Authors: Jane Hill
Also by Jane Hill
The Murder Ballad
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Published by William Heinemann, 2008
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Copyright © Jane Hill, 2008
Jane Hill has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
This novel is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination
and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published in Great Britain in 2008 by
Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,
London SW1V 2SA
Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at:
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library
When I was eighteen I killed a man and got away
I've never said those words out loud. I hoped
I'd never have to. But now the time has come. The axe has
finally fallen. And very soon I will have to say them to you.
I'm sitting on a bench in Princes Street Gardens in
Edinburgh, waiting for you to make everything okay. It's
early in the morning on a chilly late-August day. From time
to time there's a hint of drizzle in the grey sky. My jacket, my
favourite green velvet jacket, the one I've been wearing all
night, is not designed for weather like this. I pull it tighter
around me and do up the silver buttons.
Edinburgh's old town looms above me like an illustration
from an old-fashioned book of fairy tales, from an era when it
was acceptable to terrify children. Tall, crooked, pointed grey
buildings huddle around the giant's castle. It's a city from a
nightmare: a city of ghosts and goblins and witches, of dark
alleys and whispers and hauntings. Looking up at it makes me
dizzy. I feel I might fly away on a broomstick or on the wings
of a bat.
I must look like a zombie. Maybe I'm about to reach a place
beyond fear. I had almost no sleep last night. I spent the night
running and hiding: running and hiding from shadows, from
shapes; running and hiding from someone unknown who plans
to kill me. This morning I have been creeping around the city
looking for a quiet place to sit and think, and hide. And now
I'm hiding in plain sight, sitting here with my phone in my
hand, plucking up the courage to call you; waiting for you to
make everything okay.
But you won't be able to make everything okay. Nothing
can ever be okay again because today I have to say these words
to you: when I was eighteen I killed a man and got away with
I look at my phone. I look at your name and your number
on the screen. I look at your name and I feel a warm rush of
love when I think of our friendship and everything it's meant
to me. I never intended to get involved with anyone. Bad
things happen to the people I love. And very soon our
friendship will be over too: there's no way you'll be able to go
on caring for me (and you do care for me, I know you do) after
what I have to tell you.
Just before I call you, before I tell you my awful secret,
while I'm still sitting here in the stasis of this pre-confession
moment, I reach into the deep back pocket of my jeans. I pull
out the piece of paper I've been carrying since last night. My
hand trembles as I straighten out the creases. There's blood on
the paper, blood from my fingers. I read it over again to
'You murdering bitch,' it says. 'Now you know what it
There he was again, my own personal ghost. I could
see him out of the corner of my eye. My own
personal ghost, sitting at a table in a motorway
service station, drinking coffee. He was there, somewhere
over to my left and a little in front of me. If I had turned to
look at him full on he would probably have disappeared as
if he'd never been there. But that night I didn't want to
risk it. I didn't want to look. I knew he was sitting there,
his hands wrapped around a mug of coffee, grinning at me
with that familiar twinkle in his eye. My own personal
ghost: the man I killed. It wasn't the first time I'd seen
him. I knew that it wouldn't be the last.
Leicester Forest East Services was a strange place to see
a ghost. It's one of those old-style motorway services,
built into a bridge over the Mr. You need to remember
where you are and where you're going at Leicester Forest
East, because if you were to lose your sense of direction
and come down the wrong staircase, you could work
yourself into a panic searching the wrong car park in vain,
looking for your car amongst the northbound vehicles
when in fact it was right across the motorway in the
southbound section. Leicester Forest East has a Burger
King, a K F C and a Coffee Primo, but late at night – the
time I sometimes found myself there – the only food
available was from the hot counter at one end of the
restaurant. There was usually one greyish coiled
Cumberland sausage sitting alone on a stainless-steel
platter under a heat lamp, and maybe the remains of a
chicken curry and a single pepperoni pizza.
I was on my way home from a weekend at my sister's
house, theoretically to mark the fact that I had turned
thirty-five a couple of days earlier. My sister Sarah was
four years older than me and I loved her house and the
way she lived. Maybe I was envious. She lived in
Sheffield, miles further north than anyone else in our
family had ever ventured. She owned a Victorian redbrick
three-bedroom terraced house with stripped
floorboards and original fireplaces. She had a cluttered
kitchen with photos and postcards attached to the fridge
door with magnets. Every time anyone opened the fridge
another photo would flutter to the floor. The house was at
the top of a steep hill. From the front windows, if you
peered hard enough, you could catch a glimpse of the
Peak District in the distance. At the back, the house
overlooked dramatic grey industrial chimneys and the
MI. Sarah lived there with her bright, charming teenagers
Josh and Katie. Her husband left her six years ago for
another woman. Or maybe Sarah threw him out when she
discovered he was cheating – the story would vary with
the number of glasses of wine she drank. Either way, she
was doing fine without him.
I had arrived late on the Friday evening and we cheek kissed
on the doorstep. Then I looked at her to see what
was different this time. Sarah always had something new
about her appearance every time I saw her, probably
because I only saw her a couple of times a year. She would
be a few pounds lighter, or have a different fringe or a new
way of doing her make-up. This time, it was the colour of
her hair – blonde and golden streaks lifting the light
brown. 'You look great,' I said, like I always say.
She laughed. 'And you look . . . the same.' She always
said that too and she was always right. I had found my
look, my unnoticeable, blend-into-a-crowd style, and I
was planning to stick with it.
Later we sat out on her tiny patio drinking cold
enjoying the sudden warm spell, watching the sky darken
and the lights of the lorries on the motorway. We talked
about family stuff: how our parents were enjoying their
retirement and whether our younger sister Jem would
ever grow up and stop getting tattoos. We talked about
Sarah's kids – Katie choosing her GCSE subjects, Josh
applying for university. The next morning we all went
shopping at Meadowhall, then stopped for a K F C on the
way home. That evening Josh stoked up the barbecue in
the back garden and we ate burnt sausages and big bowls
of salad. It was fun. Until it wasn't.
Saturday night. I was on the road and it was only
Saturday night. I had been planning to stay at Sarah's until
Sunday afternoon. But it was still only Saturday night and
I was on my way home. I walked away. That was what I
did, a lot. I would walk away, especially from my family.
It wasn't because of arguments or disagreements or
anything like that. There would just come a moment
when things got on top of me, when the conversation
danced too close to subjects I didn't want to talk about,
and I felt the need to disentangle myself before it all got
too deep. In this case? We were all sitting around in the
garden when my sister said to Josh, 'You should ask Aunt
Lizzie all about her gap year.'
Sarah still called me Lizzie. She and her kids were
pretty much the only people who did. She was married
and had left home by the time I got back from my summer
in America aged eighteen and announced that my name
was now Beth.
'I didn't have a gap year,' I said, hoping I sounded
spiky enough to warn her off the subject.
'Yes, you did. You went to San Francisco.' It had
always rankled with her that her own godmother had
invited me, not Sarah, to stay with her in California.
'I only went for the summer. It wasn't a gap year.'
Sarah made a noise with her lips, a kind of raspberry, as
if to say 'whatever'. Then she said to Josh, 'Your Aunt
Lizzie went off to San Francisco after she left school, and
she came back all grown-up.'
For that was the family myth. Of course I couldn't have
told her, I had never been able to tell her, what had really
happened: why it was that I went to California as a loud,
flirty, flamboyant, full-of-myself teenager called Lizzie
and returned home as a sombre, quiet woman called Beth.
Josh wanted to know more, so I walked away. I could
feel the mood come over me. I knew it so well. I got itchy.
I would feel it in my extremities. I would feel myself
wanting to scream, to let it all out. Not straight away,
because then it would be obvious, but a little later, during
a lull in the conversation, I said: 'Listen, Saz . . .'
'Lizzie, don't . . .'
'What do you mean?'
'You're going to do it, what you always do. You're
going to say something like, "Look, the thing is, I need to
get back. I've got loads of marking to d o . " '
'I have.' Marking: it was such a useful excuse.
Everyone knew that teachers had marking, and it sounded
so dull that they never asked any more questions, and then
I didn't have to go into details and get caught out in a lie.
'Well, piss off, then.' Sarah made a joke of it but I could
tell she was upset.
She gave me a hug on the doorstep. 'You're weird,' she
'I know. Sorry.' I hated myself for leaving.
And so there I was, sitting at a table facing north up the
. I was watching the white lights of the southbound
carriageway and the red lights of the northbound
one until they became a blurry abstract pattern. I was
picking at the chewy pepperoni slices and stringy cheese
from my pizza. I was drinking a can of Red Bull and I was
trying to pretend that I was somewhere – anywhere – else.
That was when I saw him.
He wasn't there and then suddenly he was, as solid and
stocky and dark and vivid as he ever had been when he
was alive. He was sitting in the smoking section, just
under the big screen showing BBC News 24. From what I
could see, looking obliquely at him out of the corner of
my left eye, his chin was resting on the knuckles of his
right hand, and he was looking straight at me, a half-smile
on his face. I could feel his gaze. I knew that the little
dimple to the right of his mouth was twitching, the way it
used to do when he thought that he knew what I was
thinking. Rivers Carillo, the man I killed. Why wouldn't
he just leave me alone?
I ignored him, as much as it was possible to ignore him.
I tried to concentrate on my pizza, picking off the
pepperoni with my right hand, my left hand held up to my
temple to cut off my view of Rivers Carillo. In a moment
I would try doing what usually worked for me. I would
start counting. I would count to four, eight, sixteen,
maybe as high as sixty-four – and then I would turn
suddenly, to face him full on. And he wouldn't be there.
He'd disappear. His image would break up and I'd know
that it had been nothing, just my imagination, just the
ghost of an idea disturbing my vision.
Deep breath, start counting. And then, hands firmly
poised on the edge of my table, a sudden turn of my head
in his direction – to face him, to make him disappear.
But he didn't.
He was still there; still sitting there with his coffee, solid
and dark and smiling. And he winked at me.
My chair clattered and fell over. A table slammed into
my right hip as I raced out of the food court. I nearly lost
my footing as I ran down the stairs. I made it out to the car
park, breathless and scared. I didn't dare look behind me.
I found my car, pressed the key fob and heard the
as it unlocked the door. As I got into the
driver's seat I automatically checked the back seat. I didn't
even know what I was looking for – a bomb; a booby trap;
a bloody horse's head, perhaps – or maybe for the now adult
offspring of the man I had killed, brought up by their
grief-crazed mother to exact bloody revenge on me, and
lurking in the back of my car with a jagged-edged hunting
knife in their teeth. But there was nothing there. Of course
there wasn't. There never was.
I put the key into the ignition and tried to start the car.
It didn't work. The steering wheel was locked, from
where I had made a sharp left to get into the parking space.
I could feel my palms sweating as I rocked the wheel to try
to release it.
The knock on my window made me jump so much that
my chest hurt. Trying hard to control my breathing, I
turned to my right. There was a face at the window, a
pleasant, solid-looking face surrounded by dark curly
hair, a face I had never seen before. No. A face I
before, drinking a cup of coffee upstairs. I felt very stupid:
this was the man I had run away from. He made a gesture
to tell me to wind down my window, and I did. 'You left
your bag, duck,' he said in a soft northern accent, and he
held up the carrier bag that contained the bottle of water
and bag of wine gums that I had bought earlier at the
motorway services shop. I must have left it behind when I
ran out of the café.
I took it from him, and managed to thank him.
'Are you all right, love? You ran off a bit sudden, like.'
'I'm fine. Thanks.'
'It wasn't because I winked at you, was it? I'm sorry
about that, duck. You looked a bit worried and I wanted
to reassure you, like. You know, because we were the
only customers there. I winked at you to let you know I
was all right, that I wasn't a perve or anything to worry
'It's okay. Don't worry about it. I just thought you
were somebody I knew. Thanks for bringing me my bag.'
He gave me a thumbs-up. I wound up the window,
managed to get my car started, and pulled out of the space
so quickly that he had to step back sharply to avoid being
knocked over. My tyres squealed on the tarmac and I
ground my gears as I headed back towards the MI,
berating myself as I drove.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I thought you were somebody I knew. I thought you were
somebody I killed. I thought you were the ghost that I keep
seeing. I thought you were Rivers Carillo.
I drove down the MI in a daze, my heart still beating
hard. I told myself it was the caffeine from the Red Bull.
Why had I been so scared of a normal, friendly bloke
sitting quietly and drinking a cup of coffee? Why had I
thought that he was my ghost? It was a trick of the light. I
was tired. I'd had the southbound headlights flickering in
my eyes. It was my brain playing games with me, sending
me false messages.
I had seen him so many times before, you see, the ghost
of Rivers Carillo, when I was tired or stressed or
hormonal, or visiting a strange place. Sometimes I would
see him in the crowd at a parents' evening, or in the corner
of a busy pub, just sitting there, somewhere near the back,
a smirk on his face that said:
Go on, then – pretend you
haven't seen me.
Always, I would glimpse him out of the
corner of my eye and always, always, he would disappear
as soon as I turned to look at him. Sometimes seeing
Rivers Carillo would presage a migraine, and then I
would wonder if there was a scientific explanation, if I
could explain him away as a mere visual disturbance, the
kind you were supposed to get just before you have one of
those appalling sick headaches. But I didn't let him bother
me. Not much, anyway. I had come to the conclusion that
he was never going to stop haunting me. Seventeen years
he'd been at it. Why would he stop now?
But tonight had been different. Tonight it had been a
real person. I had run away from a real person, a harmless
guy, a nice thoughtful bloke drinking coffee at Leicester
Forest East services. The whole thing had become
completely irrational. It had gone too far. It had to stop.
By the time I had spent several minutes driving around
the area near my flat in King's Cross looking for a
parking space, the next day was already dawning,
catching up on me before I was ready for it. Even on a
warm day, dawn can chill you to the bone. It panicked me
sometimes, and it did that morning. The light was never
sharper or colder – sharp and cold and hollow like hunger
– and the streets around King's Cross were never emptier
than they were at three and four o'clock in the morning. I
felt exposed by the weird light. The shadows were in the
wrong places. It was disconcerting, disorientating. My
head ached from the metallic clash of caffeine and
exhaustion. I was pretty sure I was about to have a
migraine. I felt sick and empty.