by Keith Wright
Paul Masters was dozing as he sat sprawled on the settee. His wife, Ella could see his head nodding forwards, and he would wake with a start. He would then look over at her, bleary eyed, but she had removed her gaze by then. Sometimes he would begin to snore and wheeze for a few breaths before jolting awake. This was becoming a regular occurrence. They had been married for just over twenty years, and in the last year or so, he had put on a bit more weight, and was getting more and more tired in the evenings. He had recently been promoted and she was concerned that perhaps it wasn’t worth the extra four grand a year. It had changed him. She felt that maybe it was a step too far and their previously idyllic lifestyle had diminished since he took the role on. He snorted for the umpteenth time. She could stand it no longer.
No response. She pushed his shoulder. Jarring him.
‘Paul! Wake up!’
‘You were dropping to sleep.’
‘I was just resting my eyes.’
She gave him one of her looks. ‘I’m going to bed, Paul, I’m tired. Why don’t you come up as well, you keep nodding off?’
‘I’m fine, I might come up in a bit. I’m going to do Jemma’s sandwiches for the morning first, like the wonderful father that I am.’
She leaned over and kissed him. ‘You are a wonderful father, and a magnificent husband as well. But, please tidy up after you’ve made the sandwiches. Goodnight.’
‘I will. Goodnight. What time is Jemma at College in the morning?’
‘Nine o’clock, I think. She hasn’t said any different.’
‘OK I’ll do her sandwiches now, to save time in the morning. Goodnight, love.’
Ella smiled as she left the living room.
Paul heaved himself off the settee and walked downstairs to the kitchen. It was a modern house with three levels. If he hadn’t re-mortgaged, ten years ago, he would be close to paying it off, but there was another twelve years of graft to go yet. The kitchen and dining room were on the ground floor, the living room and study on the first floor and the bedrooms on the second floor.
Paul put the kettle on; just a small cup of tea, at this time of night. He busied himself and made chicken and tomato sandwiches for Jemma, which he put in a freezer bag and placed in the fridge. He had got it off to a fine art, with the kettle just boiling as he had finished. Remembering Ella’s request, he dutifully wiped the unit and the carving knife blade that he had cut the tomatoes with. Wiping the blade only, he put the knife on the side of the sink.
After making his cuppa, he opened the window wide. He walked quietly towards the kitchen door and closed it. He then went to his secret stash, hidden behind the plumbing of the sink in the utility room. He got a cigarette out and lit it, before placing his booty back; securely out of the way. Ella would kill him if she knew, but with this new nightmare job, he had succumbed again. Still, it was his only vice. He used to put the oven fan on, to suck the smoke away, but Ella came down on one occasion, because she heard the noise it made. He came up with a cock and bull story, about burning some toast. He wasn’t sure she believed him, but she never mentioned it again. Anyway, because of that little scare, he had to stand next to the open window now, come sun, rain, or frosty wind.
After his nicotine addiction had been satisfied, he checked the doors were locked. He just wanted to watch the comedy he had recorded on Sky, and he would retire to bed. It was only on for half an hour. Half past ten was too early to go to bed, and if he went up now, he would end up lying there with his eyes open for an hour.
As he got upstairs and into the living room, he spread himself out on the settee, covering himself with the fleece blanket that he and Ella usually shared, and pressed play on his remote.
After what seemed like only two seconds, he awoke with a jump. He looked at his phone: 3.23am. Oh dear. He turned the TV off and went back downstairs for another cig. It was ridiculous at this time of the bloody morning, but he was thirsty so he could have another cuppa with it.
‘Shit!’ He had left the window wide open. ‘No harm done’, he muttered to himself. He chuffed on his cigarette and had his tea in the small china cup. This time he was resolute; he pulled the window securely back into the frame, moving the carving knife away from the sill as he did.
The long climb up two flights of stairs, late at night, always bore the risk of a creaky stair, and he was conscious that the two loves of his life, Ella and Jemma, were happily snoozing. He was practiced at manoeuvring around the dark bedroom using just the glare from the home screen of his mobile. Once he got into the ensuite he closed the door and switched on the light. He brushed his teeth and took his newly prescribed blood-pressure tablets. Paul turned the light off and fumbled his way through the blackness and knelt at the side of the bed, fiddling for the phone charger, which he plugged into his mobile. He threw off his cotton shorts, pants and T shirt. He always slept naked. He got into bed with Ella, and rubbed at her backside, before getting into his set sleep position and within a minute he was gone again.
The music from the radio alarm tapped into his brain, with increasing loudness, as the layers of tiredness fell away with each line of the song. ‘Someone saved my life tonight,’ by Elton John. It was 07:15.
He lay there for a few seconds. Something wasn’t right. He sat up and felt the wetness in between his legs. ‘Oh Christ, don’t tell me that last cup of tea...’ He hopped out of bed and was confused that his legs were covered in a red fluid. ‘Ella!’ he shouted to his wife, who was still sleeping.
‘Ella! I’m bleeding. Fuck me! Something’s not right. Wake up!’
He leaned across the bed and pulled at her shoulder. Her head lolled back, her eyes wide and unseeing. A slit spread across her throat, exposed the gristle and bone.
‘My God! Shit! Ella!’ he shook at her shoulders, as if this would somehow wake her from her death. She was stiff from initial rigor mortis.
He suddenly thought of his daughter. ‘Jemma!’
He ran naked across the landing and burst into the bedroom. Jemma too was naked and had a pair of her own socks stuffed into her mouth. She lay on the floor with her legs open, bent at the knees. Her throat had also been slit, but the cut was deeper, and her tongue had been sucked down through the hole; protruding through it.’
Paul gagged at the sight. He collapsed to the floor, in front of her, sobbing. ‘No! God – no!’ he punched the floor. He was dizzy. Confused. Horrified. His leg brushed at hers as he sobbed, she was rigid. He started to crawl into the landing, his strength gone from his legs. He managed to claw his way up the bannister and get to his mobile phone at the side of his bed, not daring to look at his wife.
‘Emergency. Which service do you require?’ The female voice answered.
‘Fire, Police, Ambulance or Coastguard?’ She clarified.
‘Ambulance. No! Police.’
‘Hello, Police emergency.’
‘Quick, help, my wife and daughter have been killed. Please, can you get here, straight away? We need help.’
‘Is there an intruder on the premises?’
‘No, there’s only me in the house.’
The operator began tapping away at the keyboard.
‘A unit is travelling sir, there is one close by - stay on the line, please.’
He was sobbing, as she again tapped away on her keyboard. He was whimpering and making strange, desperate noises. He thought of the open kitchen window; the window he had left open before he fell asleep on the settee. ‘What have I done? I must be losing it. This is my fault.’
‘Are you certain both parties are deceased? Do you require an ambulance?’
‘No. Yes, they’ve gone. I mean, I don’t need an ambulance. I’ve lost them both.’ He sobbed with horror, confusion and sheer panic.
‘Are you injured at all, sir?’
‘No, I’m fine but I do have blood all over me.’
‘You have blood all over you?’
‘It must have trickled out overnight.’ He was whimpering and crying.
‘Sir, how can that be?’
‘I slept with my wife, and she must have been dead.’
‘I’m sorry sir, this is not making much sense. Stay on the line and the unit will be with you shortly.’ The line went quiet, briefly, as the operator broke off to radio an update to the patrol officers.
He could hear a siren wailing and quickly put some underpants on from the drawer. He had forgotten he was naked. The strobing blue light was intruding through the drawn curtains, and he started down the stairs, his shoulders heaving with his distress, his arms loose and by his side.
The officers did not knock. One boot put the door in, and they ran up the stairs, taking hold of Paul as they did.
‘Where are they?’
‘Up…upstairs.’ He stammered.
They ushered him into the main bedroom and saw his dead wife.
‘Has someone broken in?’ The officer asked.
‘No. Yes. I don’t know. I can’t process it. I can’t get my head around it. My wife…’
‘Where did they break in?’ The cop asked.
‘There is no break in.’
Even the officers were shocked when they entered his daughter’s bedroom. The officer pressed the button on his radio to speak: ‘Papa Tango Two Three, there are two, repeat two, one oblique one’s, here. Suspicious circumstances. Notify CID please, urgently.’
One of the officers took hold of Paul’s arm. They took him downstairs, as he continued to sob and wail in confusion and despair. He felt he was going insane with the situation, his brain could not take it all in. It was too much. They entered the kitchen. The officers immediately homed in on the carving knife; on the draining board next to the sink.
‘What’s the knife doing there?’
‘Oh, it’s mine, I left it there.’ Paul said.
The officer leaned in close to the knife. ‘It’s been wiped.’
Paul was honest. ‘I’ve wiped it.’
‘So, your fingerprints are going to be on it.’
‘Of, course, yes.’ The officers exchanged glances.
The older one took out his handcuffs. ‘I am arresting you on suspicion of the murder of your wife, and daughter. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence, if you do not mention, when questioned, something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’
‘I don’t understand. What’s happening?’
Paul was shocked as the cold metal cuffs wrapped around his wrists, and the ratchets clicked into place.
‘It’s my fault, I know, but I didn’t mean it.’ Paul tried to explain, but his mind was addled, and his comments were not helping his cause.
He was bundled out of the house, and into the police car, as others turned up at the suburban cul-de-sac. Lights in windows around the neighbourhood were starting to come on, as the incident unfolded. Several neighbours had come out onto the street, including a young man, in his twenties with a hoody on. He was not known to the locals, but he was smiling as he watched the gabbling, confused, blood-stained man in his underpants being manhandled into the cop car.
Detective Inspector Price warmed his hands on his mug of coffee. At 52 years old, this was not the first time he had sat around a table trying to determine someone’s fate. His hair was white, and slightly unkempt. A slight scar was visible above the eyebrow caused by a crack head with a bottle, back in the days when he rolled around the floor with society’s criminals and misfits.
Others at the meeting, was the young, career minded Rupert Mandrake for the Crown Prosecution Service and Detective Superintendent Fox who was retiring on Friday. They had been going at this for an hour or more in the bland office. DI Price was getting a little frustrated, with conversations about the ‘what ifs’ rather than the facts of the case.
‘It’s him isn’t it?’ Price asked. ‘It has to be the husband, there is no other rational explanation.’
‘He says it isn’t. And there are other explanations; he has given one. His version; about leaving the window open and falling asleep.’ Rupert said as he doodled in his jotter.
Price was shaking his head even before it was his turn to speak. ‘Doesn’t everyone say it’s not them? I mean it’s hardly surprising is it? Anyway, I said rational explanation. His story doesn’t add up. Why not kill him? I mean what are the odds of it happening in the way he said it did. No-one is going to believe that bullshit.’
‘I suppose it begs the question, what the motive is?’ Rupert mused.
‘Insanity, drugs, who the hell knows? But the facts speak for themselves, it couldn’t be anyone else, it’s a locked house mystery with only one suspect!’
Detective Superintendent Fox was fiddling with a rubber band. He didn’t seem overly interested. His head was in the Maldives, and his heart was not in this murder.
Price always had the urge to press home a conviction. He counted the reasons on his fingers as he spoke. ‘Putting his story about the window, to one side; look at the evidence we have accumulated:
He is alone in a locked house where two people are murdered.
There is no forced entry.
He says it is his fault, both on the phone when he rings the 999 call in, and to the officers at the scene.
The knife used in the crime is wiped clean and his fingerprints are on the handle.’
Rupert interjected. ‘The cloth or whatever was used to wipe it, was never found, now was it? Don’t you think that is odd?’
‘I do, Rupert, but is it enough of a reasonable doubt? I haven’t finished yet:
He is covered in his wife’s blood.
The same blood is discovered on the skin of his dead daughter, on her inside thigh.
A pubic hair belonging to the accused is found on the carpet in front of the girls vagina.’
Rupert played devil’s advocate again. ‘No semen was found at the scene however, and another pubic hair, yet to be identified was found there also.’
‘OK.’ Price said. ‘Can we in all honestly and in all good consciousness not prosecute this man for the murders? Would it seem appropriate to let him walk, or do we put it to a jury? Be honest, Rupert.’
Rupert glanced at Superintendent Fox who merely shrugged. Rupert sighed. ‘I suppose when you put it like that. Let’s take a vote. Do we withdraw the charges or prosecute?’
The three spoke in unison. ‘Prosecute!’
‘Let the defendant stand.’
The Judge addressed the jury of eight men and four women.
‘Have you appointed a representative?’
A woman stood spoke. ‘Yes, sir. Me, sir.’
‘Please stand, to deliver your verdict.’ The Judge ordered. The woman in a denim jacket, and plastic multi-coloured earrings complied.
‘For the murder of Ella May Masters; do you find the defendant guilty, or not guilty?’
‘For the rape of Jemma Masters; do you find the defendant guilty, or not guilty?
‘For the murder of Jemma Masters; do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty?’
‘Thank you very much for all your efforts over the last two weeks, you are now discharged from your duties. Please follow the usher through the door, behind you.’
The jury trooped out in silence. Mutterings began from the public areas.
The judge addressed Paul, who was trembling as he stood in the dock, all eyes focussed on him, despising him, judging him. He had tears rolling down his cheeks.
‘Paul Derek Masters, you have been found guilty of all the charges presented to this court by a jury of your peers. In all my years as a Judge, I have rarely come across a more despicable crime than that with which you have been found guilty. The cold and callous murder of your own wife and child, and then a crime beyond comprehension; the rape of your own daughter. It is with this in mind, that I sentence you to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that you serve a minimum of thirty-five years, before being considered for parole. Take him down.’
The people sitting in the public gallery next to the press began to harangue Paul: ‘Bastard!’, ‘Pervert!’ ‘Rot in Hell!’ A man ran forward, and spat at him, but the phlegm covered the security guards escorting him. One man in a hoody threw a coin at him. ‘Yeah you dirty bastard! – rot in hell!’
@Copyright Keith Wright 2019
Keith is the author of ‘One Oblique One’ (the UK police radio code word for sudden death). Available on Amazon, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. His second in the series – ‘Trace and Eliminate’ is available on 1st July 2019. His books have received critical acclaim in ‘The Times’, ‘Financial Times’ and the ‘Sunday Express’.