From the Top Ten Kindle bestselling author of The Perfect Neighbours, comes this riveting thriller about a murdered school teacher. The Good Teacher is out now in ebook! Here’s an exclusive peek at Chapter One…
Her back aches like hell. She tries for the hundredth time to read her watch but can’t see her wrist, no matter how far she cranes her neck. The hot metal handcuffs cut into her arm and send pain searing up to her shoulder. It might be broken, but fractures are worse than this; she knows that. Her body has taken a pummelling but the bruises will heal.
She shifts her buttocks, peeling the thick pyjama trousers from her clammy thighs. She’s in the lounge on a kitchen chair, old with paint splatters, the remnants of previous decorating forays. White speckles from several ceilings, large splodges of powder-blue bathroom sheen, and buttercup, pink and cherry from the nursery project. Happy days long gone. She’s never had to sit for so long in this chair. She usually perches on its hard edge long enough to force down a couple of cream crackers and a cup of camomile tea. Even the leisurely Sunday breakfasts are a thing of the past.
Reg Kenny weaves across the lane, taking care not to stray off the tarmac. Not that it would matter much – although the thick grass verge is soaked in dew, the ground below is rock hard. As he pedals, he feels sweat on his forehead. It’s going to be another scorcher. Doreen doesn’t know what she’s missing and he isn’t going to tell her. His early morning cycle rides are his only escape from the infernal woman. And besides he has his little detour ahead of him. He pedals faster at the thought of what lies ahead and breathes harder, taking in the country freshness.
The chance to freewheel downhill fuels his good humour. The riotous hedgerows rushing by, the morning birds in full voice, the warm air on his face. And the sun glinting through the trees that line the road – his road – through Martle Top, the one little bit of countryside between Penbury and the motorway. The car parked in the lay-by annoyed him earlier. The thoughtlessness of some people: radio blaring, passenger door wide open, driver probably stopped for a pee in the ditch. Just as well Reg didn’t see him. He’d have given him a piece of his mind. Still, he’s nearly there now. His stomach flutters and there’s a delicious prickle through his shoulders. He’s like this every time. The first few days he thought it was guilt, but he knows now it’s the thrill of anticipation.
Raging thirst replaces the hunger pangs. Her forehead throbs and it’s hard to swallow. She tries not to panic.
If only the curtains were open a crack, the postman might have spotted her through the window and called the police. After the sharp thwack of the letterbox, she heard his “This Is Me” whistling fade away down the gravel path. She tried to call out but, with the tape over her mouth, she only managed a pathetic humming sound that had no hope of reaching the man chirping off into the warm June morning. She hates those curtains now, garish with the broad daylight behind them. Their peach colour makes the room loud and stuffy, hurting her eyes and aggravating her headache. A clashing backdrop for the vase of dark red roses on the table, their pungent perfume tainting what precious clean air she has left. A familiar wave of nausea threatens, but she fights it off.
Reg chains his bike to the railings and walks briskly into the Little Chef. Why should he feel guilty?
Doreen’s fault. She shouldn’t have withdrawn her services. A grown man has his needs.
The chain digs into her ribcage whenever she arches her back, forcing her to slump into the seat. The carriage clock ticks behind her. Oh for a clock that chimes. At least she’d be able to count off the hours. She daren’t rock round to face the mantelpiece. If she topples over, she’ll bang her already-raw face into the hard floor. And it isn’t just herself to think about. She has to keep pain to a minimum; she might have to wait all day.
To deaden the ache in her neck, she rests her heavy arms on the chair and moves her knees apart, easing the pressure on the handcuffs around her ankles. But now it’s even harder to hold her bladder, so she squeezes her legs together again. If she wants to avoid wetting herself, she’ll have to accept the intermittent burning sensation up her calves.
Reg swings his leg over the saddle and sets off home replete. He deserved his cooked breakfast. That puny porridge Doreen serves up since he retired wouldn’t keep a toddler fed.
He gets off his bike again. The hill’s getting steeper. He used to be able to cycle up it. Better not tell Doreen. She’ll say he’s past it. Men of his age can’t expect to do so much. Stupid woman.
“It’s just gone five past eight on Mids FM and on the line now is Carole in Briggham. Hi, Carole,” a radio shouts, polluting Reg’s country air. That bloody car in the lay-by is still there. No driver or passenger about. What on earth are they playing at? A crude thought creeps into Reg’s mind and he smiles. He pushes the bike across the road, quickening his pace.
He peers through the open passenger door. Well, there’s no one at it on the back seat. Hardly surprising. That shrieking radio would put anyone off. Reg lays his bike in the long grass. They must be in the ditch or the field beyond. You’ve got to admire their stamina. They’ve been down there longer than it’s taken him to ravish his Olympic Breakfast with extra mushrooms. With the stealth of a marine commando, he moves towards the ditch. Perhaps he’ll share this one with Doreen. It might put her in the mood for some how’s your fath—
“Father God in Heaven,” he gasps and stands stock-still, the taste of bile mounting in his mouth. His eyes fix on the glint of metal and the shiny patch of red seeping through the grass. In the next instant, stomach heaving, he’s back on his bike, tackling the rest of the hill from the saddle.
The milkman came at about 6.30 a.m. – at least she assumes it was 6.30 a.m. because that’s when he always comes. His chinking of bottles is often the first sound she hears on waking. This morning, frozen by the enormity of her situation, she didn’t think to call out to him until she heard the clanking, whirring sounds of his aged milk float dying away as it left. Hers is the only house in the street that still has milk delivered.
The final spin of the washing machine behind the closed kitchen door filled the silence after that. Then time became vast and empty until the whistling postman. The mail usually arrives before 8 a.m. despite changes at the Post Office, so that must make it about 9 a.m. now.
There’s a distant crunching outside. More steps follow and grow louder as they trip their way up the gravel. It must be Linda. Of course, it’s nine o’clock. Linda and Dean will have dropped the children off at school and then come to pick her up, as arranged. She pictures Linda teetering up the path, her broad feet forced into tiny sandals.
In the background a car engine rumbles. She’s amazed that she can hear it above her hammering heart. Dean will be waiting in the car. She hears a light tapping on the front door glass. Linda’s false fingernails. She forms the words “Linda, help” at the back of her mouth, trying to force them through the heavy adhesive that clamps her jaws together.
“Gaby, are you in there?” Linda’s voice invades the house through the opened letterbox. “Are you going to let me in?”
With all her might, she gulps out one more “Help”. The sound reverberates in her ears and, for a moment, she thinks it’s reached the front door. The letterbox snaps shut and footsteps move around the house towards the lounge window. She rocks against the chains, causing two of the chair legs to lift and then slam down with a muffled thud on the carpet.
“Dean, she must have forgotten.” Linda’s voice is directed away from the house. “I’ve put their milk in the bushes otherwise it’ll be honking in this heat.” Linda’s jerky steps return past the front door and recede down the path, the sound of gravel scattering in their wake.
Gaby struggles to catch her breath as a car door closes and the car speeds away. Tears prick her eyes. Her best hope of rescue will be joining the Penbury ring road without her. Crying makes her head throb, but she weeps on. The fight flowing out of her.
Reg – ice-numb now despite the heat – tries to lean his bike against the potting shed but it slips, clattering to the ground. The noise brings Doreen to the back door.
“Where the heck have you been all this time?” She squints at him. “You look peaky, a bit like your porridge looked before I chucked it. I suppose you want me to get you something else now?”
“Whisky,” Reg gasps.
What time is it now? Exhaustion giving way to panic again. How long can she survive without a drink? It’s been hours and her lips feel like crumbling plaster. Gaby makes another effort to calm down by breathing in through her nose and letting the air slowly reach her lungs. She clutches at any passing thought to occupy her aching mind. The letters on the doormat. She likes getting letters, even if most are mailshots. Her thoughts wander to the postman. She blinks back tears again, regretting that she’s never really looked at him before and wondering whether there’ll ever be another chance.
A car pulls up outside the gate. The engine stops and a door slams. Heavy shoes trudge along the gravel accompanied by faint crackling voices like a radio. She breathes in sharply, preparing to hum out as before, but this time ready for disappointment.
“Yes, sarge. If there’s no reply, we’ll force entry,” a calm voice says on the other side of the front door.
Gaby’s breathing quickens and she can hardly believe her ears. She’s in some other world, unable to move. Seized by terror, suddenly afraid to end her familiar incarceration after so many hours. But then her survival instinct takes hold and she presses against the chains, rocking back and forth, willing herself closer to the window. After hearing three sharp knocks at the door, she crashes to the carpet. Shattering pain spreads across the side of her face. Everything numbs and darkness comes.
The Good Teacher is available on Kindle now for just 99p!