Authors: James Raven
To the following with love and affection
My fiancée Catherine.
Lyanne, Ellie and Ken, Jodie and Toby,
Lauren, Amy, Jack, Zach and Mya.
t was over for me now. That much was obvious.
I was once again at the mercy of the man who was going to kill me. I no longer had the strength to get to my feet, let alone keep on running.
The earth beneath me was cold and damp. I was trapped and disoriented. My lungs were on fire and my breath was coming in great heaving gasps.
The cuffs on my wrists were cutting into the flesh, dripping blood on to the soft dirt and dead, soggy leaves.
I wanted to plead with him to let my wife and daughter live, but I couldn’t form the words. Instead, I could only lie where I’d fallen and look up as he approached me. He was still wearing the black ski mask and he was still carrying the knife in his right hand. A carving knife with a serrated blade. Long, shiny and deadly.
I was going to be murdered by this man who had entered our lives just two days ago and whose face I’d never seen.
Long enough for the life I had known to be shattered like a light bulb hitting concrete. And I couldn’t help but wonder why it had happened to us.
First came the phone call, then the sequence of events that had destroyed our lives and brought me to this god-forsaken place.
‘It’s the end of the road, Cain,’ the man said. ‘No point resisting.’
It was as though he was telling me I had to put on a coat or get showered. No emotion. No compassion. Just cold, heartless words.
He was above me now, staring down through the slit in the ski mask. His eyes were black and manic and his voice trembled in his
throat. Behind him grey, bloated clouds scudded across a sullen November sky that would soon be dark.
I was too weak to do anything other than brace myself for what was to come. Pain racked my body from the beating I’d taken earlier. Exhaustion numbed my senses and the sheer terror of what was happening had paralysed my mind.
He reached down. Grabbed my shirt front. Pulled me roughly off the ground.
He started speaking again, his mouth wrestling with the fabric of the mask, but his words were now just a jumble of sounds. I felt myself being pulled away from the present into the comfort of my subconscious.
It was a blessed relief. I was suddenly back in our house, back in the familiar surroundings of our loving home.
Back to where it began less than forty-eight hours ago.
Two days ago
y wife and I had a row that afternoon. It was over the usual thing – money. Or rather, the lack of it.
We were six weeks away from Christmas and Maggie suddenly decided that we should spend it on a Caribbean cruise. There was a great offer in the paper, she said. We could pay for it on one of our credit cards.
When I pointed out that we’d reached the limit on all of the cards, she suggested we use the last of our savings, a measly £5,000 in a Barclays ISA account.
I said it wasn’t a good idea because the way the business was going we’d almost certainly need it in the not too distant future.
And that’s when it kicked off.
It was all my fault, she said. If I hadn’t been made redundant … If
I hadn’t invested all our money in the news agency … If I hadn’t talked her out of going back to work when she had that job offer a year ago….
Sadly, it was all true, but having it rammed down my throat every time we had words really didn’t help the situation or do much for my self-esteem.
Maggie was right to blame me for our current financial woes and I could understand why she was stressed out most of the time. I’d had a great job as a reporter on a national newspaper. An annual salary of over seventy grand. A generous pension. Two foreign
a year. Meals out twice a week. We were set to send our six-year-old daughter to a private school. Life was good. Money wasn’t a problem.
But then I was made redundant and the cold wind of recession that was blowing through the newspaper industry meant that I couldn’t get a job on another paper. There were cutbacks everywhere and it didn’t help that I had just turned forty. There were younger, cheaper and frankly brighter journalists out there, eager to fill the few vacancies that did come up.
Deciding to invest my redundancy pot in a news agency with my long time friend Vince Mayo was, with hindsight, not the wisest of moves. Maggie had advised against it, but I had ploughed on
and the Southern News Agency was created eighteen months ago.
According to the business plan we should have been turning a healthy profit by now. But it hadn’t worked out so well. We were barely making a living covering court cases for the regional press, flogging occasional features to magazines, and filing human interest stories that too frequently got rejected by the national news editors.
We were still waiting for that big exclusive story that would put the agency firmly on the map and secure us a regular stream of lucrative commissions. There was one story that came close. A police-corruption tale that we sold to the
Mail on Sunday
. But it
somewhat after the detective in question committed suicide. His colleagues blamed us and we received a bunch of anonymous hate mail. At the same time the local CID closed ranks and made life
difficult for us. It meant that we lost a valuable source of local stories – the lifeblood of a freelance operation. In terms of income it ran into thousands of pounds a year.
So Maggie had every right to feel that I’d let her down. Money was tight and the quality of our life had taken a huge tumble. It had made her increasingly tense. Lately she’d been more off with me than usual and even our sex life had suffered. Headaches. Period pains. Hormonal stuff. She’d been coming up with every kind of excuse to avoid getting intimate with me.
She needed to get a job. Before she married me she’d worked in advertising. But the agencies and the newspaper ad departments were not recruiting. Her frustration was all the more acute because I’d persuaded her to turn down a job offer from an agency in London on the grounds that the commute from our home in Southampton was a killer and it wouldn’t be fair on Laura. Now, of course, I wished I’d kept my mouth shut.
The argument that afternoon was mild compared with some we’d had. Raised voices rather than screams and angry rants. But it put a dampener on the day and filled the house with tension.
Luckily, Laura hadn’t been around to hear her parents having a go at each other. She’d been out with her grandmother on one of their frequent Saturday excursions into town. By the time they got back Maggie and I were talking again. I’d agreed to think about going away for Christmas, but not on a costly cruise. Maybe a bargain break at a country hotel in Devon or Cornwall. I’d promised to look into it.
After Laura went to bed we settled into our usual Saturday night routine. Light dinner. Bottle of wine. Feet up in front of the television ready for the national lottery draw. The house was calm once again, the friction replaced by feelings of warmth and security. It was how it was meant to be. Cosy, safe, content. The serene face of family life.
It was a triple rollover week on the lottery, with an estimated jackpot of £18 million – the biggest prize for several years. Like everyone else I was hoping that this time, despite those incredible odds, our numbers would come up.
‘I have a feeling that our luck is about to change, Danny,’ Maggie said.
I smiled at the glow of anticipation in her wide green eyes.
‘Eighteen million pounds,’ I said. ‘It’d solve a lot of our problems at a stroke.’
‘And we could have that Caribbean cruise after all.’
‘Too right we could.’
Maggie laughed and her face lit up. It lifted my spirits to see her looking so relaxed for a change.
She was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, my favourite
. They showed off her ample bosom, flat stomach and long, slender legs. She always looked much younger than her thirty-eight years, thanks largely to regular visits to the gym and a strict low-carb diet. Her skin had a brilliant lustre to it and her eyes were the colour of new spring leaves.
We were just a couple of months shy of our eighth wedding anniversary, having met just over nine years ago when she came to work in the advertising department of the
Southampton Evening Post.
Vince and I both fancied the pants off her. But I was the one who asked her out, much to his disappointment.
The courtship was quick and passionate. Cosy dinners, weekend breaks, unbelievable sex. After six months she moved out of her rented flat in Basingstoke and into my two-bedroom house in Southampton. We were married a year later and honeymooned on the glorious island of Santorini. Two years on Laura was born.
I was now keen to have another child, but Maggie said she wasn’t ready and that was another issue we sometimes argued about.
‘Here we go,’ she said. ‘Have you got the ticket?’
I held it up. ‘Of course.’
On TV the familiar countdown began and the little numbered balls started jumping up and down in that strange perspex
. I sat with pencil poised as the lottery numbers were called out.
I wondered just how many people were watching the draw with us. Millions, most likely. Many had probably already worked out how they were going to spend the money if they won.
I could imagine what people were wishing for. A top-of-the-range car. A new house for mum and dad. A wardrobe of designer clothes from those ludicrously expensive shops in London’s Bond Street. A luxury holiday on some exotic island.
Some would be hoping to clear their debts. Others would be telling themselves that they would give most of it away to charity.
And there’d be those who’d be insisting that even £18 million wouldn’t change their lives. They’d still aim to get up at the crack of dawn to go to work and act like being rich was no big thing.
Others would be telling themselves that the odds on their winning were so astronomical that they wished they hadn’t wasted the money on the ticket.
By now most would realize that their dreams had been shattered, at least until the midweek draw on Wednesday.
The bonus ball was
As always it was over in a flash. A cruel let down. Hopes dashed. I couldn’t help feeling like I’d been duped.
I showed the ticket to Maggie, who sat there clutching her glass of wine with a long face.
‘Look at that. Five lines and only one of the numbers came up.’
She heaved a sigh. ‘So it’s not our lucky night after all.’
We hadn’t really expected to win, of course, but we’d made ourselves believe that we might. It was all part of the lottery thrill. The great hype.
I leaned over and kissed Maggie on the cheek.
‘Don’t worry, honey. There’s always next time.’
I was doing that a lot lately. Trying to reassure her about the future because I didn’t want her to become even more distant and resentful. She gave a smile that dimpled her cheeks. Her teeth were white as mints.
‘Of course there is,’ she said.
I smiled back. Her eyes were like marbles, clear and round and perfect. But there was also the dull glimmer of disappointment.
And then the phone rang.
‘It’s probably Mum,’ she said. ‘Checking to see if we’ve made up.’
Maggie’s mother was a widow who lived alone in Fareham, a few miles east of Southampton. She doted on Laura and fretted if she thought that perfect harmony did not prevail in the Cain household.
Maggie crossed the room to answer the phone. She lifted the receiver and said hello. I watched her smile, then frown. She suddenly drew breath, her eyes flicking towards me.
Then she held out the receiver.
‘It’s Vince, for you. He says he’s won the lottery and he’s going to make us rich.’