Jack is back and this time it’s deadly…
The police believe they have uncovered a ritualistic voodoo murder when they find a wooden disc in the mouth of a murder victim. When another victim is discovered, it’s up to Detective Mackinnon and the team to find the killer before any further blood is shed.
Release date: March 30, 2014
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 288
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A FRANTIC STREAM OF BUBBLES escaped from Alfie’s mouth. He was trying his best to keep his mouth shut, but how much longer could he hold his breath?
He struggled desperately, even though he knew it was no use. He fought against the hands that held him, fighting to get fresh air into his burning lungs.
His bony knees knocked against the cold enamel of the bath. He pushed his hands flat against the cold surface, trying to lever himself up. If he could just raise his head a little bit, break the surface of the water, he could take a breath.
But the grip around his throat grew tighter, and the hands above him thrust him back down viciously. His head slammed against the side of the bath.
Alfie’s wide staring eyes looked up, and through the trail of bubbles, he could see the tall figures of his aunt and his uncle looming above him.
Now there was a high-pitched buzzing in his ears. He couldn’t hold his breath much longer.
Just as he started to see little dots dancing in front of his eyes and darkness closing in on him, narrowing his vision, he felt the hands around his throat release their grip.
Alfie’s face broke the surface of the water. He gasped for breath, and his legs slid against the slippery surface of the bath as he tried to push himself away from his aunt and uncle.
“I think he’s had enough,” Alfie’s aunt said. “The spirit has gone. I can see it in his eyes.”
Alfie’s terrified gaze focused on his uncle. The fat man sat on the side of the bath, his grey trousers damp from Alfie’s splashes.
He cocked his head to one side. “Has it gone, Alfie?”
Alfie nodded frantically. He grabbed his knees to his skinny chest as coughs racked his body. He wanted to say the devil had gone. He wanted to tell them he would be good now. But he couldn’t get the words out.
After what seemed like an eternity, Alfie’s uncle stood up and nodded once to Alfie’s aunt. Then he turned and walked out of the bathroom.
Alfie rested his forehead on his knees. He wanted to get out of the bath and out of this bathroom as quickly as possible, but his arms and legs were shaking. He was panting for breath.
Alfie’s aunt jutted out her chin. “You’ll be a good boy now, won’t you, Alfie?”
“Yes,” Alfie said. His voice was hoarse from coughing. “I promise.”
His aunt reached out and grabbed a faded green towel that had seen better days. She held it out to him, and Alfie gripped the side of the bath as he pulled himself up.
The first time it had happened, he’d been shy, not wanting his aunt to see him naked. But after the first time, he knew being seen naked was the least of his worries.
Alfie took the towel from her outstretched hand and pressed the rough cotton to his cheek, smothering a sob.
His hands were still shaking as he clambered over the side of the bath.
“Will this be the last time, Alfie?”
Alfie nodded, looking down at the wet footprints on the bath mat. “Yes, Aunt Erika.”
“The spirit has gone? Are you sure?”
She grabbed Alfie. Her hands grasped Alfie’s face, one on each cheek, pinching him. She put her head close to his. He could smell the coffee on her breath as her fierce eyes searched his face.
“I hope so, Alfie. I really do,” she said.
“I promise,” Alfie said, trying to pull his face away from her pinching fingers.
She nodded. “That’s good, Alfie. Otherwise…” Her dark eyes locked on his. “Otherwise I’ll have no choice but to involve Mr. X.”
Alfie felt bile rise in his throat. It wasn’t the first time his aunt had mentioned Mr. X.
WHEN THE SCHOOL BELL RANG, Alfie felt his heart plummet. Other kids looked forward to the end of school, but Alfie didn’t. Not since his grandmother had left him in the care of his aunt and uncle.
After Alfie had gotten into a fight, sticking up for his younger brother, Mickey, his grandmother had flung up her hands and said she was sick of Alfie’s behaviour. Did she have the energy to run around after Alfie and his brother she had asked him, wagging a finger in his face.
Alfie had opened his mouth to try to explain that the fight hadn’t been his fault, but she’d snapped at him not to talk back. She had rolled her eyes and looked up at the ceiling and said, “I’m too old for this. I never asked for you and your brother. I don’t have the energy to look after children, especially ones as bad as you.”
She’d been saying that for as long as Alfie could remember, so Alfie didn’t take it seriously. Not until six months ago when his grandmother announced that he would be living with his aunt and uncle from then on.
At the time, Alfie wasn’t too upset. In fact, he thought it might be fun.
He was wrong.
He’d never expected to miss his grandmother, but he did. He missed the fact she’d cooked him dinner every night. He missed her nagging him to clean his teeth before he went to bed. He missed how she insisted he say his prayers. He even missed her nagging him for playing on the Xbox too much. But most of all, he missed feeling safe.
Alfie heard a voice call out to him from across the classroom.
“All right, Alfie,” Francis Eze said as he swaggered over to Alfie’s desk. Francis had already taken off his school tie and stuffed it in the pocket of his trousers. “You fancy going boarding?”
Alfie stuffed his school books in his bag and shrugged. He wanted to go. He’d always loved skateboarding, but his aunt had thrown Alfie’s skateboard away. She said there wasn’t room for things like that in the flat.
“You can have a go on mine,” Francis said.
Alfie glanced up at the clock on the wall. Three-thirty. He was supposed to go straight back to the flat after school. His aunt didn’t finish work until five-thirty, but somehow she always knew when he didn’t come straight home. Alfie thought she must have spies watching out for him in the block of flats.
But Alfie didn’t want to go back to the flat. He didn’t want to sit there for three hours, worrying that his aunt and uncle might decide he needed to be cleansed of spirits again.
“C’mon, Alfie. It’s my new board. You’ll love it. I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.”
Alfie had heard a lot about Francis’s new skateboard. He tried not to be jealous, but it was hard when it was all Francis had talked about for the last two days.
“It’s really awesome and it’s got a skull and crossbones between the wheels.”
Alfie lifted his school bag onto his shoulder. He hadn’t gone boarding for ages.
“All right then.”
Francis grinned. “You can have the first go, if you like.”
They grabbed the board from Francis’s locker and headed outside.
As soon as they’d rounded the corner and were out of sight of the school, Francis pulled a packet of cigarettes from his pocket. He offered one to Alfie who shook his head.
“Suit yourself,” Francis said. He stopped beside a low brick wall and set the skateboard down on the floor so he could light up. He took a shallow drag on the cigarette. Francis smoked more for show than habit.
Alfie kept his distance. He didn’t want his aunt and uncle smelling smoke on him when he got home.
“Where do you want to go?” Francis asked.
Alfie picked up the skateboard and looked admiringly at the smooth paintwork. It was black with a bolt of lightning running down the centre. He turned the board over and saw the skull and crossbones Francis had been so keen on.
The empty black eyes of the skull stared out at him. Alfie shivered and put the skateboard back on the floor.
“What about the steps near your place?”
The steps by Victoria House on the Towers Estate were fantastic for boarding.
They could do some jumps there. Alfie felt a little thrill as he imagined the sensation he got in the pit of his stomach when he launched himself for a jump.
Alfie wished he still had his board. He loved skate- boarding. It was the one thing he’d always been good at.
He wasn’t too good at schoolwork. He used to get into trouble for talking too much. He was uncoordinated and rubbish at most sports, but skateboarding was different. On a skateboard, he could almost fly.
Francis looked wary. “Jumps?” He looked down at his new skateboard. “I dunno. That’s for kids.”
Francis only said that because he wasn’t as good as Alfie. He was too nervous, always worrying about falling.
Alfie kicked at an old Coke can someone had chucked away. “You’re scared,” he said.
“I am not,” Francis said. “I…” Suddenly, Francis’s eyes widened.
He threw the cigarette on the ground and stamped on it, frantically fanning the air.
Alfie turned to see Mr. Xander, Head of Sport, and the scariest teacher at their school, walking towards them.
He was a tall black man, with huge broad shoulders and a very sour face. Alfie didn’t think he’d ever seen Mr. Xander smile.
“I hope I didn’t see you with a cigarette, boy,” Mr. Xander said. His low, gravelly voice made goose bumps appear on Alfie’s arms.
Francis looked around as though he thought Mr. Xander must be talking to somebody else.
He raised his open palms and said, “No, Mr. Xander, I didn’t have a cigarette, did I, Alfie? I don’t smoke.”
Mr. Xander looked at them for a moment with narrowed eyes, and Alfie felt his stomach twist. The last thing he needed was Mr. Xander to send a letter home to his aunt and uncle about smoking.
“Honest, sir,” Francis said. “It wasn’t us.”
“There’s one thing I hate more than an obnoxious snivelling twelve-year-old, Francis. Do you know what that is?” The big man stood over them and put a huge hand on Francis’s shoulder.
Francis shook his head. “Um…No, sir,”
“A liar,” Mr. Xander said.
Just as Alfie thought they would definitely be in for a detention at the very least, Mr. Xander swivelled on his heel and stalked off back in the direction of the school.
When the teacher was out of earshot, Francis gave out a low whistle. “That was close.”
“You were asking for trouble,” Alfie said. “He lives just around the corner. You should have waited until we were further away.”
Francis shot Alfie a scornful look. “Don’t be such a baby. I can’t believe you’re scared of Mr. Xander.”
Alfie leaned down to pick up the skateboard. “Get a move on,” he said. “Or we won’t have any time to board.”
“Of course, I knew Mr. Xander wouldn’t actually do anything. I mean he can’t when we are not in school,” Francis said, suddenly full of bravado, as they walked to the Towers Estate.
Alfie smirked. Francis was such an idiot sometimes.
For the next hour, Alfie was in heaven as he spun and glided over the square by Victoria House.
When Alfie leaped from the top step, he bent his knees, feeling the board beneath him and for a fraction of a second he felt weightless. He landed with a clatter, but managed to stay upright.
He picked up the skateboard and turned back to Francis. “Your turn.”
Francis reluctantly took the board and slowly climbed the steps. At the top, he looked down at Alfie, then took a deep breath. He propelled himself along, the wheels rattling against the concrete.
But just before the jump, Francis wimped out and jumped off. The board rolled down the steps on its own, landing upside down with its wheels still spinning.
“What happened?” Alfie said, picking up the skateboard.
“I don’t want to do jumps,” Francis said. He sat down on the top step. “It’s my board and you’re hogging it.”
Alfie climbed the steps and sat beside him. “Sorry,” he said.
Francis shrugged. “Why don’t you buy another board? You could keep it at my house if you like. Your aunt and uncle would never know.”
Francis pushed at the skateboard with the tip of his shoe. “Well, you can use mine anytime you like.”
Alfie looked across the square at a group of younger kids kicking about a football. The graffiti sprayed on the wall behind them made Alfie catch his breath.
At the centre was a large red X.
Alfie turned to Francis who was tying up his shoe laces. “Have you ever heard of someone called Mr. X?”
“Mr. X? Everyone’s heard of him around here,” Francis said. “He’s a proper hard man. No one messes with him.”
Alfie chewed on his lip. He thought Mr. X had been something his aunt and uncle had made up, like the bogeyman.
“So he’s real then?” Alfie asked.
“Oh, he’s real all right.” Francis grinned. “Do you want to see where he lives?”
Alfie blinked. See him? God, no, that was the last thing he wanted.
But Francis had sensed his fear. “Are you too scared?
You’re such a baby, Alfie.”
“I’m not scared. You’re the one who’s scared to jump a few steps on a skateboard,” Alfie said. “Anyway, I bet he’s not even real.”
“All right then. Come with me,” Francis said, standing up. “I’ll show you.”
ALFIE RELUCTANTLY FOLLOWED FRANCIS TO the entrance to Victoria House. The door was slightly ajar. It was dim inside and Alfie felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He didn’t want to do this.
“I need to get home,” Alfie said. “My aunt will be back from work soon.”
“It will only take a minute,” Francis said, striding ahead.
A noise ahead of them made Alfie jump. He flattened himself against the wall by the entrance.
A gang of younger kids ran past them. Halloween wasn’t until next week, but they were wearing costumes already.
One of the smaller kids wore a white sheet with cutouts for his eyes. Only trouble was he hadn’t quite gotten the hang of it. He had the eye holes on the top of his head. Alfie winced as the little kid tripped over the trailing sheet, but he was soon up again, chasing after his friends.
Alfie straightened up, his cheeks burning. He was glad Francis hadn’t seen his reaction. What was the matter with him? Scared of a group of little kids. Pathetic.
Francis was climbing the steps to the doorway, babbling on about how he could show Alfie where Mr. X lived.
“I heard about him from Tim who lives on the second floor. Apparently, Mr. X did him a favour.”
“What’s Mr. X’s real name?” Alfie asked.
Francis laughed. “Well, he doesn’t want people to know his real name, does he? What would be the point in that? He’d have all sorts of people turning up to ask him for favours.”
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