Read on for an exclusive extract from ‘What She Saw’ by Diane Saxon.
What She Saw
Saturday 18 April 2245 hours
Pain seared through her shoulder, nowhere near the burn in her chest that desperate despair clutched at.
Poppy cracked open her eyes, only to slam them shut again before he looked over at her.
Silhouetted against the background of the hall light, he stood in the entrance to her darkened room.
Horror gripped her throat, but she forced her muscles to relax, held her breath like she did in the swimming pool when she practised her free diving. The more she slowed her heartbeat, the longer she could hold her breath. Under controlled circumstances, she could hold it for two minutes. The world record was over four and a half, but she’d only started on their holiday in Cuba at Christmas. It was cool joining the local free divers. Proud of her achievement, she’d practised three times weekly at the Shrewsbury School for Boys swimming pool which the Girls’ High School were allowed to use.
But these weren’t controlled circumstances, and the only pool she was in was that of her own blood.
The furious hammer of her heart pulsed through the base of her neck, making it swell until her face threatened to burst.
She squinted through veiled lashes.
She stopped the breath from rushing from her lungs, parted her lips and released it in a silent sigh while she watched, terror holding her still where she lay on the rumpled bedcovers.
It was her fault. She’d persuaded Aiden to sneak in through the back door and up the stairs. If she hadn’t, it would never have happened.
He must have known.
Rifle still in hand, he leaned over where Aiden’s naked body lay crumpled on the floor, grabbed a fistful of his hair and yanked his head back to study the boy’s beautiful features.
The ugly sneer on her daddy’s face froze her blood. Never one to physically abuse his children, that face was the one he used to control them all with the threat of underlying evil and barely suppressed fury.
She’d learnt long ago not to open her mouth in his presence, never to challenge with her eyes or they’d all suffer the consequences. His gaze would turn to ice while his jaw flexed as he clamped his teeth together. Then there would be nothing to eat that night.
The delicate flicker of her mother’s fingers, the quiver of her beautiful, soft lips, was a sure sign she’d read the situation before anyone else. Poppy had learnt well to read those signs as Daddy’s mood changed on a whim.
He held it in a tight fist.
They all appreciated he worked long, hard hours to keep them in the manner they’d all become accustomed to, as he frequently reminded them. They appreciated even more those long, hard hours keeping him away for as long as possible.
The wet thud of Aiden’s head as it slapped back onto the oak floorboards sent a sickened judder through her, but she held her nerve and remained still.
Pain radiated across her left breast, numbing her shoulder, while the slow pump of blood oozed from the bullet wound to trickle down her arm.
He’d shot her.
Unable to control the tremor, she tensed, her muscles seizing until they cramped.
Poppy closed her eyes as black clouds washed over her vision. She pulled in a long, slow breath, held it, pressing down on the panic threatening to surge upwards.
When she was ready, she opened them again to peer through the smallest crack in her vision and prayed he didn’t check to see if she was alive. If he grabbed her long hair in the same way, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to stop from screaming.
Could she play dead?
He placed the rifle on the floor, set his fists on his hips and breathed in through his nose as he stared down at Aiden’s body. His nostrils whitened with the flare as though the dead boy had caused him a mild irritation.
As he raised his head, Poppy slid her eyes closed again and held everything still.
Play dead, Poppy. Play dead.
With his back to her, he moved through the open doorway into the hall and paused. His shoulders rotated and he bent at the waist, picking up a shotgun he’d leaned up against the wall and sent Poppy’s heart into a frantic panic.
Oh god, there was more to come.
Saturday 18 April 2305 hours
Gordon Lawrence stared down the barrel of his shotgun, took aim and fired, blowing out the brains of his fourteen-year-old son so blood, grey matter and tiny shards of bone pebble-dashed the garish green patterned wallpaper behind the boy. Joshua had never liked the wallpaper in his bedroom in any case. At least he’d never have to bitch about it again.
Gordon curled his lip as he cruised his gaze over the blood, tissue and bone splatter.
It was the messiest by far of the five members of his family. Maybe he should have stuck to using the Remington 700 bolt-action hunting rifle he’d used on his wife.
No matter now. It was done.
He thought his son would have put up more of a fight, hence the choice of shotgun. It gave a better spread. Instead, Joshua hadn’t even heard him coming. Propped up in bed, his ears had been plugged with the overpriced Bluetooth EarPods. No doubt turned up to full volume to mask all other sounds in the house while he’d been absorbed by his online gaming.
It had been to Gordon’s advantage.
He gave a shrug as he placed the shotgun on the floor by his feet and slipped the Taurus LBR revolver from the back of his trouser waistband to check it for ammunition. No need to attach a silencer as he had with the first two weapons. The quiet pop, pop was muted enough so the others hadn’t been alerted. If they’d heard anything, they’d have assumed he was outside shooting rats. Nothing unusual there.
Each of his prized weapons had been selected with care and thought out to suit the demise of each member of his family.
His wife, Linda, had been the first to go. Disappointment etched across her fine features with a decided lack of surprise as she hugged the little chihuahua to her chest. Resigned. As though she’d expected it. She’d gone with the silent dignity and disapproval he’d come to expect from her.
Gordon hadn’t cared enough about the dog to pull the trigger on her as she dashed off through the house, tiny little yelps accompanying the scurried rush down the stairs and the faint clatter as she hurtled through the cat flap. Little fucker might just save herself if the big bastard of a buzzard didn’t get her.
Talisha and Geraldine, his eight-year old twins were next. Gordon had used his .204 Ruger, the one he reserved solely for fox shooting. Thankfully asleep, the entry wound barely grazed through their small heads and left little of note behind on their soft pillows. He hadn’t wanted to hurt them, merely put them out of a misery that was to come without him there to protect them. That was the point. He was protecting them from a life that would otherwise be hell. It was for the best. For their own good. They belonged to him. This way, no one else would possess them.
His eldest daughter, Poppy, was the hardest for him to kill. Awareness and terror, probably not for the right reason, filled her eyes as he stepped into her bedroom. Who knew she’d sneaked her boyfriend in after the party had ended? The pair of them rolling naked on the bed.
On any other occasion, Gordon would have broken the boy’s legs for him for daring to have sex with his precious daughter. Instead, too numbed to process any emotion, he dispatched them both with the same gun, a quick one-two.
Neat, precise, effortless.
He’d cocked his head to one side. Narrowed his eyes. He’d seen the boy out the front door at ten p.m. Thought he’d gone home. His wife would have had a hissy fit if she’d known he’d sneaked back in. She’d have killed them herself if she’d known they were having sex, even if she had thought he was a nice lad. Witnessing that would have changed her mind.
With a mild curl of dissatisfaction, Gordon had reached down to clasp his hand around the skinny ankle of the youth to drag him from his daughter’s bedroom.
The boy, whatever his name was, Gordon couldn’t remember, he’d been unimportant. Allowed to attend the family gathering by Linda.
A quiet affair. Gordon had asked for nothing for his forty-fifth birthday. Instead, the black and gold balloons still floated above the chair backs where they’d been tied just hours earlier. A meal with his family. A late night for the young ones. An early one for him. Only he’d not gone to bed at the same time as Linda. He’d stayed downstairs with his two fingers of Balvenie Vintage Cask single malt whisky. Sipped it with the reverence it deserved. The decision already made. The plan laid down. His precious firearms already selected, cleaned, loaded.
Remorse. There was none. He’d never allow them, his family, to suffer the humiliation and rejection that was to come with the knowledge of what he’d done. What he’d been discovered to have done. He had no qualms about what he’d done, only regret that he was about to be caught.
The revelation that their advancement in society had been based not on his family’s naïve belief of his business acumen but on an enterprise he’d steeped himself in to drag himself out of the gutter too many years ago to count. His strong, respectable reputation with a chain of estate agents bearing his name that he’d taken years to build, to establish as a front to the real money-spinner. An entire criminal organisation. One that had propped up the way of life his wife and children had taken for granted. A way of life that the estate agents could never have provided for alone. But he’d nurtured the reputation, worked long hours and turned up at the offices every day in his Savile Row suits and shirts. He’d treated his staff with respect and above-average salaries which garnered him the prestige he sought.
Solid. Congenial. Dependable.
Bitterness flashed hot and brief. He’d believed he was untouchable, but no one was. In the end, not every obstacle could be removed. Not every palm greased. Certainly not the chief crown prosecutor’s, it appeared. Either that, or they hadn’t found his price before he found the link. Even if he didn’t know what he’d discovered yet. It was only a matter of time. He had all the files, he simply needed to pull the thread and wade through the paperwork.
Gordon clenched his jaw until white-hot needles of pain shot through his ear canal and he relaxed again. Resignation. There was nothing left. No other road to take.
In the deathly silence of the cool spring night, he turned his head and peered along the gloomy grey hallway of his stone built fifteenth-century hall. Home for the past six years. And during that short sprint of time, he’d enjoyed it, indulged his wife in her fantasies, bathed in the sycophantic admiration of the locals who’d previously looked down on a woman who’d been brought up in their village. They’d changed their mind about the poor little girl who’d grown up, moved out and made good. He’d seen to that. Determined no wife of his would ever be looked down on, he’d provided her with the means to rise above them. Facilitated her climb through the echelons of society.
Not through love.
He let out a delicate snort.
He’d never loved her. Never loved anyone. He witnessed it between his wife and children, but it was a foreign language to him. He didn’t love them. He possessed them. They were his and therefore their rise through the ranks was a necessity.
Of course, the old money remained unconvinced, unmoved by brash new money, but he didn’t give a fuck about them, provided his wife remained untouched by their malice.
Despite them all, he’d renovated his classic U-shaped brick-built Tudor hall, which stood in fifty acres of formal gardens and parkland. He’d greased the palms of those very same people who turned their noses up at his wife so that he could speed up the renovation processes of the Grade-I listed building. Where money had failed, he’d taken advantage of his knowledge and contacts to persuade those he couldn’t buy in other ways.
It wasn’t difficult. Everyone had a price whether it was money, security, safety of a loved one, pride, position. They could all be bought.
With a long, slow pull, Gordon filled his lungs with air and loaded the handgun for the last time. He hunkered down and paused for one brief, infinitesimal moment as blood thundered through his head to fill his ears with a dark, persistent pounding.
He reached out and sent a small lick of flame from his lighter, touching it to the thin trail of accelerant he’d laid. Irritation streaked through him as the tiny blue flame spluttered and almost died on the pure wool hallway runner, refusing to ignite until the weak, guttering flame hit the pool of accelerant on the wooden floor and leapt, zigzagging onto the antique furniture his wife had painstakingly chosen and he’d splashed fuel over. When it reached the restored, overstuffed chaise longue where the hallway opened into a wide square above the staircase, oxygen from the windows he’d cracked open wafted in to bellow the flames into a golden, flickering hue.
Fascinated, Gordon stared until his eyes stung and the dark smoke whorled around the hallway, fumes from the stuffing burning the soft tissue of his nose and throat. He yanked his burgundy, fine-knit cashmere jumper over the lower part of his face as he gave a last glance around his house.
Satisfied there was no more he could do, he raised his gun, and for the last time aimed and fired.
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