If I don’t hang on I will die. My fingers are curled into claws. So cold and numb they feel like they’re frozen to the ledge. The blackness comes … recedes again, but leaves only panic and confusion. Is this high, freezing place a mountaintop? I don’t remember climbing it. But then I can’t even recall my name right now above the wind’s howl.
Memories flicker out of the darkness like fragments caught on celluloid, briefly illuminated. A door made of plastic. A man in orange overalls. The insolent swish of something heavy through the air. Ducking – too late.
I try to brace my legs, to keep from falling. But the tremors are so bad, they’re useless. In a blinding surge of rage I vow: Somebody’s going to die for this. Then a great wind screams in my face and tears my fingers from their grip.
And I realise the somebody is me.
Detective Constable Natalie Kershaw sat on the outdoor terrace of Starbucks in the lee of the Canary Wharf tower, treating herself to an overpriced and underpowered cappuccino. In her chalk stripe trousers and black wool jacket she could have passed for another of the City workers getting their early morning fix of caffeine.
Kershaw was celebrating the last day of her secondment to Docklands nick: the stint in financial crime would look good on her CV, but after three months navigating the murky channels of international money laundering, she was gagging to get back to some proper police work. And not just the routine stuff – the credit card frauds, street robberies and domestic violence that had dominated her career so far. No. In two days’ time she’d finally become what she’d first set her sights on at the age of fourteen – a detective on Murder Squad.
Drinking the last of her coffee, she shivered. Despite the morning sun a chill hung in the air, and a light icing on her car windscreen that morning had signalled the first frost of autumn.
As she stood to go, something drew her gaze towards the glittering bulk of the tower less than twenty metres away.
Suddenly, she ducked: an instinctive reflex. The impression of something dark, flapping, the chequerboard windows of the tower flickering behind it like a reel of film. Then a colossal whump, followed by the sound of imploding glass and plastic. There was a split second of absolute silence before a woman at the next table started screaming, a thin high keening that bounced off the impassive facades of the high-rise office blocks surrounding the café.
Fuck! Kershaw took off running towards the site of the impact – a long dark limo parked nearby that had probably been waiting to pick someone up. There was a metre-wide crater in its roof and the windscreen lay shattered across the bonnet like imitation diamonds. She could hear an inanely cheery jingle still playing on the radio. The car was empty, the guy she presumed to be the driver standing just a few metres away, still holding the fag he’d left the car to smoke. His stricken gaze was fixed on the man-sized dent in the car roof – the spot where his head would have been moments earlier. Kershaw filed it away as a rare case of a cigarette extending someone’s life.
Three or four metres beyond the limo, the falling man lay where he had come to rest, in a slowly spreading lake of his own blood. He’d fallen face down, his overcoat spread either side of him like the unfurled wings of an angel. By some quirk of physics or anatomy, the fall had twisted his head around by almost 180 degrees, so that his half-closed eyes appeared to be gazing up at the wall of glass and concrete, as if calculating how many floors he had fallen.