Darkness, be my friend, he whispered, though he doubted any noise escaped his lips, the words mere thoughts,
lost in the gathering gloom. She had left the window open again, a clear invitation to let him climb up on top of the water butt and pull himself inside the room where only a flickering candle gave any light.
He could smell it from where he stood, the rose and bergamot drifting like invisible smoke into the night air. And he could have sung the words, too, had he wished, the rhythmic beat from her music drowning out anything else. She would be sitting cross-legged on the floor, dark hair twisted in a knot at the nape of that slender neck, earphones discarded by her side, eyes closed as she attempted the relaxation exercise she performed every evening around this time.
A passing crow flapped silently by, its wingbeats a mere shadow, a black glove flung upwards on a current of warm air. But there was no wind tonight; all was still, the very air close and waiting as though holding its breath in anticipation of what was to come.
There was only the slightest sound as his feet met the wooden rim of the water butt, the blood singing in his ears drowning out any peripheral noises.
It was time, he told himself over and over; time to test her will, time to offer what he had to give. Time to take what she owed him. He stepped back down and crossed to his waiting car. It had taken a lot of planning but soon she would leave that room and come outside, then he would open the door and invite her in. Her regular taxi had been dispatched long since and she would never know the difference. Later he would be waiting once again and this time he would ask her the question that would make him complete.
And, should she refuse?
Then darkness would cover her completely and for ever
It was like being at her own funeral.
Maggie Lorimer shuddered. Where on earth had that thought come from? She glanced back at the audience in front of her, men and women who had come out of friendship or a sense of loyalty. Even, perhaps, out of curiosity. Similar to the sort of attendance you’d see outside a crematorium . . . it was like being at her own funeral.
Stop it, an inner voice scolded. Maggie swallowed hard. This was supposed to be one of the happiest days of her life. No, it was one of the happiest days. She smoothed down her velvet skirt, the dark green chosen in a moment of caprice to match the book jacket. Nerves, she told herself; just nerves, that’s all. yet the sudden morbid thought had taken the edge off the excitement she had felt all day.
Looking out at the crowd of people waiting for them to begin, she gave a deep sigh to calm herself then smiled as she experienced an unfamiliar tug of pride. Every seat had been taken.
The shop window downstairs had posters proclaiming that tonight was the launch of Margaret Lorimer’s debut children’s book, Gibby the Ghost of Glen Darnel. ‘Free but ticketed’, the chalk board at the door had told any passers-by. only half an hour ago she had stopped and gasped at the display of brand-new books piled right in the middle of the aisle. Her books! Holding the first printed copy in her hands had been special, but this made her want to laugh out loud. Wicked, her kids at Muirpark Secondary might have said. Her book was there, in a real bookshop, alongside the work of hundreds of other authors, as if she actually belonged.
The bar staff had been giving out drinks to the stragglers as Lucy, her agent, and Ivy, her publicist, escorted her along to the theatre area and Maggie had given a small wave, recognising Sadie Dunlop, the canteen lady from Police Scotland, all dolled up for this special occasion.
Heads turned and people grinned when she passed down between the two aisles of seats. They had all come to cheer her on; and now that she looked out from the stage, Maggie spotted several colleagues from school (and quite a few of the kids), friends and neighbours, even Audrey Ellis, from along the street, though Maggie suspected that was out of sheer nosiness. There was a cousin she hadn’t seen since Mum’s funeral . . . perhaps that was where the strange thought had come from. All these people from different parts of her life. There were women she hadn’t seen for ages, and some men, too, though several faces were unfamiliar to her.
And then she spotted the one person she most wanted to see.
There he was at the end of a row, preferring to take a seat at the back, his long legs stretched out. Bill. She had surprised him with this book, she remembered with a smile, the news of its publication coming right at the end of one of his successful cases. Next to her husband were a few other police officers of their acquaintance: Niall Cameron and his nice wife, Eilidh; Betty and Alastair Wilson; and several other men and women from Stewart Street Police office as well as the Major Incident Team in Govan. Solly Brightman and his wife, Dr rosie Fergusson, were right at the front, however, faces wreathed in smiles. The book was dedicated to Abigail and baby Ben, though Maggie and Bill’s godchildren were both at home. It was a school night for Abby and in any case she was still too little to read about Gibby, the little ghost boy who had taken the children’s publishing world by storm.
Maybe that was why there were so many strangers here? Ivy, her publicist, had sent out a press release insisting that there was a lot of interest in this Glasgow teacher turned author. only last weekend Maggie had gazed in astonishment at the double-page spread in the Gazette’s Saturday supplement, her picture staring out at her, the delighted expression unmistakable.
‘ready?’ Lucy asked quietly, a slight nod to catch Maggie’s eye.
Another deep breath and a proper smile, just as Ivy had told her, then she watched as Lucy rose to her feet, the murmurs from the audience immediately dying down, the spotlight now focused on the stage.
‘Good evening and thank you all for coming. My name is Lucy Jukes and I have the pleasure of being Maggie’s agent. When I first read the manuscript of Gibby the Ghost of Glen Darnel I knew at once that here was a writer with a great imagination and an ability to make her words conjure up pictures in the mind of a child. I have to tell you,’ she turned and looked at Maggie with a brief smile, ‘I was quite blown away by the story and I am sure that anyone reading it for the first time will agree that a superb new talent is born!’
The sudden applause that followed made Maggie’s cheeks burn. It was something she had not prepared herself for, despite all of Ivy’s pre-publication hype, this sensation of being the centre of attention and actually not quite deserving it at all. For a moment Maggie wished she were anywhere else but here, the object of so many eyes watching her, faces looking at her as though she were now someone special just by having a book published.
It’s nerves, she repeated to herself, simply nerves and excitement now that this moment has arrived.
‘Thank you,’ Maggie murmured, taking her place behind the lectern. She swallowed and then caught sight of Bill at the back of the room. He nodded, just once, and she took another deep breath. You can do this, his eyes seemed to tell her.
‘Thanks, all of you, for coming tonight. It’s really rather overwhelming!’ She shook her head so that a ripple of sympathetic laughter rang out.
‘I’d like to read a little from the book and I hope you like it,’ she added, smiling more confidently as she opened the book at the page she’d marked with one of her own new bookmarks.
Then, as she began to read, it was more like being back in the classroom, the words measured carefully, the different voices bringing the characters to life, and Maggie Lorimer knew that everything was going to be just fine.
The small stage was little more than a raised dais, the two figures seated side by side. once the reading was over the lights went up and members of the audience were invited by the agent to ask all sorts of questions.
oh, there were plenty of questions he wanted to ask, heart thudding with excitement, but for now it was better to listen, to remain another anonymous punter sitting in a darkened corner of this room where all eyes were on the slim, dark-haired woman sitting on the stage. She had neat ankles, he noticed, and shapely legs, though that skirt just below knee length suggested a sort of modesty. The lacy top glimpsed beneath her jacket was more promising, however, like a camisole that could be ripped off easily, revealing a warm body beneath. A schoolteacher. A woman who ordered kids about. He drew his legs together, feeling the warmth beginning. This time, surely this time . . .?
She was exactly what he wanted. And he would not rest until he made her submit to his will.
The table where Lucy directed her had a large vase of white lilies, making Maggie think again for a moment about death and funerals.
‘Glass of wine?’ Lucy asked. ‘White or red?’
Why not? Maggie thought suddenly. It was her night. She deserved it, surely?
‘White, please,’ she agreed, then looked up as Ivy came to hover over her, ready to hand her each book, turned carefully to the page with the publisher’s logo at its foot. There was so much to learn about this publishing business, Maggie had sighed earlier that day to Bill, but right now, with Ivy by her side, she was happy to greet every person in this long queue that had her book in their hand.
‘Gosh,’ she exclaimed, looking up at Betty Wilson, ‘three books!’
‘one for us, one for Kirsty and James and just sign the third one. It’s a present for a friend,’ Betty explained.
‘How are they getting on in Chicago?’ Maggie asked. ‘Loving it,’ Betty replied. ‘We miss seeing them, mind
you, but Kirsty wants us over again next month.’ ‘Privilege of being retired,’ Maggie murmured.
‘Aye, well, we worked hard for that and Alastair’s got a decent pension.’
Betty smiled and gathered up her books then leaned forward, tapping Maggie on the shoulder. ‘you look lovely tonight, lass,’ she told her. ‘Well done. So proud of you.’ Then she was gone, another taking her place.
Sandie, her best pal at school, thumped several copies of the book on to the table.
‘All for the school library,’ she said with a grin. ‘Manson reckons the juniors will enjoy it,’ she added. Keith Manson, head teacher of Muirpark Secondary School had sent his apologies earlier in the day and Maggie had felt a certain relief. She got on well enough with the man but he was a real authoritarian and her nerves had been stretched enough. Who would you like me to dedicate it to? became like a mantra, the question posed to each new person who came to the signing table.
Sometimes she was told to ‘just sign your name’, like the chap in the raincoat who stared at her for a moment then scurried off as soon as she had written in his book. He was a stranger, but one of several who may have come at another’s behest or simply out of curiosity. Seamus from the bookstore had reminded her about the different book groups that met here in Waterstones, so really it should be no surprise to meet new people.
‘So many folk I don’t know,’ she whispered to Ivy.
‘Well, remember, these are first editions,’ Ivy retorted. ‘Could be worth a mint some day.’
Maggie shook her head and smiled. No, she was not one to crave fame or fortune, despite Ivy’s best intentions. If you believed your hype you could be coming down to earth with a crash, she had told herself. yet, in an idle moment, Maggie wondered if J. K. Rowling had felt like this on the evening of her first Harry Potter launch.
She had looked forward to it for weeks and yet now, lying here in bed, Maggie was glad that it was all over. The applause, the kind words, the dinner afterwards in rogano with Bill and her publishers . . . it had all been magical, creating memories she would treasure. Tomorrow she would begin the tour of bookshops all across the country, leaving Bill behind. She snuggled in to his side, feeling his arm encircle her waist in response.
‘I’ll miss you,’ she whispered.
‘Don’t be daft,’ Bill replied. ‘Just go out there and enjoy yourself. you were fabulous tonight and you’ll wow audiences everywhere, just wait and see.’
Maggie sighed, half in pleasure and half because what she had said was true. The fortnight’s Easter break would be swallowed up by Ivy Thornton’s plans for this tour and she knew a moment’s regret that they would be apart for so long. Price I have to pay, she thought. For what? Success? She blinked in the darkness. Was that something driving her on? Tonight it sometimes felt as though she had changed into a different person. Being on stage and behind that signing table, she had drifted into another world. Since Maggie had become an author she had the feeling that everyone was looking at her with new eyes, as though she were suddenly
deserving of respect. Well, inside she felt just the same.
A movement by the bed and a familiar sound made Maggie reach out her hand to feel the soft fur of Chancer, their old ginger cat. With a purr he responded to her petting then silently leapt up on to the bed and began to circle himself carefully before settling down by her feet.
I’ll miss you, too, she thought, closing her eyes.
Their bedroom curtains were open. If he had a ladder he could climb up and peer in. What would he see? Two people in bed together? The thought made him clench his teeth.
The figure beneath the street lamp raised a hand in silent salutation then slipped quietly away, shadows taking him into the dark.
by Alex Gray
***Discover your next reading obsession with Alex Gray's bestselling Scottish detective series***
Don't miss Alex Gray's gripping new Lorimer novel. Before The Storm is out in hardback and available to pre-order in paperback for November
Whether you've read them all or whether this is your first Lorimer novel, THE STALKER is perfect if you love Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Ann Cleeves
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT THE LORIMER SERIES:
'Warm-hearted, atmospheric' ANN CLEEVES
'Relentless and intriguing' PETER MAY
'Move over Rebus' DAILY MAIL
'Exciting, pacey, authentic' ANGELA MARSONS
'Superior writing' THE TIMES
'Immensely exciting and atmospheric' ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH
A murder on their doorstep
A case that's too close to home . . .
The body of a young woman has been discovered in Bellahouston park, the second in a matter of months. It's clear to Detective Superintendent William Lorimer of Police Scotland that they have a repeat killer on their hands, who is sure to strike again.
Lucky for DSI Lorimer that his wife, Maggie, is miles away from potential danger, touring Scotland to promote her first book. Faced with strangers at every event, Maggie doesn't notice the quiet, non-descript man sitting in the back row.
But he has noticed Maggie Lorimer. And soon his will be a face she never forgets.