A cold, clear autumn night with a sharp wind shaking the trees. The man in the shadows was trembling. The palms of his rubber-gloved hands were moist, and warm sweat trickled down his face under the mask. Soon he would be able to see her. To touch her. She wouldn’t see him, deep in the black of the moon shadow. She wouldn’t know he was there until it was too late.
At first he thought it was a police trap. A girl, a young girl, in school uniform, walking all alone in Denton Woods at eleven o’clock at night. But how could the police know he’d be here? The other attacks had taken place miles away. And how could the police know it was the really young girls who turned him on. The police knew nothing. He was too smart for them. Far too smart. They had questioned him. They had cleared him. They had even thanked him for his co-operation.
Even so, he hadn’t taken any chances. Only fools took chances. As always, he had carefully reconnoitred the area. Nothing. Nobody. For miles around there was no-one but him, and the girl. The girl! In that school uniform. Wearing those dark thick stockings. She couldn’t be much more than fifteen . . .
a schoolgirl young and innocent, unaware of her developing body
. . . just like the girl in the book, the book he had hidden away in his bedroom.
What was that?
He stood stock still, ears straining, his heartbeats booming in the screaming silence. He had heard something. Something moving. He tensed, ready to tear off the mask and run. It was only the mask that could give him away. Without it the police had nothing. No leads, no clues, nothing. Even if they brought him face to face with his victims, they couldn’t identify him. The first they knew of his presence was the sudden suffocating blackness as the cloth went over their heads, and then the pressure of his fingers on their throats, squeezing, choking. One of the girls . . . the second, or was it the third? . . . had managed to tear the cloth from her face. But all she saw of him, before his fists pounded her into unconsciousness, was the mask. The black hood that completely covered his hair, his face, his neck. The newspapers had dubbed him the ‘Hooded Terror’. Tomorrow’s headlines would read
‘Hooded Terror Strikes Again. Schoolgirl Latest Victim’
. He liked reading about himself in the papers. It made him feel important.
He slid deeper back into the shadows, his body tensed, his ears tuned. The sound again. A rustling, a snapping of twigs. His hand crept up to the mask as he listened, trying to make out what it was. Then a snuffling and grunting as something blundered through the undergrowth. Something small. An animal of some kind. A badger, perhaps, but definitely not human. He relaxed and eased forward. He could smell his own sweat, his excitement. Soon he would hear her.
Such a shame he would have to hurt this one. She was so young, so innocent. How wonderful if she submitted without protest, her eyes wide open and wondering.
At first terrified, but gradually, as she experienced the new delights, the unbelievable sensations he was offering, she moaned, as if in pain, gasping with pleasure, drawing him on
. . . the way the girl in his book reacted the very first time it happened to her. She was a schoolgirl, too.
His ear caught another sound. The dry whisper of fallen leaves on the narrow path scuffed by quick, nervous footsteps.
It was her. The girl. Again he held his breath. Stood stock still and tensed . . .
Ready to spring.
Police Constable David Shelby, twenty-five, married with two young children, shivered and stamped his feet as the wind, cutting down the deserted back street, found an empty lager can and rattled it across the cobbled road. He checked his watch. Twelve minutes past eleven. He wondered who the station would send, hoping it wouldn’t be Detective Inspector Allen but whoever it was, he wished he would come soon. He had far better things to do tonight than stand guard over a dead body.
Above his head an enamel sign, hanging from a wrought-iron frame like a gibbeted body, creaked as it swung to and fro in the wind. The wording on the sign read Gentlemen, with an arrow pointing downwards. Behind Shelby a broken metal grille sagged, no longer fit to perform its function of denying entry to the worn, brass-edged stone steps which descended to the dank darkness of the underground public convenience, built by the Works Department of Denton Borough Council in 1897 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
The sound of a car approaching. Headlights flared as a mud-splattered, dark blue Ford Cortina rumbled over the cobbles, coming to an uncertain halt behind Shelby’s patrol car. The door opened and a scruffy-looking individual wearing a dirty mac draped with an equally dirty maroon scarf, clambered out. In his late forties, he had a weather-beaten face flecked with freckles, his balding head fringed with light-brown fluffy hair. Shelby smiled, relieved that the station had sent the easygoing Detective Inspector Frost and not that sarcastic swine Allen, who treated the uniformed branch with contempt and who was bound to ask some probing questions. It would be a lot easier with Jack Frost.
The wind found the lager can again and dribbled it across to the inspector, who gave a mighty kick and sent it flying through the air, past Shelby’s ear, to rattle and bounce down the toilet steps.
“Goal!” yelled Frost, ambling over.
Shelby grinned and swung his torch beam toward the depths. “Shall we go down, sir?” He was anxious to get this over, but Frost was in no hurry.
“What’s the rush, son? If he’s dead, he’ll wait for us. Be sides, I’ve got my best suit on and I don’t want to mess it up sooner than I have to.” He opened his mac to reveal a newish looking, blue pinstriped suit with a fairly respectable crease to the trousers. It was the retirement party tonight. Police Inspector George Harrison was leaving the force after twenty-eight years in Denton, and the division was throwing a big farewell thrash for him in the station canteen. Although officially on duty, Frost had set his heart on attending and was going to take the first presented opportunity to sneak up there. Which was why his old blue-striped wedding suit had been paroled from its moth-balled prison. He could have done without Shelby’s newfound efficiency in finding this lousy dead body.
Frost fished a battered packet from his mac pocket and worried out a cigarette. “You’d better fill me in with some facts. How did you find him, and why the hell didn’t you pretend you hadn’t seen anything and leave him for the morning shift?”
“Well, sir, I was driving past on watch when I noticed the metal grille across the stairs had been forced back . . .”
“Hold on,” said Frost. “You know what a slow old sod I am. What were you doing driving down this bloody back street at this time of night?”
“It’s part of my beat, sir,” protested the constable, looking hurt. “It has to be covered.”
“Highly commendable,” sniffed Frost, spitting out a shred of tobacco, “but next time there’s a party, stick to the main roads. And speed it up, son. The beer’s going to run out before you reach the punchline.”
“Well, sir, I stopped the car, got out, and checked the grille.” He directed his torch toward the sagging grille and they both moved forward to examine it. “As you can see, the padlock has been forced.” Frost gave the padlock the briefest of glances and stared pointedly at his wristwatch. Taking the hint, Shelby speeded up his narrative. “As you know, sir, these toilets are locked up at eight o’clock.”
“I didn’t know,” grunted Frost. “I always pee in shop door ways.”
“Anyway, sir,” continued Shelby doggedly, “I thought I’d better investigate.”
Frost snorted. “Investigate what? Illicit peeing after hours?”
“There’s plenty of copper and lead piping down there, Inspector,” Shelby pointed out. “They could have been after that.”
“Sorry, son,” Frost apologized, “you’re quite right. Carry on. I’ll try and keep my big mouth shut.”
“Not much more to tell, sir. I went down and found this tramp sprawled on the floor. As far as I could tell, he was dead. Dr Cadman only lives round the corner, so I nipped round and brought him back.”
The inspector dragged on his cigarette. “Pity you didn’t just call an ambulance and let the hospital take over.”
“He might not have been dead, sir. The doctor would have been quicker.”
Frost nodded gloomily and said, “You’re right again, son. Pity you have to be so bloody right on the night of the big booze-up. What did the quack say?”
“Doctor Cadman found damage and bleeding at the base of the skull. He reckoned death was caused by a blow to the head.”
Frost stared moodily into the darkness. He knew Dr Cadman. Knew him well. Cadman had been his wife’s doctor. It was Cadman who had diagnosed stomach pains as mere indigestion and kept prescribing the white peppermint mixture until the unbearable pains drove her to hospital. “An old tramp, you say?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve seen him knocking around the district, but I don’t know his name.”
“I suppose we can’t put the evil moment off.” Frost pinched out his cigarette and stuffed the butt back into the packet. “Let’s get inside before people think you’re trying to pick me up.”
One hand gripping the brass handrail, he followed Shelby’s torch cautiously down stone steps worn concave in the middle from the traffic of thousands of hurrying feet. The echoing, monotonous plopping sound of dripping water grew louder.
“Do you know which police surgeon they’re sending us?”
“Dr Slomon, sir. Mind that step . . . it’s a bit dodgy.”
“Slomon!” exclaimed Frost. “That snotty-nosed little bastard? He’ll want everything done by the book. I reckon I can kiss the party goodbye.” He moved his foot down to the next step only to give a startled yell as something cold and wet leaped up and licked its way inside his shoe. “Flaming hell, Shelby, it’s awash down here. You might have bloody warned me.”
“It wasn’t as bad as this before,” said Shelby. The reflections from his torch beam danced in the rippling water which lapped at the bottom step. “One of the cisterns is overflowing and the body’s blocking the drain.”
“This gets better and better,” the inspector observed bitterly. “So where is he?”
Shelby swung his torch and illuminated a sodden shape huddled in one corner. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to get our feet wet, sir.”
They splashed over, the water finding holes in Frost’s shoes he never knew existed and reminding him of the pair of Wellington boots lying idle on the back seat of his car. The heap in the corner looked like a mess of wet rags, but the light of the torch revealed it to be a man. A dead man. He lay on his back in the flooded glittering of the urinal stalls, his long, matted hair bobbing in the rising water, wide-open, sightless eyes staring unflinchingly into the burning glare of the torch. The mouth was agape and dribbling, the beard and ragged overcoat filthy with vomit that stank of stale, cheap wine. The body of a derelict, a tramp who had crawled into some dark corner to die.
Frost stared at the tired, worn-out face, a face long unwashed, grimed and greasy with dirt. “Good God, it’s Ben Cornish!”
“You know him, sir?” Shelby asked.
“I know him,” Frost replied grimly. “And so would you bloody know him, Constable, you spent more time on your job and less on looking for crumpet.”