Time to Die
A gripping serial killer thriller - with a twist
This book is dedicated to my father Niall Mitchell,
who taught me the value of hard work and determination.
‘Please don’t hurt me.’ Mother’s voice rang in his ears as Bert drove through the inky rain-drenched streets. The wipers of the rusty orange van whipped back and forth like a metronome, conducting his thoughts into a symphony of torment.
‘Please Bertram don’t …’
Bert turned up the radio to drown out the memory. It blended in a mind crowded with dark thoughts, surfacing as the maddening itch that threatened the remains of his sanity. He swore as the Volkswagen hit a pothole and jolted him in his seat. The moonless sky did little to ease his journey, and he peered through the rain-streaked windscreen at the road sign ahead. Haven. Bert bared his teeth in a sharp smile. It was almost biblical.
The exhaust pipe of his van belched out a plume of smoke before shuddering into submission in the rear car park of The Cherry Tree pub. Bert threw off the seatbelt that had long since lost its elasticity and wrenched the handbrake as far as it would go. Giving himself one last glance in the rear view mirror, he nodded in silent affirmation before throwing open the van door. Clamping a hand over his black fedora hat, he ran to the pub as the rain beat into his back, his long black trench coat flapping open.
The sweet smell of damp logs rose from the open fire, and he shook his foot to dispel the water trickling through the hole in his shoe. At least the place was warm. The early spring evening had brought a biting chill to the air. He shoved the van keys deep into his pocket, shuddering at the thought of returning to the cold metal tomb. It was a poor comparison to his warm bed at home. But he couldn’t go back. Not now.
His small flint eyes slid over the patrons in the low-beamed pub. A disinterested-looking couple sat beside the log fire, their fingers pecking at their iPhones in the absence of conversation. His gaze moved to the bar, where a well-padded man in a navy suit sat staring into his pint. A thought snaked into Bert’s consciousness. He’s the one. Shaking the rain from his hat, Bert dragged a metal comb through his damp wisps of silver hair. He rifled for change in his worn suit pocket and ordered a pint of Guinness, dropping an array of coins on the dusky wooden bar.
The barman curled his fat fingers over the five and ten pence pieces, his lips moving silently as he counted them into the till. But Bert was not interested in him. He was focused on the man at the bar. His heart cranked up a notch at the thought of what lay ahead, and he left his pint to rest. Five minutes. He needed five minutes to steady himself, and then he would begin. The stench of piss and cigarette stubs rose from the men’s toilets, and he gripped the corners of the ceramic sink as he drew upon his reserves of strength. Staring in the mirror, he sought out his power. It lay in the darkness behind his eyes, sank deep in their sockets. It will be done, he whispered, a twisted smile playing on his lips.
He returned to find suit man half asleep, his fleshy cheeks pressing through open fingers as he leaned into his hands.
Bert sank back mouthfuls of Guinness, savouring the creamy black liquid as it hit the back of his throat. Satiated, he rifled in his pocket for his battered deck of tarot cards. An unlikely tool to initiate the death of another, but for Bert, therein lay the appeal.
‘What you got there, buddy?’ suit man said, the trace of an American accent on his lips.
Bert’s lips narrowed in a smile as he patted the deck of cards in front of him. ‘These, my friend, can predict your future.’
Suit man snickered before raising the whisky chaser to his lips and knocking it back. ‘Scuse me, can I order another round and a Guinness for my compadre here?’
The barman cast a curious glance over the unlikely friendship before drying his glass with a tea towel and turning to dispense the drinks.
‘Much appreciated,’ Bert said, in his most amenable tone.
‘That’s OK. I’m feeling friendly. That barman is as much fun as a root canal.’
Bert laughed mechanically, narrowing his eyes at the barman returning with their drinks.
‘Have you had your fortune told before?’ Bert asked, scratching the itch behind his ear. It burned like fire into his skin. He hated small talk, but he did what he could to gain the trust of those chosen to receive their prophecy.
The man dropped his eyes as he picked at his beer mat. ‘No I haven’t. Lately I seem to spend all my time in the past.’
Bert understood the sentiment, but he truly didn’t care. ‘Give me a tenner and I’ll tell you your future. What do you say?’
Suit man leaned to the left as he pulled out a wad of money from his back pocket. Dipping his fingers into the roll, he slipped ten pounds on the bar. ‘Hit me.’
Bert wiped the bar clean with his sleeve as faint laughter echoed from within. Shuffling the cards, he felt the joy of release as he transferred his energies to the pack. He fanned out the deck, asking the man to choose three cards before placing them face down on the bar.
‘These are past, present and future,’ Bert said, turning the first card over. It had begun. Like the roll of a dice, the prophecy had been set into action and could not be halted. The reading was accurate and to the point. He told of suit man’s success in business, and the sleep paralysis which terrorised his nights. A condition so debilitating he had forced himself to return to face a past best forgotten. His face was an expressionless mask as the words unfolded in Bert's gravelly drawl.
Bert took in the images only he could see, suit man’s past delivered to his mind’s eye in cine-camera pictures complete with sound, smells, and dark emotions.
Suit man was a good deal younger, his dark hair skimming the collar of his black leather jacket. His parents owned the pub in which they sat, and he was no stranger to driving his father’s car after a belly full of cider. As he sped past the rows of trees, he did not see the six-year-old child chase her dog down the footpath. Blonde curls bouncing, she didn’t have time to scream as he lost control and clipped the kerb. A screeching of brakes was followed by a sickening thud. She didn’t stand a chance. Bile rose to his throat at the sight of the motionless body in his rear view mirror. Where was her mother? Why had nobody been watching her? Heart clamouring, he reached for the car door handle, and then paused. What was the point in stopping now? The damage had been done. Pumping the accelerator, he sped down the sun-streaked road. He must have imagined it. It must have been a dog not a child, and it was far too beautiful a day for such a horrific thing to occur.
Bert took a deep breath as the image passed. He did not feel disgust at the man’s actions; it was too late for that now. No, he felt delight. For he was going to help the transgressor atone for his sins. After all, wasn’t that what he was here for? A shot of death in the vein of this diseased soul. The fact that he would benefit from the demise of another simply told him it was meant to be.
‘This is the last card,’ Bert said, his throat dry. He wondered why he hadn’t revealed the man’s murky past, why he hadn’t whispered those two words … I know. But now it was time for the grand finale. The climax, and Bert could barely wait. ‘You might not want to hear what I have to say but I’m going to complete the reading with a future prophecy.’