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Authors: Jane Isaac

An Unfamiliar Murder

BOOK: An Unfamiliar Murder
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An Unfamiliar Murder

 

Jane Isaac

 

Rainstorm
Press

PO

BOX 391038

Anza,
Ca 92539

www.RainstormPress.com

 

The characters depicted in
this story are completely fictitious, and any similarities to actual events,
locations or people, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.

No part of this publication
may be reproduced, in whole or in part, without written permission from the
publisher, except for brief quotations in reviews. For information regarding
permissions please contact the publisher

[email protected]

An Unfamiliar Murder

Rainstorm Press
http://www.RainstormPress.com

Copyright © 2011 by
Rainstorm Press

Text copyright © 2011 Jane
Lobb

All rights reserved.

Interior book design by –

The Mad Formatter

www.TheMadFormatter.com

Cover Design and model: © Eloise
J. Knapp

Photo by: © Alexa Newsom

Praise for

An Unfamiliar Murder

 

“A wonderful ride
into a world of murder.
An Unfamiliar Murder
will keep you
hooked ‘til the last page is turned.”

- Mandy Tinics,
author of
Darkness of Night

 

“A brilliant debut
novel!
 
Jane Isaac's characters shine in
An
Unfamiliar Murder
.
 
You will be
kept guessing until the very end.
 
I
absolutely cannot wait for the sequel.”

- Susan J. Dorsey,
author of
A Discriminating Death

 

An Unfamiliar Murder
is a
mysterious tale of a murder. The characters practically pop with realism as you
struggle to figure out who ‘did it’ and why.

Within these pages
you’ll find a story of separation, secrets, mistrust, uncertainty,
struggle, love, and reunion. You’ll also find a twisted villain, seeking
to kill as many people as possible to make others hurt.

Right up ‘til the end
you wonder what’s going to happen next. The story is well written, full of
depth, and steeped in. . .mystery, just the way you’ll like it!

- Rebecca
Besser
, author of
Undead Drive-Thru

 
 
 
 
 

To
David and Ella

You are my world

Acknowledgements

 

Special thanks go to Chris Lowe,
former Divisional Officer of
Northants
Fire Service,
who assisted in house fire research. I am so grateful for him for imparting his
wealth of knowledge – any deviation or errors in the book are purely mine.

I would like to thank Esther
Newton for all her honest feedback on my fiction (good and bad) and Tim Glister
for believing in the book initially, and helping me to develop my ideas.

Thanks to Lyle Perez-Tinics and
all at Rainstorm Press for taking me off their slush pile and allowing me to be
so involved in the publishing process, particularly Eloise J Knapp, a very talented
lady, who assisted in editorial and produced the beautiful cover we see today.

Gratitude goes to my Dad and
Stepmother, David and Lynne, for painstakingly reading early chapters and also to
Joanna Lambton for her persistence and encouragement in the early stages, and
especially my dear friend, Jean
Bouch
, who gave up
her precious time to proof read my work.

I am blessed with fabulous
friends in
Bekki
Mae Bucky, Stephanie Daniels, Mary
Knight and Emma Thompson. Thanks to them for their help and support as reading
buddies and with cover art ideas.

Most importantly, love and thanks
always to my wonderful husband, David, and daughter, Ella, for their constant
love and support, and for living with my characters these past few years. I
couldn’t have done this without them.

 
 
 
 

Chapter One

 

Is this what it feels like to be buried
alive?
Anna’s chest tightened.

 
A loud, chilling wail rose up from
beyond. She closed her eyes and pressed her palms to her ears to shut out the
intermittent screams.

 
“Shut it!” yelled a voice in the
distance.

“Can it!” growled another, “Before I make you.”

“Like to see that,” responded the first one. Raucous laughter filled the
air.

Anna sat on the hard bench and shuddered, hugging her knees into her
stomach, as if coiling her body would protect it. As the last decibels of
laughter abated, her eyes focused on the graffiti scratched onto the wall
beside her. ‘
Read this and weep
.’ She
stared at it for a moment then slowly, gradually, her body started to rock,
forwards and backwards.

The sound of a door banging in a distant corridor reverberated around the
building, breaking her abstraction. Her eyes darted around, surveying the
windowless room: the empty, off white walls, the grey metal door, the plastic
covered, dazzling light bulb in the middle of the ceiling that made her eyes
ache; the grey flecked ‘easy clean’ flooring. A smell of bleach pervaded the
air.

She felt a pang in her bladder as her eyes focused on the small cubicle
in the corner. She quivered, wrinkling her nose, squashing her eyes together.
The thought of using what was inside didn’t appeal.

Footsteps and the jingle of metal brought her attention back to the door,
her nemesis and barrier to the outside world. She held her breath as they
halted for a second, before moving on, fading into the distance. It wasn’t her
turn yet.

Anna massaged her shin bones gently through the navy jogging suit which
hung off her. She wriggled uncomfortably as the folds of material rubbed
against bare skin beneath, resenting being ordered to wear it, like a young
child whose mother chooses their wardrobe.

Thoughts of her own mum made her shudder. She closed her eyes and
imagined the scene at her parent’s home right now. This was supposed to be
their special evening, their 30
th
wedding anniversary celebration.
The invitations had been sent out weeks ago. She could see their friends arriving
all smiles and congratulations, only to be turned away, only to be disappointed
. . .

The camera in the far corner of the room faced her disconcertingly. Her
bladder bounced in her stomach again and she scowled at the thought of them
watching over her, clenching her teeth in an effort to fight away the tears,
cursing her tendency to cry when angry. Were they watching her body language?

Another distant noise in the corridor outside. Thud, thud, thud, at
regular intervals.
She clutched her
stomach. She really needed the toilet. The footsteps were measured, precise and
getting louder. She listened intently, trying to block out the other noises:
the whir of the camera, the jangle of metal, the voices in the background,
which all conspired to block her hearing. There it was, the sound of a key being
inserted into the lock. The door opened to reveal a man in black uniform
looking slightly disheveled. His hair was in dire need of a cut, his nose
flattened as if, in the distant past, it had been on the receiving end of a
good, hard punch.

“Anna Cottrell?” he asked.

“Yes?”

“Your solicitor is on the phone for you.” He handed out a cordless
telephone and she jumped off the bed, tripping over her own feet in her haste
to reach it. He raised his eyebrows as she took it from him, a smile tickling
his lips.

“Will, Will is that you?” Anna cried out.

“It’s me. Are you OK, Anna?”

“No. I need help. Can you get me out of here?” She failed to draw breath,
speaking quickly, as if the call would be ended at any moment.

“I’m on my way. Do you need anything?” he asked gently.

“Just you to get me out of here.”

“Sit tight. I’ll be there in twenty minutes . . .”

 

*
* *

 

Two hours
earlier, Anna switched to second gear as she freewheeled down the hill and past
the wrought iron sign indicating the entrance to Little Hampstead, completing
her three mile journey home from work in the nearby midlands city of Hampton.

Due to its close proximity to the city, the small village of Little Hampstead
was rapidly losing its sense of community. As long standing residents died or
moved into care, their properties were snatched up at over-inflated prices by
professional people seeking the refuge of a rural, countryside setting.

The result was a loss of facilities. The school had closed two years ago,
the post office six months later, even the old village shop building was
covered in tarpaulin, as builders worked steadfastly to turn it into the next
hot residential property. What was left was a ghost village, the presence of
the majority of its 400 inhabitants only noticeable by their
wheely
bins on collection day. This suited Anna, she much
preferred this environment to the goldfish bowl community where her parents
lived.

Dark rain clouds, swept along by a bustling wind, threatened the November
sky. Thankful for the assistance of bright street lighting as she entered the
village, she slowed at the crossroads, turning right into

Flax Street
.

The familiar hum of her mobile phone started as she arrived outside
number 22, and she slowed to a gentle stop, reaching into her pocket to
retrieve it. ‘Mum’ flashed on the screen.

Maneuvering herself off her bike, she sighed and pressed the answer
button, raising the phone to her ear.

“Hi, Mum.”

“Anna. Where are you?” she asked, her voice brittle with panic.

“Calm down, I’m outside the flat. I just need to get changed and I’ll be
over,” Anna answered calmly.

“Did you pick up the serviettes?”

“Yes, I have them. I’ll see you in an hour.”

“Make it half an hour . . .” she said and the call was ended, leaving
only silence to fill Anna’s ear. Anna sighed again and raised her eyes to the
sky. She put her phone back in her pocket and wheeled her bicycle towards the
opening that divided the cluster of terraces that had been sympathetically
renovated into apartments, and stopped, waiting expectantly.

“Damn that light,” she muttered under her breath and then gave up the
wait, proceeding to wheel her bicycle through the aperture between the houses
which was bathed in darkness.

As she reached the rear of the property she was grateful for the slice of
natural light the moon supplied, as it broke out between the clouds, enabling
her to see clearly enough to climb the steps to the entrance of her home. Using
all the might in her slender, athletic body she lifted her bicycle, carrying it
up to the door of Flat 22a.

It wasn’t until she reached the top stair, placed her bike down against
the wall and fumbled in her bag for her keys, that she realized something was
wrong. The door was already ajar.

 
Anna stared at the open door for a
moment, nonplussed.
Did I close it this
morning?
She thought to herself. She couldn’t remember locking it.
Surely, I didn’t leave it open?
Aware of
the habitual rush that dictated her morning routine, she let her mind ponder
these questions as her eyes searched around.

And then they found it, as they would a small crack in a windscreen;
splinters down the side of the door, close to the Yale lock, chips that exposed
the bare wood underneath the red paint, indicating that the door had been
forced. Her body froze. A shiver rolled down the back of her head, gathering
momentum as it descended earthward bound, like an icy, cold waterfall.

She stood for a moment, glued to the spot, glancing around at the
neighboring terraces, praying for some sign of life.

 
Her senses heightened and she
became aware of her own shallow breathing, the noise exacerbated by the growing
darkness, and the realization that she was all alone. On this side of the door
at least.

With a sudden movement, she pushed the door with her fingertips
delicately, as if expecting it to fall from its hinges. “Who’s there?” she
called out, trying to hide the panic that was attempting to break her pitch.
Her voice disappeared into the silence of the night.

Breathe.
Anna sucked a deep
breath and closed her eyes for a second as she held it, a gesture intended to
steel any remaining courage. Then she pushed the door open further to expose an
empty hallway. Relief squashed the air out of her lungs. This part of the
house, in any event, was unoccupied. Her shoulders relaxed and she reached
around the left hand side of the doorframe, fingertips searching for the light
switch. Finally they found it and with a short click, bathed the hallway in the
poor, limited light of a low energy light bulb.

The light revealed very little: a small shoe rack containing a pair of
black, ankle boots next to muddy trainers to the left; four coat hooks above,
upon which hung a single, black fleece jacket; a quarry tiled floor, covered
for the most part by her favorite, colorful Turkish rug, which her parents had
brought her back from a holiday.

Anna paused for a moment, her dark eyes darting around. There were only
two doors off the hallway. The first on the right led to the kitchen and was
ajar, the second directly opposite led initially to the lounge, following on to
a double bedroom and small bathroom. This door was closed. The main entrance
provided the only access point to the flat which occupied the first floor of
the old house.
The only access point,
she thought to herself. Whoever had forced this door would have also left by
this point.
If they have left
. Her
body tensed.
Are they still here
?

 
As her mind percolated this
thought her body started to tremble. Her hands shook as she parked her bicycle
outside against the wall, removed her rucksack and rummaged in her pocket for
her mobile phone. One bar of charge showed up on the lit panel. She gently
pressed the button which switched the sound to silent, dialed three nines
consecutively and placed it back in her pocket, her thumb perched over the call
button, before stepping into the hallway.

Silence saturated the flat and she stood still for some time listening
for any little sound which might indicate a presence, before gingerly placing
her hand against the kitchen door. Deftly, she put one foot inside and peered
behind the doorway
.
Relief again
flooded her veins. It was clear
.

Bizarrely, Anna felt an adrenalin rush at this point. This extraordinary
turn of events felt like an out of body experience, the scene of a film set,
where her alter-ego was on an escapade of discovery. It was the kind of story
that one would relate later at dinner parties to rapt friends, who would hang
on every word.
But this is no film, no
story,
thought Anna. Another shiver. It shot down her back this time,
making her tremble again.
This is right
here, right now. This is real.

Reaching for the second drawer on the left, the kitchen light still off,
she opened it and slowly felt around, eventually drawing out a long, sharp
carving knife. Armed with mobile phone and knife, her confidence rose as she
approached the lounge door. A strong metallic smell filled the air.

Holding the knife firmly between her thumb and forefinger, she released
her spare fingers and flicked the handle, pushing the door hard. It swung open
to reveal a large room, which the small streak of light seeping through from
the hallway had little effect on illuminating. Just as she was cursing her
laziness at leaving the long, heavily lined curtains drawn that same morning,
she stopped.
What was that?
She
thought to herself. She shrank back into the hallway and stood very still.
There it is again.
Tap, tap, tap. Very
gently, so quiet she could barely hear it. She allowed only very short, controlled
breaths – as if it would impede her hearing. Nothing. Were her ears playing
tricks on her?
No, there it is again.

Anna strained her ears in an effort to source the noise.
Is
it
coming from the lounge?
She tilted her head slightly.
No.
She retreated through the hallway and turned around, her eyes
following the sound. There it was – the chain on the back of the door was
hanging down, tapping against the back of the wood in the wind. She sighed
heavily, relaxed her shoulders and turned back towards the lounge.

 
She repeated her earlier actions,
this time reaching around the right hand side of the doorframe, a few fingers
freed from the knife to search for the switch. Finally, they were successful
and in the flick of a switch the room was immersed in light. But her fingers
felt soft and sticky this time and, as she drew her hand back into view, she
noticed they were covered in a red liquid. It was then that she lifted her
eyes.

As she gasped and dropped the knife, panic surged throughout her body
like a tidal wave. Her right hand clasped the doorframe tightly to prevent
herself from falling as her legs weakened. She felt like she was drowning, fiercely
battling against a weight of water that was rapidly pushing her down. The room
started to spin, mixing up colors, until everything felt like a blur. The heat
in her head rose as she fought the urge to faint.

Acid rose in her throat and for a moment Anna stood there, head hung,
sickly tears running down her face before taking a deep breath, trying to
gather her thoughts.

She turned back
to face the horror of the room’s contents and opened her mouth but her voice
caught, suppressing any sound as she pressed the ring button on her mobile
phone.

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