The body of the young woman lay on the kitchen table. The face, azurean white in the melancholic repose of death; the eyes, open and stark, staring blankly into whatever world of demons she had ventured; the body, lying to attention, as if on parade; and then the breasts. Small, firm, strangely upstanding in the fluorescent light of the kitchen.
What would happen if they were removed, now that the girl had been dead for over three hours? Would they fold into some amorphous mass, losing their singular beauty, or would they remain firm and shapely, their allure and elegance preserved?
The killer looked over the rest of the body. Until now the victims had all been men. In death their bodies were always brutal and ugly, repugnant flesh on the cusp of decay. But this girl, with her smooth, ghostly complexion, the neat, silvicultural thatch of thin blonde hair nestling snugly between her thighs, and her beautiful breasts, was so much more. It would almost be a shame to cleave into the luxurious pale skin.
Perhaps it would be simpler to send off an ear or a hand. A bland statement of release to the dear departed's family. A pleasant reminder of their daughter. Something for them to cherish in future years.
A delightful surprise, this girl, when a man had been expected. Hugo, she had said her name was. A final, pointless, damning lie. And the poor girl had been so disappointing in death. It was always the most sumptuous part of it, that horrified look on the face as they watched the cut-throat razor descend with elegant panache to the proffered neck. But this one. This girl. She had hardly looked interested.
Drugs probably. That would be it. So high on drugs that she'd hardly noticed. That was the trouble with people – the great bane of these times – there were just no standards any more.
It was time. And it had to be the breasts. It was so much more artistic. The killer smiled, ever the slave to the aesthetic, and, firmly clutching the right breast, pierced the skin with the eight-inch butcher's knife.
Chapter one: The English are Bastards
There's nowhere worse than Glasgow on a freezing cold, dank, sodden day in March, especially when your car is in the garage undergoing repairs costing twice NASA's annual budget, and you are obliged to spend your day cutting hair. Greasy hair; pungent hair; hair riddled with insects; hair which cries out to be fashioned into a work of art, when the customer won't allow; hair which requires the use of a chainsaw, an implement long ago outlawed in barber shops. Hair of all sorts, vile, messy, contemptible.
Barney Thomson, barber, scowled. They were all bastards, every one of them that came into the shop. And if, on occasion, some left feeling like their head had just been raped, then they deserved it.
As he stood at the kerb waiting to cross the road for the final struggle up the hill, a passing van, hugging the pavement, sent a panoramic rainbow of water over his trousers and jacket; and he had no time to move before the rear wheels kicked up that little extra which propelled some more into his face.
He watched it speed off, thought of raising his fist, but sodden apathy got the better of him. There was no point. He hunched his shoulders even further and trudged across the road, imagining the van driver having a heart attack, dying at the wheel.
Sure, it rained everywhere in Scotland, he thought, one foot plodding in front of the other, it was one of the things that defined it as a place. But there was no other city as dour as Glasgow in the rain. Edinburgh – the rain made the castle even more dramatic. Same for Stirling. Perth, a land of kings, glorious in all weather. Dundee, Aberdeen, they were on the east coast, so if it wasn't raining then they wouldn't look natural.
It was just Glasgow. In the sun it looked good, and in the rain it was terrible. An awful place to be.
He was thinking that perhaps it was time to leave. Agnes didn't want to go, but then, he didn't have to take her with him. He could open up his own shop in one of the small towns up north. Fort William, Oban, Ullapool, wherever. Just away from here, and all these bloody miserable people. Like himself, the most miserable of the lot.
Two youngsters, duffel coated against the rain, school bags plastered onto their backs, gallons of molten snot turning their faces into cruel parodies of the Reichenbach Falls, scuttled past him on their way to some pre-school turpitude, and he thought of children. The barber's nightmare. He hated the lot of them, with their mothers looking at every snip of the hair, and talking all the time telling you what to do. And the kids kicking their feet up and down, making noises, incapable of keeping still. You'd spend twenty minutes just dying to give them a clip round the ear. But your hands were tied. Mothers should have to cut the hair of their own children until they were eighteen, he thought, and the only real smile of the day came to his lips.
He was nearly there, the long trudge almost over. He imagined himself to have been on a long trek across the Arctic. In euphonious celebration of his achievement, the rain increased its intensity so that it bounced off the pavement. He hurried the last hundred yards to the shop, but it was to no avail, and by the time he arrived his jacket had given up the ghost, his clothes were sticking to his skin like an over-reliant child, and his carefully nurtured bouffant hair had plummeted into a watery abyss. Neither of the others had yet arrived, and so he had to stand for another minute in the rain, fumbling to get the keys from his pocket before he could escape the downpour.
In the grey of early morning the shop was cold and lonely, and his heart sank further at the thought of the day ahead. He should have become an astronaut when he'd had the chance.
The television muttered in the corner. Wullie Henderson looked up from the Daily Record to watch the action. Aston Villa versus Derby County. Dire stuff, but football was football, and he'd reached the end of the sports pages.
They were filled with the usual things. Football, football, football, and an enlarged section on the England cricket team's latest test defeat. The size of the report was always directly proportional to the size of the defeat, he reflected, as the ball flew into the net from twenty-five yards, sparking a minor, but nevertheless engaging, pitch invasion.
He looked back and re-read the article on whether Rangers were about to sign Alessandro del Piero for £30 million, in an effort to still be participating in the Champions League come September, then folded the paper and laid it on the table. Took a cursory glance at the front page headline. 'The English Are Bastards'. Par for the course, he thought, as he tucked into his final piece of toast and marmalade. Beneath that story was a follow-up report concerning the latest murder in the city. The most recent in a series of grotesque killings, the work of one man, or so the police believed, which had been dominating the news for a couple of months. The English must really be bastards to keep that off the headline.
'You'll be late. It's nearly five to,' said his wife, not bothering to raise her eyes from the Daily Express.
Wullie Henderson looked at the television. They'd moved onto women's golf, two words that just ought not to be used in the same sentence. Time to go. Looked at his wife. Thought of the girl he'd met on Friday night in the Montrose, and wondered if she'd be there again this Friday. It didn't do any harm to fantasise, though he knew that he'd do more than that if he got the chance.
'Aye, I suppose you're right.'
He stood up, pulled at his jeans, was satisfied that he was beginning to lose some weight, then turned to the back door.
'Here you! You put a jacket on or you'll catch your death out there, so you will. It's pure bucketing down, so it is.'
'I've got one in the motor, and I'll be parking right outside the shop anyway. Keep your knickers on.'
'Aye, well, away you go,' she said to his back, and with a final grunt thrown over his shoulder, he was gone. Moira Henderson looked up from the paper to see the door close, and wondered whether to have another piece of toast.
The rain was hammering down as he stepped out of the door, and he ran to his car. A month earlier he would've been expecting trouble getting it started, but now, as he sat in his new Peugeot 306, his mind was more on how the rain would affect the Rangers-Motherwell game the following night.
The car started like a dream – which would actually be a pretty lame dream if you were to have it – and he set out on the five minute drive to the shop. It wasn't too far, but there were several strategically placed traffic lights, specifically positioned to hold him up in the morning, and he wondered to whom he could complain at the council.
(It was, in fact, a strange coincidence, that the person to whom he should complain was the girl he'd met in the Montrose the previous Friday night. Unfortunate, then, that by the coming Friday, when she would be waiting hopefully by the bar, Wullie Henderson would already be dead.)
By the time he pulled up outside the shop, the torrent of rain had eased, and he left his jacket in the car as he stepped out. There was a light on, which meant that one of the others had already arrived. Probably Barney. Chris would be late again. He was always late on Monday mornings, and Wullie knew he'd have to have a word with him. Some day.
He opened the door and walked in, the little bell ringing above his head, and Barney looked up from the Herald.
'Barney, how you doing?'
'Wullie. Not so bad, not so bad.'
'Good weekend?' asked Wullie, experiencing the sinking feeling that he always felt first thing on a Monday.
'Aye, it was all right, I suppose. You?'
'Aye, aye, fine.' He looked around the drab surroundings of the small shop which had been his workplace for over ten years. Was any weekend which just led back to this place really fine?
'I got soaked when I came in,' said Barney. 'Bloody rain.'
'Aye, terrible,' said Wullie. He looked at Barney, knew he had nothing else to say. The same brief conversation every Monday morning, with seasonal variations, and then they would hardly talk to one another for the rest of the week. No point in telling Barney about the girl in the Montrose.
They stared blankly for a few seconds then, with a nod, Barney looked back at his paper and Wullie went about his business.
Chris Porter stirred, his head encased in a pillow. His girlfriend had been sacked from her job as a Formula One driver by Tom Jones, the team owner, and he was in the middle of head-butting the Welshman, when he woke up. He smiled. That had been a belter of a dream. He would have to tell Helen later.
He rolled over, his eyes flickering open long enough to glance at the clock. Five past eight. It didn't register and he closed his eyes again, trying to slide back into the dream.
Shite. He opened his eyes, bolted upright. Shite. He'd slept through the alarm. The usual Monday morning event. Shite. He checked the clock again to make sure he wasn't rushing unnecessarily, then leapt out of bed and into the bathroom.
It wasn't that he ever did anything particular on a Sunday night, he reflected, as he washed all the parts of his body that seemed appropriate, randomly spraying water over the floor as he did so. It was just a natural aversion to Monday mornings. He knew it was a good thing that it was Wullie who was in charge and not Barney, or he would've been in trouble a long time ago.
He dressed with unnecessary flourish and flew into the kitchen, debating whether to accept the fact he was late and be even later by having cereal. Finding the fridge uncontaminated by milk, his mind was made up for him, and he sped to the front door and down the stairs with a sigh and an empty stomach.
He was still driving the same old Escort that his dad had bought for him in his last year at school, and after spluttering a little in the rain, it kicked into action and he set out on the ten minute drive to the shop, wondering if this was going to be the morning when he finally got his backside kicked for being late.
He arrived at twenty-five past eight, found a heaven-sent parking space right outside, and ran in. Barney and Wullie looked at him from empty chairs. There were no customers yet. A little prayer answered.
'What time d'you call this, Porter?' said Wullie.
Chris looked around the empty shop, slightly annoyed that he was out of breath after a ten yard run from his car. 'The time before any customers have arrived?'
Wullie raised an eyebrow. 'Aye, it's quiet now, but you should have seen the first twenty minutes of the day. Heaving, so it was. That not right, Barn?'
Barney shrugged, grunted, and went back to reading his paper.
'Won't happen again, Wullie,' said Chris, taking off his jacket and assuming his position.
'Aye, and you lot are going to win the cup this year.'
Chris smiled. 'Hey, we beat Morton three-nil on Saturday.'
'Yoo hoo!' said Wullie, raising his arms in celebration.
'Aye, you can laugh now, but you better hope you lot don't get us in the cup or you're in trouble.'
Wullie laughed again then stood up as the first customer of the day, his hair matted with rain, his face an atlas of misery, came through the door to the melodic tinkle of the bell.
'Aye, I'm shitting my pants, Chris. It's not as if you're going to get past Aberdeen in the quarter final, is it, Big Man?'
'You wait and see.'
Barney watched them from the corner of his eye. Football, football. It was all they ever talked about. It would be so beautiful one day to shut them up. What damage he could do with a pair of scissors. With a shake of the head, and further malicious reflections upon dark deeds, he returned to the gardening page.
Friday - chapter two: Customers must have hair
Meet the author: Douglas Lindsay