Murder in the morning
As the church clock strikes six, time stands still around me. A nearby cockerel crows, waking me from my daydream. Someone’s Morning Prayer has been answered as I stand beside a body lying across the doorstep of the church. A line of crumb-carrying ants march across his face, the sweet life nectar pooling the ground around me. There is a serene, momentary quiet after the chimes cease; his beating heart stopping to the dramatic echo. A dark figure glides past the church wall, before my silence is cracked by a far off wailing.
Panic ensues, did someone see what happened? Looking around for evidence I notice smeared footprints underneath the large bush shadowing the grave yard entrance. That figure; they must have been here, watching, waiting. They must have seen. Maybe they can help, I must find them, but how? Suddenly, and far from willingly, I feel pulled towards the church. Stepping over the bloodied body before me, I push open the antique doors. They groan, seemingly in sorrow of the scene in front of them; or perhaps it is just the weight and years behind them.
My footsteps echo through the empty pews, My Lord, forgive my trespass. It had been several years since I last entered a church, uttering words of forgiveness and sacrifice, servitude or gratitude. I had hoped I would never be faced with another trial like this, that I had escaped my past; that I’d left unknown experiences behind me. How wrong I was, something had followed me through this time. Over distant lands and shores. I had presumed myself alone, forgotten, You were to leave me, protect me. We have failed, I have failed. A rustling wakes me from my ruse. I am not alone. Oh Lord, if ever you were to be needed, to be true and forgiving, make that time now.
In my younger days I had been a great detective, the best on the force. I had solved every case I had ever taken and I was often hired to take cases that no one else could solve. I worked many cold cases back then, before that one case. Little Bonnie Asher. No one could save her, not after he had found her. The man that became my nemesis, nameless and faceless. He avoided everything I could do, everything the force could come up with to catch him, to protect Bonnie from him.
He first struck in 1946. A young girl’s body, about eight years old turned up on the Marston Moor’s. It was my first ever outside case. Normally, I worked the streets of London and there was always plenty of action, but since I was the best detective, having never failed in solving a case at the young age of twenty-five, every force in the country needed me to solve some case they hadn’t got any leads on. We never identified the girl, there was no missing report that matched her, and no one came forward to claim her. She was pristine when we found her; a beautiful little girl who had so much life ahead of her. The medical examiner could identify only three things, she was raped, strangled, and branded. A small ‘8’ carved into her shoulder. So many false leads were followed trying to find our suspect, but in the end we could make nothing stick. I could find nothing.
There was a string of seven more little girls that turned up, never in the same place, never even in the same county. We followed this trail of ‘8’ up and down the country; into Scotland - right down to Devon. Not even I could find anything. He was clever, I deduced it had to be a male, no child bearing woman could be capable to doing this to a child. He knew all my moves, must have studied my cases and capabilities, perhaps someone on the inside? I went crazy over the twelve months I worked these cases. Studied pictures until my eyes hurt, until my insides turned. I was sick. Sick of this bastard who could outsmart me, fool me into believing I was nothing.
Eventually I turned to God, well I had to have hope in something. I would visit the church every day. I would pray that something would come to me, something would be found, new evidence, anything but what turned up. Little Bonnie. My little Bonnie. Conflict of interest they told me. They told me I would be useless. For three days I sat in the church promising to sacrifice anything I had, everything I was to bring her back. To catch him. To find the bastard that laid his hands on my own child, delivered her to my doorstep, left her in the rain; the cold dead of night. My wife found her lifeless body the following morning. We’d put her to bed the night before, she slept soundly dreaming of tiddly-winks and Betty, her doll, who’d slept next to her. We never even knew she was missing. Of course the department found nothing, they knew nothing. I turned crazy, started making my own case, stealing from the department records, interrogating my friends and colleagues on the official case, getting nowhere. I still sat in the church, everyday hoping and praying that something would come, something would turn up.
I was dismissed. How is that even possible? Perverting the course of justice they say, SHE WAS MY GIRL, my little Bonnie. They couldn’t take me off the case completely though, nope, didn’t know about my secret stash of case files. I’d copied everything. All nine cases of the mystery ‘8’. My theory, Bonnie wasn’t meant to be included, why kill nine when you brand ‘8’. We’d thought it was over before Bonnie turned up, that he’d finished. He’d had his eight.
I read in the news today, another little girl has turned up. Another nameless child. Another call for witnesses, for someone to claim the body. Bonnie was different. Bonnie was a taunt, he wanted me to keep going, to try and find him. He was testing me; why else would he pick her? No one missed all of the other girls, no one ever claimed them. The system didn’t work. Something was wrong but I couldn’t work out what it was, I couldn’t figure out who or why.
I followed the trail on the new girl, hiding in the shadows, following the investigation through the news, through the crime scenes. There had been three more girls turn up. The last one, Jenny, was claimed by a distant relative. She had been moved eighty miles from home. Supposedly an orphan child, the papers said the mother abandoned her. The claimant recognised her, they didn’t say how, they just knew. The mother acted distraught when she found out, but something didn’t add up. Had he got sloppy? Why had he chosen this girl now? One that could be identified. I followed this case to Hell’s Mouth, Wales.
I had no idea what I was doing here or what had I expected to find, but I knew I had to be here. Something had compelled me to come. For Bonnie. Dark figures passed around me, people could tell I wasn’t from around here. They kept stopping and whispering. I got an uneasy feeling about this place, the further I delved into the small, sheltered, little town. I discovered the orphanage here had been closed. Strange. I took it upon myself to delve into the town records, the library clerk staring at me the whole time. I flipped through pages of newspaper articles, all saying the same thing, ‘Girl Aged 8 Missing’, ‘Another Girl Disappears’, ‘No Trace of the Orphan Girls’. Orphan girls? Could these be the unclaimed girls we’d found? But the orphanage closed the year Bonnie died?
I don’t remember much about what happened next. Something roused me from the newspaper articles. My senses reeling, compelling me to leave. It was dark when I exited the library, something in me decided to investigate the orphanage. An uneasy mist surrounded the gates, the rundown building barely standing against the rough sea breeze. A dark figure moved in my peripheral vision. As soon as I turned, it had gone. The bushes across the street moved, I followed. Walking through dark passages and alleyways, across misty fields I could see a church spire just inside the woods. My compulsion to investigate was greater than ever. The dark figure crossed my line of site; in the distance stalking towards the church. Standing in front of the church I noticed the ‘8’ carved above the great doors. My realisation dawned. This was his home.
Frozen in time, unable and unwilling to move, I stood facing my God. Facing my reality. My life, my obsession had lead me to him. To his door, to this monster I couldn’t stop. My nemesis.
As the church clock strikes six, time stands still around me. A nearby cockerel crows waking me from my daydream. Someone’s Morning Prayer has been answered as I stand beside a body lying across the doorstep of the church. The body is mine. He was free, I was free. I push open the antique doors, my footsteps echoing through the empty pews. A bright light shining on the altar.
My darling little Bonnie.