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The Darker Half

by Chestersmummy 

Posted: 15 January 2018
Word Count: 3113
Summary: Two more chapters of my novel The Darker Half - a story of warring twins that finally leads to tragedy. The first chapter is a dream sequence that mimics a real episode in her life and the second is where the detective's interest in her story crystallises.

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She was sitting perched on the edge of a worn armchair, munching a custard cream.   A tune was running through her head and she was humming in time with it accompanied by the rasp of a saw as her father worked on a piece of oak.   Slowly, she realised that, although she was certain it was her father’s workshop, there were subtle differences which she didn’t understand.   It was the wrong shape for one thing and smart when it should have been shabby.    She looked at her father and he, too, wasn’t right.   He had always been a big man, heavy featured with muscular forearms and bristles of stubbly black hair bursting out of his ears, nose and even sprinkled thickly on the joints of his fingers.   His chest and back were hairy too and in the summer, when he took his shirt off in the garden, she thought he looked like a big black bear.   But this man was thin almost like a skeleton and a big curved nose protruded from his face making his head look too small. He didn’t look a bit like her daddy although somehow she knew he was just as she knew she was nine years old and still at primary school.  She didn’t even need to look down at her woollen school skirt to confirm it.   Plus, she knew she was in the right place at the right time.  She always made straight for her daddy’s workshop when she came home from school, preferring to be with him rather than her mother and brother.   She’d long ago decided that sitting at table with Alex was like picnicking on top of a red ants’ nest.  She particularly hated it when her mother, usually toasting her legs by the fire, deep into a True Romance, got her to ‘do the honours’.
‘Pour your brother some milk Anna and butter him some bread.   You know how he likes it.’
At first, she’d carefully pour the milk and wait for the creamy foam to settle before topping up the mugs so they were exactly equal.   She knew Alex’s beady eyes scrutinised the levels closely and if there was the slightest difference, he’d whine and grizzle until her mother was forced to prise herself from the chair, lumber over to the table and like as not, clip Anna’s ear.  She’d learned her lesson and from then on, she automatically put an extra slurp into his mug so he couldn’t complain.  Foiled, Alex had obviously thought about it.    The next time he quickly gulped a few mouthfuls and then complained.
‘Mum, Anna’s got more than me.’
‘No, I haven’t Alex.  You’ve drunk some of yours.’
‘I haven’t.’
‘You have Alex.  It’s all around your mouth.’
This was a mistake on Anna’s part.  Hastily, Alex had wiped away his white moustache and, his eyes wide with innocence, appealed to his mother again.
   Then, there was the time that he had deliberately jogged her arm as she passed him his mug.
‘Mum….Anna’s spilt my milk and it’s all over the tablecloth…’
After that, Anna gave up.   As soon as she came in from school she said she wasn’t hungry and made straight for her father’s workshop, grabbing a biscuit or two from the kitchen as she passed through.
It was soothing being with her father and she liked the steady buzz of the saw, the sweetish smell of linseed and the ringlets of planed wood littering the floor.   Here, she could be herself.  Never a great talker, her dad didn’t quiz her about her day or scold because she’d got mud on her socks 
            Still, things weren’t right and that tune was still running around her head.   She screwed up her eyes and tried to think of its title….something about a dog.   Her friend Jane had been singing it all day at school but they rarely had the wireless on at home so she didn’t really know the words.
            ‘Anna….’  At the sound of her father’s voice, she looked up.
            ‘I could do with another cup of tea love…’  He pushed his empty mug towards her.
            She nodded obediently and reached out for it.   As she did, he grasped her arm.
            ‘What’s this then?’   He scowled at the bracelet of red marks circling her wrist.
            ‘Nothing.’   She tried to pull away but he wouldn’t let her.
            ‘Bet that nothing hurt though didn’t it?   Was it Alec?’
She shook her head, not wanting to lie out loud but he wasn’t fooled.   His face grew stony and anger danced in his eyes.   ‘Right’, he muttered, straightened and headed for the door.    As he did, her vague sense of disquiet deepened into a mounting terror.   ‘No’ she screamed inside her head.   ‘You mustn’t.   It’ll make things worse, much worse.’   She tried to run after him, to pull him back but her legs seemed glued to the floor and she couldn’t move.   But she knew without a shadow of a doubt that he mustn’t go outside, he mustn’t cross the yard and go into the house and above all, he mustn’t go into the bathroom.   And, it wasn’t about a dog, that song.   It was about a cat.   At the thought,  her head seemed to explode and she was catapulted back from the past into her own bed where she sits bolt upright and gasping, sweat trickling down her body.
            It takes a while for her breathing to steady.   When it has, she notices a thin, grey light is slipping through the cracks in the curtains and she hears the faint twittering of birds.   It’s morning, so she must have slept a bit.
            She lies back down again unable to get the dream, or nightmare or whatever it was, out of her head.   She wonders why her subconscious dredged that terrible time up again after all these years.   Obviously, the memory had never really left her and had just been lying dormant.   Some things are just so awful you never really forget them but why now?   It had been a long time ago and a lot of other bad things had happened since then.
            Too early even for the birds, he wakes tangled in a twist of sweaty sheets.  His head feels like a pumpkin and there is a dull pain throbbing in both temples.   Despite this, he feels elated.  At some point during the hours of darkness, the ancient computer
buried deep in his skull has churned out a name and he gives a satisfied chuckle, happy for once  that he’s alone and there is no-one to hear.   ‘Still got it, you old bugger’. He rasps, ‘ brain cells not turned to porridge just yet.’   Ignoring his aching head, he sits up and swings his legs round until he is facing the window, which is still only a slightly paler rectangle in the shadowy room.   Anna Tyler.   That was her.   Alec Tyler’s sister.   His third eye could see her clearly now.   Younger than the woman he’d seen yesterday but there was no mistaking her.   Same cloud of dark hair and wide-set eyes.   Not pretty, exactly, but striking.  Not a face that would be easy to forget under any circumstances even if she hadn’t been on the witness stand.  He wonders what brought her to the bridge last night.  Obviously the years hadn’t been kind to her.   He screws up his eyes, trying to remember details of the case.   Not his patch of course and Glasgow’s a long way away but the trial had been riveting - made headlines in the Nationals week after week.  Those cases always do, of course and this one had been something special.  He wonders what’s brought her to this neck of the woods and why she’d been standing on the bridge?   As if they’d been oiled, the cogs in his brain start to turn and more facts drift back to him.     His previous lethargy dissipates and he starts to tingle as if waking from a coma.   This is what he misses, he thinks bitterly, something to get his teeth into.  As it to justify his selfishness, he remembers how the lass had looked last night.   Desperate, was the word he finally comes up with.
            He stands up and starts to pace around his bedroom dimly aware of Jackson raising his head from his basket and staring at him with puzzled eyes.   Another memory flashes into his mind.   Mack, he remembers.  Andrew Mack -  he was involved.   Yes – he was the one who cracked it.  Only a Detective Constable at the time but it made him.   Got promoted soon after and then came down South.  God knows why.   They’d hit it off from the start – both Detective Sergeants before Mack outstripped him.  They were still friends, if only from a distance.   In fact Mack was one of the few who, true to his word had kept in touch.   Maybe Mack could fill him in.   Course, he’d have to be subtle.   No longer in the Force, he was an outsider now and needed to watch his P’s & Q’s.   The all too familiar sense of desolation creeps back and resolutely he shoulders it away.  Anyway, it was time he saw Mack again, a bit of harmless reminiscing was just what he needed.  
            He looks at his watch.   A bit early yet.   He’d have some breakfast and phone afterwards.  
            He arrives ten minutes early, deliberately so.   He needs to prepare himself.  Get his story off pat and it’s always easier to do that in situ.   To be honest, he’d been a bit surprised at Mack’s reaction when he’d finally reached him.   They hadn’t spoken for at least a year but Mack had seemed delighted.
            ‘How are you, you old bugger?  And what do I owe the honour of this call?’
            ‘I’m fine.  Just realised it’s a long time since I’d seen you.’
            ‘Certainly is.   Got to put that right son.  What about lunch today?  I’m free at one.   The Skewie all right for you?’
            ‘Bloody hell, is that place still standing?’
            Mack’s rich laugh exploded in his ear.
            ‘Don’t worry.  That place will see you and me out.  It doesn’t change and Jez is still in charge.  What’s more, lunch is on me unless you decide to go all poncy and order a salad and sparkling water.’
            It had been as easy as that and as he drives up to ‘The Skewbald Horse’ not far from his ex-station house, he sees that Mack was right.   Still as ugly as a brick shit house, it hadn’t changed.  Still, the beer was good and the landlord didn’t mind cops stinking out his saloon, which was more than you could say for a lot of them.  He walks up to the bar, gets two pints in and chooses a table almost directly in front of the door but slightly offset so he’s not directly in view when Mack enters.  He sits, sipping his beer, his pulse quickening every time the door swings open, but when Mack finally appears, it settles down.
            ‘Mack.’  He gets up and holds out his hand.  ‘Long time, no see.’ 
            ‘Too long.’  Mack’s grip is firm if slightly sweaty.
            ‘I got you a Guinness.  Hope you still drink it.’
            ‘Just the job mate.  Cheers.’
            The chair gives an audible groan as he sits down and after taking a long swallow, Mack looks at him.
            ‘So, what’s up then?’
            ‘Come off it Jack.   You didn’t call me purely for the pleasure of listening to my voice or to gaze at my bootiful face, although I couldn’t blame you if you did.   So, let’s cut to the chase, eh?’
            ‘Not till we’ve gone through the formalities, Mack.  You know me, always a stickler for doing things by the book.  Now, how’ve you been and how’s Jenny?’
            ‘Me?’  Mack makes a seesaw gesture with his hand.  ‘Up and down, you know.  Up and down.  Had a bit of a problem with me guts recently but it’s getting sorted.  And, Jenny’s blooming.’
            Jack looks at him closely and sees the pasty skin and eyes almost disappearing into flabby pouches.   Mack needs to take more care of himself, he thinks, otherwise he won’t make retirement.  He has a vision of Mack in the old days, brushing sausage roll crumbs off some witness statement and swigging Cola.   After years of that treatment it wasn’t surprising his body was rebelling.
            ‘So, your gorgeous wife is still putting up with you, is she?  That surprises me but then I never understood what she saw in an ugly sod like you.’
            Mack laughed and patted his paunch.  ‘Says I keep her warm on cold winter nights.’
            He finishes his pint and gets up.
            ‘Right, steak, chips and all the trimmings okay with you?’   Without waiting for a reply, he turns his back and lumbers towards the bar.
            Jack watches him, his mind busy getting his thoughts in order.  A brilliant cop, his brain as sharp as a tack and always quick to make connections, Mack has seen through his ploy and suddenly, he feels nervous.  He’s no longer part of the force and well remembers feeling impatient when ex-cops tried to pump him, back in the day when he was top dog.   Maybe, Mack feels the same and will clam up.
            While eating they chat about this and that, the state of the steak, the state of the world and the state of their erstwhile colleagues and it’s not until Mack sighs and puts down his knife and fork, that his former question is repeated.
            ‘So come on then.  Anything I can help with?’
            ‘Probably not and you’ll probably think I’m daft but I saw something the other night and it’s been niggling at me.’
            Mack’s eyebrows lifted.
            ‘Yeah.  Do you remember the Tyler case?’
            Mack stared at him.  ‘Go on.’  He said eventually.
            ‘I was walking the dog by the river the other evening when I saw a woman standing alone on the bridge.  It was dark and bitterly cold – no place for anyone to be hanging about.   Then, I saw she had no shoes on.   Well, that was it.  I called out to her and when she turned round, I knew damn well I’d seen her somewhere before.   I also knew that if I hadn’t turned up when I did, there’d be another corpse in the morgue.   Anyway, immediately after I arrived she pushed off.   And that was it really, except I  couldn’t get her face out of my mind and eventually, I remembered.   It was Anna Tyler.  The sister.   Gave me a hell of a shock.  I didn’t realise she lived around here.  Did you?’
            Mack nodded. 
            ‘Did as a matter of fact.  But saw no reason to broadcast it – reckoned the poor lass deserved some peace.  That was a case and a half that one.  I never would have imagined that puny sod could have done what he did.  Wouldn’t have guessed he’d have the strength.   Always thought he had help.  In fact, I suspected the sister for a while until I realised they hated each other’s guts.   Plus, she had a cast-iron alibi.   So, you’re sure it was her?’
            Jack notices that Mack’s eyes have lost their look of lazy tolerance and thinks that maybe his intuition is not so far off the mark after all.   ‘Certain and I just wondered if anything was going on.  Pure nosiness really.’
            There is a long silence as Mack studies the table, tracing the outline of a puddle of beer with his forefinger.   The waitress comes to clear away their plates and it isn’t until she has left, that he looks up.
            ‘You know, I shouldn’t really be talking to you don’t you?   But, you were and probably still is, a damn good cop and no blabbermouth.  Besides, it was bloody unfair what happened to you and there but for the Grace of God and all that….. So, we’ll forget the past and you’re just another colleague, right?’
            Jack swallows.  That was a long speech coming from Mack.  To his horror, he feels his eyes prickle.  Quickly, he blinks and nods.
            ‘Besides,’ Mack continues.  ‘It’s probably all pie in the sky and my Aunt Fanny’s arse but….You weren’t directly involved in the case, so I don’t know how much you know, but there was a child involved.  Apparently, the murdering bastard had a daughter.  Pretty little thing.  About 10 years old at the time.  After the dust settled, Anna took the kid back to live with her and as far as we knew, that was that.  Until now it seems.’
            He falls quiet and Jack waits patiently.
            ‘A few weeks ago, the local truant officer got in touch with us.   A girl had gone missing and he couldn’t get to the bottom of it.   Standard stuff really but what caught my eye was the name, Tyler.  Not an uncommon name but for me, it rang strong alarm bells.   I dug a bit and sure enough, the girl turns out to be Anna Tyler’s niece, Joanne.  She’d been attending a local school, St Anne’s’.  Bit of a handful, according to the Head.  Bunks off, cheeky, disruptive…that sort of thing.  Anyway, this Joanne doesn’t turn up at school for a few days, so the Head ‘phones Aunt Anna and gets the brush off.  Nothing to worry about, gone away for a few days, back soon …blah, blah blah.   Except that something didn’t sit well with the Head, tone of voice and so on.  Anyway, after about a couple of weeks and still no show she gets in touch with the local Truant Officer.   He goes round to the house and gets the same treatment.   But, he said, the woman gave him the willies.  Looked like she was haunted, thin as a rail, sheet white, shaking hands ….that sort of thing.   He comes down hard, says she’ll be taken to Court but gets no reaction.   The Aunt says she doesn’t know where the girl is but is certain she is all right.  He tries to tell her that’s not good enough but she doesn’t seem to care.
            So, he comes to see us.  Not a lot we can do about it really.   The girl’s not been reported as missing and as far as we know, no crime’s been committed.   But – all the same – it is odd.   Her being a Tyler and all.  Bit of a coincidence and I never did believe in them.  Plus, what you’ve just told me just adds to the mystery.’   He shrugs and looks at his watch.   ‘Anyway, that’s the story so far.  Guess, we’ll just have to watch this space.’

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Comments by other Members

Deewrites at 12:25 on 16 January 2018  Report this post
I read this on the train home and think it worked well in that very situation where many people read.  I liked the time shifts including the difficult bit about age-identity when the woman was remembering.  The way you created the characters through their rapport and manners was effective and the characters held my attention.  Sorry if this is not connstructive! 

I felt something wrong with; "the ancient computer buried deep in his skull had churned out..."  There was a clash between my idea of the kind of machines that churn and computers as well as someothing deep in his mind or his memory being referred to as deep in the skull.  This wasn't really a major problem, I'm just impersonating a critic!

On the whole, it seemed to work well!  Dee

Chestersmummy at 11:01 on 17 January 2018  Report this post
Thanks Dee.   Will look again at that sentence and see if the ancient computer buried deep in MY skull can think of a better analogy.  As for your impersonation, perhaps you have missed your vocation!
Best wishes



michwo at 22:40 on 20 January 2018  Report this post
Brilliant writing, Janet, really gripping, and you leave this reader suitably eager to know what's happened to Joanne and is her father still alive?!  If your novel was being serialised you couldn't have chosen a better place to break off and keep your readers dying to know what the next instalment will contain, or will you defer gratification till Chapter Eight?
Just 3 pedantic observations on my part to muddy the waters slightly:
1.  In the penultimate sentence of paragraph 1 of Chapter Six As if to justify his selfishness...  rather than 'As it...'
2.  When Mack answers the phone to Jack he should (strictly and grammatically speaking) say: How are you, you old bugger?  And what do I owe the honour of this call to?/ And to what do I owe the honour of this call?
3.  When they later meet up at the Skewie, Mack comes out with the sentence:  But you were, and probably still is, a damn good cop and no blabbermouth...  For is read are.

Carlyagain at 19:21 on 22 January 2018  Report this post
I enjoyed reading this, in particular Chapter Six. I haven't read the preceding chapters and I don't know the characters but I was able to engage with this chapter. What is important is that this was a good chapter with a lot of information and intrigue. 

I'm going to pick on a few areas that caught my attention. These are my views alone so take what you want. While there may seem to be quite a few picky comments, I'm simply proving a few pointers that I have noticed. This is my first critique in a while. 

You use a lot of words to distance the reader where you could be more direct or active.

A tune was running through her head

While there is nothing wrong with using 'was' it can seem too passive, as in this instance. 'A tune ran through her head' is better than 'was running'. Or - to cut to the chase - 'She hummed a tune in time with the saw...'

She looked at her father and he, too, wasn’t right.

Her father wasn't right either. You don't need to tell us that she looked at him, as we'll guess he's in the room, especially as we know that someone is sawing.

But she knew without a shadow of a doubt that he mustn’t go outside, he mustn’t cross the yard and go into the house and above all, he mustn’t go into the bathroom.   

She's terrified here, in a dream from which she cannot escape and thinking quite clearly. You could take us more into her thoughts. 'But she knew, without a shadow of a doubt' is holding the reader back. Take it out and show her fear by taking us right in to her thoughts without telling us that she is thinking them. 'What if he went outside? Oh no! He mustn't...'.

She wonders why her subconscious dredged that terrible time up again after all these years.

'Why has she dredged up that terrible time... ?' Bring us into her thoughts rather than tell us that she is thinking.

His head feels like a pumpkin

I'm not sure what you mean by this. Big and orange? Hard and bumpy? This didn't work for me.

At some point during the hours of darkness, the ancient computer buried deep in his skull 

This could be simplified. 'The ancient computer that was his brain...'

slightly paler rectangle in the shadowy room

Paler feels the wrong word if you are suggesting that the window was a lighter colour in the darkness. Pale suggests light in colour.

As it to justify his selfishness, he remembers how the lass had looked last night.

What selfishness? I wasn't sure if I'd missed something, which I may well have done.

The chair gives an audible groan

The chair groaned. We don't need to be told it could be heard, as groaned suggests sound.

his mind busy getting his thoughts in order.

He got his thoughts in order. No need to tell us his mind did this.

you were and probably still is, a damn good cop  - you were and probably still are, a damn good cop  (I haven't gone through all typos but this stuck out).

The above are just pointers for your writing but the following is an issue. A young girl who has disappeared and about whom the truant officer has voiced concern would not need to be reported missing. The fact that her guardian didn't know her whereabouts would be a bloody red flag to the police. You need to rethink how you'd get round the police's inaction.

So, he comes to see us.  Not a lot we can do about it really.   The girl’s not been reported as missing and as far as we know, no crime’s been committed. – this doesn’t ring true

As I said, I enjoyed Chapter Six. The banter was great and, while you could tighten some of the dialogue, it was readable and I didn't want to speed read but absorb the action. Well done on writing such an interesting chapter, which moves the story on well. It has left the reader with the perfect cliffhanger too.


Carlyagain at 22:20 on 22 January 2018  Report this post
Doh! Can't edit so will correct my comment here:
slightly paler rectangle in the shadowy room
Paler feels the wrong word if you are suggesting that the window was a lighter grey in the darkness. Pale suggests light in colour. I meant that pale suggests white or little colour, whereas I would think that a window showing the light through the darkness would a bea lighter tint of great.

Apols for the poor explanation.

Chestersmummy at 18:11 on 23 January 2018  Report this post
Dear Michw

Michwo - Thanks so much for reading and I am glad you enjoyed it.   You always do my ego a power of good. Thanks also for pointing out my sloppy typos which I have now corrected.

Best wishes,



Chestersmummy at 18:29 on 23 January 2018  Report this post
Dear Carlyagain,

I found your comments very helpful.   I will now go through my piece and see if I can improve it in line with your suggestions - which I totally agree with.

As to the sentence beginning with 'as if to justify his selfishness....'   I meant to convey that Jack's interest is enriching his life and he feels guilty that this is at the expense of someone else's pain.

With regard to your comments about the missing girl, I must admit I don't know a great deal about police procedure and because of this failure I may have problems later on.   Will see what I can do about this and thanks for pointing it out.

Again, many thanks for taking the time to give such a constructive critique.

Best wishes,



Carlyagain at 09:03 on 03 February 2018  Report this post
Hi Janet

I've been looking for a link to help you with police procedure and I will post it, when my writer friend responds. I do appreciate that you need to write the book first and then worry about tying up loose ends later, so don't worry too much at this stage. You can always tweak the text or rework a few chapters.

It will be interesting to see where this story goes.


Carlyagain at 09:27 on 03 February 2018  Report this post
This isn't the one I am looking for, but it may be of use for now. If I find the other one, I'll post it:


Chestersmummy at 16:25 on 03 February 2018  Report this post
 Hi Carly,

Many thanks for taking the time and trouble to look this out for me.   I will check it out,

Best wishes


Carlyagain at 17:04 on 03 February 2018  Report this post
I've been thinking about how you would get around the girl no longer being at home or school and the police not investigating, as they would do if the school raises the alarm. Ignore me if I am overthinking this, but it is interesting (only as a writer) to think how you would get away with a missing child.

There are options that you could work into the plot - the girl going to live with her dad who lives abroad - and the Tyler woman shows them some sort of 'proof' but the policeman feels there is more to the story still, as why didn't the woman report it and all the other points you made. Or something similar to this. 

I asked the friends about police procedural books and they've given me some good ones you can get from the library if your story is going to be making further use of your police contacts to further this story. Just for your info they are: The Crime Writer's Guide to Police and Procedure and (if there is a murder, etc) and The Real CSI: A Forensic Handbook for Crime Writers. These are overkill (no pun intended) if the police rarely feature in your story though.

Good luck with the writing. :)

Chestersmummy at 12:18 on 04 February 2018  Report this post
Hi Carly

Thanks for this.  I hate to give too much away but there is a reason why Anna does not cooperate with the authorities (she thinks the girl is safe although she genuinely does not know where she is).   To be honest, I have yet to work out the ins and outs of the rest of the plot but I am hoping that inspiration will not let me down!

Best wishes,


michwo at 13:30 on 04 February 2018  Report this post
Thanks for commenting on "The Lilies", Janet.  In the context I actually prefer less remorse... than fear of punishment to more remorse... than fear of punishment  as what this particular lady feels is more a fear of being found out, and that would never do, even though she eventually is, of course.  Look out for "The Sneeze" which is another tale by Milosz in a collection of Lithuanian tales in French translations, which, once I've got round to translating it from his French version, will be the next thing I post on Critique Central.  It's got the devil in it, who's actually quite a suave and debonair character come to think of it.

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