By Cover of Darkness Part 02

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Review Chain
Part two of the four-part Novella 'By Cover of Darkness'

Join DI Parker as he struggles to uncover the truth behind a seven year old case.

Submitted: March 19, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 19, 2017



By Cover of Darkness Part Two

Part One Available -

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Seven Years Ago

Laying on the cold concrete floor it hurts Emily Royle to even breath. Her entire body is battered, bloody and bruised. For what feels like a lifetime, but in reality is only the past three weeks, she has been held captive in this small, dingy room, her legs chained to the wall and only a small window above her head providing any sort of light. Slowly she turns over onto her back and tries to fight back the tears as it dawns on her again that one way or another she is getting out of here soon.

In the darkness of the room, there is precious little for her to do but wait for the next appearance. Emily knows that soon she will hear the door at the top of the staircase on her right open. Followed by the sound of footsteps slowly making its way down the stairs, coming well before she has the chance to see the freakish sight of her captor. She knows now that her captor will sit on the chair directly in front of her and take picture after picture of her battered body with a small camera. The flash from this will at first hurt her eyes but she has learned, painfully, over the past two weeks to try her best to not shield her eyes and block her face. The thing will then stand up and walk around the back of the room and flick one of two switches. The first switch which she believes is the one on the right will turn on the two strobe lights that hang above her and bring her face to face with the devil.

With a sheep mask covering their head and face and what appeared to be a blood-stained surgical gown protecting a shapeless body, Emily would be unable to give any sort of description of the person under the mask. She has no clue if it is a man or women. In the three or four weeks she has spent down here it has never once spoken, their only communication having come through a series of nods, finger pointing or the notepad that was recently left for her to write on.

Shuddering at the thought she can’t help but remember the first time she had set eyes on her captor. The appearance, which has not changed since that first visit had at first frightened the life out of her. ‘Please…please let me go’ she had begged before the thing walked over to her and gently stroked her face. Then, just like that, it patted her gently on the arm and walked away.

This continued for the next day or so. It would enter, walk towards her, make some kind of physical interaction before slowly walking away. Over and over again she would beg and plead to be let go. ‘My family have money’ she had tried ‘bring me a phone and I am sure they will give you anything you want’ however The Sheep, as she had begun to call the thing in front of her, simply stood up and walked away.

Things had taken a turn for the worse by the following week.

At first, it had been emotional torture. The visits, which became less frequent, had started to end with a variety of torture devices being slowly rubbed against her skin. As she screamed and tried to break free of her chains The Sheep would slowly and deliberate run a knife over her cheek or use a pair of scissors to cut holes out of her green shirt before jabbing gently at her stomach with the sharp end. In some ways, this was worse than the violence and anger which came in week three. ‘Knife or Rope’ the monster would write on the notepad before waiting for her response. She had tried writing neither but that only provoked an angry outburst that would leave her begging for death. It was during these visits Emily discovered what the other switch did. Slowly The Sheep would walk around her in a circle before eventually flicking the switch and triggering what Emily has come to think of as the red rage. She had never noticed the strobe lights which hung from the walls in front, behind and at the side of her until the moment the red bulbs covered her entire body in a dark red shade and The Sheep moved in and unleashed a violent and unexpected attack.

For the past week, the torture on these visits had alternated between the left and right switch. Once, normally on a morning, The Sheep would bring food, water and the damn camera before returning on the evening filled with hate and red rage. Yesterday had been the worst, for the first time the room turned red twice. Both the morning and night visits had seen The Sheep attack her until she fell unconscious. Both times she had awoken and cried out at the sight of it sitting on the floor next to her, the black gloved hand stroking her fragile body. On both occasions, the scum bag had left her with a note. The morning note asking what dish she would like for tea and the evenings making a promise, for the first time, that this would all be over tomorrow.

At first, Emily had taken the note to be a sign that she would soon be free. Scribbling with the pen she had written ‘thank you’ on the pad before collapsing back down and sleeping for a few hours. It was only when she woke up that the bad thoughts began to run through her head. As she sat gently hugging her knees and sucking down hard on her thumb, she understood what The Sheep meant by this all ending soon. For the next few hours, she screamed until her throat hurt and wrote many notes. Some pleading, some threatening but all pointless. Looking around at the cold and empty room that she was in Emily knew that unless she found something, anything, to help her she was going to die soon.

The answer as it turned out was staring her right in the face.

During her last note writing session, she had started jotting down a goodbye note to her beloved mother and father. She was certain that they would never get the chance to read it but somehow writing the words had made her feel better. She was halfway through the note when her broken finger gave way and the pen dropped down onto the concrete floor and rolled out of her reach. In frustration, she had yanked on her chain and let out a scream. It was only when she walked back towards the blankets she used as a bed that she noticed her yanking and attempts to break free over the past few days had made the metal bar her chain was linked to move a little. It had taken the last of her energy and most of the night but eventually, as daylight started to creep through her window, she had cried with delight when the bar gave way and her way to freedom was secured.

For the past two hours, she remained laying on her blankets, the metal bar cold under her weeping skin but her mind focused on the task at hand. Despite hearing the door open and the now familiar sound of footsteps on the stairs she remains still.

It is only when The Sheep gets close enough that Emily springs into action. Fighting for her life she jumps up from her position on the ground and strikes her captor with a blow on the top of the head. In shock, The Sheep strikes out and catches her across the face before dropping down to its knees. With The Sheep between her and the staircase, Emily charges again. With as much force as she can, she smashes the bar into the bastard’s arm before jumping onto the thin body and clawing away at the mask.

For two or three minutes The Sheep and Emily wrestled and struggle on the cold floor. Her teeth sink into the fabric of the thin green sleeve and her fingernails dig into any exposed skin she can find. Sadly, despite her best efforts her weak body finally gives way and The Sheep manages to wrestle the bar from her, with three heavy strikes The Sheep ends her young life. Looking down at the bloody bite mark and various cuts her attack has caused The Sheep lets out a roar in frustration. The plan was to kill her today, to end her the same way as the others before posing her ready for the police to find.

Thinking quickly and using the knowledge of DNA it has picked up over the years The Sheep already knows that there must be a change to the routine this time. For two weeks, the newspaper stories appealing for her safe return had thrilled The Sheep and allowed the mind to daydream of the day hope was ended with the discovery of the next piece of the art. Reaching down now and picking up the notepad the word ‘bitch’ echoes around the room. ‘You have ruined everything’ follows before The Sheep quickly turns and begins walking up the staircase.

Present Day

'It's happening again isn’t it' DI Parker says to Lenny Fletcher the panic he is feeling is growing all the time. For the past five days, he has felt like he has travelled back in time and was being forced to relive the horror of seven years ago. The two names the doctor had given him, Laura Davies and Demi Charlton, belonged to two young women who had gone missing in the London area. Three months ago, after a night out with friends, Demi had disappeared from the face of the earth. Her body had been discovered, just over a month later abused and posed. Laura had gone missing four weeks later and despite the clock ticking George has spent the past week praying she is still alive.

It had taken him just under an hour after his return from the jail last week to discover all of this. Much to his wife’s disgust, he had virtually ignored her greeting as he walked through the door and instead quickly climbed the stairs and shut himself away in the spare bedroom he used as a study. Fifty minutes and six news sites later he emerged from their study and into the small gathering of friends and family she had arranged to celebrate his birthday with a shocked look on his face. She mirrored his shocked look when he picked up his car keys and explained he was going into work on urgent business.

In view of the current state of his marriage, he now realises that it might have been the right thing to stay and mingle for a little while. 'Would it have killed you to just put me first for once and not have embarrassed me like that' she had said to him on Wednesday when after four days of silence the argument begun. It didn’t matter to her that his mental calculation had led him to believe that Laura had under a week to live. 'Yea, of course, I could have' he had sarcastically replied 'I could have eaten cake, opened presents and made small talk with the boring sods who live next door while a lunatic does god knows what to another innocent young girl'

He has no idea how much Linda heard of his response, as when he had finished it became painfully obvious that she had hung up.  Ah, he couldn’t blame her. She had put the week before behind them and organised a lovely get together for his birthday but because of Lenny bloody Fletcher, he had ruined it.

Her mood he knew was perfectly understandable. He had known this, and more was coming the moment he returned from the station on his birthday and packed a bag. It had taken him just forty minutes with his superiors to sell the connection between the two cases but a whole lot longer for him to persuade them to go along with his plan. ‘He talks to me’ he had pleaded ‘please… I don’t know why but he seems to want me to crack this... If we go public with any of this he will stop talking. I know it is a risk but it is the best shot we have of catching this guy quickly!’

He had been sent out of the office at that point. Sent to his desk so the chief could have some time to make a few phone calls and think about the situation. It had been hell. Sitting there in the empty office without any real purpose George had nothing to do but wander around and gaze at his workspace. Looking around at the cream walls, with cracks in the plastering, it had dawned on him just how depressing this room was. The dirty green carpet looked as tired and worn out as most of the people who worked on it felt. If that wasn’t enough this room always seemed to contain a murder wall and the images of death and loss which hung from it provided a constant reminder of the generally pointless pain humans seem so happy to inflict on each other.

George had been standing by the murder wall when the chief opened his office door and called him back in. He had been looking at the blank space on the left-hand side and wondering how long it would be before Laura would appear on a wall like this. They may not have her body yet, or any real evidence that she had been taken, but George knew she had. Lenny would never have given him the name if there was any real chance of her surviving. No, poor Laura will soon join Demi as the next victim on this sick bastard’s wall of shame. It is heart-breaking to think that pictures of their beaten and posed bodies will soon hang on a wall like this. They would soon be nothing more than evidence that needed to be investigated and then processed. Their bodies checked for clues, their personal lives looked into and laid bare. As he turned and walked back towards the office George swore, as he does in every case, that they would never just be evidence to him, these young girls had been people. People with friends, family and futures whatever the outcome of this meeting and whatever he had to do to track this bastard down he would.

What a relief it had been when his boss informed him of the decision he and the senior officers had made. ‘You are going to London George’ he had said before explaining that George had a month to sort this out before he was hauled back to Leeds and the London team went public with the new information. ‘They have agreed to connect the two current girl’s cases and it will be down to you to prove that they link to Fletcher and the past victims.’

He had risen to his feet and held out his hand at this point, running on adrenaline and desperate to get going Parker had not wanted to waste a single second. ‘Sit down George’ his boss had said without acknowledging the outstretched arm. ‘I have had to pull a lot of strings to get you this time. I am putting a lot of faith in you and this relationship that you seem to have with Dr Fletcher do not let me down’ he had ordered before laying down the ground rules of his reassignment. ‘You are to report back to me each evening without fail’ he had demanded ‘and George, I am begging you to work with the team on this. You are a guest down there, a guest most of them don’t want, by the way, so for God’s sake try and work with them. This is their investigation now. You are going to London to help, to find out what you can from Fletcher and to fill in any blanks on the old investigation. I am trusting you to conduct yourself with the same level of professionalism and self-control any other office would’ he had said before shaking his hand and showing him out.

It would be an understatement to say his reassignment had not gone down well at home. The fury in Linda’s voice when he calmly told her that he would be heading south was almost nothing compared to the stony silence which followed the shouting. 'I am setting off now' he had said into the dark living room only to be met with a wall of silence that somehow spoke volumes. As a result, George had spent the entire drive down to London cursing Lenny Fletcher and also his own decision to break into that damned garage all those years ago.

Back then, he had been so sure of Fletcher's guilt that it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. The three hours he had spent with the man that afternoon all those years ago had made his skin crawl. It had all felt like such a waste of time. He was sure they had their man but until the doctor made a mistake there was seemingly nothing he could do about it.

He can remember that afternoon so well that he almost felt like he could relive it.

It is the day that defines him as a police officer, hell it defines him as a man. Pig headed, impulsive, unwilling to listen to reason or accept when he is beaten. It is these flaws which made him act so badly, yet ironically, he knows that the same traits which convinced him to jump the fence will be the very same ones that help him crack this case.

He had made no mention of his illegal search when talking to the team he will be working with in London. He had hoped to work with DI Flint, a man he worked with previously on this case, but no sooner had he arrived in the station was he whisked away by Shaun McShane and Keith Sanders, both DI’s. After a brief introduction, the pair had ushered him into a small office and explained that his role in this investigation would be nothing more than advisory. ‘We have this under control’ Sanders had said while perched on the edge of a small wooden table. ‘We appreciate your friendship with Lenny Fletcher and we are more than happy to use that, and anything else you can bring to this investigation but we are not looking for a hero here mate. You guys let this sick fuck give you the runaround, but trust me we won’t’ he had said with a confident smile on his round fat face.

‘With all due respect to you and your team, the only reason these cases are connected is because of me. In fact, the only chance you have of stopping this guy is me!’ Parker had replied the irritation in his voice made worse by his tired body and frustration at the whole situation. ‘Well’ McShane had said clearly amused by his outburst ‘the case file is over there along with the details of your hotel. We will see you at the briefing tomorrow morning’ he had sneered at him while standing up and making his way towards the exit. ‘As you are our only chance, you should have it all sorted and a man in custody by dinner’ was McShane’s sarcastic parting shot as the door slammed shut behind him.

Parker had called the pair 'pricks' under his breath and little had happened over the past week to make him change his mind. The first briefing, like all the ones since, did nothing but highlight just how little they had to go on. Hour after hour, inside the station and again back at his hotel he would pour over the notes of all the cases, past and present, trying to find something to give them a lead to chase up. Depressingly, however, he had nothing. And despite everyone being in the same boat his failure to produce a new lead or move anything forward was somehow seen as a bigger failure than the rest.

It was his desk that had been decorated in Superman badges and him who had to tolerate the wise cracks and suspicious looks his presence brought. He was an outsider here. A visitor on another team’s turf and until he came up with something to prove his worth he now knew that his colleagues would not let him forget it.

In some ways, it had been a pleasant change when ten minutes ago Lenny Fletcher had smiled at him and thanked him for coming. After seven long days of grief at work, anger from Linda and solitude in his hotel it had felt nice during the first few moments of this interview to be spoken to in a polite manner.

Things, however, are changing now. The pleasantries have ended and George Parker is starting to get down to business. He has, as promised, shared what he has discovered about the one dead and one missing girl to Lenny Fletcher and was horrified to hear him laugh at the news.

‘My, my, our friend has been busy hasn’t he officer’ Lenny had said the smile on his face seeming to grow by the second. ‘Tell me, DI Parker, how did it feel when you joined the dots and realised that your glory, your proudest moment was nothing more than a hollow sham?’

‘I don’t know that yet’ George had lied back. ‘For all I know, this is just some crazed copycat out there recreating your work. Maybe a pen pal of yours? Is that how you knew Lenny? Are you advising this guy?’

‘Tut-tut DI Parker. How very mistrustful of you’ Lenny replied while shaking his head. ‘Even after all this time you still think that I killed those young girls don’t you?’

Leaning forward and banging his hand on the desk George pleaded with Lenny to make him believe that he is innocent. ‘You have to show me that you didn’t do this then it will be easier for me to trust you!’

‘Trust works both ways Officer’ Lenny said the smile now gone from his face. ‘You sit there in your cheap suit and beg me to prove my innocence when me and you both know the evidence which convicted me in the first place is as reliable as your word. No, I would say that right now it is far more important for you to show me that I can trust you. After all, there is only one of us in this room that is a proven liar’ as his words hung in the air the two men locked eyes and allowed the silence to linger. Finally, Lenny Fletcher had tilted his head ever so slightly to the left and broke the silence ‘I have paid the price for others sins but I promise you, I am the only thing that stands between this artist and more works of art appearing all over your capital city’ then with his eyes shut Lenny lowered his head onto his chest and took on the pose of a man who is sleeping.

Despite George asking him question after question for the next five minutes Lenny remained perfectly still. It is only when he is asked if it is happening again that he suddenly opens his eyes and looks DI Parker directly in the face. ‘That is better’ he says into the silence ‘finally a question that will help you get to the truth. Now, tell me, DI Parker, would you have gone to all the trouble of arranging these visits if you didn’t believe that our artist is once again creating?'

Sitting across the table from a man he is now starting to see as innocent, Parker has to admit that Lenny had hit the nail on the head. He had known in the pit of his stomach the moment he read about Demi and her posed body that this case wasn’t over. This past week every photo from the scene and pathologist report had done nothing more than confirm it. Finally, when reading the words of one of Laura’s friends he had given in and admitted to himself that this was no copycat. 'It was so strange' the girl had said 'one minute she was with us talking about which bar to go to and the next gone.' It could have been cut and pasted from any of the previous cases and it was the final straw for George. Yet try as he might no one on the investigation seemed to want to listen to him. 'It is a copycat, Superman' they had said, using the nickname he was beginning to detest 'Fletcher knows who it is and if you play your cards right he will tell us before Laura ends up like the others'.

'Is that why he poses them Dr?' he asks, his voice a lot steadier than he feels.

'Tell me, DI Parker, how does it feel that you have not run right to your superiors with this information?' Lenny asks. The change of topic almost makes George scream in frustration. Instead, he keeps his cool and decides to play along. The small frail man sitting across from him holds all the cards now. All that is left for George to do is humour him until he is ready to give him the name.

'It didn’t feel good. Like I was letting myself and the force down?'

'Did it feel any worse than lying about the contents of my garage for all these years?'

'That was different!'

'Oh, please enlighten me as to how? In this instance your lies will lead to a killer being stopped in his tracks, the other has seen an innocent man go to jail and two further young girls snatched, beaten and eventually laid out for the world to see.'

'I thought you did it ok!' Parker shouts across the table 'I was so sure that you had killed all those girls that in all honesty, I didn’t care how the stuff ended up in your garage. Do you think if I believed that you were innocent I would have kept quiet?'

'So you are saying that the end justified the means?'

'Exactly. And listen I will pay for my mistakes. I know now that I made a mistake Doctor and like you said last week it is time to atone for it, but first please help us catch this man!'

'You are doing it again you know?'

'Doing what?'

'Assuming things. I have lost count today of how many times you have called our friend 'he', tell me, Officer Parker, what makes you so sure that you are dealing with a man?'

'Stop playing with me Doctor' George says while rising to his feet and leaning across the desk. For the second time in two weeks, he invades the doctor's personal space and with his head just inches from the doctors he almost whispers 'you know everyone out there thinks this is a copycat working on your instructions, don't you? There is only me looking for the truth. Now stop messing me around or I’ll walk out of this door and solve this without you. It is no skin off my nose if you spend the rest of your life in here…perhaps you and this so-called artist could become cell mates.

'That is more like it' Fletcher says with contempt in his voice. 'That is the pig-headed, obsessed DI Parker that I know and despise. How wonderful of you to come here and threaten to keep all proof of my innocence to yourself, tell me how does it feel to now know that soon your corruption will be exposed to the world? Are you scared, DI Parker? You must be to make a threat like that. Please take your seat or I will be forced to contact my solicitor and tell him everything, maybe I will even sell my story to the papers. Can you imagine the headlines ‘Police Officer knew Doctor was innocent and has let more young girls die in order to cover his own arse'

Snapping George Parker leans forward and grabs a hold of the doctors plain grey shirt. 'You sick fucker' he screams while shaking him by the shoulders! 'I don’t care what happens to me. Why can't you just help me!' he shouts before eventually letting go of the doctor’s shirt and dropping to his knees.

'I am helping you, officer. I am the reason you know young Laura is in grave danger and that you also now know that soon our artist will begin picking out his next great work. You asked earlier if that is why they are posed and that only highlights how lazy you and your colleagues are. Of course, that is why they are posed. Our friend is sending a message with each girl detective. Each body is a symbol of the rage inside and the pose at the end is a sign of the transformation from anger to peace. This artist is creating a portfolio of work that will not stop growing until you start opening your eyes and understand what is right in front of you.'

With his head against the table, George Parker listens to all of Lenny Fletcher's words before slowly rising to his feet and walking back to his chair. 'I am sorry Doc' he says 'I shouldn’t have done that, we are just desperate to find this killer'

'it is quite all right, officer. I doubt the shirt will look any worse for your tantrum. Now before we both go back to our little worlds I would like you to explain to me why you focused so intently on me all those years ago'

Slowly Parker lets out a loud sigh and drums his fingers on the desk. 'Isn’t it obvious, all the girls were patients of yours. All of them had, had an appointment with you in the month leading up to their disappearance and you refused to tell us your movements on the nights they actually disappeared or allow us to look around your garage. You have to admit doctor it is not difficult to understand why I focused on you'

'I disagree' the doctor says his face turning red with anger. 'What you just listed there is nothing more than coincidences and the basic rights of a citizen of this country. I had no reason to explain my actions or whereabouts to you as I had done nothing wrong. You had no right to know what I was doing or who I was doing it with. I hope you now realise that despite being very close you were actually wrong'

Leaning forward Parker maintains eye contact with the doctor while asking 'close how? Tell us how to catch this guy' he pleads.

For two or three seconds Lenny Fletcher maintains a stony silence. As thoughts pass through his head his brain calculates what to do next. With his mind made up Doctor Fletcher asks George to make a note of his next words. 'You were right to focus on my practice all those years ago detective. The answer to this riddle can be found in and around my old business. Now to show you how serious I am DI Parker, I will give you one of the things you crave the most. There is a house in Leeds, 187 Sanderson Drive. I believe if you dig in the back garden of that property you will not only have evidence that I am telling the truth but also can give one girls family closure. I would work quickly detective, I have kept our friend quiet for six and a half years but now it would appear any hold I had is lost. The gap between the girls is only going to get smaller the more successful their transformations are. I have said enough now. I do not wish to see you again until this is all over.'

With that said Lenny Fletcher once again shuts his eyes and ignores the questions and pleadings of DI George Parker. It is only when he hears the detective knock at the door and leave that he reopens his eyes.

Fifteen minutes later he is standing in the middle of his cell focusing on the few slips of the tongue that he believes show DI Parker is still very much a liar. 'help us catch this man' and 'tell us how to catch this guy' are just a couple of things the officer had said. 'tut-tut' he says to himself 'you have broken the rules and told the boys in blue haven’t you detective' he says while turning back towards his bunk. 'There will be consequences for your latest lies DI Parker' he thinks 'consequences that could have a devastating impact on everyone'.

It is half-past one in the morning when the call comes in. George is sitting in his small hotel room with nothing but the file notes and a cheap bottle of whisky as company. He had called his bosses in Leeds the moment he left Lenny Fletcher's interview room and given them the address he had just received. 'Leave it with us, George. We will organise everything, there is no need for you to come back to Yorkshire’ they had told him. At the time he had agreed with their decision but after a debriefing with his London colleagues and more scepticism he had longed to be back in his hometown with his own team. 'We will look into it, but you know he is just winding you up, don't you?' McShane had said when he informed them of the doctor's words. He hadn’t even argued with the man, there was no point. Instead, he had written up his report before returning to this room to wait. He had tried calling Linda, and not been shocked when the call rang through to voicemail, so with nothing else to do he had immersed himself in the early stages of the investigations and tried to see the hidden link in the doctor's surgery.

His eyes had been half shut when the call sprung him into life. The papers which had fallen onto his chest while he napped fell to the floor as he jumped up and reached out for his mobile phone. It only took the voice on the other end to say the words 'He wasn’t lying boss, we have found a body' for him to know that his seven-year search for Emily Royle was finally over.

Later That Night

Saint Mary’s Park is always quiet at this time of night. Its location, seven miles outside the centre of London means that once the tourists have cleared off and the sun has gone down the place is almost always deserted. Sure, there are a few drunks sleeping on benches and the occasional local using the footpath as a shortcut but if you venture far enough into the trees and the darkness you can almost always find a quiet place to work.

And work The Sheep has. With the mask now on the floor and their coat resting on a rock close by, the most recent piece of art is almost ready to be unveiled to the world.

Standing back and taking a few more pictures before quickly turning away and walking back towards the car, The Sheep is finally happy with this evening's work. The mask, coat and work bag are tossed onto the back seat, the key in the Mercedes-Benz is turned and the car quickly drives away from the woods that now contain the posed body of Laura Davies. After a few minutes the baseball cap, which covers the distinguished grey hair on top of The Sheep’s head is also removed and placed on the empty passenger seat.

Overall, it has been a satisfactory evening. All the nerves and fear that had been allowed to poison the mind during the transformation of Demi Charlton had been conquered this time. Demi had been hard work, a struggle to keep one’s emotions under control and to avoid the mistakes which have haunted since the last time but Laura…. Laura was a thing of beauty. Laura was something to be proud of.

Laura was a statement.

As the large car descends the hill and makes its way towards the city centre a smile breaks out on The Sheep’s face. After nearly seven frustrating years of fighting the temptation to step back into the limelight and revel in the discomfort and anguish the works of art would bring, the mission was back on course.

It is partly why the whole Demi experience was so unsettling. For the days leading up to her capture and the entire month she stayed in the basement, images of headlines had flooded The Sheep’s every waking moment. Wrongly there had been an assumption that the media and police would do their research and link Demi to the other three. This should’ve been the moment that Lenny Fletcher was set free, that the scorn and anger that was directed at him turned around and aimed at the real genius behind these crimes. Demi Charlton’s posed body had been expected to send a shock wave through the entire country but instead, the great comeback had turned into a damp squid. No panic. No real headlines and no hysteria. Sure, the work of art had prompted a few news stories about a girl found in the woodlands as well as a half-hearted police appeal for information but no one it seemed was willing to understand that after too many years of hibernation The Sheep was now awake and back in business.

Well, that won’t happen this time. No, no matter how incompetent and lazy the media and police force are, even they should join the dots and understand what is happening when someone stumbles across Laura. They say a great artist never repeats his old work. Indeed, it is the constant pursuit of something new, of originality that often drives artists like The Sheep on to create their best work. Yet that had all needed to be put on hold, the pursuit of recognition taking precedence over originality. It is why right now Laura is spread out in the exact same design as Bridget McCartney or design number one as The Sheep likes to call her.

It had not been easy. In some ways having to resort to this was every bit as painful as losing Emily all those years ago. All the effort in designing and sketching out plans for these girls had felt like a waste when the decision was made to replicate Bridget.

Still, it is done now. She is out there ready for the world to find and the game to begin again. As the road ahead twists and turns thoughts in the car soon turn to the selection of the next girl. The lessons of the past have been learnt and there will be no more connections between the artworks. No links, no bits of thread for a nosy policeman to pull at and make the whole thing come crashing down. No that had been lazy. Lazy and consequently the very thing that almost spoilt everything. To pick them from Dr Fletcher's patient list had seemed logical all those years ago but then DI Parker and his team had joined the dots and started applying pressure to the doctor. Even without Emily and her act of rebellion, it is doubtful that it would have taken them very long to turn the spotlight from the old man and onto the real culprit.

Sniggering now it does awfully amuse The Sheep to think of how the entire thing had played out. Talk about hiding in plain sight. Still, despite this, there could be no errors this time. The places the girls are displayed would be researched and checked out two or three times before being used. The basement would be cleaned and the bloody bolts of the chain tightened each time. There would be no acting on impulse this time. The photo album at home containing self-printed pictures of all his works now shares a drawer with a planning folder and a growing hit list.

All the old works of art had been selected more for convenience than because of their characteristics. Previously the girls had been things craved, things that had been watched and studied, things that knew of the other side to The Sheep and things that gave the police a chance. Demi and Laura, however, shared nothing more than hair colour and build. It excites The Sheep to think of the police running around wasting time and effort to find some link there. Oh, the hours they will spend trying to find some little connection but other than the black hair, freckled face and slim build The Sheep is sure there is nothing for them to find. ‘Tough luck piggy’s’ a high pitched voice says into the silent car ‘no easy pickings this time’ The Sheep says before turning on the radio and starting to thoroughly enjoy the ride home.

The enjoyment soon turns to excitement as memories of the past month and images of Laura’s posed body flood the mind. Without even knowing it is happening The Sheep quickly pulls the car over to the side of the road. Knowing that this scratch needs to be itched before control can be regained the phone is pulled from the inside pocket of the black leather jacket. It is a special phone, one that is only used for keeping a digital record of the artworks transformation. After a few jabs at the screen, there in all her glory is the image of Laura Davies looking every bit as perfect and special as remembered. For the next ten minutes, the perfectly manicured finger swipes at the screen and watches excitedly as Laura undergoes her transformation from living thing to work of art. Repeatedly the green eyes watch as Laura turns from frightened and imprisoned to peaceful and free. She really did make a stunning model. All the earlier fears and frustrations over the copied design are gone now. Hell, when something looks as beautiful as this how could it not be perfect?

Feeling impulsive the gloved hand reaches into the back and scoops up Laura’s notepad. Flicking past the usual note to the parents and her pathetic attempts at bribery, The Sheep settles on the note which should fill the void until the next one is locked up and ready to be transformed. ‘Help Me!’ it says with just a hint of a bloody thumbprint on the bottom of the page. The pain and desperation she must have been feeling when she wrote that…the power she must have realised her captor had over her. ‘Help me’ she had written and while it is doubtful that she realises it, in the end, The Sheep had.

Under normal circumstances, all of this would wait until the car was parked in the front of the house and The Sheep was locked away in the study with just the pictures and the victim’s notepad for company. Despite all the promises to not be impulsive, the current behaviour is too risky. The body is only a few miles away and should someone find the car parked here with the mask and all the other goodies in the back of the car, imprisonment would surely follow. Starting the car up and speeding away The Sheep blinks once or twice and struggles to keep thoughts of prison out of its mind. ‘no, no, not for me… I am too important for prison’

The darkness of the night somehow begins to match the worry inside the car. Seven miles from home and with the darkness refusing to budge the green beady eyes spot an oddity in the distance. Slowing the car down The Sheep grips the wheel tightly before eventually bringing the car to a stop halfway between the fields that lead towards the town centre and the ginnel which leads to the new housing estate on the other side of town. The Sheep knows it is often used as a shortcut by the drunks and bums who waste their life doing god knows what in grotty smelly bars. Opening the car door and looking around there is a realisation that other than the oddity there is nobody else around. Slowly The Sheep walks towards the young girl who is laying on the side of the grass verge, her mud stained top showing too much breast and her long black hair looking like it has flecks of vomit hanging from the tips. ‘You… you all right darling’ she says to The Sheep her slurred words confirming that she would be easy prey.

Taking a step back and trying to think The Sheep is struggling to know what to do. Never has the next one followed on so soon. There is the clean up to do, the usual enjoyment from the press coverage and preparation to be put in place. It is too soon to take another one…not to mention the fact that she has seen The Sheep unmasked. None of the other girls saw me without the mask…it is too risky I should just get back in the car…but just look at the long hair black hair and freckled face sitting over there. She is perfect.

Growing up father had always said to never look a gift horse in the mouth, as The Sheep reaches into the car and takes out the small black work bag it finds it hard to deny that this is one almighty gift horse. ‘Hey can you help me or not’ she calls out before smiling when The Sheep takes three steps forward.

‘Of course, I can young lady’ are the words of choice as a gloved hand reaches out and cups the drunken face that will soon be turned into a glorious work of art. ‘I am a doctor after all’ are the last words Maggie Jones hears before feeling a sharp stinging sensation in her neck and slowly drifting off into unconsciousness.

Four hours later, Maggie wakes in a dark and cold room. The cream walls look like the inside of a garage and the concrete floor she is sitting on smells of sweat and dirt. In her drunken state, she tries her best to stand up two or three times before finally managing it. It is only when she tries to walk forwards that she notices the chain on her ankle. ‘What the fuck!’ she shouts in anger ‘Hey let me fucking out of here!!’ she screams into the empty room.

For the next fifteen minutes, Maggie almost screams herself hoarse. It may be the alcohol running through her system or even an adrenalin rush but she is not afraid, far from it, in fact, Maggie is way too angry to be afraid. Even when the door at the top of the stairs opens and the sound of footsteps slowly walking towards her fills the air, her nerve doesn’t go. ‘Hey fuck face let me fucking go!’ she screams before scrunching her eyes shut in an attempt to block out the bright floodlight which has just been turned on and appears to be pointing directly at her.

From the darkness behind the light, she hears footsteps continue in what feels like a circular direction around her. She doesn’t feel so brave now, no right now Maggie just wants to go home. ‘Yo, I don’t know who you are or what you want but come on yea just let me go’ she says her voice starting to tremble with fear.

It is only when the figure in the shadow steps into the light and Maggie looks up at The Sheep mask and overalls that a scream leaves her mouth. She is still screaming as it walks towards her and gently strokes her face and runs a gloved hand through her hair. Then, just like that, the thing walks away from her, turns off the light and makes its way towards the stairs. Despite her screaming and pleading it does not turn around or acknowledge her again before slamming the door shut turning the key in the three padlocks designed to keep Maggie and all the artworks like her away from safety.

© Copyright 2018 Paul Phillips. All rights reserved.

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