This is the complete ten-part serial, in one post. It is a long read, in 12,500 words.
Jack Porter was a man with a plan. It was a plan that had consumed his life since the relatively young age of fifteen. A plan that he had never once diverted from.
Self-discipline was his driving force. For twenty years, he had made lists, ticked off tasks when they were done, and lived to a rule book that only existed in his head. Everything was down on paper, and could all be easily destroyed. Nothing was ever done on a computer or mobile phone. There was no electronic trail to follow. As the day approached, he made some last minute adjustments. He had to smile at the irony. The only way that this complex plan would work was if it appeared to be unplanned. Random. It had to appear to be random. And pointless.
Of course, it wasn’t pointless to him. The opposite was the case. It was the whole point of his existence.
Two decades of healthy eating. Rigorous exercise, developing the perfect physique. No alcohol, no smoking, and most of all, no transgressions. Never bring yourself to notice. Commit no crime, however seemingly insignificant. Relationships were impossible, as nobody else could ever be involved in the plan. That had included his parents of course, and had meant leaving home as soon as he had a good job, and the means to pay his own way. No friends, no interaction with neighbours, just being sociable enough to manage to appear relatively normal to work colleagues.
Attract no attention.
That was one of the first items on his list, all those years ago.
Saving money was important. No luxuries, no holidays, not even a passport. Save and save, stockpiling funds for when the time came. Maps were important too. Maps of unfamiliar places. Places where he was not known, and would never be recognised. Places where he would blend into a crowd, walking past unnoticed.
When the day came, it started quietly. He spoke to his boss, telling him he was leaving. David had been surprised, but had wished him well, and told him he could always come back. Jack was a valued employee, perhaps the best the company had ever known. Never one day off sick, and always professional. Accrued holiday time meant he would leave the next day. No time for embarrassing leaving parties, or awkward questions. When David had asked about references, and promised to supply a good one, Jack had smiled. References would not be necessary. When asked what he would be doing, where he would be working, Jack had smiled again. Taking some time out for a personal project. That seemed to satisfy David, who smiled as if he had some idea what Jack might be doing.
But he could have had no idea at all.
Sandra Piper was known to everyone as Sandy. In that small coastal town where few people ever moved away, she grew up with the same people she went to school with, and still had the same friends she had first met in class. Life hadn’t worked out that well for her. Oldest of three, she had been expected to help with the younger children from an early age, and when Dad had died in a factory accident, Mum told her she had to leave school and get a job. Any job. So she had gone for an interview at the local baker’s shop, the one with the busy cafe attached to it. They needed a waitress, and didn’t care too much about experience. Fifteen years later, and she was still there. Overweight, and overlooked. Serving up tea, coffee, and breakfasts from seven. Lunch after midday, and cream teas from three until four-thirty. Busy during the summer, dull and boring in the winter. Her siblings were all grown up now, and she had moved out into her own place. It was only a rented studio flat across town, but it gave her the freedom to do what she liked with her life. That wasn’t too much, aside from watching TV, and eating whatever she liked.
Jack had discarded the bright red lightweight jacket. He put it into a carrier bag, then placed that bag into one of the industrial bins behind the shops. A bright red jacket would stand out on any CCTV in the railway station. But he wouldn’t be wearing it when he got the train back later. Pay cash for the ticket, with money drawn out from the bank close to home. The place was busy with the early summer tourists, those people trying to save money by taking their annual trip outside the school holiday season. He wandered around aimlessly, at least to any outsider’s view. The sort of thing you did in seaside towns. Looking in shop windows, passing through amusement arcades, leaning against railings by the beach, and watching the sea. But Jack knew the place from his maps. He knew it as well as if he had always lived there, and better than some that had. As he traversed the streets, what had been lines on paper appeared in three dimensions. Buildings, alleyways, side streets, and car parks. In less than an hour, he had found at least two places he was happy with, and sat on a bench in the seafront gardens, biding his time.
Sandy was hot in her uniform. It was close-fitting and uncomfortable, and the stupid hat she had to wear to cover her hair made her scalp itch. The black tights made her feet hot in the cheap shoes, and as closing time approached, she dreamed of getting home, and changing into something cooler. And it wasn’t even high summer. She knew she would get a lot hotter, once the season was in full swing, and that made her wish for a bad summer again, like last year. Looking at the clock on the wall of the cafe, she guessed that she would be lucky to get away by five at the earliest. At least she had a bag of unsold pasties and sausage rolls to take home, so wouldn’t have to bother to cook anything later.
Jack noticed her walking toward him. Short, chubby, flat-footed, shuffling in cheap shoes. Red-faced in the evening sun, squeezed into a shiny black uniform that looked to be at least a size too small. Perfect.
She walked slowly, which he found annoying. How anyone walked that slowly was beyond his comprehension. Perhaps she was just tired, and in no particular hurry to get anywhere, but he had to keep doubling back, for fear of overtaking her. He examined the mental map he had stored up. After fifteen minutes, he concluded that she must be heading for a residential street away from the busy seafront area. That was good. Only a ten minute walk back to the station for him. He checked his watch. All being well, he could catch the six twenty-six, with time to spare.
Sandy walked around to the side entrance, where the door led upstairs to her tiny flat in the converted house. She liked having her own front door, and had turned down a few flats with communal entrances. She put down the bag of food, and fished for her key in the battered handbag.
Jack moved very fast, closing the distance from the front gate to the woman rapidly. As she turned the key and nudged the door open, he came from behind her, a gloved hand clamping over her mouth as he pushed her inside the small lobby. His grip was so firm, she was unable to make much noise, just a strange sound like a cat crying outside. He closed the door with his heel, and pushed her head down hard against the stairs. For a second, he paused. No sounds of alarm from outside or inside. Pulling her back up, he struck her head repeatedly against the edge of the fourth stair, one hand still over her mouth, and the other holding the back of her head firmly. When he was happy that she had no fight left in her, he raised her dress with some difficulty, and pulled off her tights. Wrapping them around her neck to form a ligature, he placed his knee between her shoulders, and leaned back. There was a gurgling sound, and her legs twitched violently. But it was soon over, much sooner than he had imagined. Undressing her with gloves on was trickier than he thought it would be, especially the clips on the sturdy bra. When she was naked, he turned her onto her back in the tight space available on the staircase. He had no interest in looking at her white flabby body, but it had to appear to be a sex crime. That was part of the plan.
As expected, he got the six twenty-six, with time to spare. The train was almost empty, heading away from the seaside, rather than toward it. When it passed through a long tunnel, Jack could see his face reflected in the window. He smiled, content with how the day had gone. Then he spoke quietly, to his own reflection.
Andreas was concerned when Sandy didn’t show up for work at his baker’s shop. On the few occasions she had been too sick to work, she had always phoned in to tell him, usually the night before. He rang her mobile a few times, finally leaving a message. The shop and cafe were getting busy, so he switched Valerie from the counter to the cafe, and took over her job himself. When it got quiet after lunchtime, he looked up Sandy’s address in the staff records, and drove to her flat. In all those years, he had never even asked where she lived before.
He tried all three bells, but got no reply. Just about to head back to his car, he noticed a sign on the wall. It had an arrow pointing to the side, and read ‘Flat Four’. Outside the door, he didn’t notice the bag of food that had been kicked under the hedge, and started to ring the bell on the entryphone system. The loud buzzer echoed inside, but there was no answer over the speaker, or at the door. He gave up after five rings, and drove back to his shop.
Eighty-eight miles due west of that seaside town where Sandy’s body lay undiscovered, Jack got off the train in a nondescript market town. It stood in a different county to where he had been yesterday, and had a different police force responsible for it too. It was bustling in the High Street, obviously market day, with many stalls open on the small central square. Using a large bin at the back of a charity shop, he disposed of the bright yellow cycling jacket he had worn during the train journey. Then he mixed in with the crowds around the stalls, pretending to be interested in what they were selling, but not engaging anyone in conversation. From studying the map, he knew where the Post Office was, and made his way slowly to where it stood, near a set of traffic lights. It wasn’t a good place to loiter, so he went into a side street nearby, and waited out of sight near the junction.
It didn’t take long before he spotted the old lady walk past the end. She was pulling a shopping trolley, and struggling with two carrier bags in her left hand. He let her carry on for a while, before turning left, and casually following her down the hill. When she stopped to untangle the plastic handles, and set them on her wrist more comfortably, he gazed into the window of an Estate Agent’s, apparently inspecting the properties advertised on the cards. Glancing to his right, he saw that his chosen lady had cleared the area of the shops, and there were hardly any people near her. He strolled in the same direction, dropping his speed to stay a few steps behind her.
As he had hoped, the bags became tangled again. She stopped, muttering something unheard over the traffic. As she tried to untwist the handles once more, Jack walked forward, fixing a smile on his face. “Here, let me help you, please”. She turned at the friendly voice, expecting it might be someone she knew. It was a small town, after all. But the smart stranger was unfamiliar to her. He was clean cut, with clothes that were smart, but casual. Like many people these days, he was carrying a rucksack, slung over one shoulder. It occurred to her that she had never seen anyone with such white teeth, and then she replied. “Thank you, these things are so troublesome, always twisting around”.
The man made no attempt to help with the bags. Instead, he took the trolley, so that she could do that herself. When she had settled a bag into each hand, he kept his grip on her trolley. She noticed he was wearing gloves. Very smart. So few people wore gloves anymore. He extended his free hand. “Please carry on, I will pull your trolley home for you. It’s no trouble”. It seemed churlish to refuse, so she nodded. Thank you very much, it’s not far”. On the brief walk to her bungalow in a quiet cul-de-sac, Jack managed to establish that she lived alone, as he suspected. Not a widow, just never married. He asked her name, and she said “Miss Shaw”. He guessed she was close to eighty years old. Her bearing suggested a good upbringing, and her distinctive accent told him that she was probably not from that county originally.
At her door, Jack insisted on helping her inside with the trolley. Ellen Shaw had never been alone in her house with a man, unless you counted the man who had come to fix the washing machine last year. But this chap seemed so nice. Well-spoken, and so polite. She set a lot of store by good manners, and he had them in abundance. Perhaps she ought to offer him a cup of tea. That was the polite thing to do. Nodding at the bags in her hand, she said, “I will just take these into the kitchen, then perhaps you would like some tea?”
Those were the last words Ellen would ever say. As she turned to walk into the kitchen, Jack hit her from behind with the chair that stood next to the telephone table in the hallway. Even holding back on his full strength, the chair smashed as it struck her head, fracturing her skull in the process. Checking that the door was closed behind him, he started to remove his clothes, shoes and socks, and his watch, arranging them carefully into a neat pile. When he was naked, he reached into the rucksack, and removed some latex gloves from a compartment inside, changing from the leather gloves he still had on. Stepping over the unconscious woman in front of him, he glanced into the kitchen. What he needed was right in front of him, a selection of knives in a wooden knife block on the worktop. He chose a wide-bladed knife, almost a foot long. Returning to the slumped form of the old lady, he plunged it repeatedly into her back. She didn’t even groan or move, as the blade went in and out several times. Turning her over, he repeated the process on her chest, still using considerable force to drive the blade though her outer coat, and the clothing beneath. As a final gesture, he dragged the knife across her throat, cutting deeply.
Jack was covered in blood of course, that was inevitable. It had to look like a frenzied attack. That was part of the plan. But to avoid leaving any bloody footprints, he dropped the knife next to her body, walked back a couple of paces, and jumped over her. Then he slid open the door to her small bathroom, and climbed into the bath. Running both taps, he washed himself down with his hands, using the gloves to rub his skin clean. When he was satisfied that it had all gone, he stepped out of the bath. Next to the toilet, he found a plastic bottle of bleach. The old lady’s bath sponge was used to clean the bath, the bleach foaming slightly in the hot water. A small towel hung on a hook behind the door, so he used that to dry himself, and to rub away the wet footprints on the vinyl flooring. Then he went back out into the hallway, wrapped the latex gloves inside the towel, and rolled that up before putting it into his rucksack. He got dressed slowly, surveying the scene before him. Frenzied indeed. Who could doubt that?
As he put on his watch, he smiled. It was not even twelve-thirty. He would easily make the one-ten train.
When Sandy didn’t turn up for work the next day either, Andreas rang the police. They said they would take a report, and post her as a missing person. He tried insisting that they investigate it more seriously, but the young woman at the other end of the phone rattled off a lot of statistics about how many people go missing every year, and suggested that Sandy had likely gone off with a boyfriend. He could see he was getting nowhere, so he answered all her questions, and gave his contact details. Even though the shop was as busy as ever, he left a flustered Valerie in charge, and drove to Sandy’s flat.
The letterbox was right at the bottom of the door. Must be unpopular with the postman, Andreas thought. He had to lie down on the ground to lift it up and look through it. But there was another flap at the back, and some of those brush-like draught excluders also obscuring any view. As he pushed down on his hands to stand up, He noticed a bag under the hedge to his left. One of the bags they used in his shop. He picked it up, and could see that it contained pasties and sausage rolls, dried out and stale. Something wasn’t right. Sandy would never just throw her dinner away like that.
He dropped the bag, and turned back to the door. The simple Yale Lock gave way easily, with one determined push from his shoulder. Inside, he could see Sandy, lying naked on the stairs, her clothes thrown around, and something wrapped around her neck. Her skin was mottled, looking as if it was bruised, and an unpleasant smell pervaded the tight space. Instinctively, he pulled the door almost closed, then scrambled in his pocket for the mobile phone. When they answered his 999 call, he yelled “POLICE!”. Once transferred, he spoke quietly. “Hello. I want to report a murder”.
Eighty-eight miles away, the body of Emma Shaw lay undisturbed, and unnoticed by anyone. Over twenty years in that retirement bungalow, and she had no friends, and little contact with her neighbours. Not a naturally gregarious person, Emma rarely sought company, unless it was forced upon her. She was happy with her books, and her memories. There was rarely any post, save for bills and circulars, and the few people she had kept in touch with were all long dead. There was not a person in the world who had any reason to call round, or to notice her absence from the town.
Jack Porter put down the maps he was studying, and turned on the TV news channel. As expected, there were no reports of any of those murders. It was too soon. The waitress might be later today, perhaps tomorrow. As for the old lady, it could be a long time, maybe a year. It was possible that she might never be found until any unpaid bills forced someone to go to her door. After ticking quite a few things off pages one and two of his lists, he did two hundred press ups. Then he turned off the TV, and went to have a shower.
Three police cars turned up. Two had uniformed officers in them, the other contained three plain clothes detectives. There hadn’t been a murder in that town for over three years, and that had been a domestic, when a drunken holidaymaker killed his wife after an argument. Very soon, the whole area was taped off, and Andreas had been whisked away to the police station, where he had to take off all his clothes, and change into a scratchy paper suit. His fingerprints were taken too, and he agreed to a DNA swab. He thought he was helping, and had no idea that he had just become the prime suspect in Sandy’s murder.
Inspector Duncan McCall was appointed to be the officer in charge of the case for now. He was an experienced man, known for being methodical, and not prone to excitement. He waited until the photographs had been taken, and the small flat searched thoroughly, before turning to Diana James, his sergeant. “Di, get this poor woman covered up, and taken off to the mortuary. Ring the coroner and ask for a PM on the hurry-up. Get her phone and laptop checked for contacts and photos, see if she put anything up on social media recently. Oh, and send young Michael to the baker’s. I want statements from everyone she worked with. See what they can tell us about boyfriends, next-of-kin, the usual stuff”.
The short-haired woman pushed her glasses up on her nose. “What about her boss, the Greek bloke?” McCall shook his head. “We will keep him for now, but I don’t fancy him for this. He raised the alarm, and made a call earlier to report her missing”. She shrugged. “Could be a cover, boss. What about the sex offenders on the register? Shall we start to pull them in?” He nodded. “Usual routine, for now. See you back at the office”.
There were no delays, and the train left on time. Jack chose his seat carefully, so as not to be sitting opposite anyone for the short journey. The commuter suburb was only twenty minutes away, and at this time of day there were not many other passengers. Through the window, he could chart the increasing affluence, the further he got away from the centre. Terraced houses soon gave way to rows of pleasant semi-detached ones, and by the time he was approaching his destination, larger houses were all that were visible, some with swimming pools. He would easily be there before the trains of the evening rush started to return the affluent businessmen and executives from their jobs in the city. He leaned against the large briefcase, careful not to crumple his expensive suit. To go unnoticed in this district, it was best to be smartly dressed. And a rucksack just wouldn’t do. Oh no.
Gerald Linklater was sitting on the train wondering why he was even bothering to make the journey home. His wife had left last year, and he hadn’t heard from his daughter since she started at university. His insurance brokerage was on the skids, and the debts were mounting. And he had no idea how long he could hang on to the house, once he stopped paying the mortgage. He had thought about going round to see his on-off girlfriend, but the attraction of her sexual favours was usually outweighed by the demands for money that followed. She always seemed to need to pay a bill, or have to buy some new shoes, and it was quite frankly becoming tiresome. As the signal box flashed past the window, he stood up and folded the raincoat over his arm. The train would soon be slowing for his stop.
When the last but one rush hour train had arrived, Jack hadn’t thought any of those who appeared were likely targets. He considered a smart thirty-something woman who was standing by the entrance, but she had just been waiting for a taxi to arrive. He was glad he hadn’t picked her. She might have been missed too soon. He would wait for the next train.
The heavy man stopped outside the station to light a cigarette. He looked like a businessman who had eaten too many big lunches, and enjoyed too many large whiskies. Perhaps fifty years old, but possibly younger and just not well preserved. A Burberry raincoat was draped over one shoulder, and on the same side, he carried a hard briefcase in his pudgy hand. He didn’t head in the direction of the car park, but set off walking down the approach, onto the main road. Jack emerged from his spot in the shadows and followed some distance behind him. The street lighting was not the best, and at times the path became quite dark. However, it was easy to follow the trail of the cigarette smoke, and the sound of the occasional cough.
The man suddenly stopped. Turning to cross the road, he flicked away the butt of the cigarette, then headed down a dark lane opposite. Jack followed, slowly opening the briefcase he was carrying. He removed a small paring knife from it, and slipped that into his jacket pocket. Then a pair of rubber kitchen gloves, which he held between his teeth as he snapped the clasp shut on his case. He gripped the case under his arm as he slipped on the gloves, and then quickened his pace to catch up, hearing footsteps on gravel ahead. The man had turned into the driveway of a house, slowing his pace to find a set of keys in the raincoat pocket.
Jack spoke clearly, in a friendly tone. “Excuse me, I appear to be lost. Can you point me in the direction of Manor Grove?” From studying his map, he knew that was the name of the next road over, a private road containing just four houses. Gerald had jumped, to hear a voice so close behind him. In the growing darkness, he could make out a well-dressed man younger than him, carrying a briefcase. He stepped forward, catching a flash of incredibly white teeth. “Manor Grove? Why yes”. He didn’t have time for the rest of the directions he was about to give, as the other man suddenly raised his right arm, and stabbed him quickly in the centre of his chest. The small sharp knife easily penetrated Gerald’s heart, and he staggered backwards, looking down at his chest with an expression of disbelief. Then he fell to his knees, finding it hard to breathe. A few seconds later, he would never feel anything again.
Putting his briefcase down on the ground, Jack dragged the heavy body to the side, away from being seen by any passing car or pedestrian. He rummaged through the man’s pockets, taking some cash and cards from his wallet, which he then threw carelessly onto the lawn opposite. Then he removed a watch from the left wrist, and forcefully pulled a sovereign ring from the little finger of the same hand. He put the banknotes into his own trouser pocket, and the watch and ring on the ground. Removing one of the rubber gloves, he placed the watch and ring inside it, only touching them with the other gloved hand. He then removed the second glove, wrapped the first one inside it, and placed the small bundle inside his briefcase. He had deliberately not touched the man’s own case, as he wanted it to look as if he had been in a hurry. Satisfied that this looked like a robbery that had turned into a murder, he sat down on his briefcase. There was still a twenty minute wait for the nine-thirteen train, and it would be best to appear on the platform as it was about to leave. He would jump the side barrier, avoiding any CCTV coverage at the entrance.
They didn’t let Andreas go until almost eight that night. And then only because he had started to demand a lawyer. Although the DNA tests hadn’t come back yet, there was no real evidence to tie him to Sandy’s murder, other than the fact he had discovered the body by forcing the door to her flat. The statements from the bakery staff had been of little use. The dead woman didn’t have a boyfriend, had never fallen out with the owner, and seemed to do nothing that would bring attention to her. McCall did get an address for her mother, just across town. He took Di with him to break the news, and request that someone come in to make a formal identification of the body. She hadn’t been that upset really. Even seeing her daughter on the mortuary trolley had brought no tears or distress. When Di asked if it was the body of Sandra, her daughter, she had just nodded. Then she turned and said, “That’s her. I take it I get a lift home now?” McCall hadn’t been very surprised. He had been a copper for too long to be surprised by anything.
When Di got back from dropping her off, she raised her eyebrows. “She was a cold fish, boss. No mistake”. He nodded, rubbing his face. As she turned, he remembered he had to ask her something.
“Any luck with the sex offenders so far? I forgot to ask”. She shook her head. “We have accounted for nine out of seventeen locally. Seven had pretty good alibis, and two of them are in the County Hospital. One’s had a stroke, and the other has just had a knee replacement operation. We’re still on it”. McCall sighed, and pushed a stack of papers closer to the edge of his desk.
“Might as well release the story to the press now, Di. Proper conference tomorrow, nine sharp”.
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.
It was one of those random occurrences that led to the discovery of Ellen Shaw’s body. A neighbour in her small close had ordered online, and was out when the delivery arrived. The harassed courier didn’t want to have to come back later, so tried knocking on nearby doors to see if someone would take in the parcel for number four. Ellen’s curtains were open, so he tried her door. When there was no reply, he decided to try shouting through the letter-box. A lot of people in that area were old and deaf, so he was used to having to do more than ring a doorbell. As he lifted the flap, he peered through, ready to shout a greeting. But the sight of the blood-soaked body on the hallway floor stopped him in his tracks. He straightened up, and got his mobile phone from the back pocket of his jeans. As he rang 999, he guessed the rest of the parcels would not be getting delivered today.
Halfway across the country, Jean Muir wondered why her terrier Judy had not emerged from the woods. Ignoring the clamouring ducks and geese, she put the bread roll back into her pocket, and went in to look for her. She found the dog staring at a pile of grass and dirt behind a tree, a white cycling helmet placed carefully on top of the small mound. Jean had been a nurse for almost forty years before retiring, and knew immediately that the chalk-white skin visible under some twigs was a body. Careful not to disturb the spot any more than her dog had done already, she took her phone from her handbag, dialling 999. Tears ran down her cheeks at the tragic scene in front of her, and her voice was choked with emotion as she spoke to the emergency operator.
In Jack Porter’s smart flat, he was arranging maps, and ticking off lists.
Sex Crime. Check.
Frenzied Murder. Check.
Serial killer of children. Check.
Once he had made sure that all the detailed points had been covered, he tore up the relevant pages into tiny pieces, went into the bathroom, and flushed them down the toilet. Back in the living room, he turned his notebook to the next section, the fifth one. Leaving it open next to the relevant map, he went into the bedroom to do an hour on his treadmill running machine.
Duncan McCall had to admit to his boss that they had nothing to go on, as far as Sandy’s murder was concerned. The local sex offenders had all been accounted for on that day. CCTV gave them no suspicious vehicles or people, and the woman had never seemed to have met anyone that might have a reason to kill her, even a sexual one. He turned to look at the Superintendent, after outlining what read like a list of failures. She didn’t feel very happy, but knew he was good at his job, and would have done his best. As she stood up to leave the office, she turned back to speak. “Better start widening the investigation, Duncan. Get onto the nearby forces, see if they have any record of a similar killing in the past year, especially in a seaside town. Check the prisons and see who has been released recently, anyone with form for something close to this”. Duncan nodded. She was teaching him to suck eggs, and they both knew it. “Already on that, Ma’am”.
After the workout, Jack had a shower and got changed. A light meal of salmon and pasta pinged in the microwave, and he dumped the contents onto a plate, taking it through to eat in front of the TV. As anticipated, the murder of the girl was all over the news. He shook his head when he heard that her body had been discovered just after ten forty-five that morning. That was close. A school photo was shown, and reporters gave their stories from next to the police tape on the riverbank, and outside the girl’s house, where her parents were too distraught to comment. Some people had already managed to leave small bouquets of flowers close to where her body had been discovered. Jack shook his head again, this time in amazement. Why did they always do that? At least the local florist would benefit from a short boom in trade. One of the reporters stared seriously into the camera, as she got the cue that she was back live. “This reporter believes that this is the work of someone who may well be responsible for killing other children. The police refused to confirm that, and told me that they are investigating all possibilities”. Jack swallowed some salmon, and smiled at the screen. “That’s my girl, get them thinking along the wrong lines”.
After washing up the plate and fork, and cleaning the worktop and sink, Jack got back to the job in hand. He had a lot to go over before tomorrow’s plan went ahead. He might even have to leave it until the day after, if the planned work on the overhead electric cables hadn’t finished on time. Easy enough to check at the main-line station in the morning. If there were scheduled delays, he would just come home. The plan could wait of course.
But not for too long, or some of the challenge would go out of it.
There were no delays or diversions, so Jack was pleased. He had a long journey of almost four hours on the train, so made an early start with the first one available. He was heading for a city far to the south; a major port, and busy industrial hub. Despite staying up quite late last night studying the maps, he felt fresh, and ready for the task ahead. Unable to avoid sitting with other passengers, he pretended to be asleep, leaving the headphones in his ears, connected to a mobile phone. When the conductor came to check his ticket, he flashed a brilliant smile at him, before closing his eyes once again.
Once the station was announced over the intercom, he got his briefcase from the floor, leaving the train with the majority of passengers soon after it came to a halt. The bustling station platform gave him the perfect opportunity to appear to be walking out with a group who were heading for the conference centre. He walked in between some of them, his ordinary suit blending in, and his head down, turned to one side as if in conversation with the woman beside him.
Outside, he avoided the official taxi rank, walking across the station entrance to the road beyond. He waited for a while, checking out passing taxis until he spotted the one he wanted. A quick wave of his arm brought the taxi to a halt, and he got into the back quickly, so as not to hold up any following traffic. As the taxi began to move off, he spoke in a formal tone. “Victoria Road, please”. The driver nodded, and indicated to get into the far left lane. Jack hoped the driver was not going to talk too much. Taxi drivers had an annoying habit of assuming a familiarity that was inappropriate. But the man seemed content to drive for a while before speaking again. “Which end, please? It’s a long road”. Jack was expecting that, and had his reply ready. “On the junction with Esmerelda Street. And I will need you to wait for me”. The man nodded, and carried on driving.
Adit Ullah was originally from Bangladesh. But he had been in the country since he was a young boy, and knew the city well. For the last twenty-five years, he had driven a taxi, working up to eighteen hours a day. He was a quiet family man, avoiding community politics and working hard to provide for his wife and children. He had never done anything wrong, unless you counted getting a few parking tickets, and one speeding fine eight years ago.
Jack estimated it would take less than twenty minutes to get to the road in the dockside area. The driver he had picked was perfect, a small Asian man wearing a white crocheted hat on top of his head. He looked to be around forty-five years old, and was definitely a Muslim. When they got to the destination, Jack asked him to pull the car into Esmerelda Street, as that would take it away from any prying eyes on the main road. “I have a parcel to collect you see, and it won’t be so far for me to carry it”. Surrounded by decrepit industrial units and shuttered warehouses, it looked to be an unlikely spot for a well-dressed businessman to ask to be taken to. But Adit had stopped thinking about such things many years ago, and as long as he got paid, he didn’t care where his passengers wanted to go.
When the car had reversed into the dead-end street, Jack got out, carrying his briefcase. The premises at the end of the street had a faded sign that read ‘Henderson Logistics’, and he headed off with some purpose, giving the impression that he knew where he was going. So that he could be seen in the rear-view mirror, he suddenly stopped, and took a mobile phone from his briefcase. Then he spoke into the phone, acting as if had just rung, out of earshot of the taxi driver. Nodding, he pretended to hang up, then crouched down to replace the phone, slipping on a latex glove with his back to the car.
Without trying to enter the locked door of Henderson’s he turned and walked back to the driver’s open window. “They tell me the parcel is heavy. Would you come and help me with it please? There’s an extra tip in it for you”. Adit nodded, and got out. As they cleared the back of the car, Jack stopped, as if he had thought of something. “Might as well open the hatchback first, then we can put it straight in”. Adit nodded, and turned to operate the button. He didn’t see the smart man behind him slip the heavy steel bar from the briefcase. It was one of those bars that held weights screwed to the ends, and in itself was weighty and hefty.
When the rear hatch had risen to its full height, Jack brought the bar down heavily across the back of the driver’s head. He slumped forward into the opening, letting out a long groan. Quickly checking the end of the street to see if anyone was passing, Jack took a plastic bin liner from the briefcase, and pulled it over the right-hand sleeve of his suit, covering both his arm, and the metal bar. He then struck the dazed man repeatedly on his head. Short, hard strikes, one after the other. When the back of Adit’s head was no longer recognisable, he put the same arm under the man’s knees, tipping the body into the large boot of the car. Then he took another bin-liner from the briefcase, and placed the bloodied first one inside it, along with the weights bar. He then dropped the latex glove into it too, and sealed the end by tying a knot. The clean liner was put into his briefcase, which he then clipped shut.
Reaching into the right hand pocket of his suit jacket, Jack removed a multi-tool. He used that to press down on the rim of the hatchback, until it closed shut with the body inside. Taking the screwdriver attachment, he scratched four large letters on the paintwork below the back window. PAKI. It didn’t matter to him whether or not the dead taxi driver was from Pakistan. The racial slur was common, and would be readily identified. He returned the multi tool to his suit pocket, and gave a satisfied smile.
Definitely a racially-motivated murder.
Checking his watch, he thought about the return journey to the station. Quite a walk, staying away from busy shops, and most main roads. He could do it in well under an hour, but a slower stroll might be more appropriate.
It would be nice to get the three-twenty. Home in time for dinner.
Browsing the news channels on TV, radio, and online, Jack was also able to look at the websites of the local newspapers in the places he had visited. The search history didn’t concern him, as he would dispose of the cheap laptop and its hard drive when his project was completed. From comparing the reports, and examining the statements made by each of the police forces concerned, he could easily see that all the investigations were running true to form. Five murders in just over a week. That should have been ringing alarm bells all over the country.
But the truth was that it was not at all unusual. Look back on news reports from previous years, and it was easy to see that daily murders were the norm. Serial killers were still a rarity though. Those that were publicised tended to commit a specific type of murder, on identical or similar victims. The motorway networks were easily tracked as the preferred route they took, and it was often their use of the same vehicle that eventually got them caught.
And the killers had a tendency to fit the profiles popular with law enforcement. Loners, white men between thirty and fifty, usually with a background of some diagnosed mental illness, or childhood abuse. They were the men who harmed animals as children, killed their own pets, and didn’t relate well to their peers. They drifted in and out of jobs, brought attention to themselves by sometimes acting strangely, and found it all but impossible to maintain friendships or relationships in the conventional sense. Others led outwardly normal lives. They married, raised families, and kept their dark secret shut away. Such men usually murdered prostitutes; easily-available targets, and something for them to take out their innate hatred of women on.
Jack was not about to risk killing a prostitute. Besides, it was boring, predictable, and best done with access to a car. That car could be traced. And he had no plans to kill a police officer either. The death of a colleague inspired the police to pull out all the stops. They would work much harder, work overtime for no pay, and take no time off. Killing a cop was a mug’s game. His years of research had shown him that someone who killed a cop was always caught. Even those who had fled to remote parts of other countries were eventually tracked down. If they put as much effort into solving every other type of murder, nobody would ever have escaped justice, and unsolved murders wouldn’t exit, at least in this country.
A lifetime of studying crime, murder, detection rates, and police procedure had led to his plan. Different forces, some as far away as two hundred miles from each other. They didn’t all have the same funding, or access to resources. Some had crackerjack teams of murder detectives, others relied on anyone available in the criminal investigation branch to take on the case. Random crimes, very different victims, and no similar way of killing. Five different people, each one in a completely different county. A wide age range, and a mix of gender and race. His theory was that no connection would ever be made.
Once each force had asked the other if they had experienced a similar crime, and discovered that they hadn’t, they would go back to all those familiar procedures. Investigate family, friends, even work colleagues. Past relationships, previous convictions, juvenile arrests, or detention in a mental health facility. Follow the money or stolen goods, check all the CCTV on the roads leading in and out, as well as the cameras on public buildings, town centres, and private houses. He knew what they would do, and just how long it would take.
Around the country, five different police forces were acting just as Jack presumed they would. In the absence of a definite suspect, they were trawling their records for anyone likely to have committed such a crime. They confirmed with the profilers and psychologists just who they should be looking for, depending on the type of murder they were dealing with. The other forces they had contacted each reported no similar crime. Nothing even close. Inspector Duncan McCall was already dealing with a spate of armed robberies of post offices in and around the town, so Sandy’s murder was not being actively investigated, even after only one week. Diana James had been handed the file to do some follow-ups, and it was already in the second drawer of her desk.
In a large village a long way from that seaside town, the county police force was sparing no expense to find the killer of young Poppy Walker. Search teams, helicopters, dog teams, and even an underwater team, who had soon discovered her cycle in the river. But despite their efforts, they had no evidence whatsoever, and not a single suspect. And the clock was ticking on the investigation.
The quiet and affluent suburb had been shocked my the murder of Gerald Linklater. But the local police had quickly decided it was an opportunistic robbery that had ended in an unplanned murder. They followed the valuables, and couldn’t find them. They had no murder weapon, no CCTV, and no DNA. All the evidential factors they had come to rely upon to solve such cases were absent. So they did what the police often did, without making it public knowledge. They waited, and hoped it would happen again. The truth was that two similar or preferably identical murders were easier to solve than one.
In the sleepy market town, that was exactly what was happening, following the discovery of Ellen Shaw’s body. The top team had been called in from county headquarters to investigate the frenzied murder of the defenceless old lady. With absolutely nothing to go on, the man in charge called his team together, behind closed doors. With the photos of the crime scene projected on a screen behind him, he ran through the details of the case, before his concluding statement. “Someone who does this has either done it before, or will do it again. He or she won’t be able to stop. Our best bet is that something exactly like this will happen again soon, and then we will have more to go on, hopefully”.
In the industrial port far to the south, the hard-pressed police team were hauling in known racists, members of Far-Right groups, and anyone previously convicted of a racially aggravated crime. The murder of a Muslim taxi driver was not actually that rare in the city, and they were confident of being able to tie it in to one earlier that year.
Turning over the notebook to the next section, Jack sipped some carrot juice, as he read his own headline.
Jackk Porter quite liked to go shopping. Having saved carefully for all of his working life, he could afford the best, and knew where to buy it. The next part of his plan would require some clothing and other items that he didn’t already own, and even though he would probably only use them once, the expense seemed justified. After spending some time in an exclusive outdoor shop, he emerged with bags containing some classic walking clothes, a suitable hat, and some stout shoes. In the shopping mall branch of a large camera retailer, he purchased some prohibitively expensive binoculars, very pleased to see the distinguished brand name prominent on them. His last stop was at a well-known bookshop, where he found a suitably portable book about regional birds.
That evening, he would study the book carefully, comparing it to his maps.
Richard Willoughby was drunk, and it was only one in the afternoon. Jerry the publican had suggested it was time to leave, before he upset the respectable people choosing to eat lunch in the bar. Actually, it had been a little stronger than a suggestion. “You’ve had enough now, Rich. Clear off, before I have to come round there and throw you out. There’s a good chap”. He had leaned his large bulk across the polished bar as he spoke, and Richard, drunk as he was, was left in no mistake that he meant what he said. Best to walk home and sleep it off. By the time he came back this evening, it would be forgotten. It always was.
The walk from the pub to his house usually took around ten minutes, cutting across the fields. That afternoon, it took twice as long, as he stumbled constantly, trapping his shoes in the ruts at the edges of the crops. He cursed the place, and wondered why he had ever bothered to move there. But when he sobered up, he would remember.
He hadn’t even heard of Uncle William. When he got the letter from a solicitor four years ago, he thought it was a joke. When the second letter arrived, he rang the number on it, and made an appointment. It seemed he was the only living relative of Bill Willoughby, a respected farmer in the flat-lands to the East. The man had died suddenly, leaving him an isolated house and substantial arable farm, over one hundred miles from the grimy city that Richard lived in. There was money too, quite a bit. When he was completely sure there were no catches, Richard signed the papers, and he became a property owner, a man of substance.
At first sight, the house looked huge. Isolated at the end of a long track, it was part of a complex of buildings that included storage barns, and garages for the many farm vehicles and trailers. He went inside to discover a rambling house that had been inhabited by a bachelor for all of his adult life. It was a mess. In short, it was a shit-hole. But at least it was his shit-hole. All paid up, and worth a small fortune.
His first action was to upset everyone by closing down the farm. He put five local people out of work for no reason other than he couldn’t be bothered to work out how to pay their wages, and sell the crops they would grow for him. Then he contacted a local auctioneer, and sold off all the tractors and machinery. That man put him in touch with a land agent, and he had soon sold most of the fields, at a bargain price. Other farmers nearby were keen to take advantage of this city man, someone who knew nothing about land values, or agriculture. He kept the fields immediately surrounding the house, to ensure his privacy. They were soon overgrown and untended, an easily-spotted eyesore in the otherwise pristine countryside.
Just six months after arriving in the quiet village, Richard had a lot of money, most of which he kept in a substantial safe in the cellar of the farmhouse. He drove around the country lanes in a very unsuitable Mercedes sports car, and became one of the regular customers at The Horseshoe, the only pub. At first, the suspicious locals accepted his drinks, and tolerated him flashing his money around. He employed a local woman to clean up his house, and bought some new furniture too.
But he tired of the dull community very quickly. Arguing with the miserable-looking country people in the bar, upsetting the cleaning woman by shouting at her, and walking around in his underwear. Once his drinking bouts became a regular feature, he started to be shunned by the other residents. Nobody would work for him, few would even speak to him, and he had to get his groceries delivered from the town, when he was no longer welcome in the village shop. Only Jerry the pub owner tolerated him, and then simply because he spent more money than almost all of the other regulars combined.
It was unusual to see a man so close to his property. Richard rubbed his eyes, which confirmed he wasn’t seeing something. It was a man. As he got closer, he noticed the smart walking clothes, the expensive rucksack, binoculars hanging around his neck, and a very stupid-looking hat. The man was looking at a map, and as he drew level, he smiled. A TV-star smile, too white, too perfect. “Hello, I was wondering if you can help me? I am hoping to find a good place to spot a Montague’s Harrier. This is supposedly a good location, but I haven’t managed to see any yet”. He moved in front of Richard, holding an open paperback book in his left hand. Richard pushed past the man roughly. “Haven’t a clue, mate. Don’t know nothing about birds. Ask at the pub”. He jerked his head backwards, to indicate the direction the stranger should take.
Jack watched the man stagger off, and followed him at some distance. As the drunk turned left through a broken gate, he stationed himself at the end of a long rutted driveway, using the powerful binoculars to watch as the man continued toward a substantial isolated house at the end. Fumbling with a bunch of keys, he pushed open the heavy door. After wandering around pretending to be a bird-watcher for most of the morning, Jack had only seen one lone person, and that was him.
But he would do nicely.
Walking around the perimeter, it was easy to see where the man’s property ended. The overgrown hedgerows and fields looked unsightly, next to the neat rows of crops bordering them. It was the only building to be seen though. The closest structure visible through Jack’s binoculars was the church spire, in the village to the south. Easily a mile away, if not more, according to the map. He carried on walking some four hundred yards from the house, knowing he would be out of sight as long as he kept tight against the tall hedges. It still seemed to him to be the ideal location, even though it meant waiting many hours until nightfall, when the area would be in complete darkness.
Once he had done what he came for, he would start off at first light, walking back the ten miles to the closest railway station. All being well, he would be able to get the eight-seventeen train, then the connection in the city thirty miles away. Marking a good spot in his mind, he set off back to the small tarmac lane he had arrived on. He would wander around for a while yet, and might actually do some real bird-watching to while away the time.
Richard Willoughby made it upstairs to the bed, before collapsing fully dressed onto the covers. He was still wearing the scuffed and dusty shoes, not bothering to even try to kick them off. All those large whiskies on an empty stomach soon guaranteed that he was sound asleep. Luckily, there was nobody else around to be disturbed by the rattling snores that echoed around the huge bedroom.
It made Jack smile, that he actually saw some of the birds listed in the book, and recognised them. He was even tempted to tick them off the checklist at the back. He liked lists of course, but preferred his own. Very few people had passed him on his travels, and he had pretended to be engrossed in his bird-watching, so not to have to engage them in conversation. Traffic around that area was light too, reflecting the small population of that eastern county. It was almost seven when he got back to the chosen spot. A small gap in the hedge just big enough to get through, and enough overgrown foliage beyond to easily conceal him from sight of anyone in the house. He ate three cereal bars, and drank some more of the water he had brought along. Then he opened the flap of the new larger rucksack, and began to lay out some items on the grass.
Careful observation through the binoculars had shown nobody else coming or going that evening. If there was a wife or girlfriend inside already, then bad luck for her. Jack arranged the torch, hunting knife, glass cutter, and small crowbar, setting them out on the thin nylon over-suit which was still in its wrapper. Sold for decorating in the home, it not only covered the shoes, but also had a hood. The last items retrieved were two pairs of latex gloves. He would wear them both, one over the other, in case of nicks or tears in the dark. He wouldn’t need to carry everything at once of course, and would rearrange them inside the rucksack later, when it was time to make his move. Burglaries were not unknown in rural districts. And if it ended up with a struggle followed by a murder, nobody would be unduly surprised.
In The Horseshoe, Jerry checked his watch. No sign of Rich, which was most unusual. He had been open for over two hours, and that man was usually waiting to hear the bolt slide. Forgetting his troublesome but big-spending regular, he served a very buxom blonde girl with the two bottles of lager she had ordered. He knew full well that she wasn’t yet eighteen, but what the hell. It was business.
By the time his bladder woke him up, Richard had been sleeping far longer than he had intended to. He cursed himself for not rousing sooner, as he staggered into the dark hallway to get to the bathroom. Flicking on the light, he checked his ridiculously expensive watch. Almost eight. Hardly worth the effort to walk back to the pub now, as it closed at eleven anyway, and that Jerry never let him stay for late drinks with the other regulars. Not since he had clumped Old George last year, anyway. He decided to open a bottle from the kitchen cupboard instead. It wasn’t the same, drinking at home. He liked the atmosphere of the pub, and got a buzz from the tension created by his appearance, smirking at the locals whispering to each other as they glanced in his direction.
After the first glass, he thought he might be more comfortable stretched out on the bed, and he could watch the TV there too, as he had the satellite box set up in his bedroom. The living room was depressing, and he hardly spent any time downstairs these days. Switching off the light, he headed back upstairs. Despite the rumbling in his belly, he couldn’t be bothered to make anything to eat.
From his vantage point, Jack believed the house to be in darkness. Although his legs were stiff, and he was getting quite bored, it was still too early. Given what he had seen around, it was obvious even to a city person like him that the man he had encountered wasn’t much of a farmer. There was no activity to be seen anywhere, and certainly no farm staff working around the place. Perhaps he was just a bad farmer, and still went to bed early so he could be up to do whatever farmers did just before daylight. Another hour passed, and Jack switched on the army surplus torch with its hooded beam, then started to make his way across the overgrown space between him and the house. From his position at the back, he couldn’t see the light on in the large front bedroom.
The new glass cutter made short work of the window in the kitchen door, and Jack was able to reach in and unlock it, as the key had conveniently not been removed. He had guessed that a very drunk man might not go around removing keys. And he had guessed right. Once inside, he removed the hunting knife from the rucksack, before placing it back on his shoulders. The nylon suit was rustling, and annoyingly noisy, but it was a necessity. He walked through into the drab living room, shining the beam of the torch around until he found the bottom of the staircase to his left. A glance over his shoulder showed him a large side lamp, placed on a worn-out old dresser. It was one of those made to look like a Victorian oil lamp, with a heavy glass top.
That would be perfect to announce his presence. Once the resident was alerted, he would wait for him at the bottom of the stairs, torch off, knife ready. When the job was done, he would carefully stage the apparent burglary, then wait in the house until it started to get light, before leaving for the walk to the railway station.
Richard was flicking through some channels when he heard the sound of the glass breaking. He had just been wondering why he paid all that money every month for almost two hundred channels, when there was never anything worth watching. Whatever had smashed was something big, and it sounded like it was inside, not a window. He got off the bed, turning off the television using the remote, and walked over to the wardrobe. Reaching inside, he felt for the expensive double-barrelled shotgun his uncle had left in there. One of the few things Richard had never bothered to sell. He knew it was loaded, as he had used it a few times to blast away at pigeons and crows, before becoming bored with that. Opening the door quietly, he walked out onto the landing, some old boards creaking under his weight.
At the foot of the stairs, Jack heard the creaking, and he waited for the sound of the footsteps on the uncarpeted stairs. On the dark staircase, with no lights in the living room beyond, Richard could see nothing below him. He held the shotgun to his side, a finger on one half of the double trigger, barrels pointing straight down. With only two stairs left to the bottom, Jack walked into view, knife at the ready, torch turned off. It seemed that the man, close as he was, hadn’t seen or heard him. That made him smile.
In front of him, Richard suddenly saw a flash of something white. Brilliant white, dazzling in the gloom. He fired the barrel, and the noise was deafening, breaking the peace of the night outside. Jack was on his back, unable to conceal a look of great surprise on his face. The shot had hit him low down, around his pelvis, and he couldn’t move his legs. The farmer walked around him, and went over to the door, switching on the main light. Jack was still hanging on to the knife gripped in his palm, the other hand clutching the huge wound lower down on his body. He raised the hand holding the knife, and pointed it, making the man laugh out loud. Richard walked back to the prone intruder, and shook his head.
“Shouldn’t have spent so much money at the dentist, my friend. I might never have seen you”. He lowered the shotgun at an angle, until the barrels were level with Jack’s open mouth. With a slurred voice and a drunken grin, Richard fired the second barrel, blowing away the side of the man’s head, and most of his teeth. “Try getting the dentist to fix that, you bastard”.
Richard put down the shotgun, and walked over to the ancient dial-phone on a table by the sofa. He rang the emergency number, and waited until the police operator came on the line.
“I think you better send someone to Willoughby Farm. I just killed a burglar”.