(Edge of darkness #3)
By Vanessa Skye
Fifteen years earlier…
Young police cadet, Alicia Raymond, watched as her mother, Mary Raymond, raged hysterically at the funeral home attendant.
“What do you mean, he was cremated?” she shrieked, almost losing her balance. “Those are not the instructions I gave!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but your husband was cremated yesterday, under your instructions. I spoke to you on the phone myself,” he said, his hands outstretched towards Mrs. Raymond as if trying not to inflame the obviously drunken woman in front of him. “Don’t you remember?”
Alicia felt sorry for the poor guy. Trying to calm her mother down now was pointless. She had been trying in vain to do the same since thing she could talk. By speaking, the attendant only made the situation worse.
Mary tried to focus on his face. “No, I do not! I have come here to pick up my husband’s body today. I have a plot all picked out at Greenhills cemetery, right next to mine!”
The attendant blanched as Mary’s breath hit his face, then sighed and crossed his arms. “I can release his cremains to you today, ma’am, and you can still bury him,” he said and glanced in Alicia’s direction.
She watched as he eyed her appreciatively and she returned the favor. He was a tall man, maybe in his early forties, with thick brown hair and deep brown eyes, much like Alicia’s own, punctuated with heavy brows. His last name was Rollings, but he definitely had the dark coloring of a man of Italian or Greek descent. She caught the smirk and raised eyebrow as he stared at her long legs encased in tight blue jeans.
She waited until he finally made his way back to her face and she nodded.
Maybe later, as a reward for doing such a good job.
Mary raged on, oblivious to her daughter and the attendant’s mutual attraction. “He was Jewish! He didn’t want to be cremated, it was against his beliefs!” she shrieked.
Alicia smiled slightly at the revelation that the bastard would rest uncomfortably for eternity.
An added bonus.
“Ma’am,” the man said and ice creeped into his inflection. “I cannot un-cremate a man. What’s done is done.”
“Well, you can guarantee I’ll be suing this funeral home, not to mention you personally,” Mary replied, trying to shove her index finger into the man’s chest, but missing and poking his shoulder instead. “This is a gross injustice! How dare you cremate my husband against his wishes!”
The attendant produced a folded piece of paper from his inner suit pocket and held it under Mary’s nose. “Is this your fax number?” He pointed to the digits at the top of the page.
Mary lost her balance for a moment as she tried to squint at the numerals.
Alicia caught her and held her arm until she steadied herself again.
Mary’s eyes widened. Even in her drunken state, she clearly recognized the number of her new fax machine, the machine she was so proud of as she was the first of her rich friends to get the latest, smaller model. “Yes. But—”
“And is this your signature at the bottom of the cremation order?” he asked, as if he were addressing a small child.
“It looks like it. But I did not sign that! I would never—”
“Ma’am, I hate to point out the obvious, but yes, you did. I distinctly remember speaking to you yesterday and you ordering his cremation immediately. You paid with your credit card over the phone—here’s the receipt!” He showed her the yellow credit card docket.
“I do not remember doing any such thing!” Mary cried. She covered her mouth to stifle a sob.
The man arched one dark brow. “Well, madam, you wouldn’t, would you? If you smelled anything like you do today, yesterday!” He turned on his heel and left them alone.
This time, Berg’s smile was impossible to stifle.
Oh, yeah. Definitely later.
Mary sagged against her daughter as she cried.
Alicia gently steered her towards the door, smirking to herself.
You don’t get though three years of foster care without learning how to forge a signature or two.
Praise for The Enemy Inside:
‘THE ENEMY INSIDE is dark, raw and not for the faint of heart or stomach. As fascinating as the whodunnit is, Berg and Jay are equally interesting. While THE ENEMY INSIDE is a dark read there’s a strong undercurrent of hope as it showcases the strength of kindness, caring, and resilience of the human spirit.’
‘The Enemy Inside had me shaking in my pajamas and I loved every bit of it.’
‘It was a mind blowing experience to see how the whole thing came together. If you want to try your hand at a serial killer cop drama, pick up The Enemy Inside today! You won’t regret it.’
Praise for Broken:
‘I loved this so much. The pacing was great, the twists very clever, and the characterization made you unsure of motives, which added to the suspense.’
‘Vanessa Skye has done it again with another amazing novel. ‘
‘This book .. whoah.. THIS Book!.’
I thought I’d dash out a quick blog because tomorrow I’m back into editing the final book of the Edge of Darkness series, Blood Lines. But this review of Broken on Passion for Pages really inspired me.
‘Vanessa Skye has done it again with another amazing novel.
I love that PFP gets the romantic interaction between Jay and Berg. There have been others who haven’t been as kind about the pair. But that’s okay, because I get that Berg, in particular, can be super fucking frustrating. It was pretty frustrating to write! And in an age of the popular romance novel (which I love, btw) everyone wants their happy ending.
But here’s the thing about life…sometimes there isn’t a happy ending…or at least not straight away. Work must be done first. Frogs must be kissed. And Berg is a damaged woman. And despite the fact that Jay clearly loves her, the thing about Berg is that she’s never been loved, by anyone, her whole life, until Jay. So she doesn’t think she’s deserving of it. Jay could tattoo ‘I love you Berg’ on his forehead and Berg wouldn’t believe it, because she doesn’t think she’s worthy of his love.
Relationships are confronting, even for the ‘normal’ among us. But as a good friend of mine notes, it’s in relationships where we learn the most about ourselves because they are transforming. Relationships are vehicles for learning and change, spiritually and emotionally, which is precisely why they are so confronting. Relationships move us forward in our journey in life, which is why I think it is really important to note they just because a relationship ends doesn’t make it a failure. You learned what you needed to learn. It is a societal construct that two people stay together for life. But that’s another blog entirely, and I digress.
Jay and Berg have a love for the ages, there is nothing they won’t do for each other. And I’m sure they will get the ending they deserve. But first, the personal work must be done. Berg has to learn to love herself, just as she is with all her darkness and her drive for justice, before she can accept the love of another. And Jay? He needs to understand that Berg has this darkness, and it makes her who she is: the woman he loves. Jay’s very black and white, but Berg is all about shades of gray.
Whether he can accept her for what she is, and she can do the same, remains to be seen. But what’s important personally, for me as an author, is to show that love doesn’t conquer all, and problems don’t go away when your white knight arrives on his steed. Fairytales be damned, sometimes the princess has to rescue herself.
The assassin lay concealed in the dark shadow cast by the huge, silent air conditioning stack on the flat roof of the old high school. The blistering summer sun had been baking the dark roof all day, and even early in the evening, the asphalt was still hot and slightly sticky to the touch. It gave off a nauseating tarry smell that she could taste in the back of her throat.
Sweat formed on her upper lip and even more rolled down between her shoulder blades to wet her black sleeveless tee.
The nine-pound, bolt-action hunting rifle felt cold and smooth in her hands. She rested her flushed cheek against the Teflon-coated stainless steel of the barrel for a moment.
The magazine had a five-round capacity but she had only inserted two. Her initial plan had been to use accelerator cartridges, but identification no longer mattered—getting out alive was not the aim.
Her fingers trembled and she took a few deep breaths to calm her hammering heart and steady her hands.
It didn’t work. If anything her shaking seemed to worsen and the intake of air made her chest ache. More sweat beaded across her forehead and on the backs of her hands under her black leather gloves.
What’s wrong with me?
She looked at her watch. The target would be visible in the next five minutes, like clockwork.
She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment and tried to calm herself. Her head was pounding. Every time she moved, the motion surged through her skull, pain spiked in her belly, and she felt dizzy.
Sweat was pouring down her face now, stinging her eyes.
Any moment now . . .
Just as she’d expected, the target jogged into view at the end of the street. She gripped the rifle firmly, nestled the black synthetic stock into the crook of her shoulder, and rested her finger lightly on the trigger—waiting . . . willing her heart rate to slow.
But her trigger finger didn’t obey.
The cops will be here soon. Take her out! You’re gonna miss the shot!
Her head throbbed incessantly as she argued with herself—the pain almost unbearable. The pounding in her skull was so loud. It seemed to be coming from outside her body, near the jammed stairwell door.
She felt unconsciousness coming as the edges of her vision went black.
No! You have to save the baby!
One thought played over and over as she sank into nothingness:
Don’t take another child from him!
You’re just like time.
Except you can still feel the shame.
All hands on deck now.
The sea is getting rough again.
–The Black Keys, “All You Ever Wanted”
Detective Alicia Raymond, better known as Berg, looked down into the glassy, staring eyes of the dead woman lying in front of her on the cool, unforgiving concrete.
She was crumpled like a paper doll on the downtown Chicago parking garage floor, shot in the back of the head, execution-style, in broad daylight.
Berg noticed the woman’s eyes were brown, similar to her own, in fact. She tried to shake off the strange realization, but she couldn’t stop staring into the glassy chocolate gaze of the poor woman in front of her.
There was an unspoken bond between them now, and she wouldn’t rest until this woman’s killer had been brought to justice.
It was her promise to all of the victims whose cases she worked on.
She looked one last time into the woman’s eyes. Soon, they would cloud over with a milky film, the pretty irises existing only in photographs and in the memories of her friends and family.
Berg flicked a glance down to the woman’s impressive engagement and wedding rings.
Yeah, there’s definitely a family involved.
“What do you think?” Detective Marco Arena asked. “No one saw anything; she can’t have been offed in public in the middle of the day. She must’ve been killed overnight.”
“No. Her eyes are open and clear. If she had been dead for more than a few hours, they’d be cloudy by now.”
“Shit, you’re right,” Arena replied.
Berg refrained from stating the obvious to her new partner: she was almost always right.
“Carjacking?” he asked, running a hand though his thick, black hair in a move Berg had come to realize over the last two months was a sign of exhaustion and frustration.
Lately, it seemed the number of murders in Chicago was out of control. Thanks to growing gang crime, their city was nearing the top of the murder capital list. Neither of them had had a full night’s rest for weeks. For Berg, it was standard operating procedure—even on a good night she never caught more than four solid hours—but Arena was fraying around the edges. Sad part? This latest murder of what appeared to be an innocent shopper didn’t even reach the top of the list of the macabre and violent deaths they had seen in the last two weeks alone.
“Car’s still here,” Berg muttered as she stooped to get a better look at the body, blowing away a loose strand of long, dark brown hair that had somehow escaped her tight ponytail. It was getting so long and thick as to be unruly, and it was getting on her nerves, but she resisted the urge to yank out the disobedient strand by the root and concentrated on the victim in front of her.
The top of the dead woman’s head was a matted mess of blood and gray matter—the bullet had passed straight through the back of her head and out through her shattered upper forehead. Berg moved the caked, dyed blond hair aside as best she could with her gloved hands—there were contact burns on the scalp. The gun had been pressed hard against the back of her head when she was killed. She looked to be in her midfifties, and was lying on her side in a pool of blood, facing the rear tires of a very expensive, custom built, black SUV.
Definitely not something straight off the lot.
“The killer probably didn’t want it seeing it’s splattered in goo,” Arena replied.
The vehicle’s cavernous trunk, which was open, had borne all the blood, bone, and brain from the killing. The bullet was likely lodged in there somewhere as well, and Berg had tasked the forensics team with finding it.
“Possibly.” She moved the woman’s head slightly—it still moved easily. She fingered the red streaks on ether side of the neck. “Looks like a necklace was ripped off here,” she said. “But the wedding ring is still there.”
Arena crouched down next to Berg and tried to wiggle the woman’s wedding rings off with his latex-gloved fingers. After several seconds of maneuvering, they came free. “He might not have wanted to wait around to get them off,” he said.
Berg frowned but didn’t answer as she looked away from the victim and took in more of the scene.
Groceries were scattered in a four-foot radius around the woman’s body, the brown paper bags spewing their contents on the cold, hard concrete like a college student at their first pledge. The woman’s purse lay where it had fallen, seemingly untouched. Her nearby shopping cart was still half-filled with bags.
“Looks like she was transferring her bags from the shopping cart to the trunk of the car when she was ambushed from behind, killed with a single shot to the back of the head, execution style. My guess is a handgun, possibly a nine-millimeter. We’ll need to find the bullet to be sure. Blood and gray matter sprayed the car, she dropped the groceries, and fell to the ground,” Berg said.
“No witnesses have come forward.” Arena double-checked his notebook. “Which is strange since the gunshot would have echoed through the parking deck. You think it would have gotten someone’s attention, but no. A fellow shopper found her like this an hour ago and called 911.”
Berg watched the forensics team from her Harrison Street precinct, the 12th, as they combed the scene, photographing, and then bagging and tagging anything in the vicinity.
She frowned again.
“Oh no.” Arena sighed. “I know that look. Please, don’t sa—”
“This whole thing stinks,” she said. “It makes no sense.”
“In what way?” he asked, his dark eyes—darker than hers by several shades—flashing with both annoyance and curiosity.
“If it was a carjacking, why is the car still here? Along with her purse and jewelry. And what’s this ring? At least five carats?”
“Don’t ask me. You ladies are better at the bling,” he replied before blanching.
Berg glowered at him. She hated when he spoke in clichés, and he knew it. “I care as much about diamonds as I do about dresses and makeup, you Neanderthal.”
“I know, I know. Sorry.” He ran his hand through his short hair again. “I haven’t slept in several centuries.”
He hadn’t been able to stop the glance at Berg’s simple pantsuit at the mention of her wearing a dress. She caught him leering just like she did so many of the other officers she worked with, and shot him a look that left no doubt just where he could stick his leer.
“This looks more like an execution, not a carjacking.” She turned from the body to the surrounding area. “And, if no one heard the shot in this busy parking garage in the middle of the day, then the killer may have used a silencer. What carjacker does that? For that matter, what carjacker kills a woman, renders the car unsellable, then takes off without stealing everything else he can get his hands on?”
“There is more to this,” Berg muttered.
“You think there is more to everything.” Arena said and wandered toward the car grumbling.
Like what you are reading?
Get it here!
‘A mother is murdered in an apparent robbery.
A young woman is raped and beaten in a home invasion.
Chicago Detective Alicia “Berg” Raymond doesn’t believe in random crime and is certain both cases are more than they seem—but can she trust her instincts, or is she too distracted by the feelings she has for former partner and new boss? For Berg, the need for justice burns deep and fills the emptiness where therapy and relationships fall short.
She’s certain the husband knows more than he’s willing to admit, but the trap to catch the killer is the loophole that sets him free.
As Berg fights to prevent another murder, she crosses the line between hero and villain—and there’s no turning back.’
‘I am so very impressed with this book. It gripped my innards and ripped them out, little by little…’ – Goodreads.
‘If you think The Enemy Inside is a thriller, just wait ’til you get Broken!’ – Goodreads.
Get it at TWCS
Coming soon to KOBO
Haven’t read the first one yet? get The Enemy Inside.
Val was born to parents Muriel and Allan Mitchell on Anzac Day in 1948, and enjoying a public holiday on her birthday was a lifelong pleasure she often used to chuckle about in that wicked way of hers.
A beautiful child with bright blue eyes, curly blonde hair and a ready smile, she was joined by sister, Francine, three years later and the two very pretty girls quickly became partners in crime, determined to upset the very staid and steady presence of their cautious parents.
Father, Allan, was a dentist both during the war and after, and was meticulous and strict in everything he did, so much so that when Fran and Val were going through his old ledgers a few years ago, Val’s umbilical cord hernia surgery was listed as: ‘repairs to baby’.
As the girls grew up their father was determined they were not to learn how to drive and be given, as he called it, ‘a license to kill’. Of course, with the help of their mischievous mother, Muriel, Val and Fran completely ignored this directive. Val’s first car was a little Renault that she bought for $100 and which blew up almost immediately after she bought it. Fran recollects they were driving along when Val yelled ‘Shit, we’re on fire!’ They climbed out and that was the end of that car.
A motorcycle followed this at age 19, a Yamaha 125 which Val fell off more than a few times. One such event at an intersection saw a gentleman get out of his car to help Val pick up the bike as she couldn’t lift it by herself. Val had more than enough helpers anytime this happened, as the pretty blonde who rode her bike in miniskirts attracted avid male attention wherever she went.
Val then got a Mini Cooper, and she and Fran roared all over Sydney in it, including over median strips and nature islands. She also spun off the road in her father’s Valiant after participating in a street race, coming to rest perfectly between a telegraph pole and a brick wall.
Val was a stunning young woman, who did some modelling and was Hornsby’s inaugural ‘Orchid Queen’ at the tender age of 17. Her good friend Carmel recalls meeting Val 35 years ago and commenting that Val was one of the prettiest women she had ever seen.
Val spent six years at Hornsby Girls High School, and there continued the trend of bucking every rule she could find. She was the only student smart enough not to put her name down on any sports list. So on Friday afternoons Val just went home, while all the other girls at the school had to participate in sport. She was never found out. Always amiable and fun, Val developed close friendships at school, in particular with Pam and Jann, who remained friends throughout her life.
She finished school in 1966 and spent a year studying short hand typing. She got a job and lasted for a week before she decided it didn’t interest her in the slightest. This was followed by a short stint working for the then MBF, before she went into the Public Service, or as Val called it: ‘The Pubic Circus’. Never once on time for work, when asked to account for a weekly tally of 27 minutes of lateness by her boss, she meticulously listed such items as ‘pedestrian crossing delays – three minutes’ and ‘traffic light delays – four minutes’. She never heard a word from him again.
After a brief marriage and a move to Adelaide, Val had her daughter, Vanessa, in 1975. She moved back to Sydney in 1976, and had her son James at Hornsby Hospital in 1979.
When the kids were little, Val took a job in accounts at Waltons in Hornsby, which was the beginning of her career being what she called a ‘chief book cooker’, no mean feat for a woman who failed maths at school, despite having a tutor.
After moving to the Northern Beaches, Val got a job with Air Solutions in accounts, and stayed at the Mona Vale business for 22 years, making life long friends along the way.
Her children were her pride and joy, and she made sure she was the steady and constant parent in their lives when their fathers were no longer in the picture.
She took a ‘softly, softly’ approach to parenting after her own strict upbringing, which was sometimes challenged by her little boy, James, who at age three was found by a neighbour walking down the street dragging a mattock behind him, and at age four took the lock off the front door with a screwdriver so he could get out.
She once drove all the way to Bathurst and back to collect Vanessa after a car accident, and would pick her up from parties anytime ‘no questions asked’. Once, she found James’ bong in his bedroom, and rather than being horrified that he had one, she was horrified at how dirty it was so she gave him bong cleaner for his 18th birthday.
To this day, neither James nor Vanessa can recall her ever having raised her voice at them, or get angry, despite a long list of terrible decisions they made as they were growing up. She believed in not risking a relationship for behaviour she considered transient, and instead was a solid sounding board who would listen without judgement and then give the information needed to make your own decision.
Despite more than her fair share of ups and downs, Val retained her wicked sense of humour and sharp, dry wit. She also had an excellent bullshit metre, thanks to some unfortunate attempts at marriage in her younger years.
So, whenever she met someone new, she would always ask what star sign they were, and if they got along with their mother.
On January 29, 1993, Val was introduced to Tony Zanelli by mutual friends at the Newport Surf Club, and thus began the happiest and most important romantic relationship of her life. They got to chatting, and even went to a local nightclub, the Rocklily, to continue their easy conversation, much to the distress of her daughter, Vanessa, who was already at the same nightclub drinking underage.
In their 20 years together they travelled all over the world, sampling margaritas wherever they went, and Val often joked that she and Tony were ‘global margarita testers’. The couple enjoyed good food, good company, and good wine, and during their entire relationship, Tony can only recall them ever fighting twice. They never married, which Val considered to be the secret to a successful relationship.
Visiting Italy with Tony, Val developed an affinity with the country, learning to cook Italian and developing a taste for prosecco. Tony often ribbed Val that she had zero sense of direction, and couldn’t tell her left from her right, unless it was in Italian, in which case she knew her ‘destra’ from her ‘sinistra’ immediately.
As well as a love for wine, Val also had a love for over and under the counter pharmaceuticals, earning her the nickname ‘Madam Chemical’. At any given time there was any kind of pill available to be dispended from her bottomless handbag. If there was a sleeping pill only legal in Peru, Val had it. Whatever your problem, she had a pill for it, and it was readily given, often followed up by the comment: ‘Maybe don’t drink for half an hour after taking that’.
Val developed a life long distain for religion as a child, but was very spiritual and connected to ‘the other side’. As a Taurus, she was delighted when James married Sarah, a fellow Taurean, to balance out the influx of Cancerians she had in James, Vanessa and Tony.
Her love for her children and Tony, and for daughter-in-law Sarah and son-in-law Spiro, was only matched by that for her granddaughters Ella, Raven and Jasmine. Ella and Val enjoyed a special, very close relationship in particular, much like Val did with her own grandmother and Ella’s namesake, and would often spend the day together having fun.
Val also enjoyed a wonderful relationship with her sister, Fran, and close friends Carmel and Sue. Carmel says that the pair would often get together to chat and drink wine, solving all the problems of the world. Val and Sue would do the same thing at their dinners at ‘Lucky and Peps’.
Val also greatly enjoyed her weekends with her sister, where they would visit the Glen Street Theatre, and local gardens, and enjoy special lunches. Fran says that Val was a terrific big sister and was always there when she needed her, despite the fact that Val took her to the Newport Arms at the tender age of 15.
Anyone who met Val agreed she had a big heart, and this was no better demonstrated than by her dedication to looking after her parents in the 10 years before they passed away. She moved heaven and earth, often to her own detriment, to ensure they were comfortable in their final years, and Muriel would be devastated to know that Val only survived her by six years.
James, Vanessa, Tony, Fran, Spiro, Sarah, Ella, Raven and Jasmine are all shocked and grievously shattered by the sudden loss of their mother, partner, sister and grandmother after a short battle with cancer, and can’t imagine life without her.
James and Vanessa promise to take their Mum’s wise and patient approach to parenting with their own children, and ensure that the girls grow up knowing all about their wonderful ‘Heya’. They also promise to look after their Mum’s beloved cats, Cosmo and Luna, who gave her such joy in her final years.
They thank everyone who attended today to pay their respects to their very much-missed mother.