Trigger Warning: Language
David slipped on the latex gloves as he surveyed the stairs going down into the darkness of the basement. Although it was too early for the body to start smelling, he secured his double-layered mask before cautiously starting the descent. With each step forward, the stairs creaked eerily, filling him with dread. Usually, David loved going down the basement staircase for his daily rendezvous with his victims, who lay on the dusty wooden floor, bound and gagged and terrified, completely at his disposal to do as he pleased.
Today was one of those days. The days he hated and even dreaded, perhaps. One misstep and his front yard would be crawling with cops within hours. Apparently, catching serial killers was a priority for them. Maybe if they’d made a law against cheating wives who took your children along with them and never allowed you to see them again, David wouldn’t have had to resort to punishing these sinful women.
Every hardship is an opportunity. Wasn’t that was his Dad used to say? If his wife hadn’t left him, he wouldn’t have discovered his penchant for delivering justice in a, let’s say a creative way. No, sir. He’d just be the idiot plumber whose wife was cheating with his best friend. So maybe, it all turned out for the best.
David flicked on the hanging light bulb in the basement, peering at the cellophane-wrapped body of the twenty-two-year-old university student in the cotton flower print dress. It was a pity he couldn’t keep her longer, but she was hellbent on fighting him at every single opportunity, he thought, glancing at the bandaged gash on his forearm from four days ago. It still hurt. Bitch. Maybe he should have taken the friend, the gorgeous Latino with curves at all the right places. But then, it was the woman who lay dead in front of him who was wearing the right shade of lipstick—Honeylove, his wife’s favourite MAC lipstick—one he prided himself on being able to spot on a woman from far away.
As David began dragging the petite body of the young woman up the stairs, he wondered if the BPD had worked out the connection between the three women who had gone missing in the city over the past nine months. They were probably looking at commonalities in ethnicity, hair colour, eye colour, body types—the usual suspects. They’d never establish a pattern, which means they’d never catch him, thought David, chuckling at his own brilliance.
The grimace on the dead woman’s face, distorted by the folds of the cellophane, sent a fresh thrill through David’s body as he replayed the last thirty seconds of her life when she had groaned and struggled and pissed herself as his gloved fingers closed around her slender neck. Grinning, he closed the boot of his second-hand Honda Accord and stepped into his kitchen to grab a bottle of water—it was going to be a long drive to the woods where he intended to dispose of the body. His eyes were drawn toward the kitchen cabinet where he kept the doctor’s case and the folded white coat, essential accoutrements for luring in a new victim with a 100% success rate.
David paused. Was it too early for the next one? Each day, a standard warning issued by the BPD was being played on the morning and evening news urging young women to remain vigilant of their surroundings and whenever possible, inform friends or family about their whereabouts while stepping out after dark.
What the heck! He’d carry them anyway. By the time, he’d finish disposing of Julie Shaddock—that was her name—it would be dawn and maybe, if he was lucky, he’d find a lone morning jogger on his way back. Everybody loved a doctor. Because doctors were so kind and virtuous, women got into his car unsuspectingly and a little in awe of his noble profession and good looks. Psychology 101.
David grabbed the doctor’s case and the white coat and got into his car, reversing it out of the driveway while humming a tune.
The five o’clock alarm blared on the cellphone kept on the dresser at the other end of the bedroom. Rachel got out of bed groggily and shuffled over to the dresser to turn off the wailing alarm. The bright light of the cellphone screen yanked her out of sleep, reminding her that today was the day.
After a hurried shower, Rachel chose a white shirt and a blue striped suit from her wardrobe. Blue suit, blue eyes, she hoped the panel would notice during the interview. Not that it mattered as far as the result of the interview was concerned, but at least they’d see she made every effort to look presentable for the interview. At law firms, it was kind of a big deal. At the law firm where she worked, one of the most eminent law firms in Boston, it was a really big deal.
Rachel was up for promotion from Attorney to Managing Attorney in the Family Law department where she’d worked for over six years, clawing her way up from her starting position of Junior Attorney. Even though she excelled at her work and averaged fifty hours a week, climbing the legal totem pole had not been easy, although it had been financially rewarding. But did it make up for the life she had missed while working frenziedly—and some might say maniacally—over the past six years? Most people her age were married with young children. And here she was—still single, sharing an apartment with a friend on the outskirts of the city. The good news was she had saved enough to afford to live in the city and if she made Managing Attorney, Rachel promised herself, she would move to the city by the end of the month. Of course, she’d have to buy a new car too.
As she sprayed Love of Pink on her sleeves, Rachel wondered which shade of lipstick would be perfect for today. Of course, it couldn’t be flashy or glossy—it wasn’t a date, after all. That ruled out the reds, the purples and the corals. She had a whole collection of nudes too, but those shades made her skin look pale. She needed a bit of colour on her lips and a flush on her cheeks. Dose of Rose was a little too pink. Peach Blossom? Too peachy. As she opened the drawer, the lipsticks rattled to one corner. Rachel dug her hand into it and pulled out all the lipsticks that she hadn’t used in a while. Russian Red. D for Danger. Rebel. Diva. Coral Bliss. Didn’t she own any toned-down shades?
“Damn,” muttered Rachel, returning the lipsticks to the drawer.
Wait a minute! Her roommate Lily owned more lipsticks than her. Would Lily mind if she borrowed a lipstick just once? She wasn’t even back yet from her boyfriend’s place, where she’d spent the weekend.
Biting her lip, Rachel came to a decision. She went to the other room of the two-bedroom apartment and inspected the dresser.
One shade caught her eye. It was the lightest shade of rich pink in a creamy, no-shine matte finish. By the time Rachel had tried the shade on the back of her hand, she was sold. She applied the lipstick to her lips, thinking how well it contrasted against her skin tone and checked the shade name as she returned it to the dresser, making a mental note to buy one for herself. Honeylove.
It was six a.m. when Rachel got into her Toyota Camry, a hand-me-down from her elder brother, and pulled her seatbelt. While her interview wasn’t until 9 a.m., she wanted to reach the office early to pour over her interview notes while ingesting galleons of steaming coffee.
Her phone dinged. Smiling, she grabbed it from the dashboard and answered it.
“Hey! You’re up early,” she said brightly.
“I work for the Boston Police Department and I have three kids under the age of seven. I never sleep,” said a deep voice from the other end. “I wanted to wish you good luck. When are you leaving?”
“Now. Thank you,” she said, putting her phone on loudspeaker and reversing her car.
“It’s very early. Are you carrying your pepper spray?”
Rachel rolled her eyes. Her brother, a Lieutenant Detective with the BPD, had been working on the Boston serial killer case with the FBI for over four months since the discovery of the body of the second victim and the subsequent conclusion that the same perpetrator was behind both the kidnappings and murders. The serial killer angle still wasn’t common knowledge, but Rachel knew about it because her brother had told her when he shouldn’t have—for her safety, he insisted. Both women were in their twenties and had disappeared late in the evening while walking alone on deserted streets. The women were raped and beaten and tortured for several months before their dead bodies were found in deserted places around the city. A third woman had disappeared several weeks ago and the authorities suspected it was the work of the Boston serial killer.
“Yes,” said Rachel even though she wanted to point out that it was early morning and not late evening, she was driving a car and not walking alone on deserted streets, and a serial killer who’d been smart enough to kidnap and murder two women would probably not be outsmarted by a humble pepper spray, and in her hurry, she had forgotten the pepper spray at home when she had chosen a special leather handbag to carry to work today and forgotten to transfer all the items from her usual work handbag, wherein the pepper spray lay ensconced. In short, everything was okay.
“Great. All the best! Remember, if you find yourself in a situation...”
“Yes, yes. I’ll call you immediately because you never sleep,” said Rachel, trying to keep impatience out of her voice. While she appreciated her brother’s concern, his paranoia-fuelled over-protectiveness was quite stifling. She did not need such distractions on a day like today.
Finishing his cigarette, David threw it to the curb and rolled up the window. The air was fresh but still chilly at this early hour. He whistled and tapped the steering wheel with his fingers as he continued driving. Everything had gone according to plan. At the place where he’d buried the woman, it was unlikely her body would be found anytime soon. No body, nothing for the Police to go on with. He’d wait a while, maybe a few weeks or months, before finding another woman to keep him company in that cold and lonely house.
What was that on the road ahead? A woman in blue. A blue business suit. One of those power-hungry corporate types who paid no attention to their husbands and children—if they had any in the first place—and greedily chased after money and success. But what was she doing on the side of the road next to a stalled dented car that looked like it had been driven across the country and back several times?
As David approached the woman, he saw she was facing the opposite direction, looking to flag down a car that would take her toward the city. With a chuckle, David glanced at his cellphone screen that showed no signal. The unlucky bitch had broken down in that stretch of the road that never had any network signal. As he was passing by without any intention of helping her, their eyes met. She was pretty with blue eyes and auburn hair, tall and athletic. His eyes reeled toward her mouth, her lips, and electricity sparked through his extremities. He braked hard, the car skidding to a stop.
David flashed a smile at the woman, stepping out of his car but maintaining a distance. “Are you okay? Do you need any help?” he called out from next to his car.
The woman flung her hands in the air. She was clearly under stress. “I need to get to my office, but my car broke down and I have no signal.”
Her voice was sweet, like honey. David wondered how her muffled screams and groans would sound.
“Me neither,” said David, gesturing toward his phone in the car. “Come on! Let me give you a ride.”
Doubt shadowed her features. She hesitated.
“I’m a doctor, Ma’am. I was returning home after my night shift. But I can give you a ride in either direction until your phone has a signal and you can call someone for help.”
Her lovely blue eyes gazed into the backseat of his car, where she undoubtedly spotted his doctor’s case and the folded white coat.
Her hesitation evaporated. “Okay,” she chirped, locking her car and bounding across the road.
As Rachel got into the doctor’s Honda Accord, her nostrils were assailed by the stench of a cigarette. “Thank you so much,” she said, inwardly cringing at the smell. It wasn’t just the second-hand smoke. The whole car smelled like someone had died in there, like a rat maybe.
Rachel held her breath. It was just a matter of minutes. Her signal would be back as soon as they covered a few miles.
“You know what, I’ll take you in that direction,” he said, pointing toward the city. “I wouldn’t want you to be late for your important thing.”
As the doctor turned the car around, Rachel’s eyes were drawn to the cakes of dirt under his fingernails. Didn’t doctors scrub their hands several times a day? These looked like the fingernails of a man who’d spent the previous night... digging. She glanced at the backseat, where the doctor’s case lay next to the folded white coat. Her eyes lingered. The coat was ironed and folded without a single visible crease.
Rachel sat ramrod straight in her seat, glancing at her cellphone screen which still showed no signal. Her mind was running over her various options.
“You know, most people would just drive by without stopping. I wanted to help. It’s not okay to leave a woman in the middle of a deserted road,” he said, showing all of his crooked, yellow teeth.
You’re being paranoid, thought Rachel. None of this proves anything. So, he’s a bit shabby-looking with poor personal hygiene and looks nothing like a doctor. It doesn’t mean he’s not actually a doctor.
Rachel felt the heat of his gaze on her face and as she turned sideways cautiously, she saw him staring at her lips. He was definitely odd, she thought, gulping.
Always trust your instinct even when, and especially when, your mind doesn’t know why your instinct is sending those signals. When your instinct is telling you you’re in danger, you listen hard, okay? Never ignore your gut feeling.
Her brother’s words echoed in her mind. Was he being paranoid or was she being stupid?
Rachel made an instant decision. “My brother works as a Lieutenant Detective in the Boston Police Department. He told me...” she paused to think. “He said that it’s not safe to hitchhike with a stranger, but here I am.”
The man kept his eyes on the road, staring ahead blankly. “You didn’t have a choice, did you?” he said gruffly.
“No. I really needed to get to my office. And then you turned up. I really appreciate this, you know, you going out of your way to help me,” she said with what she hoped was sincerity and not revulsion.
“Yeah, no problem,” he said absent-mindedly.
Rachel exhaled slowly, thinking harder. “The FBI is involved, you know, in the investigations of the deaths of those two young women.”
The man’s ears seem to perk up. “The FBI?”
“Yes,” said Rachel calmly, tightening her grip around her keys. If the man tried anything, she would poke him in the eye and run away. “You know, my brother is so paranoid, he has me report my whereabouts to him hourly. I bet he knows my car has broken down and the exact location too. He’s probably already sent help,” she said, glancing at her signal-less cellphone.
The man looked at her again, his gaze lingering on her lips. He seemed to be making up his mind about something.
“Any moment now, we’ll hear the blaring sirens and see the flashing lights of the Police cars headed this way,” said Rachel.
The man floored the brakes and the car jerked to an abrupt stop. “Oh shoot,” he said. “I’m low on gas. If you don’t mind, can I drop you here? I think you’ll be okay since help is on the way.”
“Um, yes, thank you so much.” She scrambled to get out of the car.
As the man turned the car around and sped away without another glance at her, Rachel’s sigh of relief was audible. She mentally noted his car plate number and began jogging in the opposite direction, holding her phone up high and waiting for the network connection to call her brother.