The communal front door opened against a swish of junk mail that was piled up behind. The hall light was on a timer, and it whirred softly as she climbed the narrow staircase, her suitcase bumping along.
The flat was on the top floor, and when she reached the landing she saw that she had a neighbour – there was another front door opposite.
Inside the flat, it felt like the heating had been off for a long time. There seemed to be no electricity. A long, freezing search ensued, using the light on her phone as a torch. She finally found the electricity box, tucked away at the back of a cupboard in the hall, and the lights sprang on.
The first door leading off the hall was a bathroom. It was small, white and clean, with just a shower cubicle. Next to it was a small bedroom with a pine double bed and a wobbly IKEA wardrobe. Above the bed was another blotchy painting. Erika lit a cigarette and peered at the bottom of the canvas, where a small signature read MARCIE ST. CLAIR. Holding the cigarette between her lips, she grabbed the painting off the wall and stashed it behind some plastic buckets in the hall cupboard.
At the end of the hall was a combined living room and kitchen. It too was tiny, but modern, and furnished in an impersonal IKEA style. Impersonal was perfect for right now. Erika pulled open the cupboards, searching for an ashtray. There wasn’t one, so she grabbed a teacup.
There was a coffee table and a small blue sofa by a bay window. Erika slumped down in the sofa and looked across at a tiny television, the screen covered in dust. It was unplugged, the lead and aerial lying on the floor beside the TV stand.
Erika turned to the window, and stared out into the darkness, the sparse room and her reflection staring back at her. Once she had finished her cigarette, she stubbed it out in the teacup and lit another.
Several houses down from Erika’s flat, tucked in a crease where the road curved sharply, a figure crouched at the end of an alleyway, clad head-to-toe in black, blending in with the darkness. The figure watched Erika in the window as she lit up another cigarette and exhaled, the smoke curling around the bare light bulb above her head.
I thought she would be harder to find, mused the figure but here she is, DCI Foster with her lights blazing, displaying herself in the window like a whore in the red light district.
In the photo the newspapers used, Erika had a fuller, more youthful complexion; here in the window she looked scrawny, exhausted . . . almost boyish.
Erika stared in the figure’s direction, tilting her head to one side and resting it on her chin, the cigarette glowing inches from her face.
Can she see me? The figure shrank back a little into the shadows. Is she watching me like I’m watching her? No. Impossible. The bitch isn’t that good. She’s looking at her own reflection from the light inside, no doubt feeling fucking depressed about what she sees staring back.
DCI Foster’s assignment to Andrea’s murder had caused major concern. A scroll through Google had shown that Foster had been hailed as a rising star during her time in the Manchester Metropolitan Police. She’d been promoted to the DCI rank aged just thirty-nine, when she’d caught Barry Paton, a youth club caretaker who’d killed six young girls.
But Barry Paton wanted to get caught. She won’t catch me. She’s officially washed-up. A fuck-up. She led five police officers to their deaths, including her dumb husband. They’ve assigned her to this case because they know she’ll fail. They want a fall guy.
The temperature was dropping fast. It was going to be another freezing night. But being so close, watching DCI Foster, was thrilling.
A car appeared at the top of the road and the figure shrank back further into the alleyway, waiting for its headlights to pass. There was a soft purr as a black cat slunk along the top of the wall. It stopped and froze when it noticed the figure.
‘We’re almost twins,’ the figure whispered, lifting a gloved hand and gently moving closer. The cat let itself be stroked. ‘Good kitty . . . good.’
The cat locked eyes with the figure, then leapt soundlessly off the wall, disappearing over the other side. The figure regarded its leather gloved hands; turning them over, flexing the fingers.
I’d taken Andrea’s shit for so long, but I never expected I’d do it. Live out the fantasy of strangling her, choking the life from her body . . .
As the days had passed, the figure had grown confident, cocky almost, that Andrea’s body wouldn’t be found. That she would remain frozen under the ice. Winter would pass, and with the warmth of spring she would rot down – rot down until her mask of beauty was gone and she looked more like who she really was.
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