A TASTE FOR KILLING.
Jenny spread the morning paper on the kitchen table and, mug of coffee halfway to her lips, gaped at the photo on the front page below a banner headline which screamed: SERIAL KILLER CAUGHT.
It was Vernon, she was sure of it.
Same wave of blond hair falling over dead-looking grey eyes. Same thin lips. Same boy she had fostered ten years ago.
She had to put the mug down. Her hand was shaking.
Heart thudding an agitated tattoo, she recalled what had happened ten years ago when she had been a short-term fosterer.
Eight-year old Vernon had been brought to her late at night. An emergency case, the social work said. He needed overnight accommodation until his aunt and uncle arrived from Devon. She added in a whisper that he had witnessed his father slaughter his mother. The kitchen had looked like an abattoir.
Poor boy, Jenny thought. How terrible. It was little wonder he was so pale and withdrawn.
She made him welcome. He didn’t say a word, just shook his head when she offered him a hot meal and drink, but accepted a hot water bottle. She tucked him in bed, and smoothed the floppy fair hair from his brow. He flinched away. Poor boy, she thought again.
He was fast asleep when Jenny looked in on him before going to bed. She stood for a moment, listening to his even breathing. He didn’t seem so creepy when he was sleeping.
An eerie shriek jolted her awake. Heart thudding, she clutched the sheet under her chin, listening.
All was quiet, both outside and in. All she could hear was silence. It must have been me, she though. I must have had a bad dream—but try as she might, she couldn’t recall what horror had triggered her scream. She couldn’t even remember a tiny remnant of a dream…
Breathing evenly to steady her pulse, she tried to relax. She was on the edge of sleep when a scratch-scratch on the bedroom door set her heart racing again.
Her breath caught in her throat as the door slowly opened. A thin figure stood in the doorway.
Vernon. She’d forgotten about Vernon.
“Did you have a bad dream,” she asked.
“There’s—something—wrong with your cat.”
“With Cassandra? What do you mean?”
He turned away, not answering. She scrambled out of bed, grabbed her robe and followed him downstairs.
Cassandra lay on the kitchen floor, long fur matted with blood.
“Cassie?” Horrified, Jenny dropped to her knees and stroked the cat’s head. Its eyes rolled in her direction and its mouth opened in a silent mew. “What happened?” she asked the boy looming over her.
“I was cutting a slice of cake,” he said in a flat monotone. “I was hungry. The cat attacked me and I turned and the knife—went in.”
“Attacked you?” she said blankly, and saw the knife handle, part-hidden by the cat’s long fur.
Jenny still had nightmares about that terrible night. The night poor Cassie was murdered.
She skimmed through the details of Vincent’s latest victim. A eighteen-year old girl had been slashed to death on her way home from a night out. Skin under her nails had been traced to Vincent, who’s mother had been murdered ten years ago.
Was it possible, Jenny wondered, that Vernon’s father had confessed to killing his wife to protect his young son from a life in jail?
Copyright © Betty Woodcock 2015
Photo by courtesy of tacluda rgbstock.com
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