When Dido Hoare, antiquarian bookseller and single mother, receives a frantic call for help in the middle of the night, she rushes to her friend (and nanny's) side. Dido has no idea that she is about to enter a world where no one is what they appear to be and there is danger all around.
Dido arrives at Phyllis's apartment building to find that the lights in the hallway have all been shattered and that the apartment has clearly been burglarized. There is no sign of Phyllis anywhere and when Dido calls out her name she finds that Phyllis had been locked in the closet. Dido frees her and the trouble really begins. Why did the burglars give Phyllis a phone to use? Why didn't they steal anything valuable-like the television or some jewelry? The only response that Phyllis gives to these questions is that Frank, her husband, told her to call him if anything should happen there while he was gone. What was Frank, an account and jailbird, expecting to happen? And where is he anyway---is it his body the police just found in a local park?
Unaware that any harm has come to Frank, the women go about cleaning up the apartment. Two men posing as police officers show up and start asking questions. Phyllis recognizes one of the men from the night before and realizes that they are back looking for whatever they were after.
Clearly the case is more than Dido can handle, but she can't tear herself away-not even when her father, Barnabas, and an inspector, Paul Grant, warn her how much danger she is in. As Dido continues her search for answers she is led to Lal Fisher, Frank's sister, and to other dangerous situations throughout London. Will Dido find all the answers before Ben,her son, has to grow up without a mother?
About the Author
Marianne Macdonald was born in Canada and lived there until she was twenty, when she went to Oxford to do graduate work. She has lived in England ever since, pursuing an academic career until she retired to focus on writing and acting. Road Kill is the fourth book in her Dido Hoare series.
Read an Excerpt
* * *
When I try to remember what happened that night, most of it's a blur. Maybe I was sleepwalking, at the beginning, anyway, because my mental warning buzzer was certainly switched off for a few hours. Then it was simply too late to pull back.
I'd spent most of Monday evening down in the shop, unloading the boxes that I'd brought back from the weekend book fair and starting to reshelve the contents. Book fairs are hard work. I fell into bed at about ten o'clock, too sleepy to bother with the hot bath that my aching muscles wanted, too tired even to close the curtains. I certainly can't remember anything between the time I rolled myself into the duvet and the moment I opened my eyes with an echo telling me that something had just happened or just stopped happening. I focused a bleary eye on the bedside clock. The illuminated numbers claimed that it was just after three, so it was obvious that I ought to be sound asleep. Ben, my baby son, was breathing regularly in the cot across the room. Whatever had woken me hadn't disturbed him.
The room was dim, not dark. The sky in central London never has the real blackness of night-time: not with the city's miles of streetlights, neon signs and headlamps that build up in an orange glow hanging in the polluted air and bouncing off low cloud layers. The gleam from outside my window was bright enough to let me identify the shapes of the big Victorian wardrobe, the chest of drawers, the mound of folded laundry on the little table: everything normal. I told myself I'd only heard some kind of noise in the street. That's normal, too. London doesn't sleep at night.
Then the thought trickled into my mind that I might have forgotten to set the security alarm in the shop before I came upstairs. Perhaps I'd been wakened by the sound of a thief breaking in. Or just some drunk smashing the glass in my display window again. I stiffened, listening. Across the room, Ben stirred.
Something else was moving. The door creaked. I watched it open an inch and heard the footsteps on the carpet, so I was ready for the weight that landed abruptly on the foot of my bed. Mr Spock, my ginger cat, plodded heavily towards the pillow and examined my face with care. I whispered, 'Settle down, cat,' and waited for him to retreat and make himself a nest in the bend of my knees so I could get on with the business of sleeping.
When I'd been lying there stiffly for ten minutes or so, I gave up.
I crept past the cot and down the icy carpet in the hall. In the kitchen, I ran a glass of water and sipped it as I crept into the living room. The curtains here were open, too, with light from the streetlamp shining in brightly enough to let me sidestep the toys scattered on the floor. I slid past the settee to the nearest window and looked out on the silent street where nothing moved.
When I turned around I saw the red light blinking on the answering machine. Somebody had been phoning: that was the noise which had pulled me out of a deep sleep.
I swooped at the machine, fumbled for the 'play' button. My father is seventy-four, and he has already survived a heart attack. The machine beeped and whirred. I hung over it, my own heart thumping in my throat, and listened to it rewind.
The voice confused me for a moment. It certainly wasn't my father's.
'Dido, please wake up ...'
Phyllis! Phyllis Digby, my rock-solid, calm, practical nanny, had spoken in a voice so small and high-pitched that I couldn't mistake panic. It had to be a problem with Frank Phyllis's middle-aged, invalidish husband. I'd only met him a few times, but he too had health problems, weak lungs. I started to jump to conclusions. The second message was simply, 'It's Phyllis.' The third one was, 'Phyllis again ...' Her voice was rising.
I switched the machine off and punched her number. The phone was answered on the first ring.
'Phyllis, what's wrong? What is it?'
But she was already speaking. 'Dido, I need help. Can you come?'
My foggy brain was struggling. 'Ben and I can be there in ten minutes. It's all right, Phyllis, don't ...'
I meant to say, Don't worry, but she was talking again: 'I'm sure they've gone, but Dido just in case, be careful when you come in.'
I blinked, slowly adjusting my ideas. 'Phyllis, what is this? I'll phone for the police, or do you need ...?'
'No! Please ...'
No? I opened my mouth. And forced myself to shut it again. Whatever had happened, I'd better go. Eventually I said, 'All right ... I'll be right over. It's going to be all right,' and hung up. What made me say that?
My clothes were on the floor beside the bed where I'd dumped them a few hours ago. I felt my way into them, laced on my trainers, pulled the old jacket off the hook in the hall, grabbed my keys, then went back and picked Ben up, rolled in his blankets. He was getting heavy. He stirred, and in the light from the hallway I could see his eyelashes flutter. I whispered, 'We're just going for a ride in the car.'
The Digbys' flat was on the top floor of a twelve-unit building about five minutes' drive eastward through these empty, early-morning streets. Power Street is an obscure side road lined with identical, twenty-year-old, brick-built, double-glazed, three-storey blocks, each encircled by patches of litter-strewn grass. I pulled the Citroen up just short of the one I wanted and parked under the dripping branches of an ornamental cherry at the corner of its rain-sodden lawn. From there, by craning, I could look up through the top of the windscreen at my destination. The Digbys' place occupied the right-hand corner on the top floor. The living-room curtains were open, but it was dark inside. I could still hear the odd sound in her voice, though, and I suddenly pictured Phyllis up there, crouching in an armchair, silent, hiding in the dark.
In the baby seat, Ben dozed. 'The question is,' I muttered to him, 'what are we going to do with you? I certainly can't leave you alone in the car. And I certainly can't take you in with me.' On balance, the car option felt safer than the darkened flat. I'd be back in a minute. Feeling guilty anyway, I slid out, set the alarm and locked up. When I looked back through the window he was still sleeping.
Halfway up the front path, I realised exactly what was bothering me: whenever I'd dropped Phyllis off at home after dark, there had always been lights in the entrance hall and up the stairs. Not tonight. Probably there was a time switch? For saving on electricity bills? Would you need to light the stairs all night?
Well, in fact I thought that in a block of flats you would.
My finger was poised over the row of intercom buttons beside the door before I noticed that I had no need to use them to get myself into the building; somebody had left the door wedged slightly open with a rolled-up newspaper. I slid inside and pushed the roll with my toe, letting the door click behind me.
The foot of the stairwell was a rectangle of blackness straight ahead, flanked by the silhouettes of two leggy Swiss cheese plants that were supposed to lend a little distinction to the cramped lobby. I stepped forward. Something crunched. It took me a moment to understand. There should have been a wall light above my head and instead there was broken glass under my shoes. My mind struggled to accept that whatever had frightened Phyllis was real. I pressed my arm against the comforting lump in my coat pocket that was my mobile phone. All I had to do was make sure not to be taken by surprise by anything. Or anybody. If I heard so much as a pin drop, I'd just ring 999 and start yelling for a police car, never mind what Phyllis had said.
On the first landing, another of the wall lights was reduced to its naked metal fixture, but my eyes had adjusted enough to see that the flight ahead was deserted. Presumably Phyllis was right and 'they' were gone. ('They?') I pulled my mind away from that and told myself that probably it was safe, as Phyllis had said ... Oh yes. I crept onwards, wishing I had a weapon. A golf club would be nice, I thought dreamily. Or a double-barrelled shotgun? Get a grip, Dido!
The Digbys' door was one of four on the top landing the one that was standing wide open.
I'd wait here for a bit. Unless something happens.
My watch said it was nearly four o'clock. I gave it two minutes. One hundred and twenty seconds. It was so quiet that I could hear the faint rush of water in the central-heating pipes. When my watch eventually confirmed that the time had passed I reminded myself deliberately that the whole building was full of ordinary, kind, sleeping, concerned citizens, and if somebody respectable like me just screamed, they'd all come running. Or I hoped that they would. Anyway, nothing could possibly be going to happen: that was the important thing to hold on to. Since I obviously couldn't turn and leave, it was time to go in.
There was a car moving in the road in front of the building. It didn't stop, and nothing else made any noise except the soles of my trainers squeaking faintly on vinyl tiles. I felt for the wall switch inside the door of the flat, flipped it, and blinked in the brightness.
Excerpted from ROAD KILL by Marianne Macdonald. Copyright © 2000 by Marianne Macdonald. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
|1 After Dark||1|
|2 Jigsaw Pieces||7|
|3 Old Spice||13|
|4 Hard Drive||25|
|5 Kinds of Message||31|
|6 Old Acquaintance||43|
|7 Loyalty Checks||51|
|9 Three Bears||75|
|11 And Goldilocks||89|
|12 A Nice Place in the Suburbs||93|
|14 Scene of Some Crimes||113|
|15 Red Light||121|
|21 Message Delivered||159|
|22 Jam Tomorrow||165|
|23 Fishing Trip||175|
|24 A Window of Opportunity||179|
|25 Still Running||183|
|26 Where We Are||189|
|28 Wrong Tack||203|
|29 Cold Reality||209|
|30 Moving Out||219|
|32 You Make Your Own Luck||233|
|33 On Balance||241|