Little Annie: Part One

This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 1080 words.

February 2019. Anne gets a birthday present.

Anne received the doll as a present for her tenth birthday. Most girls of that age are too old for dolls, but she wasn’t. Mum said it was over one hundred years old, so she had to be careful with it. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. When her Mum asked her what she was going to call it, she replied without hesitation. “Little Annie”.

Not that it looked anything like her, the opposite in fact. She had dark brown hair, lank and greasy. Her lips were fleshy and wet, and her narrow eyes a strange caramel colour, like those you might see on a feral cat.

Little Annie was blonde, with lovely huge round eyes, and a mouth like a cupid’s bow. Just divine.

When Mum told her she couldn’t take her to school the next day, Anne kicked up an almighty fuss. That fuss turned into a tantrum, which became a screaming fit. By the time it was over, Anne had had to stay off school, and her Mum had also had to take the day off work. After just one day, that doll was proving to be more trouble than she had expected. Jane Boyd had to spend most of the morning calming her daughter down, explaining her reasons for banning Little Annie from accompanying her daughter to school.

She was relieved that Roger had already left for work, and had been spared the screams.

“It’s a Victorian doll, luvvy. Do you know what that means?” Anne gave a truculent shake of her head, eyes still red from crying. “Well that means it was made before the year nineteen-o-one. It’s an antique, and very valuable. Your Dad and me could never afford to replace it, if it got broken or stolen. Besides, I don’t think your teachers are going to allow you to sit in class holding a doll, do you?” Anne shrugged, sensible enough to know she wasn’t going to win this one. She also knew that if Mum took time off work, she didn’t get paid. Dad would be unhappy about that. She reached up one arm and draped it over her Mum’s shoulder.

“Sorry Mum”.

For the rest of the afternoon, Anne spent a long time talking to Little Annie. She filled her in on the home setup, and told her the history of the family that she was now part of.

“You see, my Mum and Dad had another little girl before me. She would have been my older sister, but she died of something horrible. When they got over that, they decided to have me, to make up for it, I suppose. So they are much older than the parents of the others at school, and all my grandparents are dead too. I don’t remember them, but Mum told me I went to Granny Boyd’s funeral. I don’t remember that either. It’s going to be nice to have someone to talk to, I’m so happy that you have come to live with us”.

Standing in the doorway of the kitchen, Jane blew the smoke from her cigarette into the garden, away from the house. She was supposed to have given up, but had never managed to quit completely. Roger hated her smoking, and had forbidden it inside, or around Anne. She knew her daughter was different, even if Roger refused to discuss it. Not that she was slow or anything, as her school work was good, and the teachers always had nothing but praise for her. But there was something about her. Something Jane couldn’t find the right word for.

The word in her mind was ‘strange’. But she didn’t want to admit to herself out loud that her daughter was strange, so never voiced it.

It was probably all her fault. Having a child at the age of thirty-nine was not a great idea. Extra tests, worries about syndromes or complications, and by the time she was born by cesarean section, Jane was already forty. Anne would be eleven next birthday, so she would soon be fifty-one. It didn’t seem right to be the same age as the other kid’s grandparents. Roger was only two years off sixty, and looked older. It was so embarrassing when people asked him about his ‘granddaughter’. She knew he secretly hated that, deep inside. And it didn’t help that Anne looked nothing like either of them. She didn’t have any resemblance to any of her family, and she had not been born with Roger’s red hair, unlike poor Phoebe. Sometimes, Jane caught him looking at her, with an unusually cold expression. She wondered if he thought he wasn’t the father.

And she hoped he didn’t know that was true.

Throwing the cigarette butt into the kitchen drain, she lit another one. Roger wouldn’t be home for a couple of hours yet.

That evening at dinner, Anne insisted that Little Annie sit next to her at the table. She pretended to be able to hear the doll talking, and voiced her supposed remarks, much to the silent annoyance of her father. “Little Annie says she remembers eating steak pie. She liked it, but not the cabbage that it was served with”. “Little Annie doesn’t know what strawberry yoghurt is. She says she has never seen anything like that, and it looks too sloppy to eat”. Roger Boyd was glad when dinner was over. He had wanted to tell his daughter to shut up and grow up, but his wife pandered to her, and allowed her to still act like a baby. No wonder the girl had no friends.

As she settled in bed that night, Anne looked up at her Mum, who was tidying away her clothes. “Little Annie doesn’t have a nightdress or pyjamas, Mum. It doesn’t seem right that she has to sleep in her day dress”. Jane looked down at her daughter, the doll next to her in bed, with the covers up to its chin. “I don’t think I can get a nightdress in her size, luvvy. I might ask Margaret at work to make me one. What about that?” She kissed her daughter goodnight, and walked slowly back downstairs.

She knew full well that Roger would start moaning at her about the dinner-table conversation, so she went straight out into the garden to have a cigarette first.

With her eyes feeling heavy, Anne settled down in bed, cuddling the doll. “Goodnight Little Annie, sleep tight”.

As she turned over, she heard her reply. A wheezy-sounding voice, but speaking clearly.

“But my name is Phoebe”.

Decision Time For Jenny: The Complete Story

This is all 24 parts of my recent fiction serial, in one complete story.
It is a long read, in 31,455 words.

The letter was unambiguous. The consultant wanted to see her urgently, to discuss the results of the last mammogram. Jenny had no doubt that the news would be bad. After all, she could feel the lumps easily, and one of them was becoming noticeable on her left breast. She had long thought about the outcome. Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy.
Months recovering, numerous stays in hospital, visits to clinics.

And the pain of course. No getting away from that.

So Jenny made a decision, and put the letter away in a drawer.

Facebook would be good. She would find them on there. All the hateful bullies and bitches who had made her life a misery. She had enough time, and now their time had come.

It was much easier than she had ever expected. They put everything out there, even using their maiden names, and old school photographs. Not that Jenny would ever have appeared in any they had taken. Photos of their houses, and the streets where they lived. Groups of friends, their kids’ schools, and where they worked. If they had to work of course. A lot of them had married well, evidenced by photos of them sitting in smart convertibles, or by their swimming pools in obscenely large houses. Not all though. A few looked like they had drawn the short straw. Numerous divorces, struggling to get by. Even asking for handouts online.

No time to feel sorry for any of them though. The cuts had been too deep for sympathy.

Later that evening, she checked off her list. She had been looking for nine, and had found seven. The other two didn’t seem to be on Facebook, and would require more investigation. She phoned her boss at home, and told her the bad news. She would be off sick for the foreseeable future, and a medical certificate would arrive eventually. Meanwhile, she would use all her accrued holiday time. Pat had been sympathetic, but couldn’t disguise the coldness in her tone. Jenny knew that she would be thinking about getting cover for the Stoneman project, and that wouldn’t be easy.

Tough luck, Pat. Swivel on this, for all I care.

Online banking meant she could transfer all her savings into the current account. She would need cash to buy a car. One that she wouldn’t bother to register in her name. Then there would be the travelling money. Cheap hotels that took cash, and no need for credit cards. After that, Jenny threw away all the drugs she had been taking. They only made her feel sick anyway, and she was no longer going to prolong the inevitable.

A bath was more soothing than a shower, and she sat back into the fragrant hot water, thinking about her plans. She thought of the old fable of The Tortoise and The Hare.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Careful planning. Lots of preparation, and no stupid mistakes. Fortunately, she was bright enough for all that, and her mind was still sharp.

Sleep came easy that night. Something about making such a huge decision was actually comforting, and the worries of those last months seemed to all be behind her now. Not that there weren’t a few doubts swirling around in her mind as she drifted off. She wasn’t that young anymore, and her fitness level was poor. That would have to be factored in. But thanks to the wonders of the Internet, most things could be accomplished.

The next morning she put her hair up, slipped on a sweatshirt and jogging pants, then got busy. Maps to explore, directions to write down. Landmarks in new towns and villages she had never visited, nearby hotels and guest houses where nobody would take any notice of a woman alone. She smiled as she thought of all those books she had read during her life, the key to solving any crime.
Method, Motive, and Opportunity.

Well she certainly had a motive, but would it be that obvious to an outsider? A police detective trying to solve random cases might hit on such a motive as revenge, that was obvious. But how far back would they go? The opportunity would have to be created given any appropriate circumstances, and the method would be dictated by those.

Being caught was not a problem, not when you had nothing to lose. But being caught before she completed her task was the worry. It had to be all of them, or none of them.

Jenny didn’t feel up to eating any lunch.

Instead, she had a chocolate milkshake, and then went for an afternoon nap.

Phillipa Kennedy

Jenny drove the nondescript car into a space at the side of the Premier Inn. Small, and definitely non-trendy, it was only three years old, and had very low mileage. It should last the course, and do what she needed it for. The overweight young man at the desk gave her a form to fill out, and she lied on every line. He didn’t care, as she was paying cash up front. He slid the room key across the counter with not even a glance. Perfect. There would be CCTV in the foyer of course, but by the time anyone bothered to check that, it wouldn’t matter.

Phillipa had been chosen as number one for the simple reason that she lived the closest to home. Jenny had decided to work in an outward semicircle, and hers was the nearest address she had found. She wasn’t called Kennedy anymore, but that was how she would always be remembered. Tall, awkward, red hair. The sort of girl who might usually have been picked on, had she not had influential friends. The netball team was a big deal at the school, and the girls picked for it were legends in their own classrooms. The tallest girl was known as Phil, and nobody ever crossed her.

Despite the change of surname to Watson, Phil was no longer married, according to her profile. Twenty five years had not been kind to her, and the photos Jenny had seen suggested some surgical interference in her appearance. Strangely pert boobs, and swollen lips that had consumed too much Botox. The addition of extreme dieting had left her resembling a baby giraffe, with her stick-thin legs, long neck, and protruding knees. She was a forty-three year old woman trying to look twenty-five, and failing miserably.
She didn’t have any children either, which was a huge bonus.

After much study, Jenny had concluded that the gym would be the perfect spot. It seemed that Phil was there every night after work, and at weekends too. It was easy to find, as the website provided the postcode, and also had lots of nice photos. Using Google Maps Streetview, she had even been able to tour around the building, choosing some good spots. On the way to her cheap hotel she had passed it, noticing that there were lots of visible CCTV cameras covering the car park. That might mean a change of venue, perhaps follow Phil home. Time would tell.

Phil was on the list for a very good reason. Most of the girls who had bullied and teased Jenny until she was suicidal were just following the lead of a few in their group. Philipa Kennedy was one of the few, and one of the cruelest. Perhaps because she feared them turning on her for being too tall, too skinny, and having ginger hair, she made sure they kept their attention on Jenny as much as possible. Everything from wearing glasses, to starting her periods late, and having what they decided were arms that were ‘too hairy’. She coined the name ‘The Four-Eyed Chimp’ that became widely used throughout the school. Then when she didn’t get her period, she started the rumour that Jenny was really a boy.

She definitely had it coming.

After drinking some mineral water and eating a few dry crackers, Jenny dressed in what she jokingly referred to as her ‘action outfit’. A one-piece workman’s overall, black wool cap, and heavy boots. With her hair up under the cap, and no make-up on, she could pass for a man at a quick glance. Ironic really, as Phil had never stopped alleging she was really a male. No point getting to the gym too early, as according to her numerous statuses on Facebook, Phil rarely left there before eight. Jenny already knew what car to look out for, as that was on many of the photos posted on Instagram. A pink Fiat 500, with stupid stick-on eyelashes over the headlights. She had tutted upon seeing those photos, shaking her head. “Come on Phil, you’re forty-three for Christ’s sake”.

It was easy to find that silly car in the car park, and Jenny parked in sight of it, but not too close. On her passenger seat rested a huge Monkey Wrench, tightly wrapped in a plastic carrier bag. The giant adjustable spanner was bought second-hand from a street market, and paid for in cash. The bloke on the stall had made a joke when she bought it, something about her plumbing in a new toilet. She hadn’t said a word, and looked down as she handed over the money. It seemed appropriate that Phil should meet her end at the hand of that four-eyed monkey, wielding a monkey wrench.

She came out at just after eight-thirty, later than expected. The grey and pink leotard and leggings matched of course, and the red hair was tied back tightly in a pony tail. The gym bag was pink too, what the hell was she thinking? Oh no! The trainers were grey and pink too. Too much, Phil! Jenny followed her out of the car park. When she indicated left, it was a fair guess that she was heading for home, and not for some bar in the town centre. Maybe her age was beginning to tell. All day at work, followed by two hours at the gym. Phil must be feeling it, she was sure.

Sure enough, the rest of the journey was nicely predictable. Homeward-bound, to the small two-bed terrace that she had rented since her divorce. Jenny waited until the silly little car swept up onto the space outside the house, then parked in a nearby side street. Two minutes later, and she was at the front door, ringing the ‘ding-dong’ bell. Phil opened the door with a smile. Perhaps she was expecting someone?

She wasn’t expecting a huge wrench to smack her between the eyes, that was for sure.

Jenny had surprised herself by how hard she had managed to strike the hated woman. No hesitation, a full swing, with her wrist jarring at the force of the contact. Phil went down like a puppet with her strings cut, and Jenny walked in quickly, closing the door behind her. Despite the stupid woman being unresponsive, Jenny knew instinctively that it wasn’t enough. Raising her arm as far as it would reach, she brought down the heavy spanner again and again, until she was too weary for more blows.

Phil’s head was like a squashed melon. She wasn’t coming back from that. Time to make it look like a burglary gone wrong. Motive.

Jenny ransacked the house, overturning drawers, and spilling out the contents of cupboards. She took Phil’s handbag, with all the cash and cards in her purse. Under her arms, she stashed a laptop, DVD player, and an Alexa speaker. In the kitchen, she found a black plastic bin bag, and dropped everything inside. Up in the bedroom, she emptied the jewellery box into that, even though most of the stuff was costume crap. As an afterthought, she went back and pulled the rings off Phil’s fingers, and the gold necklace from around her neck.

No need for gloves, or worrying about prints. She had never been in trouble, so had never had them taken.

It was rather hollow, when all was said and done. She hadn’t had a chance to say who she was. That would have been the icing on the cake.

Back in her car, she put the overalls, hat, and boots into a big holdall. Then she added everything she had stolen from Phil, and the house, as well as the spanner, still inside the bloodied carrier bag. She didn’t want anything to do with any of it, it was all about motive. She was left wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, with some flip-flops already left in the car.

There was no chance she was going to use the restaurant attached to the hotel. So in the town centre, she bought fish and chips for cash, eating them in her car outside. Back in her room later, she lay in the bath, feeling a little deflated. Perhaps it had been too easy?

Anyway. One down.

Tabitha Khan and Mrs Wilkinson

Jenny slept late the next morning, leaving only twenty minutes to get packed and out before checkout time. No matter, as the long drive to where Tabitha lived would allow time for breakfast at the motorway service station. As she ate the all-day breakfast, surprised at her hunger, Jenny thought about her destination. A plush commuter suburb, known for its expensive property, and exclusive districts. It wasn’t going to be so easy this time. Tabitha had two kids, both at expensive schools nearby. She didn’t work, but had many interests. It was going to be hard to work out where it was best to do the deed.

As the prettiest girl on the netball team, Tabs exuded the confidence of someone who was always being told she was beautiful. The perfect combination of a handsome and rich Pakistani father, and a former glamour model English mother, she could easily have become a film star. But her temperament let her down. Bitchy, catty, and downright nasty, the only reason she was allowed into the top group was because her beauty attracted every hot boy in the town.

She despised anyone she thought was ugly, and barely tolerated any of the other girls in her set, including the late Phillipa.

Jenny had been a natural target for her spite. Frizzy hair, and a snub nose, that was all that was needed for Tabs to let herself give full rein. She called Jenny ‘The Pug’, ‘The Toy Dog’, and ‘The Hairy Bitch-Dog’. It seemed like every Monday, there was a new hateful name. The others always roared with laughter, terrified that Tabs would desert them, and start up her own set with the pretty girls. Jenny knew better. Tabs was a big fish in a small pond. If she started trying to hang around with the beauty queens, she would be average at best. With the netball gang, her foreign heritage was never mentioned, and nobody ever talked about her race or religion being different.

She was now called Tabitha Holloway, married to the leading estate agent in the region, a man who owned five successful branches around the area. Older than her, but not too old. And she had the kids quite late, apparently. At least going by their ages of six and eight, she hadn’t had the first one until she was thirty-five. An older mum, they called them. Career and marriage before children. Get the big house and money first, then have the sprogs.

The nearby accommodation was a run-down guest house that had seen better days. Days before the motorway had by-passed the sleepy town and adjacent villages, giving few people any reason to want to stay over. It seemed that she was the only guest, which was good. But the owner, Mrs Wilkinson, was a rather nosy woman who asked lots of questions, which was a shame. There was every chance that she would remember her, and even her nondescript car. She was that sort of woman. Jenny had to think seriously about the possibility of adding her to the list. A random kill wouldn’t hurt. Might throw them off the scent. The idea grew in her mind, and she smiled as she thought of what to do.

The afternoon was spent planning how to get to Tabs, without her noticing. She didn’t bother to go out to eat, settling for two sandwiches and a soft drink, bought at the motorway service station after breakfast. Deciding on her Plan A, she had a bath, and got an early night.

The next morning, after eating an average breakfast served by the snooty owner, Jenny drove a few miles to an industrial estate on the outskirts of the nearest town. In a large warehouse selling anything to do with home improvements, she bought two one-litre bottles of a well-known drain cleaner. Research had told her that it contained sulphuric acid, potentially lethal if ingested, and liable to cause terrible burns and scarring if applied to the skin. Adding some industrial safety gloves, two rolls of strong duct tape, some large scissors, and a small hammer, she took her basket to the checkout. The operator hardly looked at her as she bagged the goods, and took the cash payment without a word. There was CCTV in the shop of course, and in the car park. But she had parked out on the street, and was wearing cheap reading glasses over her contact lenses and a long blonde wig, bought well in advance.

It wouldn’t be a great idea to park so close to Tabitha’s house, but she had little choice. This was an area where any unusual activity in the village was likely to be noticed by everyone, so the privacy of the house was the only option. Jenny knew she drove a red Range Rover, so she would have to stay somewhere she could see it when Tabs returned home. With all her purchases stored in a small sports bag, she secreted her car in the lane next to the small mansion, where she could easily watch the entrance. Hopefully, she would not have either of the children with her, or Plan B would have to be used instead.

Just after two, the big red car arrived. It was too early for the school run, and Jenny was glad to see that the kids were not in the car. She got out quickly, grabbing the sports bag and unzipping it as she walked around the corner onto the gravel driveway. Tabs was standing behind the car, leaning into the back to get something from inside. Elegantly dressed in a designer raincoat, tightly belted around her slim frame. The noise of Jenny’s shoes crunching on the gravel made her turn to see who was coming. But she turned a fraction too late to make any difference. There wasn’t the slightest hint of recognition on her face as she spotted Jenny, just the start of a bemused smile at the sight of someone wearing enormous industrial gloves in that situation.

It was the last time the corners of her mouth would ever turn up in the formation of a sneer.

Squeezing the bottle as hard as she could with her small hands, Jenny drenched Tabitha’s head and face with sprays of the corrosive fluid. Tabs screamed at first, then made bubbling sounds. Smoke of some kind seemed to be coming off her skin, and there was a fizzing sound, like you hear when you drop some Alka-Seltzer into a glass of water. She fell onto her back, and Jenny stood over her, emptying the contents of the container over Tabitha’s rapidly disappearing face.

So much for beauty.

Taking the second litre out of the bag, Jenny forced the spout through what was left of Tabitha’s lips, and squeezed hard. Squirming on the ground, the now unrecognisable woman could only stare through bulging eyes as the fluid destroyed her airways, and entered her stomach too. Before it was too late, Jenny leaned forward, meeting the terrified gaze. She wanted her to know, before she died. “Call me a pug now. Go on, try”. Tabs didn’t seem to register the twenty-five year old insult, which was disappointing.

She waited until Tabs was no longer moving before putting the empty containers back into the bag. With no intention of trying to disguise this as anything but a vicious attack, she turned around and walked back to the car. As she started the drive back to the guest house, she started to feel a little queasy. Not taking the medication was already beginning to show.

When she walked through the door of the guest house, Mrs Wilkinson looked up, surprised. “Oh, did you want another night?” She opened a leather bound journal on the small counter, pretending to check if she had a room available.

Jenny hit her once with the hammer, and her face rebounded off the woodwork as she slipped under the counter with a low groan.

Working fast, it was easy to secure the stout woman with the heavy duty tape. She made sure to wrap it around her mouth and nose in a haphazard fashion, which would leave her unable to breathe. Then she took the old-fashioned cash box from under the counter, and the journal with all the bookings written in it, including hers.

Placing them both in the sports bag with the hammer and tape, Jenny sat on the stairs for a while. Besides waiting for Mrs Wilkinson to stop breathing, she needed a rest.

Murder could actually be quite tiring.

Rest and Reflection

The traffic was bad on the way home, and Jenny was feeling overwhelmingly tired. But she had things to do first.

The stuff she had used and taken had to be dumped. All separated into unrelated piles, she had placed it into black rubbish bags, and tied them up securely. Various spots on the way back served as dumps for them. Council waste bins, the communal containers behind some flats at the edge of town, and even on top of some other rubbish dumped in a lay-by on the ring road. It would all be removed in dustcarts, and taken away for destinations in landfill or incinerators.

Jenny had reason to thank at least three local authorities for their lacklustre provision of recycling.

One last stop, at the corner shop near her flat. The strongest non-prescription painkillers she could buy over the counter, and a sad-looking Cornish pastie to heat up for dinner. The car was left in the space allocated to her flat in the underground car park, and she dragged herself into the lift feeling exhausted.

The pain under her left arm was more of a nagging ache. The tablets would sort that out after a bath and dinner, but it was the extreme tiredness that really worried her. She felt like someone in their seventies, and it was hard to still believe that she was only forty-three.

Feeling better after a bath, and having to admit that the pastie had been very tasty, she thought back on the events of the past few days. It hadn’t really dawned on her until that moment that she had killed three people. That was a big deal, even for someone who had spent a life obsessed with hatred and revenge.

The light was flashing on the house phone, indicating a message. Pressing ‘play’ she listened to the voice of the hospital consultant’s secretary. “We haven’t heard back from you about our letter, Miss Pettifer. Can you please call me back on the usual number? Mr Abdullah would like you to come in for a talk”.

Jenny deleted the message. It would be good to know how much time she had left, but she couldn’t spare the time to find out. Opening her laptop, she checked out the news.

Phil’s death wasn’t even reported nationally. Too many murders, so only the really interesting ones made the headlines. She checked the local paper’s website for where Phil lived. The police there had described it as an ‘Aggravated Burglary’. No forced entry, and a suspicion that the woman was only killed because she might have been able to identify her attacker. The murder was described as ‘frantic, and unusually brutal’ by the detective in charge. He concluded by saying that ‘investigations are ongoing’.

Tabs had made the national news though. The ‘horrific acid attack’ was described by the lead detective there as ‘racially motivated’. Jenny smiled at that. It hadn’t occurred to her that they might think that. That was an unexpected perk. She spoke out loud. “Thanks for that, Mr Detective”. There were the usual appeals for anyone who had seen anything to call a hotline number, and a sombre police chief stating that ‘suspects were being interviewed’.

Mrs Wilkinson didn’t feature anywhere, national or local. They probably hadn’t found her yet.

Jenny wasn’t stupid. She knew it wouldn’t be too long before they started to trawl CCTV. To find out who might have been in the area, what cars were seen more than once, and who had been buying drain cleaner in every shop that sold it. But so far, all they had was her unregistered car, and some footage of a blonde woman wearing heavy black-framed glasses. They might get to the seedy car salesman who had done her a deal for cash, but she had been wearing a disguise that day too, and hadn’t given him her real name.

With any luck, she could keep one step ahead of the investigation. After all, she had driven well over one hundred miles away to carry out all the killings, and there was no connection to her that was glaringly obvious.

She went to bed after closing the laptop.
Lying in the dark, she was hoping her body would last as long as her resolve.

The following morning, Jenny went through her notes. The victims were being chosen as much for the potential ease of getting to them, as well as their geographical locations. But this one was a very long way away, though suitably vulnerable. Nobody had expected her to turn out the way she had, that was for sure. She would have put money on her becoming the best of all of them, with a glowing academic career.

Instead, a bad choice of boyfriend had led her into a very sleazy lifestyle, and she was enjoying boasting about how she was ‘recovering’ from that on her social media profiles. Why anyone would list a catalogue of being a porn star, prostitute, and drug addict so that they could bore everyone by telling them that she had ‘turned her life around’, was beyond Jenny’s comprehension.
So now she was born again, and had found Jesus. So what?
Was he going to forgive her for making a schoolgirl’s life a misery twenty-five years ago?

Well he had better, because Jenny certainly wasn’t going to. She closed the notebook.

There was a long drive to make.

Tanya Birch

It was the longest drive Jenny had taken in years. She stopped at a roadside restaurant halfway, and sat staring out of the window at the crowded car park.

Tanya liked to be called Tanny, for some reason. Though not conventionally attractive, there was something about her that oozed sexuality, even from the age of twelve. Other girls noticed her, and boys looked back at her as they walked past. By the time she was fifteen, rumours were going around that she had already done it, and from her supremely confident manner, Jenny suspected that they were correct.

There was every chance that she would never have been accepted into the group. For one thing, she wasn’t any good at netball, and she was also very clever. Always top in most subjects, academic prowess seemed to come easy for her. No fear of exams, and not much need to study either. ‘Naturally bright’ was what most teachers called her. For other girls, this would leave them isolated and alone, derided for being a swot. But Tanny was sought after, with that elusive appeal that nobody could quite put their finger on.

At the time, Jenny was also obsessed with her. More than a crush, an unspoken desire. Of course, she didn’t have a hope in Hell of even talking to her, let alone hanging out with her. Once she became part of the netball gang, Jenny was never going to feature on her radar.

But despite this, Tanny was responsible for an awful cruelty. One of the worst.

The rest of the drive was dull. Boring scenery sweeping past the window, and too many big trucks to have to keep overtaking. By the time she got to the pub called The Blue Boar where she had booked a room, it was dark and chilly. A room above a pub seemed like a good idea. The owners too busy to pay her much attention, and a crowded bar keeping them distracted. A false name, and the blonde wig. Good enough to go unnoticed for now. Cash paid over in advance, and just handed a key by the harassed barmaid. No breakfast included, so easy to slip out through a side entrance the next morning. And it was almost forty miles from her destination too, so nothing too close to where Tanny was to be found.

There was no bath in the room, so Jenny stood in the shower letting the hot water soothe her aches and pains. That pulling feeling under her left breast was getting worse. She rubbed at the spot, but that didn’t help. How she hated her boobs. They had blighted her life, and now it appeared they were going to end it too soon as well. Having a large chest at the age of thirteen might have been something some girls yearned for. But for her, the prominent bulges had only served to attract unwanted attention. When you had the biggest pair in the school by the age of fourteen, even bigger than any of the female teachers, they could make your life a waking nightmare.

First came the nicknames. ‘Headlamps’, ‘Boobylicious’, ‘Jenny Jugs’, and so many more. Then came the other jibes. “Are they real?” “Have you stuffed your bra?” “Are you pregnant?” “Don’t be late for milking time, the farmer’s calling”. Outside school she had to run the gauntlet of stares. Boys stared, old men stared, even old ladies stared. People serving in shops stared, bus drivers stared, and there was no chance she would ever go to a swimming pool, fearful of becoming the main attraction. It would have been nice to have been able to talk to mum about it, but as she also had huge boobs, Jenny was afraid to bring up the subject.

Then Tanya started to pay attention to her. Slinking away from the rest of the group, she found reasons to chat to her. Asking about a difficult Maths problem, or mentioning that there were some good school shoes on offer at the local shoe shop. Jenny instinctively knew it was all fake. Why would the girl suddenly appear to befriend her, after all this time? But her need for friendship and her attraction to Tanny overcame her inner worries. She took her eye off the ball, with terrible consequences.

One afternoon when school was turning out for the day, Tanny found her. Grabbing her hand she smiled, and whispered “Come on, I want to tell you something”. She led her behind some storage sheds away from the main building, and pushed her back against the wall. “Do you like me? I mean, really like me?” Jenny nodded enthusiastically. With that, Tanny started to kiss her, and began to unbutton her blouse at the same time. Overwhelmed, face flushed, Jenny returned the passion, throwing caution to the winds. Moments later, Tanny stepped back, a horrible grin across her face. Shrieks of laughter were suddenly heard all around, and the netball gang appeared, shouting and hooting, bent double with hilarity.

Tanny pointed at her, extending a long manicured finger. “Told you, girls. The Pug is a lezza, look at the state of her”. More raucous laughter as the group pointed at her unbuttoned blouse, and the heavy breasts straining the straps of the cheap bra. Jenny grabbed her school bag and started running. She ran across the playing fields to the back gate, pausing to catch her breath and do up some buttons. Then she started running again, and didn’t stop until she got home.

That night, she took her first overdose. But there was only aspirin in the house, and just seven tablets. All it did was to make her feel a bit sick.

And now Tanny was running a Spiritualist Church. Not a formal affair, just one of those places where people went to try to contact their long-lost loved ones, and no doubt pay for the privilege. Her sloppy website promised contact from beyond, and also offered personal one-to-one sittings. Perfect. Jenny had booked one online, using a mobile broadband dongle and a false name and email address. The so-called church was easy to find. Looking like a converted car repair garage, at the end of a lane in a remote country district. Jenny had rarely seen anything that looked less like a church, despite the badly-painted signs promising ‘Spiritual Help Ahead’.

There were no cars in the car park, and no sign of any CCTV cameras either. She parked away from the door, turning the car to face out of the entrance before getting out. Dark glasses with the blonde wig, and a cheap puffa jacket over some grey leggings. She looked like what she was pretending to be. She had something in her shoulder bag, all she would need.

Tanny was barely recognisable as she answered the door. Long grey hair extended almost to her elbows, and a heavily lined face made her look older than her years. She might have survived all that sex and addictions, but her body was advertising the effects of it. The voice was the same though. Slightly superior. No, condescending. That was better. She showed her through the small room with its rows of chairs in front of a small lectern. A tiny stuffy room at the back seemed to serve as both consulting room, and bedsit. It was tidy, but felt airless, and smelled musty.

There was not a hint of recognition in her tone, or on her face. “I think we agreed forty pounds?” Jenny handed over the two twenties, and Tanny slipped them inside a mystical-looking box on the table. Adopting a serene pose, she looked up from the box. “Now, how can I help you?” Jenny spoke with a slightly gruff voice, as if she had a sore throat. “I am trying to contact an old friend, someone I was at school with. I haven’t seen her for twenty-five years, and I was worried that she might have died. Can you tell me if she is in the spirit world?”

Tanny reached across, taking her left hand. She rolled her eyes upward before closing the lids over them. Jenny had to stifle a snort of laughter at the theatricals. “What is her name, my dear?” Wrapping her right hand around the handle of the kitchen knife in her bag, she replied. “Jenny Pettifer. A troubled girl, badly bullied. I fear that she may have taken her own life”. A definite flicker of the closed eyelids showed that Tanny had recognsised the name. That was something. With her eyes still closed, she spoke with great solemnity. “You can rest easy my dear. Your good friend is alive, and no longer troubled”. Jenny was impressed, maybe Tanny knew her stuff after all.

As the other woman’s eyes opened and she began to smile, Jenny brought her hand out of the bag and stabbed Tanny once in the neck. She jumped up, pushing the small table to one side, then walked back a few paces, clutching her neck with both hands. Using her left hand, Jenny removed the sunglasses, and pulled off the wig. “Hi Tanny. It’s been a long time”. With that, she rushed forward and plunged the six-inch blade between the clasped hands, straight into Tanny’s throat.

There was a lot of blood, more than she had expected.

It didn’t take long for Tanny to bleed out. Whether it was the wounds, the shock, or just the surprise, she had made no attempt to get around Jenny and make for the door, or to defend herself.

A quick rummage was all it took to find an ancient laptop. That and a mobile phone were placed in the shoulder bag, which would hopefully remove any record of the appointment. In the mystical box she found just the two twenties, but took the box anyway. Robbery. A decent enough motive.
The puffa jacket had taken most of the blood, but the wig had some splashes on it, and would need to be washed. Wrapping the knife in the jacket, she hefted the bag onto her shoulder, and walked out to her car.

Some baby wipes in the back cleaned the blood off of her hands, and they were placed in a rubbish bag with the jacket, knife, and box.

As she turned on the engine, Jenny was buzzing, hyped up. It was better when they knew, that was for sure. She decided to do the three hundred mile drive home in one hit.

It wouldn’t matter if she felt tired later.

Police Involvement

DS Baker wasn’t having any of it. “I don’t get the boss with his racially motivated thing”. She stopped to bite into the bacon roll, and some sauce trickled down her chin. DC Willoughby smiled at her, pointing at his own chin to indicate what had happened. “Why not, sarge? Seems about right. Rich woman, Pakistani background. Bound to cause resentment, especially with her living in that beautiful house, and swanning around dressed like a fashion model”. Izzy Baker swallowed the lump of roll, and pointed across the desk. “That’s just it. She is one of them, married to a local rich guy, and living like a country lady. Racially motivated attacks are usually against obvious Muslims, you know, burkas and that. I have my own theory, and I will work on it in my own time if need be”.

Sammy wasn’t about to ask her what that theory was, knowing full well she was about to tell him. She put down what was left of the roll, and wiped her face with the back of her hand. She was a good copper, but she definitely had no class.

“It’s got to be another woman. Rich guy, probably got a few on the go. Made promises to leave the wife and kids, then didn’t follow through. Jealous woman decides to splash some acid over her rival to get things moving, then she takes it too far. Mark my words, it will be a woman. Any progress with that CCTV, Sammy?” He inclined his head back, indicating the corridor behind him. “Donna’s on it, she’s using room six”. The sergeant stood up, and pulled her skirt down and straight, adjusting where it had ridden up from too long in the chair. “I’ll go and see how she’s getting on”.

Over sixty miles away, in the incident room of a different police force, Inspector John Meacham was going through the interrogation tapes. Phillipa Watson had let in her attacker, he was certain of that. She had to have known who it was. Early investigations had revealed that she had been with a lot of men recently, most of them met at her local gym. She wasn’t shy about putting herself on offer, and younger fit men were her companions of choice. One of the personal trainers who worked there had come up as interesting. Mario Pelosi’s prints had been found in her house, and he had form. He had been acquitted of two sexual assaults when he lived in Nottingham, and a former girlfriend had accused him of hitting her with a bread board, breaking some bones in her face. She had dropped the charges before it got to court though.

Pelosi had moved south for a fresh start, and worked at the gym on a self-employed basis, being paid by members for one-to-one training. They had got him in for questioning, and he had declined a solicitor. Readily admitting he had numerous sexual encounters with female gym members, he was also happy to agree that he had been to Phillipa’s house on many occasions, at her invitation. He claimed to have nothing to hide, and denied any involvement with her murder. Yes, he had seen her at the gym that night, but he had been busy with a new customer and hadn’t spoken to her. Trouble was, his alibi was useless. He claimed to have left work just after nine, gone straight home, and hadn’t spoken to anyone.

Meacham shook his head. That would tie in with the time that Mrs Watson was killed, and CCTV had Pelosi’s car nearby at close to nine-fifteen. But he only lived a few minutes from her, so that was easily explained. The Inspector didn’t feel it. He relied a lot on instinct, and something was telling him that it wasn’t Mario.

Izzy walked back into the main office waving a printout from some CCTV footage. She beamed at Sammy, shouting loud enough for the whole room to hear. “I told you! A Woman! Look at this! Buying two bottles of drain cleaner in the same area that Mrs Holloway lived. Well, not that far, anyway. That blonde hair looks like a wig to me, and the black spectacles are probably fake too”. She plonked down into the swivel chair, holding the printout close to his face. “Look at her, Sammy. She’s the one. I’m certain”.

She made a phone call to the boss, sounding very confident. After explaining all the details of her theory, she took a deep breath, and made her play. “We should have the husband in, sir. He will know the woman, I’m sure of it. He might even be involved, you know, put her up to it”. She nodded a few times, and turned to Sammy giving him a thumbs-up. “Thank you sir, I will get a warrant and get straight on it”.

It was after ten when Jenny got home that night. The long drive had been very tiring, once the adrenaline wore off. She hadn’t bothered to stop to dump anything, that would have to be done tomorrow. Checking the news on her laptop, she saw that a man was ‘helping police with inquiries’ about Phil’s murder, but when she clicked on the latest report about Tabitha’s case, she slumped in her chair. They had a photo of her from the big warehouse shop, and were asking the public to come forward if they knew the woman in the photo. She thought hard about her arrival at The Blue Boar. She had tied the wig in a pony tail, and wasn’t wearing any glasses. The barmaid had hardly looked at her. That might be alright. As for Mrs Wilkinson, she wouldn’t be describing anyone, but the tape bought at the same time would be discovered wrapped around her head.

Jenny was angry at herself, but she could never have guessed that the police would be onto the blonde woman as a suspect so quickly.

But she should have, she knew that now. There was no doubt about it, she would have to work faster. Starting tomorrow.

Or they might just catch her before she could finish what she had started.

The Twins

Something needed to be done before disposing of the things she had brought back from Tanya’s church. She wanted to delete the mobile phone contact number she had provided, and was sure it would be on Tanny’s phone which was stashed in the car. Even though the phone Jenny was using was a cheap pay and go phone with no contract reference, it would be useful to be able to hang onto it, and not have to worry if it was traced later. As she went through the call list and contacts on the phone menu, something she saw made her stop scrolling.

Katie Bell.

Katie and her twin sister Karen had been the muscle, as far as the gang of bullies was concerned. Once they tired of the name-calling and general teasing on a daily basis, they decided to make Jenny’s life even more miserable by setting the twins on her. It started with pushes, made to look accidental. Tripping her up as she walked along the school corridors came next, usually with the addition of tipping out her school bag, and kicking the books around.

They were the two names that Jenny hadn’t been able to find any trace of.

Then one day, they pushed her hard from behind as she was walking down stairs, and she fell and broke two fingers on her left hand. As bad luck would have it, this was spotted by a classroom assistant, and she reported it. But the twins would only believe that Jenny had done it to get them in trouble, and set out to exact real revenge. They waited for her on the way home, and ambushed her close to a walk-through alley near the house. Karen held her tight, as Katie waved a disposable lighter around in her face. She singed off some hair, and chuckled as Jenny screamed for help.

Before letting her go, Karen pulled up the sleeve of her coat, and the sisters laughed as Katie used the lighter to burn Jenny’s arm. It was a large burn, and very painful, and she had to tell her Mum that it was done at school, in the science lab. Then she had to stop Mum rushing off down to the school to complain about negligence, swearing it was her own fault. Although they never waited for her again after that, Katie took every opportunity to wave the lighter at her, flicking on the flame when nobody was watching.

Under the name was a mobile phone number, and a postcode. No address, but that was good enough for now. Scrolling up and down the address book on a hunch, she found the name Karen Tobias. It was a good chance that might be the twin sister, with a married name. Under that name was the same postcode, pretty much confirming it was her. Jenny opened her laptop and entered the postcode. It came back to an industrial estate in a town over eighty miles north. Perhaps they worked there?

That would be her next destination.

Waking up the next morning, Jenny felt as if she had been hit by a car while she was asleep. Her shoulders ached terribly, and she could feel acute pain as she tried to lift her left arm. The pulling sensation had got so bad, she actually looked at the side of her breast to try to see if she could see something. As she started to brush her teeth, nausea overwhelmed her, and she vomited into the sink. There was no time to wonder though. Things to do, and a drive to make. She carried on getting ready, this time using the short black wig bought as a spare. When everything was done, she felt as if she was shivering, despite a pleasant temperature that day. Not that she was cold as such, but the trembling was visible.

After fifty miles, she stopped for a coffee, parking behind the service station. Unable to face eating anything at the time, she sat and finished the hot drink before continuing. The satnav in her car took her to the industrial estate about fifty minutes later, and she slowed down, wondering what to do next. Numerous companies had premises there, everything from a tyre fitting firm, to a plumbing supply warehouse. But now she was there, Jenny felt stupid. She couldn’t just park there all day, hoping to recognise one of the twins. They might not even be at work that day. Away from all the businesses, at the end of the street, she spotted a large mobile cafe, situated in what looked like a permanent spot. That made her feel hungry, so she left the car where it was, and walked down to buy something to eat.

There were some small metal tables and chairs dotted around outside, and one of them had a table umbrella open above it. Jenny stopped dead when she read the name on it, printed in pink letters. ‘Katie’s Kafe’. A few steps later, and she could see two women working in the large drop-down opening. One of them was unmistakably Karen, but the other one was a lot heavier than Katie had ever been. Huge in fact. Maybe Katie had been eating all the profits? So that was why Tanya had the postcode as a contact for the twins. They were running a tea and sandwich business.

Up close, it was definitely them. The dark hair and deep brown eyes, thin lips on small mouths. Jenny opened her handbag, and took our her purse. “Can I have a tea please, milk no sugar? And I will have a bacon sandwich too”. They hadn’t developed any better temperaments in their forties, that was obvious. Karen extended a hand. “That will be three-forty luv”. Katie had already turned to begin frying some bacon in an old blackened pan. Jenny sat at the table nearest the serving counter and smiled at Karen. She didn’t smile back, and started to rub down the counter with a grungy-looking cloth. Moments later, she slapped a plate holding the sandwich onto the counter, followed by a big white mug of tea. “Tea and bacon sandwich!” She bellowed as if trying to be heard over a crowd, though Jenny was the only other person there. Standing up to collect her order, she smiled at Karen again. Still no trace of recognition.

After eating most of the sandwich, and drinking all of the tea, Jenny went back to the hatch. “What time do you close please? I might come back for something else later”. This time it was Katie who turned and spoke, hesitating slightly as she looked at Jenny’s eyes. “Normally around four, luv. Depends how busy we are”. With a nod, Jenny walked away, hoping that she had jogged Katie’s memory. Even a little bit.

By six that night, the area was deserted. The businesses were closed up for the day, and so was the snack bar. It had been a very long and dull wait for Jenny, parked in a nearby playing fields car park, trying not to succumb to sleep. Luckily, hardly anyone had been around those playing fields during the afternoon, and she had even been able to crouch behind her car to have a pee.

She parked right behind the shuttered snack bar, the overhang covering up her car completely. Under the steps at the side that led the twins up to their place of work there was a large gas bottle. Rubber tubing ran from the valve at the top into a hole in the floor of the mobile building, then presumably into the cooking range at the back. Jenny pulled on it, delighted to find a lot of slack on the pipe. When she was sure she had pulled enough through, she cut a small hole in the tubing with some nail scissors she kept in her handbag, then fed it all back in carefully. With a quick glance to make sure it looked exactly the same as it had before, she turned the wheel around the valve, which had a small window indicating that the bottle was three-quarters full.

Now for a tiresome drive home, in rush-hour traffic. One stop required, to dump the stuff from Tanya’s place, then home for a rest.

Sleep was reluctant to come that night, and Jenny tossed and turned, despite the painkillers. So she woke late the next morning, and it was almost eleven before she checked the website of the local paper where the twins had their cafe. There was a photo of some firemen spraying water from their hoses over what was left of the burned-out mobile building. A small headline below said everything Jenny had been hoping to hear. ‘Tragic accident claims the lives of local sisters’. That was followed by ‘Gas leak believed to have caused fatal fire. Women died from burns’.

She closed the laptop without bothering to read any more.

Tanny and Mrs Wilkinson are found

Izzy Baker was in a foul mood, so Sammy was keeping out of her way. Julian Holloway had come in with his solicitor, and was being cooperative. He didn’t know the woman in the photo, denied ever having an affair, and provided solid alibis for the time his wife had been killed, as well as the time the blonde-wig suspect was buying the drain cleaner. His solicitor read out a statement condemning his questioning at a time when he was grieving the horrific murder of his wife, and trying to console his small children. There were also hints that any further detention in the police station might result in legal action later.

DS Baker had let him sweat for a while, hoping that the detailed search of his house and grounds might disclose something useful. Then she had pulled up her tights too fast after having a pee, and ripped them. Not only was she going to have to go back in and let him go soon, she would have to do it wearing tights that looked like something a Goth would be proud of. When they were still waiting for the search team’s results after four hours, she finally sent Donna down the supermarket to get her some new ones. “Get me a multi-pack, Donna. I’m keeping spares at work in future”.

Two hours later, she got the dismal news that there was nothing obvious. His laptop and phone were being examined, but they wouldn’t have those details back for at least twelve hours. Izzy was so pissed off, that when Donna got back, she didn’t even bother to go into the Ladies to change her tights. Sammy politely turned his chair as the sarge hiked up her skirt. He liked her well-enough, but not in that way.

A long way off, in a different police force, Inspector John Meacham had already let Mario go. Despite the pleas of some of his team that he was their best bet for the murder of Phillipa, he wasn’t feeling it. And when he wasn’t feeling it, his heart wasn’t in it. Instinct had served him well so far, and he would rely on it once again.

On the other side of England, close enough to the border with Wales to throw a stone into that other country, Sergeant Pam Hayter was watching a man in a protective suit taking photos of a dead woman. Tanya Birch was well-known to police, not only for being a potentially fraudulent spiritual priest, but also for a lifelong record of prostitution, brothel-keeping, drug-dealing, and petty theft. As far as Pam was concerned, she was no loss to the district, or to society either. A few items were missing, believed stolen, and it seemed to be an open-and-shut case of a robbery that went wrong, and turned into murder.

There were no obvious suspects, and the nearest CCTV camera was almost forty miles away. Forensics had taken some footprints, a smallish size in shoes that had no tread, or other distinguishing features. They had scores of fingerprints to work on too, as you might expect in a place frequented by many members of the public. But the woman lived alone, and had been last seen almost thirty-two hours earlier than her estimated time of death, by the postman. A delivery courier had discovered her body today when he needed a signature for a parcel, and had gone inside looking for her. Without anything to go on, Pam had a feeling in her water. A feeling that this would very soon be written off as an unsolved murder of someone the world was better off without.

As Izzy was contemplating getting out early to avoid the boss, and then drink at least two bottles of cheap white wine, Sammy took a phone call. He scribbled furiously on some scrap paper, and as she got up to leave, he grabbed his sergeant’s arm to stop her. “Thanks, yes, that’s of interest to us. Don’t touch anything, and we will be there as soon as possible”. He turned to her with a smile. “Sarge, remember what else was sold to the blonde woman that day, along with the two bottles of drain cleaner?” It was imprinted on her mind. “Yeah, scissors, a hammer, and rolls of tape. The sort of tape plumbers use for leaks”. Sammy’s face looked triumphant.

“Well, uniform have just found a body in a guest house not that far from the Holloway house. She’s been dead a while, and it looks like she was hit with something, perhaps a hammer, and then wrapped up in tape. Maybe the blonde used the scissors to cut the tape? They have asked for crime scene investigation to attend, and an ambulance. I told them we would take the job”. Izzy raised her eyebrows. “An ambulance, surely it’s too late for that?” As Sammy stood up and retrieved his coat from the back of his chair, he shook his head. “Not for her, Sarge, it’s for the bloke who found her. Some travelling salesman who had booked a room, apparently. He passed out when he saw her body, and cut his head open”. DS Baker grabbed her handbag and some other things from the desk. “Get the car round the front, Sammy, I’ll be straight down as soon as I let the boss know”.

Jenny was in bed early. The ache under her arm and the pain in her shoulder joints was beginning to take its toll. In the bath earlier, she also had to admit to herself that the biggest lump on the left breast had grown considerably in just over a week, and her bra was beginning to rub it all the time. She was also beginning to regret throwing away her stronger medication, knowing she wouldn’t get anything that powerful without seeing a doctor. And if she did that, they would almost certainly refer her back to the breast clinic, and it would start all over again. The phone had rung earlier, but she had ignored it, then listened to the message recorded. It was Pat from work, wondering when and if she might be returning. Looks like they had nobody good enough for the Stoneman project.

Tough luck, Pat.

When the incidents at school had reached a peak, Jenny had confided in a teacher. That had been a big mistake, and she tried to never think about the repercussions of talking to the woman. What had happened next led to her taking another overdose. A real one, this time. Mum found her unconscious, and she ended up in hospital with a stomach washout, followed by referrals to a psychiatrist, and not going back to school. Instead, she went to study at the Sixth Form College, which proved to be what saved her life. Nobody there bothered about her, and she soon did well with her studies, as well as making a few casual friends.

Law was considered to be boring, and Contractual Law even more so. But Jenny took to it like a fish to water. She enjoyed the details, and the way that it wasn’t open to interpretation. Three years at the local university, one where she could travel to and from home, and she left with a decent degree and speciality, one sought after by a legal firm that dealt with building companies, new homes, and the issues of planning permission and local regulations. She was still there, since just after her twenty-first birthday, and she had made herself more or less irreplaceable. It had meant a move a long way from home, and she had been afraid at first. But she didn’t venture out much except to travel in and out of the office, and she kept herself to herself socially too. When her Mum died of breast cancer just after Jenny’s thirtieth birthday, she had worried that it might be hereditary. And it now seemed that it was.

As she tried to get to sleep, Jenny thought about the teacher who had driven her to attempt suicide.

Her name was on the list. She was one of the nine.

Memories of Melissa

After getting up to make some tea and toast, Jenny took it back to bed. She had to have a day of rest, even if it meant not being able to continue with her plans. Swallowing more painkillers with the tea, she turned over and snuggled under the duvet. They said that sleep was nature’s way of healing. She hoped they were right.

In the incident room, officers were busy taking down the photos and information concerning Phillipa’s murder. There had been a gang-related shooting in the town last night, one dead, four injured. The press and TV were all over it, and John Meacham had received orders to add his team to the investigation. He didn’t like letting go of a case so early, but orders were orders, and they had no suspect. He took the files through to the general office, and approached one of the older detective constables. “Ronnie, do me a favour and give the CCTV another look, will you? There has to be a suspect vehicle of some kind, I’m convinced the killer didn’t walk to and from Mrs Watson’s”. The tired-looking man just about managed a smile.
“Okay sir, just leave it on the pile, and I will get on it as soon as I can”.

Mrs Wilkinson’s guest house was a nightmare for the forensic teams. Five rooms, plus the old woman’s own small apartment on the ground floor. Endless sinks and baths to search for hair samples and DNA, as well as decades of fingerprints, mostly smudged or partials. The owner hadn’t been that fastidious about cleaning, and the place was firmly at the cheap end of the hospitality market. Izzy watched as officers bagged up sheets and pillowcases, the sound of small vacuum cleaners being run across mattresses for samples. She was bone tired, hungry, and thirsty. Sammy looked to be dead on his feet too.

The dead woman had been removed to the mortuary after the photos had been taken, and the news was that they would have to wait until late tomorrow for the results, and the official cause and time of death. There was nothing in the large house to give any indication of who might have stayed there recently. Either she didn’t keep any records, or the killer had most likely taken away any evidence. Any hope of footprints or tyre matches had been ruined by the arrival of the guest who had found her, followed by the two police cars and the tramping feet of four uniformed coppers. Izzy turned to her colleague, and rubbed his arm lightly.

“Come on Sammy, I’ll buy you breakfast”.

After four hour’s sleep and a quick shower, DS Baker was back at work. The case had now been officially enlarged to include both murders, and Chief Inspector Alistair Tennant had taken over. A sharp-suited Scotsman with an eye for the ladies, he had a good reputation for no-nonsense policing, and Izzy was happy that he had caught the case. She quite fancied him too, truth be told. However, her good mood was deflated when she and Sammy were allocated to the guest house murder only, and told to hand over any notes about the Holloway investigation. C.I. Tennant was trying out a new method, splitting the team into two, with each half working on one part of the case. Two officers, including Donna, had been tasked with sifting through everything, and trying to find a definite connection. Tennant made a quick speech, before dismissing them to get on with their work.

“This country has more CCTV per head of the population than anywhere else in the world. What we need will be on a camera, somewhere. Get around all the shops, motorway and traffic cameras, and any private home that has one facing the roads we are interested in. I can’t believe Holloway didn’t have one showing his driveway. That’s a shame, as it would have solved that crime much faster. Find me a car, find me the woman walking around in her blonde wig. Find me something we can use. Okay, off you go, get on it”.

It was getting dark when Jenny woke up. She convinced herself she felt better, despite the awful dragging sensation under her left arm. Wrapping herself up in a fleece dressing-gown, she went out to the living room and opened her laptop.

Nothing about Phil’s case, but the west country news website reported the murder of Tanny. It said that police were treating the case as a burglary, adding the usual old chestnut, ‘investigations are ongoing’. As far as the twins’ cafe was concerned, that seemed to be old news already, apparently still considered to be an accident. There was no statement from the police on that incident. But they had found Mrs Wilkinson, and reporters were already linking the case to Tabs. An update confirmed that a new man was now in charge of the case, quoting him as saying “We are only looking for one suspect in both murders”. That was bound to have happened.
She should never have bought everything in the same shop.

Pulling the dressing-gown off her left shoulder, she inspected the thin skin covering the biggest lump. It looked like a boil that could easily burst. She would have to be careful. Typing quickly onto the laptop keyboard, she did some more investigating about such lumps. It seemed they were called ‘Fungating’, as they took on a mushroom-like appearance. According to what she was reading, it would eventually break through the skin, and become ulcerated. Jenny didn’t like the sound of that, and it made her feel a bit sick when one web page had a medical photo of one. She closed the laptop and went to make a cup of tea, trying not to think about the image she had just seen.

Sipping the hot tea, she thought about something else, to take her mind off what was growing on her breast. Opening a smart notebook, she flicked it onto a clean page, and wrote a name at the top. ‘Melissa Silletoe’.

Miss Silletoe was the teacher that Jenny had gone to, to talk about her worries over the bullying. As was often the case with teachers, it was hard to guess her age. Younger than Mum perhaps, but older than most of the other female teachers for sure. She had a kindly way about her, like an Aunt who treated you more like an equal than a kid. She was a Maths teacher, and she was very good with computers too. The machines back then were quite primitive, but she managed to explain how they worked. Jenny was good at Maths, and it didn’t go unnoticed. She had mentioned the benefits of extra private tuition on a parent-teacher night, but there was no way a woman on her own like Mum could afford that.

When Jenny had confided in her, she had been overwhelmingly sympathetic. And when she broke down in tears, the friendly woman had stroked her hair, and cuddled her close as a shoulder to cry on. She had even agreed that there was little point taking her complaints to the head teacher, as that was likely to make her isolation much worse, and possibly increase the bullying too. Jenny had felt better after talking to her, and thanked her profusely. She noticed Miss Silletoe was breathing heavily though, and hoped she hadn’t been too upset by the revelations. The teacher stroked her face, telling her not to worry.

“You are in good hands now. Leave it to me, I will look after you”.

Closing her eyes, she could see her now. All care and concern.

Well she had certainly looked after her. And she had looked after herself too.

Disgruntled cops, and Melissa is found

Ronnie Knight took all the stuff into the CCTV viewing room, and closed the door behind him. He had been a good copper, as far as he was concerned, but he was no good at exams and studying. Despite trying a few times, and securing recommendations from various superior officers, he had never made sergeant. For the last eight years, he had settled into remaining a constable for the rest of his career, and his job of being the dogsbody in the General Office of the detective branch. But that didn’t mean he was happy about it.

He could remember when John Meacham had been a new boy in uniform. Now he was in charge of cases, and ordering him around. The fast-track entrants with their university degrees looked down on him, and spoke to him in a patronising way. Yes, he was old-school. In his day, all that mattered was that you knew your ground, and could handle yourself in a scrap. Now it was all about protecting the offender, playing by the rules. Everyone ignored the fact that nine out of ten crimes reported in the country resulted in nobody being charged, and that the conviction rate was getting lower every year. Forget the victims, they were little more than collateral damage.

Opening the paperwork that had arrived with the memory sticks containing the CCTV footage, Ronnie sat back and shook his head. Ten cameras, over a twenty-four hour period. Two hundred and forty hours of footage to examine would take him more than two weeks, and leave time for nothing else at all. Even if he watched it at double speed, it would still take too long. He walked back along the corridor, and tapped on the Inspector’s open door.
Meacham waved him in.

Trying to sound positive, Ronnie spoke in a matter-of-fact way. “Sir, this CCTV stuff. There’s a lot of it, and it might take weeks to go through. Should I concentrate on anything in particular?” Ronnie knew that everyone was already working on the shooting. The murder of Mrs Watson had quickly been slid well onto the back burner. But Meacham was a stickler, one of those instinct blokes who thought they knew better. “Do your best, Ronnie. We are looking for a car that will keep popping up around the area. If you find anything possible, zoom in to see who is driving it. I know it’s a mission mate, but it has to be done. Fast-forward the footage by all means, but make sure you watch it all”. With that, he went back to his files, and Ronnie considered himself dismissed. A car that kept popping up around the area? Christ on a bike, there would be hundreds of those. What was the boss thinking?

In the canteen, Ronnie bought two sausage rolls and a big mug of tea. Finding a daily paper left on one of the tables he tucked it under his arm. Back in the airless CCTV room, he plugged in the first stick. As it started to play, he hit the fast forward button three times. Eight times speed should be about right. He opened the newspaper, and reached for the first sausage roll. As a gesture of ultimate defiance, he turned his chair, and sat with his back to the screen. If nothing else, it would buy him at least three days of rest.

He might even bring a book in tomorrow.

After the tearful chat in the empty Maths classroom, things got a little easier for Jenny at school. The gang of bullies still glared at her, but that was all. She was convinced that Miss Silletoe had said something to the ringleader, though that worried her even more. When they weren’t doing anything, they might be planning something worse.

Then there was the surprising phone call one evening. Mum answered, and from her tone, Jenny guessed it wasn’t a friend she was talking to. After a few moments, she gave out the address, then said “Thank you, thank you very much”, before hanging up. Smiling across at her daughter, she looked happy about something. “That was your Maths teacher, Melissa Silletoe. She says that you have a real talent for the subject, and she is prepared to give you extra tuition here, free of charge. Isn’t that great? It will be on the quiet though, as she doesn’t want other families to find out, and claim that you are getting preferential treatment.”

Jenny wasn’t sure what to think, but she wasn’t about to turn it down. Miss Silletoe was very good at her job, and those extra lessons might help get her an A in the exam. She was nice too. Kind as well, and affectionate. Mum was checking her diary. “She’s going to come round on the Tuesday of half-term to start with. With you both being on holiday it will give her a lot of time to concentrate. I will be out at work, so you won’t be disturbed. Nine days time, Jenny worked it out in her head. Mum was really on it. “I will get some nice cakes and biscuits in, and some stuff so you can make her a sandwich for lunch too. We will have to have a good clean up on the Monday. I want the place looking spotless”.

When Melissa arrived on the Tuesday, Mum had already left for work. She looked very different out of school. More normal, younger, and much prettier. She was relaxed too. “When I am here, I think you should call me Mel. After all, this isn’t the school environment, and I am here as a good friend”. Jenny wanted to ask her if she had said anything to the bullies, but decided to wait and see if it was mentioned. Mel just chatted, and didn’t mention Maths at all. She accepted a cup of tea, served in one of the best cups, as Mum had instructed. The general chit-chat felt weird. When someone you only know as a teacher comes on like a best mate, it takes some getting used to.

Lunch was declined, and by then she had started to talk about the bullying, and how cruel kids could be to each other. She wanted to know why Jenny thought they were doing it, and refused to accept the shrug she received in reply. Eventually, despite feeling incredibly self-conscious about it, Jenny opened up. “Well, they say I am ugly. My nose is snubby, my arms are too hairy, and my hair is frizzy. Plus, I wear glasses that are cheap, because it’s all Mum can afford. The other girls who wear glasses have designer ones. Some even have contact lenses”. Mel nodded, and patted Jenny’s leg gently. “Anything else?” Jenny took a deep breath before continuing.

“My boobs of course. They are too big, and they say they are like a cow’s udders”. Suppressing a smile at that, Mel shook her head. “Don’t you believe a word of all that, Jenny. You are a lovely young woman, and your breasts are magnificent. You have to learn to be proud of your assets, and ignore their cruelty”. She edged closer on the sofa, and stroked Jenny’s face, looking straight into her eyes. Jenny felt a tingle in her belly. Mel was wonderful.

Shaking her head to remove the next train of thought, Jenny checked a bookmark on her laptop. It had been so easy to find her. Still teaching Maths, but no longer at any school. She worked from home, and even had a website. ‘Miss M. Silletoe. Private Tuition In Mathematics and Computing’. There was a photo of her, hardly aged, and even one of her house. There was the address, postcode, two telephone numbers, a list of available appointment times, and a breakdown of her fees. Jenny whistled. She charged fifty pounds an hour, and claimed to deliver ‘guaranteed exam results’.

Ignoring the ache under her arm, Jenny straightened up, jotting down some notes on the paper.

Mel was definitely next on the list.

Developments in the investigation

Donna was talking to both teams. There had been what she called ‘significant developments’. Blonde hairs found in one of the guest rooms at Mrs Wilkinson’s were confirmed as being high-quality artificial hair, and would likely be a match for the blonde wig, if it was ever found. Meanwhile, it had been confirmed beyond doubt that the woman was the chief suspect in both murders, and they were definitely not looking for anyone else. They had also ruled out any connection between Mrs Holloway and the guest house owner, and had to conclude that Mrs Wilkinson had been killed in case she recognised the murderer.

As she turned over the next page in her notebook, Donna smiled before continuing. “The big news is that we have a suspect car now”. She held up a photo captured from CCTV. “This car was seen on cameras in the area around the Holloway house, and then in the general vicinity of the guest house. It was later picked up on a motorway camera, southbound”. Holding up more photos, Donna showed the group it was the same car. “Sadly, we cannot get a good look at the head or face of the driver, but it is our closest lead so far”.

Izzy called out. “Have we got the reg number at least?” Donna nodded. “It was sold by the previous owner, and we have no current keeper shown on the records. Someone is going down to see the company that it was sold to through an auction. It might take some time to get more details though”. Chief Inspector Tennant stood up. “Thanks for that Donna. I would like the best images of that car released to the press and TV. Someone somewhere knows who’s driving it, and if we find the car, we find the killer”. He clapped his hands. “Everyone back to work, no time to waste”.

In a different police station, Sergeant Pam Hayter was typing up her interim report. It looked a bit sparse, and she was trying to flesh it out, in the hope of making it look like she was earning her pay. No suspects. Cause of death. Blood loss from stab wounds. Local burglars and known villains all alibied up. Nothing whatsoever to go on. She had no charging recommendations, and as far as the investigation went, her well had run dry. With any luck her boss would file it for now, and wait to see if any stolen property turned up. There was no signal from the missing mobile phone. Probably smashed, and the battery and sim card removed too. No matter how many extra words of padding she typed, it still didn’t amount to much.

It had been a better day for Jenny. She had recovered her appetite, and been down to the local Zizzi for a nice lunch, after picking up a few things in the shops. Her plans for dealing with the next job were coming on, and all being well, she would be able to get started tomorrow. But thinking about Melissa again sent her mood low. She decided that a vodka and tonic would be in order, even thought it was still early.

That Tuesday in the house had been memorable for so many reasons. After a couple of hours chatting, she had started to regard Mel as a close friend, instead of just one of the better teachers. And nothing had been mentioned about the studying, not so much as one Maths book had been removed from the heavy shoulder bag she had arrived with. After so long being isolated and picked on, it felt good to be able to engage in friendly idle chatter, and she even managed an occasional laugh. Mel noticed her laughing too.

“You should laugh more, honey. You are very pretty when you are happy”. She stroked Jenny’s face again as she spoke, looking straight into her eyes. “I bet you have some nice outfits, too. I have only ever seen you in your school uniform”. Jenny shook her head. “Nothing special, just one decent dress that Mum bought me when we went to her friend’s wedding. It was only the evening part of the reception, but Mum said she wanted me to look smart”. Mel was nodding, then he reached out and took Jenny’s hand. “Tell you what, why don’t we go up to your room, and you can put it on and show me how nice you look?” She stood up, still holding her hand, and Jenny followed her upstairs. It seemed the most natural thing in the world.

The dress didn’t even come out of the wardrobe. Mel was all over her as soon as they got into the bedroom and closed the door. The passionate kissing, squeezing, stroking, and fondling completely overwhelmed her, and she didn’t hesitate to reciprocate. The pent-up urges of a sixteen year-old girl overflowed, and Mel took full advantage of her inexperience and naivete. As they lay close together on the single bed later, Mel spoke quietly, directly into her ear. “You know you can never tell anyone, don’t you? I would lose my job, and my career would be ruined. Your Mum would be horrified, and as for the school kids, I can only imagine what they would do to you”. Jenny sat up, a very serious expression on her face. “I swear I won’t ever tell anyone, Mel. I promise you. I would sooner die first”. As far as Jenny was concerned, Mel was the love of her life, and would be forever.

There were many more days like that to come, and they were always amazing. The venue for the lessons was changed to Mel’s smart apartment, and once there they could do what they liked, with no fear of Mum ever coming home and finding them together. They actually did some Maths, laughing about having to at least show some improvement in her studies. It was the best time in Jenny’s life. The bullies still left her alone, and she adored the secret glances shared with Mel during school hours. They even managed a weekend away, telling Mum it was a Maths seminar, with other bright kids. Mel booked a wooden cabin on a holiday park, and they didn’t leave it for almost three days. Jenny was lost in a fantasy of spending the rest of her life with Mel. After all, she was only seventeen years older than her, so still young.

Then just before the October half term, after that sublime summer, everything changed. Mel told her she couldn’t continue with the tuition, or their relationship. She reassured Jenny that her Maths was good enough to get her an A, but as for what Mel euphemistically referred to as their ‘closeness’, that had to stop. Jenny sobbed so hard, she almost retched. Clinging onto Mel like a limpet, refusing to let go. The worst part was that she wouldn’t give a reason for ending it, so Jenny naturally assumed it was all her fault, and that she had done something wrong. When she had finally calmed down enough to go home, and washed her blotchy face, Mel seemed cold, like a teacher again. “You had better go home now. And don’t come around here again”.

Back at the house before Mum was in from work, she found a packet of Tramadol in a drawer. Mum had been prescribed them for backache, but they made her queasy, so she hadn’t taken them. Jenny took them all, washed down with most of a two-litre bottle of Diet Coke.
She didn’t bother to leave a note.

Closing her mind to more of that stuff, Jenny turned on the TV, and switched it to the rolling news channel. Ten minutes in, and she saw a photo of her car, driving along the motorway. She turned up the volume and listened, catching the end of the report. “And police are asking that anyone who recognises the car, knows who drives it, or even if they have seen it parked somewhere, should get in touch with them through their local police force, or by dialling the freephone number on the screen now”. She switched off the set, and shook her head.

She was going to have to buy another car.

Another car, and a visit to Melissa

First stop was the local car spares shop, to buy one of those elasticated covers for the car. She wasn’t about to risk moving it, and didn’t want to leave it visible in the car park now that the registration number had been circulated by the police. She would cover it up completely, make it look like it just wasn’t being used at the moment. Jenny knew that they would be searching all the CCTV everywhere, and she didn’t want to trigger any of the automatic number plate recognition cameras.

In the local newspaper, she found a decent car for sale privately. Seven years old, with all the paperwork, and less than sixty thousand miles on the clock. It was up for five and a half grand, but she would offer five for cash, take it or leave it. Wearing the black wig and her contact lenses, she walked to the address after making an appointment to see the car. Suitably dull, and in a ubiquitous silver colour, it was parked outside, nicely washed and polished. A young woman answered the door, carrying a baby. She looked scruffy and harassed. “It’s my boyfriend’s car, love. He’s on his way back to see you. You’re a bit early”. Declining her invitation to enter the rather smelly terraced house, Jenny waited outside, pretending to examine the vehicle in some detail.

Fifteen minutes later, a van pulled up across the street. From the look of it, it seemed that the boyfriend was a telephone engineer. He walked across the road, dangling the car keys, and holding a folder containing some papers. “What do you think, love? It’s a beauty, isn’t it?” He only looked to be about twenty-five, and luckily paid no attention to the older woman with her drab clothes and rather miserable expression. “Tell you what, jump in, and I will take you for a spin around the block”. After the five-minute drive, he stopped outside his house again. Jenny asked to see the papers. It had nine months left on the ministry of transport test, and service bills for the last three years. The young man tried to do some selling. “We just need to get something bigger, you know. There’s another baby on the way. I really like this car, and I will be sorry to let it go”.

Opening her shoulder bag, Jenny produced an envelope containing five thousand in new notes that she had drawn out from the bank on her way there. Avoiding his enthusiastic gaze, she put the envelope on the dashboard. “Five grand for cash, I can’t be bothered to haggle. Okay?” He beamed. “Deal”. As he started counting the cash, Jenny checked the papers again. He spoke without turning away from the money. “Don’t forget to send off the registration, love. I don’t want to be getting your parking tickets”. Placing the paperwork in the glove compartment, she got out and walked around to the driver’s side. The man tucked the envelope into his work overalls and got out, handing her the key. She nodded, and drove off without another word.

As she only had one parking space, she parked the car in a nearby side street where it would hardly be noticed. The seat belt was narrow and tight, and it had rubbed the biggest lump on her breast. Never mind, she wouldn’t need the car for much longer. She made a mental note to fill it up with petrol before going very far. The warning light had come on as she was parking.

Using the unregistered mobile, she rang Mel’s mobile number, the one given on the website. The idea seemed sound. No pretence, no subterfuge, she would just say who she was, and see what happened. If Mel put her off, she would go to Plan B.

The voice that answered was still so familiar that hearing it sent a chill down Jenny’s back. She was sitting on her sofa, relaxed and composed, and hoping that would transfer to her tone. “Hi, Mel. It’s Jenny. Jenny Pettifer. I was thinking about you the other day, so I looked you up and found your website. I hope you don’t mind me calling?” The voice at the other end changed from school teacher to seductive vamp in a heartbeat. “Why Jenny, how lovely to hear from you. Whatever made you think of your old friend?” She would be sixty now, or close to that age. But the voice hadn’t changed in twenty-five years. It made her feel a bit sick to hear it, but she managed to keep her tone upbeat and casual. “I have never stopped thinking about you Mel, as I’m sure you can guess. But I regretted that we never met again after I left school, and thought it would be lovely to come and see you, catch up after all these years. I’m on holiday from work at the moment, so could drive up whenever you are free. Later today, if that suits you, or tomorrow, if not”.

There was no chance that Mel was going to apologise for what happened, or take responsibility for anything. Her manner was as exactly the same as it had been then; entitled, taking control, exercising power. “Later today would be lovely. I could make something for us to eat this evening. It would be good to see you all grown up, and to hear about your life. Shall we say about five? I don’t have any students this afternoon. Do you need directions?” Mel raised her eyebrows. It would happen today. “No, I will use a satnav, and I got your postcode from the website. See you around five, traffic permitting. Bye”.

In her bedroom, Jenny picked out the old dress she intended to wear. Not too low at the front, but open enough to reveal lots of bulging cleavage. It would cover her bra nicely, so the lump wouldn’t show. A little short above the knee for her age now, but that wouldn’t hurt. She reckoned it would take almost three hours to get to Mel’s house, so she would be sure to leave just before two. Still lots of time to prepare. Her best underwear, in case it got to that, heavier make up, and no need for the wig. She got the things she had bought in town that morning, placing them carefully in the shoulder bag. Then she added a bottle of wine from her fridge, so as to not turn up empty handed after the offer of a meal later.

Mel answered the door dressed as if she was heading out to a cocktail party. Despite the years, she looked almost exactly the same. Hair dyed the same colour, figure still good. Only some wrinkles around her neck and the start of a double chin gave some indication that she was sixty. They went into the spacious living room after a brief kiss on each cheek at the door. Mel was unbelievably confident, treating the situation as if they had seen each other just last week, not twenty-five years ago. She gave Jenny an appreciative look up and down, as she handed her a sherry. “Jenny darling, you look so well. The years have been very kind to you. How old are you now, forty? Forty-one?” Jenny smiled, “Forty-three now, Mel. And looking it, I suspect”. As expected, Mel’s eyes were glued to the visible bulges of skin appearing over the dress. “Nonsense, my darling, you still look fabulous”. She reinforced that by placing a hand on the exposed section of Jenny’s thigh, letting it linger long enough to convey the intended message. Jenny had to admit to herself that even after all that had happened, she still found the older woman overwhelmingly attractive.

She had to get that thought out of her head though.

They chatted casually for an hour or so, with Mel edging closer all the time, and speaking with that familiar husky voice that Jenny had found so exciting at one time. Then she went into her kitchen, and began to prepare an easy meal that she had bought from her local supermarket. Jenny looked around the room in her absence. There was a laptop on a desk by the window, and a large smartphone on the mahogany coffee table. There was no indication that she used this room for her tutorials, and Jenny wondered if she had an office in another part of the house. But other than one phone call from the unregistered mobile, there should be nothing to indicate that Mel had been expecting her.

The meal was a cosy affair, in a nice dining room across the corridor. Not much food, but Jenny wasn’t feeling like eating too much anyway. Mel kept the wine flowing, and Jenny had to keep her wits about her to make sure she didn’t drink too much. By ten, they had both shared their stories of the past twenty-five years, Mel probably telling as many half-truths as Jenny had. But she had to know one thing, and plucked up the courage to ask, fearful of spoiling the mood. “I have always wanted to know, Mel. Why did you just finish things between us like that? Was it something I said or did?” Leaning across the table, Mel took both her hands, and squeezed them fondly. “Bless you, darling. It was nothing you did. I just got bored, that’s the plain truth of it. I felt the need to move on to someone new, but I confess I did regret that decision. By then it was too late though, and you had left the school”.

Jenny was furious, but managed to hide it. Bored. All that she went through, because Mel got bored. Unbelievable. Mel slid her hands gently up Jenny’s arms, and leaned even further forward. “No reason why we can’t take up where we left off though, is there? I was hoping you would stay the night, save you a long drive home in the dark. I don’t have any students until after lunch tomorrow”. She added a rather lascivious wink, then moistened her lips with her tongue. Jenny was triumphant. It had worked. In what felt like a replay of that Tuesday in her old house, Mel stood up, and took her hand. “Shall we go upstairs then?” Jenny feigned enthusiasm. “I thought you would never ask. I just need my bag from the living room. You go up, I’ll follow you”.

By the time she got to the open door of the main bedroom, Mel was already out of her dress, and reaching behind to unfasten her bra. It looked like she didn’t intend to waste any time on foreplay. Jenny leaned back against the wall, adopting what she hoped was a sexy look and pose. “I have something in my bag here that might make things more exciting, if you are happy to give it a try”. She reached in and removed two sets of metal handcuffs, with fluffy pink wristbands attached. Then a soft pink mask, with frilly edging. Mel dropped her bra onto the bedroom floor, and reached down to remove her matching panties. Her face was flushed with excitement. “My, you have acquired some unusual tastes over the years my darling”. She flicked away the panties with her toe, and stretched out naked on top of her bed. With her voice little more than a gasp, she raised her arms, and smiled. “Okay, I’m all yours”.

With both wrists firmly secured to the metal bed posts, and the mask in place over her face, Mel was almost panting with anticipation. As she lay there expectantly, Jenny removed a plastic bag from inside the shoulder bag. With no hesitation, she suddenly pulled it over Mel’s head, wrapping the excess tightly around her neck, and holding it firmly. At first, Mel obviously though it was part of the game.

But when her legs started to thrash around, Jenny knew that she had realised the truth.

The one that got away

The big sofa they had been sitting on made a comfortable enough bed. Jenny had no intention of driving home that late, especially after three large glasses of wine. Mel had died surprisingly quickly, but it had been great to watch the fear and panic contorting her face through the clear plastic, before her legs stopped waving around, and her skin turned a funny colour. Shame about the mask though. She hadn’t been able to see her eyes.

Early the next morning, she loaded everything used last night into the dishwasher, and turned it on. Then she found a new duster under the sink, and walked around the house rubbing every surface she could remember touching. Before cleaning it, she turned on Mel’s phone, scrolled to the call list, and deleted the one from her mobile number. No point making things too easy for the police. With no students arriving until after lunchtime, she waited out the heavier morning traffic. One last look upstairs confirmed that Mel was still very much dead. She decided to leave her exactly like that. Handcuffed and blindfolded, with a plastic bag over her head.
A sex game gone wrong.

Making sure to shut the door firmly behind her as she left, hopefully giving her a few days grace before the body was discovered, she slid into her car and started the long drive home.

Despite having a photo of Jenny’s previous car, and the registration number, no progress was being made in finding it. One of the team had interviewed the man who had sold the car, but his recollection was unreliable. Yes, it was a woman who bought the car. Yes, she might have had blonde hair, and been wearing glasses. Yes, he had given her a receipt, but didn’t have a copy of it. No, he didn’t remember any distinguishing features. Not even her height, or if she had a local accent. He sold a lot of cars, couldn’t be expected to remember everyone who bought them. So she hadn’t registered the car? Not his fault, take it up with her. The weary copper knew it was pointless. The salesman was also the owner of the shabby car lot, and he didn’t want to get asked too much about a deal that had involved a fair bit of cash. Cash he had no intention of declaring as income, then having to pay tax on it.

By the time she arrived home, Jenny was feeling rather strange. The pain under her arm had migrated to her shoulder blade, and all the gear changes had left her arm feeling as if it was made of lead. As she got out of the seatbelt, there was a tiny damp patch visible on the top she was wearing. Not much bigger than a small coin, but definitely wet. It must have leaked through her bra too. Before going up to her flat, she walked around the corner to the chemist shop and bought some gauze dressing pads and a roll of surgical tape. In her bathroom, a quick examination showed that the biggest lump was indeed leaking some fluid. No doubt agitated by the seat belt on the long journey home, it was inflamed, rather like an angry spot. She decided to apply the dressing later, after her bath, and walked into the kitchen to make some cheese on toast and a hot drink.

Keith Liu had been angry when there was no answer at the home of his Mathematics tutor. He decided to wait outside her house for her, and in the meantime rang her number and left a message when it wasn’t answered. After less than an hour, he turned and began the long walk back to the railway station. It was very inconsiderate of Miss Silletoe to cancel his tutorial without any notice. She could at least have phoned him. She had his number. Not for the first time since arriving from Hong Kong, he thought that British people had bad manners, and were not at all polite. That evening, he rang again, and when she still didn’t answer he left a message cancelling all his other appointments, and telling her he would find someone else.

The cheese on toast had made her feel better, and after a quick bath, Jenny applied the dressing, even though the area was dry now. It must have been the seat belt, she told herself. There was nothing on the national news about any of the cases. An M.P. had resigned over some scandal or other, and a succession of talking heads were giving their opinions on whether or not he had made the right decision. She checked the local websites on the laptop, and all she could find was a repeat of the request for information about her car. The one that was carefully covered up in the garage. It surprised her just how quickly a series of murders could become old news.

When the pain came back around the shoulder blade and collar bone, it was more insistent than before, sharp enough to make her wince. She decided to take three strong pain killers and have a lie down in bed. With any luck she would get of to sleep early.

She did sleep undisturbed, but the early night meant she was awake when it was still dark. Feeling too stiff to stay in bed, she pushed though the aches and pains, and got up to make a cup of tea. A look at the dressing showed it had stayed dry. But she would change it later, as the tape had got twisted while she slept. Taking the hot tea through to the living room, Jenny opened her notebook, and picked up a pen from the side table.

Agata Kowalski came from a Polish family, but looked more like a Swedish film star. Honey blonde hair, ice blue eyes, and standing five feet ten in her bare feet. At that height, she had been a natural choice for the netball team, and despite acting superior to the others, she had soon been part of the gang. Her hard-working parents had come over from Poland before her and her younger brother were born, and they had tried hard to fit into the community. As far as school work was concerned, Agata wasn’t the brightest coin in the purse, but she had natural athletic talent, and ambitions to become a supermodel. Academic results were fairly low down her list, that was certain.

She was also the only one who wouldn’t tolerate a nickname. The other girls had tried a few; Aggie, Gata, even AK, but she wouldn’t hear of it, and insisted on being called Agata. Although her parents had apparently never lost their heavy accents, she spoke like all the other girls at school, and didn’t make much of her Polish background, except where food was concerned. She never ate anything her Mum hadn’t cooked, avoiding all fast food and junk food, as well as the cakes and sandwiches favoured by most of the others. At first, she thought that bullying Jenny was a childish waste of time, and didn’t bother to get involved. But then Tanny had told her that she had heard Jenny call her parents filthy Polacks, and even though it was a lie, she chose to believe it. After that, she was free with her punches and kicks as long as no teachers were around, and Jenny tried to avoid her whenever possible.

There was no trace of her online. It seemed that supermodel fame had eluded her, and she most definitely didn’t have a Facebook profile or Instagram account. But Jenny had managed to find her parents on the electoral register, still living in the same street. Getting a contact number hadn’t been so easy though. She was going to have to go to the house, if she wanted to ask them about Agata. No need to make too big a deal about it. No disguise needed, and just another drive to make. After getting dressed, she headed out early, sharing the road with delivery vans and other dawn patrol traffic.

Her former home town was a lot bigger now. New estates sprawled around the outskirts where once there had been open countryside. Lots of new roundabouts directed traffic away from the town centre onto a new ring road and by-pass, but as she got closer to the address, she saw that little had changed in the old part of town. She found the right house number, drove past it, and parked in the first available side turning. It wasn’t even eight o’clock, and she thought it best to give it at least thirty minutes before approaching the house. She was hoping that the Kowalskis hadn’t already left for work. Though they would be in their sixties by now, they could well still have jobs.

The small woman who answered the door had the same blue eyes as Agata, but her hair was short, and grey. Jenny had a pleasant smile fixed on her face. “Mrs Kowalski? You don’t know me, but I used to go to school with your daughter, Agata. I am back in the town on business, and thought I would look her up”. She was gambling that Agata wasn’t still living at home. At forty-three it was unlikely, but not impossible. The older woman opened the door wider, and smiled. “Come in dear, she doesn’t live here any more of course, but I can give you her address. I have her phone number and email too. Can I get you a cup of tea?” The accent was still heavy, but her English was perfect. Jenny declined the tea, and stood politely in the hallway until Mrs Kowalski returned. She had a piece of paper in one hand, and a framed photo in the other.

“Here she is, with my two grandchildren. She married well you know, an American. We have been out to see her there, such a lovely house. Do you know California?” Jenny felt her whole body slump with disappointment. She briefly admired the photo. There she was, looking twenty-five, not forty three. A dazzling white smile, and two perfect kids, a boy and girl. Taking the paper from the woman, she stuffed it into the pocket of her jacket, and turned to go. As Agata’s Mum closed the door, she added, “I will tell her you called here. What name is it?” Without looking back, Jenny called over her shoulder.

“Tanya. Tanya Birch”.

There was no way Jenny could even contemplate air travel to America.
Agata would have to be the one that got away.

Leonora Quigley and Ivor Jones

For the two days it took to discover Mel’s body, Jenny rested at home and did some more research. Leonora Quigley had been the captain of the netball team, and though she had hardly ever spoken to her, let alone touched her, she had also been the ringleader and chief instigator of the bullying. As far as Jenny was concerned, the reason was clear enough. Leonora, who liked to be called Leo, had an Irish mother, and a decidedly absent Jamaican father. Obviously mixed race, she had made sure to bully someone else, rather than face the prospect of being bullied herself.

Her role had been to whisper instructions or suggestions, then stand back and look on, with a self-satisfied smirk.

Over the years, it had been easy enough to follow what had happened to Leo. She was supremely talented at Netball, making the junior team, then the senior squad. She could have gone on to become a star, perhaps even a coach, and much lauded in her country. But like Tanny, she made a bad choice of boyfriend. Errol was a gangster of the highest order. Armed robbery, dealing drugs and guns, even dabbling in people trafficking. He had become one of the most notorious characters in the town, but Leo loved him, and stayed unswervingly loyal, despite what that connection did to her sporting career.

Then one day, she had been stopped in her car, and an automatic pistol had been found under her seat, with her prints all over it. Not just any pistol, one proved to have been used in a robbery, and fired too. Refusing to implicate Errol, Leo had been given seven years in prison, completely destroying her life. Finding her now was going to be difficult.

Unknown to Jenny, Leonora had come out of prison, and walked straight into a life of organised crime. Errol had been killed in a revenge shooting while she was inside, and she looked up and reorganised his old gang, taking up where he had left off. She no longer had any contact with her mother or her siblings, and lived in a state of complete paranoia, fuelled by large amounts of cocaine, and a cannabis habit that was on a par with smoking cigarettes. She resided in a house that was as good as fortified, spending most of her time indoors with her new boyfriend, Tarr.

She had never got around to asking him why he had that name.

Mel’s body had finally been found after she had failed to keep five more tutoring appointments over two days. Five calls to the police expressing concern for her welfare had resulted in a forced entry by two uniformed police officers. They made up their own minds about the discovery, and just as Jenny had hoped, they wrote it off as a sex game gone wrong.

But when the detectives became involved, Sergeant Ivor Jones took the case. He was a Welshman, a little isolated in that large town’s police force, a long way from his rural home. But he had a knack for crime. His colleagues called him ‘The Welsh Ferret’. He had an obsession for detail, and it took him no time at all to make the connection to the school. After all, it was all there, in black and white, with Mel’s website testimonials, and her previous experience as a teacher for anyone to see.

As soon as Sergeant Jones circulated the details of the crime, he started to get a lot of attention. Many women who had once gone to the same school had recently been killed, in suspicious circumstances. There was no avoiding the fact. They had a serial killer targeting former pupils and staff at a girl’s school.

It was time to start sharing information between a few police forces. Mel’s killing had opened a Pandora’s Box, and it wasn’t about to be closed anytime soon.

Izzy Baker rushed into her boss’s office after taking the call. She had tidied her hair and touched her make-up first. After all, she still had the hots for him. “Sir, great news! We might have a connection to our outstanding cases. We have just had a request from an officer down south. He wants to know if we have any unsolved murders relating to a particular school. This guy is really on the ball. That acid attack killing, the victim comes back to having attended that school. Do you think we should drive down there, ask a few pertinent questions?”

His reply deflated her. “Leave it to him for now. It might be a stab in the dark. If it comes to nothing, let him show himself up, not us”. Izzy nodded. She couldn’t disguise how pissed off she was. “Okay, boss. It’s your call”.

Sensing a big case, Ivor Jones’ superior quickly moved in to take over everything. He would keep Ivor doing the donkey work, then claim all the credit. Detective Superintendent Steve Upshaw had a reputation for doing little or nothing, and claiming all the glory. It never bothered him in the least, and he was quite happy to do it all again now. He made an appointment with the Assistant Chief Constable, and laid out his plans to her. They would combine all the investigations into one, and lead the hunt for the female suspect. It would cost money, and a lot of resources in terms of manpower, but how often did you get a female serial killer operating? He couldn’t remember any, in his long career. The media would love this case, and their force would get all the glory when they caught her.

Catherine Harris hadn’t got as far as she had in her career by being impulsive. Not many women made the rank of Assistant Chief Constable, even in this day and age. She had managed to buck the trend, and even her very public sexuality, going so far as to marry another woman, had not harmed her prospects. She had even adopted her wife’s name, Harris.

But she didn’t like Steve’s proposal, not one bit. He just didn’t understand her reluctance, and could not hide his frustration at her reply. “There are numerous forces involved here, Steve. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We should allow them to carry on with their investigations, and be happy to share information about the Silletoe case. If they reciprocate with their own information, so much the better. Meanwhile, I don’t want a word of this released to the press. Not a word, you hear me? The killer will run, and we will never find her.”

Back in his office, Steve kicked his chair around, and punched the desk. The ACC had shot him down in flames, that bitch. He walked down the back stairs to the car park, and took his phone out of the inside pocket of his jacket. An old contact on The Daily Mail was discreet and reliable, he would slip him some information about that Ivor Jones and let him do the hassling.

Two hours later, and speculation about a serial killer connected to a school was on the newspaper’s website.

By six that night, it was also on the BBC TV News.

Jenny moves house

Stirring from a late afternoon nap on the sofa, Jenny felt something wet on her chest, and noticed the stain on her dressing gown. A quick look at the dressing showed it was damp, and she went into the bathroom to examine her breast. The inside of the dressing contained a pinkish fluid, still damp to the touch. The top of the lump had a small crusty residue on it, so she decided to leave well enough alone, and applied a clean dressing with fresh tape. Taking two painkillers to combat the dull ache that ran from under her armpit around to her back, she made a cup of tea, and took it back into the living room.

The rolling news channel on TV had some stuff about fires in the Amazon jungle, followed by a few interviews with people who knew a famous singer who had just died. As she thought about switching over, the scene changed to an outside broadcast. Almost dropping her mug of tea, Jenny stared at the screen, gripping the mug with both hands. A young woman was standing outside her old school, a very serious expression set on her face.

If she hadn’t been involved, Jenny would have thought it was a boring report, rather routine. A series of apparently unrelated murder victims had been found to all have been staff and pupils from that school. But other than that apparent connection, there was little concrete information. The current head teacher had declined to comment, and there was no mention of the time period they were interested in. As the reporter reeled off the names, the twins were absent from her short list. It seemed their death was still being treated as an accident then. So far.

The girl finished by saying that police sources would only say that investigations were ongoing into all the crimes, and would neither confirm nor deny that they were looking for one killer.

Opening her laptop, Jenny began to surf around sites offering holiday accommodation for rent. She was going to have to move, and sooner rather than later.

Catherine Harris was furious. She had even contemplated asking Steve Upshaw to surrender his phone, so she could check on any calls he had made. But she couldn’t afford to start sowing seeds of dissent in the team now that it was out in the open. Her admin assistant had been fending off calls from the media all day, telling them to contact the Press Officer on her usual number. The Press Officer had finally switched off her phone, tired of constantly arguing about their flat ‘no comment’ response to every question.

Police emergency call centres were receiving calls from parents of children still attending the school, as well as from dozens of former pupils of all ages, fearful that they would be next on the list of the serial killer. In his incident room, Ivor Jones continued to join the dots, seemingly unconcerned about the chaos going on around him. But he was also furious, as he realised that whoever had leaked that information had done little more than disturb a wasp’s nest. They would now be inundated with unrelated inquiries that would consume inordinate amounts of police time and resources. Meanwhile, the killer would also be alerted, and likely go to ground.

In another meeting room in a different police station, Izzy baker was listening to Chief Inspector Tennant go over the news. With the story going public, he had been forced to get involved. The trouble was that the victims were the only ones who might have known the killer, and they were all dead. They had to find someone who was at the school during that time who was still alive, and willing to speak about why they thought this might be happening. He proposed that they release the dates they were interested in, and make a public appeal for ex-pupils to contact them, if they were there during the same period as the victims. Izzy blew out her cheeks. That could involve hundreds of girls, and mean a huge amount of work. But as her boss rambled on, she decided to keep her mouth shut.

In her house just over the Welsh border, Pam Hayter watched the news with a sinking feeling in her belly. She had just about got Tanya Birch’s case sidelined, and now she had to try to find out for sure if she had ever gone to that school hundreds of miles away. She had been given Sergeant Jones’ number, and had put off calling him all day. She didn’t even know if he had that information anyway, and she had her fingers crossed that another force would take the whole thing on as one investigation, so she could return to her quiet life.

The woman had sounded very friendly on the phone. Jenny had given her a false name, a story about wanting peace and quiet to finish a novel she was writing, and agreed to pay cash in advance for a three-month rental. The cottage was suitably remote, though there were some local shops a reasonable drive away. It had good Wi-Fi, according to the woman who owned it, and the sheets and towels would be changed every week. There was a dry barn where she could park the car, and the nearest neighbour was over three miles away. Even better, it was almost two hundred miles from where Jenny lived at the moment, and she could get the key the day after tomorrow. As she started to sort out what she would have to take from her flat, Jenny felt a bit wobbly, and had to sit down.

From his office chair, Inspector Meacham was listening to Ronnie tell him that there was nothing worth following up from all those hours of CCTV. He nodded when the detective finished speaking.

“Thanks for trying, Ronnie. Now you are going to have to go through everything taken from the house, and maybe even instigate a second search”. Ronnie’s face fell, as the Inspector continued.

“I want to know for certain if Mrs Watson ever went to that school”.

The National Crime Agency gets involved

Using the wheeled case that had sat on top of her wardrobe for the last seven years, Jenny packed enough clothes for a couple of weeks. There was a washer/drier at the rented cottage, so no need to take too much stuff. Various chargers went in next, along with her laptop and small tablet. Then any papers and notebooks detailing what she had been up to. She would buy a new SIM card for the mobile phone at the local shop, in case they found any trace of her calls, and get plenty of dressings and tape for the increasingly open wound too. All her personal papers went in last, and she added just one sentimental item; a framed photo of her Mum, in happier times.

As she locked the door of her flat for what would probably be the last time, she could feel an unusual thrill tingling all over her body.

She was on the run, and it felt strangely exciting.

By the time Jenny had finished buying her various bits of shopping and had put almost one hundred motorway miles behind her, Ivor Jones was looking at a photograph of some members of a school netball team, taken over twenty-five years earlier. Seven teenage girls, and an older woman, the games teacher who trained them. Five of those girls were now dead, presumed killed by one person. One of them was married and living in America, according to her family. The worried old lady he had spoken to had completely forgotten to mention the recent visitor who had come to inquire about Agata, but had promised to contact her daughter and get her to call him.

That left one other member of the team still alive, as far as he knew. That person was of great interest to the police, Leonora Quigley. She was under investigation for everything from selling firearms, to loan-sharking, according to reports he had read. But she was big-time, organised crime stuff, and her case was being handled by the National Crime Agency. Sergeant Jones was a very conscientious man, and followed the instructions to notify them that he was interested in Leonora as a suspect for no less than six murders.

Gemma Fox was a happy, bubbly sort of woman. She looked like someone who had lived their life in the open air, with her red cheeks, and padded jacket. Maybe late fifties, she didn’t bother too much with make-up, or smart clothes. She met Jenny outside the property as arranged, giving her a quick tour, and accepting the wad of cash handed over for three months rent. Despite her pleasant demeanour, Jenny was hoping that she wouldn’t hang around too long. The drive had been exhausting, and given her reason to scold herself for buying a car with a manual gear change. By the time she arrived, her left arm hurt so badly, she had needed to lean over and apply the handbrake with her right hand. Gemma had written down the code for the Internet access, and explained how to turn on the hot water and heating. After giving her directions to the local shops, she turned to leave.

“You have my number if there are any questions. I will be back in a week to change the towels and sheets, and do a bit of housework for you. If you get lonely or bored, drive up and have a cup of tea with me. My postcode is on my website, it’s not far. The Old Hill Farm, before you get to the village. Can’t miss it”. Jenny thanked her, and watched as she walked back to her battered Land-Rover. She had talked about being a farmer’s widow, their only daughter away at university. The farm land had been sold off, sold as Gemma couldn’t be bothered with all that work on her own.

She was probably lonely, but Jenny didn’t need a friend right now.

As soon as Quigley’s name was flagged up by Ivor Jones, everything changed. Officers from The National Crime Agency arrived in three different police stations, and took charge of all the unsolved murders. They had invested a lot of time and money in building a case against Leonora, and they were not about to have their hard work undone by any mistakes made by local officers, in various jurisdictions. Sergeant Jones had been the only one to make the connection with the death of the twins in that fire, so that was now being treated as murder too. As the weekend arrived, John Meacham, Alistair Tennant, and Steve Upshaw were all pulling long faces, as their high-profile cases disappeared like the morning mist. Only Pam Hayter was happy, very pleased to have sent everything she had concerning Tanya Birch to some chinless wonder at the NCA.

When she had unpacked, Jenny connected her laptop to the Internet, and checked the signal on her phone. The Wi-Fi was good, as promised, but the phone network had almost no signal at all in this area. Not to worry, she hoped she wouldn’t have to use it anyway. She had brought enough groceries to last at least a week, as her appetite was up and down anyway, and she mainly ate just to keep her strength up. A tedious round of visits to four different chemist shops had ensured that she had enough painkillers for a while, and the cottage felt very homely, just as she had hoped it would. She switched on the small television in the corner, and flicked around the channels until she found some news. There was nothing at all about the cases, which was a relief.

She was not to know that the National Crime Agency had put a lid on everything. They operated at a different level.

When she arrived at her office that Monday morning, Catherine Harris was aware that something felt different. People were looking at her strangely as she walked past, and her admin assistant looked as if she was about to faint. In the outer office was her boss, the Chief Constable. He was flanked by a stern-looking woman in a business suit, and a smart young man similarly dressed. Richard Kenwright smiled at her, but his eyes were cold. “Good morning, Catherine. These officers would like to have a word with you. Shall we go through to your office?” He turned to the pale-faced assistant. “No calls. None at all”. She nodded.

All three declined Catherine’s offer of tea or coffee, and sat down in the chairs opposite her large desk. The woman introduced herself as Commander McDonald. A Scottish name, but a London accent. The younger man was writing notes on a pad. Sensing the worst was about to happen, Catherine tried to carry off a brave face. “How can I help you, Commander?” She replied without bothering to defer to Catherine’s higher rank. “Well you can start by telling me why you chose not to tell anyone that you went to the same school that the victims of the recent murders attended. Then you might go on to explain why you kept that fact a secret from the investigating team, thereby obstructing that investigation”.

Catherine swallowed the water filling her mouth, glad that she had skipped breakfast earlier.

The end of a career

It was obvious that the woman wearing the blonde wig and glasses was not Leonora. The new investigative team could see that. But they were so focused on the idea that she was the prime suspect, they came to the conclusion that the blonde woman must be part of the Quigley crime empire. Under some pressure to act quickly, they allowed a photo-fit image of the suspect to be released to the press. Not the CCTV image, which they decided to keep quiet about for now, but a generic description. Shoulder length blonde hair, probably a wig. Large black-framed spectacles, and aged between thirty-five and forty. Stocky build, and height under five feet five.

Knowing that such a general description would generate a huge amount of calls, they issued the usual police public contact number, and decided to let the local forces collate the information. Everyone knew it was as good as useless anyway, with tens of thousands of women fitting that description, and the suspect likely to have dumped the wig and glasses. But they were seen to be doing something, and left alone to continue to concentrate on Quigley.

When she had bought the car from him, Jenny hadn’t looked anything like that. So Kenny Farrell had no reason to think anything about the short news item, and checked the time to make sure the football match was coming on soon. He was supposed to be fixing a telephone junction box five miles away, but had called in to say there was something wrong with the van.

Although he was no longer officially on the case, Ivor Jones took the call from America. Agata Scultz had been contacted by her mother, and wanted to know what was going on. Ivor outlined the case, and asked of she knew any reason why someone might be targeting members of the netball team from twenty-five years ago. It was so long ago, it never even occurred to her to remember Jenny Pettifer. But her Mum had finally remembered the name of someone who had called at the house recently, asking about her daughter. “My Mum told me that Tanya Birch came to her house recently, asking about me. Not that long ago, no more than a few days. Perhaps she has got something to do with it?” Ivor usually hesitated to give out too many details, but they had taken the case off him, after all.

“It could not have been Tanya Birch, Mrs Shultz. She was one of the first three to be killed”. After a few moments of silence from the other end, the woman came back on the line. “Right, I am flying over. I will be there late tomorrow night, you can contact me at my parents’ house”.

The open wound felt hot, and Jenny was worried that it might be getting infected. There was no question of being able to obtain any antibiotics, so she had to make do with the painful option of cleaning it with an over the counter surgical fluid that she had brought with her. And there was no denying that the stuff leaking from it was giving off an unpleasant smell, one that she could detect every time she changed the dressing. She made a mental note to use more perfume if she had to go out, then took two paracetamol tablets to bring down her overall body temperature. The last couple of days had been quite arduous, and she knew her body needed rest.

But if she rested too long, it might become an eternal rest.

Richard Kenwright didn’t step in to help Catherine, as the Commander became more insistent. “Well, I’m waiting. What’s your explanation?” She tried to catch her boss’s eye again before speaking, but he was looking at his shoes. Nothing to do but to come clean.

“I didn’t have anything to do with the girls on the netball team. I was in the year above them, and already planning to leave to join the force. So I don’t know of any reason why someone might be trying to kill them all, or have the faintest idea about who might be doing it.
But I did know Melissa Silletoe. She and I were lovers for just over a year, until I left school. In fact, she was the first woman I ever truly loved, and we were devoted to each other for that time. We even used to go away for weekends to a cabin she rented in a holiday park. I used to tell my parents I was going on organised school trips”. The young detective was scribbling away on his pad, and Catherine waited before continuing, wondering if this cold Commander was actually going to arrest her.

“I haven’t seen her since. No doubt she moved on to another impressionable girl once I left school. I am sure I wasn’t her first conquest. I didn’t mention any of this to my team, as I could not see any relevance to the investigation. Besides, nobody at the school ever knew about us. I didn’t tell anyone, and I know that Melissa never would have, as she would have been fired from her job”.

What Catherine couldn’t have known was that someone had discovered her relationship with the teacher. Someone had followed Melissa, watched as she met her new lover, and watched as they kissed passionately in the front of her car, parked in a deserted side street. Jenny knew the older girl by sight, and knew her name too. Cathy Neal.

It was the ninth name on her list.

Commander McDonald exchanged a look with the Chief Constable, then reached across to stop her young colleague writing. “I thank you for being so candid, and I can assure you that none of this will be passed on to any of the officers involved in the investigation”. She stood up, as did the young man. “But I caution you to be careful. If this killer did know about you and Miss Silletoe, your life may well be in danger”. She nodded to the Chief Constable. “We will show ourselves out, sir”. Her boss sat back in his chair, shaking his head slowly. “Catherine, I feel let down, I really do. I recommended you for this promotion, and this is how you repay my trust”.

Catherine went to speak, but he held up both hands, stopping her dead. “You have over twenty-six years in the job, I believe. Here is what is going to happen. You will go off sick with stress, anyone will understand that.
The demands of the job, and so on. In six month’s time, I will call you in for an interview, and suggest that you are retired on full pension. Nothing about your relationship with the dead woman is to be divulged, to anyone. And as far as myself and Commander McDonald are concerned, this conversation never happened. Is that clear?” Catherine nodded, barely fighting back the tears forming in her eyes as he continued.

“Go home now, then phone in to the personnel department tomorrow, reporting sick with work-related stress. Go to see your doctor, and start the ball rolling with treatment for that. You will be paid of course, but you are not to attempt to enter any police station, or to contact any serving officer.
Do I make myself clear?”

No longer able to stop the tears, Catherine reached for a tissue from the box on her desk.

Jenny gets a gun

Ten days into her self-imposed exile, Jenny couldn’t understand why the news reports were so quiet. The electronic photo-fit shown briefly looked nothing like her, which was some relief. She had phoned into work, and agreed that her continued absence would be covered by unpaid holiday leave. That would keep Pat off her back, and stop anyone reporting her missing.
Of more concern was her high temperature, and the annoying fact that she couldn’t find out anything about Leo after the time she had been sent to prison.

She hadn’t been having any luck with Cathy Neal either, until she stumbled across an entry well down the pages on Google. It was in the name of Verity Harris, who appeared to be a famous name in feminist literature. Dating back a few years, it highlighted the name Catherine Neal, next to a link that went to an article in a feminist magazine long since defunct. It was about one of their chief writers getting married to another woman. The other woman had taken the unusual step of adopting the married name of her partner, and was to be known as Catherine Harris.

Armed with the correct surname, Jenny’s eyes widened once she hit ‘search’. But her delight at finding the girl who had stolen Mel away from her was tempered by the reality that she had been promoted to the rank of Assistant Chief Constable on the very force investigating Mel’s murder. She poured herself a large vodka, and spoke out loud into the room. “You couldn’t make it up, you really couldn’t”.

Gemma Fox had come round a couple of days ago with clean sheets and towels. But even though she was feeling like death warmed up, Jenny couldn’t let her do housework, and change the bed. “Leave it there, Gemma, I will do it. Honestly, it will take my mind off things. I will wash the sheets and towels too. I only have to put them in the machine”. The older woman had looked a little disappointed. Maybe she just wanted some company. But Jenny deliberately didn’t offer her tea or coffee, hoping she would get the message. She didn’t. “How’s the book coming on? Would I have read any of your other stuff? Not invited to sit, she perched on the arm of a small sofa under the window.

Jenny stroked the closed laptop. “It’s all in here, a work in progress. It’s about a serial killer on the run from the police. My first book though, so you won’t have read anything else”. Gemma grinned. “Murder mystery eh? That’s right up my street. I would love to read it when it’s finished”. Jenny stood up, indicating it was time for her to go. “You will have a signed copy, with my thanks. I will post it to you”. As she walked to the old car, Gemma turned. “I’ll hold you to that. My famous tenant. I will tell everyone I knew you before you started writing best sellers”.

Commander McDonald had deployed some of her team to keep a watch on the Kowalski house. When her daughter arrived, there was a chance that the whole family could be in danger. But most of the resources were still targeted on Leonora Quigley, and her small army of criminal associates. If they were ever going to connect her to the murders, they would eventually have to raid the house, and look for evidence. The best way to do that was to request that her and her boyfriend come in for questioning, then get a Section 18 warrant to search and seize while they were languishing in an interview room. Her fingerprints hadn’t shown up at any crime scene, so they were going to have to go with her connection to the school to justify applying for the warrant.

She dictated a list of what they would be looking for to the young man writing on his pad.
“The knife used in the murder of Tanya Birch.
Laptops and mobile phones owned by any of the victims.
A blonde wig, and black spectacles.
A hammer, and plumber’s tape.
Any papers relating to the suspect’s car.
Any shopping receipts pertaining to any items used in any of the crimes.
The paperwork relating to any guests booked in by Mrs Wilkinson.
Plus any computers or phones owned or used by Quigley and her gang that might show contact with any of the victims, either by email, or relevant Internet searches.
And I want the mobile phone mast search extended to cover all phone activity in the vicinity of every victim for at least twenty-four hours surrounding each crime”.

Her subordinate nodded, then stood up and left the office to get on with his tasks.

Jenny had run out of milk and bread, so a drive to the shops would be necessary. She still had a high temperature, and the open wound on her left breast was getting larger. She could no longer tolerate wearing a bra, and was now using two dressings to soak up the oozing fluid. The shops that Gemma had mentioned were a fifteen minute drive away. A general store of the type only seen in such country districts, selling pretty much everything. There was a chemist shop that dealt with all the local drug prescriptions as well as selling toiletries and baby stuff, and a butcher selling local meat of high quality, at greatly inflated prices. At the end of the small row of shops was a petrol station that looked like it hadn’t changed since the 1950s. Just two pumps, a general car repair workshop, and the attendant had to come out and fill up your car.

The two elderly women in the general store were very nosy. They asked her a lot of questions, excited to be serving a stranger. One of them was behind the glass of a small sub-Post Office at the back, and called out to Jenny as she browsed the few shelves. “If you need any cash dear, you can draw it out from me”. Dropping a sliced loaf into the wire basket, Jenny smiled back. “I’m fine thanks”. When she had bought all she needed, she wandered next door to the butcher, and treated herself to a stupidly expensive fillet steak. She hadn’t had one of those in years, and it would be good to get more protein. With the shopping put away in the car, she drove the few yards to the petrol station, and paid at least twenty percent too much to have her car filled to the brim. Unsure whether or not she should tip the very old man who operated the pump, she thanked him and gave him some notes, adding “Keep the change”.

Heading back to the cottage, she noticed the sign for Old Hill Farm, and turned into the driveway on a whim.

Gemma Fox was standing outside the front door of the farmhouse as Jenny arrived, shooing two excitable Jack Russells back inside. She beamed a big smile at the sight of Jenny’s car, and walked over to her. “I was just popping down to the chemist to get my thyroid tablets. Go on in, I will be back in ten minutes. The dogs are friendly, I keep them for the rats”. Wrapping her jacket around tighter, to cover up the fact that she wasn’t wearing a bra, Jenny accepted the invitation. The inside of the farm house was incredibly untidy, with stuff piled everywhere. Both the dogs seemed pleased to see her, and settled down after she had stroked them.

When Gemma hadn’t returned after the promised ten minutes, Jenny walked outside, and had a look around. Although most of the sold-off land was now fenced by the new owner, the property was still substantial, with a kitchen garden, and four outbuildings. In one of the dilapidated large sheds, there were lots of ancient farm implements, including a rusty tractor that looked like it had been there since world war two. A row of metal lockers ran down one side, and they looked like they hadn’t been used in years as well. The door of one of them was hanging open, and she automatically reached out to close it.

There was something inside, wrapped in a waxy brown cloth. It was long, and propped up in the corner, covered in dust. Gently unwrapping the top, Jenny could see that it was a shotgun. One of those with two barrels, side by side. Behind it at the bottom of the locker was a crumpled cardboard box, containing shells for the gun. Without hesitating, Jenny bent down and picked up the box. Then she grabbed the cloth, wrapped it tight around the barrels, and walked to her car with both items. Placing them in the boot behind her shopping, she closed the hatch just as Gemma’s battered Land-Rover came wheezing up the driveway.

The cheerful-looking woman waved a paper bag containing her tablets. “I got chatting in the chemist’s, sorry about that. Been having a look around? The old place is not what it was, I’m afraid.

Come on in, and I will make us some tea”.

Agata in the spotlight

After exchanging some pleasantries and looking at a few photos of Gemma’s daughter, Jenny made her excuses, and drove back to the cottage. She had no fears that the stolen shotgun would be missed, as the rusty locker didn’t appear to have been used in decades. Unwrapping the long weapon, it looked to be in very good condition. The waxy cloth covering it had an oily residue inside, so Jenny used a duster from under the sink to wipe that off before it got all over her clothes. She had never held any gun before, and it felt surprisingly heavy. The printing on the box stated that it contained twenty five shells, but there were only fifteen inside it. They were made from a firm wax by the feel of them, with metal lids around one end. She had no idea how to load it, let alone fire it.

But she knew someone who did. They were called You Tube.

Less than ten minutes on the laptop, and she was past the beginner stage in using a side-by-side, double barrelled shotgun. She knew it was called a ‘twelve gauge’, and the shells in the box were made from plastic, not wax, with something called a ‘fibre wad’ inside. A lever on the top opened the gun, which showed the ends of the barrels where the shells went in. The metal part of the shells stayed on top, and when it was closed, it was fired by pulling the right hand trigger first, then the left. To load it again after firing, you used the lever to open it up, and repeated the process. She tried it a few times, making sure to keep her fingers away from the triggers. Another You Tube tip was to open the gun and tip it gun backwards after firing. If you did that with some force, the fired shells would just fall out, leaving you free to reload.

Deciding on an early vodka, Jenny sat looking at the gun laid out on the kitchen table. She was wondering if she ought to try firing it first, before using it for real. There were some woods at the back of the cottage that might be worth exploring.

Agata Schultz was turning into a walking nightmare for the police. Steve Upshaw was still determined to interfere, and had passed on the information he had bullied out of Ivor Jones about her arrival to his pals on the newspapers. They descended on her parents’ house, clamouring for quotes, and firing off their cameras on motordrive. The surveillance team were enraged that the news was out. Worse still, Agata was desperate for her fifteen minutes of fame, and happy to answer any question, however irrelevant. As well as that, she was preening and posing for endless photos. Her California tan and dazzling smile made her headline material, and the Crime Agency officers knew full well she would be on all the front pages, as well as the television news. Using her as bait for the killer wasn’t turning out like they had hoped.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, Agata decided that her humble family home was below her station in life, and booked herself in to the only classy hotel in town. She gave interviews from the lavish foyer, even being shown talking to her husband and kids on Skype, gushing about how much she missed them, and squeezing out a few crocodile tears. Never one to miss a trick, her wealthy husband had even contacted some agents in Britain. He could sense a book deal or television mini-series coming, and he wanted his wife to get in on that before anyone else jumped on the bandwagon. Within twenty-four hours, Agata had become one of the best-known faces in the country, interviewed on breakfast shows about how she was terrified for the safety of her family. Not her own of course, she was willing to help find the killer, even though that would put her life in danger.

But during all of this, it never occurred to her, or the police officers involved, to ask her Mum for a description of the woman who had called at the house. Agata just presumed it had been Tanny Birch, and that Mum had muddled up the dates. She said as much to the police, and they agreed. And not once did it enter her head to remember the dowdy mouse of a girl who her and her now mostly dead friends had bullied for over four years. Commander McDonald was already pissed off with the surgically-enhanced publicity hound, and now they had to keep observation on the hotel, as well as the house. She split the team, and made sure they all had current photos of Leonora Quigley, and her American-born boyfriend, Louis Tarryton.

Her left arm was now hurting so much, Jenny could hardly use it as she stood in the shower, fighting back some tears caused by that pain. She was avoiding looking at the horrible wound on her breast as much as possible, but she couldn’t fail to notice that there was a significant lump appearing under her right arm too. It felt like something was stuck under her armpit, and she had stopped attempting to shave under either arm.

Agata was all over the news, and Jenny had been both surprised and pleased to see that she had come over from California. She was going to make sure that she never used her return ticket.

There was no way she could even think about using the silver car to drive back to the town where she had grown up. As she could just about support the weight of a plate with a sandwich on it, two hundred and fifty miles of changing gear with her left hand was never going to happen. Jenny had reached the inevitable conclusion that she would have to be herself again, if only for a short while. No car hire company was going to let her rent an automatic car for cash. She would have to show her driving licence too, as well as giving credit card details.

But as no mention of her name had appeared anywhere, it was a chance she was willing to take.

The booking was made online, with her real name and credit card details entered. She also had to give her genuine address, as that was the billing address for the card. They would deliver the car to the cottage as requested, for an additional fee. The delivery driver would need to see her driving licence before handing over the keys. She had treated herself to one of the company’s executive car range. Why not? She had never driven a top of the range car, let alone a Mercedes.

Once it was all sorted, Jenny packed a few things into a shopping bag, then began to write a note to leave behind for Gemma.

Leonora gets raided

The car was huge, much bigger than she had expected. After scribbling her name on some paperwork a few times, the smart young man handed over her copies, along with the car key, which wasn’t actually a key, more like a small remote control. He ran through a few basics, like where the important switches were, and showed her the number to call if she had any breakdowns or accidents. The car had a full tank of petrol, and he advised her to return it with a full tank, or she would be charged for filling it up later. Then he walked back along the short driveway to where his colleague was waiting to drive him back to the rental company.

Sitting inside it was lovely. The driver’s seat was like an armchair, and so comfortable after she had fiddled with the electronic adjustments. There wasn’t even a gear-stick or handbrake to worry about, as both were dealt with using electronic knobs. The built-in satnav had a huge screen, and she chose a calm male voice to direct her on her journey later. Before going back into the cottage, she walked over to the barn where the other car was parked, and closed the double doors.

Back inside, she read through the note to Gemma, then slid it into a padded postal bag that already contained a flash drive. On that flash drive, she had typed out what amounted to a confession, telling the whole series of events from the time she had received the hospital letter, and recording every killing so far in great detail, along with all her reasons why she had done what she had. In the note, she had asked Gemma to hand it over to the police when she received it, and apologised for all the disturbance that would surely happen once they arrived to search the cottage, and seize the silver car. Then she added a lot of stamps to the front, and sealed it before placing it in her shoulder bag. It would be posted once she had completed her task.

She hadn’t mentioned stealing the shotgun.

Leonora and Tarr were not about to just walk out and hand themselves over. The police had arrived while it was still dark, hammering on the door and shouting, using spreader bars and battering rams to get through the heavy outer door, before coming up against the internal steel barrier door. Police dogs were barking at the back of the house, and a helicopter was clattering low overhead, shining a light as bright as day down onto the detached house and garden. Inside, they casually got dressed, and Tarr dumped a huge bag of coke down the toilet, sucking his lips in frustration at the waste. A woman’s voice was calling through a loud-hailer, the usual stuff about armed police, and coming out with their hands up. Most of what she was shouting about was drowned out by the noise of the helicopter.

Looking very relaxed in the bathroom, Leonora put up her mane of hair, and wrapped a scrunchy around it to keep it off her face. She lit a cigarette, and went back into the bedroom where Tarr was wiping down a huge forty-five pistol using a dirty t-shirt. She jerked her head up in the direction of the ceiling. “What about the stuff in the loft, Tarr?” He shrugged. “No prints on that, but no time to get rid of it either”. She shook her head, blowing out a huge cloud of cigarette smoke. “Doesn’t look good then, does it?”

Commander McDonald had decided against asking them to come in for questioning. It would give them too much notice to prepare, concoct stories, and dispose of evidence. She got a full warrant to search for firearms that had been used in robberies instead, and mounted a tremendously expensive and high profile dawn raid on Leonora’s house.

It took a group of sweating officers another sixteen minutes to finally get inside. They had to use an angle grinder to get through the internal bolts. Armed officers led the charge into the house, two of them holding ballistic shields in front of the group; everyone edgy and nervous, anticipating a possible exchange of gunfire. When they found the couple sitting casually on a bed upstairs, they dragged them to the floor and wrapped their hands behind them using cable ties.

Leonora looked up at the cold-faced woman who had entered the room. She leaned down and stared straight into her eyes. “Why didn’t you just let us in? Save all this grief?” Leonora grinned. “We was sleeping, innit? Didn’t hear youse.” As four officers pulled them onto their feet, Commander McDonald gave them a formal caution, and then advised them that they were under arrest, suspected of firearms offences. After declining to say anything, they were led down to two waiting police vans which would take them into custody separately. Then the search teams entered the house, dressed in their protective suits and gloves.

They had a long day ahead of them.

The Mercedes was so smooth and powerful, Jenny had to be careful not to trigger any speed cameras, or get stopped by an unmarked police traffic car. She settled into the middle lane of the motorway, and stayed at the legal limit. It used a terrible amount of petrol though. A quarter of the tank had already gone, and the needle was nudging the half mark by the time she pulled into the long lay-by and parked behind a foreign-registered lorry.

Even though the car was supremely comfortable, she needed to rest, and she was also feeling sick. She swallowed some tablets washed down with bottled water, and ate six biscuits from a packet propped up between the seats. Then she sat back against the headrest and closed her eyes, fighting off the nausea.

In two different interrogation rooms, Leonora and Tarr were not cooperating. Not long after they had arrived in the police station, two sleazy solicitors had turned up to represent them, and had advised them to say nothing. The officers assigned to question them went over the same old stuff, but couldn’t get anything out of either of them. The solicitors were playing from the same deck, spouting out the same two statements about their clients. They didn’t own the house, they were just crashing there. It was a friend’s place, and he rented it from someone they didn’t know. Their friend’s name was Clyde, but they didn’t know his surname, or where he could be found.

The pair could be detained for twenty-four hours. Maybe more, if anything significant was found.

Commander McDonald called the interviewing detectives away after two hours. “Let them have a break, see if we can make them nervous”.

The Inspector looked at her with a wry grin.

“Good luck with that, boss”.

Lack of evidence

The banging on the window woke her up with a start. For a second, Jenny was confused, wondering where she was. A scruffy man was standing by the driver’s window, and when she opened her eyes, he shouted through the glass. “You alright, lady? You look bad. You sick?” His accent was heavy, east European by the sound of it. It dawned on her that he was probably the driver of the big lorry parked in front of her, as they were the only two vehicles in the tree-screened lay-by.

She operated the electric window, allowing just enough space to just speak to him. “I’m fine, thank you. Just tired. Long journey, you know”. The smile she attempted was weak, and he shook his head, unconvinced. “You sure, lady? You look bad. You want I call doctor?” Jenny pressed the start button to fire up the engine. “Honestly, I’m fine. But thank you for being concerned”. He shrugged, and walked slowly back to his lorry, looking back twice before climbing into the cab. Jenny checked the time. She had been asleep for almost an hour, and felt awful. There was nothing for it, she was going to have to go back to her flat and sort herself out.

The search team found lots of things in Leonora’s loft, but nothing at all relevant to any of the cases under investigation. Hidden in the eaves in a large wooden box, they discovered two AK-47 assault rifles, four handguns, and almost six hundred rounds of ammunition. There was also an assortment of vicious-looking knives, two Samurai swords, and a machete. Added to that was the .45 pistol that Tarr had wiped clean, found slipped under the bed That was enough to extend the detention order for the suspects.

As Commander McDonald looked at the list from the search teams, her initial excitement faded away. None of the items listed had any fingerprints on them. Ballistic tests would be carried out, but she had a bad feeling that none of the firearms would come back as being used in a reported crime, and tests on the knives and swords had shown negative for blood traces already. Leonora and Tarr could not be linked to the house, nor to any of the weapons found inside it. Computers and phones were also clean, with nothing incriminating. Those people knew their job too well, and didn’t incriminate themselves with phone calls and Internet searches these days.

Unless either of their stories could be challenged, she was worried that the prosecutors were not going to go ahead with any charges, and she might well have to let both of them go. Confronted with the evidence found in the house, Leonora and Tarr stuck to the same story, with the solicitors speaking for them. They were just crashing at a friend’s house. They had no idea that the weapons were in the loft, and were unaware that a pistol was under the bed they had been sleeping in. The officers interrogating them became increasingly frustrated at their casual demeanour, and fought hard to keep their tempers as they repeated the same questions over and over, with nothing concrete to tie either of them to anything.

Jenny had to drive the last forty miles to her flat quite slowly. Her body was feeling incredibly hot, and at times she was having trouble fighting off the dizziness. She decided to chance parking the rental car in the block’s car park, taking a space of one of the ground floor flat occupants; an elderly woman who didn’t own a car, but was rather precious about anyone parking there. Inside, her flat felt airless, as the opening door swept away the few days of junk mail that had accumulated behind it. She didn’t bother to bend down and pick it up, just pushed it out of the way with her foot, as she took off her shoes. Staggering into the bathroom, she vomited into the toilet bowl, mostly watery bile.

Her reflection in the mirror was alarming. The lorry driver had been right. She looked bad. Her skin was a nasty grey colour, and dark circles had appeared around sunken eyes. The wound was weeping steadily through the two dressings over it, and she felt so hot that she pulled off her clothes, standing in just her panties as she splashed water over her face and head. Both her body and her instinct were telling her she didn’t have much longer.

Steve Upshaw had gone from being annoyed, to seeing an opportunity. Using an untraceable pay and go phone, he was contacting his pals on the newspapers offering lots more information. But this time, he wanted money for it. Quite a lot of money, paid in old notes, and delivered to him under his seat in a local pub. By the time he was back home and counting his cash, the media knew about Leo and Tarr, the weapons found at the house, and the fact that neither of them would probably be charged. They had mugshots of the pair, a decent back-story, and the assumption that the police were treating Leonora Quigley as the main suspect in the series of murders of her old school friends.
Steve knew a lot of people, and had called in favours owed after his many years in the detective branch.

Despite feeling so bad, Jenny knew she needed food. She ordered a pizza delivery, and had a shower while she waited for it to arrive. Washing down three tablets with a large vodka and tonic, she switched around the different news channels on the television. It was all there, everything she needed. Agata being interviewed outside the office of her publicity agent, telling the reporter that she would be attending interviews, and where they would be. Speculation that Leonora Quigley would be released from custody with no charges, based on the old chestnut, ‘insufficient evidence’. The news girl was even standing outside the very police station where Leo was being detained, and gave a very accurate estimate of the time she would be allowed to walk free. Jenny took down a few notes, and consulted some online maps. It was possible. Tight, but it could feasibly be done.

The pizza was just a four-cheese with no extra toppings, but she was surprised how ravenously she devoured it, not even leaving a crust as normal. It actually made her feel a lot better. Or maybe that was the second large vodka, she couldn’t tell. Everything was coming to a head now, and knowing it would soon end one way or the other had settled her mind, if not her body.

Deciding that a third drink would do no harm, she pondered the fate of Catherine Harris. She had seen a short report of her being taken off the investigation, as she was off sick. Jenny had wrongly concluded that meant she might well be in a protected safe house somewhere. Time to face facts. She hadn’t done bad for a beginner, better than she had hoped.

But it would only be eight of the nine, after all.

Jenny has a busy morning

After a restless night, Jenny decided on a bath instead of a shower. As the water was running, she carelessly chopped off most of her hair with a pair of kitchen scissors. The end result made her smile at how masculine she looked, especially with no make up on. The sight of her hairy legs in the bath also made her grin. She certainly wasn’t going to bother to shave them, or under her arms. All that twisting and stretching would hurt, and when today was over, she wasn’t going to care about what she looked like.

Something ugly and sinister was now protruding from her left breast. It made her feel sick to look at the strange internal flesh that had broken through the skin during the night, but it was no longer bleeding, and her high temperature seemed to have subsided too. In fact, it was the best she had felt in a long while.

After drying off, she covered her breast with two dressings, wincing at the pulling sensation from under her right arm as she fiddled with the tape. The pains across her shoulder blades hadn’t been helped by the hot water, so she took four tablets to deal with that for now. From the wardrobe, she took out an old black hoody, one she hadn’t worn in years. She slipped that on over a baggy T-shirt, then pulled on a pair of denim jeans that felt a little loose around the waist. Using her mobile phone to check the time, she set a countdown on it. By the time the alarm went off, it would all be over.

One way, or another.

Her outfit was finished off with a pair of black leather gloves, and a black woolly hat. On her feet she had some old Adidas tennis shoes that would be comfortable, and make them look a little bigger too. Looking at the reflection in the bedroom mirror, she reckoned she could pass for a man. If nobody looked too closely at her chest of course. Last but not least, she took a long overcoat from its hanger in the wardrobe, and draped it over her arm. Jenny put the flat keys back through her letterbox after closing the door, and walked down to the car park. Tucked into the back of her jeans was the envelope containing the note to Gemma, along with the memory stick. She would stop and post that on the way.

Agata Schulz was already waiting outside the hotel for the taxi, checking her designer wristwatch. The cab would take her to the office of her new publicity agent, and he would drive her to the small television company that was in negotiation to make a documentary about her. Across the hotel car park, the two surveillance officers checked some paperwork. They had Agata’s itinerary, and two of their colleagues would take over at the TV station. After a long night, they could both go home to bed, once she was in the taxi.

There had been no time to practice firing the shotgun before leaving the cottage. Jenny had been worrying about being overheard anyway, and decided to trust to luck, and You Tube. But she had loaded the gun before leaving, rather than chance being seen loading it in a public place. Checking that there was nobody around in the car park, Jenny took the shotgun from the boot, and wrapped it in the long overcoat. Then she picked two more shells out of the box, and put them in a pocket of the hoody. It seemed like belt and braces, as she probably wouldn’t get time to reload. But better to be prepared.

The second surveillance team was parked outside the front of the agent’s office. They had watched Agata go in after the taxi dropped her off, and they knew what car to look for, once the agent drove out of the car park behind the small office building. The driver had already entered the postcode of the television company into the satnav, just in case they were separated in traffic, and he turned as his colleague passed him a paper cup containing the coffee she had just bought for them both. “Thanks. Did you remember two sugars?” She nodded.

The painkillers had worked, and Jenny felt pretty good as she parked the big car carefully in a meter bay at the rear of the office building. No point attracting the attention of any passing traffic warden, but she didn’t bother ringing the number on the signpost, to pay the fee. A parking fine was going to be the least of her worries, by the time today was over. Walking round to the passenger side, she removed the shotgun from where it was propped up against the seat, wrapped in the long cashmere overcoat. It was a shame to lose that cherished coat, but it wasn’t as if she was ever going to need to wear it again.

Gritting her teeth as she hung up the phone, Commander McDonald turned to the Inspector who was waiting expectantly at the end of her desk. “Nope. They won’t wear it. Insufficient evidence, and the case corrupted by the leaking of the names and details. No charges, as no hope of a fair and unbiased trial. The Inspector’s face fell. “Really? Nothing? Not even the gun charges?” She shook her head. “Nothing. They are free to go. Leave them until our time expires, then give them their personal stuff and kick them out. We will have to find another way to make a case against them. I tell you, when I find out who the bastard was that leaked all that information, heads will roll!”

Agata was checking her lipstick in a small mirror, as the agent tapped the face of his wristwatch. She gave him her whitest smile. “Alright, Mark. I’m ready”. They walked down the back stairs to where his now unfashionable convertible was parked behind the building. At the other end of the car park, Jenny was walking through the arch leading to the street behind, holding the shotgun pressed firmly against her hip, her index finger already on one of the triggers. Mark Goldman opened the door for his new client, and as he walked around to the driver’s side, he saw a squat, stocky looking person walking toward the car, carrying what looked like an overcoat. As he opened the door, that person suddenly started to walk faster, and the coat they were carrying dropped away to reveal the barrels of what was unmistakably a shotgun. Without hesitation, he turned and ran back into the door they had just used to exit the building.

Mrs Goldman hadn’t raised a hero.

Agata watched him run past and raised her eyebrows. He must have forgotten something. She hadn’t noticed the person with the gun, not until someone appeared at the passenger window, pointing it directly at her face.

Jenny had hoped to confront the woman, make some speech like “Remember me? It’s Jenny Pettifer, you bitch”. But there was no time for theatricals. She pulled the trigger, feeling the end of the gun smack hard against her hip as the barrels lifted on discharge. And the noise, It was so noisy. Acting on instinct, she dropped the shotgun, and turned to walk quickly back to her parked car. The second barrel would not be needed.

At close range, the blast had smashed the window, and taken off a good third of the top of Agata’s head, spraying skull, hair, and brains all over the inside of the convertible’s roof. But Agata still had that dazzling white smile, even in death. At least the shot had missed her teeth.
Trembling with excitement and adrenaline, Jenny was back in the car with the engine running long before both the cops on surveillance had even got out of their car, sure they had heard a gunshot. She selected ‘drive’, and spun the wheel of the car as she accelerated out of the meter bay.

By the time the cops were standing by Mark’s car, shaking their heads at the sight that greeted them, Jenny was approaching a roundabout over one mile away. Caught in traffic, she pulled off the hat, and checked the timer on her phone.

There was still plenty of time to drive to the police station.

The afternoon of the same day

Ten minutes before their allotted time ran out, two police officers unlocked the cells in the corridor, and told Leonora and Tarr to follow them to the front desk. They were to be allowed to leave, after checking their possessions, and signing for them. There was a flap on around the area, and most of the officers on response were heading to a shooting incident. Leo and Tarr said very little as their stuff was handed over to them, then scribbled something illegible on the forms they were given to sign. Outside in the front car park of the police station, Leo lit a cigarette as Tarr used his mobile to call Bulldog to come and pick them up. He pulled a face as he hung up. “The boy’s across town, it’s gonna take him at least ten, twelve minutes to get here”. Leonora shrugged.

Along the street, Jenny sat in the big Mercedes. She was illegally parked, and had the engine running in case she got moved on. She watched as Leo and her boyfriend walked to the edge of the street, and looked up and down casually. Jenny had watched the police cars rushing in the other direction, no doubt heading for the car park of Agata’s agent. Her respectable two-month old luxury car had not attracted the attention of any of them, but she had crouched low in the seat as they drove past at speed, just in case. In the middle of all that had happened, she couldn’t get over just how much petrol this car used, as it was now showing just a quarter of a tank remaining. She hoped that leaving it running didn’t cause it to run out of fuel before she did what she had to do.

Jenny didn’t know that much about cars, and had no idea how big and powerful the car she was driving really was. She also had no idea that it weighed two tons. But she did know that it went very fast, very quickly, and that was all she needed to know.

So many officers had turned up, Commander McDonald started to give them all things to do, before their presence corrupted the crime scene.
A supposedly traumatised Mark Goldman tried to play down his lack of heroism as they took his statement, claiming he had to rush back inside the building to get something he had forgotten. He said that he ran out when he heard the shot, and saw a short man dressed in black, wearing denim jeans. “He was walking away, in the direction of the back street. Not running, just walking fast. But what could I have done?”. He went on to add that the man was wearing a wooly hat, and no, he hadn’t seen nor heard a car.
The Commander was shouting at everyone to touch nothing until scene of crime officers arrived to take photos. She had already convinced herself that it was a contract killing, set up by Leonora, who had the perfect alibi. Locked up in a police cell miles away, at the time of the shooting.

But the cashmere overcoat was confusing her.

As Bulldog turned into the road leading to the police station, he slowed the speed of the Range Rover. No point getting stopped before he picked up his boss, Leonora. He had already made sure to leave his gun with Otto, before coming to pick them up. He wouldn’t put it past the police to pull them over as soon as they drove away. There was nowhere to stop outside the police station, so he looked for a spot opposite, choosing a bus bay next to a busy bus stop. Leo and Tarr would just have to cross the street to jump into the car. Tarr spotted the car as Bulldog slowed down, and raised a hand to wave to him. With no traffic coming, they started to walk across the road as he pulled across the bus stop.

The huge engine of Jenny’s hired Mercedes 450 went from zero to sixty miles an hour in just under four seconds. Neither Tarr nor Leonora heard it coming, and Tarr was already reaching for the door handle of the Range Rover as the huge black car swept over his girlfriend, dragging her along the street without hardly losing any speed. The impact had not even set off the airbag, but Jenny struggled with the steering as the car continued down the street, failing to notice that a bus further ahead was indicating to pull out. She collided with the bus sideways on, ramming what was left of Leo into the engine compartment at the back of the number 301.

That time the airbag did inflate. Many airbags in fact, all around her.

People rushed to see what had happened. Passengers got off the bus to look, and the bus driver climbed out of his seat too. The commotion in the street attracted the attention of the police officer on reception duty in the police station opposite, and he rushed out, calling up on his radio for assistance, and an ambulance. Tarr looked round at Bulldog, his face grim. “Just drive, man. Get us out of here”.

The young policeman pulled open the door of the Mercedes and looked to see if the driver was hurt. It was a woman, with cropped hair, and she looked terrible, though had no visible injuries. As the airbags drooped, he caught her gaze, and noticed she seemed to be smiling. There was an alarm signal going off on the mobile phone on the seat next to her. “Help’s on the way, stay where you are. Are you in pain? Does it hurt anywhere?” Her mouth was moving, but he couldn’t hear what she was saying. He leaned into the car, pressing his ear against her mouth. “Is she dead? Did I get her?”

With that, Jenny vomited over his neck, then passed out.

The investigation concludes

Jenny woke up in the unfamiliar hospital bed in the early hours of the following morning. She had a terrible thirst, and an awful taste in her mouth. There was something over her face, which she soon realised was an oxygen mask, and a tube was connected to a needle in her wrist, leading up to a sagging bag of fluid. She managed to move her head off the pillows, craning her neck around the small room.

The sleepy policewoman sitting on a chair by the door spotted the woman moving and stood up, dropping the crossword book off her lap. She opened the door, and spoke softly to her colleague standing outside. “She’s awake. Can you tell the nurse in charge, and let the Inspector know?” He nodded, shifting the heavy sub-machine gun around his body on its thick strap as he walked down the corridor.

A nurse came in and checked the machines around the bed, as well as the contents of the bag of fluid. Gently lifting the mask from Jenny’s face, she offered her some water through a straw. “Gently now. Just sip it. No gulping”. Refreshed by even that small drink, Jenny spoke to the blue-uniformed young woman. “I need to pee”. The nurse nodded, replaced the mask on Jenny’s face, and walked over to a rack in the corner to pick up a cardboard disposable bedpan.

Two hours later, far to the north, Gemma Fox exchanged idle chatter with her friendly postman, standing next to his red van. Among the usual pile of brown envelopes and charity donation requests he had handed over was a padded post-bag, her name and address handwritten on the front. Alan the postman had drawn her attention to it. “You must have a rich friend, Gemma. That’s got three times the necessary postage on it that has”. Back inside the cluttered farmhouse, Gemma opened the unusual item, and shook the small flash drive out onto the kitchen table. After reading the short note, she took it through to the old dining room once used as the farm’s office, and plugged it into a port on the PC. The dogs were jumping around her feet, expecting their morning walk.

They would have to wait.

Commander McDonald looked around the briefing room at the tired faces of her team. Nobody had been home since the shooting, and the incident with the car that had run over and killed Leonora. They had a name from the driving licence and car hire papers, and fingerprints taken from the unconscious woman had confirmed they could place her at almost every crime scene, except the cafe fire, and Mrs Holloway’s. Added to that was the statement from the officer who had spoken to her in the car. But he hadn’t cautioned her, and nobody had overheard what she said to him. That was likely to be inadmissible in court. Jennifer Ann Pettifer. No record, not so much as a fine. Unmarried, a successful contracts lawyer who had a good reputation. The list previously provided by the school did name her as attending at the same time as all the victims. But there was nothing remarkable about the woman.

Other than the fact that she had managed to commit nine murders, including the guest house owner, and never once become a suspect.

A search of her flat had revealed nothing incriminating, though the search history on her laptop was enough to have charges brought, along with the fingerprints of course. And they had found the first suspect car, covered up in the car park space belonging to her flat. It was going to be wrapped up now, no question about that. Someone had gone to speak to Catherine Harris, waking her up during the night. She didn’t remember any Jenny Pettifer from school, and couldn’t recall anyone else who might have. The police surveillance was removed from Catherine, and she was told she could relax now, with the killer in custody.

Gemma Fox had read the contents of the flash drive twice, before taking her dogs for a long walk. That gave her time to think. She wasn’t about to carry out Jenny’s wishes just yet, that was for certain. There had to be some money in this, lots of it. She should contact the newspapers, perhaps a TV station too. See how much they would offer her for the exclusive rights to the confessions of a serial killer. There had to be a book deal in there as well. She would worry about what the police might say later. Gemma hurried home to research some contact numbers, a broad smile on her face.

Jenny had been counting on her to do exactly that.

The different police forces that had been involved received the information from the National Crime Agency with surprise and confusion. The killer was a whiter-than-white forty-something woman with no record, and no apparent motive. Small wonder they hadn’t made any progress. They had no idea that they were looking for someone like that. As they closed all their outstanding files on the various cases, Commander McDonald’s huge task of preparing the case against Jenny was just starting. But everyone needed some sleep first, including her.

Various doctors came and went, with Jenny drifting in and out of sleep between their visits. The pain relief coming through the drip bag was wonderful, and she felt like she had polished off a whole bottle of vodka. The local breast cancer specialist had examined her, then turned away with a discernible shake of his head. A search on the hospital computer system had discovered her records at a different hospital some distance away, and they had spoken to her consultant surgeon, Mr Abdullah. ” I tried to get her in, to suggest an elective mastectomy for the left breast. But she ignored my letters and messages. Even so, I doubt it would have changed the outcome. It had quite obviously spread into her bones. The lady had declined all treatment, you see”.

Just before six that evening, a refreshed Commander McDonald arrived at the hospital with two colleagues. She wanted to see whether confronted with the fingerprint evidence, Jenny would be prepared to make a confession statement without the presence of a solicitor. The head nurse stopped the three police officers at the desk, and rang the on-call doctor taking the oncology patients. When he arrived, the three plain clothes police officers were standing outside Jenny’s room, speaking to the armed officer on guard. The doctor was busy, and not in the mood to bandy words with stone-faced cops.

“You absolutely cannot interview her. She is on a very strong dose of morphine, and would hardly be responsible for any answers she gave you, or able to understand any caution before questioning. You have to realise that the woman is seriously ill. Terminally ill, do you understand that?” The conversation was loud, voices raised. In her bed, Jenny opened her eyes and moved her head to one side. She could hear every word.

Commander McDonald attempted to reason with the doctor, trying not to look at his mop of unkempt hair, which was distracting her. “Of course I understand, doctor. But I have a case to prepare, and it will take weeks to get all the charges sorted. I need to make a start now. If she confesses, it will save countless hours of police work. Surely you realise that?” The doctor started to chuckle. “Weeks? She has two days, three at the most. Forget your weeks, that woman is never going to stand trial. She will be dead by the weekend”.

Behind the oxygen mask, Jenny started to chuckle too.

The End.

A Pretty Amazing Book Deal

I was lying in bed last night, scrolling through some Amazon recommendations.

I found this.

That’s not a typo. ALL of Charles Dickens’ novels for £0.75 p.
That is 86 cents in Euros.
And 96 cents, US.

All of his novels, downloaded in under a minute.
Wonderful classic British literature, and timeless too.

I remember when my grandmother bought all of Dickens’ collected works in leather-bound hardback volumes.
She paid for that collection for years, one book at a time.

I accept that a Kindle edition is far from glamorous.
But at 75 p, it is an absolute bargain, better than any other I have ever seen.

Obviously, I bought it!

Serial Thoughts

My latest serial ‘Decision Time For Jenny’ concluded yesterday.
As I always do, I will compile all 24 parts into one long story soon, so that readers who like to read it all at once can do just that.

This was one of my most challenging serials, as I had to keep so many characters ‘juggling’ their various involvement in the story at the same time. Because of this, I had to take notes, for the first time ever. I usually write the next episode by re-reading the last, and working from there. But this time I had to check my notes, to remember which victim had what nickname, and the names of the different police officers investigating the numerous cases.

As anyone who read the story will know, I included two serious themes. Bullying, and Breast Cancer. The character of Jenny was bullied at school, and she was also diagnosed with breast cancer, making the decision to leave it untreated, and not to attend hospital for possible surgery. The second decision she made was to seek revenge on all those who bullied her, or otherwise made her teenage years difficult.
So that is how I came up with the title.

For those readers who like to know the details, each episode was written the day before, with the last three episodes written on the same day, to keep the feeling of momentum going in my head. Unlike most of my stories, the ending was not a twist, though I did include one significant twist along the way. In my usual method of construction, I had the final scene in my head from the start, and worked back from that.

I did my best to describe Jenny’s worsening medical condition as the serial developed, and can assure you that those details were accurate, from my own experience. I also focused in some detail on the police investigations, and how they are affected by rules concerning suspects, evidence, and interrogation in Britain. That was also based on personal experience. Modern policing depends heavily on a combination of DNA profiles, CCTV footage, and Crime Scene Forensic Teams. I tried to include reference to all of this during the serial.

For anyone who might reasonably think that it would be impossible for my character to have carried out so many crimes without drawing suspicion to herself, it is worth noting that official government figures show that 90% of crimes reported remain undetected, with nobody brought to trial. Rules of evidence also mean that many criminals cannot be prosecuted, even when their involvement in crime is self-evident.
These are facts of life, and not a fictional liberty on my part.

It was good to see how many readers were excited for Jenny. This was a woman who ruthlessly killed nine other women, and yet readers were hoping for her to kill them all. From my point of view, that was most rewarding. Not only would it have been a little unrealistic for her to have managed to kill Catherine as well, I also considered that she had not been involved in any bullying, and had never consciously sought to affect Jenny’s life. So she was innocent, and had to be saved.

As usual, the serial attracted a similar amount of views and readers. Over the years, this has changed very little, reflecting how some followers do not have the time or the inclination to follow daily serials. There were around 60+ readers of each episode, totalling just over 1500 for the entire serial. Comments are not that many, which is to be expected, given the very nature of a daily blog post of a fictional story. One interesting fact, more people read the final episode than any of the others. That’s quirky!

But just to warn you, I have already started the next one!

My thanks once again to everyone who stuck with it, and read every episode. Extra thanks too to those of you who reblogged, or shared on other social media.

It wouldn’t be the same without you, even though I would still do it anyway. 🙂

Best wishes, Pete.

Decision Time For Jenny: Part Twenty-Four

This is the final part of a fiction serial, in 1290 words.

The investigation concludes

Jenny woke up in the unfamiliar hospital bed in the early hours of the following morning. She had a terrible thirst, and an awful taste in her mouth. There was something over her face, which she soon realised was an oxygen mask, and a tube was connected to a needle in her wrist, leading up to a sagging bag of fluid. She managed to move her head off the pillows, craning her neck around the small room.

The sleepy policewoman sitting on a chair by the door spotted the woman moving and stood up, dropping the crossword book off her lap. She opened the door, and spoke softly to her colleague standing outside. “She’s awake. Can you tell the nurse in charge, and let the Inspector know?” He nodded, shifting the heavy sub-machine gun around his body on its thick strap as he walked down the corridor.

A nurse came in and checked the machines around the bed, as well as the contents of the bag of fluid. Gently lifting the mask from Jenny’s face, she offered her some water through a straw. “Gently now. Just sip it. No gulping”. Refreshed by even that small drink, Jenny spoke to the blue-uniformed young woman. “I need to pee”. The nurse nodded, replaced the mask on Jenny’s face, and walked over to a rack in the corner to pick up a cardboard disposable bedpan.

Two hours later, far to the north, Gemma Fox exchanged idle chatter with her friendly postman, standing next to his red van. Among the usual pile of brown envelopes and charity donation requests he had handed over was a padded post-bag, her name and address handwritten on the front. Alan the postman had drawn her attention to it. “You must have a rich friend, Gemma. That’s got three times the necessary postage on it that has”. Back inside the cluttered farmhouse, Gemma opened the unusual item, and shook the small flash drive out onto the kitchen table. After reading the short note, she took it through to the old dining room once used as the farm’s office, and plugged it into a port on the PC. The dogs were jumping around her feet, expecting their morning walk.

They would have to wait.

Commander McDonald looked around the briefing room at the tired faces of her team. Nobody had been home since the shooting, and the incident with the car that had run over and killed Leonora. They had a name from the driving licence and car hire papers, and fingerprints taken from the unconscious woman had confirmed they could place her at almost every crime scene, except the cafe fire, and Mrs Holloway’s. Added to that was the statement from the officer who had spoken to her in the car. But he hadn’t cautioned her, and nobody had overheard what she said to him. That was likely to be inadmissible in court. Jennifer Ann Pettifer. No record, not so much as a fine. Unmarried, a successful contracts lawyer who had a good reputation. The list previously provided by the school did name her as attending at the same time as all the victims. But there was nothing remarkable about the woman.

Other than the fact that she had managed to commit nine murders, including the guest house owner, and never once become a suspect.

A search of her flat had revealed nothing incriminating, though the search history on her laptop was enough to have charges brought, along with the fingerprints of course. And they had found the first suspect car, covered up in the car park space belonging to her flat. It was going to be wrapped up now, no question about that. Someone had gone to speak to Catherine Harris, waking her up during the night. She didn’t remember any Jenny Pettifer from school, and couldn’t recall anyone else who might have. The police surveillance was removed from Catherine, and she was told she could relax now, with the killer in custody.

Gemma Fox had read the contents of the flash drive twice, before taking her dogs for a long walk. That gave her time to think. She wasn’t about to carry out Jenny’s wishes just yet, that was for certain. There had to be some money in this, lots of it. She should contact the newspapers, perhaps a TV station too. See how much they would offer her for the exclusive rights to the confessions of a serial killer. There had to be a book deal in there as well. She would worry about what the police might say later. Gemma hurried home to research some contact numbers, a broad smile on her face.

Jenny had been counting on her to do exactly that.

The different police forces that had been involved received the information from the National Crime Agency with surprise and confusion. The killer was a whiter-than-white forty-something woman with no record, and no apparent motive. Small wonder they hadn’t made any progress. They had no idea that they were looking for someone like that. As they closed all their outstanding files on the various cases, Commander McDonald’s huge task of preparing the case against Jenny was just starting. But everyone needed some sleep first, including her.

Various doctors came and went, with Jenny drifting in and out of sleep between their visits. The pain relief coming through the drip bag was wonderful, and she felt like she had polished off a whole bottle of vodka. The local breast cancer specialist had examined her, then turned away with a discernible shake of his head. A search on the hospital computer system had discovered her records at a different hospital some distance away, and they had spoken to her consultant surgeon, Mr Abdullah. ” I tried to get her in, to suggest an elective mastectomy for the left breast. But she ignored my letters and messages. Even so, I doubt it would have changed the outcome. It had quite obviously spread into her bones. The lady had declined all treatment, you see”.

Just before six that evening, a refreshed Commander McDonald arrived at the hospital with two colleagues. She wanted to see whether confronted with the fingerprint evidence, Jenny would be prepared to make a confession statement without the presence of a solicitor. The head nurse stopped the three police officers at the desk, and rang the on-call doctor taking the oncology patients. When he arrived, the three plain clothes police officers were standing outside Jenny’s room, speaking to the armed officer on guard. The doctor was busy, and not in the mood to bandy words with stone-faced cops.

“You absolutely cannot interview her. She is on a very strong dose of morphine, and would hardly be responsible for any answers she gave you, or able to understand any caution before questioning. You have to realise that the woman is seriously ill. Terminally ill, do you understand that?” The conversation was loud, voices raised. In her bed, Jenny opened her eyes and moved her head to one side. She could hear every word.

Commander McDonald attempted to reason with the doctor, trying not to look at his mop of unkempt hair, which was distracting her. “Of course I understand, doctor. But I have a case to prepare, and it will take weeks to get all the charges sorted. I need to make a start now. If she confesses, it will save countless hours of police work. Surely you realise that?” The doctor started to chuckle. “Weeks? She has two days, three at the most. Forget your weeks, that woman is never going to stand trial. She will be dead by the weekend”.

Behind the oxygen mask, Jenny started to chuckle too.

The End.

Fictional rule-breaking

Most of you are aware that I write a lot of fiction on this blog. Just lately, I have been posting a daily serial that is currently twenty-three episodes in, and I have written close to four hundred stories and serialisation episodes over the last seven years. A few of my stories have been published elsewhere too, in magazines and on websites.

None of these fictional pieces have ever been subject to the attentions of a professional editor or proof reader, though David Miller very kindly emails me with errors he has spotted, or the incorrect use of the wrong character’s name on occasion.

I started writing stories at junior school, and most were well-received. On three occasions, I won a prize for them, in my English class. But back in the early 1960s, teachers were strict, and their adherence to grammar and English even stricter. That carried on into my secondary school, right up until the time I left to start work. Lots of rules. Rules about sentence construction, when to use a new paragraph, how much punctuation was acceptable, and how to show events through the eyes of characters or observers. I kept to those rules.

When I decided to start writing fiction again, I made a conscious decision to ignore a few of those rules. A lot of them, in fact. I would write the stories as I saw them in my head, more or less as if transcribing a film I was watching. If that didn’t work for some readers, then so be it.

One golden rule is that a dead character cannot tell a story. If they are dead, then how did we know what they did, or what they were thinking? Films deal with this dilemma by using flashbacks, or camera angles that show the viewer a reaction. The eyes of a strangling victim will show terror to the viewer, but in literature, we cannot say ‘She stared at her killer in terror’, because she cannot have told us that. We have to say something like ‘He noticed the look of terror in her eyes’. In one of my serials, a young girl notices the unusually white smile of her murderer. But how could I know what she noticed, as he had killed her?

I resolved to ignore such rules, and write the fiction in a style that I enjoyed.

I also use a lot of commas. My English teacher used to write on my essays in a red pen, ‘Too many commas!’ She would put a small ‘X’ next to every one of them she felt was unnecessary. The same with paragraphs. A red line with the capital letters ‘NP!’ I can still see all her corrections in my mind even now. But I am no longer in her class, so I don’t have to follow her rules anymore. I write sentences, paragraphs, and character conversations as if I am speaking them. So I use commas for natural pauses, like taking breaths. Not ‘proper grammar’, I know.

But I don’t care.

So if you have ever noticed any glaring errors in my construction, writing, or interactions between characters, that’s why.

I intentionally break those rules.