He felt ridiculous, he felt a prize twit if the truth be known, an office worker in his late thirties affecting a lowlife hooded swagger dressed in a crummy Adidas shell suit and tattered Nikes. It was the best disguise though, or so he'd thought, that, and the four day stubble. Yes, he had to look the part. There could be no mistakes. He swaggered up to the bus stop and stood with his back to the wall, his sweatshirt hood shielding his bloodshot eyes from the few scuttling, paranoid pensioners who were passing; he seemed to be intimidating at least. That was good.
The estate was rather select, trimmed hedgerows, tended rose beds, no pit bulls grappling with shaven headed yobs or gaggles of chain smoking single mums with their brats; rather it was the domain of respectable, working class Tory, Express and Mail reading British Legion types. He felt rather conspicuous. Maybe he'd gone too far with the disguise. Ah, too late for second thoughts. Keith glanced at his watch. Twenty minutes to kill before she came back with her pension. He couldn't just walk round looking conspicuous.
He crossed the road and went into a news agent's. The proprietor was jabbering in Punjabi with his wife, and an agitated daughter was fretfully watching a group of school kids expertly pilfering chocolate bars and bottles of Lukozade. He made for the magazine rack, reached up and pulled down a magazine, Old Slappers. He flicked unconsciously through the motley selection of middle aged females and tried to look relaxed. Ten or fifteen minutes passed before he slipped out, hoping he hadn't been noticed as anything other than a run-of-the-mill, petty pervert.
He slunk into the estate once more, noticed only by a pensioner in a home-knit tank top trimming his hedge. The old man peered at him with a mixture of disgust and fear. Keith went into a daze and as he approached the block where she lived and began to wonder how the hell he'd got himself into it all. He was about to commit bloody murder for christsake, and all through a chance meeting in the pub two months before. He slipped into the building unnoticed, and as he stood pensive in the lobby, the absurdity of the whole thing forced a grunt of nervous laughter from his chapped, chewed, near-bleeding lips.
The lobby was cool and silent. The doormats matched the individually letter-boxed, brass-numbered doors; potted plants adorned the landings. He began to climb the stairs. By the fourth landing he had to pause for breath. A lot of water had passed under the bridge since his Sunday league days with Willingdon Wanderers, that was sure. He got to the storerooms on the final floor, unobserved. He wondered how Fingal was doing on his mission -- Fingal, the cause of it all; Fingal, the silver tongued persuader; Fingal the instigator of the whole, dodgy, fucking enterprise. It was too late for regret though. There was nothing to it. It just had to be gone through with.
He heard the faint refrain of gossip from one of the landings below him and reached up to unfold the ladder. He clambered through the opening and onto the roof. It was fresh, up on the top of the ten story block. The wind was pushing the dirty grey rain clouds away to reveal a rinsed blue sky. According to Fingal, she would be up soon. The pigeons were beginning to coo -- it was near feeding time.
Keith huddled down in a concrete alcove between the central heating vents. He was surprised at how calm he felt. For days beforehand he had envisioned a clammy trembling terror as the time neared. But no, he felt no nerves, only very real regrets at having made a pact with that fucker Fingal. But here he was, on the verge and no going back. Fingal would have done the deed by now though, fulfilled his part of the bargain, the crafty, devious, little Irish bastard. God though, how that made him feel better. Yes indeed, no more mother-in-law; no more huddled, whispering, confab with Helen in their kitchen; an end to her limpet like presence in their home, her grating petty suburban snobbery. His teeth ground with hatred at the mere thought of her. Then there was her health. A spryer old bird there never was -- but she was ailing. Oh yes, she was ailing. Her gullible daughter taking it all in: her hip, her bad circulation, her fucking migraines. His hands flexed involuntarily as they sought the old crow's horrid, fleshy neck. A scraping of metal on concrete below disturbed his reverie of hate. The old girl was on her way up, the time was nigh, He began to tremble slightly. He watched as the head-scarved form of an elderly woman in a cardigan and fur-lined, slipper boots, pulled herself onto the roof and began to shuffle over to the pigeon loft.
Keith rose to his feet. He had to do it, he'd made a pact. Fingal would be a bad enemy to have if he bottled out now. It had to be done.
The old woman was unhooking the latches on the loft door abutting the low roof wall. Keith broke into a stalking jog and loomed up on his victim. She must have heard his footsteps, for just before he reached her, her head turned to face him and her terror-struck eyes met his. He knew what to do, he'd rehearsed it a hundred times. He squatted down, grabbed each of her ankles firmly, and with a forceful movement, pitched her over the side.
He stood affixed for a moment or two, aghast at what he'd just done. Children's shrieks from down below shook him from his frozen stance and he ran over to the hatch and dropped down onto the landing. Pulling the track suit hood over his forehead, he raced down the stairs. Jesus christ! he'd killed her. He'd done cold-blooded fucking murder. He paused in the ground floor lobby, sweat rolling and heart pounding. There was already a gaggle of pensioners and young mothers around the old woman. He caught a glimpse of her boots, the kind advertised for seven-ninety-nine in Sunday supplement magazines. As he slunk off, the few dawdlers he passed were too focused on the commotion to pay him much heed.
Keith put good distance between himself and the scene. After ten minutes of brisk striding, he turned into a small park, well shielded from the street by trees and scabby bushes. The park was empty save two battered Scot winos who were too engrossed in diluting their methys to notice him. Keith disappeared behind the concrete public lavatory and emerged a few minutes later with a sports bag and rid of his tatty garb, looking a normal, brow-beaten office worker with a greasy collar and crumpled trousers, heading home after a grotty day.
He tried to walk with as much composure as he could. He was thankful rush hour was just beginning and the pavements weren't too crowded. He felt weak and he trembled, but managed to keep going until the bus stop came into site. His bus was making its way up the hill. He climbed to the top deck and slumped himself down. The deed had been done. He was safe.
The bus took about an hour to shunt its way through the rapidly clogging streets, across the river and towards his suburb. The further he got from the scene, the safer he felt, the city's throng and bustle obliterating the killer's trail.
As he made his way down his street, Keith prepared for what would certainly be to greet him at home. Sure enough, Helen didn't open the door as usual. Instead, his glum faced, tearful daughter greeted him and sobbed that Granny was dead, that she'd fallen in the canal trying to rescue Willy, her aged Yorkshire terrier. Keith weakly feigned disbelief for the child and made his way into the living room with a half vacant, half pained expression, and proceeded to shoulder his distraught wife's grief.
The next day, the family home was besieged by family members flocking from far afield for the funeral which was scheduled for Sunday. He wasn't missed as he slipped out into the drizzly Saturday afternoon street. As he neared the pub, his curiosity, his perverse hunger to hear Fingals's account of the slaying, became ever stronger. The lounge bar of the Boar and Spear was full, bantering football fans tanking up before Athletic's third division relegation scrap. Through the smoky hue, he made out the solitary Fingal, stooped over his stout, rolling a cigarette. Keith bought a pint and made his way over.
Something wasn't quite right. Keith sensed it straight away. The bony little Irishman fixed him with a contemptuous, malignant glare.
"Nice fuckin' work, Keith," he hissed.
"What's the matter?" stammered Keith, "everything went all right didn't it?"
"No they fuckin' didn't. She was laid up with flu that day of all the fuckin' luck. And anyway, what did I tell you about the wellington boots?" he snarled "she only ever wears fuckin' wellington boots to feed the fucking pigeons."
The colour drained out of Keith's face and he clunked his pint down limply as he recalled the grey, Sunday magazine slipper boots.
"Yeah! You did her neighbour in, you pratt!"
"Jesus christ," mumbled Keith, half in fear of Fingal and half through mortification at having killed an innocent old woman.
When he looked up again, the Irishman was grinning his horrible grin from ear to
ear. "It's O.K. though, Keithy Boy," he wheezed, "I'm rid of mine nonetheless. The old bitch
keeled over with a heart attack yesterday in Tescos. You're in the clear. I wouldn't have
liked to make a double killer of you, ha, ha, ha, ha. . . You're a lucky man so you are! haw
© 1998 Bruce Downie, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
This story is one of my less savoury. I have a very nice mother-in law, however, the experience of having one made me think of how intense mother-daughter or mother-son relationships could induce some rather drastic measures in some desperate spouses.