Authors: Paul Cleave
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Mystery & Detective
About the Book
'They come for me as I sleep. Their pale faces stare at me, their soft voices tell me to wake, to wake. They come to remind me of the night, to remind me of what I have done.'
Only Charlie doesn't know what he has done. His shorts are covered in blood, there's a bump on his forehead and on the news it says the two young women he was with the night before were brutally murdered. Charlie knows Cyris is the murderer - except the police don't believe Cyris exists. Nor does Jo, Charlie's ex-wife, to whom he goes for help. He desperately wants her to believe in him, and when she doesn't, he knows he must force her. As Charlie goes on the run with Jo bound and gagged in the car boot, he tries to figure out whether Cyris is real or imagined, while the killing hour approaches yet again …
As gripping as his first powerful novel,
The Cleaner, The Killing Hour
is a fantastic story keeps you guessing until the last page.
To my parents — who between them aren’t as insane as I tell everybody.
They come for me as I sleep. Their pale faces stare at me, their soft voices tell me to wake, to wake. They come to remind me of the night, to remind me of what I have done. They do not smile, they do not accuse me; they are just there, looking. I wish only to be alone, only to forget, but I have no voice to ask them to leave. I fear what they want, though I already know. They are here to blame me. To hate me. And I share their feelings. They cannot touch me because they are merely ghosts. I cannot touch them either, cannot push them aside, and words alone will not make them disappear. I stare into their eyes and see the guilt they want me to feel, and I do feel it, I barely feel anything else, and when I wake it is with a scream in my throat that I just manage to hold in. It tastes like blood and death. I pull myself out of the nightmare but nothing changes. It is five o’clock in the afternoon and I am bathed in sweat.
I wipe my eyes. The ghosts disappear but their message remains. There was a time in the morning when I was unable to feel guilt or pain. But that was before the killing hour arrived and Evil took my hand and whispered to me about death. I try to shake away the dregs of my dreams. I try to shake away the entire night, but all I do is stir the ingredients into a headache.
It’s Monday. I roll over and see my clothes lying on the floor. My shorts are covered in blood. My muscles ache as I sit up. The movement sets off a throbbing deep inside my head. When I touch the bump on my forehead my world sways but not enough for me to overlook the fact that the clothes I’m wearing are those a dead woman gave me. I move to the edge of the bed. I sit still, my elbows resting on my knees. The blood patterns on my shorts are made up of red droplets in various shapes and sizes. I shiver in my hot bedroom. It feels as though a thousand spiders are weaving up and down my spine. Their furry legs and tiny fangs clutch and prod and bite me. I brush them away and stand up.
I walk to the bathroom, hunched over as if the ceiling in my hallway has been lowered. The house has been closed up since yesterday. The air is tainted. I open the bathroom window, strip off a stranger’s clothes and climb into the shower. A breeze enters the room. Occasionally it pushes the cold shower curtain against my body. I embrace the water, letting it wash over me but unable to be washed clean by it. I feel nauseated, foul, and a moment later I drop to my knees, vomit burning my throat and splashing on the floor. The water falls around my head and rinses my lips but the taste of death remains.
I force myself to my feet, turn off the shower. Climb out. I can’t be bothered drying myself. I feel like giving up, just giving up on everything. I check my body. All the cuts have stopped bleeding. In the mirror the dark blue skin on my forehead looks like a golf ball has been lodged beneath it. Seeing it invites the headache deeper into my brain. It builds a residence in there, hangs up a sign and settles in for a long stay.
I wrap the towel around my waist and trudge through the house. Water rolls off my hair and down my body. I leave wet footprints on the carpet. The stuffy air feels like a damp overcoat. It feels like I’m walking through a tomb. Perhaps that’s exactly what this is. I close my eyes and the two dead women waiting in my thoughts agree. In the kitchen I knock back two painkillers. How well the two words, pain and killer, go together. Is that what I am?
I open the curtains and windows in the lounge. Hot air moves out and warm air blows in. I grab a Coke from the fridge and settle down in front of the TV. I grab the remote but don’t push any buttons. I take some sips from my drink. A few minutes slide by where I stare at the blank tube and the blurry reflection of my lounge it provides. Finally I push the power button.
The TV blinks and two-dimensional life appears. It would be easier if all life were that way. The news has already started and the deaths are the lead story. The reporters and presenters are good-looking people full of smiles and bad news. I wonder if their salaries are on a sliding scale – the bigger the tragedy the more they make. They use phrases like ‘mega-murder’ because they lack the real vocabulary to sensationalise human tragedy. I wonder what words they’d use had they been with me last night. They’re talking about a community in shock. Not just one homicide but two – the god-loving tax-paying citizens are getting their money’s worth. Senseless crimes, they say. A brutal frenzy, they say. Just how brutal they can’t say, but they like to guess. No motive, no clues, no leads. It’s their favourite kind of story. They say ‘ritualistic killings’ so often it’s easy to imagine some soap company sponsoring them to do so, because nothing cleans up a satanic massacre like their product. They quote an ‘inside source’ on information they can’t confirm.
I’m given the chance to learn what I couldn’t last night as photographs from Kathy’s and Luciana’s lives flash across the screen. The reporter lists their personal achievements and ambitions. Family members and friends come on and share their anecdotes and pain. It’s a smorgasbord of details I’d know had I kept them alive. Soon I’ll be on the TV too. They’ll thrust a microphone in my face looking for a sound bite. They’ll ask the same questions the ghosts are asking –
I head to my bedroom and get dressed. I grab the bloody shorts from the floor and throw them in the laundry. I drag an aging suitcase from the bottom of my wardrobe and dump it on my bed. I need to get out of the city. Preferably out of the country. Just pack my bag and go. It means leaving my friends and my job and my mortgage behind but it beats rotting in jail. It takes me only seconds to figure this out but fifteen minutes to pack.
An awareness of myself is slowly returning, and with it, some hunger. From the moment I woke I’ve felt as though a stranger is living in my body. I go through the motions of making sandwiches. I look at them for a bit, wondering what the hell I’m doing. Then I eat them. They taste like ash. So does the orange juice I chase them with.
I back out of the driveway. It’s nearly seven o’clock and the evening is still light. The air is warm and sticky and smells like freshly mown lawn. The sun glinting off the windows of the homes in my street looks like fire. It shines on the polished surface of a nearby car and straight into my eyes. A young boy with a baseball cap pulled on backwards is biking along the footpath stuffing letterboxes with leaflets that might be advertisements for toasters or pleas for help to find his puppy. A few doors down an elderly woman is on her knees pulling weeds from her garden. She waves at me. I wave back, but the gesture feels hollow. She wouldn’t be waving if she realised that the Charlie Feldman she thought she knew is skipping the country. The woman goes back to her weeds. The boy puts a leaflet in my letterbox and moves on to the next. I drive down my street and watch them both get smaller in my mirror.
A few minutes later I drive past the paddock where the early hours of Monday introduced me to this world, the Real World, where old women with green fingers don’t exist, where no children play, where fresh pies don’t sit on the windowsills of happy-go-lucky life. Jesus, I don’t even know what life’s about any more. It certainly isn’t about routine; it isn’t about paying your mortgage and buying groceries; it isn’t about singing happy birthday, licking stamps and changing flat tyres. I used to think it was. I used to think there was justice in this world, balance, but all life is about is living and dying. You want to think it’s about living, about surviving, but no matter how hard you try it gets to be about dying.
As I look out at the long grass and trees, the soil and scrub, it seems obvious that it takes only a couple of shovelfuls of dirt to form a shallow grave. There could be a dozen people out there in the ground, lost loves, lost lives, just lost. The trees at the far end look nowhere near as imposing as they did in the early hours of the morning. The killing hour is over, that’s why. There are no police cars, no tape cordoning off the scene, no clatter and squawking of a dozen radios. There are only ghosts. They stand in the long grass, wanting to pull me back in. They are calling to me, accusing me. They want to touch me, to hold me and never let go.
Shivering, I turn onto the motorway.
The Real World isn’t about destiny and it certainly isn’t about luck. If it is, Luciana and Kathy ran out of theirs around the same time I ran out of mine. I push my foot down, not caring about the speed limit. Before I can escape I have one more thing I need to take care of – one more woman I need to see.
Detective Inspector Bill Landry looks at his watch, then at the red numerals on the alarm clock. It disagrees with his watch by two minutes. He watches the last number change from an eight to a nine. The woman he’s come to see has now been dead a minute longer than she should have been. He’s struggling to stay focused. He badly wants a cigarette. Life isn’t the same unless you’re slowly ending it. He follows the shape of the dead woman’s face and locks his gaze on her milky eyes. She would agree. She would agree he needed coffee too.