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«The Janus Man», Colin Forbes

Colin Forbes

 

Prologue

East Anglia in July. 2 a.m.

Carole Langley walked by herself along the lonely road elevated above the surrounding flatlands of the Wash. She was half a mile from the village of Plimpstead.

It was a warm night, a cloying warmth. The moon had come out from behind the cloud bank, illuminating the deserted fields on either side stretching to the dim horizon. Eighteen years old, an attractive blonde, Carole felt a little nervous. The stillness of the flatlands seemed to hold a hint of menace.

`All right,' she had told her boy friend, Rick, 'if that's what you want you'd better look elsewhere. And, no thanks, I'll get home by myself…'

`Please yourself,' Rick had told her, his voice slurred with a little too much liquor. 'Girls are like buses. There's always another one coming along. I might even find one inside…'

Saying which, he'd gone back into the old house where the party was still in full swing. When she'd accepted the invitation Carole hadn't known Peggy's parents were away, that the young crowd would have the house to themselves. The trek to the bedrooms had started early.

And I'm bloody sure some of them were on drugs, she told herself as she trudged along the road in high heels. She wished now she'd brought walking shoes in a bag. But how was she to know it would end like this – letting Rick bring her back in his car had definitely not seemed a good idea. Not along these deserted roads where the distance between houses – let alone villages – was measured in miles.

She saw the car coming a long way off. It was incredible the distance you could see across the Wash. Two headlights not dipped – like a couple of monster eyes. Impossible to identify the make of car.

The road – like all roads in that part of the world – curved and changed direction frequently. Sometimes she saw the powerful beams broadside on, then the car would swing round a curve and the monster eyes, gradually growing larger, would stare straight at her. The pallid light of the moon began to fade, moving behind the clouds. The lights of the car grew stronger.

Who could be out by the Wash at this hour? Most people would be in bed. Even back where I came from, she thought savagely – and they could keep that. My mum will kill me, she worried as the ache in her feet grew worse. She'll be waiting up. Of course! And when she didn't hear the sound of a car stopping she'll want to know what happened. I'll tell her Rick's car wouldn't start. That's it…'

She felt better for a moment, but only for a moment. The oncoming vehicle was beginning to bother her. She walked slowly past an isolated copse of trees and wondered whether to hide until the car had passed.

Damnit, I've got to get home. It will probably just drive on past me…'

The headlights came round the last bend and headed down a straight stretch of road towards her. She paused, remembering the copse of trees. The only hiding-place for miles. He must be able to see her now. The bloody lights were glaring full on her face. Why didn't he dip them?

She stopped, made up her mind, slipped off her shoes and prepared to run back to the shelter of the trees. Moving at speed, the driver rammed on the brakes, halted a few feet from her. In the glare of the lights she couldn't see what was happening – but she heard the sound of a car door opening and closing. The sound of footsteps approaching with a steady, purposeful tread.

She waited no longer. She turned and ran for the copse, feet flying over the smooth road surface. Behind her the steady footsteps followed. As she ran she fumbled in her handbag for the torch she always carried. It was some kind of a weapon.

She turned off the road, clutching handbag in one hand, torch in the other. She had the sense not to switch it on – that would make it easier for whoever was coming to spot her route. The precaution was her undoing.

Her left foot caught in the root of a tree and she sprawled on the grass full length. Spinning to one side, she lay on her back and switched on the torch, aiming it upwards. That was when she began to scream.

In the torchlight she saw the blade of the huge knife. Saw it as it descended towards her breasts in a powerful arc. Like some madman performing a ritual sacrifice. The knife entered her body and was drawn downwards, like a butcher carving meat. The scream died to a moan of horror. Then Carole Langley died and the heavy silence of a Norfolk night also descended.


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