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Read an extract from Darkness Falls by Robert Bryndza


Saturday, September 7, 2002

Joanna Duncan stepped out of the office building and crossed the road with her head down against the rain. The rain was good, thought the man watching her from inside the car. People saw less with their heads down and umbrellas up.

Joanna was moving fast, marching up toward the old Deansgate multistory car park. She was petite with wavy shoulder- length blonde hair and strong, almost gnomic features, but Joanna was far from ugly. She had an earthy warrior- goddess beauty and wore a long black coat and brown leather cowboy boots. He waited for a bus to pass and pulled out of his parking spot. The bus left a spray of dirty water in its wake, and for a moment he lost sight of Joanna. He put on the windscreen wipers. She was close to the bus
stop, where a line of people waited.

At five thirty p.m., things were winding down, shops were getting ready to close, and people were clearing out and going home. The bus reached the stop and pulled over. Just as Joanna crossed behind it, he accelerated past, using the bus to shield him.

The grey cinder- block car park would be demolished in a few months, and Joanna was one of the last people who parked her car there. It was close to the office where she worked, and she was stubborn. This stubbornness helped realise his plan.

As he turned right into the car park entrance, he saw Joanna was just passing the bus. The car ramp twisted and turned, and he arrived, giddy from driving up in circles, on the third floor. Joanna’s blue Ford Sierra was the only car on the level, parked in the middle of an empty row. The interior of the car park was dimly lit, and at intervals there were rough, wide windows open to the elements. In the fading light, a faint spray of rain was coming in and darkening the already-damp concrete.

He parked his car in the space to the left of the lift shaft and the stairwell. The lifts didn’t work, so she would take the stairs. He switched off the engine and got out, hurrying over to one of the windows looking down on the high street. He saw the top of her head as she crossed the road to enter the car park. He hurried back to the car, leaned inside, and popped open the boot. He took out a small thick black plastic bag.

She was fast, because he’d barely prepared the bag when he heard the scuff of her shoes in the stairwell. This felt messy, and he was having to think on his feet. He positioned himself by the entrance to the stairwell. As soon as Joanna reached the top and stepped out, he slipped the bag over her head, yanked her backward, and used the handles to pull the plastic tight around her neck.

Joanna cried out and staggered on her feet, dropping the large handbag she carried. He pulled the bag tighter. The plastic sat flush over her skull and bulged at the mouth and nose as she fought to breathe.
Gripping her hair and the plastic bag together, he pulled tighter, and she gave a strangulated moan.

A cold breeze came through the windows, and he felt a spray of rain on his eyes. Joanna flailed and gagged, trying to scrabble at the thick plastic. He was much taller, but it took all his effort to keep hold and not overbalance.

It always amazed him how long it took for a person to suffocate. The will to live was too time consuming for TV dramas. After the first minute of fruitless clawing at the slick plastic covering her head, Joanna got clever, and she started to attack, landing two good punches to his ribs and aiming a kick toward the groin, which he managed to dodge.

He was sweating with exertion as he took one hand off the plastic, reached round, and grabbed her throat, lifting her clean off the concrete so the bag became a noose, quickening her death.

Joanna kicked in the air, then gave a terrible rattling moan, as if she were winding down. With a final shudder, she was still. She dangled in his grip for a moment, and then he let go. Her body hit the concrete floor with a nasty hollow thud. He was soaked in sweat, and he struggled to catch his breath. He coughed, and the sound echoed around the vast empty space. The multistory car park stank of urine and damp. He felt the cold air on his skin, and he looked around. He knelt, tied a knot in the plastic bag at the nape of her neck, and dragged her body over to his car. He laid her on the ground in the gap beside his car and the outer wall of the lift shaft. He opened the boot and picked up her limp body, putting one of his arms under her legs and the other under her shoulders, much like a groom carries his new bride across the threshold. He placed her in the back of the car, covered her with a blanket, and closed the boot. With a flash of panic, he saw that her handbag was still on the floor beside the stairs. He grabbed it and returned to the car. Her laptop and notebook were inside the bag with her mobile phone. He checked the call log and the text messages, and then he switched it off and wiped it down thoroughly with a cloth. He hurried over to Joanna’s car and dropped her phone underneath.

He spent another minute with a flashlight, checking carefully over the patch of ground where he’d grabbed Joanna to see if she’d dropped anything, but all was clear.

He got into his car and sat for a moment in the silence.

  What now? She had to disappear. Her body. Her computer. All DNA evidence had to vanish.

An idea came to him. It was bold and risky, but if it worked . . . He started the engine, and he drove away.