ExtractRead section 1 of the novel Dead Men's Fingers

Or maybe, more likely, it was the weather which had ruined her plans of getting his wardrobe freshened up. Maybe it had only occurred to her a few days ago; maybe, until then, she had scarcely even dared hope that Briggsy would be coming back. And yesterday, it had rained, and the day before that too, the whole day through. Hours he had spent outside her house, soaked to the skin, waiting for her to return, watching her as she dashed from her car to the front door and fumbled in her handbag, cursed, fumbled again and gave up and jogged round to the back, bowed against the driving rain, a newspaper over her head, and discreetly distant he had followed, squelching down the path behind her, peering over the back fence and through scraggy end-of-garden branches, seeing her lift up a plant pot, then a second, a third, before finally she found it, the spare key for the back door, opening the door with it and shutting herself in, safe and dry.

All that time spent traipsing around after her, from home to work, work to home, seeing her with friends, seeing her alone and wanting to approach, holding back, the time not right, the risk too great, the voice of his conscience too loud. All that time, following, stalking, day after day, hour upon hour, waiting for the perfect opening. And now, here it was. Just what he had been looking for, half hoping for, half dreading. She was alone. There was no one around to see him. There was no risk. Even time worked in his favour, spurring him to action. A day, two days at most, then Briggsy would be back and it would be too late. Now or never. Even the elements were on his side, discomfort nagging at his conscience, weakening it, wearing it down, breaking its resistance.

He watched, waited. He followed her in.

He knew at once where she was, had seen her make a coffee, take it upstairs, had ogled her as she undressed and slipped into a bathrobe, could hear, from the kitchen, the pounding beat of the shower above. He went up to the bathroom, step by cautious, quiet step, leaving footprint puddles of water on the kitchen tiles and wet handprints on the banister. While she washed and scrubbed and sang brokenly to herself, he stood outside, poised, silently dripping on the carpet. Evil flirted with his mind, inspiring deliriously wicked fantasies of hurting her, not to hurt her but someone else through her, hurting Briggsy through her. Gradually he realized the thing that he had known all along: he couldn't do it, couldn't hurt her, couldn't do anything as vile as that no matter how deep cut the hate in him or how great his need of revenge.

So he stood there, waiting, ready to give himself up and have done with it without recourse to violence. The shower was turned off. She got out, padded across the floor. He stood there. Images of hurt ranged themselves before his inner eye; he averted his mental gaze. They kept coming. One after the other. She unhooked her bathrobe from the door and there they were, half-thoughts of pain, revenge, brutal imagined scenes waiting just for her to open the bathroom door to let them loose, make them real, make them actual. All along he had been wrong, and all along, deep down, he had known it: because he could hurt her, would hurt her, the hate really did cut that deep.

He stopped waiting for her to come out.

And as a result, here he was now, a worse crime fated. He almost wished he hadn't shirked that lesser one.

While he was there, in the lounge, he switched on the television to see what was on, sorely in need of a time-killer. There was a plethora of imported soaps, a couple of comedy shows. He checked for sport. They were showing the cricket.

What a mindless game it was, cricket, when you got right down to it, the nuts and bolts: one man tossing a ball at a few stumps of wood, trying to knock them over, while another man tried to stop him by sticking a larger bit of wood in the way. A further ten men stood around on the field watching, another nine sat in the dressing room bristling to get into the fray, while a crowd of thousands looked on and millions more watched at home, Christian himself, for the moment, being one of those millions, one of those mindless millions watching this ultimately mindless game.

He loved it. It was the high part of his summer. For over an hour he sat there, engrossed in the action, or rather the brief spells of action, the odd ball thrown, the odder ball hit, the air time eaten up more by the by-play of the commentators than the game itself. Only when play finished for the day did he become aware of just how much time had seeped away. His worries and cares, that had leaked away, settled back on him like the dark mantle of depression as he switched off the set and took in his surroundings with full awareness, the realization of why he was there coming tormentingly back to him.

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Buy the e-book version of Dead Men's Fingers online via (UK readers), and (North America).

The novel is also available as part of an omnibus edition with Sheldon's other novels, Delhi Deadlines and Virtually, via (UK readers), and (North America).


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