The Night Stalker (DCI Erika Foster #2) - Robert Bryndza Page 0,2

strap and wiped the sweat off her face.

Light from the orange streetlight rippled across the glass front door as Estelle fished out her key. When she opened the door, she was hit by a wall of stifling heat and she stepped reluctantly inside, onto letters strewn over the mat. She flicked the light switch by the door, but the hallway remained in darkness.

‘Bloody hell, not again,’ she muttered, pulling the door closed behind her. As she felt around to pick up the post, she realised this was the third time the power had tripped whilst Gregory had been away. The lights in the fish tank had done it once before, and another time Penny had left the bathroom light on and the bulb had blown.

Estelle fished her mobile phone from her handbag and, with an awkward fumble of gnarled fingers, unlocked the screen. It cast a dim halo of light a few feet in front, illuminating the pale carpet and narrow walls, and she jumped as she saw her ghostly reflection in the large mirror on the left-hand side. The half-light gave the lilies on her sleeveless blouse an inky, poisonous quality. She focused the light of her phone down onto the carpet and shuffled towards the living room door, feeling around on the inside wall for the switch, to check it wasn’t just the hall bulb that had gone. She flicked the switch on and off, but nothing happened.

Then the screen of her phone timed out and she was plunged into total darkness. Just the sound of her laboured breathing filled the silence. She panicked, fumbling to unlock the phone. At first her arthritic fingers wouldn’t move fast enough, but finally she managed it and the light came back on, casting the front room in a circle of dim blue.

It was stifling inside: the heat pressed down on her, closing off her ears. It was as if she were underwater. Dust particles twirled in the air; a cloud of tiny flies floated silently above a large arty china plate filled with brown wooden balls on the coffee table.

‘It’s just a power cut!’ she snapped, her voice resonating sharply off the iron fireplace. She was annoyed that she’d panicked. It was just the circuit breaker, nothing more. To prove there was nothing to be scared of, she would first have a drink of cold water, and then she would get the electricity back on. She turned, shuffling purposefully off towards the kitchen, her arm outstretched with the phone.

The glass kitchen seemed cavernous in the phone’s half-light, extending out into the garden. Estelle felt vulnerable and exposed. There was a distant whoosh and a click-clack as a train passed on the track beyond the bottom of the garden. Estelle went to a cupboard and pulled down a glass tumbler. Sweat stung, as it dripped into her eyes; she wiped her face with her bare arm. She moved to the sink and filled her glass, wincing as she drank the lukewarm water.

The light went out on the phone again, and a crash from upstairs broke the silence. Estelle dropped the tumbler. It shattered, glass spraying out on the wood floor. Her heart pulsed and pounded, and as she listened in the darkness there was another scuffling sound from above. She grabbed a rolling pin from a pot of utensils on the counter and went to the bottom of the stairs.

‘Who’s there? I’ve got pepper spray and I’m dialling 999!’ she shouted up into the darkness.

There was silence. The heat was oppressive. Thoughts of snooping around her son’s house were gone. All Estelle