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Overview
Sam Shephard, a young sole-charge police constable in Mataura, is the main character in a new series of crime novels set in New Zealand.

When a young mother in the town is brutally murdered (it seems to be a professional job), Sam is at the heart of the police hunt to find the killer. But then Sam's past relationship with the dead woman's husband is revealed. Sam is stood down from the case and is now a prime murder suspect.

Frustrated, Sam loses her cool. She can't stop herself making murder inquiries and gets into serious trouble with her police superiors. But then the young constable stumbles onto something. The murdered woman was working as a journalist and had uncovered a local scandal. She'd been killed to keep her quiet. When Sam enters this world she's in real physical danger, until at last a conspiracy is uncovered and the killer revealed. Disillusioned, Sam prepares to leave town.

What will she do next?


Reviews

"a rollicking good read"
      Kim Knight, Sunday Star Times

"one of the best in this genre that I've read for in years"
      Trena Marshall, Waikato Times

Published: 5 Mar 2007
ISBN 13: 9780143006657
ISBN 10: 0143006657
RRP: $28.00
Type: PAPERBACK (PB)
Pages: 336
Edition: 1
Imprint: PENGUIN

Overkill - Prologue

The day it was ordained that Gabriella Knowes would die there were no harbingers, omens or owl's calls. No tolling of bells. With the unquestioning faith of the well brought up, she invited death in.

Death politely showed his identification and explained they had experienced telecommunications problems in the area. He then requested Gaby check her household phone had a dial tone.

She left him on the doorstep under the watchful gaze of Radar, hallway sentinel, and returned back into the house to check. Gaby hunted around without success before remembering the portable phone had been left in the bedroom after her usual morning chat with Mum. She smiled to herself. Her mum had been so excited when she told her of Angel's first faltering steps that morning.

'Oh my clever Grandbaby,' she had said. 'She shouldn't be in such a hurry to grow up!'

The distant clatter of plastic told her Angel was still happy strewing Duplo around the lounge floor. Gaby picked up the phone, pressed the
'Talk' button and sure enough there was no dial tone.

'You're right, it's dead,' she said, as she walked back to the door. 'It was fine an hour ago when I was talking to my mother. Are everyone's phones down?'

'Just the homes in this block, it seems to be a localised fault,' he said.

'How long will it take to fix?'

'Well, if I can come in and check each of your jack points, we can eliminate them as the problem. In any case we should have it sorted out within two hours, so you won't be without a phone for too long,' he said and bent over to pick up a large black tool bag.

' Oh sure, come in.' Gaby opened the door wide for him. 'Could you take your shoes off please, we've just got new carpet and I'm still a bit precious about it.'

'Of course.' He put the bag down and bent over to untie his work boots. 'We've just carpeted recently too. Where are your jack points?'
She walked down the hallway and pointed into the bedroom.

'There's a phone in there, another in the dining room through here,' she waved her arm to the right, 'and one in the bedroom straight ahead. I'll shut the dog away, so he doesn't hassle you.' She grabbed Radar by the collar.

'Thanks for that. I'll start in here,' he said, and indicated the main bedroom. He shifted his bag out of the way and closed the front door. Gaby watched him for a moment as he found the jack point in the bedroom and pulled some electronic looking gizmo out of the bag. She remembered the washing machine had beeped its final overture.

'I'll leave you to it,' she said and after she'd deposited the dog in the end bedroom, Gaby headed toward the laundry. She passed through the lounge and couldn't help but laugh at the riot of coloured plastic spread across the floor.

'There you are Poppet, what a lovely mess you've created, and what a great big noise.' She bent over and ran her hand softly down the side of Angel's face then tickled her behind the ear and smiled at the inevitable squirm and giggle.

'You've been such a good girl for Mummy this morning.' Gaby bent over and kissed the top of Angel's wispy blonde head, then headed back to the laundry to empty out the washing machine and put on the next load. She couldn't believe how much extra washing one little body could create, especially such a cute little body as her Angel had.

Gaby had tossed in the last of the towels when she heard footsteps approach. She turned and was surprised to see the Telecom man carrying Angel on one hip.

'Oh, you found my Angel. Come to Mummy sweetie,' she said and stepped through the kitchen, arms outstretched to take her. She was taken aback when the man backed away into the dining room, putting the table between them.

'Sit down,' he said.

'No, no, just pass her straight to me, she'll be fine,' she said, and again reached out for her Angel.

'Sit down at the table,' he said, all pleasantry gone from his voice.

Gaby became impatient; unease weighted the bottom of her stomach.

'What are you doing? Just give her to me,' she said, moving around the table to get closer.

'Sit down now.' His tone made it apparent there was no room for discussion, and to reinforce the fact his right hand drew what looked like a flick knife from his pocket. 'You've got such a pretty girl here, it would be a pity to have to spoil that face,' he said, and twirled his finger through a ringlet of Angel's shiny blonde hair.

Gaby lowered herself onto the chair; her legs no longer had the strength to support her. She could feel her heart hammer in her chest and struggled to hear over the pulsating, rushing noise in her head. The world had started to turn grey around the edges. She sucked in a deep breath and thought, don't faint, don't faint. Think; look for something, a weapon, anything. But she couldn't tear her eyes off her daughter who, oblivious to the threat was smiling in this stranger's arms.

'We can make this easy, or we can make this hard, it's up to you,' he said as he adjusted Angel's weight on his hip. 'I need you to write a note.'

'If it's money you want, my purse is in the bedroom, take it, take anything, just give me back my daughter.'

'Ah, money. Well, no. It's not that simple.'

Gaby watched him gently tease Angel with the flick knife, tickling her under the chin. Angel giggled and kept reaching out, trying to grab it. Gaby felt her gorge rise and swallowed back hard, she could not allow herself retch or faint. She had to keep a cool head. With her eyes she begged Angel not to hit the damned button by accident.

The sickening tableaux had paralysed her, before anger flared up, momentarily breaking through the fear.

'What do you want you fucking sick bastard. If you hurt her, I will kill you, I fucking swear,' she yelled at him as she leapt to her feet.

'Well, I'm afraid I am not the one who is going to be dying today,' he said, then a contemptuous grin spread across his face. An icy hand took grip in Gaby's bowels and she flopped back onto the seat. 'Like I said, we can make this easy, or we can make this hard. It's up to you. Me, I have a job to do. I don't personally like hurting children, so if you cooperate we can just get this done and your daughter will be fine. If you make any trouble…' with a lightening fast action he activated the flick knife and deftly removed a lock of Angel's hair.

Gaby groaned and fought the urge to vomit as she watched the curl drift down onto the floor. Her hands leapt up to encase her face, to physically hold back the need to scream. It took her several seconds to regain control. She forced herself to lower her hands back to the tabletop, to battle the constriction in her throat.

'I'll do anything,' she whispered, and then looked up to meet his gaze. 'Just don't hurt my baby. For God's sake, just leave her alone.'

He looked at her, appraising, then reached down and pressed the blade of the knife on the table. The click as it closed made Gaby flinch.

'Now get a pen and a piece of paper, I need you to write a note.'

Gaby reached over and grabbed at the pen and pad she kept by the telephone and almost dropped them her hands were shaking so much.

'What do I have to write?' She asked.

'Oh, I think we'll keep it simple, 'Sorry Honey, I love you,' something like that.'

'What?' She asked.

'Let me spell it out for you. You are going to die. I want you to write a simple, fitting suicide note. That's it, it's not that hard, now write.'

His words hit like a blow to the stomach. A gasping sob escaped her and she grasped the edge of the table to steady herself. Gaby looked up through blurred eyes at her darling Angel who squirmed in her captor's arms, tired of being held and wanting her mummy. The man was tall, muscular and probably twice her weight. He had Angel. Disbelief and frustration at the futility of her situation surged up and Gaby found herself banging her fists on the table. A keening noise escaped her mouth.

'Don't be so bloody childish lady, it's not going to help you or your daughter. I'm going to get my bag. You, pull yourself together. Try anything and it is the girl who will pay.' He turned, still carrying Angel, and walked out into the hall toward the bedroom.

She had only a moment, she had to think. There was no way Gaby could let people think she'd killed herself, no way she could leave that legacy for Angel or Lockie. Quickly and with a badly shaking hand she scrawled a note on the pad, then ripped the piece off, screwed it up and flung it over her shoulder into the kitchen. She hoped like hell he'd miss it in the mess.

She could already hear the Telecom man's footsteps returning. She breathed heavily, her heart still raced, but Gaby felt strangely calm, almost disconnected, as if she were a mere observer.

This could not be happening, it was the stuff of fiction, Hollywood. This stranger was so matter of fact that her life was going to end; it could not possibly be real. Surely people like that didn't exist here. It suddenly dawned on her to wonder why. As soon as the thought entered her head her lips formed the question –

'Why?'

He came back into the room and swung the bag up onto the table with one arm, making a heavy thud.

'Why?' She asked again. 'Why are you doing this to me? What did I ever do to you?'

'To me? Nothing. I'm just doing my job Lady. Shit happens.' He hoisted Angel up where she'd slid down from his hip. 'Now get on with writing that note before I get pissed off.'

Gaby picked up the pen again and tried to think of a way to get the message across - this was not her doing, not her in control. There was no way she would dream of committing suicide. Sure her life had its challenges, the last few months had been hellish, but she loved her husband and she lived and breathed for her daughter. Surely Lockie knew that. Her mother must know that. She would know Gaby could never leave her Angel. She had to be subtle and just pray Lockie would realise the note wasn't right, wasn't her. She could not bear to think of Angel growing up without her, thinking her mother had abandoned her, copped out. Tears sprang back into her eyes and she rubbed them away before he could see them. She had to have justice.

Gaby made herself stand up. She watched his muscles tense then relax when he realised she was reaching across the table to the box of tissues by the window. She looked outside, but there was no one to witness her plight, no hope of rescue. It was up to her. Tissues in hand, Gaby sat back down then blew her nose hard. She shoved the used tissues into the pocket of her track pants. Damn, why hadn't she put the secret note in there too? Too late now. He probably would have found it. She took a deep breath and set her mind to the note.

She wrote the words with deliberation, and managed to minimise the shaking of her hand. She only hoped it was enough.

'There you are you bastard. One fucking note,' she said through gritted teeth.

'I'm glad you've decided to play the game,' he said and moved around beside her to read it.

Gaby held her breath as he looked it over.

'That will do the job,' he said. Gaby exhaled slowly. 'See, it wasn't so bad.' He patted her on the head like she was some pet puppy. She flinched away from his touch.

Angel had started to squirm and grizzle in his arms. She lurched over, arms outstretched for her mother. Gaby reached up to take her baby but he pulled her back against his body and moved back around to the other side of the table. Her arms empty, Gaby watched him set Angel down in the chair opposite, the large black bag separating them.

'Now what?' she asked, voice flat. She sat, shoulders hunched, hands limp where they had dropped in her lap. What could she do? She loathed feeling so damned passive.

'Now we get to work,' he said.

He completely unzipped the bag and she watched as he pulled out a small black rolled bag and placed it on the table just out of Angel's inquisitive reach. He then reached back in and pulled out a large black bundle of fabric. He shook it out to its full size and tossed it down onto the carpet. Gaby's heart leapt in her chest, bile rose up into her throat, as a fresh wave of dread surged through her being. She had seen enough movies to recognise a body bag when she saw one.

'This is what you are going to do,' he said, as he unrolled the first small bag with a flick of his wrist. 'I am going to give you an injection. I will make this as painless as possible.' The small bag contained several syringes, vials and a prescription box of tablets all in their own pockets. 'If you struggle, I will kill your daughter. If you do not do exactly as I ask, I will kill your daughter. If you cooperate and just let this happen, she'll be left alone.'

Gaby looked across the table to where her beautiful Angel investigated the bag. She blinked back the tears, but this time couldn't halt their path down her cheeks.

'How can I trust you to leave her?' She said with a small voice.

'Lady, what choice do you have?' He drew up a dose from the vial with businesslike precision. In fact, Gaby watched as he drew up its entire contents. She tried to think of a way she could get that syringe and stab him in the neck with the bloody thing, but he was too big, Angel too close. He must have done this sort of thing before. He was so damned efficient at it. She was just another job.

'Go get a glass of water,' he said. Gaby looked up as he moved around behind Angel and pointed the loaded syringe at her shoulder. Her baby was distracted at play with the empty vial and about to put it in her mouth.

'Uh uh Angel, yucky, that's not for eating,' she said without thought and stood up to grab it.

'Get the fucking water.' The edge in his voice drove her into the kitchen.

She got a glass out of the cupboard, and then as she walked across to the sink, her eyes darted to the knife rack on the bench. She looked back up to her killer and her eyes met his. He gazed back, eyebrows arched in question and then combed his fingers gently through Angel's hair.
Gaby pulled her eyes away and filled the glass with water. She walked back to the table and sat down with her hand clawed around the tumbler.

He tossed her the box of tablets. She misjudged the catch and they bounced off her chest to clatter onto the table.

'Take some, five or six will do.'

Her hands shook as she opened the box and managed to pop four of the tablets out of their foil strip into her hand, another slipped out and onto the floor.

'Pick it up.'

She bent down, the tablet danced through slippery fingers before she managed to trap it. Gaby sat back up and shook off the giddiness that swept over her. She carefully placed the tablet next to the others and glanced at the label on the box, before stopping dead. The prescription was in her name.

'What the hell?' She blurted. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to get rid of her. 'I don't know what I've done or why this is happening; why is this happening to me?' she screamed at him. 'What the hell have I done to deserve this? For God's sake, tell me.'

'I don't know Lady, I just do the job and collect the cheque. Now shut the fuck up and take the fucking tablets.' He yanked on Angel's hair to pull back her head and pointed the syringe at her exposed throat.

'No!' Gaby screamed and jumped to her feet, 'I'll take them, I'll take them.' She threw the tablets into her mouth and tried desperately not to gag as she washed them down with the glass full of water.

Angel had erupted with a screech, her short arms flailed desperately at the hand that pulled her hair. She rubbed at her head when it finally let go, her face a blotch of pink, mouth dropped.

Gaby dropped the empty glass on the table, then arms outstretched, pleaded for her daughter

'Please let me hold her, please.'

'Not yet.' He jerked his head towards the lounge. 'Go and lie down on the sofa.'

With barely obedient legs, Gaby walked around the end of the table and into the lounge. She couldn't go out like this, there must be something she could do, but when she looked behind her all she could see was her beautiful Angel, carried by this stranger. How could Angel possibly grow up thinking her mother killed herself and abandoned her? Fresh tears wound their way down her face.

When she reached the sofa she first sat and then slowly lay down. There was only one little thing left she could do. Her killer sat Angel down on the lounge floor out of reach, and then strode over. Gaby felt his hand on her hip. He rolled her forward slightly, pulled down the top of her track pants and exposed her buttock. With a quick stab he pushed the needle into her flesh. Gaby timed it perfectly, jerked and let out a huge 'Ow.' Then it did hurt.

'Keep fucking still' he growled and slowly pushed the plunger down. Gaby could feel where the liquid entered, a cold stream against the warmth of her body, a venom commencing its deadly path. The sting lingered well after he withdrew the needle.

It was done.

Gaby looked up to her killer, gazed squarely into his eyes and asked 'Can I hold her now?'

He turned away and to her relief walked over, picked Angel up, brought her over and laid her on Gaby's chest. At last she had Angel safe in her arms, but knew there was nothing she could do. Already the effects of the drug were apparent, she could feel inertia creep over her as it pervaded her entire system.

She hugged and stroked her Angel as she repeatedly whispered, ' I love you Angel, Mummy loves you, I'm so sorry, I love you so much.'
Gaby quietly sobbed. Then she buried her face in Angel's hair and rocked and cried herself to sleep.