Martin rubbed his hands together, even with the gloves they were cold, not that that surprised him, he was usually cold these days. He looked around quickly, making sure he was still on time, everything was ready, all he had to do was wait. The road was long and curving, no cars passed by, it was a lonely road. She was usually out walking at this time, though he didn’t quite understand why, it wasn’t like she was walking a dog or actually walking to or from anywhere. He rubbed his hands again, then slowly bent and looked in the wing mirror. He studied his face for a moment, lined with wrinkles, small jowls starting to form, eyes watery. He used to be handsome and a hit with the ladies. What they called a smooth talker, he could talk any woman into bed and he was proud of that. He was never vulgar about it either, no, he was always charming. Now the looks had faded, the charm hadn’t, but women were less responsive to it. They no longer saw him as a viable partner, they saw him as an old, flirtatious man, maybe a bit of a letch, but over all harmless. That worked to his advantage. He never fretted about getting old, he knew that charm and looks would be replaced by frailty, but they both accomplished the same thing. He stood again and stamped his feet, trying to keep some warmth in his bones, he could already feel the ache of the cold. Where the hell was she? The wind blew through the trees, rattling the branches, stealing more of his warmth, then, finally someone walked into view. He squinted for a second, unsure, but then he smiled, it was her. She wore jeans and a thick jumper, a scarf twined about her neck. He stamped his feet again, then waved at her to get her attention.
She reached him, smiling slightly, “Is everything ok?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t want to trouble you, but my car stopped working and I don’t have my mobile. No one has driven by yet and I don’t know what to do!” He shivered slightly in the cold. She smiled at him, “I’m afraid I don’t know too much about cars, but I have my phone, we can call for help, ok?”
“Oh, thank you! Thank you so much!”
“Does the heating in your car still work? You should probably sit inside to keep warm.”
“No, everything just stopped.”
“Ok, let me just…” She started to dig through her pockets, looking for her phone, Martin removed his own hand from his pocket, bringing with it a stun gun. Moving quickly he shoved it against her, her body naturally moved away, but she hit the car, he kept it in place, counting silently. As she collapsed he stopped, he moved around to the trunk of the car and opened it, removing a small bottle and a cloth, he dampened the cloth and held it against her mouth, smiling. He may not be as fast as he once was, nor as strong, but he could make do. When she was out he stood and put the things back in the trunk, returning with a length of rope. While he tied her up he listened carefully for the sound of a car coming, but the road was silent. When she was bound he put a piece of duct tape across her mouth, should she wake up before she was supposed to. He leaned over and grabbed her underneath the armpits and carefully dragged her to the back of the car. He moved slowly and carefully, he didn’t want to pull a muscle in his back. It took a little longer than he would have liked, but he managed to lift her into the trunk, carefully tucking her in before slamming it closed. He moved back to where he had dragged her from and scuffed at the drag marks, then he sat into the car and turned on the engine. He let it heat for a moment, then he started to drive.
Once he had used his cabin for all of his needs. It was out of the way in a well secluded spot. It looked like a normal, every day cabin from the outside, even if someone broke in, or peered through the windows, they were unlikely to find anything unusual. Inside the cabin there was a closet filled with junk, deeper than one would expect. It was possible to enter, but it looked as though everything was balanced precariously. On the floor, beneath some boxes, was a trap door, the trap door opened to reveal a ladder, and it was there, underneath the cabin, that he had his playroom. Of course, there was another entrance, in the surrounding woods, that brought you through a tunnel large enough for his needs. He made sure he couldn’t be cornered if it came to it. That cabin had been with him for years, and there had never been a problem. Then, he started to get old and Madeline had started to worry about him going up there alone. Of course she didn’t know about his playroom, or what he really used it for, but she worried and nagged until he agreed he wouldn’t go up there as often, so now he had to make do.
He lived with Madeline in a small, three bedroom house, with a large garden in both the front and back. They had bought it when they were much younger, and thought they would have a family. Of course Martin didn’t really care to much for the idea, but it was necessary, he had to blend in, so they bought a house and had a child. Sally was their first and only child, some complication that Martin was never clear on had left Madeline unable to have more children. They had Sally though and that was enough. She was a sickly child, small for her age and pale. She was quiet, which suited Martin, and never really looked for too much attention, spending most of her time sick in bed. She died when she was five, one of her various illnesses finally claiming her. They had the funeral and that was that. He had cried as her small coffin was lowered into the ground, he acted angry that she was taken away and in a way, it was true. She was a cover, a way of helping to normalise the family and then she had gone, leaving a potential exposure behind. However it had worked out better than Martin could have planned, people sympathised with them, commiserated and even avoided them for a short period. Then, people moved on, no one questioned him being insular, of course he was, dealing with such a devastating blow. They whispered and gossiped that poor Madeline couldn’t have children, and they became an accepted background in the community. That poor couple who lost their only child and were unable to have more. The story was good too, a real tear jerker. Martin had used it more than once as he regaled his latest conquest with the tale of a dead child and failed marriage, destroyed by a wife who didn’t, or couldn’t, care about him, who blamed him for the blameless death of their child. They had all fallen for it.
Dealing with her grief, Madeline fell into multiple hobbies and causes, painting, knitting, reading groups, volunteering at homeless shelters. Martin watched as it gave her freedom and access to people, blended her in, and soon he followed suit. He had many hobbies, though there was only one he truly cared about. Tonight Madeline was off feeding the homeless, she was never home before nine, sometimes ten if who ever gave her a lift was feeling particularly chatty. Madeline knew that he had nothing planned for the night, but also knew that meant he would be in his shed, pottering about, tinkering, perhaps even carving something. He had had become quite the carver, if he did say so himself. He had plenty of time to do everything and clean up afterwards, then, tomorrow, when he was going to go play chess, he would dispose of the body.
He pulled into the garage and turned off the car as the metal door juddered closed behind him. He took a moment in the car, then he stepped out and went around to the trunk. She was still unconscious. Good. He pulled her out and roughly loaded her onto the dolly, it was well worth it for the convenience. He pulled it around the car and through the side door, there was a concrete path leading to his shed. The dolly creaked as he pushed it, he’d have to oil it up, make sure it ran smoothly, silently. At the shed he took out a key and unlocked the door, then he entered with the woman. He was greeted by the smells of varnishes and lacquers, the smell of fresh cut wood and sawdust. Inside he turned on the small heater and stripped off his jacket. It took him only a few moments to get her situated on the metal table. The metal table was slightly slanted, not enough to notice, but enough to make a difference. At one corner there was a hole, large enough to do the job and small enough that it could be easily overlooked as a flaw. It ran through the leg of the table and into a drain, from there it ran into the sewers. He carefully loosened the ropes and pulled her hands behind her back, tying them beneath the table, then he tied her legs tightly. She wouldn’t be going anywhere. He sat while he waited, leafing through the paper. He was sitting behind her head, he had a good view of her face, one of the lights was directly above her, it would make it hard for her to see. Every so often he glanced from the page to check if she was still unconscious. After a while she started to stir, just faint twitches, and finally, her eyes opened. It took her a moment, no doubt she was groggy, before she started to pull at the bonds, trying to free herself. Martin closed the paper, folded it and set it gently onto a nearby workbench.
“There is little point in struggling. You won’t be able to break through those knots.”
She had froze when she heard his voice, she relaxed a little, he moved into her view, “I’m Martin by the way, I’d shake your hand but it’s otherwise occupied right now.”
He picked up a small scalpel and waved it over her face. “This is your fault you know. Always walking in the same places at the same times. That road is so lonely. It isn’t safe for a young woman.” He paused for a moment, “It isn’t really safe for anyone. It would be so easy for a car to take a corner too fast and hit someone. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened to you already. You’ve been walking along there ever since I’ve known you.”
He looked at the duct tape covering her mouth, Madeline wasn’t supposed to be back for a long time yet, and the neighbours were far away, still, should he risk it? He dragged the scalpel lightly across the silver surface of it, no, better not. Next time he could.
“How could you do this to your husband? Your child? It’s so irresponsible. I cannot fathom how someone can be so selfish. Do you think I should tell them what happened to you? Send them some” he slid the side of the blade along her hairline “mementos? Something to remember you by?” She started to struggle at the bonds again, Martin smiled, the only thing she would accomplish would be tiring herself out. He took the scalpel and made a small nick near her eye, watching as the blood welled up and spilled over. It was so red, it always fascinated him. He looked at her skin, the paleness, how could anyone guess that beneath that pale white expanse, underneath it all, lay such a luxurious colour? He caught a small amount on his finger and brought it close to his nose, breathing deeply, he brought it to his lips and he dabbed it gently onto his tongue which peeked out from between his lips, the tang of copper and iron hitting instantly. Yes, she really was perfect. Before, when he was younger, there was the rage, but now, now there was just the need, the slow, precise movements as he worked. He moved along her body, making small cuts here and there, layering them, watching as the glorious red pooled around her.
His head shot up, eyes wide, Madeline. She shouldn’t be home yet, what time was it? He looked at the door, had he locked it? He dropped the scalpel, it fell reluctantly, blood making it sticky, and started to move around the table, before he could get to it, the door opened.
“Martin? Are you still out here? I brought home some dinner, I wasn’t sure if you had already…” He had hoped he would be able to block the body, she was still alive, just barely clinging on, but Madeline had seen her. He had planned for this, there had always been a back up, but what was it? He couldn’t remember. He stood frozen as she looked past him at the body.
She was going to run, he knew it, she’d run towards the kitchen, towards the phone. She wouldn’t try to cry out, no that would be too undignified for her. She’d run and as she reached the step he’d push her, that was it. A little push and she’d be out of his hair. People would pity him, but no one would suspect. He was stronger than she was, he was certain of it. He could even move the body, throw her down the stairs. He tensed, getting ready to spring after her, but she didn’t run. She moved into the shed.
“Martin? What’s going on?”
He was unsure now. What if she did scream? What would he do then? Everything would end. His hand reached out slowly, feeling for something heavy. He’d have to silence her before she could scream. Couldn’t let her know what he planned.
She looked at him, then back at the girl. “It’s wonderful.” She sighed as she said it, Martin paused, his fingers stopping their search. She moved around him, to the girl. Her eyes were unfocused, but her attention snapped to Madeline. Madeline ran a hand along the girls arm, Madelines pale, wrinkled skin, blue veins showing beneath it stroked the creamy, marred surface. The girl shivered, moaning in pain as Madeline’s fingers probed at the cuts.
Madeline turned to Martin, looking between her blood soaked hand and him. “How long?”
“I…” What was the danger now? He could tell her the truth, even if she tried to run she wouldn’t be able to get passed him.
“Since before we were married.”
“And you never told me?”
“How could I?”
“No. I guess not. How Many?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember.”
Her eyes sharpened, “Don’t lie to me.”
She let out a slow breath, “Eighty two? How? How did no one know?”
“I…I vary where I get them. Never from the same area. I never get rid of them in the same place either.”
He looked at her as she rubbed the blood between her fingers, then, he realised, sensed it beneath the surface, hidden away.
She nodded, “Before we were married.” She smiled, “one hundred and twelve.”
“It was easier for me.”
He nodded once, it was fitting.
She looked back at the body, “Can I help?”
Martin nodded and stepped forward as she picked up the scalpel, he placed his hand over hers and together they brought it down. The girl moaned as she twitched weakly.
Cleaned up, the sat in the kitchen, cups of tea nestled in both hands.
“My first was my brother, I was twelve. He was always so loud and brash. Never did what he was told. It was easy, convincing him that it was a treat that mother kept from him. He always was greedy. He drank it quickly, swallowing at least half before he realised what it was.” She pulled a locket from beneath her dress, opening it to show the picture of her brother, “I kept this with me. Everyone thought I was so distraught over his loss. It was wonderful.”
Martin took a sip of his tea. “Mine was much less close to home. It was a prostitute when I was sixteen.” Madeline’s eyes flashed once, “I didn’t sleep with her.” A lie, but he would never tell her the full truth, “She followed me down an alley, dark and private. It was quick, over with before I fully realised. I dumped her into the river. The police never really cared.”
Martin paused for a moment, then looked at her, “Sally?”
She nodded once, Martin smiled. “I should have known, she was always so poorly, too poorly.”
“No one noticed. She thought I was giving her medicine to make her better.”
“I always thought you wanted children?”
“No. Never did.”
“How do you do it now?”
Martin took another sip of his tea, “I drive around, find someone. Sometimes I follow them for a few weeks, other times I only have a short while. Then I grab them somewhere secluded. I used to be able to charm them, now I’m just a feeble old man, what danger am I. You?”
“The shelter. I pick someone. No one cares when they get sick and die.”
“What if they trace it to you?”
“They wont. I do a few at a time over a couple of days, then bring them all soups and so on so make them feel better. I pick one or two of them. Everyone thinks it’s just an illness, it’s no shock when someone dies from it. Sometimes they think it’s the cold, other times they think it’s because of what ever illness had gone around.”
“I wish I had known earlier.”
They sipped their tea and talked for hours before they finally went to bed. Madeline had turned on the electric blanket earlier. They slid between the warm sheets. Martin turned to Madeline, “Do you think, perhaps, the next time you feed the homeless, I could come too?” She smiled at him and leaned over for a kiss, “Of course, as long as I can be there for your next time.” Smiling, Martin turned out the lights and hand in hand, they drifted into a peaceful sleep.