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Chapter 1

The sky was still black when Brad left home and headed in the direction of Holland Park Avenue on his way to work. It wasn’t a bad job for a builder, renovating homes for the well-heeled. Easy work and easy money as these things went. He could hardly call it building; his father, who owned his own small construction company back home in Sydney, certainly wouldn’t have.

As he walked, any thought of work left his mind entirely. His head was filled with music, searching for the bridge of the tune he was composing. That nobody had ever paid him any money for the songs he’d written or the scores he’d composed wasn’t the point for Brad. He was a musician, and tarting up London boxes was just a means to pay for his guitar strings and satisfy his parents that he was ‘doing something useful’ with his time. The fact that his wife could easily have paid for the strings – and maybe even pulled a few to get him a look in with a music publisher – didn’t enter into the equation. Music seemed the only part of him that was his alone, and in his own time, yes, some day he’d ‘do something useful’ with it.

Brad walked to the rhythm of his song, cutting through the chilly air on this early-December morning. At least it wasn’t raining. Turning into Ladbroke Grove, he passed a couple of well-rugged-up people and their dog out for an early morning walk, and automatically smiled at them. Then he turned his eyes back to the pavement and laughed to himself: he’d never get used to the way Londoners didn’t look at strangers. The windows to their souls stayed closed. He could be a thief, a beggar, any number of things. If he wasn’t their friend, he didn’t exist for them.

Falling back into the melody, Brad walked on, lifting his eyes from the pavement as the first few notes of the bridge emerged. As he did, his glance registered what looked like an old drunk, huddled in the gutter, on the other side of the road. Music forgotten, Brad shivered. The poor bugger’d be freezing when he woke up, stone cold sober.

His eyes lingered on the drunk as he contemplated how cruel the London winter must be for the homeless. Just as he was about to pass by, he noticed the odd angle at which the body was slumped. Then he noticed the skid-marks on the bitumen. He stepped across the road and looked more closely: it wasn’t a drunk at all but someone who’d been hit by a car. A woman.

‘Shit,’ he whispered, then glanced about the street. Three joggers on the other side were pounding along, eyes to the front, intent on keeping up their pace. He wanted to call out to them but couldn’t form the words. Cars drove past but they didn’t even slow down; one driver beeped at him to get off the road.

He stepped around the woman and onto the pavement. There was blood around her face and her coat and skirt were torn in places. He could see that she was still breathing but it was obvious she’d suffered serious injuries. She was lying on her right shoulder, with her left arm sticking out behind her into the road. Her mid-section was twisted like a broken doll, wet blood soaking her shirt. He fought down nausea, as adrenalin, anger and panic flooded him. How long had she been lying here? How could no one have stopped to help her?

Snapping to his senses, he reached for his mobile and called for an ambulance. As he waited, he stood close by the woman and watched her breathe, wondering who she was and where she’d been going; who might be wondering where she was. Every so often he looked up into the street; cars continued to pass; a man walked towards them then crossed over. Brad looked at the houses: all very nice, deadlocked and double-glazed, like the people inside them.

The police arrived within five minutes and the ambulance was there soon after. While the woman was bundled onto the trolley and the policeman fired his questions, Brad wished he could have said or done more. Wished he could have yelled out at the crowd of a dozen or so people that had now gathered to gawk at the drama of flashing lights and uniforms. Where were they when she needed them?

‘Didn’t anyone call?’ was all Brad could say, after he’d told the young constable all there was to tell: that he was on his way to work and found her just like this, and no, he hadn’t touched the body.

The constable told him no one had called. Clearly a hit-and-run, he said in that deadpan police way that suggested this sort of thing happened all the time.

Did it? Brad wondered as the constable flipped his notebook closed and said he’d be in touch if they needed him to make any further statement.

The ambulance drove off, siren wailing, and everyone left to go about the business of minding their own business again. So did Brad.

When he arrived at the Holland Park Avenue flat, he told his workmates what had happened. ‘That’s fucked,’ said one. ‘You all right?’ asked the other. ‘Yeah,’ said Brad. Then he sat on the front steps for a while, trying to clear his head. Why would a person just drive off like that and leave a woman for dead? Fear probably. You might go to jail, maybe for a very long time. Perhaps the driver was drunk. Or just a sick bastard. You’d have to be sick not to call for help. Brad shook his head as he got to his feet.

When he did so, his mind suddenly turned to Jemma. How would she be feeling now? Thank God she hadn’t been there this morning when he’d found the hit-and-run victim. The recent loss of her father had been a terrible blow. His father-in-law might not have been Brad’s favourite person in the world, but he was the man Jemma had called ‘Daddy’ all her life and tomorrow they were burying him.