The Killing Game | Sample Chapter
His footsteps echoed off the bricked railway arches. Ahead, streetlights lit bright patches of cobbled pavement and rain fell in sheets, leaving the ground a shiny patchwork quilt of light and shadow.
The arches beneath the bridge offered sanctuary. They welcomed him with open arms, like a long-lost lover. He sank into darkness and felt the familiar peace of her touch. He breathed her intimate scent as she enveloped him in her arms.
Few people passed in that early hour. A drunk ran his hand along the brickwork for support. A pair of lovers walked hand in hand, their footsteps slow as they savoured their last moments together, and the arches amplified their whispered dreams. They stopped to kiss beneath the bridge, where the streetlights dared not to reach, then parted with reluctance, and their footsteps seemed to call to each other as they went their separate ways.
A single car passed from left to right. A dark saloon with three passengers and a yellow disk in the windscreen denoting its use as a mini cab. It cruised by and Harvey watched for heads to turn and see him, but none did.
In the darkness, he was safe. In the arch’s safety, nobody could find him. In the bosom of the shadows, his blood-stained hands were invisible.
He breathed the darkness and savoured the feeling of cold air cooling the sweat on his back.
The screams would come in a few moments, and he would need to be on his way. But there was something he needed to do before he made his escape. He needed to quell the prickly skin on his arms. The fine hairs on his nape stood on end; his ears had tuned into a light tapping of feet.
He was being followed.
The sounds had almost been in time with his own footsteps but delayed, like the off-beat snare of an old jazz drummer. He had stopped in a doorway and the sounds had stopped soon after. He had made his way, following the alleyway shadows, and the sounds had returned to tease him with an echo.
The arches gave him shelter, sanctuary, and somewhere to wait for whoever was following.
And he could wait, but time was not on his side.
It was as if there were two clocks. He saw them in his mind’s eye. The first clock that he pictured was small like a stopwatch. The delicate second hand seemed to race its course with tiny, incessant taps like the marching feet of ants. It was a countdown to zero. When the hand struck twelve, the bridge and arches that sheltered him would be awash with spinning, blue lights, and the thundering boots of uniformed officers would drown the delicate patter of rain.
The second clock ticked as clocks do. He imagined a grandfather clock with its pendulum swinging and the large, wooden frame amplifying the sound of the slow and lazy strokes. With each of those lethargic strokes, the patter of feet that had echoed his own grew closer.
The question was, which clock would strike twelve first?
With every second that passed, the hairs on his nape stood taller and the sweat on his back grew colder, stiffening the lithe muscles beneath his shirt.
And in the distance, the screams began.
The clocks began their race.
Hurried now, the footsteps he was sure he had heard entered the bridge, then stopped. The steps had been confident and unafraid, yet light and nimble. Once more, the hairs on his nape rose as if they sensed his assailant’s searching eyes.
And for the second time that night, he drew his knife.
The wail of the first siren woke the night. It was distant. The game was still anybody’s. Those tiny ticks of the small clock edged closer to twelve and the lumbering pendulum was steady, but it had grown louder in his imagination.
He pressed his back against the wall. His hand and the knife were one. A dark, shiny shape against the black of the shadow. It wore the disguise of another man’s blood. He held the blade beside his leg, low and out of sight.
Eight more footsteps, then they stopped once more. Whoever they belonged to was searching the arches. He pictured them peering into the darkened alcoves. He stepped to the edge of the shadow as far as he dared, where the reach of the distant streetlights faded, and the arms of darkness held him in her embrace.
The lone siren he heard had doubled or tripled. They now sang in chorus, building to a magnificent crescendo. He heard the engines as they approached, three, maybe four, police cars reacting to the report of a single dead man.
Eight more footsteps.
The clocks in his mind continued to tick. The percussion of the ensemble was steady and rhythmic.
The footsteps ventured closer, unafraid. Eyes peered into the darkness of the neighbouring alcove.
Another eight footsteps and they would stand before him. The man’s dried blood was tacky beneath the warmth of his hand. He gripped the blade, ready to act.
The first of the eight steps began, and the siren song was in full compliment. The walls on the far side of the street flashed hues of blue as the police cars approached.
He raised his left hand, ready to pull the man into the arms of darkness.
He let the cool air wash over him and breathed in, calming his racing heart.
Brighter now, the walls glowed as the cars turned into the road. One by one, the baritone, grunting engines joined the chorus.
They knew. The footsteps had slowed as if they sensed he was there, safe in the shadows’ embrace.
Bright lights. The ticking hands of the clocks closed in. He could hear them breathing. His body tensed, ready to launch.
A dark and featureless figure stepped into view.
The clocks struck in unison.
His hand reached out and gripped their neck. He dragged them back as a spider retreats with its quarry. He held the blade against their throat, and he felt the comfort of the wall behind and the darkness that embraced him in her arms.
But the strength of his fingers found no resistance, only soft, young flesh. He froze at the touch.
One by one, the cars screamed past, their lights revealing his assailant in flashes of electric blue.
His hand fell away in disbelief.
Another flash of blue light.
He stepped away, moving back as far as the archway would allow.
A young girl turned and faced him.
He was trapped in the alcove with police swarming outside.
Her hair was wet, and her sodden clothes hung from her childish, slender frame. She wore a small backpack, and she peered up at him with big, beautiful eyes.
She waited for the surrounding orchestra to fade before speaking. The baritone engines faded, and the shrill song of the sirens slipped into the night.
And she whispered.
Her voice was calm and commanding, confident way beyond her years.
“I need your help.”