Authors: Amy Cross
“But they do!” She turned to Jack for reassurance. “That’s what the police are for! They have to catch them, or…” She paused. “They just do!”
“They catch the ones who are bad at it,” Jack replied, “but most murderers get away with it. You only hear about the ones who stuff up. A successful murderer doesn’t end up on the news. He just sails off into the distance.”
“Really?” She frowned, as if this was shocking news, and then she turned to Harry. “Is that true, Dad? Do most murderers get away with it?”
“Not most,” he muttered, turning to the next page in the paper. “Some do, kiddo. Some do.”
“Huh.” She looked down at her breakfast. “I didn’t know that.”
“But this one won’t,” Jack continued, watching his father carefully. “Will he, Dad? A murderer can’t get away with it here, not in Bowley.”
“How should I know?” Harry replied. “Listen to this, though. It says here that Lindsay’s body showed evidence of tampering after her death. Obviously they don’t want to come out and say exactly what happened, but any intelligent person can read between the lines and figure out what was done to her.”
“What…” Jack paused. “What exactly do you mean?”
“It means the sick bastard interfered with her after she was dead,” he continued. “Maybe with a razor blade or a knife. Or a screwdriver.” He sighed. “Or a broken bottle. There’s no limit to the imagination of these sick bastards. Maybe he used the twisted end of a coat-hanger, or a sharp twig or… I don’t know, a cheese-grater might do the job.”
“Or a hook?” Jack suggested helpfully.
Harry frowned at him for a moment. “I guess so,” he muttered, before looking back at the newspaper. “It says here that they took samples from her. Huh. You know what type of samples that’ll be, don’t you? There are some sick bastards in the world, that’s for sure.”
As her father and brother continued to talk about all the sick things the murderer might have done to Lindsay Horne’s body, Beth stared down at her bowl and used her spoon to gently stir her cereal through the milk.
“Your laundry is in the laundry room!” Beth called out, stopping in the hallway. She listened for a moment, waiting for some acknowledgment. “Dad? Did you hear me?”
“What?” a voice called out from the computer room.
“Your laundry is in the laundry room!” she told him again. “Please, tell me you heard me that time!”
“I heard you,” he replied, sounding a little irritated. “What about my laundry? Did you bring that?”
“Deaf old bugger,” she muttered, heading to the door of the computer room. “Dad, I just -”
“Don’t come in here!” he shouted suddenly, sounding worried.
She reached out, ready to turn the handle. “Dad -”
“Don’t come in! Do not come in!”
Sighing, she realized she could hear him frantically cleaning up. “I won’t come in,” she told him with a sigh, shuddering a little at the thought of what she’d see if she did, “but your laundry is in the obvious place, and I’ll be back tomorrow to vacuum and clean the kitchen. I’m sorry I didn’t get around to it today, but I’m kinda rushed off my feet getting ready for Christmas. Is that okay?”
“Is that okay, Dad?”
“Yeah, sure. Tomorrow’s fine.”
“You’re welcome.” Sighing again, she made her way along the corridor and then out onto the porch, before stopping for a moment and closing her eyes. She could feel the morning sun on her face, and for a few brief seconds she actually felt as if the world was calming down a little. All the worries left her mind and she focused on simply breathing in and breathing out, and she tried to imagine the energy of the natural world filling her soul and giving her the strength to get through another day. At least, that was the advice she’d read in a magazine, although so far it hadn’t really seemed to help. Sometimes, all she wanted was to empty her mind and just not think about anything for a few seconds. She waited, letting the last of her thoughts drip away until finally…
“You doing some hippie shit up there?” a voice asked suddenly.
Opening her eyes, she saw to her surprise that Ben was standing at the bottom of the steps, with his jacket slung casually over his shoulder and the usual smile plastered across his face.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, startled.
“Well,” he replied, making his way up to join her on the porch before glancing into the house, “I figured maybe I should be the bigger man and establish contact. Get it out the way, so to speak.”
“You’ve come to see Dad?”
“Seriously?” she continued. “
come to offer an olive branch?”
“Is it really that surprising?”
“I…” Pausing, she seemed genuinely dumbstruck for a moment. “Well, that’s good. That’s really good. I never thought you’d do it, I just thought the two of you would ignore each other, but maybe you and he can patch things up?”
He shook his head.
“Ben, just -”
“I’m not here to patch things up,” he continued, as his smile faded. “I’m doing it for you.”
She raised a skeptical eyebrow. “For
“You’re hosting Christmas this year,” he added, “so your stress levels are already going to be through the roof. Plus, you know, I doubt Bob’ll be much help, so I thought that for your sake, to help keep that vein on your forehead from throbbing and maybe even exploding, I’d reach out to the old bastard and try to make sure things are at least civil. Do you think I should dye my hair blonde again? Just to make a point, you know?”
“What vein on my forehead?” she asked, reaching up and feeling for one. “Do I have a vein on my forehead?”
“Only when you’re stressed.”
“That’s not the key point here,” he continued. “Beth, you -”
“I didn’t know about this,” she muttered, still feeling her forehead as she headed down the steps. “Jesus Christ, Ben, way to drop something on me without any warning. I don’t want a vein on my forehead. How did I not know about this before?”
“Well,” he replied, “to be fair, out of all the people around you, you’re the one who sees your own face the least. I guess everyone else just assumed you knew.”
“I’ll see you at home,” she called back to him. “Good luck with Dad.” She added something else under her breath.
He watched, smiling slightly, as his sister headed to the car. She was still muttering to herself, and as she got into the driver’s seat she was still feeling her forehead.
“Have a nice day,” he said quietly, before pulling open the front door of his father’s house and stepping inside. Almost immediately, he scrunched his nose up in disgust. “Jesus, it stinks in here. What is that, cat piss and wank socks?” Sighing, he reaching up and knocked loudly on the inside of the door. “Dad! It’s me! Are you at least half decent?”
“Dad!” he called out. “Are you ignoring me, or are you being deaf again?”
Again he waited.
“Welcome home,” Ben muttered, heading across the hallway and then stopping to look into the front room, which had been the dining room back in the days when the family had lived together. The place was filthy now, with old newspapers and dirty dishes piling up, but for a moment he saw it the way it had once been: clean and welcoming, with all the touches his mother had brought to the place while she and Harry were still together. Whereas the others had witnessed the decline slowly, Ben’s sporadic visits home meant that he’d seen it in snatches, making the impact more visceral and more gut-churning.
A moment later, he heard a door creaking open in the corridor. Glancing back, he saw his father shuffling out of the spare room and making his way to the bathroom, while clutching a batch of paper tissues around his groin. The old man was clearly unaware that he was being watched.
“Poor bastard,” Ben whispered, feeling a hint of genuine pity.
Still unaware that anyone else was in the house, Harry disappeared into the bathroom.
“You need help in there?” Ben asked, not whispering but not shouting either.
“Deaf old man,” he continued, heading to the kitchen and finding that this room, too, was a mess, although he could see where his sister had tried to make it tidy. Fresh cleaning supplies had been left in a basket on the counter, so he figured Beth was planning to come back at some point.
A moment later, he heard shuffling footsteps coming closer. Stepping back, he watched as his father headed to the fridge, still apparently unaware that he had company.
“You want me to make you some tea?” Ben asked.
No reply, as his father reached into the fridge.
“Not got your hearing aid in, huh?”
Taking a carton of milk, Harry shut the fridge door and then headed to the front room.
Sighing, Ben shook his head. “What am I supposed to do?” he asked out loud, wincing as he smelled something foul from the fridge. “Shout until you notice me? It’s like being a -” He paused, feeling a shudder run through his bones. “It’s like being a ghost in my own childhood home. What a day for metaphors this is turning out to be.”
Making his way to the next door, he looked through and saw that his father was in one of the armchairs, tipping several pills into his mouth and then washing them down with the milk.
“You know,” Ben said after a moment, “the milk might affect the absorption of the medication. You should watch out for that, maybe use water instead.”
Reaching over to the coffee table, Harry fumbled for the remote control.
“What are you gonna watch?” Ben asked. “Still obsessed with
? Or do you, like me, feel that her most recent seasons have become a tad predictable? Still, it can be fun to catch up with the old dear from time to time.”
Harry pressed a few buttons on the remote, before realizing that he had it upside-down. Somehow, as he began to turn it, he seemed to sense that he was being watched, and finally he looked over at Ben and their eyes met.
“Hey, Dad,” Ben said with a smile, raising a hand and giving a little wave.
“It’s not an illusion,” Ben continued, stepping into the room, “and I’m not a ghost, not yet, not quite. Pleased to see me?”
He waited for a reply, but instead a kind of calm, pressing silence fell between them.
“You’ve really made some changes around the place,” Ben said finally, looking down and using his foot to push some old plastic bags aside. “You’ve put your own stamp on the old family place.”
Again he waited.
“Wanna know where I’ve been?” he asked. “God, that’s a big question. In nine years, I’ve been… a lot of places. Met a lot of people. Done a lot of things, too, some of them good, some of them bad, most of them just mind-numbingly mundane. I’m still waiting for the big wave to hit, so to speak.”
“Big wave?” Harry replied, rolling his eyes. “Sounds good.”
“You know, the point to life.”
Harry chuckled at this.
“Come on, Dad, I…” Pausing, Ben let his voice trail off for a moment.
“What exactly are you doing here?” Harry asked.
“So far, nothing particularly inspiring.” Stopping next to the sofa, he paused again. “To be honest, I figured I should come and break the ice. It’s Christmas next week and -”
“I’m not going.”
“Bugger Christmas,” Harry replied, turning the TV on and then flipping through the channels. “I heard you were back, Jack told me. I don’t need another Christmas, not at my age. You lot enjoy yourself.”
“Without you?” Ben asked again, raising his voice a little. “Come on, Dad, for Beth’s sake -”
“That’s where they’re having it this year,” Harry replied, interrupting him. “At Beth’s.”
“I know, Dad.”
“So go and have fun. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine, same as always. It’s not like I’m used to people coming to see me, I’m happy enough like this.”
“Wallowing in your own filth?” He sighed. “I’m not asking you to do this for me, Dad, and I’m not suggesting that we’ll be buddies by the end of it. I just think that for Beth’s sake, it would be real nice if we could ease some of the tension. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but she seems to be in a bad way at the moment. That vein on her forehead is looking a little scary.”
“It pulses sometimes,” Harry grumbled.
“I’m sure Beth doesn’t need you to look after her,” the old man muttered, turning the TV’s volume up. “She’s a grown woman and she can look after her own vein.”
“She’s my sister and I’m worried about her.”
“Well, then why did you -”
Ben waited for him to continue. “Why did I what, Dad? Why did I come back?”
“I’m starting to wonder that,” he replied with a sigh. “I don’t know, I just thought nine years was maybe long enough for…
to have happened. For something to have changed. Every time I go away, I leave it a little longer before the next time I come back, because I keep thinking that eventually I’ll find the magic threshold that erases all the bullshit and magically sorts things out, but I guess nine years isn’t long enough. Next time I’ll have to try ten, huh? And then fifteen. And then, I don’t know, I missed so many birthdays, how old are you anyway?”
Instead of replying, Harry simply turned the volume up a little more on the TV.
“I hear there’s been another murder,” Ben continued, raising his voice accordingly.
Sighing, he reached down and grabbed the remote control, quickly hitting the mute button.
“What did you do that for?” Harry scowled, trying to snatch it back.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Ben replied, “I just figured it’s been a long time since we saw each other, so maybe you could keep the TV off for five fucking minutes and be civil.”
“So that’s why you’re here? To cause trouble and speak to me with that foul mouth?”
“I hear there’s been another murder,” Ben said again, as the smile faded from his face. “I was wondering if you wanted to frog-march me down to the police station again.”
“Go to hell,” Harry hissed, reaching out and trying to grab the remote control.
go to hell,” Ben replied, with a hint of genuine grit in his voice. “Can’t you be civil, old man? Sitting here surrounded by your own filth, with your own daughter having to come twice a week just to make sure the house doesn’t get condemned, can’t you at least be
?” He paused. “There’s been another murder. Nice girl, I happened to see meet her not long before it happened, can you believe that? Can you, Dad? Can you believe that there’s been yet another coincidence?”