Get the kettle on and kick back with a biccy while you enjoy this exclusive short story by Malcolm Hollingdrake!!
Sitting so close to the window his warm breath bombarded the cold pane and the transparent glass quickly morphed into opaque grey. The freezing, clear night was trapped outside as he brought his finger to the glass and carefully wrote the words KILL-GEEK. Tiny globules of condensation pooled like small tears at the foot of each letter before descending.
Could there be a better time to kill? He doubted that, after all, that was what the darkness was for!
Jane Pemberton pounded down York Place, her breath billowing from her gaping mouth before rolling back over her shoulder. She now no longer felt the cold’s sharpness, her skin tingled with a healthy glow that fed her love of running, even on these dark, winter mornings. She checked the road and slowed her pace to cross. The white lights allowed pools of shadows to loiter beneath the trees bordering the edge of The Stray. It was here that she liked to run the most, to be free from the pathways and tarmac, in the dark heart of Harrogate’s grassland. There was a peace and a freedom to be found there.
Her pace quickened as she crossed Stray Rein heading for the short bridge that carried over the railway cutting. It was there that she saw it. At first, she thought it was a bin-bag, dark and still. She slowed, a degree of anxiety just pushing itself into her consciousness. She slowed to almost a walking pace as she began to edge around the obstacle. It was then that she realised it was neither a bin-bag nor rubbish; it was a child’s body. As if on cue, she heard the muffled ring-tone of the child’s mobile phone.
DCI Cyril Bennett stared at the mirror and carefully shaved the foam from under his nose. Two more strokes and he was done. His phone rang.
He listened as he wiped the residue of shaving foam from his face.
‘Area sealed, CSI and pathologist on their way? Good, good. Fifteen minutes.’
He dressed quickly before finally slipping on his overcoat, scarf, and gloves. The walk from Robert Street to Stray Rein would take him six minutes, Cyril walked at a brisk pace. The daylight had not yet diluted the dark, winter sky and myriad stars still filled the inky blackness. Already he could see the temporary lights illuminating the dark crime scene, an oasis of bright light within The Stray in which white-coated figures moved like ghosts. A fine, pre-dawn mist had collected before loitering just above the railway cutting. It added a sombre veil that Cyril couldn’t help but notice; he felt its icy chill.
An officer stood by the blue and white tape that hung motionless from steel posts. Cyril held up his ID and the officer offered a kind of salute.
‘It’s a young teenager, Sir. No real sign of injury. May have been the cold that killed him.’
Cyril stood and waited for the Crime Scene Manager to approach.
‘Morning, Cyril, bloody cold one too! Boy, approximately thirteen or fourteen. No sign of injury as yet. Not been here all night that’s for sure otherwise he’d be covered in a light frost. Pathologist is on her way. Strange, he wasn’t robbed nor beaten. He still had money in his pocket and this.’
The officer held up a sealed bag containing a mobile phone.
‘I’ll need the numbers from that as soon as,’ Cyril requested.
Cyril and Ruth Jones, the police family liaison officer, had the task of bringing the devastating news to a mother. For Cyril, listening to the frantic messages left on her son’s phone was distressing, but to now watch her confront her worst fears, was heart-breaking.
‘I couldn’t understand why he was late back, his paper round takes him forty minutes and he’d been away an hour, I rang and rang …’
Anthony’s younger brother clung to his mother, more confused by his mother’s constant tears and distress.
Ruth moved over and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. ‘Has Anthony seemed different recently in any way?’
She shook her head. ‘He’s a good boy, plays with his mates and does his homework.’ She laughed between the tears. ‘He even washes up!’
Ruth pulled her closer. ‘I believe your husband no longer lives here.’
‘He’s my partner, no. He’s not Tony’s dad, only Paul’s. It’s not been easy, financially, that is, since he left. Tony started the paper round on his fourteenth birthday. He enjoys …’ She couldn’t finish the sentence.
‘How is he at school, Mrs Anderson?’
‘He’s a good boy, doesn’t like math or French but then … St Joseph’s is a good school. He does well.’
Cyril requested and received Anthony’s laptop computer and iPad. It was crucial to check his social media contacts and his downloads, he left allowing Ruth to try to organise the rest of the day for the grieving family.
On hearing the news, Francis Taylor, the school’s head teacher, greeted Cyril with a genuine sadness.
‘Anthony was a lovely boy, but like all boys, Detective Chief Inspector, he could be mischievous. Too often in detention for his mother’s liking. We shall pray for him and his family today. I’ve organised some councillors to be in school. I know how bad news can spread quickly and affect the more sensitive pupils.’
Cyril smiled and nodded. ‘Has he been in trouble in the last two weeks?’
‘I’ll have to check and let you know. As far as I’m aware, at the moment, I think not!’
‘Does he have a locker in school?’ Cyril enquired.
Bill, the school caretaker, and Cyril stood in front of a green, slightly battered, wooden locker. The caretaker inserted the master key and as the door opened the contents spilled onto the floor.
Brendan Peters sat cross-legged and attached the two, small pods to the bottom of the drone. The silver, felt-tipped pen lay on the cushion he had placed on the patio. He smiled proudly at the small skull and crossbones he had just drawn on one of the drone’s matt-black surfaces.
He could control it easily now, he had mastered the ability to manoeuvre the craft, whether it be in hover mode or straight and level flight between the narrowest of gaps. So, he was known as a Geek, it was true; he was a geek and proud of it. He had managed to co-ordinate the controls with a self-installed satellite-positioning system so that it could almost fly itself. He had designed and adapted the pods too, each could now carry various cargoes. He had nicknamed them Thunderbird One, Two, and Three. Flying the two pods whilst the mother craft hovered in a set position proved to be difficult but with practice he could now fly the two smaller craft independently of each other whilst at the same time maintain the ‘mother’ ship with the aid of the positioning system. Years of computer games had honed his skills.
Although all three drones carried both day and night vision cameras, Thunderbird Two was purely a camera ship, a distraction, it was minute, no more than five centimetres by five. Four small propellers controlled the pitch and yaw. It’s twin, Thunderbird Three, was a little more complex.
Thunderbird One now hovered high above him and he could see himself on screen way down below. He turned the camera to get a panoramic view across The Stray. The first pod left the craft and flew like a large insect at some considerable speed, its ability to change direction and height quickly never ceased to amaze him. He landed the first drone onto his outstretched hand before releasing the second one.
A number of books, a pair of football boots, and a DVD fell onto the corridor floor. It made Cyril immediately think of his sergeant, David Owen. He had a similar desk cupboard filing system. Amongst the cascading detritus was a slip of paper. Cyril stopped the caretaker from touching any of the objects. He quickly removed a nitrile glove from his pocket before picking it up the paper. He read it:
‘Obviously not one of our brighter English scholars, Mr Bennett.’ The Head observed.
‘‘G?’ Any idea who this might be?’
‘Off the top of my head, we have a Grosvenor, Granger, Ganesh, and … I shall have to check.’
‘I’ll need a full list.’ Cyril carefully checked through the rest of the fallen objects. There was little else that interested him.
Cyril stared down at the covered corpse. The light was intense and the heat seemed oppressive. He loathed witnessing a post mortem, the sights and the sounds contrived to make him feel uncomfortable. He was more than capable of unpicking the human brain of a criminal but had little stomach for the internal workings of the human body.
Julie Pritchett started to talk her way through the procedure whilst the parts of the body were photographed.
‘Core liver temperature gives a rough time of death of 06:00, the cold has prevented full rigor mortis to become obvious. No sign of any injury that might be the cause of death.’
Cyril checked his watch against the large stainless steel clock. He’d been there forty minutes. Sweat beaded on his temples and he felt clammy. He kept lifting his weight onto his toes to fight off the nausea as Julie cut and sawed.
Julie’s office was an Aladdin’s cave of jarred, anatomical specimens placed like trophies along the shelves but Cyril found little pleasure investigating them on this occasion.
‘Anthony Anderson, fourteen years old, attends St Joseph’s Secondary. Cause of death was an overdose of sodium pentobarbital. Died within seconds of it being administered. Needle mark to the right side of the left buttock. He didn’t do it himself.’
‘Where do you get your hands on that particular euthanasia drug, Julie?’
‘You don’t. Some scams on the net but I doubt you see it, or your money again, once you’ve placed the order.’
‘He still carried money and a mobile phone. He was definitely targeted and murdered but it wasn’t robbery.’
Cyril passed a copy of the note to Julie. ‘This was in his school locker. It appears that we may have a pupil prophet.’
‘Have any other pupils received a similar note?’
‘Nobody is admitting to it if they have. The head could only ask if, and I quote, ‘Has anything strange or upsetting been pushed into your locker’. You can imagine after they’d been informed that one of their students had been found dead they were going to offer a reasonable response.’
‘Did they come up with anything?’
Two girls had received condoms posted through the gap around the door frame, three had found sweet wrappers and one, a small blue tablet! You ask a question a certain way and you receive …!’ He didn’t finish only lifted his shoulders.
Carl Poole tipped his books into his bag from his locker along with his sandwich box; the detention had been a real pain. At first, he thought that considering the news of Anthony’s death that they’d cancel it but they had given parents the option; he was to stay. He would be grounded for the week he knew that. He took a deep breath. Life sometimes was just not fair. It was then that he saw it. It had been carefully slid through the gap between the hinges of his locker door. The card was narrow. In black felt pen the words:
Your Dead just like the other one
He went cold and then looked round.
‘What you got there, Pooley? Looks like you’ve seen a ghost. Frightened the murderer will be after you next. It’s dark outside! Hey, John, look at Pooley’s face, shitting himself he is, the soft sod!’
Carl Poole wasn’t going to argue with someone from Year Eleven, not here and not now. They had been annoying in detention. They were regulars! He screwed up the card and dropped it on the floor before throwing his rucksack over his shoulder. He watched them go down the corridor, all noise and bravado.
‘It’s from bloody Geeky Boy.’ He said to himself. ‘Bloody good job he’s off sick otherwise I’d make him eat the bloody note.’
Carl turned to look at the lights of the school as he headed down Oatlands Drive. He thought of keeping to the road now that it was dark but told himself his father would be waiting and being late was not an option. He turned onto The Stray.
The darkness came quickly but he could see the reassuring, peripheral lights and the traffic along the roads was busy. Suddenly, a jogger ran up behind him making him jump a little. It was then that he heard the buzzing. The sound seemed to be concentrated high above his head. He stopped and looked up but could see nothing but space.
Brendon Peters stood in the garden of his house that backed onto The Stray. A high, stone wall separated them. He watched the main monitor as the night vision camera viewed directly Carl Poole’s upturned, quizzical face.
‘You’re going to die, Pooley, you fucking, vindictive bully. You and your mates, Anderson is dead and O’Brien is after you. You’re all going to sleep for a long time!’
He released the first pod from the now hovering Thunderbird One. It dropped quickly and flew at head height, buzzing straight for Carl’s face. Brendon switched on two small, red, LED lights that gave the pod the appearance of having eyes. Carl immediately spotted them and took a step back. He watched anxiously as the thing buzzed closer and then shot away, first to the left and then right. It always appeared from the front out of the darkness. It approached the second time and he tried to swat it with his rucksack but Brendon, watching through the camera, anticipated the swing. He released the second pod. This one had no LED eyes. It dropped stealthily approaching Carl from the rear. Carl was focussed on the first pod, determined to knock it out of the air. His feet were planted firmly apart to give him the maximum swing. It was then that Brendon saw his opportunity. He brought the second pod quickly towards Carl’s lower back; the diabetic Epi pen, now poison-filled, that was attached to the pod, struck Carl’s left buttock. Brendon hit the red button on his console and the needle penetrated Carl’s clothing and flesh immediately releasing the set dose of sodium pentobarbital. Feeling the stab, Carl threw his hand round to his backside only to feel the slight breeze created by the four propellers as the pod moved away. He felt little else. The distant streetlights began to blur, his breathing became laboured and he crumpled instantly into what looked like a dislocated heap of clothing, now concealed in The Stray’s darkness.
Brendon simply smiled and brought the three drones home. He would mark a second skull and crossbones image tomorrow.
‘Brendon! Your tea’s nearly ready. Put those away and wash your hands. Your dad’s just seeing the last patient; he’ll be just a minute.
Francis Taylor checked her watch, it was just after six, her usual finishing time. She reflected on the day’s events and Carl’s murder. There was a knock at the door, the caretaker popped his head round.
‘Sorry to trouble you, Francis, but one of the cleaners found …’ He didn’t finish, he was interrupted by the ringing phone.
‘One minute, Bill.’ She answered the phone. ‘Yes, yes. He left about an hour ago, detention finished at the normal time. Some parents did collect their children, I believe you were happy for him to return home on his own.’ She pulled a face at the caretaker and hung up. ‘School’s fault as usual! You were saying, Bill?’
‘This was found on the locker corridor floor. It was screwed up but I remembered it to be similar to that found earlier. Read it.’ Their eyes met. She picked up the phone as she read the number on the contact card Cyril had left.
‘Is that DCI Bennett?’ She paused. ‘We have another note similar to the one you took earlier and one of the pupils has failed to arrive home.’
It was like deja-vu as he sat looking at Julie.
‘It’s a match, Cyril, everything. Same cause of death, everything.’
‘Both bodies were within half a mile or less of each other. Both attacked in the dark, nothing taken, no sexual interference, just a note written badly by someone who signs himself “G”. Who would carry sodium pentobarbital, Julie?’
‘A vet but they’d keep it securely locked away.’
‘Checked the files no recent reports of a break in.’
‘Any vets close to the centre Harrogate do you know of?’ Cyril asked.
Julie turned to the computer and searched. ‘One, a Dr Geoffrey Peters, practice is on St Winifred’s Road. Almost opposite the school.’
Cyril parked on the road and looked down the drive belonging to Peters. Within minutes he saw DS Owen pull in and park, totally blocking the driveway.
‘Gut feeling, Owen, that’s all. Might need your height and weight.’
Cyril rang the bell. A light came on above their heads as Dr Peters opened the door. He stood back on seeing Owen. ‘Yes, can I help you?’
Cyril showed his warrant card and introduced Owen. ‘May we come in?’
He showed them into the lounge as his wife looked out of the dining room. ‘I won’t be a minute dear, it’s the police.’
Startled, Brendon dropped his knife. It fell onto the carpet.
‘Do be careful, Brendon.’ His mother said whilst trying to listen to the conversation in the next room. She then heard them move into his surgery.
‘I assure you Chief Inspector everything is in order …’ He paused as the secure drugs cabinet was opened. Cyril could see an immediate anxiety as he moved the contents around. He checked the log. He didn’t need to speak his expression spoke for him.
‘How much is missing?’
‘Three phials,’ He counted again and checked the log. ‘Three, but …’
‘Who else has access to this room?’
‘My wife.’ He paused. ‘My son comes in on occasion.’
‘Where is your son now, Dr Peters?’
‘Having his evening meal or working on his computers. He’s a bit of an inventor.’
They returned to the dining room. Mrs Peters was clearing away.
‘He went into the shed in the garden. Seemed upset so I told him to go play. He can do his homework later. Something wrong?’
Owen went out through the French windows. The garden was dark apart from some light that tumbled over the stone wall from the lights that ran the length of the pathway edging The Stray. He then heard the buzzing high above his head, he looked up trying to focus on the sound but saw nothing but stars. He noticed the two red dots move hypnotically from left to right on his eye-line.
‘What is it, Owen?’
‘Some kind of drone, I think.’ He tried to catch it as he moved backwards and forwards at speed but without success.
‘Brendon stop flying those drones and get yourself here, now!’ His father called.
It was Cyril who saw the second pod drone drop behind Owen and start to move towards him. He jumped from the patio onto the grass and swiped it with his hand. The small pod flew sideways crashing against a tree. It tumbled uncontrollably on the ground like an injured insect. Cyril ran and trod on it as if to put it out of its misery.
Owen ran and jumped the wall. The light from the screens on the console illuminated Brendon’s face some distance away. Within a minute, Owen had him by the scruff of the neck.
‘Leave me! Leave me! I have to put the bully boys to sleep!’ Brendon pleaded.
Cyril and Owen watched the camera footage taken from the drones for the fifth time. They witnessed the murder of the two boys and then the attack on Owen.
‘Never saw it coming, Sir. To think I was a foot away from that poison Epi pen.’
‘It’d never have got through your elephant hide, Owen, never in a million years.’
Owen smiled. ‘And Peters?’
‘He was bullied, Owen, cruelly according to his statement. Ever since he arrived at the school. Nobody wanted to listen. He closed himself off.’
‘So why kill?’
‘He’d witnessed his father use sodium pentobarbital on family pets. He put them to sleep, sorted their pain. He heard the pet owners say that it was for the best. He wanted to stop the bullying by simply putting the bullies to sleep!’
‘Do you think circumstances would have been different if the school or his parents had acted on his fears?’ Owen asked, truly showing signs of upset.’
‘That, Owen, we shall never know.’
‘I could murder a Black Sheep, Sir.’
‘You read my mind, Owen. A couple of pints will go down perfectly.’
Thank you so much for sharing this with us today, Malcolm!
Now, for all you arty types out there, Malcolm is offering you the chance to design the cover for this short story!!!
Fancy giving it a go?
Email you designs to me at EmmaMitchellFPR@gmail.com and if Malcolm picks your design to use, you will receive a signed copy of ANY of the current #DCIBennett books!!!
Want to read more about #DCIBennett and his team? Pop over to Amazon and get started on this superb series!!