THE LIST by Angus McAllister

“I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list

Of society offenders who might well be underground,

And who never would be missed – who never would be missed!”

WS Gilbert The Mikado

 

            It’s eight o’clock and I’ve been waiting over an hour. He’ll be taking his time, of course, relaxing, enjoying himself. I fix my mind on this and it gives me the resolve to carry on and see the thing through. As I crouch in the doorway, holding up my coat collar against the wind and spitting rain, it would be easy to give up and go home. But justice demands otherwise, as do weeks of patience and careful preparation.

And the night is perfect. It’s dark and there’s no one around.

I check my tools again. One large claw hammer and one kitchen knife, newly sharpened. Common household items and innocent enough as long as they remain in the house. Carried inside your coat on a dark winter evening, they acquire a more sinister significance.

A man walks past, the first for several minutes. He glances briefly across at me but pays me little attention. I don’t recognize him but note as much about him as I can. Tall, mid-thirties maybe, wearing glasses. Color of hair? Difficult to tell under this street lighting. I must keep track of all visitors in case I have to add a new name to my list.

Then it becomes irrelevant as he carries on up the street without slowing for a second.

I relax again, but only for a moment. The street is barely empty again before he appears at last.

I ease back slightly within my doorway, then walk boldly forward, as if I’m coming out of the building. From the corner of my eye, I can see him walking toward me and that the street behind him is still clear. Then I turn my back on him and walk quickly along the pavement, about fifteen yards ahead of him. The street in front of me is also empty. I know where he’s going because I know where his car is parked. I take a right turning and carry on walking, then slow down and stop, appearing uncertain, as if I’m suddenly unsure of my way. As planned, I’m opposite an empty piece of ground, a derelict site between two buildings. It’s separated from the pavement by a high wooden fence, part of which has been knocked flat.

He has almost caught up with me as I turn. “Excuse me.”

“Yes?” He looks slightly startled but not at all alarmed. I don’t present a very threatening figure after all, hardly the stereotype of a mugger. I get a good look at him as he faces me. He’s not particularly tall, about the same height I am. He looks about fifty—much older than I—overweight and not particularly fit. All to the good. He has coarse, ill-proportioned features unappealingly arranged around a wide, flat nose; his receding gray hair is hidden by a hat, and his poor complexion is less obvious in the bad light, but even under cover of night he is a very ugly man. Which, of course, makes his crime all the more heinous.

I ask him for directions to a nearby main street and he gives me the information.

“That’s great. Thanks very much.”

“No problem.”

He turns to walk on. As soon as his back is to me, I bring out my hammer. Moving quickly, I simultaneously flick off his hat with my left hand and, with all my strength, bring down the hammer on the back of his head. As he stumbles and falls, I leap forward and batter him twice more. He hits the ground and lies still. He’s unconscious, maybe already dead, but I’ve got to make sure. I look quickly around. The street is still empty. He hardly made a sound.

I grab him by the ankles and haul him, by stages, into the empty site. He’s very heavy, but in my triumph I seem to have extra strength. He doesn’t stir as his head bumps over the slats of the flattened fence, across the rubble and weeds. As soon as we’re well hidden from the street, I completely let go and unleash my fury. I stab him in the back, again and again, haul him round on his face and renew my attack. Bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard, bastard…            

I hear footsteps in the street. I stop and hold my breath. A figure passes the gap in the fence and walks on.

When the footsteps have receded into the distance, I check that the street is empty and return to my car, which is parked only a few yards away. My planning has paid off. It’s just as well: though I knew there would be blood, it was much messier than I’d anticipated. The worst of it is on my coat, so I bring out a black bin bag from the boot and put my coat in it, as well as the hammer and knife. I lock the bag back in the boot and clean myself as best I can. Can’t leave stains in the car. I’ll have to check it carefully when I get home.

The street is still empty as I drive away.

It’s a long time since I’ve felt so pleased with myself, so content and full of peace. I know it won’t last, but it’s good just the same. With my newfound calmness, I realize that this business of street killing, though exhilarating, is far too dangerous. In time, my luck may run out. Next time I’ll need to think of something more original.

By the time Miranda returns home, everything is in order. I’ve showered, my weapons have been cleaned and put away, and I’m in bed, pretending to be asleep. My bloodstained coat has been carefully hidden, to be burned at the first opportunity. I’ll need to invent a story to explain its disappearance.

I must think of a less messy process. But now that I’ve started, I can’t wait to carry on. My list isn’t a little one; it’s very long and continually growing.

 

On the last day of his life, Arnold Bell arose at seven. As usual, he helped his wife to wash and dress and made breakfast for them both. Then they ate together in her bedroom. They enjoyed having this time to themselves, before the nurse arrived.

Rosemary, his wife’s nurse, arrived at nine o’clock and took over the care of Ellen while Arnold started work. Arnold was a partner in a city firm of accountants but, since his wife’s illness, he worked from home as much as possible. He had been busy for an hour when Rosemary arrived at his study to say that they were off for their morning walk.

Arnold followed the nurse to the hall where Ellen was already waiting by the lift, seated in her wheelchair.

“Where are you off to?”

“It’s quite nice outside,” said Rosemary. “I thought we’d go to the park.”

“It’s still cold. I hope you’re well wrapped up.”

“Stop fussing, Arnold,” said Ellen. “I’m not quite dead yet.”

Arnold bent down to kiss her. “You’re a good man, Arnold,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Feeling slightly embarrassed, Arnold made no reply.

The Bells lived in a luxury penthouse flat on the top floor of a converted warehouse, which they’d moved into when Ellen became confined to a wheelchair. It combined a spectacular view across the city with the convenience of being on a single level.

He had been back at work for half an hour when the buzzer for the security door sounded.

Who could this be? It was too early for Ellen and Rosemary to be back and, in any case, they had a key. He went through to the hall and lifted the handset. “Hello?”

“Special delivery.”

“OK.” He let the visitor into the building.

His curiosity was aroused. He wasn’t expecting anything. The office occasionally forwarded urgent items of mail, but his secretary would generally phone him first.

A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. Still curious but not in the least alarmed—it was ten-thirty in the morning after all—he went to answer the door to his killer.

I think the second murder was a great success. Not quite perfect, but a considerable improvement. Even more satisfying than the first one and a lot less dangerous.

I keep reliving my triumph again and again, savoring every moment. It helps keep me subdued until the next time. Gives me the patience to complete the long and careful planning.

Waiting in the street until his wife and her nurse come out of the building, making sure that they don’t see me, hanging on until they’re out of sight, checking that the street is empty before pressing the buzzer.

Getting the lift to the top floor without meeting anyone. If I’d run into another person, no matter who, I’d have postponed it. Frustrating, but necessary. Can’t have any witnesses. Luckily, there was no need.

Moving quickly as soon as he opens the door, taking him by surprise, hitting him with the hammer, pushing him back into the hall, slamming the door behind me. Checking he’s unconscious, hauling him into the nearest room. Then—and here’s the master stroke—going into another room, taking off all my clothes before returning to him and unleashing my frenzy with the knife. Half an hour later, washed in his shower, dressed again, completely free of bloodstains, I’m trotting down the stairs to an empty street.

Murder two was a triumph of careful preparation. My ground rules are developing well.

One, select the subject. Note the careful choice of word. He’s not a victim, but a criminal receiving justice. He probably thought that his wife’s illness gave him sufficient justification, but not in my book.

Two, watch the subject and know his movements. This was where the last killing scored so heavily over my street attack. After a week’s observation, I knew that he’d be alone in the house in the morning, that the wife and nurse would be gone for an hour, possibly more. That I’d have time to clean up afterwards, not only myself, but any traces I might have left in the house. I thought it all through carefully. I don’t think the police forensic team will find anything useful.

Three. A new rule, to be followed next time if possible. Having a chance to talk to the subject. Letting him know that he’s about to die and telling him the reason. This could be tricky. They are all grown men, and so far I’ve relied on the surprise element in order to overpower them. In a fair fight, I might well lose.

I’ll think of something. This is more than justice: it’s an art form.

Miranda has been working a day shift, and that evening we attend a dinner party with friends. As always, Miranda is a beautiful and sparkling guest and we are the golden couple—young, attractive, fashionable, well-to-do, the envy of all who know us. None of our friends and family knows that our roles have now reversed, that I have lost my lucrative job and that Miranda is now the sole breadwinner. By mutual agreement we have chosen to keep that secret. Miranda says that she is only doing it for me until I get back on my feet again, and she mistakenly thinks that I’m content to go along with it. My real feelings have remained suppressed. But now they have an outlet.

 

“I think you’ve let this become an obsession,” he says. “Can’t we talk about it?”

That’s exactly what we’re doing. Talking about it. But on my terms, which is the part he’s unhappy about. That and being tied to the chair. Though it’s not particularly warm in the room, a film of sweat glistens on his brow, reflected from the ceiling light. Apart from that giveaway sign, he seems remarkably unruffled. I can admire his nerve, but what I really want is to hear him beg for his life.

I bring out my knife and test the sharpness of the blade with my finger. His eyes follow my movements closely, but he shows no other reaction.

There’s plenty of time. We’re in the large dining kitchen at the back of the house, where the light can’t be seen from the road. And there’s no night watchman. I checked that out.

I did my homework carefully. Already I can see how well it’s paid off.

The problem: how to get the subject, a man bigger and stronger than I, into a position of helplessness before I finally kill him. In a location where we are free from interruption so that I can explain to him at length why he deserves to die. A difficult problem, which I mulled over for some weeks.

Then the solution was presented to me, gift-wrapped, in a two-page advertisement feature. Botanic Court, a small development of luxury flats, now nearing completion. Built by Archer Homes, owner and managing director Steven Archer. Who, as it happens, already occupies a place near the top of my list.

For the first week after it opens, the show flat will be manned personally in the evenings by Mr. Archer himself to demonstrate his faith in the project and answer personally any queries from prospective purchasers. Also—this part not in the advert—to save the miserable bastard from having to pay overtime to any of his employees. A cost-cutting exercise that will prove fatal.

It takes an effort of will not to show up on the first night, promptly at six o’clock. Instead I hang on until Wednesday, a dull and rainy night, when legitimate inquirers are less likely to bother turning out. I wait until nearly half past eight, by which time the trickle of visitors has run out. Then I make my move, in case he shuts up shop early.

The security door is hooked open and I make my way directly into the building. The show flat is on the ground floor. I rattle the letterbox and the man himself comes to the door.   As soon as I see him, my hatred swells up, but I control it and return his smile.

I follow him round the house, listening to his sales talk, asking the right questions, waiting for my chance. While we’re in the bathroom, I note with relief that the water is on. Now I know that I’ll be able to clean myself up properly as I did last time. There won’t be any hot water, but no scheme is perfect.

My opportunity comes as he’s showing me round the dining kitchen. The kitchen, he explains, comes fully fitted, cooker and washing machine both included. I show a particular interest in the fan-assisted oven. Obligingly, he bends over to open the oven door. For a moment, his back is to me.

A hefty push and he loses his balance, falling face down on the floor, his head narrowly missing the oven door. I perch on his back, keeping him pinned down. Once recovered from his surprise, he’d be able to throw me off, but before that I’ve thrust the cloth under his nose, holding it there. His struggles gradually get less as the chloroform takes effect.

Leaving him for a moment, I quickly go round the house, switching off the lights in all the other rooms, then shutting the kitchen door behind me. It’s now nearly nine o’clock; it’s unlikely that any more visitors will show up, but if any do, they’ll find a house in apparent darkness, its sole light visible only from the empty back court.

I push one of the dining chairs in front of the central heating radiator beneath the window. Then, with an effort, I haul him over there and sit him on the chair. From my innocent-looking plastic bag, I bring out the rope and truss him up securely, legs together, hands behind the chair, then several loops tightly round his chest and the back of the chair. I tie the chair itself to the radiator pipe so that he can’t pull it away or knock it over. Then I sit down at the dining table, patiently waiting for him to regain consciousness.

Eventually he begins to stir, opens his eyes. I give him time to get his bearings, a few moments to struggle with his bonds before realizing that it’s pointless.

Then, seeing that I’ve got his full attention, I introduce myself and tell him why he has to die.

After I bring out the knife, he makes a final attempt to reason with me. “I understand how you feel.”

“No, you don’t.”

“But I think you’ve got things out of proportion. Can’t we come to some arrangement?”

“An arrangement? You think you can buy your way out of this?”

“That’s not what I mean. I can give you money, no problem about that. But I don’t think that’s what you want. If you let me go, I promise I won’t go to the police. Why should I? I don’t want my wife to know about this. And you’ve got my word that I’ll never …”

I interrupt by jabbing him in the arm with my knife. He gives a yelp of pain and looks down in horror at the blood. I cut him again, this time in the leg. Nowhere fatal just yet. At last he begins to show his fear.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to contain my rage. But first I mean to have some fun with him.

Things are working out well. This promises to be my most satisfying effort so far.

 

Nearly a month has now passed since Archer’s murder. The police have made no progress with their investigations. They have worked out that the same person is responsible for all three murders, but the connection between the victims continues to elude them.

I’m impatient to go again. Only three down and how many left to go? Miranda is so beautiful, so popular; the list is so long. But the amount of preparation required is enormous. First the subjects have to be chosen, and this involves hours of hanging about outside Miranda’s workplace during her shifts, taking note of all visitors. An anonymous telephone call, posing as a potential customer, has already ascertained the identity of Miranda’s coworkers on that shift. Four appearances by the same customer when Miranda is working along with different women is enough to establish the pattern, provide conclusive proof. Then each has to be stalked, identified, the maximum amount of information collected. Meticulous records have to be kept and carefully hidden from my wife. Maybe I should begin an alternative career as a private detective. I’ve acquired all of the necessary skills.

But now I’m ready to score another name off the list. After that there will be another, and then another…

Nothing can stop me now.

Posted in Fiction.

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