A troubled detective.
A tormented serial killer.
Sundays in Pretoria are dangerous for selected women.
As The Bathroom Strangler’s frenzy escalates and the body count mounts, Nico van Staaden, the lead detective on the case, finds himself confronting his own demons as he struggles to solve the brutal murders.
But how many women will die in this deadly game of cat and mouse?
Here’s an excerpt for your reading pleasure:
Sunday, 23 June
His hands shook. He wanted them to stop; he wanted everything to stop.
All he could hear was her banging on the piano. It reverberated along the passage, through the tiled floor of his childhood bathroom and into his brain. The feel of the cold, smooth surface of the bath beneath his small curled-up body was soothing and calmed him. It was safe as long as she banged on the piano. The moment the music stopped the real nightmare would begin. Urine ran down the insides of his legs causing his jeans to cling to them. The music stopped. She would be coming soon.
He closed his eyes and tried to shut out the memory.
The car boot slammed shut and brought him back to the present. The street lights above his head flashed on and illuminated the quiet street. A slight though cool breeze played with crisp brown leaves on the ground around his feet; a dog barked down the street, disturbing the quiet suburb. The owner of the dog yelled at it to shut up. Why did people keep dogs to protect them, then stop them from doing their job? It was something he would never understand.
He watched her from the safety of his patrol car. She looked good in her jeans. She was well put together for a woman of her age, but it was on her face that time and alcohol told their story. Her short curly hair was tousled by the wind. He’d watched her for a few days, just as he’d watched the others. The memories flooded and overwhelmed him. They excited and horrified him. They all reminded him of that Bitch. She’d turned him into a monster.
The woman tried to pick up all the boxes piled around her feet. She hadn’t had the brains to pack them flat, and her hands shook too much for her to be able to put them inside each other. Probably needed another drink. Getting out of his car, he slung his rucksack over his shoulder, checked that no one was around to identify him and walked through the open gate towards her. She never remembered to close the gate, probably to the disgust of the other inhabitants of the complex, but it suited his plans.
His hands stopped shaking and the noise in his head grew silent. All he saw was the woman who would soon be joining the others.
His footsteps crunched on the grass. He saw her back stiffen and heave as she took a deep breath before turning around. He sensed her fear and apprehension about being out alone in the dark. She looked around furtively, betraying the usual victim mentality in her every move. She was vulnerable and knew it, which excited him. Her body relaxed the moment she turned around and saw him coming towards her. The uniform always put them at ease. It was almost too easy.
He smiled, flashing his perfect teeth and asked “Hello Auntie, can I help you with those boxes?” His voice was calm and didn’t betray the excitement he felt. He’d been taught that calling an older woman ‘Auntie’ was a sign of respect. Although he wasn’t sure who’d taught him that – it certainly hadn’t been his mother.
She nodded and smiled at him.
“You gave me a bit of a fright,” she said with her hand over her thumping heart. He could see her willing it to slow down.
“I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to,” he said with his most sincere smile.
Adjusting the strap of his rucksack, he picked up most of the boxes, leaving two for her to carry and followed her towards the flats. The swimming pool in front of the block needed attention. Brown and gold leaves crunched under their shoes as they walked past the pool. The entrance of Queenswood Gardens was dark. The light above the door had blown and the caretaker hadn’t replaced it yet. The pot plants on either side of the door had long since died. The sky turned from a dark blue to black and the thin crescent of the moon reflected in the pool.
They took the lift to the second floor. As the lift travelled slowly up she told him that she was moving to Cape Town and was looking forward to starting her life over. Getting away from all the bad memories would help in her recovery. Her high-pitched, sharp voice irritated him. Shutting her up would be a pleasure. He pictured her begging for her life. But then the woman’s face turned into hers. He resisted the urge to kill her then and there. Anger welled up in the pit of his stomach. Only seeing her blood would keep that deep-seated anger and hatred from consuming him without pity or remorse. Not being shown pity was something he was used to. No-one had ever shown him pity before, so why should he be any different on himself or anybody else..
“Are you new to the block?” she asked. “I haven’t seen you before.”
He nodded. His mouth was dry and his hands were sweaty inside his gloves.
“Did you hear about what happened on the fifth floor?” she asked, sounding nervous.
He shook his head. He didn’t trust himself to speak.
“Mrs Oosthuizen in five-oh-five caught her husband with the maid. I always thought he was one of those. She threw him out and now he’s living with the maid in Mamelodi with the rest of the monkeys.”
With that comment she’d made it a lot easier for him to kill her. One less narrow-minded, racist old cow was a service to the universe.
The lift door opened, he held it for her while she stepped out. She turned right into the passageway. The wind buffeted against the passage windows. She lived five doors down. He didn’t take much notice of what number it was, but the door was in dire need of varnish. Inside, the walls needed a fresh coat of paint and the curtains demanded to be washed. The smell of stale cigarettes and booze hung in the air. The flat could also do with a bit of dusting. She was just like her: too lazy to clean up after herself.
She switched on the hall light. The bright light highlighted the dirty walls that hadn’t been washed in years. Dirty handprints seemed to be her wallpaper of choice. He closed the door quietly behind him. Boxes in the lounge were in various stages of being packed. Piles of old newspaper littered the floor.
“Where do you want me to put these boxes for you?” he asked, his voice controlled.
“Just put them in the kitchen or you can just dump them here, please. I’ll go take my jacket off and then make us a nice cup of coffee.”
“Thanks,” he replied. “But you really don’t have to.” He didn’t want to drink her crappy coffee from her dirty chipped mug.
“Nonsense! I can’t have you leaving here without having some coffee to warm you up first,” she said, handing him the boxes she was carrying before walking down the narrow passage to her bedroom.
He turned left into the kitchen and dropped some of the boxes on the kitchen counter and some on the floor. An empty bottle of brandy lay comfortably on the top of her rubbish. His upper lip twitched as he scowled at the bottle and wondered how many more empty bottles were in the rubbish bin. While he waited for her, he surveyed his gloved hands and tried not to look at the empty bottle. She had given him the gloves for his birthday. They were one of the very few things she had ever given him. They were cheap black imitation leather and were starting to crack. He didn’t know why he kept them, probably because they were a gift from her. The reason for hating them was also his reason for wanting to keep them.
He remembered one of the first presents he’d bought her with his own money as a child. It had been a pink fairy statuette for her bedroom. She’d thrown it away. He could still see the porcelain shards lying at the bottom of the trash can.
The woman returned to the kitchen while he was staring at the gloves. He hadn’t noticed her come in. He snapped his head up and stiffened. He felt her watching him, judging him. Her eyes burned into him the same way that Bitch’s eyes had burnt his soul. They had the same cold fish eyes, only hungry for the next drink. She turned to put the kettle on. His hand reached into the pocket of his jacket and felt the wire. He could feel the grooves and notches through his cheap gloves. He caressed it. He could feel his cock harden and his breath quickened in anticipation. He pulled the wire out of his pocket, savouring every second. He felt himself rushing the moment. He wanted to slow it down and enjoy every detail. But she would turn around any moment and things would get messy. He didn’t want that to happen again. He wrapped the ends around his hands and pulled it taut.
He watched the back of her head bob up and down as she made the coffee, humming happily. The kettle was too loud. Her humming was out of tune and pulled his last nerve. She chatted about how rare it was to come across someone as polite as he was, but all he could hear was the sound of the piano clanging in his head. He crossed his wrists and slipped the wire over her head and pulled it around her throat. His heart lurched and the beat quickened. The excitement of the impending kill made him a little light-headed. A surprised groan escaped from her mouth. She tried to grab the wire, but her chewed fingernails were too short to dig in. She tried to grasp his gloved hands at the back of her head, but she was too slow. Her arms flailed around trying to hit him. Her foot connected with his shin. That would leave a bruise, he thought. He pulled the wire tighter. Its sharp edges cut into her flesh, slicing into her like a hot knife through butter. Her breath came in gasps; the more she struggled for breath the bigger and harder his erection grew. His breathing became harder and faster. The wire was swallowed up by her larynx. Blood ran down the front of her clothes. Her end was very close now, he could feel it. It was about time too. His muscles were killing him. The drunken old bitch had put up quite a fight.
Her struggle became feeble. She stopped fighting as her last breath left her and the wire cut through the arteries in her throat. Blood from the severed artery spray-painted the cupboard and his face. He felt her final breath escape. The sound of her last breath tickled his ear like a lover’s whisper. Blood and spittle dribbled out of her mouth. He smothered the need to howl with pleasure as he came in his pants and allowed a loud moan to escape from between his lips.
Her body fell to the floor with a thump. Looking down at her, he thrust his gloved hand inside his pants. He felt the leatherette of the glove slipping against his cum as he rubbed his fingers against each other. Her blood and his sperm mixed on the leather. He fondled his now-limp penis, hoping to feel some flicker of excitement. Not even the thrill of having her blood on his cock excited him anymore. He felt nothing. He always hoped, with every victim, that he would feel something: something that would make sense. Something that would stem the flow of anger and hate he felt. But he never did and he would have to keep searching until he felt it.
Retracting his hand, he stared at the creaminess of his semen against the black of the glove. He slowly licked his fingers, relishing himself, savouring the sour, acrid tang that was his. He wondered if his diet really did affect its taste. He’d read that it did in some health magazine, but like most magazines they were probably full of shit.
He stared down at her body. Blood pooled around her head and his feet. It trickled into the grooves between the tiles, like red streams wending their way across the kitchen floor. He remembered the other two women who had taken her place. He’d killed them the same way and wished that each of them had been his mother; it was all her fault that these women were dead.
He remembered the first one he’d killed. It seemed so long ago now, but it had only been a couple of weeks. He’d watched her for months before he’d built up the courage to take action after that evil witch had gone after the only person he cared about. It had sent him over the edge. In a way, he’d hoped that someone would stop him – the cops, a random stranger walking past – but nobody did. They’d all been deaf, dumb and blind to his intentions.
His senses had been heightened during the time he’d stalked his prey. Everything tasted better and smells were so much more potent. Every sound was amplified as he followed her around Sunnyside.
Her block of flats was only a block away from where he lived. She’d been too drunk to even notice when he walked up behind her in her own flat. She’d left the door unlocked in her drunken state. But then it had become messy. She’d turned around at the wrong moment, which had been a surprise for both of them. Even in her drunken state she’d managed to put up a fight. She’d made him work for it. The fight had been over so quickly. Too quickly. None of it had gone the way he’d envisaged.
He’d wanted to savour every moment and had planned it all out in his head, only to be disappointed. He’d thought he would feel more, that he’d feel some guilt or remorse.
His lack of emotion was the only thing that had grieved him.
He’d hoped to feel more powerful or some sense that his mother’s power over him was destroyed, but he’d felt nothing. Well, he’d heard the first one is always the hardest.
For days afterwards he’d thought that they’d catch him: every knock on the door had to be the cops. Maybe someone had seen him covered in blood. But the streets had been empty at that time on a Sunday night. The cops didn’t show up on his doorstep. They were completely clueless. Considering that South Africa was literally one of the few countries where you could get away with murder, this shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise. Every criminal knew that the police were just as corrupt as they, the felons, were. A couple of hundred rand would ensure the police docket disappeared. And then there were the incompetent forensic labs and the back log that was several years long. He’d recently watched a programme on Carte Blanche, the only news programme he bothered to watch, where the Forensic Pathologist office had been exposed. It took about three years for an autopsy report to be filed. The fact that they weren’t knocking on his door shouldn’t have been much cause for celebration.
The news coverage on the first one had been dismal but after the second one they’d paid attention. And now – he scrutinized the body at his feet – they would really pay attention. Three bodies were better than one.
He bent over, picked up her feet and dragged her through to her small closet-like bathroom. Her blood left a telltale trail behind him. The dark bathroom smelt of apples. A toilet flushed somewhere upstairs and the sound of the water rushed down to him through the open ventilation window. He dumped her in the bath tub and arranged her body so that it was in the foetal position, with her arms curled around her legs, switching on the bathroom light so he could admire his handiwork. The light flickered above his head and then flashed on, giving the scene a bright, harsh light. The room reminded him of the bathroom she’d locked him in, where he had so often cried himself to sleep, wet and cold, curled up in the tub. Conflicting emotions stirred within him. He felt triumphant, almost godlike staring down at his creation, but there was a part of him that wanted to scream out in pain at what he’d done. He shut his mind to the guilt that was making him weak.
He needed to urinate, so he stood over the bathtub, unzipped his pants and sprayed over her body. Relief flooded over him. The joy of pissing on a woman like her made him smile. When he was done he zipped himself up and left the bathroom.
He walked to the kitchen, leaving bloody footprints in his wake, retrieved his rucksack from the top of the kitchen counter and carried it back to the bathroom. He opened the bag and removed his digital camera. He placed himself at the edge of the tub, held the camera in front of him to find the best composition for his subject matter and took the picture. The body looked grotesque and scrunched up on the small screen, just the way he liked it. He thrust the camera back into the rucksack, put the plug in the bath and turned on the cold water tap. He watched the bath fill up while he cleaned the blood off his face, making himself look presentable and turned the tap off once the water was close to overflowing. The water turned red and the silence in the room made him feel serene. Her wet clothes ballooned around her body. Closing the shower curtain, he picked up his rucksack and left the bathroom.
He smiled and started to whistle as he closed the front door behind him.
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