The Winter of Death – pt 12

September 5th 1990

He couldn’t wait to see the look on Maria Mason’s face when she discovered him in her home, waiting, white mask covering his face. The devil come to take her soul. His meticulous planning over the weeks previous had led him to this moment. His immaculate moment.                                                                                                              Sitting in the stolen car, the target house in sight, he waited for the front door to open and for the forlorn and semi lifeless figure of Keith Mason to appear into the cold December morning. He didn’t have long to wait. Shuffling along the garden path decked in winter attire, beanie hat pulled down tight onto his head, hands warmly settled into thick gloves, his wife at his side, baby in its carry cot, they slowly climbed into the waiting taxi before being swept away into the distance.                                                    Now was his time. Pulling on a pair of surgical gloves, he climbed from the car, black holdall at his side; implements of terror contained within, and made for the house. He had time, about an hour, before Maria Mason was to return, young son her only company, and he had to make sure that everything was in place. Once inside the house, using his own key to gain entry via the back entrance, he stood in the semi darkness and took in the surroundings of what was soon to become the scene of his greatest triumph.
His house of death.                                                                                                                  Laying his bag onto the floor he slowly unzipped and removed the first part of the plan. Three vials of blood and a small velvet string bag. Holding them in his hands he turned them over and over, the red liquid as it swished and swilled inside the narrow containers catching the light in the room, memories of each girl flooding back to him, each and every cut and slice to milky white flesh, a smile stretching across his face. Then, peering inside of the bag he took in the sweet aroma of the clump of hair that sat inside, again, strong memories cascading over him.                                                                                        He was going to enjoy the next few hours. With that he descended into the cellar.

13th December – Police Station. Late Afternoon.

Returning to the station, his mind in a state of turmoil. The thought that one of their was now part of a madman’s little game, McCann paced into the office and headed straight for his desk in the corner. Discarding his jacket, he sat down heavily into his seat. It was then that he noticed the envelope sitting in front of his keyboard.                                             Grace Montgomery hadn’t let him down.                                                                             Peeling it open he laid the contents out in front of him. He knew that it was a long shot, and, possibly, a waste of time and energy, but, after being let onto the existence of a handful of photographs of Keith Mason in the months before his arrest and, subsequent, charge, and the existence of a man by the name of Edward Lincoln, his curiosity had piqued. Glancing through the handwritten note that accompanied the photo’s, Grace Montgomery told of a few more that she had yet to find, but hoped to be able to forward them on within the next day or so. Placing it to one side he picked up the ten or so photographs, some better than others in quality, and flicked through them.                                                                           They were, in the main, grainy and amateurishly shot and all taken in a garden setting. A garden that he guessed to be Mason’s. A summer barbecue with smiling faces, drinks and burnt food and a wave to the camera. Flowers in bloom, colour and vibrancy. But none of the man that Grace Montgomery remembered as being called Edward Lincoln. Nothing out of the ordinary and nothing of any interest. That was until he reached the last of the photos. He felt something tug at him. Something pull. A face that had, until that moment, escaped his attention. Moving the image closer he focused on a figure stood, drink in hand, a wide smile beaming. Carefree and without concern.                                                               Up from his desk, heart beating in his chest, he paced across the room, grabbing Conrad’s attention as he went, and entered DCI Stone’s office, dropping the photo down onto his desk. Glancing at the image for a brief moment, Stone looked up, meeting McCann’s gaze. ‘What’s this?’                                                                                                                             ‘Maria Mason.’                                                                                                                            Stone frowned. ‘Who?’                                                                                                           McCann knew that he could no longer keep it to himself. Knew the wrath he may encounter for not revealing his private escapade sooner.                                                      ‘You remember the case of the Lonely Hearts Killer?’                                                      Stone’s eyes narrowed. ‘How could anyone forget. Explain.’                                           McCann took a deep breath, a glance at the floor. ‘Nineteen ninety, Keith Mason was charged and sentenced to life for the murder of five young women. He always denied his involvement in the killings, even top psychiatrists at the time said that he wasn’t capable-‘ Stone lent forward in his chair. ‘McCann, if there is a point then please get to it. Quick.’ ‘The first crime scene. It struck a chord. The MO, the bolts through the wrists, it was the same as in the Mason case. It was uncanny. I remembered reading about it at the time, remembered the details, the disgust when they were revealed. I tried to dismiss it, but, the second scene was the same, same MO, same everything, and now we have a third, again, the same.’ Pointing down to the photo. ‘Now this.’                                                                Stone lifted it from the desk, frowning. ‘You might want to start making some fucking sense McCann. What the hell has this to do with –‘                                                                   He paused, prepared himself. ‘What if Mason was innocent?’                                                    ‘I beg your pardon?’                                                                                                                  ‘What if Keith Mason didn’t commit those crimes.’                                                               Stone sat back in his chair, chewed on the side of his mouth. ’So, let me get this straight. You’re saying that the real killer, the one who framed Mason, is still out there? That he’s lain dormant for the last, what, twenty two years, and decided that now would be a good time to go on another fucking rampage? That’s what you saying?’                                Turning and leaving the office, McCann paced across to the large evidence whiteboard. Standing, Stone came around his desk, just as McCann returned. In front of him he held up a further image. ‘Look closely, what do you see?’                                                              Conrad, a moment’s hesitation, ‘Gemma Dawson.’ The realization setting in. ‘Shit, they could be the same fucking person.’                                                                                    ‘Exactly.’ Reaching across the desk, McCann picked up the image of Maria Mason and held the two images up, side by side. ‘I’m willing to stick my neck out here and say that whoever is doing this has been keeping Gemma Dawson for the very reason that she is the spitting image of Keith Mason’s wife.’                                                                                        The room fell silent. Minds ticking on overtime.                                                                         So why hasn’t he killed her yet?’ Stone said.                                                                    McCann. ‘We don’t know that he hasn’t not one scrap has been seen or heard from her since she vanished. For all we know she could be part of some grand finale.                    Stone sighed, a hand through his hair. ‘You do realise the significance of what you’re suggesting, don’t you?’                                                                                                          McCann raised his eyebrows. ‘I am aware of how bizarre it sounds, but I think its a real possibility that in nineteen ninety the wrong man was imprisoned for those murders. And now the real culprit, for whatever reason, is back.’

Standing in front of the thick wooden door, a smile playing on across his lips, a satisfying tingle spreading through his loins, he slowly pulled across the cover of the viewing window and peered in. The figure inside the small, dank, room, with its bare copper pipes and stark brickwork, was unmoved, laying, prone, on the stained and tatty mattress  legs curled up in a fetal ball, hair over her face. Softly, he whispered her name. No reaction. Again, this time with more volume. No reaction. Pulling the key from his trouser pocket he inserted it into the lock, turned it slowly until the click, and entered. Once inside, the blood coursing through his veins, a thumping at his temples, he closed the door behind him and stood in the semi darkness. Again he spoke her name. This time there was a movement, the jerk of a leg, a low moan as her head raised slightly. Then came the scream. Scrabbling back against the wall, hands up in front of her, the girl pleaded through wracking sobs. He wasn’t going to hurt her, though. Had no plans of laying a finger on her to do harm.
For he only wanted the best for her. The news reports and television reconstructions of her final movements that had been playing out over the previous weeks had been calling her Gemma. But he knew her by another name.
A name that brought back sweet memories.

14th December – Interegation Room. Early Morning.

The warrant for the search of Harold Bart’s’ house was rushed through at the request of the Chief Commissioner. The team of officers that entered the premises at just after nine pm on the cold, grey evening previous had no idea as to the extent of the evidence that they would find. Upon leaving some eight hours later there would appear to be no doubt that the man that the media had dubbed the Blind Date Killer, had finally been apprehended.
In the small interrogation room, the solitary figure of Harold Bart sat, ashen faced, and awaited the start of proceedings. A few moments more and the door opened, the room greeting McCann and Conrad.
Pulling out the chairs opposite Bart and his solicitor they both sat and made themselves comfortable. With a nod from McCann, Conrad started the tape recorder.
‘Time is eighteen minutes past six on the evening of 13th December. Present are Detectives DI McCann and DC Conrad along with Mister Harold Bart.’ McCann paused to remove his jacket. ‘Ok, let’s get started.’ Leaning his elbows onto the table, his gaze fixed on Bart. ‘You are entitled to representation, you do know that?’
Bart sat, arms folded, a cold look scratched upon his tight and lifeless face.
‘I’m an innocent man, detective, I don’t see why I should waste the time of a solicitor, do you.’
McCann took a deep breath. He could just reach across and strangle him. Would anyone stop him? Would anyone really care? Maybe not.
‘You do realise why you’re here, don’t you?’
‘No, why don’t you enlighten me so we can end this little charade and then I can be on my way.’
McCann shuffled in his seat, his anger about to peak. ‘Charade? Is that what you call this?’
‘An innocent man being pushed to breaking point by police with their petty accusations until he collapses under the strain. I should have you charged with harassment, detective -‘
Conrad, silent up until that point and seeing McCann’s fuse grow ever shorter.
‘Mr Bart, you will be aware that yesterday a warrant was used to gain access to your house in order for a search to take place. A search during which a number of, shall we say, interesting items were removed.’
‘I have no idea what you are talking about.’ Bart said with a defiant tone.
‘Really?’ McCann again, holding out a hand out to Conrad. ‘Exhibit one please James.’
Reaching under the desk, Conrad lifted a small evidence bag and handed it to McCann who slid it across the table until it was directly under Bart’s nose.
‘For the tape, Exhibit one is being shown to Mr Bart.’
With a deep frown creasing his forehead, Bart recoiled in his seat, a hand coming up to cover his mouth. ‘Where on earth did you find this?’
‘Tucked neatly in between your precious books, wasn’t exactly difficult to find.’
‘This is ridiculous, I mean, this is utter madness. You can’t possibly have found this in my home. It’s just not possible.’
McCann ran a hand over his stubble flecked chin. ‘But you can confirm that the girl in that picture, the girl bound and gagged to a chair with her throat cut open is Emily Cooper, the same Emily Cooper who rented a room from you?’
‘Well, yes, but…’
‘Then how about this.’ McCann passed across another bag. ‘Exhibit two is being shown to Mr Bart. A selection of poems, the very same poems that were found on each of our three victims. You like poetry, don’t you?’
‘This is…’
‘Shut up, I haven’t finished.’ Holding up another bag. ‘Exhibit three, a small handled knife, which not only contains traces of blood from all three of our victims, but also, and you’re going to like this, your fingerprints. And then, as you already know, we have the issue of the coins that have mysteriously vanished from your collection.’ McCann paused, a smile. ‘It’s quite a find, don’t you think?’
Silence. Bart flicked his gaze quickly between the two officers, before banging his fist down onto the desk.
‘This is preposterous, I tell you.’ His voice raised. ‘There is no way that any of these items could have shown up in my house. No way. This is wrong.’
‘How about you tell me where you were on the nights of the murders.’ Looking at his notes he reeled off the dates in question.
‘I was at home, where I always am.’
‘You have anyone that can confirm this?’
Bart sighed. ‘I live alone, you know that. So the answer is, no.’
‘So,’ McCann sat back in his seat. ‘Not only do we find some quite damming evidence in your home, you also have no alibi as to your whereabouts on the nights of the murders?’
Bart was silent, the smug attitude of moments previous now washed away.
McCann stood. ‘Why dont I give you a few moments to think about whether you want any representation.’
Leaving the room, McCann closed the door behind them.
‘That certainly shut him up.’ Conrad said. ‘You think we’ve nailed him?’
‘Cant lie against the evidence, James, that’s for sure.’
‘You think he’s the one for the 1990 case as well?’
McCann shrugged  ‘He’s certainly the right age. We’ll need to look into his background a little more, but -‘
‘Sir.’
The call came from across the office. Looking over his shoulder, and answering the call of his name, McCann approached the fresh face of PC Harper.                                                 ‘Had a phone call, sir,’ glancing down at a slip of paper. ‘Grace Montgomery, said she’d found some more photographs, said you’d know what she was talking about. ’            Thanking the young PC, McCann took the slip of paper. Turning towards his desk he sat down and dialed the number. The conversation was brief, the information centering on the found photographs, that she’d found the others quicker than she thought she would and that she could send them over. Discussing the best means of sending them, he provided her with a fax number, and was advised that they would be on their way within the next few minutes. With his heart firmly in his mouth, he paced across the room to where the machine was situated, and waited. The next few moments were to stay with McCann for a long time. As the green light began to blink and the image slowly crept its way from the mouth of the machine, his pulse began to pound at his temples. Two men, stood side by side under a blazing sun, smiles on their faces and drinks in their hands. To the left, Keith Mason, and to the right, the man that McCann was now positive to be responsible for what the press, twenty two years ago, had dubbed the Lonely Hearts Killings. The very same man who had, more recently, been given the moniker of The Blind Date Killer, and who he was now positive to be responsible for the brutal murders, over the last seventeen days, of three young woman.                                                                                                                Picking the image from the fax machine, McCann paced across the room, his mind reeling from the discovery and entered the DCI’S office.                                                             ‘Edward Lincoln, worked as a porter at Medway hospital from nineteen eighty eight to ninety one. Fell off the radar around the same time as the Mason killings.’                      Stone looked up from his paperwork. ‘You’re not still following this line are you McCann?’ McCann dropped the photo onto the desk, and waited. Narrowing his eyes, Stone glanced down. A few, brief, moments passed before the realisation hit.                                            ‘You are fucking kidding me?’                                                                                                          ‘I wish I was, sir. It seems that Lincoln also changed name, found himself a job, met someone and raised a family. Then, for some reason, resurfaced three weeks ago to start this little campaign of terror.’                                                                                                   Stone looked back to the image, a hand massaging his brow. ‘You do realise the implications of this, don’t you?’                                                                                                                            ‘If you mean that every officer and official involved in the Keith Mason case, twenty two years ago, were wrong, and, not only responsible for his imprisonment, but, ultimately, his death, then, yes.’                                                                                                                      Stone’s face hardened. The cogs turning. Everything that McCann had just stated buzzing in his mind. ‘We don’t have any evidence from any of the scenes, McCann, to point us in his direction, to give us a reason. We have nothing to go on apart from some faded photo that shows that he knew Mason.’                                                                                                        ‘But this is too much of a coincidence, don’t you think? This is something that we certainly can’t ignore, sir.’                                                                                                                          Stone let out a breath. ‘Ok, suggestions?                                                                                ‘We’ll go back, more questions, just routine. He doesn’t have to know anything, the old softly softly approach, you know. Its not as though we don’t have reason to be speaking to him again, besides, if we are right, he’s responsible for killing his own daughter.’           Stone thought for a moment and then gave a curt nod of his head, a knowing look passing between the two. A look that carried the sizable weight of a case that had dragged them apart at the seams. But now, a glimmer of hope flickered on the horizon, a flicker that lay at a door of their first victim and with Emily Cooper’s father.                                                 Jacket on, and descending the staircase, Conrad at his side, McCann briefly explained the current situation.                                                                                                                      ‘You’re shitting me?’                                                                                                              McCann shook his head. ‘I wish I was.’                                                                                      ‘And its definitely him?’                                                                                                                  ‘Its definitely him, James. No question about it.’
‘What about Bart?’
McCann didn’t want to think about that right then. Into the lobby and across the sun dappled surface, the pair were almost at the door.                                                                  ‘Sir.’ A voice from behind them.                                                                                          Turning, the pair were met again by the fresh face and neat complexion of PC Glen Harper.                                                                                                                                           ‘Can it wait, Glen, in bit of rush.’ McCann said.                                                                         ‘The DCI said I should go with you, bit of back up, should it be needed.’                                  A quick glance to Conrad and a moments pause. ‘Odd, he never mentioned anything. I only left his office a moment ago.’                                                                                                          PC Harper slowly shrugged his shoulders. ‘I don’t mean to tread on anyone’s toes, sir. Maybe he thinks it’ll be good for me, bit of experience.’                                                   McCann sighed. ‘No, its fine, not your fault. Be good to have you along.’ A brief clap of his hands. ‘Right, lets get going.’                                                                                                 Outside into the cold winter sun and into an unmarked car, McCann took the wheel for the short journey.                                                                                                                                   He wasn’t to know, however, that a member of the car he was driving would take it upon themselves to see that they never reached their destination. Halfway along the B2004, the river to their left, the power stations of Grain off in the distance, a deafening explosion of a gunshot shattered the calm. A single bullet ripping through the back of the passenger seat and exploding out through DC James Conrad’s stomach. A fine mist of blood spraying the spider cracked windshield. The shock causing McCann to lose control of the wheel. Leaving the road with a lurch, the vehicle, engine screaming, jostling like a roller coaster, bumped down the embankment towards the river, eventually coming to a stop in a patch of muddy undergrowth. With his head clouded with confusion, a high pitch ringing in his ears, McCann sat back in his seat, the panic then hitting him like a train.                                  ‘What the fuck, Glen, what have you fucking done. Jesus!’                                           Fumbling at his seat belt clasp he unlocked and lent across, the blood seeping from the hole in the centre of an unconscious James Conrad’s stomach and seeping into his shirt and jacket.                                                                                                                                        ‘James, can you hear me. James?’                                                                                          There was a click from the back seat. Turning, McCann found himself staring down the barrel of a gun. The face of PC Glen Harper, mouth twisted into a sinister grin, his eyes large like saucers. It was then that he twigged. The two white masked figures that had appeared like ghosts on the CCTV footage back at the station. The reference to Samael the guardian angel of Esau.                                                                                                              ‘You.’                                                                                                                                              Harper smiled. ‘Very good, McCann. You’re pretty good at this detective lark, aren’t you. Now, get out of the car.’                                                                                                             Looking between his stricken colleague and PC Harper, the anger began to rise in McCann’s throat. ‘You fucking what? Glen, I don’t understand, what-’                                   ‘I said, get out of the car,’ he yelled, spittle at the corners of his mouth, jabbing the gun in the air. ‘don’t make me repeat myself.’                                                                               Against orders McCann delved into his pocket for his mobile phone and began to dial. It was then that a second gunshot shook the car, the right side of James Conrad’s head disappearing in a cloud of blood, bone and brain matter. The interior of the car spattered in red. He wanted to cry out, to tackle PC Harper as he sat there, a sinister, cold expression on his face, gun held firmly in his hand, but he couldn’t  Any sound once there repressed before it had a chance to escape.                                                                                                 Out of the car and stood in thigh high grass, feet squelching in wet mud, Glen Harper nudged McCann in the back with the gun. ‘Move, and don’t even think about doing anything stupid, I Know what you’re like. There’s someone who is just dying,’ he snorted. ‘dying, how apt, to meet with you.’                                                                                          ‘Glen, listen, please-‘                                                                                                                   ‘Shut up, McCann, please, did I say that you could talk? Did I? Oh, and I’d appreciate it if you’d drop calling me Glen, Esau will be just fine from now on.’                                     Pushing McCann further down the bank and towards the river, his feet partially slipping from underneath him, he was followed, closely, by Harper, a mobile phone briefly produced from his pocket before being tucked away again. Looking back up the hill and past his captor, McCann glimpsed Conrad, slumped against the steering wheel, the side of his head a mess of blood and shattered skull fragments, eyes fixed in a wide stare. He knew it was too late, gritting his teeth against the emotion that was threatening to wash over him like a flood. The loss of a colleague, and more importantly, a friend. But right now, he needed to clear his mind. He needed to stop this madness. Before anyone else paid with their life. Before he, too, found himself joining the dead.

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