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RENDELL, Ruth



The girl next door

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It was October, better than summer because he need not hurry with disposal of the bodies. Now that he had removed the offending hands, the hands that had held each other, he hardly knew why he had. To look at them? To remind him of his vengeance? But the hand-holding was in the past, and now was the present. He knew he would scarcely want to contemplate those hands in a day or two's time. What he might do was bury them, and knowing they were there, hidden, and whose they were, would be enough. He wrapped the bodies in bedsheets and tied them up with garden string. The child slept through it. He was only just nine, old enough to see everything that went on even if not understanding most of it. Woody knew he would have to get rid of him. Not that he intended the same fate for him that he had meted out to Anita and her lover. Michael was his son, he knew that, anyone would, for the child was lucky enough to look exactly like Woody. While not feeling anything like love for Michael, he nevertheless had a kind of tie of blood with the boy. Michael was his, and now that his mother was gone, the nearest human being in the world to Woody. He could arrange never (or seldom) to see him again, but to shed his blood, as Woody put it, that was not to be thought of.

The bodies in their bedsheet shrouds he had stowed in the summerhouse and covered them with firewood. The lid on the biscuit box fitted tightly, so there was no smell. He kept the box in Anita's wardrobe underneath those dresses she was always buying, but he knew he must find some permanent resting place. He slept in the room where he had killed them, and sometimes he contemplated the box, but he never attempted to remove the lid. Decay would have begun and he was afraid of what he would see and smell if he prised open the lid.

He had known for a couple of months where Michael went when he was out playing with the Johnson boy and the Norris boy and those Batchelors from Tycehurst Hill and lovely Daphne Jones and the little kid Rosemary something. He knew they played underground. Their games were over, time was up. He watched Michael cross the Hill. Woody waited half an hour and then went across the road and up to the entrance to the tunnels. The children were inside but he couldn't see them from where he stood. He shouted out to them, "I know you're in there. Come out now. Your games are over. Time you went home and don't come back. D'you hear me?" They heard him. One by one they came out. Daphne stayed behind to blow out the candles. She was the last to leave, and standing on the wet grass at the top, she gave him her mysterious smile, turning her head away.

Next day a policeman came. He wanted to speak to Mrs. Winwood. Woody gave him his prepared story. His wife had been ill and to convalesce was staying with her cousin in the country. The policeman didn't explain why he wanted to speak to Anita or if he was suspicious or what stimulated the request to see her. He went away.

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