“No way. No. No, it’s too dangerous. No, you can’t. Seriously, you’ll hurt yourself. It’s not worth it. There could be a total psycho! Oh for goodness’ sake, all right. But if you get hacked to bits, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
My 12-year-old daughter has been telling me off for the past ten minutes. She’s adamant that entering the abandoned building on the waterfront is going to lead to my death, or at the very least, curtail her hopes of purchasing something unhealthy to eat on the drive home.
I’m sulking. She’s being very strict. It’s not like her. Normally she’d be the first to yank at the metal sheeting and crawl over the broken glass and rubble with me into the darkness beyond. But tonight she thinks there is a very good chance that there is some psychopath waiting for us on the other side. Last time we came here it was daylight and the squat grey building on the dockside looked merely uninviting. But, as the rain blows in off the water and the thumbnail of moon is devoured by surging grey-black clouds, I can see why, on balance, she would rather we’d spent our weekly bonding evening at the cinema.
I write crime books that are dark and sometimes a bit grisly. (The same could be said about Elora.) I’ve been a published novelist since Elora was six, so she doesn’t really remember a time when Daddy had a real job. She’s grown up listening to me give talks at literature festivals and libraries, and documenting her best moments of weirdness with endless tweets and status updates. She’s spent her formative years discussing the merits of bludgeoning versus throttling and has her own views on whether or not it’s cool to have your dad come to your school and give an expletive-laden and unremittingly bleak motivational speech to the older pupils.
The thing is, Elora has a mind like mine. She has a dark, surreal, and occasionally twisted way of looking at things. She gives insightful answers that will blow your mind. At five, when I asked her which came first, the chicken or the egg, she pondered for a while and then said it was “the.” As such, it’s never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about Elora being involved in what the family laughingly refers to as my “work.” She’s a bit of a daredevil when she forgets to be scared and is a real asset when it comes to spotting the peculiar. She’s far more of an asset than any adult I’ve allowed to accompany me on my gory safaris.
I write books in which decent detective and family man Aector McAvoy gets sucked into dark, grimy investigations filled with acts of brutality and hate. His is a world where good and evil are abstract concepts. Good people do bad things and vice versa. Actions have consequences. Coincidences serve as catalyst for bloodshed. He is a light in an expanding ocean of utter blackness and only the love of his wife and children keeps him afloat. Elora has heard me say all of this plenty of times and has yet to contend that I’m a dangerous man who should be locked up forthwith, which I think is a good sign.
I’m not one of those parents who wakes up in the morning determined to make my child all that she can be. Sure, I’d rather she picked a healthy breakfast cereal and brushed her teeth and polished her shoes but, in truth, we’re usually sprinting across the playground as the school bell rings — she’ll be devouring a Kit Kat and cleaning her teeth on her collar, and I’ll be chomping on her homework diary to make it look as if the dog ate the bit that told her what work she should have done. I might get some disapproving glances from other mums and dads, but they get some in return from Elora and me as they worry about the things that barely even register as important with us.
Elora has learned a lot as my partner in crime-writing. She has sat quietly in the back seat of my car while I interviewed members of the UK Travelling community about recent bare-knuckle fights. She has cowered beside me, trying not to giggle, as security guards have swept their torches into the shadows of abandoned buildings, seeking out intruders. She has seen people in pubs and restaurants shoot terrified glances at one another as we have sat and worked out where the third body in book four should be displayed and whether or not a rug made of human skin would be difficult to vacuum. (We determined that it would.) Like I say, it’s an odd relationship, but we do laugh a lot and she’s quite an expert at spotting the flaws in my dastardly plans.
As I write these words, Elora is laying on the floor beside me and doing a good impression of a loyal sheepdog. She’s also drawing a character called “Sabre” who will figure in the graphic novel she has planned. She wonders if I would like to come with her to the woods to scout locations for Sabre’s underground lair. It’s very hard to keep the grin from my face.
I imagine I’ll eventually talk her into entering the creepy building on the docks with me. We took a load of photos last time we were inside and when we looked at them back in the safety of the car, we spotted a load of graffiti on the walls that signposted the way to Hell and claimed to be seeking victim number four. We’ve already worked out what it might mean, but she won’t be able to drop it until we climb back into the darkness and open the lid of the large white refrigerator that the camera flash picked up in the corner of one frame…
Don’t worry too much about Elora. She sleeps soundly. It’s me who gets the jitters.
Books in the Detective Sergeant McAvoy Series: