The Winter of Death – Part 7

*
 
Returning to the station, McCann’s only intention, apart from a few quick emails and a check on any further developments before heading off for a cold beer and a relaxing bath, was to avoid DCI Stone. No sooner had he entered the briefing room, though, than his wish was dashed. A booming voice cutting through the silence.
‘McCann, my office, right now.’
Blowing out his cheeks, he took in a deep breath and paced across the room, ignoring the stares from the smattering of officers that remained at this late stage of the day, before entering the DCI’s office.
‘Shut the door and sit down.’ Stone said, his hulking frame stood in front of the window, back to McCann, hands in his pockets.
Taking a seat, McCann waited for the backlash.
‘D.I Mulligan wants you out for what you did, wants to press charges. Said that you are a danger to, not only yourself, but to others. Said that you’re a liability to the investigation.’ Slowly he turned and focused his attention on the seated McCann, his eyes narrow with frustration. ‘And I cant think of one single reason as to why he shouldnt, can you?’
If McCann was honest, he couldnt either. He knew that his actions of earlier had stepped far beyond any line. He knew that if the DCI saw fit this could very well be his last investigation.
He ran a tired hand across his head, his response one that caught Stone off guard.
‘DI Mulligan is right, sir.’
Stone frowned. ‘Im sorry?’
‘I said, DI Mulligan is right. I cant think of any reason why he shouldnt press charges.’
Taking a second to absorb McCann’s reply, Stone pulled out his chair and sat down.
‘And thats it, is it? Thats all you have to say?’
McCann shrugged and briefly looked off to one side. ‘Im not sure what else I can say, sir. I let my emotions get the better of me, and, well, it was wrong. If you want me off of the investigation, then so be it.’
Stone loosened his tie and sat forward. ‘I should end your fucking career, McCann, is what I should do, I should take your badge and burn it. You know that and all you can do is shrug your shoulders and say so what?’ Sitting back in his chair he linked his fingers behind his head and let out a deep breath. ‘I dont get you, McCann, I just dont get you. Here Ive got one of the best DI’s that Ive ever worked with, productive, gets results, but on the other hand, also has the uncany knack of fucking up in the most spectacular ways imaginable. For example,’ his voice rising an octave or two, ‘breaking the nose and jaw of another fucking officer.’
McCann’s reply was cut off before it had a chance to pass his lips.
‘I cant afford to lose an officer like you, not at this time, not with an investigation like this hanging over us. We both know that Dan Mulligan is a dick, and you only did what most of us have always wanted to do, but, fuck. The papers are already having a field day in that we dont have any answers, and Im sure that they would relish the chance to splash on their front pages that a senior officer has had to be fired for assaulting a colleague.’
Blowing out his cheeks, Stone swigged water from a glass on his desk. ‘Get out of my sight, McCann. Ill think of some way to get you out of the shit that you have casused and save you from the media freak out that my firing you would cause.’
Without a word, McCann climbed to his feet, nodded to Stone and headed for the door. He was about to exit.
‘McCann.’
Turning. ‘Sir?’
‘This is all on one condition, though. You catch the bastard and Ill make this go away, for good. You fuck up again, and I wont be so leniant.’
On his way out, McCann couldnt help but smile.
 
 
10th December – Frindsbury. Mid evening.
 
 
It was only a short drive from the station to Frindsbury, but one that saw McCann’s mind on overdrive. The past forty eight hours had been anything but fun and now he had another appointment to look forward too. He had meant to be here the previous day, but, what with the case taking prescidence over everything, he had had to rearrange.
McCann had been seeing Derrick Arthurs, on a regular basis, for the past two months. They had met after Arthurs had taken the role of councilor at the station, and, when McCann had found that he also ran a regular practice from his home, and after quite a lot of consideration, he made an appointment to see him. Arthurs resided in a large Victorian house. Ornately decorated and precisely furnished with its high back chairs, thick velvet curtains, fancy lamps and plush carpets, every single item perfectly reflecting the owner.
The initial few sessions had been anything but easy, but, as time went on, McCann found himself warming to Arthurs. His soft voice and quiet manner had made him feel at ease, which was something that he hadn’t experienced before.
Pulling up outside, he sat for a moment or two, composing himself for the session, just like he always did. It wasn’t something he found easy, talking about himself, and more specifically, his problems. And, even though he felt he was making progress, it still made him nervous to think what each session would drag up.
Leaving the car, he approached the gate and followed the path up to the front door. Raising his hand to ring the bell, he waited a few moments before the door was pulled open, and the tall, thin figure of Derrick Arthurs stood there to greet him. He was a good couple of inches over six feet tall, thin, with dark hair swept back over his oval shaped head, and a neatly trimmed moustache sat where a moustache usually sits. He was, as usual, smartly dressed in a crisp brown suit, the smell of cigar smoke hung in the air around him. McCann didn’t know his age, but would, at a guess, put him in his late fifties. And, taking into account that he had walked with the aid of two sticks for the past five years since a car accident shattered his right leg and took the life of his wife of nearly forty years, he was one of the most cheerful men he had ever met.
His greeting was spoken in his usual quiet, posh voice. 
“Elliott, lovely to see you, please, do come in.”
Stepping aside, McCann passed him into the long, pictured lined hallway. Each side decorated with framed photos of smiling children and pets, holiday snaps and family gatherings. McCann found himself looking, as he usually did, noticing different things.
‘Apologies that I had to cancel yesterday, what with everything going on and all.’
‘No need, no need. I completely understand. Its a terrible thing. Anyway, how are we today? All things considered.”
McCann turned and shrugged. “Not too bad, thank you.”
Arthurs looked at him and frowned. “Do I detect a little hint of a lie?”
He paused for a moment or too, a smile the playing out over his lips.
“At least I know I’m getting my monies worth coming to you.”
“Reading, and helping people, is something that I happen to enjoy.” his face broke into a grin. “And, as you say, you do pay me quite well.” 
The next few moments passed as they moved from the hallway and into a large back room that doubled as his office. Two large leather sofas sat in the middle of the room, separated by a dark wood coffee table, but it was what stood in the far corner that drew McCann’ eye. Tastefully decorated with coloured baubles and a smattering of red and gold tinsel, its top barely an inch from touching the high ceiling and a layer of gifts neatly wrapped on the floor underneath, was a large Christmas tree. Looking it up and down, McCann admired its beauty.
“Impressive.” He said as he sat himself down in his usual place.
Arthur’s nodded, a smile breaking over his face. “I have to say that I am quite proud of it. Apart from being a pain to put the damn thing up.” His smile then faded. “It’s the first year since Elizabeth passed that I’ve actually felt in the mood to do it.”
Arthur’s hadn’t talked much about her in the time that McCann had known him, but when he had, it had always been with nothing but affection.
“Anyway,” he said, changing the subject. “Can I get you anything to drink before we get started?”
Declining his offer, McCann shed his jacket and watched as Arthur’s slowly lowered himself down onto the sofa opposite and rested his sticks against the side of the chair.
Resting a pair of half-moon spectacles onto his nose, he reached down and pulled out a folder filled with paper from the shelf under the coffee table, and sat back, the leather creaking underneath him, and looked at McCann.
“So, lets start with the usual question, shall we? Where are we on the scale today?”
The scale, otherwise known as the Mood Survey, was used to determine the mood of the patient. It rose from one through to ten; with the higher you climbed determining the higher the mood state. McCann had, in his previous five sessions, hovered between three and, at best, but not frequently, a six. A sign that McCann was doing the best thing in being here.
Taking a deep breath McCann crossed his legs and glanced out of the window, catching a glimpse of Arthurs tabby cat, Roxy, leaping onto the windowsill.
“Well, if I’m honest, pretty shit the last few days. Maybe a four, at best.”
A four showed a general low mood and self-esteem.
Arthurs raised an eyebrow. “Really? Talk to me.”
This was the part that McCann still wasn’t that comfortable with, the part where the niceties were over and the business started, the part where he was open to attack.
He went to speak but hesitated, he could feel his stomach tighten, Arthurs sensed it, leaning forward.
“Its ok, take your time. I know that this isn’t easy sometimes, just make yourself comfortable, let whatever you have in there,” pointing to his head, “just flow and come out when its ready.”
McCann wriggled in the seat and let his eyes wander the room for a moment. Catching the paintings on the wall, and more photos like the ones that lined the hallway. He took a deep breath.
“I just feel like I’m banging on about the same things all the time. I just seem to be sitting here and telling you the same crap, over and over.”
Arthurs pushed his glasses up further onto his nose, and tapped his pen onto his notepad, a pensive look taking over his face.
“As I’ve said before. These sessions are for you. If things are on your mind, then talking about them is the only way to deal with the issues. And, if it means, as you say, banging on, then so be it. That is, after all, why we are here.” McCann nodded. Arthurs continued. “So, tell me, why only a four? I thought we discussed getting you up to at least a seven?”
McCann had yet to hit a seven. A six maybe, but not a seven, he had never even been able to lie that he felt a seven. Seven, for some unbeknown reason, was the magic number.
“Why only a four? Good question. Its life, that’s all it is, and it’s nothing that I shouldn’t be able to deal with. But, you know…” he paused. “It just takes me over sometimes, makes me feel like I cant do it, and in my job, that just isn’t good enough, you know. I’m here to serve the public and make them feel safe. But, everyday there’s something. Whether it be some thug who beats up an old lady for a couple of quid, or a teenager raping a classmate at knifepoint,” he stopped and rubbed his hand across his face. “The world is full of filth, and, try as I may, I can’t rid it of it, not on my own anyway.”
“I gather that this new case is playing on your mind somewhat? The killing of the young girl?”
McCann huffed. Arthurs had already been busy speaking to some of the younger officers who attended the scene of the first murder, for some of them it was their first taste of a proper crime scene, and what with a new body that very morning it looked like he was going to be kept busy.
“It just shouldn’t happen, that’s all. Simple as that.”
“How does it make you feel?”
“What?”
“Well, what you have to face everyday? The filth, as you put it.”
McCann shrugged. “Angry. Desperate. I mean, a young girl, butchered, because that’s what she was, how is that fair?”
“Its not, but then life isn’t fair is it?”
“Its that easy is it?”
“I’m sorry?”
“To say that life isn’t fair, it’s that easy?”
“No, its not easy at all. But the sooner that we all realise, and admit to ourselves, that life isn’t easy, then, well, the easier it becomes. We will all face hardships over the course of our lives, death, divorce, for example, but there is nothing at all that we can do to stop it, sure, sometimes we can alter it slightly, prolong things to a certain degree, but that’s all. The better we can learn to adjust to it though, to look at every situation and face up to it, then the stronger we become. You have to learn, Elliott, you are not God. You cannot stop life from happening, no matter how hard you try.”
“And is that what you believe?”
Arthurs shrugged. “I try, that’s all I can do. I see many different people with many different issues, but its the one thing I try to get across, that no matter how hard life is, and I don’t deny for one second, that for some, it can be harder, a lot harder, than for others, there is, and always will be, hope, and to use a cliché, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“Not for these girls though.”
Arthurs frowned. “Girls?”
McCann then realised that Arthur’s may not have heard about the fresh discovery of that morning yet.
“We had another one earlier on.”
Arthurs removed his glasses and sat back in the seat, his face fell white. “That’s awful.”
“Yep, just gets better and better doesn’t it.”
Shifting in his seat and adjusting his trousers, Arthurs rubbed his eyes. McCann always found Arthurs to be a gentle soul and couldn’t imagine the horror it must bring to him hearing some of the things that he must hear every day, especially after taking the job with the Police.
“I don’t know how you do it Elliott, I mean, having to face this kind of thing on a regular basis. It’s hard enough sometimes listening to the things that people speak to me about, but actually experiencing it first hand, well…” he tailed off and looked into the distance.
The room fell quiet for, what felt to McCann like an eternity. Arthurs then looked back at him, his face back to the calm, serene look of moments before.
“Ok, how about looking at it another way? Trying to put a positive spin on it?”
McCann frowned. “A positive spin? On something like this?”
“Ok. Look at it this way. True, a young girl has been tragically murdered, an appalling act of that we cant deny. But how about looking at it that you, the Detective, are in a position to apprehend the culprit. Put the criminal behind bars and show that the system does work. You can’t stop every vile act from being committed, but you can go some way to making the streets safer.”
McCann nodded. The fact is, he knew that. He knew that he couldn’t stop every murderer or rapist from committing crimes, but it still didn’t stop him from wanting too. It still didn’t stop him from wanting to protect every innocent person from the heinous villains that roam the streets.
Arthurs noted down a few things in his book and decided to change the subject. “How about your family? After what we have spoken about in previous sessions, are things any better?”
Family, you love them, and they cause you nothing but heartache.
“In a nutshell, the same as before.”
Arthurs just sat and slowly nodded his head. “How do you feel about them?”
“How do I feel?”
“Yes, how do you feel? Does it still hurt that they left?”
The question was one that McCann wasn’t expecting, of course it still hurt, more for his kids, and knowing that he could have possibly prevented it made it even more difficult. “Of course it does. That I could have made a difference by persevering with things like this and dealing with the issues, makes it harder. But, its done, and they’ve moved on”
“And that’s it?”
“Well, yes. It can’t be any different.”
“And why not? Shouldn’t a man try and fight for his family?”
McCann narrowed his eyes and felt the blood rise in his throat. “You think that’s how it is? That I haven’t fought for them?” there was a bite in his reply.
Arthurs shrugged slightly. “Well, I don’t know, that’s for you to decide, isn’t it?”
“Listen, my family were, are, everything to me, you got that?” He was now sitting forward, finger pointing at Arthurs. “Everything I had went the day they left, and then finding out that…” he stopped, falling back into the seat.
“That what?”
McCann looked towards the ceiling, yellow stained with cigar smoke and blew out a breath. He had tried to put it out of his mind, that ex-wife, the woman, that if he was truly honest, he still loved, and probably always would, was to be married again. He blew out a breath and looked back to Arthurs.
“That Karen is getting married.”
Arthurs held McCann’ gaze for a moment or two and then looked down to his notes, removing his spectacles. “And that’s the crux of it all isn’t it? It’s not the case, the girl, although that is something that you are obviously saddened by. It the loss you feel for Karen. The feeling that you’ve lost the person you put a large chunk of your life into being with, has finally taken it out of your hands for good.”
McCann then did something that he hadn’t done for a while. He cried.
 
 
11th December – McDonalds, Medway City Estate. Late morning.
 
 
It wasnt unusual, in major cases, for information to be slow in coming. But, by day three, with very little of anything to go on, and the media turning the screw, frustration was mounting.
DS Rhodes had made contact with, his words, ‘every fucking coin dealer and expert this side of the Scottish border’ but those little silver coins werent giving up the secret of where they came from or providing any clues as to who may have purchased them. DC Fletcher’s interview with Emily Coopers work colleagues confirmed nothing new, other than she was intensely private, at least with them, anyway. And, having, officially, been named as a suspect, his photo leading every news bulletin for the last twenty four hours, the whereabouts of Kennth Aspen was still a mystery.
Pulling into the McDonalds drive through for a late lunch, McCann and Conrad both tucked into their Big Mac’s. The dark and stagnant water of the river flowed not ten feet from where they had parked, separating them from the hustle and bustle of Chatham, its streets most probably heaving with pre-Christmas shoppers and screaming kids. The newly built and over-priced luxury apartment towers at the Dockside area standing proud on the horizon, dwarfing the offices and shopping complex that surrounded them, the castle at Upnor with its ragged walls and turrets still standing proud after the centuries. Despite the sneering remarks that some gave the Medway towns, some of which were more than justified, it still had a strange beauty to it that, to McCann, anyway, was hard to escape, no matter how hard he tried.
Stuffing the last of the chips into their mouths and slurping down the last drops of the drinks, Conrad broke the silence between them.
“How’s it going with Arthurs?”
Conrad had been the only person made privy to McCann’s situation and it felt good to know that he had, at least, someone to confide in should he need too.
He told him about his last session, and that it had been the first time that he had cried, the first time with any of the councilors, but, oddly enough, it made him feel better about things. Sure there was still a long way to go and masses of shit to sort through, but he felt, in a way, cleansed, like a small weight had been lifted, and, sat there, watching ominous clouds roll across the winter sky, at birds rising and descending and at life in general unfolding in front of him, he realised that Arthurs was right, that he couldn’t play God. That sometimes things were out of his, and everyone’s, control, and that’s just the way it was. He felt the confidence rise in him, a feeling that he once felt would never return.
Packing the empty packets that once contained their lunch, into the paper McDonalds bag, they tossed them onto the back seat to be cleared up later on. Starting up the engine, McCann went to move off. It was then that his phone rang.
Fishing it out of his pocket he was presented with DS Rhodes’ name flashing on the screen. He pressed to answer.
“Steve, what’s up?”
McCann could hear the sounds of the office in the background, the chirping of phones and the clatter of keyboards being typed upon.
Rhodes’ reply was blunt. “Sorry, sir, but, you need to get back to the station right away.”
McCann sat up in his seat, a quick glance across at Conrad, a rush of fear washing over him. “Everything ok, Steve?”
There was a pause on the other end. “Listen, the DCI’s on the warpath, so just get back here, ok.”
The line went dead.
McCann hesitated for a moment before setting off, his shoulders sinking, his mind crammed with all sorts of everything. Another body, surely not?
Putting the car into gear he sped from the car park.

 

*

 

The incident room on the third floor of the station was in almost total silence as McCann and Conrad entered. Glancing around there were six or seven officers gathered in a loose circle around a desk to one side of the room, most with ashen faces and hands held over their mouths, staring at the small screen of a laptop.
Rhodes was the first to notice his entrance; turning away from the screen he met the approaching officers.
“Steve, what we got?” Said McCann, his query laced with nerves.
Rhodes blew out his cheeks and swallowed hard, McCann could see that whatever was on that laptop had affected him hard, his usual unflappable demeanor cracked at the seams, his voice quiet, almost a whisper.
“We’ve received something, a DVD. It was delivered earlier this morning. Left in reception.”
McCann frowned. “Left in reception? Who by?”
Rhodes shrugged and paused before responding. Knowing that the answer he was going to give was probably going to send McCann flying off the handle.
“We don’t know. It was left in the bin just inside the main entrance. No address, just one word printed across the front.”
With his eyes narrowing, McCann looked back across the room. The show had seemingly finished as the officers milled away, their faces ashen, from the desk that held the laptop. He spotted DC Fletcher, a tear in her eye. Whatever it was they had all seen, had shaken them up
Looking back to Rhodes. “Where’s the DCI?”
“In with the Chief Super, I’m pretty sure he’ll let us know when he’s done.”
Running his tongue around his top teeth he imagined Stone bursting into the room, his face a fire, his thick Manc accent puncturing the air.
“So, it was left in a bin? Who the fuck was on reception? How can someone just walk in to the main entrance and not be seen?” said Conrad. His look a mixture of puzzlement and annoyance.
“The desk sergeant was, well, slightly incapacitated. We’re guessing that it was a deliberate ploy so the package could be planted.”
“Planted? And no one saw anything at all?” Conrad continued. “There must have been someone about, how about the CCTV cameras on the front desk?”
Rhodes looked to the floor, a hand reaching up to scratch the back of his head. “Well, this is where it gets a bit weird. The cameras did pick up the culprit, well, I should say, culprits.”
McCann’s eyebrows pricked up “Culprits?’
Shrugging, he struggled how to explain the situation best. “Yeah. Look, you’d better see.”
Walking over to a desk under the east-facing window, Rhodes clicked on another laptop. A few seconds and the screen lit up with the grainy image of the CCTV footage.
“I’ll run it from a few seconds before the figure appears.”
After a key press, the image began to move, a timer in the bottom right hand corner of the screen ticking over the time of the footage. It began at 10:20:26am.
McCann and Conrad stood, watching, their arms folded across their chests.
The camera was situated high on the right hand wall and looked across the main lobby area, the main doors on the right hand side of the screen, the reception desk on the left. The space in between empty but for a tall potted fern plant up against the far wall and the waste bin stood next to it.
Everything was still for thirty seconds, the air in the room heavy with anticipation, until, like a bullet, a hooded figure, dressed in balck, appeared in shot. Darting through the doors, almost like a blur sliding from right to left across the screen, it leapt at the reception desk.
With limbs flailing the figure proceeded to repeatedly throw punches in the direction of the desk sergeant, the melee playing out like a silent movie, half in shot and half out, the officer trying, in vain, to defend himself as the assailant overpowered him.
It was then, like a ghost emerging from a fog, a second figure, this one taller and slightly rotund, dressed, again, entirely in black, a hood pulled over its head, appeared in shot. McCann frowned as he watched on, the figure standing, stock still, just in shot, staring straight ahead at the fracas that was taking place, before turning and making its way away from the camera and towards the waste bin on the far side.
Moving closer to the screen, McCann gazed through the slight fuzz that covered the image, watching the two figures and their every move, then, without warning, he found the wind knocked clean from his sails.
The taller of the two figures, after depositing the gift, turned, head bowed, and began to walk slowly back across the lobby area and towards the camera’s position. Passing the commotion, it stopped, just in shot, before slowly raising its head until it was looking up and directly into the camera.
What McCann saw caused a shiver to ripple down his spine. With eyes widened he reached forward, and, pressing a button on the keyboard paused the footage. Staring at the screen he took in the image, the hooded figure, black from head to toe, except for the white, smiling, theatre mask that covered the face.
He stood, transfixed, for a moment, the sinister image staring back at him.
“And no one saw this? Not one person saw these fuckers come in, do this,” he jabbed a finger at the screen. “And then leave.”
Rhodes slowly shook his head. “Not as far as we know.”
McCann let out a breath and chewed on the side of his mouth. “How about the desk Sergeant? What’s he saying?”
“He’s in A&E, unconscious, busted his face up pretty bad, so nothing at the moment. But as soon as we can we’ll get someone over to speak to him.”
“Fuck.” McCann ran a hand across his head. “Fuck. Ok, I want someone on to this right now.” He turned and scanned the room, catching the eye of DC Hagen. Calling his name he beckoned him over. “Dan, find out what the fuck happened earlier on to let this happen, and get over to the hospital and wait for the officer to come around, find out what he saw, anything, ok, just get anything, I don’t care how fucking trivial it may seem.”
Hagen nodded in response and headed for the door, grabbing his jacket from the back of a chair as he went.
Looking back to the screen, the image still frozen, and the face still staring out at him. McCann pressed another button on the keyboard and un-paused the footage. The following few seconds saw the two figures convene in the centre of the room, before exiting the building, the faces of them both left unseen.
“You said there was a word on the envelope?” asked McCann with a frown.
Rhodes, his eyes still focused on the screen. “Yeah, just said ”Samael”
“Samael? What the fuck does that mean?”
“Well, I ran it through a Google search,” reaching across he picked up a piece of paper from the desk next to the laptop and handed it to McCann. “It seems that it has a few different meanings, depending on religion. The main words that kept cropping up, though, were things like, seducer, destroyer, and loads of references to Satan. The best one, though, was from Jewish lore where it’s the name for the angel of death.”
McCann looked over the print out. “Great, so this fuck has given himself a nice little nickname has he?”
“It looks that way yes. I’ve got someone onto it to get some more info on the origins of the name and what else it could mean, but what I’ve already found seems to be quite apt.”
“Ok, well keep me posted, not that it matters much what he’s calling himself, but you never know, could be some clue to it all.”
Handing the paper back he drew in a breath. “Well I guess I’d better see it then.”
Rhodes didn’t reply, just nodded his head and paced over to the second laptop. McCann’s gut started to tense, knowing that this was going to be bad. The expressions on the other officer’s faces telling him all that he needed to know.
The focus was on a small, dimly lit room, the image much clearer than the CCTV footage, no expense seemingly spared on the quality of the camera. This was high end, picking up every detail as though you were actually there in the moment.
The first minute or so was a fixed shot across the room, the camera most likely positioned on a tri-pod. Candlelight flickered yellow light onto walls that were bare and ragged. McCann’s mind was triggered back to the victim, the dirt and debris found underneath her cracked and broken fingernails. He wondered if this was the very room where Emily Copper had spent her last moments, desperately trying to escape from her captor.
A few more seconds and the image began to shake as the camera moved from its position, now taking on a jerky homemade quality, and the first audible sounds became apparent. The slow, heavy breathing of the person behind the lens, mixed in with a faint sobbing sound coming from somewhere off screen, helping to create a sinister edge to the whole scenario that sent a chill up McCann’s spine.
Feeling his jaw involuntary clench and his eyes narrow, the shot panned slowly to the right, the sobbing becoming gradually louder, a line of small candles standing evenly spaced along tatty and worn wooden shelves, passed by, their wax bleeding and, in places, dripping down onto the darkly stained floor. It was then that his heart jumped into his throat, and suspicions were confirmed.
Naked, and bound tightly with black straps at the wrists and ankles to a heavy duty wood chair, Emily Cooper was sat bolt upright, her blonde hair pulled back from her dirty and tear-stained face and a layer of duct tape clasped over her mouth to muffle her desperate pleas for help.
McCann watched the shot slowly zoom in and out as the camera operator, breathing rhythmically like a pulse, walked around the chair, focusing on different areas of her body. From the dark bruises and scratches that covered her upper arms, her back and around her breasts to the dirt and grime that seemed to have created a second skin over her legs and feet, before settling on a close up shot of her face.
Her blue eyes were laced with desperation and wide like saucers as they stared into the lens. Beneath the gag her cries became steadily more aggressive, the pain and anguish showing through clearly.
A black-gloved hand then reached out, stroking the girls’ blonde hair, letting it run through the fingers. Her head bucked in a vain attempt to free herself, her eyes snapping shut. Pulling back, the hand then flew into the side of her head; the violent thud making McCann wince.
The screen then went black; a long piercing scream filled the air, followed by several low moans, then silence. McCann turned to Rhodes, his face a blank canvas, a myriad of questions buzzing through his mind. He went to speak, his DS holding up a hand to stop him.
Shaking his head. “Keep watching, there’s more, sir.”
McCann turned back, a deep frown forming on his face. The screen stayed blank for close on another minute before lighting back up again. The interval spent in silence.
The camera had now moved to a longer shot, the girl now in full view from head to toe. The time that had elapsed at the bottom of the screen was some twenty-five minutes further on and the image that presented itself churned his stomach to the point of almost releasing itself.
The entire area around the chair seemed to be spattered with dark red blood, the flickering candlelight giving it a silky look as it pooled on the floor around the chair and hung in patches from the walls.
In the middle of this mess was sat the limp and lifeless figure of the girl. Of Emily Cooper.
A sense of deja-vu washed over McCann as he watched on, the image of the girl ripped apart, her flesh hanging from her torso. The dark sockets that once held her pretty blue eyes now vacant and filled with silver.
Once more the screen then went black, only to flick back on no more than a couple of seconds later. McCann recoiled, a hand automatically moving to his mouth. He looked at Conrad who raised his eyebrows. A figure had now entered the shot, and was now stood, behind the chair, cradling the girl’s head in its hands.
“Pause it.” demanded McCann, his voice cracking.
Doing as he was asked, Rhodes stopped the footage. Leaning in, McCann stared at the screen, his eyes fixed on the figure dressed from head to toe in black, a hood pulled over its head, a white smiling theatre mask fitted over the face.
He had no choice but to sit down, his legs failing underneath him and an office chair taking his full weight. He’d read about this kind of thing in fiction, in books by Steve Mosby and Chris Carter. About psychos terrorizing communities, and the police force, with their evil doings. He remembered the Zodiac killings in America back in the 70’s and the subsequent film. About how the perpetrator had bamboozled the authorities with his coded messages and how, to this very day, no one had ever been captured for the crimes. This was where atrocities like this happened, in far off places or in the minds of crime writers, not on his very doorstep.
Regaining the composure that had been knocked from his very soul, he slowly stood up.
“Ok, so where are we?”
“Sir?” replied Conrad, his tone inquisitive.
“Where are we with this shit, James. How much exactly have we got?”
Rubbing his forehead. “In a nutshell, not much, a crime scene with virtually no evidence, a missing witness and possible suspect, and now some sick DVD.” He took a breath. “Nothing coming from the door to doors, phone lines are almost silent. To cap it all off we’ve got Gemma Dawson’s parents kicking off that we still haven’t found their kid, despite the amount of attention her disappearance has had.”
McCann pondered this for a moment, no more, no less, resting his hands on the desk in front of him, his face sinking with the implications.
“Fuck.”
Admitting that they were lost was something that no Police officer liked to do, not publicly anyway. But right now, it seemed, that there was no way out. No way to tackle the issue that they were confronted with. That bringing the perpetrator to justice for their crime was going to be a nigh on impossible task. And, just when the general thought sweeping through the room was that things couldn’t possibly get any worse, they did.
“Sir.”
In unison, McCann and Conrad turned to the sound of the voice.
The short, slightly podgy figure of DC Adam Stubbs was stood on the far side of the room, a worried look spread across his ashen face, his eyes locked on where McCann and Conrad were situated.
“What it is Adam?” said McCann.
There was a brief pause as the DC looked between them and the computer monitor.
“You need to come and look at this, like, right now.”
Exchanging glances, McCann and Conrad moved towards where Stubbs was now seated.
“What is it?” McCann said with slight trepidation, a noticeable crack in his usually firm voice.
Taking one final look between the two standing officers, Stubbs turned back to his monitor and clicked a mouse button.
“I was searching through links on the name Samael, you know, the one written on the package, see if anything else came up. Well, it did.”
Another click of the mouse and the screen lit up. It was a simple website, nothing flashy or in any way professional about its look, a red background with a series of square black spaces in the middle, each with a ‘PLAY’ icon situated at its the centre. It wasn’t dissimilar to any of umpteen million video sites that the Internet had to offer. What made this one different from all of the rest, however, was the white block capital print that sat towards the bottom of the page, just three little words, but three little words that seemed to suck all of the air from the room.
Watch Me Die
Running a hand over his stubbled chin, McCann rested his hands on the back of DC Stubbs’ chair and felt a cold shiver run the full length of his body.
After a brief moment of staring at the screen he drew in a deep breath and asked the DC to press play on the first square.
With a further click of a mouse button the black screen came to life. It was then that they realised what they were up against.
It was the same video that had been seen not a few minutes previous. The dark bricked room, the young girl tied to the chair. The figure dressed in black, its faced masked in white. Only this time, there were no cuts in the footage. No fades to black. This was the full ‘uncensored’ version. Every cut, every slash and scream laid bare.
“Click on another one.” McCann said, his voice cracking, the strain beginning to show.
Moving the cursor to the second box, Stubbs clicked.
The film began to play, just like the first. Everything was the same. Same chair. Same bricked room. Same outcome. The only difference being the victim, this was girl number two. And they knew then that it wouldnt be long before she was found.
Turning away as the full horror became apparent, McCann asked for it to be turned off and pulled Conrad to one side.
“How many squares were there on that screen?”
“Squares?”
“Yes, squares, little black squares. The videos. Come on James, step to it.” his irritation now full on.
Running a hand across his brow. “I don’t know, ten, no less than eight.”
“And how many bodies have we got?”
“One, so far.”
“And there you’ve just hit the nail on the head, James. So far.”
 
 
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