This is the fifth part of a fiction serial, in 1525 words.
Jack had no doubt that this would be the hardest task on his list. He would have to be in and out quickly, as the investigation would be intense, and happen fast too. He checked the map once again, until he could see the small town clearly in his mind. More of a large village really, it boasted a larger than usual population, as it was on a commuter route. Trains carried workers to the larger market town twelve miles away, and on from there to most destinations in the region. The riverside path would be perfect. Perhaps there would be ducks to feed. He was sure there would be.
The main problem was the trains. A small station, at least a mile away from the outskirts, and only a few trains ever stopped there. Although the station was unlikely to have any CCTV, and would almost certainly not be manned by any staff, any other passengers would notice someone else getting off. He worked out the best train times to coincide with when he would need to be active. Those seventeen years of working in the planning department of Network Rail were now coming into their own.
He concluded that it would be best to arrive the day before. That would mean staying out overnight, but the weather forecast for that area was good. No rain, and a warm summer night to come. The woodland fringing the river was ideal, and the town didn’t even have a police station, relying on the one twelve miles away. He packed his rucksack carefully. Two litres of mineral water, some energy bars, and some pairs of latex sugical gloves. Smooth-soled soft shoes, that would leave no obvious footprints. A small but powerful torch, and a large microfibre cloth pad, the type available in any shop or supermarket. Last but not least, a small loaf of sliced bread. There was a possibility that it might be a wasted journey, as he could not guarantee to find the right kind of victim. But the schools were on holiday now, so the chances were above average.
TV news reports had said that there was no progress in the search for the killer of the waitress. The usual statements were forthcoming from the senior investigator. ‘Following up on leads’. ‘Ongoing investigations’. ‘Eliminating suspects’. That all told Jack they didn’t have a clue. When they had good leads, or a firm suspect, they generally said nothing.
The stout businessman’s death had been reported as a ‘robbery gone wrong’. That was perfect, exactly as he had hoped. That man’s watch and ring had been disposed of carefully, and should never come to light. If normal procedures were followed, detectives would be tied up contacting jewellers and pawn shops over a wide area, with no results. Gravel left no footprints, as it was easily rearranged by a sweep of a shoe. There was no weapon left at scene, and the only motive was the theft of valuable items. All to plan.
The last possible train dropped him off just after dark. He had been the only passenger in the carriage. At the station, he heard another door open further down the train, so waited until a middle-aged woman passed his window and headed outside, where her lift home was waiting. He walked into the town using a back lane popular with dog walkers. But most of those would now be at home, dogs walked and settled for the night. Jack crossed the small bridge, wide enough for just one car at a time, and headed south along the riverside path. When he could no longer see any buildings or houses behind him, he turned into the woods, walking in quite far. Just in case. He settled down for the night, lying his head against the rucksack. The alarm function on the sports watch was set for seven in the morning, but he expected to be awake before that.
Poppy Walker wasn’t a thoughtless, or silly girl. Since her tenth birthday in February, her parents had been happy for her to go out on her bike, to meet up with her friends in the park, or along the riverbank. They got her a mobile phone too, so they could keep in touch if need be. She wore a safety helmet when riding her bike, and was always home at the time agreed with her Mum. That morning, she had arranged to meet her best friend Kerry at what they called The Lookout. At the end of one side of the riverbank, there was an area of seats and picnic tables that looked across to the other side. She walked her bike over the small bridge, then got on it to pedal along the well made path beside the water.
Jack made sure not to look round at the girl cycling in his direction. He carried on tearing the slice of bread, throwing the pieces into the water, feeding the squabbling ducks that had congregated in front of him. He was crouching down, the rucksack by his side. The night spent in the woods had passed better than he had expected. He had actually slept well, and the alarm on his watch had woken him after all. After walking further into the woods to urinate against a tree, he had drunk some of the water, and eaten two small cereal bars. In the distance, he could hear traffic on the bridge, as the small town woke up, and the residents went about their business. After eight in the morning, he moved position, to be able to see the path through the trees closest to the edge. Just after nine, he smoothed out the sportswear he was dressed in, and went down to the riverbank, ready to start feeding the ducks with the bread he had brought for that purpose. He had been there less than ten minutes when he saw the girl on her bike.
Still crouching, he slipped a gloved hand into the open rucksack, and removed the microfibre pad, placing it on the path next to his foot. The girl was almost level with him when he appeared to fall backwards, his back making contact with her leg, and knocking her and the bike over onto the grass. The startled girl looked up at the man, seeing a worried look on his face. “I’m so sorry, young lady. I didn’t see you. Are you alright? Here, let me help you up”. Poppy noticed that he had brilliant white teeth, but she didn’t notice that the hand extended to help her was covered in a surgical glove. As he pulled her to her feet, Jack raised his other hand, which now contained the large cloth pad. He clamped it over her face before she could make a sound, and wrapped the other strong arm around her, dragging her up off the path and into the woods behind. Holding her to the side so her flailing legs didn’t make contact with him, he tightened the grip on the pad until he had suffocated her. Laying her limp body onto the ground behind a tree, he put his face close to her mouth, confirming that she was no longer breathing.
His next move was a short walk back to the riverbank. He used his foot to flick the bike into the river, watching it disappear under the water, scattering the waiting ducks. An examination of the scene showed nothing had fallen from the girl’s pockets, or off the bike, so he picked up his rucksack, and walked back to her body. Using his gloved hands, he scooped out a shallow trench in the earth around the base of the tree. Then he carefully changed those gloves for new ones, before searching the girl’s pockets. There was a five-pound note and some tissues in one pocket of the shorts she was wearing, and he put those back. In the other pocket was a basic mobile phone. He opened the back, removing the sim card and battery, before throwing all the pieces into the trench. He undid the strap of her safety helmet, placing the distinctive white plastic helmet behind the tree, out of sight. Then he carefully removed all her clothes. A T-shirt, vest top underneath that, shorts, and underpants. Those items were placed carefully inside the trench, then her shoes and socks tucked in beside them. When he was satisfied that the arrangement appeared to be methodical and ritualistic, he rolled the girl over, arranging her body face down on the clothes.
The last job was an apparent hurried covering of the remains, using the small amount of earth already dug out, and some grass and shrubs pulled up nearby. Jack stood back to admire his work. Perhaps not visible from the path, but easily discovered by anyone venturing inside the woods. He removed the gloves, and placed both pairs into his rucksack with the cloth pad, before drinking some more of the mineral water.
A quick check on his watch told him that he could be back to the station in time for the ten-eleven train.