Something was not right. Doctor Samantha Parish noticed an odour as she pulled the door of her Prius closed. An earthy, almost metallic smell, the distinct reek of male sweat. As soon as the lock clicked, she knew one corner of her world was out of place.
When he spoke from the back seat, a part of her wasn’t even surprised.
‘Try to stay calm,’ he said.
But his deep, soothing tone made staying calm impossible. His self-assurance told her he was speaking from experience. This was the moment his victim usually panicked.
Doctor Parish’s first impulse was to push open the door and roll out of the vehicle. The quickly darkening parking lot was full of cars where other mothers waited. Teenage girls in black leotards, matching pink silk bags hanging from thin shoulders, were filing between the vehicles from the door of the nearby hall. When Samantha tried to move, she found her body was frozen.
‘Don’t make a sound,’ the man said. ‘Put your hands on the wheel. Eyes straight ahead.’
Her shaking hands moved to the steering wheel, gripped hard. She smelled blood. Rain or stagnant water, something almost swampy.
She chanced a look in the rear-view mirror. He was silhouetted against the sun setting beyond the nearby park. Shaved head. Tall. Broad, powerful shoulders.
‘What do you want?’ Her voice was far smaller than she had intended.
A click. The sound of a gun.
Doctor Parish felt tears sliding down her cheeks. ‘Please, just take the car.’
He said nothing. What are we waiting for? she wondered. Then it hit her, hard in the chest, like a punch. She’d forgotten all about Isobel. She turned, her mouth twisted in a silent howl just as her eleven-year-old daughter opened the passenger-side door.
‘No!’ Doctor Parish could hardly form the words. ‘Isobel, ru–’
The child didn’t even look at her mother. She was wearing those little white headphones, cut off from the world around her. She flopped into the car and pulled the door shut behind her with a whump, locking her inside their nightmare.
As they arrived at the clinic, Isobel gave a moan of terror, huddling against her mother as they exited the car. In her ballet get-up, she was the frightened black swan, shoulders bent forward, trying to disappear under her mother’s wing.
They walked to the doors and Samantha swiped their way into the darkened space.
She guessed where he wanted to go and turned and walked through the consulting room into theatre three. They passed a large poster of a woman with perfectly symmetrical breasts, a chart showing liposuction before and after shots. Parish Lifestyle and Body Enhancement Clinic was embossed in thin letters on a stainless-steel plate above the door.
What he wanted from them was becoming clear, at least to Samantha. She watched him undressing carefully in the surgery room, easing a messily bandaged shoulder out of the torn shirt. His clothes were filthy, his skin covered in a fine sheen of sweat. She could smell already that the wounds were septic. Trying to control her shaking, she straightened, let go of her daughter and took a step towards him.
‘You want me to help you,’ she said. It was the first time such a concept had ever repulsed her.
She helped him peel away the bandages. Three puncture wounds, one in the side, two in the shoulder. The wound in his side had an exit hole at the back. A bullet. It was the ones in the shoulder that bothered him the most. The bullets were still in there. As he peeled the last of the blackened bandages away, blood began seeping from the wounds.
‘Lie down,’ she instructed, gesturing to the operating table.
He didn’t lie, but sat on the edge of the table with some difficulty, the gun pinned under one hand, a finger on the trigger guard. Samantha went to the shelves and began filling a tray with tools.
‘I’ll need to administer an anaesthetic,’ she said.
‘No,’ he answered. He was panting now with pain. ‘No injections.’
‘But I can’t –’ She whirled around, gestured to his wounds. ‘I can’t perform surgery on you without a local anaesthetic at least.’
‘You’ll have to,’ he said. She waited for more, but there was none. He wasn’t willing to let her inject him with something – didn’t trust her not to administer a general anaesthetic and knock him out. But he trusted her with a scalpel. Why? She could slash him. Stab him. Then, of course, what good would that do? A nicked artery would put him down in three minutes, maybe longer. Long enough for him to fire the gun at her, or Isobel. Long enough for him to swing one of those huge fists.
The wounds were days old. He’d clearly been hiding somewhere filthy, waiting for the strength to enact his plan.
‘You’re him, aren’t you?’ she said, low enough that her daughter couldn’t hear. ‘The one they’ve been looking for. Regan Banks.’
He didn’t answer. She watched his cold eyes appraising the scalpel in her hand.
‘You’re not going to let us live, are you?’ she said.
Again, no answer came.
Five weeks later
I didn’t sleep much. But when I did, my mind turned in circles, repeating their names like a mantra, connecting them end to end. When I was really tired, my lips moved. I sometimes woke to the sound of my own whispering.
Rachel Howes, Marissa Haydon, Elle Ramone, Rosetta Poelar.
Regan’s girls. The innocent lives he had taken. He had left their bodies ruined on lonely stretches of sand, horrors to be discovered by strangers.
Tox Barnes, my friend, left for dead in my own apartment.
Caitlyn McBeal, a smart young American woman reduced to skin and bones, traumatised, crawling on her belly out of Regan Banks’s grasp.
‘Samuel Blue,’ I whispered through my dreams.
My brother. All I’d had left in the world. The only man who would never abandon me, never judge me.
I didn’t know why Regan Banks had seized on my brother. But my research, my gut instinct, and what my friends had been able to determine, was that Regan Banks was obsessed with him. Regan, a boy from the suburbs, a foster kid like me, had spent fifteen years in prison, incarcerated for the brutal murder of a young woman when he was just seventeen. Regan had found Doctor Rachel Howes working late in a veterinary clinic and unleashed his first deadly passion on her, paying for it with hard time. Not long after his release, girls began appearing on the shores of the Georges River, beaten and strangled, sexually violated. I had wanted in on the case, but no one would approve my assignment. Soon enough, I found out why. My colleagues already had a suspect for the murders, and he was my own flesh and blood.
I knew Sam was innocent. But I was the only person making that claim. There had been evidence in my brother’s apartment, put there, he said, by someone else. While I’d fought to secure my brother’s release, I’d managed to convince two friends to help me, Tate ‘Tox’ Barnes and Edward Whittacker. Together we’d found the man we’d believed to be the real Georges River Killer. A man who’d set out to destroy my brother’s life. Tox had taken Regan on and almost got himself killed. Whitt had got achingly close to catching him, only to have him slip away, wounded and wild, into the night.
I’d thought it was over. That once we caught Regan, my brother would be set free.
But that dream was snatched away from me. My brother was stabbed in prison, and died only hours before I’d planned to visit him and tell him the good news.
I was the only one left to speak for Sam now. For him, and all of Regan’s victims. But my plan had changed. I wasn’t just going to clear my brother’s name by forcing Regan to admit to framing him. Regan deserved to die for the lives he had taken.
I, Detective Harriet Blue, needed to be the one to kill him.
A sound broke through my dreams. I snapped awake, bolted upright in the stiff motel bed. For a moment I had to orientate myself. I had been on the run for five weeks, shifting from motel room to motel room, trying to stay under the radar while I hunted my brother’s killer. I had looked for him where I knew bad men felt safe. I’d wandered homeless camps, where armies of wanted men hid their faces in shadowed hoods and blankets, huddled around campfires. I’d squinted into the corners of blackened, stinking bar rooms and drug dens, the basements and attics of city brothels. I had searched for Regan through the underworld, following whispers between depraved men, chasing rumours through the streets. In five weeks, I hadn’t found him, but I hadn’t given up.
There were no warrants for my arrest. But to my colleagues in the Sydney police, my intentions were clear. I had gone off the map so that Regan couldn’t find me, so that I could get my revenge for what he had done to my family. I had disappeared because I knew that if my colleagues in the police discovered where I was, they’d try to convince me not to commit that final devastating act. The act that would mean giving up everything. My career. My life. My freedom.
And I couldn’t let them do that.
As I sat listening in the dark, I knew someone was coming.