The Border Part Three (5 page)

“Touchy subject, man,” Jack muttered as he opened the envelope and peered inside. “Is this the full autopsy report on Mel Armitage?”

“Minus photos.”

“Why minus photos?”

“Because if those got out, people would
definitely
start looking at me funny. At least with information, there’s the possibility that you’re just guessing.”

“So what’s the gist of all this?” Jack asked. “Is the guy who killed Mel the same guy who killed Caitlin and the others?”

“Hard to say. Some indicators say yes, some say no.”

“What’s your gut feeling?”

“Beats me. Your wife’s very interested in the patterns of the stab-wounds, though. She got me to go over them a couple of extra times.”

“Why?”

“I think she thinks they’re significant because they’re so similar. Maybe she’s right, I don’t know, but it’s certainly odd that two apparently frenzied knife attacks would result in patterns that are essentially the same.”

“It is,” Jack muttered, sliding the documents out and taking a look. “So this is what Jane’s focusing on? What about Alex?”

“The guy’s a loon.”

“I know, but -”

“He came through to ask me about internet waves today,” Tomlin continued. “That’s the phrase he used, internet
waves
. He thinks the internet is broadcasting pornography directly into his mind, or rather through it and out the other side. He’s worried that he might be subconsciously picking up on it, so he wants to make a metal helmet. I point out that if it’s open-faced, the waves would get in and then bounce around inside, maybe making the problem worse.”

“How did he react to that?”

“I think he’s considering a closed-face helmet. Like the kinda thing a racing driver wears.”

“Great,” Jack replied, sliding the documents back into the envelope. “I always knew he was gonna crack one day. Shame it has to happen just as he’s trying to catch a killer.”

“It might be spreading to Jane too.”

Jack turned to him. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Tomlin continued, “but… Earlier, when I went to give her some test results, I found her alone in the office. Talking to herself.”

“Are you sure she wasn’t on the phone? Maybe she was using a hands-free kit?”

Tomlin shook his head.

“What was she saying?” Jack asked.

“I didn’t hear. She was keeping her voice down, but it sound urgent, and she sounded pissed off, like she was arguing with someone. Someone who wasn’t there, man.”

“My wife isn’t crazy.”

“I didn’t say she was. I just figured I’d tell you what I saw and heard. The thing is…” He paused. “I might’ve picked up on one or two of the words she said, and one of them…”

Jack waited for him to continue. “Spill.”

“It sounded like she thought she was talking to Caitlin Somers.”

“No way.”

“Sounded like it.”

“That would be nuts,” Jack continued. “You obviously got the wrong end of the stick on this one.”

“I hope so, man, I hope so. I like Jane, I wouldn’t want to think that something’s going wrong in her head, but… I heard what I heard, man. Jane was talking to Caitlin like the girl was actually right in front of her, and I don’t know about you, but I reckon that’s not quite right.”

Jack paused for a moment, before again checking that Greg wasn’t close enough to hear.

“Thanks for letting me know,” he muttered. “I’m sure it’s nothing, but… I’ll keep an eye on her.” Slipping the envelope into his pocket, he got to his feet. “Let me know if anything else comes up, yeah? You’re doing this town a real service by helping me out. The people of Bowley need to know what’s really going on, and the police clearly aren’t gonna get their act in gear.”

“Just make sure no-one finds out I’m your source,” Tomlin replied, watching as Jack headed to the door. “I don’t want to start getting funny looks around town.” Getting to his feet, he shuffled over to the jukebox, slipped some coins into the slot, and looking for something loud.

IV

 

With music blaring all around and the heavy red lights of the club pulsing in time to the beat, Katie leaned against the bar for a moment and tried to catch her breath. Even for The Border, it had been an insane night, and the clients were a lot more boisterous than usual. She could still feel their clammy hands on her bare skin, and for the first time since her initial night at the club, she was starting to think that maybe she’d reached her limit.

“You okay?” Hayley asked, stopping next to her and nudging her in the ribs. “Hey Katie, snap out of it. Are you okay?”

Turning to her, Katie saw the grin on Hayley’s face.

“Third night blues, huh?”

“What?” Katie asked.

“Third night blues. Don’t worry, it’s totally normal.” She grabbed a jug of water and poured them each a drink. “The first night is whacked out. You’re still adjusting, everything’s nuts. The second night, things seem more normal and you start to think that maybe you can handle it after all. And then the third night…” After letting some ice cubes drop into the glasses, she smiled. “The third night, it always gets to be too much. Your head spins, you body aches, and you consider quitting. Come on, admit it. You’re thinking about it right now.”

“I just…” Taking a glass, Katie downed the water quickly. “I mean…”

“You’re doing really well.”

“I’m not.”

“You are. They love you down here. Seriously, I can’t even remember the last time a new girl made such a big impression. Not since me, at least. Mr. Crutchlow’s been asking about you.”

Katie winced. “Really?”

“I think he wants to talk to you privately. Don’t be scared, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Not usually, anyway.”

“Talk to me?” She paused, before looking back over her shoulder. The red light of the club was so intense, the air seemed to have become a permanent haze, but she could see some naked men lounging around one of the closer tables. “What does he want to talk to me about?”

“Mr. Crutchlow’s different to all the other men down here,” Hayley continued with a grin. “He never misses a night, not ever. I mean, you’d think at his age he’d need to slow down a little, but if anything he’s speeding up. It’s kinda impressive when an old guy manages to keep up with the world. I hope I’m like that when I’m, like, ninety or whatever he is, although I don’t wanna be still hanging out at a place like this. One of the other girls here says he’s been coming to The Border since forever, and when he decides he likes a girl, he
really
likes them. Know what I mean?”

Katie turned to her. “No.”

“His fancy is fleeting, but you should take advantage of it while you can.”

“Take advantage?”

“You’ll see,” Hayley added, biting her bottom lip for a moment. “Someone’s coming up behind me, yeah? I can feel the floor vibrating.”

Katie watched as a naked guy in his fifties approached Hayley from behind. Reaching around the girl’s waist, he clamped a hand on her bare right breast and gave it a squeeze, letting his fingertips linger over the nipple.

“Just remember the rules,” Hayley said with a smile, before turning to the man. “That goes for you too, Sir. Rules are everything in The Border. This ain’t the Wild West.”

Katie watched as the man’s hands wandered south over Hayley’s body, eventually cupping her buttocks and giving them a quick squeeze before parting them. Letting out a giggle, Hayley took one of the man’s hands in hers and began to lead him away, although she glanced back briefly at Katie before disappearing entirely into the red haze of the room. The last Katie saw of her was a pair of buttocks, swinging out of view. With music pounding so loud that the bar was actually vibrating, the whole club seemed to be throbbing more than ever, and talk of ‘the rules’ seemed to mean nothing on a night when lines were being pushed and possibilities were being explored.

“Hey there,” a voice said suddenly.

Turning, Katie saw a late-middle-aged man with graying hair, grinning at her as he leaned on the bar. She felt a shiver pass through her body as she realized that she recognized him from the ‘real’ world: his name was Tom Lanegan, and she knew he worked at one of the offices on the industrial estate with her old schoolfriend Candy Carver. According to Candy, Tom was one of the sleaziest guys around.

“I heard there was a new girl working here,” he said with a broad smile, as his eyes moved down her body, getting a good look and taking in every detail. “I must say, I approve.”

“Drinks for Mr. Crutchlow,” the barman said suddenly, sliding a tray toward Katie. Their eyes met for a moment before he headed back to the other end of the bar.

“Getting the old man his usual, huh?” Tom asked. “That’s good. If there’s one thing you need to learn right off the bat around this place, it’s that you’ve gotta keep Mr. Crutchlow happy if you want to last. I don’t know how he’s done it, but somehow he’s managed to position himself as the life and soul of this place. Impressive for an older guy, yeah?” He stepped closer, until his large, erect penis was almost touching her thigh. “Have you noticed that no matter how loud the music is, you can always hear Mr. Crutchlow’s laugh?”

“I should -”

“Just listen for a moment,” he continued. “Just listen.”

She opened her mouth to tell him she had to go, but suddenly she realized he was right. Despite the pounding music that filled the room, she
could
hear Mr. Crutchlow’s distinctive laugh drifting across from the far side of the club. She frowned, trying to work out how that was even possible, but suddenly she felt something brushing the nipple of her right breast, and she looked down to see that Tom’s fingers were touching her.

“Do you hear?” he asked, staring down at her breast. After a moment, his fingers brushed against a mole on the side. “That’s pretty,” he continued. “You know, I’ve seen you about town, up on the -”

“No,” she replied, interrupting him as a hint of panic filled her chest, “rules, remember?”

“Yeah, but -”

“You can’t mention things that happen above-ground,” she continued, fighting the urge to step away from him. “Not down here. It’s not allowed. Just like when you’re above-ground, you can’t mention things that happen down here. It’s one of the most important rules of The Border.”

“Sure, but -”

“Rules are rules.”

He stared at her for a moment. “That’s good,” he said finally. “You passed the test. I wanted to see if you understood.”

“I do.”

“You have another mole here,” he replied, ignoring her words as he ran a finger down her belly, almost to her crotch. Feeling the mole for a moment, he seemed lost in thought, before looking at her face and then reaching up to touch the mole on her chin. “I hope you get these checked out. It’s important to monitor your moles and make sure they don’t change color or shape. If they do, you -”

“I know,” she replied, forcing herself to remain polite. “I understand how it works.”

“I ought to call you Moley,” he told her with a faint smile. “I like moles. I know some guys might not, but I really do.” At that moment, whether by accident or not, the tip of his penis brushed her leg. “Moley the underground girl.” He smiled. “Ha! How do you like that?”

“I think I should get this drink to Mr. Crutchlow.”

“Of course you should,” he replied. “Of
course
, but… Come back and see me later, yeah? Before the night is over. I promise I won’t break any more rules.”

Smiling politely, she picked up the tray and began to carry it across The Club. She knew that Tom would be watching her, probably focused on her ass, so she just kept going, refusing to look back, until she was certain she must be out of sight by now, lost in the red haze of the club. Finally she glanced over her shoulder, just to be sure, and she felt a hint of relief as she realized he could no longer see her. A moment later, she heard Mr. Crutchlow laughing nearby, and she realized that she still had a long, long night ahead of her.

Heading over to the far end of the club, past the door in the corner that she hadn’t dared ask about yet, she finally reached Mr. Crutchlow’s table.

“Here you are, Sir,” she said with a smile as the music pounded so hard it shook her bones. She set the drink down for him. “I hope you’re having a good evening.”

She turned to him. He was sitting right in front of a bright red searchlight, so her field of vision was filled with the brightest red haze of all, but somewhere in the mix she could just make out Mr. Crutchlow’s mouth as he smiled back at her.

***

“The kids are asleep,” Jack said as he made his way back into the front room. “Oliver seems a little funny tonight, but I guess it’s nothing. You know what boys are like.”

Smiling, Jane continued to tap at her phone for a moment, saving a couple more documents that she’d downloaded from her email.

“You still working?” Jack asked, flopping down on the sofa next to her and letting out a sigh. “Please, tell me you’re not still working.” He checked his watch. “It’s almost eleven. Jesus Christ, when did I get so old that almost eleven feels like a late night? I remember when eleven was the
start
of a good time, not the moment when I sit on the sofa and worry about developing a gut.”

“Join the club,” she muttered.

He stared at her for a moment. “You okay?”

“Never been better.”

“I mean in general. Not too stressed?”

“I’m working a murder investigation,” she replied. “It’d be weird if I wasn’t stressed.”

“Sure.” He looked around the room for a moment. “Why’s it so quiet in here?” he continued, as he realized that all the gadgets were all off. The TV, the radio, the laptops… Everything was dark and untouched. “Not even watching the news tonight?”

“I’m all newsed out,” she replied, setting her phone down on the coffee table. She made sure to position it in a very specific spot, with one side exactly parallel to a magazine. “Sometimes I just like peace and quiet, you know? It helps me to get things straight in my head.”

“Cute,” Caitlin whispered. “Let the test begin.”

Turning, Jane saw the dead girl sitting in the armchair by the TV. That side of the room was darker than the rest, but Caitlin’s scarred, dry face was just about visible in the gloom.

“So are we friends again?” Jack asked after a moment.

She turned to him. “Did I miss something?”

“You just seemed a little off at lunch. I could tell there was a little grit in your voice.”

“I’ve just got a lot on my mind,” she told him. “The whole Mel Armitage thing is taking up all my time, we’re still… Well, you know I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on, but let’s just say that we’re not making progress quite as quickly as we’d have liked. Don’t put that in the paper, by the way.”

“Of course not.”

“Plus, Alex is getting weirder by the day.”

“Is that even possible?”

“Believe it or not, yes, it
is
possible. Sometimes I think he…” She paused, trying to find the right words, before glancing at her phone again. She needed to be certain about where she’d left it, so she could tell if it got moved when she left the room. “Sometimes I think Alex is a little more than just pleasantly eccentric. I mean, he’s always had that edge, that ability to go out on a mental limb, but sometimes I think he’s…”

“Batshit crazy?”

Smiling, she nodded.

“Well, I told you that years ago,” he continued, putting an arm around her. “The man’s an over-thinker. He follows his thoughts down too many rabbit-holes and he doesn’t know when to stop.” He paused. “You go down too many rabbit-holes, sometimes you accidentally come back up through a different one. That’s how you end up losing your mind.”

“I need a glass of water,” she replied, getting to her feet. “You want one?”

He shook his head.

“Back in a moment.” She glanced at her phone again, and then at Caitlin in the armchair, and then she made her way to the kitchen, only to find that the dead girl was now by the back door, watching with a faint smile.

“Do you think he’ll pass the test?” she asked, as Jane headed over to the sink. “Come on, deep down do you think Jack’s going to look at your phone and sneak a peek at that fake information you’ve left on there?”

“Maybe,” Jane whispered, filling a glass and then starting to drink.

“Only maybe?”

“Maybe.”

“That’s sad,” Caitlin continued. “A marriage shouldn’t be like this. You should be able to trust him implicitly. What happened to the idea of marriage being a union between two smart, intelligent, respectful adults?”

Ignoring her, Jane finished the glass and then poured another.

“It won’t be long now,” Caitlin added.

Jane turned to her.

“There’s going to be another one. You know that, right? Mel Armitage was just the first in the latest batch, and someone else is going to die soon. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow night, maybe later in the week, but it’s going to happen unless you and Alex catch the killer.”

“We’re working on it,” Jane whispered.

“How inspiring,” Caitlin said with a smile. “The worst part is, you know the killer. You’ve spent time with him recently. Or her.”

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