The Winter of Death – Part 9

August 29th 1990
 
 
The day had started with rain. A summer deluge that had made rivers in the streets as the drains battled hard to release the down-pouring water. By ten-thirty all that was left was the sweet after smell and a faint rainbow arcing across the sky.
Sitting on a shabby bench overlooking the hospital grounds, a large space of greenery dotted around its edge with colour, he awaited the arrival of Mason. He knew the time of his appointment, knew that he would arrive in good time and would, like always, head to the canteen for a drink and something to eat beforehand. He wanted to make contact with him, wanted to get inside his already frayed mind and spill his poison. And today was going to be that day.
It wasn’t long before he came into view, shuffling around the corner, a maroon t-shirt loosely hanging from his stick thin frame. A baggy pair of dark blue jeans and a pair of whiter than white trainers occupying the rest of him. His face was gaunt, boney cheekbones protruding, eyes seemingly supported by the black circles that sat beneath. And, at his side, as always, the lovely Marie, a sight in a flowing summer dress that made something inside of him stir like a million bees.
He stayed seated as they passed him, his eyes glancing over Masons face, the streaks that had lined his cheeks created by tears becoming obvious, kind words being whispered to him by Marie, her scarlet lips causing a ripple of excitement to wash over him. He imagined kissing those lips, running his fingers across their cherry redness before sliding his erect member passed them for the finale. But that would come in time, he knew that, could guarantee it.
Heading back into the cool of the hospital and out of the now cloudless and warm morning, he made his way for the canteen area at the back of the main building, where he would take a drink and set about making himself known.
The rattle tattle of plates and a stale smell of less than adequate food greeted the users of the hospital canteen. He spotted them sitting at a table in the back corner, next to the window that looked out over the car park. The sunlight peeking in through the tatty blinds and laying streaks across their bodies. He looked upon them, sat there, close together, her hand on his leg, his face pale and set into a look of despair. He enjoyed watching their suffering, enjoyed the joyless existence that had been brought upon them with the events of the weeks previous, and more than that, enjoyed the feelings that filled him to the brim as to what the next few weeks were going to bring.
Sitting down at the table next to theirs with his mug of coffee he tuned into their conversation:
“Are you sure that I cant get you anything darling?”
A slow shake of the head answered her question, his face turned to the window.
“You need to eat Keith, you can’t keep starving yourself like this, its not going to solve anything.”
His head slowly turned until he was facing her, his teeth were gritted, and his eyebrows down turned into a frown. A few moments passed before he responded, his voice a shallow whisper, but laced with anger.
“Stop telling me what to do, just stop, ok? I don’t need your constant bitching.”
“I’m just trying to help, I hate seeing you like this!”
He shook his head again and turned away from her, shaking his hand from her grasp, a tear forming in her eye.
A moment passed and, turning, he made eye contact with Maria Mason. Her face filled his vision, her long flowing hair like flames. He smiled at her, accompanying it with a nod of understanding, a few seconds and she smiled back, a weak one, but still enough for now.
 
 
12th December – Police Station. Early afternoon.
 
 
Arriving back at the station he cut the engine and sat, his mind turning over with the all that the past seventy two hours had dumped in his lap. Fishing his mobile from his jacket pocket he stared at the screen, or more to the point, blank screen. His children hadn’t taken the news that their planned, and promised, trip to London had had to be cancelled. It was explained, several times, that, due to the nature of the current situation, it was completely out of his hands, but, and with no back up from his ex wife, he was now the biggest villian on the planet.
It had also been three day since McCann’s last contact with Jennifer Campbell, after their altercation and her, blunt and to the point, refusal to have anything further to do with him left him feeling just a little sour. He had turned it over in his mind as to whether it would be a good idea to push things, to pester her into talking to him, but, and with a heavy heart, he had decided that leaving things be would be the sensible route. The last few months had been, at times, fun, and that was something that he couldnt deny. The closeness had made him feel almost human again. But, deep down, he knew that it wasnt something that could go anywhere, and the main reason was because of his stupid hang ups, and that was something that he didnt want to burden anyone with again.
Dropping his phone back into his pocket, reassuring himself, for what it was worth, that his children wouldnt always hate him, he climbed from the vehicle and made his way across the forecourt and towards the warmth of the station. It was at the vending machine, in the corner of the briefing room, awaiting a strong coffee to drop into the paper cup that he was roused from his thoughts.
‘Sir, you got a sec?’ Turning, McCann saw the wiry frame of DC Adam Stubbs heading his way. A chunky manilla folder under his arm.
‘Of course. What you got?’
Placing the folder down on an empty desk and flipping it open, Stubbs removed a wad of paper, each lined, front and back, with names, dates and times.
‘Emily Cooper’s mobile and internet records.’
‘Good, anything?’
‘Well, nothing that stands out, no.’ McCann deflated, Stubbs continued. ‘Most are friends and family, a few takeaways, premium rate lines, all have been checked and varified.’
‘Fuck.’ McCann said, running a hand through his hair.
‘There are, though, several entries over the period of ten days leading up to her death to an an unregistered mobile number, but, unfortunately -‘
‘No way of tracing it.’ McCann cut in.’
‘Exactly.’
McCann, after a deep breath. ‘Ok, how about her internet records, or dont I want to know about that either?’
‘Actually, this could be more interesting.’ Delving into the folder once more he pulled out another wad of paper, this time handing it over to McCann who cast his gaze over the front sheet.
‘Blind Dating.com?’
‘Yes, one of the many dating websites that the internet has to offer these days. The difference with this one being, no photo’s, hence the name. She registered six weeks ago for a three month free trial, only ever made contact with the one person, though, a RyanC80.’
‘Ryan Carruthers.’ McCann said under his breath.
‘Or, our killer.’
McCann narrowed his eyes. ‘Let me guess, the registered account and email address no longer exist?’
Stubbs cracked a wry grin. ‘Spot on. And where would be the perfect place for you to lure young girls without having to show your face? Let me see, how about a blind date website.’
Slowly nodding, the cogs began to turn in McCanns head. Twenty two years ago, the Lonely Hearts Killer had lured his targets via newspaper ads. Now, twenty two years later someone seems to be taking up the mantle. After putting it to the back of his mind, it was now the only thing that he could think of.

*

Pacing into the DCI’s office, McCann dropped a printed sheet onto the desk.
Stone, without looking up. ‘Fuck’s this?’
‘Blind dating.com. Its a dating wesbite.’
Looking up this time, Stone leant back in his seat. ‘Im very flattered, McCann, I really am, but Im a married man, you know.’
Not rising to the joke McCann cut to the point. ‘Emily Cooper signed up to it three months ago. In that time she made contact with only one person, a Ryan Carruthers. On checking, we find that both email address and the registered account in this name no longer exist.’
Stone chewed on the side of his mouth and made a hmm, sound. McCann had more before the DCI could speak.
‘It also happens to be the same name that Lizzie Arnold mentioned when we questioned her regarding Cooper’s boyfriend situation.’
‘And did this Arnold lass ever say that she saw this bloke?’
McCann shook his head and sighed. ‘No, but she did confirm that Emily Cooper had met him on the dating website.’
‘And she knew of no other blokes, ex’s or otherwise that she was still in contact with?’
‘No. Said that she was private, liked her freedom, that blokes paid her attention all the time but she was never interested. Thats why this one stood out.’
After a brief moment, Stone placed his large hands onto his desk and stood up.
‘Fuck’s sake. So, what are we saying, that this bastard logs into dating websites under false names, sets himself up with untraceable email addresses to lure women?’
‘Essentially, yes. Only he doesnt just use any dating website, this one is special.’
‘Special?’
‘Blind dating, sir, no photo’s. Any other website his face is seen by thousands of people, if he uses a false image, he meets a woman and they are suspicious from the outset, its the perfect cover.’
At that moment the sound of heavy footfalls caused them both to turn. Heading across the open planned office, his face beaded with sweat, a slip of white paper in his grasp, was the figure of DS Conrad. Entering the room he stood before them and read from the note.
‘Wild shrieks have issued from the hollow tombs; Dead men have come again, and walked about. And the great bell has tolled, unrung and untouched.’ Briefly looking up at Stone and McCann, he continued. ‘Its taken from a poem called The Grave by Robert Blair. My guess, if we are to go with our assumption-‘
‘Hang on, hang on,’ said Stone, his hand raised, ‘assumption? What assumption?’
McCann turned. A deep breath. ‘The note left on the first victim mentioned oars, and the spirit of blackness in us and in the fishes, it was taken from a Sylvia Plath poem. The victim found this morning was, subsequently, found by the river. Now, if we are to go by this latest note,’ he held out a hand to Conrad who passed the sheet of paper to him. ‘We’re looking at, what, wild shrieks from hollow tombs, it mentions the dead, the tolling of bells. It points to one place.’
‘Graveyards.’ said Stone.
McCann gave a slow nod of his head. ‘Exactly.’
The Zodiac Killer had terrorized Northern California in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and baffled the police and press alike with cryptograms and ciphers that still, to this day, have never been decoded. The most frightening statistic, however, being that the killer’s identity, again to this day, still remains unknown. It was that very fact that played heavy on McCann’s mind.
Stone ran a hand down his face. ‘Right, how many graveyards and churches are there in this area?’
McCann shrugged. ‘Im guessing twenty, maybe twenty five in Medway alone. Thats not counting Mosques and other religious buildings that are springing up, seemingly, all the time.’
Blowing out his cheeks, Stone looked to the ceiling. ‘Our man power just cant cover that amount, we’re looking at round the clock coverage if we are going to have any chance of putting a stop to this.’ he paused. ‘Fuck it.’ Turning back to his desk. ‘Ok, any sign of Kenneth Aspen yet?’
McCann shook his head. ‘As of yet, no. We went over his house, but there was nothing of any interest to the case. Plenty of stolen goods, but nothing to tie him into what we are dealing with. But, he’s the only suspect that we have at the moment, and, until he turns up, or we locate him, we have nothing else.’
‘And how about Gemma Dawson? How are things looking on that front?’
‘Again, nothing. The reconstruction has been played time and time again, but, its been a good fortnight since the news story first broke, things move on, news doesnt stop happening, and, what with this going on, it seems to have dropped off the radar.’
Without another word, McCann moved to one side at the ringing of his mobile. Delving into his pocket and fishing it out, he excused himself before stepping into the coridoor to take the call he had been waiting for.
The caller didnt waste any time in getting to the issue at hand.
‘What do you know of Keith Mason’s family?’
‘His family?’
‘Yes.’
McCann thought for a brief moment. ‘Well, apart from his parents and younger sister, he had no living relatives.’
Wrong,’ said Jane Buxton, a note of victory in her voice. ‘He had, or should I say, still has, a great aunt. Grace Montgomery. Emigrated to the south of France in 1987.’
McCann stepped further along the coridoor. ‘So, how come that this didnt come out at the time? It was always made out that he had no family left alive.’
The loud screech of a siren crackled on the line before Buxton continued.
‘A family dispute, she only kept in contact with Keith, cut the rest of them off. After he was charged, she, well, fell off the radar.’
‘And she still lives there?’
Yes, near the village of Monpazier. She came back periodically between ’87 and just before the trial, but hasnt been back since.’
McCann let out a breath . ‘I need to speak with this woman, I dont suppose that you have any details?’
There was a pause. ‘You honestly think that there could be something in this, dont you?’
McCann held a pause of his own. He still knew that he was treading a thin line, but, at that time, and with nothing of any real significance leading them in the right direction, the frustration driving a knife through every officer involved, and the press, along with the parents of Gemma Dawson, baying for blood, it was the only straw that he could clutch at.
Taking the details from Jane Buxton, he thanked her and cut the call. Fastening his jacket, he passed the briefing room and headed for the stairwell. He had a call of desperation to make.
 
 
12th December – Napier Road. Late evening.
 
 
His efforts to try and contact Grace Montgomery were fruitless. He had tried the number that he had been provided with by Jane Buxton, but, apart from an answer phone message, that may, or may not, have been her, nothing was happening.
Sitting down on the sofa with a bottle of cheap European beer, all that the local mini mart seemed to stock these days, he rested his head back and closed his eyes.
It had been a tough few days, of that he couldnt deny. Not only had the case from hell been dumped in his lap, but his own children were still not talking to him, and, the only chance, he once thought, of moving on from Karen, with Jennifer Campbell, had withered and been cast aside. But, the deeper he got into his cheap beer, the more he though of her, and the more contacting her and pleading for another chance seemed a good idea.
Picking up his phone from the coffe table, he dialled, and waited.
Her voice message clicked on.
Hi, I cant take your call at this moment, but if you’d like to leave you name and number Ill get back to you soon.
‘Hi, Jenny, its me, Elliott. I, erm, well, its been a few days since we last spoke, I was just wondering if you fancied a drink, or something, maybe a meal, my treat, you know, for being a dick. Let me know. Bye.’
Dropping the phone onto the seat next to him he finished the last few mouthfuls remaining in the bottle and cracked open another.
A moment passed in silence, the distant throb of traffic drifting in through the open window, the bark of a neighbours dog, McCann slowly started to drift off, only to be, quickly, awoken by his phone ringing.
Reaching across he grabbed it, not knowing who he wanted it to be more, Grace Montgomery or Jennifer Campbell.
It was neither.
‘Dad’
He sat up in his seat. ‘Bethany, hi.’ looking at the clock, frowning, ‘shouldnt you be in bed?’
‘I am, I couldnt sleep.’
‘Everything ok?’
There was a pause, a rustling. ‘I miss you, dad.’
One moment you are tearing your hair out wondering if they are really your children, the next they break your heart with a simple few words.
‘I miss you too, darling, and I am really sorry about this weekend.’
‘I know, its been on the news quite a bit. I was just really looking forward to getting out the house, and, spending time with you of course, but, I dont know, I guess we can do it another time.’
‘Of course. Tell you what, as soon as things have calmed down, then Ill take you and Jack away for a few days, how does that sound?’
‘Where?’
‘I dont mind, where’d you fancy?’
He could hear her breathing on the line as she mulled it over. ‘Shopping. Oxford Street, maybe. Tom wont take us anywhere like that, said he gets fed up waiting around, and it takes him away from his precious gym.’
McCann winced at the mention of ex wife’s new partner. The man that he had only met on one occasion, an occasion where he had had far too much to drink and almost ended with him punching his Karen’s new partner in the face.
‘Well, thats where we’ll go. We could even go to the IMAX for a film.’
‘Excellant. We could go to the Wagamama in Leicester Square as well.’
‘Where?’
Bethany tutted. ‘Come on dad, you’ve never heard of Wagamama?’
‘No, should I have?’
‘Its only the best place to eat. It’s kind of, like, Chinese, but, better. We’ll go there, Jack likes it as well, that’ll keep it happy.’
It had been a while since he’s heard his daughter speak with such enthusiasm, and it brought a smile to his face.
‘Well, thats sorted then.’
A moment more and the call was over. Sitting back on the sofa he opened another bottle of beer, a smile speading across his face. Hearing his children’s voices at any time, even if the moods that they chose for that day werent particular good ones, was a blessing, and what with them not being with him anymore on a daily basis, it always made life seem that little bit more worthwhile.
It wasnt too long before he had turned to a trusty bottle of Captain Morgan’s Navy Rum, and, with King Crimson on the stereo he settled himself lower into the sofa and felt the alcohol haze begin to take over. It was then that his phone rang again.
Briefly considering ignoring it, after seeing witheld number on the screen, he answered.
‘Hello.’
He was met by the voice of a distressed female. ‘Detective McCann? Is that detective McCann? I need to speak to him, please.’
McCann sat forward, a frown creasing his forehead, ignoring the half glass of Rum as it spilt onto the carpet. ‘Yes, Im Detective McCann. How can I help?’
There was a pause, the sound of what McCann thought were sobs. ‘I, I dont know where to start, I-‘ she tailed off.
‘Ok, try to calm down a little first. How about you tell me your name?’
‘Yes, yes, of course, Gina, Gina Thomas.’
‘Ok, Gina, take it slowly.’
There was a rustling on the line then a sniff. ‘Its my friend, my friend Alice.’
‘I see, and what about her, your friend?’
Another pause, brief this time. ‘Someone called me, a man, his voice, a, a horrible voice.’ McCann felt a cold shiver ripple his spine, the caller continued. ‘Told me that he had Alice, that he’d, that he’d hurt her, killed her, left her in the mud where she belongs, then I saw it on the news, oh God.’
By this point McCann was on his feet, the phonecall that Lizzie Arnold had received ringing clear in his mind. ‘Gina, when did you receive this call?’
Another sniff. ‘About ten minutes ago, I didnt know what to do, I did the right thing, didnt I? He said that I should call you, he gave me your number.’
McCann’s breath caught in his throat. Yes, yes of course, you did exactly the right thing. Can I ask when was the last time that you saw your friend?’
‘A few days , no more, I hadnt really started to worry, shes always off on her adventures, hoping on a train on a bus to somewhere or another whenever she has free time, but, what with her new man in her life -‘
McCann cut in, a modicum of hope in his voice. ‘Would you happen to know where she met this man, this new man?’
‘Well, yes, the internet, why?’
The hope grew. ‘Which website?’
‘Erm, it was a new one, let me think,’ she stopped, McCann could feel the impatience growing, but then, she hit him with it. ‘Thats it, Blind Dating.com.’
Heading into the hallway, a cold sweat forming on his forehead, McCann grabbed his keys, fumbled his shoes on, a quick call to DC Conrad, and was out the door
 
*
 
Gina Thomas hadnt known that much at all about the man that her friend, Alice Morgan, had met through the internet dating website. Only that his name was Daniel. As far as she could remember Alice had signed up to the website as it had sounded a little daring and different, and, after a string of failed relationships with men who had left her feeling empty and betrayed, she had decided to throw caution to the wind and try to meet someone with a like mind, her ‘Mr right.’ The sad injustice that a simple desire was to be met with tragedy was hard to contemplate.
Apart from not knowing a great deal regarding the circumstances of her friends new relationship, she was, however, able to provide a collection of photographs, from parties, summer’s on the beach, Christmas gatherings, that confirmed, almost without a doubt, that the second victim was indeed, Alice Morgan.
As with Lizzie Arnold the man who had called Gina Thomas had, seemingly, heavily disguised his voice, and, was very specific regarding the details of the crime committed, details that no one, other than the killer himself, could have known.
As McCann and Conrad left the small, untidy, flat in Chatham they, collectively, felt a glint of hope beginning to rise. Two young girls, both murdered within the space of a few days, both of whom had registered to an internet blind date website to meet the man of their dreams. Both who had friends that had received a phonecall from the killer. It wasnt much, but it was something, the straw that they needed, wanted. It was the next morning when things took another twist.
 
 
13th December – Police Station. Mid morning.
 
 
Twenty one year old Alice Morgan had registered with Blind Dating.com on the thirtieth of November. Seven days later her mother had reported her missing. Five days after that, her body had been found in the mud and debris of a riverbank.
McCann had, after the positive identification by the girls shattered mother, given a short briefing regarding the new find. That Alice Morgan had been registered with the same dating website as Emily Cooper and that, as with the Cooper case, the killer had informed a close friend of the event. However, they were still no closer to a breakthrough to crack the spine of the case.
At his desk he trawled through the paperwork that was, quickly, building up. In amongst there were newspaper cuttings from all of the daily’s, tabloids and broadsheets. All running the same headlines, and all pointing out that the forces involved in the capture of the ‘madman,’ as they all put it, were too slow in producing results.
A noise on the far side of the room came a welcome distraction from the monotony of his papers.
DC Rhodes was flushed as he entered the briefing room, his mobile phone clamped to his ear.
‘Yes, yes, and you’re sure, you’re definitely sure? No mistake? Ok, that’s great, you’ve been a big help. Thank you.’ Ending the call, he slipped his mobile back into his jacket and, his mind buzzing, he paced his way across the room to where McCann was sat.
Within ten feet, McCann spotted him. ‘You ok?’
‘Six weeks ago, sixteen rare silver coins were ordered from a small private dealer in Camden. The coins,’ he paused whilst fishing a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, ‘Medusa coins, were paid for in cash and delivered, via an over night courier service, to an address in Rochester.’
It took a second for the address to register with McCann, an address that he had visited not twenty four hours previous.
‘And you’re sure?’ He said, ‘No mistake at all, its definitely him?’
‘Hundred per cent. They are faxing over a receipt as soon as possible. Signed and sealed.’
Blowing out his cheeks, McCann grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair before slipping it on.
‘Good work, make sure you get that receipt.’
Moving across the office with a spring in his step, he caught the attention of DC Conrad.
‘James, get your coat, we’ve got a little errand to run.’
‘Sir?’
‘A few more questions for our friend, Harold Bart.’
 
 
 
 
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