Authors: Adrian Magson
Tags: #locker, #cruxis, #cruxys solutions, #cruxis solutions, #adrienne magson, #adrian magson, #adrian magison, #adrian mageson, #mystery, #mystery novel, #suspense, #thriller, #mystery fiction
The Locker: A Novel of Suspense
Â© 2016 by Adrian Magson.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
As the purchaser of this ebook, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. The text may not be otherwise reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or recorded on any other storage device in any form or by any means.
Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author's copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First e-book edition Â© 2015
E-book ISBN: 9780738747880
Book format by Teresa Pojar
Cover design by Lisa Novak
Cover art: istockphoto.com/7118998/Â© halbergman
Editing by Ed Day
Midnight Ink is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Magson, Adrian.
Title: The locker : a novel of suspense / Adrian Magson.
Description: Woodbury, Minnesota : Midnight Ink,  | Description based
Â Â on print version record and CIP data provided by publisher; resource not
Â Â viewed.
Identifiers: LCCN 2015039118 (print) | LCCN 2015037328 (ebook) | ISBN
Â Â 9780738747880 () | ISBN 9780738746722 (softcover)
Subjects: LCSH: Kidnapping--Fiction. | Missing
Â Â persons--Investigation--Fiction. | GSAFD: Suspense fiction. | Mystery
Â Â fiction.
Classification: LCC PR6113.A3356 (print) | LCC PR6113.A3356 L63 2016 (ebook)
Â Â | DDC 823/.92--dc23
LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2015039118
Midnight Ink does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business arrangements between our authors and the public.
Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific reference will continue or be maintained. Please refer to the publisher's website for links to current author websites.
Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
2143 Wooddale Drive
Woodbury, MN 55125
Manufactured in the United States of America
To Ann, as always. Alpha reader, editor, timeline wizard, fan, supporter, and groupie. She makes me lucky.
With thanks to David Headley of the DHH Literary Agency, who picked this up and ran with it, and the team at Midnight Ink, for turning the manuscript into the book.
The first thing Nancy
Hardman saw when she opened the gym locker was a rectangle of white card on the bottom, stark against the dark interior.
She picked it up. It carried her name in heavy, black type.
And her heart went cold.
You're at your usual locker at Fitness Plus. The time is approx. 09.15. Your cell phone is dead, your home phone won't answer and your daughter, Beth, is alone with Tiggi, her cute Polish nanny.
It will take you 18 minutes to get home. If you drive fast.
Shame. You're already 18 minutes late â¦
1) Do NOT call the police. Beth's life depends on it.
2) DO tell your husband. Beth's life â¦
She stepped back as if stung.
Instinct told her it must be a sick joke, intended for some other Nancy; left by a friend with a dubious sense of humour. The clown face said it all. Didn't it?
But another Beth?
She glanced along the corridor, skimming over the banks of lockers and taking in irrelevant details;
carpet tiles, pale, clinical walls; the bank of identical steel boxes with bright orange key fobs hanging from the locks, waiting for the tumble of a token or a coin to release them. Only this one, her usual choice, had a large safety pin holding the key instead of a fob. It had stood out from the rest, quirky and different, and she'd used it for that reason ever since joining.
The building was quiet after the early rush, taking a deep breath in preparation for the next phase. It was still too early for the
groupies rushing in after the school run, or the more intense spin freaks who drifted in quietly and made for their favourite bikes as if
about to take part in a spiritual rite, or the older members who mounted the equipment with the care of those who knew that a fall might prove disastrous to fragile hips or knees.
Only a murmur of voices from the front desk and a peal of laughter indicated other signs of life.
Further away, music from a Zumba class leaked through the walls, carried on a muffled beat that seemed to echo in her brain and bounce off the ceiling tiles above her head. The instructors at Fitness Plus were young, trendy, and seemed determined to make the world go deaf in their pursuit of peak conditioning.
She scrabbled for her phone, cursing as the plastic slipped from her hand, slick with a sudden sheen of perspiration. She touched speed dial.
A joke, surely. Couldn't be anything else. Or a misunderstandâ.
Your cell phone is dead
Nothing. The screen was blank. No light, no bars, no signal indicator. No screensaver of Beth grinning toothily over an ice cream sundae, taken on a rare day by the sea near Brighton.
She shook the phone as if it might stir the circuitry into life. A bad connection, that must be it. Nothing. She turned it over and tore off the back, surprised by the sudden strength in her fingers. Bloody thing was fiddly and usually took forever to get off. This time it fell away with ease, revealing the SIM card.
But no battery.
She fought back the desire to scream.
How could this be?
She'd used it last night to send a text to Michael, her husband. Just a few familiar words, tapped out with the point of a pen as she sat on the bed, followed by the press of a button. It was hardly a routine exactly, and no substitute for any kind of real contact, but it was all she had and she made sure it was regular enough to remind him, wherever he was in some
back of nowhere, that she was hereâ
were hereâher and little Beth.
She batted the locker door shut, turned and sprinted along the corridor towards the front desk, trainers silent on the carpet, her sports bag forgotten. There was a public phone out there in an alcove. Pray God none of the usual pensioners were on it, calling for a taxi or arranging their next round of bridge or coffee meetings.
It was free. She grabbed it, hands fumbling and sending the receiver falling to swing from the cord, the clatter attracting glances from two elderly customers in leisure suits and soft,
shoes with Velcro straps. The duty receptionist, an alien being dressed like a beautician with an unlikely tan from the
upstairs and a vaguely
white top, threw her a painted scowl.
She dialled the number. It took forever to connect; first a series of quiet clicks followed by a louder one followed by the ring tone. The
felt sticky against her cheek and smelled of lipstick and dried sweat. Why couldn't people washâ
Your home phone won't answer â¦
She waited through twenty rings, each one more painful than the last. A flicker of mental images told her with cool logic that Tiggi must be upstairs, in the bathroom, playing with Beth, teaching her
Polish words, out in the garden, on her cell phone or sorting out the washing. There were a dozen other reasons for not answering, none of them helpful.
She cut the call and dialled the number of the phone she'd given Tiggi, with instructions to carry it always. Just in case.
This can't be!
She felt her stomach heave and a sharp pain blossomed in her chest, threatening to burst out into the open. She had to get out of here before she threw up. She dropped the phone on the hook. It bounced and fell, but she left it and raced towards the exit, ignoring the receptionist's shrill call.
It will take you 18 minutes to get home.
She arrived at the car and reached for her keys. But they were in her sports bag. Back in the corridor.
She raced back inside, past the startled leisure suits and the receptionist, and jumped the revolving gate. Ran to the corner and turned left down the corridor, saw her bag lying on its side in front of the locker like a dead animal.
And a woman standing over it.
“What are you doing?”
The words snapped out before she could stop them, before she had time to take in the sports bag hanging awkwardly from one shoulder while the woman juggled with a purse.
The face was familiar. Karen? Or was it Clarisse? Nancy couldn't remember. Her mind had gone blank, clouded by the various thoughts tangled together like a jumbled mass of seaweed.
“I'm so sorryâ”
The woman was dressed in dark Lycra and pink shoes, vaguely pretty and with the build of someone who benefitted more than most from a fitness regime. They hadn't talked much, hadn't even exchanged full names or backgrounds, but she'd been the only one who seemed willing to make an effort to break the ice.
“Hi.” The greeting was bright, the smile fading to concern as Nancy ran up to the bag and stopped. “Are you all right?”
“Sorry.” Nancy bent and scooped up her bag, hooking one strap and turning away, feeling her gut threatening to let go. “I don't feel well.” Then she was running back along the corridor, praying nobody got in her way and hearing Karen's or Helen's voice floating after her, tinged with sympathy and concern and a faint hint of an accent.
If you drive fast.
She got in the car and turned the key, stamped on the gas and tore out of the car park, tyres squealing on the smooth surface. Out onto the main street and down to the end, where she turned left under the nose of a cement truck, earning a blare of air horns and a hiss of brakes. She waved an apology, got an angry repeat of the horn and put her foot down, the car leaping forward and away.
Shame. You're already 18 minutes late â¦
She came to a corner, usually taken with care because of a tricky camber, but now cut short. A wheel hit the kerb and she heard the clatter of a plastic wheel trim spinning away behind her. A jolt made the steering jump and she wrestled with the wheel, sweaty hands glossing over the hard fabric until she regained control.
She swore long and loud, terrified at the thought of losing control. Wrapping herself around a lamppost wouldn't do anything to help Beth if she'd really beenâ
If what? If she'd been kidnapped? By who? And why? The idea was ridiculous, like something out of a Film 4 shocker with Liam Neeson playing the vengeful parent.
A glance at the dashboard clock. Pointless, as she had no idea how long it had been since leaving the gym. But anything familiar was a welcome distraction. Had it been three minutes? Five? More?
It felt like an eternity.
She slammed her foot down harder as the speed dropped, careening past a woman in a wallowing 4x4 with a phone clamped to her ear and unaware of other life forms around her. Oncoming vehicles flashed lights and sounded their horns, swerving to avoid her. A leathered motorcyclist eager to prove dominance failed the challenge at the last second, keeling over in a sideways skid and narrowly missing her charging bonnet, his face through the visor a brief glimpse of terror.
She arrived home a lifetime later, out of breath and feeling sick, subconsciously mumbling the only words that made any sense.
This was a joke. It had to be.
Had to be â¦
Had to be â¦
But who did she know who would joke like this? Nobody.
She jumped from the car and ran across the paved driveway and stopped dead.
The front door was wide open.
On the doormat lay a small bundle, arms and legs out wide, little button eyes staring unseeing into the sky.
Nancy buckled forward at the waist, a stab of pain piercing her stomach.
It was Homesick, Beth's favourite teddy.
went anywhere without it.