The Neal James Website

Subtitle

Monthly Short Story

A Cut Above the Rest

The body, or what remained of it, had been found by a dog walker out for an early morning stroll. He had parked his car close to Mapperley Reservoir in Derbyshire’s Shipley Country Park, and let his Jack Russell terrier out of the back of the vehicle, watching her disappear on one of her customary forages around Shipley Lane. Having seen the dog stop abruptly, sniffing the air, ears erect, he was surprised when she vanished into the trees to the right, instead of following their customary course left, and up to the wooded area encompassing the remains of what had been the Miller-Mundy estate.

            “Where is it?” DS Fletcher crushed the stub of the cigarette beneath his shoe after the disapproving look from one of the park rangers.

            “Over here.” Stan Powell, the ranger, led the way into the trees. “The chap who found her is still in the ambulance back there.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the car park. “He’s pretty shaken up, as you’ll soon understand.”

            Fletcher’s progress halted abruptly, ten yards into the undergrowth, as he came upon the scene.

            “Jeez!” His hand went quickly to his mouth in an attempt to stifle the rising taste of bile, and he turned briefly away. As a serving officer with over twenty years’ experience, he had come across some sights in that time, but nothing to match the one which confronted him now. The ranger had returned to the roadside, and he stood, briefly, alone with the carnage. A voice from behind came as a welcome relief.

            “Morning, Malcolm. Not a pretty sight, is she?” Harry Radford was the county pathologist attached to the Derbyshire Constabulary, and his matter-of-fact manner provided Fletcher with the respite that he needed.

            “Over to you, Doc.” Fletcher shook his head. “Who does this kind of thing?”

            The body of the young woman lay, quite exposed, on a bed of ferns just out of sight of the road. She had been butchered, Radford’s words, and no attempt had been made to hide her remains. The lower portion of the body, detached with surgical precision, was nowhere to be seen, and a crimson shower had covered much of the undergrowth.

            “Not my area of expertise, I’m afraid.” The pathologist sighed as he donned the customary white protective one-piece suit. “Single knife thrust through the heart would have killed her outright, though. The rest of the injuries would have been post mortem.”

            Fletcher shook his head, turned, and made his way back to the road, the relative normality of the country lane standing in stark contrast to the horror show which he had just witnessed.

 

 

            The woods to the north of the Breadsall Priory golf course provided thick cover for the hooded figure waiting patiently beneath the trees. Moor Lane was a favoured place for couples indulging in late night illicit activities which their spouses knew nothing about. He was careful, very careful. Not for him the tell-tale cigarette or chocolate bar wrapper; there would be nothing left at the scene to tie him to what was about to take place.

            The headlights were not too long in making their way towards his position from the A38 in the west, and he smiled at his fortune as it pulled up just beyond his spot amongst the bushes. An evil grin expanded across his features as a figure emerged from the car and strode into the trees.

 

            “Where you goin’?” A hissed question split the dead silence of the area. “We ‘aven’t got all bleedin’ night!”

            “Shut it, you stupid cow! I’m goin’ for a leak. Don’t want that all over you, do you?” The man cursed quietly in response. “I’ll be back in a minute; just stay where you are.”

            The hooded figure crouched and waited for the approach, invisible amongst the thick cover. Passing only feet from his killer’s position, the unfortunate victim never saw the attack. A hand clamped firmly across his mouth, and the butcher’s knife slid smoothly though his back and pierced his heart. He was dead before he reached the ground.

            Working quickly, and with practised skill, both legs were removed with a surgical saw, and wrapped in polythene to eliminate the blood trail which would have certainly indicated his exit route. The rest of the cutting would be carried out later, as before. The sound of approaching feet froze him to the spot, preventing the quick change of clothing which would have hidden any stray evidence.

            “George? Where are you? It’s getting cold. Are you coming, or what? My Barry’ll be wondering where I am. George? C’mon, George, stop playing silly buggers.”

            A bonus! Two in the same night. He crouched once more, invisible again to the woman now nearing the scene of her lover’s slaughter. He smiled; he would let her see the body, relish in her horror at the sight of what remained of her George. Then, only then, would he take her as well. Lost in the euphoria of the moment, his approach was less than meticulous, and the snapping sound of the twig beneath his foot had her spinning around to face him.

            “What?!” Her exclamation was followed by a scream of banshee proportions as he struggled to bring the knife back out of its sheath. Instinct took over for the victim; she grabbed automatically for his hood, and sent it flying into the bushes.

            “You?!” The look of surprise temporarily halted her panic. “I buy my…”

            The words died in her throat, as the now unsheathed knife plunged underneath her ribcage and upwards into the heart. He stood there, momentarily panting as the realisation of his carelessness sank in. She had recognised him and, but for the swift despatch, may well have returned to the car and made good her escape.

            Working now with feverish efficiency, he picked up the parts he had come for, collected the stray hood, and made his way around the edge of the golf course and back to his van, parked off Morley Lane to the south.

 

 

            DS Fletcher and Harry Radford stood at the scene of the carnage wrought once again by the individual which the local media were now calling The Shipley Slasher. It had been a week since the discovery of the first corpse, and with no viable forensic evidence to go on, the Detective Sergeant was coming under increasing pressure, as national TV networks had set up bases outside the Butterley headquarters of ‘C’ Division of the Derbyshire Constabulary.

            “Is there nothing more you can tell me?” Fletcher’s voice bore a distinctly desperate edge. The country park had suffered its fair share of miscreants in the past, but this was completely out of that league.

            “Afraid not, Malcolm. It’s the same killer, though. I’m sure of that. The cuts are precise, and in the same direction. Could be a surgeon, a vet, a butcher… any of those.”

            He shrugged and continued with the preliminary examination, before having the bodies removed to the mortuary.

 

 

            Heanor was a town in decline, and The Tastee Joint had set up in some vacant premises on the High Street. Joe Marriott had been running the hot meat café since its inception six months earlier. A Derby man, he had two shops in that city, along with several others around the Amber Valley area. He smiled as Malcolm Fletcher walked through the door.

            “Good morning, Detective Sergeant. The usual?”

            “Yes, and better make it quick. We’ve a right carry on with this Shipley Slasher business. Give me two, I’ve a hungry DC in the car round the corner.”

“Coming right up.” Two large white baps, filled to overflowing with prime slices of meat, were wrapped and handed over with calm efficiency.“Cheers.” Fletcher smiled ruefully as he turned to the door. “Nice meat, Joe. New supplier?”

            “Home grown, mate, home grown.”

            Marriott smiled again at the retreating form of the policeman, and returned to the back of the shop where he removed another joint from his cold store. Times were tough in the recession, and you just had to take the meat when and where you could. Business had certainly been booming during the past six months.