She felt the thudding bass of the music through her feet as she moved from the dance floor. The flashing lights combined with the beat, making her feel a little giddy. She made her way through the suffocating club crowd towards the ladies toilets. It was the only place in this club that you could find a bit of space! Three teenage-looking girls stood at the mirrors applying their make-up and laughing together.
She entered a cubicle, locked the door and undid her trousers. The three girls left, still laughing. The toilets were quiet.
“Michelle”. It was a man’s voice.
She jumped at the voice, but smiled to herself.
“Is that you, Taylor? You shouldn’t bloody be in here you dirty perv!”
“Michelle”. A whisper now, it sounded like it was right on the other side of the door.
She quickly pulled up her trousers, flushed the chain and yanked open the door.
“Taylor, you arsehole!”
There was no one there. She turned to face the cubicles behind her. They looked empty. She pushed the door of the cubicle next to the one she had been in. It was empty. So was the next one. And the next. All the cubicles were empty.
“Shit, think I’d better lay off that vodka,” she giggled.
She turned to face the mirror on the wall behind her, looking down to take her lipstick from her bag. Looking up, lipstick in hand, she saw him.
Standing behind her. Smiling.
She felt her heart shoot to the top of her chest as she gasped, dropping her lipstick onto the counter. The case shattered, spraying small pieces of jagged frosted plastic into the basin.
Whirling around, pressing herself against the counter, she gasped again, louder this time, because there was no one there.
Not daring to move, barely able to breathe, she let her eyes dart around the room. The cubicles still looked empty. He couldn’t have hidden in one of them, as she hadn’t taken her eyes off of him, from the moment she had seen him in the mirror.
Had she looked down, watching her lipstick as it fell towards the counter? She could still hear the sound of the plastic hitting the enamel. No, she hadn’t looked away. She had kept her eyes on him, right on him.
A door creaked from the cubicles on her left. He had to be hiding in one of them.
Why? Why would he hide? He could get her now; the toilets were empty. Where was everyone? You couldn’t usually keep the girls away from the ladies, but she realised that no one had come in since the three teenage girls left. Panic started to creep into her throat.
She felt a pain in her hand and looked down to see that she had gripped the counter edge so hard that her knuckles were white and she could see the veins starting to protrude.
He must have closed the door, trying to conceal himself. If she ran past she could probably reach the door before him. Probably. Oh god, she thought, I really, really don’t want to go past the cubicle.
The toilets were quiet. All she could hear was the rasping sound of her breath as it tried to fight its way up her dry throat and force its way out of her open mouth.
Slowly, she released her grip on the counter and edged one foot forward barely an inch. She leaned her body forward, reluctantly, almost as if she would be safer if she remained attached to the counter.
In the silence of the toilets, she thought she could hear him breathing. She knew that he was waiting, listening to her as she fought the panic that was building, making her head pound with tension.
Looking down, she saw the gap under the cubicles. If she bent down, she could see if he was standing on the floor or on the toilet seat. If he was on the toilet seat, then he might not be so quick to get down and chase her. However if she did bend down, he could charge from the cubicle and catch her before she was ready to flee.
Curiosity got the better of her. She moved back towards the far wall, so she could get more space between herself and him. Cocking her head on its side, she bent to look under the gap, placing her hands on the cold tiled floor.
She couldn’t see his feet. Then and there, she made her decision. She would run. She could see the door at the end of the room. She could make it.
With a push against the back wall to propel her forward, she ran, feeling every step like she was wading through water. In her head, she saw the cubicle door opening, an arm reaching out, fingers touching her elbow.
She had reached the door, her hand grasped the handle and for one moment she was sure that it was locked. It opened, letting in the bumping beat of the music and the flashing neon of the dance floor. Everything was as it had been before.
But she didn’t go through the door.
Looking behind her, with the safety of the crowds before her, she realised that the cubicle door hadn’t moved. He had not jumped out, arms outstretched. She had imagined it all. But she knew she had not imagined him. He had been there, with that smile of his, staring at her in the mirror.
Still no sound came.
She looked back at the dance floor, hardly understanding what she was doing as she let go of the door handle.
She had to check. She had to see if he was there, or whether his face had just crept out from the dark place in her head.
Striding forward with a confidence that before had seemed to desert her, she slammed the door back on its hinges. The toilet echoed with the bang.
The cubicle was empty.
Angry now, more at herself than anything, she stomped along the line of cubicles, slamming back each door in turn. Nobody. Nothing. The cubicles were all empty.
Turning back to the mirror, she saw her face in the glass, flushed and eyes blazing.
Jesus, she thought, just look at yourself, most definitely too much vodka tonight.
She laughed out loud and headed back to the door and out into the club.
Behind her, in the toilets, a cubicle door creaked open wide.
The body was found at approximately half-past three in the afternoon on a quiet, chilled Sunday in November.
Mrs Ethel Carwardine, or rather Ethel’s border collie, Sammy, found it face down, submerged in the murky shallows of the park pond.
The body was icy tinged, with patterns of purple-black bruising contorting the skin surface. The hair, matted with grass, reed and dirt, floated gently in the water. A thin eternity band engraved ‘for luck’ was worn on the third finger of the right hand. One diamante earring remained in the left earlobe. The right earlobe was torn, probably from the forceful removal of the lost earring. Blue toes and fingers showed the remains of fuschia-coloured nail polish. Scratches and bite marks decorated the back and thighs. No item of clothing remained.
Sammy’s well-chewed ball landed with a slap bang in the middle of the back and rolled off into the gap between the right arm and the ribs. The body bobbed up and down in the shallows causing mud to stir from the banks and cloud the already gloomy water.
Sammy, already in pursuit of her favourite toy, reached the corner of the pond, ten feet away from the body. Tentatively, she placed one sodden paw into the chilly water; lent forward with one leg paused in mid-step and sniffed at the air. Usually Sammy did not mind the pond, although she took great care not to go too deep, she enjoyed wading in the cooling water after a long exhaustive walk, but today something was different.
The dog whined softly as the new smell in the pond reached her nose.
She spotted the ball but did not attempt to retrieve it. Instead she lowered her head, growling, then turned and pelted back through the long grass.
On discovering the dog without the ball, Ethel (plain ‘Nel’ to her friends at the bingo hall) went in search of the toy herself, muttering under her breath about her ‘damn, lazy old mutt’. Picking her way through the waist-high grass and the bushes, she winced as the lower branches snapped against her shins. On breaking through, she bent down to inspect the branches’ handiwork, noting with disdain the numerous snags in her tights, bought only the day before.
‘Bugger’ she said. And then saw the body.