The night stalker a chil.., p.1
The Night Stalker
A chilling serial killer thriller
A Note from Robert
The Girl in the Ice
Also by Robert Bryndza
For Ján, Riky and Lola
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
While night's black agents to their preys do rouse.
William Shakespeare, Macbeth
It was a sweltering summer night in late June. The black-clad figure ran lightly, streaking through the darkness, feet barely making a sound on the narrow dirt path, ducking and twisting gracefully to avoid contact with the dense surrounding trees and bushes. It was as if a shadow were sweeping silently over the leaves.
The night sky was just a thin strip between the trees high above; the light pollution from the city cast the undergrowth in dusky shades. The small, shadow-like figure reached a gap in the undergrowth on the right, and stopped abruptly: poised, breathless, heart racing.
A strobe of blue-white lit up the surroundings as the 7.39 p.m. train to London Bridge switched from diesel, extending its metal arms to the electrified lines above. The shadow ducked down as empty glowing carriages rumbled past. There were two more flashes and the train was gone, plunging the narrow strip of undergrowth back into darkness.
The shadow moved off again at speed, gliding soundlessly as the path curved slightly away from the tracks. The trees began to thin out to the left, exposing a row of terraced houses. Snapshots of back gardens slid past: neat dark strips with patio furniture, tool sheds, a swing set – all still in the thick night air.
And then the house came into view. It was a Victorian terrace, like the others in the long row – three storeys of pale brick – but its owner had added a large glass extension at the back, which jutted out from the ground floor. The small shadow knew everything about the owner. Knew the layout of the house. Knew the owner’s schedule. And most importantly, knew that tonight he would be alone.
The shadow came to a stop at the end of the garden. A large tree grew against the wire fence that backed on to the dirt track. In one place the trunk had grown around the metal, the folds of wood biting down on the rusting post like a large lipless mouth. A heavy halo of leaves burst upwards in all directions, obscuring the view of the train tracks from the house. A few nights previously, the shadow had taken this same route and had neatly clipped the edges of the wire fence, loosely tacking it back in place. The fence now pulled away easily and the shadow crouched down and crawled through the gap. The grass felt dry and the soil below was cracked from weeks of no rain. The shadow came up to its feet under the tree and in a fast, fluid motion crossed the lawn in a swoop of black.
An air-conditioning unit was attached to the rear wall of the house. It whirred loudly, masking the faint crunch of feet on the gravel that lined the narrow path between the glass extension and the house next door. The shadow reached a low sash window and ducked down underneath the wide sill. Light shone out, casting a square of yellow on the brickwork of the neighbouring house. Pulling up the hood of the running suit, the shadow slowly inched upwards and looked over the wide windowsill.
The man inside was in his mid-forties, tall and well-built, dressed in tan trousers and a white shirt rolled up at the sleeves. He moved around the large open-plan kitchen, took a wine glass from one of the cupboards, and poured himself a glass of red. He took a long gulp and topped up his glass. A ready meal lay on the counter, and he picked it up, slipped off its cardboard sleeve and pricked at the plastic lid with the corkscrew.
Hatred rose in the shadow. It was intoxicating to see the man inside, knowing what was about to unfold.
The man in the kitchen programmed the microwave and placed the meal inside. There was a beep and the digital countdown began.
The man took another gulp of his wine and then left the kitchen. Moments later, a light came on in the bathroom window directly above where the shadow crouched. The window swung open a few inches, and there was a squeak as the shower was turned on.
Heart hammering, the shadow outside the window worked fast: unzipping a money belt, pulling out a small flat screwdriver and easing it into the crack where the window met the sill. With a small amount of pressure, it popped open. The sash window moved up smoothly and the shadow slid in through the gap. This was it. All the planning, the years of angst and pain…
The figure stepped down into the kitchen and moved swiftly, pulling out a small plastic syringe and squirting its clear liquid into the glass of red wine, swirling the wine around before gently placing the glass back on the black granite counter.
The shadow stood for a moment, listening, enjoying the cool waves from the air conditioning. The black granite countertop sparkled under the lights.
The shadow moved quickly through the kitchen, passing the wooden bannister at the base of the stairs, and slipped into a pool of darkness behind the living room door. A moment later, the man came down the stairs, wearing just a towel. The microwave gave three loud beeps to say it was fini
The shadow exhaled deeply, emerged from the shadows and quietly climbed the stairs.
To exact long-awaited retribution.
FOUR DAYS LATER
The night air was close and humid on the quiet South London street. Moths fizzed and bumped in the orange arc of light cast by a streetlamp illuminating a row of terraced houses. Estelle Munro shuffled along the pavement, arthritis slowing her progress. When she drew close to the light, she stepped down from the pavement and onto the road. The effort to step down off the kerb made her groan, but her fear of moths outweighed the pain in her arthritic knees.
Estelle eased her way through a gap between two parked cars and gave the streetlight a wide berth, feeling the heat from the day’s sun radiating off the tarmac. The heatwave was in its second week, pressing down on the residents of London and the south-east of England, and along with thousands of other old people Estelle’s heart was protesting. The siren of a far-off ambulance blared, seeming to echo her thoughts. She was relieved to see that the next two streetlights were broken, and slowly, painfully, she edged between two parked cars and rejoined the pavement.
She had offered to feed her son Gregory’s cat whilst he was away. She didn’t like cats. She’d only offered so she could have a good nose around the house, and see how her son was coping since his wife, Penny, had left him, taking Estelle’s five-year-old grandson, Peter, with her.
Estelle was out of breath and pouring with sweat when she reached the gate of Gregory’s smart terraced house. In her opinion, it was the smartest house in the whole street. She pulled a large hanky out from under her bra strap and wiped the sweat off her face.
Light from the orange streetlight rippled across the glass front door as Estelle fished out her key. When she opened the door, she was hit by a wall of stifling heat and she stepped reluctantly inside, onto letters strewn over the mat. She flicked the light switch by the door, but the hallway remained in darkness.
‘Bloody hell, not again,’ she muttered, pulling the door closed behind her. As she felt around to pick up the post, she realised this was the third time the power had tripped whilst Gregory had been away. The lights in the fish tank had done it once before, and another time Penny had left the bathroom light on and the bulb had blown.
Estelle fished her mobile phone from her handbag and, with an awkward fumble of gnarled fingers, unlocked the screen. It cast a dim halo of light a few feet in front, illuminating the pale carpet and narrow walls, and she jumped as she saw her ghostly reflection in the large mirror on the left-hand side. The half-light gave the lilies on her sleeveless blouse an inky, poisonous quality. She focused the light of her phone down onto the carpet and shuffled towards the living room door, feeling around on the inside wall for the switch, to check it wasn’t just the hall bulb that had gone. She flicked the switch on and off, but nothing happened.
Then the screen of her phone timed out and she was plunged into total darkness. Just the sound of her laboured breathing filled the silence. She panicked, fumbling to unlock the phone. At first her arthritic fingers wouldn’t move fast enough, but finally she managed it and the light came back on, casting the front room in a circle of dim blue.
It was stifling inside: the heat pressed down on her, closing off her ears. It was as if she were underwater. Dust particles twirled in the air; a cloud of tiny flies floated silently above a large arty china plate filled with brown wooden balls on the coffee table.
‘It’s just a power cut!’ she snapped, her voice resonating sharply off the iron fireplace. She was annoyed that she’d panicked. It was just the circuit breaker, nothing more. To prove there was nothing to be scared of, she would first have a drink of cold water, and then she would get the electricity back on. She turned, shuffling purposefully off towards the kitchen, her arm outstretched with the phone.
The glass kitchen seemed cavernous in the phone’s half-light, extending out into the garden. Estelle felt vulnerable and exposed. There was a distant whoosh and a click-clack as a train passed on the track beyond the bottom of the garden. Estelle went to a cupboard and pulled down a glass tumbler. Sweat stung, as it dripped into her eyes; she wiped her face with her bare arm. She moved to the sink and filled her glass, wincing as she drank the lukewarm water.
The light went out on the phone again, and a crash from upstairs broke the silence. Estelle dropped the tumbler. It shattered, glass spraying out on the wood floor. Her heart pulsed and pounded, and as she listened in the darkness there was another scuffling sound from above. She grabbed a rolling pin from a pot of utensils on the counter and went to the bottom of the stairs.
‘Who’s there? I’ve got pepper spray and I’m dialling 999!’ she shouted up into the darkness.
There was silence. The heat was oppressive. Thoughts of snooping around her son’s house were gone. All Estelle wanted to do was to go home and watch the Wimbledon highlights in her cosy, brightly lit house.
Something darted out of the shadows and came straight at her from the stairs above. Estelle stepped back in shock, almost dropping the phone. Then she saw it was the cat. It stopped and began to rub at her legs.
‘Bloody hell, you gave me a fright!’ she said, relieved, her pounding heart slowing. A foul smell floated down from the landing above. ‘Just what I need. Have you done something nasty up there? You’ve got a litter tray, and a cat flap.’
The cat looked up at Estelle nonchalantly. For once, she was glad of its presence. ‘Come on, I’ll feed you.’
She was comforted as the cat followed her to the cupboard under the stairs; she let it rub against her legs as she found the electricity box. When she opened the little plastic flap she saw that the power had been turned off at the mains. Strange. She flicked it on and the hall filled with light. There was a distant beep as the air conditioning whirred to life.
She came back into the kitchen and turned on the lights. The room and her reflection bounced back at her from the huge windows. The cat jumped onto the counter and watched her quizzically as she swept up the broken tumbler. Once she had dealt with the glass, Estelle opened a sachet of cat food, squeezed it into a saucer and placed it on the stone kitchen floor. The air-conditioning was working fast. She stood for a moment and let the cool air wash over her, watching as the cat daintily licked and nibbled at the square of jellied food with its small pink tongue.
The bad smell was intensifying, rushing into the kitchen as the air-conditioning sucked air through the house. There was a clinking as the cat licked the last of the empty saucer, then darted to the glass wall and vanished through a cat flap.
‘Eat and run. Leave me to clear it up,’ said Estelle. She grabbed a cloth and an old newspaper and moved to the stairs, climbing slowly, her knees complaining. The heat and the smell got worse the higher she climbed. She reached the top and moved along the brightly lit landing. Methodically, she checked the empty bathroom, the spare room, under the desk in the small office. There was no sign of a present from the cat.
The smell was overpowering when she reached the door to the master bedroom. It caught in her throat and she gagged. Of all vile smells, cat mess is the worst, she thought.
When she entered the bedroom, she flicked on the light. Flies buzzed and whined in the air. The dark blue duvet was thrown back on the double bed, and a naked man lay flat on his back with a plastic bag tied tight over his head, his arms tied to the headboard. His eyes were open, bulging out grotesquely against the plastic. It took her a moment to realise who it was.
It was Gregory.
Then Estelle did something she hadn’t done in years.
It was the least enjoyable dinner party DCI Erika Foster had a
‘Thank you, the lasagne was delicious,’ she said, as Isaac reached over to take her plate.
‘I used half-fat cream for the Béchamel sauce,’ he replied. ‘Could you tell?’
Isaac went back to the dishwasher and Erika cast her eye around the kitchen. It was elegant, with a French-rustic theme: hand-painted white cabinets, work surfaces of pale wood, and a heavy Butler sink in white ceramic. Erika wondered if, as a forensic pathologist, Isaac had deliberately steered clear of stainless steel. Her eyes came to rest on Isaac’s ex-boyfriend, Stephen Linley, who sat across from her at the large kitchen table, watching her suspiciously with pursed lips. He was younger than Erika and Isaac: she guessed thirty-five. He was a strapping Adonis of a man with a beautiful face, but its expression had sly flashes that she didn’t like. She forced herself to defuse his attitude with a smile, then took a sip of wine and willed herself to say something. The silence was beginning to stretch uncomfortably.
This didn’t usually happen when she had dinner with Isaac. Over the past year they’d shared several meals in his cosy French kitchen. They’d laughed, divulged a few secrets, and Erika had felt a strong friendship blossom. She’d been able to open up to Isaac, more than she had to anyone else, about the death of her husband, Mark, less than two years previously. And, in turn, Isaac had talked of losing the love of his life, Stephen.
Although, whereas Mark had died tragically in the line of duty during a police raid, Stephen had broken Isaac’s heart, leaving him for another man.
This was why it had been such a surprise to Erika to see Stephen when she’d arrived earlier that evening. In fact, not so much a surprise – it had felt more like an ambush.
Even though she had lived in the UK for more than twenty-five years, Erika had found herself wishing this dinner were happening back in her native Slovakia. In Slovakia, people were direct.