M for Murder – Keri Beevis

He had known from the beginning that they would come for him eventually and, in a way, he guessed he was lucky that it had taken them so long to find him. Almost eight years. Seven years, ten months and twenty-seven days, if you wanted to be exact. He knew of course, because he had counted those days in thick black marker pen on the white emulsion wall, each one that had passed denoted with a red circle, there in plain view for anyone who entered the room to see. Of course, nobody ever had seen. But that was the beauty of hiding; no one was supposed to know where you were. A twisted smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. It was over now, and they would take him away, but it didn’t really matter. Gripping tightly at the arms of his chair, it struck him with bitter irony that he had been living in his own private prison anyway. How would a cell with bars on the window be any different? It wouldn’t take his jailers long to realise that the force of what he had created could not be stopped. Footsteps echoed on the stairs below, growing louder as they neared the attic. Glancing in the dresser mirror, he watched as the door opened behind him, and smiled in reassurance at the familiar face that entered the room; at the one person who had been there for him, who had helped and believed in him, and who was now studying him with a concerned look on his face. ‘They’re coming for you.’ It wasn’t a question, but he nodded at the reflection, raising his finger to his lips. ‘We both knew that they would sooner or later,’ he said softly.

‘But it doesn’t matter any longer, does it?’ Although his question went unanswered, he knew that they were both thinking the same thing. Rodney Boone had been caught, but the game was far from over. There was someone new to fill his shoes now. Someone who didn’t want to see what he had started go to waste. And that someone had a new name and a new face, and new hands with which to kill. I 1 JUNIPER, OREGON. WEDNESDAY 16TH APRIL 1997 t was their second doughnut stop of the day. Rebecca Angell, waiting in the patrol car for her partner, stole a glance at her watch and noted that it was only ten thirty. Letting out a sigh, she leant back against the headrest and muttered a curse under her breath. All the time though, her eyes remained alert, watching the crowded city street around her. This was not what she had expected or wanted. The move to Juniper had been planned as an escape from small-town life; a chance to get away from her home in Swallow Falls. Sure, she loved the place. She had lived there all of her life and it held many fond memories, but it would have been a lousy place to be a cop. Her parents loved the town and it was unlikely they would ever leave.

Her dad was minister of the parish, while her mom worked part-time at the high school and, now her daughters were grown-up, served on the local committee. Rebecca, at twenty-six, was the youngest of her siblings. After high school she had attended college for two years, during which time her rather old-fashioned parents had extolled the virtues of a nice, safe secretarial job, and sure enough, after graduating, she had found herself fetching coffee, answering the phone and performing other mundane duties for a local law firm. She hated the work, stuck it out for a couple of years, but eventually realised she couldn’t spend her life pleasing her parents. A part of her had always hankered to be a cop, probably because she had grown up on a diet of Starsky & Hutch and Charlie’s Angels. While her oldest sister, Jess, made out with boys, and middle sister, Wendy, played with her dolls, Rebecca, much to her mother’s chagrin, had hung out with the Brady twins, playing cops and robbers. Back then, when she had told her parents that when she grew up, she was going to put away bad guys, they had laughed her ideas off, putting them down to a childish whim. How disappointed they had been then, to discover that all these years later she still had her heart set on a career in law enforcement, and shock followed that disappointment when, after graduating from the academy, she had applied to join Juniper Police Department. It hadn’t even been a decision for Rebecca, who knew that if she stayed in her hometown, the job would amount to little more than writing out parking tickets and breaking up the odd barroom brawl. Juniper, meanwhile, was a big enough city to offer the excitement that she craved, while still close enough to home that she could visit regularly. Her mother had predictably begged her to reconsider, over-exaggerating the situation to the extent that anyone would think her youngest daughter was heading off to war, but Rebecca’s mind was already made up. Now she was here in Juniper though, niggling doubts were starting to creep in. Maybe she was expecting more than the city had to offer. But then again, maybe she wasn’t being given a fair chance to prove her worth. Although she had only been here a little over three weeks, she already had the distinct impression her new colleagues didn’t think she was up to the job.

She suspected that it had a lot to do with the fact that she came from a small town and, it seemed, they thought working in the city was going to be too much for her, and that was no doubt why she had been partnered with Victor Boaz. A couple of months of putting up with his lazy, sexist attitude would be enough for her. Let her think that city life was too much trouble and she would soon go running back to the safety of her small town, tail between her legs. It might have worked if Rebecca had been a different person, but she wasn’t, and if Vic and his buddies intended to scare her away then they had a surprise coming, because she didn’t give up easily. Her mother called it her stubborn streak, never letting up until she got her own way, while Rebecca preferred to think of it as dogged determination. She was good at digging her heels in and had no intention of quitting when she had worked so hard to get here. The car door opening broke her from her thoughts, and she glanced up as Vic climbed into the driver’s seat, half a doughnut in his hand, the other half wedged in his mouth. In his free hand he held a greasy paper bag, which he offered to Rebecca. ‘Want one?’ he mumbled through his mouthful. She screwed up her nose. ‘Thanks, but I think I’ll pass.’ Taking the bag from him, she added it to the growing collection already in the glovebox, making a mental note to clear it out when they next stopped, and thinking that if Vic kept eating doughnuts at this rate, he would end up looking like one. Not a pleasant thought. That wasn’t to say he was ugly, or even overweight. Even features, close-cropped dark hair and grey blue eyes, tall, and with a bulk that, at the moment, was mostly still muscle, thanks to the few hours a week he did bother to put in at the gym.

But he would be piling on the pounds soon if he wasn’t careful. And if he did pork out, he didn’t exactly have a personality to carry him. The man wasn’t just a pig when it came to his food either. He was lazy, had little respect for women, and it had quickly become apparent to Rebecca that he would rather spend his day with his feet propped up in front of the TV with a six pack of beer at hand than behind the wheel of a patrol car. At first, she had wondered why he decided to become a cop. It took just a week of working with him though to realise he was in it solely for the perks. Not punching a clock, and with no one constantly looking over his shoulder, he was able to make as many social stops as he liked, and he frequently abused the siren whenever he didn’t feel like sitting in traffic or wanted to get somewhere fast. As a rookie, Rebecca was sure she could learn a lot from this man. Finishing his doughnut, Vic used his pants to wipe the sugar from his fingers and started the engine. As he edged away from the curb, Rebecca had one eye casually trained on the crowded street. She watched as a middle-aged woman pushing a baby stroller paused by a bus stop to fuss over the infant inside. The boy ran from an alleyway, slowing to a jog as he approached them. He looked young, probably only about fourteen, and had straggly blond hair and a pair of jeans that hung down to the backs of his knees. He made a grab for the woman’s purse and, though the two of them struggled briefly, the boy gained control easily, succeeding in knocking the woman into a crowd of disgruntled pensioners who were waiting for the bus. Rebecca glanced at Vic, who appeared oblivious to the commotion going on across the street.

‘Didn’t you see that?’ she snapped, thumping him hard on the arm. He turned to her in irritation. ‘Do you mind?’ Rebecca barely heard him, already out of the patrol car and heading across the street towards the alleyway she had seen the kid disappear down. ‘Stop! Police!’ The boy paused momentarily, glancing over his shoulder long enough to flash a quick mocking grin, before disappearing from sight. Rebecca charged in after him. The alleyway was long and narrow, the entrance to it flanked by the kitchens of restaurants. Steam and smoke billowed from various pipes and vents, and the strong aroma of Chinese food filled her nostrils. The buildings on either side were tall and both had fire escapes. The kid was no longer in sight and she glanced briefly at the metal staircases wondering if he had used one as an escape route, before dismissing the idea. He had only had a few seconds head start on her and she would easily have seen him before he’d had time to reach the rooftop. She paused to catch her breath and, in that moment, caught sight of him darting from the doorway where he had been hiding, making a mad dash for the metal fence that blocked the end of the alleyway. As she gave chase, Rebecca picked up speed, glad that she’d persevered with her early morning runs. She wasn’t naturally athletic and didn’t enjoy exercise, viewing the daily running and her visits to the gym as punishment rather than recreation. Now, though, as she closed the gap between herself and the kid, satisfaction kicked in that her efforts were paying off. Behind her came the wail of a police siren; evidently Vic had finally decided to get his ass in gear.

She didn’t stop to wait for him. The kid was already scaling the fence and if he got to the other side, chances were, she would lose him. Her adrenalin was pumping and there was no way in hell she planned on letting some snot-nosed little purse thief get the better of her. Reaching the fence, she made a grab for his leg. Catching hold of his sneaker, she pulled hard. Struggling and squealing, the kid kicked out hard, knocking her in the face. Rebecca fell back, landing inelegantly on her ass, the sneaker still in her hand. Laughing, the kid pushed himself over the fence, dropping easily to the other side. Peering through the bars and waving the red purse he’d snatched as a trophy, he grinned at her. ‘Sorry. Gotta run!’ Feeling cheated, Rebecca picked herself up from the ground and flew for the bars. He was already disappearing around a corner, but she climbed the fence anyway. Behind her Vic pulled the patrol car to a stop, killing the siren. ‘Hey, Angell, he’s gone. Let it go.

’ Ignoring him, she swung her leg over the top of the fence. As she dropped to the ground on the other side, she realised that Vic had left the car and was approaching. He scowled at her through the bars. ‘This had better not be a wild goose chase. I don’t like running.’ Rebecca brushed down the seat of her pants, fully believing him. She didn’t doubt for a second that Vic tried to get away with as little exercise as possible. ‘He has to be around here somewhere,’ she muttered, ignoring him. ‘I mean, where could he go?’ Vic swung a leg clumsily across the top of the fence and jumped down, landing heavily beside her. ‘Believe me, sweetheart, the possibilities are endless.’ Following in the kid’s footsteps, they found themselves in a longer alleyway, this one wider and littered with several large dumpsters. Another fence separated them from the only apparent exit, which meant he was probably hiding somewhere. Her eyes trying to cover all possible hiding places, Rebecca removed her baton from her belt. Behind her, Vic was trying to sound disappointed. ‘Oh, well.

Looks like he got away.’ ‘I don’t think so.’ He looked at her incredulously. ‘Are you crazy? So where the hell is he then?’ ‘I think he’s hiding.’ ‘Sure he is, Angell. Like he wants to hang around and play games with his cop friends.’ Rebecca ignored the sarcastic comment. ‘He didn’t have time to get away and we’d have heard him if he’d climbed the fence. If we check the dumpsters…’ ‘Hey! Wait a minute, wait a minute. What’s all this we?’ ‘We’re partners, right?’ ‘Yeah, sweetheart, except I’m the senior officer here and I say we go back to the car.’ ‘We can’t just give up without checking,’ Rebecca rationalised, feeling her temper rise a notch. She didn’t take kindly to being called sweetheart. ‘Okay. You want to look? Go ahead. I’ll stay here and supervise.

’ Giving her a broad grin, he leaned back against the wall and folded his arms. Rebecca glared at him, refusing to give in. ‘Okay, fine.’ Baton in hand, she defiantly made her way towards the nearest dumpster, her temper close to snapping. Keep it together, Angell. She was the newest recruit in the department and couldn’t afford to start making enemies. Vic was popular with many of the officers on her shift and she didn’t doubt that, if he chose to, he could make her life a living hell. Just bide your time, Angell. Keep him sweet for now and sooner or later you’ll get your chance for revenge. Her father wouldn’t approve of her thought process. He was a firm believer that two wrongs never made a right. Remember, Rebecca. Forgive those who trespass against us. Maybe he was right, but the thought of somehow getting even with Vic Boaz was the only thing keeping her temper in check right now. She approached the first dumpster cautiously, half expecting the boy to leap out at her with a gun or something.

Maybe she should un-holster her own weapon. Yeah, sure, you idiot. He’s just a kid, just a pickpocketing kid. Although she scolded herself, she held on tightly to her baton. Just in case. The dumpster stank of rotting eggs and cabbage. He wasn’t hiding down the side and, although she couldn’t imagine anyone choosing to get inside it, she checked, just to be certain. As she suspected, the kid wasn’t there. Moving on to the second dumpster, she hoped to hell that her hunch was right. She could just imagine the stick she would get from Vic if she was wrong. The second dumpster also proved to be a futile search. She could picture it now: Vic back at the precinct with his buddies, having a good laugh at the new girl’s expense. As though guessing her thoughts, he called out to her, ‘You ready to call it a day yet?’ Never a quitter, Rebecca turned and started to tell him no. Vic lurched forward, interrupting her mid-sentence. ‘Angell! Move!’ Rebecca turned as the kid ran at her from behind the third dumpster, a large wooden club raised above his head.

Raising her baton to protect herself, she had it knocked from her grip as he brought the club down hard. She raised her hands, expecting a second blow. It didn’t come, as the kid dropped the wood and made a mad dash past a reeling Vic towards the fence he had originally assailed. Back on her feet, Rebecca again gave chase, this time just seconds behind him as she jumped down from the fence. The end of the alleyway was littered with shopping carts and the kid paused long enough to push one in her path. Triumphant that he had made his escape, he waved the bag he had snatched in the air. ‘Catch me if you can.’ He grinned. Rebecca growled angrily, scooting around the cart. ‘You little shit.’ He disappeared into the busy street; reaching the end of the alleyway and she paused for a moment to catch her breath, wondering how the hell she was going to get him now. Vic arrived beside her. ‘You okay?’ he asked. She glanced at him, a little surprised that he cared. ‘Yeah, I’m fine.

Looks like we’ve lost him, though.’ Vic scanned the street. ‘No we haven’t. Quick, there he is.’ Following the line of his finger, she saw first the red purse then the kid. He had managed to weave his way through the lanes of traffic and had just reached the sidewalk. ‘Come on!’ Vic yelled, this time taking the lead. Rebecca followed him across the road, ignoring the beeping cars that screeched to a halt to avoid hitting them. One guy started yelling a blue streak out of his window. Hearing the commotion, the kid turned around. As he did, a manhole cover opened and he walked headlong into it, losing his balance. A head appeared from the hole, male, maybe mid-fifties, wearing a hard hat. ‘Game over, son,’ Vic told the kid, grabbing him by his collar. ‘I didn’t do anything.’ ‘Sure you didn’t.

’ Rebecca glanced at the man clambering from the hole in the road and noticed he was completely drained of colour. ‘Sir, are you okay?’ He shook his head and she saw he was trembling. ‘He’s down there.’ He was struggling to get his breath. ‘He’s down there in the sewer.’ ‘Who is?’ He pointed back to the manhole. ‘I tell you, he’s down there. I saw him. I walked right into him.’ Rebecca glanced at Vic who was still struggling with the now cuffed kid. She’d assumed the guy was a sewer worker, but maybe he was just some crazy. Vic grinned. ‘Let me guess. “He” is a thirty-foot alligator, right?’ The man didn’t find his joke amusing. ‘This isn’t funny.

I don’t know what the hell happened, but he’s dead all right. He was all cold and stiff and he smelt of death.’ Vic’s face hardened. ‘Sir, have you been smoking an illegal substance?’ ‘If you people don’t believe me, go down there and check it out.’ The man stared first at Vic and then at Rebecca, his eyes full of fear, his skin pale and sickly. ‘Like it or not, you people have got a real problem on your hands. There’s a dead body floating around in the sewer and I don’t think it got there by accident.’ T 2 he hole was dark and bottomless. A stale smell rose through the air and, deep below, the sound of rushing water could be heard. Not that it could really be called water. It was more a kind of acidic, gungy substance, splashing against the walls, waiting to devour. They didn’t want to go down there. None of them did. But someone had to. As the fat, greasy, pizza-covered fingers delved deep into the cardboard carton, the fries tried to back away, burrowing deep into the box.

Two weren’t quick enough to make an escape and, kicking and struggling to free themselves, they were carried through the air, their silent screams going unheard, towards the gaping black hole and the yellow crooked teeth that would crush them to pulp and then spit them down into the filthy sewer of his stomach. Chad Mitchell finished reading and took a bow. Many of the students in the room started clapping. A few of the guys whooped and several of them giggled. Justine Orton watched impassively from her desk at the front of the room, her head turned just enough to ensure she did not miss anything. She stole a quick glance at Mr Parker. He was leaning against the front of his desk, arms folded, eyes watching and the faintest hint of a smile upon his lips. She wondered what was going on in his mind. Was he annoyed with Chad for trying to make a mockery of his class? Or did he, like the students, find the essay amusing? It was so difficult to tell what he was thinking. The mask of calm composure he wore never slipped and his black eyes seldom gave anything away. He just sat there, week after week, watching intently, his smouldering dark looks oozing sex appeal from every pore, like some Greek god. Like Adonis. That was it. He was just like Adonis. Her Adonis.

Justine watched as he nodded for Chad to sit down. ‘Very interesting, Mr Mitchell. And the title of your work?’ A wide grin spread across Chad’s face. ‘It’s called “Stu Hutchinson eats lunch”.’ More clapping and laughter from the students. Stu Hutchinson, a fat kid with a low IQ, sat at a desk on the other side of the room. He stood up, his face bright red, and pointed a chubby finger at Chad. ‘You’re dead, Mitchell. I’m gonna kick your ass.’ Chad didn’t bat an eyelid, even though at six foot four and over three hundred pounds, Stu dwarfed him. ‘It was a joke, man. Laugh.’ ‘Me laugh? We’ll see who’s laughing when I kick–’ ‘Sit down, Mr Hutchinson.’ All eyes turned to the front of the class. Stu looked at Mr Parker, a little uncertain of whether or not he should obey.

Justine guessed he probably didn’t want to look an idiot in front of the others. Mr Parker wasn’t angry. He didn’t get angry. He had this way of making people realise he was in charge. Even though his voice was calm, when he spoke it had authority. Stu, deciding that he didn’t want to cause a scene, sat down. In the opposite corner of the room, Chad grinned triumphantly. He was the class clown and part of the college incrowd: a raucous, egotistical group of students who drew great delight from tormenting others. There were twelve of them, seven guys and five girls. All of the guys liked to talk hard and act with their fists, usually together and usually on less confident, defenceless students. The girls were all catty and had a reputation as an easy lay. Justine did not belong to the crowd and didn’t want to be part of it. She considered herself too mature to get involved with such petty individuals and had no desire to be known as just another notch on Chad Mitchell’s bedpost. A little annoyed that Mr Parker seemed to be letting Chad off scot-free, she was pleased by his next comment. ‘Perhaps, Mr Mitchell, you would now like to give us an insight into how you eat lunch,’ he suggested, his black eyes fixed intently on Chad’s face.

Justine smiled; she had a feeling that this could prove interesting. After fetching the squad car, Vic radioed for backup. It took less than four minutes for a second car to arrive and, after handing over custody of the kid, he instructed the officers to get the sewage worker back to the precinct and take a full statement. The guy was still in shock and they hadn’t been able to get information that made any sense out of him, other than he had been separated from his co-workers and allegedly stumbled across a dead body. Vic joined Angell by the manhole and shone his flashlight down into the darkness. ‘See anything?’ Angell asked. ‘Are you kidding? It’s blacker than soot down there.’ He screwed up his nose. ‘Stinks pretty bad too.’ ‘Great.’ Vic clicked off his light and grinned. ‘Well, ladies first.’ Angell raised her eyebrows in surprise, looked as though she was about to say something, then evidently changing her mind, pulled out her own flashlight. As he watched her climb onto the ladder and disappear into the manhole, Vic’s grin spread. He had a feeling that he was going to like his new partner.

Several of the guys in the department had complained when they’d thought they might be saddled with the hick in a dress. Vic, though, hadn’t minded. He had seen Rebecca Angell when she’d first arrived at the precinct and his mind had immediately gone into overdrive as he imagined what he’d like to do with her. He realised, of course, that she probably wouldn’t be much fun on duty. Unlike the guys, she wasn’t going to want to talk about football or have a laugh with him over his Playboy mags, but with her silky dark hair and small pert breasts, she was the bestlooking woman they’d had on the force in the last five years and being her partner would definitely better his chances of getting inside her pants. Of course, he hadn’t counted on her being so damn feisty. He’d always assumed that women from hick towns knew how to treat men with a little respect. Boy, had he got that one wrong. While she had so far failed to succumb to his charms, it had already become apparent that Rebecca Angell was desperate to be accepted as one of the lads and therefore it seemed that she’d do almost any damn thing he told her. Which is fine, just as long as she doesn’t make you run again, hey, Vic buddy? He peered down the manhole. Aside from the faint beam of the flashlight, it appeared empty, with Angell’s dark hair and navy uniform camouflaged against the walls. ‘Are you at the bottom yet?’ he yelled. ‘Nearly.’ Her voice was just a distant echo. ‘You can come on down now.

’ Vic glanced around at the second patrol car. He had been hoping to persuade Brown and Sanchez to take sewer duty, but they were having none of it. Kind of a shame, as he didn’t fancy the idea of having to trudge around in other people’s shit in his one clean uniform. Tempting though it was, he guessed that he couldn’t leave Angell down there all alone. If the Chief found out he’d let his rookie partner go down into the sewer by herself, there would be hell to pay. He looked at the sewer worker, now sitting in the back seat of the squad car next to the kid. The boots he had on came to just above the knee. ‘I’ll be down in just a second,’ he yelled down the manhole. ‘Okay.’ Angell sounded slightly pissed off. ‘Just don’t take all day about it.’ Vic made his way back to the car. ‘Give me those boots, will you?’ The sewer worker looked a little surprised, but didn’t argue. Vic removed his own shoes and put them in the car, then slipped on the boots, being careful to avoid touching where they were already wet. He made a mental note not to touch any of the doughnuts when he came out – at least not until he’d had the chance for a proper wash down.

Climbing onto the rungs of the ladder in the manhole, he drew in a deep breath and screwed up his nose in preparation for the awful stench that was about to hit him. ‘Oh well, buddy,’ he muttered under his breath, silently cursing himself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. ‘Here goes nothing.’ Class let out at eleven thirty. Mr Parker dismissed them all with a casual wave of the hand and almost immediately buried his head in the paperwork on his desk. Justine gathered her books slowly, waiting for the other students to disperse. When the classroom was practically empty, she made her way up to the front. For a moment Mr Parker didn’t even seem to be aware of her presence. Eventually he looked up, his black eyes on her questioningly. ‘Hello Justine.’ Justine hugged her books to her chest and smiled. Mr Parker had been their substitute lecturer for the past four weeks now and she had been trying to pluck up the courage to stay behind and find an excuse to talk to him. Now she was here, though, her wellrehearsed speech had completely vanished from her mind. She had done her research well. Mr Parker, Christian name Lawrence, but known as Lawrie to his friends (she thought that was cute), originated from California.

He was thirty years old. Justine knew that because she’d overheard some of the other professors talking about the party his wife had thrown him last month. His wife. That was the other thing. He was married, a thought that Justine preferred to push to the back of her mind. Mr Parker didn’t look like he should be married. In fact he didn’t look like he should be lecturing in a college. He seemed too dark, too intense and too mysterious. It was silly really, but Justine couldn’t help comparing him to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights: passionate, intense and brooding. Right now, those intense and brooding eyes were watching her patiently, waiting for her to speak. Justine’s cheeks heated. ‘I’m sorry to trouble you,’ she stammered. Mr Parker arched his eyebrows very slightly; his eyes didn’t stray from her face. ‘What may I do for you?’ ‘I was wondering if… I was wondering, could you recommend any books that might help me with this course.’ ‘Are you struggling with the work?’ ‘Well, not exactly.

’ Justine managed a weak smile. ‘I just like to be thorough.’ Mr Parker nodded, the hint of a smile touching his lips. He continued to watch her for a moment and Justine felt her cheeks turn darker. Oh my God! He knows why I stayed behind. He knows I fancy him. She tried her best to hold his stare and failed miserably. As soon as she broke away, Mr Parker took a pen and began to scribble on a jotter pad on his desk. He’s just like a cat. Justine couldn’t help but wonder if he had done it on purpose, determined to stare her out, as if he was playing a game with her. Her mind still swimming and her heart thumping loudly against the inside of her chest, she took the piece of paper that Mr Parker was holding out to her. ‘I’ve written down the titles of two books that should help. You’ll find both of them in the college library.’ ‘Thanks. Thanks a lot.

’ Justine kicked herself for sounding like such a goofball. Things hadn’t exactly worked out as she’d planned. What had happened to the cool, calm and seductive approach that she had hoped would result in him offering to buy her a cup of coffee? She was wondering if maybe she should give it a second go, when the door creaked open and Kylan Parker entered the room. Justine knew her, though not to speak to. She had seen her around campus now and again, but it was only since she’d found out Kylan was married to Mr Parker that she had taken such an interest in her. And wished she hadn’t. Kylan was stunning to look at, with pale-blonde hair that fell onto her shoulders, large dark brown eyes, porcelain skin and prominent cheekbones. Even now, dressed only in faded jeans and a baggy checked shirt, she still managed to look a knockout. Justine pushed a hand through her own cropped hair, and wished it was longer, blonder. She coughed, feeling a little uncomfortable. As though she’d been caught doing something she shouldn’t. Like you wish. Kylan glanced up at her and smiled. ‘Hi.’ ‘Hi,’ Justine mumbled back, hating Kylan all the more for being friendly.

She glanced at Mr Parker. ‘Well, thanks for your help. I’d better be on my way.’ She pushed past Kylan and made her way out into the corridor, stopping just outside the door to draw a couple of deep breaths. Back inside the classroom, she heard Kylan say in a joking voice, ‘So, Mr Parker, does one of your students have a crush on you?’ Justine burned with humiliation. Was she that obvious? Clutching her books tightly to her chest, she swallowed hard trying to rid herself of the sick feeling welling in the bottom of her stomach. She took a step away from the door so as not to be seen and waited intently to hear what was said next. Always in the wrong place at the wrong time! Victor Boaz cursed himself while descending the ladder into the sewer, hardly able to believe the chain of events that had led him to this point. The doughnut stop, the kid with the purse, Angell stubbornly chasing him, and the sewer worker appearing out of the manhole at the exact moment they were passing. Always in the wrong place at the wrong time! ‘Boots?’ Angell questioned, watching him climbing the final few rungs, her flashlight trained on him. ‘I didn’t want to get a load of shit on my pants.’ Angell glanced down at her own trousers soaked up to the knee. ‘Well gee, Vic,’ she grumbled sardonically. ‘Thanks for thinking about me.’ ‘The guy only had one pair, and I doubt they’d even fit you,’ Vic argued, thinking that she had a smart mouth for a hick.

He allowed his eyes to roam her body. ‘Of course, if you really want the boots, I’m sure we could come to some kind of arrangement,’ he said, smiling suggestively. Angell gave a derisive laugh. ‘You are kidding me, right?’ Vic glanced round the sewer, taking in the long narrow tunnel. For some reason the sewers always reminded him of the subway, only much smaller and wetter. ‘Why not, Angell? It’s nice and dark down here, just the two of us.’ He watched her as she rolled her eyes, looking disgusted by the idea. ‘You think I want to fuck you?’ she asked incredulously. ‘Give me a break. I don’t know what would be more repulsive. Doing it in the sewer or doing it with you.’ ‘Hey!’ Vic snapped angrily, catching hold of her wrist. Rage swelled up inside him at her blunt rejection. Damn bitch, talking to him that way. Angell fixed him with a scathing look that warned him he was pushing his luck.

He loosened his grip and she snatched her wrist away, continuing to stare coldly at him for a few moments. Eventually she pushed her way past him, shaking her head. ‘Come on,’ she grumbled. ‘I suppose you want me to lead the way?’ Vic collected himself quickly. ‘Well, if you’re volunteering, be my guest.’ Angell turned and smiled at him. It looked forced and sarcastic. Without a word, she started wading up the tunnel. ‘Hey, wait a minute!’ Vic called, wondering how come she seemed so sure of where she was going. ‘What makes you so sure that this alleged body is in this direction?’ Angell turned and shone her flashlight on him. ‘I guess I kind of figured it might be flowing with the direction of the water.’ She rolled her eyes again, then shaking her head she continued up the tunnel. Vic glanced down at the water rushing past his boots and felt himself redden. He was glad it was dark so Angell couldn’t see. Christ, what an idiot.

Why hadn’t he thought of that? It had never occurred to him before that things could drift in a sewer, and he guessed that it was similar to the sea where the tide drifted in and out. Only the sea didn’t smell so foul. He remembered how the sewer worker had said the body had smelt really bad and he wondered how the guy had been able to tell. After all, everything down here smelt really bad. Like a hundred dead bodies. Maybe a hundred dead rats. He knew plenty of them that frequented the sewers. Probably quite a few of the little furry rodents had snuffed it down here. Perhaps they might even see a few. Vic grinned. That would no doubt give Angell a fright. Women always freaked out over things like that. Oh well, Vic. Live and hope. The tunnel came to a fork.

Angell glanced over her shoulder. ‘Which way?’ ‘How the hell do I know?’ Vic moaned, wishing for the hundredth time that he’d never gotten into this situation. Shrugging her shoulders, Angell took the left fork. Vic checked this time that the water was flowing down both forks before he asked, ‘Hey, why that one?’ ‘Why not this one?’ ‘Well, what if this body is down the right-hand fork?’ ‘We could always split up,’ Angell suggested. ‘Are you kidding?’ ‘No.’ ‘We can’t split up.’ ‘Why not?’ she challenged him. ‘Are you scared?’ ‘Don’t be stupid. I just don’t think it’s a good idea splitting up in the sewer.’ ‘We’d probably get out of here sooner if we did.’ Vic guessed that she had a point. ‘Okay, we’ll split up. But we meet back here in ten minutes.’ ‘Fine. Ten minutes.

’ Angell didn’t wait to discuss the finer details. Vic watched her wade across into the tunnel of the left-hand fork, the beam of her flashlight growing smaller. He trained his own light up the right-hand fork. ‘Okay, buddy, where are you now? Come to Papa.’ A loud yell made him jump. He lost his footing and landed with a loud splash on his ass. The flashlight slipped out of his hand and he found himself sitting in darkness as filthy water sloshed around his chest, filling his boots. It was cold and foul smelling, and it made him gag. ‘Shit!’ he yelled, very much aware that there was plenty of it floating around him. ‘Angell? Was that you?’ There was no answer. Scrambling to his feet, Vic started to feel his way along the left-hand fork of the tunnel, towards where Angell had disappeared. His heart was thumping loudly in his chest. What was going on? Had Angell found the body? ‘Angell?’ This time he got an answer. ‘Vic? Vic? Come here!’ The tone in her voice was urgent. ‘Where are you?’ he called back, about ready to kill her if this was a false alarm.

‘Shine the light, will you? I dropped mine and I can’t see where I’m going.’ ‘I found the body, Vic.’ She sounded almost excited. ‘You did?’ He swallowed hard, not sure that he was looking forward to this. ‘Yeah, it must have got wedged somehow. I damn near tripped over it.’ ‘You sure it’s a body?’ ‘Well, I guess it could be a giant rat.’ Even though he wasn’t yet close enough to see her face, he could tell by the tone of her voice that she was mocking him. ‘Of course it’s a body, you idiot.’ ‘A dead one?’ ‘Well, he’s sure as hell not moving.’ He could see her now, about seven feet away, bent down, gripping hold of a large object. The body? ‘Give me the damn flashlight,’ he demanded, feeling the need to take charge of the situation. She threw it to him, and he missed. The second light went out, leaving them in total darkness. ‘Damn, fuck, Angell!’ ‘Hey, you were the one who dropped it, idiot,’ she fought back.

Her voice was close, and Vic reached out his hand. Feeling an arm, he took hold of it and pulled. ‘Okay, I got the stiff.’ The arm struggled, and he fought to hold on to it. ‘Hey! He ain’t dead.’ ‘That’s my arm, you jerk,’ Angell snapped, pulling herself free. Vic reached down for the body. A foul stench filled his nostrils. ‘Boy, he smells worse than all the crap he’s floating around in.’ ‘I wonder how he got down here.’ He’s probably some drunk who tripped down an open manhole.’ ‘You reckon?’ ‘Hell, I don’t know, sweetheart. I can’t even see what he looks like.’ Grabbing hold of the body by its torso, he tried to hold it steady. He glanced in Angell’s direction, still unable to see her face in the darkness.

‘So, Wonder Woman, what’s your plan now?’ When Kylan left the classroom, Justine quickly turned away and tried to make out she was looking for her locker. Kylan didn’t look her way; her head was tilted towards the floor and she headed off in the opposite direction. From what Justine had heard through the open door, it sounded as though Mr and Mrs Parker had been having a fight. A trivial fight, maybe, but still a chink in the armour. Kylan had wanted them to spend lunch together. Lawrie – Mr Parker seemed so formal – had told her he didn’t have time as he had papers to mark. Therefore, Justine was surprised when, two minutes later, he too left the classroom. He headed in the opposite direction to his wife and, feeling there were enough students around for it not to look obvious, Justine followed him, keeping a safe distance. When they reached the phone booths at the end of the corridor, Lawrie stopped. As he fished in his pocket for some loose change, he glanced over his shoulder, as though worried he was being watched. Seeming satisfied he wasn’t, he headed to an empty phone. Justine walked past him, towards the stairs to the left of the booths. Once certain he couldn’t see her, she stopped and listened. Lawrie spoke quietly and due to the noise going on around her she had trouble hearing much of his conversation. ‘Yes… I only have an hour… Okay, I’ll be there in five minutes.

’ Justine’s heartbeat quickened. Did he have a mistress? Was he seeing someone behind Kylan’s back? She watched him walk away from the phone booth and head down towards the main foyer that led to the parking lot. So dark, so brooding and so mysterious. A surge of confidence swept over her. If Lawrie could cheat on Kylan once, chances were if the right girl came along, he would do it again. Justine decided that whatever it took, she was going to be that girl.


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Updated: 16 June 2020 — 22:48

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