THIS IS NOT TO BE READ BY CHILDREN
A murder in the present
Paul Barstow was beginning to whistle, secure in the knowledge that all was well with the world. He had dropped off his nephew and for once the parents of the bewildered little boy had not been arguing. He fervently hoped that his idea of taking the boy out for little treats, whilst they tried to work on their failing marriage, was working. He knew all too well how hard it was to fix a marriage when the truth of an affair has surfaced like an enemy submarine intent on destroying all in its path. He had not been able to save his own marriage, but maybe he could lay that ghost to rest by being instrumental in saving his brothers’. While he made his slow progress to the supermarket, he tried to file away his own painful thoughts and concentrated on hoping that because it was the wife who had strayed, instead of the husband; it might just be possible for them to move on, after all, it wasn’t just the two of them. He smiled; little Mark might just be the glue that could hold them together. It might have been very different if he and Andrea had kids of their own. He still wasn’t altogether convinced that it wasn’t why he hadn’t succumbed to Faye’s advances in the first place.
As he negotiated the tight parking space, he did not see the man two rows back, watching him from behind dark sunglasses. Nor did Paul see him upon his return to the car.
Paul lit a cigarette as he got behind the wheel, knowing it was always the perfect way to forget things he didn’t want to think about. Even the mundane task of the weekly shop had not deterred him from ruminating over his ruinous affair, but as the nicotine began to flow through his veins, he began to relax once more. The drive was slightly quicker than normal, due to his trip with Mark enabling him to miss the dreaded rush hour and he smiled to himself as a stray thought occurred to him - the Oldroyd's would be wondering where he had got to. They were like a neighbourhood watch all by themselves and he hoped the nosey old crones had already left for their ritual early evening walk. They were prone to peering into his apartment on their way out and if he wasn’t in, he wouldn’t have to pass pleasantries as usual.
He was not in luck. As he pulled into his allocated space, he saw them locking their door and he knew that as he was the only tenant around at this time, they were sure to waylay him. Inspiration struck. He hurriedly exited the car and grabbed all his shopping bags out of the boot. It was a struggle to shut it after, but at least this way he had the excuse he needed to make a quick getaway. He nodded his hello to them as he made his way to the steps and they paused to watch him labour under the weight of the heavy bags. He spat out his cigarette in order to mumble,
“Can’t stop, sorry, these are kind of heavy,” as he watched them warily.
The old couple stepped over his still-lighted cigarette and tut-tutted in disapproval, but thankfully, went on their way.
He watched his cigarette as the dark embers slowly began to extinguish in the cold night air and as the light faded from it he congratulated himself on his lucky escape.
He made his way up the front steps and put one set of bags down upon the top step to fish his car keys from his pocket. He pressed the car alarm without turning around, satisfied at its reassuring electronic signal and unlocked the door. He retrieved the bags from the step and pushed open the door with his foot. Off balance and caught totally unawares, Alex’s strong push sent him careering to the floor immediately. Prone and helpless he was an easy target. As Alex moved to kneel on his back, he kicked the door with his foot and he heard it click reassuringly closed. Paul struggled to retrieve his arms from the weight of the bags and Alex knew he had to act quickly. He leaned forward to force the man’s prone torso more into the floor and held his head at both sides, pressing it relentlessly into the carpet. As he began to struggle less and less, Alex carefully moved his hands to around his neck, gradually cutting off his circulation. The skin felt so right as the pulse began to slow beneath his fingers and Alex sighed with pleasure as the body grew limp beneath him. Paul never even saw the face of his killer.
Alex sat back satisfied with his own work and feeling like a weight had lifted from his shoulders. Moments later he stirred into action. He had to move the body quickly. He had seen the old couple leave and he could not know for sure when they would be back. He couldn’t move the shopping bags for fear of fingerprints so he surveyed the room analytically.
First, to wrap the body, he pulled down one side of the curtains from their rail and placed it onto the floor. He saw the body was held by the shopping so he kicked at the hands until they were free of the bags and then lifted the body onto the curtain. He slowly encased the body within it and lifted it over his shoulder. A quick glance outside assured him of his anonymity and he carefully stepped over the six pint milk container that was rapidly emptying its contents. He did not want to step into the pooled liquid and leave betraying footprints. The exit to the car and the stowing of the body passed without incident and Alex began to feel more at ease. He did not want any witnesses and as he looked in his wing-mirror, he was secure in the knowledge that the milk flowing gently onto the top step was the only evidence that could indicate his actions. Now he could go home.
The meagre light was fading when Alex drove into his garage. He knew time was not on his side if he was to finish the task. He checked the automatic garage door was secure before opening the boot, pausing to turn to the small door in the back of the garage and open it wide. Taking the body into the small room, he dumped it unceremoniously onto the floor and pushed a tatty-looking filing cabinet to one side, before returning to the car. Once the boot was closed and the car locked, Alex retrieved his toolbox, re-entered the room and shut the adjoining door to the garage. The panelled wall behind the filing cabinet did not show any clue as to its real purpose as a door and when he opened it, the dingy room beyond called to him. Hurrying now, he threw in the toolbox and pulled the body into the centre of the confined space. Pulling the light-cord as he passed, he secured the door and began to uncoil the curtain from around the body. He knelt down beside it and opened up his toolbox.
He looked down into the face of his despised victim and contemplated which token should be removed. The eyes of the dead man stared glassily back at him and he momentarily considered the eyes, but he just as quickly dismissed the idea. He needed to keep them for the man’s soul to make its way to Hell. He smiled as that thought hit home and he surveyed the rest of his quarry. He began to remove the clothing and piled it neatly in the far corner of the curtain; socks, trousers, shirt, until finally, the wedding band from around his finger. He returned to the hands, considering their long length and the damage that he knew they had done in their lifetime. A flashback of the moment in the Park when the child had been betrayed played in his mind and he pulled the saw from the toolbox. No longer would these hands be a weapon and the fiery flames of Hell could not be fanned back without them.
He placed the saw next to the toolbox and retrieved his most treasured possession; the battered tin his Mother had given him to keep his toy soldiers in. He removed the lid and placed the hand across the open tin. He held the hand fast whilst he began to saw and with the first rent of flesh, the tainted blood collected in the tin like a sacred fluid flowing to cleanse him of his sins. The saw snagged a little when he got down to the bone, but his determination saw him through. Once it was done, he repeated the process over again until he had both hands dissected. He placed them onto the curtain beside the body and the clothes and picked up the tin. Carefully he replaced the lid and carried it gently to the small sink in the corner of the drab room. Alex opened the lid and placed it behind the cold tap and placed the plug into the plughole. Slowly he allowed the blood to flow from the tin into the sink and then he placed his hands within it. He clasped and rubbed his hands together, washing himself until his hands were glistening with bright red blood. Only then did he remove the plug and watched fascinated as the blood slowly circled around the hole, before disappearing into the abyss.
He turned on the hot tap and ran his hands beneath the water. Long after the water had become searing, Alex continued to wash his hands until the red of blood was replaced by the red of burning skin. He used the last splashes of hot water that he could stand to remove the blood from the tap and then turned it off. Placing the lid behind the hot tap he ran the cold tap into the sink and rinsed out the tin. He didn’t want it totally clean like his hands, the tarnished tin reminded him of all the good he was doing. Finally, when all traces of blood in and around the sink were gone, Alex dried his hands upon his jeans and walked back to the garage. A pile of boxes were stacked in one corner and Alex selected a small one and then opened up the bottom drawer of the battered filing cabinet. The drawer was stuffed full of brightly-coloured children’s Christmas wrapping paper. He thought for a moment as he surveyed them and then selected the blue one with the penguin motif, somehow it seemed appropriate for the man with the cold blue fingers.
Once safely back in the room, he placed the hands into the box and sealed it carefully with cello tape. He cut the wrapping paper and carefully sealed it around the box, taking great care to ensure neat edges and precisely folded flaps of paper at each end, until the box was gaily wrapped in the blue paper. He then returned to the open filing cabinet drawer and selected a silver bow from within its contents. Once back at the box, Alex placed the bow to one side. From within the toolbox, he withdrew a pen and a small blue label and as he turned it over in his hand, he thought carefully about what he was going to write on it. He didn’t want it to be too easy, yet it could not be too hard. People needed to know that evil was among them and that he was saving them from it.