Chapter 1

There's something special about a cat's eye. I don't remember having ever seen it myself, but if you shine a bright light at a cat, the eyes reflect it back. The harder you look to see what's going on behind the glow, the less you see, because it's all just light glaring back at you.

I know that when this is over, I'll say it was all about the cats, and in a way I won't be lying. If it hadn't been for the cats, all of this would have ended five years ago in a burial mound next to a Highland loch. It should have ended there. For a long time I had myself convinced that it did, but then quite recently I began to think that nothing had ended at all. I suppose that's what happens when there are two shots fired and only one body at the end of it. The whole thing was like a giant cats' eye, and I'd been looking too hard to see it. That's really some achievement when you're blind.

It must be Monday, because the dustmen wake me up with their clattering and the beeping of the truck reversing. At least, I think it's the dustmen who woke me up, but my phone rings again, and the pneumatic drill starts up outside my window, and I realise it could equally have been any of those things. This is how it all sucked me in again, anyway, with a phone-call I don't want to answer and my head pounding as if something's using my skull to practice splitting rocks.

When you wake up with a crick in your neck, the imprint of a book on your face, and a puddle of your own drool on the desk, you know that your hangover is going to be even worse than usual when it kicks in properly. Right now, when I've just woken up, it hasn't hit me yet. If I'm honest, I'm probably still drunk. I briefly think I should unplug the phone and go back to bed, but I don't.

My fingers hover over the smooth plastic frames of my sunglasses and I slip them onto my face absently, before groping about for the phone. My eyes feel bloodshot. They probably are. Half a bottle of Laphroig will do that nine times out of ten. If I don't put the glasses on now, I'll forget.

"Prentice," I mumble into the receiver, trying to clear my throat surreptitiously.

That's me, by the way - Zach Prentice, investigative journalist. I have a retainer with one of the big national papers, possibly because my father pulled strings. Life isn't so bad. But don't let me fool you, I'm just a jaded, embittered young man with dwindling faith in humanity and a growing penchant for single malts and red wine. Two more years and I expect to be a fully fledged alcoholic. It's something I'm working on.

There's silence on the other end of the line. Now, maybe I should say this all started earlier than today, because I'd had silent phone calls before, but it's only silent for a bit, and this time it isn't one of those calls. In fact the phone call is boring and routine, but it's what the phone-call leads to that is important.

"Oh. Hello. This is Mr Harding's secretary. He was wondering if you'll be coming in today. Somebody dropped off some photographs he thinks you'd be interested in."

"Photographs?" I echo back at her, wondering what my editor is up to. Generally there isn't much point in showing me photographs.

"Yes. That's what he said."

"Right," I sigh, not wanting to get into an argument with some secretary I don't know, over the phone - not while I'm hung-over anyway. "Tell him I'll be at the office in an hour."

I shrug into my leather bomber-jacket and fold out my cane. Stubble catches at my fingertips as I check my mouth for encrusted saliva. I pull the front door of my flat behind me and stumble down the winding staircase before heading out into the rain. I live in a tenement block in a residential part of town that's far enough out from the centre to need good transport connections, but the room sizes are good, and so is the rent. As I exit the building I look, I imagine, every inch your stereotypical blind guy: dark glasses, cane, dishevelled appearance, because I can't quite manage personal hygiene on my own. Or something like that anyway. Nothing at all to do with the fact that I'm very, very hung over.

Train is crowded, but even stinking like a bust distillery I get a seat, and who am I to turn down well-meaning, misplaced charity?

"Cats," Graham Harding says when I tap my way into his office on the fifth floor. "Dead ones. That's your thing, isn't it Prentice? All that Felix malarkey."

I shrug, brain still slow and not quite focused on his words. "I wouldn't put it like that, Sir."

He ignores me though, like I knew he would. "Thought this little lot might interest you. Sixty three of them. They're calling him the Cats' Eye Killer. Cat Rescue got broken into, all of the cats murdered, nice bloody mural on the wall. Picture of an eye, and lots of bloody dots. Animal Rights are all over it like a bad rash. Police aren't saying anything. Thoughts?"

I frown wearily and make my way to the chair he always keeps in front of his desk to sit down. I don't feel like standing up. "I reckon you should check the list of recent escapees from the local mental hospitals."

Harding's great, thick laugh rumbles out a moment. "Ha. Yes. Sorry. I missed a bit out there didn't I? The cats – all slit open nose to tail and gutted. That's like Felix, isn't it?"

I shake my head slowly, wrinkling my eyes closed to try and ease my headache, but it doesn't work. I should have had breakfast. I should have had painkillers. "Felix is dead, Harding. Anyway, his cats were just markers or death threats. Sixty three all in one place with no other crime isn't his style." All the same, I'm thinking that it sounds remarkably familiar.

"Exactly," he says and I hear him ruffle papers. "If there's another crime, I want you to find it. Here, I think this one's the police transcript." He slides it onto the desk and I reach out to locate it, checking the document-heading with quick fingers and then letting them skim idly over the rest.

"Yeah. It is." I frown. "Harding, this is some wacko with an oversized hatred of cats. You want me to waste my time on this?"

"I don't want you to waste your time. I want you to do what I pay you for. I want you to bloody well investigate. Someone's slipped us these photos, so at the moment we've got a leg-up. I want to know what that eye's about before the other papers even know it exists. I want to know about the daubs of blood on the wall. I want to know if they're a message. I want to know if it's abstract fucking art."

I smirk slightly. "Right you are, chief. I'll give Damien Hurst a call; see what he's been up to."

Harding growls and I hear him wave a handful of stiff paper at me. "Photographs will go to Kinsley to work on. I want both of you reporting back to me, understand?"

I nod, my fingers still scanning down the page.

"Questions?" he asks, and I know I have to come up with one.

"The daubs of blood - it says they're in some kind of pattern. They're not letters?"

Harding holds his breath a moment and then exhales slowly. I've passed the test. "Not in English. You might be onto something there. Wait a minute." He rifles through the photographs and then I jump slightly as he punches his pen through the sheet of photographic paper, and again, and again, and again. The paper must be half holes when he's done. "There."

I force a smile as he hands me the mangled photograph and I let my fingers skim the surface, not expecting to find anything. He's patronizing sometimes. No way in a million years are random blood spots on a wall in a Cat Rescue Shelter going to be some secret message in Braille.

"Make any sense to you?"

I pause, my fingers over what my brain is telling me is a T, and then an I, and then and N, before the holes merge together and make it impossible to read. I swallow.

"Maybe," I mutter after a long moment. I don't quite trust my fingers. "It depends on the spacing. I'd need a better version to be sure."

"What does it say?"

"I don't know." I'll be honest, this is worrying me. Your everyday wacko doesn't write in Braille. Hell, if I want anyone but me to read what I write, I don't write in Braille, even though I know my handwriting is practically illegible. I doubt the police would have picked up on this. I rub at my eyes, under my glasses. They still feel prickly and bruised. "Probably nothing. It's starts off 'tin'."

"'Tin'" he repeats softly, as if I've said something important. Then he frowns. I can hear it in his voice. "'Tin'? What do you mean 'Tin'? Are you sure? I'll get a better version worked up."

I nod, thinking that maybe a better version will prove me wrong, but knowing that I didn't struggle to figure out the letters at all. 'Tin' is correct, I just don't know what the rest says. Dread is settling into my stomach about finding out. Not just anybody leaves messages for a blind man that he can't read.

Maybe this is why I'm a journalist, but when someone goes on a feline killing spree, then daubs a message on a wall in said cats' blood and I have no idea why they've done it, I get the urge to find out why. Call me foolish, but I usually get results. I had a lot of attention for the last few stories I've written. People know I'm blind. They know all about Felix. Braille in a message like that could only be meant for me. The dead cats just made sure I would see it, so to speak. This story was always going to get to me and this is how I got sucked in again. It's simple really. Somebody wants me to be, and now I just have to find out who, and maybe more importantly, why?