It is said that the motiveless crime is the hardest to solve.
This is particularly true of murder.
The man's inert form slumped, sagging back against me. I maintained my grip around his throat for a couple more minutes, until I was sure that he was dead. The small dog attached to his wrist by a leash yipped at me threateningly, but I ignored the thing; it wasn't worthy of my attention. I released my grip, and sidestepped, allowing my elderly victim to fall. The dogs constant yipping turned into a strangled yelp as the leash went taut, and the dog was yanked across the ground by the neck. By the time the thing had found its voice again, I had stooped, closed the man's fist around my calling card, and was away, striding down the road with the attitude of one without a care in the world.
The whole thing had taken me less than ten minutes, from my first meeting with the man, out taking his dog for a late walk, until I turned the street corner and was gone, into the warm night. Nobody saw me, not a curtain as much as twitched in the few houses on the street. By the time somebody bothered to investigate the noise the dog was making, it would be far too late.
It was getting easier, easier all the time. I remember the first one; the terror and trepidation I had experienced, as I stalked her, waiting for the right moment. I remember that I could hardly breathe, each inhalation a painful constriction across my chest. Then she had turned into what I knew to be a quiet cul-de-sac, and my chance was at hand.
She had been wearing earphones and, as I moved up behind her, I could discern the tinny beat of music. She never knew that I was there, until my gloved hand clamped across her mouth, the other hand swiftly pulling the knife across her exposed throat. Arterial blood gouted, copious, almost black in the artificial light of the streetlamps. It was the work of seconds to place my calling card in her dying hand. By the time she was dead, I was gone.
Oh, but the rush of that first kill. The euphoria, the rush of endorphins, it threatened to overwhelm me. I wondered if that was how Cain must have felt, after killing his brother, committing the very first murder and staining the soul of mankind for eternity.
And, for the past seven nights, it's been the same.
I never select a victim; it's more that the victim selects me. I just know. Somehow I can feel, the moment I see him or her, that this is the one. I never follow anybody I don't kill, but I might wait for an hour or two, until my chosen prey has crossed my path.
Then the game begins. Hunter and prey.
They say that God protects the virtuous, but I have to wonder who's looking over my shoulder, warding away the so-called forces of righteousness. I never have any worry about being caught or stopped. Don't get me wrong; I do take precautions. I never leave traces behind. Beneath my thin gloves, I wear a second pair, of latex. And, part from a couple of spots of blood from my first victim, I've been careful not to get my clothes soiled. Let the lawmen gather what evidence they can from my prey. It will do them no good.
The high from number eight is fading, as I approach the town centre. I stop at a still open convenience store, and purchase a copy of the local newspaper. As I walk home, I scan the pages curiously. The police are doing a good job of playing the killings down, but it was beginning to become big news. Even the dim-witted journalists are starting to suspect that something special might be going on. After all, how difficult can it be to link seven killings over seven consecutive nights?
I wonder how many more nights must pass, before panic begins to grip the town.
"Hey man,' the voice interrupts my thoughts. "You got a fag I can borrow?'
The man; actually, he was hardly more than a boy, had approached me as I had strolled along the road, immersed in the newspaper and my thoughts. Now he barred my way.
The youth was tall, scruffy, with a thug's attitude and intelligence. Dirty jeans and a soiled grey top, in the style I think they call a "hoodie' completed the image of what he probably thought was casual tough. Dirty, mousy hair peered out from under his hood, greasy strands hanging in disarray. One hand was held in front of him, palm upwards. The other was hidden inside the large front pocket of his hooded top.
I gazed into his thin face. Several days of stubble added to his general unkempt look. His complexion was pale, a wan look that made me think drug addict. His eyes refused to meet mine, instead darting from place to place across my face and body, as if trying to assess the threat I presented.
"Sorry, I don't smoke.' I tried to force reasonableness into my voice, despite the disgust I felt at this creature before me. I made to move past him, but he took a step backwards.
"How about some cash?' His eyes flicked up to meet mine, then away. "Lend us a fiver?'
I began to get angry. "Sorry.' I moved to one side, giving him a chance to end this. He took another small step, scuffed and badly abused trainers skimming the paving as he once more blocked my way.
"C'mon,' His voice took on a wheedling tone. "Let's make this easy for both of us.' The youth glanced around, in order to make sure that we unobserved. I took the opportunity to take a small step backwards, towards an alley I had just passed.
"Whoa. Where you think you're going?' He moved towards me. His concealed hand slid out of the pocket. Clasped in the hand was a carving knife, of the sort found in most homes. The blade was about five inches long, and had been honed down to a point at the tip. It was a clumsy thing, clearly intended to intimidate. "Hand over the cash. Now.'
I pretended to look terrified, and took what I hoped looked like a couple of involuntary steps backwards. I thought briefly about going for the knife I had in my coat pocket, but decided it wasn't worth it. His would do. The youth lurched forward, the kitchen knife waving inexpertly in front of him.
Another couple of steps, and I was in front of the alley entrance. I waited for my assailant, then grabbed the wrist of his knife hand. I hauled, jerking him forwards, off balance. As I twisted sharply, I stuck out a leg, tripping the youth as he flew past me. I let go of his wrist.
He spun past me and fell, sliding across the ground into a couple of dustbins. Incredibly, he managed to retain his grip on the knife and, as I followed him into the alleyway, he attempted to regain his feet, whilst still waving the dammed thing in front of him.
He was too slow, and far, far, too late. I gripped his knife hand once more, and twisted the wrist, almost breaking the bone. The youth tried to scream, as his hand, still grasping the knife, was forced back. The knife entered his body just below the breastbone, and the young man stiffened, his mouth wide open as he tried to draw an agonized breath. Fetid air washed across my face, as I twisted the blade, then pushed downwards.
I looked into his eyes as he died. What small spark of intelligence there was to be seen, dimmed, then went out altogether as he went limp. It was a shame, I thought, that I had only brought the one calling card out with me this evening. Never mind though, it was fun, all the same. I stood and turned, dismissing the body.
Looking down, I saw that I was going to have to destroy my overcoat. I swore silently to myself. The dark heavy fabric was soaked with the would-be thief's blood. Damn; it was an expensive coat, and not all that old. Nevertheless, I was going to have to burn it, when I destroyed my gloves. Damn; I liked that coat.
Luckily for me, I had a jacket on underneath, and it wasn't all that far home. I unbuttoned the coat and shrugged it off. Folding it carefully, I draped it across one arm.
Less than twenty minutes later, I was standing in the cellar of my house. I nursed a large scotch, and watched the small fire burn merrily inside a metal box I had had made for that very purpose. The flames provided some welcome warmth, and I raised my glass, studying the fire through the whiskey. My wedding ring glimmered in the flickering light, the white gold band taking on an orange hue. The coat and gloves were quickly reduced to ashes, and I stayed until the fire died, before raking the ashes across the bottom of the box. I was soon going to have to scatter the ashes around the neighbouring gardens, but not tonight. I had done enough for one evening.
Life was good.
So very, very, good.
"People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do."
-- Lewis Cass