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Missing

It was the same young policeman. He made Suzanne a cup of tea and spooned in a lot of sugar. She didn’t like it particularly but knew he meant well, and it would help her to calm down.

He was as confused as she was but, of course, not frightened and shaking. She told him about the food. She told him about the bread, though she felt silly watching him write in his notebook about the missing end of a baguette. The worst bit was telling him about the bathroom. The water, running cold by the time she had pushed open the door and screamed into the empty room that she had a knife, and the police were on their way. She told him about the shredded shower curtain and the toilet. Left unflushed after someone had used it. The whole thing was degrading and terrifying.

“Have you got someone to come and stay with you?” he asked.

“No, I don’t want anyone, I don’t want to be here myself. I’m scared stiff. I won’t be able to sleep, I won’t ever be able to use that bathroom again.”

He sat beside her on the settee. “It’s horrible for you. I do understand that. But you will get over this. People do. The first thing is, we have to make sure you’re safe. I can get on to my boss and see if they’ll arrange for a car to cruise by regularly during the night. That’s if you decide to stay here.”

“Can you do that?”

“I’ll get onto it straight away. I am going to have to refer this to the detectives. I’ve already done that. I’ve sent in a report, and they’ll be coming to talk to you. I can’t tell you when, but it shouldn’t be long. Tonight probably, if not definitely in the morning.”

“Who would do this, though? Why would anyone do this?” Suzanne said.

“That’s one of the things you need to concentrate on. You need to think – is there anyone you’ve had trouble with? Neighbours you’ve had a barney with, anything like that.”

“No, I get on with my neighbours. I don’t see any of them that much, to be honest. But I’ve never had any trouble.”

“You probably don’t want to think about this but – you know your missing friends?”

“Yes.”

“Would they do anything like this? Try to freak you out?”

“No, no of course not. Why would you even think that?”

“You have said you don’t know where they are and they haven’t been in touch, have they?”

“No, but it’s worse than that. I told you Ginny didn’t turn up for her appointment and Lucy hasn’t contacted me at all. I’m worried sick about them both. Now, this. I just don’t understand what’s going on. Everything’s going mad around me.”

At that point, she began to cry.

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Missing

Chapter 11

Steve had already left. He was on the motorway and the signal cut out several times. He asked if Suzanne had heard from Lucy. When she told him she hadn’t he hung up the phone.

Suzanne looked down at the mess on the plastic bag. She didn’t know what to do next. She could ring Lucy’s daughter and talk to her. That wouldn’t be fair. The girl was probably already a bit worried about her mum plus she had children to take care of and she was a hard-working nurse. The last thing she needed on her night shift was one of her mum’s old biddy mates fussing. After all, this wasn’t even Lucy’s house. Nobody understood how close they all were. It was impossible to explain how three unrelated women could be closer than sisters, but Suzanne had always believed it to be that way. The consequence was that she couldn’t see how both her friends going AWOL at the same time could be simply a coincidence.

She took in a breath and squared her shoulders and dialed.

The policeman, when he arrived was so young she found it hard to believe he could be fully trained. Okay, it was a cliché that they started to look younger as you age but this bloke didn’t look old enough to shave. If it hadn’t been for the little nick on the side of his neck, she would have been convinced that he hadn’t passed that milestone yet.

He reached out with his well-polished shoe toe and moved the pile of rubbish. “I’m sorry madam but I don’t understand what you want me to do about this.”

“I want you to look into it. Well, no, not this exactly.” Suzanne waved at the rubbish. “I want you to find out what has happened to my friend, friends really.”

“And you think this,” another little kick, “this is something to do with your friend not being at her home.”

“Look at it. Honestly, you can see. That’s blood, that’s bloodstained cloths and the water and Ginny’s not here and she wouldn’t have left this, not like this.”

“Where do you think she might be?”

“I’ve told you. I don’t know.”

“Do you want to report her missing? I can put in a report. The thing is though, you say that she took some things with her and, as far as you know, she wasn’t worried or anything. She just isn’t here, and she didn’t tell you she was going away. How old is she, your friend?”

“She’s in her sixties. Like me, sixty-three.”

“Does she have mental problems? Alzheimer’s, depression anything like that?”

“No, she gets a bit low at times, but you would if every day was about controlling the pain in your joints.”

“Yes. I can see that. But the thing is, I don’t think we can classify someone as vulnerable because they have arthritis.”

“I know. I know that but she wouldn’t have gone without telling us.”

“You said ‘us’ You mean your other friend?” Suzanne nodded.”What does she think?”

“She’s worried as well.”

“Why don’t the pair of you come down to the station and we’ll submit a report. I’m not saying we can launch a search or anything like that, but we’ll get your concerns on record. But this,” another kick. “It’s just a bucket of crap, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so. Could you not arrange some tests though. Some blood samples. DNA.”

“Why? I’m sorry but there is no sign of foul play, no reason to suspect anything untoward. We don’t have the funding. We can’t go around doing DNA tests on buckets of rubbish. I’m sorry. I can see you are genuinely concerned but all we can do is note your worries. You and your friend come down to the station and we’ll do the paperwork.”

“We can’t. I can, but what I mean is I can’t bring my friend.”

“Okay. Just come on your own then. But you did say your friend was worried as well.”

“Yes, but she’s disappeared. I don’t know where she is.”

“Oh, I thought you meant another friend, not this, Ginny.”

“I did. My other friend. Lucy. She’s disappeared.”

The look that he gave her spoke volumes and as she watched him slot her into the ‘loony pensioner’ file in his mind Suzanne’s heart sank.

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Missing

Chapter 10

It was obvious there was no one home. Well, at least she didn’t have to be miffed because she thought they were together without her.

Suzanne had slipped Ginny’s spare key into her bag the last time they’d been at the house. She probably shouldn’t have, but now it made life so much easier.

This visit was different and, once inside the chilly hallway she stood for a moment. What was she actually doing here?

Nothing had changed; it was colder, and a layer of dust was quite visible now on the furniture. Suzanne drew her hand along the top of the sideboard. Then she felt bad for making it look worse and tried to smudge it. In the end, she went through to the kitchen to look for a duster. It was silly, she knew that. But, if Ginny was to come back and see, it would be embarrassing.

Naturally, the first place to look was in the cupboard under the sink. What weirdo didn’t keep their cleaning products there? Anyway that’s where it was. But it wasn’t.

The bottom of the pantry was a possibility but a no. The cupboard under the stairs was a mass of wellies, old plastic bags, in bags, and a few empty wine bottles.

The shed. Ridiculous but it was the only place left. Moving the cleaning stuff was odd but then again everything was just odd right now. Anyway, that had to be where it was.

It was. Inside an old mop bucket were spray bottles, cloths, and oven cleaner, shoe polish and all the other stuff one collected. Suzanne dragged it out from under the bench. The smell hit her first. It was metallic, nasty, and unclean. Her first thought was that it was floorcloths that had been put away damp. Screwing up her nose she lifted the top couple of cloths with her fingertips. The smell was worse, it was foul. Her mouth filled with saliva as her stomach heaved. No way was she putting her hands in there. Not without gloves anyway. There must be gloves. All three of them had been nurses, gloves were instinctive. Before any of them did anything they pulled on a pair of Marigolds, or gardening gloves or whatever. They should have been on the top of the bucket. First things first and all that.

Okay, she wasn’t going to use any of this stuff, even so, it couldn’t stay here stinking. She took it out into the garden. She spread a heavy-duty waste bag on the patio and upended the bucket.

There were damp pieces of cleaning cloths. There were gloves, a couple of pairs. There were dusters, spoiled and wet and everything was stained, with black sticky patches and sloshing out on top of everything was a small amount of water. The water was dirty, with streaks in the dirty liquid. Years in the A&E left her in no doubt. She had seen this before, many times. The water was mixed with blood.

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Missing

Chapter 9

Suzanne and Steve, Lucy’s husband, had never really got on well. She had paid lip service and he had been polite, but they didn’t see eye to eye much. Apart from that she knew sometimes he had been a bit too rough with Lucy. Nothing so brutal that she’d done anything about it. Nothing that had taken her to A&E or caused her to cover a black eye with makeup but she’d had bruises on her arms which were too much like the grip of too tight finer tips than to be anything else. There was a red dress, a favourite of Lucy’s that he had thought too revealing and Suzanne had seen it in the kitchen bin ripped apart at the seams. Lucy had a story about putting on weight, which wasn’t true. The glint of tears as she bundled the ruined garment into a bin bag said more than anything else.

Now he was adamant, he wasn’t involving the police. He didn’t see any need to have their dirty washing aired in public and she’d be back when she got over her strop.

It didn’t matter how hard she tried, Suzanne couldn’t move him. “Well, you can please yourself. I’m going to see them. Two of my friends have vanished and I’m worried about both of them,” she’d said.

“You keep my wife’s name out of it. If you want to go off spreading tales and making yourself look hysterical carry-on, but you leave us right out of it. If I have the buzzies knocking on my door, I’ll know who to blame.”

He was throwing bags and shoes into the boot of his car. Suzanne had been horrified when he’d said that he was going back to Newcastle for work.

“But how can you? You don’t know where Lucy is. How can you just go off.”

“She’s got my number and she knows where I stay up there. I have to work and some stroppy woman in a huff isn’t going to stop me. As for your other friend, Jenny,”

“Ginny.”

“Whatever, she’s just a taker. The pair of you ferrying her around and doing her cleaning for her.”

“She’s not well.”

“Aye, well she should pay someone or get a carer. I don’t like my wife being a skivvy. If cleaning and that needs doing she has a home here.”

“God, you’re a dinosaur, Steve. I don’t blame Lucy if she has run off. I’m not convinced that’s all there is to it and I’m not letting this lie. You can please yourself but I’m going to the police.”

She stomped down the path and along the two streets to her own home where she backed the car out into the road. She would go to Ginny’s. Lucy might have been there of course. Ginny might have turned up and given Lucy somewhere to stay. But if that was the case, why hadn’t they let her know? They were mates, through thick and thin and all that. Well, there was one way to find out.

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Missing

Chapter 3

The two women stomped back down the path. Puzzlement battled with annoyance but by the time they’d parked the car and found seats on the train into Central station, the irritation had pretty much turned back to worry. “It’s not like her, is it?” Lucy said. “I can’t remember the last time she went away. To go without saying anything is weird.”

Suzanne left another message for Ginny, pleading for a callback or at the very least a text. She slid the handset back into her bag. “I wonder if she didn’t tell us because she didn’t want us to worry. I’ve been thinking, maybe she’s gone into hospital. She’s not been very well for a while now. I mean more than usual. I wonder if there’s something else wrong and she didn’t want to say.”

“Nah, she’d have told us, surely. I mean she has nobody to visit or anything if she doesn’t have us. Mind you, she is always going on about how she hates being such a burden, no matter how often we tell her not to be so daft.”

“Tell you what. How about if I have a word with Eileen at the surgery?” Suzanne said.

“Well, she won’t be able to tell you anything. What about patient confidentiality.”

“Oh come on, this is Eileen. You know what she’s like. She’ll make a fuss and then tell us by dropping big hints. You know she likes to feel superior. I’ll pop in when we get back.”

“Go on then. I can’t think of anything else to do and to be honest I’m upset, but I’m worried as well.”

*.*.*

They did their best to enjoy the trip. Lunch at the wonderful Italian restaurant in the old Corn Exchange and a mooch around the shops but it wasn’t what it should have been. Now and then one or other of them would come up with another suggestion, another idea about what had happened. It didn’t help and once she dropped Lucy back at her house, Suzanne drove straight around to the GP surgery.

It used to be that the waiting room would be full but now there was only the receptionist behind the counter. Suzanne organised a repeat prescription, made small talk for a while, and then raised the subject of Ginny. As expected Eileen screwed up her mouth and raised her eyebrows. She shook her head and tutted. After making a display of being forced into doing something she didn’t want to she leaned closer to the perspex screen. “She’s been in a lot lately. We know she’s not well but, just between us, she seems to be making excuses to come in. It’s very difficult” here she introduced a sad and weary expression. “I mean, appointments are as valuable as gold right now. Still, we try to understand.”

“What was she coming in with.”

“Oh, I don’t know that. I can’t access her notes to that extent and you know I would never break that confidence. It’s sacred, that is.”

“Oh, well it’s a shame. We’re really worried about her. But if you can’t, you can’t.” Suzanne turned away. She hesitated as long as possible, picking up her bag and fastening her jacket but Eileen wasn’t going to budge. She had found that Ginny had been in more often but that was all. She turned back to the counter. ”Eileen, I respect your stance I do. It’s admirable. But, I don’t suppose you could just tell me when she was last in?”

The receptionist made an exhibition of looking around, though it was obvious there was no one there. “A week ago exactly. Now, I’m sorry I can’t tell you any more.”

“Thanks, for that.”

It hadn’t helped had it? Okay, they knew Ginny was around a week ago – so what.

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Missing

Chapter 2

After two cups of coffee, drunk while gazing out at the storm-ruined garden Suzanne decided eight o clock was probably late enough to ring Lucy. They agreed they felt awful, part hangover and part neglect of their friend.

“We’ll go today before heading into town,” Lucy said. “I’ve tried ringing again this morning but still no answer. I know she’s like this when she’s feeling poorly but it’s been a long time, three days now and not a word. I left her a message anyway and told her we’d pop in later on.”

With tree-lined roads and rows of semi-detached houses, Garston had always been one of the better parts of Liverpool. Not the best, it wasn’t Crosby though they were near the river, and it wasn’t Aigburth, but that wasn’t so far away with the lovely park and the promenade at Otterspool. Anyway, here in the quiet streets most gardens were well kept, most houses were neat and clean and apart from anything else it was where they had all grown up. It hadn’t occurred to them to move very far away. It was handy for the City, and convenient when ageing parents needed regular visits. Now Suzanne still had her mum, but the old woman was in a care home on the Wirral. Lucy’s dad lived with her brother in Cornwall. A long way to be sure but at least he was happy.

Ginny, had been alone for a long time. She’d never married. Her parents were killed in a car accident when she was a teen. She’d stayed in the same house and thrown herself into work. When she retired as a senior sister in the NHS her health began to fail. Arthritis made getting around difficult a lot of the time. Plans for a cruise and a trip to the far east had been shelved and her life had turned in on itself. Suzanne and Lucy made it their business to keep her as well as possible. They tried to ease her out of her depressive moods.

Today, the curtains on the front bay window were only partly open late into the morning. “Tell you what, you stay here while I see what’s what and then we’ll decide on our next move. She might just need a bit of a jolly in town or maybe she’s proper poorly and we’ll take that as it comes.” Lucy said.

The bell sounded deep inside the house. Lucy bent and pulled open the letter box flap. She called through the little gap. There was no response. She rattled the metal cover and knocked on the glass window beside the front door. There was nothing.

Suzanne left the car and walked down the path. “We’ll have to use her spare,” she said. “I’ll go and get it. It’s in the shed., under a bucket.”

The side gate was hard to open. Leaves and twigs in heaps had gathered behind it. The storm had broken a few small branches from the one cherry tree and there was a crack in the plastic window where something had smashed against it.

“Bit of a mess back there. She’ll need gardener Keith to come and sort it for her. I’ll give him a ring later,” Suzanne said. She held up the key. “Just give another knock, you know, in case she’s having trouble getting down the stairs.”

There was still no response. They opened the door pushing aside a small pile of junk mail and a couple of letters. They called out and Suzanne pointed up the stairs. As Lucy placed her foot on the first step she stopped. “Bit scared. Come on up with us. This isn’t right.” They had both dealt with death and the deceased during their careers, but it was different when it was a friend, in her own home, unexpectedly.

They tapped lightly on the bedroom door and pushed it open, Suzanne behind Lucy, her hand gripping onto her friend’s forearm.

It was dim in the room. The curtains were heavy and pulled tightly across the windows. Lucy reached out and switched on the light. The bed was neatly made. The room was tidy and clean.

“Shit. That’s odd. Oh is she downstairs?”

“I’ll try the bathroom,” Suzanne said.

There was nothing. The electric toothbrush charger was on the shelf, but the brush had gone. No one was in the living room, and the kitchen was neat with a solitary mug on the draining board. The kettle and toaster were unplugged. The house plants in the lean-to conservatory had self-watering devices stuck into the soil.

“Well, that’s bloody great. She’s gone off and not told us. I thought we were mates. She knows how we worry. The least she could have done was told us.” Suzanne said.


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Peter

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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Peter

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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Peter

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?”

“Uhu.”

“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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Peter

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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