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Authors: Charles Maclean

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Home Before Dark

BOOK: Home Before Dark
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Home Before Dark
by
CHARLES
MACLEAN

 
Wealthy and urbane, with a thriving business and a beautiful wife, Ed Lister has all he could ever want — except his daughter, who was cruelly murdered
while studying in Florence.Frustrated with the police inquiry, Ed sets out to discover who killed her, and why. His quest brings him ever closer to the
charming, lethal psychopath Ward — and his website, Home Before Dark.And the closer he comes to Ward, the more apparent it becomes that there are some
things that Ed didn’t tell the police. Or his wife.  

'A thriller that gripped me by the throat and wouldn’t
let go for 36 tortured hours, Home Before Dark chills
the eyes as well as the spine. I have never seen such evil
leak out of a computer screen. Maclean is a master of
electronic horror.’ Ferdinand Mount

'Like the best horror stories, Home Before Dark creates
a stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere; it catches you up
so you feel you are a player in the plot, not just an
observer. It doesn’t let you rest: you wake in the night
and carry on reading – and as more pieces of the jigsaw
fall into place, you begin to see the potential horror
just as the protagonists become aware of it. Marvellously
ingenious and unexpected.’ ScotchWhisky Review

'Intricately plotted and cast in understated prose, Home Before Dark kept me up long after midnight.’
Bloomberg.com

'A very well written thriller, with moments of genuine
suspense and jeopardy, Home Before Dark is a modern
horror story full of very human demons.’
Eurocrime. co. uk
About the author
Charles Maclean is married with four children and lives
on the west coast of Argyll, where he runs a small estate
and holiday cottage business. An associate editor of Travel
and Leisure magazine, Maclean spent ten years in New
York, from where he wrote a column for the London Evening Standard. He was a founder member of the Ecologist magazine and with Edward Goldsmith helped
launch 'Blueprint For Survival’, which became a handbook
for the environmental movement in the UK.
He has written several acclaimed works of fiction and
non-fiction including the prize-winning classic Island on
the Edge of the World.

HODDER
First published in Great Britain in 2008 by Hodder Stoughton
An Hachette UK company
First published in paperback in 2009
Copyright Š Charles Maclean 2008
The right of Charles Maclean to be identified as the Author
of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Lyrics from 'Jambalaya’ by Hank Williams Sr. Š SonyATV
Acuff Rose Music. Administered by SonyATV Music Publishing.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

AU rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means
without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise
circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which
it is published and without a similar condition being imposed
on the subsequent purchaser.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance
to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A
CIP
catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
ISBN
978 0 340 95151 4
Typeset in Plantin Light by Hewer Text UK Ltd, Edinburgh
Printed and bound by
CPI
Mackays, Chatham, ME5 8TD
Hodder Stoughton policy is to use papers that are natural, renewable
and recyclable products and made from wood grown in sustainable forests.
The logging and manufacturing processes are expected to conform
to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

Hodder Stoughton Ltd
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
www.hodder.co.uk

For Jeremy and Jamie
There will be days, maybe not now but in the months and even
years to come, when she happens to be on your mind and the
phone will ring and without thinking you’ll pick up, wondering
if this could be her calling to let you know she’s all right.
You don’t stop worrying about your children when they grow
up and leave home. You don’t stop even after they’re not there
any more to worry about and never will be again.
If there is an end to wishing you could turn back the clock, or
to hoping you will wake one morning to discover it was all a bad
dream, I haven’t reached it yet. Acceptance is harder to find, I
suspect, grief more difficult to resolve, when your family has been
violated. Since Sophie died we haven’t been the same. The murderer
doesn’t just murder his victim, he murders a little part of the family
as well. He murdered a little part of Laura and me that night.
I dream about him, our murderer and yours — a human being
with no conscience, no regard for the value of another’s life, who
is indifferent to the pain and havoc he leaves in his wake, who
isn’t human, at least not in my book, yet is still walking around
free, still living his life.

I had advice for them, insights I felt it might be appropriate
to share with others, strangers, whose lives he destroyed. As
if my own experience had allowed me a unique understanding
of what they must have been going through. I felt so sorry for them. I felt and still feel what happened was partly my
fault. And I wondered if I should write. I wanted to write.
Something held me back me though.

Florence

When the telephone rang, Sam Metcalf was sitting, as she
preferred to sit, cross-legged on the floor in her underwear,
listening to Maria Callas pour heart and soul into Catalani’s
'Ebben? ne andro lontana’ and thinking she should have got
out of this damned life a long time ago.
In four days she was leaving Florence, flying home to
Boston on a one-way ticket. Her stripped-down apartment
in the Oltrarno – its ochre walls bare of pictures, most of the
furniture gone, a cardboard city of boxes and packing cases
ready to be shipped – looked like some Third World departure
lounge, but Sam still felt the wrench, giving up a place that
held so many memories.
She removed her earpiece.
There was nothing to keep her here. Federico hadn’t
been in touch for almost a month and she neither expected
nor wanted to hear from him again. And yet – Sam closed
her eyes – you never knew, the prick might feel like saying
goodbye.
The phone kept ringing, starting to get on her nerves. Any
normal person would have realised by now that she wasn’t
home. But what if it was important?
She dried her eyes, her plump knuckles briefly dislodging
the frame of her glasses, then squinted up at the kitchen
clock, a gloriously tasteless fixture above the ancient gas
stove – its familiar face, laminated in years of cooking grease,
was a reproduction of the Angel Gabriel from Leonardo’s Annunciation.
Eleven minutes to twelve.
She would remember the exact time of the call.
Getting up on her knees, Sam looked around for the phone,
followed the lead across the floor and retrieved it from under
a pile of papers. She couldn’t help herself.
Her hand shook a little. Please . . . please God, don’t let
it be Federico.
'Pronto’
'Yes, hello … is this Sam? Sam Metcalf?’
She let out her breath in stages.
It was a young voice, friendly sounding, American accent,
no one she recognised – her prayers, disappointingly, had
been answered.
'Who wants to know?’
'I was given your number by a mutual acquaintance. Ed
mentioned you were leaving town soon, and I wanted to talk
to you about Sophie . . .’
'You knew her? Wait a minute. Who is this?’
'Yes, ma’am, I had that privilege.’ He gave a deep, slightly
theatrical sigh. 'An angel if ever there was one . . . Sophie
spoke, and I saw all the colours of the rainbow.’
Something was wrong here.
'Look, Mr . . . I’m sorry, who did you say gave you this
number?’
'Think of me as Ward,’ he said softly, inflecting the name
upwards to sound like a question.
'Think of you as what?’ She felt like laughing.
'Sam, you and I never met, but… I believe we both know
why I’m calling.’
The first jolt of alarm went through her.
'What the hell are you talking about?’
'Just that it might be better – after what happened to poor
Sophie – not to go stirring up the past. Nobody knows about
any of this. Let’s keep it that way.’
Again his voice lifted the statement at the end into a
question mark.
Suddenly she knew, oh Jesus, her skin prickling – it was
the call she’d been expecting, dreading, for so long now she
thought he’d forgotten.
'What do you want?’
'I’m sure that it’s what she’d want,’ Ward went on quietly,
'looking down on this situation from above . . .’
Sam hung up, slamming the receiver into its cradle.
A minute later, the telephone rang again.
She hadn’t moved. She stood staring down at her bare
arms, which were folded over her belly, hugging herself, rocking,
unable to stop.
It rang five more times.
In the dreams she’d been having, the caller always rang off
before she could answer; she’d wake up, covered in sweat,
one arm flung out towards the silent phone. Now that he’d
finally got in touch, Sam had a feeling the dream would never
recur.
It was, in some kind of way, a relief.

PART
ONE

L

'Are you sure you want to go through with this?’ Laura asked.
'Am sure?’
'Everything is going to remind you of her.’
I turned towards my wife, but for a moment couldn’t speak.
She sat staring ahead. 'Well don’t say I didn’t warn you.’
We were parked just off Borgo San Frediano, across from
the entrance to the atelier. The heat in the taxi was stifling.
'We’re here now, we might as well go up,’ I said, trying not
to let my impatience show. I was already late for my next
appointment at the Questura. 'I didn’t come back to Florence
because I want to forget.’
She retaliated sharply, 'And I didn’t come here to sightsee.’
I had suggested to Laura that while I was occupied with
the police later, she could always go and look at the Fra
Angelicos in San Marco.
'Sweetheart… it’ll be all right. Just let’s get this over with.’
I climbed out of the cab and held the door for her.
Her anxiety about meeting Bailey Grant and looking at
Sophie’s drawings was understandable. Eleven months ago, when
I’d collected our daughter’s portfolio from the studio, I’d found
that being shown her work (so much of it unfinished) was like
losing her all over again. Laura couldn’t face coming with me
then. Now she was going to find it harder – a lot harder.
I hadn’t told her everything.
The drawings had only turned up recently. One of Sophie’s
fellow students had discovered a folder and a sketchbook
while cleaning out the lockers in the cast room. Bailey had

7

written to say the work it contained was quite remarkable,
but also somewhat disturbing. His words.

While I paid off the taxi, Laura stood in the narrow doorway
under the shade of a torn green awning. It was nearly midday,
I felt the sun branding my neck.

'I don’t remember it all looking so . . . squalid,’ she said.
The volatile fug of oils and turpentine thickened as we
climbed the steep marble stairs from the street. Waiting for
us at the top stood a slim young woman in jeans and a black
T-shirt; she was carrying an armful of small mirrors.

'It’s a long way up,’ she said in English. 'I’m India, by the
way, Mr Grant’s assistant.’ Her auburn hair was cut short like
a boy’s. I hadn’t seen her before. 'You must be . . . Sophie’s

parents.’

I nodded and without another word she led us back through
a warren of hot dusty rooms lit by tall windows. The place had
been a church before it was converted into a studio complex.
Through an open door we caught a glimpse of a life-drawing
class in progress, the students hushed in concentration.
I took Laura’s arm and gave it a squeeze.
When we first brought Sophie here to see the studio, she
was only eighteen and still uncertain about coming to Italy
to learn how to draw and paint. 'This place gives me the
creeps,’ she’d said with a shudder, 'it’s like an art cemetery.’
I didn’t listen to her when she claimed to be afraid of
Florence, afraid of being overawed, destroyed by its beauty.
I tried to persuade her that developing her artistic talent
was a better way to spend her gap year than backpacking
through Africa or lying on a beach in Thailand. In the end
the choice had been hers, but I regret. . . no, it’s more than
regret, I blame myself for influencing her decision. I even
told her – I can hear it now – that she would be 'grateful
to us some day’.

These things will haunt you forever, if you let them.

India pulled back the blackout drape that hung across the
doorway of Bailey Grant’s private studio and said, 'They’re
here.’

He was standing at his easel, palette and brush in hand,
Ry Cooder on the stereo. I got the impression he had hurriedly
taken up the stance – a template of the artist at work – the
moment he heard us coming. With his flowing grey locks,
white linen jacket and faded blue jeans, Bailey cultivated the
image of the hip maestro.

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