Andover, Old Salisbury Road, 3:50am, 10 minutes before death.
It was a night like any other. The newspaper rested on my knee as the flicker of the TV blinked and flashed in the dark. I was a zombie, staring at the screen but wasn’t taking in the words… in through one ear, out through the other. I had other things on my mind. Nothing in particular but on this precise night something bugged me. The vibrations in the walls were different, deeper in tone and lower in pitch, like an old man’s snore.
I snapped out of my daze and stood brushing off a few crumbs of biscuit off my untucked shirt. I didn’t really care for the mess I’d made, knowing that at some point I’d have to clean it up later. I hobbled over to the wall and rested my ear upon the wallpaper. The humming was loud, pulsating straight through me. It sounded like a generator of some sort but I know the sound of our generator. It was quiet and higher in pitch. I dismissed the problematic whirr and waddled over to sit back in the arm chair.
‘Daddy?’ whispered a small voice.
I twisted around to face the voice and found Jose, my 6 year old daughter, standing in the door frame with her bed sheets draped around her shoulders.
‘What are you still doing up? It’s nearly midnight. You have school tomorrow.’
‘Daddy, There’s a man in the house.’
Panic shuddered through me as my hand gripped the edge of the chair arms. Eyes wide, I faltered over to her and grasped her shoulders at arm’s length.
‘Where? Where did you see him? Did the man say anything to you? Where’s mummy?’ Are you okay?’ I uttered all too panicked. I told myself to stay calm.
‘He told me to shh. Mummy is in the shower.’ She said pointing delicately up the stairs.
‘Okay, Jose,’ I guided her over to the coat cupboard underneath the stairs. ‘Hide in here. Don’t move don’t talk. I’ll be back I promise. Stay. Here.’
Jose shuffled into the tight space and crouched down in the corner, behind leather jacket.
‘Daddy… is mummy okay?’ she asked clenching the arm of the jacket.
‘Mummy will be fine.’ I said even though I could not be for sure. I’d say anything to make her feel safe, although, saying this, I was worrying myself.
It was important that I stayed calm in that moment. If I start freaking out, so will Jose and I want her to stay as calm as possible… even thought I didn’t feel as confident as I led on.
‘I’ll be back baby. I promise.’ I choked.
I closed the door of the cupboard and grabbed the nearest thing to a weapon which happened to be a baseball bat. I headed up the stairs with the bat in hand ready to swing at any time. My breaths were fast and loud. I tried to hold my breath so that the desperate gasps couldn’t be heard but it only made my heart race faster. I turned around the corner of the banister to face the 4 doors: the bathroom, mine and Ana’s bedroom, Jose’s bedroom and my study.
I creped towards the light coming from the bathroom. The shower was running, water rushing endlessly. I asked myself how long had the water been running? Could I have been so arrogant to have not greeted my own wife as she walked through the door? I pressed my back on the wall beside the bathroom door and closed my eyes just hoping Ana was safe, just so I could ask her how her day was. Guilt tickled the back of my neck.
Lightly, I pushed on the door until it slowly creaked open. I peered in but the steam of the shower blinded me. All I could see was faint silhouettes of bathroom appliances and a shower curtain. I squinted at the figures with the bat gripped tightly to my side. Immediately, a pair of arms wrapped around my neck and covered my mouth, inhibiting me from yelling in terror. A gun was pressed to the side of my head and then a click.
‘Shh.’ whispered the voice.
A sharp whack to the head, then black.
Cold sweats ran down my face. My breaths where disconnected, shuddering as if I was freezing cold. I could not see thanks to the blind fold wrapped too tight around my head, pulsing and squeezing my temples.
‘ANA!’ I yelled, pulling at the rope the bound my hands behind my back.
‘John?’ whimpered a small sound not so far away.
It was Ana.
‘Ana! What have they done? Are you hurt?’
I heard a creek of a floor board. ‘She’s not hurt. Just a bloody nose.’ growled a ruff voice from the other end of the room. My body froze at the baritone rumble of a voice.
‘Who are you? What do you want? You want money? I have money. We could work something out.’ I tried.
‘Boy, you ask a lot of questions. Can you not think for yourself John?’
I froze, he knew my name.
‘H-how do you know my name?’
‘Great, another question.’ He shot back.
‘What do you want?’
A deep chuckle. ‘There it is again. Keep asking questions that I don’t need to answer. I dare you.’
His voice was calm, like he knew what he was doing. That’s what scared me, the feeling of being the less powerful. He had the upper hand. I didn’t say anything.
‘Now, that I have your attention, I’m going to tell you how this is going to play out. If you don’t comply then I’m sorry but one of you will die… or both, I don’t know. Let’s find out.’
I heard Ana whimper quietly.
‘John, before you ask any more questions, we need you to answer one question.’
‘If I answer, will you let Ana and I go?’ I tried.
‘Jesus, another question. What did I just say, Idiot? Well?’
I cleared my throat.
‘Answer your question before I ask anymore.’ I mumbled.
I looked up in to blackness in hope that God would answer my prayers. Please God let us live. Although, I knew there was no God, and he defiantly wouldn’t answer my prayers.
‘That right! Good doggy. It a simple question I’m sure you’d be able to answer.’ He sighed as if getting ready to rebuke me. ‘The question is why John.’
Why? Why what? What was he talking about! What was I supposed to say?
‘What?’ I responded confused and overwhelmed.
‘Oh, don’t act stupid John! You heard me didn’t you? Answer the dam question. Or we’ll shoot your lovely wife over here.’ Another low chuckle. ‘Mmm… I wonder what she’d look like in red.’
I could feel his eyes on Ana as he spoke. I squirmed, feeling my ear heat and my heart rate accelerate. Ana whimpers were louder. She was crying and sobbing hysterically. I wish I could just hold her, tell her everything is okay. I tugged at my restraints.
‘Oh shut up! You’re not dead yet, and if your plan was that you’d scream your way out of this, your wrong. Screaming will just get you much more dead than you already are.’
She stopped crying and softly whimpered to herself.
‘It’s going to be okay Ana I promise.’ I whispered in hope that she’d calm herself down.
‘You tell a lot of lies, John. You said exactly that to your daughter downstairs. I’m surprised she actually believed you.’ He laughed.
‘Jose.’ Ana said softly.
‘Yes you’re daughter. But It’s you husbands fault that you’re probably never going to see her again.’
‘Oh my god.’ She said under her breath.
‘Where is Jose? If you do anything her I swear– ‘ I threatened through my teeth, my wrists started to blister as the rope got tighter as I struggled.
‘Don’t worry about Jose; she safe... for now.’
‘Let her go! God dam it John, what is this?’ Screamed Ana
‘Ana, Ana, Ana, you really don’t get this do you? Hey John, you still haven’t answered me that question because your wife is 30 seconds away from being shot right between the eyeballs.’
‘John!’ screamed Ana. ‘Just answer the stupid question, please!’
‘Ana I can’t! I have no idea what he is talking about! You have to believe me.’ I tried to tell her. I couldn’t concentrate. The underlying hums in the walls were background noise to the absurdity that unfolded in this room.
‘Does anyone else here that?’ I said out of frustration.
He paused for a second, puzzled.
‘All I can hear is time running out for your wife, John.’
‘I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN’ I bellowed loudly. I stated to yell unbelievably loudly. The cold sweats came back again; my breathing became rapid and uncontrolled. My pulsing temples rubbed against the itchy fabric tired across my face as I yelled and yelled.
‘Please, let her go!’ I pleaded.
‘Oh god, JOHN!’
I heard him cock his gun.
I heard her body drop limp and lifeless on the wooden floor. The slap of skin to surface made me sick. Still the walls hummed and whirred in the background. I don’t know how long I cried. It felt like eternity, lying on the floor knowing that my wife, my kid’s mother, was shot right in front of me. I’d never see her again, never touch her again, and never kiss her again. Never hold her, care for her, feed her, and put a roof over her head. That had all been taken from me. I was left with nothing…
The men didn’t say anything after. They left me with the gun and her body. They untied my restraints. One of the men told me to only take off the blindfold when I heard the back door close. The first thing I did when they left was find Jose, staggered down the hall only to find her sleeping calmly in her bed. She looked so peaceful, watching the slow rise and fall of her chest in the glow of her night light, blissfully unaware of the nightmare that had unfolded in the room down the hall. It was in that moment realised she couldn’t know what really happened that night. It wasn’t right. Nothing can ever be right, but for her I would do anything to keep her safe, keep her sane. She was the only thing I had left. I exited, closing so the door cautiously, careful to not wake her.
I stood over her body, bile rising up my throat. Just thinking about it makes me believe I was a murderer. To be honest I was. Right know I believe it to be true. I swathed her in the blood spattered bed sheets and placed her inside a bin bag. I couldn’t bring myself to close the bag as I had this silly thought that she wouldn’t be able to breathe… I got clean sheets from the airing cupboard and re-made the bed. I got the bleach and disinfectant and cleaned up the puddle where her head once led. The blood was sandwiched between the gaps of the wooden floor, impossible to clean but I was determined. No trace of her left... gone. I cleaned up as much as I could and hid the gun somewhere no one would ever find it.
I cried for another hour. It was all too real, too devastating to grasp hold of. In my mind, my life had turned to dust, ash. But I have responsibilities, Jose. I need to be here for her, as her father. I swore to protect her, I swore that I would look after her, to hold her, to care for her, feed her, and put a roof over her head. No one will take that from me. Wouldn’t dad be proud…
I found myself digging, digging a hole in the back garden. I didn’t stop, just kept digging until the sun slightly peeked from behind the far away houses. I needed to hurry. I looked down at the hole; it was deep enough for me to put her in vertically. I dropped the shovel and wiped my hand across my forehead, wiping the sweat off my skin. The warmth of the morning hit me hard, the way it lingered and lasted. It did me no good, for I was still cold inside like ice.
I held her body in my arms for the last time.
‘I’ll keep Jose safe, I promise… I love you Ana.’
I looked up into the heavens once again. I know God was looking down on me for what I was doing, if there was a ‘God’ that is. I could never be too sure.
‘Look after her.’ I said ‘Look after her until I’m up there with her.’
I kneeled down and rolled her in.
I buried her deep into the earth, deep under the surface.
I stood, muddy and tired and confounded. Still I was worried that she would suffocate under all that mud…
‘Daddy.’ said a voice.
Spinning around again, I saw Jose in her pyjamas rubbing her eyes sleepily.
‘Baby!’ I rushed over to her and scooped her up in my arms.
‘I’m so glad you’re safe.’
‘Who were those men?’ she asked still rubbing her eyes.
I took her hand down from her face,
I glanced over to the grave I just dug and drew a tear.
‘She went to stay with Aunty Jude for a while. She said she loves you very much.’ I lied wiping it off my cold cheek. I couldn’t tell her. I could never tell her… could I?
‘Can I call her?’ she asked.
‘No baby, she’s very busy.’
‘Okay… Daddy, are you okay.’
I glanced down at the mud and my toes and felt the wet soil between them.
‘I’m fine angel, I’m fine.’
May 11th 2013– Jose’s 4th Birthday Party, Andover, Old Salisbury Road, 12:45pm.
Kids, of all different shapes and sizes ran freely around our stone-covered drive way as we all waited for more kids to show up. Ana and I were in the door frame trying to tame everyone and keep them from running off. They giggled and played and stomped, finding everything fun and amusing. Briefly, I missed that innocence, now as an adult the only pleasure I get is coming down stairs to a tidy kitchen and a full pot of coffee.
‘Where’s Jude? She should be here by now. What are we waiting for?’ I said looking at my watch.
‘John she’ll be here she promised. We are waiting for Jude if you haven’t noticed.’ Ana laughed.
‘Your sister is the most unreliable person ever.’ I joked.
Ana punched me in the arm playfully and laughed.
‘Hey! Your right about that though.’ she whispered.
A red Audi came speeding down the street with 3 very egger kids in the back seat and one very stressed-looking woman in the driver’s seat.
Ana jolted briefly as to launch in to action ‘Here she is. Behave John.’ She said squeezing my arm before she rushed off to greet her sister.
‘Don’t I always?’ I mumbled.
Jude Parish was a nice young woman in her late 20’s. She was Ana’s younger sister. She had short blond hair that didn’t always seem to be in place but despite that particular flaw, she was a very beautiful woman, just like her sister. She never wore too much makeup, on some days she wouldn’t wear any at all. I always liked that about her. The downfall is she can be very infuriating. She was a pain in the ass… always had a problem with blonds.
‘John!’ she squeaked pulling me in for a big hug.
Ana laughed quietly behind us. I rolled my eyes at her.
I smiled thought my teeth. ‘Jude! How… very nice to see you!’ I said patting her on the back uncomfortably.
Finally she released me for her hold me called 3 kids over. One by one they emerged from the red car.
Jude was a mother of 3, 2 boys and 1 girl: Max, Kyle and Jenna. Jenna was the sweetest thing you’d ever seen. Although her brothers where quite the opposite.
‘Hey Jenna! How are you? How’s school?’ I said bending over to give her a hug
She smiled. ‘Hey Uncle John! School’s good.’
Max and Kyle came running over with their army action figures in each hand.
‘Max, Kyle.’ I mumbled standing up again.
‘Hey.’ they said in unison, bluntly pushing past me and into the house.
I gave Ana a close stare and looked back at Jude who was typing away on her smartphone. When she was finished she shoved it in her bag and walked inside.
‘Anything gets broken, she’s paying for it.’ I whispered to Ana.
‘You have my word.’ she replied wrapping her arm around mine, she small hands squeezing at my muscle. I grinned.
Ana signalled in the kids and lead them to the back garden, pulling me with her.
The party was coming to an end, guests were considering their exits and kids were passing out all around the garden. Even I was a little tired, I could’ve done with a nap just about then. Regrettably, I was on the BBQ cooking the last of the sausages when I felt a tug on my trouser leg. Jose stared up at me, my jeans bunching tightly in her tiny hands.
‘Jose, what’s the matter angel.’ I asked sincerely, giving her a small grin.
She pointed over to the gate where Bill was stood. He had his hands in his pockets waiting me to come over. He looked anxious, looking behind him every so often. He stole a glance at me and smiled awkwardly.
My eye twitched. ‘Okay, thank you baby. Why don’t you go find mummy, she has something for you.’
She nodded enthusiastically and frolicked off to find her. Slowly, I put down my skewers and took off my apron. I started to walk towards him, palms twitching, ears burning.
‘John, we need to talk.’ he babbled as I strode angrily towards him.
‘Like hell we do.’ I said grasping him by is tie and dragging him out of my yard.
I threw him forcefully out in to the ally sending him head first into the dust. He landed with a cloud of dust, making a small painful noise
‘What are you doing here? I told you to stay away from us.’
He scrambled to his feet. ‘Johnny I can explain—‘
‘—Don’t Johnny me Bill.’ I interrupted heatedly. ‘I told you I want out.’
‘I know and I totally respect your decision but—‘
‘But nothing Bill. It was fun back then but I have a family now.’ I pointed at the gate.
‘John, listen to me.’ he said stepping closer with harsh hand gestures.
I couldn’t help a small laugh escape my lips. ‘What, what do you have to say that’s so important?’
There was a long pause as he exhaled, preparing himself. ‘They’re after me… they want me dead John!’
‘Who?’ I squinted at him as if he’d gone mad.
‘You know who.’ He said brushing the dust of his trousers and suit jacket.
I then felt a tingle of insecurity slither down my spine. My fingertips became numb, cold with fear. I peered at him through heavy brows before vigorously grabbing him by his collar with both hands.
‘You idiot! Why did you come here? How do you know they’re not watching you?’
He stuttered under the taut grasp on his shirt. ‘I need your help—‘
‘Jesus! What could I possibly do to save your life?’ I scowled, pushing him away compulsively.
‘I need my share.!’ He started to yell.
‘Bill it’s been 5 years. That money went towards this house, my life, my child, my wife, my business. What makes you think I still have it and what makes you think I’d give any of it to you?’
He opened his mouth to speak although nothing came out. ‘I—‘
‘—What if they find me Bill? Ever think about that? Why of all places, would you come here, where my family sleeps?’
‘I didn’t know, I—‘
‘You didn’t think.’ I waved my finger irately at him.
He looked around the ally as if he was being followed. ‘Look John. I need to get out of town. I just need enough to disappear.’
I looked at him, fists clenched. This had to be the stupidest thing I’d ever done.
‘How much. How much do you need?’ I mumbled.
’£20,000.’ He slurred, head bowed.
I laughed out loud. ‘No Bill.’
‘Please, John they’re going to kill me.’ he begged, dust swirling around his feet.
Pinching the bridge of my nose, I groaned. ‘I can’t give you that money. Jose starts pre-school in 3 months.’
‘John I have nothing left.’ He whispered, voice broken.
‘Well you should have quit when you had the chance.’
I turned my back and started to walk.
I ignored him.
I slammed the gat and locked it with the padlock. I told him I was done. D.O.N.E, done. I have other things to worry about like Jose’s education. I took a breath and walked back over to the BBQ.
‘What was that all about?’ Ana whispered from behind me.
‘Nothing… It was nothing.’
Andover, Old Salisbury Road, 9:45am, 5 hours after death.
I don’t usually drink… but it seems like the more I drink, the less I worry and then less I remember. So I drink, not to numb the pain but to pass the time. It’s just that day I felt like drinking, and this time the alcohol is clouding my pain but replacing it with contempt. I’m happy that Jose wasn’t there to see me like this, sat sprawled on the ground against the wall, yesterdays clothed temporarily glued to my skin. Instead she was at school, cutting coloured paper with multi coloured paper and learning about animals like everything is okay. On a day like this, Ana would have taken her to school before she started work. I had called in sick for her but we all know she’s way past sick. She was dead… gone. It was so wrong. My wife was dead and I was calling in sick. I needed to tell someone but couldn’t risk going to the police… for all I knew all the evidence could point to me. I hid the gun, I buried the body. I even cleaned up for Christ sake. It wouldn’t be long until someone finds out she’s missing, therefore it wouldn’t be long before they recover her body buried in the back garden.
I went out to get some flowers not so long after the 2nd glass of whisky. I decided that a big dirt patch in the middle of the garden is going to cause a lot of speculation throughout the neighbourhood. So, my solution is to cover it with a flower bed. It would be nice, it wouldn’t bring her back but it was nice. I would decorate the garden with soft, pale pansies and bright, bold tulips. Maybe I could have added a rose bush. Ana loved roses. They reminded her of her mother… maybe that’s not the best option.
The local florist was empty which wasn’t so strange and the morning air was cold, as if the universe had been watching me all morning. I did go inside the florist but I want there for long. I stumbled out of the doors of the shop and squinted at the early morning sun. It wasn’t long before I gained my focus. Something didn’t seem right to me. It wasn’t the coldness of the air, or the brightness of the sun. Gingerly, I trekked to my car balancing the ready-to-plant pansies in each hand. With a click of my car keys, the car unlocked. Carefully not trying to drop the flowers, I opened the car door and placed them clumsily in the back seat. Briefly, I wondered if I had bought enough to make it look good.
It was when I closed the doors I felt eyes on me. I turned to the left to find a shadowy figure in a grey hoody and black shades stood watching me from across the street. They leaned casually on the lamp post, arms folded, legs crossed. You could say the feeling was... Familiar, as if I've felt these eyes on me before. Who was it?
Quickly the figure saw me notice him and started to head in a different direction, quickly uncrossing his limbs. He kept his head down as he weaved through the crowd. My curiosity kicked in. I reluctantly began to follow his movement from across the street. I shadowed him as closely as I could until he turned a corner and disappeared into a nearby crowd. My paced started to quicken as my eyes darted wildly at the sea of heads. Crossing the street not-so cautiously, I pushed passed the crowd and turned the corner. Already my strides had advanced to a slight jog when I found that same grey hooded head again. After I broke through the crowd, I could see him clearly.
I kept my speed as I trailed him down a vacant street. My feet moved so fast I felt as if I was to trip over but I kept my balance, concentrated on the task at hand. The man in question was speeding up which lead me to believe that he had seen me trailing him. I sped up to match his speed, catching up slightly. We both pushed passed the few people on the sidewalk not caring who was in the way. He looked over his shoulder at me, my expression remained blank. He stuttered slightly, stumbling forwards into a wild sprint. I instinctively jolted onwards.
By now, we were in full action, chasing his movement down the early morning streets. Our footsteps were in unison as we ran around the corner and down another deserted street. My breaths were rushed, adrenaline took over. Abruptly, the man swiftly stepped to the side, vanishing from sight. Stumbling for balance, he tripped down the back alley behind the linier strip of buildings. It took me by surprise for I struggled to stop before the turning. Taking a couple of hasty steps backwards, I sprinted down the dark alley after him. The hooded man was a few yards in front, hurdling over dustbins and dodging various metal car parts. I tried my best to follow his path of destruction. He didn’t stop, throwing bins and bits of thrown-out-furniture in my way, restricting me slightly from catching up to him.
Unexpectedly, he started to approach a split second decision. The back ally divided into two ways of passage, both destinations were unknown. He quickly made a choice and turned right, spilling a tower of soggy cardboard boxes in my trail. I bounced over a broken mattress and headed in the same direction, stomping down the flimsy cardboard. He kept running still as he attempted to throw more objects in my path. Little did he know, the path he taken would give me the upper hand. The man’s footsteps faltered for he had come to a tall metal fence constructed with chicken wire and barbed wire curled across the top. His heals practically skidded to a halt. Hastily, he looked back at me before bounding up on to the fence. I charged towards the fence in attempts to get there before had completely climbed over to the other side. His legs dangled and kicked frantically as he scrambled upwards.
I lunged toward and jumped up, catching his leg in my hands. Forcefully, I pulled him down and threw him away from the fence. He stumbled backwards landing on a pair of dustbins.
‘Who are you? Why are you watching me?’ I puffed, out of breath. ‘What do you want?’
He didn’t say anything, sprawled out, breathless against the rubbish.
‘I saw you watching me from across the street. What is this? Why are you following me?’ I shouted kicking the bin beside him.
‘John! Calm down, it’s me.’ the figure panicked.
The voice… I could recognise it anywhere. I mean, how could I forget?
‘… Bill?’ I said, squinting down at him.
His explanation was cut short as my fist flew across his face is a fiery rage. His sunglasses flew across the alley, revealing the face I thought was dead and gone. I didn’t stop at that. He crouched forward, spitting out the blood from inside his cheeks. Compellingly, I dug my foot underneath his ribs, kicking him back against the bins. Still the adrenaline was pumping as I knelt down to continuously knock my fist across his cheek. Not by choice but by instinct, I stopped hitting him and grabbed him by his hoody. Staring down into his pale green eyes… I knew exactly why he was here.
‘Who… killed… Ana?’ I whispered, voice breaking.
‘It not…‘who’ killed her John… it’s ‘what’ killed her.’