Carly scrambled from bed, stumbling and snatching at the darkness, caught between fight and flight.
Where? Where was he?
Listening, straining for sounds, she heard the thump of her heart, the dry gasp of her breath. No taps, no knocks, no bumps. That didn’t mean a fucking thing.
Her mobile was in her hand. She didn’t remember picking it up. It took three tries to dial the numbers. Forever for a voice to answer. She wanted to shout, managed to pull it back to a hiss. ‘There’s someone in my apartment.’
‘Newcastle police. We received a call about an intruder at this apartment.’
Carly pressed her mouth to the intercom. ‘Me. From me. I don’t know where he is.’
She hit the release for the security entrance. Waited an eternity before hearing deep, hushed voices in the corridor outside, a thump on the door. She cracked it open and saw two uniforms. Men, waists bulky with equipment, chests heaving from the run up the stairs. Both swept their eyes over her – bare feet, flannel pyjamas, clutching a hair dryer.
‘Are you hurt?’ one asked.
Stiff shake of her head.
‘Is there someone in the apartment with you?’
‘I . . . don’t know.’
He shot a look over Carly’s shoulder into her hallway. His partner checked back the way they had come. A radio crackled with static. Carly’s stomach clenched.
‘Can we come in?’ he asked.
Please. She pulled the door wide, saw guns and handcuffs on their belts. The one who’d spoken found the panel of switches on the wall and flicked on the hall lights. Carly squinted in the sudden glare, her feet itching to run.
‘I want you to wait here while we check the apartment,’ he said.
Close to the exit, behind cops with guns. ‘Okay.’
His partner unclipped a radio mic from his jacket, speaking into it quietly as he passed. Carly stayed by the door as the single bulb in the living room came on. Two more officers appeared in the corridor, a man and a woman, barely acknowledging Carly as they hustled in.
She edged along the wall behind them. There were no drawn guns, no hand signals. One took the stairs to the loft, another turned the key in the handle of the French windows and stepped out. The others shoved at the panes on either side. Had he come in there?
‘How long since you saw him?’ It was the first guy, back from the loft.
‘I . . .’ Carly cleared her throat. ‘What time is it now?’
‘It was three something when I looked at my mobile. And that was . . . a minute, I guess, since he’d . . . since he’d been . . .’ She touched her throat.
‘Okay. Wait there.’
He turned away, speaking fast, indistinct words into his radio. There was a brief conference with the other officers, nods and exchanges and pointing.
Carly pulled her pyjama top tight around her chest and listened to the phrases they threw around: perimeter search, a car, acronyms she couldn’t catch, something about a slow night and more officers turning up for a search of the other floors. She turned her face to the dim night-time lighting beyond her front door, the black void on the other side of the railing. Five storeys of old warehouse covering an entire block. There were a thousand places to hide.
‘You can come in now,’ the first cop said. ‘There’s no one here.’
Carly walked to the kitchen on shaky legs, turned on the tap and gulped straight from the faucet. The wetness barely touched the dust-dry lining of her mouth. She scrubbed at her cheeks, her neck, snatched up a tea towel, buried her face in it and burst into tears.
‘Are you cold?’ First Cop asked.
She was shaking all over. It wasn’t from the chill in the air but she nodded.
‘Can I get an officer to find you some warm clothes? A dressing-gown? Socks?’
She saw the motley purple of her feet before registering that they were almost numb. ‘There’s a dressing-gown on a hook upstairs. Uggs near the bed.’
‘What’s your name?’ He was in front of her now, arms slightly raised as though he might need to catch her.
‘Charlotte Townsend.’ No, she didn’t want to be Charlotte tonight. Charlotte was pathetic. ‘Carly. Call me Carly.’
‘Carly, I’m Dean, okay?’ Dark hair little more than stubble, eyes like black coffee. Not a young hotdog: midthirties, something kind in his straightforwardness.
‘You want to put down that hair dryer now?’
She was holding it like a huge red handgun, muzzle up, power cord trailing on the floor. It felt stupid now but she couldn’t let it go. ‘It was all I could find for a weapon.’
‘If I had to hit someone.’
‘You could do some damage with that thing.’ He took it by the muzzle end, slipped it from her trembling fingers as though he was disarming her and laid it on the kitchen counter where it couldn’t hurt anyone. ‘Why don’t we sit down?’
She walked through the sea of dark uniforms to the single small sofa, feeling anxious and wobbly and ridiculous in her green pyjamas with their fat white sheep – thirty-three-year-old woman living alone and wearing a flock of sheep to bed. Dean spoke quietly to the other officers and they dispersed. He produced a notebook and pen and sat knee to knee with her.
‘Can you tell me what happened, Carly?’
She rubbed at her thighs. ‘I woke up and . . . and . . . I . . .’ Her brain was buzzing with words, her mouth struggling to let them out. Fast forward and slow motion at the same time. ‘He, uh . . .’ One hand fluttered around her neck and cheek. ‘Touched me and . . .’ She twisted her fingers into a knot. ‘He left.’
‘You were in your bedroom?’
‘Yes.’ The hand fluttered above her head in the direction of the loft room.
‘He was touching you when you woke up?’
The memory of it – the pressure, the caress – made her shudder. ‘He was standing beside the bed.’
‘And then he touched you?’
She pressed the tea towel to her lips, trying to keep down the pulsing and scrambling inside her. The memory was fuzzy and disorganised, but her throat and cheek burned as though she’d been scorched.
A soft touch at her shoulder made her jump. The female officer was back with the dressing-gown and slippers. Wrapped inside them, Carly was warmer but still shaking. She clamped her hands between her knees to contain it.
‘I’m going to ask some more about all of that in a minute,’ Dean said. ‘But first, I want to get some information out to our other patrols. Can you describe the man?’
Carly shook her head.
‘I know it’s hard, but a description is important.’
‘No, I mean I can’t. I couldn’t see anything.’
‘Take a second to think about it, Carly.’
‘I don’t need to think about it,’ she snapped. ‘It was dark.’
He nodded as though her anger made sense. ‘You said he was standing beside the bed. How did you know that?’
‘I saw him,’ she said, then realised that was stupid. ‘The shadow of him.’
‘Can you tell me what the shadow looked like?’
She scratched the backs of her hands. Tucked them away in the pockets of her dressing-gown. ‘It was a shadow. It looked like a shadow.’
‘It’s okay, Carly. Relax.’ He waited a beat. ‘There are patrols driving around. If the intruder is on foot, there’s a chance he could be spotted if I can get a description out. Okay?’
‘So let’s try this. Was the shadow tall?’
‘It was . . .’ Think. ‘Tall enough to’ – she held hands in front of her face, like she wished she’d done when he was there – ‘bend over me. And . . . and . . .’ He’d breathed on her. ‘Man-shaped and thin-ish. Not fat, anyway.’
‘What about clothes? What was he wearing?’
‘Everything was black. He was a black shape in a black room.’
‘Do you think his clothes might have been black?’
She lifted her eyes. ‘Yes. That makes sense.’
‘What about his head? Was he wearing a cap? Or a hood?’
‘It was . . .’ Carly used two cupped hands to make an arch over her head. ‘A smooth outline. It must have been a hood.’
‘What about his face?’
Blinking, trying to see it again, she got . . . nothing. Come on. The warm staleness of his breath had whispered across her face, he must have been close. Really close. She scrunched up her face. ‘I don’t . . . I just remember black.’
‘Could there have been something on his face, like a balaclava?’
‘Maybe.’ That would explain it. ‘I didn’t think of that. Yeah, it must have been that.’ She smiled a little with relief, until she remembered a man had been in her bedroom with a balaclava and a hood and his hand on her throat. ‘Shit.’
‘And you thought it was a man?’
‘Yes.’ Her voice was firm on that one.
‘Okay. Wait here a moment.’ Dean spoke to the guy he’d arrived with, the only other officer left in the room. The younger cop pulled the radio mic from his jacket, turning away as he started to talk.
‘We’re getting a description out,’ Dean explained, sitting again. ‘How are you doing, Carly? Can you answer some more questions?’
She tugged the lapels of her dressing-gown closer, ran a hand through her hair. The limb-jerking had eased up, something shivery taking its place. If answering more questions meant two burly officers would stay for a while longer . . . ‘Yes.’
‘Is there anything missing from your apartment? Something he might be carrying?’
Her eyes scanned the room: slim pickings if he’d wanted to rob her. ‘I don’t know, I don’t have much.’
‘When he was touching you, did you try to push him away?’
Her hands curled into fists.
‘Do you think you might’ve scratched him? Caused some damage we could use for identification?’
She pushed to her feet, arms tight around her waist, bumping her knee in her hurry to get out of the confined space of the sofa and coffee table.
‘Carly?’ Dean joined her, something gentler in his tone. ‘I know it’s difficult but I have to ask this, for your own sake.’ He waited until she’d lifted her gaze. ‘Did he hurt you, Carly? Maybe touch you somewhere else?’
She pressed fingers to her lips, her stomach wanting to rise.
He spoke before she could answer. ‘I can request a female officer to be here, if you’d prefer.’
‘No, it’s all right. He didn’t rape me, if that’s what you’re asking. I told you everything, it’s just . . . I didn’t . . . do anything.’ She touched the hollow of her throat below the hinge of her jaw. Her fingertips were icy; his had been hard and rough and eager. ‘Nothing. I just lay there and let him put his hands on me.’
‘Fighting back isn’t always the best thing, Carly. You might have saved yourself by keeping still.’
Doing nothing to help herself – she was an expert at that. A tear trickled from the corner of her eye. Dean cocked his head at the sofa, a suggestion she might be more comfortable there. She shook her head, couldn’t sit.
‘So he stopped touching you and left?’ he asked.
‘It didn’t happen like that. He took his hand away and just . . . stayed there. Bent over me. Watching, I think.’
‘You could see him?’
‘Not after I closed my eyes.’
‘Did he say anything?’
‘Make a noise?’
‘And then he left?’
She nodded. ‘When I opened my eyes, he was gone.’