DC Gary Goodhew searches for the link between an old woman’s terminal illness, a brutal murder, and a series of suicides in Cambridge.
Joey McCarthy is stabbed to death in a parking lot in a random act of violence. Shortly afterward, Charlotte Stone’s terminally ill mother dies and then, within weeks, two of her teenage friends commit suicide. With her home life disintegrating and both her father and brother racing toward self-destruction, Charlotte realizes that her own personal nightmare is just beginning.
When Gary Goodhew, a loveable, warm-hearted detective, finds the body of another suicide victim, he is forced to recall some deeply buried memories of an investigation that had a profound effect on him-memories that lead him to Charlotte Stone. Working together, they begin to wonder whether all these tragedies are somehow linked. And if they are, who will be the next victim?
Libby wrote: Hi, Zoe, thanks for the friend request. How are you? I
heard you died.
‘Doing well for a dead person. LOL.’
There was a gap of a few minutes before Libby replied. Sorry, that was bad taste.
Then there was a gap of a few minutes more.
‘I heard about your sister,’ Zoe wrote. ‘You know she was in my year
Of course. Your profile picture comes from your class photo. I think you’re standing just behind Rosie. She’s got a funny look on her face, told me once how you pulled her hair just as the flash went off.
‘Yeah, I was in the back row and we were all standing on gym benches. The kids in her row were messing around, trying to get us to fall off. Mrs Hurley saw me wobble and yelled at me. I tugged Rosie’s hair to get my own back. I reckon that was Year Seven or Eight. I don’t remem- ber seeing Rosie much after that.’
Libby had hesitated over the keyboard. She didn’t want this to become nothing more than awkward and pointless chit-chat. She had an opportunity here and, although she guessed it was going to be difficult to get things started, she knew that she needed to do it.
I have a proposition . . . a favour, I suppose. You see, I don’t have anyone to talk to. Rosie’s death left a hole, but there’s more and, if I’m honest, I’m struggling a bit. I’ve tried writing it down, but it just doesn’t
work. I get so far, then I’m stuck. So I wondered if I could message you?
‘Do you think that would work?’
I don’t know, but I’d like to try. I thought you might ask me some ques- tions, prompt me to look at things differently. Or maybe I just need to let things out, I’m not sure. The point is, I need to talk.
Those first messages took up little space on her computer screen, yet Libby felt as though getting even that far had taken up the equivalent effort of a 2,000-word essay. She had worked hard to balance her words, to load them equally between truthfulness and understatement. I need to talk had been a tough admission, as it stank of being unable to cope. The last thing she had wanted, through all of this, had been to load anyone else with any part of this burden. But she now accepted that it was the only way to move forward. She thought of Nathan and wished she could speak to him or her parents even, but they were almost as inac- cessible as her brother.
And what about Matt?
No, when she looked at him she recognized what other people saw when they looked at her. It was a hollowness that scared her.
She read Zoe’s ‘Okay’ and nodded to herself. This was something
she had to do.
I’m not sure where to start, she told Zoe.
‘Begin with Rosie.’
Libby took a deep breath. Rosie, Rosie.
Rosie was in your year, Nathan was one year below, and then there was me, two years below him. I’m 18 now, just to save you working it out, and I’m at sixth form college. The course is a bunch of ‘A’ levels and the college propectus calls them a ‘Foundation in Accountancy’. I’d always wanted to work with small children, but I assumed I’d just leave school and get a job in an office or something.
Instead I chose this course. I gave them all the spiel but, in truth, the only reason I’m doing it is because they were the same ‘A’ levels that Rosie took. She was going to get a degree. She wanted to be a primary school teacher one day, and I bet she would have managed it.
I’m explaining it this way because it shows what Rosie and I were
like; how we were similar but different. On a parallel track except I was always a little bit behind, and a little bit in her shadow.
‘But she was three years older?’
Yes, and I’m almost the same age now, but I still haven’t caught up with her in so many ways. And you’re misunderstanding me if you think I feel that’s a bad thing. I was happy in her shadow: it was always a safe and comfortable place to be.
For my entire childhood I could look up and see Rosie and Nathan. Rosie teased Nathan, and Nathan teased me; that was our pecking order. And if Nathan ever upset me, Rosie stepped in, or the other way round.
I can’t remember one single time when I didn’t have one or other of them to look after me.
Anyhow, now I feel like I need to follow in her footsteps, at least for a little while. I’m not ready to let go of her yet, so I sit in the same lectures and try my hardest to get grades as good as hers. That’s what got me through school. It’s like she’s been there before me and I can feel her looking over my shoulder. She says ‘Go on, Bibs, you can do it.’ No one calls me Bibs any more, and I wouldn’t want them to.
Then after a gap of almost twenty minutes, Libby added, Can I mes- sage you tomorrow?
What do you know about Rosie’s death?
‘Just bits and pieces – you know how fragments of information fly about.’
Can I tell you?
‘Only if you want to.’
The short version is that she went to the cinema and never came back. The short version is important to remember, because to me that’s how it happened. I was in my bedroom – my hair was three or four inches longer then, and I was straightening it. Rosie heard me swear- ing, came into the room and finished the section that I couldn’t reach properly.
I told her she looked nice, but I was too wrapped up in my own night out to pay her much attention; later that night, Mum and Dad asked me what she’d been wearing and I just couldn’t remember. I knew that, when she put the hair straighteners on my dressing-table, I noticed that she’d had her nails repainted a slightly metallic shade of purple.
And that’s really all I could remember. I can’t remember which cinema, which film or if she said who she was going with. I can’t remember a single word she said, just the touch of her fingers as she separated the strands of my hair, and the colour of her nails as she finished.
I tell myself that I can’t remember all those things because I never knew them, that she’d never shared the details with me. I don’t believe though that she would have ever gone to watch a film on her own. And I find it equally hard to believe that I wouldn’t have said, ‘Who are you going with?’
I went to the beauty salon a couple of weeks later and bought a bottle of that same nail polish. I’ve still got it in my drawer.
I returned home just before 1 a.m. I came back in a taxi and, as it pulled up, I noticed the lights on in our front room, with the cur- tains open. I could make out Mum and Dad standing apart from one another. It was only a brief glimpse but I felt uneasy and hurried inside.
Nathan was there too. You can see our kitchen as soon as you walk through the front door and he was standing by the kettle, pouring boil- ing water into three mugs.
‘What’s happened?’ I mouthed at him.
‘They tried to ring you because they can’t get hold of Rosie. But your
phone was off.’
In that case, I reasoned, they wouldn’t get hold of me either, would they? Why were they so worried about her when they weren’t worried about me?
I can’t really remember how I felt at that moment. I think I wondered why there was this amount of fuss. Or maybe I realized something was up. Mum’s always been a bit paranoid, and Rosie had only passed her driving test a few months before.
Dad called through from the front room and asked me what Rosie had said to me about her plans for the evening. Mum snapped at him, told him to get to the point. He snapped back.
Then he turned to me and started, ‘It’s probably nothing, but . . .’ Even now those words always fill me with dread.
Rosie had told Mum that she’d be back by eleven. No biggie on its own, but Nathan had been playing an away match for the Carlton Arms pool team, and she’d promised him a lift home. Her phone kept going straight to voicemail, so he waited for her till 11.30, then rang our par- ents as he walked home.
Like I said, it never took much to make Mum start worrying, and this was plenty. Nathan said she’d made Dad phone the police at half-past midnight. I suppose there wasn’t much the police could say at that point, except to let us know that they’d had no incidents involving anyone called Rose, Rosie or Rosalyn, or with the surname Brett.
Straight after I got home, Mum told him to call the police again. He was kept on hold for a while, and said they were being very polite and understanding, but I could tell that they’d left him with the feeling that he was totally overreacting.
I don’t know if you remember much about my dad, but he’s a stub- born bloke, and when he makes his mind up about something, it’s really hard to get him to shift. ‘That’s enough now,’ he decided, and demanded that we all go and get some sleep.
So of course Mum started to argue with him, and he refused to budge. I looked at Nathan, and he just raised his eyebrows. It wasn’t like we hadn’t seen it all countless times before.
We left them there to wrangle, although I don’t remember hearing another sound from them.
I lay down on my bed fully dressed, and let the rest of the house think I’d gone to sleep. I heard Nathan’s door close, and imagined him in the next room, doing exactly the same. I don’t think I slept at all. Maybe it wasn’t like that, but that’s how I remember it.
If I did stay awake, it wasn’t because I was scared for Rosie. I didn’t believe for one second that I’d never see her again. It was more that I kind of felt out of kilter.
Funny phrase that: out of kilter. I don’t even know what a kilter is. And that’s the point. I knew something was up, but I didn’t have enough experience to guess . . .
Libby’s intended words had trailed off to nothing. The minutes ticked by as she tried to finish the paragraph, but didn’t think she could. For a moment she was tempted to delete the whole page, but that would amount to avoiding talking about Rosie. She could promise herself to type it again, but she knew that it wouldn’t happen.
She pressed ‘send’.
Zoe’s reply was typically short: ‘Can you tell me what happened?’ Libby gave a little smile. In Zoe’s photo she had cropped dark hair
and the type of face that looked serious even in the middle of a grin. Zoe didn’t need her messages surrounded by frilly words. This was exactly the reason she had picked Zoe to talk to; with her it was okay to be blunt, which in turn took away the excuse to give up. Libby typed quickly.
They found Rosie’s car first, parked up on a bridge crossing the A14. Her body was about half a mile away down on the carriageway. She’d been run over. More than that, actually, but I think, to explain it all . . . I just can’t do that right now.
Can I just say ‘multiple injuries’ and tell you the rest some other
time? The press referred to it as suicide.
The police were more cautious and listed other factors: bad weather, poor visibility, heavy traffic and so on. The A14 is notorious for its high accident rate. They never found out what had really happened. At least that’s what they told us, but I have a feeling that they did know. They just couldn’t prove it, and in the end, the verdict was left open.
I couldn’t grasp it at first. It didn’t seem possible. Even at Rosie’s funeral it didn’t seem real, then finally, when I understood that she really was dead, the questions started to form in my head. Little things at first. Had she ever made it to the cinema? Which film had she seen? Who had she gone with?
I asked myself: what was it that had prompted her to drive out any- where near the A14?
I also wondered how long it’d taken for her to die. I didn’t go to the inquest, Mum and Dad were there, but I could hardly ask them. It’s questions like that which make me worry that I have become overly morbid.
My list of questions grows, and I can’t stop it. And when I don’t have proper explanations, I start to invent the answers. It’s a bad habit and I feel like my life is only half lit now, and instead of looking to the light, I’m turning towards the darkest corners. I’ve got it into my head that there is some evil lurking just out of sight. And I’m straining to see it.
You see, I thought things couldn’t get worse, and that losing Rosie was enough.
In fact, it was enough. But what has happened since is too much.