Pop Goes the Weasel: Exclusive Excerpt

Pop Goes the Weasel by M.J. Alridge is the 2nd procedural thriller featuring Southampton detective Helen Grace as she hunts a serial killer targeting duplicitious married men (available October 6, 2015).

A man’s body is found in an empty house.

A gruesome memento of his murder is sent to his wife and children.

He is the first victim, and Detective Helen Grace knows he will not be the last. But why would a happily married man be this far from home in the dead of night?

The media call it Jack the Ripper in reverse: a serial killer preying on family men who lead hidden double lives.

Helen can sense the fury behind the murders. But what she cannot possibly predict is how volatile this killer is—or what is waiting for her at the end of the chase….

Published by arrangement with New American Library, a member of Penguin Group LLC, a Penguin Random House company.

 

Chapter 2

They were watching her every move. Hanging on her every word.

“The body is that of a white female, aged between twenty and twenty-five. She was found by a Community Support officer yesterday morning in the boot of an abandoned car on the Greenwood estate.”

Detective Inspector Helen Grace’s voice was clear and strong, despite the tension that knotted her stomach. She was briefing the Major Incident Team on the seventh floor of Southampton Central Police Station.

“As you can see from the pictures, her teeth were caved in, probably with a hammer, and both her hands have been cut off. She is heavily tattooed, which might help with IDing, and you should concentrate your efforts on drugs and prostitution to begin with. This looks like a gang-related killing rather than a common or garden-variety murder. DS Bridges is going to lead on this one and he’ll fill you in on particular persons of interest. Tony?”

“Thank you, ma’am. First things first: I want to check precedents. . .”

As DS Bridges hit his stride, Helen slipped away. Even after all this time, she couldn’t bear being the center of everyone’s attention, gossip and intrigue. It had been nearly a year since she’d brought Marianne’s terrible killing spree to an end, but the interest in Helen was as strong as ever. Bringing in a serial killer was impressive enough; shooting your own sister to do so was something else. In the immediate aftermath, friends, colleagues, journalists and strangers had rushed to offer sympathy and support. But it was all largely fake—what they wanted were details. They wanted to open Helen up and pick over her insides—what was it like to shoot your sister? Were you abused by your father? Do you feel guilty for all those deaths? Do you feel responsible?

Helen had spent her entire adult life building a high wall around herself—even the name Helen Grace was a fiction—but thanks to Marianne that wall had been destroyed forever. Initially Helen had been tempted to run—she’d been offered leave, a transfer, even a retirement package—but somehow she had caught hold of herself, returning to work at Southampton Central as soon as they would allow her to do so. She knew that wherever she went the eyes of the world would be on her. Better to face the examination on home turf, where for many years life had been good to her.

That was the theory, but it had proved far from easy. There were so many memories here—of Mark, of Charlie—And so many people who were willing to probe, speculate or even joke about her ordeal. Even now, months after she’d returned to work, there were times when she just had to get away.

“Good night, ma’am.”

Helen snapped to, oblivious to the desk sergeant she was walking straight past.

“Good night, Harry. Hope the Saints remember how to win for you tonight.”

Her tone was bright, but the words sounded strange, as if the effort of being perky was too much for her. Hurrying outside, she picked up her Kawasaki and, opening the throttle, sped away down West Quay Road. The sea fog that had rolled in earlier clung to the city and Helen vanished inside it.

Keeping her speed strong but steady, she glided past the traffic crawling its way to St. Mary’s Stadium. Reaching the outskirts of town, she diverted onto the motorway. Force of habit made her check her mirrors, but there was no one following her. As the traffic eased, she raised her speed. Hitting eighty miles per hour, she paused for a second before pushing it to ninety. She never felt so at ease as when she was traveling at speed.

The towns flicked by. Winchester, then Farnborough, before eventually Aldershot loomed into view. Another quick check of the mirrors, then into the city center. Parking her bike, Helen sidestepped a group of drunken cadets and hurried off, hugging the shadows as she went. Nobody knew her here, but even so, she couldn’t take any chances.

She walked past the train station and before long she was in Cole Avenue, in the heart of Aldershot’s suburbia. She wasn’t sure she was doing the right thing, yet she’d felt compelled to return. Settling herself

down amid the undergrowth that flanked one side of the street, she took up her usual vantage point.

Time crawled by. Helen’s stomach growled and she realized that she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Stupid, really—she was getting thinner by the day. What was she trying to prove to herself? There were better ways of atoning than by starving yourself to death.

Suddenly there was movement. A shouted “bye” and then the door of number 14 slammed shut. Helen crouched lower. Her eyes remained glued to the young man who was now hurrying down the street, tapping numbers into his mobile phone. He passed within ten feet of Helen, never once detecting her presence, before disappearing round the corner. Helen counted to fifteen, then left her hiding place and set off in pursuit.

The man—a boyish twenty-five-year-old—was handsome, with thick dark hair and a full face. Casually dressed, with his jeans hanging around his bum, he looked like so many young men, desperate to appear cool and uninterested. It made Helen smile a little at the studied casualness of it all.

A knot of rowdy lads loomed into view, stationed outside the Railway Tavern. Two pounds a pint, fifty pence a shot and free pool, it was a mecca for the young, the skint and the shady. The elderly owner was happy to serve anyone who’d hit puberty, so it was always packed, the crowds spilling out onto the street. Helen was glad of the cover, slipping in among the bodies to observe undetected. The gaggle of lads greeted the young man with a cheer as he waved a twenty-pound note at them. They entered and Helen followed. Waiting patiently in the queue for the bar, she was invisible to them—anyone over the age of thirty didn’t exist in their world.

After a couple of drinks, the gang drifted away from the prying eyes of the pub toward a kids’ playground on the outskirts of town. The tatty urban park was deserted and Helen had to tail the boys cautiously. Any woman wandering alone at night through a park is likely to draw attention to herself, so she hung back. She found an aged oak tree, grievously wounded with scores of lovers’ carvings, and stationed herself in its shadow. From here, she could watch unmolested as the gang smoked dope, happy and carefree in spite of the cold.

Helen had spent her whole life being watched, but here she was invisible. In the aftermath of Marianne’s death, her life had been picked apart, opened up for public consumption. As a result, people thought they knew her inside and out.

But there was one thing they didn’t know. One secret that she had kept to herself.

And he was standing not fifty feet away from her now, utterly oblivious to her presence.

Copyright © 2015 M.J. Alridge.

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M. J. Arlidge has worked in television for the past fifteen years, and he lives in England. His debut novel, Eeny Meeny, has been sold in twenty countries.

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