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Authors: Aline Templeton

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Contemporary Fiction

Bad Blood

BOOK: Bad Blood
11.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



For Jane with love

She sometimes felt as if her writhing thoughts were a nest of snakes inside her head. From time to time one would raise its ugly head and hiss and spit venom.

That was happening now, with the poison of rage flooding her veins and making a mockery of all the anger management classes she’d been forced to undergo. She’d had enough of being told what to do, more than enough, enough to the point where she felt she might explode.

She daren’t, though. Her nails dug into the palms of her hands so hard that later she would find neat, bloody crescents right across them.

He’d said no, the bastard. Just flatly, no, this young man with his earnest gaze, sitting awkwardly on the edge of the chair in her living room. It wasn’t the way he usually talked. They were trained to be professionally sympathetic.

Feeble, she called it. She despised him and she certainly wasn’t going to take this from him. She gave him a sideways look, the one she had perfected long ago, the ‘drop dead’ look.

It flustered him. ‘Sorry, sorry. I shouldn’t have said it that way. But really, you mustn’t. It’s just that for your own sake you can’t do it. It would be crazy.’

‘So I’m crazy.’ Her voice was flat.

He was starting to sound desperate. ‘Look, I can’t understand why you would want to do it. You’d be signing your own death warrant.’

She shrugged. ‘You can’t stop me, can you? The condition is that I report, right?’ She wasn’t as certain as she sounded.

‘Well, I suppose that’s true, there are no actual injunctions, but—’

She got up. ‘That’s it, then. I’m going.’

That forced him to get up too. ‘I’ll have to take this up with my line manager,’ he was bleating as she showed him the door.

She shut it behind him. She’d be long gone by the time he came back and without direct legal authority they wouldn’t risk removing her against her will. She’d only have to threaten to scream the place down and they’d back off.

She went to the phone. Her daughter was watching some sort of dumb kids’ programme in the corner and she said, ‘Switch that thing off!’

The girl eyed her thoughtfully, looking for storm signals. Apparently finding them, she stopped. The expression on her face was too old for her years as she watched her mother pick up the phone.

He’d been waiting for the call; he sounded impatient too.


‘I told him.’

‘What did he say?’

‘No. But I told him he couldn’t actually stop me and he admitted it. So that’s it.’

His voice warmed. ‘Well done, girl. Start packing.’

She felt the warm glow of his approval, but as she put down the phone, another snake stirred.

She didn’t really want to go back to Scotland – certainly not back
to Galloway. She was tired of moving around and yes, she was scared. But he wanted her to move back. He needed her. He’d never said that before.

He was her centre, the core of her being. Girlfriends could be counted on the thumb of one hand; motherhood was just something that happened to you. But him …

He’d lied to her, cheated on her, abandoned her. And worse, much worse. Without him, her life would have been – well, she’d long ago decided not to go there. She’d vowed before that she was finished with him, but this time he’d promised it would be different and she almost believed him – almost.

The nasty thought, that it was hardly the first time he’d said that, popped into her mind and she had to force it back into the snake pit. It
different. He was different. He needed her, wanted her to be with him. It made her feel as if someone had wrapped a warm, fluffy blanket round her thin shoulders.

She went to her bedroom and dragged the suitcases down off the top of the wardrobe.

A scream. It ripped through the silence of the trees around the cottage as a knife slashes silk.

Then the silence slithered back again as if no sound had ever banished it, as if this was just another October night with a touch of ground mist so that the pine branches appeared ghostly, floating on the thickened air.

The woman knitting by the fire looked up. ‘What was that?’ she said.

Caught up in the synthetic excitement being blared out from the TV in the corner as the goal attempt failed, her husband only grunted.

She raised her voice, irritably. ‘What was that, I said. It sounded like a scream.’

‘Oh – vixen, most likely. They’re mating just now.’ He sat back in his chair. ‘That’s half-time. How about a cuppa?’

‘You know where the kettle is.’ She went on knitting, but when he made no move, sighed, ‘Oh, all right then. Just let me finish this row.’

Before she put on the light in the kitchen, she peered out of the
little window above the sink towards the direction the sound had come from but she couldn’t see anything, except a light glimmering faintly through the mist where the cottage stood on the other side of the main road among the trees. As she watched, it went out.

She shrugged, switched on the light and the kettle. If there were foxes around, they’d be after her hens. He could always get off his backside and go out right now with his shotgun – fat chance!

In the cottage, the girl stirred into pain-filled consciousness. Her head hurt, really badly, and she was lying on her face. With a struggle, she turned over and opened her eyes; that hurt too.

There had been something – some noise … She tried to sit up, but she felt so sick and dizzy that she had to lie down again. She wanted to put on the light by her bed but it was too far away to reach without lifting her head.

She put up her hand and tentatively explored the sorest part. There was a huge lump and her hair was wet and sticky. She must have hurt herself. She felt strange, sort of fuzzy and muddled inside.

She couldn’t remember what had happened, couldn’t remember going to bed. That felt weird. She could always remember everything perfectly. Much too perfectly.

She didn’t know what time it was either. It was pitch-dark outside, but that didn’t tell her much. At this time of year it could be dark at five in the afternoon.

Out here by the forest it was always like this at night if there wasn’t a moon, but now, with her sore head and her mind being all weird, she was scared. ‘Mum!’ she called. ‘Mum!’

There was no answer, no reassuring sound of movement. Sometimes Mum took pills and couldn’t hear her so that when she needed her, if she was ill or something, she had to go and shake her awake, but she knew that if she got up now she’d be sick. She called again but there was still no answer or sound of movement.

She began to cry. The sobs hurt her head and she bit on her lip to stifle them, but she couldn’t stop the tears running down into her ears.

It was cold, too. It was never very warm in this house, but there seemed to be a worse draught than usual coming through the open door of her bedroom. She’d begun to shiver and then she realised she wasn’t under the covers at all, she was sort of lying as if she’d fallen across the bed. She wasn’t in her pyjamas either: she was still wearing her black miniskirt and bomber jacket.

At least she could wriggle under the duvet without lifting her head. That was better. And if she got back to sleep it would be morning when she woke up and Mum would be awake. Probably.

When Marnie opened her eyes again it was daylight – a grudging daylight, gloomy and overcast, with rain streaming down the windowpanes and the trees outside making that roaring noise like the sea. Her head was pounding as if someone was beating it like a drum, and when she sat up, she vomited without warning.

‘Mum!’ she wailed. ‘I’ve been sick!’

The smell was disgusting and now she could see there was blood on her cover too from where she had been lying – a big dark-red stain. She was frightened now. The next ‘Mum!’ was a scream, but there was still no reassuring reply.

The door of her bedroom was open and there was cold air blowing through it – really blowing, not just the usual draughts through ill-fitting door frames. Her teeth were beginning to chatter and she couldn’t huddle under the stinking duvet or the stench would make her sick again.

Dizzy and unsteady, she swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She was swaying on her feet when she heard a man’s voice.

‘Hello! Anybody in?’

Why should a man be there? But at least it was someone. Marnie staggered across the room and out into the hall.

There was a man standing there, a man holding a shotgun. She gave a cry of terror; her legs buckled and she fell in a heap on the floor.

Douglas Boyd had been stumping along in the pouring rain, his shotgun broken over his arm, muttering under his breath as he walked along the road. Peggy had been on about the foxes she’d heard last night since she opened her eyes this morning – her and her blasted hens!

She insisted their screams had come from this direction, but there wasn’t a chance he’d find a sign of them at this hour of the day when they’d been cavorting all night, and weather like this would wash away even the rank smell that hung around the beasts. The only thing to be said for it was that it got him out the house.

He had been passing the old forestry cottage on the other side of the road when he noticed the front door was standing open, and stopped for a moment, uncertainly.

They didn’t have anything to do with the people here, even though they were their nearest neighbours. Peggy had gone over there to say hello when they’d moved in a few years ago, but she’d not even been asked over the threshold and the woman had been a bit tarty-looking, Peggy said, with unnaturally jet-black hair. There was a man around occasionally and Douglas had seen the girl out in the garden quite often but she seemed shy and these days trying to get to know a kiddie wasn’t a smart thing to do.

He’d seen Bill Fleming’s wife there a couple of times too, recently, her that was with the polis now. When he’d told Peggy, she’d sniffed and said that in that case she wasn’t their kind of people and they’d just keep themselves to themselves, thank you very much. So they had.

There was no car outside, but with the front door standing open, it looked as if they’d gone off in a hurry and forgotten to shut it. Well,
he and Peggy didn’t always lock their own door, living out here, but this was just an invitation to any lowlife passing in a car. He’d been planning to do his good deed for the day and just close it for them, if they weren’t about, but he had called as he stepped into the hall in case he was poking his nose in where it wasn’t wanted.

His shock at the appearance of the bloodstained girl, her cry of alarm and her collapse, set his heart beating at a rate that wasn’t healthy for a man of his age. She was looking up at him pitifully from the floor, her blue eyes wide with fear. He could see there was an ugly wound on the back of her head.

It was rather more than he’d bargained for, doing his good neighbour bit, but this was a poor wee soul needing his help and comfort. He pulled himself together and realised she was staring at the shotgun, transfixed. He set it down hastily.

‘It’s all right, it’s all right. I was just out after foxes that were screaming last night. You know me, don’t you? Douglas Boyd, from along the road. Dearie me, whatever’s happened to you, lassie?’

She didn’t say anything, as if she was too traumatised to speak.

He looked round, helplessly. ‘Where’s your mum?’

The tears came. ‘I don’t know! I’ve been calling and calling.’

Douglas’s heart sank. An injured child was bad enough, but a mother who didn’t answer, in a situation like this … And maybe the scream hadn’t been the foxes, after all.

‘You’re needing to lie down and have a wee rest,’ he said. ‘Can you stand up, do you think, if I help you?’

Still crying, she pushed herself up onto her feet with his supporting arm but when he tried to lead her back to the room she had come from, she resisted.

‘No. It’s – messy.’

A door to his right was open and he could see a sofa. ‘You could go in there,’ he suggested, then added hastily, ‘just let me take a wee look first to see if there’s somewhere you could lie down.’

It was a lame excuse but she didn’t seem to notice, standing there obediently as he put his head round the door, braced for what he might find.

The room was very untidy, with a brown imitation leather suite and a wood-veneer coffee table and a carpet that seemed a stranger to the hoover. The air stank of stale smoke and there was an ashtray overflowing with stubs among the clutter: magazines, circulars, a wine glass, a bottle of white wine, empty. Discarded clothes were draped over the back of one of the chairs and a pair of shoes had been abandoned on the hearth beside the ashes of a dead fire.

At least there was nothing untoward here. Douglas puffed out a little sigh of relief. Turning to tell the girl she could come in, he noticed a plastic witch’s mask tossed down on one of the armchairs, along with a black cardboard pointed hat with an orange frill round the bottom.

Halloween. He was not a superstitious man, but at the thought of what had been happening here on that night of dead souls and unquiet spirits he gave an involuntary shiver.

‘Come on in, then,’ he called. ‘You can have a wee lie-down on the sofa and I’ll go and see if I can find your mum. She’s probably asleep.’

The girl trailed in, shivering. He helped her onto the sofa and found a cushion to tuck under her poor head; she didn’t say anything, just watched him silently as he went back out to the hall.

The doors to the kitchen and bathroom were both standing open so he could see they were empty too. The door to the other bedroom, though, was closed. Taking a deep breath, he opened it.

His first thought was that it had been ransacked, but given the state of the sitting room she’d probably been the kind to use the floor as a laundry basket anyway. The bed was unmade and the kidney-shaped dressing table was covered with pots and jars, some with their lids off, and a thin, greasy layer of powder lay on the glass top. There was another ashtray there as well, with a couple of stubs in it.

Douglas couldn’t be sure immediately that this room, too, was
empty; there could be … anything, hidden under the rumpled duvet on the unmade bed or under one of the piles of clothing on the floor or even in the wardrobe.

The bed first. He pulled back the duvet – nothing below. There was nothing under the clothes, either, which left only the wardrobe.

It was a flimsy construction, with the door sagging a little on its hinges and a key holding it shut. With a feeling of dread Douglas turned it and the door swung open under its own weight.

She wasn’t there, either, just some clothes hanging up and a lot of shoes tumbled in the bottom.

He’d been steeling himself for horror and now he felt at a loss. Was the woman outside, perhaps, lying injured or even dead? But the car was gone – an attacker couldn’t have driven off in two cars. Could she possibly have walked out on her injured daughter? Or even have done the injuring herself, then left her? It was hard to imagine, but you read such terrible things in the papers these days.

He could hear the child giving the occasional frightened sob. So what now? Police and ambulance, obviously.

The phone was in the hall. He shut the sitting-room door, made his call, then went back in again.

‘Your mum seems to have gone out, pet, but you’ve had a nasty knock on the head so they’re going to send an ambulance to take you in to get a doctor to take a wee look at it. All right? I expect your mum’ll be back shortly.’

His voice sounded too hearty, even to himself. She didn’t say anything, just began to cry again.

The children’s ward was bright with pictures and posters, with a corner for toys and games at one end where convalescent children were playing. The patients here expected to be discharged within days: it wasn’t one of these heart-rending places where wan and listless invalids lay connected up to machines and drips.

The mother of small children herself, PC Marjory Fleming was grateful for that but she didn’t like hospitals anyway. They were too hot and felt completely airless when you were used to the open-air life on your husband’s farm. She’d joined the police force last year, not, as her father liked to think, because she wanted to follow in his footsteps but because she wanted a job where she wouldn’t spend her days shut up in some office.

As she strode down the ward towards another policewoman who was sitting by one of the beds, she seemed to bring a breath of fresh air in with her: an athletic-looking woman only a little under six feet, bright-faced, with hazel eyes and chestnut hair pulled into a neat ponytail under her police hat.

The other officer got up as she approached, spoke briefly to the patient, then came to meet her, yawning as she put her hat back on.

‘At last! I’m really needing my bed.’

‘Sorry! Everything’s about at a standstill with the roadworks coming in. How is she?’ Fleming nodded towards the girl in the bed, lying staring at the ceiling.

The other woman pulled a face. ‘Not saying much, apart from asking when her mum will be coming. I’ve stalled her so far, but she’ll have to be told something soon. They’re saying she’s fine and they need the bed. Any progress?’

‘Car’s gone and mother’s just disappeared. They’re going through the house just now and there’s details out talking to the neighbours. If she’s feeling chatty I can encourage her but I’ve been warned it’s just guard duty. If I question her before the fancy-pants CID get here they’ll have my guts for garters.’

The constable laughed, smothered another enormous yawn and left. Fleming turned to watch her go, nerving herself to approach the girl. She hadn’t been entirely open with her colleague; there were reasons for that but it made her uncomfortable.

She couldn’t put it off any longer. She took off her hat and jacket,
laying them on one of the chairs at the bedside, then sat down.

BOOK: Bad Blood
11.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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