Whisper softly or you're dead

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Chapter one

Be careful you don’t get what you wish for!

It was an ordinary day at the office, a grey mid-February day, with the same boring customers complaining about the same old things. The food in the canteen was bland, the typing dull and repetitive. Would anything break the monotony? thought Mary Jane, looking at the clock for the twentieth time that afternoon. She wished something exciting would happen.

She had been working in this tenancy office for six months now but the promotion she had been promised had not come. She would never leave this typing pool if her boss had her way. The old trout was so buttoned up tight she resented any girl working in the pool who was prettier and younger than herself and gave them the worst jobs she could find in the hope they would leave. This had happened to other girls before her, but Mary Jane needed the money and would not be forced out. She had to support her invalid mother.

Her mother moaned that she was wasted there, her beauty overlooked and hidden in that office. Why didn’t she try to become a stewardess like she had been and find a good husband? Mary Jane had gritted her teeth and ignored her mother. Her dad had been a good father, but he had died, and the medical fees had drained their savings. Her mother had been a housewife after her flying career was over and she could not get a good job. Mary Jane vowed to be different, to make her own career and living and not rely on the good health of a man.

Friendly but broke, she barely went out, keeping her mother company at night and studying hard so she could get a better job. She spurned her colleagues’ invitations to party at night and gained the reputation of being a bit snobby and aloof. She wouldn’t admit she couldn’t afford the entrance to the night clubs or the rounds of drinks. Her college fees drained her limited budget and her mother needed more drugs which the insurance would not cover. If she could get a good honours degree this year she could enter the Law Admission Tests and study to become a lawyer. She might drag her family out of the grinding poverty she fought each day.

She couldn’t afford a gym but kept healthy walking the four miles there and back. Her colleagues warned her the nights were drawing in and if old Mrs Ramsbottom insisted she stayed late she would be walking in the dark along a dark lonely road. Mary Jane promised she would get a cab if it was too dark to walk alone and she missed the bus.

Mrs Ramsbottom kept her in the office more often now but never offered her a lift home, as if almost to punish her. Her prune like face squashed up, her lips pursed, she smiled a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. She said, ‘’It is a shame, but if you didn’t watch the clock so much you would get out earlier Miss Linton.’’

Crocodile tears, you old crone, thought Mary Jane as she typed the last letter and put on the comfy shoes she used to walk home in. She pulled her hair out of her bun and shook it looking satisfied in her hand mirror.

One day I’ll leave here and tell you what I have achieved. Proving the old devil wrong was the best form of revenge; but now she had to make it home.

She pulled on her old coat that had seen better days, but she was not out to impress anyone, nor to attract any man. She wasn’t against going out with a guy, but she had nothing decent to wear and many men expected woman to go dutch these days and she couldn’t afford to pay for a good meal. A hamburger at McDonalds or a picnic with wine and ices were the only treat she allowed herself on high days and holidays when she took the bus into her home town and met her friend and spent the day on the beach with her.

She stepped out from the office, carefully locking it behind her, leaving nothing for Mrs Ramsbottom to castigate her for. It was dark grey, and rain was pelting down, dusk drawing in earlier today because of the inclement weather. She stepped up her pace. She realised she would be lucky to get home before dark. She pulled the lapels up around her, hugging her face and neck, rain already dripping down her collar. ‘Blast it!’ She had forgotten her umbrella having overslept that morning. The gods were not with her that day.

Pushing forward against the biting rain she heard a rattle. She paused to look behind her. It was the bus and she ran toward the stop hoping to hail it down, but the driver got there before her and pressed on, ignoring her, obviously wanting to get home for his supper. ‘Damn him!’

She hailed a cab, but it was full, so she trudged on, her progress slow as her feet squelched, and it grew darker as she fought the increasingly fierce rain and wind which tried to force her back. One step forward and she was nearly blown back again but she pushed on now believing the forecast that morning which had predicted gale force winds along the coast and spreading inland by nightfall.

She saw a car through the hail. It slowed down alongside her, not stopping but keeping pace with her.

‘’Want a lift?’’ asked the driver, ‘‘I’m going as far as Haleswood.’’ She recognised him as a man who walked his dog in the park behind her apartment. Occasionally, she saw him outside her house looking in her garden. He smiled invitingly, and she felt the warmth emitting from the open car door, but she didn’t feel comfortable in his company. His over-eagerness made her wary of him. Why did he hang about her house but only ever smile at her?

Better to be safe than sorry. She thanked him and let him speed off looking disappointed. Perhaps next time she could talk with him when he stood outside her house and assess him on neutral ground. He might come this way regularly and give her a lift to and from work for a share of his gas costs.

She plodded on, her damp clothes sticking to her now and her sodden heavy coat dragging her down. She began to wish she had been braver. She would take the next lift she was offered. This was a safe area with minimal burglaries and assaults. She heard a car behind her and it slowed down and stopped. The window opened, and a head peered out. She recognised this man. It was one of the men who lived in an apartment opposite the park, but he had never spoken to her before. She had seen him at the grocery store and he had smiled at her.

‘‘You look awfully wet. I think we live quite close to each other. Can I offer you a lift to your home?’’

‘‘Thanks.’’ At this rate, she would be like a drowned rat if she walked the rest of the way home and would likely catch a chill. No chance of having sick leave. She was not paid for sick leave until her probationary period was over. She had dragged herself in to the office even when she had caught the flu.

‘‘There is a towel behind your seat. Use it to dry your hair.’’ She dried her hair and tied it up this time, feeling tidier and more human, her rats’ tails confined at last.

‘‘Don’t worry you look great.’’ He gave her an admiring look. She smiled, a little uncomfortable at this praise from a man she barely knew. He seemed the type who made friends easily, unlike herself. She was always cautious after she had found her mother’s girlfriends to be fair-weather friends. They had ignored her after she became too ill to go out and socialise with them. With a puff, they had evaporated into thin air and there was no-one to sit with her in the evenings even if she Mary Jane could have afforded to go out.

‘‘Thanks,’’ she said at length and stared at the windscreen.

‘‘Work late, did you?’’

‘’I often have to.’’ She could have bitten her tongue out because his immediate response was, ‘‘Here is my card. Ring me if you want a lift anytime, I often work late.’’ He slowed the car down as the teeming rain was turning into a full downpour and it was difficult to make out traffic with the poor visibility.

‘‘Good job I was here then,’’ he said. ‘’What do you do?’’

‘‘I work in a tenancy agency preparing and typing documents.’’ She didn’t offer the name as she wasn’t sure of this man yet. He seemed nice but there was something about him that put her on edge.

‘‘My name is Dave Britt. I am an accountant. I often work late and then go to the gym before collecting a carry-out. Would you like to share a meal with me at my place before I take you home?’’ he asked eagerly.

Too fast. He is too eager. Why? He was a good-looking man, even handsome with a tall well-made physique and clear blue eyes and dark hair. Women should be chasing him. She wasn’t that much of a catch with her old-fashioned clothes, home-cut hair and the small amount of make-up allowed in her old-fashioned work-place.

‘‘Sorry, I live with my sick mother and have to make her dinner when I get home.’’ Thank God for that excuse. She knew he was waiting for her to ask him to dinner or to bring the carry out to her place, but she ignored the unnatural brightness in his eyes and then the disappointment that replaced it. They were nearly there. Only five more minutes to drive. She should be safe at home soon and away from this creepy man. His eyes had drifted dangerously off the road every few minutes, surveying her legs as her skirt had shifted a little up her thighs. She pulled her hem down to cover more of her legs.

His hand strayed a little from the wheel but noticing her unease he put it back in its place until he stopped at the end of her cul de sac as she drew a sigh of relief to be back safe. He turned to her and said, ‘’I don’t suppose you would like to go to a show or to the movies with me or even dinner?’’

‘‘I can’t get out easily. I have to plan weeks in advance to find a sitter,’’ she replied, knowing it was a feeble excuse. He frowned, seeing through her deception.

‘’Perhaps we could have a night in then at your house if your mother goes to bed early.’’ His arm had strayed around her shoulder and he pulled an escaping ringlet from across her face.

‘’Such pretty hair. Matches a pretty face.’’

‘’Thanks awfully but my mother doesn’t take to strangers easily.’’

‘’Perhaps you should introduce me now and let her get to know me over a cup of coffee.’’

God, this guy doesn’t give up. No way was he passing over her threshold. She would never get rid of him. She wriggled out of the reach of his arm and made to open the door.

‘‘Thanks, but I can’t I’m afraid.’’

‘‘Why not,’’ he said, now more insistent, putting his hand on her knee, making her skin crawl. She opened the door, but his hand moved across to hold it in place, refusing to let her out.

‘’You don’t have any other guy dating you, do you?’’ She felt horrified. He must be watching her to know her movements. She needed to lie to get out of this hole she had dug herself in by taking a lift from a stranger. How often had her mom and teachers warned her about the dangers of taking lifts?

‘‘I have a long-distance relationship with a guy from my hometown. We are going to be engaged soon but we don’t see each other very soon.’’

‘’He can’t be that keen if he hardly ever comes to see you. Let me try to change your mind,’’ he said leaning over to steal a kiss. He didn’t make it. His door was pulled open and he was yanked out of the car by the scruff of his neck, landing heavily and painfully on the tarmac outside.

‘’The Lady said she didn’t want to go out with you,’’ stated the stranger. He held Britt down prone on his front with his arm folded behind his back and a foot strategically placed to stop him getting up.

‘’Apologise and I’ll let you leave unarmed. Avoid her in the future or you will be hurt very badly,’’ threatened the man.

‘‘Sorry Ma’am. I didn’t mean to take liberties and offend you,’’ whined Britt, terrified by the look in the stranger’s eyes. Let free, he scrambled up and hurried into his car, driving off without doing up his seat belt in his haste. The stranger showed his police badge and noted Britt’s car’s number plate in a pocket notebook

‘’Miss Linton, are you ok. You have had a nasty shock.’’ He made no attempt to touch her but took her heavy briefcase and led her through the foyer and up to her apartment door.

‘’I am Detective Raymond Chase. I have seen you about. I live near that guy in the same block and noticed he seemed to be around your house and following you in the grocery store.’’ He made no attempt to follow her into her apartment. He was the perfect gentleman.

‘’I have his details Miss Linton and if he annoys you again just phone your local precinct and I’ll be down on him like a shot.’’

‘’Thanks,’’ said Mary Jane. She shook his hand and let herself into her apartment. She felt shaky, her legs weak. She helped herself to a glass of her mother’s precious brandy and sat down in an easy chair before answering her mother’s, ‘‘Is that you Mary Jane?’’

‘’Yes, Mom,’’ she said, taking off her wet shoes and wriggling her sore toes until the life came back into them. She was so cold her feet had turned blue. The brandy warmed her up. Her hands had stopped shaking now.

She thought of that policeman. He was so formal and professional and handsome too. Tall and broad shouldered he had dark brown eyes that seemed to stare into her soul. He made her shiver when he held her arm and helped her up the stairs, her legs nearly giving way with the delayed shock. He had left his card should she need to contact him personally, but it was obvious he was only interested in her for professional reasons; no romantic interest there. The only decent man she had met around here for miles and he had to be a cop who distanced himself from her for work reasons.

She took a cup of coffee and some pills into her mom’s room. Puffing up the pillows, she made her mom comfortable and smiled at her.

‘You look like a drowned rat. Did you walk home again?’ her mother scolded.

‘Yes, but I got a lift in the end.’ She omitted the creepy character, not wanting to worry her mother but she would not take another lift from a stranger for a very long time.

‘I’m going to have dinner in the lounge, Mom.’ She pulled a microwaveable meal out of the freezer and set the timer. It was time for a glass of wine she had free with an offer at the supermarket and a sit by the fire and a movie. She could not face her mother’s inquisition if she told her about the guy who had tried to make moves on her. She sat watching an old movie with Brad Pitt in it wishing she could take the place of the heroine who caught her man. Slowly, she fell asleep, safe and warm.

Outside a footfall could be heard near the bushes at the end of the garden. He could see her light on but not her shape. He worried for her. A girl as innocent as that should not take chances, lifts with strange men. She was safe this time, but next time might be different. He must look after her better; ward off the men who might take advantage of her, until he was ready to claim her as his own.

‘‘Soon my Sweetheart,’’ he promised himself. ‘’Soon you will be mine!’’

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