One poisoner, several suspects, many victims. This tale of twists and turns and interconnected lives will take you on a rollercoaster journey as you discover who dies, who survives and who is ultimately responsible for so much destruction.
S Pearce’s classic whodunnit tale, cleverly set against a backdrop of impending environmental catastrophe, will keep you guessing until the very end. Fingers point in every direction as the poisoner exploits a community rife with greed and neglect, ripping through the fabric of society and exposing its seedy underbelly.
"The plot is cleverly written and references to characters and events are cleverly linked back together, making it the classic 'Who Dunnit' tale. The reader really is kept guessing to the very end, and there are some great gory descriptive sections!" Amazon customer
"the remarkably intricate plot, the suspense of guessing who the Poisoner actually is, and the undercurrent of social criticism, all make this a very enjoyable and intriguing read."
"It is a disturbing tale, a salutatory tale with good characterisation, brimful with people that the reader will feel that he or she knows" D.A. Barker, author of 'Killing for Christmas'
CHAPTER ONE - THE POISONER
One… careful… drop.
The Poisoner slowly withdrew the syringe from the small, sweet vessel that would carry the deadly substance into the victims’ bodies, and placed both items on some greaseproof paper in the spotlight of a small lamp, the rest of the room smothered with darkness. So far, all of the attempts had failed.
The idea? To put a lethal dose of poison into sweets, and then distribute them around the town as free offerings. This way, the Poisoner thought, there would be so many random victims that there would be no possibility of tracing the perpetrator of the crime.
The plan had taken many hours of research to perfect. Poisons were not readily available, especially ones strong enough to kill with just a few doses. But then, just a short while ago, fortune had given the Poisoner a lucky break and delivered an opportunity to gather large amounts of the ideal substance. Quantity was key. Extremely potent poisons were not necessary if the sweets tasted nice enough and the victims kept popping more into their mouths, unaware that with each sweet they were sealing their demise. They would, in fact, be willingly killing themselves.
“Damn!” It had failed again. Just as before, the sweet began to break apart as traces of the poison seeped onto the paper towel. At first, the Poisoner had simply tried adding the deadly content to existing sweets, bought from a shop. Each and every time the experiment had failed: either the syringe could not pierce the shell of the sweet, or if it did, the poison invariably seeped straight back out of the small hole. Even when the tiny hole was plugged, the poison then destroyed the sweet from within and oozed out onto the surface. The Poisoner had to find a sweet that sealed up again once the syringe had been pulled out and was hard enough to contain its lethal substance.
A quick search on the internet showed how to make boiled sweets, and this, thought the Poisoner, was the best method. But timing exactly when to insert the syringe was proving the most difficult variable of all. It had to be when the sweet was still soft enough to allow the poison to be injected, but only moments before it actually hardened, to prevent anything escaping again.
Footsteps outside! The Poisoner froze. It would be difficult to explain away all of this equipment: the portable hot plate; the large steel cooking pot; the sugar; glucose; cream of tartar; the honey flavour extract; the poison. The Poisoner picked up the small glass bottle of honey extract and smiled. This ingredient was, given the circumstances, a touch of genius. Something had to be used to overpower the slightly bitter taste of the poison, and honey was for so many reasons the perfect choice. Fortunately, the poison did not really have a strong taste anyway. At the beginning of the project, the Poisoner squeezed a tiny drop of the toxin onto an outstretched tongue, trying to determine its taste and consistency, before spitting it back out onto the floor. Its unpleasant bitterness was not so intense and could easily be hidden with flavouring.
There was a knock on the door. The Poisoner remained silent. Undefined shuffling and rummaging noises came from outside the door, then the Poisoner’s phone rang. Blast! Forgot to turn it off! The Poisoner hastily silenced it.
“What are you doing in there?” enquired a female voice from outside the darkened room.
“Just tidying up,” answered the Poisoner, gently turning down the heat on the hot syrup. The door handle turned. The Poisoner picked up the syringe.
“It’s locked,” said the person outside with a hint of frustration.
“I’ll be out soon.”
“All right, see you in a bit.” The Poisoner breathed out a long sigh of relief at the sound of footsteps walking away, and turned back to the task. Last time, the syringe was put in too early. The sweet needed a few seconds longer to harden. The Poisoner poured another carefully measured amount of syrup into a small bowl, quickly mixed in the cream of tartar, colouring and honey extract and started the timer.
Beads of sweat started to drip down the Poisoner’s face. It was a swelteringly hot day outside. Being closeted away, the curtains drawn and the windows shut, with a hot plate and a boiling mixture bubbling away, raised the temperature inside the room to a very uncomfortable degree.
“Now!” whispered the Poisoner. The syringe, still bearing its deadly load, was inserted into the hardening sweet. “This time, please.” The Poisoner injected the substance, waited a few seconds, then placed it on a sheet of greaseproof paper. Thirty seconds passed. Still no trace of seepage. Forty seconds. Fifty. One minute. The Poisoner started to feel a surge of joy, a sense that after months of planning and experimentation the moment of success was at hand. The Poisoner stared at the little yellow sweet, hoping that it would continue to withstand the chemical processes that were going on within it.
“Yes! Yes, yes yes!” rejoiced the Poisoner. The sweet held. It had hardened and locked its harmful contents within its sugar-coated shell. When it had sufficiently cooled, the Poisoner picked it up, sniffed it, rolled it around the outside of the lips, and felt an overwhelming urge to eat it. The sense of victory was so great that the Poisoner felt that only by consuming the sweet would the project finally be completed. This was the first one. This was the proof that the Poisoner could succeed, did not have to follow orders or advice to gain recognition. This sweet will show everyone that I can be good at what I do. “But not you.” The Poisoner whispered, tapping the sweet almost affectionately and putting it in a glass jar, screwing the lid tight and placing it gently on a shelf behind a protective book.
To be on the safe side, the Poisoner made a batch of sweets in exactly the same manner as the previous successful one. All of them passed. They were put carefully in a paper bag, and the paper bag was gently lowered into a rucksack. These ones were destined for consumption. This is enough for today, thought the Poisoner, don’t want any more unwelcome visitors.
The Poisoner saw this as a three phase project. Phase one had now been concluded: the creation of poison-bearing sweets. Phase two involved creating wrappers for the sweets, ones attractive enough to lure the victims. Phase three was distribution. The second phase would not take too long, but something of this magnitude needed to be done properly. The Poisoner had already put some thought into this step. The idea involved both science and artistry, and it just would not be right to neglect any part of the design. Then it was just a matter of finding the right distribution channels. This weekend would provide the perfect opportunity to pilot the project.
After packing all of the cooking materials away in a large cardboard box, the Poisoner unlocked the door and went into the kitchen. The bright blue paint of the kitchen walls was in stark contrast to the dark room from which the Poisoner had just emerged. The sun was shining brightly and the Poisoner had to squint a little while the eyes readjusted to the light. The female who had tried to open the door about thirty minutes ago was outside, and the Poisoner called to her to ask if she wanted a cup of tea.
“Yes, please,” she called, smiling warmly back.
The kitchen was very untidy, and the Poisoner could not understand how it could be allowed to get into this state. They were, the Poisoner conceded, surrounded by noise, people coming and going, and were so busy with their own occupations that other tasks, such as cleaning, tended to be neglected. The Poisoner did not want to live like this, however. It was just another factor which added fuel to the desire to strike back at a neglectful, wasteful, deficient world.
More than this, however, were the selfish actions of almost everybody the Poisoner met. It did not seem to matter where, when or who; people were simply mean. Take the bus driver the other day. He just drove off although he knew the Poisoner was running to catch the bus. Unnecessary meanness, just to give the driver the thrill of being in charge. Or the lady in the post office behind the Poisoner in the queue. She just barged past when a new counter had opened, getting served first. That was just unfair. Or that teenager who had taken a whole handful of free snacks at the delicatessen counter in the supermarket. Just selfish. Morally deficient.
This boy had given the Poisoner the idea of fighting back against this self-interest. Almost daily the Poisoner found new confirmation that the world was populated with self-centred, narrow-minded parasites and the poisoned sweet project was the perfect plan to weed them out. Only those who took more than one sweet would suffer, only those selfish enough to take more than their fair share would get ill, only those who really overdid it would die.
And then, of course, there was that moron. For years the Poisoner had suffered with ridicule, snide comments, being made to feel worthless. The Poisoner was sure there had been an affair in the past. The two of them, thinking they were so clever that they could get away with their cheating without anybody noticing. Well, the Poisoner had noticed, and suspected it would happen again. If it did, something would have to be done about it.
The kettle began to boil. It clicked off, and the Poisoner poured the seething water into the pot. You should always use a pot. The spoon jingled against the metallic sides as the Poisoner stirred and stirred, thinking deeply about all the wrongs that people were committing on a daily basis.
The woman outside in the garden looked up, into the kitchen. The Poisoner smiled, with a beckoning motion signalled to her that her cup of tea was ready, then sat down on the sofa and turned on the laptop. Phase two would not take long, anyway. The Poisoner would only need printable foil paper, and had already drafted numerous designs on the computer. So far the current favourite was black and yellow wrapper with an image of a cartoon bee, in keeping with the flavour of the sweet.
A name was a little trickier. There were many contenders, but in the end the Poisoner decided on Orbs. The word ʻorbʼ was inspired by a poem which the Poisoner had recently read:
The plastic blue, the shimmering glue,
Upon the poisonous orb it lay;
The toxic hands, the mighty plans,
And never to see the light of day.
For the Poisoner the meaning was clear: this was a call, a shout out, a cry for help. The world needed someone with the drive and vision to effect a change, and the Poisoner was the one to deliver. Finding the poem, finding the poison, designing an orb-shaped sweet and lacing it with honey – it was the perfect fit, almost as if Fate were conspiring with the Poisoner to correct an imbalance in the world with the consummate weapon.
The woman entered the kitchen.
“What are you doing now?” she asked.
The Poisoner slowly pulled the laptop screen down.
“Don’t forget, you’ve got all those boxes in the hallway to clear.”
“All right. Will get on to it after my cuppa,” the Poisoner mumbled. This was another reason why the world was so wrong. People just kept interfering. Do this, do that. Egocentric freeloaders just getting others to do what they could easily do themselves. People were so ready to pass the buck, point the finger, compare one person against another and then judge them, when really they should be holding themselves up for inspection. The woman returned outside and the Poisoner opened the laptop again, clicking on the document containing the wrapper design. There it was. It just needed a few tweaks now that the shape, size and colour of the sweets were certain.
After making the necessary adjustments to the final design, the Poisoner shut the laptop down and sipped the cup of tea. The wrapper was ready. The sweets were ready. The Poisoner was ready to kill.