This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 769 words.
It wasn’t long before everyone at work was talking about Shell not turning up that Monday. She hadn’t phoned in sick, so I was told, and she wasn’t replying to messages left on her phone. As she had been so secretive about our date, I had no worry that anyone would associate me with her, so just got on with my job. Adam stepped up to replace her as Team Leader until she came back.
By Wednesday, another Team Leader had called at her house, reporting back that there was no answer to repeated knocking. That afternoon, the depot manager phoned the police with his concerns, and they took a missing person report over the phone, advising him that they would investigate. It took over a eeek for the rest of the news to filter down to me, through Adam gossiping. Shell’s phone had been traced to inside her house, and her car was found parked in the next side street. Concerned police officers had forced entry using a locksmith, but found nothing to give them much concern. There was no trace of a handbag or purse, the house was clean and tidy with no evidence of a struggle, or break-in. They concluded that she must have gone to visit a friend or relative, and not bothered to tell her employer. It was even suggested that she might have run off with a lover.
The fact that this was abnormal behaviour for her didn’t seem to impress them.
Of course, I had to look surprised and concerned, every time a snippet of what was going on was told to me. I think I did very well, considering that I knew her handbag was under the metal drum full of acid containing her dissolved body, and that was stored in the false floor of my second workshop.
Some ten days later, there was a short appeal on the local news for anyone with information about her disappearance. She had not visited her mother in the care home, and she had also not used her bank card or credit card. There was no CCTV evidence of her moving around the town on the night of her disappearance, or since, and she had not boarded a bus or train. They were finally treating the case as suspicious, with no leads to follow. The next morning, two officers arrived at the depot to take statements.
They got to me after the first break, and I was allowed the time away from picking to talk to them. From the start, I could tell they were not that interested in me, and they asked me a lot of questions about Eddie, one of the delivery drivers who had apparently once been Shell’s boyfriend. That was easy, as I didn’t know him, and had never met him. The female detective smiled at me quite sweetly as she told me I could go.
If I was to continue my experiments, I couldn’t stay working there of course. Another person going missing would be too much of a coincidence. But I had to bide my time, as my sudden resignation while they were still looking for Shell might have been noticed. For four months, I turned up for work every day as usual, and one day I was told to report to the office of the manager. Momentarily, it crossed my mind that the police were going to be waiting there, ready to arrest me and haul me off in handcuffs. But I knew better, so was unconcerned as I entered after knocking.
Far from any prospect of arrest, I was actually offered Shell’s job as Team Leader, to my obvious surprise. I thanked him politely, suggested I wasn’t ready for the responsibility, then mentioned that I was thinking of leaving anyway. That caused him to change his manner completely. He said that I might as well give notice officially, and leave at the end of the day. He didn’t want anyone working there who was thinking of quitting.
Perhaps I should have told him that most of the staff were doing exactly that. But I left him in ignorance.
That weekend, I took a rare trip to the coast, just to walk along the beach and have a change of scene. Something my father had never allowed when I was young. Driving back through a country district almost sixty miles from home, I spotted a large hand-written sign at the entrance to a track.
HELP WANTED. LIVE-IN.
I stopped the car, reversed back a short distance, and turned left up the rutted path next to the sign.