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Authors: James Raven

Urban Myth

BOOK: Urban Myth
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Urban Myth

James Raven

This one is for Catherine – with love
.

G
enna Boyd thought she was alone in the house. That’s why she believed it was safe to make the call. But she was fearful nonetheless.

Her heart pounded as her thumb hovered over the keys on her mobile phone. For a long, agonizing moment she hesitated, knowing that she was about to take a monumental risk.

But she felt she had no choice. It was the right thing to do. If she did not make an effort to warn him then the guilt would be an unbearable burden for the rest of her life. She’d done some horrible and despicable things during her twenty-six years on the planet; things that would shame and disgust most decent people.

But she couldn’t bring herself to do this. Not now that she had thought it through.

She should have rung him sooner. She knew that now. But at least it wasn’t too late. There were still a few days to go. She swallowed hard and depressed the zero key on her phone. But then she froze, convinced that she’d heard something downstairs.

She held her breath as her heart thumped against her ribcage. The house remained silent. After fifteen seconds she stepped up to the open door and looked out onto the landing. It was clear and no sounds reached her. She let the air out of her lungs and stepped back into the bedroom with its pink walls and cheap pine furniture. It was not to her taste; too quaint by far. But she had to admit they had done a pretty good job of making it bright and homely.

Through the window she could see the flat, gorse-covered
landscape
of the New Forest. In the distance, dark hills loomed against the horizon. Dusk was slowly descending on a cool, autumnal day, washing the view with a strident orange glow. But for her its beauty
was marred by the knowledge of what was going to happen here if she didn’t do something about it.

She could feel an icy chill in her gut as she punched the number into her phone, beginning with the 001 dialling code for the United States. There were several seconds of silence before the unfamiliar ringing tone kicked in. She prayed that he would be in and, more importantly, that he would take her seriously.

After what seemed an eternity the phone was answered. But the crackling on the line distorted the American’s voice.

‘Hello,’ he said. ‘Jack Keaton here.’

‘Can you hear me, Mr Keaton?’ Genna asked.

As she spoke his name she tried to picture him. She had no idea what he looked like. All she knew was that he had a wife and two
children
and lived near Houston in Texas. She conjured up an image of a middle-aged man with brown, wavy hair and a warm, genuine smile.

‘I can just about hear you,’ Keaton said. ‘But this line is not good.’

‘I’m calling from England, Mr Keaton. I’m on my mobile phone and the signal is poor.’

‘You’re not kidding. So who are you and what can I do for you?’

He had a deep, crusty voice and if it hadn’t been for the accent he would have sounded much like her late, repulsive father.

‘It doesn’t matter who I am, Mr Keaton,’ she said. ‘My name won’t mean anything to you.’

‘Oh really? Then what do you want?’

After a pause, she said, ‘To warn you not to come to the house in England, Mr Keaton. You have to stay away from this place.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘There’s no time to explain. But you have to believe me when I tell you that your family will not be safe here. You must—’

‘What the hell are you on about?’ Keaton interrupted. ‘The house is all booked, along with the flights.’

‘I know that, Mr Keaton, but you shouldn’t come here. Cancel your plans and go on holiday somewhere else.’

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

‘I’m trying to stop you from making a terrible mistake,’ she said. ‘For the sake of your family just forget about the house.’

‘Do I know you? Is this some sick practical joke?’ Keaton said.

‘It’s no joke. I’m telling you the truth. You have to believe me. If you don’t you’ll regret it.’

He said something in response but his words were drowned out by a blizzard of static.

‘I can barely hear you, Mr Keaton,’ she yelled into the phone. ‘I’m losing the signal. I’ll hang up and call you straight back. Please answer the phone. You have to listen to me.’

She severed the connection with her thumb. Then she took a long, deep breath to calm her nerves, blowing the air out through pursed lips. Her whole body was trembling now and her throat felt dry. She realized it wasn’t going to be easy to convince him, not unless she told him everything, and she couldn’t do that. She went to hit the call key again, but at that moment something else seized her attention. It wasn’t a noise this time. It was the sudden, overwhelming sense that she was no longer alone. She stood rooted to the spot, afraid to turn towards the open bedroom door.

A chill of fear rushed through her body. Then the familiar smell reached her, that heady cocktail of cheap aftershave and pungent tobacco; a smell that she had come to associate with pure evil.

Her body immediately succumbed to a fear-induced paralysis that was almost painful in its intensity. She couldn’t move, not even to breathe.

‘You stupid fucking bitch.’

His words, dripping with anger and contempt, came at her like high velocity bullets, smashing into her mind with almost physical force.

‘I thought you might bottle it,’ he went on, his voice low and menacing. ‘That’s why I’ve been keeping an eye on you.’

She knew then she’d been careless. She should never have told him that she had begun to have reservations about what was going to happen. It was a big mistake.

But at least she had her insurance. That would protect her. He wouldn’t be expecting that. In his eyes she was just a naive bitch who was there to be exploited. But he was wrong. She’d known that one day she would probably need an exit strategy.

So she squared her shoulders and prepared to turn around and tell the bastard to go to hell. But she didn’t get the chance because he struck without warning just as she started to move. She caught sight of
a glint of steel as he thrust his arm forward and stabbed her in the back. The shocking impact caused an explosion of pain that suffused her entire body.

She barely felt the second blow, but it stifled a scream that formed in her throat and sent a wave of blackness washing over her. The last thing Genna Boyd was aware of before she died was a cold voice telling her that it was all her own fault.

I
breathed a sigh of relief as the Boeing 777 from Houston, Texas made a bumpy landing at Heathrow Airport just after seven in the morning.

It had been an uncomfortable nine-hour flight, with a lot of
unwelcome
turbulence. My back was sore and my knee joints felt like they’d seized up; economy seats are not designed for men who are six feet tall. I’d managed to doze for only a couple of hours so I was jaded.

‘Not long now, Jack,’ Nicole said as she placed a reassuring hand on mine. ‘You’ll soon be able to have a good stretch.’

My wife was next to me in the window seat, looking tired and drawn. The lines around her large, mint-blue eyes were more pronounced than usual. Her brown shoulder-length hair was
dishevelled
and her cheeks were flushed. I felt a wave of affection wash over me. Today was her birthday. She was thirty-eight and this holiday was my gift to her.

I wanted it to be special because it had been a tough year. Back in March Nicole had miscarried the child we’d been desperately trying for. It had been a bitter blow, compounded by the fact that she wouldn’t be able to conceive again because of damaged ovaries. Five months on and the sense of loss was at last beginning to fade. We’d finally come to terms with what had happened and had both accepted the need to put the pain behind us.

In the five years we’d been married we’d never been on a trip together to her native country. In fact, I’d never before been to England and I’d been looking forward to it for weeks.

We were going to stay in a secluded house in the ancient New Forest, close to where Nicole grew up. Her parents were dead and she had always wanted to return to the part of the forest where their ashes
had been scattered. She had no other family there, no siblings and no uncles or aunts. I was Nicole’s family now, along with Tina and Michael. Tina was my daughter by my first marriage. Her mother, Clare, had died nine years ago of an aneurysm at the ridiculously young age of thirty-two.

At fourteen my daughter was pretty, precocious, rebellious – and addicted to Facebook. That was one of the reasons she hadn’t wanted to come on the trip. The house we were staying in apparently had no broadband connection and a poor cellphone signal. It suited me fine because I didn’t want to be hassled by the office. But it was bound to give Tina withdrawal symptoms.

Michael was Nicole’s ten year old son. His dad had left them when he was four and I’d worked hard at being a father figure to him. We got on well and he would often come to me with his problems, which thankfully paled into insignificance against the teenage woes that seemed to blight my daughter’s life.

When Nicole and I got together we were worried about our kids, and how they’d take to being part of a new family. But our fears were short-lived because it turned out it was what they both wanted – and needed. There was no opposition, no resentment. And they’d grown to like, if not love each other. Tina was very protective of her younger step-brother and invariably leapt to his defence when he was in trouble. To be fair that wasn’t very often. He was a polite boy with fair hair and big blue eyes that would one day melt more than a few hearts.

The pair of them were across the aisle from us looking pale and glum. They weren’t used to travelling. For that matter neither was I. My job as a lawyer rarely took me beyond the city limits of Houston. Not that it worried me. Long haul flights were not my thing.

‘Cheer up, kids,’ I said, leaning across the aisle. ‘The worst is over. In a few hours we’ll be in the New Forest. And if it’s even half as nice as we’ve been led to believe then you’re in for a treat.’

Tina rolled her eyes at me, a gesture I was pretty used to.

‘In your dreams, Pops,’ she said. ‘Forests are the same the world over. Green, dirty and boring.’

‘Don’t be so negative,’ I said. ‘We’re only here for two weeks so try to have some fun.’

‘I
was
having fun back in Houston, with my friends.’

I heaved an almighty sigh. ‘Look, just try to enter the spirit of it, OK? I’m sure you’re going to love it here.’

‘And I’m sure I won’t,’ she said. ‘In fact I’ve got a bad feeling about this trip. We should have gone to Florida.’

‘We went there last year. And you did nothing but complain.’

‘At least there were beaches and a pool.’

‘Well here there are wild ponies and quaint little villages. And there’s very little risk of getting sunburnt.’

She shook her head at me, unconvinced, and popped a stick of gum in to her mouth.

In the last year my daughter had developed a serious attitude; mood swings, temper tantrums, extreme bouts of bitchiness. She had threatened to leave home twice and when I banned her from dying her hair red she didn’t speak to me for a week. But I was hopeful that this vacation would be good for her. I felt she needed to have a break from the toxic influence of her school friends.

At passport control we were in for a pleasant surprise – the guy behind the desk was actually civil. It’s something we Americans aren’t used to. Anyone who has visited the States will know how rude and
unwelcoming
the immigration officers can be. Some are even downright scary. For many of us they’re a national embarrassment. But this Brit was friendly and polite. His smile was almost as wide as his red, chubby face.

‘So you’ve come to England on holiday, Mr Keaton,’ he said. ‘Have you been here before?’

I shook my head. ‘This is my first visit.’

‘Where will you be staying?’

‘In Hampshire. The New Forest. We’re renting a house.’

His grin grew even wider. ‘A beautiful part of the country. For a while the missus and I lived close by in Bournemouth. We used to go hiking in the forest.’

‘My wife’s from Burley,’ I said, nodding towards Nicole.

‘I know it well,’ he said. ‘The village famous for its witches and ghosts.’

‘So I’ve heard. I’m looking forward to finding out more about that stuff.’

He laughed as he handed back our passports. ‘Well be sure to have a great time and I hope the weather stays fine for you.’

Beyond passport control we followed the signs to the baggage reclaim area. It was a long walk, too long for Tina and Michael, who complained the whole time that they were tired. We had a twenty minute wait for our cases. Tina started frantically sending messages on her cellphone. Michael just stood to one side looking weary.

After we finally collected our cases we went to the car rental desk. There was no queue so within minutes I had the keys to a Land Rover Discovery – just the job for exploring our destination in comfort. Some of the forest roads were pretty rough, apparently, and even in September they were prone to flooding.

It took us ten minutes to locate the silver-grey Discovery in the car park and another five minutes to load our luggage in the back.

‘All aboard the vacation express,’ I said when we were done. ‘The ancient forest beckons.’

BOOK: Urban Myth
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