It’s been twenty years but I’d have recognised his face anywhere. He was one of those guys. You know the ones who had big plans, who are going to make something of themselves. He was going to travel the world, break into movies, maybe marry a movie star (or an elderly widow) just for the cash. So, It came as a bit of a shock to learn that he’d moved back here; our drab and dismal little town.
We crossed paths a week or two after his return, bumping into each other, almost literally, in the checkout line at Waitrose.
‘Bloody Nora, Stuart,’ I said with a grin, ‘didn’t think you’d venture back here before Hell froze over. Did the hot actress throw you out?’
He shrugged, laughed and mumbled something non-committal.
I nodded at the green supermarket basket in his hand, overflowing with tools, tape and polythene sheets.
‘Planning some DIY?’
‘Something like that, mate,’ he said, adjusted his grip. ‘Say, are you free now? I was thinking of grabbing a pint down the Swan. Call it a reunion?’
I told him that’d be great. We made our purchases and headed next door to the pub.
* * *
‘Get that down you,’ Stuart deposited our drinks on the table, spilling ale across its already sticky surface.
We toasted to old friends and to old times.
‘So,’ I wiped the foam from my moustache, ‘what brings you back here?’
Stuart gave a half-grin.
‘You really want to know?’ he asked.
I shrugged, nodded.
‘I’m on the run.’
I tried to laugh but hiccupped instead, choking on the smooth bitter. He grinned again and slapped my shoulder with an open-palmed hand.
‘Okay, I’ll bite,’ I said through beery coughs. Tears stung my eyes. ‘What did you do?’
I was laughing so hard my sides ached. The choking didn’t help. It’d been so long since I’d drawn a full breath that my head was starting to swim.
‘Oh, yeah! How many?’
‘I’ve lost count…high seventies maybe?’
‘High seventies, eh?’ This was the Stuart I remembered from back in the day. He always had me in hysterics, always made me laugh so hard my juice came out of my nose. Nothing had changed…besides the beverage. ‘So you’re what? A serial killer?’
Stuart’s smile never faltered. He just gave a nod.
‘What’s your weapon of choice, Mr Serial Killer?’
‘Hammer…I like to get all up close, you see.’
I couldn’t breathe now. My sides were on fire. I needed to stop laughing soon or I’d pass out.
He continued: ‘first I drug them, makes it easier to take them somewhere quiet, then I cave in their skulls.’
I stopped laughing. There was something about that smile now; an animal snarl I realised had been there all along.
My head was still foggy. Darkness began to creep into the edges of my vision.
I stared at him, at the pint glass in my hand and felt myself falling.