Excerpt from FIVE WAYS TO KILL A MAN by Alex Gray
When Mary heard the back door being knocked, a smile lit up her wizened features: it was him! Danny hadn’t let her down after all, she thought. Shufﬂing through the hall, the old lady placed one hand on the papered walls for support, breathing hard at the effort. She switched on the kitchen light, an expression of delighted anticipation on her face at the shadow beyond the half-glazed door. The tea tray was still prepared for them; Danny’s favourite biscuits on a plate beneath the embroidered cloth, two china cups and saucers all ready beside them. Mary smoothed down her skirt and patted her tightly permed white curls, just as if she were about to welcome a young suitor to her parlour.
Eager ﬁngers turned the key and then the cold air rushed in, sweeping Mary’s skirt above her knees, making her tremble at the empty darkness. Where was he? The trees outside swayed in the gathering storm. Had she really seen his shadow there on her doorstep? Or was it a trick of the light?
‘Danny? Danny! Are you out there? Come in, lad, it’s too cold for me to leave the door open.’ Mary’s smile faded as she heard the branches of the old apple tree creak in the wind. Had she imagined the door being knocked? Had her heightened anticipation tricked her into imagining that familiar sound? Was it the wind?
Disappointed, Mary was about to shut the door once again when she heard it: a pitiful cry just out there in the garden, some small animal in distress. Was it a cat? She’d had cats for years, but after Tiggle had been put down Malcolm had persuaded her not to have another one. It’s too much for you, Mother, he’d scolded. But Mary still missed the companionable creature and on a night like this a furry body curled on her lap would have been very welcome. So, was it a stray cat, perhaps?
Peering into the darkness, Mary heard it again, a bit closer this time.
‘Puss?’ she queried. ‘Here, pussy,’ she said, her words drawn away by a gust of wind. Venturing forwards, Mary took one step down, her ﬁngers gripping the rail that the nice man from social services had put in for her, and called again. ‘Puss, puss . . .’
The ﬁgure seemed to come from nowhere, the hood concealing his face.
‘Danny?’ Mary stood still, wondering, doubting as he mounted the steps towards her.
But in that moment of hesitation she felt her ﬁngers being prised from the railing, then the ﬁgure was suddenly behind her.
One blow to her spine and she was falling down and down, a thin wail of pain coming from her mouth as the sharp edges of the stone steps grazed her face, cut into her ﬂailing arms.
Mary closed her eyes before the ﬁnal thud, her skull smashing against the concrete slab below.
‘Miaow!’ the hooded ﬁgure cried, then laughed softly at the inert body splayed at the foot of the steps. Bending down, it lifted one of the woman’s thin wrists, feeling for a pulse. A moment passed then the hood nodded its satisfaction, letting the dead woman’s arm fall back on to the cold, hard ground.