Pamela supposed she ought to be happy that a man was coming

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Pamela supposed she ought to be happy that a man was coming to work with her. Okay, she wouldn’t know him, and it would be an awkward first couple of days but at least it would afford her an extra degree of security. That was what she hoped. If he turned out to be an oddball, she didn’t think she’d be able to cope, but even in her most anxiety-filled moments, she couldn’t picture a loutish type wanting to take up a post at Book-a-Thon.Apart from anything else, it was completely unpaid. The only thing you got here was coffee, assuming you remembered to pick some up yourself when the tin ran out. On top of that, the hours were quite long—it was open nine-till-five Monday to Friday, but also on Saturdays from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon. In addition, the work was boring. All you did most of the day was stand behind the front counter, say hello to people when they came in, collect their contributions, keep half an eye on them as they browsed the shelves looking to take something away in return, and then insert the new acquisitions into the appropriate gaps after they’d gone.Pamela just couldn’t see some hooligan or degenerate wanting a deal like that.In any case, in reflection of most of their customers, this new chap would likely be somewhere between middle-aged and old. She sipped her coffee and glanced at her watch. It was just after 1:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, and there were only three people present: herself and Mrs. Brody, who was busying herself in their small kitchen, and their sole cus-tomer of the day, old Mr. Banks.It wasn’t as if they could fit lots of people in anyway.Five yards in front of the counter was the glass front door. To the right, an internal door stood open on what they called ‘the Library’. It wasn’t a real library; just a room about the size of a classroom, its walls lined with shelves, its central area divided up into avenues by long, library-type bookcases. Despite that, they had near enough everything in there, from thrillers to romance, from horror to history. In those terms it was near enough the equivalent of a library—they’d done very well considering that everything was do-nated.Even so, at present a single person was availing himself of it: Mr. Banks, who only came in to read the newspapers. A small coffee table sat in the centre of the Library, with three armchairs around it. Mr. Banks occupied the one facing away. Those dailies he’d already read lay discarded on the table, and he was now buried in a broadsheet. This was his usual ritual. He’d come in here just before noon and would be out again at around two. Though Heaven knew, there was enough in the papers today, even the local rag, an ad-filled freesheet called the Brookshaw Courier, to keep a hundred readers glued to their pages for the rest of the day.Its headline that morning read: NUMBER FOUR!The story told how the body of a young woman found two days ago half-submerged in the filthy waters of the Leeds/Liverpool Canal, shredded beyond recognition, was thought to be Sarah Galloway, a Manchester University student who’d disappeared on her way home from college. Under pressure, a police spokesman had now admitted the strong possibility that she was the fourth victim of an unknown assailant who’d already struck three times since the previous June. The first two had been sex workers, but the third had been a nurse coming off shift, and now there was this one. All four of them had been found stabbed and mutilated in isolated spots across Greater Manchester.Pamela felt uncomfortably at her ribs, which seemed to ache as she probed them. That was psychosomatic, Gerald had told her; it was perfectly natural and nothing to worry about. Dr. Atkins had agreed, but when the news broke that the third victim had been found on wasteland just outside Brookshaw, he’d been sufficiently concerned by Pame-la’s hurriedly-made appointment and hugely elevated stress levels to increase her dosage of Prozac.Gerald had been less conciliatory.‘Darling…it’s awful, I agree. Unspeakably tragic. A life’s been lost, but you really can’t be taking this sort of thing personally. Like the doctor said, be logical. There are crimes and murders every day. But this is not a conspiracy against you.’‘Gerald…he’s getting closer each time. The first one was in central Manchester, the second one a bit nearer, the one after that on the outskirts of Brookshaw itself…’‘Pamela, whoever he is, he’ll go wherever the hunting takes him…’‘And he’s not just targeting prostitutes anymore.’‘He probably never was. All these poor women will be targets of convenience. But that still doesn’t mean that this is about you.’‘I know it’s not about me, but what if…’‘Just give it a rest, yeah? I can’t take it, darling! I’ve bloody had enough!’He’d been so vexed after that that she’d barely said anything when the fourth victim, the student, was found in the canal not two miles from where she now stood. Such prox-imity, however, had perhaps been a little too close even for Gerald’s liking. On first hear-ing the story, he’d raised the subject himself.‘It’s still not about you, darling.’ He’d used a softer tone that morning, almost kind. ‘There’s a madman on the loose…there’s no denying it. But the police are everywhere. They’re saying there’s a hundred detectives working on the case.’‘Have they given him a name yet?’ she’d asked in a small voice. She could have found that out by reading the newspaper articles for herself, but instead she averted her eyes whenever she caught sight of one. She even turned the television off when the news came on.‘I wouldn’t know,’ he’d replied disapprovingly. ‘I haven’t looked past the basic de-tails. It’s all salacious silliness, anyway.’Which translates into ‘he has, but it’s too horrible to tell you about.’‘Thank you, Mrs. Patterson.’Pamela almost jumped out of her skin.‘Bad business,’ Mr. Banks said, offering the newspapers in a dog-eared bundle. She nodded and agreed that it was, surreptitiously turning the papers upside down before pushing them to the corner of the counter.‘Four victims in as many months,’ he added with doleful relish.‘That’s what I hear, yes,’ she said, praying that the old man would go away.He fastened his overcoat, his long, pale, grey-veined hands fumbling with each button. Briefly, Pamela found her attention fixed on those ugly hands. She thought about Thom-as Hallam again, and had to clench her teeth.‘Cold out,’ he commented pulling on a pair of woolly gloves.‘Yes, it is. Late October, after all.’‘Aye. Nights are drawing in.’Thanks for the reminder.Pamela had first started volunteering here back in May, Gerald and Dr. Atkins having finally persuaded her that if she didn’t get out and about, even if it wasn’t getting back to full-time work yet, her fears would transpose into full-blown agoraphobia and she’d end up a prisoner in her own home. And Thomas Hallam would have won.But it had been early summer then. Warm, bright days. Young mothers in sandals and dresses pushing prams. The on/off jingle of ice cream vans. How that relaxed atmosphere had diminished with the onset of damper, cooler air, with the shriveling and falling of leaves, with the shorter afternoons and longer, darker evenings.Today was October 27, and even though the hour didn’t go back until tomorrow, sun-set now arrived at 5:30 p.m. This meant that by the time she finished here, it was already dark. Thankfully, Gerald had agreed to pick her up in the evenings, though it was an in-convenience for him, as it meant he’d have to leave the office earlier than he liked.And doesn’t he show it.But this had been part of the deal when she’d agreed to rejoin the rat-race. She wouldn’t have to walk home again, or even catch the bus until she felt she was ready for it.‘You all right, Mrs. Patterson?’‘What…oh yes, fine.’ She forced a smile.Mr. Banks had finished with his overcoat and gloves. ‘Just mind how you go…when you’re on your way home tonight, yes?’‘I’m sorry?’In retrospect, it was an obvious thing for him to have said. They’d been talking about the murders and had mentioned that it had been getting darker earlier. Why wouldn’t he move swiftly on to the next obvious subject, which was the danger this posed?‘I’m getting a lift,’ she said hurriedly.He nodded at that and left her with a contemplative half-smile, as if for some reason this information didn’t entirely please him.Whoa, hang on! You don’t suppose…?Just as quickly, Pamela dismissed the notion. She’d misconstrued things that was all. He hadn’t looked disappointed that she’d be riding home in her husband’s car but had merely been taking the matter seriously. She ought to be touched that he was concerned for her. If nothing else, Banks was easily into his eighties, and this maniac had apparently been cutting his victims to pieces. What kind of strength and aggression would that re-quire?Be super-ironic if the madman had been in here with you all along, wouldn’t it?Pamela shook her head, trying to shake the idea free.There was no danger here. There were never less than two members of staff on duty. And even though Mrs. Brody was going on leave tomorrow, there’d be another one com-ing in.The man.Yeah…great.‘All well, dear?’ Mrs. Brody enquired, coming out from the kitchen.She was a short, tubby woman of about forty, with stiff red hair and stern features, whose squat figure now that she was six months pregnant looked positively rotund.‘Fine. Just been chatting to Mr. Banks.’Mrs. Brody pulled an irritated face. ‘Another one who contributes nothing to the oper-ation.’Ever since she’d been here, Pamela had thought Mrs. Brody a tad shrewish in attitude given that most of their customers couldn’t afford to buy new books. One Scottish chap, called Ogilvy, was slightly different. He regularly brought in cartons crammed with books of his own, which he wanted to donate, and never took more than a handful in return. However, on the last occasion, Mrs. Brody had stopped him on his way out, because he’d taken five paperbacks in exchange for two box-loads which had to contain at least a hun-dred.‘Excuse me,’ she’d said. ‘The rule is that you take three, and no more.’He’d gazed at her with an expression implicit with all the disdain the common man felt for the jobsworths of Britain, before trudging back into the Library, and replacing two books on the shelves.‘It seems harsh,’ Mrs. Brody had commented later. ‘But we can’t have people helping themselves. There’ll be nothing left.’Pamela hadn’t bothered replying that a valuable and generous source of free books was now unlikely to darken their doors again. She only wanted a quiet life while she was here, which was never easy with such an overbearing personality in the role of self-appointed manager. In many ways it was a relief that Mrs. Brody would shortly be going on leave. Pamela just hoped that this new staff member, the man, would have no, well…Let’s not pussyfoot around it. If he’s a weirdo, you’re leaving too.Yes. And wouldn’t Gerald be happy then.As it was her last day, Mrs. Brody left earlier than she usually would, just after 3:30 p.m. It was a disagreeable surprise for Pamela, as it meant she’d be manning the operation alone for the next two hours. Mrs. Brody, who clearly hadn’t thought about this, even though she knew about Pamela’s past, made the helpful suggestion that Pamela leave ear-ly too.Yeah, that’ll work. Get Gerald out of the office mid-afternoon, to run you home. He’ll be well-pleased.So, she stayed behind on her own. There wasn’t any other option.As soon as Mrs. Brody had gone, she locked the front door, turned the lights off be-hind the counter, and moved through into the Library, where she drew the curtains and left only one light on so that no one would realize she was in here.After that, she sat in the armchair where Mr. Banks had studied the newspapers, furi-ous at her own cowardice.Except that maybe it wasn’t quite like that.‘One step at a time,’ Dr. Atkins had told her. ‘You’ve been through a ghastly ordeal. It isn’t easy returning to normal life after something like that. And stop listening to these voices in your head, these primal fears which the whole business has awakened. Apply logic, instead.’I wonder if Sarah Galloway was a student of logic?‘No…no.’ Pamela shook her head to clear her mind. It wasn’t silly, locking herself away like this. Not when all she wanted was a breather. Not when she was trying to get over a breakdown. Even people who’d been mildly ill were owed some recuperation time.Standing up, she opted to pass the next hour and a half by reading a good book.It still wasn’t dark outside, but the gloom of the autumn evening was fast descending. It was even gloomier inside, of course, with all the curtains drawn.Okay, open them again. Let him know you’re on your own.Without the single light, she wouldn’t even have been able to read the titles on the book spines. Though that particular light, as it happened, was located just above the Thrillers section. With a dull sense of foreboding, Pamela grabbed down the first three she saw.Oh yes, excellent choices here…Titles like These I Kill, Slaughter in the Dark and I, Madman trapped the breath in her throat. While their various covers—a hooded figure hunched against a desolate cityscape, a clown mask with blood trailing from either corner of its mouth, and a woman’s sweat-ing, terrified face, bruised eyes bulging—almost had her knees buckling.If that wasn’t enough, Pamela then heard a loud rustling of paper.She stiffened, the paperbacks dropping from her hands, clattering loudly on the pol-ished tiled floor. Now, there were only muffled traffic sounds from beyond the curtains.But then she heard it again.A rustling, scrunching noise. Paper, cardboard, or both.She pivoted slowly, squinting into the furthest recesses of the Library. It wasn’t so dim that she couldn’t make out the free-standing bookcases, but of course there were spaces been them into which she couldn’t see.She was resolute that she’d keep her nerve. It wasn’t possible for someone to have en-tered except through the front door, where she’d have spotted them easily.Aren’t you forgetting the fire-door?That was in the far corner, screened from where Pamela currently stood. She won-dered if Mrs. Brody might have left it open for some reason, though that would have been ridiculously unlike her. Heart thudding, she headed over that way, circling around History, venturing down the aisle between Romance and Science Fiction. This brought her to an intersection, from where, if she looked right, she would see the fire-door in question. It would still be closed; she was sure.Yeah?She took a chance and peeked.It was closed.Emboldened, she advanced, pressing it with her fingertips. It was closed properly.Feeling worse than foolish, Pamela trekked back into the centre of the Library, but continued to listen. Was it possible she’d heard a bird against one of the windows?Yeah, because that happens all the time.Baffled, she went back to the counter. Beyond the glass door, the day was turning in-to dusk, but she could still see everything. The paved path, which was littered with red and gold leaves, ran straight as a die for ten yards, emerging through a gateless gap in a wrought-iron fence onto Widdrington Lane. Even as she looked, cars rumbled past. An old woman went by with shopping bag.Normality. Life going on as usual.Pamela cringed inwardly, again torn by loathing of her own frailty.How could this have happened? That someone like her—a highly-paid legal secretary attached to a famous old law firm, glamorous wife to a successful businessman, hostess of a dozen high-class dinner parties—could be reduced to the status of nervous recluse?Another sound intruded: again, the crackle of paper.Pamela spun around, staring bug-eyed into the mouth of the staff-only corridor behind the counter. There couldn’t be anyone down there. That corridor connected with only three rooms: the kitchen, the toilet and the Stock Room at the back, as they called it…So, that noise made itself?Pamela’s hand slid again to the phone in her jeans pocket. Surely the police would come immediately if she called, the last murder having happened only two miles from here? But what if there was some embarrassingly mundane explanation? She wouldn’t just look a prize fool, but a neurotic idiot.One step at a time, the doctor had said.But that only worked if you occasionally took those steps.Clutching the phone like a weapon, she lifted the counter hatch and stepped through into the staff area.More paper crackled.A rat maybe? Bridgewater House wasn’t an especially old building, but it was cheaply thrown together; a single-story affair from the ’60s or ’70s, originally a children’s primary school and later a kind of community centre. Book-a-Thon was only one section of it.Encouraged by the thought, though at one time she’d have been appalled, she moved into the corridor entrance. She reached for the light switch, but again hesitated.Since getting married ten years ago, she and Gerald had lived in Fairvale, Brookshaw’s swishest suburb. Constantly fearing burglary, they’d taken many precautions. A police advisor had told them that if they ever heard anyone breaking in at night, the best thing to do was lock themselves in their bedroom, turning lights on to alert the interlopers and frighten them away. But this was the specified course of action when an intruder was on your property to steal, rather than…Gut you like a fish? Hack your arms and legs off?More paperwork rattled from the shadowy corridor.Pamela’s hand remained fast on the light switch, but she didn’t activate it. On this oc-casion, it was almost certainly better that whoever it was—if it was anyone at all—was not informed that they’d been discovered.Stiff as iron, she ventured down the passage. When she reached the kitchen, she glanced breathlessly in. The fading light outside penetrated the high, frosted window just sufficiently to show that there was nobody in there. A similarly reduced light spilled from the next two open doorways. When she glanced into the toilet, that was also unoccupied, which left only the Stock Room.Pamela paused before the final door, the breath struggling in her constricted chest.‘Go on, darling,’ Gerald would have said. ‘Face your demons.’‘Be logical,’ Dr. Atkins had told her.Logic dictating that, as this lunatic butchers women for fun, you should be going the other way!Sweat dabbling her forehead, Pamela pushed forward through the open door.The evening dimness was intensifying, but she could see that clearly that there was no one else here. To ensure there was no mistake, she hit the light-switch. The small room was indeed empty, aside from a table, a stool and a couple of boxes of donated books too tatty to put on the shelves. Even as she stood there, there was another crackle of paper, but this time Pamela traced it to the high letterbox window in the corner, the frosted pane of which hung open. She pulled the stool over, climbed up and peered out into the drab, open-air quadrangle located at the centre of Bridgewater House. Directly across from her, perhaps twenty yards away, one of the women who worked in the Mothers & Babies Club, where they’d had a birthday party that afternoon, was cramming wrapping paper into a wheelie-bin.