Preview chapter from Unmarked Graves

MARABANA, twenty-seven miles West of Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa:
With the head severed, it was hard to guess the age of the corpse that lay in the bath.
In fact, so savage were the mutilations that had been performed on the rest of the body, a quick glance didn't even immediately disclose its sex.
However, closer inspection would have revealed that the body was female.
Despite the fact that both breasts had been hacked off, there was enough of the ravaged mammary tissue left to testify to that.
The genital area had also been subjected to extensive butchery.
Seven deep gashes, two of which had torn open the inside of the left thigh, had turned the area between the dead woman's legs into little more than a blood choked hole. Portions of the severed vaginal lips lay in the bottom of the bath like strips of raw steak.
The cracked enamel of the bath was coated with blood, as were the walls and floor of the bathroom. Great crimson arcs of arterial spray had spattered everywhere. Some of the red liquid had begun to congeal. The room looked and smelled like a slaughterhouse.
Splashes of blood led through into the bedroom. The floor there was nothing but bare wood and the red fluid had, in places, begun to seep into the porous material.
This larger room was lit by the glow of more than two dozen candles, most of them arranged on the small wooden bedside cabinet and the bed itself.
The pungent odour of blood mingled with the smell of burning wax.
And there was another odour too that helped to clog the air in the bedroom. It was the smell of human sweat.
Killing and slaughtering the girl had required more effort than was desirable in temperatures of over one hundred degrees.
The hotel room was barely cooled by a ceiling fan that turned slowly like the upturned and stricken rotor blades of a helicopter. But the fan did little to affect the cloying heat. It served only to mix the array of odours that permeated the almost unbreatheable air.
The tall, naked man who knelt at the foot of the bed murmured words silently and kept his gaze fixed on the severed head propped between candles on the pillows wedged against the wall.
Beads of sweat ran down his face and his upper body. A product of the effort of butchering the girl in such unforgiving heat. But he seemed neither to care or notice. He was content to continue mouthing words, his lips moving quickly, the gaze of his heavy lidded brown eyes never leaving the lifeless eyes of the head he himself had cut from the girls body barely thirty minutes earlier.
The machete he'd used to complete the task lay close by him on the floor of the hotel bedroom. As well as the blood that covered the metal, there were small pieces of flesh on the cutting edge of the blade.
He spoke that one word softly, almost reverentially.
Then he lowered his head until his chin touched his sweat slicked chest and closed his eyes.
The sightless eyes of the severed head regarded him indifferently, the dull glow of the candles reflected in the lifeless, glassy orbs.
He opened his eyes a fraction and reached for the machete, gripping the handle in one large hand.
The man turned the blade towards his chest and pressed the cold metal gently against his flesh just below his left nipple.
He murmured something unintelligable under his breath and prepared to cut.
He heard heavy footfalls on the stairs and then noise outside the hotel room. He turned his head.
The man heard hesitant voices outside the door then three hard bangs on the flimsy wooden partition.
The man gripped the machete tighter in his fist, the muscles at the side of his jaw pulsing angrily.
The door swung open.
There were two men standing there. Both were holding AK-47 assault rifles.
"We must go," the first said, urgently, seemingly unperturbed by what he saw inside the hotel room.
Still holding the machete, the man in the room rose slowly, unconcerned by his own nakedness. He looked at each of the two armed men then nodded almost imperceptibly. However, he remained motionless close to the end of the bed.
The second man dashed back down the stairs, the Kalashnikov gripped tightly in his fists.
"There is no more time," the first armed man insisted, breathlessly. "They are coming."

© Shaun Hutson 2006