Extract: The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox
As a series of rolling blackouts plunge the city into darkness, Detective Aidan Waits sits on an abandoned hospital ward, watching a mass murderer slowly die. Transferred from his usual night shift duties and onto protective custody, he has just one job: to extract the location of Martin Wick’s final victim before the notorious mass murderer passes away.
Wick has spent over a decade in prison, in near-total silence, having confessed to an unspeakable crime that shocked the nation and earned him the nickname of ‘The Sleepwalker’. But when a daring premeditated attack leaves one police officer dead and another one fighting for his life, Wick’s whispered last words will send Waits on a journey into the heart of darkness…
Read on for an extract from The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox!
Tessa was ready and packed with a few minutes to spare, standing in the open doorway enjoying a gentle evening breeze. It wasn’t quite dark, and the vivid powder-blue twilight felt like something she hadn’t had time to stop and contemplate in years. It struck her as a premonition, a promise of all the good things still out there on the horizon, and her hand went unconsciously to her stomach.
The street was quiet and Tessa could hear the little girl next door rehearsing at her piano, playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. She’d improved so much in the last few months, her rendition transforming from the halting scales of an amateur into something elemental, flowing out of her like water. A set of headlights turned the corner, strafing the houses on the other side of the road, and a matt-black Mercedes pulled up at the end of Tessa’s drive, precisely on time. The driver was dressed in a smart, dark suit and when he came up the path she saw he was wearing tinted glasses.
‘Miss Klein?’ he said.
‘Call me Tess.’
He asked if he could take her suitcase and she caught her reflection in his lenses. The amused smile in her eyes that said she didn’t do this often. She followed him to the car, where he held open a door for her and loaded her case into the back, before taking up his position in the driver’s seat.
‘Where to?’ he said, clearly in on the joke.
‘Oh, surprise me,’ she answered, feeling the smile split her face in half.
The driver gave her a nod in the rear-view and pulled out into the road. Tessa looked through the window, at the houses, the lit windows and lives she was leaving behind. She felt her eyes growing heavy, sinking shut, and when she opened them again it was full dark outside. The driver turned into a narrow country lane, crunching gravel beneath the tyres, approaching a small cottage with no lights on. He pulled up and touched the ignition.
‘Surprise,’ he said.
It was so quiet that Tessa could hear herself breathing. The driver climbed out and went to the car boot, taking her suitcase, and returning to open the door.
He clicked on a Maglite and led them towards the cottage.
‘We’re looking for a cactus,’ he said, examining the pots lined up against the wall. Tessa bent to the plant and found the spare key hidden beneath it. The door opened with a sigh, as though the building had been holding its breath, and she felt along the wall for light switches, pressing all of them at once. The bulbs were energy efficient, her preference, and she smiled to think that he’d probably had them changed especially for her. They gave off a soft glow that didn’t quite reach the corners of the room, making it seem even more cavernous than it was. The space was large, open-plan, including both kitchen and lounge, with enormous wooden beams lining the ceiling. Tessa forgot the driver for a second, and when he discreetly cleared his throat she twisted round to him.
‘I’m sorry, please put that down anywhere.’
He stepped inside and placed the suitcase beside a sofa.
‘Can I get you a drink?’ she said, moving to the kitchen. ‘Not that I know where anything is. We should probably wait for his lordship.’ When the driver didn’t respond, she turned to him. He was much closer now, and she wondered how he’d moved so quietly.
‘I’m afraid he’s not coming.’
She took half a step backwards. ‘Some kind of problem?’
‘You could say that.’ His tinted glasses made the expression unreadable. ‘I’m afraid it’s over, Miss Klein.’
‘OK,’ she said, catching her reflection in the lenses again. She looked afraid now, and tried to go on in a calm tone of voice. ‘That’s OK, but in that case I’ll be going home.’
‘It’s all over,’ he clarified.
‘You’ve got it wrong.’ She smiled, relieved that the answer had come to her. ‘We were together yesterday…’ She thought of their bodies intertwined on his office floor, her ear pressed against his chest like she was guessing the combination to a safe. ‘… I’m pregnant.’
‘Exactly,’ said the driver, sounding grateful that she’d broached a difficult subject. ‘Exactly, so you just take a seat for me,’ he said, motioning to the table. ‘There’s one thing I need and then we’ll be square. I’ll sit over here.’
He touched the furthest chair from her.
‘I’d rather stay standing, thanks.’
‘That’s fine,’ he said. ‘Me too.’ He reached inside his pocket, found a pen and paper and placed them on the table. When he slid them towards her she recognized the items from her own home. ‘These are for you. I need you to write something down for me.’
‘If this is about the baby—’
‘No, no,’ he said. ‘Just pick up the pen, it’s all very simple.’ Not taking her eyes off the man, she bent to pick up the pen, holding it up to him. ‘Good. Then all we need you to do is copy this down.’ He searched another pocket and found a printed piece of paper, placing it on the table, sliding it towards her. She started to read and then took a step back, covering her mouth.
‘Let me talk to him,’ she said through her hand. The man didn’t move. ‘I’m not writing that, not ever.’
The man took off his glasses, looking at her with such sympathy that she thought she’d got through to him.
Then he took another item from his jacket pocket, a pair of pliers.
‘Sorry,’ he said, searching for something else. ‘Oh, here we go.’ He dropped a heavy envelope on to the table.
‘Money?’ she said, incredulous but feeling the relief work through her. ‘He thinks he can pay me off?’ The driver waited in silence, not looking at her now. She bent to open the envelope and poured out the contents.
They were glossy photographs.
The first showed her mother, working at the Co-op, and the second was her dad behind the wheel of his car. The bulk of them were pictures of her sister, her brother- in-law, their two toddlers, Sarah and Max. The final three were taken from inside their bedroom, while the children were sleeping. Tessa looked up but she couldn’t speak, suddenly she couldn’t breathe.
‘Something really good can come of all this,’ said the man. ‘You can save their lives tonight, Tess. And all you’ve got to do is write that note for me.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ she said, running out of air. ‘I don’t…’
He took his phone from his pocket, scrolled to an entry and slid it towards her. She recognized it as the landline for her sister’s home, a number she didn’t think she’d dialled in years. The adrenaline was making her fingers shake but she pressed ‘call’, looking defiantly into the driver’s face. It was picked up on the first ring.
An unfamiliar male voice: ‘Made up your mind?’
‘Who are you?’
‘You just worry about where I am. Where I’ll be when your sister gets home with the kids in ten minutes. Sign the note, Tess. I don’t know how to make it easy on them.’
The man hung up and Tessa felt the phone growing slippery in her hand. She dropped it and looked about her, then sank to the table, drying her right palm against her blouse so she could hold the pen. She’d copied down two halting lines before coming to a stop, hovering over the third for a long moment.
Don’t look for me, it said. I’ve made it so my body won’t ever be found.
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