My kindle book Sheer Fear is free until 13 May, so here’s the first chapter, hoping it tempts you to download the rest – free!
FALLING OFF A CRANE
David Hart had about a minute left to live.
I foolishly thought I could save his life, otherwise I’d never have been standing on the rain-slippery metal pole of a crane, four hundred feet above the ground. Vertigo had kicked in. Everything was starting to spin, my vision was blurring and sounds whacked me like fat wet sponges. My senses were closing down one by one.
“David?” I yelled. “Listen! There’s a way out of this.”
“You reckon?” he spluttered.
I was still a few yards away from him. I held out my right hand: a peace offering. The other was gripping the steel pole beside me. Random smells hit me. My own sweat. Diesel fumes. An incongruous lavender perfume aroma. The sweet-sour tang of hard hot metal.
Nobody tells you that the structure of a metal crane bucks and quivers with the wind, it’s like you’re on board ship on a choppy sea. I’d just climbed up eight long ladders within the quivering metal structure, and my leg muscles were screaming. When I was halfway to heaven the endless silver struts gave way at last to the steel bars that pointed out into the sky, directly below the door to the operator’s cab. That big chunk of solid metal, with SHEFFIELD CRANES shouting out in coloured lettering, almost pulled me back to mundane reality. Those letters, and a smear of brown bubbling rust, were tantalisingly close above my head.
David Hart, the man with whom I shared a very special, secret bond, was just a few yards away from me. His eyes were red-raw from the hysterical weeping I’d just witnessed. All I remember from that day is random images: beads of rainwater on his pink bloody forehead. Single unshaven whisker on a dirty throat. A lonely unfastened trainer lace caught up in the breeze.
Drizzle hacked my face. The spinning sensation diminished. Gradually I could see and hear properly, aware mainly of a thumping heartbeat in my ears. Legs still trembling, I somehow managed to stand on the jib, the horizontal arm that was shaped into a knee-level cage, towards where David was balanced halfway along the finger in the sky.
The jib was made up of a triangle of three metal struts joined by latticework metal, the topmost one of the triangle the only surface to walk on. David was sitting astride this topmost strut, legs hugging the sides, outlined against the black angry clouds. Directly below him were the steel lines fixed to the giant jib-line hook on a pulley. It was attached to the straining wires around a rectangle of pure white concrete that was bigger than a car. I’d seen it weaving to and fro mesmerizingly close to my head above the streets of Canterbury as I was climbing up.
I thought about Mary Doyle. And of how it felt to hold her in my arms, and to feel the thump of her heartbeat against my own. And I thought about the tiny mole on her shoulder that I’d never see again if I died.
David was facing me, hysterical eyes alive with a burning desperation. His grip on the metal bar in front of him slackened as his hands began to tremble uncontrollably.
I dropped myself down, so that I too, was sitting astride the jib. And I pushed myself along so that I was closer to him.
I reached out.
“G-G-G-Get away from me, J-J-Jack!”
His stutter had made him the butt of jokes when we were in the same class at school, when we were both aged eight. I’d done my best to defend him then.
Some things never seem to change.
“Just come down, David. Please!”
A long way below I could see people were looking up, their bodies as tiny as dolls, their faces craned skywards. I could just about hear the cacophonous sound of a car’s blaring horn, deafening as I was climbing, but steadily decreasing the higher I got.
“Look, David, you locked Sian in the car. She doesn’t know what’s going on, and she’s terrified. What if she takes the handbrake off?”
“She’ll be all right.”
“You need to get down to your daughter. Think of her.”
“W-Why else do you think I grabbed her and made a r-run for it? It should have been okay. I just wanted to take her away somewhere, anywhere. Why the hell did you have to follow me, Jack? Why couldn’t you just mind your own business for once?”
“You wouldn’t have got far.”
“But it was my only chance! Janet wouldn’t let me take Sian—that’s why I hit her—I didn’t mean to hurt her, but she fell onto the fireplace. I –t-t-t-think I killed her. So I’ll go down for sure now. Sian will get taken into care.”
And all at once I was transported back to the school changing rooms, when David’s football boots had been snatched and were being tossed from one to another above his head, all the boys taunting him, laughing at him, as he was crying and pleading, reaching out in vain to get them back. The more he cried and screamed out, the more they laughed. Until I grabbed his boots from the biggest boy and smashed my fist into his face.
There was the faint honking noise of someone yelling on a tannoy, muffled irrelevant words scattered into the breeze. From up here the grand spires of Canterbury’s St Augustine’s Cathedral looked almost close enough to touch. The rest of the city of Canterbury was like a fine colourful tablecloth spread out far below us, though I was too absorbed in the hell of the moment to look. My Land Rover Discovery was slewed in front of David’s mangled Vauxhall, its front wing crumpled against my passenger door. What seemed like a lifetime ago I’d deliberately forced him to ram me. He’d leapt out of his car and climbed.
And I, like a fool, had followed him.
My legs were beginning to tremble even more, agonised muscles locking down tight. I felt myself losing my grip against the metal. Things were once again beginning to spin.
I was going to die.
But I had to move closer to him. Had to get within reach.
“Come on, David,” I shouted.
“Leave me alone, Jack! I’ve got no choice now. You know I’d never survive jail.”
The wind was whipping up, the gust smacking a blast of rain into my eyes. The slippery metal beneath my thighs was shivering again. Water ran down my face. I tried to keep my voice steady.
“You can’t do this.”
“Got no alternative. Not now.”
The wind picked up again, blowing away the words.
“There’s a way out of this—”
“—Just leave me alone, Jack! You ruined my chance of getting away.” I saw his grip loosen slightly on the metal bar. “Now—”
“—Come on, David. Come down now and let’s get it sorted.”
“I think I killed Janet. Didn’t mean to. But I had to get Sian away from her. Do you understand, Jack? Everything kind of went out of control.”
“Listen to me! I know you didn’t kill those women.”
“Then why are they going to arrest me for the murders?”
“Because they’re wrong! We have to fight them.”
“Fuck it, Jack, you’ve got no idea. This whole thing is bigger than anyone realises.”
“Tell me then.”
Things were spinning again now. The sky was falling down to meet me, the earth rising up. I felt myself slipping sideways.
“Does anyone know about us, Jack?” He glared at me earnestly.
“No. It’s our secret.”
“I never even told Janet,” David said.
I was moving closer and closer. Soon. Very soon.
“See, Jack, there’s so much you don’t know—things that no one’s gonna believe.”
“So tell me.”
“Guys like you and me, Jack, we don’t matter. These kind of people are way out of our league. You get in their way and they just tell someone to snuff you out.”
“What kind of people? Who are you talking about?”
“You’d never believe how high it goes. Had no idea there were men like that who’d want to…” He began to cry again, continuing between sobs: “Shit. The copper told me. They take what they want and just use people. They had to cover it up, see? If they hadn’t fitted me up it would’ve been someone else.” He broke down again, his voice barely a croak.
“Listen, David. If someone framed you, then tell me and I’ll help.”
I was about three feet away from him now, clinging onto the strut in front of me.
David Hart frowned through his tears. “Will you really help me, Jack? Will you really try to find someone who’ll listen to me?”
“Yes. I swear it. Okay?”
“You mean it?”
“I won’t lie. They are going to charge you with the murders. But we fight it. You tell me all you know. And I’ll fight for you. God knows, I always have, haven’t I?”
“But what if—?”
“—Forget what if, David, nothing else matters but you surviving so that you can look after your little girl. It’s Sian that matters. You’ve got to focus on Sian. She needs you. And Janet’s not as badly hurt as you think. She’ll be okay.”
“Yeah?” He looked down and swayed slightly. “You’re right. Sian does need me.”
“And I’m going to help you, David, I swear we’ll sort it out.”
“Just like you always have, Jack? You’ll help me again? Whatever sort of shit they throw at you?”
I nodded. “But first things first. I’ll shuffle backwards, you come towards me.”
Still clinging to the bar in front of me, I moved back. He came towards me. As he came closer I could see the expression in his eyes. The faint beginnings of relief, of hope, in their depths. He raised his hand, lifting it up towards me.
And then? Who knows?
He slipped, stumbled, couldn’t hold on any longer.
All in a flash, he slid sideways. Then tumbled over.
His hands were scrabbling frantically as he tried to hang onto the bar. One of them clung on. The other waved wildly, swinging around to try and get a handhold.
I shimmied above him, reached down and grabbed his waving hand with both of mine. Pulled as hard as I could, gripping the metal framework tightly between my knees.
His left hand couldn’t hold the slippery steel any longer. As he let go, his full weight jerked against me. I gripped as tightly as I could.
“Please!” He was yelling, tears running down his cheeks. “PLEASE! DON’T LET ME DIE. I WANT TO SEE MY BABY!”
And then I felt my body swivel sideways.
I was tumbling over the barrier. Falling with him.
Get the rest free by clicking: