I stood motionless to the left of the closed door. The man stood opposite me to its right. Had I at last come face to face with Peter Marlin himself? My mind struggling to process the information before me, I felt certain of nothing and incapable of action. With complete and contrasting calm, the man nonchalantly raised his left hand and lowered the visor on his crash helmet into the closed position. I remained still, staring, perhaps expecting him to speak, in truth not knowing quite what to do. My torch remained trained on the figure opposite, his features now entirely hidden, his height and build unremarkable. I did nothing but watch. And wait.
Apparently untroubled by this situation, and with a slow deliberation, the man began to lower his head, bending forward casually as if to reach for an item on the ground between us, then, with a sudden and unexpected speed, he charged towards me, head bowed, crash helmet aimed at my upper body. Taken by surprise, and with no time to react, my chest and jaw received the full force of the attack and I found myself thrown backwards into the undergrowth. Reeling from the assault, I braced myself for a follow up attack, but none came. Instead, as I looked up, raising my arm in an attempt to shield my face from any further blows, the man turned and ran, disappearing quickly around the south-eastern corner of the building.
I do not consider myself an especially courageous individual, nor an unduly foolish one, yet this assault and its resulting pain succeeded in provoking an immediate anger within me, intense enough that the prospect of inaction now appeared no option at all. My instincts taking sole charge of the decision making process, I jumped to my feet and gave chase.
Emerging onto the footpath at the rear of the building, I looked eastwards down the hill, spotted nothing, then turned to see the dark figure of the man moving at speed in a north-westerly direction up Marsh Lane, quickly disappearing from view around the bank of brambles which border the path. I followed, the light from my torch compensating for any speed deficit between myself and my quarry.
As I rounded the bank, running parallel to the original, overgrown, footpath, my torch picked out the man as he reached the top of the incline ahead and vanished left at the point where the two paths converge. Perhaps ten to fifteen seconds later I arrived at that same point. With no sign of my quarry, and the winding nature of the path affording a limited view ahead, I continued on westwards along Marsh Lane towards the main road. As the footpath straightened, I caught what would prove to be my final glimpse of Peter Marlin, if indeed it had been him. At the eastern end of this straight, I looked up to see the man silhouetted by the light of the streetlamps beyond as he reached the road and sank instantly out of sight. I cannot be certain in which direction he headed.
Arriving at the main road a few moments later, I found no sign of Peter Marlin. The time was approximately 7:25pm, yet even at this time of evening, the main road through Shotley Gate was devoid of pedestrians, and distinctly quiet, save for the occasional passing car. With a number of possible escape routes open to him, and no knowledge of whether the man had arrived on foot or had access to the motorcycle his attire would suggest, I saw no option but to end the pursuit here. In addition, adrenaline was giving way to rational thought, and the concepts of caution and self-preservation beginning to surface.
I headed for the safety of the well-lit footpath opposite, and retrieved my mobile phone from my pocket. I dialled 999 and requested the police, before returning to my car to await their arrival. Ten minutes passed, during which time I attempted to marshal my thoughts into some degree of order. I felt increasingly confident that the man I had just encountered was surely Marlin. Evidently he had marked the door of the brick building with a further memorial, and given the presence of Vic's body inside, there appeared no room for doubt concerning its authenticity. Perhaps my thoughts were clouded by the unexpected and extreme nature of the evening's events, but I admit that at the time I failed to consider the significance of the second number present on the wooden door.
Shortly afterwards, with a newfound resolution and the knowledge that the police were surely just a matter of minutes away, I took the decision to return to the brick building. My camera sat unused in the boot of my car, and my journalistic instincts imbued me with an overwhelming desire to record what I had witnessed less than twenty minutes earlier. Perhaps mindful of my experience with the severed finger, I felt it a risk to await the arrival of the police. In all probability they would deny me the chance to photograph the body, and usher me away from the scene with all haste. It seemed imperative that I take my chance to record the incident whilst I was still able. I felt the level of danger involved to be comparatively small. Marlin was surely long gone, deterred by the certain knowledge that I would have summoned immediate assistance. There seemed little chance of a further attack.
I collected my camera and made my way back along Marsh Lane at a brisk pace. Despite a high level of alertness, I saw and heard nothing on the short journey down the footpath, and arrived at the brick building minutes later. I paused at the rear of the structure for a few moments, listened intently for any sounds of movement, and detecting none, made my way through the undergrowth and around to the front of the building.
The door was still closed. Beneath the yellow warning sign at head height there now existed the most recent of Marlin's memorials, similar to those which preceded it, yet the first to feature two numbers: 20 and 21. Marlin's original note had declared an intention to commit twenty-one murders. Did this mean the killing was now at an end? I could not be sure. I took a single photograph of this latest memorial (see Photo G), before taking hold of the metal clasp and pulling the door open.
I shone my torch inside and immediately froze.
Vic's body was gone.
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