He’d been amongst the small throng of people that had gathered outside the woods on the morning she had been found. None of them knew what was happening, they had seen the flashing lights and heard the sirens and knew it was something serious, filing out from the warmth of their homes, some still in their nightwear, leaving half eaten breakfasts behind at the kitchen tables. Human nature is a wonderful thing, he thought to himself. The fascination with death and destruction, the morbid interest in anything involving blood and gore and suffering.
There were whisperings of a body, a young girl maybe. Was she murdered? Surely not? Not in this quite town. It was like children in the playground, telling tales and weaving their own stories. But only he and one other knew the truth. Knew what was really hiding in those woods behind the Police tape and the horror that was about to commence.
8th December – Napier Road. Mid morning.
McCann could hear the music blaring from his stereo before he’d even slipped his key into the front door. Stepping inside the full force of the floor rumbling bass hit him like a train.
He shouted out. No answer. Not surprising though, he thought. His head now started to pound even more than it had been.
Walking into the front room he saw his daughter, sitting on the settee under the window, flicking through the pages of a magazine.
Looking up she nodded in recognition of her father’s entrance. Pacing over to the stereo, McCann pushed the off button, cutting the noise from the air, and stared at her.
She looked back. “What?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Loud enough for you?”
Looking back to her magazine. “It was fine until you turned it off.”
Shaking his head he removed his jacket, throwing it across the back of the armchair. “I have got neighbors encase you hadn’t realised. Bit of consideration would be nice, you know, seeing as I have to live here.”
“They’ll get over it.” She said with a huff, still not raising her eyes. Quick as a cat, McCann reached over, slapping the magazine from her hands. Jumping back in the seat, she, for the first time since his arrival, looked him in the face.
“Dad, what the bloody hell was that for?”
“Enough with the smart mouth OK? And enough of the language. Now, are you going to tell me what this is all about?”
Sitting up, she regained her momentarily lost composure and folded her arms, a typical teenage scowl spreading across her face.
Giving it a few moments, he waited for an answer.
“Well? Are you going to tell me what this is all about?”
Pulling up her legs up onto the settee so she now sat cross-legged. “Like I said earlier, cant a daughter come visit her Dad when she wants?”
Spreading his arms and looking to the ceiling, he gave out a long sigh, realising that he had once been a teenager but hoping to God that he had never been as awkward as this. Moving across the room, he sat himself down in the armchair.
“Listen, I’ve had a pretty rough day, so how about we cut to the chase here and stop all this nonsense. Its great to see you and, of course, you are more than welcome any time you want, but, like I said, I can’t always be here at the drop of a hat, a little pre-warning would have been nice is all I’m saying. OK?” Nothing but silence from the other side of the room. “Ok?” he repeated.
“Yes, OK Dad, I’m sorry. Won’t happen again.”
He smiled. “So, you want to tell me what’s going on now?”
She shook her head. “It’s nothing.”
“Yes, nothing.” Her reply laced with a sarcastic tone.
“OK.” He said, standing and reaching for the phone. “I’ll just give your Mum a call and let her know your safe.”
“Wait.” She said, reaching out to him.
“You don’t have to do that.” She paused. “I spoke to her when I got here.”
“Oh, so you’ve called her already?”
“But, you said that your battery was almost dead when I spoke to you before?”
“Yes.” She paused a second. “I used the land line. That’s OK isn’t it?”
Nodding, he perched himself on the arm of the chair. “Yes of course, its fine. I said you could use anything you like when you are here.”
She smiled. “Thanks Dad.”
“Any time.” He said. “Any time. But, you see, its quite odd really.”
She frowned. “What is?”
He could see something flicker across her face, a look that he had become all so used to in his line of work. A look that said they knew exactly what was coming but were going to try and hide it at all costs. He looked towards the white slim-line phone that stood in its cradle on the far side of the room.
“Well, that phone hasn’t worked for the last week, I just haven’t got around to calling anyone out to fix it.”
Watching his daughters face drop with the realization that she was caught, silence descended again. She looked at him and then at the floor and then back again.
“She has no idea that you’re here does she?” he said. More silence. “Bethany, answer the question.”
Sitting up, the daggers came out, the frown returning, a bite to her reply. “No, OK, she doesn’t know I’m here. Happy now?”
“Well, lets see. My daughter turns up on my doorstep and then proceeds to lie through her teeth to me. Something, which she knows all to well, I will not tolerate. So, am I happy?” He paused. “No, not really. To be honest, I’m far from happy.”
Letting out a long breath, she hung her head, a finger tucking a stray strand of hair behind an ear, then, barely above a whisper. “I don’t like it there any more.”
McCann walked across the room and sat next to her. “Don’t like what?”
Keeping her head down. “Living there. With them.”
He frowned and thought about it, his wife, his now ex-wife, and her new man, Tom, the gym owner from North London. “You want to tell me why?” He asked, sitting down next to her. Not knowing whether he wanted to hear what she was going to say.
Turning, she looked at him, the frown disappearing to be replaced by one of sadness.
“Its not the same Dad, nothings the same any more. I miss you and I miss being here. I just want things to go back how they were, without the arguing and everything, just all of us living here, together.”
Nudging closer to him, he put an arm around her shoulder, kissing her on the top of her head.
“But you know that can’t happen don’t you?”
“I know, but it doesn’t stop me thinking about it.”
He brushed her hair with his hand. “How about Jack?”
“What about him?”
“Well, how does he feel about everything?”
Pulling away, she turned to face him. “He misses you, and he misses being here too, but, you know what he’s like, he just goes along with things. As long as there’s stupid football on tele and he’s got his PlayStation he’s OK.”
“Does mum know you feel like this?”
A moment passed before she shook her head.
“Well, maybe you should tell her?”
Another shake of her head. “What’s the point, its not going to change anything is it? And what with the wedding coming up…”
McCann felt his stomach drop and the room shake around him. “What?”
Bethany looked into his eyes and screwed up her face. “Oops, you didn’t know, did you?”
She was right, he had no idea. No idea what so ever. Karen getting married, surely not?
“When?” he said, his voice noticeably shaky.
“Dad, listen, I thought that you knew and…”
She paused. “They haven’t set a date, but I know that they want to do it as soon as possible.”
To say that this was unexpected news was a gross understatement. He could understand why no one had told him, as, of course, it was none of his business any more. What Karen did with her life now was her own choice.
Admitting that, though, was the hard part, and this was the final nail in the coffin of any that chance he had. A chance that he had known for a long time hadn’t existed any more, but if he said that it hadn’t crept into his mind every now and then, that she would turn up on his doorstep declaring her love for him, then he would be lying. He nodded at her response.
“I’m sure she was going to tell you Dad.”
“It’s fine, really.” He stood up and looked back down at her, needing to change the subject. “Look, you need to let her know that you are here.” She went to open her mouth to argue. “No! You need too, OK? She’ll be worried and its not fair if you don’t.”
She sighed. “Ok. Ill need to use your mobile though.”
Fishing out his phone from the inside pocket of his jacket he handed it too her. Taking it, she looked at the display screen.
“You’ve got six missed calls Dad.” She pressed some buttons and scrolled through his list. “Oh, that’s not good.”
“They’re all from Mum. Can you talk to her Dad, please? I promise I’ll talk to her later, promise.”
Blowing out his cheeks he caught his daughters puppy dog stare, her big brown eyes. If there was one person who could wrap him around their finger then it was her. He took the phone from her. “OK, but once I’ve cleared this up, you will talk to her, you got that?”
She smiled and got up, putting her arms around his waist. “Thanks Dad.”
“Now, go in the kitchen while I talk to her, there’s stuff in the fridge and, well, you know where everything is.”
Smiling again she picked up her bag from next to the settee and headed off through the living room door. = Once he knew she was out of ear shot he turned his attention to his mobile and dialed.
Once upon a time hearing Karen’s voice was all he’d needed to get through the day, but now, sitting on the sofa in his quiet front room, he was hoping that she was busy.
It rang seven times and the point came where he thought that he was going to get his wish, when her fraught voice crackled through the earpiece.
“Elliott, where have you been? Its Bethany, she’s…”
He interrupted. “Slow down, slow down. She’s here, with me.”
There was a pause. “What do you mean, she’s there with you? Why isn’t she at school? Her mobile is off.”
“Look, I have no idea, she just turned up on my doorstep, but she’s OK.”
“How did she get there? What the hell is going on?”
McCann thought that knowing where she was and that she was safe would have calmed her down, but seemingly not.
“Listen, I don’t know. She called me earlier, said she was sitting outside the house. I told her to go next door to get a key…”
“Wait, she had to let herself in? Where were you?”
“I do have a job to do Karen, encase you had forgotten, and excuse me for not being a mind reader and knowing that my daughter was going to show up unannounced.”
There was a brief silence on the other end of the line. “Don’t get shitty with me Elliott, I was worried.”
“I’m sorry, OK, it’s not been a great day and I’m pretty tired. Look, I don’t know what’s going on. She’s fixing herself some food, I’ll get her to call you OK?” He could hear his son’s voice in the background and the noise of a TV. McCann pictured him perched on the edge of the sofa, engrossing himself in a computer game. Then it dawned on him that it was the middle of the morning. “Why is Jack off school?”
“Stomach ache, although I’m starting to think that it’s not as bad as he let on earlier. He’s amusing himself in a new game, lots of shooting and blowing things up by the looks of it. You want to talk to him?”
McCann smiled. “Yeah, put him on.”
He heard mumbled voices in the background, a few moments and then Karen’s voice back on the line.
“He said can he talk to you later? He’s just getting to a good bit.”
McCann chuckled to himself. “No worries, say hi to him.”
Will do. Listen, I’m coming to get Bethany OK?”
“She’ll be OK, she’s quite safe here.”
“I know, but she needs to be at school before I get her Headmaster on the phone.”
McCann knew she was right, besides, he didn’t have time to hang around to spend any decent time with her.
“OK, well I have to go back to work, something pretty big has come up, and so I won’t be here. I’ll lock the door and let Mrs. Morrison next door know that you are coming.”
“OK. Thank you. At least I know that she’s all right. Look, I’m sorry for going off on one.”
“Its fine, forget about it, ill tell her you are on your way.”
“Thank you, Elliott.”
“I know that I’ve not been the best father in the world, but I hope that you know Id never put my kids in any danger.”
A reply wasn’t quick in coming. For a fleeting second he thought that one wouldn’t arrive. When it did, he had to fight the urge not to break down and cry.
“You know, there was a time when I thought that we’d never be anything other than happy, you and me. Raising our kids, working towards a nice little life together, just, I don’t know, making the best of things, I guess. Sure they’d be hard times, just like with all couples, but we’d always work it out, because we were strong,” she paused, letting out a long breath, “but, I don’t know, I just hope that you are OK, Elliott, that you, in some way, understand, I suppose. Understand that it was never easy for me, what I did. I mean, you’re the father of my children, but, you changed, and we changed, and that was what I couldn’t handle. But, and you’re right, if there’s one thing that I do know about you its that you love your kids, and I know that you’d never see them hurt.”
She didn’t go any further, and McCann was glad. Staring off in to the middle distance, her words rang through his mind with nothing but the truth. It was then that he realised the tears had come.
“Elliott, you OK? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Composing himself. “No, its fine, really. You have things to say then you say them. Listen, I need to get going, the DCI will be calling for my blood. Ill let Bethany know what’s going on. Oh, and Karen.”
“Congratulations on your news.”
He heard her sharp intake of breath, but didn’t give any time for a reply.
Sitting for a few moments he stared at the phone, part of him wanting it to ring, wanting her to call back and tell him it was all just a big joke, that she wasn’t engaged to someone else and that he was still all that she wanted, that things could go back to how they used to be, just the four of them, together. But he knew that wouldn’t happen, and he knew that he had to erase these thoughts from his mind if he was ever to move on and pull himself out of the darkness of his mind, the darkness that had driven them away in the first place.
He then thought of his daughter. Pacing out into the hallway he called through to the kitchen, a few moments and her face appeared around the door.
“I’ve got to get back to work for a while hun, ok? I’ll let Mrs. Morrison Know that you are here. Your mum’s on her way to get you so chances are I wont be back to see you.”
Her face dropped. “Can’t I stay Dad? Just for a couple of days?”
McCann let out a long deep breath. “Look, I wish you could, and I mean that before you go off on one, but you’ve got school. You’re here next weekend anyway, so I’ll see you then.”
Slowly nodding her head in agreement she shuffled along the hallway towards him, wrapping her arms around his waist. McCann smiled and pulled her in tight against him, kissing her on the top of her head.
“Right young lady, I have to get going. Mum shouldn’t be too long, text me when you get back, ok?”
She pulled away from him, her face downcast. “Sure Dad, no worries.”
Watching her shuffle back along the hall, he waited a few moments, and then left.
August 23, 1990
The time had arrived, the time to end it. Her unrelenting screams had filled the dark and dank space of the basement for the previous three days, from the moment that he had turned from gentleman to devil and sunk the needle into her neck. Now was the time to silence her, for good. It was just like the first girl, answering her advert in the evening newspaper, the lonely-hearts column. Scouring the pages looking for the one, the next one, another desperate bitch looking for love and putting her heart on the line to anyone who paid any interest.
To be honest, he could have chosen any one of the thirty or so that were listed, all of them much of a muchness, all spouting the same bullshit. Their wants and needs, the usual must haves and turn-offs. But, in the end there was only one.
He hadn’t had to wait very long either, the letter dropping through his door after a couple of days. Picking it up from the mat he turned it over in his hands, carefully slicing open the envelope and delving inside like a kid putting his hand into a box of sweets. Pulling out the white paper he raised it to his nose, taking in the faint scent, imagining it on his prey, imagining it on his fingers as he held her close before cutting her open.
Her name was Jennifer and her letter was gushing. Reading through the first page she spoke of her delight to receive something back from someone who sounded so genuine, someone who, she felt, even though she was yet to meet, she connected with. She talked about them being kindred spirits, wandering in the wilderness, waiting for their moment to arrive. Waiting for the dawning of a new chapter in their lives. It continued for a little over two pages and by the end the excitement had risen to the point of explosion that masturbating over the photo she had attached, a nice summer shot taken with her sitting on a wall with a big smile on her face, was more intense than he could have ever imagined.
She had worn, at his request, that very same dress to their first meeting. And, as they sat in the beer garden of the deserted pub, the sun glinting through her blonde hair, he pictured her locked away, pleading with terror, her face twisted with torment as he teased and played with her life. Now, standing outside the room, he prepared himself for the final encounter, the final thrill of his plan, the blood pumping through his veins, the anticipation flooding his every nerve and fibre, the tingling sensations plowing through his body. He knew that this was the reason he was put on this earth, to serve in the shadows, causing suffering and pain. The screams that echoed around the small dark space were like a symphony to his ears, him, stood, hands aloft, eyes tightly shut, like a conductor in front of the greatest orchestra, controlling the swelling and pounding like a pro. Letting the sounds wash over him he slipped on the black leather gloves and pulled the floor length apron over his head, both still stained with the blood of his first kill. Then, picking up the hammer, he paused for second and prepared himself, before reaching into his pocket for the key and opening up the door. As the light flooded into the room, he stood and peered into the dark, the shadowed figure of his captive huddled in the far corner, her face dirty and tear stained, pleading words falling from her mouth, a smile creeping over his lips at her plight.
Taking a pace towards her he sniffed at the air, the sweet smell of her suffering lingering in his nostrils. She struggled back against the wall, trapped like an animal, her hands up in front of her, begging for her life.
Stopping, he listened to her pleas, listened with delight at her sobs for mercy, giving her the glimmer of hope that her suffering would soon end, that he would have a change of heart and step aside, letting her leave. Smiling at her he let the hammer hang down to his side and held out his hand, beckoning her to come to him. She looked and hesitated, a frown forming on her face, his plan was working, a stirring in his groin, his heart beating faster, but nothing but calm on his face.
She edged away from the wall, on her hands and knees, coming closer, his throat felt tight, his mind willing her to reach him. She got within two feet and held out her hand, her breathing heavy. He took hold of her fingers and slowly pulled her close. Then, a quick as a cat, gripping her by wrist, swept up the hammer and brought it crashing down with a sickening thud to the side of her head.
The room swirled around him as the giddy euphoria of another kill filled his senses. It was the same as the first time. Sensations like nothing else coursing through his body. The rush of blood like a train, buzzing in his ears, the vivid yellows, greens and reds pulsing and dancing like wildfire in front of his eyes, the heady rhythm of his heart beating in his chest like a drum, the ultimate rush, the perfect high. Lowering the bloodstained hammer down by his side and wiping his gloved hands on his apron, he stood and stared down at the figure that lay crumpled at his feet, the once pretty young woman with the flowing locks and eyes that could sear into your soul, now nothing but a mess of blood and brain. It was just how he imagined, better even, and as he got to work finishing her off and removing her pretty blue eyes, just the knowing that their was more to come made the sensations even finer.
8th December – Police Station. Mid morning.
Mid morning, back at the station, and DCI Stone gathered the relevant parties together, in the incident room on the third floor, for the briefing regarding the current inquiry.
His meetings were, in the main, short and sweet, no flowering of anything or beating around the bush, just blunt and to the point, and sometimes, mildly amusing. It was evident, however, to anyone that came into contact with the DCI that his call for efficiency and hard graft was unwavering, and anyone suspected of slacking or not doing their utmost for the cause would be harshly reprimanded.
McCann sat at the side of the room, perched on one of the desks, his gaze fixed on the images that had been pinned to the boards, his mind blanking out the sounds in the room. He looked at each photograph in turn, taking them in one by one, again trying to rack his brains and pull out why they were familiar.
Taking to the front of the room, Stone’s booming voice attracted everyone’s attention.
“OK ladies and gents, lets get down to it shall we, can I have a bit of ‘ush.”
A ripple of papers and clicking of pens proceeded as a hush fell over the room.
“As you’re all aware, this morning at approximately seven a.m, the body of a young woman was found in Foxborough Woods over in the Parkwood area of Medway. Now,” he paused, his face hardening, “to say that this is a nasty one would be the understatement of the fucking year. We’ve got one sick wanker in our hands.” There was a murmur from the congregation as Stone pointed at the images behind him of the dead girl, the bloodied face and coin filled eye sockets, the butchered torso and flayed skin. “We’ve got a young girl lying on the slab everyone, and some fucker out there knows why. So, I need your best heads on for this one. Anything you can dig up then dig it up and bring it in. No matter how small or insignificant. No fucking around. I want this person found and I want them found before they get the taste again, and we all know that this is no ordinary enquiry, so the chances are that this could just be the first. So, if any of you are not up to the task,” His hard eyes scoured the room, “Then you know where the door is. There are plenty of traffic offenses I can find you to do and I’m rather partial to a nice brew.”
He paused for a moment, making sure that everyone’s attention was still there.
“Right, as some of you will know DI McCann is heading up this one up, so you’ll report to him, I don’t need to say anymore as you all, hopefully, realise the importance of this, so, Ill leave you in his capable hands.”
Stepping aside, Stone headed for the door and McCann approached the front, thanking his superior officer and receiving a wink for his troubles. He stood for a few moments, looking over the officers seated in front of him. A group of faces staring back at him, from experienced DS’s to young DC’s with a keen twinkle to impress in their eyes. For some, this would be the biggest case of their careers so far, and, McCann had to know that the officers he had been assigned were the best, and that they were going to give everything towards getting the right results, each one offering their own unique skills and initiative.
“Good morning everyone.” He paused to let everyone respond, giving him the feeling of being a teacher at the head of the class. “I, hopefully, don’t need to reiterate to anyone how serious this inquiry is. This is nationwide, front-page news, and everything we do from now on will be scrutinised, and when I say everything, I mean, everything. You take a piss and don’t wash your hands, then expect to read about it while your eating your corn-flakes,” There was a hint of laughter from the ranks, which McCann acknowledged without comment. “Therefore, we can’t afford any slip ups. It’s important that everyone is focused for this inquiry, and, as DCI Stone said, this is no ordinary case so we’ll need to work to our utmost to get results.”
McCann then turned and plucked two photos of the young girl from the whiteboard. One a close up shot of her ruined face, the flash of the bulb catching the shiny surface of the gold coins, the other a body shot, the horrific damage gleaming in glorious technicolour. Then, turning back, he walked between the officers, holding them up for each in turn, making sure they had a good look.
“This is what we are dealing with.” The hushed silence in the room indicating that if he didn’t have their full attention he certainly did now. “The injuries that have been inflicted, and I’m sure you’ll all agree, are nothing but savage, but, first indications state, and just to add the canon of shit that we have being sprayed with, that its not the missing teenager, Gemma Dawson.”
He stopped at the back of the room, pausing for a few seconds, casting his gaze through the rain-spattered window. Steel grey clouds rolling across the menacing winter sky, a flock of birds, in V formation, slowly made their way over the river. Taking a breath, he turned and continued, pacing back to the front of the room.
“So, to get the ball rolling, DC Rhodes,” sat at the front, the fair haired officers’ ears pricking up, “Find out what you can about the coins. Check out any local dealers, private collectors, there are plenty of them around, see if any of them have had any old coins pass through their hands, failing that, go further a field, they have to have come from somewhere.”
Reaching the front again he pinned back up the photos and took down another, facing everyone.
“So far, and baring in mind we are only a few hours in, the crime scene hasn’t thrown us much of any significance either. Whoever did this seems to have covered their tracks rather well, but,” holding up the image of the unknown face found on this body.” Our killer has left us a little gift. So,” Turning to the bright freckled face of DC Abbey Fletcher, “Get onto missing persons, find out all the names of young women between the ages of, say, eighteen to thirty five, that have been reported missing in the last three months. There must be dozens each week that fall off the radar. Hopefully something will crop up. If nothing does, then go back further.”
Turning over the photo, the side showing the message, he let the eyes in the room concentrate on it for a moment or two.
“The writing, as everything seemingly is, is also a mystery,” pausing, and looking towards the door. “I was hoping that DS Conrad would be joining us, but, it seems his little de-coding mission has waylaid him somewhat. So, we’ll just have to make of it what we will…”
On cue, everyone’s attention was then drawn to the back of the room, the creak of the door opening and a slightly out of breath DS Conrad entered. McCann acknowledged him, eyebrow raised.
“DS Conrad, nice of you to join us. I was about to put out a search party for you.” Said McCann.
Strolling to the front, his usually perfect hair flapping loosely. “Sorry sir got caught up with that information from earlier.”
“Hopefully it’s worth waiting for.”
Dropping a slightly tattered folder down onto the desk next to McCann and removing a sheet of paper, he eyed the room and then focused back on his DI.
“Well, the writing was quite straightforward. Turns out It’s a verse from a poem by Sylvia Plath, ‘Crossing the Water.'”
McCann raised an eyebrow. “Plath, good choice. Crossing the Water’s a new one on me though I have to say.”
Conrad looked at him. “Like a bit of her then do you?”
“When your old man was a school teacher you don’t really have a choice.”
Conrad nodded and handed over the paper.
“Well when I’ve got a second I’ll give a bash.”
Taking it from him, he cast his eyes over the now deciphered text.
Cold worlds shake from the oar.
The spirit of blackness is in us it is in the fishes.
A snag is lifting a valedictory, pale hand
“Very nice,” sucking on his teeth. “How about the code, what were we looking at?”
“It’s a pretty basic one from what I could gather, called a Caesar Cipher. Not that difficult to crack.”
McCann looked back at the paper and huffed. “OK, so maybe a bit of an intellectual.” He looked back at the writing one last time. “Well at least we know now. Good work.”
Turning, McCann pinned the poem to the whiteboard along with the images.
“OK, so its looking like, on all fronts, that it’s early days, but, hopefully we’ll at least get something of some use by the end of today, until then, unfortunately, we’re in the dark.”
He then made it clear that everyone was aware of his or her duties and for any progress to be reported immediately to the incident officer to be charted. Re-iterating that nothing was to be missed or ignored.
“I wish that there was more that I could say at this point, but there isn’t, so, until we get news from scene of crime we’ll have to play it by ear. I’ll get everyone back together as soon as something breaks, OK?”
The room nodded in unison and McCann said his thank-you’s. A hubbub then ensued as he headed for the door and the officers in the room gathered their things. It was always the same on a big case, you could smell, almost taste, the anticipation in the air. It was something, and he wasn’t ashamed to admit it, that made him tingle. Fighting the good fight. And right now, anything to take his mind from other things was a welcome.