TIM LEBBON is a New York Times-bestselling writer from South Wales. He’s had over thirty novels published to date, as well as hundreds of novellas and short stories. His latest novel is the thriller The Family Man, and other recent releases include The Silence The Hunt, and The Rage War trilogy. He has won four British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, and a Scribe Award, and has been a finalist for World Fantasy, International Horror Guild and Shirley Jackson Awards.
The movie of his story Pay the Ghost, starring Nicolas Cage, was released Hallowe'en 2015, and several other novels and screenplays are in development.
Find out more about Tim at his website www.timlebbon.net
The door handle creaks and she opens her eyes. The man who enters does not like her, and he has promised to make her life hell. But hell is relative, and at least his return will hold back the nightmarish memories, if only for a while.
He closes the door behind him and, instead of taking the seat across the table from her, he sits in a chair in the corner of the room. The metal legs scrape against the floor, a loud, jarring noise, and Angela jumps.
“Still twitchy,” he says.
She does not reply.
Detective Inspector Volk has a big coffee mug in one hand, its outside stained with drips that might be two or three days old. Something dry and crispy is stuck to the mug’s base—a crushed cookie, perhaps—and Volk’s shirt is speckled with whatever he had for dinner the previous day. He holds a pastry in his other hand. His hair is unkempt and in need of a trim. He’s stubbled and scruffy, but she can smell the minty waft of shower gel, his nails are trimmed and clean, and his athletic form is difficult to hide. It’s only the image of distraction he wants to project.
In reality he’s a man very much in charge.
“Cake for breakfast,” he says, taking a bite of the pastry. It snows crumbs down his front. “God bless America. Hungry?”
“I’ve eaten,” Angela says.
He nods, and chews.
“We know everything that’s happened,” he says, slurping coffee, staring at her through the steam. “They’ve put it together back home. Forensics are still collating their reports, but we’ve got enough to tie you to four of the murders, at least.” She can smell that it’s real coffee, not that instant shit they’ve been giving her. There’s probably a grinder in Detective Hey’s office.
“Then you don’t need anymore from me,” she says, glancing down at her hands. They’re crossed on the table in front of her. The back of her left hand is bruised and scratched, and she has a flash-memory of how that happened. A chill runs through her. She shudders, and from the corner of her eye she sees Volk stiffen.
He doesn’t miss anything.
“‘Anymore’? You haven’t given us anything.”
“Shouldn’t you be recording this?” she asks.
Volk shrugs. “I’m on my break.”
“Then you shouldn’t be talking to me. I’m under arrest. Any questioning should be recorded, otherwise whatever case you think you can put together will be flawed. You know that.”
“And I know you know that, too. The longer you’re here, the more I’m finding out about you, Angela. You’re a brilliant woman. A first class degree in criminology. Studying for your doctorate in subcultural theory. I’ve got some theories for you, we should chat some time.”
If it’s an invitation, she disappoints him by remaining silent.
“You volunteer at a local school back in the UK, helping kids with their reading. You grow rare orchids. Spend quite a lot on them, evidently. You’re fit and healthy. You look after yourself, run quite a bit, gym. Probably work out at home, too. You care about yourself and your body.”
“Takes one to know one.”
Another slurp of coffee. She can feel Volk staring at her, but she keeps her gaze fixed on her hands.
All the things they’ve touched, she thinks. All the things they’ve done. She blinks and wonders whether those awful red memories will be forever imprinted on the insides of her eyelids.
“This isn’t you, Angela,” he says. For a moment she almost falls for the softness of his voice, the concern she hears there, and opens up. The moment surprises her because she thought she was more guarded than that, but perhaps everything she’s been through has damaged her more than she believes. Maybe she’s changed forever.
Of course I have. Everything has changed forever, and that’s why I’m sitting here in this run-down precinct, saying nothing. Because the change has to stop somewhere.
“I’m ready when you want to continue the interview,” she says.
Volk sighs and stands suddenly, sending the chair skidding against the wall. She jumps again at the sound of metal on the concrete floor. That high, painful screeeeee! that bites into her ears and claws down her spine.
“I don’t understand,” he says. “Angela, this isn’t you, and I don’t believe it’s your boyfriend, either. Wherever he is.”
“Vince is dead,” she murmurs. She’s told them that a dozen times.
“Perhaps, but that doesn’t change the facts. The worst you’ve ever done is get a parking ticket. And while Vince certainly isn’t whiter than white, he’s no killer. You’re not murderers!”
“Evidence would suggest otherwise,” she whispers.
“Really?” He sits opposite her now, but doesn’t turn on the recorder. This is still just him and her.
She looks up and meets his gaze.
“Really?” he asks again. For the first time she thinks she sees the real Volk. He’s haunted and damaged, and she wants to ask what he’s seen, what he knows. He’s from London, after all. Then he looks over her shoulder and continues. “Last time I saw that many bodies was the day those bastards bombed the Underground. I was a beat bobby then, one of the first on the scene at Tavistock Square, where the bus was blown up.” He shakes his head and looks like he’s going to say more, but instead he glances at Angela and then looks down into his coffee mug, pausing for a second before taking another drink.
“I’m not a terrorist,” she says. It seems important to emphasize that. However many murders she’s taking the blame for, she needs them to know that there are reasons.
But I can’t tell them anything, she thinks. It all has to be silence.
Volk chuckles. It surprises her.
“You’re being deported back to the UK like one.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“Honestly, with some of those you killed you did us a favor. Scum. We’re well rid of them. Best way to cleanse the world of some of these people, that’s what I say.”
Angela isn’t drawn in. She looks down at her hands again.
The things they’ve touched.
“Detective Hey will be back in a minute, and the recording will start again. He’s a nice enough bloke, very accommodating, but so… American.” Volk smiles. “No offense.”
“So tell me now, just for my sake.” He pauses and leans in. “Come on, Angela. There’s no way you and Vince killed all those people. I know that and so do you.”
She sighs heavily. Maybe Volk thinks it’s her resistance breaking, but it is nothing of the sort. This is fear.
“So tell me the truth,” he says. “Are you afraid I won’t believe you?”
“No,” she says, and closes her eyes again. “I’m afraid you will.”
(C) Tim Lebbon 2017
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