Killing Me Softly

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Book: Killing Me Softly by Nicci French Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nicci French
Tags: Fiction, General, Suspense, Psychological, Thrillers, Mystery & Detective
stayed at home with Jake, closing the curtains against the vile weather, and watched videos on TV and drank a bit too much, enough anyway to send me blundering to sleep each night. Jake was being very attentive. He told me that I had seemed more contented over the past few days, ‘not always rushing on to the next thing’. I told him that I felt good, great.
    On Thursday evening, three days after the note, the Crew came round: Clive, Julie, Pauline and Tom and a friend of Tom’s called Duncan, Sylvie. Clive brought Gail with him, the woman who had grabbed his elbow at the party. She was still holding on to his elbow now, and looking a bit bemused, as well she might, since it was only their second date and it must have felt like being introduced to a whole extended family at once.
    ‘You all talk so much,’ she said to me, when I asked her if she was okay. I looked around. She was right: everyone in our living room seemed to be talking at once. All of a sudden I felt hot and claustrophobic. The room seemed too small, too full, too noisy. I put my hand up to my head. The phone was ringing.
    ‘Can you get that?’ called Jake, who was getting beer from the fridge. I picked up the receiver.
    ‘Hello.’
    Silence.
    I waited for his voice but there was nothing. I put the phone down and went dully back into the room. I looked around. These were my best and oldest friends. I had known them for ten years and in ten years’ time I would still know them. We would still meet up and tell each other the same old stories. I watched Pauline talking to Gail, she was explaining something. She put her hand on Gail’s arm. Clive approached them, looking nervously self-conscious, and the two women smiled up at him; kind. Jake came across and handed me a can of beer. He put his arm around my shoulder and hugged me. Tomorrow morning he was off to Edinburgh.
    After all, I thought, it was beginning to get better. I could live without him. Days were going past. Soon it would be a week. Then a month…
    We played poker: Gail won and Clive lost. He clowned around for her benefit and she giggled at him. She was nice, I thought. Better than Clive’s usual girlfriends. He would go off her because she wouldn’t be cruel enough to keep his adoration.
    The next day I left work at the usual time, and by the main entrance. I couldn’t hide from him for the rest of my life. I pushed my way through the doors, feeling dizzy, and looked around. He wasn’t there. I had been sure he would be. Maybe all those times I had sneaked out of the back he hadn’t been there either. A terrible disappointment rose in me, which took me by surprise. After all, I had been going to avoid him if I saw him. Hadn’t I?
    I didn’t want to go home, nor did I want to wander across to the Vine to meet everyone. I suddenly realized how tired I was. It took an effort to put one foot in front of the other. I had a dull thudding ache between my eyes. I drifted along the street, jostled by the rush-hour crowds. I peered into shop windows. It had been ages since I bought any new clothes. I made myself buy an electric-blue shirt that was in a sale, but it felt a bit like force-feeding myself. Then I dawdled along in the dwindling crowd, going nowhere in particular. A shoe shop. A stationer’s. A toy shop, where a giant pink teddy sat in the middle of the display. A wool shop. A book shop, although there were other objects that gleamed in the window, too: a small axe, a coil of thin rope. Warm air gusted from its open door, and I went in.
    It wasn’t really a book shop, though it had books in it. It was a climbing shop. I must have known that all the time. Only a few other people were in there, all men. I gazed around, noting the nylon jackets, gauntlets made from mysterious modern fabrics, the sleeping bags stacked on a large shelf at the back. There were lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and small camping stoves. Tents. Vast, weighty boots, gleaming and hard. Backpacks with

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