of Japanese tourists watched him, looked serious and bowed back politely.

  Still grinning, Max took his favourite short cut across Green Park. The deck chair attendant didn’t even notice him and carried on laying out rows of striped beach chairs. The summer was only just beginning but the day was already promising to be hot. Max loosened his tie and felt his armpits grow rather damp. Whether this was because of the gentle rise in temperature, or whether this was because Max was about to face a nest of the most dangerous demons he had ever met during his unusual career, well – who knows?

  The Ritz was the most expensive hotel in town. Film stars stayed there and reality TV winners liked to have their photographs taken going in, although many of them then left by the rear entrance, Max happened to know. Everyone else looked through the windows and wished they were rich, too.

  Only phenomenally wealthy people stayed at the Ritz. A suite of rooms for a couple of days could set a detective back an entire year’s salary. Max sighed. He’d never be able to afford a place like this.

  “Excuse me, sir,” said the snooty doorman, gazing just beyond Max’s left ear after a swift appraisal of Max’s finances based on the scruffiness of his clothing, “but this is the Ritz. The Ritz is only for very special guests, sir.”

  Max gazed at the doorman. “I know. I’m here to see some of your very special guests.”

  The doorman looked again at Max’s long coat.
To be fair it was rather dirty – Level Two demon blood was so hard to wash out.

  “If you don’t leave now, young man, I shall call the police,” said the doorman coolly.

  “I am the police,” said Max, smiling coldly and flashing his warrant card.

  The doorman raised a supercilious eyebrow but snapped to attention.

  “I do beg your pardon, sir. Please do go in. Although may I suggest that in future, sir should endeavour to wear something a little more appropriate and – er – clean – when visiting this establishment.”

  Max nodded. It was a fair point. “I’ll take it under advisement.”

  The foyer led to a circular, over-decorated lobby. A few reproduction armchairs stood to attention by the walls, but otherwise there was nowhere to sit and relax. Guests of the Ritz didn’t wish to be seen by all and sundry – they vanished to their rooms to enjoy their solitary luxury.

  Max turned right from the lobby, pausing momentarily to allow his eyes to become accustomed to the brighter lights of the Palm Court.

  It was a favourite place for well-heeled tourists to take tea. Not your ordinary Tetley’s or Brooke Bond, but a wide variety of speciality teas that smelled like wood smoke and tasted of old socks. Max had to admit that he was rather too downmarket to enjoy the refinements offered by the most expensive hotel in town. He preferred builders’ tea in a chipped mug with four sugars and an Eccles cake. What can you do? You are what you eat.

  The room glittered with electric chandeliers and tea cups tinkled merrily on their Royal Worcester saucers. Stacks of tiny sandwiches rested daintily on lace doilies. Max couldn’t have looked more out of place if he’d worn a tutu and danced a clog dance to the theme from The Sound of Music.

  He didn’t notice one of the rich matrons eyeing him speculatively. He may have looked under-dressed for the establishment but his unusual hair colour and strong, if tired-looking face, was still worthy of appraisal – possibly more.

  Unconcerned with human attention, Max’s eyes scanned the room. He spotted a group of five businessmen reading the Financial Times. “Got you!” hissed Max, his voice icy.