Geoff stretched out his arms. It had been quite a week. They were strained to breaking point. Every copper for miles had been called in.
Even the guys on sick leave and the oldies nearing retirement were working their chubby backsides off. Checking through old cases to see if there was a connection somewhere that they had missed.
There was a serial killer on the loose. This guy was having himself a field day. Eleven random killings in four months.
A nurse, a teacher, a house painter and others, each with absolutely no connection what so ever to the previous victims.
Tall, short, fat, thin, gay straight. Ordinary people getting on with their lives.
As far as he could see they weren't causing a problem to anyone. But that hadn't stopped them getting a smack on the back of the head from something heavy, which put their lights out.
Except that it wasn't random. Serial killers were specific! These guys were the elite athletes of their trade. Intelligent feral animals preying on society like hyenas.
This one was a peach!
He chose his victims carefully. Then he pounced, dragged them off to some out of the way place and did whatever it was he needed to do to satisfy his perverted desire for pleasure borne of pain.
He didn't interfere with them in any way. He just left them tidily arranged somewhere where they would be found.
Each one with a sticky printed number applied to one hand, and the other neatly date stamped in red ink for reference.
The only clues they had to go on were dull. It was never midweek, they had all assumed that he was washing his hair or something on a Wednesday.
A small red car had been seen in the area where the victims had disappeared. Even this was sketchy.
Some said red some said brown, one guy even said green, the public were notoriously lousy witnesses.
He got out of the car. He couldn't get it out of his head and a run was what he needed.
He liked the forest, he could think. With a house full of teenage kids peace was at a premium. The oldest had told him that he was getting obsessed.
His wife had smiled and said ‘that was coppers for you, never off duty.’
He slogged uphill for a bit before he turned off into the trees. There was a track you could follow.
It was his usual route, plenty of logs to jump over and the occasional ditch to keep him on his toes.
About a mile in he stopped for a breather and some water. Five minutes alone in this pine-scented heaven was better than a month in Barbados he thought.
Then he saw it, hidden in the undergrowth, covered in branches, a small red car.
Instinct kicked in, that coppers sense of something in the wind. He looked around and he listened, a very underrated sense in his opinion, but there was nothing.
He carried on with his run just in case he was being watched. He took the shortcut and headed back.
He had almost tripped over her. She was lying by the side of the path gagged, her hands bound with cloth. She rolled her eyes as if to say sssh he’s still around.
He squatted and quickly removed the gag and undid her wrists.
“over there, " she whispered. “He said he had to do something first.”
He didn't wait to find out what it was, he picked her up and slung her over his shoulder. She was tiny and he was a big man thank God, anyone heavier would have been a problem.
He set off into the trees at a pace. Behind them, he heard a scream of rage. Someone came crashing through the trees frantically looking for his lost victim.
Geoff, adrenaline pumping picked up speed. He thought his heart would burst. She was a tiny little thing but six stone or so was still a weight to carry.
He thundered along the track back toward the car with shouts of fury ringing in his ears. The terrified girl clung to him sobbing.
He never bothered locking it, not out here. He slung her onto the back seat and got himself in. Don't panic, that was the first rule. It gave you options.
He tried to start the engine but nothing worked, then he realised that his phone had gone, he swore. When Karma did one on you it was usually from a great height.
Nothing for it, he was going to have to fight to keep them safe.
He always kept a tyre lever under the front seat, you never knew when you might need it. He gave it to her “if he comes near you smack him with it, hard, " he said.
A man crashed out of the trees, he was huge. He thundered toward the car bellowing like a bull and launched himself at the driver's door.
Geoff kicked out and caught him around the knees. The man went down like a sack of spuds and Geoff threw himself after him. A swift knee in the goolies and chunky doubled up.
The guy was an ox and twenty years younger, but Geoff knew he was winning and that spurred him on.
“You my old mate are nicked,” he puffed in triumph and felt like Dirty Harry as he sat on the man's chest for a moment.
He hadn't been expecting it, not at all. He slumped forward onto the ground as something heavy hit him and the lights went out.
Melissa smiled and fingered the tyre lever. Martin gave her a thumbs up, it was her turn and she had done a good job.
He reached into his pocket and carefully placed Geoff’s phone back into the car, making sure that there were no fingerprints or DNA.
Not that it was a problem, neither of them had ever been in trouble with the law. Just a couple of young librarians making their way in a world full of numbers and letters.
Scrabble club on a Wednesday night was their sanctuary. Away from her religious maniac of a father, and his own demanding mother.
They had fallen in love and the game had become so much more than just plastic letters on a board.
Mentally he counted up the numbers in his head, 65 points for the word Policeman. It fitted in well with Nurse and Teacher. The board was filling up nicely!
Vaguely he wondered what he should choose for the next one. Postman going down the board from Policeman, but that seemed a bit easy. Perhaps, Poet or Pope, he giggled to himself.
Now that really would be something!
She peeled off the numbers six and five and Martin stuck them to Geoff’s hand. Then she date stamped his other one neatly.
Yet another soul checked out of the library of life she thought with satisfaction.
It had been worth it, she had been watching him for weeks. His routine, his daily habits, everything about him. It was her turn so she got to choose where it ended.
She knew damned well that he would never leave a victim, especially one as tiny and helpless as she was. Big strong man, father to four girls, he was a shoe-in for knight in shining armour.
Normally Martin did the final bit but he had promised that she could do it as a birthday treat. She had enjoyed it and hoped that he would let her have another go.
They laid him out and set off back through the trees hand in hand. Separate cars of course. Her little red Fiat and his Green Rover.
She gave him a long look as he drove away. One day soon she hoped to add Librarian to the board.
Geoff twitched a hand, it was all he could manage. He was still hanging on when they found him and the ambulance took him away. Maybe she hadn't hit him quite hard enough, or maybe it was just that as his Rugby playing friends at Hendon used to say-he had a very hard head!