Jeff read the article on the front page again. He wondered how far the police would investigate the backgrounds of the two victims—and if they’d turn up to question where he had been when the men had died. Both of the dead men had been close friends of his at one time.
It was late in the afternoon, and each time he’d read the story of the suspicious deaths, he’d felt his face get hot. He’d settled where he was, and he really didn’t want the police asking about his relationship with his two old friends or their exploits when they were younger.
Jeff murmured, “I’m sorry, guys, but the university was a long time ago, and—”
The customer service bell in the office buzzed, and he glanced at the security monitor. In the top left quarter of the screen was a clear view of Sarah, who was at the counter and had pressed the bell. He drank in the sight of the blonde in her white blouse and short skirt, and not for the first time promised himself he’d indulge at some time.
A flick to enlarge the view in the top-right quarter caused the thirty-eight-year-old to whistle softly. “I’m on the way, sweetheart.”
* * *
“Yes, Sarah,” Jeff said to the assistant, having briefly made eye contact and smiled at the brunette on the other side of the counter. He’d already assessed her as he approached.
“This young lady would like a word with the manager—it’s regarding vacancies.”
“Thank you, Sarah.” He’d already mentally dismissed the curvy blonde and turned to address the visitor, extending his right hand. “Good morning, I’m Jeff Cusack, the manager.”
“Hi, my name is Bailey. I hope I’m not disturbing you. It’s just that I’m new in town and I was hoping to achieve speculative interviews where the product range interested me.” She kept hold of his hand longer than necessary while settling her gaze on him. Her beautiful face melting his heart and her general appearance, warming other parts of him.
“Well … Bailey … we don’t actually have—”
Bailey inclined her lovely head slightly, and her long, curling lashes fluttered slightly as she smiled. “I’m sorry, I understand that you might not have anything right now. I just thought that if you could spare—” She let go of his hand.
Jeff tore his gaze from her and glanced at his watch. “No, I’ll tell you what—could you come back in about half an hour … Bailey?”
“Yes, of course. I don’t want to cause any—”
“No, it’s fine, really. What’s the harm in having a chat and seeing if you’d be a good fit?”
“Thank you so much, Jeff.” Her right eyebrow arched slightly and her glossy lips parted, showing even white teeth in an enchanting smile. “Half an hour.” She turned and smiled briefly at the blonde behind the counter before leaving.
Jeff’s gaze was magnetised to the sight of the long shapely legs in the short skirt and high heels as Bailey strode confidently out onto the high street.
“Jeff,” Sarah whispered, “you can reel your tongue back in now.”
“What?” He tried to recover by giving her a big smile.
“You’ve been flirting with me for about a month. She had you in the palm of her hand with one look.” Sarah was no slouch when it came to looks, but when a beauty like Bailey caught Jeff’s eye, it awoke a little green monster in the blonde.
“It’s only a speculative interview, Sarah, for goodness sake.”
Sarah looked to make sure there was nobody in earshot. “I want the supervisor’s job, and I told you—I’m prepared to bend over backwards for you … perhaps this weekend.”
The twenty-one-year-old twirled a finger in her long wavy tresses. “Have you ever had a woman half your age … bending over backwards for you … Jeff?”
He swallowed hard. “I’ll just have a quick chat with her and pretend to make notes.”
“I don’t wear a short skirt and heels at work usually, but if that helps you to focus—”
“I promise, I’ll get rid of her.” He looked around at the few customers still in the store at such a late part of the afternoon and then he returned to the office. He was going to enlarge the counter area on his monitor so that he could savour the sight of Sarah without distraction. The weekend wasn’t far away.
* * *
Jeff enjoyed the interview process and always organised things so that every applicant enjoyed it too. He particularly loved the power he felt when he had a young woman in his office, and the door was closed. Being in a position to offer someone a job was also an aphrodisiac in Jeff’s case—if the applicant happened to be young, female and desperate. Of the six staff in the bookstore, only two were men, or at least male—one was a married man with two children and a stable marriage, while the other was an overweight teen.
Jeff might have been nearing forty, but he was handsome. His dark hair, designer stubble, and muscular physique ensured he didn’t have to work hard for female company. Good looks had been his one blessing since his teens, and even back then he took advantage when he could.
It had taken almost two years for Jeff to sicken the staff who’d previously worked in the bookstore. He replaced them with his choice of candidates—four of which, were young, female and ripe for grooming over time. He thought at one time that his days at university would be his opportunity to sow his wild oats. As he reached his thirties and was still unmarried, he realised he preferred personal freedom. Marriage would not be on the agenda.
The desk was tidy, and the diary was placed right of centre—the interview position. Jeff rearranged the seating before placing his clipboard and pen in the centre of the desk. He’d already said goodnight to all of the staff and told Sarah to leave the cash drawers—he would deal with them personally after his unscheduled interview—Bailey.
A buzz on the intercom had him glance at the monitor, but he had to adjust it back to four views after having a full view of the blonde behind the counter. “Sorry, Sarah,” he whispered. “You’re lovely, but now you’ve got serious competition.” He inhaled and sighed when he saw the brunette standing at the counter facing Sarah.
Jeff approached the counter. “Hello again, Bailey. Please excuse me for two minutes.” He turned. “You can go and grab your things, Sarah—I’ll lock up now. It’s quiet.”
“I could hang around while you interview—”
“No, it’s not a problem—you go on home, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Sarah gave a sideways glance at the stunning brunette and then left the shop floor.
Jeff never missed an opportunity, and when he was caught appraising his interviewee, he sighed. “I think you’ve awakened something in Sarah—she’s accustomed to being the—”
A door closed nearby with a thud.
“Goodnight,” Sarah said as she brushed past. “Oh, and good luck … Bailey.” She pulled the front door open and let it slam behind her.
Jeff smiled as he took a few paces forward. He locked the front door and dimmed the store lights. “Now, we won’t be disturbed.” He indicated with an extended arm. “This way, please.”
They arrived in the office. Instead of chairs on either side of the desk, both chairs were at the front, facing each other.
“Please, take a seat,” Jeff said. “I know that a lot of people interview from the other side of a desk but I prefer to lose the barriers—it makes for a more … what’s the word—”
“Intimate setting?” Bailey suggested.
“That’s it—hey, you’re already showing promise.” He flashed a smile as he went around the desk to lift his clipboard. When he returned to the other side, he was standing within two paces of the woman.
Bailey inhaled and recognised the faint aroma of a masculine fragrance—evidence of a recently applied antiperspirant. “Would it be alright to take my jacket off?” She was standing in front of the chair.
“Of course, and then sit yourself down and relax.” He sat down to appreciate the view.
When she slipped her jacket from her shoulders, Bailey twisted slightly one way and the other which accentuated her incredible chest. She turned and bent forward slightly to hang her jacket over the back of the hardback chair, knowing that as she did her miniskirt would ride up her legs.
Jeff was unable to control the slight gasp at the sight of so much thigh. It was a bonus that the woman’s shapely legs ended in high heels.
Bailey turned quickly and caught the lecherous gaze before Jeff could avert his eyes. “I’m so grateful you’ve been able to see me.” She sat and crossed her legs, placing her hands on top of each other on her knee. Bailey reached forward and tugged at her hemline. The movement succeeded in its real purpose—confirming that Jeff was a lecherous shit.
“Right,” Jeff said, “I suppose a few personal details would be good before we get chatting.” He clicked his pen. “The basics will be enough for now, you know, name, age, and present employer.”
“Bailey Munro and I’m twenty-four years old.”
“If you don’t mind me saying so, Bailey, you look much younger.” He made notes.
“Thank you, oh, and regarding availability, I’m all yours if you want me.”
Jeff paused as he was writing and looked up. “I’m sorry—what do you mean—”
“I was working in a bookstore similar to this one, although it was slightly bigger, the manager made it plain that if I wanted to get on, I’d have to—”
“That’s terrible. Are you saying he was abusing his position?”
Bailey nodded slowly and gave a brief smile. “Before I walked out, I told him that if my boss was going to abuse his position and me, he’d have to be a good-looking boss to make it worthwhile. I’d worked for him since I was in school uniform.”
Jeff inhaled. “Wow—not many young women can joke as they leave a job at short notice.”
“I was only half-joking actually—unlike you, Jeff, he was gross, and probably ten or fifteen years older than you.” She laughed again. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be flirting with you when you’ll be eager to get home to your wife and family.”
“I’m not … I’m a free agent, and can do what, or …” his voice became a whisper, “or who I wish.” Jeff licked his lips. “Before I ask too many questions, would you be able to bring in a curriculum vitae and we could do a more in-depth interview this week?”
“Yes, I’d be happy to, but, as you can appreciate, I’m new here, so I’m in temporary accommodation in town. I’ll have to start earning as soon as possible.”
“Of course,” Jeff said. “I love your name—do you know if it has a special meaning?”
“Yes, it means ‘law enforcer’.”
He smiled and slowly shook his head. To pay lip-service to the idea of an interview, Jeff spent a while asking about interests, the type of books Bailey liked and then went on to talk about customer service. He dug a bit deeper in the area of how much responsibility the young woman would be prepared to take on.
“I’m sure I could handle anything you wanted me to, Jeff.” She briefly sunk her lovely teeth into her lower lip and watched the interviewer’s chest rise and hold steady before falling.
The interview became almost light-hearted as the flirtatious remarks went back and forward between them.
Bailey glanced at her watch. “Oh my—Jeff, I’m so sorry, I’ll have to get going because my bus route isn’t too dependable from what I’ve seen.”
“Where do you have to go?”
“I’m in a bed and breakfast place on the other side of Halgarth Forest—”
“I don’t live out that way, but I’d be happy to drop you off.”
“I couldn’t do that—I don’t even work for you.”
“Not yet, Bailey—not yet.” He gave her his best sleazy smile and winked.
“You must have cashing-up and things to do. You know, the duties we have to deal with when everybody else has finished for the day.”
“It only takes me about twenty minutes if you wanted to wait.”
“So that it doesn’t look suspicious, I could wait near your car if that was okay?”
“Actually, there are a lot of CCTV cameras in town, and us leaving together would be a bit suspicious. If you go out of here and go along about two hundred metres, there’s a side street that I could turn into before heading out of town towards Halgarth area.”
Bailey stood, having heard enough. She made a performance of pulling her jacket on again, and as she twisted her body, it moved her chest within Jeff’s personal space when he stood.
Jeff leant over and placed his clipboard on the desk. “I think if you were able to start as soon as next week, Bailey, I’d be able to fit you in.” He held the office door open and led the way to the door. “Watch out for my car—it’s a black BMW 5-Series.”
“I like the sound of that.” Bailey stepped into the doorway and half-turned. “Judging from our conversation, I think I’d like to work under you, Jeff.” She gave him a dazzling smile. “I’ll see you along the road.”
* * *
The flirting and idle chat continued as they drove through town and turned off towards Halgarth Forest. It wasn’t lost on Bailey that if she were to allow her hemline to rise one more inch, she’d cause her own death in a car accident.
Jeff was spending almost as much time glancing at his passenger’s thighs as he was at the road or his rearview mirror.
“Stop—please.” Bailey lifted a hand to her mouth and gagged several times.
“There’s nowhere to—” Jeff hit the brakes and turned off the country road into the next forest track. He stopped after five metres.
Bailey was out of the car within a few seconds, her shoulder bag swinging as she tried to walk quickly in her heels. She went several paces forward until she was between some trees with her back to the car.
“Bailey,” Jeff approached from behind the stunning young woman and gripped her left shoulder with his right hand.
The blade of the knife was so sharp it didn’t register as it sliced through the abdominal wall and damaged several internal organs on its upward journey.
“Oh … Bailey ….” Jeff’s vision blurred as he gazed into her beautiful brown eyes.
* * *
TWO DAYS LATER
In a small cafe, a pair of eighteen-year-old students sat watching the world go by as they enjoyed a latte together. A black BMW 5-Series parked up outside, and one of the girls thought back to when she’d set fire to a similar car only two days earlier.
Anne Francis flicked her auburn hair over her shoulder and looked across the table at her roommate of the past six months. “Hey, Ruth, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m sorry—I suppose I’ll have to concentrate on my own life now and make sure I get my qualifications.” She gave a token smile which brightened up her lovely face.
“I don’t know why you’re studying criminology anyway. Instead of a few years with your head in books, you could advertise anything from shampoo and cosmetics to clothes and shoes.”
“You’ve got a boyfriend—you don’t need a girlfriend too.”
Anne laughed. “Look at you, though. Long lustrous golden hair, sparkling blue eyes and a body and legs to die for.”
“Anne, if you were a guy, I’d accept the offer of a date, but right now, I just want friendship.”
“I’m just trying to put a smile on your face.” She sipped her coffee. “Personally, if I’d just been to spread my mother’s ashes, I would need more than a bloody week to get my head straight again.”
“I asked for a week because my mother brought me up to plan, achieve what I could, and be efficient with my time. For example, when I’ve completed my degree in criminology, I’m going to line up a part-time job with the police and go straight on to complete my master’s degree.”
“Continuing after your first degree—bag up some of that enthusiasm and pass it over here.”
Ruth sipped her latte and thought about the last time she bagged something up. It had been a brunette wig, brown contact lenses, a blouse and miniskirt, underwear, and a pair of high heels. It was when she’d built a small fire in the wilderness where she reduced the ‘Bailey’ costume to ashes. The spreading of her mother’s ashes was only done after she’d mixed in those of Bailey—the law enforcer, and avenging angel.
The truth was only divulged to Ruth when her mother, Adele, was on her deathbed only weeks before. She’d lain in a hospital so recently, a beautiful woman at the age of thirty-seven, knowing that her brain tumour was incurable. Adele would never see another birthday. She explained that Ruth had been the result of rape. Adele had been attacked by three young men, fellow students in her first year at university. Ruth’s mother had waited until she was dying before she told her daughter the truth of her origins, and she’d handed over newspaper cuttings. They told the sad story of how the three men had said the girl wanted to party with all three of them—they’d said that Adele had been a willing participant.
“Hey, gorgeous, are you listening?” Anne said. “You can tell me to shut up, but if you have no other family, where did you go for your week?”
Ruth came out of her reverie. “I went here and there. I’d collected the urn with my mother’s ashes early on Monday morning, so it left me with time to kill.”
Selected from Shadow: and other stories