Hanging’s too good for him, that’s what my grandfather would have said.
‘Have you had enough time to think?’
I blinked and tried to focus on my latest family liaison officer, ‘call me Nessa’. I had already lost two, one to Covid and one to stress, not surprising, talk about a poisoned chalice. Time to think, I had done nothing but think. But decisions? All decisions had been taken from me that night, our lives reduced to forensically sealed bags.
‘I have to ask you this again, I must be sure you understand, you cannot tell anyone where you are going, you cannot contact anyone at all. One slip and someone will find you, not her family, but some low life… We can inform your family that you are fi… okay.’
As if I would want to contact anybody, even if I did have the means. I don’t know where I am, let alone where I am going, though the ends of the earth would not be far enough.
‘Just please tell me Nessa, did he have any message for me? Are you keeping it from me, did anyone hear him say anything?’
‘I’m sorry, he would not open your letter and he had no message for you or the children or any family…’
There wasn’t anything in that letter, no hate or anger, just one word, I almost felt like writing it in blood, WHY? I know what you are thinking, I must have known. I used to think that about the wives of murderers. We were a normal family, not perfect, he wasn’t around much, but we did things together when he was here; the kids miss him and their toys and our home, keep asking. There was his shift work, overtime and going out with his mates, I knew when I married him he needed his own space, to chill out. On the computer at night if he was home, everyone’s husband does that, don’t want to watch soaps on television with their wives, do their hobbies, photography, plan the next holiday, order DIY stuff from Amazon, do the Tesco order. Okay so occasionally I felt, wondered… but liven up your marriage, nothing wrong with fantasies those on line articles say. I dismissed those thoughts, must be me, just imagining those occasional looks from his colleagues on the rare occasions he took me to a Work Do. And I thought if there was anything they would know, his work colleagues, his superiors. A couple of times there was some sort of trouble at work but nothing came of it.
‘Why didn’t you lot confront him, you had the most evil man in the country serving as a police officer and you did not confront him. Don’t worry, you can’t feel as guilty as me, but I will not bear it alone.’
At least Nessa did me the service of not trying to answer. What I do have to bear alone is giving birth to Satan’s spawn. I have even been tempted to smother them in their sleep.
An adventure, we’re going to pretend to be a different family and I have reached a decision; I will choose a country that does not have English as its first language, rural life out in the provinces, hopefully few will speak English. If the children forget and start chatting about the past no one will understand them. They are young and they will forget, we will learn a new language together, refugees do that all the time. Other families must have done this before me, I’m not the only murderer’s wife. But no amount of pretence can change their evil DNA.
Nessa’s speaking ‘What have you told the children?’
We’re going on a big adventure to a new country safe from Covid. Yes I know, pathetic, but what would you have told them if you were in my place?
She stared out at the open hills, a view that would have made this the perfect holiday cottage, but this was no holiday, it was a living hell that she could never have imagined days ago.
A safe house, safe from who or what? Him, the press, everyone she did not want to see? How could she ever face anyone again? They would know about him and assume she was the ‘woman in her thirties’ arrested and then released.
She was almost glad to have been arrested, penance for the crime of being married to him. She had committed a worse crime, a sin against nature, giving birth to his children, his evil genes in their every cell, her sweet innocent children tainted for ever.
After a night in foster care they had been reunited and all of them bundled off to some remote part of Wales. They were still asleep, it was only 6 am. What would she tell them, they had only just started back to school, happy to get back to normal life. She couldn’t even pretend they were back to home schooling with no internet and all their school things locked in the crime scene. Not that their home was where the crime had taken place.
Surely any happily married wife would assume her husband was innocent, some awful mistake. But the police seemed so chillingly certain. She asked the family liaison officer to tell it to her straight as each bit of new evidence rolled in. Now it occurred to her that this was all part of a plan. She was a prisoner here and they were just waiting for her to break, give up trying to pretend she knew nothing.
Nothing was all she knew. One always imagines the wife must have known something, how could you live with a murderer and not know. If she had any suspicions it was that he was seeing someone else, his odd working hours the perfect cover. She had once been the someone else. His first wife left him, she had never met the woman, but did she leave him for more than adultery? What would she be thinking now, relief or guilt because she had discovered some aberration and got out quick?
No, their life had been normal, he wasn’t one of those super dads like her friends were married to; every weekend off to the park, baby strapped on their manly chests, toddler in one hand and the lead of the labradoodle in the other. But that didn’t make him a murderer.
Suicide, was that the only bearable way out? Or a new life on the other side of the world, new names, children told nothing, children told to never tell anyone anything; but murderer’s blood would still be in their veins. She could kill them, like that Greek tragedy, the worst punishment she could think of for the man she now hated. For the first time in her life she knew what true hatred was, a hatred so strong she could contemplate killing her own children. But she would be punishing herself, them, their grandparents… her mind was rambling now, his parents, thank goodness they weren’t alive to see this day, Covid had turned out to be a blessing for them. Slaughtering his children would not be a punishment for him, had he ever cared about his wife or children, how could a man that took an innocent life have any feelings?
There would be a support group somewhere, she would ask about it, support for wives and children of murderers the only people she could ever talk to.
The family liaison officer appeared carrying two mugs, young, probably her first case.
‘We need to talk while the children are still asleep, there’s more I need to tell…’
Before the young woman could finish her sentence there was the sound of pattering feet, strange on the wooden staircase.
‘Mummy, Mummy, are we on holiday, what are we going to do today, is Daddy going to come soon?’
In one of my previous incarnations I was walking home from the bus stop after a late shift. When I turned the corner and approached our quiet cul-de-sac I was surprised and a little alarmed to see two suspicious characters lurking on either corner, their cigarettes a tiny glow in the dark night. Dressed in black leather jackets they looked like East European gangsters. What could I do except look straight ahead, pretend I hadn’t noticed them and head for my house.
Then a voice said ‘Hi Mum.’
It was my fifteen year old son with his friend, who was waiting to be picked up by his mother. Their leather jackets were the ones the friend’s mother had ordered from her Littlewoods catalogue.
You don’t have to be female for groups of more than one strapping teenager to look threatening. Hanging around with mates and walking aimlessly in town is what teenagers do. Some may show off to their mates by calling out to hapless passers by, most are harmless. Real gangs armed with knives or selling drugs are more likely to be harming other young men.
The males that women have been complaining about recently … and for centuries … are those who don’t just hang about, but call out abusive remarks, follow lone women, slow their cars down or touch them in crowded tube trains. And of course far worse.
For many of us these perpetrators appear to be a totally different species from all the men in our lives. From our dads who made our pet cages to boyfriends, brothers, sons and work mates who fix our cars and washing machines, give us lifts, husbands who are lifelong companions; why would we want to hate men? It is a truth not often acknowledged that many of us preferred men teachers and male bosses. Women are not a united single species any more than men are and what girl hasn’t dreaded working with the bitch in the office or feared the nasty nurse on the maternity ward?
Little girls who have no reason to fear men adore them, batting their eyelids innocently when the firemen come to visit their playgroup, clutching the hand of their friend’s dad. When we visited my friend’s parents once, my little girl said to the mother ‘I like your Daddy!’
I once read an article by a woman who said she was thrilled when her first baby was a boy, because although she couldn’t be a man, at least she had given birth to one. Though it is the man that determines the sex of the baby, some women still feel proud if they manage to present their husband with a son. Perhaps there are simpler reasons why many women are secretly hoping or delighted when they have a boy first; maybe they always wanted a big brother or working with children has endeared them to little boys. Little boys are adorable and though they may hit their younger siblings and the other children at nursery and may not turn out quite as angelic as those choir boys that we all love, they are not often insidiously nasty and spiteful to each other as little girls can be.
Liking men and enjoying their company does not mean we assume they are superior, it just means it would be a dull world if we were all the same. It will be a sad day ( maybe it is already ) when men and women can no longer have a laugh at work, fearful of crossing the ever moving boundaries. When women would rather suffer a back injury than gracefully accept help with something heavy from the chap next door. When girls consider sewing a button on a male friend’s shirt as an insult rather than just being helpful.
But none of this takes away the fear. Why some men see a broken down car and worried female driver, a woman walking home from her late shift at the hospital or a very drunk girl losing her friends and attempting to walk home as an obvious opportunity to rape and murder them remains a complete mystery. It doesn’t feel helpful that crime dramas are so often about young pretty women being kidnapped and murdered, but that is not a cause; terrible crimes were being committed long before cinema and television were invented.
We still have to remember all the times we have walked our dog round the park, chatting to male dog owners who don’t try and molest us or say anything inappropriate. Recall that time your windscreen smashed on a deserted road and the truck driver kindly stopped to help without bundling you into his cab. Remember those times you went on dates with guys who turned out to be very boring or at least not interesting enough to want to see again, but who saw you safely home and accepted your invented polite excuses for not arranging another date and didn’t turn into a stalker.
We shouldn’t have to, but perhaps girls will always have to learn to develop their instincts as to who the bad guys are and sadly that will not always work. But it will be a long time yet before we figure out how a sweet little boy might turn into a monster scarier than our worst nightmares. In the meantime let us stay united as humans who respect and look after each other.
This evening, women and men all over the United Kingdom will be lighting candles to remember Sarah Everard, a young woman in her thirties who went missing on 3rd March while walking home in London. She had been kidnapped and murdered. Although we were told this sort of crime by a complete stranger was very rare, women of all ages and parts of society spoke up to say fear and harassment on the streets and anywhere in public is all too common. A national dialogue has started and my guest blogger, Fiona Hallsworth, was moved to write this powerful piece.
Don’t think about my gender, don’t think about your gender. Forget “men vs women”. Just read my story. All of these examples really happened to me, they are just a small sample of many.
Imagine you are 11 years old and at a family party. You play with the other children, oblivious to the two grown ups staring at you. Your mother overhears them laughing and referring to you as “jail bait”. She realises that society’s sexualisation of your young body has already begun.
Imagine you are 13 years old. You notice that EVERY time you walk to school, grown ups slow down and stare at you as they drive past.
Imagine you are 14 and on a school trip to a theme park. The older, bigger, stronger person behind you in the queue pinches your bottom.
Imagine you are 15 and waiting at a bus stop with your friends. A grown up stands next to you and repeatedly says “I am going to rape you.”
Over the next few years, you are taught “the rules”. You must wear modest clothes and not get drunk. You must stick to well lit public places and never walk home alone. If you don’t follow the rules, a bigger, stronger person may grope, rape and/or kill you. It would be YOUR FAULT. You NEVER hear the bigger, stronger people being taught that they should not grope, rape or kill you.
Imagine you are 16 and take a job in a corner shop. It is the beginning of your life long lesson in how to look and smile at the older, bigger, stronger people just enough so that they know you are kind, but not so much that they assume you want to have sex with them. Many customers repeatedly interrogate you about your ethnic origin. The older, bigger, stronger people stand over you, demanding to know where you are “really from”. You start to understand how they fetishise the way you look and see you as an easy target. A friend insists on driving you home after your shifts, because if you walk home, you might get raped and murdered and it would be YOUR FAULT.
Imagine you are 19 and going for a jog. A person who is bigger and stronger than you deliberately jumps in front of you so that you bump into them. You are scared and run home.
Imagine you are 20 and in a nightclub. Bigger, stronger people repeatedly grab your bottom. One person does it FOUR times. You tell the bouncer but they ignore you.
Imagine you are 22 and going for a jog. A bigger, stronger person takes a photo of you as you jog past. You run home and decide you probably shouldn’t jog in public anymore.
Imagine you are 23 and travelling to and from work. EVERY time you get on a bus or train, somebody stares at you. They look at you like they want to kill you or eat you. If you are wearing shorts, they sit opposite you and stare at your legs until you feel so uncomfortable you have to move seats. Sometimes they try to brush past you on a crowded train, sometimes they take your photo when they think you are not looking.
Over time you learn to select the “right” train carriage that has other people like you on it. Then as the train empties at each stop, you worry that you might not make it home alive. You learn to sit on the bottom deck of the bus so that you can’t get cornered by someone who is bigger and stronger than you.
Imagine you are 24. Someone approaches you in the street and asks you out. As soon as the date starts they try to have sex with you and get angry when you say no and leave. The next day they text you “I don’t want to see you again because you are ugly”. You think it was probably YOUR FAULT as you really should not let people approach you in the street.
Imagine you are 25 years old and walking from a pub to a train station. Three bigger and stronger people approach you. One of them follows you a WHOLE MILE down the road. Luckily you reach the train station and merge into the crowd. As you travel the escalator down into the station, people passing on the opposite escalator stare and shout at you. Sometimes its rude comments, sometimes they just grunt weird sex noises at you.
The next time you walk home, you wonder if you should put your headphones in so that no one will talk to you. Then you remember that if someone attacks you when you are wearing headphones, it will be YOUR FAULT.
Sometimes you have to go home earlier or later than you would like so that a friend can walk you home. Sometimes you have to get a cab that you can’t afford. When you do get a cab, you anxiously check that it is a licensed cab. Because if you get raped and murdered by an unlicensed cab driver, it will be YOUR FAULT.
Imagine you are 26, standing in a pub chatting to friends. Bigger and stronger people keep on walking past you, grabbing you round the waist and brushing their crotch against your bottom. When you say “don’t touch me” they reply “I was just walking past there isn’t enough room!” You notice that they don’t grab and brush when they walk past people who are bigger and stronger than them, even if it is very crowded.
Imagine you are 27 and cycling to and from work. People stare and shout at you as you cycle past. Sometimes it’s rude comments, mainly its just the weird sex noises again. A bigger and stronger cyclist repeatedly overtakes you whilst staring at you, then slows down, forcing you to overtake them. Eventually you decide to stop, get off your bike and call someone. That way, if you do get raped and murdered, someone will know when you went missing. You breath a sigh of relief when the other person cycles off into the distance, but decide that you probably shouldn’t cycle in public anymore. You go home, lock your bike away and instead buy a train ticket that you can’t afford.
Imagine you are 28 and on a bus. Another person on the bus starts chatting to someone smaller and weaker than them. When they realise the other person is not interested they start shouting and swearing at them. You politely suggest that the bigger person should leave the smaller person alone. They start shouting at you instead.
There are about 20 other bigger, stronger people on the bus. They can’t intervene because if they do, they might get stabbed. You have to get off at your stop, knowing that the victim and the abuser are both still on the bus. You are haunted by this experience for the rest of your life. You will never know if the victim got home safe. If they didn’t, you know it would be YOUR FAULT.
You are 32 and it is your wedding day. You are fortunate to live in a culture where you can get married when and to whom you choose. You think about how lucky you are to marry someone who loves you, respects you and does not beat you. One of the best things about having a partner you love, is that when you walk down the road with them, some of the staring and harassment stops.
Imagine you are 34 and at a family wedding with your partner and child. A family friend you have not met before grabs you where they shouldn’t when they hug you. You keep quiet and tell your partner about it on the way home.
You are now 37 and decide to try jogging again. You put on the “right” clothes that won’t attract attention. People who are bigger and stronger than you shout at you as you jog past. Luckily, by this age, you have learnt to wear headphones, sunglasses and a baseball cap to help you pretend that the shouty people don’t exist.
Imagine you have a career that you love and have studied hard for. Over the 14 years that you work in the NHS, various patients make rude comments about your body, try to grope you, stand in doorways to stop you leaving, or threaten to spank you. Sometimes you have to take a bigger, stronger colleague with you so that you can do your job without being harassed or intimidated.
Imagine you are 38 and a parent. You notice that you seem to be invisible to a lot of people. You have to walk in the road with your small children because the younger, fitter, stronger person ignores you and doesn’t let you pass. Whilst this frustrates you, you are glad that you have reached the “invisible” stage of your life, because at least it means that the staring, harassing, groping and intimidation has stopped. You can’t wait until you become a pensioner, because then you will be really invisible.
You listen to the news. Sarah Everard has been murdered, despite following “the rules”. You cry for the victim and family and lay awake at night worrying. People like you are told to curfew in the evening in case you get murdered.
You try to explain to people that the roots of this violence lie in the predatory behaviour and aggression that you have experienced since you were 11 YEARS OLD.
Bigger, stronger people respond by saying “But we are not all like that!” “We get killed more than you!” You look up violent crime statistics and see that they are correct. Then you wonder why you have spent your life under curfew and following “the rules” when the bigger, stronger people are both the majority of perpetrators and the majority of victims.
You try to explain that, although you have a lot to be grateful for, your quality of life has been dimmed by fear EVERY DAY since you were 13 YEARS OLD. This fear was not created by social media. It began before social media existed. Your bigger, stronger partner and your bigger, stronger siblings have grown up free from this fear.
Some people listen. Some people ignore you. Some people laugh at you and call you rude names. Some people reply “well what do you expect, it’s YOUR FAULT”.
The word novel has been taken from writers, or perhaps taken back; it means new and a novel virus is… ‘a virus that has never previously infected humans, or hasn’t infected humans for a long time, it’s likely that almost no one will have immunity, or antibody to protect them against the novel virus.’
But that is the least of our worries as writers. Are you currently writing a novel set in the present? A spy or crime drama, a hero or con man moving in high society; they can’t go to the casino, it’s closed, Las Vegas and Monte Carlo are closed. The fifty storey power tower where your ruthless villain does his wheeling and dealing is empty and no one wants to meet up with him. Perhaps he will lend his extravagant new international exhibition centre to be used as a field hospital; unlikely, he has already fled to self isolate on that remote Pacific island he bought last month; luckily the hundred original occupants had already been ‘relocated.’
Perhaps you were writing about real people, ordinary good people who sit on London Bridges holding up everyday life to plead for the planet to be saved. Now everyday life has been halted in a spectacular fashion they could never have imagined and they are stuck at home wondering what to do next. You can’t write about ordinary bad people either. Fleeing from the police and getting lost in the crowd is off, so is getting on a plane and starting a new life in Brazil; all flights are cancelled and the police catch up with you at the bus station, arresting you merely for being outside, not for your impressive crime record.
What if your genre is modern romance? No one is going to find love with that person at work they hated at first, nor will they fall for the stranger in the bar. There is still on line dating, but if they can’t meet, how will the plot develop?
Perhaps you should start a brand new novel, a novel novel, a virus novel. Your hero is the scientist nobody believed, who reveals biological warfare and a virus stolen from a laboratory. Or closer to home, a cosy mystery; has the best friend really died alone in hospital with the virus, or is that just a cover for their disappearance?
Not to waste a good bad character, take up the plot on that Pacific Island where the villain is planning to use the pandemic to take control of the whole world; bring in your new heroine Jayne Blond.
Don’t forget children’s fiction. Paddington Pangolin; rescued from a wet market by a young woman teaching English as a second language. She smuggles him back to Heathrow on the last flight out and takes him on the Heathrow Express to Paddington Railway Station, where he unfortunately gets lost. More troubles lie in store when he is blamed for starting Corvid 19. Can he find his friend, can she keep him safe?
What are you latest ideas for writing? My latest novel is set in 2014, which seems like history now, so why not escape to the past…
Whether you are a mugger, pick pocket or burglar this current pandemic is bad news. With crowds a thing of the past the pick pocket stands no chance of earning a living, while the mugger fairs little better with the streets nearly empty. As shoppers are being requested to use their cards instead of cash, those few people out will probably not be carrying cash. But spare a thought for the burglar; everyone is confined to home, not an empty house to be found. The chancellor has offered no help at all to career criminals, who through no fault of their own find themselves without an income.
There is a ray of hope with an increase in cyber crime; you can make phone calls and send emails claiming to be from Inland Revenue or Social Security, but once you have persuaded some naïve person to part with all their personal details you need to know what to do with them. Most criminals are not clever enough to hack into their own bank accounts, let alone anyone else’s.
So for those who prefer the hands on approach here is how to keep yourself safe. Maintain a low profile, you don’t want to be arrested just for being outside before you have even had a chance to steal. If you are going to mug or pick pocket you must wear gloves and a suitable mask, your usual robber mask will not offer the correct protection. If your victim coughs move away quickly and abandon the attempt. Once you have spotted a suitable victim there is no time to waste, with everyone else keeping six feet away from each other your movements are bound to attract attention. This could be the right time to take on an apprentice, your young nimble son or daughter; if you don’t want to risk the health of you own child you could borrow the offspring of your partner or neighbour. With schools closed, anybody would be glad for someone to take their child out for the permitted exercise period.
If your modus operandi is armed hold ups, observe the professional code and do not cough or spit at your target; you must adhere to the new social rules and not risk the health of an honest shopkeeper, stick to using your gun or knife. Patience will also be required. Most shops now expect shoppers to queue up outside, six feet apart from each other; to push in will draw attention to yourself and it need hardly be emphasised that you should keep your weapon hidden while you are in the queue. However, looking on the bright side, your getaway will be easy. No one is going to come within two yards of you, let alone try to be a hero and tackle you.
Burglars should take with them cleansing sprays and gloves. If you manage to sneak in an unlocked door or open window, while householders are absorbed watching television or on the internet, well done. Once inside, avoid touching any surfaces; if you can’t find money and valuables easily do not reveal your presence to the residents; it will be hard to keep a safe distance while demanding overenthusiastically where they keep their jewellery.
Good luck everybody, we do not know how long this is going to last, but the golden rule is the same as ever; avoid getting caught, you will not be safe from the coronavirus in gaol.
I started collecting picture post cards when I was eight and still buy them on holiday to send to the oldest and youngest in the family; people like getting mail through their letter box, including Pete who blogs as beetleypete. When he asked if people still sent postcards bloggers started sending them, as you can see on his blog post.
‘If anyone else would like to post one to me, you can read my address easily, and your card will be featured in Part Two. Thanks again to all of you who took the time and trouble to send me a card.’
When we were away in Whitby I bought an extra card and as I sat down to write ( and here’s my confession – I don’t get around to writing postcards till about two weeks after returning ) and saw the piece of paper on which I had written his address lying on the table, it gave me an idea for a dark story. The names and places have been changed to protect the innocent! Thanks to Pete for the idea.
Detective Inspector Greaves stepped through the front door, he needed to go no further to see the body. The scene was bloodless, but any impression that the woman had died of natural causes was cast aside when another step revealed a large syringe stuck in the back of her neck. Why would the killer leave the evidence when it could have been the perfect murder?
‘Where’s the husband?’ Greaves asked the uniformed officer.
‘In the kitchen, doing the washing up Sir.’
‘What! Crime scene, evidence… did you stop and think?’
‘No Sir, he said his wife liked to have everything clean and tidy if they were having visitors.’
Further discussion was pointless, he sent the officer outside to keep a little band of neighbours at bay and stepped carefully round the body to make his way to the kitchen, where a middle aged man was vigorously polishing a glass.
‘She always liked to leave the house tidy when we went out, in case anything happened to us while we were out and the police had to break in and…’
‘Mr… Mr. Stanton isn’t it? I need to ask you a few questions… When you came home was the front door locked?’
‘Yes, everything looked normal until I unlocked the door.’
‘And where were you today?’
‘With the chaps, four of us, been away on a three day golf break, they dropped me off first, drove off before I got inside.’
‘So they can confirm that. Did you call your wife while you were away?’
‘Was that the last time you spoke or had any contact, no emails, whatsapp?’
‘Yes, she was fine, enjoying the peace, no sign… who… it doesn’t make sense…’
For the first time the man showed emotion, but shock could do strange things. When Greaves had sat the man in the police car with two officers he returned alone to gain an impression of the home and the lives of these two people. An ordinary house in a quiet road that had never drawn attention to itself before; nothing could be assumed, but on the face of it this was a bizarre senseless murder.
In the dining room he spotted a piece of paper on the polished table; an address, no phone number or email.
Greaves checked the address book sitting neatly by the house phone and found no entry for a Geoff Jones or anyone in Norfolk.
Back at the police station Mr. Stanton was safely installed in an interview room, alibis checked, background checked. Inspector Greaves started with the only piece of evidence.
‘Who is Geoff Jones?’
‘Never heard of him.’
‘Has your wife got friends or relatives in Norfolk?’
‘No, she’s never even been to Norfolk.’
‘Mrs. Stanton, was she still working or retired?’
‘Retired, or she reckoned she was still working, did stuff on the computer, goodness knows what, I don’t go on the internet, but she was happy dabbling with her writing, left me in peace to watch what I liked on television.’
‘As routine procedure we will seize… er take your wife’s computer, I assume you have no objections?’
‘Well she won’t be needing it will she… oh God, I can’t believe this is happening…’
At that moment a female officer knocked on the door with a cup of tea, though they were supposed to have equality Greaves was glad to leave her to deal sympathetically with the overwrought husband. He had work to do.
Back in the office he handed out tasks to his small team. ‘Check this address and if it’s genuine get onto Norfolk Police and ask them to send someone round.’
In Cowslip Lane Geoff Jones was enjoying the evening news; the doorbell took him and the dog by surprise. On the doorstep stood a young man, trying to edge inside out of the torrential rain. He showed a warrant card.
‘Mr. Geoff Jones?’
‘Yes, that’s me, oh god, has something happened to my wife, no they send uniform for that don’t they?’
‘No, just a routine enquiry. Do you know a Mrs. Rita Stanton of Mulberry Close, Sandbourne, Dorset?’
‘Dorset, I don’t know anyone in Dorset.’
‘Are you, er do you live alone?’
‘No, my wife’s away for a few days at her sister’s.’
‘Might she know Mrs. Stanton or anyone in Dorset?’
‘NO, look what is this about?’
Andy’s first day as a detective constable wasn’t going well so far.
‘We’re making enquiries about a murder I’m afraid. Have you been outside the village in the last two days, work, visiting?’
Andy was gratified to see Geoff Jones look distinctly nervous.
‘No, I’m retired, well a writer actually, blogger; all I’ve been up to is taking Rufus on his two hour walks and doing my blogs.’
‘Can anyone confirm that?’
‘I haven’t seen a soul, no one else has been out in this dreadful wet weather, but what on earth has any of this to do with me?’
The young detective felt suspicion creeping into his bones, who would take a dog out for two hours in the torrential rain? As he tried to edge further into the hallway and avoid the very large dog, he got a glimpse into the front room. On every shelf and available surface were propped picture postcards.
‘You must have a lot of friends Mr. Jones, a lot of friends that go on holiday?’
The next police visit to Geoff’s house was in the morning. This time Andy was accompanied by a search warrant and an inspector from Dorset Police, who had driven up overnight. Fortuitously they met the postman at the door, with a postcard from Dorset. Jones’ computer was taken away, Jones himself was taken away and all the postcards collected up.
In the interview room Geoff Jones protested his innocence, though he hadn’t actually been arrested. ‘Blogging friends, I wrote a post about picture post cards and followers kept sending them.’
Greaves left him to stew for a while and went back to the office to see how enquiries were going and stared at the postcard posted in Sandbourne, Dorset.
Wish you Were Here!
Best Wishes from Rita Stanton ( Scribbletide )
He tried to curb the enthusiasm of the young detective.
‘We may have barged in too quickly, if this poor man is totally innocent we have some explaining to do. The card seems to prove what he told us about his followers. What have you found on the internet?’
‘Jones was telling the truth about the blogging and the post cards, what he didn’t mention was that a while ago he wrote a serialised story about a chap who wanted to commit the perfect murder.’
On the news the next day the police were asking for a couple to come forward who were believed to be witnesses.
Beth was waiting for me in a café, the other side of town from the shooting. ‘I don’t even know your name, but I can tell you’re a compassionate man, you understand people.’
She was quite attractive, in a homely sort of way, but it was the sadness in her eyes that affected me and I almost felt like the man she imagined me to be. Was it possible to atone for everything I’d done. I’d never killed my wife in cold blood, like the gunman, but I had killed…
‘Are you okay? I don’t think you policeman are as tough as you like to think.’
…His eyes, as if he was looking into the gates of hell… I pulled myself together, I was definitely losing it.
‘Sorry, I’m upsetting you. Tell me about your family Beth.’
She talked and I held her hand platonically. She paused.
‘I’m supposed to be meeting a friend for an early dinner, my mother’s picking the children up from school, we were going to the concert hall, but she’s ill. Are you one of those detectives who loves music?’
‘Yes’ I lied automatically.
‘You’re welcome to the other ticket, it’s Verdi’s Requiem, perhaps something deep and stirring would be good for both of us.’ She suddenly laughed. ‘Rather ironic, we were supposed to have the Day of Judgment yesterday.’
‘I’ll come with you.’
My brain was ticking over, there was lasagne verdi and wasn’t there a Verdi who wrote operas? I could nip into the gents and get on the internet with my mobile, find out more.
I paid for dinner with my laundered money, then we rushed to the concert hall, it was starting at 7pm. While Beth was in the Ladies I bought a programme and scanned it hurriedly. Four columns of Latin, that shouldn’t take long to sing. I started reading the English translation. I had been lulled into feeling like a new man, but the words leapt off the page.
The day of wrath, that day will dissolve the world in ashes… how great will be the terror, when the judge comes…
I closed the programme, just words, made up like an opera….
We had good seats, in the middle, a few rows back. The stage filled with a large orchestra, behind them were banked an enormous choir. Everyone was clapping and they hadn’t even played anything yet, four soloists walked on.
As they started singing I followed the Latin words as best I could, I soon realised they kept repeating every line, how long was this going to take? I tried to relax and let the music wash over me, but suddenly the orchestra were playing wildly, the choir was crying out, and I could feel the vibrations of the bass drum like a death knell. Beside me Beth clasped my hand and trembled with the thrill of the music. But I trembled with terror; at that moment I knew it was true, there would be a Day of Judgement and I would never be ready.
The programme dropped from my hands, I had no idea how much time passed, as that terrible theme was repeated. Then everyone was clapping and Beth was leading me out. She leaned up and brushed my cheek.
‘Wasn’t it wonderful, there’s no need to be ashamed, shedding a few tears. That’s strange, it shouldn’t be dark outside yet at this time of year, must be a storm coming.’
She slipped her arm through mine, I tried to blank my mind, slip back to normality, but as we stepped outside the sky was black, not the clear black of night, but dark rolling storm clouds. I looked up in abject terror as the sky rent in two, then cast my eyes down. Beth was no longer beside me.
I hesitated before I answered my mobile, it was my sister again.
‘Tomorrow… perhaps’ I said curtly.
‘Andrew, you need to come now. John and I don’t care if we never see you again, but Mum would forgive you everything if you walked through that door now.’
I didn’t go the next day. I don’t like hospitals, my sister is better at that sort of thing and John has always been the reliable one. In the pub that evening no one asked how my mother was; no one there knew I had a mother.
Somehow conversation veered from sport and women to the end of the world.
‘It’s tomorrow… perhaps’ said Sean. ‘6pm according to this American bloke. I don’t know why you’re laughing Andrew. It’s not going to be the end of everything, it’s the Day of Judgement; the righteous will be taken to heaven and the wicked left in torment till the world really does end.’
‘How much have you had to drink?’
Ben had reached the maudlin state. ‘Sean’s right, I read it in the paper, not tomorrow perhaps, but soon, all the signs are there. Look at the news; every day a giant earthquake, flood, fire or volcano, we’re not even surprised any more.’
‘Not in England, the world’s not going to end here. If there was a day of judgement we’re all sinners, you two are no angels. Come on I’ll get the next round.’
They knew I’d done some bad things in my time; all my family, friends, if you could call them that, my colleagues, acquaintances and my enemies. They all thought they knew what sort of person I was, but each of them knew only a part of my life. Only I knew all the crimes and sins committed and people I’d hurt. That was the good thing about being an atheist; I was accountable only to myself. If the end of the world did come it would be by the careless hand of man and in the meantime I was going to enjoy myself. When Sean and Ben went home to their long suffering wives, both of whom had sought solace in my arms, I went to my club; the club I owned in everything but name. I needed to check if the new pole dancer was settling in.
The next morning I did my laundry, at the bank, then strolled out into the sunshine. I contemplated visiting the hospital, but first I needed to pop back to the club to finish some paperwork while it was quiet.
My mobile rang, it was my brother.
‘I’m on my way, give me half an hour.’
‘Andrew, it’s too late.’ His coldness sent a chill even to my stony heart. ‘If you have any grain of decency left come and collect the letter mother left you.’
Before I could reply, a shot rang out. I looked up shocked; it was broad daylight and no one I knew. A man was standing over a woman lying in a pool of blood, then he noticed me, he fired a wavering shot to warn me away. An eerie silence had descended; everyone else had melted into doorways or down the subway steps; except for a young woman who had tripped or dived for cover onto the pavement, now paralysed with fear.
I’m no hero, if the man actually knew how to aim a gun I would be the next victim. A few paces and I could dive down the steps into my club; the only obstacle was the woman. The muscles I used for strong arm tactics came in handy for rescuing a fallen woman. I locked and barred the door behind us and whisked her into my office. She was too frightened to speak, but I could feel her heart thumping. Through my shirt I could also feel her warm breasts pressed against my chest, soft, not a hint of silicone. Perhaps there would be a chance of grateful sex later, but suddenly any carnal thoughts left me, I felt cold inside. I only looked the gunman in the eyes for a second, but what I saw in those eyes terrified me; he wasn’t mad, nor was he drugged up. Anyone who saw his expression would know that we are all accountable for what we do.
The woman spoke. ‘I don’t know how to thank you; it’s not just me you’ve helped, I was widowed recently, it would be unbearable for the children if they lost me as well.’
Now she’d started talking she couldn’t stop. ‘Are we trapped in here? I need to pick the children up from school. Do you think we were caught on CCTV or someone’s mobile, my mother will be frantic if she sees me on the news, I’d rather no one knew this has happened…’
I put on my best vulnerable woman approach and hugged her gently.
‘Shsh, it’s okay, I’m CID.’ Lying came naturally to me. ‘We did a raid on this place, I know another way out. I’ll put a report in, say you left without giving your name.’
Outside I found a cab for her and gave the driver cash. Then, I don’t know why, I also wrote down my ‘safe’ mobile number. She was sensible enough not to give me her number.
There are two types of women I like; the hard ones who play by the same rules as me and the vulnerable ones who I can play with. But I knew I would treat this woman with respect, if I ever saw her again, a novel feeling for me.
I went to the hospital and met my brother in the corridor; he handed me the letter, I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing, turned on my heel and walked out. At home I put the letter on the table, I would open it tomorrow, perhaps. I watched the news; the gunman had surrendered, too scared to kill himself. My phone rang, it was her.
‘I didn’t thank you properly, or tell you my name, Beth. This has really shaken me up, I can’t talk to anyone; just say no if you don’t want to, but it would be good to meet for a coffee while the kids are at school tomorrow.’
Amelia DeVere was dreading her birthday; Brian and the girls were coming round with her present, a lap top. They had given her several other choices; a clever phone, an eye mask, a lozenge or was it a capsule? She had plumped for the lap top, at least she wouldn’t be expected to put it in her handbag and use it. She was quite happy with her mobile phone that didn’t take pictures, buttons 1, 2 and 3 were programmed for the local mini cab firm, Jenny next door and Brian.
But Amelia had not realised the full implications of her choice until it was too late.
You’ll be able to Facetime Aunty Phoebe in Canada and see pictures of the new baby on Facebook.
‘I just want to do e-mails’ said Amelia, on the offensive as she answered the door on her birthday morning.
‘Of course, we need to do that first. But just think Gran, you would have been the first to know Constanza was expecting, instead of the last.’
Just as Brian’s marriage was breaking up, her younger son Roger had got his act together and met someone. It didn’t appear they were going to get married, but now she was pregnant they had reluctantly left the Orangutan sanctuary and returned to Constanza’s hometown, Melbourne.
‘In a mo Gran, let’s just look at Facebook and make sure there are no other Amelia DeVeres… oh look, there are…
Are you this Amelia DeVere?
They all laughed at the young woman with spiky rose pink and sky blue hair, but then Amelia felt rather miffed at seeing a member of the family she didn’t know.
‘That’s probably not her real name Mum,’ said Brian ‘look, she’s an author, got her own author page.’
‘Can we look at it?’
‘No, you have to be her friend.’
‘I don’t need to be her friend if I’m a relative.’
The screen was flashing, artificial fingernails were skimming across the keyboard.
‘Here’s her Amazon page,’ said her granddaughter ‘…author of fruity romances Strawberries in Surmmer, Peaches for Pandora, hundreds of reviews… The book every twentysomething must take on holiday, published in paperback and on Amazon Kindle.’
‘Let’s read a preview’ urged her sister.
Amelia had to admit she was quite impressed that they could turn the pages of a pretend book. ‘Let me read, I’m getting used to this lap top… Pandora ran her slender manicured fingers through the dark hairs on Mickael’s chest, then across his firm tanned stomach, bringing to life his…’ she peered closer with her bi-focals at the small print ‘bringing to life his what?’
‘I don’t think that’s your sort of book Mother’ said Brian, hastily moving his large hands across the keyboard.
Images flashed across the screen, more frantic tapping by the girls.
‘Look Gran, Uncle Roger’s accepted you as a friend, they must still be up, probably midnight there.’
Suddenly the bemused grandmother was confronted with a black and white picture of an alien, but her granddaughters screamed with delight.
‘It’s a boy, you’re going to have your first grandson.’
‘They can’t have had the baby already.’
‘No, they’ve just had the scan to tell the sex; four hours ago 23 comments and 40 likes already, you can make a comment.’
‘That’s revolting, looks like one of their Orangutans.’
‘We all looked like that once, in the womb, I can’t believe how ultrasound has improved since we had the girls,’ said her son ‘but I don’t think I would put it on Facebook.’
The girls giggled ‘We can’t put what Gran said, how about Wonderful news, do u want to Facetime tomorrow?’
Over lunch the girls discussed Constanza and why there were no pictures of her on Facebook and would Dad pay for them to visit their new cousin, but Amelia returned to the subject of the other Amelia.
‘Of course I would know if she was a real DeVere, can I complain if she’s an impostor?’
‘Let’s Google and see what else we can find out.’
‘Yes, never mind the dishes, let’s get back on the lap top’ she said.
She was surprised to see her own DeVeres mentioned, but it was Amelia the novelist who had page after page of blue writing devoted to her, image after image came up as they visited websites. The young woman was everywhere, The Word Hut, Writers’ Room, Romantic Novelists Association, Twitter, she even had her own Blog.
‘Why does she think we want to know how the romantic holiday with her gorgeous man went?’ puzzled Amelia.
But after the family had left she felt compelled to switch the lap top on and practice her new skills. She couldn’t resist Googling Amelia. The writer was planning to attend literary festivals and book signings, perhaps it would be possible to see her in the flesh…
A few days later the grandmother’s notebook was full, she was pretty certain she had looked up every internet mention of Amelia and written it down, she had also read the openings of all her books. She wasn’t even very good at writing, the older woman wondered how she had become so famous.
A week later the door bell rang; Amelia DeVere was very surprised when a plain clothes policeman introduced himself. He was equally surprised to find she lived alone.
‘D.I. Benson, C.C.U. Cyber Crime Unit. We’re investigating the stalking of a young woman, she has been trolled on Twitter, someone’s hacked into her e-mails, various other online abuses… I can’t go into details. We noticed that the most on line activity connected to her internet presence was coming from this locality, we may need to take your computer away to be examined.’