ExtractRead section 1 of the novel Dead Men's Fingers

Part I

What a simple thing it was, stalking. Why had he ever worried? For a time he had held back, wracked, not by guilt - few crimes are contemplated then rejected through the discomforts of guilt - but by expectations of failure. He envisaged a tortured, paranoid glance snatched over her shoulder, or shot through a window. Accusing eyes would be fixed on him. And that would be that. Exposure must follow. Dark words would find their way to the wrong ears, not policemen's ears necessarily, or the ears of journalists, but neighbours' ears, the ears of family members, tarnishing his reputation through the proverbial grapevine.

He followed her anyway. What did he care if his name was dragged through the mud and his reputation indelibly sullied? It wasn't as if people wouldn't understand. And then he discovered what a ridiculously simple thing it was, stalking, and all his worries were put to shame. He was surprised at how seldom she looked back, how seldom she peered anxiously out from behind her curtains. Even when violent television or fretful thoughts wakened her fears, bringing panic, and her eyes looked for him, questing, frantic, it was always when he was safely concealed in his latest looking place, or was just another faceless face in the multitude. As a crime, stalking was an uneasy one for the conscience to justify; but as a pursuit, as an act in itself, it was no more difficult than, say, pointing a gun at a man, or destroying a child's dreams, or filling dull moments with thoughts of casual brutality and death.

Christian stood behind her house now, watching it from over the fence through scraggy end-of-garden branches. No one saw him. He had taken no pains to conceal himself, was out in the open, plain for anyone who looked to see. No one looked. She didn't look.

She moved through the bedroom, out of sight, back into view. She was wearing a bathrobe, nothing else, cinched loosely about her waist, allowing swathes of flabby flesh to show and a large cleavage. She started taking the bathrobe off, loosening the belt, opening the robe to reveal... nothing. The curtains were swept shut as she changed, offering him no voyeuristic glimpse to titillate his dulled senses.

A minute later and the curtains were opened again. She had put on a smart blouse, pleated skirt, stood there with one hand holding the curtain while the other deftly put an earring in. She moved out of sight, into it, out of it, adding the finishing touches, make-up and necklace, hair spray, jacket. She disappeared from view once more. She didn't reappear.

A blackbird lighted on the fence a few yards from him. Proudly it cocked its tail and chirped its simple, syrupy melody, echoed some seconds later by a much more distant bird. A door opening and squeals and shouts scared it off: sounds from next door, of children playing, and a reproving adult voice. He backed away from the fence slightly, readying an excuse, a reason for being there should he be challenged ("Which of these is number five? I tried ringing the bell round the front, only... - this one, is it? Are they in, do you know?"), but the voices stayed in the garden, the adult and the children concealed from him by the high dividing fence and its tangly topping of honeysuckle and ivy.

Movement inside again: his quarry, back in the back bedroom, moving to, fro, worked up, agitated, in a hurry and in search of something misplaced, perhaps. Then once again she was gone, and again he was left standing stupidly, impotently behind the fence behind the garden, eyes skinned for anyone approaching or looking out at him from a high window, edgy with a fear like the fear a charlatan keeps folded deep within his heart, knowing that one day his great store of bluffs will run dry and all his vile true intents be laid bare.

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

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


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