Tag Archives: crime fiction

A post about The Body in the Canal and how I got there.

Read about the books that influence my writing. https://shepherd.com/best-books/when-you-want-to-dabble-in-crime-with-no-risk


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“That’s just weird.” The two women were in the bathroom. Lucy held the shower curtain in both hands. She had spread it across the bath. It wasn’t exactly shredded but it was sliced over and over. At one end the plastic ring had broken leaving the edge flapping loose from the rail.

“I just don’t see how this could have happened. If it had been a cat, as you said, then surely it would just have pulled it down. It’s not a bird. I can’t imagine a bird anywhere near strong enough to do this. Not unless it was a bloody great eagle and I don’t think there are many of them in Garston.”

“No, you’re right. This just looks deliberate, as if someone’s been at it with a knife. You know how they show it over and over after the famous bit in the horror film? The one where that actress – oh what’s her name? Janet Leigh – that’s her. You know the Hitchock thing”

“I’ve never seen it, but I know what you mean. It does look a bit like that. The police are supposed to come later on. Do you think I should mention that to them?”

“You could I suppose. Or, they might see it themselves. Why are they coming?”

“Fingerprints and what have you.”

“Shit, they’ll find mine?”

“I suppose they will but then yours would have been here anyway. You’re always in and out.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Anyway even if they did it wouldn’t matter unless you’ve been a bad girl and they have you on file. Actually, it would probably be best if you give them yours. Just so they can exclude you from their enquiries.”

“Get you and the police speak.”

“I haven’t watched all those crime show for nothing.”

“Shame it doesn’t help us to find Ginny though.”

“We’ll maybe have to be more insistent that they look for her. She’s been missing a while now and nobody’s heard from her and she wasn’t in the best of health.”

“I feel like an idiot now. I said that I didn’t think she’d harm herself but – we are both coming round to thinking that might not be true.”

“I know I just said that but then I think how brave she’s been. Never wanting to cause a fuss and never complaining. Would she really just give up?”

“You know as well as I do that a great many people who do kill themselves don’t give any real clue. So it’s possible isn’t it”

They trailed back to the kitchen and made more tea, more toast and watched the day fill out. Suzanne looked across the table at her friend and smiled. “At least I’ve got you back, that’s good. I was really scared for a while there that I was going to be the last man standing.” Suddenly her eyes filled with tears that wouldn’t be held back and as she sniffed and wiped at her wet cheeks Lucy leaned and held her hand.

“It’ll be okay. It’s all going to be fine.”

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The silence was complete. Time had frozen inside the car while outside the world rolled onwards. The flicker of the beacon on the police car bathed the surrounding trees with its cobalt orbit, night sounds of creatures unrelated to  happenings on the road rustled and screeched.

The officer bent a little from the waist to peer into the rear window of the car, he watched the driver, immobile, facing forward. There was no indication the man was aware of the presence of the police. A moment of nervousness swept through the constable, unlooked for and unlikely but his gut clenched and his heart jumped. There was something wrong. More than the usual on a dark night with a drunk or angry driver, this was something else. He was committed now though, there was no retreat. He risked a glance back towards the vehicle where his mate peered narrow eyed through the windscreen. Many years of experience had taught him to take care, that to expect the unexpected was usually the wisest course and he slowed, and bent again. He shone a torch beam  through the rear window, the driver still didn’t turn.

For his part Peter was lost, he had by now completely forfeited reality, the knife in his hand was the only tangible thing. The rest of it, the wind rolling through the treetops, the flicker of sapphire light and the occasional whoosh of a passing car touched him not at all. His decision had been made and now there was no more need to think.  That he would act was predetermined, when he would act was dependent on the progress of the man walking alongside the car.

The crackle of the personal radio broke the bubble of silence around the car but didn’t penetrate the interior, “Bob, I don’t like this, there’s something odd here, call for backup.” The officer had paused again; still unsure of the situation and unwilling to go further, but in truth, unable to decide why. He raised his voice, “Police sir, will you open the car and step out, keep your hands where I can see them.” There was no reaction to his shout. He bent again. The driver remained motionless facing forward, the engine still burbled gently into the quiet.

“Sir, can you hear me? Open the door slowly and step out, keep your hands visible.” Still no movement. The policeman gulped, the dryness of his mouth surprised him as did the sheen of moisture on the palms of his hands. Again he glanced back at his own car and his mate. Should he go back? Make a retreat? Of course he wouldn’t, that wasn’t even an option, but he was unnerved by his own reaction to the situation. He straightened his spine, steeling himself, this must end now, he must take charge, sort it. “Sir, come out now, I won’t ask you again.  You’re not helping yourself, just making things worse.”

Peter couldn’t hear the words. He knew that the man was nearly at the driver’s door. In his peripheral vision he could make out the gleam of the torch and the hint of movement closing in, ever nearer bringing the conclusion to him. Not long now, the seconds ticked by each one immeasurable, floating, drifting unreality. For a brief moment he thought of his mother, of the nights of fear in his little room, of the day that Gran had rescued him and of the time that he had lied and sent Mum away to her death.

He catalogued the girls that he had helped, six of them, all resting peacefully due to his work. Each one had been snatched from a life of misery and degradation and had become an angel just because of him. He smiled quietly and moved his hand to ensure he had the correct grip on the knife. He didn’t think that they would understand about the girls, he didn’t believe that he would be able to explain how he had done it all in kindness. Yes he had been paid, but the money had been for Gran to keep her warm, to take care of her the way that she had taken care of him.  He had only ever spent enough on himself to stay alive, and to do his work. Would they understand, he couldn’t risk that they would not.

The officer stood alongside the driver’s door now, he wouldn’t touch the car. He shone the beam of yellow light in through the shatterproof glass. “Sir, come on out, open the door slowly and step out.”

Peter turned his head; squinting in the glare of torchlight. He was blinded, his night vision destroyed, it didn’t matter. Turning his head again to the front he raised his hand and with a great sweep he sliced the knife left to right across his neck. A fierce spurt of blood drenched the windscreen and the car roof, the steering wheel dripped with it, crimson tears falling onto his lap. For a moment he felt nothing but he knew it wasn’t over, not yet. He had paused, knew that it would be too hard to cut all the way across in one sweep. His studies had taught him much and he twisted his hand flicking the angle of the knife so that he could pull it downwards now and take out the artery on the other side of his neck. It must be quick, before he lost his strength and so he made it quick. Now the world had flared into action, he could hear the policeman hammering on the car door, could hear him yelling and briefly he was afraid. But then she was there, holding out her hand the way that she had all those years ago. “Come on Peter, come with Gran, I’m going to look after you.” He knew then that it was all going to be all right, he knew that Gran would understand, he took her hand

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Chapter 12

It came from nowhere, the end,  dark, sudden and immediate.  One moment he was racing from the scream of the police siren, the phone in his hand a beacon of horror, the woman in the ether holding open the line, the bearer of the worst news it was possible for him to imagine.  In an instant it changed, reality shifted and he was immersed in the blackness of grief.

It was over, it was all over.  He knew, of course he knew, that Gran was gone.  Matron hadn’t said it yet but he didn’t need to hear it. He didn’t want to hear it.

The police were going to catch him, the car was nothing special and he was an average driver nothing more than that.  Panic had brought him this far, but now he was back from there, back in the muck with the mortals.  They were gaining on him and soon they would have him. He could hare away again and try to reach the motorway.  Then what, a breakneck race to end in a horrific crash, blood and pain and fear and still he would be caught.

He could pull over now, he could tell them that he was racing to the side of his dying grandmother, and they may be sympathetic.  He could even imagine a scenario where they would give him a blaring, flashing escort to the nursing home.  In truth though he knew they would be polite, they would be apologetic and they would have him out of the car and they would ask to look at it, to search it for drugs and drink and bald tyres and dodgy brakes.  What they would find though that was the point wasn’t it.  The boot still held the bloodied plastic sheet, the bottle that had held the bleach and water, the cling wrap and the other evidence of his work this night. Once the police had him it was over, he knew that for sure, there wasn’t an iota of doubt.

He had the knife in the car, he could possibly take them both, he was strong and he had nothing to lose but the fire had gone out.  Without Gran what was he.  She had been his mainstay and his reason to be, she had cared for him, taught him how to live.  Before the curse of dementia she had been the central pillar of his life and now she was gone and he was lost.  There was no-one now who knew him when he was small, nobody who could remember his favourite stories, the name of his teddy and the things that made him cry out in the night.  She was gone and she had taken the essence of him with her.  Now he was no more than an empty bag of body parts cloaked in an unattractive covering. 

An immense calm enfolded him, his mind closed down to everything other than the fact that he no longer had his Gran.  “Peter, Peter, are you there?  Can you hear me, Peter?”  He switched off the ‘phone. The matron had no words that were worth his listening, empty platitudes and pointless pity.  The world had nothing that he needed from it anymore, it was finished.  

He slowed the car and pulled over, as he did the police vehicle pulled in behind him.  He could see the man in the passenger seat lean to open the door, he was reaching his hat from the dashboard, equipping himself with the evidence of his officialdom.  The driver had lifted the microphone, was no doubt calling in the license number, asking for details of insurance and ownership.  It would do them no good; the paper trail was long and winding.  The car was registered to a company, he was supposedly an employee, it had insurance nothing suspicious but nothing to tell them anything about who he was.

The door opened and the officer stepped out.  Peter reached to the glove compartment and snapped open the cover.  The knife was clean, it shone a little in the dim light, the handle was towards him.  He stretched forward and grasped it.  He could feel nothing. This body that he inhabited was like a Halloween pumpkin, empty and excavated, scooped clean.  No feelings, no history, no future.  The policeman was approaching carefully from behind, had drawn his night stick and shone a torch before him, a wavering cone of enquiry.  Peter grinned to himself. In spite of everything he felt a cob of amusement at this man’s fear, his super caution.  He did well to be cautious. If he only knew, if he had the remotest idea what his quarry had done he would be running for back up, bringing in the SWAT teams, helicopters, searchlights.  He knew none of it, he saw a small, thin man, a speeding driver, possibly drunk, maybe drugged. Oh fool, if he had any idea what he was taking on, the pure power, the driven purpose, the conviction that had carried him this far he wouldn’t dare, he just wouldn’t dare

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Chapter 10

He leaned to turn the key in the ignition, as he did so the phone in his pocket vibrated, a crawling creature in there, rustling against his leg.  In his state of heightened awareness the sudden flutter caused his heart to leap and sweat to pop onto the skin of his forehead.  He gasped softly, taken aback for a moment.  Realisation of the humdrum gentled him.  He stretched his leg as straight as it would go in the confined space and wriggled bony fingers down into the tight denim. 

The phone continued to tremble against his thigh.  Only the nursing home had this number, it was the only phone that he kept.  The ones that he used for his work were cheap “pay as you go” pieces, used once and then discarded.  This one though was always topped up and the battery charged.  It was the emergency number and so he knew, even before he had prised it from his pocket, that it would not be bright news.

“Hello Peter?”


“It’s Matron, from Oaklands.” He felt the chill already. His breathing was shallow and his mouth was dry, his tongue suddenly too large. The sound from his throat was harsh, rasping.

“Matron, what’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry to call you so late Peter but I’m afraid your Gran is very poorly.  She was fine until bedtime but when the nurse checked her later she was having trouble breathing.  We were going to send her to the hospital.”

“Which hospital? I’ll go there now, where is she going?  I’ll meet her there.”  The tears streamed across his cheeks; the lump in his throat choked him.

“No, she’s here Peter.  We called doctor and he doesn’t think that she should go to the hospital.  He doesn’t believe it would be for the best.  Do you understand?    Peter, you should come as soon as you can I think.”

“Uh.”  He couldn’t form words, the world collapsed around him. He was in a place he had never been before.  Life was out of control.  He couldn’t speak, couldn’t summon a voice that was lodged somewhere in his throat.

“Peter, are you all right, can you come?  Do you have someone who can fetch you? Maybe it would be best if you didn’t come alone.  Can you hear me, Peter?  Are you all right dear?”

He drew in a great gasping breath.  He must function, must move now.  “Yes, yes I’m all right, I’ll come now.  I can come, tell her I’m coming.  Matron, don’t let anything happen to her, please.”

“Oh, my dear.  I am so sorry you must prepare yourself; I think that she is really very poorly.  If you must drive yourself Peter take care.  When you arrive you will have to ring the night bell the security man will let you in. You can’t come round the usual way do you see?”

“Yes, yes the night bell.  I understand, tell her I’m coming.”

“Of course I will.  We’ll see you soon.” 

The mobile landed with a quiet plop on the seat beside him.  A moment of silence enveloped him, his hands shook and he stared at them in disbelief.  Two strange creatures quivering on the steering wheel, he was gasping now, almost sobbing.  Battling through the confusion and despair here came the truth.   Gran, she needed him, he must go to her, now.

He reversed at speed down the narrow alley pebbles flew from under the wheels striking the old stone walls and ricocheting to ping on the body work of the car.  With a screaming turn he regained the highway and shot towards the town centre.   Hurtling onwards towards the motorway he flew passed the football ground, with its narrow entrance where the local constabulary chose to spend the dark hours.  They parked in the gloom in the hope of just this event, some idiot drunk driver or some race nut using the cover of darkness to indulge a passion for speed.  As he flashed by they glanced once at each other, a small smile flicked between them.  They had one, a chase on their hands, just the kind of thing that they needed on these long boring shifts.  They drew out into the road contacted control for permission and oversight, and set off in pursuit. 

They held back with the lights and siren. They would save that for when they were out of the town limits.  They saw no need to disturb the honourable citizens because of this lunatic. When they hit the dual carriageway then they’d give him full bore, blues and twos as it was popularly known.  Isolated in the grey metal cocoon Peter could barely see, his vision was smeared with tears, whitened knuckles gleamed like locked around the steering wheel, his foot was to the floor.  Oblivious of the excessive speed and the erratic nature of his progress there was but one thought.  He had to get there, had to see her, needed to be there with his gran.  If he was there he could make sure that nothing happened to her, nothing must happen to her.  Nothing else penetrated, there was Gran and only Gran and he must get to her now.

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Chapter 9

Undoubtedly no-one realised just how many resting places are available, certainly Peter hadn’t.  Of course, he hadn’t given it much thought until he had embarked on his work, why would he?  There were many broken altar tombs, they were all old and the majority neglected and crumbling. There were vast mausoleums, built to resemble temples and fortresses which were now nothing more than decaying edifices.  He had used those on two occasions already, the rusting hinges and rotten wood of the doors were no problem. 

He remembered the cold, cold as a grave, a quiet snort of laughter escaped as he sat in the dark car, recovering from the emotion of the job in the way that he had found worked best.  Cataloguing them in his memory, listing the souls that he had saved and remembering each one. 

He may be able to use one of those locations again really soon now.  After all they had been amongst his favourites.  The eeriness suited the moment, was perfectly matched to the reasons for him being there.  The first girl to have such a resting place had been small and slight, another piece of smuggled cargo the like of which had become so common in the last years.  She had been very young and had come to him willingly, trustingly.  He had tried not to frighten her, had kept the knife hidden as he had embraced her.  He was sure even now that she had never seen it.  The cutting had been swift and clean, as a result of his effort, his care. 

The training had taken hours and hours of his time, he had bought suckling pigs from the markets and direct from farms, unprepared and fresh.  He had spent much of Gran’s savings on the meat that he had needed to perfect the art.  It was complicated, it needed a surprising amount of strength but it must be smooth also and quick, it had to be quick.  He had felt no guilt depleting Gran’s account; he knew that it had been saved for him anyway.  First for his mother and then when she had gone it was for him. He was taking it early but Gran would understand, she would understand that he had no choice.  She had taught him always, if you are going to do something, you should do it in the very best way that you can and that is what he was determined to do.  He had replaced it anyway, by now many times over.  Carefully drip feeding the account from the envelopes in his bedroom. 

He knew now that he was an expert in his chosen trade, probably as skilled as a surgeon, definitely accomplished as a butcher.  He had studied anatomy, and physiology he was knowledgeable about blood spatter, pouring over the books deep into his lonely nights.  But it was more than that, more important than the technicalities was that he loved them, his blessed prey and the love made the difference. 

See how he loved them, before he had taken the girl to the mausoleum that first time, he had prepared it with care.  Night after night he had crept in, had swept the gritty floor and carefully, respectfully moved the old bones, the disintegrating coffins, had placed them with their grave partners on the stone ledges and then he had laid flowers, wild flowers from the hedgerows and roses from Gran’s tiny garden, a whole carpet of flowers waiting to receive the precious consignment.  No-one would have imagined the amount of planning he had needed to do, the timing had needed to be perfect and it had been so. 

Candles had lighted the damp space and the musk of the wilting blooms had swept around them as he had gently lowered her body to the floral bed.  The beauty of it all had moved him to tears and it had been so very wonderful that he had wanted to do it again the next time.  It was spoilt though; there had been no second time.  The decaying body although still wrapped carefully had tainted the air.  His disappointment had been intense but since then he had done research, had gone back and dealth with the problem.  Soon now he would be able to revisit that site, the quick lime would have done its job.  Yes maybe the next one could be there. 

Before he could accept another assignment though he needed to work.  This car must be sold.  That was already organised.  There was no great mystery to it, he would wash and valet it and he already had an appointment with a second hand dealer.  He would part exchange it for another one, slightly newer of course, otherwise it would seem suspicious, but the same make and model.  The boot was important, it must be big enough to take his packages and be designed with a small lip so that he could lift them in quickly and easily.  Hiding in plain sight, simply part exchange, the paper work couldn’t be traced back to him of course but otherwise there was no need to complicate the issue. 

A great gust of a sigh acknowledged that he must move, it was a long drive home, he had to be there ready to visit Gran later today and before that he would take his reward.  In the quiet of his room, in the security of his own space he would re-live this night, this performance and he would allow himself to revel in the glory of what he had done.

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Chapter 8

He sat for a long time in the darkness of the little pathway.  It was still and quiet. Now and again a car on the main road would assault the silence or a night bird would cry into the gloom.  He thought of the girl resting now.  There was no doubt that what he had done was right, she would no longer have to sell herself.  There was no more need for the sordid things that she had done, the dirty scrabbling in alleyways with perverts and scumbags. 

Why the client had wanted her cleaned up didn’t really matter.  He didn’t think about that side of the thing very often.  The clients contacted him through his small network and told him the location, provided a photograph, it was all he needed to know.  That they were all prostitutes was important, vital, they were the ones who needed his help.  There were drug addicts, thieves, drunks and adulterers but they weren’t his concern, it was the ones like his mother that he had to help.  He wasn’t a common murderer after all, he was a redeemer, atoning for his crime and saving the women. 

When Gran had taken him away he had been very young, but later, when he was a teenager, when he was old enough to understand, she had come to him. 

Tears fell on his hands where they lay on his lap.  He could still hear her pleading with him to help.

“You talk to her Peter, she listens to you.  She’ll help me if you ask her to; just tell her I’ve got nowhere to go. I’ve got no money Peter.” He was selfish though, he wanted Gran to himself, he understood that now, he knew his feelings had been wrong, he’d let the memory of neglect from his childhood harden his heart. 

“No, I can’t ask her, she said I shouldn’t talk to you.” It was a lie, a dreadful lie, Gran had been searching trying to find her, and of course she would have helped.  Her heart was as big as the planet she would have taken her daughter back and made a space in their lives for her.  It had been him, all him.  He didn’t want her there, his life was clean and safe, his home was warm and precious. He didn’t want her sullying it. 

He’d watched her walk away, shoulders slumped.  If he closed his eyes now in the darkness of the car he could conjure up the picture of her, skinny legs in tight pants, her hair, dyed too often, hanging like knotted strands over her bony back.  She had trailed away up the street; he’d known she was crying.  He could have stopped her then, brought her in, saved her life but he didn’t he just watched her go and held the knowledge of her situation locked away.  Three weeks later she was dead, drugged, debauched, and ruined lying in the squat. 

When the police had come they asked for someone to identify the body.  Gran hadn’t wanted him to go but he had insisted, cried and pleaded, and in the end he had gone.  He expected to feel some sort of justification for what he’d done.  He thought that the sight of her would expunge the residual guilt. 

They had her in the hospital, not at the morgue; she was lying in a chapel.  There were flowers, and soft music.  It was inter-denominational and he remembered wondering if the deities minded sharing space.  It had been a strange thought conjured from fear while they waited in the anti room.  His mother though, he wasn’t prepared for his mother.  They had dressed her in a white gown with long sleeves, they had combed her hair and someone had tied it back with a white ribbon.  A sheet covered most of her wasted body but her hands were on top, crossed at her waist.  She had been a Catholic and someone had wound a rosary between the clasped fingers. She looked Angelic, absolutely at peace and more beautiful than she had ever been in life.  Her long lashes brushed pale cheeks and her lips, though cold and stiff as he kissed them, were almost smiling. 

The knowledge of what it all meant was some time becoming clear but when it did he had felt so much more whole than ever in his life.  He understood without any doubt that, though he had let his mother down, turned her away in sadness, he could help other girls in the same situation, he could find them the same peace. 

The first time had gone badly he hadn’t planned it right.  He had found a girl at random and she hadn’t realised that he was helping her, had fought with him and made it violent.  It had been very difficult.  He had planned the mechanics of it, the knife, such a cleansing weapon.  The location, far away from the lights of the town centre, in the back of the park, and he had planned the disposal.  That part of his scheme had worked out well. He was confident that the parts of her would never be found, the car was destroyed so very completely, the great jaws of the crusher turning it into a small square of scrap metal with her deep inside wrapped in plastic in the boot.  He had been dissatisfied though it wasn’t how he wanted them to end up, they needed a burial, a place to sleep, and that was when he had thought about the graveyards.

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Chapter 7

It was so logical, so very obvious that he wondered how it could be that other people hadn’t seen the sense.  Then again maybe they had, perhaps it is that graveyards all over the country are home to the disappeared, the lost and the disposed of.  The place that he was heading was old, very old indeed.  The stones are ancient, many of them so worn by time and weather that the names are unreadable.  He liked them, these old fields of the dead.  They spoke to his soul, the end of life when it was all cleaned up, when all the badness was finished and everyone was equal and at peace. 

When his mum had died in that horrible way everyone assumed that she would be cremated, they shook their heads at him when he insisted that they open up the old family grave and lower her down on top of her own father and her grandparents.  It wasn’t anything special, that cemetery. It was in a built up part of the city.  There were a few trees and well mown lawns but no real atmosphere.  It felt like a parking lot.  He preferred the old ones, yew trees and dark corners, the graves of young wives and plague victims, the fallen soldiers, the sailors. He had photographs, lots of them.  Photographs of the old stones and the towering crosses, the weeping angels and the draped flags. 

Of course, he would have been interested anyway but now, with this work that he did, it had proved to be so very useful.  Many of the old tombs, the ones of the wealthy, the altar tombs were damaged now. They were mostly made from sandstone and the years had punished them.  But it was ideal, if there was a body to be disposed of then a graveyard was the most obvious place to hide it.  It was more than that though.  He cared about these women, life had led them astray, he had saved them from their wickedness and so now he liked to leave them sleeping peacefully.  After all, the old families were long gone, finished, and it was philanthropic to share their resting places with these fallen angels. 

It took several hours driving but the night was kind to him. Rain was coming and he hoped that it had already arrived at the killing zone, was already expunging any residual evidence near the warehouse.  For the moment though the dry roads and more importantly the dry churchyard suited him better.

He turned into the little village. As he had known it would be it was sleeping now on this ordinary night.  The lights were out in most of the little houses and the only movement was the odd feral cat or bits of leaf litter blowing along the gutters. He drove quietly around, passing the church twice; there was no sign of anyone.  No homeless old men slumped against walls, cradling bottles of cider to ease their dreams, no gangs of youths with splifs or even stronger stuff despoiled the street corners.  This wasn’t that sort of place; this was a quiet, refined place.  She was lucky to be coming here, would never have been able to stay here in life.  He smiled at his kindness; at least in death, she had some dignity, some “class”.

The car slid into a little back lane between two stone walls.  He pulled on his hat and a new pair of gloves.  The overalls were in the back but he didn’t need them now. It was a wild and overgrown place and anyway they would never search here, he shook his head, no, not here.  It was the last place anyone would think of, not least because it was miles and miles from where she was last seen. 

He hefted the stiff plastic roll, lifting it fairly easily and he rested it on his shoulder, part embrace part baggage removal.  He walked as quickly as possible the few steps to the side gate.  Now he had to toss her to the ground, he couldn’t negotiate the small space encumbered as he was.  She landed with a dull thud but the wrapping held, there was no leakage now, no errant limbs, he was satisfied with the packing job.  The grave was far into the cemetery, down in the oldest part, beside the church walls, hidden by the overgrown trees and the cenotaph and the great mausoleums. 

The sides of his chosen site were crumbling but he had wedged old stones in some weeks ago, he didn’t want anyone getting an idea that this should be repaired and he knew, according to sod’s law that’s just the sort of thing that happens.  No, it was as he had left it on his last visit.  He opened up the space and placed the broken pieces neatly beside the grave.  He lined up the mummy, feet facing towards the furthest end.  He opened his backpack, inside there was a tiny bunch of flowers, cheap things, from the supermarket, white daisy things in cellophane wrap.  He placed them on her breast, kissing them first, now there were tears flowing freely down his face.  He was so happy for her, so pleased that he had been able to rescue her from the life that fate had chosen.  It was a shame that the wrapping distorted their features but it couldn’t be helped.  The cling film helped to minimise the smell and so the pretty face had to remain compressed and synthetic looking, twisted to one side and discoloured by the thickness of the plastic.  He sighed but some things just had to be accepted.

Now he performed the final act, sliding the stiff parcel easily on the grass he inserted her into the space and pushed her in as far as he could reach.  He had to jiggle her gently from side to side to slide her inwards but it wasn’t difficult.  He had taken the precaution of shovelling some loose gravel in earlier in the month.  No-one had bothered him, if he had been seen, and he doubted he had, then it would be assumed that he was a workman, maintaining the old place.  Now the loose stones eased her passage, rattling softly as she moved along.  He was lying full length on the damp grass, head to head with her and he whispered goodbye.  He would have liked to use her own language but he didn’t actually know where she was from. It was done, he drew himself to his knees and then stood, pausing for a moment, head bowed for a final salute before he rebuilt the tumbled sides of the tomb.  Making his way back to the car he shook the soil and bits of stone from his gloves, dusted the front of his trousers and congratulated himself on a good night’s work

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Chapter 6

The front door of the pub was brightly lit. Punters swaggered in and out, she smiled at them.  Their reaction to her depended on the makeup of the group; gangs of youths would generally come back with course comments, lewd jokes and laughter.  Couples would scurry past, wanting her to become invisible. They were unwilling to let her into their pleasant evening, a scab on their romance.  Some single blokes were kind and would spare her a quick smile and a shake of the head.  Then there were the others, those who would stop, glance around and if they were unobserved would question her, “How much dahlin’?  What are ya offerin’?” 

“Twenty five here.  I can go with you though.”

“Don’t you have a place?”  She would shake her head when they asked her that.  She didn’t even have a place to lay her head that was hers and hers alone, how could she have a place to take them? They didn’t understand. They didn’t care. This was a momentary temptation for some of them, but the thought of dirty sex in an alley beside the pub didn’t hole enough appeal and so they’d sneer at her and return to their quest for alcohol and football. 

As he watched her he felt sad. He thought about the life that she’d been forced to lead, the masters that she answered to and the sordid and demeaning way that she was made to behave.   It was time for him to move now and as he began the job he was warmed by the thought of taking her away from this.  He would end this need to sell her body, finish this, sleazy, unseemly existence.  She wouldn’t end up like his mum, drunk and drugged, spending her last moments choking on vomit in a grimy squat.  No, he would save this girl.  It was what made it all worthwhile, the hours of planning, the effort and the pollution of his soul that these jobs required.

The money was useful, the money made his gran comfortable, but even if there was no payment he knew that this would have been his life’s work.  He was their saviour, the avenging seraph for these shades in their doorways.

She came to him easily as he had known she would. He had called to her quietly, “In the alley sweetheart, over here.” She twisted her head towards the sound, her eyes were wary but lit with a glimmer of hope.  He’d lit a cigarette and as he sucked on it the red glow at the end drew her in, a moth to his flame.  She came to him softly, hutching the little bag higher on a bony shoulder her stacked heels stuttering a little on the dark paving,.  “’Ello, where are you.  I can’t see you.” 

“Here in the alley, over here, come on.  I don’t want my mates to see me.”  She laughed a little.

“Oh so, shy boy you, yes?”

“That’s it, will you come to my car?  I don’t want to do it in an alley.  I’ll pay you extra.”  She shrugged. It wasn’t an unusual request, it was warmer in a car anyway, more comfortable and if he had a car then he would probably have some money. 

“Yes, is okay.  Where is car, it is in car park, here by the pub?”

“No, it’s over here, a bit away.  Come on I’ll walk you there.”  By now she had come alongside him but in the dark could see only the light of his face and the glow of the cigarette as he handed it to her, letting her take a drag.   His arm snaked around the narrow waist and he pulled her close, she struggled a little, trying to draw away, trying to keep control until she could see him properly.

“Aw come on love, it’s not far.”  He used the pressure from his encircling arm to drive her forward, she was willing but some sixth sense tensed her body. He knew the action now had to be quick, to keep her moving on.  “Come on dahlin’ get a move on, You’ve got me hot.  How much do you charge?”

“In your car I charge more, in your car is thirty pounds.”

“Okay, great.”  By now they were moving forward at a fair pace.  He kept slightly behind, pushing her ahead.  She tried to turn and look at him but he moved her faster.  Now they were nearing the car, parked in the dark street, “There, that car there. Okay?”

She nodded and scuttled on, could feel him tense beside her. He’d be quick, was already excited. She grinned to herself, maybe her luck was in, it could be over quickly and then he might walk her back to the pub.  It was dark here and she didn’t fancy being on her own.  “You walk me back after, yes?”

“Yes, I’ll look after you afterwards, don’t you worry.”

With the reassurance, she relaxed a little, took longer strides and covered the distance to the car in less than a minute.  She turned to him, leaning back against the metal, starting to slide the denim skirt up over skinny thighs. 

At first the reality didn’t register. That there was something wrong connected with some deeper part of her brain but for a moment it was simply an instinctive, animal fear.  Then she saw the glint of the blade. The sight of it followed so very quickly with the flood of warm fluid on her belly informed her and with the knowledge came brief, profound pain. 

He had been quick though, merciful.  He was surprisingly strong, the stringy muscles flexed and tensed as he dragged the knife across her stomach.  There was a gush of blood and he sprung back away from the surge.  Reaching, stretching his arms he lowered her gently, steadying her dying body as it slid down the smooth metal of the car side.  She sprawled in the gutter and he bent and cut again twice, slicing through the aorta, speeding the thing along.  “Hush now, hush, soon be over, don’t be afraid nearly done.”

Her fear filled eyes bulged with tears for a moment but it didn’t last long, the light in them faded quickly and she was gone.  It had been clean and easy and now the real work began.  He stored away the smell of blood and the sight of her panicked face.  He would recall them later, when the rest of the business was finished.  He knew that he could close his eyes and bring it all back and then, safe in his room he would take the pleasure from it.

For now though he worked smoothly, professionally. First of all he had to take a picture. He was always glad when this part was over. The instant of bright light from the phone was one of the most dangerous moments but he had to have proof. His clients needed proof and he would send the image off via many servers to an adress he had been given. That done the boot lid popped open and he reached inside.  First he took out a great roll of catering weight cling film.  He knelt behind her, the roll in his right hand.  He kept away from most of the blood, propped her against his knees and then, starting at her head, he began to roll it round and round the body.  As the flesh was firmed by the enrobing of plastic film it became easier to handle, she was thin and small and by the time he reached her legs she had become a firm cylinder, he could move her without too much trouble.  The arms had crossed over the torso a little as he wrapped and rolled the plastic. Her face was twisted and distorted by the pressure, the nose pressed sideways towards flattened cheeks.  It took three rolls to encompass the whole body.  He had wrapped her bag into the parcel and he included the shoes, forcing them back onto her feet from where they had fallen.  Everything was inside the package now and he hoisted it into the boot. The polythene was already spread and he swaddled her, folding and tucking.  Because of the amount of blood on her top half he had wrapped many layers around her upper body and the film was almost opaque with just a glint of pink in the creases.  Round her lower parts the wrapping was thinner and the legs had only enough to keep them together, part of the whole, and to make it easier later.  He took a moment, breathed deeply, it had gone well. 

He reached over the top of her and grabbed the fifty litre container of liquid. As he splashed it out into the gutter the smell of bleach wafted to him.  He used the flow of the water to usher the pink fluid towards the drain.  He had parked near to the grid and the sound of the tinkling water evidenced this part of the cleaning exercise.  Once the gutter was sluiced he released the hand brake and pushed the car forward.  The big torch made a bright cone of light and he didn’t want to use it for long but had to check round quickly.  It was unlikely that anyone would search here but there was no point taking chances.  He was sure he’d been quick. There hadn’t been a chance to drop anything and he was still covered completely with his overalls, bloodied now but serving to contain any fibres or hairs loosened by the activity.  As sure as he could be that there was nothing left he lay down a small square of plastic carpet protector, he stood on it before he ripped off the coveralls and overshoes.  He wrapped the whole together with plastic film before tucking them inside the polythene with the girl.  He climbed into the car and started the engine; slowly he drew away, first gear.  At hearse speed he bore her away, his cling wrapped victim, stowed in the boot.  He had checked the weather forecast before finally deciding on tonight. There would be rain before morning. By the time they began to search, if they ever did, then nature would have finished the job completely. There would be no evidence of her, no reminder of her brief terror.  Now though he had the rest to do and he needed to move, there were many miles to cover and he had to be finished while it was still dark

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Chapter 5

The overshoes slipped into his pocket.  He had quite a walk ahead.  Public transport was out of the question and his car was already there, he had dropped it off earlier in the week.  It was a nondescript vehicle, grey, not old and not new, it wouldn’t have registered with anyone.  If it had, if someone had noticed it standing there since yesterday evening, then it didn’t matter, it couldn’t be traced to him. 

He had watched the area for three weeks, in all that time he had never seen the police, no traffic wardens. The refuse collectors didn’t even go back there, great rubbish skips gathered in a locked enclosure negated any need.  It was a small back road near some old storage warehouses.  The car was parked at the kerb outside one of the smaller ones.  He had seen that people came and went but nobody stayed long.  Being simply a storage facility people popping in and out were involved with their own business, wrapped up in themselves.  A workshop would have been no good, smokers would hang around the outsides and notice the car parked there for such a long time, but this place was perfect.  They were all quick visitors with other things on their minds.  Probably some of them were up to their own dodgy tricks and sneaky doings.  It was the little things that made the difference, the details.  The car boot was already lined with plastic and there were bottles of fluids and the paraphernalia for what he needed to do afterwards. 

The night was calm. A pretty moon beamed in its silver circle, it was cool and friendly and he enjoyed the fast walk.  He made his way to the main road but didn’t stay on it for long.  The bright shop windows and the floods of light from the fast food places made it too easy to be seen.  He ducked down a side road and then, after a few yards, turned left and stepped briskly along, parallel to the main drag. 

The part of town he was heading for would be washed with sodium glare but that was unavoidable.  He could handle it though, had factored it into the plan.  As he sped past the little terraced houses he didn’t wonder about the lives hidden behind dim windows. He knew them.  This was the sort of place he came from, the habitat of people like Gran and him after she rescued him.  Little rooms, little gardens, little lives, small and ordinary but mostly safe and that was so special, the safety. 

Ahead of him, a door swung inwards, spilling the hum of a television programme into the road.  He slowed his movement, not stopping, simply adjusting the speed, giving himself time to take stock and decide on any action.  An old bloke in baggy trousers, a sleeveless vest and carpet slippers shuffled out.  A fag-end glowed as he sucked on the cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, the scent of tobacco wafted back to where Peter now leaned against the low wall.  Bending as if to tie a shoe lace, he was practically invisible in the gloom but every sense was humming. He mustn’t be seen, he was too near to his destination now.  The old bloke shuffled down the tiny path and heaved at the lid of a wheelie bin parked against the inside of the garden wall.  He puffed and swore as he struggled with the heavy plastic cover. It flipped back with a thud and he tossed a white rubbish bag inside.  “Buggering thing, bloody great soddin’ thing.”  He dragged the lid back in place and, leaving the curses still hovering in the darkness, he staggered back to his warm, empty evening staring at the flashing screen.  The door slammed and Peter straightened, glanced left and right, and then resumed his trek.  He needed to move faster now, only a minute or two had been lost but he had to be in place in time

That she was punctual to her spot outside the pub wasn’t a surprise.  She was bussed in with the other girls, he didn’t know where from.  He didn’t need to know where she spent her days, it wasn’t relevant.  Extraneous information was a complication he avoided.  How these lives spun out didn’t matter to him, it wasn’t the living of the life that was important, it was the leaving of it and the cleaning up afterwards.  That’s all he needed to think about.  At first, he had wondered a bit, wondered if the bosses ever dropped the girls off with a tiny spark of regret, but then why would they?  He never told them when he would be working.  Once the money was paid in full he did the job.  He was reliable and had never let anyone down and so they did as he asked, stuck to the usual routines and asked no questions, made no fuss when the cargo home in the morning was one light. 

As for the authorities, well, they barely acknowledge these girls existed. They were invisible, a nuisance on the streets, cleaned up sometimes like the wheelie bins, but generally ignored.  That they had family somewhere was immaterial.  Their families had let them down anyway, didn’t deserve them, how could they let this happen, how could they put their children in harm’s way?  They would thank him if they knew how he had rescued their daughters, how he had got them out of this mire. Cleaning up, that was all this was, sorting out other people’s mess, making things right. He was almost there, the spot he had chosen was near enough to observe and listen to the subject but he knew that in his dark clothes he would be unseen.  He slipped the overshoes on, slid the knife from the customised pocked inside his overalls and went to work.

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