The house had its own language at night, the wind ransacking the roof space or lifting the curtains with a sigh. Sometimes the walls creaked as the air cooled, like old bones settling into a comfortable chair. In the beginning each time that happened she had freaked, her stomach shriveling into a tight knot, so heavy it pinned her to the bed.
Since Luke moved out, furious at her for volunteering, she had slowly become used to the altered night-time soundtrack, growing aware of it’s idiosyncrasies and mourning the loss of the small comforting sounds he made that she had never noticed when he was there. She still hoped he would come round. Their last conversation came flooding back.
‘Can’t you understand why this was so important?’
‘I do understand, for God’s sake Bel, I profiled the guy.’
‘So you know why we need to catch him!’
‘Of course I do, just not this way.’
‘How else would you suggest?’
‘I don’t know. I hate you putting yourself at risk.’
‘I’ll have back up the whole time.’
‘Psychologically, it’s going to scar you, it may be weeks before he makes a move. You’ll be alone in the house, every night just waiting. Why does it have to be you?’
‘So it would be okay if some other female copper stepped up, just not me?’
‘You’re missing the point.’
‘I actually think I’ve nailed the point.’
‘I’m not staying around to watch. I can’t.’
Belinda waited in the dark, even knowing that back up was one click and two minutes away did nothing to lessen the fear. Over the long weeks of the operation she had come to appreciate Luke’s concerns. Images from previous crime scenes seemed imprinted on the undersides of her eyelids, every time she closed her eyes they were there. The careful deep wound, always the same, life had leaked out slowly. All those girls would have been aware for long moments that their lives were done. Had he watched, reveling in his dominance? Talked to them maybe. Luke had said so.
The first time she had seen the photos she had run to the bathroom and been sick. They were looking for a single white male in his late twenties to early thirties, intelligent, methodical, who found sexual gratification through the inflicting of fear and pain. They had DNA, one scrap of skin found under the first victim’s toe nail, but the potential suspect wasn’t in the system and might be from a casual encounter, the girl was a prostitute after all. Luke had asked the labs to push the DNA to the limit looking for anything that might help them. They had come back with Caucasian male with HLA-E polymorphism, which could indicate that he had alopecia. Some smart Alec in the squad room had asked why they couldn’t just bring in all the alopecia suffers in the vicinity but the chief felt the losses outweighed any possible gains. It wouldn’t look good to be portrayed by the press victimizing a minority group, particularly one with such a devastating affliction. That morsel of information and the fact that the shopping mall they had targeted was in the centre of the area demarcated by the triangulation of his previous crime scenes had been all they had to go on. Now though, hopefully they had a chance.
Each night she climbed into bed, wondering if the bastard would come. Sleep came fitfully if at all, no wonder her skin was grey with strain, deep bruise coloured smudges beneath her eyes. The air was so still, she felt that the house had become infected with her fear, it too seemed to be holding it’s breath, waiting.
An infinitesimal thread of sound crashed across her conscious. She lay rigid, frozen in place, holding her breath, would it come again? It sounded like the door of the lounge room shifting. Nothing. She couldn’t hold it any longer. Parting parched lips she let the air whisper out, took a long slow in breath and waited again. She turned her head on the pillow inch by inch, eyes straining toward the door of the bedroom. The frame glimmered palely against the dark of the walls in the dim glow from the street lamp outside.
There. That loose board on the stairs. Was it? She had to be sure. Her flesh congealed, but inside her body the temperature soared, her heart pummeling her ribs, blood surging, pulsing in her neck and at wrists and temples. Sliding her hand from beneath the cool cotton sheet she reached for the alarm, gripping it tightly in front of her, her shield.
Another sound, the slow placing of a rubber soled shoe on the timber floor, heel first rolling through to toes, the sandpaper rasp as the stitched seams on jeans collided. The door handle squeaked, the tiny sound splintering the silence. Belinda hit the alarm.
Come back next week for the final installment.