Before And After by Lesley Atherton


'What’s best for us all,’ Ben whispered with venom, ‘is a world without you, Joyce Mackenzie.’

Then he thrust his hidden knife towards her left breast, piercing her heart. ‘That’s for yesterday,’ he whispered.

But Ben knew a stab was not enough. For the woman’s evil to be eradicated, he must symbolically throw Joyce to the wolves.

That was why he’d struggled to get her onto the roof garden of Joyce’s high-rise workplace. Once the deed was done, Ben dragged her barely-breathing body to the edge and placed a carefully folded piece of paper into her pocket. Then, with a final burst of energy, he heaved her body over the glass.

‘Goodbye, Mother,’ he said as she fell.

Ben waited just a few seconds, then immediately began his brisk walk back to the office block’s ground floor. At this speed, he knew he would be unseen and out of the door in less than five minutes. It took just under three to get to the exit, and with latex-clad hands, he pushed open the rear door and left.

Ben had his issues, but even he knew that his preferred black-hooded sweatshirt and black joggers – the uniform of house-breakers and car-thieves everywhere – wouldn’t provide sufficient anonymity for this particular mission. Because of that, he’d been sure to acquire plain white shirt and what his mother used to call slacks. Ben even found a tie hanging around with these two useful items - all three of them drying on a back garden washing line. The tie was printed with yellow smiling face, and Ben thought he’d keep it after all this was over.

It gave him a certain amount of pleasure to know that his haircut, his recent weight gain, a sharp little beard and a set of tinted contacts had ensured his mother hadn’t recognised him until her final moment.

Ben thought back to the previous day’s events – all of which were necessary to ensure the peace of humankind. Holy Wars had proved that any act, even murder, could be justified providing one’s motives were always for the greater good.

 Ben’s mission had involved four months of sucking up, careful observation, secreting items away, and four months of ensuring that every piece of the puzzle fitted.  In the end, a pack of matches and a round of targeted violence became Ben’s enjoyable optional extras.

Joyce Mackenzie had been responsible for the death of Ben’s wife. He knew that now, just as he knew about the smuggling and distribution of illegal firearms, and her blatant benefit scams which defrauded the British government of millions of pounds. Those misdemeanours were bad enough, but what of the innocent lives who’d taken a wrong turn and been sucked into Joyce’s drug and people trafficking empire?

Well away from the doorway, Ben stopped behind a transit to remove his tie, shirt and trousers, stashing them speedily into his rucksack before emerging as an anonymous-looking dark-haired man who had barely broken into a sweat in his running shorts and t-shirt. He strolled around the corner to the front of the building, feigned dismay at the fallen body and the growing crowd who had already gathered around it, and took a position near the front of the crowd, behind two tall and indistinguishable young women.

‘I just came back from lunch,’ the slightly taller girl panted, her face pallid-white. ‘And then I got back to the front door, and there’s a thud behind me. I turn around, and there’s this person on the pavement, wearing a mask, and covered in blood!’

Her friend shook her head. ‘I know! I was only a few steps behind you. But it can’t be Joyce, can it? She’s just the sweetest and kindest…’

‘I know. Proper old school. Very real.’

‘Does Joyce, I mean, did Joyce have a family?’

The young woman shrugged. ‘Her husband died, but they had a son, Ben. He’s been in a mental home since he was a teenager. He’s incurable, but Joyce never gave up hope that he might get better. That was why she started working in mental health. Built the charity up from nothing.’

Ben prickled silently. What on earth did these girls know? His mother was a criminal. A harlot. A demon.

‘Is her son her next of kin?’

‘He must be, but I don’t know how they’ll tell him. Joyce got a call yesterday telling her he’d broken out from his ward, killed two of the nurses and set fire to everything. Proper psycho, I reckon. Joyce was so upset.’

The other girl mouthed ‘Wow’, and they fell silent to respectfully watch the body of Joyce Mackenzie, internationally renowned philanthropist and founder of the charity, Mental Health Support UK, being taken into the waiting ambulance.

Ben watched silently too, delighted that Mission Stage 1 was accomplished.

It was a shame he couldn’t be there when the police discovered the message he’d left in Joyce’s pocket, but the deed was done, and it was all for the greater good.

Stage 2 next.