No safe place in No Safe House
Read the opening pages of Linwood Barclay's No Safe House. You know you want to.
Linwood Barclay, crowned by the Morning Star as "the current king of the multi-twisted plot" returns with his follow-up to the bestselling No Time For Goodbye. Described by the Sunday Mirror as "brrilliantly plotted, with witty dialogue that crackles in the best hard-boiled tradition," No Safe House is perfect if you like your crime fiction with an element of mystery.
Seven years ago, Terry Archer and his family experienced a horrific ordeal which nearly cost them their lives. Today, they are still living with the aftermath. After two elderly neighbours are murdered and his daughter Grace foolishly follows her delinquent boyfriend into a strange house, Terry must do everything, or anything, to keep his family safe.
Ready for a fast paced thriller that keeps you on your toes? Then read on.
Richard Bradley had never thought of himself as a violent man, but right now he was ready to kill someone.
“I can’t take it anymore,” he said, sitting on the side of the bed in his pajamas.
“You’re not going out there,” said his wife, Esther. “Not again. Just let it go.”
Not only could they hear the music blaring from next door, they could feel it. The deep bass was pulsing through the walls of their house like a heartbeat.
“It’s eleven o’clock for Christ’s sake,” Richard said, turning on his bedside table lamp. “And it’s Wednesday. Not Friday night or Saturday night, but Wednesday.”
She tried to grab his arm to stop him but he jerked it away, and she felt a twinge of pain in her shoulder.
The Bradleys had lived in this modest Milford home, on this hundred-year-old street with its mature trees, for nearly thirty years. They’d seen neighbors come and go. The good, and the bad. But never had there been anything as bad as this, and it had been going on for a while. Two years back, the owner of the house next door started renting it to students attending Housatonic Community College over in Bridgeport, and since then the neighborhood had gone, as Richard Bradley liked to proclaim on a daily basis, “to hell in a handcart.”
Some of the students had been worse than others. This bunch, they took the cake. Loud music nearly every night. The smell of marijuana wafting in through the windows. Shattered beer bottles on the sidewalk.
This used to be a nice part of town. Young couples with their first homes, some starting families. There were some older teenagers on the street, to be sure, but if any of them acted up, threw a raucous party when they were left on their own, at least you could rat them out the next day to their parents and it wouldn’t happen again. At least not for a while. There were older people on the street, too, many of them retired. Like the Bradleys, who’d taught in schools in and around Milford since the 1970s before packing it in.
“Is that what we worked so hard for our whole lives?” he asked Esther. “So we could live next door to a bunch of goddamn rabble-rousers?”
“I’m sure they’ll stop soon,” she said, sitting up in bed. “They usually do at some point. We were young, too, once.” She grimaced. “A long time ago.”
“It’s like an earthquake that won’t end,” he said. “I don’t even know what the hell kind of music that is. What is that?”
He stood up, grabbed his bathrobe, which was thrown over a chair, knotted the sash in front.
“You’re going to give yourself a heart attack,” Esther said. “You can’t go over every time this happens.”
“I’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” she said as he strode out of the bedroom. Esther Bradley threw back the covers, put on her own robe, slid her feet into the slippers on the floor by the bed, and went running down the stairs after her husband.
By the time she caught up with him he was on the front porch. She noticed, for the first time, that he had nothing on his feet. She tried to grab his arm to stop him but he jerked it away, and she felt a twinge of pain in her shoulder. He went down the steps, walked down to the sidewalk, turned left, and kept marching until he reached the driveway next door. He could have taken a shortcut across the grass, but it was still wet from a shower earlier in the evening.
“Richard,” she said pleadingly, a few steps behind him. She wasn’t going to leave him alone. She figured there was less likelihood that these young men would do anything to him if they saw her standing there. Would they punch out an old man while his wife watched?
He was a man on a mission, mounting the steps to the front door of the three-story Victorian home. Most of the lights were on, many of the windows open, the music blaring out for all the neighbors to hear. But it wasn’t loud enough to drown out the sounds of raised voices and laughter.
Richard banged on the door, his wife stationed at the bottom of the porch steps, watching anxiously.
“What are you going to say?” she asked.
He ignored her and banged on the door again. He was about to strike it with the heel of his fist a third time when the door swung open. A thin man, maybe twenty, just over six feet tall, dressed in jeans and a plain dark blue T-shirt and holding a can of Coors in his hand, stood there.
“Hey,” he said. He blinked woozily a couple of times as he sized up his visitor. Bradley’s few wisps of gray hair were sticking up at all angles, his bathrobe had started to part in front, and his eyes were bugging out.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” Bradley shouted.
“Excuse me?” the man said, bewildered.
“You’re keeping up the whole damn neighborhood!”
The man’s mouth formed an O, as if trying to take it in. He looked beyond the man and saw Esther Bradley, holding her hands together, almost in prayer.
She said, sounding almost apologetic, “The music is a bit loud.”
“Oh yeah, shit,” he said. “You’re from next door, right?”
“Jesus,” Richard said, shaking his head. “I was over here last week, and the week before that! You got any brain cells left?”
The young man blinked a couple more times, then turned and shouted back into the house, “Hey, turn it down. Carter! Hey, Carter! Turn it—yeah, turn it the fuck down, will ya!”
Three seconds later, the music stopped, the sudden silence jarring.
The young man shrugged apologetically, said, “Sorry.” He extended his free hand. “My name’s Brian. Or have I told you that before?”
Richard Bradley ignored the hand.
“You want to come in for a beer or something?” Brian asked, cheerily raising the bottle in his hand. “We’ve got some pizza, too.”
“No,” Richard said.
“Thank you for the offer,” Esther said cheerily.
“You’re, like, the people in that house, right?” Brian asked, pointing.
“Yes,” Esther said.
“Okay. Well, sorry about the noise and everything. We all had this test today and we were kind of unwinding, you know? If we get out of hand again, just come over and bang on the door and we’ll try to dial it down.”
“That’s what I’ve been doing,” Richard said.
Brian shrugged, then slipped back into the house and closed the door.
Esther said, “He seems like a nice young man.”
They returned to their house, the front door slightly ajar from when they’d run out of it in a hurry. It wasn’t until they were both inside and had closed and bolted the door, that they noticed the two people sitting in the living room.
A man and woman. Late thirties, early forties. Both smartly dressed in jeans—was that a crease in hers?—and lightweight jackets.
Esther let out a short, startled scream when she spotted them.
“Jesus!” Richard said. “How the hell did you—?”
“You shouldn’t leave your door open like that,” said the woman, getting up from the couch. She wasn’t much more than five-two, maybe five-three. Short black hair, worn in a bob. “That’s not smart,” she said. “Even in a nice neighborhood like this.”
“Call the police,” Richard Bradley said to his wife.
It took a moment for the command to register. But when it did, she started for the kitchen. The moment she moved, the man shot up off the couch. He was a good foot taller than the woman, stocky, and swift. He crossed the room in an instant and blocked her path.
He grabbed her roughly by her bony shoulders, spun her around, and tossed her, hard, into a living room chair.
“You son of a bitch!” Richard Bradley said and charged at the man while he was turned away from him. He made a fist and pounded it into the intruder’s back, just below the neck. The man spun around and swatted Richard away as if he was a child. As he stumbled back, the man glanced down, saw Richard’s bare foot, and drove the heel of his shoe down onto it.
Bradley shouted out in pain and collapsed toward the couch, catching the edge and falling onto the floor.
“Enough,” the woman said. She said to her partner, “Sweetheart, you want to turn down some of these lights? It’s awfully bright in here.”
“Sure,” he said, found the light switch, and flicked it down.
“My foot,” Richard whimpered. “You broke my goddamn foot.”
“Let me help him,” Esther said. “Let me get him an ice pack.”
“Stay put,” the man said.
The woman perched her butt on the edge of the coffee table, where she could easily address Esther or look down to the floor to Richard.
She said this:
“I’m going to ask the two of you a question, and I’m only going to ask it once. So I want you to listen very carefully, and then I want you to think very carefully about how you answer. What I do not want you to do is answer my question with a question. That would be very, very unproductive. Do you understand?”
The Bradleys glanced at each other, terrified, then looked back at the woman. Their heads bobbed up and down weakly in understanding.
“That’s very good,” the woman said. “So, pay attention. It’s a very simple question.”
The Bradleys waited.
The woman said, “Where is it?”
The words hung there for a moment, no one making a sound.
After several seconds, Richard said, “Where is wh—?”
Then cut himself off when he saw the look in the woman’s eyes.
She smiled and waved a finger at him. “Tut, tut, I warned you about that. You almost did it, didn’t you?”
Richard swallowed. “But—”
“Can you answer the question? Again, you need to know that Eli says it’s here.”
Richard’s lips trembled. He shook his head and stammered, “I—I don’t—I don’t—”
The woman raised a palm, silencing him, and turned her attention to Esther. “Would you like to answer the question?”
Esther was careful with her phrasing. “I would appreciate it if you could be more specific. I—I have to tell you that name—Eli? I don’t know anyone by that name. Whatever it is you want, if we have it, we’ll give it to you.”
The woman sighed and turned her head to her partner, who was standing a couple of feet away.
“I gave you your chance,” the woman said. “I told you I’d only ask once.” Just then, the house next door began to thump once again with loud music. The windows of the Bradley house began to vibrate. The woman smiled and said, “That’s Drake. I like him.” She glanced up at the man and said, “Shoot the husband.”
“No! No!” Esther screamed.
“Jesus!” Richard shouted. “Just tell us what—”
Before the retired teacher could finish the sentence the man had reached into his jacket for a gun, pointed it downward, and pulled the trigger.
Esther opened her mouth to scream again, but no sound came out. Little more than a high-pitched squeak, as though someone had stepped on a mouse.
The woman said to her, “I guess you really don’t know.” She nodded at her associate, and he fired a second shot.
Wearily, she said to him, “Doesn’t mean it’s not here. We’ve got a long night ahead of us, sweetheart, unless it’s in the cookie jar.”
“We should be so lucky,” he said.