Excerpt from Next of Sin – Psychological thriller on special this Easter on Amazon.
Norfolk Broads, 1987
“You didn’t tell anyone did you?”
“No, ’course not,” she giggled as he began to toy with a stray lock of her hair.
She nodded, grinning. “Told the other guides I felt poorly and wanted to go back to the tent to lie down.”
“What if someone goes to check on you?” he asked, frowning.
“I made a shape in my sleeping bag. They’ll think I dozed off.”
He gave her a heart-melting smile. “Clever girl!” He slipped his hands around her waist. She laughed and drew back as he tried to kiss her. It annoyed him.
“Where are you supposed to be?” she asked suddenly as she slithered out of his embrace.
“It’s our last night. Rest of the Scouts are at McDonald’s in town. I slipped away.” He moved towards her again before suddenly changing his mind and walking over to his sports bag.
“What are you doing?” she asked, swinging awkwardly from side to side with her arms behind her back.
He quickly slipped a red rose out of the bag and held it out. “For you.”
“Wow, thank you,” she said, blushing. “If only the other girls from camp could see this. They all fancy you, you know.”
“But you said nothing, right?”
“I never. How old are you?” she quizzed as she stared shyly into the petals of the rose.
“Twelve,” she answered. “You’re going to take me to the movies when we get home like, okay? Can’t wait to see the look on Maisy’s face when she sees us together in town …” In several sudden movements, he ripped off his T-shirt and then his shorts, and took a running leap into the canal.
“Hey, what are you doing?” she cried out. “You’re crazy you know!”
“Crazy about you. C’mon,“ he beckoned, “lovely and cool in here.”
“No way, it’s gross.”
“Don’t be a ninny. Chuck off your clothes and get in with me.” He could see the indecision playing on her face, but he knew young girls; he knew how important it was to them to be liked by the boys. He pictured how excited she would be to tell all her friends who had asked her out. “Lucy Simpson, I really like you. You’re cool.” He treaded water patiently, observing her toying with the button on her shorts. He was intrigued by her honey-blonde hair, which twisted around like the helter-skelter; he was captivated by the way her fluorescent-pink tank top revealed her belly button: she was cute. “Scaredy-cat, Wimpy Simpy,” he teased.
“Don’t you dare!” she shouted back as she let her shorts fall to the ground and wriggled out of her top. She ran towards the canal in her underwear and jumped in, arms wrapped around her legs, making a huge splash. They laughed. He paddled towards her and once again slipped his arms around her waist and attempted to kiss her lips. She slipped her arms around him, avoiding his mouth. He was filled with curiosity. He wanted to explore her body; he wanted to know what everything felt like; he wanted to get so close to her that he could feel what it was to be a girl. He tried to kiss her on the lips again, this time with his tongue. She frowned and gave him a horrible look.
“It’s cold. I don’t like it. I’m getting out.”
“No, wait.“ He tried to hold on to her.
“Leave me, it’s not fun,” she said loudly.
“Shhh!” he urged. “Don’t make so much noise or someone will hear and we’ll both be in trouble. Let’s get out together, but give me a kiss first.”
“I’m freezing. I just want to go back to camp,” she insisted as she turned to swim to the side.
He was beginning to feel annoyed. Lucy Simpson no longer felt fun and interesting. Why would she not listen to him and be quiet? Why was she trying to get away from him? In the distance he could hear a dog barking. He paused to listen more closely. There was the bark again; it was closer and this time, he could hear the owner’s voice. It was a dog-walker on the footpath alongside the canal. “Lucy,” he whispered urgently, “be quiet, someone’s coming. We’ll both be in trouble. Come over here by this barge.” He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her in the direction of the barge.
“No!” she yelled out. “Let me go or I’ll …” Before she could finish, he had his hand over her mouth. She struggled, but he was stronger. He had to keep her quiet; the dog-walker was getting closer. He was getting angry, she was out of control; the more he held on to her though, the more she thrashed out, splashing and making a noise. He had to make her still. He had to avoid drawing attention to himself; there would be too many questions. There was the barking again. The walker was now a barge’s length away. Lucy could hear it too and to her it meant safety, it meant help. She struggled against her fourteen-year-old captor, managing to make muffled sounds despite the hand clamped tightly over her mouth. He was desperate. He placed his free hand on her head and with all his strength, forced her under the water. She kicked violently, but with no need to have one hand over her mouth, he now had two with which to hold her under the murky green water of the canal. He was out of breath, felt almost faint, but she was getting weaker too. He could see the walker with his Springer Spaniel. It was after eight and darkish there in the shadow of the barge. Maybe the man would not see him. He continued to hold her under the water, his feet on her hip bones pushing her down, making sure no outstretched hand would breach the water’s surface and shatter his secret. He was terrified; yet, at the same time, he felt exhilarated. Feeling her body between his legs gave him an overwhelming sense of power, and an amazing orb of sensation grew in his stomach and spread to his private area — a feeling of excitement he could only liken to every Christmas morning he had had all wrapped into one.
“Oi, what’s going on there, son? You shouldn’t be swimming in the canal.”
“It’s okay, Sir. This is my parents’ barge right here. I dropped my bat overboard and just jumped in to see if I could find it. I’m getting out now,” he lied confidently.
“You make sure you do that and don’t go swimming in the canal again, son. It’s dangerous.” The dog barked and barked hysterically.
He mentally begged the man with the dog to move off; what if he stayed until he climbed out of the canal; what if the dog sniffed out his and Lucy’s clothing on the grass? His heart was beating wildly and despite the freezing-cold water, he was sweating. The man was still looking at him curiously. Why? He was too scared to look down at the water himself — what if the man could see her? What if some of her blonde locks had floated to the surface?
“What’s your dog’s name, Sir?”
“George. Look, I’d better be off now,” he said yanking the barking dog’s lead in aggravation, “You make sure you get out and get warm.”
“Will do, Sir,” he replied, making an effort to turn around and pretend to be making his way to the side. Then, to his great relief, the man began to walk away, pulling his dog impatiently along with him before an eager George could make his way to their discarded clothing. Certain the man was out of earshot, he allowed her to come to the surface.
“Lucy, it’s okay now,” he whispered. There was no reply. Her eyes were open, but they stared wildly ahead. Even in the dimming August sunlight, he could see her skin had taken on a blueish tinge. Only a few seconds ago she had been strong and vital; now she was limp and still. A feeling of sheer dread permeated his being. He shook her and shook her again. He listened at her mouth for sounds of breathing. He had his Scouts’ first-aid badge and knew enough to know she was dead. How could she be dead, he asked himself? She was only under a short time, couldn’t she have held her breath? No, it was her fault, her fault for fighting like that. She should have listened, she should have stayed quiet. It was all her fault. He had had to keep her quiet, otherwise they would both have been in big trouble.
Guilt and fright soon left his thoughts to be replaced with plans: plans for the body. He knew the real owner of the barge was in the pub nearby; he had heard him talking as he lay waiting, hidden in the bushes, for Lucy to arrive. His mind was clear, his intellect sharpened with adrenalin. He used her training bra to tie her to one of the ropes which held the barge to a mooring stump, and climbed out of the water. The darkness which was falling was now his ally. He jumped on board the barge with the agility of a tabby and made his way inside. Rope. There had to be loads of rope on a barge. He found himself in the cramped kitchen and started rummaging through the cupboards: cans, jars, gin, rum, empty wine bottles on the counter. Yuck, he thought, stinks of booze. He could neither see nor feel anything of use. Realising he was dripping wet, he snatched the tea towel: a small chink of glass on glass dominoed into a crescendo of smashes as wine bottles started toppling into one another. “No!” he exclaimed as he reached out to stem the noise. Trembling, he rearranged the wine bottles as they had been before. He quickly dried himself, then the floor. He took a deep breath and paused to think. He had begun to shake uncontrollably. His limbs trembled from the cold and his insides shuddered from shock. I’m wasting time, he chided himself. Any minute now the owner will return. He thought briefly about taking a swig of gin — “steadies the nerves” he’d heard adults say. No, he decided, I must stay alert and in control. He had been on a barge before; where were all the ropes and various bits and bobs kept? Perhaps it was memory, perhaps it was instinct that made him return to the deck. The narrow sliver of the moon had cast enough light to illuminate a flat, wooden seat on the deck with a hinge towards the back of it. Still shaking, he grabbed on to the seat and lifted it up. Yes! he exclaimed to himself. The wooden seat was also the lid of a box which held all manner of rope, cord, plastic string and rags. Feeling sure nothing in the box would be missed immediately, he selected a long strip of cord. Within seconds he was back in the water. Earlier, he had noticed a rope net hanging off the side of another barge further down the canal. He swam silently, using his arms rather than his legs, to the other barge. The net was not securely fastened, and with a few tugs, it was in his hand and he was swimming back towards where he had left Lucy. He could see her head bobbing in the water; for one second his heart stopped: she was smiling at him, she was alive. No, it was a trick of the moonlight. She could no longer fight back. She was all his: his to control, his to explore.
Fifteen minutes later, he set about forcing her small body into the rope net. With the water to support her weight, it was not difficult for him to manoeuvre her into a foetal position and wrestle her body into the rope net. It was then time for the next phase of his plan. He was sure that there had to be something along the base of the barge — a hook, pipe, coil or something else he could tie the net to. With his hands on the side of the barge and his body horizontally prone under it, he used his feet to feel for anything that might be a suitable attachment point for the body. It was frustrating work and what worried him more was that it was time-consuming. Any minute now the owner could return from the pub. Towards the centre of the barge, he began to detect something rough; it was as if a crude bit of repair work had been done in that section. Confidence suddenly imbued him with a renewed sense of energy. He had learnt once on a school trip to the lock at Stratford-upon-Avon that barges had soil tanks, which had something to do with air toilets. He wished he had listened more closely that day about the ins and outs of barge plumbing instead of sneaking away to the ice-cream seller. Suddenly he discovered something else — pipework — and guessed it ran from the air cylinder to the tank. Taking a deep breath and dipping below the surface, he explored the area with his hands. Yes, there was a pipe, a U-shaped pipe positioned within what seemed to him to be an arse-about-face collection of pipes and fixings. Surfacing, he swam back to where her body floated in the net. He made sure the cord he had taken from the barge was wrapped around his torso. Swimming with the body in toe, he approached the centre of the barge where the pipework was situated. He tied one end of the cord securely around Lucy’s neck and to the net using everything he had learned about knots, then he ducked under the barge and began his search for the U-shaped pipe. His heart was beating faster and faster; he had to hurry. It took three attempts to relocate the pipe. As soon as he found it, he looped the cord through the bend and returned to the surface, hoping his pulley system would work first time around. He pulled at the cord until the net with the body in it disappeared under the surface and underneath the barge. He tugged and tugged until the cord would no longer give way. Diving under for the last time, he made sure that the cord was tied fast to various sections of pipework. The body of Lucy was now safely secured under the barge. Satisfied, he swam to the side and hauled himself out of the canal.
He looked back towards the barge — ‘Rosemarie’s Retreat’ it was called. He had overheard the owner saying that he was leaving the next morning. He smiled. The next morning the barge would disappear into the maze of canals in the Norfolk Broads with its secret cargo. He turned to find his clothes. Using a tracksuit top, he dried himself then redressed in his Scouts’ uniform, placing the wet tracksuit top in his tog bag. Suddenly he noticed the red rose he had given Lucy, lying there on the grass. He picked it up slowly and as he looked at it, that amazing sensation welled up inside him once more; blood rushed to the lower part of his body and he felt as if his groin was blushing. But, as suddenly as it had come, it ebbed and the thrill was cut short. Will I ever feel that way again, he wondered, the way I felt as I held Lucy close, as I held her under the water? He held the rose out in front of him. “You could have enjoyed it too, Lucy. Why didn’t you? Didn’t you like me?” He regarded the rose with a confused look before tossing it into the canal. “Could have been so beautiful, Lucy. Could have been so right.”
He picked up Lucy’s small pile of bright pink clothing and made his way towards the back of the pub, concealed in the overgrown bushes. He could hear raucous laughter from the pub-goers gathered under the red and white umbrellas of the beer garden. He slipped silently around the kitchen, careful not to be seen by the cook, who was smoking at the door while humming along to that year’s biggest hit La Bamba. In the car park he spotted a Renault 5, a Golf GTI and a Ford Sierra. He made a beeline for the Ford, which was filthy dirty. He tried the boot. Locked. Next, he tried to pop open the boot of the Renault 5, using the material of his shirt so as not to leave a fingerprint. It was open. He flung Lucy’s clothing into the boot, shut it firmly, and made his way back to camp. He felt satisfied with himself: after years of beatings and tongue-lashings from his father, being sneaky had become a way of life and thinking ahead was second nature.
“And where have you been, young man? I was about to alert the police and send out a search party. This is unacceptable behaviour and I will have to report this to your father tomorrow on our arrival home.”
“Sir, I am really sorry for causing you to worry. Let me explain.” Without so much as a pause, he continued with some pride, “I just helped a guy out. Uhm, I was at McDonald’s with the rest of the Scouts when I realised that I had left my asthma inhaler back at camp. I was really worried, ’cause I might need it. I was walking back to camp when I saw this guy broken down at the side of the road. His car had smoke and steam and stuff coming from the engine like. I noticed he had foreign plates … Germany. I asked him if everything was okay. He didn’t speak English, but I know some German from school. He needed water for his radiator thing ’cause his car was overheating. He had an empty Coke bottle and so I took him to the public loos in town and showed him where to fill the bottle with water. He was really grateful. He seemed a bit lost too and so I helped him with some directions. I’m sorry, Sir, but I thought it was a good thing to do. I didn’t realise how long I had been away. I rushed back as fast as I could, but I was so out of breath.”
The Scoutmaster was beaming. “Well done, son! You did the right thing.” He patted him affectionately on the head. “You get on to bed now. We have to be up early to pack up; bus leaves at half seven.”
He could still remember grabbing his father’s newspaper as soon as it came through the door the next evening, sneaking off to his room and reading the headline news about the young Girl Guide, Lucinda Simpson, who had disappeared from a campsite in Norfolk. Police were searching the countryside with dogs, dredging canals and lakes, and desperately appealing for witnesses to come forward. The next evening he nicked the newspaper again, this time to read about an arrest. A woman, Mandy Brown, had found a young girl’s clothing in the boot of her on-off boyfriend’s car and reported it to the police. The unnamed man had been taken in for questioning. Dogs had detected Lucy’s scent near the pub, where the man in question had been drinking that night. There was still no sign of a body, but police expected the worst.
Japan, October 2004
He had continued to scour the newspapers for articles on Lucy’s disappearance long after his return from Norfolk; sometimes he was even saddened that they had never found her. He still thought of her as his first girlfriend — the cute blonde he had met at the Scouts and Guides disco that summer at camp. The girl who had captivated and infuriated him in equal measure. Suddenly that feeling of control, of power over her and the amazing sensation he had felt as he held her under the water, welled up vividly within his memory.
Everything changes, yet nothing changes, he thought as he brought his thoughts back to the present. They were standing on the edge of the cliff; he held her from behind and they gazed out to sea, buffeted by the increasingly strong winds. The graphite-coloured clouds hovered menacingly over a quivering East China Sea. The final sheer rays of sunlight stalked the rugged coastline and the rocks glinted like shattered glass. She gazed down to her left at the mean-looking rocks, thinking how desolate and how inhospitable to any life the cove appeared: sun-scorched by summer and sea-lashed by winter; even the algae struggled to survive.
She drew away from him. “Let’s go. It’s cold and miserable.”
“I think it’s atmospheric,” he countered.
“What?” she asked confused, as she held back her ash-blonde curls, which whipped across her face in the swirling wind.
“The two faces of nature,” he mused, not answering her directly. “This morning so calm, so tranquil, so benign. This evening: omnipotent, violent and threatening. I just love to soak up that awesome power.”
“I want to go back to the bungalow,” she announced with determination as she moved to walk away.
His hand shot out like a bolt of lightning and his gold signet ring glinted as his hand latched on to her forearm. “No.”
She gasped as she looked into his blue eyes, which were suddenly so cold, so cruel — almost reptilian. That detached sense of eeriness she had had standing on that cliff suddenly morphed into a very chilling sense of evil. She tried to loosen his grip. With increasing panic, she shot a glance over her shoulder, realising with horror how close to the cliff’s edge she was. In that moment of utter terror, the events of the past few months flashed through her head with crystal clarity: the phone call from out of the blue; the surprise holiday; the trip to that obscure piece of coastline; the way he had shanghai’d her into the walk that cold October afternoon. But she was destined to think no more. The vice-like fingers of his right hand tightened around her throat; her petrified eyes bulged. He gasped, his entire body electrified and coursing with the thrilling charge — his fantasy of having total power over life and death fulfilled. As he felt her life ebb away, he loosened his grip and sighed with satisfaction.
“Pity you couldn’t enjoy it too,” he hissed as he ruthlessly rammed his arm into her body, sending her hurtling over the edge of the cliff.
He stood, smiling, taking a macabre delight in the way she lay like a broken doll there on the rocks. Her screams, echoing off the cliff-face as she had tumbled down, had been a symphony to his ears.