Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

“That bastard”, said Gordon, “that vile bastard tonight will be the night, tonight she’ll see me and know I kept my word”

December 2012

Gordon Howden slipped back into the shadow of the brick outbuilding. Freezing sleet and rain had been relentlessly sweeping in from the Cromarty Firth for more than three hours. Howden’s heavy overcoat coat was sodden, the cold seeping through to his bones, but he didn’t notice. He had been holding his position now for almost five hours. It would soon be over.

December 1997

As the court rose for the sentence, Gordon struggled to stand, hands grasping the edge of the dark mahogany rail to support himself, the taste of bile burning in his oesophagus. He swallowed hard.

Lord Cramond glanced over at young Gordon, and at the mature prosecution counsel who stood rigid beside him.

“Margaret Reid, the jury has found you guilty of murder. This was an abhorrent crime. If I could give a longer sentence I would readily do so, however the law only allows me to dispense the full life sentence of fifteen years. I hereby sentence you to life in prison with no remission or early release”

A raucous cheer rang out from the crowded public gallery above where Gordon sat. His heart pounding as if it would burst through his chest. The relieved barrister put his arm around the boy’s shoulder, but Gordon didn’t need the comfort. She was going down for fifteen years.  But the juvenile Gordon had lost his mother forever.

Policemen on either side of her Margaret Reid was quickly hustled towards the flight of stairs that led down to the cells, but as she passed Gordon , she pulled back her lips and spat out her hatred; a salvo of saliva flew from her mouth as she lunged forward. The officers tightened their grip and pulled her away. Margaret Reid shouted at the boy, but the acrid words stuck in her throat and she could only wail a terrible banshee shriek.

Gordon Howden stared her down without flinching.

His words were low, they were only meant for him and the murderer of his beloved mother to hear. A slight grin broke from his cold face as he mouthed the words.

“I’ll be waiting for you,”

December 2007

The scruffy MC announced them as Gallagher and Lyle. Gordon just saw a couple of old hippies – Folk music wasn’t really his thing. He’d finish his malt whisky and be on his way into what looked like another glacial, wet and windy Edinburgh night.

Howden slammed the final quarter inch of tawny liquid down his throat, felt the burn then the velvet glow sweep through him. Sometimes the drink gave him a release and sometimes it gave him a week of depression. He took his chance on the outcome a couple of times a month.

“This one’s called fifteen summers; it was a wee hit for us many moons ago”

Gordon didn’t know the person who spoke, his back was turned towards the small stage but the title of the song stung him, slicing through his soul like instant poison. He wanted to leave but he knew he couldn’t, he would have to listen.

“Fifteen summers

And you’re trying to tell me

Just how lonely this world can be

Fifteen summers

You say you’re the only

One who’s had good love go badly”

Gordon turned and barked for another glass of the twenty year old whisky. It was going to be a rough week.

December 2012

Gordon emerged from a deep sleep, woken by the vibration of the phone that lay by his head. The screen said 5.15 a.m. He fumbled for the answer key.

“What?”

The voice he heard had no accent or emotion and all it said was, “She’s in Rose Cottage, Swordale, Evanton. Ross Shire.”  And then the line went dead. Gordon flicked back for the caller ID. Nothing. But he knew what the message meant.

It was time.

11:15 pm 24th December 2012

In the distance a flash of car headlights broke through the mature pine trees and alerted Gordon. Diamonds sparkling in a velvet blanket the light made him jump. His back was rigid the cold pervading deep into his being, his hands had become stiff. Even though the festive sky had dumped and inch of fresh snow across the landscape he had nodded off.

He had to be relaxed and fluid in his movements. He got to his feet from the cramped corner he had wedged his body into. He ran on the spot to get his blood circulating, his hands felt like two blocks of ice but were nicely coming back to life as he rubbed them together with a resilient determination. A tingle of revenge now broke through all the way to his fingertips.

The village of Evanton was a sensible place to hide. The village was populated by widowed elderly women, many of whom Margaret Reid had already befriended and stealthily stolen from. And by oil men home from the North Sea and in a drunken stupor for their two weeks onshore break. No one had apparently paid much attention to the new woman that had quietly moved in to the area.

Thanks to the anonymous source he knew she was there. The voice had told him all he needed to know. He could not be sure but the lead detective who had befriended Gordon Howden had always kept close tabs on the case. The voice that woke Gordon from his heavy alcohol induced sleep, was it Detective Robins?

Howden drew the large hunting knife from inside the waistband of his jeans, slightly nicking his own flesh as he manoeuvred it out. He spat on the precise edge to make sure it was clean. The blade was made from Yasuki blue steel and had taken one elderly Japanese craftsman a full month to perfect.

Gordon had held the knife so many times that the white oak handle was familiar to the palm of his right hand; he and the knife were almost one. He had bought it on his eighteenth birthday. He didn’t know why he loathed violence, but that morning the knife spoke to him, it chose him.

Gordon Howden wrapped his warming fingers around the handle which seemed to vibrate with a knowing energy. A force flowed from the weapon through his forearm, the blood in his veins pulsing fast now.

Suddenly the headlights were upon him and the dull drone of an old car filled his head. He heard the gears grind as the vehicle rattled over the cattle grid and into the driveway of the farmhouse, it stopped abruptly. A door creaked open and Gordon could see a figure almost fall out. In the frigid clear air his nostrils caught the stench of alcohol.

He moved out of the shadows, his body shaking, stomach clenched, his index finger resting on the cold steel.

“Maggie Reid,” he said quietly. “Maggie Reid, do you remember me?”

The woman stumbled back against the bonnet of the car as Gordon shone his torch onto her. She was grubby and dishevelled, so drunk she could barely lift her arms to shield her eyes from the light. Gordon Howden turned the torch on his own face.

“Remember me, Maggie Reid? Remember wee Gordon Howden?”

February 1996

The knock on the front door was not expected. Four o clock in the afternoon, and already the Edinburgh evening was blanketed in a thick white frost. Gordon Howden and his mother sat at the table in the cramped kitchen both working on his geography homework. The kitchen was warm – they’d left the gas oven on to heat them up, the electric heating was too expensive.

The front door bell rang again and Gordon’s mother got up and went out into the chill of the hall to answer it. Gordon never noticed her backing in again. Suddenly there was a strange woman in his house holding a knife and screaming at him to get up in, but Gordon couldn’t get up.

He saw his mother, and the blood that was pouring from her throat and he was frozen to his chair. The woman struck his mother on the side of the head and she crumpled to the floor.

Gordon was tied to the chair with the washing line and kicked over to lie on his back. He lay prone for twelve hours. Horrific hours during which he had no choice but to listen as his mother was terrorised by the insane stranger called Maggie Reid.

Until Gordon’s mother was finally silenced by the knife.

The deranged woman had escaped from the nearby psychiatric hospital leaving a dead nurse and security guard in her wake. The house of Gordon Howden and his doting single mother had been the first house with a light on, and Maggie Reid like a wild moth had been drawn to the warm glow.

11:27 pm 24th December 2012

He grabbed the woman by the throat. Her breath steamed into the wet night air. He locked his cold stare on hers.

“I’m Gordon Howden”

With his right hand Gordon drove the blade deep into the woman, a blast of air expelled from her lungs. He turned the knife ninety degrees and she groaned. He pushed her left shoulder away extracting the knife. As Gordon stepped back, Maggie Reid fell down into the cocktail of mud and fresh snow.

A thin line of ruby red blood had begun to seep from beneath the body permeating into the fresh snow. He picked up the faint noise of a bell beginning to ring from the village church. It was Christmas Day.

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