A brutal murder. A young woman’s body is discovered with horrifying injuries, a recent newspaper cutting pinned to her clothing. A detective with everything to prove. This is her only chance to redeem herself. A serial killer with nothing to lose. He’s waited years, and his reign of terror has only just begun…
Read on for an extract from Hold Your Tongue by Deborah Masson!
Hold Your Tongue
Twenty years ago
The woody, sweet scent of cinnamon punctures the darkness where he sits at the kitchen table. An oversized pot, half full of mulled wine, still lies on the cooker top. Beads of condensation beneath the pot’s glass lid shimmer in the soft orange glow seeping through the window above the sink. He leans forward, reaches over the plate in front of him and picks up the bottle again, his knuckles turning white as he takes a drink and enjoys the silence.
From where he sits he can see thick icicles hanging from the gutter. Lamp posts, their tops heavy with snowfall, throw shadows against the council houses that line the street. A cold wind drives frenzied snowflakes against glass-encased bulbs.
His sigh is loud as he turns towards the panelled door leading to the living room. They had sprayed white foam into the corners of its panes and, through the clear glass above the fake snow, he can see the silhouette of the tree in the corner. Its plastic branches are tired, limp ends bowing beneath the weight of handmade decorations – old, but they can’t bear to replace them. The cold wooden chair creaks as he leans back and closes his eyes.
The moan disturbs him.
Shifting his weight to the edge of the seat, he looks beyond the small circular dining table to the floor.
The back of her white nightdress looks rust-coloured in the shadows as she drags herself across the linoleum. If only she’d stayed in bed. He reaches towards the plate on the table, his icy finger poking a hole in the clingfilm, ripping at it before pulling a biscuit from the top of the pile. It breaks easily, a chunk shoved into his mouth before he picks at the small crumbs that have fallen into the buttons of his pyjama top. They taste soft and sickly sweet, the way he likes them.
As per tradition, they had made them and the wine together that day. Family time, she liked to call it. Pretending everything was all right, as fake as the snow on the door’s glass panes. They forced themselves to smile, trying to maintain a sense of normality. He went along with it to keep them both happy, feeling guilt and a rage that he feared would erupt and scorch them all, knowing who deserved to burn. But he kept it hidden, bubbling beneath.
She always allowed them one biscuit each; this year only three were taken instead of four. And then she double wrapped them in clingfilm and promised they could have whatever Santa didn’t eat. Except that now Christmas wouldn’t be coming.
His teeth bite into biscuit; he keeps biting until there’s nothing left, dark eyes watching her matted hair as she crawls across the cold floor, small movements leaving a black trail in the dark. Glass crunches beneath her.
When he stands up, he’s careful not to scrape the chair legs against the linoleum. It’s important not to wake him upstairs. He crouches, moves the glass handle away from her side – the only thing that didn’t shatter when he smashed the water jug against her head. Her wet hair feels heavy as he tucks it behind her ear, taking no chances as to whether she can hear him.
‘It’s all your fault.’
Her body resists as he strains to roll her over on to her back, but he does it. She needs to see him, to see that he’s his own man. Her breath comes in short rasps, and her eyes are wide, pleading. He jabs his finger towards the ceiling and puts it to his lips, where the flicker of a smile lies, signalling for her to stay silent.
The cheap material of his pyjama bottoms rustles as he straightens and goes to the kitchen drawers. In the top one, he sees the pink plastic spoon next to blue, the only ones they kept: a reminder of the baby years. In the next drawer, he curls his fingers around the worn wooden handle of the bread- knife. It will do. She has to pay, and today is the perfect day. He sees the kitchen tongs and smiles as he lifts them from the drawer and moves towards her, the knife blade glinting in the gloom.
‘Please, I love you.’ Desperate. Breathless.
He kneels, drops the blade and tongs by his side and clamps his hand over her mouth, stares into her eyes. She’s struggling to keep them open, blood pouring from her head wound. He listens, relieved that he still hasn’t heard movement from upstairs. Nothing.
He sits astride her, his weight bearing down on her, and prises open her mouth, dirty nails digging into her tongue’s strong, slippery flesh. Pulling at it, he lifts the tongs and holds her tongue fast. With his other hand, he lifts the knife. Her eyes y open as she bucks against him, trying hard to clamp her mouth shut but unable to as his hands and cold metal fill the space between her lips. Her hands claw at his, legs kicking against the floor. Impressing him with what little strength she has left, using it to jerk her groin upwards in a vain attempt to throw his bulk from her.
Her wet eyes never leave his.
He hears the creak of the floorboards overhead, the unmistakeable soft footsteps making their way down the carpeted stairs. It is the cry that makes him look towards the door, deep into terrified eyes.
For that, he is sorry.
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