"Jesus H. Christ," Arkwright gasped, bending over and resting his hands on his knees when they finally achieved the fifteenth floor. "I used to be a rugby wing forward, believe it or not."
"Ay, well, you're just an old, fat bloke now," Tracy said. "What number?"
"Twenty-five. It's at the end."
A neighbor had phoned in anonymously about a bad smell ("a right stink") coming from the flat.
"Dead rats, probably," Arkwright said. "Or a cat. Remember those two dogs in that house in Chapeltown? Oh no, before your time, lass."
"I heard about it. Bloke went off and left them without any food. They ate each other in the end."
"They didn't eat each other," Arkwright said. "One of them ate the other one."
"You're a bloody pedant, Arkwright."
"A what? Cheeky so-and-so. Ey up, here we go. Fuck a duck, Trace, you can smell it from here."
Tracy Waterhouse pressed her thumb on the doorbell and kept it there. Glanced down at her ugly police-issue regulation black lace-ups and wiggled her toes inside her ugly police-issue regulation black tights. Her big toe had gone right through the hole in the tights now and a ladder was climbing up toward one of her big footballer's knees. "It'll be some old bloke who's been lying here for weeks," she said. "I bloody hate them."
"I hate train jumpers."
"Yeah. They're the worst," Arkwright agreed. Dead children were trumps, every time.
Tracy took her thumb off the doorbell and tried turning the door handle. Locked. "Ah, Jesus, Arkwright, it's humming in there. Something that's not about to get up and walk away, that's for sure."
Arkwright banged on the door and shouted, "Hello, it's the police here, is anyone in there? Shit, Tracy, can you hear that?"
Ken Arkwright bent down and looked through the letter box. "Oh, Christ - " He recoiled from the letter box so quickly that Tracy's first thought was that someone had squirted something into his eyes. It had happened to a sergeant a few weeks ago, a nutter with a Squeezy washing-up bottle full of bleach. It had put everyone off looking through letter boxes. Arkwright, however, immediately squatted down and pushed open the letter box again and started talking soothingly, the way you would to a nervy dog. "It's OK, it's OK, everything's OK now. Is Mummy there? Or your daddy? We're going to help you. It's OK." He stood and got ready to shoulder the door. Pawed the ground, blew air out of his mouth and said to Tracy, "Prepare yourself, lass, it's not going to be pretty."
This is an excerpt from Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson. Copyright © 2011 by Kate Atkinson. Reprinted by permission of Reagan Arthur Books, Little Brown, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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