Praise for HADES
“Compelling . . . Candice Fox makes a strong debut with the first of two thrillers about a serial killer. Exploring the concept of whether killing for justice could ever be rationalized,
is a chilling read.”
—Sydney Morning Herald
“A frighteningly self-assured debut with a crackerjack plot, strong characters, and feisty, no-nonsense writing.”
“A powerful book, an incredible read. The pace is extreme, the violence and the fear are palpable. The plot is original and twisted, black and bloody. Tension runs riot on the page. Dexter would be proud!”
—The Reading Room
“Well written with a suck-you-in story and characters with depth,
is an exciting read, a bit
-ish. It moves at a great pace and reveals the narrative twists and turns in a way that keeps you playing detective as you read—and it has an outcome I didn’t see coming. It’s a great debut novel.”
—The Co-op Online Bookstore: Staff Picks
“A dark, compelling, and original thriller that will have you spellbound from its atmospheric opening pages to its shocking climax.
is the debut of a stunning new talent in crime fiction. The narrative is engaging, compelling. The characters are unique and well fleshed out. The story is strong, bold, amazing. This is how a crime thriller should make you feel.”
—Reading, Writing and Riesling
“Candice Fox grew up trying to scare her friends with true-crime stories. If her intent was to try and create an at times chilling and gruesome story as her debut, it is very much mission accomplished. She certainly looms as an exciting new prospect in the ranks of Australian authors.”
As soon as the stranger set the bundle on the floor, Hades could tell it was the body of a child. It was curled on its side and wrapped in a worn blue sheet secured with duct tape around the neck, waist and knees. One tiny pearl-colored foot poked out from the hem, limp on his sticky linoleum. Hades leaned against the counter of his cramped, cluttered kitchen and stared at that little foot. The stranger shifted uneasily in the doorway, drew a cigarette from a packet and pulled out some matches. The man they called Hades lifted his eyes briefly to the stranger’s thin angled face.
“Don’t smoke in my house.”
The stranger had been told how to get to Hades’ place but not about its bewildering, frightening character. Beyond the iron gates of the Utulla dump, on the ragged edge of the western suburbs, lay a gravel road leading through mountains of trash to a hill that blocked out the sky, black and imposing, guarded by stars. A crown of trees and scrub on top of the hill obscured all view of the small wooden shack. The stranger had driven with painful care past piles of rubbish as high as apartment buildings crawling with every manner of night creature—owls, cats and rodents picking and sifting through old milk cartons and bags of rotting meat. Luminescent eyes peered from the cabins of burned-out car shells and from beneath sheets of twisted corrugated iron.
Farther along the gravel path, the stranger began to encounter a new breed of watchful beast. Creatures made from warped scraps of metal and pieces of discarded machinery lined the road—a broken washing machine beaten and buckled into the figure of a snarling lion, a series of bicycles woven together and curled and stretched into the body of a grazing flamingo. In the light of the moon, the animals with their kitchen-utensil feathers and Coke-bottle eyes seemed tense and ready. When the stranger entered the house he was a little relieved to be away from them and their attention. The relief evaporated when he laid eyes on the man they called the Lord of the Underworld.
Hades was standing in the corner of the kitchen when the stranger entered, as though he’d known he was coming. He had not moved from there, his furry arms folded over his barrel chest. Cold heavy-lidded eyes fixed on the bundle in the stranger’s arms. There was a Walther PP handgun with a silencer on the untidy counter beside him by a half-empty glass of scotch. Hades’ grey hair looked neat atop his thick skull. He was squat and bulky like an ox, power and rage barely contained in the painful closeness of the kitchen.
The air inside the little house seemed pressed tight by the trees, a dark dome licking and stroking the hot air through the windows. Hades’ kitchen was adorned with things he had salvaged from the dump. Ornate bottles and jars of every conceivable color hung by fishing line from the ceiling; strange cutting and slicing implements were nailed like weapons to the walls. There were china fish and pieces of plastic fruit and a stuffed yellow ferret coiled, sleeping, in a basket by the foot of the door, jars of things there seemed no sense in keeping—colored marbles and lens-less spectacles and bottle caps in their thousands—and lines of dolls’ heads along the windowsill, some with eyes and some without, gaping mouths smiling, howling, crying. Through the door to the tiny living room, a wall crammed with tattered paperbacks was visible, the books lying and standing in every position from the unpolished floorboards to the mold-spotted ceiling.
The stranger writhed in the silence. Wanted to look at everything but afraid of what he might see. Night birds moaned in the trees outside the mismatched stained-glass windows.
“Do you, uh . . .” The stranger worked the back of his neck with his fingernails. “Do you want me to go and get the other one?”
Hades said nothing for a long time. His eyes were locked on the body of the child in the worn blue sheet.
“Tell me how this happened.”
The stranger felt new sweat tickle at his temples.
“Look,” he sighed, “I was told there’d be no questions. I was told I could just come and drop them off and . . .”
“You were told wrong.”
One of Hades’ chubby fingers tapped his left bicep slowly, as though counting off time. The stranger fingered the cigarette he had failed to light, drawing it to his lips, remembered the warning. He slipped it into his pocket and stared at the bundle on the floor, at the shape of the girl’s small head tucked against her chest.
“It was supposed to be the most perfect, perfect thing,” the stranger said, shaking his head at the body. “It was all Benny’s idea. He saw a newspaper story about this guy, Tenor I think his name was, this crazy scientist dude. He’d just copped a fat wad of cash for something he was working on with skin cancer or sunburn or some shit like that. Benny got obsessed with the guy, kept bringing us newspaper clippings. He showed us a picture of the guy and his little wife and his two kiddies and said the family was mega-rich already and he was just adding his new cosh to a big stinking pile.”
The stranger drew a long breath that inflated his narrow chest. Hades watched, unmoving.
“We’d got word that the family was going to be alone at their holiday house in Long Jetty. So we drove up there, the six of us, to rattle their cage and take the babies—just for a bit, you know, not for long. It was going to be the easiest job, man. Bust in, bust out, keep them for a couple of days and then organize an exchange. We weren’t gonna do nothing with them. I’d even borrowed some games they could play while they stayed with us.“
Hades opened one of the drawers beside him and extracted a notepad and pen. From where he stood, he slapped them onto the small table by the side wall.
“These others,” he said, “write down their names. And your own.”
The stranger began to protest, but Hades was silent. The stranger sat on the plastic chair by the table, his fingers trembling, and began to write names on the paper. His handwriting was childlike and crooked, smeared.
“Everything just went wrong so fast,” he murmured as he wrote, holding the paper steady with his long white fingers. “Benny got the idea that the dude was giving him the eye like he was gonna do something stupid. I wasn’t paying attention. The woman was screaming and crying and carrying on and someone clocked her and the kids were struggling. Benny blew the parents away. He just . . . he pumped them and pumped them till his gun was flat. He was always so fucking trigger-happy. He was always so fucking ready for a fight.”
The stranger seemed stirred by some emotion, letting air out of his chest slowly through his teeth. He stared at the names he had written on the paper. Hades watched.
“One minute everything was fine. The next thing I know we’re on the road with the kids in the trunk and no one to sell them to. We started talking about getting rid of them and someone said they knew you and . . .” The stranger shrugged and wiped his nose on his hand.
For the first time since the stranger had arrived, Hades left the corner of the kitchen. He seemed larger and more menacing somehow, his oversized, calloused hands godly as they cradled the tiny notepad, tearing off the page with the names. The stranger sat, defeated, in the plastic chair. He didn’t raise his eyes as Hades folded the small square of paper, slipping it into his pocket. He didn’t notice as the older man took up the pistol, cocked it and flicked the safety off.
“It was an accident,” the stranger murmured, his bloodshot eyes brimming with tears as he stared, lips parted, at the body in the bundle. “Everything was going so well.”
The man named Hades put two bullets into the stranger. The stranger’s confused eyes fixed on Hades, his hands grabbing at the holes in his body. Hades put the gun back on the counter and lifted the scotch to his lips. The night birds had stopped their moaning and only the sound of the stranger dying filled the air.
Hades set the glass down with a sigh and began to trace the dump yards around the hill with his mind, searching for the best place for the body of the stranger and, somewhere separate, somewhere fitting, to bury the bodies of the little ones. There was a place he knew behind the sorting center where a tree had sprung up between the piles of garbage—the twisted and gnarled thing sometimes produced little pink flowers. He would bury the children there together and dig the stranger in somewhere, anywhere, with the dozens of rapists, killers and thieves who littered the grounds of the dump. Hades closed his eyes. Too many strangers were coming to his dump these nights with their bundles of lost lives. He would have to put the word out that no new clients were welcome. The ones he knew, his regular clients, brought him the bodies of evil ones. But these strangers. He shook his head. These strangers kept bringing innocents.
Hades set his empty glass on the counter by his gun. His eyes wandered across the cracked floor to the small pearl foot of the dead girl.
It was then that he noticed the toes were clenched.