P. R. Black shares an extract from his new novel, The Family.
The man next to her scratched his chin and said, ‘Oh, strewth. I remember that case. Horrible. Family that got done in France, wasn’t it?’
Becky glanced at him. He was in his late thirties, chubby, with a fringe combed down at both sides to disguise the slow retreat of his hairline. He still had today’s work clothes on – a battered jacket, his tie loose, top button undone.
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Nasty one, wasn’t it?’
He supped at a pint of beer. ‘Hell of a case. Ritual thing, they reckon.’
‘Spoilers!’ She gripped his forearm. ‘Wait and see.’
On the TV, blue light flooded the children’s bedroom. The music swelled, as the same dark figure blotted out the light. The young Becky woke up to Howie tugging at the sleeve of her pyjama top. ‘Becky… there’s a man,’ the boy said.
On-screen Becky looked up. Her eyes widened in shock.
The real Becky looked down at her drink, focusing on the surging bubbles. She had made a pact with herself earlier not to look at the mask and had no intention of breaking it.
The man on the stool next to her sucked in breath through his teeth. ‘God almighty. Imagine waking up to that. Terrifying.’
Becky looked up. They had cut to another long-shot of the house, with all the lights down. A muffled scream echoed out across the moonlit fields.
‘It doesn’t look like much fun,’ Becky said, then swallowed the G&T in one gulp. She turned to the man. ‘If you were thinking of asking, I’ll have a gin and tonic. If you weren’t… then shut up.’
The man blinked for a few seconds, then grinned. To her surprise, he ordered two G&Ts.
On-screen, it was daytime, and a young girl was seen running from the trees into a clearing. She was still wearing her pyjamas, which was another example of artistic licence, though Becky had to give the director credit for the blood spatters.
There, in the clearing, was a teenage boy, walking a dog. The dog barked at the young Becky’s approach.
‘Help!’ the girl cried. ‘Somebody help me!’
The presenter’s voice returned, as images of Becky’s real family were shown, culled from family albums. Smiling photos, happy photos. One of her mother and father taken at a wedding they had attended a few years before Howie was born, the clothes, hairstyles and make-up jarringly old-fashioned. The reds, yellows, oranges, blacks and browns in the analogue photos were bleached out, the fine grain lost. All that remained was blue.
‘Four members of the Morgan family were murdered the next morning, after an ordeal that lasted hours,’ the presenter said. ‘Eleven-year-old Becky Morgan was able to escape and find help, despite being pursued through the forest by her attacker – a situation that almost doesn’t bear thinking about.
‘The rest of the family were sexually assaulted, tortured and finally stabbed to death in an attack which was described by local police as ritualistic. Despite a Europe-wide manhunt that lasted years, the killer was never caught.’
The camera returned to the present-day, pixelated Becky. ‘I still dream of the night it happened,’ the actress said. ‘I’ll never forget that man standing over the bed, and the things he did to us. There are times when I wished he’d killed me too.’
The man on the bar stool beside her placed down a G&T. ‘Here you go, smile-a-while.’
‘“Smile-a-while”, did you say?’
‘Yes.’ The man grinned. ‘Don’t take it so hard. It was a joke, love.’
‘Well, your joke’s not very funny, “love”,’ she said. ‘You might need a new scriptwriter.’ She snatched up the fresh drink, spilling a good deal of it down her chin.
‘Oops, missed the target. Here.’ The man offered her a napkin from the bar.
Becky dabbed it against her chin. ‘Thanks,’ she mumbled.
‘Long night, eh?’
She held up her hand. ‘Just a minute, please.’
On-screen, the presenter spoke to a big-boned, cherry-cheeked man in a mismatching suit jacket and trousers, all flesh and girth and clearly uncomfortable under the studio lights.
‘We join Inspector Thomas Hanlon now. Inspector, you’re in charge of the cold case review. Clearly this is a horrifying incident that’s ruined so many lives.’
‘Yes indeed,’ Hanlon said, gravely. ‘And I’d just like to say thank you to the brave young lady who survived the incident for agreeing to talk about what happened. A lot of the details are too upsetting to describe, even at this time of night, and we can only imagine what she went through as a girl of just 11.’
The best way to catch a killer? Offer yourself as bait.
Becky Morgan’s family were the victims of the ‘crimes of the decade’.
The lone survivor of a ritualistic killing, Becky’s been forever haunted by the memories of that night.
Twenty years later, with the killer never found, Becky is ready to hunt them down and exact revenge. But the path to find the murderer is a slippery slope and she finds herself opening up some old wounds that should have been left sealed.
Will Becky avenge her family or join them?
Author and journalist PR Black lives in Yorkshire, although he was born and brought up in Glasgow. His short stories have been published in several books including the Daily Telegraph’s Ghost Stories and the Northern Crime One anthology. His Glasgow detective, Inspector Lomond, is appearing in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. He took the runner-up spot in the 2014 Bloody Scotland crime-writing competition with “Ghostie Men”. His work has also been performed on stage in London by Liars’ League. He has also been shortlisted for the Red Cross International Prize, the William Hazlitt essay prize and the Bridport Prize.