All That Was Left Unsaid - Exclusive Extract!
All That Was Left Unsaid is out now! . Buckle up, because here is the a taste of All That Was Left Unsaid.
ALL THAT WAS LEFT UNSAID
By Jacquie Underdown
Dead. Detective Inspector McKenzie had seen enough dead bodies to know. Although, anyone with half a brain would arrive at the same conclusion, what with chunks of skull spattered on the road like an exploded piece of pork crackle.
Plus, the victim’s face was unrecognisable. Beaten with a blunt instrument. That blunt instrument was a wrecking bar, discarded on the road, bloody and only metres from the body. Blood oozed from the skull and pooled under the forearm like a spilled tin of heritage-red paint. Still warm to the touch.
Around the crime scene, the forensics team was arriving in vehicles. A fire truck had parked on the elbow of the road, silent but its lights were flashing. An ambulance waited on the opposite side of the intersection. The victim’s car was parked horizontally across both lanes—the right-side bonnet crunched in and glass from a busted headlight spewed across the bitumen.
Already, onlookers were gathering around the taped perimeter, feigning horror, their indistinct chatter like a chorus of twittering birds. Inwardly, they were buzzing. Eyes wide and excited. A dead body. A murder. Gasp, gasp. Tightening down low in the pit of their bellies.
They felt that way because their lives were banal. If they worked with death, saw enough of it, they would know it was not remotely titillating. The scents, the sounds, and the intrusive memories that would resurface relentlessly over the years.
McKenzie eyed the victim’s hair. His throat closed over, spasmed. He had never been good with hair. Something about the way the strands matted from congealed blood. But he forced himself to take it in. His partner, Detective Jenkins, let him have his moment. She was aware of his hair repulsion. McKenzie had admitted it to her one night in a warm, smoky bar over a dozen glasses of strong liquor. Said he couldn’t touch his wife’s hair anymore. Hated the way it spilled over her pillow when she slept.
Detective Jenkins had reacted with empathy. Real empathy earned after seeing and experiencing firsthand how a career like theirs could take its toll. Not the kind of fake empathy used to prevent embarrassing the other person because they’ve admitted to something weird.
The weird hair issue had been around since the early days of McKenzie’s career when he was practically a boy straight out of the police academy before he’d had the years behind him to tighten and tan his soft skin into a weathered piece of impenetrable leather. That’s kind of how he looked now: skin like a well-used basketball, pale blue eyes that stared for a long time without blinking, and height, but with a slight slouch to his shoulders as though every crime scene pressed down on him that little bit more.
His hair aversion had started with a dead body, too. Her head half-sunken into a toilet bowl. A shock of red blood against glaring, unnaturally bright auburn hair. Hair still wet from stinking toilet water. Enough to turn anyone’s stomach. Since that day, he had often wanted to stop women in the street, those who had dyed their hair gaudy colours, shake their shoulders and tell them to be more considerate.
A police officer interrupted—a virgin first-responder. “The station contacted me. A call was made to emergency services to report a car parked on the side of the road about half a kilometre away from here. A woman is behind the wheel. Spattered in blood.
Not making much sense.” He was jittery, speaking too fast, despite forcing himself to appear composed.
“I’ll head there now,” McKenzie said, then focused on Jenkins. “Get forensics up to speed. Then start on statements from witnesses.” He pointed to the tall timber power poles flanking the street. “Contact the council to see if there are CCTV cameras around here. If not, let’s get someone doorknocking these nearby homes, checking for personal security systems that may have recorded what happened.”
* * *
The next location was entirely different. Back where the dead body was, the sun overhead had been unobstructed and beat down hard like theatre-room lighting. Everything was seen on a clear, bright spectrum.
But at this scene, there was a tall border of trees lining the road. The car was half in shade, half in muted light because the sun sat on the opposite side of the canopy, casting a long shadow. A woman was inside the car. The engine was still running.
McKenzie stepped out of his vehicle. Even the temperature was cooler. He noted the time on his watch. 8.37 a.m. His shoes crunched over gravel as he approached the red Mini Cooper. Convertible. Top down. Older model.
The bystander raced to him. A young man in a high-vis shirt and dirty jeans. His ute was parked across the street, one wheel on the gutter, the other three on the road. He had been on his way to a job across town but was grateful to be assisting with this rather than putting scaffold together under the blazing sun.
“DI McKenzie,” McKenzie said as he kept on his way to the car. “Tell me what happened.”
The young man skipped beside him, his lips trembling slightly from the surge of adrenalin. “I was driving. She was in front of me. Swerving a little. I thought she was on her phone. Distracted, you know?”
“But then she veered off the road, flung in here between the trees. I thought she may have hit one because she skidded to a stop and the front of her car is crumpled. I parked there” – he pointed to his ute – “and went to see her. She’s high. Or maybe she hit her head. There’s blood on her hands and all over her clothes. I asked if she was hurt. She couldn’t string a sentence together. I called the police then. And an ambulance.”
“Okay, thank you…?”
“Derrek. Derrek Peterson.”
Sirens from an ambulance blared in the near distance.
“Hang back for the moment. But stick around because I’ll need to get an official statement from you.”
McKenzie stood beside the car, appraised the woman. A purse sat on the passenger seat. A coffee cup was in the centre cup-holder. She wore a skirt that was riding up to her mid-thighs. A white see-through blouse displaying the same colour lace bra beneath. Makeup. Pale pink lipstick. Hair clean and styled. Covering all that were big splashes of blood like someone had come along with a brush dipped in bright red sap and splattered it over her.
He introduced himself. Asked her name. But there was nothing sensical coming back, only slurred sounds, almost like a wounded animal.
Tremors started then. Big convulsions that rumbled through the woman’s body. Her eyes were glazed and vacant. Pupils, big and black. Her jaw clenched tight. Not the first psycho-stimulant induced episode McKenzie had witnessed. He was well aware that this could go south rapidly, particularly if she spiralled into cardiac arrest, which was the worst case but very real scenario.
“I’m going to make you a little cooler here,” he said as he pulled gloves from his pocket, sank his hands into each one. The air-conditioning was set to low. “I’m going to turn these air-con vents in your direction.” He slanted the vents so cool air was pushing towards the woman. He reached for her seatbelt buckle to unclip it but drew his hand away; she would be safer strapped to the seat.
“Hurry up,” he whispered under his breath as the sirens grew louder with their approach. “I’ve got an ambulance on its way. You’ll soon be comfortable and in good care. Shouldn’t be too much longer.” He placed his thumb and forefinger at her wrist. Her pulse was going insane.
His shoulders relaxed when the paramedics roared up the road and pulled onto the gravel. A man and a woman, dressed in blue-green coveralls, climbed out and rushed over with their bags and equipment. McKenzie exchanged formalities and the small details he knew in a gush of short sentences, then stood back.
Between questioning Derrek further, McKenzie kept one ear open to the paramedics as they assessed their patient. They were worried about the woman’s body temperature—too hot—and her erratic, racing heart rhythm. Soon, they wrangled her out of the car, laid her onto a gurney and strapped her in as she shook and trembled. They were saying things like 12-lead ECG, IV fluids and a cooling blanket.
Within moments, the back doors to the ambulance were closed, sealing the woman inside. As the van roared away, sirens blaring, lights ablaze, McKenzie marched to his car for the scenes-of-crime tape to start cordoning off the area.
Of course, he was wondering if the woman was linked to the victim found a short distance away. A scene was coming to life in his mind. A mild traffic accident. Both climb out of their car, but one reaches under the passenger seat for a wrecking bar first.
For defence. She may have been scared. She may have been threatened but fought back hard. Or perhaps the reverse was true—purposeful intent to harm. Road rage gone wrong.
McKenzie considered the details, never one to rush to a conclusion. In that instance, with that case, he was right to take his time. Wait for the evidence. Connect all the dots.
A month ago…
Maddison often fantasised about killing her husband. Over the years, she had stabbed him in the heart with a sharp kitchen knife. Sometimes she would spike his food with poison. Other times, she would suffocate him with her pillow. Hardly original, but fantasies with the same result, nonetheless.
Maddison had her reasons. Good reasons. And just because she fantasised about murdering Ben, didn’t mean she would go ahead with it. If that standard was applied to all fantasies, there’d not be a married couple left standing on the planet.
That particular day, she was on the rowing machine in the gym. A little after noon, most days, Maddison would do a thirty-minute cardio blast. Not some half-arsed meander on a pretend rowing boat, but a workout so extreme she had been known to pass out from exhaustion. That’s why she did that workout at that time when the least number of members were in the gym.
While sucking in breaths like her life depended on it, a deep lactic burn in her shoulders and thighs, she watched her husband at the front counter talking to another staff member. Belinda. A new aerobics instructor fifteen years Maddison’s junior.
Right now, a double murder fantasy was playing out, committed with an eight-kilogram kettlebell swung at just the right angle and speed to clobber both their skulls, one after the other.
Maddison had a dark side. Those little fantasies sounded meek and mild when restrained to the confines of her mind, but when spoken aloud, they shed light on the disturbing nature of those thoughts.
Eight times that double murder scene played in Maddison’s mind and each time her breathing grew more laboured until she was practically barking. Only when a bulky man doing bicep curls cast his eyes in her direction did she quieten.
Near the front counter, Ben’s mobile rang from in his pocket. “Excuse me,” he said to Belinda.
“I’ll leave you to it,” Belinda said and scampered away. She had recently moved from a tiny town. One that made Gladstone, populated by thirty-odd thousand residents, comparatively huge. All she wanted was a chance to work; there wasn’t much of that for aerobics instructors in the dusty, red-earthed expanses of Winton.
So far, Ben had been a good boss to her. She cast a glance at Ben’s wife sweating away on the rowing machine and was distracted by the wide, unsymmetrical set of her glazed eyes. Belinda believed that someone’s eyes were the best indicator of sanity, so there had to be something deeply wrong with Maddison.
Ben pulled his phone from his pocket and answered. “Ben speaking.”
“Sabrina Collins calling from Gladstone Primary Private School. I would like to arrange a meeting with you and Maddison regarding Ruby. I’m afraid she’s been the subject of bullying. Nothing we can’t handle. But I’d like to nip it in the bud as soon as possible and eliminate any chance of escalation.”
“What kind of bullying?” Ben asked, his words clipped. Ruby was only nine. She had inherited her mother’s small frame—the tiniest arms and legs—hardly capable of warding off bullies.
“A group of girls sprayed water on Ruby’s lap and told the class that she had urinated herself.”
His palm slid down his face. “You’ve got to be kidding me?”
“I’d prefer to discuss it face-to-face, so nothing gets lost in translation.”
He blew out a long breath, suppressed an angry growl. “We’ll be there soon.”
“I was hoping perhaps after school. Three-thirty?”
“Is Ruby okay, though? Should I pick her up?”
“She’s fine. We’ve handled it. The other students’ parents have been notified and we’ll be talking to them individually.”
He pressed his palm against his forehead, closed his eyes. “We’ll be there at three-thirty.”
“Thanks, Ben. I’ll talk to you then.”
He ended the call, shoved his phone back in his pocket and took a moment to breathe deeply for five seconds in, five seconds out. Only when the rage waned from a jagged searing beneath his skin to a slow current, did he speak to his wife.
There was no convincing Maddison to stay put until three-thirty. Her protectiveness for their two children was like a mother lion on steroids.
Maddison, still dressed in her sweaty, sour-scented gym gear, arrived at the school barely twenty minutes later. With Ben in tow, she pushed through the administration building’s front doors and beelined to the desk where Vanessa, a young receptionist in her early twenties, waited. Vanessa’s cheery smile fell away as she noted Maddison’s rigid stance, scowling face and the crazed tide of rage that ebbed behind her wide eyes.
“Bring my daughter, Ruby Brooks, here immediately,” Maddison demanded. The other ladies in the small office lifted their heads from their keyboards and glanced in her direction. “We’ll be taking her home now. I want to speak to Sabrina this second or the police will be involved.”
Vanessa bit back her sharp reply, understanding that violence may be the realistic outcome of a forked-tongued response.
“Sabrina is in a meeting at the moment, but I can book you in for an appointment—”
“I don’t think you understand. I won’t be taking no for an answer.” Maddison’s mind was filled with angry questions: where had the teachers been when these little bitches squared up against Ruby and squirted water all over her lap and where were they when they paraded her into the classroom and announced to the other snarky little shits that Ruby had urinated herself? She wanted answers, explanations.
Vanessa reached for her phone. “I can arrange for Ruby to be brought to the office if you think that’s best.”
“It is best. And I would like to speak with Sabrina now.” Maddison’s voice was rising. Ben placed a hand over her hand like a charmer approaching a rattlesnake, but he didn’t say anything; he wasn’t that stupid.
His wife calmed for the two seconds she was distracted, but she soon flicked his hand off, cast a murderous expression his way, then focused again on the receptionist.
Ben stepped closer to the desk. “Best you get Ruby for us. As for Sabrina…” Before he could finish, Maddison had spun away and was storming up the hall to the principal’s office. “Damn it,” he groaned under his breath and followed.
“You can’t go barging in there,” Vanessa called out after them.
Maddison had a vague awareness that she was overreacting, that her mind was spitting up old pain, anger and resentment, tainting this new but only remotely connected situation, and yet she couldn’t stop.
She slammed the office door handle down, shoved the door open, startling the principal and a young couple with their daughter who were sitting opposite the principal’s desk. All turned to face Maddison with various expressions of shock and curiosity.
“Maddison?” Sabrina barked. “I’m in the middle of a meeting. I’ll be with you in a few moments.”
Maddison shook her head. “Not good enough.” She slapped her chest with her palm. “My daughter has been emotionally tormented and ridiculed because of you and your staffs’ incompetence. I deserve answers now.”
A big-bodied nine-year-old girl sitting between her mother and father, eyes already wet with tears, looked at Maddison and said in a meek voice, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset Ruby. I was just playing—”
This drew all of Maddison’s attention and her head flicked around so she was facing the child. “You’re the bully?”
The little girl shook her head. “I didn’t mean to be a bully. We were just having fun.”
“Fun?” Maddison roared. “Humiliating another student is fun for you?”
The girl’s face grew bright red, her bottom lip trembled, and she burst into tears.
The father’s nose wrinkled. “You’re going overboard, don’t you think?”
“If this little fat bitch of yours—”
“That’s not appropriate under any circumstance—” the mother interrupted.
“—even thinks about looking at Ruby, I will come in here and gut her like the overfed piglet she is. You got it?” Maddison’s head was shaking. Her throat was raw from screaming so loud.
Two hands gripped her arms. Not aggressively but assertively.
“Maddison, look at me please,” Ben said.
Maddison blinked, snapped out of her rage, and turned to face her husband.
“Let’s go. You’ve said enough,” he whispered in a low, soothing voice.
She turned back to the people arranged in the cramped office. Stunned faces. The father was red with rage, his leg bouncing, hands clawing the armrests to hold himself back. Tears were filling the mother’s eyes as her daughter cried against her chest.
The principal’s mouth was flapping open and shut, rage in her gaze.
Maddison smoothed the hair from her face, held her shoulders back, chin high. “I’ve said my piece.”
“You most certainly have,” Sabrina said. “Get out. Now!”
Ben threaded his fingers with Maddison’s, tugged her out of the room, and led her down the hall to the administration area. She flicked his hand away as soon as the door closed behind them.
Ruby was seated on a chair in the corner of the small waiting room, eyes wide, frowning. The poor girl had no idea what all the fuss was about. Her friends had played a funny prank on her that morning and now it was like they had all murdered someone with the way the teachers were reacting.
Ruby and her friends had been filling up their water bottles when Miranda had accidentally sprayed her with water and Ruby noticed that it looked like she had peed herself. They had all laughed so hard until they had tears in their eyes. Ruby hadn’t laughed like that for a long time and it felt so good.
They had shuffled to the classroom and showed the other students. The kids laughed, not at her, but with her, and for a few moments, she was the most popular girl in grade four.
But now, the adults were crazed and acting like it was a crime.
Maddison ran to Ruby, crouched before her, and caressed the hair from her daughter’s face. She kissed her forehead. “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
Ruby’s brow crinkled. She shook her head. “I’m fine.”
Ben lightly squeezed his daughter’s shoulder and kissed the top of her head. “You sure?”
Ruby nodded. “Fine. Can I go back to class now? Mrs Bracken is reading a Roald Dahl book and I want to hear what happens to the giant.”
“I don’t think that’s best, honey,” Maddison said. “We’ll take you home now. Give you a chance to relax.”
“Maybe we can stop on the way home and buy the book for you?” Ben suggested.
Ruby jumped to her feet, grinning. “Yes, please. It’s such a great book.”
“You can tell us all about it on the drive home,” Maddison said, rising to her full height again. She took her precious daughter’s hand—such a tiny little girl. All skin and bones and big joints. No height to speak of.
A tight foreboding filled Maddison’s stomach for how she had behaved there today. But no way did she regret it. She would not adhere to social conventions when it came to her children. In her mind, that jealous little bitch inside deserved to cry for what she had done.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt of All That Was Left Unsaid. You can secure your copy now from Amazon stores worldwide here.
ALL THAT WAS LEFT UNSAID
A vicious small-town murder, two unusual suspects, one big lie… Tina is terrified when mysterious handwritten notes appear in odd places around her home. She strives to uncover who is behind the notes, and why, but finds no answers. Until one gloomy night, she catches a familiar face watching her through her bedroom window. Maddison remains in her loveless marriage for the sake of her two young children. Still wearing the mental scars her husband inflicted after his years of betrayal, she uses alcohol and prescription drugs as a crutch. This starts her on a rapid ride to rock-bottom. Approaching forty, Isabelle marries for the first time. Life couldn’t be better, except her husband is still on good terms with his ex-wife. Isabelle doesn’t like his ex, especially when she starts making trouble for the newlyweds. When a vicious murder is committed on a quiet street in this small, blue-collar town, the three women are caught in the riptide of an investigation. Two are suspects. One will lose everything. And someone is lying. A tangled lattice of manipulation and deceit must be unravelled to discover who the true culprit is.