Whisper softly or you're dead

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Chapter two.

Danger is where you least expect it.

It was Sunday and Mary Jane’s day off. She was taking the bus to her home town for a day on the beach with her friend Susan. If it was warm they would swim or paddle and take a picnic lunch and giggle over their bottle of wine and ice creams, their only luxuries. She waited for the bus, humming to herself, thinking how easily the weather could change around here.

She suddenly felt her neck tingle. Someone was watching her from behind one of the doorways. The feeling was not good. A cold shiver froze her back and her breath felt tight. She turned around and it was Britt in the opposite doorway watching her intensely. He smiled but said nothing, just watched her until the bus arrived and then he joined the queue. He didn’t sit just behind her, merely at the back; but she felt his cold blue eyes boring through her, as if wishing her to turn around and acknowledge him. She felt dirty as if he were mentally stripping her.

No way, Pal! She didn’t want to encourage him nor get him into worse trouble with that cop. She had seen the look of fury in the cop’s eyes. It was not the anger of a professional doing his job but something more personal. He had frightened her for a moment until he showed her his badge.

She felt uneasy until she left the bus and her friend greeted her at the stop. Britt stood outside the bus looking around him, as if to show he was no longer interested in her but she wasn’t taken in.

‘Who is that guy whose eyes are glued to you? He looks as if he wants to hit on you.‘’

‘’Let’s go!’’ said Mary Jane taking her friend’s arm and hustling her in the direction of a beach café. ‘‘I’ll tell you everything when we get a seat.’’

Strange, thought Susan as her friend chose a seat in the middle of the crowded interior surrounded by others. Usually they sat outside away from the crowds eating their ices. Mary Jane felt safe in a crowd. He could not sit near her or reach her now. They claimed the last table and he sat outside looking through the window at them as if he could not take his eyes off her.

‘‘That guy is giving me the creeps,’’ said Susan shivering as she sat down.

‘’His name is Dave Britt. He gave me a lift and became fresh with me outside my apartment. He wouldn’t take no for an answer but a cop who lives in his block dragged him out of the car and threatened to hurt him if he didn’t leave me alone. He said Britt had been watching me and he had kept an eye on him.’’

‘’He didn’t arrest him?’’

‘‘No, no caution at the police precinct either. He just twisted his arm behind his back and frightened the bastard. He seemed really angry as if he took the threat to me personally!’’

’’Well, Britt doesn’t seem to have heeded his warning. What are you going to do?

‘‘Ignore him. I’m safe while I’m with you. He isn’t stupid. He is an accountant. If he follows me around all day, then I’ll report him to the cop.’’

‘‘I still feel uncomfortable with you going home on the bus with him. I wish I had a car to take you home. Tom is away, or he would give you a lift.‘’

Not for the first time did Mary Jane wish she had a decent boyfriend like Susan’s Tom who would walk on water for her. Her fiancé had treated her as if she was unimportant, her needs coming second to his career. He had dropped her like hot cakes when she left college to look after her mother, studying by correspondence when she had to become the breadwinner of her family. She was not the driven ambitious woman he hoped to accompany him to the top of his legal career.

‘‘I don’t want a wife dragging her feet behind me, Mary Jane. Let Welfare services take care of her,’’ he ordered brutally. She had refused knowing the kind of home her mother could end her days in; dreary, understaffed, wishing an early death. She refused, and he had terminated their engagement and she had moved into her mother’s apartment.

They spent a great day on the beach, the autumn sun unusually fierce bronzing them and warming them. Britt followed them to the beach where they lay eating and chatting but then vanished. Their unease dissipated until about six o’clock when he reappeared. Susan waited at the bus stop with her. Seeing him waiting behind them her friend grabbed her arm and ordered her fiercely, ‘’I want you to ring me when you get home and not a moment later. Dial that cop’s number and put it on auto dial so you can ring him if Britt accosts you. He can be with you in minutes or get the cops to you.’’ Mary Jane nodded and keyed in the number to satisfy her friend.

She climbed into the bus and sat behind the driver. Britt went to the back again. Susan, never backward in coming forward told the driver, ‘’That creep at the back in the khakis and leather jacket is pestering my friend. He has been warned by the cops to leave her alone. Keep an eye on her for me will ya, please?’’

‘’Sure, little lady,’’ he said. ‘‘I hate men who pester women.’ She gave him some dollars to show her appreciation and he started the bus. Mary Jane dozed on the bus summoning her strength and courage for the confrontation that might come if Britt accosted her again. Her apartment was only five minutes from the bus stop and she could run into one of the shops and call the cops if she felt really threatened. She might have to call a legal aid centre for advice on preventing stalkers if he carried on pursuing her. She couldn’t afford an injunction or attorney’s fees. The police would have to intervene. Thank God, she had the detective on her side.

Chase was at the bus stop. He had seen that bastard Britt follow her onto the bus. He was clearly obsessed by her. He knew she met her friend once a month in her home town and thought she was probably safe. He could not follow her there. He had to gain her trust. She would wonder why he was so interested in her welfare if he got too close to her. He had to stop the rage building up inside of him when he saw Britt’s eyes running over her, mentally undressing her. He would watch her from a distance and guard her welfare unless Britt tried to strike and then the man would wish he hadn’t been born or his name wasn’t Raymond Michael Chase.

He waited in the ice cream parlour for the bus to arrive. He didn’t wait too long. She was always back about seven o’clock, early enough to make supper for her mother. A woman from the nearby church stayed with her that one day a month. He saw how happy she was when she came back from visiting her friends, the tiredness and worry leaving her for a day.

When she got off the bus she looked stressed as if her worries had not been pushed away this time or had been replaced by a more fearsome worry. She looked behind her as Britt got off immediately behind her, pushing in front of the other passengers, determined to catch her up. Chase left his ice and pushed the door of the parlour open with unnecessary force but restraining his wrath.

Britt grabbed her arm and said, ‘’You sure had a nice day! I thought you might have asked me to join you and your friend.’’

‘‘Push off Mr Britt,’’ she demanded ferociously. Being polite was no good. He had sent her cards and letters for the last month, pushing them though her letter box. Bouquets of flowers had arrived with messages asking her for dates. She had phoned the florists asking them to cancel any deliveries to her house, but he had used another company. He walked around the grocery store with her although she never acknowledged his greetings nor spoke with him. She ‘deafed’ him out but he carried on smiling at her in his ghostly deathly quiet manner.

‘‘I want you to leave me alone. Don’t send anything to me, talk with me or follow me. You mean nothing to me.’’

‘‘Oh, but you mean a lot to me Darlin,’’ he said. ‘‘I dream of you every night.’’ She wrested her arm from his grasp and walked on around the corner her pace increasing as her heart raced. She need not have worried. When they were out of sight of the shops and no-one could be seen along the road a tall figure turned the corner and strode to them. He pushed past her and grabbed Britt by the throat pushing him against a street lamp and kneeing him in the groin making him double over.

‘’This is what happens to little boys who don’t know the meaning of the word no.’’ growled out Chase, barely containing his fury. He knew he should take this creep to the precinct and get him arrested and cautioned but he felt like killing him. All the hostility he had suppressed was surfacing now, ready to erupt with volcanic force and heat. He was red in the face, boiling hot. He had not felt this all-consuming anger in years and could only just control his violent rage.

He punched Britt’s face time and time again and then kicked the already prone man in the kidneys until Mary Jane intervened, thinking he would kill him.

‘‘That is enough Detective. He can’t hurt me now.’’ He saw the frightened look on her face. It was he who now terrified her, not this inadequate pervert. He was making her the victim instead of helping her avoid this creep. He suppressed his wrath knowing it would surface again one day unless he had help. He needed to channel this fierce energy into forces for the good.

He let the man go and gave him a precious few minutes to recover and then pulled him up. ‘’I’ll tell the precinct about this,’’ whimpered Britt cowering away from him.

‘No, you won’t, you gutless piece of shit! Only an inadequate coward stalks and handles unwilling women.’

‘‘I haven’t hurt her or harmed her in any way.’’

‘’Not like those women in Dallas you threatened and abused,’ accused Chase. Britt’s eyes turned glassy and his face drained of blood. He looked as white as a sheet. He tried to smile. ‘‘It isn’t true Mary Jane, they weren’t like you. I wouldn’t hurt you, I promise. You are different. They were just whores.’’

‘’That is enough. He has a record for stalking and abusing women.’’ He turned to the man. ‘’You pack up and leave this town within the month or I’ll turn you in and you will be back in gaol again.’’ Britt looked sick but said, ‘’I was on a temporary contract anyway. You promise not to report me, and I will go.’’ He left hurriedly.

Mary Jane felt sick. An abuser and stalker living near to her. ‘‘Why didn’t you arrest and caution him? He might do it again to some other woman and hurt her badly.’’

‘’I have my reasons. They were only minor assaults, merely harassing and grabbing woman to gain their attention usually. Only once did he hit a woman in an argument.’’

‘‘That is enough,’’ said Mary Jane.

‘’I am putting a note on his file of these incidents concerning you which will go on the FBI computer. I’ll find out the next town he is in and if he is reported or investigated again this will be flagged up.’’

Mary Jane still felt uncomfortable letting him go but acquiesced. Chase was an experienced cop. He seemed to have her interests at heart. She had felt attracted to this detective but now she felt repulsion. He seemed different from the quiet charming man who had led her to the door the night he rescued her from Britt. He seemed a man bent on vengeance as if Britt’s attentions had no longer been the main reason he had assaulted him. His actions had gone beyond reasonable protection of a member of the public to pure hatred and desire to inflict pain on a man who angered him.

She had felt sick when he had nearly pulverised the man’s face and kidneys. His eyes had been like molten balls of steel, embedded in his face, his expression impassive like a robot as he had nearly beaten the life out of the pathetic smaller man. This crime seemed to affront him as if it hurt his core and he needed to rid himself of his hostility by pure violence.

He led her safely to her door and she left him there. He told her to change her locks and keep his number keyed in automatically on her phone. Any trouble, ring him or the precinct.

He sadly left her. He knew he had overstepped the mark when he had let his anger take him over. It was that or let it suffocate him and burn him up from inside. Until he confronted this rage he would not live a normal life. His psychologist had warned him, and he wished he had listened to her. His life would have been different if he had; no empty soulless relationships which led to nowhere. He would not be alone and lonely now.

Mary Jane let herself in. The darkness that surrounded her made her feel bereft, an empty feeling in her soul. She sat listening to the reality show which dominated TV these nights. She would have to drag herself to the kitchen and feed her mother soon. Her mother was fading fast. She loved her mother but soon she might be able to live on campus and gain loans to fund a full-time place at law school if she no longer had the medical bills to pay. This soulless damp, cockroach infested apartment neglected by their landlord could be left for ever.

Strange! Her mother had not called her when she came in. She always asked if it was Mary Jane letting herself into the house but there was only silence. Perhaps she was asleep. Her mother had her nap in the afternoon but was sleeping more each day as she took more drugs to sedate her and take away the knawing pain.

She went to the bedroom, surprised the door was closed. She always left it ajar in case her mother wanted to call her for something. The carer must have shut the door but there was no light shining beneath it. Usually a night light was left on so that her mother could find her medicines or books if she could not rest. She must be sound asleep.

Mary Jane knocked quietly but there was no answer. Opening the door, she peered around it. Her mother was sitting up in bed, her back straightened against the upright pillows which were bunched up to support her. Her head was stiff, eyes staring. Fear suddenly gripped Mary Jane’s heart. She grasped the switch with trembling fingers, trying it several times before she could grip it sufficiently to make it light the room.

Brightness lit the room but could not lighten the darkness death ushered in. Terror was marked across her mother’s face. She stared at Mary Jane through glassy eyes; the eyes of a lost soul pleading for mercy, her eyelids creased as she had faced her killer. Her neck was discoloured by the blood that ran down the crease where the red globules had formed as they dried. Her hands were tied above her in the form of a woman on a cross. Throat cut, she had slowly bled to death.

This had not been enough for the killer. Mary Jane retched as she saw the slashes through her mother’s nightgown and the sheets. She turned and frantically ran to the phone. As she reached it she saw the cut wires dangled like sad remnants of discarded knitting. Who had disabled it?

She heard a rustle as if someone brushed past a door; a squeak as the rusty door lock opened slowly, the person trying to disguise the noise as he or she moved toward her. She ran for her life to the front door after knocking on the wall and shouting for help. Her old neighbour was deaf and didn’t hear anything. She had to reach the outside to be safe. The door always jammed. The bloody landlord didn’t repair it as he should. Pulling it open she breathed a sigh of relief and stepped outside into the apartment foyer. The lights were left on 24/24 thank God. She keyed in her number on the pad to open the door but froze as the lights went out.

Her fingers were covered by the hand which trapped hers on the pad and with an iron grip pulled them. Another hand grasped her around her head, holding her mouth shut so tight she barely breathed. Her hand was pulled off the pad and trapped behind her until she was dragged back down the stairs to the cellar and utility room. The person sat her on a chair and tied her hands to its arms.

He looked up but all she could see was cobalt eyes through a black mask which completely disguised his features. Her cell rang. He held it to her ear.

‘‘Answer it as if you are safe but tell me what he wants,’’ said her captor. ‘’Whisper softly to me or you’‘re dead.’’ It was Susan enquiring about her safety. ‘‘Are you ok? Did Britt try it on again with you?’’

‘‘Yes, sure I’m safe. He followed me off the bus and Detective Chase warned him to leave our town. He has a record for abusing women, but he has not tried to contact me since.’’ She managed a whisper to her captor although her throat was dry and hoarse.

‘‘My friend wants to know if a man who accosted me earlier has left me alone.’’

‘‘Say you are going to bed now but will ring her in the morning to assure her you are ok,’’ ordered the man. She relayed the message but was sure her unnaturally calm and monotonous voice must warn Sue she was definitely not ok and needed help. Sue was not alerted to her danger. She rang off after telling her to lock her doors tight. She would ring in the morning to assure herself her friend was safe.

Her captor took the cell and spoke in gruff, hoarse tones; unnatural, as if he was trying to disguise his real voice. Fear was rising in her, overwhelming her body, making it difficult for her to breathe and concentrate her mind. What did her captor want from her? Why had he killed her mother? Would he keep her captive like those girls she had read of in New York?

He came close to her. Of average height but very slim, dressed in bulky masculine casual clothes and brogues, he leant over to intimidate her. His hair was dark curling under the mask and his jaw was limp and weak. Only his eyes showed determination and strength, those blue orbs spearing her as if he might read her mind.

‘‘Oh, Mary Jane, I thought you were not like the rest. Taking lifts like the other whores. Wearing bikinis on the beach, showing your wares to any man. I thought you were pure, unlike other girls I knew. Graham said you were untouched.’’ Was this creep a friend of her ex? she wondered. His mother had been a born again Christian and she had not slept with him because of his convictions. After five long years of courting they had intended to be married and had waited. Was she to die a virgin despite what this masked man thought?

‘‘I’m still pure,’’ she said. ‘I haven’t slept with a man yet.’’ He shrugged. ‘‘Pure in body but not in thoughts. It makes no difference in heaven or in hell,’’ said the hypocrite crossing himself. ‘‘Your death will purify you again, I promise,’’ he said freezing her soul as she watched those blue eyes turn as hard as stone.

‘‘First you must show your penance for your brazen thoughts. You must repent before you meet your maker,’’ he said pulling her hair back. ‘‘Repeat after me, I have sinned my lord.’’ Mary Jane now recognised he would show her no mercy and intended her dead whatever she said. Only how painfully and slowly she died would be the issue.

‘‘Damn you! I wish I had screwed all the football team in the college. At least I would have enjoyed myself before I died.’’ She turned on him, anger conquering her fear of him. A blade was digging in her, bloodying her neck. ‘‘And you! What does an inadequate bastard like you do for kicks? Or are you unable to get it up?’’

She saw the cobalt eyes narrow and the pupils enlarge. She had made a hit but only for a moment. The eyes turned cold again. He pushed her neck back. ‘’You are no use to me now. I need purity. Death will purify you for my cause. He watched the blood drizzle and then pour out in a stream until her head was no longer supported by her neck and hung there suspended on her chest.

Silent now, her captor wiped her neck. Now for the distasteful part of his work. He took the blade and violently slashed across her body erratically. Standing back for a moment, satisfied with his art-work, he washed his hands and he dragged her up the stairs to the foyer. No visitors were there thankfully. He pulled her up the stairs and positioned her. He took the saw and started to work.

At last, his work finished, he dressed her in her pyjamas and put her into bed. A rather boring choice of bed-wear for a woman who had admitted she wished she had lost her virginity, but he had always wondered if she was as pure as she had made out in her visits to church.

No matter; in all civilised religions, ancient peoples had drained the blood of their sacrifices to cleanse them. He was just following tradition. She was pure now! He pushed her up onto the pillows he had plumped for her and then set to work. An hour later she was ready. He had set the scene. The papers could be called.

An anonymous phone call to the local newspaper had alerted the police. Three hours later police swarmed the flat, the forensics taking first call on the bodies and exhibits. Chase was one of the first to be informed and was there watching the body of the mother be untied and put gently into a body bag. The daughter came a little later. Her corpse took some time to reassemble. The murderer had positioned her carefully but had dismembered the legs and the arms from her torso.

Three men watched the process, two police officers, one of them Chase and the other man a profiler. The latter, a quietly spoken man had waited patiently and made careful notes while the forensic photographer took pictures. He looked puzzled. The careful dismemberment contrasted with the violent slashes across the bodies which had sent blood spurting from their arteries. The blood of the mother had covered the walls and sheets of the bedroom, but the daughter’s blood had also coloured the walls of the utility room. Their necks had been cut before the frenzied attack and then came the separation of the daughter’s body which had been so carefully done, as if the murderer had wanted to put her parts back together again in the future.

‘‘Looks like we have another nutcase,’’ said Mike Cradley, Chase’s senior. ‘‘Match the characteristics of the murder with others on the database. See if there are other similarities and who might have wanted her murdered. If she had enemies.’’

‘‘She was being stalked Sir,’’ admitted Chase. ‘‘A man named David Britt gave her a lift home and became fresh with her. Wanted her to date him. Another time he followed her on a bus and back home. He would not take no for an answer. I suggested he leave her alone and he moved out of the area to a new job. He had a record for minor assaults on women and stalking.’’

‘‘Get on to his new address and find if he was near her apartment last night. I’m surprised you didn’t caution him Chase.’’

‘‘I wish I had Sir or done more but I felt given my circumstances I might be overreacting a little.’’

‘‘That is understandable, but nevertheless be overcautious and follow procedure instead of doubting your instincts. You might have saved this girl’s life.’’

As they walked back to the car he asked, ‘‘Chase, what do we know about her?’’ Chase sighed and said, ’’She was twenty-four, working in a poorly paid secretary’s job in a tenancy firm. She hated the job and her administrative secretary made her life difficult there. Her mother was dying of cancer and she could only afford to live in that dump. She was studying for a degree and hoped to become an attorney one day. When her mother died, she could afford the fees for law school.

‘‘She hardly went out, lived out of thrift shops and bargain grocery stores and only visited her friend once a month in her home town. It was her only treat. She walked home one night in the rain and that creep Britt gave her a lift home and then stalked her. Then this happened.’’

Poor kid, she just had no luck, thought Cradley, thinking of his own two pampered teenagers. Every time this happened he promised he would take more care of his daughters. It hit all the cops who had young daughters hard when they saw a beautiful young woman cut up in pieces and laid out like a jigsaw puzzle.

When Defoe shared Cradley’s car he asked, ‘‘What did Detective Chase mean about his circumstances and overreacting, Detective Cradley?’’

‘‘He meant nothing,’’ said Cradley evasively. ‘‘He is a darn good cop. He was merely being oversensitive. He remembers something in his past and it makes him question his judgement sometimes. He is a very private person. Ask him yourself when you get back to the precinct, Dr Defoe. You have access to his personal records if he is evasive. He had psychological counselling some years ago, about it.’’

‘‘I will,’’ said Defoe, ‘‘it might impact on how he collects evidence on these types of cases.’’ Defoe cursed detectives like Chase and overprotective bosses like Cradley. All cases of stalking should have been noted on police records and if this guy already had a record he should have been cautioned. How many times had he dealt with murder victims who had been killed after the police had acted too slowly to prevent a homicide?

This guy Chase gave him the creeps. This Britt might be the U.N.S.U.B. or he might not but he would bet his last dollar that the officer had used force to frighten the guy out of town. The tall dark silent type who kept his emotions tight inside him, he could blow up at any time and direct his anger in the wrong area. An uncontrolled Chase could be a loose cannon, dangerous! This was the best and worse reason for working alongside the front-line cops. The camaraderie and tight relations worked for him or against him; they erected barriers against him and shut him out if one of their own was accused or threatened. Cradley was an honest and decent cop but looked after his own.

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