Friday, 13 February 2009

2. One to KIll, One to Die For

‘I don’t think you’re going to like this much Cramer, but your first target’s a woman.’ Richards was looking at him with his eyes slightly narrowed, awaiting his reaction. Cramer shot him a look of surprise before reciprocating the assessing gaze.
‘You can’t be serious.’
‘Deadly.’ Richards smirked. ‘Get in the car, I’ll tell you on the way.’ They had just left a block of innocuous private flats in busy but verdant suburb, both dressed casually. They got into a black BMW M5, pretty ordinary on the outside but on the inside its derestricted 500bhp V-10 was capable of accelerating to over 200mph, should outrunning a helicopter become necessary. ‘It’s another one we got from one of the Sykophantai in a council’s benefit department. That was a stroke of genius putting them in there; they can pick up the ones that escape the attention of social services, and scroungers usually lack moral fibre. Anyway, the target’s a foster mother, abuses the children in her care horrifically. She does it all on the pretence of strict religion, but takes no small amount of pleasure in it. She denies them the most basic of amenities, and they don’t go to school because she educates them at home ‘according to her religious beliefs.’ The system has failed these kids completely, they live locked up amongst rubbish and their own bodily excretions they don’t have proper clothes to wear, mattresses to sleep on, or food to eat. If she’s pleased with their behaviour they get porridge, if not pet food of various kinds. If she deems them to have misbehaved she makes them eat their own faeces, of which there’s plenty lying around, followed by washing-up liquid, and if they’re sick she makes them eat that too. Then there’s the constant corporal punishment, slapping, caning, more flogging half the time. The children suffer incredibly and can’t understand why she does it, and I’m with them on that but you’ll see it all for yourself. We’re going to pay them a visit this morning while she makes her daily trip to the supermarket. I’m starting you off with a tricky one, well, a seemingly tricky one at least from a moral point of view, and I would expect you to have some trouble with the practicality of the deed, but that will come later. First of all, you need to reconcile yourself with the fact that an apparently altruistic middle aged foster mother has become your first target, and seeing it from the children’s point of view should help with that.’
They pulled up and parked on a street of semi-detached houses with dirty grey roof tiles, pebble-dashed walls and bay windows, and trees at regular intervals. The day was crisp and bright in contrast to the one before, pleasant after the morning frost had melted, it was nine thirty and they were on the outskirts of Leicester. Richards and Cramer each lit a cigarette.
‘It’s the fourth house on the right with the blue door. She should be coming out any minute.’ There was just enough time for the car to be completely filled with smoke, the effect exaggerated by the sunlight, before a short middle aged woman dressed in a blue-grey mackintosh appeared from the house and locked the door behind her. She moved slowly but with a quick penguin-like waddle in mid-step, had greying wavy hair and wore a cold corpse-like expression on her miserable face. After she had walked the fifty yards to the end of the road and turned the corner, not having noticed the dark BMW and its occupants, Richards and Cramer got out of the smoke filled car. They ambled down the road crossing at an angle, as if they were visiting a close friend whom they called on frequently. Richards opened the garden gate and moved to the door removing his lock smith’s kit, Cramer closed it behind him. Richards had the door open in a matter of seconds and they were inside.
The house had looked respectable enough from the outside; the garden was small but tidy, the outdoor paintwork not new but not in need of maintenance, it had clean net-curtains and all the roof tiles were present, if a little lichen encrusted. As soon as the door was opened the smell hit Cramer like a brick in the face; appearances can be deceptive. The air was damp and heavy, the smell half way between rubbish on a hot day and a neglected public toilet. There was a room to the left with the door open, Cramer looked in. One sofa, two chairs, a coffee table, a few pictures and trinkets, a crucifix, all normal in that chintzy old fashioned sort of way. He could see the kitchen at the end of the hall was empty, so he turned his attention to the next room on the left, between the living room and kitchen. The door was closed so he slowly pushed down the handle to release the catch and gently opened the door, apprehensive because of what he expected to find. Just a dining room. Richards had been standing by the door the whole time watching him, with a look of patient amusement, Cramer looked at him, he looked toward the top of the stairs, Cramer went.
‘Up here’ he hissed.
‘You found a clue Sherlock?’ Richards followed him up. There were two bedrooms at the back of the house, each locked from the outside with a fist sized padlock, and the smell was stronger. ‘Do you think they might be in there then?’ Richards did like Cramer, which was why he couldn’t resist having a bit of fun with him. He set to work on the first padlock.
When he opened the door a still stronger wave of that smell exuded and Cramer covered his nose and mouth with his sleeve. At the same time he heard a rustling, and the scurrying of more than one pair of small feet. Through the open door Cramer could see old newspaper, plastic bags, empty tins of dog and cat food, and excrement in various stages of putrefaction strewn over bare floor boards, no rustling or scurrying now, and strangely no screaming either. Richards stepped aside to let Cramer take the lead. As he moved carefully through the door choosing his steps, he saw a grey bucket on the floor to right filled with, he guessed, urine and more faeces. The window had been white-washed and nailed shut, the room was light, but no-one could see in or out. A cord and light fitting hung from the ceiling but the assembly lacked a bulb. As Cramer rounded the door he looked reluctantly to his left.
Huddled together in the corner, semi-hidden by an accumulation of rubbish, on what looked like a pile of rags, were three emaciated children. It was impossible to tell their ages as they were painfully thin, obviously mal-nourished, and had been for a long time. Two brown eyed boys, one blue, all of them were filthy and had matted hair. They also bore numerous scabs, and bruises of all imaginable colours. They had the look of scared animals, like a cat being introduced to a new home for the first time; timid, wide eyed, and seeking cover whilst stealing furtive glances. The clothes they were dressed in were little more than rags, and looked as if they hadn’t been washed for months. The smallest boy had a swollen and bloodshot eye; it was infected. Another was turned so that Cramer could see part of his back; it was covered with bruises and cuts that appeared in lines amongst scars of the same shape. They’d all been beaten with garden canes, birch branches from the tree outside, and electrical flex. Cramer looked into the good eye of the smallest boy. The appearance of this previously unseen adult had stupefied the boys. It had been years since they had seen anyone but their tormentor or been allowed out of that room, the boy looked back with expectant fear.
‘It’s ok, I won’t hurt you.’ The boy’s expression didn’t change. He associated a person coming into the room with fear, pain, and what really amounted to torture. Cramer read the boy’s memory, experienced what he’d been through in the last three years, the degradation and suffering, the beatings, the hunger, the thirst. He felt his sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and lack of understanding. He felt the boy’s distant memories of happier times, in a care home where he was only bullied. He felt how he’d suddenly been brought here, and all this had begun, and gone on and on with no end in sight. A tear rolled down Cramer’s cheek as he turned quickly and walked out, heedless of his steps he went for the stairs.
‘Oi! Get back here! For a start you’ve got to lock this door again, and then you’ve got another room to look at.’
‘Why do I have to do it? You opened it.’ Cramer spat out his words petulantly.
‘Just do as you’re told.’
Cramer locked the door, only too well aware of the fact that he was once again confining the children to their own private hell. In the next room he found three girls in a similar condition which he found even more harrowing; the situation seemed to be having the desired effect. Not paying attention to the smell anymore he locked the door behind him. As they were going down the stairs Richards spoke in a low tone.
‘Remember to act naturally as we walk back to the car, just the way we did on the way in.’ Cramer’s movements were just as Richards instructed, but he was pale, visibly shocked by what he’d seen. When they got back into the car Cramer lit another cigarette and inhaled deeply; he was thinking in the same manner.
‘So do you think you’ll be able to do it now?’
‘Yeah, I do.’ Cramer replied with a steady confidence, looking somewhere into the distance.
‘With your bare hands?’ Cramer shot him a look. ‘That’s how I want you to do it. Baptism of fire. After that you’ll find what you have to do much easier, maybe even take pleasure in it eventually.’

‘Ok, the moment you’ve been waiting for.’ DI Bishop dropped a very thin file onto the table and drew up a chair opposite the newest member of his team, Detective Elgar. They were in a windowless interview room, deep in the bowels of Paddington Green Police Station. The room consisted of a square imitation wood table with metal brown painted legs, four chairs, a tape recorder, and a single light source above. Elgar had followed that file with her eyes from the second it had entered the room, and was now still looking at it hungrily like a child watching a cake being taken from the oven. ‘As expected, it turns out that we’ve been looking for Betteridge for a long time. His DNA profile matches perfectly with that of a sample obtained from the body of a nine year old girl who was raped and murdered in the mid nineties. We never picked him up because he was never a suspect; he was never arrested throughout his whole life, as far as we can tell this would have been his first offence but of course that’s not going to be the case. I don’t know if you’re aware what we found on his computer, but he’s been committing plenty of offences with that. The point is people don’t just turn from law abiding citizens to murderers overnight, it’s a process. My guess is that he was a predatory paedophile for a number of years before this happened; there must have been victims previously that just didn’t come forward. If that was the case then there must have been something that changed within him, or some unexpected external circumstance, that transformed him from a sexual predator to murderer, but that’s all irrelevant now anyway. Officially he did commit suicide, and didn’t commit a crime in his life.’ Detective Elgar looked like she was about to burst.
‘But Gov… you said it would turn out like this, which is pretty amazing in itself, but do we know anything about who was responsible?’ DI Bishop once again let his soft laugh gently roll across the room, and fixing her gaze with his habitual benevolence toward his subordinates.
‘Yes and no. No weapon, no names, no pictures or video evidence, a few unidentified fingerprints, none of which I should think belong to the culprits. We’ve got no chance of catching the individuals, but we do know they belong to a group; there’s hundreds of them, possibly thousands. On average there’s about two suicides, accidents or murders a week in London alone that we attribute to them, whoever they are. We call them ghosts for obvious reasons; they’ve been around a lot longer than me, longer than the police force itself according to the man who told me all this. They really are an enigma; the thing we can’t even begin to understand is how they find their victims, if that’s the right word. They obviously have extremely sophisticated techniques for locating them, but not one of them has ever filed a complaint of stalking or harassment, or ever reported any suspicious behaviour that can be in any way connected to their death. Whether this is because they were completely unaware that they were being monitored, or simply because they were too afraid to come forward because of their guilt, we have no idea; interviews are never an option. We only know what they’ve been up to when a body turns up, by which time they are undoubtedly working on something else. Their existence is known to people like ourselves on the ground, and certain people in the higher echelons of Government and the security services, but that’s it. The thing is that these people are almost never missed, even when there are suspicious circumstances, there’s not usually any concerned relatives asking questions. I know Miller, the particularly nasty one of the pair, has no small amount of admiration for them and would probably join them given the chance, but he won’t get it. MI5 aren’t interested in catching them, only in covering up their ‘good work’ so as to prevent a public outcry, not to mention keeping crime statistics and prison costs down.’ Detective Elgar sat in near stupor trying in vain to digest all she’d just heard. ‘Not quite what you signed up for, eh?’
‘But they can’t really be that good, surely? We’ve got ballistics and DNA profiles here, they must have been seen by witnesses at some point, I mean they’re not really ghosts are they? They’ll get caught on cameras all over the place just like everyone else, it’s only a matter of finding the footage.’
‘Descriptions vary to the point of uselessness, and things like video evidence have a habit of vanishing or being corrupted. It’s not like we can hold press conference, and if we did actually get hold of one of them what do you think we’d do with him? And what do you think his friends would do with us? We are also dealing with a national secret of the highest order don’t forget.’ Elgar was exasperated by her superior’s resignation.
‘If we have DNA from the scenes then we must be able to attribute certain murders to certain genetic profiles, and therefore know who’s doing what where and when, and if we know that then we should have at least a rough idea of their numbers too. More to the point: if we’ve got to deal with these people then surely we have the right to know what we’re dealing with.’
‘Alas not. I find it’s best not to expect too much sense in these cases, some people go to a lot of effort to make sure we stay ignorant. Think about it: if you went public with what you know now, how seriously do you think you’d be taken? All I’ve got is the stuff I collected myself and hearsay, MI5 hold everything officially, and there’s no-one I can even think of sharing information with outside the immediate team. I have been collecting for the last twenty-seven years but I’ve only had safe access to DNA profiling for the last nine so what came before that isn’t worth much in comparison, it’s just a list of unsolvable crimes they’re probably responsible for. Even with the small database of profiles I have the picture’s fuzzy at best. There are nearly fifty individuals linked to two or more crime scenes, but more often than not we get nothing. One of the men responsible for Betteridge’s demise is linked to over thirty, and that’s just on our patch. I haven’t seen a trace of him for years and now suddenly he’s back; and I can’t imagine he’s been filling the gaps with aid work. Excessive violence and carelessness are his trademarks, like shooting someone and throwing them off a building; that was quite restrained. I’ve seen too many things that I’ll never be able to forget because of him.’ Detective Elgar swallowed.
‘So he’s more of a sanctioned serial killer than do-gooder?
‘I’ll leave you to decide that for yourself. He’s not the only one don’t forget; they routinely track down the people we can’t. To me that suggests they have better resources and that scares me; I’ve given up hope of identifying them, I don’t think I even want to anymore, ignorance really is bliss, but I know they’d find me in a heartbeat if they wanted to.’

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Falling for It (Part 2)

‘That’s how it’s done kid. C’mon, let’s go.’ Richards ran to the door unlocking and opening it deftly, Cramer was already running after him and went straight through the door that was opened for him. ‘Take the stairs as we practiced’ hissed Richards, locking the door behind him. Cramer went down the first flight of stairs in two bounds, and used the banister to swing himself round to midway on the second, where he vaulted onto the third, with Richards following closely. They covered one flight per second, one floor per two, and were out of the building running past Betteridge’s mangled remains inside forty seconds. No witnesses, and the weather had obliterated the sounds they had made.
‘So? How do you feel? That’s what you’ve been working towards all this time after all.’ For a few moments the only audible sounds were the whirring splashes made by the tyres and the revving of the engine. Cramer’s mouth pursed on the left hand side and then relaxed, as his gaze fell from his attentive watch of the road, to the glazed stare into his lap.
‘It’s not quite what I expected.’ Another long pause. ‘I expected to be, well, if not happier at least more satisfied, you know, I thought I had myself properly psyched up but it was different to how I imagined. I know the guy was scum, and I know he deserved it but if the truth be told, I actually felt a little bit sorry for him.’ Richards took a deep breath and exhaled slowly through his nose; he had anticipated this.
‘So we should have left him to get away with his crime and carry on his filthy paedophilic life should we? Or left him to his authorities who’d give him fifteen years free board and lodgings with all the latest computer games and a bunch of kiddie killer playmates to pass the time with? These people don’t understand the meaning of justice. Have you completely forgotten everything you’ve been taught your whole life?’ Richards gesticulated and spoke with vehemence. ‘Not one of them ever has so much as a clue what another is really thinking. Their legal system’s a joke. Twelve average asciencian idiots whose judgment’s as reliable as a roulette table making a decision based on two very biased accounts, at least one of which will be mostly fiction. Is it any wonder they incarcerate the innocent and free the guilty? Take the trial of that ex-American football player, because he had a small fortune at his disposal he employed a lawyer who could convince a jury that day was night. After months in court and a massive expense to both himself and the American State, he walked free, despite the fact that he was plainly guilty to even the most average of people. Now imagine that very same jury had our abilities. After two seconds of eye contact they’d have found him guilty, with absolute certainty; no chance whatsoever of one of their all too frequent miscarriages of justice. So who do you think is more fit to judge; them or us?’ The logic was irrefutable. ‘Now you’ve seen the practical side of things I’m going to get you involved in a reconnaissance mission, so you can experience the thrill of the hunt, and develop the necessary hatred for your target. You’re going to do the next one yourself.’
Cramer sat in quiet contemplation watching droplets of rain wriggling across the window like translucent tadpoles, illuminated from behind by flashing brake-lights and street lamps. Everything Richards said did make perfect sense. The man they’d killed wouldn’t be missed by anyone; no family except a cousin he had no contact with, and no close friends. He didn’t produce anything or make any valuable contribution to society; on the contrary, he was a parasite, and a particularly harmful one at that. The world would undoubtedly be better off without him but Cramer had an irksome, indefinable sensation, as if something were tugging on his soul. Richards could see the discomfort in his young colleague, as well as its cause, and knew full well that further persuasion would be counter productive, that he would only stir up more doubt. The two sat in silence.

Nobody saw the corpse until morning when the postman found a mangy vixen taking advantage of the free meal, as he rounded the corner he heard a growl with each exertion the vixen made. Digging all her paws into the ground, rear end in the air she tugged to separate the section of intestines still attached to Betteridge’s corpse from that which she’d already swallowed. Hearing his steps she turned and fixed his gaze for a moment with her cold yellow eyes, then gripping Betteridge’s intestines between her molars at the point they adjoined his body she tore them in one animalistic frenzy, and ran away with eighteen inches of intestines trailing from her mouth, the torn ends bouncing across the grass. As she got further away she gagged and stopped in her tracks, threw her head back and swallowed the last of her meal. The postman looked on fixated by horror.
A while later a black Saab pulled up in the tower block’s car park with a crunching of gravel. The morning was cold, damp and misty, the rain from the day before still clung to everything. The two men that got out of the car were smart but very ordinary in appearance, and could have been going to work in any bank, business park or insurance company in the country. The only point that betrayed them was the fact that they were crossing a police cordon unchallenged, the officers on duty not giving them a second glance. The standard white tent had been erected, which white-suited forensics workers emerged from and re-entered like drones from the hive. Miller and Harrison were met by a Detective Inspector and the Chief Forensics Officer as they walked briskly toward the tent, their breath hanging in spiralling clouds behind them before dissipating in the mist.
‘So our friends have been doing their good work again have they?’ Miller commented flatly, an assertion more than a question, as he glanced about the scene not deigning to make eye contact with the DI who was now following at his side.
‘Almost certainly. On first inspection, and from the information gathered so far, it appears to be a suicide. That’s exactly what the locals are assuming, they’re neither surprised nor bothered; alcoholic loner jumps to death in drunken fit of anguish- hardly unusual or noteworthy. What is unusual is that he was shot, probably three times, whilst on the roof from a distance of approximately twelve feet, and it looks as if he fell rather than jumped, after this...’
‘You said probably three times’ Miller interrupted, ‘do you have difficulty in counting to three Detective Inspector?’ The latter’s eyes flashed, his previously submissive demeanour melted and he pronounced his words with pointed emphasis.
‘There’s one bullet lodged in the spine; you can see it because the corpse is incomplete. Some of small intestine, one kidney, and parts of other major organs were… consumed, by at least one fox.’ Miller smiled with all the warmth of a great white.
‘Well they do eat our rubbish don’t they? When can I expect the DNA results?’
‘You’ll have them first thing tomorrow, I could get them to you tonight if…’ Miller interrupted him for the second time.
‘Don’t bother. John Houblon says he was a piece of shit that won’t be missed.’ The DI gave a questioning look. ‘Fifty quid; a bet, but then I suppose you don’t see a lot of fifty pound notes on your salary, eh?’
‘I’m not a gambling man Mr. Miller.’
‘Don’t say Terry, though it would be more accurate to say you’re not a risk taker, which is why you’re going to be so thorough in collecting all the evidence that no-one else gives a shit about.’
‘It’s my job, I always do my job properly. If I don’t then crucial evidence can be missed and….’ Miller interrupted him again.
‘Yeah yeah yeah. You know how you’re recording this one, don’t you? Course you do. See ya next time Tel.’ Miller tossed his car keys to Harrison and inclined his head toward the car in a nod, they left. As they drove away a female junior detective approached the DI at a trot.
‘Gov! We think we’ve found the fox’s den, should we get the RSPCA in, or just flush it out and shoot it?’
‘You know what? Just leave it this time.’ He drawled with resignation.
‘But Gov! I mean, there could be ballistics evidence in its stomach.’
‘Nothing will come of it anyway, this isn’t even our case anymore. You don’t you know who those two were then? His junior indicated the negative. ‘Spooks. Both of them ex-special forces, truly horrible bastards. It’s a regular occurrence this, you’ll get used to it.’
‘But why are they interested? I thought something like this would be nothing to them, they’re supposed to be Military Intelligence, surely this isn’t their jurisdiction?’ The DI smiled benevolently at the young detective and laughed softly, and spoke in the same manner.
‘Hmm. Seems you have a lot to learn. First of all, they’re not in the least bit interested in this, they’re just here because they have to be. And it is their jurisdiction, because they say so; and why isn’t our concern. We just have to hand over all the evidence and cover their tracks, or we’ll be in more trouble than you can imagine. That’s about as much as you’ll ever get out of them, not that I recommend you try; they don’t take kindly to it. And that’s not the best bit either. The records will show this was a suicide, plenty of circumstantial evidence, nothing to the contrary. Certainly no ballistics. The coroners report will concur. You’ve signed the Official Secrets Act, so if you do tell anybody that anything else happened here, I’m afraid you will be liable to be prosecuted for treason, and the maximum sentence is still… death, they still have working gallows at Wandsworth prison.’ He tried to say this as affably as possible, but his point cut like a razor all the same. ‘There is a small consolation though. We’re more than likely going to find out that Miller’s right, that this Betteridge guy really was a nasty piece of work...’
‘But you said we had to hand over all the evidence, how are we going to find that out without it?’
‘You just saw their method of taking control of a crime scene. As far as they know they get all the evidence as soon as it’s collected. In reality we keep our share of all the samples, which we destroy when we have the analyses, and make two copies of all the photos. We copy computer hard drives which are analysed briefly and destroyed, and then we keep the bare essentials on a paper file where no-one will ever find it. The way I see it we’re only in breach of the Secrets Act if we tell anybody about it.’ The young Detective stood looking in bewilderment for a moment.
‘It might be the shock of what you just told me, I mean this might be a stupid question, but why do we bother doing all that just to… do nothing about it?’
‘Don’t you want to know what happened, and more importantly why, Detective?’

At the same time Miller and Harrison were encountering the beginnings of the morning rush on the A3 going back to Central London.
‘I just don’t get it’ Harrison mused, ‘it seems as though Terry really wants to catch these guys sometimes.’
‘I’d say there’s more to it than that. He’s must be what? Late fifties, early sixties? And he’s just been walked all over by a pair of little oiks twenty five years his junior; don’t make the mistake of thinking he respects us, he only respects our job titles. We take his evidence, and then leave him out of the loop. That’s what annoys him.’ Harrison glanced over at Miller who was speaking matter-of-factly, but to look at his eyes alone anyone would think he was on the brink of rage. This was often the case with Miller. His words and tone of would often be pleasant enough, he may even smile, but his eyes would simultaneously give the impression of something deeply disturbing going on in his mind. He continued as Harrison pondered that and his own personal safety. ‘He just wants to know what’s going on, and we’re the obstacle in his way. He knows we don’t want to catch these guys, but probably doesn’t realise just how little we know, or how randomly they operate. My guess is that he doesn’t really want to catch them either, but pretending he does is one of the few things he can do to annoy us.’ This was of course just a small bonus, his attitude was mainly a cover for his own covert investigation.
‘What do you think our chances are, realistically?’ asked Harrison, Miller laughed hard before he replied still catching his breath.
‘Of catching them? Slim to none. Their modus operandi is totally random, apart from the fact they always kill people who deserve it, we’re always two steps behind. Christ, if by some miracle we did catch them I’d probably just shake them by the hand and ask them for a job. In fact, I’d kill to do their job!’ Miller laughed heartily at his own bad joke, that same look still in his eyes. ‘It would beat the hell out of running round cleaning up their mess. Besides, nobody wants them caught, nobody who knows they exist at least, that’s the whole reason we do what we do.’
‘I’d love to know how they do their reconnaissance’ said Harrison, something Cramer was about to learn.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

1. Falling for It (Part 1)

As it was Tuesday, that is Giro day, Betteridge was slumped against the bar on his own in the dilapidated Duke’s Head. Half propped up by one of the antiquated threadbare bar stools he looked as if he may fall at any second, but this was his habitual posture when intoxicated and always stayed near upright somehow. He stared with his dim and slow moving eyes at the reflection of his own leathery face in his greasy fingerprinted glass. No-one paid any attention as he swilled the last of his drink down his gullet and face, slid off the stool, and staggered precariously in the general direction of the door. After calling in at the fluorescent lit off-license for some super strength cider he arrived back at his flat, situated on the seventeenth floor of a twenty two storey building. Of course the flat wasn’t his in the sense that he owned it, or even paid his own rent, that was paid for by the state. It was his in the sense that it was occupied by him and his filth. His plan was to look at some indecent images on his computer, probably masturbate, and drink until he passed out; but tonight he would have an unpleasant interruption.
After the usual struggle to align the key with the lock Betteridge slung the cider onto his kitchen table under the cold light, then threw his coat at a chair which flew off onto the floor where it stayed. Cracking open a can he staggered toward the living room, with each step he took his head and shoulders moved forward first, then the appropriate leg moved to catch up, as if to stop himself falling face first. The hallway was in darkness except for a strip of light escaping from the kitchen as he lazily fumbled for the living room light switch.
When the light illuminated the room he jumped in the air as if the switch had electrocuted him, his drink went spinning off to his right spraying its contents liberally over the brown polyester suite. He stood rooted to the spot, frozen by fear both physically and mentally. Two men were sitting on his sofa in front of him, sitting forward with their elbows on their knees, chins lowered, looking at him from under their brows, with unblinking wolfish blue eyes. Something told him they weren’t burglars; they looked more like police but they wouldn’t just let themselves in. The elder man stood up slowly holding his eye contact.
‘Good evening Mr. Betteridge, we’ve been expecting you, though I’m guessing from your face that you weren’t expecting us.’ He chuckled and paced slowly as he spoke. ‘We’re not cops, how we got in isn’t important, and you haven’t got anything worth taking anyway. Sit down.’ Betteridge stood motionless, mouth open, eyes wide, showing off the nasty whitish residue that collected in the corners of each. From the inside of his three-quarter length black leather jacket the man produced a silenced Beretta, as the younger man also stood up. He motioned with the gun for Betteridge to sit down. This time he did so, in a cider soaked chair. ‘Now, here’s what’s going to happen: we’re going to take a little walk up to the roof so we can have a chat in private. I’m not convinced we can do that here, and frankly the smell’s making me feel fucking sick. Lead the way you sack of shit.’ Richards motioned gun still in hand to the door and raised his eyebrows slightly. Betteridge stood up and moved into the darkened hall. Betteridge was drunk and a bit stupid at the best of times, but he had enough sense realise that compliance was his only option; the shock had also sobered him up somewhat. Following him whilst putting the gun away he added nonchalantly: ‘Just in case you hadn’t guessed, if you don’t follow my instructions to the letter I will kill you.’ Richards was going to kill him either way.
As the three left the flat the younger man, Cramer shut the door behind him. Betteridge was in a state of severe agitation. His palms and face were sweating profusely, his mouth was so dry his tongue was sticking to the roof of his mouth, his breaths were shallow and rapid, and his heart beat so violently that he could feel the arteries in his neck pulsate, conveying the surging blood to his brain at high pressure. His knees were so weak he had to think carefully about every step as he made the tenuous journey up the stairs to the roof, Richards and Cramer on his heel at either side, so close their presence was palpable. On the final flight of stairs leading to the roof-door Cramer grabbed Betteridge’s left arm just above the elbow with a firm grip when they were half way up, pulling him to the side. Richards moved forward to unlock the door using the building’s master key that he’d acquired earlier that day. Betteridge had been wracking his terrified brain to try and work out who these men were and what they might want, they certainly wanted something but he had little to offer and no choice but to obey. Richards waited on the far side of the door while Cramer gently pushed him through it, the door closed behind him and he heard the lock turn.
It was an unusually cold November night, the rain icy and the northerly wind much stronger than it had been on the ground. Betteridge had neglected to put his jacket back on when leaving his flat but that was the least of his worries now. He turned apprehensively to face the two men who were now standing side by side a few feet away, between him and the door which was locked now anyway. The long piece of hair that Betteridge normally combed over his completely bald head was blown around in all directions by the blustery wind, in much the same fashion that the branches of trees and sheets of rain danced and lashed under the orange glow of the street lamps below. Lips and complexion grey and pallid, eyes wide, pupils indistinguishable from iris and jaw now locked with tension, his gaze moved nervously from one face to the other and back again, watching the water trickle from their faces as if they were made of granite.
‘So, you’ve been wracking your brains to try and work out who we are and what we might want from you’ stated Richards. The way this guy anticipated Betteridge’s every question and answered it before he could utter a word was scaring him, as was being held at gun point with no escape; it just made no sense, he was beginning to think these two must have the wrong person. ‘Simon says: Undo your trousers and bend over!’ Richards barked. ‘That’s what you said to her isn’t it?’ Betteridge understood instantly as he looked at the previously expressionless, now distinctly predatory faces opposite, his knees shook uncontrollably, this must be her father and brother, but how could they possibly know...
‘No we’re not her family, and they’re not paying us either. We’ve never met any of them. We’re not doing this for revenge, we’re doing it because you deserve it.’ Richards’ speech was now rapid and rhythmic like a military drum beat. ‘As for how I anticipate your every question before you say a word, and know exactly what you said to the nine year old girl you raped and murdered, well, if you haven’t figured it out yet then too fucking bad. It’ll make no difference by the time you’ve finished playing my little party game.’ The roof of the block of flats was square, the kind of block with four flats on each floor, and had a wall just under four feet high all the way around, except for the point where the roof-door emerged in its breeze-block enclosure with the drainpipe down the side, in front of which Betteridge now stood with Richards and Cramer opposite. Some sort of potted plant sat in each corner, neglected and on the brink of death themselves.
‘Simon says: climb up on that wall.’ Richards nodded to the wall behind Betteridge, who still hadn’t said a word the whole time, obediently shuffled back like a man on the gallows. He grasped the drainpipe as hard as he could, straining and shaking as he pulled himself up far too slowly for Richards’ liking; he fired a shot below Betteridge’s feet sending gravel spitting everywhere. A stone ricocheted off the side off Betteridge’s head, it stung and began to bleed, his face contorted and he began to weep as he struggled to hold on in the strong wind. Richards let out a deep guttural laugh that made the drainpipe he was holding on to and Betteridge’s own diaphragm resonate. ‘Now, Simon says: Do us all a favour and jump!’ Betteridge wept harder still as his bladder let go. ‘Simon says: Jump or I’ll fucking shoot you!’ Betteridge no longer understood anything and refused to accept reality, he was entirely gripped by his fear, he just stood and shook and wept, holding on for dear life. Richards could see that he had pushed the man beyond his limit and unloaded four rounds into his guts as fast as the recoil would allow. With each shot there was the thud and hiss of the silenced bullet, followed by the sound of ripping flesh and spattering blood that amalgamated with the falling rain. Betteridge’s hand let go of the drainpipe on the second shot, reaching for the pain in his middle; he realised his mistake as the next two unbalanced him. Performing a slow motion backwards summersault as he fell in silence most of the way, then his head bounced off the edge of a balcony making him spin like a tangled kite before hitting the ground with a crunch an instant later. As Betteridge fell Cramer dropped the fa├žade of cruel impassiveness that had been killing him to maintain, and ran to the wall just in time to see Betteridge’s body make one revolution and hit the ground.