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Margaret Duffy

Carrion - Sample Extract


TEN-THIRTEEN, A SUMMER MORNING

You have to be well-prepared when you’re going to undertake a little target practice. Therefore he already knew there was a strong padlock on the door at the bottom of the spiral staircase that led to the top of the church tower as he had checked a few days beforehand. The woman placing flowers by the altar had seemed delighted that a visitor to the village was interested and had related some of its history. He had listened politely and thanked her even though not remotely interested. It didn’t do to risk suspicion.

You have to be well-prepared when you’re going to undertake a little target practice. Therefore he already knew there was a strong padlock on the door at the bottom of the spiral staircase that led to the top of the church tower as he had checked a few days beforehand. The woman placing flowers by the altar had seemed delighted that a visitor to the village was interested and had related some of its history. He had listened politely and thanked her even though not remotely interested. It didn’t do to risk suspicion.

The bolt cutters had been carefully chosen and bought well outside the area in advance in Loughton, east London, a long way from the West Country. Being suitable for the job they were also weighty, the rucksack on his back too heavy for comfort, his shoulders already aching. This was compounded by the sniper’s rifle in its case slung over one shoulder. It made him angry – he liked his comfort and knew he could not be regarded as of strong build. He coldly hoped that anger would make what he was going to do easier and therefore more accurate.

There was no one in the church this time as it was early in the morning and from where he had been watching in his car – he allowed himself a quick mental gloat: almost brand new, black, shiny, sexy – he had seen an elderly man unlock the large oak door and then leave a couple of minutes later. He guessed that hardly anyone else would turn up as it was a weekday and the board outside stated that the next regular service was Family Communion at ten-thirty on Sunday, in three day’s time. That just left weddings and funerals. He had decided to take a chance with those.

A little prior investigation always paid off, he told himself as he mounted the narrow, winding stone stairs. He had to be very careful that his rucksack and rifle did not scrape against the walls, making a noise that could possibly be heard outside, and that made climbing difficult. Difficulty always made him angry too and by the time he reached where the bells were rung – the fluffy coloured ends of the ropes of which were hanging in a bunch to one side – he was beyond irritated, having to pause for a few moments to force himself to get his breath back and calm down. Anger management had always been a big problem. As he stood there he saw there was a fairly big hole in one corner of the beamed ceiling with what looked like large weights hanging down on chains through it. What the hell were they for? It did not occur to him that they belonged to the clock, the sonorous ticking of which he found very annoying.

He had lugged the bolt cutters up here in case there was another padlock he would encounter. Cutting through the first he had almost dropped it and he had sweated a little as he thought of the clatter it would make if it had hit the stone floor, never mind any echoes. Churches were full of those. And death, horrible places.

With even more annoyance he saw that the rest of the journey had to be tackled on a wooden ladder but in practice it was easier as there was more space for his load. It bowed alarmingly under his weight. Breathlessly reaching the top he was surprised to find himself having to remove his rucksack in order to squeeze past the bells. The clock mechanism in one corner, a baffling and archaic arrangement of cogs and so forth that he thought looked like so much crazy scrap metal, was tick-tocking its way monotonously into eternity. For a moment he seriously considered somehow destroying its implacable, and smug, existence. Better not. Then, the temptation became too great and he grabbed the damaged padlock from his pocket, put his burden on the floor, went over and dropped it into the mechanism.

It carried on peacefully ticking.

He went up yet another ladder, a short one, and and at last, pushed open a narrow door that was not locked, and emerged into the open air. He quickly crouched down as the parapet was only around four and half feet in height and he had no desire to be spotted until the moment came when he would have no choice but to select his target or think of abandoning the project if nothing suitable appeared. There was every chance of course that nothing would present itself straight away and and he would have to reveal himself more than once. He wasn’t fussy, as long as it was alive; man, woman, child, cat, dog and moving. That last was really important. To prove that he could, that he still had the gift, or, in his worst nightmares, couldn’t and was now a has-been.

One quick glance did not show anything that was promising and the view of the woods, fields and farms of rural Somerset spread out like a patchwork quilt in the bright sunshine, was lost on him. Immediately below was the village road, little more than a lane. It curved gently round to his left skirting the green with the ancient inn, the Ring o’Bells, over to the right on the far side of it. This was accessed by a circular side lane that also served a row of cottages before it rejoined the main village road. No one was in sight, not even a bird moved.

Another quick glimpse revealed an old house below that was at right angles to him. It had an extensive garden on three sides, a drive leading to a gravelled parking area at the front. A dark blue Range Rover and a small saloon car of some kind – it was too far away to see exactly what it was – were parked there. A path led around to the rear where there was a large conservatory and courtyard. An archway from this gave access to the garden at the rear. He supposed the place could be the vicarage. Beyond, just visible around to the left through some trees, was a larger house, perhaps where the local nobs lived, he thought. Access to that was by another driveway that ran alongside the boundary of its neighbour, on the side farthest away from him, a hedge providing privacy. A stone wall about six feet in height was between the vicarage, or whatever it was, garden and the churchyard. That was it, all he had to do, map out his target area.

Still nothing moved.

He checked over the rifle. It was not new but an Accuracy International L96A1 and in his opinion they didn’t come much better than that. This was just a personal opinion but he didn’t reckon that snipers came much better than he himself anyway. The agonising thing was not knowing if that still applied or was he living in cloud-cuckoo land? There had been the business of the breakdown, something that he tried not to think about.

He had to know, that’s why he was here. And when he did know and the answer made him happy he might just go and find another target, not here but not too far away either, before making his escape. No, on second thoughts, he would do it. Just to make sure. He had already done a little research on that as well after deciding who would be the perfect choice. Do it this morning? Possibly. He already knew the movements of the target. And if that worked out he could always go and find something else, to throw the police investigation, muddy the waters.

Why Hinton Littlemoor? It made sense and he was familiar with the place. He had contacts here, including a very good one. The village was not too big, not too small and not too far away from main escape routes. The A road at the top of this village led to Bath or Shepton Mallet and beyond east and west which was perfect for making a quick getaway. There were fast trains to London from Bath too. For the shots would be heard as he didn’t want to put a silencer on the rifle. He was convinced that it spoilt the aim.

But for a few cars on the village road nothing else moved.

He had calmed right down now after the difficulty of getting up here, having forced himself to relax. You didn’t kill cleanly when you were inwardly raging. Unless, that is, you had got to the stage where you were icy calm with fury. That hadn’t actually happened to him yet.

The sound of a child’s voice come from somewhere near the rear of the house below. Then, following movement within – there seemed to be a lot of plants in the conservatory that obstructed his view – the outside door of it opened and the child, a small boy, ran out. This was ideal, small, potentially fast moving, quite a challenge. He silently took the rifle out of its case. It was already loaded.

The child seemed glad to be outside and tore around laughing, a tortoiseshell cat running around with him. He found a small ball on the lawn, tossed it and the cat dashed off after it and disappeared under a shrub only to emerge moments later. The child turned and carried on running, skipping, the cat giving chase behind him.

There was a momentary distraction when a horse rider appeared, a teenager, probably, on a mount that was trotting briskly. The rider took a quick glance around and then veered sharp right and galloped off across the village green, divots flying everywhere, an impossible target, the angle all wrong.

There was a shout from somewhere, ‘Oi you! Gerroff!’

The pair disappeared around to the rear of the inn, back on a hard surface now. The hoofbeats faded away.

His target was coming towards the wall nearest to the church tower and the breakdown panic roared over in a black wave. It’ll have to be now or the target will go from sight behind the garden wall and then I’ll never, never know! Now! Now!

The shot cracked out and little Mark Gillard fell face down into the strawberry bed.

The clock stopped ticking.



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