The murder had occurred somewhere between 7 and 8 in the evening. It had by all accounts been particularly horrible with rivers of blood and profusions of gore. It was one of many that year.
Jack was a quiet man who had lived alone since the death of his parents, in unusual and by all accounts mysterious circumstances, ten years before. His only true companions were a budgerigar, now in its dotage, and a mean, muscular bulldog he kept tied up in the backyard and rarely allowed in the house. Once a week he deposited lumps of meat around the yard. The dog gorged itself for days, then slept for a further day. He rarely gave it attention. Certainly not affection.
Jack worked at the local brewery, cleaning and oiling the machines. He’d done this since he was 17. Exactly the same job. He arrived at the brewery at 8.30, changed into his overalls, and beavered away until 5.30 when he changed back into his brown jacket and trousers and left. Unlike others, he found his job interesting and fulfilling. He enjoyed routine. He loved the familiar.
He’d only once had a girlfriend, when he was twenty, but now simply had cheap prostitutes when he was able to afford it who he met in town or after a long train journey to Leeds or Manchester. He rarely paid more than twenty-five pounds for his monthly relief in an alley or a small back room somewhere. When not spending his time with prostitutes, his only other passtime was his club, which he went along to every Saturday.
He lived for his club. Without the friends he’d made there his life would have been thoroughly miserable. Also, the skills he’d honed there, picking up valuable tips from the older members, were crucial to his most deeply felt needs. Although many deemed him a nonentity, he enjoyed killing people. That made him unusual. He was a sadist with complex motives and specifically intense emotions. When he was killing someone, he felt truly alive.
The club was in an old scout’s hall a mile or so from his home. It was filled with old battered tables and usually about ten members, all recruited from England’s northern counties. Above a dais hung a cardboard sign:
MURDER FOR FUN: a weekly forum for devising death.
While introverted bachelors like Jack who found it difficult to build intimate relationships, normally joined chess clubs or sat all night in desolate pubs, he had joined a group of sadists. It had certainly seemed right at the time. To inflict pain gave him immense and unusual pleasure, like eating a particularly delicious ice cream. Rending and tearing of flesh produced the kind of ecstasy that comes with eating gourmet cooking, while inflicting a slow death resembled for him the sheer satisfying pleasure of smoking an expensive Havana after a hard day.
Earlier that year, Jack had been made Chair of ‘Murder For Fun’. After being an active member for seven years it was no more than his due. His first act was to remove the meetings from a hut in a member’s back garden to the present hall. It was far more comfortable at winter and teas and coffee were freely available. It was a male only club as serial killers on the whole are men.
Meetings tended to involve examination of and debate over a member’s recent killing. The aesthetic qualities of the murder would be considered and accordingly marked from 0 (act not accomplished) to 10 (inflicting extreme abnormal pain over a considerable time span). No 10 also referred to age and gender.
The club had recently begun a new practice, that of pre-selecting victims. It was a new game. A pin would be stuck in a voting registrar, a name selected and 3 months given for the person’s murder. It was an innovation accepted with enthusiasm. Jack supervised the matter. Results were to be verified and recorded 6 months after a victim was selected and the name placed on the group’s billboard.
Jack’s victim was a middle-aged woman who lived in Hampstead, not far from the Heath. The phone book had been opened at the Hampstead area by another member, and with one swift movement her name was chosen. Her name evoked As it was a competition Jack researched her thoroughly. He had every intention of creating, to his mind, a work of art. Apart from Googling, he also decided to follow her to discover her daily routine. This meant waiting in a car and noting when she left home each day and following her , observing her movements. He stalked her, losing a week’s wage as a consequence. Jack wanted her death to be a true work of art; the extraordinary effort he therefore considered worthwhile.
He found that she lived alone with only her son coming to visit her at weekends. She went shopping every other day, occasionally went to wine bars with friends, had no lovers, and generally lived a quiet life. Based on this information he devised a plan. He needed to make her death last, filled with excruciating psychological and physical torment, and in this age of advanced technology filmed. He decided therefore to become friendly with her first. As a reserved shy man he was uncertain quite how to achieve that.
Thursday. His victim was sitting with her friend in a darkened wine bar. Soft Spanish music was playing quietly. He watched her out of the corner of his eye. To his horror, she glanced over in his direction and smiled. To his surprise, he smiled back. He never smiled at a woman.
A few minutes later, her friend rose and shaking her hand left. As George dug into his pudding, he felt a presence and looked up to find her standing over him.
‘Can I join you?’ She asked. ‘I hope you don’t mind.’
Jack stumbled over a response. In the meantime she sat down opposite him.
‘I saw you staring. Have we met before?’
He struggled to meet her gaze. ‘Was I staring Sorry.’ He blushed.
‘No, that’s alright. It’s flattering.’ She smiled sweetly. ‘She downed her drink. ‘What is your name?’
Jack rarely found himself the object of female attention. He blushed even more, the space between his collar and neck the colour of vermillion.
‘Can I get you a drink?’ He asked eventually.
‘Thank you.’ She cooed. ‘My name’s Beryl.’
He thought it was a lovely name. ‘My name’s Jack.’
She put out her hand. ‘Nice to meet you, Jack.’
Jack had never managed to relax in an attractive woman’s company before. Within an hour he was making jokes. In another hour they were laughing happily together. In yet another, Jack had more or less fallen in love. In that moment, albeit temporarily, she ceased to be his potential victim. They parted at eleven, exchanging phone numbers.
The following morning Jack was mortified by his lapse. He prized professionalism above all, feeling he had let his calling down. An assassin should not by his code have genuine intimacy on any level with the mark. He was full of shame and guilt.
On the mantelpiece downstairs was her phone number. He picked up the paper, thinking to throw it away. He put it back instead.
Later, he could not explain why he had rung her up. It wasn’t like him at all. They arranged to meet at a restaurant in Belsize Park.
She chose an Italian restaurant by the underground station. Smiling, she told him she had been there before and particularly liked the food. Although the meal proved delicious, the price concerned him. She talked at length about her family. He, throughout, remained focused on her beautiful eyes. His gaze automatically rested upon her bosom, taking in the unblemished white of each breast.
‘Jack’, she purred, ‘I don’t understand why you have never been married. You listen to a woman. Few men know to do that. It’s a lovely quality.’ She lifted her glass. He lifted his, and they toasted the night and each other.
Sucking in the spaghetti, they gabbled on until closing time.
At forty-six she was in her prime. No longer married, she took her sex where she found it. Jack by contrast had not slept with any woman, unless he paid for it. He had little experience of the processes towards consummation. When she invited him back to her house, he truly imagined it was for a coffee before he embarked on the hour-long journey home. He had no idea he was now expected to provide further entertainment.
It was the day before the next meeting and she was of course still alive. Jack knew that unless he provided the other members with a suitable reason for her continued existence, he would lose his position as Chair. Lying would not solve the problem, as all assassinations were intricately checked by the other members. Any story he concocted would quickly be exposed.
There was only two days left.
Jack had a tough decision to make. Did he protect his new love, and therefore lose all that he had worked so long to achieve or complete his mission, thereby losing the only real affection he had ever known. Jack tussled manfully with the problem, scarcely sleeping at nights as he attempted to reach a decision. In the end analysis, the respect of his colleagues, the importance of his position in the group, he decided, was of greater moment than the love of a woman. He would, in the short time left, complete his task.
As he had left it so late, Jack had to abandon subtlety and the artistic flourishes for which he was already renowned. It had to be a straightforward stabbing or shooting. Something quick, clean and commonplace. Already, he began to regret the distraction. Thankfully, they had a date that night.
Once again she had decided where they would go. As if playing into his hands, she had chosen a drink in a pub and afterwards a romantic walk on a nearby heath. There was only a trace of moonlight that night.
Jack wore his bulkiest jacket within which he secreted a short knife, enfolded within cloth, a longer kitchen knife in a scabbard, and a revolver. The latter he hated using, as too impersonal. For Jack, each death required a degree of intimacy, some kind of relationship with the victim. Otherwise, there was no fun in the process. The cold evening air made his choice of coat feasible.
At dinner, her conversation was delightful as usual. He already deeply regretted what he had to do. He drank one glass of wine more than usual during the meal of spaghetti and sauced-up lamb balls. After a coffee they left for his car. Fifteen minutes later they were walking arm in arm on the heath.
‘Isn’t this wonderful?’ She said, feeling the cool air on her cheeks.
He touched the large knife buried inside his coat, deciding that was to be his weapon of choice. ‘It’s a truly lovely night.’ He refrained from looking at her directly.
When they stopped on a hill they saw the city, a Christmas tree arrangement of lights, laid out before them. He thought how marvellous it actually was. Her hand journeyed up his back and began playing with this hair, still thick above his nape. Her fingers lightly caressed his neck. Briefly she withdrew her hand.
There was little light. The heath seemed empty. There was no sound except for the rustle of dying leaves and the pinging noise as the wind plucked them from branches. He grasped the knife, pulling it from its hidey hole. He turned slightly. It was then that she blew the back of his head off.
The shot was muffled by a small silencer she had attached to the barrel earlier. His body had immediately fallen to the grass, brain and blood flying everywhere. As there was no point admiring her handiwork she walked back to his car, placing the revolver in her handbag as she walked. In the car she calmly applied lipstick, taking out her mobile phone.
‘Job done.’ She said into the phone. ‘Easy number. He’s missing most of what little brain he had.’ She laughed. ‘Splayed out on the heath. Straight to plan.’ She laughed again, starting the car. ‘That’s my fifth. Easiest of the lot. So now do I become the Treasurer? It’s about time I sat on the committee.’
She reversed the car, and sped out of the heath. The body wasn’t discovered for two weeks.