The Other Childby Charlotte Link
A suspenseful, atmospheric new psychological crime novel from Germany’s most successful living female author
An old farm, a deserted landscape, a dark secret from times past with fatal consequences for the present.In the tranquil northern seaside town of Scarborough, a student is found cruelly murdered. For months, the investigators are in the dark, until
A suspenseful, atmospheric new psychological crime novel from Germany’s most successful living female author
An old farm, a deserted landscape, a dark secret from times past with fatal consequences for the present.In the tranquil northern seaside town of Scarborough, a student is found cruelly murdered. For months, the investigators are in the dark, until they are faced with a copy-cat crime. The investigation continues as they struggle to establish a connection between the two victims. Ambitious detective Valerie Almond clings to the all too obvious: a rift within the family of the second victim. But there is far more to the case than first appears, and Valerie is led toward a dark secret inextricably linked to the evacuation of children to Scarborough during World War II.Horrified at her last-minute discovery, Valerie realizes that she may be too late to save the next victim.
Charlotte Link, a best-selling author in her native Germany but previously unknown to American readers, has the eerie insight peculiar to writers of psychological suspense. While most of us look at our neighbors and see ordinary people living humdrum lives, they see something dark and menacing beneath the surface.Every well-built psychological suspense narrative involves a thorough, methodical dissection of characters we’ve been led to believe we already know. It’s a delicate skill, and authors like Ruth Rendell have made it into something of an art form. In this translation by Stefan Tobler, Link demonstrates the same subtle touch, keeping the reader’s eye trained on Fiona and the guilty secret she shares with Chad, while distracting us from the innocent-looking characters standing quietly in the shadows.
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THE OTHER CHILD
A Novel of Crime
By CHARLOTTE LINK, Stefan Tobler
Pegasus Books LLCCopyright © 2013 Charlotte Link
All rights reserved.
Saturday, 19th December
She knew she had to get away as quickly as possible.
She was in danger, and if the people who lived on the isolated farm caught sight of her she was lost.
Suddenly the man appeared out of nowhere in front of her, just as she got to the farmyard gate and was about to hurry down to her car. He was big and not as scruffy as she would have expected among these dilapidated buildings. He was wearing jeans and a jumper; his grey hair was cut very short. She could not see any glimmer of feeling in his pale eyes.
Semira could only hope he had not seen her behind the barn. Maybe he had spied her car and come to see who was snooping around. Her only chance was in convincing him she was harmless, even though her heart was pounding and her knees knocking. Her face was beaded with sweat, in spite of the biting cold on this already twilit December afternoon.
His voice was as cold as his eyes. 'What you doin' here?'
She tried a smile, but felt her lips quiver. 'Thank God. I thought no one was here ...'
He looked her up and down. Semira tried to imagine what he saw. A skinny little woman, not yet thirty, wrapped up warm in trousers, fleece-lined boots and a thick anorak. Black hair, black eyes. Hopefully he did not have anything against Asians. Hopefully he did not realise he had an Asian in front of him who felt like she was going to throw up at any moment. Hopefully he had not realised how afraid she was. Semira had an awful feeling he could smell her fear.
He nodded towards the copse at the bottom of the hill. 'Your car?'
It had been a mistake to park it down there. The trees were too sparse and bare – they concealed nothing. He had seen her car from one of the upper windows of his house, and put two and two together.
What an idiot she was, to come here and not tell anyone. And then to park her car in sight of the wretched farm.
'I'm ... completely lost,' she stammered. 'No idea how I ended up here. Then I saw your house and thought I could ask if ...'
'I'm new to the area.' Her voice sounded wrong in her ears, too high and a little shrill, but he did not know how she usually spoke. 'Actually, I wanted ... I wanted—'
'So where you goin', really?'
Her mind was blank. 'To ... to ... what's it called again?' She licked her dry lips. She was standing face to face with a psychopath. He should have been locked up, and the key thrown away, she was sure of it. She should never have come here on her own. There was no one here who could help her. She was only too aware of the absolute isolation and remoteness of the place. No other farm near or far, not another soul.
She could not afford to slip up. 'To ...' Finally a name popped into her head. 'Whitby. I wanted to go to Whitby.'
'You're right lost. Main road is a fair drive from here.'
'Yes, that's what I was starting to figure.' She forced a smile again. The man did not smile back. He stared fixedly at her. In spite of his impassive appearance, Semira could feel his mistrust, his suspicion, which seemed to grow with every second that he talked to her.
She had to get away!
She forced herself to stand there calmly, although she really wanted to run. 'Could you tell me how to get back to the main road?'
He did not reply. His glacial blue eyes seemed to go right through her. She really had never seen colder eyes. As cold as if there were no longer any life in them. She was glad she had a scarf wrapped round her neck; she could feel a nerve twitching away under her right jaw.
The silence lasted too long. He was trying to work something out. He did not trust her. He weighed up the risk that this little person posed for him. He examined her, as if he wanted to penetrate deep into her mind.
Then a scornful expression passed over his face. He spat on the ground in front of her.
'Black bastards,' he said. 'Fillin' up Yorkshire now, an' all?'
She flinched. She wondered if he was a racist or was just out to provoke, to draw her out of her shell. He wanted her to give herself away.
Act as if this were a completely normal situation.
She felt a sob rising in her throat, and she could not stop a hoarse sound escaping. It simply was not a normal situation. She had no idea how long she could control her panic.
'My ... husband is English,' she said. She never did that usually. She never hid behind John when she was faced with prejudice about the colour of her skin. But an instinct had led her to give that answer this time. Now he knew that she was married and that there was someone who would miss her if anything happened to her. Someone who was not a stranger in this country and who would know immediately what to do when someone disappeared. Someone whom the police would take seriously.
She could not tell if her reply made any impression on him.
'Get yourself away,' he said.
It was not the moment to be indignant about his rudeness, or to argue for equal rights for people of different colours. She had to escape and find the police.
She turned to go. She forced herself to walk at a measured pace and not to give in to the urge to run. He had to think she was insulted without knowing that she was going mad with fear inside.
She had taken four or five steps when his voice stopped her.
She froze. 'Sorry?'
He strode over to her. She could smell his breath. Cigarettes and sour milk.
'You were over at t' shed, weren't you?'
She had a knot in her throat and broke out in a sweat all over her body. 'What ... what shed?'
He stared at her. She could read in his emotionless eyes what he could see in hers: that she knew. That she knew his secret.
He no longer had any doubts.
She ran.CHAPTER 2
Wednesday, 16th July
The first time he saw the woman he had just left Friarage School and was about to cross the road to go home. She was standing in the open doorway, clearly hesitating to set foot outside in the pouring rain. It was almost six and already unusually dark for the time of year. The day had been oppressively hot, then a storm broke over Scarborough with mighty claps of thunder. The heavens opened and it seemed that the end was nigh. The schoolyard was deserted. Water immediately gathered in giant puddles on the uneven tarmac. Angry blue-black clouds massed in the sky.
The woman was wearing a calf-length, flowery summer dress. It was somewhat old-fashioned but quite suitable for the day, until the storm came. She had long, mousy-blond hair, which she wore in a plait, and was carrying a shopping bag in her hand. As far as he knew, she was not a teacher. Maybe she was new. Or on a course.
Something invited him to step closer and to consider talking to her. Maybe it was her unusually old-fashioned appearance. He guessed her to be in her early twenties, yet she looked completely different to other women of her age. Not that looking at her was going to send a man into ecstasies, but something would hold your attention. You would want to know what her face looked like. How she spoke. Whether she represented some kind of alternative to her era and her generation.
He, at any rate, wanted to know. Women fascinated him, and as he knew almost all kinds of women by now, the unusual ones exerted a particular fascination.
He walked over to her and said, 'You don't have an umbrella?'
It was not that he felt himself to be particularly original at this moment, but in view of the torrential rain outside the question was almost inevitable.
The woman had not seen him approaching and jumped. She turned towards him and he realised his mistake. She was not in her early twenties, but at least her mid-thirties, perhaps even older. She looked friendly, but plain. A pale face without make-up, not pretty, not ugly – the kind of face that you would not remember for more than two minutes. Her hair was drawn back from her high forehead in a rather loveless way. It was obvious that she was not consciously trying to embody a particular type, but simply had no idea what to do to look more attractive.
A nice, shy thing, he judged, and completely uninteresting.
'I should've known there'd be a storm,' she said. 'But when I left home at lunchtime, it was so hot that a brolly would've been silly.'
'Where are you going?' he asked.
'Only to the bus stop in Queen Street. But I'll be soaking by the time I get there.'
'When does your bus go?'
'In five minutes,' she said in a whining tone. 'And it's the last one today.'
She seemed to live out in the sticks. It was astonishing how quickly the countryside swallowed you up outside the town boundaries. Without much of a transition, you were suddenly in the middle of nowhere, among settlements of just a few scattered farms, which were barely served by public transport. The last bus just before six! Young people there must feel that they were still in the Stone Age.
If she had been young and pretty, he would not have hesitated an instant to offer her a lift home. He would have asked if she would like to go for a drink with him first, somewhere down in the harbour with its many pubs. He was not meeting someone until later in the evening and it was nothing important. He had no great wish to sit around bored until then in his lodger's room in a house at the end of the road.
Yet there was nothing enticing about the idea of sitting over a glass of wine in a pub and looking all evening at the colourless face of this elderly girl – for that was the impression you got: she was an elderly girl.
TV would probably be more entertaining. Yet he hesitated to just leave her and sprint across the schoolyard and up the road. She looked so ... abandoned.
'Where do you live?'
'In Staintondale,' she said.
He rolled his eyes. He knew Staintondale, oh God! A main road, a church, a post office where you could also buy the most basic foodstuffs and a couple of papers. A few houses. A red phone box, which was also the bus stop. And farms, which looked as if they had been thrown into the surrounding countryside.
'You've no doubt also got a little walk from the bus stop in Staintondale,' he guessed.
She nodded unhappily. 'Almost half an hour, yes.'
He had not only made the mistake of talking to her. He had the impression that she had noticed his disappointment, and something told him that it was a painfully familiar occurrence for her. It might have been the case that she had awakened a man's interest often, only for it to immediately extinguish when the man actually approached her. Perhaps she guessed that he would have offered to help, if only she had been a little more interesting, and now she assumed with some certainty that nothing would come of it.
'You know what,' he said quickly, before his selfishness and laziness got the better of his sudden generosity, 'my car is just down the road. If you'd like, I can drive you home quickly.'
She stared at him in disbelief. 'But ... it's quite a trip ... Staintondale's—'
'I know the place,' he interrupted. 'But I don't have any plans for the next few hours, and there are worse things than a drive in the country.'
'In this weather ...' she put in doubtfully.
He smiled. 'I would advise you to accept my offer. First, you probably won't catch your bus now anyway. Second, even if you do, you'll have a nasty cold tomorrow or the day after. So?'
She hesitated, and he could sense her mistrust. She was asking herself what his motives were. He knew that he was good- looking and a success with women, and she was probably realistic enough to realise that a man like him could not really be attracted to a woman like her. She probably had him down either as a sex offender wanting to lure her into his car because he took whatever he could get, or as a man overcome by pity. Neither alternative was appealing.
'Dave Tanner,' he said, holding out his hand. She shook it hesitantly. Her hand felt warm and soft.
'Gwendolyn Beckett,' she said.
He smiled. 'So, Mrs Beckett, I—'
'Miss,' she corrected him quickly. 'Miss Beckett.'
'OK, Miss Beckett.' He glanced at his wristwatch. 'Your bus goes in one minute. I think that decides that then. Are you ready for a sprint, across the playground and a few yards down the road?'
She nodded, surprised by the realisation that she didn't really have any choice but to clutch at the straw which he was offering her.
'Hold your bag over your head,' he advised her. 'That will shelter you a bit.'
She dashed after him across the playground awash with puddles. Along the wrought-iron fence surrounding the premises, tall trees bent under the pouring rain. On the left the enormous Market Hall appeared, a building with catacomb-like underground passageways and vaults. In its galleries and shops you could buy mountains of kitsch, and even a little art. To the right was a little residential street lined with narrow red-brick terraced houses, each with a gloss-white door.
'Down here,' he said, and they ran past the houses until they reached the small, blue, rather rusty Fiat parked on the left-hand side of the street. He unlocked the car, and they tumbled onto the front seats with relieved sighs.
Water was streaming off Gwendolyn's hair, and her dress stuck to her body like a wet cloth. Those few yards had been enough to soak her through. Dave tried to ignore his wet feet.
'I'm an idiot,' he said. 'I should have fetched the car and picked you up at the school. Then you'd be more or less dry still.'
'Oh please!' Finally she laughed. She had nice teeth, he noticed. 'I'm not made of sugar. And it's definitely better to be driven to my door than to jolt about on a bus ride and then have a good little trek awaiting me at the end. Thank you.'
'Not at all,' he said. He was trying for a third time to start his car, and finally got it going. The motor wheezed to life, the car jumped forward. In two jumps it was in the street, spluttering as it drove off.
'It'll be all right,' he said. 'The car just needs to warm up. If I get through the winter with this old heap of junk I'll count myself lucky.'
The motor was now starting to hum more regularly. It was fine for now: the car would make it to Staintondale and back.
'What would you have done if you hadn't caught the bus or met me?' he asked. Not that Miss Beckett particularly interested him, but they would be sitting next to each other in the car for half an hour and he did not want the situation to descend into an awkward silence.
'I would have phoned my father,' said Gwendolyn.
He threw her a quick glance. The sound of her voice had altered as she spoke of her father. It had become warmer, less distanced.
'You live with your father?'
'And your mother ...?'
'My mother died young,' said Gwendolyn in a tone that revealed that she did not want to talk about it.
A daddy's girl, he thought, who can't break free. At least mid-thirties, and Daddy is still the Only One for her. The Greatest. The Best. No man is his equal.
He supposed she did everything, consciously or unconsciously, to be Daddy's dream daughter. With her thick blond plait and her old-fashioned flowery dress she was just like the women from Daddy's youth, which would have been in the fifties or early sixties. She wanted to please him, and probably he was not keen on mini-skirts, conspicuous make-up or short hair. The signals she gave out were completely asexual.
Well, she hardly wants her old man in her bed, he thought.
He was very attuned to people's moods and could sense that she was wracking her brains for a way to change the topic, so he helped her out.
'By the way, I teach at Friarage School,' he said. 'But not the kids. The school lets its rooms be used in the evenings and some afternoons for adult education. I teach French and Spanish, and that just about keeps the wolf from the door.'
'Do you speak those languages well?'
'As a child I lived in Spain and France for a long time. My father was a diplomat.' He knew that his voice did not show any warmth when he mentioned his father. Instead he had to take care not to show too much hate. 'But let me tell you, it's no fun to have to teach a group of totally untalented housewives a language whose sound and expressiveness you love, and whose complete mangling you have to bear three or four evenings a week.'
He laughed in embarrassment as he realised he might have committed a faux pas. 'I'm sorry. You might be taking one of the language courses. Have I just offended you? There are three other language teachers giving classes.'
She shook her head. Although the wall of rain outside meant that it was rather dark in the car, he could see that she was blushing.
'No,' she said, 'I'm not taking part in a language course. I ...'
She was not looking at him, but was staring out of the window. They had reached the road that led north out of Scarborough. Supermarkets and rows of terraced houses flew past outside, garages and dismal pubs, a mobile-home park, which looked like it was sinking in the floods.
'I'd read in the paper,' she said quietly, 'that in Friarage School ... Well, on Wednesday afternoons there's a course, which ... for the next three months ...' She hesitated.
Excerpted from THE OTHER CHILD by CHARLOTTE LINK, Stefan Tobler. Copyright © 2013 Charlotte Link. Excerpted by permission of Pegasus Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Charlotte Link is one of Europe’s bestselling crime writers and has sold more than 15 million novels in Germany alone. Her atmospheric brand of psychological suspense made The Other Child (also available from Pegasus Crime) a massive No. 1 bestseller in Germany and was greeted by rave reviews. Charlotte has been nominated for the Fiction Category of the German Book Prize.
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