Authors: Nick Oldham
Now the yard was still. The fluorescent yellow lights shone brightly.
Verner relaxed and thought about the hours to come.
His orders were to up the stakes tonight. So far, things had been pretty mild. âPut the fear of God into them,' he had been instructed.
He thought about the horses he had hurt previously. And smiled. He enjoyed hurting. He enjoyed killing, too. But hurting was like a sport, a pastime, whereas killing was a profession.
Hurting had been fun. He had wondered what it would be like to hurt a horse, wondered if he would actually have disliked doing it, hurting a poor, dumb, defenceless creature. But it had been excellent because they were not actually dumb enough not to show terror in their eyes. As he'd slashed them, their expressions had been glorious to behold.
Tonight, though, he had been told to go one step further.
The pair made it back with about thirty seconds to spare â just at the point where the ladies were getting a little agitated and the children, because it was late and they were tired, fractious.
Kate and Henry stood at the door and waved Karl and his family off. As the 4x4 turned out of sight, Henry slid his arm around Kate's slim waist and planted a kiss on the side of her face.
She pulled away from him slightly.
âDrink equals friskiness with you, doesn't it?'
âNot necessarily,' he said, mocking offence. Then, âOK â yes it does.'
They closed the front door and melted into each other's arms. âIt's a good job I've had half a bottle of Blossom Hill red then, isn't it?' Her face tilted up. He kissed her slowly, gently, deliberately.
âThink we've got time to . . . y'know? Before the girls get back?'
âIs it going to be a slowie or a quickie?'
âLong and slow . . . I've had a drink, remember?'
She gulped. âEven if they come back, they wouldn't interrupt us, would they?'
âWouldn't dare.' Henry took her hand and led her upstairs, feeling very frisky indeed.
The chill of the night did not bother Verner. He had been in far colder, more uncomfortable places.
It was an hour since the security patrol had left. At the main house, some lights had been turned off, leaving only the main lounge and one bedroom light on. The time was slowly approaching. His watch said 10.17.
There was some movement in the stable yard. Quickly he put the night sights to his eyes.
It was a teenage girl, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt top. She was edging her way around the yard, keeping to the shadows. What the hell was she up to? And who the hell was she? He could not quite get a sharp focus on her face, but he kept the glasses held firmly to his eyes, watching her movements. It was obvious she was trying to keep unseen. She dashed quickly across the yard, then back into the darkness of the stables. Verner could clearly see her at the door of one of the loose boxes. She was messing with the lock. Suddenly the door opened and she went inside, closing it behind her.
âShit,' Verner breathed to himself. A delay, maybe a complication. What was she up to? He breathed out, relaxed, waited.
Ten minutes later she emerged, locking the stable door behind her. She paused, rushed across the yard and disappeared behind the building that was the tack room. Verner next picked her up in his sights as she ran towards the main house.
Twenty minutes after that, the security patrol car re-entered the grounds and parked in the middle of the stable yard. The driver got out and checked each stable door carefully, then left.
Security sure is tight, Verner thought.
Henry's promise to Kate came true. Their lovemaking was long and sensual, not always slow, sometimes fast and furious and with abandon, but always â always â with love and respect. It was as though he and Kate had just invented sex. It reminded him of the times all the years before when they were courting and then newly wed when they went for it at every opportunity â and they were determined to enjoy it to the full today.
When their daughters arrived home together, Henry slowed down to a stop, remaining deep inside Kate, who, with mischief, used her internal muscles to drive him wild, making Henry gasp with pleasure.
âOi,' he warned her.
âWhat?' she said innocently.
Jenny shouted, âGood night you two â we know what you're doing!' The girls giggled naughtily, then went to their respective bedrooms.
Henry and Kate laughed quietly. Sex had never been so much fun for them.
âNow then,' he said, âtime to get my own back.'
When it was over, they lay embracing face to face, locked tight in each other's limbs.
âThat was lovely,' Kate sighed, her face nuzzling one of Henry's nipples.
He breathed out contentedly and closed his eyes.
Sometime later as they lay dozing, Henry said, âI got propositioned today.'
Doing the horse had been a lot of fun. It was a power thing. Slashing cuts across the buttocks with a cut-throat razor, then going for one of the eyes, driving the stiletto into the eyeball, causing it to burst with a fantastic âpop' and a spray of clear liquid. Then slicing off its mane and shearing the tail.
All good fun and very necessary to prove a point.
Kate did not like the idea at all. It showed in her whole demeanour and tone of voice. At least Henry was not surprised and he was ready for it with his argument, which, admittedly, he knew was pretty thin.
âYou could get into trouble,' Kate informed him.
âIt's just gonna be me bummin' around, asking a few questions, that's all. I know four people in the area with convictions for mutilating horses. It'll probably be one of them. They're easy people to deal with for someone like me. Just very weird.'
âI didn't mean that,' Kate said coldly. âI meant with work.' She sighed through her nose, a sure sign she was pissed off. She was sat up in bed, knees drawn up with her arms folded around them. Still naked. âYou've got enough problems without having more by doing some unofficial investigating.'
âI'm not going to get paid for it. It'll just be helping a friend of my daughter.'
âHm,' sniffed Kate. She shook her head. Did not like it one bit.
Henry lay next to her, also naked. Both of them were well tanned from frequent forays to the sun during his time of suspension. Both were trim and fit-looking. Henry ran a hand up the underside of her thigh, stopping at her buttocks. He allowed a finger to touch her sex. She shivered involuntarily and closed her eyes.
âDon't,' she said weakly. âThat won't change my mind. I don't think you should get involved in anything, whatever it is, love. You need to keep focused on clearing your name, nothing else. Clearing your name and getting back to work.'
âI know, I know.' He rolled on to his back, slid his hands behind his head. âJust sounded like . . . summat to do.'
âThe front room needs redecorating.'
âYou know what I mean.'
âYeah, yeah, I know.' He shut his eyes and curled his lips sardonically. Suddenly Kate planted a kiss on his mouth, hard, then let it dissolve into a wet mush of tongue, saliva and teeth, gums and the insides of each other's mouths. She reached down and grabbed hold of him, forcing a grunt to escape from his throat. She eased a leg over him, slid him inside her and moved over him, rotating her hips slowly. She was very good at this.
Henry did not admit it to her, but he would not change his mind either. He had stubbornly decided to himself that he would be taking a look into Tara Wickson's mutilated horses, no matter how much sex he had on a plate.
Verner unlocked the tack room by jemmying the hasp off, and was inside quickly. The aroma of cleaned leather greeted him. Down one wall were complete tack sets for eight horses â saddles, bridles, blankets, everything required to kit out a horse. They smelled lovely, he thought. What a shame.
He started at the far corner of the room, splashing out the petrol on the floor and as high up the wooden walls as possible, and on the equipment. The smell of accelerant soon replaced that of leather. He breathed it in and it sent him slightly dizzy.
He tossed a lighted match into the room. The fumes caught it immediately with a hissing boom as air got sucked into the flames. The man smiled and stepped smartly out of the tack room, leaving the door ajar to help with airflow.
The wooden structure was ablaze within seconds.
Henry Christie waited in the corridor. Which corridor it was, he could not be certain, but he was waiting his turn, elbows on knees, hands interlocked, fingers twiddling. His stomach churned. He felt sick. He was waiting to go into the hearing, to be called into the internal discipline proceedings which would seal his fate.
Someone drifted by in front of him. He looked up. A woman's face sneered at him.
âNo chance, Henry . . . you're going . . . going . . .' Then she was gone.
Henry suddenly noticed he was not wearing any socks or shoes. He was barefoot and his feet were in sand. He wriggled his toes. The sand was warm.
A bell began to ring.
Henry knew it was his summons to the beginning of the end of his career.
The bell continued to ring.
Henry shook his head. Kate dug him in the side. âAnswer the phone,' she muttered groggily.
The ringing continued and somewhere between sleep, dreams and wakefulness, Henry reached out to the bedside phone, fumbling in the dark, almost knocking the lamp off the cabinet.
âHello,' he said. His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth and the word was more a snorted breath than a properly formed sound.
âIs that Henry Christie?' a female voice asked, sounding worried.
Henry propped himself on to an elbow and squinted at the red figures of the digital alarm clock. 03:40. God, it was just like being in the cops and being on call, he thought fleetingly.
âI'm really sorry to disturb you. This is Tara Wickson, we spoke yesterday at the riding school?'
Henry recognized the voice and thought, Twenty to bloody four in the morning! It was the first time for a long time that he'd been woken at this time, other than because of his state of mind. This better be good.
âYeah, it's OK.' He found his voice. He switched the bedside light on. âWhat is it? Something happened?'
âYou could say that. Someone's tried to burn down the stables. Could you please come? I'm really sorry it's such a crap time and even though the police are here, I'd really like you to come and have a look and help.' She sounded desperate, close to tears and hysteria, just keeping a lid on it. âOne of the horses has been mutilated, too, others have . . .' There was a sob in her voice as she failed to complete the sentence. âOh God, it's awful.'
Henry glanced at Kate. She was awake now, listening and glaring.
âNo,' her lips formed silently. âNO WAY.'
Henry dithered. He was stuck between the strong desire to poke his nose into other people's business and his wish to appease Kate. Both had their pros and cons, but what swung it for him was the arrogant belief that he could talk his way round Kate and make it OK. After all, he had done it so many times before.
He turned away from her and spoke into the phone.
âGive me half an hour.'
âThanks, thanks,' Tara gushed.
He hung up and swivelled very, very gingerly to Kate. âSorry,' he said pathetically. She slumped back angrily, defeated, and pulled the duvet over her head.
âI despair,' she said.
âI knew you'd understand.' He reached for his underpants, a glimmer of a smile on his lips.
His excitement was almost uncontrollable. Adrenalin rinsed through his veins as he drove out towards the Wickson household just as a reluctant dawn was beginning to crack the night sky open. That same old feeling of trepidation and anticipation came back: approaching the unknown, wondering where it would all lead, who he would meet, who he would have conflict with, what would it show him about human nature and â most of all â what it would reveal about himself. It was fantastic, nothing could ever touch it.
The Wickson place was on the outskirts of Poulton-le-Fylde, one of Blackpool's more salubrious neighbouring towns.
As the sky grew a slightly lighter shade of pale, he could see smoke rising in the distance.
Henry's throat was parched, mainly because of the beer he had drunk in the pub before bed. He should have thrown some coffee down before setting off, but he had been eager to get going. To get, for the first time in months, to the scene of a crime.
he old feeling stayed with him as he drove down the long driveway towards the house, which was dead ahead of him, and the stables, which were to his right.
Looking across he could see a lot of chaotic activity. Two fire engines, two marked police cars and an ambulance, as well as other vehicles. Blue lights rotated a-plenty. Dozens of people, it seemed, scurried about and the reflective jackets of the uniformed services glistened against the blue lights, headlights and the approaching daylight.
Henry parked outside the house, not wishing to add to the confusion of vehicles and bodies down at the scene. This was an old habit of his. Whenever and wherever possible he liked to approach any crime scene from a distance. âI like to come from downwind, with the sun at my back,' he was fond of saying. He always felt it gave him an advantage . . . somehow. It allowed him to make assessments and start shuffling the pack of cards in his head that was his combination of experience, skills and abilities of being a detective.
Not that he was a detective at present, just a cop on suspension.
So what the hell was he doing here?
The question hit him hard as he pulled up and parked on the gravel at the front of the Wickson house. He sat with his hands resting at the ten to two position on the steering wheel and thought seriously about withdrawing.
Curiosity got the better of him.