The Winter of Death – Part 8

The briefing was short and as sweet as it could be, under the circumstances. The arrival of the DVD sparking, seemingly, every emotion possible between the members of the team. For most, if not all, McCann included, it was like nothing that they had ever witnessed before. Theirs was a quiet town, a town with, understandably, its issues and a certain amount of crime. But this, this was something on the opposite end of the scale. This was something taken directly from a movie screen, something lifted from the latest twisted blockbuster. And, what with the arrival of the DVD, it would appear that whoever was behind these atrocities, had dreams of seeing their name up in lights.
McCann, in the presence of all team members, each face slightly ashen, started things off.
‘Right, everyone. I wont keep you long, but, due to the developments of today, it seems as good a time as any to see where we are.’ He paused and cast his eyes over the group. ‘Now, we’ve all seen the DVD, and, I think that we can safely say that we are all fully aware of what we are now dealing with. Everything that came before, forget it, this is where it starts. For some of you its going to tough, but thats why you chose this path, to make things right, and, if ever there was an opportunity to make a name for yourself, then this is it. Now, we are going to need answers, and we are going to need them fast. But, as with most of these things, we have to be patient.
McCann then turned his attention to McAvoy and Harris who had entered the room and were stood, looking like an end of the bill comedy duo, on the periphery of the proceedings.”
“How about the CCTV footage, anything?”
Both of them, as if in synch, shook their heads, Harris this time being the one who spoke.
“Nothing much, sir, no. They only keep the footage for a week before taping over it. Of what we had there was barely anything of the girl.”
McCann frowned. “Barely anything? So there was something?”
Exchanging a blink if you miss it glance with McAvoy, Harris continued, his face reddening slightly.
“Well, yes, there was something, but, what I meant is that there was nothing incriminating. You know, just her leaving the club with some other girls, no blokes involved anywhere.”
“And you noted all this down did you?”
“Sir?” said Harris.
McCann drew in a deep breath. “Times and descriptions. What she was wearing maybe. The usual things I’d expect from a competent officer. We have no idea that the person we are looking for is a man.”
“You asked us to keep a look out for the girl and if there was anything suspicious,” it was McAvoys turn to speak up. His tone less than impressed. “We did that and there wasn’t anything of note.”
Keeping his gaze fixed on them for a moment longer and trying to keep his anger from boiling up, McCann found himself cut off as he was about to continue, a voice erupting from his right like a split geyser.
“You want to wind your neck in you lippy little fuck.” It was the DCI. “You were asked to do a job and you’ve royally fucked it up and wasted time, precious time, that could help in the solving of this.” His face was now almost a glow, his fists clenched into tight balls. “I’ve not only got the press breathing down my neck on this fucking case, I’ve got the Chief Superintendent seemingly hell bent on making my balls into Christmas decorations, and now I’ve been lumbered with two useless pricks intent on making my heart cease up with their sheer bloody incompetence. Now, I won’t tell you, or any of you for that fucking matter, that this is a fucking murder enquiry, and if we don’t get results, and quick, ill have every one of your badges.”
Letting his words hang in the air for a short moment, the scalded officers’ faces looking back like those of children after having their ball confiscated, he stepped aside and let McCann take back the reigns.
“Ok, Harris and McAvoy, get your arses back upstairs and go back through the CCTV, Ill assign a couple more PC’s to assist, and I want no fuck ups this time.” He went to move on, but caught himself and returned to them. “While you’re at it, the footage from the cameras near the second murder site need looking at as well, I trust you’ll be prompt and thorough this time.’
Concentrating back on the group he dismissed them all before settling his gaze on to the images on the large whiteboard that stood on the back wall, it was all there, everything they had so far, which, much to their annoyance, didn’t amount to much at all, the before and after photos of the victims, the messages, as they were found and after their deciphering. There was room for more, much more, but more didn’t seem to be coming. And things were about to get worse, a lot worse.
 
11th December – Weatherspoons, Rochester. Early evening.
 
 
McCann couldn’t shift from his mind the articles that he had read on the 1990 case of the lonely-hearts killer Keith Mason. He had tried, recalling what Conrad had said, to push it from his thoughts. To focus on the evidence at hand and not pursue or dwell on something as bizarre as something niggling in the back of his brain ,but, here he was, going against what most people would see as a viable option, and a waste of time, chasing up something he hoped would throw a little of light his way.
The Weatherspoons in the high street was full of the usual evening crowd. The usual young lads in their shiny shirts and faded jeans. Hair spiked up at every angle, sparkly studs in their ear lobes. Girls in their tight, short ,dresses, fake baked and tottering on their high heels, laughing and swearing, drinks in hands, some more than one, trying desperately to impress, trying to make this the night that they got lucky, the night that they struck gold. For some, it was just a cheeky kiss under the mistletoe, which was being given out at the front door to any lady that took the bouncers’ fancy, which seemed to be all of them. But, for others the experience would be far seedier. Booze frazzled brains causing hormones to race, leading to fumbled blowjobs in back alleys or on back seats, or quick frantic shags in shop doorways. The joys of being young thought McCann as he sat in the far corner, a warm pint of Fosters in front of him, the local rag opened up in his lap.
The headline was as thought and nothing but the typical fare in this kind of situation, ‘A Killer at Large’ and Kate Buxton’s article, of which he read through twice, was, he thought, rather good. Nothing was held back, but not too much was put forward to terrify everyone who read it. This was, after all, local news and not the latest crime fiction blockbuster. The rest of the pages consisted of beaten kids’ football teams, a family of six, each with an ASBO. Another pub landlord desperately trying to save his establishment, nothing out of the ordinary and nothing as interesting as the front page news.
In the midst of skipping through the rest of the pages, and sipping from his less than average pint, a shriek pierced the air, distracting him. Looking up he spotted two blondes, both of whom he thought rather attractive, although probably young enough to be his daughters, stumbling, both cradling a half empty bottle of wine, towards the double doors that led out into the beer garden at the back of the place. McCann couldn’t help but shake his head. Two girls, probably no more than eighteen years old, drunk and baring enough skin to leave nothing to the imagination. Doing their best to entice and tease. No more than a few seconds later they were joined by three burly blokes, each with a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eye. Looking around, and through the glass, McCann witnessed the flirting, the girls rubbing themselves up against their male friends, laughing and swigging from the wine bottles. The looks on the men’s faces saying they were more than enjoying the little show. All McCann could feel was the father in him racing to the surface and that they would all catch their deaths out there with out a nice warm coat.
With another shake of his head he turned back to his paper and pint, his eyes momentarily flickering across to the bar at the top of the steps and catching sight of a familiar face and the reason that he was here.
This was the first time that he’d seen her in person, and, if he was honest, she was nothing like he had imagined. Sure, he’d seen a photo, but photos are deceiving, people can make themselves up to look like anything in front of a camera, and, as he watched her order a drink, a large glass of red wine, and then seemingly wait an age while the young barman fetched it for her, he sat and studied her.
Starting from the top he worked his way down, the bobbed blonde hair, slightly darker at the roots. A dangly pair of earrings flanked a face that was subtly made up with a light blusher and pale red lipstick. She wore a stylish light coloured shirt, probably purchased from Top Shop or somewhere else that McCann had no idea about, somewhere that Bethany would shop on a Saturday afternoon with her friends at Bluewater. The look was finished with dark jeans and a jacket to match. The whole ensemble, to McCann’s mind anyway, screamed of someone desperately trying to look younger than they really were.
Turning from the bar, drink in hand; she scoured her eyes across the heads of the gathered throng, all of them, as the minutes passed, plying themselves with more and more and more drink.
Raising his hand, and catching her attention, she maneuvered with a smile through the crowd until she finally reached where he was sat.
Extending her hand. “D.I McCann, it’s nice to meet you. Balmy night isn’t it?”
Standing, McCann held out his hand, and, after a brief shake, retook his seat.
“Oh, I’m pretty sure that we were all like it once upon a time.”
Nodding her head, after brief hesitation, she took a sip of her drink, and sat down.
“Well, yes, I suppose so. My Uni days were a blur at times, I have to admit, just makes me feel a bit old at times now is all.”
Agreeing with a smile, he took a gulp from his pint, swallowing back a burp.
“Thanks for meeting with me at such short notice.”
“No problem, although you were lucky, tonight is the only night this week that I haven’t anything on. What with work being manic, I try to get to the gym at least a few times a week…”
She carried on talking but all that McCann could see was her lips moving, her gesturing hands. Her bright red fingernails speckled with black dots making them look like ladybirds. He tried to guess her age, putting it somewhere between mid to late forties, possibly even creeping into fifties. Her skin had the look of a heavy smoker, something that he had only noticed now up close, so maybe she wasn’t as old in reality as he thought.
“…the joys of having a teenage daughter, don’t you think?”
“I’m sorry?” returning his focus to the conversation.
“Teenage daughters, I was just saying that it’s tough sometimes. Do you have any yourself?”
He had to think about the question for a brief moment. “Yes, yes, a son and a daughter, they can be quite a handful sometimes.”
Sensing that their meeting was on the verge of turning into a question and answer session on anything but the reason  that he had arranged to see her, he opened up the newspaper and laid it out on the table between them.
He had contacted Jane Buxton earlier on in the day. He had, in the short conversation while he sat in his car eating a sandwich, promised her an inside lead of developments on the case that had been lighting up every news bulletin and every newspaper edition for the last few days. Only, it was far from the truth, and was something that she was about to find out.
Looking down at the article that she had written, a smile flickered across her lips.
“So, what have you got that was so important that it had to involve this little soiree?”
She was about to continue when McCann made his play.
“What can you tell me about Keith Mason.”
The smile flickered for a fleeting second more before being replaced by a frown. Her eyes met McCann’s.
“What?”
Averting his gaze, he exhaled and ran a hand across his brow.
“Listen, I may not have been entirely truthful when we spoke earlier. I’ve been…”
Holding up a hand to interrupt. “I should have guessed it, shouldn’t I?” She shook her head, a look of contempt spreading across her face. “You don’t have shit for me, do you?”
“I may have, if you’d listen.”
“Listen to what? All the same you coppers, aren’t you. Think your shit doesn’t stink.” Her prim and proper act dropping like a lead balloon.
“If you want something then just hear me out, that’s all I’m asking.”
Taking a moment she sat back in her chair and took another sip of her drink, closely followed by another, all the while studying McCann like a hawk.
“Why do you want to know about that psycho, Mason that is?”
“You covered his story, didn’t you, back in nineteen ninety?”
“You know I did.”
McCann smiled, finishing his pint, he placed the glass back on the table. “What can you tell me about him, I mean, you interviewed him, didn’t you?”
“Well, once, yes, but I don’t see what the hell he has to do with anything.”
“Really?” said McCann, sitting back and folding his arms.
“No, Detective, I really don’t.”
Unfolding his arms, he shuffled his seat a little closer to the table.
“You worked on that case, you reported on it extensively. You spoke to Mason; you got the inside on his life. Now you’re working on this one…”
“Just what the hell are you trying to suggest?” her voice falling to an angry whisper.
Holding his hands up in front of him in mock surrender. “I’m not suggesting anything, all I’m saying is that, well, you must have noticed some, similarities, shall we say.”
Frowning and raising her head slightly, so she was looking down her nose. “Similarities?”
“Come on. Don’t play the innocent with me. I know you’ve got contacts that run deeper than the average journalist. That you know far more than you’ve been allowed to let slip.”
A look came across her face like a kid who had found a bucket of sweets.
“I’m sure that I don’t know what you mean.”
A silence descended between them for a moment. Each eyeing the other across the small table like two gunfighters in Wild West Saloon, both trying to anticipate the next move of their opponent.
“Ok,” Said McCann. “You want to play it like that, then fine. On your head be it.” He went to stand.
Her whole demeanor changed on a sixpence, the calmness of a few seconds previous vanishing.
“Are you threatening me, detective?”
Shrugging. “Threatening? No, not at all. Just telling it like it is.”
Making his way through the ever-increasing crowd, he could hear Jane Buxton’s voice over the din, calling his name. He’d hooked her onto his line like the hungry fish that all journalists were at heart, if they suspected a story was in the offing.
Once outside, McCann pulled his coat up around his shoulders as the winter breeze whistled along the high street. He knew that their conversation wasn’t over yet; he just had to wait a few short moments for the fireworks to start.
He had barely stepped one foot from the pavement, the voice ringing through the night air.
“Detective McCann, what the hell is your problem?”
Turning and looking behind him, Jane Buxton was on him like leech.
His face broke into a smile. “Ms Buxton, what can I do for you?”
“Don’t fuck me around, Detective, I don’t like being threatened and left to look like a fool. How dare you…”
“How dare I what?” He stepped closer, his sizeable six foot two frame dwarfing, but, seemingly, not intimidating her. “You listen to me. I’ve got a young girl on the slab, butchered like a piece of meat and not one single shred of evidence to even get me started.” He knew he was over stepping the mark by letting that information go, but his heckles were up and he would have to deal with it if it came back to bite him on the arse. “Now, and I hate to admit this,” he lowered his voice, “I came to you because I thought you might be able to help me.”
“Help you? You’ve got a funny way of showing it.”
Grabbing her by the elbow, a little harder than he intended, he pulled her out of earshot of the entrance to the pub, where they were starting to gain the attention of onlookers, and into a shop doorway.
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” she snapped.
Raising a finger to his mouth, he waited until he had her attention.
“Listen, it’s a simple question, I don’t usually extend myself to the press for anything, so make the most of it.”
She shook her head and paused for a moment before answering, the cogs in her mind visibly whirring.
“Ok, ill take that as some kind of compliment, but, before we go any further, do you think we can go somewhere, well,” she looked out onto the street, a group of youths standing looking at them like they were displays in a shop window. “a little more private.”
A few moments later they were sat side by side in the front seats of Jane Buxton’s car, the engine running, the heaters blasting hot air into their faces.
McCann made another first, sat right there, by apologizing for his behavior.
“The last couple of days have been, well, if I’m honest, fucked up. I’ve a crime scene like I’ve never seen and nothing, and I mean nothing, to go on.” He ran a now warm hand across his face.
Jane Buxton frowned. “I still don’t get what this has to do with Keith Mason.”
Shifting in his seat, he maneuvered himself to face her.
“You covered the Mason trial. You covered the whole thing, pretty much, from start to finish.”
“Yes, we’ve got that far.” She injectured.
“Please, let me finish.”
She nodded an apology.
“You got inside him, you know more than anyone, I’d say, about him, the case, everything.”
“I guess so, yes, but, I still don’t get…” she stopped; the realization of what McCann was getting at dawning on her. Her eyes widened. “You’re not saying what I think you’re saying, are you.”
His silence said everything that she needed to know.
“You are, aren’t you; you think that this has something to do with him, with Mason?”
“Not directly no, we both know that isn’t possible, but, look, I’ve already said too much as it is, so fuck it.” He adjusted in the seat, like getting himself comfortable was going to make this any easier to explain. “The MO is the same, everything is the same. The placement, the mutilation,” he paused, not believing, for a fleeting moment, what he was saying; “this one even takes the eyes.”
She raised both eyebrows but remained calm, like this was the kind of thing thrown at her every day, which, in fact, being a crime reporter, it more than likely was.
“Anyone can get hold of Mason’s details, you know that. Just type his name into Google and you’ll get hundreds of hits. It only takes one sicko with a grudge and you’ve got yourself a copycat.”
McCann slowly shook his head, readying the second reveal. Like a magician opening his box of tricks to show the master twist.
“What if Mason didn’t commit the crimes in the first place?”
He let it hang in the air. Not knowing how it would be taken. Knowing himself, in his tired mind that it did sound a little far fetched.
“You are fucking kidding, right?”
Once again, McCann’s silence said everything.
“You’re not, are you? You really think its possible that Mason was innocent? That one of the most notorious murder enquiries in British legal history turned up the wrong man. Despite all evidence, and there was a lot of it, including,” she snorted a laugh, “a bin bag of one of the victims’ body parts in Masons car, and, well, this is the best bit, you’ll like this, when the Police arrived at the home he was found sitting cross-legged in the middle of the living room floor cradling the hacked up remains of his wife.”
Looking away and out of the driver’s window, he ran a hand through his hair. A group of young girls stumbled past the car, giggling and singing, each with a bottle in their hand. McCann found himself watching them as they disappeared out of sight down an alleyway next to King Khan’s Tandoori. Thinking that any one of them could be next on the killers list.
“I don’t know, ok, I just don’t know.” He said. “All I do know is that I can’t stop thinking about it.” He turned back to face her. “We both know that there were a number of people, top psychologists included, that came out at the time and said that they found it hard to believe that he was the killer. That very few things pointed to him being capable of such acts.”
Blowing out her cheeks. “But he was declared fit to stand trial, and he was convicted, wasn’t he? Convicted by a jury. One of the shortest deliberations in years, they said at the time. I’m pretty sure that it was all the evidence that was found littering his home, skin, hair, blood. All from the five girls who’s lives he took. The prosecution tore him to pieces.”
“He was ill.” McCann snapped. “He’d lost his whole family in that accident.”
“He was ill, yes.” Buxton snapped back. “Ill enough to kill innocent people. And you know what the worst thing was, that he never gave up where he discarded his own sons body.”
Knowing she was right annoyed him to the core. But, no matter how much she stated the facts, it was still going to niggle in the back of his mind.
“Listen,” he said, wanting to wind up and get home to the, almost, sanity, of home. “I realise that this is all a bit, well, off the wall, to say the least, so apologies for wasting your time.”
Opening the passenger door, with one leg out, he was stopped in his tracks.
“Wait.”
Dropping back into the seat, he turned to look at Jane Buxton, her forehead creased.
“Ok,” she continued. “This is all very off the wall, but,” she exhaled, deeply. “How about I call up some old contacts, see what I can find? I can’t promise anything, but leave it with me.”
Walking back along the dimly lit high street, the freezing night air enveloping him like an icy sheet, the loud and boisterous hustle and bustle of a group of young lads chomping at their end of night fast food distracted his mind from the matter at hand, causing a flicker of a smile to cross his lips. The days of being young and restless and without a care in the world were, for him, long gone, but McCann recalled them with nothing but fondness. The endless, intoxicating, nights, falling out of pubs and clubs. A cheeky wink for the ladies, maybe a snog in a dark corner, maybe a bit more. Frittering every penny away of your hard earned weekly paycheck in the space of a weekend.
It seemed like a lifetime ago, his fourth decade creeping up on him like a bad smell. The years since sapped up with marriage and kids and all the pleasure and pain that comes with it. The last year spent feeling more of the latter than anything else.
Reaching the end of the high street, the looming remains of Rochester Castle to his left, the moonlight reflecting off of the cold metal of the old cannons as they perched on the battlements, the dark and murky water of the River Medway across the street in front of him, he pulled his mobile from his pocket. No sooner had he done so, it started to ring.
An icy chill ran up his spine. Another body, surely not? He pressed to answer. “Hello.”
Silence.
McCann huffed. “Hello.”
Silence.
“If you’re going to play silly buggers then I’ll say goodnight.”
Pulling the phone away from his ear, he went for the cancel button. A deep, husky voice then crackled on the line.
“Good evening Detective.”
Exhaling deeply, he returned the handset to hos ear. “I’m sorry, can I help you?”
There was the faint sound of breathing before the voice spoke again, slow, every word pronounced with clarity. “Lovely evening out there isn’t it? The howling wind, the cold biting through to your very soul. I do love the winter. Do you like the winter Detective?”
McCann frowned. “Ill ask again, can I help you at all?”
Help me? No. No, I don’t think that you can help me at all. The reason I actually called wasn’t for any help.”
Shaking his head, the anger starting to bubble inside, he turned and began to make his way back along the high street.
“Then you’ll realise that this is a waste of my time, so Ill say goodbye.”
He didn’t get the chance to hang up, the voice spitting back a quick reply, this time laced with a steely undertone.
“I don’t think that you want to do that, Detective.”
Feeling his heart miss a beat, McCann’ full attention now on his caller, he stopped in his tracks. He had no idea as to whether this was anything of concern, but something kept him on the line.
“Ok, well how about you give me a reason why I shouldn’t?”
The caller laughed deeply. “Why? Well how about because I said so.”
“And you think that’s good enough, do you? Because you said so?”
“Yes, yes I do. And if you have any sense at all you won’t fuck me around.” There was a pause and a breath, followed by a sharp snort. “Otherwise there’ll be more dead girls to keep you busy.”
A gust of wind blew up a cluster of leaves, swirling them around the gutter, a cry rang out from a group of drunken teenagers. Goosebumps prickled McCann’s skin at the mention of the girls.
“Who the fuck is this?”
There was laughter again, this time mocking the question. “You honestly think that I am going to reveal that information and spoil all the fun that I’m having. No, no detective, this is one you are just going to have to work out for yourself. If you can that is.”
His racing mind occupied two thoughts. The first being that this was nothing but a prank, nothing but some loner with little better to do until his next fix arrived. With the information regarding the case all over the press, every TV news bulletin and newspaper front page carrying it as their main feature for the past two days, access was not in short supply. The second thought he tried to push from his mind.
“If this is some kind of joke then…”
The voice interjected, intense. The words crackling down the line that they almost became inaudible.
A joke? Oh, this is no joke, Detective, of that I can assure you.” There was another short pause, the next sentence coming like a hammer blow. ‘I trust that you enjoyed the little video I sent for all your pleasure?’
McCann’s voice faltered, his reply slow in coming. The wind knocked from his sails. The caller carried on.
There will be more, Detective McCann. I have the next one ready and waiting. You should see her, long blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, cute little freckles on her cheeks, but, wait, oh yes,” he gave another sharp snort. “How silly of me, you’re probably looking at her photograph as we speak, the one that I left on the last poor bitch, you may have even seen the little video I posted on my cool new website, so, you’ll already know what she looks like, and, tomorrow, you’ll get to see her in her all glory.” The voice stopped, there was a long intake of breath. “Goodbye, for now.”
A click and the line went dead. Standing, stock still, gripping the receiver in his right hand, his heart thumping at his temples, the shock of the last few minutes weighed on him like a fat man sitting on his shoulders.
“Hello?” his voice tinted with urgency. He was met with nothing but the dull hum of the dialing tone playing in his ear. He repeated, but it was still the same, nothing but an empty line. His head began to spin, the sound of the caller’s voice still as clear as a whistle, ringing though his mind as though it were trapped in a vacuum in the air around him, swirling in torment, to forever haunt him. His momentary doubts over the identity of the caller had been quashed by the final sentence uttered, the description of the girl, the knowledge of the photo and the website. Neither of these details had been released to the press as of yet, sure, someone could have stumbled acros the website, but, it was the photo that, for him, confirmed it. To know this information you would have to be at the very heart of things. It was then that it hit him. That he had just spoken to the killer.
 
12th December – Napier Road. Early morning
 
With the previous evening spent in a whirl of activity regarding the mysterious phone call; it was three am by the time McCann finally got to bed. Four hours later he was up again.
He had just climbed out of the shower, and was in the process of trying to find a decent station on the radio. No Heart, or Kiss FM. No stations that just pumped out mindless drivel 24/7. A decent station that played decent music, music with a tune and lyrics and guitars and an ounce of talent to make them. After scanning up and down the dial twice, he gave up and switched it off. Then the phone rang.
Picking up, he didnt need to speak, he was met by the tense voice of DS Conrad.
“Its exactly like he said.”
McCann slumped down onto the bed. ‘Where?’
‘Chatham, under the pier next to Staples. Its on the news already. We haven’t released much of anything to them yet, though, what they are reporting is just part of it. The DCI is going to make a decision on it once we’ve got more to go on. The last thing we need is widespread panic at the moment.”
‘And its the same as the last one?’
‘Yep, identical.’
Resting his head on his free hand, McCann took a deep breath. Two young girls murdered in the space of four days, the same MO, anyone with an ounce of sense knew that wasn’t good news. The most disturbing thing being that he was told by his mystery caller the previous evening that it would happen.
“Fucks sake,” he muttered. “Don’t suppose whoever did it left their name and number did they?”
“I wish, make life a whole lot easier.”    
He stopped, a distant sound of chatter above traffic noise and the sound of gulls. “Listen, you’d better get down here, you can see for yourself.”
Muttering a goodbye, McCann cut the call. After a quick shower and dressing, he made for the kitchen, where he drank a glass of water and scoffed a burnt piece of toast; he was then ready to confront the next chapter.
Getting out of Gillingham and into Chatham town centre was, as usual, more hassle than it needed to be. A journey that was no more than two miles, could, and on most mornings would, take close on forty-five minutes to complete. And what with the deluge pouring from the sky, it seemed to take an eternity. Parents ferrying their children to school, afraid that their little darlings would, somehow, be hurt by a tiny bit of rain, blocking the roads with their giant 4X4’s, parking in inappropriate places as they tried, in vain, to get a close to the school gates as possible. Combine that with, seemingly, every traffic signal being on the blink. Van drivers thinking that they owned every inch of the road. This was not a day for patient drivers.
Reaching his destination he parked up and cut the engine. The scene that unfolded in front of him was one of pandemonium.
The barricade had been set up at both ends of Medway Street. Its entire length lined with flashing lights and emergency personnel, officers waving hands and directing pedestrians, attempting to keep the curious public away and behind the police tape. Two murders in four days and every weirdo seemed to crawl out of the woodwork.
Climbing out of his car he pulled his collar up around his shoulders, the rain swirling around in the wind, and made a dash towards the car park of the large branch of Staples, which was where all the action seemed to be happening.
Approaching the throng, he spotted Conrad, standing under a huge red umbrella, talking to a uniformed officer.
“Morning gents.”
Both turning, the uniformed officer muttered a good morning in reply and then scuttling off to find shelter. Conrad ran his hand, once again, through his luscious hair and held the umbrella over the both of them, the pitter-patter of the rain pelting on the fabric that covered them.
“Great day for it.” said Conrad, glancing up at the concrete grey sky.
McCann huffed and nodded a tired agreement. “What we got so far, anything?”
Conrad exhaled, ‘In a word, no. Its the same as the first one. Same MO, same positioning, same everything. Even down to the photo and another stupid little riddle.’
‘And its the same girl, the same as on the first victim, the same as on the video?’
‘Yeah, well, ninety nine percent sure anyway.’
McCann didn’t know how to respond at first, the implications far too much for him to take in. Finally the words came out.
“Fucking bastard.”
Conrad nodded. “You could say that, yes.”
“How about the person that found her? They didn’t see anything?”
“No, nothing at all. It was one of the earlier shift staff from Staples, came out for a cigarette and spotted her down in the mud. Ended up losing his guts over the side.”
McCann took a breath. ‘Well, we’d better go take a look then, hadn’t we.”
In silence, they donned the regulatory white over suits, and Conrad led them down through the car park and onto the small pier that jutted out into the river. The whole area now was swarming with officers and white suited personnel. Umbrella’s every colour of the rainbow held above heads, desperately trying to protect any evidence where and when they could, rain and mud being two of the worst enemies at a crime scene.
“She’s been nailed to one of the pier supports.” Said Conrad, half turning his head and pointing ahead of them. “Same as the last one. She is partly hidden from the elements so that might have helped protect some evidence, but we’ll have to wait and see. Dr. Wilson has been here for a while going over the body, so I’m sure that he’ll have some more to tell you.”
“Wilson?”
Reaching the bottom of the ramp, Conrad turned.
“Yes, Campbell is on her way, apparently, family issue or something. Thought that you’d know all about it?” he said with a wink.
McCann shot a look at the young DS, his face immediately dropping with the realization that he had put his foot in it.
“I like you James, lets not jeopardize that, ok. Now, I believe that I’ve got a body to see. You might want to go and find something useful to do, like going to get me a strong coffee.”
A moment passed before the realization set in that McCann wasn’t joking.
Watching a red-faced Conrad walk, hastily, away, McCann stepped gingerly onto the tarpaulin matting and made his way carefully down the bank, trying, desperately, to keep his footing as the rainwater poured down the slope.
The churning that was occurring deep in his gut told him all he needed to know about the sight that was about to greet him inside the mud spattered SOCO tent. He knew that it was going to be a carbon copy of the scene from the previous day. And, upon pulling back the flap and stepping inside, he was right.
From the large metal stake that had been driven through the wrists to the pulpy mess of the butchered torso and abdomen, down to the empty holes, now fixed with silver coins that once contained her eyes. He only needed one look to see for himself that this girl was indeed the same one as in the photograph held in the hands of the first victim and the same one as in the second video on the website.
Taking a few moments he absorbed the scene in front of him, his mind beginning to work overtime. He’d been in the job long enough to think that he’d seen everything possible. This, however made him, quickly, realise, that wasn’t the case.
One young girl savagely murdered was horrifying enough, but two in the space of a few days was simply unthinkable.
A few moments more and Dr Ray Wilson’s velvet soft voice broke the air.
“Good morning Detective. Lovely way to start the day don’t you think?” A smile crept on his face.
Only someone who dealt with death in such an intimate way every day of their working life could find time to smile under such circumstances.
“Splendid Ray, just splendid. So, what are we looking at? Same as last time?” He knew it was a stupid question, but it was one that needed to be asked.
The rain was now falling much heavier, the gentle pitter-patter replaced by great thuds as water hammered into the fabric of the tent that surrounded them.
Dr Wilson nodded at his query, pushing his rim-less spectacles up onto his nose and crouching down beside the body.
“Very much the same, yes. As you can appreciate, the weather hasn’t helped matters much at all, but I can see that the wounds are very much the same as the first victim.” He paused, removing his spectacles. “Its also likely that, as with the first victim, we’ll find traces of drugs in her system.”
McCann frowned and interrupted. “Drugs? I wasn’t made aware of that.”
“Really? The document was faxed over earlier this morning, as soon as we got the results back. We managed to rush things through. I’m guessing that this is the first you have heard of it?”
McCann nodded. “Yes, yes it is. Never mind, I’m sure it’ll get passed on. What drugs are we talking about?”
Wilson replaced his spectacles. “Well, it’s a strange one to be honest. Are you familiar with Scopolamine?”
McCann shrugged. “Can’t say I am, no.”
“Well, it’s a sedative, but when used in abnormal doses can be highly poisonous.”
“So these girls are being poisoned?”
“Not quite no. See, we also found traces of Morphine in the system. When combined with morphine, scopolamine is useful for pre-medication for surgery or diagnostic procedures and was widely used in obstetrics in the past; the mixture also produces amnesia and a tranquillized state known as Twilight Sleep.” He paused and took a breath, as though steadying himself for the reveal. “Which would have allowed for the eyes to be removed while she was still alive.”
McCann shook his head and muttered. “Fucking Jesus.”
Dr Wilson stood. “Quite, Detective. Those are two words that would sum this situation up very nicely.”
For what seemed like the first time since he’d arrived, he took his eyes from the body and looked at Dr Wilson.
“Would she have felt anything?”
The Doctor chewed on the side of his mouth for a second. “Its likely that she would have been aware of the process, yes. Whether she would have felt any pain, its hard to say.”
McCann nodded slowly. “How about time of death?”
“Again, midnight or there abouts is a good guess, so a good seven hours or so. As I said, the weather has made it difficult to determine anything outright, but I think I can safely say that everything is the same as the last victim, that she was killed elsewhere and moved here. The coins in the eye sockets look the same, and,” reaching down to his bag, “Another one of these.”
McCann knew what it was even before he took the plastic evidence bag from the Doctors hand. His heart sank as looked at the glossy photo and into the eyes of another young girl, gagged and tied, wondering, Knowing, that she was next on the killers list. Wondering what the pattern was if that was indeed the case. He gazed upon it for a moment and then turned it over, hoping, praying, that it would be blank. It wasn’t. Another message stared back at him. He cast his eyes over it; the same nonsensical jumble of letters as the first one.
 
bnqi  xmwnjpx  mfaj  nxxzji  kwtr  ymj  mtqqt  ytrgx
 
ijfi  rjs  mfaj  htrj  flfns  fsi  bfqpji  fgtzy
 
fsi  ymj  lwjfy  gjqq  mfx  ytqqji  zswzsl  fsi  zsytzhmji
 
Running his tongue around his top teeth he took a deep breath. To say that this wasn’t good was the understatement of all time.
What they were dealing with was something beyond the normal, something far beyond the realms of comprehension. This was cold, calculated, brutality at its most horrific.
There wasn’t really much to say after that, McCann needed to get out and get of there and get some air, the smell of death and the dirty river combined was enough to triple his headache.
Once outside, he climbed out of the white suit and walked back up the ramp and onto the pier, the rain wasn’t falling as hard as it was before, but was still coming down steadily, the sky above dark and ominous. If there was ever a bad day for this sort of thing then this day was taking the piss.
Walking back across the car park, noticing that a crowd had now gathered at the top of the street, held back behind the yellow police tape, eyes agog and scanning every movement, mouths chattering and whispering behind hands.
He was met, again, by DS Conrad, who was now flanked by DS Steve Rhodes, his young face looking none too pleased at being dragged out in this weather, the pair of them stood under the same red umbrella of earlier.
McCann approached and stood in front of them shaking his head, a haunted look on his face. He knew what he wanted to say, but the words were stuck in his throat. He looked at the ground, droplets of rain splashing into puddles around their feet. A few moments passed before DS Rhodes broke the silence between them.
“You ok, sir?”
McCann looked at him, raising an eyebrow. “Am I ok?” he paused, biting on the side of his mouth and wiping water from his face. ”That’s a good question, Detective Sergeant. We have two young girls on the slab, both brutally murdered and with their eyes gouged out, and you’re asking me if I’m ok.” He continued to look at DS Rhodes for a few moments longer. “Next time, think before opening your fucking mouth.”
The young officer went to speak again before McCann held up his hand, cutting him off.
“Button it, ok? I’m not interested.”
He then proceeded to address the pair of them.
“Listen, both of you, you joined the force to stop the bad guys, right? Well this is your prime opportunity to shine, so I don’t want any fuckups, you got it? ” He was met by two nodding heads.
He looked at Conrad. “You’re right, its exactly the fucking same. So that means that if we go on what we already have then we are likely looking at another one being dropped on us soon,” he paused, the possibility of a third killing making his guts lurch. “So, I want to know who the fuck she is. In all likeliness it’s going to be too late, but there may be a pattern or a connection, and if there is then it may just save someone.”
He stopped as his mobile chirped in his pocket. Pulling it out he eyed the display. Bethany. Hesitating for a short moment he hit the cancel button and slipped it back into his pocket. Turning his attention back to the matter at hand.
“Both of you start asking questions in the flats that overlook this place. Someone might have seen something, a body isn’t the easiest thing to shift, so they would have needed some kind of transport. Check if there’s any CCTV as well, get a permit and get as many PC’s as you can to go through it. And get this fucking mumbo jumbo message looked at as well.” he then turned to Rhodes. “Get onto the Environment Agency and get details of all the registrations of the boat owners that are on the Medway. If they didn’t have a car, then a boat is the next, and probably, best, option.”
No sooner had he finished than his mobile rang again. Holding a waiting hand up to Rhodes and Conrad, he answered his daughter’s call.
“Hello honey, sorry for earlier I…”
He was cut short. Her tone lined with a trace of irritation. “Let me guess Dad, you were working?”
He had to admit that he wasn’t at all taken aback by her comment.
With a deep breath. “Well, yes I was, and still am, so what’s up?”
Her heavy sigh crackled down the line. “Don’t worry, just thought Id give you a call and say sorry for yesterday, but, you know, if you’re too busy, then I wont bother.”
Closing his eyes he blew out his cheeks. “Darling, listen…”
Once more he was cut short, the annoyance still there “Dad, it doesn’t matter, ok. You made it quite clear yesterday that you have a job that means we come second in your life, so…”
It was now McCann’ turn to interrupt; his heckles up at her last remark.
“I beg your pardon young lady, is that what you think? You’re right, I do have a busy job, but that doesn’t in any way mean that anything, and I mean anything, comes before either of you, have you got that?”
There was a pause on the other end. “Words Dad, just words.”
The line went dead.
Staring at his mobile, the anger pulsing through him that his child had the view that her father didn’t care one iota, he began to dial back, desperate to reiterate his point that nothing was more important to him than his two children. That he knew he had fucked up everyone’s life and that it was all down to him that he was no longer there for them when they needed, that part of him would have given anything to change it, to have it all back to how it was. But something stopped him. He didn’t know what it was, but he knew that it wouldn’t achieve anything. And the last thing that he wanted to do was to give her any more reason to throw the past in his face.
Tucking the mobile back into his pocket, he tilted his head to the grey sky. The rain now falling much heavier than it had when he had first arrived at the scene, great globs splashing to the ground, rivers of water flowing towards drains for their escape. The Doctor’s words of a few moments before of rain being the worst enemy of a crime scene rang through his mind causing his head to pound. They needed something, anything to give them a stepping-stone to making some kind of headway on the case. And now, with two bodies in as many days, two young girls brutally, and seemingly identically, murdered, the press and the public alike would be demanding results and a quick capture of the culprit. And that was the very issue, an issue that McCann knew all too well, that this was going to be anything but easy.
Raising a hand, he rubbed the bridge of his nose, a dull ache spreading through his entire head, an ache that over the course of a few short seconds seemed to spread through his entire body, it was then that something crept into his mind.
“The message.” He mumbled to himself.
“Sir?” said Conrad.
Turning back to face the officers.
“The message on the first victim, what did it say?”
Conrad frowned and blew out his cheeks. “Something about worlds shaking from the oar and blackness in the fishes, or something like that. It was Sylvia Plath, that I do know.”
“Yes, yes,” said McCann with a dismissive wave of a hand, “forget who it was by, focus on the message itself.” Looking between the two of them, he waited, in vain, for the penny to, hopefully, drop. “Oh, for God’s sake,” he continued. “Call yourselves detectives. Think about it, oars, fishes, now think about where we are.”
There was a moment’s silence.
“The river.” Rhodes, this time.
“Exactly, the river.” said McCann, his heart starting to race with the realisation.
Rhodes again. “Its a clue, a clue to where the body will be left.”
“Halleh-fucking-lullah.” said McCann, his hands raised over his head.
“Fuck, so that means that the message on this victim will, or at least, could be, a pointer as to the location of the next one?” said Conrad.
With a sharp nod of his head, McCann patted the DC on his arm. “Now you’re getting it. Right, James, make it a priority, find out what it says and make it quick. If our hunch is correct then we may be on to something.
Watching them make their way from the scene, he turned and looked out over the river. The cold morning had brought with it another shock of misery, another family torn of a loved one. As things stood, this was turning out to be one of the worst weeks of his life.
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