The Winter of Death – Part 6

10th December – Police Station. Mid afternoon.
 
Nineteen year old Emily Copper had been reported missing by her parents on the morning of the sixth of December, two days before her mutilated body had been found. Her details had been fed into the system, just the same as any other missing person, and a file created. That file could now be scratched off.
Unarguably one of the most difficult parts of any police officers job is the dealing with grieving relatives, especially when it involves the identification of, possibly, their child. Ushering Alan and Margaret Cooper into the small, airless, viewing room, a single light overhead, a grey curtain obscuring the window to which the body was situated, McCann spoke. ‘I know that this isnt going to be easy for either of you, but all I need you to do is to confirm with a simple yes or no as to whether it is your daughter or not, is that ok?’ Alan Cooper nodded his head, his wife just stood, her eyes tranfixed on the curtain in front of her, the possibility of it being her beloved child, lying, lifeless, behind it, just too much to bear. Signaling with a raise of his eyebrows to the family liason officer who was stood to one side, the curtain was pulled across.
The looks that materialised on both of their faces instantly confirmed that there was no question that it was indeed their daughter. Alan Cooper hung his head, his shoulders silently shifting up and down, and Margaret Cooper gave a howl of despair that McCann wouldnt forget for a long time.

 

*

 
Lizzie Arnold hadnt wasted any time in getting the information that McCann had requested, and within a few short hours the station was abuzz with anticipation, and DCI Stone wasted little time in getting everyone together in the evidence room to announce the details that the first victims identity has been confirmed as that of Emily Cooper.
Stone took to the front, his face one of steely determination.
“Right you lot, lets ‘ave a bit of ‘ush can we now please.”
The mumbling and scribbling on pads ceased. Every eye now trained on the front of the room.
“Emily Cooper,” he paused, looking across at McCann, who had perched himself on the corner of a desk next to the window.
Taking his cue McCann produced a copy of the photo that Lizzie Arnold had provided of the girls night out, and preceded to walk amongst the officers, handing out one each.
Stone continued. “Confirmed, by her parents a short while ago, as our first victim. Now, I want everything dug up about this lass that can be dug up, ok? Who were her friends? What she was like, her home life. Even down to what brand of fucking tampons she used. Someone out there knows something that is going to lead us in the right direction, and, could possibly lead us to the identity of the girl in the photo left at the scene.”
Stepping aside he then handed over the reigns to McCann.
Taking a breath and surveying the faces in front of him, he started.
“As the DCI said, we now have an I.D on our first victim. We also have details of two friends, a place of employment and an interesting situation with an ex-landlord to check out.
“So,” looking out at D.S Fletcher. “Speak to these two friends, arrange to have them both at the club for the interview. Find out who they saw and who they spoke too. Her friend seemed pretty cut up by everything so likelihood is that they will be as well. A woman’s touch may be needed in a situation like this.”
Fletcher nodded in agreement, a small smile creeping over her lips at McCann’s comment.
Reaching behind him to the table he then picked up a sheet of paper, before stepping forward and handing to DS Rhodes.
“Details of her phone records and email address. Get hold of everything you can. Apparently she meet some bloke, a Ryan Caruthers, on a dating website recently, dig around and see if there is any trail. Also, get a check done on Lizzie Arnold’s mobile, as far we know the killer contacted her to tell her that Emily was dead. You know the drill. Lets see if we can pick something out, maybe the person we are looking for will be in there somewhere.”
Shifting his gaze, then, towards PC’s Andy Harris and Mark McAvoy who were stood at the back looking like Penn and Teller, the giant frame of Harris, arms folded in front of him, and the, in comparison, tiny frame of McAvoy, his uniform looking like that of a child who’s mother has bought his clothes two sizes too big in the thinking that he will grow into them.
“Check out the clubs’ CCTV. Hopefully they will still have the footage from the weekend. Anyone seen talking to our vic or making a nuisance of himself, no matter how trivial you think it may be, flag it up.”
McAvoy frowned and attempted to raise himself up beyond his miniscule height.
“That could be hours worth of film, sir. Could take all night.”
A ripple of anger shot across McCann’ shoulders. Mark McAvoy had a renowned for a talent of never being able to accept an order or assignment without some sort of complaint or argument. It was because of this very behavior that he had garnered the nickname of ‘Sir Moan-a-lot’ from some of the officers.
It was this very name that flashed through McCann’s mind as he stood and looked across at him, his tolerance, usually, quite high. Today, However, was a different matter entirely.
“Well, you’d better get started then hadn’t you, PC McAvoy. And, while you’re at it, how about taking a little time to think about that attitude of yours.” He paused, taking a step forward, his dander up. “Tell you what, you can always take yourself off and pay a little visit to our victims parents and break the news, if, maybe, you’d like something different to do? You never know, you may be able to brush up on your piss poor people skills.”
The room fell to a hush as all eyes proceeded to scan between the two of them. A moment or two passed before McAvoy’s flame red face turned away. McCann continued. His address to the room, just incase anyone else in the ranks felt like stepping on his size twelve’s. His gaze though, the whole time fixed up McAvoy.
“This is a murder investigation people, and a fucking serious one at that. I can’t afford to have anyone here who’s going to piss around and argue the toss. If you don’t like what you have been asked to do then you know where the door is, ok?”
The room stayed silent, a telephone chirped across the corridor, a car horn sounded outside in the street. McCann took a moment to look between the faces that stared back at him, his gaze, then, once again, fixing upon McAvoy before he wrapped things up.
“Ok everyone, thank you for your time. We’ll reconvene when we have anything further.”
The group moved away amidst the sounds of chattering. McCann looked over the heads of them all.
“DS Conrad, you got a sec?”
Turning, he looked back at McCann who was standing with hands in his pockets.
“Sir?”
“Get your coat, you’re with me.”
Along the corridor and down two flights of stairs the pair paced through the busy offices and towards the exit. It was then that McCann, momentarily, caught sight of a figure disappearing through a door at the far end of the hallway.
With his eyes firmly fixed on the door through which the figure had passed, McCann, feeling his pulse quicken, knew he had his moment.
“I’m just going to take a leak, James. Ill see you at the car.”
Marching towards the now closed door, he laid a hand on the handle, took a breath, and entered.
Inside, the small and dimly lit room, the usual smell of disinfectant and stale urine stained the air. The floor blotched with patches of water, the quiet drip-drip of a cistern. And there, at the far urinal, whistling and rocking up and down onto the balls of his feet, was DS Mulligan.
Pacing, quietly, over to where he stood, McCann positioned himself directly behind his adversaries squat frame.
“Hello Danny boy.”
Jumping back, a squirt of urine splashing against the wall and then down onto the front of his trousers, Mulligan let out a yelp. Trying to regain some semblance of composure, he spun around.
“What the fu…”
Jamming his hand around Mulligan’s throat, McCann forced him back, his head hitting the wall with a dull thud. Avoiding a swinging leg and ignoring muffled cries, he tightened his grip and drew in closer to Mulligan’s quickly reddening face, his voice falling to a hush through his clenched teeth.
“Right, you little prick, Ill make this brief. You utter one more word out of turn regarding me or my family, just one, and I will personally make sure that you never walk again, do you understand me?”
Struggling against the strong-arm that held him in place, Mulligan’s garbled attempt at a reply came out as nothing but a string of spit, McCann, however, picked up enough to realise that it was anything but pleasant.
“Come, come Daniel, there’s no need for that, just admit that you were wrong and we can move on, otherwise, well, Ill just have to hurt you a little more, wont I.”
Showing no sign of letting up his struggle and giving in, it was then that the wire in McCann’s head short fused.
With a rage set to burst, he released his grip, then, bringing a knee up into Mulligans midriff, he watched as he collapsed into a heap on the piss stained floor, the wind shooting from his lungs like a bullet from a gun.
Leaning over the prone figure, his right fist set as hard as stone, McCann landed a blow to Mulligans jaw, his fury in full flow, his booming voice echoing around the enclosed space.
“I warned you, you little cunt, didn’t I warn you? I said I’d hurt you.”
With his hands up in front of his face in self-defense and through a mouthful of blood, broken teeth and the stammer of tears, he squealed his pleas for mercy, before curling himself up tight into a fetal ball.
Readying himself for another strike, his arm drawn back like a piston ready to explode into action, the door behind them swung open.
“McCann, what in fucks name is going on?”
Feeling the tension seep from his body he straightened himself. A hand on his shoulder then roughly pulled him to one side and he found himself looking into the face of DCI Stone.
“I asked you a question dammit,” Stone’s gaze falling onto the stricken figure at his feet. “What the fuck is this?”
With Mulligan stirring, a moan escaping from his bloodied lips, Stone reached down and offered him a hand. Accepting, and slowly pulling himself up, he turned an angry stare at McCann.
“You’re a fucking animal McCann,” swinging his look back to the DCI, a shaky finger pointed at his assailant, “I want this bastard charged, I don’t care what it takes.”
Holding up a hand, Stone urged him to calm. The anger of Mulligan bubbling like a geyser. He then turned to McCann.
“If you’re not going to answer me now, then you can do it in my office, McCann, first thing tomorrow. Now get the fuck out of here.”
With a last look at Mulligan, McCann turned and headed for the door, a smirk spreading across his face.
 
10th December – Pump Lane. Late afternoon.
 
Bringing the unmarked car to a stop outside the bay fronted semi-detached house, McCann cut the engine and sat for a few short moments glancing out at the quiet residence. He knew the unimaginable anguish that the four walls would be hiding from the world, but he also knew that his job was to find whoever was respobsible for taking their daughter away.
Turning to Conrad he blew out a long sigh.
“Right, lets get this done.”
Climbing from the car and into the cold afternoon air, McCann straightened his jacket, pulling up the collar around his shoulders, and took a cursory glance at his surroundings. It was a quiet street. Tree lined all along both sides and well kept, and, in all honesty, he thought, no different from a million and one other streets that wound their way, like tiny little veins, piercing the length and breadth of the country.
Stepping toward the white painted garden gate, set in between two large hedges, Conrad now falling in at his side, they moved toward the house.
Making their way along the path towards the front door, it was became quite apparent that a lot of love and attention had gone into the front garden, of which the path cut through the middle. Even at this time of year when the ground was barren and nothing grew, the lawn was neat and well manicured and flowerbeds tidy and weed free.
The house was, like the garden, well looked after. Neat net curtains sat at every window, upstairs and down, and as they approached the front door they couldn’t help but notice the large elaborate stained glass swan that sat in the middle of it. Conrad turned to McCann, raised his eyebrows, and then rang the doorbell.
The high-pitched chirp echoed inside, a few moments passed, and a shadowy figured appeared behind the door before a pale male face appeared, that of Alan Cooper.
His eyes narrowed at the two figures stood on his doorstep, before recognition set in.
‘Detective McCann, isnt it?’
Nodding in confirmation, McCann stepped forward. ‘Thats correct yes, and this, ‘thumbing over his shoulder, ‘is my colleague DC Conrad. I know that there is never going to be a good time, but we just need to ask a few questions regarding, well -‘
‘The murder of my daughter, Detective? You can say it, it is the truth afterall.’ Pausing for a second, he then stepped aside.’ Please, come in.’
Inside, like out, was neat and tidy. A cream carpeted hallway lined on both sides with family pictures in frames, most of their daughter Emily, led them into a back room which was half sitting area and half kitchen. The smell of stale food and cigarette smoke lingered in the air. It was there that they met Mrs. Cooper.
She was a small woman with mousey hair and no make up. Her dark puffy eyes stood out on her pale skin, she was probably a few years younger than her husband. Alan Cooper appeared behind them.
“Fran, the detectives just need a few moments, few more questions.”
Looking at them both in turn, Fran Cooper slowly nodded her head and averted her gaze.
Taking a seat on a low, two seater, sofa, McCann started things off.
“We wont keep you any longer than we need to.” He said, looking between the pair. “We just have a few questions and then we’ll be out of your way.”
The couple looked at each other and then Mr. Cooper looked back to McCann. “I don’t what else we can say, other than what we told the officers when they,” he paused, looking down at the floor. “Well, when they told us the news.”
McCann pulled out his notebook from his jacket. “Well, we’ll see how it goes ok? We just need to try and piece together a few things about your daughter, so we can get a picture of what she was like.” He paused and waited for confirmation from them that he was ok to proceed. After a short moment, he received his cue.
Leaning forward slightly. “When was the last time you saw Emily?” There was a brief silence before Fran Cooper broke down, lurching across the sofa and sobbing into her husbands shoulder. Putting his arms around her he spoke quietly into her ear. After a few moments she stood, straightened her navy blue skirt, and left the room, shutting the door behind her. Alan Coopers gaze then came back to McCann. “Apologies, Inspector. As you can probably imagine, this has been, well, you know.” he paused and wiped a tear from his cheek. “She was our only child.” Conrad jumped in. “I understand that this can’t in any way be easy for either of you, Mr. Cooper. Do you have any other relatives or friends that you can call on?” He nodded. “My wife’s sister is coming down from Scotland tomorrow and my brother is only a few miles down the road, so we are not alone inspector. Thank you for your concern” “That’s nice to know.” said McCann. He looked down to his notepad and then back to Alan Cooper. “So, if I can go back to my original question. When was the last time you saw your daughter?” Looking down into his lap he took a moment or two before, like his wife had just done moments before, he began to sob. Leaving him for a few seconds to regain himself, McCann couldn’t help but notice that each of his finger nails were chewed down to the bone, leaving ragged, uneven and cigarette stained stumps. He found himself looking at his own, remembering the weeks after Karen had left, his own nails taking the same punishment.
Wiping away his tears with the sleeve of his jumper, Alan Cooper apologized and then continued.
“Saturday.” “Ok, and was she here all day, did she go out?” continued McCann. “No. In the morning, she had breakfast with us and then she headed out for most of the day shopping with friends. It, was a regular thing, Saturdays were shopping day.”
A glimmer of a smile washed over his lips at the recollection of his daughter’s routine. “And, did she come back here after?” “Yes, yes. She had bought a new top and some jeans for going out in the evening. She showed us before,” He paused and let out a long breath. “That was the last time we saw her.’ McCann noted down the information in his notebook allowing Conrad to continue. “Did she say who she was seeing that evening? Was it the always the same friends she went out with?” Cooper shook his head. “I’m not sure. I think so. She didn’t mention who exactly she was seeing, but it’s usually the same girls. They’ve been friends since they first went to school.” “And do you know the names of these girls?” said Conrad. “Yes, her two friends Katie and Isabelle.” McCann noticed there was a collection of family photos on the unit behind Alan Cooper. A couple of Emily alone, one with a guitar, a red Gibson SG he recognized having owned one himself many years ago, and one with the young girl holding a baby monkey at a zoo. There was also a posed photo, mother, father and daughter all smiling and smartly dressed in their finery. McCann couldn’t help but wonder at the devastation that this family must be feeling at this moment. “Do you happen to have the addresses of the two girls Mr. Cooper? Katie and Isabelle.” interjected McCann. “Just so that we can confirm if it was them that Emily was with.”
Cooper frowned. “Why wouldn’t it be? We would have know if she was going to be out with other people, she would have let us know Detective. She wasn’t the kind of girl to go out and not tell us who she was with.”
McCann nodded slowly and scratched his chin, feeling his stubble bristle beneath his fingers. He also could help but notice how he was talking about his daughter as though she had been a child, not a nineteen year-old woman.
“But you said yourself that you weren’t entirely sure who she went out with on that night. So, there is a chance it was with some other people. Work colleagues maybe.”
Alan Cooper ran his hand down his face and sighed. He looked like the kind of man who didn’t shy away from an exchange, but, right now, there was no fight left in him.
“No, I guess not. But we had no reason to think otherwise Inspector. She was very much a stickler for routine, and, like I said, Saturdays were girls days.”
“Ok, well, for now, we’ll go with her being with her usual friends.”
There was silence from across the coffee table that sat in between the two sofas. Cooper had drifted off and was staring into space.
“Mr. Cooper?” said McCann.
His eyes darted back towards his guests.
“Yes, erm, I’m sorry.” He paused, running a hand through his hair. “The addresses, ill get them for you.” He went to stand.
“There’s really no rush Mr. Cooper.” Said McCann. “You can always call us with the details when you get a chance to look.”
Alan Cooper broke a small smile and nodded a thank you at McCann before retaking his seat.
Conrad took back up the reigns.
“Ok, taking on the assumption that she was out with friends, do you know where she could have spent the evening? Was there a regular place she liked to go on these girls’ days? How about Nightclubs or pubs? Was she into that sort of thing?” McCann could see sense that Alan Cooper was starting to tire. He’d done this sort of thing enough times to know the signs. Just a few more questions and they would leave them. “Well, Bluewater was a favourite shopping destination, I know that, The Liquid Lounge in Maidstone was somewhere they went as well for a night out. I guess Maidstone in general was probably where they went most. I picked them up a few times when they couldn’t get a taxi home. Apart from that, Rochester maybe, I heard them mention that the pubs were good over there. Apart from that, I really don’t know anywhere else.” McCann noted down the names.
He knew Maidstone very well, having spent a lot of his younger days stumbling in and out of various pubs and clubs over that way. He remembered one of his first dates with Karen had been in a small pub in the high street. He also remembered getting rather drunk and leaving her stranded with a friend of his. He wondered if Emily Cooper had any boyfriends, someone that her parents didn’t know about. Conrad took up the reigns again, seemingly reading McCann’ mind.
“How about boyfriends, Mr. Cooper?” His face seemed to lose the sad edge and take on a harder look. “No, Inspector. There were no boys. She was too young for that sort of thing, she had her career and her studies to concentrate on, she knew she had plenty of time for that in the future.”
His sudden change of tone was something that caught both McCann and Conrad off guard. It seemed as though Alan Cooper was possibly something of strict ruler of the roost, and a naive one too. Expecting that his attractive young daughter would be out at nightclubs and not attracting the attention of young lads, and enjoying it. It also seemed that he didn’t know his daughter as well as he might have thought he did.
McCann pondered for a moment, deciding that pushing the boyfriend subject could lead them into Alan Cooper losing his rag, and therefore halting their obtaining any more information. He looked at the notes he had scribbled down.
“I understand she was having issues with a landlord at the premises she was living at before coming back here? I don’t suppose you could shed any light on that?”
Cooper frowned. “How did you know that?”
“We had a visit from a friend of your daughters, a Miss Lizzie Arnold. Said she was a work colleague from the club.”
Shaking his head, the frown still fixed on his tired face. “The club? I don’t follow.”
“Yes, your daughter worked at a bar in Maidstone, Strawberry Moons.” He paused, seeing the blank expression on Coopers face. He took a quick look across at Conrad before continuing. “You were aware of this?”
Drawing in a deep breath, the blank expression remaining.
“No, detective, I wasn’t aware of this.”
McCann felt a shiver course down his spine. The revelation to a grieving relative of information that they hadn’t been privy too was always a tricky thing to deal with. He’d been in situations in the past where he had been lunged at, swung for and, in the odd circumstance, had objects ranging from beer mats to vases full of flowers thrown at him. His next step was to judge how far her could go without incurring any wrath.
“I only know the details that I have been told. That she worked the bar at weekends to pay for her teaching degree. Here,” reaching into his pocket he pulled out a copy of the photo that Lizzie Arnold had provided him with of the five girls, and handed over to him.
Cooper let his eyes skip over the photo before fixing upon his only child, staring at it for what seemed like an eternity. A smile flickered across his lips, his finger running over the images shiny surface. A tear then prickled from the corner of his eye, descending through the ridges and creases that circled it before escaping and running down his face and dropping from the end of his chin.
Finally, he looked up, his voice cracking. “Would it, would it be possible to keep this?”
McCann nodded, deciding on just one more issue befoe leaving. ‘One more thing, Mr Cooper, your daughter, did she have acces to a computer here?’
‘Yes, her own PC in her room, why?’
‘We are going to need to take it away for analysis, Ill arrange for an officer to come over and collect it later on this evening, if thats ok? The sooner we can get started, the better.’
Alan Cooper slowly nodded his head, his eyes focusing back on the photo of his child.
“Ok Mr. Cooper, we’ll leave it there, for now.” said McCann. “You’ve been very helpful.” He stood, closely followed by Conrad and then lastly Cooper. “If there is anything else you can think of.” McCann continued. “Then please don’t hesitate to contact either of us.” Fishing into his pocket he pulled out a card and handed to him. Taking it, Cooper looked at it for a few seconds, his face drawn into sadness.
“You will catch this, this, person, wont you Inspector?”
McCann smiled. “I can assure you that we are doing everything we can, and we will continue to do so.” Within a few moments McCann and Conrad were back in McCann’s Ford Mondeo with the stereo on and heading along the A2 back to the station. Conrad looked at McCann and then down at the green flashing LED light display on the stereo.
“What the hell is this?” McCann looked to his passenger and then back to the road ahead. “This?” “Yeah, what is it?” McCann smiled. “Why this is Tales from Topographic Oceans by Yes. Somehow, I sense you’re not impressed?”
Conrad shook his head. “That would be one way of putting it. The other would that it’s fucking dreadful.”
McCann raised his eyebrows. “This is one of the greatest prog albums ever made Ill have you know. One hour twenty minutes of pure genius.”
“One hour and twenty minutes.” exclaimed Conrad, reaching down and picking up the CD case, reading over the sleeve information. “Jesus Christ, 1973 this was made. You really need to get some more modern stuff. Can we have something else on?”
McCann blew out his cheeks. Usually he would have made a point of it being his car and no he couldn’t put something else on, but today he wasn’t in the mood and he knew that Conrad would bang on. “Yes, go on then. There’s some more CD’s in the glove box.”
Conrad leant forward and pulled open the hatch. Reaching inside he pulled out six CD’s and proceeded to flick through them.
“Caravan, Soft Machine, King Crimson.” He stopped after three, turning to McCann. “Let me guess, all these are the same kind of shit that we are listening to at the moment aren’t they?” “Yes, and less of the shit, please.” Shaking his head, he put the CD’s back and closed up the glove box.
“Fuck it, radio it is then.” he said pushing the button that said AM/FM. KMFM flashed across the display and some incessant beat with a whiney girl voice over the top spilled out.
“That’s better.” said Conrad. “I like this one.” After a few minutes of the nasty song and Conrad tapping out the beat onto his thighs, they pulled up at a set of traffic lights next to the big Roko gymnasium and both watched as a young attractive blonde women in tight black leggings and an even tighter grey t-shirt, cross in front of them, a large sports bag slung over one shoulder. Without taking his eyes from the woman, Conrad blew out his cheeks. “Bloody hell, I’m going to have to change my gym membership.”
The lights changed to green and they pulled away. “I’m sure that Debbie would love that.” Said McCann, a slight smirk spreading across his face.
Conrad had been with his long-term girlfriend Debbie for the past five years. She was a pretty little thing, a bit on the plain side but a lovely girl nonetheless, and of the people who knew them as a couple, most were of the opinion that she was batting above her average with the tall, chiseled good looks of James Conrad. McCann, however, was of the opposite opinion and that it was Debbie who could do better for herself.
Ignoring the comment, Conrad changed the subject. “What did you make of Alan Cooper?”
McCann shrugged. “Usual grieving father.”
“Bit weird though, thing about the boyfriends, and not knowing about her job.”
“Not really, no. You never expect them to grow up and fly the nest. Especially Fathers and their daughters.”
“Yeah, but the way he said it, like there was something more to it. I don’t know,” He paused. “I guess you’re right though, Dad’s and daughters and all that. You’d know more than me about it though.”
“You never think that they are going to grow up, that first moment you get to hold them in your arms, but, blink, and you’ve got an argumentative teenager on your hands.”
McCann’ mind flicked to his daughter. He’d spent most of the evening worrying about what she had said, about not being happy living with her mum and Tom anymore. He didn’t really know Tom at all, but what he did know, he knew wasn’t good for his kids. The guy cared more about money and material things than anything else. He obviously had a bit of money, more than McCann had, going by the four bed roomed detached house and the Mercedes SLK that sat on the driveway, but apart from that, he seemed like an ass. And for the life of him he couldn’t, and never would, understand why Karen had gone for him. As time had gone by, he had managed to grasp the reasons why she had left, but not for someone like Tom. She’d never shown any incline for that kind of life, never seemed to have any interest in flash guys with sport scars, she had always thought that they were nothing but dicks. But, here she was, shacked up, and engaged, to one. The more he thought about it, the angrier it made him, not necessarily Karen, although he missed her and would, in some way, always love her, she had made her decision and he had to deal with it, and, as hard as it was, he felt that he was. Sure, he still had the bouts of darkness that had blighted him for many years. The episodes that were in some way responsible for driving her away. But the bad days were, seemingly, growing dim, the good days starting to outweigh them. And, as much as it pained him to say, after all the hassle he’d had in the past, his new councilor, Derrick Arthur’s, seemed to be making a difference.
“Anyway,” McCann continued, “How about we go and pay a little visit to this landlord character, see what he’s got to say for himself.”
 
10th December – Rochester. Early evening.
 
The old Victorian town house that had been Emily Coopers home until a few months previous was nothing in keeping with the standards set by the neighbouring homes.
Pulling up across the street it was obvious that whoever was responsible for the upkeep of the premises was more than guilty of a serious case of neglect. From the severely overgrown garden to the battered and worn house with its patched up windows, cracked and rotten guttering and dirty brickwork, not one single thing made the place look anything other than uninviting.
Climbing from the vehicle, McCann led Conrad across the street, never once averting his gaze from their destination.
“And there was me thinking that this part of town was reserved for the posh folks.”
Ringing the doorbell, a booming chime emitting from inside, they stood and waited. Leaves swirling around their feet as a chill breeze whistled from the east. 
“How about if one your youngsters came home and said they’d found a place to live, and it turned out to be like this?” Conrad said, casting his gaze across the ramshackle garden and dilapidated house.
Rocking on his heels and pushing his hands deeper into his pockets, McCann blew out his cheeks.
“Id say that they were pretty desperate, wouldn’t you?”
Cutting Conrad’s reply before it had begun, their attention was grabbed by theo pening of the front door.
The face that appeared was drawn and gaunt. Black lines under the eyes and a mop of shaggy salt and pepper hair hung, limply, over the ears.
“Can I help you?” the voice as worn as the features.
McCann stepped forward. “Harold Bart?”
Screwing up his eyes. “Yes, who’s asking? You’re not poxy Jehovah’s are you? Christmas comes and they all crawl out of the bloody woodwork.”
Pulling his badge from his jacket pocket.
“Detective Inspector McCann and DS Conrad. Could we have a few moments of your time please?”
Keeping his eyes screwed up, he shifted his gaze quickly between the two of them.
“Can I ask what for? I am rather busy, and,” glancing at his watch, ‘It is getting rather late in the day.’
McCann took a breath to reign in the anger that bristled through him.
“Well, how about we step inside and then we can tell you all about it.”
A brief moment passed, a lookt hat nestled somewhere between contempt and irritation passing across Bart’s face, before, stepping back, he finally allowed them to enter.
The inside was only marginally better than out.A  long hallway stretched out in front, a closed door on either side, a worn and patchy dark green carpet underfoot. The walls were an off white and adorned with two large, framed surreal prints, one on each wall.  McCann’s knowledge of the arts was limited to say the least, but he knew exactly who this artist was.
“A fan of Dali then, are you?” he asked.
Bart stopped in front of them and slowly turned, first eyeing the images and then McCann.
Shaking his head. “No, not at all. Found them at a junk shop a few months back. Thought they’d, you know, brighten the place up a bit.”
Images of crooked elephants and bent and misshapen clocks wasn’t the type of thing that McCann would choose to brighten things up. But it took all sorts.
Entering a back room they found themselves in a large sitting area, which was confirmed to be Barts living quarters.
Looking around it was apparent that his lifestyle was nothing short of basic. An old fashioned, deep backed television stood to the left, a layer of dust on the screen pointing to lack of use. In the middle of the room, placed on top of a tatty looking red and white rug was a leather chair, faded at the head and on the armrests, the rest of the room was overtaken by books.
Where there wasn’t a bookcase, of which there was five and each overflowing, in some points the ceiling being the only thing that stopped the pile growing ever higher, there were books on every surface, books on the floor, books on the windowsill, books used under the leg of a small table to level it up.
“Bit of a reader are you?” Conrad asked.
Taking a seat in his leather chair he faked a sliver of a smile, dull eyes not even bothering to look towards the question.
“A room without books is like a body without a soul. Either of you know who said that?” he looked up, an eyebrow raised. Seeing no reaction, he continued. ”Ill tell you shall I. Roman author, orator and politician, Cicero. Know how I know that? Books. They are everything that anyone should ever need, officer.” 
After a quick glance towards Conrad, McCann decided to get to the matter at hand.
“Mr Bart, I’m sure that you are wondering as to why we are here, so…”
Without looking up, Bart’s voice cut across McCann’s.
“It’s about the girl, isn’t it?”
Feeling his heart skip and his skin tense, he shot a look at his colleague, his face taking on a deep frown, before settling back on Bart.
“And can I ask, what makes you think that?”
Shuffling in the chair, their host ran a hand through his unkempt hair, flecks of white falling onto his collar and shoulders.
“Call it an educated guess, if you like. It was all over the lunchtime news and she used to be a tenant of mine. Seems obvious to me as to why you would be here.” 
It hadn’t taken long, but McCann’s opinion of Harold Bart was anything but favourable.
Shuffling on his feet McCann stepped over one of many piles of books that littered the floor and into Bart’s eye line.
“Maybe you can tell me a little about our victim then, seeing as you appear to know so much?”
Shifting in his seat Bart eyed McCann with a cautious glare. One similar to that a child called might give a parent after being called down from their bedroom.
“I hope that you are not insinuating anything, detective? I’d hate to have to ask you to leave.”
Conrad stepped to McCann’s side. “Mr. Bart, if you’d care to drop the attitude for one moment, then we may be able to get somewhere. Now, the reason for the visit is that we have received information stating that Emily Cooper was a tenant of yours…”
“I’ve already acknowledged that.”
“If you’d care to let me finish.” Conrad eyed Bart until he gave a slight nod of his head. “We also have information that while she was in lodgings here, there was some, how shall I put this, aggravation.”
Sitting up in the chair, Bart leaned forward, his face falling into a frown.
“Aggravation? May I ask where you came by this information?”
McCann took up the reigns. “No, you may not. All you need to do is answer the question.”
Eyeing McCann he raised himself up out of the chair. “Can I get either of you a drink, tea, coffee, maybe something stronger?”
Shaking his head, McCann took a step forward. “Sit down Mr. Bart and answer the damn question. I don’t want to be here any longer than needs be, what with it being late in the day and all.”
Never once shifting his gaze from McCann, Bart slowly sat back down.
“That’s better.” Said McCann. “Now, can you confirm that Emily Cooper was a tenant here in this,” he cast a swift glance around the ramshackle room, “lovely home that you keep?”
A brief pause. “Yes.”
“Thank you. Now what was your relationship like with her?”
“Relationship?”
“Yes, you know, her as your tenant and you as her landlord. Unless, well, unless there is something you’d like to tell us?”
Bart appeared to have a witty riposte prepared, but, wisely, chose to sidestep it.
‘I had no complaints about the girl, as such. She always paid her rent on time. There was, occasionally, some noise from her room which I had to address, but –‘
‘Noise?’ said McCann.
‘Yes, you know young women with their music and the men they surround themselves with, nothing out of the ordinary. She took umbrage on being told to turn it down, but I have to take my other tenants’ needs into account. ’
‘And this caused confrontation?
‘A little, she made it clear, how can I put this, that she wasn’t happy about my interfering, as she put it, but, as I just said, there are other tenants here to consider.’
‘And you didn’t feel the need to ask her to move out at all?’
Bart shook his head. ‘It crossed my mind, I wont lie to you. But, she paid her rent on time, and that outweighed anything else.’
McCann nodded, his gaze quickly scanning over the metres of bookshelves that ran around the room, he saw everything from finance to anatomy and from sport to fiction. There didn’t seem to be anything that wasn’t covered. Focusing his attention back on Bart.
‘You said that she had men here?’
‘I heard male voices coming from her room on occasions, I couldnt, however, say whether they were friends or otherwise.’
‘Would you happen to know if this was regular thing, did they sleep here, leave early in the mornings, arrive late at night?’
‘I never saw any of these men, detective. I couldnt say as to whether it was one man or a different one every night
McCann, again, made notes. He couldn’t see any further reason to take up any more of Harold Bart’s time.
Stepping out into chilled afternoon air, they thanked him for his time. Along the garden path, they heard the thud of the large front door behind them.
‘What do you think?’ Conrad said as they paced towards the car.
McCann shrugged. ‘Irritating, self important.’ He scratched his head. ‘We’ll run a search on him, see if he has any previous. You never know.’
 
August 27th 1990
 
It had been a simple task to find out where Keith Mason lived, easy to sneak into the office at the hospital after everyone had left for the night and pull out his patient file, make a copy, and then slide it back from where it came. No one would miss the key that he had stolen, as no one, seemingly, cared about a lowly porter.
That was one of the perks of his job on the night shift. The security was slack. Giving him free reign over the entire hospital complex. The wards, the kitchens, the secure areas for x-rays and radiotherapy, he had access to everywhere. And who was going to question a porter just going about his job?
And now, hunched down in the drivers seat of the stolen Nissan, under the shadow of a large oak tree, a light misty summer rain falling from the early evening sky, he watched the Mason residence and awaited their return.
He had come to learn, over the past couple of weeks, all of the patterns of their life. He knew Keith Masons appointment times and the Doctor that he was signed too. He knew the intimate details of his family, and that his father Alfred Mason, mother Rita, and his twenty-year-old sister Harriett, had, so tragically, been wiped out in a car accident not three weeks previous.
He knew the routine of where they shopped to the brand of baby food they fed they son, and the make of Tampons that his wife, the lovely Marie, used. He knew the times of when they were going to be in and, more importantly, when they were not, and that they kept a spare key in the flowerpot outside the back door.
A smile flickered at the corners of his dry lips as he recalled entering their small semi detached house for the first time. Fishing the key from the dirt and sliding the key into the lock, the click as the tumblers fell into place, and then, there he was, standing in the tatty kitchen, the thought of where he was and what he was doing making his pulse quicken to the point of explosion. Then, slowly walking through each of the rooms in turn, exploring cupboards and shelves, delving into every nook and cranny, looking into family secrets kept behind the bricks and mortar. Taking in the sights and smells. Admiring photographs that stood on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. Happy faces staring back from beach scenes and family Christmases. Of Grandparent and Aunts and Uncles. Of mangy pets, cats and dogs, with tongues wagging, begging for scraps of food.
The bedroom was his favourite place. Entering the light and airy room it didn’t take him long to locate what he was looking for. Slowly pulling open the bedside drawer and running his fingers through the delicate lingerie that Marie kept there, the black and red silk, the lace and frills, the pleasure at finding the thick blue vibrator hidden away in a box under the bed. The thought of her lying back, eyes half closed in ecstasy, legs spread wide as she slowly dipped it in and out of her wet pussy, making him hard. Lighting a cigarette he let the smoke twirl around his lips and the thoughts linger in his mind for a few moments. The sounds from the boot of the car had finally ceased, the injection taking effect at last, hopefully silencing the girl until he got her back to the seclusion of his home. He had removed a clump of hair, a scraping of skin and a drop or two of blood as part of his plan, and here it was, falling into place. Back in the car, and as the tall, gaunt figure of Keith Mason appeared around the corner, his feet shuffling on the pavement under him as he slowly moved along the dimly lit street, his wife, Marie, at his side, her face one of concern for her husband, he felt his muscles twitch in excitement. For he was the devil incarnate. Bringing hell to the land that he walked. Creating misery upon the innocent. And now, in Mason, he had his reason to continue.
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