Published by Avon
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First published in Great Britain by HarperCollins 2017
Copyright © Angela Clarke 2017
Angela Clarke asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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Source ISBN: 9780008174644
Ebook Edition © June 2017 ISBN: 9780008174651
‘Written in the sharpest style, [Follow Me] races along, leaving the reader almost as breathless as the heroine – but there is a verve to it that is impossible to resist… Clarke is certainly someone to watch’
‘Watch Me is another zinging thriller in this social media crime series from Angela Clarke… Smart, sassy and totally on point, following Nas and Freddie’s investigations is a must’
Sarah Pinborough, author of Behind Her Eyes
‘Starts with heart-pounding intent, and then the excitement intensifies…’
Sharon Bolton, author of Daisy in Chains
‘Fast paced and full of excitement, it’s hard to know where each chapter will take you in this thoroughly unpredictable ride. It kept me gripped and I cannot wait for the third instalment to see what happens next’
Katerina Diamond, bestselling author of The Teacher and The Secret
‘The clock is ticking in Angela Clarke’s excellent new novel Watch Me.
C. L. Taylor, author of The Missing
‘I loved this! An utterly addictive, gripping thriller’
Robert Bryndza, author of international number one bestseller The Girl in the Ice
‘Stylish, pacy and packs a bruising punch’
Sarah Hilary, author of the DI Marnie Rome series
‘A sharp, punchy, fast-paced thriller, that will keep you hooked until the very last page’
Casey Kelleher, author of Bad Blood
‘Fast, feminist and sharp as a knife. Just ripped through Watch Me by Angela Clarke and recommend you do the same. If you dare’
Anna Mazzola, author of The Unseeing
‘Ingenious, fast-paced and full of dark wit. This is crime writing with attitude’
Mark Edwards, bestselling author of Follow You Home
‘An utterly compelling, brilliantly plotted tale that expertly ramps up the tension and drags the reader in as the pages turn and the clock ticks down’
Neil Broadfoot, author of All the Devils
‘A very contemporary nightmare, delivered with panache’
‘Freddie is a magnificently monstrous character’
Saturday Review , BBC Radio 4
‘Clarke has made an appealing flawed female lead who’ll make immediate sense to readers who enjoyed Rachel in The Girl on the Train. An invigorating cat-and-mouse game, with a dark and filthy wit that deliciously spikes the regular drenchings of gore’
Crime Scene Magazine
‘Slick and clever’
‘Set in a London of East End hipsters, Tinder hook-ups, and internships, this tongue-in-cheek tale explores murder in the age of social media’
‘A chilling debut’
‘Puts complex women and their stories front and centre’
‘Angela Clarke brings dazzling wit and a sharp sense of contemporary life to a fast-paced serial killer novel with serious style’
Jane Casey, author of the Maeve Kerrigan series
‘In Follow Me, Clarke creates a completely compelling world, and a complex heroine. Freddie is refreshing and fascinating – a credible addition to the crime canon and a great alternative for anyone who has grown frustrated with the male dominated world of the whodunnit. Follow Me is literally gripping – the tension levels were forcing me to clutch the book so hard that my hands hurt!’
Daisy Buchanan, Grazia
‘A fascinating murder mystery and a dark, ironic commentary on modern social media’
Paul Finch, author of Stalkers
‘Clarke turns social media into a terrifyingly dark place. You won’t look at your accounts the same way again. I was hooked and couldn’t stop turning the pages. With a memorable and unique protagonist, Clarke explores the phenomenon of (social media) celebrity while tapping into your fears’
Rebecca Bradley, author of Shallow Waters
‘Pacey, gripping, and so up-to-the-minute you better read it quick!’
Claire McGowan, author of The Fall
For Claire McGowan, with thanks.
(Will people think we’re at it now, like Bront? and Thackeray?)
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
T. S. Eliot
Table of Contents
Hurriedly she opened her wardrobe, pulling her coat from the hanger and shoving it into her bag. She had minutes at most. Panic burnt through her body. Every fibre felt like it had been stripped raw. Tears welled up and over her eyelids, splashing onto the carpet. She tried not to snivel. There was still a chance to get away. She made it to the hallway before she remembered the photo. Her heart squeezed. She couldn’t live without it. Not now. Running back into her bedroom, she reached for the frame on her bedside table.
A noise sounded behind her. A thud, and then the front door opening. She froze. Held her breath. Her hand outstretched. Shaking. Her heart hammering in her ears.
Wanna go to a party?
Going to be bangin.
The table is shaking. Kate realises she’s gripping it. She is shaking. The video on the computer screen is jerky. Handheld. Shot from a mobile. Live. It’s a room: square and shabby. A single bulb hanging from the ceiling. Beer bottles and empty cans brimming over with cigarette ends colonise the space. She can’t see any windows. But there’s a closed door in the background. Is it locked? Two crude drawings – an animal and a circle – have been spray-painted in black onto the back wall. A stripped, stained duvet has been made into a hasty bed. Her brain can’t – won’t – process what she’s seeing. It’s like something blunt-edged is smashing into her, trying to gouge out the fear that’s been buried under decades of safety, food, shelter and scatter cushions. But it’s there. It’s coming. An innate force within her. She recognises danger. Fight or flight. She says the words over and over in her head, until she realises it’s a command: fight or flight! Kate doesn’t move. She doesn’t make a sound. She is watching it happen.
A voice on the video shouts: ‘Like up the post! Get this to one thousand likes!’
He sounds like one of the boys from her class. Young. Excitable. A child.
The girl on the screen turns to look at the camera. Her eyes focus in recognition. They look past the lens. Out. Realising. Pleading. They’re looking straight at Kate. Fight or flight? The girl twists, tries to push herself up on her elbows. The man forces her down. His slim muscular back is turned toward the camera. Kate can’t see his face.
‘No!’ The girl manages.
She said no.
The girl’s speech is slurred. ‘You’re hurting me. Please. No.’
Kate reaches toward her. Her fingers futilely prod the screen. Push her laptop. She is at home. In her house. Watching this. Where is this being filmed? Somebody must hear the girl’s shouts? Someone must stop this.
Comments from viewers float up over the feed:
They’re so young lmao
She a slut!!
She said no. This is rape.
This is rape.
‘Just one more!’ the man shouts. Man? His skin is smooth, hairless, young. The girl jerks back. Claws at his face. Kicks her legs.
She said no.
He slaps the girl hard. The noise a loud crack. She’s flung sideways. There’s a scream. Is it the girl? Is it the man? Is it Kate? The girl scrabbles, swings up, punches him in the face. A fighter. She’s a fighter.
The camera judders. Lurches up. ‘Hey?’ calls the voice from behind. Unsure. Young, she’s convinced now.
‘Skank!’ The man roars, grabbing a bottle. A glass bottle. He smashes it down at the girl. Her face. Her hands. Frenzied. Slashing. There’s screaming. Blood. The camera convulses. The boy’s voice grows frantic. She can’t make out what he’s saying.
The man swipes toward the camera. ‘Turn that off!’ She sees his blood-splattered face. And the video feed goes dead.
Kate pushes away from her dining table, away from the computer. She stumbles, grabs the doorframe. Vomits. Liquid smacks the vinyl kitchen floor. Again. Again. She’s shaking. Cold. Bile. Retching. Then she drags herself, shuddering, teeth chattering, to her phone. Pulls it down to her. Dials 999.
‘Hello, emergency service operator, which service do you require? Fire, police or ambulance?’ It’s a woman; she sounds calm.
Kate’s voice bubbles from her throat, as if someone is speaking through her. She forces the words out. ‘Police. You’ve got to get to her. She said no. Someone needs to get there. You’ve got to…’
‘Where are you calling from, ma’am? What is the nature of your emergency?’
Kate blinks as if her own eyelids are heavy, weighted with blood.
‘I’ve just seen a young woman raped – stabbed. There’s a lot of blood. Please: you’ve got to help her!’
Oh my God. She shook her head. No way was she gonna move in with him. She was only twenty-four. Was he crazy? She had her whole life ahead of her.
‘I think you’ve got the wrong idea.’ Freddie swung her legs over the side of the bed.
‘What do you mean?’ he said.
She’d let him get too comfortable. She’d got too comfortable. ‘This – us, like it’s fun and stuff, but no.’ She thought of her parents’ wedding photo: her mum twenty-four years old in her lacy white dress. Each time her dad smashed the frame during a drunken rage, her mum just replaced it without mentioning it.
‘No?’ He sat up, the duvet falling off his naked body. ‘What have the last few months been then? You’ve stayed the last twelve nights and you’re saying this is just – what? A fling?’ His eyes were wide. Stung.
Shit. She’d let her guard down. She didn’t want to be a jerk. ‘You know I’ve been sofa-surfing for months.’ She grabbed yesterday’s knickers from the floor, turned them inside out. ‘This has just been temporary, while I find new digs.’
‘You’ve been fucking me because it’s convenient?’
It wasn’t like it was all one-sided. ‘You’ve had perks too.’ He was thinking with his dick.
‘Thanks a fucking lot, Freddie!’ His cheeks burned red.
Anger she could deal with. She pulled her bag open. ‘Where’s all my stuff?’
‘I gave you a drawer.’ He pointed at the Ikea set under the telly and Xbox. His bottom lip shook.
‘You gave me a drawer?’ No one has ever made space for you before, Freddie. That must mean something.
‘Don’t you like staying here?’ He reached to brush back the frizzy curtain of hair that had fallen over her face.
Yes. She couldn’t breathe. She needed to get out of there. ‘It’s not that.’
‘You don’t like me then?’ He let his hand fall back against the blue duvet.
‘Course I like you.’ She dived at the drawer. Quicker would be better. Pulled it open, started scooping her stuff into her bag.
‘Then why don’t you stay?’ He was up now, moving toward her. His arms wrapped round her as he kissed along her naked shoulder, her neck. She felt her body give under his touch, as one hand ran over her shoulder, circled her nipple. The air in the room was hot, foetid. August was gradually turning the heat up on London. Smothering them. She would hurt him. Hurt them both. Be strong, Freddie.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, pushing him away. ‘I can’t do this.’
His arms dropped. He stepped backwards. She didn’t look. This is for the best.
‘But…’ His voice wavered. ‘I think I’m falling for you.’
‘I love you, Freddie,’ he said.
Freddie swept the last of her things into her bag and ran. She clattered out of the flat, pausing at the foot of the communal staircase to pull on her vest and shorts. Her heart was screaming at her to go back. Be strong. She heard him stumbling for his jeans, his keys, calling after her. She bolted out into the street; the sunlight wrapped itself around her in a stifling embrace. Happy bloody Monday.
‘Thanks to Freddie, we’ve got a new lead,’ DI Chips, too old-school to bother with new-fangled office politics, rested two meaty hands on Freddie’s shoulders and gave her a grandfatherly squeeze of pride. Nasreen doubted he’d ever been this fond of an Intelligence Analyst before. In fact, she doubted he’d ever spoken to one before.
Freddie had been recruited to the Gremlin cyber-crime team after consulting on some high-profile cases; she was internet savvy, analytical, unorthodox, outspoken, and Nasreen’s old school friend. And, despite Nasreen’s stellar fast-track performance at Hendon College, and her further three years of experience in the Met, it was Freddie who looked at home here. Chips was beaming at her. ‘Tell us what you’ve got, lass?’
Freddie hiked her ripped denim shorts up as she stood.
‘You could’ve dressed for the occasion,’ DI Saunders straightened his own stiff white shirt cuffs. Not a hair out of place.
‘I have,’ Freddie replied. ‘It’s too bloody hot for anything else.’
Nasreen envied Freddie’s carefree attitude, even if she didn’t approve of it. The newspaper front pages blazed with the incoming heatwave, and she’d had to dry the sweat patches on her own suit under the hand drier this morning.
‘I’ve been looking at intelligence reports of activity we know is linked to the Spice Road website.’ Freddie handed round a series of reports filed by arresting officers across the force. The Spice Road was an Amazon-style website on the dark net where you could order anything at the click of a button. They could see the drugs, weapons, and sometimes people being sold and bought on the site, but couldn’t see who they were coming from or going to. ‘Each of those observed, questioned or charged for delivery of these drugs in these cases belong to the THM,’ Freddie said.
‘Tower Hamlets Massive, the Poplar gang?’ DC Green’s freckled skin was flushed. Despite being the newest member of the team, she’d clocked how big this was.
‘We didn’t know that the THM gang were linked to Spice Road.’ Freddie sounded excited. Perhaps she’d been working on this when she’d blown Green and her partner’s barbecue off at the weekend? Nasreen had been left talking to their gawky accountant neighbour. She had the terrible feeling they’d hoped she would see him again.
‘The highest ranking THM member we’ve come across is a guy called Paul Robertson.’ Saunders put a photo of a white guy, shaven-headed and sunken-eyed, on the wall. ‘Robertson served time for the manslaughter of Rhys Trap, a key member from rival gang the Dogberry Boys. An act we think was a test to prove his loyalty to those who run THM – the brothers Rodriguez.’
Nasreen knew all about the Rodriguez family. ‘The brothers haven’t been seen in public for over five years.’
‘We suspect they’re running the operation from Spain,’ Chips said.
‘Gotta love the Internet,’ Freddie said. ‘You can work from anywhere.’
‘We had a trace on Robertson until a year ago when he vanished,’ Chips said.
‘You think he’s in Spain too?’ Nasreen asked.
‘No sightings and nothing flagged on any of the borders.’ Saunders still wasn’t looking directly at her. She’d been deskbound for the last six months, and could guess she was about to get the worst job. Again.
Saunders took another sip from his morning protein shake. ‘Robertson is wanted in connection with several drug-dealing cases and an armed robbery in Bracknell. The drugs squad had a trail on him when he disappeared.’
‘Someone had a bad day in the office,’ said Chips. They all laughed.
The door opened and DCI Burgone entered. Nasreen’s laughter turned into a cough. She stared at the ground, though she wanted nothing more than to look into his blue eyes. Freddie, Chips and Green were still laughing, but she could feel Saunders watching her.
‘Sorry I’m late.’ Burgone’s classic Queen’s English tone instantly restored order. As he was the governing officer, Freddie would have reported her discovery to Burgone before she spoke to Saunders. ‘Carry on, Pete.’ Burgone took the nearest chair, the one next to her. His amber scent beckoned her closer.
Don’t look. Act natural. Closing her eyes, Nasreen was back to that night: her hands in his thick dark hair, his hand cupping her chin, their lips meeting. She snapped her eyes open. It had been six months since she’d had a one-night stand with her boss. Six months since the rest of the team found out. Six months since she’d been lucky to hang on to her job.
Saunders cleared his throat. ‘Paul Robertson is our best shot of getting to the Rodriguez brothers, and ultimately it’s them who are running the Spice Road.’ He paused to pull another photo from his file. ‘Paul Robertson has a daughter, Amber Robertson, who disappeared at the same time as her father.’ A chill passed over Nasreen. Saunders added the photo of a young, dark-haired girl to the board. ‘She was fifteen when they went to ground.’ Amber smiled up from under a fashionable floppy hat, her voluptuous curves played for maximum impact in a cropped khaki T-shirt and tight black jeans. Cases involving teen girls always got under Nasreen’s skin, and she felt the familiar tightness form in her stomach.
‘Pretty lass,’ Chips said.
‘We think she’s the weakest link in the chain. Find her and we find her dad. Find him and we find the Rodriguez brothers.’ Saunders tapped the board. ‘Chips and Green are tied up finishing off Operation Kestrel right now, so I want you on this one, Cudmore.’
His words startled her. ‘Me?’ She leant forward, too eager, caught the glass of water on the table in front of her. Her hand shot out to steady it. She felt the blush rising up her cheeks. Burgone was right there.
‘Unless you’ve got better things to be doing with your time, Sergeant?’ Saunders said.
‘No, sir. Thank you, sir.’ She prayed Burgone was looking at the board.
Green gave her a smile – a congrats for being back in the game.
‘Get Freddie to help you with whatever she can get on Amber. I want her found.’ Saunders was gathering his papers together.
‘Wait, so there’s a missing fifteen-year-old girl – surely someone’s looking for her already?’ Freddie cut over the noise of scraping chairs.
‘She’s been on the Missing Persons list for a year, but they’re inundated.’ Saunders said. ‘They’ve done the normal checks, but until now she wasn’t high priority.’
Freddie blew air through her teeth. ‘Not high priority? But now we want to bang up her dad we’re interested?’
‘Now I’m interested,’ Saunders said.
‘I don’t know how you sleep at night.’ Freddie stared at him.
‘Like a baby, ta.’ He was always pleased to get a response.
Nasreen knew how busy Missing Persons were, and with the connections Paul Robertson had, it’d be all too easy for him and his daughter vanish. ‘What about the girl’s mother?’
‘Died when she was three,’ Saunders said. ‘RTA.’
‘Daughter of a dead mum and a drug-dealing dad, some kids get all the luck, don’t they?’ Freddie grimaced.
‘Freddie, can I have a word – in my office?’ Burgone had paused at the door.
Nasreen couldn’t help but stare as Freddie left the room with him. What was that about?
Nasreen had to stop this fixation with Burgone. Superintendent Prue Lewis’s disciplinary words played over in her mind: ‘I forbid my officers to have relationships with their colleagues because it ruins their careers. Especially the women. People will always assume you got to where you are because of who you slept with, Nasreen. You will have to work twice as hard to prove them wrong now.’ Nasreen couldn’t let her own mistakes stand in the way of doing the job she loved. She had to believe she was still of use. The tension in her stomach solidified into a hard, heavy millstone. The pretty fifteen-year-old Amber Robertson was Nasreen’s shot at redemption, if she could find her.