Once inside, Arthur pulled a small torch from his backpack and shone it around to make sure there was no one downstairs. Then, after making certain it was clear, he made a leisurely inspection of the large, spacious lower level.
He wandered through the lounge and dining room, pausing to look at photographs and paintings and even spent several minutes flicking through Maddox’s CD collection; Elton John, Lionel Ritchie, George Michael, a bit of Queen. Nothing to Arthur’s taste.
Eventually he found his way into the kitchen, completely at home in the darkness. By torchlight he admired the bespoke cabinets and the African slate floor. He opened the big American-style fridge and casually took a swig from a carton of fresh orange juice, quenching the slight thirst he had from his jog across the fields.
Leading off from the kitchen he noticed a bolted door. Immediately curious, Arthur went over to it, silently slipped the bolt and turned the handle. Behind the door he found a flight of concrete steps which fell away into blackness.
Arthur tugged on the pull-cord light just beyond the door to illuminate the staircase then, being careful to mind his footing on the narrow treads, slowly eased down the steps. At the bottom he found a large, brick built cellar with low wooden roof beams. The space was empty except for an enormous chest freezer, an old settee, a couple of dusty dining chairs and a child’s snooker table. An old threadbare rug had been thrown down on the cold concrete floor to make the room more cosy.
Arthur smiled. This would be ideal for his needs.
Minutes later, Arthur was climbing up the main staircase, his big, highly polished combat boots as quiet as an old man’s slippers.
All the members of the household were upstairs, right where he expected them to be.
The first room he came to belonged to the little boy, Zack. He was fast asleep. Nine years old and with the face of an angel. Just like many Arthur remembered. Children, just like this one, with equally angelic faces in circumstances that only the hardest hearted men could not be affected by. But in Africa, Arthur had been hardened. Atrocities were rife; torture, mutilation, rape, murder, they were all everyday occurrences. In many cases, he himself had given the order and, sometimes, he had performed the act. Out there, it was the way things were done. It was a job and Africa, well, it was a different world, a hell that he had forced himself to become immune to in order to survive.
After years of witnessing and taking part in horror, it eventually became as nothing. And so it would be tonight, if needs be. But only as a very last resort. He had no desire to hurt a child unless absolutely necessary.
He quietly closed the door and moved onwards along the landing.
Next was the little girl’s room. Poppy’s room. She was seven. All wrapped up in a Barbie duvet and as cute as a button. Again he quietly closed the door and moved on.
At last, Arthur arrived at the master bedroom and carefully he slipped inside.