He sped along a main road which was on a downward gradient, speeding past vehicles towards red lights which eventually made him slow down. He rode through them, around a corner, onto the kerb, riding through a few pedestrians until he came to a lamp post. He chained his bike up, rummaged around in his denim jacket for his ipod. He wore it, and walked along the pavement listening to Geoff White’s greatest hits. It was country and western, his favourite genre, so much so that his house was a virtual shrine to all things country. He always wore related clothing, and his record collection featured only 6% of other genres. It was his obsession which had brought him here, and to other main high street shopping areas across the northwest and sometimes beyond. Most days he would be out searching second hand and charity shops for basically all country records, no matter who they were. Robert Layton had long hair that nearly touched the top of his trousers. It was tied back in a pony tail. He had a long curving moustache down both sides of his mouth. He was 39, and lived alone. He had always lived alone, never truly integrating with anybody, choosing part-time employment as a delivery man at a local take-away. He had few friends, but that was exactly how he liked it. Those friends had never seen the inside of his house. Not many people had since he had moved in there 7 years ago. He was an intensely private man, a man of few words in public. When he had reason to speak to anybody other than his friends, he spoke as little as possible, and would never make eye contact. His answers where usually always’ ‘Yep,’ and ‘nope’. He had a western acoustic guitar which he always practised at home, and he had written a few songs, but did not have an albums worth of material, but it was only a matter of time. He would soon try and get a disc made to send to prospective record companies. He was, however, afraid of success. What if he was signed up straight away, and sent on the promotional circuit? All eyes on him, basically. Performing to an audience was his most daunting fear. He knew he had the talent, but did not want all the accolades that came with it, simply because his privacy would shrink, and he would lose his seclusion. No longer would he be able to walk along the street and rifle through old records. Photographers would be camped outside his house. Yet, he guessed his talent was too good to not be heard, so decided that should he obtain a record deal, he would make it absolutely clear that all he wanted to do was make an album. Signings, TV appearances and gigs he could quite easily do without. He guessed he would maybe do it to simply promote the album, and once it was out there, in the charts, he would disappear from public view. Until then however, that deal was not even a forgotten thought of the deal makers. Studio time was expensive, so he had to be certain of the tracks he had lain down. He had even thought of doing a few cover versions, but wanted the album to float on its own merits. He was confident in his own ability to write songs, and until the album was completed and finalised he continued to gain influence from his idols, and there were always albums he would find of artists he had never heard of in his particular genre, so would snap them up straight away. Country music was his life, other aspects simply paid visits every now and then.
He was heading towards a charity shop he had not visited in over a week, so hoped they would have new stock. He walked along a line of shops to it, but outside a newsagents, before his destination, there was a person stood with a clipboard, trying, and failing, to catch the eye of pedestrians who walked past as though she was not there. She looked to be in her early twenties, had long, dark curly hair, and wore a bright yellow body warmer with the name of the company she worked for splashed across it: ‘Eco benefit trust’. She was a ‘chugger’, or charity mugger, who would try and enlist people to sign up to make donations for good causes, usually by direct debit. Each charity seemed to have adopted the same method of enrolment, with the chugger well versed in what seemed like a prepared speech. Isabel Clemence was no different. She spoke the same words to every body she caught, and knew that the more she said, the more likely they were to sign up, because the feeling of guilt at walking away became more intense as she talked. Whether this was intentional by the company, she did not know, and was not told to make them feel guilty enough to sign up, but she did anyway. Having been doing it for five months as a simple career step towards becoming a public sector accountant, she knew she had to start somewhere. This was her second step. She had previously volunteered for an animal charity, and also knew that to get where she wanted to be, there were many more steps to take.
Robert tried to avoid eye contact, but he couldn’t. Isabel gave him a big painted smile, as she did to everybody.
“Scuse me sir, I wonder if I could just have a few seconds of your time.” Few seconds? thought Robert. More like half an hour. Ten minutes it took. Robert couldn’t get away, and the more she spoke, the more interested he became in the charity. He eventually wrote down his address and bank details.
“Thank you sir, we’ll post information out to you,” she said. Robert walked away towards the charity shop, and Isabel looked down at the form, at his hastily written address. She tore it off, folded it, and put it in her pocket, then threw down the clipboard and walked along the row of shops. Crossing main roads, three bridges, and walking along side roads, Isabel eventually emerged at a busy shopping area. She stood in the middle of a car-park, looking for the shop she sought. Rummaging around in her pocket, she took out fifty pounds in ten pound notes, and walked across to a DIY store. The doors slid open as she entered. It took a good five minutes of walking up and down the aisles to find what she was looking for, but eventually, she was stood in front of four hand axes, their blades gleaming as though they had recently been polished. She picked up two, and further along, found the spades, and picked one up. She paid, finding she still had fifteen pounds left. In the car park, she put down her goods and took out the form that Peter had filled in. She saw that his address was at least five miles away, so decided to get a taxi. It took only a few minutes before she was heading in that direction. The driver was the silent type, and wore small, dark sunglasses. He pulled up outside the house. She gave him the rest of the money which was much more than the total fare, and this produced a small nod and a small smile from the driver who then sped away. With the two axes in one hand, the spade in the other, Isabel just stood on the pavement, looking at the house. From where she was standing, most of it was obscured by a privet hedge. It seemed to be an old Victorian house, semi-detached, crawling with ivy. The windows looked as though they hadn’t been washed in years. The front door was once white, but was now grey and brown, its paint flaking. There wasn’t what could be called a pathway. From the black, rusty iron gate, to the front door, it was around four feet, and was probably an insect paradise. Pushing the gate open with the axes, she stepped across the cracked, weed-ridden tiles and knocked on the door. No sounds came from within and she knocked again. There was no answer. He wasn’t home. There was nothing she could do but wait, and walked along the road, trying to find a way in behind the house. There was a narrow trail that ran behind the houses, flanked on one side by nasty looking bushes which looked like a huge tangle of disguised barbed wire. The sky was becoming darker as evening crept in, and Isabel found the back of Robert’s house. He had quite a large garden. There was an unused wooden door separating the path from his property, and was locked by a small rusty padlock. One strike from the spade and she was through. The garden fared no better than the front of the house. It was overgrown by grass and weeds, and somewhere beneath it all, a path cut through it from the patio behind the house to the door she had just entered. With the soil being soft, she plunged the spade into the ground, and left it there as she walked onto the patio. It was scattered with biking equipment. Several airpumps, several inner tubings from wheels, and what looked like several bicycle repair kits were simply strewn across the paving. The window of the upper half of the back door had a net curtain across it so she could not see in, but that did not matter, it only took one strike from an axe to allow her to put her hand through and unlock the door. She walked in, glass crunching beneath her feet. The kitchen was fairly typical, the counter scattered with crumbs and pieces of dried food. The fridge was covered in magnets, from metal American flags to plastic cartoon characters. Out in the hallway, there were many framed pictures of men she did not recognise, but they all looked like country music singers. Most of them wore wide, Stetson hats and grinned out at the world with a certain smugness as though they were the most famous person in the world. Some of them were signed. A large, American flag adorned the left wall, so it was the first thing Robert would see when he came home. She climbed the creaking stairs and saw that only one door was ajar. Crossing to it, she entered his bedroom. It was much like the hallway, only with more country related paraphernalia. More framed portraits adorned the walls, along with posters and photocopies of album covers. The room was fairly small, made even smaller by the single bed which took up nearly half of it. There was a bedside cabinet, upon which was a tape recorder. Cassettes were scattered around it, and there were rows of them beneath. She sat on the bed, placing the axes beside her, and waited.
Robert was fairly pleased with what he had bought. Three albums and a light brown leather waistcoat. He already had several of these, but could never resist buying them when he could afford them. He entered his house, carrying the bike in, and closed the front door. He hung up his jacket, picked up the bike and carried it through into the kitchen, as he did every time he’d been out riding. He would always put it out on the patio, and lock it to a drainpipe. Despite this area not being particularly known for thieves, he trusted nobody.
He flicked on the light as he entered the kitchen, and his suspicions were confirmed. He slowly put down the bike. I’ve been burgled, he thought. Someone had invaded his privacy. It was then that he heard the stairs creaking. Footsteps. A rush of adrenalin shot through him in the form of fear. They reached the hallway and he heard them walking towards the kitchen. He frantically looked around for a weapon, and saw a steak knife on the counter. He snatched it up and spun around as Isabel walked in, an axe in each hand. Her face was statuesque, showing absolutely no emotion. Robert pointed the knife towards her. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was sure she looked familiar.
“You….you just git out ma house. Or I call the police” he said.
“Get out!” He gestured to the back door, but Isabel simply came at him, as though she had not only not understood, but not heard him at all. With the right axe, she swung at his face, but the knife was on its way to point at her again, and he leaned back. The axe chopped at his wrist, cracking the ulna bone. He screamed and staggered back, dropping the knife, clutching the wound. Blood streamed out, splashing the floor and his trousers. Isabel came at him again, raising both axes. One hit his cheekbone, the other cracked his clavicle. He raised up both arms to protect himself, staggering back over the bike. Collapsing onto it, he rolled onto his front in an attempt to scramble away, but he didn’t even begin before Isabel stepped across to him and sent blow after blow into his back. The blows were soon concentrated around the same place, his lower spine. She hacked away at the bone, chopping into his kidneys and hips. Robert screamed throughout, but it was ignored. Blood spattered her face and body warmer, pooling onto the tiles beneath the bike. After a couple of minutes, she had to stop because of sheer exhaustion. As she regained her breath, Robert tried to crawl forward, but found it difficult. His spine had been severed, but the skin across his stomach was still attached. He managed around two feet, skin tearing as he did, his innards oozing out onto the bicycle spokes, sinking through them to the floor. His mind was still in shock, and there were ruminations of pain somewhere on the outer edges of his psyche. Isabel stepped across to him again. She felt as though she could continue, and had no hesitation in doing so. She began to hack away at the back of his neck. With the blades being relatively small, she found herself tired again fairly quickly, but did her best to continue. Robert yelled again, trying to raise a hand in a plea for her to stop, but it was though she could not see it. She was much too focused on chopping away. The spinal cord was severed for the second time, and with one final, hoarse cry for help, Robert seemed to quickly relax. He was deflated. He was dead. With a sudden burst of energy, like a runner slowing down who sees the finishing line, and finds a hidden force to cross it, Isabel sent both axes into the back of his neck and left them there. Blood spread around his head. It was caked on Isabel, dripping from her hands. She stood there for a while, regaining her breath, and after a few minutes, reached down and grabbed his hair. She found it difficult to drag him, but eventually the stomach skin tore away and the innards spread across the tiles as she took him out onto the grass. Leaving him near the spade, she went back and picked up his lower half. She wrapped both arms around it, her footsteps splashing through the blood as she took it outside and placed it next to his other half. Back in the kitchen, there were crushed pieces of liver and spleen to pick up, along with the intestines and pieces of vertebrae. She had to make a few journeys to pick them all up and take them out to the others. Exhausted, Isabel sat down, crossed legged next to the spade. Gripping it with both hands, she leaned her head against it. After five minutes, she stood up, and began to dig.
It was another twenty minutes before she walked back into the kitchen, soil mixing with the blood on her hands like a second skin. She opened the fridge, found a bottle of milk, and poured herself a glass, barely taking a breath as she drank it all. She walked into the hallway and went back upstairs to his bathroom. There was only a small mirror between the basin taps, and she set about cleaning herself. She thought that he could have done with a new towel, as the only one she could see, which was over the bath, had unsightly stains on it, and looked as though he had never used any other. She used it anyway, deciding not to bother getting a bath. After a few minutes, she was satisfied that her face and hands were clean. The body warmer took most of the splashes. She took it off and threw it into the bath. Her dark green tunic was matted in places but she decided it would do for the journey home. Walking down the stairs, she went into the kitchen and switched off the light. She was cold, and saw that beneath the stairs, several coats were hanging up. Choosing the warmest, a stone sport jacket, she put it on, and left the house, closing the door quietly behind her. The sky was a dark, monestial blue, with black creeping in. Streetlamps had recently illuminated, and most vehicles had their headlights on. She left the gate open as she walked in the direction of Penketh, her home. Mrs Caley across the road was outside, watering the plants in her hanging basket. She had to stop and stare at Isabel, simply because of where she had come from. Well well, she thought, a girl leaving Robert’s house. A ‘person’, other than him, leaving his house. There’s a first time for everything.