The following story is taken from Basement Tales. See afterword for details on how to order from Amazon, or direct from the author.
I see her again this morning and know tonight is the night.
I intend to follow this girl and round the night off with a spot of murder because she’s wearing too much makeup.
It’s not chance that I see her this morning. I’ve been trailing her for two months now. I’ve worked out her routine to the minute. I’ve watched her day in and day out. I know every little gesture, every nuance. If I said I know what she’s thinking it would sound too much. But I do.
Believe me or not – I know.
She is in and out of the coffee shop, the take – out cappuccino ready for her by the time she gets to the counter. The young man working here has a thing for her. She says please and thank you, answers his attempts at conversation with short, pleasant answers. She doesn’t even notice his attempts to flirt.
Getting her coffee, she doesn’t notice me either.
She’s never noticed me.
That’s no more a coincidence than me being here this morning. I make sure I don’t get noticed.
That’s why I’ve been able to kill six times in the past eighteen months – because I’m not someone who is noticed. I’m certainly not someone my subjects think to tell anyone about – it’s almost as though I can disappear. It’s a trick you have to learn if you want to kill and get away with it.
I watch her take the coffee and hand over the money. She’s a beautiful girl, corn – blonde hair, blue eyes, slim figure, full breasts… I know; too cliched to make her truly special: but try telling the coffee boy or a million other men that.
They don’t see the hidden story, the thing that drew me to Ellie.
But today she’s wearing makeup – too much makeup. She has too much blush on, a fact that stands out even more because she often goes au – naturel and looks better for it. To someone who hasn’t watched her the way I have over the last two months it might look as though she were going for an interview and had simply been a little too enthusiastic in the application of her makeup.
But not to me.
So, too much blush has pushed me over the edge; made me decide tonight is definitely the night. She’s had her chance and hasn’t taken it. My turn now…
She was so like the other six I have tracked over the two years. There have been minor differences – looks, age, things like that. Some of the others had been married, and I knew she wasn’t, but she had a live – in boyfriend and these days that’s pretty much the same. But it’s not the looks or the age.
Underneath it, she was the same. Young, beautiful, quiet, not many close friends or acquaintances…and marked as victims, all of them.
I wait until she leaves the coffee bar before I fold my paper, drain the last of my herbal tea and follow her. If it is going to be tonight I have to make sure everything is exactly right.
This is all madness of course. But there must be method in my madness. No estimations, no leaving anything to chance. It’s not rocket science; it’s murder. Plain and simple. But if murder were that simple more people would do it, and more people would get away with it.
I have no intention of seeing my face plastered on the front cover of USA Today with some snappy headline announcing my arrest.
Some of the secrets:
Don’t look like a serial killer. It’s easier when, like me, you don’t consider yourself one. Don’t create a pattern. Make sure there’s some variety. A hit and run? Fine, once. A mugging in Central Park. That can work, maybe more than once. But then you get into physical contact and I never like the odds. Too many unknowns again. Tonight? Tonight is going to be a burglary gone wrong.
In her home.
I don’t always get the chance to talk before I do it, and that makes it a little impersonal. It’s the same result in the end though, and that’s the important thing.
I follow her the four blocks to Slessinger and Tomlinson, the law firm she works at and once I’m satisfied she’s there for the day I wander across to her apartment.
Her routine is important but Steve, her boyfriend, has his own routine and his has to be just as carefully checked. He should be at work now, at a brokerage firm on the other side of town. I pick up groceries from the corner deli and head up to their apartment. If he had been in, I’d have explained the delivery was for 4d. He’d probably have called me a name and pointed out that they were 4b, but he wouldn’t have called the cops.
Moot point, he’s out.
The lock opens without any problem. I’m no genius with locks, and a safe would never present an opportunity to me, but I’m not in the business of opening safes. It’s difficult to find decent books on lock picking without attracting attention, but ten minutes on the Internet gets you all the information you need.
The base principle for picking a lock is to use one tool to turn the lock, and another to work the pins inside it. Apartments like this one are easy to pick because management insist on keeping a master key. This means the pins will set in two different positions and effectively halves the work.
It took me longer to explain this than it does to pick it.
I close the door behind me and find a spare key on the kitchen counter. I go back out, and make sure the door opens in a normal sort of way. It does, so I go back in, replace the key and look around.
Even at a first glance it’s clear that her boyfriend has chosen most of the stuff. There’s something about the Prints and the color schemes that suggest a man, and a certain type of man at that – nothing as obvious as decking out the place in Dallas Cowboy colors, but evident enough, if you knew what you were looking for. The apartment is functional rather than luxurious. It isn’t, for example, in the same league as the place the model I killed in Boston had, but there are certain similarities – the music selection for example.
Some people deserve to die. Not much of a philosophy, I’ll grant you, but I’m not a philosopher.
I check round the house, look through a couple of photo albums that are as unreal as all the rest of the stuff in the place. I wear gloves, don’t drink anything, sip from a bottle of mineral water I take from the grocery bag. There isn’t much else in the bag, and what there is I empty into their own cupboards. Basic stuff that won’t stand out if anyone happens to look.
And I wait.
I’m good at waiting.
While I wait I think over the other victims.
All of them except the first.
I think about Selina the model, Julie the housewife, Stacey the cop, Isabelle the mother, Debra the eternal student. They were all something – a model, a housewife…but back then, when it all happened they had been Selina the victim, Julie the victim. Only Kathy, the first was different.
After a while I stop thinking about the past and started thinking about what’s going to happen tonight.
I think about what I’m going to do and try to feel bad about it, but I can’t.
Then I try to feel good about it, but I don’t get much mileage out of that either.
Only the first one made me feel ‘good’.
Did it stop me from going on and doing it a second, a third, all those other times?
No. By then I saw it as my duty.
Will I stop doing it after tonight?
Are the police going to stop me? If they did their job properly, it wouldn’t even be an issue. But the police will never stop me. The same way they won’t stop the reason I do all this.
Someone once said you can plan for anything except the unexpected. I can’t remember whether it was George Bernard Shaw or some drunk in a bar, but whoever it was they were right.
Anything that can go wrong, will. Another little homily that springs to mind when I hear the key in the lock and the voices outside. They’ve come home together. That was not in my plans. Tonight was, has always been, drinks with the girls for her, poker with the boys for him.
It’s a Thursday for God’s sake.
I’m hiding behind the curtains before they’ve even got in. Not very original, but I’m improvising now. I take a breath and wonder how long I can hold it.
They’re arguing, sort of. He’s shouting at her, and she’s trying to pacify him. She’s angry but it is mostly concealed by fear.
“What were you saying to that guy when I came to the office?” he asks, and from the tone I know it’s not the first time he’s asked her on their way home.
“I wasn’t saying anything.” She says, and again, the line sounds well worn.
“So you were just moving your lips, just flapping them up and down, not saying anything?”
She takes a deep breath, “You know what I mean, Steve. I didn’t say anything about…”
“Don’t even say it. Don’t provoke me because you know what’ll happen if you do…”
“You’ll kill me.” She says, flatly.
“Fuckin’ A! I will. Why?”
“Because if you…” her voice hitches, tremors, “…can’t have me, no – one can.”
“Finally, you remembered.”
I listen and wonder what will come next. Sex? The idea wouldn’t surprise me.
“I want a beer.” He says simply.
I nod to myself. Sex? Beer? I should have guessed beer. Beer first, then sex.
“We…” she pauses, knowing what she has to say, knowing that he knows it too. Probably knows he’s getting some thrill out of this, “…we don’t have any in. You drank it last night.”
I feel something stir inside me. This is the turning point. Will he go get it, or will she? Or, perhaps, he’ll take off and go get drunk in a bar.
He laughs softly, “So?”
“You want me to get some?” she asks, her voice shaking the tiniest amount.
“Duh,” he spits, “Do you think?”, another pause, “That was irony, by the way.”
It sounds more like sarcasm to me, but now isn’t a good time to voice it.
She doesn’t ask him for money for the beer, doesn’t ask for the car keys, doesn’t say anything.
Just goes to get the beer.
Her mistake, I think from behind the curtain, was not to ask what sort of beer he wanted. She could get the only beer he’s ever drank and be wrong, necessitating a lesson.
I think tomorrow would have been another heavy makeup day.
But that isn’t an issue now.
As the door clicks shut I hear him mutter something, and head for the shower.
I figure he’ll be in there for about five minutes, it’ll take her at least ten to get to the Deli for the beer.
A small window but possible.
I’m sitting on the sofa when he walks back in, toweling his hair, old dressing gown tied loosely, and slippers.
I’ve had time to scrawl on the mirror.
He doesn’t even realize I’m there at first; not until he drops the towel onto his shoulders to check his reflection and sees the words.
He spins round and sees me. The jump he gives is almost comical.
“Who the fuck are you?” he demands.
“I’m a burglar.” I tell him.
“A burglar.” I repeat.
“What the fuck is this? Is this some kind of joke?”
“I’m a burglar. I’m in your home. That would make this a burglary.” I explain, smiling.
He takes a step forward, the first move he’s made since he spotted me.
“Are you a friend of Ellie’s?” he asks.
I nod, “Yes, I am. I’m Ellie’s best friend. It’s just she’ll never know it. Why did you change the routine tonight, Steve?”
He thinks he’s on firmer ground now, “What’s the bitch said?”
I smile and show him the gun, and any ground he thinks he’s on crumbles beneath him.
“You’re not too smart, are you Steve?”
“The fuck you mean by that?”
“You get carried away and forget sometimes, don’t you?”
“Get the fuck out of here.”
“Hitting her in the face is going to get noticed and you’ve done it twice in a month now. Is that why you went to get her from work? Didn’t want to risk letting her have a night out with the girls while you played poker?”
He gives a snort, “Is that what she told you? She walked into a door.”
I nod, “I’ve seen that happen a lot. I once knew a model who beat his fiancé in the face. Even though she was a model too. Dumb. I wasn’t expecting her. Why did you have to change the routine?”
“I’ve had enough of this shit, you’re not going to use that, so…”
Steve is not only lacking in smarts, he’s a bad judge of character. I fire the .22. It’s an underrated gun. Small, not too loud, but enough to stop a bull if you hit it right. Steve isn’t a bull. It’s going to take a hell of a lot of make – up, or a closed casket. He slumps to the ground and I move quickly; I have his wallet off the table and I’m out of there in less than a minute. I’d bet I’m down the stairs and out onto the street before the blood stopped spreading.
Another interrupted robbery.
What a tragedy.
It was up to Ellie if she removed the message from the mirror before the police arrived.
I don’t care either way: her alibi’s fine, and I’ve left a couple of things which, while in no way pointing to me, make sure she’s in the clear.
I pass her on the corner.
She doesn’t notice me, barely glances up at me, her head down, probably too worried about the beating she thinks she is walking back into.
Like I said – a victim.
With that sort of worry on her mind why would she notice me? I’m just another forty something, slightly frumpy woman, walking at a slightly quicker than normal pace. There are a million of us in this city.
I don’t pause as I walk past her briskly; barely steal a glance at that pretty face with too much blush.
It’s up to her now. I’m not one of those that believe we send out signals asking to be hurt. I just recognize the symptoms. The wince from a kicked in rib – cage, the overly made up face to hide the bruise. The jumpiness at a sudden raised voice or sound.
But something much deeper than all of that.
I recognize the ones who don’t have the strength to get away from the husband, fiancée, boyfriend.
I took my time before I took my first victim – I won’t criticize an Ellie, or a Julie for not acting. It took me ten years to do anything. And when I did, I didn’t run away. That was the first victim – Katie. I’d changed my name since then, and Katie is little more than a distant memory. The memory of how easy it had been to get away with it stayed with me though. It’s been easy enough to do it again five more times – as of tonight, six more.
Now? Now I’m heading down to a little place I know on O’Connell Street. There’s a sweet girl working bar there. I don’t know her well yet, but she seems a little nervous whenever her man comes to pick her up. She said something that worried me a couple of weeks ago. She hadn’t been talking to me. I was just the middle – aged woman they probably thought was trying to get picked up sitting at the bar. She’d been talking to her friend behind the bar about her man.
“I feel safe round him,” she’d said, “every time he gets in a fight, he wins it.”
I could be wrong.
I hope I am.
That’s why I wait.
Until I’m sure.
Number Seven is taken from the short story collection ‘Basement Tales‘ – available now in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon, or order direct from the author for £7.99 + £2.00 UK P&P (contact for overseas postal costs): please send all inquiries to email@example.com