“You want beer?”
“Three then.” Tom rooted around in the refrigerator, and came back from the kitchen. He handed cans to Jacob and Nate, then sat down on the sofa.
“Here.” Nate passed over the joint and Tom took a long drag.
“You know what we should do?” Tom tapped Jacob on the arm and passed over the cigarette. Jacob shrugged and smoked.
“We should break into that shop you work at, man.” Tom pointed a finger at Jacob. “That creepy old bald guy, he’s got money, right?”
“He’s not creepy,” Jacob shook his head. “Some of the stuff in there is. Have you seen the doll cupboard?”
“Dolls aren’t creepy, wuss.” Nate beckoned and Jacob passed on the joint.
“They are man,” Jacob said. “There’s one of them giggles every so often, just from nowhere.”
“They made them with dead people’s hair,” Jacob leaned over, and Nate took the cigarette from his hands.
“That’s weird man.” Tom shook his head, popped the top of his beer and drank.
“There’s one that’s supposed to be made from the hair of Mary Ann Cotton,” Jacob continued. “But Mr Elkwood doesn’t think it’s old enough.”
“Who the hell is she?” Tom stopped drinking just long enough to ask.
“She was a serial killer. Killed her own kids for the insurance money or something like that.”
There was silence for a few moments.
“That’s harsh,” Nate said.
“Sick bitch, man.” Tom downed the rest of his beer and set it on the table.
“So,” Nate said, passing the joint back to Tom. “We doing this or not?”
If anyone was awake at three AM, and looking out of their window towards Artillery Guard underground station, they might have noticed a small red car park up at a parking bay. The three men who climbed out of the car ignored the ticket machine – tickets aren’t required there until six,and they planned to be long gone by then.
They walked around the corner, followed the road a little way, then ducked down a back alley.
“You sure this is it?” Tom asked, pointing at a wooden door clearly in need of a paint job.
Jacob nodded, nerves shredding what little voice he had.
“Come on then,” Nate shoved at him. “Open the door.”
“He locks it from the inside,” Jacob croaked. “The key hangs inside on the door.”
Tom shrugged, opened the holdall he was carrying and rooted around inside. He brought out a hammer and a screwdriver. He put the screwdriver into the lock and hit the end of it with the hammer. The door opened.
“How did you do that?” Jacob asked.
“A client showed me that,” Tom said. “He couldn’t pay me what he owed me, so I said either he showed me a few tricks of the trade or I was gonna take one of his fingers home for a souvenir.”
“Will that thing with the lock leave any traces?” he asked.
“Nervous, bro?” Nate clapped him on the shoulder.
“I don’t wanna lose this job, man.”
“Should have said earlier,” Tom grinned. “Lock’s ruined now.”
Jacob closed his eyes and fought back nausea.
“Come on,” Tom said. “Lucre awaits.”
Tom and Nate stepped inside. Jacob stood there, waiting.
The inside of the shop was dark. Tom brought a torch out of his bag, turned it on and pointed it around to see the way forward. Nate brought out his phone and used the torch app to look around.
“I’m gonna look under the counter,” Tom whispered.
“Dude, I wanna see these creepy dolls,” Nate replied. “I bet they’re just lame.”
“Loser hasn’t followed us in here yet,” Tom sniggered.
Tom followed the beam of light from the torch to the front of the store, and lifted the hatch. He went behind the counter and swore – the cash drawer of the till was missing.
Bending down, he saw the shelves below the counter contained an assortment of odds and ends – string, scissors, sticky tape, a coffee mug, some receipt books. Tom pushed these to the side, looking behind for a cash box but there was none.
“Gotta be money in here somewhere,” he said to himself.
Nate giggled. “You gotta see these man.”
“Kinda busy here,” Tom said.
The lower shelf didn’t look much more promising – it was mainly cash books, some of which appeared to be thirty or more years old. But behind them was a locked cash box.
“We have lift off.”
He lifted the cash box onto the counter, and dug around in the backpack for tools. Grabbing a chisel, he hammered carefully at the padlock on the box, trying not to make too much noise, until it came away. He opened the box.
At the same instant, Nate screamed.
“Are you sure you can keep my name out of it?”
“I’ll try my best, Jacob.” Elkwood replied. “Have you called the police yet?”
“Yes, Mr Elkwood. First thing, after I barricaded the back door.”
“Very good then.”
There was a pause.
“Mr Elkwood… am I fired?”
“I mean… it’s just like what my probation officer called a “youthful indiscretion”, right?”
“Jacob, do you remember what I’ve always told you about the doll cupboard?”
“Yes, Mr Elkwood.”
“Just be glad you’re not dead, Jacob, that’s all.”
Elkwood hung up. Jacob gulped, sighed and then started walking home.
Elkwood’s door bell rang at 5am. He put on a dressing gown and walked downstairs to open the front door.
“Good morning,” said a woman in a raincoat. She showed a police ID card in a wallet, offered a thin smile, then put it away.
“Inspector Lennox,” she said, pointing behind her with a thumb. “This is Sergeant Wainwright. Are you Munro Elkwood?”
“Yes, indeed,” the bald man replied. “Would you like to come in?”
They followed him inside to a small, minimalist kitchen at the back of the house.
“Not what I would have expected,” Lennox said. “I was thinking more a Victorian feel.”
“I work with antiques every day,” Elkwood replied, turning on a coffee machine. “And while I love what I do, I also try not to bring my work home with me. I like to surround myself with the latest and greatest long before it becomes an antique. Yesterday I sold a vintage Teasmade to a bearded web developer, and here am I with a coffee machine that I had to special order from abroad because this model isn’t available here yet.”
He turned and faced the two police officers. “You do want coffee, I assume?”
“It’s just past five in the morning, sir,” Lennox said. “At this stage of the night, I’ll take all the help I can get.”
Elkwood grinned. He filled the machine with beans, which ground them and produced three lattes in a few moments.
They sat around the kitchen table – smoked glass on top of stainless steel legs.
“German, the table,” Elkwood placed coasters for the drinks on the glass. “The elliptical shape is quite difficult to work with, but it appealed to me.”
“Thank you,” Lennox said.
“Good coffee,” Wainwright raised the mug in appreciation.
“Thank you,” Elkwood nodded. “Now, I assume you’re not here at five in the morning for a social call, so what’s happened?”
“You own a shop called Elkwood Antiques, I believe?” Lennox asked.
“For about a hundred and fifty years now,” Elkwood replied. “If you count the generations before me as well, that is, of course.”
“Of course, sir.” Lennox replied. “It appears there was a break in about an hour ago.”
“We had an anonymous tip off that two youths had broken into the shop, sir.” Wainwright said. “When we got there, they were both dead.”
“Apparently so,” Lennox said. “Inspector Darblay is working the case, asked us to come round and inform you.”
“The fact that Inspector Darblay isn’t here in person makes me think that I’m not considered a suspect?”
“Not that we know of.” Lennox shook her head. “But there is one thing you could help us with?”
Wainwright reached under the chair and brought out a plastic evidence bag.
“We found this doll at the scene,” he said. “There was blood on its dress and someone had arranged it with a cord around the neck of one of the two victims.”
Elkwood looked at the bag, and then looked back at the police.
“Did you know that they used to make dolls with the hair of the deceased?” he asked. “A kind of memento mori?”
“I didn’t know that,” Lennox said.
“I’ll just give you one bit of advice, Inspector. Never leave that doll alone with anyone.” Elkwood leaned forward. “Ever.”
Lennox felt the room grow a little colder.
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