Serialized Fiction: Love Him to Death Part 2

Hello again dear Readers!

Claudia’s lover, Dominic, has died in flagrante delicto leaving her in an impossible dilemma. What will she do next?

To find out, keep reading and… enjoy!

Love Him to Death Cover 2LOVE HIM TO DEATH

Part 2

The bottle of wine sat, half-finished, on the side table next to the sofa so Claudia emptied it down the sink and rinsed away all traces. She put the bottle into her bag; she’d get rid of it later. Her brain clicked into automatic cleaning mode and she wiped the kitchen bench then washed, dried and put away the glasses. The bedroom door was wide open, so she pulled it half-closed. Claudia returned to the living room, plumped the sofa cushions and surveyed the scene. She nodded, feeling calmer.

Claudia had two choices.

One: she could call the police. But they would want statements. His death might be deemed suspicious which meant the coroner would call her to court to give evidence. His wife and Wilson would find out. Strike choice Number One.

That left her with Number Two: leave him here. But how long was his friend away? A month? Or longer? Dominic’s wife would report him missing. A search would take place but nobody would find him because they didn’t know about the apartment. Would the smell of his decomposing body alert the neighbors? How long would that take? It didn’t bear thinking about.

What if she rang the ambulance anonymously and left before they arrived? But the paramedics would call the police and, even if she spent the next two hours scrubbing every surface, the cops were sure to find enough DNA to prove somebody else had been in the apartment. And what if a neighbor saw her arrive or glimpsed her leaving? It would only be a matter of time before the police knocked at her door. Claudia shuddered, picturing a pimply faced, uniformed constable requesting she accompany him to the police station to answer questions, the look of bewilderment on Wilson’s face followed by shock then hardening into suspicion. No! Wilson would never forgive her. He’d be ruthless. She’d lose everything.

What if she called the police herself and explained the situation to them? Mightn’t they understand? They were human… chances were they’d seen it all before. They might accept her statement and let her go. Maybe they’d agree to inform his wife without mentioning the circumstances in which he was found. Claudia gave a bitter laugh. In your dreams, girl.

Why hadn’t Dominic gone home when she suggested it? Why did he have to be so darn greedy for sex?  If he’d listened to her, Dominic would be at home right now with his bitch of a wife and she’d be at home with Wilson. Then Dominic would still be alive and she wouldn’t be going out of her mind with a dead body in the next room. Claudia pounded her fist against the armrest. Damn him to hell! Damn! Damn! Damn!

Stop it! She had to think straight or she was lost. Had anyone ever seen them together? Claudia didn’t think so. Whenever they were out in public, they always met at an obscure bar or café where nobody knew them. Kate was the only person she’d ever told. And Dominic swore he’d never mentioned her name to his friend with the Aston Martin. Claudia exhaled a long, slow breath. Maybe it would work out after all and—

A scuffling noise at the door.

Claudia froze as a key turned in the lock. The door opened. Something dragged across the floor. A suitcase? The door slammed shut. She struggled to her feet. Where could she hide? Frantic, Claudia’s eyes scanned the room. There were no curtains on the windows, only blinds. She ducked behind the sofa just in time.

Purposeful, masculine steps strode down the tiled hallway towards the kitchen.

Her bag! It was still on the sofa! What if the man noticed it? She held her breath. Water ran in the kitchen. Claudia peeped above the back of the sofa. No sign of the man. She grabbed the handle of her bag and yanked it towards her, her heart thumping against her chest.

A cupboard door opened and closed. Footsteps again. They walked towards the bedroom.

“Shit!” the man exploded. She glimpsed him as he darted towards the kitchen. He was tall and slim and blonde; a handsome, elegant man… like James Bond… a man who drives an Aston Martin BD5.

What if he found Claudia hiding behind the sofa? How could she explain what happened to Dominic? He might detain her against her will and call the police. Then she’d be up shit creek without a paddle. Why hadn’t she left earlier when she had the chance?

Buttons beeped on a telephone. It was now or never. She had to risk it. Rising from her hiding place behind the sofa, Claudia swung her bag over her shoulder and tiptoed towards the front door, her legs feeling like cooked spaghetti that might give way at any minute and send her tumbling to ground. She stopped when she reached the entrance. The man was on the telephone, his voice demanding and authoritative. Claudia heard snatches of the telephone conversation: “Yes… in the bedroom… dead… worked… I don’t know… soon… wait…”

The front door opened noiselessly. She slid through and closed it behind her, the lock barely clicking. The elevator dinged, stopping on the floor below. Claudia pressed the button and waited, stealing sideways glances at the apartment door, praying the owner wouldn’t emerge. Hurry up, she begged. The elevator arrived and the door rolled open.

It was empty. Claudia exhaled and stepped inside watching the numbered lights descend until the elevator reached the bottom. She peered from the open door, her finger poised above the Close Door button. The coast was clear. She scurried towards the stairwell. Inside, there was another door. Claudia opened it tentatively: a large room with a cement floor. Four washing machines and four dryers lined the far wall. Untidy rows of garbage bins flanked either side of the fire exit door. Claudia navigated her way through the bins, pushed open the door and sneaked outside, finding herself in a tiny alleyway at the back of the apartment building. She looked left then right. Head down, she clutched her handbag to her chest and hurried along the street, only slowing when she turned the corner and the apartment building was out of sight.

She’d made it! Nobody had seen her leave. Dominic was dead but his body would not lie, rotting and stinking, in that lonely king-sized bed. His friend – the tall, blonde man – would have to break the news to Dominic’s wife. Even if he called the police, the trail would never lead to Claudia because nobody knew she existed.

Claudia took a deep, slow breath and gazed at the sky. Delicate wisps of white fluff swam in a sea of bright, clear blue. Tears of relief welled behind her eyelids and blurred her vision. The horizon resembled a Monet painting. She wiped her eyes with her hand. Wilson loved art. When Claudia got home, she’d suggest they visit the Art Gallery­—or, better still, what about the Louvre? It would be autumn in Paris now.

Claudia sailed down the street, peering at the displays in the shop windows, mentally planning her wardrobe for the upcoming trip while she waited for an empty cab. What if she rang Wilson now and suggested the trip to Paris? He’d be charmed, she was sure. He was always saying how much he loved her impetuosity.

Claudia checked her bag for her cell-phone. Where was the damn thing? She always kept it in the side pocket. Had it fallen to the bottom? She rummaged around: keys… wallet… lipstick… tissues… sunglasses… but no ‘phone.

Shit!

Her cell-phone must still be at the apartment! Claudia had pulled it out when she’d contemplated calling the ambulance earlier. She groaned, remembering how she’d chucked it at the sofa in frustration. It must have fallen behind a cushion. What if the man found it and rang her home number?And what if Wilson answered? She’d have to go back. But if she pressed the buzzer, people might see her. A garbage truck rumbled past, heading towards the apartment block. Recalling the bins littering the doorway, Claudia followed the truck. It turned down the alley and stopped in front of the building’s fire exit door. A man wearing overalls climbed from the passenger seat and pressed the intercom button at the side of the door. The door clicked and the man propped it open. She waited until he wheeled out two garbage bins to the back of the truck before sneaking back inside.

Claudia debated taking the elevator but decided against it and trudged up three flights of  stairs, her elation of a few hours ago now a distant memory. Her mind was awash. What would she say when he answered the door? She’d have to confess everything and hope the man was a good enough friend to Dominic so he would keep their guilty secret.

She gave two soft knocks on the door. Claudia’s heart raced as she waited for his footsteps to approach.

But there was no sound at all. She planted her ear against the door. 

Silence.

Claudia’s fingers fastened around a key-ring in her handbag. Dominic gave it to her in case he was ever late. “I had a copy made,” he’d said as he dropped it into her palm and closed her fingers around it. “Now you won’t have to wait outside if I’m held up.” So far, she’d never had to use it.

Claudia knocked again, feeling bolder. After two minutes, she inserted her key into the lock and opened the front door. She sniffed. Aftershave… glorious and expensive. What if he was showering and hadn’t heard her knock? She stopped and listened. The apartment was empty. He must have left straight after his telephone call. But where had the man gone?

Claudia tiptoed towards the bedroom. She had to see Dominic one more time. The door was ajar. She raised her hand to push it open. Wait  a minute. Could she really bear to see him lying there when she was responsible for his death? She shook her head. No. She’d said her good-byes. Dominic was gone but she still inhabited the real world and now she had to save her marriage. Claudia closed the door.

There was no time to waste. She had to find her cell-phone and get out. Her eyes searched the sofa. There was no sign of her phone. She thrust her hand down the back of the sofa then lifted the seat cushions and swore. Her cell-phone had disappeared into thin air!

The kitchen? She ran to the doorway. The benches were bare. She gripped the side of a chair to stop her hands shaking. If it wasn’t in her bag, it must be in the apartment somewhere for God’s sake! Where else could it be?

The faint wail of a siren broke the silence of the empty apartment. Claudia’s blood froze as the siren grew louder. It was coming closer! Brakes squealed as two vehicles rounded the corner. The siren gave a final wail and petered out.

Claudia lifted the blind and peeped from the window. A police car and ambulance parked in front of the building and two uniformed police officers climbed out of the car. The woman officer was thickset with short, blonde hair. She approached the ambulance and spoke briefly with the driver before nodding at her colleague and donning her cap. The officers walked towards the entrance door of the apartment building.

Claudia’s heart pounded. They’d find her alone in the apartment then arrest her when they found Dominic’s body. She had to get out… now.

For the second time, she crept towards the front door and let herself out. The elevator dinged. They’d gotten in and would reach the fourth floor in a matter of seconds. Claudia dashed towards the stairwell, pulled open the heavy door and flattened herself against the wall.

Another ding. The elevator door opened. Muffled voices—she couldn’t make out their conversation—then a knock at the door. A few seconds passed. A loud thump. Wood splintering. They must have broken their way inside. Claudia pulled off her shoes, stuffed them into her bag and ran down the stairs, gripping the handrail for leverage and jumping the last few steps of every flight. When she reached the street level, she stopped. What if she ran into the ambulance officers?

But as long as the paramedics entered from the front, she couldn’t be seen. Claudia slipped through the  basement door and sagged against the outside wall, her legs still shaky. For the second time that day she’d had a narrow escape.

But Claudia still felt uneasy. What about her missing cell-phone? Had the police found it in the apartment or did the blonde man take it? What if he tried to blackmail her and demand a massive amount of money? What if he went to the police—or worse—to Wilson and told him everything? Claudia moaned and sank to the ground, burying her head in her hands.  

A soft breeze rustled the trees above her. Three yellow leaves fell to the ground and tumbled away with the wind. Claudia’s thoughts returned to autumn in Paris. She raised her head and smiled. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as she thought. She’d searched high and low and hadn’t found her cell-phone in the apartment which meant the blonde man took it with him. That left her two courses of action. 

One, she could erase her ‘phone data. Claudia remembered reading somewhere about deleting stored information remotely using a connected laptop. Once she’d wiped the information, the man would be unable to use the ‘phone to track her down or contact Wilson.

But there was another way. The apartment owner was an attractive man—tall, slim, debonair—just her type. What if she approached him and made him an offer? Claudia had yet to meet a man who’d refused her. It would be poetic justice if he took Dominic’s place in her bed. 

She hailed a passing cab and climbed in. Her driver was a woman this time, grim-faced and officious, resisting all attempts to engage in conversation. When the cab pulled up outside the stately nineteenth century mansion Claudia shared with Wilson, she threw the money onto the front seat and slammed the door. Then she smoothed her hair, took a deep breath and headed towards the portico, her shoes crunching on the white gravel driveway…

End of Part Two

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Serialised Fiction: Love Him to Death

Love Him to Death Cover 2With serialised fiction making a world-wide comeback, I thought I’d share a longish short story with you in serial form over the next few weeks.

It’s a slight departure from what I normally write. I suppose you could call it an erotic romantic thriller.

Be warned, graphic language and sex scenes ahead! Enjoy dear Readers!

LOVE HIM TO DEATH

Part One

Nobody is allowed to get hurt.

It was their mutual pact, their solemn promise, their unbreakable contract. They’d sealed it by dipping their fingers into the wet patch one day and drawing the sign of the cross on each other’s foreheads before they fell about, laughing.

Kate was unimpressed when she told her. “You’re barking mad Claudia! Why take such a risk? And for a greengrocer? For crying out loud, couldn’t you have found someone more exciting?”

Claudia had smiled. “But, darling,” she said, “That’s why I chose him! He doesn’t move in our circles, so I’m completely safe. Wilson will never find out!”

Wilson. Privileged, wealthy and heir to the family fortune.

Wilson. Peevish, pasty, with the flabby body of an invalid.

Wilson. The man who made love to her once a month on a Sunday morning and whimpered Mother when he climaxed.

Wilson. The man who said he would take everything and destroy her if she ever betrayed him.

Claudia’s lover was Wilson’s polar opposite. He was a big man – warm, generous, popular – with the rugged, good looks of an Italian movie star. He fed upon her body like the ripe fruit in his shop; rolling her nipples between his lips like tender, plump grapes and cupping her buttocks in his palms as delicately as he might two juicy peaches before he dipped his tongue into the sweet nectar between her legs.

“Whatever he’s doing, it agrees with you,” Kate admitted grudgingly.

It was true. Claudia’s skin had the rosy hue of a fresh apple; her eyes the glow of soft, molten chocolate. Claudia’s sexuality, once dormant and repressed, now burst from her pores like bottled-up steam, surrounding her in a kind of permanent, erotic miasma. Men stared and shifted in their seats when she walked into a room.

The autumn sun was warm despite the cool breeze that blew her freshly blow-waved hair across her face as she emerged from the hairdresser’s and strode towards the taxi rank. Claudia climbed into a waiting cab, her skirt riding to the top of her thighs. The driver turned around, his eyes fixed on her smooth, bare legs.

“Where to, Miss?”

She gave the address with a dazzling smile. The driver turned back to the wheel and pulled away from the kerb, still staring at her in the rear-vision mirror.

“I’m on my way. I’ll be there soon,” Claudia whispered into her cell-phone, returning it to her handbag with a secret smile. Donning a pair of oversized sunglasses, she stared out the window at the passing traffic.

“In a hurry?” the driver asked.

She checked her watch. “I am actually. I’m late meeting a friend.” The driver sighed and shook his head as though he wished it was him. Minutes later, the taxi pulled up in front of a square, red brick apartment building, four stories high with a glass security door.

“Thank you,” Claudia said, handing the driver a generous tip. It had become a habit, her bribe to the gods to keep protecting her. He beamed and wished her a happy day.

“It will be,” Claudia assured him, climbing out of the car.

This part was always nerve-wracking. Despite the quietness of the street, she always imagined a hundred pairs of inquisitive eyes watching her every move. She glanced down the street, first left then right, and pressed the buzzer.

“It’s me,” Claudia whispered into the intercom.

The door clicked and she pushed it open, breathing a sigh of relief when it slammed behind her. Now she had to get to the apartment without being seen. She climbed the stairs two at a time and rapped breathlessly at the door on level three. Within seconds Dominic opened it and Claudia flew into his arms.

“Hello you.” He kissed her hard on the mouth. It still felt as good, as exciting as the very first time.

Claudia hugged him, feeling him wince. “Are you OK? Did I squeeze you too hard? Maybe I’d better cool it at the gym,” she said, laughing and flexing her biceps.

He smiled. “No, just getting old. I’m a bit tired today.”

“You’ve been working too hard since the operation. Remember what the doctor said? You have to take it easy.”  She took his arm. “Come and sit down. Let me pour the wine for a change. You sit there and relax.

A bottle of wine sat on the kitchen bench, already uncorked. “Ooh la la,” Claudia sang, holding up the bottle. “A 1990 French bordeaux no less! Another present from our benefactor? He’s awfully kind, this friend of yours, lending us his apartment whenever we need it and letting us drink his prize wine. How long have you known him?” Claudia poured the ruby liquid into long-stemmed glasses and carried them into the sitting room. Dominic sat hunched forward, head bowed, his hands clasped between his knees. A knot of worry tugged at her belly.

“Darling, is it your heart again? You’ve got me worried now. Shall we just share a glass of wine today? Then you can go home and rest.” Claudia held her breath, hoping he wouldn’t agree.

But Dominic gazed at her with soft, indulgent eyes and patted the seat beside him. “Not a chance. Not now you’re here. Come to Daddy.” He opened his arms and she snuggled into them, taking care not to spill wine on the pale grey sofa. The apartment felt more like home than the mansion Claudia shared with Wilson. She’d become protective and territorial about it, like it was her own, so she always washed the dishes, wiped down the kitchen benches, straightened the cushions and changed the sheets before they left. Sometimes, she even forgot about the man who owned it. It wasn’t hard because the apartment bore no traces of the owner. There were no photographs or books or ornaments or travel souvenirs; nothing to suggest a real-life flesh and blood person lived there. The furniture, while good quality, was solid and plain. There were no patterned fabrics or designer colour schemes displaying the owner’s personality. “He travels a lot,” Dominic had said as if that explained everything. She’d nodded but it disturbed her. Claudia wanted their patron to be a living, breathing human being, not a cardboard cut-out, a man without a shadow. 

She hugged Dominic again, more carefully this time. “To us! And to your generous friend!” Their glasses clinked. “Tell me about him. You’ve been very cagey so far. Is he an international spy on a top-secret assignment we’re not allowed to talk about?”

Her lover smiled. “Nothing like that. He’s just an ordinary guy… a banker I think. He came into the shop about a year ago and we got to talking about cars. Turns out he owns an original Aston Martin DB5.”

She laughed. “Am I supposed to be impressed?”

“You should be. It’s the same model car James Bond drove in Goldfinger.”

“Ah.” Claudia sipped her drink, licked her lips and changed the subject. “I had a beautiful fantasy the other evening.”

His voice was husky. “Tell me about it.”

It always began like this. Sometimes Claudia was a horny hitchhiker wearing tiny denim shorts and a see-through top; at others she was a lone, predatory visitor in an art gallery wearing a power suit and no underwear. Today she was Messalina Valeria at a Roman brothel, issuing a challenge to the prostitute, Scylla, to bed the greatest number of men in one night. Claudia watched her lover’s erection grow huge and hard beneath his jeans as she described her unquenchable lust for the line-up of men waiting to fuck her. Dominic moaned and pushed her back against the sofa.

“Hey, I haven’t gotten to the best bit yet,” she protested. He pressed his lips to hers, silencing her. Claudia unzipped his trousers and freed his cock. It felt thick and heavy in her hand. She knelt at his feet and took his entire length into her mouth, running her tongue up and down the shaft then gently sucking at the head of his cock.

“God, that is so good,” he groaned. He lifted her head with huge hands and carried her  into the bedroom, stripping off her clothes, piece by piece, caressing her breasts and belly and the soft, sensitive skin between her thighs.

Claudia moaned when he took one breast in each hand and licked around it in slow circles getting smaller and smaller until he reached her nipples. He sucked on them gently. She arched her back and stroked herself, her fingers coming away sticky and wet.

He took her hand, sucking one finger at a time in his mouth. “It’s my turn now,” he whispered, burying his tongue inside her cunt.

Her fingers clawed at the sheets. “Darling, I’ll come too soon if you keep doing that,” she breathed.

“Do you want me stop?”

She was frantic. “No! I mean yes! I can’t bear it! It’s too good!”

“Nothing is too good.”

“Yes it is when you do it like that!”

“Do you want me to fuck you then?”

“Oh God… yes… please!”

“How do you want me to fuck you?”

“Like I’m a bitch in heat,” Claudia panted.

Dominic grabbed her hips, rolled her over and forced her into a kneeling position. She gasped when she felt his hardness pushing into her.

“How much of me do you want?”

“Every last inch!”

“Here I am.” He thrust his entire length into her.

Claudia screamed. Her orgasm unfolded like a carnivorous flower deep inside her belly, its tendrils tickling and teasing every nerve in her body. Tears sprang from her eyes as the waves of pleasure swelled and rolled in time with Dominic’s thrusts. “Enough!” she begged. “I’ll die of pleasure if you don’t stop!” Her body felt weightless, her limbs weak, her muscles soft. Claudia dropped to her elbows just as she heard Dominic’s cries getting louder.

His body tensed. He roared and collapsed onto Claudia’s back, his body hot and slick with sweat. Claudia smiled, despite her face being pressed against the pillow. Soon Dominic would lift himself from her and stroke her back. Then he would turn her over and caress her face and tell her she was the best fuck he had ever had.

The minutes ticked by on the alarm clock next to the bed. Claudia chuckled to herself. He must have fallen asleep.

“Hey,” she whispered, “I’m finding it hard to breathe down here.”

 Dominic was heavy, his bulk covering her entire body. She braced her palms on either side of the pillow and tried to lift herself. 

“Am I so boring you’d fall asleep straight afterwards?” she joked, wriggling out from under him. Her lover rolled onto his back, his arms falling to his sides, his eyes closed.  “Darling?”

She touched his skin. It was warm but clammy. She picked up his arm. It dropped like a stone.

Her belly quivered. She tapped his cheeks with her fingers.

“Come on. For God’s sake! What’s the matter? I’ll kill you if you’re playing one of your games again.”

He lay there, still and quiet.

“Oh, sweet Jesus! Please! Wake up!”

A sudden heat engulfed her like a wave. It was like being boiled alive. Perspiration dripped from her body and her breath came in short, fast bursts.

She forced herself to breathe slowly.

It’s nothing. He’ll be fine… he’s just passed out, she repeated over and over like a mantra. She’d read somewhere that an orgasm sometimes caused a drop in heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in a brief spell of unconsciousness. In a minute, he’d come to, and they’d pour themselves another glass of wine and laugh about it.

Claudia nudged Dominic with her elbow. The movement jerked his head sideways. Was that his eyelids fluttering? She straddled his chest and took his face in her hands. “Dominic? Wake up! You’re scaring me half to death.”

His eyes stayed closed.

Claudia felt lightheaded. The urge to scream was getting stronger.  Stay calm, she told herself. She breathed in for four seconds and out for four seconds… in… out… in… out… in… out.

She lowered her head to his chest.

No discernible heartbeat.

But that meant nothing. Once, after a vigorous bout of lovemaking, her heart had almost beaten its way out of her chest while his gave barely a murmur.

“You’re a heartless beast, that’s why,” she had joked.

“No,” he’d sighed. “Just a layer of fat muffling the sound.”

She tried to remember her first aid training but her mind was racing, her thoughts like jumbled jigsaw pieces inside her head. She forced herself to concentrate.

“Danger, Response, Airways, Breathing, Circulation,” Claudia recited. “Danger? None here. OK. Response? She shook her lover’s shoulder, grabbed his hand and patted his cheeks again. “Can you hear me?” It was strangely comforting having a formula to follow. At least she was doing something rather than sitting on the bed, helpless.

“A is for Airways and they’re clear,” she announced to the empty room. “B is for breathing. He’s not breathing so I need to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Wait a minute. Shouldn’t I ring the ambulance? But I’m supposed to be giving him the kiss of life! And what if he dies while I’m on the ‘phone?”

Claudia lowered her face to Dominic’s. His breath smelt sour and she nearly gagged. She placed her mouth over his lips, pinched his nose and puffed two sharp breaths. His chest rose and fell.

“Dominic? Oh, sweet Jesus! Breathe, damn you!” Claudia blew into Dominic’s mouth again, her stomach churning. Her limbs felt heavy and weak. She put her ear on his chest again, praying for a heartbeat, however faint.

Nothing. His skin was much cooler now. And was it her imagination or had his complexion taken on a grey pallor?

She clambered off the bed, ran into the sitting room and rummaged around in her bag for her cell phone. Claudia dialled, then stopped.

She couldn’t.

They’d promised never to tell anyone about the apartment. Even his friend, the owner, didn’t know her identity. They’d agreed it was too dangerous to tell even him. But if she called the ambulance, their affair would come out.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Claudia threw the cell phone onto the sofa as hopeless, frustrated tears coursed down her face. “This can’t be happening!” she raged. “It’s a bad dream… a scene from a stupid soapie—it doesn’t happen in real life!”   

She raced to the bedroom and climbed back onto the bed. ‘C’ was for circulation. One more thing she had to try. She put the heel of her right hand in the middle of his chest below his ribs, covered it with her left and pushed down. How many compressions should she perform in a minute?

Claudia’s mind went blank. Fifty? No, too few. The blurred face of her First Aid instructor swam before her eyes. She saw his lips move. One hundred compressions per minute are required to ensure the blood keeps circulating so the brain doesn’t die, he’d said. She glanced at the clock and tried to keep count.

The mattress dipped and his body bounced. Her compressions weren’t strong enough to do any good. Claudia dragged his body onto the floor and continued.

Ten minutes passed. Her arms and shoulders ached; her hands were numb.

Claudia stopped, exhausted, and stared at his face.

Her efforts had been a waste of time. Dominic was dead. Nothing would bring him back to life.

“No!” Claudia wailed, flinging her body over his, her tears soaking and matting the thick, dark hairs on Dominic’s chest. “Oh my darling—I’m sorry! I wanted to save you! I tried, I really did! But even if I’d called the ambulance, it wouldn’t have made any difference. You were already dead! I just didn’t want to admit it!”

Claudia’s sobs grew more violent, more intense. She clutched Dominic to her breasts. “What am I going to do? There’s nobody I can tell. I don’t know the person who lives here or where I can find him and I can’t leave you here and not tell anyone. But what if Wilson or your wife finds out? I can’t let that happen… we promised each other! I owe that much to you at least. Oh, Jesus, God almighty, what am I going to do?”

Claudia howled like a rabid dog, sobs racking her body in painful spasms. After a time, her weeping subsided. Exhausted, her tears spent, she checked the clock next to the bed. Fifteen minutes had passed. Claudia pulled away from her dead lover and hugged her knees to her chest. Her head pounded and her eyes stung. She wiped them with the back of her hand then turned to the man lying beside her.

He looked so vulnerable, all his macho bravado gone. In death he’d become a little boy again—the one who cried when he skinned his knee or fell from a tree, who crawled into bed beside his mother when he heard a scary noise. Her heart swelled, flared, then burst into tiny painful pieces inside her chest. Dominic – her sexy, caring lover – would never hold her in his arms or make love to her again.

Claudia rose, clasped him around the chest and hauled Dominic’s body towards the bed. He was heavy, and she had to stop twice for a rest. When she reached the bed, she positioned his head and chest onto the pillow then lifted his legs. She straightened his body and pulled the quilt to his neck. Dominic might have been fast asleep. She kissed his cheek and smoothed the hair back from his forehead.

There was nothing more Claudia could do for him.

END OF PART ONE

 

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What Son of Saul Teaches Me About Writing

I’ve just seen Son of Saul, a Hungarian film set almost entirely in the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz, Poland in 1944.

Son of Saul is told through the eyes of one individual: Saul Auslander, a Hungarian Jew who works with the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most infamous death camp in Europe during World War Two.

The film is chilling, unsettling…. and ruthlessly careless of viewer sensitivities. While it’s not a film I recommend, it is compelling nevertheless.

Between March 1942 and December 1944, the Nazis deported over one million Jews and nearly 25,000 Roma Gypsies to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Several trains carrying almost one thousand Jews each arrived daily during this time, from almost every country in Europe.

Imagine the tired, cold, hungry, thirsty, frightened victims arriving at Auschwitz station in the dead of night. Imagine grim, uniformed men shouting and cursing in German with vicious dogs barking and straining at their leashes waiting on the platform. Saul and his fellow members of the Sonderkommando also waited there.Gates to Auschwitz

The Sonderkommando (Special Unit) was a group of Jewish prisoners who, in exchange for extra rations and a brief stay on their inevitable executions, were responsible for greeting the Jewish transports upon their arrival at Auschwitz station, helping them remove their clothes and assuring them a hot meal and warm bed if they stepped quietly into the showers for delousing. The Sonderkommando then herded the unsuspecting prisoners into the gas chambers and listened, ears to the door, until the last scream died out. Their next job was to remove the bodies from the gas chambers, place them into the ovens at the crematoria, then clean the chamber ready for the next transport. The average life span of a Sonderkommando prisoner was four months.

Son of Saul opens with these shocking scenes. However, this time, as Saul removes the dead from the gas chamber, he discovers the body of a little boy he believes to be his son. Amidst the continuing horror of the Final Solution and a daring Sonderkommando plot to blow up the gas chambers and attempt a mass escape, Saul makes it his mission to save the little boy from cremation and ensure the child gets a proper, traditional Jewish burial.

So how can Son of Saul help me as an author?

Son of Saul teaches me the importance of setting a compelling goal for my central character – one that is meaningful, personal and important; one that is pursued to the end of the story where it is either won… or lost.

Saul is obsessive in his quest to give a little, dead boy a proper Jewish burial. First he asks the Jewish rabbi in his Sonderkommando detail. When the rabbi refuses, Saul risks his life to join another Sonderkommando team where a Greek rabbi is working. When the Greek rabbi also refuses, Saul stalks the arriving transports and approaches every man who looks like a rabbi and begs for his help. At every turn, Saul meets resistance but he persists, risking both his own life and those of his fellow Sonderkommando. Like the most compelling of protagonists, Saul is relentless in his pursuit of his goal right until the very end. As viewers, we are there with him, rooting for him, holding our breaths when he encounters a brutal SS guard or the threat of betrayal from his fellow team members. We are awed by his single-minded dedication; we feel his desperation. His goal becomes ours.

I’m not going to tell you if he succeeds. You’ll have to see the film to find out.

Son of Saul is not a film I enjoyed but I learned a lot – as a person and a writer.

I give it Four Stars as a film and Five Stars as an inspiration for writers.

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The Witch

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble…

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes…

Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

I love good horror stories and I love witches.FullSizeRender (1)

So when I heard about the movie, The Witch, and read the reviews, I was excited.

Here’s what people are saying:

“The Witch is leaving audiences terrified…”

“I spent the majority of the movie with my cardigan over my head and my fingers in my ears…”

“The Witch is the best horror movie I’ve seen… “

“A slow and sinister exercise in ever-escalating dread…”

The Witch is a story about a devout farming family in New England, banished from a colonial plantation for their blasphemous religious beliefs. The family of seven travel by horse and cart and settle on a desolate plot of land at the edge of a thick, impenetrable forest.

From the very beginning, inexplicable things happen. The baby, Samuel, disappears into thin air. The family’s corn crop fails. Animals behave strangely, evilly. Then the family turn on each other and accusations of witchcraft and Satanism are hurled around.

When the film began, I relished the sense of building dread resulting from small, unsettling incidents: a deformed chicken in a broken egg, a scuttling, robed figure escaping into the woods with baby Samuel; a golden-eyed rabbit who stalks his human hunters and Black Phillip (my favourite character) the malevolent goat with all-knowing eyes and a husky voice. The film is shot in cold light and the bleak, forbidding landscape adds to the slow-building horror.

But…

The Witch promises great things but stays hovering at the edge—tantalising you—but delivering only fleeting moments of terror and disbelief.

It is an interesting film. The setting and time period is compelling. The language used and attention to detail is authentic and admirable.

But I didn’t want interesting.

I wanted chilling… unsettling… unnerving… disturbing… terrifying!

And I didn’t get it.

The Witch leaves too many unanswered questions, too many threads that go nowhere. At the end of the film, we looked at each other and asked “Is that all there is?”

If you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear what you think.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from a genuinely scary witch tale from Bohemia. It’s called Johnny and the Witch Maidens about a trio of beautiful witches who lull their victims to sleep, then steal their eyes.

“Now,” said [Johnny] to the first witch-maiden. “Tell me where my master’s eyes are or I’ll throw you into yonder river and drown you!”

“I don’t know where they are,” said the witch-maiden.

“All right, come and be drowned!” And he lifted her up and made as if to carry her down to the river that flowed at the bottom of the hill, when she screamed out, “Don’t drown me Johnny, don’t drown me! I’ll give you the old man’s eyes!”

She led him to a cavern by the river and, in the cavern, was a great heap of eyes of all sizes, large and small and of all colours, blue, green, brown, black and red. She turned over this heap of eyes and took out two. “Here – these are his eyes,” she said.

And Johnny fitted the eyes into the old man’s head. But the old man began to cry and said, “Alas! Alas! These are not my eyes for I see nothing but owls!”

In a rage Johnny seized up the witch-maiden and threw her into the river and the river carried her away. He went back to the rock and said to the second witch-maiden, “Give me my master’s eyes.”

“I don’t know where they are,” said the second witch-maiden.

“All right, come and be drowned!” And he lifted her up and made as if to carry her down to the river that flowed at the bottom of the hill, when she screamed out, “Don’t Johnny, don’t! I’ll give you the old man’s eyes!”

They went down to the cavern and she turned over the heap of eyes and picked out two. Johnny fitted them into the old man’s head and said, “Can you see now, Daddy?” But the old man cried, “Alas! Alas! These are not my eyes. I see nothing but wolves!”

So then Johnny seized up the second witch -maiden and threw her into the river and the river carried her away.

Johnny went back to the rock and said to the third witch-maiden, “I’ve stood no nonsense with your first sister, I’ve stood no nonsense with your second sister and I’ll stand no nonsense with you. Come and give me my master’s eyes.”

“I will give them to you,” she said.

They went down again to the cavern and she picked two eyes out of the heap. “Are these the right ones?” asked Johnny. “They are,” said she. “They had better be,” said Johnny “or it will be the worse for you. Come Daddy, let’s fit them in!”

“Oh dear, oh dear!” wailed the old man when the eyes were put into his head. “Now I see nothing but goats!”

“You she-devil!” cried Johnny. And he picked her up and carried her to the river. “Now – one, two, three!” And he swung her out over the water. But she clung to him and screamed, “Don’t! Don’t Johnny! I will give you the old man’s proper eyes!” Johnny carried her back to the cave and she grovelled and scrambled among the heap and from the very bottom of it brought up two bright blue eyes.

Johnny put them in his master’s head and the old man cried tears of joy. “Praise be, these are my eyes! I can everything clearly again! I can see the sky, I can see the earth, I can see you – but I can’t see that wicked witch-maiden. Where is she?”

Johnny turned around. The witch-maiden had vanished…..

“Johnny and the Witch-Maidens” taken from The Book of Witches by Ruth Manning-Sanders

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Flawed Characters: Why We Love Them And How To Write Them

“She found it at once. It was an old school prize called The Little Saint. Bets had been rather bored with it. The Little Saint had been a girl much too good to be true. Bets preferred to read about naughty, lively children.” The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters by Enid Blyton

I’m with Bets. My favourite novels are always about deeply flawed characters… and so are my favourite TV shows and films.

Think Michael Henchard, Thomas Hardy’s impulsive, volatile protagonist who gets drunk one day at breakfast and sells his wife and infant daughter to a passing sailor. Or Emma Bovary, Flaubert’s tragic anti-heroine whose blatant extra-marital affairs and profligate spending eventually cause her to commit suicide with arsenic. More recently we’ve seen the psychopathic Tony Soprano on The Sopranos, the arrogant, narcissistic Don Draper from Mad Men and the ultimate anti-hero, Walter White, the suburban drug lord of Breaking Bad.

Why do we love these characters so much? Why do they stay with us long after the book or film or series has finished?FLAWED CHARACTER

I think that we identify with these characters because they possess traits we recognise in ourselves, but choose to keep hidden from the outside world. Following these characters gives us vicarious pleasure as we watch another human being play out our unfavourable traits and reap the negative consequences… instead of us. They show us what could happen if we gave free rein to our negative impulses. There but for the Grace of God go I, and all that.

The best flawed characters always possess redeeming features – even if they are not enough to ‘save’ the character at the end. Michael Henchard could also be kind and generous. Tony Soprano loved animals and murdered a repulsive colleague who killed his beloved racehorse in an arson attack. While Don Draper was incapable of marital fidelity, his devotion and loyalty to Anna Draper showed us an entirely different man.

TIPS FOR WRITING GREAT FLAWED CHARACTERS

  1. When you decide your character’s goal, give that character a fatal flaw that blocks your character at every turn and makes it nearly impossible for him or her to achieve that goal. For example, if your character possesses the fatal flaw of greed, make that character’s goal to be the opposite then put your character in a situation where he or she has the opportunity to make some easy money… and it goes terribly wrong.
  2. Give your main character a flaw that contrasts with the traits of other characters. For example, a character whose flaw is always being on the defensive will be under the most pressure when he or she is surrounded by judgmental or confrontational characters.
  3. Once you decide your character’s fatal flaw, write his or her backstory to discover where it originated. When you find out how and why your character was emotionally wounded, it becomes easier to craft scenes that bring back the hurt and put unbearable pressure on your protagonist. For example: A character with the fatal flaw of jealousy had a parent leaving them at a vulnerable age. If that character is now happily married, put them into a scene where they are confronted with the prospect of betrayal, real or imagined. Then sit back and write the fireworks!
  4. It’s no good telling the reader about your protagonist’s flaw or having somebody else mention it in a conversation. Show your character living out his or her flaws. For example: a character whose fatal flaw is inflexibility could be engaged in a passionate argument with somebody where they refuse to concede any points, resulting in a damaged relationship with that person.
  5. Get inside your character’s head. Show the thoughts that accompany their fatal flaw. For example: if your character is morbid or a pessimist, you might write a scene with the character sitting in an airport lounge obsessing about every possible thing that could go wrong on the flight.
  6. Ensure that your character has a balance of positive and negative traits. Remember that the role of a fatal flaw is not to show your character as a bad person but to make it difficult for your character to achieve his or her ultimate goal. As I said earlier, the most enduring and memorable flawed characters also have strong positive traits. Think Walter White from Breaking Bad who morphed into the ruthless drug king-pin, Heisenberg, because he loved his family and wanted to provide for them if he died of cancer.
  7. Show your protagonist’s positive traits early on so your readers like your character and want him or her to succeed despite their fatal flaw.
  8. Your character does not always have to experience major life-changing events to be tested. Early in your story, show your character making silly mistakes resulting from his or her fatal flaw that have only a minor impact on the story goal. This makes them human and more easily identified with. Save the big events for later on in the story – at the Climax or Black Moment.

The best and most practical book I have read on this subject is The Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. As well as some outstanding advice, this book provides a list of negative traits, the possible causes and the associated attitudes, behaviours, thoughts and emotions that might be experienced by a character possessing the traits. I can highly recommend this book to improve your writing!

Until next time, dear Readers….

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A Short Story: Maddy – The Making of a Psychopath

vintage-1203860_1280When a case perplexed him, Dr Malcolm Orens could be found sitting at his desk playing with an abacus. He didn’t realise that his left eyebrow twitched as he played – a source of great amusement to his Modern Psychiatry students at the university.

The doctor pushed his wire-rimmed glasses back onto the bridge of his nose and pushed the button on the old-fashioned cassette recorder to play the old audio-cassettes containing the reminiscences, admissions and musings of long-ago patients – before the advent of compact discs and personal computers.

Dr Orens leaned back in his chair, folded his arms over his chest and closed his eyes. He did his best listening that way.

Papers rustled and chairs scratched across an uncarpeted floor. Dr Orens heard the sound of a tissue being pulled from a box.

Thanks for coming in Mrs Finniss.

A sniff.

With Maddy in prison, it’s important we talk – to help both you and Maddy.

Another sniff and a muffled, damp-sounding voice.

I know.

Let’s start at the beginning. What can you remember about Maddy as a child?

Well, I always felt there was something a little ‘off’. That must sound terrible coming from a mother but it’s the best way I can describe her. She was a beautiful child – so was Jessie – but they were different in their appeal. Jessie was an angel with her blond curls and big blue eyes—and I’m not just saying that—she really had the kindest heart of any child I’ve ever met. She cried if she accidentally stepped on a beetle… if a bee stung her, she was inconsolable knowing it would die.

Tell me more.

Maddy was a beautiful child too but her hair was brown and her eyes large and dark. The thing was, you couldn’t ‘see’ into Maddy’s eyes – they were like dark, bottomless pools of water. She smiled… but only with her lips. Maddy actually enjoyed squashing insects and killing them—in the most inventive of ways. I still remember arriving home one day and finding her pedalling her bike furiously back and forth over a family of caterpillars while Jessie watched, screaming and wailing. Maddy was five… and the look on her face when she climbed off her bike and kicked the leaves away to see the squashy mess she’d made. She stared at the dead caterpillars. Then she looked at me and Jessie with a satisfied smile on her face. I should have done something then… but I was too concerned with consoling Jessie…

Were there other instances of Maddy hurting animals?

Yes. I caught her trying to flush our pet kitten, Muffy, down the toilet. I caught her just as she was about to press the flusher a second time. Of course I grabbed the poor little kitten from Maddy and wrapped him in a towel. I couldn’t believe what I’d just seen! But, worst of all was Maddy’s reaction when I confronted her. There was no guilt, no remorse… nothing. Maddy had a habit of gritting her back teeth when she was angry… that’s what I saw on her face – not shame, but anger at being found out and chided. I told my husband about it that evening. When he went to talk with Maddy, she shook her head and told him it never happened. He said she sounded so calm, so convincing, he almost believed that I’d imagined the whole thing.

What was Maddy like, generally?

What do you mean, ‘generally’?

In day-to-day life—how did she react to you? How did she deal with things?

She was a hard child to get close to. Neither my husband nor myself could ever establish a connection with her. She could be terribly sweet and loving… but I realise now she only acted that way when she wanted something. If she didn’t get what she wanted, she threw terrific temper tantrums.

How was her relationship with her sister?

A loud sigh. A cough. The sound of clothes rustling and shoes shuffling.

I can admit it now—and may God forgive me for saying this about my own child—but I never felt happy leaving the two girls in the same room. My husband told me not to be silly but too many things happened that made me worry.

What sort of things?

Maddy was a terrible tease. I’ve already told you about the caterpillar episode. It wasn’t just her obvious pleasure at squashing the wretched creatures… it was Jessie’s distress… Maddy loved it… it was almost like Jessie’s anguish turned her on. I know that sounds shocking and I can hardly bear to say it.

The sound of another tissue being pulled from the box. Eledora Finniss continued in a watery voice.

Once I was feeding Jessie with a bottle and the telephone rang so I asked Maddy to hold the bottle so Jessie could continue to drink. I was only gone for about two minutes. But when I walked back into the room, I found Maddy holding the bottle with both hands – like this – over Jessie’s lips and forcing the nipple deep into her mouth. Poor Jessie was gagging and spluttering… I grabbed the bottle from Maddy’s hands—

What did you say to Maddy?

I was like a tigress protecting her cub! I grabbed Maddy by the shoulders and shook her. But it was like shaking a rag-doll. There was no resistance… her face was blank with no expression whatsoever. I screamed at her never to do it again; that she could have hurt Jessie and made her choke… even die. And again, that same reaction… that small, self-satisfied smile. When I finished shaking her and yelling at her, she brushed herself down and walked from the room, her body stiff and straight. When I asked where she was going, she said she to play with her dolls.

Did you check on her later?

I still can’t believe I didn’t get help for her then! She was on the floor, building a house with her Lego blocks. I walked inside intending to hug her and tell her how sorry I was for shaking her so hard—that I was just upset about Jessie. And then I saw it…

What did you see?

In a box by her bed were her dolls and teddy bear. The dolls’ heads were twisted around to their backs. Great chunks of hair were torn from their scalps. They were naked, their clothes torn into strips and used to bind them together. The teddy bear had both his eyes torn off… his tummy was ripped open and the stuffing was strewn around the room. It was like discovering the multiple victims of a serial killer…

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An Abnormal Person: The Psychopath

An Abnormal PsychopathMy next novel, An Abnormal Woman, is a historical mystery based on the life of Martha Needle, The Richmond Poisoner, executed at Melbourne Gaol in 1894 for murdering five people including her husband and three children. Martha’s story is told from the perspective of a modern-day woman, Johanna, who has her own personal demons to exorcise.

I started my research on the premise that Martha Needle was a psychopath. (You’ll have to read the book to find out if she really was!) I found a number of incredible books on the subject and spent many happy hours at the library reading them.

One was actually a fiction novel written in 1954 by William March called The Bad Seed. It is a recognised classic in its genre and, indeed, a confronting read.

In the book, March writes a beautiful but chilling description of a psychopath:

“…these monsters of real life usually looked and behaved in a more normal manner than their actually normal brothers and sisters; they presented a more convincing picture of virtue than virtue presented of itself – just as the wax rosebud or the plastic peach seemed more perfect to the eye…”

March’s anti-heroine, Rhoda Penmark, is an outwardly normal child: pretty, polite, conscientious and neat. She is however feared and disliked by her fellow students at school and, at eight years old, has already committed acts of violence against an animal and a fellow classmate. March describes Rhoda as “…smiling her charming, shallow smile” and staring at others “…with frightening stillness.”

Rhoda’s mother, Christine, harbours disturbing suspicions about her seemingly perfect daughter. However, even when Rhoda’s teacher tells her that Rhoda is a “cold, self-sufficient child who plays by her own rules…a child who lives in her own particular world”, Christine is unwilling to give voice to her concerns, preferring instead to give Rhoda the benefit of the doubt. Rhoda is her child after all!

But when Christine makes a shocking discovery about her own background, Rhoda’s actions finally make sense and have become too frightening to ignore. You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out what happened because I’m not giving anything more away! If you’re a crime writer or interested in the subject of psychopathy, I can thoroughly recommend this novel about a child psychopath and the making of a killer.

In non-fiction, Dr Robert Hare has written a fantastic book called Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us. Hare, a researcher in criminal psychology, developed the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) in 1991. According to Hare, There are essential character traits common to most psychopaths. They are:

  • A glib and superficial charm
  • An abnormally high estimation of self
  • Excessive risk-taking behaviour in the drive for constant stimulation
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning and manipulation
  • A lack of remorse or guilt
  • An inability to feel real emotion about people or situations
  • Callousness and lack of empathy
  • A parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioural controls
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Childhood behaviour problems
  • A lack of realistic, long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • A failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Strings of short-term relationships
  • Juvenile delinquency

Hare has also written another excellent book with Paul Babiak called Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to Work. I love this book because it describes the psychopaths we encounter in everyday life. Chances are, we have all come into contact with a psychopath at work or in the course of our day-to-day lives.

I’ve collected some lesser-known facts about psychopaths you may find interesting:

Psychopaths don’t startle

To measure the human startle reaction, scientists record muscle movement corresponding to a reflex blink when a person is subjected without warning to a sudden loud noise or during the viewing of unpleasant pictures. Those with psychopathic inclinations do not show enhanced blink-startle reactivity to sudden noises or while they look at frightening or gruesome images.

The top ten careers that have the highest proportion of psychopaths:

  1. CEO
  2. Lawyer
  3. Media (TV/radio)
  4. Salesperson
  5. Surgeon
  6. Journalist
  7. Police officer
  8. Clergy
  9. Chef
  10. Civil servant

According to new research, some psychopaths are capable of empathy, but they appear to have a switch to turn it on and off. For ordinary people, ON is the default. For psychopaths, OFF is the default.

Psychopaths are immune to contagious yawning. Contagious yawning is related to human empathy. Studies have shown that there is a neurological connection between psychopathy and a lack of contagious yawning.

Psychopaths have an impaired sense of smell. Australian studies have shown how people with psychopathic traits have impaired functioning in the front part of the brain. Dysfunction in these areas is also linked with an impaired sense of smell.

Psychopaths have ‘dead eyes’. A victim of a psychopath describes the phenomenon:

“…when their mask is momentarily down (usually when they’ve been called out–or caught)…we see the emptiness and evil inside them. It’s a malignant look that makes you want to get away from them fast. Like there’s nothing inside them except a vast and endless black void of nothingness. It’s like standing at the precipice of a black hole…” Psycho eyes

Psychopaths share certain speech patterns. They use more words like because, since or so that, implying that the murder they carried out “had to be done” to reach a specific goal. They also used twice as many words related to physical needs like food, sex and money, while non-psychopathic murderers used more words about social needs, like family and religion.

There are four times as many psychopaths amongst management executives than there are amongst the general population. Paul Babiak, author of Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, interviewed 203 up-and-coming executives at management training programs using a questionnaire based on Robert Hare’s PCL-R checklist. He came to the chilling conclusion that 1 in 25 of the interviewees were full-blown psychopaths.

Psychopaths make up about 1 percent of the general population and as much as 25 percent of male offenders in prisons.

Male psychopaths are 7 times more common than female psychopaths, however the female of the species are just as deadly!

Both male and female psychopaths have high levels of testosterone. This makes them sexually uninhibited and hence more attractive (and dangerous) to the opposite sex.

Corporate psychopaths were instrumental in causing the 2007–08 global financial crisis. Even scarier, it is highly likely that the same corporate psychopaths who caused the crisis by self-seeking greed and avarice are now advising governments on how to deal with the crisis! (If you’ve seen the movie The Big Short, this is exactly what the end predicts.)

The difference between psychopaths and sociopaths is essentially nature vs. nurture. Psychiatrists use the term psychopathy to describe the cause of anti-social personality disorder as hereditary whereas sociopathy describes behaviours that are the result of a brain injury, or abuse and/or neglect in childhood. In other words, psychopaths are born and sociopaths are made.

Next week, my own short story on the making of a female psychopath…

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Behind the Story: John Balaban – Australia’s First Serial Killer?

Hello and welcome dear Readers!

If you’re new to my blog, this may be your first newsletter. I hope you enjoy it.

My Behind the Story posts are about the people and subjects that inspire my books. Last week, I wrote about Ernest Austin, the real-life child killer from Queensland who was part-inspiration for my evil villain, Joachim Ballibach in my novella, The Harvester.

This week, I want to tell you about John Balaban, the Rumanian immigrant from Adelaide, Australia, who murdered five people. Balaban is the second inspiration for the character of Joachim Ballibach. I even borrowed the sound of his name! I just made it sound more German than Rumanian because Ballibach the character hails from Bamberg, Germany (one of my favourite towns).

John Balaban has been called Australia’s first, known serial killer. I’m not convinced he actually fits the classic serial killer profile, however, when I looked it up, there seems to be many different definitions of what constitutes a serial killer. To keep it simple, I’ll cite Wikipedia which defines a serial killer as: a person who murders three or more people, usually due to abnormal psychological gratification, with the murders taking place over more than a month and including a significant break (a “cooling off period”) between them”

John Balaban murdered five people including his wife, his stepson and mother-in-law. He was not a predatory serial killer in the vein of John Wayne Gacy, Frederick Dahmer or Jack the Ripper, and, as far as I’m aware, his murders were committed less for sexual or psychological gratification than an intense alcohol-fuelled anger towards the people he believed had insulted him and made his life intolerable. While he was incarcerated at Adelaide Gaol, waiting for his execution, he even attempted to strangle one of the prison guards. John Balaban is still reputed to haunt Adelaide Gaol and many people claim to have seen him on the Gaol’s famous ghost tours.J Balaban

Born at Nabib in Rumania in 1922, Balaban’s family life was a tragic affair. His mother left his father because of his cruelty towards her and, shortly afterwards, Balaban’s father hanged himself. At 19, Balaban went to a technical school and studied chemistry and metallurgy. In 1944 when Balaban was 22 years old, he claimed that God had appeared to him as a bearded man with long white hair who smiled and said, “It is all right if you don’t believe in me anymore. You do anything your conscience dictates to you, and you will be happy.” Balaban insisted it was not a dream. He said later, “Afterwards I thought I could do anything and I was not frightened of the law.”

In 1946, he spent time in a mental hospital for depression. Upon his release and after a holiday, he obtained an engineering degree. Balaban then joined the Rumanian army but, when he was arrested for a military offence, escaped to France in 1947. In France, his depression returned and he met a woman named Riva Kwas and accompanied her to her room to have sex. For some reason known only to Balaban, he became furious with the unsuspecting woman and put his hands around her neck, strangling her to death. “I did not have any intention of killing her, but I had the feeling I had to,” he said. He was never convicted for this crime in France.

Balaban emigrated to Australia in 1951 at the age of 29. Despite working at various jobs, his depression again reared its ugly head and caused Balaban to believe everybody was against him because he was a new Australian. He married Thelma Cadd in 1952, living with her and her son and her mother at the Sunshine Café in Gouger Street behind Central Market in Adelaide.

Despite getting married, Balaban’s mental state did not improve. He blamed his unhappiness on Thelma who retaliated by complaining about his behaviour which only made the situation worse. Balaban left home and began drinking at the Royal Admiral Hotel on Hindley Street. There, he met a woman, Zora Kusic, who invited Balaban back to her house.

After the couple had sex, Zora made the fatal mistake of admitting to Balaban she was a prostitute and asked him for five pounds (about $10). Balaban felt the same disgust as for the French woman he’d murdered five years before and he strangled poor Zora. But, this time, Balaban also cut Zora’s throat and slit open her chest and stomach. He was reputed to have said in an unsworn statement: “I did not feel sorry for killing Kusic and I think I was quite justified in doing so, because anybody could tell she was a low woman and deserved to die.” 

Balaban was arrested in January 1953 and sent to trial but, amazingly, he was released due to a lack of evidence! He returned to live with his wife in February.

Balaban’s marriage did not improve and he felt the familiar black dog of depression descend upon him. On the 11th April 1953, Balaban went out for a drink and attacked a shop assistant, Dorothy Rowan, in a toilet in Elder Park. She told the police Balaban hit her face and grabbed her throat as he attempted to kiss her. After Dorothy fought him off, Balaban ran away.

“I found a bar of iron and put it in my pocket in case somebody attacked me and then I could hurt him,” he later told police.  Balaban attacked several people with the iron bar, one of them a man lying on the banks of the River Torrens with a girl. Balaban said “I don’t know why I hit him with the iron bar but I disapproved of him as I do of people lying on the banks of the Torrens and making love. Everyone knows that that is a very bad thing to do.” 

Balaban finally returned to his home, the Sunshine Café on Gouger Street, heavy-hearted, covered in blood, tired, dirty and still desperately unhappy. Balaban dreaded what his wife would say when she saw him. It was then he made a sudden, fateful decision. “I decided in an instant to kill my wife because she was the cause of my condition and of me fighting that night,” Balaban said.

Balaban took a claw hammer and beat Thelma to death.  He then killed her mother because she also made him unhappy. When Balaban’s stepson, Philip, sat up and cried, Balaban killed him with the hammer deciding it best the boy die so he would not live “under a shadow” (Balaban’s words) for the rest of his life. Balaban turned his final attention to Verna Manie, a cafe employee sleeping on the premises. Balaban claimed she had been stealing money from the shop and always took his wife’s side in their arguments. Verna however managed to escape by jumping out of a second floor window onto the pavement below. When he was arrested, Balaban said: “I only killed those at the Sunshine Cafe because they deserved to be killed.”

John Balaban was tried and sentenced to death by hanging. The death sentence was appealed on the grounds of insanity, Balaban’s defence counsel procuring the services of Dr H M Southwood, a psychiatrist who stated that Balaban suffered from schizophrenia, “… a mental disorder where the sufferer did not have normal judgement and was unable to distinguish clearly between what he imagined and what was really so.”

However, Dr H M Birch, Superintendent of SA Government Mental Hospitals gave evidence that John Balaban was not mentally disordered but possessed an abnormal personality. He said that when he interviewed Balaban after the Sunshine Café murders, Balaban told him he killed his wife because she made his life a misery. Later interviews with Balaban proved to Dr Birch that Balaban “… knew the nature and quality of his act.”

On the morning of Balaban’s execution, the police closed off the Gaol Road expecting anti-death penalty campaigners. But not a single person turned up to protest his execution.

At 8 a.m. on 26th August 1953, John Balaban became the 42nd person to be hanged in the Adelaide Gaol. Balaban, who professed atheism when arrested by police, spent his last few hours with a Church of England Chaplain, his only visitor in the final weeks of his life.

Balaban was the first new Australian to be hanged in South Australia. He was buried in the gaol grounds and, reputedly, his ghost still haunts the Adelaide Gaol.

His depression and alcoholism notwithstanding, there is no doubt Balaban was a vicious psychopath, refusing to take responsibility for his actions and blaming his victims for driving him to commit his crimes. Also there was his complete lack of remorse, evidenced by his vicious attack on a prison warder. It’s no surprise that his execution was, by and large, greeted with a sigh of relief.

While researching serial killers, I gathered some lesser-known facts you might be interested in.

Did you know that…

… if there is any one common motive among serial killers, it’s playing God… having the power over life and death of another individual?

… many serial killers are fascinated with the police and authority in general and will either have attempted to become police themselves but were rejected, or worked as security guards, or served in the military?

… when caught, the serial killer will suddenly assume a “mask of insanity” — pretending to be a multiple personality, schizophrenic, or prone to black-outs — anything to evade responsibility?

…Edward Gein, a serial killer who lived in Wisconsin, USA, made lampshades, armchairs and a suit with his victim’s skins and was the inspiration for Norman Bates in “Psycho” and Buffalo Bill, the killer in “Silence of the Lambs”?

…the image of the evil genius serial killer a la Hannibal Lecter is mostly a Hollywood invention. The reality is that most serial killers who have had their IQ tested score between borderline and above average intelligence?

… only about 9 percent of serial killers since 1910 have been women?

…most serial killers tend to kill within their own race?

…the stereotype of a serial killer being white, male and middle class is a fallacy. The racial breakdown of serial killers in the USA is about the same as that of the US population at large?

…there have been more than 2,600 serial killers in the US since 1900; England, the country with the next highest total has 142 and there were 55 at last count in Australia. Poland has the lowest total – only 11!

And last, my absolute favourite:

You should be 12 times more afraid of close family members than of serial killers because less than one percent of murders in any given year are committed by serial killers!

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Behind the Story: Joachim Ballibach in The Harvester

When I first started this blog, I racked my brains about what I could write about.

For the past couple of years, I’ve lurked on a number of writers’ blogs and have learned a great deal about writing and the publishing industry – both indie and traditional. My gratitude to writers and bloggers such as Johanna Penn, Joe Konrath, David Gaughran and The Passive Guy is huge because their words gave me the confidence to go ahead and write and publish my books.

I’m not sure I have anything to add to the wisdom of these indie ‘giants’ and I’m almost certain my Readers don’t give a hoot about the pros and cons of indie and traditional publishing or syntax, sticky sentences, plot points and Aristotle’s incline.

That’s when I had my ‘light-bulb moment’. I asked myself what my Readers might want to read about when they visit my blog.

As a Reader, when you love a book, you want to know more about the characters, their motivations and the history behind their lives and worlds. Once upon a time, it wasn’t possible to find this out. Authors kept this type of information in their background notes and you only found out if you were lucky enough to hear them speak at a writers’ event or they replied to a fan letter.

Thanks to the Internet and blogging, all this has changed. Now, authors can share their research with their Readers. Isn’t that wonderful?

So, I’m introducing a special category on my blog called Behind the Story and, in these posts, I’ll include extra information on my characters and answer any questions you might have. Most of my books are based on real historical people or events so I’ll ensure I include lots of background research and information. Again, if there’s anything more you want to know, drop me a line via the Contact Form and I’ll do my best to find out!

Joachim Ballibach, my evil, murdering ghost in The Harvester is actually based on two real-life murderers, John Balaban executed at Adelaide Gaol in 1953 and Ernest Austin hanged at Brisbane’s Boggo Road Gaol in 1913. Both of these men still haunt their respective prisons according to local legend… just like Ballibach in Warra Wirrin Prison.

Joachim Ballibach is, of course, more menacing and his pedigree more sinister because of his supernatural powers gained from Samyaza, one of the Fallen Angels. Originally from Germany, Ballibach worked as guard at Bamberg Prison, formerly the infamous Witch’s torture prison in the 1600s. (There will be another blog post on this coming up soon!)

Both Balaban and Austin however, committed crimes that shocked Australia at the time. Balaban has been called Australia’s first serial killer and next week’s post will be devoted to him.

This week’s post is about Ernest Austin, hanged in 1913 at twenty-three years of age for sexually assaulting and murdering a twelve year old girl. While Austin was an unimpressive individual – both physically and mentally – the tales of his death and his subsequent haunting of Boggo Road Gaol are intriguing because of the vastly different accounts offered by contemporary newspapers.Ernest_Austin

Originally from Victoria, Austin spent most of his childhood in orphanages and, in 1909 was arrested, tried and imprisoned for three years in Melbourne Gaol for the attempted rape of a young girl. She was only saved when her screams alerted a passer-by who rescued her and reported Austin to the police.

Following his release, Austin moved to Queensland where he worked as a farm labourer. There, he met and befriended young Ivy Mitchell who lived on a neighbouring farm. The two were regularly seen picking flowers together.

One day, Ivy disappeared while on the way home from a family friend’s house. When she hadn’t arrived home by 6pm, her father and brother went to look for her. They discovered two sets of footprints leading into the bush – one of small, bare feet and the other, a set of much larger boot prints. They followed the footprints and found poor little Ivy lying in a pool of blood, dead, her throat cut.

Austin was quickly added to the list of suspects. Ever since his arrival in the area, he had been dubbed a ‘doubtful character’ by police. They questioned him about the dark stains on his clothes. He insisted he and his fellow labourers had killed a pig earlier that day. When they asked about the scratches on his face, Austin said he walked into the branches of a lantana bush.

However, a stick discovered by young Ivy’s body was the same as that used by Austin as a riding whip the Sunday before and the footprints next to Ivy’s matched his boots exactly. Also suspicious was Austin’s resolute refusal to look at Ivy’s body.

Austin was arrested and promptly tried to commit suicide claiming, “I admit I murdered the girl and will try to do myself in by morning.” He was tried and sentenced to death and went to the hanging tower on September 22, 1913.

Now this is where it gets interesting. There are two different reports about Ernest Austin’s last minutes before his death.

The Brisbane Telegraph in 1913 stated that Austin went to his death quietly and happily with God’s name on his lips. According to the report, he was escorted from his cell to the gallows by Major Wilton from the Salvation Army:

[Austin] gazed with curious eyes at the rope above his head but was quite composed. The hangman quickly pinioned the man and the acting Chief Warder O’Sullivan said: ‘Ernest Austin, you are now going to die. If you have anything you would like to say, now is the time.’ The prisoner then commenced his speech…delivered in a strong, calm voice. ‘I did not know’ he said, ‘that on Sunday I was going to this grave. I did not know what I was doing. I asked God to forgive me and he has done so. I highly deserve this punishment.’ …The prisoner thanked Major Wilton…and the warders of the gaol for their kindness to him. He expressed his sorrow for the father and mother of the murdered child. ‘I hope,’ he added, ‘that you will all live long and die happy. God bless you all and God Save the King. The white cap was then adjusted…[Austin] then became somewhat excited and, in an agitated voice repeated twice ‘Send a wire to my mother and say I died happy.’

To me, the above report sounds like a confession and the desire for absolution from a murderer about to meet his Maker… hopefully in heaven.

But if you’ve read The Harvester, you’ll know the above version of events was not the inspiration for the execution of Joachim Ballibach at Warra Wirrin Prison. For many years following Austin’s execution, rumours abounded that the above version of the execution was vastly different from the reality. I became fascinated when I stumbled upon an article from the Brisbane Truth written thirty-seven years after Austin’s execution:

“Shrill and stunningly sudden… supernatural, perhaps, was the cry which penetrated, like an arrow, the heavy brooding calm which prevailed in the execution yard of Brisbane Prison on the morning of September 22, 1913 as Ernest Austin—the last man to be hanged in Queensland—was about to hurtle to his doom through a gallows trapdoor.

It was perhaps the screech of a bird; perhaps it ws the cry of a child hurt at play in a nearby yard… or perhaps it was a spiritual shriek from beyond the grave—a spine-chilling ethereal acknowledgement that Austin’s little girl victim was being avenged and justice was being done.

At all events, to those press men and gaol officials whose grim duty it was to witness the execution, the cry, which echoed and re-echoed through the penitentiary while Austin stood on the scaffold, was the most nerve-racking and perplexing emotion it is possible for a man to experience…”

Eerie Cry at Hanging of Murderer of Samford Child, The Brisbane Truth, Sunday 9 April 1950

Austin’s fellow inmates described the murderer as addicted to morphine who, on the scaffold, far from confessing to God and apologizing for his crimes, laughed crazily until the executioner pulled the lever and ended his life. They also described Austin’s evil laughter echoing off the walls early in the mornings following his death.

Boggo Road prison guards said the scream represented the sounds of rejoicing victims. Others insisted the shriek came from previously hanged criminals welcoming Austin to Hell. Following his execution, prisoners claimed that Austin’s ghost would materialize through the concrete walls, walk the corridors and attack and strangle prisoners in their cells.

Over the years, as truth mixed with hearsay and folklore, Austin’s haunting legacy grew. Long term prisoners and prison guards warned new inmates that Austin’s ghost was on a mission from Satan to harvest souls to fill a pre-determined quota. Only if he met this quota would he escape the eternal torment of Hell.

Others said that Austin told the assembled crowd he was proud of his crime and that he looked forward to death because it meant he could return from the grave and cause even more suffering. Prisoners at Boggo Road claimed they saw a face appear outside their cell with Austin’s penetrating eyes. They said it was a sign he’d returned to claim and deliver souls in exchange for his own.

So… is the Ernest Austin ghost story just prison folklore designed to frighten and intimidate new inmates and prison guards… or is it a real-life ghost story?

Believe what you want to believe. I think you, me and Stephen King would agree that the second account makes for a better ghost story! For the character of Joachim Ballibach, is it any surprise I chose the scarier one?

Talking about scary, next week’s post is about the second inspiration for the character of Ballibach: John Balaban, a truly vicious psychopath who has earned the dubious honour as Australia’s first serial killer…

Sleep well and see you next post!

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The Hangman

 

My short story, The Hangman, was born by accident.

The Hangman Book Cover FINAL FOR PUB

Two years ago, I was researching information on Australian executions for my current work-in-progress, An Abnormal Woman, about a famous Australian murderess, Martha Needle, who poisoned her husband, three children and fiancé’s brother. I concentrated my research on the history of Melbourne Gaol where Martha was executed in 1894 and, in the process, learned a great deal about the ‘art’ of hanging.

Later that year, a local library held a short story competition entitled “Life and Death” so I decided to put my extra research to good use and submit a story about a hangman whose life was all about death (I was runner-up by the way!)

A few incarnations later, The Hangman, found its final form. What started as a story about the life of a hangman became a love story between the unlikeliest of couples.

The protagonist, Charles Roberts, is a fictional character based upon an amalgam of four real-life hangmen, three of them from Great Britain and one from Australia: William Marwood (UK), James Berry (UK), John Ellis (UK) and William Perrins aka ‘Jones the Hangman’ (Aust).

108px-WilliamMarwoodMarwood, a cobbler by trade, dedicated himself to improving the ‘art’ of hanging. He persuaded the authorities of Lincoln Prison to let him carry out a hanging in 1872 which so impressed the Governor, he was appointed official hangman by the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex in 1874 and received a retainer of 20 pounds per annum plus 10 pounds for each execution. Marwood was also entitled to the executed person’s clothes and free travel by rail to wherever he was scheduled to carry out an execution.

It was Marwood who introduced the “long drop” method of hanging that ensured a quick and instantaneous death and removed the struggling and choking associated with the “short drop” technique which so traumatised the governors and staff of state prisons  forced to watch the executions at close quarters.

Marwood was also famous for devising the Table of Drops (see illustration) which calculated rope length based on the weight of the prisoner. Table of Drops

James Berry’s memoirs My Experiences as an Executioner make fascinating reading. It’s free on the Internet. Here’s the link if you want to read it:

https://ia800300.us.archive.org/19/items/MyExperiencesAsAnExecutioner/Berry.pdf

Like Marwood, Berry took pride in his craft and adopted the Table of Drops. However, his record as a hangman was marred by some botched executions, the most famous being that of Robert Goodale. Berry calculated Goodale’s drop based on his weight upon arrival in prison. However, Goodale lost a great deal of weight during his incarceration so, instead of his neck breaking, Goodale’s head was severed from his body at the execution. Following this incident, Berry’s star began its descent. His reputation took a further hit when it became known to the authorities that he ‘held court’ in local pubs following his executions. Berry resigned from active service in 1892.

Both Marwood and Berry have been immortalised by Madame Tussaud.

John Ellis wrote Diary of a Hangman and it was from this book I gained a glimpse inside the head of an executioner. Ellis executed Dr Crippen (the most celebrated case of its time), the ‘Brides in the Bath’ murderer, George Smith, and also Edith Thompson who participated in the murder of her husband with her lover (pictured).Freddy_Bywaters,_Edith_Thompson,_Percy_Thompson Ellis executed 147 people between 1906 and 1923. As you can imagine, his work took a heavy toll on his psyche and he began to drink heavily. He took his own life in 1932 by cutting his throat with a razor.

Last, but not least, William Perrins, the Australian executioner, known as “Jones the Hangman”, committed suicide in 1894. While nobody knows exactly why, it was believed he was unwilling to execute the female child-killer, Frances Knorr, because he was afraid his neighbours would persecute and ridicule him for hanging a woman. Here’s an excerpt from the Melbourne newspaper, The Telegraph, describing Perrins’ suicide the day after it happened:

“He appeared at 9 o’clock and his manner was peculiar. Mr Messmore and a warder made a forcible entry to the room where he was, as no answer came to their calls and found the man lying dead on the floor beside the bath with his throat horribly gashed… Jones had taken off his coat, hung it up behind the door and then, having probably drunk some whisky from a flask… put the flask down at one end of the bath. The bath tap was set running and, holding his head over it, Jones had gashed his throat on both sides with a razor ‘til, from exhaustion consequent upon the loss of blood, he fell upon the floor and died…”

I believe that all of these men, like Charles, took pride in their craft and were, by and large, decent men who wished to secure for their charges a quick and painless death. But, as you would expect, the toll their occupation took upon these men’s souls was profoundly painful and damaging.

Interesting facts about Hanging and Hangmen:

  • Nearly sixty (60) countries world-wide still use hanging as a means of capital punishment. They are:  Afghanistan, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, India, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Korea, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, United States, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
  • Most hangmen operated under pseudonyms – for some, even members of their own families did not know their true profession.
  • John Lee, a criminal on death row, went down in history as ‘the man they could not hang’. When James Berry pulled the trapdoor lever, nothing happened despite him stamping on the trapdoor. Lee was taken back to his cell and the trapdoor re-tested. It worked perfectly. However, when Lee returned to the scaffold, again, the trapdoor remained shut. After a third unsuccessful attempt, the Governor of Exeter Prison stayed the execution. Lee was later given a reprieve from the death sentence.
  • Edith Thompson (see above) had to be carried to the gallows, she was so distraught. Her uterus ruptured as result of the hanging and she lost a lot of blood. Following this tragic event, all women subsequently hanged in the UK had to wear canvas underwear.
  • The traditional hangman’s noose was fashioned from rope approximately three quarters of an inch thick. The noose featured from five to thirteen coils that slid down the rope when the body dropped and delivered a heavy blow to the side of the neck, resulting in a broken neck and almost instantaneous death. Ropes were traditionally made from hemp, boiled to take out the stretch and the tendency to coil.
  • Modern materials such as nylon have been tried for use in hangings but have tended to be too elastic for long drop hangings. Iran uses nylon rope for its short-drop hangings.
  • Albert Pierrepoint, Executioner in Great Britain from 1932 to 1956, made a number of visits to West Germany after World War Two where he hung 190 male and 10 female Nazi war criminals following the Nuremburg Trials. Irma and JosefThose hung included Irma Grese and Josef Kramer (pictured) from the notorious Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.

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