Killing my babies - the joys of editing a novel.


Killing your babies is an expression often heard when it comes to the dreaded editing stage of a novel. The babies in question being those sections that for one reason or another don't make the cut and are unceremoniously consigned to a computer hard drive or similar storage devices never to be seen again. This was the case with the following text which was part of the first draft of my romantic crime fiction novel "The Janitor" - which I hope to publish later this year. The reason for this being that I was accused of drifting off into the realms of the paranormal, a charge that wasn't without foundation. It wasn't an easy decision though as paranormal or not, I quite liked it, and it really did feel as if I was killing one of my babies when it was cut. Anyway I thought I would post it here, in the belief that even if only one person reads it, my efforts weren't in vain.

    As an aside Bernie, the neuro diverse main charecter, was born out of the #vss365 daily prompts released on twitter (now X). This was three or four years ago when @edhaiku was the prompt master and at least two of them feature in the text below. 

A pair of bright headlights swept across the pub car park as yet another car pulled in. On its roof was a dimly lit sign denoting a taxi. It was obviously picking up rather than dropping off, and took up position close to the pub’s main entrance. Sure enough, moments later two couples emerged through a pair of double doors and swiftly got in the car. Bernie watched them go from his vantage point on top of an overgrown embankment before carefully inching his way down through the hawthorn and briars back onto the main path. He should have known the Coach and Horses would have been a waste of time. Saturday nights were always too busy, and even if he did get an opportunity he doubted he would take it.

Things had changed since he was a boy when he used to hide amongst the bushes and watch the local prostitutes ply their trade. Back then, the pub’s appearance had been as rough as its reputation, and no one with an ounce of decency went anywhere near it. Nowadays, however, the pub belonged to a nationwide chain that specialised in catering for families, and it had enjoyed an extensive makeover, barely resembling the building he used to know.

            It was all change. Why couldn’t everything stay the same? Out of frustration he kicked a stone across the road. To Bernie’s horror it ricocheted off a kerb and clattered into the side of a Perspex bus stop, eliciting a loud “Oi,” from within. He spun round, looking for somewhere to hide only there wasn’t anywhere. He was caught in the open in the full glare of a nearby street light.

            Two agitated figures emerged into the light. Bernie’s heart sinking like a stone when he saw they were two local thugs who had tormented him for years.

            “Fuck you. What you fucking doing?” the taller of the two growled indignantly.

            “I… I’m sorry; it was an accident,” Bernie stammered in a vain attempt to apologise.

            “You’re a fucking accident, you retard.” The thug, who Bernie remembered went by the nickname Skin, snarled as he advanced toward him. He noticed Skin’s mate, whose name he couldn’t remember, moving to one side as if to cut off any escape.

            “Please, I don’t want any trouble,” he said with a plaintive whine.

            “Too late, dickhead, you’re fucking getting it!” With that, Skin lunged forward, swinging wildly at Bernie’s head, only Bernie somehow avoided the blow which fizzed by his right cheek. Unfortunately for Skin, his momentum carried him past and exposed his unprotected back to his intended victim. He wasn’t concerned, though; like all bullies he thought he’d picked an easy target. It was only Bernie, the village idiot after all. Only it wasn’t Bernie … it was him. Skin didn’t see the knife until it was too late, his cry dying as quickly as he did when the razor-sharp blade severed his spinal cord.

            There was a dismayed cry of “Oh fuck!” to Bernie’s right, and by the light of the street lamp he saw the second youth rapidly back-peddling and twisting his body as if to flee. He never made it; the blade once again flashing through the night air and glancing off the side of his head. The youth howled in agony, at the same time holding up his arms in a forlorn attempt to ward off the fatal follow-up blow that, unlike its predecessor, made a satisfying crunching sound as it cut deep into his neck.

            Bernie stared down at the two corpses twitching on the tarmac at his feet. He shouldn’t have done it. He should have let then hit him, like he had all the other times. Why? Why had he made him do it? It was too late now, Bernie had to get away, he knew it wouldn’t be long before someone came across the bodies. Even at this time of night it was a busy road.

            In his head he saw an overview of the area and an escape route that would get him home without running the risk of being caught on CCTV. Just as long as they didn’t put up the police helicopter. Nobody could hide from that. He started moving briskly back the way he’d come, toward the embankment that he would use to skirt the Coach and Horses. Once on the other side he had no choice other than to travel the length of Manor Road. If he was quick and his luck held, he should make it before the police arrived.

            Bernie could feel the adrenaline surging through his body as he forced his way up through a narrow gap between two bramble bushes onto the embankment. To anyone else it would seem an impossible task to negotiate the thick undergrowth, especially at night. To Bernie, however, it was second nature; he’d been using the embankment as a thoroughfare for his activities for decades, and he didn’t so much as see as felt his way around.

            Five minutes later he was on Manor Road, trying his best to ignore the voice in his head which was screaming run. Bernie didn’t run. He might; Bernie didn’t. No one ever saw Bernie run. People were used to seeing him shuffling around the borough with his head bowed to the ground. It would be totally out of character if he ran. Anonymity had always been Bernie’s friend, and he needed it to stay that way. It wouldn’t matter once he reached the T-junction at the top of Manor Road. All he had to do then was cross the main road and lose himself in amongst the allotments on the other side. He’d done it  before and knew exactly where to hide in his neighbour’s plot. Mr Edwards having constructed a shed out of galvanised steel sheeting, which Bernie felt sure would hide him from the police helicopter’s sensors.

He was half way down Manor Road when he heard the first Police siren start to wail. He knew straight away it was originating from Woodsend police station which was only four streets away. For one panic filled moment he held his breath whilst his ears strained as he tried to ascertain which way the Police cars would go. Please don’t come this way, please don’t come this way... It was a forlorn hope and the sickening realisation dawned that there was no way he would reach the safety of the allotments before they were upon him.

Then he saw it, what looked to be an overgrown garden on the opposite side of the road. He couldn’t remember seeing it before, which was strange; right at that moment, however, this was a minor detail. He crossed the road and ran toward the garden gate, which was lost in the shadows, well away from any streetlamp.

            The gate was a rickety wooden affair that scraped noisily across the concrete path when he opened it just in the nick of time. As soon as he was through, he flung himself down behind an overgrown privet hedge. Seconds later the strobe lights of a fast-moving police car illuminated everything with an eerie blue light. Bernie could feel himself shaking with fear when the car roared past, quickly followed by another. He had to get away, he had to…

            He rolled over and looked along the dimly lit garden path behind him, barely discerning the dark silhouette of a house against the night sky. It was set back further than the rest, which was unusual, the houses in Manor Road and the streets surrounding it being built to the same uniform plan. Bernie hadn’t time to dwell on the vagaries of suburban housing, though, he needed somewhere to hide, and he needed it now. The police helicopter might already be overhead and searching the area with its infra-red cameras. Bernie had seen all those videos on YouTube, where minuscule monochrome figures tried desperately to escape the crosshairs of the Helicopters cameras. He hadn’t seen one yet where they’d succeeded.

            He got to his feet, and with his back bent low picked his way up the garden path toward the blacked-out house. Along the way he stumbled over a pile of garden rubble, falling heavily and hitting his head on the frozen concrete. He groaned and rolled onto his back, temporarily stunned by the blow. In the distance he could hear another siren heading toward him; this one had a different tone to the previous two, probably an ambulance he thought, making a conscious effort to get back onto his feet and move.

            Gingerly raising himself up from the concrete path he staggered in a semi-dazed state toward the blacked-out house, at the same time wondering if anybody lived there. From what little he could see, the place looked as though it had been empty for an age. He tried the front door and felt it move as he leant his weight against it. Should he go in? Somebody could still live there, and there was another consideration; what if there was a dog? Bernie didn’t like dogs.

The siren was getting close now and once again the street was illuminated by a harsh, flashing blue light. He swallowed and looked up to the sky, imagining the helicopter searching for him. He had to get off the street; he had to get inside. He reached into his right-hand coat pocket. The one he had specially adapted and felt the familiar feel of the Kukri’s handle. Hopefully, the house was empty.

            He eased the door open, just far enough for him to slip through, and waited whilst his eyes became accustomed to the dark hallway. Fortunately there was a skylight above the door which allowed a little light to filter through. Gradually he began to see shapes. The floor appeared to be strewn with all manner of detritus, and against one wall there was an old-fashioned sideboard canted over at an angle against a wall.

            He sniffed the air; it was damp and musty, as you might expect with a house which hadn’t been lived in for some time. He let out a long sigh of relief; the house was empty, and he wasn’t going to have to deal with any of its occupants. Once his eyes had acclimatised to the gloom, he tentatively picked his way down what at one time had been a spacious hallway. The house was a bit of an enigma, and he felt the need to explore it. Bernie had lived in the area all his life and knew every street; every footpath – and, he thought, every house and garden. Only he didn’t know this one and, given its size, he was at a loss as to why he’d never noticed it before.

            He was half way down the hall when, to his horror, a light came on in a room which lay beyond a partially opened door way to his right. Bernie instinctively pulled his blood-stained Kukri free from his coat and held it in the ready position. He could have sworn there hadn’t been a light on before.

            “Ruby, is that you?” A wavering voice called from behind the door.

            Bernie tightened his grip on the big knife; it was an old person’s voice. He closed his eyes. Bernie didn’t like hurting old people.

            “Ruby?” the voice called out again, this time with a hint of alarm. It was no good; he couldn’t take the risk of discovery. He mentally counted to three, then in one swift movement burst through the door into the room beyond. To his dismay it was empty, save for a high-backed chair, a table and an old-fashioned radio that reminded him of one his mother used to have in her front room when he was a boy. The source of the light was a single naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. There was no other exit and there was nowhere to hide. So where had the voice come from? More to the point who had turned the light on, or had it been his imagination? He swallowed nervously and backed out into the hall, wondering whether he was better off taking his chances out on the street.

            “Ruby?” It was the same wavering voice. This time it seemed to come from upstairs. Bernie felt a shot of adrenaline course through his body as a cold, irrational fear started to take hold. He took three quick strides toward the front door and had just put his hand on the door handle when he heard the buzz saw of rotor blades overhead. Bernie was trapped.

            “Ruby, is that you?” Again from upstairs.

            Bernie steeled himself. Whoever it was, he was going to have to deal with them. He gingerly put a foot on the first stair and with his back to the wall inched his way up, one stair at a time.

            Owing to the presence of a large panoramic window, it was surprisingly light when he reached the top of the stairs, which meant he could see far better than he could on the ground floor. The first thing he noticed was that much like the downstairs hallway, the floors were devoid of carpet. He could also see the walls were decorated with old-fashioned floral wallpaper belonging to a bygone age. There was nothing else; no pictures hanging on the walls or furniture – nothing. If it weren’t for the voice persistently calling out for Ruby, he would have thought the place was derelict.

            “Ruby?” the voice called again. It seemed to come from behind a door at the end of the landing. Once again Bernie steeled himself and moved stealthily forward before taking hold of a heavily patterned brass doorknob. This time he didn’t bother to count to three and lunged forward into the room, knife at the ready. It was a little darker than it was in the hallway, his eyes taking a second or two to adjust. He could see there were some dark shapes hanging on the walls which he took to be pictures. On the back wall were two shelves, the bottom of which sagged in the middle. There was nothing else: no carpets, no furniture and, more importantly, no living, breathing human being.

            Mystified, Bernie went back out onto the landing and checked the remaining three rooms, comprising two bedrooms and a bathroom. Every single one of them was empty. Bernie started to wonder whether it was his imagination. He’d heard voices before when he was a kid; had they come back to torment him? He let out a low whine and retraced his steps back to the first room he’d been in. He noticed a light switch and, on a whim, flicked it down. Much to his amazement the light worked, revealing what he’d taken to be pictures were actually sheets of newspaper print pasted onto the walls.

            The sheet nearest to him had long since turned yellow with age and bore a picture of Winston Churchill addressing troops in front of a desert back drop. Bernie took a step to his left and studied the next page, which was from the Evening Standard, dated March 1956. Unlike the previous page there wasn’t anything of historical interest and he wondered why anyone would have wanted to keep it. Then he noticed a column on the right-hand side of the page. It was only two short paragraphs, detailing the discovery of a woman’s body on the Thames foreshore close to Lovell’s Wharf.

            Something registered in Bernie’s still semi-concussed mind. He stepped back to the first page he’d read. Ignoring the picture of Churchill waving his hat from the back of an armoured car, he scanned down the page until he saw another article concerning the out-of- character disappearance of a landlady from a pub in Deptford. With a nervous glance toward the open doorway, Bernie moved to another sheet of newsprint. This one was from 1952 and featured an article detailing the brutal murder of a sixteen-year-old shop girl called Mary Hollis.

            Bernie swiftly moved from page to page, and on every one of them saw stories of rape and murder covering a span of twenty years, the last of which was in 1962. Only this one didn’t cover a murder as such and instead ran the headline “Police bring in the big guns.” Under the heading was a black and white picture of a man wearing a light-coloured suit and old-fashioned trilby hat. Underneath it bore the caption: ‘Superintendent Walters to Head Up the Riverside Strangler Murders’.

            Bernie felt himself drawn to the two shelves behind him. When he turned round, the first thing he noticed was a dust-covered trilby looking exactly like the one Walters was wearing in the newspaper photograph. Next to it was an equally dusty women’s shoe. He shuffled across to get a better look. All along the bottom shelf were women’s shoes, handbags and jewellery, including a gaudy fake gold necklace. Bernie knew straight away what he was looking at, he had one after all. Only his trophies were kept out of sight.

            Bernie’s eyes drifted back to the trilby. Was it the one Superintendent Walters had worn in the photograph, in which case what was it doing here? There could only be two answers: either the killer had taken it from Walters or, he shuddered, Walters had been the killer. The thought of a high-ranking policeman being a murderer frightened him. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t black and white, it was…? He didn’t know what it was, but he knew he had to get out and get away, Police helicopter or no, he had to go.

            He bolted for the top of the stairs, just in time to hear the radio he’d seen downstairs burst into life with a song about kittens and mittens. The last thing he heard when he exploded out of the front door being an old, infirm voice calling out “Is that you, Ruby?”