Part five of a six-part fiction by Christchurch author MARK McGINN.
The rat shrieked at the sound of static from Henry's RT. Its long tail slithered away and into a dark hole just beyond the beam of the light, taking Henry's terror with it.
Wilbur's call told him de Vito had come up empty handed but he was returning with a small explosive charge to blow away an obstruction between the sump channel and the north side of the basement. Henry's thoughts went to the lawyer, Sasha Stace, who had pleaded for collaboration in the search. He couldn't help but smile at that irony. A plea falling on two sets of deaf ears - the only time he and de Vito would share the same thoughts. There would be no collaboration.
The quake had presented Henry Peters with an unimaginable opportunity. When he got to the trapped woman he would have won the race. He would have beaten de Vito at last.
Abby Sissons was as he had left her a few hours before - lying on her side, one wrist handcuffed to a pole concreted into the floor. The pole once supported shelving for some of his own records. She was naked from the waist down, her skin touched by the orange glow of a kerosene lamp. That, a water bottle and some of Eva's cheese scones were the comforts he'd provided her in his absence. He hadn't favoured her more than the others. That was only fair.
His light beam revealed that some of the ceiling above her had given way. A piece of it was close to her head. Blood had oozed into her blonde hair. Eyes shut, she was alive, just. She wouldn't be for much longer. The gag was still in place. It was the thing he'd first thought of when Maxwell made reference to sounds coming from the building. Tears had formed a creek through the dust on her pale cheeks. He frowned at the sight. In his heart, he hadn't wanted her to suffer an injury while he was away. It was why he'd secured a foam sleeve over her wrist before applying the cuffs.
Although none of the girls liked it when he left, he always promised he'd be back and he'd always kept his promise. He'd been open with them, never once telling them a lie. Remarkably, none of them had ever asked if he was going to kill them. How might he answer that? Perhaps something about never letting them suffer. And that had been true. When the end came it was quick. Chemistry proved to be good for that and even better for the disposal later.
Removing a leather glove, Henry gently drew a heart on the back of her bare leg, with his finger tip. He admired the perfection of her shape, the hollow of her waist. Her thigh was cool to his caress. He swallowed hard, feeling that unmistakable, almost overpowering urge. But with de Vito about to appear, there was no time to repeat the passion of several hours before. There'd be more pleasures to come and plans were already afoot. It was how he worked: a lady in waiting before becoming queen. One selected before waste disposal in the disused cemetery he and Maxwell had passed on their way into the city.
His thoughts went to Jim Maxwell talking about three missing girls. Could it be that the other two women hadn't yet been reported as missing? Henry pulled a matchbox and scissors from his bag and took his fifth trophy: a cutting of hair, which he tucked lovingly into the matchbox before redressing the girl in her knickers, jeans and footwear.
"Wilbur, from Henry. Over."
"Henry, a sit rep please. Over."
"The basement and concrete floor have held up well. De Vito has the girl. Told me to eff off, wants no assistance. Over."
"Abby's condition? Over."
"Bad head injury. Not good. Best prepare the mother. He's got her on the flat board trolley we left here last year, so he's pushing her out using my route. I'll come out first so she'll be between us. Over."
When Henry heard the charge explode at the north end of the basement, he turned off the kerosene, and using his headlamp to guide him, he pulled the trolley to where de Vito would appear. As his nemesis appeared, he struck him with the pickaxe between the bottom of his helmet and his spine. He dropped instantly and Henry checked, then double-checked, for a pulse. Smiling, he manoeuvred the body onto the trolley and wheeled it to the woman. The little grey wheels protested at the dead weight they carried, squealing like the shrieking rat with each full revolution. He tipped de Vito off and replaced a lifeless body with one near death.
He worked hard at shutting away thoughts of how he'd handle the publicity and the praise for his heroism. He knew there'd be post- mortems of both bodies. It was why he'd used the blunt end of the pickaxe. He wanted to achieve a neck break of sufficient force without too sharp an incision. Fatal injuries consistent with falling debris. There would be nothing untoward when semen would eventually be found in the woman and the fact that it was his didn't bother him. Henry had never had a parking ticket, much less done anything that might have him in some database.
Searching the cracked walls near his basement entry Henry found a place for the balance of de Vito's explosives and set the charge.
He placed his rival's body on top of the girl, thinking it likely that for Abby's safety, de Vito would have attempted to shelter her from any falling debris. When he'd crawled to a safe distance through the hole in which he entered the basement he detonated the charge behind him.
The final part will be published on Monday.
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