Read Stop Me Online

Authors: Richard Jay Parker

Stop Me

STOP ME

RICHARD JAY PARKER

To Anne-Marie –
for love, smiles and support…and for waiting.

On Monday, February 5
th
2007 [email protected] received an email

howdy doody,

on vacation

slim, attractive dreadlocked babe with a fun sticky-out bellybutton, likes rabbit fur

forward this email to ten friends

each of those friends must forward it to ten friends

maybe one of those friends of friends of friends will be one of my friends

if this email ends up in my inbox within a week I wont slit the bitchs throat

can you afford not to send this on to ten friends?

vk

On Tuesday, February 6th 2007 [email protected] deleted the email without reading it.

johnnyb did the same; johnnyc’s girlfriend opened their shared inbox, read the email and was troubled by it. She discussed it with her boyfriend when he came home from softball and he told her to delete it.

johnnyd was thirteen. He added the following:

am for
warding this because it freaks me out. If you want the bitch to die don’t forward!!!!!!!!!

Of remaining johnnies e-z, only sixteen people read the email. johnnyt showed it to his wife. It alarmed them both. They decided it was a sick hoax but forwarded it anyway. They added:

Sorry about this, folks. This is obviously a practical joke but passing it on. Make your own decision. John and Pat

They went to bed but couldn’t sleep because of it. johnnyt’s wife was furious with him. She’d been against the idea of going online in the first place. Did two people in their eighties really need to have a computer if that’s the sort of thing it brought into their home?

Of the remaining fifteen random johnnies the email was sent to, only one more person didn’t immediately delete it. johnnyv probably wouldn’t have forwarded it but his daughter, who unknown to him was
up-to-speed
with his iPhone, had opened his emails and sent the message to everyone in his address book.

However, despite the rapid proliferation of the email from its starting point of johnnies d, t and v, on Tuesday, February 13
th
2007 a package with a local postmark arrived at the Wyoming Police Department. It contained a bedraggled rabbit skin scarf. Wrapped in it was the boiled jawbone of Cody Solomon.

Even though it had arrived in thirty-eight thousand inboxes worldwide, police in the vicinity were completely unaware of the email. Cody Solomon was an itinerant prostitute with dreadlocks and an inverted navel.

On Monday, November 12
th
2007, [email protected] found an email in his work inbox. It had already been forwarded hundreds of times and had reached him because he was in the address book of a small travel insurance company he’d emailed fourteen months previously.

howdy doody,

on vacation in the uk

slim, attractive brunette with capped teeth

forward this email to ten friends

each of those friends must forward it to ten friends

maybe one of those friends of friends of friends will be one of my friends

if this email ends up in my inbox within a week I wont slit the bitchs throat

can you afford not to send this on to ten friends?

vk
 

Leo had heard about the other emails that had been sent. It had been all over the TV news. He knew that vk stood for Vacation Killer and that seven women had been murdered in the US, two in Germany and one in the UK. The story had gradually become more prominent and then front page when it appeared vk had targeted the British Isles. Teresa Strickland had been his first British victim. A customary block email had been circulated ten days before her jawbone had been sent to Wandsworth police station.

He did consider forwarding the email, but instead picked up the phone and reported it to IT. As the hysteria about vk had risen, so had the amount of hoax emails. They told him to delete it.

Ten days later, Vicky Cordingley’s jawbone was sent to Southwark police station. It had capped teeth.

A month later Leo was still troubled by his failure to forward the email but tried to put it from his mind as he prepared to tell Laura about the surprise trip he’d arranged as a Christmas present. The Lake District was Laura’s favourite destination and Leo had soon adopted it as his. They both enjoyed being alone together and didn’t seek the company of others like so many of their friends did. They could lose themselves in its remoteness and not see another soul for days.

A waitress deposited a plate of appetisers on the low table in front of their usual sofa in Chevalier’s Bar and Laura thanked her before dumping her coat on the
arm and making her way to the ladies. He anticipated her reaction when she got back, her smile wrinkling the band of freckles across the bridge of her nose and puffing her henna curls from her face to kiss him.

He felt excitement expanding in his chest. He was useless at keeping secrets and marvelled at how he’d managed to keep his mouth shut. They’d both taken the afternoon off for Christmas shopping and the plan was to have a boozy lunch and then go home for a cosy dinner in the evening. After she’d left the house for work that morning he’d also decked out the rooms with a secret stash of decorations he’d been stockpiling – it would all be waiting for her when they got back. Leo nibbled an olive off a stone and, having decided how he would break the news, settled back and waited for Laura to return from the ladies.

At first Leo thought she might have been chatting to Hektor. He was the fifty-something owner of Chevalier’s and Greek sugar daddy to a procession of female staff members. His effortless, Mediterranean good looks normally resided nonchalantly between the kitchen and bar. So it was over ten minutes before Leo rose from the sofa and went to find Laura, first checking the different levels of the bar and then tentatively poking his head round the door of the ladies. There was no sign of her.

Laura worked on the first floor of the Opallios office block behind Chevalier’s but he knew she wouldn’t
be there. He knew before he left the bar by the back entrance, crossed the street and buzzed the intercom to be let in. The rain re-invigorated itself while he waited and pinged off the grill while an incoherent voice asked him to identify himself.

‘Leo Sharpe…Laura’s husband.’

His feeling of dread mounted as he climbed the stairwell, but he had his anger to keep it in check – did Laura not realise how her wandering off would worry him?

When he got to the first floor Maggie Allan-Carlin, Laura’s boss, was there to meet him. He vaguely recalled being introduced to her at an office party some months before.

Laura had worked at Opallios for over two years. The small but prominent company dealt in international metals and minerals markets and Laura was a promising trainee analyst under Maggie, who was co-director and married to its founder, Joe. Maggie was elegant in an angular way, deeply tanned and
fifty-something
. Her dyed black hair was always drawn back severely from her face and tied in a bun.

‘Leo?’ Her dry throat rasped his name and let it hang in the air as if to test its relevance to the pristine atmosphere in the office.

‘Is Laura here?’ But as he watched a frown attempting to crease her Botox work he immediately regretted wasting his time.

‘Wasn’t she meeting you to go Christmas shopping?’

Leo nodded silently. Maggie began to say something else but he didn’t hear as he was already halfway down the stairs.

He felt prickling spines of unease piercing the tops of his shoulders when he re-entered the bar. He checked the ladies for a second time and didn’t register the protests of the two occupants. Neither of them was Laura. He briefly caught his own reflection in the vast mirror – rain had plastered the hair to his face and panic was soaking through his features. The man who stared back at him was a complete stranger to the shaved, twenty-nine-year-old face he’d been greeted by over the sink that morning.

It was then he realised the un-Laura like behaviour was not her own choice.

He sat back down on the couch and stared at the barely touched dish of olives. He told himself he wouldn’t be angry with her if she came back. A couple hovered, waiting for him to vacate his seat and eventually he snapped at them, telling them he was waiting for somebody. They left but the bar was busy and as other smaller groups of people took their place, they eyed the seats too.

Where had she headed when she’d left him? Leo had no more registered her progress to the ladies as he would have if they’d been at home. The bar was long and narrow but split into three levels. The toilets were
on the middle level. She could have turned into them or carried on into the other bar. Whatever she’d done – even if he tried to watch her from where he sat – she would have been out of sight.

A waitress tried to take away the dish.

‘Can you leave that, please?’ He looked at her waist.

‘Are you going to order anything else?’ she replied in the same blunt manner he’d used.

He got up a few moments later and, as he left, turned to see people sitting in the seats and the plates being removed.

He left Chevalier’s by the back entrance again, crossed the street and buzzed to be let into Opallios. Over an hour had passed since they’d sat together on the sofa. Laura had said she was popping to the ladies two minutes after she’d arrived. Leo climbed the stairwell again concocting unlikely scenarios that meant she’d returned to the office and would be sitting back at her desk.

‘Still not found her?’ Maggie’s expression had softened and genuine concern registered.

Leo swallowed and shook his head helplessly.

‘I’m sure she’ll turn up.’ She didn’t sound convinced. ‘Let’s see if her car’s still here.’

She took him down the back staircase to the staff car park to see if Laura’s Peugeot was still there. It was.

After Laura disappeared the police watched Leo’s house. Even though he’d filed the missing report a couple of hours after she’d vanished he knew he’d automatically be the prime suspect.

He’d been staggered by the sluggishness of the process. He’d had to wait twenty-four hours before his report could be made official, and the first house search hadn’t been made until three days later. As soon as his description of her had been tied to an email that had been circulating, however, a step up in manpower was immediately noticeable.

howdy doody,

still in the uk

tall, freckle faced, chicken pox scar on left eyebrow
 

forward this email to ten friends

each of those friends must forward it to ten friends

maybe one of those friends of friends of friends will be
one of my friends

if this email ends up in my inbox within a week I wont
slit the bitchs throat

can you afford not to send this on to ten friends?

vk

Leo first saw the email when an investigating officer thrust a copy under his nose. It was circulated three days after she vanished and by that time the authorities were keeping tabs on every similar email being sent. There were thousands of them. Bored office workers with nothing better to do. But this was the only one to describe Laura. The chicken pox scar was one of the distinguishing features Leo had mentioned when he’d reported her missing.

Every day, every minute he anticipated the call. He knew what had happened to Teresa Strickland and Vicky Cordingley as well as the Vacation Killer’s seven US victims and two German victims; knew what was meant to come next. But the gap between the email and the parcel turning up widened and although this raised Leo’s hopes that she was still alive it also meant that the police suspected him even more.

There were countless investigating officers he had to talk to at his home and at the station and it was when
he realised that a surveillance vehicle was following him to work that the emotions that he’d been keeping in check fragmented.

Laura’s face was on every paper, news site and TV screen and wherever he went it felt like somebody was always standing outside, trying to see through the wall. He felt paralysed and vulnerable, his life taken effortlessly out of his hands. He asked his interrogators about the car following him and their responses ranged from flat denial to reassurances that it was there for his own benefit.

This intensely floodlit period was barely thirteen days but it felt like the longest two weeks of his existence and he felt ashamed to find himself hoping that the Vacation Killer would kill again so the focus could shift away from him and Laura. The implications when it did happen, however, robbed him of any time for relief.

Maggie and Joe Allan-Carlin publicly offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to Laura’s whereabouts – an unstinting gesture funded by Opallios. Two weeks later their son, Louis
Allan-Carlin
, disappeared. His boiled jawbone was posted to the police ten days after.

If they hadn’t offered the reward money for Laura it seemed quite possible their son would still be alive. At least, that’s how Leo would have seen it. The
Allan-Carlins
never saw the email that circulated a week
before Louis made his last visit to them.

howdy doody,

still in the uk

good looking, true blonde, 50 or more?

forward this email to ten friends

each of those friends must forward it to ten friends

maybe one of those friends of friends of friends will be one of my friends

if this email ends up in my inbox within a week I wont slit the bitchs throat

can you afford not to send this on to ten friends?

vk

The dispersal of the emails the Vacation Killer sent varied. Sometimes it appeared as if the victim were being watched and in others that they’d already been captured. It made no difference, the Vacation Killer always made good on the promise.

Louis Allan-Carlin was the true blonde in question and Leo was convinced the number in the email referred to the £50,000 reward money.

The Allan-Carlins had become reluctant participants. A media that quickly counter-speculated that her disappearance and the description in the email were a coincidence – or that the email itself was a hoax – quickly dismissed Laura. There were thousands of such emails circulating by then and his interrogators insinuated that it was an opportunist way of misdirecting police
towards a high-profile murder enquiry.

Had the Vacation Killer wearied of the investigation taking a wrong turn and murdered Louis Allan-Carlin to turn the spotlight back on track? When a parcel containing his jawbone had been sent to the police and there was still no trace of Laura, the investigation into her disappearance was stepped down. But was their investigation into Leo’s involvement still ongoing?

But there was a more vital question he asked himself hundreds of times a day: because of the public profile of the Vacation Killer, by the time Vicky Cordingley was murdered in the UK, had so many people forwarded the Laura email that this time it had actually got back to the sender?

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