No Help for the Dying
The white van made two slow circuits of the block. It drifted like a shabby ghost beneath the street lights, a curtain of rain rippling down the windscreen and out across the tarmac, lending the road the sheen of molten liquorice. A digital clock in a shop window read 01.45. The vehicle's bodywork looked tired and scuffed under a layer of dirt, a sharp contrast to the precision sound of the engine beneath the bonnet. But while this and the heavily tinted windows might have seemed unusual, to a casual onlooker it was simply another white van, doing what white vans do. At the end of the third circuit, the vehicle switched to side lights and slowed, swinging sharply into a side street. The tyres crunched across the nightly debris of fast-food cartons, discarded cigarette packets and greasy chip wrappers, and a plastic Malvern water bottle resisted briefly before spinning away into the darkness. "Anywhere here." The man in the passenger seat took a bible from the dashboard, holding it against his chest and caressing it absent-mindedly with his thumb. The driver stopped across from a travel shop and a photo boutique. Wedged between them was a narrow alleyway like a gap in a row of teeth. No light reached into this recess, and whatever lay inside had been swallowed in a dark soup of shadow. After a few moments the passenger door clicked open and the man with the bible stepped lightly to the ground. He stood for a moment, his breath vaporising in the cold air and quickly snatched away by the bitter March wind. A few minutes walk away lay the colourful glitter of Piccadilly, with its bright lights and fluorescent advertising panels, a relentless flow of people and noise. But none of that reached here. The man was tall and thin, with rimless spectacles perched on a pale, bony face. His shoulders were loosely-wrapped in a long coat covering dark pants and a black silk shirt with a mandarin collar, and on his feet he wore black, rubber-soled boots. He reached back into the van and lifted a silver metal flask from a box on the floor, then nodded to the driver and moved away. Seconds later he was swallowed by the dark. He paused for his vision to adjust before stepping forward. He passed the windows of a pub, long shuttered and dead, and a network of scaffolding interlaced with ladders and boards. A row of wheelie bins waited with their accumulation of refuse. The smell was sharp and strong, a mix of old food, stale water and something unidentifiable. He ignored it and continued into the gloom, favouring the wall to his right where the darkness gathered like molasses. There were stirrings from the shadows and an empty can clattered away from his foot. Something drummed against cardboard, and further on someone coughed, a brief bark of sound quickly stifled. Another voice cursed in a soft protest, blurred by the effects of alcohol or drugs or the bitter cold. The man stopped alongside a battered skip, its solid presence indicated by the glow-worm speck of a warning lamp. He transferred the bible to one coat pocket and the flask to the other, and took out a slim, black Maglite torch. Bending easily, he reached out with his free hand, finding the slippery texture of a sleeping bag, the fabric stiff with ingrained grease and dirt. He ran his fingers along the top and located the zip pull. It snagged briefly before running free with a faint purr. The smell from inside was sharp and feral. He flicked on the Maglite. The bag's occupant came awake with a cry of alarm. The man was ready; placing one knee on the sleeper's torso, he clamped a strong hand over the mouth, killing any sound. When the struggles ceased, he shone the torch on the white face and fearful, blinking eyes. It was the right one. He put the torch down and withdrew the silver flask. As he unscrewed the cup one-handed, a heady aroma of tomato filled the air around him. He bent close to the sleeping bag. "I've got some soup for you, kid," he whispered softly. "Nice hot soup." He squeezed the occupant's face, cupping the mouth into an elongated `O'. The skin was soft to the touch, as yet untainted by dirt or infection. He tipped the flask in one movement, using his body's weight to stifle the sudden violent eruption of movement from beneath him, a hideous parody of a lover's embrace. He ignored the choking sounds and what might have been the beginning of an agonised scream and placed his hand back over the mouth. A spot of soup forced its way between his fingers and stung his cheek, but he ignored that, too. He continued pouring until the flask was empty and the body lay still. When he removed his hand, there was a gloop-gloop as the last of the thick liquid found its way down, followed by a pop of an air bubble rising to the top. He checked the pulse. Nothing. He zipped the sleeping bag and replaced the top of the flask, then stood for a moment like a priest over a grave. "Tough luck, kid," he said softly. "Seems Daddy didn't want you back badly enough." He brushed the spot of soup from his cheek, then turned and walked back the way he had come, stopping at the mouth of the alleyway. His eyes flickered across the dark recesses one last time, then he took out the bible and, clutching it once more to his chest, walked back to the waiting van
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- PDF | 288 pages
- Creme de La Crime; 1st edition (December 31, 2005)
- Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
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