Alice put the rubber band around her newly filled pages and closed the notebook. It was too big for her bag, but she manoevred things around until she could close the zip and then dropped her little green pen in the outer pocket. It had been a good idea to come to the cafe. Lots of interesting people about and she had taken loads of notes. She was ready to write the scene as soon as she got home. The man in the raincoat was perfect. She had wanted to describe the stranger who appeared in Chapter two that would later become the love interest and he would do nicely. Tapping his fingers on the table, biting his lip, his leg jiggling against the chair, he watched the door as he fidgeted. It took him several minutes, but then he seemed to relax, even allow a smile to cross his face. A smirk really. She wondered what he was so pleased about. He’d looked the very opposite of pleased when he arrived, nervous, hunted even.
Alice smiled, pleased that she had trained herself to pick up on behaviour such as his. She took pride in people watching, deciding what they did for a living, what they might be doing in a seedy cafe, alone. Perhaps he was hiding from his girlfriend. Or maybe his ex-wife was chasing him. Alice slid him easily between the pages of her latest romance, delighted to have spotted such a role model for her stranger. He looked nice. She liked the long, strong looking fingers that grasped the coffee mug, plus he had gorgeous eyes and such neat ear lobes. Alice liked neat ear lobes. Not those thick, pendulous things some men had. She shuddered at the thought. Her baddie had those. And eyes that were far too close together for comfort.
She paid the bill, pondering all the while on a name for this man who was to figure so highly in her story. Neville, perhaps. She didn’t know why. He just looked as if he might be a Neville and it sounded like a romantic name inside Alice’s head.
If Alice had continued to watch ‘Neville ‘, she would have seen the smile twist into a sneer, the gorgeous eyes narrow. He did not like being studied. He had dipped into the coffee shop to escape – not to be studied and written about. Was the girl a reporter? He needed to get hold of that notebook and destroy it. As she gathered her things, he stood and prepared to follow. Just twenty paces behind, as she wandered along the dock side, looking all around her, but not noticing him. His hands flexed inside his pockets. Not here. Too many people. What if she got into a car or met someone? He could not afford to lose her. And then he had an idea.
‘I say, wait a minute.’ He hurried alongside and adopted the smile he was sure would win her confidence. ‘I saw you in the cafe, taking notes. Are you a writer?’
He watched her face transform with pleasure. ‘I’m hoping to be – I write romantic fiction, but none of it has been published yet.’
‘I’m a publisher,’ he said. ‘Ever since that Harry Potter woman -‘
‘J. K. Rowling?’
‘Ever since we publishers realised that people like her wrote in cafes, we haunt likely places, hoping to pick up the Next Big Thing.’ Would this silly girl swallow a line like that?
‘Really. So that was why you were there? I didn’t think of that. I thought you might be hiding from an ex-wife.’
‘Certainly my wife wouldn’t like to go anywhere like that,’ he said inventing a spouse he didn’t have. ‘Maybe it’s why I noticed you. A nice girl like you, hanging around such a sordid place. I thought you must be a writer. Would you like to go somewhere and talk to me about your book?’ He was pushing his luck, he knew that, but he didn’t want to hang around here too long and the girl seemed to have accepted his story without question.
‘Pitch it to you, you mean?’
‘Exactly, pitch it to me. Shall we go to my office?’
He took the arm of the excited girl, amused in spite of himself at the ease with which he had accomplished his task.
He took her to the hotel, using the back entrance. He thought she might balk at their destination, but she was so busy chatting about herself and the innumerable characters she had invented, so delighted to talk to a real, live, publisher, he was able to steer her up the stairs and along to his room before she noticed where she was.
In the peace of the dingy corridor, his strong hands encircled her neck and choked off any words or screams she might have been about to emit. He dragged her skinny body over the threshold and dumped her on the floor, retrieving the bag with the precious notebook from the hallway.
A good job he had salvaged it. She had described him well and worse, on the opposite page, had drawn his likeness. No police photographer could have done better. The girl had talent. He cast a glance at her crumpled form. Wasted now. His lip curled in a half smile at the double meaning. Wasted. Too bad. He could not afford for a picture and description like that to hit the newspapers. His career would be over. No one would employ a hit-man whose identity was blown. He dropped the incriminating pages into the washbasin and lit them with a match, poking them around until there was only ash remaining, rinsing the residue away with cold water. He wiped every surface he might have touched, obliterating all trace of his presence and slipped out of the hotel by the same rear door.
Tomorrow, the newspapers would carry news of the job for which he’d been paid so handsomely. The girl’s death would take longer, be reported days later, with no reason to connect the two and nothing to link either crime with him.
By that time, ‘Neville’ would be far away, preparing for his next job.