Chapter six

Mercy exited the shared lobby of the building, leaving the stale air behind her, and stepped out onto the street. She inhaled deeply as if she had been suffocating since she awoke. The cool spring air made her realise she had no idea where she was. It was a part of town she didn’t automatically recognise. Her iPhone’s battery had completely discharged, and she needed it to pay for things and to check her emails and text messages.

She walked for several streets keen to put some distance between Fabian and herself. Half a street away she spied a Costa Coffee, where there was likely to be a plug socket and hopefully someone with a charger.

A warm breeze rushed down her neck from the door curtain heater, as she entered Costa. After a quick scan of the tables, she identified an empty one next to a double electrical socket. The service counter was devoid of customers and fortuitously, the barista was a young male. She found them a lot easier to charm, especially since the relaxation of the masking requirement, when they could see her whole face. Conjuring up her best doe-eye look and helpless princess voice, she approached the till.

‘Hi, I’m in a bit of a bind,’ she started to tell the Barista. ‘My phones run out of battery and it’s the only payment device I have. You don’t happen to have an iPhone charger, so I can put a little juice in it and then come and order a coffee?’

The Barista, who must have only been in his early twenties, gawked at her, transfixed. He didn’t speak or move for a least a minute.

‘Hello…?’ Mercy interrupted.

‘Yes of course,’ he replied coming out of his trance, ‘you look like a trustworthy person, tell me what you would like to drink, and you can pay for it when you have a charge on your iPhone.’

‘Oh, I wasn’t expecting that,’ she said coyly, ‘but a cappuccino would be lovely.’

The Barista turned to his colleague who made the coffee and silently mouthed ‘OMG’ before saying clearly to anyone in earshot, ‘One cappuccino to drink in, for the lovely lady. Please take a seat and I’ll fetch you the charger and bring your coffee to you.’

‘Thank you so much, you’re a lifesaver,’ she responded. Her charm offensive more than worked, but she found that people, in general, were always happy to help her, a consequence of being attractive. Not long after sitting at her chosen table, the young Barista appeared with her coffee and a charger. He couldn’t stop grinning as he put them down on the table and, without a word, backed away still beaming at her. Mercy took a sip of her cappuccino and savoured it. From the corner of her eye, she saw the Barista fist-bump his colleague when he returned to the counter.

After a few minutes of mindlessly watching the passing traffic, Mercy’s mind drifted to the events of the previous evening. Her last clear memory of that evening was sitting on her couch with a glass of wine, watching some dry documentary on the shrinking ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica. At some point, she must have fallen asleep.

This was not a rare occurrence, for the past few years she had been suffering from lethargy and malaise. Most nights she would crash out, exhausted, only to have a few hours of disrupted sleep where she would have vivid dreams or nightmares that left her with a sense of unease even though she couldn’t remember the exact content. The lack of quality sleep was having a detrimental impact on her university life. She stopped going to lectures, afraid that she would fall asleep in one of the large lecture halls in front of her fellow students. Her social life was non-existent, almost becoming a recluse, and any energy she did have was directed towards championing a socialist cause, outing the present government and big businesses who were exploiting people’s labour and ransacking the Earth’s resources for their gains and leaving a trail of pollution and environmental disasters in their wake. She avoided her childhood friend Anne-Marie, who would only insist, persistently nag, that she go and see a doctor or speak with her mother.

She had seen a doctor about her lethargy, but all they offered were sleeping pills or anti-depressant, but these left her head foggy and made her docile. They suggested she spoke to a counsellor or psychologist, as she may have unresolved past issues, but they were unaware she had already had enough psychotherapy to last a couple of lifetimes.

For the early part of her childhood, she had an upbringing that was carefree, playful, with an abundance of love from her parents. As an only child, she was fortunate to have Anne-Marie whom she met when in junior school. Anne-Maria was also an only child and they bonded like sisters as their parents only lived a few streets apart.

It wasn’t until secondary school that she would experience the darkness of human nature. Her parents, who built and ran a very successful business, came from a working-class background and idealistically wanted their daughter not to become the archetypal spoilt rich kid. They enrolled Mercy in a local state school hoping to instill the work ethic and the drive to succeed they had coming from a more modest background. Meanwhile, Anne Marie attended a private senior school which more suited to her social background.

Mercy’s parents misjudged the resourcefulness and tyrannical behaviour that teenagers could possess. It didn’t take long for some of the more feral kids to discover that Mercy lived in one of the prosperous areas of London and that her parents were self-made millionaires. Before very long she was known as ‘Miss Well-to-do’ amongst her peers and became shunned and isolated. Without Anne-Marie in attendance, school became an open prison for her, where she was constantly bullied, teased, and on the odd occasion extorted. When she complained to her parents, they excused other people’s behaviour, saying that she needed to overcome these tribulations and that these challenges built character. Even when the stresses and anxiety manifested themselves in night terrors, where she had episodes of screaming, intense fear and flailing while still remaining asleep.

Her good looks attracted the attention of the boys which only made some of the girls in her cohort jealous and even more spiteful. They made up rumours of her sleeping with teachers for grades and accused her of attempting to steal their boyfriends, leading to a number of scuffles where she was often outnumbered. As a consequence, Mercy took jiu-jitsu lessons in order to defend herself. Something she regularly attended until she left for university. This gave her inner strength, self-reliance, and together with a stronger physique dissuaded most people from physical conflict with her. However, school was not a happy place and Mercy’s resentment grew toward her parents and a general dislike for most people.

At the age of seventeen, she left her school for 6th form at the private school attended by Anne-Marie. She hoped that mixing with students from similar social classes would alleviate her unhappiness. She soon found out this wouldn’t be the case, as many of the students were cliquey, elitist, and derogatory to her because her family was from ‘new money’.  At least she had Anne-Marie as a friend and companion, but she would vacillate between whom she hated more, the obnoxious, feral kids from school or the snobbish, over-privileged students at 6th form. It was clear to her that it was her parents who had led her onto this unhappy path, and convinced herself that she was being punished for their success.

Inevitably, she made loose associations with other student outliers. These were the misfit students who sat in the back of the 6th form common room. Many were often high during the day, had poor attendance, or suffered from severe anxiety. In her final year of 6th form she dated, to her parent’s dismay, Cameroon a fellow student who like her was traumatised by his parents and rebelled by wearing heavy eyeliner and pieces of occultist symbolism. Mercy, at the time, believed she had met a kindred spirit, and was soon enveloped in his world. Together they pitted themselves against the world, envisaging a dystopian future in which only the awaken could see where they were heading. This was Mercy’s first romantic dalliance and, aside from Anne-Marie, her only other non-family close relationship. She fell hard in love, the kind of suffocating love that would suck the air out of your lungs if you were apart from each other. She would spend every available minute with him and often trysts into the early hours of the morning. He opened her eyes to the dark side of humanity, they would attend séance, grunge music festivals, and other such dens of inequities. She dabbled with weed, alcohol and coke, but found this didn’t suit her. She hated the come down the next day and the dullness of mind that accompanied it.

She still lived at home with her parents and would often sneak in just before dawn break. Her father would be waiting as he started work early, and a screaming match would inevitably ensue. He would protest about how she was wasting her life away, and she would respond by saying that she was on a path chosen by him and she was old enough to make her own decisions. Countering with how did she manage to get a university place if she was such a reprobate? A question asked by Anne-Marie who was fastidious when it came to revision, while Mercy seemed to waltz into the exam and leave with a respectable grade.

When she turned eighteen, she was entitled to sizeable funds left in trust by her paternal grandparents. Enough money for her to buy her first car, travel abroad and fund a flat during her gap year prior to the start of her undergraduate course. She made plans with Cameroon, to cohabit and travel the world. Through various nefarious online forums, Cameroon had arranged for them to stay with contacts he had established in numerous countries. Unsurprisingly, this alarmed her parents when she revealed her desire, the notion of their daughter running off with this recalcitrant escalated their war of words. Her father forbade her, and her mother pleaded and begged her to see sense; for much good it did. Mercy revelled in their helplessness, and finally some retribution for all the misery she had to endure through her formative years. Young love would not be denied, and stubbornly against all wishes and advice they set a date for departure, that is until the untimely demise of Mercy’s father David.

Mercy recalled that evening vividly. It actually started earlier in the day during an extended family lunch whereby she took the opportunity to tell all present that she and Cameroon would be departing for Berlin, the first city on their European tour. The meal turned into a frosty affair, both her father and mother could hardly say a word, biting their tongues in order not to cause a scene in front of their other guests. Mercy knew this was the case, and departed before the other guest left, announcing she would return later that evening to collect her luggage and travel documents for her flight.

That evening she returned just after midnight, she drove her car and parked it at the end of the street, so as not to alert anyone of her presence. Only the hallway light was visible from outside, meaning that there was a good chance everyone was asleep. She considered entering the house from the garden entrance, but her parents’ bedroom was above the kitchen and closest to the garden, and therefore, any noise would more likely wake her light-sleeping father.

She opened the wrought iron gate, just enough for her to squeeze through, and approached the house. The porch light turned on as she was a few meters from the front door which made her freeze, listening for movement from within. When she was satisfied that all was still, she slipped her front door key into the lock, trying to avoid touching the sides of the barrel. She turned the key, and the lock gave way. Once she entered the house, keeping the front door latch in the open position, she closed the door and silently released the latch securing the house again. She didn’t worry about triggering any house alarms, because she knew none were set, they had all learned that lesson from the first few times she returned late after cavorting with her friends and Cameroon.

Stealthily she crossed the hallway, walking past the lounge and study doorways. Both rooms were dark and only illuminated partially by the hallway light. One, two, three, skip… five, six, seven, skip… she had memorised the creaky treads on the staircase. She moved along the corridor, dressed in predominately black like a ninja, to her bedroom. The ‘Mercy’s room, keep out’ sign still hung from the door, as well as the pink walls and a four-poster bed with a lace canopy, a throwback to when she was young, and a contradiction of who she was now. Fortunately, her parents despised Cameroon so much that they would not entertain him in their house, so he never saw her ‘princess’ phase.

She reached under her bed and retrieved a small roller luggage bag, which was already pre-packed for her trip. She opened the case, just to check it hadn’t been tampered with. She kept her passport and money hidden in a cavity at the bottom of her wardrobe. This additional precaution was necessary as she feared her father would go to extreme lengths to stop her from going, like the time he met privately with Cameroon and offered him a large amount of money to stop dating his daughter. Cameroon laughed in his face, gave him the finger, and walked off. When he told Mercy, she went ballistic and confronted her father. Her rage was incandescent, and her harsh words quickly escalated into pushing and slapping when her father attempted to justify his actions by saying things like it was ‘for her own good’ and ‘you’ll thank us later.’ From that day, Mercy’s already festering resentment turned into mistrust.

With her luggage and travel documents obtained, it was time to finally fly the nest. She felt a small pang of sorrow leaving her room for what would be, in her mind, the last time. The luggage rollers glided quietly over the carpeted landing, and she lifted it down each individual step, one, two, three, four, skip… six, seven, eight, skip…

When she reached the bottom step, she set the rollers onto the tiled flooring. Their silicone wheels made a soft thud as they went over the lines of grouting. However, she was less concerned now as she was so close to the front door and the start of her new life. The lounge and the study were still in darkness, as it was when she arrived. She twisted the front door latch and pulled on it. The door remained immobile. She pulled again, harder this time. The door moved a few millimeters but was held fast by a deadlock which was located at waist height. Mercy felt a sense of panic rise from her gut, she had never known the deadbolt to be locked. Consequently, she didn’t even possess the key to the lock. Someone must be up, her father? She needed to get out now; the garden exit, there was no deadbolt on that door.

She ran down the hallway to the kitchen, the roller luggage careering after her. The kitchen was only illuminated by a streetlamp outside of their property, which cast long shadows of the kitchen island onto the stone floor. She sailed past the island and faced the Crittal doors to the garden. Placing one hand on the door handle she inserted her key, but the barrel wouldn’t turn.

‘When did they change the lock,’ she cursed to herself. She jimmied the key, maybe her key was worn and hadn’t engaged the pins properly. Still to no avail. Frantic now, she looked on the windowsills and in the kitchen draws for the spare key. Then shattering the silence, from the corner of the kitchen, deepest in shadows, she heard the jangling of keys. She looked in the direction of the sound, straining her eyes, peering into the darkness. A light dazzled her sight, momentarily blinding her. Then as her eyes adjusted, she heard her father’s voice.

‘Don’t bother Mercy. I had the locks changed, and these are the only keys,’ he said holding up a bunch. She saw him sitting in their high wing back reading chair adjacent to the reading lamp. His face was calm but had a determined look about it.

‘What are you going to do?’ Mercy hissed. ‘Are you going to lock me in the house until I’m old and decrepit?’

‘That won’t be necessary, just until miss your flight,’ he replied.

‘What the hell gives you the right to do that,’ she screamed. ‘I’ll just smash the doors!’

‘You’re still my daughter and I don’t care how old you are, you will always be my responsibility. It’s for your own good, trust me,’ he replied.

His last sentence triggered her, she heard it was for her own good since she was five, and every time they said that misery would follow for years. Rage swelled from deep within, like nothing that had come before.

‘Just hand me your passport, Mercy,’ he said standing up.

She grabbed a kitchen knife block resting on the island and threw it at one of the Crittal windowpanes. The pane was just large enough for her slender frame to crawl through it. It smashed it, splintering the tempered glass into a web of a thousand pieces, and bounced onto the floor scattering knives across the kitchen.

‘Mercy stop!’ cried her father as she covered her fists with her sleeves and pushed against the broken glass. Her father bounded over to her and grabbed her wrists. Her Jiu-Jitsu training automatically kicked in breaking his lock by forcing her wrists against his thumbs the weakest part of his grip. The unexpected force unbalanced them both and the weight of her father crashed against her sending her tumbling head-first toward the Crittal door.

Blinding white light, searing pain behind her eyes, and then nothingness. She couldn’t sense her environment anymore, but in the darkness, there was just fury. Fury that once again she was being controlled, desires quashed, destiny denied. No more, she wasn’t a child anymore, weak, and helpless. No, she could be powerful if she could just channel her strength. Then the blackness consumed her.

She awoke to the sun streaming through her car windshield. Her head was pounding a large bump formed above her temple. What time was it, where was she, what happened?

She looked at her wristwatch, it was just before noon. She remembered she had a flight to catch later that evening. She looked around, at first unsure of the location, but as the fog cleared from her brain, she recognised that she was a few streets away from Cameroon’s abode. Images of last night’s events punctuated her memories, painfully stabbing her mind with each recollection. Slowly she pieced the evening events together until the point she lost consciousness, beyond that the memories were like whispers of smoke avoiding capture. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t recall how she left her home.

She needed to phone Cameroon to see if he was at home. He would be able to help. She looked for her luggage, which she discovered to her relief was on the back seat of her car. Reaching into the front pocket, she retrieved her phone. She had missed fourteen calls from her mother and Anne-Marie, numerous texts, and four voicemails. No doubt, a last-ditch, attempt at stopping her jetting off. Nevertheless, she thought it best to listen to the voicemails.

Her mother’s voice started, it was shaking, the vocal cords swollen from crying, ‘Mercy, please come home, it’s your father…he’s been (a long pause)… just come home now.’

Mercy opened the text messages from Anne-Marie and her mother.

Mercy, your father’s been in an incident, it’s serious you need to come home now.

Mercy questioned if this was a ploy by her parents, but Anne-Marie couldn’t lie to save her life, she wouldn’t participate in such a Machiavellian deception. She decided she would swing by her house; she would still have time to make her flight. With her head still throbbing, she started her car and headed towards home.

On the way she tried calling Cameroon, but he didn’t answer. Strangely he hadn’t called or texted concerned about her whereabouts. As she rounded the final street corner approaching her house, she saw two police cars parked outside. She decided not to stop, instead cruising past slowly to see if she could garner more information. Across the front door of her home were ribbons of ‘Police incident, do not cross’ tape, and a policeman stood talking on the phone. A sense of foreboding filled her, this was no ploy. She parked the car and ran back towards the house.

‘Stop there,’ the policeman held out his palm.

‘I live here,’ she stated.

‘Sorry, who are you?’ asked the policeman. The disturbance must have attracted the attention of those inside.

‘Mercy!’ shouted her mother, stepping through the tape, ‘it’s ok she is my daughter.’ The policeman stepped aside, and her mother clutched her tightly and broke down in tears. The policeman ushered them inside and notified his superior.

‘Mercy?’ asked the supervising policewoman. Mercy nodded, her mother still sobbing relentlessly. Mercy looked down the hallway and saw that the kitchen door was fully covered with a plastic sheet. Behind the semi-opaque sheet, she could see more individuals taking photographs and documenting the scene.

‘Mercy, please take a seat,’ the policewoman invited Mercy into the lounge. Mercy did as she was instructed, helping her mother to sit alongside her. ‘I’m sorry to inform you that your father has been killed, we believe it occurred in the early hours of the morning and we think that your father disturbed an intruder. We already have a couple of suspects in custody and are in the process of  questioning them.’

‘What?’ Mercy said in disbelief. ‘How could there be suspects?’ she thought to herself.

‘I know this is a lot for you to take in right now, but we will need a statement from you later,’ said the policewoman, ‘I’ll let you comfort your mother right now, again I’m sorry for your loss.’

Once they were alone, Mercy turned to her mother. ‘Mum, what happened?’

‘Your father’s dead,’ was all she could muster. She was still in shock.

Mercy tried Cameroon again, but he still wasn’t answering. As dusk fell, the policewoman returned and told Mercy to accompany her to the station so she could take a statement.

At the station, Mercy was ushered into a windowless room and asked if she wanted a lawyer present. She declined. If she was the one who killed her father, then she should be the one who should bear the responsibility for her actions.

She divulged to the police officers the events of the evening. As she did so, it sounded to her implausible that anyone else would conclude other than she was guilty. She had the motive, the conveniently timed loss of consciousness, and the escape plan to leave the country the next day. If only she could remember what happened following the knock to her head.

After she had completed her statement, the police officers conferred and asked her to remain in the room. They left her with a bottle of water and said they would organise something for her to eat.

An hour passed and she heard a commotion from outside the room. Several people were arguing loudly. She heard the door to the room unlock and a police officer walked in, followed by a well-dressed gentleman in a suit clutching a briefcase. She recognised him as they had met him once or twice before; he was the family’s attorney, and he was not happy. Apparently, the police had contravened their protocols in interviewing her without a lawyer present, and with no charge they were bound to let her go.

She followed her lawyer out of the police station, and in doing so she saw Cameroon in the distance ahead of them leaving with his father. It now made sense why he didn’t answer his phone, as he must have been a suspect too. She was taken to her maternal grandmother’s house, where her mother was waiting. She had a sleepless night; her memory still wouldn’t cooperate with her, and what she could remember haunted her.

Late the following afternoon, Detective Constable Anderson visited accompanied by the family lawyer. This was the first time they had met this particular DC, he informed them that he had now been assigned to the case. He wanted to come in person to update them on their findings. After interviewing suspects and witnesses, their working hypothesis was that the argument and fracas between Mercy and her father attracted the attention of an opportunist thief. There had been a spate of recent house robberies in the area. The thief waited until Mercy had left, and used the same windowpane she smashed to enter the house when he thought her father had gone to bed. However, the thief must have misjudged and not expected her father to return to the kitchen that night. A fight must have ensued, as they found fragments of clothing and DNA that didn’t belong to Mercy or her mother, under her father’s nails. Unfortunately, one of their kitchen knives had been plunged into her father’s chest piercing his heart. He would have died almost immediately. The thief must have left in a hurry as they found a bag of valuables in the garden belonging to close neighbours.

Mercy was relieved to hear that it wasn’t her who had ended her father’s life. Although, as a consequence of her actions her father paid for it with his life. No matter much she resented him, she would never have wished this on him.

A couple of things nagged at her, firstly the thief was still at large, and secondly, it didn’t explain how she managed to crawl through the windowpane, exit the garden, and drive off in her car while with some form of concussion. What had happened to her father to stop him from pursuing her?

DC Anderson promised to provide further updates in due course and left with their family lawyer deep in conversation. Over the next few months and years, there were no further material updates, the thief was never apprehended, and her questions remained unanswered to this date.

‘Miss, have you finished charging your phone?’ the young barista was standing in front of her. ‘You really zoned out there for a while. Would you like another coffee?’

Mercy broke out of her reverie and stared blankly at the barista for a moment while her current reality reimposed itself.

‘No,’ she replied, ‘I really should be going. How much do I owe you for the coffee?’ She checked that her phone was nearly fully charged.

‘No need, the coffee is on me,’ he smiled.

‘Thank you,’ she said graciously. With that, she packed up her items and left Costa for her home.

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