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The Distant Echo

1978; St. Andrews, Scotland

Four in the morning, the dead of December. Four bleary outlines
wavered in the snow flurries that drifted at the beck and call of
the snell northeasterly wind whipping across the North Sea from the
Urals. The eight stumbling feet of the self-styled Laddies fi'
Kirkcaldy traced the familiar path of their shortcut over Hallow
Hill to Fife Park, the most modern of the halls of residence
attached to St. Andrews University, where their perpetually unmade
beds yawned a welcome, lolling tongues of sheets and blankets
trailing to the floors.

The conversation staggered along lines as habitual as their route.
"I'm telling you, Bowie is the king," Sigmund Malkiewicz slurred
loudly, his normally impassive face loosened with drink. A few
steps behind him, Alex Gilbey yanked the hood of his parka closer
to his face and giggled inwardly as he silently mouthed the reply
he knew would come.

"Bollocks," said Davey Kerr. "Bowie's just a big jessie. Pink Floyd
can run rings round Bowie any day of the week. Dark Side of the
, that's an epic. Bowie's done nothing to touch that." His
long dark curls were loosening under the weight of melted
snowflakes and he pushed them back impatiently from his waiflike

And they were off. Like wizards casting combative spells at each
other, Sigmund and Davey threw song titles, lyrics and guitar riffs
back and forth in the ritual dance of an argument they'd been
having for the past six or seven years. It didn't matter that,
these days, the music rattling the windows of their student rooms
was more likely to come from the Clash, the Jam or the Skids. Even
their nicknames spoke of their early passions. From the very first
afternoon they'd congregated in Alex's bedroom after school to
listen to his purchase of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from
, it had been inevitable that the charismatic Sigmund would
be Ziggy, the leper messiah, for eternity. And the others would
have to settle for being the Spiders. Alex had become Gilly, in
spite of his protestations that it was a jessie nickname for
someone who aspired to the burly build of a rugby player. But there
was no arguing with the accident of his surname. And none of them
had a moment's doubt about the appropriateness of christening the
fourth member of their quartet Weird. Because Tom Mackie was weird,
make no mistake about it. The tallest in their year, his long
gangling limbs even looked like a mutation, matching a personality
that delighted in being perverse.

That left Davey, loyal to the cause of the Floyd, steadfastly
refusing to accept any nickname from the Bowie canon. For a while,
he'd been known halfheartedly as Pink, but from the first time
they'd all heard "Shine on, You Crazy Diamond" there had been no
further debate; Davey was a crazy diamond, right enough, flashing
fire in unpredictable directions, edgy and uncomfortable out of the
right setting. Diamond soon became Mondo, and Mondo Davey Kerr had
remained through the remaining year of high school and on to

Alex shook his head in quiet amazement. Even through the blur of
far too much beer, he wondered at the glue that had held the four
of them fast all those years. The very thought provoked a warm glow
that kept the vicious cold at bay as he tripped over a raised root
smothered under the soft blanket of snow. "Bugger," he grumbled,
cannoning into Weird, who gave him a friendly shove that sent Alex
sprawling. Flailing to keep his balance, he let his momentum carry
him forward and stumbled up the short slope, suddenly exhilarated
with the feel of the snow against his flushed skin. As he reached
the summit, he hit an unexpected dip that pulled the feet from
under him. Alex found himself crashing head over heels to the

His fall was broken by something soft. Alex struggled to sit up,
pushing against whatever it was he had landed on. Spluttering snow,
he wiped his eyes with his tingling fingers, breathing hard through
his nose in a bid to clear it of the freezing melt. He glanced
around to see what had cushioned his landing just as the heads of
his three companions appeared on the hillside to gloat over his
farcical calamity.

Even in the eerie dimness of snow light, he could see that the
bulwark against his fall was no botanical feature. The outline of a
human form was unmistakable. The heavy white flakes began to melt
as soon as they landed, allowing Alex to see it was a woman, the
wet tendrils of her dark hair spread against the snow in Medusa
locks. Her skirt was pushed up to her waist, her knee-length black
boots looking all the more incongruous against her pale legs.
Strange dark patches stained her flesh and the pale blouse that
clung to her chest. Alex stared uncomprehendingly for a long
moment, then he looked at his hands and saw the same darkness
contaminating his own skin.

Blood. The realization dawned at the same instant that the snow in
his ears melted and allowed him to hear the faint but stertorous
wheeze of her breath.

Excerpted from THE DISTANT ECHO © Copyright 2003 by Val
McDermid. Reprinted with permission by St. Martin's Press, LLC. All
rights reserved.


The Distant Echo
by by Val McDermid

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0312994834
  • ISBN-13: 9780312994839