First Blood – Angela Marsons

‘Are you scared yet?’ I ask, peering down into your soulless eyes. You are prostrate and trapped. This time it’s you that is helpless. If not for the gag in your mouth what would your last words be? I wonder. Would you beg for forgiveness? Would you plead for your life? Would you make promises? Would you apologise? I bend down and remove the gag to satisfy my curiosity. ‘Let me go you fucking…’ I shove the gag back in. You are not in charge. You have absolutely nothing of interest to say to me. Of course there’s no remorse. That’s okay. It doesn’t change a thing if you’re sorry or not. Your fate remains the same. Your failure to feel anything other than for yourself makes my task so much sweeter. Your expression mixes anger with fear. ‘Not so much fun on the other end, is it?’ I ask, enjoying myself.

But I want to be sure I’m clear; that you understand. ‘Make no mistake, you are going to die,’ I say, waving the knife in front of your face to make my point. ‘And I’m going to make it hurt.’ I read your expression again and now there is only fear. Finally you believe me. Your eyes shift from side to side as your brain turns towards desperate self-preservation. ‘There’s nothing you can do. It’s too late,’ I say to put you out of this misery. I want your eyes full of fear. I don’t want you to have any hope for your own life.

There is none. ‘It’s all about you, isn’t it? You care for no one but yourself and your own sick perversions. Well, now’s the time to pay for everything you’ve done and I know it all, my King. I know every bad thing you’ve ever done.’ The urine stain that appears at your crotch gives me pleasure. ‘You’ve pissed yourself,’ I laugh, waving the knife around your cock. Your weakness gives me strength. I am now satisfied that you have suffered. You’ve tasted the fear you’ve inflicted on others. For me, that will have to do.

It is time to end this. I stand above you. I have taken all your power. Now I am bigger, stronger and in control. ‘Do you feel my power now?’ I ask. You nod vigorously as though that will make a difference. You think you can appease me, identify with me, befriend me to save your own life. ‘Now you’re going to die.’ My fist tightens around the handle of the blade I’ve been holding. It is itching, almost to the point of a spasm, to carry out the wishes of my brain.

I bend down. My hate-filled face will be the last thing you ever see before you leave this earth for your final judgement. I savour this triumph for just a second before I slice the knife across your throat. There is horror. There is fear as the blood spurts from your body taking with it the light from your eyes. I watch as the last signs of life depart. I feel peace as you gurgle your last breath. I feel cleansed. You are dead. And that should be enough, but it isn’t.

What I’ve done already is for others, to save them pain and suffering, but the rest is just for me. I grip the bloody knife with all my strength. It’s time to get to work. CHAPTER ONE 15TH DECEMBER 2014 The 7 a.m. winter darkness felt like the middle of the night as Detective Inspector Kim Stone dismounted the Kawasaki Ninja, removed her helmet and surveyed the concrete and brick building. West Midlands Police, as the second largest force in England and Wales, was responsible for policing an area with almost two million, nine hundred thousand inhabitants and covered the cities of Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton and her own patch in the Black Country. The area was divided into ten Local Policing Units. Dudley was the LPU under which Halesowen Police Station sat. The three-storey structure offered a mixture of darkened windows and bright shining lights.

The top floor remained the darkest. Just like every other station the brass resided at the top and most likely were not yet out of bed. It was similar throughout the borough. And she should know, she’d worked at most of them. A case here, a case there, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. Her most recent placement at West Bromwich had been shorter than most. She’d been seconded to work an armed robbery of a small greengrocer two streets away from The Hawthorns, the home of West Bromwich Albion Football Club, when the DI in charge had been struck down with a sudden case of peritonitis. The case had been two days old and witness statements had been confusing and lacking in detail. With a team of one sergeant and three constables she had worked through the statements one by one and eventually established that not one witness had actually seen the perpetrator flee the scene, except for the son of the owner who had been on his way in to assist his father, and had offered them the only description they had. Male, approximately six feet tall, faded jeans, blue jacket and black balaclava.

In the absence of CCTV Kim had attended the scene and inspected the premises. The shop was on the end of a row of five shops with a narrow one-way street leading to a car park at the rear. A gate led from the car park back into the store. The owner’s son, Ricky, had accompanied her as she’d toured the premises and unlocked a small, damp, decommissioned outside toilet at the rear of the shop. The toilet had been removed and the space filled with old racking, paint tins and a couple of chairs. She had taken a quick look around and turned to Ricky. ‘So, you saw the man and he was…’ ‘About six feet tall, jeans, blue jacket and black balaclava.’ Kim rubbed her chin and nodded. ‘Anything like that black balaclava there?’ she asked, pointing to the corner of the space where the woollen item had been thrown, and forgotten. His face had immediately contorted with guilt and the case had been solved.

Opportunistic criminals had not honed their methods, learned their craft over time. They made mistakes, they forgot things. They were clumsy and nervous. And this nineteenyear-old had been refused the eight hundred quid to go partying in Ibiza with his mates, he’d admitted back at the station. That evening DCI Worthington had insisted the whole team meet him at The Dog for a celebratory drink. She had attended but had not taken a drink. She never touched alcohol. Two hours later she’d been told she was off the team and to await her next placement. The rest of the team had been surprised. She had not.

And now she was about to meet her second DCI in as many weeks. She used her fingers to ruffle her short black hair, flattened by the helmet. A quick look in the bike mirror confirmed that the fringe was resting untidily on her eyebrows without obscuring her dark brown eyes. Let’s see how long this one lasts, she thought, stepping through the automatic doors of her newest work placement. The first thing she noticed was the Christmas tree; a battered artificial affair with limbs missing and the remaining ones arranged haphazardly as though someone had become bored by the task. A few mismatched baubles and a one-line zigzag of tinsel arranged to cover the maximum area did not a festive vision make. Not that she had any interest. Her own home had not turned up for school on the day they were giving out Christmas and that was just how she liked it. The season of goodwill and present giving did not appeal to her natural disposition. ‘DI Stone,’ she said, showing her ID to the desk sergeant.

‘Jack Whittle, Custody Sergeant,’ he said, offering his hand across the desk. She ignored it. And so, it began. New station, new people, new ground rules. And unnecessary touching of other people was one of them. ‘DCI Woodward is expecting me,’ she said as the custody sergeant’s arm retracted to his side of the desk. ‘I’ll buzz you through,’ he said, nodding towards the key-coded automatic doors. Kim remained where she was and said nothing. It was a three-storey building that she’d never been in before. ‘Top floor east corner,’ he offered, coolly, catching on quick.

Maybe Jack was going to be all right after all, tolerable for the duration of her stay. However short that was going to be. She made her way along corridors and up staircases that were pretty much generic in all of the OCUs she’d worked, and one office of beaten-up mismatched furniture was no different to the next. Except of course for Head Office at Lloyd House, in Birmingham. From what she’d seen it was furnished very nicely and was the benefactor of the hand-me-downs to the smaller stations. She knocked on the door with the brass nameplate and forced herself to wait for instruction. Hating time-wasting she was always tempted to announce her arrival with a single knock and enter immediately. After all, he was expecting her and how many other meetings did he have planned for 7 a.m.? She heard the instruction to enter and did so.

It was her first day after all. DCI Woodward stood and offered his hand. She approached and shook it. His grip was dry and firm. ‘Welcome to Halesowen,’ he said, taking a seat and indicating she do the same. ‘Thank you, sir,’ she said, taking a moment to appreciate the brilliant whiteness of his shirt against the smooth, dark brown skin. Rimless reading glasses were perched on his nose. A memorial photograph of a young man closely resembling the man behind the desk graced the wall. She hadn’t heard a great deal about DCI Woodward before she’d been seconded and she hadn’t known if that was a good or bad thing. Was he lazy, unremarkable, perhaps treading water until retirement? She’d met all of the above.

A bit of digging into his performance as a DCI had told her that his team satisfaction percentage rate was in the high seventies and his successful prosecution rate was in the mid-nineties. There were more statistics available but it was these two that interested her the most. He ran a decent team and put bad people behind bars. And yet she’d never seen this man on press conferences hogging the spotlight. ‘I thought it prudent to have a brief chat before putting you to work,’ he said, lacing his fingers together and resting them on the desk. Here it comes, she thought, preparing to adopt the correct expression. It was time for the chat. If true to form of every other DCI there was very little chatting involved. It was a one-sided conversation where he laid down the law, told her how it was going to be and what he expected, a bit like how she remembered her first day at school. There would be no questions and no response required from her until the end when she would be expected to offer total acquiescence.

There you go. Job done. She could get up and leave right now. She knew the drill. She’d listen, nod in the right places and then follow the rules she agreed with. ‘So, Stone, why is it that practically no one wants to work with you?’ he asked, surprising her from the off. Firstly, because it was a question that required an answer. Secondly because it was direct and thirdly because he hadn’t launched into an immediate lecture. ‘Sir, in all honesty, I’m probably not all that easy to get along with,’ she answered and saw the hint of a smile tug at his lips. ‘And why is that?’ he asked.

‘I’m not good with people. I don’t like them very much.’ ‘All people?’ ‘Most, so it’s safer to assume all and generalise.’ ‘I see, so you take full responsibility for the fact that this is pretty much the last station that will take you?’ She thought for a moment and then recalled his own directness. ‘No, sir. I work hard and like to do a good job. I am direct and not everyone likes that, but I will not stop until I’ve exhausted every opportunity open to me. Not everyone likes my style, and I just didn’t feel it prudent to detail some of the knobs that I’ve worked for who also happen to be your contemporaries. Not on our first meeting anyway.’ He surprised her by throwing back his head and roaring with laughter.

‘There may be some I actually agree about but clearly that stays in this room.’ And she hadn’t expected that. ‘Talking of which, what exactly happened with you and DCI Worthington?’ She said nothing. ‘Some kind of communication issue, he cited as your reason for transfer?’ he pushed. Kim thought back to the night of the celebration in The Dog. Her sudden movement of standing up at the table had sent a pint of bitter and half a bag of pork scratchings hurtling into his lap. He’d caught her outside and asked what the hell that had been about. She had told him that if she saw him patting one more female officer on the behind she’d put in a formal complaint against him herself. He had claimed it was just ‘banter’. Tipsy or not it wasn’t acceptable and the detective constable being pawed hadn’t looked like she was enjoying the ‘banter’ all that much.

‘Yes, sir. A communication issue is exactly what it was.’ ‘So,’ he said, removing his glasses. ‘No big speeches but just to say I don’t judge you and you don’t judge me. And we’ll take it from there.’ ‘Fair enough,’ Kim said, unsure if he was playing with her. It was the shortest, most direct welcome speech she’d had yet. ‘It’ll be a small team to start but you’ll have two DSs and a DC. Needless to say there’ll be other resources available but today I’d like you to focus on getting to know your colleagues, their strengths and weaknesses and then I’ll move some cases around to give you something to get your teeth into.’ A whole day getting to know folks she wouldn’t work with for very long? She’d worked in her last team for four months and still didn’t know everyone’s name.

Seemed like a waste of a day to her. ‘Sir, to be honest, I’d rather just get stuck in to…’ ‘I’m sure you would, Stone, and I’d rather we just did it my way.’ She nodded her agreement while thinking that once she and the team had introduced themselves she’d put the feelers out with Despatch for any active cases. ‘Any clues on who or what I’m getting?’ she asked, standing. He shook his head. ‘I’ll leave you to sort that out yourself. The CID office is on the second floor next to the general admin office. I suggest you head there and await the arrival of your team.’ CHAPTER TWO DCI Woodward let out a breath as the door closed behind her. She hadn’t recognised him and he hadn’t realistically expected her to.

It had been a long time since their last meeting. But he’d remembered every second of it. He’d heard much about the detective inspector from all of his fellow DCIs. He hadn’t bothered to mention to her the two condolence cards he’d received that were in his drawer. He’d been fully briefed about her bloody-mindedness, her lack of social skills, her inability to work well with others. He’d heard about the complaints that had been received about her manner. He knew there were times when she broke the rules without breaking the law but sailing close to the line. He had read her personnel file cover to cover. Followed her journey since their meeting all those years ago. He’d read about every slap on the wrist, just as he’d read about every case she’d worked and her impeccable success rate.

He also had a rough idea about what had happened between her and Samuel Worthington. He knew the man. He’d trained with him years ago and had felt back then that he was a sexist, chauvinistic oaf with little room for improvement. How he’d survived in the changing diverse landscape of the police, he was unsure although even he knew that the political correctness training and directives were white noise to some officers. Something had occurred between them and yet she’d chosen to keep it to herself. He felt the seed of respect being sewn somewhere in his mind. He thought again about the sympathy cards in his drawer from her former bosses who felt he’d been lumbered with the force’s problem child, when that hadn’t been the case at all. He had actually requested that the unmanageable, rule-bending, taciturn officer be allowed to join his team. And for better or for worse that’s what he’d got. CHAPTER THREE DS Bryant checked his reflection in the mirror.

His customary dark suit and light blue tie with white shirt looked back at him. Only yesterday his wife, Jenny, had said that he was starting to remind her of Bradley Walsh, the guy who presented that Chaser programme or something. He’d started to argue with her until she’d told him with a wink that she quite fancied Bradley Walsh. He hadn’t been sure how to take that until she’d convinced him that she only had eyes for him. And after almost a quarter century together, he’d take that. He removed the tie. The damn thing was refusing to knot properly. ‘It was fine,’ Jenny said, startling him. He hadn’t realised she was awake but she was sitting up in bed, her knees bent, watching him. ‘And it was also fine the three times before.

What’s wrong?’ ‘Ah, just new boss, that’s all,’ he said, snaking the tie beneath his collar again. ‘You met her before?’ Jenny asked. He shook his head. ‘It’s not because she’s a…’ He turned away from the mirror before she’d even finished the sentence and offered her a look. ‘You really have to ask that?’ She bobbed out her tongue to show she was joking, and he turned back to the mirror. ‘I’ve worked for women and I’ve worked for people younger than me before. She just happens to be both. That doesn’t bother me.’ As both a police officer and as a detective he’d witnessed the horrors that people could inflict upon each other. He understood the coping mechanisms employed by some of his colleagues: drink, drugs, adultery; all of the above.

In fact, anything to distract the brain from the images it held on to. He understood that the need for a crutch came from the absence of balance. Every crime scene was horrific, every crime he dealt with had a victim: loved ones, grief, despair, anger, hatred, death. Every case was a negative. Few police officers were called to investigate a cake bake. It reminded him of the Samaritans’ helpline. You were never gonna get a call from someone telling you how great their day had been. His own crutch had been thirty cigarettes a day. Stressful situations had been followed by a few hits of nicotine which had helped relax him and bring him back to normal. He had known the cigarettes weren’t really relaxing him, just deadening his muscles in response to the poisons he was ingesting but it had felt good while he’d been doing it.

Until after one chest infection too many, when the doctor had told him he was in danger of shortening his life by ten to fifteen years if he didn’t stop. The thought of missing those years from the life of his nineteen-year-old daughter had prompted him to buy every patch and gum pack available. The sudden chest infection that had knocked him off his feet for three weeks had shown him just how poor his lungs were. He had eventually returned to work with the help of Menthol Lyptus extra strong sweets and had been trying to kick them ever since. But he was almost two years smoke free so the addiction to sweets he could live with. Only thing was, since quitting he’d worked hard not to voluntarily place himself in stressful situations that might have him reaching once again for the smokes. Attending crime scenes and interviewing witnesses were unavoidable but he tried to keep his working relationships easy-going, pleasant and without conflict. And from what he’d heard about his new boss, that was likely to be nigh on impossible. ‘So, what have you heard?’ Jenny asked, as though she’d travelled along his entire thought process with him. Always knowing his thoughts was one of the many things he loved about her.

As was her insistence on forcing him to speak those thoughts so he could hear the words outside of his head. ‘That she’s difficult, arrogant, rude, hates working with anyone for too long.’ ‘Well, if she is all those things it may be good that she’ll want to move on quickly.’ ‘If?’ he asked. ‘Absolutely. If you’ve never worked with her, you can’t possibly know if these rumours are true. Remember when we went…’ ‘To Marbella,’ he finished for her. ‘Yes, I remember. Bill and Helen told us it was bloody awful and reeled off everything they’d hated, making us wish we’d never booked the damn holiday until we got there and loved it.’ ‘Am I that predictable?’ she asked, rubbing sleep from her eyes.

‘No, it’s the thing you always quote when you’re trying to tell me not to take other people’s opinions as my own.’ ‘Then my work here is done,’ she said, dusting off her hands and getting out of bed. She stood in front of him and straightened his tie. He didn’t bother to resist the urge to lean down and kiss the top of her head. ‘And beautiful,’ he said. ‘She’s apparently very good-looking.’ Jenny shrugged and tapped the knot of his tie. ‘There you go. Perfect.’ ‘You’re not even a bit threatened, are you?’ he asked.

She shook her head and smiled up at him. ‘I love you,’ he said and meant it. ‘And, that’s why I’m not threatened,’ she said, moving away but tapping his behind. She paused at the bathroom doorway. ‘So, you okay about this then? There’s nothing else bothering you? It’s got nothing to do with the other thing?’ she asked. He shook his head and felt the tension seep into his jaw. Right now he didn’t even want to think about the other thing.

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