The Winter of Death – Part 4

 

8th December – Police Station. Early evening.
 
The following few hours passed with the general hubbub that a new case brings, officers bustling with ideas, phones ringing of the hook. A case of this magnitude caused everyone to up his or her game and presented the challenge that all officers crave. The rain had come. A huge deluge in fact. Pouring itself down for a good couple of hours or so, and since the darkness had fallen at about four thirty that afternoon, McCann’ time had been filled with paperwork and more paperwork.
Writing up reports were the bain of his, and any officers’ working lives, but it was something that had to be done in between catching the bad guys, which recently, and up until now, hadn’t overloaded the schedule. A few muggings, a post office robbery in the town centre with no leads, a hit and run outside a pub in Rochester, but apart from that, all had been relatively quiet and being stuck inside for most of the day had given him a raging headache and the hump to go with it, he needed a drink and a good curry. Stretching in his chair, which squeaked under his weight, he pushed his arms up above his head and gave out a little moan in doing so. The office had been relatively empty for the last hour or so, with most people clocking off at five pm. McCann had been one of the last ones to leave. He was nearly always the last one in the office and most of the time it was intentional. It gave him the peace and quiet he sometimes craved to mull things over without having any distractions, mainly from Conrad and fellow DI, Dan Mulligan and their constant battle over trivial matters like who should be in the England squad. Should it be Rooney or Defore? No, it had to be Rooney, but what about Carroll? Or how about fresh blood like Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain?
There were days when he felt like snapping and occasions when he did just that, lack of sleep or a night with a bottle leaving him with a mood like stink and in no frame of mind to put up with two youngsters banging on about shit. He ran his hands down his tired face, two days growth bristling between his fingers and then flicked off his monitor and PC tower, the ceasing of the whirring making the room silent, the only sounds now being the rain rattling on the window next to his desk and the wind whistling through the spindly trees that stood outside. He stood and pushed his chair under his desk, picking up his jacket from the back of it and slipping it on. He was about to turn and head for the door, when the phone rang.
Sighing, he thought about leaving it, but, decided that it may be important and if it was he didn’t want to be the one to have to answer to the powers that be. Walking across the room he reached for the receiver.
His voice tired. “Good evening, DI McCann.”
Silence.
“Good evening, DI McCann.” he repeated, this time with a tone of irritation.
Again, silence.
“Conrad, is that you?” he sighed. “I’m tired and can’t be doing with playing silly buggers.”
Silence.
“Oh fuck you then if you’re not going to talk.”
Hanging up, and, after switching off the lights, he made his way out.  Along the main corridor and then down the main stairs that ran through the middle of the building. His footsteps echoing throughout the stairwell and after saying goodnight to a pretty cleaning lady, he stepped from the station and into the night.
The rain was still pouring from the star-less sky. A river of water overflowed from a drain and was gushing down the slope that led away to the main gate. The streets were eerily quiet. The intersection that was usually busy at this time of the evening almost deserted, a lonely lorry rumbled through, ferrying its cargo to some European destination. He took in a big lungful of fresh air, the smell of rain filing his nostrils, before darting across the car park to his car. Once inside he brushed the water from his head and was to halfway to inserting his key in the ignition when he felt vibrating in his inside pocket. Reaching in he pulled out his mobile, seeing the name on the display and answered. The sounds of music and loud voices filled his ear.
“Conrad. You’re not going to fuck around this time are you?”
There was a pause and McCann heard him ordering a pint of Guinness before answering.
“Do what? Fucking around?”
“It wasn’t you then, a minute ago?”
“Wasn’t me what?”
McCann sighed and shifted in his seat. “Never mind. What’s up?”
More laughter, he recognized Mulligans’ voice in the background. Probably berating some poor unsuspecting fellow with his stupid opinions.
“We’re in the Prince of Wales if you fancy it. Just a couple of jars, nothing too heavy.”
McCann took a deep breath and pondered it. Pondered whether he could stomach an evening with the terrible twosome. Thought about the quiet one he was going to have with a drink and a curry. He was half way through his pondering when Conrad crackled back in his ear.
“Come on, don’t be miserable, just one drink. Tell me what else you’ve got to look forward too? And if it doesn’t involve being up to your balls in a fit blonde then I’m not interested.”
What could he say to that? There really wasn’t any comeback to that remark at all and suddenly his quiet night in didn’t sound too good after all. The journey to the Prince of Wales was a short one. A few minutes through the now torrential rain, windscreen wipers going ninety to the dozen, people on the streets running for cover wherever they could find it, umbrellas popping up everywhere.
Parking the car in the car park just up from where he needed to be, he sat for a few moments in hope, more than anything that the rain would ease.
A few minutes turned into fifteen with still no sign of it letting up so, after zipping uphis jacket right and pulling the collar around is neck, he flung open the door and made a run for it.
Dashing down the hill, splashing through puddles, the rain slapping into his face. The beat of the music from the Tap N’ Tin pub filled his ears as he passed, the smell of the various kebab and curry houses that lined the high street wafting in his nostrils, causing his stomach to rumble. He’d never been a big fan of kebabs, but right now he would happily have eaten a scabby horse if he had been presented with one.
Reaching the crossing he took a quick look in both directions before dashing to the other side, the pub was now in sight, no more than fifty yards to go.
On reaching the entrance he excused his way past three men in hoodies huddled together trying to light cigarettes, laughing to himself in that there is, seemingly, no weather that a smoker will not brave for a fix, and went inside.
The place was rather busy for a Wednesday evening. It was a lot busier than he’d seen it most Friday nights. Then he realised why. The big screen on the far wall was showing the Arsenal and Liverpool match on Sky Sports.
A light smile spread across his face as Jack popped into his head. He could picture his son sitting at home, decked out in his Arsenal shirt, probably drinking tea from his ‘Number 1 Gunners fan’ mug, a plate of biscuits on his lap, constantly chatting away at the TV. Bemoaning every decision that went against his team and cheering every tackle made. He stood and watched a few moments of the match from just inside the doorway, heads in front of him bobbing up and down, expletives filling the air with the odd chant or two. He then caught Conrad’s eye and made his way to the corner of the room. The small round table that sat between them was filled with empty glasses, and crisp packets. McCann went to speak, to ask them if he could get them anything when Mulligan piped up, waving his hands in the air.
“McCann, move yourself, I can’t see the TV through you.”
McCann looked at him and then looked behind him, realising that he was standing right in his eye line to the match. He smirked and stayed right where he was. If there was one person on this planet that he liked to wind up then it was him.
Dan “Spray Tan” Mulligan was a thirty six year old short arse of a man with an attitude like that of a small yappy type dog. He was rarely happy and always had something to say, which was fine, but usually what he had to say was bollocks. He was also, as his nickname suggested, a bit on the orange side.
Mulligan swore a couple of times and shuffled his seat to his left to regain his view.
“Oh, sorry Dan,” said McCann. “Was I in your way?”
Mulligans eyes flicked for a second onto McCann and then straight back to the screen.
“Get me a pint and sit yourself down will you.”
McCann smiled, and after taking Conrad’s order, stepped back through the crowd to take his place in the queue for the bar. He wondered what the fascination was with watching Football, or any sport, in pubs. At an actual match you get the full atmosphere, the electricity, the anticipation as the players take the field in front of you, ready for battle. Everyone is there for the same reason, to cheer your boys to the finish line. But in a pub, you get none of that. A half-baked atmosphere where most of the people there couldn’t give a toss and would rather it was turned off so they could have a drink in peace.
The queue moved forward as someone else got their drinks and returned to their seats. McCann reached into his jacket and pulled out his mobile, nothing. He thought to himself that if life was a popularity contest then he was well and truly lagging behind the rest of the field.
Flicking through the menu he sent Jack a quick message, enquiring as to whether he was enjoying the game, and then tucked the phone back into his pocket. It was then that he saw her.
Standing at the bar on the opposite side of the room to him, looking as immaculate as she always did, her red hair trailing down onto her shoulders, was Dr Campbell. He felt a drip of sweat trickle from his armpit and run down his side as he looked at her laughing and joking with two women, neither of whom he recognized. His thoughts then flashed back to the luke warm reception she had given him at the crime scene. It all came back again, like a damn bursting its banks. As he stood there in the queue it played over in his mind, like a bad B movie. The first woman since Karen that had taken the slightest bit of interest in him, and he had blown it, and not just once either. He seemed to always be letting her down and making excuses. Most of them due, in the main, to falling asleep drunk and, like the previous evening completely forgetting she even existed.
Despite this, and again, up until last night, she had always let him back in. Always believed his excuses and considered the situation he had been in. But not this time, this time was a step to far.
He stood looking at her for a few more moments, his stupidity buzzing in his brain, as the queue in front of him dissipated, drinks and snacks being taken back to tables and dark corners. Then, she saw him, and in a split second her face changed from that of content, of happiness in the company of friends for a drink and a gossip, to that of someone who’d just seen the person responsible for the greatest sin of all.
They both stood, eyes fixed on each other, for what seemed, to McCann, like an eternity, but what, in reality, was probably no more than a few seconds, until she looked away, like he had never existed, her face changing back to how it was before she saw him. He reached the bar in the next few moments, in which time Dr Campbell had moved away and taken a seat with her two friends in the opposite corner of the room. The young spotty barman then took his order and slouched away, leaving McCann with his thoughts.
He needed to speak to her, explain himself, tell her that what happened the other night was a mistake and that he was an idiot, he’d had too much to drink and that wasn’t usually how he acted. She knew the real him, didn’t she? Knew that that wasn’t the person he was, didn’t she? He batted it around in his head until the drinks were brought back. He paid up and took them back to the table, where Mulligan’s face was still carved into that of disgust that his team, Liverpool, were being beaten.
Placing the drinks down onto the table, he pulled out a stool and sat down. A few seconds passed in relative silence, just the buzz of the crowd in the bar filled the air, the odd yelp and cheer, a laugh here and there. McCann spoke.
“You’re looking a bit pale Dan, everything all right? You ran out of spray on?”
Conrad stifled a laugh and took a swig of his beer. Mulligan took a sideways look at McCann.
“I’m not in the mood McCann.”
McCann took a gulp of his beer. “Sorry, just not used to seeing you looking so pasty that’s all.”
Mulligan shook his head. “Funny, you’re really funny McCann, anyone ever told you that?”
McCann nodded. “One or two people yes.”
Mulligan muttered something that was barely audible and Conrad jumped in to avoid any tension building up.
“You get Bethany back ok?”
McCann nodded and placed his glass back on the table. “Yes, thanks. Karen came and got her this morning.’
A smirk appeared on Mulligans face, sensing his opportunity to go on the offensive.
“How are your little ones McCann? They enjoying their new life in that big house? Must be nice for them to have a bit of room to play in?” the smirk stayed right where it was.
McCann knew his game and ordinarily if anyone took his family’s name in vain he would bite, but this was Mulligan, and not biting back would make him even tetchier, which was exactly the plan. He spoke with smile on his face, a false one mind. The thought of his own flesh and blood being away from him with their new lives made him boil.
“They’re doing great thanks, I’m just happy that they’re happy, no point beating myself up about it is there?” He let the question hang in the air with his eyes fixed on Mulligan, knowing that his reaction wasn’t the expected one.
There was a moment of silence. “Well, yes, I guess that’s right.” He paused, looking at McCann, not knowing what to say to the calm response he had received. McCann enjoyed seeing him flustered, enjoyed seeing his beady eyes darting to and fro in his head, the piece of shit. He left his gaze on Mulligan for a few seconds more and then turned on his stool to face the big screen on the opposite wall, catching a smirk on Conrad’s face in doing so. He also caught sight of something else, Dr Campbell, leaving, and on her own. This was his chance. He grabbed up his drink and swigged it back and placing it back down on the table he excused himself and made for the exit, which she was just passing through. Outside the night air was cold and filled with a light breeze specked with drizzle. He stepped from the door and looked left and right, catching her making her way down the high street towards the car park by the river. Pulling his jacket collar up around his shoulders he made his way after her, he needed to get this sorted. This stupid mistake. He got to within ten yards or so of her and called her name. No reply. He plugged on, calling again, this time she did reply, but kept on walking.
“Piss off Elliott. Please.”
Speeding up, the rain becoming heavier, he brought himself up next to her.
“Jennifer, please, just listen to me will you.”
She turned her head to face him, her pace still brisk. “Listen to what? Listen to your bullshit? I’m not interested. I’m prepared to be civil on a professional level, but that’s all. I’ve had enough, ok?”
He sighed. “The other night, I don’t know what to say, it was stupid, I sat down and had a few drinks and, well—-“
She stopped, raising up a hand in front of him. “What part of go away don’t you understand?” He went to reply but didn’t get the chance, her voice dropping in tone but still keeping the same intensity.
“You know how I felt and you knew how important last night was to me, but you had to be a dick. It was fucking selfish Elliott, ok?” she took a breath; she was on a role, her eyes like fire. “I’ve confided in you Elliott, told you things that I’ve not even thought about telling anyone else, and why? I’ll tell you why, because I thought you were different, thought you were one of the good ones,” she paused and huffed a laugh. “But I was wrong, and this time I’m not putting up with being second best, not putting up with your excuses, so I’d like you to leave me alone.”
And with that she walked on. He thought about following but then thought against it. There was no point, she had said all that she needed to say, he had fucked up and that was it. He stood and watched her go, all the way to the end of the high street until she reached the crossing and was out of sight, she didn’t look back.
 
8th December – Napier Road. Late evening.
 
He hadn’t hung around after his altercation with Jennifer Campbell. He hadn’t much felt like going back into the pub to sit with Mulligan, the smug bastard. Having to work with him was bad enough, without having to go through the trauma of socializing with him as well. He could think of a better caliber of person to spend his free time with, Hitler, Mussolini, Fred West maybe, but not Dan Mulligan and his ridiculous views on society. It was like being on a rally with Oswald Moseley at times. He wouldn’t have minded so much had he been in the twilight years of his career, an old bobby having had experience of the things he raved about, but he wasn’t. He was barely in his third decade and knew nothing, absolutely nothing.                                      Arriving back at his house he let himself in and switched on the hall light. Pacing into the kitchen he rummaged around in the bureau drawer, a few moments and he pulled out two take-away menus. One for The Red Palace Chinese and the other for Spice Fusion, with its billing as ‘Medway’s newest and best in Indian  Cuisine.’ Studying them for a few more moments he plumpt for the Indian. A good curry, a beer or two and some good music was enough to put a smile on anyone’s face after a shitty day.                                 
After phoning through his order, a Prawn Masala, pilau rice, a side of Bombay potato and a peshwari naan bread, he climbed the stairs and jumped into a hot shower to wash off the dirt of the day. It hadn’t been a particularly good one, not that his days were ever that good right now. The loneliness had come back, worse than before. After Karen and the kids had left it took a while to get used to the empty house, but, as time went by, he came to terms with it and started to enjoy the peace and quiet. He dearly missed them all, sure he did, and knowing that it was his fault that his family had broken up was a hard thing to bear. The feelings of guilt and frustration, on occasions, flooded over him like a damn bursting it banks. The knowing they were safe, even if it wasn’t with him, sometimes made him feel better, but there was still times when he would beat himself up over it and find himself at the bottom of a bottle. This was something that the many councilors he had visited had tried, some with more success than others, to drum out of him. Telling him that if ever wanted to get to grips with his life and try to move on, he had to stop these feelings of guilt and regret, no matter how hard it was, he had to try, not just for his sake, but the sake of his children.
But what did they know? Which was exactly his attitude towards them. One after the other he kicked against the advice, and one after the other they fell by the wayside, only for the next one to spout the same advice until he gave up. Gave up with the appointments and gave up answering their calls, and went about trying to solve it all on his own, something which was more difficult to put into action than he ever realized it would be. But his current one was different. With Derrick Arthurs he felt like he was getting somewhere. He felt like his way of dealing with it all was getting him out of it. Pulling him out of his rut.
Lying on the bed, wet, and wrapped in the towel, he pulled out some folded papers from his jacket, and laid them out on the bed. No matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t shake the Lonely Hearts Killer case from his mind. He knew that it was stupid, as Conrad had told him in, but something about it just kept on wriggling away inside him.
Reading over the information for the umpteenth time, he felt a pang of sympathy for Keith Mason. The troubled man left to rot in prison for crimes that he denied committing, his life ending on the end of a rope. Crimes that, from no matter which angle you approached it from were undeniably his.
He blew out a long breath just as the doorbell rang. Dragging himself up from the bed he quickly threw on a t-shirt and his tracksuit trousers and descended the stairs to open the front door. He was confronted by a gangly, Asian youth, a baseball cap adorned with the restaurants logo, fitted tightly on his head. They went through the pleasantries and McCann paid, took his food and bid him goodnight.
Closing up he headed for the kitchen, grabbing a plate and some cutlery and then, after sliding Pink Floyds 1971 album Meddle, in the CD player, he made himself comfortable on the sofa, and as the opening bars of One of These Days gently wafted in, he took down his first mouthful. He’d been looking forward to this very moment all day.
The food didn’t hang around for long, and halfway through ‘Fearless’ the albums third track, his plate and the silver cartons were all clear of food. He pushed the small table away and sat back on the sofa. The food swilled around in his gut and he put his head back on the sofa, a few moments and his phone rang.
With a bolt of dread filling his gut, he pulled himself up and crossed the room towards his mobile phone,
Tentatively, he answered. “Hello.”
“Hello, Elliott?”
With a sigh of relief, he smiled.
“Derrick. Sorry, I had a horrible thought that it was going to be more bad news.”
“Well, I’m glad to dispel those feelings for you. Sorry that it’s late, I hope that I haven’t interrupted anything?”
“No, not at all. What can I do for you?”
There was the sound of rustling paper.
“I was just going through my diary and wanted to confirm our appointment tomorrow, what with the current situation and all. I didn’t want you to think that you had to come in. I’ve had the news on all afternoon. What a terrible business.”
Crossing back to the sofa, McCann sat himself back down.
“No, I’m all set, unless something major crops up, of course, its hard to say at the moment. But, as of now, I’ll be there.”
“Excellent, I’m glad to hear it, Elliott. Well, I’ll let you get back to your evening.”
Taking another swig of the water he got up and gathered up the remnants of the meal, carrying the plates and silver trays into the kitchen and leaving them on the draining board, he’d clear them away tomorrow.
Turning to leave the kitchen he headed towards the stairs and the distant sound of his bed calling his name, when the doorbell rang. Instinctively, he glanced up at the clock on the wall, a few minutes to midnight. Who the hell would be knocking on his door at this time of night? He thought of Bethany, but surely not? He walked through the kitchen and into the hallway, calling out, but no reply. Reaching the door, he hesitated and then opened. What confronted him was nothing but the cold night air drifting in onto his face. He stepped out onto the path and looked left and then right, but the length of the road was clear. The barking of a dog and the distant rumble of an airplane the only sounds filling the air. He frowned, taking one more glance around, and then stepped back inside, closing the door. It wasn’t long before he was in bed, hoping that the nightmare of earlier was nothing but a one off and that sleep would come easy and interrupted. His wish was granted, but soon enough, the nightmare would be all too real.
 
Alice Morgan sat at her dressing table, a white cotton towel wrapped around her body and another, the same but smaller, wrapped tightly around her head, soaking the excess water from her freshly washed hair. She glanced at the time on the radio alarm clock that sat on her bed side table, the small green diode numbers showed 08:51, she had almost an hour and a half until her date and she wanted to look her best.
She had been chatting to Tom, or TOMRR1979 as he was known on the website, for a couple of weeks now. It had started with an innocent wink from him on the dating website that she had signed up for on the recommendation of her friend Shara, after she had met someone the year previous and who was now engaged to.
They had exchanged messages for a couple of days, just brief comments on how their days had been, things like that. It was all knew to her, she didn’t really know if there were any rules to it or not, things you should always do or things you should avoid saying. Then, one morning, she had checked her emails before heading to work to find that he had sent her his mobile number, the message accompanied with a smiley face and ‘hope you don’t feel this is too forward, but be nice to chat to you’ She had smiled at the message and entered the number into her phone, which she used on her lunch hour. The conversation was nice and relaxed, there were no awkward silences or fumbling for anything to say, it was comfortable and easy and she liked it. That was how it went for the next few days, lunchtime or an evening phone call, chatting and laughing until he asked it she would like to meet, no pressure, but he thought that it would be nice to finally chat in person. She agreed and the date was set.
Alice’s luck with men had been somewhat checkered in the past. Cheats and losers where how she described the guys she ended up being with, and with her last real relationship having ended almost a year to the day, she was finally in a place to shake of the shackles and get back out there and, hopefully, meet someone good, and from what she had learnt so far, Tom sounded like someone who could be just that.
Over the course of the next forty-five minutes or so she went about her usual routine, hair drying and styling. Make up, not too much, but enough to look good. Her new outfit which she had bought especially for the occasion, new dark blue jeans and a nice fitted white top that showed her cleavage, again, not to much, but enough to look good, enough to catch attention. If you’ve got it flaunt it was her motto, and she had it, so was going to do exactly that. With fifteen minutes to spare she was ready and stood in front of the full-length mirror on the front of her wardrobe. She turned one way and then the other, looking at herself, and deciding, with a smile and a nod of the head, that she looked the part. She then took her brown leather jacket from the back of her chair and slipped it over her slender shoulders. She was ready; she just hoped that he appreciated the effort.
They had arranged to meet in a little coffee shop in the high street, his choice. She wasn’t used to coffee dates, but thought it would be a nice change from the noisy pubs she was usually taken too. Her profile information had stated about her sweet tooth, so she had taken little persuading when he mentioned the lovely cakes and muffins they served, and had accepted with a smile, thinking it lovely that Tom had taken the time to read her comments and make a decision to take her somewhere nice for their first date.
She had arrived first and stood under the awning outside to shelter from the light drizzle that fell from the concrete grey sky. It was just before ten thirty and she was a little early. She looked in through the door and saw the counter lined with delicious looking things. Cakes with lashings of cream, gingerbread men with smartie eyes and buttons, jam doughnuts the size of tea plates. Everything looked wonderful and the smell that emanated from inside was of fresh bread and coffee, she couldn’t believe that she hadn’t known about this place, otherwise she would have been here every day.
“Alice?” A voice from behind made her jump.
“Yes, yes,” She paused, looking at the smiling face that stood in front of her, his wet brown hair dripping water down onto his forehead. “Tom? Yes?”
He ran the sleeve of his jacket over his face, clearing the water away. “Hi, yes, lovely to meet you at last. Sorry I’m a little late, I couldn’t find any change for the car park.”
He held out his hand, and when she extended hers he moved in for a kiss on the cheek, which she accepted with a smile. With a slight blush on her cheeks. “Shall we get inside out of the awful weather? I’ve just been looking at all the things they sell, I can’t wait.” He smiled and nodded and they went inside. Taking a seat at a table in the corner they waited to be served. There was the usual nervous silence filled with nervous smiles and raised eyebrows while they looked at the menu’s delights, perusing everything on offer.
“So, can you recommend anything?” She said. “It all looks great.”
He raised his head and looked at her. He had a warm face and a smile to match, his deep blue eyes looked into hers and she could feel something, she wasn’t sure quite what it was but something seemed to happen.
Well, the Gypsy Tarts are my favourite and the Carrot cake is also really good, if you like the sound of either of them that is.”
Nodding in agreement, she chose the Gypsy Tart, and a Cappuccino to accompany it. He smiled and said that he would have the same but with a Latte. They were served a few moments later and then chatted in between mouthfuls of cake and sips of their drinks. He seemed like a nice guy. After the initial nerves and slight awkwardness they both eased into the date, telling each other about themselves, asking questions about this and that, things about what they had written on their profile about their likes and dislikes, things that had caused the initial attraction, albeit one over cyberspace. She learnt that he worked in I.T in the city for a small company; he had two older brothers and loved a good book, especially Jack Kerouac and Ernest Hemingway. Couple this with the things that she already knew from reading his online profile, he loved to travel, America and Scandinavia being among his favourites, he one day wanted to own a Porsche 911 and wasn’t a big fan of Tomatoes, she was finding herself becoming attracted to Tom. But there was one other question that she had to ask and one that she had asked the other guys that she had chatted to through the website, though there were not that many, just a handful. “So what brought you to the world of internet dating?” He huffed a laugh and took a sip of his drink, placing the mug back down on the table in front of him and leant back in his chair.
Well.” He paused.
“No pressure.” She interrupted with a cheeky smile.
Returning her smile. “I guess I got to the point in my life where I was settled in a decent job, had my own place, and wanted someone to share it with.” He looked into her eyes, she felt his warmth radiate across the short distance between them. “Or something like that.” He continued with another smile, then looking with a hint of embarrassment.
“No, I like it. I think we all get to that point don’t we? Thinking that we are ready to make that leap to the next step.” “And you think you are there?” He said with a raised eyebrow and a grin.
She smiled and nodded slightly. “I think I could be yes. I think I’m in a good place, so you never know.”
They both chuckled and spent the next hour or so doing the same, chatting and laughing, getting to know one another. Alice couldn’t believe her luck that she was sitting with a guy that didn’t seem like a loser, didn’t seem like every other guy that she seemed to have the misfortune of meeting. He had a stable job, not that that was everything but it meant that he wasn’t going to sponge from her like some of her boyfriends had done in the past. He was interesting and well read, and she got a sense that he wanted to better himself in his career and in his life, he wanted to see the world and try and make a difference. She had to pinch herself. By the time they left it was nearly twelve thirty and the sun had poked itself into the sky, there was still a chill in the air but nothing like early when they arrived.
Strolling down the high street they continued to laugh and joke, peering into the windows of all the little nik nak, charity and second hand bookshops. It was turning out to be a lovely day, something that Alice hadn’t had in a while, and something that sometimes she thought would never happen again. But here she was with a guy that made her laugh and made her feel at ease. A guy that seemed genuine and sincere. It sounded silly but she couldn’t wait to tell her mum. The rest of the date had stayed fine, the roads drying under their feet as they walked, a few puddles here and there but no more. Tom then suggested a drink in a nice quiet pub that he knew. She didn’t think anything of it and agreed without hesitation. He said that he would drive and then drop her back to get her car later on, saying that it would be safe parked where it was for a while. Again, she didn’t think anything of it and said yes, liking that he was taking control of the situation.
He had an estate car, his fathers he had said. There were blankets, rope and a spade in the boot. Once more, she didn’t think anything of it and climbed into the passenger seat. Once inside she reached for the seatbelt, pulling it across herself, and clipped it into the holder. It was then that it struck her.
Looking to her right, she froze, expectant on seeing Tom sitting there, waiting to whisk her off to their next destination, his smiling face looking at her and drawing her in, she was, instead, confronted by someone else, a larger man, breathing heavily and donned all in black. His hair slicked back on his head, a twisted grin visible through the mouthpiece of the white mask that covered his face.
It took a good few seconds for the comprehension to set in, her heart skipping a beat in her chest, her mind ticking overtime. She went to speak, opening her mouth to ask what was going on, the sounds quenched by the dryness of her throat.
Panicking now, she spun around, reaching for the door handle. Grabbing it in her hand she shook it, wrestling hard against it, but it was locked, there was no escape. She looked back over her shoulder, the man was still gazing at her, he hadn’t moved a muscle, hadn’t uttered a word, all she could hear was the breathing, hard and low. Was he real? Was this a dream, a joke maybe? Then she saw Tom, outside, standing a few feet from her window, smiling at her. She looked at him and said his name, but he didn’t move. She frowned and said it again, a little louder this time. Still nothing. Her heart was now racing, beating in her chest like a drum. She started to bang on the window, harder this time, her hands throbbing from the pressure, shouting Tom’s name, screaming, but he was unmoved, just standing, stock still, like a mannequin in a shop window.
Frantic now, tears streaming down her face, sobbing his name, desperately looking for a way out. A moment more passed and Tom’s face spread into a smile, then, raising his hand, he waved, moving it slowly from side to side, the smile fading to a chilling look of hatred. She then felt a hand around her mouth and a voice whisper in her ear. “Time to die Alice.”
She awoke, balled up on the floor, groggy and in pain, her right cheek swollen and the skin tender around her mouth, in almost pitch darkness. Opening her eyes slowly, she could just make out that she was in a small room, no more than seven or eight feet wide and with a low ceiling, the walls tattered and rough under her hands as she reached up to touch them. 
Her thoughts were fuzzy, her head throbbing like a bass drum, but she remembered Tom, remembered his face and being out with him in the rain, the coffee and cake in the restaurant, his smile and their laughing together. Then she remembered someone else, the man in the car, the man in the mask, sitting there, next to her, just staring, the sound of his breathing, slow and shallow, rhythmic, Tom standing outside with the twisted smile on his face. She suddenly felt the panic rise as she recalled the man’s hand clasped over her mouth and the whispered words in her ear, words that meant nothing to her, words in a language that was alien. She shuddered at the recollection of the voice, hushed and toneless, evil she thought. The room started to spin, claustrophobia swept over her, she couldn’t breath, and her throat was tight, her lungs calling out to be filled with precious air.
Pulling herself up she felt along the wall further, trying to compose herself as best she could, dust and concrete falling away as she did so, crumbling down to the cold floor beneath her, there must be a door, a way out, she needed air, needed to get outside. A few moments more and she came upon something, something solid and hanging about halfway up. Grabbing hold of it she began to feel around its shape. The pointed corners, the shiny surface, raised and rough on one side, her mind trying to picture what it was in the darkness her hands were touching. It was a good few seconds before it dawned on her, a good few seconds before all the signals joined up and her mind switched on. Tugging at the object it slid away from the wall, more debris falling to the floor, dust swirling around and into her nostrils, making her sneeze. She stepped back from the wall a couple of paces and blinked furiously, her eyes slowly starting to adjust to the dark. Holding the object that was in her hand up to her face she could, then, just about make out the outline. In her hand she held a crucifix.
The clanging as it hit the hard stone floor reverberated around the small room, and the ringing in her ears seemed to take an age before it died away and the silence once again took hold, it was then that she heard the footsteps. They were above her head and as loud as thunder and as her heart began to pound she crouched down onto her knees as though they were coming straight for the top of her head, then, as quick as they started they stopped, the silence returning. She waited, the darkness closing in around her, her breath rapid like machine gun fire. Her mind ticking over double, triple time, trying desperately to figure out what was going on, and more importantly where she was, and why. After a few silent moments the footsteps started up again, this time the sound of the steps echoed on wood and descended to her right. Whoever it was coming for her, and they were getting closer. The sweat started to roll from her underarms and drip onto the floor. A wave of emotion swelled inside her and hit like a train, tears starting to roll from her eyes and down her face, her lip quivering like jelly on a plate. She went to cry out for help but all that escaped from her dry throat was a whimper, a pathetic little whimper. For a second time the footsteps stopped as quick as they started, a long moment passed before a thud and then a click broke the silence, splintering the air, and a shaft of light flooded into the room. She held up a hand to her face, the sudden burst of light blinding her eyes, and through her fingers saw a silhouetted figure stood in a doorway. Falling backwards, she scrabbled away as far as she could from the sight, back against the wall as it entered and stood looking down at her. She could hear breathing, long and heavy breaths and time seemed to pass like in a vacuum as the figure just stood, looking, its head occasionally tilting, slowly, from side to side.
She went to speak, but her throat caught and she burst into a coughing fit, still the figure didn’t move, composing herself as much as she could she tried again. It was ragged, but it came out this time.
“Please, don’t hurt me, please.”
Silence followed as the figure, still, made no movement or sound. Just stood, motionless, like a waxwork.
She continued. “Please, what’s going on?” I don’t know what I’ve done.”
It was then that the figure uttered its first sounds, a long drawn out sound. “Sssshhhhh.”
She frowned and waited for more, but that was it as silence again took hold. Her mind raced, her heart thumped like pneumatic drill. She thought about making a run for it, but the figure was large, and she was weak, it would be no contest. She spoke again, tears filling up her eyes, and dripping down her face.
“I don’t know what I’ve done, please, let me go, please.”
The figure then stepped forward, slowly pacing towards her. She scrabbled backwards again, but there was nowhere else to go, she was trapped like an animal. The tears were flowing now, her speech incomprehensible as she blubbed. Reaching her, the figure bent down, a strong scent of something she couldn’t quite place filled her nostrils, she blubbed some more, holding her hands up in front of her, begging, pleading, before the figure silenced her with a hard fist to the side of her head, knocking her down to floor.
She laid still, her eyes flickering, drifting in and out of consciousness. The figure straightened up and spoke, the voice low and haunting.
“Alice, Alice, sweet little Alice, so young and so innocent. Such a shame that this is where it all ends.”
The figure then left the room, leaving her alone as blackness then filled her senses
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