Copyright 2022 by Tony Hill
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
as she had done every working day for the past six months, Mrs.Harris
put on her tweed overcoat and thick woolen scarf at the end of the
day shift.Well protected against the cold winter weather,she bought
an evening paper from a vendor outside the factory gates and joined
the queue at the bus stop.She
was a short, stocky woman who, many said, bore a physical resemblance
to the queen.In fact,she
was born on same day,something she always liked to
also possessed that same steely determination. 'Keep calm and carry
on' was the order of the day and that was exactly what she intended
employer,Merrick Industries were manufacturers of electrical
components for cars but following the outbreak of war,they switched
to making tank parts.
Harris did not enjoy her job on the assembly line. She preferred her
previous job as school caretaker,at Hennessey Road school, taking
over from Gilbert Leek when he was called up. But Gilbert was soon
invalided out of the army and lost no time in claiming his job back.
This meant that Mrs Harris,instead of repairing things, which she
loved to do,was now monotonously assembling things.
consoled herself in the thought that she was "doing her
bit" for the war effort.
bus arrived. Under normal circumstances the journey would take 45
minutes to her Castle Oak stop then another 10 minute walk
in the gloom of the blackout.
hour's journey at the most. But in February 1940,
were far from normal.
settled into a seat on the lower deck and unfolded her
front page was all war news.A cargo ship had been bombed off the
coast of Scotland.Many
lives had been lost.On page 2,the latest on the search for the killer
of 4 women,all strangled within the last 5 months and all within a
couple of miles of her house.The
police were not close to an arrest.
Harris frowned as she recalled the police interviewing her
husband,Jimmy, after someone who knew him had reported seeing him
riding his motor cycle in the area where the body was found at about
the time the murder was thought to have been committed.
had an alibi.He was playing darts in his local pub with 3 friends who
all vouched for him. Besides, as he told the police,he hadn't ridden
his bike for months,what with petrol being rationed.
Harris, shuddering slightly,paid her fare to the conductor and looked
around at her fellow passengers. Many had newspapers but were
struggling to read them in the bus's dim light.
Harris recognised the woman sitting a few seats in front of her.Lynn
Green lived close by so she would be getting off at the same stop and
walking in the same direction. Lynn would be pleased about that.She
would be glad of the company."Safety in numbers"she
would be thinking.
Lynn was much younger than Mrs Harris, she did not enjoy the same
worried a lot. About her husband across the channel, about food
shortages,about air raids, about murders, about her arthritis. It all
showed in her gaunt,lined face.
bus made slow progress.The
covered headlights were almost useless and with no street lighting,
accidents with other vehicles and pedestrians were becoming
care was needed which meant slower speeds and longer traveling times.
bus neared Mrs Harris's stop.She
got up from her seat and made her way to the platform.As did
Lynn, whose expression brightened when she saw her.
glad I've got someone to walk part of the way with".she
said."There's safety in numbers you know."
Harris smiled to herself and nodded in agreement.
was man also standing on the platform who had come down from the
upper deck. She recognised him as Gilbert Leek, the caretaker
at Hennessey Road school.The
one who had taken her job.He didn't know her,but she knew him.She
had seen him on the bus the previous week.He was
then,as now,leaning on a walking stick.There
was an obvious injury to his right leg.
three got off the bus and the man immediately crossed the
road,heading in the same direction. The darkness, now
total,temporarily disoriented the two women. Both reached in their
pockets for their torches, an essential accessory for walking in
proceeded slowly, concentrating on the two small beams of light at
from your husband lately?"asked Mrs Harris
been about three weeks now" Lynn replied."He's somewhere
all I know.Still
suppose no news is good news."She winced as she spoke.The
arthritis in her knees made walking difficult and Mrs Harris had to
slow her pace so that she could keep up.
were more or less level with Ron Leek, who was walking parallel to
them on the other side of the street.Mrs
Harris could just see his tall thin shape limping along, holding his
stick in front of him and tapping the ground occasionally, like a
turned and looked behind her.She
could neither hear or see anyone else. 'Be aware of your
surroundings'was the police advice.
the distance there was a shout from an irate ARP warden to a
house that was showing a light.Then,for
the next few minutes,nothing but eerie silence broken only by Leeks
occasional stick tapping. This began to irritate Mrs Harris
irritation invariably brought on one of her headaches.
was talking."I suppose it will mean more shortages and longer
will?"said Mrs Harris
cargo ship being torpedoed."Lynn gave a look of surprise that
she had to repeat herself.
Harris looked around again.Still
nobody other than Gilbert Leek in sight.Then
she saw him turn left into Stanley Road and gradually
Harris relaxed a little.'Be aware of your surroundings'.
were now approaching Bloomfield Road on the right,Lynn's turning.
shuddered at the thought of having to walk the remaining 400 yards to
her house on her own.
don't look at all well" said Mrs Harris.
I'm O.K."Lynn replied. But she was cold,tense and in pain and it
all showed in her face.
warm you up".
had paused outside a closed and boarded up corner shop.
into this doorway, out of the wind,and put on the scarf."insisted
Mrs. Harris, waving away Lynn's protests.
both stepped inside the shop doorway.Mrs
Harris wrapped her scarf around Lynn's neck,tying a knot and pulling
was a look of startled bewilderment in Lynn's eyes as she scrabbled
at the scarf,trying to ease the ever increasing pressure.The
look slowly changed to one of dreadful realization as Mrs
continued to pull on the scarf and gradually the world of
Green faded to black.
Harris lowered Lynn's lifeless body slowly to the ground. She looked
around. No-one in sight.'Be aware of your surroundings'.She reached
into her coat pocket and pulled out the small diary that Gilbert Leek
had unknowingly dropped while she stood behind him on the platform of
the bus the previous week. Mrs Harris tossed the diary on to the
pavement a few feet from the body.Hopefully, that would set in motion
a train of events that could result in her getting her job back at
started to walk away towards her home,then hesitated,turned and
walked back to the body.She
removed her scarf from Lynn's neck and draped it loosely around her
would be no more mistakes. She had been stupid to use Jimmy's bike
that last time.It was
too conspicuous in these days.
went off once more into the darkness, her
mind now occupied only by thoughts of what she could prepare for
story list and biography
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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