Read Shatter Online

Authors: Michael Robotham

Tags: #Fiction, #Psychological, #Psychological Fiction, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Suicide, #Psychology Teachers, #O'Loughlin; Joe (Fictitious Character), #Bath (England)

Shatter (3 page)

BOOK: Shatter
2.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Rain bounces off the tarmac, exploding in miniature mushroom clouds before coursing through gutters and pouring off the edges of the bridge in a curtain of water.

Ducking under the barricades, I begin walking across the bridge. My hands are out of my pockets. My left arm refuses to swing. It does that sometimes— fails to get with the plan.

I can see the woman ahead of me. From a distance her skin had looked flawless, but now I notice that her thighs are crisscrossed with scratches and streaked with mud. Her pubic hair is a dark triangle: darker than her hair, which is woven into a loose plait that fal s down the nape of her neck. There is something else— letters written on her stomach. A word. I can see it when she turns towards me.


Why the self-abuse? Why naked? This is public humiliation. Perhaps she had an affair and lost someone she loves. Now she wants to punish herself to prove she’s sorry. Or it could be a threat— the ultimate game of brinkmanship— ‘leave me and I’l kil myself.’

No, this is too extreme. Too dangerous. Teenagers sometimes threaten self-harm in failing relationships. It’s a sign of emotional immaturity. This woman is in her late thirties or early forties with fleshy thighs and cel ulite forming faint depressions on her buttocks and hips. I notice a scar. A caesarean. She’s a mother.

I am close to her now. A matter of feet and inches.

Her buttocks and back are pressed hard against the fence. Her left arm is wrapped around an upper strand of wire. The other fist is holding a mobile phone against her ear.

‘Hel o. My name is Joe. What’s yours?’

She doesn’t answer. Buffeted by a gust of wind, she seems to lose her balance and rock forward. The wire is cutting into the crook of her arm. She pul s herself back.

Her lips are moving. She’s talking to someone on the phone. I need her attention.

‘Just tel me your name. That’s not so hard. You can cal me Joe and I’l cal you…’

Wind pushes hair over her right eye. Only her left is visible,

A gnawing uncertainty expands in my stomach. Why the high heels? Has she been to a nightclub? It’s too late in the day. Is she drunk? Drugged? Ecstasy can cause psychosis. LSD. Ice perhaps.

I catch snippets of her conversation.

‘No. No. Please. No.’

‘Who’s on the phone?’ I ask.

‘I will. I promise. I’ve done everything. Please don’t ask me…’

‘Listen to me. You won’t want to do this.’

I glance down. More than two hundred feet below a fat-bel ied boat nudges against the current, held by its engines. The swol en river claws at the gorse and hawthorn on the lower banks.

A confetti of rubbish swirls on the surface: books, branches and plastic bottles.

‘You must be cold. I have a blanket.’

Again she doesn’t answer. I need her to acknowledge me. A nod of the head or a single word of affirmation is enough. I need to know that she’s listening.

‘Perhaps I could try to put it around your shoulders— just to keep you warm.’

Her head snaps towards me and she sways forward as if ready to let go. I pause in mid-stride.

‘OK, I won’t come any closer. I’l stay right here. Just tel me your name.’

She raises her face to the sky, blinking into the rain like a prisoner standing in a exercise yard, enjoying a brief moment of freedom.

‘Whatever’s wrong. Whatever has happened to you or has upset you, we can talk about it. I’m not taking the choice away from you. I just want to understand why.’

Her toes are dropping and she has to force herself up onto her heels to keep her balance. The lactic acid is building in her muscles. Her calves must be in agony.

‘I have seen people jump,’ I tel her. ‘You shouldn’t think it is a painless way of dying. I’l tel you what happens. It wil take less than three seconds to reach the water. By then you wil be travel ing at about seventy-five miles per hour. Your ribs wil break and the jagged edges wil puncture your internal organs. Sometimes the heart is compressed by the impact and tears away from the aorta so that your chest wil fil with blood.’

Her gaze is now fixed on the water. I know she’s listening.

‘Your arms and legs wil survive intact but the cervical discs in your neck or the lumbar discs in your spine wil most likely rupture. It wil not be pretty. It wil not be painless. Someone wil have to pick you up. Someone wil have to identify your body. Someone wil be left behind.’

High in the air comes a booming sound. Rol ing thunder. The air vibrates and the earth seems to tremble. Something is coming.

Her eyes have turned to mine.

‘You don’t understand,’ she whispers to me, lowering the phone. For the briefest of moments it dangles at the end of her fingers, as if trying to cling on to her and then tumbles away, disappearing into the void.

The air darkens and a half-formed image comes to mind— a gape-mouthed melting figure screaming in despair. Her buttocks are no longer pressing against the metal. Her arm is no longer wrapped around the wire.

She doesn’t fight gravity. Arms and legs do not flail or clutch at the air. She’s gone. Silently, dropping from view.

Everything seems to stop, as if the world has missed a heartbeat or been trapped in between the pulsations. Then everything begins moving again. Paramedics and police officers are dashing past me. People are screaming and crying. I turn away and walk back towards the barricades, wondering if this isn’t part of a dream.

They are gazing at where she fel . Asking the same question, or thinking it. Why didn’t I save her? Their eyes diminish me. I can’t look at them.

My left leg locks and I fal onto my hands and knees, staring into a black puddle. I pick myself up again and push through the crowd, ducking beneath the barricade.

Stumbling along the side of the road, I splash through a shal ow drain, swatting away raindrops. Denuded trees reach across the sky, leaning towards me accusingly. Ditches gurgle and foam. The line of vehicles is an unmoving stream. I hear motorists talking to each other. One of them yel s to me.

‘Did she jump? What happened? When are they going to open the road?’

I keep walking, my gaze fixed furiously ahead, moving in a kind of dream. My left arm no longer swinging. Blood hums in my ears. Perhaps it was my face that made her do it. The Parkinson’s Mask, like cooling bronze. Did she see something or
see something?

Lurching towards the gutter, I lean over the safety rail and vomit until my stomach is empty.

There’s a guy on the bridge puking his guts out, on his knees, talking to a puddle like it’s listening. Breakfast. Lunch. Gone. If something round, brown and hairy comes up, I hope he
swallows hard.

People are swarming across the bridge, staring over the side. They watched my angel fall. She was like a puppet whose strings had been cut, tumbling over and over, loose limbs
and ligaments, naked as the day she was born.

I gave them a show; a high-wire act; a woman on the edge stepping into the void. Did you hear her mind breaking? Did you see the way the trees blurred behind her like a green
waterfall? Time seemed to stop.

I reach into the back pocket of my jeans and draw out a steel comb, raking it through my hair, creating tiny tracks front to back, evenly spaced. I don’t take my eyes off the bridge. I
press my forehead to the window and watch the swooping cables turned red and blue in the flashing lights.

Droplets are darting down the outside of the glass driven by gusts that rattle the panes. It’s getting dark. I wish I could see the water from here. Did she float or go straight to the
bottom? How many bones were broken? Did her bowels empty the moment before she died?

The turret room is part of a Georgian house that belongs to an Arab who has gone away for the winter. A rich wanker dipped in oil. It used to be an old boarding house until he had it
tarted up. It’s two streets back from Avon Gorge, which I can see over the rooftops from the turret room.

I wonder who he is— the man on the bridge? He came with the tall police constable and he walked with a strange limp, one arm sawing at the air while the other didn’t move from his
side. A negotiator perhaps. A psychologist. Not a lover of heights.

He tried to talk her down but she wasn’t listening. She was listening to me. That’s the difference between a professional and a fucking amateur. I know how to open a mind. I can bend
it or break it. I can close it down for the winter. I can fuck it in a thousand different ways.

I once worked with a guy called Hopper, a big redneck from Alabama, who used to puke at the sight of blood. He was a former marine and he was always telling us that the deadliest
weapon in the world was a marine and his rifle. Unless he’s puking, of course.

Hopper had a hard-on for films and was always quoting from
Ful Metal Jacket
— the Gunnery Sergeant Hartman character, who bellowed at recruits, calling them maggots and
scumbags and pieces of amphibian shit.

Hopper wasn’t observant enough to be an interrogator. He was a bully, but that’s not enough. You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to know people— what frightens them, how they think,
what they cling to when they’re in trouble. You’ve got to watch and listen. People reveal themselves in a thousand different ways. In the clothes they wear, their shoes, their hands,
their voices, the pauses and hesitations, the tics and gestures. Listen and see.

My eyes drift above the bridge to the pearl-grey clouds still crying for my angel. She did look beautiful when she fell, like a dove with a broken wing or a plump pigeon shot with an
air rifle.

I used to shoot pigeons as a kid. Our neighbour, old Mr Hewitt who lived across the fence, had a pigeon loft and used to race them. They were proper homing pigeons and he’d take
them away on trips and let them go. I’d sit in my bedroom window and wait for them to come home. The silly old bastard couldn’t work out why so many of them didn’t make it.

I’m going to sleep well tonight. I have silenced one whore and sent a message to the others.

To the one…

She’ll come back just like a homing pigeon. And I’ll be waiting.


A muddy Land Rover pul s on to the verge, skidding slightly on the loose gravel. The woman detective I met on the bridge leans across and opens the passenger door. Hinges groan in protest. I’m wet. My shoes are covered in vomit. She tel s me not to worry.

Pul ing back onto the road, she rips through stiff gears wrestling the Land Rover around corners. For the next few miles we sit in silence. ‘I’m Detective Inspector Veronica Cray. Friends cal me Ronnie.’

She pauses for a moment to see if the irony of the name registers. Ronnie and Reggie Kray were legendary East End hard men back in the sixties.

‘It’s Cray with a “C” not a “K”,’ she adds. ‘My grandfather changed the spel ing because he didn’t want anyone thinking we were related to a family of violent psychopaths.’

‘So that means you
related?’ I ask.

‘A distant cousin— something like that.’

Wipers slap hard against the bottom edge of the windscreen. The car smel s vaguely of horse manure and wet hay.

‘I met Ronnie once,’ I tel her. ‘It was just before he died. I was doing a study for the Home Office.’

‘Where was he?’


‘The psychiatric prison.’

‘That’s the place.’

‘What was he like?’

‘Old school. Wel -mannered.’

‘Yeah, I know the sort— very good to his mother,’ she laughs.

We sit in silence for another mile.

‘I once heard a story that when Ronnie died the pathologist removed his brain because they were going to do experiments. The family found out and demanded the brain back. They gave it a separate funeral. I’ve always wondered what you do at a funeral for a brain.’

‘Smal coffin.’


She drums her fingers on the steering wheel.

‘It wasn’t your fault, you know, back there on the bridge.’

I don’t answer.

‘Skinny Minnie made the decision to jump before you even stepped up to the plate. She didn’t want to be saved.’

My eyes wrench to the left, out the window. Night is closing in. No views remain.

She drops me at the university, holding out her hand to shake mine. Short nails. A firm grip. We pul apart. Flat against my palm is a business card.

‘My home number is on the back,’ she says. ‘Let’s get drunk some time.’

My mobile has been turned off. There are three messages from Julianne on my voicemail. Her train from London arrived more than an hour ago. Her voice changes from angry to concerned to urgent with each new message.

I haven’t seen her in three days. She’s been in Rome on business with her boss, an American venture capitalist. My bril iant wife speaks four languages and has become a corporate high-flyer.

She is sitting on her suitcase working on her PDA when I pul into the pick-up zone.

‘You need a ride?’ I ask.

‘I’m waiting for my husband,’ she replies. ‘He should have been here an hour ago but didn’t show up. Didn’t cal . He won’t turn up now without a very good excuse.’


‘That’s an apology, not an excuse.’

‘I should have cal ed.’

‘That’s stating the obvious. It’s stil not an excuse.’

‘How about if I offer you an explanation, a grovel ing apology and a foot rub.’

‘You only give me foot rubs when you want sex.’

I want to protest but she’s right. Getting out of the car, I feel the cold pavement through my socks.

‘Where are your shoes?’

I look down at my feet.

‘They had vomit on them.’

‘Someone vomited on you.’

‘I did.’

‘You’re drenched. What happened?’ Our hands are touching on the handle of the suitcase.

‘A suicide. I couldn’t talk her down. She jumped.’

She puts her arms around me. There is a smel about her. Something different. Wood smoke. Rich food. Wine.

BOOK: Shatter
2.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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