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Authors: Hilary Norman

Ralph’s Children

BOOK: Ralph’s Children
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Where Criminal Minds Meet

 

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Ralph’s Children
Hilary Norman

People speak wistfully of the innocence of childhood.
Of the still untainted honesty of child’s play.
Harmless games of unspoiled imagination and open minds.
Yet some children play, from early years, with instincts far from pure.
Some play their games with the souls of killers.
And then they grow up.

Contents

Cover

The Murder Room Introduction

Title page

Epigraph

 

Prologue

 

Before

The Game

Kate

Laurie

The Game

Kate

Ralph’s Journal

Laurie

Kate

Ralph

Kate

Laurie

The Game

Kate

The Game

Laurie

The Game

Kate

Laurie

The Game

Kate

The Game

Laurie

The Game

 

The Game

Kate

Laurie

The Game

Ralph

Ralph

The Game

Laurie

The Game

Ralph

The Game

Laurie

The Game

Ralph

The Game

Ralph

Laurie

The Game

Ralph

The Game

Ralph

The Game

Ralph

The Game

Kate

 

After

Kate

Ralph

Kate

Ralph

Kate

Ralph

Kate

Laurie

Kate

Ralph

Kate

Ralph

Kate

Ralph

Kate

Ralph

Kate

Ralph

Kate

Ralph

Kate

Ralph’s Children

Kate

Ralph

 

Outro

by Hilary Norman

Dedication

Acknowledgements

About the author

Copyright

Prologue

W
hen the lights went out in prison, most inmates longed for sleep.

But the sounds went on and on, making it impossible. The moaning and coughing and spitting and calling and headbanging and . . .

Lying on his bunk in his cell in Oakwood Prison, the teacher closed his eyes and strove for the hundredth or more time to transport himself forward to another place and time, to the day that
surely had to come when they finally believed him.

Innocent
, for pity’s sake.

Sleep had become a double-edged sword with its nightmares, so that the teacher had come to dread night as much as day, because that was when
they
came back to him again, the faceless
monsters who had done this to him, who had brought him to this place, destroyed him.

Madness, all of it.

‘Beast,’ they had called him, over and over again.

Beast.

One day, he told himself, one day . . .

No days left.

Now.

It came so swiftly that he had no time to prepare himself.

First, the sound. Different from all the many others.

Different.

Someone entering his cell.

‘What—?’

The last word he said before the horror was stuffed into his mouth.

Last word ever, no time left.

Cloth; strips of sweat and piss-stinking material, filling his mouth, pushing over his tongue and into his throat while his jerking arms and legs were pinned down and his vomit rose up.

The worst death in the world, the devil
himself
in his cell.

‘Message for you, Beast.’

The man’s voice came through the roaring in his ears.

Them
again, the teacher registered as he began to die.

‘End game,’ the voice said.

Them.

Oxford Examiner

4th August

Alan Mitcham, the Barton schoolteacher convicted last month of the Summertown newsagent’s armed robbery, was found dead in his cell at Oakwood Prison yesterday
morning.

Despite the massive weight of evidence against him, Mitcham, who used a replica gun to terrorize Sanjit Patel, protested his innocence throughout his trial, claiming he had
been forced to commit the crime last December by a ‘gang of abductors’. The jury at Oxford Crown Court failed to believe his story and Mitcham was jailed for ten years.

A spokesman for the prison said it was too early to speculate on the cause of death.

Before
The Game

O
n the evening of the tenth day of October, they gathered in a bedroom above the Black Rooster public house, as the woman known in the game as Ralph
addressed them via the speakerphone on the bedside table.

‘This time,’ she said, ‘we’re going to do a killing.’

Outside, rain fell out of darkness on to the road and surrounding Berkshire landscape. It was a dull, characterless kind of rainfall, with no wind to lend it any dramatic sweep; the sort of
weather to make one glad to be at home and draw curtains, switch on lamps and be cosy.

The room in which they sat was anything but cosy. Drab and meanly furnished, and too small to comfortably accommodate four adults at one time, but the group had met in many far worse
surroundings than this over the years.

Venues always the last thing on their minds.

They were all present, which was one of the rules: every member to attend whenever a game plan meeting was called. Every member except Ralph, who did the summoning but was never there these
days, yet who was, despite that, still their leader, as she had always been.

In the old, early days, they had held their meetings in the burial chamber at Wayland’s Smithy. Not any more. Too much risk.

In the old days, they had seen each other all the time, but over the past ten years their reunions had become rare events and were all the more intense for that.

The most special times of their lives.

Though not as special as the games themselves.

‘We’ve done killing before,’ said the man known in the game as Pig.

He shuddered again at the memory, which was not, of course, his own recollection, but seemed to him, each time it assaulted his sensibilities, as vivid as if he had been there – haunting
his dreams, too, on a regular basis. Pictures and sounds of Mitcham’s gagging terror that August night as the ripped, bunched-up prison sheet had choked and suffocated him to kingdom
come.

‘Only because we had no choice,’ Ralph’s voice reminded him.

‘And not really
we
, in fact,’ said the woman known as Simon.

‘It’s all “we”,’ Ralph corrected her. ‘All accountable. You know that.’

‘Still such a fucking wuss, Sy,’ said the man known as Jack.

‘We all hated it, as I recall,’ Ralph said.

‘Not all.’ The woman known in the game as Roger spoke for the first time.

‘Not you,’ Jack said. ‘Gotta have real feelings for that.’

‘It scared me shitless,’ Pig said.

‘Everything scares you shitless,’ said Jack.

‘He wasn’t the only one,’ Simon said, defending Pig.

‘Anyone object –’ Ralph’s voice brought them to order – ‘to us moving on?’

They all fell silent.

The thrill filling them, as it always did. Always had.

‘There’ll be another difference, too, this time,’ Ralph said. ‘If you all agree.’

This poky bedroom over the pub near Childrey had been reserved for them by Ralph. Only Simon, though, would stay the night, and that only to avoid attracting notice, since she, like the others,
could easily have gone home.

Jack had bought the speakerphone with cash from the Carphone Warehouse in Didcot that afternoon, had pulled out the old phone and bedside lamp from the jack and socket in the grimy wall and
plugged in the new one to be ready for the call.

Now they stayed silent, hearts beating faster, mouths dry with anticipation.

Waiting for Ralph to tell them about the next game.

And what was to be different about it.

Kate

‘F
or the last time, Rob, why don’t you just piss off and leave me
alone
.’

Kate Turner’s closing words to her estranged husband last Tuesday evening, after their ‘friendly’ drink near the fireplace at the Shoulder of Mutton had degenerated to a point
well below acrimony. She’d regretted the words almost as soon as they were out of her mouth, but regret had come too late. Rob
had
pissed off, leaving Kate wanting to cry, but
staying instead like an obstinate stone in her seat.

Stupid
, she was still castigating herself by Thursday.

Why had she
done
that?

She might not have minded quite so much had Rob been the only significant person she’d used her shoot-first-think-later PMS tongue on in the past few days.

Richard Fireman – the editor of her weekly column,
Diary of a Short-Fused Female
, in the
Reading Sunday News –
had summoned her to his office that morning to pass
some reasoned critical comments about the Christmas draft she’d emailed him that morning, and Kate had reacted by flinging practically all her toys out of her pram – narrowly avoiding
sending her job flying with them.

She’d never had much truck with the festive season. In years gone by, her mother, Bel Oliver (from whom Kate had inherited curly auburn hair, hazel eyes, small breasts and a low voice that
sharpened with mood), had always drunk a great deal more than usual – ‘usual’ being more than enough as it was – which had inevitably led to rows with Michael Oliver,
Kate’s father. But family issues aside, over the years Kate had grown increasingly hacked off with the seasonal rituals and the claustrophobia of the shutdown days themselves.

It was all just so downright
depressing
, and this year, with the fragmenting bones of her own marriage following her parents’ on to the rocks, she’d been dreading Christmas
more than ever and had, it seemed, brought that spirit somewhat too gloomily into her proposed column.

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