Marjorie: The Complete Story

Following the completion of the twenty-part fiction serial, I am presenting all those episodes in one complete story. This is for those who prefer to read it all in one go, and for anyone who may have missed parts along the way. It is a long read, in 21,400 words.

It had seemed like a good plan.

Phil cleaned the windows at the big house, so he had seen inside. They had pots of money. And four cars, all expensive ones. Who needs four cars? You can only drive one at a time. Well maybe two, if your wife is going somewhere different, and knows how to drive. He had a good idea of house prices in the area. That place would sell for close to five million in today’s market.

Rodney had always been a dreamer. He lived life anticipating the next big thing, but that never happened. He was still working at the Zoo, cleaning out the Antelopes and Zebras. The same job he started when he was seventeen. The conversation started as a joke, after a few drinks at Phil’s flat. How could they make their fortune, cleaning windows and tending animals? It was never going to happen. Phil told Rodney about the girl at the big house. She looked to be around fifteen, and had a bedroom bigger than Phil’s flat. There was a horse in the stables, just for her, and she was often just lazing around the swimming pool, looking bored and superior. Her father left for work by helicopter every day, from a special pad next to the tennis court, and the mother never seemed to be around.

Rodney started to fantasise about how they could kidnap her. He could keep her in the disused section of the Zoo, the part awaiting refurbishment. Nobody would know. Then they could ask her family for at least a million, maybe two. It was a fun discussion, taking their minds off the fact that they were going nowhere. When he next met up with his friend for a pizza night and watching the big game on TV, Phil was a little concerned to discover that Rodney had actually taken it all very seriously. He had formulated a plan, and funnily enough, it was quite a good one. Phil was startled to find out that Rodney had been following the girl on his days off. Her name was Marjorie, and she went to the expensive girl’s high school outside the town. The one with the light green uniform. She was dropped off in the morning by taxi, and picked up outside the school by the same company, around four. Phil smiled nervously. Rodney was on it, large. He had even taken some photos of her waiting outside.

They never did get to watch the game. Rodney had lots of notes; times, places, routes, and even maps. He had drawn them himself and Phil was amazed at the detail. It was past midnight by the time it had all been explained. Everything from how long they would keep her, how to arrange the ransom drop, and the fact that they would have to avoid any security cameras, or wear good disguises when they couldn’t. Phil had to admit that his old friend seemed to have covered everything, including how he could get the girl food and water in the old Lion cages where he would keep her. He had free run of the Zoo. Nobody seemed to care where he was at any time, as long as he did his job. And the closed-up section was well away from any public areas too, so no chance of someone discovering their victim. Besides, she was young, so the family were sure to pay up very quickly, so Rodney said.

Phil had trouble sleeping that night. He was worried that Rodney was really considering this. Worried too about his connection to the house. He cleaned the windows, so the police were bound to think of him, to add him to a list of suspects. He had said as much to Rodney, but that had been considered too. “We take the girl on the day before you are due to clean the windows next month. Then you show up to do the work, act surprised that there is stuff going on. The police will certainly take your details, but if you were involved, you would hardly show up at the house, would you?” Phil had to admit to himself that his old school-friend seemed to have thought of every pitfall. But he had seen enough films and detective shows on TV to know that the smallest thing could result in capture. The butterflies in his stomach wouldn’t let him settle. But he hadn’t said yes. It was only an idea, after all.

After work the next day, Rodney called round to the flat. He seemed to have made up his mind without actually confirming that Phil was on board with the plan. “We must stop texting each other from now on. No phone calls either. No activity that could be construed as planning. We should carry on with pizza night, and the occasional trip to a bar or cinema. After all, we are old friends. But keep off the phones, and don’t look up anything on your laptop to do with the family, the girl, or the Zoo. And definitely nothing about anything to do with kidnapping”. Phil nodded. He felt a little cold inside, as he looked at Rodney. The unassuming Zoo attendant had become alive in front of his eyes, enthused, calculating, committed. “Once we have the girl, I will incinerate everything. The notes, maps, photos, memory card, even the clothes we wear for the snatch.The main thing is to carry on as normal. Even once we have the money, we can’t spend any. Life has to go on the same for at least a couple of years. Once we are sure nobody is still looking for us, we can plan where to go. Make it look natural. Change jobs, move to a new city, that sort of thing. By the time we can spend the money, we will still be young enough to enjoy it”.

Phil tried to look calm, and nodded.

Marjorie sat on her bed and checked her phone again. No messages. She had updated her status when she got home from school, but nothing back from her contacts so far. It was her sixteenth birthday next month, and as far as she could tell, it was in danger of passing unnoticed.

Thomas Calder wasn’t her real Dad, though he had adopted her, and given her his name. He had done it to please Mum of course, not because he wanted a daughter. Mum had been lucky to snare him, Marjorie appreciated that. A single parent with a three year-old daughter, working long haul as a stewardess in first class. Granny had brought up the baby Marjorie, with Mum always away flying somewhere. But she had caught the eye of the wealthy businessman at just the right time, and kept him at arm’s length long enough to get him to propose marriage. The timing couldn’t have been better. The wedding was in the May, and granny died shortly after that. Mum didn’t need to work anymore, and the pair of them treated the luxurious house like a playground.

As CEO of a huge tech support company, Calder was rich in the extreme, but he had to keep working to hold onto that wealth. Always out at meetings or functions, flying across oceans to do deals, Mum soon became lonely. The lunchtime Martini soon turned into three, and then turned into breakfast, lunch and dinner. Marta was hired to run the house and look after the toddler Marjorie. The Polish woman was good at her job, but there was little or nothing maternal about her. To compensate, they gave her almost anything she wanted. But by her tenth birthday, she was savvy enough to see the rot setting in. They slept in separate rooms, argued all the time, and most days Mum was so drunk, she could hardly stand. One night, she heard Tom say that the drink would kill her. But it wasn’t the drink.

The diagnosis was cervical cancer. Too advanced to treat, so terminal. Marjorie spent her twelfth birthday alone in her room, and didn’t even bother to open any presents. The next morning, Tom told her Mum had died during the night.

She had always thought that he might marry again, but as the years passed, he didn’t. He hardly spoke to her though, and let Marta assume the role of surrogate parent. She spent all of her free time alone, sometimes chatting to George, the nice old guy who worked in the garden and managed the pool. Marta made sure she went to school, showered, wore clean clothes, and ate her breakfast and dinner. On her fourteenth birthday, she got a horse as a present. But Tom forgot she couldn’t ride, and neglected to include any riding lessons or suitable clothing. She never asked for anything, so just petted the horse now and then, and watched it as George walked it around the paddock. One day merged into another as she did well enough at school, but failed to make any real friends.

By ordinary standards, she was rich. But she had little or no money of her own, and the other girls at the exclusive school were even richer. It was all relative, she knew that. The ten bedroom house felt like living in a museum, when the public had gone home. In good weather, she could enjoy the pool, but she mostly watched TV, wrote in her diary, and wondered what the hell was going to happen to her later on.

Oh how she longed for something exciting to happen. Perhaps find a guy who wanted her, someone who asked her to run off with him and live in the middle of nowhere. Or they could do something cool and exciting, like go and watch the sunset in Thailand, or trek across India. But she didn’t even have a passport. Besides, she was on the big side, and her wiry hair was impossible to do anything with. Maybe not ugly, but not in the league of the girls who the boys whistled at. And the big black-rimmed glasses didn’t suit her at all, but she had never been able to tolerate the contacts. She would look at old photos of Mum, slender, beautiful, flowing fair hair, and wonder where she had come from, to end up so different. She knew nothing about her biological father, but guessed he must have been overweight, with wiry black hair like a chimney brush.

Life wasn’t bad, she knew that. She got enough to eat, too much most days. She wasn’t bullied at school, and she had a lovely home, with all that she needed. But nothing ever happened, and she was lonely. The holidays were the worst, with all the girls talking about beach holidays in the Seychelles, or skiing in Switzerland. She wanted to lie, to say that she was going off to somewhere wonderful with her adoptive Dad. But there was no point, as they all knew better.

Sixteen. That had to mean something, didn’t it? Marta told her that ‘Mr Thomas’ had asked her to see what she wanted as a gift. But she couldn’t think of anything she really wanted. The woman shrugged and said, “I will tell him jewellery then. He will let me get you something nice. Maybe you can come and choose it?” She had nodded agreement, but her heart wasn’t in it. Looking out the widow, she saw George walking along the driveway, heading home. She flopped back onto the bed, and raised both legs into the air, letting out a big sigh.

If only something would happen.

Rodney had a date in mind. Phil had told him when he was next due to spend the day cleaning the windows at the Calder house, and Rod decided they would do it on the Monday, the day before. That left just a couple of weeks to finalise the plans. Phil hoped it wouldn’t be enough time. Maybe Rod would get bored with the idea, realise how hard it would be, and just forget the plan completely. They would laugh about it over beers and pizza, next time they were watching their team.

But he had to give his friend credit for preparation. Rodney had bought some things already. An old laptop which he would use at wi-fi hotspots only, then burn or bury after the job. Cheap pay-and-go mobile phones which would be used to contact the family, then destroyed. Then most impressive of all, he told Phil about the old one-hand crossbow, recovered from a rubbish skip at the Zoo. They used to use it to dart animals with a sedative, but they had upgraded to a specialist rifle now, and had thrown the old crossbow away. Rodney would use it to sedate the girl, with animal sedative taken from work. Just tiny amounts at a time, which would go unnoticed. He had even estimated her weight for the correct dosage.

“It’s like this, Phil. Too much, and we might kill her, Not enough, and she will come round too soon. So I have worked out her weight, based on her height and overall size. I estimate she is something like fourteen stone, so eighty-nine kilos, or two hundred pounds, if you prefer. I sneaked a look at the charts at work, and got the dosage for a two-hundred pound animal. We will only get one shot as I only have the one dart, and it should be in her upper thigh for preference”. Phil adopted an expression of being impressed with his friend’s forethought, though inside he was beginning to realise that this thing was really going to happen. “We will need masks and overalls for the job, because of the CCTV at the house. I can get those from street markets, pay cash, not attract any attention. We will have to find a spot where I can park my car without it being seen. No good using your work van, as it is sign-written. Then we will have to carry the girl to it of course, and that won’t be easy. I will think of something”.

Phil thought for a while, pretending to be digesting the information. “How will you get her into the Zoo without being seen, Rod? His friend smiled. “That’s the easy bit. I can put her in the boot, and just drive into work. There is parking close to the closed-down section, and nobody will think anything of seeing my car there. And there are all sorts of hand-trucks and devices for moving weights around. I can easily get her into the old Lion cages unnoticed. Phil nodded, staring at his battered Converse. “So what do I do? What is my part in this? It’s not as if I can help you out at the Zoo”. Rodney reached over and patted his friend’s arm. “I need you to help me get the girl to my car. Then I will need you to make the arrangements for the ransom, and do the pick-up too. I can’t chance being away from work for too long, as I have to keep an eye on the girl. I have even put down to work extra shifts. I told them I need more cash to get a better car. Anyway, none of this could have happened if you hadn’t told me about the Calders in the first place”.

Swigging some Pepsi from a can, Phil told himself he wished he had never said anything about that house. His life was about to change beyond all comprehension, and he was swept up in events without having the slightest idea what he was doing. But when Rodney had gone home, he went over it all in his mind, sitting in the dark. It might just work.

Rodney lay back in the bath, letting the hot soapy water remove the smell of the animal sheds. He was sure he could count on Phil. They had always been a pair, since meeting at school. They followed the same team, looked out for each other in the playground, and spent every weekend and holiday break together. Neither of them had done well academically, and when Phil had ended up working as a window cleaner, he had got the job at the Zoo to stay in the same town, and be close to his best friend. Though they had both met girls over time, none of them had been special enough to break the bond between the boys. They would do this, and it would work. Because they had total trust, and would never let each other down.

Marjorie had decided not to go to the shops with Marta. The woman returned with a box from the jeweller, and showed her the contents. A heavy gold chain, with a large ‘M’ hanging from the centre. She slid it across the breakfast bar, as Marjorie ate a snack. “You might as well have it now. He is not going to be here for your birthday, so there’s no point wrapping it.” When the girl just nodded, Marta raised her voice. “Its’s expensive, and will look really nice. You could at least be grateful!” Putting down her plate, Marjorie removed it from the box and hung it around her neck, snapping the clasp into place. Marta grinned.

“See, it looks lovely. What did I tell you?”

Before and after his shifts, Rodney had been scouting out the house, and checking the local area. He had found a perfect place to hide his car, a tree-lined lane shielded by the large hedges bordering the Calder property. The house was a long way from any neighbours, which was a positive thing. But that also meant that approaching the grounds had to be done carefully. Using some binoculars he had taken from work, it was easy to spot the CCTV covering the front of the house, and to also discover that the immediate areas like the tennis court, helipad, and stables did not appear to be covered by cameras at all. He had seen an old guy come and go with gardening tools, but other than deliveries from nearby shops, there was very little activity to concern him. On his last reconnoiter, there was a breakthrough that got him excited.

As soon as he opened the door, Phil could see his friend was excited, and Rod was babbling before he had even sat down. “She walks, Phil. She walks from the gate!” Phil handed him a can of Coke, and he relaxed a little, making his point calmly. “The taxi drops her at the gate, and she walks all the way along the driveway up to the house. Same thing every day, the car never drives up to the entrance. The girl walks”. Phil was having trouble with the significance of this, and why Rod thought it mattered so much. His face went blank, prompting another outburst. “Don’t you see? We can take her without anyone noticing, between the gate and the house. The drive is all tree-lined, and the woodland is dense enough to conceal us completely”. The penny dropped.

The most difficult part of the plan hinged on the drop-off of the ransom. Rod had been thinking long and hard, but still didn’t seem to have any concrete idea. He chewed his thumb as he continued, making his speech hard to grasp. “We will insist on used, unmarked notes of course. They are sure to put a tracker in the bundles, or in the bag containing the money, they always do. You will have to swap it all over into something you take along, and undo all the notes. It won’t be tidy, and it will take time. But it must be done immediately, before leaving the drop. That means we need somewhere you can’t be disturbed. But that also means you will be exposed to any police activity. Money weighs a lot in those amounts too, so you will need something like a sack barrow to shift it, as well as easy access to your van”. He paused to drink from the can, and Phil swallowed hard. When Rod said ‘You’ instead of ‘We’, that made him nervous.

After they had both sat quietly for a while, Phil spoke up. “You talk about trackers and police activity. But won’t we say ‘No police’ when we ask for the ransom? Do you think Calder will involve them?” Rod nodded. “For sure we will say all that. No police, no trackers, no marked notes, no serial numbers, no press statements, all the usual kidnapper’s demands. But you know the score, Phil. You have seen the news reports, watched the films and TV shows. They always end up involving the police once the girl goes missing. Even if they didn’t want to, others are bound to notice when she doesn’t turn up for school, or contact her friends. If she doesn’t go on Facebook, Instagram, or whatever, pretty soon people will be asking what’s happened. So we can count on the police being involved from day one, get that into your head now. Anyway, I have to get off, and get into work for my extra shift”.

Phil was relieved when Rod left, as it meant he didn’t have to talk about the kidnapping anymore. But he had to think about it, as he couldn’t stop that happening.

Marjorie felt the weight of the necklace in her hand. Solid gold, must have cost a bundle. Marta was good at spending Tom Calder’s money, but she had no idea what sort of thing a fifteen year old girl would want for her sixteenth birthday. She smiled at the idea that Marta had just bought something she would like to own herself, even down to the huge gold ‘M’ which would of course work just as well with her name. There was a coldness in Marta. Marjorie always felt that she was tended to, rather than cared for. Just as George tended to Prince, her horse. They both wanted for nothing, had food, warmth, shelter, and every necessity of life. But neither of them were ever truly loved.

Inspector Tina Collier filed away the team reports in her small office. Almost eighteen years as a police officer had come down to this, managing a small investigative team in a place where little or nothing ever happened. Nearly six months since her promotion, and the most exciting thing that had happened had been a routine domestic murder, a drunk who hit his wife one time too many. He had pleaded guilty, and shown great remorse. Just a rubber-stamp case that had zero challenge to it. Now her boss had her doing team appraisals to justify her existence. She was appraising people she hardly knew, aware of their resentment and indifference to their new female chief.

Tina unzipped the tight half-boots and pulled them off her feet under the desk. She looked down, wondering how a woman could have been born with such big feet. Her ex-husband had teased her, said she had feet like a Hobbit. He had also said she was never satisfied, and was always going to let the job rule her life.

Well he was right. On both counts.

Hardly able to sit still in the passenger seat, Phil had to admit to himself that he had never been so scared. Rod had got the overalls, and a couple of those masks of the face from the old film ‘Scream’. The hardest part had been getting finished early, and he had rushed the last window-cleaning job to be back in time. Rod appeared to be completely calm and collected. Over the last few days, he had got everything ready, and even though he still had no firm idea about the ransom drop arrangements, he had been adamant that they should go ahead as planned.

The car had all kinds of strange things in the back. A folding canvas stretcher, once used at the Zoo for carrying around large animals that had been sedated. It looked worn out, and was very stained, but Rod said it would do fine for their purposes. Then there was a battered-looking lawn rake, with the handle cut down so it would fit inside the car. A roll of heavy-duty parcel tape lay in the footwell near his feet, and there was an old pillowcase, which Rod said would be used as a hood. The small crossbow looked menacing enough on the back seat, with the long dart and its neon-yellow flight. Rod had covered it with the pillowcase, but it slipped off every time they took a corner too fast.

Behind the driver’s seat was a box of latex gloves, and a few plastic shoe-covers, all filched from the Zoo. There were some medical face-masks too, which Rod said would muffle their voices, making them hard to recognise. Phil wasn’t so sure that would work. They went the long way, skirting the city on the northern route. Using small roads, they would avoid the car being caught on any cameras used for traffic management. When Phil asked if there wouldn’t be lots of home security camera footage to consider, Rod had just shrugged. That was’t very reassuring. As the car entered the lane bordering the house, Phil did have to admit that his friend had chosen a good spot. The car would be impossible to see from the country road at the end. Rod did a tight three-point-turn expertly. He had thought to leave the car facing the right way for their departure.

Once out of the car and carrying the stretcher, Phil didn’t feel quite so nervous. Rod’s confidence, however unfounded, was infectious, and it felt like the school holidays again, two friends off on an adventure in the woods. Their boots were covered with the elasticated covers, so as to leave no footprints, and they were both wearing the blue latex gloves. The old khaki overalls were ex-army, and blended in well with the surrounding woodland. The masks had stayed in the car for now. They wouldn’t be needed until later. Rod checked his watch and smiled. “Fifteen minutes, and she should be walking past”. They couldn’t see the gate from that spot, but they were close enough to the tarmac driveway to see when she was approaching, and far enough from the house not to worry about the CCTV at the front.

With just two minutes to go, Phil felt a sudden panic overwhelm him. The desire to just stand up and run away made him start to tremble. He turned to Rod, who looked as casual as if they were on a camping trip. “Should we think about this, Rod? Maybe do it next month instead, when we have had more time to work out the money drop, and other stuff?” Rodney shook his head. “We are here now, everything’s in place at the Zoo, and there will never be a better time. Calm down, Phil. It will be OK mate”.

Marjorie wasn’t listening to the driver making small talk. She was thinking about the amount of homework she would have to do tonight. An essay about ‘Wuthering Heights’ for English, and her thoughts on the causes of The English Civil War, for History. She knew she could do it. It wasn’t that she didn’t have the academic skill, just that she found long essays really boring. She resolved to get started as soon as she was in her room, knowing full well that once distracted by the TV or her Tablet, she would be up half the night getting it finished. The driver stopped at the gate. “Are you sure this is alright, miss? I am happy to drive you up to the house”. Marjorie couldn’t place his accent. South African perhaps? Maybe New Zealand. She smiled, opening the door. “No this is fine just here. I like the walk”.

Rodney heard her shoes on the path before he spotted her. Big black school shoes, sensibly strong. He reached over and picked up the crossbow, staying flat for now. Phil could hardly breathe, and thought his heart might just stop beating. She was close to the edge of the path, on their side, and she walked past slowly, not noticing them at all. Phil watched her, the heavy shoulder bag on the opposite hip, the typical clothing of a schoolgirl; skirt a little too short, thick black nylon tights, and a blazer unbuttoned. As she passed and the back of her head came into view, Rod fired the crossbow. The dart hit her in the thigh at the back, just below the hem of the green skirt. She didn’t scream or yell. Instead she turned and looked at the dart, with the fluffy yellow flight quivering at the top. Instinctively, she pulled it out of her leg, and then started to run, the school bag falling from her shoulder.

Less than ten paces later, she collapsed in a heap onto the path.

The girl wasn’t moving, and Phil was concerned that they had given her too much sedative. As he unfolded the stretcher, Rodney was going through her pockets. Finding her phone, he turned and flung it as hard as he could, across the driveway, to the opposite side. It landed out of sight, close to a large tree. Phil put the stretcher next to her, and they rolled her over onto it. Rod took the pillowcase from a pocket in his overalls, and slipped it over her head. Then he picked up the school bag, and hung it around his body, before going back to get the dart from where it had fallen onto the ground. He placed the crossbow and dart between the girl’s legs, and nodded at Phil. “Ready? Let’s go”.

Despite her size, the girl didn’t feel too heavy on the stretcher. Two strong men made light work of carrying her back to the car, and they were there in no time. Phil was surprised at how normal it felt, as if they did it all the time. He had calmed down a lot, losing all of that previous panic. Once the dart had hit the girl, there was no going back. And that had made him feel much better, finally committed to what they had done. At the car, Rod wrapped some of the strong tape around her shoes, pinning her legs together so she couldn’t kick out if she woke up. Then he did the same with her hands, moving them behind her back before securing them. When he was happy with his preparations, they lifted her from the stretcher into the car, making sure to lay her on her side, so she couldn’t choke or suffocate. Rod placed the crossbow and dart to the side of her, then wedged the school bag behind her, to keep her in position.

As Rod went to close the lid of the boot, Phil reached in. He felt uncomfortable that he could see up her skirt, and pulled it down to cover her up. Rod smiled and shook his head. “She won’t know any different, mate. She’s out of it”. As the lid slammed, Rod handed the keys over. “You drive. Go slowly, and stop as you reach the tarmac road”. Rod reached inside the back, and took out the lawn rake. As Phil crept the car forward in low gear, his friend walked backwards behind it, moving the rake back and forth. You had to give him credit for thinking about that. No tyre tracks, and any possible footprints erased. Once the car was on the proper road, Rod jumped back in, all smiles. He clapped his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Well, we did it. And it went without a hitch”.

Phil drove back to his flat before handing the keys back. Rod slipped into the driver’s seat, looking incredibly relaxed. “Now don’t forget. Tomorrow, you go to the house as normal, intending to clean the windows. Act calm, act surprised if they say anything, OK? Don’t overthink it, leave the thinking to me”. Inside the flat, Phil opened a can of beer and switched on the TV. He changed the channel to rolling news, and waited.

George checked on the horse before he left work. It took him almost an hour to walk home from the Calder house, but he didn’t mind. It was a good job, and he was left alone to do it. Wandering up the driveway that afternoon, he enjoyed gazing at the trees lining it. There was no chance he would notice a mobile phone lying next to one of them.

When Marjorie wasn’t home by five, Marta telephoned the taxi company. They called the driver on the radio, and confirmed that she had been dropped off by the gate as usual, at her own request. So Marta rang Marjorie’s phone, and after six rings, it went to answerphone. She left a message, asking where she was, and what she was doing. Twenty minutes later, she decided to walk around the house and grounds. Maybe the girl was in the stables, or hanging around by the pool? Could she have crept up to her room without being noticed? Marjorie’s room was empty, and she wasn’t in any of the bathrooms, or other rooms in the house. The horse was in its pen in the stables, and the pool area was deserted too. Marta was concerned, mainly because that had never happened before. The girl always came into the kitchen after school to get a snack. Before she ever did anything else, that was a routine she never changed. She phoned George’s mobile. He sounded a little out of breath, still walking home. No, he hadn’t seen Marjorie. He had settled Prince, then closed up and left for home as usual.

Marta checked the clock in the hall. It was almost six.

She dialled the emergency number, and asked for the police.

By the time the first officers responded to Marta’s call, it was getting dark. They did a search of the house and surrounding areas, ignoring Marta’s protestations that she had already done that. As she insisted that they should use more men to search, and that Marjorie had never been late, ever, they continued to write down the names and addresses of her school, and any one else Marta could think of. They asked for a photo, but the only one Marta had was from the girl’s eighth birthday, so useless. The two policewomen didn’t seem to be taking it very seriously. They kept suggesting that Marjorie might be with a boy, or have gone home with a school-friend. When she told them about the taxi dropping her at the gate, they just shrugged, and said that didn’t mean she had actually come to the house.

It took some time for Marta to sort out how to view the CCTV on a computer in Mr Calder’s office, but that at least confirmed Marjorie had not approached the house after the taxi left. When the two women just kept exchanging bored looks, Marta finally lost her temper. “We are talking about a fifteen year old girl here. She left school, and was dropped at the gate by a taxi. After that, she disappeared, and anything could have happened to her. Stop asking me about boys, she never had any boyfriends. And stop asking about friends at school, she never had any of those either. Mr Calder is an influential man, and you are putting his daughter in danger by not taking this seriously”. The older policewoman looked at the young one, and shrugged. “OK, call it in from the car”.

The first thing Marjorie noticed was the smell. Heavy, musky, and something else. Sour shit. She opened her eyes, and ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth. It was dry, really dry. Her arms and legs felt heavy too, unresponsive, sluggish. Then a loud sound startled her. Something like a maniacal cackling, rising to a crescendo. Chimpanzees. It was chimps, she was sure of it. Had she gone to sleep, and left the TV on? The memory suddenly kicked in. Something sharp had hit her leg, and it felt like she had been kicked, hard. She remembered something; a syringe, perhaps, and then running. She reached out a heavy hand, and found the end of a thin mattress. She was definitely lying on something soft, and she could feel a dull ache in her left leg. Trying to rub it, she watched her hand move up and down her thigh, but had no sense of actually feeling the fingers. Her eyes felt heavy, and try as she might, she had to surrender to the sleepiness that overwhelmed her.

Tina Collier was tidying some files when a uniformed officer knocked on her office door and walked in. He was holding a sheet of paper. “This has just come in from a patrol car, boss. A missing schoolgirl, fifteen. Her name is Marjorie Calder, daughter of Tom Calder, that rich guy. She left school on time, and never made it home. Do you want to take it?” Tina grabbed the paper and scanned it quickly. “Yes that’s for us, leave it with me”. The officer looked pleased, and left. Marching out into the main detective office, Tina could see that there were only three who hadn’t already gone home. She raised her voice, grandstanding the moment. “Listen up! We have a missing teenage girl. Get on the phones, and get everyone back in. Call down to the uniform Duty Officer and tell him I said to keep everyone on for a search. Someone contact County Headquarters and tell them I need the helicopter and dog teams, maybe the underwater search team too. Get hold of the patrol car officers and tell them to stay at the house until relieved”. The three detectives were still frozen to the spot. One had his outdoor coat half on, and another was putting her shoes on. Tina walked forward, and clapped her hands. “NOW!”

As they reluctantly started to do as she asked, Tina walked over to a large whiteboard on the wall. She wrote Marjorie’s name, age, and address at the top, then added ‘Time last seen 16:30’. Without turning, she yelled, “She was dropped off by a taxi. Someone find out the name of the taxi company, and tell them I want the driver in here within the hour. Sooner if possible”.

When the girl started to stir, Rodney grabbed the mask and pulled it over his head. He had forgotten to tie the clinical face mask first, so quickly pulled the Scream mask off, and did that before putting it back on. He waited for her to say something, but she didn’t. The night duty staff were putting the chimps inside for their evening meal, and they were making one hell of a racket. Rodney wondered if that had woken her up, and braced himself for the inevitable confrontation. But she just kept trying to rub her leg where the dart had gone in, and though her eyes were looking straight in his direction, she didn’t appear to be able to see him. When she slumped back to sleep, he took the mask off, settling down to wait for a bit longer.

There was nothing on the news. Phil had watched it for almost two hours, and was on his fourth can of beer. No reports of a missing girl, on either the national or local bulletins. Maybe they hadn’t missed her yet. He put a spaghetti bolognese into the microwave, and turned the dial. Although he didn’t actually feel like eating, he knew he had to have something. All he could think of was Rod and the girl, and those old cages in the Zoo.

He hoped it was all going to plan.

It was an elephant. Undeniably, the trumpeting of an elephant. Marjorie stirred, and this time she was awake. Across the room, Rodney pulled the mask on hurriedly.

There was that smell again. Unfamiliar, yet familiar, overwhelming her senses as she came round. Marjorie pushed up on one arm, and sat crossed-legged on the thin mattress, suddenly aware that she didn’t have her shoes on anymore. Her left hand moved to her thigh, rubbing the dull ache once again. As her vision cleared, she could see the bars a few feet in front of her, a padlock securing what seemed to be a sliding door. Across the room, there was someone sitting on a chair, a man, his arm resting on the table next to it. He was wearing a mask, the face from the film ‘Scream’. It took no time at all to realise that she was in an animal cage, and that the person opposite had obviously put her in there. A familiar feeling lower down her body told her something else. She badly needed to pee.

Looking around, Marjorie could see that the caged area was quite large. In the corner opposite the mattress was a big white plastic box. It had a lid on it, and a roll of toilet paper to one side. On the mattress were two pillows, one much larger than the other, resting on a folded sleeping bag. And on the floor to her left, three two-litre bottles of mineral water. An old-fashioned lamp was throwing out some light next to the bottles, and next to the man, a table-lamp illuminated the other side of the room. When he didn’t say anything, she spoke up instead. “Is that mask supposed to scare me? Well, it doesn’t. I watched that film when I was much younger, and just laughed at it. Why have you brought me here? Are you going to rape me? I can tell I’m in a zoo, so I presume it is the City Zoo. That wasn’t a very clever choice on your part, was it?” She pushed her glasses back firmly onto the bridge of her nose before continuing.
“And I need to pee, like now. Or I will just wet myself”.

Rodney had expected her to scream, to be terrified, to have to reassure her she would come to no harm and be released once the ransom was paid. He hadn’t expected her to be talking nineteen to the dozen, and acting as if she got kidnapped on a regular basis. He pointed to the box in the corner. She wasn’t impressed. “What, you want me to piss in a box, with you looking?” Rodney cleared his throat. “I will stand with my back to you until you have finished”. He pronounced each word slowly, doing his best to sound like a robot, and to hide his local accent. She heard him, but wasn’t about to make life easy for him. “You are going to have to speak up. I can hardly make out what you are saying through that stupid mask”. Rodney stood up, walked into the corner by the steel door, and faced the wall. Marjorie needed to pee so badly, she was past caring anyway. She hitched up her skirt, and lifted the top off of the box. Sliding down her underwear, she squatted over it, and relieved herself, not even remotely embarrassed at the noise of the fluid rattling against the plastic.

Inspector Collier was writing on the whiteboard. She loved to outline everything on a big board, then stand back to get an overview. Everyone had turned up by now, and she was allocating tasks constantly, making sure nobody was sitting idly. She had the taxi driver waiting to give a statement downstairs, and the patrol car was bringing in the housekeeper. One of the guys was on the way to interview the gardener, and if he didn’t have an alibi, he would be coming in too. Thomas Calder was in Australia, doing some big deal. They hadn’t been able to speak to him, but an assistant had taken a message, then promised her boss would call back soon. Danielle hadn’t bothered to put her shoes on after all, and she called out from her desk. “Boss, the Chief Constable is on the phone, he will only speak to you”. Tina walked over to the desk. Before hitting the button to take the call off hold, she spoke to the young detective. “Get on to the pizza place. Order enough for everyone, I will pay when they arrive. We won’t be going home tonight, that’s for sure”. Danielle nodded, and Tina clicked the button. “Collier here sir”.

Marjorie was surprised that the man hadn’t turned to look at her when she was squatting over the box. He had kept his word about that, and she wasn’t sure whether or not to be offended that he hadn’t wanted to look. She shook that strange thought from her brain, and spoke again. “I’m very hungry. Did you not think to bring me any food then?” He reached under the table and slid a container out. Walking over to the cage, he opened a slot in the bars, and slid the container in. It fitted the gap exactly. Watching him move around, she estimated he was quite young, probably under thirty. He was not that tall, and his slim build showed in the bagginess of the overalls. She leaned forward and looked into the open box. There was a sandwich in a plastic wrapper, two packets of crisps, a chocolate bar, and two bananas. Under the food she could see a selection of magazines, mostly fashion and pop music stuff.
As she opened the sandwich, she shook her head.

“This will do for a snack, but I will need something more later”.

Tina Collier tapped her foot impatiently as she listened to the Chief Constable ranting at her. She had overstepped her authority, spent too much money on overtime for officers, and was out of order requesting specialist units. She was only going to get the helicopter for thirty minutes, and the crew would do a thermal camera search. Search dogs would not be available until tomorrow, and she could forget any underwater teams unless she had some good reason to suspect the missing girl was in the water. Blah blah. He stopped talking, and when Tina said nothing, he finished with, “Don’t forget that most of these cases are solved by looking closely at the home life. Concentrate on the suspects you have already, and let’s not get over excited until we are sure she’s not out sitting in some burger bar somewhere”. Tina shook her head. The Chief will be sorry, she was sure of that. She barked, “Thank you, sir” into the phone, and hung up.

Phil’s head was spinning. A combination of too many beers, and too many hours of rolling news. Still nothing. No reports of a missing girl, nothing more exciting than a bad traffic accident on the motorway, and the visit of a foreign minister from China. He felt edgy about tomorrow morning, deciding that he would get out to the Calder house early, and get it over with.

Marjorie had finished all the food except for one banana, which she saved for later. After swigging some of the lukewarm mineral water, she turned to look at the man sitting next to the table. “This water is horrible. Couldn’t you have got me some Coke, or apple juice?” He didn’t reply. “So what’s this all about then? Why did you drug me and bring me to this crappy room? Is it a sex thing, or are you just a weirdo? If you intend keeping me here you should have got me a change of clothes. I am going to need clean underwear tomorrow, and somewhere to wash. I bet you didn’t think about any of that, did you?” Rodney preferred it when she was eating. At least she wasn’t firing questions at him when her mouth was full of food. The girl tipped over the open box, spilling the magazines onto the floor. “And these are rubbish. They’re all out of date too, like I would be interested in reading this crap anyway. At least give me back my school books, so I can do something useful while I’m sat here”. He hadn’t expected her to talk so much, and his head was beginning to ache.

Danielle put down a wobbly slice of four seasons pizza, and answered the phone. She nodded a few times, then hung up. “Boss, they have tracked Marjorie’s phone. It’s close to the house”. Tina nodded. “Good, tell the patrol officers to make a search for it, I’m going to talk to the taxi driver”. Marcus Weber had been sitting in the room for a long time. A uniformed officer stood by the door, a very bored expression on his face. The same door opened, and a grumpy looking woman entered, accompanied by a tall young man who didn’t look old enough to be a cop. They sat opposite, and she began to read from a file, without looking across at him. “Marcus Weber, born in South Africa, living here for the last fifteen years. Thirty-eight years old, divorced, no children. Formerly managed a cycle shop, and now a taxi driver”. He saw no need to reply, he knew all that anyway.

Tina suddenly looked up, a strange knowing smile spreading across her face. “So tell me Marcus, do you like young girls?” Marcus swallowed hard. He had come in voluntarily, to help out. But he didn’t like that question, or the tone of it. He sat back, and looked around the room. “I am answering no questions without a lawyer. Please arrange to get one for me”.

Rodney hoped the girl would stop talking soon. What was most annoying was that she was right. He hadn’t thought about clothes, or underwear. He expected her to wash in the cage, and had brought shower gel and a cloth for that. Hot water was easy enough to find around the Zoo too. But she wasn’t acting anything like he had imagined. No tears, no pleading, no apparent fear. In one respect, that might make things easier, as he wouldn’t have to keep trying to comfort her that nothing bad was going to happen. But he was at a complete loss as to why she was acting so calmly, and that confused him completely. He stood up, and walked closer to the bars. “You will not be raped, or harmed in any way. All we want is for your father to pay a ransom, and we will let you go. Until then, you will get food, be kept warm and comfortable, and nobody will touch you. If you cooperate, nothing bad will happen to you”. It was wearing to keep trying to talk in such a stilted fashion, pronouncing each word slowly and clearly, and he was aware that he had let it slip a few times.

Marjorie had noticed that he had said ‘We’. That meant he wasn’t acting alone. Despite her outward appearance and attitude, she had never been so terrified. Nobody knew where she was, and she was at the mercy of this man, and whoever was helping him. Her mind envisioned all manner of awful things that could happen to her, and now she knew it was a straightforward kidnapping, she was even more worried.

She couldn’t imagine Tom Calder paying so much as one pound to get her back.

Tina Collier looked at the whiteboard. She had already crossed out a lot, and had little more to add. They had decided not to bring in the housekeeper. She had made the call about the girl, raised the alarm, and seemed genuinely concerned. That didn’t mean she wasn’t involved, but for now Tina was happy that she had given a statement at the house. George the gardener had accounted for his movements. That gave him no sound alibi, but the detective who had spoken to him was convinced he was not up to doing anything. He would remain of interest, but that was that.
The taxi driver had pissed her off though. When his appointed lawyer had arrived, he suddenly provided a decent alibi. Only seven minutes after dropping Marjorie at the house, he had picked up a student three miles away. She hadn’t been in the car, as the student had put his rucksack in the boot, and sat in the back. After dropping him at the train station, Marcus had carried on working until being asked to come in to talk to the police.

The search of the grounds on foot and by helicopter had come up with nothing. The phone had been found, but the only activity was the call and message from Marta. A sweep of all the teenage hangouts in the town had shown no trace of the girl, and she hadn’t appeared on any CCTV since getting into the taxi. The school principal had been asked to search the school, which she had done with her caretaker. But Marjorie had not returned there either. Tina had come to the obvious conclusions. Either the girl’s body would eventually be found somewhere, or she had been abducted. She sent the team home for a few hours, making sure they all knew to be back bright and early the next day.

The man had left without saying when he would come back, and he hadn’t left any more food. So Marjorie was stuck with one banana, and that warm mineral water. He had plugged in an electric heater across the room before leaving, and it occurred to her that she might throw water on it, and short out the electrics. But if that only worked for this room, then she would be cold later on. When the lantern in the cage started to get dim, she shook it. Finding a handle on the side, she realised it was like one of those wind-up torches. After cranking it around for a couple of minutes, the light came back brighter than before. He had left her school bag in the cage too, but she had no enthusiasm for homework, not in that situation. Instead, she took out a plain notebook, and started to write things down on the page.

Phil hadn’t slept well. He had been worrying about this morning, and wanted to make sure he didn’t oversleep. There was very light traffic, so he arrived at the Calder House in no time at all. The outer gate was closed, and a policeman in uniform stood in front of it, holding a clipboard. As Phil applied the handbrake, the cop walked over to him. Phil dropped the window to speak to him.
“What’s your business here sir?” Phil jerked a thumb at the side of the van, doing his best to seem relaxed. The policeman read the sign, ‘City Window Cleaning Services’ and wrote that down on his board. Then he turned to Phil and asked for his name address, and date of birth. Phil gave the requested details, then raised his eyebrows. “This is a bit much officer. I clean the windows every month, and don’t usually have to tell anyone all that stuff”.

The sour-faced man ignored him, and walked away to talk into his radio. When he returned, he had another questions. “When were you last here?” Phil smiled. “Last month. Like I said, I clean the windows every month”. The cop wrote that down too, then walked around to the front of the van and wrote down the number on the registration plate. Walking back to the window, he waved his free hand. “Turn it around and leave, you won’t be needed here today. Someone from headquarters will be in touch. You will need to make a statement later”. Phil shook his head, feigning confusion. “Why’s that then? What’s happened?” He got no answer, and watched as the man walked back to stand at the gate. As he drove back to the main road, Phil was trembling. So far, so good. But he still hadn’t heard from Rod.

Sleeping in a Zoo wasn’t easy. There was a lot of noise. Marjorie had never thought about that before. She presumed the animals just slept peacefully all night. But they sure didn’t. Having to pee had got her out of the sleeping bag, and she had no inclination to try to get back to sleep after. The table lamp hadn’t helped either. He had left that on and the glow had meant she had to lay on her side, away from the light. Once he had left last night, she had tried shouting. Then she had banged the plastic food box against the bars until her arm ached. Nobody had come, and even if they had heard her above the calls of the animals, they probably hadn’t though anything of it.

She was going back over the notes she had written, when the clang of the main steel door made her jump. The man was carrying a McDonald’s bag in one hand, and she could smell the food. He slid the trap open, and pointed to the plastic tray. Marjorie grabbed it, and slid it through. It was a breakfast meal, and there was also a thick shake, and a large cola. The fact that the food was still warm confirmed what Marjorie knew. She was in the City Zoo. There was a huge McDonald’s on the main road that led to it. As she started to gulp down her breakfast, the man returned with a bucket of hot water. He poured that into another plastic tray, and slid it through the opening. That was followed by some shower gel, a towel, washcloth, and a double pack of brand new men’s briefs, size medium. She was just about to swallow the hash brown in her mouth and tell him she wasn’t going to wear men’s underwear, when he suddenly turned and left.

It was going to be a long day. But at least there was an apple pie in the bottom of the bag.

When he finished work, Rodney went round to see Phil. As his friend started to fire questions at him, he raised a hand to stop him, then spread out some maps he was carrying onto the carpet in front of the small sofa. “I think I have found the perfect spot for the drop, I’ll show you on the map. Oh, and I will post the ransom demand tomorrow, once I have some evidence from the girl. Don’t worry, I will wear gloves, and I won’t lick the envelope or stamp”. Phil wanted to ask him what was happening at the Zoo, but his friend was already showing him something on the map.

The call had finally come in from Tom Calder. He wanted to offer a reward for any information leading to finding Marjorie. He also wanted them to mount a televised appeal, spread the story to the newspapers, and get it all on social media too. When Tina asked how much reward he was offering, he suggested she use the word ‘substantial’. She tried to caution him against any reward, as she knew only too well that would bring out the cranks, and stir up a rat’s nest of chancers, giving her team too much work. But he said if she didn’t say it, he would just issue his own press release. And he wasn’t coming back from Australia anytime soon. He told her the deal was too important, and he couldn’t do anything practical if he came home anyway.
Tina had got a photo from the school. It was only a few months old, and showed the girl face-on, in school uniform. Perfect.

Phil had to agree that the drop site looked promising. Rod had driven past it many times, and it wasn’t until the kidnapping that the idea of using it had come to him. He had finally answered Phil’s questions too. Yes, the girl was alright. No, she wasn’t screaming and crying. Yes, she had used the box-toilet. No, she hadn’t refused the food and was starving herself. No, Rod hadn’t attracted any attention at the Zoo. As Phil thought of his next question, Rodney stood up. “I have to leave and get back to her, take her some food. She’s been on her own all day while I have been working”. As he tidied up the maps, Phil told him about the cop taking his details, and saying he would have to give a statement. Rod picked up his car keys and tried to reassure his friend. “Come on mate, we knew that would happen, and you know what to say. Right? They can’t tie you to the girl, or anything to do with the kidnapping. Just brazen it out”. Phil nodded and smiled. Inside, he didn’t feel so certain.

As soon as he walked back through the heavy door, the girl started nagging him. “Where have you been all day? I’m hungry now, and it’s past my dinner time. And I had to use that box for a poo, so you had better get it emptied or I won’t be lifting that lid to use it again, I can tell you. Did you not bring me any clothes? I can’t believe that, I’ve been wearing these forever, and had to sleep in them”. Rodney waited until she calmed down. He felt like someone coming home to a nagging wife in one of those old comedy shows on TV. Not at all like returning to the secret location of a supposedly terrified kidnapped teenager.

Marjorie had used the water to wash in as soon as she had finished eating breakfast. She had stripped off in the cage, and stood with her back to the door in case he returned. Afterwards, she had enjoyed the fresh feeling of being clean. Also, the men’s underpants had been surprisingly comfortable to wear, and not a bad fit either. She hadn’t bothered to put the tights back on though. The feet of them were dirty from where she had no shoes on, and there was no way she was wrapping them back around her clean body. The day had really dragged, even with going over all the ideas in her notebook, and adding some new ones. By the time she had worked out it was really late, she was beginning to look forward to his return, if for nothing else but to be able to complain. As well as the fact it would mean she hadn’t just been left there to die.

Rodney slid the Chinese food through the trap, along with a new man’s-size sweatshirt bought in a cheap shop on the trading estate. There were also two pairs of thick sports socks, new in a packet. Marjorie disarmed him with a sweet smile. “Before I eat the food, could you please change this toilet-box-thing? I really don’t want to eat in the same room as my poo”. She watched as the man walked to the side of the cage, and opened up a larger gap in the bars. It was big enough for a lion to walk through, so she could easily have slid through it. But there seemed little point. She pushed the box through, and he closed the gap up, snapping a small padlock into place. She picked up the two cartons, and the plastic spoon and fork next to them. As she walked back to the mattress, he spoke to her. “I need your hairbrush. I won’t keep it, you can have it straight back”. From the corner by the door, he produced a big bottle of Pepsi, at least a two-litre. “You can have this if you give me no trouble over the brush”.

Reaching inside her bag for the brush, Marjorie thought fast. Why did he want it? Hair of course. DNA. Proof that they actually had Marjorie Calder. She smiled as she turned around holding it. “Here, you can have it. But it won’t do you much good. He’s not my real father you know, he just adopted me. So they won’t get a DNA match”. She couldn’t see his face under the mask, but as he didn’t respond, she knew she had guessed right. “You didn’t know that, did you? He married my Mum, and adopted me later”. Rodney thought about that for a minute, wondering what to do next. The girl put the brush on the mattress, and reached both hands up to her neck, feeling under the collar of her shirt. They came back holding a gold necklace, with a large ‘M’ dangling from the centre. She walked forward and held it though the bars.

“Send them this. Then Marta will know it is really me that you have”.

As Rodney reached out to take the gold necklace, Marjorie spoke again. “Before you send this, and start everything in motion, I have some ideas that you might want to listen to. Why don’t you sit down and let me explain?” Rodney took the necklace into his gloved hand, wondering what she was going on about. But it couldn’t hurt to hear what she had to say. He nodded, and walked back to sit at the hard chair next to the table. Before she started talking, the girl opened a notebook on the floor, and started to spoon some of the Chinese food into her mouth.

No suspects. Tina Collier couldn’t believe that. Suspects were all you really had to go on, with cases like this. If it was an abduction, there was no ransom demand. If it was a murder, there was no body so far. She had started to wonder if the girl had gone off on her own accord, just run away perhaps. The press release would start a scramble, but it also might flush out the girl, if she was hiding somewhere. Tina also thought about the chances of domestic or sexual abuse. An adoptive step-father, a teenager with no friends, brought up by a hard-faced housekeeper. The permutations were many, and all possible. She straightened her jacket, slipped on her ‘TV shoes’, and walked into the room. Sitting in front of a large projection of Marjorie’s school photo, she waited until all the flashguns had stopped, and started to speak.
It would make the evening news, just.

Swallowing some noodles, Marjorie began. “It seems to me that you haven’t planned this very well. You obviously have a partner, as you said ‘We’. I don’t know how reliable that partner is, but I hope you can count on him or her. You know nothing about me it seems, except where I live, and that my father is presumably rich. I expect you intend to ask for a lot of money, and that will have to be dropped off somewhere?” Rodney crossed his legs and nodded. She took the chance to stuff in some more of the chicken, and carried on with her mouth full. “That’s never going to work. The money will be tracked or marked, whatever they say to the contrary. And it will be a huge parcel, however it’s packed. They will either catch you trying to collect it, or find you later. You will never be able to spend the money, don’t you see that?”
He didn’t reply, so she finished the food before continuing. “And I know that you work at the Zoo. How else could you get in and out so easily? You are slim, probably under thirty, and from the smell of you I am guessing you work with the animals, not in the administration. So you won’t be able to let me go, as it would take no time at all for the police to work out which Zoo employee was responsible. You will have to kill me, you see that, don’t you? You might just as well take off that mask and talk to me normally, because based on your plan, I am never getting out of here alive”.

Rodney was pale-faced behind the hot mask. She was right of course. Collecting the money was always going to be a huge problem, even though he was well-aware they wouldn’t have been able to spend it for a very long time. And using the Zoo had been flawed, as she would easily have been able to tell the authorities where she had been held captive. Even if he and Phil had left the city to live elsewhere, it would be a life on the run for them, forever. The girl’s voice shook him from his gloomy thoughts.

“I have a much better plan. One that doesn’t involve me getting killed, you getting caught, or even involving the police. Do you want to hear it?” Rodney nodded, and she opened another page in the notebook. “Take me away from here, removing the chance of me being discovered somehow. I will go willingly, and hide in the boot of your car, which is how I presume you brought me here. Take me to your house, or one where your partner lives, and I will just stay there, and bring no attention to myself. In a couple of weeks, I will be sixteen, so legal in the eyes of the law. Meanwhile, I will be able to get you a lot of money, and some for myself too. I know how to access the Trust Account set up for me by my mother. There is around five million in there, and I am not supposed to be able to get any of it until I am eighteen. But she gave me the password years ago, and they don’t know that. Can I have that Pepsi now, please?”

He walked over with the bottle, and passed it through the slot. He was trying to take in what she had said, as she opened the top and started to gulp down the cola. After a very satisfied and rather startling burp, she started again.

“So, it’s like this. I wait at your place, or wherever. No ransom demand, no police, no discovery, no collecting money. And no need to kill me. The day after my sixteenth birthday, I reappear. I say I was unhappy at home, lonely and neglected, and ran away to stay with a friend. I refuse to tell them where I stayed, or who with. I say I am sorry for all the fuss, but I feel better now, and it won’t happen again. Meanwhile, I will need a good Internet signal, and a laptop. I will create an account for you, and transfer money from my Trust Fund into it. You can take it out from whatever the bank we use. It will be a gift, not extortion. Then when I am eighteen, I get the rest anyway, as well as being the official next of kin of one of the richest men in the country. I go back to the house, bide my time, and wait for the fortune to come in the future. What do you say?”

Rodney spoke normally through the mask. “Why would you do that? You will get the money anyway, so why would you just give some to us, and then not tell anyone about us after?” Marjorie smiled. “Yes that’s true, I could do that. But I want to stay alive, and this is the best way I can see of doing it. Even though you may not have set out to kill me, if you go down the ransom route, you will really have no choice. This way, I will give you a million each, and still have enough to last my entire life. Think about it. No police involved, no worrying about having to hide me, and no real need to rely on your accomplice. And if later on I decided to say it was a kidnap, and I played along by illegally transferring money before I was entitled to it, I doubt that would go down too well with Tom Calder, believe me”.

He wasn’t convinced, but he could see the girl’s plan had been thought through, and it was better than his, undoubtedly. Her tone was matter of fact, as she spoke again. “I will need a clean toilet box soon, whatever you decide. Thanks for the Pepsi, and I enjoyed the Chinese food. You have to work out if you can trust me, I understand that. But as you don’t know me, I guess you will have to go with your gut feelings”.

After a few minutes in complete silence, Rodney took off the mask.

Marjorie looked at her captor. With or without the mask, he wasn’t remotely scary. In fact, he was very ordinary. Unattractive, tired-looking, and maybe not much over twenty-five.

She pressed her advantage.

“You might as well take me away from here tonight. There’s nobody around at the Zoo at this hour, and you could pick me up something to eat on the way. We could soon clear up this cage, and the room, then there would be no trace of me ever being here”.

Rodney handed back the necklace. He didn’t want to be accused of taking it for no reason, and besides, he could ever chance trying to sell it. Unlocking the main door of the cage, he was still unsure if she would just try to run. But she didn’t. She just tidied up her stuff, and slid out the mattress and lantern. A quick check to make sure that nothing of hers remained in the cage, and she walked out, standing next to the young man.

“I will need my shoes. Can I have them back?”

He slid them out from under the table by the wall. “I just didn’t want you kicking anything, and hurting yourself”. Marjorie smiled inside. He was already apologising, and she was still in the room at the Zoo. She grinned, acting in a friendly manner. “What could I have kicked? I just ended up with cold feet”. His expression was sheepish. “Sorry. I didn’t think. Hang on here for a minute, and I will come and get you when the car is turned around and ready. OK?” She nodded, clutching her school bag as she awkwardly struggled into the heavy shoes. He stopped at the metal door, and turned. “Just get your personal stuff. I will sort out everything else tomorrow”.

Tina Collier thought she might just as well head off home. All sorts of nut cases were ringing in with information, trying to claim the reward. They had supposed sightings in London and Glasgow, and one as far away as Vienna. She shook her head in frustration, and spoke to the room, her voice flat and angry. “This is all bollocks. I told Calder what would happen. Now we are tucked up with dealing with close to six hundred sightings that are going to all be fictitious. Or I will eat my very large shoes!”

The man moved her quickly into the car. It was parked surprisingly close to where she had been held, in an area that appeared to be derelict. As she rolled into the boot, she heard an animal cry that she didn’t recognise at all. It must have been at least ten minutes before she smiled, and spoke to herself. “Gibbons”.

Phil hadn’t been called into the police station yet, and was shitting himself waiting for the call. He hadn’t seen Rod since the maps thing, and wondered what the hell was going on. But he couldn’t call or text. That was the arrangement, part of the plan. And he had to stick to the plan. He had another can of beer, and checked his watch. Was it too early to go to bed? Sleep might be hard to come by, but it might quieten his whirring thoughts.

Rodney drove the car around in circles deliberately. No need to let her work out the route, just in case. He still wasn’t sure if he should take her to his place, but a hotel would want a credit card deposit, and might well think something funny about such a young girl checking in with him. If he was going to go with her plan, then he might just as well take her to his flat. If she was going to grass them up, it made no difference either way. After completing a second turn around the ring road, he pulled the car to a halt outside his block. As he waited for the coast to clear, all he could think of was that his small flat was like a tip. It was two weeks since he had changed the bed, and there was at least five day’s worth of washing up in the sink.

After fifteen minutes of waiting until the street was clear, he opened the boot of the car and helped her out. Ushering her into the entrance at some speed, he hoped she wouldn’t remember enough about the location to think to bring the authorities there. She had her bag with her, and had left nothing in the car that could be construed as evidence. At least as far as he could tell.

The first thing that Marjorie noticed was the smell. Musty, unwashed, unfamiliar. Then when he put the light on, she took a sharp intake of breath. Turning to look to him, she put her hands on her hips, and shook her head. “What a shit-hole! Don’t you ever clean up around here? For God’s sake, don’t you have any self-respect?” Rodney forgot that he was the kidnapper, and blushed. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were coming, did I? Sit down a minute, and I will tidy up. Then I will phone up and get us some food delivered”.

Marjorie sat on the sticky, shiny sofa, and wrapped her arms around her bag, trying to look scared and upset.
But try as she might to do that, she could only manage to look pleased with herself.

Tina Collier was looking at an almost blank file on her desk. Danielle stood on the other side, waiting for instructions. “Philip Harper, twenty-four, window cleaner. No arrests, no convictions, no known associates, not even a speeding ticket”. Tina looked up at Danielle. “So the only reason he is in for questioning is because he cleans Calder’s windows? Talk about clutching at straws, Danni”. The younger detective shrugged. “Well boss, he would know the house, the layout and such. But there is no real reason to suspect him otherwise. His neighbours confirm that his work van was parked outside all night, and he claims to have been home watching TV and drinking lager. Nothing on his laptop or phone worth chasing up, and his movements since the girl went missing can all be confirmed by the window cleaning company. He’s just a boring young bloke with not much going on in his life”.

Tina sighed. “Well, as he’s here, I might as well talk to him. No, in fact, you interview him. I really can’t be arsed. As it is I will probably be here half the night, sorting through all the bogus sightings generated by that bloody press conference”.

Phil was sitting in the small room trying not to look too nervous. A little bit nervous was OK. After all, he was in a Police Station. He had declined legal representation, and they had told him he would have to wait until a detective was free. On the phone, they had asked him to come in, and to bring his laptop and phone, if he gave permission for those to be looked at. He had said he would come in after work the next day, but they said tonight was good, if he was free. He felt it was important to cooperate, so had arrived as arranged. The girl walked in with a tall skinny bloke. She was good-looking, and seemed to him to be too attractive to be a policewoman. But he didn’t really know any, so had nothing to base that on. She said it was an informal interview, nothing taped, and no need for a caution. Phil nodded.

Ten minutes later, he was back outside, walking to his van. He had sat around for a couple of hours, then all she asked him was more or less what she already knew. They had returned his laptop and phone, sealed in big plastic bags, and thanked him for coming in. When the girl finished talking, Phil hadn’t been unable to stop himself blurting out, “Is that it, then?” She shuffled her files and nodded. “For now, but we may still want to question you again later. Please let us know if you intend to move house, or leave the city”.

In Rodney’s flat, he was watching Marjorie, amazed how much the girl could eat. She had asked or a twelve-inch stuffed crust pizza, plus garlic bread, dough balls, and ice cream for later. It was all gone except for some crispy crust edges, and she was now swallowing down almost half of a two-litre bottle of Pepsi. In between bites, she had rattled off a list of things she said she needed, as well as things she thought he should do.

“You had better write this down”. She waited until he got a pen.
“I will need panty-pads by tomorrow night, as my period is due.
You had better go to a big supermarket outside the city, buy them with lots of other stuff so they will just be unnoticed on the conveyor.
You can get me some more of those men’s briefs too, I don’t mind them.
Also some jogging trousers, or pyjama bottoms, so I don’t have to sit around in this skirt.
Make sure you get plenty of Coke or Pepsi too, I am not going to drink tap water, I assure you of that. And get lots of easy meals, you know, microwave stuff. I don’t fancy eating anything cooked in your kitchen, it looks absolutely filthy”.
She paused, swallowing a dough-ball whole, then carried on talking.

“And you will need one of those pre-paid Mobile Internet dongles. You don’t want to be using your home broadband once I start with the transactions, it will be too easy to trace later. We won’t need too much credit on it, and you can just destroy it later, or throw it in the river.
And get a basic pack of duvet cover, pillowcase, and sheet. Even your supposedly clean bed-sheets look yukky, and I won’t be spending more than one night on those, I can tell you”.
Don’t forget to get me lots of crisps, I like the ridged ones.
And some chocolate too. It helps me think straight”.

Rodney waited until he was sure she had finally stopped talking, and started to check the list. He had never realised that one person could go on so much, and he could easily believe that they might not have wanted her back at all.

Although it was close to eleven at night, Rodney sent a text to Phil. It was deliberately informal, chatty. ‘Phil mate. Pop round here after work tomorrow. We can have a couple of beers and a chat, be good to see you’. He knew he had to let Phil know what had happened, and decided it was best if he just came and saw for himself.

Marjorie was shouting from the sofa. “I can’t get Netflix on this stupid TV! And make sure there’s enough hot water, I will be having a bath before I go to bed”.
He was beginning to wonder if her being there was such a good idea.

The next morning, Rodney was surprised to find the girl was still there, fast asleep in his bed. He had spent an uncomfortable night on the sofa, fully expecting her to try to escape, or perhaps scream, smash a window, anything to alert the outside world to her presence. He had intended to lock her in when he went to work, but as she seemed happy enough not to try any funny business, he just shut the door as he left at the usual time for an early shift.

Once at work, he zipped through his own regular duties, then took an early break. In the old Lion house, he removed the new padlocks he had used, and put them in his pocket. Then he grabbed the mattress, box, lantern, and any trace that the girl was ever held there. He loaded it all onto one of the carts they used, and took it off to the incinerator. Once it was all consigned to the flames, he finally relaxed.

Marjorie slept late. When she was up and about, she checked the front door. Not locked. Interesting. Then she picked the post off the mat behind it. She shook her head at how stupid this young man was. In her hand, she held a letter addressed to him. And not just any letter, a bank statement. She walked back into the bedroom, and put the letter into the bottom of her school bag. Now she knew his name, bank account details, and the address where she was staying. She sat back on the bed, and wiggled her toes. To the empty room, she said, “How dumb can you get?” And laughed out loud.

The Chief Constable was on a roll. Tina decided she must get more sleep, if she was going to put up with being told off by him at that volume, for so long. She waited until he stopped to catch his breath, and interrupted. “That’s correct, sir. We have no suspects as we don’t even know if we have a crime. There is no body, no trace of the girl anywhere, no ransom demand, and nothing on CCTV. My best guess is that she has run away, and I think we need to focus on possible abuse in the home”. He didn’t like her tone, or her answers, and told her so. Tina took a large breath, and replied. “To be honest sir, if you don’t like my handling of this case, then by all means give it to another team. I really don’t know what more I can do. If you have any direct orders for me, or even one suggestion on how I can progress this beyond a missing person case, then I am happy to hear it”.

The phone went dead. He obviously had no idea either.

Cleaning the windows at the private school was always a drag. There was a caretaker who followed him around, a real jobsworth. But Phil managed to get finished by three, and the bloke signed his form to agree that the job was satisfactory. He knew Rod would definitely be home by five, so he would go straight round after getting changed out of his work clothes. He was excited to hear how things were going, and pleasantly surprised that he hadn’t been called upon to deliver a ransom note as yet.

There had been nothing about her on the lunchtime news on TV. Marjorie was a little surprised by that, and decided she should feel neglected that she wasn’t the headline story. It might be on the regional news later. She brushed her hair, put on some make up, and got dressed. No point letting her standards slip, or allowing the kidnapper to think she was slovenly. Rodney Church, that was his name. But she wouldn’t let on that she knew it. Not yet. After eating some corn flakes left out for her, she did a good search of the flat. It was only living room, bedroom, bathroom, and a small kitchen, so it didn’t take too long. In a jumble of paperwork stored in the bedside cabinet, she found a death certificate in the name of Margaret Ann Church. She guessed that must be his mother. There was a rental agreement for the flat, at an agreed price of £475 a month, and a few old mobile phone bills. With nothing much else to interest her in the pile, she opened the bank statement. He had less than two hundred in the bank, and it was a while until payday, according to the transactions.
No wonder he had kidnapped her. The guy was almost broke.

Finding her still there when he got home was strangely reassuring. And she didn’t start talking straight away, which was good. Rodney had got the shopping she had suggested, and the Internet thing too. A young girl in the phone shop had known what it was, and he was in and out of there in five minutes. He had also brought back some McDonalds, to save messing around that evening. When she spotted the Big Mac meal and shake, the girl took it without saying anything, and sat down on the sofa to eat it. As she was munching away, he spoke to her. “Someone is coming around soon. A friend of mine. The man who helped me”. She nodded, mumbling through a mouthful of burger. “Your accomplice”. He smiled, and continued. “Whatever, but I don’t want you to say too much about things. Let me explain what’s going on. Maybe you can stay in the bedroom when he arrives? I just want to put him in the picture, let him now that you are going to sort out the money. He might freak out if he sees you here as soon as he walks in”.

Marjorie finished the milk shake with an unladylike slurping and bubbling sound. She put down the cup and looked up at Rodney, giving him her best sweetly disarming smile.

“Of course”.

He immediately knew there was something wrong. For one thing, Rod’s flat was tidy. And his friend was smiling too much, grinning like a chimp. Maybe he was spending too much time at the Zoo.

“Phil mate, great to see you. Come in, take a seat. Fancy a beer?”. He accepted the cold can, getting in quick before Rod started talking again. “So what’s happening with the girl, Rod? Has she said much? Is she causing trouble? I went to see the police, but they just asked me a few questions and let me go. There’s nothing on the news about a ransom. What are you doing about the note?” He cracked the ring pull to sip the beer, and a voice from behind made him almost drop the can.

“The girl is fine, and causing no trouble”. Phil spun around and his mouth dropped open. Marjorie stood in front of him smiling. She didn’t have her glasses on, and her make-up looked heavy. Her skirt was even shorter than when he had helped to put her in the car, and she was wearing a white T-shirt, with quite obviously no bra on underneath it. He guessed it was one of Rod’s T-shirts, as it was very tight on her. He snapped his head back to look at Rod, but his friend was holding his head in his hands, and shaking it from side to side. Still staring at the shaking head, he put the can back on the coffee table and his mouth moved slowly as he spoke. “Well, I’m waiting. Let’s hear it”.

Marjorie watched carefully, taking in this new guy. He was quite good-looking, with a mop of blonde hair, and a square jaw. Fitter-looking than Rodney, with strong arms and wide shoulders. He looked smart too, with a clean-shaven face, and wearing a fashionable polo shirt and chinos. Even his brown loafers were polished. She slipped down onto the sofa next to him, crossing her legs to make sure he got a good look. When he turned to look at her, she flapped her false eyelashes, and smiled. “Why don’t I tell you what’s happening? Sorry, I didn’t get your name. Rodney forgot to tell me”.

Tom Calder was on the phone to Marta, asking a lot of questions that she didn’t know the answers to. There had been no sightings of Marjorie, she had told him that. The girl didn’t have a boyfriend, she had told him that too. No, the school couldn’t help, and no, there had been no bodies of teenage girls found anywhere in or around the city. After a long silence, his voice came back on the line, softer. “She will be sixteen soon, did you get her something, as I asked”. Marta told him about the gold necklace, and pretended that Marjorie had been thrilled with it. He hummed a little, as if not knowing what to say, then added, “Do you think she has run off, hiding somewhere maybe? Perhaps she is feeling lonely again, or trying to get attention. What do you think, Marta?”

It was unheard of for Mr Calder to ask her opinion, so Marta took full advantage. “She has nothing to run away from, Mr Calder. Her life is very comfortable here. Admittedly, she has no friends, but I cater to her every need, and she has everything a girl of her age could ever want. I am convinced something has happened to her. Perhaps she has been kidnapped. After all, you are known to be very rich. Then maybe it went wrong, and they can’t ask for the money. We are doing all we can here, I promise you. But the police are tied up with following leads about Marjorie, because you offered a reward. As far as I know, nothing has proved to be useful so far”. After another long silence, he came back, speaking in his usual tone, more businesslike. “I will be home in a few days, then I will make some calls, get things moving”. He hung up before she could say goodbye.

He listened to the girl explain the change of plans. It wasn’t easy to concentrate, as she kept wiggling her legs around, and he was trying so hard not to look up her skirt. When she finished talking, he looked over at Rod. “And you go along with this, Rod? You reckon this will work, and she won’t just keep all the money?” Rodney shrugged. “Phil mate, if we are not prepared to kill her, what else can we do?” It hadn’t even sunk in that she had used his name, or that Phil was using it now. Or that he had just called his friend Phil, in front of the girl. Marjorie chipped in, keeping the momentum going. “You might as well trust me, Phil. We all stand to gain when I turn sixteen next month. And I won’t be able to get you two in trouble, without incriminating myself. It’s only a few days until I am the birthday girl, not long to wait”.

Phil picked up the can of beer and swallowed it all in a series of gulps. Looking back at the girl, she was smiling so hard it was like she had eaten a whole bag of sweets. Across the room, Rod was grinning and nodding, still looking like a chimp. What really hurt was that Rod hadn’t got him involved, just gone ahead without consulting him. He had taken this sassy teenager at face value, and put both their futures at risk. He kept his expression grim, but inside he knew there was nothing else to do. It was too late to go back now. He also admitted to himself that he was pleased to not have to sort out delivering a ransom note, then trying to arrange picking up the money. A million each was more than enough, especially as they didn’t have to hurt anyone, or even keep them imprisoned. After pretending to mull it over for a while, he nodded. And sounding suitably aggrieved, he said, “OK then. I agree”.

Marjorie looked at the strong back, and the firm thighs. This close, she could smell his aftershave. She turned to look at Rod, still smiling. “One thing though. A change of accommodation, I think. I’m sure Phil’s place is cleaner and tidier than this dump, so I will be staying at his from now on, until things are sorted out”.

Phil looked at Marjorie, watching as she recrossed her legs, lifted both arms, and ran her hands through her hair. Without a glance at Rodney, he stood up.

“Yeah, why not? Go and get your stuff”.

After two days in Phil’s flat, Marjorie still couldn’t work him out. Despite flaunting herself at every opportunity, including walking around naked under a short towel after having a bath, he hadn’t tried anything. He certainly noticed. She could see him looking, and feel his eyes following her. But he had said very little, and left her to do most of the talking. At least she had been right about the flat. It was much cleaner, and he had given her the bedroom, choosing to sleep on an inflatable camping mattress that he put behind the sofa. She had travelled there in the back of his van, which was full of cleaning chemicals, buckets, cloths, and long poles. It had ladders on the roof, and she had easily spotted the name of the company on the side too. Like Rodney, he had left her alone in the flat when he went to work, and she had got his name from his post that came through the door. At least he brought plenty of food home, and even cooked some decent meals.

Tom Calder was home, and still asking the same questions. Marta couldn’t help but get the feeling he blamed her for the girl going missing, and he had been in a bad mood since he got back. She had heard him shouting at the Chief Constable on the phone, acting as if he ran the police force. Marjorie’s case had dropped off the news reports, and Mr Calder made some calls to his press contacts to urge them to keep the story going. He had shouted at George too, and really upset the elderly gardener. Marta had made George some tea after the encounter, and he was visibly shaking. “I don’t need this, I can tell you. I’m old enough to retire, and for two pins I would just go. It’s only looking after Prince that keeps me here”. Marta had given him a slice of cake, and told him to take no notice.

Work at the Zoo was going on as normal for Rodney. He was pleased to have the girl out of his place, but a little miffed that he had hardly heard from Phil since. Just one text, the night he had taken her home. ‘Home safe’. That was it. He was reluctant to go round there, or to ring Phil. If things were going to start to happen in a few days once she was sixteen, he wanted to be sure to keep contact to a minimum. Just in case.

One good thing was that Phil had Netflix. Marjorie had to watch it on his laptop, but she was able to catch up with all her favourites, and it made the time pass. She had sent him off that morning with a shopping list, first asking if he had enough money to get what she needed. He had argued about buying girl’s clothes, especially in her size, in case that attracted attention. But she told him to go to a big superstore branch of a supermarket. “They have clothes there, I’m sure. Probably crap clothes, but they will do. I can’t sit around in these man’s briefs and joggers forever you know. Just buy them with food and stuff, and no checkout lady will take any notice”. He had looked at the list, noting that she had even drawn outlines of the sort of dresses he should buy.

After eating two ham rolls and a bag of crisps for lunch, Marjorie plugged the dongle device into the laptop, and clicked through the screens to activate it. Once she had the mobile broadband confirmed, and wasn’t using his wi-fi, she logged into the Trust Account set up by her mother. On a new tab, she created a new online bank account for Rodney, making up a date of birth, then did the same for Phil. She knew both addresses, and also that Phil’s surname was Hollister. She had got that from his post. Feeling frivolous, she used Tom Calder’s name and date of birth for the password on one of the accounts, and Marta’s name and a made up number for the other. She then transferred one million pounds into each account from her Trust Fund. Allowing herself a huge grin, she spoke out loud. “Let’s see how long it takes them to notice that these two sad guys have suddenly come into a million each”.

Phil had got back with the shopping, and also brought back some takeaway pizza, to save cooking. After wolfing down the food, the girl disappeared into the bedroom with the bags. He was tidying up the pizza boxes when she appeared in the kitchen. Her perfume was so strong, he could smell her before he turned to look at her. The short black dress was tight on her, but definitely showed her curves. She twirled around, lifting one leg clad in the striped black tights, smiling at him over her shoulder. Pausing for effect, she murmured, “Well, what do you think?” He didn’t know what to say, so she did the talking. “I feel so much better wearing girly underwear, Phil. Thanks so much for getting me all the stuff. I was worried that this dress might make me look fat, but I’m pleased with it. Do I look alright?” She put her leg down and pointed her foot, watching his eyes follow the movement. “It’s not too short, is it?” He shook his head. “You look nice. Classy.” She smiled. “Classy. I like classy. Why don’t you go and sit down with a drink, and I will show you the other outfit?”

He watched the curves of her body as she turned and headed back to the bedroom, and called after her. “OK, I’ll be waiting”.

When she came back, Phil stopped in mid-sip from the can. The crimson dress had a low v-shaped cutout at the front, leaving little to the imagination. And it was even shorter than the black one. Marjorie spotted his reaction, and was very pleased with herself. “I’m surprised how well they fit, considering how cheap they were. I might buy more clothes from supermarkets in future. So as it’s my birthday next week, I was hoping we might have a small celebration. Perhaps you could buy a bottle of champagne? Something cheap will do. Then we could have dinner here, and I will dress up. It’s not everyday a girl turns sixteen. Which one shall I wear?”

He cleared his throat, and put down the beer. Raising a hand and extending the index finger, he pointed at the girl.

“That one”.

Tom Calder sat opposite the female detective. He was annoyed that she really wasn’t showing him due deference. He had asked for an update on Marjorie’s case, and when he was told he would have to come in to meet the Inspector, he was surprised that she hadn’t considered driving out to the house to see him. And now she was sitting looking through some files, hardly acknowledging his presence. The young woman sitting next to her was eyeing him up and down, a look something like distaste on her face. He was just about to start shouting, when the older woman spoke.

“Do you want a lawyer to be present, Mr Calder?” Tom leaned forward, his legs open, his posture aggressive. “Why the hell would I need a lawyer? I just want to be appraised of what is happening in the search for my missing daughter”. Tina Collier turned to Danielle. “Please note that Mr Calder has declined legal representation”. The young woman nodded, making notes on a pad. Tina shuffled the files for effect, then slapped them down on the desk. Leaning back and crossing her legs, she spoke in a matter of fact tone. “I am currently working on the theory that your daughter has run away from home. That she has absented herself voluntarily, and is probably staying with a friend or confidante who is hiding her. I am also assuming that she had good reason to leave such a nice house, with servants, a horse, and all the trappings of wealth that go with that. Is there anything you want to tell me about your relationship with your adopted daughter, Mr Calder?”

He stood up so quickly and violently, that his chair fell over. “So that’s it, is it? You can’t do your job in finding the girl, so you insinuate it has something to do with me. I wasn’t even in the country at the time, and I resent your inferences. I am going to leave now, and I suggest that if you want to talk to me again, you had better be prepared to arrest me, and charge me with something”. He stormed out of the interview room, and Tina heard him shout “Unbelievable!” as he left the main office. She turned to Danielle, and raised her eyebrows. “I think we hit a nerve there, Danni”.

Phil sent a reply to the short text message he had received from Rod. ‘Everything fine mate. Will be busy for a few days, but will come round and see you soon’. Rodney read the text, and shook his head. He was wondering what his friend was playing at. But he wasn’t going to risk asking direct questions in a text, or going round to his flat. It was close to the end, and he hoped Phil didn’t mess it up at the last minute.

He came home from work with a bottle of champagne. Showing her the label, he said, “Is this one OK?” Marjorie had never had champagne, but studied the bottle. “Moet and Chandon, yes that’s a good one. Put it in the fridge for when we need it. As he loaded other things into the small fridge, Phil spoke without turning. “I got some steaks too, nice ones. Sirloin”. Standing up, he walked back to look at her. In her pyjamas and slipper-socks, wearing no make up, she looked younger than fifteen. And much younger than almost sixteen. But when he had seen her in that red dress, he had thought she could pass for eighteen, maybe even older. She smiled a fond smile at the man. “Steaks sound lovely. Steaks and champagne for my birthday. Sounds wonderful, I can’t wait”.

He walked back to the kitchen, pleased with himself for choosing the right things. “Oh, I got some lasagna for tonight, with garlic bread. Is that OK?” He couldn’t see her replying, or would have noticed that her expression was dark, despite the sugary tone in her voice. “Lasagna? Yummy”. As they ate the food a little later, Marjorie chose the right moment to drop her bombshell. “Phil, I am going to be sixteen, so you know what that means?” He looked confused, but smiled as he replied. “Yeah. You will be sixteen. So?” She wrinkled her eyes and mouth, contriving to look both painfully shy and seductive at the same time. “Well, I hope you have some condoms in this place”. Phil paused as if time had stopped, his fork not quite into his mouth. Marjorie continued. “Come on, don’t look so surprised. I have seen you looking at me, and you must know that I fancy you too. I will have a lovely birthday, and you can help me celebrate by making me a complete woman”.

Marta retreated to the kitchen, and pretended to be busy with some baking. Mr Calder had returned in such a rage, she had never seen the like of it. He was stomping about the house, screaming into his phone, and swearing like a drunken sailor. She had waited outside the door of his study for a while, but when she heard him say ‘The bitch as good as said I was abusing her”, she scuttled off to her bowls and flour. As she absentmindedly played around with the ingredients for a fruit tart, she thought about what she had heard. Could the girl have run off because of something like that? Mr Calder was hardly ever here, and Marjorie was always in her room, except at meal times.

But you never knew…

Tom Calder took the call from Ron Goldman. He was the family accountant, managing all funds unconnected with the tech company. “Hi, Tom. Something has come up, and I need to bring it to your attention. I’m aware that there’s a lot going on with Marjorie’s disappearance, but this is important, and I feel it may be connected too”. Calder sat down at his desk. “Of course, Ron, what is it?” He heard some typing from the other end, then Goldman continued. “There were two transfers from Marjorie’s Trust Fund yesterday. The account was accessed using your late wife’s password, and two separate electronic deposits were made into online bank accounts. Each one was for one million pounds. Do you happen to know if anyone else has access to your wife’s password?” Calder shook his head as he replied. “As far as I know, that died with her. She never told me, and Marjorie would have been unlikely to have been told either. She was too young at the time”.

There was a pause. Ron seemed to have been thinking of his next question. “Should we notify the police? They can get names and addresses for those accounts with a court order, and trace the location of the computer that was used. Meanwhile, we can either recall the transfers, or put a stop on the account so that nothing more can be taken”. Calder mulled it over. “Stop any more going out from the account, but don’t recall those transfers. And let’s not involve the police for a couple of days, until we have had time to think what this might mean. After all, there’s a chance that Marjorie has taken her own money, and put it in those accounts. Thanks for telling me, Ron, and keep me updated”. Tom hung up, and swivelled his chair around. He was wondering what the girl was up to, and was convinced she knew her mother’s password.

On the morning of her birthday, Marjorie waited until Phil had left for work, and sat writing in her notebook. She made a detailed account of everything, from the moment she had got out of the taxi, until her arrival at Phil’s flat. Satisfied it was all there, she packed the book away in her school bag, and went into the bathroom to get ready. It would take hours today, as she had to look her very best. The best she had ever looked. Her irresistible best.

That same morning, Tom Calder phoned the police, and asked to speak to Tina Collier. There had been no transactions on either of the accounts, so whoever had them was not coming out of the woodwork to get their hands on the money. He told her about the unexpected money transfers, and gave her the account details too. Other than that, he was surly and unhelpful, acting as if he was doing her a favour. When he finished talking, Tina was curt in her response. “It would have been useful to know this earlier, Mr Calder. Now I have to get a court order for the bank details and trace the computer too. That will take time, and drag things out even longer”. When she heard the buzzing, she realised he had hung up whilst she was still speaking, and slammed the phone back onto the receiver.

By the time Phil got home from work, Marjorie was made up like a film star, and dressed in a skimpy thong, with fishnet hold-up stockings on her legs. She wasn’t going to bother with a bra. Wrapped in Phil’s toweling dressing gown, she sat on the bed, making some last-minute adjustments around her eyes. She shouted through the door of the bedroom. “I will be a while yet, you might as well get started on dinner”. He called back, unaware how normal and familiar this all sounded. “I will just get a quick shower, then I can change when you come out”. Marjorie shook her head. He was acting like she was his girlfriend. Had he already forgotten that him and his mate had shot her in the leg with a dart, trapped her in a stinking cage at the Zoo, and made her fear for her life? She was trembling with rage, but knew she would be able to compose herself when it mattered.

Thirty minutes later, she came out of the bedroom. Phil was messing around in the kitchen area, a towel wrapped around his waist. He turned to her, smiling. “Wow! You look great, you really do. Happy Birthday by the way. I will just go and get changed, then fry up the steaks. There are some nice wedges in the oven to go with them”. Marjorie sat down, then leaned forward and crossed her legs. She was sure he would get a good view of her cleavage, and her thighs too. Lowering her voice into something resembling a husky growl, she said. “What about the champagne? I wouldn’t mind a glass while you get ready”. He struggled with the cork, but eventually brought over a full glass of the fizzy drink. It was a normal wine glass of course, he wouldn’t have known about flutes. She watched as he blatantly stared down her dress, and looked at her legs. Sipping the sour-tasting wine, she nodded in the direction of the bedroom. “Go on then, I’m getting hungry”.

The meal was surprisingly good. He cooked the steak just how she liked it, and although she had discovered she didn’t like the taste of champagne, two glasses of the stuff had lowered her inhibitions to the required level, without being too much to make her lose focus. When they had eaten, she stood up, and sat on the edge of the sofa, patting the cushion next to her to indicate he should sit there. Phil suddenly looked awkward. “I’ve got some ice-cream in the freezer. I thought you might like some”. Marjorie gave him her ‘best face’. “I think we can both enjoy something sweeter than ice cream. Come and sit down”. He blushed, but as looked at that smile, he sat down quickly.

Marjorie had no experience in making love. Other than some pretend kissing with other girls at school, she hadn’t so much as kissed or touched anyone. But she had watched so many love scenes in films and TV shows, she managed to give a convincing performance that might well have earned her a ‘Best Newcomer’ award, in other circumstances. After some fumbling on the sofa, she led Phil by the hand into the bedroom, and allowed him to unzip her dress. He had been surprisingly gentle, so she had to urge him on. “Harder, I like it rough”. Phil was too far gone to even think about why a girl like this would say something so slutty, and did as she asked. After the big build-up, he hadn’t lasted very long, and that was a relief to her. Happy with his performance, he rolled over, and smiled, dropping the condom into the waste-basket by the bed. A long day at work, a busy evening, and two glasses of champagne had all taken their toll. He was soon asleep, still dressed in what few clothes he had left on in his excitement.

She waited until he was snoring peacefully. Walking around the bed quietly, she retrieved the condom from the small bin, and wrapped it carefully in two tissues, walking back to put the small bundle inside her make up bag. Then she stretched out on the edge of the bed, away from any possibility of their bodies touching.

But she didn’t intend going to sleep.

As Phil rushed around getting ready, Marjorie pretended to be fast asleep. She hadn’t slept a wink of course, and felt shattered. But that was all part of her plan. The sounds of the door closing and his van starting up spurred her into action. Standing up, she put on the red dress, tearing at the front until one breast was almost completely exposed. Then she reached down to the saggy fishnet stockings, and tore a hole in one, high on her left thigh. Retrieving the wrapped condom from her make up bag, and holding it by a tissue, she slipped it inside the front of the thong, then up inside her body. The feel of the cold liquid entering her made her shudder with revulsion, but she bit her lip and carried on. When she was sure it was empty, she flushed it down the toilet. Then she slipped on her clumpy school shoes, picked up the school bag, and headed for the door.

It was more than a mile to the main police station, and Marjorie was running. She didn’t need to run, but that puffed her out, made her eyes water, and her face and neck red. People looked at her as she ran past, her clothing in disarray, and a terrified look on her face. She saw them looking, but didn’t stop, or acknowledge them. The more witnesses, the better. And it would all be on CCTV too. By the time she crashed through the door into the main reception, she looked in a terrible state. The young policeman manning the desk was startled to see the girl trembling in front of him. She suddenly shouted, making him jump. “Can somebody help me please? My name is Marjorie Calder, and I have been kidnapped and raped!” With that, she collapsed onto her knees, sobbing loudly. The policeman rushed from the desk to help her, shouting behind him as he ran. “Get an ambulance, and get Inspector Collier down here. Now!”

Tina Collier ran downstairs without even bothering to put on her shoes. Standing next to the slumped girl, she shouted, “Cancel the ambulance. Get a car round to the front now, this girl will be taken to the rape suite”. Turning to the young policeman, she shook her head. “Let her go. Don’t touch her anywhere else, and go to the locker room. Bag your clothes, and get changed. We don’t need any contamination of evidence”. Looking back at Marjorie, she softened her tone. “Can you stand up honey? We need to get you to somewhere safe, and someone has to examine you. I promise it will be OK”. Marjorie nodded, and started to stand. As she did, she caught sight of Tina’s feet protruding from the bottoms of her trouser legs. It occurred to her that if her feet were that huge, she would never show them in public.

The examination was as she had expected, just like she had seen on films and television shows. They took lots of photos, carefully removed and bagged all of her clothes, then photographed her intimate areas, before taking swabs. She was given a grey jogging suit and some gym shoes to wear, after being allowed to shower once the tests were complete. A kind looking man brought her some weak tea, and a stale-tasting sandwich, then the woman with the big feet came in, thankfully now wearing some shoes. There was a younger woman with her, a concerned look stamped firmly on her face. Tina sat opposite the girl, perching on a small sofa. “Do you feel up to talking, Marjorie? Can you tell us where you have been, and what happened?” Marjorie reached inside the school bag that she had kept close, and removed the notebook. Handing it to the older woman, she tried to sound upset and afraid. “It’s all in here. I was tranquilised and kidnapped, then shut in a cage at the City Zoo. Then one of them took me to his flat, and another one came, and made me go with him. He was the one who raped me on my birthday. He said it was legal, because I was sixteen”.

Danielle made some notes as the girl talked, shaking her head sadly at the story. Marjorie gulped hard, and carried on, pretending it was difficult to talk. “They made me dress up in those tarty clothes, and wear lots of make up too. At the Zoo, I had to go to the toilet in a box, and one man watched as I did it. Then they made me transfer money from my Trust Fund into their accounts, and talked about having to kill me if they didn’t get any money. They must be stupid, as the Trust Fund will never let them take the money. I tried to cooperate. I acted like I was their friend, so they wouldn’t hurt me, but the blonde one raped me anyway. Their names are in there, and where they work and live”. Tina gave the notebook to Danielle. “Danni, get on the radio, and put out a broadcast. I want those two arrested, either at home, or where they work. Check their records too”. She turned back to the girl, and smiled. “Don’t worry Marjorie, as soon as those two are under lock and key, it will be safe to get you home to your father. He will be pleased to see you”.

The girl lowered her eyes. “Please, not back there. He touches me, comes to my room when he is back from business. He has done it since my Mum died, but I have been to afraid to tell anyone, as they would never believe me. I can’t go back there, please, not there”. Tina shook her head. “Don’t you worry darling. I will find you somewhere safe, and make sure Tom Calder never touches you again”. Marjorie managed a weak smile. “Thank you, Inspector. I’m so afraid. It has been a terrible time for me, and I really can’t face what my adoptive Dad might do, if he’s angry with me”. Tina leaned forward and clasped her hand. “Leave that bastard to me, Marjorie”.

They took Rodney at work, right in the middle of mucking out the Zebras. He saw the three people walking toward him, and his team leader next to them, pointing him out. There was no point running, so he just dropped the rake, and stood still. Phil was driving between jobs when the police car overtook him, then swerved across the front of his van, forcing him to brake violently. For just a moment, he wondered what was happening. Then he slumped in his seat as the two uniformed officers ran up to the van, shouting for him to keep still. At first, Tom Calder refused to go with the two detectives, and he was amazed when one of them suddenly grabbed him, and the other handcuffed him. As they hauled him in the direction of the front door, he screamed at Marta. “Get my lawyer on the phone. Tell him to come to the main police station. Now!”

The statements had taken a long time. Marjorie had put a hold on adding anything concerning her accusations about Tom Calder. She said she was tired and hungry, and wanted to eat something, then sleep. Tina Collier got her to sign the statements, telling her that they were the best and most thorough she had ever seen in all her years of police work. After taking a phone call, she smiled at the girl. “Marjorie, we have charged Tom Calder with child molestation, based on what you told us. He has been given bail with conditions, including not being allowed to return to the house, or to contact you. I understand he has checked into a hotel. Are you happy to go home now?” Marjorie nodded. Tina continued, as the girl gathered her things. “Rodney has been charged with aggravated kidnapping, endangering the life of a minor, and conspiracy to commit a kidnap. Phil the same, with the addition of rape. I reckon they will each get at least fifteen years for the kidnap, and Phil will get a minimum of seven more for the rape. Will you be up to testifying next month?” Marjorie didn’t smile. “Oh yes”.

Danielle took her back to the house. Marta was overjoyed to see her, apparently. She made her some food, and told her there would be fruit pie for after. Marjorie had just finished eating when there was a caller at the front door. Marta went to answer it, then came back into the dining room. “It’s Mr Goldman, the family lawyer. Do you want to see him?” Marjorie nodded. “Show him in, then leave us alone”. Ron Goldman didn’t even mention the kidnap, and came straight to the point. “Marjorie, this business with Tom. It won’t stick you know. He will get off”. Marjorie shrugged. “I know what will stick, Mr Goldman, mud. How are the company share prices tonight, I wonder?” The friendly old man saw her in a new light, and that sent a shiver up his spine. “You can have the Trust Fund money early, Marjorie. Tom won’t stand in your way. That’s five million, once the police investigation is over. Enough for a new life, a place of your own, and your education too”. He held out some papers.

Marjorie sneered at the papers. “You will need to re-write those. Tell Tom I will drop all charges for twenty-five million, paid next week. Oh, and I want this house too. He can afford to live anywhere, and my mother would have wanted me to stay here, where we were once happy. Tell him that, and get it down in writing, then I might conveniently forget him touching me. Maybe it was all a dream, made worse by the trauma of my kidnap. I can be very convincing, Mr Goldman. Either way”. Ron Goldman stood up, looking at the young girl with a new respect. “I have an idea that will be agreeable. I will be back with the papers tomorrow at nine, if that suits you?” She turned away from him, so he didn’t see her smiling. “Suits me fine”.

After showing him out, Marta came into the room. “Can I get you anything else, Marjorie?” The girl looked at her with a set expression. She shook her head, deep in thought. Could this woman have forgotten all the jibes about her weight? Telling her her clothes looked too tight, that being overweight would mean she would never have any friends, let alone a boyfriend. All the snide remarks every time she wanted a snack, or had an extra slice of cake. And walking around in Tom’s absence, acting like the lady of the house, telling Marjorie what to do. Could she really have forgotten that so soon?

As Marta’s face adopted a quizzical expression, the girl’s face turned to stone. “Anything else? Yes, you can do something else for me, Marta. You can pack your bags and be out of here by first light. You’re fired”. She walked past the stunned looking woman, and sauntered upstairs to her room. George’s wife would make an excellent housekeeper, and she was a good cook too. She would tell George the good news tomorrow, once Marta had gone.
There was nothing like your own bed. She flopped down heavily onto the familiar soft mattress, and allowed herself a quiet chuckle.

She was going to sleep well tonight.

The End.

Longer Stories: Jackie Jam-Jar

Jackie Jam-Jar

This is another very long story. (Just over 10,000 words) It is a crime saga, set in London during the 1970s. It contains depictions of violence, and some swear-words that certain readers may find offensive. All the locations used are genuine, and for those of you unfamiliar with London slang and dialect, I am beginning with a long list, explaining the terms used.

This was originally published on my blog in six chapters, all now put into one long story. If you can spare the time to read it and comment, I will be very grateful.

Chapter One.
Jackie Jam-Jar
Chapter Two.
Tubby’s Toe
Chapter Three.
Short Phil.
Chapter Four.
East Dulwich Eddie.
Chapter Five.
Billy Bang-Bang.
Chapter Six.
Carnage In Downham.

The following terms are used throughout, and it may be an idea to familiarise yourself with them, before attempting to read the story.

Commer van. This was a medium panel van, in widespread use until 1979. It was sold by Chrysler UK.
Motor. Commonly used to describe any vehicle, not just an engine.
Tom. This is an abbreviation of Tomfoolery, which rhymes with jewellery, used by criminals and Police. (Also a name for prostitutes)
Jam-Jar. This rhymes with car, and is well-known (Cockney) rhyming slang used in London.
Old Bill. This is a common expression used to refer to the Police.
Traffic Wardens. These might be called Parking Attendants or Meter maids outside of the UK.
Tools. Commonly used to describe firearms by criminals. As in ‘Tooled up.’
Sawn-Offs. These are shotguns where the barrels have been shortened, for easy concealment.
Zodiac. This was a large luxury saloon car made by Ford, and was in production until 1972.
A monkey. A slang term for £500. ($764US)
Transit. A popular panel van made by Ford. Still sold in the UK.
Slagging off. Disrespecting or complaining about someone or something.
Spun/Spin. To search hurriedly, as in a burglary.
Boozer. A pub. A Public House. A bar where drinks (and sometimes food) are sold.
Giving it the big one. Acting hard and tough. Talking loudly and boastfully.
Do him large. Beat him up very badly, or kill him.
Titfer. From Tit-For-Tat. (= Hat) Rhyming slang.
Kosher. Legal and correct.
A pull. A stop by the Police.
Cut and Shut. Two damaged cars of the same make. The front of one welded to the rear of another.
Mums The Word. Say nothing about this.
Shtum. Staying silent. (Yiddish)
Shooters. Firearms, guns.
A Ton. £100 ($155US)
Fit up. To frame him for something he hadn’t done.
In the Nick. In prison.
Stringbacks. Driving gloves with leather palms, and woven backs.
Vauxhall Victor. A family saloon car made by General Motors, until 1976.
Wandsworth. A high security prison in south-west London.
Hampsteads. From Hampstead Heath. (= Teeth) Rhyming slang.
The Richardsons. This was a criminal gang that controlled a large part of south London.
Bent. Common slang for stolen, or corrupt.
Fags. Cigarettes.
Blaggers. Blagging was (and still is) a term used for armed robbery. (Other uses apply)
Sten. A Sten gun, a sub-machine gun used by the Allies in WW2.
A bung. A bribe; usually cash, or expensive gifts.
Card school. A regular group of hardened card-playing gamblers.
Sorting out some bird. Having sex with a girl.
Straightened-up. Bribed.
Slags. Petty criminals, thieves, robbers.
Tits-up. All go wrong. Turn upside down.
Manor. The area where someone lived or operated. Any district of London.
Fiddles. (In this context) Cons, illegal trading, obtaining by deception.
Bit of skirt. A young woman.
Spiv. Illegal trader, black marketeer, petty criminal.
One-armed bandit. Old style fruit-machine, with a handle on the side.
Mob-handed. In a large group.
Duffed up. Beaten up badly.
Bird. A girl, someone’s girlfriend.
Bent. Stolen. Corrupt.
Fags. Cigarettes.
Dosh. Money, cash.
The Nick. Prison.
Rotherhithe Tunnel. A road and pedestrian tunnel under The Thames, connecting Limehouse with Rotherhithe.
Eyeties. Slang term for Italians.
Weren’t much cop. Were not very good at what they did.
Thompson. A sub-machine gun, made in the USA. Also known as a ‘Tommy-Gun.’
Jones and Higgins. A prestigious department store in the Peckham area of London. It closed in 1980.
Fruit machines. Coin-slot gambling machines, also ‘One-armed bandits.’
Moody gear. Stolen or contraband goods.
Geezer. Slang term for a man.
Bottles it. Loses his nerve, gives up
Hillman. A brand of popular car made in the UK from 1907. Sold by Chrysler UK after 1976.
Blag. An armed robbery.
Swift. To steal.
Balls-up. To ruin, to spoil.
Took the piss. Mocked, ridiculed.
In for fifteen. A fifteen-year sentence in prison.
Luger. A German pistol, widely used by the military.
Twelve bore. A double-barrelled shotgun.
Webley. A British military revolver.

Tubby hated the old Commer van. It was a pig to start, and a bastard to drive. The sliding door wouldn’t stay shut, and it was cold today too. Every time he had to stop, he had to slip it into neutral and rev the engine like mad, or it would stall. He couldn’t risk breaking down somewhere today, not with what was in the back, anyway. As he approached the junction with Ilderton Road, the car in front suddenly indicated right, to turn into the estate. Tubby hadn’t seen it coming, and had to brake violently. Sure enough, the engine stalled, and the red lights appeared on the round dial to confirm it. “Fuck it’, he screamed. “I don’t need this, not now.” He coasted the lifeless vehicle into the kerb, his eyes darting around in case any old bill or traffic wardens were nearby. After three tries of the key, the battery started to die, and he slammed his hand repeatedly against the steering wheel in frustration.

The thing was, Tubby wasn’t remotely fat. By most estimates, he could even have been considered to be too thin. But when you are born with a name like Daniel Tubbs, what else could you expect? He didn’t really know anyone who was called by their actual name. In his circles, people either had nicknames, or a moniker relating to something distinctive about them. If you had some Tom to shift, you went to see Jewish Jonathan, and if you needed a motor for a job, then Jackie Jam-Jar was your man. But Jackie wasn’t in Tubby’s good books at the moment, as he had supplied the Commer van, and now it had broken down again.

Tubby looked around for a phone box. He would have to chance leaving the van, to make a call to Mad Eddie and let him know what was going on. Letting him down was never really an option, but with a dead motor, what else was he supposed to do? Eddie let it ring a long time before picking up. “It’s me, Tubby. The bleeding van’s packed up in Ilderton Road. That pile of shit that Jackie Jam-Jar got us, I said it was no good.” Eddie’s voice at the other end was calm, never a good sign. “Tubby, nice to hear from you. We were getting worried. Stay where you are, I will send Tall Phil over to get you and the stuff.” He hung up, giving no information about when Tall Phil would get there, or how far he was coming from.

Tall Phil wasn’t actually tall. But he was much taller than Short Phil, who was very short. Trouble was, he didn’t like to be called short. In fact, any reference to his diminutive stature was liable to get him very upset. And you wouldn’t want to be around when he got upset. And Mad Eddie was as sane as the next man, but you didn’t get to be the feared boss of a gang with a name like ‘Nice Eddie’, did you?

Tubby checked his watch, the old Ingersoll that was all his dad had left him. He hadn’t had time for breakfast, as he had been told to get across to Eddie’s place in Lewisham nice and early with the gear. He hadn’t even wanted to hold the stuff, but because he lived with his Gran in Credon Road, he was considered ‘safe’. Three sawn-offs and two revolvers, probably stood Eddie in for at least a monkey. But they were needed for the security van job this afternoon, so Eddie wanted to check them nice and early. Three days he had sweated over that bag of tools in his wardrobe, jumping every time he heard a siren. Tubby decided that he would run back to the corner of Rollins Street, and get some rolls and a tea from Babs’ stall. He checked the lock on the back doors, and it held. After four slams, he was able to lock the dodgy sliding door on the driver’s side too.

He told Babs to stick the bacon rolls in a bag, and slurped down the tea as fast as he could. No time to start on the food, he would have to eat that in the van, or in Phil’s car, if he had turned up. At the junction, he noticed a car going the other way. It was nothing special, just driving a bit fast for that time of the morning, with all the traffic about. The big Zodiac was driven by someone who looked too young, and that made Tubby notice it more than usual. There were two blokes in the back, and one had a hat on, a black hat with a red band around it. Jackie Jam-Jar had one like that, but it wouldn’t be him, surely? His manor was a long way from here, the other side of Bellingham, and the Zodiac was heading in completely the wrong direction. He put it from his mind, and headed back to the Commer, while his rolls were still warm.

Tall Phil didn’t arrive for another hour. Tubby was almost shitting himself by then. Three cop cars had passed by, and a traffic cop on a motorbike had given him a look ten minutes earlier. Jackie had said that the Commer was Kosher, and would stand up to a check. Looks like he was right about that. Phil had brought another van, an almost new Transit. He parked behind Tubby, and when the younger man approached, he growled, ” Get the gear and get in, quick. This motor’s hot enough to burn my arse.” Tubby went back to unlock the van, but to his surprise, the handle wasn’t locked, and it turned easily. The tarpaulin was still in the back where he had left it, covering the bag. He had a bad feeling as he dragged it out. Staring at the metal floor, his head was spinning. The tool bag was gone. Although he knew it was pointless, he searched inside the tarpaulin anyway. Just in case a miracle had happened.
Tall Phil didn’t take the news well. He made Tubby stay in the Transit as he went back to search the old van himself. When he got back in, the expression on his face was not a good one. “Did you tell anyone about the shooters?” His tone was measured, far too controlled. “Course not Phil” Tubby was almost screaming, his voice high and rising, “I’m not a fucking idiot. Someone must have spun the van when I was getting me breakfast.” He knew as soon as those words were out of his mouth, he should never have said them. “We can’t hang about here, let’s make a move.” Phil sounded surprisingly calm, and Tubby felt better, offering, “Just some bastard chancer, probably thought they were real tools or scrap.” Even as he said that, he realised how stupid it sounded.

When they got to Eddie’s workshop, Tall Phil made Tubby sit in the office as he went to speak to the rest of the gang. He could see them at the other end, grouped around each other, heads shaking in disbelief. After a while, they all walked slowly up to the office. Once they had squeezed inside, the small room felt cramped, and Tubby was getting hot. Very hot. He smiled at Eddie, and his voice sounded strange, as he said the one word, “Sorry.” Eddie didn’t look happy. “You lose my tools, ruin a job I planned for months, a job that can only be done today, ’cause my inside man’s working, and you tell Tall Phil that it’s all down to a bacon roll. You must be taking the piss boy, and I would think long and hard about that, if I was you.” To emphasise the point as he was speaking, Eddie grabbed Tubby’s throat with one hand, choking him almost into unconsciousness. “Think hard, sonny. Who did you tell about the stuff?”

When the hand was released, Tubby thought for a moment. When he collected the van from Jackie Jam-Jar, had he mentioned the guns, or the job on Monday? He was sure he hadn’t, but he had been complaining about the old Commer at the time, and slagging off Jackie for his choice of van for the job. Maybe he had said something, but he certainly wasn’t going to admit that now. He swallowed hard. “Nobody, Eddie, honest mate. I never said nothing to no-one.” Tall Phil and Short Phil both looked at Eddie. Bald Norman had come in with a holdall, and Red-Faced Brian stood across the door, rubbing the large birthmark on his neck. Eddie nodded at Norman, and the bald man produced some bolt-cutters from the bag, handing them to Short Phil.

Tubby had a strange feeling in his groin as he watched this. He gazed at the grim faces surrounding him, and a thought entered his head. It looked like Eddie was going to get Mad after all.

Jackie was in a bad mood. This was unusual for him, as he was normally a genial man, with a ready smile, and a relaxed attitude to life. It was one of Eddie’s boys that was spoiling his day, that skinny bastard, Danny Tubbs. Ever since he started out as one of Eddie’s crew, the runt acted like the hard man, a real face. He hung around the local boozer mouthing off, giving it the big one all the time. Jackie would love to do him. Do him large, he would. But he couldn’t, ’cause that would bring Eddie’s mob down on him, and that meant having to deal with Short Phil. And everyone knew there was no dealing with Short Phil.

He took off his hat, and smoothed down what was left of his hair. He adjusted the red band around the black trilby, and plonked the titfer back on his head. He smiled at the thin man, his hands pressing down and out, in a soothing gesture. ” Calm down now Tubby, don’t let’s get previous now.” He wanted the younger man to stop shouting, to cease this disrespect in his own place, in front of the lads. He had to ride the threats, but still stand up for himself. He mustn’t be seen to back down, but the whole thing was a delicate balancing act, and one he could well do without. He was in the car business, not the bloody House of Commons.

“It’s a straight motor, Tubby. Runs OK, all the right paperwork, and Kosher. It will stand a pull, believe me. It will do you for a few days, then I will get rid of it for you, after the job.” Tubby had been acting flash ever since he turned up, and Jackie was beginning to get really pissed off. But he made the little speech for the boy’s benefit, just to calm him down. Tubby wouldn’t let it go though. “These Commers are crap, Jackie, everyone knows that, and this one’s a real piece of shit. For fuck’s sake, just look at it.” Pale Ashton tried to help out. “This will do you fine, Tubby man. I checked it meself, it’s OK.” He rubbed a filthy rag around his hands as he spoke, as if it was ever going to get them clean, after years of ingrained grease and oil.

Pale Ashton wasn’t exactly pale. After all, he was from Trinidad, and as black as they come. But he suffered from Vitiligo, a skin condition that had left him with light pink patches around his nose and mouth. Nobody in Catford knew what that was, so they just called Ashton ‘Pale Ashton’, to differentiate him from any other West Indian called Ashton who didn’t have Vitiligo. Of course, they had never met anyone else called Ashton, but that wasn’t the point.

“Well that’s alright then, if you say so,” Tubby sneered. “After all you are about as much use as a mechanic as a chocolate fireguard.” Pleased with his witticism, he looked around, grinning. The others stared back, unimpressed. Tubby could see he was getting nowhere. It was the only van on the lot, and he was going to have to take it, whether he liked it or not. He wasn’t going without a fight though. “I need to make sure those doors lock good, Jackie, I don’t want the stuff falling out on the way.” Jackie went to the back doors, turned the small key in the lock, and worked the handle, showing Tubby it was secure. “Sweet as a nut, Tubby me old mate. I wouldn’t give you a wrong ‘un.” He lowered his voice, adding, “What you gonna have in there Tubby, nothing too slippery, I hope?” Tubby looked at the man. As far as he was concerned, Jackie Jam-Jar was small time. A dodgy car dealer who supplied motors to local villains, when he wasn’t stitching up old ladies or kids with cut and shut shit-piles from his car front. He had a big yard in Downham, that was for sure, but he wasn’t hard. He wasn’t one of the chaps.
Tubby puffed his chest out. “There’s a big job on on Monday. Mum’s the word, but this is the back-up van, and I’m holding the shooters.” Old Jackie looked suitably impressed. He passed his fingers over his lips, imitating a zip. “Shtum,” he confirmed. He watched Tubby drive off in the van, and smiled as he heard it revving at the junction. He turned to Pale Ashton and raised his eyebrows. The mechanic grinned, showing his sparkling white teeth. “Won’t get too far in that boss, you can count on that.”

Back in the glorified shed he called The Office, Jackie picked up the phone. It was answered after only one ring, so he wasn’t busy. “Angel, it’s me, Jackie. I need you early on Monday. Bring that Zodiac I lent you last week. There’s a ton in it for you, no grief, just driving.” Jackie wasn’t really concerned about the money. If he only shifted the tools for what it cost to pay the boys, he didn’t mind. If they were too hot, he would grind them up and lose them. But he was going to fit up that little bastard Tubby, if it was the last thing he did.

Angel was far from Angelic. His boyish looks and slight frame belied the fact that he was approaching twenty, and had done a lot in his short life. he might have had the face of an Angel, but that was where the comparison ended. Despite his age, he had trouble getting served drinks in pubs, and even had to argue the toss to get into an ‘X’ film at the pictures. But it stood in him good with the ladies, so he didn’t mind too much. Angel had been around the manor since absconding from the kids’ home at the age of fifteen. Jackie had sorted him out a bent driving licence, and had him running around doing odd jobs ever since. He didn’t mind, as Jackie had been good to him, and never tried it on, like some of the other old blokes he had met. He was even shacked up with Carol, Jackie’s brother-in-law’s daughter, looking after her while Three Times was in the nick, doing fifteen for shooting a copper.
Three Times Terry had got his name from his habit of always shooting everyone three times. For Terry, two in the body, or even the head, still wasn’t enough, he always went for the third shot. “To make fucking sure”, he had told Angel. But when the copper had bumped into him leaving the Orpington branch of Barclays bank with a big bag of cash in his hand, and Stringbacks Dave sitting in the Vauxhall Victor with the engine running, three shots had not made sure. Just as well really, or he would be in Wandsworth for the rest of his natural.

On the Monday, Angel picked up Jackie early. Tony The Tooth came along too, in case of any aggravation. They plotted up not far from Tubby’s gran’s place, and waited for the Commer van to appear. “Follow a couple of cars behind, ” Jackie told Angel. “That van will never make it to Lewisham, Ashton’s sure about that.” When the car in front of Tubby turned sharply, it was a gift. The Commer stalled, and there was no chance that it would start again, not in this life. Angel pulled into the housing estate, parking up where they could watch Tubby. They saw him run across to the phone box, and guessed that he was calling Eddie. He was soon back, sitting in the van again. “If he stays with it now, I’ll just clump him one, and lock him in the back, shall I? ” Suggested Tony.

Tony The Tooth had a lot more than one tooth left. He had lots of teeth in fact, probably more than his fair share. And they stuck out, really stuck out. He could hardly close his mouth, for the huge set of railings that looked like they were about to fall out of it. Tony didn’t really like his name. He once considered asking everyone to call him Tony Hampsteads instead. But he didn’t want anyone to think that he came from a poncy place like Hampstead, so he left it alone.

Jackie was considering the suggestion, when they saw Tubby get out. He slammed the door a few times, then checked the back doors. He walked off quickly, back up Ilderton Road in the direction of South Bermondsey Station. “Off you go, Tony.” Jackie smiled, handing The Tooth the spare keys he had got from Ashton. Tony was in and out in a flash, dropping the heavy bag in the boot of the Zodiac, before climbing into the back next to Jackie. By the time Angel had turned the car around, and started to head for the exit from the estate, Tubby was on his way back, clutching a paper bag. “Go north, Angel, we’ll take the long way.” Jackie hunched down in the seat as they passed Tubby at the junction. He had forgotten he had his hat on though, in all the excitement.

Short Phil closed the bolt cutters around the big toe on Tubby’s right foot, allowing the younger man to feel the pressure. Mad Eddie looked straight into his eyes. “Now, who did you fucking tell?”

Short Phil’s knee was aching as he stayed bent, holding the bolt cutters around Tubby’s toe. He wished that Eddie would just give the word, then he could snip the skinny bastard’s toe off, and get on with finding out where the gear was.

Being only a whisker over five feet tall was not the best start in life, at least not in a tough part of south London. Phil hadn’t always been called Short Phil, it had usually been much worse. Short-arse, half-pint, midget, pocket-size, tiny, and runt, had been just some of the kinder nicknames he had endured over the years. He had been forced to stand up for himself early on. Nobody else was going to. His father had been a Polish soldier. His mum never spoke about him much, just said that he had been killed at Arnhem, and they never had a chance to get married. She didn’t tell Phil that he was almost four years old when his father parachuted to his death in battle. Some of the other kids said he looked Polish, whatever that meant. He had fair hair, and a stocky frame, so that was good enough for them. They would dance around him at school, shouting “Polack, Polack, your dad’s never coming back.”
He left school as soon as he could, and got a job helping out at a warehouse, just off Tower Bridge Road. The boss liked him, as despite his size, he proved to be strong, and always turned up on time. Pretty soon, Phil started to notice that some of the deliveries were regularly put to one side, and he was told to leave them alone. One morning, some hard-looking men came to talk to the boss, and as Phil was sweeping up near the door, he heard the sound of a scuffle. He went to the back, to find the three men beating up his boss, who was already on the floor. Although only a teenager, Phil knew what he had to do, and he waded in with the broom, hoping to help the outnumbered man. But they just laughed at him, and one of them hit him so hard, he didn’t remember much for a while. He came round to find himself in the office. His boss was black and blue, and looked shaken, but he put his arm around the young man, and thanked him. “You did well son, take this.” He gave Phil a large £5 note, the first he had ever owned.

The next day, his jaw still aching, Phil arrived for work as normal. His boss wasn’t there, but a smart-looking man called him into the office. “I hear you give a good account of yourself yesterday, Titch.” He was smiling as he continued. “Things are changing around here, but if you play your cards right, you can stay on, and earn some good dough. What do you say?” “Sounds OK, but the name’s Phil, not Titch”, he replied. The smart man grinned. “I’ve already got a Phil, so you will have to be Short Phil, if you agree. I’m Eddie, pleased to meet you.” He extended a long hand, the nails manicured, and a gold signet ring on one finger. Phil grasped the hand, what else could he do? “OK, boss, count me in.”

Turned out his old boss had not been playing straight with Eddie. He had got his beating, and an early retirement. Eddie’s team worked part of south London, and out towards Lewisham and Catford too. Fruit machines in pubs, amusement arcades, bent fags and booze, whatever was going, Eddie was into it. The rest of the gang were an assortment of ex-army blokes, and brainless villains that had never known any different. Short Phil was one of the youngest, and he had to step up and prove himself very quickly. The years went by, and all the small crews were being forced out of their areas. Big gangs like the Richardsons were taking over south of the river, and you couldn’t even think about moving north or east. The Maltese and Greeks had most of the West End sewn up, and as Eddie put it, “It’s getting hard for an ordinary criminal to make a living these days.” The good times were certainly becoming a memory. Phil had got his flat, his motor, and some nice suits. Every now and again, he even got to appreciate the company of one of the girls that hung around. But the cash wasn’t coming so regular, so Eddie decided it was time to branch out. He could no longer run the fruit machines, the Toms, or the gambling, without falling foul of the big boys. One day, he called everyone in, and made his announcement. They would become blaggers.

There were lots of security firms operating, collecting and delivering cash from banks and post offices. The guards carried coshes, and wore crash helmets, but that was nothing to the likes of Eddie and the boys. They were tooled up. Phil started to carry a gun at all times, an ex-army Browning automatic. And he wasn’t afraid to use it. On the jobs, they used sawn-offs, and Eddie even had a sub-machine gun, an old Sten. Wave them around a bit, and those mugs soon handed over the cash. Phil always gave them a few whacks with the gun too, just to make a point. When one bloke tried to get back into the van with the cash, he shot him in both legs. They were soon the number one team in the area, at least where armed robbery was concerned. The cash started to flood in. Phil was back in the money, and making a name for himself in the local pubs. Woe betide anyone who laughed at his height. They would get a glass in the face, a clubbing from the pistol butt, and then he would bash out all of their teeth. He was soon respected, and left alone. People he had never met tried to buy him drinks, and slutty girls sought out his company. Phil liked that, he liked being one of the chaps, a face to be reckoned with.

The coppers pulled him in sometimes. The hard ones slapped him around a bit, the easy ones took a bung to look the other way. But they never got nothing on him, not Phil. The shooter was always dumped before they lifted him, and he could always supply a solid alibi. He was playing cards with a large school, sorting out some bird at her flat, or watching telly round his mum’s. Nothing ever stuck, as there wasn’t a witness or bystander willing to risk the revenge of Mad Eddie’s gang. Besides, half the coppers could be easily straightened up, and they would probably fit someone else up for it, if Eddie wanted them to. Life was pretty good, at least by Phil’s reckoning. That was until Eddie started getting involved with the likes of Jackie Jam-Jar, and bringing in slags and know-nothings like Tubby. It wasn’t up to him to say though, but inside he knew that it would all go tits-up one day, working with the likes of them.

In the crowded office, all eyes were on Tubby, and the cutters around his toe. Eddie was just about to give him one last chance to tell who he had spoken to, when the phone rang. The loud bell made Short Phil jump, and his hands closed involuntarily. The huge bolt-cutters could do the lock on the back of a security van. They had no trouble slicing straight through the bone of Tubby’s big toe. His scream sounded above the unanswered telephone, and Short Phil watched, as the detached toe rolled across the wooden floor. Tubby was talking, the words punctuated by pain and short breaths. “It was Jackie. I might have told Jackie. When I got the van. Jackie for fuck’s sake. Jackie Jam-Jar.”
Eddie patted the younger man on the head, six hard pats, one for each word. “You only had to say so.”

Tubby was crying with the pain, and Eddie shot Short Phil a look. The look said it all, but Short Phil just shrugged in reply. “Someone better get him down the hospital”, Eddie said to nobody in particular. When the rest of the gang started to look at each other, Eddie chose for them. Turning to the red-faced man at the door, he barked, “Brian, you take him. Drop him at the entrance.” Tall Phil cleared his throat. “What about the toe Eddie?” Eddie walked over to the toe and inspected it. “Chuck it to the dog” he replied. Lighting a cigarette, Eddie wandered out into the warehouse, the yells of pain from Tubby growing faint as he was helped to hop out to the car. He rubbed his face with his hand; there was a headache in there, just waiting to happen, he was sure of that.

Eddie came from East Dulwich. Sandwiched between the rougher manor of Peckham, and the posh district of Dulwich Village, with its upper-class schools and expensive big houses, East Dulwich had never really had its own identity. The long roads leading from the greenery of Peckham Rye, up to the shops in Lordship Lane, could hardly be described as undesirable. In fact, Eddie’s parents actually owned their own house, almost unknown in his crowd. There was a good chance that he would never have encountered the sort of people that he now spent his life with, but he had done the decent thing, and gone into the army, to do his two years of National Service. Many of his peers sought exemptions, fiddled medical records, or just vanished, but he went. He had been brighter than most at school, passed his 11 Plus exam, and got a job as a trainee book-keeper at his mum’s firm in The City. When his call-up papers arrived, he didn’t mind going, hoping to see somewhere exotic, like Singapore, Malaya, or Kenya. He went for his training in Surrey, and was soon marked out by the sergeant, who transferred him to the company office, for clerical duties. From there, it was all ever going to go one way.

Sergeant Douglas was a career soldier. He had been in the war, and decided to stay on, running the stores, and being in charge of the supplies. All the paperwork necessary might have seemed a chore to some, but to the Sarge, it was a licence to print money. He saw the chance to make this Londoner his protege, and to make use of his quick brain, and skill with figures. So, Eddie was roped in to the big fiddles early on. He never got any further than Surrey, and the most exotic place he saw in two years was Guildford. The Sarge kept him close, and made sure he didn’t get posted to some faraway spot. Eddie was happy enough to play the game. Plenty of cash, nights out in the town, the odd bit of skirt to brighten the week. The Sarge shifted the stuff, Eddie cooked the books. They were a good team. When they had to deal with some of the spivs and crooks that pushed their luck, the Sarge expected him to bash a few heads, and break a few bones. He grew up fast, and realised what had to be done. No questions asked. When his time was up, the Sarge tried to talk him into staying on, but Eddie could now see his future, and it wasn’t in uniform.

Mum was upset when Eddie didn’t return to his job in The City. But he told her that he was now into import and export instead, and that impressed her. Dad seemed to know the truth, but it was never mentioned. Eddie soon moved out, into a rented flat just up the road, in Honour Oak. He got in with some blokes from Brockley Cross who were doing all sorts of dodgy deals. Eddie had his savings from his army fiddles, and could front up the money for the jukeboxes and one-armed bandits that were all the rage. It was easy enough. Turn up with a van load at a pub, cafe, or club, and tell the owner that he had to have a fruit machine or jukebox, or both. Wheel it in, plug it in, and tell him you would be back to empty the cash box later that week. If he kicked off, or made a fuss, he got a few slaps, or a bash with a cosh. If he went so far as to get help from some heavies, or throw the machine out after they had left, then they went back mob-handed, smashed the place up, and duffed-up everyone involved.
If they were hard, you just had to be harder.

There were lots of Eddies around in those days. Big Eddie from Streatham, Eddie Redhead from Coldharbour Lane, and the famous Razor Eddie, from Deptford. So he became East Dulwich Eddie, at least as far as everyone else was concerned. He never settled with that though. It was a bit of a mouthful, and East Dulwich didn’t sound that tough. He decided to create his own nickname, something more inspiring, a better branding for the sort of business he was engaged in. Not long after his twenty-first birthday, he started to refer to himself as Mad Eddie. This wasn’t that easy, as his previous street name had a tendency to stick. He had to get the rest of his associates to start calling him ‘Mad’, and when he was threatening a pub landlord, or club owner, he would say things like, “Tell them Mad Eddie was here.” After a year or so, his new name was widely adopted, and his reputation secured. He now moved on to the next stage of his plan. Taking over the gang.

He wondered why he had ever been worried. It was simplicity itself. Most of the blokes might have been older, and they were all certainly tougher, and more experienced. But they weren’t bright. There was a tendency to fight amongst themselves, and a childish spitefulness that had to be seen to be believed. They had jealousies; worrying about who had more money, or a better jam-jar, or whose bird was better looking. Eddie put it to them that he could organise things. They would have a proper manor, a defined field of operations. regular collections, cash in their pockets, and he would expand into the lucrative market of bent fags and booze. They wouldn’t even have to hijack the shipments. Just straighten up the drivers with some dosh, give them a few smacks for the sake of appearances, and drive off with the stuff. “Leave it all to me boys,” Eddie told them. And they did. Very soon, they acknowledged him as the leader, hardly noticing when the change happened. That was when the good times started.

Eddie took up with Janet that same year. She was three years older than him, and he had seen her hanging around the pubs with her mates. He asked around, showing interest. Nobody seemed to have a handle on her though. Some said her bloke was doing a big stretch, others that she had been married, and her husband was dead somehow. They couldn’t name anyone who had ever been out with her, and the only thing that everyone knew for sure was that she worked in Peek Frean’s biscuit factory, in Bermondsey. One night in the Tigers’s Head, he wandered over, and asked if she wanted a drink. He liked her short skirt, and bobbed hair, and didn’t mind that she wore glasses. Janet was excited to be chatted up by a known villain, a local face. Eddie soon found out that the truth about her was very normal. She lived with her mum and dad in Dockhead, and never had a boyfriend in the nick, or a husband who had been killed. He took her home that night, driving up to her flats in his new Rover P5, with its purring straight six engine. She kissed him in the car, and when she got indoors, told her mum that she had been brought home in a limousine. After that, they were a couple.

Eddie couldn’t help feeling that he was missing out though. The lads had no conversation, as most of them had never done nothing but crime. Janet was nice enough, and she adored him, but after the sex, he didn’t want to talk about the latest records, or her new clothes. He also regretted moving her into his new flat in Forest Hill. It had great views across from the top floor, and he had the latest G-Plan furniture, but she filled it with knick-knacks, girly bits and bobs. She had no taste, that was the problem. But she never forgot her roots, and kept the place nice, as well as always having food on the table whenever he got home. She even learned to drive, and he bought her a mini. Not an everyday one though, a posh one, a Wolseley Hornet. She didn’t have to work at the biscuit factory anymore either, not with the money he was bringing in.

And life was starting to get a lot more difficult too. His success had attracted the attention of the big gangs, and they had started to make noises about ‘including’ Eddie’s gang in their operations. It looked like a takeover was on the cards, and that would be bad news for him. They wanted in on all of it. The girls in Streatham and Balham, the gambling in Brockley and Ladywell, and the machines all over. If he wanted to stay in one piece, he was going to have to walk away from all that, and start working for a living. He would reinvent himself, and his gang, and they would become armed robbers.

Eddie walked over to the metal chest at the back. He fished around in it for a while, finally standing up holding his Sten, and two hand grenades. Behind him, the two Phils gave each other a knowing look. Eddie let out a deep sigh. “Get tooled up, boys,” he told them. “We’re paying Jackie a visit.” After collecting the guns, the blokes made their way outside. Eddie watched them as they walked up, seven assorted men, expressions grim, climbing into the two cars. With him included, that made eight, more than enough, he reckoned. They were missing one, Red-Faced Brian, who had not got back from the hospital yet. But they would go with what they had. Eddie would have been happy to go with just Bang-Bang, he was a one-man army in himself.

Billy Bang-Bang was the oldest member of Eddie’s gang. He was over fifty, though some way off sixty. He was also the toughest, and undoubtedly the most fearless. He didn’t have the caution of Tall Phil, or the unstable nature of Short Phil. He was just solid, staunch.

William Tice was also an outsider, and for one very important reason. He was from the East End, Limehouse, north of the river. In another life, he would never have met Eddie and the two Phils, Bald Norman, or Red-Face. He would have stuck to his manor, never ventured south of the Rotherhithe Tunnel, made that short journey into a land that was as foreign as another country. But the love of his life, his sweet Edna, was a Peckham girl, so he had no choice. He had made his life in these unfamiliar boroughs, that smaller part of the city. It had been so long now, he thought of it as home.
Young Billy Tice had started life in a Limehouse slum, the youngest of four. His mum and dad both had stalls on the market along Whitechapel Road, opposite the London Hospital. They sold anything they could lay hands on, but mostly second-hand clothes. Billy and his three sisters were expected to work too, from a very young age. Sorting through the rags and piles of clothes, washing them in big copper tubs, pressing them ready for sale on the market. He could just about read and write when he was taken out of school, and he was soon learning the ropes on the stalls too. In 1936, he was sixteen years old, and fed up with slaving away, and sleeping in a smelly bed with two of his sisters. He went to the recruiting office, and signed up for the army. Boy Soldier Tice.

He liked it well enough. He was almost six feet tall, and still growing. Years of hard graft had made him strong, and life on the market had made him tough. He made a place for himself in the infantry, and even got to go abroad, to India. He thought it was a dirty, smelly place, worse than Limehouse. The people were even poorer than his neighbours back home, and they used to piss and shit in the streets too. But he got used to it, and he got used to the heat as well. When the war with Germany started, he was nineteen years old, and no longer young Billy. Now he was lance-corporal Tice, and someone to be reckoned with. For the first year or so, not much happened. Then one day, they were issued with some new gear and uniform, and the clerk said they were going to the desert on a troopship. He had never heard of Libya, and the only thing he knew about Egypt was the Pyramids.

But he soon found out. To start with, they fought the Italians. Some of those eyeties weren’t much cop, but every now and again you met some who put up a fight. Then the Germans arrived, and it all got very serious. Billy lost mates, saw his first close range fighting, and began to realise that he actually enjoyed it. The truth was, he was good at fighting, and good at killing too. He shot people at long range, or shot them right in front of him. He stuck them with bayonets, hit them with shovels, bashed their heads in with a rifle-butt, or rocks, whatever was handy. He killed men who were surrendering, and also shot enemy wounded. He was a killing machine, devoid of conscience. He couldn’t understand the blokes who were scared, or who didn’t want to shoot, in case they hurt someone. It was a war, and they had to win it. Billy knew how to win it, and carried on in his own way.

The regiment had a hard war. You couldn’t make it up. After the desert, there was Sicily, then Italy. Months of slogging through the mud, Germans putting up a fierce fight. Billy made corporal by the time he was twenty-three, and the others always looked at him a bit funny. The officers loved him though. Any shitty job, dangerous patrol, or taking a strong-point, Tice was their man of choice. He got the job done, never moaned, and set out as if he couldn’t ever be killed.

He got leave just in time to meet Edna. She was looking at him across the floor of a dance hall in the West End. He had been staying with one of his mates in Tottenham, as he had no more to do with his family, and hadn’t seen or contacted them in years. Edna was his sort of girl. Small, pretty, and not too mouthy. Nothing like all the whores and slags who he had paid for over the years. It was love at first sight for him, and for Edna too. She had lost her fiance at Dunkirk, and didn’t expect to meet anyone else for a long time. But the tall sun-tanned soldier just made her heart flutter.

But first he had to go to France. Not long after D-day, they landed in time to get involved in the real bad fighting, near Caen. One damp morning, they lost two blokes to machine-gun fire from behind some hedgerows. When Billy flushed them out, they were just kids, wearing uniforms too big for them. The platoon had six prisoners, and the lieutenant told Billy that they were from the SS, the Hitler Youth Division. Without hesitation, Billy marched them behind the hedge and shot them all with his Thompson. They looked even younger when they were dead. After success in Normandy, they had to fight their way across what seemed like the whole of Germany, until it was over. Little villages, towns with houses like those in fairy stories, fighting for every one of them. Even after the surrender, Billy had to stay on, just ’cause he was a regular, they told him. The Army of Occupation wouldn’t be so bad. After all, they were still fighting the Japs in the Far East, so it was better than that. There were lots of fiddles too. The Black Market was the thing then, and he made a good few quid, here and there. He didn’t get back to Edna until 1946 though, and they married that same month.

Billy was finished with the army. It was no life for Edna, after all, and he really did love her. He loved her enough to move to south London, no matter how strange it seemed. The cold-water rooms in Nunhead were alright with him, as long as Edna was happy. Her dad got him a job as a lorry-driver, and she carried on working in Jones and Higgins. The driving job was just a front though. The bloke who owned the company was shifting all sorts of moody gear, and Billy was quick to catch on to the opportunities offered by this petty crime. He drifted in and out of different jobs, started to run with some of the gangs, and got the name as a tough guy, someone good when there was trouble. When it turned out that Edna couldn’t have kids, he didn’t mind. They got a better flat near Goose Green, and enjoyed life, going out drinking and dancing with their friends, and holidays in Southend, or Margate. By the time he met Eddie, he reckoned he knew a good boss when he saw one, and threw in with him as soon as he was asked.

At the time, he was still just Billy, or Bill. Some called him Limehouse Bill, to mark him out from the other Williams and Billys. He got his real nickname on his first job for Eddie. He went to a pub with Short Phil, acting as back-up for the little bloke. The landlord wasn’t playing ball, and threatening to bring in fruit machines from other gangs. Despite Short Phil acting his most fierce, the bloke wasn’t shifting. “You two better fuck off out, if you know what’s good for you,” he snarled. Billy produced two revolvers, one in each hand. He fired a shot from each one into the ceiling of the pub, and everyone shifted out of there in the wink of an eye. The bloke changed his mind.
Later on, Short Phil was telling the story to the rest of the gang. “You should have seen it. Billy gets out two shooters, and bang-bang. The geezer bottles it. He looked like he was going to shit his pants.” That was it. ‘Billy Bang-Bang’ was going to stick. It got shortened of course, as they often did. They dropped the Billy, and just used Bang-Bang. Sometimes, it was reduced to ‘Bangs’, but everyone knew who was being talked about. It got so that even Edna started to call him Bangs after a while, and some blokes didn’t even know his real name.

In the back of the Hillman, Billy was loading a spare magazine for the Thompson. They weren’t too far from Jackie’s place now, and you could never be too sure what to expect. Eddie placed the Sten on the floor between his feet. The thing was, it wasn’t about the guns, and not about the money they were worth either. It wasn’t even about the fact that weeks of work on the blag had all gone out of the window, and the inside man might not be on that run again for months. It was about taking the piss, and not showing respect. He had known Jackie for years, and yet the bastard thought he could swift his shooters, and balls up his job. He must think I’m getting soft, thought Eddie.

Jackie was sitting in the shabby office at the back of his car lot in Downham. He was thinking about how much he hated gangsters, and asking himself for the umpteenth time why he ever allowed himself to get involved with them in the first place. They pretended to be your mate, they acted like you were part of their set-up, but they just took the piss out of you, showed you no respect. Well this time, he had bit back, got one over on them. It wasn’t about the guns, far from it. He was just fed up with being fed up, and tired of being used.

Jackie Jam-Jar wasn’t even a Jackie, or a Jack. He wasn’t even Jack Rose, the name on his sign fronting Downham Way. He was Jacob Rosenberg, and he lived a respectable life, at least as far as his family, friends, and neighbours were concerned. He had been born in Vienna, where his parents ran one of the most respected tailoring shops in a good area. But then Hitler had come to power in Germany, and everyone knew that Austria would be next. He was sent to live with his aunt in London, in the affluent district of Golders Green, where she had a shop selling ladies undergarments. He didn’t hear from mum and dad after that. When he was old enough to understand, Aunt Ada told him that they had probably died in the camps.

He did well at school, and went to Technical College, where he became interested in engines, and the cars that they went in. He got a job at Ford’s in Dagenham, working in the technical development office. Aunt Ada found him clean rooms with a Jewish family in Wanstead. It was there that he met Hester, a cousin of the family, from south London. They decided the pair would be a good match, and a marriage was arranged. Aunt Ada was pleased, and gave Jacob the money to set up his own car company. He found some cheap land with a workshop in Downham, and began with a grand idea, to build his own brand of sports car. But Hester wanted a house, and it had to be somewhere nice, like Bromley. Then she got pregnant, and the money was going fast. After little Anthony was born, Hester wanted only the best, so Jacob had to become Jack, and start selling cars, instead of inventing new ones. He was soon approached by dodgy types, asking for cars that had no history, or bringing him ones that did. This was easy money though, and it was regular too.

Now Anthony was at university, hoping to become a barrister. Hester had declined to have more children. She always said that she had a bad time with her first, and didn’t want to go through that again. Aunt Ada was long dead, and Jacob had become Jackie Jam-Jar, everyone’s friend, living a lie. Hester wanted little more out of life than new furniture, and to talk about the family car company to her posh friends. If only she knew. If only they all knew. There was her brother Terence of course. He was never mentioned. He had been adopted in a moment of madness, before they knew they were expecting Hester. When he turned out to be a monster, they disowned him. But Jackie kept in touch, and kept an eye on his daughter, Carol. The least he could do, with Terry in for fifteen. He lit a cigar, and sat back in the collapsing chair. The shit would hit the fan, he was sure of that. And he had stopped caring. He was sure of that too.

When the cars drove into the yard, Jackie knew. He opened the drawer of his desk and took out the Luger pistol he kept there, laying it across his lap. Angel was in the doorway. “They’re here Jackie,” he stated the obvious. His tone was flat, disinterested. He walked off into the workshop, no doubt to give Tony The Tooth and Pale Ashton the heads-up. In his mind’s eye, Jackie had imagined the scene. Eddie would arrive heavy, shout a lot, threaten him and the boys. Short Phil might wave his bolt-cutters about, and Bangs might even show off his Thompson. But the stuff was long gone, not to be found in his place, anywhere. And he would deny it all, blame Tubby, and tell Eddie to do his worst, but it wasn’t him. They need me, he told himself. Where else would they get the motors and vans they needed all the time? Eddie would have to take this one on the chin, whatever he thought he knew.

But that day, things didn’t work out quite as smoothly as he had anticipated. For once, Mad Eddie was really mad, and he was already planning where to get his motors in future.

Angel had grabbed the twelve-bore from the boot of the Zodiac in the workshop. Tony The Tooth put his Colt .45 automatic in his inside coat pocket, and even Pale Ashton tooled up, getting the old Webley from the red tool box in the corner. Just in case. But the best laid plans…You know the rest.
Eddie started firing the Sten before he had even cleared the top step into Jackie’s office. Poor old Jam-Jar didn’t have time to pick up the Luger. He looked at the holes in his belly, the blood already soaking his shirt. It didn’t hurt yet. The shock would have to wear off first. Bangs got out of the other car, firing short bursts with the Thompson at the thin walls of the workshop. Tony gave a yell, and fell over backwards. Angel glanced at him, and saw he wasn’t moving. He poked the barrels of the shotgun through the small doorway, and fired them both, more in panic than with care. Bangs was surprised to find himself on his back. He couldn’t stand up, and suddenly felt very cold. Angel had managed what all those Italians and Germans had never been able to. But in his panic, he had fired both shells, and forgotten to reload. As Bald Norman approached the door, pointing a pistol at his face, Angel pointlessly pulled the triggers on two empty chambers, just before the .38 soft nose bullet entered his head.

Pale Ashton had never been so scared, but he was no coward. He ran out of the back door, and around the side, until he was behind the office. As Eddie walked back down the steps, Ashton shot him in the back, twice. The smart man fell onto his face, and didn’t move. Ashton thought about shooting him again, but then something hit him hard in the side, and he fell as well. He looked up, and saw one of the cars reversing at speed, back out of the entrance into the road. The other car was now empty; doors open, engine running. He thought he could perhaps get into it, and make his escape, so started to crawl towards it. But Bald Norman had other ideas. His first shot had been a fluke from that range, so he was closing the gap for a second try. Pale Ashton realised he was never going to make it. He turned awkwardly, and fired the remaining four rounds at the man approaching him. Norman fired back as he walked forward, but suddenly found himself kneeling on the floor, wondering why he wasn’t upright. The black bloke was dead for sure, but Norman didn’t feel that good either. He guessed it must be something to do with the hole in his shoulder, then his face hit the tarmac.

They got the story in time for the evening papers. It was meaty stuff, sure to sell out the edition.
‘CARNAGE IN DOWNHAM. SEVEN DEAD IN SHOOT-OUT’ The banner headline was repeated on the flyers by the news-stands.

Edna always got a paper on her way home. Although no names were mentioned, a photo of the scene was published, the bodies covered over with sheets or something. She recognised the car, the one with its doors open. It was Eddie’s car, no mistake. She felt sick, as if she was going to pass out. She held onto a wall in Rye Lane, and a lady came up to her. “You alright dear?” She asked.
Janet didn’t find out until the six-o-clock news on the telly that night. She hadn’t been worried, as Eddie was rarely home before seven anyway. She started to cry, and she wasn’t sure if she would ever stop. In Bromley, Hester was watching something different, when the doorbell rang. There were two men in raincoats, and a policewoman in uniform. She showed them in, and when they told her, the scream she let out made them all jump. Carol got a phone call. He mumbled something about Angel, and told her to watch the news.

She didn’t cry at first. She had always expected this.

Longer Stories: Travelodge

A Travelodge is a budget hotel, part of a popular chain here in the UK. This is one of my earliest attempts at longer fiction, originally published in three parts. I have decided to group it together into one long post, and offer it as something for new followers to discover. If you take the time do do just that, I will be very grateful. I warn you now, it is over 11,000 words.

I have taken some liberties with punctuation and grammar. Where those appear, they are deliberate.

Part One: Chris

Pardew indicated left, to turn into the service road behind the large petrol station. He was craning his neck, to see if his favourite spot was free. He considered it unlucky if someone else was parked in it, though for no good reason. He turned right, following the direction indicated by the blue sign, and was ridiculously elated to see the free space, right at the end, next to the huge concrete planter containing a mature pampas grass. Two weeks ago, there had been a flat bed truck in that space, the one he considered ‘his’, and he had felt deflated. Not only had he lost his spot, it seemed that commercial drivers were now using the hotel, lowering the tone, in his opinion. But then, everything around him was changing.

As he turned off the ignition, and reached over to the back seat, to grab his jacket, and overnight bag, he reflected on how many times he had made this journey, in just over a year. Every two weeks, for fourteen months; less Christmas, and that last summer holiday, naturally. At least thirty times. It seemed a lot more though, and he wondered how he was going to arrange for it to stop.

At first, it had been so exciting. It was not contrived, neither sought, nor even wished for. It had simply happened. The annual conference, at some awful generic hotel, in the heart of what was commonly known as; ‘The West Midlands Urban Conurbation’. Pat had been the new girl, a recent addition to the sales force, and one of only two women employed in this role. She was surprisingly confident, and very straightforward, unlike any other woman he had met. Some of the old hands laughed behind her back, calling her ‘a bloke with tits’. Pardew almost knew what they meant. She had an easy way about her, chatted freely; and she didn’t flirt, or come across ‘all feminine’. He liked that about her. After the conference, they all met for dinner and drinks, normally a stilted affair, where regional factions gathered together, suspiciously eyeing up those who were doing well, or those from the larger cities. Pat brightened the evening, doing the rounds in the room, but not sucking up to the bosses too much. Just enough though.

Even though the venue was bland, by any standards, the management sought to save money, by making everyone stay at various Travelodges, or Premier Inns, a short distance away. This also meant that they all would have to drive later, so reduced drunkenness, and any awkward scenes. When Pat let slip that she was staying at the same Travelodge, Pardew was inordinately pleased, though he couldn’t think why. She had given no indication of undue attraction to him, and he had certainly not propositioned her. He had suggested a meeting at breakfast, before they made their respective departures. As the hotel had no catering facilities, this would be taken at the roadside diner, part of a national chain, conveniently located beside the petrol station. She had not confirmed this arrangement by the time they left the conference dinner, so he thought no more of it. He reversed his Audi A4 out of the tight space, and drove through the darkness, arriving at the motel in less than fifteen minutes. There were no staff around as he entered, so he walked straight to his room, and decided to ring his wife.
It was only 10.30pm, but you would have thought it was the middle of the night, judging by her tone. He guessed that he was interrupting one of her programmes, probably something she had Sky-Plussed earlier. He rambled on about how dull the conference had been, and how crushingly boring it was, to be stuck in the motel, near the junction of three major motorways. Mandy suggested he watch TV, and when he said he would be home the next evening, about six, she ended the lukewarm chat, with a simple ‘bye’. Pardew stretched out on the reasonably comfortable bed, blowing out his cheeks, and releasing the air slowly. They had only been married for three years for Christ’s sake, was that her best effort? He went over to his bag, and took out the half bottle of vodka, purchased in a supermarket yesterday. At least he could relax, and enjoy a drink, maybe it would help him sleep. Try not to think too much Chris, he told himself. It’s the thinking that does the damage. He took mental stock of his life. Almost thirty years old, a reasonably successful salesman, with a nice car, decent salary, and numerous benefits. Married to the lovely Mandy, for three years, no children planned as yet, until she got her business running to a level at which she would feel secure. She was good with computers, and could write and design a mean website. Trouble was, so could thousands of other people, and most of them were a lot cheaper than Mandy.  Too much thinking was making his head hurt. Time for sleep.

The next morning, he had a nine o’clock almost forty miles away, so decided to skip breakfast, and try to beat the morning rush. It didn’t pay to be late these days. The world of business computing was getting ever more crowded, and customers would think nothing of not seeing you, if you were five minutes late. He had been chasing this prospect for almost three months, and wasn’t about to let him get away, at least not without a fight. Thinking of the right pitch occupied his mind, and he didn’t even glance into the diner as he drove past. He never saw the woman, looking at her watch in a window seat, wondering what she was going to say to this relative stranger, when he arrived to join her for breakfast.

When he got out of the meeting, he was not in the best of moods. the buyer was a good five years younger than him, open necked shirt, casual jacket, very Silicon Valley. He had made Pardew feel old, and even worse, made his product feel old, and outdated too. In another life, he might have agreed with the cocky youngster. Their stuff had seen better days. Once the brand leader, it was now lagging behind the new guys on the block, and the hardware was beginning to show its age. He had managed to remain positive and upbeat, but was secretly crestfallen when he realised all the work getting in to see this company was pointless. They had gone with the new lot, like so many before them. He would make his next call on one of the old regular customers, just to cheer himself up. He checked his mobile. It was more of a computer than a phone, almost too big to fit into a pocket, and packed with every gadget and gizmo possible. He had a text from an unknown number, but read it anyway. You never know, it might be something good. It was a simple message. ‘Thanks for breakfast. I felt a right prat sitting there. Dickhead.’ He knew at once it had to be from Pat. She must have contacted the office to get his number, probably told them she needed advice or something. He had completely forgotten the promise of a shared breakfast, and felt his face flush with embarrassment, despite sitting alone, in a parked car. This was soon replaced by indignation. After all, she hadn’t confirmed it last night, so how was he supposed to know?

He replied with a text along the lines of sorry, I will make it up to you, or something similar; now long forgotten, and securely deleted. He didn’t bump into Pat for a few weeks after that, during a routine trip into Head Office, for leaflets and samples. He expected awkwardness, but received the friendliest of welcomes, and it put him completely off guard. Before he knew it, he could hear himself blatantly chatting her up, and suggesting a meal later that night, if she could make it. He was staying at the nearest Travelodge, so it would not be too far for her. After all, she had given away that she only lived a short drive from the out of town industrial estate where they were chatting. He had clocked her wedding ring, but tried his luck anyway. What was the worst that could happen? She agreed to meet at the Harvester across the road from the hotel, at 6.30. It was hardly a place he would have chosen; one of this featureless chain of pubs, with their family-friendly cheap meals, all tasting as if they had come straight from the freezer. Still, at least he could have a drink, and walk back across the car park to his room.

He was in the bar at 6, at a table with a good view of the door. By 6.45, he presumed that she wasn’t coming, and constant checks on his phone showed no message, or apology for lateness. He looked once more at the picture-book menu, failing to get inspiration from the photographs of how the meals would appear on the plate, but deciding that he had better have something, as he hadn’t eaten since a skimpy breakfast. As he went back up to the bar, to order another drink, she appeared, coat flapping, all rush and bluster. She was dressed for a ball, with long gown, full make-up, and a hairdo that was probably straight from the salon, before a buffeting in the car park disassembled it. Not really appropriate for steak and chips in a Harvester, he thought to himself. She muttered some apology, and he asked what she wanted to drink; just water please, was her reply. He showed her to the table, and commented on how attractive she looked. She finally relaxed, and with a chuckle, told him that she had used the excuse of having to go to a formal company dinner, so thought that she had better dress as if she actually was.

A dumpy waitress arrived, probably working after school or college, awkward in her too-short black dress and thick black tights, wrinkled at the knees. They both ordered a main course only, and Pardew suggested wine, to which Pat replied, not for me, but thanks anyway. The conversation was surprisingly easy, and flowed a lot better than he had anticipated. Both gave a short history of their lives up to then, as well as their present circumstances. Pat was married, and had been for almost ten years. She had no children. Despite trying hard for a few years at first, it just hadn’t happened. Her husband was called Alan, and he was a policeman, a motorway traffic officer. He was working until 11 that night, so she would have to be home by the time he got in. He didn’t like her being out too late, and naturally frowned on any drinking, when she would be driving later. Without asking her directly, Pardew guessed that she was a few years older than he was. The length of time she had been married, the music she talked about, and how long her husband had been a copper, it all added up to her being about thirty-five. When they were eating the meal, conversation dropped off, but she smiled a lot, and ate casually, without undue speed, or apparent hunger. The long purple dress, matching bag and shoes, and flawless make-up, all oozed class. He felt good, and ordered another glass of Chablis to celebrate this feeling of well-being. After the meal was finished, she declined a dessert, and suddenly interrupted him during the full flow of one of his funnier stories. Please call me Trish, she asked, everyone calls me Pat.
He checked his watch, time to ask the inevitable question. After all, he had nothing to lose. How about coffee or a drink in my room, he suggested, it is very noisy in here. She nodded, and reminded him to ask for the bill. He gave the gloomy waitress a £5 tip, feeling the need to spread the good mood around the room. Pat put her coat on, and followed him out, for the short walk across to the Travelodge. The desk staff didn’t bat an eyelid when he arrived with a glamorous woman in tow. There was little left to surprise them, in the life of an out of town motel, where guests treated them as if they were invisible; most of the time, anyway. In the room, they abandoned any pretence at niceties, and began kissing as soon as Pat’s coat was off. There was the usual frantic fumbling with zips, sleeves, and assorted fasteners, and they were soon on the bed, clad only in underwear. Pardew noted that she was wearing hold-up stockings; a nice touch, he mused. Her body was not gym-hardened and fleshless, like Mandy’s, but womanly, soft and fragrant. If he had imagined a sex-fest of unusual antics, and porn film proportions, he was wrong. But it was all very nice, in a hurried, longing for satisfaction kind of way. When it was over, and they were both replete, Pat retreated to the small bathroom, to tidy up, as she put it. Pardew was feeling pretty pleased with himself. His first extra-marital assignation had gone well. He searched inside for guilt, but felt none present. Despite reservations about his physical image, lack of muscle tone, and slight belly, he had received no complaints. And it was still only 10.15, so he could probably get to see that film at 11, after all.

Pat reappeared fully dressed, hair combed, and make-up reconstructed. She said that she was sorry to rush, and that it had been very nice, not that she ever did that sort of thing normally, you understand. She made sure that he had saved her number, and when he suggested meeting again, in say two weeks, she agreed without hesitation. He kissed her goodbye at the door of the room, as she had declined his offer of walking her to the car. Back in the room, he confirmed his good feelings to himself. This could be nice. A fortnightly diversion, a break from the norm. Was it an affair though? He doubted that. More like a modern arrangement.

It went on much the same, though with the distinct absence of hold-up stockings, and evening wear. Within a short time, it had become a standing arrangement, every two weeks, saving family occasions, holidays, and unforeseen dramas. She would turn up, often in sports clothes, apparently now using going to an exercise class with friends, as a regular excuse. They rarely bothered to go out, or to eat first. Pardew would have a few drinks in his room, and text her the room number. She would arrive around seven, and usually be gone by nine. He would be left to his TV programmes, catching up on paperwork, and the late call to Mandy, to listen to how bored she was to hear his voice. The once frantic sex of the early days had gone. It had been replaced by rapid undressing, a leap under the duvet, then following the usual routine, until they were both satisfied, or Pat had to leave. They couldn’t give each other presents, or small gifts, as they could not explain them. Cards were out of the question, for the same reason. And they never mentioned the word love. It just didn’t seem appropriate. In the same way, the prospect of either of them leaving their spouses was never raised. This was not going to end in divorce, or living alone in a small room, for either of them. It had become a habit, like most things in life always do, eventually.

Fourteen months on, as he waited for Pat to arrive, probably late as usual, Pardew reflected on the complete pointlessness of it all, and resolved to end it that evening. Things were certainly no better with Mandy, but the feeling of freedom that he got from his fortnightly sneaking, no longer existed. He knew exactly what to expect, from the moment Pat came through the door, until the second that she left to go home. He would be kind and considerate, perhaps invent an excuse. Maybe Mandy had an illness that meant he had to be home more. Perhaps he could say that they were moving nearer, and he had no more excuses to stay away. He didn’t know for sure, but he would think of something, and end it as friends.
At least, that was the plan.

Part Two: Trish

The traffic was heavier than usual, probably an accident on the motorway, everything diverted, to just where she needed to be.

Trish was going to be late, as normal. He never moaned about it, but she could always tell that he noticed. At least the rain had stopped, and she could open the window again. Alan had been a bit sullen that afternoon. He couldn’t see why she wanted to go to her imaginary exercise class, then for drinks with the girls later. After all, he was on a day off, and she wouldn’t be drinking anyway. He had offered a lift, but she had been adamant that she wanted her own car there. After all, she had explained, I might want to leave early. As soon as she got in from work, contriving an early finish by cancelling her last appointment, he had been on her as usual. Big deal, he was on a day off. What about all those nights and weekends of her life, when he was out in his Police Car? She had never complained.
She resolved to make this THE night, the one time she got to speak to Chris properly. Forget the sex, they needed to talk. This had all gone on far too long, without any decent conversation, and no planning for the future. She had not intended this relationship to be just a year of stolen assignations in a crappy motel. She deserved more, and she would tell him so. The red lights of the car ahead suddenly blazed bright, and she stood on her brakes. Concentrate Trish, she told herself, watch what you’re bloody doing girl. She couldn’t really work out how she had let it go for so long. There was never any talk of love, or even of like, for that matter. There was some scant affection, and sex of course, but that was all, and occasionally, it left her feeling empty. Every two weeks, she had determined to tell him that she loved him, and to ask what his plans and intentions were for the future. Then it just didn’t happen, and she always mentally kicked herself, on the short journey home. She would not allow herself to believe that all he wanted was routine sex on a fortnightly basis. That was impossible to consider. It had to be more surely? It certainly was, for her.

Compared to Alan, Chris was all she had hoped for. Amusing, relaxed, good company, and undemanding. Of course, Alan had been different when they were young. He was her first serious boyfriend at sixteen, and the first man she ever had sex with, a year later. In fact, until that fateful meeting fourteen months earlier, the only man that she had ever had sex with. There had been lots of offers, naturally. You cannot be a woman in this sort of job, without constant innuendo, inappropriate touching, and even downright suggestions of how about it? Until she met Pardew that night, it had never seriously crossed her mind. It was just that he was the sort she always fancied. Not athletic, a bit cheeky, and rough around the edges. He didn’t think that much of himself, which made others think all the more of him. If she could have gone back in time, and had the benefit of hindsight, she would have waited for someone exactly like Chris. He even referred to himself as Pardew, as if he was talking about someone else, and despite the fact that he was one of the best salesmen in the company, he was suitably self-deprecating. Every time she went to meet him, she felt better, warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer. He had a good effect on her, and she wanted to feel that more than once every fortnight.

She would ask him about leaving his wife. From what little she had heard about Mandy, she concluded that she was a selfish, driven woman, who had a husband as an accessory, and would have preferred a more executive model. Their house was chosen by her, as well as the decor, furnishings, and even the car that Chris had picked from the list of those available. He was there for the journey, a passenger in the speeding train of her life and plans. Trish believed that she had so much more to offer. She would involve him, allow him to be himself, and embrace his friends and family, all currently sidelined by this snobbish woman from Worcester. She had dissected every snippet of conversation, all the snapshots of his life provided by their all too short talks, before and after sex. Over these last months, she had managed to construct an image of Chris’s life with Mandy, in their heavily-mortgaged, larger than necessary house, on an executive estate, on the outskirts of a small Midlands town. Mandy’s own business was hardly doing well. Web Site management, so what? You could do that on your own these days, with free tools provided by numerous organisations. Why pay that shrew to do it for you? Trish expected that Mandy lived on debts, with huge credit card bills, and loans paying off forever, to provide her life with the best of everything. She doubted that Chris knew half of it, and was sure that Mandy kept him firmly in the dark about financial affairs. He was so easygoing, after all, and probably just went along with anything, to get the quiet life he sought.

He would be better off with her. They could force Alan and Mandy to sell the houses, get half of each, if anything was left, and begin afresh. They were still young enough to start again, get a small house somewhere, and maybe even have a family. They both had good jobs, company cars, and expenses, and could work hard to lead a happy life together. She would explain that it was Alan who couldn’t give her children, and that she was in full working order. Since meeting Pardew, she had even had to secretly go back on the pill, to the great surprise of her doctor. She had said it was because of period problems, as she could hardly tell the truth, when her and Alan both went to the same GP. He had never accepted that it was because of him, that they couldn’t have children. He refused to accept his low sperm count, and she dare not even consider broaching the possibility of a donor. He put it down to the doctors taking her side, and grew angry and withdrawn whenever the subject came up. He poured his energies into his job, his training at the gym, his football club, and in cycling. He was always cycling, it seemed to her. He had even spent £3,000 on a special bike of some kind, without even mentioning it to her, until it appeared in the garage one day. He thought nothing of going for fifty miles, and would habitually do a twenty mile ride, even before work. She didn’t go on about it, knowing better than to rile him.

It had been different when they were young. He was two years older than her, waiting to join the Police as soon as he could get in. It was all he ever wanted to be, and he had prepared for it his whole life, even dressing in a small policeman’s outfit on his fifth birthday. The photo of that event had pride of place, alongside his passing-out parade photo, on the unit near the TV. The other girls had been jealous. He was six feet tall, sporty and athletic; square-jawed, and blue-eyed. He came from a good family, and he had a car! What more could she ask for, her friends had all told her. Even so, he had waited a long time to propose. They didn’t marry until he was sure that he had achieved what he wanted, and passed all his courses in the Police. Once he was accepted for the Traffic Patrol, his ultimate goal, he arranged the wedding for the following year. She was twenty-six, and he was almost twenty-nine, when they had the dream wedding in the small church, followed by a lavish reception in the country club hotel. Almost ten years later, and they still lived in the two-bed semi that they bought the year before they married. He preferred to spend any spare money on cars, instead of moving up the housing ladder. Last year, he had gone and spent almost sixteen grand on a car that he said was the best on the road, a Mitsubishi Evolution. Alright, he could afford the loan repayments, but she didn’t think much of it. It was bumpy, noisy, and not very practical. She had to admit though, Alan’s eyes did light up when he got behind the wheel of it.

Then there was the gym equipment, with the spare room kitted out like the local health centre. As well as this, he also paid out a fortune in membership fees, to the swanky gym club on the ring road. What with all that, the cycling, football, and driving his car, for the sake of it, he was hardly home, even on his days off. Despite these absences, he begrudged her any time apart. Over the years, she hardly saw her friends anymore, and lost herself in study. After sixth form college, she worked for a large insurance company, and soon realised that she was good with computers. Studying at home, and one night a week at college, she got qualifications, and decided that she would change careers, and start selling business computing systems. Alan had been against that of course. He thought that she should stick with Insurance, make her career there, and build up a nice pension. For the first time since she had met him, she went against his wishes, and applied for the job with one of the big companies. They had a territory vacant around the area where she lived, so she would always be home at night. After weeks of sulking, Alan finally came around to the idea, and started to look through car magazines. If she could change her job, he could change the car; that was his take on it, anyway.

When she came home with a start date, she also told him that she had chosen her company car, from the list of options available. He almost exploded when she told him that she had picked a Ford Focus. He demanded to look at the list. For God’s sake, she could have had a BMW 3 series for not much more a month, why the hell had she picked such a boring bloody car?  To Trish, a car was a car. It was almost free, you just paid a small tax penalty. They even paid for the petrol, insurance, and servicing, so why was he so angry? Alan didn’t think women could drive properly. She never drove when they went anywhere, as she could not bear the constant criticism and superiority. If she went the wrong way, or changed gear too late, he would yell at her, and get red-faced with frustration. She just left it to him, and switched off inside. As he got older, Alan got angrier. Trish didn’t like to admit it, but she was becoming afraid of him. It wasn’t that he was violent; he never touched her, or even threatened to do so. It was the anger that she was afraid of, and it always seemed to be directed at her. He often talked about his work, and would tell her the stupid things people did on the motorways, and how he came along to clear up the carnage that they left behind. If he had his way, no foreigners, women, or anyone over seventy would be allowed to drive. And while he was at it, nobody under twenty-one either. Unless they were Policemen, of course.

It had never really occurred to her to stray. The night she met Pardew, she couldn’t stop looking at him, but managed a good job of hiding it, pretending to suck up to the bosses. When he asked her to join him at breakfast, she agreed, but played it cool, and contrived to be out of the room as everyone left, to avoid returning to the Travelodge together. Inside, she was as excited as a teenager before Prom Night. Was breakfast considered a date? Perhaps she had gone too far,but she really liked him, his easy ways, and the fact that he had changed into a smarter suit, after the meeting, and before coming over for the dinner. He had made the effort to go back to his hotel and change, and he was the only one that had bothered. When he didn’t show up for breakfast, she had been angry at first. She got his mobile number from the office, and sent a shitty text. Then she had felt silly. Perhaps he had misunderstood, or something had come up. She was too embarrassed to text again, and just left it. But she continued to think about him though. A lot. When she saw him at Head Office, she was overjoyed. He was friendly and urbane, every inch the gentleman. The text was never mentioned, and he was obviously coming on to her. When he asked her out, she agreed immediately, not even considering Alan. On the way home, she came up with the excuse of having to go to a formal dinner, to represent the company. She couldn’t get out of it, and she was all in a rush as a result. Alan wasn’t too happy, but would be working until 11, so he couldn’t really do much about it over the phone; especially as he was dealing with a fatal accident at the time.

She chose the outfit in a hurry, one her best ones, together with her sexiest underwear, normally reserved for Alan’s birthday, or Christmas. She spent ages on her make-up, then styled her own hair, using some device bought for her as a gift, long-forgotten in the back of a cupboard. It wasn’t ideal, but at least it looked as if she had tried. She put on her new coat, and left, all a fluster, as she knew she would never make it by the agreed time.  She needn’t have worried. Pardew was there, smiling, friendly, and warm, just as she knew he would be, deep down. She must not drink, as Alan would go crazy if he smelt alcohol on her, and she ordered the first thing she saw on the menu, too excited to want to think about food. Chris was the one, she decided over her sparkling water. This was the man she should be with, not that aggressive traffic cop, who was no longer the man he had been, if he ever was in the first place. When Chris suggested going to his room, she didn’t hesitate. She had been disappointed when he had ordered that second glass of wine, in case it meant he was going to stay drinking in the restaurant, and that would be it. Once in the door of his room, it was all she had hoped it would be. He tugged at her clothes, kissed her passionately, and they fell to the bed, both hot with desire. His attraction was obvious, and his love-making was insistent, yet tender, just like those in the books she had read. He covered all the bases, and satisfied her completely, even in the short time they had available. By contrast. Alan had always embarked on sex with the determination of a mountaineer. For him, it was all about stamina, endurance, and physical prowess. Oral sex was taboo, as he considered it dirty. When she had suggested it, a long time ago, he had remarked that she might as well work in a brothel, as only whores did that sort of thing. He was a pumper, banging away on top, until she lost the will to live most times. She was sure that he was timing it in his head, and anything less than thirty minutes pumping, was considered a failure.

When Chris suggested meeting in two weeks, she agreed, and managed to conceal her concerns. She had expected him to declare his love for her, and she had been more than ready to do the same. To her way of thinking, they should be arranging to meet the same week, to talk over their plans for leaving, and being together always. Perhaps there were things he had to arrange first, so two weeks, same place, would have to do for now. Trish had never really worked out how it always ended that way. Meeting again in two weeks, the room number sent to her by text, and never any talk of living together, or how much they were in love. The sex stayed great. It must have been, because it was usually the same, which was always great for her. And Chris seemed to enjoy it. She always meant to have that chat though, and it just never happened. Tonight would be different, she would definitely do it. It must be tonight, she was certain.

The car park was busy, and she left her car in the delivery area. Although she knew she wasn’t supposed to park there, she doubted that there would be deliveries after normal hours. He had sent the text, the room was on the ground floor, one they had used many times. She grabbed the gym bag off the passenger seat, and hefted the heavy handbag onto her other shoulder, pressing the remote to lock the Focus, as she did so. Get ready Pardew, she muttered to herself, as she strode purposefully into the reception area.

Tonight’s the night.

Part Three: Alan
The blood running down from the crushed door was pooling on the tarmac. Looks like a nasty one, Alan thought, as he walked along the hard shoulder towards the small hatchback. He turned, and shouted to his colleague that they would need the Fire Brigade, sooner rather than later. Someone needed cutting out of this mess, alive or dead. He waved angrily at the traffic on the opposite carriageway. There would be an accident on that side soon, if they all kept slowing down to look at the one that had already happened. The driver of the lorry was looking dazed, sitting on the grass verge, as paramedics attended to him. The motorway was closed Northbound, so there would be hell to pay with a traffic backlog later, at the height of the rush hour. He looked into the car. As he had suspected, the young woman driver was very dead, with most of the door and front wing squeezed into half of her body. Her head was undamaged, and she looked as if she was sleeping, in a heavy, deep sleep, like someone who is unwell, or very drunk. Except she was neither. She was in that sleep from which nobody ever awakes.

His mobile was going off, buzzing in his pocket, the volume turned off. He fumbled under his yellow over-jacket, and saw it was Pat calling. He turned towards the car so he would not be seen, and answered. She had to go out after work, she panted, seemingly out of breath. Big occasion, got to represent the company, can’t get out of it. Wouldn’t be a late one though, sorry and all that, but it is her job, after all. He was about to tell her to say no, when the siren from the approaching fire engine all but drowned out the call. He just said OK then, and hung up. No time to sort it now, he would deal with it later. He walked towards the fireman who had jumped out of the rescue truck. You will need cutting equipment, he told him, but no rush, she’s had it.

By the time Alan got home that night, Pat was already asleep in bed. He took her car keys from the hook in the kitchen, and quietly went into the garage, using the back door from the garden. From a box under some tools, he removed the small notebook, where he kept a daily record of her mileage. Outside, he eased into her car, the digital mileometer activating with the entry key. He added the reading, next to the date for that day, then reversed his movements. He was sure that she was unaware he was doing this, as she had never shown any sign that she knew. Later this week, he would casually ask her where the function had been, and calculate the distance accordingly. Back in the house, he checked the washing basket in the bathroom. Black stockings, and lacy knickers; very fancy, for a company dinner.

He didn’t get much chance to chat for a few days, until he had finished the run of late shifts. He was sleeping when she left, and she was in bed when he returned. That weekend, he was off, so started Saturday morning with a forty-mile round trip on his bike. That blew away the cobwebs, and sharpened his thoughts. When he got back, she was at the supermarket, a note left behind a fridge magnet said she wouldn’t be long. Before he showered, he put his bike away, and did an hour on the running machine, followed by some press-ups. She returned, laden with all sorts of stuff, and announced that she was cooking a special meal, as they hadn’t seen a lot of each other that week. As she fussed over the shopping, he quickly checked her mileage, and scribbled it into the notebook. Relaxing later, his sixth sense was telling him that something was not right. He had known Pat for almost twenty years, and he knew her deep down, inside out. He knew what she was thinking, what she wanted, and what she would say in answer to a question. At least he thought he did. That evening, he had lost that connection, that surety. It was as if a radio had lost tune, and the regular station couldn’t be found. His signals were not just crossed, they were totally absent. This was a different Pat, as if she had been substituted with another model, identical in appearance, but completely opposite in character and attitude. It troubled him greatly.

Alan coasted along for the next few days, waiting for the inevitable. On Thursday, it appeared. After dinner, Pat casually injected a chat about the women at Head Office, and how well she got on with two of them. Still gazing vacantly at the TV, she added that they had asked her to go to an exercise class, then for a drink afterwards. You always tell me that I need to take more exercise, she had told him, so here is my chance. What she didn’t know, how could she, was that he had already found the sports wear and new trainers, purchased the previous Saturday, and tucked away in the top of the spare room wardrobe. Strange that she should have them ready, for an invitation to go to a class received five days later. She must think he was stupid, but he would play along, for now. He had told her that he would be on early shift, so he could take her and collect her if she liked. As expected, she said that she would sooner have her own car. She added that it was over twenty miles away, closer to where one of the others lived, so a shame to run him around. She could use the company car petrol and mileage, they would never know. He grumpily conceded, and went out to the garage, stripping down to do some weights. He didn’t want to watch her crappy programmes anyway, let alone listen to more lies.

When she got home on Thursday night, she headed straight for the shower. She said that there were few facilities in the class, as it was held in a village hall, so she had felt sticky and uncomfortable all the time they were in the pub afterwards. He went out to her car, mentally noted the mileage, and then into the garage, to add it to his records. He was amazed how well he controlled his rage. Inside, he was boiling with frustration, and fit to explode. Externally, he remained the same old Alan, slightly aloof, a little preoccupied, the serious policeman. If Pat noticed anything, it wasn’t apparent. Her head was filled with whatever it was she was up to, and he knew that he had to find out just what that was. In his mind, he began to formulate a plan. He had not wasted all his years as a copper, all those courses attended, and the constant reading about crime and punishment, all over the world. There was nothing he didn’t know about, when it came to procedures, detection, forensics, and every other aspect of policing. It would be a new project. He would embrace it, and like everything he did, he would do it well, and be one of the best at it.

When he had met Patricia, all those years ago, he was only too aware that he could have done a lot better. She wasn’t one of the glamour girls who eyed him up as he walked by, tall, fit, and fair-haired. She had been the quiet one, good at maths and lessons generally, but easily overlooked, in favour of those with shorter skirts, or heavier make-up. He had tried a couple of the lively ones, but they were just slags. They had nothing of substance within, no loyalty, and integrity was a word and concept unknown to them. They were happy to give you a blow-job for the price of a Big Mac meal, then count themselves lucky that you would drive them home afterwards. They probably told their mates that you were their boyfriend, and that you were going to get engaged or something. Little did they know. Pat was different. She had no expectations, and no big ideas about a Prince Charming coming along. He would be the answer to all her dreams, and she would be grateful. She would obviously be loyal, as she knew that she could do no better, and he would never have to worry about her, where she was, or who she was with. It all went to plan, until the kids didn’t come along. There was a time, when they had talked about names, always boys names, naturally. Plans to move a bit further out, get a three-bed house with a bigger garden, near some decent schools; the sort of schools who didn’t depend on inner-city dregs to fill their numbers. They worked out the best times to have sex, and stupidly told their respective families that they were trying for a baby.

For Alan, it all changed after that. The family kept on and on, particularly Pat’s family, who seemed to eye him with pity, when no pregnancy appeared after six months. Pat seemed to be obsessed with children, and spoke about nothing else, at every opportunity. On one of his days off, Alan did a full search of their house, just to make sure that she wasn’t on the pill, trying to make him look inadequate. And he constantly checked her handbag and car, whenever she was in the bathroom. Then there were the visits to the doctor, followed by hospital checks with specialists. How humiliating, to have to be inspected by strangers, and deliver samples of sperm in small pots, jerking-off in a side room, with people sitting outside, knowing what you were doing. And those counsellors. Stupid frumps, social workers and medicos who couldn’t do a real job, and probably had no kids themselves. What did they know, anyway. They even had the temerity to try to blame it on him. Low sperm count, insufficient live sperm. There was even a DVD to watch, showing live sperm swimming, and dead ones drifting about; or something like that, he hadn’t really looked. He almost smashed in the TV, and still didn’t know how he managed to endure it all. After that, he just switched off, got on with what he wanted to do, the important stuff. They had a good life; nice cars, a decent house, holidays in Greece and Slovenia, and he was good at his job. What more was there after all. Kids were a sideline, an encumbrance. Better off without them. It had all been OK since then. No more talk of clinics, family and friends put in their place, and life got back to normal. Until now.

So, the exercise class was going to be every two weeks, mostly on the same day. But of course, it wouldn’t interfere with family stuff, holidays, or Christmas. She liked it, getting out, meeting up with the girls, and having girly chats for a change. She worked in a male dominated world, and lived with a man. She hardly ever saw her Mum, and spent a long time alone, when he was on shift, so she would be going. It was only once a fortnight, after all. This little speech was delivered over a forgettable meal of chicken in some sort of creamy sauce, and overdone vegetables. It came out in a rush, and sounded as if it was read from a card. He looked across the small table at her. I don’t even know this woman, he thought. She stabbed a piece of chicken, and he was sure that he detected a tremble on that fork, as she raised it to her lying mouth. He smiled, and said OK, whatever you want love. That fooled her, the surprise was all over her face. If the roles were reversed, he would have been thinking, that was too easy. But she wasn’t him, and could never be.

Working shifts meant that he couldn’t always make time for his investigations, but it did give him some time during the day. He bought maps, very detailed maps of the area, and carefully drew circles on them. Each circle was a radius of a given amount of miles from the house. He knew the area really well anyway, thanks to his job, so could quickly exclude factories, farmland, woodland areas, and public spaces. He marked all these off, with a red highlighter pen. They could be omitted from his search area. What had at first seemed an insurmountable task, soon narrowed down to something that he was sure he could achieve. There were things to buy, but they must not be traceable to the house, or delivered when he was out. Boot sales. That would do it. Go when it’s busy, choose the stalls with more than one helper, a face forgotten in a crowd. The next step was time-consuming, and took months. Every time she went to the so-called class, he checked her mileage. It wasn’t the forty-odd, that would confirm her explanation, but only six miles each time. He got a new map, and worked out a three-mile radius, dividing it into areas, each segment exactly the same as the last. This was a lot easier, and after eliminating all the usual stuff, he only had five areas to concentrate on.

Any time he got the chance, he covered one area. Up and down every street, along all the main roads, and each industrial estate. He was able to continue his process of elimination, but was staggered to see just how much was left. It could be any of the thousands of houses, or hundreds of pubs or shops. Then he had a thought. He went into Headquarters, and asked to check CCTV over a wide area, saying he was checking for a car that had driven off, failing to stop for him. It took all day, even though he was only checking a specific date. But he found it. It was her car, heading towards a large roundabout, a place he knew well. It did not reappear on the cameras on the other side. He had the area, now just to narrow it down. He went out the next day, supposedly on one of his long bike rides. Heading along the same route, he arrived at the roundabout, and dismounted his bike, looking across the junctions ahead. The right turn led down to the motorway, and the first left, to a council recycling depot. The second left was a lot more interesting. It was a services area, with a large petrol station that had a cafe attached to it, and then the road carried on, past a large pub with restaurant, and on to a car park behind. At the back of that car park, was a Travelodge hotel. It had to be the pub, or the hotel, one or the other. It had taken almost six weeks, but his determination had paid off. This had to be the place.

Two weeks later, Alan waited until she left, then got his bike out. He felt calm, infused with justification and righteousness. The ride there was relaxed, the rucksack on his back adjusted for comfort, and he was in no hurry at all. He knew about traffic cameras and CCTV, so was careful not to be caught on film. He cycled the back roads, across fields where necessary, carrying the delicate cycle when he had to. Finding a place under some trees, he concealed himself, then took the heavy binoculars from his rucksack. He connected then to the small tripod, and began to scan the area ahead.  It wasn’t dark yet, but that hardly mattered, as they had night-vision capability when needed. Eighty quid at a boot sale, no haggling, and in full working order. Using a small notepad, he jotted down the registration numbers of all the cars parked outside the pub. He then changed position, moving across country, to get a better view of the hotel. He kept himself low, and there was nobody about. Who would ever walk around the back of a service area anyway. He soon spotted her car, parked just outside the reception area. There were at least a dozen other cars there, and he counted them; fifteen, including Pat’s. Every number went into his small book, except for three, that he couldn’t get an angle on, without getting in nearer, and being on camera. That would do, for a start.

A few days later, during a regular trip to Headquarters, Alan looked around for an unattended terminal. Almost everyone left themselves logged on, although it was strictly forbidden to do so. He had waited until lunchtime, when the civilian staff would be in the canteen, or outside, having lunch somewhere. It was important not to do the checks himself, as the Police National Computer was monitored, and his log in code must never appear. Looking for an appropriate terminal, Alan struck gold. It was in the office of the traffic survey department, where hundreds of checks like this were done daily. A few more would hardly be noticed, tagged on to a list of thousands, filed away for who knows what, never to be looked at again. He began to run the numbers through, and stopped at only the fourth one. Black Audi A4, registered to the same company that Pat worked for, too much to be a coincidence. After deleting  the checks from the screen, he left. Now it was time to wait; for the right day, the perfect moment, and to see how long it went on.

Months went by, and she continued to go to classes. She didn’t look any fitter, but he didn’t even bother to mention that. Much of his spare time was spent planning. Going over it again and again, making sure no tiny detail was missed, and that everything would be perfect, for the eventual confrontation. The weight of evidence would be indisputable, his victory certain, and the look on Pat’s face would be worth all the time and effort. When the day came, he was full of beans, in the best mood he could remember for years. he made sure that he didn’t let on though, appearing to be his usual grumpy self, quiet and withdrawn. He even asked Pat if she would give it a miss, then offered her a lift instead, but she insisted on using her own car He mentioned that he wouldn’t be in when she left later, as he would be on a bike ride. The rucksack was packed, and he had double-checked that everything was in place. She seemed unconcerned, as if her mind was on greater things. After she had left, Alan checked her sports bag, making sure that all the usual stuff was in there, ready for her to change into later. There was a back-up plan, but he didn’t want to use it.  She got in early from work, a bit surprised to see him still there, and went upstairs to change. He repeated the offer of a lift, and she refused once again. He walked out to the garage, collected his things, and rode off.

Alan cycled through heavy rain for a while, and when he got near the motorway, he noticed that the traffic was snarled up all over. Probably an accident, that would slow Pat down a bit. It didn’t bother him, as he was on a pedestrian footpath, crossing the six lanes on a footbridge high above. He arrived long before she did, and found a good spot. The biggest problem was seeing which room she was going into, that could prove to be very tricky. A row of windows on the ground floor would indicate any movement there. Similar rows on the two floors above would do the same, but the exact room was always going to be difficult. He would have to move very fast, but he knew that he could. Some days earlier, he had waited at the back of the hotel, concealed behind the large waste bins. When a member of staff came out, he noticed that the back door took a long time to close, operated by some sort of non-slamming device. After another couple of hours, someone else came out, to empty something into the bins. When they went back in, he rushed forward , and slipped a tiny piece of curved metal over the top of the frame before it closed. It was barely enough, but it would do. The door appeared shut, but a tiny gap had been created by the metal sliver, just enough to slip something inside, and use it to lever the door open. That night, he was hoping that it was still in place.

Pat arrived a long time later. She parked somewhere he couldn’t see, but then reappeared on foot, heading hurriedly towards the entrance. Alan took deep breaths to calm himself down, and scanned with his binoculars. He saw her go past the second window on the ground floor, and he moved rapidly. Using the benefits of his years of training, and superb fitness, he was at the back door in seconds. The thin strip of metal slid into the imperceptible gap, and he was in. He crept to the end of the corridor that led to the rooms. He was too late to see her, but he saw a door closing, and heard voices behind. That was the room, he was sure of it.

Pardew was lying on the bed watching the local news on TV when she knocked. He had kept all his clothes on, as he was determined that they would have a talk tonight. It had gone on too long, and was leading nowhere. Still, they had to carry on working at the same place, so he would have to be careful what he said. She breezed in, face set, not the Trish he had known for so long. Something was different. Chris, we need to talk, we really do, she blurted, unable to contain the need to get it all out of her system. You are right, we do, he replied. There was a knock on the door, sharp and insistent. This had never happened before, but Chris was not thinking about that, as he turned to open it.

Somehow, Chris found himself on his back, and all around him was black. Trish shouted something, then was quiet. There was a weight on his chest, and he couldn’t move. He remembered a dark figure in the doorway, dressed in black, face concealed by some sort of mask, like those that cyclists wear, to combat pollution. Then something covered him, thick and black, and he was pushed over, all in an instant. Alan was kneeling on the man’s chest, his breath coming in short gasps. He quickly tied the feet, then wrapped coils around the body. Soft ropes, nothing that would leave marks, or shed fibres.  When he was sure that there would be no movement, he walked over and turned up the volume on the television. Not too loud, so as to upset any other rooms, but enough to cover the muffled sounds coming from under the thick plastic sack that covered the man, from head to  knees. Pat was sprawled on the bed, felled by one determined blow to the side of her head. He had hit her very hard, but not so hard as to damage his hands. Anyway, the thick gloves would help, and there should be no bruising. Alan dragged Pat across to the window, propping her head close to the white painted wooden sill. He pulled her top off, then slid down the footless tights, that she pretended to wear for the class. He wrapped the nylon legs together around his hands, then passed them around her neck, pulling hard. She didn’t even wake up before she died. It that was easy. Getting the angle right, he held her head with both hands, and struck it against the window sill, though the closed curtains. It hit with a satisfying thump, and left blood on the material. Then he turned, it was time to deal with the man.

Alan had hardly noticed a detail of the man who had been screwing his wife for a year or more. He was shorter, that was certain, and his black hair was tousled. He was wearing a suit, with the tie loosened, and still had his jacket on. There hadn’t been time for a better look, as he had barged through the door, pulled the sack over him, and kicked his legs away. Pat had started to shout something before he hit her, and as she fell, Alan quickly turned to close the door, before leaping onto this man, to subdue him. Walking around the small room, Alan took in all the small details of the sort of place his wife had decided to use to betray him, and to ruin their lives in. The coffee and tea facilities, with the stupidly small kettle. The wardrobe, not needed for whores and philanderers; no more use than the pointless suitcase stand, clad in mock mahogany, and never used by anybody. The crumpled blue bedspread, the dented pillow, and the small flat-screen TV, with built-in Freeview. Was this what she had wanted, instead of him. He got his rucksack off, and laid out the things that he would need. When he had been lurking by the bins, he had noted the brand of drain cleaner used by the hotel chain, and had found it easily; he had bought two, and left one at home, everyone had it, nothing unusual there. Then the funnel, it had to be metal, plastic might melt. The thin metal tube, with some element of flexibility, and the sharp-bladed carpet knife, all easily found at boot sales, along with ropes, and most other things.

Alan lifted the man onto the bed. It was surprisingly easy, he didn’t weigh that much. With the knife, he cut a small hole in the sack, careful to leave a flap, so that no plastic fell onto the floor or bed. Pardew was really worried now. He was trussed up, had been heaved onto the bed, and was unable to make himself heard. Trish was saying nothing, and he could hear the local news coming from the TV, reports of a bad accident earlier, on the motorway. He felt some pressure near his mouth, and a slight rush of air, indicating an opening. He was about to call out, when something appeared between his teeth. His instinct was to bite down, but the pressure behind the thing was enormous, and it easily slipped over the enamel, and down to his gullet, making him retch. After attaching the thin pipe to the end of the funnel, Alan unscrewed the cap on the drain cleaner, casually flinging it across the room. A lot of muffled gurgling sounds came from under the sack, as he poured the liquid. It was certainly strong, the fumes hurt his eyes, though the cycling mask stopped any of them from being breathed in. The man was convulsing, writhing under the ropes, finding new strength from terror. Alan pressed down on the body, slowly adding more of the liquid, until the full litre was gone. Some had splashed on the plastic, and more was foaming from the small opening in the sack, but no matter, that was to be expected.

Waiting for long enough was really boring. Lying on top of this man until he stopped struggling, Alan found himself craning his neck, trying to watch the end of the news on the TV. He couldn’t quite manage it though, and had to be content to listen instead. When he could sense no movement, Alan stood up, and put his ear to the opening. No breath could be felt coming from the man, and he was no longer spluttering. He removed the tube, placing it, together with the funnel, into the thick plastic bag brought along for this purpose, putting both into his backpack. Uncoiling the ropes, and untying the feet, he put them carefully inside that too, as well as the small knife. It was surprisingly difficult to remove the sack carefully, so as not to unduly disturb the body. Afterwards, he pulled down the suit jacket, and splayed the legs, that would look more realistic. Taking a lint-free cloth, he carefully wiped the insides of the man’s teeth, which would hopefully remove any traces of the metal from the tube. He added to this prospect, by flicking a toothbrush, brought along also, along the backs of the teeth, trying to get all traces onto the cloth. Then the sack was carefully folded, and the flap checked to make sure that it was still in place. Along with the cloth and toothbrush, it was placed in the rucksack. Lifting the man’s lifeless right hand, he pressed the fingers into the canister of drain cleaner, before wrapping the hand around it, then letting it fall to the bed, alongside the body. Alan had worn gloves when he bought it, so whatever prints were found, they would not be his.

One last survey of the scene, and Alan was happy. He opened the door slightly, to see if anyone was about, picked up the rucksack, and left, leaving the do not disturb sign on the door handle, and closing it very quietly. On the way out, he removed the small metal device from the door, placing it with the other stuff he had brought along. Halfway back to where his bike was concealed under a bush, he stopped to collect his binoculars and tripod, finally filling the rucksack. He checked it once again, nothing he had brought along had been left behind, it was all there. Riding home, lights on his bike flickering, Alan was a happy man. They had taken him on, and lost.

Detective Inspector Ann Mather had seen her share of sudden deaths, and even the occasional murder, but this one was different. It was a copper’s wife, so she had to do it right. Murder-Suicide they called it. The bloke had strangled her, then killed himself, by drinking drain cleaner. What a way to go; couldn’t he have just hung himself. They both worked for the same firm, so she must have been over the side, probably going to call it off, and the bloke lost it, strangling her with her leggings. She must have tried to get away, and hit her head on the widow ledge as she struggled. He saw what he had done, and got some drain cleaner from the bathroom, just drank the lot. The hotel staff confirmed that they used it, and may well have left it in the bathroom. They would tell the cleaning staff to be more careful. The two officers that had made the house call said that Alan had been distraught. Pat had said she was going to exercise class, and stopping at the house of a friend from work, so he hadn’t though any more about it. He was still in bed when they called, as he was supposed to be on night duty later. Poor bastard.

Ann called the Superintendent from her mobile. “Mather here sir, this is open and shut, murder suicide. Messy though, the husband’s a copper. Yes, he has been informed, I will bring you up to speed later.”