Before the blood, before the screaming, before the fall . . .
The first victim is discovered on the edge of the park. Young. Female. Beautiful. Or at least she was before her face was destroyed. Homicide detective Frank Bennett suspects that this is a first kill. And it won’t be the last. To stop a serial killer in the making, Frank will have to place his faith in his beautiful, dangerous partner Eden Archer—a cop who moonlights as a killer . . .
Eden knows the temptation of evil. Her intimate knowledge of the relentless forces that drive a killer gives her a unique edge. But with each jogger found brutally murdered in Sydney’s pristine parks, Eden can see where the investigation is headed. And it gives her a feeling she hasn’t felt in a long time. A fear she’s never known. A fear she can’t escape. A fear that, after all these years, she will have to face . . .
Praise for Candice Fox and Her Archer and Bennett Thrillers
“A bright new star of crime fiction.” —James Patterson
“Definitely a writer to watch.” —Harlan Coben
“Grim, gritty, fast-paced.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Nail-biting, riveting, right through to the gruesome, surprising finale.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Candice Fox is the middle child of a large, eccentric family from Sydney’s western suburbs.
She served as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy at age eighteen. At twenty, she turned her hand to academia, and taught high school through two undergraduate and two postgraduate degrees. She teaches writing at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney. Candice’s first novel, Hades, won the Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Novel, given by the Australian Crime Writers Association. Her second novel, Eden, won the Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction—making her one of only two authors to win the awards back-to-back. She was chosen by international bestselling author James Patterson to co-author the book Shot Black & Blue and the thriller Never Never.
Visit her at www.candicefoxauthor.com or on Facebook.
Read an Excerpt
Before the blood, before the screaming, the only sound that reached the parking lot of the Black Mutt Inn was the murmur of the jukebox inside. It was set on autoplay, tumbling out the cheerful lineup of greatest hits, but there were none of the sing-alongs of usual pubs, no thrusting of glasses, no stomping of heels on the reeking carpet. The jukebox played in the stale emptiness of the building, and by the time the music reached the parking lot it was no more than a ghoulish moan. It was windy out there, and the stars were gone.
The Black Mutt Inn attracted bad men and had been doing so for as long as anyone could remember. Nightly, a bone was broken on its shadowy back porch over some insult, or a promise was made beneath the moth-crowded lamps for some violence that would come on another night. Sometimes a plot was hatched; the corners of the bar's undecorated interior were good for whispering, and the walls seemed to grow poisonous ideas like vines, spreading and creeping around minds and down necks and along legs, to the rotting floorboards.
On this night, Sunny Burke and Clara McKinnie entered the Black Mutt with their laptops and bags of chili jerky and bright suntanned smiles. The man behind the counter said nothing, saw nothing — he just served the drinks.
Sunny and Clara walked to the counter and set up shop under the mirrors. Against the wall, three men sat whispering. At the pool tables, another two stood looking through the shadows at the two travelers fresh from Byron, stamped with its optimism and cheap weed stink. Clara ordered a champagne and orange juice, and downed it quickly. Sunny sat nursing a James Squire.
Into the dim halo of light stepped a man from the pool tables.
"G'day, mate," the man said, thumping Sunny between the shoulder blades. The man was tall and square and roped with veins, and the two hands hanging from his extra-long arms looked all-encompassing. Sunny looked up, appreciated the density of the man's beard, and smiled.
"Just down from Byron, are we?"
"We've been there a week," Clara said, beaming.
"I can see." The man brushed the backs of his fingers against the top of Clara's shoulder, a brief brotherly pat. "Sun's had its way with you, beauty!"
"We're just on our way back to the Big Smoke," Sunny said.
"If you ask me, you've just come from the big smoke," the stranger jibed and nudged Sunny in the ribs, hard. "Tell me you've got some grass for sale. Please, tell me!" Sunny laughed. "Sure, mate." He glanced at the other figure in the shadows, the man by the table leaning on his cue. "No problem."
The stranger threw out a hand and Sunny gripped it, felt its calluses against his palm. "No probs, no probs. How much are you after?"
"Aw, we'll do all that later. Hamish is the name, mate. Can I invite you to a game?"
"Yeah! Shit, yeah. This is Clara. I'm Sunny."
"Me mate over there's Braaaadley, but don't you worry 'bout him. He don't talk much. Plays a rubbish game of pool, too, don't you, Brad? Aye? Wake up, shithead!" the man squawked back toward the pool table, but roused nothing in his partner. "Excuse me, miss, but me old Bradley's prone to leaning on that pool cue till he drifts off and no amount of slapping can get him back, if you know what I mean."
"Right," she laughed.
They racked the balls while Clara and the silent one watched, now and then letting their eyes drift to each other, the hairy man in the dark struggling beneath the weight of his frown, the young woman swinging her hips, holding on to the cue. She finished the champagne and wanted another, but the men were talking and laughing and making friends, and Sunny had always had trouble making friends, so she didn't interrupt.
"How about a little wager, just to make things interesting?" Hamish asked.
"Yeah, sure." Sunny puffed out his chest, ignored a warning look from Clara. "Where do you ... ? I mean. What do you usually ...?"
Sunny laughed. "Sure, mate, sounds great."
They played. Clara was the most excitable of them all, howling when she sunk the white ball, cheering when Sunny scored. There was plenty of kissing, rubbing of backsides. The men in the booths watched them. The happy group at the table were cut off from the rest of the world by the cone of light that fell upon them.
"Very good, young sir," Hamish said, offering his big hard hand again. "How about another?" "Twenty bucks this time," Sunny said. "You can pay me in labor, if you like. The van needs a wash."
"Sunny!" Clara gasped.
"Listen to this guy, would you?" Hamish laughed, squeezed the young woman on the shoulder, and made Clara's face burn red. "What a cocky little shit. You're lucky you're so goddamn beautiful, Sunny, me old mate. No one's gonna knock that gorgeous block off no matter whatcha say."
They laughed and played again. Hamish was hard on Bradley. The balls cracked and crashed and rolled into the pockets. Clara was good. Her daddy had taught her the game young, bent over the felt, his hips pinning her against the side of the table. But she knew when to sacrifice a shot so that she didn't lean over too far and give Bradley a view of her breasts, her ass. The man looked at her funny.
"One more?" Sunny said. The bar was empty now but for the bartender, who was motionless in the shadows. Sunny won, and won again.
"One more, little matey, and then it's off to bed with you. What say you we make it interesting, eh? Everything you've won, you give me the chance to win it back. We go even. I lose, you take the notes right outta my hand, no hard feelings."
"Mate," Sunny drawled, "you win this and I'll give you double what you owe me."
"Oh ho! Just listen to this guy!" Hamish laughed.
"Cla." The boy drew her close. "They haven't won a game all night. It's fine. I'm just having a laugh."
"Just shut up, would you?" Sunny snapped. "I'm only having a bit of fucking fun."
Clara watched the men shake hands, rack the balls. Hamish leaned down, took aim, and began sinking balls.
The table was empty of Hamish's balls in less than two minutes. Then he sunk the eight ball in a single shot. Sunny never got a turn.
"Mate," Hamish said when it was done, straightening and leaning on his cue, the smile and the charm and the humor forgotten. "Seems you owe me quite a bit of cash."
In the parking lot, Bradley walked behind them, keeping watch now and then toward the Black Mutt, although no such careful eye was needed. A hidden hole drilled straight to hell warmed the air as it breezed across the asphalt and ruffled Clara's thick, dark curls. Hamish's hand on the back of her neck was like a steel clamp. They approached the Volkswagen van, the only vehicle in the lot, parked out in the middle of a huge barren wasteland so that the young couple would be safe from whatever might be lurking in the towering wall of dark woods around the bar when they returned. Clara put her hands out to stop Hamish from slamming her into the side of the van, and turned. Bradley had let a steel pipe slide down from where it was hidden high up inside his sleeve.
"Give me an inventory," Hamish said.
"There's the CD player, some cash, and Clara has some jewelry," Sunny was saying, fumbling with his keys. "There's the hash, too. You can take it. Please, please, I'm asking you now not to hurt us."
"You go ahead and ask whatever you like, you snotty-nosed little prick," Hamish said. "You bring out whatever you can from in there and we'll see if it's enough. If it's not, I'll decide if anyone gets hurt."
"Take 'em up to the ATM," Bradley grunted. Clara jolted at the sound of the silent man's voice. She turned and found him staring at her, eyes pinpoints of light in the dark.
"Sunny," Clara croaked, tried to ease words from her swollen throat. "Sunny. Sunny!" "Shut up, and hurry," Hamish snarled.
"I'm going. Please. Please!" Sunny was pleading with anyone now. Clara heard the pleas continuing inside the van, heard the rattling of boxes and drawers. As soon as the boy was out of sight, she felt the man with the concrete hands slip his fingers beneath her skirt. Hamish smiled at her with his big cracked teeth and pressed her against the van.
"All this excitement getting you wet, is it, baby?"
"Sunny! God! Please!"
"Your pretty boyfriend better come up with something very special, very soon, babycakes, or I'm afraid you're footing the bill."
"How about this?" Sunny said as he emerged from the van, hands full, thrusting the items at Hamish. "Will this do?"
The knife made Hamish stiffen, made his eyes widen as they dropped to the items in Sunny's hands, which all fell away and clattered to the ground, revealing the leather handle they concealed, the leather handle attached to the long hunting blade that was now buried deep in Hamish's belly. Sunny, as always, didn't give the man a chance to appreciate the surprise of the attack but pulled the knife out of his stomach and plunged it in again, pushed it upward into the tenderness of Hamish's diaphragm and felt the familiar clench of shocked muscles.
Clara slid away as the young man went for a third blow, took her own knife, the one she kept flush against her body between her breasts, and went for Bradley. The hairy man backed away, but Clara's aim was immaculate. She set her feet, pulled back, breathed, swung, and let go. The knife embedded in Bradley's back with a thunk between the shoulder blades. The man fell and rolled like roadkill on the tarmac.
She went to the silent man and pulled out the knife, wiping it on the hem of her soft white skirt. Bradley was still alive, and she was happy, because it would be a long time until she was finished with him. Clara liked to play, and though it wasn't Sunny's thing, she thought maybe because they were on holiday he would indulge her just once with some games. She turned. Bradley was still gurgling against the asphalt under his cheek.
"Baby." She turned on her sweet voice for her killer partner. "What if we took this one home and —"
A whistle, and a shlunk.
At first it seemed to Clara that Sunny had tripped, until she felt the wet spray of his blood on her face. She tried to process the noise she'd heard, but none of it made sense. She crawled, shaking, and with her hands tried to piece back together the split halves of her boyfriend's skull, grabbed at the bits of brain and meat sprayed across the asphalt around him. She knelt in the blood, both his and Hamish's, little whimpers coming out of her like coughs. Hamish was sitting up beside the van, his hands still gripping at the knife wounds in his belly.
A whistle, and a shlunk, and the top of his head came off. He slid to the ground.
Clara looked around at the tree line behind her, a hundred yards or so away, and then at the trees in front, the same distance, dark as ink and depthless. The silence rung. Under its terrifying weight she crawled, tried to get to her feet, heading toward the bar. Another whistle, another shlunk, and her foot was gone. Clara fell on her face and gripped at the stump of her leg. She didn't scream or cry out, because there was only terror in her, and terror made no sound.
Clara lay and breathed, breathed, and after some time began crawling again. She heard the sound of uneven footsteps, punctuated by a metallic clop, and looked up to see a figure coming toward her, barely distinguishable against the dark of the trees. The sounds kept coming out of her, the shuddering breaths through her lips. The metallic clopping kept coming, and as the woman emerged into the light from the van, Clara could see she was leaning on an enormous rifle, using the gun like a crutch.
The woman stepped between the bodies of the men, and Clara lay in the blood and looked up at her. She thought, even as shock began to take her, about the woman's black hair, how it seemed to steal some blue out of the night and hold it, like the shimmer woven through the feather of a crow. The woman with the gun bent down used the enormous weapon to lower herself into a crouch, and Clara wondered what wounds gave the other killer such trouble.
Eden looked at the trees, the bar, the girl on the ground.
"Just when you think you're the deadliest fish in the water," Eden said to the girl.
Clara gasped. Her fingers fumbled at the wet stump where her foot had been. Eden sighed.
"I admire the game," Eden said. "I really do. It's clever. Two naïve travelers just waiting to be picked on. You flounder around like you're drowning in your own idiocy, and you see which predators come to investigate. Who could resist you? You're adorable. You lure them out into the deep, dark waters and then you surge up from below. Pull them down."
Clara fell back against the asphalt, her mouth sucking at the cold night air.
"If I were well, this would have been more personal," Eden said, her leather-gloved hand gripping the rifle tight. "But I haven't been at my best lately, so I'm afraid there's no time for play."
Clara couldn't force words up through the whimpers. They came out of her like hiccups. The woman with the long dark hair rose up, pushing the rifle into the ground. When she'd risen fully, she actioned the great thing with effort, hands once strong betraying her as the bullet slid into the chamber.
"I'm the only shark in this tank," Eden said.
The last gunshot could be heard inside the Black Mutt Inn. But no one listened to it.
The Victims of Crime support group of Surry Hills meets every fortnight. The only reason I started going was because my old friend from North Sydney Homicide, Anthony Charters, goes there. If I hadn't had a friend there, I'd have never bowed to my girlfriend Imogen's demands that I get counseling for the "stuff that had been going on with me" the last few months.
That vague collection of terms, the "stuff" and its propensity to "go on with me," had come between the beautiful psychologist and me in our first few weeks of dating, when she realized she'd never seen me sober. She said she couldn't imagine me "relaxed." Privately, I argued I was a lot more relaxed a person than Imogen herself. Imogen takes an hour and a half to get ready in the morning, and the first time I farted near her, she just about called the police. That, ladies and gentlemen, is not "relaxed."
But, you know. You don't tell them these things. They don't listen.
Imogen liked me, but I was an unpredictable, volatile, and difficult-to-manage boyfriend. She couldn't count on me to turn up on time, say appropriate things when I met her friends, drive her places without her having to worry that I was about to careen the car into the nearest telephone pole. She couldn't be sure when I ducked out of the cinema that I wasn't going to down six painkillers in the glorious solitude of the men'sroom stall, or that I wasn't going to lose myself in thought and just wander off, turn up back at her apartment at midnight drunk and stinking. I was a bad beau, but I had potential, so she didn't give up on me.
Imogen took me on, and Imogen started nagging me to get help. So, I started trudging, with all the huffing melancholy of a teenager at church, to a basement room of the Surry Hills police station every Sunday to sit under the fluorescent lights and listen to tales of horror and fear. It made Imogen happy. It made Anthony happy. I considered it my community service.
Somewhere, sometime, somebody set up a support group in a particular way and now all support groups are set up like that, whether you're trying to get over being sexually assaulted in a public toilet or you're addicted to crack. You've got the gray plastic folding table pushed against one wall, the veneer pulling away from the corners and the top stained by coffee cups set down, midconversation, to indicate concern. You've got the two large steel urns full of boiling water for coffee and tea. If you go anywhere near them, even to fill your name in on the sign-in sheet, they will burn some part of you. There's no avoiding the coffee-urn burn. To this you add a collection of uncomfortable plastic folding chairs forming a circle just tight enough to inspire that quiet kind of social terror triggered by things like accidental knee-touching, airborne germs, unavoidable eye contact ... and voilà! You've got a support group.
There were fifteen chairs set out tonight on the industrial gray carpet. Anthony was sitting in one when I arrived. I responded to his presence with a wave of paralyzing nausea. Getting over a painkiller-and-alcohol addiction makes you respond to everything with nausea. You get nausea in the middle of sex. It lasts for months.
Excerpted from "Fall"
Copyright © 2017 Candice Fox.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.