“A spate of brutal murders occur in and around a small town. The bodies of the dead – savagely mutilated, defiled – are piling up with terrifying rapidity. There’s no apparent motive, and no obvious connection between the killings, but they all started when Scott Griffiths and his family arrived in Thussock…”
FORTY-EIGHT MILES NORTH OF THUSSOCK
‘You all right?’
He just looked at her, struggled to focus, took his time to reply. ‘Sorry. Tired.’
‘It’s getting awful late. What are you doing out here at this hour?’
‘Not sure. Lost, I think.’
‘I’ll say. Where you heading?’
‘Can’t remember,’ he said, embarrassed, and he laughed like a child.
They blocked each other’s way along the narrow pavement. The silence was awkward. Joan’s dog Angus tugged at his lead, keen to get home and out of the rain. She tugged back. He’d have to wait.
‘I’m cold,’ the man said, wrapping his arms around himself.
‘I’m hardly surprised. Just look at you. You’re not really dressed for it, are you?’ Joan continued to stare at him. What was he . . . mid-thirties, perhaps? He looked about half her age. His nipples showed through his wet T-shirt and she couldn’t help but stare. He was shivering, but that was only to be expected. She was cold herself, and she’d a vest, a blouse and a cardigan under her anorak. In the dull glow from the streetlamp between them, she thought he looked beautiful. ‘You’re not from round here, are you?’
‘You can tell?’
‘It’s the accent. I think you’ve a lovely accent.’ What the hell are you doing, Joanie? She felt foolish . . . silly, even, like she was back in school. There was just something about him . . . she knew she should go, but she didn’t want to move. Angus whined and pulled at his lead again and she cursed him. ‘I should really be getting back,’ she said.
The man nodded, chewed his lip. ‘Okay.’
‘What about you?’
‘Don’t know,’ he answered. ‘Not sure.’
For a second she thought she detected an unexpected vulnerability in his face and she liked it. It made her pulse quicken, reminding her of times long-gone, times all but forgotten. Memories of youth clubs and dance halls . . . tongue-tied boys, all cocksure and confident with their mates, suddenly stammering with nerves when it came to asking her out. She remembered the makeup, the skirts, the dancing and the alcohol . . . knowing they were watching her, wanting her, knowing she had the power to make or break them with a single word, with just a look.
You’re sixty-eight. You’re a grandmother. Get a hold of yourself.
Normally she’d be wary of men like this, intimidated even. But not him. Not tonight. He was no threat, he was just . . . lovely.
‘You’re very pale. Are you sure you’re okay? They said it’s going to rain tonight. You don’t want to be caught out here in just your shirt.’ He didn’t react, just stared. Angus pulled again and this time she yanked his lead hard, making him yelp. ‘Is there anyone I can call for you? Maybe get someone to come and pick you up?’
Joan half-turned away, then stopped. You really shouldn’t be doing this, Joanie. She looked at him again. ‘You’re very handsome.’
He didn’t say anything. Didn’t react at all, just waited under the streetlamp, watching her watching him. She moved closer, then stopped again. She looped the dog’s lead around the bottom of the lamppost then smoothed the creases from her skirt and moved closer still, tucking rogue strands of grey hair behind her ear. What the hell was she thinking? She didn’t know anything about this stranger, hadn’t ever seen him before. Her head was telling her to do the right thing, to just keep walking and get home. Douglas had said he didn’t like her taking the dog out late at night like this, but he’d left her with no choice because the lazy old sod hadn’t been prepared to get off his own backside and do it himself, had he? He didn’t care anymore, not like he used to. To be honest, neither did she. They were bored of each other and had been for a long time. She pictured him now, back at home in front of the TV. He probably hadn’t even noticed she’d gone out.
She decided she’d rather stay here than go home. There was something about this man . . . the way he looked at her, the way his tall, muscular body made her feel inside, and those eyes . . . full of life, full of promise. She felt a warm glow inside become a burning need; a re-awakening of feelings she hadn’t experienced in a long, long time.
Stop this, Joanie. Get a grip. You’re missing Downton.
‘I should really be going,’ she said.
His unexpected protest surprised her. Delighted her. He took a single step nearer and they came together under the streetlamp glow, almost touching. He unzipped her fawn-coloured anorak then slipped his trembling hands inside her coat and ran them all over her flabby body. And she reciprocated; holding him, stroking him . . . kissing him with lips that hadn’t kissed like this in an eternity. He fumbled with his jeans while she struggled with her knickers. He gently lowered her down onto the wet pavement then ripped the gusset of her tights open as Angus barked in protest and strained at his leash.
And who he was didn’t matter. And who she was didn’t matter. And the temperature and the time and the weather and the openness of where they were and what they were doing . . . none of it mattered. Because at that exact moment, there was only them.
In the morning they found the dog, still tied up, barking then whimpering. And close to Angus, under the streetlamp, head in the hedgerow, legs sprawled across the narrow, blood-soaked pavement, mutilated, violated . . . they found his body.