The Night Stalker (DCI Erika Foster #2) by Robert Bryndza

1

It was a sweltering summer night in late June. The black-clad figure ran lightly, streaking through the darkness, feet barely making a sound on the narrow dirt path, ducking and twisting gracefully to avoid contact with the dense surrounding trees and bushes. It was as if a shadow were sweeping silently over the leaves.

The night sky was just a thin strip between the trees high above; the light pollution from the city cast the undergrowth in dusky shades. The small, shadow-like figure reached a gap in the undergrowth on the right, and stopped abruptly: poised, breathless, heart racing.

A strobe of blue-white lit up the surroundings as the 7.39 p.m. train to London Bridge switched from diesel, extending its metal arms to the electrified lines above. The shadow ducked down as empty glowing carriages rumbled past. There were two more flashes and the train was gone, plunging the narrow strip of undergrowth back into darkness.

The shadow moved off again at speed, gliding soundlessly as the path curved slightly away from the tracks. The trees began to thin out to the left, exposing a row of terraced houses. Snapshots of back gardens slid past: neat dark strips with patio furniture, tool sheds, a swing set – all still in the thick night air.

And then the house came into view. It was a Victorian terrace, like the others in the long row – three storeys of pale brick – but its owner had added a large glass extension at the back, which jutted out from the ground floor. The small shadow knew everything about the owner. Knew the layout of the house. Knew the owner’s schedule. And most importantly, knew that tonight he would be alone.

The shadow came to a stop at the end of the garden. A large tree grew against the wire fence that backed on to the dirt track. In one place the trunk had grown around the metal, the folds of wood biting down on the rusting post like a large lipless mouth. A heavy halo of leaves burst upwards in all directions, obscuring the view of the train tracks from the house. A few nights previously, the shadow had taken this same route and had neatly clipped the edges of the wire fence, loosely tacking it back in place. The fence now pulled away easily and the shadow crouched down and crawled through the gap. The grass felt dry and the soil below was cracked from weeks of no rain. The shadow came up to its feet under the tree and in a fast, fluid motion crossed the lawn in a swoop of black.

An air-conditioning unit was attached to the rear wall of the house. It whirred loudly, masking the faint crunch of feet on the gravel that lined the narrow path between the glass extension and the house next door. The shadow reached a low sash window and ducked down underneath the wide sill. Light shone out, casting a square of yellow on the brickwork of the neighbouring house. Pulling up the hood of the running suit, the shadow slowly inched upwards and looked over the wide windowsill.

The man inside was in his mid-forties, tall and well-built, dressed in tan trousers and a white shirt rolled up at the sleeves. He moved around the large open-plan kitchen, took a wine glass from one of the cupboards, and poured himself a glass of red. He took a long gulp and topped up his glass. A ready meal lay on the counter, and he picked it up, slipped off its cardboard sleeve and pricked at the plastic lid with the corkscrew.

Hatred rose in the shadow. It was intoxicating to see the man inside, knowing what was about to unfold.

The man in the kitchen programmed the microwave and placed the meal inside. There was a beep and the digital countdown began.

Six minutes.

The man took another gulp of his wine and then left the kitchen. Moments later, a light came on in the bathroom window directly above where the shadow crouched. The window swung open a few inches, and there was a squeak as the shower was turned on.

Heart hammering, the shadow outside the window worked fast: unzipping a money belt, pulling out a small flat screwdriver and easing it into the crack where the window met the sill. With a small amount of pressure, it popped open. The sash window moved up smoothly and the shadow slid in through the gap. This was it. All the planning, the years of angst and pain…

Four minutes.

The figure stepped down into the kitchen and moved swiftly, pulling out a small plastic syringe and squirting its clear liquid into the glass of red wine, swirling the wine around before gently placing the glass back on the black granite counter.

The shadow stood for a moment, listening, enjoying the cool waves from the air conditioning. The black granite countertop sparkled under the lights.

Three minutes.

The shadow moved quickly through the kitchen, passing the wooden bannister at the base of the stairs, and slipped into a pool of darkness behind the living room door. A moment later, the man came down the stairs, wearing just a towel. The microwave gave three loud beeps to say it was finished. As the man padded past barefoot, the smell of clean skin wafted through the air. The shadow heard a clink as the man pulled cutlery from the drawer, and a scrape of a stool on the wooden floor as he sat down to eat.