Copyright © 2010 Oliver Stark
The right of Oliver Stark to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2010
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
eISBN : 978 0 7553 7011 5
Ebook produced by Jouve Digitalisation des Informations
HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP
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Table of Contents
Oliver Stark has been writing for as long as he can remember. As a teenager, he was an avid fan of American detective stories and made his first attempt at crime fiction at the age of sixteen. Needless to say, this never reached publication.
After trying a wide variety of jobs, from working in a bookies to managing a pub, he finally gave in to his passion for reading and went on to study and then teach literature. Oliver now lives in London with his wife and children.
is Oliver’s first novel, and the first in a proposed crime thriller series featuring Tom Harper and Denise Levene.
‘An impressive debut . . . written with pace and a delicate feel for the darker shadows of the American psyche . . . Stark is an exceptional new British talent. Let’s look forward to what he does next’
‘One of the best thrillers I have read in ages, tightly plotted, intricately planned, not a loose end or an unexplained action or clue anywhere, great characters, great pace, twists and turns aplenty which will lead the reader completely off the track (well, it did this one), and an exciting and thrilling climax which had me on the end of my seat’ Elaine Simpson-Long, Random Jottings
is well written, paced steadily with a climactic finish and chock full of thoughtfully crafted characters . . . Stark delivers an aptly stark portrayal of the modern-day psychopath; drawing on those good old fundamental ideals as religion, love and betrayal. If this is how Stark starts out - we’re positively salivating for second helpings’ The Truth About Books
‘An assured debut, suggesting that Oliver Stark is a name we will hear a great deal more from’ Material Witness
To my wife
West Virginia, February 14, 1982
e stood behind the white picket fence, hidden in the shadows of a beech tree. It was ten forty in the evening - enough time still to ask her the question. In his right hand, he held twelve red roses with velvet-soft petals. He wanted to give her something real special; after all, she was the girl of his dreams.
Above the large timber-framed house, the moon was so bright that he could see the jumble of kids’ toys abandoned on the veranda. His nervous grey eyes rose to the first floor and scanned each window in turn. He stopped at hers and sweat formed instantly down his back. Her bedroom glowed with a soft pink light. The beautiful and untouchable Chloe Mestella, just fifteen years old and already way beyond the reach of him or any of the local boys.
He figured that she’d be fast asleep by now, so he’d have to steal up to her room without her parents seeing. He knew what he was going to say to her when she woke up. ‘Chloe, will you be my Valentine? I love you so much sometimes I want to die.’ He looked again to the pink-lit window. His head was throbbing as if a train was driving through it.
The boy stepped out on to the crisp cut lawn. The house itself looked like it was sleeping. He thought he could see the roof rising and falling like a breathing chest. What a place to grow up! What a fairy tale! But why couldn’t she just be a little bit nice to him?
The problem with these rich girls was that deep down they weren’t nice at all. They dressed in pretty clothes and smiled sweetly when they had to, but he’d been at the old log yard after dark and seen what they did in the back seats of borrowed cars, their innocent faces twisting and trembling in the shadows like they were in some kind of pain.
Even the untouchable Chloe had been ruined. Someone had taken advantage of her, rubbed her up in the dell, pulled her clothes about and rutted with her like a farm animal. Grunt, grunt, grunt, went the football star, with Chloe crying out for him to stop. But he carried right on to the finish line, just like he’d been taught.
Holding the roses close to his chest, he crept along the side of the house and lifted his head to the living-room window. Mary and Don Mestella were eating seafood linguine with a couple of friends. Upstairs their little girl was tucked up in bed - a snug warm curl of a body in soft pink pyjamas. It was the perfect family scene and he wanted to be part of it.
The boy pulled at each window in turn. The toilet window opened to his rough fingertips. He pulled himself in through the narrow gap and tumbled head first into the small room. He froze in fear and listened out.
He peered around the half-open door of the toilet as he checked the hallway. Glasses clinked in the living room, but his eyes were fixed on the stairs. It was a short dash across the open hallway. He eased the door further open and placed his left foot on the bright polished floor. From the other end of the hallway something clattered. The boy felt his body seize up. Then a voice called out. ‘Hope you’re all ready for dessert in there!’
She was in the fucking kitchen
. He couldn’t move. His breath shortened. She was already walking out of the kitchen with a big pavlova held triumphantly in front of her. He couldn’t risk shutting the toilet door and catching her eye. He held his breath, leaned back into the shadow of the dark room and hoped she wouldn’t look over. If she did, she’d scream, the pavlova would drop and he’d have a hell of a lot of explaining to do.
His whole body shivered as he watched Mrs Mestella pass by in profile, all her attention on the big white meringue covered in thin slices of bright red strawberry. The boy caught a gust of sickly perfume in his throat and nearly coughed. He held it until she was in the living room, then he darted across the polished wooden floor spluttering into his sleeve. His eyes rose to the top of the stairs. Little steps to his own private heaven.
At the top of the stairs he took off his shoes and padded down the corridor, edging open each door in turn. In the second room, he saw Chloe’s younger twin sisters radiating life. Next came the master bedroom with its double doors slightly ajar. He felt like some crazy Goldilocks but inside the fear and anticipation were leaping in his chest.
Along the corridor he came to her door and touched it with his fingertips. It was covered with pictures of fairies. There was a wooden nameplate saying
Chloe’s Room - Be Nice
. This was the room she had grown up in. It contained all her innocent dreams.
The boy looked down at his roses. He slowly repeated what he had planned to say. He wanted it all to be perfect but he was shaking like a leaf and the spit had dried in his mouth.