She hadn't meant to do it.
But what else could she have done?
It was always the same, he came back reeking of booze and the perfume of another woman, these scents mingling with the smell of the charred remains of the meal she had hours earlier lovingly prepared now spoiling in the oven as she waited for him. Watching the clock tick by, the night progress, her changing from clothes to nightdress and constantly telling herself he wouldn't be doing it.
He wouldn't be unfaithful.
But he did.
He always did.
And now came the usual affronted mood when she challenged him.
And then came the pushing and shoving, and the pawing as he had her against the wall, anger subsiding into passion "You're sexy when you're angry" he said for the umpteenth time. His beery breath hot on her ear, his rasp like furred tongue searching, slobbering against her neck as his free hand ploughed up the hem of her nightie searching for her sex. She felt his eagerly perspiring fingertips tug her pants to one side.
Not again, please not again she thought, indeed she may have said she wasn't sure in the heat of the moment. All she could recall was his throaty chuckle as he sought to abuse her.
She couldn't let this happen again.
Another violent kiss against her neck turned her head to one side. Her bulging eyes locked onto the kitchen work surface and the steak tenderiser she had used earlier. It winked at her under the spotlights in the ceiling and the moonlight seeping in from between the aluminium blinds. Her hand snaked to it just as his fingers probed at her, getting a firm grip and with every fibre of her body she raised it aloft and brought it down against his temple as he nuzzled at her breast with an almighty thwack.
He staggered backwards, dazed confusion upon his features that swiftly turned to shocked anger. Terrified she hit him again...and again...and again. She was on top of him now, panting and sweating like a role reversed, ironic similarity to the forceful intercourse he had so desired. She kept hitting him until the red mist in her eyes became an all too real red mist; his face, what could technically still be called a face, a bloodied pulp of skin and bone.
She gasped and shot back up off him as if electrocuted.
She stood over him, trembling and shaking like a leaf, breathing through her nose like a cornered frightened animal. The tenderiser still clutched tight in her dismal little fist.
She hadn't meant to do it.
And that was when she noticed the phone ringing.
In a daze she went to answer it, her wide eyes still harpooned to what was once her boyfriend lying in a slick puddle on the kitchen floor. The blood black in the moonlight. She pressed the receiver to her ear and heard someone from a call centre address her by name.
"Hello Claire?" the friendly yet professional almost automaton voice greeted her "My name is Helen and I'm calling you today from PredictiCon?" It was really a question, just an example of the rising inflection that had become so commonplace in such speak. A distant synapse in Claire's brain noticed that the voice had a North Eastern lilt, before quickly dismissing this information as clearly there were more pressing matters for her brain to comprehend just now. In any case the North Eastern lilt was, unbeknownst to Claire, an affectation; recent surveys having conclusively proved that a North East accent was considered the most reassuring for call centre operators.
"Are you still there m'love?" the voice on the other end of the line, Helen, prompted.
"Ah...ah yeah" Claire replied, blinking rapidly as flecks of blood, his blood, trickled from her spattered forehead into her eyes. It was the first time she had lost real sight of her slain victim; though despite this brief closed eye respite, he still appeared in brilliant red seemingly burnt on her retina.
"Champion" the voice replied as the absurdity of receiving a cold sales call at a time like this struck home to Claire. "Anyway, like I say Claire, I'm Helen and I'm calling you today from PredictiCon. Our software tells us that there's a 97.8% possibility that you've just killed your boyfriend"
A tsunami of blood tidal waved within Claire's ears. Had she heard right? Her mouth opened and closed like a goldfish as the caller ploughed on in the same cheery sales style manner "Now, we are obligated to pass this information on to the authorities, which means the police are on their way as we speak Claire, but before they arrive we'd like to offer you the opportunity to take an advantage of an exciting one time offer. So Claire, if you'd like to go to the window just now and look outside, our escape van should be with you any moment...."
Claire parted the blinds. A nondescript black van was there under the halogen glow of the street lamp. It tooted once, softly.
"I-I-I don't understand....?" she began, before the North East accent returned, this time with a slightly more serious tone "Just get in the van Claire" she said "Get in and we'll deal with the rest"
Trance like, Claire headed to the front door, pausing just once to pull her coat down from the hook and shrug it over her stunned limp body. It was just as well she did, for the midnight air that greeted air was stiletto cold - or was that the shock? She shuffled barefoot along the pavement, opened the rear door of the van and climbed in.
Three faces immediately greeted her.
Three faces just like hers; blood speckled, rabbit in the headlight eyes, trembling lips. All having committed similar crimes of passion murders in the last hour. Taking a seat, the van purred into action and pulled away, leaving the life she knew behind, forever.
"Welcome to PredictiCon" a voice not unlike that used in the X Factor, but slightly more subdued, burst into disembodied life from a tannoy in the far corner of the van. It was accompanied by a brief reassuring Windows start up style piece of muzak, and despite herself Claire felt somewhat soothed.
"PredictiCon would like to thank you for taking up our unique and exciting offer of an escape and offers it's heartfelt empathy for your present traumatic experience" the voice said, it's tone lowering to suggest it shared your pain, but a half beat later it resumed back to a more jubilant, excitable tone "But relax, that is now far behind you, thanks to PredictiCon"
Claire shook her head, as she slowly woke up to what circumstances she now found herself in. She was a murderer, yet some corporation was happy to help her evade justice. She looked to the other three and realised that they weren't listening. They heard it all before. Clearly the message was played each time someone joined the van. How many collections would be made? How did this PredictiCon know?
Her query was immediately answered by the tannoy's spiel "Predicticon works diligently day and night, twenty four seven, three hundred and sixty five days each year building an exhaustive and accurate database of consumer profiles by tracking and assessing your internet activity, your TV viewing habits, credit card transactions and use of public transport. PredictiCon works for you by knowing you, by understanding you and by predicting when you will need us. And now we are here for you. For just £129.99 per month you can look forward to an innocently lived future in one of our PredictiCon protection schemes. Yes that's right," it said with a brief chuckle "Freedom is just around the corner and is sooo reasonably priced. For further details please wait until the driver drops you at our Holding Centre where we will supply you with all you need to know and you can sign up there and then. Thank you for using PredictiCon's Escape Policy"
Claire looked at her fellow passengers as the full realisation of what she had just heard hit home.
The journey continued in shell shocked, blank eyed, crazy silence as the van made its way into the night.
(C) Mark Cunliffe 2012