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Authors: Charlotte Link

Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General

The Watcher (59 page)

BOOK: The Watcher
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‘Stay still,’ said Tara. Her voice sounded peaceful, almost tender. ‘Stay still, otherwise you’ll strangle yourself!’

Gillian obeyed. The pressure decreased somewhat. She could breathe a bit more easily, but her throat still hurt like hell. Tara had tugged on the noose so ferociously that the wire had buried itself deep into her skin. No doubt the marks would be visible for weeks.

If she had weeks left to live.

Her head was pressed into the headrest by the noose, forcing her whole body to stay seated too. While she struggled to breathe evenly, she swore silently at herself for being such a damn fool. She had assumed that because she had been able to unlock the car using the remote, Tara had locked it that afternoon when they had left it. She had not considered the possibility that the car had been left open and that Tara had got in and then locked the doors from the inside. Worn down to the point of utter exhaustion as she was, her brain had simply not been working reliably. She had seen the woollen blanket on the back seat, and not even then had a warning light come on in her head.

Stupid, stupid, stupid woman! She groaned.

‘Yes, you messed that one up,’ agreed Tara, as if she could read her thoughts. ‘Sometimes people fall for the simplest tricks. But don’t beat yourself up about it. Other people have done the same.’

Gillian had to cough. The pain from her larynx was pulsing down into her neck and her shoulders. Her whole throat felt sore. Tara had pulled on the noose with such force that Gillian felt she was lucky she had not been beheaded immediately.

‘Wh—’ she croaked.

‘You shouldn’t talk,’ said Tara.

Gillian heard the knife flick open. Then she felt the cold blade against her skin just below her right ear. She jerked away in despair and paid for her sudden movement as the noose cut deep into her skin once more. She moaned in pain and then went back to her previous position.

‘Good girl,’ said Tara. ‘You’re a quick learner. Don’t try anything stupid. It won’t work.’

‘Wh—’ she tried once more.

‘Wh-wh-wh-wh,’ Tara aped her. With the blade of the knife, she toyed with Gillian’s ear lobe. ‘Go on, talk. What do you so desperately need to tell me?’

A feeling of hopelessness fell on Gillian like lead. She had struggled so hard. And yet still lost.

Although her throat ached, she managed to form a few words in the end.

‘Why?’ she asked. ‘Why . . . me?’

‘Yes, why you?’ repeated Tara. ‘I’ve told you so much about myself and you still can’t work it out? You still don’t get it? The mistake you made? The
unforgivable
mistake?’

Gillian did not say anything.

In that moment she understood. Her mistake. The mistake that in Tara’s sick mind must have seemed like a rerun of her own story.

‘John,’ she groaned.

Tara touched her almost gently with the blade. ‘Right. John. He was your mistake.’

Gillian coughed again. ‘I . . . think John is innocent,’ she blurted out. ‘And your colleague . . . the public prosecutor . . . did too.’

Tara snorted scornfully. ‘Do you know who was responsible for Burton’s case?’

‘No.’

‘I do. A nitpicker. A coward. Someone who from morning to night just thinks about how to not make life difficult for himself. You know, us prosecutors are pretty careful about pressing charges. None of us wants to lose in court. But of course we can never be a hundred per cent sure. We don’t know what arguments the opposing lawyer will bring. Nor which witnesses he will call on or what unexpected twists and turns the case might take. We don’t know how the judge will decide. There’s always some risk. But some of us are more prepared to take risks than others. Burton was lucky. The guy who was assigned his case is known for being so careful that he presses charges less often than any of us. He practically needs to be presented with proof on a silver platter before he will pluck up the courage to break cover. There were unresolved questions in Burton’s case. You see? The fact that there was no court case doesn’t mean anything. Not if you consider the lawyer who was responsible.’

‘But—’

‘No
but
!’ Tara said sharply. ‘You want to say that you didn’t know that. So what! You have a little girl. A defenceless child. And you get involved with a guy who has been investigated for a
sex offence?
You take the risk of putting this guy near your daughter? Just because you can’t stand your husband but you need a man? You take your daughter’s innocence, her mental and physical well-being, that lightly? And find that
normal
?’

‘I—’

‘Yes, I-I-I! It’s always about you. You had the hots for him and you just brushed away all other concerns. Convinced yourself everything was great. He won’t have done anything! Of course the girl who reported him was a liar. He’s an angel! You know what, Gillian. A woman who is responsible for no one but herself can do that. Not that I can really understand that either, but that’s not my business! But you have Becky. And I decided I was going to save Becky. She should not have to go through what I did. Never.’

Gillian coughed again. Her voice was getting back to normal, but her throat was still on fire.

‘You knew that before Christmas?’ she asked. She had only told Tara about John’s past in the New Year, but Tara’s first attempt to kill her former friend had been carried out just after Christmas. That was when she had killed Tom, who was completely innocent. It was horrific. A woman running amok. And no one, but
no one
, had noticed. Not even the faintest suspicion had fallen on the lawyer. The investigation had not left a stone unturned, and meanwhile she had been able to continue to act out her hatred and her all-consuming need for revenge.

‘The name
Burton
rang a bell when I heard it. I couldn’t quite work out why. I was in Manchester at the time it all happened. I just knew that someone at some point had mentioned his name in connection with an investigation. It wasn’t hard for me to get hold of his file. It was also clear to me that you knew too. You can’t lie well, Gillian. When you finally told me the truth, I just pretended to be horrified. I’d known for a long time.’

Gillian coughed again. She wished that the ball of fire in her throat would go away. She wished she could stuff a handful of snow into her mouth.

‘Tara, please don’t carry on like this. You’ve killed enough innocents. The two old women in Tunbridge Wells and London . . . they failed Liza, but that didn’t justify murdering them. Tom didn’t do anything to anyone. But after what you’ve told me about your childhood – I can understand why you just saw this one way to go. I really can.’

‘Can you now?’

‘Yes,’ said Gillian in despair. She realised that Tara did not believe her, but she was not lying. Tara had gone through the worst hell that a child could experience. No one had helped her. Not her mother, nor anyone near her who had noticed the changes in her behaviour that must have been visible. Her neighbours, teachers, friends’ parents had all failed her.

Gillian did not feel a grown-up woman’s icy hatred and coldblooded cruelty in Tara.

She felt the bottomless despair of a helpless child.

‘I’d testify for you, Tara. Any judge who heard your story would—’

‘Would what? Let me go free? How naive are you, Gillian? Of course they’ll lock me up, if they get me. They’ll say that yes, my childhood was horrible, but at the end of the day you can’t just let a ticking time bomb loose on the streets. Funny old world, isn’t it? Roslin didn’t go to jail. Nor did my mother. Burton can waltz around the neighbourhood. Charity Stanford won’t be punished either, because Liza, the stupid cow, will never report him. But I . . . I might be caught. And spend the rest of my life behind bars. That’s justice for you! And I’m not going to accept it.’

The pressure of the wire on Gillian’s neck increased.

For a moment she closed her eyes. Her situation was hopeless. She had no idea how she could reach Tara now. When she opened her eyes again, she thought she saw a light flash in the distance briefly. It disappeared immediately, but before Gillian could dismiss it as a crazy delusion of her overheated brain, it appeared again. This time for longer, then it disappeared. And appeared again.

Gillian stared into the blackness, as if she wanted to penetrate it with her eyes. It couldn’t be, could it? Probably some physical phenomenon, starlight, something reflected off the snow. Normally she would have thought she was seeing the headlights of a car, rising and falling with the gentle roll of the hills. But that was absurd. Of course there were hunters who came out here, and park rangers, and even in winter the odd group of hikers. But not at this time of night. Even young lovers who wanted to enjoy themselves without anyone else around, would never drive this deep into the Peak District in winter.

Don’t get your hopes up. No way is it a car. You’re completely on your own with this crazy woman and you’ve got a noose around your neck and a knife against your cheek. You’re in one hell of a mess. That’s all there is to it.

She closed her eyes, then opened them as if she wanted to force what she had just seen to happen again. And it worked. The light was there. And now she could see that it really was
two
lights. It
was
a car out in the night.

And it was approaching.

Tara had obviously not seen it yet. She was talking about something Gillian did not understand, and then she suddenly said, ‘Right. It’s time.’ She emphasised her words with a tug of the noose.

Gillian gave out a cry.

‘I didn’t want to do it myself,’ said Tara. ‘You were my friend for years, Gillian. But you’re a threat to me now. I’d have preferred you to die in the hut, but since you had to break out . . . I don’t have any other choice. I don’t want to go to jail. You understand?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Let’s get out. Slowly now.’

Gillian thought desperately about how she could stall for time. Someone was driving down the road, and unless she was completely out of luck, this unknown driver, whoever it was, would be right here within ten minutes. They would no doubt be surprised to see a car standing there and, assuming it had broken down, would stop to help.

It’d just be stupid if I was already dead by then!

There must be some topic or other on which Tara could be got talking.

I have to ask her questions, she thought, questions about the past. Someone with her life story must be burning to tell and explain things.

She had an idea. She grasped at it like at a straw. Tara had told her how she had killed her mother. She had stuffed a tea towel down her throat and put masking tape over her nose. She had let her suffocate to death. And then she had dragged her from the kitchen to Tara’s former bedroom. To the place of the crimes of her childhood.

The sight of the tea towel had been the trigger for the murder.

‘I want to know one more thing, Tara,’ she said. And continued quickly, before Tara could interrupt. ‘The tea towels that you . . . that you—’

‘That I suffocated my mother with? And the other two women?’

Gillian breathed out with relief. ‘Yes. Why . . . why did you decide to use those? Or was it just coincidence?’

As if it mattered. But every second that she won now could be decisive. She saw the lights again. Much closer. The car had not changed direction.

‘Coincidence? Nothing in this affair has been just coincidence,’ said Tara scornfully. Then she changed her tone. ‘Except for Tom . . . he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t have anything against him.’

‘The tea towels,’ reminded Gillian.

‘Yes. The tea towels. Didn’t I mention that yet?’ She sounded indifferent, with the strange, unnatural manner she had had all day. ‘My mother was a really good housewife. She was always cleaning and dusting.
You can eat off the floor in our house
, she liked to say. Her spotless, pretty flat was very important to her. She had made the curtains herself and the flat was full of doilies and horrible African violets in overly ornate porcelain pots. Yes, and she had these things within reach all over the house. These checked tea towels. So she could immediately whisk away every speck of dust or dirt.’ Tara paused and thought for a moment. Gillian had the impression that she was choosing her words carefully, that she wanted to be just in her analysis of her mother. She was a lawyer, after all. She did not just make unfounded accusations. ‘I wouldn’t say she was an obsessive-compulsive, but she was very thorough. And it increased in the years she lived with Ted. I later wondered . . .’

‘You wondered?’ Gillian prodded, when Tara trailed off.
Talk!

‘I wondered if it was her way of dealing with what was happening. To get rid of the dirt that Ted had brought into our family. Her reaction was to have a damn clean house, and when I saw the tea towel that evening, I . . .’

Gillian did not dare to say anything else. Tara was shaking. She could feel it in the noose digging into her throat.

‘I thought:
suffocate on your hypocrisy
,’ Tara continued. ‘And then, well, that’s just what happened. She suffocated on it.’

She suddenly sat up, as Gillian felt through a sudden further yank at her throat.

‘There’s a car out there,’ she said in shock. ‘Shit!’

15

‘There they are,’ said John. He braked hard. His first feeling of overwhelming relief at having found the two women was immediately mixed with the horror of the situation he found them in. They were standing near the car in the middle of the road. Tara was right behind Gillian, holding a knife to her throat. Gillian seemed paralysed with fear.

‘Oh God,’ Samson exclaimed.

John turned off the engine, but left the headlights on. ‘You stay in the car,’ he told Samson. ‘Got it?’

‘Yes. Wh-where are you going?’

John had opened the driver’s door. ‘I want to talk to Tara Caine. And remember: don’t move!’

Samson nodded. He looked wide-eyed through the windscreen at the scene in front of him. He seemed deranged. John hoped that he followed his instructions and stayed in the car. Samson had the gift of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, and in a situation as delicate as this one he could cause a lot of trouble.

BOOK: The Watcher
4.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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