Killer Princesses – Prologue

 Prologue: A Hot Night For Cold Blood
 Friday 3 August 2018 - Janice, Caitlin, Killer
    “Thank God for that,” muttered the tall red-haired woman to the shorter dark-haired one. She sighed as she slammed the staff exit door of the supermarket. 
    “Starting at midday, ending at nine-thirty on a Friday night; it’s no life,” Caitlin continued. 
    Though the sun was down, the evening was unusually warm and sticky, even for early August. It had been a long shift, plagued by many hot and bothered customers. Their endless complaints and demands had exhausted her.
    “I’d do anything for a bit of breeze too,” added Caitlin. She pushed her long red curls into a high ponytail and wiped the sweat from her freckled forehead. They plodded together alongside the store towards the dimly lit car park.
    The shorter woman, Janice, hummed in agreement. She loosened the top buttons of her shirt and rubbed the back of her neck to relieve the tension of the day. Flies circled above their heads, buzzing with an energy that the women very much lacked.
    “Jan,” sighed Caitlin as she moved her hand towards her friend’s arm. They paused.
    “I’m sorry, Cait,” whispered Janice. “I know I’ve not been myself lately. But what we’ve found out, it’s awful, and you know that someone at work is behind it.”
    “Not here, Jan,” hushed Caitlin. She raised her eyebrows and glanced through the glass panels into the supermarket. 
    “I know who you think it is,” Caitlin continued. “But you’ve been going around in circles. Theory after theory, all as unlikely as the rest. It’s time to go to the police and tell them what we know.”
    “And give them the chance to cover their tracks or run?” replied Janice, her voice louder.
    Caitlin closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and urged herself to remain calm. 
    “We’re having a drink tomorrow evening, right?” 
    Janice nodded glumly. 
    “Then let’s have a proper talk then, yeah? I’m tired, and we shouldn’t be discussing this here of all places.” 
    Caitlin walked ahead of Janice. As they reached the car park, she took her car keys from her pocket. 

    Janice followed her friend in silence and opened her car door to let the day’s heat out. She sat down in the driver’s seat and almost slammed her door closed without saying goodbye. 
    But then, a loud bang and a cry from Caitlin stopped Janice in her tracks. She heaved herself out of the car too quickly and hit her head on the hard door frame.
    Caitlin stood a few parking bays down, alone, with her fists on the top of the car. 
    “What on earth is the matter?” asked Janice, as she clambered out of her car and rubbed her head.
    “I’ve left my handbag in my locker. I was too keen to get out,” groaned Caitlin, with her hands on her hips. 
    At that moment, Janice was reminded more of her teenage daughter than the 29-year-old colleague she knew so well.
    “Oh, just smile then,” grumbled Caitlin. “Don’t offer to come back and get it with me.” She banged her fists again, though not as hard, on the car roof. 
    “Do you need it tonight, Cait? You have your car and house keys, don’t you?” 
    Caitlin glanced from her car to the supermarket. She was rarely without her handbag and phone. But the store had creaked in the heat all day, the car park lights were flickering, and there was an unfamiliar, dark-green car with tinted windows in the corner. Plus, she thought bitterly, Janice had put her on edge by talking about the secret they’d uncovered. 
    “You know what,” sighed Caitlin, “I’ll come to get it first thing, on the way to that job interview.”
    “Good luck,” mumbled Janice. Caitlin returned a half-hearted smile, and they both slammed their car doors closed. 
    It was the last time the two women, colleagues and friends ever saw each other.
    They drove out of the car park in opposite directions, yet both women were thinking about the same thing. 
    What started as idle gossip had turned into an investigative hobby for them. It was an almost welcome distraction from their mundane jobs. 
    They had played to their strengths. Caitlin, who was everyone’s friend, collected information and gained people’s trust. Janice separated rumour from facts and started spotting patterns. Before long, they had uncovered a dark and dangerous secret.
    There was one final piece of the puzzle remaining: which colleague was behind it all? Who was pulling the strings and putting vulnerable staff members in danger? Janice vowed to heed Caitlin’s advice and go straight to the police as soon as they were sure who the culprit was.
    Halfway home, roadworks which had blighted Janice’s journey home for weeks delayed her once again. She already felt guilty about how she had left things with Caitlin. 
    “Should have gone back in to get the bloody bag,” she muttered to herself, as she tapped the steering wheel. 
    Janice turned the radio up, pulled her phone from her bag and typed a message.
 Sorry, Cait – I know you won’t get this till 2m morning….
    Had Janice not been so focused on the message, she might have noticed the car with an obscured number plate, creeping up behind her. She continued to type and pressed the send button, as the makeshift traffic light in front of her flicked to green.
    The car behind her was bottle-green in colour, very much like the one in the supermarket car park. It was slow and quiet, with tinted windows and dimmed headlights. It was the perfect vehicle for the intended crime. 
    Yet the driver was not so sleek. As they carefully followed Janice, they wiped the sweat from their forehead and top lip. Their heart pumped with adrenaline, and their body shook with nerves, but they still possessed a cruel, cold intent to murder. A gun, fully loaded and deadly at a short-range, lay on the passenger’s seat. 
    Janice arrived home with a sense of relief. She looked forward to a day off to relax, catch-up with errands and have a few drinks with Caitlin in the evening. But as she got out of her car, her thoughts returned to the secret they’d discovered. 
    Her last thoughts were not of her husband and children asleep upstairs or of her best friends. Instead, she dwelt on the mystery colleague she planned to turn in to the police. 
    As Janice fumbled in her bag for her house keys, the bottle-green car crawled across the front of her drive, and the driver positioned themselves for the kill.
    They opened the car window and aimed the gun, complete with a silencer, at Janice’s back. As they squeezed the trigger, their hand shook by a fraction of an inch. The first bullet flew past Janice’s head into a window, which fractured into thousands of shards.
    Janice spun round. She gulped for air as her heart thumped against her chest. Her mind was blank, her arms and legs paralysed. When she recognised the driver, her eyes widened in shock.
    “You?” she whispered in disbelief. It cost her every last bit of effort to force the word out of her mouth.
    “Yes,” confirmed the driver coldly. 
    That was the last word Janice heard before the second bullet pierced her chest and heart. She was dead before she hit the floor.
    The bottle-green car sped down the street, out of sight and sound. Gone, by the time Janice’s husband had jumped out of bed, run downstairs and found his wife lying at their front door in a pool of blood.
    The killer felt calmer as they headed towards the next victim; their secrets were one step closer to remaining safe. 
    Yes, they had misfired the first shot into the window, alerting the husband and neighbours. But that would work to their advantage. The police would flock there, leaving the killer free to do as they liked on the other side of town. 
    Soon, there would be no-one apart from themselves and a trusted other who knew the secrets they kept. This time, there were no nerves, and the intent to murder was colder and crueller.
    Caitlin was already home, roaming her flat in her loose-fitting pyjamas. She felt bereft and bored without her phone, so she finished her glass of red wine and got into bed with a sigh.
    An early night was best, given the day ahead. She had a job interview for a hospitality manager role at a prestigious hotel in central London. 
    Afterwards, she had a lunch date with her new boyfriend, who worked as a stockbroker in town. She already adored him; she had never fallen for someone so hard or so fast before. 
    As her eyes slowly closed, a loud knock on her front door made her jump violently. She gathered herself; her boyfriend must have decided to surprise her with a late visit. Or, he’d texted her without reply, and had come to check on her. She pictured him behind her front door holding a bottle of wine, his handsome face smiling back at hers. 
    She checked herself in the mirror, ruffled her long red hair and smiled as she flung the door open. Her smile vanished, as she saw not her boyfriend, but a colleague who’d never visited her before.
    “It’s a bit late for a visit,” commented Caitlin, with no attempt to cover her disappointment. 
    “Yes, it is,” conceded the visitor, though they did not explain themselves. They looked pale and clammy; their hands stuffed into the pockets of an oversized, dark linen coat.
    “Can I come in?” 
    “Why?” asked Caitlin suspiciously, as she held the door ajar to prevent her colleague from entering. 
    “I need to talk to you, Caitlin. I have some, um, suspicions about someone we work with closely. I know you and Janice do too, and I think I can trust you.”
    Caitlin rolled her eyes. It seemed Janice had spoken to someone else about this awful thing, which they’d agreed to keep secret. Caitlin relaxed her grip on the door and pulled it wide open, to let the visitor into the hallway. 
    As Caitlin closed her front-door and moved her hand towards the chain lock, she made a connection in her mind. A link so obvious, she couldn’t believe she hadn’t made it before. It all fitted, and she now knew who the colleague behind the dark secret was. Unfortunately, though, it was the one she’d just let into her flat.
    Sure enough, as Caitlin turned around with fear in her eyes, she found herself staring down the barrel of a gun, with nowhere to run. 
    “Stay very still,” ordered the killer. 
    Caitlin raised both of her hands in a sign of surrender. 
    “You don’t have to do this, I won’t say…” Caitlin pleaded, but the killer smiled and shook their head in response.
    “Oh, I do have to,” they replied. “You really should’ve minded your own business, instead of poking around in mine.”
    Caitlin turned to grab the door handle, to no avail. This time, the killer only needed one shot, straight to the back of the head. Their work was complete, their secrets were safe. 
    The killer stepped over the body, opened the door as far as it would allow and squeezed through the gap. They jogged to the car with their hood up and drove away at speed. Ten minutes later, they were off-grid and out of sight of cameras. They torched the car on the edge of a field and walked into the woods under cover of night. 
    A few days later, the supermarket, which looked so ordinary from the outside, buzzed with gossip and speculation. Why were two checkout supervisors murdered in cold blood on the same night? The police also seemed perplexed by the crimes, and both the staff and local shoppers worried about the lack of arrests. 
    Unbeknown to them all, the killer had wandered around the supermarket ever since, basking in the knowledge that their secrets remained safe.  
 Police Media Statement: Monday 6 August 2018, 12:00
 DCI Vincent Okafor, Croydon police
    On Friday 3 August 2018, at 22:06, Croydon police received a report of a woman (Janice Locke, 41) being shot outside her house in Melwood, in the south of the borough. Officers attended the scene to confirm the fatality and to collect evidence. An investigation was started immediately and is underway. 
    On Sunday 5 August, at 18:09, Croydon police received a missing person’s report and attended a flat in Homestead at 19:05. The tenant (Caitlin Murphy, 29) was found dead at the scene; her death also caused by a single gunshot wound. It is estimated that her death occurred late on Friday night or very early Saturday morning.
    Mrs Locke and Ms Murphy were friends and colleagues – both working as checkout supervisors at the same supermarket in Melwood. This, together with the similarities in their deaths, have led us to assume the two crimes are related.
    While no possessions were taken from Mrs Locke, some personal items of Ms Murphy’s, such as a purse and phone, were not present at her address. 
    We are working as quickly as possible to establish a full picture of the events leading up to these crimes, from the time the women left work at the supermarket on Friday evening. 
    We encourage anyone with any information relating to these women, the incidents, or the missing items, to come forward immediately using the following phone number: 0800 445 5426. Any information will be treated in the strictest confidence.