“So why are you giving a murderer a job?”
“I believe that everyone deserves a second chance.”
“Even though he strangled his girlfriend?”
“He sincerely regrets the terrible thing that he did, said that he was driven into a jealous rage when he found out that she was having an affair with his friend.”
“And you believe him?”
“It’s so nice to meet someone who’s got such a refreshing and forgiving outlook on life. You’re a good man, Mr Holt. ”
“The life of one person has gone, but it doesn’t mean that another life has to be ruined because of one terrible mistake. Darren needs a fresh start.”
Darren Bendicott’s rather weedy looking probation officer offered me a toothy smile beneath his wimpy blond moustache, as he gave me a limp handshake, once again thanking me effusively for giving his client the chance of a fresh start in his working life. He trotted out a lot of cliches about forgiveness and how we can never judge others unless we’ve walked in their shoes.
I thought the man was an utter prick, but then, who am I to judge?
Of course I knew that offering one of our modern apprenticeship places to a convicted killer was always going to be a controversial thing to do, but since they’d given him a new surname and identity, no one but me would know about his past.
Darren had been released after serving eight years of his sixteen-year jail sentence, and the fresh start I was offering him was the chance to train as an electrical engineer, and after his first week he appeared to be doing fine.
‘High Voltage Engineering’ is not exactly a recognised profession by that name, but it’s one of those niche jobs in electrical engineering that nobody really understands unless they’re in the field. We deal mostly with huge installations, for instance the massive electrical systems that power a city’s streetlights, or the electrical feeds that supply a large industrial estate, or the power distributed by wind farms. Being ultra careful goes with the territory, but the same principles apply whether you are wiring up a household torch with batteries, or streaming thousands of volts to a city through cables as thick as your arm. You just have to follow the rules, observe safety protocol and Bob’s your uncle. Darren was starting at the bottom, going out on site and doing the dogsbody jobs under instruction, but he was taking it seriously and so far had proved to be the perfect apprentice.
As it happens, I know a great deal about the murder of Alice Boniface. She had been strangled in her bedroom by Darren, a boy she hardly knew, and who her parents didn’t know at all, but who nevertheless claimed they were having a serious relationship. Afterwards, her parents went through the grieving process, celebrated with the police at the apprehension of her killer, but sadly their marriage subsequently broke down, as is so often the case when terrible tragedies occur. There was such a lot of publicity about the case, that in the wake of their divorce, her father and mother both changed their names in order to avoid the attention of ‘journalists’, who had made their lives a misery for several years.
There was a suggestion from some sources that Darren was an arch manipulator, who only cared about himself, and his feigned repentance for killing Alison was a put-up job, and all he really cared about was that fact that he hadn’t got away with it. There were rumours that after her death and before he was caught, he was maligning her memory, calling her a slag and a prostitute. It was a fact that he had tried to sell his ‘story’ to a tabloid newspaper, but his offer had not been accepted, since the prospect would have been repugnant to readers.
It was a fortnight since he’d started working with us when I got the phone call that made up my mind about him.
“Glen, you do realise that tomorrow would have been Alice’s birthday?” It was my ex-wife, Dorothy, who lived in a nearby town. We weren’t close any more, but we spoke from time to time. “Our daughter would have been twenty-six tomorrow if that twisted evil shit hadn’t murdered her.”
“Of course I realised it was her birthday. How could I forget?”
“Do you remember that detective on the case? He phoned me last week, telling me that Darren’s cellmate had told him that that evil bastard had been boasting about how good it felt to kill her, how she deserved to die.” She broke down in tears. “Can you believe it? And they still let him out early! Apparently it seems that some unsuspecting idiot has even given him a job!”
“Really!” she fumed. “These effing do-gooders make me sick! Anyway, I’m going to visit her grave tomorrow night,” she went on. “Would you like to meet me there?”
“Yes, I certainly would. I’ll have a little surprise for you then.”
Next day I was in the office at about eleven when I answered the phone and spoke to Darren, who was alone on a job, somewhere under the MI motorway, attending to a large power supply that delivered electricity to the nearby service station. It was a job that I had been handling personally, having left early this morning for Darren and his boss John to complete some final tasks.
“John was called away and I’m on my own,” he told me anxiously. “And I’m not sure about this wiring diagram that you left with us this morning. It says connect C9 to C20. Are you sure that’s correct?”
“Of course it is,” I assured him, elaborating on some technical details.
“But it looks as if C9 is a live cable. Surely it’s not safe to touch it?”
“It’s not connected to the main circuit, I checked that this morning. Don’t you trust me, Darren?”
“Of course I trust you.”
“It’s not live. I promise you it’s perfectly safe.”
Half an hour later the phone rang again. This time is was from, John, who was Darren’s boss on site.
“You’d best get down here, Glen,” he yelled, his voice shrill and panicked. “Something terrible has happened. I got back down the hole to check on Darren, and there was a terrible smell, just like meat on a barbecue. Darren’s copped it, looks like he somehow touched a live cable. The police are all over the shop. How could it have happened? He was wearing his safety boots, with the thick insulated soles.”
I smiled to myself, remembering the nail I had inserted in the sole of his right boot, that would allow the current to surge through his body to the earth below his feet, frying his body on the way.
(image courtesy of Jason Lawrence, from Pixabay)