Authors: Sophie Hannah
|The Telling Error|
|Culver Valley Crime |
|Hodder Stoughton (2014)|
Stuck in a traffic jam, Nicki Clements sees a face she hoped never to see again. It's definitely him, the same police officer, stopping each car on Elmhirst Road. Keen to avoid him, Nicki does a U-turn and makes a panicky escape. Or so she thinks.
The next day, Nicki is pulled in for questioning in connection with the murder of Damon Blundy, controversial newspaper columnist and resident of Elmhirst Road. Nicki can't answer any of the questions detectives fire at her. She has no idea why the killer used a knife in such a peculiar way, or why 'HE IS NO LESS DEAD' was painted on Blundy's study wall. And she can't explain why she avoided Elmhirst Road that day without revealing the secret that could ruin her life. Because although Nicki is not guilty of murder, she is far from innocent . . .
The Point of Rescue
The Other Half Lives
A Room Swept White
Kind of Cruel
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © Sophie Hannah 2014
The right of Sophie Hannah to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 444 73675 5
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
Table of Contents
For my genius editor and amazing friend Carolyn Mays, who has been the bright side of my dark side for nine years
MEN SEEKING WOMEN
IntimateLinks > uk > all personals
: [email protected]
: 2013-07-04, 16:17PM GMT
LOCATION: WHEREVER YOU ARE
Are you looking on here because you’re hoping to find something that stands out from all the dull one-line I-want-a-blow-job-in-my-hotel-room-type adverts? Well, look no further. I’m different and this is different.
I’m not seeking casual sex or a long-term relationship. I’ve had plenty of the first in my time, and I’ve got one of the second that I’m happy with. Actually, I’m not looking for anything sexual or romantic. So what am I doing on Intimate Links? Well, as I’m sure you’re aware if you’re clever (and I suspect that the woman I am looking for is very bright), there are different kinds of intimacy. There’s taking off your clothes and getting dirty with an illicit stranger, there’s deep and meaningful love-making with a soulmate … and then there’s the sort of intimacy that involves two people sharing nothing more than a secret. An important secret that matters to both of them.
Perhaps these two people have never met, or perhaps they know each other but not very well. Either way, they can only establish a bond of common knowledge once the one who has the information has given it to the one who needs it. Think of the rush of relief you’d experience if you shared your burden, after the agony of prolonged silence with the secret eating away at you … If you’re the person I’m looking for, you’ll be desperate to confide in someone.
That’s where I come in. I’m your confidant, ready and eager to listen. Are you the keeper of the secret I’m waiting to be told?
Let’s find out by asking a question that only the person I’m looking for would be able to answer. It will make no sense to anyone else. You’ll have to bear with me. Before I get to the question part, I’ll need to lay out the scenario.
Picture a room in a large Victorian house: a spacious, high-ceilinged first-floor bedroom that’s used as a study. There are overstuffed built-in bookshelves in this room, a pale blue and brown jukebox with curved edges that has a vintage look about it and is much more beautiful than the kind you sometimes see in pubs, an armchair, a filing cabinet, a long desk with square wooden legs and a green glass top that has a laptop computer at its centre. The computer is neither open nor closed. Its lid is at a forty-five-degree angle, as if someone has tried half-heartedly to push it shut but it hasn’t gone all the way. The laptop is surrounded on all sides by cheap-looking biros, empty and half-empty coffee mugs, and scattered papers: handwritten notes, ideas jotted down.
Pushed back from the desk is a standard black office-style swivel chair, and lolling in the chair, his head leaning to the left, is a dead man. While alive, he was well known and – though this might well have nothing to do with anything – strikingly attractive in a stubbly, cowboy-without-a-hat kind of way. If I were to include his name in this account, I think most people would have heard of him. Some of you might shudder and say, ‘Oh, not that vile bigot!’ or, more light-heartedly, ‘Not that ridiculous attention-seeker!’ Others would think, ‘Oh, I
him – he says all the things I’m too scared to say.’ Our dead body is (was) somebody who inspired strong feelings, you see. So strong that he got himself murdered.
How was he killed? Well, this is the interesting part. The murder process comprised several stages. First, he was immobilised. His arms were pulled behind the back of his chair and taped together at the wrists. The same was done to his ankles, which were taped together round the pole of the chair’s base, beneath the seat. Then his murderer stood behind him and brought a heavy object down on his head, rendering him unconscious. The police found this object on the floor beside the dead man’s desk: it was a metal kitchen-knife sharpener. It didn’t kill our well-known man (the pathologist told the police after examining the body), though it would have made an excellent murder-by-bludgeoning weapon, being more than heavy enough to do the job. However, it seems that although the killer was happy to use the knife sharpener to knock his victim out, he did not wish to use it to murder him.
There was a knife in the room too, but it had not been used to stab the dead man. Instead, it was stuck to his face with parcel tape. Specifically, it was stuck to his closed mouth, completely covering it. The tape – of which there was plenty – also completely covered the lower part of the murder victim’s face, including his nose, causing him to suffocate to death. The knife’s blade, flat against the dead man’s mouth, was sharp. Forensics found evidence that it had been sharpened in the room, and detectives suspect that this happened after the victim was bound to the chair and unconscious.
Above the fireplace, on the wall between two bookshelf-filled alcoves, someone had written in big red capital letters, ‘HE IS NO LESS DEAD.’ I imagine that the first police to arrive at the scene took one look at that and leaped to a mistaken conclusion: that the red words had been written in the victim’s blood. Then, seconds later, they might have noticed a tin of paint and a red-tipped brush on the floor and made a more informed guess that turned out to be correct: the words on the wall were written in paint. Dulux’s Ruby Fountain 2, for anyone who is interested in the details and doesn’t already know them.
Detectives examined the dead man’s laptop, I assume. They would have found this surprisingly easy because the killer had red-painted, ‘Riddy111111,’ on a blank sheet of white A4 paper that was lying on the desk. This was the well-known man’s password and would have led police straight to his email inbox. There they’d have found a new, unopened message from a correspondent by the name of No Less Dead, with an email address to match. There were no words in the message, only a photograph of someone standing in the room beside the unconscious, not-yet-deceased victim, wearing what looked like a protective suit from a Hollywood film about biological outbreaks – the sort that covers the head and body of the person wearing it. The killer’s eyes would presumably have been visible if he or she hadn’t taken care to turn away from the camera; as it was, the picture showed a completely unidentifiable person with one outstretched arm (for the taking of the photo), holding aloft a knife in his or her other hand, above the unconscious man’s chest, in a way designed to suggest that a stabbing was imminent. The knife in the photograph was the same one (or identical to the one) that ended up taped to the murder victim’s face, suffocating him rather than spilling his blood.
And now the question is coming up, so pay attention, ladies! (Actually, it’s questions, plural.)
The murderer planned the crime in advance. It was about as premeditated as a killing can be. It involved bringing to the crime scene a knife, a knife sharpener, parcel tape, red paint, a paintbrush and a bio-hazard suit. The killer obviously knew the deceased’s computer password. How? There was no evidence of a break-in. Did her victim let her in? (I’m saying ‘her’ because that’s my hunch: that it was a woman. Maybe it was you?) Did the well-known man say to her, ‘Go on, then: bind me to my chair, knock me out and kill me’? That seems unlikely. Maybe the killer pretended it was some sort of erotic game, or maybe I’m only speculating along these lines because Intimate Links is the perfect place to do so – the online home of sexual game-players of all kinds.
The most puzzling question is this: why arrive at the victim’s house with a knife and a knife sharpener when you have no intention of stabbing him? Why sharpen that knife at the crime scene if all you’re going to do is tape it, flat, against his face? For that purpose, the knife would work just as effectively if its blade were blunt.
Or, looking at it another way … if you’ve got a newly sharpened knife, and you’ve covered your clothing to protect it from blood splashes, and if, coincidentally, you also want to write a strange message in big red letters on the wall, why
stab the guy and use his blood to write with? Because you particularly want to suffocate him? Then why not do it more straightforwardly, with, say, a plastic bag over his head, taped round his neck to make it airtight? Why use a knife at all?
For some reason, you wanted to kill this man with a sharp knife, but you didn’t want to stab him. Why not? And the photograph you emailed – what’s that about? What are you trying to communicate? Is it ‘Look, I could so easily have stabbed him, but I didn’t’?
I realise I’ve slipped into using ‘you’ when I talk about the murderer, rather than ‘she’, or ‘he or she’. I’m sorry. I’m not accusing you of killing anybody. Maybe you’re not the murderer of the well-known man. You might be someone who wishes he were still alive, someone who loves him, or once did – a lover, a close friend. I’m really not sure. All I know is that you’re reading this and you know the answers to the questions I’m asking. You desperately want to tell someone what you know.
I’m the person to trust with the information. I’ve taken a huge risk in sharing so many secrets, in the hope of eliciting a reply from you. So, please, contact me. I’m waiting, and I promise I won’t judge you. Whatever you’ve done, you had your reasons. I am ready to listen and understand.
Looking forward to hearing from you soon.
C (for Confidant) x
• Location: Wherever You Are
• It’s NOT OK to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
: 2013-07-04, 16:17PM GMT