Danny: The Complete Story

This is all 38 parts of a fiction serial in one complete story. It is a long read, at 29,560 words.

I never liked my wife that much. No idea why I married her, really. It seemed to be the thing to do. We went out for a year, got engaged, then got married a year after that. That’s what you do, isn’t it? You conform, play the game, do what everyone before you did. It’s expected of you, let’s face it.

What makes people change so much when they get married? The security of a thin gold band? The knowledge that they are now entitled to half of everything? Why do you walk into that church with one woman, then walk out with someone you hardly recognise?

Eve smoked a lot. I knew she smoked of course, but once the certificate was signed, I found out just how much. She smoked while she ate. Chewing a steak and puffing on a cigarette between mouthfuls. Gazing at her phone to see who was doing what, and where they were doing it. Why did she think it was okay to do that? To ignore me, and to blow smoke over my food.

Because she could. Because she was now a wife.

Then she changed her mind about having kids. “Let’s not rush in, Daniel. We are still young, and kids can come later”.

Always with the ‘Daniel’. Why did everyone call me Daniel? I told them I wanted to be called Danny. I felt like a Danny. Daniel sounded so old fashioned, Biblical, boring. Danny was cool. Leather-jacket cool. I can’t remember how many times I asked Eve to call me Danny.

But she never did. Not even once.

And where did the sex go? Not that she was ever that adventurous, but it was regular and very nice before the wedding. Then came pyjamas in bed, all make up removed, and sensible big knickers. “Leave it to the weekend, Daniel. You know I get tired at work, and I have to be up early. Go to sleep now”.

Well she had to work before we got married, and get up early. But that didn’t stop her in the past. And the knickers were brief and lacy then.

Six months in, and I was starting to feel more like we had been married for ten years. Eve was home late from work, meeting the girls for shopping at weekends, and going to visit her granny in the old people’s home every Sunday. I was back to eating alone – at least that was smoke free- and cooking easy meals in the microwave.

Just like being single again. Until she came home.

When I turned twenty-eight that autumn, I was feeling more like fifty-eight. And her idea of a birthday present was an electric drill. “You can put those extra shelves up in the airing cupboard that I asked you about”. An electric drill? What was she thinking? When it came to her birthday, she spent weeks dropping hints about all the things she was hoping I would buy her.

She got a slow cooker. I told her she could make the casseroles that I asked her about. That went down like a lead balloon, as you can imagine. But it gave me a much-needed laugh when she unwrapped the box.

So she went out and bought herself a car. A car we couldn’t really afford, and certainly didn’t need. We already had a decent car, and that only got used for the weekly grocery shop, or to drive over to see her granny. Now we had two stuck outside the door, and a three-hundred quid a month loan over four years in her name.

Even before our first anniversary, it was all going downhill rapidly. Eve joined a gym, because one of her friends went there. Then it was gym after work, swimming on Saturday mornings, jogging when it wasn’t raining, and anything to stay away from me, so it seemed. We started to pass in the house like ships in the night. Her coming in as I was going out, and vice versa. She said I should get a hobby, play a sport, go out with my mates.

“We can’t live in each other’s pockets, Daniel. It’s not the nineteen fifties any longer. Times change”.

If I had wanted to go out with my mates, take up fishing, or play tennis, I needn’t have got married. Naturally, I wasn’t happy. Not happy at all.

That’s why I killed her.

Wanting to kill your wife and actually doing it are two very different things. Unless you don’t care about geting caught and serving life for her murder of course. Then I could just have taken her birthday gift drill out of the box and drilled straight through her head with it.

But I didn’t want to get caught.

Lots of methods go through your mind. You can’t look them up online, as that might look suspicious if the police decide to seize your computer and mobile phone. No, it all has to be done from memory and invention, each possible method examined and discarded. Nothing can be written down either. Even if you burned the paper later, something like that could also be deemed suspicious.

Poison was out of the question, as that would show up in the post-mortem. It had to look like an accident, a tragic accident.

Even that doesn’t give you many options. You have to consider your alibi, as you mustn’t be in the vicinity of where that accident happened. They check your phone activations on masts too, so that has to have the battery removed. Might even be best to break the thing so it wasn’t working at all, then claim a replacement from the insurance later.

Accidents involving twenty-seven year-old women usually involve cars. Or horses, or swimming, or skiing, or cycles. They don’t often die by electrocution when fixing a fuse box, break their neck playing netball, or fall off a ladder while clearing gutters. They are unlikely to stab themselves in the groin and bleed out whilst filleting a leg of pork, or accidentally pour a whole kettle of boiling water over their head while making two cups of tea.

In fact, fatal accidents involving females under forty are surprisingly rare.

Tampering with her car was not going to work. If she died in a car accident they would be bound to investigate the vehicle. And if she only received minor injuries, there would be no point. She was far too fit and healthy to have a heart attack or stroke as she exercised at the gym, and it was too early for a smoking-related illness to free me from her. And she was such a strong swimmer, drowning seemed unlikely. Besides, she was always swimming with her friend.

It wasn’t long before I realised that I was going to have to do something physical to kill her, and make it look like an accident.

That also took a lot of thought. DNA wasn’t a problem, as we were married. If the accident happened in the home, it would not seem remotely suspicious that I was there at the time, as long as the cause of death looked completely accidental.

Eve didn’t know it, but she provided me with the perfect solution when she returned from a shopping trip one Saturday afternoon. Opening various bags, she delighted in showing me the things she had bought using credit card money we couldn’t afford to spend. New gym clothes, a thing like a wristwatch that monitored her pulse and blood pressure, assorted sensible underwear, some horrifically expensive Nike trainers, and a new pair of ‘going-out’ shoes.

Her voice rose to a squeal when she showed me the shoes. Red velvet, with huge spike heels that would probably add eight inches to her height. She slipped them on, and walked around the living room, the high arch of the shoes pitching her forward unnaturally until she got used to the feeling. Stopping by the front window, she raised one leg.

“Aren’t they just fabulous, Daniel? God knows I will never be able to dance in them, and I will have to get a taxi to meet the girls when I wear them, but it’s worth it. They were great value too, marked down to one hundred and fifty. Look, you can see the designer name on the sole”. Resisting the urge to complain about how much she had spent, I simply smiled and nodded.

Two weeks later, the night arrived. Meeting the girls in a restaurant at seven, taxi booked for six-thirty. After the meal, it was on to a club. One of her friends was thirty that day, and they were going to make a night of it She was upstairs getting ready when I casually wandered into the bedroom to tell her she looked nice. In fact, she looked like a prostitute, in my opinion. The dress that matched the shoes had probably cost as much as them, and there was hardly anything of it. Too low cut, and far too short.

Carrying the shoes in her left hand she walked out of the bedroom, with me following close behind.

That’s when I picked her up, and threw her head-first down the stairs.

The sound her head made when it hit the tiled floor of the hallway reminded me of dropping a bag of shopping on the pavement when I was a kid. I had less than twenty minutes before the taxi showed up, so moved quickly. Eve had dropped the shoes when I threw her, so I recovered them from the stairs. I walked down and placed one on her left foot, then snapped off the heel of the right shoe and put that and the shoe on the top step.

Her chest was still rising and falling a little, but she was making no noise. Some blood was running out from under her right cheek where her nose had broken on impact, so I stepped over that as I picked up the house phone. After hyperventilating for a few moments, I rang 999 and asked for an ambulance. I sounded concerned enough, but not panicking. They asked me if she was breathing, and I said she was, so they told me to turn her on her side if she was on her back. I said she was already on her side and they said an ambulance would be there in under fifteen minutes.

They actually turned up in around ten minutes, and got to work on her, asking me lots of questions. I pointed to the stairs, and showed one of them the shoe at the top. I told her I had been in the toilet, and come out to find Eve like this, ringing an ambulance immediately. I made sure to mention that she had never owned shoes with such high heels, and that I was sure they had caused the fall. By the time they had finished, she had a neck collar on, an oxygen mask over her face, a drip connected to one arm, and splints on the other arm and one leg, both believed to have been broken by the impact of landing.

The taxi driver rang the doorbell while they were strapping her up, and looked startled at the scene when I opened the door. I apologised to him and said my wife would not be needing the cab after all.

When they got her into the ambulance they said I could go with her, so of course I did. On the way they used the siren, and the vehicle was rocking about all over the place as the driver seemed to be going so fast. The woman in the back kept looking at a machine Eve was connected up to, and trying to give me a reassuring smile. But she didn’t look very convincing. We got to the hospital in less than ten minutes, and nurses and doctors were waiting. One of the nurses took me inside and sat me in a room along the corridor as the rest of them wheeled Eve into the department.

It must have been almost thirty minutes later when a young female doctor came into the small waiting room, looking very serious. “Your wife has gone for a scan. She has a broken arm, and her right femur is broken in her leg. But more worringly, we think she has a skull fracture, a very serious one. I will come back and see you when we know more”. A chubby nurse came in with a plastic cup of tea. “I didn’t think to ask if you wanted sugar, sorry”. I put it under the seat. Tea was the last thing I wanted.

A different nurse came in with a clipboard, and suggested I phone Eve’s parents. I told her that she only had her granny, and she was in an old people’s home. So she asked me a load of questions about Eve, even though I had already told the ambulance people most of the same things.

Another hour went by until a dignified-looking male doctor appeared in the room. “Your wife has sustained a catastrophic fracture of the skull, I’m afraid. We are going to admit her to Intensive Care, but my advice is to prepare yourself for the worst, I’m sorry to say. The surgeons have looked at the scans, and they don’t believe an operation would be possible. Even if they tried, she might never regain consciousness. Do you know if your wife ever expressed a wish to donate any organs?”

Nodding, I told him that she was very enthusiastic about organ donation, and had often said she would hate to be kept alive on a machine. He said he would be back soon.

Forty minutes later, the police turned up to talk to me.

The two uniformed cops presumed I already knew that Eve was dead, and offered their condolences. Naturally, I jumped up and acted shocked at the news, leaving the younger one looking at the older one for some kind of backup. He came through.

“Well sir, your wife is technically alive, but only because she is being kept alive on a ventilator so that organs can be taken when a surgical team is free. I was led to believe you had agreed to that, and someone should be along soon with a consent form. Otherwise, as there is nothing that can be done for her, we are just taking a brief report of a sudden death caused by a fall downstairs. This will be reported to the CID of course, and they may want to examine your house. I have to ask you to make sure not to disturb any of the scene where the accident happened. Perhaps you could stay with a relative?”

I told him I would book into the Premier Inn. As it was a Saturday night, I had no work the next day, and the CID could ring me on my mobile. I gave answers to all his questions, making sure to get some details wrong, and then correct myself. It wouldn’t do to look too composed.

As if on cue, the dignified doctor returned with paperwork for me to sign, and they left us alone telling me that someone would phone me.

The doctor asked me if I wanted to go and see Eve before the surgeons got to work. I shook my head. “Something very good will come out of this tragedy, sir. The organs will give new life and hope to many people. Your wife’s generosity of spirit will live on in them”. I wondered how many times he had made that speech, before giving the green light for the butchers to get to work removing Eve’s kidneys, liver, eyes, lungs, and anything else they could use. Then I told him she was a heavy smoker, so he should be careful with the lungs.

Maybe I shouldn’t have said that, but he just nodded.

It turned out I didn’t need to book into a hotel. The night duty CID on-call rang my mobile, and I said we could sort it out that night. I would get a taxi home, and meet them there. I used the excuse that I wanted to be somewhere familiar, and get the place cleaned up when they had finished. I acted a bit strange on the phone, guessing they would put it down to me being in shock.

If I had been expecting a full turnout of crime scene examiners and forensic specialists, I was very wrong. There were two tired-looking blokes sitting outside the house in a car when I got home, and one of them was eating a burger. They came in, the non-burger one carrying a professional-looking camera. As I told burger-man all the details again, and showed him around, the other one snapped off lots of photos using a powerful flash. Done and dusted in twenty minutes, burger-man turned to me as they were leaving.

“This looks very straightforward, just a tragic accident. Sorry for your loss. The Coroner will receive the report from the hospital, and we will write up our investigation. Someone will be in touch about the inquest. You should attend, as the Coroner will want to ask you questions. Goodnight”.

He had used the line ‘A tragic accident’. Music to my ears, and that would no doubt be in his report too. Mind you, I guessed that wouldn’t be the end of it. Those two would probably hand it off to the day shift to do the real work.

The next morning, I cleaned up the blood in the hallway, and decided I had to go and tell Eve’s granny. I hadn’t seen her since the wedding, but as she was the only relative, I ought to be the one to tell her. I used Eve’s new car, to give it a run before I got rid of it. One of the care home workers showed me to her room, and she was duly surprised to see me. I told her as quickly as I could, before she could start asking me why Eve wasn’t there.

Surprisingly, she didn’t seem too shocked. “Silly girls, wearing those ridiculous shoes. What a stupid way to die”. I wanted to mention that she had probably worn stilletos in her youth, but let that slide. Instead I said I understood she would miss the Sunday visits. Her eyebrows raised to her hairline.

“What Sunday visits? I haven’t seen her since you two got married”.

I had to admit, granny’s confession had surprised me. So Eve had been up to something on Sundays? That might have explained why she wasn’t so interested in sex with me after such a short time of being married. Still, that made me feel even better about killing her. I might find out who she had been seeing, and if I did, they would pay for that infidelity.

On the drive home, it occurred to me that I could get time off work. After all, my wife was dead, and that would entitle me to some sort of absence. I pulled into the big McDonald’s on the ring road, and got a meal to eat in. I rang my boss at home, and told him the news. He sounded really upset, even though he didn’t really know Eve. Him and his wife had been invited to the evening reception when we got married, but had declined because of a previous commitment.

Tony was very good about things. “Take as much time as you need, Daniel. It won’t count against your leave, just let me know how you are, and come back when you feel up to it”.

Daniel again. I had given up telling him to call me Danny.

Delivery logistics wasn’t a very sexy career, but it paid well, and I was good at it. I had been at the same company since leaving school ten years earlier, and two years ago I had been promoted to departmental manager. I liked being good at it, and finding it easy to do. As far as I was concerned, I would stay there until I retired.

As I sat finishing my milkshake, I thought I should probably tell Eve’s friends. Most of them were just names I had never met, but a couple of them had come to the house when we moved in, and I remembered one was Fiona. They would all be on her phone, which was still in her handbag in the house. I knew her passcode, as I had been in the phone shop with her when she upgraded. It was her granny’s birthday.

Fiona screamed so loud when I told her, I thought my ear would explode. Then she started sobbing theatrically, so her boyfriend took the phone off of her. “Sorry mate, she’s too upset to talk now. She will let the others know, and don’t forget to let us know about the funeral”.

As I suspected, the cops were not finished with me. I had to go in and make a statement, answer the same questions all over again, and agree that I had no plans to leave the country. The po-faced female detective gave me a stare like a snake in a tank. “It’s not that we suspect you or anything, but you have to be aware that in most cases like this, the possibility of domestic violence has to be ruled out”. To show willing, I declined a solicitor, and agreed to both a DNA swab and fingerprints. That seemed to impress her.

“Thank you, we will be in touch”.

For the next couple of days, I boxed up all of Eve’s clothes, handbags, and shoes. Once the dust had settled, I would take them all to a charity shop. I rang the car company about her car, and they agreed to take it back for a finance settlement fee of five hundred quid. I paid over the phone, and they said they would be there the next day to collect it. I cancelled her car insurance while I was at it, and informed the mortgage company. We had both taken out life insurance when we bought the house, and both made wills leaving everything to each other. They said I would need to send in the death certificate when I had it, and then they would pay off the mortgage.

I tried cancelling her credit card and bank account, but they said I would have to come in with the death certificate and see someone.

Then I sat down one afternoon and went through her phone. Most of it was the usual stuff. Calls to the hairdresser, the gym, and various friends and colleagues. The text messages were more interesting though. A number with no name or identity, but full of arrangements and dates. I checked the calendar. They were all Sundays. Whoever was sending the replies signed off with a ‘J’, and three kisses. It only took me seconds to work out that was one of the partners at the law firm she worked for, Julian.

I had only met him once, at a company dinner. I reckoned he must have been at least sixty, but he was fit and tanned, with shiny white teeth and cropped grey hair.

He went straight in as my number one suspect.

As I had told Fiona, I presumed she would have informed everyone at work, so they would know about what happened to Eve. But it hadn’t gone unnoticed that nobody had phoned me to offer condolences. So I decided to shake the wasp’s nest. I rang the law firm and asked to speak to Julian Tolliver. The woman told me he was very busy, but when I said I was Eve’s husband, she asked me to hold for a moment. He sounded edgy when he came on the phone.

“Daniel, what can I say? So tragic. We are all in shock here. Eve was such a lovely young woman, and so good at her job. Popular in the office too. Is there anything we can do to help you?”

My first thought was to tell him he could help by calling me Danny. But I let that go, and said I would let him know about the funeral arrangements in due course.

After two weeks I was thinking about going back to work, when the police rang to say that they could release Eve’s body for a funeral, and the inquest would come later. I guessed that meant it was going to be considered an accident, at least by the police. If the Coroner came to the same conclusion, I would be home and dry.

A local undertaker sorted me out a basic cremation with a rent-a-vicar. A hearse, plus two cars for mourners. I told them I would only need one car. Eve’s granny had suffered a stroke after my visit, no doubt a delayed reaction to the news. She was doing okay, but not fit to attend a funeral. My dad didn’t speak to me, and my mum was dead. As for Eve’s friends, and Julian, they could make their own way there.

The hospital’s patient’s affairs department provided me with some paperwork that I could take to the Council offices to get a death certificate. They also gave me a clear plastic sleeve containing Eve’s personal effects. Wedding ring, engagement ring, two gold hoop earrings, a gold bracelet and matching necklace. At the Council offices, I paid extra for more certificates. Then I would have spares to send to the insurance company, and to give the bank. I decided to take the rest of the time off until the funeral.

There was a lot of running around to do.

I chose two different charity shops for all of Eve’s stuff, and they were very pleased to receive the good quality clothes and shoes. The meeting in the bank took almost an hour, but they closed her account and stopped her cards. I declined their offer of a cup of tea, but still had to listen to their businesslike and totaly insincere condolences. With my darkest suit dropped off at the dry cleaner’s, I popped into work to let Tony know. He was a bit flustered, and when I asked him if he wanted to come to the funeral, he got even more flustered.

“Too busy here my friend. With you away, I couldn’t possibly take time off. But I hope it all goes well. Take as much time as you need”. I could tell by the look on his face that he was already regretting saying that.

On the way home, I bought a black tie.

As funerals go, it was a good one. Julian looked so uncomfortable, I had to suppress a smile. The female friends all boo-hooded a lot, but none of them spoiled their perfect make-up. From the time we walked into the crematorium until I was heading home in the funeral car, it was all over in thirty minutes. Some of them asked me where we would be going on to. I told everyone I was too upset to have any sort of food and drink wake. Like I was going to waste money on that lot.

Not long after I went back to work, much to Tony’s relief, I got a call from one of the cops about the inquest. “Don’t worry, Daniel. It’s a foregone conclusion mate”. I wore a nice suit and sat in the small courtroom looking suitably sad. It was a lady Coroner, and she was very kind. Speaking softly, she went through all the witnesses, checking the papers on her desk, asking them questions, and nodding sagely.

She called the ambulance crew, the uniformed cops, and the detective woman with the snake eyes. There was the first doctor, the woman one, followed by the distinguished-looking man, and then a pathologist who outlined the injuries and cause of death. She didn’t bother to call the taxi driver I had sent away. At the end, she asked if I had any questions, and I said “No madam” in a clear voice.

There was no need to even break for lunch. She ruled ‘Accidental Death’ before midday, and that was that.

The thing about murder that most people don’t realise is that it’s addictive. I’m not talking about sex killers like The Boston Strangler, or killers for profit, like Mafia hit men. No, just run of the mill killings, the taking of a life. Getting away with it is easy enough if you are careful. After all, there are thousands of unsolved murders sitting on the books around the world.

And don’t get me started on the ‘Missing’, or the ‘Disappeared’. They are all dead and gone, take my word for it. I know what I’m talking about.

Forget about all those ‘Sociopaths’, ‘Social rejects’, and ‘Psychopaths’. Most of those either want to get caught, or are trapped by their carelessness. Being famous for killing a lot of people is no substitute for spending the rest of your days in solitary or a mental hospital, not as far as I’m concerned.

No, you just kill people you don’t like. It’s as simple as that. Make it look like an accident, and that’s a bonus.

Modern technology is the murderer’s enemy, not the police. The police would be useless if it wasn’t for their three golden rules. ‘Motive’, ‘Method’, and ‘Opportunity’. Leave out one of those three, and they are running around like the Keystone Cops. But you have to be careful now. Mobile phone tracking, Internet searches, and the bane of my life, CCTV cameras. They are the worst, and account for so many convictions these days, they might as well sack all the cops and just employ more CCTV operators instead.

Back when I started, all that was in its infancy. All I had to remember was not to get any books out of the library that mentioned murder.

Life wasn’t so bad, until my little sister was born. Dad played football with me in the garden, mum made a fuss of me and bought me cakes. We had holidays at the seaside, ice cream and funfair rides. Cricket on the beach, and tired evenings in the caravan. Once we even went to Spain for a week, on an aeroplane. I remember being excited about the plane, and remember it was so bloody hot there. But not much else.

Then just before my eighth birthday, mum looked fat. She sat me down and told me that I was going to get a little brother or sister. She seemed happy, and said it like she expected me to be excited at the prospect. You can already guess that I wasn’t.

I played along of course, hoping for a brother I could dominate, and pass on my toys to. Seven months later, I got a sister.

They called her Emily, after a great aunt who had left some money in a will. As soon as she arrived back from the hospital, I was savvy enough to know that I might just as well kill myself. They had just tolerated a dirty, smelly boy for eight years, and now they had an adorable blonde daughter who didn’t even keep them awake at night crying. Emily was perfect. My Dad told me so, more times than I ever wanted to hear.

That started what I think of as the ‘bedroom years’. My parents and grandparents doted on baby Emily for the next two years until I was ten. I might just as well have gone to live in another country, for all I mattered. Especially to my dad. No more football in the garden. No more help with school work. No more fun presents at birthdays or Christmas. Just clothes, or vouchers. While Emily had so many presents under the tree, it took them an hour to open them all for her.

I retreated to my bedroom, and I started to think about my situation. Obvously, little Emily had to go.

Luckily, I was bright enough to continue my studies with no parental assistance. Not that I ever forgave them for that, as I am sure you have worked out by now. Her second birthday presented me wih a wonderful opportunity. Dad’s brother, Uncle Brian, presented the toddler wih a gigantic stuffed Panda. Now I look back, I am convinced he played the uncle to cover up his predeliction for young boys. At least that meant that Emily was safe from his advances.

Death by Panda was not that easy to achieve. But I was nothing if not inventive.

Little Emily’s days were numbered, but I had to be careful. Mum wasn’t working now, and wouldn’t go back until her angelic daughter started school. She never left me alone in the house with my sister either. Not because she was worried about what might happen, she just couldn’t bear to be parted from her.

My plan began by befriending Emily. Coming out of my room and playing with her. Letting her climb all over me, and pull my hair. I even gave her some of my treasured old toys, and faked laughter as she wrecked them. Over the space of a couple of weeks, mum started to relax, and even told me how nice it was to see me warming to my sister. “I can tell how much she loves her big brother. She wil look up to you one day, and count on you for protection”.

How wrong can you be?

Then one afternoon in the Easter holidays, mum came downstairs. “I have just settled Emily for her nap, and I’m going to make a Victoria sponge cake”. I was looking forward to some cake later, when mum reappeared from the kitchen. “Silly me, I’m out of jam. I’m just going up to the Londis shop, won’t be long”.

Now a reasonable person might wonder why she just didn’t give me the money, and ask me to go to the shop and get the jam. There was a reason. Both her and my dad were mean with money, and each of them was as tight as a duck’s arse. The truth was they never handed me any money to buy anything. They just didn’t trust me. Not even with the change from a jar of strawberry jam.

I could have been to that shop and back with the jam in less than ten minutes. But I knew my mum. She would chat to anyone she knew in there, and if there was nobody else in the shop, she would chat about nothing to the owner. I had my window of opportunity.

My sister was in her tiny bed with the sides up, to stop her climbing out. The toy panda was next to her, almost twice as big as she was. She was fast asleep on her back, making a bubbling sound. I picked up the stuffed panda and held it over her, pressing its fat belly area over her face gently, but hard enough. She didn’t struggle or cry, but her podgy little legs waved around a lot. When they stopped moving, I removed the panda, and watched her tiny chest. When it didn’t rise and fall for a count of one hundred in my head, I turned Emily on her side, and jammed the panda hard against the safety rails. Then I pushed her face hard into it, put the crochet blanket back over her, and went back downstairs.

When mum got back after being out for close to forty-five minutes, I was reading some comics in the living room. As well as the jam, she had been distracted enough to buy other stuff, and she went into the kitchen to unpack her shopping bag. Then I could hear her mixing the cake, humming a nameless tune as she worked.

Wiping her hands on a tea-towel, she walked past me. “The cake is in, I’m just going to wake up little madam and sort her out”. I looked up and smiled as she told me that.

The scream from upstairs could have shattered glass, and actually made me jump, even though I was expecting it. What happened after that hardly involved me, though it did involve a lot of frantic phone calls, a great deal of shouting and sobbing, and a totally pointless attempt at CPR on my sister by my hysterical mother. When the ambulance people arrived, mum rushed out with them without stopping to get her bag or her keys, and without bothering to even say one word to me.

The sirens sounded loud in the street as they drove off, and I sat in the same position until I couldn’t hear them any longer.

By the time mum and dad got home, it was dark. I had rubbed my eyes hard enough to make it look like I had been crying. Mum looked at me and shook her head. “She gone, Daniel. She’s gone”.

My dad’s face looked like a stone statue, and he had his arm around mum’s shoulders, almost holding her up. I expected something. Maybe a family cuddle, a shared exchange of grief. I had been practising for that all afternoon. By doing so I had forgotten to turn off the oven, so the cake was burned black.

What I didn’t expect was for my dad to take two paces forward and slap my face so hard, he drew blood from the corner of my mouth.

After my dad hit me, I ran upstairs and hid in my room. I could hear him screaming at my mum in the living room.

“How could you? How could you leave little Emily with that waste of space, and expect him to watch her?” I don’t think he hit her, but I was sure he wanted to batter her until she was unconscious.

After that night, everything changed.

Mum stayed in the bedroom, mostly crying day and night. My dad didn’t speak to me unless he had to, then only aggressively, and just giving orders or instructions. I hardly got anything to eat, and when I did it was just fish and chips from the shop, or something dumped in the microwave. My dad wasn’t the kind of man who adapted well to taking control of domestic things. I had to go to school with unironed clothes, always feeling hungry and unloved.

Emily’s funeral was a sight to see. My dad carrying a tiny white coffin, my mum in such a state that my granny called a taxi and took her to hospital. I kept out of the way as much as possible after that. I stole whatever money was left in my mum’s purse that I found in the kitchen, and bought extra food and drinks to keep me going. No comics, no watching telly, it was like living in a graveyard.

Not long after that, dad packed my stuff and told me to get in the car. Without saying a word all the way, he took me to his mum’s house, on the other side of town. When we got there, he threw all my stuff onto her front path and looked at me like he wanted to beat me to death.

“You’re living here now. I never want to see you again”.

That suited me just fine. Granny was always nice to me, and she fed me until I felt I would burst. Although I had to take two buses to get to school, I didn’t mind. Uncle Brian lived with her, and after the panda toy, nobody was talking to him either. I had a feeling it wouldn’t be long before he made his move on me, and when it happened, I wasn’t surprised.

To be honest, I quite liked the affection. And when his guilt kicked in, he bought me stuff, took me to the cinema, and then onto a burger bar or pizza place. I didn’t even mind the sex, as he was so caring and gentle. But we had to be quiet, in case granny heard anything downstairs.

Then granny took bad. She had to go into hospital for tests, and she never came out. My dad didn’t even come to his own mother’s funeral. He didn’t want to see me, or Uncle Brian.

Six weeks later, mum took an overdose of sleeping pills and anti-depressants. I wasn’t told about her funeral, and my dad has never spoken to me since.

Uncle Brian was ready to take care of me. In many ways, they were my golden years. I could wear what I liked, watch anything I wanted on TV, and add my favourite foods to the shopping list. I had to move into his room, and into his double bed. But I couldn’t have cared less about that. I finally felt free. Long before I ever realised about husbands and wives, I worked out that Uncle Brian considered me to be his underage wife, and I just went with the flow.

Things were not so good for me at school. I had started secondary school close to granny’s house, and I found it hard to make friends. Paul Carpenter started off by picking on me, thinking himself to be a tough guy. His mum was a fan of the books by Danielle Steele, so he thought it was funny to call me ‘Danielle’, instead of Daniel. I cannot recall how many times he would stand in front of his gang of admirers and ask me, “Isn’t your name Danielle? I think you are a girl, Danielle”.

I played along of course. Smiles, and false laughter. Educationally, he was a moron, but he more or less controlled the first year at secondary school. So I played the fool, and got into his little gang, if only to make him sure I was an easy target.

He would come to regret that.

During the school holidays when Uncle Brian was at work, I could do anything I wanted. He liked me to be back for dinner before seven, but he never asked me about homework, where I had been, or who I had been with. I got on okay with most of the kids at school, but didn’t have any special friends there that I would spend time with during the break away from school. Paul Carpenter thought I was his friend, and he thought I was scared of him too.

He was very wrong, on both counts.

That didn’t stop me pretending, so I sought him out and started to mix with his little gang that hung around the parade of shops ten minute’s walk from where I was living. After the first couple of weeks of the summer holidays had passed, he was ready to accept me as a pal. That was when I could put my plan into action.

Stage one was to invite him round to the house when Uncle Brian was out. I enticed him with the promise of being able to look at my uncle’s collection of porn magazines, which was extensive. While he was flicking through the magazines, I asked him if he had ever been swimming in the disused quarry. Turning over to a centre page spread, and exclaiming “Wow!”, he shook his head. Then he looked round at me.

“Dangerous there, out of bounds to everyone, and swimming is banned. Besides, it’s a long bus ride from here. I go to the town pool sometimes, but that cold water in the quarry doesn’t appeal to me”. I handed him a can of Tizer, and as he popped the tab, asked if he was too scared to try swimming there. He didn’t even bother to sip the drink before replying.

“Scared? Me? Piss off! I ain’t scared of nothing. Just don’t want all the aggravation if someone calls the cops. Anyway, there used to be security patrols there, it’s not worth the bother”. I told him I was going there on Friday afternoon, and if he was too scared, I would swim across the quarry on my own. I could see his mind working, and knew what he was thinking. If I went back after the holidays and told everyone he was too scared to swim in the quarry, his reputation would be damaged. Possibly irreparably.

He gulped down the entire can of drink, then let out a huge belch. “Okay, you’re on. But you have to pay the bus fare, I’m skint”.

I arranged to meet him around one in the afternoon, at a bus stop that was an equal distance from both of us. It was a bright day, and warm but not that hot. After we got off the stop nearest to the old quarry, we had a twenty-minute walk along the former lorry track, and then we had to get over a wire fence. I was carrying swimming trunks and a towel in a duffel bag, but Paul didn’t have anything. I asked him why he didn’t bring any trunks, and he sneered at me.

“Trunks? I’m going in bare-assed. Trunks and towels are for wimps. You wear them if you want, Danielle”.

The fence was past its best, and the signs warning about security patrols and the danger of swimming were faded and rusty. It was easy to get inside, and I had to admit the huge pool in the quarry excavation looked impressive. Keen to show off, Paul kicked off his shoes, stripped off his clothes, and clambered down to the level area where the water could be accessed. He slid on the shingle a few times, but kept a brave face as he reached the water.

“Last one in is a Homo, so that means you!” With that he plunged into the water.

Taking my time, I changed into my trunks and walked down carefully. Making it look good, I went in up to my knees, reaching the spot where it fell away into deeper water that could well have been eighty or ninety feet deep. It was icy cold, even on that summer’s day. Splashing around, Paul started laughing at me, presuming I was too scared to go in after all. When I just stood there, he started to swim back to me. While his head was under the water, I picked up a pebble as big as my fist, and held it behind my back.

As he got nearer, I played the scaredy-cat, shaking my head as he shouted once again. “Come on, you baby. Come in, or I will come and drag you in”. As he reached shallow water, he ran in my direction, arms outstretched. He definitely wasn’t expecting it when I hit him over the head with the pebble. Not the first time, nor the sixth time. He slipped back into the water, unconscious. I threw the pebble as far into the quarry pool as I could, then pushed Paul gently with my foot so that he floated back out into the middle, sinking slowly as I watched.

It took me almost three hours to walk home.

They found Paul’s body two days later, after his parents had reported him missing, and a big search had gone on locally. It seems those security patrols did still go around the disused quarry, and they found his shoes and clothes wher he had left them. After that, it didn’t take long for the police divers to discover the body in the water.

I was watching the report on the local news when Uncle Brian got home from work. He was looking flushed, and smiling a lot. I knew what that meant. He stood in front of the screen, blocking my view. “Come on, Daniel. We could go upstairs for a while, then I will get us a curry delivered from that nice Indian place after”. I told him that if he carried on calling me Daniel and not Danny, there would be no chance of me ever going upstairs with him again, and I might just remember all that sexual abuse and tell the police.

That shut him up, and I got the curry anyway. With a naan bread, two poppadoms, and some mango chutney.

There was no indication on the news that anyone was with Paul. The shingle surrounding the quarry didn’t leave footprints, and if anyone had asked the bus driver, he obviously hadn’t remembered. Despite the warnings and random security patrol, there was no CCTV at the quarry either.

For the next to last week of that summer holiday, Uncle Brian had booked a luxury caravan for us, at a holiday park in Lowestoft. He had been promising me a holiday ever since I moved in, and finally came good on that promise. It was quite a well-appointed site, with a social club, shop, playground, and amusements too. The seafront was close by, and both piers were in easy walking distance. The caravan slept six, with a double room at one end, and furniture that converted into beds at the other.

As Brian was quick to tell me, we would only need the double room.

Mind you, he made sure I was entertained, repaying me for ‘afternoon naps’ and early nights in the bedroom with cooked breakfasts, busy mornings at the seafront, and slap-up dinners at various places in the town. People just assmued I was his son, and he never once corrected them. Even the weather played along, and we only had one afternoon of heavy summer rain. I really enjoyed it, and on the way home, genuinely thanked him. That made him keen to offer me something better.

“Maybe next year, we could get a villa in Greece. It’s very hot there they say, but it looks beautiful in the brochures. I will check on a passport for you, I think your old one was just added on your mum’s”. I suggested that the Easter holidays might be cooler, and he smiled in agreement. I was sure he was already convinced that we would live together forever, like a couple.

What a mug.

Back home, Paul’s little gang were all talking about him drowning, and how he had been stupid to go to that quarry and go swimming on his own. They seemed a bit lost without him, and little Georgy suggested to me that I should take over. “After Paul, you’re the biggest and cleverest, so why don’t you tell us what to do?” I told him he could clear off, stay away from me at school, and tell all the others to do the same. I think he was actually crying when I walked away.

At least it confirmed that Paul hadn’t told anyone he was going swimming with me. Nobody had a clue that we had been together.

The good thing about going back to school as a second year was that the first years got all the grief, and we were left more or less to our own devices. I got back into my studies, stayed away from any stupid little gangs, and settled into a regular routine with Brian making a fuss of me. So as not to upset me again, he always remembered to call me Danny, at least when he wasn’t caling me his ‘beautiful golden boy’, or ‘the love of my life’.

Things settled down, as winter approached.

Halfway through that second year at school, I started to attract interest from some of the girls. They seemed to grow up faster than the boys, and even back then they got away with wearing some make-up and shortening their skirts by turning over the waistband.

One day as I was walking home, a girl I vaguely knew as Toni ran up to me as I walked along my street. She extended a hand with some folded paper in it. “Sophie says to give you this”. Then she turned and ran back to a group of girls in the distance, and they all started laughing hysterically.

Sophie Hallett was one of the better-looking girls in my year. Despite being the same age as me, twelve, she could easily pass for fifteen. I once saw her out with some friends at the shopping centre, and she looked about eighteen dressed up in her weekend clothes. I opened the paper and read her note.

‘I think you’re cute. Do you like me? If you do I will meet you outside Spud’s Plaice fish and chip shop on Friday at six’. That was a surprise, and at least I had a couple of days to think about it. Funnily enough, I was more attracted to Toni. She was a bit chubby, but I liked her jet black hair and big round eyes. Sophie was very fashionable, but also stick-thin.

That night, I talked to Uncle Brian about it, expecting him to be jealous, and not at all pleased. But he was enthusiastic. “I think it is a good idea for you to get to know girls, even though you are still far too young. But if you prefer Toni, you should tell her. No point going on that chip shop date with Sophie if you don’t fancy her. Those good-looking popular girls can be very fickle anyway”.

It wasn’t easy to get Toni on her own, as she was almost always hanging around with Sophie and the couple of others. By chance, I saw her in the corridor outside the girl’s toilets on the ground floor. As I walked up to her, she smiled, nodding her head at the door. “Sophie’s in there with the others, you will have to wait until she comes out unless you want me to go in with your message”.

When I told her I would sooner go out on a date with her, and that she should tell Sophie thanks but no thanks, I thought she was going to fall over with shock. “Me? Really? You sure? You’re not just messing me about?” I reasured her that I was serious, and said I would meet her outside the chip shop instead, even buy her dinner from there if she wanted. She nodded, her face almost splitting in half with a huge smile.

“Okay then, but I have to be home by when it’s dark. If you’re making a fool of me, my dad will get you, so tell me now”. I did my best to convince her I liked her, then I left her to tell Sophie the bad news.

Uncle Brian was amused when I told him, but not so amused when he asked me her surname. Malone? As in Patsy Malone? Good God, he is doing a twenty-year stretch for armed robbery, and his wife Maria is as scary as he is. You will have to be careful, Danny. For Christ’s sake don’t upset the girl”. I told him she said her dad would get me if I upset her, and wondered how he would do that from prison. Uncle Brian was shaking his head. “You have a lot to learn, my love. He can reach out from any prison. I wish you had told me it was a Malone, Jesus they only live three streets away”.

On the Friday, Sophie was blanking me completely, acting as if I didn’t exist. But every time I saw Toni, she blushed and gave me a smile. Uncle Brian had left me out twenty quid, and a note. ‘Look your best, have a bath, and buy her anything she wants. Make sure to get her back to Maria’s on time, and whatever you do, don’t feel her up. xx’

As I walked down to Spud’s Plaice, I was feeling pretty good.

I could see Toni waiting outside the fish and chip shop. Even out of school uniform, she still looked much the same. Black top, black bomber jacket, and a skirt that was a little too short for comfort.

There was someone with her. Small, skinny, and smoking a cigarette. As I got closer, Toni beamed one of her big smiles, and I suddenly saw that the person with her was older, with a very lined face, small eyes, and a rather hooked nose. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me it was her mother. But I soon found out it was.

Her Irish accent was thick, but I could make out what she was saying, along with the no-nonsense tone of her voice.

“So youse the boy? Well you’re good looking, so you are. Now listen here. You can buy my Antonia her dinner, then maybe walk around the park with her a bit. She tells me she really likes you, and I can see why. But no funny business, or you’ll have me to deal with, y’hear?” I nodded, and she flicked the cigarette butt into the kerb before continuing.

“Now snogging’s acceptable, so’s hand holding and cuddling. But nuttin’ else. She’s too young”. I nodded again, and she walked off. Turning to her daughter, she smiled and pointed at her. “Now you be home by dark girl, y’hear?”

Toni chose haddock and chips, and I went with chicken pie and chips, as I didn’t want to have fishy breath. I bought drinks too, two plastic bottles of Pepsi. We walked along to the middle of the small shopping precinct and sat on a bench to eat our food straight from the paper it was wrapped in. Neither of us had ever been on a date, and we didn’t really have a clue what to say. Between bites, Toni looked at me and smiled, and when she had finished eating, she suddenly said. “I really like you, Danny”.

She had called me Danny! I didn’t even have to ask her, she called me it straight off.

Naturally I told her I really liked her too, and made no mention of her scary mum, or her criminal father. When I suggested we walk to the park, she took my hand as we stood up, no prompting. With the lighter evenings, the park was still busy, and we walked around the other side of the lake to the quieter part away from the playground full of tired and noisy kids.

Away from the path, we sat under a big tree, finishing our Pepsis. She was still holding my hand, and after looking around to see if anyone was nearby, she leaned forward and said, “You can kiss me if you like. I want you to, it’s okay”.

Experience with Uncle Brian had taught me more than I really wanted to know about kissing, to be honest. But I was keen to try it with a girl. I started out slowly, building up to using my tongue, but it was clear she had no idea how to kiss, and was mainly just rubbing her lips over mine in a random fashion. I slowed her down, suggested she open her mouth a little, and ten minutes later we were having a full-on snogging session. My first ‘girl in the park snog’, not bad for twelve years old.

After that, her face was flushed, and she couldn’t stop smiling. I wanted to take my mind off the uncomfortable stirring in my loins, so asked if she wanted another drink. We had passed an ice-cream van on the way from the lake, and I knew it would sell drinks. She nodded, and released my hand so I could go off and buy them. When I turned back to look at her as I was walking away, she actually waved at me, calling out “Don’t be long”.

At this rate, we would be engaged to be married before it got dark.

When I got back with the two exhorbitantly priced cans of Coke, Toni was standing up, surrounded by a small gang of girls. One of them was Sophie, and one of the others who I didn’t recognise was pushing Toni. Pushing her hard. I ran up and put the cans on the grass, pulling the girl away from Toni so she couldn’t reach to push her. Sophie spoke up, her tone sounded spiteful.

“So I do you the favour of asking you out, and instead you choose this Irish slag over me”. She turned to Toni. “You’re finished, believe me”. I told them all to clear off and leave Toni alone, putting my arm round her to emphasise the fact she was under my protection. As they walked away, Sophie turned round and gave us the finger. I grinned.

Sophie was going to have to go.

The incident with Sophie made Toni even happier about our date. She loved how I stood up for her, and when we sat back down on the grass, she clung on to me like a limpet. After more serious kissing, she looked up at me, doe-eyed. “I love being your girlfriend, Danny”.

So now I had a girlfriend.

Not wanting to push my luck with Maria Malone, I walked Toni home early, getting to her door while it was still light. She gave me a more reserved kiss on the doorstep, then her mum opened the door. This time, her face was softer, and she was smiling. “You did well, boy. Got my girl home in good time. You can take her out at the weekend if you like”. Toni immediately looked at me, her eyes hopeful. I nodded, and said that would be great.

The next day at school, things were not going so well for Toni. I saw her walking around on her own, and it was obvious all of her former friends were giving her the cold shoulder. At break time, I found her sitting on one of the concrete planters near the school entrance, and she had been crying.

“Why can’t they just be happy for me, Danny? Sophie can go out with anyone she likes, but because you asked me out they have all turned on me. Someone tipped a can of drink into my school-bag, and everything is soaked. They are going to make my life a misery, I know it”. I put my arm around her, and told her I would sort it all out. Then I told her I would come to her house on Saturday afternoon and take her to the cinema.

That cheered her up.

Uncle Brian was in two minds about the situation. He liked being in the Malone’s good books, but he was worried what would happen if me and Toni didn’t work out. “As strange as it sounds, you could well be stuck with her for the rest of your life. I know that’s hard to imagine now, but you mark my words”. Then he said we should go upstairs for a while, and after he would take me to Pizza Express for my favourite pizza.

Being young and immature, staying with Toni forever sounded like a good idea to me at the time. I really liked her, and wanted to look after her. To my young mind that sounded like the perfect foundation for long-term love. But to make her happy, I was going to have to work out how to get rid of Sophie without Toni finding out.

An opportunity arose as I was walking to the town centre to get Uncle Brian a birthday card. Up ahead, a bus stopped, and three girls got off. One of them was Sophie, and she said something to the others before heading off on her own. I followed her from a distance, and watched her go into a large shoe shop. She looked through the racks, tried on a couple of pairs, then left without buying anything.

Following her around the shopping mall, it wasn’t long before she spotted me. Typical of Sophie, she turned, hands on hips. Always so supremely confident. “So what do you want? Come to slag me off about your Irish girlfriend? Or maybe you didn’t like second best and prefer someone who actually looks good?” I had to give her credit. For twelve years old, she was as sassy as someone twenty years older.

My story was already concoted. I told her that I went out with Toni because the Malones lived nearby, and my uncle was scared of them. I added that of course I preferred her, but would get aggravation if Toni and her mum found out. Her self-satisfied smile was the definition of smug.

“I knew that of course, so I will give you another chance. It might be more fun for Toni to carry on thinking you fancy her when you are actually going out with me. So what about Sunday? We could do something then”.

Smiling, I told her I was happy with Sunday, but that we needed to go somewhere quiet, and nobody else should know about it. Although it was an hour’s walk, I suggested Mendlesham Woods, which was about as remote as it got around the town. She laughed. “So you want to get me alone in the woods then? Okay, I will meet you at the back of the library at twelve on Sunday”. As she walked off, she called out without turning round.

“And don’t be late!”

Deliberately early that Sunday, I was behind the library when Sophie arrived. I had been thinking about the cinema date with Toni the previous day. That had gone well, with her holding my hand all the way through the rather lame Disney film she had chosen, then a short snogging session in an alleyway near her house before I left her waving goodbye to me from outside her front door. I had the feeling that she would have let me go a bit further if I had tried, but I wasn’t about to rush anything.

Sophie wasn’t dressed appropriately for a walk in the woods. Her skater-girl skirt was worn over some white fishnet tights and she had some fashionable white Converse trainers on her feet. As well as wearing far too much make-up for a girl of her age, her hair was tightly drawn back from her face and plaited at the back. It looked as if she hadn’t settled on her look for the date, so had thrown together three looks instead. A small red shoulder bag completed the outfit, and she was trying to act laid-back and cool.

That wasn’t working either, I could tell by the way she was looking at me. I realised that she did actually fancy me. That put me on the front foot.

She pointed at my duffel bag. “What’s that for?” I told her I had drinks and snacks in there for later. As we walked to the woods, she told me that she had argued with her dad before leaving home. He had said she was dressed up too much for her age, and there had been a lot of screaming and shouting before she slammed the door and walked out. As far as her parents were concerned, she was meeting her friends at the shopping precinct, and going for a burger. “They drive me mad. They want me to be a little girl, Daniel. They won’t let me grow up”.

There it was again. Daniel.

Until we got to one of the entrances to Mendlesham Woods, she walked near me, but not close to me. Although we didn’t see anyone we knew, she was obviously wary of anything getting back to Toni if we were seen to be together. Once in the woods, she sidled over and held my arm. “So how do you like me? Do you think I look nice?” I told her she looked very sexy, and even thought to add the word ‘irresistible’. That played well, and she actually blushed.

This was no casual stroll. I had a place in mind, and an actual tree to show her. A famous oak in the middle of the woods that Uncle Brian had taken me to see when I was much younger. But not so young as to forget that was the first place he ever put his hand down my trousers and told me I was special.

After the long walk to the woods, and another walk to get to the Oak, Sophie was either bored, or feeling neglected. I suspected she wanted me to get all romantic with her, tell her how much I fancied her, and try my luck with a snog, or more than that. As the tree appeared, she sneered. “Is that it? We walked all this way so you could show me a big tree?” I explained that it was a great tree to climb, and you could even get a view of the town from the branches just over halfway up.

Shaking her head, she looked at me as if I was crazy. “You want me to climb this tree with you? If that’s so you can look up my skirt, just say so. I don’t need to climb a tree for that”. With that, she raised the tiny skirt and showed me what was underneath it. I pointed at a large branch that was an easy climb, maybe fifteen feet off the ground. I explained that we could sit up there and not be seen by any other woodland walkers. She wasn’t convinced.

The trump card had to be played, so I suggested she was scared. That did it. “Scared? I’m not scared, I just don’t want to spoil my trainers”. With that, she pulled off the Converse, and raised her right leg. “Give me a boost onto that first branch, and you will see I’m not scared”. To her credit, once on the first branch she scrambled up really well. By the time I was following, she was already sitting on the branch I had pointed out, swinging her legs.

When I got up next to her, I crouched down, reaching into my duffel bag. I removed the old washing line I had found in Uncle Brian’s shed. The slip-knot was already tied. I just had to secure the other end to the branch. With my back to her, I quickly did that. “What are you doing, Daniel?” She sounded fed up, probably waiting for the snogging to start. I told her I was getting a drink for us from my bag. When I turned round, she was gazing at the view over the town, and just reached out a hand to take the expected drink.

The noose part went over her head so fast, she hadn’t even realised it was there.

Until I pushed her off the branch.

As I suspected, the drop didn’t kill Sophie outright. But I wasn’t prepared for how long it took for her to be strangled by the nylon line. There was a lot of swinging around too, and the bark on the branch was rubbed away where I had fastened the line at the top.

Watching her clawing at the noose, her knees drawn up as if that would somehow help her, I had to remember to use my vantage point to look around and make sure nobody was nearby. Fortunately, it was a little early for afternoon strollers. They were probably still finishing their traditionally heavy Sunday lunches before deciding to walk off the stupor in the fresh air.

When she finally stopped moving, arms limp at her sides, I carefully climbed down, making sure not to scuff my shoes or catch my clothing. I knew enough about fibres and forensics to realise clues are microscopic.

The long way home was the best option, as I was less likely to encounter anyone making for the famous tree on the main path. It wouldn’t be long before someone found the girl hanging, and it would be better if they didn’t remember a blonde-haired boy walking past them carrying a blue duffel bag.

By the time I got home, Uncle Brian had started cooking the evening meal, ready to warm it up later. He didn’t ask me where I had been, and he knew nothing at all about Sophie. I suspected he thought I had been seeing Toni, but my absence never came up in conversation. He turned and smiled. “Chilli Con Carne tonight, blondie. One of your favourites”. He had called me blondie on and off for years, but only when my parents were not in earshot.

That was going to have to stop.

Watching the news later, they mentioned that ‘the body of a young woman’ had been found in the woods, and that an investigation was ‘ongoing’. There was the usual appeal for witnesses, and a freephone number to call. It wasn’t until her parents reported her missing when it got dark that they found out who she was.

The next day at school, everyone was talking about it. The girls in tears, mostly crocodile tears, I was sure. There was a special assembly, and the headmaster told us in solemn tones that Sophie had been found dead in the woods. I looked suitably sad, and Toni genuinely cried for her one-time friend. At break time, it was Toni who told me the rumour that was spreading like wildfire.

“She hung herself, you know. Went into the woods, climbed that big old tree, and hung herself from a washing line that she took from home. They reckon it’s because she had arguments with her parents about how she dressed, and that she spent too much money. She used to complain to me about her dad all the time”.

One good thing about those green nylon washing lines, everyone had one at one time. They mostly came from the same shop too. One day, Sophie’s dad would find their old washing line still in the shed, or wherever. Then he might wonder where Sophie got her washing line from.

Two days later, it was all but forgotten, and there was no mention of any suspicious circumstances. Everyone, especially her parents, just accepted that Sophie had hung herself in a fit of temper after a couple of years of arguments at home. I was amazed that anyone would believe that of such an egotistical girl who would never dream of killing herself.

Then again, maybe I was the only one who knew what she was really like.

Things got a lot better after that. There was no Sophie to call the shots, so Toni got back in with the girls who had been blanking her. We started to be known as an item, with everyone accepting that Toni was my girlfriend. That made her happy. “Oh, Danny. They are genuinely jealous, because you are so good-looking”. It had never occured to me before that girls might find me attractive.

Uncle Brian did of course, but that was something very different.

When we both turned thirteen, Maria Malone was inviting me in, introducing me to Toni’s older brother, and telling anyone who would listen that I was a ‘really nice boy”.

Then late that summer, during the school holidays, something changed.

Maria took an interest in me. A very personal interest.

Toni told me that she was going to Ireland to visit her auntie and her young cousins for the last ten days of the summer break from school. I presumed her mum was going too, but she was travelling alone. Flying to Dublin airport, where her aunt and uncle would collect her. “It’s not like mum, she always loves to go and see her younger sister. She said I should go though, as the kids won’t see me again until next year”.

The day after she left, I was sitting at home reading a school book. I had left the summer homework until the last minute as always, and when someone knocked on the door, I presumed it would either be the postman, or someone selling something. But it was a surprise to see Maria Malone standing there, smiling.

“Are you any good with a lawnmower? It’s electric, and my boy Liam usually does it. But he has started his apprenticeship now, and the grass is getting long where he doesn’t bother. I don’t want to keep nagging him, so I thought with Toni away you could walk round and help me out?” She carried on smiling as I agreed to come to her house in an hour’s time. When she left, I felt embarrassed that I had forgotten to be polite and ask her in.

Call me naive, but I honestly thought it was a good thing back then. To get in her mum’s good books, help out when I could, and secure my relationship with Toni.

Despite what she had said, the grass wasn’t that long. And the lawn wasn’t that big either, as a concrete patio took up more than half of the medium-sized scruffy garden. The mower was easy to use, and I didn’t have to clear up the cuttings, as it was a hover type that just chopped them up really small. Maria sat on a folding chair watching me, smoking constantly, and drinking what looked like a gin and tonic. When I had finished, she brought me out a can of coke. “It’s warm day, and you did well, young Danny. I’ll make you something to eat now”.

It was tempting to decline her offer of food, and make the excuse of my school work. But I was still wary of upsetting Maria, and in turn affecting Toni in some way.

For some reason, I was shocked to see her turn up in the garden with a delicious bacon and brie panini for me, perfectly cooked. Befitting her painfully thin appearance, she didn’t eat anything, settling on another G&T, accompanied by at least four more cigarettes. I realised I was being snobbish, expecting her to offer some thin tasteless ham, on the cheapest sliced bread. Maria had more class than I had given her credit for.

When I had finished eating, she sat back in her chair and launched into a speech that sounded well-rehearsed. To say it raised my eyebrows is an understatement.

“So, it’s like this. Me and you are going to go upstairs to my bedroom now. My man has been inside for seven years, and I am gagging for sex. I can’t trust anyone I know to provide that for me without my man finding out. So I have chosen you, because my Antonia thinks you’re the bees knees, and I don’t think you would ever tell anyone what happens here. At least if you know what’s good for you. Because after my man had got someone to deal with me, you would be next, so you would”.

The first thing I thought of was that I was now beginning to understand her accent a lot better than the first time I met her.

The second thing I thought of was that my experience with Uncle Brian would not exactly stand me in good stead with women.

The third thing I thought of was that I had little or no chance of satisfying her needs.

The fourth thing I thought of was that she was very skinny, and not remotely attractive.

I told her I had no experience, hoping that would suffice. After all, she knew I was the same age as her daughter, and unlikely to be worldly. Her response was to light another cigarette, and stare at me until I felt very uncomfortable. I sat like that until she had smoked her cigarette, and then she stood up and held out a bony hand.

“Come on now. It wasn’t a request”.

It would be easy enought to sit here now and write that Maria abused me, and I hated every minute of the four hours I was in her bedroom. But that would be a lie.

They say you never forget your first time. Or in my case my first five times.

Naturally, the first go was over in seconds. Maria was very understanding. “No bother, Danny love. You’ll be ready to go again in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Leave it to me.”

Never was a truer word spoken.

As well as what Maria described as ‘straight sex’, there were other delights in her repertoire that are probably best not to go into detail about. Like the old saying goes, I walked into her bedroom a boy, and left it as a man. During the ‘downtime’, Maria went and got us more drinks, smoked an amazing amount of cigarettes, and constantly threatened me not to never tell anyone.

Especially her daughter, Toni.

I knew nothing then about female sexual appetites, but with the benefit of later experience, I can confidently say that hers were ravenous. At no time she did she comment on my age, but she did allow herself to give me a lot of compliments on my looks and general behaviour. At one stage, she came out with a very strange justification of her actions.

“The thing is, boys like you are going to need sex eventually. And with my Antonia being completely mad for you, chances are she would give in and let you do the deed. I can’t have that, Danny. She’s too young, and the chance of getting her with child is too risky. So the best thing for both of us is to give you what you need, and to get some benefit for myself while doing so”.

Like that would ever stand up in court.

When it came time to leave, she surprised me again by coming over all tender and romantic.

“I think you’re a special boy, and I want you to come round while Antonia is over in Dublin. At least during weekdays, so you can do your school work and be with your uncle at weekends. Besides, my Liam is around most weekends, so nothing could ever happen then, so it couldn’t. I want you to be happy with the arrangement, but remember it is not negotiable. I need what I need, and I have chosen you to provide it. Okay then?”

My agreement was immediate, and my nodding in that agreement was frantic.

Though I did wonder what would happen once Toni came home. So I decided to ask her.

“Well I am going to have to come round to your place. I will have a word with your uncle. Everyone around here knows he’s a nonce, and I very much doubt he will raise any objections to me spending time in your room. If he does, he’s a fool. And I don’t think he’s a fool, Danny. He will make himself scarce, believe me”.

She called me Danny from the start. Maximum brownie points.

Maria came with a huge bonus that went further than the unexpected sex. Uncle Brian was terrified of her and her husband, so once I told him he had to clear off out of the house so I could have sex with Toni’s mum, he would have to leave me alone. Or have the Malones to deal with. In many ways, Maria choosing me freed me from his clutches, and provided something I could use to keep him away from for good.

He knew only too well that if I told all to Maria, his time in this life would be short-lived. I had a lot to thank her for, undeniably. As well as providing me with a teenage boy’s dream experience, she could free me from the clutches of a predatory paedophile.

Even though she replaced those clutches with her own, at least she was female.

By the time Toni came back from Ireland, and we had our reunion, I had more sexual experience than most men three times my age.

At that stage, I had little idea that Maria would soon be farming me out to her friends.

Maria would have to go.

Less than a week after Toni got back from Ireland, Maria was standing outside my house when I got home from school. I presumed she wanted more of what she had enjoyed in her bedroom, but I was wrong.

“I’m coming in to wait to see your uncle when he gets home from work”. I opened the door, and she sat on the sofa. “Got anything decent to drink, Danny?”

Uncle Brian’s drinks cupboard was reasonably well-stocked, and she pointed at a bottle of Haig Whiskey. “It’s no Busmills so it isn’t, but I’ll have a large one of those”. I poured it until it filled half a large tumbler, and she lit a cigarette after sipping it. I had to go and find her an ashtray, one of the ones my gran used to use.

“Will he be long, darlin’?” I told her he might not be home for well over an hour, but that didn’t put her off. “Ah, then put the telly on, so. I’ll watch any crap, so I will”.

Looking back now, I was actually disapointed that she didn’t suggest whiling away that hour by going upstairs. By the time my uncle’s key turned in the door, the bottle of Haig was half-empty, and Maria’s speech was starting to slur. He turned white when he saw her sitting there. She ignored him at first, lighting another cigarette, and turning to me.

“Why don’t you go up to your room and make yourself scarce, darlin’.”

Less than thirty minutes later, I heard the front door close with a bang, and went back down into the living room. Brian was drinking the whisky this time, gulping it down from a porcelain tea mug. He looked up at me, and carried on gulping. Then he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

“Christ on a bike, Daniel. That woman’s a bloody psycho! Do you know what she’s done? She got me changed onto late shift at work. Twenty years I have managed to stay on eight ’til fours, and now I have been moved onto the two to ten line. She knows people at my work, the bitch. And I don’t know what you have been saying to her, but she says that if I ever touch you again, I will end up in a cement overcoat at the bottom of the Irish Sea”.

Managing not to laugh, I promised him I had said nothing. In fact that was true. It was just that most people in the town had always had their suspicions about my uncle. And they had all been right of course.

He was too upset to do any cooking, so he phoned up for a Chinese later.

Maria had given me my freedom, although I would have to learn to cook my own meals during weekdays, or live on snacks. Brian was far too scared of her to go against anything she said, even behind the closed doors of our own house. Besides, I might tell on him now, and he could visualise the murky depths of that turbulent sea.

Of course, Maria’s good deed came with a high price, as I soon found out.

With my uncle out of the house until almost eleven every night, my evenings were free. Maria had told Toni she could see me at weekends, but the rest of the time she had to do her studies, and help around the house. She had also not mentioned to me what was about to happen.

The next afternoon as I walked up to the house, I was surprised to see a woman standing there. She wasn’t that old, and she had a toddler in a buggy in front of her. She was also very fat. There was a beer-belly hanging over the waistband of her leggings, and pulling the stained tee shirt above out to maximum stretch. The insides of the thighs of the leggings were threadbare, because her huge legs rubbed together as she walked. She turned and smiled at me, revealing a lurid tattoo on the side of her neck.

“You Danny, yeah? Maria said I could come today. Can we go inside and get on with it? I have to be home to cook my son’s tea when he gets in from college”. I was just about to ask her what she was talking about, when the penny dropped. Once inside, she wheeled the buggy in front of the television, and switched it on. Then she turned back to me, casually pulling off her leggings before removing the tee shirt to reveal more tattoos, and no bra.

“We will have to do it down here, I can’t leave my little girl on her own. Oh, and Maria said thirty quid, but you tell her I have to wait for my benefits, so I will drop it around hers next week”.

Maria was selling me far too cheaply.

The Friday after I had entertained the fat woman earlier in the week, I got home from school to find someone parked outside in a beaten-up old car. The exhaust was tied on with string, and the driver’s door was a different colour to the others. As I walked up the short path to the front door, someone called out. “You Danny, love?” I turned to see a woman opening the odd-coloured door, and calling to me through the gap. I nodded.

She got out and slammed the door, walking toward me without bothering to lock it. Not that anyone in their right mind would steal the thing.

Unlike her overweight predecessor, she was of average size. She was also older. Much, much older. If prompted to guess, I would have said she was at least sixty-five, and that would have been a kindly estimate. Getting closer, she smiled, and her face collapsed into dozens of wrinkles that ran around under her ears.

“Maria said I should come about this time. Is it convenient, love?” I opened the door without answering, and she followed me in. Her first action was to open the large fake leather handbag and produce four ten pound notes. “Shall we get that out of the way first? Maria said that was enough”. I put the money into my trouser pocket, and took off my school blazer and tie before asking if she would like a drink.

Although I had meant tea or coffee, she misread my offer. “I could do with a brandy, I’m really nervous, to be honest. Never done anyfing like this before”. Her accent was coarse London, but I didn’t imagine for a moment she had driven all that way. I found a bottle of Three Barrels at the back of Brian’s drinks cabinet, and poured her a large measure. As I handed it to her, she was looking around the room as if to make sure we were alone.

“Thanks, love. Okay if I smoke? I’ve got the jitters you see”. I nodded, and went to fetch an ashtray. At least she was polite, and she was well-dressed too. She was also keen to talk. “Fing is, me old man’s been inside for longer than we was together. I moved up here to live with me old auntie years ago, then she died last year, so I stayed on. Me old man knows Maria’s bloke in the nick, so we sort-of become friends like”.

Her London accent and grammar became thicker as the brandy and cigarette calmed her down.

“I’m Sandra, but everyone has always called me Sandy. Well, they do don’t they? ‘Cept my Derek of course, always calls me Sarn. I wouldn’t never do anyfink like this normally, but Maria says you can be trusted. Gawd knows what my old man would do if he ever found out”. She swallowed the rest of the brandy, and I picked her glass up and refilled it.

“I’m relying on you to tell me the drill. Do we go upstairs and get stripped off, or what? Maybe we do it here on the sofa? I’m sorry, but I’m nervous, love”. She did seem to be nervous, and very awkward about the situation. Not that I had any sympathy for her, as she was prepared to pay an underage boy for sex, and not enough money for what was on offer either.

The second large brandy relaxed her. “You are cute though, Maria was right about that. Cor, I don’t half fancy you, love”. I thought it best to get it all over with sooner rather than later, so reached down to take her hand, and led her upstairs to the bedroom.

She was actually very affectionate, and very grateful. When it was all over and she was geting dressed, she turned and smiled at me. “You oughta charge more, love. That certainly cleared me sinuses, if you get what I mean”.

I got what she meant.

When I showed her out, she actually leaned forward and kissed me goodbye. Just like we were on a real date.

As I waited for a pizza to cook later, I knew full well that those two women would not be the last. The fat one had mentioned seeing me again soon, so as well as anyone else Maria had lined up, there was going to be repeat business, undoubtedly.

My plan for Maria was already at an advanced stage, but I needed Toni to be out of the way when I implemented it. That meant waiting until the Christmas holidays, when I was certain Maria would send Toni to Ireland again, to get her out of the way. If her brother Liam was around, that didn’t matter.

He could go too.

The weekend gave me some relief from the unwanted callers, and I got to take Toni out for a burger and milkshake, followed by sitting under a shelter in the park because it was raining. She didn’t stop talking about how much her mum liked me.

“Oh, she thinks you’re great, Danny. Says I should stick with you because you are solid and loyal. She actually said I would never find anyone better than you, if I live to be a hundred”.

If only she had known the truth.

When I walked her home and said goodnight, I hadn’t got far before Maria caught me up. She was holding a shop-bought fruit cake, her excuse to come out and talk to me. As I took the cake, she grinned. “I will be around for the money on Monday. That fat bitch Kerry hasn’t paid up, so you can kiss goodbye to your share. Still, I have some better-off women lined up for you, so I do”. I wanted to punch her in the face, but just smiled.

Uncle Brian was walking on eggshells around me. But he cooked a great Sunday dinner the next day, a half-leg of lamb with all the trimmings. The unwanted contact with the Malone family had really shaken him up, and he hated having to work the two to ten shift because nobody on that shift line spoke to him. He was starting to see what the life of a known sex abuser was like, out in the real world.

Maria turned up just after six on that Monday. “So Sandy gave you forty, right? You can keep fifteen, and give me the rest. As for Kerry, when she pays up I will be keeping it all. I don’t like having to wait for me money. Someone else is coming round after seven. Look after her, she’s a lawyer, and a good friend to my family. She will give you a hundred, and I will be back for my share tomorrow. Have yerself a nice bath first, and make sure yer bed has clean sheets”.

I nodded, and handed over the twenty-five pounds.

When the lawyer turned up, I was at a loss as to why she felt the need to pay for sex. She was forty-something, smartly dressed, surprisingly curvy, and very good looking. She was also wearing a wedding ring, and an expensive-looking diamond engagement ring. To tell the truth, I really fancied her. She was businesslike, producing five twenties as soon as she walked through the door, and not telling me her name.

As soon as we got into the bedroom, I discovered why she had to pay for the sex she wanted. She had a serious kink.

“Okay, you call me mummy while I’m here. Just go along with whatever I say or do, and we will both have a nice time”.

She was well-spoken, and wearing expensive underwear. Obviously used to taking charge of the situation, she chatted to me as if I was her son, and then did things mums and sons rarely do. At least in my experience. Even though I did have a nice time, as she said I would, the strange scenario she stage-managed was very off-putting. When she left, I was hoping she never came back.

The next day after school, Maria showed up as she had said she would. “Well, you did very well with the lawyer. I got a bonus for that, so you can keep sixty”.

Having Maria alone for a while as I went to get the forty pounds, I started to implement my plan. Hard as it was to carry off, I told her I missed her, and while it was all very nice that she was sending her friends and contacts around to have sex with me, it was her I really wanted. The flattery worked, and she said I could go to her house once Toni was not in the country.

“She’s off to see family in Ireland in December. You can come round one day then, so you can”. She was stroking my face and smiling at me as she stuffed the money into the pocket of her jeans with the other hand.

Vanity was going to be her downfall, and I didn’t have too long to wait until the Christmas holidays.

The day before Toni flew out to Ireland, I gave Uncle Brian some money and asked him to buy me a bottle of Bushmills when he went shopping. I told him the truth, that it was a Christmas gift for Maria, to keep her sweet.

It was never going to be wrapped and go under a tree though.

My uncle was taking Vallium now, after telling his doctor that he was very stressed at work. I had already stolen a few of his tablets from the bottle in the bathroom cabinet, and when he gave me the whisky, I crushed three of them into a fine powder, before adding it to the Bushmills and giving it a good shake.

Since the visit of the kinky lawyer, and before Toni flew out of the country, Maria had sent two more women to my house in the late afternoon. One of them had cried after, and said she felt ashamed. The other one wanted me to tie her hands to the headboard with some cord she had brought along, then swear at her while we did it.

I guessed that most were wives of prisoners doing time, or contacts like the lawyer, and I was beginning to wonder just how many women Maria knew who were willing to pay for sex so their husbands never found out they were being unfathful.

As well as the money, their meetings with me gave Maria a huge hold over all of them. One anonymous word from her to the police, and they would be arrested.

The arrangement to see Maria was on the first Monday of the school holidays. It was cold and bright, and she told me to come to her house just after three. To hide the fact that the Bushmills had already been opened, I kept my hand around the top as I showed it to her, then pretended to crack the cap as she went to get her tumbler. I knew it was her favourite tipple, and she needed no second bidding to pour a large slug.

Once that had been gulped down, she smiled at me as she refilled her glass. “We’ll have to do it down here, so we will. My Liam’s in bed upstairs with the flu. He’s taken some medicine, and he’s fast asleep. So keep the noise down”. I wondered why she said that, as I never made any noise.

When the second drink was almost gone, she struggled out of her skinny-fit jeans and panties then sprawled out on the sofa in her version of a seductive pose. I did some of my best acting, pretending to be excited by her, and saying lots of things that she loved hearing. When it was over she was beginning to look very tired, and filled her glass again after lighting a cigarette. “Did you bring the money from the last one? Did she ask you to tie her up? She said she might”.

I handed over the sixty pounds, and she gave me back thirty. “You’re a good boy. Here, take half”.

Lying back on the sofa with her jeans still crumpled on the floor in front of her, she took another big swallow of the whisky, then yawned noisily. “Jeezus, Mary, and Joseph, I feel bloody tired. Must have had too much of the old Black Bush without eating”. Her eyelids were flapping, and I could see her screwing up her eyes, trying to focus on me from across the room.

Moments later, the tumbler fell out of her hand, and her head tipped back onto the cushion. She was out cold.

In her kitchen, I carefully tipped the vintage gas cooker forward until the safety chain stopped it falling. The racks inside made a scraping sound, but it wasn’t too loud. I could see the rubber gas pipe connecting from the wall into the cooker, and I used a tea towel wrapped around the connection to loosen it. It was harder than I expected, but the rubber was old and greasy, and eventually shifted.

The tiny hiss I could hear as the gas began to escape was all I would need. As it was so cold, every window in the house was closed, and with the living room next door, the gas would soon find a level. Easing the cooker back into place, I left the house quietly, hearing Maria snoring as I closed the door with an almost inaudible click.

Lying on my bed writing an essay for homework, I checked the time on my digital alarm clock. It was just after seven, and I was starting to feel hungry.

As I got up to go downstairs and make something for dinner, the explosion from three streets away rattled our windows, and made my ears pop.

No chance of getting much sleep that night. When Uncle Brian got home, he was chattering about the event that was a big deal on the estate.

“Gas explosion, they reckon. It was on the news in the car radio. Two dead, one critical”. After the sirens of the emergency vehicles stopped, there was a helicopter flying around, shining a big beam of light to aid the rescuers.

I was watching it from the front room window, when I suddenly realised what Brian had said. I asked him to repeat it.

“The news said one house was almost demolished. There was one dead inside, and one taken to hospital. Then in the house next door, someone was killed when a wall collapsed on her”.

I had to wait for the early news to find out more. I got Brian to ring the school and say I was sick. I felt too tired to spend the day concentrating on lessons. By the time of the third bulletin on the local news, the full extent of what had happened was known.

It was being treated as a domestic gas explosion. The gas company and Fire Brigade investigators were examining the scene, and the street was cordoned off. But according to the policeman being interviewed, there was no further danger to the public, and it was regarded as non-suspicious. The person found dead was described as a woman in her forties, and a teenage boy was in intensive care with life-changing injuries. A seventy-eight year-old woman in the adjoining house had been removed from the rubble, and pronounced dead on scene.

On the six o’clock news, they were named. With the additional information that Liam had died of his injuries and burns just after four that afternoon.

Following that explosion, much of my life changed. Not all for the better.

There was a tearful phone call from Toni. She suggested that her mum had got drunk, then lit a cigarette as soon as she woke up. I agreed that sounded likely, especially as it was the part of my plan that I had been counting on. Between the tears, and blowing her nose, Toni had more news.

“The bodies are being brought back to Ireland for burial, Danny. They won’t let my dad out of prison to attend the funeral in case he tries to escape. The thing is, I have nowhere to live now, so have to stay here in Ireland, and live with my auntie. I hope you can come and visit me soon, perhaps your uncle will give you the money to fly over?” I told her I would ask him, and that I was going to be very sad that she couldn’t come home. Which was true.

But I never saw her again.

Brian was delighted at the news, and told me he was going to change back to day shifts. But when he went into work, they refused to let him change, and the men on his team who didn’t like him warned him he was still being watched. One even suggested that he might have been responsible, seeking revenge on the Malones. Now he was even more scared than he had been before.

The Friday afternoon after the explosion, someone came to the door not long after I got in from school. It was Sandy. She smiled as I opened it. “Got a spare hour, love? I’ve got forty quid for you, and now you can keep all the money”. I let her in. Might as well make some money out of it, now I wasn’t giving most of it to Maria.

Though when fat Kerry turned up the following week pushing her toddler in the buggy, I told her in no uncertain terms that she should never call at the house again.

Now I got to choose.

By the time I turned fourteen, I had six hundred pounds saved up, stashed in an old pair of school shoes in my wardrobe. My regular women callers had spread the word around their friends, and I kept a diary using initial letters and times to indicate when to expect them. I limited it to three times a week though, so as not to let my studies suffer.

For Uncle Brian, they were bad times. The silence at work had turned to outright bullying, and he was too scared to mention it to his bosses. More and more, he relied on his anti-depressant tablets, and he let the housework go until the place started to look like a tip. I was fed up doing all the chores, and eating crap because he couldn’t be bothered to cook.

Time to have a serious word with him.

Shaking Uncle Brian out of his doldrums wasn’t easy. I had to resort to threatening to report him to the police in the end. I was bluffing of course, as that would likely have seen me end up in a children’s home, with my dad not offering to house me, and me not wanting to live with him anyway.

But it worked. Brian came off the tablets, and started to do his share around the house. He would cook meals before leaving for work, and I could hot them up when I was hungry at dinnertime.

To cheer himself up, Brian took a week’s holiday and went off to visit Amsterdam, telling me he had never been there. I wasn’t invited, which was just as well, as I wouldn’t have gone with him. To be honest, I didn’t actually believe he was going to Holland. More likely meeting some other men with similar sexual proclivities nearer to home.

The weekend when he was away, I took the opportunity to search the house properly. I knew he would have incriminating stuff hidden away, and by the time it got dark that Saturday, I had found most of it. He did hide it quite well, but chose places that I had seen used on many crime shows or films. Large envelopes taped to the underside of drawers in the bedroom, others placed behind the desk he used in the tiny spare room not much larger than a cupboard.

Most of what I found was as expected. CD-roms and home-burned DVDs containing thousands of indecent photos of young boys. Memory sticks with video clips of boys engaging in sex with older men. Including Brian, who could clearly be identified in at least a dozen clips. I replaced them all very carefully, exactly as I found them. They could wait until the time came.

Then leafing through a tattered box file that was in plain sight on top of a bookshelf, I found something that I really hadn’t expected. It was my paternal grandmother’s will, signed and witnessed on a date I recognised. My fifth birthday. It came with an accompanying letter from one of the more reputable solicitors in the town, and the contents of the will itself were very short.

She had left everything to me, her only grandson. I could claim my inheritance, which consisted of the house and contents, on my eighteenth birthday.

Nobody had ever mentioned that.

Not willing to take a chance that those papers could be destroyed, I removed them from the box file, and took them up into the loft, wrapped in tinfoil. At the back of the loft where nothing was stored, I lifted the fibreglass insulation, and slipped my little parcel under it. Even if Brian noticed they were missing, which seemed unlikely as the box file was covered in thick dust, I doubted he would ever mention it to me.

If he did, he might have to tell me what was on the paperwork.

Finding the will changed everything. I had a goal now, and a fixed date to look forward to. In less than four years, I would inherit the house. Once I had been to see the solicitor, I would give Uncle Brian the bad news. He would be out on his ear.

That gave me something I wasn’t used to, peace of mind. I became a nicer person, more content, more forgiving.

When Sandy arrived early on Monday evening as arranged, she had someone with her, a mousey-looking, quiet woman who looked to be about ten years younger than Sandy. I was a little confused at first, and asked if they wanted to both go upstairs with me at the same time. Sandy laughed so hard, she almost choked.

“Nah, nuffink like that, darlin’. Rachel’s me younger sister, ain’t she? Got the train all the way up from London just for today. She’s got the money, forty as usual”. I was in such a good mood after discovering the will, I told her that Rachel could have a freebie.

That good mood continued for the rest of the year. I did well at school, remained pleasant to Brian, and soon had almost fourteen hundred stashed. I had to use two pairs of shoes to hide it by then.

And since Maria, I hadn’t killed anyone.

Honest truth.

Life continued to calm down, and I carried on doing well at school. On my sixteenth birthday, Uncle Brian bought me a fancy watch with a metal bracelet. He told me it was the one James Bond wore.

Like I believed that for a second.

He was still being bullied at work, both mentally and physically. I suggested that he change jobs. For one thing, the local bus companies were looking for drivers, and the pay wasn’t far removed from what he was earning. I was surprised by his response.

“I won’t let those bastards beat me, Daniel. They can push me around, steal my food, refuse to answer me when I talk to them. But I am what I am, and it’s too late to change that now. If I stick it out, they will eventually get tired of it”. I was impressed by his optimistic outlook, but thought he had really missed the point.

They would never give up. It wasn’t going to go away.

I had whittled down my female visitors to two regulars by then, including Sandy. With eighty pounds a week coming in from their visits, I now had well over two grand, even allowing for treating myself to a new X-Box, and some nice clothes. I only had two years to wait, and then everything would get so much better.

Then we got a new Games teacher.

Mr McCarthy replaced the much younger Mr Addison. He had got married, and was moving to New Zealand, so the rumour had it. McCarthy was a very different animal. Late forties, ex-drill instructor in the army, and in every way possible, a complete bastard.

Yes, he was hard on us in Football and Rugby. As for P.E., he would run you ragged until you collapsed. But that was only the half of it. When it came to shower time, he was there. Perving over the naked boys as they showered, then turning to watch them as they got dressed by the lockers next door. He showed undue interest in a couple of us, including me.

Uncle Brian had told me enough about the signs and indications over the years, so I immediately realised his intentions. Dominic was a quiet boy, studious, and no trouble. McCarthy would pick on him during class in the gym, and whatever we were doing, Dom was never good enough at it. But when he received no reciprocal signals from Dominic, he transferred his affections to me. I knew all about signals from Brian, so it was easy to lead McCarthy on.

His time in this life was limited from the first time he winked at me.

Managing to divert his attention from Dominic, I soon had the horrible man on the hook. Like a lot of them, he was married, and even had a daughter at university. And also like a lot of them, he led a double life of abusing teenage boys, I instinctively knew that. At the age of sixteen, strictly speaking we were legal. But that didn’t apply to teachers, who had a duty of care to their pupils.

Not only would they lose their jobs, they would almost certainly get a custodial sentence in prison.

But that was never going to be enough for my liking. Not for McCarthy.

He managed to instigate first contact by stopping his car to offer me a lift into school one day. I later found out he lived in the opposite direction, so had clearly looked up my address and cruised around until he spotted me. McCarthy wasn’t very original, pulling the seat belt across me after I got in, to get as close as possible, then allowing his hand to brush my leg every time he changed gear.

“You got a girlfriend at school, Daniel? A good-looking boy like you must have your pick of the girls”. I told him I didn’t have a girlfriend, then for good measure I added that I found girls a bit silly, and not that interesting to be around. He told me that his wife was boring, and he had been pleased to see his daughter leave to go to university as she was lazy and argumentative.

“I would have preferred a son. Someone like you would have been good, Daniel”.

When he dropped me off, I asked him if he wanted to give me a lift home later, and I would meet him at the back of the school grounds so nobody would see me getting in his car. I told him my uncle was at work until at least ten, and he could stay for a cup of tea if he wanted.

He could hardly speak with excitement, and his throat sounded dry.

“That would be lovely. Thank you”.

McCarthy was very talkative in the car. “Call me Patrick, but never in school of course. I could tell right away you were interested, Daniel. You gave me the look, and that got me excited at the prospect of talking to you. That’s why I offered you the lift this morning”.

He also told me he had left his previous school and moved over one hundred miles to get away from possible accusations that might have destroyed his life. I was actually shocked at how much he wanted to tell me.

“There was a boy at my old school. You know how it goes, we liked each other straight off. He wanted me, and I felt the same. It lasted a year, until he was almost fifteen. He told me he loved me, and wanted to live with me when he could. I told him that could never happen, but I never realised he would hang himself once he knew that. People had seen me giving him extra attention at school, and they started talking about that. Before any trouble started, I applied to change jobs, and ended up here”.

I assured him I wouldn’t be killing myself over anyone, certainly not him.

“It’s easy to see you’re special, Daniel, it really is”. To confirm what we both knew was going to happen, he ran his hand up my leg as he said that, and licked his lips.

Once we got back to my house, he parked around the corner. Inside, I abandoned all pretence of offering him a cup of tea, and suggested we go up to my room.

Looking back, I have to be honest now. It wasn’t that bad. Much better than putting up with Uncle Brian, and lots of affection and tenderness, which was totally unexpected. In different circumstances, I could see how I might be quite happy with him. But the circumstances were not different. He was a teacher, and a horrible bastard teacher into the bargain. He liked me so much, he rang his wife and told her he was held up with reports at school. Then stayed for a second session, not leaving until almost seven-thirty.

After that first time, he was completly smitten. He left Dominic alone, and changed his teaching style completely. Some of the other kids at school were wondering how come he had suddenly become a nice guy. Only I knew the answer to that.

During that school term, I let him have his way with me once a week, keeping him keen. But he wanted more, and at weekends, when he could tell his wife he was attending various sporting events. When I told him he couldn’t come round at weekends because Uncle Brian would be home, he devised a plan. Renting a garage not far from where he lived, he took me there one Saturday afternoon.

To make sure that nobody saw him picking me up in his car, I had to meet him by a bus stop on the south side of town. That was when I discovered he lived nowhere near me.

Even if I had really wanted to get together with him, the choice of a rented lock-up was pretty seedy. Having sex in the back of his car lit by flourescent strip lighting was far from my idea of an affair. He tried to sweeten the pill by bringing along lots of snacks and soft drinks. As a health-freak, he didn’t drink alcohol, and that removed the Maria option.

But that garage gave me an idea.

To make it work, I had to convince him I was crazy about him. Given my experience over the previous three years, that was easy enough to do. I was so convincing, he even talked about leaving his wife when I was eighteen, taking early retirement on two pensions, and us moving in together once I was done with education.

Like Maria, vanity was his undoing.

I still had some of Brian’s unused vallium, and together with half of an old hosepipe from the garden shed, that was all I needed.

One Sunday afternoon, after a particularly passionate meeting in his car in the garage, I produced a two-litre bottle of coca-cola from a rucksack I had brought along. He gulped down almost half if it, flushed as he was, and had no idea it contained ten of Brian’s vallium tablets. I offered a second time, which he jumped at, but when that was over, he fell fast asleep in the back of his car.

Pulling up his trousers, I made sure three of the car windows were shut tight. Then I opened the back one above his head just enough to get the end of the hosepipe through. Once it was in place, I jammed his jacket into the gap, then placed the other end into the car’s exhaust pipe, wrapped in some rags I found in the old garage.

My last job was to start the car, leave the engine running, check that the fumes were filling the car, and then leave after closing the up and over door shut tight too.

Some opportunist criminals found McCarthy’s body just after dark. They were trying to break into the remote garages, and no doubt were delighted to find the door unlocked. Less delighted by what greeted them inside, they made an anonymous call to the police then ran away.

Just as I had hoped, suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning was immediately believed to be the cause of death. Even with no suicide note, it looked completely non-suspicious, and a quick check on his background soon revealed the allegations in his former job, and his hurried departure to our town. It got a brief mention on the local news that Monday evening, and that was that.

Unusally, there was no special assembly in school, and his unexpected departure was never mentioned.

What followed for me was a period of contentment and reflection. I reflected on the fact that I was connected to every death in some way, however tenuous. If someone ever investigated them as a whole, I would end up being the main suspect. But I wasn’t worried, as I felt secure in the knowledge that there was no evidence whatsoever. They would never get enough to charge me for any of the killings, let alone all of them.

My little sister had suffocated on a toy that was too big for her cot.
Paul Carpenter had drowned on a solo swimming trip in a dangerous place.
Sophie had been depressed after arguments with her parents, and had hung herself.
Maria was a drunken criminal who had blown herself up by lighting a cigarette during a gas leak. Nobody missed her.
Liam and the old woman next door were unintentional. Yeah, sorry about that.
McCarthy deserved what he got. I suspected that other victims of his lust were cheering his death.

Eight deaths. Six deliberate murders, two collateral damage. Not that much, compared to famous killers.

I had no desire to be famous, so it was time to take a break. Leave some space between any deaths that might later be associated with me.

Get on with my studies, and fiocus on my next milestone, becoming seventeen and getting a driving licence. Three months before my birthday, I attended a careers exhibition at the school, and got chatting to representatives of the company I worked for eventually. They liked my grades, and said that if I didn’t go on to university, they would train me up on a management programme in the less than fascinating career of delivery logistics.

That appealed to me for two reasons. It wasn’t that far from where I lived, and the pay was good.

That same day, Uncle Brian decided to buy a new car. Being Brian, it was nothing exciting. A standard Ford Fiesta four-door in factory red, with no extras. He took out a two-year loan, after paying a substantial deposit, and collected the car the following Saturday. I suggested that he could put me on the insurance once I had my provisional licence, and take me out on ‘L’ plates. He grinned.

“Do you have any idea how much that might cost? An inexperienced driver of seventeen? Too much, that’s how much. Best you think about proper driving lessons when you can afford them”. I grinned back. He would learn the hard way.

The exams that summer went well, and I passed everything I hoped for. My plan was to leave school after the Easter break, and start my new job the first week in May. Meanwhile, I received my learner licence, and booked an intensive driving course for the second week of the summer holidays. It was very expensive, especially the one-to-one option that I chose. Picked up in a company car in the morning, and driving for most of the day, with practical classroom work before they dropped me back at home.

It lasted from Monday to Friday, with the official driving test pre-booked for the following Monday. If Brian wondered where I had got all the money from, he never asked me.

Passing first time wasn’t a done deal, but I was very pleased to receive the slip that meant I was a qualified driver. The next day before Brian went to work, I told him that not only did he have to put me on the insurance for the Fiesta, he had to sign the car over to me, as the new owner. Once he had paid it off, it would be mine.

As soon as he started to ridicule my idea, I only had to mention informing the police of what he had been doing to me, and he nodded.

Then he shut himself in his room until he had to leave for work.

My uncle had to make the best of his new situation. I was now firmly in control of things, and had both sets of car keys. As annoyed as he was, he had to comply, and still bought the shopping and did the cooking. He had to go to the supermarket on the bus now though, and struggle home with the bags.

As for commuting to and from work, he went to the local Halfords and bought a basic bicycle. I laughed as I imagined him pedalling along the main road, as he probably hadn’t been on a bike for forty years. I told him he had to buy a safety helmet too. I couldn’t risk him being killed in an accident.

At least not until I was eighteen.

My new job was not quite what I expected it to be. The training programme supposed to direct me into a managerial role started off from ‘the bottom up’, as my boss liked to say. That meant I was doing everything from making tea for the warehouse staff, to stacking the waste cardboard and tying it in bundles ready for collection.

If it was meant to humiliate me, or break me, I didn’t let it. The pay was the same, whatever I did, and I had Brian’s new car, now my new car, to drive to and from my job.

One of the long-serving fork lift drivers started to pick on me though. Derek Fox was a heavily-tattooed man who favoured the wearing of sleeveless vests under his hi-vis waistcoat. That meant his voluminous chest hair protruded through the gap like a huge bunch of salt and pepper grey broccoli. He thought it was funny to send me on pointless tasks, like going to the equipment stores and asking for a Long Weight. I was naive enough not to realise that meant a long wait.

And I stood there for thirty minutes before it dawned on me.

Another day, he was fiddling around at the back of his fork lift, and called me over. “This isn’t working, you need to go to the stores and get me a bucket of steam”. I didn’t fall for that one of course, but I went to the stores anyway. I could hear Derek and his mates laughing behind my back.

He was on borrowed time.

The second part of my induction was learning how to drive a fork lift, and working with the regular mechanic to service them, and do basic repairs. He was a nice bloke, and complimented me on how well I drove the awkward vehicle. “You’re a natural, Danny. Some of the new starters take weeks to get the hang of it”.

He called me Danny, so Tom became my friend.

Now I was in a real job, with only four weeks holiday a year, my regular women could no longer come to the house until much later. Sandy stayed regular though, and her forty quid a week paid for my lunches, and petrol for the car. I had grown to like her a lot, and one day she had news for me. “My old man died in prison. They said it was Angina. I’m going to move back down south and live with me sister. Gonna miss you, darlin’”.

I let her off paying that day, for old time’s sake. Maybe it was time to look for a real girlfriend.

Before that, Derek had to pay for his ridicule.

The company got a new contract, delivering electrical goods to a big chain of high street shops. There were all sorts of things like fridges, washing machines, freezers, and televisions. When they came in from the manufacturers, they were stacked really high in the warehouse, until the individual orders from the shops came in. I was on my last week working alongside the mechanic, when I heard the warehouse manager talking to Derek.

“There will be some overtime for you tonight, if you want it. I need forty washing machines brought down from the stacks, and put on pallets for tomorrow’s distribution loading.” Derek jumped at the chance to earn the extra money, and I carried on working, as if I had heard nothing.

As people started to leave at the end of the day, Derek went into the staff canteen to make something to eat before he started his overtime. The night team were due in later, and he would work with them for the couple of hours it took. It was easy enough for me to hang around, telling the mechanic I would put away the tools, and clean up.

Onece nobody was around, I walked over to where Derek’s fork lift was parked. He had fitted a whip aerial onto the back, with a fake fox’s tail attached. Everyone called him Foxy, because of his surname, and he had seen fit to personalise his truck.

All that was needed was to loosen the main hydraulic fitting. Just a little bit, enough for a tiny leak that wouldn’t be noticed at first.

Two turns with a big spanner.

Everyone was talking about the accident when I got to work the next morning. The Police had reported it to the Health and Safety Executive, and until they arrived to investigate, the fork-lift and the area surrounding it had been roped off.

My plan almost failed, but fortunately Derek made it work by default. As the fork lift grabbed the pallet containing four washing machines, Derek had reversed back as normal, with the heavy-duty machine easily taking the weight. Then the pressure ruptured the loose hydraulic joint and the whole machine tipped forward as the support failed. There were a couple of safety bars above the driver’s seat, and had Derek stayed in that, there was a good chance he would have walked away uninjured.

But according to the night supervisor, he jumped out of his seat to get away from the tipping vehicle, just happening to stand directly under a falling washing machine in its heavy packing case. It fell onto his back, square across his neck and shoulders. The ambulance took him to the General as an emergency, lights flashing and sirens wailing. But he was pronounced dead in the Casualty Department, with a broken neck.

That day, the boss asked me to start training on the despatch system in the office. As I sat there, I could hear all the phone calls coming and going. The night supervisor had reported the failure of the main hydraulic connection, and Tom had been called in from home before midnight. That morning he was nowhere to be seen, and I discovered he had been suspended on pay, pending the investigation.

The boss made a few calls to the company lawyers, and the insurance company. If Derek’s family sued, the payout could be huge.

Nobody asked me anything about the accident. I had been at home, and nowhere near the depot.

Quiet Alice from the accounts office came round at lunchtime. She had an old biscuit box, and was collecting money to send to Derek’s family. “Everyone is putting in, Daniel. Most have given ten quid, but you don’t get paid that much so five will do. I placed a five pound note in the box, and she smiled. “You’re a good lad, thanks”.

The enquiry was actually a big deal. The Coroner had words to say about workplace safety at the inquest, and the local TV news and papers took up the story. They interviewed Derek’s wife on TV, and she was suitably tearful. What surprised me was how attractive and sexy she was. Derek had definitely been punching above his weight in the marriage department.

Poor Tom had to go. The insurance company settled out of court with Derek’s wife, and the rumour was that she accepted two hundred grand. The company was fined another ten grand for allowing the use of an unsafe fork lift truck, and Tom was the sacrificial lamb, sacked with one month’s pay.
I felt a bit bad about that. Just a bit.

Accounts Alice didn’t come round with her biscuit box for him.

Working in the office seemed to be my ideal environment. I picked up the distribution rotas really quickly, and after three months, I was handling phone calls from ten of the biggest clients we had. They used to ask for me personally, and only liked to deal with me. The distribution manager used to look at me a bit sideways when they asked for me, but he always called me Danny, and never took the piss out of me.

He was safe.

Busy learning the ropes, I had almost forgotten about getting a girlfriend, then someone arrived who solved that problem for me.

Olivia liked to be called Livvy. I could completely identify with that. She had just left sixth-form college, and it was her first job. Her duties were general office work. Filing, typing, photocopying, and transferring phone calls. She was good at everything, and I couldn’t see her staying too long.

Everyone fancied her. Curvy, long black hair, something of a mediterranean look about her that didn’t go with her surname of Radcliffe at all. Like most young women, she wore a lot of make-up, and her skirts were very short. Our company was far from being a flagship of political correctness, and every man under the age of fifty flirted with her outrageously. A couple of the older women too, including Accounts Alice.

But I played it cool, and studiously avoided looking up her skirt, or showing out to her.

Eventually, she came to me.

Livvy started by occasionally sauntering over to my desk to ask me about things I knew she already knew the answer to. She would lean in a little too close, slide her foot out of her shoe while she was talking, and many other things I already recognised as signals. It took her a couple of weeks before she made the plunge to ask me outright for a favour.

“I was wondering if you could give me a lift home tonight, Danny? It has started pouring down, and I will get soaked waiting for the bus”.

In the car, she gave me directions to a road in a part of town I didn’t really know. It was out on the way to the Golf Club, in an affluent district I never had cause to visit. As we got closer to her parents’ house she tried to suggest something in a casual maner, but it sounded like a prepared speech.

“Have you seen the latest Spider-Man film? I was thinking of going to see it on Friday after work, and wondered if it was any good”. Given how everyone was so attracted to her, I was surprised she didn’t seem to have a boyfriend. So I asked if she was planning to go to the cinema with a friend on Friday. Her reply was too eager.

“Oh I had a boyfriend while I was at college, but he went up to university in Durham, and we decided to split up. Long-distance relationships are always fragile, don’t you think?” That reminded me of Toni moving to Ireland, but I didn’t mention that, just nodded. As I turned into her road, she sounded a bit desperate.

“You could come with me if you want, as you haven’t seen it”. I had no interest in the Spider-Man film, but agreed to go. I said we could go straight from work on Friday, and I would take her for a drink before, and a pizza after. Her smile lit up her face. “That’s a date then”.

The film wasn’t my sort of thing, but she seemed to enjoy it. She even tried to buy her own ticket, but I wouldn’t let her pay. In the pizza place, she asked me lots of questions about my home life, and I told her things were going to change drastically in a few weeks, when I became eighteen. I paid the bill there too, and she touched my hand as we waited for my change. “You are such a gentleman, Danny”.

When I stopped the car outside her house, she made no effort to get out, sitting waiting for me to kiss her.

So I did, for quite a long time.

Then I asked if she wanted to go out with me again, and she nodded vigourously. “Of course I do, silly”.

We became a couple that night, and she soon told everyone at work that she was my girlfriend. Her parents were well-off, and often went away at weekends to a holiday home they owned at Southwold. After three dates, Livvy told me I could stop over the following Saturday night. “If you want to, Danny. It’s up to you”.

I told her I wanted to.

Before we went to sleep that night, she was lying next to me, holding me close. “Oh wow, Danny, that was amazing. I never expected anything like that. Where did you learn to be such a wonderful lover?” I just smiled and said it was natural talent. I wasn’t about to let her into the dark side of my life.

Two days before I was eighteen, I rang and made an appointment with the solicitor for the day of my birthday. I took the day off work, and that evening I was going out with Livvy, who wanted to take me for a celebratory Chinese meal. Uncle Brian had asked me what I wanted as a present, and I told him I didn’t want anything.

He had looked very nervous when I said that.

When I showed the solicitor the will I had retrieved from the loft, he was polite and businesslike. “Yes, we hold the deeds here, and a copy of the will. The property can be transferred to you quite easily, just a few days to complete the paperwork, and you will own it”. I asked if that meant I could sell the house, and he nodded. “It will be your property, to dispose of as you see fit”.

That was music to my ears.

The Chinese meal was excellent, and Livvy had bought me a digital watch too. It was only a Casio, but the thought was there.

As a bonus, we had sex in the back of the car, in the deserted car park of the Golf Club.

Uncle Brian looked suitably ashamed when I told him the news. He had known all along that the house had been left to me, and never said a word. I pushed him about my dad knowing too, and he phoned in sick from work so he could drink himself senseless later.

“Yes, when your gran died, we had a reading of the will, and I was angry that she had left everything to you. Your dad was furious about that too. It was our legacy, Daniel. It should have been shared between us, not left to you. I told him we should make a joint will, leaving both our assets to you when we were gone. But you were only five, and he said we could think about it later”.

It was when I told him he had two days to move out that he opened the bottle of Dewars.

Unknown to him at the time, I had already retrieved his hidden photos and memory sticks from their hiding places. Everything had been stashed away in a large padded envelope I took from work. I had hidden it in the well under the floor of the boot in the Fiesta. On top of where the spare wheel sat. And he had no keys to that car.

Once he started to pack up his stuff, he would have noticed they were gone. But he was too scared of me to ask about them. I told him he could take nothing from the house, except the the clothes and personal possessions he could carry. He had to hire a small van, once he found a bedsit to rent above a cafe in town.

Making sure to be around on the morning he moved out, I stood stone-faced as he loaded his pathetic pile of stuff into it. Last but not least, he crammed his bicycle on top of everything, and left without turning to look at me. He thought he had been punished, and was receiving his just desserts.

But he had no idea. I had only just started to take retribution on him.

Another visit to the solicitor saw me instructing him to sell the house. It needed work of course, but I was prepared to take a fair offer, as long as it was a speedy cash sale and did not require many viewings. I had an idea that a local builder would buy it, then convert the three-bedroom house into two flats. That had happened to quite a few properties in our street over the years.

Meanwhile, I visited a new development close to the old canal. Smart modern flats with canal views. One bedroom, an open plan kitchen/living room, and a balcony. One car park space in the underground car park. I was interested in the Show Flat, and after some rapid negotiation, I bought it as seen, fully equipped with everything. The deposit cleared out my savings, but it was worth it.

Livvy was very excited by my news.

“Oh, that means we will always have somewhere to be together. You are so lucky, Danny. I wish I could move out of home, but I can’t afford it”.

The house sold for cash in four days. A builder, as I suspected. The price was fair, and almost twice the cost of my new small one-bed flat. That meant I could pay cash too, and put a large amount into my savings account, all legal.

There was no point taking all the old crap from Gran’s house, so I hired two skips, and spent a weekend dumping the lot. On moving day, I took two days off work, and only had to move all my clothes, and a bit of personal stuff. I walked away from that house with mixed memories of living there.

Most of them bad ones.

The day after I moved into the canal-side flat, I took the large padded envelope to a post-office on the other side of town. It was addressed to the Chief Constable of the county police. Inside was an anonymous note, with Brian’s name, and the new address of the bedsit above the cafe.

It wasn’t that long before they arrested him.

Uncle Brian’s trial wasn’t just of local interest, it went national. I soon realised I had little idea just how much of a kingpin my uncle was, in the dark world of paedophile porn. What I had found hidden was the tip of the iceberg.

They tore the house apart with a search warrant, much to the annoyance of the new owner. The house revealed more secrets, when they started to lift floorboards, discovering things he had kept hidden since he was a teenager. Mostly old negatives and black and white photos, and always involving young boys, with many featuring a clearly identifiable young Brian too.

He had obviously forgotten they were there.

His defence counsel tried to assert that he was abused by his father, a man I had never met, so became an abuser because of his backgroud. But as the trial dragged on and more and more evidence was presented to a shocked courtroom, it was plain to see that he had taken the whole thing to a new level. When it was finally over, and he had been found guilty, the judge gave Brian a piece of her mind, telling him she had never experienced such distressing evidence, nor presided over the trial of such a calculating and evil man.

Then his previous convictions were revealed, most of them before he was thirty.

Shaking her head with disgust at the sentencing hearing, the judge gave Brian twenty-four years, one of the longest sentences handed out for such offences at the time. Then she added that he should serve a minimum of eighteen years before even being considered for parole, so he was less likely to be a danger to children. His legal team appealed the harsh sentence, not long after.

The appeal was lost.

Naturally, I had been interviewed by the police. I told them I had never been molested by my uncle, and had no idea what he had been up to. I wasn’t about to have my life tarnished by being known as the victim of a sex offender. I didn’t attend any of the trial, just read the reports or watched the TV news. My dad went into hiding soon after. I was later told that he left his job and moved away. The distant relative who told me added that Brian had interfered with him too, and like me, he hadn’t spoken up.

Livvy knew of course, as did everyone at work. Their attitude was to be sympathetic, and support me if I needed it. Which I didn’t.

Nobody ever asked if I had been involved, not once.

Things went well at work. Uncle Brian was soon forgotten, and I became invaluable to the company. On my twenty-first birthday, Livvy talked about moving in with me.

“I spoke to mum and dad about it, Danny. They say it’s okay. What do you think? It’s going to be a long time before I can ever afford to buy anywhere of my own, and there’s enough room for me in your cosy flat, don’t you think?”

She had spoken to her parents before asking me. I was tempted to say that her dad could afford to buy her a flat outright, but kept quiet. I had met her parents many times by then, and found them to be fake and shallow. He owned a property management company, and to my mind was over-extended financially. The holiday home in Suffolk, a new car for him and his wife every year, plus the occasional exotic holiday, like three weeks in The Maldives last December.

Yet his daughter didn’t even drive or own a car, and she couldn’t afford the deposit on a studio flat. He was either strapped for cash, or just plain mean. As for her mum, she spent most of her time either shopping, or having her hair done. She hadn’t worked since Livvy had been conceived.

Desite all that, I told Livvy she could move in. I liked her a lot, and was even thinking about marrying her one day. But not yet.

Once she was living with me, Livvy went to night school to study for better qualifications. She was a hard worker, doing most of the cleaning and cooking as well as her studies, and she never complained about me at all.

Not once.

Maybe I would marry her now, instead of waiting. I thought about buying a ring the following weekend, and proposing.

Then something unexpected happened.

Livvy got home from night school complaining of a blinding headache. She told me she had vomited in the street, during the short walk home.

“It was so embarrassing, Danny. People walking by were looking at me. I bet they thought I was drunk or something. I’m going to take some painkillers and go straight to bed”.

After watching a film later, I went to bed just before midnight. Livvy was snoring loudly, something she had never done before. I slipped in quietly next to her, making sure not to get too close, and wake her up.

The groaning woke me up at two in the morning. She was rolling from side to side, and making a noise like some old man or something. I switched on the bedside lamp, and immediately saw and smelled vomit on the top of the duvet, and the pillow on her side. The noise changed to a bubbling sound, and I shook her, trying to wake her up. But she didn’t wake up, just kept bubbling and groaning, her eyes screwed up tight.

I rang 999 and asked for an ambulance. They asked lots of questions, but when I repeated that she could not be roused, they sent an ambulance immediately. I pulled on some jogging bottoms and a sweatshirt, then went down to wait for them outside, to let them in.

The faces on the two women who arrived told me things were not good. One even looked at the other and gave a slight shake of her head. Not even bothering to ask me much, they told me to get my keys and wallet, then took her down to the ambulance on a folding stretcher thing. Once Livvy was wired up to their machines and an oxygen mask was on her face, the woman driving took off at great speed for the General Hospital.

Not able to go inside with her, I was directed to reception to book her in with the receptionist. I sat waiting for over thirty minutes before a young doctor with a beard came and asked for me. He took me into a room along a corridor. “We are going to transfer your partner to Nottingham, to the University Hospital. They have the latest scanners there, and Olivia needs a scan as a matter of urgency. As she may also need surgery, we think it best she go there. You can go with her in the ambulance, ten minutes or so, okay?”

The long journey to Nottingham took half as long as if I had been in my car. The ambulance used the blue lights all the way, and I was thrown around in the back, despite my seat belt.

In that huge hospital, I ended up in a room much the same as the one I had left earlier, being told to wait for news. I thought I had better ring her parents, and her mum answered eventually. I told her what was going on, but to be honest, she didn’t seem that bothered.

“Well her dad is away at a conference, and I’m not going to drive all the way to Nottingham at this hour, Danny. Ring me at a decent time in the morning, and let me know how she is”. With that, she hung up.

After the scans, and an examination by the surgeons, a thin Indian doctor came in to talk to me. She looked very tired, and her green scrubs were loose on her tiny frame.

“Not good news, I’m sorry to say. They have diagnosed a sub-arachnoid heamorrhage, caused by a burst blood vessel in an important part of Olivia’s brain. Given her age, and that she is a non-smoker, I suspect this might be herditary, and it is very grave. She is going to need surgery now, and we are just waiting for a specialist to arrive. You might want to get a drink and something to eat. There are vending machines in the main building. You could be here for a long time”.

It was daylight when the thin woman came back. I must have been asleep for some time, stretched across three small and uncomforatble chairs in that airless room. Her face was a picture of practiced sadness. She even reached down and held my hand.

“They did their best. The specialist went in, and tried to clip the blood vessel. But she had already lost too much blood. She died a few minutes ago. You can come and see her in about twenty minutes, once we have cleaned her up”.

Work had been forgotten, so I quickly rang the boss, to give him the reason why both of us hadn’t shown up.

He actually cried. And then I realised I was crying too.

For the first time I could ever remember.

Of course, I wasn’t the next of kin, so had to ring Livvy’s mum soon after getting the news. I had declined to see her, laid out with her head in bandages.

“Dead? What do you mean, dead? Does this mean I have to go to Nottingham? I can tell you now that’s not going to happen, Danny. Get off the phone, and let me ring my husband”.

They gave me her personal possessions. As she had been in bed at the time it happened, that amounted to a gold chain, small gold earrings, and a cheap ring she used to wear on her right hand second finger.

I ordered a taxi from reception to take me home. They queried the distance, and asked if I knew how much it would cost. I just nodded at the woman on reception.

Livvy’s dad must have come home and sorted things, because a week later her mum rang me and gave me the details of the funeral the following week. “She would have wanted you to come, I expect”. That was all she had to say to me.

They cried crocodile tears at the crematorium, for a daughter they never really gave a shit about. After the service, her dad just nodded at me, and I didn’t get invited back to the house for buffet and drinks.

Not that I would have gone anyway.

They became next on my list. Not real parents at all, as far as I could tell. In truth, I think they were relieved that she was dead, and that her death removed all future responsibility from them. Maybe Livvy was unplanned, an accident? Whatever the reason, she deserved better, so those bastards had to die for their negligence.

That began a period of frustration for me. Her mum phoned me just the once, to tell me to give all her clothes to charity shops, or just throw them out in the rubbish. That was all they thought of Olivia, their only child? I was beginning to wonder if she had been adopted.

A house fire was my first choice. Late at night, a firece blaze. No survivors.

The problem was, they had state of the art CCTV. Cameras everywhere, and in colour, when nobody had colour CCTV. They also had a bank of fire alarms, Livvy had mentioned that. Then there was the killer reason not to do it.

My personal connection, and the obvious animosity between us.

There was no other option but to let it go. I satisfied myself that I would get them another time. Maybe at the holiday home in Suffolk, or when their guard was down in a year or so. But that wasn’t to be.

The only way I could kill that heartless pair was to implicate myself in some way. And I couldn’t afford to do that.

So I walked away from them, and my enjoyable life with Livvy.

Reluctantly, but it had to be done to stay safe.

For a good few years, I did my job, moved up the pecking order, and was well thought of. I got rid of Brian’s Fiesta, and bought myself something younger and trendier.

But not too flash.

There were no girlfriends either. I had cried over the loss of one, and that was never going to happen again. Better no girlfriend, than one who actually got to me.

My boss was in clover. I had become indispensable, and could easily have run the whole company if he wasn’t there. I had interest from women of course. I had spent my life attracting interest from women, and men. The boss gave me a pay rise, and moved me up the chain of command. It wasn’t too long before he relied on me completely, even paying me extra not to take all my leave entitlement.

A few years went by, and they were all defined by working hard, earning more money, and living for the job.

Then we had a company night out at a disco bar in town. I had a few too many drinks, and my eyes started to wander around the nightclub.

That’s when I spotted Eve.

Well, if you have read this from the beginning, you already know what eventually happened to Eve.

By now, you might also be wondering why this was all written down. A lifetime of confessions, my dark past exposed for all to see. I got away with murdering Eve, after all.

Sadly, not quite. My desire for revenge was my downfall you see. It happened something like this.

Eve’s boss, Julian Tolliver. They had almost certainly been having an affair. No doubt he thought he was going to escape my wrath for his infidelity, but he was wrong. I let the dust settle a bit, then started to work on my plan. It had to be completely accidental. His connection with me through my dead wife was too strong for me to take any chances. So to be able to guarantee a flawless plan, I had to make myself aware of his routine.

That involved some following.

At first, I did it very casually. Walking past his office to get to a shop. Waiting close to the car park at the back to see if he still drove the same car when he left. Then following his car at a reasonable distance to find out where he lived with his wife. I took my time, and remained patient. Over a three-week period, I began to plot out his regular movements, including his numerous trips to the small flat of his new girlfriend. She was probably Eve’s replacement at the office. He would have had no idea I was tailing him.

Or so I thought.

I hadn’t counted on him noticing me. I had also not counted on him being so afraid that he went to the police. He told them I was following him, then confessed to the affair with Eve, and said he thought I had found out about that, and killed her. Now he thought I was going to kill him too.

His desire to survive was stronger than his fear of ruining his marrige, it turned out.

During his trip to the police station, Julian struck lucky. Frances Ross was an unpopular detective who had recently been promoted to sergeant on the major crime squad. When Julian’s statement was shown to her, she took it seriously. Then she showed it to her Inspector, and asked for permission to investigate me. He didn’t like her, so was happy to assign her a junior colleague and tell her to get on with it.

And get on with it she did. Her brightest idea was to visit Eve’s granny in the care home. That old lady put me well and truly in the shit.

“Well, Eve wasn’t happy you see. He was a strange man, very different after they got married. He didn’t like her going out, and between you and me, she was seeing someone. Her boss, I think. She told me she told Daniel she was coming to see me on Sundays, and that’s when she met the man. I was so shocked when she died, I think I told him she never came to see me on Sundays. I reckon he must have already worked out that she had another man and probably killed her”.

Granny got that bit wrong of course.

Now a lesser detective might have called me in, and confronted me with the old woman’s statement, tacking it onto Julian’s allegation that I was following him. But Frances Ross was not a lesser cop. She was at the top of her game. I only found out later that she liked to be called Fran.

Naturally, I identified with that.

She went over my life with a fine-tooth comb, biding her time until she had worked out a time-line of potentially connected events that had some aspect of me possibly being involved, however tenuous. The file must have been huge by the time she decided to make her move.

Her and her colleague came to see me at work. To Tony’s surprise they said I had to go in with them to help them with enquiries. If I refused, I would be arrested there and then. I rang the solicitor who dealt with the Will, and the house sale. He said he would send someone he knew who was a good criminal lawyer.

In the back of the car on the way to the Police Station, nobody spoke a word.

Sergeant Ross was a clever lady. The solicitor spoke to me before she came into the interview room and advised me to stay quiet, saying nothing as was my right. Ross and her colleague brought me in a cup of tea in one of those flimsy plastic cups that bend as you pick them up. I left it untouched on the table.

She started by showing me lots of different clips of CCTV. My car following Julian’s car. Me walking past his office. My car parked on the street where his house was, and then my car parked outside the flat of his new lover. When I stayed silent as she questioned me about why I was there, she just smiled.

Then she played her ace, by arresting me on suspicion of harrassment of Julian Tolliver. It wouldn’t stick in court, as I could probably find reasons for being in those places, but it gave her the legal right to take my fingerprints, and a DNA sample by swabbing inside my cheek. Ignoring the protests of my solicitor, she then authorised my detention for twenty-four hours to enable them to carry out a search of my flat by warrant, and to ‘pursue an investigation into other crimes’.

As the custody constable led me off to a cell, I had to give it to her. She was bloody good at her job.

The DNA would sink me, I knew that well enough. I had got away with everything up to then, as I was not on any police record system. But the DNA and prints taken at the time would still be on file somewhere, and I knew that Ross would be fast-tracking my sample, then cross-checking everything while I languished in a cell until the following afternoon.

They left me alone, and I slept as best as I could on the thin plastic-covered mattress, listening to the shouts of the drunks in nearby cells, and some angry prisoner banging his cell door until he was exhausted. The next day at two in the afternoon, they came to get me, with one hour left in the legal detention period.

The solictor had been called in, and was looking glum. Whatever he had been told had taken the shine off his mood. Once again, he advised me to stay silent. Ross didn’t mess around, and she looked triumphant.

My DNA had been matched with a semen sample found in Maria Malone during the post-mortem. My fingerprints were on what was left of her gas cooker. Ross charged me there and then with Maria’s murder, as well as the murder of Liam Malone, and the old lady next door who had been killed in the explosion. Her eyes were bright as she summed up.

“You will be kept here until tomorrow morning, then taken to the Magistrate’s Court to be remanded in custody pending a trial. I am going to object to bail on the grounds that you may harm others, specifically Julian Tolliver, and also that you may be a flight risk, attempting to leave the country. Have you got anything to say?”

Trying not to smile, I shook my head. I wanted to tell her she was good at her job, but that didn’t seem appropriate.

A brief time was allowed with the solicitor before I was returned to my cell. He told me that he would instruct a Defence barrister to appear on my behalf when the case got to Crown Court. As he left, he shuffled his paperwork.

“It’s not looking good, I have to tell you. DNA is irrefutable”.

Ten minutes was all it took for the Magistrates to detain me on remand, pending trial. I was taken to a remand unit in the nearest prison, and given a cell shared with a young burglar who regarded going to prison as a necessary evil of his chosen career. It turned out that being on remand charged with three murders made me something of a celebrity, so nobody bothered me at all.

Six days later, a warder came and opened the cell door. He nodded at me. “You have vistors, look lively”.

Frances Ross sat in the room with a different cop. I soon found out that he was a Chief Inspector. My solicitor sat next to me, as the new man started speaking.

“I am going to put further charges to you, in the presence of your solicitor. You don’t have to say anything, but anything you do say will be recorded and used in evidence”. He opened a file with one sheet of paper inside.

It had a lot of typing on it.

It took so long for Ross’s superior to read out all the charges, I had to use the toilet before the time allowed with my solicitor.

She had been very thorough in her investigations indeed, going back as far as the death of my baby sister, which they did not charge me with. Even she knew that would never fly in court. But they charged me for Paul Carpenter, as they had found my fingerprints and DNA on his shoes and clothes, after I had arranged them to make it look like he had done that.

Then they mentioned Sophie, saying they had found my DNA on the washing line taken from around her neck. They charged me with her murder too.

Next up was the teacher, McCarthy. My DNA was found in semen samples taken from the scene. Charged with his murder.

The Chief Inspector had a lot to say about Foxy, telling me he believed I had tampered with his fork-lift truck. But as he didn’t charge me for that murder, I guessed the evidence wasn’t going to make the case.

Last but not least, they charged me with murdering Eve. Then with Ross sporting a very smug smile, they left.

My solicitor was trying to look on the bright side. I tried not to laugh. Facing trial for no less than seven murders had no bright side that I could think of. They only had to get a conviction for one, and that was life imprisonment.

“The thing is, Daniel, the evidence against you for Paul Carpenter and your wife Eve is completely circumstantial. There are no witnesses, and no motive to show that they can prove. As for the others, they are going to be rather difficult for you. I will let you know when we will be having a meeting with the barrister I mentioned”.

The news soon spread around the prison. I was already known for being charged for three murders, but now I had been charged with seven, I became an overnight superstar.

Sitting out another six months on remand, I got to see the comings and goings of many different cellmates. When one of them was overheard telling someone else that Maria’s husband would fix it so I got killed in prison, the next thing I knew I was placed in segregation for my own safety.

Over the course of three meetings with the barrister once we had a trial date at Crown Court, he decided not to put me in the witness box during the proceedings. I was to look serious at all times, and say nothing. He was planning to defend me on the evidence. I hadn’t told him about being abused by Uncle Brian, or by Maria and her friends. I wasn’t going to let that come out.

The trial turned out to be the longest on record in our county. With me instructed to plead Not Guilty, every single shred of evidence had to be gone through. To be fair, my barrister earned his fee, talking such a load of old shit day after day, that had I been on the jury, I would have found myself guilty.

But he was partially successful. I was found not guilty of murdering Eve, and not guilty of murdering Paul Carpenter. It seemed that the jury just couldn’t get past the fact that all evidence presented for those cases was purely circumstantial.

As for the others.

Sophie. Guilty.
McCarthy. Guilty.
Maria. Guilty.
Liam. Guilty.
The old lady next door. Guilty.

Funnily enough, Ross had dropped the charges of harrassment involving Julian.

The judge remanded me for psychiatric reports prior to sentencing, and I was taken to a secure prison wing in a mental hospital. For seven days, I had sessions with psychiatrists, took written tests, looked at abstract pictures and had to say what I saw in them, and marvelled at the crazy bastards I was locked up with. No wonder none of them were on the outside, they belonged in there, undoubtedly.

As you might imagine, the reports did not come out in my favour. I was described as manipulative, narcissistic, cold and cruel, calculating, lacking empathy or conscience, and showing no remorse for my crimes or my victims. One doctor summed it up quite well in the court. “This man is so incapable of feeling, he is actually unable to even feel sorry for himself in his current predicament”.

If hanging had still been available, that judge would probably have tied the knot himself. He sentenced me to life with no parole, to be detained in a secure hospital for the rest of my life, never to be released. I was a ‘danger to society’, and an ‘unspeakable, heartless individual, unable to feel remorse, now or later’.

Well, they got me good, didn’t they?

But I wasn’t finished yet.

So off I went to Broadmoor, a maximum security prison hospital in Berkshire. Home of the crazies who are too dangerous to be around normal prisoners. I wasn’t unduly concerned of course, as I was not remotely mad. In fact, I was going to be better off there than in a mainstream prison. Maria’s husband may have had a long reach in the prison system, but he was not going to be able to engineer my killing in that place.

Once I got used to the smell, the food, and the occasional unspeakable madman who had to be avoided at all costs, it wasn’t so bad. I had a proper room on my own, with an en-suite bathroom. I was lucky to be in the refurbished wing of the Gothic monstrosity, the oldest intsitution of its kind still used by the Prison Service.

There was routine of course. Regular interviews with the doctor assigned to me, activities that were more or less compulsory unless you were disruptive. And they probably drugged my food, as I was fairly tired all the time, and surprisingly calm. In that place, seven murders were nothing much to shout about. It housed some of the worst sickos and weirdos imaginable.

To try to keep my mind active, I signed up for Art Therapy. I had been hopeless at Art when I was at school, but now I had unlimited time on my hands, I might as well give it a try.

From the first lesson, I hated the tutor. She was a civilian who was paid to come in and teach the nutters how daubing some paint about would make them nicer people, and hopefully inspire them to recant their wicked ways. To keep her safe, two attendants were present in the class at all times, not that the medicated zombies who sat painting were likely to do her any harm.

She called me Daniel. I asked her to call me Danny. I gave her that chance. But she kept calling me Daniel even after that. And she had a stupid name too. Rosalinda. Who calls their kid a name like that? Her parents must have been avid readers of romantic fiction set in the eighteenth century. And she took the piss out of my work, though she called it constructive criticism. Her most used phrase was “No, no, no”, whenever she looked at my work in progress. Then she would shake her head and smile at me like I was six years old.

One day as she started to head over to me to look at my idea of ‘the perfect view’, I quietly snapped off the end of my paintbrush. If she was about to come out with her catchphrase, I will never know. As she leaned over me, I stabbed her in the neck with the sharp end of the brush. I got in eight good thrusts before the two attendants wrestled me to the ground and sounded the alarm.

Despite some trained nurses and a doctor being rushed to the Art Room, Rosalinda didn’t make it.

Shame about that.

I expected the padded cell, or whatever they used at the time. But they transferred me to Rampton instead.

The trial was by video link. I stayed silent, and was found guilty of course. When you are already in Broadmoor for seven murders and then kill someone else, the trial is not the same as it is outside. Like I cared, either way.

Rampton was so much nicer. More modern, and great facilities. I was a marked man though, often in restraints when moved around, and always on my own for the first few months. The guards were obviousy wary of me, and that was fine by me.

A few years went by. To be honest, I lost track of time.

There was a visitor. He was a writer, and he was keen to tell my story.

“People are interested, Danny. They want to know about you. I have a book deal in place if you cooperate”.

He called me Danny. So I agreed. I told him my story, and he wrote it up as you are reading it now. I got a copy in the post, a hardback. Not as thick as I would have liked, but there you go.

Maybe you understand me, maybe not. I don’t really care.

But if I ever get out of here, and you happen to run across me somewhere, always remember one thing.

Call me Danny.

The End.

13 thoughts on “Danny: The Complete Story

  1. I was so glad to read through to the end of this. The addition of a woman he actually liked and mourned who died of natural causes was brilliant. I didn’t know he had it in him. I love the detective at the end who put it all together. Good use of the availability of using DNA for old crimes. Here they are doing genealogical DNA tracing to learn who might be a suspect. Very intriguing as an idea for a new serial.

    Liked by 1 person

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