On a sunny but chilly afternoon in late-autumn, Sheila Mulhardy was shuffling along the high street quietly muttering something to herself through clenched teeth. She stood nearly six feet tall but with shoulders hunched looked much shorter.
“Enough. Enough,” she said out loud.
Passers-by stared at her and walked on a little faster. She stopped and fumbled in her handbag. The pill bottle wasn’t there. The new unopened one. With reddened eyes she frantically searched her bag again then tears began to run down her face. The appointment with her solicitor was soon to take place and she felt the panic rising.
A black car came from behind and screeched to a stop in the road alongside her. The rear door was thrust open and a green-gloved hand grabbed her by the wrist.
“Get her inside,” a man’s gruff voice commanded. She instinctively put out her left hand in a futile attempt at resistance as she was pulled inside. A jolt of pain shot up her arm, her hand savagely bent backwards against the car roof. A sweet-smell and intense pain were the last things she remembered as a sack was drawn roughly over her head. Her body went limp. To the explosive noise of several car horns all blaring at once, the car swerved out into the traffic.
When Sheila came around she was lying down on her back though the sack had been removed from over her head and her wrist felt as though it was on fire, while some devil was hammering inside her head trying to get out. She shivered violently, icy fingers reaching out to caress her. She cried long, loud sobs. Despite her agony she almost immediately recognised the galley of her own luxurious ‘sedan bridge’ Sea Ray launch. Her injured wrist was loosely tied with a short rope that had been passed through the handle of the bottom drawer in a three-drawer kitchen unit and her right ankle, also with a short rope, secured to the leg of a nearby table that was bolted to the floor. Her eyes rolled upwards as the boat gently swayed from side-to-side. Sheila lifted her head as far as possible and, although she could see that her shoes had been removed and her feet were under water, was unable to sit fully upright. Her upper eyelids lifted revealing the whites in the eyes and her mouth fell open as she realised the terrible danger she was in.
Sheila struggled to reach across her shoulder with her right hand to grasp the handle of the bottom drawer that she had been tied to. She tried to pull it open but it wouldn’t come out very far. Her body was in the way and she couldn’t move. She craned her neck and could see only table-mats and table-cloths. She slid the drawer closed then managed to raise herself up onto her elbow. Even though she was in severe pain, she grabbed the handle of the middle drawer with her right hand and yanked it part way out. The sudden movement tugged on her wrist and she screamed. Gritting her teeth and peering into the drawer, Sheila could see nothing but candles and napkins. The drawer went easily back into the unit. Tantalisingly, the top drawer was partly open and she could only look up at its underside in frustration as she could not raise herself any higher.
“The cutlery is in there,” she wailed through her tears and with a tremendous effort managed to just reach inside but could feel only one item. She strained to grab it and lowered her arm. A plastic knife.
“All the metal cutlery must be at the back of the drawer,” she whimpered.
Sheila stared at the knife, then noticed it had a serrated edge. She closed her hand around its handle and urgently began an awkward downward sawing action into the rope tether. When she'd finally cut through the rope, her arm splashed down into the water and had Sheila not managed to sit up properly she would have soon been completely under the water. She reached down to cut through the rope securing her ankle to the table leg and scrambled to her feet placing her good hand on the table. A half-full bottle of vodka stood on the table-top next to a part-filled tumbler. A small brown-glass bottle with her name on the label was beside the vodka. She picked up the small bottle, shook it and heard clattering. She placed the safety cap between her teeth, pushed on the bottle and twisted. Eventually, Sheila managed to open the bottle then tipped out a few tablets onto the table instantly recognising her anti-anxiety pills. She spat out the cap and picked up the four tablets one at a time swallowing each individually.
Sheila noticed knives and forks on the draining board then climbed up two steps and staggered through the lounge and out of the rear door. A she stood on the stern deck and a smile spread across her face. She was free and alive and unhesitatingly swung her legs over the side of the boat and jumped feet first into the cool water. Lightly touching the muddy ground beneath, she bent over at the waist and fell forward onto her front. The pain in her wrist was intense and with her left hand closed into a fist couldn’t feel her fingers but still managed to swim with an ungainly stroke towards the quay as a distant clock sounded several times. Reaching some stone steps, she climbed to the top where the blinding light from the setting sun forced her to squeeze her eyes shut. Hard, dry land. Safety.
Sheila snapped open her eyes in alarm and looked over her shoulder. Peter had appeared as if from nowhere and was standing directly behind her in a sky-blue suit and white T-shirt, his long dark hair smoothed back and tied into a ponytail. He was wearing sun-glasses and had a grin across his sun-tanned face, showing gleaming white teeth. She spun completely around on the heels of her bare wet feet and nearly slipped over.
“I’m so glad you’re all right,” he purred. “I saw you attacked and turned my car around to follow you through the streets. How’s your hand? I could hardly believe it. In broad daylight, too. Come on. Let’s get you home.”
“What about the police?”
“Mm?” Peter raised his eyebrows. “What about the police?”
Sheila stood frozen to the spot, open-mouthed. “I was just kidnapped and I nearly drowned. Someone tried to kill me,” she screamed. “My wrist maybe broken and I need to get to a hospital.”
Indicating a dark car parked further along the quayside, he urged, “Just get into the car and I’ll take you home.”
“Peter, I need a hospital,” Sheila shrieked.”And why did you ask about my hand?” she persisted.
“I could see you hurt it when you were attacked.”
“How could you possibly know that? I was forced into that car and you were driving the other way. You couldn’t have seen what happened. You had to turn the car around. You said so, yourself.”
“Dammit, Sheila, just get in the car.”
The evening breeze carried a sweet odour to Sheila that she instantly recognised. The same one she had noticed in the car. A woman’s perfume. Long ago Sheila’s heart had been completely captured by Peter’s charm but well after they had married she discovered that her dashing and flirtatious husband was a serial womaniser.
Peter had been in that car all along.
Sheila had forgiven him after Sarah. The good-life was just too seductive. But then Susan. Vivian. Tracy. She had a vivid flash of that moment of rage when she had confronted him about them all. Sheila could take no more. The women at his incessant parties, all very attractive but no interests other than about their appearance. And his creepy male friends.
“Get in the car,” he thundered.
“Not a chance, you bastard,” she yelled.
Peter lunged forward and grabbed her right arm dragging her along a passageway between two buildings then pushed her hard against a wall.
“I’ve known all about your divorce plans for ages. You never did learn about passwords to lock your ’phone. You’re a danger to me with what you know but I’d planned for this day a long time ago. Before we got married.”
“I know very little about you. I’ve asked you many times about what you do and had nothing but vague answers.”
“Where do you imagine all my money came from?” Peter asked. “Trees or something.”
“You told me it was an inheritance,” Sheila answered.
“It was. What I didn’t tell you is that it was from defrauding an estate. My dear old Dad showed me the way. Crime pays. Big-time. Bent solicitors, corrupt coppers. The icing on the cake is your Father being a magistrate. It’s the only reason I married you. The standing in society was huge. One of my best moves. But I don’t take chances. You're a liability.”
Sheila's mouth fell open. “You're a crook? You’ll never get away with this.”
“Of course, I will. Surely, you can’t be that naïve? Remember that I had the sea-cocks lowered? The fitter did say that this was unusual for a private boat. He did it anyway. Money always talks. So I could scuttle the boat if necessary and destroy any evidence of my dealings on our very, very expensive boat. And I’d get back all my losses through the insurance, of course. You should be dead by now with sea water in your lungs. And booze in your blood but no medication. The full pill bottle is untouched and on the table. Everything else we’d have…,” he paused, “...arranged later. You know...set the scene.”
Peter pushed his face so close to hers that he could have kissed her. Sheila was paralysed with fear. He stepped back and opened his mouth as if to say something but no words came out, his face contorted.
“How do you explain my broken wrist and the rope marks? And I didn’t drink anything today.”
“What marks? You may have been tied securely but not tight enough to cause any rope burns. We know what we’re doing. After all, this isn’t the first time we’ve done this sort of thing.”
She stood in front of Peter her eyes wide open. His admission to other killings was shocking.
“Who's ‘w...w...we’?” Sheila stammered after several moments, half closing her eyes in a frown.
“Oh! Sheila. You don’t imagine I work alone, do you?” Peter laughed. “By the way, darling” he said with a sneer, “you’ve been drinking vodka all morning. Diluted, of course, so you wouldn’t taste it. Right from the start. The water you had by the side of the bed. The water to down your pills. The coffees. All laced with vodka. You must had at least half a bottle. And, you didn’t notice the substitution of your usual meds for paracetamol.”
Sheila just stared at Peter. Expressionless.
“You can imagine what they will say happened? You fell over and broke your wrist. The combination of being drunk, stressed and in terrible pain made you decide to kill yourself. Easy. You just open the sea-cocks and sink the boat with you in it. You'd know how since it was all explained to you after they had been moved. And with the tide going out it wouldn't even be noticed that the boat had sunk. Until the next tide came in and the boat failed to float. Several hours. Maybe longer. In some ways you’re a really smart woman, Sheila. It’s one of the things that attracted me to you in the first place. And your connections, of course. In others ways…well, not so sharp.”
Sheila understood now why she’d earlier been so unsteady on her feet and so panicky. She had been drinking vodka all morning and hadn’t had any medication. Those pills to help stop her panic attacks. But she’d just had a mouthful of those pills.
“You’re evil,” she gasped.
“Not really,” he said very calmly. “It’s just business. Everything neat and tidy. And you dead. All staged. But professional and totally convincing. It would need to be bullet-proof as the police would certainly look very closely at the entire scene. I’m well known, you see. My fingerprints will be all over the place but it is my boat. Though not on the vodka and pill bottles. Yours only. Even the dinghy would be found tied to the boat. We retrieved your car and re-parked it nearby, too. Spare keys are so useful. See, we’ve thought of everything.”
“Go and screw yourself, you bastard,” she screamed at him in a show of defiance.
“No, no darling. It's Linda tonight,” Peter said through a laugh as he raised his arms, hands open.
Sheila punched him viscously in the face, ducked and turned as she darted along the passageway towards the quayside. Peter chased after her. At the end of the passage between the two buildings, Sheila dodged to her left towards the town but Peter caught up with her. He grabbed her hair with his left hand and pulled her head backwards. Peter looked down at her. She stared back directly into his right eye. Unwaveringly. As his other hand came towards her throat she could only bring her injured hand up and down hard onto his neck to defend herself. She ignored the pain but heard a blood-curdling scream. Peter let go of Sheila's hair and pushed her hand away. She fell as he clawed at his neck desperately trying to grasp something, smearing blood everywhere. Sheila lay on the ground and looked at her injured and bloody hand and realised she must have been holding the plastic knife but now only its handle. Just the handle? She remembered dropping the knife after she’d cut the ropes and perhaps subconsciously had grabbed it with the hand of her damaged wrist and simply not noticed, reluctant to leave the tool that had saved her life.
The broken-off knife blade was buried deep into the lower right side of his neck, blood pumping out of the wound. Peter’s eyes were wide open set in a grotesque mask with his neck just a bloody mess. His legs gave way and he dropped to the ground. His eyes remained open with the pupils hugely dilated. Sheila sat looking at the lifeless form heaped on the stone floor that had once been Peter and started to laugh uncontrollably. Hysterically.
It was so ironic that the knife that had saved her life had also taken Peter’s.
Louis Brothnias (2019)