Authors: Ruth Dugdall
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Crime Fiction, #Thrillers
Contents © Ruth Dugdall 2015
The right of the above author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available.
Print ISBN 978-1-9103946-3-2
Ebook ISBN 978-1-9103946-4-9
Set in Times. Printed in the United Kingdom by Clays Ltd.
Cover design by Simon Levy
All characters, other than those clearly in the public domain, and place names, other than those well-established such as towns and cities, are fictitious and any resemblance is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who commits any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
is an award-winning British crime writer, whose debut novel,
The Woman Before Me
, won the CWA Debut Dagger Award and the 2009 Luke Bitmead Bursary. Ruth’s other novels include
The Sacrificial Man
The James Version
Humber Boy B
Ruth worked as a probation officer for almost a decade, two of those years were in maximum security prisons in Suffolk, including work with children who have been convicted of murder. Ruth’s writing is heavily influenced by her professional background, providing authenticity and credibility to the crime genre.
She currently lives in Luxembourg and volunteers at a local prison.
For my friends in Luxembourg,
who made the city feel like home.
And for the Scheen family
The ferris wheel dominates the Luxembourg skyline. A show-stopper, luring the tourists away from the city’s cathedral and the Duke’s palace, dazzling them with its brilliant rainbow of lights. It turns slowly, gaudy and bright, higher even than the supermoon that glowers above the city.
Sugar and smoke fills the air, the ground is littered with greasy wrappings and scrunched up napkins as the whole landscape of Glacis car park is taken over by waffle stalls and beer stands, roller coasters and rides. Terror Train is especially intriguing, the crowds push but only a few actually step forward to pay. Terrified children look up to where men in black masks patrol the balconies, wielding axes that they know must be fake, but look real enough, beckoning down, daring them to try the ride. A sign across the ticket booth, where a ghostly figure takes the money, informs that
Terror Train is a 4D show
, and wiser parents steer their children away, to the regal carousel with its golden camel and ivory swan, where the youngsters can be observed at all times.
Unseen by the customers, around the back of these attractions, are twenty or so tightly parked caravans. Homes to the builders of the ferris wheel and roller coaster, men who are working endless shifts now the fair is finally open, swaggering through the crowds, scrutinising tourists for the heaviness of their wallets, balancing boxed Wii machines on their broad shoulders to persuade the gullible punters that winning big is actually possible.
Above it all, the iconic wheel is the pride of Schueberfouer. More London Eye than ferris wheel, each gondola has four seats to transport the delighted and nervous up, far above a comfortable height, to peer across the night sky to the forests and rivers where Germany, France and Belgium begin.
Around the Glacis, all the roads are gridlocked. Drivers have left their seats and can be seen tapping fists against the car roof, looking ahead for any signs of movement in the traffic. Some lean in to speak to their children within the car, trying to allay their frustration by pointing up at the wheel, glittering with lights and moving majestically above them, tantalising them with the possibility of fun.
“When we get there,” they say, “we’ll go on that.”
Impatient children squabble in the back seat, complain about feeling sick and being hungry.
“Are we there yet?”
“Soon.” Parents try to keep their patience. “Then we’ll be up there in the sky. Would you like that?”
Despite the drizzle that has just started. Despite the six euro cost. Because a promise is a promise.
When, finally, the traffic shifts, overlarge cars nudge into spaces, jut out into the road with front wheels on kerbs. The locals arrive by night bus, put on especially for the three-week event that is as extravagant and bright as tradition demands. They walk past and watch smugly as the Land Rover brigade, the ex-pats, argue over spaces and who forgot the umbrella.
At the top of the wheel, the passengers in the highest gondola find their hearts quickening, as the metal box sways. The ground below is terrifyingly far away. They see now that the gondolas are not sealed around all edges, that there is a gap between the floor and the door, and they are rocking more than they expected to, spittles of rain pricking flushed cheeks. But their fear is not the greatest on the Glacis, they aren’t screaming like those on much faster rides, or the brave souls fastened into the giant perspex ball being bungeed into the sky, only to be yanked back on thick ropes. Last year, a rope broke, a tourist ended up in Kirchberg hospital trying to negotiate for an X-ray with only a European Health Card, it even made some of the papers. Not that business has suffered, the search for an adrenalin high is powerful and after a few beers or sugary snacks, the dangers seem diminished. Screams can be heard too from the more traditional rides, the sickening waltzer and roller coaster, this year named for a mouse though nobody timid would dare.
Between these attractions the crowd pushes and twists, seeming from above to move as one being, an octopus of human activity that spins out for candy floss and chips with mayonnaise, or the more traditional deep-fried potato cakes,
, served on disposable plates with a puddle of apple sauce. Trays are fought for then struggled with, Belgian beer and local wine flows quickly and profitably from the many pop-up bars dotted between rides. Cold and strong, and very welcome for adults taking respite from children, for nervy teenagers on the pull, and for those who are taking a break as they peruse the rich pickings of the fair: over-stuffed purses and dangling car keys, bottoms and breasts in tight clothes. Opportunities of all kinds exist at Schueberfouer.
But where is Ellie?
Near to the caravans, and in the furthest corner of the fair is a smaller attraction, but a crowd is already gathering, several people deep despite the drizzling rain. There she is, in the midst of people. Her blonde head bobbing as she strains to full height. But Ellie is short for her age and gets lost in the fray. The balletic poise she’s crafted since she was three, and her desire to seem older than her seventeen years is soon abandoned as she stands on her toes in a frustrated attempt to see over the shoulder of a man with skin like tanned leather, a rubbery neck like a bulldog’s, who has just stepped in front of her. Eventually she moves around his bulk, ignoring and not understanding what he says to her as she slips in front. Because she has to see.
At first glance the size of the crowd is a mystery. There are no rainbow lights, no banks of Christmas Day presents, no prizes to lure the gullible. There is a simple metal stand with a bar, like the monkey bars that line the walls at her school gymnasium, and men, young and fit looking, some her own age, are lining up to hang from it by their hands.
Two minutes and you win 100 euro fair token!
the sign crows, in Luxembourgish, so it takes Ellie a few seconds to work out that the prize isn’t actually cash but a gift card to use at the fair. Still, there is a bigger reward at stake and the men around her want it, she can sense them watching intently with a mixture of jealousy and then relief as each punter starts well but soon drops to the ground, landing in a muddy puddle that is gradually forming. Each of them imagining the delicious pride of being strong enough to win. The kudos.
The bulldog-necked man moves closer, breathing heavily beneath his dark bushy beard, she can hear him rasping asthmatically, his sour stench is directly behind her. She can’t imagine that he would last long dangling from that bar.
Ellie’s attention is drawn to her left, where a couple of teenagers, arms draped across the scaffold of the attraction as if they own it, are watching the event from the raised position of a double-sized wheelie bin. They lean and mumble to each other, cracking jokes from behind their hands so there are odd eruptions of hysteria. The girl is beautiful, she has a perfect oval face and skin like mocha, and she wears a tight red dress. She nervously twists her silky black hair in her fingers, and Ellie can’t stop staring. The boy is as handsome as the girl is beautiful, and she wonders if they are siblings. But then the girl says something and the boy looks down, shy and vulnerable, and she sees that he isn’t comfortable with her, he’s not oblivious to her face; not siblings, then. She wonders if they are lovers, but sees the girl is scanning the crowd, looking for better pickings. The girl knows her own worth and pulls away from the boy, as if to indicate that she is not with him.
Ellie judges the boy to be older than her, maybe as old as twenty. He seems vulnerable without his companion, who is now talking to a man in a designer raincoat with pasty skin and a bald patch. The girl threads her arm through his and they begin to wander away, to a passageway nearby. She sees the man touch his hand to the hem of the red dress just before they disappear from view.
The boy steps up to the man in charge of the attraction, who nods and places him so his turn is next. A few watchers in the crowd jeer at him, and he waves, friendly banter as if they know him. She hears one call out, “Go, Malik!”
The crowd give Malik encouragement but also taunts that he won’t be able to succeed, but their jeering turns to cheers when he pulls off his t-shirt, flexes his biceps and grins at them. Naked from the waist up, he hooks his fingers into the waistband of his massively oversized trousers and waits for the boy currently taking his turn to drop.
Malik does not seem to pay, and he has not queued as long as others, but no-one stops him as he walks steadily towards the bar.
Ellie watches as he spits on his palms then reaches up, revealing the full definition of his torso. He isn’t overly muscly, he is lean, but he also looks fit. His face is narrow, feline, his eyes dark and intense. The crowd presses forward in anticipation, she can feel the bulldog behind her, he’s too close and she can feel his stomach against her back. Holding her breath against his stench she ducks down, separating a cuddling couple, and squeezes between two boys in American football tops as she makes her way to the front.
Now Ellie can see properly.
The boy is hanging from the bar and the fluorescent numbers above his head are counting the seconds: eleven, twelve, thirteen. He winks to his beautiful friend, who has returned from the alleyway and is now watching from back near the bin. She calls, “
His arms are already shaking. Ellie knows he won’t win the money, but he still looks strong to her. She wonders how long she would manage, she’s done gymnastics in the past and the ballet has made her arms muscular. But she hasn’t seen any other girl try, and she’d be too self-conscious to be the first.
The boy looks up, his black hair is wet from sweat and he flicks it from his eyes, staring directly at her as he does so. A long moment passes between them, and Ellie thinks how sexy he looks, how his brown skin shows that he’s enjoyed the sun this summer, she imagines it as warm to the touch, like melting caramel. The thought makes her self-conscious; she’s pale, too blonde to tan. Not as beautiful as the girl he’s with, nor as cool as others she’s seen wandering around Schueberfouer, teenagers with baggy, ripped clothes and elaborate silver piercings, cool kids whose parents aren’t crazy, who are allowed to do as they please. Ellie is dressed more simply in black jeans and a yellow t-shirt. She hadn’t been sure about wearing the t-shirt, a recent birthday gift from her mum, but her sister, Gaynor, had said it made her hair look pretty. But now Ellie feels too clean, too prissy, when this handsome boy is naked from the waist up and sweating and his hair is ragged and dark and he is still staring straight at her. Ellie believes that the only thing interesting about her appearance is her nose, which she pierced herself on her seventeenth birthday last week. It’s still sore and her mum hates it but she refuses to take the stud out, it’s a small act of defiance. She hopes the boy can see it, that he doesn’t write her off as a total loser.