Nobody knew what Ronald wrote in his black book, just that he always carried it with him and that he wrote in it often. And nobody knew why he wrote in it or what he did with whatever it was that he wrote.
When Ronald moved into the village, the local gossip vine was almost silent. He was early 60s, presumed to be a widower and had recently retired from a job in the city. And that was all anyone knew of him. This, of course, made him an object of desirability in the village. He was an Unknown Quantity. Such rarities came along once or twice in a decade, so the villagers set about unearthing as much information about Ronald as possible.
In his first week, he was presented with pies, cakes, a casserole, two fruit baskets and a wheel of prime sausages made by the local butcher. To the barer of each one he gave polite thanks, promised to return the container and bade a short goodbye before closing his front door. Three local ladies offered their services as a cleaner and each was told no cleaning help was required. The doctor called and was told a registration with his surgery would follow, and the vicar was told he could count on Ronald swelling the numbers in the congregation next Sunday. The local Bobby spent a full 20 minutes giving household security tips but came away with no more information than any other villager so far.
One evening Ronald appeared in the local pub, the Twin Dogs, with a newspaper under his arm and ordered himself a half of bitter. He took his drink and sat at a corner table looking out over the pub and began to read his paper. Every so often he would take a sip of his drink and several times during the evening he put his paper aside, took a small black book and a pen from his jacket pocket, and wrote something down. Each time he tucked the book and pen back into his jacket and resumed reading his paper.
Ronald began to be seen regularly around the village, in the shop, at church, walking on the green, and over the weeks, he was seen writing in his black book almost everywhere he went. He didn’t write in church but was often first to leave after the service and could be seen scribbling long notes in his book, as if he had been holding his words inside until he was able to released them all on paper in the church grounds.
Sometimes Ronald would look at someone or appear to listen to a conversation, then start making notes in his book. People became intrigued and indignant and irate and indifferent. And mostly they wanted to see what Ronald wrote down, about them and about the other villagers. The butcher suggested he could be a famous writer, moved to the village to research his latest novel. The doctor wondered if he might be a property developer, making detailed notes about the village before making a series of bids to buy up property and clear them to build a golf resort. The local Bobby cautioned he might be a gentleman burglar, plotting a series of break-ins when he knew the villagers would be busy elsewhere. He promised to make sure he wouldn’t get away with it.
When Ronald was in the Twin Dogs one evening, he left his jacket on his seat whilst he went to the bar to order his second half of bitter. The butcher’s sons Billy and Dan decided to have some fun and steal Ronald’s book. Billy deliberately bumped into Ronald as he began walking back to his table spilling his drink and then insisted on drying him off with a bar towel and buying him a replacement drink. Meanwhile, Dan felt inside the pockets of Ronald’s jacket, found the book and slipped it into his own pocket. Dan nodded at Billy and the pair of them left the pub and headed for home.
In the house behind the shop, they showed the butcher their prize, proud of their trophy and hoping their father would be impressed. He took the small book in his hands, the leather cover as black as the blood in his puddings. He opened it. Inside the pages were covered in neat black words, sentences covering almost all of the white space. But they were not the notes of a secret writer, nor the plans of a property developer nor the details of each villager’s comings and goings which might indicate the best time to break into their homes undisturbed.
Each page contained detailed notes about the villagers, who they spoke to, who they were friends with and what they did. There were ideas for blackmailing, lists of weaknesses and dangers and details of how each might fare in a fight. And on the final pages were Ronald’s ideas of how he would kill each and every member of the village. Against some were suggested dates of implementation.
The butcher looked through the list and found he and his family were listed as that night. He smelled petrol as it was poured in through his letterbox. He was struck from behind and as he fell, the black book was taken from his hand. A match was struck and the last thing he heard was a whoomf as the petrol caught light.