Chapter One 

Newcastle, September 2011

One of the many hated things in Ernest Stanton’s life was the number thirteen. He could never explain why, just that it was his unlucky number. Today of all days it was Friday the thirteenth, and the thirteenth day of his trial. It was shortly after two o’clock when he finally entered the witness stand. Of course he was guilty. The whole damn world knew that. What no one knew, not even him, was that in just a few hours he would be dead.

Wearing a pinstriped suit, white silk shirt and gold silk tie, Stanton looked immaculate. Few would have guessed he was wearing Santoni black leather shoes; there again, few would have realised that this was his last grand performance. His defence lawyers were reputedly the best and the presiding Judge, Mr Justice Fowler, a firm but fair man, ran Courtroom One with an iron rod. Nothing, it seemed, had been allowed to go unnoticed.

It all started innocently enough, as most marathon court cases do. Mr John Purvis QC, counsel for the Crown, took Stanton through a series of undemanding questions before making great play of his dubious background. By the time he’d finished, everyone was in no doubt that they were dealing with an unscrupulous businessman. Throughout that afternoon, Courtroom One had offered Stanton few answers, only questions, and there were many. Good barristers need to have many roles – law makers, courtroom personalities, even private detectives. The moment Mr Purvis QC accused Stanton of conducting fraudulent business activities, the defence was on its feet. Stanton’s defence lawyers were furious and so was Justice Fowler, who challenged his statement as hearsay and of little substance or value to the case. It was the turning point in the trial though, and one from which Mr Purvis QC would never recover. It was an astonishing turn of events. Even Judge Fowler’s summing up speech had brought outcry from the public gallery. But to say it was a moral victory would have been a gross over exaggeration. It was the kiss of death for Ernest Stanton.

Later that evening, as the last rays of sunlight played through the windows of Stanton’s luxury cottage, he turned the empty bottle in the fading light and brushed the dust from its label. Jameson, triple distilled Irish whiskey, matured and bottled in Ireland. A fitting blend and utterly deserved he told himself. Pouring another generous measure, this time taken from a crystal decanter retrieved from a large drinks cabinet, there was no mistaking his contentment. Ernest Stanton was more than pleased with the verdict; his lawyers had done well. Too well if the truth was known.

After a long time – how long Stanton had no idea – he began to relax. Beyond the breakwaters and further out to sea, a stiff easterly crosswind that had buffeted the north east coastline for the best part of the day, threatened to move inland. A storm was brewing. Closer to home, he watched as a small armada of fishing vessels ran for the shelter of the harbour. Tightly packed together as if there was safety in numbers, they were making perilously slow headway between the North and South Shields piers. He could think of much easier ways of making a living, and far less risky.

As the light began to fade, Stanton was inexplicably drawn in by the weird ghost-like reflections that twisted and danced across his cottage walls. What caused them to move as they did, he had no idea. The more he thought about it, the more he questioned their presence. Nothing could have prepared him for what happened next. Not even the good Lord. At a glance, he thought he recognised the intruder. His face looked familiar. He was tall, lean in stature, with short cropped hair and dark penetrating eyes that cut through him with an ice-cold, menacing intensity.

How long had he been there?

Startled, Stanton eased his position and made as if to stand – a friendly gesture, non-threatening. The next thing he knew he’d been stabbed, that much he was sure of. Terrified, he clutched at his side in a vain attempt to stem the blood flow. What followed next can only be described as a moment of utter madness. First his head was jerked back, and then he felt the cold steel blade of the intruder’s knife as it slid effortlessly across his throat. Stanton crashed to the floor – sending the decanter and its liquid contents in every direction. In those last crazy few seconds, his whole life began to open up before him.

Nothing could stop the warm red torrent from gushing through his fingers. No matter how hard he pressed. Worst was the knowing, knowing he was going to die. Coughing and spluttering in a vain effort to breathe, he hauled himself back onto his elbows. Only then did he recognise the intruder, and that familiar gloating smile that only he could perform. But there was something else, something more sinister that was fuelling Stanton’s anger.

Then he remembered.

Slipping in and out of consciousness, he reached out towards the upturned table and grabbed hold of his mobile phone. He was trembling, and his whole body was uncontrollably shaking with fear. Through sticky blood-soaked fingers, he punched in the predetermined number and waited for a connection.

Then he heard footsteps.

His business here done, the intruder turned his back on Stanton and made towards the sanctuary of the hallway. It was over. At precisely thirteen minutes past seven, the line went dead.

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The Wharf Butcher by Michael K. Foster - www.michaelkfoster.com

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