Alex Gray, crime writer
"Night watcher is the sort of novel that keeps the reader glued to its pages, frantically guessing as the plot takes numerous twists and turns."
A dark compelling novel of revenge, obsession, and murder
Julie – a woman with revenge on her mind.
The Night Watcher – a psychopathic killer with a mission
Nicole – an unfaithful woman with a weakness for other women's husbands.
Will Julie's mind games drive Nicole over the edge into madness?
Or will Nicole pay the ultimate price for her sins?
And what will happen when the Night Watcher turns his attention to Julie?
DS Bill Murphy must find the killer before he kills again.
Release date: December 11, 2013
Publisher: Barker & Jansen
Print pages: 346
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Behind the book
This book is the first contemporary thriller in the Dundee Crime Series. Prior to publication, it won the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) Pitlochry Trophy for the best unpublished crime novel. Since publication, it has proved popular with readers of crime fiction and readers who like books set in Scotland.
July to September 2008
Mist shrouded everything except for the Discovery’s skeletal masts pointing long bony fingers into the sky. It was an omen. He had come to the right place.
There had been so many places since he had last been in Dundee, but he doubted anyone here would connect him with the skinny little lad ejected forcibly from his birthplace, and sent to a borstal far away. They were no longer known as borstals though, secure accommodation, that’s what they called them nowadays. As if the name made any difference. They were still the same brutal lockups they had always been.
Smiling grimly, he pulled his collar up and the brim of his hat forward until only his eyes showed. He turned his back on the glass frontage of the station and shuffled in the direction of the pedestrian bridge.
It was not there. Confused, he stopped and stared. Everything had changed. He did not like change, it unsettled, immobilized him. He turned in a slow circle. The Discovery was behind him, its masts now barely visible. Hazy lights from Tayside House’s tower building pierced the mist, over to his right, and in front of him the dual carriageway – but no pedestrian bridge.
He sent a silent plea to the voice asking him what he should do. But the voice had been silent for some time now, demonstrating its disapproval, because he had acted on his own initiative before he left Newcastle.
The voice had not told him to end the social worker’s life, nor had it instructed him to set fire to her office. But at the time he had been thinking clearly and, knowing he had to vanish, it had seemed sensible to leave no clues to where he had gone.
A cluster of people waited at the edge of the road and, although he did not like crowds, he followed them across both carriageways when the lights changed.
He was in familiar territory now, and his panic subsided as he started to walk up Union Street towards the familiar City Churches at the top.
A faint smell of smoke accompanied the grubby piece of paper and the bottle of pills as he pulled them out of his pocket. On the paper was written the directions to the hostel and all the instructions he needed to start the job the social worker had organized for him. Dumping the pills in the gutter, because he did not need them anymore, he followed the directions on the paper.
The hostel was no different from any other hostel; a grey, unwelcoming building, full of strange noises, strange smells, and even stranger people. He never felt safe in these places but it would have to do until he found something that suited him better.
That had been six months ago; six months of rest and regeneration, since the completion of his last mission in Newcastle. After it was completed the voice had told him to return to his roots in Dundee, but ever since then, the voice had remained silent. Despite this, his faith never wavered. He was convinced there must be a reason why the voice had guided him to this place.
Over the last week, he had been aware of his increasing restlessness. He was nervy and jumpy, forever fidgeting, unable to remain at peace for more than a few minutes at a time. This was a sure sign that the time was almost here.
As the days passed a fever engulfed him; his body burned and his skin itched. Insects burrowed below his flesh, eating him from the inside. Only one thing could quieten them and that was the completion of his next mission.
But though he continued to wait for instructions, the voice did not speak to him.
The waiting was more than he could bear and in desperation he followed several women, searching for the evil within them. But it soon became obvious to him they were not evil, only silly or misguided.
Then he found this one. She was not silly or misguided. Nor was there any other excuse for the bad things she did. But still, he doubted, for although he had followed her every day for the past week and hoped she would be the one, the voice was silent.
Tonight, after leaving the department store from the back entrance in the alley, she walked confidently towards the street, unaware she was being watched.
He waited until she reached the street, then rose from the depths of his secret hiding place and followed her.
When she arrived home her house was empty. No husband waiting tonight. But the voice was silent and had not yet confirmed that she was the chosen one, and without the voice, he could not act.
He followed her again when she left the house later that evening. He watched as she visited the man. He heard the argument and saw the despair in the man’s face when she left. And he was there at the end – at the killing time.
And he knew that if it were not for the woman, the man would not be dead.
Surely now the voice would come. It could not fail to see that this woman was evil through and through.
‘Where are you? Where are you?’ The question echoed through his brain although no sound issued from his lips. He did not need to speak aloud for the voice to hear him, for it was tuned into his thoughts.
As if in answer to his plea the voice responded. ‘The evil that women do cannot be allowed to continue.’ It roared through his head so loudly he had to clamp his hands over his ears.
When the voice quietened and started whispering to him, that was when he knew he had been right to think this woman was the chosen one. And now his mission was clear to him. He had to watch her and prevent her from doing further evil.
He slunk off into the darkness, back to his hiding place. It was time to plan what form his mission would take.
‘It’s over. Finished. Can’t you get that through your head?’ Nicole’s hand was on the doorknob.
‘No!’ Dave lunged towards the door preventing her from leaving. ‘It can’t be. We love each other.’ His voice faltered.
Nicole looked up at him and laughed. ‘Love,’ she said. ‘No it was never that. Attraction maybe, lust certainly. But never love.’
He reached for her, entwining his fingers in her blonde hair. ‘But I gave up everything for you.’ He fought the tears pricking behind his eyes. Men didn’t cry.
‘Then you’re a bigger fool than I took you for.’ Nicole shook his hand off and glared at him through icy blue eyes. ‘But you said you loved me. You said if I promised to divorce my wife, you’d divorce Scott and marry me.’
‘Words, words.’ Nicole laughed harshly.
His eyes filled with tears, and he ran his fingers through his short brown hair. ‘You knew I’d phoned her to say I was coming home to talk things over.’
‘That’s your problem, now get out of my way, and go back to your wife. At least she wants you.’
For a moment Dave wanted to put his hands round her lovely white neck and squeeze. But damn-it-all, he still loved her. ‘I can’t live without you, Nicole.’ He despised himself for having to plead.
‘Tough,’ she said, pushing him aside.
Despair flooded through him and he stood away from the door. ‘I won’t be responsible for my actions if you leave.’
‘You do whatever you have to do.’ Nicole hesitated in the doorway before stepping through it into the darkness of the corridor. ‘But I’m going and I’m not coming back.’
He followed her. ‘Don’t go,’ he said, catching the entry door before it swung shut, but she was already running up the street to her car. He watched until she was out of sight. Then, swearing loudly, he kicked the door shut and thumped the corridor wall with his fist. An upstairs door opened sending a sliver of light through the gloom of the landing. ‘Nosy sod,’ he shouted and the door closed.
He massaged his hand as he entered his own flat. It seemed empty without her. Picking up the framed photograph, he caressed the face with his fingers. But even her laughing image seemed to be mocking him and he laid it face down on the table. His fingers lingered on it for a moment, wanting to turn it over again, but he could not bear to see the mockery in her eyes. Anger surged through him, his fingers tightened on the frame and he threw the picture across the room. It hit the wall and boomeranged back to him, coming to rest at his feet. He ground his foot on top of it, and then covered his face with his hands. Life hardly seemed to be worth living without her.
The sound of the doorbell woke him out of his misery. No one ever came here except her. She must have returned.
‘I knew you’d come back,’ he said, opening the door and stepping out into the corridor.
The door at the end was open, although he was sure he had closed it when he came back. A faint light from the street filtered in, but the hallway was empty. The stairs at the other end of the corridor were shrouded in darkness. There was no movement or sound from them, so he knew it had not been one of his upstairs neighbours who had rung his doorbell or left the outside door open. It must have been Nicole with one of her unpredictable changes of mind. His heart lightened. She had come back but had not stayed. That meant there was hope for him and their relationship, for he knew she was like a bird beating its wings in a headwind, blowing this way and that, ruled by the turbulence of her emotions.
He ran down the corridor to the front door. If he could catch her he would persuade her to stay. But there was no Nicole and her car had gone.
His shoulders slumped and the weight on his heart returned.
Tears blinded his eyes so he did not see one of the shadows on the stairs detach itself and move towards him.
And he did not expect the ligature round his neck as he turned to enter his room.
The sound of Dave’s voice echoed behind Nicole as she ran up the street. Even when she tumbled into her car she imagined she could still hear him shouting, and entreating her to return. The car roared into life, and with an ear-splitting screech of tyres, she drove off, even though the temptation to turn back, to tell him it was all a big mistake, was overwhelming.
Tears trickled down her face as she drove. She had not meant to get so involved with Dave. It had just been a bit of fun – just another one of her affairs. But he had not seen it that way, and she had been drawn into a relationship that frightened her with its intensity.
She had tried to end it gently, without causing him hurt. That was the way she usually ended her affairs. But he was having none of it, and eventually, she had come to realize that she would have to be brutal. However, what she had not banked on was this feeling of something having been ripped out of her.
It was too dangerous to continue though. It had to end. Scott was not a fool and sooner or later he would have become suspicious.
She had been with Scott since she was fifteen, and she could not imagine life without him. He was overbearing, opinionated, and he often made her feel worthless and like a child again. She should have been happy with him, but there was a void, an ache that constantly needed to be filled, and she did that through casual affairs with other men. It boosted her self-confidence – made her feel needed.
Maybe if they’d had children she would not have this urge. But Scott had taken care of that, forcing her to have an abortion when she was fifteen.
‘You must have it,’ he had said, ‘or it’s prison for me.’ It was the after effects of the abortion that ensured she would never have a child.
Nicole turned into the gate and drove up to the house. It was in darkness. Scott was not home yet. She was grateful for that because she was sure her mascara must be streaked and her eyes swollen.
Entering the house through the kitchen door, she kicked off her stiletto-heeled shoes and eased her cramped toes on to the coolness of the tiles.
She crossed to the sink and splashed cold water over her face, before pouring some into a glass and gulping it down. Leaning against the sink for a moment, she stared uneasily into the darkness outside. Then, shivering, she left the glass in the sink, padded out of the kitchen and through to her bedroom.
It only took a moment to shrug off her clothes, but she paused before releasing her breasts from the too tight bra. They were large, firm and shapely, but she was unable to see that because Scott always mocked them.
‘You’re like a Jordan look-a-like,’ he often said in a tone of disgust, although she was sure she was not as well endowed as Katie Price. And when he was being particularly cruel, he would compare them to the udders of a cow.
She jumped into bed and pulled the duvet over her head, unsure whether she was crying because of Scott’s dissatisfaction with her body, or because she had lost Dave.
It was much later before Scott returned home, and it pleased him to see Nicole’s blue, Porsche Boxster, tucked up safely in the garage. She was at home, where she should be.
A smile flickered at the corners of his mouth as he walked silently to the bedroom. He stood for a moment considering whether to wake her but decided against it. He really was not in the mood for sex tonight and would rather savour the successes of the evening.
Raising a hand to the back of his neck he tugged at the elastic ponytail holder and shook his hair loose. It swirled around his head before settling, in dark-brown waves on his shoulders, hiding the diamond stud in his left ear.
He was an attractive man, and he knew it. His chin jutted out more than most men’s, but that did not displease him because he thought it made him look masculine. If there was any fault with his features it was his nose which was slightly off-centre, making his face look a bit less than symmetrical.
He undressed, and walked over to the window, staring out at the darkness and the vague reflection of his body. At least it was still firm and muscled, like the body of a younger man. Not like Nicole, who was running to flab and needed to diet.
Making a moue of distaste he crossed to the bed, slipped under the duvet and, turning his back on Nicole, closed his eyes. He fell asleep still smiling and thinking about everything that had happened earlier.
Bill Murphy stamped out of his ground floor flat in the run-down Victorian villa. He had not invited Evie, his ex-wife, but when she had turned up at his door with a skinful of booze he had not had the heart to turn her away. Then after she passed out on the sofa he knew he had to get out. She had caused him enough grief already. So, in case he ended up doing something he would later regret, he covered her up with a duvet and left.
His anger simmered below the surface as he got into his beat-up red Fiesta, and for a moment he thought about curling up on the back seat and sleeping there, but it was too close to Evie, and the April night was chilly.
There was nothing else for it. He would go into the office. With a bit of luck, he would be able to get some shut-eye in the staff room.
Headquarters car park was as full as it was during the daytime but Bill managed to squeeze his Fiesta into a tiny space at the end. He straightened his tie and ran his fingers through his unruly brown hair as he strode towards the building.
The vestibule was empty and he glanced briefly towards the main office where a glass fronted wall separated the horde of desk-bound, white-shirted staff from contact with the outside world. A constable raised his head and waved a greeting. Bill waved back before inserting a number into the entry keypad. While he waited for the door to unlock he wondered idly whether the glass was bomb-proof.
The upper corridors had that strange hollow feeling of an empty building and there was no one in the detectives’ room. A computer hummed quietly on one of the desks and every now and then its screensaver beeped. A coffee mug and a half-eaten sandwich lay beside it. Bill felt the cup, it was still warm.
‘Where is everybody,’ he muttered, rubbing the bump on his nose – the aftermath of a thump from a bottle. ‘It’s like the bloody Marie Celeste in here.’
The staff room was also empty, although there was a stink of curry and an empty foil container on the coffee table. Bill stretched out on a sofa, but he was too tall to fit it and his feet dangled over the end. After a fruitless attempt to get comfortable he reckoned enough was enough and wandered down to the ground floor to share a joke and some gossip with the night shift officers.
It was the usual madhouse in the duty room: phones ringing, voices raised, officers rushing in and then out again.
‘Damn it,’ Max, the duty inspector said to Bill. ‘The town’s gone mad tonight and I don’t have a single officer to spare if anything comes in.’ He looked at Bill curiously. ‘I didn’t know you were on duty tonight, but I’m bloody glad you’re here. All the other detectives have been called out.’
‘I’m not on duty but seeing I’m here . . .’ Bill let the sentence dangle.
Max grinned. ‘I’ll take that as an offer.’
‘Sure,’ Bill said. He had known Max since their training at the police college at Tulliallan Castle and had a lot of respect for him.
Max hurried off in the direction of a gesturing telephone operator while Bill turned to the coffee machine and tried to persuade it to dispense a cup of the usual sludge, but the machine was not playing and refused to part with a drop.
‘Bugger it,’ muttered Bill. He would have gone home if Evie hadn’t been there.
‘Remember what you said?’
Bill hadn’t heard Max come up behind him and he turned with a jerk. ‘What was that then?’ He stared gloomily at the empty paper cup.
Max carried on as if Bill hadn’t said anything. ‘There’s been a 999 call from a hysterical woman. The operator had a bit of difficulty making sense out of what she was saying. But apparently, she’s terrified to go outside her front door because of a disturbance at her block of flats . . .’
‘A domestic, just what I need.’
‘It might be a bit more than that,’ Max said. ‘She says she thinks there’s a body hanging from the banisters over the stairwell.’
‘Hysterical, you said? You sure she’s not a nutter?’
‘Nutter or not, it needs to be looked at. Are you up for it?’
Bill crumpled the paper cup and threw it into the bin. ‘You got somebody to come with me?’
‘If I did I wouldn’t need to ask you to go. But I’ll get one of the cars to join you as soon as they’re clear.’
The address was in Lochee, known as Little Tipperary because of the influx of Irish immigrants, seeking work in the jute factories, in the nineteenth century. Now, Lochee had been swallowed up by Dundee, being bypassed on its south side, cutting it off from the main traffic flow and allowing it to retain its small town image.
During the day Lochee High Street was like any other small town High Street, with smaller shops jostling for space beside slightly larger ones. Here you could find traditional bakers and butchers shops as well as a supermarket and a local Woolworths. But at night the place had a derelict feel, due in part to the heavy steel shutters on shop doors and windows – a sign of more turbulent times.
Bill parked his car on the double yellow lines at the kerb. The tenement building, flanked by steel-shuttered shops on one side and an undertakers on the other, was in darkness. After rummaging in the glove compartment to find a torch, he got out, crossed the pavement in two strides and pushed the heavy front door. It opened onto a long dark lobby. At the end of the lobby was the stairs. And in the flickering torchlight, the body that hung there seemed to dance and twist.
Bill shivered. Bodies always had that effect on him. No matter how many he saw he never got used to death.
He wished the reinforcements would hurry up. It was bloody eerie standing here on this dark staircase with only the John Doe for company.
And where was the hysterical phone-caller? You would have at least thought she would have been here to meet him.
Oh, well. Better make himself useful. Tightening his grip on the torch he shone it upwards to illuminate the face then wished he hadn’t. It was purple and contorted and the tongue protruded out of one side of the mouth. There seemed little doubt the man was dead, but Bill climbed the stairs anyway and reaching over the banister pulled an arm up and felt for a pulse. There was nothing, except the cold, clammy feel of dead flesh.
The wail of a police siren announced the arrival of the police car. Two uniformed policemen joined him in the lobby.
‘Bloody high time,’ Bill said. ‘Better phone it in. Tell them we need the police surgeon here, and make it fast or else we’ll be here all night.’
‘Right you are, sir.’ The older guy in the uniform turned and ran out of the lobby.
The second uniform looked sick. He was a fresh-faced lad, hardly old enough to be shaving yet, Bill thought. Probably fresh out of police college and not yet hardened to the job.
The first uniform clattered back up the lobby. ‘The doc’s on his way,’ he said. ‘But shouldn’t we be asking for the SOCO team as well?’
‘Call out those scene of the crime buggers and we’ll definitely be here all night. But I suppose we’ll have to, although it looks like a straightforward suicide to me.’
He peered along the landing at the closed doors wondering which one the hysterical phone informant was hiding behind.
‘Should we cut him down, sir?’ The second constable looked as if he would rather be anywhere else but there.
‘It might be best, lad,’ Bill said. ‘The doc’s not going to be able to do much with him up there. Once you’ve done that see if you can find a bulb for that bloody light.’ Bill nodded at the dangling flex. ‘And then the pair of you can do a bit of door-knocking upstairs and find out if anyone saw anything. I’ll try the doors down here.’
There were only two doors in the lobby, and one of these was slightly ajar with a sliver of light slanting out. Bill tapped, then pushed it open, saying, ‘Anyone there?’ His feet crunched on glass and he bent down and picked up the framed picture which lay shattered on the floor. His stomach turned over as he looked at the image of the woman’s face.
‘Evie,’ he muttered, staring at the mischievous blue eyes and blonde hair.
The churning in Bill’s stomach eased, the nausea receded and his vision cleared.
He had thought for a moment it was a photograph of Evie. She had the same eyes, the same blonde hair and the same expression. But it was not Evie. It was someone he had never seen before. Still, the likeness gave him a shiver.
The slam of the outside door jolted him. ‘Where’s the body, then?’ The voice was gruff and unfriendly.
Bill sighed and placed the photograph on the table. He had hoped that it would be Doctor Armstrong. She was far gentler in manner than Chisholm, who was obviously past his sell-by date and it showed. But he pasted a smile on his face and turned to meet the old curmudgeon.
‘He’s at the back of the lobby, doctor.’ He did not dare call the police surgeon by his first name as he would have done with Rose Armstrong.
‘Hmph! How’m I supposed to see anything back there.’ Whisky fumes wafted from his breath.
Bill frowned. The constable apparently had not located a light bulb. ‘I can take a bulb from the flat, or we could move the body inside, whichever you prefer. Body’s been moved anyway so it doesn’t really matter.’
‘Who gave you permission to move the body before I got here?’
‘Didn’t think you’d want to examine it while it was still dangling from the stairwell. And anyway, what if he’d still been alive?’ Not that there had been any doubt in Bill’s mind that the man had been long gone.
‘Hmph! Just shine your torch on it, that’ll do.’
The doctor bent down. He felt for a pulse in the wrist and then the neck; held a mirror to the mouth; placed his stethoscope on the man’s chest, and then stood up.
‘Dead as the proverbial doornail,’ he said. He polished the ends of his stethoscope and slid it into his pocket. ‘See you at the post-mortem.’ He grinned for the first time.
The bugger knows how much I hate post-mortems, Bill thought grimly. No wonder he was smiling.
Bill returned to examine the John Doe’s flat while he waited for the SOCO team to arrive. It was going to be another long night.
The Mile was quiet, with only the hum of far-off traffic from Princes Street breaking the early silence. Julie plodded upwards, savouring the freshness of the morning air and the feeling of peace that would vanish as the day wore on.
A slight breeze caught the edge of her gypsy style skirt, swirling the end of it – where the grey merged into pink – around her legs, revealing the straps of her Egyptian style, high-heeled sandals, winding upwards to her knees. Her pink top, cinched round the middle with a grey belt, was the exact same shade as the pink at the bottom of her skirt. While the silk jacket draped over her arm matched the silver-grey of the material before it merged with pink.
If it had not been for the aura of sadness that surrounded her she might have been beautiful, although interesting would have been a more accurate description. Her features were regular, an oval face with a slightly pointed chin, lips neither too thin nor too full, straight blonde hair brushing her shoulders, eyes a misty greyish-blue. But her eyes had a dispirited look, her step lacked bounce, her shoulders drooped and – hidden under the long sleeves of her pink top – her arms bore multiple scars, evidence of the dark place she had been in for the past year.
This sadness had been part of her life for so long now she found it difficult to hang onto former happier times. However, there was a glimmer of hope because Dave had phoned earlier in the week to say he intended to come home so they could talk things over. When he came, it would be up to her to persuade him to stay. Surely all their years of togetherness and their love for each other – which Dave had momentarily forgotten in his obsession with that woman – would count for something.
There was no need for Julie to come into the art gallery so early, but ever since Dave left she had been restless, sleeping little and waking early.
The flat was like a morgue without him there, and she was glad to leave it behind. Besides, she liked the Royal Mile at this time of the morning when it was too early for the sightseers who would later throng its narrow steep street, jabbering in a multitude of tongues, and snapping photos with their obligatory cameras.
The gallery was in a prime position; one of the last buildings before the castle which, perched high on its rock, overlooked Edinburgh. And it would not be long before the first of the tourists arrived, to ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ over the paintings and sculptures.
Julie leaned against the door while she rummaged in her bag for the keys. Her hair spilling forward to obscure her vision caused her hand to still, and brought a sigh to her lips as she remembered how Dave used to run his hands through it, lifting the strands and winding them round his fingers. He had a weakness for blondes. That bitch in Dundee was a blonde as well. She compressed her lips and angrily shoved her hair back behind her ears. He was tiring of her though, she was sure of it, and now her patience had been rewarded and he would soon be home. Still thinking of Dave’s return she pushed the heavy double doors open.
Adrian had not arrived yet, which was nothing out of the usual, and Julie busied herself pulling the dust covers off the exhibits. She looked up when the old-fashioned bell that hung over the top of the door, tinkled. Her welcoming smile faltered when she saw the policewoman.
‘Can I help you?’ She supposed policewomen were allowed to appreciate art as much as anyone else.
‘Mrs Julie Chalmers?’
‘Yes, that’s me.’
‘Is there somewhere we could talk?’
Julie stared at her. A feeling of apprehension tightened her chest. ‘Have I done something wrong?’ she asked, although she could not think what it could be.
‘No, no. It’s not that. It’s just that what I have to say may be a bit upsetting and you might want to sit down.’
‘Well, I can’t leave the gallery unattended until Adrian gets here, so maybe you’d just better say what it is you’ve come to say.’
The policewoman pulled a notebook from her pocket and looked at her notes. ‘Your husband, would he be David Chalmers?’
Julie nodded, her throat suddenly dry. ‘We’re separated,’ she whispered. ‘I haven’t seen him for over a year. Has he done something?’
The policewoman looked up from her notebook and stared into the space over Julie’s right shoulder. ‘I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.’ She hesitated. ‘It’s your husband. He’s dead.’
The strength went out of Julie’s knees and her fingers tightened on the dust sheet she was holding.
‘Dead?’ she repeated. ‘But he can’t be.’ It was impossible. He was too young. But there was no mistaking what she had heard. ‘Has he been in an accident? Was it his car? I always told him he was foolish to buy that sports car.’
‘No, it wasn’t an accident. I’m very sorry to have to tell you that he was found hanged last night. It would appear that he took his own life.’
The room spun as a wave of dizziness overwhelmed her. ‘But Dave wouldn’t do something like that. He’s a Catholic,’ she said as if that explained everything.
‘I’m sorry,’ the policewoman repeated, fidgeting with her notebook and shifting her feet.
‘He was found hanging in the stairwell of the building where he lived. Apparently, he had an argument with a lady friend earlier. One of the neighbours reported he seemed quite disturbed when she left.’
Julie’s head spun as darkness descended and the air diminished. She struggled for breath and a band of pain tightened around her chest. The word ‘Bitch’ punched itself into her brain over and over again.
‘Do you want to sit down?’
As the mists in her head cleared, Julie became aware of the policewoman’s arm around her.
‘No, no, I’m fine,’ she muttered, ‘I’ll be all right now.’
The door swung open and Adrian staggered in with an enormous canvas.
‘You should see this, Julie,’ he said, leaning the painting against the wall. ‘It’s absolutely marvellous.’ He hesitated when he saw the policewoman. ‘Oh, I say, we haven’t had a break-in, have we?’
‘No.’ Julie shook her head. ‘It’s Dave. He’s dead. They’re saying he hanged himself.’ Her voice broke on the last words and a tear slid down her cheek.
‘Oh, you poor thing.’ Adrian scurried to her side and wrapped his arms around her.
‘I’ll go now,’ the policewoman said with relief.
Adrian nodded. ‘I’ll see she’s all right.’
‘Oh, Adrian. Why would he do a thing like that?’
Adrian’s arm tightened around her. ‘Who knows why anyone does anything,’ he said.
Julie stiffened, pulling away from him, and in a flash of anger, said, ‘It’s her fault. She’s a bitch. I always said she was, but Dave wouldn’t listen. And now, she’s killed him.’
‘You don’t know that.’
‘Yes, I do. The policewoman said he’d been disturbed after a quarrel with her. He wouldn’t have hanged himself if it hadn’t been for that.’
‘You’re upset, Julie. You don’t know what you’re saying.’
‘She should be made to pay for what she’s done.’
Adrian looked at her helplessly. ‘You ought to go home, Julie. I’ll manage the gallery myself today.’
‘Home?’ Julie said bitterly. ‘It hasn’t been home since Dave left. And now he’ll never return.’ She dashed a tear from her cheek with the back of her hand. ‘No, Adrian. I don’t want to go home. I’ll stay here, at least I won’t be alone in the gallery.’
The rest of the day passed slowly. Julie went through the motions, smiling at customers, attending to their needs, trying not to think about Dave, and trying to suppress the anger building within her.
‘That’s the fourth time you’ve dusted the bronze fisherman.’ Adrian was looking at her with a worried frown on his face. ‘I really do think you ought to go home.’
Julie polished the sculpture a fifth time. ‘I’ve been thinking,’ she said, without looking at him. ‘I should go to Dundee and sort things out.’
‘But you’ve been separated from Dave for the best part of a year now. Can’t his lady friend do it?’
‘I’m his wife, Adrian, not her. It’s up to me to see that things are done properly.’
‘But won’t it be awkward if she’s there?’
Julie’s anger flared to a frightening level, and she struggled for breath before saying, ‘I hope she is so I can make her face up to what she’s done. But I know she won’t be.’
‘You’re in shock, Julie. Go home and rest, you’ll feel better for it.’
He plucked her silk jacket from its hanger in the small office they shared and handed it to her.
Julie’s shoulders drooped with defeat. Maybe Adrian was right, maybe she would feel better tomorrow, but she doubted it. Shrugging on the silver-grey jacket and knotting a filmy, pink scarf round her neck, she gathered up her Radley handbag.
‘Until tomorrow then,’ she said, aware of Adrian’s worried eyes on her as she left the gallery.
Her heel caught on a cobble as she crossed the road to the narrow pavement. An elderly man caught her elbow. ‘That was a near miss,’ he said and she smiled her thanks to him, although her thoughts were elsewhere.
The Mile was crowded now, voices yabbered on all sides of her in different tongues and dialects, but she did not hear them. Passing The Hub, she glanced across at the French Bistro just beyond the junction. One of Dave’s favourite eating-places. They had been there that last day. The day he left.
It was May Day and he had seemed strange all that day. The sun had been shining and they had eaten lunch while they sat on the terrace and looked down through the iron railings to Victoria Street, far below. But he had only picked at his food, chasing it around the plate with his fork, just eating the occasional mouthful. It was not like him.
‘Are you ill?’ she had said. ‘Sickening for something?’
‘No, no, I’m fine.’ He concentrated on his plate, avoiding her eyes.
Walking down the Lawnmarket afterwards, she had slid her hand into his. He hadn’t resisted, but he hadn’t clasped it the way he usually did.
His silence made her uneasy and she filled it with inane chatter about anything and everything until they reached the end of The Mound and turned into Princes Street with its heaving crowds.
‘Let’s go into the gardens,’ he said as they passed the National Gallery. ‘It’s quieter, and there’s something I need to tell you.’
The gardens, stretching the length of Princes Street, were at a lower level than the main thoroughfare giving the impression of a sheltered oasis in the midst of the hubbub of city life. They found a spot on the grass to sit, away from the packed benches and wandering visitors.
‘I’ve met someone,’ he said, plucking at a blade of grass so he did not have to meet her eyes.
Julie drew a shaky breath and bit her lips. She did not want to hear this.
‘She’s interesting, dynamic and beautiful,’ he continued.
‘Do I know her?’ It was an effort for Julie to speak and her voice did not sound like her own.
‘No, she’s not someone you know.’ He plucked at the grass. ‘She’s called Nicole and we’re in love.’ At last, he looked up. ‘I’ve rented a flat in Dundee and I’ve left my suitcase at the station. I won’t be coming home.’
That was when she had screamed at him, letting loose the emotion that had been churning inside her since his first words.
But he had simply looked at her and walked away.
His words still echoed through her brain, the world slowed, the sun was less bright, and everything her eyes could see was imprinted in Julie’s mind, coming back again and again to haunt her.
She leaned against the window-frame of a tartan shop, closed her eyes and saw once more – the young lovers sprawled on the grass; the elderly couple walking past, his stick clicking on the path; the boy kicking his ball; the baby in the pram; the sparrow picking at a crust; the tiny spider climbing a blade of grass – Dave walking away from her.
Rummaging in her bag for her mobile phone, she flicked it open and dialled Adrian’s number. ‘I won’t be coming in to the Gallery tomorrow,’ she said. ‘I’m going to Dundee.’
Julie felt as if she had been in a trance since the policewoman broke the news to her. Time passed slowly and the night seemed endless.
She slid into that dark place she thought she had left behind, where the pain inside her had been so great the only thing that relieved it was the physical pain she inflicted on herself with a knife – carving her arms over and over again, then picking at the scabs that formed to prevent the cuts from healing.
The psychologist who counselled her had explained that the physical pain from self-harming was something she used to mask the torment inside her and that the only way to stop would be to find a replacement for that physical pain.
It made sense, so she started going to the gym, punishing her body with a drastic exercise regime. But it was when she started running that things gradually grew better. She ran and ran until she broke through the pain barrier. Then she pushed further until she thought she was on the brink of death.
That was when she started to come to terms with her inner anguish and became calmer. She stopped cutting herself and started to lead a comparatively normal life again, although the ache for Dave was still there.
But the pain had returned, taking her back to that dark place, and now she was in Dundee harbouring thoughts of vengeance against the woman she held responsible for Dave’s death. How she had got there was a blank. She could not remember going to the station, getting on the train, nor even how she got to Dave’s flat. But here she was, sitting in his living room and talking to his landlady.
The woman sighed. ‘Such a sad time for you,’ she murmured.
Julie nodded, although she had not taken in the sense of the words. Her feelings were too raw.
‘If there’s anything I can do?’
‘There is one thing,’ Julie said, and then hesitated because she did not know where the idea had sprung from, nor did she know if it was what she wanted. ‘Can I keep the flat on?’ There it was, out in the open, whether she wanted to or not. ‘Just for a short time,’ she added.
The woman hesitated. ‘That’s a bit awkward,’ she said. ‘You see I’ve promised it to the girl upstairs. She’s got a young baby and she finds the stairs difficult.’ Her voice tailed off. ‘I can let you have her flat if you like. It’s the same as this one, two rooms with a curtained off kitchen area.’
Julie nodded. The ghost of Dave would probably haunt her if she stayed in this flat. Upstairs would be better. ‘That’s very kind,’ she said.
‘When do you think you can move his belongings.’ The woman, clearly embarrassed, looked away from Julie. ‘It’s just that I have to let the girl upstairs know when she can move in.’
‘Probably within a week, two at the most,’ Julie said, ‘will that suit your arrangements?’
‘Yes, that will be fine,’ the woman said. ‘I’ll leave the inventory here so you know what to leave behind.’ She looked round the room. ‘He doesn’t appear to have any furniture of his own so the flat shouldn’t be too difficult to clear.’ She shifted her feet, restlessly. ‘I’ll leave you to it then.’
‘Yes,’ Julie said.
After the woman left, Julie sat in the ancient moquette armchair. This was where Dave sat, she thought, running her hand over the chair arm. A puff of dust flew upwards, tickling her nose, making her sneeze.
She pushed herself out of the chair, raising another dust cloud. It wouldn’t take long to pack his belongings. He didn’t have much, only his clothes. He had never returned to collect all the other things he’d left behind in Edinburgh, which was why she’d always been so sure he would come home.
Tears gathered in her eyes, forcing themselves past her eyelids to trickle down her cheeks. Why did he have to do something so stupid? Why didn’t he just come home? Things could have been sorted out.
But it had been beyond sorting. She had known that for months.
She remembered the parting. ‘Why do you have to go?’ she’d shouted, unable to control her voice.
‘It’s no use,’ he’d said. ‘We can’t go on like this. It’s not honest.’
‘You’re the one who’s cheating.’
He had just looked at her and walked away.
‘She’s not worth it,’ she’d screamed after him, but he hadn’t heard her. Now she couldn’t even say, ‘I told you so.’
Julie laid a suitcase on the unmade bed. She opened it and started to pack his clothes: two suits, four shirts, four ties, seven pairs of socks. He had always liked fresh socks, couldn’t bear to wear the same socks two days running. Two pairs of shoes, seven boxer shorts, he’d never liked briefs. No pyjamas.
He had always worn pyjamas with her, except for the honeymoon period. Tears gathered in her eyes. He must have still been in the honeymoon period when he’d had that last argument with Nicole.
The photograph of Nicole lay, alongside its smashed frame and shards of glass, on the table. Julie’s eyes kept flicking past it, willing it not to be there. She didn’t want to see it, but it would not go away.
She snapped the locks of the suitcase shut then roamed the flat, checking the inventory, and making sure she hadn’t left anything of Dave’s behind.
But there was still the photograph.
She sat on the edge of the bed and stared at it. Her hand reached out and picked it up, shaking the fragments of glass free. If it hadn’t been for this woman, Dave would still be alive. The beginning of a plan started to formulate in her head. Nicole wasn’t going to get away with stealing someone else’s husband and driving him to his death. Julie was going to make sure she paid.
She slipped the photograph into her pocket. When it was all over, when she had done what she had to do, she would burn it.
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