When the end came it was a blessed relief. The countless offences that he had committed against her body had long since mounted to a crescendo of suffering and pain that had broken the very last part of her spirit. Her whole being was numb and all that she could really do was hope for death. She could feel his foetid breath on her cheek, the weight of his body along her back and legs; dimly she was aware that he was inside her again. It barely registered any more, so thoroughly had he beaten, cut and abused her already that it was almost unimportant; she pushed that awareness away and tried to call in the blackness that she was starting to see around the periphery of her vision. And it came to her. It was only for the tiniest moment that she felt the knife and then everything became easier, simpler in fact, and she drifted away.
He slept with her corpse after that last moment of ecstasy, as he had with all of his girls, and as ever he slept deeply and peacefully slumped over his kill.
When he awoke, in the dawn light, he felt rested and powerful, as though he had stepped out of Hell and into the sight of God; at least that was what he would tell anyone if they asked. He sat up, stretched and looked across at her inert body. Her eyes were wide open, seeming to stare intently at a bloodied chisel that happened to be on the bench, but even he could see that there was no light behind those eyes. That was the start of his melancholy on that occasion. Like a drug user, Nicholas Bradshaw had become used to a come-down after his particular brand of high. It began with a realisation that the journey was over, that there were no more games to play or experiences to explore with his victim, not that he saw them as victims you understand, but we can see the truth of that, can we not? Then slowly as the glow of refreshment and fulfilment faded he would fall into the routine of cleaning up, and therein lay the real disappointment, he had to give up his kill. He knew that he could not keep their bodies, that the smell alone was more than likely to rouse suspicion against him, and so he had been hiding their bodies far away from his workshop since the beginning, but this separation was hard for him and the creeping realisation that it had to happen and he would have to knuckle down and sort out the situation always tarnished the perfection of the time before.
He hopped off the bench and set about cleaning the floor of any visible trace of blood. As he went he retrieved discarded tools and collected them together in a wire basket, ready to move on to the next part of the process which would be to wash, dry and return each one to its proper place.
Once the floor was clean he laid out the body bag next to the bench and then rolled the corpse off onto the open bag. He dotted half-bricks around the body and laid a large length of old chain at the feet. Satisfied than the bag would be weighed down enough he zipped the bag up and slid it over to the van, loading it in and closing the side door in the same matter of fact way as if it were a bag of reclaimed pipes or cable. He washed the floor again around the bench and then cleaned all of the blood from the bench as well. Finally he went to the shower cubicle at the back of the workshop and washed himself, taking particular care with his hair and his nails.
When it was all done there was nothing to suggest that the space was anything but a workshop, and while he knew that exhaustive forensic examination would find evidence of blood and hair skin that there might be little or no reasonable explanation for, the important aspect was to ensure than no one became suspicious enough to even suggest such an inspection.
He checked the time, it was too late to head out to the lake as he would need the cover of darkness to properly hide her away. He decided that the day could definitely be a rest day, so he locked the van, locked away the camcorder and his computer and then locked up the workshop and wandered down the road to the café; it was time for a fry-up and then later he would watch some of the film he had shot the night before while he waited for night to come so that he could take Mrs. Foster to her final resting place.
It was only a day later that I was discharged from the hospital, with a course of antibiotics to keep the wound from becoming infected and strict instructions to visit my local GPs surgery to have my dressing changed every couple of days, not that I was actually going to bother with either. Andrea had come back over to Norwich to meet me and pottered about the City for a little while before the moment in which we both knew that it was time to head back to my place and have a conversation about what had really happened.
We did not even try and make small talk on the train ride back to Cromer. Andrea stared out of the window, seemingly greedy for yet more views of the British countryside, not matter what the weather was doing. I busied myself with that day’s edition of the Guardian, in particular a biting editorial into the revelations surrounding a Labour minister who had not only been caught with a couple of prostitutes, but they had turned out to be under age and he had been giving them cocaine as well. Now all of this seems rather sordidly familiar, but the real irony came from the fact that he was not only a lay preacher, but that he was a lay preacher who railed against carnal vices and the loose sexual mores of society, and who had famously led a Parliamentary commission on child sex trafficking only a couple of years before. It is true that it was a shocking tale, and it is also true that there was an effort to limit the sensationalist, lurid tone of the coverage – presumably because of the Guardian’s political bias more than any sense of propriety as I am certain that they would have offered a great-sized serving of glee had the individual in question been a Tory. As I read the article I realised that I was nodding, in agreement, and at a certain point I realised that I was unsurprised by any of it. I don’t have a moral judgement about using prostitutes per se, but I am opposed to frequenting prostitutes that one is aware are under age. Like most people I do not agree with anyone being forced into working as a prostitute and there is almost no chance that the two girls he was found with were willing participants in the transaction, so at least on that level there was absolutely nothing to do but condemn his activities, and yet I was not filled with outrage or surprise. I realised that I was utterly used to the horrors men do, and finally I was sickened.
I put the paper down on the seat next to me and sighed. Andrea noted my demeanour and gave me that look, the one that says “huh?”.
“Oh, nothing, just a depressing article. I am troubled by how little surprises me any longer. I mean I am offended by the bad things that people do, sometimes even disgusted, but it’s never a surprise any more.”
Andrea nodded and shook her head in a delightful moment of her body expressing the cognitive dissonance of her reaction so completely;
“Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s sad that we take if for granted that people are evil and disgusting.”
We sat in silence for the rest of the journey, which did not last all that long anyway, and then we walked back to my loft on Firkin Street.
“Tell me why you are not dead, Caine.”
We had barely closed the door on the outside world when this questyearsion came skittering across the space between us, and I was not really ready for it, even though I knew it had been clamouring to escape Andrea’s lips for a little under forty-eight hours.
“Can I make some tea and can we sit down first, please?”
Andrea laughed, nodded and motioned toward the kitchen as if to suggest I should hurry. I certainly did get on with it and a few moments later we were back in our respective seats in the living room, each armed with tea and a cigarette, and I no longer had any reason to delay.
“I want you to know that I am sorry you had to see what you saw, it must have been very frightening. I have become accustomed to violence over the years, though to be honest I have been lucky enough to stay away from it since the War, but still most people are not even remotely able to cope with real violence when they are confronted with it unless they have been desensitised by repeated exposure, and from the reaction I remember I don’t believe you fall into that category, so for what it may be worth I am sorry.”
I paused and she nodded, but clearly had nothing to add, so I carried on,
“I understand that your question comes from an understanding on your part that by any reasonable standard, people who are stabbed through the neck with large knives rarely survive the experience and yet you saw that happen to me and I am not only still alive but there is no visible evidence on my neck of the wound I received there. There is no easy way to say this, nor can I offer much in the way of explanation, but the simple truth is that I cannot die. I was born in what modern historians would call 36 B.C., to an affluent and well respected family in what is now Italy but was then a part of the Roman Empire, and my name then was Marcus Gallicus.”
I looked up to try and gauge her reaction, but her face was impassive and I had no sense of what she was thinking.