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3. Pins and Needles reduced

Previously published as Injections of Insanity

Pins and Needles: Chapter 1

Week One

Friday 25 th July to Thursday 31 st July

In the lift, aware of the security camera overhead, the pretender kept his head down and his eyes on the envelope he held in his right hand. In his left hand was a laptop case, but there was no computer inside. What it did contain would come as a surprise to the man he was about to call on. The lift finally arrived at the top floor and the doors slid silently open to allow him to step into a marble-panelled vestibule with ornately gilded mirrors on the walls to his left and right. He didn’t bother looking at his reflection; he knew what he looked like and so, too, would the police by this time tomorrow. Much good that would do them.

Opposite the lift was a single door. Privileged entrance to the only apartment on the penthouse floor. He briefly wondered what it must feel like to be rich, but shrugged off the thought. He wasn’t interested in money. All he wanted was to achieve his goal. And today he’d take the first step.
He walked across vestibule and pressed the buzzer.

The door opened and the woman whose movements he’d been watching and timing for the past month stood on the threshold.

“Professor Edwards is expecting me,” he said, handing over a visiting card.

The woman glanced at it and then gave it back. “Yes, Mr Buchanan. The professor is waiting for you in his study. I’ll show you the way.”

He slipped the card into his jacket pocket, inwardly smiling at how easy it was to fool someone with no more than a rectangle of cardboard he’d had made up in a quick print store. Concentrate, he told himself, this is no time to lose focus. He followed her along the hallway.

Tastefully decorated, he thought, looking around at the bronze sculptures, watercolours and oil paintings adorning the walls. But then Professor Edwards was a very wealthy man, so he shouldn’t have expected anything less. They passed closed doors on the left and right, but no windows. He wondered where the light was coming from and looked up. A massive skylight filled most of the space above his head. He wondered if you’d ever get tired of looking up and seeing the blue sky above instead of having your view limited by a ceiling, like most of the world. Was Professor Edwards immune to the view from his wonderful home? It didn’t matter, one way or the other. The professor didn’t have much time left to enjoy being rich enough to afford a penthouse apartment in the most prestigious apartment complex in Bradchester.

They reached a door at the far end of the hall and the woman knocked before opening it and going in.

“Mr Seth Buchanan from the New York Times is here to see you, Professor.”

“Show him in, Mary, and then bring us some coffee before you go home. I won’t need you until tomorrow.”

“Yes, Professor,” she said.

“Come in. Don’t stand in the doorway. You’ll have to excuse me not getting up to greet you. Gout keeps me trapped in this chair most of the day. Take a seat.”

The pretender forced himself to walk across and shake the hand the professor held out to him, before sinking down in the comfortable armchair his host had pointed out.

“You remind me of someone, but I can’t think who.”

Anger surged through the pretender. He swallowed.

“I think I have one of those generic faces.”

“Must be, because we haven’t met before, have we? This is a turn up for the books. Fancy the New York Times realising my importance to the field of psychiatry and deciding to feature me in their series on great men. I won’t say I’m not flattered, because I am. It’s a pity our own press haven’t seen fit to recognise me in the same way.”

And so you should be flattered, you arrogant prick. Anger surged through the pretender, but that was good. He’d need the rage to carry him through to the end.

“Have you been following the series?”

Professor Edwards laughed. “To be honest with you, it’s not a paper I generally get, but when I received your call, I sent Mary out to get me a copy with the latest interview in it. You’re going to put me in some very illustrious company.”

The professor was interrupted by the arrival of his housekeeper with the coffee tray.

“Put it down there, Mary, and then you get off home. See you tomorrow and don’t be late. I like my breakfast on time, not half an hour after it should have arrived.”

The woman looked as if she wanted to say something, but bit her lip before speaking.

“I’ll be away in a few minutes. Can you see yourself out, Mr Buchanan?”

He smiled. Exactly as planned. “Of course,” he said. “I would imagine I’ll be here for about an hour or so.”

The door closed behind the housekeeper and the professor pointed at the tray. “How do you like your coffee? I see Mary has put out some cream. Don’t take the stuff, myself, but I know you Yanks like it. Not that you sound American. Not at all.”

Shaking his head at the offer of cream, the pretender stood up. “I’m not American,” he said. “I’m British through and through, but with the ease of internet communications, you don’t have to live in a country to work for a publication based there. I travel all over the world conducting interviews. Do you mind if I look at your books. I find I get a sense of the man from the books he keeps closest to him.”

He crossed the room to stand next to the bookshelves lining one complete wall of the study.

“Interesting collection you have here. Are they all first editions?”

“Not all,” the Professor answered, looking uncomfortable as he twisted around in his seat and peered over the back of the chair. “But many of them are. As you can see, I have a passion for history.”

“What is your favourite period?”

“The Tudors, without a doubt. From a psychiatric perspective they make a fascinating
study.”

Keeping his eyes on the titles on display, the pretender edged his way along the bookshelves, moving out of the old man’s line of sight. He stopped when he was sure the professor could no longer see him and waited. Then he heard the noise he’d been listening out for – the front door closing behind the housekeeper.

The professor was droning on about the connection between megalomania and syphilis.

The pretender gave the occasional word of encouragement to keep the man speaking, although he probably didn’t need to, as the professor clearly loved the sound of his own voice.

He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a face mask and a plastic bag. Placing the mask over his mouth and nose, he opened the bag and took out a piece of material. From another pocket he took a small plastic screw top bottle. Working quickly, he undid the top and soaked the material with the liquid. Replacing the cap, he dropped the bottle into the plastic bag and slipped it back into his pocket.

He strode back to the professor’s chair. The old man had briefly stopped talking and was in the act of drinking his coffee. He waited until the professor replaced his cup in the saucer and then put his arm around the chair and held the cloth firmly over the professor’s nose and mouth. The old man kicked out and clawed, trying to drag the cloth from his face, but he gradually stopped struggling. The pretender held the cloth in place for a few seconds longer and only removed it when he was sure the professor was completely immobilised.

Fishing the plastic bag out from his pocket, he put the cloth and bottle into it. He removed the mask and walked over to his seat. As he sat down, he was annoyed to feel his body trembling. This was going exactly as planned. Now wasn’t the time to get squeamish. He reached down for the laptop case and laid it across his lap. Unzipping it, he fished in his pocket for the plastic bag and mask and threw both inside. Taking a deep breath and telling himself he had right on his side, he took a syringe and a vial of liquid from inside the case.

He filled the syringe and made sure there was no air at the top. That made him smile. Considering what he was about to do, worrying about putting air into the professor’s body seemed a bit redundant.

Okay, it was time. Standing up, he walked across to the old man, immobile in his drugged sleep. His hands shook. Get a grip, he told himself. You’ve waited bloody years for this; don’t stuff it up now.

He managed to get his tremors under control by deep breathing and repeating the mantra he’d been living by for the last year. Time for justice!

Stabbing the syringe into the old man’s leg, he depressed the plunger, shooting the deadly liquid into the professor’s blood stream.

Not as steady on his feet as he would have liked, the pretender staggered backwards and sat down again, waiting for the insulin to take effect.

As the old man’s body went into shock, trembling and twitching like a leaf in a gale, he wished he’d been able to leave the professor conscious, so that he was aware of his suffering.

Maybe for the next one, that’s what he’d do.

“Sorry to disappoint you,” he said, “but the New York Times doesn’t even know you exist and my name isn’t Buchannan. You ruined my life. You destroyed me and felt nothing as you did it.”

The professor’s body jerked and shuddered, his feet kicking over the small table and sending the coffee cups and pot flying. Finally, he lay still as a pool of urine darkened the material of his trousers.

You didn’t even recognise me properly, you bastard, the pretender thought, tears streaming down his cheeks. If I’d used my real name you probably still wouldn’t have realised who I was.

The pretender took once last look around the room. There was only one thing he had still to do before he left. He placed the envelope in the middle of the floor, propped against the fallen coffee pot. He knew he’d left fingerprints behind which would enable the police to catch him one day, but not before he was ready for them to take him in.

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