The Good Samaritan

Page 23


As agreed, Steven would meet me in his bedroom. I climbed the stairs, one at a time, each of them creaking as if to announce my arrival. On the landing, I paused to take another breath, then made my way towards the only door with a faint light shining under it.
‘Steven?’ I whispered from beneath the architrave. I scoured the dimly lit room but he was nowhere to be seen. In fact, the room was empty – there was no bed, no wardrobe, no chest of drawers. Just a wallpapered, almost bare room with a lamp on the floor. I looked up and the vaulted ceiling had beams like Steven had described, and I saw the rope attached. It moved ever so slightly from the draught of the open door. Alarm bells sounded in my head.
This is all wrong. Where is he? This wasn’t what we agreed. Get out of here!
Fear crawled from the small of my back, up my spine and towards my shoulders, wrapping itself around my neck like a snake and squeezing my throat. I wanted to run away so badly but I was too frightened to move. Suddenly something caught my eye. I paused to squint at it until it came into focus, and my stomach fell.
‘Oh, Jesus,’ I whispered, and clasped the knife even more tightly. Instead of finding a man I’d promised to help in the last moments of his life, I was confronted by something shocking in the patterns of the wallpaper. I realised I wasn’t looking at wallpaper at all. It was hundreds of photographs of me.
Me walking up the steps and into the office. Me in my street. Me driving. Me on a spin bike at the gym. Me pushing a trolley around the supermarket. Me through the kitchen window. Me sitting in the coffee shop in town. Me entering the Hartley Hotel car park. From what I could see, every picture appeared to be different; Steven must have been following me for weeks.
It got worse, because I wasn’t the only focus of the lens. Tony had been caught boxing at the gym and going to his office. There were also my children on their way to school. Me watching Alice in the playground with her friends. Effie in the passenger seat of a boy’s car. Henry in the residential home’s community lounge as I combed his hair. To take some of the photographs, Steven must have been standing just a couple of feet behind me and I hadn’t known.
Instinct and fear made me grab at them, yanking them down by the fistful, cramming them into my pockets or throwing them to the floor as if doing that would be enough to wake me from the nightmare. But there were too many to dispose of. And if Steven had gone to all this trouble to scare me, what else might he be capable of ?
‘Don’t you like your picture being taken?’
I spun around quickly in the direction of Steven’s voice, which seemed to come out of nowhere. A figure was standing in the doorway, the darkness of the hall masking his face. He stepped forward two paces so I could see him more clearly, and I moved backwards. His hands were by his side and I now could make out the intensity of his stare.
‘I’ve gone to a lot of effort,’ he continued, his speech firm and confident, much more so than I’d ever heard him by phone. ‘I spent weeks following you and your family around. The least you can do is appreciate them.’
I took another step back into the bedroom, but realised that in doing so, he was cornering me. I struggled to breathe. It was like someone was choking me.
‘What . . . what do you want from me?’ I eventually stammered.
‘I want you to tell me why you manipulate vulnerable people and what you get out of it,’ he responded. ‘And none of that wanting to “help people who’ve fallen by the road” bullshit.’
He moved towards me, so I tugged the knife from my pocket and held it in front of me. The dim light in the room kept catching the silver blade as my hand shook. I could see Steven’s face more clearly now. It wasn’t as menacing as he sounded, but his body language terrified me.
He laughed mockingly as he looked at the knife. ‘You are many things, Laura Morris, but you don’t have the guts to actually kill anyone with your own bare hands. You do it from behind a telephone or a keyboard. Me, however . . . well, I’m an unknown quantity, aren’t I? You don’t know what I’m capable of.’
‘Don’t come any closer,’ I said. My groin suddenly felt warm and I realised I was wetting myself, but I couldn’t stop. ‘Let me go. Please.’
‘You think saying please is going to help you out of this? You aren’t going anywhere, Laura. You see that rope? It’s not me who’s going to be hanging from the beams tonight. It’s you.’
I stretched my arm out further, waving the knife at him. Only he edged closer to me, so he was just a couple of feet away. I stepped backwards again until I reached the wall.
‘Go on then, Laura, do your best. I’ve got nothing to lose because you have taken everything I had away from me already.’
It felt like someone had pressed pause on the moment; neither of us showing our hand or making the next move. Then suddenly Steven went to grab my wrist, his fingers digging in until they felt like they were going to break the bone. I yelled as he pulled me around and twisted my other arm behind my back and pushed me towards the rope. I struggled to break free, but he held me tighter and my fingers began to lose their grip on the knife until it fell to the floor.
‘Don’t worry, Laura. It’s not going to take long. The noose has been tied in exactly the way you told me to do it, at exactly the right height for a swift death.’
‘Please, Steven,’ I begged. ‘Whatever I’ve done to you, I’m sorry.’
‘It’s too late for that.’
‘I have children . . . I’m a mother . . .’
‘And they’d be better off without you.’
He grabbed the rope with his other hand and started to put it over my head. So I seized the opportunity to elbow him in the groin and kick his shin hard. The shock made him loosen his grip on my arm, just enough for me to shake completely free. I bent down, grabbed the knife, turned in his direction and thrust it blindly in front of me. It only stopped when I felt his hand grasp my wrist again and the knife went no further. But as I went to hit him with my free hand, he suddenly dropped to his knees. He looked up at me and then down at his stomach. My knife was embedded in him.
I froze – I had just stabbed the man I’d come to watch die. And while none of it had played out like it was supposed to, I had no desire to remain there any longer or even hear his last breath. Because what if he wasn’t alone? What if there were others waiting in the house? I needed to protect myself.
While Steven remained kneeling on the floor, groaning and clearly in pain, I bent over and, before he could prevent me, yanked the knife from his stomach. He screamed and fell to his side, shouting something but I couldn’t make out the words.
Then with all the strength I could muster, I ran from the room and along the landing. But without the torch lighting my way, in my panic I misjudged the first step on the staircase and hit the ridge of the second. I fell forward, head and body first, and my cheekbone smacked the base of the banister. Then I tumbled in a sideways motion, catching my forehead against the handrail as my body crumpled in a U-shape and came to a halt close to the bottom. Lying still, dazed and confused as to what had just happened, I only pulled myself together when I heard groaning and Steven dragging himself across the floorboards upstairs.
With all my remaining strength, I pulled myself to my feet with both hands gripping the handrail, and moved as quickly as I could towards the front door. Stumbling back into my car, I locked the doors and forced my key into the ignition. The wheels spun as I pulled away as fast as the Mini would allow.