Authors: M.J. Trow
M. J. TROW
He'd come across scenes of crimes before, those isolated, random places where Fate had been met, where a solution had been found, where a life had been snuffed out. This one was rather more gruesome than some he'd
. The head lay at an impossible angle near the fridge door, the eyes still bright, looking up at him. A short
away, a leg â the left he guessed, sprawled on the flotex. Somewhere between â¦ his world-weary eyes took in the distance â yes, there it was. Viscera, purple and shining in the half-light from the kitchen, a little liver, a heart.
He straightened, looking around, narrowing his eyes in the gloom. It was the old pattern, the signature of the serial killer he knew so well. The doormat was ruched, the bowl turned over in the agony of death he could still feel in that ghastly, bloody room. And it wouldn't have been quick, he knew, as he reached for the rubber gloves; if it had, what would have been the point? He looked again at the lacerations on the dismembered corpse at his feet. She was alive when all that was done to her â every carefully aimed slash, every deliberate precise cut.
He slammed the gloves down, spinning on his heel. Confrontation time. He knew where to find him, this early in the morning, before the warming sun had climbed. He knew his hiding places of old, his lair. He had no friends. Oh, the odd female perhaps, to fill a night on the tiles. And that daft old bat next door who persisted in calling him âsuch a pet' even when he was wiping the
blood from his mouth. Not for nothing was he known by all and sundry as the Sawney Bean of the South Coast; the Hannibal Lecter of Leighford.
He felt the morning breeze kiss his face; heard, as they did all through the even greater slaughter of Ypres and the Somme, the birds still singing. It didn't take him long to find him. No surprises, no attempt to run. There he was, smug as ever, sprawled in the sun's early rays, eyes
, glutted, sated. He'd have spent a long time
this, like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, all the other alumni of that mad school of murder. There'd have been the trawling phase, as he searched for a victim. That would be night. He liked the night. More, he loved the dark. Because to him, it was not dark. That killer's instinct he'd never learned to tame shone like a searchlight through it all, finding his target like the cross-hairs of a sniper. Then, when he'd found her, the seduction. Bundy had done it with a spurious bandaged arm, John Wayne Gacy with the offer of a job. This one? Well, this one did it with a tilt of his head, a tilt that said âWanna play?' But it was his game. His rules. And he never lost. The next phase in the serial killer's insane calendar was what it was all about â the kill. And as he looked at him now,
in the dawn, he still couldn't quite imagine the horror of that. No rational human being could.
âYours, I think,' Peter Maxwell dropped the
tail onto the sloping asphalt of his shed, an inch or two in front of the pink nose of the black and white cat called Metternich. The giant tom stretched out his
, defying metaphor and sniffed. He looked up at Maxwell as if to say, âNo thanks. I've just eaten.'
âI thought we had an agreement,' Maxwell was stern. âI
give you milk, those crunched up bits of cardboard that pass for cat food and which add lustre to your cluster, and every Christmas, however bad you've been, I give you a sodding great Cat Nip Thing. In exchange, you do not scratch my furniture, fart in my lounge or commit your sick ritualistic killings in my kitchen.' He leaned in to the animal, nose to nose in the morning. âWe have a contract, Count,' he purred, âwritten in my blood, I seem to
Metternich the cat raised his head, he who never smiled. Would this bow-tied idiot never understand? His forbears, and it wasn't
long ago, for Christ's sake, not in cat years, had snarled, sabre-toothed and bristling with attitude, in search of Man himself. There'd been no bits of crushed-up cardboard then, no fridge-chilled milk. Just blood. And the chase. Metternich's shoulders rippled under the gloss of his fur and he gave Maxwell his trump card, a kiss on the nose.
âHe's such a pet, isn't he?' Maxwell stood bolt upright at the shrill sound of his neighbour. He couldn't see her. Not at first. âDown here,' he heard again. He crouched a little, next to the shed, peering through the privet that marks the boundary of many an Englishman's castle.
âMrs Troubridge?' he squinted.
âHe's so affectionate, your Metternich,' she trilled. âI expect he'll be round later for a lick of my syllabub.'
That, Maxwell thought, went without saying. âEr â¦ where are you, Mrs Troubridge?' he asked.
âJust here,' she chirped in the bird-like way he dreaded most on a drowsy summer's afternoon, just as he started to nod off. âI was weeding my leptospermum.'
âOh, good,' he smiled.
âYou're up bright and early today, Mr Maxwell.'
âAh, yes. Thought I'd get into work early this morning, Mrs Troubridge. Have a spot of breakfast.'
âAt a transport cafÃ©?' It was a phrase Mrs Troubridge had heard once. She had no idea what it was.
âNo, no, at school. We've just started a Breakfast Club. I rather fancy a full English.'
âA Breakfast Club? Ah, yes, that would be like the âtwenties, wouldn't it? A little before my time, of course, but I remember Father saying he used to take food parcels and shoes and things in for the underprivileged children. I expect you have a lot of that, don't you? Underprivilege.'
âOh, yes,' Maxwell sighed, straightening. âYou'd be amazed. Well, good morning, Mrs Troubridge. Have a nice day, y'hear?' It was pure Jed Clampett out of the Beverley Hillbillies, but since that was long after Mrs Troubridge's time, it was wasted.
âI will.' She waved an invisible trowel at him.
He turned on the gravel of the path, glowering at the cat. âNo more corpses, Count,' he growled. âNature may be red in tooth and claw, but keep it out here. Okay?' Even Peter Maxwell lapsed into Americanisms when annoyed.
Metternich lashed his tail, the feline answer to â
'. The daft old sod was talking to the hedge now, for God's sake. He
just kissed him on the nose; and he hadn't done that in a long, long time. Well, that was as cosy as it was going to get. From now on, no more Mr Nice Cat.
Metternich watched Maxwell swing open the shed door and haul out that white contraption with wheels. What
that all about? He saw him bend down, as he
always did, and clip those metal things around his legs. He never saw Mrs Troubridge do that, nor her at Number Forty-Two. In fact,
but Maxwell did that, not even those who had similar contraptions with wheels. No wonder everybody called him Mad Max.
The road was a ribbon development over the purple moors. Well, actually, the golf course. Peter âMad Max' Maxwell had saddled his faithful velocipede charger, White Surrey, and was pedalling through the morning. He noted how Columbine had changed. When he'd moved into Metternich's house at Number Thirty-Eight, there had still been a kiddies' playground at the far end and a small herd of Herefords had chewed the endless cud at the other. Now, it was all double garages and
dishes and the clattering crescendo of skateboards
on the tarmac. Surely John Loudon MacAdam hadn't sweated blood for this?
He saw the flat-capped golfers, dots on the green of summer, going through their incomprehensible motions away to his right. Who were these buggers, who had the leisure to play a round all day, wondered he of the
weeks holiday. Yes, all right, he conceded as he stood in the stirrups to take the brow of Harry Hill, teachers had the time. They just didn't have the salary to afford the Club fees. Heigh ho for the open road.
The seven thirty-eight from Tottingleigh was
up from Lansdowne Crescent as Maxwell crested the rise. He eased Surrey's brakes and planted his feet on the grass as he wheeled gently off the road. Why did he never tire of this view? He who had seen it a thousand times a thousand times? The sea stretched out before him,
sparkling like diamonds in the July sunshine, its horizons far, its power limitless. Below the headland called the Shingle, the curve of Leighford Bay was white and as yet unsullied by the guilty families who risked imprisonment by taking their children on seaside holidays in term time. The gulls bickered and fought along the roar of the surf, charging like the white horses that Rudyard Kipling had imagined at the water's edge of his endlessly inventive mind. The seven thirty-eight rumbled past, one-man operated, still childless in this precious moment before the school-run began and daffy women, minds elsewhere on hair-dos and lunches and the morning shop, cut him up without signalling at left turns on street corners.
He kicked the right pedal into position and wheeled Surrey onto the road again, hurtling down the hill for the flyover and the road to perdition.
There were balloons fluttering at the corner of Gracewell Avenue and a badly painted sign proclaiming that Mrs Baker, the Lollipop Lady, was retiring after
years. Seventeen years! Peter Maxwell had been a mere stripling then, only gradually approaching a
middle age. His hair had been dark, his eye bright, his boyish heart undaunted by years of government
and crap thrown directly at the Chalk Face, off which it had bounced all over him. And Mrs Baker? Well, she looked today as she'd looked all those years ago â
. Except she wasn't there yet. It would be quarter of an hour before her notoriously bunioned feet hobbled around the corner to shepherd the last generation of little psychopaths across the road. Seventeen years. And not a single death. Not even a serious maiming, and you
say that about many council employees.
Surrey's wheels whistled along the tarmac and the lamp-posts hissed by with the rhythm of the road. Then Peter Maxwell was through the school gates and
up the steps he told Year Seven never to try. You had to be brave to do that, to have the experience and the
of ages. More, you had to be certifiably insane. And yet more, you had to be Mad Max.
He hooked Surrey to the hitching rail of the bike sheds. Shaking his head as he often did at the passing of time which had robbed him of his childhood, CCTV cameras stared voyeuristically down on his shapeless tweed cap. Who knew how many generations of Leighford Hyenas had experienced their first teenaged gropes under those corrugated awnings? How many of the next generation had been conceived? Now, with the all-intrusive eye
to the wall, it was no longer I'll show you mine, but I'll show the whole world; or at least the ladies who
in the Student Services offices. How sad. Although, thought Maxwell as he whipped off his cycle-clips and hauled his saddle bags over his shoulder, it might yet make the day of Duane âThe Flasher' Billings of Nine Zed Eff.
An unplaceable smell greeted him as he snuck in the back way past the Art Block. What was that? Fear? Or the emanations from Hell's kitchen as he rounded the corner. He tipped his hat and beamed at the cross-grained old besom behind the counter in the canteen.
âMorning, Mrs Lovett. Two of your very excellent meat pies, please, while I nip next door for a shave.'
âMrs Lovett' never knew what Mad Max was talking about, even on the best of days. And today was Monday, never the best of days. She didn't even know why he
called her Mrs Lovett, except maybe he was a bit barmy.
âWill that be a coffee, then?' She chased the endless chewing gum around the cavern that she called a mouth.
âIndeed,' smiled Maxwell, waving at the shy little thing in the chequered overalls in the kitchens' recesses. She was Sharon, one of the three thousand of that name he'd taught in his two and a half centuries at the Chalk Face. She'd never said a word to him then, not from Year Seven when she'd joined to Year Eleven when she'd left. Now she was back, turning the full circle as some kids did, unable to go, unable to leave, trapped by the deadly thrall of their schooldays. She blushed and waved back. He wasn't to know that Sharon had a bit of a thing for older men and that she'd kept a picture of Mad Max Maxwell at the back of her wardrobe at home. One day, she screwed up her lip with renewed determination,
she'd say hello to him.
But the Great Man was gone, university scarf dangling with its heraldry, the black cockerels' heads of Jesus College clucking on their white field. He threw the battered hat down onto the formica-topped table.
âCap!' he roared and six or seven of the
, who could only just afford brand new trainers, mobiles and skateboards, whipped off their baseball headgear and looked suitably sheepish.
âNever seen so many Babe Ruths in my life,' he
to the colleague slumped behind
across the table from him.
âThis is an honour, Max.'
âBen, Ben,' Maxwell reached out and patted the man's hand. âIt's nothing, really. Finished with that spoon?'
Ben Holton was the Head of Science at Leighford
High. He was younger than Maxwell, but had less hair and all the bonhomie of the Ayatollah Khomeini,
you were old enough to remember him. He passed the piece of plastic to the Head of Sixth Form.
âSpoon,' Maxwell shook his head. âRemember when these things were metal, Ben? They had a bowl and a stem. You could hang them on your nose to the endless amusement of your first girlfriend.'