Published 31 January, 2018
Emily hit the steering wheel of her car, muttering under her breath. She leaned forward, groping in the dark with her hand to find the release lever for the bonnet. When she had located the lever, she pulled it and heard the satisfying noise of the lock being released. Emily got out of the car and pulling her coat tight to protect against the cold November air, raised the hood in the universal signal to tell the world she had broken down.
She looked around her, shuffling her feet to keep warm. Her car was pulled over to the verge of a quiet side road somewhere between Norwich and Wymondham. It was past six in the evening, so it was almost dark. In the distance to her left, she could see the orange street lights of Norwich reflecting off the ominous clouds that were hovering over the city. She didn’t bother looking to her right, knowing Wymondham wasn’t anywhere near big enough to be reflected off the clouds. Apart from the distant noise of the A11, the main dual carriageway that linked the Norwich and Wymondham, it was silent.
“Come on, come on,” Emily mumbled to herself, pushing her hands deeper into her coat pockets and glancing up at the darkening sky. She remembered that she had gloves in the car, so walked back to the door to get them before resuming her position behind the car. “Come on,” she mumbled again.
Paul thumped the palm of his hand on his thigh almost, but not quite, in time with the music. He peered through the gloom in front of him. One of his main headlights had gone the other day, so he only had one main light and sidelights to see where he was going. That was another reason he’d taken one of the back roads. The last thing he needed was to be pulled over by the police.
On the radio, the music faded out and the news headlines came on. The lead story on the local station was the same one it had been for the last couple of weeks. Paul listened as the newsreader’s voice kept changing from serious to breathless excitement and back again. Behind her words, and only just hidden by the radio presenter, was the suggestion that the police didn’t have a clue in the hunt for Norfolk’s first serial killer in living memory. There were four victims now, all killed with a single knife wound to the chest. Paul tuned out her voice as he wondered at what point the police would admit they needed help. Perhaps they’ll call in the FBI, Paul chuckled to himself as he drove through the dark night.
“Between five foot nine and six foot, heavy build, dark hair,” the newsreader gasped on the radio, eager to get as much as much information into her bulletin before having to give the broadcast back to music. Paul grinned in the dark and hit the button on the radio to find another channel with something else to listen to. Preferably something without empty-headed journalists filling airtime with nonsense.
He slowed down for a corner which was much tighter than it looked. Paul knew the road well as it was his usual route home after football with the lads. As he crawled around the sharp bend, he saw a small blue car pulled over to the side of the road.
“Oh hello,” he said out loud as he saw the young woman standing behind the car. “What are you doing stuck out here, Miss?” Paul indicated left and slowed down. He eased his car in behind the broken down Mini Cooper with the raised hood and flicked his hazard lights on.
Pushing the door open, he got out of his car.
“Hi, are you okay?” he asked the young woman behind the car. She raised a hand in a half-hearted attempt at a wave. The woman was maybe five foot three, a fair bit shorter than he was, black hair to her shoulders and from what he could see of her in the reflected light of his broken headlights, very pretty. Very pretty indeed. Paul wasn’t great at ages but if he’d had to guess, he’d put her about the same age as him so mid-twenties. She wouldn’t know it yet, but she was just his type.
“I’ve broken down,” she said with a grimace, shoving her hands deep into the pockets of her thick red coat.
“Oh, that’s not good.” He tried what he hoped was a disarming smile as he walked up to her. “Any idea what’s wrong?” She frowned before replying.
“No idea at all. One minute Bessie was fine, the next minute she stopped.” Paul had to think for a few seconds before he realised who Bessie was. Paul didn’t have a name for his car unless it was playing up, in which case it had several names but none which could be said out loud in polite company. “Do you know much about cars?” the young woman asked. She had quite a deep voice, and Paul wondered if she smoked or was just sultry. He preferred the latter, and as the only thing he could smell was something agricultural, he decided that sultry she was.
“Not a massive amount, sorry,” he replied. Her face fell, the disappointment obvious. “But I can have a look for you. I know a bit.” Paul walked around to the front of the car and bent over the bonnet.
He put his palms on the car and peered into the darkness. Paul couldn’t see a thing, so he pulled his phone out of his pocket and turned the torch app on. He moved the light over the engine, looking at the various components. Apart from the fact it was an engine, he couldn’t tell what was what. He didn’t want to tell the woman that though. Standing up, he turned to her.
“I’m Paul, by the way.” He saw her smile in the light of the phone. She really was beautiful. White, straight teeth with a dimple in each cheek.
“I’m Emily,” she replied, her dimples disappearing as her smile faded. They stood looking at each other for an awkward few seconds before she put a hand out. Paul took it and they shook hands. He could feel her slender fingers through the thin gloves she was wearing.
“Delighted to meet you, Emily,” Paul said with another disarming grin. “Although maybe not under these circumstances.” Emily’s smile returned, as did her dimples.
“Yeah, likewise,” she said.
“Why don’t you try to start Bessie up so I can hear what’s going on?” Paul said. He had to at least look as if he was making an effort. Emily walked to the driver’s door and got in, giving Paul a glimpse of her legs as she moved her coat to one side. Although she had jeans on, the little he could see of her underneath her winter clothing was fine by him. He leaned back over the engine as Emily cranked the ignition a couple of times. The car coughed and spluttered, but didn’t start.
“What do you think?” Paul heard Emily call out from behind the wheel. He leaned around the bonnet to look at her.
“Not being funny, but you have got petrol in it, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I have,” she replied. “Plenty. I did check that, thanks very much. Well?”
“Difficult to say. The battery seems okay,” Paul thought back to a couple of years ago when he’d broken down just outside Thetford and had to call the AA out and he tried to remember what the mechanic had said. “The alternator sounds okay but for some reason, she’s not catching.” He rubbed his chin with one hand, scratching the few days growth he’d not bothered to shave off that morning. “I’d say it could be a fuel issue. Maybe it’s not getting through.”
“Can you do anything about it?” she asked. He shook his head in reply.
“Not out here, no. I’d need to get it into my garage to have a proper look at it.” He didn’t have a garage, but Emily didn’t know that and he wasn’t about to tell her. He watched as her face creased up, and he thought for a second she was about to burst into tears. The main problem with that was whether he’d be able to keep a straight face. Paul put his hand on her arm, keeping his touch light so he didn’t scare her. “Hey, don’t worry. We’ll sort something out.”
Emily took a deep breath as if she was trying to compose herself.
“Have you got someone on the way?” he asked, making a real effort not to sound too enthusiastic.
“No, my bloody phone’s dead. I forgot to charge it before I left.”
“No worries, I’ve got mine.” He held his phone up in the air. “Who do you want me to call?”
“Er,” Emily replied, her face falling. Paul knew what she was about to say. “I don’t know anyone’s number. They’re all in my phone.” Bingo. She’d said just what he thought she would.
Paul thought for a few seconds, pondering his next move. He wanted to get Emily into his car where it would be easier to control her.
“Have you got Facebook on your phone?” she asked. “I could send one of my friends a message, get them to come and get me. Or send them your number so that they could call?” Paul was caught out by the question. That wasn’t something he’d considered.
“Hang on a second,” he replied, peering at his phone. Making sure that Emily couldn’t see the screen, he swiped his thumb across it to turn the mobile data off before returning it to the home screen. He turned it round so that Emily could see the screen. “I’ve got no 3G signal, look.” She leaned forward to look at the screen and Paul could smell her shampoo. He had no idea what brand it was, but it smelt very nice. She reached up with a hand to slide a stray lock of hair behind her ear. Paul could see that her hair was fine, almost like silk thread, and he wondered for a second what it would feel like wound hard around his hand.
“Oh crap,” Emily whispered, and she looked at him in the blue light of the phone’s screen. For a second, Paul thought from her wide eyed expression she knew what he was thinking, but there was no way she could. He’d not said anything, he’d not let his expression reveal his thoughts. Those were both lessons he’d learned before, and they weren’t mistakes he was going to make again. He had to get her in the car.
“Listen, it’s not safe out here in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “Not with some nutcase running around Norfolk it’s not.” Her eyes grew even wider, and he thought for a second he’d gone in too hard, too soon. She took a step back from him and pulled the coat tighter around her stomach. Paul watched as she weighed up her options.
He needed to get her to trust him. The picture on the screen of his phone was of a woman and child, his wife and son if she’d asked. She wouldn’t know it was a random picture off the internet. Paul had hoped that she would ask him so he could tell her all about his non-existent family. It was all about trust, and building it up enough so she would get into the car. Then fate intervened to help Paul out, and fat raindrops started to fall.
Emily looked up at the dark sky and the rain and realised that she had to make a decision. She pulled her coat even tighter across her middle and looked at the man standing in front of her. Was he a knight in shining armour, a genuine man with only her best interests at heart, or did he have something far more sinister in mind? He certainly matched the description that the newspapers had been putting out. Early to mid twenties, well built, and short dark hair. She guessed he could be described as good looking although he wasn’t really her type. As she looked at him, he smiled again, a lop-sided grin that showed off a good set of teeth. She could see how some women would go for him.
“Listen Emily,” Paul said. “I get that you’re a bit nervous of strangers, what with what’s been going on and everything. I guess there’s a few options. I could call a cab and wait until it arrives, I could drive on to Norwich and send someone back to get you, or,” he paused, his smile widening. “Or I could give you a lift home?” He had an almost hopeful look on his face as he said the third option. As the rain intensified, Emily made up her mind.
“Okay, could you give me a lift home then?”
Paul opened the door for Emily, and as she climbed into the car, she had a quick look round the interior. It was tidy, surprisingly tidy for a man, and she could smell the sweet tree shaped air freshener that was dangling from the rear view mirror.
“Thanks,” she said as he closed the door. While he made his way round to the driver’s door, she thought about whether or not to put her seatbelt on. Emily realised that if she didn’t, there would probably be an alarm in the car when Paul started the car so she clicked it home. He climbed into the driver’s seat and started the car, turning the heater up as he did so.
“That’s better,” he said, smiling at her. She looked at him in the dim glow of the interior light and returned a weak smile. He laughed. “My God, you look so nervous. Just chill, I don’t bite.”
Emily tried to relax as Paul put the car into gear and pulled away from her mini. The broken headlight made it difficult for her to see too far down the lane, and she was surprised that he was out and about at night with only one light.
“So where are we heading for then?” Paul asked.
“If you could head for Thorpe, that’d be great,” she replied. “I’ll give you detailed directions once we get there.”
“No problem,” he said. Emily sat back in her seat, enjoying the heat coming from the vents in front of her. She watched the windscreen wipers make their way back and forth across the glass and took some deep breaths.
Less than five minutes later, Emily realised that the car was slowing down. She glanced across at Paul, her heart rate increasing.
“Everything okay?” she asked, trying to keep the nervousness out of her voice. “Why are we slowing down?” Paul didn’t reply, but a few seconds later turned the car sharply to the left and into a lay-by. The main parking area was set back from the road, with a line of trees and bushes masking it from view. “Paul, why are we stopping?” Emily said. Her voice had gone up an octave, and she abandoned any pretence of calm. She put her hand down to her side to find the button to release the seatbelt and as the car ground to a halt, she pressed it. As she’d thought, a light appeared on the dashboard and an alarm sounded.
Paul pressed a lever on his side of the car and Emily heard the clunk of the central door locking mechanism. She stared at Paul, her mouth dry and her heart thumping in her chest.
“I just thought we could get to know each other a bit better before I drop you off home, Emily.” Paul said. She shrank back in her chair and pushed herself against the door, trying to give herself as much room as she could as he leaned across toward her.
Paul gasped and blinked a couple of times in rapid succession. Emily smiled. They all seemed to do that. He looked down at the handle of the knife that Emily had slid into his chest before looking back at her, his eyes wide with surprise. Paul didn’t know it, but the knife was between his fifth and sixth ribs, maybe fourth and fifth. Emily knew something else that Paul didn’t, which was that the long blade of the knife she’d had hidden in her coat was right in his heart, puncturing one or both of his ventricles. Emily watched him blink again as the life started to leave his eyes and her smile widened. Her heartbeat started to come back down as she watched him, and she closed her eyes for a few seconds to relish the disappearing adrenaline rush.
Emily waited, and wondered how long it would take the media to pick up on yet another young man, early to mid-twenties, well built and good looking, falling victim to a serial killer. Paul looked like all the other victims and just like the others, he thought he was a predator. Not prey. All he had to do was give a stranded woman a lift home. If he’d been the gentleman he was pretending to be, he’d be at home with a cold beer by now.
When she was certain Paul was dead, Emily slid the knife out of his chest and wiped it clean on his jeans. It would take her maybe twenty minutes to get back to her car, replace the spark plugs, and head home to Thorpe for a nice cup of tea. Maybe even a glass of Pinot Grigio. After all, she’d had a busy night.