August 25, 1990
The hospital canteen was quieter than usual, the gentle clinking of plates and cutlery and the soft hubbub of voices the only sounds of any note, and, sitting alone in the corner, newspaper laid out in front of him, he stared at the one word headline emblazoned across the front.
Carefully reading through the article a grin began to spread across his face as he savoured every word and sentence as though they were the sweetest toffee. Devouring it over three times with the relish he felt it deserved. He had longed for this day, longed for it since before he could remember, and here it finally was, in glorious black and white.
The two-page article told of teenager Amy West whose mutilated body had been found two days before, dumped in woodland not far from where he was sitting. The journalist, Jane Buxton, had spun a sad and endearing tale of devastation and loss. The popular only child of her parents, Hilary and Frank, ripped away in the prime of her youth, by the hand of a maniac. Pictures showing the grieving faces
of friends and the floral tributes left outside her home and upon the gates of the college that she attended, the usual smiling and happy photos of the victim, party shots, family Christmases and the like. Questions were posed, who could have done such a thing? What were the authorities doing to do apprehend the culprit? All of it nothing but the usual bullshit in circumstances such as this.
She had, though, left out all of the minute gruesome details, just plumping for the standard fare of nothing too heavy or graphic as to upset the public or cause any panic. But he knew everything. He knew every inch of the suffering that had been inflicted on little Amy. Every cut and bruise, and every punch and kick. Right up to the moment that her life had been snuffed out and she’d been torn her apart like a butcher would an animal carcass. Just knowing that it was he who was responsible for the event provided him with a pure rush of unadulterated pleasure like never before.
Folding away the newspaper and tucking it in his back pocket, he sat with his with his Styrofoam cup of coffee, trying to hide the sheer delight that was inching over his features as the next, and most integral part of his plan began to form. His mind whirred with images of him, images of the man who had been enveloped in his thoughts ever since that day, three weeks previous, when they had met. A man who, until now, was as anonymous as any average man was, but who, in the times to come, would become synonymous for some of the most heinous acts of violence ever committed.
9th December – Mortuary. Early morning.
No matter how many times McCann descended the dimly lit steps into the death rooms, as they were commonly known, it still twisted a knot into his stomach. He’d always wondered the mind of someone who chose to pour their time dissecting the dead for a living. But he also knew that without them, the job of apprehending the vile and moral less folk that roamed the streets would be a tortuous task.
The smell was always the first thing to hit you. A mixture of the sour tang of death and decay combined with the bitter aroma of disinfectant, both assaulting your every sense, making you wish you were anywhere else but there. This was definitely the one part of the job he would quite happily avoid if at all possible. And today, coupling all of that with having to face Dr Campbell again, he knew that this was going to be one day he wouldn’t be remembering in a hurry.
Leading Conrad down into the abyss, his colleague seemingly oblivious to his surroundings, they headed along the wide, low ceilinged corridor and made for the double doors at the end, behind which hid away a multitude of sins.
Pushing open the doors they stepped inside.
The room was small and bare, white tiles and bright overhead lights, which when reflected in the shiny floor made it seem as though you were walking on a hundred tiny little suns.
A gleaming, silver sink unit was situated on the left wall, upon which stood umpteen bottles of chemicals. A door led off to the right, a small cubbyhole cum office hidden inside, the distant hum of a music emanating from within.
The main attraction though, was the gurney table that was stood slap bang in the centre of the room, a white sheet pulled up and over the mound that lay upon it. The thought of what was beneath causing a cold shiver to spread across McCann’ back.
Approaching the table a movement caught McCann eye, a figure standing in the doorway of the small office. Dr Campbell. He turned to face her. She spoke first, a note of irritation in her voice.
“Can I help you Detective?”
McCann decided against the nicey nicey approach. What with their previous exchanges, and now with the presence of DS Conrad, he knew that getting to the root of the case was far more pressing than getting to the root of their personal issues.
He nodded curtly. “Dr Campbell. Any news on our victim?”
She frowned, his response obviously not what she had been expecting.
“Apart from what I disclosed to you at the scene yesterday, its far too early –“
“Anything would be good, it doesn’t matter how small.” McCann interjected.
Campbell glared at McCann for a long moment before grabbing her white coat from a hook behind the door. Slipping it on, she walked out to meet them, greeting DS Conrad in the process.
“If you’d let me finish.” She said with a raised eyebrow. “There is something that you should take a look at.”
McCann and Conrad exchanged glances and then back to the Doctor.
Making sure that she had both of their full attention, she reached down and pulled back the sheet, revealing the head and shoulders of the body underneath.
She had been cleaned up since the last time they saw her, her face and hair now clear of the blood and grime which had previosly made her unrecognizable. The coins had also been removed, her eyelids, or what was left of them, pulled down to cover the dark empty sockets.
Averting their gaze downwards, both officers took in the sight and the stone cold realization.
A long moment passed before anyone said anything. Both officers’ eyes fixed on the corpse, the Doctors on the officers. Conrad was the first to break the silence. “Fuck.” He said. Not intending it to come out quite as loud as it did. McCann took a breath. “That’s one way to put it.”
“The samples that I’ve taken, unfortunately, won’t be back for a while, so any concrete answers to your questions will have to wait.” Said Dr. Campbell.
“Any idea how she died?” asked Conrad. Campbell pulled back the rest of the sheet, exposing the entire horror once more. The flayed skin, even though now cleaned, still resembling something more akin to being seen on a butchers slab than anything vaguely human. Her butchered flesh marked with deep gashes that seemingly covered every inch of her torso and abdomen. Her breasts now returned to their right place but still looking more like bloodied mounds of mincemeat than what they should look like.
Conrad looked away almost as quick as his eyes were drawn to the savage image, a lump of bile rising in his throat, a white handkerchief whipped from his pocket, covering his mouth and nostrils. McCann, on the other hand kept his gaze fixed.
“Where do you want me to start?” asked Campbell, pulling on a pair of surgical gloves and moving around the table, gesturing to the torso.
“Like I said earlier, any one of these wounds could have been the fatal one.” She leant closer to the body, running her hands over the marks. “The abdomen is the worst affected area, you can see here,” pointing to just above the navel. “The muscle wall of the abdomen is relatively thin and easily cut or punctured, which would cause any significant wound to bleed heavily. If she were being kept somewhere for a prolonged period of time, which we are surmising, and had no access to treatment, then infection would be inevitable, which would lead to death.” She paused again and took a breath. “Then there is the case of Internal bleeding, which is enough to kill a person quickly, dependant on the organs that are affected. If it’s the spleen then its likely to be quicker than, say, the liver, which bleeds more slowly.” She paused once again for breath. “We’ve also got, if all of that wasn’t enough, the marks around the throat area as well, which are conducive to strangulation.”
She straightened up, removing her gloves, and looked back to McCann and Conrad, both their faces deep in thought.
“Another thing,” she continued. “Is that if, and it is a slight if, at the moment, she was alive when this was done, then the shock would have been enough to cause heart failure.”
If nothing else, this last statement got both officers attention.
“You think that’s possible?” asked McCann. “That this was done pre death?”
Campbell broke a grin. “I think we can safely say that anything is possible, don’t you think?”
McCann nodded in agreement. He’d had enough of being in the room and needed a big gulp of fresh air.
“Ok, well we’ll leave you too it Doctor. How long do you think it will be before we can expect anything concrete?”
Campbell shrugged, moving away to her small office. “Who can tell, hours, days, I don’t know. Ive put a rush on the toxicology results, so Ill let you lot know when I do.”
McCann led Conrad back up from the underworld and into the land of the living. Stopping by the coffee machine next to the reception desk, he pushed in six five pence pieces and pressed the button marked espresso.
“Just when I thought this day couldn’t get any fucking worse.” He said as the machine gurgled into life, delivering his drink into a small white plastic cup. Lifting it out he turned to Conrad. “Listen, get back onto missing persons and tell them that its fucking urgent now and that we need anything that they can give us. Find out the names of all the females that have been reported missing in this area in the last, say, six weeks. If that doesn’t show anything then get them to widen the search, take in London, Essex maybe. Just get some names, at least it’ll be a start.”
Stepping out into the winter sunlight, pulling his coat tight around his shoulders, McCann trudged across the car park. Half way across, his phone rang.
“DI Fletcher, what can I do you for?”
There was a hissing sound, followed by mumbled voices, before Fletcher finally spoke.
“Sorry, sir, listen, the guy who we spoke to regarding his missing car, well, now he’s gone missing.”
McCann frowned as he opened his car door and climbed in. “Go on.”
“Well, we tried him yesterday after the initial conversation without any luck, so went back today, only to find the house a mess and the front door wide open.”
“Fuck.” Said McCann.
The rest of the day and the next had passed just like they seemed to do at the begininng of any major investigation, slowly and with very little, or no, information forthcoming. Any possible lead that could have turned up a scrap of truth, instead, fell by the wayside. Any avenue of interest was blocked before anyone had a chance to ask any questions.
The station had turned into a war zone. Every minute was filled with the buzzing and ringing of telephones and the ping of emails. Raised voices and crossed words causing every officer involved, directly or not, to brim with anger.
The television stations, every one of them, seemingly, had the story on repeat. Usual programing interupted to broadcast live pictures and information. Experts and witnesses giving equal time to share their views, whether good, bad, or indifferent. The main debate was as to whether it was the missing teenager, Gemma Dawson, but, without any word of confirmation one way or the other, it was all nothing but hearsay.
It was always the same. All they had to do was wait, wait for that scrap, that morsal, to turn up to, hopefully, bring about the change. It was early the next morning that it happened.
10th December – Staion Foyer. Early morning.
The shabbily dressed young woman looked nervous as she stepped into the brightly lit reception area. The late morning winter sun Standing for a few moments she let her eyes wander the room, one hand in the pocket of her torn dark blue jeans, the other running through her unkempt red hair.
The desk sergeant, noticing her entrance, laid down his sandwich and shuffled towards the front counter.
“Can I help you madam?”
Startled, she turned on her heels, looking straight at him, her eyes wide.
“I’m, I’m not too sure really.” She stopped, her face taking on a frown, a finger tucking a stray strand of hair back behind her right ear. “I’m sure that it’s nothing, don’t know why I’m here really.” She let out a small chuckle.
Moving a stack of papers and his mug of tea to one side, he leant his elbows on the counter and linked his fingers together. His mind running over the same old thing, another time-waster or lonely smack head with nothing better to do.
“Well, how about you start from the beginning love.”
Approacheing the counter, her wide eyes still wandering the room, she rested her fingers on the counter, a strong whiff of smoke emanating from her clothes.
“Its about that young girl that has been found. You know, the one that has been on the news.”
The sergeant raised his eyebrows, used to all kind of folk wandering in off the street with all kinds of high tales.
“Ok, you have some information?”
Her eyes drifed to the floor before settling back on the officer.
“Yes, well, I think so anyway.”
The sergeant nodded. He could see that the girl was becoming more and more agitated as the moments ticked by. “Ok, well how about you start at the beginning.”
“They said on the news that they hadn’t identified her yet?”
“That’s correct, yes”
“Well,” reaching into her pocket she pulled out a dog-eared colour photograph and handed it over the counter. “I think I know who she is.”
Taking it from her, the sergeant cast his gaze over it, five pretty young girls dressed up for what looked like a party, shiny dresses and made up faces, each with a glass of wine in their hands.
Looking back to the women. “Which one?”
She reached across the counter and pointed at the photo at the blonde haired girl, second from the right.
“Her name is Emily Cooper.”
The sergeant took one more look at the photo before reaching for the desk phone.
McCann had taken less than two minutes to descend the steps from the third floor where he was battling with a mountain of paperwork, the desk sergeant having little trouble in dragging him away.
Walking across the reception area he was pointed in the direction of the young woman as she stood in the corner, staring at the notice board. McCann smiled and approached her.
“Good afternoon. My name is DI McCann.”
Turning, she looked straight at him, McCann noticing the black circles under her eyes and her lank hair as it hung down over her shoulders of her suede jacket. She had an all too familiar look of someone who made her money on the streets. McCann knew that he was more than likely wasting his time, but he wasn’t going to turn down anything at that moment to maybe get a break.
“Sorry, I wasn’t told your name.” He held out his hand.
Her handshake was timid, as was her voice. “Lizzie, Lizzie Arnold.”
“Well, thanks for coming in, I’m informed that you may have some information for us regarding our current investigation?”
Her eyes left his and wandered to the floor. “Yes, I, I think that I know who the girl is that was found in the woods.”
McCann nodded, his pulse quickening.
“Ok, well how about we step into somewhere a little more private.”
Ushering her into a small side room just off the reception area, McCann invited her to sit down at one of three chairs positioned around a low table scattered with magazines.
He couldn’t help but notice how nervous she looked, sitting there, twisting her hands in her lap and chewing on her bottom lip.
“So, how about we start at the beginning. You said that you think you may have some information regarding our current enquiry?”
She nodded her head a couple of times, all the while twisting and pulling at the skin on her hands as they sat in her lap, the flesh fast becoming red and inflamed.
“You’re going to hurt yourself.” He said, drawing her attention down.
Instantly, she stopped, an awkward look of embarrassment pulling at her features.
“Sorry, force of habit, been doing it since I was little.”
“Its fine, no need to apologize. Please, when you’re ready.”
She took a deep breath. “I’ve been so worried, you know, after seeing the news yesterday. I kept on thinking about Emily and how, well, you know, how it could be her, of course I didn’t want it to be, my God, I just couldn’t concentrate on anything all day, I kept calling her over and over again, we all were, must have used all my credit…”
Holding up his hand McCann attempted to calm her. Seeing him she stopped, dropping her head down.
“Ok, ok. Listen, I understand that you are concerned, but I need to establish a few things first, is that ok?”
Agreeing, McCann continued.
“You mentioned Emily? That’s her name is it, the girl you think was found?”
Nodding, she once again she reached into her pocket and pulled out the same colour photograph that she had shown to the desk sergeant a few moments previous, and handed it over the table to McCann.
Taking it from her, he noticed the nails on her hand were bitten almost down to nothing, what was left flecked with the remnants of red nail varnish. The fingers stained yellow. Not the hands of a usual young woman.
Letting his gaze wander over the image, he almost instantly focused his attention on one girl in particular, the blonde, second from the right. His breath caught in his throat, it was her, victim number one. Holding it for a second longer he looked into the eyes of the girl as she would have looked in life. Happy and bubbly, surrounded by friends and seemingly without a care in the world. Wishing that the past could speak and give him something, anything.
Letting it rest on his lap he looked back to the nervous figure of Lizzie Arnold, who was now twirling her hair between her fingers. His heart was now starting to beat faster at the breakthrough.
Sitting forward in the chair he went to speak. Across the table Lizzie Arnolds face fell, her shoulders sagging.
“So it is her then? Emily.”
Resisting letting the information slip, he first needed some further details.
“Lets first discuss what makes you think that it is her, Emily, that is, I mean, as far as I’m aware, no details have been released apart from the fact that a body has been discovered.”
Averting her gaze, she began to chew on her bottom lip.
“Lizzie? Its ok, you can tell me.”
A few moments and she met his gaze once again.
“I don’t,” pausing, “what I mean is, well, its complicated. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me, you never know.”
He’d heard many tall stories in his years on the force. It was going to take something truly bizarre to render him surprised.
Her voice hushed to barely a whisper.
‘He told me.’
McCann leaned in closer, not one hundred percent certain of what she had said. ‘Im sorry, you said, he told you? Who’s he?’
With her eyes to the floor, she slowly shook her head. ‘Im not sure, I mean, I, I, didnt know who it was, it was just a voice, a crackly voice. My phone rang late, the night before last, I’d been trying to get hold of Emmy, Emily, I mean, for a few days, we all had, and when it rang I prayed it was her,’ she looked up, her eyes brimming with tears, ‘but it wasnt. It was this horrible voice telling me that I wouldnt see her again, and that she had paid for being, for being, a whore.’
Running a hand down his face, McCann sat back in his seat as Lizzie Arnold burst into tears.
Handing her a box of tissues, he gave her a minute to settle down.
‘Ok, you said the voice was crackly, how exactly do you mean?’
With her focus still on the floor at her feet she wiped her eyes and blew her nose, before focusing again on McCann.
‘It was, well, I dont know, crackly. I mean, it wasnt natural sounding or anything, it was, like, like whoever it was was speaking into a machine or something.’
‘So it wasnt just a deep, husky, voice?’
She shook her head. ‘No, not at all, it was, well, it was creepy, it was,’ she paused, ‘the best way I can describe it is like, you know how Mr Punch sounds.’
Silence feel between the pair for a moment as McCann took in what he was hearing. If Lizzie Arnold hadnt had the picture he would have been sceptical, but, there was very little doubt now that the girl lying mutilated in a mortuary freezer was anyone other than her friend.
Lizzie Arnold broke the silence.
“Its her, isnt. Emily?”
Slowly nodding his head he informed her it was his belief that the body found two days previous was the same woman as in the photograph. That of Emily Cooper.
She started to shake. “Oh God, Oh God. I knew it, I knew it was her, she hadnt been in touch for days, she never stays out of contact, never. I know that her parents were going out of their minds with worry. I went to bed that night and thought that she would be call soon, and then, then, that voice, I cant shake it from my mind, the things it it said, I…”
She was starting to palpitate. McCann put his hand out again to try and calm her. “Miss Arnold, I appreciate that this has come as a big shock to you, but I’m going to need to ask you just a few more some questions, ok? We don’t know one hundred per cent yet, but I will need you to answer them, just so we can determine some facts.”
It took a few moments for her to calm herself and wipe the tears that had started to streak her face. She nodded as a sign for McCann to continue. He pulled out a notepad.
“When was the last time you saw her?”
She fidgeted in her seat and took a breath. Looking to the ceiling for a moment and then back to McCann.
“Friday night, yes, that’s it. We finished at the club at about, I don’t know for sure, but it must have been not long after midnight…”
McCann interrupted. “The club?”
“Yes, Strawberry Moons in Maidstone. We work behind the bar, Emily’s only part time, just a couple of nights a week.”
McCann noted it down, also noting the present tense that she was using to describe her friend.
“Ok, so on that night, did you happen to notice if anyone had been paying her any attention?”
A hint of a smile crept over her lips. “She gets quite a bit of attention, she’s a pretty girl. Loads of guys are always chatting to her up and cracking on to her. Its part of the job really, you get used to it all. Some are quite nice and harmless, but then on occasions you get one that’s a bit, you know, sleazy.”
“How about on that night in particular, was there anyone different or anyone that stood out to you?”
She frowned and looked to the table, gripping and twisting the skin on her hands again. McCann let it go this time, the matter at hand more important.
“No, I don’t know, its, well, it’s hard to pay attention to things like that when you are working. I mean, its busy, the music is loud, I don’t know.”
McCann nodded slowly. “You’re sure, no one at all? Maybe someone was hanging around and you thought them a bit odd at the time but paid no attention. Have a think.”
She sat and let her gaze wander the room, her lips muttering to herself. McCann sat back and waited for a response, his pen poised at the ready for anything that came to her.
A few moments passed before she looked at him again and shook her head.
“Sorry, I can’t think, I’m sorry, there’s too many people to remember just one. I’m sorry.” She looked back to the floor.
McCann sat forward. “That’s ok, I understand.” He paused. “Ok, how about boyfriends? Anyone on the scene that you knew of?”
Shaking her head. “No one specifically that I know of. She’s been on a couple of dates in recent months, one she said was a bit of a creep and gave her some hassle, but I don’t think any of them have gone any further. She seemed too busy with her studying for stuff like that.”
It was McCann’s turn to frown. “I don’t suppose you know the name of this creepy at all?”
“Ryan, I think. Hang on.” She put a finger to her temple. “Ryan Caruthers.”
“How about things like, where she met him, where he lives? Anything that you think could help us.”
Taking a deep breath she crossed her left leg over her right.
“She met him online I think, you know, one of those dating websites. Not sure which one though. He was from the area, Rochester I’m sure she said.”
McCann nodded and jotted down the details.
“Ok, just a couple more things. What was she studying, at college?”
“Teaching. English I think, the job is only to fund her fees, not that we get paid much, but it all counts I guess.”
“And was this local?”
“Yes, the college?”
“Oh, yes. Chatham, I’m pretty sure. Not sure what it’s called though, I’m sorry.”
“That’s ok, no problem. We’ll find out in time.” He paused and sucked on the end of his pen. “How about living arrangements?”
Silence from across the table, her eyes staring into space.
She blinked a few times and focused back on him. “Sorry, this is, well, a big shock. She was such a lovely person, so full of life and, well, I don’t know, she was just, just a really cool person.”
Her head sunk down and her shoulders began to shake, the sound of her sobbing filling the room. McCann sat there and gave it a few moments for her to compose herself.
“Its ok, take your time, I know this must be hard for you. But the more we can get then the quicker, hopefully, we can start looking at catching the person who did this.”
She nodded a few times and wiped her eyes.
“I know, I’m sorry. I’m ok now.”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure.”
“Ok, right. I asked about her living arrangements?”
“With her parents at the moment, her landlord was giving her a lot of grief so she moved out and went back with them.”
“And was this local too? The place she was living?”
“Yes, little place in Rochester. I have the address somewhere if you need it?”
“That would be great, thank you. I don’t suppose you know what kind of hassle she was receiving from the landlord?”
Shaking her head. “No, nothing. Sorry.”
“Whether it was over rent, or maybe, I don’t know, sexual.”
“Sorry, she didn’t discuss it.”
Noting it down he caught sight, again, of the photo on the table.
“How about the other girls in the picture,” he picked it up and showed it too her. “Do they work the club as well?”
She wiped her eyes with a balled up piece of tissue. “Two of them do, the others are friends of mine. That was taken at a party last summer.”
“Ok, I’m going to need the names and any contact details you may have of the these girls. We’re going to need to ask them a few questions as well. Can you do that for me?”
She nodded. “Yes, I don’t have them on me, but I can get them for you.”
McCann smiled. “Thank you.”
Tucking his notebook back in his pocket he stood.
“Ok Miss Arnold, thank you for your time, I know this cant have been easy for you, but you’ve been a great help.”
Standing, he reassured her with a smile, and ushered her towards the door.
“Oh, one more thing. I know it may be an inconvenience, but I’m going to need to take your mobile, just for now. It may lead us to whoever made that call.
Nodding her head she agreed and reached into her bag. ‘Of course, I have a spare at home.’
‘If you could also let us know the details that we spoke about as quick as possible that would great. The sooner we can get on with things, the better.”
She gave him a small smile and nodded in agreement. Her face then darkened and she turned to face him.
“You will catch him, wont you? The person that did this to Emmy, I mean.”
McCann held back for a brief moment. He knew that the answer wasn’t going to be a simple ‘yes’ He knew that this case was going to present a challenge like nothing else he had ever encountered.
“I can assure you that we will be doing everything we can.”
Standing at the door, he watched her leave. Watched her walk along the path through the car park and out into the street, her gaze fixed to the floor in front of her all the way. He wondered the life she was heading back too, where she called home, or, if she even, for that matter, had a place that she could spend the night and make a home. But, above all, he thought about her strange gift.
Feeling the walls slowly closing in around him, the atmosphere of the station becoming stifling, McCann grabbed up his jacket and headed for a few moments of deserved fresh air.
Outside, he moved up to a brisk walk, circling the stations grounds, pulling in deep breaths, his heart rate escalating, the life seeping back into him.
To the back of the building, he came upon one of the many smoking sheds erected since the ban was introduced in 2007, it was then that he couldn’t help but pick out the dulcet tones of Dan ‘Spray Tan’ Mulligan filling the mid afternoon air.
Ordinarily, he would of done anything to avoid having to listen to one of his, almost daily, tirades, but today was different.
He didn’t know who he was speaking to, who he was berating with his lop-sided, arrogant views. That wasn’t important. What was important, however, was the subject matter of his rant.
“How many times recently has McCann shown up to work reeking of booze, eh? It’s just not on. He’s a fucking senior officer. I mean, what kind of an example is it to set? People need to be able to look up to us. I tell you what; if it was me, and I had the power, I’d have him out on his arse in a flash. I don’t give a shit about his family issues, no wonder his wife left him. From what I’ve heard his kids don’t want anything to do with him either.”
It was the emphasis that he put on the word ‘family’ that riled McCann more than anything, that, somehow, the pain that he had endured of recent months was nothing but a figment of his imagination, a fairytale concocted as an excuse.
Standing, unseen, he felt his pulse quicken even further, the blood now bubbling at his temples. DS Mulligan wouldn’t know what hit him.