The Border Part Three (7 page)

Standing alone in the dark, silent kitchen, Beth swiped from one image to the next. Each offered some new horror, something to fill her soul with dread, but she couldn’t stop looking. Dead women, mangled men, murder victims, rotten corpses that had lain undiscovered for months, even shots of prisoners getting murdered by terrorists in distant lands… After a while, even those seemed to become less horrific, as she found more and more images that dragged her deeper. When she saw a child in one shot, his body having been torn apart by wolves, she considered stopping, but something just forced her to keep going, deeper into the dark images. Eventually, grabbing a cup of tea, she went and sat at the kitchen table, and the hours slipped by as she continued to explore the photos. Decapitations, drownings, electrocutions, dismemberment… They swam past her eyes, filling her soul with visions of horror.

***

“You want a lift?” Hayley asked as she and Katie headed out of the building and into the cold night air, with just a hint of light showing on the horizon. “I don’t know where you live, but Bowley’s not too big.”

“Sure,” Katie replied, touched by the gesture. “Thanks.” Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that Simon was a little way behind, leaving his office. “Can I catch you up?” she asked, turning back to Hayley.

“You want to talk to the boss about something?”

“I’ll be real quick.”

“Okey dokey, but don’t be too long.”

Once Hayley was across the street, Katie turned and waited for Simon to emerge from the building.

“Good job tonight,” he said with a faint smile. “See you tomorrow.”

“Can I have a word?” Katie asked.

He checked his watch. “I’m tired, can’t it -”

“I want to go down to the next level.”

Stopping, he stared at her for a moment, as if he couldn’t quite believe what she’d said.

“Don’t tell anyone else,” she continued, checking to make sure Hayley hadn’t come back, before stepping closer to him, “but I heard about the level below the level I’ve been on, and I heard there’s more money in it. I really just want to make some cash so I can get out of town in six months or a year, so…” She paused, hoping that he’d jump in and tell her it was okay. “So could I at least be considered?”

“Starting to find the first level tame, huh?” he asked.

“It’s not that, I just… I’m fine with how things are and I think maybe I could take a little more.”

“A
little
more?”

“A lot more,” she replied, correcting herself. “I’m pretty tough, I’ve surprised myself over the past few nights. I’d really like to… I mean, I think I could totally do it. I wouldn’t let you down or anything.”

“The next level of The Border is…” He paused again. “It takes things to new extremes, Katie, and -”

“I can handle that.”

“By extremes, I mean -”

“I can handle it,” she said again. “Hayley told me a bit about it, I get that it’s very different, I just… I mean, I feel like if someone else can go down there, then why can’t I?”

He stared at her for a moment, looking her up and down as if he was imagining what it would be like. “Why not, indeed?” he asked finally, with a faint smile.

“So you’ll think about it?”

“I’ll think about it.”

“I won’t let you down,” she continued. “I feel like I’ve been a model worker so far, I’ve taken everything that’s been thrown at me, and really so far The Border hasn’t been nearly as extreme as I expected on that first night, so… So I just hope you’ll give me a shot, that’s all.”

“We all deserve a shot,” he replied.

“So I’ll see you tomorrow night,” she added with a smile. “I really look forward to proving myself.”

“See you tomorrow night,” he replied, turning to walk away. He glanced back at her after a moment, but he said nothing else and quickly headed on his way, disappearing into the shadows at the next corner.

“Hey!” Hayley shouted from further down the street. “You want a ride or not?”

Hurrying to catch up, Katie couldn’t help but grin.

“What were you two talking about?” Hayley asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Katie told her, figuring that she needed to be discreet, at least for now. “I just wanted to thank him for the opportunities he’s given me.”

“Right,” Hayley replied, unlocking the doors but eying Katie with a hint of suspicion. “Cool. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that.”

***

“Mummy?”

Suddenly, Beth realized someone had been trying to get her attention. Looking over at the door, she saw her daughter Lucy staring at her with tired eyes.

“What… What are you doing up, sweetie?” Beth asked, checking her watch and seeing that somehow it was already almost 7am. She hadn’t noticed, but the first fringe of morning light had begun to light the south-facing kitchen window.

“Shouldn’t I be getting ready for school?” Lucy asked. “I’ll get in trouble if I’m late.”

“Of course,” Beth replied, closing the browser window and getting to her feet. For a moment, she felt a little dizzy, but she managed to steady herself and forced a smile as she headed over to Lucy and took the little girl’s hand. “I guess Daddy didn’t come home last night, huh? Let’s get you into the shower.”

“Is uncle Ben okay?”

“I think so,” Beth replied. “Why?”

“Nothing,” Lucy muttered as they headed upstairs. “I just thought I heard him talking in his sleep. He sounded mad about something.”

Epilogue

 

Fifteen years ago

 

“But why
me
?” Ben asked, looking out the window as the car reached the town square. “Seriously, you
never
ask me to come along with you. You always get Jack to help out, seeing as like he’s the most favored son n’all.” Turning to Harry, he frowned. “What changed suddenly?”

“I just thought a change might be good,” Harry replied, keeping his eyes on the road as he took another left, taking them down the side-road past the police station. Parking up at the side of the road, he switched the engine off. “You’re always complaining about being treated like the black sheep of the family, so I figured I’d invite you along today to help me pick up some stuff. That way you can’t complain anymore, can you?” Looking at Ben’s bleached blonde hair, he sighed. “How much longer are you gonna keep that going?”

“As long as I enjoy it,” Ben told him. “It’s an expression of who I am on the inside.”

“You’re blonde on the inside?” Harry asked, unfastening his buckle and then getting out of the car. “God, I really don’t understand how your mind works. I don’t understand any of my kids, Ben, but you? You’re the weirdest.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Ben replied as he got out of the car. “Don’t worry, though, I’m sure I’ll get tired of being blonde soon. Maybe I’ll try pink next.”

Harry frowned.

“So where are we going first?” Ben asked with a smile.

“This way,” Harry muttered, leading him across the street and back toward the police station. “We’ve got a few things to be doing. I hope you can get over your natural aversion to hard work.”

“I’ve never been scared of hard work.”

“Don’t see you doing much of it.”

“You’d be surprised,” Ben replied, stopping as his father opened the door at the front of the station. “Talking to you is hard work sometimes. What are we going in here for?”

“Come on, we’ll just be a few minutes.”

“But why are we here?”

“Do you ever give up on asking questions?”

“Uh, no. I find a questioning mind is a healthy mind, Dad. What gives with coming here?”

“Nothing
gives
,” Harry replied, holding the door open. “You said you’d come and help out with some things I want to get done, so will you just come in with me, please? The sooner we go in, the sooner we’re done and we can get onto the next thing on the list. Please, let’s not have a big discussion every ten paces.”

Cautiously, Ben stepped into the station, although he felt his skin crawling a little as he looked around. Having never been a big fan of authority, he’d steered well clear of the police, an approach that he’d intended to maintain all his life. Just being in the station made him feel all itchy, and the smile was gone from his face as he looked at the noticeboard on the far wall. Although he kept telling himself he was being paranoid, he couldn’t shake the feeling deep down that something wasn’t right.

“Alex?” Harry called out. “You in here?”

“In the back!” Alex called through to him. “Come on through!”

“This way,” Harry said, gesturing for Ben to follow as he headed past the main desk.

“What’s this about, Dad?” Ben asked.

“Just come this way.”

“Dad, seriously…” Pausing, Ben watched as his father headed to the main office, and then he listened for a moment as he was greeted by Alex. They were just exchanging pleasantries, but Ben couldn’t shake the feeling that there was an undercurrent, as if his father had brought him to the police station for some ulterior reason that he wasn’t quite ready to admit yet. Taking a few steps forward, he looked around the corner and saw that his father and Alex were discussing something else, something that seemed more serious, something that had caused them to lower their voices.

“Hey,” Alex said with a smile as soon as he saw Ben. “How are you doing there, boy?”

“I’m okay,” Ben replied cautiously.

“Jesus, that’s some bright hair,” Alex continued. “Your father told me you’d dyed it, but wow… Is this what the kids of today are doing with themselves?”

“It’s an expression of who he is on the inside,” Harry replied with a grin. “Go figure, huh?”

“Looks like you’re trying to scare the girls away,” Alex added, taking a set of keys from his pocket and stepping past them both, before starting to unlock the interview room. Pulling the door open, he turned to Ben. “Or do they like that kind of thing these days? I’m so glad I grew up in a simpler time, when girls admired a guy for his level-headedness and his steadiness, rather than fashion or whatever else is going on. When I grew up, teenagers weren’t really a thing. I myself was never one. How old are you again, Alex?”

“I’m fifteen.”

“How’s school?”

“Fine,” Ben replied cautiously. “Why?”

“Just wondering.” Alex paused for a moment, before turning to Harry. “Any trouble I should know about?”

Harry shrugged.

“What about -”

“What’s going on?” Ben asked. “Why are we here?”

“Well…” Alex paused again, as if he was feeling a little uncomfortable. “I’m guessing you heard about the two girls who were murdered recently. Lindsay Horne and Lucy Carter, both strangled and dumped near the town.”

“I heard.”

“And you probably heard that we’re having a little difficulty tracking the culprit down. That doesn’t mean we don’t have leads, it just means we’re still working very hard to find the individual who’s responsible. You’d think it’d be easy to spot a monster in a town full of regular folk, but we’ll find him eventually. Not to hurt him or anything like that, just to get him the help he needs. I mean, anyone who does such horrible things to two women is clearly in need of a great deal of help, wouldn’t you say?”

“That’s one way of looking at it,” Ben said cautiously.

“And the thing is,” Alex continued, “with the second murder, we got a report from someone who saw a guy out in that area on the night. Now it’s very shaky, it’s not much to go on, but my gut feeling is that the guy who was spotted out there might well be able to help us with our investigation. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this guy might be the one we’re looking for. So we can help him, you understand.”

“Okay,” Ben replied, feeling a knot of fear growing in his belly. “But why are
we
here? Why am
I
here?”

Alex paused again. “The only real description we got of the guy we’re looking for,” he continued finally, “is that he’s medium height, slim build…” Another pause. “And blonde hair.”

Ben swallowed hard.

“Like dyed blonde,” Alex continued. “Pretty unusual for a guy, huh?”

Turning to his father, Ben saw the suspicion in Harry’s eyes.

“And Harry called me up,” Alex added, “and said he’d read that description, and that he’s not implying anything at all, but he said that maybe he should bring you down here today so that you and I could have a little chat. Clear the air, see what comes up, that kind of thing.”

Ben opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out. He simply stared at his father as he felt a sense of pure hatred starting to rise from his gut and spread through his chest.

“You’re not being interviewed as a suspect,” Alex continued. “Let’s get that clear, okay? It’s more that I want to have a little chat with you and rule out certain things.”

“Like where I was on the nights those two girls were strangled?” Ben asked, his voice thick with tension.

“Yeah,” Alex replied with a smile, “exactly like that.”

“And do I
have
to tell you?”

“Do you
have
to?” Alex paused. “Well -”

“Just talk to the man,” Harry said firmly, patting him on the shoulder. “Ben, that’s the only reason I brought you here. To talk to him.”

“It is, huh?”

Harry nodded. “And to clear things up, to make sure that there’s nothing here to worry about.”

“So how about it?” Alex continued. “It’ll be just you and me, Ben. Your father won’t come in, he’ll wait out here, to keep things professional. It’ll be you and me, going over some things, and it’ll take forty minutes, maybe an hour at most.”

“Forty minutes?” Ben asked. “That seems like a little more than a chat.”

“It’s a thorough chat,” Alex told him. “Real thorough.”

Ben paused for a moment, staring at his father, before turning and starting to make his way into the interview room. His hands were shaking, poised to clench into fists, and his eyes had filled with a sense of pure, unadulterated fury as he heard Alex shutting the door and sealing them both in the room. On the far side of the room, there was a table with two chairs, and on the table there was a tape recorder.

***

“Well, don’t you feel better now?” Harry asked as he followed Ben out of the police station a couple of hours later. “Doesn’t it feel good to get things off your chest and face things, man to man?”

Stopping just ahead, Ben stared across the town square. His eyes, still filled with shock and anger, watched as people went about their daily business. How many others, he wondered, thought the same as his father? How many thought there was a chance, small but worth investigating, that he, Ben Freeman, was the one who’d strangled and mutilated those two girls? He’d always enjoyed his status as an outsider, as someone who didn’t conform, but now he was starting to see the dark side of not fitting in. After a moment, a woman stepped out of the bank and glanced in his direction; their eyes met for a moment, she didn’t smile, and then she continued on her way. Seconds after that, a kid rode past on a bike, and although he didn’t look at Ben, he seemed to be studiously
avoiding
eye contact, almost as if he’d been warned by his mother not to look at the weird blonde-haired kid who might have a dark secret.

“Ben Freeman’s weird,” he imagined the kid’s mother saying. “Keep away from him. There’s just something a little off about him.”

“Son?” Harry said after a moment. “You coming to the hardware store with me?”

Slowly, Ben turned to face his father.

“Now come on,” Harry continued with a smile and a sigh. “Let’s not have any silliness. It was good to come down here and straighten things out.” Reaching out, he tried to put a hand on Ben’s shoulder, but the boy instinctively pulled away. “Ben, you’ve got to understand -”

“I understand,” Ben replied, his voice trembling with shock.

“I didn’t bring you down here to embarrass or humiliate you. Alex just -”

“You called Alex. He told me. You called him and told him I’d dyed my hair, and that I matched the description of the killer.”

“Hang on, that’s not what happened -”

“He told me,” Ben said firmly. There were tears in his eyes, but that’s where they stayed: in his eyes, not rolling down his cheeks. He refused to let them do that, even though he was filling with a slow, quaking rage at the thought that a member of his own family had begun to suspect him.

“Are you going to be a child about this?” Harry asked, still forcing a smile. “Come on, it’s over now, let’s go to the hardware store and the electrical place and then we can get home and you can play those video games or whatever the hell else it is that you like wasting your time on.” Still smiling, he stepped past Ben before stopping and turning back to him. “And let’s not tell your mother about this, or Jack or Beth. Come on, let’s be grown-up, let’s be men. We did what we had to do. That’s what a man is, you know.”

Ben stared at him for a moment. “You thought I killed those women,” he whispered finally.

“Oh, come on -”

“You thought I killed those women,” he said again, taking a step back. “You read what happened to them and you thought that’s something I could do to another human being. You looked at me and you thought it’s something I’d be capable of.”

“Quit with the sanctimonious crap,” Harry replied with a grin. “I was just helping you out, is all.”

“He strangled them.”

“Well, garrotted, but -”

“And he cut them up,” Ben continued, “and did things to them after they were dead. Things that are so bad, they won’t even describe them in the paper. Even Alex just now wouldn’t tell me all the details! It’s like he thinks I’m too young to be told, even though I’m not too young for him to suspect me!”

“Son, let’s not -”

“And you thought that might have been
me
?”

“It was really the hair -”

Without letting him finish, Ben turned to walk away.

“Hey!” Harry called after him, grabbing his shoulder, “don’t you turn your back on me when I’m -”

Before he could get another word out, Ben swung around and clenched his fist, poised to punch the old man and knock him out. He came close, so close, before slowly unclenching the fist and turning away. Without looking back, he hurried across the road and then down an alley that ran by the side of the bank. Desperate to get away, desperate to avoid people staring at him, he began to run until finally he got to the yard behind the bar, and he crouched down behind one of the bins with his head in his hands. Tears ran down his face and he felt as if his skull was about to explode with rage. He was already regretting the fact that he hadn’t punched his father clean to the ground.

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