This is the thirteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1750 words.
The one that got away
The big sofa they had been sitting on made a comfortable enough bed. Jenny had no intention of driving home that late, especially after three large glasses of wine. Mel had died surprisingly quickly, but it had been great to watch the fear and panic contorting her face through the clear plastic, before her legs stopped waving around, and her skin turned a funny colour. Shame about the mask though. She hadn’t been able to see her eyes.
Early the next morning, she loaded everything used last night into the dishwasher, and turned it on. Then she found a new duster under the sink, and walked around the house rubbing every surface she could remember touching. Before cleaning it, she turned on Mel’s phone, scrolled to the call list, and deleted the one from her mobile number. No point making things too easy for the police. With no students arriving until after lunchtime, she waited out the heavier morning traffic. One last look upstairs confirmed that Mel was still very much dead. She decided to leave her exactly like that. Handcuffed and blindfolded, with a plastic bag over her head.
A sex game gone wrong.
Making sure to shut the door firmly behind her as she left, hopefully giving her a few days grace before the body was discovered, she slid into her car and started the long drive home.
Despite having a photo of Jenny’s previous car, and the registration number, no progress was being made in finding it. One of the team had interviewed the man who had sold the car, but his recollection was unreliable. Yes, it was a woman who bought the car. Yes, she might have had blonde hair, and been wearing glasses. Yes, he had given her a receipt, but didn’t have a copy of it. No, he didn’t remember any distinguishing features. Not even her height, or if she had a local accent. He sold a lot of cars, couldn’t be expected to remember everyone who bought them. So she hadn’t registered the car? Not his fault, take it up with her. The weary copper knew it was pointless. The salesman was also the owner of the shabby car lot, and he didn’t want to get asked too much about a deal that had involved a fair bit of cash. Cash he had no intention of declaring as income, then having to pay tax on it.
By the time she arrived home, Jenny was feeling rather strange. The pain under her arm had migrated to her shoulder blade, and all the gear changes had left her arm feeling as if it was made of lead. As she got out of the seatbelt, there was a tiny damp patch visible on the top she was wearing. Not much bigger than a small coin, but definitely wet. It must have leaked through her bra too. Before going up to her flat, she walked around the corner to the chemist shop and bought some gauze dressing pads and a roll of surgical tape. In her bathroom, a quick examination showed that the biggest lump was indeed leaking some fluid. No doubt agitated by the seat belt on the long journey home, it was inflamed, rather like an angry spot. She decided to apply the dressing later, after her bath, and walked into the kitchen to make some cheese on toast and a hot drink.
Keith Liu had been angry when there was no answer at the home of his Mathematics tutor. He decided to wait outside her house for her, and in the meantime rang her number and left a message when it wasn’t answered. After less than an hour, he turned and began the long walk back to the railway station. It was very inconsiderate of Miss Silletoe to cancel his tutorial without any notice. She could at least have phoned him. She had his number. Not for the first time since arriving from Hong Kong, he thought that British people had bad manners, and were not at all polite. That evening, he rang again, and when she still didn’t answer he left a message cancelling all his other appointments, and telling her he would find someone else.
The cheese on toast had made her feel better, and after a quick bath, Jenny applied the dressing, even though the area was dry now. It must have been the seat belt, she told herself. There was nothing on the national news about any of the cases. An M.P. had resigned over some scandal or other, and a succession of talking heads were giving their opinions on whether or not he had made the right decision. She checked the local websites on the laptop, and all she could find was a repeat of the request for information about her car. The one that was carefully covered up in the garage. It surprised her just how quickly a series of murders could become old news.
When the pain came back around the shoulder blade and collar bone, it was more insistent than before, sharp enough to make her wince. She decided to take three strong pain killers and have a lie down in bed. With any luck she would get of to sleep early.
She did sleep undisturbed, but the early night meant she was awake when it was still dark. Feeling too stiff to stay in bed, she pushed though the aches and pains, and got up to make a cup of tea. A look at the dressing showed it had stayed dry. But she would change it later, as the tape had got twisted while she slept. Taking the hot tea through to the living room, Jenny opened her notebook, and picked up a pen from the side table.
Agata Kowalski came from a Polish family, but looked more like a Swedish film star. Honey blonde hair, ice blue eyes, and standing five feet ten in her bare feet. At that height, she had been a natural choice for the netball team, and despite acting superior to the others, she had soon been part of the gang. Her hard-working parents had come over from Poland before her and her younger brother were born, and they had tried hard to fit into the community. As far as school work was concerned, Agata wasn’t the brightest coin in the purse, but she had natural athletic talent, and ambitions to become a supermodel. Academic results were fairly low down her list, that was certain.
She was also the only one who wouldn’t tolerate a nickname. The other girls had tried a few; Aggie, Gata, even AK, but she wouldn’t hear of it, and insisted on being called Agata. Although her parents had apparently never lost their heavy accents, she spoke like all the other girls at school, and didn’t make much of her Polish background, except where food was concerned. She never ate anything her Mum hadn’t cooked, avoiding all fast food and junk food, as well as the cakes and sandwiches favoured by most of the others. At first, she thought that bullying Jenny was a childish waste of time, and didn’t bother to get involved. But then Tanny had told her that she had heard Jenny call her parents filthy Polacks, and even though it was a lie, she chose to believe it. After that, she was free with her punches and kicks as long as no teachers were around, and Jenny tried to avoid her whenever possible.
There was no trace of her online. It seemed that supermodel fame had eluded her, and she most definitely didn’t have a Facebook profile or Instagram account. But Jenny had managed to find her parents on the electoral register, still living in the same street. Getting a contact number hadn’t been so easy though. She was going to have to go to the house, if she wanted to ask them about Agata. No need to make too big a deal about it. No disguise needed, and just another drive to make. After getting dressed, she headed out early, sharing the road with delivery vans and other dawn patrol traffic.
Her former home town was a lot bigger now. New estates sprawled around the outskirts where once there had been open countryside. Lots of new roundabouts directed traffic away from the town centre onto a new ring road and by-pass, but as she got closer to the address, she saw that little had changed in the old part of town. She found the right house number, drove past it, and parked in the first available side turning. It wasn’t even eight o’clock, and she thought it best to give it at least thirty minutes before approaching the house. She was hoping that the Kowalskis hadn’t already left for work. Though they would be in their sixties by now, they could well still have jobs.
The small woman who answered the door had the same blue eyes as Agata, but her hair was short, and grey. Jenny had a pleasant smile fixed on her face. “Mrs Kowalski? You don’t know me, but I used to go to school with your daughter, Agata. I am back in the town on business, and thought I would look her up”. She was gambling that Agata wasn’t still living at home. At forty-three it was unlikely, but not impossible. The older woman opened the door wider, and smiled. “Come in dear, she doesn’t live here any more of course, but I can give you her address. I have her phone number and email too. Can I get you a cup of tea?” The accent was still heavy, but her English was perfect. Jenny declined the tea, and stood politely in the hallway until Mrs Kowalski returned. She had a piece of paper in one hand, and a framed photo in the other.
“Here she is, with my two grandchildren. She married well you know, an American. We have been out to see her there, such a lovely house. Do you know California?” Jenny felt her whole body slump with disappointment. She briefly admired the photo. There she was, looking twenty-five, not forty three. A dazzling white smile, and two perfect kids, a boy and girl. Taking the paper from the woman, she stuffed it into the pocket of her jacket, and turned to go. As Agata’s Mum closed the door, she added, “I will tell her you called here. What name is it?” Without looking back, Jenny called over her shoulder.
“Tanya. Tanya Birch”.
There was no way Jenny could even contemplate air travel to America.
Agata would have to be the one that got away.