Been a bit of an ordeal this one – as ever, I underestimated the amount of work involved, but we definitely got there. My poor editor, Rhona, has been tearing her hair out and sighing as much as one of my early drafts.
I’d like to thank everyone who’s bought the book ahead of any reviews – the sheer number is mind bending. Given this is my day job, it really helps quell the pre-release jitters.
This has been an experiment with the ability to pre-order – Amazon let me trial it in April when I didn’t have any books due for release before they pushed it out to every KDP user. I’ll blog about my experiences once the bugger’s out.
He tried to keep in the shadows as Steven opened the front door. Blinking, he stepped back as the taxi swept past the house before it trundled up the hill, headlights illuminating the wet street. He waited for it to pass and the dim glow of the street lights to return. “Can you not hurry up?”
A man passed them on the opposite side of the street, coat tucked tight against the rain, looking overweight. Had he seen them? His breath quickened.
“Got it.” Steven fumbled with the front door, finally nudging it open. “Sorry about that. Too much to drink, obviously. Come on in.”
“Thought you’d never ask.”
Steven looked down at the cream carpet in the long hall. “Can you at least take off your shoes?”
“No.” He smiled before walking through to the living room, flicking on the mother and child light by the sofa, but remained standing. “I’m fine as I am.”
Still standing in the hall, Steven reached down to untie his own laces. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Now that would be good.”
Steven marched across the wide room, switching a side light on. He paused in front of an oak cabinet behind a leather recliner, like he was going to say something, before pulling down the horizontal cabinet door, revealing a sizeable collection of spirits bottles. His hand hovered over them before settling on a whisky, black label embossed with silver. He sniffed it then poured healthy measures into a pair of glasses. “Here you go. Hope it’s still to your taste.”
Steven took a sip and nodded, eyes staring into space. “Right.”
He took the glass and wandered over to stand just to the left of the window, before sniffing the drink. Pure darkness. “Still think it’s the best whisky in Scotland, Steven?”
“I like it. Get through a bottle every month.”
“That’s a lot of drinking.”
“Helps with the stress. You know how it is.”
“Don’t I just.” He finished the whisky in one, the liquid burning his tongue and throat. Sucking in a mouthful of air, letting it dampen the heat. Bliss. He held the glass up to the light and inspected the lines of the crystal.
Steven finished his dram and put his own glass down, hand shaking. “What is it you want?”
“A chat. One that can’t wait. It’s important.”
“It just is.”
“Come on. You dragged me from the pub to hear whatever it is.”
“You’ll want another drink.”
“Aye, I think so.”
“I’ve had a skinful already.” Steven turned his back and poured out another measure of Dunpender, his head bowed. “Fine.”
He spotted a crystal quaich, Dunpender 100 etched into it, next to another tall bottle matching the design but gold replacing silver. “Nice little trinket you’ve got there.”
Steven ran a finger over it and nodded. “Cost me a pretty penny.”
“Disappointed you’re not opening that one for me.”
Steven sighed as he looked down at his glass. “Like I’ve got anything to celebrate.”
“Quite.” Taking a deep breath, he set the empty glass down on the dark brown window sill. He lashed out, connecting the base of his hand with the back of Steven’s neck, forcing him against the cabinet, fingers clutching at the glass doors. Steven fell forwards, grasping for the hinge as he sprawled across the machined wood flooring, the bottle of Dunpender tumbling and smashing, a pool of gold liquid forming around his prone body.
Stepping forward, he followed through with kicks to Steven’s stomach, head, balls. He kicked the head again. And again.
He knelt down, breathing heavily, fingers crawling up Steven’s throat, clasping the pulse point. His heartbeat was faint.
Still alive. Good.
He dropped the toolbox in the middle of the living room, the trail of oil muddying the bleached wood of the floor, before sifting through the tools inside.
Hammers. Two of them. Which one? The ball-peen for definite, its small head giving precision. The claw hammer was all about brute force. Maybe he’d need both.
He rummaged through the second layer of tools, finding a long cord, the sort used on a drying green. That’s the ticket.
He got to his feet and untied the kitchen cloths on Steven’s wrists, replacing them with the cord, the solid knot at the back of the chair just out of reach.
Breathe. Slowly, deeply. Take your time.
He picked up the glass of water from the coffee table and tipped it over Steven’s head. He didn’t wake up.
He raised the hammer, bringing it down on Steven’s middle finger.
Steven’s eyes shot open. He screamed, a primal roar from the pit of his gut, his gaze darting around the room.
The noise curdled his own stomach. He swallowed, his throat constricted. “So you’re awake then?”
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Come on, Steven, you know what I’m doing and why.”
“I can pay you.”
“Can you really?”
“Please, how much do you want?”
“This isn’t about money. At least not to me. No, it’s about the betrayal of trust.” He reached for the pliers, gripping the fingernail on Steven’s left thumb and yanked. The scream turned his stomach anew.
One, two, three…
Two minutes – one hundred and twenty – that’s all he’d allow himself to enjoy his work.
He stayed in the shadows, watching the yellow flickering in the living room and kitchen windows at the back. The briefest smell of charcoal and petrol.
Glancing around the street, he couldn’t see anyone.
One nineteen, one twenty. Time up.
A cough. Somewhere to the left.
He looked around. There – a fat man stood a few doors down, focused on his phone as a small dog ratted around the bushes of the compact front garden, cocking its leg as it sniffed the air. It was the man who’d almost spotted him as Steven made a hash of getting in.
The dog sensed him, its brown eyes locking on, its mouth curling.
He stepped back into the shade. The dog’s bark rattled around the small space.
“Benji, will you bloody quit it?”
One, two, three…
After sixty he peered out, the phone’s backlight illuminating the man’s face, thumbs working at the screen, the dog pulling the lead tight.
He clenched the claw hammer, hoping he wouldn’t have to resort to another murder just to get away.
“Come on, Benji.” The man tugged at the dog and led him inside.
He let out a breath, watching it mist in the cold air, before walking off. He headed for home, his work complete.
He allowed himself another glance at the house, the flames now visible and obvious to anyone who cared to look.