The Shadows

I went down the stairs, moving quickly but trying to stay as quiet as I could, wincing at every quiet creak. At the bottom, I glanced behind me along the dark corridor. The kitchen was dark and the back door was closed. There was nobody there.

But as I turned back and reached for the chain to unlock the front door, the ghost of a man stepped out from the shadows in the living room beside me. He moved so fast I hardly had time to register him before pain exploded in my lungs, the world spun about me, and the darkness in the hallway filled with stars.





THIRTY-EIGHT



“He’s lying about something,” Dwyer said.

Amanda stared down at the monitor on the desk and nodded. The screen was showing footage from the camera in the interview room. Carl Dawson was sitting at the desk there, his elbows on the surface and his face obscured by his hands. What was left of his hair was pushed up, splayed by his fingers. It had been ten minutes since they’d left him alone for a break, and as far as she could tell from watching the monitor he hadn’t moved at all.

He’s lying about something.

He was lying about a lot of things, she thought.

For one, Dawson claimed to have been back in Gritten for several days. To a certain degree, that fit with activity they’d found on his credit card, but it didn’t make sense in other ways. Why was he here? He’d come to see Daphne Adams, apparently, but that didn’t add up. He’d returned to Gritten on the day before her accident, and yet when they checked with the hospice, there was no record of him ever visiting her afterward. So what the hell had he been doing?

“He had no answer when it came to Daphne,” she said.

“Yeah, he clammed up. Because he’s lying.”

“Is he, though?”

“Of course he is,” Dwyer said. “If he came to see her, he failed pretty miserably. Let’s be honest, it’s not like she was doing a lot of running around.”

“No.”

Dwyer was right, and yet a flicker of doubt remained in her mind. For some reason, Dawson wasn’t telling them everything, but she thought there was a grain of truth in what he had said. It was like they had one picture and he had another, and some parts matched while others didn’t. Perhaps he really had come to see Daphne Adams, but there was more to it than that, and despite the hours of pressure they had put him under, he wouldn’t explain what it was.

There was something they were missing.

Dwyer said, “Don’t you like him for the killings?”

“I’m not sure.” She looked at him. “You still do, I can tell.”

He shrugged. “We can link him to all three victims. We know he was here in Gritten at the time Billy Roberts was murdered. And it’s not that long a drive back home. So, yeah, I like him quite a lot.”

“Motive, though?”

“Years of domestic abuse on file. Perhaps he finally snapped.”

Amanda looked at the screen.

Dawson still hadn’t moved.

“Maybe,” she said.

“Here’s what I think,” Dwyer said. “Dawson comes back here for some reason—let’s say it’s possible it really was to see Daphne Adams. She’s dying, he’s upset. He’s had a miserable fucking life, and he’s full of resentment. And there are all these bad memories in Gritten. So he stews for a while, then ends up tracking down Billy Roberts and it all explodes. Afterward, he goes home and loses his shit with his family.”

“Then comes back to have a chat with Paul Adams?”

Dwyer shrugged again. “If you believe that’s what they were really doing.”

Amanda had no answer to that. Paul had clearly been wrestling with something back at the playground. When she had first met him, she had been confident he was telling her the truth, which made it that much easier to notice the difference when he wasn’t. But she also had a feeling that whatever he wasn’t prepared to tell her, it was something separate from the murders. If he had known anything about the killings, she was sure he would have told her. Appearances could be deceptive, of course, but he struck her as too decent for that.

“I can’t see them being in it together,” she said.

“They’re in something together.”

“Paul had no motive to hurt Eileen and James.”

“He did for Billy Roberts, though.”

“Sure. But when I spoke to him, I really don’t think he even knew Billy was out of prison. Honestly, I think Paul has done his best to forget what happened here in Gritten. I read people well, and he was genuinely shocked when I told him.” She gestured at the monitor. “And, of course, that’s the other thing.”

“What is?”

“Carl Dawson’s face when you told him.”

That moment back at the playground was still etched in her mind. And ever since they had started the interviews, Dawson had seemed like a broken man to her. There had been no bursting into tears, shouted denials, or collapsing with shock. There was an emptiness to him, but also a strange kind of resolve. As though he had carried heavier weights than this before, and whatever it took, he was going to do so again now.

Dwyer looked at the screen.

“I still like him for it,” he said.

Amanda sighed to herself. Whatever her reservations, there was a good chance that Dwyer was right. And anyway, especially with Paul refusing to talk, Dawson was all they had right now.

“Round three?” she said.

“Oh, let’s.”

The office they had retreated to was only two doors down from the interview room. As they reached it, Amanda’s phone rang. She took it out of her pocket, wondering if it might be Paul. But she’d programmed his number into her cell, and she didn’t recognize the one flashing up now.

“You make a start,” she told Dwyer. “I’ll join you in a second.”

“Fine by me.”

Carl Dawson looked up as Dwyer walked in, his face still lost and empty, and then the door closed, blocking her view. She answered the call and leaned back against the wall.

“Detective Amanda Beck,” she said.

“Detective Beck?”

It was a woman’s voice. Amanda couldn’t place it, but even with just those two words she registered the urgency and panic.

She leaned away from the wall.

“Yes. Who is this, please?”

“It’s Mary.”

“Mary?”

“Mary Price? You came to our home a few days ago to talk about our son’s murder. I really need to speak to you. I’m so scared.”

Michael Price’s mother. Amanda recalled sitting in a front room still scattered with the boy’s possessions, the air saturated with grief, desperate to be anywhere else.

“Mary,” she said. “Of course. Please try to calm down.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“You don’t need to be sorry.”

“I should have called you sooner. I just didn’t … Oh God.”

I’m so scared.

“Tell me what’s wrong, Mary.”

“My husband.”

Dean Price. Amanda remembered how the man had suddenly left the room, unable to accept that his son had been killed because of the story she’d told them both. Are you saying my son was murdered because of a ghost? And the threat she’d sensed in him. The barely concealed violence she had felt bubbling below his surface.

“What about him?” she said.

Mary was crying now.

“I think he might have done something bad.”





THIRTY-NINE



The hall light clicked on, and I found myself staring at a pair of combat boots.

They kept swimming in and out of focus. I was lying curled up on the polished floor, trying desperately to breathe through a pain in my lungs that was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It seemed like the man had barely moved, but he’d somehow hit me in the stomach with such force that he’d knocked the air from me and made it impossible to draw in more.

“Shallow breaths,” he told me. “You’ll live.”

His voice was blank and emotionless: stating the facts without really caring about the outcome. But it turned out he was right. The effect of the impact subsided gradually, and I managed to draw in small mouthfuls of air, the pain flaring less with each one.

The whole time, the man stood there waiting as I recovered, entirely motionless. Somehow I knew better than to attempt to stand up—that he wanted me on the floor, and that I’d simply be knocked down again if I resisted—but after a moment I risked looking up at him. He was standing in the doorway to the front room, dressed in dark combat trousers and a black sweater. His body seemed thin and wiry, and built for violence. His hair was close-cropped. I didn’t recognize his face, but the expression there was as implacable as his voice had been.

In one gloved hand he was holding a hunting knife.

Terror began humming in my chest.

“What do you want?” I managed to say, each word making the pain in my chest flare.

The man ignored me, shrugging off a backpack I hadn’t even noticed until then. With his free hand, he reached inside and then tossed something in my direction. I flinched as it landed on the floor beside me with a clatter.

Handcuffs.

“Put them on,” he said.

Every instinct in my body told me not to. But even if he hadn’t had the knife, and I hadn’t been lying powerless on the floor, I could tell I was no match for him physically. That he would simply put them on me himself, and it would hurt a lot more if I made him do it.

He took a step closer, turning the knife in his hand.

“I won’t tell you again.”