With thanks to the Cornish tourist board, and Coco for the wonderful photographs.
ROADKILL is a searing tale of one man’s journey into homicidal madness.
Ralph is obsessed with the moor. He spends most of his waking hours tramping across the endless wilderness, exploring its timeless beauty. When he comes across a recently killed deer on the highway, which bisects the rolling fields of Bodmin Moor, he decides to take it home. From this point on, the highway draws Ralph with the promise of further bounty. And then, one awful night, he stumbles upon the bodies of a family, wiped out in a horrific car accident. At least, he believes they are all dead, until he discovers the blood soaked, and still living young mother.
Many believe a beast roams the Moor. A fable, myth or legend? Perhaps the conjuring of rich and fertile imaginations? When a local schoolteacher finds himself embroiled in the mystery, not only does he unearth the truth, he also comes across ... Ralph.
Two lives, linked by accident, but hurtling towards a final confrontation that will leave you breathless.
One of the many 5-star reviews, says...
'Stuart Yates has a unique way of writing. I loved every minute of Roadkill.
The novel starts strong and builds into a fantastic psychological thriller, the reader can picture every scene, and the characters are so vivid in your imagination.
I read this book in a day and didn't want it to end.
A great book. I will certainly look out for Stuart's future novels. DB'
Read more, and purchase the book on Kindle or in paperback, HERE
You can read an extract on the Amazon site, by using their 'Look Inside', but here is a further taster of this gripping tale...
At the gate, the parents gathered as usual but this time there was more than just a little curiosity in the prolonged stares as Salmon saw his children safely off the school grounds. This was their new teacher, and everyone wanted to know what he was like. He gave the expected nods and smiles. Some were returned, most greeted with blank looks. Nobody gave much away, not what was inside their hearts. The Cornish are like that. Strong, stoic people, friendly up to a point, but it takes an age to break through. Once the barrier had been broken, they were warm and caring. Salmon still had that to learn, but he was in no rush. He ruffled the heads of a few, and the children gave him their own grins. That was the real acceptance he wished for, not the temporary ascents of adults. Those he could do without. The honesty of children was constantly refreshing.
With only a handful of children left, he turned to go and stopped. Stood there, half-grin on a round, grizzled face, was a squat, solid looking man of indeterminate age. Short-haired, a day's growth of pan-scourer on his chin, his arms as thick as Salmon's thighs; he had the air of a rugby player, or wrestler about him. Cauliflower ears gave that much away. He exuded confidence, perhaps a little too much. Salmon’s stomach tightened with a tiny tickle of wariness and forced himself to appear neutral. The man stuck out a big paw. "Colin Fearn," he said, his accent thick with the buzz of the Cornish and Salmon had to tilt his head, catch the words. "Everyone calls me Fearn, never Colin. I'm Head of governors," Fearn said. "Sorry I couldn’t make it for your interview."
Salmon took the hand, felt the considerable strength in the grip. "Pleased to meet you."
"Settling in all right?” He released Salmon’s hand, a tiny smile fluttering across his mouth. Salmon had tried to equal Fearn’s grip, and had failed. “Found yourself a little place over in Saint Tudy, so I hear?"
There was no surprise there; Salmon knew nothing much was going to remain secret for long. "Yes. Quite a nice little place."
"So I understand. Sam Kent's place. Nice. Just had it redecorated, so he'll be pleased to have found a tenant so quickly." He put his arm around Salmon's shoulders and guided him back towards the entrance to the school. The mist had gone by now, but the chill remained. Salmon welcomed it; it cooled the rising heat of his discomfort. He was like a child in this man’s presence. "Thing is, Mr. Salmon, we're a tight knit little community here, so don't be too put out that we all seem to know your business. We're not being nosey, we just talk, that's all. No harm done."
"No, I understand all of that, Mr Fearn."
"You can call me Fearn, just Fearn. Almost everyone else does." He allowed his arm to slip away from Salmon, but the smile stayed fixed. "Listen, why don't you pop around to the pub tonight, around eight, and we'll have a little chin-wag?" Salmon almost groaned. All he wanted to do was go home, eat his tea, and sleep. Fearn must have sensed the new teacher's hesitancy. He threw out both hands and shrugged. "I understand if you have other plans, so—"
"No, no, it's not that. Just, with it being my first day and all...Could we make it another night? Give me chance to settle in, establish a routine. I've got quite a lot of marking to do as well, and..."
Fearn held up his hand. "Say no more, Mr Salmon. We'll make it another night. Why don't we say Friday? Then you won't have to worry about getting up too early the following day?"
"Sounds good to me."
Fearn proffered his hand again and Salmon took it. Was it just his imagination, or was the grip even stronger this time. "Deal done, Mr Salmon. See you in the pub on Friday, at eight."
He strode off and Salmon watched him go. A strong feeling of having been manipulated percolated away inside. Next time, he’d have to stand up for himself a little more. He turned and went through the door.
The entrance opened up immediately into the tiny hall, which also doubled as dining room. Adjacent, on the left, was the Head's office, and next to it, the caretaker's store. The caretaker was already there, sorting out mops and brooms, and didn't even give Salmon as much as a glance. He was a big man who almost filled the entire cupboard with his body. Salmon had not seen him before, had never been introduced. Perhaps there was some reason for that, but he didn’t know. He paid it no mind and went to go into his classroom when, from her office, Mrs Winston called to him. He changed direction and stepped inside.
She was bent over her computer screen, peering at the text with her eyes screwed up in a squint. A small woman, Salmon had never seen her dressed in anything other than a trouser suit. Today it was steel-grey in colour and matched the air of severity she always seemed to convey. As Head teacher, and leader of the tiny, village school, perhaps this was a conscious act, but he couldn’t tell. Responsibility, perhaps, made her appear stern. He’d rarely seen her smile, but then, it was still early days. Once he got to know her, familiarity could well reveal a whole new woman.
Without a word, she waved for him to sit on the only other seat in the cramped little office. He did so, and took a moment to survey the organised chaos around him; shelves groaning under the weight of well-stuffed folders, books, papers, the second desk strewn with pens, pencils, open record books, local council memorandums, bills unpaid and paid, the over-laden bureaucracy of the small, rural Primary school. With only forty pupils and a staff of two, the burden of keeping everything working smoothly was great.
The room was barely large enough to accommodate the two adjacent desks which ran along the two walls and formed a sort of ‘L’. Mrs Winston always inhabited her corner, the one furthest from the window, a private domain dominated by a computer, of which she seemed particular protective off, and may as well have had a notice saying ‘KEEP OFF’ attached to it.
Flanking this workstation was a bright coloured set of plastic trays, the ‘in’ section bulging. On the opposite side, an old ‘SMS’ baby-milk can filled with pens, pencils and anything else she could stuff in there. On the wall above the monitor old photographs of former pupils, some in cardboard frames, and a man, bearded yet youthful, wide-eyed, expressive face. Happy. Salmon settled his eyes on the face for a moment.
"Peter," she said, and swivelled around on her chair. She stopped and smiled when she noticed him staring at the photograph. “Have you not seen this before, Peter?” He shook his head. “It’s my husband. Dale.” She looked at it herself now. “I thought I’d mentioned him at the interview. He was killed in a boating accident some five years ago.”
Salmon felt his throat tighten. He had no idea, assuming because she still wore her wedding ring that her husband was still alive, and was probably a small, round man who did ‘something’ in the city. Now he knew, and he felt somewhat guilty. Whatever Dale had been in life, he was certainly no round little man. Salmon could clearly see that by the chiselled jaw, the thin, hard lips. A man’s man, as the saying went.
He looked up and saw her face and for a moment he thought she would utter a rebuke. She smiled again, but not in a friendly way. Salmon suspected it didn't augur well. "How do you feel your first day went?" Any more revelations about her husband were not about to come that day. Perhaps they never would.
"Good," he said, without having to think about it. He meant it. The children had responded well, they seemed polite, attentive, interested. "I think I'll be able to do a lot here."
"Glad to hear it." She glanced to the office door, slapped her knees and got up. She closed the door slowly, then came back to her chair. Something heavy seemed to be weighing her down as she considered the floor for a few moments before continuing. "I just want to say a few things, Peter. Nothing too…” She looked up, that tiny smile appearing for a moment. “Nothing serious, but it needs to be said.” A loud inhalation. “People here keep things fairly close to their chest, Peter. How they think. I'm not from around here myself, but I am Cornish. I'm from Truro originally, and that’s a little different. I have a house some ten miles or so from here. I didn't want anything in the village, not the way things can be."
Was that a criticism of his taking the rent so close to school? He frowned. "The way things can be?"
"Yes, you know what I mean. Gossip. Tittle-tattle. What they don't know, they'll make up. I know this happens everywhere, even in cities. People talk, but the difference here, living in such a close community, it'll get back to you what they say, what they think."
"Well..." He shrugged, not really sure what to say. "All I can say is I'm not about to get involved in anything controversial. Nothing which will cause embarrassment or concern."
She didn't answer, merely squeezed her lips tight together. She wasn't unattractive, in a matronly way. Not Salmon's type, but he understood how many would be drawn to her charms. Her position of authority would be of interest many men, perhaps fulfil a few fantasies. "That's the whole point, Peter. It doesn't have to be controversial, or embarrassing. It could be anything at all. Anything can be misconstrued, and once the tongues begin to wag…Just, you know..." She winked, "be careful. I want you to be part of the community, but...well, maintain a certain aloofness. You are, after all, a professional."
He hated being preached to. He was no wet-behind-the-ears newcomer, he was an experienced teacher, having worked for ten years in the profession. The schools of Liverpool, the city of his birth, the place where he’d gone to college and trained, were no push-over. They were a tough testing ground and he’d learned a lot, in a very short space of time. But he didn't say any of this, simply nodded, gave his thanks and went into his classroom.
The cleaner whistled softly as he picked up chairs, upturned them, and put them on the desks. Salmon watched him from the corner of his eye. This close, Salmon realised just how big he was, well over six-foot, with muscles to match. He had a swarthy look as if he were of Italian extraction. Salmon was not going to engage him in idle conversation, nor was he going to be intimidated by the man's seeming indifference. He snapped his briefcase shut and moved over to the door. He paused, only briefly, said, 'Goodnight," and left.
He didn't hear if there was a reply.
It was cold in the office. Apparently, a problem with the heating had yet to be resolved, so Ralph, like everyone else, was forced to wear his coat. Huddled over his desk, glasses perched on the end of his nose, he studied a recent insurance claim. Someone’s roof had fallen in, and they were claiming it was weather related. After a few minutes, he sat back in his chair and chewed the end of one of the arms of his spectacles. He stood up. “I’m going to visit this house,” he said to no one in particular. “Not sure if I believe it, so I’ll go and have a careful look.” He reached for the phone and punched in the claimant’s number. He didn’t want to go all the way up to Launceston only to find that no one was home.
After the fourth ring, a voice heavy with sleep answered. A man’s voice. Ralph introduced himself then said, “I’ll have to come down and assess the damage. I’ll be there within the hour if that’s all right.”
“Well, no, it’s not actually. I have to go out.”
“You have to go out?” Ralph couldn’t remember the man’s name and had to squint at the computer screen again. “Mr Morris? Time is of the essence with this sort of thing. You say your roof has collapsed?”
“In the kitchen yes.”
“Well, we need to get it sorted.”
“Yeah, I realise that, but not today – I have to go out.”
“Well, I need to come and see you, Mr Morris – what if it rains? You could find your kitchen floor inundated.”
“I’ll take that risk.”
‘No, no, Mr Morris – my company takes all the risk. All you have to do is pay your premiums.”
“Which I have done. But it’s not convenient.”
“Well, it’s not convenient for me, either - I’m a busy man.”
Across from Ralph, on the other side of the table, his colleague raised a single eyebrow.
He heard Morris sigh. “Can’t you come tomorrow?”
“No I can’t.”
“Why not? What’s it got to do with you what I can and cannot do?” The same colleague sat back in his chair and gaped at Ralph.
“Oh, but it’s all right for to question me, and what I have to do?”
Ralph unzipped his coat and ran a finger under his coat. Despite the lack of heat, his own personal temperature was rising. How he hated all this, the fencing between these so-called customers. Why the hell should he spend his own time trying to accommodate these self-centred idiots? He blew out a loud sigh. “Listen, and listen carefully. If there is any sort of delay, Mr Morris, your claim could be void.”
“Well that’s just bloody blackmail, isn’t it? I can’t make it this afternoon – I have to go out. I have an appointment and I can’t change it.”
“Well I can’t change my schedule either – not just for you, Mr Morris.”
“You bloody people – you’re quick enough to take my bloody money, all sweetness and light then, aren’t you? Nothing is too much trouble. But when I ask something of you, it’s a different bloody story. Bloody crooks you are, that’s the truth of it.”
“I don’t like your tone, Mr Morris.”
“And I don’t like yours. It’s not my fault I have to go out, and you can’t just phone me up and expect me to drop everything just for you. What if I was at work? What would you do then?”
“But you’re not at work are you Mr Morris? I doubt if you’ve got a job. Maybe that has something to do with your claim? Short of money are we? Bad day at the bookies?”
“Ralph,” hissed his colleague.
Morris could not contain himself now. “You sanctimonious old fart! You know nothing about me—“
“I know that the likelihood of your claim being granted is highly unlikely, given your attitude and your reluctance to help us.”
“Reluctance? I have to go out.”
Ralph pulled the phone receiver from his ear and pulled a face. “No need to shout, Mr Morris. You need to calm down.” He pressed the receiver against his ear again. “I think I’ve touched a nerve there, haven’t I Mr Morris? Eh? Touched a nerve, haven’t I?”
He frowned at his colleague, whose face looked serious. “What?”
Ralph gave a scoffing laugh. “Listen, Morris,” he said, his voice breaking slightly, “If you can’t make today, I’m rejecting your claim.”
“You can’t do that.”
“I can do what I like.”
He put the phone down and glared at his colleague. “Don’t tell me to calm down. I have my job to do, you do yours.”
“We don’t talk to customers like that, Ralph. We’re here to help them, not intimidate.”
“Don’t give me that fucking bullshit. We’re here to make money, and you know it.” He zipped his coat up to his throat and went outside.
He leaned back against the wall of the office block and looked up at the white sky. He closed his eyes, summoned up pictures of the moor, and slowly lowered his heartbeat. The longer he remained like that the calmer he became. Soon, the minutes stretched out as the cold air bit deep into his body and made him feel alive.
He hated his job, hated the office, the people. Most of all he hated the customers, the daily grind, the constant gabble of their voices as they tried to explain away the calamities that had been visited upon them. It was all so tedious and meaningless. He needed a change. A new direction.
He snapped his head around and there was Susan, the office clerk. Organised, knowledgeable, Ralph had always liked her. She was slim, not too tall, and her eyes were the biggest he had ever seen. “Hello,” he said, smiling broadly.
“Ralph, a Mr Morris is on your line, and he sounds upset.”
“Does he by god? Well…” He clapped his hands together and rubbed them. “Let battle commence.”
Her fingers brushed against his arm, and he felt a tiny thrill run through him. “Ralph,” she said, her voice low, “you don’t seem...yourself today.”
He peered into those eyes and longed to reach over, hold her, press his lips against hers. If only he had the courage to do that, express himself, reveal the longing in the very core of his being. As unlike his wife as salt is to sugar. Susan was sweet, delicious, soft. “I’m all right,” he said, conscious that his voice sounded thick.
“Just...just take your time. Think before you speak. Don’t go in there thinking it is going to be a ‘battle’ Ralph.”
But it was not so much a battle, as a rout.
It was when Ralph began to shout that it all unravelled. As the stress levels rose, the sweat broke out across his brow, some of it dripping down from his nose to fall in spots over his desk. Mr Morris was equally indignant and when Ralph paused he saw Mitchell, his superior, arms folded, scowling. It was then that he told Morris to ‘Sod off you sorry little man,” and Mitchell stepped up close, leaned over and depressed the disconnect button.
“A word, Ralph.”
In the office, Ralph sat forward and studied his fingers. Mitchell coughed, but Ralph didn’t look up. “Are you feeling all right, Ralph?”
“What does that mean?” Ralph began to chew on a particularly difficult nail.
“You seem…tense. You’re sweating, and the heating is bust. Perhaps you’re coming down with something?”
“I’m perfectly fine. It was just that pathetic man’s attitude, that’s all.”
“His attitude? But Ralph, he’s the customer. His account is up to date. I’ve checked.”
“You’ve checked? How the hell did you know who—“
“Maine told me.”
Ralph’s mouth fell open and for a moment he wasn’t sure how to respond. He sat back, hands dropping onto his lap. His oh-so-caring colleague, leaning across to tell him to ‘calm down’. Damn him. “Ah. Now I see it.”
“See it? See what?”
“It’s him, Maine. He’s always had it in for me and now he’s trying to put me in the shit.”
The room was beginning to spin. Ralph didn’t like that. Nausea rose from deep inside. He looked around, tried to focus on a single point, but he couldn’t; Mitchell’s voice dragged him back. “Ralph! Listen to yourself. Nobody is trying to put you in anything. I heard the way you spoke, Ralph, and it was inappropriate. In fact, everyone heard it, you were so bloody loud.”
“No I wasn’t.”
“Yes you were, Ralph. You were shouting – shouting at a customer.” Mitchell shook his head. “How long have you been here, Ralph, working in this office?”
Ralph blinked. The question wrong-footed him. “How long…?” He thought for a moment, did the calculations. “Twelve years.”
“Twelve years. And two years ago you went to part-time.”
“Yes. Yes, I had private pension. I took it early, and…” He shrugged. “What the hell has that got to do with anything?”
“Maybe it’s an indicator, Ralph. That you’re heart and soul are no longer in the job.”
“My soul? Jesus, you make it sound like a religious calling working in this bloody place.”
“We expect a level of commitment, Ralph – dedication.”
“I do my job, and I get the claims done. To everyone’s satisfaction.”
“Not today, Ralph. Today you abused a customer.”
“Don’t be so bloody stupid.”
“And now you’re abusing me.” Mitchell held his gaze. “Take tomorrow off, Ralph. I’ll handle Mr Morris’ claim from this point.”
‘But that wouldn’t—“
“I’ve made my decision, Ralph.” Mitchell looked down and wrote something in his desk diary. “Take tomorrow off Ralph. Paid leave. Relax. You can leave your desk now, if you would. I’ll see you next week.”
“I don’t want to take tomorrow off – it’s not my day.”
Mitchell peered under his brows. “Ralph. Take the day. Leave your desk. Now.”
Ralph wanted to say something, but the dark look in Mitchell’s eyes stopped him. His throat became dry and he wiped the flat of his hand across his brow. As he pulled it away, he peered at it and saw the film of sweat. At that moment, the hate brewed up and he noted his hand shook. He battled against his feelings, knowing this was not the time or the place. He went out without another word.
He felt the eyes of everyone in the office. He didn’t say anything, just strode out and ran down the stairs. No one said anything. When he got outside, he cut across the car park to his vehicle. He got in, sat behind the wheel and stared into the distance. “I’m not a fucking murderer,” he muttered to himself. All he’d done was stand up for himself, done his job, forced the client to understand that an insurance claim wasn’t a simple matter of ticking the box and receiving the cheque. Procedure had to be followed; no one could buck the system. But Mitchell had made him question all of his years of diligence and attention to detail. All of them had done that, even Susan. They’d made him feel small, the whole bloody lot of them. Especially that Maine, who had burrowed his head so far up Mitchell’s arse that it was unlikely if he could even see daylight. “Bastard,” he spat and drove home.
That night he sat on a hillock and looked out across the moor. The fog was beginning to fall fast, and it was cold and damp and Ralph hunched up his shoulders and watched his breath steaming from his own mouth. He had been given one extra day, but it felt more like a lifetime, a punishment after having been found guilty. Yes, he could spend an extra day on his beloved moor, but that wasn’t the point. He simply didn’t see the point anymore.
He’d eaten his tea in silence. Across from him, his wife did the same. There was hardly any contact now. The years had slipped by and he had hardly noticed them passing. Every night for a hundred years he’d come home, washed his hands, eaten his meal, watched the television, and gone to bed. What had he done in all that time other than grow, and get older? The answer was simple and cruel. Nothing. No point.
The knots in his stomach were growing tighter and tighter. Anxiety levels heightened. Everything was too much bother now. Even going home and sitting down at the dining table with his wife. He’d shuffle and fidget on his chair and glance constantly at the clock. She would ignore him, of course. That was her strategy, but it only served to cause him greater stress. She didn’t care, never had. He could see that now. Nobody cared, so why should he.
At that moment, his mind began to focus. For too long he had scurried around and hated every moment. Now, that was going to change, and he was going to be that catalyst. No outside influence, only himself. The raw beauty of the moor was his only solace, and now it was to be his salvation. A whole world of experience and adventure lay before him. Purpose. Direction. All of the things that had been missing from his life for so very long, now they all crystallised in that single, perfect fraction of time. He knew now how he could pull himself clear of the mundane, and the boring. His pathetic existence was about to change. The decision made, everything now seemed achievable, wholesome. Clear.