In case you like fast moving adventure stories with plenty of twists, here’s the first part of DOPPELGANGER, the second Jack Lockwood mystery, that’s on free giveaway right now:
WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME
Abandon the book Jack, or we’ll kill you. This is your final warning.
Sean Michael Boyd’s gravel-voiced telephone threats still rang in my ears as I drove through the rainy October darkness of the road through Healey’s Wood. Healey’s looming overhead branches always engendered a cave-like sense of gloom and, as if this latest threat to my life wasn’t stressful enough, too many late nights and tight deadlines were making my eyelids feel like lead.
So when the woman dashed out in front of my car I couldn’t stop in time. Just felt a jarring thump and I jerked forward as the figure was flung from the bonnet, landing a yard in front of my steaming front tyres. All I could see in my headlight beams was a heap of crumpled clothing in the road, with an outflung hand and twitching fingers, pointing skywards.
Adrenalin pumping, I opened the door, breathing vaporised tyre and soggy woodland. The figure was moving, thank goodness. At least it looked as if she was still alive.
Reaching across to grab my mobile and switch on the hazard lights, I dialled 999 as I ran around the front of the car.
“Ambulance. Yes. And police,” I shouted as I knelt down beside the victim, registering her pain-wracked face, the frantic effort to survive burning in her eyes. The renewed burst of driving rain penetrated my shirt in seconds. “It’s Waldegrave Road, just at the start of Healey’s Wood at Crenham, just off the A2 in the direction of Canterbury. I passed a pub called the Saracen’s Head about half a mile back.”
“Got that, caller, someone’s on their way now.”
The operator’s faraway voice sounded so cool, so unbelievably calm.
“Look, just get here, please, she’s badly hurt!”
“Can you tell me what her injuries are?”
“No. I can’t see. I’m crouched down in the middle of the road, sheltered from oncoming vehicles by my own car! Please, just get here as soon as you can!”
“And what’s your name please, caller?”
I dropped the phone and reached for the woman’s fingers. I squeezed gently, realising that since her eyes were barely open, she’d have no idea what was happening. She’d just be aware of the rhythmic drumbeat of raindrops, water soaking her skin, and the shoe-half-off-foot that was completely submerged in the roadside puddle. I had to move her, but was it safe?
“Hang on, you’re okay, ambulance is on its way,” I tried to reassure her. “Just lie still.”
The woman – she appeared to be in her twenties – looked dazed, and there was blood matting her hair, a growing pool that was spreading, the rivulets of crimson merging with the lakes of rain. Had I knocked her backwards so she’d fallen and cracked the back of her head? At least it looked as if she could move her arms and legs. I clung to the knowledge that I hadn’t been speeding, and had almost been able to stop. But if I hadn’t been so dog-tired, could I have halted the car in time?
The light coloured jacket of her trouser suit was torn and stained with mud, the top ripped open at the front. Her chest rose and fell, her breath was heaving ugly gasps.
“Don’t let him get me!” she rasped, trying to struggle off the ground. “Please don’t let him–”
“Don’t worry, you’re safe, please, just try to take it easy. Help is on the way–”
“Where is he?” She tried to move her head, eyes alive with terror.
“He’s long gone, you’re okay, I promise. It’s over now, and you’re safe, just try to lie still.”
I stopped talking when I realised she’d stopped breathing.
Frantically, I racked my brains to remember the first aid course I’d done twenty years ago.
I laid her flat, tilted her head upwards and opened her mouth. Kneeling astride her I bent down and closed my lips over hers, pinched the victim’s nose and breathed hard into her lungs, hoping something might happen.
Memories flooded back of a rubber dummy and a lot of badinage while the first aid instructor tried to tell us what to do, the dummy jerking alarmingly as its chest was depressed by our incompetent fingers. I leaned over the woman’s chest, heel of one hand between the cups of her bra, backed up by the other, fingers interlinked, and pressed hard five times, praying for something to happen.
Mouth-to-mouth once more. I almost choked, practically gagging as I couldn’t avoid swallowing my own blood, reminding me of my injury from earlier in the evening. As I took my lips away to breathe for the fourth time, the woman gave a gulp and a momentary jerk. An indrawn breath. A choking sound.
And all at once I could hear sirens behind us, then slamming doors, running feet.
I made way for the paramedics and watched as they fastened a mask over her face, then fitted a spinal collar, applying a dressing to the back of her head, attaching needles to her wrists, radios alive with chatter, muttering medical gobbledygook to each other. I was vaguely aware of a police car behind them. Hardly realising what I was doing, I automatically scooped up my phone from the ground and put it in my pocket. In between the medics’ frantic ministrations they asked me if I knew her name but I just shook my head, and mumbled that she’d stopped breathing just now and I’d administered CPR.
There was a lull in the rain at last.
The policeman stared at me.
“She stumbled out in the middle of the road. I couldn’t stop in time…”
“You’re saying that you’re responsible for her injuries?”
“She must have been hurt already.” I dragged myself to my feet, aching with the effort. “Her head was bleeding. She said she’d been attacked. I think she must have been running away from someone.”
“But you ran her over?”
“I couldn’t help it.”
The copper was frowning at me with controlled menace as he took note of my dishevelled appearance, the scruffy jeans and split-lipped face.
“Know the victim, do you?”
“Never seen her before.”
“Sure about that?”
“Of course I’m sure.”
“When we arrived you were kneeling on top of her. Just what you were doing?”
“Giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. And once she came round, I was trying to reassure her.”
“And you’ve got no idea who she is?”
As I shook my head, I tried to see things from their point of view. Dangerous looking character who’s been leaning across a helpless female who’s obviously been seriously injured. I glanced across to where the paramedics were strapping the woman to a stretcher and wheeling her towards the ambulance. “Look, mate,” I appealed to the officer. “I swear I’ve never seen her before, and there was nothing I could do to stop my car in time. I wasn’t even speeding. When I hit her it was a gentle kind of bump, you know? Not a full-on crack, like as if I’d done real damage. At least I hope…”
The ambulance was pulling away. I thought back to the gang of Canterbury University students who’d been attacking the man huddled in blankets on the pavement, a poor old guy who’d been minding his own business, hunched up miserably under the stone canopy of the Westgate, a medieval gatehouse in the city walls. I’d intervened, pulling the biggest man away, but before I could retaliate he’d thumped his fist into my face, mashing my lip, while the second youth had punched me in the stomach. Deprived of their easy prey, the trio moved on, leaving me staggering against the ancient stone structure, with an injured mouth, an aching gut and the stares of the bemused rough-sleeper, who was barely aware what had been going on.
My thoughts came back to the present as the other policeman approached, having been examining my car. “Do you have any objections to taking a breathalyzer test, sir?” he asked politely, holding up a rectangular box.
“N-not at all.”
But right now shock was kicking in big time, making me behave erratically. I was unsteady on my feet. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Light-headedness made me stutter.
And breathing into the breathalyzer wasn’t easy. I tried three times, but the stress of rushing around trying to help the victim meant I was still puffed out, couldn’t breathe deeply enough to be able to give them a good enough sample.
“Would you mind accompanying us to the station, please sir?” asked the nearest officer, all narrowed eyes and exaggerated politeness.
“What about my car?”
“No one’s moving that until we get a team down here to measure tyre marks and make a proper assessment of the situation.”
I frowned and shook my head. “Look, please believe me, I don’t drink and drive, ever!”
“What’s your name, sir?”
“Lockwood. Jack Lockwood.”
“Driving licence is at home, but there’s something in my car.”
I went back to my Land Rover Discovery and climbed inside, with the second policeman standing guard, presumably in case I made a run for it. On the back seat I found the parcel, out of which I extracted a copy of my latest book Diary of a Killer from the batch of author copies that had arrived from the publishers that morning.
As I got into the back of the police car I handed it over to the one who was in the driver’s seat, talking into the car’s radio. He stared at the author picture at the back of the book, then at me, and made no comment. The photo was instantly recognisable, albeit touched up a bit, thanks to a bit of nifty Photoshop tweaking. Blond hair, the break in my nose hardly noticeable, small scar on the chin, self-conscious smile. A female reviewer had once referred to me as having ‘rugged good looks’, but I think she was being generous.
The policeman’s colleague returned and climbed in beside him, slamming the door and scattering droplets. I noticed the beads of water on the newcomer’s sandy eyebrows. Then he found a notebook and pen, leaning across the front seat to talk to me. “Right then Mr Lockwood, perhaps you’d like to tell us what happened here?”
“I was driving along and she suddenly ran out right in front of me. I braked to a stop, thought I felt the front of the car hit her. Then I called the emergency services.”
I could see they didn’t believe a word of it.
“You say she looked as if she’d been attacked. How badly was she hurt?”
“Looked serious to me.” Images were flooding back. “There was blood in her hair, as if she’d been hit with something.”
“But you knocked her down?”
“I couldn’t help it.”
“Was she able to say anything?”
“Yes,” I suddenly remembered with relief. “Yes! she said something like ‘Don’t let him get me’. She was afraid of someone.”
“Did you see anyone else?”
“Her words were, Don’t let him get me?”
Here’s the link to get it free NOW, and for next 5 days: Doppelganger