Home > Newest Books > Silent Victim

Silent Victim
Author:Caroline Mitchell

Silent Victim by Caroline Mitchell



‘A gentleman is simply a patient wolf’

—Lana Turner





PROLOGUE

EMMA






2013


I am not a bad person, but I’ve done a very bad thing.

A sense of unreality washes over me, cushioning the consequences of my act.

I am a murderer. My soul is damned to hell.

My thoughts are speared by a seagull’s cry as it glides across the dusky sky. It is mournful in its bidding, and I stand over the ditch, my knuckles white, gripping the shovel in my right hand. A trickle of sweat rolls down the curve of my back, cooled by the twilight breeze. From the bottom of the ditch Luke stares with empty eyes, the soil beneath his head absorbing his blood. My lips part to accommodate my heavy breath while my lungs drive the panicked rise and fall of my chest. Is he truly dead? Did I really kill him? Legs shaking, I cling to the shovel – the only thing keeping me standing in this desolate field. The breeze plays with my hair, blowing dark strands into my eyes and lips. I draw them back behind my ear as I struggle for clarity. Just how long have I been standing here? The cogs of my brain whirr, trying to snap back the pieces of the complex edifice that has toppled all around me. My gaze falls to the shovel where his blood still stains the blade. You need to clean that off, a voice inside me whispers. But first, hide the body.

My thoughts are cloaked in darkness as self-preservation kicks in. My husband will be wondering where I am. He might even come looking for me. I should check Luke’s pulse, call for an ambulance. Deep down, I know it’s too late for that now. The ditch is lined with freshly shed leaves from the trees that border the field: a suitable resting place, if only for tonight.

Pressing my boot against metal, I slice the shovel into the earth. I draw up a wedge of soil, pausing only for a second before flinging it on to his face. As the dirt hits his parted lips, my stomach rolls over, the gravity of the situation hitting me with the force of a punch. I fall to my knees and vomit noisily into a patch of dandelions. Digging my fingers into the earth, I try to ground myself, coughing and spitting until my throat has cleared. I dare not look at Luke’s body as I stand and brush the soil from my jeans. Picking up my shovel, I fling dirt into the ditch until my biceps ache. My armpits are damp with sweat; the skin on my face burning with effort. Opposing thoughts circle my brain, like vultures ready to pick over the carcass of my actions. I have committed a mortal sin. Hot tears of regret trail down my face. A thought resurfaces, telling me that I had no choice.

Forcing myself to focus, I survey the shallow grave. I can still see flashes of skin. His nose, his brow. Patches of white shirt are visible beneath the soil, and the tips of his leather shoes peep upwards. I stifle a sob. I need to finish this, but my arms are weak and the shovel feels like it is made of lead. Darkness is closing in yet the sky is devoid of cloud, awaiting the infiltration of stars that will burn brightly long after I am dead and gone. Dropping my gaze to the ground, I try to assemble my thoughts. I will come back tomorrow and finish the job properly. For now, I need to get home. I drag across some fallen branches from a recent gale, throwing them over the ditch until it appears undisturbed. Not that anyone will see it. The only witnesses are the curlews and seagulls flying overhead. I rub my hands against the back of my trousers before tying my shovel to my quad bike. ‘Tomorrow,’ I whisper, repeating my vow to return. ‘I’ll come back tomorrow and bury him properly.’ The breeze snatches my words, as if disbelieving my sincerity. Inhaling deeply, I force my shaking breath back to normality. The land will keep my secret for now. I mount my quad bike, my eyes on the gravel path home. Revving the throttle, I push everything that has happened deep into the recesses of my mind.





CHAPTER ONE

EMMA





2017


Red-nosed and laughing, Jamie ran towards me, his red wellington boots making a thunk-thunk noise as he scattered the fallen autumn leaves. My husband had a propensity for buying Jamie bigger sized clothes than he needed, saying he would ‘grow into them’. I made a mental note to take our son for a proper fitting. Shaking a tissue from my pocket, I wiped the dribble from his nose.

‘Swing me, Mummy!’ he squealed, his impossibly blue eyes bright with an excitement that only a child could feel. At almost three and a half years of age, his senses had not yet been dulled by the world. Getting down on one knee, I tightened his blue duffel coat and fixed his gloves before allowing him to run towards the bucket swings. A veil of fog hung over the landscape, leaving the small children’s playground too gloomy a prospect for the mothers and their children who frequented it in the summer. I had been coming here since my childhood. I was not going to stop now. The fresh air would serve as a sedative later on, giving me time to catch up with my work. I watched him run towards the swings, his little body wiggling from side to side as layers of clothing hampered his movements.

I jolted in response to the hand that touched the curve of my back. ‘Oh! You gave me a fright,’ I gasped, clutching my husband by the arm.

‘And you’re very jumpy,’ he said, his kind face settling my nerves. ‘I finished work early; thought I’d give you a lift home rather than have you walking in the fog.’

I kissed him on the cheek, his smooth skin a novelty. I had been sorry to see his beard go, but the onset of a few grey hairs had been the death knell for his facial hair. In his tailored suit and rich wool-blend coat, he looked every inch the businessman. He was not the only one who made an effort when it came to clothes. I put my contacts in second-hand designer wear to good use, sourcing the vintage style that had appealed to me since my late teens – a look which had caught my husband’s eye when we first met.

‘Just five more minutes,’ I said, turning back to look at Jamie, who was grunting as he tried to hoist his leg into the bucket swing.

‘Daddy!’ Jamie squealed, and I watched as Alex swung him around before plopping him into the seat and giving him a hefty push. He was a strong and capable father but, all the same, I found myself biting my lip as my over-protective streak kicked in. Catching my worried glare, Alex brought the swing to a steady pace, despite Jamie’s cries to go higher.

‘I’ve got some good news,’ Alex said, giving me a furtive sideways glance. It was enough to tell me that his perception of good news might be different from mine.

‘You’ve not gone and bought that car, have you? Diesel engines are pollutants on wheels,’ I said, my eyes following Jamie as he swung back and forth. Alex could pick his moments, waiting until I was distracted with our son before dropping any bombshells. He knew I would never argue in front of him.

‘Give over,’ Alex said, ‘as if I’d dare.’ His Leeds accent filtered through his words. He masked it in the office, changing the rhythm and tone to mimic his upper-class clients. I liked that he could be himself with me. ‘No, it’s about work . . .’

I took a sharp intake of breath. The fog was coming down so thick that I could taste it on my tongue.

Alex flashed me a smile. ‘I’ve been offered the promotion . . .’

‘In Leeds.’ I finished his sentence, trying hard to hide my reluctance because I could not offer a reason as to why we could not go. At least not one I could disclose.

‘Yes,’ he said, giving Jamie one last push. ‘They’ve given me the job.’

Opening my arms, I took him in an embrace, but inside my heart was dropping like a stone. ‘Well done, love. I know how much this means to you.’