It was finished. The murderer crouched over the body, his breath coming in gasps, his stomach heaving. Who would have thought it so hard to kill? It had been the work of a moment to slip the leather strap around the man’s neck, lean back, cross his hands and pull as hard as he knew how. If the victim had allowed himself to fall backwards, they would both have fallen over. The fellow might even have escaped.
Instead, the man had twisted and writhed, trying to throw off whoever had come from behind. Strained to get his hands under what was choking him. Pulled forward against the murderer. Put even more pressure on his windpipe.
The actual struggle lasted perhaps a minute. It felt like thirty. Then the victim lost consciousness and both of them fell forward onto the ground, the murderer still pulling hard on the ends of the strap. How long would it take the man to die? Since the murderer was unsure, he kept up the pressure long after all resistance and movement had ceased. Two minutes? Four? It might have been longer, had not the dying man voided himself. That was what caused the murderer to loosen his grip and jump away. The stench was nauseating.
Straightening up, the murderer peered around. There was no one in sight. What now? All his plans had ended with the man’s death. Then his gaze fell on the bottle of cheap spirits laid on the ground for safety in the struggle. Pouring that over the corpse should be enough to convince whoever found it that the man had been drinking heavily. There, it was done. He laughed to himself. The final insult!
After a moment or so, the murderer realised he faced a problem. To make the death look like robbery, he must empty the dead man’s pockets. But to do so meant leaning close over the body again, subjecting himself to the foul smell of alcohol mixed with faeces. Touching the soiled breeches. He dithered, trying to steel himself.
What was that? Voices, for certain. Men coming along the quay, perhaps heading for Fye Bridge or returning to sleep on one of the boats moored alongside. Time to hide or get away. The murderer slipped into the shadow of a nearby pile of boxes and barrels awaiting loading.
“Gar! Wha’s that god-awful stink then? Christ, it’s a drunk! You can smell the booze on ’im, even through all the rest. Stupid bugger’s shit ’isself.”
Two men, young and full of bravado. They bent over the dead man. Just not too low. The smell was too bad for that. Perhaps that, and the dim light, explained why neither noticed the strap driven deep into the flesh of the neck, the bulging eyes or the tongue hanging from the mouth. They might have straightened up and wandered on, for they had seen plenty of drunks before and dismissed them as simpletons not worth their notice. But that night, some devil of mischief stirred in the mind of one of them.
“Serve ’im right if ’e wakes up ’alf-way to Yarmouth,” he said to his companion. “Do you take ’is feet an’ I’ll take ’is arms. Pitch ’im into that wherry.’
“Bloody ’ell! I’ll get shit all over me ’ands.”
“Nah! Not if you be careful. Quick grab now and … over ’e goes.”
The two of them lifted the body, swung it once for momentum and sent it flying out over the deck of the wherry. As luck would have it, the corpse fell neatly through an open hatchway into the hold. There it settled on top of a pile of grain.
“Do you sleep if off there,” one of the men called out. “Teach ’ee to get so sozzled you messes yourself.”
The men walked on then, laughing and congratulating themselves on their joke. The murderer slipped along behind, well pleased with what they had done. But, as time proved, it would have been better to have staged a robbery after all.
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