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Leave it. The white boy's eyes looked small and dead as he dropped his empty can and walked slowly towards the till. One hand slid fast into the pocket of his hooded top.

Behind him, his friends dropped their own cans, sending Coke fizzing across the floor of the shop. Suddenly, Helen had no spit in her mouth. She eased her hand into her bag and closed her fingers around the wallet that held both her Oyster and warrant cards.

It was bravado, no more than that, she was almost certain. One flash of her ID and a few strong words and the gobby little sods would be out of there in a shot.

It could so easily be a knife in the kid's pocket, after all.

She knew that she could take nothing for granted and was aware of what could happen to have-a-go heroes. She knew one community police support officer in Forest Hill who had reprimanded a fourteen-year-old for dropping litter a few months before.

He was still on a ventilator. She had had more than her fair share of this a year or so before. Now, she had a child ,,, 'Your shop, but it ain't your country.

Was he trying to protect her, or protect himself? Either way, he was breathing heavily and when she turned she could see that he was eyeing up the door, wondering if he should make a dash for it. Trying to decide whether or not to make a move. Same as she was. He was grinning and opened his mouth to say something else, then stopped when he saw Mr Akhtar reach quickly below the counter and come up with a baseball bat.

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One of the boys at the fridge whistled, mock-impressed, and said, 'Oh, look out. Helen took a step towards the end of the counter, but felt herself held back by the man next to her and could only watch as Mr Akhtar came charging from behind it, yelling and swinging the bat wildly.

Get out. They screamed threats and promised that they would be back and one of them shouted something about the place stinking of curry anyway.

When the last one was out on the pavement - still swearing threats and making obscene gestures - Mr Akhtar slammed the door. He fumbled in his pocket for keys and locked it, then stood with his head against the glass, breathing heavily. Helen took a step towards him, asked if he was all right. Outside, one of the boys kicked at the window, then hawked up a gobbet of thick spittle on to the glass.

It had just begun to dribble down past the ads for gardeners, guitar teachers and massage, when he was pulled away by his friends.

You know I'm a police officer, so ,,, ' Still with his back to the shop, Mr Akhtar nodded and began fumbling in his pocket a second time. Helen swallowed hard, tried to control the shaking in her leg and in her voice when she spoke.

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The curse sounded awkward in his mouth though, like something spoken by an actor who has over-rehearsed. Like a white lie. He said the offending word again and Thorne slapped his hand against the steering wheel. There's no bloody X in it ,,, ' Sitting in a long line of rush-hour traffic, crawling north towards lights on Haverstock Hill, Thorne glanced right and saw a woman staring across at him from behind the wheel of a sporty-looking Mercedes.

He smiled and raised his eyebrows. Muttered, 'Sod you, then,' when she turned away. He had hoped that, having seen him talking to himself, she might presume that he was making a hands-free call, but she clearly had him marked down as a ranting nutter. Shouting at the radio was probably just another sign of growing older, Thorne thought.

One of the many.

Up there on the list with losing a little hearing in his right ear and thinking that there was nothing worth watching on television any more. Wondering why teenagers thought it was cool to wear their trousers around their knees.

The song finished and the DJ cheerfully informed him which station he was tuned into. Up there with listening to Radio 2! Changes of opinion or temperament were inevitable of course, Thorne knew that, and on some days he might even admit that they were not necessarily a bad thing. When change happened gradually, its slow accretion of shifts and triggers could go almost unnoticed, but Thorne was rarely comfortable with anything that was more sudden. However necessary it might be.

Too many things in his life had changed recently, or were in the process of changing, and he was still finding it hard to cope with any of them. To adjust.

He pulled somewhat less than smoothly away from the lights, cursing as his foot slipped off the still unfamiliar accelerator pedal. An annual anal Embed Size px. Start on. Show related SlideShares at end.

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No notes for slide. A Tom Thorne Novel 1. Book details Title: Synopsis The Killing Habit: Read in your browser The Killing Habit: Or my baby's time to lose his mother ,,, The chewing gum was a habitual thing, something to do and to help her stay off the cigarettes she'd given up two years before when she'd become pregnant.

A newspaper ensured she would not have to look at the people sitting opposite her on the train, presuming she was lucky enough to get a seat and did not find herself pressed up against some lard-arse in a cheap suit who bought his aftershave from Poundstretcher.

The chocolate was an addiction, pure and simple. One that had made the struggle to lose weight since her son was born no more than partially successful. She would try and eke it out; a chunk or two around eleven with a coffee, another after lunch and the rest as a treat at the end of the day.

That was always the plan, but it was usually gone before she'd so much as logged on at her desk or, if the case she was working on was particularly unpleasant, by the time her train had finished its four-minute journey to Streatham station. There were a lot of unpleasant cases. She collected her paper from the rack near the door of the newsagent's, and by the time she reached the counter Mr Akhtar had already picked out her usual chewing gum and chocolate bar of choice.

He smiled and brandished them as she approached. Same as always. Their private joke. Mr Akhtar was a short, prematurely balding man who almost always had a smile on his face.

He rarely wore anything other than dark trousers, a white shirt and a cardigan, though that might be blue or brown. Helen thought he was probably younger than he looked, but put him somewhere in his mid-fifties.

She was aware of the customer she had seen browsing through the magazines on her way in, moving up to stand behind her. The man - tall, black, thirties - had been looking up at some of the covers in the top shelf's 'gentleman's interest' section and had quickly dropped his eyes down to the lifestyle and motoring mags when he'd seen Helen come in. He was indescribably brilliant. She grinned, thinking about her one-year-old son babbling happily as she had walked him to the childminder half an hour before.

He was happy almost all of the time, as far as she could tell, but he certainly let her know when he wasn't. He had Paul's temper, Helen had decided, as well as his eyes. Or was she kidding herself?

As Mr Akhtar was digging her change from the till, she heard the bell on the door. She saw him glance up and heard the voices, braying and fearless, as a group of lads came into the shop.

She looked round. Three of them: one black, two white.

Mark Billingham

All full of themselves. He held out Helen's change, but his eyes were on the three boys, and his voice was a little smaller than it had been a few seconds earlier. Before Helen turned back to him, she watched the boys amble across to the tall fridge and open the door, laughing and cursing.

Enjoying the attention of an audience, Helen thought. Still quiet, looking towards the fridge. She heard the man behind her exhale loudly, clearly impatient to be served. She had just opened her mouth to say 'see you tomorrow' when Mr Akhtar leaned towards her and whispered, nodding towards the three boys. Helen looked round again. They were rooting around inside the fridge, pulling out cans, then putting them back again.

Laughing and pushing each other.Their only guess. Either way, he was breathing heavily and when she turned she could see that he was eyeing up the door, wondering if he should make a dash for it. Of course it was high profile, but he was one of that strange breed reluctant to take on any case he didn't seriously think could be solved. Thorne put her in her early forties, maybe a year or two older than he was.

Elegant, he thought, like that actress who was in The Avengers and plays the old slapper in that sitcom. Trying to decide whether or not to make a move. A paper for the journey into work and half a minute of meaningless chat while she was waiting for her change.

Mystery, Horror, Thriller. While I remain in no doubt as to the cause of death, and concede that all police enquiries have drawn a blank, I sin consulting a number of colleagues and copying this letter to all pathology departments and Coroners Courts in the Greater London area.