A shadowed figure slid across the dingy brick wall. Donna’s sharp blue eyes flicked quickly to the side of the building where she thought she’d seen the shape as her hand dug into her purse, closing around the can of mace she always carried.
As a successful criminal prosecution attorney, Donna had already had her fair share of stalkers, usually just young offenders trying to scare her. She knew how to defend herself and was prepared to use force when necessary.
Fear was never something that Donna had allowed herself to indulge in. Even as a child she had always preferred to face the dark and things that scared her rather than hide from them. Donna had never been easily scared. This latest case of hers, however, had her on guard and rather edgy.
No further shadows or any noise came from the dark alleyway. Relaxing her tensed shoulders, Donna decided quickly that it had been nothing more than a lengthened shadow cast from the footpath by the dim street lamps or simply the product of an overworked imagination.
It was late; the city streets were quiet and glistening with the moisture left from a brief shower causing curls of mist to rise from the pavement. A few cars slipped by slowly but other than that she appeared to be completely alone in the night.
Donna was eager to get home for some well earned sleep. All of the drama and the media circus that surrounded the case had her exhausted, physically and emotionally.
Turning to move off, she noticed a rivulet of liquid in the beam of the overhead lamps oozing from an alleyway out into the street. It seemed somehow thicker than the dew clinging to the walls and street lamps. With growing horror she recognized the viscous liquid for what it was. The sickly sweet smell of copper confirmed her suspicions.
Peering into the deeper shadows, Donna took a cautious step forward. Cardboard boxes and abandoned crates littered the area in a maze making it impossible to see anything more than a few feet away.
‘Hello?’ she called, ‘Does someone need help down there?’
As she searched around a precariously balanced stack of pallets, a motionless, familiar form lying on the ground materialised from the gloom. Abandoning caution, Donna raced toward the source of the stream of thick blood, a scream lodged at the back of her throat. Kneeling down by the prostrate figure Donna quickly felt for a pulse knowing that it was futile judging by the amount of blood lost. The rust coloured spattering all around her told the story of a vicious and brutal end to the young man’s life. She began to moan softly in grief.
‘Jack. Oh no, not you, Jack.’
With a coarse, grey blanket draped around her shoulders, Donna sat silently in the back of the unmarked police car, her trembling hands shaking the contents of the Styrofoam cup she held so much that it sloshed down over her trousers. Her shoulder length dark hair was damp and hung in limp waves around her drawn, pale face.
Rain had begun to fall again, heavier than it had earlier in the evening, before the police had arrived, washing away her tears and any evidence to be had. Trying to put her grief aside, Donna had tried to collect anything that looked worthwhile, but she was not a forensic scientist and all she’d picked up were useless pieces of junk that had clung to Jack’s bloodied body as he’d fallen during the attack.
The alleyway had been blocked off with blue and white crime scene tape for hours and a pale, rose dawn now began to wash over the grey buildings surrounding her. For no apparent reason, the words of a proverb Donna’s fisherman father had often recounted came to mind.
“Red twilight, sailors delight; red dawn, sailors mourn.”
It was an ironic thought considering that sailing had been one of Jack’s passions. Jack and his pretty wife, Sue, had even been married at sea. Donna wondered grimly how the young woman was coping with the news that the father of her two small children would never be coming home again.
The passenger door opened and the lead detective poked his head in, his broad features creased with concern, ‘Are you alright Miss Harding?’ she nodded numbly, ‘I’ll take you home now, we’ll get your statement from there.’
In her sparsely decorated living room, Donna once more went over the few details she had of discovering Jack’s lifeless body.
Detective Straughn looked thoughtful as he went over his notes, tapping his pen against his lower lip, ‘You and Jack Tomlinson have been working on the Stratton Strangler case, is that right?’
‘That’s correct. We are…were, two weeks into the trial of Dan Gold.’
‘Two of your witnesses have disappeared in that time,’ it was a statement, not a question, ‘and both under suspicious circumstances. Gold is being held on remand is he not?’
‘Yes, the witnesses had involvement in the disposal of the bodies, not the murders themselves you understand. It seems that Dan Gold claimed to them in separate incidents that it had been an accident and enlisted their help. The second witness was actually the one who blew the whistle. We got all we could out of them,’ Donna hesitated, choosing her next words carefully, ‘or at least, we thought we had. We always believed, Detective Straughn, that Gold had an accomplice although we couldn’t prove it and Gold himself denied it.’
‘Any idea who?’
‘No. That was always the problem. We had enough circumstantial evidence to suggest a second party, but no proof that would hold up in court,’ she paused once more and shuffled uncomfortably, ‘Jack never gave up on the theory though. He questioned a few people he considered likely co-conspirators just two days ago but came away empty handed. He was also pretty sure that he knew who was involved in the disappearances of the two witnesses.’
Straughn raised his eyes to hers, a questioning glance in them, ‘Who did he have in mind for that?’
‘Well, he had this idea, and it’s one that can’t be substantiated mind you,’ Donna added quickly, ‘that it was Martin Gold, the defendant’s brother.’
‘And do you think that it was possible that he may be doing away with witnesses to get his brother off the hook?’
‘It would seem to be a reasonable assumption under other circumstances, but there’s no chance of that happening.’
‘The forensic evidence against Dan Gold is irrefutable. He could kill us all and Dan would still be convicted. Besides, Martin was thoroughly investigated and cleared.’
‘But Jack still suspected his involvement?’
Donna sighed, ‘I’m sorry to say that Jack was simply fixated on the man. Martin is intelligent, well adjusted and much respected within the community. Plus he had alibis for each of the murders and the disappearances. Any involvement on his part is laughable, but I’ll admit, he is a cold customer. What it comes down to is that Jack just didn’t like the man. He felt he was hiding something, but then, Jack thought everyone was hiding something.’
‘Well,’ Detective Straughn said slowly, ‘obviously someone is.’
Martin signed his name on the visitor’s sheet and allowed the guard to search him. His bag contained nothing more sinister than a new set of toiletries and a couple of chocolate bars that he’d brought for his brother.
Straightening his jacket lapel and running a manicured hand through his thick, wavy hair, Martin Gold removed a handkerchief from his breast pocket. Meticulously, he wiped down the entire surface of the chair and the table top, tossing the monogrammed cloth in a rubbish bin before sitting down to wait.
When they finally led Dan out to the visitor’s room, Martin stood and smiled at him. His younger brother’s face was pale and drawn, a large purple bruise above his left eye. Dan sat down at the wobbling plastic table across from Martin, his drab grey jumpsuit in sharp contrast to Martin’s tailored Armani suit.
A few other prisoners sat at surrounding tables with the girlfriends or family members. All were in deep conversation, some weeping, others nagging, none paying attention to what anyone else from the cell block was doing.
‘What happened to you?’ Martin asked Dan softly.
‘Nuthin,’ Dan muttered, his eyes downcast, ‘I ain’t told them nuthin Marty. I promise.’
Martin cringed at Dan’s colloquial speech. He swallowed the contemptuous remark that rose immediately to his lips and smiled indulgently. How he had ended up with this imbecile for a brother was a mystery to Martin. Even compared to the rest of his uneducated, boorish family the boy was an embarrassment. But Dan had some uses at least. No imagination or initiative, but a willingness to do what he was told without question.
‘I know you haven’t. Here,’ Martin reached into his bag and pulled out the bag of toiletries and sweets, ‘I thought you might need some things, and a bit of chocolate for a treat. You’ve really been a good boy. How about a coffee?’
Without waiting for an answer he went over and poured them each a cup. As he stirred sugar into his own coffee, Martin carefully opened the catch on his bulky onyx ring and tipped the dried, crushed toxic leaves into Dan’s steaming cup.
A little inspiration from Lucretia Borgia, a little hint from Agatha Christie and his worries of his poor, half-witted brother spilling the beans would be over. Police, Martin had found, were not versed in the classics and by all accounts had little imagination. He was not worried that any one of them would make the connection. There’d be no way to prove he’d been involved without Dan’s testimony and anyone else that could link him to the killing spree was already taken care of.
‘Drink up,’ Martin encouraged Dan, who sat despondently looking down into the swirling black liquid, with a smile.
Dan looked up into Martin’s eyes and raised the cup to his lips. He’d always felt compelled to do whatever seemed to please his older, articulate and confident brother. The coffee was extraordinarily bitter, but he didn’t want to displease Martin.
Watching Dan gulp down the bitter brew, he shivered pleasurably at the tingle of familiar excitement he felt when he held someone’s life in his hands. That this person was his own flesh and blood made no difference. Power was power.
The taxine would work in a few hours and by then he’d be long gone and the evidence as well. The goods he’d brought with him would be checked of course, but there was nothing to find.
It was possible that an enterprising young medical examiner would recognize the effects of taxine poisoning, but Martin had covered that eventuality as well. Several weeks ago, he’d sent an arrangement of dried flowers to Dan through one of the boy’s young thug of a friend. Yew leaves and berries were prominent in the bouquet.
They could even dig deeper and all they’d discover was that Dan had an extensive knowledge of plants and knew of the poisonous quality of the plant having lost a sister who’d used it to make tea with when she was four. Of course, even thirty years later, no-one knew that it had been Martin who’d suggested the tea party to his tiny sister.
‘I have this for you too,’ he passed a thin, red journal and some pens over to his brother, ‘Thought it might help you while away the time.’
‘Thanks Marty,’ Dan’s eyes filled with tears at his usually cold brother’s thoughtfulness.
Martin smiled. For good measure he’d placed one of the old suicide notes that he’d kept from the last time Dan had bungled an attempt at his pathetic life in the pocket of the front cover.
Poor Dan. He could always be counted on to deflect suspicion from his more capable older brother. He watched as a guard led Dan back to his cell, shuffling alongside the big uniformed man dejectedly.
Martin left the prison with a spring in his step. His annoying little sister who had used his precious text books to draw in was gone, his violent, drunken parents had met an untimely death when their home had mysteriously burnt to the ground and in a few hours his last remaining member of Martin’s low brow family will have left this world too.
From as early as he could remember, Martin Gold had felt ashamed of his family. He’d lost himself in the gaining of knowledge and released his tension on neighbourhood pets. No one had ever suspected the bright, friendly young man and it had emboldened him to progress to manipulating other children into hurting and torturing their animals and friends while Martin watched from a safe distance.
The vicarious thrill of violent voyeurism and his ability to control those weaker than himself had ensured that he could never be tied to a crime, even when the violence escalated to kidnap and murder.
With honeyed words and an iron fist, Martin’s accomplices had soon found themselves totally loyal to their handsome friend. Though many of them had been caught, not one had smeared his name.
It was in the disposal of these allies that Martin found he could use his creative talents to their fullest potential. All of the deaths had been ruled suicides, proving him much more intelligent and adept than the glorified security guards sworn to protect the public.
Over the years he had studied many successful serial killers and Martin saw immediately the fatal flaw that had led to their capture. Most had foolishly involved themselves personally in all of the killings and then had taunted the police with their supposed cleverness. A mistake that Martin had never been tempted to make.
Kent opened the back door of the Mercedes Benz as Martin walked across the car park, ‘Everything go alright, sir?’ the young driver asked solicitously.
‘Fine thank you, Kent,’ Martin replied as he climbed into the back seat, ‘back to the office now please.’
Kent pulled onto the highway and leaned back in his seat casually. He liked his boss and had built up a real rapport with him. They talked about many things which had given Kent the confidence to speak frankly.
‘I hope you don’t mind my saying so, Mr. Gold,’ Kent began, looking in the rearview mirror at the older man’s aristocratic profile, ‘and I know the situation has caused you a lot of problems, but it seems to me that your brother went about his actions all wrong. I mean, I’m not saying I condone what he did or anything, but getting caught that way was avoidable. Even I could have done a better job of covering my tracks.’
Martin lowered the newspaper he held and stared back at his driver in the mirror with sudden interest, ‘Really? How would you have done it, Kent?’
© Alison Pearce 2007
BIO: A.M. Pearce is a former English and Math tutor living in Queensland with her husband and four children. She has had two short stories published this year with another two and one poem accepted for publication next year.