Authors: Abbie Taylor
Abbie Taylor is a doctor in her thirties. She was
born in Ireland and divides her time between
Dublin and London. This is her first novel.
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A BANTAM BOOK:
First publication in Great Britain
Bantam edition published 2009
Copyright © Carla Glynn 2009
Abbie Taylor has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This book is a work of fiction and, except in the case
of historical fact, any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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This novel is dedicated to
Tom and Olive Glynn
Sincere thanks to Marianne Gunn O'Connor, Pat Lynch and Vicki Satlow, and to Francesca Liversidge, my editor at Transworld.
To the Bristol Writers Group, with great affection, especially Louise Gethin, Spencer Gillman and Kevin
McGimpsey; and to the Richmond Writers' Circle, especially Joanna Stephens-Ward and Richard Rickford, for their invaluable help with the early chapters of this novel.
To Chief Superintendent Michael A. McGarry, Cork
North Division, Ireland, and to the London Detective
Inspector who wished to remain anonymous; thank you both for researching and answering my many questions about police procedures. I have retained the right to use considerable artistic licence, and all mistakes are mine.
To Peter Whitty, for uprooting himself to come and live in London, and for making my time there so happy.
And finally, last but not least, Tom O'Connor, for
Sunday, 17 September
At the top of the stairs, a group of teenage boys slumped against the walls with their feet out, taking up most of the passageway. They wore black puffa jackets and had the same expressions on their faces: blank, hard, bored. Emma heard their voices from around the corner, echoing off the tiles. As soon as they saw her, their conversation stopped.
'Excuse me,' Emma said politely.
Very slowly, they moved their feet back. There was just enough room for her to pass. She had to walk straight through the middle of the group, feeling their eyes on her. They watched in silence as she struggled down the steps with the buggy and Ritchie and all the bags.
She was glad when she got to the bottom of the steps and around the corner. The tube platform was deserted and starkly lit. Emma checked behind her.
The boys had not followed.
'All right, Rich?' Relieved, she crouched down beside the buggy. She was not normally a nervous person, but with Ritchie there she found herself hoping the train would come soon.
Ritchie, a solid, chubby, thirteen-month-old, had begun to grizzle, sticking his tummy out and rubbing his eyes with his fist.
'Tired, eh?' Emma jiggled the buggy. 'Soon be home.'
She was tired herself. It had been a long day: a trip all the way across London to the East End. She'd been desperate to get out of the flat and couldn't face yet another walk to Hammersmith Broadway or the
North End Road. They'd made a day of it; wandered around the stalls in Spitalfields Market, bought some trousers and vests for Ritchie, and gone to a busy little café for scones and coffee, and a jar of Banana
Surprise. Then they'd got a bus to Mile End and gone for a walk by Regent's Canal, watching the swans and the long boats with their painted flowerpots. But when it turned chilly it was time to go home. In the dusk, the canal had a layer of green scum and a rusting shopping trolley poking out of the water. It took quite a while to find a tube station, and the shopping bags seemed to double in weight, knocking against Emma's legs as she walked. She was relieved to finally spot the familiar blue and red London Underground circle ahead of her in the gloom.
'Muh.' Ritchie leaned out of his buggy to thrust his orange lollipop at her. Sticky liquid trickled down his sleeve.
'Oh, for God's sake.' Emma felt a headache starting.
'Why did you ask for it, then?'
Roughly, she took the lolly from him and wiped his face and hands. She looked around for a bin.
None anywhere, of course. It was ten past seven on
Sunday evening. Everyone seemed to have finished their travelling for the day and gone home. There wasn't a soul about. She could just chuck the lolly on the tracks. In the end, however, she wrapped it in a tissue and stuffed it into her bag. On the wall of the platform opposite, an ad for bottled water showed a picture of the countryside. Trees, and water, and peace.
Ritchie whined again, straining at the straps.
'Come on, then.' What harm could there be in letting him out?
As she knelt to undo the straps, a faint, scratching noise sounded from deep in the tunnel.
There was something sinister, Emma had always thought, about the sound of a train approaching through a tunnel. The way you could hear but not see it; only the rattle of the tracks ahead of whatever monstrous thing was about to loom from the darkness.
Quickly, she lifted Ritchie on to the platform. He'd heard the noise as well and turned to stare, a breeze lifting the blond down on his head. Emma held on to his harness, stooping to fold the buggy with her free hand. The noise grew louder. Ritchie pressed himself against her leg, gripping her jeans in his fist. Distracted though she was, she remembered afterwards the way he had looked. Round little face, eyes wide, mouth in an O as he gaped at the tunnel and waited for the monster to come.
'Der,' he said, thrilled, as the headlights lit up the tunnel. He let go of Emma's jeans to point. The grimy red, white and blue carriages roared into the station.
Squeals and screeches filled the platform; the train slowed, then stopped. The roar of the engine died abruptly, like a turned-off fan.
A second later, the doors
'On you go,' Emma said.
Ritchie didn't need to be told twice. Emma steered him to an empty carriage, keeping his harness taut, lifting it a little to help him climb on board. He struggled in on his hands and knees, the top of his nappy sticking out from his cargo pants. Then he stood up again in the doorway, delighted with himself.
'Muh,' he said, turning to wave her aboard with a fat hand.
That was how she saw him, mostly, in the weeks that followed. Standing there in the doorway with his toothy little grin, his crooked fringe, his blue fleece with the smiley elephant on the front. There was nothing different about him, nothing she hadn't seen a thousand times before. No whisper in her head warning her to snatch him back from the carriage and never let him go. He was still waving as she loaded the buggy on beside him and turned to pick up the bags. Reaching down, Emma thought she felt something with her other hand: a slight, sideways jerk on the harness she was gripping. Just a small thing; but looking back there must have been something odd about it, because she remembered frowning to herself.
Even before she had a chance to straighten, to look, she knew that something was wrong.
She spun around. For a second she found it hard to take in what she was seeing. Her thoughts zigzagged.
What is missing from this picture?
She still held
Ritchie's harness in her hand, but the door of the carriage was closed.
Closed in her face, and Ritchie was on the other side.
Dropping the bags, Emma sprang at the door and tried to get her fingers around the edges. Through the window, she saw the top of Ritchie's head.
'Hang on,' she called. 'I'm coming.'
Oh God, how did you open the door? For a second, everything was a blur. Then she found the 'Open' button and pressed it. Nothing happened. She jabbed again, harder this time. Still nothing. She began to bang on the door with her fists.
'Help.' She looked wildly around the platform. 'My baby's stuck.'
Her voice rose thinly and trickled away. The platform was deserted. Just dark slabs of concrete, metal benches along the walls, the silent tunnels at each end.
'Shit.' Emma's heart was pounding. She felt very quick, alert. She looked around again and this time spotted a red box on the wall with a glass panel on the front. The fire alarm. Instinctively she jerked towards it. Then she stopped. To reach the alarm, she would have to let go of Ritchie's harness. She dithered, unable to make herself relinquish, even for one second, her contact with her son.
'Help,' she yelled again, louder this time. 'Somebody.'
Surely someone must hear. This was a public place, for God's sake. She was right in the middle of
Something occurred to her then. The train hadn't moved. The doors seemed to have been closed for an age but the train was still just standing there.
'They know we're here.' She sagged with relief.
Of course. The train couldn't go while the harness was caught in the door. The driver could see her in a mirror or camera or something. Someone would be along in a minute to help. She stood there, waiting, not knowing what else to do. 'It's all right,' she told herself. 'It's all right.'
She looked in again to check on Ritchie. Then she jumped.
What was that?
That movement, way down at the end of the carriage?
Someone was in there. Someone was in there with
Emma felt a jolt of unease. Surely the carriage had been empty before? She searched sharply for whoever it was, just blocked from view by the handrail. Then the person moved again, coming closer to the window, and she saw that it was a woman.
The woman was leaning forward in the aisle, bending cautiously to peer through the glass. She looked older than Emma, closer to her mum's age maybe, blonde and well groomed. She looked sensible. She looked concerned.
She looked . . . normal.
Emma breathed again.
'My baby,' she called, trying to smile. She pointed at Ritchie. 'My baby's stuck.'
The woman pressed her hand to her mouth, a horrified expression on her face. The expression said,
What should I do?
'Open the door.' Emma pointed with her free hand.
'Find the alarm and press it.'
The woman nodded. She took a step back, and began to look up and around the door.
Christ. What a day. Feeling weak, Emma rested her forehead against the window and looked down at
Ritchie. He was sitting on the floor, facing away from her, pulling at the zip on his fleece. All she could see was the top of his head. This was such a stupid situation to have ended up in. It was so exhausting, being a mother. You couldn't relax, you couldn't look away, not even for one second. Probably she and the blonde woman would laugh about it when the doors were open and Emma had got on and had Ritchie safely back on her knee.
'Bit of a close one,' the woman would say, maybe thinking how careless Emma was but being nice about it.
'I know. You'd want eyes in the back of your head.'
And Emma would smile, then pull Ritchie to her and turn away. Back to it just being the two of them. The way it always was.
She could feel Ritchie on her knee already; his blocky weight, the apple scent of shampoo from his hair. In her head, everything was normal again. So it was a couple of seconds before she realized that the doors of the carriage still hadn't opened.
She frowned, looking up.
At the same moment, the train gave a loud hiss.
Emma's self-control vanished.
'Help.' Wildly, she hammered on the glass. 'Please.
The train's about to go.'
The woman was back at the window, mouthing something. Her lips moved: 'Ex. Op. Ex. Op.'
The woman gestured vigorously, pointing at Emma, then ahead of her, down the tunnel.
'What?' Emma stared in confusion. Violently, she shook her head to let the woman know she didn't understand.
The train gave a second hiss.
And then a lurch.
'No!' Emma gripped Ritchie's harness and screamed, a high scream of terror. 'Please. Stop!'
The train pulled ahead of her. Emma began to follow it. She was trotting before she knew it.
'Stop! Stop! Stop!'
A second later, she was running. It was that fast.
One second the train was not moving at all, the next it was hurtling straight for the tunnel. Emma was sprinting flat out to keep up with the harness. Her ears were filled with noise. Ahead of her, the barriers bristled with signs saying:
The signs were rushing towards her but she couldn't stop. She didn't know if her hand was tangled in the harness or if she was just holding tight, but she knew she would not let go. The barriers were in front of her. Oh Jesus.
Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus.
Something grabbed at her arm, jerking her to a stop so suddenly that she flew right around in a circle.
There was a burning sensation as the harness dragged across her hand, a vicious twist of her finger as the strap caught on it, then was gone. She stumbled, spun further, landed hard on her knees. The noise increased as the train filled the tunnel, a hollow roar surging back at her, an animal howl of pain and anguish and rage.
And then it was gone.
, Emma thought, through a haze of horror.
She was on her hands and knees at the end of the platform, her head almost touching the tangle of signs and barriers.
Ritchie is gone. I don't have him. He's gone
She felt sick. She was going to pass out. Numbness prickled around her mouth and in her hands.
What had that woman said?
Emma struggled to her feet, ignoring the pain in her hand and knees. Strangely, there was a man on the ground behind her. Emma didn't stop to wonder about him. She ran down the platform, frantically searching for the board that showed you how long before the next train came.
Next thing, the man was on his feet beside her, jogging backwards to face her.
'Hey,' he shouted. 'What did you think you were you playing at? Why didn't you let go?'
Emma ignored him. The board. Oh God, where was the board?
'Didn't you hear me?' The man moved himself in front of her deliberately, forcing her to stop.
'Please—' Emma tried to duck around him.
'You could have been killed.' The man was leaning into her, taller than she was, blocking her path. His face was a blur. All she registered was that he was dark-haired and wearing something blue. 'If it wasn't for me you'd have gone under the train. All over a fucking . . . what was it? Designer handbag?'
'It wasn't a handbag,' Emma yelled at him. 'It was my baby.'
'My baby!' She screamed it into his face. 'Mybaby, mybabymybabymybaby.' Her voice cracked. She put her hands to her mouth.
'Fucking hell.' The man's face went white.
Emma gave a long, keening sob, pushed past him and headed for the sign. Through spots in her vision, she saw the board. Next train: one minute. Her breath wheezed in her ears. One minute. One minute.
'Fucking hell.' It was the man, beside her again.
'I'm going to press the alarm.'
'No!' She spun to face him. 'Don't!'
'I have to get to the next station.' Emma struggled to speak clearly, to make him understand. 'There was a woman on the train. She's going to take Ritchie off there.'
'A woman? Are you sure?'
Emma felt the tension around her eyes. She pictured the woman's lips, moving around the words: Ex op.
. That was what she had meant. Wasn't it?
Rattling on the tracks. A breeze blew her hair across her face. She swung back towards the tunnel.
'Why didn't she pull the alarm?' the man asked.
Emma bit her lip. Oh God, train, come on. Please.
Please. Come on.