WARNING: Contains explicit language and deals with adult themes
He sat in the driver’s seat with the headlights off, a motionless silhouette in a vehicle parked some way down from the alley he was watching. The gap between the buildings was dark and foreboding with two large industrial bins obscuring half the entrance. They created a blockade that meant that once in the alley you were unlikely to be seen. The stench from the overflowing garbage provided further seclusion, making the venue uninviting for drunken couples looking for a quick grope while staggering back from their latest nightclub conquest. Parking lots and office blocks lined the road, the steep sides of which prevented any view down into the alley from the tall high-rises of the Brisbane skyline. Street-lamps were either broken or non-existent. The only light filtered through from the main drag of Leichhardt Street, a few turns away.
It was the perfect spot for the homeless to enjoy an undisturbed sleep and he had learnt it was a regular haunt for his latest target. From his research, he knew there were no CCTV cameras and at this hour most of the revellers and potential witnesses had left the city. After all, it was Thursday morning and most had to wake for work in a few hours.
There was movement in the alley, but it was just the brushtail possum he had seen earlier, slinking in to pick up a tasty morsel from the bins. The cat-sized marsupial was now carrying a half-eaten apple in its mouth. It stopped in the middle of the road and dropped the prize to sniff the air. A wild animal juxtaposed on an urban street scene. As if detecting the nearby brooding menace, it turned its head and seemed to stare straight into his eyes. A moment passed and then it snatched the apple and scampered off, disappearing among the branches of the nearest tree.
Time ticked by. Through the slight gap at the top of the window, he heard a siren wailing in the distance, probably an ambulance plying its trade. He tried to keep himself calm, but the wait was starting to affect his already tense body. He rubbed the tips of his fingers together and felt the moistness of his skin. Sweating, dilated pupils, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate. He mused over the neurological and chemical pathways of the sympathetic nervous system that caused these signs and symptoms and found composure within his medical knowledge.
He looked down at the syringe in his lap. He preferred to keep changing his modus operandi to make his actions less easily traced, always using the guise of a non-suspicious death to hide his killing spree. But no one looked for elevated levels of insulin in homeless corpses. Death on the streets was just a consequence of that lifestyle choice and these scum rarely, if ever, worried about their health.
Movement in the shadows up ahead interrupted his thoughts. Although his vision had grown accustomed to the dark, he still had to strain his eyes to make out the figure stumbling along the pavement, bumping off the walls. The man clutched the cause of his unsteady gait, a four-litre sack of cheap wine that was now almost empty. On finding the opening between the dumpsters, the drunk stopped, swayed and for a moment it looked like a backwards fall onto the concrete was imminent. A head injury sustained like that and there might be no need to leave his car. But somehow the man stayed vertical and then dragged himself past the bins and out of sight.
The watcher waited, but now there was an added intensity. Was this his prey? Had Brian Briggs just staggered into his trap? BB was an urban outdoorsman who spent half his life in the Emergency Departments of either the Princess Alexandra or Royal Brisbane hospitals. Sometimes he was ill, but mostly he just wanted a free meal and a warm bed for the night. BB had figured out that claiming chest pain gave him at least six hours under cover and that was when there were no delays. His latest visit to the Royal had been for pneumonia, but he self-discharged after two days, desperate for a drink.
The watcher passed the time by thinking about the effects of chronic alcohol abuse. Most people have heard of liver cirrhosis, but he mulled over the more insidious sequelae. How the organ’s impaired function increases the blood pressure in the portal system causing ascites, all the accumulating tissue fluid distending the abdomen like a balloon. But worse still was the development of oesophageal varices, or varicose veins of the gullet. Once one of those vessels ruptures an alcoholic often bleeds to death through their mouth, vomiting their life blood like the countless times they spewed their drinks.
He looked at his watch. Twenty minutes had elapsed and it was time for action. He once again checked the street, using the rear-view and wing mirrors to search behind him. Nothing moved. Nothing stirred. He slipped on some vinyl gloves and picked up the syringe, dropping it in his pocket. With the wait now over, a calm befell his body and he exited the car in a single fluid motion. Crossing the road, he walked to the alley, moving more quietly than the possum, not stopping until he too had ducked out of sight.
The darkness enveloped him like a pall and he paused, listening. The reek of rotting refuse was almost tangible, but he focused on the rasping breaths that were coming from deeper in the passageway. As he suspected, he could have located his victim just by sound in the cave-like conditions, but checking for other inhabitants and finding a vein would have been impossible. He reached into his jacket and brought out a set of night-vision goggles, donning and switching them on with practised precision. An artificial green light bathed the squalid scene.
Brian Briggs lay propped up in a corner amongst a pile of soiled blankets, wheezing with every snoring breath. From the labels on the linen, there was quite a collection amassed from several hospitals. Although his actual age was fifty-two, most would have put him in his seventies. A life strewn with disappointments, failures and alcohol abuse, along with years of exposure to the Queensland sun, had taken its toll on his appearance and demeanour. Various blemishes, sores and infections scattered his tanned craggy skin. His limp greasy grey hair was far beyond redemption, despite the advertising claims on any shampoo bottle. The unkempt beard that adorned his chin had been trimmed, no doubt by a well-meaning nurse, but any improvement was spoilt by the build-up of sputum at the corners of his mouth. BB was someone who felt that life owed him a favour and one of his many burdens was the monumental chip he carried on his shoulder. As such, he had never been someone who spawned friends easily and most of the other street people avoided him like the plague.
With his quarry confirmed, a visual sweep of the alley revealed no other low-lifes, so the watcher approached the sleeping man and squatted down beside him. He reached over and gave him a shake. Nothing. No reaction. Just more snoring. He nodded to himself then slipped a tourniquet around BB’s grubby bare arm and retrieved the syringe from his pocket. Removing the cover, he looked for a vein passing beneath one of the many sores on the old wino’s skin. Choosing the best option, he pushed the needle through the wound, concealing the track mark from any over-diligent pathologist.
Suddenly, BB let out a groan and his eyes blinked open, staring right into the watcher’s eyes. “Wha’ the fuck?”
For a moment, he thought there was a flicker of recognition. Then he realised it was pitch dark. He was the only one who could see. He responded in a soothing voice. “Just some more antibiotics for your chest infection, BB. Go back to sleep.”
“Oh aye, no worries.” With that his lids drooped and his head lolled onto the wall, the snore resuming.
The watcher flipped off the tourniquet and pushed the plunger, then withdrew the needle and applied pressure to the site. As he waited for the blood to clot, he recapped the syringe and dropped it and the tourniquet back in his pocket. Then he stood, surveying his handiwork and searched the scene for anything out of place. Anything to alert the authorities. Anything that may raise suspicion.
Satisfied, he turned and walked away, slipping off his goggles before leaving the seclusion of the alleyway. All up, he had spent less than five minutes out of his car. As his footsteps receded, the loud rasping breaths of the homeless man began to slow, the pause between each getting longer and longer until the alley eventually fell silent.