'I'm fine, Frank, but thank you for asking. Where are you?'
'I'm at the airport, flying away and leaving everything behind.'
'I thought you'd left days ago,' Maggie said, a vague recollection of their conversation in a sandwich shop coming back to her.
'I did. I went to my conference, but now I'm going further afield and I won't be back.'
'Where are you going?' she asked. Not that it mattered much. Frank had been a friend, but she wasn't going to be staying in Manchester anyway.
'Oh, somewhere far away. My days of helping people discover who they really are have come to an end. You see, Maggie, I've lived vicariously through my clients for many years. First as a student counsellor, more recently as a psychologist. Controlling young minds was always something of a speciality of mine. But now it's time for me to leave my own mark.'
Maggie didn't speak. This didn't sound like Frank.
'I'm glad you came to Manchester, though, and that I had the chance to get to know you. I've wanted Michael back where he belonged for years and then the opportunity presented itself. Through you.'
Maggie was more confused than ever. What did he mean?
'Oh, Maggie. Maggie. You still haven't quite got there, have you? I have to say that Alf Horton becoming one of your clients was a complete bonus something even I couldn't have planned. He was one of my better experiments. When he first came to me for treatment he hated his mother, you know. She was a bit.c.h she made his life h.e.l.l and I gave him the perfect outlet told him what he needed to do to hang onto his sanity and how to express his anger against his mother.'
Maggie was silent. This was Frank, but it wasn't.
'And Duncan,' he continued, 'although he will always be Michael to me, had developed nicely.'
The hairs on Maggie's arms were standing on end.
'You've done well. Better than I would have antic.i.p.ated. I had no idea what the endgame would be, but you surpassed my expectations. And now you're one of us, aren't you.'
'What do you mean?' she whispered, dreading his answer but knowing what it would be.
The almost jokey tone had left his voice. Now it had a hard edge.
'You're a killer, Maggie. You voluntarily took another life. In cold blood, unless I'm much mistaken. The question is, did you enjoy it? Have you developed a taste for it?'
He let the silence hang, and Maggie felt her body begin to shake, the tremors making it difficult to hold the phone to her ear.
'The choice is yours now, Maggie. Remember the words of the poem: "I am the master of my fate.
I am the captain of my soul."'
Without another word, he hung up.
Maggie stared sightlessly at the mirror on the wall facing her. She couldn't focus on her face, and wondered if she ever would again. Would she recognise the person looking back at her. She was a killer, and he knew.
Still shaking she pulled her laptop across from the far side of the kitchen table and typed Frank's final words into the search engine. A poem came up on the screen, and the first lines took her back to a day just over a week ago. It felt like years.
"Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole..."
She remembered Frank reciting those lines to her on the night it all began. Was he trying to tell her something even then?
She glanced at the name of the poet. William Ernest Henley.
William. But William was a common name. It didn't have to have anything to do with Duncan's online friend.
Then she saw the title of the poem and she no longer had any doubt.
One word, a word that had haunted her for days, a word she had looked up to find its meaning: unconquered, invincible. A word that she knew represented the man who had manipulated them all, the puppeteer.
The poem was called Invictus.
About the Author.
Rachel Abbott was born and raised in Manchester. She trained as a systems analyst before launching her own interactive media company in the early 1980s. After selling her company in 2000, she moved to the Le Marche region of Italy.
When six-foot snowdrifts prevented her from leaving the house for a couple of weeks, she started writing and found she couldn't stop. Since then her debut thriller, Only the Innocent, has become an international bestseller, reaching the number one position in the Amazon charts both in the UK and US. This was followed by the number one bestselling novels The Back Road, Sleep Tight and Stranger Child.
In 2015 Amazon celebrated the first five years of the Kindle in the UK, and announced that Rachel was the number one bestselling independent author over the five-year period. She was also placed fourteenth in the chart of all authors. Stranger Child was the most borrowed novel for the Kindle in the first half of 2015.
Rachel Abbott now lives in Alderney and writes full-time.
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As with every other book I have written, I thoroughly enjoyed the research phase of Kill Me Again. Who knew that Manchester had so many interesting places off the beaten track? I lived there for many years, and through my research I have discovered secret areas of Manchester that I didn't know existed.
Of course, I couldn't have completed the research without the help of a number of people, and top of that list once again has to be Mark Gray. With each book I write I learn so much that I didn't know about police procedures much of which is misrepresented on television programmes and Mark has the perfect attitude to fact and fiction. He tells me how things really work, but accepts that from time to time I may have to cheat a little. But only a little. With his amazing guidance I do try to keep as close to reality as possible.
I must specifically thank Judith and Dave Hall for some excellent background material. As well as I know Manchester, things change all the time and so my intrepid researchers set off with camera in hand to explore Pomona Island and to discover the workings of the newly refurbished Central Library in Manchester.
As a writer it would be great to say that I spend all my days at the computer, working out my plots and developing my next novel. But I have many other roles to fulfil: marketing; accounts; travel arrangements; the list goes on. I am fortunate enough to have three part time assistants, all with their own particular strengths, that help me to get through the necessary administration so that I can get back to the writing. Tish McPhilemy, Ceri Chaudhry, Alexandra Amor where would I be without you all? Thanks for putting up with the fact that half the time I am on a different planet planet murder so when you speak to me I don't always answer.
I thought I would have lost my fabulous jacket designer, Alan Carpenter, by now. But despite a massive workload, he once again insisted on creating one of his wonderful designs. He knows how important this is to me, and he's done it again!
I couldn't produce the novels that I do without the help of one key group of people: the team at David Higham associates. My agent, Lizzy Kremer, has supported me in every way from initial idea to finished product with the assistance of Harriet Moore, who is so smart for one so young! Thanks also to Clare and Olivia for their editorial input, and my copy editor, Hugh Davis, for adding the extra polish.
It really has been a terrific team effort, and I continue to count myself lucky to be surrounded by the best group of professionals, friends and family there is.
One Dark Secret. One act of revenge.
When Emma Joseph met her husband David, he was a man shattered by grief. His first wife had been killed outright when her car veered off the road. Just as tragically, their six-year-old daughter mysteriously vanished from the scene of the accident.
Now, six years later, Emma believes the painful years are behind them. She and David have built a new life together and have a beautiful baby son, Ollie.
Then a stranger walks into their lives, and their world tilts on its axis.
Emma's life no longer feels secure. Does she know what really happened all those years ago? And why does she feel so frightened for herself and for her baby?
When a desperate Emma reaches out to her old friend DCI Tom Douglas for help, she puts all their lives in jeopardy. Before long, a web of deceit is revealed that shocks both Emma and Tom to the core.
They say you should never trust a stranger. Maybe they're right.
BUY Stranger Child from Amazon.
Other novels by Rachel Abbott.
ONLY THE INNOCENT.
A man is dead. The killer is a woman. But what secrets lie beneath the surface so dark that a man has to die?
"This is an absolutely stunning debut novel from a writer with a gift for telling a tale. I can't wait for more."
- Amazon Top 500 reviewer.
THE BACK ROAD.
A girl lies close to death in a dark, deserted lane. A driver drags her body to the side of the road. A shadowy figure hides in the trees, watching and waiting.
"A clever psychological crime and mystery novel."
- Little Reader Library.
How far would you go to hold on to the people you love? ... Sleep Tight if you can. You never know who's watching.
"Just when you think you've got it sussed, you'll find yourself screeching in frustration at your foolishness - Crime Fiction Lover.
Someone is looking for Tasha. But does she want to be found?
A standalone novella featuring the same characters as Stranger Child.
"The tension mounts to a high level as the hunted Tash desperately tries to avoid being captured."
Cleo Loves Books.