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Authors: John Marrs

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A Thousand Small Explosions (23 page)

BOOK: A Thousand Small Explosions
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Tim appeared puzzled at first when Ellie suggested they kept their engagement under wraps for the time being.

‘Please don’t think it’s because I don’t want people to know,’ she was at pains to point out, ‘but believe me, when the creator of Match Your DNA announces she’s found her own Match, things are going to go pretty mad for the man involved.’

‘Like, how mad?’ Tim asked. His naivety made her want to protect him all the more. 

‘The press are going to try to find out everything there is to know about you. They’ll track down your ex-girlfriends and one-night stands.’

‘As long as they say I have a big dick and I can go like a steam-train, I don’t care.’

‘I’m being serious, Tim. They’ll write about your late mum, they’ll find your dad if he’s still alive and they’ll offer money to anyone who ever knew you in exchange for some scandal. Trust me, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve been through this before and it’s not nice.’

‘Shit,’ Tim replied and rubbed his eyes. ‘Will they find that porn film I did when I was at college?’

‘What porn film?’ Ellie asked, a look of dismay spreading across her face.

‘You know, for an intelligent woman, you can be extremely gullible.’

Ellie gave a sigh of relief and thumped his arm.

‘Don’t worry, the only skeletons in my closet belong to the mice.’

Ellie informed her delighted family that they would be gaining a third son-in-law within the year and asked them to promise not to tell anyone outside their circle her news. Even her head of security Andrei nearly broke into a smile when she took him aside and informed him he’d have two people under his charge.

To date, Ellie had successfully shielded her fiancé from the unwanted gaze of a paparazzi camera lens by withdrawing from public life. On their rare excursions, they entered restaurants or theatres at different times and through different doors or dined in private members’ clubs in London where patrons were highly unlikely to remove smartphones and take sly shots.

She enjoyed having Tim all to herself and was pleasantly surprised the media hadn’t discovered their relationship especially after taking him to her work’s Christmas party.

              She adored the engagement ring he’d slipped on to her finger, an unobtrusive diamond set upon a white gold band. She assumed it hadn’t cost the earth but it meant more to her than any of the jewels she kept under lock and key in the safety deposit box at her bank. At work and in public, Tim’s ring hung from a gold chain around her neck, buried under a blouse. Every now and again, she’d catch herself playing with it as she hunched over her desk reading reports or during long planning meetings. But as soon as she was back in the car and on her way home, she’d slip it onto her finger and examine it from all angles and under different lights.

              On a rare evening not spent in each other’s company, Ellie arrived back at her London home and it immediately felt empty without Tim. They FaceTimed before he went to play a five-a-side game of football and he scoffed as she flipped the phone to show him the mountain of paperwork she had to get through. 

But before she set about tackling it, she heated up the meal left for her in the oven by her housekeeper and sat in the kitchen with a muted Britain’s Next Top Model on the wall-mounted TV, listening to a Spotify playlist Tim had made for her. She couldn’t stop herself from re-reading for the hundredth time the engagement book he’d also created.

              “Number forty-two: I love the way we shared the same haircut when we were kids,” she read and took another look at the pictures on the page. On the left hand side was a school photograph he’d borrowed from her mum, of her as a seven-year-old and when she sported an unfortunate pudding bowl hair cut. And on the right was Tim with an almost identical style. He looked adorable in his school uniform and she noticed that he appeared to have something around his neck that hung over his tie.

Ellie wondered if and when they had children together, who they might look like. There was an unquestionable resemblance between Tim and his mum, who stood proudly by his side with her hand around his shoulder. They shared the same warm smile and hazel, almond-shaped eyes, she thought. Tim didn’t talk of her frequently but when he did, it was always in glowing terms. He was grateful to her for working ludicrous hours in multiple jobs so that she could afford to send him on school trips and to help pay towards his university tuition fees. And Ellie knew he still felt the pain of his loss.

She stared at the photograph of mother and son again and was sad that she’d never have the opportunity to meet her future mother-in-law as she was convinced they’d have got on like a house on fire.

Suddenly something struck Ellie. It was the protective hand resting on Tim’s shoulder that caught her eye. The ring on his mother’s finger was the same one Tim had given her. And at first, she smiled, touched by how much the ring must have meant to Tim and she wondered why he hadn’t told her of its origins. Then she questioned why, when there’d been no father-figure in Tim’s life, his mother was wearing the engagement ring.

But it was what sat above it that puzzled her more. Because Tim’s mum was also wearing a wedding ring. 





‘He doesn’t get many visitors,’ began the young nurse as she led Amanda along a corridor.

The nursing home where Richard was being looked after smelled of antiseptic and air freshener. The lino on the floors was clean and unblemished, reproduction watercolour paintings of historic British landscapes hung on the walls and at the end of the corridor was a spacious, open-plan, brightly-lit day room where residents sat in stationary wheelchairs and in various states of consciousness.

‘How long has he been here?’ Amanda asked.

‘Around seven months now, I think. His family used to come and visit quite often at first, but not so much any more. It’s a pity.’

‘Did they give any reason why they stopped?’

‘No, but you’d be surprised by how many of our patients don’t get any visitors from one month to the next. For some of them, once they’re dropped off at the gate, they don’t see hide nor hair of their families ever again.’

‘Someone told me the family banned friends from visiting him?’

‘It wasn’t like an official order, but we were asked not to encourage it.’

‘Well thanks for allowing me in.’

‘I’m sure being his Match must give you some rights.’

Amanda assumed it was nerves that were making her stomach wobble until she felt a sharp kick from inside. She rubbed her belly as if to reassure her baby everything would be okay but privately, she was terrified at how she would feel when she saw Richard.

‘Right, here we are,’ said the nurse, as she opened the door. ‘There’s a chair by his bed, and just speak to him normally, like you would to a dog or something.’

Amanda didn’t appreciate the comparison but there were more important things on her mind. She steeled herself before entering, waiting until she was completely over the threshold before she faced the bed where Richard lay.

He bore little resemblance to the photographs on his bedroom wall or to those in the folder on her mobile phone; the handsome, toned, angular man she’d become accustomed to staring at and fantasising about was now a splinter of a person – skin and bones held together with plastic tubes and breathing apparatus that covered his mouth and nose.

His arms were sapling thin and there was a rash under his chin where someone had shaved him too closely. His hair was longer and clumsily combed into an old-fashioned side parting, his skin was grey and his pyjamas were hanging off him. But despite his appearance and the strained noises that came from his throat as the ventilator pumped oxygen into his frail body, Amanda knew that she was still completely in love with her Match.

She pulled up an armchair and sat down; the closer their proximity, the faster the rhythm of her heart became. And when instinctively she reached to hold his hand, it felt like an electric charge running through her veins.

‘Hi Richard,’ she began, her voice quivering and unsure of what to say. ‘I’m Amanda. You don’t know me but I know a lot about you and I thought I’d come and introduce myself.’

Amanda didn’t know what she expected to transpire when Richard heard her voice; the last few months had shown her the impossible could happen and maybe some miracle might occur and he would react to her sound, her smell or just her presence. But he didn’t stir.

‘It seems pretty nice here,’ she continued, looking out of the window at the rooftops and gardens surrounding the home. ‘And the nurses seem very friendly, I hope they’re looking after you.’

Without warning, she suddenly felt her eyes brimming and once the first few tears fell down her cheek, she couldn’t stop the rest from following suit.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t supposed to be like this…I was supposed to meet you and we were supposed to fall in love like they do in the films and in those real-life stories you read in rubbish magazines in doctors’ surgeries. And even though I know it’s never going to be like that with us, I still can’t stop myself from thinking about what could have been. I’ve spent God knows how many hours trawling through old photographs of you and watching your childhood videos, feeling like I know you even though I thought you were dead. And now here we are together, and you’re still alive and I’ve got your baby inside me. It should be the happiest day of my life but it’s not because you have no idea who I am or that I’m even here.’

Amanda took Richard’s hand and placed his palm against her cheek. He felt cold, she thought, so she held it tighter as if to warm him up. His touch was like nothing she had ever felt before, like his skin was permeating hers and she could feel his, her own and their baby’s heartbeats all inside her body.

Then for the briefest of moments, Richard’s body jolted like it had been struck by lightning.





For precisely eighty-two days, Christopher juggled his mission to kill thirty women with his burgeoning relationship with Amy.

              It hadn’t been easy finding the time to devote to either, particularly when he and Amy spent every other evening and weekend together. And it didn’t leave him with many opportunities to keep regular tabs on the remaining ten women. He’d check his computers when possible and occasionally resorted to drugging Amy’s drinks with a small measure of propofol he’d purchased from the dark web that rendered her unconscious for seven hours at a time. That left him undisturbed to continue his research at home until the early hours, or in the cases of numbers Nineteen and Twenty, snuff them out before a groggy Amy awoke.

Amy had been the first to hesitantly use the ‘L’ word, surprising him as they took her sister’s dog for a walk across Hampstead Heath one morning. The scruffy, ginger Border Terrier had been staying with her for a week while her sister was elsewhere on holiday and while Christopher didn’t see the point in pets, he liked how he felt when the three of them went for long walks or when Amy linked arms with him, or squeezed her fingers between his. He told her that he loved her too and while he’d said the same to several partners over the years, it’d always been to get something from them. Saying those words to Amy was the first time he meant it.

He permitted himself to imagine what it could be like if they remained like that for the rest of their lives. Maybe one day they could even buy a dog of their own, he thought, or a house in a countryside village? A marriage and a family of their own might follow. Everything he’d assumed he didn’t want or need was now looking likely and it was all because of his DNA Match.

When Amy wasn’t around, he found himself thinking about her, and when she was in his vicinity, he felt something he could only compare to the thrill of killing. Or at least how killing used to feel when he first started all those months ago, because now it was different; Amy had made everything different. She made his skin feel tender to the touch even when she wasn’t touching him; his eyes softened as they followed her around a room and he longed for the nights he could complete his project so that he could spend undistracted time with her instead.

Even the act of murder no longer felt as joyous as it once had. The final, chesty gasps that’d been music to his ears were now a means to an end. Re-visiting the women’s homes days later to leave a photograph of his next victim was a chore. Everything that did not involve Amy was burdensome.

Their lives together were quite secluded – neither had yet shared the other with an outside party. Christopher had no-one to call a friend, but he’d lied and told her how his university pals were now spread out internationally far and wide and that it was problematic for them to see each other regularly. In truth, he had never been to university and the only people he had occasional contact with were was his two older brothers. And if put on the spot, he wouldn’t be able to remember the names of all five nieces and nephews or who was the offspring of whom.

Likewise, Amy hadn’t mentioned Christopher to any members of her family. She’d explained that being a second generation Italian, her protective family didn’t approve of her dangerous job as a police officer. And they couldn’t understand why she, as yet, had no desire to marry, settle down and start a family of her own.

‘I’ll tell them about you eventually,’ she’d informed him. ‘It’s just that I want to continue with my career for at least another three years. And if I told them I’d met my Match, the pressure they’d put on the both of us would be relentless.’

‘Do your work colleagues know you’re seeing me?’ Christopher asked, hoping she’d boasted about her wealthy, handsome boyfriend who just so happened to be the police’s most wanted man.

‘They know I’m dating, but I haven’t told them it’s anything serious. I like keeping you as my dirty little secret.’

Christopher smiled to mask his disappointment. The mischievous side of him wanted to meet her colleagues, especially those investigating his case and he’d pictured himself enthusiastically shaking their hands while only he’d know how close they’d come to the killer they were hunting for.

‘That’s fine,’ he replied. ‘We all have our dirty little secrets, don’t we?’

BOOK: A Thousand Small Explosions
13.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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