Darkness Looking Back, The

BOOK: Darkness Looking Back, The
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Darkness Looking Back

Andrea Jutson

Andrea Jutson was born and raised in Auckland. She worked as a bookseller for many years before working as a journalist for
The Aucklander
. She is working on her third novel featuring James Paxton.

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

ISBN 978 1869792138

Version 1.0

www.randomhouse.co.uk

National Library of New Zealand Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

Jutson, Andrea.
The darkness looking back / by Andrea Jutson.

ISBN: 978 1869792138

Version 1.0

I. Title.
NZ823.3—dc 22

A BLACK SWAN CRIME BOOK
published by
Random House New Zealand
18 Poland Road, Glenfield, Auckland, New Zealand
www.randomhouse.co.nz

Random House International
Random House
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road
London, SW1V 2SA
United Kingdom

Random House Australia (Pty) Ltd
Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway
North Sydney 2060, Australia

Random House South Africa Pty Ltd
Isle of Houghton
Corner Boundary Road and Carse O'Gowrie
Houghton 2198, South Africa

Random House Publishers India Private Ltd
301 World Trade Tower, Hotel Intercontinental Grand Complex
Barakhamba Lane, New Delhi 110 001, India

First published 2008

© 2008 Andrea Jutson

The moral rights of the author have been asserted

This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

Text design: Kate Barraclough

Cover design and illustration: Matthew Trbuhovich, Third Eye Design

Acknowledgements

The difference between books and films, they say, is that books are a solo effort and films are collaborative. If this was the case, I'd have written about eight pages. In the absence of a formal list of credits, I must acknowledge the following people.

First, my heartfelt gratitude to Detective Senior Sergeant (ret.) John Gott, for his limitless patience, and for making this
organised
crime . . .

Naturally, huge thanks go to everyone at Random House New Zealand, especially Marthie Markstein, formerly the world's loveliest sales rep, who offered to read a strange kid's first manuscript and never brought it back. Your promotion is well deserved. Harriet Allan, my publisher, deserves equal credit for seeing something in my writing I was far too close to see. Thank you so much for being so kind and accommodating to a newbie author, and for continuing to support me through The Darkness.

I gratefully acknowledge my parents and my sister Bernice, who eternally answered my questions but never questioned me . . . and those other countless people: Henrik Dorbeck (see you down the track), Sandy Burnett, Margaret Dennis, Justine Duncan, Kirsten Forrest and all the early guinea pigs, who offered their services free.

I've stolen words and bits of lives from many of you. Thanks, guys.

Prologue — January 2004

IT DIDN'T MATTER how many times he did this. The smell still got him, stirring up chemical reactions in his body. Only three weeks on the job, and already he couldn't work out how many pizzas he'd delivered. His stomach made a noise like a half-clogged sink emptying. Felt like it too. The clock on the dash read a quarter past eight and he hadn't stopped yet.

Before long, they told him, he'd never look at another pizza with the eyes of desire again. In the meantime, the smell was filling the car. Nav had been the first to start with the wisecracks last time he'd given them a lift.

'Newmarket, my good man — and a large fries.'

'You using deodorant or something now, Haresh? Smells better in here . . .'

They'd almost pissed themselves. Idiots. But it was pretty potent in here. There went his stomach again. There was more of a truck engine-braking about it this time. When he got back he was damn well
insisting
he got a break.

This was the street now. He squinted into the darkness, trying to make out the letterboxes as he crept by. A sports model Honda Integra turned the corner behind him, driving right up his arse.

'Dick,' Haresh muttered, as it swerved round him on the wrong side of the road before he'd even had a chance to move over. The Integra's engine roared as it hooned off, making up for the two lost seconds. Its headlights picked out the brass numbers on a brick letterbox on the corner. At least now Haresh knew where he was. Right side of the street, about twenty houses out. He accelerated briefly past a few driveways, then did the crawl-past again. Ah, this was better. Seventy-three . . . seventy-five . . . seventy-seven . . . seventy-nine. He pulled into a drive behind a dark blue Audi and yanked up the handbrake.

He got out and dragged the delivery bags over the seat, then straightened, slamming the door with his hip. A largish house, well looked after from what he could tell in this darkness. It had those olden style windows with the dozens of tiny panes separated into sections — was that lead-lighting, or was that something else? — and mature trees spread all over the front lawn. Even the standalone garage had plastered walls and a tiled roof. Nice place, but then they mostly were in this area. Haresh would never be able to afford Epsom if he lived at home till he was forty and banked every dollar he earned. You could buy two decent houses in South Auckland for the price of one like this, and still have spare change.

Nice wheel trims on the Audi. Busy admiring them as he skirted the car, he wasn't expecting the sensor lights. He almost tripped on the uneven cobbles, startled into immobility. Mentally cursing himself, Haresh climbed the porch steps and stuck the drink down on the mat, freeing up a hand for the doorbell. Then he paused.

The door was open.

Haresh frowned. Just went to show money didn't buy sense. He let his arm drop. Something made him uneasy. The warm light trickling through the crack of the open door, hanging open as if forgotten, and the silence. They didn't always hear his car in the drive . . . but still. Haresh put his finger on the bell. He heard the chime inside the house. But no footsteps. He stood there for at least thirty seconds, but there was no response. He felt himself getting pissed off, and creeped out. What were they doing, having a shower before dinner? One of the guys at work told all the newbies about the best night of his career — the time a woman turned up at the door wearing nothing but a towel around her head. She'd asked for, and received, a sizeable discount.

But there was no sound of water running. No sound at all.

Haresh shifted uncomfortably on the step. He knew he hadn't got the wrong address. He checked very thoroughly, always. As he rapped loudly on the solid wood door, calling, it swung open a little further. The hall lights were off, but there was light coming from the front room. Still no sound.

He stepped through the door.

'Pizza!' He almost jumped at the sound of his own voice. It sounded unbelievably lame even to his own ears.
Good one, Haresh.

He glanced quickly over his shoulder, then stared at the far end of the hall, but his eyes were dazzled by the crack of light ahead, and all he could see was darkness. He pressed the pizza box close to his chest, as if its warmth could reassure him, ready to fling it at anything that came out of that door.

He took a deep breath and yelled again, making as much noise as he could. Driving the monsters away. The time for politeness was long past.

Almost there now. Haresh stepped into the glow of light from the other room. Two steps further, that was all.

Now one.

1

THE DRIVEWAY WAS full when Stirling got there, so he parked on the road.

'Someone'll be pissed off about that verge,' Detective Rees said by way of greeting. A marked incident car was skewed with two wheels over the kerb. Its tyres had ploughed out deep furrows in the mud, soft from the morning's humidity showers.

'Somehow I think that'll be the least of their worries,' Stirling replied. His eyes rested on the ambulance backed up to the foot of the drive.

His passenger door slammed shut as Detective Sergeant Vicky Nielsen leapt clumsily from the kerb to the footpath, avoiding the sodden grass. 'What do you know, Tony?'

'No more than you yet,' said Rees. 'We just got here ourselves.'

Standing beside him, or more accurately, below him, were a couple more detectives. The fair, imperturbable Rees cast everyone in shadow.

'Let's take a look then,' said Nielsen. She ducked back into the car and pulled out the white paper suits they all had to wear, complete with shower caps. Kitted up, Stirling always felt like a Hazmat man going into a nuclear zone, though the suits were to protect the scene from
them
. Stirling got into line, following Nielsen up the drive with the others. He got a private buzz out of watching Rees obediently fall in behind her. Vicky Nielsen barely came halfway up his chest. Stirling didn't know her well, but, in his own private moments, he had to admit to being a bit in awe of the detective sergeant for whom anal was more than a personality type — it was probably a middle name. Her dark blonde, almost brown, head was bathed in harsh white light as she neared the porch. A silent crowd of people was already waiting. Stirling immediately picked the one who'd made the callout — a young Indian guy, or possibly Sri Lankan, standing off to one side, just beyond the circle of the light. Stirling could only see his eyes, and sympathised with what he saw.

A uniformed constable descended the steps towards them, recording their names and checking his watch.

'She's in the living room. First door on the right.'

'You been in there?' Nielsen asked.

The constable shook his head. 'Haven't touched anything. No need to, by the sounds of it.' He didn't seem sorry to stay on the porch.

St John Ambulance waited on the step above him, a man and a woman, their arms folded. As the police passed them, the male paramedic shook his head. 'All yours,' he said. The gesture told them everything.

Nielsen handed one suit to Rees, the other to Stirling. Rees led the way, unrolling a coil of plastic matting for them to walk on. Stirling's nostrils caught the metallic slaughterhouse scent of blood as soon as he stepped through the door. And something else. He sniffed, frowning.

'Smells like pizza.'

'Yep. Guy who phoned in was the deliveryman,' said the uniform behind him. At Nielsen's feet lay a black pizza delivery bag, visible in the light from a room to their right. The heady smell of salami and onions and blood turned Stirling's stomach. Trying to ignore it, he automatically watched the floor, checking for signs of blood, of struggle or passage. There were none that he could see.

'What's this light doing on? Was it on when you got here?' Nielsen asked the constable.

'Yeah. Door was open too, apparently. That's what the delivery bloke said.' His eyes went back to the light like twin moths. 'Be prepared for when you go in. You can smell it from here.'

The living room had high ceilings and light-papered walls, with a forest green plush sofa and chairs, a fat-screen TV and DVD player, and a large stain spreading red from beneath the woman on the floor. Their footsteps squelched, even through the matting.
The red carpet treatment
, thought Stirling, then felt sick at himself.

All three of them took a moment, getting their senses back under control before going on. Her face was battered beyond recognition. In place of nose and lips and eyes was a mask of congealing blood, which streamed down her neck and soaked her clothes and everything around her. Were it not for that long hair, stiffening like brush bristles in hardening paint, it would have been difficult to identify the head as a woman's at all. Looking almost unnecessary and out of place, a bread knife stuck out of her chest. That was the most disturbing part of all. Whoever killed her had wanted to make extra sure she didn't get up again.

For some reason Stirling's eyes were drawn to her feet. Party shoes — silver, strappy high heels, decorated with fake crystals that were now splashed with blood. The toenails were a matching silver pink. This was a woman ready for a night out. He glanced away, seeing Rees staring too.

The big man's face showed the same revulsion, but to his credit he didn't turn away. Stirling had once heard a story, which he believed, about when Rees had arrived from South Africa at the age of eight. Staying in a hotel while his parents searched for a house, young Rees entertained himself by going from room to room, knocking and asking to be shown round to see if theirs was different. There was a natural curiosity in the man that never let up.

Stirling took several slow breaths through his mouth, trying not to inhale the unavoidable stench of death and takeaways, but he could still taste them on his tongue. He looked up as the tread of boots on the threshold signalled the arrival of the SOCOs. Nielsen glanced at him, her features sharp.

'Andy, see how the others are getting on with the witness. I want them out door knocking. Who are these people? Did anyone see anything? All right?' Her face turned to the wall, behind which a fight of stairs led up to the first floor, then she gave him a look that Stirling understood. 'And send someone to check the rest of the house, just in case.'

Nodding, Stirling went back outside with a trace of relief, squeezing through the press of newcomers in the hall. He pulled off his paper shoes, which weren't white any more. He stepped around the paramedics conferring with the pathologist on the porch, and spotted the deliveryman talking to one of the other detectives. The young man was tall and rail-thin, like a gangly adolescent. He was clutching a cellphone. He turned slightly, and the penny dropped. He was all in black, the uniform of Hell Pizza. Stirling could almost hear the smart comments tomorrow morning: the deliveryman from Hell.

'What's up, Andy?'

Detective Constable Sean Coleman came up at his elbow, pulling his thoughts back into line.

'Sarge wants some door knocking. Something funny going on here. Big house, but she's the only one here. Any volunteers to check the house for next of kin?'

'I'll do it,' said Coleman, who was new and eager.

'Don't forget the fridge,' said Detective Ciaran Paynter.

Paynter was the sort of bloke who went to everyone's barbecues, fond of a drink and his own jokes. The rest of them grinned, enjoying the younger man's reaction. 'Funny places we've found some of them . . . Eh, Martin?'

'What?' The police photographer paused as he walked past them, already looking weary. 'Long as they're all in one piece, that's all I ask . . .' He disappeared into the house.

Coleman was trying to ignore the grinning detectives. Stirling broke the mood. He'd been there himself, not too long ago. 'Right,' he said, jerking his head towards the uniform. 'Get down to the end of the driveway — you'll control the scene better from there. If the deliveryman's talked to people they might be wanting to check it out.'

He glanced at the young Indian man standing off to one side, oblivious to the exchange. His head was bowed over his phone and he was talking into it in what Stirling guessed to be Hindi. The display glowed green in the darkness.

The constable nodded, a bit stiffly, then trudged off to stare at the road.

'And get your car off the verge before it's stuck there,' Stirling called after him.

An indistinct reply filtered back. 'Dave's got the keys.'

Stirling exchanged glances with Coleman, who rolled his eyes. 'Jesus . . .'

Coleman followed the man down the drive to fetch a suit. When Stirling turned back, the deliveryman was watching him. Stirling stuck out a hand.

'Hi, I'm Detective Constable Stirling.'

'My name's Haresh,' said the kid, slipping his phone into his pocket and shaking hands. 'Haresh Rizvan.'

'Where are you from?' Stirling asked. 'India?'

'Yeah. Bangalore. We came out here about six years ago.'

Stirling glanced at his pocket, friendly. 'Was that your parents you were talking to?'

Rizvan looked sheepish. 'My mum. She was worried. They wanted to come round here.'

'And are they?'

'No. I told her I'd be all right.'

'Well, that's good to hear. Can be a bit of a shock, something like that . . .'

The boy shook his head unhappily. 'I knew there was something wrong the moment I saw the door was open. It just . . . felt wrong,' he repeated lamely.

Stirling was halfway through a nod when it hit him. Another
man from another country, dressed in black, being drawn to a body on his way
home from work . . . Instead of nodding, he found himself shaking his head.

 

'PHEW! IS IT always this hot in Auckland?'

Paxton lay back on the deck, boneless with exhaustion, his head slumping against the cooler planks in the shade. 'This air is like breathing in soup. How can you stand it?'

'Beats the kind of damp you get back home.' Lena took another swig of her lime juice, the ice tinkling merrily in her glass.

'I'm melting like a Swiss chocolate! Look!' He held his arms aloft for inspection, spreadeagling himself in the shade. Sweat stippled his pale skin like an outbreak of hives.

'Harden up.' Lena gazed at him over her glass. 'And I'd say it's more like crisping than melting . . .'

'Shit.' The twinkle in Paxton's eye vanished. 'Are you kidding?'

Lena mutely shook her head, her own blue eyes laughing.

'But I was only out in the sun for, like, fifteen minutes.' He sat up and huffed in disgust, cautiously fingering his nose. 'I'm cursed. I can get sunburnt walking from my car to the front door.'

Lena opened her mouth to reply, then cocked her head. Then Paxton heard it too. The phone was ringing inside the house. Lena picked up her glass, retreating through the French doors. Paxton let his muscles relax again, idly watching the shadows dancing near his head, thrown by the trees beside the deck. Invisible cicadas scritched from somewhere in the garden, mingling with the faint murmur of Lena's voice on the other side of the wall.

Lena had moved back home to her father's place in September, figuring it would at least save her rent while she decided what to do with it. It couldn't be said that she lacked the space to think. The house had four bedrooms over two storeys.

It had felt strange, her moving back. Taking over a house that used to be her father's, and shouldn't have been hers for many years yet. She slept in her old room, not the master bedroom, and though she'd sold off a bit of furniture already, she couldn't bring herself to set up the lounge suite and various other pieces she'd brought from the rental in Glendowie. They wouldn't have looked right. For the time being they sat uselessly, covered in sheets, in a spare bedroom. Mark Bradley was dead, but he wasn't gone, as Paxton knew better than anyone.

'James!' The sound of his own name brought Paxton out of his reverie. A little drowsily he grabbed his empty beer bottle, and with a small grunt of effort got to his feet.

'Jesus!' He almost tripped over the comatose Labrador on the kitchen tiles. Glen, wisely keeping his black coat out of the sun, had chosen to stay inside where it was cooler. Lena held the phone out to Paxton, who looked at it in surprise. He could have counted the people who'd call him on one hand with several digits missing, let alone at Lena's place.

'Who is it?'

'Andy Stirling.'

Paxton took the phone. 'Hello?'

'Hi James, it's Andy. I tried you at your own place but you weren't there, so I took a stab. How are you?' There was a hollow, curiously official ring to Stirling's words. Foreboding fizzed up in Paxton's stomach.

'Good, thanks. You?'

There was the slightest pause. 'Oh yeah. Can't complain.'

'He's not English then,' murmured Lena from close behind Paxton's shoulder.

'Go away!' Paxton waved her off with his free hand. 'Do you mind?'

'Romance is still going strong, I see.' Stirling sounded his old self again for a moment.

'Oh yeah, it's great. Want to come over for dinner? Bring Nicola. We can both get picked on.'

The pause stretched out longer this time. 'Maybe another time, thanks. As long as we're not having pizza . . .'

Ah
, Paxton thought.

'Bit of a strange one yesterday,' said Stirling.

By the pricking of my thumbs . . .

They'd been friends of a sort ever since the winter, the four of them sharing dinner and a quiet evening every now and again. This time Stirling was wearing his
other
hat. And he wanted Paxton to wear his.

The detective constable sounded a bit apologetic, shrinking back from his own unspoken request. 'I shouldn't really trouble you. I'm just . . . offloading, I guess. It's not really the right sort of thing to discuss over dinner . . .'

'Gory?'

'A bit.'

'That's all right. It doesn't seem to stop the theatres selling popcorn.'

Stirling gave a laugh, but his voice was tired. 'It's different when it's real. You should know that. You can't just switch it off and walk away.'

Paxton glanced round at Lena, who was watching him quizzically, her eyebrows raised. 'No. But sometimes it's better not to.' He smiled, trying to read her lips as she framed a question. 'Real life's better than the movies. Good may not always triumph over evil, but you can at least try to stop them doing a sequel.'

Stirling laughed again, a real one this time.

BOOK: Darkness Looking Back, The
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