I have at last begun the sequel to The Sister. I've given the book the working title of Salvation. Progress is somewhat slow, but in an effort to catapult myself into the requisite state of mind, I publish below an extract.
21 March 2008. Near Brighton Lanes.
From the shadowed doorway of a derelict house, Rosetta Flynn shivered and peered into the street opposite her intended lodgings. Satisfied no one had followed; she picked up her holdall and stepped out of the darkness. She crossed the road, her breath billowing vaporous clouds into the midnight air.
A streetlight pooled illumination onto the pavement, revealing a gap in the arrow-head railings. Her ears attuned to the relative silence, she gazed up at the large windows in the dirty-white frontage of the three-storey stucco building before walking along the red tiled path leading to the front door. Her mouth close to the intercom grill, she pressed the night bell. ‘Come on,’ she whispered through chattering teeth. ‘Don’t you know it’s cold outside?’ She glanced up at the CCTV lens trained on her and, for the benefit of the camera, hugged herself for warmth.
The sound of bolts sliding from sockets turned her attention to the door. The duty manager grumbled something unintelligible as he unlocked it.
The door creaked open to reveal a thick-set, red-haired man. With one hand resting on the handle and the other gripping the door frame, his arm barred the way. ‘What’s the name?’ He spoke with an unmistakable Irish brogue.
‘Stone,’ she replied.
He gawped at the grey-caped young woman standing in the entrance porch of his guest house, his gaze drawn to her creamy complexion and rose coloured hair. ‘Do you have any idea what time it is?’
Her eyes flicked to his name badge. ‘Mr. O’Brien, are you going to let me in or not?’
He moved aside.
Rosetta stepped over the threshold and stood in the dingy hallway. A lamp set on top of a desk beneath the stairs offered scant light. O’Brien shuffled past closer than he needed to be, his hands brushing her shoulders. She caught a whiff of whisky on his breath. He ducked under the rake of the stairs and sat down. Opening a drawer, he pulled out a sheet of paper and pushed it towards her. ‘Fill that in.’
‘The full weekend wasn’t it? I’ll take four hundred pounds.’
She bristled. ‘I sent the cash registered post two days ago.’
O’Brien reached for the desktop diary and flicked back a page. ‘Ah, see, it doesn't say anything about that here.’
Her green eyes smouldered. ‘Don’t fuck with me,’ she said keeping her voice low. ‘I’m not in the mood. Now, the key to my room?’
The night manager turned away, his fingers selecting a fob stamped with the number seven. He threw it onto the desk.
Rosetta smiled and took the key. ‘You don’t go much on manners do you? Point me in the right direction; then you can get back to your whisky.’
Scowling, O’Brien jabbed a finger at the underside of the staircase. ‘First floor. End of the passageway, last room on the right.’
Heavy with tiredness, she trudged up the narrow stairs to her temporary lodgings, turned across the landing and followed the corridor. Locating the room, she fumbled aligning her key in the lock. Adjusting her grip, she engaged the tumblers. A quick, anticlockwise twist freed the internal bolt. Rosetta entered the room, switched on the light, and closing the door behind her, locked it. She lifted the end of the security chain and slid it into its slotted steel housing. The cheap ironmongery felt flimsy; she wondered how much of a battering it could withstand. A chair adjacent to the end of the bed provided her with a place to deposit her luggage. She walked to the window. There were no security catches on it. Her brow furrowed. Is it safe unsecured? She opened the casement, and poking her head out, discovered a flat-roofed annexe eight feet below.
Rosetta inhaled the night air, tasting the salty brine in the breeze blowing in from the nearby sea. In the distance, a fox cried. Close by, a large dog growled, affirming his territorial rights. She gazed up at the moon. Already Good Friday. The earliest Easter in almost a hundred years, she would work among the poor and needy just as her mother had in years past.
Rosetta retreated to the bed and, sitting down, flopped backwards. I’ll just rest a minute. Clean my teeth and get ready for bed.
Rosetta jolted awake.
Mother? Cold brilliance flooded the room. She’d forgotten to turn off the light. Heart pounding, she held her breath to calm it. The thunderous beat subsided. She closed her eyes, trying to hitch a ride on the tail of the receding nightmare. The realisation she’d not dreamt of her mother for months triggered a sense of foreboding. Rosetta sat up. Awake. Fully alert. The night bell? Scuffling sounds. O’ Brien shouting. A cry of pain. Footsteps charging up the stairs. She flicked the lights off. Moving, trusting her instincts, she thanked God she’d not undressed. She grabbed her holdall and rushing to the window, eased it higher.
A boot against the door?
The impact shook the room.
Rosetta sat on the window board and lowering her upper body dipped through the gap.
Bang! Wood splintered.
Dropping her bag onto the flat roof, she transferred her weight. Her thighs scraped against the stone sill as she lowered herself.
Bang! A rush of air billowed the curtains. The chain held, buying her precious moments.
A further crash. Heavy footfalls charged towards her.
Hanging by her fingertips, she let go. A hand snaking through the gap snatched at her wrist, grabbing a fistful of air.
Her legs buckled as she landed.
‘Get after her,’ a man boomed.
Rosetta ran to the roof’s edge. In the garden below, a Rottweiler stared, emitting a low growl.
She glanced back at the window. A man leapt down, stumbled and regaining his balance, walked calmly towards her. ‘Come away from the edge,’ he said. ‘We do not wish to hurt you.’
Rosetta peered into the gloom adjacent to where she stood. Six feet below, a fence was set inches away from the wall and ran the length of the garden towards the house next door. She threw her bag into the garden and turning, dropped to her haunches. Transferring her weight to her hands, she slid feet first over the edge.
The man broke into a run. ‘Get back here!’
Legs scissoring, Rosetta sought the thin line of timber below. Grit dug into her elbows, as she manoeuvred her fingers to grip the upstand of the roof enabling her to suspend herself lower still. Relieved when her toes touched down, she let go of the roof.
The Rottweiler crashed into the fence. Rosetta steadied herself with her back against the wall, while she attempted to crab-walk along a rickety tightrope of wooden construction. The dog leapt at her. From above, she heard the thud of a second person landing on the roof. To her left, a pair of legs dangled from the position she’d just vacated, desperately seeking the top of the fence.
Above her, a hand scythed through the air, fingertips brushed her hair. She ducked out of the way and almost fell. The muscular brute below, worked itself into a frenzy, barking, switching its attention to the man who now inched towards Rosetta.
A quiver in his voice, the man soothed, ‘Good boy.’
Lights appeared in the windows of adjacent houses.
The owner of this one must be out, she thought. She edged further along the fragile timber palings.
Two feet away, another pair of legs slithered down the wall seeking to land in front of her. Rosetta’s action was swift. ‘Give me strength,’ she whispered; taking two sideways steps, she kicked out at the nearest foot, deflecting it from its intended toehold.
‘Shit,’ the man cried, toppling into the garden.
The dog attacked without hesitation. Its paws scrabbling on its quarry’s chest, it sought to seize the intruder by the throat.
‘Get him off me,’ the man cried. He jammed his arm into the snapping jaws while frantically reaching for something in his boot. The Rottweiler snarled, teeth clamped deep. Head wrenching from side to side, the victim screamed. Moonlight flashed on steel arcing towards the beast’s neck. Stabbed again and again, the dog howled its pain, and then fell to the ground. Its flanks heaving, the dog whimpered.
Rosetta watched horrified as the animal drew a final ragged breath. Spurred into action by the grisly outcome, she took three rapid side-steps. A gate. The other side, an alleyway. She jumped, snatching up her bag by its looped handles and fled.
‘Stop fucking about on that fence; she’s getting away.’
His accomplice dropped into the garden. ‘You all right?’
Nursing his arm, the stricken leader scrambled to his feet. ‘Get after her!’
Rosetta pitched headlong down the alley and slammed into the wrought-iron gate barring her only means of escape. Her heart sank. Padlocked. She yanked at it. The brass body swung out from its clasp. With trembling fingers, she unhooked it and threw the bolt back. Behind her, the thugs kicked at the timber fence smashing their way through. ‘Get back here!’ The first man yelled.
Footsteps thundered in the enclosed space closing in on her.
She glanced over her shoulder and shot through the gap, gauging the distance to her would-be assailant. No choice. I have to chance it. Turning swiftly, the padlock still in her hand, she banged the gate shut slammed the bolt across.
The man grabbed her through the bars. ‘No you don’t,’ he growled.
Rosetta struck out with the heavy object in her fist.
‘Shit,’ he cried, his hands flying to his face. ‘She broke my fucking nose!’
Hooking the lock into its slot, she snapped it shut just as the second man reached for her. Taller than his colleague, his hand shot through the gap, the tips of his fingers scraping down her cloak.
Rosetta snatched clear, and turning, fled into the night.