Maddox” is a fallen angel, a tortured soul lying only just on the right side of the law. An under cover operative with the Serious Organised Crime Agency in London, he is a 21st century avenger, ‘There’s a nice guy in there trying to get out’.
A child serial killer is at large. A young girl has been kidnapped. Maddox is tasked with infiltrating a paedophile ring in a search and rescue mission in a race against time. He questions man's humanity as he plunges into deep despair.
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This is the 2nd outing for Maddox as an under cover operative with the Serious Organised Crime Agency in London. A former Royal Marine and SB.
A child serial killer is at large. A young girl has been kidnapped. Maddox is tasked with infiltrating a paedophile ring in a search and rescue mission in a race against time. He questions man's humanity as he plunges into deep despair. This is no gentle paced English detective novel, it's real and gets hard to the point. Read it as it is
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or they are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
“The treacherous, unexplored areas of the world are not continents or the seas, they are in the minds and hearts of men,”
Allen E. Claxton
Song of Solomon 2:1
I am the rose of Sharon and the Lily of the
THERE IS A PLACE we choose not to go, an inner self so dark it terrifies our conscience, a place inside of unspeakable evil that transcends our understanding of mankind, a place only we can go but choose not to, most of the time. Psychologists call it psychosis, where the balance of the mind is unstable, where the evil that men do runs contrary to man’s basic instincts of humanity, a primeval place where we alone can indulge in extreme depravity. But that is an excuse to rationalize to a civilized society the inhuman actions we are all capable of. The question is man fundamentally good or fundamentally evil.
Man is a predatory hunter, the most intelligent animal that has ever lived. This hunter has survived on instinctive stealth and cunning and by unparalleled killing. The hunter takes what it wants when it wants, the power of life and death, this place of blackness gives absolute power. And so we have learned to compartmentalize it, to say it isn’t normal, that it is abnormal. This behaviour is well documented in times of extreme hardship, of war and famine, of depravity so great it is incomprehensible, cannibalism, murder, rape, unabridged sexual indulgence. Some people visit this realm and choose not to return, they like it.
Connor Dwyer was a happy boy, from a loving family near Peterlee north eastern England. The Dwyer family were normal hard working people, not much money, a council house, but solid honest hard working people of Irish immigrant stock and they had raised their children to be decent and good. They knew what was right and wrong and imbibed a strong sense of Catholic justice in their children. The Dwyer family were good people.
So why did it happen to them? Why God? Why did you select this God fearing honest hard working family to punish for all eternity? What did they ever do to you to deserve this? Do they not go to your church every week, say your prayers, follow your rules. Why then did you select their seven year old son to be taken from them by that mad man? You knew what would happen to little Connor and still you let it happen. Are you really a God of love, a forgiving God that shines so brightly and transcends all evil or is this all a sick joke, a big lie. Why Connor Dwyer Lord why?
‘Mam, I want to go to Jordan’s house...,’
‘Alright pet be careful now,’ his mother busy over the sink washing dishes as she did every day, always cooking, always cleaning, always washing and ironing that was Connor’s mother,
‘How long are you goin’ to be?’
‘I’ll be back at half past,’ she smiled warmly. He always said that, it’s what her father said.
‘Okay then, I’ll look for you in the back garden,’ Connor’s back garden backed onto Jordan’s but he had to walk around the block of terraced houses to get there,
‘Don’t talk to strangers now... or take any sweets... right,’
‘I know, I know... you always say that,’ she took her hands from the sink and quickly dried them in the tea towel. Looking down at her beautiful son she straightened the collar on his Newcastle United polo shirt,
‘Go on then... away with yer,’ and kissed him on the top of his head.
She watched him leave from the side door of the tiny store room and hurry down the garden path through the front gate recently painted black by the housing association. As he turned right she glanced away not realizing that was the last time she would ever see her precious son alive.
Seven year old Connor Dwyer happily talked to himself with his imaginary friend as he walked along Prescott Way to Jordan’s house, just around the corner from his own home. It was a sunny morning, not too hot nor too cold and it was quiet, no one else around. Connor had a new card game his grandfather had bought him and he wanted to show Jordan so they could do some swaps. Jordan had loads of cards he had loads of everything, his mum and dad gave him everything, but Connor was happy, his mum and dad gave him what they could and all the love in the world.
The little white dog wagged its tail as it snuffled along the hedgerow. At first Connor was wary, he didn’t like dogs but this dog was friendly. It sniffed around his feet and Connor stopped and laughed. It jumped up on its hind legs so that its paws spread mud on his trousers. Connor giggled some more and put his hands on its warm head,
‘Do you like Snowdrop,’ he glanced up at the smiling old man staring down at him, his eyes unusually large behind thick lensed glasses and a strange drooping grey moustache.
‘Yes... ha ha... He’s funny,’
‘Yes he is funny... aren’t you Snowdrop,’ the dog responding to his master’s voice, becoming more excited. Connor laughed again,
‘What’s your name?’
‘Do you like Snowdrop Connor...?’ He nodded in an exaggerated way children do. ‘Would you like to play with him a while?’
Connor thought about it for a second,
‘I can’t. Mam says I have to go straight to Jordan’s house and I mustn’t speak to strangers or take sweets,’ the man smiled,
‘Well Snowdrop has to go now Connor... home for his tea... Why don’t you put him in the car for me,’ pointing to an old car a few metres away. He opened the rear passenger door of the car as Connor grabbed the little white dog by its pink collar,
‘Come in boy,’ the man called and the dog struggled toward the car as Connor tried to restrain him, giggling and laughing at the little dogs excitement.
But when Jesus saw [it],
he was much displeased,
and said unto them,
Suffer the little children to come unto me,
CLICK... CLICK, the innocuous sound of the digital camera framing a shot, CLICK CLICK CLICK, the compact zoom lens stretching out, infra red auto-focus. He felt the stir of an erection in his baggy suit trousers, the thrill of the chase. She’s so pretty, so small, just a touch, just a feel. Please God just once. Don’t get too close his breathing quickening, his heart rate rising, his palms sweating. Don’t scare the mother, she must be the mother, they look identical. Christ, she doesn’t let the kid out of her sight. His excitement rising, his eyes staring, his teeth clenched, he allowed himself a smile.
It was a clear spring morning the light breeze gently filtering through the early blossoming trees, it had been an exceptionally mild winter. Colin Stickley ambled through Crystal Palace Park in south London behind the mother and child at a respectable distance. Leather briefcase in his left hand, digital compact camera in his right, the smell of damp leaves and moist earth permeating his senses as he took in the cool morning fresh air. Mothers were walking their children to school. God what's the matter with these people, they're so fuckin’ paranoid, he thought. I don't want to hurt them, just look at them, for a while, look at them for a while... by myself... me and her...just look at her delicate little features, her long silken red hair, smooth milk white skin...touchy feely,... just the little girls, I don't do boys, but he knew people who did.
Mrs. Morris was unaware of her stalker as she chatted happily to seven year old Lily. She held her little hand in hers, felt her soft warm flesh press against her palm and looked at her daughters flaming dark red hair cascading over her green duffle coat. It reminded her of when she was a little girl. Lily had a heavily freckled face like her mother and deep pooling brown eyes, a genetic fault line that produced a rare colour contrast of dark red, oranges and browns, Lily was uniquely pretty. Mrs. Morris felt overwhelming love for her daughter and sometimes when on her own, she wept for the safety of her child.
'Stop looking at me like that Mum,' Lily said in her south London accent,
'Like what freckle face,' smiling at her.
'Stop calling me freckle face... freckle face,' and they laughed as Lily swung her mothers’ arm high.
They strolled down the hill through the park past the maze and the small lake toward St. Josephs Roman Catholic Primary School, Colin Stickley maintaining his safe position not wanting to draw suspicion.
He had operated safely like this for years, twenty years. Only once did he come close to disaster. He was young and foolish then, reckless even and so he moved on, had to and the school kept it quiet like they used to. He continued to click but knew most of the shots would be useless, if half a dozen are any good it’s worth it. They would make an excellent addition to his very large collection. He was sure he would sell them for something on the net, she is so pretty, she makes me ache inside, he wanted to touch himself there and then, relieve the desire but it would have to wait until later. Christ I’m sweating get a grip.
The mother was an attractive woman almost an identical bigger version. She had a slim figure and a tight dark green sleeveless dress that accentuated the curve of her hips with a light orange sweater draped over her shoulders, but he wasn't interested. It was a warm day, warmer than expected. He watched as they skipped happily onward through the park oblivious to his pursuit, beads of sweat appearing at his hairline.
As they exited through large ornate Victorian iron gates onto Crystal Palace Park Road, Stickley held back. Other people were now congregating near to the gates as parents waited for the lollipop lady to escort their children across the busy road. Look right, look left, look right again, but don't look behind.
Stickley dropped to one knee pressing into the damp tarmac pathway and slowly and carefully turned off his camera placing it into his satchel briefcase. This was always the worst moment, always expecting to be pounced on, to be caught.
His breathing was heavier and his heart thumped harder as he anxiously scanned around the vicinity to make sure no one was watching. Trying to look without turning his head, trying not to be obvious, there was no one running toward him. Everything could be deleted with one press of a button. After being meticulously careful for twenty years, this was no time for mistakes, not again, not ever.
Glancing from under his brow he noticed the enlarged group had crossed over, the children had entered the school yard on the opposite side of the road, a teacher positioned at the gate to ensure no unauthorized intruders and no escapees.
Standing up, the operation a success, he marched briskly toward the park gates now with a purpose, his heart rate slowing, his erection subsiding, mission accomplished. As he closed on the gates the red headed pretty mother approached him with another young mother deep in conversation, he was slightly hesitant, on his guard.
'Good morning Mr. Stickley,'
He nodded in acknowledgement,
'Good morning ladies,' and smiled disarmingly,
'Such a nice man,' he overheard the mother's say as he crossed the busy road and entered the schoolyard receiving acknowledgement from the teacher standing sentry.
‘Thanks,’ Maddox received the double bacon sandwich on white with butter from Stan the Sandwich Man on the corner of Bouverie Street and Tudor as he continued his climb toward Fleet Street just inside the London square mile. He didn’t indulge very often in a greasy breakfast but after an occasional night at the Special Forces Club in Pall Mall his body needed the energy rush.
The sandwich was hot and grease had started to seep through the grease proof paper bag as he balanced the bag onto the palm of his hand, trying to hold it level and spread the rapidly dissipating heat. He was hoping he would make the office before it cooled.
Turning left onto Fleet Street toward the Royal Courts he hurried, crossing over, nipping in between the slowly moving traffic his black wool pea jacket open and flapping. It was warmer than expected and he was over-heating. His head thumped as it seemed to almost constantly. He was impatient for the Neurofen to kick in.
Maddox was taking more and more pain killers on a regular basis and he didn’t know why.
Turning right onto New Fetter Lane he headed toward Holborn Circus. Another right and he entered a narrow side street and a back door entrance that led up a sharp steep stairwell to an unobtrusive, forgettable office. Fleet of Foot Deliveries read the cheap white plastic sign hastily screwed above the door.
The reception was small, dim and the furniture basic and well used. The faded light brown plastic floor covering was dirty with shoe scuffs and cigarette burn marks. He went straight in past the unattended front desk to the back room, barging the spring loaded door with his left shoulder unable to use his sandwich hand. The door sprung back to an almost closed position.
‘Ahright lads,’ Maddox in a barely discernable estuarial English accent. The other two acknowledged as he entered,
‘REES... I keep telling you. It’s Rees. Stay in fuckin’ legend. You’ll drop me... all of us in the shit one day,’ to Sheridan, who flushed red with embarrassment accentuated by his short fair hair.
‘Is the kettle hot?’
‘Yeah, just boiled,’ Phillips offered.
Maddox made for the small kitchen area selecting the least stained mug from the drainer. He dipped the sugar clagged teaspoon into the contaminated coffee jar and made a poor mug of instant coffee, loading the mug with a few sugars to compensate for his hangover.
He really wanted the rapidly cooling bacon sandwich and his was mouth salivating in anticipation as the inviting aroma filtered through the stagnant office air mixing with the pungent lingering odour of stale cigarette smoke.
‘Good weekend?’ From Sheridan trying to make amends and move on. He knew of Maddox reputation and had no wish to see him in action. He wanted to stay on the team he had recently joined.
‘Not bad. A bit heavy last night though. Didn’t get home till... fuck I can’t remember,’ they smirked. Maddox had lightened up.
He ran his fingers through his longish dark hair, his face unshaven in a carefully groomed manner. He was ruggedly handsome and he knew it. Maddox was never in a fashion show, but he liked to look casually attractive in a way women liked.
Moving over to the corner, he flicked on the small portable TV set. It briefly wobbled on an unstable table, its hooped aerial bent over the top. Their office was tiny and too expensive but it was all their meagre budget afforded.
There was no direct contact permitted with SOCA headquarters over at Vauxhall, this was how it had to be. No one could be trusted, anyone could compromise them. Later they would be contacted or visited by their Cover Officer. They were a select undercover team, elitist and that's how they would survive.
Maddox took off his heavy jacket and draped it over the back of the plastic chair staring at the TV as he reached for his sandwich and coffee. The plastic stacking chair sagged as it took his weight.
'Bit warm for that coat isn't it?' Sheridan again,
'Yeah it is a bit. I’m sweating like a rapist,' taking a sip from his coffee to clear his pallet,
'I think it’s his second skin,' Phillips this time. 'He's always got it with him.'
'It seemed a good idea when I left this morning.'
'Yeah, I... ,' but he was cut short. Maddox held his hand up,
'Sssh…,' staring at the morning news bulletin.
'Another child kidnapped...'
'They want fuckin' castrating,' from Phillips. All three concentrating on the news bulletin.
Maddox phone beeped indicating an incoming text. He placed his mug down and retrieved the phone from inside his jacket. Sliding the cover open he read the message,
'I've got to take this outside,' he made to move to the outer reception area. 'Don't touch my fuckin' sandwich...,' pointing his finger. His manner accentuated by his dark brooding eyes. They both thought he meant it, he did. The door closed behind him.
'Is he always a miserable fucker,' Sheridan.
'He’s not miserable... more defensive. When you get to know him he’s got a dry sense of humour.’ Sheridan recently attached to the team as a support officer from the Serious Organised Crime Agency in Spring Garden, Vauxhall.
'Is it true what they say?'
'I dunno. What do they say?'
'He killed a man... Maybe murdered him?' In a quieted tone,
'Which one?' A casual offhand reply. 'I would say he's probably killed more than one, but nobody knows for sure.'
'He's a mean motherfucker though... Right?' Phillips nodded. Leaning back on his plastic chair, eyes returning to the TV, his close cropped black hair perfectly shaven against his dark black skin.
'Is it true his mate was the under-cover guy murdered last year on a yacht?'
'Yeah. Well you might as well know since you're on the team. His mate was Ryan Fletcher, ex marine or something. He was a UC operative with us on a coke run from South America last year... The Cullen Crew in Spain was behind it. Anyway there was a bent Cover Officer involved...'
'Yeah, Raza Khan. I knew the bastard as well. He was my ex-line manager off the heroin team. Anyway, the rumour is that Khan was knocking Fletcher's wife off whilst he was away,'
'Bloody hell,' Phillips nodded in agreement still watching the news item arms folded across his chest, rocking back on the fragile chair legs,
'Apparently Khan tipped off Cullen's mob and the South American end took the whole smuggling team out on the yacht, including Ryan Fletcher,'
'... And Cullen was found brutally murdered in Spain,'
Phillips raised his arms,
'Who knows... Rumour has it.'
The door suddenly opened and Maddox entered,
'My fuckin' sandwich still intact?' He slumped down into the plastic seat and snatching the sandwich from the bag stuffed a large bight of cold bacon and doughy bread into his mouth whilst the others looked on, the fat squeezed through saturating the bread.
He swallowed heavily and took a large gulp of insipid cold coffee, his face contorting in distaste,
‘Oh that’s horrible. I can’t eat that,’ and tossed the sandwich into the waste bin. He wiped his mouth with a napkin and washed his hands at the sink,
‘Did that hit the spot,’ Phillips smirking as he leaned back in his chair,
Maddox didn’t respond.
'I've gotta go out,'
'Do we need to know where you're going?'
'Got to meet someone,'
'About the arms job?'
'Connected to something else,' meaning no, it was a personal issue in company time.
'What if Archer wants you?'
'I'm on my mobile, Archer will understand,' he hung the hand towel next to the sink. 'Clean this place up while I'm gone.'
Snatching his coat from the chair, an object fell out of the right pocket landing heavily at Sheridan's feet. Sheridan stooped down to pick it up.
'This is a bit rough,' a crude shaped aluminium knife with a taped handle. Maddox held his hand out,
'That's my friend... The only one I got,' Sheridan placed it in his palm. Maddox turned and was gone, the door slowly closing behind him. Sheridan turned to look at Phillips,
'That's the knife,'
'THE knife. He's famous for it, a war trophy or something.'
In the background the BBC news item continued their report from a housing estate somewhere near Newcastle, reporting the disappearance of a seven year old boy Connor Dwyer who failed to arrive at his friends’ house only yards away from his home.
The aerial images showed a line of police officers combing hedgerows and a river with divers snorkelling close to the bank, tracker dogs working their way across scrub land and outraged residents protesting from the doorway of their terraced houses.
All things bright and beautiful
all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
the Lord God made them all.
'WHAT HAVE YOU GOT FRANK?'
'Nothing yet Chief. Every avenue is pulling a blank,' Frank Stamp's hard Yorkshire accent making a statement. He pressed his lips together in frustration.
'We need something. The press are all over us and the Home Secretary is kicking my arse... and rightly so.'
'We're shaking down the known nonce's right across the country. It's inconceivable that no one knows anything.'
'I've got this little boy's parents crying on the TV night after night.'
'I'm a father me self Chief, I'm not without sympathy.'
'I didn't mean that Frank...'
'... There is something we're exploring...'
'Go on for goodness sake. Give me something.'
'The FBI have put an international internet sting together. It's going to hit next weekend.'
'It's a paedophile sting. They've set up several web sites advertising child pornography and they've pulled in hits on a global basis. The job's about to go off and there's quite a few Brits involved.'
'How will that affect this case?'
'Well I'm just thinking it will widen our intelligence base... It will pull in some of the bastards and we might get a lead.'
'That's a long shot Frank. We need a lot more than that.' Frank Stamp couldn't agree more but that's all his intel team had turned up.
He sat in the Chief's office at SOCA headquarters south of the Thames attempting to brief him on the recent kidnapping. The truth was they hadn’t produced much, in fact they had no major leads into the recent kidnapping at all,
'This will be the third victim in two years Frank.'
'I know Sir. We're investigating links with the Belgians and French to see if there is a pattern there,'
'The same modus operandi,'
'Yes. We need to establish if this is international, a trend. Is it a continental team now working the UK. There have been several high profile cases in France and Belgium over the last five years.'
'Not forgetting the Austrians.'
'No. I don’t think they're connected. They were all in isolation. This is ostensibly random snatching of children from opposed positions in the country whereas in fact they might not be so random, and that's the M.O.'
'Are you saying it’s trafficking in children or random paedophile sexual assaults...?’
‘That’s what we’re trying to establish...,’
‘Did you get the paedophile profile from intel?'
'Yes... They tell me to aim for the obvious ones. If we can hook one of the bastards we might get a lead.'
'So who are we looking for?'
'Typically a male thirty to early forties, lives on his own or with his mother. Probably has a hobby or a job that gets him close to children...'
'Like a scout master or football coach?'
'Yes you know, teacher, choir master, kids club that sort of thing.
They may even target single mothers with a view of getting in close to the kid.'
'Jesus... You mean they're that determined. Would even select a target?'
'No question. It's well documented. Often it runs together. You know, a football coach of a youth team with an interest in photography or video. Next thing you know he's got the trust of the parents and the child and he's away. Could be years of abuse or just photographs.'
'Trouble is Frank, I think I know people like that.'
'I think we all do Sir.’ Frank Stamp leaned over from his low position and took a sip from his rapidly cooling cup of filter coffee,
'They’re devious bastards,' the Chief looking out across the river,
'That they are... that they are... and notoriously hard to nail down. That's why we’re going for the easy targets. From those we can get into the hard ones. Hopefully they will network,' he wiped a coffee dribble mark from the rim of the cup,
'How the hell do they find each other?'
Frank Stamp shook his head,
'I don't know. But we've got to find out.'
The Chief nodded in agreement.
'We need a break.'
'We do... A forensic mistake, a suspicious relative. If we can get one we might be able to get his contacts, get right into them,' screwing his hand into a hard fist. ‘Smash them,’
'Well if there's anything you need Frank. Your case has been given number one priority... and that's from the top,' His thumb pointing across the river to Whitehall.
'Well I think I need the team to practice the pivot operation it’s been a while,'
'By pivot you mean kidnapping procedure,’ Stamp nodded,
'Just in case we get a ransom demand or the chance to snatch the child back,'
‘Okay... There’s no problem with the overtime budget... Anything else?’
Shaking his head,
‘I can’t think of anything else at this stage. Once we make progress I’ll have to call in favours from the other teams... You know, troops and all,’
'That won’t be a problem. They’re all too eager to help,’ more reflectively. ‘You know we never did find any trace of the others. I suppose we have to assume the worst.'
'I'm inclined to agree Sir, but you never know. Special Agent Teri Cantello from the US Embassy is coming over to brief me on the internet sting in the next day or two. She's going to share their entire file,' Frank Stamp rubbed his hands firmly together, the Chief could see he was putting himself under immense pressure.
'If you need any lines on, more staff, anything,'
'We need a break.'
Colin Stickley sat hunched over his computer in his bedroom. He pushed his glasses up to where a red ridge had formed an indentation across the bridge of his nose.
Staring intently, concentrating hard he was quickly running through the latest photographs from his camera. Enlarging the images, homing in on his favourite features, deleting the rejected shots and saving the chosen ones to an external hard drive. There must be no record at all, keeping the external hard drive hidden away in a secret place.
He studied a photograph of the mother with her little girl Lily, bushes from the park hiding half of the girls figure delete. The next one better, a close up of the mother from behind, the curve of her hips, her long shapely legs but it did nothing for him, not interested. Only the girl, she’s lovely my “Lily of the Valley”. A shame I can't delete the mother from this image, save. Finally he had sorted the images in order of quality and preference. From forty six shots only three were really worth anything.
He logged onto his latest favourite web-site, Our Lady of Saint Eugenie, ostensibly a web site serving a disestablished protestant splinter church emanating from mid-west USA. Entering through a linked portal and three coded hyper-links he arrived at the library, signing in as Larkin.
Larkin... Good to see you back on... Anything for us today?
Choir Master... Good to be back... I have some fresh talent for the choir. I am particular pleased with this chorister.
Stickley confident and smug, smirking to himself as he typed away.
Excellent... Please download a.s.a.p.... You have unrestricted access as usual to other files.
Thank you as always... Larkin.
Stickley cut and pasted the three selected images into his file.
I agree with your judgement... So beautiful, so delicate, so fine. I can almost taste her fruit. Will you be able to acquire more?
Yes Choirmaster... I have access.
Stickley knew he was on to a good thing with this one. Some of his others had been rejected as too plain or nothing special. Lily was striking in appearance. Now he knew he had to take the real risk, to somehow capture more images in the school. Maybe the gym... or the changing rooms... swimming day when I take them to the pool... help her to dry... and change, rub her body with her towel, just a glancing touch no one will ever know, his excitement building as he needed his crotch.
This would require serious exposure to himself, but it excited him. He could maybe use his mobile phone to video her, no one would ever suspect and those images would be just for him. After all the years of secret photography he thought Lily was very special, his breathing became erratic as he rubbed himself, not yet... not yet. He wondered if he loved her and if she could ever love him.
Stickley continued to browse the other images on the web site, there wasn't much new material but he liked what he saw and selected some for downloading paying for selected images listed as religious with his Visa card through the secure PayPal system.
Later he would study his digital library of photographs and masturbate to relief. If only I could get closer, but he knew he risked everything to satisfy his lust. Colin Stickley had successfully repressed his physical urges throughout his teaching career allowing him to remain close to the children. He had never touched one, not really touched. But just once, please God you know I won’t harm her... I won’t... I love her... Just once I want to get really close... taste the forbidden fruit.
Signing off, Stickley paused to recover his composure. Christ it’s a long time since I’ve felt like that. He cleaned himself up, mildly embarrassed at his lack of self control and carefully removed any traces of explicit images from the computer memory using a virus cleaner to ensure there were no Trojan programmes working in the background.
Disconnecting the external hard drive he moved stealthily down to the kitchen, the staircase creaking on the fourth stair as it always did. He placed the drive in a slim plastic Tupperware box carefully slotting it behind a panel under the kitchen sink unit where a large hole had been cut to accommodate the waste pipe.
'Colin what are you doing down there?'
Oh fuck off
'Oh just putting something back mother,'
'You always seem to be messing about under there,'
'Don't worry about it, just cleaning up after myself. Would you like a cup of tea?'
'Ooh yes please dear... and a slice of fruit cake.'
Stickley smiled as he struggled to his feet, his knees groaning as his excess girth aided the gravitational pull on his middle aged body, his belly hanging over his faded cotton tracksuit trousers.
Physically he was poorly maintained, had never been one for sports or strenuous exercise, globular in appearance with weak arms and legs. He had never married and after teacher training college where he was a loner, he returned home to take a room with his parents in south London on Gipsy Hill where he had remained. His father died nearly ten years ago leaving him to deal with his aging mother and he was the only child.
His parents never asked why he hadn't taken a partner, not even a gay one. They never asked and they never pushed. There were some things best left un-said, such as Colin was glad when his father died, the bastard and why didn't my mother stop him, she must have known, they always know.
We plough the fields and scatter
the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
by God's almighty hand,
'AMY, GOOD TO SEE YOU,' Maddox hugged his late friends widow and felt her firm body press into him. Feeling guilty as he enjoyed the press of her breasts and curve of her hips detecting the faint aroma of her perfume as he lightly kissed her soft cheek.
'Maddox,' she smiled warmly, 'you haven't changed.'
He held her off examining her natural beauty, her shoulder length auburn hair and green eyes and felt his heart tug as the painful memories of his close friend Ryan Fletcher swelled his senses.
'There's not a day goes by when I don't think of Ryan... and you of course.'
'Of course, I miss him too. Come on, walk with me,' she smiled up at him,
The carrier bag she was holding contained a small neat bouquet of flowers, Maddox could see the Marks and Spencer's tag on the cellophane. They walked through the cemetery gates her arm looped in his. She was dressed for a spring day with skirt and top and an open winter coat.
'It started off warm this morning... I thought this coat was a mistake,' trying to make small talk.
'I know, but it's turned cold hasn't it?' He nodded.
It was an old cemetery toward the East End not far from Canary Wharf, now re-opened for new incumbents such as Ryan Fletcher.
They arrived at the grave side, a uniform black marble tablet in keeping with the latest council regulations on maintaining a safe cemetery, individuality not allowed in death. The Agency had paid for everything and Amy was financially sound.
'Have you found yourself a good woman yet Maddox,' she said bending over to remove the decaying flowers left a week ago and replace with new ones. He admired her shape accentuated by the sudden tightening of her clothes,
'No one special... You know how it is.'
She straightened up, the vase in her hand,
'I know how you are...,'
'I'm too fussy, romantically challenged,'
'No, you're too difficult, too hard to live with. What happened to that nice black girl?'
'Yes Marcie,' she fed the new stalks through the holes in the vase cap,
'We were never serious... To be honest we just enjoy a good shag every now and again,' they both laughed. 'More to the point, how are you keeping?'
'I'm okay, the pain doesn't get any less... You just learn to live with it.'
'That's for sure. Do you think you can move on?' Maddox watched her, his hands in his pocket,
'I don't want to at the moment, it's still too early,' her voice simple and pure, pain and regret.
For a moment Maddox thought he would like to have a relationship with Amy Fletcher, Ryan's missus but the moment passed. Something inside him told him it would be amoral, amoral in God's eyes to take advantage of his late friend's wife.
He pushed his arms deeper into his jacket pockets and felt the familiarity of his knife in his right hand. The crude blade that once saved his life and took another, the faded electric tape wound around its handle. The blade gave him comfort, it was his friend, it was his saviour, it was God’s hand.
As Maddox stared down at Fletcher's grave his hand gripped the knife, the blood draining from his whitening knuckles. He ground his teeth in controlled anguish as the sinews of his muscles tightened. Memories of his friends shattered body returned as he recalled identifying Fletch’s corpse on the cold stainless steel table of St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington almost a year ago. A vivid recollection of the shotgun wound to the face and the blood drained colour of his pallid cold skin.
They were bad days, days to forget, days when he wondered if life could be more than a spiral of disappointment and depression. Amy's betrayal of his best friend, Khan's cynical exploitation and ultimate revelation, the killing of Shaun Patrick Cullen. The blade was special to Maddox. It gave him retribution and brief absolution.
After the incident involving the unexplained murder of Cullen, Maddox had taken some time off, time to heal. His boss Bill Archer had looked after him then, they became close, there was an understanding there would be another time when they would need one another again. A secret unspoken relationship, a surrogate father and son, both needed something only one another could give.
He forgave Amy for her indiscretion with Khan, Fletcher's handler. He forgave her because that was what Fletch' would have wanted, Fletch’ loved her to his death.
'Still living in the same place?'
'Yes, Canary Wharf. I'll probably sell up later in the year. There's not much for me there now,' he understood.
'Come on then, I'll walk you to your car. I have to get back to town... You know how it is,' she returned the vase to its position making sure it was upright. Collecting the discarded flowers she walked to the flower disposal bin next to the footpath, closing the battered lid. Maddox followed,
'I do know how it is... You be careful mad-dog,' smiling through the tears. She gripped the lapels of his jacket. 'Look after yourself... Promise me.'
If only it could have been me, he thought. Maddox would have laid down his life for Fletch', his brother in arms.
'You know me darlin', I can't help myself,' almost a whisper.
'Make sure you visit me... You know you’re quite good looking and I don’t say that to many men,’ her fingers running over his rough skin, more humorous now shaking his collar. ‘There’s a good man in there trying to get out... Look after yourself,' he returned the smile.
Just as he was staring into her warm inviting tearful eyes, his phone beeped an incoming call, they broke away.
'Maddox... Where are you?'
'At the office Bill.'
'Don't lie to me... Your boys have just tried to cover.'
'I'm with Amy Fletcher Bill... We're at the cemetery.'
'Oh... I see. Is Amy alright?'
'Yes she's fine.'
'Please give her my regards.'
'As always Bill. Whassup?'
'Whassup? The arms job you were looking at has fallen through. So at the moment you're to stay away from our office and just maintain your current profile.'
'Okay... Nothing new then?'
'This child kidnapping business is taking all our resources. Every team is giving Frank Stamp assistance.'
'Oh that miserable Yorkshire prick. Alright, well if I can be of any help?'
'I'll let you know... and sharpen up,' the call ended abruptly.
Amy was at her car door, Maddox shook his head briefly at Archer’s abrupt dismissal,
'That's the trouble with you lot,' so melancholy. 'You can't leave it alone for a moment. Ryan was exactly the same... Don't let it control you Maddox... Find someone.'
They exchanged a brief embrace and a kiss. Maddox felt the cool breeze accentuate her moist kiss to his cheek as he watched her drive off. He touched his skin where her lips had brushed before turning away and headed for the train and the city. He thought her lips oddly cold.
Colin Stickley pushed his thinning black hair from his face, adjusted his glasses and stared at the web site. He had already received several hits on the new girl with requests for more. One was very interesting, personal correspondence. He entered into the chat room on a one to one basis,
...Christopher Robin to Larkin. Please advise of personal email address.
Stickley responded with one of his many anonymous email addresses. Shortly after he continued an email conversation,
Larkin, I am very impressed with this young lady, it looks like England...
...Yes that is correct.
Where exactly? We may be able to do more business...
Thank you my friend. It seems we are we are cut from the same cloth, perhaps you will enjoy these from my collection for free...
The web sites were good for making contacts and free images were frequently traded in private. These contacts kept everything anonymous without compromise, like minded people sharing their passion, nothing wrong with that. Stickley eagerly opened the attachments to discover explicit photographs of a young boy in various stages of sexual abuse. Taken aback by the graphic images, he wondered who he was engaging with. He was not interested in boys but these were beyond even his vivid imagination. These were scenes of forced physical interference, the child was clearly unwilling and unhappy, a miserable wretch from a far away shore.
He couldn't see the faces of the perpetrators but this was not his vision of the relationship he desired. He wasn't looking for pain and torture, he was looking for reciprocal affection. He was looking for love.
Where in South London? From the photographs I would say near to a park. I would like to join you one day... Perhaps we could watch the girl together... I would like that.
Stickley suddenly felt very nervous and under threat, vulnerable and at risk of being exposed. He didn't respond.
We can pay you a lot for your trouble Larkin...
We... Who are We?
We are able to meet you this week. Are you free to discuss terms?
Stickley had no idea who he was dealing with and who he was involved with.
...I am not really interested in dealing with this matter further.
He ended the contact. Stickley was frightened, his heart racing. He had made a mistake. Whoever this was had moved in too close too fast.
Leaning back in his chair, his muffin top waist pushing over his elastic trouser band he noticed the damp patches under his arms. Feeling his neck line wet with sweat. Calm down, breathe slowly, his podgy hands trembling, remain in control.
He viewed the images of Lily again. She is so pretty, she is for me... for my eyes only... I knew I shouldn’t have shared her. Why can't others be like me, love them for what they are. Lily is a thing of natural beauty, an object of desire, a Lamb of God. Why do they always want to spoil things, becoming angry. He didn't want to lose Lily, she was his, the love of his life.
On the other end of the computer link another man studied the images of the young child. He didn't like Larkin and how he had spoken with him. Larkin was another wimp afraid to follow their instincts, afraid to really indulge in the fruit that lay ripe for plucking. So many, so easy, fuck them all.
He studied the three images of the young red headed girl enlarging the shots, blue smoke trailed from his thinly pressed lips. These are good quality digital images taken with a high pixel rated camera, incredible detail. As he looked at the last one, he noticed a sign on the railings next to the girl. The picture showed the girl turning and waving, her long red hair flowing in the breeze. Her wide smile, so happy, so pure, so clean and innocent, he smiled as he strained forward. Her soft warm mouth... he felt his trousers stir. The sign, he centred the image and enlarged. It was ragged but easily readable, ST. JOSEPH’S ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIMARY SCHOOL, Borough of Lambeth, in south London. He almost laughed out loud. In the background a child's whimpering sob,
'Shut the fuck up, pain in the arse kid’. He's been nothing but trouble this one.
Huddled in a corner outside of the cellar door, bound with nylon cable ties a young child trembled and cried silently. Shivering and frightened, alone in the world of darkness and evil, all he had to comfort him was a small white fluffy dog nestled close up. He sobbed for his mummy and daddy and curved his body around the warm animal.
On the BBC news that evening, there was a further update on the abduction of the little boy from Tyneside. Frank Stamp the senior case officer looked a very worried man as he stuttered to give re-assurance to the mother and father of the missing boy as he sat beside them at a press conference held by Tyneside police. A line of grim looking police officers and emotionally distraught parents, the local priest Father Mulcahy sat beside them.
I can assure the general public we are doing everything in our power to locate Connor. No stone will be left unturned, every avenue will be explored. We appeal to the public for any information that will assist our enquiry no matter how insignificant you may feel it is. Somewhere there is a worried neighbour, a wife or mother who has suspicions. We appeal to you now to come forward.
Mrs. Stickley studied the picture of the handsome little boy staring wide eyed and happy from her TV screen. She flicked the TV set off with her remote and pushed her dozing dog off her lap onto the floor. Her arthritic body straining to stand she slipped on her old slippers pressing down the heels, she was now too old to reach down. Shuffling her way slowly upstairs to bed, she knocked gently on her sons’ door. She turned the door knob but it was locked, there was rapid movement from within.
'Colin, lock up won't you?' She shouted, her ear pressed onto the door,
After a short delay,
'Don't worry Mum. I will as always,' she noted the glow of a computer monitor flickering under the gap at the bottom of his bedroom door.
'You'll go blind looking at that thing all the time.'
He smiled as he eased himself into his trousers,
'Okay Mum, I'll see you in the morning,' Mrs. Stickley shuffled away toward her room.
He closed down his hard drive and once again was meticulous in the way he prepared and wiped his computer clean of any possible trace. Always the same routine, nice and safe, safe and nice.
Carefully sealing the hard drive in its plastic Tupperware container he unlocked his door, another precaution that would give him time. After concealing the container in the usual place he made the same security rounds of the house he had carried out for the last ten years ever since the untimely death of his father.
A few days later on Thursday morning, Colin Stickley made his way toward Crystal Palace Park on his long but enjoyable walk to his school. He walked briskly along Westow Hill passing through the bus station near to the humongous aero radio tower and entered the park.
He liked to look at the foundations of the once great Crystal Palace that stood on the site over a hundred years before as he meandered past the huge sports complex, always good for new talent on the weekend, past the maze, along the edge of the twisting footpath that followed the lake.
Once again he had his camera in hand and fired away randomly at various girls of pre-pubescent age. As he was nearing the last two hundred metres of pathway, he could see the park gates and the school beyond, children gathered at the side of the road waiting to cross.
Just ahead stood Lily's mother talking with another young woman whilst their two children skipped and played happily. It took him by surprise and he paused noticeably, hopefully no one else had seen him as he was caught off guard, his heart rejoicing at his good fortune. He snapped away as he casually walked past smiling to the mothers.
From a bench on a slope across the grass bank sat a stranger observing the manoeuvre. As Stickley passed through the gate the stranger scooped up his small white dog and placed it on his lap, stroking its woolly white coat.