The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox Read Online (FREE)
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About the Book
‘I usually experienced the presence of a dead body as an absence, but in this case, it felt like a black hole opening up in front of me.’
Disconnected from his history and careless of his future, Detective Aidan Waits has resigned himself to the night shift: an endless cycle of meaningless emergency calls and lonely dead ends.
Until he and his partner, Detective Inspector Peter ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe, are summoned to the Palace, a vast disused hotel in the centre of a restless, simmering city. There they find the body of a man. He is dead. And he is smiling.
The tags have been removed from the man’s clothes. His teeth have been filed down and replaced. Even his fingertips are not his own. Only a patch sewn into the inside of his trousers gives any indication as to who he was, and to the desperate last act of his life …
But even as Waits pieces together this stranger’s identity, someone is sifting through the shards of his own.
When mysterious fires, anonymous phone calls and outright threats start to escalate, he realizes that a ghost from his own past haunts his every move.
And to discover who the smiling man really is, he must first confront himself.
‘It’s as if I know something and don’t know it at the same time.’ – Thomas Ligotti, ‘The Frolic’
It started with a knock at the door.
When he thinks of that now he grimaces. Closes his eyes and runs a hand across his face. It’s a bad memory in a head full of them, and the smallest thing can spark it. The electricity in the air before a storm, or the lancing smell of ozone after heavy rain. Sitting across the table from a new girl or a new colleague, and caught off guard like this, he might allow himself to drift off into it, knowing that neither one of them will last anyway. His vision blurs and a haze of sunspots passes in front of his eyes, like he’s staring into a bright light.
‘I think there’s someone outside,’ he’d heard the old woman say.
It was after ten on a Sunday night and they’d probably been on their way to bed.
Their house was a stubborn mid-sized Tudor-build, designed to withstand everything, apparently, but the rain. Through the pane of smoked glass set into the door, the boy could make out two or three buckets in the hallway, collecting dripping water, and perhaps that’s why they hadn’t heard him at first. He knocked again, stepped back and looked at the house. It seemed too big for one old couple, but it had something he didn’t associate with the narrow, thin-walled rooms he’d lived in, some personality.
It had to, out here in the middle of nowhere.
The old woman got to the door first. When she opened it she called out for her husband. He looked even older than she did, and it seemed like a struggle for him to get around. When his head appeared over his wife’s shoulder, when he saw the small, shivering boy on their doorstep, he adjusted his glasses in surprise. The boy was rake-thin, glass-eyed, pale. Wearing just a T-shirt and trousers, both soaked through by the rain. The old couple looked about him, but it seemed like the boy was on his own.