J A Corrigan
A psychological thriller for fans of Belinda Bauer, Mark Edwards, Clare Mackintosh – a dark and brooding tale about the horrors that can lurk within a family.
Ex-DI Rachel Dune’s small son is missing. Then his body is discovered. Her cousin Michael is found guilty of his murder and incarcerated in a secure psychiatric unit.
Four years later, now divorced and back in the police force, Rachel discovers that Michael is being released to a less secure step-down unit, with his freedom a likely eventuality. Unable to cope with this, she decides upon revenge, assuming a new identity to hunt him down. However, as she closes in on her target, her friend Jonathan, a journalist, uncovers unnerving information about her mother and others in her family. Jonathan begins to suspect that Rachel’s perception of the truth might not be as accurate as she thinks.
It had been a long while since I’d sat in Tom Gillespie’s office. The last time I’d seen him, on the day Joe went missing, we’d met informally in the pub to talk about me returning to work. In the years since giving up my job, after having Joe, we nearly always met in this pub, near to the police station, or sometimes at his home where Rosie Gillespie cooked Liam, Joe and me the most amazing Sunday roasts.
Liam was sitting on the corner of Tom’s desk. Tom sat behind, perched on the edge of his chair. Liam had combed his hair but looked tired, and agonised.
I walked towards Liam and he held his arms out like a blue-eyed bear. It was the first proper embrace we’d shared for weeks.
‘You should have called me,’ I said.
‘I wanted you to sleep,’ Liam replied.
‘How are you?’ Tom said.
‘Crap,’ I said.
‘I’m sorry, Rachel, but I haven’t got the results back from the lab yet. They’re still working on it. I think that we’ll find something, though,’ Tom said.
‘Something I don’t know about?’
‘Yes – only came to light this afternoon.’ Tom threw a look towards Liam.
‘You can tell me, you know, I am Joe’s mother.’
‘Calm down,’ Tom said, ‘I am going to tell you. Sit down.’ He chewed his thumbnail. Rosie was always telling him off about it. Liam and I used to laugh at her scolding. ‘Someone’s come forward.’
‘The day Joe disappeared, Rachel, was he upset? We’ve spoken to Melanie on three occasions and she said Joe was fine when she dropped him at home.’
‘We’ve been arguing a lot recently,’ Liam said, looking at me. ‘Joe heard. He could have been upset.’ Liam’s eyes dropped downwards towards the carpet.
I looked at Tom pleadingly. ‘Liam and I are ... were having a few problems. Tell me what you know about Joe. Please.’
‘The man who’s come forward, he’s a regular “punter” on the field near your house. There most weekends, trawling for sex. He didn’t come forward before, for obvious reasons. But in fairness, he’s been out of the country since this all broke – got back yesterday. He’s a businessman.’ Tom allowed himself a skinny smile. ‘He had a positive sighting of Joe. Described what he was wearing, everything. Petrol blue jumper, jeans, black trainers. He said the boy was upset. The man, Gareth Summers, isn’t normally on the field, or should I say in the bushes, on a weekday. But that Wednesday he’d arranged to meet a “newie” in the area. He met the “newie” and they did have sex.’
‘Did Summers speak to Joe? See anyone with Joe?’
‘Yes, as weird as it seems, Summers, our only witness, asked Joe if he was all right. Apparently, so Summers tells us, Joe wasn’t crying then, but it was obvious that he had been. Summers told Joe to go home ... Joe didn’t, and carried on across the field; it would have been getting dark at that time of day. Summers began to follow Joe, to encourage him to go home, but then he saw someone in the distance, and Joe run towards that someone. Joe seemed okay to go with the someone.’ Tom paused. ‘Summers later said the someone was the same man he’d had sex with earlier in the evening.’
‘Do we know the name of the man Summers had sex with?’
Tom nodded. Liam was watching me closely.
‘The guy told Summers, after the sex, that he lives up north. Chester.’
And then my heart plunged downwards. ‘Michael Hemmings?’ I said quietly. Tom nodded. ‘Have you sent anyone up there?’ The strange hunger returned. Tom knew about my cousin, Michael Hemmings, and his criminal record.
‘Yes, I have.’ Tom put his arm around my shoulder. ‘He’s not at his flat in Chester, hasn’t been seen for over two weeks.’
I tasted sick in the back of my mouth, and felt contractions inside my stomach. I rushed over to where Tom kept his wastepaper bin and emptied the small amount of food that was in my gut into it; and then felt Liam’s hand on my back.
An hour later and still cocooned inside Tom’s office the results for the DNA analysis came through.
The evidence was conclusive, placing Hemmings on the field where Joe was last seen.
I didn’t sleep that night. Distorted images travelled in infinite circles inside my head. Mostly the images were of Michael Hemmings: mosaic, kaleidoscopic-flash depictions of him in our house, always about to leave, when I got home from school.
Sweat saturated my side of the bed. I’d put a T-shirt on to sleep in; it had been freezing in the night. The drop in temperature mirrored the feeling inside my body. Nothing mattered anymore. Only Joe.
When I got up and made my way to the bathroom I saw a razor blade sitting awkwardly on the sink. It would be so easy. I thought about taking the pills that were nestled in the bathroom cabinet, knowing that swallowing the whole packet would stop my breathing. Yet the part of me who was Rachel, the mother, Rachel, the police officer, realised that suicide wasn’t an option. Not yet.
Standing in the cold bathroom I knew. I felt it. A visceral knowledge to which only a mother has access.
It was the first time I’d smelt toffee popcorn since my son had gone. And I knew Joe was dead.
As I opened the cabinet a silent scream came from my lips and I emptied several of the pills into the palm of my hand hoping they would quieten the deadened howl that would not leave me.
JA Corrigan – Bio
JA Corrigan is originally from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, but now lives in Berkshire and shares her life with a husband, a teenage daughter and a cute cockapoo.
When not writing she is either walking the dog, reading, or cooking. She also likes to run, and drink white wine infused with hints of vanilla or gooseberries.
Guest post from Julie-Ann Corrigan on her journey to publication.