Whisper softly or you're dead

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Chapter seventeen.

Danger comes in all shapes and forms.

The new camp mistress introduced herself to the girls and scout leaders. Tall and buxom, almost portly, she smiled through gold rimmed glasses, her brown eyes twinkling at the young girls who eagerly awaited their instructions for their day. She had taken over when the camp mistress had suffered an unusual malady preventing her joining the camp that day. Her colleagues had been surprised. In ruddy health, she usually turned up to camp whatever befell her, a stalwart each year dedicated to the young girls.

Happily, she had recommended her friend, this cheerful young woman who had already constructed a programme for the week. Foraging in the forest was the theme for the day. Ms Remington was to take one group of girls herself. The girls put their hands up and she selected sixteen.

She had looked them over carefully. Several she had rejected because of their background and appearance. They were too mature, clearly interested in boys already at their tender age. She wanted girls who were still immature, who could be moulded to her needs.

She picked girls who were slender and young with opaque luminous complexions with brown and auburn hair. None had the green eyes that combined with that complexion. She still had to find the woman who had those particular eyes. She joked and charmed the young girls until they trusted her implicitly, following her into the forest.

They made camp that evening and she started them on games and ended with sing songs. Happy, they made their way to their tents, their stomachs and minds full. She watched them, sure they suspected nothing. One girl hung around the campfire. Ms Remington had noticed she seemed rather lonely, the other girls not absorbing her fully into their games or chat. She seemed to accept her exclusion and had all day stayed close to the scout leaders talking about adult subjects. Being on the margin seemed to be natural to her although Ms Remington suspected she was truly lonely and wanted desperately to belong to the crowd of girls.

Like a black widow, Ms Remington moved closer to her victim. She invited the girl to sit on one of the camping stools they had made up.

‘‘You sang very well my dear,’’ she said. ‘‘Do you sing in a choir?’’

‘’Yes, Ma’am,’’ said the girl glowing under her praise. She had been studiously ignored by the other girls who treated her as if she were invisible or an insect to be trodden under their shoe.

Grateful for the attention she lapped up the older woman’s complements. Rarely was she praised at home or at school. This kind lady seemed to really be interested in her. She wished she was her Mom. Her own mom saw her as a hindrance and criticised her skin and her dress sense until she felt she was a ‘nobody’, useless and a nuisance.

Dark descended and they sat in the dark, the area lit only by firelight. Ms Remington looked around her. The other girls were tucked up in their tents. No-one missed this young miss. The girl was interested in wildlife.

A hook, thought Ms Remington. She began to spin her web.

‘‘Have you ever been on a moonlight walk, my dear?’’

‘’No Ma’‘am but it sounds cool.’’

‘‘I want to try out a new walk my dear if you want to come with me. We can go and be back within the hour. I know some sets where if we are quiet we can see a mother fox and her young.’’

The girl’s eyes lit up and she jumped up eagerly. ‘’Do I need anything from my tent Ma’‘am?’’

‘‘No, nothing and don’t tell the others. I want it to be a surprise when I show the set to them tomorrow.’’

She took the girl’s arm and directed her away from the camp down a steep path toward the lake. The girls would canoe the next day over to the island where they would camp for the week. It was the peak of their scout year; a week away from their parents and the means to show their independence and earn their badges which they would proudly show to their families.

Ms Remington saw the badges that covered the girl’s shirt. She tried so hard to fit in and impress the other girls without success. Perhaps it was best to put her out of her agony, to take her from her family and these girls who clearly distressed her and made her feel an outcast. She would be doing her a favour taking her away from all this.

The forest was pitch black and the girl stumbled when she could not see the path outlined by the torch. ’’Not too far now,’’said Ms Remington. ‘‘Look, there it is,’’ she said. A hole in the bank had been dug out by sharp paws. They knelt, and she shone her torch in the hole. A scuffle sounded in the hole and there was evidence of life there.

‘‘It is of no use. They know we are here. We must come tomorrow when we can wait in the dark for them to come out.’’

‘‘Can’t we wait please Ma’am?’’ the girl pleaded.

‘‘Just for a few minutes then. Watch the hole while I look for other sets, please.’’

The girl sat waiting patiently for the foxes to appear. Ms Remington crossed the clearing and pretended to look at holes in another bank. The girl trusted her implicitly. She regarded her carefully deciding if she was an appropriate match for Michael’s masterpiece. Nothing must spoil it.

Making her mind up quickly as was her wont she decided the girl would do. She was immature emotionally but physically she was perfect. Tall and gangly with slender legs like a foal she had recently entered puberty and had developed small but well-formed breasts, but it was her face that attracted Ms Remington. Slim features with high cheekbones and deep-set eyes, her lips full and ripe for kissing, she was like a cherry ready to be picked

She is the one. It is time! Quietly she came behind the girl and withdrew her needle from her pocket. She was clumsy, the girl hearing her stumble on loose pebbles. Alice turned around. What she saw made her feel sick, her body feeling suffocated, as if the breath had been knocked out of her. The gentle brown eyes were replaced by brown pebbles glinting at her as the older woman raised one hand to prick her neck with the needle. The other hand gripped her with thin grasping fingers, nails cutting into her as she held Alice in an iron grip.

‘‘Ma’am what do you want?’’ asked Alice as the woman pushed her back on to the bank and held her down by her neck, a knee across her chest.

‘‘You my dear. Your face is quite angelic. You will fit perfectly into his masterpiece.’’ Alice saw the madness in her mentor’s eyes and tried to push back but the needle entered her skin

‘‘Don’t be afraid my dear. You are entering a better place where you will be accepted for whom you are.’’ A whirring and then a blackness overwhelmed her, and she lost consciousness.

The woman dragged her across the clearing and down a path until she came to a hut where she had prepared an operating theatre. Michael would deal with her. He would arrive in a minute and she would vanish from the scene like a puff of air. Her job was finished, and she could hide in safety again leaving him to do the important skilled work. She laid the girl out on the sheet of plastic and left her there for him to start work.

The girls at the camp woke. Slowly they got up and went to where the camp fire was supposed to be started for their morning breakfast. It was cold, and they were hungry.

‘‘Where is Ms Remington?’’ asked one of the more demanding and garrulous girls. ‘‘Gone to get firewood I expect. Let’s get some food from the tent and start to prepare the meal. I have some matches and there are twigs around here. She will be pleased we have used our initiative and started breakfast without her.’’

They busied themselves, but no-one came. One of the girls said, ‘‘Alice is also missing. She didn’t sleep in our tent last night. Her sleeping bag is still packed.’’ By eleven o’clock the girls were worried. They sent two girls to the other scout leaders who started a search party for Ms Remington and the girl.

‘‘We must take each path and check it thoroughly,’ said one leader. ‘‘Look, there are two pairs of footprints down this track.’’ They fell into step behind her and followed her to the clearing.

‘‘There is Alice’s shoe,’’ said one. ‘‘She cannot have been attacked by wildlife here. There is no blood.’’

‘‘She might have been dragged away, Ma’am,’’ said one girl her eyes wide with fright.

‘‘Nonsense, she must have got lost and Ms Remington went after her to find her.’’

‘‘Ma’am,’’ said one of the girls. ‘‘Over here are more footprints and it looks as if something was dragged down this path.’’

‘‘Wait,’’ said the woman fearing the worst now. ‘‘Let me go ahead and I’ll call you if I find anything.’’ The woman took her knife from her belt and followed the path until she saw the hut.

‘‘Ms Remington, Alice are you there?’’

Her words echoed around her. The hut backed off onto rock which bounced her words back to her. The door was tightly shut. The windows were not fully glassed, the holes bunged up with rags. The hut had not been inhabited for years but would provide shelter from the elements for those in trouble. She wondered if Alice had left the camp and was hiding there, scared if she came back to camp she would be in trouble. Who knows what was in the minds of young girls when they feared they would be caught by their elders

She opened the door of the hut and fell back vomiting into the stark earth. Alice was there, what was left of her. She lay spread-eagled, her dismembered legs and arms neatly arranged beside her. Her killer had no need of those. He had wanted something that would identify her, her face. No longer could she be recognised except by her hair and slender limbs. He had carefully detached the skin from around her ears to her forehead and under her chin and back to her ears again.

She gained self-control, wiping her face with her handkerchief and quickly searched for Ms Remington. No amount of calling and searching brought the scout leader to her. The girls must not see Alice’s remains and the door must be shut, or wild animals would eat her body. She closed the door, turning her eyes away from Alice’’s corpse, and made her way back to the girls who stood in the clearing.

‘‘We must hurry back to the camp, Girls. Follow me please.’’ Her white face drained of colour and her stiff manner told the girls it was unwise to argue or ask questions. No-one need tell them something had happened to Alice. They wanted out of that clearing as soon as they could get away and made it back to the main camp as if the devil himself was after them.

‘‘You must pack up Girls. We will need to look for the missing ladies. Your parents will want you home.’’ She quickly told the other leaders and then used her cell to ring the local police. Her fellow scout leaders rang the parents asking them to collect the girls, stressing the urgency. Then came the awful wait for the police.

‘‘Where is Ms Remington?’’ asked one scout leader.

‘‘Vanished into thin air.’’

‘‘Who was the woman who recommended her?’’

‘’She had a letter from Marge Dickinson. She showed it to me

‘‘I’m ringing Marge. I don’t care how ill she is. I want to know if that woman was bona fide or if she was in on the murder. That poor kid never had any luck with her mother and the girls ignoring her.’’ Indignantly, the woman rang the sick scout leader. There was no answer.

‘Ask the police to check on her as well,’’ said one woman.

‘‘This is looking fishy.’’

‘‘Her son lives near her. Ring him to check on her.’’

One woman rang Marge’s son and he rushed over to his mother’s house. He rang the bell time after time without any joy. He was mad with worry and he finally kicked open the door and rushed upstairs. On the bed lay the older woman, her throat slit with a gash. Blood had congealed. She had been dead for several days; rigor mortis having set in already.

He rang the police and waited there his head in his hands. It was time to let them find the killers. Why did the murderer pick on her? She was liked and loved in the community by old and young alike. There was no reason to kill her.

Chase arrived with Defoe. The lake was just within their jurisdiction. If it was over the border they would have been informed anyway by the next police authority. Killers did not obey police boundaries, killing where it was practicable, and it suited their agenda. Her son was hanging around, in the way. He wanted answers. Why had his mother been picked?

Chase and Defoe sat the son down and explained the rationale if any existed behind the murder of his mother. She had not been mutilated like Alice. A woman had taken her place at the camp. There appeared no personal aspect to this crime. The killer had no grudge against her. She had been forced to write the letter and then could not be allowed to stay alive. She was an obstacle, stopping the killer carrying out his crime. The murderer had just found a convenient and quick way to dispose of her, like garbage standing in his way. Her son sad and sickened left them to their work.

Defoe felt a black cloud envelop him. This was the worst part of the job, handling the bereft relatives who often blamed themselves and asked what they could have done to prevent the crimes. No one could mitigate their loss; only kind words of comfort and a promise to try to bring the U.N.S.U.B.s to justice could help them.

They followed on to the camp site and saw the young girl lying there. The forensic team had finished with her and were about to bag her remains.

‘‘Same display of limbs,’’ commented Chase. ‘‘But he wanted her face this time,’’ said Defoe. He looked carefully amongst the blood and gore. ‘‘He missed something. He left the eyes but took the mouth and ears. He cut around the eyes. He left Louise’s eyes as well. He must have found the ones he wants or is looking for a specific pair.’’

‘‘Any luck with the database?’’ asked Chase.

‘‘Some matches with women cut up eighty miles over the border. Perhaps our U.N.S.U.B. has moved about for his career.’’ They packed up and went back to the precinct.

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