A Pillar Of The Community: Part Six

This is the sixth part of a fiction serial, in 1120 words.

On the Thursday evening before her weekend away, Lucy was packing. She had transferred some savings to cover the cost of the trip, and treated herself to some lovely new underwear, as well as a few items of adventurous make-up. The small lakeside hotel was almost one hundred miles south of the town, so no chance of her being recognised there. She had left her credit card number when she made the reservation, but had informed the clerk that she would be paying in cash. It had all made quite a hole in her personal finances, but two nights with Eduardo would be worth it. And she couldn’t very well ask him to chip in, as he had only just started to receive the full rate of pay after his re-training.

Tom Henderson watched Karen sleeping on the sofa. She was soundly asleep, and it seemed unlikely that he would be able to get her into bed later. He was on call tomorrow for the first time in three weeks, and was dreading it. If only he had someone he could ask to come and watch his wife, if he had to go into work. But their friends had deserted them long ago, and the remaining family members were all too old or infirm. He would just have to trust to luck that nothing happened that required him to investigate, otherwise he would have to give Karen a sleeping tablet. On top of her anti-depressants, that would guarantee she slept for so long, she might not miss him after he left.

Don Sinclair made the last checks on his motor-home. Oil, water, windscreen wash. He would fill up at the supermarket on the way to the motorway, as the fuel was much cheaper there. Despite the age of what he called ‘the bus’, it still soldiered on, and had given his family many happy holidays over the years. Jean had been in there earlier, putting up the freshly-washed curtains, dusting around, and stocking up the cupboards. She had also cooked some meals for Allan to heat up in the microwave. Lunch and dinner for Friday and Saturday, and a snack for Sunday, as they would be back in time to eat together that night.

Eduardo threw some creased clothes into a sports bag, along with a new toothbrush, and a can of deodorant. He deliberately left out anything smart or formal. When they got to the hotel, he would pretend that he hadn’t been aware he would need any smart clothes, and was sure Lucy would drive him into the nearby town to buy him something nice. He was looking forward to a couple of nights staying somewhere nicer than his stuffy rented room, and hoped there would be a mini-bar, and complimentary toiletries. He had heard about Room Service, and was excited to think about being able to order what he wanted, and have it delivered to his room. Almost twenty-five years old, he had never once stayed in a hotel.

Allan Sinclair didn’t like it when his parents went away and left him. It wasn’t that he was scared of being in the house alone as such, but he did fear loneliness. He liked to have his Mum and Dad around, as it helped to know they were just downstairs, or next door in their bedroom. But he was too old for trips in the motor-home now, and found it dull and familiar. He never told them he hated to be alone, as he didn’t want them to feel that they couldn’t go away on their short holidays. They provided everything, looked after him, and never demanded too much of their son. They had worked with him to keep his secret too. Nobody knew that he had gone to a ‘special’ school. Friends and neighbours were oblivious to his learning difficulties, poor writing skills, and extreme shyness. As far as anyone knew, he made the commute into the city every day, and went to the Technical School there. Nobody close to them had children at that school, so it had been a good cover story. Mum had driven him to his very different school in the mornings, and once he had been old enough, he would get the bus home. He always sat in the same seat, looking at nothing, talking to nobody. But school was over for him now, and an uncertain future lay ahead.

Music was his salvation from everyday life. He could lose himself in the regular beats, not having to think about what would happen when he was older. He was unlikely to ever be able to work. In addition to the poor reading and writing, he was barely able to communicate with people other than his parents. He worried that Mum and Dad were ashamed of their son, but nothing they ever said or did betrayed anything except love and affection. They were proud and private people, not about to discuss the limitations of their son’s intellect with friends and neighbours, however pleasant they seemed. They maintained the facade of normality, with carefully constructed excuses and lies. For his part, Allan kept away from most other people, lest the truth become evident, and the lies discovered. Mum would sit on his bed, stroking the hair that was always a little too long. “Just the three of us, Allan love. That’s all we need”. He had heard her say that so many times. Comforting, reassuring.

Alexander Conroy was in a very good mood on that Thursday evening. All being well, it would be done tomorrow. The sooner the better, as he didn’t want to chance the possibility of Don and Jean returning home unexpectedly early, after a change in the weather, or a problem with the motor-home. Lucy had chatted excitedly about her trip to the city, droning on about the chances of earning a good part-time income from a franchise in the slimming club. He had wondered why she would bother. After all, he earned enough that she didn’t have to work, and she only worked with the animals because she couldn’t have pets at home. She also claimed that she liked to have her own money, and didn’t want to have to ask him to transfer funds into her account. He was unconcerned about this new idea. If she got another part-time job, she would be out more often, and that was fine by him.

Before they went to bed that night, he had to calm himself down.
He could not allow juvenile excitement and emotion to divert him from the job in hand tomorrow.

To be continued…

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A Pillar Of The Community: Part Five

This is the fifth part of a fiction serial, in 1054 words.

Alex looked over at the calendar hanging on the wall by the desk. Three weeks. He would love to be able to mark the date. Circle it in bright red, and spend the next twenty days crossing off each day that led up to it. But he knew better. That was for books and films, or fools. And he was no fool. Instead, he started to think about the repercussions, once the deed was done.

Allan would be found when his parents came home. There would be high drama. Police cars and ambulances, probably. Scenes of Crime officers, undoubtedly. Distraught parents, wailing and tears, followed by the inevitable investigation. There would be door-to-door enquiries, possible witness statements taken, and a detailed search of surrounding gardens. CCTV would be examined in detail, and every part of Allan’s life would be dissected. His male friends, girls he might have known, his extended family; everyone would be considered to be a suspect, until ruled out.

Then local criminals of course. Burglars, Robbers, Drug Dealers, all would be questioned, perhaps detained for a while as alibis were checked. Fingerprints, DNA samples, photographs. The whole circus of crime would arrive in his quiet street. And the press, naturally. Not only the town newspaper, but the city papers, and TV stations. Probably national coverage too, given an unexpected murder in such a quiet town. There was a great deal to consider, not least his perceived reaction, and the public face he must present to the world. As for clues, he would leave none. A rough estimate of the potential clues he might leave behind reached well over fifty items, and he would make sure that nothing would possibly point to him. At least nothing that could be considered worthy of subsequent arrest, and prosecution.

He knew only too well that many criminals escaped justice for a variety of crimes; for lack of witnesses, and physical evidence tying them to the crime. Even when the investigating detectives were certain they knew who had done it, they could not proceed without evidence that would convince a jury. No prosecuting authority wanted to leave themselves open to a verdict being overturned on appeal, or later charges of wrongful arrest. Alex smiled at the irony. In their efforts to protect people wrongly charged and arrested, they had handed the careful criminal a licence to get away with their crime. As long as they covered their tracks properly, as he would.

It was tempting to look on the PC for the weather forecast for that weekend. Weather might play a part. If it rained, mud and tracks would have to be taken into account. A dry day would be preferable, and that might make all the difference to the time he chose to act. But he was not about to do anything on his computer that could be checked later, so he would watch the seven-day forecast on TV, nearer the time.

Detective Tom Henderson hated having to work over the weekend. Karen always seemed to get worse when he was on call. The usual five days was enough for her to be left alone, and if he was called in for something at weekends, he always worried that she would have a crisis. But this weekend was a case of so-far so good, and no detectives had been called in by the uniforms for anything they couldn’t deal with. He checked the rota on his email, and he wasn’t on call again until three week’s time.
He made them both a toasted cheese sandwich for lunch, and sat with sad eyes, watching his nervous wife nibbling the food like a rodent. It would probably take her an hour to finish one half, and she might well leave the rest. Since Janet’s accident, she had to be cajoled to eat anything, and he could now see the bones in her skull. She was no longer the woman he had married, but he had always known it would be for better or worse.

Lucy couldn’t wait until she went back to work on Monday. She muted the volume on her mobile phone, and sent Eduardo a text.
“He said OK to a weekend away! Can’t wait! We can arrange it next week XXX”
Eduardo stretched out on his bed in the small room, and read the message. She had been too easy. So easy, he had suspected something at first. But she kept coming back for more, and seemed to be well and truly hooked. She was married to one of the big-wigs in the town, and Eduardo guessed that he must be rich. He had seen photos of the house, and though not as grand as he had expected, he knew it was paid off, and worth a lot, as property prices rose every year in the town. Lucy had also mentioned his pension, which would be a great deal more than he would ever earn for working as an animal nurse. And she would get at least half of everything, if not more. He replied to her text.
“Wonderful news my darling. I can’t wait either. I love you. xx”

Lucy grinned at the reply, before deleting both messages. When they finally got away that weekend, she would tell her handsome boy that she loved him too, and they could discuss the exit strategy from her marriage to Alexander, and a new life together. Through the bi-fold doors, she watched her husband busy in the garden. By the side of the shed, he was enlarging the vegetable patch. He wasn’t much of a gardener, but he did get some satisfaction from growing vegetables. It occurred to her that he still looked good, considering he was forty-nine years old. He had kept his figure, and his hair was reasonably thick, though now a salt and pepper colour. Such a shame he hadn’t been more romantic.
She would miss him, but not everything about him.

Alex loosened more earth next to the shed. He was surprised how the short time digging had made him feel tired, and a little breathless. Easy to forget he wasn’t so young anymore. He would have to remember that in three week’s time, and adjust his plans to take that into account.

To be continued…

A Pillar Of The Community: Part Four

This is the fouth part of a fiction serial, in 1098 words.

When Alex got home, Lucy was out. One or other of her slimming clubs she would go to straight after work, no doubt. A note on the kitchen worktop was weighted down with one of the ornamental owls she loved to collect.
‘Back by 7, dinner cooked, just have to warm it up when I get home. See you soon. X’
He went into the room annoyingly referred to as his den, and placed the protective suit under some old files in the bottom of his filing cabinet. Relaxing on the leather-upholstered captain’s chair, he pondered for a while on his favourite subject. Murder.

With the method still to be finalised, and the motive non-existent, he did need the final element, an opportunity. Some short time-window when Allan would be alone in the house, and more importantly, when Alex could be completely sure he would remain so for a while. He couldn’t even think about asking Don and Jean what their plans were, as that might be remembered later, and considered to be a clue. But he was confident that his neighbours would make at least one trip in their motor-home, before the season came to an end, and bad weather set in. He would just have to hope that they went away sometime in the next six weeks. The absence of the huge vehicle would be all the clue he needed. They never took it off the driveway unless they were going somewhere for at least one night.

Lucy chased Eduardo around the back office at work, her pendulous breasts wobbling as she ran. “Give me my bra back, come on, I have to go”, she squealed. The young veterinary nurse laughed, dangling the lacy garment just out of reach. Lucy folded her arms, and tried to look serious. She knew if she got close to him, they would end up doing it again. She couldn’t resist his passion. He had arrived just under a year earlier, fresh from his re-training in the city. He had been fully qualified in the Philippines, but had to do more to get registration here. After less than a week, his outrageous flirting had led to touching, and trying to kiss her. Lucy had been surprised, but very flattered. She was twice his age, and as far as she could see, the good-looking young man could have had anyone, but he wanted her. He really did.

She had never really felt wanted, not once. The few men before Alexander had seemed to want just one thing, then moved on as soon as she gave it to them. When her handsome boss at the Town Hall had asked her out, she couldn’t believe her luck, but deep down she hoped that he didn’t just want the same as the others. He had proposed, and she had been ecstatic. The marriage had been like a dream, and moving into the lovely house with a kind and considerate man had been more than she had ever expected from life. But he didn’t really want her, she could tell. There was no passion in his embraces, and when they had sex he seemed remote, almost clinical. Alexander always had his mind on something else, and Lucy suspected that it was his job. After the first few years, it just stopped altogether. Lucy made the best of it. After all, she would never get a better option.

So young Eduardo’s advances rekindled something in her, and made her feel attractive and desirable, perhaps for the first time in her life. She was self-deprecating, naturally. She asked him why he would fancy an overweight woman twice his age, and one who admitted to not being good-looking, by any estimation. But he seemed to really like her, overcoming her objections with genuine compliments that finally made her believe that he liked chubby older women, though part of her never believed a word of it. The first time had been in her car, after he asked for a lift home. The second time in his rented room, and after that whenever they could find an excuse to stay after work. Alexander didn’t seem to care if she came home late, and despite her excuses that she was going to diet clubs and exercise classes, he never questioned the fact that she hadn’t lost an ounce. The main thing that surprised Lucy was that she had no guilty conscience about it whatsoever. That had come as a shock.

After wrestling her bra back by giving her lover one last kiss, Lucy dressed and hurried home. Eduardo had been talking about them getting away for a weekend together, some place where the wife of the town’s highest official would never be recognised. The idea appealed to her a lot. Two nights in a proper bed, the chance to feel completely at one with the young man she was beginning to fall in love with. She had thought up various reasons why she might need to be away, and would test one out on her husband during dinner.

As usual, Alex seemed distracted, hardly looking up as he ate the pasta bake, and sipped his wine. Lucy looked at the clock on the wall, wanting to get it over with before he stopped eating. She was running through some dates in her head, realising that his birthday celebration was coming up, so it couldn’t be then. She introduced the subject casually. “Oh, I saw Jean in the supermarket the other day. She told me that her and Don are going off for two nights soon. Might be their last chance to get away in reasonable weather”. Alex nodded, then turned, suddenly interested. “When is that then? Lucy didn’t even question why he would care, she already had her next line on the tip of her tongue. “Funnily enough, it’s three weeks time, from Friday night, back Sunday evening. The same weekend that Claire asked me to travel to the big Weight-Watchers Bash with her”. We are thinking about starting up our own group in the city, and they have a seminar for people looking to franchise. Would you mind if I went with her?”

Alex had stopped listening after she told him it was three weeks away, but had caught the last line. “You and Claire, going away? Sure, why would I mind? I hope you have a great time”. As she cleared the plates away, Lucy turned and smiled. Behind her back, her husband was smiling too.

He had his window of opportunity.

To be continued…

A Pillar Of The Community: Part Three

This is the third part of a fiction serial, in 1173 words.

Most of the other cops called him ‘Old Tom’, but he wasn’t really that old. He had just been around a long time, and had struggled to make the grade to detective. Even after all this time, he was still only a detective constable. His sergeant was ten years younger than him, and the Inspector leading the team was fifteen years his junior. Tom Henderson was a plodder. He got the job done in his own fair time, and didn’t rush around like the new blokes. Unlike so many of his colleagues, he wasn’t divorced, didn’t drink much, and had never had an affair. Nobody ever saw him at a night out, not even the Christmas party. He did his work, put in the hours, and then went home to Karen.

She needed him around, relied on him. After his daughter Janet had been killed in that horse-riding accident when she was just ten years old, his wife had never been the same. She couldn’t work, hardly ever went out, spent her day in a dream, dazed by her anti-depressants and pain-killers. Money had been tight when she stopped working, and they eventually sold the big house, trading down to a small flat at the edge of town. Too many memories in that old place anyway. A child’s laughter, her first steps along the rug in the hall, and dancing in front of the TV, watching a pop video. The new-build apartments were ideal. No garden to get neglected, good security, and his own parking space. The other residents liked having a police officer living in the small block. He supposed they thought it put off any criminals.

Not that there was that much crime in that town, nothing too serious anyway. In fact, there was talk of shutting down the big old police station in the town centre, and moving everyone out to County Headquarters, in the city fifteen miles to the east. His sergeant had told him he was sure it would happen, just after the new year. Tom had examined his options when he heard that news. He had almost thirty years service, enough to go with a full pension, and an unblemished record. No need to face the upheaval of the possible move to the city, with a longer commute, and a wider area to cover. He could just put his papers in, and retire. But then there was the thought of spending twenty-four hours a day looking at his damaged wife, or the prospect of a part-time job doing something he wasn’t interested in. Maybe he would forget about retirement for now, see how things worked out after the move.

Inspector Mullins kept giving him all the burglaries. He would bring over a file, and cheerily announce, “This one has ‘Burglary Tom’ written all over it mate”, before slapping it down on the desk. When some out of town hard men robbed the main Post Office at gunpoint, Tom had been miles away, looking into the theft of some medals and jewellery from an antique shop. But he never complained. He was good at what he did, and tried hard to investigate the burglaries, for the peace of mind of those victims. He knew the locals prepared to fence stolen goods, and most of the few burglars who regularly plied their trade in the town and surrounding villages. His clear-up rate was above the national average, and though it was hardly exciting, he found some satisfaction in his success.
_

It wasn’t unknown for Mr Conroy to do a snap inspection. Though hardly frequent, he sometimes appeared with his briefcase and clipboard, ready to check stocks, outstanding orders, and the general tidiness of a specific department. There were lots of underlings who could be sent off to do that for him, but he was known to be a man who liked to show his face to the employees on occasion. So it didn’t really surprise Sheila when he turned up at her office in the Cleansing Department, close to the end of the working day. She was in charge of anything to do with the town’s cleaning and refuse services; from rubbish collection, to street-sweeping, and even the cleaners who kept the Town Hall tidy. Although she was classed as Senior Management, she was always careful to call Alex Mr Conroy. If nothing else, she wouldn’t mind his job one day, when he retired, so it wouldn’t hurt if he liked her, and spoke in favour of her application to replace him.

He followed her around the various store rooms under her control, nodding as she outlined the stock situation, or advised him of staffing issues. In one large underground garage, many of the small carts and cleaning vehicles were parked, and he pretended to inspect those too. At the back of the big space was a room with a sign on the door that read ‘Contagious and Infected Stores’. This was where everything needed to deal with things like decaying corpses or fatal road accidents was stored, and in one dusty corner was a shelf marked ‘CBRN’. Not that the town had ever had cause to to deal with a Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, or Nuclear incident, but it was always best to be prepared for that possibility. As Sheila started to drone on about something to do with outstanding orders, Alex suddenly stopped her. “Sorry, Sheila, I have forgotten my clipboard. I must have left it on your desk. Be a love and get it for me would you? I need some of the stock sheets fixed to it”.

Sheila smiled, muttered “Of course”, and left to make the considerable walk back to her office. She checked her watch as she walked, less than five minutes to going-home time. He always cut it fine. Alex opened the empty briefcase, and removed the waste paper that bulged it out. Reaching right over to the back of a shelf, he removed one of the one-piece suits used by the unfortunate people employed to clean up after dead bodies had been removed. He checked the size. M for medium, just right for his build. The suit was bright orange in colour, and included a hood, as well as large foot coverings that easily fitted over shoes. He slipped it into the briefcase, before leaving the room and throwing the waste paper into a rubbish skip next to the parked vehicles.

Sheila returned with the clipboard, slightly red in the face. Alex smiled as she handed it to him. He looked at his watch, and shook his head. “Sheila, I just realised how late it is, I’m really sorry. You must be wanting to get home to your family. We can do this another time”. Sheila thanked him, and they walked back into the main office complex together, nodding to the security guard as they made their way to the car park.

Once in his car, Alex patted the case, and smiled. He had the suit.

To be continued…

A Pillar Of The Community: Part Two

This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 1104 words.
Please read Part One first.

With just six weeks to go until his fiftieth birthday, Alex had no time to waste. Lucy was preparing a celebration of some kind, and couldn’t resist hinting about how exciting her surprise would be. But he had no thoughts about that either way, as he was lost in the preparations for the murder he would finally commit.

Much thought had gone into the victim. He didn’t want it to be someone too frail or vulnerable. And definitely not a small child. Child murders always attracted far too much attention, and rampant speculation. Once the media became too heavily involved, the Police had no alternative but to work harder to find the killer. He had considered someone random, perhaps one of the few vagrants in the town, or someone just visiting on business. But it was important not to commit the crime in public. This country had more CCTV than anywhere else in the world. Even some local houses had security cameras, and all the road systems locally, as well as any public transport, were comprehensively monitored.

Alex could not use his car, that was for sure. It was bound to be picked up by a camera somewhere. Even walking to the deed was out of the question, as he would sure to be spotted, disguised or not. Life in the twenty-first century made things increasingly difficult for murderers, he concluded. And there was the justification. He would like it to be someone who deserved to be killed, at least in his opinion. So, it must be close by, not covered by cameras, and the victim must be deserving of the crime. It came to him easily, after considering those options. Someone that would be relatively easy to kill, and who would not leave a useful life behind.

His next door neighbours were a nice enough couple. Don and Jean Sinclair were originally from Scotland, but had moved there nineteen years ago, when Don travelled south for work. Alex and Lucy welcomed them when they moved in, they exchanged cards at Christmas, and chatted occasionally over the garden fence. But the Sinclairs were a fair bit younger, so the two couples had little in common. And Jean had been pregnant at the time, leaving Lucy little to discuss with her, other than to reveal she was unable to have any children. The baby was born, and it was a boy. They called him Allan, with two Ls. The following year, Don bought a motor-home, and parked the huge monstrosity outside the house. Alex thought it was an eyesore, and lowered the tone of the area. But he was pleasant when Don proudly showed it to him, and wished him happy holidays in his new vehicle.

Allan gave little trouble at first. The occasional football found on the lawn, thrown back over the fence, or some noisy excited squealing during hot days when the paddling pool came out. But there was something unpleasant about the boy as he grew older. Sly, with his mouth smiling, but his eyes not. His hair was too long, and he mumbled instead of speaking clearly. Don and Jean didn’t see that of course. They doted on the boy, and gave him everything. Including a very loud music system for his fifteenth birthday that he played until late at night, his parents seemingly oblivious to the thumping bass that travelled across into Alex’s peaceful home. But he didn’t complain, and made no mention of it when he saw them on the driveway. That wasn’t the sort of thing he did.

Last year, Allan had left school. He was supposed to be going to college, but never attended the first week. Lucy saw Jean at the supermarket, and she said that Allan was undecided about what he wanted to do, and his final exam results had not been as good as they had hoped. So the boy did nothing. He just lazed around the house all day, supported by his stupid parents, playing loud music, and hardly ever going outside. He had a meaningless and totally pointless existence, as far as Alex was concerned. And that made him the perfect choice as the victim. He would remove this leech from society, and do his parents a favour in the process.

Alex knew enough about Police procedure to know how investigations worked. Their mantra was always the same. Method, Motive, and Opportunity. Those three things trapped so many killers, it was small wonder that detectives relied on them so heavily. He tried to see it from their point of view. Method could be sorted out. It would not be distinctive or unusual, oh no. Run-of-the mill would suit him fine. Motive was the best of the three, as he would have none. There could be no motive for a distinguished local man in his late forties wanting to kill the teenage son of a friendly neighbour. He had never complained about the boy, or the noise. In fact, the opposite was true. Alex and Lucy had always been polite and friendly; they were ideal neighbours, Jean had said so more than once. Opportunity was a stumbling block though. Living next door, he would of course have the ideal opportunity. No travel to the scene of crime, and a quick escape possible too. But without motive, why would he ever be a suspect?

Alex would only need one thing. He didn’t need a weapon, as a house would provide no end of what the Police called Adapted Weapons. No need to take anything from his own house that might incriminate him, or buy in something that could be traced. But he would need something to cover him completely. A protective over-garment that went over his head and covered his feet, something like those scenes of crime specialists wear when investigating murders just like the one he would carry out. They sold them in hardware shops, used by people when painting, or working in dusty conditions. But he couldn’t just walk in and buy one, as that would leave him vulnerable to being caught on CCTV. And there was no chance of buying one online either, as the transaction could be traced. He gave it some thought, and decided that he would have to steal one, preferably somewhere he wouldn’t be recognised. So he set about researching that, not easy when he couldn’t use his computer. He had to sit and think hard instead.

Of course. The Town Hall. They had stocks of such things, for their various cleaning operatives.

And he had complete access to the whole building.

To be continued…

A Pillar Of The Community: Part One

This is part one of a fictional serial, in 1010 words.

Alexander Conroy was a pillar of the community. Chief Executive at the Town Hall, he had worked there all his life, starting straight from college in a junior role, and always impressing. Nothing was too much trouble. He could be relied upon to work late, chair meetings, sit on interview panels, and to be completely conscientious. Nobody had a bad word to say about him, except perhaps that he sometimes seemed a little distant, and had few friends. Not many people got to live in a small town until they were almost fifty years old without making some enemies, or being a cause for resentment, but he had achieved that.

Underneath that veneer of respectability, hidden by the immaculate suit, and polished shoes, Alex had a dark secret burning inside him. As long as he could remember, he had always wanted to kill someone. Not some thing, like a small animal, or bird. A person, a living, breathing individual whose life he would take, and watch as it left their body.

But he knew better than to act on impulse, and would bide his time, until that time was right.

Research was the key, he realised that. Most killers get caught because they make silly mistakes. Many get caught because they want to be found out, adoring what they perceive to be the fame of their crime. Some cannot stop once they have started, caught up in the lust for more killing. Famous killers often engage the authorities, with silly notes and taunts, or by taking trophies and leaving symbols. Alex had read about them all. For more than thirty-five years he had read every book, seen every film, watched every documentary. If he chose to, he could have been an academic on the subject of murder; an expert called upon to comment, or even a famous author. But that was never going to happen.

Every book he had ever read on the subject had been dropped off at a charity shop, or burned with the leaves in Autumn. The same with every VHS tape or DVD film he had ever bought. None of them had been purchased in a mainstream shop, instead they were picked up in jumble sales, charity shops, or boot sales. Once he owned a computer, he had never ordered a book or film online, and had been careful to avoid any website or article that dealt with murder, or crime in any form. It took patience, care, and planning, but Alex was a man with more than his fair share of all of those. The years didn’t matter to him, as preparation was all, in his world.

That had even extended to his choice of wife. The tall good-looking man had been considered to be something of a catch in his youth. Good job, respectable family, a non-smoker, and moderate drinker. Girls came easily to Alex, and soon saw their future with him. But he waited for the right one. The one who wouldn’t want to get to involved in his life, the one who didn’t think too much about what went on in the world. And one who could never have children. Lucy was ideal. Some medical problem that he didn’t delve into meant that she could never conceive. She was settled on that, and didn’t mention adoption, or any other avenue to motherhood. She was also considered to be unattractive by others, a dumpy girl who struggled with a weight problem, and wore glasses with thick lenses. Just right.

People were surprised when he asked her out. She had only been working at the Town Hall as a temporary clerk for a few weeks, and she was overwhelmingly flattered when the handsome departmental manager asked her out to dinner. What many people called a whirlwind romance led to an engagement after just two months followed by a quiet wedding before the year was out. Alex was very pleased, and Lucy was deliriously happy. He had sold his bachelor flat, and they moved into a modest house in a good part of town. Nothing flashy, but comfortable, and most suitable. Lucy got a job as the receptionist for a local Vet. Alex had said no pets, so she sought work close to other people’s animals instead. He was kind and affectionate, and she adored him. The perfect marriage.

It certainly was for Alex. Lucy went to Weight-Watchers, Zumba class, even Yoga and Pilates. She never won that battle against her increasing obesity, but it got her out of the house a lot. Alex had the best of both worlds, a compliant wife who was out most evenings, and the cloak of a respectable happy marriage viewed by all as enviable. He even managed to earn more respect, when he was seen to be ‘taking on’ the unfortunate Lucy; marrying her for the best reasons, not just for her looks. She accompanied him to functions, and nobody stared, or mentioned how she was squeezed into dresses that were far too tight. Mrs Conroy loved her new role, on the arm of one of the most desirable men in town.

So she never bothered Alex. Never asked him what he was reading, or watching on TV in the room she called his ‘den’. They went on holiday for two weeks every year, and were financially secure. She wanted no more from life.

The years passed peacefully. Their twenty year anniversary came and went, celebrated by a trip to Disneyland in America. Lucy had always wanted to go, and Alex pretended to enjoy it, for her sake. Though he did enjoy being in America at last. This was the holy grail for those interested in murder. More serial killers than anywhere else, and a history of violent crime that fascinated him. Even though he couldn’t make anything of that on the two-week holiday, just being there made him excited. Once they got home, he started to plan his crime in earnest. He had promised himself it would happen before he turned fifty, and he didn’t have long to go.

To be continued…

A long week

This is a work of fiction. A short story of 1970 words.

Saturday.

Duncan woke up at the usual time. Even at weekends he never seemed to be able to sleep past the time he normally rose for work. He went into the ensuite to use the toilet, and when he came out, Stella was still sleeping soundly. Downstairs in the kitchen, he switched on the coffee machine and opened his Macbook to check if there were any emails. Nothing from Antonia, but the time difference from Australia had to be taken into account. When the light went out on the machine, he poured the coffee into two cups, and walked back upstairs. As he placed his wife’s coffee on the bedside table, his skin went cold, and he dropped the second cup onto the thick carpet, spraying the contents everywhere.

Stella’s eyes were half-open, and her mouth locked in a strange grin. But she was gone. Her eyes looked like the water on a stagnant pool, with no light behind them, no sparkle on them. Her skin was the colour of an old candle, one lit sometime ago, then left unused since. The strength seemed to drain out of him, and he sank onto his knees next to the bed. After what felt like a long time, Duncan reached over and touched her shoulder, a gentle shake. She was cold and stiff, her face srangely unfamiliar.

He phoned for an ambulance, answering the questions clearly, in a monotone. When the ambulance people arrived, they called the police, and waited for them to get there. It was all questions. Had she been ill? Did she take any medicines? How old was she? Did he have anyone he could call? After the questions came the information. Undertakers appointed by the Coroner would arrive, and take Stella to the mortuary. There would have to be a post-mortem, as she hadn’t seen her doctor in months. A nervous young policewoman took a short statement from him, then offered to contact relatives or friends to come to be with him. She waited until the men came with the plain coffin, and suggested he wait in the living room as Stella was removed from the house into the unmarked van. Then she gave him a piece of paper with some phone numbers on it, and left.

Sunday.

He had spent most of Saturday trying to get hold of Antonia. She had to know her Mum had died, and he wanted her to hear it from him. She eventually got in touch by Skype, from some remote spot in Queensland. Her reaction was surprisingly calm, and she seemed much more interested in why Stella had died, than the fact she was dead. Duncan had found that very annoying, especially when she had said, “Well, she was 60”. It had been all he could do to keep his temper, then halfway through her explanation of why she would never be able to get back in time for the funeral, the connection was lost. He looked through the contacts on Stella’s mobile, and was surprised how few there were. She had only retired three years earlier, but there seemed to be very few old teaching colleagues there. And her parents and brother were long dead. Other than a hairdresser, their daughter, and some shops, the list was devoid of any names he recognised.

He phoned his business partner at home, and told him the news, adding that he wouldn’t be at work on Monday. Brian didn’t seem to know what to say, so invited him over if he needed company. By late afternoon, Duncan realised that he hadn’t eaten anything since Friday night, so forced down a large bowl of cereal. He slept in Antonia’s old bed again that night, unable to face the main bedroom, and the coffee stain next to her side.

Monday.

The telephone woke him up from a heavy slumber on the sofa. He had felt unusually tired, and even after sleeping all night, had dropped off far too easily. It was the hospital. He had to go and see someone at Patient’s Affairs the next morning, if he was up to it. Duncan wrote down the details on the pad next to the phone, then went upstairs to take a long bath. Still no more from Antonia, and he wasn’t in the mood to try to chase her again. Brian rang later to see how he was, and Duncan pretended to have a visitor, as he didn’t really want to talk.

Tuesday.

The lady in the hospital was very kind. She discussed the findings with him, making sure he understood fully. The cause of death was a cerebral haemorrhage. Natural causes. She also felt the need to reassure him. “It would have been instant, she wouldn’t have known anything, or felt any pain. Duncan stared at her, not having a clue what to say. After a while he said, “We have been married for thirty-five years. Our daughter is married to an American, and lives in Australia”. Even as the words left his mouth, he regretted the irrelevance of his response. The kind lady went over some more details. He would have to go to the City Council offices, to register Stella’s death. Then he had to take the death certificate to an undertaker, and arrange for collection of the body and a funeral. He sat holding her leaflets in his hand, and was suddenly aware that she had asked him a question. “Did you have an undertaker in mind?” He shook his head. “Well I can’t really recommend anyone, but I have heard that Unwins in Church Street are very good.

Wednesday.

The young man at the Council Offices told him he should have made an appointment. But if he came back in two hours, he would be dealt with. Duncan sat in his car in the car park, and waited. He had nowhere else to go. An older woman dealt with the certificate. She was brisk and efficient, coming over as someone who had done this countless times before. He paid the fee, and left with the paper that officially marked the death of his wife. The woman he had spent most of his life with. The mother of his only child. The person he had been closest to, for the longest time.

Unwin’s was having a quiet day, so he was taken straight in to the sombre room designed for discussing funerals with bereaved relatives. The man explained that he was Unwin Junior, and the business had been going for more than sixty years. After some very insincere sounding condolences, he started to discuss details. Burial or Cremation? How many extra cars? How many mourners? Would it be flowers, or donations? And what music did Stella want to be played at her funeral. Duncan’s responses were short. Cremation seemed logical, as they were not religious. He agreed with the undertaker’s suggestion of a Humanist minister, based on that information. Probably only one car, as there would be few mourners. He would arrange for one wreath of flowers to adorn the basic coffin, and ring back with the name of the classical piece of music that Stella always played. Mr Unwin jotted down the replies, nodding. He typed some details into his computer, and his face lit up with a smile. “We are lucky, Mr Allison. Because the crematorium is not so busy in the summer, we could fit you in for 4:30 pm on Friday. It’s rare to get things done so quickly, I assure you”. Duncan wanted to say that he was not at all lucky to have to be attending his wife’s funeral, but he just nodded instead. Unwin shook his hand as he left, adding “Don’t worry about any money now Sir, we will send you an invoice”.

Thursday.

Most of the day was spent on the phone. The wreath was ordered, and would be sent to the undertaker. He rang Brian, to give the details for him and his wife to attend. Brian sounded shocked. “This Friday? As in tomorrow? Really? That’s so quick”. Duncan explained about the opportune window in the schedule of the crematorium, and there was a long pause. “Duncan mate, I can’t possibly do Friday. the Beaver Brothers are coming in to discuss their account, and you know we can’t risk losing our best clients. And Lucy is off on a spa break, won’t be home until Saturday morning. Can’t you rearrange for next week? What about Antonia? Surely she’s coming home for it?” Duncan told him that Antonia had no intention of coming back all the way from Australia, and that he had already confirmed the details with the undertaker. He told his partner not to worry, and it would go ahead as planned. Then he thought of contacting the former neighbours, who had moved away three months earlier. Stella had always got on so well with Shirley. But they had gone to live far to the south, some three hundred miles away, and that was a long journey for an elderly couple. So he left it.

After writing down the name of the violin piece, he rang the undertaker and gave him the details of the music.

Next he rang Stella’s old school, only to discover that there was a new headmaster who didn’t even remember her. Perhaps he could mention it to her colleagues then? He was polite, but firm. “Mr Allison, I will of course tell the staff, but tomorrow is the last day of term before the holidays, and none of them could be spared, I am afraid. You have my sympathies.” Duncan thought about contacting Unwin’s and seeing if he could rearrange. But there seemed little point. Once the schools were broken up for the summer, everyone would be off on holiday anyway. Just before five, the doorbell rang. It was a local florist, with a huge bunch of flowers. He read the small card. ‘In memory of my darling Mum, with all our love, Ant and Stuart’. His daughter had managed to get online to send flowers, but not to talk to him.

Friday.

Duncan got ready a good hour before the hearse was due to arrive at the house. He had a dark grey suit, but realised he didn’t own a black tie. He chose the darkest navy blue one he had instead. When Unwin’s arrived, he handed the men the flowers from Antonia, and sat alone in the back of the huge mourner’s car. Once at the crematorium, a very large lady approached him, and introduced herself as the Humanist minister.

Inside the small room, Duncan sat alone at the front. Behind him and to his right were two women he didn’t know, and two of the staff from Unwin’s. The large lady spoke loudly and enthusiastically. Stella had been a loving wife, a devoted mother to her daughter, and a dedicated teacher who had given her working life to education, much loved by all who knew her. The music made him jump as it started to play loudly, and the curtains closed around the coffin with an annoying squeaking sound. Unwin Junior indicated it was time to leave. The unknown women nodded as they departed, and the large lady shook his hand. The undertaker took him around to the side, where the wreath and bunch of flowers were lying on a path next to a paper clipped onto a stand. It had Stella’s name on the paper. The undertaker offered to leave him for a while, but he followed the man back to the car.

That night, he sat on the sofa, still wearing his suit and shoes. For the first time since last Friday, he opened the bottle of whisky and poured a large measure into a tumbler, as the tears finally started to roll down his face.

It had been a long week.