Ten years ago...
Aisha Thomas stepped through the front gate of her semi-detached Thetford home just after five thirty. She was back from work earlier than normal as she had made plans to go out to the theatre with a couple of girlfriends she hadn’t seen in a while. Flake, her one-eyed black rescue cat, greeted her at the front door. She swooped him into her arms and snuggled her face into his fur. “Have you missed me, baby?”
Flake’s purring was all the response she needed. She carried her fur baby into the kitchen and placed him on the counter while she opened a can of cat food. “Now don’t get in the way. Have some patience for a change.”
After dropping a few biscuits into the bowl alongside the tinned meat, she placed the bowl on the floor. Flake jumped down and eagerly started eating.
“Right, I better get ready now, or the girls will string me up.” Before going upstairs, Aisha checked to see if there were any messages on the answerphone, or if her husband, Patrick, had left any post for her to open. She found neither and continued up the stairs with a spring in her step, keen to jump in the bath and get ready for her night out.
She opened the wardrobe doors, removed several outfits, and laid them out on the bed before she hopped in the bath for a quick soak. When Aisha returned to the bedroom, a towel wrapped around her torso and another one in a turban around her hair, she thought she heard a noise downstairs. She glanced at the clock—it was too early for her policeman husband to be home. She ignored the noise, thinking it must have been Flake. He was a clumsy cat and frequently knocked things off shelves due to his limited vision.
Aisha sat down at the dressing table, ruffled her long black hair with the towel, and began to dry it with the hairdryer. Not until she had finished did she sense someone was watching her. She swivelled on the dralon-covered stool and gasped.
“What? What are you doing here?”
The masked intruder rushed forward, grabbed her by the hair, and forced her onto the carpeted floor. “Lie there and don’t move,” the gruff voice ordered, muffled by the balaclava.
“Please don’t hurt me. I have money I can give you—not much but enough—if you’ll let me go.”
“Shut up.” The intruder paced the floor, scratching nervously at his mask.
“What do you need? I have to go out soon.”
“You ain’t going nowhere, bitch. Now shut up, let me think.”
Aisha swallowed the bile that had lodged in her throat. She had no idea what to do for the best—lie there in silence as instructed, or attempt to negotiate a way out of the situation? She pulled the towel tighter around her, covering her slim legs. Keep calm! Just listen and do what the person says, then I might get out of this alive.
The intruder continued to pace the floor, agitation, increasing their speed.
Aisha looked over at the door to see Flake standing there. “Go, Flake, get out of here.”
The intruder swiftly pounced on the cat, wrapping their hands around Flake’s neck.
“Please, he’s done nothing. Let him go. You’re scaring him.”
Flake squealed, scratched the assailant’s hand, and managed to wriggle free.
“Run, Flake, run.” Aisha heard the cat run down the stairs and out through the catflap, leaving her alone with the intruder.
“He might have escaped, but don’t think you’ll do the same.”
“What do you want from me? My husband will be home soon. Take what you want and leave.”
“Stop giving me orders.” The intruder stepped forward and slapped her around the face.
Blood started to pour from her lip. The metallic taste seeped into her mouth, and she held her hand over the wound, staring up at her assailant. “Please... why are you doing this? Give me a reason.”
“I don’t need a reason. I told you to be quiet. Let me think.”
“About what? If you’re having to think about being here, then that proves you really don’t want to pursue this situation. Let me go, and I promise not to say anything.”
“You won’t get a chance to say anything.” The intruder withdrew a knife and flicked their thumb against the blade.
Aisha shuffled back towards the bed, her gaze drawn to the blade as her mouth dried up.
“You mentioned money—where do you keep it?”
“My husband and I keep a couple hundred pounds tucked away in the drawer over there for emergencies.”
“Ha, you could say this is an emergency.” Keeping one eye on her, the masked person moved backwards towards the drawer she had pointed at. They rummaged around, withdrew a wad of notes, and fanned them. “That’ll do for starters. What about jewellery? Where do you keep it?”
Aisha’s hand trembled as she pointed to the small drawer in the middle of the dressing table. “In there. There are some valuable pieces that I’ve inherited from my family.”
Yanking open the drawer, the intruder began stuffing the jewellery in their pocket. Then walked back towards Aisha, the person’s pace slow and full of intent.
“I have nothing else,” she pleaded, clutching the towel.
“Then my work is done here.” The intruder grabbed her arm and yanked her to her feet.
She clawed and tried to bite the person. Her assailant sank their teeth into her arm in retaliation before the knife sliced her throat. The movement happened so quickly that Aisha didn’t get the chance to defend herself. Her attacker pushed Aisha away, and she fell in a heap to the floor. The excruciating pain coming from her throat worried her. Her hand instinctively covered the gaping wound, and she felt the sticky blood seeping through her fingers. She looked her assailant in the eye and found the strength to say one word before she slumped to the floor as the darkness overcame her. “Why?”