Authors: Heather Atkinson
By Heather Atkinson
Copyright Heather Atkinson January 2015
I would like to thank Lorna for her knowledge about police and their procedures as well as Keith Walker MABI for his insight into private investigative procedures.
As always, thanks to my mum, Stephanie, for proofreading and my sister Suzy and husband Paul for their love and support. Also to my daughters Charlotte and Sophie for being cheeky and adorable.
Heather Atkinson January 2015
MANCHESTER - PRESENT DAY
He worked slowly, patiently. This couldn’t be rushed, he had to get it just right. The carving was an elegant series of interlocking teardrop shapes, each one exquisitely formed. They weren’t supposed to mean anything, he just thought they were pretty, but together they made a very attractive design.
With one final slice he completed the carving and sat back to admire his handiwork. It was his best yet, true craftsmanship. With everything mass produced these days skills such as his were becoming increasingly rare. His audience was going to be up in arms about this latest work, it was sublime.
He ran his fingertips over the etchings, feeling the contours undulate beneath his fingertips. It was so good that part of him wanted to be greedy and keep it all to himself but no, that would be selfish. The world needed to see this.
A whimper broke his concentration and his great artwork moved, causing fresh blood to seep out of the elegant carvings.
“Don’t move, you’ll ruin it,” he yelled.
“It…hurts,” gasped Patricia, hands starting to shake with pain. He’d anaesthetised her so she wouldn’t move and spoil everything while he worked. The drug he’d given her had meant she was still awake to see it all being done. He’d enjoyed the bulging of her horrified eyes, face paling with shock and blood loss as he’d sliced into her skin with the scalpel, it only added to the satisfaction he always got when he produced his artwork, but the effects of the drug were wearing off and she was regaining sensation.
“You won’t feel it for much longer,” he said.
“What…what do you mean?” she said, voice trembling, face covered in a fine sheen of sweat.
She went silent when he glared at her ferociously. He didn’t know her, he’d only met her a few days ago and right away he’d seen she was the perfect blank canvas with her soft, flawless skin. She was very pretty too with long dark hair and chocolate-brown eyes, but she was a stupid bitch who deserved what she got.
His sudden anger must have scared her because those lovely eyes widened and she pressed herself back into the wooden board she was tethered to. He needed a firm surface for his work.
Carefully he put down the bloodied scalpel and began to prepare his art for exhibition. He picked up a cloth and started to dab away the blood that had seeped from the wounds, tutting when more leaked out but that would stop when her heart stopped. She gasped and whimpered every time his cloth touched her skin but it wasn’t her skin anymore, it was
He liked his canvasses to be living. She was his fourth and the police were baffled. He’d watched the experts on television who had been drafted in to theorise about what the symbols could mean and he’d laughed his head off as he’d listened to their wild and ridiculous theories. The symbols meant nothing. It was the women that were important, his canvases and muses rolled into one. He was only adding to their beauty by making their skin beautiful too. He’d worked on Patricia’s legs from thigh to ankle, her arms down to the wrists and her smooth, flat stomach. A living piece of art. She looked glorious. Most importantly, the whole country was talking about his work.
Only one thing remained and that was to preserve his work, which would come with the final cut.
“No, please don’t,” screamed Patricia as he picked up the large knife.
Quickly he cut her throat, not because he wanted to put her out of her misery but because all the shouting and panicking was causing her to jump and twitch, disturbing his creation. She went quiet, a gurgle sounding in the back of her throat as what remained of her lifeblood drained out of her.
He enjoyed watching the panic in her eyes, which quickly turned to sadness that her life was over, the emotion fading as she grew weaker, the vibrant chocolate turning dull before that exquisite moment when those fascinating eyes rolled over and became glassy, like a doll’s eyes. In about six hours he would start to clean her up properly, when rigor mortis had set in and her limbs had stiffened. Only then would she be ready for exhibition.
He didn’t react when a second figure entered the room and stared in silence at his work.
“It’s your greatest yet,” they said approvingly.
“Magnificent, isn’t it?” he replied, stroking Patricia’s right lower leg with a latex-covered hand, the limb twitching as the life left it.
Mark Creegan woke and as usual he thanked God for his perfect life. He had it all - the big house, the fat bank accounts, two beautiful kids and a gorgeous wife lying next to him. He kissed Sarah’s cheek, who was still sleeping, admired her sleek body encased in a slinky nightgown, her short blond hair framing her pretty elfin face. Yes, life was very good indeed.
He looked to the sunlight streaming in through the chink in the curtains and a cold chill descended on him, already spoiling his day. A dark cloud had recently settled over his perfect life and he wondered if that same cloud would be sat outside. It had been every morning for the past five days, so he failed to see why it wouldn’t be now.
Mark rolled out of bed and tiptoed to the window, being careful not to disturb Sarah. His heart beat faster as he parted the curtains, mouth going dry, praying it wouldn’t be there. If it wasn’t then his life could go back to being absolutely perfect, no worries, no cares.
Taking a deep breath he peeked outside and his stomach turned over. Sure enough there it was - the dark blue Astra. It had been haunting him, it was everywhere; parked outside his home, his work, following him to the shops, to the golf club. It always stayed at a distance, so the driver was just a shadowy figure, watching him.
Mark had fled from London all the way up to Manchester to escape his past and now he feared his worst nightmare had come true and it had finally caught up with him. The prospect made him sick to his stomach.
Mark jumped when a pair of arms snaked themselves around his naked waist. He turned to find Sarah looking up at him with a puzzled frown, her hair adorably mussed up. “Sorry, didn’t mean to make you jump,” she said.
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against him, her warmth soothing. “It’s alright sweetheart. I didn’t hear you get up.”
“What were you looking at?”
“Nothing, just gauging the weather. Looks like it’s going to be another scorcher.” He glanced at the clock on the dressing table and smiled. “We’ve got ten minutes before we have to officially get up. Why don’t we go back to bed?”
She kissed him then sighed when she heard their two children stirring, arguing as usual. It was all they seemed to do these days. “It’ll have to keep but the girls are staying at my parent’s tonight so we can have a nice early night.”
“I can’t wait.”
She gave him her dazzling smile that never failed to set his heart racing then pulled on her dressing gown and slipped her small feet into a pair of slippers.
As she headed downstairs to start breakfast Mark peeked out of the window again and huffed with frustration to see the car was still there. He wanted to run up to it, drag the driver out and scream,
what do you want?
But he knew he’d never gather the courage, he was too afraid of the reply.
He showered and dressed carefully in a tailored dark blue suit with matching tie and crisp white shirt, solid gold cufflinks adding the finishing touch. The familiar routine made him feel a little better, a little more secure. However breakfast didn’t. He sat before his croissants with jam and low fat margarine feeling nauseous, the shadow of the car parked outside hanging over him like the sword of Damocles.
“You okay? It’s not like you not to eat breakfast,” commented Sarah.
He forced a smile for her sake, she looked so pretty, all soft and delicate. Even with no make-up she was still a beauty. “I’m not very hungry.”
She pressed a cool hand to his forehead. “Maybe you’re coming down with something?”
“Maybe. Have you seen this? There’s been another murder,” he said, holding up the newspaper in an attempt to distract her from the conversation. The headline
The Carver claims another victim
was splashed all over the front page alongside a photograph of a pretty brunette with big dark eyes.
“Please Mark, I don’t want to hear about that at breakfast,” objected Sarah.
The Carver was a serial killer going around Manchester abducting young women from nightclubs and carving strange symbols into their skin before cutting their throats. He had all the experts baffled.
“She was only twenty years old,” he continued, seemingly oblivious to his wife’s protest. “Attractive, don’t you think?”
“I said I don’t want to look at it,” she replied firmly. “Stop being so morbid.”
“I wonder why he’s doing it? I mean, what does he get from it?”
“He’s doing it because he’s a psycho. Now can we please talk about something more pleasant?”
“There’s more to it than being a psycho,” he frowned. “There’s something driving him.”
He continued to stare thoughtfully at the paper, his gaze resting on Patricia’s picture, then hastily folded it up when their two young daughters entered the kitchen arguing over a doll. Mark sighed and closed his eyes, not in the mood.
“Girls, please. Your dad’s not feeling very well,” said Sarah.
“She took my Monster High doll,” pouted nine year old Megan.
“It’s not yours, it’s mine,” retorted seven year old Donna.
“Never mind the doll. Get your breakfast then brush your teeth or we’ll be late for school.”
Fortunately it worked and they went quiet. Mark gave Sarah a grateful smile, which broadened when she ran her fingers through his thick dark hair.
“Are you heading into work late?” she said.
“Yes, Quentin’s opening up again.”
“You never used to let him open up, now you do every day.”
“What’s the point in being the boss if I can’t enjoy it?”
Ever since the day he’d realised the blue car was following him he’d made a point of not leaving the house before Sarah and the kids, just to make sure the stranger didn’t interfere with them. He wasn’t taking any chances. Many times he’d considered going to the police but Mark had secrets that not even his wife knew and he was terrified that the mysterious car was linked to them and his dark past.
Amid a lot of noise, falling out and moaning, Sarah managed to get the girls organised, into their coats and shoes and out the door with ten minutes to spare, plenty of time to drive them to school.
After making sure both girls were buckled in and had everything they needed, Sarah returned to her husband, who watched them from the front door.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” she said.
“Yes, really. Be careful won’t you?”
“I’m always careful.” Her eyes filled with concern. “You don’t seem yourself.”
“I’m fine, honestly.”
“You haven’t forgotten I’m working at the florists this afternoon? Can you still pick the girls up from school?”
“Don’t worry, I remember.” He gave her a quick peck on the lips. “See you later.”
“Okay. Have a good day.”
He remained at the door and watched until they’d gone before leaving. Just before he got into his silver Audi parked on the drive he paused to look down the street and saw the blue car still sitting there. It crossed his mind again to march up to it, bang on the window and demand to know what was going on but he was too afraid of what the stranger might have to say, that his secrets would finally come tumbling out. Instead he was opting for burying his head in the sand in the hope that it would all go away.
So he got into his car and drove off, constantly checking his rear-view mirror. The car followed him down the street and he gripped the steering wheel tightly, willing it to disappear. His prayer must have worked because the next time he looked it was nowhere in sight. He exhaled shakily. The menace had gone, for now, but he knew it would return.
“Girls, will you please stop bickering?” said Sarah as she drove them to school.
“Megan started it,” moaned Donna.
“I didn’t, she did,” pouted Megan.
“That’s enough, I won’t tell you both again. Keep it up and you won’t go to grandma’s tonight.”
This threat was enough to silence them, just as Sarah knew it would be. Her parents spoilt their grandkids rotten, which was why they loved staying there. They could get away with things they couldn’t at home.
Sarah glanced in her rear-view mirror, frowning when she saw the blue Astra behind her. Over the past few days she’d seen that car everywhere. At first she’d thought it was her imagination so she’d memorised the licence plate just to be sure. Unfortunately it was definitely the same car. She was so concerned with watching it that she almost ran a red light. The girls cried out in protest when she stomped on the brakes, jolting them in their seats.
“Sorry girls,” she called.
“Mummy, why did you do that?” demanded Donna.
“I had to stop quickly.”
Sarah groaned inwardly. Donna was at that age when her response to everything was
Sometimes it was a difficult question to answer.
“Don’t be cheeky to Mummy,” said Megan. Both girls were dark-haired and dark-eyed, like their dad. Sarah had hoped they would inherit her own blond hair and blue eyes, but no. They’d inherited the Creegan darkness.
The lights changed and Sarah put the car into gear and set off again, glancing in the rear-view mirror. The Astra was still two cars behind, discreet as always.
Sarah drove into the school car park, pulled on the handbrake and turned to look for the Astra but it carried on driving past the school and she breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe it was just someone taking the same route to work? Yes, that was it, she told herself. That must be it. If not then she had a stalker.
She was distracted from her worries by ushering the girls into the playground. Usually she didn’t hang around to watch them go into school but the glimpse of the Astra had made her uneasy so she waited until the bell rang and her children had gone safely inside before leaving.
As she walked back to her car there was absolutely no sign of the mysterious blue Astra. Nevertheless she still kept an eye on her mirrors as she drove away, feeling pretty silly when it didn’t reappear.
To soothe her nerves Sarah decided to indulge in some shopping. She loved that she could go into the most expensive shops and not think twice about buying whatever she wanted. Mark’s chain of antiques shops as well as his online businesses were booming and she’d never known such wealth.
Her work consisted of a nice little florists that Mark had bought for her. It had been a long-held dream of hers to run her own pretty little flower shop, to be surrounded by beautiful blooms and exotic fragrances. She had a couple of respectable middle class ladies who worked part time so she could pick and choose when she worked, but they were both off today - one was on holiday and the other had asked for the afternoon off to visit her sick mother in hospital - so she had to cover the shift. Not that she minded, she loved pottering about, making up attractive bouquets. Her little shop was doing well and she kept all the profits for herself. Mark had never asked for a penny.
As she bustled happily about her shop she just happened to glance out of the window and saw the blue Astra parked outside, two shops down. It was definitely the same car, the same licence plate, only this time the driver had got out and was leaning against the driver’s door. From their build she guessed it was a man, a large one. His features were obscured by a hood but she was certain he was looking at her.
She shrank back out of sight, heart fluttering. This was getting seriously weird and she was all alone. What should she do now?
Chancing another peek out of the window, just to make sure she wasn’t letting her imagination run away with her, she saw the figure was still there. This time he had the audacity to give her a little wave, the gesture somehow menacing.
Tearing herself from the window she rushed to the door and locked it then called Mark.
“Slow down Sarah, I can’t tell what you’re saying,” he replied when she gabbled a frantic explanation down the phone.
“There’s a man outside the shop and I think he’s waiting for me. I’m scared to leave.”
“You think he might hurt you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. He’s been following me about.”
“What?” he exclaimed loudly down the phone, causing her to wince.
“Please come and get me. I’m alone.”
“I’m on my way. Stay in the shop and keep the door locked. If you think you’re in any danger then call the police.”
Reluctantly she hung up, not wanting to break the connection.
Turning out the lights she crept back to the window to peek out. The man was still there. Because of the hood it was impossible to discern any features or even guess how old he was. All she knew was that his intentions were not good. The figure stared back at her calmly, not in the least bit disturbed about being spotted.
The hairs prickled on the back of Sarah’s neck and she backed away from the window. While she waited for Mark to arrive she paced, praying he hurried up.
Time ticked by interminably slowly and when she heard the rumble of a car engine she returned to the window and spotted Mark’s Audi pulling up at the kerb right outside the shop. She unlocked the door to let him in, her hands shaking.