This is the conclusion of a three-part story. For those of you coming across it randomly, please read parts one and two first, as it will make little sense otherwise!
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.