The Lesson – Short Story by Bryony Brook

The Lesson

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Red Tulip – Photograph by Forgottenbee

Clarissa loosened the roll of cotton wool and began to pull it out flat onto the work surface. Using a template she began to measure and cut square pieces of cotton wool, ready for the next day, a tedious task but a necessary one, the college were always cutting back and prepared cotton wool discs were no exception. Placing them neatly into bowls on the upper and lower levels of the trolleys situated along side the couches, followed by counting the bottles of lotions, she remembered back to a time not so long ago when this would all part be part of the student’s preparation time. However, with the significant curriculum changes the demands on the assessment process made it more and more time consuming resulting in teachers being under pressure to arrive early and stay late at the end of each class in order to ensure everything was set up for the days tuition.

Although the salon had been recently renovated, it was still creaky, eerie and had a cold feel, with lots of exposed pipes painted white to help hide their existence. It was once used for bricklaying courses these had now been moved to another college campus to join the plumbing courses at the other end of town. She hated working the evening session in this building, no other classes were taking place and the main building tower block of classrooms was located across the bridge. Despite having security guards on duty and the college caretaker, they weren’t the most vigilant of characters and rarely mustered the energy to walk the college grounds to check everything was in order. If there wasn’t a telephone in the salon office she would be completely alone upon the last student leaving for the night. In the winter term it was pitch black outside, she kept telling the premises manager that a lot of the car park lights were broken, but it always fell on deaf ears. She also always felt the presence of someone else watching her at a distance, following behind her, she tried not to think about it, by keeping herself busy, before locking up.

She woke up later than normal the next day, the bonus after an evening lesson to have a late morning class the following day. She still missed Barnie jumping up on to the bed to wake her up for a quick walk before work. That was the compromise of divorce he got the dog and she got to remain in the house, well until the court hearing arrived and the division of finances were finalised. Today was not her favourite group, the NVQ Level 3 teenagers were always quite a tricky bunch all those hormones swimming around, new piercings, new tattoos and attitude. But she adored the subject –Swedish massage and once they had got past their inhibitions and felt comfortable stripping off in front of one another and touching each other’s ever expanding body parts in more ways than one the lesson could be really rewarding and beneficial.

The newspaper dropped through the letterbox, reminding her that she had forgotten once again to cancel the order with the local newsagents. Rarely nowadays did she get chance to read much, with the marking and preparation required each week. She bent down to pick it up and glanced at the front page, the head line read “College Student No 3 found strangled in woods”, she scan read the article sniffed and carried the paper through to the kitchen to continue drinking a coffee that was on it’s way to becoming luke warm. Sitting down she quickly turned page over page skipping through the articles to find something that captured her interest. Glancing up at the kitchen clock she realised she should shake a tail feather and get moving, nothing worse than getting to the class room late and the students were already in there waiting.

Changing into her uniform (gone were the days of smart white now it was either funeral black or blood red, hardly the most relaxing and therapeutic colours but trendy at the moment) and picking up her work bags she headed out of the front door car keys in hand. She often couldn’t remember the journey to and from work, it was so automatic, jangling her work keys around Clarissa located the right one and unlocked the salon door, dumping her bags she headed over to the flip chart selected a marker and flipped over the last page used by the previous class, began writing a the heading “Revision”, then listing the different topics, Classifications of Massage, Contraindications to Massage, Salon Safety and Hygiene, The consultation process. They all should know these topics well but it was always good to test their knowledge on a regular basis to keep it at the forefront of their memory.
The following week arrived in a flash and yet again it was time for the late evening class, there were quite a few clients already booked in for the session, which was always a relief, as the students were at the stage where the assessment process was the only reason they attended to get their mark in the register. It could often be the case clients would cancel, and the students would have to try and tempt people from around the college, this was never possible on an evening session due to the lack of people on campus and in lessons. It was the winter term and second year for some of the students, Clarissa had remembered she had left some of the folders and paperwork she needed in the car she popped out to the car park conscious that she took as little time as possible. As she knelt on the passenger seat in the car and reached behind to get hold of the folders, she sensed that someone was lurking around the exit gate observing her every move. She looked up and the rapid movement of a shadowy figure disappeared around the corner, it gave her the creeps.

Returning to the classroom, the majority of the students all of which were mature, (hence their attendance to an evening class enabling them to earn a living and increase their qualifications in their spare time) were already engaged in the consultation process with their clients. Another couple of students were awaiting client arrival, one headed over to Clarissa and quietly spoke “Did you read the article about another student’s body being found in the woods? Pretty scary, should we get worried?”, Clarissa looked up and reassuringly smiled “We are having an emergency staff meeting tomorrow with the police, they want to come in and question students and staff. I am sure they will help to alleviate our worries and hopefully give us peace of mind. Best not cloud your focus before assessment it will only lead to mistakes and you really need to pass the next few treatments with flying colours”, the student returned to their working area with a slightly less anxious air, although nerves for the assessment process remained.

Meanwhile over in the tower block, “Joe, give us a hand with this lot, we need to take them down to the computer suite” Paul one of the security guards gestured towards the bundles of large long plastic wrapped packages. “They look heavy, what’s in em dead bodies?” Joe smirked proud of his quip, “You’re funny aren’t you, wish you’d put as much energy into your work as you do into your mouth, with what’s going on in the news it’s hardly some’at to joke about. Get over here and grab the other end, they are too big to get in the lift without bending the cables” Joe rolled his eyes and reluctantly dragged his feet over, “Hurry up Joe, we need to do our rounds, haven’t checked the building for a few hours” Paul grumbled as the two security guards panting and huffing made their way towards the staircase and began establishing a rhythm to dismount to the lower floor.

Clarissa felt exhausted it had been a busy albeit productive evening, signing at the bottom of the last student’s passed assessments she shut the folder and began to rub her shoulders, she was exhausted. Flicking off the light switches, she sighed and pulled the salon door closed, turning the key in the lock, that feeling of dread and isolation crept over her turning to head towards the car park, she nearly jumped out of her skin “Finished for the night then” Paul the security guard bellowed after her as he sauntered down the corridor “Erm yes, thanks glad to see you do actually come over this side then, even if it is a little late” Paul ignored her comment, and began speaking on the walkie talkie. Typical she thought to herself what use were they to protect employees let alone students.
The journey from college always took Clarissa past the woods where the student’s bodies had been found, as she drove past she noticed a group of what look like teenagers with their hoods up on bikes heading into the woods. Strange this late at night thought it would have all been cordoned off by the police, typical kids inquisitive as well as sick minded, she carried her attentions back to the road, missing the latter few dragging something behind.
She needed to get home, no lay in tomorrow due to the emergency staff meeting with the police, she wasn’t looking forward to that.

The meeting the next day brought everyone out of the woodwork, from the Principle and Deputy of the college, along with all of the Heads of Department to administration staff and lecturers, the students had a meeting scheduled with the police the following day. “Thank you all for attending, my name is Detective Superintendent Blake I am heading up the investigation and as I am sure you are all aware of the seriousness of the recent events in the news, affecting students from this college. We are conducting further investigations throughout the college down to the cleaning staff, to help establish the course of events leading to the abduction and murder of the students. If any of you have any information or have seen any suspicious characters..” “What you mean other than the students we teach” whispered John the computer studies lecturer into the general atmosphere, causing nervous sniggering “You should report it straight to us. We will begin our investigations by conducting individual interviews, which will be time consuming, so please be patient and flexible, it is important that you do not take matters into your own hands do you have any questions?”

Clarissa shot her hand up into the air, without hesitation “I was just wondering if any extra provision will be made for staff and student security for evening classes, we are often on our own over on the other side of the building, and feel really vulnerable” several other lecturers grunted in agreement “ Thank you this is something I am sure we can discuss with your Principal” DI Blake gestures the remark towards the Principal who nods in agreement, “and come to a quick and suitable arrangement, in the light of the circumstances. Thank you all for your time and I will remain here for a while after this meeting to organise a timetable for the interview process and to answer any questions or concerns.
The staff began to file out of the hall, lots of pointed looks, comments, conversations thoughts towards who the murderer could be, the college caretaker, the security guards, cleaners, the odd looking student safety within the college and who would be next, was there a pattern, some of the staff bunched around the DI and his colleagues, trying to get a moment to help calm their fears.
Clarissa, Lois and Jackie all headed towards the salons for their next classes, “How do you feel, do you think they will catch the killer soon?” questioned Lois “Oh I am sure they know what they are doing” answered Jackie “Don’t you get even the slightest bit worried it could be you next?” Lois questioned them both again frantically “Not really, I only teach classes when the whole college is busy” Jackie replied “You must be worried though Clarissa?” Lois directed her question “Yes of course that’s why I asked about added protection for the evening classes. Come on I really don’t want to think about this any more makes me really churned up inside”.

Over the next few weeks the Police carried out individual interviews with the staff and students of the college in the hope of shedding light on the case, and gaining new evidence driving them closer to the killer. Several people came forward with potential tip offs which lead to dead ends.
Despite requesting the security for the evening classes to be increased, very little changed other than the bulbs in the car park being fixed, improving the lighting but still leaving the car park a quiet and baron place when Clarissa left for the evening. They still hadn’t installed a CCTV system at this part of the college campus. The lack of recent murders meant the media had also become quiet and had almost lost complete interest in the case despite there still being three unsolved murders of college students. On the completion of the interviews the college returned to relative normality, and although not forgotten the hubbub surrounding the murders had subsided and everyone continued along their path of study. Until, complaints began to be directed to the buildings manager, about appalling smells emanating through the heating and cooling systems in various classrooms. The matter required immediate attention and several classes where the smell was worse were relocated to other parts of the tower block, so the buildings team could isolate the issue. Dismantling sections of the heating system in a variety of classrooms they established the cause. The computer suite had been closed for several months while improvements were made to the college intranet and the computer systems were updated, as with all improvements it had developed some hitches and had a lot of exposed cables and electrical wires so the suite had been sealed off to prevent students and staff entering. On opening the seal the stench hit the team like a blast and the flies buzzing around the long plastic wrapped packages were repulsive, several of the team, immediately wretched and threw up on the floor. The manager radioed to reception to contact the police.

A fourth body had been found in amongst the packages of cables, the security guards had carried down from the upper floors, in the previous weeks. They immediately became suspects and were taken into the police station for questioning, without strong alibis and the presence of fingerprints all over the wrapped up corpse, the security guards were arrested for the college student murders, they had the access to the students the vans for moving the bodies and they had obviously worked together as a team. Despite Paul and Joe pleading their innocence the police were satisfied they had their men and they could build a case around them that would satisfy any jury. The only sticking issue was the method used to murder their victims strangulation using tights.
The staff and students had a reassuring meeting with police and the management team of the college to reinstate confidence in the safety of the college and how the murderers had been caught.
Clarissa arrived for her evening class and checked the client booking sheet, all of her students were able to perform assessments and there were no cancellations, she began to check the trolleys and open the folders ready for the assessment process. “Brilliant news that they have caught those wicked evil men, you must be relieved and delighted, but it must be scary to think it was someone you worked along side” Mary a petite dark haired student spoke in a gentle voice.

Clarissa looked over nodding in agreement, yes she was relieved alright, but the mention of the murders sent a thrill of excitement coarsing through her blood, and she reached into her work bag to grasp hold of a pair of tights.

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