Read When the Music's Over Online

Authors: Peter Robinson

When the Music's Over

CONTENTS
Prologue

T
HEY THREW THE NAKED GIRL OUT OF THE VAN ON THE
darkest stretch of road. First she felt the wind whip as one of them slid open the door, then she was in free fall, tumbling through space. Her hip bounced on the hard road surface and she felt something crack. Then she hit damp grass and rolled into a ditch full of stagnant water. She could hear their laughter and whooping over the loud music, but soon even the music had faded into the distance and there was nothing left but silence.

She lay in the ditch, winded, her hip hurting, head spinning, and tried to take stock of her situation. She had no idea where she was. Somewhere in the countryside, obviously, miles from civilization. She struggled to push herself up out of the foul, muddy water. As soon as she moved, she gasped at the pain, which shot first through her hip, then seemed to diffuse through every atom of her body, as if someone were pushing red-hot needles into her flesh. The stuff they'd given her back in the van was wearing off, the last couple of hours fading like a dream as she awoke into pain, but even as it faded it rushed through her when she least expected it, distorting her senses. There was a whooshing sound in her ears, like big waves crashing, and her vision was blurry.

She had also cut her shoulder on something, a broken bottle in the ditch, perhaps, and she became aware of other cuts and bruises as the
pain started to focus on more specific parts of her body. She tried to clean the mud and blood off her skin as best she could with water from the ditch, but it was too dirty, and she only succeeded in spreading the filth all over herself. She felt that she resembled some primeval creature crawling out of the slime.

She limped into the darkness and stumbled in the direction from which the van had traveled. There was nothing she could do about her nakedness except hope someone decent came along, someone who would wrap her in a blanket and take her to a hospital. Being naked and muddy were the least of her problems. Her brain wasn't working properly, for a start. The road surface seemed to be undulating beneath her, and the overhanging trees were assuming threatening shapes. She shook her head to try to make it all go away but that only made things worse. She felt dizzy and had to support herself against a tree trunk for a moment. The bark was pulsing under her fingers like the dry scaly skin of a reptile. Her hip hurt so much that she was certain it was broken. And she felt terribly torn up inside. She was certain she was bleeding internally. She needed a doctor. He would give her painkillers, maybe even morphine. Then her pain would disappear and she would drift on warm soft pillows without a care in the world. But they would want to take swabs and samples. They'd call the police and then she would really be in trouble. The police wouldn't believe her. They never believed people like her. Besides, in her experience, such kindness was unlikely. No Good Samaritan would come along and give a lift to a naked girl covered in mud. That wasn't what the sort of people she knew did with naked girls. It wasn't the kind of thing that happened in her life.

It was late July, but a long week of rain had just ended. The night was muggy, and a gauzy mist hung over the dark landscape. No streetlamps, only the hazy light of a haloed half moon. Somewhere in the field beyond the drystone wall a sheep bleated, and she thought she could see a lone light shining in a farmhouse upper window. Should she head for that? Would they help her? There was the ditch and a stone wall topped with barbed wire in her way, but there might be an entrance farther ahead. If she found a gate, she decided, or a gap in the wall, that's what she would do. Head over the field toward the light.

How late was it? Or how early? She had no phone or watch. She couldn't remember how long she had been in the van. Surely dawn couldn't be far off. The sun rose early these days. But everything was still dark, and the trees and walls were silhouettes of scarecrows and demons closing in on her. The road was narrow, and there was no sidewalk, so she walked on the hard surface. Stones dug into the soles of her feet with almost every step. If a car came she would have plenty of warning. She would hear it and see its headlights from far away. If a car came . . .

She hadn't been walking for more than ten or fifteen minutes when she thought she heard the distant drone of an engine and saw lights playing between the shadows and trees ahead, refracted in the mist down the winding road. A car! It was traveling in the opposite direction she was walking, the same direction the van had been heading, but that didn't matter. As the car came closer, she at least had enough sense to stand back, near the edge of the ditch, so it wouldn't hit her by accident. She threw away her dignity and waved her arms in the air. The headlights dazzled her, and the small van shot straight past. She watched it in despair, then she saw it stop with a screeching of rubber about a hundred yards ahead. She couldn't make out what sort of van it was. The engine purred and the red brake lights glowed like a demon's eyes in the mist. Shaking off the feeling of apprehension that came over her, she started hobbling toward the van as quickly as she could.

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