‘That is my ambition, to have killed more people — more helpless people — than any man or woman who has ever lived.’ – Jane Toppan
Suzette Cromwell crept into her apartment, carefully closing the door behind her to avoid waking Raquel. Raquel had consumed a considerable amount of wine last night, and combined with the sleeping pills that Suzette had ground up and laced her last glass of the evening with, she estimated that she should be out at least until noon. Still, Suzette prided herself on minimising loose ends, and the last thing she wanted to have to do was kill Raquel. Well, no, that wasn’t quite right. That was blatantly inaccurate, she admitted. It was not the last thing that she wanted to do, it was actually the first, but that particularly endeavour would not be subject to impulse. It would require years of careful calculation and strategic planning to create the right set of circumstances that would lead to Raquel’s accidental death. Their romantic ties complicated what would have otherwise been a simple execution, and for now, Raquel was off limits. Suzette resigned herself to the fact that there was an order to these things that needed to be followed; her only consolation that when the situation did finally present itself, it would be that much sweeter for having waited. For now, she was not going to mess with the program. She cast her eyes over the room. The curtains had been opened, the sun now streaming onto Raquel’s tight backside. She was sure that she had closed them last night, and there was little chance that Raquel had risen from her torpor just to open the curtains whilst hungover. How strange, she thought. Suzette removed her shoes and slid into the bathroom. She removed the plastic bag that she had scrunched up in her pocket and carefully placed all of her clothing in it. They would need to be burned, there was always the possibility of transference of DNA and blood spatter even though for most of the past twelve hours she had been wearing a forensic gown. Suzette had ditched the gown in the skip behind Croydon University Hospital after her kill. These were the lengths that she had to go to just to satisfy her urges. Much to her chagrin, it had become exceedingly difficult to kill people and get away with it in this modern age. There were so many ways to get caught out these days, CCTV footage, forensic accounting and phone triangulation, and those were just the obvious ones. She had read about a killer that had been caught because an insect had bitten him at the crime scene. After a forensic sweep, the dead insect had been examined, enabling blood-meal to be extracted and analysed confirming a DNA match placing the killer at the scene. Imagine that. Undone by a fucking bug. Suzette often fantasised about being born in a different era, and how much easier it would have been to operate for someone with her proclivities. They didn’t even know what a serial killer was back in the eighties. Authorities didn’t think to collaborate efforts across state borders, ignorant to the possibility of a kill spree spanning over a wide radius. The idea that someone would kill multiple people, seemingly without motive and with no connection to the victim, was baffling. Given that kind of freedom, Suzette liked to think that her reign of terror would have been far more prolific than the meagre three victims she had slain. That was the problem with operating in 2019, there had been so many technological and forensic advancements that sociopaths like herself had to be sensible if they were going to satisfy their blood lust with any hope for sustainability. For example, she knew that she had to limit the frequency of her kills to once a year. Suzette selected her victims at random, much like the way she chose the location of the victim, never following a pattern. Her kill last night had been a year in the making, and how she had savoured every second of it. That reminded her. Four. After last night, that makes four. She rolled the number around in her head, and it brought her an immense feeling of accomplishment. Now, that was a number that was starting to be worthy of the word serial, she thought. She felt exalted. It was bittersweet though; she was painfully aware that it would be a long time before she would safely be able to plan her next kill. The memories would fade; the mementos would lose their immediate significance. Suzette had killed a cleaning lady in the middle of the night. Faruq Sadik, a pretty little thing of slight stature and big brown eyes. Faruq lived alone, a factor that was carefully considered when Suzette made the decision to select her as her next victim. It made for many delightful hours of uninterrupted terror. When it came to choosing a murder weapon, Suzette liked the classics. A thick plastic bag with some duct tape were all that she had required last night, and yet it was as exquisite as any of her previous kills. Not that the first one was in the ‘exquisite’ category, but then, everyone needed to learn, didn’t they? Suzette stepped into the shower, carefully scrubbing her hands in case there was any lingering acid that had splashed onto her fingers. Dissolving Faruq’s corpse in her bathtub had almost been as enjoyable as killing her. The acid was potent stuff. It certainly made light work of Faruq, she reflected. Satisfied that she was completely clean, she allowed herself a moment of serene reflection as she let the warm water wash over her. She felt a hand slide across her belly, and there was a slight break in the shower stream. Raquel had joined her. ‘It was nice just having a cuddle with you last night. What was that all about? You usually don’t like that kind of thing,’ Raquel whispered into Suzette’s ear. Suzette had no idea what she was talking about. At least her alibi was solid. ‘Just felt a bit lonely, I guess. How did you sleep?’ ‘Like a rock. Feels like I had a lot more than a bottle of Shiraz last night. This shower is bringing me back to life though,’ Raquel said, giggling. She likely wanted to take things further, but Suzette was in no mood for it. She wanted to be alone with her thoughts and revel in violent replays of visceral terror while they were still fresh in her mind. ‘I’ll leave you to it, then. Got to stick my head into the office, anyway,’ Suzette said, as she stepped out of the shower and grabbed a towel from the rack. ‘But it’s Daniel Day-Lewis Day! Can’t we go out and get drunk like everyone else?’ Raquel pleaded. ‘I’m sorry, beautiful. I have a few things that I just can’t avoid. Later. We will do something nice together later, I promise,’ Suzette offered, with a mock frown as she began to dry herself. ‘Fine,’ Raquel said with a sigh, stamping her foot in the shower like a petulant child. Suzette puckered her lips and made an exaggerated kissing sound and as she left the bathroom, she grabbed her plastic bag of clothes with the deliberate smoothness of someone who had nothing to hide. Suzette decided that she would dress down in light of it being a public holiday, and grabbed a selection of casual clothes off her portable clothes rack and laid them over the side of the high heel lounge suite. The high heel lounge had been Raquel’s idea, and Suzette absolutely detested it. She sifted through the clothes, looking for the most ordinary items that she could find. Nothing flashy when it came to disposing of evidence, she repeated to herself. That was simple common sense. She settled on a fitted pair of jeans, a white t-shirt and an oversized army green parker that made her look frumpy. She pulled on some worn old Doc Martins and decided to forego the make-up. It would complete the inconspicuous ensemble nicely, she thought. Suzette sung out to Raquel that she was leaving and that she loved her, Ha! and left her apartment, taking the stairs down to the ground floor. At this point, taking the stairs rather than the elevator might be covert overkill, but ten flights of stairs didn’t bother her. She was exceedingly fit and wasn’t afraid of a little physical activity. Core fitness and strength training was part of her preparation for a kill. It was good practice to be in shape for when she needed to overpower someone, even flitty little things like Faruq Sadik could prove to be quite spirited when adequately motivated. Suzette trotted down the last flight of stairs and out the emergency exit of her building. She rounded the corner to the street entrance, and immediately noticed that her company cab was not waiting where it should be. Not that she would be taking it anyway, but that lazy bastard was paid to be on standby in front of the building twenty-four seven. She would definitely be having words with the company. Suzette set off on foot down Northington Street, quickly finding what she had scouted a few weeks ago. There was a closed off alleyway by the name of Cockpit Yard that branched off from Northington, inhabited by vagrants. Makeshift sleeping quarters had been set up out of cardboard along the edges of the sidewalk, and there were a few forty-four-gallon drums being used as firepits that the homeless were using to keep warm. Suzette flicked up the hoody on her parker, and entered the alleyway. The shadow of the adjacent buildings doused the alleyway in cobalt, and the only flashes of luminance were the piercing eyes of white fire where the drums had been perforated, and the amber tongues of flame that occasionally licked above the rims. She gravitated to one of the drums that was roaring with fire. There was no one standing near it for warmth, in fact, a cursory glance of the length of the alleyway suggested that the murky outlines that occupied this stretch were sleeping, or pretending to be asleep. It was good enough for her. She tossed the entire bag into the drum and peered over the top of it just to be sure that the flames were taking hold. The acrid smell of burning plastic assaulted her nostrils, and the force of the heat hit her face with a radiant blast that was too intense to stand. She backed away, satisfied that the clothing would be destroyed, and departed Cockpit Yard and resumed on Northington. Suzette decided that she would hit the office after all. It wasn’t ideal popping in looking like a hobo, but Suzette was a great believer in partial truths. If she said to Raquel that she was going to the office, she would go to the office, whether she needed to or not. It made a great deal of sense to be constantly following a doctored but overall truthful timeline of events; if she ever was unfortunate enough to be arrested under suspicion for murder then she would be able to provide explanations for her every move. Suzette took Grays Inn Rd to Chancery Lane Tube station, jumping on the tube to Liverpool street, walking the rest of the way in the crisp morning air. She drew the strings on her faux hair lined hoody and folded her arms in an attempt to keep warm as she approached St Mary Axe. Suzette stopped in her tracks. Walking out of her building, she noticed a young woman that was a spitting image of, well, her. A scantily clad, trashy looking version of her, but it was most definitely her. A twin? Suzette considered this. It was possible. Suzette had thoroughly researched her biological family history and had never come up with any known siblings, but she suspected that the connections of an orphan like herself were far from meticulously documented. Whatever was happening here, Suzette found the revelation to be absolutely fascinating. This could have ground-breaking implications for her killing career. Suzette followed her. The trashy, underdressed version of herself stumbled down Queen Victoria Street. She seemed distracted, crossing the street a few times and then crossing back, eventually arriving at a cosy little pub called Balls Brothers. Suzette had never heard of it, but that was hardly of any significance. She liked a drink, but on the occasions that she did indulge, she was very careful with choosing the venue and the company that she would keep. She did not partake in homely little places like the one she was standing across the road from. Suzette gave it a few moments, then wandered in, keeping her hoody up and inconspicuously found a seat that was a safe distance from the bar. The sloppy version of herself had set up camp there. Suzette was repulsed. This woman may have shared her looks, but the similarities ended there. She looked as though she had been partying all night and was still going. Her cheap, wrinkled skirt had several stains on it, and her blouse was similarly soiled in places. She was stooped over with the posture of the rest of the miscreants at the bar, advertising ample arse crack as she swayed about on the barstool. Suzette watched as a large, scruffy looking man approached the bar and took up the seat next to her. The body language between them suggested that they didn’t know each other, and yet the scruffy man ordered a drink for her. They began exchanging words, at first it seemed like idle chit chat but it quickly turned serious, judging by the look on their faces. Without notice, the sloppy version of her dropped back off the bar stool like a stone, sending the bar residents into a raucous mixture of shock and revelry. Patrons flocked to the woman, checking her vitals and assessing her for injuries. She sat up, dazed, but otherwise looked unharmed. She must have fainted, or passed out from drink, it was difficult to tell. The scruffy looking man seemed alarmed by the attention that was concentrated on the woman, and sneakily moved away from the commotion, heading out the front door and into the street. Suzette was trying to piece together what happened. That bastard must have slipped her something, Suzette concluded. She had to go after him. This predator needed to be taught a lesson. If anyone was going to put this woman in danger, it would be her. Suzette would have preferred to stick around and find out who this woman was, but considering her recent movements it was probably best not to be in this place when the police arrived. Besides, she now knew that this woman had been in her office building. She would see her again. Suzette exited the pub in pursuit of the scruffy man. She caught sight of him scurrying down St Andrew’s street and followed him to Holborn Circus where he hopped on a red double-decker. Suzette sprinted for it, just getting on before it pulled away. She spotted the man at the back of the bus; he was more concerned with looking out the window and had not noticed her jump on. She sat at the front, using the bus mirrors to keep an eye on him. They travelled down the Holborn viaduct, on to Cornhill, passed Lloyd’s and onto Aldgate High street. He got off at Aldgate station, and after an obligatory second, so did she. The man finally slowed down when he arrived at the Aldgate station entrance, moderating his walk as he descended the stairs and arrived on platform three. He continued walking on towards the tunnel end of the platform, shooting a furtive glance down the platform and awkwardly moving around the grey barrier gate that was plastered with warnings of electrocution danger and sizeable fines for trespassing. Suzette followed, even more intrigued now as to what this sizeable oaf was up to. She scanned for onlookers, and squeezed around the barrier gate after she concluded no one was watching her. Behind the gate, tucked behind a little alcove was a large red door. Suzette tried the handle, it wasn’t locked. She pushed forward, and went through.