Authors: Louise Phillips
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Suspense, #Crime Fiction, #Thrillers
Born in Dublin, Louise Phillips returned to writing in 2006, after raising her family. That year, she was selected by Dermot Bolger as an emerging talent in the county. Louise’s work has been published as part of many anthologies, including
from New Island, and various literary journals. In 2009, she won the Jonathan Swift Award for her short story
, and in 2011 she was a winner in the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice platform. She has also been short-listed for the Molly Keane Memorial Award, Bridport UK, and long-listed twice for the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Short Story Competition.
In 2012, she was awarded an Arts Bursary for Literature from South Dublin County Council.
is her debut novel. Her second novel,
The Doll’s House
, will be published by Hachette Books Ireland in 2013.
Follow Louise on Twitter: @LouiseMPhillips
Copyright © 2012 Louise Phillips
The right of Louise Phillips to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in Ireland in 2012 by
HACHETTE BOOKS IRELAND
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters and places in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious. All events and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real life or real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 14447 4304 3
Hachette Books Ireland
8 Castlecourt Centre
Dublin 15, Ireland
A division of Hachette UK Ltd
338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH
In the dark, all he could hear was the flow of the water. The ground underfoot was a mix of scrub and barren soil; he made no sound as he moved. They were now in a place without shadows.
Her breathing had been deep, her chest moving in and out, her body trembling.
‘Let’s play a game,’ he had said, and in his mind he had heard the old clock ticking – tick tock, tick tock – followed by its familiar elongated pause: everything in perfect rhythm.
He had left the duct tape across her mouth to keep her silent. The skin on her lovely face now, blotchy, bruised and wet from tears. Her arms and legs tied securely.
He wanted it to be quick.
Tick tock, tick tock.
He pulled the electric cable tight around her neck, closing off her oxygen, trapping the blood vessels. This time, expediency was all that mattered, although he did not want her to suffer.
He prepared her body properly – brushing her hair and tying both plaits neatly with the ribbons. Her lips had reminded him of a painting by Vermeer, the deep shades of cherries over-ripening on the canvas. He laid out her body, as if she were a young girl sleeping, before gently kissing her forehead. She hadn’t understood, but then, why should she?
She was never good enough.
HE COULD HAVE TAKEN A DIRECT FLIGHT FROM DUBLIN TO Galileo Galilei airport in Pisa. Instead he chose a Dutch airline with connecting flights first to Paris and then on to Florence. Examining his boarding pass, he double-checked the date and times on the overhead monitor, 10-03-2011 – departure 06.20. If all went according to plan, he had plenty of time to catch the connecting flight to Florence at 11.05 a.m. He cared little about losing a few more hours; it meant nothing. The only important thing was his intention and the knowledge that this trip, well overdue, was finally coming to pass.
Once safely on the plane, he smiled affectionately at the stewardesses, sitting back with ease, enjoying the sound of English, French and Dutch instructions coming from the cockpit just like he had as a boy, when his curiosity about language had first been aroused.
He was now three months into his leave of absence from Newell Design and he missed developing architectural plans and elevations. Still, looking after his deranged mother had had some advantages. For one thing, it meant he didn’t have to listen to the continuous whining of the imbeciles with whom he worked. He prided himself on being a good listener, for, these days, far too many people spent far too long talking rather than thinking. Of course, the upside of being a good listener was that he found out most things he needed to know, in the end.
Studying people was one of his pet pastimes – working out exactly what made them tick and why. He liked to categorise them, something that had been easy at Newell Design, given how transparent his colleagues had been.
There was Jackie, who had done numerous courses – ‘up-skilling’ was what she called it, but he had another name for it, ‘jack of all trades and master of none’. It was the mark of a woman who longed to be someone different, but who didn’t have the imagination to achieve any real change. Then there was snivelling Susan, who had buried her husband last year and was looking to ‘start over’, which entailed a lot of blathering about inner peace and a new penchant for Tarot cards. And ‘young cool guy’ David; oh yes, the boss definitely liked him. The others didn’t particularly interest him either – Karla from Scotland, Daniel with a face like a bulldog and reliable Henry, who had worked at the company for so long that everyone kept a keen eye on his desk in the hope that one day he might not be there. They were a tedious bunch, only Jarlath offered any sense of intrigue. Jarlath shared his admiration for seventeenth-century French philosophers and mathematicians, which meant talking to him was at least tolerable. In appearance, however, Jarlath disappointed. He was in his early thirties and scrawny, a man who would benefit from some building up and taking more care of himself. Despite being twenty years Jarlath’s senior, he felt physically superior. He suspected Jarlath was an only child, just like he was. This was indicated by some of his more obvious qualities: self-obsession, a loner, happier burying his head in a book rather than watching television, a keen appreciation of music – good music, that is, not the rubbish variety that seemed to be played in every home, office and coffee shop.
‘Would you like some tea or coffee, Sir?’ The stewardess had such a lovely smile.
‘Any herbal tea, my dear?’
‘Of course,’ she said and smiled again.
Jarlath and he had often discussed Blaise Pascal, a pure intellectual in the truest sense, combining a love of mathematics and logical reasoning with an insatiable desire to understand mankind.
When he had told them he needed a leave of absence from work,
snivelling Susan had been the worst. Still lamenting her late husband, when she had found out he had an ailing mother she had stupidly thought he could share her pain. Jarlath had displayed heightened levels of discomfort at Susan’s overkill of empathy. It was the kind of emotional display that never sat easily on the shoulders of the young.
Choosing a window seat, he was relieved that both seats to his right remained empty, and he was free to enjoy the clear blue sky above the clouds, losing himself in thought. It was often difficult keeping up the façade of being nice, and he had no doubt that if any of his colleagues had been asked about him, their opinions would be completely flawed. This was of his own making, of course, as generally he made a point of only presenting a two-dimensional aspect of himself to the world. Accordingly, he had dished out his usual round of pleasantries before leaving, promising Jackie he would consider her suggestion to examine all forms of ‘up-skilling’ while he was away.
‘Oh, such a lovely man,’ he had heard Susan say as he’d closed the office door behind him.
He smiled grimly at the memory of being out of their company and able to breathe in fresh air.
Yes, he had earned his break, and not just from them but from the old bag too. He knew tongues would wag in the village about him taking a trip to Tuscany while her ladyship was on her last legs, but a week’s respite was what he needed. Let the local rumour mill churn out whatever it chose, it would never be any more than speculation.
Standing in the elegant foyer of the Hotel de Tucci, he stood back and admired the black-and-white chequered floor. Across this enormous chessboard, guests, hotel staff, and overly pampered dogs and cats scuffled nosily. He would not stay long in Florence. One night’s rest was all that was required, then he would be ready to start the drive
to Livorno. Choosing to take the stairs rather than the lift to his room on the first floor, he thought again about how his mother’s unintentional trips down memory lane had awakened feelings he had suppressed for far too long, and how it was with a mix of anticipation and trepidation that he planned the next leg on his journey. In many ways, his life was now echoing the words of Pascal: ‘Let each one examine his thoughts. He will find them all occupied with the past and the future.’ This empathy of thought pleased him.
The drive to Livorno was a pleasant one, with russet-coloured rooftops dotting the landscape. The road eventually led into the lovely seaside town he remembered so well from his youth. The distance was short, a little over twenty kilometres, and he had switched cars at Pisa, enjoying the covert aspect of it all. Much time had passed since that old business, so there was really no cause for any concern, but being careful added a certain excitement to the proceedings. With the car window rolled down, he took in the familiar smells of a place to which he had always known he would return.