It was the same grizzly scene he’d seen eight times before. A pale corpse, its face stricken with fear and its neck punctured with a green ballpoint pen. Blood sprayed about the room and pooled around the body. And a note, written in green ink on yellow paper, which read:
You won’t catch me. If you do, you’ll come to regret it.
Never any prints. Never any clues. Never a single thing to go on.
Investigations on the pen and paper had drawn a blank. Both were popular brands which had been sold in supermarkets and stationary stores up and down the country for years. Tracing potential suspects was impossible; too many people bought the damn things to isolate any decent leads.
There were never any witnesses. Neighbours never heard signs of break-in or struggle or even the murders themselves. There was never any nearby CCTV to hint as to who had been in the area before and after the crime took place.
The victims weren’t linked. They didn’t know each other or share mutual friends or acquaintances. There was no evidence of them having enemies. They weren’t even alike in appearance or nature. All of them were from completely different walks of life, killed for the sake of killing, it seemed.
And it all left the detective completely and utterly stumped. Victim number nine gave him no more clues as to the murderer than victim number one.
He nurses a glass of brandy while staring at the four walls of his living room. He can hear thumping music above — his daughter blasting out motivational tunes as she cracks on with her homework. The noise bothers him, but he won’t ask her to turn it off. She’s a good kid, all but for her taste in music.
His phone trills and he sighs, considers ignoring it. But he knows he won’t. His brain can’t switch off from his work. Why should his phone? He answers with a grunt and rubs his forehead as he listens.
“Let me write this down,” he says, and he drags himself to his feet.
There’s never a pen when you need one, he thinks.
He wanders from room to room, casting his eyes over tables and countertops, coming up with nothing. He left his own pen and notebook in the office and he curses himself and assures the caller to hold on.
Up the stairs he goes, towards the thumping music, and his head begins to pound.
His voice is lost in the bass and the drums. Perhaps he’ll ask her to turn it down. Not off completely. Wouldn’t ask her that. She’s a good kid.
He sees the bathroom door closed and, across the landing, her bedroom door wide open. He approaches the room and peers through the doorway, noting the pile of textbooks strewn open all over the floor, surrounded by odds and sods of teenage girlness; crumpled clothes, kohl eyeliner pencils, fluffy makeup brushes, hair ties, Kirby grips. A laptop is open on the bed and a glance at the screen tells the detective that notetaking is a digital affair for modern schoolkids. He sighs. Never a pen when you need one.
He checks her desk anyway, soon realising that its purpose is more dumping ground than desk. He scans cans of hairspray and dry shampoo, bottles of perfume, tubes of gels and lotions and creams, the names of which mean nothing to him. He wonders at all the products a girl of sixteen should need, wonders how he never noticed them before, wonders when she grew up so quickly right before his eyes and yet without him really seeing it.
Never a pen when you need one. But when he opens a drawer he finds more than he should ever need.
It’s a box of them, bought in bulk. Green ball-points. The very same brand he’s come to despise. A pack of 50. A few missing, by the look of it. Nine, in fact, if he were to count. And there, beneath the box, is a yellow notepad.
The music stops and he can finally hear himself think, but there is no thought, just the thrash of his own pulse in his ears and then, muted by a closed door, the flush of the toilet and the squeak of the tap in the bathroom sink.
But she’s a good kid, he thinks. There’s an explanation. A strange coincidence. At worst, she’ll have found herself caught up in something sinister and felt like there’s no way to wriggle out of it. He can help her.
He brings his phone to his ear, hoping the caller is still on the line.
“Hello?” he says, feeling as though his voice isn’t a part of him — a mere recording. “I need you to come here. To my home. Bring officers.”
A sigh from behind him makes him jump. She’s stood in the doorway, taller than he’s seen her before, shoulders held higher, back straighter.
“You’ll come to regret that,” she says.