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It was the little things she had noticed first.
Ornaments slightly out of place, a mug on the draining board that she thought she had put back in the cupboard, a damp towel in the bathroom that should have been dry.
Little things. Puzzling things.
But not enough to be worried about.
If Suzanne Perry had known then how far it would go, what kind of nightmare her life would become, she would have been more than worried. She would have run as fast and as far away as possible.
Suzanne was twenty-six. She lived alone in a flat on the Maldon Road in Colchester. She worked as a speech therapist at the General Hospital. She had broken up with her boyfriend a few months ago and, while she had dated since then, she wasn't looking for anything serious.
She just wanted to enjoy herself.
Suzanne went out with her friends once a week, to a few bars in town, maybe a club. She liked dancing. She liked whatever was popular. She played Little Boots and Lady Gaga in the car and sang along. She enjoyed movies, especially comedies. And eating out, when she could afford it. Some nights she wished she had a boyfriend, some nights she liked nothing better than curling up on the sofa with a chick-lit novel, a bar of chocolate and a glass of white wine.
She was attractive and friendly and she didn't think she was anything special.
But someone did.
Someone thought Suzanne Perry was very special indeed.
The nightmare started in early June. Suzanne was asleep in her bed, in her room, in her flat. The doors locked and bolted, the windows secured. She thought she was safe.
She was wrong.
The thick, heavy drapes were pulled close at the window, the wooden blinds tight shut. As always. Since she had been a child she was a light sleeper, needing total darkness and silence. So her bedroom was like a sensory deprivation chamber. She loved that.
But this night was different. This darkness was different. Not comforting or secure but cold and deep, as if the safety of her womb-like room had been breached. She didn't know if she was dreaming or awake. The room was hers and not hers.
She lay on her back in her bed, her eyes wide open, her head propped up on pillows, stared straight ahead into a nightmare-black darkness of deep, dank shadows in which huge, hulking shapes could be glimpsed. She blinked, tried to move. Couldn't. Blinked again. Her head, full of imagined whispers and screams, ached.
A shadow detached itself from the darkness, moved towards her. Her heart raced, she tried to roll over, pull away. Couldn't. Her body wouldn't respond.
The shadow took shape. An outline against the blackness. A human shape, bulky, with two huge, glowing eyes at the front of its head. Bright, like car headlights. Suzanne tried to shield her face, but her arm wouldn't respond. She closed her eyes. The shadow moved in closer. Suzanne, her heart hammering, kept her eyes closed. Her brain sent a signal to her mouth: open, scream. Nothing happened.
She kept her eyes screwed tight shut, tried not to breathe. Pretended she wasn't there. Willed herself to waken.
She opened her eyes. The dream room was spinning, a pitch-black kaleidoscope. She pulled it into focus. The shadow was right beside her, its bright eyes by the side of her head. She could feel its dream breath on her dream cheek.
She closed her eyes again, tried to move her lips, a mantra running through her head: It's only a dream ... it's only a dream ... it's only a dream ...
Then the shadow spoke. Low, burbling and monotonous, a rattle and rasp like a pan of water boiling dry. Crooned, painful words she didn't understand.
She tried to understand, form those words into sentences. There was something familiar about the sound, carried over from her waking life if only she could understand it. But the words shivered away into the recesses of her dream, lost and irretrievable.
Then the shadow moved, flowed over her body; it smelled of dark, oily, toxic smoke.
Then it wasn't smoke. It became hard, rough, unyielding.
She held her breath once more, tried to call out. Nothing. She tried to pull her legs away, stand up. Nothing. Bring her hands up clenched as fists, fight the shadow off. Nothing.
Cold, hard hands touched her, ran down her sides. Her dream body recoiled, but stayed where it was. The hands slowly moved down to her thighs, to the hem of her T-shirt.
It's only a dream ... only a dream ...
The hands moved her T-shirt up, over her thighs.
Only a dream ... a dream ...
She screwed her eyes closed once more.
The shadow started talking again. The wounded, twisted crooning.
Wake up ... wake up ...
The crooning building, getting louder ...
Only a dream ... wake up, please ... wake up ...
Then flash of light. A scream. Not Suzanne's.
Suzanne opened her eyes. The shadow had gone. She was alone in the darkness once more.
Her heart was still hammering, her breathing harsh and ragged. She kept her eyes closed. Willed herself to go to another area of sleep. A safer, kinder one.
A harsh, shrill noise crashed in Suzanne's ears.
She jumped, opened her eyes. Blinked. Looked around. Sighed. Her womb-like bedroom. She closed her eyes again.
But the noise wouldn't let her sleep: Chris Moyles' voice blaring out, telling her in his own unlovable way that it was time to get up.
She opened her eyes again. Something wasn't right. It took her a few moments but she worked out what it was. Sunlight was streaming round the edges of the blackout curtains.
Suzanne sighed again. Normally she liked to lie after the alarm woke her, cherish the last few foggy tendrils of sleep that had wrapped themselves round her. Leave it as late as possible before throwing the duvet back and reluctantly trudging off to the shower.
But not this morning. Not with the nightmare she'd had. She didn't want to stay in bed a second longer than she had to.
Now she threw the duvet back, felt pins and needles all down her arms. She swung her legs round and down to the floor. They ached, felt heavier than usual, stiffer. She tried to sit up, felt her head spin. Blinked as the room refused to stay still. She flopped back on the bed again.
Her body felt as if she had done a particularly strenuous workout in the gym followed by a huge session in the pub with Zoe and Rosie then had just collapsed into bed and not moved all night. But she knew that wasn't true.
She'd had a night in, watching Corrie, eating a bar of Fruit and Nut. Couple of phone calls then a long bubble bath and an early night with a Kate Atkinson novel. No workout. Only a small glass of wine, what was left in the bottle.
Suzanne tried once more to stand and made it, her legs shaking, the room spinning. Maybe I'm coming down with something, she thought. Swine flu, probably. She stumbled towards the window, placing one hand on the sill to steady herself, pulled back the drapes, ready to see what kind of day it was.
She didn't get as far as looking out of the window.
The blinds were up, which explained the extra light in the room, and there was something stuck to the pane of glass. She frowned, not quite understanding what it was doing there, why the blinds were up. Then she pulled the object off, scrutinised it more closely.
And felt her heart lurch.
It was a photo. Of herself, sleeping. The oversize T-shirt she wore for bed -the one she was wearing now – had been pulled up, revealing her trimmed pubic hair, the tops of her thighs.
Blood sped round her system. Her chest pumped, as if she couldn't get enough air into her body. Her legs shook even more.
She turned the photo over. Gasped as fear shuddered through her. There were words on the back. Neatly printed block capitals. She read them.
I'M WATCHING OVER YOU
The nightmares punched back into her head. The shadows. The lights. The voice.
The hands on her body.
Suzanne's head spun rapidly, her legs gave way, her eyes closed.
It was no nightmare. It had been real.
She fainted.CHAPTER 2
'Well,' said Detective Sergeant Mickey Philips, trying to give a cocky smile, 'someone didn't like her ...' The smile then disappeared as his face rapidly changed colour, draining to a shade of mildewed putty. He then heaved his head over the side and was sick into the river.
'Do it in the bag ...' Detective Inspector Phil Brennan's words came too late.
'Sorry ...' The apology came accompanied by gasps and spitting.
Phil Brennan shook his head, turned away from his new DS and back to what was before him. New or not, he couldn't blame the man. Not really. In his years with the Major Incident Squad – MIS – he had seen plenty of unpleasant things but the sight before him was definitely one of the worst.
The body had once been female. Now, it more resembled something from a butcher's shop or a horror film. Abattoir leavings. The woman had been stripped naked and severely mutilated. Tortured. Her torso, arms, legs and head were criss-crossed by a lattice of scars, most of them deep. Whip marks, Phil guessed. Knife marks. Chain marks, even.
But amongst all that devastation two things stood out for Phil. The first was that her vagina had been savagely mutilated, even more so than the rest of her body, and her legs spread open at the base of the light tower. The second was that a word had been carved into her forehead:
'I think,' said Phil, 'someone's trying to send a message ...'
He was standing on the deck of an old lightship moored to King Edward Quay on the River Colne in Colchester. A banner along the front railing proclaimed it to be used by the Sea Cadets. Each side of the river seemed to host two separate worlds. The quay held a ribbon of single-storey buildings, all fenced off businesses and none of them looking too prosperous: a scrapyard, a garage, a couple of small manufacturing units. Brightly coloured billboards loudly proclaimed urban redevelopment.
On the opposite side of the river apartment blocks in glass, metal and wood, some cool and minimal, some gaudy and primary-coloured, lined the bank side. Creating a mini Docklands skyline, they demonstrated the redevelopment along the Hythe. The past on one side, the future on the other, thought Phil. Old and decaying versus shiny and new. And in the middle, a dead woman on a lightship.
Phil shook his head, tried to clear away the thoughts that had preoccupied him on his way to work. About his personal life. Shove them to one side, get on with his job.
DS Mickey Philips hauled himself back upright. Phil looked at him. 'Better?'
He nodded, cheeks now flushed with exertion and embarrassment. 'Sorry. Suppose it'll get easier ...'
Phil's features were tight. 'If it does, it's God's way of telling you to go and work security in M & S.'
'Right. Yes, boss.' Mickey Philips risked a glance at the body. 'Is it ... d'you think it's her, boss?'
Phil looked down also. Flies were beginning to gather. He batted them away, knowing they would return. 'I hope so,' he said. 'I mean ... I hope not, but yes, because I'd hate to think there was another ...'
Mickey Philips nodded, understood.
Phil turned away, looked upwards. The sun was up already, the sky a vivid robin's egg blue. The air alive with warmth and possibility. But for Phil, the brightest light cast the darkest shadows. He saw the scene with cop's eyes because he saw the world with cop's eyes. He couldn't help it; it was the job. Instead of the living he saw the dead. And the ghosts of the dead spoke to him all the time, asked him for justice, for peace. The gentle creak and maw of the boat giving the dead woman a voice, seeming to whisper to him, plead with him. Find who did this. Let me rest.
Julie Miller had disappeared a week last Thursday. Twelve days ago.
Phil hadn't dealt with the case directly, an ordinary missing persons not falling under the MIS remit unless foul play was suspected. But he had heard about it.
In her late twenties, regular boyfriend, worked as an occupational therapist at the Colchester General Hospital. Own flat, own car. And then one night she disappeared. The police investigated, found no signs of a struggle, forcible abduction or murder. The distraught boyfriend had been thoroughly questioned and released. Uniforms had checked hours of CCTV footage following Julie to and from work. Nothing. It was as if she had completely vanished.
Julie Miller was young, pretty, white and middle class. The media's favourite profile. They got involved, issuing appeals, showing photos. Julie's parents and boyfriend had given a press conference, made tearful pleas to her to return home. And still no sign of her.
People do that all the time. Disappear. The words no comfort or consolation for Julie's parents but they heard them over and over, a mantra of no explanation. She'll either come back on her own, people said, or she won't. No one knew what to do next, apart from hope Julie sent a postcard from somewhere hot and far away.
'This our runaway, then?'
Phil turned at the voice. Detective Chief Inspector Ben Fenwick was walking up the gangplank, his blue suit, gloves, boots and hood somehow not obscuring his smugness.
'I think so, sir,' said Phil, knowing that 'sir' gave the pretence of deference Fenwick liked. 'I mean, I hope so.'
Fenwick nodded, his face a mask of professional concern. 'Yes. Right,' he said, standing beside Phil and looking down at the body, wincing. 'Wouldn't want there to be another one, would we?'
Phil had voiced the same sentiment out of concern for the victim. Fenwick, he knew from experience, had expressed concern at keeping his stats down.
There was no love lost between the pair of them. But they had called a temporary truce in order to get their jobs done. Since Phil was hardworking, inspired and always got results, Fenwick, as his superior, endured him as a necessary evil. Phil, for his part, thought Fenwick was a phoney; trotting out whatever the latest politically correct management-speak jargon happened to be, paying lip service to ideas of progressiveness and equality in the police force, but underneath his tailored suit and expensive haircut he was as reactionary and scheming as any old department dinosaur.
Phil noticed Fenwick had brought with him a similarly blue-suited sidekick who stopped walking when he did. Fenwick turned to the newcomer.
'This is Detective Sergeant Martin. Rose. She was in charge of the original missing person's case.' Fenwick smiled. 'She's here to give her expert opinion.'
DS Rose Martin stepped forward, shared a small smile with Phil and Mickey, looked down at the body. She flinched, looked away. Phil feared her response was going to be the same as Mickey's but she composed herself, looked again, bending down getting in closer. Phil admired her for that. Mickey, Phil noticed, seemed slightly put out at her reaction.
'What d'you think?' asked Phil. 'You've got a better idea than us. Is it her?'
Rose Martin straightened up. Keeping her eyes on the body she nodded. 'I think so. Yes, I think this is Julie Miller.'
Phil nodded. Looked at the body again.
Definitely no time for personal stuff now.CHAPTER 3
Phil looked at the other three, all of them sweating inside their blue paper suits. He was aware what they must look like standing there, hoods up, feet and hands covered. A twenty-first century gathering of druids at a contemporary sacrificial altar.
'Clearly not natural causes, then,' said Fenwick, trying for a feeble joke.
No one laughed.
'Her heart stopped,' said Mickey Philips, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, 'how natural d'you want?'
Phil turned to his new DS, the comment leading him to believe the man had regained his cocky composure after the vomiting incident. But the look in his eyes said something different. His words had been a genuine response to Fenwick's weak joke. There was nothing funny or flippant about them. Phil began to warm to him a little.
'Phil,' said Fenwick, making a stab at some kind of authority, 'I'd like you heading up the team for this case.'
'And I think it would be a good idea if Rose, DS Martin, that is, joined your team. She's had nearly a week working on this already. Knows the lay of the land.'
The lay of the land, thought Phil. King Cliché rides again.
'OK.' Normally Phil liked to choose his own team members, make sure he could trust them, but he could see the sense in Fenwick's words.
'Good. I'll handle the media and leave you to it. You report directly to both me and the Super in Chelmsford as per usual.'
'What about the media? We going public with this?'
Fenwick frowned. 'Let's get a definite confirmation before we release any names. Don't want to jump the gun, do we?'
Excerpted from The Creeper by Tania Carver. Copyright © 2012 Tania Carver. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted September 13, 2012
If you like thrillers this is an author for you. I have read all three of her books, and they are all good. She gives Jeffrey Deaver a run for his money. She created good characters without having to go on, and on about them. I read all three in two days.
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