7 Listening

Detective Sergeant Harding reached out for his half-empty mug of coffee but before he could take a sip, the 'phone on his desk rang. He glared at it for a moment but then reached out and lifted the receiver.

"Harding."

"Hello, Mr Harding."

The voice was low-pitched but it scraped his nerves like finger-nails on a blackboard, just like it always did. His breath caught in his throat and all he could manage was a strangled, "What?"

“Is that any way to greet an old friend?”

“You're no friend...”

“Acquaintance, then. Please don't waste time on semantics, Mr Harding.”

“What do you want?”

“Just to talk. My fingers have been getting... itchy... again. I needed to talk to someone who understands me.”

“I don't understand you, Simon. I've never understood you.”

“And yet you always listen when I call. Why is that, Mr Harding?”

“Why do you keep calling me?” He heard a pleading in his own voice that sickened him almost as much as the voice coming through the receiver. In a firmer tone he continued, “Why don't you get yourself a counsellor?”

“Because you know what I've done. You've seen my... playmates. You know why I have to change.”

Fighting the bile that rose at the memories of Simon's 'playmates', he asked, “If you're really so full of remorse, why don't you bring yourself in?”

“Who said anything about remorse, Mr Harding? I have no regrets but you got too close last time. You might actually join the final dots if I come out to play again.”

“So, instead of torturing innocent girls, you torture me?”

“I told you, my fingers are itchy. I need some way to satisfy the urge.”

His hand tightened on the receiver and he fought his own urge to slam it down. The longer he kept the man on the line, the better the chance that the call could be traced. It was the fourth time Simon – no-one had any idea what his real name might be – had called this year. After the second time, a trace had been put on Harding's line in an effort to find the caller.

“Are you still there, Mr Harding?”

“Yes, I'm here.”

“I was worried for a moment. You know what will happen if I don't have someone to talk to...”

“You will strike again...”

“Yes!” Simon's was almost gloating, now, his voice rising as he became lost in his imagination. “And I will...”

“Be caught!” Harding interrupted.

“What?” The voice was sharp, now, the subdued tones gone for the moment. Harding allowed himself a small smile.

“You said it yourself. We got close last time – next time we'll catch you.”

The man at the other end of the line chuckled, low and insidious, the usual persona most definitely in charge again. “Yes, I did say that, didn't I? But how much do you trust me, Mr Harding? After all, you know how I lured those little girls in with my lies.”

“I don't know what you said to them. There wasn't enough left of them to give us a witness statement.”

He chuckled again and Harding had to force himself to keep hold of the receiver, pressing it so hard against his head that he was worried it would leave a permanent mark.

Abruptly, Simon asked, “Do you remember Daisy?”

Did he remember? Of course he remembered. How could he possibly forget?

“She was a pretty little thing, wasn't she?”

“She was indeed – until you got busy with your knife.”

“Tut tut, Mr Harding. She was a fifteen-year-old girl. You shouldn't be thinking about how pretty she was. Perversion is my bag, remember?”

Harding felt the conversation slipping away from him, if it had not already gone. But before he could regather the threads, Simon spoke again.

“Well, I think that's all I the time I have to give you today. I'll give you a call sometime soon. Maybe next time, you'll be able to trace the call. Goodbye, Mr Harding.”

The line went dead and Harding dropped the receiver back onto its cradle, noting that the tracing gadget had not been able to do its job. He picked up his mug and cursed. His coffee had gone cold.

7 Listening

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