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Read a free extract! Cracked by Louise McCreesh

Cracked is a gripping, dark and unforgettable debut from Louise McCreesh. When Jenny’s old therapist is murdered and she is implicated, she realises that someone else out there might know her deepest, darkest secret…  We’re thrilled to be sharing an extract from Cracked:

 

BEFORE

 

They load the body bag into the ambulance waiting outside. It doesn’t look like a body; it’s hard to believe there’s a formerly living, breathing person inside that rough navy canvas, but I know there is. I saw it get zipped into the bag myself and am now watching the paramedics struggle under the weight as they throw it carelessly into the back, not giving any thought to the condition of the person inside. I guess that makes sense. The person inside is no longer alive. No more harm can come to them.

It feels like too much to handle. A lot of things do and I often find that gets me into trouble, although this is the most trouble it’s got me in yet. Fragile, people call me, when I know deep down that isn’t the case and I’m nowhere near as delicate as they’d like to imagine.

The truth – all of it – paints me differently. Really, I am the breaker of fragile things. Things that slip through my fingers and smash on the ground at my feet, quite simply because I can’t keep them in my grip and have a tendency to destruct if not myself then something. Take the person in the body bag. The person no longer living. The person only dead because I broke them, and no one thought I could.

 

PART ONE

Chapter 1 After

 

7 January 2016 7.28 a.m.

 

James is gone. By this time, he normally is but today he shouldn’t be. I’m not worried. He’s been working a lot of overtime on the Bleecher case and that’s probably where he is now; asleep on his desk with drool wedged between his cheek and the table, having mistakenly thought he could get the whole thing filed away before what was supposed to be his day off. One thing you can say about James is that his intentions are always good. Better than mine have ever been.

The Bleecher case. One of the worst in Sutton police’s history and certainly the worst I can remember. Rosie Bleecher. Nineteen years old and a fully popped six months pregnant; raped, beaten and left to die in a skip behind the flat she’d been renting with her fiancé, Carl. Nasty business all round but particularly for the family, who were left devastated and scratching their heads as to what prompted so grisly an execution. Everyone else had a theory of course. None of them were right.

 

Carl’s older cousin Mark was arrested ten days in. The motive: wanting from Rosie what she had made very clear he would never have, leaving him no option but to take it by force and clean up the mess thereafter.

It was an ugly outcome. Ugly that the killer’s own mother turned him in, found a bag of bloodied clothes beneath his bed and thought it odd enough to bring to the police’s attention. Uglier still that Mark uploaded several lengthy video messages to his Facebook page just hours before his arrest vowing to avenge his slain cousin-in-law and his own cousin’s unborn child.

 

A paper shredder, Simon called it. One of the few major murders to slow down the national news cycle, people hurrying past the newspaper section with their eyes averted rather than stopping to read the stomach-churning headlines. ‘And right before Christmas, too.’

 

It’s the kind of ugly that makes the scars on my wrists tingle, though they rarely do these days.The kind that disgusts and relieves me in equal measure because, on a good day, I can convince myself it’s one worse than my own.

Shuddering for Rosie, I reach for my phone to see if James has at least bothered to call me but he hasn’t. I have no call. No text. No clue as to where my husband is or why he’s there, hours after finishing what was supposed to be a twelve-hour shift.

 

Nothing, bar my favourite picture of us and an alarm clock in the top right-hand corner, reminding me I have 31 minutes left of sleeping. Not that I feel like sleeping. Not anymore.

Aggravated by my concern I sit up and call him, the dial tone of my own phone ringing through the room for a few hopeful moments. I know after the first couple of bleeps he won’t answer. That it will ring out to voicemail, which it does – and I get out of bed and open the blinds at our bedroom window to find his car also gone.

 

It’s too early to be worried but it’s definitely weird, and I think about trying his phone one more time before I spot Car Thief a few houses over and grow distracted.

Watching Car Thief is a relatively new pastime of mine. I first saw him a few months ago, jogging from drive to drive. Not thinking much of it until I saw what he was really doing; which was checking all the cars on the street to see if any of my neighbours had been stupid or naïve enough to leave their vehicles unlocked. Punishing them, if they had.

 

Car Thief doesn’t steal any cars, just whatever valuables are left inside them and only ever enough to fill his crappy brown satchel, so maybe the name Car Thief is misleading. He probably has a normal name – something like Brian or David – but I wouldn’t know it. I don’t know anything about Car Thief, other than the fact he likes to steal things out of cars and I like to watch while he does.

 

I’m still staring out of the window when my phone buzzes violently in my hands. I take a deep breath and answer it.

‘Jenny, I’m sorry.’
It’s James’s voice. Croaky. Apologetic.
I leave Car Thief to it and retreat to the bed, folding my toes beneath my thighs to thaw them from the cool of the floor. I feel a cooling at my centre too. A relief that James is safe (so perhaps I was more worried than I thought) but also a frostiness. A shard-like iceberg bobbing through the cavern of my chest at his lack of consideration.

‘You could have called,’ I say, my voice an unusual shade of plum. ‘Texted me, even.’

‘I know. I was going to text you but . . .’

James starts talking to someone whose voice I don’t recognise while I wait on the other end of the line.

‘Thanks, mate,’ he murmurs, before breathing back into the receiver. ‘Jen, I’m so sorry. Nightmare morning. Are you still there?’

‘Yes,’ I say curiously. ‘What’s going on? Where are you?’ ‘I’m at work.’
I hear more people in the background. ‘So you’re at the

station?’
‘No,’ he says slowly, apologetically, and I immediately

know what it means.
‘Another one?’ I ask. ‘But you’re already working the

Bleecher case.’
‘We wrapped Bleecher last night,’ he says apologetic yet

again. ‘Keith and I had just finished the paperwork and were heading home when this call came in and it all spiralled from there.’

Unsure of how to respond, I don’t.

James sighs. ‘Come on, Jen. You know what Keith is like when he gets his teeth into something. He thinks the Bleecher solve fell into our laps. He wants the credit for this one.’

Again, I say nothing because I refuse to be the nagging wife. The asshole wife. Sometimes, I think James would prefer it.

I’m four years younger than he is, a collegiate twenty- eight to his grey-around-the-sides thirty-two, and I think he worries I’ll eventually grow tired of waiting around for him: That I’ll figure I have my best years left ahead of me and bugger off, though he’d never admit it to me. James and I have a good marriage. We have fun, but in any relationship we both know it’s dangerous to be the one who cares more.

 

I squint at the clock on my phone, which tells me I now have twenty-five minutes left before I have to get ready for work. It’s twenty-five minutes more than the amount of sleep James had all night, and I wonder what about this case in particular made Keith want to work it.

I press the phone back to my ear.
‘So, what’s the job?’ I ask. ‘Is it as bad as Bleecher?’ ‘Nothing’s as bad as Bleecher Jen,’ James replies, darkly.

‘Certainly not this. It’s just one victim.White male. Over fifty years old. I’m pretty sure over sixty, which is actually a bit unusual . . .’

‘Definitely murder?’
‘No question.’
I hear static down the line and can imagine James clear as day, tucking his phone beneath his chin and reaching for his pen or little black book to make it look like he’s doing some- thing useful in front of his colleagues. The thought thaws the iciness and makes me smile but I quickly scold myself for being callous. A person had died today and I know the kind of hole that can leave. More than anyone, I know how many lives can be changed by the death of a single person.

‘Where did it happen?’ I ask, soberly now. ‘Where are you?’

‘That’s the weird part. Do you know the psychiatric hospital on Mondsey Road? Hillside?’

The name hits me like a slap I’m not expecting, ringing through my ears and stiffening my neck.

Hillside. It’d been a while since I’d heard the name, though I’d thought of it often. It’s even more of a shock to hear it from James.

‘Kind of,’ I say, discomfited. ‘Why? What happened? Who died?’

James clears his throat. ‘One of the psychiatrists or doctors or whatever you call them. It looks like he was murdered while clearing out his office. He’d only just retired as well, poor guy.’

Each word is a falling domino.

The displacement of a sense of self, years in the making – and I pull the duvet up to my knees, the frost steadily returning.

 

 

 

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