A Bad Habit

She stroked the stubble on the old man’s chin and held the cigarette close to his lips, but not close enough.

The old man’s lips reached out, trying to attach themselves to it. If his hands had not been handcuffed to the metal frame of the basement’s boiler, he would have snatched it from her.

She looked into his eyes. They looked back at her pleadingly. `My goodness, you really do want it badly,’ she said. She straightened and placed the cigarette on an old table. It rolled off and fell to the stone floor.

Both of them watched its red tip burn there.

She sniffed. Without the thick cigarette smoke that normally filled the little room, his smell was even stronger. It had been seven months since she had captured him. After only three, he had become an addict. Pathetic really. She sniffed again. She regularly released one of his hands and gave him water to wash himself with, but it didn’t seem to do much good.

Filthy man.

She looked at her watch: time for his food. She reopened the meat paste she had brought yesterday and spooned it out the jar.

The old man’s tongue wormed out of his mouth and licked the pink paste.

While he ate, she thought again about the first time she had met him. How long had it been? Twelve months ago? A year since her Albert shook hands with him. Albert had been so looking forward to meeting the great Dr Barns. And the promises he made Albert that day! Albert was never brave, but the poor man even looked forward to the transplant…

Getting Dr Barns to visit her house after Albert’s murder – not death, murder – hadn’t been that difficult. She watched the great doctor walk up the street towards her Victorian detached villa as though he ruled the world. She let him in, put the required drug in his tea and dragged him down here. That had been the hardest part. Fortunately, he was rather a slight man.

Dr Barns licked at his dry, cracked lips.

She held up the spoon. `More?’ she asked. He shook his head and coughed. It sounded deep – as though it had come from the furthest part of his lungs. In fact, the cough sounded the exact same as the one dear Albert had…and the one she now had too. A couple of months ago, she had coughed up blood and had quickly seen a real doctor who had told her the news that she was expecting.

It was all arranged; had been for the past week.

‘No transplants this time, Dr Barns,’ she said, dropping the spoon onto the old table beside them. ‘I’ve sold this place, you know. In three months, the new owners will move in. I’m off to Belhaven care home in Benchley. Do you know it? Looks a lovely place. Not cheap, I can assure you.’

She bent down and checked the handcuffs around his feet and wrists.

The old man glanced at the key that she now held in her hands. A look of fear passed over his face.

All those years putting up with Albert’s cigarettes and never once had she worried about passive smoking.

‘Well, goodbye, Dr Barns,’ she said, replacing the scarf that she used to cover his mouth. ‘I don’t expect I’ll be seeing you again.’

As she climbed the stairs out of the basement, his muted screams – and then his retching coughs – followed her to the landing.

The old oak door that she closed and locked behind her snuffed them out.


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